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Love Me Like My Demons Do

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The front door hits the wall with a bang before falling shut, and James only just catches the bag of groceries from toppling out of his arms as he toes off his shoes. Disaster averted, he wonders why there are no lights on, nor any other sign from Sirius. Usually, he’s impossible to miss in their small flat.

He tries to remember if Sirius had mentioned having plans for today but comes up with nothing, and frowns to himself. After he’d spent the night with Lily, he was looking forward to catching an hour with Sirius before they need to leave for the Order meeting.

The kitchen still looks the same as he’d left it yesterday; magazines and unopened letters are cluttering the table that’s pushed under the window, empty coffee mugs and take-out boxes on the counters, and the few plants they have could definitely need some care.

James only packs away the groceries though before he walks past the equally messy living room and down the corridor to knock on Sirius’ door, tapping his foot in impatience.

When there’s no answer, he silently slips into the dark room. The heavy red curtains only leave a faint trickle of the weak autumn sun in and it takes a moment for his eyes to adjust, but he can already make out the curled-up figure underneath the blanket and affectionately rolls his eyes.

He nearly stumbles over a heap of clothes on the floor and unceremoniously flops down on the bed that’s tugged into the corner, the movement only getting a faint growl out of Sirius as he tries to bury himself deeper into the sheets.

James smiles to himself but rolls closer and throws an arm over Sirius’ middle anyway. “Oi Pads, it’s 4 pm you lazy sod,” he says, emphasizing it with several nudges that are probably rather annoying.

There’s some more growling, not that different from the sounds Sirius makes as a dog, before he lifts his head and glares at James. Or well, tries to; his eyes are still small, and his hair is standing up in every direction, so it doesn’t really have the desired effect.

“What do you want?” Sirius mutters, letting his head drop again and hiding his face in the crook of James’ neck, his voice still heavy with sleep.

“We have an Order meeting in an hour,” he says and sits up to prevent Sirius from falling asleep on him. “Come on, I'll make you coffee.”

There’s a whining sound and Sirius pulls at his arm, but he ignores the treacherous part of his brain that’s telling him just how comfortable it would be to stay here for ten more minutes and instead gets up, tugging at the sheets and flicking his wand to spell the curtains open.

“I hate you,” Sirius groans from underneath the arm that he’s thrown over his eyes.

“Nah you don’t,” James says with a grin. “Get up, or I’ll hit you with a Tickling Charm instead of making coffee. Your choice.”

Sirius sighs but slowly pulls himself up, still muttering under his breath. James watches as he pulls on a jumper that’s a few sizes too big and traipses into the kitchen where he instantly plops down into one of the chairs and buries his head into his crossed arms.

“What has you so tired, anyway?” James asks while making the promised coffee, silently hoping that Sirius hasn’t been out drinking and pulling a guy again. Not that he has any right to feel so weirdly grudging whenever that happens, and he puts it down to missing those careless nights in favour of spending time with Lily when he doesn’t manage to straight-out ignore it.

Sirius lifts his head and props it on one hand, watching as James fills two mugs and sits down across from him. “I was at a stakeout, some Manor Dumbledore thinks might be used as a base.”

“Alone?” he asks with a frown as he tries to remember if he actually knew about it. Their schedules over the last two weeks were so chaotic that he’s barely keeping up with his own shifts.

Sirius raises a brow. “No, together with Peter. I don’t think Dumbledore ever gives us missions on our own? Though I would have preferred that to Pete’s never-ending whining, to be honest,” he says, rolling his eyes before he takes a sip of his coffee and sighs contentedly.

“Come on, give him a break. You know this stuff is hard on him,” James says with a sigh and a shake of his head, choosing not to comment on the rest of it.

Sirius’ shoulders drop and he grimaces. “Yeah yeah, I know. Sorry. How was your date with Lily?”

He shrugs and studies his hands to avoid looking at Sirius for a reason he can’t quite name. “Alright, I guess.”

“Alright?” Sirius asks, and when he looks up, he has one brow raised in disbelief. “You’ve pined after her for seven years and now that she’s finally going out with you, it’s alright?”

“Well,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair as he ponders how to explain the weird feeling that has been brewing over the last few months. “I don’t know, really. I mean you’re right; I should be over the moon but somehow, it’s - don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and I love spending time with her, but I just thought…” He shrugs again and sends Sirius a pleading look, begging him to just understand.

Sirius hums, one finger drawing invisible patterns over the worn wood of the table. “Maybe you simply have unrealistic expectations. Conjured up this perfect picture over the years that nothing could live up to. Give it time.” He downs the rest of his coffee and unfolds himself from his chair. “I’m going to take a shower, don’t worry so much. It’s going to be fine,” he says and squeezes James’ shoulder in passing.  

Before he can answer, Sirius is out of the kitchen. He lets out a harsh breath and slouches in his chair, turning his head to stare out of the window and trying to determine why he’s feeling so out of sorts. No matter how much sense Sirius’ theory makes, it somehow just doesn’t feel like that’s the problem, but he can’t quite put his finger to it. Whenever he’s spending time with Lily, he feels like he’s missing out on something else which, more often than not, involves Sirius.

He might just be too used to spending every waking – and often also sleeping – minute with Sirius, and not for the first time does he shove the doubts away and decides to heed Sirius’ advice. Just give it time. The first few months were great, after all, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go back to that.

He busies himself with washing the dishes and frying some eggs and bacon for Sirius as breakfast and himself as a late lunch, grinning when he hears Sirius sing loudly in the shower.

The food is just finished when Sirius comes back into the kitchen, dressed in jeans and the same jumper, a towel wrapped around his head. James’ eyes linger on his flushed face, and he wonders if Sirius still turns the water so hot that it fogs the whole bathroom within seconds like he used to do after Quidditch practice.

“Do you have any plans for your birthday next week?” he asks as he puts down the plates and sinks back into his chair.

Sirius tilts his head and draws his brows together. “No idea, but nothing special, I think. Maybe get some drinks, go to Camden or something. It depends on what Dumbledore has in store for me next week, if I have stakeouts at night again, probably nothing much.”

James hums in response, making a mental note to keep the day free of any other commitments and to think of something as soon as they know their schedules for next week.

“Oh, and Peter gave me a note last night, apparently they’ve changed headquarters again. We have to meet Moody at the Alexandra Docks in Newport, so he can take us,” Sirius says between two bites of food.

“Again? Didn’t we change headquarters like, a month ago?” he asks with a frown, but Sirius only shrugs and waves a dismissive hand.

“No idea, honestly.”

When they’ve finished their food, they apparate into a small group of trees and walk the remaining distance to the docks. It’s colder than in London, the wind that’s coming from the sea is rough and biting into his skin, and a dark-grey bank of clouds is hanging so low in the sky that it feels vaguely oppressive. James pulls his jacket closer around himself and smiles gratefully when Sirius shoots a Warming Charm at him.

“Sometimes I wonder if you forget that you’re a wizard,” Sirius grins as he’s pocketing his wand and nods to Moody, whose grim expression kind of fits their surroundings.

“Come on then, you’re nearly late,” Moody says with a huff, turning on his heel and walking into the direction of the beach until they arrive at an old, little house that looks like it might collapse if you take a wrong step.

Most of the Order members are already there, sitting around a large table in a dusty kitchen and greeting them with nods and muttered words.

The atmosphere is tense, everybody looks tired and the two of them quickly take their seats close to Peter, Lily, Marlene, and Dorcas.

“Is Remus still not back?” James asks Sirius in a low tone that doesn’t help to mask his worry, but he only gets a shake of the head in response, and then they all focus on Dumbledore when he enters the room.

The meeting doesn’t lift their spirits; most reports go along the lines of mere hints and missed opportunities, of attacks they had heard of too late and too many casualties, and James thinks that they’re in desperate need of a striking success to not completely lose their hope.

At least Dumbledore assigns him as Sirius’ partner for another round of stakeouts the following week. It makes him happier than it probably should, but if he has to spend his nights in some dreary alleyway or hidden between trees, then doing it with Sirius is the least miserable and boring way it can possibly go. And they get some time together, which is rather overdue as far as he is concerned.

Sirius isn’t as elated about it as he is, muttering about uselessly wasting sleep, but he manages a crooked smile when James nudges him and whispers that he at least doesn’t have to listen to Peter’s whining for another night.

It’s not like he doesn’t understand though. Neither of them thought that fighting in a vigilante group would include so much sitting around and waiting, so much repetitiveness or the general impression of fighting an uphill battle.

When the meeting is over, they share a smoke with their friends in an attempt to catch up, but they’re all ready to get home and just promise each other to meet up soon. James has lost track of how many times they've done this just to never manage to follow through; they’re all tired and worn out, and it’s close to impossible to find a day where they all have time.

He shoves the thought away when they get home. There’s barely an hour left to prepare food, drinks, and to put on several layers of clothes before they have to apparate to the address in Yorkshire that Dumbledore gave them.

It’s as exciting as Sirius predicted – they’re huddled in thick cloaks, hiding in a small group of trees near the entrance of a Manor that, even in the dark, looks run-down and completely abandoned. Some of the windows are shattered and the garden is so overgrown that it’s nearly impossible to make out the path that’s leading up to the entrance.

They have a thermos with coffee with them, but after 3 am, that is about as useful as a butterbeer against dehydration, and he’s leaning heavily against Sirius by now who has his head propped onto his. He’s currently telling James about the history behind the names of some of the constellations they can see on the clear night sky above them, only the twisted skeletons of old, bare trees obstructing the view.

It’s one of the reasons why he loves working with Sirius most; the familiar closeness, knowing with one look what the other is thinking, and Sirius' uncanny ability to get them through whatever tedious, monotonous task they have to deal with.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when Sirius stiffens so violently that he dislodges James’ head from his shoulder. Before he can say anything, Sirius is already pressing a hand over his mouth to keep him silent and jerks his head in the direction of the gates.

It’s a good thing he does – and that’s exactly what James meant, he thinks, inwardly patting himself on the shoulder – because he probably wouldn’t have kept silent at the sudden appearance of a group of five people in black robes and white masks that gleam ominously in the darkness.

He carefully pulls out his Invisibility Cloak and wraps it around the two of them, while Sirius throws up a Silencing Charm and adds two Disillusionment Charms for good measure.

“Should we try to get closer?” Sirius whispers into his ear, and James only nods slightly, the controlled movement at odds with the way his heart is pounding in his chest at the prospect of some action.

They wrap their arms around each other and press together, a technique they’ve long since developed to be comfortably covered by the cloak despite their height, and slowly creep down the narrow trail.

The Death Eaters are obviously certain that they’re alone, seeing that they don’t bother to keep their voices down while they’re lingering in front of the iron gates, staring up at the abandoned Manor.

“Are you sure we’re at the right place?”

“Yes, it’s supposed to serve as an occasional base.”

“It looks so run-down, though.”

“Are you questioning his decisions?”

“Of course not! I just – “

“Well, what do you think?”

The last question is directed at a tall, thin person who is standing a bit aside from the rest of them and hasn’t said anything up until now. He visibly startles at being addressed, head whipping around and shoulders tensing.

They’re as close as they can dare to be, maybe 20 feet left between them and the group. James is aware that they’re already gambling here, but they don’t need to speak to know that they’re both thinking the same thing – the closer they are, the smaller the chances of missing something important.

“I think the state of a building is rather irrelevant in regards to its actual usefulness as a base,” the one who was spoken to says quietly, and Sirius freezes next to him, every muscle of his body suddenly tight and trembling underneath James’ hand.

He frowns and nudges him softly, but a look at Sirius only shows him that his eyes are wide and fixed on who spoke last, his face set into hard lines. He has one hand pressed against his mouth though, betraying the horror he’s obviously feeling.

Mind racing, he tries to come up with a reason, anything that would warrant this reaction to a group of Death Eaters quarrelling about their worshipping issues, but he comes up blank.

“See, Black has the right idea,” the first one says with a nod, and James has to bite his tongue to keep from cursing loudly. Of course, that would do it. He tightens his grip on Sirius and shifts his weight, ready to keep him from running off with any means necessary if he has to.

It’s a good thing he does because he has barely finished the thought when Sirius tries to take a step forward. His expression morphs from disbelief into anger, and the hand he has around James’ hip clenches painfully.

“You can’t,” James hisses through clenched teeth, wincing when Sirius whips his head around to glare at him with fury blazing in his eyes. He can make out the pain underneath it though, the slight downturn of his mouth and the pleading edge to his expression. 

Sirius keeps struggling against him but while he’s taller, James knew what was coming, and also likes to think that he’s a bit stronger. He just begs whoever is listening that the Silencing Charm will hold.

“Let me go! He’s – I can’t – that’s my brother, for Merlin’s sake!” Sirius finally snaps at him, not bothering to keep his voice down. And really, James understands, knows perfectly well that however much Sirius likes to pretend that he cares about none of his rotten family, that never really applied to Regulus. But it doesn’t matter how much he normally thinks that it’s not necessarily a bad thing, he still can’t let him barge into a group of bloody Death Eaters.

“Fuck, I know Pads. But what are you going to do, take him home and ground him?” he tries, still speaking lowly through his laboured breathing.

He’s not prepared for the sharp elbow hitting him in the stomach and he involuntarily loosens his grip on Sirius for a second, but it’s enough for the idiot to wrench himself free and take a step away, to brush off the cloak and raise his wand while his lips draw back in a snarl.

James does the only thing he can think of; he grabs Sirius’ wrist and apparates them away, praying that there aren’t any wards up. The last thing he hears is a surprised, slightly horrified noise from Regulus.

They land in a pile of limbs with Sirius on top of him, and before he can even start to get his bearings back, Sirius is already hitting him, punching his chest and his arms and spouting a litany of curses and accusations, his voice rough and breaking over every second word.

Somehow, James gets a hold of his wrists and tugs, once, and all the fight leaves Sirius in an instant. He just slumps forward, buries his head under James’ chin and clenches his fingers in his cloak while his whole body is shaking.

With a sigh of half relief, half sympathy, James hugs him close and runs a hand through his hair while the other stays steady on his back. He stubbornly ignores how the smell of Sirius, of leather and pine, shampoo and, somehow, fire – he has no idea how, but there’s always a distinct note of fire that fits him so perfectly well – instantly calms his own fraying nerves, loosens the knot in his chest and makes him think that he’d like to never let go, to just stay in this moment, safe and content and just the two of them.

Alright, maybe content is a bit of a stretch and safe might be debatable; he has no idea where he has apparated them to, and it’s too dark to see much. But at least it’s silent, and he can feel stones and branches digging into his back, so he just hopes that they’re fine for now.

It takes a while for Sirius’ breathing to calm down and his muscles to relax, but eventually, he gives a long sigh and rolls down from him. James instantly misses the weight and warmth, but simply turns his head to look at Sirius, who’s staring upwards and biting his bottom lip.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius says, and he sounds so defeated that James’ heart clenches.

He wraps his fingers around Sirius’ wrist, pressing his thumb into the pulse-point. “It’s alright, I get it. We just need to come up with an excuse why we were discovered, I doubt they’re going to use it as a base after this.”

Sirius groans and runs a hand over his face before he sits up and tugs at his hand. “We can go with Homenum Revelio, nobody knows that it doesn’t work on your cloak. I’m more annoyed that I fucked that up, thanks for getting us out of there.”

Sitting up as well, he bumps their shoulders together. “Well, it’s not every day that you have a family reunion at a Death Eater meeting. Come on, we should go home, I think I apparated us into the forest by Godric’s Hollow.”

It would make sense, at least, it’s where he spent half of his childhood and all he thought about was that they needed somewhere safe.

Sirius doesn’t look convinced, but obviously doesn’t want to talk about it either, and James knows better than to push. He’s going to come around at some point and they’re both freezing, tired, and done with the night.

He completely forgets that he had promised to call Lily when he makes it home.

Chapter Text

“One whiskey, please!” Sirius shouts over the blasting music, accompanying the order with a charming grin at the barkeeper in the hope that it’ll make him a bit faster. All he wants is to forget everything for one night, and getting drunk and dancing until he can’t feel his feet and is bruised all over usually does the trick rather nicely.

Really, wizards could learn a lot from Muggle culture, starting with how to have a good time.

Camden is full of dirty, fucked up bars and clubs that don’t close until dawn is breaking. They’re packed with young people in ripped clothes and leather jackets who are jumping around and dancing pogo in that rough, fierce manner that’s more reminiscent of violence than actual dancing. They’re angry and loud, shouting at the top of their lungs to lyrics about change and fighting, about being sick of the world and the future, and it resonates right down to his very bones.

Underneath all that furious desperation lies a sense of camaraderie that welds them together, and usually this feeling of belonging, this chance of letting go is exactly what he needs to forget about all the bullshit that he has to deal with.

Tonight, it doesn’t work as well as he would’ve liked.

It’s only been a few days since that disastrous encounter with his brother, and try as he might, he can’t shake the terror that has gripped him the moment Regulus opened his mouth. He wants to be angry with him and to some degree, he is; but it’s drowned out by so much fear and worry that it’s like lighting a candle in a burning house.

There’s also guilt churning uncomfortably in his stomach, thoughts that he could’ve prevented this if he had only taken Regulus with him when he ran, that he should’ve made a bigger effort to stay close to him despite being in different houses. That he simply should’ve tried harder. He still knows him well enough to be certain that Regulus is not made for fighting; knows his parents well enough to be convinced that he probably didn’t get much say in the matter.

A hand on his arm startles him out of his brooding and he gratefully takes the glass from the barkeeper, instantly downing half of its content. It burns in his throat, he can feel the whiskey running down all the way to his stomach and he focuses on that alone for a moment before he lights a cigarette.

He’s alone tonight as James is meeting with Lily, and he doesn’t even want to start on the weird jealousy that’s a more or less constant companion these days. His excuse is that he’s simply still not used to James actually being in a relationship, though slowly but surely it’s losing its plausibility. No matter the reason, he thinks that he’s probably supposed to be happier for both of them.

Maybe it would be easier if James was actually enjoying himself. Alright, he probably does but he’s far from as enthusiastic as he should be, more often than not behaving as if he’d rather do a hundred other things in recent weeks.

After listening to his whining for seven years, Sirius thinks he’s rather justified in being put out at James’ lack of contentment.

As if the whole mess with Regulus isn’t bad enough.

He downs the rest of his whiskey and leaves the glass on the bar to throw himself into the throng of moving people. Shoulders crash into him and he shoves back, pushing and pulling and jumping; lets the violent beating of the drums overtake his whole mind, closing his eyes and trying to get lost.

He gets knocked off his feet and helped up a few times, his shirt is clinging to his skin and he’s just glad he’s tall enough that he doesn’t have to worry about elbows breaking his nose.

There’s a 5ft-girl with her arms crossed in front of her face, jumping around and stumbling into his arms. He catches her and she flashes him a grateful grin before she’s off again, a mop of spiky pink hair disappearing into the crowd.

It helps for a while, but eventually, his worries creep back up on him and he’s out of breath, so he retreats to the bar again with the goal to just drown it all.

“What has you scowling, eh?” a voice close to his ear shouts and he turns to give the guy who’s daring to interrupt his bad mood a quick once-over. He’s a bit shorter than Sirius, wearing tight jeans and a ripped, loose tank-top that shows off a lean body and slightly muscled arms.

His hair is shaved at the sides with a mess of curls on top, and while it’s too dark to make out his eyes, he’s handsome enough. Sirius curls his lips into a lazy smirk and leans closer. Maybe this might work as a distraction he thinks, it’s been a long time since he’s hooked up with anyone, and by now he’s drunk enough to not care all that much. 

If he were sober, he’d probably question his attraction to someone who has more than a little resemblance to James, but he’s not, and so he just orders two drinks instead of one and turns his attention towards him.

Thirty minutes later, he discovers that Andrew has a tongue piercing, and after another fifteen that he looks even better with his lips wrapped around Sirius’ cock, kneeling in a dirty bathroom stall and doing fantastic things with that pierced tongue of his.

Well, and if Sirius accidentally moans ‘James’ instead of Andrew, nobody hears it over the pounding music, and he will hopefully have forgotten it come morning.

The problem with getting sloshed, Sirius thinks when he drags himself out of his room the next afternoon, is that all your problems are still there when you’re sober again but with a headache added on top of them.

James is sitting at the kitchen table, thumbing through the Prophet and looking up when he comes in. “You look a mess,” he says, and Sirius merely grunts in response, busying himself with making coffee.

“Were you out last night?” James asks when he sits down, and there’s a fleeting image of a guy with messy hair just like that across from him flickering through his mind. He roughly shakes his head to dispel it.

James looks at him with disbelief written all over his face, and he realizes that his gesture might have been misleading. “Yeah I was, sorry, still not completely awake,” he says and then tilts his head. “Ever thought about getting your tongue pierced?”

He doesn’t know why he asks. It’s not like it would be here nor there to him, and when James frowns he thinks that he should’ve probably kept his mouth shut.

“Why in Merlin’s name would I do that?”

Well, too late for that now. “Lily might enjoy it,” he says with a smirk and raises his mug in a mockery of a toast.

The crease between James’ brows only deepens. “Did you pull last night?” he asks, and Sirius thinks he doesn’t imagine the slight accusation in his tone.

“Yeah, what’s it to you?” he asks with a raised brow. He’s too tired to put on an act, not to mention that he has no idea what the problem is in the first place. It’s not like he does it all that often; what keeps pulling him to Camden is the sense of community, the need to forget about all the fighting, and the whole bloody mess that comes with it.

James huffs and rolls his eyes. “Nothing, just – don’t you think you can do better than getting off with the next best stranger in some rancid bar?”

He snorts into his coffee. “Merlin, not everyone wants to have their happily-ever-after at 19, Prongs. I’m perfectly happy as it is.”

There’s a niggling voice in the back of his mind, questioning why exactly James assumes that a quick hook-up is all he’s doing when going out. It’s a little too close to certain homophobic stereotypes that are widespread in both the Wizarding and the Muggle world, but he shoves the hurt that thought causes away. He’s in no mood to call James out on it now, and if it should really be the reason, he’s not sure he actually wants to know.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” James snaps, drawing Sirius’ attention back to him and he raises his hands in a gesture of defeat.

“Nothing, just that I’m fine and that there’s no need to worry. I’m perfectly happy for you,” he says, and it might not be completely true that he’s happy about it but, well. He wants James to be happy, and that has to be enough.

James’ shoulders slump and he turns in his chair, staring out of the window behind him for a moment. “Yeah I’m – I’m supposed to, aren’t I? Happy I mean?” He turns back and fixes Sirius with one of those looks he’d developed in his year as Head Boy, the kind that always grates on Sirius’ nerves. “Anyway, I still don’t think it’s all that healthy what you’re doing.”

He clenches his jaw and takes a deep breath. “Duly noted, but to be honest, I don’t care.”

“What do you mean, you don’t care?” James’ anger is back in an instant and it’s enough to snap the little patience Sirius has.

“What is your bloody problem? I’m 19, I’m fighting in a war, and if I want to get wasted one or two nights a week and yes, sometimes fuck around to forget about the whole mess, it’s none of your fucking business,” he growls. Every other time, he might’ve corrected James’ accusations, but he really doesn’t feel like justifying himself right now.

Standing up, he throws a glare at James before stomping out of the kitchen. His head is still pounding which only gets worse when he slams the bathroom door behind himself with more force than necessary.

While he’s showering, he tries to come up with a reason for James’ strange behaviour, but every single one sounds either unlikely or downright depressing. Sure, James has changed over the last two years, starting when he was made Head Boy and going on with his relationship with Lily. For the first few months after school when Lily finally gave him a chance, he became as close to boring as James Potter can possibly get.

Still, he has never judged Sirius for not taking the same direction, sometimes even came along to Camden or for reckless rides on his bike. He has no idea why, over the last few months, James got so – he doesn’t even have a word, it’s like he’s simply unsatisfied with everything, all of a sudden.

With Sirius, with their friends, and most of all with Lily.

Of course, it might be a side-effect of fighting in this bloody war; it’s changing all of them and not for the better – the stress, the fear, the disillusionment. It didn’t take long for the first sense of excitement over finally being able to do something to wear off, for them to realize what it really means. It’s impossible to miss that it’s hardest on James who grew up sheltered and loved and is only just getting confronted with how harsh reality can be.

Still, this disagreeable, annoyed mood James is in more often than not these days is so unlike his carefree, relaxed and funny best friend that Sirius doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Especially because James won’t talk to him; whenever he tries to ask what’s bothering him, he gets half-answers and evasive statements that don’t say anything at all, and the longer this goes on, the more worried Sirius gets.

When he comes out of the bathroom, James is leaning against the wall across from the door and for a moment, they simply stare at each other, James’ eyes fixed somewhere on his naked chest instead of meeting his eyes.

“That desperate?” he attempts to joke, hoping to lighten the tense atmosphere between them, and it at least gets a small smile out of him.

“I made you breakfast,” James says before he turns around and walks back into the kitchen.

Sirius stares after him and sighs. Still not talking about it, apparently, and he’s not even going to try making sense of James waiting in front of the bathroom.

He had maybe three bites of his toast when a Patronus bursts into the kitchen, an owl they know all too well, and both of them instantly tense.

“Attack on Diagon Alley, come immediately. Apparate to the side of Gringotts,” Moody’s voice echoes through the silent kitchen, and it only takes a second before they’re both jumping up to scramble for their boots and coats.

Sirius spares a moment to mourn his food and to mentally curse the bloody Death Eaters six ways to Sunday – honestly, can’t he have one afternoon to wallow in his hangover? – but less than five minutes later they’re both rushing out of the front door, down the stairs and into their backyard, before popping away.

They’re met with chaos, screams, and coloured spells charging the air and Sirius would’ve been hit by a stray curse if someone didn’t grab them from behind, unceremoniously pulling them to the ground.

They both have their wands at the alleged attacker's throat in a heartbeat but quickly lower them when they’re met with Moody’s approving expression.

“Sorry,” James mutters but Moody waves him off.

“Don’t worry about it lad, it’s what I’d have expected anyway.”

“What’s going on, then?” Sirius asks, thinking that now really isn’t the time for another lecture on Constant Vigilance.

“It’s hard to say. According to reports from civilians that didn’t completely lose their minds yet, a group of ten to fifteen Death Eaters apparated into the alley, about ten minutes ago, randomly starting to destroy stores and attacking people. The Aurors are notified and Order members are just starting to arrive, you two are one of the firsts,” Moody explains, anger clear on his scarred face.

“Any knowledge about casualties?” Sirius asks and tries to look around the corner of the bank to make out what’s going on.

All he can see are people running around or trying to take cover, and there’s the unmistakable sound of glass shattering over the screams. For a moment he thinks that he can make out Bellatrix’s insane laughter, but it might just be his imagination.

“None yet. We’re going to put wards up any moment now so nobody can apparate out. It’s not ideal because, well, nobody will get out, but those who didn’t think of that yet probably won’t anyway, and maybe we’ll at least have a chance to make some arrests.”

James grimaces next to him and Sirius agrees with the sentiment, but it’s not like they’re not used to Moody’s rather unorthodox methods by now, or like a part of him doesn’t agree. It never fails to astonish him how utterly stupid some people behave in a crisis.

He simply nods, choosing not to comment. “Should we get going, then?”

“If you don’t mind not waiting for back-up?” Moody asks in a rare show of concern, and Sirius looks at James, who mirrors his resolve.

“It’s not like those in there have back-up now, do they?” James says with a shrug, and Moody claps them both on the back.

“True that. Off you go then,” he barks and already turns away towards another two arrivals.

The two of them fall into their usual position that leaves as little space uncovered on their backs as possible and slowly creep around the bank, keeping to the shadows.

It’s nearing evening and already getting dark, but while it serves to their advantage, it does the same for their opponents. At least all lasting symptoms of his hangover are swept away with the adrenaline that’s coursing through him. Small mercies.

They come across a family cowering in the entrance of the bank and take a moment to send them to Moody before they cross the remaining distance and step into the alley.

The street is nearly empty by now, only a few people remaining and most of them obviously attempting to fight. Most shops have roller blinds down their windows, something many of them installed over the last few years, and it doesn’t take long to make out the first few dark-robed, masked figures in between.

Sirius experiences a second of terrorised hesitation – what if Regulus is here?

James’ warm hand on his wrist startles him and his eyes are so full of understanding that Sirius’ throat constricts and he has to look away.

“Alright?” James murmurs, barely audible over the screams and shouts, and he takes a deep breath to centre himself and nods.

“Yeah, let’s go,” he says, thankful that his voice doesn’t shake. It’s a weird experience, not wanting to storm into battle headfirst. Usually, he has to constrain himself to not appear too eager, but the possibility of having to face off against his brother makes his throat go dry and his hands tremble.

They stay close to the storefronts as they creep closer towards the ongoing fights because from where they stand, the chances of hitting the wrong person are still too high.

Nobody pays them much attention though and as soon as Sirius has a clear path, he fires an Expulso at the Death Eater closest to him. He smiles grimly when it hits him square in the back but doesn’t take the time to marvel at his clean hit, seeing that it instantly pulls the attention of others towards him and James.

They quickly fall into the way too well-known motion of duelling, James focusing on shielding and Sirius on attacking. He lands another hit with a Diffindo that makes the bastards wand-arm unusable and forces his partner to retreat, and they manage to get a few steps closer again.

James gets another one – and even with his mask, that one looks so young that Sirius wonders if he’s even finished Hogwarts yet – with a well-timed Incarcerus, and a few more of the civilians manage to retreat.

It’s then that Sirius hears that bloody cackle again that, despite his best intentions, always makes his blood run cold. There’s just something utterly terrifying about his unhinged cousin, even if he’d never let it show.

“Ickle Sirius is here,” she crows in a sing-song voice and he can feel James tense beside him. “Do you want to have a bit of fun for yourself, little cousin? Maybe you should’ve joined us, fewer rules and all that,” she continues while she strolls over to them with her eyes fixed on his face and her lips curled into a mocking smirk.

He doesn’t deign it with an answer, long since used to her annoying but predictable attempts to rile him up, and simply sends a string of curses at her that she manages to deflect effortlessly.

Damn the Blacks and their tradition of training their children in duelling so thoroughly.

“No? No desire for a bit more glamour?” she goes on, and he bites his tongue to not react. He knows, all she wants is to get a rise out of him, to make him lose his temper and become careless. Unfortunately, she has always been exceptionally good at exactly that.

Not that it takes much in general, but she has the questionable advantage of knowing just where to push.

“Your brother seems to enjoy it though,” she sings with a manic grin, black eyes gleaming maliciously. She’s one of the only ones who nearly never wears a mask which tells way too much about her fanatic loyalty.

“I heard the two of you had a little reunion recently?” she goes on, and it’s this, the reminder of Regulus, the reminder that he’s in her grasp and that she dares to tease him about it; that she knows that he defended his brother ever since he could stand, especially against her cruel streak; the reminder that he can’t do that anymore –

All that, together with her, “You know, some thought it might have been his fault that you turned up there. I rather disagreed, I don’t think he cares much for you, but he still screamed prettily enough for me to keep that to myself.”

There’s a sudden, loud ringing in his ears, his last amount of self-control snapping. It’s like he can feel it, the moment his tight hold on his temper slips and hot, twisting fury overtakes his mind. Distinctly, he can hear James trying to get through to him, but it doesn’t really reach him anymore.

He switches to spells that are unquestionably dark but keeps casting silently, everything but Bellatrix in front of him falling away, fading out of existence. He doesn’t care anymore if he gets hurt, if there are civilians around that they should get to safety, or if any of his spells are ‘approved of´.’ He just wants to make her hurt, to finally shut her up and, more than anything else, to make her pay.

“Ooh, now you’re fighting, little cousin,” she crows, but there’s a new tension to her shoulders and rigour in her movements that wasn’t there before.

Good. He knows her well enough to see that she’s concerned now, or as concerned as Bellatrix Black ever gets, at least, and he doesn’t let up on the array of curses he strings together.

“Do you think your pretty little brother would like that you’re still concerned for him?” she says with a grin while she’s blocking another string of curses from him before sending back her own.

James does his best to keep up some shields but they’re rather ineffective to most of her spells and Sirius just hopes, in some distant corner of his mind, that she keeps her focus on him.

It’s only a minuscule distraction but it’s enough. He sees the red beam of light a second too late, and the next thing he knows is pain lighting up his whole body, clawing at his mind and burning him up inside out as if he’s swallowed Fiendfyre.

He uses the little consciousness he still possesses to clench his teeth and press his lips together, refusing to let her hear him scream. Her Crucio is not much worse than his mothers, and if he managed to stay silent through those, he’s not going to give his bloody cousin the satisfaction.

It’s probably not even been a minute, but it feels like half an eternity until she lifts the curse and he slumps forward, barely catching himself from falling face-first onto the cobblestone street.

He doesn’t give himself any time to catch his breath, ignores his shaking limbs and pulls himself back up, wand clenched tightly in his hand and already another curse on the tip of his tongue.

“Such a pity, Regulus did scream so nicely under my master’s wand,” she pouts while side-stepping his Blood Boiling Curse. “But then, you’re more familiar with this particular little spell, aren’t you? Always took the blame for little Reggie. Maybe you should’ve let him have a turn from time to time?”

“You’re such a bloody bitch,” he spits which, to no one’s surprise, only makes her laugh.

He’s just planning to transfigure some of the rubble to use it as weapons when there’s an ear-shattering crash all over the alley. The whole street seems to shake with it, the few windows that had survived until now breaking, glass raining down in tiny little pieces that glint in the dim light. Great, so the wards have fallen.

“Ooh, it seems like we’re getting a visitor,” Bellatrix sings, clapping her hands together and Sirius uses the slip in her attention to send another nasty Cutting Curse at her, making sure that she will have a hard time healing it.

This time, he hits his target and would probably question the sense of utter satisfaction and glee at the blood that instantly starts flowing from her stomach and left arm if he wasn’t still so utterly furious.

She screams, the sound more enraged than pained, but is interrupted by a booming voice echoing through the street. “Silence. Enough of this. Gather around to pay honours to your Lord.”

Sirius knows immediately who it belongs to and this time, James doesn’t have any trouble to pull him backwards, pressing the two of them into a narrow shop entrance.

They watch as Voldemort walks down the street slowly, all serpentine, inhumane features and black, flowing cloak that seems to absorb all the light around him. He’s twirling his white wand between his fingers, languidly taking in the utter destruction and numerous bodies along the street with a small, self-satisfied grin.

Sirius feels bile rising in his throat when he takes note of the small bodies that can only be children, hoping against all logic that not all of them are dead, and he jumps when Voldemort speaks a second time. “My loyal followers, you’ve done well. But why are so many of you hurt? Didn’t I instruct you better than this?”

He barely keeps himself from faking retching noises when Bellatrix falls to her knees, kissing Voldemort’s robes and whimpering something he can’t make out from where they’re standing. Honestly, the contradiction in character would be hilarious if the circumstances were less severe.

She must’ve mentioned him because Voldemort’s red eyes stray over the shop fronts until they settle on him and James, and he instantly takes a step in front of his best friend.

Bad enough that his brother had to suffer for his stupidity, he’s not going to let the same thing happen to James.

Of course, the idiot won’t have any of it and stubbornly steps next to him, raising his chin defiantly and crossing his arms over his chest, the picture he makes way too cocky for his own good.

Still, it gets a small smile out of Sirius and he can’t help it growing into a smirk when he meets that bastard’s eyes with a raised eyebrow.

“You two,” Voldemort says, voice smooth and merely sounding curious. “You keep fighting admirably. Did you, by any chance, think about the offer I’ve made you the last time we met?” He tilts his head slightly, reminding Sirius of a snake inspecting its prey which, all things considered, is probably not too far off.

Next to him, James snorts and Sirius glances at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Not in a million years,” James states confidently, wand tapping against his arm, and he looks so utterly disgusted that Voldemort even dares to suggest something like this that Sirius vows to buy him a present, or something.

“Really? Not even you, Black? Your brother proves himself to be rather interesting.”

He clenches his jaw against the new wave of fury crashing over him – not even he is stupid enough to confront Voldemort the same way he did with Bellatrix. Alright, he probably would if it wasn’t for James, who would definitely barge after him like the bloody, loyal, fantastic idiot that he is.

Instead of rising to the bait, he keeps his face blank and his hands relaxed, and says as emotionlessly as he can muster, “As far as I’m aware, I am not longer considered family, nor do I consider them anywhere close to that term.”

Voldemort has the audacity to chuckle, the sound making his skin crawl. “Oh yes, I’ve heard. I’m no stranger to freeing myself from familial bounds.”

Before he can come up with an answer, James speaks up, contempt unmistakably ringing through his words. “Well, he has family, just one superior to those who wanted to make him into something he’s not.”

Presents. Plural. Really.

Voldemort’s grin turns mocking and for a moment, he just watches the two of them. “How very touching. But I have a family too, you know? One I’ve picked and selected myself, just like you.”

James scoffs – of course he does – and gets as close to sneering as he will ever be able to. “You don’t have a family, you have pathetic, whimpering sycophants. You wouldn’t know what family is if it punched you in the face, you pitiful excuse for a human being.”

Sirius can’t help the bark of laughter that escapes him, however short, and he throws an arm around James’ shoulders. Granted, it’s also a precaution to be able to apparate them away within seconds if necessary, because Voldemort’s disinterest has shifted to anger at the last comment, but he would have done it either way.

He doesn’t need to act though; there’s a row of loud cracks disrupting the otherwise mostly silent alley, announcing the arrival of the Aurors at last. Honestly, it’s no surprise that these attacks keep happening if it takes the bloody Ministry half an hour to send out their forces.

Voldemort draws his eyes away from them, gaze travelling over the group of Death Eaters of which half is more or less seriously injured, and gives a long-suffering sigh. “We’re leaving.”

He disappears in a cloud of black smoke, all dramatic and extra – and yes, Sirius might not be the best to criticize ‘dramatic’ but honestly – followed by his followers. Bellatrix shoots the dark mark into the sky before she’s apparating away, sending him a wink that makes him want to shower for days.

As soon as they’re all gone, both James and him slumping against the door in their back, exhaling in a rush.

They’re silent as they watch the group of Aurors spread out over the street, shouting orders and information at each other.

“Pathetic, whimpering sycophants?” Sirius asks eventually, turning his head to raise an amused eyebrow at James who at least looks slightly sheepish.

Then he shrugs, running a hand through his hair and pinning him with a look. “Not much worse than the way you lost your head over Bellatrix, isn’t it? Not that it wasn’t justified but, well.”

Sirius could come up with a few arguments for why baiting Voldemort is worse than Bellatrix, but exhaustion is quickly catching up on him and really, it’s not worth arguing about. Besides, James does have a point – while he could never claim honest regret, his little stunt could have gone spectacularly wrong. He’s a good duellist, but he’s not infallible and shouldn’t overestimate himself.

Or put James into danger with his recklessness.

Moody finds them five minutes later and, after inspecting them critically, claps them both on the shoulders. “Good work you two. Not bad, your duel with Bellatrix, though unfortunately, aside from her, we couldn’t get any of their identities.”

He grimaces slightly; apart from trying to prevent attacks or at least keep them at bay, one of their main goals is to discover just who exactly hides behind those masks, and they didn’t manage it with a single one today.

Still, keeping Bellatrix away from everyone else is a rather important feat and thankfully, Moody seems to see that the same way. He orders Sirius to get a potion for his still trembling limbs and then dismisses them, much to their relief.

James apparates them home where they take much longer than usual to make it up the stairs, and they only kick off their shoes before slumping onto the big couch in the living room. Sirius lets his head fall onto James’ shoulder and wraps his hand around James’ wrist, counting the beats of his pulse to reassure himself that they’re both still alive, still here, that they’ve made it out once more.

Now that all the adrenaline is gone, he acutely feels just how tired he is, that he didn’t really eat anything and that not only his body is way over his limits, but that his mind is also a mess.

There are varying pictures of Regulus getting tortured coming up again and again, and no matter how hard he tries to shove them away, they’re annoyingly persistent. Together with the guilt that he’s feeling about it – not only the vague sense of leaving his brother behind in that bloody house but the very real one of being brash and reckless and not thinking about the consequences of revealing himself, he feels like he suddenly has no strength left at all.

“I’m going to bed,” he mutters, pulling himself up and disappearing down the corridor before James can say anything.

He doesn’t bother to turn on the lights in his room, just shrugs off his jacket and his trousers and crawls into bed. He pulls the blanket over his ears and curls in on himself, wishing that the outside world would just disappear for a while.

The shower is turned on in the next room, the rushing sound of water somewhat calming, and he sighs, burying deeper into the covers.

When a weight settles against his back he startles, his first instinct to hit his elbow into whoever dares to sneak up on him, but then the scent of cinnamon and soap gets through to him and he instantly relaxes into James, who only hums and throws an arm around his middle.

“Sorry, must have fallen asleep for a moment,” he murmurs and presses a bit closer into the familiar warmth. “What are you doing here?”

James leans his forehead against his shoulder, voice muffled into the jumper he’s still wearing, but he understands him well enough. “It was a shit day, didn’t want to be alone, and you don’t want to either.”

Well, he can’t argue with that. It’s not like it’s unusual for them to sleep in the same bed, they do that occasionally ever since he can remember. At some point in their first-year, James had noticed how often he has nightmares and insisted on keeping him company.

At first, Sirius had been rather doubtful – his family wasn’t exactly high on the whole comfort-thing – but he couldn’t deny that it actually helped, and it just became something normal.

It’s still comforting, even if they do it less often now that they aren’t in school anymore, but even though he’d never admit it, Sirius always sleeps better with James next to him. There’s just something about knowing that they’re both safe and together, about knowing each other so intrinsically well that he doesn’t hesitate to tug his head under James’ chin and listen to his heartbeat, that manages to melt away all his worry and agitation within seconds.

Chapter Text

The first thing James becomes aware of upon waking up is the comforting weight pressed snugly into his side. He smiles softly, running a hand through Sirius’ tangled hair.

There’s nothing as reassuring as this, he thinks, his mind still full of pictures of Sirius writhing on the wet ground of Diagon Alley, biting through his lips just to deprive Bellatrix the satisfaction of his pain.

And it must have been agony. James has been on the receiving end of a Crucio more than once within the last year and he doubts that Bellatrix of all people doesn’t excel at the bloody torture spell.

That only made seeing Sirius under it worse though; knowing exactly in what kind of pain he is and being unable to do anything about it. He’d been itching to curse Bellatrix, had very nearly done so – but he also knows that the only person more unhinged than her is Voldemort himself, and the chances that she would've retaliated by killing Sirius were simply too high.

He stays where he is for a little longer, just watches Sirius’ calm, peaceful face; how his fingers are loosely curled into James’ shirt and how, even in his sleep, he tilts his head into James’ hand that’s still carding through his hair. When the urge to pull him as close as humanly possible becomes nearly overwhelming, he sighs softly and disentangles himself to make his way into the kitchen.

It feels ridiculously hard to put space between them just now, to let Sirius out of his sight for longer than a few moments.

Bellatrix’s gleeful comments were just as bad as Sirius’ pain; James knows that Walburga handed out harsh punishment as quickly as James’ mother does hugs. Remembers better than he wants to in what state Sirius arrived at his doorstep three years ago, and it never stops making his blood boil and his fingers twitch.

He doesn’t even want to start on the whole topic of Regulus. Really, he would’ve probably reacted the same way Sirius did if someone taunted him about torturing the people important to him. Not that he thinks he can completely understand the feelings Sirius has for his estranged brother, but he knows enough to be sure that Sirius is ridden with guilt.

And to fear that he might do something stupid. James can only hope that he’ll come to him first, not afterwards. If there is an afterwards, to whatever insane plan Sirius will come up with eventually.

Casting a Tempus, he startles at discovering that it’s already 1 pm. He didn’t think he’d slept that long after how early they’d fallen asleep last night.

Sirius probably needs the rest though and he brews coffee only for himself before he settles down on the broad windowsill and watches the rain run down the glass. October had just melted into November, and London is held in a tight grip of storms and freezing, unforgiving rain.

He leans his forehead against the cold glass in an attempt to let it soothe his mind, but he’s unable to let go of the concern that’s sitting heavy in his gut. He promised Lily to meet her for a late lunch, but he’s not sure if it’s smart to leave Sirius alone right now.

After finishing his coffee, and trying and failing to come up with a legitimate excuse that involves neither the truth nor lies, he admits defeat and quickly gets dressed before apparating to Southampton.

Lily is already waiting, red hair easy to spot against the grey weather and dark, wooden house fronts of the small alley they’d agreed on, and he forces a smile when he’s approaching her.

Once again, he wonders about the lack of butterflies and excitement, so ever-present during the first few months of their relationship.

Right now, it feels more like an obligation than anything else, and no matter how many times Sirius says that his expectations are too high, that he should give it time, he doesn’t think that it’s supposed to be like this. Doesn’t think he’s meant to prefer spending time with his best friend, whom he lives with for Merlin’s sake, over a date with his girlfriend.

It’s not like he can tell Sirius that though, it’ll only go to his head.

It’s only when Lily grins at him brightly that he realizes he’s been smiling at the thought. She presses a kiss to his cheek and links their fingers together to pull him into a small café, nestled in between a bookshop and an apothecary. “You look happy,” she says, her thumb rubbing over his knuckles, and he forces his smile to stay where it is.

“Just happy to see you,” he answers absentmindedly, only belatedly realizing that he, strictly speaking, just lied to her.

He distracts himself by looking around and revelling in the warmth that’s coming from the fireplace. It’s cosy, small tables with old-looking armchairs scattered around, candles spending some light and soft music playing in the background, the kind Sirius would scoff at and proclaim it’s boring.

They take a table in the corner, hidden from view, and they’re both silent until the waiter comes to take their orders. James’ thoughts are still back in the flat, wondering if Sirius woke up yet and hoping that he found the note he left behind.

“Are you alright?” Lily asks, the sudden contact of her hand against his startling him so much that he instinctively pulls away.

He tries to cover it by running his hand through his hair, but suspects he wasn’t all that successful. “Yeah, no, just – worried about Sirius. I’m sorry.”

There’s a flicker of something in her eyes but it’s gone too quickly for him to decipher. “I heard there was a raid yesterday?” she asks with a concerned look, and he instantly feels bad for not calling her afterwards. “I visited my parents, I think that’s why I didn’t get the Patronus.”

He waits until they get their coffees and thinks about what to say, but eventually decides to be honest. He’s never had any talent for lying, and he also doesn’t want to do it. It’s worrisome enough that he already did, today, and that he’s even considering to do so again.

“Yeah, there was an attack on Diagon Alley, Moody sent us a Patronus. We were one of the firsts to arrive and it was…” he pauses, unable to come up with a word that conveys the horror of it all, Sirius convulsing on the ground replaying in his mind all over.

Lily looks like she understands though, which only worsens the guilt churning in his stomach. He shoves the thoughts away but vows to finally confront them later, tugging at his hair to centre himself.

“Well, you can probably imagine. There were around fifteen Death Eaters I think, and too many casualties. It was utter chaos, but we managed to render a few of them unable to fight.”

Really, it’s a euphemism he doesn’t think he would’ve used so casually a year ago. He chews on his bottom lip before taking a sip of his coffee to stall for a little longer. “Bellatrix was there,” he finally says when it’s impossible to draw it out any longer, and Lily winces.

He doubts she does for the same reason he did – she gets along well with Sirius, but they’re not exactly close enough for her to know the extent of just how rotten his family is.

He questions again if he should tell her at all, but he really needs to get it off his chest. Remus would understand, but he’s still away on some mission from Dumbledore, so he’ll have to make do with this.

“She’s Sirius’ cousin, it’s complicated. She tried to bait him, as she always does, and at the beginning he was rather good about it.”

She groans and rolls her eyes like it’s to be expected that Sirius would eventually snap, and he feels indignation curl through his chest.

Sirius wouldn’t have lost his head if Bellatrix hadn’t brought up how much she enjoyed watching his brother getting tortured. And even if he did, there’s only one person besides himself that has the right to be annoyed with Sirius, and that’s Remus. Maybe Peter, if he’s gracious.

He swallows it down, but his tone is still harsher than he means it to be when he goes on. “She started telling him about what Voldemort did to his brother –“

“His brother is a Death Eater?” Lily exclaims loudly, eyes widening, and he exhales a measured breath. Reminds himself that it’s a justified reaction to have for someone who hasn’t dealt with Sirius’ family for years now.

“It’s a long, complicated story,” he says, hoping that she won’t ask further. “Anyway, she told him at length how Regulus was tortured and how much he screamed, and Sirius lost it. Good thing he did, to some degree, because he actually managed to keep her busy quite nicely,” he finishes with a fleeting grin, unable to help himself.

Lily huffs, and he keeps talking before she can say anything. “She caught him with a Crucio though.” He runs a hand over his face and looks away, has to swallow against the way his throat closes up, clenching his hands around his mug until his knuckles turn white. “She didn’t stop taunting him, but before it could get worse, Voldemort arrived.”

He can hear her breath catch and tries for a reassuring smile. “Of course, dear Bellatrix had to instantly tell him all about it, and Voldemort attempted to rile Sirius up as well. Wasn’t all that successful though.”

Grinning again, he ignores her disbelieving look. “Might have been connected to me calling his followers pathetic and whiny and him a pitiful excuse for a human being, who knows.”

“James!” she scolds, but he can see some amusement dancing in her eyes. Still, Sirius didn’t try to hide it – and now he’s really starting to get unfair, damn it. Remus would’ve had the exact same reaction as Lily and, now that he thinks about it, it might be the more reasonable one.

It’s why he loves Sirius so much, isn’t it? Because he’s not reasonable, because he simply made sure that they would get away if they had to, but knew perfectly well why James said what he did.

The thought lingers, somehow, and he has the impression that it’s more important than he actually realises, but he can’t put his finger to it. Sighing to himself, he catalogues it away for later and turns his attention back to Lily.

“Anyway, we were probably lucky that the Aurors arrived just then, and that many of his followers were too injured to keep fighting. But Sirius was pretty shaken afterwards and had nightmares half of the night, so I’m scared he’s going to do something stupid. He doesn’t admit it, but his brother is the only person of that whole bloody family he doesn’t hate as much as he likes to claim.”

Lily hums and watches him over the rim of her mug before she puts it down slowly. “How do you know about his nightmares?” she asks eventually, sounding curious, and for a moment he doesn’t understand why she would ask.

“We slept in the same bed. We often do after a shit day,” he says with a shrug. It makes sense that it never came up, and it’s not like Remus and Peter never teased them about it. “We both sleep better when we do,” he adds when she raises both eyebrows, somehow looking amused and incredulous at the same time.

She slowly shakes her head, tugging a strand of hair behind her ear and drawing her brows together as if she’s carefully deliberating what to say. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” she mutters, seemingly more to herself before she takes a deep breath. “Either way, I understand why you’re worried but – “ she hesitates again before she sighs, straightening up and crossing her arms on the table. “You won’t be able to always look after him. He needs to learn to take care of himself at some point.”

“Why?” he blurts out before he can think about it. “It’s what I do, it’s what we do – we look after each other and yeah, sometimes we also edge each other on but I don’t even know what I’d do if I didn’t have to look after him.”

It’s more than true; he has no idea how he would manage without Sirius by his side, and he has no intention to find out either. Not to mention that Sirius would probably either get himself killed or commit some serious crimes within a month of being left to his own devices.

Lily stares at him for long moments, eyes roaming over his face like she’s searching for something. “James, do you think our relationship is going well?” she asks after a moment, head tilted slightly and fingers fiddling with her spoon.

“Yeah – I mean, why would you ask that now?” he stammers, caught off guard and feeling a bit lost upon the sudden change of topic.

Once more, there’s a pang of guilt, because on second thought, his answer doesn’t feel completely truthful. He really needs to invest some time to think about this before he tries discussing it with Lily though.

She looks uncomfortable suddenly, shifting in her chair and staring at her hands. When she raises her head again, there’s more uncertainty in her eyes than he has ever seen on her. “Because I actually wanted to meet with you today to ask – if you – well, what you thought about moving in together? I mean, we’re dating for over a year now and…” she trails off and looks at him expectantly.

He frowns, blinking slowly while his thoughts are tumbling over each other and not a single one turning out comprehensible. Is she – did she really just ask him to move in with her? To leave his small, chaotic, perfect flat, to leave Sirius?

It’s what couples do, a voice that sounds an awful lot like Remus speaks up over the white noise, and he swallows a few times around the sudden lump in his throat. He probably should have expected this, sooner or later, and the longer he’s sitting here, silently staring at his girlfriend and only coming up with reason upon reason why he doesn’t want to stop living with Sirius, the clearer the disappointment and resignation in Lily’s expression becomes.

“I – well that is – I need to think about it,” he finally presses out, jumping up so quickly that he knocks his chair over. The clattering sound seems unnaturally loud, his heart is racing, his hands are trembling, and he grabs his cloak tightly to hide it. “I’m sorry Lily, I need to – I forgot – I talk to you later, alright?”

Not waiting for an answer, he turns on his heel and all but flees the café. Biting wind and rain hit him as soon as he stumbles out of the door and he takes deep breaths, only just keeping himself from running, and apparates as soon as he’s out of sight.

He stumbles slightly upon landing and looks around, relieved when he realizes that he’s in Godric’s Hollow. Really, he should stop apparating without a clear destination in mind, it’s bound to go wrong one of these days.

Sighing to himself, he starts walking into the direction of the forest and pulls his cloak more tightly around himself.

Already, guilt is gnawing at him. He shouldn’t have left Lily like this, should have anticipated the question, should have confronted all his doubts and uncertainties sooner. There are a lot of should and shouldn’t have’s, and he wonders when he became so… non-confrontational with himself.

There’s nothing for it though, he needs to sort his head out before he tries making any decisions.

There’s the fleeting idea of returning home, to check on Sirius, maybe distract himself for just another hour, but he grits his teeth against the impulse. This is exactly what got him into this mess in the first place, and he refuses to rope himself into it once again.

Right. Moving in with Lily – for all intents and purposes, the idea should make him happy, excited even, but somehow, it only fills him with a vague sense of dread.

Lily had asked if he thinks that their relationship is going well and when he said yes, it felt like a lie. So he obviously doesn’t, contrary to her. That’s a problem, but one he actually was aware of, even if he didn’t really want to admit it to himself.

He’d chased after her for so long that he thinks he’s supposed to be happier, and no matter how many times Sirius tells him that his expectations are too high, he simply knows that it’s not where his discontentment stems from. He never had many expectations to begin with, had only wanted a chance to spend time with her, convinced that alone would be enough to make him happy.

And to some degree, it is; she understands him, takes up with his occasional idiocy, she makes him laugh, they always have something to talk about. It’s everything he could’ve hoped for and still, it feels… flat. Like there’s something missing, something that keeps slipping out of his grasp whenever he tries to pin it down.

It reminds him of the stray thought he had earlier, of the memory of Sirius not bothering to cover his laugh when he baited Voldemort, like the impulsive idiot that he is. Sirius, who doesn’t put up with him because he revels in it, Sirius, who’s the only person in whose company he doesn’t feel like anything is missing.

Never did, and probably never will. From the moment they’d met, they were always on the same page, inseparable through their whole time at Hogwarts, holidays being a pain for the time they were separated. When Sirius had finally moved in with him and his parents, there was barely a moment they didn’t spend together.

And it’s not like they’re completely similar, or that they aren’t perfectly aware of each other’s faults. Sirius possesses some dark, lurking shadows that tend to make him cruel and ruthless when he loses his temper, whereas James knows perfectly well by now that he grew up pampered and sheltered, leading to a strange mix of naivety and arrogance.

Somehow though, these differences only make them fit better, balancing each other out. Over the years they’ve become so interwoven with each other that he’s not sure if they’re able to pull apart again, if he even wants to try.

There’d never been a doubt that they would move in together after school and still, James sometimes feels like they’re seeing less of each other. Some of it is due to their involvement in this bloody war, but a lot of it is because of his relationship with Lily.

Well, and Sirius spending too many nights in fucked up bars getting it on with some random guys, which shouldn’t annoy him as much as it does. It took Sirius so long to accept his sexuality, James should be happier for him, and he winces at another pang of guilt.

He sighs and looks around, realizing that he’s already deep in the forest and that it’s slowly getting dark – and that he’s still not much further in picking apart his actual problem.

What he does know is that he doesn’t want to stop living with Sirius. That he’s not as happy with his relationship as he’s supposed to be – which begs the question, does he love Lily?

He remembers what Remus said to him at some point during seventh year, when he was once again complaining about her continued rejections, and how he’s afraid that he’ll never get another chance when they’re out of school.

‘Maybe James, it’s more about the chase than about her as a person. You don’t even know her all that well, and the fact that she keeps saying no might be exactly why you keep going after her. It’s a good distraction.’

He didn’t understand it at the time, waved him off and disregarded it as another one of Moony’s occasional performances as an armchair psychologist, but now he thinks that there might have been a grain of truth in it.

Because he can’t answer his own question with the resounding ‘yes’ he would have expected.

It also begs the question of why he was so intent on chasing someone he thought he could never have, and, even worse – what the fuck is he supposed to do now?

A sudden crack of thunder startles him and he grimaces. He should probably get home, eat something, and try to calmly think through all of this. Maybe Sirius will be more helpful for once if he tells him about his recent revelations.

He stubbornly ignores the quiet voice telling him that he also wants to desperately make sure that Sirius is alright. Really, he thinks he did rather a lot of introspection today and he’s not all that happy with what he found.

How is he even supposed to talk to Lily about this? ‘Sorry, I know I annoyed the shit out of you for seven years, but now that you’re finally going out with me and obviously think that it’s going great, I just realized that I don’t love you as much as I thought I do.’

Yeah, that would go over great.

Sighing again, he apparates into the tiny backyard of their apartment complex. The rain isn’t as bad in London as in Godric’s Hollow, and he briefly considers drawing out his return just a little longer. The need to check on Sirius is tearing at his already frail composure though, and he’s also getting cold.

When he opens the door to their flat, he’s instantly hit by loud music playing on the record player that Sirius had got as soon as they’d signed the contract.

Sirius is lying on the floor in the middle of the living room, eyes closed and a joint dangling between his fingers as his hand is moving lazily to the music. Smoke is wafting around him, blurring his features, but James can make out his peaceful expression and smiles softly.

He flicks his wand to open the window before he plops down, laying his head onto Sirius’ stomach and plucking the joint out of his fingers. “Clapton again?” he asks, turning his head to look up at him, his grin only growing when Sirius smiles back with bright eyes.

He already feels calmer than he has the whole day and for a moment, he allows himself to ignore all those tangled thoughts, uncomfortable truths, and questions of the last few hours.

“The man is like – the Merlin of playing guitar, and you know it,” Sirius says with flashing eyes and an extensive, sloppy gesture.

James just nods, drags in a lungful of smoke and closes his eyes, relishing in the slight burn in his throat. It’s not the first time Sirius is saying this but then, it’s not like he disagrees, and as long as Sirius looks as happy and relaxed as he does now, James couldn’t care less about his choice of music or the repetitiveness of his arguments.

“Moody’s going to have a fit if we’re called in though,” he says as he hands back the joint.

Sirius just shrugs and runs a hand through James’ hair. “I don’t see how it’s any of his business, it’s not like we’d turn up completely sloshed.”

He just hums in response. His eyes are getting heavy and, paired with Sirius still carding his fingers through his hair, he can’t be bothered to argue right now. He knows Sirius can’t be either and they fall silent, only the music filling the space between them.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the vinyl comes to an end, but neither of them wants to get up and so they just stay like this, comfortable and content.

“I had lunch with Lily earlier,” he says after a while without opening his eyes. His thoughts have quieted down remarkably, but it’s not like he has forgotten about any of it. “It was – it didn’t go well,” he adds. He wants to talk about it with Sirius, but some part of him is reluctant to bring it up, though he doesn’t really understand why.

Sirius pats his head slightly. “Give it time,” he says, as he always does, and James cranes his neck a bit to get him to keep running his fingers through his hair, ignoring the spike of annoyance at the reoccurring statement. It’s not like Sirius knows that something’s changed.

“She asked me to move in with her.” The words are out before he can stop himself and he winces – he didn’t mean to spring it on Sirius like this.

As expected, Sirius instantly tenses, his hand clenching in James’ hair. “What?” he asks, voice flat and low, and James sighs, sitting up to lean against the couch.

“I ran,” he admits with a small, mirthless smile and runs a hand through his hair. “I – I don’t want to move in with her. I want to…” he trails off and looks back at Sirius who has propped himself up on his elbows and is watching him closely.

He’s wearing one of James’ jumpers, hair up in a messy bun and his eyes still bright and a bit glassy. But there’s a small crease between his brows and his head is tilted, and somehow James is completely unable to tear his eyes away. His heart is hammering in his chest and his throat is dry, and he thinks that this is how he’s supposed to feel when he looks at Lily.

It takes a second for that thought to register but when it does, his eyes widen, and he suddenly feels like he just dropped off his broom, falling and falling and falling.


Chapter Text

Sirius watches with worry and confusion as James’ expression morphs from slightly miserable to shock and then horror. He looks like a deer caught in the headlight and Sirius can’t even grin at the pun.

Sitting up all the way, he reaches out but snatches his hand back when James flinches away. He can’t remember that ever happening and his worry increases tenfold. “Are you alright?” he asks softly, and James looks at him like he forgot that he’s not alone.

“Yeah, no, fine I just –“ he stumbles over his words and stares at Sirius with wide eyes while he’s getting increasingly pale.

“James,” he says lowly, keeping his distance despite wanting to do nothing more than to pull him into a hug. He’s never felt so disconnected from him and it makes his chest ache.

James swallows a few times before he takes a deep breath and says, “I don’t love Lily. I – “ he clicks his mouth shut and averts his eyes, hands twisting together.

Sirius doesn’t know what to say. It doesn’t happen very often, but James caught him completely by surprise and he scrambles to find the right words. “You – what? But how, I mean – are you sure?”

He didn’t expect James to glare at him like he’s just insulted his whole family. “Yes, I’m sure,” he snaps. “Don’t tell me again to give it time or I might hex you.” The seriousness of the threat is slightly diminished by the way James’ scrunches his nose to push up his glasses, but Sirius suspects that now isn’t the time to grin fondly at it.

Instead, he raises his hands in a gesture of defeat and simply watches him, pondering where to go from here. On the one hand, he’s glad that James is finally talking to him instead of giving evasive half-answers; on the other, Sirius is absolutely clueless about how to deal with James’ strange mood and sudden taciturnity.

Before he can come up with anything though, James scrambles to his feet, nearly stumbling over the coffee table in the process. “I need to go,” he rushes out and Sirius gets up as quickly as he can manage. His balance is off for a few seconds, but he catches James’ wrist before he can storm out.

“Prongs – don’t do anything reckless, and I can’t believe I’m the one saying this. Talk to me first?” he tries, hoping that it will get James to think things through because he still can’t believe completely that he’s heard him right the first time, much less that he actually means it.

“No,” James growls and wrenches his hand free. “Just – leave me alone, alright?” With that, he turns on his heel and storms out of the living room, leaving Sirius standing dumbly in the middle of it, feeling like he’s just been slapped.

The only consolation is that James only disappears into his room, not out of the door, and he hopes that a bit of time will calm him down.

Usually, it’s Sirius who needs a whole lot of prompting to open up, and he finally gets why his friends tend to get exasperated with him about it so often. He plops down on the couch with a deep sigh and throws an arm over his face, but it doesn’t take long for his agitation to catch up on him. James’ sudden – whatever this is – is only the tip of the iceberg, and he’s too restless to lie around and wait for things to solve themselves out.

It’s not like he can do anything about it right now though. He’s completely out of his depth here but knows him well enough to be certain that pushing won’t get him anywhere. James flinched away from him, for Merlin’s sake, and aside from the fact that this only happened once in their sixth year, it hurt him more than he cares to admit.

That leaves another pressing matter his mind won’t shut up about, and while he knows that it might be a futile attempt, he can at least try to do something about that.

With one last look at James’ closed door, he walks into his room and ignores the mess of clothes, books, and empty mugs on the floor in favour of rummaging through his trunk for some parchment and a biro.

He ponders for a moment to sit down in the kitchen but disregards it just as quickly – he doubts that James would approve of his idea. He doesn’t want anyone to stop him, and neither to get into a fight on top of everything else.

So he quickly exchanges his sweatpants for jeans, throws on his leather jacket and his boots, and then makes his way out of the flat into the small café across the street. The Muggles might look at his parchment strangely, but it’s not like that’s the weirdest thing you can find in London.

He orders a coffee and sits down at a table in a corner, staring at the parchment.

Now that he has actually decided to write to Regulus, his mind seems utterly blank. His thoughts keep straying back to James, his “I don’t love Lily,” repeating over and over in Sirius’ mind. He thinks he should be more shocked, more disbelieving, more something.

He tries to put the vague sense of relief down to being glad that James won’t leave him to move in with her, but it doesn’t feel like that’s the whole point.

‘Dear brother of mine,’ he writes but crosses it out instantly.

‘Dear Regulus,’ well, that’s better.

He tries about ten different approaches but eventually settles on something simple. He has no idea if there’s a chance that his letter might be intercepted, and he definitely doesn’t want to get his brother into even more trouble than he already did.

‘Dear Regulus,

I heard from a mutual acquaintance that a recent stupidity of mine got you into a lot of trouble. I’m sorry, that really wasn’t my intention but then, I could say that about many things and it wouldn’t make it better either way.

You probably think I’m angry, and a part of me certainly is, but there are more important matters that are bothering me. I know that you have no reason to believe, much less trust me, but I would really like to see and talk to you.

Considering our individual circumstances, I’m aware that this could go disastrously, so if you’d be willing, I would suggest a meeting place outside of the wizarding world.

I will be at the Southwark Cathedral, tomorrow at 9 pm, whether you answer me or not. Please come.’

He doesn’t sign it and while it’s not perfect, he just hopes it will be enough. Regulus has always been curious to a fault, and he just hopes that if not for anything else, it might tempt him enough to turn up.

The restlessness still doesn’t let up though and after finishing his coffee, he puts some money on the table and leaves the café. Outside, he leans against the wall and ponders what to do; he doesn’t feel like going home yet and eventually decides to check up on his friends.

Ever since they’re out of school, it gets more and more complicated to catch up with each other. Remus is sent on missions by Dumbledore so often that Sirius wonders how he even deals with the constant pressure, and Peter’s mother is sick, so he’s spending a lot of time with her.

When his cigarette is burnt down, he looks around for a spot to apparate from when he has a better idea and smiles to himself. Walking down the street, he discreetly applies some safety charms to himself before he mounts his motorbike and kicks off with a loud whoop.

It has stopped raining at some point, and the lights of streetlamps and neon signs are reflecting on the wet asphalt, the colours blurring and the cold air biting into his skin. It only makes him push his bike faster, the rush finally dispelling some of the burning restlessness that’s itching underneath his skin.

When he arrives at Peter’s flat, he already feels a little better and grins when Peter opens the door quickly.

“Hey there, Padfoot, what’s up?” he asks, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as his eyes flicker up and down the narrow corridor.

Sirius frowns at the state he’s in; there are dark shadows under his eyes and he’s wringing his hands, and once again he thinks that this damned war is driving all of them around the bent.

Case in point – “Ask me a security question, Pete. You know that’s important,” he says more softly than he usually would.

Peter’s eyes widen and he barely bites back a wince as the gesture reminds him of James’ horrified expression earlier.

“Of – of course. Who was the first of us to discover their Animagus form?” he asks, still keeping the door half-closed and sounding subdued.

“James, and he didn’t shut up about it for weeks, the idiot,” Sirius answers with a rueful grin, but quickly shakes himself out of it when it brings back the memory of how James recoiled from him. “Who came up with the idea of the map?”

“You, and Remus was the one to figure out the charm for the password,” Peter replies confidently but still doesn’t move.

Sirius tilts his head, leaning against the bannister behind him and crossing his ankles. “Speaking of Remus, I wanted to check if he’s back home. Care to join me?” he asks, hoping to ease the uncomfortable tension. Really, what is going on with his friends recently?

Peter chews on his bottom lip and his eyes travel up and down the empty hallway again, like he expects something to attack them any second. Not that it’s completely unreasonable, but it’s starting to grate on Sirius’ nerves and he already regrets coming here.

He’s not known for his patience on the best of days, and the whole business with Regulus, his reoccurring disagreements with James and most of all, today, is not making it any better.

He likes Peter, really, he does, but he often has a hard time putting up with his timid and careful manner, not to mention that he can be rather dense.

“Never mind,” he sighs when there’s still no answer after another few beats. “Can I use your owl though? I need to send a letter as soon as possible and if Remus isn’t home…” he trails off.

“What about James’ owl?” Peter asks, and Sirius bites his tongue to keep from snapping at him.

“It’s out,” he replies curtly, not inclined to explain that he doesn’t think James would be happy about him interrupting his brooding, and neither does he want to answer any questions about who he’s writing to.

Honestly, he’s had enough of fighting and that’s certainly saying something.

“Yeah alright, do you want to –“ Peter stretches his hand out and Sirius quickly shakes his head.

“Sorry, I’d prefer to send this one off myself. Order business, you know how it is,” he says. Sure, he trusts his friends with his life, but he also knows that Peter would never keep his mouth shut if James asked him. Besides, he needs to do this one himself.

Peter sighs and for a beat, looks like he might refuse, but then he opens the door and points towards his small, crammed living room.

Sirius doesn’t spare a look for his surroundings, just walks over to the porch Peter’s small, old owl is sitting on and pets her head affectionately.

A look over his shoulder shows him that Peter’s leaning against the doorframe, watching him, and he turns his back toward him, ties the letter to Missy’s leg carefully and murmurs under his breath, “Here, take this to Regulus Black, alright? But only give it to him if he’s alone and leave if there’s a chance you might get caught.”

The owl nips his finger and he opens the window to let her out, hoping that she understood his instructions. He doesn’t want to be responsible for his brother getting into trouble a second time.

Granted, he did a lot of that himself by getting involved with the bloody Death Eaters, but Sirius isn’t fifteen anymore and can admit that Regulus most likely didn’t get much say in the matter.

At least he really wants to believe that, because the alternative is so much worse.

Sighing to himself, he turns around and claps Peter on the shoulder. “Thanks, Wormy. I’ll see you at the Order meeting in a few days, right?”

Peter only nods and is already walking back to the front door. Sirius briefly wonders why he seems so keen to get rid of him, but he dismisses it as being over-sensitive these days.

The drive to Remus’ cottage would have taken him a while if he didn’t charm his bike to fly, but as it is, he takes off as soon as he leaves the city behind and makes his way East until he reaches Maidstone.

Remus has a small cottage there, close to the woods, and he’s praying all the way that he’ll be home. He needs to talk to someone about James, and Remus is the only possible candidate for that. Peter wouldn’t keep his mouth shut, and everybody else, like Marlene or Dorcas, might just run and tell Lily about it.

He can barely believe his luck when he sees that there’s a light burning in the kitchen window and for the first time in hours, he feels something close to actual calmness wash over him.

It disappears just as quickly when Remus opens the door. “You look terrible,” he blurts out before he can stop himself, but it only gets a tired smile out of Remus.

“Nice to see you too, Pads. What did you say when you found out I was made Prefect?”

He smirks faintly at the memory. “That great power comes with great responsibility, and so it’s on you to make sure we don’t get caught. And to take as many points from Slytherin as possible. What did you answer?”

“That I’m not above taking bribes but that you shouldn’t expect me to go too easy on you because I don’t want to end up on the wrong end of Lily’s wand. And that you should stop twisting the words of great men to fit your own needs,” Remus replies instantly. “Come on in then. I’m just making tea.”

He follows Remus into the kitchen and pushes him into one of the ratty chairs. “Sit down, I’ll do that. When did you come back?” he asks, turning towards the counter and getting two mugs.

“Just an hour ago. I met with Dumbledore to report back to him and just came in. What brings you here?” he asks, and Sirius flashes him a grin over his shoulder. It doesn’t seem to placate Remus though, who frowns at him. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see you but you look like something’s bothering you.”

Damn him and his unnaturally good observational skills. Sirius stays silent while he finishes the tea and then plops down across from him.

“James,” he states primly and watches as understanding washes over Remus’ face.

“Is he still complaining that his relationship with Lily doesn’t go as expected?” Remus asks, lifting his mug and blowing into it.

Sirius kicks off his boots and pulls his knees to his chest. “It’s worse. He got home from lunch with her today and he was…” He runs a hand through his hair and ponders how to word it but eventually decides to just repeat what James said. “He told me that she asked him to move in with her and he said he ran away.”

Remus raises an eyebrow, putting down the mug and sitting up straighter.

“It still gets worse,” he says with a sigh. “He said that he doesn’t want to move in with her. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if he stays with me, but then he said he doesn’t love her. When I asked him if he’s sure he… flinched away from me. Then he snapped at me and disappeared into his room.”

Remus stares at him for long moments and eventually sags back into his chair. “Well,” he says after the silence has stretched for a while, but doesn’t come forward with anything else.

“Well what, Remus? This is not even weird anymore, it’s downright worrying. He never not talks to me!” Sirius exclaims, gesticulating wildly. Honestly, this is driving him crazy. “I always understand what’s going on with him but this time, I have absolutely no idea.”

Remus sighs again and he winces at how tired he looks. His clothes are dirty and torn in places, his hair is standing in every direction, and even his scars look more pronounced than usual.

“I think that you have to give him time,” Remus says, shaking his head to keep him from interrupting. Sirius thinks that if this is how James feels all the times he said the same thing, he might be justified to be a bit pissed at him.

“I think it’s not that surprising that he might have discovered that being with Lily is not everything he made it out to be. She was annoyed at him through most of our time at school, he didn’t even know her all that well, and now, a year after they’ve started dating and the first rush of excitement has died out, he’s seeing that too. Maybe it was more about the chase and the… distraction that came with it.”

“Distraction from what?” Sirius asks while his fingers drum a rhythm against the table.

Remus smiles softly and shakes his head. “That he needs to find out for himself and when he does, it’s his decision if he wants to tell you, not mine.”

“Oh Merlin,” he groans. “Please, don’t talk to me in riddles Remus.”

Remus just shrugs unapologetically and takes a sip of his tea. “Lily’s wish to take their relationship further was probably the push he needed to realize that it’s not what he really wants. I know you don’t want to hear this Sirius but give him time. Everything he thought he wanted turns out to not be that, it’s not easy to come to terms with.”

He nods, slowly, unable to deny that Remus has a point. Still – “I just don’t understand why he’s not talking to me,” he grumbles. “It’s not like him and you know that.”

Remus looks at him like he’s dense but stays silent, and Sirius thinks that he probably just doesn’t have an answer either.

He stays for another hour, but they don’t talk about it anymore. Instead, he tells Remus about recent missions and what was happening in London while he was gone, about the raid in Diagon Alley and about Peter’s constantly increasing nervousness.

He doesn’t mention Regulus though. Remus has always been the one who could see through him the most easily, and he doesn’t feel like getting interrogated.

Still, he does feel much better when he leaves and gets some take-out and two bottles of whiskey on his way home.

The flat is dark when he comes back and for a moment, he thinks James might have run off to break up with Lily, but when he opens the door to his room, he’s curled up on his bed.

He breathes a sigh of relief and plops down next to him, running a hand through James’ hair. “Hey there Prongs, you alright?”

James turns around and looks up at him, eyes roaming over his face before he sighs and pulls himself into a sitting position next to him.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” he says and flashes him a sheepish grin, but he turns serious again quickly. “It is just… a lot to take in and I don’t know what to do.”

He looks so miserable and lost that it makes Sirius’ heart clench, and also reminds him of what Remus said. He reaches for James’ hand but stops when he recoils again. Swallowing and trying to shove away the hurt, he tries to come up with a way to ask about it, when there’s a loud ringing from the living room, indicating that someone’s calling their floo.

“Shit,” James curses, sitting up straighter and staring at Sirius who doesn’t get how that’s a reason for concern. James’ eyes are wide, the lack of glasses only making him look more vulnerable, and his tone is bordering on begging when he asks, “Can you answer that, please? And if it’s Lily, tell her I’m not home?”

Well, that explains it. Sirius doesn’t get the time to think about his answer as James is already shoving him out of the bed. Not that there was any doubt that he would do it; no matter how much he dislikes the idea of lying to Lily, he would do far worse things for James.

He closes the door behind himself and hurries into the living room where he crouches down in front of the small hearth and flicks his wand to open the wards for a call only. As James suspected, it’s Lily, and he bites back a sympathetic grimace at her worried, tense expression.

“Hey Sirius,” she says with a pained smile that does nothing to hide the disappointment over seeing him. “Is James home?”

He frowns and slowly shakes his head. “No, sorry. Did something happen? I thought you two were on a date? I just got home, I was over at Remus’. Maybe he’s with Peter?”

Even through the fire he can see her shoulders slump and feels a pang of guilt. “Yes, we met for lunch earlier, but – ” she hesitates before she meets his eyes again. “He was worried about you and then I asked him about… something concerning our relationship and he stormed out. It wasn’t the first time he behaved weird either. Did he maybe say something to you?”

Merlin, but James could never keep anything to himself and not for the first time does he curse the fact that his best friend is a terrible actor.

“Sorry, Lily – “

“Even if he did, you wouldn’t tell me,” she states with a rueful smile. “Don’t worry, I understand. Just – when he gets home, tell him to call me or better, come over?”

“Will do,” he says with a nod. He’d love to tell her not to worry, but not only does he doubt that it would help, it would also most likely be a lie. He has a feeling that this won’t sort itself out anytime soon.

“Thanks, Sirius. See you,” she says with a defeated sigh and cuts the connection before he can answer.

For a few moments, he only stares into the flames and wonders at which point their lives became so bloody complicated. Then he remembers that he brought food and whiskey and gets up to at least lure his best friend out of his brooding.

“Come on Prongs,” he barrels into the room with forced cheerfulness. “Wallowing in self-pity won’t get you anywhere. I have Indian food and two bottles of cheap whiskey, up with you!”

James grumbles a bit to himself but relents eventually, knowing better than to refuse. “But – can we stay in, please? I really don’t feel like going out,” he says as he’s following Sirius into the kitchen.

“Sure,” he says with a shrug, getting plates and glasses. “I’m supposed to tell you to call Lily or visit her. I assume you don’t plan on doing that tonight?”

James grimaces and shakes his head but avoids meeting his eyes. “I should but I – I need some time to think.”

He only hums in response, plops down into his chair and splits the food while James pours them both a tumbler of whiskey.

“Remus is back,” he says after a while, thinking it might be better to focus on something else than James’ failing relationship. “Looks horrible, honestly, I have no idea what Dumbledore has him do but it can’t be healthy.”

“Did he contact you?” James asks with his eyes still glued to his food.

Sirius watches him for a moment, the way his hair stands in every direction, how the soft light from the candles reflects on the rim of his glasses and the way his throat moves when he swallows.

“I went over,” he says eventually and averts his own gaze. “Wanted to see if he’s back and he’d just arrived.”

At that, James finally looks up with a frown. “Did you tell him…” he gestures vaguely, but Sirius knows what he’s talking about.

Pulling up one knee against his chest, he nods. “Yeah, sorry if I shouldn’t have, I just – I was worried. Still am, to be honest, and needed someone to talk to. Remus is the only one who I’m sure will keep his mouth shut about it.”

He glances at James from underneath his lashes, trying to gauge his reaction and hoping dearly that he won’t be angry about it, but he only nods slowly. “It’s alright, Pads, I would have been worried too if I were you,” he says, and he sounds terribly tired all of a sudden.

Sirius desperately wants to reach out, but the memories of James flinching away and just how much that hurt are still fresh on his mind, so he busies himself with his food, staying silent.

When they’ve finished eating, they move into the living room and James flops down onto the couch, stretching out, one hand dangling next to him with the tumbler of whiskey loosely between his fingers.

After hesitating for a moment, Sirius takes the floor but finally brings himself to say, “Asking you if you’re alright seems rather pointless, but – do you want to talk about it?”

James turns his head and cracks one eye open. “Honestly? I don’t know.” He takes another sip, nearly pouring the content of his glass over himself. “It’s just so… For years, I thought she’s everything I could possibly want, and now that I finally have my chance, now that she’s the one who wants to take things further it’s like – I mean it’s not fair, is it? To her, more than to me, but either way I feel… How do I even know if I like someone?”

Sirius grimaces slightly because it’s not like he’s the best person to answer that particular question. He’d tried dating a few times in sixth year, back when he was in absolute denial about being gay, and that already says everything about how those attempts turned out.

It took him a long time to get over the prejudices his family had installed in him for years and now that he finally did, he’s more interested in exploring that than falling in love. Well, that’s not strictly true – he’s not as averse to this whole relationship-business as he likes everybody to believe, it’s just that nobody he finds remotely interesting can compare to his friendships.

It’s not like he can date some Muggle beyond one night either, and he’s rather content with spending most of his time with James or his other friends and satisfy the occasional need for sex elsewhere. Most of the time. He stubbornly ignores the occasional bouts of jealousy he’s had ever since James started dating Lily.

“I don’t know,” he says when he realizes that he has been silent for some time. “But I guess it might have to do with the fact that you and Lily didn’t really know each other before you started dating? I mean yeah, you did in that sense of going to the same school for seven years but maybe you’re more the type for being friends with someone first?”

James stares at him, an inscrutable expression on his face, and then runs a hand through his hair, the gesture getting a small smile out of Sirius. “Did Remus say that?” James asks dryly and summons the bottle to him.

Sirius downs the rest of his glass and mock-glares over the rim. “Yes, but it’s not like I didn’t think the same thing before. Your interactions can basically be broken down to ‘you teased her, she rejected or hexed you,’” he says with a shrug. “Do you think – do you know what it is you’re missing? What isn’t working?”

James sends the bottle over to him and stares at the ceiling. “Not really. I know I should but – it just doesn’t feel right, and not in the way that my expectations were too high just – “

He leaves the sentence hanging and gives a helpless shrug. Sirius watches him, eyes drawn to the way his tongue wets his lips and how his long fingers move over the edges of his tumbler.

When he realizes that he’s staring, he quickly averts his eyes and busies himself with rolling a joint. It’s not like he doesn’t know that James is attractive, he was probably the reason Sirius started questioning his sexuality in the first place. But it’s been a long time since he’s allowed himself to look at him like that, and he wonders why his grip on it is slipping now of all times. 

Trying to remember what James said last and putting his lack of resolve down to recent revelations and the empty bottle of whiskey, he asks, “Do you know what you’re going to do now?”

James rubs a hand over his face and gives a long-suffering sigh. “Yes. No. I don’t know, I – I think I should break up with her. I’d like to wait and see, but it’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months and I think it’s not fair to her.”

He hums in response, mulling it over and ignoring the way his heart skips a beat at the prospect of having all of James back to himself. He’s pretty sure this possessiveness isn’t normal, and he’s rather averse to inspecting it too closely.

“She’s already noticed something’s up with you,” he says when he remembers Lily’s remark from earlier. At James’ deadpan look he grins a bit and shakes his head, lighting up the small joint and taking a long drag of smoke. “Not only today I mean. She said you were behaving strangely for some time now and asked if I knew what’s up with you.”

Alarm crosses James’ face and he throws a cushion at him. “As if I’d say anything you unfaithful bastard. Before I could tell her that I have no idea, she realized that I wouldn’t either way. She knows us well enough.”

James sighs again and sounds utterly miserable when he says, “I really don’t deserve her. Merlin, I fucked this up, didn’t I?”

Sirius pulls himself into a sitting position, carefully reaching out to put a hand on James’ shoulder. While he doesn’t flinch away, he tenses slightly but Sirius ignores it once more. “I can’t say that I really understand how this must feel, long-term bachelor and all that, but I think it’s – well, maybe kind of normal that your first relationship, with your teenage crush of all people, doesn’t work out as well as you expected?”

James only shrugs, the movement dislodging Sirius’ hand who lets it fall back into his lap.

“Maybe so. I just – can we talk about something else?” he asks, biting his bottom lip and sending Sirius a pleading look.

“Sure,” he says with a small smile and rakes his brain for something that could distract him until he remembers an idea he had when he wrote to Regulus earlier. “You know what I thought about? Remember that prank we pulled in sixth year when we charmed all of the Slytherin robes into red and gold?”

The small grin that memory gets out of James makes a warm sense of accomplishment spread through his chest and he sits up straighter when James nods.

“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we did something like that to the Death Eater robes? I thought – maybe something like lace and pink?” he says with a smirk and watches James closely for his reaction.

For a moment, he gapes, and then he snorts so hard that he spits out some of his whiskey.

“That,” James presses out between bursts of laughter, “Is the best idea you had in a long time. Can you imagine their reactions?”

His grin widens and he nods, handing the joint to him. “Yeah, just imagine the shock – can you picture Snivellus for example?”

Propping himself up on an elbow, James grins down at him around the joint. “Yes! I mean, Dumbledore is probably going to have a fit, but I really don’t care. Do you remember how we did it? Oh – “ a pensive look crosses his face and he tilts his head. “Do you think we could charm their masks? Like, not a certain colour, but to be transparent? Then we’d have fun and the chance to discover some of their identities at the same time.”

“That’s brilliant Jamie!” he exclaims, a bit of whiskey sloshing out of his glass when he gesticulates too wildly. “That should work if we apply the two charms separately, we just have to be careful to only charm the masks see-through, I think nobody else wants to see anything but their faces.”

Both of them shudder at the mental image.

Sirius summons some parchment and pulls the coffee table towards himself so he can start to write down the idea and how they did it the first time. The next thirty minutes fly by with plans and magical theory, and they’re both grinning brightly when they’re finished.

The second bottle of whiskey is nearly empty by now and Sirius gets up, plopping down on the couch and pulling James’ feet into his lap.

Every little amount of cheer leaves him in an instant when James instantly pulls his feet away, putting space between them, and by now he’s too drunk to keep ignoring this.

“Alright, out with it, what the fuck is your problem?” he demands, his scowl only growing when James looks everywhere but at him. “Since you came home today, every time I get so much as close to you, you flinch away or tense. You never do that, it’s weird, and I want to know why.”

James crosses his arms over his chest and sits up with a glare, the effect somewhat diminished by his flush and glassy eyes. “I don’t,” he denies, like Sirius is an utter idiot.

He can already feel his anger rising, and breathes deeply for a few times, trying to keep his voice calm. “Prongs, I know you better than myself, you can’t honestly think that I wouldn’t notice something like this. Not to mention that I’m pretty sure you didn’t tell me everything about what’s going on with you but, as the good friend I am, I’m not pushing you. But this, this drives me mad, so could you please tell me what in Merlin’s name I did to you?”

James stays silent for a long time, turning his glass around between his hands and staring into the fire. “It’s nothing, Sirius. I’m just – it’s all a bit much and I just don’t feel like it, okay?”

This is probably the least honest answer he’s ever got from him, and he can feel his grasp on his temper slipping. He stands up and paces the room before he turns back around and stares at James who is still not looking at him.

Grinding his teeth together, he presses out, “Are you really going to lie to me? For weeks now you’re behaving strangely, you snap at me when I go out, you don’t talk to me, and now this. I’m asking for the last time; what the hell is going on with you?”

Despite his best intentions, his voice gets louder towards the end and he can see James’ expression close off more and more. “It’s none of your fucking business, alright?” James snaps and directs a vicious glare at him.

Sirius takes a step back, feeling like he’s just got punched and for a moment, he can only gape. Then, his anger catches up on him and he nods sharply. “Alright. Then I leave you to it, shall I?”

Not waiting for an answer, he spins around, flicking his wand to summon his jacket and his wallet and storms out of the door. He simply grabs his boots in the hallway, unwilling to spend one more second here and slams the door shut behind himself, the sound cutting off whatever James just attempted to shout after him.

Chapter Text

Pulling on his shoes while taking the stairs is more complicated than Sirius would’ve liked and his intoxicated state probably doesn’t help, but he’s way too angry to care. Fuck James and his problems, he thinks as he stomps down his foot to finally get his boot on all the way.

He apparates out of the house, spares a thought to be thankful that he didn’t splinch himself when he lands, and lights a cigarette before leaving the narrow alley to follow the noise of music that’s filling up the streets of Camden.

He’s acutely aware that underneath the burning anger, he’s hurt, more than anything else. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s done, that James is so – he doesn’t even have a word for it, but it makes his stomach churn and his chest ache, and he needs to swallow a few times against the lump in his throat.

He’s not going to cry about the bloody idiot. It’s not like it’s the first time they had a fight, but normally, he at least knows what it is about, knows deep down that they’re going to be alright.

Somehow, he’s not so sure about that now and it makes it impossibly hard to breathe.

Clenching his jaw, he buries his nails into his palms and walks quickly, as if it will help to leave everything that’s happened tonight behind himself. There are groups of people everywhere, loud and drunk and Sirius jumps right into it, dragging in lungs full of smoke, washing it down with cheap, burning whiskey and stumbling from bar to bar.

He desperately needs to forget, to not feel. To erase every memory of the anger and loathing in those brown eyes, of the feeling that the single, most important person in his life suddenly feels like a stranger to him.

He wakes up on a ratty mattress in a dingy room, with plaster that’s crumbling from the white-yellow walls and the floor bare concrete. There’s a guy lying next to him and Sirius grimaces when he makes out a mop of brown, curly hair. Seems like he does have a type, after all.

On the rare occasion that he hooks up with someone, he usually never goes home with them, the risk of someone finding his wand or a Patronus bursting into a Muggle flat too high, but he can’t remember much of last night after he’d stumbled into the third bar. He has a suspicion that he didn’t care much about anything though, and as soon as he remembers the reason for that, cold dread curls in his stomach and his heart sinks.

Disentangling himself from the thin blanket, he gets up as silently as possible and gathers his clothes from the floor, breathing a sigh of relief when his wand is still in the pocket of his jacket.

It’s easy enough to get out of the flat unnoticed, but he absolutely doesn’t feel like going home and walks down the empty street. There are only a few still-high punks stumbling around and a few drunks who didn’t make it home sleeping in roofed entrances.

One of the squads has an open kitchen and he flees inside with a profound sigh of relief. He refuses to wander the streets in the drizzling November rain like a lost puppy, just because his bloody roommate is a prick.

He gets some watered-down coffee and grabs a few leaflets about squatting and queer rights, the movement just starting to gather strength while the punk scene is scattering and losing momentum. There’s a lot of information on the police doing raids and he puts it away with a sigh. He has a terrible hangover on top of everything else and his brain isn’t in the mode to take in anything just yet. Not to mention that, no matter how much some of the topics resonate with him, there’s only so much war and fighting he can take.

A clock on the wall tells him that it’s already five pm, and he remembers with a start that he’d told Regulus to meet him today. For a moment, he considers turning up like this, but he can actually still smell the alcohol, stale smoke, and sweat on himself and it’s so bad that he wouldn’t even resent Regulus if he disappeared as soon as he saw him.

Still, he delays his return home for as long as he can, chatting with a few of the people that live in the squad and even getting some soup when he mentions that he’s avoiding to go home.

It’s one of the things he likes so much about this scene – nobody asks too many questions, but everybody is helpful and simply takes you at your word.

James isn’t home when he arrives, and while he’s mostly very glad about that, there’s a small part of him that feels a sense of worry and dread. He stubbornly puts it down to the constant feeling of uncertainty these days and takes a quick shower before putting on fresh clothes.

He makes it just on time and jogs the last few feet from the alley he’s apparated into over to the Southwark Cathedral, unable to suppress the anticipation. It’s still raining slightly, the yellow lights not enough to illuminate the shadows, and there’s nearly nobody around.

There’s someone leaning against one of the old trees next to the impressive church though, wrapped into a long cloak and a hood hiding the face. Still, somehow he’s certain that it’s Regulus and approaches him confidently with his own hood pulled up.

He even exchanged his beloved leather jacket for the sake of vague anonymity, unwilling to risk anyone seeing them together. That wouldn’t go over well for either of them. Granted, he’s not the one who would get tortured for it – and there are so many things wrong with the mere thought that he wouldn’t even know where to start if he tried – but he doesn’t need anyone to accuse him of fraternizing with the enemy either.

Despite his by now nearly decade-long defiance of his family, for some people his surname is still everything they think they need to know about him, and while he and everybody else who’s important knows just how ridiculous that is, he doesn’t feel like baiting fate tonight.

There are only a few feet left between them when the person turns, and for a moment, all of his breath leaves him in a rush.

Regulus looks – bad. Horrible. Really, if he put Regulus and Remus next to each other, he doesn’t know who would take the questionable trophy of ‘most exhausted and drawn out.’

His brother has always been thin, but now his cheekbones are so pronounced that it looks decidedly unhealthy. His eyes are red-rimmed with nearly black shadows underneath that stand out against his pale, drawn skin so much that it’s visible even in the dim light.

Swallowing down his first impulse to say exactly that, or maybe pull him into a hug and apparate him somewhere where he can feed and keep him in bed for a month, he attempts a smile, suspecting that it comes out rather weak.

He buries his hands into his pockets and says, “Hey, I wasn’t sure you would come.”

Regulus winces visible and looks away, eyes roaming over the courtyard. “Me neither,” he says with a sigh and Merlin, he even sounds tired, like he has aged ten years within the year since they’ve last talked to each other. Or well, it was more Sirius shouting – “But I thought… Happy Birthday, Sirius.”

“Wait, I – is it the third already?” he exclaims in surprise while he tries to remember the date.

“Did you forget your own birthday?” Regulus asks incredulously, and it’s at least a small spark of the exasperated, fond manner he used to treat Sirius with that it gets a smile out of him.

“Yeah, I – “ he breaks off and his smile freezes when he remembers all the reasons for why he forgot about it. He doesn’t think he’s had such a pitiful birthday since he started Hogwarts, and then he realizes that it’s the first time in ten years that he’s spending his birthday without James and has to clench his hands into fists to not punch a wall, teeth grinding together.

“Never mind, but thank you. Should we walk a bit?” he finally asks after his breathing is calm again and nods into the direction of the London Bridge that’s around the corner.

A slow nod is all he gets in response and he sighs softly to himself as he turns away and tries to gather his thoughts.

The silence stretches between them, tense and uncomfortable, and Sirius is reminded of all the times it has been like this after they’d both started school. He knows that it’s mostly his fault – he’d disregarded his brother more or less the moment he got sorted into Gryffindor and became friends with James, Remus, and Peter, and started to actually question their parents’ beliefs.

He only half-heartedly attempted to get through to Regulus, even less after he was sorted into Slytherin. To him, Regulus belonged to everything he came to hate more and more with each passing year – and now that he basically has the confirmation of that belief, all he feels is guilt.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out after five minutes of stubborn silence and glances at Regulus out of the corner of his eye. “I shouldn’t have – “ he trails off, uncertain what to say. It’s not like he can bring all of that up now, like it would change anything.

He remembers that Regulus had tried, in the beginning. Had listened to his stories of Hogwarts after his first year, with bright eyes and an eager expression, glossing over Sirius’ harsh reprimands and disregards despite the obvious inclusion of him in the countless insults.

How Regulus had attempted to get some time with him after he arrived at Hogwarts himself, tried to get to know his friends, despite Sirius rejecting him time and time again.

He’d stopped at some point during his second year, around the time Sirius and James started going around with proclamations for everyone to hear that they’re lost brothers. He winces at the memory. Merlin but he was a prick. If he’d just –

“For what?” Regulus’ drawn voice startles him out of his spiralling thoughts and when Sirius looks up, he’s staring ahead, a frown marring his features and a hand loosely trailing over the wet bannister of the bridge.

“For – for a lot of things,” he eventually says and pretends that he doesn’t see the way Regulus’ shoulders tense. “For starters, for being a reckless idiot who thought it would be a good idea to reveal myself to a group of Death Eaters after discovering that my brother is with them. I should have expected that you would take the brunt for it.”

The only visible reaction from Regulus is the down-pull of the corner of his mouth, and Sirius sighs.

There’s a weird urgency, a foreboding sense of dread that’s coiling in his stomach, an insistent feeling that’s telling him that this might be the only chance he’s ever going to get to say all those things that keep piling up in his mind ever since he’s started to allow himself to think about his brother.

Or well, ever since he doesn’t manage to suppress them any longer, the way he has done for years.

“I don’t know if you – alright, I’m kind of sure you don’t want to hear this,” he says, coming to a halt and turning towards Regulus who stops as soon as he does. “I behaved like an utter prick to you. I disregarded you as soon as I was sorted into Gryffindor, I accused you of things you had nothing to do with, I stopped spending time with you and, probably worst of all, I left you behind in that bloody house.”

It’s the first time Regulus actually looks at him and it doesn’t matter that he’s already noticed his exhaustion, he’s still caught off guard by how lifeless and resigned he looks, grey eyes dull and staring right through him.

Swallowing hard and clenching his hands in his pockets, he goes on. “I know that it’s probably kind of useless to say this only now – you, I mean… I know that by leaving you there I basically threw you into harm’s way and I don’t even know if I’m ever going to forgive myself for that, much less would I expect you to –“

“Oh for Salazar’s sake, shut up,” Regulus snaps and glares at him. It’s not exactly what he would have expected, but at least for a moment, Regulus doesn’t look like he could be run over by the Night Bus and thank the driver for ending his misery.

“Do you even hear yourself talk? Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of nice to see you all self-pitying and sorrowful, really, it fits you, but you’re talking as if I didn’t have any say in the whole matter. Like I’m some weak, soft idiot who still needs your protection.”

Regulus huffs but his glare becomes more pronounced as soon as Sirius opens his mouth to speak. He snaps it shut again and only stares – he doesn’t really know what to say, anyway.

But then, he probably should’ve anticipated this. Regulus has always been proud and stubborn, one of the few family traits that didn’t skip Sirius either, and he fights down the indignation that flares up at the comment. He didn’t come here to convince Regulus to forgive him; really, he’s still not completely certain that he knows why he did come at all, but it doesn’t matter, as long as he can get out all the things that are burning on his tongue, begging to be said at least once.

“I know that is exactly what you always thought of me, that I’m just a coward, but it’s not like I need your approval for anything. The stuff you’re talking about happened years ago and, to quote you for a moment here, it’s not like we consider each other family, right?” Regulus sneers slightly at the end of his statement before he turns away again and stares over the murky water.

But Sirius can see the way he clenches his hands in his pockets, can see the muscle twitch in his jaw, and the way his brother is trying to hide his own agitation is enough for him to stay calm and not start a fight.

“Alright, yeah I might have come across a bit… self-righteous,” he says with a frown, pondering how to word what he wants to get across in a better manner. “What I mean is that I know I behaved like a prick and I’m sorry. Unrelated to that, I’m also worried for you though.”

Regulus head whips around and a myriad of emotions flicker through his eyes. “Well, it’s a bit too late for that now, isn’t it?” he snaps and, as soon as the words are out, presses his mouth into a thin line like he didn’t intend to say them at all.

Pulling out a packet of cigarettes, he takes one and then holds them out towards Regulus, who only hesitates for a second before giving in.

Sirius turns to keep walking, tipping his head back to blow out a cloud of smoke. “It’s never too late to change something.”

He can instantly see that it’s the wrong thing to say. Regulus stops in his tracks and scoffs at him, even going so far as to roll his eyes. Sirius hides his absolutely misplaced smile at the thought what their mother would say to a gesture as plebeian as that.

“Oh yeah, I’m just going to hand in my resignation, am I?” Regulus mocks, but his hands are trembling at his sides. “Besides, it’s not like I want to. You know I agree with him, his… leadership qualities might be a bit off, from time to time, but as long as you don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, I’m rather fine.”

Sirius can’t help the short, mirthless bark of laughter that escapes him. “His leadership qualities might be a bit off?” he echoes with an incredulous look at Regulus. “For Merlin’s sake Reg –“

Don’t call me that,” Regulus snaps, hurt crossing his expression for the fraction of a second before it blanks over again.

It makes something hurt within his chest but still, it’s proof enough that his brother still cares just as much as he does.

Granted, it’s also a reminder of how fucked up everything is, and he takes the memories of sticking together through a childhood of dark, shadowed corners of a house frozen in the Victorian Era, of unforgiving, harsh parents, and of himself taking the blame while Regulus snuck him potions and food in the aftermath – takes them all and shoves them away. If he didn’t, he might just start crying in the face of the harsh truth of them fighting on opposing sides and the likeliness of his brother getting killed – if not in battle, then by his bloody Lord.

“Alright, I’m sorry,” he finally says, wondering how many times he can repeat it before it starts to sound as meaningless and inconsequential as it feels. “I just mean – let’s say you really do agree with him and I’m not here to fight with you about it, but I don’t buy that you’re completely on board with all that murder and torture. Is that really the way you think this will work? Is that everything you want to be, some twisted form of a soldier who kills his maniac master to the top, just to be disregarded and used as a doormat for the slightest suspicion of a misstep? Is that the sense of pride and superiority our parents preached about every single, miserable day?”

He knows that he’s playing dirty here, knows that Regulus is just as aware as he is that he doesn’t give a shit about any of it, but he needs to get through to him somehow and he doesn’t think a long speech about the equality of everyone is exactly going to cut it.

Granted, he’s still not convinced that Regulus really buys into the whole Pureblood-mania – really, putting up newspaper articles and political regalia seems an awful lot like over-compensation, he would know all about that – but right now that’s rather beside the point and he doubts that Regulus would take too kindly to him pointing it out.

“Oh come off it, like you’re not some diligent soldier yourself,” Regulus says around a drag from his cigarette.

Running a hand through his hair and tugging slightly, he bites his tongue to prevent himself from snapping. Really, he’s got rather good at that over the last week, Remus would be proud of him.

“While I don’t completely agree with you, I get your point. Still, I’m not getting tortured and I don’t have to go on senseless killing sprees, nor do I have to prostrate myself to anyone or kiss the feet of someone who looks more like a sick snake than a human,” he says and alright, it might not have been the most rational argument but it’s true nonetheless and he’s bloody tired.

“And who do I have to thank for that?” Regulus grinds out but he’s not looking at him, taking a lot of time to bury the remains of his cigarette into the ground with the tip of his shoe.

“We already established I’m an idiot, Bellatrix took a lot of time to make sure I’m aware of that fact,” he sighs and doesn’t miss the sympathetic wince.

Regulus’ shoulders slump and when he looks back at him, all that defeat and resignation has taken his face over once again. He looks even more tired than before. “Sirius, what do you want from me? Did you really just want to meet me to tell me that I made the wrong choice? Because let me tell you, while I know that this is all a bloody mess, it’s not like I would’ve had a say in that matter either way and it’s not a recent development either – “

“Wait,” Sirius interrupts, and he doesn’t manage to squelch the hot fury that’s flaring up in his chest. “When exactly did you get initiated?”

Regulus grimaces but shrugs. “In sixth year, and I know that you don’t want to hear it but at the time, I actually did want to. Now – well. Let’s just say it could be better, it could be worse, but there’s nothing to be done about it.”

He stops walking, leaning against the metal railing of the bridge and runing both of his hands over his face before he presses his palms against his eyes. Sixteen. His brother became a Death Eater at bloody sixteen. Sirius was still at school then and he didn’t even notice.

It takes a while to gather his remaining strength and when he looks back up, there’s a small, understanding smile on Regulus’ face that only makes him feel worse.

“I should have taken you with me when I left,” he mutters, more to himself, but Regulus still answers with a hollow laugh that makes him flinch.

“Even if you’d tried, I wouldn’t have come with you. Anyway, what now? We’re fighting on opposing sides, I neither can nor want to quit and I assume you don’t either,” Regulus says eventually, and Sirius does reconsider his impulse to apparate them somewhere where he can put him into a bed and get some food into him.

“I – I don’t know, I just – I think I wanted you to know that I’m sorry, that I still care even if I was rather shit at showing that, the last few years. I should have realized – “

“How many times do I need to tell you that you couldn’t have done anything?” Regulus interrupts him harshly, and he thinks that it’s a testament to his brothers’ fraying nerves that he’s doing that so often.

“Merlin Reg, I know. Can you please stop trying to put words in my mouth? I really am sorry, no hidden agenda here, and probably all I’m trying to say is that if you ever do find yourself in the predicament that you want to quit, I could help you. I have enough people who can help you who wouldn’t expect anything in return, and I want you to know…”

He swallows to fight against the sudden lump in his throat and the way it seems to make the next words stuck in there. He can’t look at Regulus and his voice is shaking slightly when he finally manages to say, “I want you to know that you’re the only one from that bloody family that I actually cared – care about. I know I didn’t show it and I tried to tell myself for a long time that I don’t, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”

He furiously rubs at his eyes and takes deep, measured breaths before he looks back at Regulus, whose face is hidden by his hood because he has his head bowed.

Once again, silence hangs between them but while it’s still tense, it’s a little less uncomfortable than in the beginning. Sirius can’t say that he feels much better because there’s still the whole ‘my brother is a Death Eater and will most likely either die or get tortured into insanity-‘ issue, but at least a small part of him feels relieved that he’s got the chance to say these things.

And isn’t this, the feeling that they might not see each other again, such a fucked up, depressing thought? It makes him want to tear his own hair out, to personally storm Voldemort’s base and throw all this hatred back at him; it’s all starting to become too much for him to handle.

“Thank you,” Regulus says quietly, and for a short moment, he lays his hand on Sirius’ arm before apparating away, leaving him standing in the middle of the London Bridge, staring at the spot where his brother has just vanished, and telling himself that his watering eyes are solely due to the sharp wind.

Happy Birthday to him indeed, he thinks, taking out another cigarette and suppressing the urge to scream.

Chapter Text

James is pacing through the flat, feeling like a caged animal. It’s already evening, and the longer Sirius doesn’t come home, the more worry and anger are mounting in his chest.

He’s well aware that he only has himself to blame; he can’t remember the last time he snapped at Sirius as badly as last night, but he thinks running off and disappearing for nearly 24 hours is stretching it a bit.

He’s considered apparating to Camden to search for him because it’s not like he doesn’t know which bars Sirius frequents, but he has a feeling that he’s not there anymore. He should have gone after him immediately, but he just couldn’t.

It’s like a switch has been turned, the moment that blasted thought registered, and the longer he thinks about it, the more sense it makes. Which is not what he would have liked, but he’s rather tired of deceiving himself.

All those years in school, he’s never considered having any interest in men, in anyone but Lily, and he’s not sure what to make of it.

Sure, he’d always thought that Sirius is unfairly handsome, always knew that he just felt a bit more comfortable and in sync with him than with anyone else but that was just how things were – after all, there’s never been a reason to question it.

Neither of them really dated in school, they spend most of their time together anyway, much closer than ‘normal’ for best friends – cuddling, sharing a bed, squeezing into armchairs meant for one person – and he never thought further on it.

Looking back on it, he can’t help but feel like the biggest idiot. Remus’ comment keeps circling through his mind, of Lily being a good distraction, and while he finally understands it, it also hurts.

Because Sirius doesn’t need a distraction. Sirius is just content as it is, his remark of not everybody wants their happily-ever-after at 19, Prongs, still fresh on James’ mind, and the countless nights he came home smelling like alcohol, smoke, and other men are something he’d rather forget about.

At least he finally knows why it bothers him so much, he thinks mirthlessly.

It doesn’t ease the churning guilt in his stomach though. It’s not like Sirius owes him anything, like it’s his fault that James not only developed feelings for his best friend at some point but was also too stupid to actually realize it, putting all of his focus on a girl that he was convinced wouldn’t ever say yes anyway.

After what feels like the hundredth round through kitchen, living room, corridor and his room, he eventually plops down onto the couch and forces himself to focus. He’s never been the type to wallow in his misery; he needs to get a grip and make a plan.

First of all, he needs to talk to Lily. For a fleeting moment, he considers leaving things as they are – maybe moving in with her will help him to get over Sirius, putting some distance between them and forcing him to work on his relationship.

But he knows that he would never be able to go through with it. Not only would he make himself terribly unhappy in a relationship he doesn’t want, but she also deserves better than this. Not to mention that she would catch on eventually, and it’s going to be bad enough as it is.

Then he really, really needs to come to terms with the fact that nothing is going to change between him and Sirius, and act accordingly. It’s no surprise that Sirius caught on so quickly last night with the way he’d kept flinching away. He didn’t mean to, of course, but he was suddenly hyper-aware of every little touch, of just where in the room Sirius was and what he was doing. Was suddenly noticing all those little gestures and tics that usually go over his head, just belonging to the whole picture of that makes up Sirius.

If he’s honest, he’s absolutely terrified of giving himself away. It must have been obvious enough that Remus had noticed and if he did, there’s a chance that Sirius could too. His only consolation is that it didn’t happen already because while Sirius might be a far better actor than he is, he doubts that he wouldn’t have said anything. Or so he hopes.

So he has to force himself to not change his behaviour, and he’s acutely aware that it means keeping up their usual no-boundaries-thing.

A part of him wants nothing more than to pack his stuff, move out, and get as far away as possible, the idea of putting himself through it making it hard to breathe; but another part is madly happy about at least having this, if nothing else.

It’s probably not healthy, but he has no idea what else to do. There’s no good reason for him to distance himself without telling Sirius what is going on, and he is not going to risk their friendship. He will get over it eventually, and while he has never been a good liar, he’s going to manage this, and if it’s the last thing he does.

Snorting at his own dramatics he gets up again, walking into his room and gathering clothes in a daze. He’s decidedly not looking forward to what he has to do now but he thinks putting it off further will only make it worse. Hopefully he will at least feel a little bit better and less like a huge arsehole after resolving at least one of his problems.

The only one he can actually do something about.

Despite his best intentions, he still stalls before steeling himself and opening the floo. “The Witch’s hut, Albion Drive,” he calls, fidgeting while he waits for someone to answer.

It’s Marlene who does, and she doesn’t look particularly happy to see him. “James. It’s time that you call,” she says with a scowl, and he winces at the reminder that he has waited nearly 36 hours to get in touch after he’d simply stormed out.

It will probably only get worse from here.

“Should I get Lily?” Marlene asks and he quickly shakes his head, getting an incredulous look from her in response.

“I would rather come through if that’s alright?” he rushes out, worried that she might just slap him through the fire.

She seems to think about it for a moment before she nods, and he can see her flicking her wand to open the wards.

As soon as he steps through, said wand is pressed under his chin. “How did I and Dorcas get together?”

“You and Sirius tried dating for some time during sixth year and it made you realize that you’re absolutely not into guys whatsoever,” he says, unable to stop his grin at the memory.

“What did you say when I was made Quidditch Captain?” he asks after deliberating his question and she smirks faintly.

“That you better not favour Sirius and that I’m going to hit a Bludger at you if you fuck it up,” she says, and then sobers. “I’m going to get Lily then.”

He knows that it’s most likely only a few minutes, but it feels like half an eternity and he tries to busy himself with looking around the large kitchen. There’s a broad, dark table to the side with a corner seat, flowerpots take up every available surface and a few are hanging from the ceiling, making the room comfortable and homey.

The only light is coming from the fire and from the streetlamps outside the window, and he’s assaulted by memories of nights they’d spent here. Of Remus and Peter, Dorcas, Marlene, Sirius, Lily and him, just out of school and still thinking that adulthood holds so much in store for them.

Lily only just agreed to go out with him, Sirius was finally starting to come to terms with being gay, and James remembers how ridiculously happy they all were. Remus and Sirius kept making fun of him for already planning his and Lily’s wedding and children, and his heart clenches at that particular part.

One year and everything looks so much less bright.

The soft click of the door snaps him out of his depressing thoughts and he turns, staring at Lily in silence.

She stays just in the doorway, looking back at him and saying nothing. She looks tired, he thinks, and then realizes that it’s most likely due to him behaving like a prick. Merlin, but he thought he’d moved beyond those days.

He clears his throat and gestures towards the table, trying to get his bearings back. “Should we sit down?”

She only nods, taking a chair across from him and pulling up her legs. “Are you alright?” she asks. “I was worried.”

Running a hand through his hair, he nods absently. “Yes, I’m – yeah, I’m alright. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Then why did it take you nearly two days to contact me after you left me sitting in that café, storming out as if I asked you to join the Death Eaters?” she snaps, her temper coming through. “Didn’t Sirius tell you –“

“He did,” he interrupts, and instantly knows that he shouldn’t have. She hates when he does that, and he thinks he would do good to not antagonise her further.

To his surprise, she only scowls and looks at him expectantly. “Alright. So why didn’t you?” she asks when he doesn’t say anything, and there’s a note of desperation underneath her annoyance.

It makes him realize just how well they know each other by now, how easily he can read her, and his resolve wavers, doubts creeping back into his mind.

Then he remembers Sirius. How he couldn’t stop staring at that stupid, gorgeous face last night, the bark of delighted laughter when he’d baited Voldemort. The feeling of utter contentment whenever he falls asleep with Sirius’ head tugged under his chin, and he just knows that, no matter how much he likes Lily, how well he knows her, how much he wishes it was different, that this will never work out.

“I needed time to think,” he starts, staring down at his hands. “I – you, you asked me to move in together and…” he trails off, the words stuck in his throat. His heart is racing, he can’t seem to sit still, and he knows that he’s just making everything worse but just saying it feels utterly cruel.

Why did nobody ever tell him how to break up with someone without making them hate you?

“James,” she says, her voice hard and commanding him to look back at her. She’s frowning, her hands are lying flat on the table, and he can see how much all this is already wearing on her. “If you’re not ready for that, it’s alright. It was an idea and if you want to live with Sirius for another year or – “

“No, that’s – I mean,” he interrupts her, and she only looks more confused.

“So, you needed time to think but came to the conclusion that you do want to move in together?” she asks and the sudden hopefulness in her voice only increases his dread.

He’s really fucking this up, isn’t he?

“If that’s the case, why do you look like your broom got underneath the Hogwarts Express?” she continues, fingers twisting together and her eyes begging him to make her understand.

He runs a hand over his face and closes his eyes briefly before sitting up straighter. “No, that’s not the conclusion I came to,” he says tiredly and forces himself to hold eye contact. “I think that – I think that this isn’t working. You and me, I mean, I’m – I think I’m not happy – “

“Are you breaking up with me?” she interrupts, talking so loudly that he winces. Her eyes are wide and she looks utterly incredulous, like she can’t comprehend that this is happening.

He’s not sure that he can either, and she’s probably rather justified in her reaction, all things considered.

“Yes, I think that’s what I’m trying to say,” he sighs. “I’m sorry, I – “

“Are you fucking serious?” she presses out, her face contorting with anger and hurt she’s trying to hide, and for the fraction of a second, he understands that differently before her actual meaning registers. “Are you telling me that asking you to move in with me, asking you to stop living with your best friend, is such a horrible idea that you want to break up with me? Because if you are, so help me Merlin –“

Raising both of his hands, he quickly shakes his head. “No, that’s not – well, it’s not the only reason. It was more what made me realize that this is not what I want, and I think it wouldn’t be fair to you to keep doing this if I can’t commit to it. You said yourself that I was behaving weirdly for weeks now – “

“Of course he would tell you,” she mutters under her breath, but he ignores it. They really don’t need to get into a discussion about Sirius now, of all things.

“And I’m sorry, really Lily, I am, but I’ve not been happy with our relationship for some time now. And it’s not because of anything you did, it’s just – “ he sighs again, not really knowing what to say because he never thought he would end up in this situation. Always thought if they ever broke up, it would be her being sick of him.

It’s not like he can tell her, ‘Sorry, but I’m in love with my best friend,’ or, ‘I might’ve chased after you to distract myself from something else and really, you’re great, but not what I want it to be.’ Unfortunately, there isn’t another actual reason and he doesn’t want to lie either.

So, the only other thing he can say is, “I don’t love you the way I should, and no matter how much I wish it was different, it isn’t. It wouldn’t be right to act as if I do, and I understand that you must think I’m the biggest idiot and believe me, you’re not alone with that – “

She jumps up so suddenly that her chair clatters to the floor, reminding him of his own exit just yesterday, and he wonders how it’s possible that it feels like that was a lifetime ago.

“Out,” she spits, her eyes blazing with fury and her hands trembling at her sides. She seems to realize it at the same time because she wraps her arms around herself, the gesture such a contrast to the anger contorting her face.

“Lily please – “

“I said out!” she shouts, one hand flying to her wand and he quickly gets up, walking over to the hearth.

One last glance over his shoulder shows him that there are tears swimming in her eyes. She looks like she’s barely holding herself together, and he thinks that he’s never felt like such an arsehole ever before.

For a moment, he considers another apology but even through her obvious hurt, her glare is still more than clear. Maybe there simply isn’t anything he can say. Maybe he’s just not the right person for that anymore.

Turning back, he grabs a handful of floo powder and steps into the flames, stumbling out of the small fireplace in their flat.

It’s still silent and dark and he suddenly feels very lost and very alone. If this is what he wanted, shouldn’t it hurt less?

Right, it’s not exactly what he wanted and more something he needed to do, but nevertheless, he didn’t expect to feel so utterly wrecked. He can still see her expression and alright, he doesn’t know what he expected to happen, but he had some misguided hope that they could leave things on a better note.

Letting his eyes wander through the nearly dark living room, stopping occasionally on little things that make his heart clench, like Sirius’ leather jacket that wasn’t here when he’d left, the empty bottles from last night and the vinyl he got Sirius for his eighteenth birthday, he realizes that it’s impossible for him to stay here right now.

He flicks his wand to extinguish the fire and leaves the flat as quickly as possible. He apparates as soon as he’s downstairs, too agitated to walk all the way into the backyard, and lands directly on Remus’ front step.

Remus wrenches the door open at his tenth knock and for the second time this day, he finds himself with a wand pressed underneath his chin. Fuck this bloody war, honestly.

“What did I say to you when you complained once again about Lily rejecting you in seventh year, when you were worried you would never get a chance when school is over?” Remus asks, and he flinches.

“Funny that you would choose that,” he grinds out, unable to keep himself from glaring. “You said that maybe I like the chase more than actually wanting her and that her on-going rejections are a good way to distract myself.”

Remus lowers his wand, offering him an apologetic smile. “Sorry, was the first thing I could think of.”

“It’s alright. What did I say to you when we discovered that you’re a werewolf?”

Remus smiles wryly at the memory. “You’re folding your socks, Remus, excuse me for not being terribly afraid of you. Come in.”

James follows him into the kitchen and pulls a grimace when Remus turns on the kettle. “Do you have something stronger than tea? Whiskey, maybe?”

Remus turns towards him when he sits down and looks him up and down before he wordlessly walks out of the kitchen and returns with a bottle of cheap firewhiskey. “Alright, what happened?” he asks, concern clear on his face as he takes the chair across from him. It creaks slightly under the weight.

“I broke up with Lily,” he says, already opening the bottle and taking a large sip.

“You what?” Remus exclaims, staring at him aghast and taking the bottle forcefully.

He just groans and lets his head drop onto the table. “Don’t act so surprised, I know Sirius was here yesterday,” he mutters into the rough wood in front of his face.

“I’m not saying he wasn’t, I’m just saying that ‘I don’t want to move in with her and ‘I’m not sure if I love her’ isn’t the same as ‘I broke up with my girlfriend, you know, the one I chased after for ages and had a relationship with for a year,’” Remus says dryly.

There’s a sound of clinking glass and when he raises his head to glare at Remus, there’s a tumbler sitting in front of him. He downs half of it before he answers. “Well, weren’t you the one who said she was a distraction?”

Remus doesn’t look impressed, simply raises a brow and waits.

He stalls a bit more, desperate to find something to be annoyed at, angry, something to pour all of these conflicting emotions into that are very close to strangling him. After another minute of staring each other down, he slumps in his chair, pulls up his legs and props his chin on his knees.

“Turns out you were right,” he mutters, staring into the amber liquid that reflects the light of the countless candles scattered around the kitchen.

“So…” Remus prompts, looking at him expectantly, and he empties the rest of his glass and fills it up again to delay his confession a little more.

“If you’re asking if I finally caught on to the fact that I might have a crush on Sirius, then yes. I would be forever grateful if you refrained from any ‘I told you so,’ and other related comments,” he eventually grinds out.

“Didn’t plan to,” Remus says softly and it’s only now that he notices the compassion in his eyes. Really, he needs to stop snapping at his friends.

“I’m sorry Moony it’s just –”

“All a lot to take in?” Remus finishes and sends the bottle towards him again.

“Yes, that. And I fought with Sirius last night and he didn’t come home since then. Well, that’s not true, when I came back from Lily’s flat, his jacket was there but he was gone again,” he says, running a hand through his hair and grimacing at the memory.

Remus hums and James knows perfectly well that he only does it to keep him talking. As always, it works anyway.

“I got it after coming home from lunch with Lily yesterday. Or well – it hit me over the head might be more accurate. That was the first time I snapped at him. When he came home, he had food and drinks.” He raises his glass to fortify the point. “I just – I was so on edge, and I kept flinching away from him.”

Remus grimaces in sympathy and James nods, glad that he doesn’t have to explain this further.

“He didn’t even mention it the first few times which is more than I could have asked for, really.” It’s only now that he realizes how true it is and it only makes him feel worse.

“Of course, when it kept happening, he asked about it. It’s not like I wouldn’t have done the same. But I brushed him off, he kept pushing, and I eventually told him that it’s none of his business. He stormed out then. I think the only other possibility would have been to hex me but at this point, I might have preferred that,” he finishes and sends Remus a pleading look.

For what, he has no idea.

“So, you didn’t tell him?” Remus asks and tilts his head to the side.

He gapes and then laughs mirthlessly, shaking his head. “Are you mad? Of course I didn’t, and neither will I at any point.”

“Why not?”

“Are you serious?” he asks incredulously, staring at Remus and wondering if he’s lost his mind at one of his missions. “You do know that he’s out nearly every night that he doesn’t have to do anything for the Order, and I don’t even want to know how many of them end in some strangers bed. It’s not like he needs a distraction from anything, and I’d prefer to not have my best friend avoiding any physical contact with me for the next few months. Or pity me, or – whatever else he’d come up with.”

Remus sends him a look that makes him feel like he’s dense which is rather unfair as far as he’s concerned.

“Ignoring everything else, don’t you think that, if your theory that Sirius is completely unresponsive to your feelings is correct, a bit less physical contact might be good for you?” Remus asks after a few moments, taking a sip of his own whiskey and pulling out some tobacco.

“It’s not like that’s the only thing that would change,” he says and then sighs. “And while you might be right I just – so many things I thought to be true got thrown over within the last two days, I don’t think I can take this on top of everything else.”

Understanding dawns on Remus’ face and he flicks one of his finished cigarettes over to him. “Alright, I get that. But do you really think that when you eventually make up, you’re going to manage acting like nothing is wrong? Deception isn’t really your strongest suit.”

“Believe me, I know that,” he mutters around the cigarette, drawing in a deep breath. “It’s not like I have a choice though.”

Remus huffs, and he notices only now how tired he looks, remembering what Sirius said when he came home yesterday. Suddenly, he feels bad about just turning up and vomiting out all his problems without even asking how Remus is after being away for weeks.

Before he can say anything though, Remus speaks up again. “And you’re sure that you don’t want to try talking about it with him? It might turn out better than you’re expecting.”

He shakes his head and smiles ruefully. “As much as I would love that to be true, I know him well enough to be certain that isn’t the case. I will get over it eventually, I’m sure. He’s going to be lenient with me after the whole disaster with Lily anyway,” he says with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Remus doesn’t look like he’s so sure about that, but it’s the only hope James currently has, and he ignores his doubtful expression.

“Another thing,” Remus says after a beat of silence, obviously choosing not to comment. “Do you actually know that Sirius is hooking up with guys as often as you seem to suspect? Because I’m pretty certain that he’s going out more for the general distraction than for fucking around. It doesn’t sound like him to have a different guy every weekend.”

James snorts into his glass, unable to help himself. “He didn’t deny it when I asked him, and why wouldn’t he? It’s not like he has a hard time to find someone willing,” he says, acutely aware of the bitterness that’s creeping into his tone.

Remus frowns and taps a finger against the table. “James – “

“Remus please, can we not talk about Sirius’ hook-ups?”

“Alright, one more thing though. Do you – I mean, are you fine with, well. Not being straight?”

He startles at the question and takes a moment to consider it. “Well – yeah, I think so? It didn’t even occur to me yet, to be honest. It’s not like anything will come out of the thing with Sirius anyway, and I just think I like both.”

Remus hums and watches him through slightly narrowed eyes. “I always thought your fixation on Lily might come a bit from that as well. You know, the wish for a wife, marriage, children…”

“Maybe, a year ago that might have been true, but if I ever had a chance with Sirius, that would be worth it. I think it would be different if I didn’t help Sirius through his phases of denial and desperation and eventual acceptance, but –” he shrugs and takes a sip of whiskey. “Even without Sirius – it’s not like you can’t have any of that if you’re gay, or bi. You just need to not give a shit about what some prejudiced idiots think of you. Anyway, enough about me. How are you? You look tired,” he says with a frown, and not only because he’s keen to change the topic.

“James, you just broke up with Lily, it’s alright if you – “

“You’ve always been too selfless, Moony,” he says with a soft smile and vanishes the remains of his cigarette. “There’s not much else to say about it and I’m worried about you.”

Remus sighs but smiles gratefully. “I’m tired. You know I can’t talk about those missions but they’re exhausting. It’s not like I’m the only one who’s working himself ragged though.”

“Are you staying for a while? The full moon is in a few days.”

He wonders if there will ever come a time where Remus doesn’t look surprised about him keeping track of the lunar cycle, but he’s long since given up on trying to convince him that it isn’t a bother.

“I don’t know, I think Dumbledore will let me know tomorrow,” Remus says with a half shrug, but his jaw is tense and his fingers keep turning his glass around.

“Oh yeah, there’s an Order-meeting tomorrow. I completely forgot about that,” he mutters, and then his eyes widen. “Fuck!”

“You just remembered that Lily is going to be there?” Remus guesses with a sympathetic smile and James groans, letting his head drop back onto the table.

“Tell me again why I thought dating her would be a good idea?”

“You really don’t want me to start on that,” Remus says, the amusement in his voice impossible to miss.

James only groans again.

“Is now the time to remind you that it’s Sirius’ birthday?” Remus adds quietly and James’ head flies up again, his fingers clenching around the edge of the table, and he only lets go to push his glasses up rather roughly.

“Bloody hell and I’m – I mean – He didn’t come home but – “

“Go home, James,” Remus says decisively, pinning him with a look when he opens his mouth. “Say hi to Sirius for me, and don’t drive yourself mad alright?”

Sighing, he gets up and pulls Remus into a hug, glad that there are at least some relationships he hasn’t fucked up yet. “Take care, Moony. I can give that advice right back.”

When he arrives back at home, he does feel a bit better but most of it leaves him in an instant when he finds it still dark and cold. He’s just starting to work himself into real concern, stomping into his room and flicking on the lights, when his eyes fall onto a large heap of black fur, curled up in the corner of his bed.

Relief courses through him, so much so that he can’t be bothered to call Sirius out on getting hairs all over his bed. He plops down next to him, burying one hand into the thick fur and smiling softly when Padfoot presses his head into his side.

“I’m sorry, you know,” he murmurs and lets his head drop back against the wall with a tired sigh.

A soft whimper is his only response and for a while, they’re both silent, simply revelling in the warmth of each other, but eventually, he says, “I broke up with Lily.”

Three seconds later, Sirius is sitting across from him, crossed legged and staring at him with wide eyes. Really, it would be funny how his friends keep having the same reaction if it wasn’t such an uncomfortable topic. Maybe Peter will be different. Unlikely as it is.

Sirius gets over his shock faster than Remus though, nodding slowly and taking the space next to him. He’s acutely aware of all the places they’re pressed together but regardless of how it makes his heart jump, it’s also soothing, and he leans his head against Sirius’ shoulder.

“It was horrible, and I only made it worse by being an idiot,” he mutters. Now that the worry about Sirius is abating, exhaustion is catching up on him.

Sirius takes his hand and he swallows, closing his eyes against the sudden wave of sadness and longing that washes over him.

“I’m not an expert but I don’t think there’s a way to break up with someone that isn’t horrible,” Sirius says, his thumb drawing circles over his knuckles.

“She thought I was about to tell her that I want to move in with her,” he says dryly, that particular blunder still standing out against everything else.

Sirius tries to cover his snort rather unsuccessfully. “You didn’t.”

“I said I was an idiot, didn’t I?” he shoots back. “I don’t even know how it happened but suddenly she looked so bloody hopeful, and then I went and told her that it’s not working and – well, I don’t know. I think she didn’t even believe me, at first, she looked so incredulous. Well, and then she kicked me out, obviously.”

“Oh Merlin,” Sirius sighs, disentangling their hands to wrap an arm around his shoulders instead. “But – I mean, are you – do you think you did the right thing?”

“Yes,” he answers instantly. He might not be able to tell Sirius the full extent of his reasoning, but while it does hurt, he at least knows that there wasn’t any other way. “I don’t think this would have been salvageable.”

Sirius hums and leans his head against his, and he breathes deeply against the lingering ache in his chest. They’re so close and it feels as good as it ever did, and at the same time, it’s suddenly not enough anymore. Still, it’s better than nothing at all, and maybe that is all he needs to get through right now.

They stay like this for a long time, the even breathing of Sirius calming him down. “I really am sorry for snapping at you. Again,” he says after a while. “I didn’t mean what I said, I hope you know that. I was just – it’s just – I don’t even know why it bothered me in the first place. I’m also sorry for kind of ruining your birthday.”

The lie is tasting foul on his tongue and he’s grateful that he at least doesn’t have to look Sirius in the eyes for this, but it’s not like he can tell him the truth.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sirius says, his grip tightening. “I mean yeah, wasn’t the nicest thing of you to say and normally it’s my part to snap at weird moments but you know, you deserved your chance at some point.”

He snorts. Leave it to Sirius to make a joke out of it.

“Besides, I had a good night, so you’re forgiven.”

Leave it to Sirius to make it worse with a single sentence, he thinks, squeezing his eyes shut and forcing himself to not pull away.

“You know what we should do?” Sirius asks, oblivious to the shift in James’ mood, and he suddenly sounds excited.

“If you say going out, I’m going to hex you,” he mutters. Not even Sirius can be that dense, right?

“I don’t see your point but no, that’s not what I have in mind. We should go flying,” he says, and he’s already pulling away his arm and sitting up straighter, dislodging James from his comfortable position.

“Sirius, it’s dark, late, and we’re in the middle of London. I’m not getting on a broom now,” he groans, already missing the warmth against his side.

Sirius only smirks though and pokes him in the sides which gets an involuntary laugh out of him.

“On my bike, you dimwit. I mean, brooms wouldn’t be a problem either, seeing that we’re wizards and can apparate, disillusion ourselves and so on, but I meant my bike. Come on, I let you fly,” he coaxes with a ridiculous wiggle of his eyebrows and, to his shame, James actually finds himself perking up.

Sirius never lets anybody fly his bloody bike.

“You mean it?” he asks, narrowing his eyes in suspicion, but Sirius nods sagely with one hand over his heart.

“I solemnly swear,” he vows, and James instantly jumps up.

“Deal!” he exclaims with a bright grin, secure in the knowledge that Sirius would never dare to go back on that.

His sudden eagerness gets a laugh out of Sirius, who pulls himself up as well and throws him another jumper.

Cold air hits them as soon as they step out of the door. The sky is clear, the clouds having disappeared at some point and there are even a few stars visible – as many as you’ll ever get to see in London.

They walk the short distance to Sirius’ bike, who throws him the keys when they come to a halt next to it. “Alright, I’ll show you how to do it when we’re on it. Promise you will listen to me?”

For a moment he considers teasing him, but he knows just how sensitive Sirius can be about it, so he only nods. “Right, no crazy stunts without your approval.” 

Sirius grins in response and casts some Protection Charms on them, and James doesn’t waste any more time to get on the bike. He stubbornly ignores the way his heartbeat quickens when Sirius sits down behind him and wraps his arms around his waist, just listens attentively while he explains the different buttons and gears.

“I got it,” he says when Sirius is finally finished, just to nearly crash them into the car in front of them when he starts the engine.

Sirius only laughs, and after he sways in wide lines for the first few hundred feet, he eventually gets the hang of it.

The streets are empty, the cold wind is numbing his face, and he can’t remember the last time he’s felt so careless and free.

Sirius’ chin is propped on his shoulder, his body warm against his back. Occasionally he shouts directions into James’ ear, making a game out of waiting until the last possible second so that his turns have to be as sharp as they can get.

They leave the centre of London behind after maybe twenty minutes of driving, and Sirius takes one hand away from his waist, fiddles a bit with a button on the left. He barks out a loud laugh when James lets out a shout of surprise as they suddenly take off the road, accelerating quickly.

“Fuck this is brilliant,” he shouts over his shoulder and Sirius squeezes him a bit more tightly, burying his face into his neck.

Out of London, the night sky is clear and bright above them and there’s only the occasional spot of light from small villages and towns rushing past underneath them. There’s not much he has to do up here and Sirius points out constellations and names of stars from time to time until they both can’t feel neither their faces nor their hands any longer, and their stomachs are aching from too much laughter at mad stunts and near-misses with church towers, the top of trees, and the rare flock of birds.

It’s brilliant and freeing and exactly what he needs, and not even the reappearing reminder of how platonic this is to Sirius can dampen the warmth and joy that’s spreading through him.

They’re both exhausted and happy when they make it back to London, which is probably the reason why they miss the police car that suddenly shoots out of an alley just when James cuts off a van. He startles violently at the sudden blaring siren, and it’s only Sirius grabbing the handlebar from behind that saves them from crashing into the row of parking cars at the side of the road.

“Shit, Pads, what do we do?” he shouts, adrenaline and disbelief causing him to laugh wildly.

Sirius isn’t much better off but somehow manages to shout, “Drive, you moron! Quick, through there and then the next one left. If I remember correctly, there’s a small alleyway they won’t be able to follow us through.”

He doesn’t remember correctly, of course he doesn’t, and it takes them another ten minutes and a lot of increasingly exasperated and angry warnings from the speakers of the police car until they lose them for long enough to park, activate the Invisibility mode of the bike, and disillusion themselves.

James throws up a Silencing Charm for good measure because they’re both still roaring with laughter, only the wall in their back and each other holding them up. Even after the police car passed by them, it takes another ten minutes until they finally calm down enough to consider going home.

Sirius’ arm around his shoulders pulls him tighter and he goes willingly, clenching his fingers into the soft leather of his jacket, and he can’t help his bright grin at Sirius’ sparkling eyes and joyous expression.

“Merlin, but we both needed that,” Sirius says contentedly, and he nods in agreement, suddenly unable to speak.

It would be so easy to just kiss him now, press him against the dingy wall behind them and prolong this exhilaration, this rush of adrenaline and happiness and pure perfection, ride it out and convert it into something else. It wouldn’t go like that though, and he contents himself with leaning his head against Sirius’ shoulder and focuses on being grateful for what he has.

“Happy Birthday,” he says quietly, and Sirius pulls him into a wordless hug before he jerks his head towards the bike.

“Come on, let’s go home. I’ll drive.”

When they finally stumble into the flat, it’s late at night and they’re both freezing and tired, but also happier than either of them has been in a long time. James makes tea and a few sandwiches while Sirius is taking the first shower. He’s just replaying this rollercoaster of a day in his mind and is subsequently utterly unprepared when Sirius walks in, only in his boxers and a huge hoodie, looking utterly soft with his still wet hair and the faint flush from the shower.

His throat is suddenly very dry, and he seems to be unable to pull his eyes away as Sirius curls up on the chair, completely unaware of James’ sudden crisis.

Swallowing a few times and praying that his voice won’t come out as wrecked as he thinks it must be, he says, “I’m – I just take a shower as well,” and all but flees the kitchen.

Merlin, but how is it possible that realizing his crush seems to make it infinitely worse?

He locks the bathroom door behind himself, quickly strips and steps under the hot water. He tries to ignore how the lingering picture has his cock half-hard already, but when he brushes it while soaping himself up, his resolve crumbles rather fast.

Groaning softly, he leans his head against the cool tiles and wraps his hand around himself, stroking slowly and biting his bottom lip to keep the sounds to a minimum.

As soon as he starts, more pictures start to assault him – of Sirius shirtless, of summer days spent by the lake in Godric’s Hollow, of Sirius in the shower after Quidditch training, and it takes him an embarrassingly short time to come all over the shower wall.

His legs are shaky, and he watches as the water washes away the evidence of what he just did. Really, he might have preferred to stay in his blissful, ignorant state if this is how it’s going to be.

Clenching his jaw, he finishes his shower and gets dressed before slipping out of the bathroom.

The only light still on is coming out of his room and he groans quietly to himself, taking a moment to steel his resolve to not show any sign of awkwardness. Avoiding to sleep in the same bed would be exactly that, and while a huge part of himself dreads the whole thing, another is rather insistent that it is exactly what he wants – to just curl up together and ignore everything else.

Chapter Text

Sirius is woken up by an obnoxious ringing sound and it takes him a few seconds of fiddling with his wand to understand that it’s not where it’s coming from. Groaning, he reaches over James and flicks his wand to turn the alarm off.

Letting his head drop onto James’ chest, he grumbles. “Why in Merlin’s name did you set an alarm? I feel like I didn’t sleep at all.”

“Order meeting,” James mutters into his hair, which only gets another groan out of him. “Don’t want to go. Stay here?”

He snorts softly and sighs. “We can’t.”

“Lily is going to be there,” James whines in response and his arms tighten around Sirius as if that’s going to help.

Sirius winces in sympathy but props himself up on one elbow, nudging James repeatedly until he cracks one eye open to glare up at him. Or well, attempts to, anyway. His hair is a mess, there’s an imprint from the pillow on his right cheek, and he doesn’t seem to get his eyes to open fully.

It gets a soft smile out of him – for some reason, he loves James like this, all warm and soft and just his.

“Everybody else is going to be there too, and I it’s not like she’s the type to make a scene. Come on, avoiding it won’t help and neither of us wants another lecture from Moody about responsibility and all that rot,” he coaxes. “I’m making coffee, you lazy sod.”

With that, he rolls over James and gets up, grabs a jumper and traipses into the kitchen. It’s only slowly getting light outside and the sky is as grey as it has been for days now, not helping with waking him up.

He jumps up on the counter to wait for the water to boil, leaning his head against one of the cupboards and trying to get the urge to yawn under control. Honestly, he doesn’t understand why they can’t have the meetings in the afternoon. Or at night, wouldn’t that be more fitting for a vigilant organisation? Then again, his and Dumbledore’s aesthetic never really aligned.

He’s just pouring the strong coffee into mugs, adding some sugar and milk for James, when he comes into the kitchen, already dressed but still looking tired and, most of all, very reluctant.

James is stalling so much that they’re nearly late and one of the last ones to arrive which earns them a glare from Moody, but Sirius perks up a bit when he remembers that Remus is going to be there.

He hates how rarely he sees his other friends these days, and he doesn’t wait to pull up two chairs next to him and Peter as soon as they enter the room.

Remus still looks tired and now also slightly anxious. Compared to him, James appears like he’s just coming out of holidays, and Sirius conjures a large mug to pour Remus some coffee from the thermos they’ve brought.

“You look like you need it,” he says instead of a greeting, and the gratefulness in Remus’ eyes makes him hope dearly that Dumbledore will give him some time to rest.

“You want one too, Pete?” he asks, noting that, weirdly enough, Peter isn’t far behind Remus in matters of looking drawn, and he frowns slightly.

There hasn’t been much activity over the last few days, at least as far as he and James are aware, and for all intents and purposes, Peter should look better. Then again, he takes the whole war the hardest, fighting and everything that comes with it far less in his nature than for the rest of them.

“No, but thanks Sirius,” Peter waves him off with a small smile.

Before he can say anything else, Dumbledore clears his throat and the table falls silent instantly. Honestly, he needs to find out how he does that, Sirius thinks not for the first time.

While Dumbledore starts with the standard greetings, Sirius lets his gaze wander around the table and takes in the worried expressions of everyone. His gaze briefly lingers on Lily who’s stubbornly keeping her eyes away from their group and he bites back a sigh. She looks terribly tired as well.

It’s not like they’re exactly the closest of friends. While they were still at school, she’d avoided him just as much as James, but they’d started to get along well once they got to know each other better.

He actually found that he likes her a lot, that fiery temper and kindness that she somehow fits all into one, and while he wouldn’t consider her as close a friend as Remus or Peter, they did have a lot of great laughs and conversations over the last year. At least as long as he managed to keep his jealousy in check.

He wonders how she’s keeping up. Dorcas and Marlene are surely there for her, but Sirius thinks he’d probably rather not spend all his time with a couple after a nasty break-up like hers and James’.

Remus nudges him under the table, obviously noticing his lack of attention and he flashes him an apologetic grin, pushing the thermos into his direction as a peace offering. Remus rolls his eyes but can’t hide the twitch of his lips.

It’s not as if the reports out of the Ministry affect him overly much.

Apparently, Remus knows to time his reminder perfectly though, because just now Dumbledore says, “We have discovered a few more houses that might be used as bases, so I’m going to assign some of you to another round of stake-outs.”

There’s a collective groan going around and Dumbledore smiles sympathetically. “I know that they’re rather boring – “ here his eyes linger on him and James for a moment, “but they’re necessary nonetheless. The pairs, after I took your other obligations into consideration, are as follows: Frank and Alice, Fabian and Gideon, Benjy and Marlene, Peter and Dorcas, Sirius and Lily, James and Caradoc.”

Remus sags next to him. It’s barely noticeable and he would’ve missed it if he wasn’t looking for it, but he did and squeezes his shoulder in sympathy.

Not being assigned a partner most likely means another one of those missions that have him disappear for weeks on end and always return worse for the wear, and Sirius has half a mind to walk up to Dumbledore and demand that he lets Remus rest for once. Unfortunately, he knows that Remus would hex him before he can even open his mouth.

Besides, he’s struggling a bit with his own assignment. He has no idea just how badly Lily is taking the whole break-up and fears that this is going to be a very awkward week. He knows that Dumbledore has his reasons to split them up as he does; James and he are one of the only ones who don’t have an actual job outside of the Order, so they’re often assigned separately from each other. It doesn’t change that there’s nobody he works with as well and as gladly as with him.

At least Dumbledore didn’t put Lily and James together he thinks, unable to hide his grimace at the idea.

They all receive a scrap of parchment with their addresses and schedules, there are a few more reports that are all rather lacklustre in their actual value, and then the official part is over.

After a deep breath to brace himself, he quickly gets up and follows Lily out of the room. “Hey,” he says with a crooked smile and buries his hands in his front pockets, hoping that she’s not going to hex him on the spot. He wouldn’t really know why she should, but he really has no experience with these kinds of things and Lily can be rather mean with her wand if she wants to.

She seems startled to see him but catches herself quickly. “Hello Sirius,” she says, smiling tiredly and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Are you alright?” he asks with a frown when he notices the dark circles under her eyes and her chapped lips.

“As well as can be expected, I suppose,” she says with a shrug and averts her eyes for a moment. “At least we got the afternoon shifts.”

“True, let’s just hope the weather won’t stay as bad. Should I pick you up tomorrow, then?” he says, thinking that she’d probably prefer to stay away from their flat. He didn’t get a chance to ask James about his schedule yet but it’s probably better either way.

“Sure,” she says with a nod. “What do you say, you bring coffee and I bring snacks?”

He grins, relieved that she obviously doesn’t hold any resentment for him after the whole disaster and, after a quick goodbye, leaves her to find James.

His eyes fall on Remus and Dumbledore where they’re standing in the corner of the room with a Privacy Ward shimmering faintly around them. Remus looks defeated and tired even from across the room and Sirius has to force himself to not stomp over and demand that Dumbledore lets him be, just for a week.

Instead of pissing off both his ‘boss’ and his friend, he turns and slips into the chair next to James, throwing an arm around him and flashing Peter a smile. “What about you two? I got a day shift for once.”

Both of them groan and shake their heads, enough for him to know that they aren’t that lucky.

“Sorry, that sucks,” he sighs, and his eyes meet James’ for a few moments before he forces himself to look away. “Let’s just hope that we might have a few free days after that week. We should all get together when we find the time, I can’t even remember when we did that last. Well, at least if Remus isn’t gone for ages, again,” he adds, unable to keep some of the bitterness out of his voice.

“Isn’t it strange though?” Peter asks, fidgeting, and both him and James stare at him in confusion.

“What’s strange?” James asks, leaning forward and crossing his arms on the table, dislodging Sirius in the process who scowls at the back of his head in response.

“That he’s gone so much, and Dumbledore keeps sending him away. I mean, it can only mean that he’s not successful, right? I just think it’s a bit… unlike Remus,” Peter says with a jerky shrug. “Also, he always insists that he can’t talk about it as soon as it comes up.”

“Maybe,” Sirius allows, tilting his head and thinking about it. It’s not like he never wondered what Remus is doing, but there’s a general policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ so he never found it particularly weird. Still, there’s no explicit rule against it usually, and Remus is untypically closed off whenever the topic comes up.

“Anyway,” James waves it off and turns his head to look back at him. “You and Lily, huh? Think you’re going to be alright?”

Before he can answer, Peter speaks up again with a confused glance between the two of them. “Why shouldn’t he? I thought you were getting along well by now.”

“Oh,” James says with a wince and Sirius groans at the realization that they’ve not told Peter yet. Granted, it only happened yesterday but he tends to be sensitive when he gets the impression of being left out of anything.

“Let’s wait for Remus and go get a coffee somewhere, alright?” Sirius intervenes before James can bring it up in a room full of people who might be more interested in the whole matter than they have any right to be. Lily’s tired smile is still fresh on his mind and he doesn’t think that either of them is keen to answer questions about their failed relationship.

Probably even less than he is to investigate that lasting, warm sense of relief about it. Honestly, he feels rather bad, considering that they’re both his friends and both not dealing all that well.

Sure, it’s what James wanted, and Sirius doesn’t have the impression that he regrets it exactly, but it’s impossible not to see that it’s still hard on him – at least for Sirius, that is.

“How’s your mum though, Wormtail?” he asks to keep them even further away from the topic and smiles faintly when James sends him a grateful look.

Peter starts fidgeting again, fingers twisting into his sleeves. “Not so good. The Healers said that she might need another potions treatment and most of the time that I don’t spend on Order business, I’m staying with her.”

“Shit, that’s rough. I’m sorry,” James says, squeezing his shoulder and Peter ducks his head.

They’re interrupted when Remus comes over and looks between the three of them. “Did you wait for me?” he asks, and he sounds so much older than he should, his shoulders slumped and hair messed up from running his hand through it one too many times.

Everything about it reminds Sirius painfully of Regulus the night before and he clenches his jaw hard to keep himself from showing it. He doesn’t intend to tell them about it, much less here, and while the vague sense of relief that he’s managed to speak to his brother at all is still there, the overall desperation and defeat he witnessed hurts more than he cares to admit.

Worst of all is the helplessness though; he knows that there’s nothing he can do if Regulus doesn’t want him to, and he can only pray and beg whoever is listening that Regulus will somehow make it through this bloody war.

He stubbornly avoids thinking about what’s going to await him if he does, unwilling to consider that death might be kinder than Azkaban.

Shaking his head to refocus, he realizes that he has missed James’ answer to Remus’ question and that the two of them are currently arguing, which is utterly strange in itself.

Normally it’s him who fights with any of his friends.

“I can’t, how is that so hard for you to get?” Remus just snaps, his glare only softened by his exhaustion.

Peter is looking between the two of them like he’d like to transform into his Animagus-self and disappear into one of the cracks in the floor. At least one thing didn’t change over the last year Sirius thinks sourly, and pointedly clears his throat.

“Alright you two, what do you think about grabbing a coffee somewhere and talk about whatever has your fur ruffled – “ he can’t help his smirk at the pun – “calmly.”

Unfortunately, he seems to be the only one who finds it funny because Remus turns his glare on him now and James drops his head onto his still folded arms.

“As I just said,” Remus grinds out through clenched teeth, “I can’t. I need to go home, pack, and then I have to leave.”

Flicking his wand under the table to throw up a Silencing Charm, Sirius sits up straighter and frowns. “But the full moon is in three days, how the hell are you going to transform without us?”

Remus just groans and runs a hand over his face. “It’s taken care of, alright? Don’t worry about it.”

Sirius clenches his jaw to not snap at him like he wants to and says as calmly as he can muster, “Remus, we always worry about you and it’s okay that we do. It’s what friends do. So, are you sure you’re going to be fine? You’re obviously tired and – “

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake!” Remus exclaims and throws his hands up. “I’m perfectly aware that I’m tired Sirius, it’s not like that pauses the war though. I have to go, I’ll talk to you when I’m back.”

With that, he turns and walks out of the room without a backwards glance, leaving all of them to stare after him, dumbfounded. It’s not like Remus is the calmness in person, but it takes a lot to actually make him snap, even more so at them and never for something like this.

“Well,” Sirius says, drawing out the word and running a hand through his hair. He flinches when his fingers catch in his bun and he pulls off the hair tie to redo it.

James is staring at him and he raises a questioning brow, tilting his head slightly, but before his silent question can be answered, Peter clears his throat to pull their attention back to him.

“As I said, weird.” Peter nods like that’s all the proof he needs, like ‘weird’ is actually saying something.

“Oh fuck Wormtail, let him be,” Sirius groans, the only thing that keeps him from an extensive rant James’ hand on his shoulder.

“Anyway,” James says a bit too cheerfully for it to be genuine. “Let’s go and get that coffee, yeah? I for one could use it, and I’m sure Moony has his reasons.”

Sirius swallows his annoyance and nods, and after they’ve said their goodbyes to the remaining Order members, they all apparate to London.

It’s all rather stilted until they receive their coffees and Peter asks, “So, why shouldn’t Sirius be alright with working with Lily?”

James grimaces and runs a hand through his hair. “I broke up with her yesterday.”

Peter is gaping, mouth opening and closing without any words coming out and Sirius hides his grin behind his mug.

“But – but why?” Peter eventually manages, and Sirius can see how much that question is already starting to grate on James’ nerves.

“It just didn’t work. Don’t get me wrong, she’s awesome, but I just – it’s not really what I wanted,” James says, fiddling with his spoon and feigning nonchalance.

“But – but,” Peter says again, scrunching up his face in the same way he always did when he tried to understand some complicated magical theory. “It’s all you wanted for the whole time through school! How can you not want that, suddenly?”

James looks pained, biting his bottom lip and somehow, Sirius can’t really look away from the gesture.

“Listen, it’s just – I don’t know, okay?” James says with a long sigh. “Maybe I just discovered that it didn’t live up to the expectations I had. It happens, it’s no big deal.”

Sirius frowns at the excuse because just yesterday, James was rather insistent about that not being the reason. He more and more gets the feeling that James is keeping the actual problem to himself, and while he cares pretty little about him lying to Peter, he can’t say the same about himself.

Still, when Peter keeps asking despite James’ clearly growing discomfort, he leans forward and glares at Peter.

“Let it be, alright? Not everybody marries their first love, and James of all people can use some time to actually check out what else is there,” he says with a smirk, claps a hand onto James’ shoulder and inwardly wonders at the pang in his chest at the idea.

Peter’s mouth presses into a thin line, but he lets the matter drop and they change the topic. They don’t stay much longer though; there’s a certain tension lingering between them and Sirius breathes a sigh of relief when they say goodbye.

It’s a weird, uncomfortable feeling, utterly unknown to him. Sure, he and James have always been inseparable and somehow on a slightly different level than they’re with Peter and Remus, but he’s never been glad to see the back of them.

He puts it down to the growing pressure of the war though, to the way his own thoughts keep returning to and circling around Regulus, coming up with worse and worse scenarios that could happen and all the guilt and self-loathing that comes with it. It’s only made worse by all the memories of the rest of his family that are connected to it, the growing apprehension that he didn’t leave it behind as thoroughly as he thought he did.

“This war is driving all of us around the bent,” James mutters, drawing him out of his spiralling thoughts, and Sirius throws an arm around his shoulders to pull him close.

“That it does,” he agrees, unable to keep his own exhaustion and weariness out of his voice. “That it does, my dear Prongs.”

Over the next week, he doesn’t see much of James. They have directly opposing shifts, Sirius being out most of the day while James is gone at night, and they only meet each other for a shared coffee in the mornings.

He knows it’s ridiculous but on top of everything, it’s wearing on him.

Still, his shifts with Lily are going far better than he expected. It’s obvious that she’s still rather down, she’s untypically quiet and withdrawn from time to time, and he’s careful to not mention James in case that it only makes it worse. But she doesn’t show any resentment towards him and he’s happier about that than he would’ve thought.

“You know,” she says on the third day, both of them wrapped into several layers of clothes as they’re sitting on the roof of a little hut that is hidden between trees directly at the border to the grounds of another run-down Manor. “At first, I thought he’s breaking up with me because he didn’t want to stop living with you.”

Sirius startles at her bringing it up. They’ve spent most of their time talking about unrelated topics – worrying about Remus and Peter, about the way the war is chipping away at all of them, missions, and even a bit about their respective families, but he thought it was like an unspoken rule to not mention James.

He’s not sure if he actually minds. She’s his friend and if she needs someone to talk to, he gladly listens, but he won’t be able to hear her rant without defending James. She should know him well enough by now to be aware of that, and he only hums in response, waiting where she’s going with this.

Glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, she smiles and shoves him. “I’m not going to talk badly about him, I have Dorcas and Marlene for that,” she says with a roll of her eyes.

He snorts and raises his hands. “Can’t argue with that,” he grins, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket.

“It’s just –” she starts again, tilting her head and staring over the vast grounds in front of them. “I’ve always wondered about the friendship between the two of you, you know?”

Frowning, he shakes his head. “Not really, to be honest.”

“You’re awfully close, even for best friends. You’re aware of that, aren’t you?” she asks, eyebrows raised and looking at him like she’s going to push him off the roof if he denies it.

“Well, yeah? I mean, I never gave it much thought, to be honest. We just clicked from the second we met, and it’s been like that ever since. I know it’s different than with Peter and Remus – not because I like them less, it’s just… different,” he says, exhaling a cloud of smoke and watching as it’s carried away, white snippets of ash dancing around him before they disappear.

“Did you never think – don’t you think that the two of you are a bit too dependent on each other?” she asks and leans back slightly to avoid his smoke.

He takes his cigarette into the other hand and flashes her an apologetic grin before he frowns. “I don’t know if I’d call it dependent, we’re just… We’re the same, in many ways and in the ones we’re not, we balance each other out. I mean it works, so why change it?”

She’s silent and it takes him a moment to come up with an idea of what might be bothering her.

Propping his elbows on his knees, he looks at her. “You don’t think that he broke up with you because he thought that he would have to move in with you eventually, right? Because that’s – “

She laughs, but it sounds sad underneath it. “No Sirius, that’s not what I meant.”

“Good,” he says with a nod. “What did you mean, then?”

Her hands fiddle with a strand of hair for a moment and she seems hesitant, something in itself so unusual for her that he’s not sure he even wants to hear it. “Just – I don’t know, even before James – before he broke up with me, I sometimes thought that the two of you… It sometimes felt like you’re so close, like you’re such an entity that there simply isn’t any room for anyone else. Not in the sense that you can’t have other friends, just – nobody is ever going to be as important to you as the other, and with friends that’s fine. It just doesn’t work for a long-term relationship, because you two are already as committed to each other as two people can possibly be.”

“But that’s – “ he starts, only to stop again. He’d meant to say that it’s rather obvious, that he doesn’t understand why she expected it to be any other way, but thankfully he realizes that it might be rather insensitive, all things considered.

“Obvious?” she asks, smiling wryly.

He grins sheepishly and quickly busies himself with vanishing his cigarette to avoid looking at her.

“Did you ever notice that you two behave like you’re a couple?” she asks after a pause and his head flies up at the question. She looks merely curious but he’s not sure that he buys it.

“But we don’t – “

Her laugh interrupts him. “People don’t need to sleep with each other to be a couple, Sirius. I’ve never met friends as ridiculously close to each other as the two of you and I don’t think I ever will.”

He shakes his head slowly and ponders what to say. The whole thing appears rather farfetched to him – sure, they’re close, their bond is different from any other that he has, but it’s not like that. But maybe, he thinks, the idea makes it easier for her to deal with the whole thing and he decides to not point out how far off track she is.

Instead, he just shrugs. “I don’t know what to say to that, Lily. I can’t deny we’re close, but I don’t see him that way and, considering that James is straight as far as I know, I’m pretty certain he doesn’t see me like that, either.”

Rolling her eyes, she shoves him again. “I didn’t mean to say that you two should be dating or that you’re secretly in love with each other you Troll,” she laughs. “Just that you have an unhealthy co-dependency on each other that will make it difficult for either of you if you ever want to have a serious relationship with anyone else.”

There’s a weird mix of indignation about her finding the idea of them dating so funny and satisfaction about the second part of her statement, and once again he’s wondering about that increasing possessiveness of his. But seeing that it’s about James, it probably falls right into the same category of what she’s just talking about.

Thankfully, it’s the only time she brings James up, and the rest of the week passes absolutely uneventfully. There is no activity whatsoever in the abandoned Manor and when they leave after their last shift, they’re both rather resigned and demoralized.

“Well,” she sighs as she flicks her wand to clean up the space they’ve used over the last few days, “I’m not saying that I want to be fighting, but this ongoing lack of success isn’t helping so it’s not like it’s a good thing that nothing happened.”

“I’d rather fight, to be honest,” he grumbles, which only earns him an exasperated look.

“I know, but you’re mental, Sirius, so it’s not much of a surprise.”

He doesn’t bother to feign offence, even those in the Order that he isn’t close with are very aware of the fact that he occasionally enjoys the whole thing a bit too much.

Not the terror and the deaths, obviously, but he revels in chaos and the rush of adrenaline, something he blames on the madness running in his family, and no matter how much he’s working every single day to be a good person, there are some things he can’t deceive himself over.

Making Death Eaters pay for all that suffering they cause is something he’ll never not enjoy, self-righteousness and moral high ground be damned.

“Thanks though,” he says, choosing to ignore her last comment. “It was bearable, working with you.”

At her deadpan look, he snorts, shaking his head and putting an arm around her shoulders. “I don’t mean it like that Lily, just that contrary to Peter, you’re not whining constantly, and unlike Caradoc, you can talk about other things than magical Creatures. I mean I get it, dragons are cool, but Abraxan horses? Not so much, especially not after the first five hours.”

She laughs, and he finds that he’s rather glad that she’s already appearing to be a little better than at the start of the week. Really, no matter that he’s secretly kind of glad that James isn’t taken anymore, that he’s solely his again, she didn’t deserve to get her heart broken.

There’s a small, niggling voice in the back of his mind, reminding him of what she said about the two of them but, as with so many other things, he chooses to ignore it.

Honestly, if he didn’t shove some things far, far away from his consciousness, he would go mad within a week. Regulus is still haunting his dreams and not only a few of his waking moments as well; he doesn’t need a crisis about his best friend on top of it.

“Okay,” Lily says, snapping him out of it, and he squeezes her closer in silent gratitude. It doesn’t matter that she’ll never know. “You were bearable as well,” she laughs and closes her bag. “Don’t become a stranger, will you? I mean, I know, solidarity with James and all that –“

“I can be friends with both of you,” he interrupts her with a small smile. “See you around, Lils,” he adds and then apparates away.

He’s been home only for an hour, lounging on the sofa in the living room and warming up in front of the fire while eating a large bowl of soup, when a horse Patronus barges into the room.

He sits up so quickly that half of his food lands on the floor and he frowns when he doesn’t recognise who it belongs to immediately. “Ambush at Lyndhurst, we need help!”

It only takes a second to recognise the voice as Caradoc’s, and another to process it, together with the location. All the breath leaves him in a rush, his blood freezes in his veins, and he’s stumbling over his feet before he has even finished the thought.

He only grabs his boots, his bag, and makes sure that he has his wand before he storms out of the flat, just far enough to be out of the wards to apparate away, Muggles be damned.

Lyndhurst is the small village where James is currently having his last shift, and an ambush sounds about as bad as it gets.

He curses loudly when, instead of landing where he was planning to, he’s thrown out at the edge of the village by Anti-Apparation wards. He can hear shouting and see a flurry of coloured spells in the distance, and doesn’t spare a look for his surroundings before breaking into a run. Dusk is breaking already, the sky a deep blue and the fading light lets the coloured spellfire appear all the more ominous.

A heavy hand around his wrist stops him, nearly making him fall, and only Moody’s presence of mind to step aside quickly saves the man from a nasty curse.

“I need to –“ he starts, frantically trying to pull away, but Moody simply tightens his grip.

“You’re no use to anybody if you’re taken out before you even make it there,” he bellows, adding a rough shake for good measure, and Sirius finally takes a breath. “There are a few Death Eaters hiding in the village, they would’ve cursed your back if I had let you go. So here’s the plan,” Moody cuts straight to the chase.

If he were less panicked, he would have spared a quick smile but he’s brimming with anxiety, energy, and hot anger, barely managing to hold himself back to actually listen.

“First of all, you’re going to disillusion yourself and I’m doing the same, and then we’re going slowly, trying to spot and take out those along the way. A few from the Order are already there. I know you’re itching to get in there, but this was planned, and we have to treat it as such. Do you understand?” Moody says and to his credit, he’s quick with it.

With a sharp nod, Sirius asks, “If this was planned, then how did they know?”

“No idea, they probably noticed that we were watching that house. Again, did you understand what I just told you?” Moody asks, and he’s still keeping a tight grip on Sirius’ wrist.

“Yes, damn it yes, can we go now?” he snaps when he hears another scream from the other side of the village, already raising his wand to disillusion himself.

Moody doesn’t answer but gets into position, and the two of them move back to back, slowly walking down the deserted main street. It takes every little amount of self-control Sirius possesses to not break into a run, but he’s pretty sure that if it’s not a Death Eater who takes him out if he does, Moody would at least hit him with a Stunner.

The way through the village feels like it takes an eternity but eventually, they come out at the other side, the houses opening up to a vast field on the left and an overgrown estate to the right.

A quick scan of the situation shows him about ten masked figures and maybe five others, and he cringes at the imbalance. He can’t make out if there’s anybody who went down already, and he forcefully shoves the thought away. Panic won’t get him anywhere right now.

They stay in their position as they creep closer and take out three Death Eaters. They’re both casting non-verbally but he’s pretty certain that Moody is keeping to Stunners just as much as Sirius does, which is not at all. He’s long past caring and instantly goes with Blasting Curses that throw his targets against a tree and into the crumbled ruins of a well respectively.

He’s regretting it when it instantly pulls the attention of another four Death Eaters into their direction and Moody curses behind him. Their Disillusionment Charm is rather useless now and he stops maintaining it, focusing all his strength on his duel with the two that are trying to make quick work of him. He clenches his jaw, his focus narrowing down to only them, but the only thought he’s acutely aware of is that he has to take them out so that he can find James.

He transfigures some of the pebbles to serve as a physical shield so he can keep to offensive spells, especially Blasting Curses, in an attempt to catch both of them. It hinders his movements though and he’s forced to change his position when they break apart to approach him from different angles.

Still, their aim isn’t the best and he catches the smaller one with a Diffindo soon enough.

There’s a shout to his right and he would know that voice under thousands. Risking a quick glance, he sees James being pushed back by three Death Eaters at once. He’s keeping his left arm close to his body, obviously injured, and the sight snaps the frail remains of Sirius’ temper.

The next string of curses he sends at his opponent is so dark that his mother would be proud, he’s snarling and gives a short, malicious laugh when the last one hits its target, turning his skin into stone. If none of his little friends finds and helps him soon, it won’t be only his skin.

Sirius doesn’t waste a second to relish in his victory though. He whirls around and hits one of James’ opponents with an Entrail-Extrail-Curse and the second one with a Bombarda that might have come from a bit too close to survive. It doesn’t matter.

James manages to stun the third one and Sirius rushes to his side, his hands scrambling over James’ chest and face before he takes his good arm and pulls him into the group of trees, ignoring his protest.

“To loosely cite Moody,” he snaps when James won’t stop struggling, “You’re no good to anyone if you’re bleeding out, you idiot. So let me heal you and you can storm off again, alright?”

James’ shoulders slump slightly and suddenly, the pain he has to be in is visible on his face. “Yeah alright. Thought you wanted to get me out of here,” he says and turns to let Sirius have a look at his arm.

Rolling his eyes, he carefully pulls the torn robe away and flicks his wand to clean the wound. “As if, I thought you knew me,” he attempts to joke, ignoring the way his stomach clenches at the sight of the deep, nasty gash. A few more minutes and James would have passed out from the blood loss.

He didn’t though, and Sirius focuses on healing the wound as best as he can before he pulls two potion vials out of his bag, something all of them carry around these days.

“Here, drink that,” he orders while he conjures a goblet and fills it with water. “And then this.”

James does as he’s told and after a few minutes, colour returns to his cheeks and Sirius breathes a sigh of relief.

“Come on then, doesn’t sound like it’s over yet,” he says, already turning away and knowing that James will follow.

There are more Order members now, but the same applies to the Death Eaters and it doesn’t take long until they’re immersed in the next duel. Everything but his opponents fades away from him, though he’s not as brutal as he was just twenty minutes ago.

At some point, they get separated again and as much as he wants to search for James, he’s rather occupied with his two opponents. They push him back into the group of trees and his left arm is hit by a Bone Crushing Curse, but eventually, he manages to take both of them out.

He sags in relief when the second one goes down. The pain in his arm is overwhelming and he clumsily rummages around in his bag for another potion when there’s a loud crack of a branch behind him.

He whirls around with his wand already raised, a silent curse on the tip of his tongue when he notices the black robes. Then his eyes fall onto the mask and he falters; his wand falls uselessly to his side and he suddenly can’t breathe, can’t seem to move and his heart is beating so fast it’s painful.

“No,” he croaks as his eyes roam over the tall, thin figure. The person is holding themselves still and stares right back. “No, you – I can’t,” he stammers again, and he barely notices that his hands are shaking and his eyes burning.

“Sirius,” Regulus says, his voice flat but shaking ever so slightly, and he lowers his wand as well.

They stare at each other in silence for long moments, neither of them moves or says anything. Sirius’ mind is racing, and he still can’t breathe, can’t seem to get his body to move, and he thinks he might just topple over any moment now.

There’s a noise behind him but he barely registers it until a hand lands on his shoulder, the contact making him wince in pain.

Finally, he manages to turn his head and his eyes lock onto James’, whose frown only deepens in response.

“What’s going on here?” James asks, worry colouring his tone and eyes flitting from him to Regulus. “Are you hurt? Merlin, are you crying?”

At the last question, Sirius slowly raises his uninjured hand to his face and stares at it in disbelief when it comes away wet.

James has his wand pointed at Regulus within seconds, his face suddenly hard. “Whatever you did to him, reverse it or I’m going to kill you,” he says lowly, his voice like steel, and Sirius wants to laugh, wants to scream and rage because he always knew James would do anything for him but he doesn’t want him to kill for him, especially not his bloody brother.

Regulus doesn’t move, standing still like a statue as if he’s just waiting for James to do it.

Sirius hates that he can’t see his face, hates the helplessness and dread that’s rushing through him and fury is flaring up in him, hot and bright and burning. “Fuck off. Leave, or so help me – “

“Don’t you dare,” James interrupts him, taking another step in front of him and this time, Sirius does laugh. Even he can hear that it’s unhinged and maniacal.

“Get away, honestly,” he spits at Regulus, and at the same time lays his hand on James wand arm, leaning closer. “I’m not cursed. It’s – that’s Regulus.” His voice breaks over the name and he hates that as well, hates that he still cares so much that he can’t even consider to at least stun him.

“But – “

Please,” he says, and it sounds awfully close to begging. “I promise, my mind is as normal as it ever gets. My arm probably not so much, but he didn’t do anything to me.”

Turning his head, he glares at Regulus again. “If you don’t plan to fight us, kindly fuck off, would you? You can tell your little friends that it was you who crushed the bones in my arm if it makes you feel better. The bastard who actually did probably won’t get up again anyway.”

Regulus stays still for another few seconds and Sirius is just reconsidering the whole ‘not hexing him’- thing, alone for the fact that he somehow seems like he wants them to do exactly that, when he finally gives a jerky nod.

The quiet “Thanks, Sirius,” is barely audible across the short distance between them and then he turns and disappears.

Sirius swallows and plops down on an uprooted tree, wincing when he jostles his injured arm again. He doesn’t want to look at James, is barely keeping it together as it is, and busies himself with rummaging through his bag again.

“Here, let me,” James says, voice painfully soft, and he kneels down in front of him and carefully takes his arm.

He closes his eyes against the pain and, well, everything else, and lets him do whatever he’s doing.

“Most of them left,” James says conversationally after a minute, pressing a vial into his uninjured hand. “Drink that.”

“Good,” he says flatly and drinks down the vile potion, but he’s still keeping his eyes closed and fights the urge to just – he doesn’t even know. Just run, maybe. Disappear to a place where he doesn’t have to watch James nearly get killed or fight his brother, or watch James kill his brother, or whatever else this war is going to throw at him.

“Let’s go home,” James says, tugging a bit at his robes and he sighs, the sound coming from deep within his chest, but he nods, opening his eyes again and slowly standing up.

He avoids looking around himself when they walk away. Usually he’s not squeamish, is probably the one who has least of a problem with what he has to do to make sure that he and his friends survive, but he doesn’t think he can take the sight of a single corpse right now.

“Do we have to report back?” he asks when they walk down the main street where a few Aurors are currently trying to take down the wards. Honestly, it’s like cleaning up is the only thing they’re good for these days.

“No, Moody said as there’s a meeting tomorrow anyway we should just go home and have a rest,” James says, his hand still steady on Sirius’ arm and it’s probably the only thing that’s keeping him grounded right now.

Chapter Text

James apparates both of them home, unable to keep himself from shooting worried glances at Sirius every few seconds while they’re walking up the stairs. He’s not even sure that Sirius is still aware of what’s going on around him, staring straight ahead and face utterly blank. Only his eyes betray him as they always do, a raging mix of fury, desperation, and confusion.

As soon as they enter the flat, Sirius pulls away from him and stumbles more than walks into the living room.

James stays in the doorway and watches as he looks around before stalking over to one of the shelves, taking an ashtray they’ve got from Marlene to their move-in and hauling it into the fireplace.

Shards are flying everywhere, whirling up ash and burned wood, and soon more objects are flying. Sirius doesn’t make a sound but his whole body is trembling, teeth biting through his lips and his breathing ragged.

James doesn’t move, just casts a few shields around things that might prove difficult to repair. He knows that there’s no use in trying to stop Sirius – he’d succeed, probably, as he always does, but he’s long since learnt that it merely delays the blow-up. It’s better to let it run its course here than at some later point.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not terrible to watch, knowing that it’s Sirius’ only, twisted way to cope when everything seems to crash and burn around him.

He can’t say he understands exactly, but then, he’s not been taught for half his life to never show his emotions.

The Blacks aren’t called mad for no reason, and no matter how few similarities Sirius has to them in most regards, this is something that didn’t pass him.

Sirius stills and then just drops. He leans against the sofa, pulling his knees to his chest and burying his head in his arms.

James dispels his shields and sits down next to him, puts both arms around him and wordlessly pulls him close. The irony of it is that Sirius loathes himself for these outbursts, no matter how many times James tells him that it’s alright as long as he takes his anger out on inanimate objects, and he can only imagine how bad it has to be now after the whole disaster with Regulus.

Really, he’s been waiting for this to happen ever since the first encounter, and Sirius has been remarkably calm over the last weeks.

Sirius presses his face into his chest, fingers clenching in the back of James’ jumper as he’s heaving with quiet sobs, clinging to him like it’s the only thing keeping him together.

James only cards his fingers through the dishevelled hair, carefully disentangling leaves and twigs and whatever else got caught in there over the course of the last two hours, and doesn’t say anything until Sirius’ breathing finally calms.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius says eventually, his voice rough and cracking.

James tightens his grip and shakes his head. “Don’t be, how many times do I have to tell you? Honestly, you’re as bad as Remus, absolutely unable to accept that it’s alright,” he huffs, and it at least startles a small laugh out of Sirius.

“Did you just compare my utter lack of self-control to Remus’ lycanthropy?” Sirius asks disbelievingly and raises his head to look at him. His eyes are red-rimmed and brighter than usual, his cheeks are flushed, and his hair is clinging to his skin. James thinks that it’s ridiculous how he’s still the most beautiful person he’s ever seen.

He ignores the thought and grins down at him. “Well, madness is madness, isn’t it?”

Sirius hums but doesn’t let go of him, dropping his forehead to his shoulder again. “I bet Remus would disagree,” he says dryly.

“He’s not here though, is he?” he says and absently draws circles into Sirius’ neck, who makes a content noise in the back of his throat at the motion.

“I’m tired,” Sirius yawns after a while, obviously choosing not to argue with him. “But I don’t want to get up. I need to take a shower, to eat something, and everything is going to feel more real as soon as I do.”

James wraps his arms around him once more and closes his eyes. No matter how close they are, these moments where Sirius just speaks his mind, is this open and vulnerable, are rare and he always just wants to take him far away and hold him close. Wants to promise him that everything is going to be alright, regardless of the unlikeliness of that in the chaos that their lives are.

“I know,” he whispers instead, ignoring the sudden lump in his throat. “The floor is going to become uncomfortable at some point though,” he adds after a beat because he knows that he has to coax Sirius out of his mood if he doesn’t want to risk it taking another down-turn.

“Don’t care,” Sirius mutters petulantly. “You’re comfortable, it’s enough for me.”

It gets a small smile out of him but he pulls away anyway. “Come on, I’ll make some food and you can take a shower. I’m still comfortable in bed, and we should have a look at both of our injuries as well.”

For a moment, Sirius doesn’t move, only clenches his fingers a little more tightly into James’ jumper. He’s suddenly acutely aware of all the places they’re pressed together and breathes deeply to not let it affect him too much. Now is really not the time.

Thankfully, Sirius pulls away right then and looks at him with a shaky smile. “Thanks,” he whispers before he gets up and disappears out of the room.

James stays where he is and as soon as he hears the bathroom door clicking shut, drops his head into his hands. Merlin, but this is getting harder with each passing day.

They’re both sleeping badly despite sharing a bed and are in a sour mood the next morning. He makes the mistake of asking Sirius if he wants to talk about Regulus and receives only a scowl and a, “What is there to talk about?” in response.

Considering the previous day, he’d argue that there’s quite a lot but decides that it can probably wait. It’s not like it’s going to change anytime soon, they’re late as it is, and when they arrive at headquarters, everybody falls silent.

He frowns and tries to come up with a reason, wondering if there’s a chance that anybody has witnessed their stand-off with Regulus. He doubts that they would’ve allowed him to get away though and decides to ignore it for now, taking one of the last remaining seats towards the side.

Sirius plops down next to him with a faint scowl and James has the sneaking suspicion that he knows what this is about.

Dumbledore clears his throat, smiling as genially as usual while he greets all of them but then turns serious. “I’m sure you’re all aware of the events that took place yesterday. We have two issues now that we need to discuss. First, we need to find out how the Death Eaters knew about our observation of the house.”

He looks between Caradoc and James, who sits up straighter and tilts his head. “As far as we are aware, nobody noticed us. We always apparated to Lyndhurst already disillusioned and used my Invisibility Cloak from there on, so I think it’s unlikely that we were discovered and then observed for days to figure out the pattern.”

“It would’ve been enough to see you once to conclude that somebody’s watching the house though,” Moody throws in, his fingers tapping against the table restlessly.

Shaking his head, he exchanges a quick look with Caradoc. “They waited for us to change the shift and said they were expecting us. One of them said that Voldemort wants to talk to me specifically,” he says, unable to hide his grimace at the memory. “So they must’ve at least known that we’re there at night, especially with so many of them stationed in the village as well.”

Moody nods in agreement and a few others do as well, worry palpable in the room.

“It could still have been a good guess,” Gideon says, but he doesn’t look like he believes it himself.

“The only other possibility would be that someone told them,” his brother goes on and James frowns when a few members glance at Sirius.

“But who would?” Lily asks, looking aghast. Marlene, Dorcas, and Peter instantly mumble their agreement, and everybody is silent for some time.

Dumbledore sighs and shakes his head. “We cannot jump to conclusions now. I trust every single person in this room, and I don’t want to believe that anybody has led them there on purpose. It might have been a mistake, an overheard conversation or simple luck.”

Some murmur their agreement, others still look doubtful, and James doesn’t really know what to think. He agrees with Dumbledore that he trusts all of them, but he also knows how incredibly careful they all are with information as sensitive as this, and the Death Eaters last night were a little too prepared for it to be mere luck.

“The other point,” Dedalus Diggle speaks up, shifting in his seat and eyes flickering between Dumbledore and Sirius, “is that there were spells used yesterday that are forbidden by Ministry standards, and we had an untypically high number of deaths on the opposing side.”

James knows instantly what he’s hinting at and clenches his jaw. He has absolutely no delusions about Sirius’ fighting style, they had more than one discussion about it over the last year, but on one point they always agree; if it’s us or them, it doesn’t matter as long as they make it out alive.

You can severe someone’s head with a well-placed Diffindo if you want to, and as long as Sirius doesn’t use any curses that have torture as the main goal, James really doesn’t get the reoccurring discussion.

“We can’t stoop to their level or our whole agenda looks hypocritical in the public eye,” Diggle goes on, now openly glaring at Sirius who appears utterly unconcerned as he balances on two legs of his chair.

It’s probably only James who can see the slight tension in his shoulders and the hardness lingering in his eyes. It’s not the first time that this discussion is brought up and he thinks that those of the Order that share Diggle’s opinion would get farther if they didn’t keep insinuating that Sirius is just like the other Blacks.

Really, it’s like they’ve never met Bellatrix.

“Indeed,” Dumbledore nods, and at least he’s speaking to the room at large. “I understand that in the rush of the fight, consideration for which spells you use can take a backseat, but it’s important that we distance ourselves.”

“Well.” Doge sneers faintly. “It’s only one person who repeatedly ignores this.”

James puts one hand on Sirius’ knee under the table and glares at the small, pudgy man. “I didn’t see you there yesterday. We were outnumbered three to one and to be honest, I care pretty little about the morality of my methods when it’s us or them. They’re not going to run to the Wizengamot and issue a complaint.”

Marlene snorts across from him. “It’s true enough. It’s not like we’re throwing around the Cruciatus Curse, or like a Bombarda isn’t as bad as a Bone-Crushing Curse. I don’t get why we need to have this discussion over and over. It’s pointless.”

“Not to mention that the Auror department is currently discussing to allow the use of the Unforgivables for Aurors,” Moody cuts in, the news startling all of them. “And most of us are in favour of that. Mind you, it would not apply to you lads, but I agree that we have to fight with any means necessary. If some spells come easier to some of us than others, well – a Death Eater less is a Death Eater less.”

“Alastor,” Dumbledore says disapprovingly which only gets an eye-roll out of Moody.

Before he can say anything, Diggle speaks up again. “That’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? Some spells come easier to ‘some of us,’ shouldn’t that tell us something?”

He knows that Sirius’ temper snaps right that moment before he opens his mouth and he sighs to himself. It’s not like they didn’t have it coming, he just would’ve liked for Sirius to catch a break for once.

Sirius is leaning forward, crossing his arms on the table and pinning Diggle with one of those looks only very few can stand to be on the receiving end of, lips curled into a mocking smirk and one brow raised. It’s such a Black look that James doubts that it’s going to help his case, and he knows that it’s exactly why he’s doing it.

“If you have to say something Diggle, why don’t you say it to my face?” Sirius asks sweetly with a tilt of his head.

“Sirius,” Dumbledore warns but Sirius only waves his hand dismissively, not taking his eyes off Diggle who’s sinking back into his chair a bit.

James lets his eyes travel around the table. Marlene and Benjy look like they can’t wait to witness this, Dorcas, Lily, and Kingsley appear mostly resigned but like they understand, Peter is fidgeting as he always does when Sirius works himself into a fit, and Moody is leaning back in his chair like he’s expecting a great show.

Alice and Frank both seem exasperated, exchanging glances, while the Prewett twins and Caradoc are rather close to Marlene’s expression. He always liked those three.

The only ones frowning with disapproval and something close to concern are Dumbledore, Doge, and Diggle, the latter currently stumbling over his words. “Well, I just mean that, you know, with your history – “

Merlin, but the idiot should know better by now than to present Sirius with such an opening.

“Oh, and which history of mine are you talking about?” Sirius asks, frowning in feigned confusion.

Diggle apparently pulls some courage from somewhere, bristling and sitting up straighter. “Now, you’re a Black and – “

“And I was disowned over three years ago. I was sorted into Gryffindor and lived with the Potter family, and since we’ve finished school, with James. That’s my family. Are you talking about that history?” Sirius presses on and James has to hide a smile behind his hand.

“No! But you’re a Black and you’re obviously using dark magic,” Diggle retorts hotly and half the table groans.

“Now – “ Dumbledore tries to intervene again but it’s a half-hearted attempt at best. They all know that he could make them listen if he wanted to. Well, most of them – Sirius has a rather thick skin even to him.

It satisfies James more than it probably should that he wouldn’t have much trouble holding him back. He simply doesn’t want to, at all. He’s rather sick of the reoccurring accusations and thinks Sirius deserves to deal with it on his own terms.

“First of all, I’m only using spells that are bordering towards the dark, hence, grey. As Marlene kindly pointed out earlier, I strictly use those to defend myself without causing unnecessary pain. And then, I could kill somebody very painfully by summoning their internal organs, levitate them off a roof, bind and then drown them with an Aguamenti – I think you get the idea,” Sirius says, and his smile shows a bit too many teeth.

“See! That’s exactly what I’m talking about, just as mad as the rest of your lot,” Diggle spits and Sirius winces ever so slightly.

Anger is flaring up within James, but he clenches his hands into fists under the table, knowing perfectly well that Sirius can handle himself.

“What’s to say that you don’t cooperate with them? That you weren’t the one who told them about the stakeouts?” Diggle continues to shovel his own grave and his statement draws muttered protests from several people.

Sirius only laughs though, and his expression turns mocking again. “Oh yeah, sure. And because we love each other so much, my dear cousin takes such pleasure in holding me under a Crucio for minutes – oh wait, you weren’t there when we were defending Diagon Alley, were you?” he says with a sneer, leaning further forward.

“Oh no, that’s right,” he goes on, fingers drumming against the table. “That’s because you’re a little coward that keeps his chair in the Ministry nice and warm and lets us do the dirty work, always ready with your high and mighty criticism afterwards. But sure, I’m just getting tortured to keep my cover. Is that what you’re saying?”

Diggle’s face is scrunched up, an angry flush creeping over his cheeks and down his neck. “I’m not a coward, you have no idea of the atmosphere – “

“Well, Moody seems to manage just fine,” Sirius interrupts and flashes a quick grin at the Auror who waves a hand as if to say, ‘Don’t mention it.’

“Besides, your cousin is mental. That’s no proof that you don’t have any contact with the rest of your family. Who’s to say you would actually fight them if it came to it?”

Sirius laughs again and shakes his head. “The day my dear parents ever lift a wand to me again, I’ll be very thankful for the chance to finally return the favour.”

“And your brother?” Diggle throws in, obviously flailing to finally get one over Sirius.

Granted, Regulus is a rather low blow and James worries briefly that it might throw Sirius off, but he only smiles in that condescending manner of his and shrugs. “Well, it’s not like I know who’s under those masks, do I? Besides, you’ve got off your point, I thought I’m supposed to be the spy? Now you’re wondering if I’d kill my own brother, after accusing me of being too ruthless? Don’t you think that’s a bit… what’s the word – hypocritical of you, Diggle?”

Apparently, the man is unable to come up with anything to that and resigns himself to glaring.

“Yeah, I thought so, such big accusations for someone who does so little. Maybe work on demasking those bloody bastards instead of just brewing up conspiracies in that little brain of yours, then you might be of some use,” Sirius spits. “Now, if nobody else wants to condemn me because of my dear family,” he adds, and doesn’t wait for an answer before he stands up in one fluid motion and walks out, the slam of the door unnaturally loud in the room.

Silence hangs heavy over the table and it’s Moody who eventually clears his throat, claps his hands together once and says, “Well, he does have a point. I’ve seen him fight, he’s one of the best we have and without him, half of us that were there yesterday would be dead. If he’s done with this because of ungrateful bastards, I’m going to make you take his place, Dedalus.”

With that, he gets up as well and leaves, followed by most of the others except for Diggle, Doge, Frank and Alice, and Dumbledore.

James leaves last, not because he doesn’t feel the urge to storm after Sirius but because he doesn’t want to miss anything that might be said. Dumbledore is talking to Diggle so lowly that he can’t make out the words though, so he quickly slips out of the room.

“He already left,” Peter says as soon as he steps out of the house, and he’s wringing his hands and shifting from one foot to the other.

He grimaces – Sirius has a tendency to snap at Peter when he’s mad, and James would bet his broom that he just did exactly that. Clapping his friend on the shoulder, he smiles. “You know how he is, don’t take it personally.”

Peter shrugs and nods. “He told me to tell you he’s going home. Are you…”

“Yeah,” he says with a nod, barely keeping himself from storming off already. “I should check on him, he wasn’t in the best mood to begin with. I’ll see you around, eh? Tell Dumbledore if he needs anything to send a Patronus.”

Peter agrees and after waving goodbye to the rest of the group, he apparates away.

He finds Sirius lying on the floor of the living room, music blasting through the flat loudly and a joint between his fingers. It’s such a direct replica of the time a week ago that he’s instantly reminded of the realization that came with it and all the subsequent chaos.

The peaceful expression is missing though, and James plops down next to him, plucking the joint out of his hand. “You alright?” he asks over the music and Sirius turns his head.

He only belatedly notices how close they are. He can make out the little mole under Sirius’ left eye, the thin scar in his eyebrow and the few, faint freckles scattered over his nose and cheeks, and he has to swallow a few times against his suddenly dry throat.

Sirius blows some of the remaining smoke into his face and laughs at the resulting grimace, but James hears the strain beneath it.

“Sure, some Ministry pooper won’t get me down,” Sirius says, waving it off, but then his grin slips. “I’m just so bloody tired of hearing the same bullshit over and over. It’s like this family is going to haunt me into my grave and beyond.”

“Diggle is an idiot who has no idea how it actually is,” James says with a scowl. He hates to see Sirius so defeated and has half a mind to put some long-term hex on Diggle the next time he sees him.

Sirius takes the joint back from him and closes his eyes while he inhales deeply, and for a moment, James stares, transfixed by the way the smoke curls, and how the tip of Sirius’ tongue darts out to wet his lips.

“It’s not like he’s wrong though,” Sirius says, his eyes still closed. “About Regulus, I mean. I could never harm him; fuck I couldn’t even stun him to take him in.”

Ignoring his racing heart, James reaches out and links their fingers, squeezing softly. “See, and that’s what makes you different from the bloody lot of them, and that’s a good thing Pads.”

“You think so?” Sirius asks, a crease forming between his brows and he finally turns his head to look at him, eyes roaming over James’ face where they linger on his mouth briefly.

He swallows and nods, desperately trying to keep track of their conversation. “Yeah,” he murmurs, and instantly thinks that it was a rather poor attempt.

Sirius sighs, his breath ghosting over his lips and then turns his head away again. “Well, Reg obviously couldn’t either, so I don’t know if we’re that different after all,” he grumbles around another drag of smoke.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” James mutters and sits up because he needs more distance between them for this conversation. Crossing his legs, he turns to look down at the sulking idiot. “Regulus is Regulus, that’s different. No matter how much you want to deny it, or how strained it was in the last years, you can’t compare your relationship to the one with your parents or Bellatrix.”

Taking the joint again, he continues, “Not to mention, you’re not a fucking Death Eater, are you? You stood up to your parents, questioned their beliefs, left that bloody house and, in all but name, you’re a Potter. So no, you’re not just like your brother and that you two don’t kill each other on sight, or that you’d rather spare him Azkaban, doesn’t indicate that in the slightest.”

Sirius stares up at him for a moment before he nods once and runs a hand over his face. “I know, I’m just – “

“Yeah, I know. Come on, let’s eat something, get a few more hours of sleep and then we go out tonight, forget about this whole bloody mess, alright?” he says, flicking the remains of the joint into the fireplace and getting up.

Sirius seems to ponder it before his face brightens and he nods, jumping up and swaying as soon as he does. James catches him, laughing and pulling him into the kitchen.

A niggling voice in the back of his mind is telling him that going out might end badly, but he actually feels like getting wasted and dancing until everything hurts, and he just hopes that his company will be enough to deter Sirius from getting it on with some guy or another.

His resolve wavers when he sees Sirius after he gets out of the shower after their nap; he’s wearing ripped jeans and his boots, a tank-top and his leather-jacket over it and only half of his hair is up in a bun, the rest falling onto his shoulders. It isn’t even that much of a difference to his normal look, just the usual, oversized jumper missing, but it makes James’ breath stutter and his fingers twitch with the urge to reach out. He can only pray that he’s not going to do something stupid when he’s drunk.  

“Nice,” Sirius comments as his eyes travel up and down James’ body with an appreciative gleam that doesn’t help to get his mind out of the gutter one bit. He’s only wearing jeans and a tight shirt as well, but Sirius obviously likes it and he notes that away for – he has no idea, actually. It’s not like anything is ever going to come out of it, but he rather likes how it makes him feel.

Thankfully, they apparate to Camden soon after and he takes care to not let his eyes linger too long, which is infinitely helped by the mass of people in the first bar they enter. There’s a small stage where a band is currently setting up and Sirius doesn’t waste any time to get them both a drink.

Despite his worries, it all goes smoothly for the first few hours. They’re drinking quickly, smoking too much, and as soon as the band starts, plunge themselves into the throng of moving people. James forgets all about fighting and running, about break-ups and inconvenient crushes, lets himself float on the fuzzy feeling that’s taking over his mind and amongst the bodies that are colliding with his over and over.

It’s good, fantastic even, and he’s actually missed this an awful lot. Every few songs, he meets with Sirius at the bar to down another whiskey and share a smoke, or to go outside for a short relief of fresh air. They’re laughing and joking, and it all reminds him of the time when they were just out of school, the world still at their fingertips without a care for anything.

He has long since lost all sense of time, he thinks they’ve changed their location once or twice and everything feels soft, inconsequential somehow. When a guy slides onto the high-chair next to him while he’s waiting for Sirius, he doesn’t stop to consider his bright smile, just buys him a drink when he asks after James’ name and how his night is going.

He’s handsome, the still coherent part of James’ brain thinks, long, black hair shaved on one side and a piercing in his bottom lip. He’s taller than James and he thinks he can make out a few tattoos along his arms, blue eyes sparkling in the occasional flash of light.

They’re talking for a while, about what brings them here and why they like it, and he doesn’t feel like moving away when Benny steps a bit closer, plucks the cigarette right out of his mouth and smirks faintly while he takes a drag.

He drinks another sip of his cheap whiskey and watches him, wondering what it would be like to kiss him. What it would be like to kiss a guy, to just distract himself from the still lingering thoughts of Sirius and how the need to touch him is just getting stronger the drunker he gets.

There’s no way that he could tell who leans in first, but suddenly he’s pressed against the bar and his hands are buried in the long hair while Benny has one arm around his waist and the other on his jaw.

The kiss is sloppy, mouths clashing together with too many teeth, but James finds he rather likes the hard lines and sharp edges and, most importantly, he doesn’t think anymore, lets himself fall into it, lets the world narrow down to only this.

Benny suddenly breaks away and James blinks blearily. He needs a moment to process the sudden shift of sensations and even longer to comprehend that it’s Sirius who pulled him off, is currently pressing Benny against the wall next to James, a hand fisted into his collar and snarling like he’s going to punch him any second.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he shouts, pulling at Sirius’ arm and flashing Benny a quick, apologetic look.

The poor guy looks rather overwhelmed, both hands raised as he stares between the two of them. “Sorry, mate! I didn’t know he had a boyfriend,” he shouts at Sirius before he quickly slinks away, disappearing into the moving crowd and leaving James even angrier than before.

“Out,” Sirius spits before he can say anything, all but dragging James after him, out of the door and into a small alley beside the entrance.

“Again, what the fuck is wrong with you,” James grinds out as soon as they’re outside, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at Sirius.

“Shouldn’t I be the one asking that?” Sirius snaps, his glare just as vicious and his hands clenched at his sides.

“I don’t see why,” he mocks and raises his eyebrows. “I didn’t know I had to run it past you when I want to snog a guy.”

Sirius laughs, so harsh and cruel that it makes his skin crawl and for the first time since Sirius interrupted them, he tries to actually think about what he’s saying. He’s still utterly drunk though, losing the grasp on some thoughts and disregarding others as unimportant in an instant. He really didn’t do anything wrong and Sirius can bloody shove it.

“It’s not about that and you know it,” Sirius growls, interrupting his train of thought.

“Isn’t it? Because it looks an awful lot like it is. It’s not like you don’t do it often enough.”

“And that,” Sirius says, suddenly very calm, a sure sign that he’s getting dangerously furious now.

Usually, James would heed the silent warning, but he’s wasted and angry, and he’s been keeping something so bloody monumental from Sirius for weeks now; he just wanted to forget about it for once, so he dismisses the small voice that’s telling him to be careful. 

“Exactly that,” Sirius repeats, taking a step forward and raising a finger to point at him, “is what I don’t get. If you’re so pissed because you think that I’m fucking around, how is it okay when you do it? You’re not even gay, for Merlin’s sake.”

“Who knows? Weren’t you the one who told me about bisexuality?” he shoots back, ignoring the first part of Sirius’ question.

Sirius laughs again and shakes his head. “Oh come on, please, are you serious?”

Anger flares up again and he crowds into Sirius’ space. “Don’t you dare patronise me, I never did that to you once, you utter bastard.”

Sirius opens his mouth and then closes it again, nodding slowly. “You’re right, that was uncalled for and I’m sorry.”

James nods and takes a step back again and like a switch, anger clouds Sirius’ face again, his eyes narrowing and lips pressing together. “You didn’t answer my question though – why is it okay for you to do it?”

“Why shouldn’t I? I wanted to know how it is, he was handsome, I felt like it. You do it all the bloody time and now that I do it once, you’re suddenly furious? Weren’t you the one who held lectures about hypocrisy today?”

Sirius recoils like he’s been slapped and says very silently, “See James, that’s where you’re wrong though. You just assume that I’m pulling a guy every time I go out, but you know what? I can count the guys I’ve kissed within the last year on one hand, the ones I actually fucked on even less.”

“Don’t lie to me,” he snarls, chest clenching at the thought. “You never denied it.”

Sirius shakes his head, and his eyes are burning with so much loathing that it actually stops James for a moment as he tries to think clearly.

“Why should I, James?! I didn’t know I had to run it past you how many guys I snog,” Sirius mocks before he can get a grip on his thoughts. “Besides, your assumptions about me were so convenient, weren’t they? The gay one that gets drunk and fucks around. You never once asked me.”

The realization washes over him like a cold shower and he swallows a few times, desperately trying to come up with something, anything to say to that.

“You know,” Sirius says quietly, his eyes softening when he looks past him, down the street. “I actually come here because I like the community, the spirit of the movement. Because it makes me forget, makes me deal with everything else a little bit better if I let off steam here. You used to come, in the beginning.”

There’s no accusation in his tone, no resentment. Just sadness and the sense of something lost that won’t come back.

“Anyway.” Sirius shakes his head, eyes snapping back to James, and his whole posture goes rigid again. “I’m out of here. Have fun,” he spits, turns on his heel and pops away.

As soon as James realizes what he’s doing, he takes a step forward, but his hand only grabs empty air.

He slumps against the wall behind him, keeps staring at the spot where Sirius has vanished, and tries to understand what just happened. It feels like parts of the whole argument keep slipping out of his grasp, like whenever he tries to pinpoint just where everything went so horribly wrong that Sirius didn’t even stay to sort it out, sort them out, his mind just throws something else at him.

It doesn’t work no matter how hard he tries; he’s still too drunk and his emotions are all over the place. He thinks that he should go home but doesn’t trust himself to not lose a limb or two if he tries to apparate now.

After another few minutes of deliberating his options, he walks back into the bar and buys a bottle of water, then slowly makes his way through Camden down to the Thames.

Pulling himself up onto a wall, he lights a cigarette and stares out over the water, slowly replaying the fight and everything that led up to it.

It takes nearly an hour but eventually, his mind clears piece by piece. Not that it makes it better. Sirius does have a point, a rather strong one. James has never asked, just assumed. Considering the kind of prejudices that are connected to being gay, Sirius’ reaction is completely justified.

It makes something painful lurch in his chest; that he has managed to fuck up so badly. That Sirius never called him out on it. That it has to come to this.

He remembers Remus asking him about it, if he was sure; how he waved him off and he winces at the memory. Merlin but he behaved like a right prick. Again.

Still, he somehow has an inkling that it wasn’t the sole reason why Sirius pulled Benny off of him, but it’s the only thing that makes sense, and he suspects that he’s simply looking for excuses to make himself feel better.

When he finally makes it home, it’s nearly six am and the flat lies silent and dark. After changing out of his clothes, he carefully opens the door to Sirius’ room and sighs softly to himself when he sees him asleep as Padfoot.

Yeah. He really fucked this one up.

Chapter Text

The first thing Sirius becomes aware of when he slowly wakes up is that he’s in his Animagus-form. He’d probably frown if he could – he only does that when his mind won’t shut up and James isn’t there.

The thought of James has memories flooding him and, with a low whine, he tries to bury deeper into the covers. His hangover is catching up on him though and he knows that it’s worse if he stays as Padfoot.

Shifting back is sheer torment and he presses his face into the pillow for long moments before dragging himself out of bed, determined to ignore everything related to last night as much as he possibly can.

There’s still some anger simmering underneath his skin, the image of James snogging some guy burnt into his mind, and he doesn’t even understand why it hurts so bloody much.

Sure, nothing of what he said last night was a lie. He is annoyed and angry that James simply assumed that he’s fucking around, it is related to his sexuality constantly being reduced to sex, to something dirty and taboo that’s better hushed up. But he knows the feelings those prejudices cause – and they are very different from the pain that’s choked him up when he realized that it was James being pressed against that bar.

He’s relieved when he finds the kitchen empty and starts to make breakfast, knowing that it’s the only way to get his body to function again. Still, his thoughts keep straying back and even when he’s finished his food, his headache is gone, and the hangover’s only a faint ache, he keeps feeling like there’s a hole in his chest.

He’s just considering to leave for the day when James enters the kitchen, jumping as soon as he spots him.

Sirius has no idea what to say – no idea how they’re supposed to move past this, how to get over something he doesn’t really understand in the first place, so he just turns away and stares into his coffee while he carefully keeps his face blank.

James stays silent while he brews coffee and makes some toast. ”I’m sorry,” he says quietly when he sits down, and a part of Sirius thinks that they’ve exchanged that phrase a bit too often over the last few weeks. “You were right, and I was a prick. I don’t – I’m sorry sounds utterly lacking, but it’s the only thing I can say.”

A nod is all the response he can bring himself to give. The apology doesn’t feel like it’s enough, but he also has no idea what else to do, doesn’t want to keep fighting or draw this out but he’s helpless against the bitterness. He has a suspicion that this damned hurt he’s feeling makes it much worse than it should be, but he can’t just ignore it either, and this is already getting too much for him again.

“Yeah,” he simply says. “I’m taking a shower.”

He flees the kitchen before James can answer and slumps against the door as soon as it’s closed behind him. He draws it out, turns the water so hot that it burns on his skin and the whole bathroom is fogged, and he wishes he could just stay here for the rest of the day, or maybe the week. Disintegrate and go down to drain, come out somewhere where not everything in his life is crumbling around him, maybe.

Alright, he thinks, turning off the water. Now it’s getting a bit too melodramatic. He’s never been the type to hide and sulk for long, and if he just acts like they’re alright, they probably will be at some point. Still, he thinks he’s going to go for a long flight on his bike, maybe visit Peter, or Lily. They could bond over James being a prick.

His nice plans are crossed when he comes out of the bathroom and finds James lingering in the hallway. Just brushing past him doesn’t work, the sudden hand on his arm making him jump, and he recoils and glares before he can think better of it. So much for acting like everything’s alright.

James looks miserable but doesn’t comment on it, just runs a hand through his hair and lets his eyes roam through the narrow corridor. “We – I – It’s Sunday,” he says, and it takes only a beat for Sirius to understand what he means.

“No,” he instantly says and attempts once more to get past James, who lets him pass but follows to lean against the doorframe of his room. “I’m not coming.”

“Come on, Pads. I really am sorry, and my parents are going to worry if you don’t come,” he says, and he sounds as exhausted as Sirius feels. He wonders at what time he came home, if he went back maybe, and has to grit his teeth against the new spike of hurt and anger the thought provokes. Right, better to not go there.

His desire to forget about the whole night is warring with his fury and he stays silent, walking around his room and trying to find some clean clothes amongst the mess.

“I know I fucked up, alright? I don’t even know how I got the idea, I just – the few times you told me about it… I just thought it’s what you do, I didn’t even mean to judge you, I just – “

Sirius snorts and finally turns around to raise a disbelieving brow at him. “Oh sure, ‘to fuck some stranger in a fucked-up bar’ is such a non-judgmental statement.”

James winces and stares down at his hands where his fingers are pulling on a thread from his sleeve, repeating to wrap it around his ring finger over and over. “Yeah, I can see your point. But I didn’t – it sounds like a cheap excuse, but I didn’t think or say that because you’re gay, but because, well – you’re you, you could if you wanted to and a part of me was jealous – “

He laughs bitterly and shakes his head. “Just shut up, I come to that bloody lunch but please, just shut up James.”

Hurt is flashing through James’ eyes and for a second, he regrets it but then all those times James snapped at him for going out come back, the mocking, the things he said last night and the utter ridiculousness just now.

James looks defeated and his eyes follow him when he picks his aimless pacing back up before he eventually sighs. “Alright, I – thanks. I leave you to it, then,” he says and softly clicks the door shut behind him.

As soon as he’s gone, Sirius drops onto his bed, pulls his knees up to his chest and buries into his blanket again. He loves Fleamont and Euphemia, really he does, but today he’d rather be anywhere else.

Well, maybe not Grimmauld Place, he thinks. Small mercies.

There’s not enough time left to go flying and he can’t find the motivation to start on anything else, so he just stays in bed, stares at the ceiling, smokes too many cigarettes and tries to make sense of why he’s so incredibly hurt.

He’s not much further when they have to leave, and he walks straight past James and steps into the floo without a glance at him, but he plasters on a smile as soon as he sees Euphemia and Fleamont.

“Hello boys, are you alright?” Euphemia asks after she has pulled them into long hugs and they nod, mumbling something and following into the living room.

Sirius tries, he really does, to answer questions about what he’s been up to, how things are going and how their friends are, but James’ parents know both of them too well to not notice within five minutes that something is wrong, and they keep sending them worried glances.

Not that it’s hard to miss, their curt sentences and the way Sirius keeps flinching away whenever James gets too close.

They’re halfway through the food when Euphemia puts her cutlery down and pins them both with a look. “Alright, what’s going on with you two?”

James is staring stubbornly at his nearly untouched food and Sirius clenches his hand around his fork, burying his nails into his skin to not snap at him right here; he thinks it’s rather unfair that he has to be the one to do damage control, seeing that, for once, it’s not his fault.

“Nothing, just – the war is not going well, we both didn’t sleep much…” he trails off, shrugs one shoulder and hopes that they won’t take it too personally that he’s so obviously lying to them.

Strictly speaking, it’s true, but he doesn’t think that anybody who knows them would believe that it’s enough to make the air between them this loaded with tension.

“You obviously had a fight,” she confirms his train of thought and he throws another glare into James’ direction. He finally seems to notice, but it only leads him to slump even further in his chair.

“Mum please,” James says quietly, fiddling with his spoon and sending her a pleading look. “Can we just – I don’t know, let’s just eat and spend a normal afternoon like we usually do?”

She looks unimpressed and raises a brow at her son. “Normal in the sense that you’ve not said more than five words since you got here? It would be more convincing if you at least tried – mind you, one look at the two of you was enough, but at least Sirius is making some effort.”

Despite everything, it manages to get a small smile out of him. After living with them for two years, they can read him nearly as well as James, and the reminder of just how much he’s family to them – and not in that twisted, threatening sense he was used to for so long – never fails to make him grateful beyond belief.

It looses the knot within his chest a little bit, the warmth and familiarity soothing something deep inside him; something hard and cold that grew and festered over all the years spent in his childhood home.

“I’m sorry,” James sighs, pulling Sirius’ thoughts back to the present and he averts his eyes quickly when James looks at him.

Fleamont gives a small smile and pats James on the shoulder. “You’ll sort it out, though it does look like you will have to invest some energy into your apology this time, eh?”

Sirius doesn’t manage to completely cover his snort and James only looks more miserable, which vanishes his amusement just as quickly. No matter how angry he is, seeing James hurt has always been worse than anything else and for the umpteenth time, he wishes they could just erase the last night.

Euphemia sighs softly and looks between the two of them. “I’m sure you will sort it out, just let me tell you – and I promise, it’s the last thing I’m going to say on the subject – don’t drag it out for too long. You both need each other, more than ever in these times.”

Sirius nods, if for nothing else simply because you don’t say no to Euphemia, and she smiles that motherly smile of hers.

“Are you going to spend Christmas with us again, Sirius?” Euphemia asks over desert and he startles a bit when he realizes that it’s only a month away.

James is watching him closely from underneath his lashes and Sirius stares down at his plate, contemplating the question. “I’d love to,” he says truthfully, looking up to smile at the two of them. “It depends a bit on the Order though – if there’s going to be something to do, I’d volunteer before any of those with children have to do it.”

“Same for me, Mum,” James speaks up, altogether maybe the third time he talks without being prompted. Honestly, Sirius has no idea how he has ever managed to keep anything to himself when he fucked up, it’s a miracle with how much shit they got away at school.

“Of course, you two,” she nods, but her lips are pressed together and she looks tired all of a sudden. “Let me know, I’m sure we can arrange something for any of the days if you can’t on Boxing day. What about Lily?”

Sirius chokes on his ice cream and a quick glance at James shows him that he has just blanched dramatically. Oh Merlin, the idiot. Under different circumstances, he would have laughed or at least felt some sympathy, but right now he’s more gleeful in a mean kind of way than anything else.

“Well I – no, I don’t think so, we – she, that is – “ James stammers, fidgeting in his chair and running a hand through his hair.

Euphemia frowns, leaning forward and sending Sirius’ a questioning look who just raises his hands as if to say that it’s definitely not his story to tell. It wouldn’t be even if they weren’t fighting, and he really doesn’t want to be the one to break it to them anyway. They adore Lily, and if his or Remus’ and Peter’s reaction were shocked, this is going to be hilarious. Well, to him, at least.

“What, James?” Fleamont finally asks when James stays silent, his lip drawn between his teeth and his eyes fixed on his melting dessert.

He gives a long sigh and meets his parent’s eyes. “We broke up. Or well, I broke up with her, around – well, some time ago.”

To Sirius’ shock, they look far less surprised than he expected, far less than any of James’ friends did. They simply exchange a glance and Euphemia nods.

James seems to notice the same thing because he frowns. “Aren’t you – why are you acting like you expected this?”

His mother raises an eyebrow and Sirius catches Fleamont hiding a smile behind his cup of tea. “Well, because we did,” Euphemia says with a shrug.

“Why – I mean how could you possibly have expected that? Nobody did,” James says, looking aghast and from his mother to his father.

Euphemia sighs, glancing out of the window for a moment before she smiles at James. “I know that to you, and your friends as well, it might be a surprise, something you only realized now. But James, you’re our son, we know you, and it’s been rather obvious for years that yes, you were infatuated, but you didn’t love her. We thought it might change after you started to go out with each other, but we have known for a while that it didn’t.”

It doesn’t seem to ease any of James’ confusion or agitation, not that Sirius can blame him.

“How – but – why didn’t you say anything?”

“Oh James,” Euphemia says with a shake of her head. “Do you really think you would’ve believed us? When you were still at school, you probably would’ve tried to prove us wrong, and you have to discover these kinds of things for yourself.”

James groans, rubs a hand over his face and keeps his eyes closed for long moments. “And what – what if I had asked her to marry me? Or we had moved in together? How did you even –”

“Of course, we would have said something if you really hadn’t realized but we do have some faith in you, you know? And well, as for how we knew…” Euphemia meets Sirius’ eyes for a moment who frowns, instinctively looking to James for an answer who appears to be even paler than before.

It only adds to his own confusion; he’s not sure what he’s supposed to think about the whole affair, and it doesn’t help that James’ parents obviously think that he should have known. He usually prides himself on knowing James better than anybody else, and well, normally he does, but somehow when it comes to Lily, he feels like he’s just as out of the loop as the next best person.

He doesn’t like it one bit.

“Alright so – you’re not angry, or disappointed,” James says after a moment, and there’s slowly some colour returning to his cheeks and he stops his fidgeting.

“Of course not,” Fleamont speaks up and shakes his head decisively. “We want you to be happy, and that’s all that matters to us.”

James exhales a measured breath, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Good – yeah, that’s good, can we – can we talk about something else, then?”

They both nod and return to their food, and Euphemia and Fleamont change the topic to extended family and plans for Christmas like nothing strange has just happened. 

Sirius stays mostly silent and for the first time since he can remember, he is relieved when they can finally excuse themselves. He’s through the floo as quickly as he can manage, eager to get out of the flat for at least an hour of flying before James can pester him once more.

He just wants to put away the leftovers Euphemia pressed into his hands with a knowing smile and a, “You two only eat take-out, otherwise,” as she does every week, when his eyes fall on a black envelope that’s lying innocently on the kitchen table.

Instantly wary, he pulls his wand and runs a bunch of Diagnostic Charms. They keep the window in the living room ajar for owls to come through, their wards supposed to keep out anything harmful, but somehow, he has a bad feeling about this.

Every single Charm he knows comes back clean though and he carefully opens the envelope, pulling out thick, heavy parchment. His eyes skim the content, and then he reads it again, and again, somehow unable to comprehend what he’s seeing right in front of him.

“Sorry, my mother kept me to talk about – “ James says as he barrels into the kitchen, but he breaks off as soon as he sees him standing next to the table, still staring at the parchment that he has read five times by now. He’s still not sure he’s grasping the content.

“My father is dead,” he says flatly and raises his head to find James’ eyes like he’s going to tell him what he’s supposed to do now. What to feel; maybe shake him, give him a bright and lopsided grin and crack open a bottle of whiskey.

He should be happy, right? Or relieved? Something, anything.

All he feels is a strange numbness though, a dull ache pounding in his head that he has no idea what to do with.

James takes a hesitant step towards him and slowly raises his hand like he’s not sure if he’s allowed to touch him.

Right, they were fighting, weren’t they? Something – something stupid, probably.

He feels like everything is wrapped into cotton wool, doesn’t know if he’s actually still feeling his hands or his feet, if this is even real.

“My father is dead,” he repeats, like that will make him understand it better. Somehow, it has never occurred to him that his parents were – mortal, as stupid as it sounds. Always greater than life, above such plebeian things as death.

Laughter bubbles up in his throat, claws its way out and sounds much more hysterical than he thought it would. He’s still staring at James. Why isn’t he doing anything? Tell him it’s a joke, tell him ‘good riddance,’ or whatever you’re supposed to say when this happens.

“Alright,” James says, shaking himself and crossing the distance between them. Sirius is still laughing and James pulls him close, warm and solid and real, and Sirius realizes that he’s stopped breathing at some point.

He fists his hands into the back of James’ jumper, takes lungs full of breath and still manages to think that nothing ever calms him down as much as James does, the smell of cinnamon and shampoo, of coffee and fresh air.

“I think you’re under shock,” James murmurs next to his ear and he only holds on tighter, buries his head in his shoulder to muffle his laughter. Or maybe he’s crying, he doesn’t even know anymore.

“He was a right bastard,” he chokes out, still trying to remember that he has to breathe. “We should be throwing a party,” he adds, his voice rough and trembling.

“Probably,” James hums, one hand rubbing circles into his back. “It can wait, though. I suppose even Blacks stay dead, after all.”

He laughs again, a little less hysterical this time. “I’m sorry,” he mutters then, remembering what happened before he found this bloody letter. “Why did they even notify me? It’s not like – “

“Yeah. But it’s alright,” James says again, leaning his head against Sirius’ and rocking them back and forth softly.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, more forcefully because James needs to know that. “I’m sorry we were fighting and now you have to pick up the pieces again, even though I shouldn’t even care, shouldn’t give a flying fuck that the old bastard is finally going to rot six feet under.”

“Let’s sort that out later, yeah?” James says as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. Maybe it is, he thinks, with them. From somewhere, Lily’s words come back to him, now of all times, and he presses closer into James even though there isn’t any space left to do so.

“You’re allowed to feel strongly about it, you know?” James says after a while, still not letting go. “I mean, no matter if you’re angry, or sad or just – shocked, I don’t know. It’s okay, you don’t have to be unaffected by it.”

“I just – I don’t even know. I didn’t think he would ever – that I’d never – It’s not like I wanted to see him again but – “

“Yeah, I understand. Or maybe not. But I can still imagine that it’s not exactly easy,” James says, and he just knows that he’s smiling softly.

He just wants to curl up somewhere, or smash a few things, duel a bunch of Death Eaters, go flying, sleep – everything is tangled up and just too much, the only thing that’s keeping him grounded right now James’ solid body against his.

“Come on, let’s sit down on the couch, curl up and watch something stupid on the telly, or just listen to music or – whatever you feel like,” James says after a long time, when his breathing has finally calmed down again and his thoughts stopped whirling like they are going down the drain.

He reluctantly steps back, and James makes some tea before they move back into the living room, both of them lying down on the couch, and Sirius instantly curls into James’ side again.

“I’m really sorry, though,” he says, soberer than the last few times he did. “I mean, I meant what I said but I – I don’t know, I could have said something, and I think I overreacted last night. If it had bothered me that much the whole time, I would have blown up far earlier,” he says, looking up at James and smiling wryly.

James looks serious though. “Still, you were right and I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made assumptions and, honestly, no matter how much you fuck around it wouldn’t be any of my business, it shouldn’t, wouldn’t change anything. You know that, right?”

Pulling away a bit to be able to really look at him, he frowns. “I just – I don’t understand why it bothered you so much in the first place.”

James grimaces and averts his eyes for a moment, running a hand through his hair only to nearly knock his elbow into Sirius’ face. “Sorry,” he says with a sheepish grin. “I’m – I don’t even know why it does so much. I wasn’t lying when I told you I was jealous, you know? But not – not that you could but more… Maybe more of being scared that I’d lose you, to someone else.”

“Alright yeah, I – I think I understand that,” he says with a slow nod, surprised how close it is to what he had felt about Lily and that guy last night. Maybe that’s it. So close that nobody really fits between them, didn’t Lily say it like that?

“You do?” James looks surprised and he shrugs.

“Sure, maybe? It’s a bit like with Lily – you stopped coming with me so often, we’re not really used to either of us dating, and I was told we’re rather co-dependent,” he says with a grin. “It’s probably just something we’re going to get used to over time.”

It doesn’t feel like they will, but he doesn’t want to look too closely at that right now. James is warm, his fingers are drawing aimless patterns into Sirius’ arm in a way that feels better than anything he could pull in some bar, his mind is a mess, and he just wants to lay here, soak this in and forget about everything else.

Chapter Text

Sirius falls asleep soon after they’ve finished their conversation, their legs tangled together and Sirius’ head tugged into his shoulder, one arm tightly around his waist. James watches as all the tension slowly melts away and his face softens, hard lines fading from the corners of his eyes and his mouth open ever so slightly.

He looks peaceful like this, younger than usual, and James wishes he could just freeze this moment, keep them here like this, content and safe. He knows, as soon as they wake up, the world is going to catch up on them and every day just seems to have another blow in store, everything spiralling out of control faster and faster.

Sirius’ breakdown about his father’s death surprised him – not as much as it probably should have but, in combination with the timing, the intensity caught him off guard. He’s pretty sure that this isn’t the end of it, and the thought instinctively makes him tighten his arms around Sirius.

Sirius shifts, one of his legs sliding between James’ and his hand slipping under the hem of his shirt. James freezes, all his worries being replaced by another problem altogether.

Warm breath is ghosting over his ear, making him shiver and he tries to pull away, to shift so that Sirius’ thigh doesn’t press against his cock as firmly, but Sirius only presses closer and he has to bite his tongue to stifle a groan.

If he tries to move, Sirius will most likely wake up, bloody light sleeper that he is, and he’s probably going to realize what the problem is. But he can feel his erection growing and it’s becoming more difficult by the second to stay still, to not make a sound and to not let his mind wander into directions it definitely shouldn’t go.

His hips twitch involuntarily, the friction making him moan softly and for a short moment, the urge to flip them around, to press Sirius into the couch and kiss all sense out of him is nearly overwhelming. The other way around would be fine too, come to think of it.

A soft whimper from Sirius snaps him out of his daze and he clenches his jaw. This doesn’t work, and if he has to wake him up to not go mad within the next few minutes then so be it.

Still, he’s as careful as possible when he gets up and he seems to have some luck left because while there’s some grumbling, Sirius doesn’t open his eyes and accepts his muttered, “I’m back in a few minutes.”

Barely remembering to throw up a Silencing Charm, he opens the zipper of his trousers as soon as the bathroom door closes behind him. He lets his head drop back against the door, closes his fist around his straining cock and slowly starts to move his hand.

He can practically still feel Sirius pressed against him, moving his hip and breathing against his neck, lips brushing his skin ever so slightly. The phantom sensations mix with hazy memories of being pressed against a bar, of toned muscles underneath his fingertips, just a different face and a different smell filling out the wrong pieces, and it doesn’t take long at all until his whole body tenses, his eyes clenching shut and moans spilling from his lips as he comes all over his hand.

For long minutes, he’s absolutely unable to move, still breathing harshly and his legs shaking while he tries to come to terms with the divergence between that slightly too realistic fantasy and the reality of standing in their bathroom, the blank light bulb flickering slightly.

He wonders what Sirius thinks about when he wanks but forcefully shuts down that train of thought – in the direction lies only madness, and it’s bad enough as it is.

After washing his hands and spelling his trousers clean again, he takes a deep breath and walks back into the living room, relieved to find Sirius still asleep, curled in on himself.

“Come on, let’s go to bed,” he murmurs and shakes his shoulder softly. “Your back is going to kill you if you stay here. Up with you.”

There’s a lot of grumbling and cursing, but eventually, Sirius complies, hugging him close as soon as they make it to bed. Honestly, there are many reasons why Sirius’ Animagus-form is fitting but very few people would suspect that his demand for cuddling is one of them.

Sirius isn’t there anymore when he wakes up and he finds him sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee, staring at the letter. James isn’t sure if he’s trying to set it aflame with the force of his glare or if he’s just waiting to be attacked, but he stays silent until he has his own coffee and takes his chair across from him.

“Do you want to go?” he asks, watching him closely over the rim of his mug.

“Where?” Sirius asks with a frown, but his glare doesn’t waver.

“To the funeral.”

Sirius meets his eyes slowly, suddenly looking lost. “No. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t…”

“We could use my cloak,” James says after pondering it for a moment. “Nobody would know you’re there.”

Sirius tilts his head, one leg pulled up on the chair and his fingers drumming against the table. “I’ll think about it,” he eventually sighs and summons the pot of coffee over.

It’s a testament to how emotionally strenuous the last weeks, hell, the last year has been that Sirius doesn’t answer with immediate protest or claims that he couldn’t care less. In this case, James thinks it might not be the worst thing – he’s pretty certain that there’s no love lost between Sirius and his parents, but that doesn’t mean that it might not be easier for Sirius to put that disastrous relationship to rest by seeing his father get buried.

James has just decided to cook up some breakfast when Moody’s Patronus bursts through the window, making them both jump and swear loudly. “Emergency Order meeting, the usual place,” it bellows, and they stare at each other in confusion for a moment.

Usually, they only get a Patronus when there is an attack.

“This can’t be anything good,” Sirius groans, but he stomps out of the kitchen and noisily walks around his room as he gets dressed.

James shares the sentiment and they don’t waste any time to apparate to Newport. Moody and Dumbledore are already there, their faces so grave that a foreboding sense of dread washes over him.

“What happened?” Sirius asks as soon as they’re in earshot, but Dumbledore only gestures to the small house behind him.

“You’re one of the firsts to arrive, let us wait for the rest,” he says with a sigh, sounding tired and as old as he actually is.

He and Sirius exchange a glance, both pondering if they should press for information but Dumbledore and Moody look so exhausted that they simply nod and slip into the house.

“What do you think happened?” James asks as soon as they sit down in the kitchen, the place somehow even more dreary and cold without the presence of other people.

Sirius shrugs but James can see that he’s concerned, with his bottom lip drawn between his teeth and his leg jumping up and down. “No idea, but I’d take a guess and say it’s nothing good.”

He only hums in response and runs a hand over his face. Marlene, Dorcas, and Lily enter, and their faces are just as tense and serious when they sit down across from them with a curt nod in his and Sirius’ direction.

It doesn’t take long until the room fills up and despite none of them knowing what exactly is going on, everybody is silent, unease and apprehension palpable in the dusty air.

Moody and Dumbledore come in last, taking their seats at the head of the table, and Dumbledore looks at all of them for some time before he eventually sighs, a long, drawn-out sound that’s so unlike their former Headmaster that James’ worry goes up another notch. He didn’t even think that was possible.

“I’m sorry to inform you that last night, Death Eaters attacked the Bones family,” Dumbledore says and there’s a collective sound of sharp intakes of breaths. “Edgar Bones, his wife, and all their children are dead, except for their youngest daughter who was with her aunt last night, Amelia Bones.”

“They belonged to the families who support and help sustain the Order,” Moody picks up, the lines around his mouth harder than usual. “In return, they were living in a safe house. We don’t know how the Death Eaters were able to find them but considering that they’ve left the mark over the house, there’s no doubt that they’re responsible.”

They’re all silent, trying to process the news. James knew them well, they were friends of his parents and a cheerful, friendly family with three children, only seven and five years old, and the youngest just born last month.

Of course, it’s not the first time that they’ve lost someone close to them. Everybody in this room had people they went to school with, from work, friends dying over the last few years, but it never becomes less of a shock, like the ground is pulled out from underneath him.

That somebody is simply gone, not there anymore, nothing left of the small things that made up the person – simply vanished. It feels unreal, somehow, that it’s allowed to be this easy.

Sirius’ warm hand around his wrist pulls him back from the metaphorical edge he was just balancing on and he belatedly notices that he’s crying silently. He attempts a grateful smile but suspects that it comes out rather shaky, and Sirius just links their fingers together, his palm warm against his.

“But how…” Alice says, her voice cracking, and she ducks her head.

Dumbledore sighs again, shaking his head sadly, but it’s Moody who speaks. “We don’t know yet. We suspect that someone in the Ministry must have overheard a conversation, it’s getting harder with each passing day to tell who is working for him. There are so many people under the Imperius, blackmailed, threatened, it’s close to impossible to trust anyone.”

“What do we do, then?” Marlene asks, and her hands are clenched on the table so tightly that her knuckles are turning white. She appears to be more angry than sad, and James marvels at how differently people tend to deal with all this misery.

“I must urge all of you to be even more careful,” Dumbledore says. “Don’t share information with anybody you don’t trust completely. Don’t talk about anything important outside of your homes or here, there’s no infallible way to determine that you are not being overheard. Also, I’d suggest that you check up on your families, tell us if they might need safe houses and strengthen the wards.”

“We’re also working on a spell to determine if someone is cursed,” Moody says. “It’s slow-going, especially the Imperius Curse is hard to detect, but there are a few signs you can look for. Their eyes could be slightly glazed, movements jerky, they might seem like they’re struggling against an invisible force – these kinds of things. Remember to always ask security questions, the more complicated, the better.”

“Nevertheless, we can’t slip into a panic. It’s more important than ever that we can trust each other. Be careful, but don’t let paranoia overwhelm you – that is what Voldemort wants to achieve, to separate and pit us against each other,” Dumbledore says, and his eyes are travelling over each and every one of them, pinning them with that look that still makes James feel like a schoolboy that just got caught red-handed.

“I think that is all for now,” Dumbledore says after the silence has stretched for a while, leaving room for all of them to process this. “Visit your families, be careful, and don’t lose your hope.”

James catches the grimace Moody pulls, and it gets a small, sad smile out of him.

They’re all subdued, one after another getting up and a few mingling together in groups, staying to talk.

“You’re alright, Peter?” James asks, frowning with worry. It’s impossible to miss how badly this is getting to him; he looks pale and shaken, unable to keep his hands still and jumping when he’s addressed.

“Yeah – I’m… Well. Scared for my mum and all that,” he murmurs, staring at the floor and scuffing his foot.

Slinging an arm around his shoulder, James nods. “Yeah, of course. Do you want us to come over later and have a look at your wards? You could move her to your flat, maybe?”

Peter’s eyes widen at the suggestion but he nods after a moment. “That, yes. That would be nice.”

James nudges Sirius, who’s staring out of the window with a thoughtful, tense expression. “We can do that, right? I want to visit my parents first, maybe you and Dad can check the wards over again? I know they should be safe but – “

“Of course,” Sirius interrupts him. “Let’s visit your parents, and then we’ll come over, alright Pete? Want to come with us or should we catch you later?”

James smiles a bit to himself. As little patience as Sirius sometimes has with Peter, when it comes down to it, they always have each others’ backs. Sirius is rather good with wards, a result from his family – and father in particular – being paranoid bastards, and it will probably go a long way to make Peter a little less anxious.

“I think I’m going to visit my mum before I go home,” Peter murmurs, but he still avoids meeting their eyes. “You know, check on her. I’ll see you later then?”

He also still sounds as if he can’t really believe it and James frowns slightly. Peter can be timid at the best of days, but he seems to be uncharacteristically shaken even for his standards.

Squeezing his shoulder once more before letting go, he nods. “Course, Wormtail. Don’t worry, it will be fine.”

Peter doesn’t look convinced, not that he can blame him. Considering that the war just seems to be getting worse with each passing day, it’s a rather empty phrase by now.

He’d love to take some of the worries from his friend but there’s just nothing he can do, and his shoulders slump as soon as Peter is out of the room. “I think this is all going to drive us into an early grave,” he mutters and leans his head against Sirius’ shoulder who instantly wraps his arms around him.

“Jamie, I know that looking after everybody else distracts you, but you’re allowed to grieve as well and to be scared, or angry, or whatever else,” Sirius says quietly into his hair and he has to swallow against the sudden lump in his throat.

It must’ve been obvious how shaken he feels; Sirius rarely calls him out on the way he copes, is more of the type to simply force him in some way or another to relax and take his mind off things.  

“Yeah I know,” he murmurs into Sirius’ neck, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. “I just – I think all this is really getting to Peter, everyone’s so scared and running on their last bit of strength and I feel like – ” he trails off, unable to put it into words.

Sirius understands anyway. He always does.

“I know,” he says, one hand rubbing circles into James’ shoulders. “But you’re not doing anyone a favour if you run yourself ragged.”

Snorting softly, he shakes his head. “As if you’re much better,” he says, glad that his fond smile is obscured by the hood of Sirius’ jumper.

“Good thing we have each other then, isn’t it?” Sirius says, tightening his hug briefly before he steps back. “Come on, let’s check on your parents and then Peter, I want to have a look at our own wards as well.”

Taking a deep breath to gather himself, he nods, and after they’ve said goodbye to Moody and Dumbledore, they apparate to Godric’s Hollow.

It’s only when his mother opens the door, her expression surprised but delighted at seeing them so soon after their weekly lunch, that it occurs to him that they don’t know about the attack on the Bones yet.

Sirius seems to sense his growing panic though and pushes him down on the couch with a look that tells him to let him handle this. It feels a bit like a cop-out, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t grateful for it.

His parents are shocked, of course. His mother leans against his father heavily and they all sit in silence for a long time, only the cracking of the fire wrapping around them.

It’s his father who eventually breaks it. “We should check our wards again. Sirius, would you – “

“Of course,” Sirius agrees, in a tone that says, as if you have to ask, and the two of them disappear into the garden.

He takes a seat next to his mother and hugs her, wondering when she became so thin. It makes him terribly sad but also reignites the anger and resolve that made him join the Order in the first place.

This bloody war has been going on for too long already and sometimes it feels like fighting a Hydra, but seeing his friends and his parents suffer so much vanishes the numbness and dull repetitiveness that had settled over him over the last few months.

“So, you and Sirius have sorted yourselves out?” his mother asks after a while, and he can hear the smile in her voice.

“Yes – or well, kind of. When we got home, he had a letter. His father died,” he says with a sigh, the image of Sirius standing in their kitchen, trembling, white as a sheet and so utterly lost, still makes his chest ache.

“Oh dear,” his mother mutters, obviously not needing words to at least guess that this isn’t easy on Sirius regardless of their late relationship.

He just hums in response and they fall silent again until his mother softly clears her throat, and he turns his head to look down at her.

“Did you tell him?” she simply asks, but it’s enough for him to know what she means, and he closes his eyes again.

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says, sinking deeper into the couch. What is it with everyone insisting he does something so very stupid?

“You should,” she says as if it is that easy.

“Please mum, don’t. I can’t – “

She sighs again, putting her hand on his cheek for a moment. “Alright, but you get to hear me say ‘I told you so,’ at some point if I’m right.”

He can’t help the snort that escapes him. His mother might know him better than he knows himself and he’ll also give it to her that she’s learnt to read Sirius rather well, but he’s sure that she’s wrong this time. He doesn’t want to argue with her though.

“Come on, let’s make lunch, alright?” she says, thankfully not pushing any further, and he follows her into the kitchen with a smile.

It takes nearly an hour until his father and Sirius return, but even while he and his mother don’t talk much, both lost in their own thoughts that keep circling back to the Bones, simply cooking together like they used to calms him down a lot.

They all try for a sense of normality when they’re having lunch, and a part of him wishes that they could stay a bit longer, just the afternoon, pretend that it’s still like it has been after Sirius just moved in with them.

Not like the war hasn’t been raging already back then but it felt more distant; horrible, without question, but not really touching on their own lives, like they could still choose to participate – because it’s the right thing, not because there was no other way.

It’s a selfish thought, he knows, but he’s yearning for the time when he simply had a little more hope left, not carrying around a constant sense of dread. For not having fear wrap around his insides that when he wakes up tomorrow, more of his loved ones might not be there anymore.

It’s already getting dark when they arrive at Peter’s flat. November is already halfway over, and day bleeds into night at five pm, increasing the feeling that time is rushing past them even more.

Peter doesn’t look any better than he did this morning, and he’s twitchy and stumbling over every other word. James tries to distract him while Sirius checks the wards, but Peter keeps zoning out, staring right through him, and he doesn’t have the strength left to shake him out of it. He doesn’t even know if he still could. 

“You want to come to eat something with us?” Sirius asks when he’s finished, sticking his wand behind his ear and fumbling for a cigarette.

Peter shakes his head, staring out of the window behind Sirius. “No, I – I’m going to get my mum now, I think,” he says with a poor attempt at a smile. “Thanks though. You know, for the wards.”

Sirius waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t mention it. They were fine, I just strengthened them again and added one that should notify you if someone tries to enter when you’re gone, as long as they’re not keyed in. You still know how to do it?”

Peter nods and then gets up, obviously expecting them to leave. James hesitates, pondering if he should press again for Peter to accompany them, but a pointed look from Sirius holds him back.

Right, looking after himself. Sirius does have a point with that, and he wouldn’t be able to deny that he’s absolutely exhausted if he wanted to.

They stop to get some food on their way home, but Sirius insists to check their wards over first, waving him off when he says that he looks exhausted as well.

They curl up on the couch after finishing their dinner and Sirius zaps through the telly with his head in James lap, staying at one channel for maybe ten seconds before he starts to make up his own dialogue for whoever’s currently talking. James knows that it’s mainly for the sake of cheering him up, but it also works, and soon enough, his stomach hurts from all the laughter at Sirius’ increasingly mad stories.

The only advantage of being as tired and emotionally drained as he is, is that he can’t be bothered to worry about the feelings this closeness keeps drawing up in him. He’s just glad that he has Sirius here, by his side, breathing and healthy and safe.

They had stayed up late and it’s long past morning when they are woken up by another Patronus. The first thing James thinks is that he seriously starts hating the sight of them.

“Another meeting,” Moody’s voice echoes through his room, and Sirius makes a long, drawn-out whining noise.

“Whatever it is, I don’t want to hear it,” he mutters, pressing closer into James’ side and clenching his fingers into his thin shirt. “I can’t take any more bad news. Can we ignore it? Just for one bloody day?”

James would love to agree, considers it for a short moment of selfishness, but they both know that they won’t.

After drawing the inevitable out for another few minutes, they eventually get up in silent agreement, grabbing a coffee in the small café across the street before popping away out of a backyard.

Most of the Order is already there, only Peter, Marlene, and Dodge missing and every single one of them looks as tired and anxious as James feels.

Dumbledore and Moody look worse than yesterday, and he clenches his hands into fists, repeating like a prayer in his mind a chant of please not another death, please not another death.

It’s childish and pointless, but he doesn’t care.

Peter hurries in last, not bothering to move his chair over to them and only smiling weakly when James gives a little wave over the table.

“Excuse me, Professor Dumbledore,” Dorcas speaks up, and her hands are twisting together on the table. “I couldn’t get a hold of Marlene, she visited her family yesterday and –“

Dumbledore sighs and runs a hand over his face that dislodges his glasses. “I’m very sorry,” he says, and those three words are enough to send ice-cold dread down James’ spine. Everybody is silently staring at Dumbledore, and Dorcas expression seems to plead with him to not go on.

“The McKinnon’s were attacked last night – “

“No!” Dorcas shouts, jumping up from her chair and taking a few steps back. Lily gets up in an instant, taking her hand.

“They can’t,” Dorcas says, and her whole body is trembling. “Please, tell me they – “

Dumbledore shakes his head, and it’s enough for all of them to know.

Dorcas is swaying on her feet and it seems like the only thing holding her up is Lily, who’s just as pale and crying silently.

“But I – I wanted to… I planned to propose, over Christmas. What – how am I –” Dorcas stammers, her eyes flicking around the room as if she’s just waiting for someone to tell her what she’s supposed to do now.

James can feel his own heart clench, his eyes are burning and it’s hard to breathe. Still, he knows that it has to be nothing compared to what Dorcas must be experiencing right now, and it feels wrong to witness this, like they’re intruding on something deeply personal.

Lily seems to think along the same lines because she draws a deep breath, tugs Dorcas closer against her side and looks at Dumbledore. “Professor, would it be alright if we leave?”

He nods, and his eyes are terribly sad when he says, “Of course, take your time. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

Dorcas doesn’t answer, barely manages to lift her feet when Lily leads her out of the room and they’re all silent.

He chances a look at Sirius, who’s sitting rigid in his chair, hands clenched around the side of the table and staring straight ahead, a slight crease between his brows. Carefully, James takes his hand, not only to pull it off the hard wood.

His mind is still whirring. It’s too much, impossible to comprehend, and he wonders how many more bad news they all can take before they break under the pressure.

“How?” Sirius suddenly says into the silence and his voice is hard as steel as his face contorts in sudden fury. “How is it possible, two days in a row? First the ambush, then the Bones, and now the McKinnon’s – this can’t be all coincidences or mere luck of overhearing something.”

As soon as the silence is broken, everybody starts murmuring, questions and agreement flying across the table and James rubs his temples, feeling a headache bloom behind his forehead.

“I’m afraid I have to agree with him,” Moody says, easily talking over everybody else. “We might need to consider that somebody is passing on information on purpose.”

It’s not like James hasn’t considered the possibility before, but to hear it out loud still knocks all the air out of him. He doesn’t seem to be the only one, seeing that the whole room falls silent again.

“Now, I really don’t think –“ Dumbledore says, but Moody interrupts him, mouth set into a hard line and a hand hitting the table loudly.

“Albus, I hold you in high regards, but this is not the time for a speech about the value of trust and love. If we have a mole, we need to find it, or they’re going to pluck us out one after another,” he says, and his voice rises the longer he talks.

They’re all surprised when Peter speaks up. “Maybe they managed to torture the location out of the Bones, or someone else in the Ministry who knew?”

Dumbledore tilts his head and nods slowly. “That is a possibility, albeit not any more comforting than the others.”

“How many of our locations are known amongst the group?” Sirius asks with a frown, and his fingers are clenching around James’ hand so tightly that it’s bordering on painful.

“That would be a huge security issue,” Gideon agrees, and the others murmur their agreement.

Moody sighs, rubbing his chin. “Not everybody knows all of them, but I agree that we should have been more careful. We might consider putting more houses under a Fidelius Charm, though that would also make life more complicated for many families,” he says and exchanges a glance with Dumbledore.

“Not many are able to cast it successfully,” he agrees. “Alas, we can’t do much right now but wait and hope that this will not continue. I keep to my word; I trust every single person in this room, and we can’t let us be divided. We did discover a few more possible bases, but take the next few days to grieve and spend time with your loved ones.”

They’re clearly dismissed, and Sirius is out of the room within seconds. James considers for a moment to stay and talk to Peter, but he’s walking out just now as well, and when James makes it outside, he’s nowhere to be seen.

Sirius is leaning against the wall of the house, a cigarette between his fingers and staring at the ground in front of him. James steps up next to him, leaning his shoulder against his and plucking the cigarette from his fingers, closing his eyes as the smoke burns in his throat.

There’s nothing either of them can say. James is still struggling to process that Marlene is dead. That they will never see her again, that there might be someone amongst them who gave the information up on purpose – it feels impossible and it’s like his brain is absolutely unable to wrap itself around the idea, and he suspects that Sirius feels the same.

“Let’s go home,” he sighs after a few minutes and Sirius only takes his hand in response, following him past the wards.

Chapter Text

They’re both sitting in the kitchen, lost in their thoughts when Sirius asks, “Do you think there’s a spy?”

He sounds reluctant, like it costs him an immense effort to even get the words out, and his hands are restlessly fiddling with his mug.

James sighs, propping his head on one hand and staring out of the window. Heavy rain is splattering against the glass, making everything appear blurry, and there’s a memory of himself sitting on the windowsill of his childhood bedroom as he watched drops of water race. It seems out of place, here and now, like it can only get tainted by the suspicion and the fear, the harsh, cruel reality that’s overtaking every corner of their lives.

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to think there is but – as you said, that were a few too many targeted attacks to be a mere coincidence. But there’s not a single person I could think of.”

Sirius only hums and when he looks back at him, he’s avoiding to meet his eyes.

“Can you think of someone?” he asks, and it comes out harsher than he intended to.

Sirius hesitates, bites his bottom lip and then shakes his head slowly. “No, not really just – I remembered what Peter said about Remus, before his last mission, you know? But I – I don’t think he’d do it.”

“Of course not,” he snaps, and there’s a rush of fierce anger surging through him at the mere suggestion. It’s gone as soon as it came and he slumps in his chair, burying his head in his crossed arms and clenching his eyes shut. “I’m sorry,” he mutters, the sound so muffled that he doesn’t know if Sirius can even understand him. “I don’t want to believe this from anyone.”

He jumps slightly when Sirius hugs him from behind, but then he melts into the warmth and curls his fingers around his forearms.

“I’m sorry too,” Sirius says lowly. “I shouldn’t have said it. This is just… driving me crazy, I suppose.”

James doesn’t say anything, and they stay like this for a while, until he remembers something else. “Isn’t the funeral of your father tomorrow? Did you decide if you want to go?”

Sirius tenses ever so slightly and he nearly regrets bringing it up, knows that it’s a shitty distraction, but then he can feel him nod against his head, just once.

“Yeah – yeah, I think I do, as long as – would you come with me?” he asks, voice heavy and arms tightening around James.

“Of course, as if you have to ask, you moron,” he says with a light smack against Sirius’ arm and cranes his neck to look up at him.

Sirius’ lips twitch and he lets go, sitting down on the windowsill. “Thanks. It’s just – I don’t know, I guess I want to make sure that he’s really gone, you know? It still feels… unreal,” he says and leans his head back against the glass, the movement exposing his throat.

“I think I know what you mean,” he says, reminded of his own thoughts over the last two days. “At what time is it?”

“Late afternoon, I think. You know, for the dark aesthetic and all that, I’m sure,” Sirius says, and he sounds like he can’t decide if he’s supposed to be bitter or amused.

“At least we can sleep in, as long as we don’t get another Patronus. And I really hope we won’t, I don’t think I could take it,” he says as he stands up and starts to pull out some food from the cupboards to cook.

He needs something to do, they have to eat anyway, and cooking always manages to calm him down.

“Yeah, me neither,” Sirius says with a sigh, voice thick and quiet. “Do you think Remus will be back soon? It’s been a few weeks already.”

Looking over his shoulder, he tries to gauge if Sirius is still thinking of his earlier suspicion, but right now he looks mostly worried and tired, something that they’re seeing on all of them much too often these days.

“No idea, but maybe we can check it out after we have eaten something? We could check on Lily and Dorcas as well, bring them some food and see if they want company,” he suggests, flicking his wand so that the potatoes cut themselves.

“You’re turning into your mother, Prongs,” Sirius says, tone teasing and fond, and James throws a balled up towel in his direction. “But yes, sounds like a good idea. Just, maybe let me call them beforehand? You know, because of you and Lily.”

James winces at the reminder and agrees – he kind of forgot about it amidst the successive disasters but the last thing he wants is to make it worse for anyone involved.

Sirius squeezes his shoulder when he walks into the living room and shortly after, he can hear the low murmur of voices while he’s stirring the gravy and frying some meat.

“Lily says we’re welcome to come over and to tell you to not put too much garlic into whatever it is you’re cooking!” Sirius shouts, causing him to grin slightly. A few seconds later, the record player cracks and the voice of Mark Knopfler starts filling the flat.

The familiarity of it loosens some of his tension, especially when Sirius starts singing along off-key. When there’s nothing left for him to do but to check from time to time, he walks over, watching as Sirius dances through the living room while he’s collecting clothes and books that are littering the floor and other available surfaces, and shooting a few Cleaning Charms around.

It takes nearly ten minutes until Sirius notices him. “What got into you?” James asks, but he’s still smiling softly at his antics.

Sirius shrugs. “I don’t know, I needed something to do and it helps a little bit against –” he gestures helplessly, and the corner of his mouth pulls downward. “Everything,” he finishes eventually.

“Yeah,” he says, knowing exactly what he’s talking about. “Think you can do some laundry as well?” he asks with a smirk, unwilling to risk another plunge of their mood. They’re both overcompensating right now, but James is rather sure that Sirius feels the same as he does – if they stop, they might just fall apart.

He also desperately needs fresh clothes and hates doing laundry, but that’s completely beside the point.

Sirius’ look tells him that he knows exactly what James is doing but he just grins innocently and returns to the kitchen, throwing over his shoulder, “I’m making steaks, so it’s not like you can complain.”

His only response is the music being turned up another few notches and he grins, shaking his head to himself.

At least they still have this, he thinks.

Remus isn’t home when they apparate over and they both stay quiet, not needing to talk out loud to know that they’re both worried.

The atmosphere when they arrive at the girls’ flat is sombre, not that they’d expected anything else. Lily opens the door for them, eyes red and blotchy but she’s smiling sadly when she sees them.

“Come in, we’re sitting in the kitchen and looking at photos,” she says after they’ve exchanged the usual security questions, and they both kick off their shoes before following her.

Dorcas is curled up in the crook of the corner seat, wearing one of Marlene’s hoodies, a blanket around her shoulders and a tower of tissues scattered around her. She tries to smile at them but it’s a sad, forced thing that hurts more to look at than anything else.

The table is full of pictures and parchment, a few books and trinkets in between, and his chest clenches at the scene. He can’t imagine what he’d do if he lost Sirius, or even Remus or Peter, and instantly feels bad for the thought. Marlene was his friend too, and that already hurts like hell, but a part of him is still glad that it wasn’t Sirius.

He’d probably burn the world down, he thinks, and then quickly shoves the thought away.

“I brought roasted potatoes, steak, and ice cream. I heard that helps,” he says as he puts the containers down on the counter and cancels the Stasis Spells.

“Thanks,” Lily says with a grateful smile and gets plates and bowls. He’s just glad that it isn’t weird between them right now, though he would have preferred it over the reason why it’s not a thousand times.

“I brought whiskey,” Sirius pipes up, cheerfulness a little forced. “I heard that helps too, and she would’ve wanted us to drink to her and get absolutely wasted, wouldn’t she?”

It gets a wet laugh out of Dorcas and they do exactly that, drinking deep into the night and going around, telling stories of their time at Hogwarts and the last year. There’s a lot of crying and laughing and at some points, both simultaneously, but it makes them all feel a little better and eases the sense of suffocation that James has felt ever since yesterday morning.

The next day, the rain finally stops for the first time in what feels like weeks, and it’s freezing cold when they apparate close to the graveyard where every single Black has been buried for centuries.

It’s already getting dark again, but they’ve disillusioned themselves before leaving anyway, and James throws his cloak over both of them as soon as Sirius appears next to him.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” he asks, watching Sirius’ tense posture and hard expression.

“Yeah, I – I have to,” Sirius mutters absently, fingers clenching into James’ waist, and he nods.

They walk through the gates and it doesn’t take them long to find the ceremony, a small group of people standing in front of a tall, dark gravestone. Sirius snorts softly next to him.

“Of course it would have to be ridiculously pompous, I’m sure mother is responsible for that one,” he whispers, and contempt is dripping from every word.

James flicks his wand to throw up a Silencing Charm around them and tightens his grip on Sirius as they slowly walk closer until there are only about twenty feet between them and the rest.

A man in dark-green robes is standing next to the large stone, a book in his hand that looks terribly old, and when James lets his gaze wander over the small group, he spots Walburga and Regulus easily enough. The other few attendants all look old but unmistakably like Blacks, and he frowns.

“Shouldn’t there be more friends of the family in attendance?” he whispers to Sirius, who nods slowly.

“Yeah, just thought the same – especially some from Regulus’ crowd, it’s custom to attend these kinds of things,” he mutters, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and James can feel his muscles clench underneath his hands, even through the layers of clothes.

“Weird,” he mutters, more to himself and then falls silent when the official starts his speech.

“We’re here today to honour the life and accomplishments of Orion Phineas Black, who has spent his life working for the reputation and achievements of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black – “

Sirius scoffs. “More like, let my mother do whatever she wanted to and drank a lot of wine, complaining about grandfather and feeling important.”

Snorting, James bumps their shoulders together and tries to refocus on the eulogy that’s now talking about Orion’s various accomplishments at school and in the Ministry, his wife and family, and his son. Singular.

Sirius keeps up a steady stream of biting, sarcastic commentary; how his father could only feel great because he put others down, how he was the lapdog of their mother, couldn’t even find a wife he wasn’t related to, and so on.

James lets him, thinks that it’s probably his own way of coping and making something as close to peace as he’ll ever get with all the things that happened in that bloody house, and he only makes sure that their Silencing Charm holds.

It’s freezing, wind howling through the dark graveyard and he keeps checking that the cloak doesn’t get dislodged. He doesn’t think it would go over well if they were discovered, though it’s rather curious that both Walburga and Regulus keep throwing glances over their shoulders as if they’re waiting for someone.

Somebody had to send the invitation to Sirius he thinks, and not for the first time does he wonder if his parents, his mother in particular, really cared as little about him as their actions and Sirius’ stories seem to indicate.

Not because he doesn’t believe him – sometimes he thinks that he loathes the whole bloody lot of them more than Sirius does – but he also remembers what his own mother said to him in second year when he told her about his suspicion that Sirius’ home-life was harsh and bordering on cruel.

‘James, the Blacks are very steeped in their traditions and ideals, and even if his parents wanted to behave differently, they wouldn’t. They’re probably more lenient with their sons than their own parents were with them, and I think, no matter how wrong it all is from an outside perspective, they wouldn’t understand what the problem is even if they tried to.’

He didn’t understand it at the time, with only his own parents to compare, and while he still doesn’t doubt that running away was the best decision Sirius ever made, he can actually see her point now.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that.

Sirius nudges him and he shakes his head to dispel the thoughts. He’s never told Sirius about that and doesn’t plan to either – now much less than ever.

“Look at the coffin, I swear to Merlin that is actual gold,” Sirius sneers. “Honestly, they’re going to bury that, what does it –“

He breaks off, his eyes widening and the colour draining from his face. It takes James only a second to understand why. Moody’s Patronus is coming towards them, currently still behind the group who is just starting to throw soil and flowers into the open grave, and then it swoops, circling above them and starting to draw attention.

“It can’t pinpoint our position underneath the cloak,” Sirius says in a strangled tone, and James rather understands the sentiment. “What do we do?”

Sirius appears to be close to full-blown panic and, thinking quickly, he roughly shakes him to make him listen. “Alright, we’re pulling off the cloak, only from our heads, listen to the message and then instantly apparate away, alright?”

Sirius shakes his head wildly, “Are you mad? We can’t – “

“Sirius!” he snaps. “What if it’s important? If we leave by foot, it’s going to follow us anyway, if we apparate now it might take some time until it finds us – we have no choice if we don’t want to risk missing something important.”

“What if it’s just another meeting?” Sirius asks desperately but it’s obvious that he sees James’ point. Sighing, he clenches his eyes shut for a moment and then nods sharply. “Alright, keep your wand ready. I wouldn’t put it past them to curse us,” he says, voice determined.

James only nods and counts down from three, then flicks the hood back. The Patronus instantly turns and focuses on them, which, of course, pulls the attention from everyone else.

“Attack on Hogsmeade, now!” is all Moody’s voice bellows over the otherwise deadly silent graveyard.

The last thing he hears is a screeching “You!” from Walburga, but then he has already apparated both of them into the Shrieking Shack.

Sirius is trembling faintly but his face is hard, and they don’t waste any time to leave the rundown shack. Shouts and screams are audible from the centre of the village, the lights of spellfire lightning up the narrow path and they break into a run.

It’s hard to determine who is who. It’s dark and many of the lanterns seem to be damaged, but the white masks are easy to spot once they’re closer and they fall into their usual stance.

“Shit, that are so many,” Sirius curses next to him, sending a string of Explosive and Cutting Curses at the back of three Death Eaters that were duelling one of the Prewett twins before they move on.

James loses the overview quickly, his focus solely on keeping up a bunch of different shields, to transfigure rubble and debris for the same purpose or simply pull them out of harm’s way when everything else fails. Still, for every Death Eater they’re taking down, two more seem to appear out of nowhere.

Sirius’ spells become more violent and he shouts at Frank when he sees him use a Stunner. “His buddies will just Rennervate him in a second, use something else, for fuck's sake!”

He thinks a few more Order members must have arrived because they’re slowly gaining some ground, and he can see Dorcas and Lily fight only a few feet away from them, the red hair easy to spot even in the dark.

The two Death Eaters he and Sirius are currently fighting against are some of the more skilled, easily blocking or deflecting most of Sirius’ spells, and when one of them says, “Do you miss your little friends already? It’s been rather fun, visiting the McKinnon’s,” James can feel his temper rising and snapping, a fury coursing through him he very rarely experiences.

He flicks his wand to reverse the transfiguration he did on some bricks, transforming them from a shield he used as backup into hundred sharp shards and sends them at the duo with as much force as he can put behind them.

It works brilliantly, cutting through their shield like a warm knife through butter because the bloody idiots only shielded against magical attacks.

He laughs, slightly surprised at himself but anger is still running through him, hot and violent, and he doesn’t care, can’t be bothered to feel any remorse when one of them goes down with a gaping head wound and the other is taken down by some spell from Sirius just a second later.

“Nice one, James,” Sirius grins, but they don’t stop to linger, quickly moving on and only just saving Benjy from getting hit by something purple that looks absolutely nasty when it hits a tree behind him.

They’re just picking themselves up for the umpteenth time this night when there’s a loud crack echoing through the village. Most of the Death Eaters stop fighting, something Sirius uses to his advantage shamelessly, shooting a battery of curses at every masked person in their vicinity.

James instantly copies him – honestly, he’s so far past caring, adrenaline firing up his anger into levels he’s not sure he’s ever felt, and for a second he wonders if this is how it always is for Sirius, this slightly maniacal glee over fighting and making them pay.  

They only get a few with that method, but every single one sends a bolt of smug satisfaction through him and he dearly hopes that those who attacked the Bones’ and the McKinnon’s are under them.

The cruel, high laugh of Voldemort booms through the village, the sound making him cringe, and they back a few steps away, getting together with the other Order members. Voldemort’s strolling down the street, looking around with a bored expression.

“Well, well, well,” he drawls, coming to a halt in the middle of the street and twirling his wand between his fingers. The low light lets his distorted features appear even more snake-like and his voice is smooth and sibilant when he continues. “I see, you’re still thinking that you can defy me.”

With a lazy wave of his wand, a few of the fallen Death Eaters are revived and James catches Sirius’ glare at some of the Order members. He nudges him and shakes his head in an attempt to tell him that now really isn’t the time.

Sirius sighs but nods and his fingers curl around James’ wrist between them, hidden from sight by their cloaks. It instantly makes him feel better – no matter how much he despises Voldemort, refuses to cower, there’s no way that he could claim that he doesn’t also have a healthy dose of fear.

The Death Eaters are horrible, granted, and some of them are more than skilled with a wand and the Dark Arts than others, but overall, it’s an even playing field. Voldemort though – if he sets his eyes on a target, there are only very few who live to tell the tale. And above everything else, they’re outnumbered right now, even with the Death Eaters they’ve managed to take out.

Apparently accepting that the remaining Death Eaters won’t get up any time soon and looking like he couldn’t care less about it, Voldemort directs his attention back at their group. “You know, I did offer some of you a place in my ranks. You could be great, but you’ve chosen the foolish way, thinking you ever had a chance against the great Lord Voldemort.”

He laughs again, shaking his head and curling his thin lips into a mocking, pitying smile. James wants to retch.

“But I am a merciful Lord, so I will offer you another chance. You saw what my loyal servants are capable of, even you must see that our cause is getting more and more successful with each day. The events of the last week were a mere warning of what is going to happen to all of you if you refuse. The Bones, the McKinnon’s’ – “

“Shut your ugly, despicable mouth!” Dorcas’ suddenly shouts, breaking free of their group and storming forwards. Her hands are balled into fists, her wand raised, and she spits at the ground in front of Voldemort, who looks barely surprised.

“Dorcas no,” Lily calls, moving as if to storm after her, but Fabian and Gideon have the presence of mind to hold her back.

James for his part is conflicted and one look at Sirius shows his own feelings mirrored in his expression.

“Don’t you dare talk about her, you’re nothing but a monster! You don’t even use your real name but call yourself a Lord?”

“Dorcas,” Sirius says, just loud enough to reach her and, subsequently, Voldemort, and he takes a few steps forward until he can put a hand on her shoulder.

“No,” she spits with a quick glare at Sirius and shakes him off before she turns back. Sirius lets her but stays where he is, wand ready in his hand and eyes glued to Voldemort, who watches with his head tilted as if he’s merely humouring her.

He probably is, James thinks, before stepping up next to Sirius.

“The only reason you’re successful is because you Imperius’ people to do your dirty work, and I wouldn’t join you if hell froze over. You’re nothing but dirt under my shoe – you know what, not that it matters, but you’re probably not even a Pureblood, you have no – “

James knows that Sirius notices the shift in Voldemort’s expression the same second he does. They both raise their wands simultaneously and make a grab for her, but she conjures a shield between herself and them that pushes them back.

“You’re a menace to this world. No honourable wizard would do what you’re doing, you little, pitiful piece of shit,” she finishes her rant, then takes another step forward and shouts, “Expulso!”

Voldemort deflects the curse easily, laughing loudly and smiling down at her. “Touching, but I’m afraid my patience has run out now. Your little girlfriend was just as fiery, you know?”

Sirius is trying to get through the shield rather unsuccessfully and he can see Dorcas trembling, face contorted in rage but not for a second letting up on her battery of spells. Voldemort actually looks like he has to put some effort into the duel now, and James wonders why nobody else from the Order is trying to help.

One quick glance over his shoulder shows him that they are facing the same problem as him and Sirius – some of the Death Eaters conjured up a magical barrier that keeps all of them away.

Focusing back on Sirius, he tries to help him while still keeping one eye on the duel.

Dorcas has just managed to graze Voldemort’s arm with a Cutting Curse and James smiles faintly, thinking that he’s going to buy her a large bottle of wine for that alone.

“Avada Kedavra!” Voldemort roars, green light bursting from his wand, and it feels like the whole world is slowing down as James watches in horror how it hits her square in the chest.

She looks kind of surprised, and then she falls, limply, like a puppet whose strings were cut.

Blood is rushing in his ears and he’s frozen to the spot, unable to tear his eyes away. Distantly, he’s aware of shouting and noises, of somebody shaking him, but it just doesn’t seem to get through to him until a hand collides with his face and snaps him out of it.

Sirius is staring at him, worry turning into relief when James focuses on him. It only lasts a second before it all melts away, only to leave terrible sadness and anger behind.

“Good,” Sirius says with a sigh, taking his hand and pulling him somewhere, between two houses where a few others are standing. Alice and Frank are currently trying to calm down Lily who’s sitting hunched over against a brick wall, face hidden in her arms and shaking violently.

When he turns to look back, he’s surprised to find that Voldemort and his Death Eaters must have left, and he wonders how long he’s been out of it.

Sirius seems to see his confusion because he murmurs, “They apparated away directly afterwards because Dumbledore arrived.” He nods over to where their old Headmaster is standing, talking to Moody and Doge.

Loud cracks startle all of them but it’s only a group of Aurors and James laughs hollowly. Great bunch of help they’re going to be, now that everything is over.

He still feels numb, empty, like he would just… disappear if Sirius’ hand around his wrist wouldn’t be holding him here. The image of Dorcas’ surprised expression just before blanking over keeps repeating in his mind, the way she just collapsed, one moment still screaming all her hatred at Voldemort, duelling like she’s been born for it, the next, just gone.

Wasn’t he just thinking that he’d buy her a bottle of wine? Another hollow, desperate laugh breaks out of him, hurting his throat and sounding terrible and he turns, punches the wall behind him the few times he manages before Sirius pulls him away, hugs him so tightly it hurts.

He’s struggling against it without even knowing why he does; there’s a burning urgency in him to fight, to get away, to just –

“I know, James,” Sirius says, over and over and doesn’t let go of him, ignoring that he’s trying to punch whatever surface he can reach. Or maybe his hands are scrambling, searching for something to hold on to because he feels like he’s just going to break apart at the seams, like he’s going to shatter and disappear any moment now.

Chapter Text

Sirius sighs when he finally slumps down on the bed next to James. For a while he merely watches the steady rise and fall of his chest, how the lack of glasses makes his face appear softer somehow, and how he finally doesn’t look so terribly wrecked anymore.

His fingers are twitching with the urge to reach out and he carefully rakes them through James’ hair, smiling faintly when he leans into the touch and mutters something incomprehensible in his sleep.

After James had finally calmed down, or rather didn’t have any more strength left, Sirius apparated them both home, James like a dead weight against his side and stumbling every few steps. Sirius has never seen him like that, and it scares him; at the same time, he supposes that it had to happen at some point, considering how things are going.

He thinks his mind hasn’t caught up with the most recent events yet, hasn’t comprehended yet that Marlene is dead, Dorcas too, and he fears the moment it finally does. His thoughts are an utter mess, switching from memories of their school days, to miserable summers at Grimmauld Place, to childhood memories with Regulus, and a myriad of pictures of dead and mangled people.

Even if they make it out of this war, they’ve lost so much in the process that he has no idea how they’re supposed to ever move on.

Lying down and curling into James, his last thought is that he should check on Lily tomorrow, and see if Remus is back.

They don’t get out of bed for hours the next day. Sleeping did help with some of their exhaustion, but another day also makes everything more real, and after James finishes crying into his chest, Sirius starts, and on it goes for hours until they fall asleep again.

It’s already getting dark when they finally manage to pull themselves out of their slump, and when James says that he wants to visit his parents, Sirius waves him off, still remembering his resolve to check on Lily.

It takes her so long to answer the floo that he’s nearly giving up, and as soon as he steps through the fire, she flies into his arms.

They don’t say anything, silently standing in the dark kitchen and holding onto each other like it’s the last time. After all, it might be – nine people dead in three days don’t really give them a reason to have much hope, Sirius thinks bitterly, and hugs her a more tightly.

Eventually, she steps back, flopping down into the nearest chair. “If you want tea, you know where to find everything.”

One look at her tells him that she could really use it now and he turns on the kettle, throwing a few worried glances in her direction in between.

“Are you – do you think it’s good for you to stay here?” he asks when he sits down across from her and she jumps slightly.

She sighs, runs a hand through her hair and smiles sadly. “I don’t know, probably not. Maybe I’ll stay with my parents for some time, but I’m scared it might put them into danger, considering –”

She doesn’t finish the sentence and he just nods. “I know, the break-up with James is still fresh, but you could stay with us for a while? We sleep in the same bed most nights anyway,” he offers and just hopes that James won’t hex him too badly.

Though he’d probably understand, and in the great scheme of things a break-up seems rather inconsequential. Then again, he might have too little personal experience to actually judge that. 

“Thanks,” Lily says, bowing her head so that her hair hides her face. “But no, I think – I think it doesn’t make much of a difference. This flat reminds me of them, but so does everything else, you know? And I’m sad, of course I am, and I’m tired and terrified and most of all, I’m sick of this war. But it won’t go away by trying to avoid it, so I’m going to let myself be sad for some time and then I’ll make sure that as few others’ as possible have to deal with the same shit.”

He tilts his head and thinks about it before he nods, relieved that the resolve and steadiness that is just so Lily is still there. “Alright, that makes sense. But if the walls start closing in on you, you’re always welcome. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” she says and sends him the first smile that doesn’t border on a grimace. After taking a sip of her tea, she stares at the table for long moments, biting her bottom lip. “Do you think… Do you think there’s a spy? I mean, I don’t want to believe it and I have no idea who would possibly do something like that, but well – it’s been rather much to be simply bad luck over the last few days, hasn’t it?”

Pulling up his knees to his chest, he props his chin on them and stares into the steaming mug. “I don’t know, honestly. I agree with you, and I can’t think of anybody either,” he sighs. “Or maybe I just don’t want to,” he adds quietly after a beat, remembering what Peter had said all those weeks ago, and his thoughts on the matter when he talked about it with James.

He doesn’t voice it though, thinks that it’s probably just paranoia and desperation catching up on him. Rationally, he knows that there’s no way that any of his friends would betray them and he feels bad enough for considering it in the first place.

“Let’s just hope that we catch a break,” she says, hugging her arms around herself and looking around. “Though if that bastard’s tedious monologue is anything to go by, we probably won’t.”

He snorts, and then laughter is bubbling up in his chest, infecting Lily as well and soon they’re both flushed and out of breath. Granted, it’s still slightly hysterical but they both feel better afterwards, and he fondly shakes his head. “Only you, Evans.”

“What,” she says with feigned indignation. “It’s true, he really does like to hear himself talk. I mean did you hear him? A merciful Lord? Maybe we should send him a dictionary.”

He laughs again when he tries to picture how that would go over. “Thanks, I think I needed that,” he says, standing up from his chair and walking around the table to give her a tight hug. “Are you going to be alright?” he asks more seriously, watching her closely.

She nods, and while she still looks tired and worn, she does look a little better than half an hour ago. “Thanks Sirius, I will be.”

After saying goodbye, he leaves the flat through the front door and decides to check once again if Remus is back. It’s already been a while again and with each passing day without any news, he’s getting more worried.

There’s light burning when he arrives and Remus answers the door on his second knock, wand pointed at his chest. “How did we lose the map?” Remus asks after a few beats of silence, and Sirius has to think for a moment.

“We were sneaking back in from a night out in Hogsmeade through the secret tunnel, and when Filch caught us, Peter let some of the sweets drop so he made us empty our pockets. I’m still not over that,” he grumbles, slightly taken aback when it doesn’t even get a smile out of Remus.

Ignoring it for now, he asks, “How did we tell you that we became Animagi?”

“You didn’t. I walked into our dorm to a huge dog jumping around a stag, whose antlers were stuck on a bedpost while a rat was squeaking on the bed,” Remus says dryly and lowers his wand. “What are you doing here?”

Sirius raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms over his chest. “It’s nice to see you too, Moony. I thought I’d check up on you, see if you’re back? Are you going to let me in?”

Remus seems to actually consider the question before he sighs and opens the door wider, waving him into the kitchen.

“When did you get back?” he asks after sitting down, looking around and noticing some used dishes on the counter.

Remus busies himself with making tea, his back turned, and Sirius watches for a moment. He’s even thinner than he was the last time they saw each other, but his clothes are clean and not as ripped.

“Yesterday,” Remus says, turning towards him while he waits for the water to boil. He still looks utterly exhausted, cheeks gaunt and dark shadows under his eyes.

Sirius tilts his head and frowns. “Why didn’t you tell us?” he asks, the question sounding more like an accusation than he intended.

Still, he didn’t expect Remus’ face to cloud over or that he’d snap at him, “For fuck's sake, because I was tired? It’s only been a day and Dumbledore has already pestered me for an hour today.”

He raises both his hands in defeat but still thinks that it’s weird – it’s not like a floo call would have taken long. “Sorry, I was just worried. We were, really.”

Remus simply nods and turns away again to pour water into two mugs.

“So, if you’ve talked to Dumbledore…” Sirius prompts, hoping that he doesn’t have to be the one to give Remus a summary of the disastrous last days.

Remus sits down but stares out of the window to his side, fingers twisting in his sleeves. “Yeah, I’ve heard. At least I assume you’re talking about the Bones’, McKinnon’s, and Dorcas?”

“Yeah. It’s getting worse,” Sirius sighs, blowing into his tea and wishing that it was something stronger.

“It’s getting worse for years now,” Remus says flatly. He’s still not looking at him and despite his best intentions, Sirius can feel the suspicion creeping back into his thoughts.

Clenching his jaw and trying to ignore it, he decides to change the topic. “Did you have some success?”

Remus sets down his cup so forcefully that some of the tea swaps over the edge, and he curses when the water splays over his hand. “Shit! No – you know I can’t talk about it. What, did you come here only to interrogate me?”

For a moment, he can only gape at him. It’s so unlike Remus to have such a short temper – usually, it’s him who snaps at totally harmless questions when he’s in a mood, and he’s not really prepared to deal with this.

James finally reaching his breaking point he can handle, but this, combined with that bloody idea that’s been growing in the back of his mind, is somehow too much.

“No,” he says curtly, standing up. “You’re gone for weeks on end while we’re losing people left and right, Lily is alone in that flat after her two best friends died in the course of two days, James is slowly going mad, punching walls and throwing fits, and I’m bloody worried about you!” he says, voice rising steadily.

He bites his tongue and draws a deep breath, intending to follow up with an explanation of how they’re all on edge and how he’s just glad that Remus is back and alive, but he never gets there.

“Oh, excuse me that I can’t be there to hold your hands,” Remus growls, standing up as well and putting his hands on the table, leaning forward. “My missions are such a bloody walk in the park, I’ll have to leave again in a few days, and I just want some time to sleep, to not deal with any of the drama and try to not go mental myself.”

“Alright,” he spits, unable to hold on to his own resolve. “I’ll see myself out, should I? Have a blast Moony.”

Not waiting for an answer, he turns on his heel, storming out of the door and slamming it so hard that it flies open again. He just gives it another kick before apparating away, stumbling when he lands and knocking over a dumpster in the backyard.

He curses to himself all the way up the stairs. His knee hurts and there’s a weird mix of anger, worry, and annoyance warring within him.

James isn’t back yet and he stomps into his room, dropping face-first onto his bed and screams into his pillow. His fingers clench into the covers and suddenly, there’s a sharp, stinging pain in his left hand.

Rolling onto his back, he notices a crumpled piece of parchment and he frowns, quickly pulling his hand back. The mail goes into the kitchen and he hasn’t used his bed in so long that it’s unlikely to be his.

All the Diagnostic Charms come back clean though, and he unfolds the note after healing the cut on his palm. He instantly recognises the tidy, cursive handwriting.

“You have a spy in the Order. I don’t know who it is, we don’t even know the identity of each other apart from a few people we’re working with, but he takes great delight in gloating about his insider information. The attacks of the last few days were a result of it, but I only heard about it today. I’m sorry that I can’t provide you with something more precise but be careful, there are more attacks planned.

And for Merlin’s sake, ward your flat against house-elves, you moron.”

It’s not signed, but it doesn’t need to be.

Sirius reads the note two more times and tries to make sense of just what he is feeling. Obviously, most of it is dread, fury, and desperation, but a small part of him can’t help but feel ridiculously happy about Regulus actually passing on information to him.

Granted, not much of it is helpful apart from the confirmation of something he’s still not sure he really wanted to know in the first place, but it’s enough to keep him from tearing apart the whole flat in anger right now.

The sound of the front door hitting the wall and then shutting loudly makes him jump and he quickly hides the note. He doesn’t know why, really, he just feels like it’s personal, somehow, even if there has never been anything that he doesn’t share with James.

Ignoring the questions that is throwing up, he walks into the kitchen where James is putting away leftovers while he’s humming softly to himself. Sirius watches him, leaning against the doorframe, and his eyes linger on the broad shoulders, on the way the muscles in James’ forearms flex, sleeves pushed back and the relaxed expression on his face.

It makes his chest clench; he wants to keep this, him, conserved in this state, just walk up to him and hug him, bury his face in the messy hair and never let go again.

He shakes his head, a bit startled by the direction his thoughts just took and smirks. “If I were Moody, I would have just hexed you for your utter lack of situational awareness.”

James jumps and glares at him over his shoulder, but his lips are twitching, rendering the whole thing rather inefficient. “How’s Lily?” he asks, putting some food on a plate and setting it down on the table. “Eat.”

“Thanks,” he grins. “As well as can be expected, I think.”

James looks doubtful, not that he can blame him.

“You know her, there’s not much that can get her down. I offered her to come over anytime though,” he says and glances at him out of the corner of his eye to see his reaction.

James doesn’t seem bothered though, merely nods as he sits down. He leans over the back of his chair, stretching his arms and Sirius’ eyes catch on the sliver of skin when his shirt rides up, on the pronounced curve of hipbones and the soft trail of hair.

He quickly looks back down at his plate when he realizes what he’s doing and says around his mouth full of food, “Remus is back. I wanted to check on him after I left Lily, he said he already arrived yesterday.”

Turning his head to look at him, James frowns. “Did we miss his call?”

He grimaces at the reminder and shakes his head. “No, he didn’t, said he was tired,” he mutters, fork scraping against his plate a bit too forcefully. “We had a fight.”

James groans and he quickly raises his hands, some of his pasta landing on the table. “It wasn’t even my fault this time, I swear. I just asked if he’s heard about the last few days and if he had some success, and he just snapped at me, asked if I wanted to interrogate him. I don’t know, it was weird. He seemed on edge.”

“Whatever it is that Dumbledore makes him do, it must be really wearing on him,” James says, lips thinning slightly, and Sirius already regrets bringing it up in the first place.

Humming in response, he ponders if he should try changing the topic. The note from Regulus comes back to him, the confirmation of their worst fear making him antsy, and before he can question it too much, he says, “There’s a spy, I know – “

“Padfoot,” James sighs with a pleading look, and Sirius closes his eyes, pushing past the ache in his chest at how incredibly tired he suddenly looks.

“I’m sorry,” he presses out, putting his fork down and sitting up straighter. “It’s not a suspicion though.”

“What do you mean?” James asks, frowning and summoning the packet of cigarettes from the counter.

Swallowing once and drawing a shaky breath, he says quietly, “Regulus sent me a note. A warning. Voldemort is gloating about it, that’s how they could do the attacks.”

James freezes in his chair, all the blood draining from his face and his knuckles turning white as he clenches his hands into fists. “No,” he croaks out, shaking his head wildly. “No, nobody would –“

Memories of the last few days flicker through Sirius’ mind, of James punching a wall and trembling in his arms, trying to get away from him, from everything, shouting incoherently, and he thinks he shouldn’t have said anything after all.

He was never any good at lying or keeping things from James though and in the end, it might be better to do this now than having the realization at another time.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, standing up and crouching down in front of him. He wraps his fingers around James’ wrists and leans his head against their hands, counting the racing beats of James’ pulse underneath his fingertips.

He can hear him take measured breaths and when he speaks again, his voice is calmer than before. “Are you sure that it’s not a misleading trail? Did he say who, or if there are any more attacks planned?”

He raises his head and meets his eyes, trying to make him understand just how convinced he is. “I’m absolutely sure.”

For a moment, he considers telling him of his meeting with Regulus but dismisses it instantly. They’re walking a knives edge already, he can see the emotions warring in James’ eyes, and revealing that he met with his Death Eater brother a few weeks ago without telling him might just be one push too far.

“And no, he said Voldemort is keeping it under wraps, not even the Death Eaters’ know who else is one of them. He said there are more attacks planned but that he’s not involved, so he doesn’t know,” he explains, lowering his head again. “Really, it only said that there’s definitely a spy in the Order passing on information, and to be careful. Oh, and to ward our flat against house-elves, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that.”

James doesn’t say anything for a long time, silence wrapping around them, and when Sirius looks up again, he has his eyes closed and his head is bowed, mouth pressed into a thin line.

He raises one hand to carefully touch his shoulder and James cracks one eye open, smiling sadly. “It just keeps getting worse. Every time something happens, I think, this is it, we can’t go down much further, and then another thing comes on top as if to say, you thought so? Let me show you just how wrong you are.”

“We’ll make it through this,” Sirius vows with more resolve than he feels. “Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand what you mean, but we’ll make it through this, alright? I promise.”

James rubs one hand over his face, dislodging his glasses. “You can’t know that,” he mutters, and he sounds so defeated, so unlike James that it hurts, makes it hard to breathe, and anger starts boiling under his skin that has no tangible target to direct it to.

“I promise,” he says again, tightening his grip and glaring slightly.

James smiles then, not much but it’s enough. “Alright. I’ll hold you to it. If you die, I’ll get into the dark arts and resurrect you, just to remind you.”

A startled laugh escapes him, the idea of James dabbling in the dark arts so utterly ridiculous that he has difficulties picturing it. It would probably involve a great many accidents, he’s just not sure if James or his environment would take the brunt.

James whacks his head a bit and then turns serious again. “We can’t tell the Order though,” he says, running a hand through his hair.

“Why not? That’s the whole point.”

“Sirius,” James says, pinning him with a look like he’s dense. “If we tell a single soul of the Order that you’ve learnt from your brother, who is a Death Eater, that there’s a spy in the Order, they’re not only not going to believe you, they’re going to accuse you of still having contact with your family. Maybe twist it in a way to say that you are the spy, trying to throw us off track. Not the best idea after your passionate speech a few weeks ago, don’t you think?”

“Fuck,” he groans and lets his head drop against James’ knees who runs his fingers through Sirius’ hair. It’s calming and sends a shiver down his spine at the same time, and he closes his eyes, unable to come up with a way out of this.

“It’s not like it matters anyway,” James says.

“Are you – “

“Oh shush, that’s not what I mean. I’m just saying, what are we supposed to do with that little information? Everybody’s on high alert already, there’s no way to tell who it is because I doubt that Dumbledore is going to agree to interrogate everyone with a healthy dose of Veritaserum – “

“Moody would,” Sirius throws in with a scowl to himself.

“Maybe,” James allows. “Still, there’s not much we can do apart from being careful and keeping our eyes open. If these attacks continue, they’re going to catch on soon enough,” he says, voice resigned and vaguely bitter.

It’s true enough, no matter how much he hates it.

“You know what we should do?” James asks later when they’re curled up in bed and Sirius has his head on James’ chest, listening to the steady, calming heartbeat and already close to drifting off.

He only hums, pressing a bit closer.

“Go flying. Play a game of Quidditch, I mean. The next Order meeting is a few days off if nothing else happens, and we need to do something normal for once. I don’t even know when we did anything unrelated to the war the last time. We could go out, afterwards,” he says, longing evident in his voice.

“Yeah,” Sirius murmurs softly. “Yeah, let’s do that. Something normal.”

When he wakes up, there are images and sensations still lingering in his mind, of James being pinned to the bed underneath him, hot skin against his and soft moans and his name spilling from his lips over and over, of fingers clenching into skin and their bodies moving against each other.

He’s painfully hard and startles when he realizes that he’s pressed all along James’ back, freezing until he’s sure that James is still asleep. For a moment, he contemplates just trying to go back to sleep, but he doesn’t think that it’s going to work before he takes care of his problem.

With a silent sigh, he carefully disentangles himself from the sheets and slips out of the room to walk into his own, shutting the door quietly.

As soon as he flops down on his bed, he wraps a hand around his pulsing cock, moaning the moment he’s touching himself. Pressing his head back into the pillow and clenching his eyes shut, he tries to come up with pictures that don’t involve James, but his dream is still fresh on his mind, the sounds James made and the way he felt underneath him, eyes heavily lidded and clinging to him like his life depended on it.

He speeds up his movements, spreads his legs a bit wider and uses his other hand to stroke his balls and the inside of his thighs, and it doesn’t take long until he’s coming, biting his lip harshly to swallow the sounds.

Thinking that he just needs a few minutes to calm down, he stays where he is, trying to ignore the questions that are starting to assault him after what just happened. It was just a dream, no hidden meaning besides that. It has simply been some time.

He’s not sure if he believes it himself but he’s tired and his body heavy, and when his legs finally stop trembling, he cleans himself up, slinks back into James’ room and lies down.

He keeps some space between them for good measure.

To their great relief, there’s no Patronus the next morning and they spend the following days doing as many simple, ordinary things as they can come up with.

They visit James parents to have a few Seeker matches in the backyard, walk through Muggle London to get some new records and start looking for Christmas presents. They meet a few times with Lily and Peter, hole up in front of the telly and drink whiskey until they can’t form a single, coherent word, go out for another night in Camden without getting into any drama and even spend a whole afternoon at the seaside, running around in their Animagus forms until they’re lying in the sand, laughing and cold and happy.

It doesn’t make them forget and Sirius doubts that anything could, but it manages to soften the edges a bit, to settle both of their agitation and stress and grief. Seeing the laughter return to James’ eyes, the tension leaving his shoulders, and the dark shadows under his eyes getting less pronounced calms him down more than anything else could.

Of course, every break is short-lived in the current climate and it all comes crashing down around them when they receive the news that Benjy was ambushed in front of his home, only pieces of him found.

The cruelty of his death brings back their fury though. It overrides the numbness that’s paralysed them after the deaths of Marlene and Dorcas, and when Dumbledore announces another round of stakeouts, they’re both ready.

They’re paired up this time, and Sirius remembers their idea to adapt the prank they once played on the Slytherins. They use the hours they’re hiding in a forest, watching a comparably small house, to fine-tune their plans, scribbling down magical theory and coming up with ideas for how and when to use it.

They don’t have any doubts that it will only work once, if at all. As soon as they do it, Voldemort will most likely come up with something to prevent those kinds of tricks, so they need to apply it spontaneously, whenever the next large-scale attack takes place.

It helps, against the resignation and demoralisation that tend to accompany all those stakeout missions where nothing happens. Against the feeling of desperation that comes with always only reacting to attacks, trying to do as much damage control as possible, and they’re both clinging to that.

It’s not that they want another large attack to happen, obviously, but this whole war has been going on for so long, the methods and targets of the Death Eaters are becoming bolder with each passing week, that they know it’s inevitable anyway.

They don’t have to wait long. This time, it’s an attack in Godric’s Hollow, Moody’s Patronus pulling them out of bed at midnight, and James looks like he’s going to throw up as soon as he hears the location.

“I think it’s an attempt at intimidation,” Sirius grinds out while they’re sprinting down from the forest they’ve apparated into to the village, the screams making his blood freeze and his heart race.

It’s a recent development, that he sends Death Eaters out to these kinds of large attacks on places that have ties to the wizarding world. Up until now, they were mostly going after specific targets, and Dementors, giants, and other creatures were used for the ‘chaos and destruction’ purposes. It’s why it’s so hard for the Ministry to clean up after those – sometimes it takes days to hear about it from the Muggle press.

It’s never made much sense to him – campaigning, if you can even call it that, for a strict separation between the two worlds, and then doing everything to expose their existence to them.

He shoves those thoughts away and smacks James against the shoulder rather forcefully because he can see that panic is very close to overwhelming him. “James! I’m scared for your parents as well, but if you don’t watch our backs, we’re going to be out of it before we can ever make it there.”

“Sorry,” he mutters, eyes so desperate that it only increases Sirius’ fury, and he squeezes his hand.

“Come on then, let’s do this. I just saw Moody, the Prewett’s, and Longbottom’s over there, so let’s take this side and try taking out as many as possible before they focus on us,” he says with a nod towards the other side of the town square.

The group of Death Eaters is a bit further down the road and they’re currently smashing the fronts of stores like it’s a bloody sport. There are fires burning along the street, the flickering flames throwing long shadows and washing everything into an eerie light, and he can make out cruel laugher over the terrified screams. He thinks he can even hear children crying and has to swallow against nausea that’s welling up in him.

James is shaking next to him, cursing under his breath, and Sirius squelches the urge to storm forward, to throw curses at all these bloody bastards. After a few, deep breaths, he stops James with a hand on his arm. “You know what? Scratch that, let’s disillusion ourselves, creep up on them and use the spell. We can curse them in the chaos that’s going to follow. It’s the perfect revenge, and it’s going to throw them off for long enough that the Muggles can get away.”

“Yeah, alright,” James says, perking up and raising his wand to his head.

Sirius does the same and they slowly move through the shadows until they’re close enough. “Can you do the Distributing Charm? Then I’ll weave in the Transfiguration for the masks,” he whispers.

James doesn’t answer, just raises his wand and whispers the long incantation. Sirius watches as it spreads out over the area, unnoticed by the still raging Death Eaters, and he smirks to himself.

As soon as James is finished, he does his part, and they watch gleefully as one mask after the other turns transparent. Due to the still burning fires, their faces are easy to make out and it doesn’t take long until the first of them notice what’s happening.

The Death Eaters stop in their firing of spells and after a shared glance to make sure that they’re both ready, they start casting a battery of Bombardas, Diffindos, and everything else they can come up with.

There’s spellfire coming from the other side as well and a quick glance tells him that the other Order members are following suit, while there’s a lot of confused shouting going through the group of Death Eaters.

Sirius tries to commit as many of their faces to his memory as possible. He recognises both of the Lestrange brothers, Rosier, Dolohov, and Mulciber, and sneers when he finds Snape among them. He flicks his wand to bind the bastard before he follows up with a nasty Cutting Curse for good measure.

Apparently, they finally get what’s going on and within minutes, they all disapparate, taking the injured ones with them. Silence follows, only the sound of crackling fires and distant crying echoing through the street, and he slumps against the wall behind him, cancelling his Disillusion Charm.

James slumps against his side, and Sirius heart stops for a second when he notices the nasty gash over his stomach. “Lucky shot,” James grinds out, pressing a useless hand against it and attempting a smile.

Shaking himself out of his shock, he instantly crouches down to inspect the wound. He curses violently when he sees that it’s too large for him to heal with his limited healing skills, considering the chances that his organs could be damaged.

“Alright, we’re going to your parents, your mother should be able to deal with that,” he says, standing back up and wrapping an arm around James to steady him.

“No, not my – she’ll worry!´,” James slurs, swaying on his feet but Sirius ignores him, just as he does with Moody who is shouting their names from the other end of the street. He summons a blood-replenisher out of his bag and presses it against James’ lips until he swallows while he’s already dragging him along into the direction of his parents’ house.

“She’ll be more miffed if I let you bleed out two streets down from her house,” he says through clenched teeth when James keeps struggling against him. “I can’t apparate you to St. Mungo’s like this, so stop resisting, for fuck’s sake.”

He’s not sure if James decides to comply or simply doesn’t have the strength left to keep arguing with him but it doesn’t matter.

Conjuring a thick piece of cotton, he hands it to him, ignoring the way his voice shakes when he says, “Here, press this against it. It’ll work better than your bloody hand, you idiot.”

James laughs and nearly stumbles over his feet. “You always get angry when you’re worried, did you know?”

“Shut up and save your breath you moron,” he mutters, eyes focused on the house that is still too far away for his tastes. At least he can see lights burning and considers sending a Patronus, but he doesn’t feel like there’s a single happy memory left within him.

Fortunately, Euphemia opens the door as soon as he knocks, blanching when she sees the state James is in. She doesn’t freeze though, just calls a house-elf and ushers them into the kitchen where Sirius carefully puts James down on the floor and then steps back to let her do her work.

Fleamont comes in when she’s halfway through, silently putting a hand on Sirius’ shoulder, face drawn and tired. James is babbling nonsense between whimpers of pain, and Sirius thinks that seeing him hurt shouldn’t be such a shock anymore but it’s horrible every single time.

When the gash is finally healed and Euphemia poured a myriad of Potions down James’ throat, she ushers them both into James’ old room, saying that she doesn’t care about what happened, they’re going to sleep now.

Sirius lies awake for a long time though, fingers curled around James’ wrist to reassure himself that he’s still alive, irrationally scared that if he lets go, he might just slip away from him.

They’re ordered to another meeting the next day and while Sirius considers sending a message back, telling them where to shove it, James insists that he’s fine and he eventually gives in. They both can’t stand being coddled after getting injured, and no matter how much he wants to take both of them away to somewhere where nothing can ever happen again, he knows it’s a childish desire.

As soon as they enter the kitchen, Fabian and Gideon start clapping and Moody flashes them an approving grin, while Dumbledore, Doge, and Diggle look serious and tense.

It’s only then that Sirius remembers what they’ve pulled off last night and he meets James eyes from across the room, sharing a smile that lasts a few beats too long until James blinks and looks down.

Shaking his head to refocus, he realizes that he has missed the beginning of Dumbledore’s speech.

“ – useful, it was also an uncalculated, dangerous risk that could have had far more serious consequences.”

“Excuse me, what?” he asks before he can help himself. “Are you saying that it’s not worth it, having the identities of nearly fifteen Death Eaters? I can tell you names; Severus Snape, Rabastan and Rodolphus Lestrange, Evan Rosier – “

Dumbledore raises one hand and he falls silent but stubbornly keeps staring back at him.

“You should have discussed your plan with us beforehand, so that we would have been prepared,” Dumbledore says, looking over his glasses and for once missing the twinkle in his eyes.

Sirius scoffs, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in his chair. “We just finished the plans a few days ago and didn’t think it would be smart to wait for another large attack. Maybe this scared them off, at least for a bit. You can be glad that we didn’t go with the first plan to also charm their robes pink in the process.”

Moody laughs loudly, clapping a hand against the table. “I would have loved to see that. And honestly, Albus, even if we had known, we’re just as many people as we are and can’t do much more than react. It was violent anyway, and at least that little stunt got them to leave instead of engaging us in a drawn-out fight. Sometimes it’s worth taking a risk.”

“Not to mention that it could have revealed – “ Sirius starts and then bites his tongue. Right, nobody here knows about the spy yet.

James sends him a look that tells him that he knows exactly what Sirius very nearly did, and he flashes a quick, sheepish grin. “It revealed a great deal of people. The rest of you who were there last night, did you recognise some of them?”

The next hour goes by with making a list of all the Death Eaters they recognised, what they know about them and coming up with plans and schedules to track them. Nobody can deny that it actually evokes the impression that they’re finally getting somewhere, and both James and he are rather smug when they finally make it back home.

They’re in high spirits the whole evening, blasting music through the flat, emptying two bottles of wine, and James cooking a meal like it’s both their birthdays on the same day.

It’s nearly midnight and they’re lying on the floor of the living room, handing a joint back and forth and taking turns in singing along to the lyrics of Guns of Brixton when there’s loud knocking on the front door.

“Did you forget the Silencing Charm?” James asks with a bright grin. “Remember the grandpa from next door when we moved in? Didn’t he hold a long speech about the deterioration of the youth these days?”

Sirius laughs at the memory and flicks his wand to turn the music down. “No idea, but I feel like I might jinx him with a Tickling Charm or something if I open the door. You go,” he smirks, plucking the joint from James’ fingers.

James gives a long-suffering sigh and flicks his nose. “Alright, but if he spits at me again, you’ll have to do the Obliviate after I hex him.”

Sirius watches after him as he walks out of the room, sitting up to be able to listen better. He can hear the lock click and then there’s silence for a few beats until James says, voice strangled, “Sirius, I think you should come here. Now.”

He frowns and scrambles to his feet, wand tightly in his hand as he jogs into the corridor, only to freeze as soon as his eyes fall onto the dark-robed figure standing in their door.

“What – how – Regulus?” he stammers, looking to James for help, but he only stands there with wide eyes and a hand buried in his hair, and gives a helpless shrug.

Chapter Text

“Hello Sirius,” Regulus says quietly, raising his head and fiddling with his sleeves. It’s only now that Sirius looks him up and down, thin and hunched over and dripping wet on their doormat.

“Are you alright?” he asks before he can think about it, and takes a few steps forward.

Regulus is pale, eyes red-rimmed and desperate and he’s shaking all over.

“Obviously not,” Sirius answers his own question. “Come in, didn’t you ever hear of a Drying Charm? Or a Warming Charm? It’s not even raining, how – “ he rambles as he pulls Regulus inside and into the kitchen.

As soon as he pushes him into a chair, he pulls his wand but falters when Regulus flinches away violently.

“I’m only going to dry your clothes, alright?” he says, slowly raising his wand again and speaking the incantation out loud.

“Thanks,” Regulus mutters, staring at the floor in front of him and still looking absolutely miserable.

Sirius exchanges a look with James who shrugs again and turns around to put on the kettle.

“Do you – do you have something stronger than tea?” Regulus asks, causing Sirius to snort and summon a bottle of whiskey.

Regulus doesn’t even wait for him to get glasses, just takes a few, healthy sips from the bottle, only to cough violently.

“Careful there,” Sirius says, clapping him on the back while his mind is racing a mile a minute as he tries to make sense of any of this.

James is leaning against the counter, ankles crossed and watching both of them with a slight frown, while all Sirius wants to do is pace.

Suppressing the urge, he takes the chair across from Regulus, pulling his legs up and drumming his fingers against the table. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m not happy to see you and all that, but this is rather… unexpected. Not to mention that you shouldn’t even know where we live.”

Regulus looks up then and rolls his eyes. “Kreacher, remember?”

“That bloody elf,” he grumbles under his breath but then shakes his head. “That’s the easiest question answered,” he points out and raises an expectant eyebrow.

Regulus slumps again, eyes flitting through the kitchen and unable to keep his hands still. “I –  I did something stupid. Or well, I didn’t yet but I’m planning to – I discovered something important. About the Dark Lord.”

“What, that he’s an absolute psycho?” Sirius says before he can stop himself, getting a glare out of his brother. It’s better than the terrified, numb expression though and he only smirks in response.

Regulus hesitates again, closing his eyes for a few, long moments and drawing a deep breath. “No. I mean yes, obviously, but this is worse than what you’re expecting. He did something to achieve immortality – “

“What?” Sirius and James exclaim at the same time, staring at each other and back at Regulus who slowly starts to look exasperated.

“It’s really, really dark magic – like that stuff Arcturus taught us so that we know what to keep our hands off. Remember Horcruxes?”

Sirius can feel how the blood drains from his face, his fingers clenching around the edge of his chair, and he shakes his head wildly, staring at Regulus. “No – Are you sure?”

Regulus grimaces and looks away again, chewing at his bottom lip. “A few weeks ago, he asked for a house-elf for something and I sent Kreacher with him, hoping to maybe learn something important.”

He sends Sirius a meaningful look and he nods, gesturing for him to go on.

“He took him to a cave, to test his defences on an artefact, and left Kreacher there to die. I did order him to come back though and he made it, barely but alive. After I nursed him back to health, he told me everything he knew, and I started researching. I’m pretty sure that it’s exactly that,” he says, voice low but so full of conviction that it would hide his terror if it weren’t for his eyes.

“Sorry to interrupt, but what is a Har – Horcrux?” James asks, and Sirius realizes that he actually forgot for a moment that he’s still there, his mind reeling.

“It’s a way to – how do I explain it best?” he asks, sending Regulus a helpless look who sighs but turns towards James.

“There are some acts that damage the soul, such as ruthless murder. A wizard who wants to achieve immortality can use that to split his soul, do a ritual to put a piece of it into an object, so when he dies, part of him is bound to the living realm and can be resurrected. A fail-safe, if you will,” he explains, slipping into that tone of voice he’s always using when he talks about something he learnt, and Sirius can’t help the small smile tugging at his lips at the memories it brings with it, despite the seriousness of the situation.

James looks like he’s going to vomit though, and Sirius silently flicks his wand to send the bottle of whiskey over to him.

“So, you’re sure Voldemort made one?” he asks his brother, who flinches violently at the name.

Regulus nods, looking at him for a few moments before he says, “I planned to steal it tonight. Was halfway there already, actually.”

“You what?” he asks, staring at him in utter disbelief. He’s wondering if he and James may have overdone it with the wine and the weed, if he’s actually hallucinating because this sounds utterly mad.

Regulus smiles mirthlessly and shrugs, looking past him and out of the window. “I didn’t think I’d survive anyway, so what would it matter? Sure, I would betray him, but he would have only found out after I was long dead, his Horcrux destroyed by Kreacher, and somebody could finally kill him.”

A strangled noise escapes Sirius; he feels like his lungs have suddenly stopped working and his mind is completely blank, only the sound of his pounding heart thundering in his ears.

Warm hands on his shoulders make him jump and he swallows, wordlessly taking the bottle Regulus holds out to him and taking large sips, focusing on the burn and the subsequent warmth spreading through him.

“Right,” he says, summoning his cigarettes and giving one to both of them as well. “No. Absolutely not. You’re not going to die and that’s not even something we’re actually discussing. I mean, are you mad? Are you absolutely mental? Aren’t you Slytherins so famed for your self-preservation? That’s the most stupid, reckless, Gryffindor thing I ever heard, even I wouldn’t do that and that’s really saying something. What good would it – “

“I’m here now, aren’t I?” Regulus interrupts before he can rant himself into a real frenzy and Sirius sighs, closing his eyes and pressing his fists against them.

“I can’t lose you too,” he mutters, only belatedly realizing that he said it out loud. “What made you change your mind anyway?” he quickly asks to gloss over the words, leaning a bit into James who still hasn’t said anything.

If he is overwhelmed, he can’t begin to imagine how James must feel right now.

Regulus shifts in his chair, taking time to flick some of the ash off his cigarette and then looks between him and James. “You – I remembered what you said, a few weeks ago. That you could help me – “

“Of course you did,” James mutters behind him but he sounds more resigned than angry and Sirius decides that he can deal with that later.

Regulus obviously chooses not to comment either, going on like he hasn’t heard him. “I mean it’s not like I want to die, and there’s a chance that Kreacher wouldn’t manage to destroy it or, I don’t know. The infamous self-preservation I guess, or being a coward or – “

“You’re not,” Sirius interrupts harshly, glaring at him. “Granted, I probably called you that more times than either of us can remember, but this right here is the direct opposite of cowardice. Not walking to your certain death doesn’t change that one single bit, you hear me?”

Regulus simply shrugs and Sirius wants to shake him, wants to hold onto him and not let him go until he’s absolutely certain that he won’t suddenly change his mind.

Instead, he just sighs again. “Tell me what you know about the defences on it? I mean, I take it that there are some if you expected to die.”

“Why?” Regulus asks, eyes narrowing and hands stilling in their constant fidgeting.

He just raises an eyebrow, staring right back. “Because we’re obviously going to steal the bloody thing, and we’re all going to make it out alive. So, I’d prefer to know what the maniacal bastard came up with to guard a piece of his rotten soul.”

James’ hands tighten on his shoulders for a moment before he lets go, sitting down and taking a large sip of whiskey. “Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, inform the Order or something?”

No,” Regulus says instantly, his whole body going rigid. “Are you mad? Didn’t you tell him about the spy?”

He’s glaring at Sirius again like he has just insulted him, and he raises his hands in defence. “Of course I did, and you have a point. Though we could probably inform Dumbledore,” he says, tilting his head.

Regulus just shakes his head. “As if any of them would believe me, what do you think? They would either kill me on the spot or send me to Azkaban, assuming it’s a trap or – I don’t know. We can’t tell them, you can’t.”

He sounds so desperate that Sirius instantly nods. “Alright, then we do this. Right James?”

James looks at him with questioning eyes, and it’s the first time that Sirius actually considers the possibility that this could very well be a trap. He dismisses the thought immediately though – no matter how far he and Regulus drifted apart over the years, Sirius could always tell when he was lying, playing a part. If there’s one thing Regulus always tried to hide more than anything else it was weakness, being scared, not being aloof.

And if there’s one thing that’s absolutely real tonight, it’s the terror he can see in his brother’s eyes.

James seems to find what he’s looking for in his expression and nods, averting his eyes and clapping his hands together. “Alright, let’s steal the bastards’ soul.”

Regulus pulls a grimace like he can’t believe he’s actually here but just shakes his head once and then says, “I already went up to the entrance of the first cave, it’s at the seaside in Wales. Kreacher said there’s a small cave where we have to make a blood-sacrifice to enter a second, larger cave with a lake. There’s a boat to get across but it might be charmed to carry only one person to an island in the middle, which holds a basin with a potion you have to drink to get the Horcrux, Oh, and the lake is full of Inferi.”

“Wow that’s – I don’t know what I was expecting, really, but that is so over the top, I don’t even know – a lake full of Inferi?” Sirius exclaims, warring between horror and disbelief. James’ face is slightly grey again, fingers clenching around the bottle and eyes wide.

“The potion induces nightmares, makes you experience your worst fears and memories. It also dehydrates you quickly, so that the person who drinks it eventually disturbs the lake, alarming the Inferi. It doesn’t leave any lasting damage as far as I could see, just causes nausea and severe dehydration,” Regulus goes on, ignoring their distress. Underneath the clinical recount, his voice is shaking though.

“Well, small mercies,” James mutters and summons another bottle of whiskey.

Sirius thinks for some time, mulling over everything Regulus said. “So, to summarise; the most important issue is that we all make it across the lake so that you can keep me from disturbing the water when I want to – “

“Stop,” Regulus interrupts him, one hand raised. “There’s absolutely no way that anyone but me is drinking that potion.”

“And why in Merlin’s name would – “

“Because I deserve it, okay?” Regulus explodes, voice sharp and his hands balling into fists. “I joined his bloody ranks, I did things in that time I will never be able to make up for, and while I can accept that I might not have to sacrifice my life, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to let one of you drink that potion. I do it, you get me out of there. I’m not debating that.”

“But – “ he starts, breaking off when James curls his fingers around his wrist.

“I actually think it makes sense, that he wants to do it himself,” he says quietly, and Sirius is so taken aback that he can only gape. “Not because I want Regulus to drink the potion, that’s not what I mean. But I want none of us to do it, and I don’t think arguing will get us anywhere. There’s no other way? Like, I don’t know, to vanish or spill it?” he asks, looking at Regulus.

“I’m not sure, he didn’t give Kreacher much of a chance to try,” Regulus says, face twisting into a grimace. “In regards to crossing the lake, Kreacher might be able to apparate us once we’re inside the cave but I’m not sure. We could go one after another though?”

Sirius is still not sure what just happened if he’s honest. He doesn’t see why it should be his brother who has to drink the potion, but he bites his tongue for now.

James hums, frowning and pulling his bottom lip between his teeth before he looks back at Sirius. “Do you think my cloak could work? I can imagine that Voldemort being who he is – “ Regulus jerks again and James smiles apologetically. “That the boat doesn’t go by weight but magic. Considering that we can’t be discovered by a Homenum Revelio or found by a Patronus, it could be the same there?”

“Maybe, though we won’t be able to tell for sure until we get there. One of those options should work though. For the Inferi, if something goes wrong, we need to use fire – “

“Can you still cast Fiendfyre?” Regulus interrupts, and James stares at him in disbelief.

Glaring at his brother, he grinds out, “Yes – “

“See, another reason why I’m going to be the one to drink the potion,” Regulus says smugly, leaning back in his chair as if he has just won a prize.

Stubborn bastard.

“I could still do it, Incendio works just fine – “

“For hundreds of Inferi? Are you mad?”

“Well, you just have to keep me away from the water then!” Sirius snaps, rolling his eyes and getting another cigarette.

“I will be the one to do it, Sirius. Promise me, or I swear to Merlin I won’t show you where that bloody cave is. I will go alone and send Kreacher to you to deal with the Horcrux afterwards,” Regulus says lowly, eyes hard and mouth set.

“And that’s why I said you should let him do it. You’re both stubborn beyond belief, do you know that?” James pipes up, snatching the cigarette from Sirius.

“Family trait,” both him and Regulus say simultaneously without breaking their eye contact.

“Are you honestly threatening me to go on a suicide mission if I don’t promise that I’ll let you torture yourself?” Sirius asks incredulously, ignoring James’ groan.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Take it or leave it. I’m still not sure that coming here was the right choice. If he ever finds out, he’s not going to be only after me now,” Regulus says, chin raised defiantly but his eyes betray his worry at the last part.

Sirius just shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “It’s not like we’re low on his hit list anyway, I think after James called him a pitiful excuse of a human being and we charmed the masks of the Death Eaters to be transparent, he might be a bit pissed at us,” he says, smiling faintly at the memory.

Regulus doesn’t manage to cover his snort. “I just knew that was you. He was furious about that, by the way.”

“Good,” James says with a bright grin. “Anyway, then we have a plan, do we? As much as is possible, at least?”

Both of them look at Sirius expectantly. He considers pushing his point, but no matter how much he hates it, he knows very well how far the stubbornness of his brother reaches and that he would do exactly what he’s threatening if Sirius doesn’t agree.

Sighing, he clenches his jaw and says, “Alright, I promise. But you have to give Kreacher clear orders to not chuck me into the lake or something.”

Regulus’ smile is so self-satisfied that Sirius wants to smack him, and he wonders what it says about both of them that they’re actually fighting about this.

“Don’t worry, I will,” Regulus nods, then his smile slips and he bites his lip. “Though he’s still bound to listen to you anyway.”

“Wait, what? No, I was disowned, he doesn’t have to do shit if you don’t tell him to – “

He breaks off when Regulus slowly shakes his head. “You weren’t. Mother burned you off the family tree, but Arcturus never officially disowned you. Much to our parents' anger I might add.”

“That’s – but – why?” he stammers, looking at James for help, for – to get him out of this because bloody hell, he was so fucking glad when he thought he had finally cut all ties to that blasted family and now he’s still supposed to be the heir?

“I don’t know, he never really explained it. He just said that he added a clause to his will that I can act as Head of Family if you still don’t want to take up the post when he dies, but that he doesn’t see a reason to cast you out of the family,” Regulus says, and it eases at least some of the rising panic.

“Okay, I have no idea what that actually means for me, but we have other things to worry about,” Sirius says after struggling to let all of it sink in. It’s not how he would have liked things to be, but as long as there aren’t any expectations bound to it, he can deal with it later.

“We have missions, starting tomorrow, so it would actually be smart to go tonight,” he says with a dubious look at the two empty bottles of whiskey on the table.

He doesn’t feel very drunk, much to his annoyance, but he knows that it can be misleading and doesn’t think they should go on what still sounds like a suicide mission without being completely sober and in their right minds.

James follows his eyes and says, “We still have some Sobering Potions I think, Moody gave them to me after we were called in one night and all turned up half sloshed.”

“Oh, that was Marlene’s – “ he breaks off, remembering the night and then, that both Marlene and Dorcas aren’t there anymore. It knocks all the breath out of him, and he has to close his eyes against the sudden wave of pain.

“Yes,” James says quietly, looking as bad as Sirius feels before he claps his hands together and gets up. “Right, let’s do this. You alright with that, Regulus?”

Shaking himself out of his spiralling thoughts, Sirius watches as Regulus visibly steels himself, giving one sharp nod and sitting up straighter. “As long as you can spare me one of those potions, yes. I’d rather be done with it as soon as possible.”

“Gryffindor,” Sirius teases softly and gets a weak Stinging Hex for his troubles.

The next thirty minutes are a blur of getting dressed, gathering things they might need, steeling their nerves, and a not-so-cheerful reunion with Kreacher that Sirius could have done without. He’s not sure that he’s ready when they land on a spot high above the ocean.

Wind is howling around them, ripping at their cloaks, and the waves are crashing loudly against the rough cliffs, only the near-full moon spending a faint, white light that serves to make the whole scenery even eerier. Or maybe it’s just the prospect of coming into contact with a piece of Voldemort’s soul, who knows.  

“Nice place,” James comments dryly, and Sirius can’t help the laugh that escapes him, ripped away from his lips instantly. This whole situation is so bloody absurd, standing in the middle of nowhere with his brother and his best friend, about to steal a Horcrux.

He’s expected many things when they started fighting in this war, but he could have never come up with this.

“See that boulder down there?” Regulus asks, pointing down at a rough pillar of stone that’s barely visible against the ink-black water. “We need to apparate onto that, and swim over there,” he says, pointing at the bottom of one of the cliffs to their right. “I would ask Kreacher to apparate us right in, but I’m not certain that the wards wouldn’t throw us back, harm us, or alert him,” he adds with an apologetic look.

Unfortunately, it makes sense.

They barely fit on the rough, slippery stone together and Sirius only just catches Regulus by his hood before he loses his footing.

“I’d suggests Warming Charms, a Bubblehead Charm, and to keep a tight grip on your wands,” Sirius shouts over the wind, grinning brightly before doing just that, and then he takes a dive.

The freezing water is a shock to his system, but he pushes through it, starting to swim against the tide and praying that both James and Regulus will be okay. It isn’t even that far but his arms are straining when he finally pulls himself up at the entrance to what must be the cave Regulus pointed at.

They aren’t far behind him and as soon as they’re all standing in the narrow tunnel, they dry their clothes and start creeping forward.

“I didn’t go farther than this,” Regulus mutters behind him, a certain bitterness in his tone that leads Sirius to believe that he’s still not convinced that he did the right thing by coming to them.

The urge to shake him comes back with a vengeance but he ignores it, vowing to revisit the whole matter when they actually make it out of here. Regardless of how careful Regulus was not to mention it, he was a bit too ready to die a death that could have very well been pointless. There’s no way that Kreacher could destroy a Horcrux, and they both know it. He’s nearly thankful that he has something to distract him from the thought; keyword being nearly, considering what awaits them.

There’s nothing particularly creepy about the place but every hair on his body is standing up. He feels like the shadows are moving and his instincts are telling him to run, far and fast and to never turn back.

He doesn’t though, and soon enough they arrive in a small cave with unnaturally still water and smooth walls. He throws up a light to hover under the ceiling and they just stand there for a moment, looking around cluelessly.

“Right,” Regulus mutters when it becomes obvious that none of them has the vaguest idea where the entrance could be. “Kreacher!” he calls, and a second later the old elf appears in front of them, sparing a long glare for Sirius before he turns to Regulus.

Sirius can’t even bring himself to scowl; Kreacher is trembling and repeatedly throwing glances over his shoulder, the place obviously bringing up bad memories.

Regulus’ voice is kind when he speaks. “I’m sorry that you have to come back here Kreacher, but could you show us where the entrance to the second cave is located?”

“Kreacher can, but Master Regulus must promise to be careful,” he begs. “The blood-traitor Master can do it,” he adds under his breath and Sirius snorts.

“I’ll be careful Kreacher,” Regulus promises, but then he turns serious and his tone leaves no room for argument. “But you have to remember, listen to whatever Sirius tells you – not only because you have to but because I ask and order you to, do you understand?”

Kreacher sends Sirius another nasty glare but nods. “Kreacher understands, though he doesn’t like it.”

“Charming elf,” James whispers into his ear when Kreacher turns and walks towards a seemingly inconspicuous stretch of wall, and Sirius flashes him a quick grin, bumping their shoulders together.

“I wasn’t lying when I said nobody in that house could stand the sight of me, you know?” he says jokingly as he follows after Regulus.

James’ hand closes briefly around his wrist and really, he couldn’t put into words how glad he is that they’re in this together even if he tried. “I think there’s one exception though,” James says with a nod towards Regulus. “And don’t think I have forgotten that you didn’t tell me that you met with him.”

He cringes slightly at the reminder even though James sounds merely teasing.

Still. “Now isn’t really the time, don’t you think?” he asks, nearly bumping into Regulus who has come to a halt and has already cut his hand.

At Sirius scowl, he shrugs, smearing blood all over the stone and throwing over his shoulder, “I’m going to drink the potion, no need to weaken one of you as well.”

There’s nothing Sirius could say against that, so he stays silent, watching as the stone rearranges itself and an archway opens, reminding him of the entrance to Diagon Alley.

“Dramatic bastard,” James snorts before they all step through, and he’s inclined to agree.

The second cave is much bigger and feels even more revolting than everything else up until now. There’s a soft, green glow coming from the middle of the lake, barely reaching the shore, and Sirius quickly spells another light under the high ceiling.

James makes a strangled sound, and when Sirius follows his gaze towards the water, he has to swallow against the bile that’s rising in his throat as a grey, lifeless face stares back at him.

They’re careful to not touch the water, following Kreacher along the wall and all saying nothing. Sirius for his part feels like any sound, any little thing that could possibly pull attention to their presence is going to lead to their inevitable doom, and he suspects the two of them are probably experiencing the same feeling.

“The nasty dark wizard found the boat here.” Kreacher’s scratchy voice makes them all jump. “It’s invisible but Kreacher can feel the magic, there is a chain here to pull out the boat.”

Regulus slowly raises his hand, his fingers closing around something and then a black, heavy chain appears, the sound impossibly loud as it grates against the stone. Sirius clenches his wand tightly in his hand, keeping his eyes on the still surface while trying to not make out any more corpses.

“Should we try it with the cloak first?” James asks, watching as a small boat appears in front of them and Sirius ponders it for a moment.

“Yeah, I think it might be our safest bet. As Regulus said, Kreacher could probably apparate us now that we’re in but there could still be wards to notify him if we’re very unlucky. If he only sees one person, he’s probably going to assume that they won’t make it out, but three could get us a very unwelcome visitor. It’s highly unlikely, considering he didn’t realize Kreacher survived, but I’d prefer to be on the safe side,” he eventually says with a look at Regulus who only nods absently.

The boat is small, and Regulus is careful when he steps into it. He crouches down at the front and watches warily as they wrap the cloak around them.

Sirius isn’t all that convinced that it will work; the cloak has always been a rather big mystery to him – some things simply shouldn’t be possible. But nothing happens when they somehow manage to step onto the boat, and they all breathe a sigh of relief when he and James sit down without toppling them over or activating any sort of curse.

Regulus tips his wand against the dark wood and the boat starts moving silently. Sirius spares a thought for how at odds the deceptive calm is with his high-strung nerves, the itching under his skin and his racing heart.

Kreacher waits for them on the other side and Regulus gets out of the boat first before James and he follow carefully. They only take the cloak off when they both have solid ground under their feet again, and they all stare into the gleaming potion.

“Looks nasty,” James says, then raises his wand and goes through a litany of spells that all do exactly nothing.

Shaking his head, he pulls a grimace and shoots an apologetic look at Regulus.

“Alright, let’s try something else,” Sirius says. He refuses to admit defeat so easily and takes the goblet that’s lying innocently at the edge.

Spilling the potion does nothing either though; the liquid simply returns into the basin and he curses loudly, the words echoing off the walls.

Regulus takes the goblet out of his hand, patiently unclenching Sirius’ fingers one by one. When he opens his mouth to protest once more, Regulus only smiles ruefully. “You promised, Siri, remember?”

The old nickname in this context only makes it worse and he hesitates for another moment, but there’s unwavering resolve shining in Regulus’ eyes and eventually, he lets go, taking a step back.

Kreacher is wringing his hands, looking between the two of them and for the first time in ages, Sirius thinks they might be of the exact same opinion on this one.

They watch as Regulus empties the first goblet, fruitlessly trying to hide his grimace and not waiting to get a second dose.

His hands start trembling and a muscle in his jaw twitches. When he’s done with the second goblet, low, whimpering noises start escaping him through his pursed lips between sips.

Sirius has to ball his hands into fists, has to dig his nails into his skin to not wrench the goblet out of his hand until James steps closer to him, intertwining their fingers.

After the third goblet, Regulus starts sobbing, shaking his head wildly and turning away from the basin. He sinks to the floor to curl in on himself, and Sirius thinks he might throw up.

“Please, please I’m so sorry, I’m sorry – don’t hurt him, I swear I’ll be good, just – not Sirius, I’ll do it in his stead, I swear, I’m so sorry, I’m – “ Regulus is crying, the words spilling from his lips over and over while he’s rocking back and forth.

Sirius stares in horror, frozen to the spot and not knowing what he’s supposed to do, what to think about this, just that he desperately wants to make it stop, and then his resolve snaps and he wrenches the goblet out of Regulus’ hands.

Before he can do anything though, Kreacher takes it from him and Sirius can see tears swimming in his eyes, but his voice is hard when he says, “Master has to finish the potion, Kreacher promised.”

“No,” Sirius chokes, shaking his head wildly. “Kreacher no, please – “

Of course, the bloody elf doesn’t listen to him, filling up the goblet and crouching down next to Regulus. “Only one more, Master,” he coaxes, lifting it to Regulus’ lips who takes another few sips, shivering wildly. “Kreacher is sorry but he promised, only one more.”

“Please, I can’t, I can’t, please make it stop, just not Sirius, not – “

“Enough!” Sirius finally shouts, fury overtaking everything else. “I order you to stop, Kreacher, right now.”

“Sirius – “ James says softly, and he whirls around to glare at him.

“Don’t you dare. I’ll finish that, there’s no way I’m going to let him have another four goblets of that vile shit,” he spits, struggling when James grips his shoulders tightly.

“I’m not saying you should,” he says, still calm, and the words make Sirius stop in his tracks. “I’m saying to let me do it.”

Chapter Text

“I’m not saying you should,” James says, still calm, and the words make Sirius stop in his tracks. “I’m saying to let me do it.”

“No – “

“You have no choice. Kreacher won’t listen to me if anything goes wrong, and you’re the only one with a chance against an army of Inferi. If you don’t want all of us to die in here, but also don’t want your brother to finish that, something I completely agree with, then you have to let me do it. If we both only have half of it, it can’t be as bad, right?” James says, his hands by now on both sides of Sirius’ face to keep him focused.

“But – “

“Sirius, think!” James snaps, shaking him slightly and digging his fingers into his skin.

Clenching his eyes shut, unable to believe that he’s actually agreeing to this, he gives a sharp nod. It’s the most miserable decision he has ever made – putting his brother through even worse anguish than he’s already going through or submitting both his brother and best friend to it, while he can do nothing but watch.

“Good, but you must make me finish it. No matter what happens, don’t drink any of it yourself, understand?” James asks, eyes intense and his tone fierce.

He swallows and nods again, voice cracking when he says, “I promise.”

James only gives him a small smile, thumbs brushing over his cheeks and Sirius realizes that he’s crying.

Merlin, but this is easily the worst night of his life, and they’re not even done yet.

When they turn back around, Regulus is curled in on himself, still shaking and crying, but the begging subsided ever so slightly to more incoherent pleads for water.

James doesn’t wait. He takes the goblet out of Sirius’ hand and downs two of them in quick succession. It goes about as well as it did with Regulus; after the third, he sinks down to the floor, shaking and sobbing.

Sirius grinds his teeth together and snatches the goblet from him, relieved when he sees that at least there’s not much of the potion left. He’s barely holding back his own sobs when he talks James into drinking the next one.

“Please, I can’t do this, I can’t, don’t make me – no! Don’t, not Sirius,”

Choking, he pulls himself up, trying to ignore the ache flaring in his chest at hearing his own name, and fills up the goblet with the remaining potion. As soon as he crouches back down, James’ fingers clench into his coat, “I’m sorry Sirius, so sorry please don’t leave me, don’t make me – “

“I won’t James, I promise. Just one more, okay?” he presses out through his tears, only to be distracted when Regulus starts moving towards the water.

“Fuck, Kreacher! Take him out of here, to my flat, alright? Give him – “

Kreacher stares back at him stubbornly. “But Master Regulus said to – “

“For fuck’s sake, I don’t care,” he snaps, jumping over James’ legs to put an arm around Regulus’ chest to hold him there.

“I’m sorry Siri, I’m so sorry,” Regulus mutters over and over, while struggling against him.

“You need to get him out of here,” he pleads with Kreacher, who only shakes his head and crosses his thin arms over his chest.

“Master Regulus said Kreacher must make sure the locket – “

Sirius growls lowly in his throat, takes a deep breath, and speaks the words he’s sworn would never make it past his lips again. “As the heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, I order you, I command you to take my brother back to my flat, put him to bed and give him water. I order you to come back when I call you and to do what I fucking tell you!”

Kreacher stares back at him for another few seconds, and Sirius is just considering to hex him when he finally crosses the short distance between them and takes Regulus’ arm, popping away with a loud crack.

With a deep sigh, he turns back around, staring incomprehensively at the spot where James sat just a minute ago, now empty.

Turning his head slightly, he can only stare in horror as James leans over the water, stretching out his hand with the goblet and dunking it in.

“No,” he shouts, finally jumping up and hurling himself over the small space, landing roughly next to him and rolling them both back. James is struggling against him, still crying and begging him for something to drink between iterations of his name.

Grey hands reach out of the water, heads following and bodies pulling themselves upwards, and Sirius struggles to get them both further into the middle, to get James behind him. To remember what he’s supposed to do.

He’s never been one to panic, always acting before thinking, but his mind is utterly blank. James’ broken, pleading voice is breaking his heart over and over, Regulus’ desperation is still coursing through his mind, and he only snaps out of it when one of the Inferi gets a hold of James’ leg.

Finally, the numbing horror is overtaken by blinding fury. Anger is rushing through him so violently that he can’t see for a second, and then his wand is in his hand, the incantation rolling off his tongue by itself. Fire bursts forward, scorching hot and blinding.

James whimpers next to him and he knows that he’s dangerously close to losing control of the spell, to kill them both in the process, and it’s that thought alone that makes him force himself to focus, makes him concentrate on the warm body pressed against his side and to rein in his emotions.

His flames start taking shapes, of wolves and stags and big dogs and rats and he laughs, the hysterical sound even louder than the roaring fire as the Inferi sink back into the water.

He doesn’t let up on his spell, unwilling to take another single risk tonight, and lets it burn around them while he takes another step back.

“Kreacher!” he calls, just hoping that the elf will be smart enough to apparate close to them.

As soon as he appears, staring around himself before glaring at Sirius, he says, “Take the locket, then take both of us to our flat. Now.”

For once, Kreacher doesn’t argue with him and he waits until the last possible second to extinguish the fire.

They land roughly in the middle of the living room with James on top of him, and Sirius feels like every single muscle in his body is trembling, like he’s made of lead and being dragged underwater. He’s panting and sweating but his hands are scrambling over every part of James he can reach.

“Fuck, James I’m so sorry, I’m so – Merlin I – “ he chokes on the words, and they turn into violent sobs that are wrecking his whole body as he buries his face into James’ hair, mind still reeling with what just happened.

“Sirius I – please.” James’ low murmur startles him out of his own breakdown and he tries to shove it all away, pulling himself into a sitting position and looking around the dark living room.

“Where’s Regulus?” he snaps at Kreacher who’s still standing next to him and sneers as soon as he’s addressed.

“Kreacher put Master Regulus on the bed and gave him water, but he’s still…” he trails off, hands wringing together.

“Take James there as well, I’ll get water and – and help,” he instructs, helplessness mixing into his exhaustion.

He looks down at James who has his eyes clenched shut, tremors still shaking his whole body and mumbling incoherently.

“I can’t lose you, fuck I can’t, I – “ Sirius chokes, running his hands over James’ arms and face again and it suddenly hits him how different his worry for the two of them feels. Not in the general sense – he can’t lose Regulus the same way he can’t lose James, but it’s still disparate, and he laughs again, loud and wet and hysterical when he finally understands what about his love for James is so bloody unique.

“Now of all times,” he laughs hoarsely, looking at Kreacher as if the bloody elf has ever been helpful with anything.

Shaking his head wildly, he gets up and storms into the kitchen. “Get him into bed,” he throws over his shoulder, filling two glasses with water only to spill half of it before he remembers that he can use an Aguamenti anyway.

Kreacher finally did as instructed, and Sirius sinks down next to his bed where both Regulus and James are thrashing around and whimpering. He hands one glass to Kreacher and props up James’ head himself to help him drink.

It doesn’t take long until both of them start throwing up, and it goes like this for what feels like ages. Sirius doesn’t even have words left to put his desperation and worry and utter helplessness into, and if he wouldn’t have to stay here to fight off the impending dehydration over and over, he probably would have torn down the whole street by now.

What if elves react differently to the potion? The symptoms Regulus described are the same, but both of them had only half of the potion and he has no way to determine if this is worse or less bad than it has been with Kreacher, the elf not of much help.

He’s so exhausted that there are spots dancing in his vision, blurring the edges. It’s near impossible to hold the glass steady enough for James to drink, and he’s so terrified that he’s going to pass out, that he finally decides that he can’t do this alone.

His first impulse is to send a Patronus to Remus, but even through the haze that is overtaking his mind at an alarming speed, he still remembers his lasting suspicion, and Dumbledore would probably take his time. Not to mention that he’s pretty certain that he won’t be able to conjure even a mist if he tried right now.

“Kreacher, go find Peter Pettigrew and bring him here,” he orders eventually, remembering that it’s the only flat he hasn’t warded against house-elves yet.

He has no illusion that Peter will be any real help, but at least he’ll be able to cast a bloody Patronus or go somewhere to get help.

Kreacher looks like he’s about to protest and really, Sirius is too tired to argue so instead, he begs. “Listen, I swear I’ll look after Regulus in the meantime. I know you don’t believe it, but I actually do care for him. Which is exactly the reason why I’m asking you to do this, we need someone to help us. I’m terrified with how this is going and I can’t just call St. Mungo’s, alright?”

To his immense relief, Kreacher nods reluctantly and after he makes sure that Regulus has had another glass and is positioned on his side, he pops away.

The next ten minutes are even worse than the last two hours. Sirius sits between them, one moment holding a glass to Regulus lips, the other a bucket in front of James, while his mind is an utter mess of horrible scenes replaying themselves over and over.

They’re only interrupted by memories of James, of moments when he should have realized, should have seen. Of questions what the bloody hell he’s supposed to do now, only to return to the events of the night and the depressing thought that he doesn’t even know yet if he’ll still have a chance to do anything at all.

When Kreacher finally comes back, pulling a struggling Peter after him, he thinks he probably should have sent for Lily. He would smack himself if he had the strength left to do anything not absolutely necessary.

“Peter,” he says, his voice rough and flat, and Peter finally stops struggling against Kreacher. His eyes jump from James who’s currently spitting into a bucket, to Regulus who’s curled in on himself and back to Sirius, who’s slowly carding his fingers through both of their hair, sitting between them and most likely looking just as bad.

What a picture they must make, he thinks, then takes a deep breath and forces his mind to focus. “Sorry for dragging you here, it’s rather important,” he croaks.

“What happened? Is that – is that your brother?” Peter asks, eyes wide and uncomprehending.

Sirius winces because it’s only now that he remembers that this might come with some complications, but it’s not like he’s going to tell him what they were up to anyway, so he ignores it. It’s not like Peter is the spy, he thinks, shaking his head to get back on track.

“Long story, but I’m close to toppling over and we need help. Can you send a Patronus to Dumbledore, tell him to come here as soon as possible? And then go over to the Potters, get Euphemia with her potions kit, alright?” he instructs, begging Merlin and whoever else might be listening that Peter won’t have one of his moods where he demands to know what exactly is going on.

Thankfully, he seems to grasp the urgency, probably helped by the continuous whimpers and groans coming from both James and Regulus. “Are – are they going to be alright?” he asks, and Sirius bites his tongue to keep from snapping at him to shut up and hurry.

“I don’t know yet, to be honest, but I think so. They should be,” he says, running a hand over his face and looking down at James. He’d rather not consider what he’s going to do if they won’t be.

“O- Okay, I just – “ Peter stammers before he turns around and walks out of the bedroom.

Sirius frowns until he hears him say, “Expecto Patronum,” from the living room, giving a quick message to Dumbledore to come to their flat, and that it’s very urgent.

The sight of them is probably counter-productive to happy memories even without knowing what exactly happened.

Shortly after, the front door clicks shut, and silence settles again. Both Regulus and James have calmed down a bit, finally not babbling pleas and apologies anymore, and Sirius leans his head against the headboard, closing his eyes just for a short moment.

He jumps violently when there are quick steps echoing through the hallway, and it takes him way too long to comprehend that he must have dozed off despite his best intentions. A quick glance to his sides shows him that their condition is still the same. Considering that the bar is at ‘still breathing,’ it’s not really a relief, but it’s as good as he’s going to get.

Euphemia rushes into the room then, expression worried and Peter at her heels. “What happened?” she asks, already raising her wand and running Diagnostic Charms on all of them.

“I’m fine,” he says, waving his hand towards James and Regulus. At her disbelieving look, he sighs. “Alright, I’m severely exhausted but the two of them had to drink a potion and ever since are vomiting every ten minutes or so, which makes the dehydration caused by the potion worse and I don’t know what to do, don’t know if I can give them anything or if it would counteract and – “

A sharp knock on the front door interrupts him and when Peter leaves the room to answer, it occurs to him that he didn’t plan to let him know anything of what he’s just said. Merlin, but he’s too tired for this.

As if reading his mind, Euphemia presses a PepperUp potion into his hand. “Drink that. I assume you’ll have to stay awake for some time and you look like death warmed over. I don’t need a third patient.”

She doesn’t ask any more questions, not what happened, not why his brother is here, and Sirius wants to hug her.

He has just downed the vile potion when Dumbledore comes in, silently taking in the scene and then settling on Sirius. “Mr Pettigrew said there was something urgent you needed to talk to me about?” Dumbledore asks mildly, clasping his hands in front of him and somehow managing to calm at least a small part of Sirius down with his presence alone.

His eyes flicker to Peter and Euphemia for a second before he meets Dumbledore’s patient gaze again. It’s not that he doesn’t trust them, but he wouldn’t bet either of their three lives on Peter not breaking if he was tortured for long enough.

It’s a terrible, cruel thought but it doesn’t make it any less true.

Dumbledore seems to read his expression correctly and tilts his head slightly. “Maybe we can talk in your kitchen? I do feel like a cup of tea, I must say.”

It’s a good idea but Sirius hesitates, looking from James to Regulus, and his hands tighten on each of their shoulders.

“I’m sure they’re in fantastic care under Ms Potter’s and Mr Pettigrew’s watch,” Dumbledore says, eyes twinkling, and Sirius smiles faintly.

Never let it be said that Dumbledore doesn’t know perfectly well how to manipulate a situation to his wishes.

He draws his eyes away from James’ pale face and slowly gets up, swaying on his feet but altogether feeling a lot better after the potion. Really, he should have thought of that.

Squeezing Peter’s shoulder in passing, he follows Dumbledore into the kitchen and closes the door behind them. Dumbledore sets up a myriad of Privacy wards while Sirius turns on the kettle.

They’re silent until he sits down at the table. Sirius shamelessly spikes his tea with a healthy amount of whiskey and offers the bottle to Dumbledore, who smiles, obviously amused, but shakes his head.

“Would I be correct to assume that this is connected to Voldemort?” Dumbledore finally asks, hands folded on the table and examining him over the rim of his glasses.

“What gave it away, the Death Eater in my bed?” Sirius asks dryly and then shakes his head. “I’m sorry, it’s been a long night.”

Dumbledore just waves a dismissive hand and Sirius takes a sip of his tea before steeling himself, pondering where to begin and eventually deciding on the very beginning.

“A few weeks ago, I was at a stakeout with James, when a group of Death Eaters appeared,” he says hesitantly, only just remembering that they’d lied about that little meeting.

Dumbledore only nods and he thinks it probably doesn’t matter much anymore, so he pulls his legs up to his chest and goes on. “We crept closer to hear what they’re saying, and I recognised Regulus’ voice. I – I didn’t know he was one of them, and I lost my temper, stepped out from under the cloak. I don’t even know what I intended to do, I just…”

He trails off to chance a look at Dumbledore who’s only smiling kindly and watching him.

“Anyway, James apparated us away before anything could happen. I wrote to him though, the next day. He – I suspected that he didn’t get much of a choice, our parents – well, you know more or less how it is. I asked him to meet with me,” he says, fingers drawing circles into the wood and avoiding to look at Dumbledore, who only hums in agreement.

Smiling wryly, he goes on, “I didn’t really think he would turn up, didn’t have much of a plan what to tell him but well. He did, and while he wasn’t exactly euphoric to see me, I told him that he’s still important to me, the only one of the family, and if he ever wants to get out of the mess he’d got himself into, I’d try to help him.”

Another glance at Dumbledore shows him that his gaze became a little more calculating but there’s also something akin to pride in his eyes.

“He didn’t agree, of course not. He’s just as stubborn as I am and – anyway, it doesn’t matter. We saw each other again, at the ambush in Lyndhurst. He could have easily cursed me, I was injured but he didn’t, and I couldn’t do it either, just told him to get lost,” Sirius goes on, a distant ache in his chest at the memory.

Well, now on to the really complicated matters. Biting his lip, he stalls a bit more before he says quietly, “One or two weeks ago, after the attack in Hogsmeade, he sent me a note with Kreacher. That there’s a spy in the Order, that he doesn’t know who or what else is planned, but that Voldemort is gloating about his inside source.”

“And why didn’t you tell us?” Dumbledore asks, sounding merely curious and like he already knows the answer.

He probably does, but Sirius scoffs anyway and can’t help the bitterness that creeps into his tone. “Sure, days after some members accused me once again of still holding loyalty to my family, might betray all my friends and allies – that would have gone over well, don’t you think?”

Dumbledore bows his head and sighs. “Unfortunately, I can’t argue with that logic. I would love to say that I can’t believe it, but alas, everything points into the same direction and I’m afraid I’d be deceiving myself.”

Sirius looks back down, fiddling with his cup. He really doesn’t want to talk about the last few hours, but there’s nothing for it. Still, his voice is rough and shaking when he says, “Tonight, Regulus suddenly stood in front of our door, drenched and shaking and looking terrified. He told us that Voldemort borrowed Kreacher a few weeks ago and that he barely made it back. Apparently, Voldemort planned for him to die but Regulus last order was to come home, and so he did.”

“I’m not surprised that Voldemort would underestimate a house-elf,” Dumbledore nods, seemingly more to himself.

“Kreacher told Regulus everything he knew and he started researching, eventually concluding that what Voldemort hid is a Horcrux,” he explains, hoping that Dumbledore knows what that is because he really doesn’t feel any more equipped to explain it now than a few hours ago to James.

It feels like it has been days ago, the three of them sitting at this exact table and drinking whiskey, and he breathes deeply to push through the pain that’s surging up with the memory.

Dumbledore for his part looks actually alert for the first time this night, sitting up straighter and leaning forward.

“Regulus planned to go alone, was already halfway there. He said he expected to die – that he thought it was better than Voldemort finding out what he did and killing him personally for it. But he remembered what I said to him and decided in the last moment to come to me. Thank Merlin he did,” he mutters, rubbing his eyes that started burning as soon as the memory of Regulus’ disregard for his own life came up again.

He roughly shakes his head, takes another large sip of his tea and tops it with another dose of whiskey. “I told him that’s not going to happen and that we’ll go with him, so after some arguing, he told us about the defences. We planned as well as we could and then decided to do it tonight because James and I had – have the missions over the following days.”

Dumbledore nods, eyes still fixed on him intently. “Where was it?”

“Someplace in Wales, a cave at the seaside. We had to give a blood-sacrifice to enter, and then there was a lake, full of Inferi, and a boat to cross it to reach a small island in the middle. The Horcrux was in a basin, protected by a potion that – “

He breaks off and has to press a hand against his mouth to stifle his sobs. “Regulus insisted that he’s the one to drink it. I wanted to do it but – anyway. It induced nightmares, and halfway through he started sobbing and begging and I just – I couldn’t watch it anymore. I wanted to finish it, but James convinced me to let him do it because Kreacher would only listen to me and I had a higher chance to defend us against the Inferi should something happen. You see, the potion makes them thirsty, dehydrates the body and there’s no way to get water except for the lake, but if you touch it – “

The smell of Fiendfyre hits him like it’s burning in the kitchen, the sound of both Regulus and James crying out his name sounding in his ears, and he bites down on his tongue until he can taste blood.

Dumbledore waits patiently, his eyes compassionate, but Sirius forces himself to calm down, repeating over and over that they all made it out. That James and Regulus are next door, that Euphemia is there and that he’s never going to let them go through anything like this again.

“I ordered Kreacher to take Regulus home, he argued with me but eventually he listened. In the meantime, James got to the water though, so I had to fight off the Inferi until I could call Kreacher to get us out,” he finally finishes, slumping in his chair as soon as the last words are out and breathing harshly.

“A horrible night for all of you, but you’ve achieved something that might just turn the odds of the whole war,” Dumbledore says, smiling and looking very satisfied.  “Do you have the Horcrux here?”

His first impulse is to call Kreacher immediately, but then he recalls what Regulus said when James suggested informing the Order or just Dumbledore, and he hesitates. “I – I have a condition,” he says, squashing his nervousness and meeting Dumbledore’s eyes.

“I assume it has something to do with your brother?” Dumbledore asks, eyes dancing with amusement, and Sirius doesn’t know if he should feel annoyed or relieved.

He just nods sharply. “Yes. He risked a lot, nearly died in the process, and I want immunity for him when the war is over. No Azkaban, no parole or anything else.”

It’s not only that the idea of Azkaban alone has him making plans how to break his brother out of there, but there’s also a small, selfish part of him that needs Regulus to care about all that Black family bullshit when their dear grandfather finally dies.

He just knows that if it’s only him left in the will, the remaining family will try to lure him back in, drive him crazy, and he’d even try to get Regulus out of Azkaban to save himself from that if he had stayed loyal to Voldemort, no matter how utterly selfish that is. It’s bad enough as it is.

Dumbledore agrees without hesitation. “I will need to have a conversation with him when he’s better, but I promise I’ll do my best to assist your brother with any problems that could arise,” he promises, and Sirius watches him for a moment with narrowed eyes.

“Kreacher,” he calls after they’ve stared at each other for long seconds. He feels like he’s missing something but he’s too tired to play any games right now, and just hopes that his trust won’t be misplaced.

The elf pops into the kitchen, glaring at both of them with his arms crossed over his chest and his chin raised.

“Give me the locket, please,” Sirius says, forcing himself to be friendly but narrowing his eyes when Kreacher doesn’t move.

There’s a lot of grumbling and cursing involved but eventually, Kreacher snaps his fingers and slowly holds out the clunky, absolutely hideous thing to Sirius. He hasn’t even looked at it yet, too busy with trying to keep James and Regulus hydrated or at least as close to that as they could manage. He takes a moment to turn it over, sneering at the bloody thing that he has to thank for the most horrible night of his life.

Taking into account the night he ran away from Grimmauld Place and everything that happened since he started fighting in this war, that’s saying something, and he slides the thing over the table towards Dumbledore, who picks it up carefully and instantly starts casting spells on it.

It takes what feels like a long time and Sirius can already feel the effects of the PepperUp wearing off again, his eyes heavy and movements so sluggish that he nearly knocks over his tea, but eventually Dumbledore puts it down and nods.

“It is indeed a Horcrux. I did have some suspicions for a while now but to see them confirmed…” he trails off, and Sirius thinks he might know what he feels.

“It’s a disgusting thing to consider, but a great feeling to be a little closer to his possible defeat?” he offers with a tired smile, and Dumbledore nods.

“Well said. Do you think I could take this with me?” he asks, and after he thinks about it for a moment, Sirius shakes his head.

“I’m sorry Professor, but I’d rather not without talking about it with James and especially Regulus first. We have only him to thank, after all, and he should get the chance to offer his opinion on the matter,” he explains, and to his great relief, Dumbledore simply nods in understanding.

“Understandable. Though I probably don’t have to tell you to take great caution with it. I propose that all this is kept strictly between the four of us, and you should keep this somewhere not too close to any of you. It might – influence you negatively,” Dumbledore says, already standing up.

Sirius shivers at the idea and nods. “Of course,” he says, slowly getting up as well, and he has to grip the table to not just topple over.

Dumbledore puts a steadying hand on his shoulder, and they walk back into the bedroom, a weight lifting from his chest when he sees both of them finally asleep. Euphemia is sitting next to the bed in an armchair she must have conjured and if Sirius was any less tired, he’d probably cringe at the mess that is their whole flat.

“Did Peter leave?” he asks after flopping down between Regulus and James, turning to look at her.

She nods, smiling softly. “I sent him home, there was nothing he could have helped me with, and the poor boy looked terribly tired.”

“Are they going to be alright?” he asks, staring at James’ peaceful expression. He wants to reach out, run his fingers through his hair and over his face, but suddenly remembers his untimely epiphany from earlier this night, leaving him self-conscious.

“They need a lot of sleep, but yes, otherwise they’re going to be fine. I’d explain it to you, but I think you need the sleep just as much. They’re going to be exhausted for a few days I think, and they should drink a lot and eat nothing that could upset their stomach. I’ll send you something tomorrow,” she says, already standing up.

She stops next to James for a moment, runs a hand over his forehead and sighs. Sirius has to look away when his chest clenches at the sudden guilt of putting her through this. At the same time, he’s incredibly thankful that she doesn’t know what they actually went through tonight.

“I’m going to take my leave as well,” Dumbledore speaks up from the door, still smiling. “I’m going to come by tomorrow afternoon. Oh, and consider your missions cancelled until all of you are back to health.”

Under normal circumstances, Sirius would probably protest, but all he wants is to curl up between the two of them and sleep for days if he can help it. So he only smiles, says goodbye to Euphemia, and closes his eyes as soon as the door to the room clicks shut softly.

Chapter Text

When James wakes up, the first thing he becomes aware of is that his body is hurting all over, his throat is sore, and he’s terribly thirsty. For a moment, he wonders if he caught a nasty cold, but then blurry images of a cave and fire and horrible, all-consuming fear start flickering through his mind.

He groans and rolls over, blindly reaching for Sirius. He clenches his hand into the soft material he finds, presses his head against his chest, and tries to calm his racing heart.

Sirius tenses briefly but then starts carding his fingers through James’ hair. “Welcome back, Jamie. Gave me a right scare there.”

He only groans again, wanting to push closer and ignore the world for just a little longer, but he really needs to drink something and tries to pull himself into a sitting position.

It takes much more effort than it should, and he rubs his eyes before looking around for a glass. “I feel like I’ve been run over by the Hogwarts Express,” he mutters, startling at how rough his voice comes out.

Sirius reaches over him and gets his wand to summon a glass and fill it with water. “Well, not that far off, all things considered,” he says dryly, watching him for long moments before turning away. “Regulus is still out of it,” he adds, and it’s only now that James notices the third person in his bed.

“I don’t think I can remember much after I convinced you to let me drink the rest of the potion,” he says after emptying the glass, and he frowns when Sirius winces and looks away from him again.

“Believe me, you don’t want to,” Sirius says with a strangled voice, hands twisting into the sheets in his lap.

Reaching out, James curls his fingers around his wrist. “We’ve all made it out, didn’t we?”

He has no idea what happened but it’s so obvious that it’s been a horrible experience for Sirius that it’s painful to watch.

Sirius swallows and attempts a smile, but it’s a twisted, jagged thing that makes him think that maybe he really doesn’t want to know. Then he remembers the state Regulus was in after the first three goblets and suddenly, he understands.

No matter what it was that he spouted during the nightmares he had, and he thinks he’s rather glad that he only remembers the general sense of horror and not what exactly they were about, he can imagine how he would have reacted to seeing Sirius in that state.

“While I argued with Kreacher to take Regulus back here, you got to the water,” Sirius whispers, linking their fingers together and holding on tightly. “I panicked. I never panic, fuck. Then I nearly burned the whole cave down,” he says with a hollow laugh and a disbelieving shake of his head. “It was – I never want to go through anything like that again, and if we have to, I sure as hell won’t let either of you close to any form of potion.”

When he finally looks up, his eyes are swimming with tears and James just nods, carefully pulling his hand away to draw him into a hug. Sirius slumps against his side and they stay like this until Regulus stirs next to them.

After he drank something as well, the first thing he asks is, “Did we get it?” and James startles a bit at not thinking about asking himself. Then again, he’s rather certain that Sirius would make sure that the whole trouble was worth it, at least.

“Yeah we did, Dumbledore already confirmed that it’s a Horcrux,” Sirius says as he gets out of bed.

“Dumbledore?” Regulus asks with a frown, unable to hide the alarm in his voice.

Sirius halts in his movements and turns, too many emotions flickering over his face to decipher for James.

“He was here last night, when – after I got you back. Your mother as well,” he says with a look at James who cringes at how worried she must be after that.

“But why would you – “

“Because I thought you were dying, okay?” Sirius snaps, his whole body going rigid and his fists trembling at his sides. “Kreacher and I tried for hours to stop you from vomiting your guts out and dehydrating, you were both crying and begging me to make it stop. I could barely hold myself up and I thought if I faint, I might wake up to the corpses of my brother and my – my best friend next to me!”

Sirius is crying now, tears streaming down his face and he presses a hand against his mouth, turning away. James tries to get up, the urge to get to Sirius nearly overwhelming, but his body simply doesn’t comply, and he barely manages to prevent himself from falling face-first to the floor. He can count the number of times he has seen Sirius cry on one hand, and sitting here, a few feet away, unable to fucking move, makes him want to tear his hair out in frustration.

“I made a deal with him though,” Sirius says after long moments, and he’s still breathing deeply and shaking, with his arms wrapped around himself. “He promised to make sure that you’ll have immunity from prosecution when the war is over. Said this might turn it all in our favour and that he’s going to come by later to talk to you.”

Regulus stares at Sirius like he’s unable to believe what he’s just heard, but eventually nods slowly. “Alright, I – alright, thank you. And I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to –”

He doesn’t finish the sentence, but his eyes betray how sorry he is that he put Sirius through all this.

Sirius just sighs, running a hand through his hair and shaking his head. “It’s okay. Or well, it will be, anyway. You’re both alive, and Euphemia said you’re going to be fine. Tired for a few days and you’ll need to drink a lot and so on, but nothing serious. Oh, and our missions got cancelled,” he says with a look at James, who didn’t even think about anything besides last night up until now.

“Anyway, I’m – I’m going to make coffee for me, you want some tea?” Sirius asks, obviously keen to change the subject.

They both nod and fall silent when he’s out of the room, and James suddenly feels awkward. He’s never had much to do with Regulus, and sitting in the same bed after witnessing his worst nightmares last night is a rather weird experience.

“I shouldn’t have come here,” Regulus murmurs, seemingly more to himself but it snaps James out of his current train of thought.

He stares at him, memories of Sirius’ desperation after the few encounters with his brother springing to the forefront of his mind, and he can’t help the harshness in his tone when he says, “Don’t be stupid, do you have any idea what it would’ve done to him if you’d died? Yes, last night was hard on all of us but he’d do it ten times over if that means that he doesn’t lose you.”

Regulus is gaping at him, mouth opening and closing without making a sound and James sighs, slumping back against the pillow in his back and running a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you, it’s just – isn’t it obvious by now how much he cares about you? You should’ve seen him last night, if I hadn’t stopped him, he would’ve finished that potion, no matter how stupid that would’ve been.”

Regulus is silent, fiddling with a thread of the blanket that became lose and eventually says quietly, “That’s why you drank the rest, isn’t it?”

I didn’t promise you anything, did I?” James asks with a teasing smirk and Regulus’ attempt at a glare is rather weak.

“You must love him a lot,” he says, and it’s not a question but it hits James like a slap to his face. Regulus’ eyes are knowing, like he can see right through him and against his best intentions, he averts his gaze, staring out of the window to his other side.

“Of course I do,” he says, trying to sound nonchalant but feeling like he fails miserably.

Regulus only hums and they’re spared the awkward silence that would have followed when Sirius returns, three cups and two potion vials floating in front of him. “Here, your mother left them, it’s PepperUp,” he says and sinks down at the end of the bed after putting down everything.

James downs his potion quickly, eager to regain some strength to at least get out of bed. He desperately wants to take a shower and, if he’s honest to himself, put some space between him and Regulus’ knowing eyes.

He wonders if he’s really that obvious and keeps throwing glances at Sirius from underneath his lashes, who somehow seems to avoid meeting his eyes.

When Dumbledore arrives, they’ve all managed to take a shower and had something to eat. They’re currently sitting in the living room, introducing Regulus to the glorious concept of television.

Sirius watches warily as Dumbledore asks to talk to Regulus alone. Any protest is squelched by a single look from his brother and he glares at the kitchen door for several moments before he slumps in his armchair.

James wants nothing more than to walk over and pull him into a hug, but Sirius has been weirdly distant the whole day and Regulus’ comment is still a little too fresh on his mind to successfully fight off the lingering doubt.

It takes nearly half an hour until Dumbledore and Regulus come back out, the former wearing a very satisfied smile while Regulus is tense, and his face closed off.

Sirius jumps up as soon as he hears the door and stares between the two of them with narrowed eyes.

“Very well, I think we’ve talked about everything then,” Dumbledore says with a nod at Regulus, gives them a wave, and walks out of the flat without another word.

“Alright, what did you two talk about?” Sirius asks, pulling an obviously reluctant Regulus over and pushing him onto the couch next to James before he plops down on the ground in front of them, turning off the telly.

Regulus doesn’t look at either of them and seems to ponder keeping his silence, but another nudge from Sirius makes him sigh and look at his brother. “I’m going to work as a spy – “


“Sirius – “

“No, absolutely not. Do you know how dangerous that is?” Sirius says, glaring furiously with his lips pressed into a thin line.

“Oh for fuck's sake, of course I know that, do you think I’m utterly stupid?” Regulus snaps and Sirius makes a face like he desperately wants to say yes. “But it’s my decision to make and it makes sense.”

Sirius jumps up and paces in front of the hearth with one hand fisted in his hair. “Did he blackmail you?” he asks, coming to a halt and narrowing his eyes at Regulus. “Immunity only if you – “

“No,” Regulus interrupts him, then his shoulders sag slightly and he gives a long-suffering sigh. “Listen, I didn’t think I’d even make it out of the cave, but I did. Nobody knows we were there and even if he finds out that the locket is gone, he doesn’t know it was us. My Occlumency is good enough to hide it, and this way I can pass on information that can be crucial. I can do more to help.”

The ‘and make up for what I did,’ goes unsaid but James thinks that Sirius can hear it as well. His face twists into a grimace and some of his anger melts away as he sits back down in the armchair to their right. He props his elbows on his knees and buries his face in his hands, and James wants to reach out, press his fingers to his wrist and tell him that it will be alright, but it’s like he’s glued to his seat, heart racing and his throat dry.

“Promise me you’ll be careful, to not risk your life needlessly,” Sirius pleads after the silence has stretched for some time, raising his head and staring at Regulus with fear in his eyes that James has rarely seen.

“I will,” Regulus says calmly, meeting Sirius’ gaze head-on. “Dumbledore said he’s going to give me an Emergency Portkey to this flat, so if anything happens, I have a way out. I was always better at not losing my head than you,” he teases, obviously trying to ease some of the tension.

It doesn’t really work, but Sirius nods in defeat and leans back in the armchair, pulling his knees to his chest and closing his eyes.

They spend the remaining day lounging around, watching shitty sit-coms, and at the end of the day, James already feels worlds better. At least physically.

Sirius is still out of sorts though, quiet and withdrawn and staring into empty space a lot of the time. Occasionally, James catches him staring at him, but Sirius averts his eyes as soon as he does, and he’s not sure what to make of it all.

Sirius insists that Regulus stays another night, giving him his room, and when they’re both lying in bed, James rolls over to hug him close. He frowns into the darkness when Sirius tenses for several, long seconds before leaning into him. “Are you alright? You’ve been… absent today,” he murmurs, drawing circles into his back and wishing he could see his face right now.

“Yeah I’m – well, worried obviously, and last night still makes me want to throw up, lock myself and you two away or burn the whole world down – I’m not picky, either of it would do, honestly, but yeah. I’ll manage,” Sirius mutters against his throat, hands tightening in his shirt.

James has to force himself to not react to the warm breath ghosting over his skin, the direction his mind wants to take at Sirius being so close to him after a whole day of distance, and he has to concentrate hard to get out his next words without sounding breathless.

“He will be okay, he’s smart, and I heard Slytherins are rather cunning. I don’t think Dumbledore would send him back if the risk for his life was bigger than the possible benefit, or if Regulus had protested. Not only is he not the type, but he also knows that you would probably make true on the whole burning-the-world-down phantasy if anything happened to him,” he says, smiling when it gets a small laugh out of Sirius.

“And we’re alright, aren’t we? No more caves, no more Inferi, no more torture potions. We’re finally getting somewhere, and when this bloody war is finally over, we can – I don’t know. Go on a long, nice holiday somewhere,” James adds, closing his eyes and trying to picture exactly that.

“Yeah,” Sirius says softly, arms tightening around him. “We can pay for it with the Black fortune, serves my bastard of a grandfather right for not disowning me.”

James snorts, he kind of forgot that part of the last night. “Are you offering to take me out, Padfoot?” he teases smugly but frowns when his only answer is silence.

He ignores the sinking feeling in his stomach and nudges him softly. “It was a joke, come on. Did you lose your humour in that cave?”

“Yeah, no – just – never mind. Let’s sleep, alright?” Sirius mutters, and James bites back a sigh.

Regulus leaves the next day despite Sirius’ protests, arguing that it would be suspicious for him to disappear for days on end. It makes sense, but that doesn’t stop Sirius from sulking for the rest of the day, and James thinks that it’s a good thing when they convince Dumbledore to let them pick up their missions the next day.

They have to shadow Thorfinn Rowle who works in the Ministry, and it actually does help against both their worsening moods. Neither of them does well with being bored, and following around a Death Eater is still better than having to stare at an unoccupied house for hours on end.

December has well and truly arrived by now. London is a grey, rainy, freezing accumulation of dreariness and stressed-out people, but slinking around corners and following Rowle around, alternating between hiding under his Cloak and James wearing a glamour with Sirius as his dog manages to keep them distracted.

They learn that Rowle has some contacts in the Ministry he visits frequently, always talking in hushed voices and thus indicating that it’s unrelated to his work in the Department for Magical Games and Sports. He spends a ridiculously large amount of time in pubs in Knockturn Alley and within a week, they have a solid idea of the people he’s networking with.

James thinks it’s rather stupid that those who fell victim to his and Sirius’ plan aren’t a bit more careful with what they’re doing. Then again, it currently doesn’t look good for their side and it’s very likely that Voldemort thinks that victory is basically his already.

Regulus sends them a brief note every day through Kreacher, the only safe way to communicate right now. According to him, he’s still so low in ranks that he’s rarely informed ahead of time, and Voldemort apparently avoids sending his Death Eaters on direct attacks since the failed raid on Godric’s Hollow.

James suspects that he simply didn’t find a method yet to make their masks spell-resistant and he’d be cocky about it if it actually meant a general break in attacks.

There are raids on Muggle towns and villages nearly every day now though. Rumour has it that Voldemort has managed to win the allegiance of the Dementors and is using them for it, giants are running over villages all over Britain, and they just learned that there were targeted werewolf-attacks on the last full moon.

Maybe the worst part of it is that these small-scale attacks are nearly impossible to react to. The Order relies on someone sending a message to them, already highly unlikely when attacks take place in areas with only Muggles, and on top of it they’re over within ten to twenty minutes most of the time.

The Ministry barely manages to keep up the Statute of Secrecy, and if James didn’t know that there’s a chance, however small, that the end of the war is in sight, he’s not sure if he still had any hope left.

On top of everything, he can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong with Sirius. He’s closed-off and quiet, often looking at James weirdly and quickly averting his eyes when caught, he’s more hesitant to touch and actually stumbles over his words from time to time.

Rationally, James knows that it’s most likely due to the increasing pressure. The worry about Regulus that Sirius is trying to hide, the simple but harsh reality of them still grieving over the loss of Marlene and Dorcas, and the lingering nightmares of the incidents in the cave.

Some days, James thinks that – no matter how horrible drinking the potion has been – when it comes down to it, it was the lesser of two evils. Sirius wakes up from nightmares every other night and whenever they get vaguely close to the topic, his gaze turns distant and haunted, like he’s still seeing what happened right in front of him.

James is already waiting for the inevitable breakdown. His only hope is that it won’t happen in the worst possible moment.

It’s a week after they’ve started their most recent mission when they’re woken up by Moody’s Patronus once again, announcing another meeting. It has become more common for meetings to be announced this way over the last few weeks, with the reasoning that the short notice makes it more difficult for a possible spy to pass on information, so they don’t think too much on it. They take their time to get ready and prepare some coffee, not that eager to hear another round of depressing reports.

That assumption vanishes when they arrive in Newport. Both Dumbledore’s and Moody’s expressions are as sombre as they were after the last attacks on their members, and James instantly knows that it’s happened again, his stomach sinking and cold dread wrapping around his insides.

They silently walk into the kitchen, and he nearly runs into Sirius when he comes to a sudden stop in the door.

“Remus,” he says quietly, his voice strangely void and James shoves past him, grinning brightly when he indeed finds Remus sitting at the table with his usual mug in front of him.

He looks horrible though, face grey and drawn and his eyes as haunted as Sirius’ after a bad night, and he barely looks up when James takes the chair next to him.

His short flicker of joy evaporates when Moody and Dumbledore come in, and while he knows that whatever the answer is will only make him feel horrible, he lets his eyes wander around the table, trying to prepare himself for who it might be, this time.

Sirius takes the chair next to him, only nodding curtly at Remus with a closed-off expression, and it takes him a moment to remember Sirius’ suspicion and that the two of them had a fight the last time they saw each other.

Dumbledore clears his throat, drawing James’ attention back to him and, after he greets them, gives a tired sigh. “I’m very sorry to inform you that last night, Gideon and Fabian were attacked in their home. There are signs of a serious fight, and the dark mark was found over the house.”

He pauses, slowly looking around the table and then says with a heavy voice, “After long consideration, I regret to say that I believe that someone is passing on information. Fabian and Gideon warded their property to be unplottable as of last week, and only someone who already knew the address and passed it on purposefully could have shared it.”

Oppressive silence follows, the whole room frozen for what feels like ages, and James thinks he knows exactly how they feel. Remembers his own horror when Sirius told him about Regulus’ note, how it felt like his whole world was tilting on its axis and the utter, complete disbelief that someone could possibly do this, would sell out the lives of people they’ve been fighting alongside.

Then, everybody starts talking at once, exclamations of disbelief and grief, of anger and raw desperation flying around and James blindly reaches for Sirius’ hand next to him, the one thing that keeps him sane these days.

Sirius is sitting rigid in his chair but curls his fingers around James’ wrist, the gesture so familiar that it does manage to ease the knot in his chest enough that he can breathe again.

When he finally looks up, he can see Sirius shoot glances into Remus’ direction, who’s watching everything quietly, and James thinks that he’s probably simply too tired to react anymore. Peter is shifting in his chair, his eyes moving through the room nervously and James feels a pang in his chest at the tired, worn state all his friends are in.

Dumbledore calls a halt to the various conversations after a few minutes. “I understand that all of you are worried and agitated, and rightly so, but panic won’t get us anywhere right now. I’m going to implement a new policy in which any information will be strictly shared with the responsible person only, even more so than we did already. If you feel like too many people know about your home, consider the Fidelius Charm as an alternative. For now, we can only hope that whoever is responsible didn’t do so in bad conscience. There’s still a chance of coincidences or involuntary misstep, and we can’t let us be divided even more.”

Really, James gets where he’s coming from but sometimes, he questions if it’s still admirable trust and optimism, or already naiveté and gullibility. Coming from him, that’s really saying something.

The meeting ends soon after, though they all receive a scrap of parchment with new assignments and James breathes a sigh of relief when he and Sirius are kept together.

“Hey Moony, come for a smoke?” he asks, smiling and not waiting for an answer before he drags him outside. He’s set to check up on Remus, to make sure that he’s not going to topple over the next second, and also to prove to Sirius that his suspicion is utterly ridiculous.

Remus doesn’t say anything, just sighs heavily, and both Sirius and Peter follow them outside. Sirius pulls out a pack of cigarettes, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and his face closed off. James isn’t sure if he wants to smack or hug him until he doesn’t look so bloody worn anymore.

Shaking himself out of it, he snatches the packet from Sirius and holds it out to Remus after taking one. “How are the two of you? I didn’t see you for some time either, Peter,” James asks, inhaling and closing his eyes for a moment.

“I don’t know about you but considering the course of the war and that we just lost two more competent members – splendid, absolutely splendid,” Remus says, rolling his eyes and throwing the pack back at Sirius.

“Yeah, I’m worried too,” Peter says quietly, smiling tentatively at Remus. “So your missions aren’t going well?”

James can see the muscle twitch in Remus’ jaw but before he can say anything, Sirius speaks up, a faint sneer curling the corner of his mouth. “Don’t bother Wormtail, it’s not like he’s allowed to talk about it and that apparently includes generic questions as well.”

Remus only rolls his eyes again, drags in a lung full of smoke, and stays silent.

Peter looks between the two of them, fidgeting and obviously uncomfortable, and James thinks that he misses the days when they were all inseparable. When everything was easy and they still thought that nothing really bad could ever happen to them, come between them; when they hadn’t lost any of their friends yet.

“Do you have to leave again soon?” he asks Remus in an attempt to dispel the awkward tension while shooting a brief glare in Sirius’ direction.

“No,” Remus says curtly, not even looking at him. James frowns but tries to hide it quickly; maybe Sirius did have a point when he said that Remus is behaving strangely, a small voice in his mind speaks up and he angrily shoves it away.

“Oh? Did you get a mission here for once?” Sirius asks, his eyes narrowed slightly and by now James is sure that it’s smacking he wants to do. Hard.

“I asked for a break,” Remus says simply, but his annoyance and anger show when he forcefully stamps out his cigarette.

James runs a hand through his hair. “No offence, but you look like you need it, good thing that Dumbledore agreed. We should go out some time, forget about the whole war for a few hours.”

Remus stares at him flatly for a few beats, and then raises a brow. “Is that what you do here? Still hanging around in Camden?”

“Why?” Sirius throws in before James can answer. “Not interested in some time with your friends, Moony?”

If you ignore the bite to his voice, it’s a rather reasonable question, James thinks. As far as he’s concerned, the time he manages to snatch away from anything related to the war is easily the only thing that still keeps him going, and for as long as he’s known Remus, he’s always been one to find strength in the things he enjoys.

“To be honest, no,” Remus says coldly, and James takes a step back, surprised by the forcefulness of his words. “I just want to sleep, have some time to myself and not get asked a myriad of stupid questions, or pretend that none of this is happening.”

“Remus,” Peter says lowly, surprising all of them. “We’re not trying to get to you, we’re just worried. We barely see anything of you, have no idea where Dumbledore sends you off to. It’s not meant to pester you, you know?”

Remus sighs and runs a hand through his hair, sparing Peter an apologetic glance. “Yeah I – I know, I’m sorry. I just really need some days of sleep and quiet, but let’s reconsider when I’m more myself again, alright?”

Even Sirius’ expression softens, and they leave it at that. But no matter how much he tries not to, how much he hates himself for even considering it, James can see what Sirius meant and it makes him uneasy.

“You know what throws up the most questions for me?” Sirius asks when they arrive at home and drops onto the couch like a dead weight.

James feels like he’s walking through mud and has to force himself to focus on Sirius’ question. They weren’t particularly close with the Prewett twins, but he enjoyed their company enough for their death to hurt.

He hums, sitting down at the end of the couch and pulling Sirius’ feet into his lap without thinking about it. Sirius tenses though, staring at the spot where James has his hands over his ankles, and he quickly snatches them back. They look at each other for long moments until Sirius shakes his head as if to shake something off.

“Where he spends the full moon. He’s been gone for the last two moons now, and whatever he’s doing, there either has to be someone to lock him up somewhere – which is unlikely because while he looks terrible, he doesn’t have any new scars – or he’s running with someone. Which is also unlikely because there are only very few Animagi, even less who would spend a night with a transformed werewolf. Which only leaves one option,” Sirius says, talking quickly and staring out of the window.

“What, you mean other wolves?” James asks in confusion and Sirius turns his head back to look at him with an expectantly raised brow. “Come on Padfoot, that’s –”

“What other explanation is there?” Sirius asks hotly, sitting up and fisting a hand in his hair. “Think about it. Maybe Dumbledore sent him to negotiate, but most of the packs are siding with Voldemort because he makes false promises and lets them do what they want. It would be an explanation of why he – “

“He’s not the bloody spy Sirius, for fuck’s sake!” James growls, getting up and pacing through the living room.

Sirius does the same but eventually stops in front of him. “I want to believe that as much as you –“

“You seem pretty convinced,” he interrupts with a glare, but Sirius simply waves him off and goes on.

“Who else is there? All those who work in the Ministry could have done far worse damage already. Lily lost her two best friends, Peter is – well, Peter, and alright, there are a few others who could have done it, but maybe Remus believes he has something to gain? Maybe spending months with a pack has convinced him that life would actually be better for him? It’s not like society is treating him particularly well. He’s secretive to a ridiculous extent, he’s snapping at us, and it’s so –” Sirius argues, and obviously wants to go on but James presses a hand over his mouth and scowls.

“Do you listen to yourself? That’s one of your best friends you’re talking about and people make the same bloody arguments about you because of your surname,” he snaps.

He just doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t want to consider one of his friends betraying them; doesn’t want to admit that there’s some logic to Sirius’ arguments.

Sirius’ shoulders slump and he takes a step back, running a hand over his face. “You’re right, I’m just – I’m sorry. I can’t imagine anyone doing it, but someone does, and Remus is gone so much that it’s just… Maybe it’s just easier to picture, than with those who are fighting next to us over and over.”

“Yeah I – It’s not like I can’t see your point,” James allows, his anger fading in the face of Sirius’ defeated expression. “I just can’t believe Remus would do that. I mean, Dorcas and Marlene – “

He breaks off because he has to swallow against the sudden wave of grief that’s washing over him. Really, one day he wants to find out why it’s alright to think of it at one moment, and the next it feels like it happened just now all over again.

Sirius touches his shoulder briefly and they look at each other for a beat before James turns away, feeling too raw to be confronted with his unrequited feelings on top of everything else right now.

To some degree, he’s got used to it over the last few weeks, telling himself that what they have is enough. Other times, it makes his chest ache with longing and he has to clench his hands into whatever surface there is to not reach out, bite his tongue to not just tell him, and it’s another thing that is constantly drawing from his strength. It has only got worse ever since Sirius became more distant.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he mutters, quickly leaving the room and hoping that Sirius will just put it down to everything else.

A loud crash and a cry startle both of them awake and they have their wands in their hands and are out of bed before James even comprehends what’s happening.

“I think that came from the living room,” Sirius whispers, carefully opening the door, and they slowly creep down the hallway.

There’s another groan audible and a light is turned on, visible through the slightly open door. James frowns, thinking that if someone is trying to attack them, they’re doing a pretty poor job. Sirius seems to think along the same lines because he quickens his step and kicks the door open with his wand still raised, only to freeze in his movements.

“Regulus? What – fuck!” he curses, rushing forward and dropping to his knees next to his brother who’s lying on his side in the middle of the room.

Lowering his wand, James follows slowly, a foreboding sense of dread washing over him that quickly turns into horror when he steps next to Sirius and sees the state Regulus is in. There are several bruises and cuts on his face, wounds like lashes are littering his bare arms, and he’s trembling violently, coughing and spitting out blood.

Sirius’ hands scramble all over him and after a moment to get over his shock, James softly pulls him away to prevent him from making it worse. Scanning Regulus over, he notes that his ankle is twisted at an unnatural angle and the first thing he does is to cast several numbing charms.

“I – we –“ Regulus stammers, wide, bloodshot eyes trying and failing to focus, and James shakes his head.

“Don’t try to talk,” he says as calmly as he can muster but Regulus wildly shakes his head and twists a hand into James’ shirt.

“Cover is blown,” Regulus gets out between another coughing fit. “Have to – have to leave, now.”

James’ hands freeze and looks at Sirius, who’s still staring at his brother like he’s not sure that this isn’t another nightmare.

“Alright, we need to get out of here,” James says, forcing himself not to panic and shaking Sirius’ shoulder roughly to snap him out of it.

They summon their jackets and boots, and James conjures a makeshift cast for Regulus ankle and some pads he quickly binds around the worst of his wounds, and they’re out of the flat within five minutes. Sirius even has the presence of mind to take the Horcrux with them, just in case.

“I’m sorry, but we’ll have to apparate you,” he tells Regulus with a grimace, both him and Sirius holding him up between them. “As soon as we’re behind Hogwarts wards we can conjure you a stretcher.”

“Shrieking Shack?” Sirius asks and at his nod, they tighten their grip on Regulus and apparate right out of the corridor in front of their door.

Regulus groans in pain when they land, his face pale and glistening with sweat, and James immediately conjures a stretcher for him.

“Think you can send a Patronus up to the castle?” he asks Sirius while he makes sure that Regulus gets jostled as little as possible.

The way through the tunnel is slow-going and they don’t manage to get out of it without bumping the stretcher a few times, but Regulus just waves their apologies off with a sluggish movement.

Dumbledore meets them half-way, his expression serious, and he already starts to cast some spells on Regulus during their walk to the Infirmary. Regulus is still coughing violently, and James keeps glancing at him worriedly, only looking away to do the same to Sirius who seems unable to take his eyes off his brother.

Madame Pomfrey is already waiting for them. She as well immediately starts casting her own battery of spells as soon as she’s put Regulus on a bed, and Sirius is a fidgeting mess the whole time it takes, not even James’ hand around his wrist easing any of his tension.

When she’s pursing her lips, Sirius finally snaps. “What? What did they do to him? Will he be alright?”

A sharp look has him click his mouth shut but she obviously sees his agitation because her mouth softens ever so slightly, and she nods. “He will be fine. He has a broken ankle and fractured ribs, but most of his injuries are only on the surface, most of them won’t even scar. He’s also suffering after-effects of a prolonged Cruciatus Curse, but not so bad that potions for his muscles and nerves won’t solve it. I’m going to keep him here for a few days, then he’ll be fine,” she says.

Well, it still sounds utterly horrible but could have been worse, James supposes, and while Sirius’ face is still twisted in worry, the acute panic is gone from his eyes.

Dumbledore gestures for them to follow him, throwing up a Silencing Charm as soon as they’re a few feet away. “Did Regulus say what happened?” he asks, still looking incredibly severe.

Sirius shakes his head. “Only that his cover was blown, he didn’t say how,” he says, voice thick and eyes still glued to the bed his brother is lying in.

Dumbledore nods and gesture for them to walk back to Regulus’ bed. Madame Pomfrey just finished healing most of his injuries and is currently helping him drink several potions, but she looks up when they approach, her gaze disapproving at Dumbledore’s raised hand.

“Make it quick, he needs to sleep,” she says sharply, and despite everything, it causes James to smile faintly. He’s always had more than a healthy dose of respect for the woman.

Dumbledore just smiles before he turns to Regulus. “Do you know what caused you to be discovered?” he asks, hand stroking through his beard.

Regulus’ glazed eyes try to focus, and he nods. “Need to tell you some things but the Dark Lord said that the spy told him about me staying at Sirius’ flat. Legilimency,” he says, the words slurred and blurring into each other.

James frowns because that doesn’t make any sense. Nobody but Dumbledore and his mother know about that and he looks at Sirius, even more surprised when he doesn’t see his own confusion mirrored there. Instead, Sirius is standing rigid and his face is just settling into a hard mask of cold fury.

He instinctively takes a step back but Sirius doesn’t react, just growls, “Peter,” before storming out of the Infirmary.

James looks at Dumbledore in the hope that he knows what the hell just happened, but he only finds deep, unsettling disappointment on his face. Sighing, he looks at James and says, “Peter Pettigrew was in your flat that night. Sirius ordered Kreacher to get him, to send a Patronus to me and fetch your mother. I assume Sirius has just come to the same conclusion I reached.”

Oh. Oh shit.

Not waiting for another word, he breaks into a run, though he’s not exactly sure if he wants to stop or accompany Sirius. He can barely see him in the distance when he finally makes it out of the castle and shouts his name, cursing under his breath when he either ignores or doesn’t hear him. He transforms into Prongs, knowing that it’s the only chance he has to catch up on him and currently not giving a damn if anyone sees him.

He reaches Sirius within seconds and cuts him off, but he’s misjudged Sirius’ speed who barrels into his side with so much force that they both topple over, rolling a few feet down the hill until James manages to transform back.

Sirius is already scrambling to get up, and he grabs his wrist tightly and hurries to say, “Wait, just a second!”

Sirius’ eyes finally focus on him, blazing with fury but he actually stops and presses out between harsh breaths, “It’s Peter, Peter is the bloody spy. He was –“

“I know,” he interrupts and pulls himself up. “I’m not even going to tell you that we shouldn’t go after him, all I want is that you promise me that you won’t murder him but that we take him in.”

He’s pretty sure that he hasn’t processed any of it for real yet. The shock and the fear that Sirius might get himself thrown into Azkaban is overriding the burning betrayal he can already feel at the edges of his mind, and the longer they’re standing here, the more he’s certain that it’s more accompanying than stopping that he has in mind.

Sirius grimaces, eyes hard and unforgiving. “If he ends up in Azkaban, Voldemort will just get him out, and we deserve this. He betrayed us James, everything. You, me, my brother – he stood and watched as we suspected Remus, played the nice, unremarkable, scared guy – he’s responsible that Marlene and Dorcas are dead, Fabian and Gideon and – “

“I know!” James interrupts again, voice louder than intended and he absently notes that he’s shaking. They’re both shaking and he doesn’t know if he wants to scream or cry, or maybe just follow Sirius’ example and blow something up because this is too much, this can’t be real, he can’t comprehend that Peter would do this to them.

Kind, timid Peter who they’ve spent hours helping with his homework and consoling him through his homesickness, made sure to always include him, defend him against anyone who would dare call him a tag-along. Peter, who was on brilliant terms with the elves at Hogwarts and always had some chocolate for Remus, who smiled and waved it off when Sirius snapped at him, who –

“The bloody rat,” Sirius grinds out, followed by a hollow, wrenched laugh that makes him appear as mad as his family is infamous for, and James feels like doing the same, tearing at his hair while his other hand is still clinging to Sirius.

Fuck,” he mutters, then shouts it, over and over. Buries his head into Sirius’ chest and screams it into his clothes until his throat feels raw, but the indescribable pressure in his chest doesn’t loosen for a second.

He has no idea how long it takes until they both manage to draw a single breath again but they’re both crying and trembling, and the painful, twisting, sharp disbelief is slowly joined by steely resolve.

“Alright,” he says eventually, slowly, straightening up and meeting Sirius’ eyes. “We’re still not going there to murder him because no matter how much I want to do that now, I know it would still haunt us both and he doesn’t deserve to do that any more than he already will.”

Sirius doesn’t look completely convinced but nods regardless, which is more than he could have expected, really. He just hopes that there is something left in Peter, anything at all that will make the encounter as horrible for him as it will undoubtedly be for them.

“We take him in, make sure to deliver him to Moody or Kingsley. Merlin fuck, this is so –“ he breaks off again, still hoping that he might just wake up, realize this is all a nightmare and have a good laugh with Sirius about the absurdity of it all.

He doesn’t, the unbearable sense of suffocation not fading, and once again he thinks that without Sirius, he would have been broken by this war ages ago.

“No planned murder,” Sirius repeats, nodding slowly and closing his eyes for long moments. “Come on then, we have a rat to catch.”

They apparate to a street down from Peter’s flat after they’ve used the few minutes it took them to walk down to Hogsmeade to consider the chance that they could be expected, and trying to draw up their remaining sanity to not rush into this without thinking.

Really, James thinks, they should receive an order for not just blowing up the whole apartment block – which is most likely what would have happened if he didn’t catch up to Sirius, not that he would have blamed him. James still isn’t sure that he doesn’t want to do the same thing and he’s a bit scared by how violent his thoughts are turning.

The street lies quiet and dark, and he thinks it should be different, that something should have changed. It doesn’t make sense to him how it can be still the same, ordinary street they’d tumbled down more than once, drunk and swaying on their feet with their arms wrapped around each other.

He shakes his head to get rid of the memories that are threatening to drive him mad and looks up at the window that belongs to Peter’s kitchen, unable to help his mirthless grin when he sees a light burning.

Chapter Text

“Well, let’s just hope this isn’t an ambush,” Sirius mutters as he spells the door to Peter’s house open. They take the steps two at a time and Sirius stops to check the wards when they reach the third floor, a cruel smirk twisting his lips when he’s finished.

“Idiot, letting me do his wards and not adjusting them after pulling something like this. Always remember Jamie, the one who puts the wards up can also take them down again, even if they’re locked out at some point,” he says conversationally, flicking his wand and murmuring a long string of incantations.

“Well then,” he adds after a few minutes and, absolutely unnecessary and only for the dramatics, casts a verbal Alohomora. James would roll his eyes at him, but anticipation is coursing through him, his emotions are a mess, and he can’t find it within himself to feign exasperation about Sirius’ antics right now.

They slip into the flat silently, clicking the door shut behind them and listening for any sounds, but there’s only a rustling of parchment coming from the kitchen.

Peter jumps violently when they both step through the door. “Sirius, James, what are you – did something happen?” he stammers, and the attempt to appear worried is so obvious, now that James knows, that his anger flares back up in an instant.

He doesn’t say anything though. Sirius has always been more talented at twisting his words into cruel, poisonous weapons that can tear apart anyone within moments, and for once James is planning to let him run as wild with it as he wants to.

“Hello Peter,” Sirius says lowly, and Peter has known them for long enough to realize that this is not a social call. He’s attempting to get up, fear clouding over his expression but he’s not even out of his chair when Sirius’ Incarcerous hits him with enough force to push the chair back, the legs scratching loudly over the floor.

Sirius crosses the short distance, hops onto the table and twirls his wand between his fingers. “You know what I’m currently asking myself?” he says, tilting his head and raising an eyebrow. “I’m really curious to know if you thought we would never find out. If you really thought that you could betray us all and get away with it.”

“I didn’t,” Peter exclaims, panicked eyes settling on James. “James, he’s gone mad! I swear I – “

“Oh shut up,” James sneers, taking a few steps forward and forcing himself to keep his wand at his side. “You’ve been found out, so just stop it already.”

“Do you think Voldemort is going to save you?” Sirius taunts, smirking and inspecting his wand. “Is he going to storm in here, rescue you like the little damsel in distress you’ve always been?”

“What was I supposed to do!” Peter wails, twisting in his binds and starting to cry. “It’s useless, trying to defy him, you don’t know what he’s capable of.”

Sirius laughs harshly with his head thrown back before he jumps down from the table. “You’re such a pathetic excuse for a wizard. So what, you were scared? Do you think we’re not? For fuck's sake, this is a war. You thought if he didn’t kill you, we’d just let you walk away?”

“He’s got your brother! He’s going to kill him if you don’t – “

James knows as soon as the word ‘brother’ leaves Peter’s mouth that he couldn’t have chosen a worse thing to say. All cruel amusement vanishes from Sirius’ eyes, replaced by scorching fury and his voice is deadly calm when he raises his wand. “Crucio.”

Peter’s screams fill the kitchen, his thrashing so wild that it knocks the chair with himself on over and James swallows, carefully reaching out to put his hand on Sirius’ shoulder, who looks at him like he’s startled before he cancels the spell.

“Sorry,” he mutters and shakes his head quickly before he looks back down at Peter, who’s crying and twitching like it has been minutes instead of seconds.

James’ emotions are warring inside him, the remains of their friendship and all the loyalty he felt for him not simply vanished, and that part is urging him to help him. At the same time, he feels a twisting, burning satisfaction to see him pay for what he did.

It’s not enough that he could have let Sirius go on, but neither can he blame him for doing it in the first place.

“You should get used to it,” Sirius spits. “I suspect Azkaban won’t be much nicer to you.”

“James, Prongs, please,” Peter wails again, words interrupted by pitiful hiccups. “He’s mad, utterly mental, you can’t honestly – “

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” he snarls, hands balling into fists. “For fuck's sake Peter, how could you do that to us? To the Bones, to Dorcas, Marlene, to the Prewett twins – to all of us? What the fuck is wrong with you, I can’t – I  have half a mind to kill you myself, and the only thing that’s holding me back is that you don’t deserve me dirtying my hands on you. I would have died for you, and you run and betray us all because you’re scared?”

“I – the Dark Lord – “

“Silencio,” he spits, unable to take another second of useless excuses that only make the anger, the betrayal, and the pain so much worse. “Let’s take him in, if I never see his face again it’s too soon,” he says to Sirius, who looks at him for long moments before he nods.

“I’m not sure I’m able to conjure a Patronus for Moody though,” he adds quietly, running a hand through his hair and looking back down at Peter.

“We go to the Ministry, demand they call him in. The flat isn’t connected to the floo,” Sirius says absently, hand still clenched tightly around his wand. “I need to apologise to Remus,” he mutters, looking at James with wide eyes. “Merlin I – “

Wrapping his fingers around Sirius’ wrist, he says as calmly as he can manage, “Later, alright? One thing after the other.”

Sirius sighs, some of the rigid tension leaving his shoulders, and they both look at Peter who is still fighting against his bonds.

Sirius flicks his wand again and the chair vanishes, leaving only Peter bound and he levitates him in front of them, making sure to crash him into every available surface on the way. Before they exit the house, James stops him, keeping the door open with his foot, and at Sirius’ confused look, smiles faintly.

“Muggle street, magic, we need to take him by foot until we can apparate,” he says and Sirius groans.

“Can we just drag him behind ourselves? Behind my bike, maybe?” Sirius suggests, but shakes his head and just sighs, cancelling the levitation.

Peter drops to the floor unceremoniously, and Sirius glances at James as if to make sure that he doesn’t have a problem with the rough treatment. James can’t find it in himself to protest, by now overwhelmed by an aching numbness, and he thinks that his mind probably just shut down at some point, unable to actually keep up with everything for any longer.

When they both look back down, Peter is half through transforming, already slipping out of the tight ropes.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Sirius snarls and instantly fires several Stunners after him. James does the same as soon as he’s over his shock, but Peter is too fast, running zig-zag and disappearing into the shadows within seconds.

James stares at the spot where he saw him last, shaking his head over and over and finally kicking the door so hard that the glass in it shatters, raining down on the marble floor. “I should have let you kill him,” he spits, turning to Sirius who’s still frozen to the spot.

He’s looking up slowly, now, eerily calm. “Let’s go home,” is all he says, voice void of any emotions.

“Sirius –“

“I know, I just – I don’t have any energy left, I want to curl up somewhere and forget about it. Let’s hope Voldemort finds him as useless as he is and kills him personally. Please James, I can’t –“ he rambles, his hands starting to tremble and expression crumbling.

Stepping forward, James pulls him into a tight hug, fingers clenching into Sirius’ jacket and for the second time this night, they stand for ages, crying into each other’s shoulders and wondering where everything went so horribly wrong.

It’s only when they finally make it back to their flat that it hits him. “Sirius, we can’t stay here,” he says, eyes roaming through the corridor and his heart clenching at the thought of leaving it behind.

Sirius is just kicking off his boots and frowns at him in confusion, and James thinks it’s a testament to how emotionally exhausted they are that they didn’t think of this sooner.

“The flat, Peter, Regulus –“ He takes a deep breath and tries again. “They know Regulus was spying for our side, that he stayed with us. He said Voldemort used Legilimency, so there’s a chance that he knows about the locket. Peter can give up the location of our flat, so we probably have a few hours left at most until we get a bunch of unwelcome visitors.”

Sirius slumps against the wall behind him and groans. “Fuck, you’re right.”

They simply stare at each other until Sirius gathers himself and nods sharply. “Let’s pack then, shall we? Come to think of it, we should probably warn the others – or do you think Dumbledore did that already?”

Rubbing his forehead, James quickly walks into his room, pulling out bags and throwing in everything in his path. “I’m sure he did that,” he calls to Sirius, who’s doing the same next door.

There are a lot of Extension and Shrinking Charms involved, even more cursing, wishing Peter, Voldemort, and every single Death Eater into the seventh circle of hell, and they focus mainly on their rooms and the living room. After nearly two hours, they’re standing in the corridor again, bags slung over their shoulder and staring at the mess they created.

“Well,” Sirius sighs and tears his eyes away. “They’ll probably think someone has already been here to do their job.”

They go to his parents first, to make sure that they know what happened because it’s likely that their house would be the next place anybody would expect him and Sirius to be if they aren’t home.

The house is empty though and James just prays that it’s because his parents already left. Not wasting another second, they apparate back to Hogsmeade, and dawn is already breaking when they’re walking through the gates, the castle towering above them.

McGonagall greets them at the entrance, face tired and lips pressed into a thin line that James still associates with being caught out after bed. She softens a bit upon seeing them though, eyes compassionate, and she sighs.

“Is it really true?” she asks lowly and gestures for them to follow her through the still empty corridors.

Exchanging a glance with Sirius, James nods, thinking it might be better if he does the talking before anger gets the better of Sirius once more. “Unfortunately, yes. Peter was the spy. He was still in his flat when we arrived, but he… got away, before we could bring him to the Ministry,” he says, only just remembering that they should probably keep quiet about Peter being an Animagus if they don’t want to answer a whole lot of uncomfortable questions.

McGonagall looks doubtful as it is, not that he can blame her. The chance that Peter could take him and Sirius in a fight is basically non-existent. “He lives in a Muggle flat, so we had to be careful with spells. He apparated out,” he says, unable to hide the contempt in his voice despite the lie and hoping that it’s going to be enough.

Her eyes linger on Sirius for a moment and, granted, Sirius staying reasonable enough to be considerate of using magic because he’s in a Muggle area after what happened is probably hard to believe, but she doesn’t question them any further, just gives the password to the Gargoyle in front of Dumbledore’s office and ushers them in.

She doesn’t come with them, saying her goodbyes and squeezing both their shoulders briefly before she disappears down the corridor.

Dumbledore is standing at the window in his office, turning and smiling at them as soon as they enter. “Ah, you made it back. Was your search successful?” he asks, sitting down behind his desk and gesturing for them to take the seats at the other side.

James repeats the same story he’s told McGonagall and Dumbledore looks as if he knows exactly that it’s only half of the truth. James always suspected that he knows perfectly well what was going on in the Shrieking Shack every full moon after their fifth year, but he doesn’t call them out on it either.

“While it is certainly regrettable that there won’t be justice for what Mr Pettigrew did anytime soon, I suppose that he will come to see that he’s not better off eventually,” Dumbledore says, folding his hands together on the desk. “And I assume that he already gave up all the information he had, so I hope this will not make matters worse.”

James would like to think that Peter didn’t give up their or Remus’ home, but he feels like there’s no strength left in him for optimism. “We packed our most important things and left the flat,” he says and hopes that he doesn’t have to spell out their reasoning.

Dumbledore nods. “A wise decision. I’m sure Voldemort at least suspects about the locket if Mr Pettigrew told him about your symptoms when he saw Regulus at your flat. I only spoke briefly to Regulus after you two left, so I can’t be sure if all of his Occlumency shields failed, but he did mention something else before Madame Pomfrey chased me out.”

He leans back in his chair and suddenly looks very tired and old. “Regulus told me that he has reason to believe that there are more Horcruxes than the locket.”

Maybe the worst part is that James is not even that surprised. Sure, it’s a horrible thought, and everything it entails makes him want to shout and rage again, but for one, he doesn’t have any emotional capacity left and for the other, it’s Voldemort – in matters of sick, twisted megalomaniac, he’s unparalleled.

Sirius is staring at Dumbledore in horror though, his eyes pleading with their old headmaster to tell him that it was a bad joke, a test, anything but this.

“We will have to wait for Regulus to wake up to receive more information,” Dumbledore says with a small, understanding smile directed at Sirius. “Which brings me to another matter; the three of you need a place to stay that we can put under the Fidelius Charm. Especially Regulus is in great danger, as I’m sure that Voldemort didn’t plan for him to get away –“

“I have –“ Sirius interrupts, only to snap his mouth shut again and give Dumbledore a sheepish look, who only smiles and gestures for him to go on. “My uncle left me a small house close to Soudley in the Forest of Dean. It’s an old Black estate which means that there are already a lot of wards up. It’s a bit run-down but nothing we couldn’t fix, I think. It’s big enough for the three of us, potentially two more people if anybody else needs a place to stay.”

“Very well. I think for now everybody is set, the Order is currently in the process of adjusting the wards for everyone whose location was known to Mr Pettigrew,” Dumbledore nods. “There remains one issue though. Your family, Sirius.”

Sirius looks confused, but James thinks he knows what Dumbledore is getting at. It’s irrational, but there’s a spike of anger that he has to bring it up now; he’s not sure how well Sirius will cope with having to deal with that on top of everything else.

“Sir, what do you mean?” Sirius asks after the silence has stretched for a while and Dumbledore sighs.

“Not only you and Regulus are in danger after he was discovered. I think Voldemort will do whatever he can to get to either of you. While Voldemort might be aware that you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to save your relatives, I think Regulus sees that differently. Your mother, your grandfather – they’re possible targets now.”

Realization washes over Sirius’ face, his hands clenching around the armrest of his chair, and he takes a few measured breaths. James curls his fingers around his wrist and simply hopes that it will be enough for now.

Sirius doesn’t blow up though, just closes his eyes for a few moments and says flatly, “I assume I’ll have to inform them as soon as possible?”

“That would be best, yes.”

“Great. And I’ll have to do it personally because they’d never believe me otherwise,” Sirius mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Alright, I’ll go visit my grandfather and leave my mother to him, she’d probably hex me on the spot, latest when I tell her what Regulus did,” he says, his tone a strange mix of resolve and resignation.

Turning to James, he goes on, “You stay here, I’ll pick you up when I’m finished, and we can check out Alphard’s house. Nobody knows I inherited it so we should be fine until – when do you think you can cast the Fidelius, Professor?”

Before Dumbledore can say anything, James pointedly clears his throat. “Do you honestly believe that I’ll let you deal with your family alone?” he asks, raising his brows. “I’m coming with you, you dimwit.”

Sirius opens his mouth like he wants to protest, then closes it again and smiles faintly. “Thanks.”

Dumbledore just smiles at them. “I could do the Charm today, but I think it would be a wise choice if Regulus were the Secret Keeper because he will have to stay there most of the time, thus, he will be in the least danger to be captured. If you agree with that, we have to wait until Madame Pomfrey lets him go.”

They glance at each other and James just gives a small shrug. Sirius slowly nods and looks back at Dumbledore. “Yeah I think – I think that’s a good idea. Voldemort knows that Regulus stayed with us the last time, so we’re going to be the main targets for him to discover where he is.”

“Very well, then I’d suggest that you inform your family as soon as possible, and I will let you know when Madame Pomfrey declares Regulus fine to go.”

“Professor,” James speaks up, shifting slightly in his chair. “I just want to know – are my parents here? We checked on them before we came here, and the house was empty.”

“Yes, I sent them a Patronus after the two of you left and offered them a room in the castle until we can adjust the wards. I’d offer you to visit them, but I think they might be asleep,” Dumbledore says, smile kind and eyes understanding.

“Good,” he breathes, a bit of the weight lifting from his shoulders. “Could you tell them that we’re fine and moving? I don’t want them to worry and maybe try to check on us in our flat.”

“Of course. Ah, one more thing – when you arrive at the house, don’t connect your floo. We can’t be sure that nobody in the responsible positions in the Ministry passes on information, and a new connection might lead to conclusions regarding your whereabouts.”

They both sigh and nod, getting out of their chairs, but Sirius stops at the door to turn back once more. “Are – Are Lily and Remus safe as well?”

“Yes, I informed every single Order member as soon as I understood what happened, and everyone whose wards could be compromised is currently at the Headquarters or here in the castle until everything is sorted out.”

Sirius just gives a jerky nod, muttering thanks under his breath, and James follows him down the spiral staircase.

They walk in silence until they reach the gates again, tension and apprehension visible in every line of Sirius’ body, and no matter how little he likes it, James knows that there’s nothing he can do except not leaving his side through the whole coming ordeal.

Sirius takes his wrist as soon as they’re past the wards and apparates them to an empty field. Fog is hanging low over the grass, frost crunching under their feet and everything is grey and white, making their surroundings appear ethereal.

“There,” Sirius points to their side and it’s only now that James’ eyes can settle and process the large, dark Manor looming in the distance, an imposing, black spot breaking up the softness of the landscape.

“Never thought I’d set a foot in there again,” Sirius mutters, mouth twisted and eyes full of disgust and aversion.

“Will we even get past the wards?” James asks as they walk closer, and he wonders why there’s nearly no noise here, no birds or rustling besides their own steps.

Sirius grins faintly. “Well, if he didn’t want me to, he should have disowned me as he was supposed to. Seeing that he didn’t, I have access and you simply have to stay close to me to be accepted as a guest.”

“Alright, let’s do this then.”

The black, winding iron gate creaks open as soon as they’re close and they walk up the small path leading to the front door. From this close, the house seems even more imposing, reminding James of one of the creepy mansions he saw in various horror movies on the telly.

He always thought that the people in those were absolutely stupid to simply walk in, not that he had any illusions that he wouldn’t do the absolute same – but he has a wand, which makes all the difference as far as he’s concerned.

He’s not sure that his advantage still applies in this particular case.

Sirius lets the silver knocker drop against the wood harshly and not a minute later, the door is opened by a house-elf that’s staring up at them, eyes widening as soon as it recognises Sirius.

“Hello Plippy, long time no see. I have to talk to Arcturus, can you please inform him? Thanks a lot,” Sirius says with a grim smile and simply walks past the still dumbfounded elf with James following quickly.

They arrive in a vast entrance hall with a black marble floor and a high ceiling, the walls painted in dark blue with portraits hanging all around. There’s an ornate fireplace to their right and heavy curtains on the windows, only a silver chandelier with candles spending flickering, dim lights that let the shadows stretch and appear more ominous. James is rather certain that it’s the sole reason behind it.

Honestly, it’s exactly how he would have expected Black Manor to look like and he bites back a snort at how predictable and cliché it is.

They don’t have to wait long, though Sirius is shifting his weight from one foot to the other and looking around with disdain etched into every line of his face. Nonetheless, his posture is flawless, his chin raised and his hands clasped behind his back, and James wonders if some of the habits that must have been ingrained into him from the cradle will ever leave.

Not because he minds exactly; it’s just another piece of what makes up Sirius and he’d be lying if he said that he didn’t love the careless elegance and cocky arrogance, but he thinks that Sirius would resent it if he noticed how much some things are still sticking with him.

Arcturus is tall, the resemblance between the two Blacks uncanny despite the large age difference that’s obvious in the way Arcturus’ hair is greying at the temples and the deep lines around his mouth and eyes.

“Sirius, I would not have expected to welcome you into this house again,” Arcturus says, and his face doesn’t betray an ounce of the surprise he just claimed to experience.

“Wouldn’t you? I would have thought that not disowning me could have been a hint that you did expect exactly that,” Sirius says stiffly and raises a brow at his grandfather.

They stare at each other for long, uncomfortable moments before Arcturus’ eyes shift to James, who instinctively straightens under the sharp, scrutinising gaze despite his best intentions.

There’s just an air of authority about Arcturus Black that demands undivided attention, and James feels his respect for Sirius’ rebellion against it flare up within him.

“I assume you are the Potter heir?” Arcturus asks after another beat, not giving any indication of what he actually thinks about James’ presence.

“I am. Nice to meet you, Sir,” he says, refusing to be intimidated.

Arcturus simply nods before he turns back to Sirius. “I assume you have a reason to visit me at seven in the morning without calling first?”

He can see a muscle twitch in Sirius’ jaw, but his voice comes out flat when he answers. “Indeed, it’s rather important, believe me. Could we go to your study?”

Arcturus gestures for them to follow and they walk for long minutes through dark, narrow corridors, lined with portraits that are whispering among themselves and the occasional trinkets put on display in between that James doesn’t want to inspect too closely. He just dearly hopes that the house Sirius inherited isn’t as bad as this.

He tries to picture Sirius in here as a child, or even as an adult, fulfilling the expectations his family had for him until he ran away. His mind is unable to connect the dreary, oppressing atmosphere with the wild, reckless, blazing personality, with all the warmth and mischief and liveliness that are so Sirius.

No wonder that he went mad among all of this.

In comparison, Arcturus study is nearly cosy. The walls are covered with shelves full of books and parchment, a fire is burning in the hearth that washes everything in soft light, and two armchairs stand in front of the large mahogany desk.

Sirius doesn’t sit down until Arcturus nods for them to take a seat, and he stays tense, sitting stiffly at the edge of his seat with his hands clenched in his lap.

“What is so important, then?” Arcturus asks, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers in front of him.

“Regulus betrayed Voldemort,” Sirius says bluntly, a tinge of smugness in his tone. James notes that Arcturus doesn’t seem bothered to hear the name out loud, and he wonders what his stance on the whole matter is. “He spied for our side, was betrayed but got away. We suspect that Voldemort will try to lure him out by attacking other family members.”

Arcturus still doesn’t show any sign of surprise, just tilts his head ever so slightly. “And what do you propose we should do now?”

He can hear Sirius grind his teeth. “Are you trying to get me to behave like the heir I don’t want to be or are you honestly going to consider my opinion?”

It didn’t even occur to James that this is what Arcturus is doing, but the small smirk curling his lips tells him that Sirius got it right in one. “I don’t see how I can’t do both.”

“Listen,” Sirius says with a tired sigh. “I don’t care what you do, but Regulus does, and I don’t want him to do something stupid because he’s worried. So, my suggestion is that you and the rest of the lot go into hiding.”

“Because you care about Regulus.” It’s not a question, and Sirius pinches the bridge of his nose.

“Obviously. Merlin damn it, this is not some stupid game. I know you didn’t disinherit me and while I have absolutely no idea why you wouldn’t, I also know that you adjusted your will so Regulus can become Head of the Family when you die. Let’s just leave it at that, get Walburga and whoever else and, I don’t know, put the house under the Fidelius or whatever.”

Arcturus sighs, leaning forward and crossing his arms on the desk. Sirius instantly snaps his mouth shut, looking wary.

“Sirius, I didn’t disinherit you because half of my family thought it would be a good idea to get involved in a war, and there’s a high chance that not many of you will make it to the other side. You may fraternize with blood-traitors and Muggles, but you’re a Black, and to be honest, I wasn’t very surprised when you left Grimmauld Place. I will contemplate your advice, but I think that we will take a prolonged holiday at one of the French estates,” Arcturus says calmly.

James’ mind is whirring with indignation over the casual insults, and surprise that Arcturus doesn’t seem to approve of the loyalty to Voldemort, and he’s not sure what to make of any of this.

Sirius seems to have the same problem, because he stammers, “You don’t – you think it was a bad idea of Bella and Regulus to join Voldemort?”

“Of course,” Arcturus sneers. “We’re Blacks, we don’t prostrate ourselves to anyone. Neither self-proclaimed Dark Lords who are mere Half-bloods, nor – “

“Wait, what?” Sirius asks, eyes wide and disbelieving. “Are you seriously meaning to tell me that the maniac who’s fighting a war over blood-purity isn’t even a Pureblood?”

Arcturus raises a brow and smiles condescendingly. “You didn’t think Voldemort was his real name, did you? He went to school the same time as my children and your mother did, an unimportant orphan whose mother came from the Gaunt line but married a Muggle. I don’t see how that would be of importance to you though – I remember long, passionate speeches about how none of this matters.”

“It doesn’t,” Sirius snaps, crossing his arms over his chest. “The hypocrisy is astounding, that’s all. I mean, we could actually use that to discredit his support.”

Arcturus just waves a dismissive hand. “Don’t think I approve of your side any more than I do of the other. Is that all then?”

James for his part is still pretty stuck on what he just learnt; he’s not sure if he even believes it, it seems so utterly ridiculous to him. He has to bite his tongue to keep his laughter contained, images of the possible expression of all those followers of Voldemort that already spouted their purity-bullshit in school coming up in his mind.

“Do they know?” Sirius asks, ignoring the question. “Does Bellatrix know? Did my parents know when they forced Regulus to become one of them?”

For the first time since they arrived, Arcturus’ expression shifts into something that doesn’t look controlled. It’s only for the fraction of a second but it’s enough for James to see the short flicker of anger.

“What do you mean, forced him?”

Sirius raises a brow and scoffs. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know how especially my dear mother spent years talking about us joining? It was one of the reasons I ran because she started pushing for it more and more. I’m pretty convinced that they didn’t give Regulus much of a choice. Not that he would have rebelled much, back then.”

Arcturus just stares at him with narrowed eyes before he nods sharply. “I should have anticipated that. It’s neither here nor there now, so I’m going to ask again – is that all?”

Honestly, James knows that he should have expected it and theoretically, he did, but the formality and coldness between them are impossibly hard to grasp for him. He never had much contact with any of the Blacks, only knows what Sirius told him, but witnessing it is still something else than hearing about it.

His own family has always been warm and compassionate with each other. Granted, there were rules and manners expected, but it never felt like – like sitting in the office of a teacher stricter than McGonagall, for Merlin’s sake.

“Yes, just make sure you don’t get yourself killed,” Sirius says, rolling his eyes and getting up.

James quickly follows suit and attempts a smile that gets no reaction whatsoever out of the regal, old man.

“Goodbye, grandfather,” Sirius says with a vaguely mocking smirk and gestures for James to walk out first. “We’ll see ourselves out.”

They don’t say anything until they’re out of the house. The fog has lifted from the ground, and James has to shield his eyes against the washed-out light after the darkness of the house.

It takes him a moment to notice that it’s snowing. Soft, thick snowflakes that contrast sharply against Sirius’ black hair, catching in his lashes and reflecting the soft light, and James is unable to pull his eyes away.

“Charming, isn’t he?” Sirius says, shaking his head when they’re past the gate and James quickly looks away, back at the house.

“Well, could have been worse. But honestly, a Half-blood?” he says, still not really over it.

Sirius snorts and pulls his jacket a bit closer around himself. “I hope I can be the one to throw that in dear Bella’s face when I see her the next time. Anyway, come on, I’ll side-along you.”

They pop into existence at the edge of a small village that reminds him of Hogsmeade, the street lying quiet and empty in front of them. It’s not snowing here and he’s rather glad about it – there’s just something about Sirius that makes him appear even more unrealistically handsome, though James wouldn’t admit that for the life of him.

“Your family has a house in a Muggle town?” he asks instead, raising his brows at Sirius who’s looking around them with a frown.

“Well, Grimmauld Place is in a Muggle district as well, isn’t it? Besides, no, it’s a bit outside of the village but I’m not sure if it was this side or the other end.”

James chooses not to comment; he thinks that he’d probably only tie himself into knots if he tried to ever understand the Blacks.

“Oh, I think I remember, come on,” Sirius says, and James follows him down a narrow path leading away from the street and into the forest. They walk for nearly fifteen minutes, the silence only interrupted occasionally when Sirius mutters to himself or stops like he’s searching for something.

James wants to ask if he’s alright after visiting Arcturus, but Sirius seems absent, and he has long since learned that it’s absolutely useless to try getting him to talk if he’s not in the mood. So he stays silent, tries to commit the way to memory, and plays over the conversation in his own mind.

They reach a clearing with a small brick house in the middle that looks surprisingly friendly for a Black estate. Sirius stops, pulls his wand, and goes through a litany of spells before he nods in satisfaction.

“Nobody’s there and most of the wards are still in good condition. Come on, I actually liked this one if I remember correctly.”

There’s an overgrown garden behind a low wall that’s crumbling in places and the wooden door makes a horrible creaking noise when Sirius pushes it open. A long, dark hallway stretches in front of them with doors to both sides and a spiral staircase at the end of it.

Sirius pushes open the first door to their left and they enter a large kitchen, a huge table to the side with a corner seat in front of the windows. It’s dusty, only little light trickling in through the dirty glass, but James thinks that after some serious cleaning, it would actually be homey and comfortable.

There’s another door at the opposite wall, leading into an even larger living room with a fireplace, walls lined with bookshelves like in Arcturus’ study, and a couch and a few armchairs scattered around.

Sirius points at another door to their right. “One of the bathrooms, and that door over there goes into the backyard,” he says before turning around and walking back through the kitchen and into the corridor.

The door on the right holds a large bedroom they only spare a brief glance for before walking up the stairs that end in a narrow landing.

“Three more bedrooms, all with an en-suite, and another sitting room,” Sirius says, flicking his wand to spell all the doors and windows open. “Considering that this house was only used for the yearly hunts, it’s ridiculously huge, but all the better for us. Regulus always liked the bedroom downstairs, so we can each pick one up here if that’s alright with you?”

James just nods, poking his head into all of the rooms and being relieved when he finds that none of them has the dark, gloomy atmosphere that he found at Black Manor. It’s all rustic dark-wood-and-white-walls country house style and with a bit of work, he thinks he will probably like it a lot.

He turns towards Sirius, leaning against a doorframe and crossing his ankles. “Do you have a preference?”

Sirius looks around and shrugs. “Not really, and we sleep in the same bed most nights anyway. We should start cleaning a bit though, I think we both need some sleep before we can start fixing anything up for real. That one has windows to the west though, so you probably want it.”

James smiles to himself and nods, walking into the room he was just standing in front of. It’s large with one whole wall of French windows to the left side, a broad double bed tugged into the corner to the right and dark wooden floorboards.

Sirius leaves him to it, disappearing into the room across from him, and he gets to cleaning the surfaces of what must be years of dust, unpacking his bags and changing the bedsheets at least.

Now that they’ve dealt with the most important issues that came with Regulus’ arrival and learning of Peter’s betrayal, James starts to feel the strain of it all, can feel exhaustion creeping up on him, the few hours they had managed to sleep last night not nearly enough to deal with everything.

Since they made it back to their flat and realized they had to leave, he ignored all of the emotions that came with it, threw himself into managing the fallout, and keeping an eye on Sirius all through the visit. Now that he’s here, unpacking his things, it’s all crashing down on him.

It feels like they lost so much in one night, and eventually, he leaves his half-unpacked stuff where it is and sinks down on the bed, pulling his knees up to his chest and leaning his forehead against them.

One of their best friends. He knows it’s useless, but he wonders if there’s anything they could have done, wonders just where they went wrong that Peter ever considered giving all of it up.

There have always been some people who saw him as the tag-along and yes, nobody ever compared to Sirius, but to James, there has never been any doubt that Peter is as much a Marauder as all of them. That he was as important to him as Remus or Sirius, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t come up with a single reason for why he would do something so horrible.

All of them are scared, and they would’ve understood if Peter had said that he doesn’t want to keep fighting. To actually betray all of them though, costing their friends their lives – it just feels like the worst thing he could have done.

He can feel tears burning in his eyes and clenches them shut. He doesn’t want to cry over this, doesn’t want to feel so terribly hurt, tries to pull the anger back up but to no avail.

“Hey Prongs, do you – oh shit,” Sirius mutters and a moment later James can feel the mattress shift, familiar arms pulling him into a hug.

A sob escapes him and he buries his head into Sirius’ chest, loathing himself for being unable to just deal with this, to be the one who needs the comfort right now. It’s not like Sirius didn’t go through the same horrible night, his brother turning up half-dead and then dealing with his family on top of everything else, so why in Merlin’s name is it him who’s breaking down now?

Sirius shifts so that they can lie down and James curls into him, digging his fingers into Sirius’ waist and still trying to suppress the urge to just let go and cry. Really, he didn’t think he had the capacity for another breakdown, but he obviously underestimated himself.

“Why – how could he – “ he chokes out, knowing that Sirius has as much of an answer to that as he does but the words are clawing at his throat, circling in his mind over and over, and he just wants to understand. Wants to have a reason beyond Peter’s fear to make this terrible sense of betrayal stop burning up his insides.

Sirius sighs softly, carding a hand through James’ hair and the other running over his back. “I don’t know, I really don’t. But we still have us, alright? We’ll get through this, like with everything else.”

“Don’t you dare leave me too, Sirius, I swear –“

“Never. Not in a million years, James. You’re stuck with me, you hear me?” Sirius says, his voice strained and rough and the arm around James tightening.

He can only nod against Sirius’ shoulder, and he thinks how lucky he is that he actually still manages to believe him, despite everything.

Chapter Text

They must have fallen asleep at some point and Sirius wakes up only slowly, needing a moment to remember where they are and how they ended up on the bed. It’s absolutely freezing, the windows in the hallway still open, and he flicks his wand to close them before casting a few Warming Charms.

It’s dark outside and he tiredly rubs his eyes, looking down at James who’s still sleeping, curled up on his side and face pressed into the pillow.

A quick Tempus tells him that it’s seven am and his eyes widen at just how long they’ve slept. Then again, it’s probably not much of a surprise after the night they had he thinks, getting up and traipsing into the bathroom.

He feels more awake after a hot shower. James is stirring when he comes back into the room, eyes bleary and blinking up at Sirius, lingering on his naked chest before James actually blushes and quickly looks away.

Raising an amused brow, he bites his lip to not tease him about it, thinking that now probably isn’t the time. “Feel better?” he asks instead, relieved when James gives him a small nod and pulls himself out of bed, disappearing into the bathroom.

Seeing that there’s no food in the house yet, they walk into the village to get some breakfast, the brisk winter air dispelling the last remnants of sleep.

They find a small café at the end of the main street, the smell of coffee and pastries wafting down the street. It’s comfortable inside, overstuffed and mismatched armchairs scattered around coffee tables, and it’s early enough to not be too full yet.

“I want to visit Remus,” Sirius says after finishing his food, the urge to make things right between them gnawing at him. “Want to come with me?”

James shakes his head, finishing his coffee and scrunching his nose to push up his glasses. “I think I’ll get some groceries and check on my parents.”

“Yeah alright. I’ll just come up to Hogwarts when I’m done then. I want to check on Regulus anyway,” he says with a nod, a little relieved if he’s honest.

Ever since he realized that his feelings for James aren’t platonic at all, spending too much time in James’ company is difficult. Which means it’s basically constantly difficult because – and Sirius marvels at how he’d never really noticed this – they’re spending nearly all of their time together, even more so since James broke up with Lily.

And it’s not like he doesn’t enjoy it, really. All things considered, it’s probably a good thing they do because he can at least have this, can have James next to him and curl up with him in bed at night and all those things they’ve always done. But at the same time that’s exactly what makes it so unfairly hard; to not cross the little distance and just kiss him, to not roll on top of him at night, or simply press him against the next best wall.

Shaking his head to dispel the thoughts before his mind ends up in the gutter again, he pulls out some Muggle money and leaves it on the table.

“Say hi to your parents for me,” he says when they’re out of the door and in a backyard from where they can apparate.

“Sure, I’ll see you later,” James says with a smile before he pops away.

Sirius tries to gather himself to apparate, but his attention keeps slipping, and he blows out a harsh breath. No matter how hard he tries to keep it together, he can feel how it’s all simmering just underneath the surface.

Peter’s betrayal, Regulus getting hurt again, losing their flat, their home. Being forced to deal with Arcturus, the feeling that his bloody surname is still dangling over his head like the Damocles sword. Confronting Peter last night wasn’t nearly enough to calm the desire to tear something apart, to burn something down, to just discharge his mess of emotions somehow.

Not because he didn’t make him pay, and he regretted casting a Crucio like he’s fucking Bellatrix as soon as he thought about it again, but he still can’t believe that they actually let him get away.

He leans back against the dingy wall and pulls out his cigarettes, deciding that he just needs a moment to sort out his tangled thoughts before he visits Remus. It’s not only that he wrongly suspected him, but Remus has been stressed and agitated for weeks now, and Sirius doesn’t want to fight again because his own temper is short. And Peter’s betrayal must be as hard on Remus as it is on them.

The burning in his throat does manage to calm him down though and when he apparates, he feels a little better. At least enough to not hesitate to knock on Remus’ door, who opens within seconds.

“Sirius,” he says and while he sounds a bit surprised, it’s not as hostile as the last time they spoke. They exchange the usual security questions before Remus waves him into the kitchen, a sad smile gracing his lips.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius blurts out as soon as he sits down, cringing slightly when he does. “I mean for our fights and for being so… pissed, the last time we saw each other. The whole spy-in-the-order-business drove me mad and you were so… not you, I – yeah, I’m sorry.”

He ducks his head, already thinking that this was one of his worse apologies and startles slightly when Remus’ hand lands on his shoulder.

“It’s alright, I don’t blame you. After having a few days of rest, I can see your point if I’m honest. Not that the rest did me much good, considering –“

He trails off, his face scrunches up and his eyes are fixed on the window behind Sirius.

“Yeah, I know,” he says quietly and Remus sighs, sitting down next to him.

“How’s James taking it?”

“Well, let’s just say that he only made me promise to not murder him on the spot,” Sirius says, and they exchange a knowing look. Out of the three of them, James is easily the most trusting, sometimes bordering on naïve. He lost a lot of that innocence since they left school, Sirius thinks, and it makes something painful well up in him.

“Did you catch him, then?” Remus asks, rolling a cigarette, but the way his jaw clenches and his eyes gleam betrays the anger he doubtlessly feels.

“He was home when we came but we were stupid, just bound him. He transformed when we were – distracted for a moment.”

Remus sends him a searching look at his pause before he lights up his cigarette and leans back in his chair. “How are you, really?”

His first impulse is to wave him off, to insist that he’s holding up fine, but not only does he know that Remus wouldn’t believe him anyway, he’s also so exhausted that he doesn’t think he would manage.

“I – well. It’s all – so many things are coming together right now, Peter, Regulus – wait, did you even know that Regulus defected?” he starts, drawing his brows together.

“Dumbledore mentioned something but not what it’s about. Just that it might be enough to win us the war, though I’m not sure if he’s not just getting a bit loony with his age.” Remus smiles wryly and startles a laugh out of Sirius.

“I’m not sure either but regarding this, he might just be right. Regulus discovered something important and actually came to me about it. It’s a long story and I’m not even allowed to talk about half of it, but we had a horrible night and afterwards, Dumbledore convinced him to work as a spy. Peter knew, you can probably guess how that turned out,” he explains, and while he hates that he can’t tell Remus what exactly happened, he’s kind of glad to not talk about that night again.

“Anyway, Regulus turned up in our flat last night after Voldemort found out, it’s how we knew it’s Peter. He was the only one who – the night we went to retrieve the artefact, both Regulus and James got – hurt. I needed help, barely holding myself together, both James and Regulus were – Merlin,” he swallows and desperately tries to dispel the images.

“Did you know I’m not disinherited?” he asks to change the topic. “I just had to visit my dear grandfather yesterday to send him and the family into hiding because of Regulus. It feels like I’ll never be rid of them, honestly. Regulus still lies in the hospital wing, and on top of all that, I’m – I mean – me and James, it’s – “

“Oh, so you’ve finally sorted yourselves out?” Remus asks, and Sirius’ head snaps up, eyes narrowing.

“What do you mean?”

Remus laughs, shaking his head. “The two of you, I swear, a blind man could have seen – “

“Stop right there, what the hell are you talking about?” Sirius asks, his heart pounding in his chest.

Remus looks aghast for a second, eyes wide. “James didn’t tell –? Oh Merlin, I can’t believe this,” he mutters and runs a hand over his face.

“Moony,” Sirius growls, his patience dangerously thin. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You didn’t tell James that you finally realized that you had a crush on him for years?” Remus asks conversationally, vanishing the remains of his cigarette with a flick of his wand.

“Why – no, of course not,” he stammers, staring at Remus incomprehensibly. “Wait a second, you said James – the two of us – are you saying that James has a crush on me as well?”

Remus groans and lets his head drop onto the table for a moment before he lifts it again to level a glare at him. “What do you think is the reason he broke up with Lily, Sirius? I mean, I know James is an oblivious idiot, but I thought when you finally got it, you wouldn’t be just as bad – and for the record, I was definitely not the one to tell you this. I simply can’t watch the two of you dance around each other for another two years, honestly. Do you know how disgustingly co-dependent you are?”

“Lily said the same –“ Sirius blurts out before he snaps his mouth shut again. Lily did say the same, the conversation only now coming back to him and he laughs, slapping a hand against his forehead. “Shit how did I not realize this for so long? And you’re sure –“

“If you finish that sentence, I’m going to hex you,” Remus growls but the corner of his mouth is twitching and for the first time within the last forty-eight hours, Sirius doesn’t feel completely consumed by dread and anger.

“Alright, sorry. Thank you though, we probably would have danced around each other for another two years – oh, I’m so going to tease him about that,” he says with a grin, leaning back in his chair.

After a moment to revel in that ridiculously giddy feeling, he sobers again and pins Remus with a look. “Enough of me though, how about you? You still look tired, to be honest.”

“Tired, resigned, furious, I don’t even know anymore. The missions I had were hell and above all else, unsuccessful. I also feel like I still haven’t processed what Peter did, like I’m just going to wake up and realize it’s been nothing but a stupid nightmare. I just can’t believe he would do that to us, not only us three but Marlene, Dorcas – “ he breaks off and presses his mouth into a thin line.

“Yeah, I know,” Sirius says quietly. “Even when he – when we caught him last night, I mean we asked why he did it. Or well, James did, I was a bit – you can probably imagine. All he had as an excuse was that he was scared. And I mean I get that, it’s not like we aren’t all bloody scared, and I know he’s always been more careful, more timid. But still – it doesn’t even make sense, does he really think he’ll have it better with Voldemort as his boss or Lord, or whatever the bastard calls himself?”

Remus shrugs helplessly, shaking his head. “I don’t know, I don’t even know if I’m glad that I wasn’t there last night or if it would make it easier to have him look me in the eyes. I’m not sure what I’d want to do if I saw him.”

“Murder,” Sirius says flatly, and it’s far less of a joke than he makes it out to be.

Remus grimaces, sighing again. “I can’t say I didn’t think of that, but it’s not worth it. It would only haunt us in the end.”

Sirius hums, tilting his head. James said the same thing, and he’s not all that sure that it would hold true for him, but he knows that he is a bit different in that regard. He knows that his moral system isn’t all that refined, and he’s not sure if he’ll ever feel enough nostalgia over Peter to regret it if he actually killed him.

The only reason he didn’t was for James’ sake, and he’s still not convinced that it was the right decision after the bloody rat got away. But he knows that he’s better off with keeping some things to himself, even if Remus and James probably both know what he’s thinking.

“At the very least he’s not worth going to Azkaban,” Remus confirms his train of thought, pinning him with a look.

Raising both his hands, he forces a small smile. “I know, I know. I’m not going to hunt him down, I swear. Honestly, I just hope Voldemort will find him as useless as he is, now that he can’t pass on any information and he’s going to regret his own choices eventually.”

Remus’ grin is anything but nice. “I didn’t say you shouldn’t, just to not get caught.”

He snorts and raises a brow at him, only vaguely surprised if he’s honest. Remus is all soft sweaters and tea and books until you seriously cross him, understanding those feral, animalistic urges a little better than he normally leads on. It’s something the two of them have in common, albeit for very different reasons. “We’ll see, I think we have other things to worry about first. James and I moved, and as soon as Regulus is out of the Hospital Wing, we’re putting the house under the Fidelius. You’re sure you are fine here? We have enough space.”

“Might consider it,” Remus says after a moment, looking around his kitchen. “I already changed the wards but – I’ll tell you over the next days, yeah?”

He just nods and shifts a bit in his chair. “You’re going to stay for a while, then?”

“Yeah, I think Dumbledore finally got it through his head that those missions are not getting us anywhere, and it’s not like I’m complaining. Did you hear from Lily recently?”

Sirius startles at the realization that he hasn’t, and slowly shakes his head, already pondering when he could check on her. He doesn’t think she’d be particularly fond of the idea of moving in with James, but he should offer it, at least.

“I’ll check on her,” Remus says with a knowing look. “Go, Sirius.”

Smiling sheepishly, he sighs. “That obvious?”

“Ever since you finally got it,” Remus says dryly but doesn’t manage to hide his smile. “Don’t worry about it, you’ve waited long enough – or well, you probably didn’t, considering that you’re dense as a brick – “

“Alright, alright I get it,” he laughs, standing up and pulling Remus into a hug. “Thank you,” he murmurs and then he’s out of the house within seconds, apparating to Hogsmeade.

There are a few students out on the grounds, but he quickly strides past them. Still, no matter how much he wants to find James and drag him off to the next-best broom cupboard, he wants to check up on Regulus first.

Alright, and regardless of what Remus said, there’s still some lingering uncertainty, and he’s also not sure yet how he’s going to approach the topic, though he refuses to call it stalling. And he really wants to see his brother.

The Infirmary lies silent, weak sunlight streaming through the window and the only bed that is occupied is Regulus’ at the back, a curtain cutting it off from the rest of the room.

Regulus is sleeping, the cuts on his face only faint lines and the bruises already fading, but Sirius’ heart still clenches in his chest.

“I should have never let you go back there,” he murmurs, carefully running a hand through Regulus’ hair.

“Not like you could have stopped me,” Regulus slurs, his eyes opening slowly, and he looks up at Sirius with fond amusement.

“I’m pretty sure I’d win a duel between us,” he counters, pulling a chair close and sitting down next to him. “How are you doing?”

Pulling himself up into a sitting position, Regulus gives a jerky shrug, only to wince in obvious pain. “I think Madame Pomfrey said something about punctured lungs and keeping me until tomorrow. What about you? Found the traitor?”

“And lost him again,” Sirius says with a sigh, the anger by now only a simmering current underneath his resignation. “What happened, exactly?”

Regulus looks down, fiddling with his blanket and Sirius can see his jaw work. “He called me in, nothing unusual. Asked me if I learnt anything interesting recently, typical mind-games, then mentioned that he heard I had an ‘unfortunate run-in’ with a potion and my – you. I realized what’s going on but before I could activate the Portkey, he started cursing me. No idea what exactly he did, only that between one Crucio and the other he invaded my mind. I kept him out for some time but it’s rather hard when – anyway. I got my hands on the necklace Dumbledore gave me eventually and well, you know the rest.”

“Never say you’re not brave again, you hear me?” Sirius says, his voice breaking over the last few words and he balls his hands into fists to hide the tremble.

Regulus smiles faintly. “Did you know that the hat wanted to put me into Ravenclaw, actually?”

“Of course it would,” Sirius snorts. “I always wondered.”

“What, if I was meant to be a Slytherin?”

“No, what the hat debated about, it took some time to sort you,” he says with a smile, remembering the mix of trepidation and disappointment about Regulus ending up in Slytherin, and the pride that it at least considered putting him somewhere else.

He sobers when he remembers something else though and throws up a Silencing Charm around them. “Dumbledore said you muttered something about more Horcruxes?” he asks, uncertain if he really wants to hear the answer to that.

Regulus face turns hard as well and his shoulders tense. “I’m not completely sure, but a few days ago Bella was boasting about something. She claimed that the Dark Lord trusts her so much that he gave her something of the utmost importance, for safekeeping. I only heard about it because she got into a petty fight with Lucius, who said she’s not the only one. Makes sense, don’t you think?”

“Bloody hell,” he groans, fisting a hand in his hair. “Sounds like a children party, fighting who’s Daddy’s favourite.”

Regulus grimaces but doesn’t contradict him, what is saying more than enough.

“Anyway, I hate to think that there are more but you’re right, it does make sense. But we can worry about that when you’re out of here, one day more doesn’t really make a difference anyway.”

Regulus face clouds over even more and Sirius didn’t think that was possible. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do,” Regulus says, his voice strangled.

“What do you mean?” Sirius frowns and watches his brother closely.

“Where I’m supposed to go – I need to warn mother and –“

He stops him by putting a hand on his arm. “Didn’t Dumbledore tell you?”


“Old fool. Anyway, I inherited the old Hunting House from Alphard, remember the one?”

Regulus nods but still looks confused.

“James and I have moved all our stuff there already and as soon as Pomfrey declares you good to go, we’re going to put it under the Fidelius, with you as the Secret Keeper. So, you’re going to stay with us. As for our dear mother, I visited Arcturus yesterday and –“

“Wait, are you saying you met with grandfather, voluntarily?” Regulus interrupts, brows raising and eyes incredulous.

“I wouldn’t call it voluntarily, exactly, but I knew it would bother you and I really didn’t want to talk to Walburga, so yes. They’re moving to France for the time being. You can stay with them, of course, if that’s what you want?” It only occurs to him now, though he dearly hopes that Regulus won’t. He rather likes the idea of keeping him close and out of Walburga’s grasp.

Regulus smirks faintly and shakes his head. “You actually talked to grandfather because of me? My, you’re going soft, Siri. I’d rather stay here though, but I’m not sure that I really should be the one to – “

Rolling his eyes, he interrupts him. “I’m not so soft yet that you’re going to win this argument. You’ll have to stay in most of the time, and James and I are going to be the first ones Voldemort will try to capture – oh get over yourself, it’s just a name,” he says in exasperation when Regulus flinches again.

“It’s not because I’m scared of the name,” Regulus hisses, glaring at him and one hand curling around his left forearm.

“What else, then?” he asks, confused as Regulus’ eyes widen.

“Oh Salazar, I should have told you and Dumbledore about that ages ago,” he groans, running a hand through his hair. “He marks his followers, it’s a well-kept secret. It’s how he calls us, or how we call him,” he explains and pulls back his left sleeve to reveal an ugly, ink-black tattoo of a skull and a snake, the same symbol that always hovers over the site of attacks.

“Wow that’s –“ Sirius doesn’t know what to say; revulsion is welling up within him and a look at Regulus’ face shows the same feelings mirrored right back. “I’m sorry.”

Pulling his sleeve back down, Regulus shrugs. “Not your fault. Anyway, it burns when someone says his name.”

“Merlin, he’s such a sick bastard, isn’t he? Though some things actually make sense now, I always wondered how certain attacks were organised or how it was possible to call reinforcements on such a short notice. Dumbledore will probably prod at you when you show him,” he says with an apologetic grimace, but Regulus just waves him off.

They’re interrupted by Madame Pomfrey coming with another batch of potions, and she glares at Sirius. “He needs sleep, not someone who interrogates him under a Silencing Charm.”

“Sorry, though I’m sure Reggie loves a bit of distraction,” he says with a smirk, knowing that she actually likes him after all the times they spent here with Remus.

She just shakes her head while Regulus rolls his eyes at the nickname.

Getting up, he gives Regulus a brief hug. “We’ll pick you up tomorrow, alright? I kept the bedroom downstairs free for you.”

Madame Pomfrey doesn’t let him linger and he’s just out of the Infirmary when it occurs to him that he has no idea where to find James. He pulls his wand and conjures a Patronus, only to stop dead in his tracks at the form it takes.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, seriously?” he laughs, staring at the stag in front of him that’s tossing its head and scuffling his feet. “No way am I going to send that to him.”

He cancels the charm and decides to go for a smoke first, hoping that he might run into someone on the way who can tell him where James’ parents are staying.

“There you are!” James shouts at him, just coming down the stairs to the Entrance Hall from the other side as Sirius wants to step through the door, and he promptly stumbles over his feet.

There were so many things running through his mind even after Remus told him – or well, butted his head right in – but looking at James now, he’s assaulted by memories when he really should have realized what’s going on. Not only his own feelings but James’ too.

The way James’ whole face lights up upon seeing him, how especially in recent weeks he was even more tactile than usual, how his eyes kept lingering. The many, many instances of drawn-out eye-contact and the awkward blush and change of topic afterwards, and Sirius can’t help but laugh.

Honestly, he usually prides himself on picking up on these kinds of things rather quickly but it’s like he didn’t want to see it.

James looks confused and stops a few feet away from him. “Are you alright?”

Slinging an arm around his neck, Sirius pulls him outside, shaking his head. “Yep, not mad yet. Doesn’t matter, let’s go home first, alright?”

James looks doubtful but doesn’t protest, and Sirius tips his head back, trying to catch one of the few rays of the weak winter sun. Snow is covering the ground here, crunching under their feet and Sirius always loved winter, especially up here in Scotland. For a moment, being here, knowing Regulus will be alright, knowing that James actually returns his feelings, the world is pretty okay.

“How are your parents?” he asks, looking back at James and biting back his smirk when he catches James watching him out of the corner of his eye.

Not that he’s one to talk; the only thing better than winter is winter and James.

“Fine, though mum was shocked about Peter. They’re putting the house under a Fidelius as well, so I think they’re going to be fine.”

It eases some of his lingering tension, to know that they’re not in any danger. “I offered Remus to move in with us, he says he will think about it. He’s checking up on Lily right now.”

“That’s good,” James says with a small smile.

It’s snowing in Soudley as well and they light up the fireplaces in the house. James is busying himself in the kitchen with cleaning and putting away the groceries he bought, while Sirius watches him from the corner chair, wondering how he’s supposed to bring up the topic that’s currently occupying his mind.

He has a few ideas, but as soon as he gets them, he dismisses them again. They both aren’t really the type for grand gestures, for love confessions and teary proclamations, and it’s that thought that eventually makes him get up and walk over to James, who’s currently cutting some vegetables on the counter.

Coming to a halt next to him, he takes the knife out of his hand and smirks as James turns around to look at him in confusion.

“What are you –“ James breaks off again and Sirius can see him swallow.

“You know,” he says lowly and takes another step forward into James’ space, “I had a rather interesting conversation with Remus today.” 

Chapter Text

“You know,” he says lowly and takes another step forward into James’ space, “I had a rather interesting conversation with Remus today.”

“Did you now?” James’ voice is rough, and his eyes flicker to Sirius’ lips when he softly bites them.

Honestly, how did he not notice this?

Lifting a hand, he tugs at one of James’ curls before running his hand through them and hums in agreement. “Yes, and you know what I think?” He meets James’ eyes, his pupils blown while he’s obviously still trying to keep a hold on his composure. Maybe it’s a bit unfair, considering that James really is an oblivious idiot who has as little an idea about Sirius’ feelings for him as Sirius had about his, a few hours ago.

“I think you have a crush on me,” he finishes bluntly, watching as a faint blush creeps over James’ cheeks and he swallows again.

“What? No – I – how did you get that idea?” James protests, but his voice comes out weak and his eyes are panicked as he tries to get away from him.  

“Wait, you idiot,” Sirius laughs, grabbing his wrist and pulling him back. “I’m pretty sure you do, and I’m also pretty sure that we’re both idiots because that feeling is absolutely mutual.”

James stares at him, mouth slightly open and a second later, James is kissing him, hands fisting into Sirius’ jumper while he’s pressing against him. It’s only short, their noses bumping together and James’ glasses digging into his cheeks before he pulls back again.

“Are you serious – no wait, don’t you dare,” James laughs, his eyes bright and sparkling. “Do you mean it?”

“Yeah,” Sirius says softly, leaning their foreheads together and closing his eyes. “I definitely mean it.”

Sirius kisses him first, this time, more hesitant and soft and he can feel the breath catch in his throat, the way his heart is attempting to beat out of his chest and he leans into him, buries one hand in James’ hair and uses his other arm to pull him as close as possible.

He makes a low whining noise when James pulls away, only slowly blinking his eyes open again and needing a moment to come back into the kitchen.

“Let’s move, shall we?” James says, smiling and running a thumb over Sirius’ jaw.

A laugh bubbles up in his chest and he takes a deep breath. “Yeah, let’s – I still can’t –“

“Yeah, I know,” James grins before he’s kissing him again and Sirius bites his lip softly, licking over the spot with his tongue and shivering when James returns the gesture.

Shifting his weight, he rolls his hips and moans into the kiss at the friction. James’ fingers dig into his waist, both of them trying to press closer and it makes Sirius’ head spin and his knees go weak. Distantly, he wonders why it took him so long to understand just how much he wants this.

“Bed, or couch, now. I don’t care,” James pants against his lips and Sirius nods.

His first instinct is to use the couch, seeing that it’s closer, but he actually wants to do this right and dismisses the idea, pulling James after him, up the stairs and into the room they used last night.

They fall onto the bed in a tangle of limbs and Sirius rolls on top of him, kissing him again and running his hands all over his chest and arms. There are too many clothes between them, and he sits up to tug at James’ jumper, which earns himself a bright grin.

“Impatient,” he teases, and Sirius just shrugs unapologetically, pulling off his own jumper.

“I think we’ve waited long enough,” he says, leaning down to draw him back into a kiss.

It should be weird, he thinks, after being friends for so many years but it just feels right, like it’s exactly what they were supposed to be doing the whole time.

He lets one hand slip under James’ shirt, over the sharp curve of his hipbone and his ribs, while deepening their kiss.

James’ nails scrapping over his back make him shiver and he presses closer, rolling his hips again and making them both moan.

“Still too many clothes,” James murmurs against his lips and he smiles, kisses the corner of his mouth and his cheeks and draws his lips over the shell of his ear.

“Patience,” he says, biting into the soft skin of his neck and relishing in the way James’ fingers clench into his skin before burying into his hair.

It would be easy to just discard all of their clothes, to just let go, but Sirius wants to savour every moment of this, wants to do it right. Wants to commit every single moment to memory as best as he can.

Still, James does have a point and he pulls his shirt over his head before doing the same with his own, the feeling of skin against skin travelling down to his toes.

“Fuck, you’re so –“ he breathes against James’ lips who pulls him close again, kissing him roughly and rolling his hips up against his.

“Sirius, I want to, please can we –“ James words are slurred, breathless, and fuck, he needs to hear more of this but he’s also aware that it’s the first time for James doing this with a man and he doesn’t want to overwhelm him.

“Are you sure?” he asks, pulling back and meeting James’ eyes as he keeps his hands still for the moment.

“Yes.” It’s calm and certain, and James looks at him like he’s the most precious thing in the world. Swallowing against the way his throat’s closing up he nods, rolling off him so they can both get out of their trousers.

It’s still cold up here, and he pulls the blanket over them before he turns onto his side to pull James close, with an arm around his waist and one hand on his jaw.

James seems to disagree, tugging at him until Sirius is straddling him once more and they both groan when their cocks rub together. Sirius buries his head into the crook of James’ neck, breathing him in, trying to not let the burning need underneath his skin overwhelm him completely and keep as much of a clear head as is possible.

He steadies himself on one elbow, using his other hand to reach between them and wrap it around both of their cocks, stroking slowly. James’ skin is soft underneath his fingertips, and he makes a strangled, breathless noise that only adds to Sirius’ arousal. They keep moving against each other, their bodies sliding together, and it’s like every single nerve-ending lights up at the touch. 

Raising his head, he stares down at James’ face in wonder, still not sure if he can believe this is actually happening, how bloody intoxicating this is. James has his eyes closed, one hand reaching over his head and fisting in the pillow and the other is clenching on Sirius’ hip while his thumb draws circles into his skin.

“Shit, I need – Can we –“ James stutters, opening his eyes and looking up at him. “Please, Sirius stop teasing, I –“

“What do you want, Jamie?” he asks with a smirk, brushing their lips together and continuing the slow strokes. He’s stalling a bit, he knows, but he wants to draw this out and the sounds James is making are driving him mad as it is.

James growls low in his throat, surprising him when he flips them around to swap their positions. It’s not like he minds though, and he throws his head back when James wraps his hand around both of their cocks tightly, setting a steady rhythm.

“Fuck, Sirius you’re so bloody perfect,” James breathes into his ear and Sirius buries his hands into his hair, tugging slightly and pressing his face against James’ shoulder. It’s nearly too much, the way his throat is closing up and how his chest feels like it might burst open any second.

He never thought he would have this, would have James looking down at him with his eyes half-closed and his cheeks flushed, smiling softly like this is the best thing that ever happened to him; never thought that sex could feel so intimate and deep and safe.

Heat is coiling in his gut, his legs are trembling and he bites James’ neck, scrapes his nails over his back and James groans, hips stuttering slightly and his lips meet Sirius’ again, teeth clashing and catching on his lip, and then he’s coming, the sudden warmth toppling Sirius over the edge shortly after.

James slumps on top of him and Sirius wraps both arms around him, pressing his face into his soft hair and holds him close. He can feel James’ heart beating, can hear his still laboured breathing, and the smell of sex and James is all around him. It’s so ridiculously perfect that he thinks that he could cry with the overwhelming intensity of it all.

“I love you,” James says, silently but so close to his ear that he understands him perfectly. “Merlin Sirius, I love you so bloody much I can’t even –“

He swallows harshly, clenching his eyes shut against the sudden burn, glad that his face is hidden right now and he breathes deeply before he finally turns his head to kiss him, slow and soft with a hand on his jaw. “I love you too, you sappy idiot,” he says into the small space between their lips, and James sighs softly, eyes closed and forehead resting against his.

Eventually, James rolls off him, curling into his side and Sirius searches blindly for his wand to cast a Cleaning Charm on them before hugging him close again.

“So, Remus ratted me out, huh?” James says after a while, voice muffled into Sirius’ chest, but he can hear the amusement clear enough.

“Well, only after he got that I finally realized it myself. I think he was a bit tired of us – or well, he actually thought I had told you, assuming I noticed, but when he got it that I didn’t, it was already too late. I can’t believe I didn’t notice though,” he says, smirking at James when he raises his head to glare at him.

It softens after the fraction of a second and James leans forward to draw him into another kiss before sitting up. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to spend the whole day in bed with you, but we should really eat something.”

Sirius grumbles and watches the muscles move in James’ back as he leans forward to grab their shirts. “Alright, but after that, we’re doing nothing but stay in bed, right? I mean if anybody deserves it, it’s us.”

James snorts and turns to grin down at him. “Is that so?”

“Absolutely. We’re the last bastion of this crumbling society,” he exclaims dramatically, smirking in satisfaction when James laughs and shakes his head at him.

Getting up, he summons his clothes and puts his hair up in a bun, looking around the room. “What do you think – we sleep in the same bed already anyway, so should I just put my stuff in here?” he asks, attempting to come across nonchalant and ignoring the small amount of nervousness buzzing in his chest.

James steps close to him and sneaks his arms around his waist. “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea,” he says quietly, followed by a kiss. “I could do that the whole day.”

“You were the one insisting we need food,” Sirius points out, raising a brow before kissing the tip of his nose. Honestly, being half a head taller than James has only got more advantages.

“Yeah, we really do,” James says with a grin, turning around and walking out of the room.

Sirius looks after him for a few moments, unable to do anything against the grin that’s threatening to split his face. Getting his bags, the first thing he does is setting up the record player and organising his vinyl’s. He decides to leave the rest for later and makes his way down into the kitchen.

James is cooking, humming to himself and Sirius simply watches him from the door, loving how soft and content James looks in his washed-out sweats and Sirius’ shirt that’s showing a bit of his collarbone.

They do exactly what they’ve planned; Sirius puts on the latest Patti Smith vinyl and they curl up in bed in only their boxers, the music and the cracking of the fire the only sounds in the room. No matter how much he has been joking, they both desperately need the break, he thinks, knowing that this newfound level of their relationship is going a long way to keep all the demons away that are still lingering on the edges.

Not that it makes the war and everything connected to it disappear, but at least they have something new to be happy about, don’t have to worry about hiding something from each other and can find some refuge in this.

He doesn’t want to think about it right now and he can see that James feels exactly the same way.

For a while, they’re both dozing, Sirius’ head on James’ chest and just soaking each other in. The way James keeps running his fingers over his neck is sending shivers down his spine though, and eventually he raises his head to kiss him.

It’s soft and warm, but James tugs at his hair and presses closer and Sirius deepens the kiss, lets his hands roam over James’ chest and stomach and he’s already getting hard again, smiling into the kiss when James rolls his hips against his.

Kicking off the blanket, he straddles James’ hips and starts biting down his neck and his throat, pinning James’ hands above his head with one hand and using the other to scrape his nails over his ribs.

James makes little whimpering noises, arching his back and lifting his hips for some friction.

“Sirius – fuck, I – stop,” James pants and he raises his head to look at him with a small frown.

“Are you alright?” he asks, letting go of his wrists and only being more confused when James looks at him uncomprehendingly.

“Of course I – what? Oh, yes – no, I meant,” James is stammering and blushing, and Sirius sits up, ignoring the way it has their cocks brushing together through the thin fabric of their boxers.

“I just –“ James says, looking away and biting his bottom lip before he sighs. “Could we do something else? I mean more than we did earlier? I think I want to…”

Understanding replaces his confusion and he grins softly. “You want to have sex?” he asks bluntly, amused at James being so flustered by it. He also knows that this is new for him though and holds himself back from teasing.

James rolls his eyes and nods, but his flush is going all the way down his neck.

“Do you want to top? Might take some of the worries off you,” Sirius offers, remembering his own first time and that the prospect can be a bit daunting.

To his surprise, James shakes his head though. “No, I have no idea what I would need to do and I – I don’t know, I don’t mind. I trust you,” he says, and leave it to James to make this into something that has his throat closing up all over again.

Leaning forward to kiss him, he nods and murmurs, “Alright,” against his lips. “But tell me if you want to stop at any moment or –“

“I know, you don’t have to –“ James interrupts him and he pulls back to look at him seriously.

“I mean it, James, this is different from sex as you’re used to, and I know it’s kind of strange now but it’s important that we talk to each other, and if you’re uncomfortable or something hurts, you need to tell me. Promise me,” he insists, needing to be absolutely sure that James understands this.

James' face softens and he nods. “I will, I promise.”

“Good,” he says with a small smirk before he presses a short, hard kiss to his mouth, then lets his lips graze over his cheeks, his throat and down his chest, lets his hands roam over his arms and down his sides as if to map out every single line of his body.

James is still hard, and he slowly makes his way down, alternating between kissing and biting while ghosting his fingertips over the inside of his thighs.

Little moans and harsh pants are spilling from James’ lips, one hand burying itself in Sirius’ hair and he takes his time, lets his lips brush over his hipbones and the juncture between his stomach and his leg before he licks a slow stripe up his cock.

“Oh shit, what –“ James grinds out, his hand tightening in Sirius’ hair and his head flies up to look down at him with wide, dark eyes.

“Just trust me,” he says and leans forward to snatch his wand to conjure some lube into his hand.

Pushing up James’ legs, he bows his head again, twirls his tongue over the head of his cock before closing his lips around the tip and sucking slightly, repeating it a few times until James is panting, his head thrown back and shivers running up and down his body.

Only then does he let his hand wander between his legs, circling his hole with a finger before pushing in slowly. James tenses and he stops, lets his cock slide deeper into his mouth until he relaxes again.

The first finger goes easily, and he conjures more lube before he adds a second, letting James get used to the feeling and distracting him by moving his head up and down slowly, just enough to keep him close to the edge.

James’ legs are trembling, one hand is twisting in the sheets and his skin is glistening with sweat. Sirius has to force himself to not reach down and wank himself off to the image. James’ cock is pulsing on his tongue and he takes him a little deeper, the tip gliding into his throat.

He breathes against the reflex to gag while he holds James’ hip down with one hand, and scissors his fingers until he’s sure that he can take a third one.

He adds it at the same time as he sucks harshly, just two times but it’s enough that James only tenses slightly at the intrusion, head pressed into the pillow and eyes closed. A litany of ‘Fuck, Sirius, please, fuck, fuck, fuck,’ is falling from his lips, the hand in Sirius’ hair pulls roughly, and Sirius is so hard that it’s nearly painful.

Still, he takes his time, shifts and curls his fingers carefully to loosen him up more and he can’t help but smirk around the tip of James’ cock when his whole body arches off the mattress, eyes flying open as he groans loudly.

He shortly considers going on like this, to suck his dick and run his fingers over James’ prostate over and over, see him come undone until he’s a begging, trembling mess. But he knows that he will have enough chances to do this and he also can’t wait to actually be inside him, the thought alone making him moan around James.

Stretching him a bit more, wanting to make sure that he’s as prepared as he can be, he eventually pulls his mouth off and his fingers out of him, runs a hand up his side and for a moment, just lets his eyes roam over him.

James slowly blinks up at him, eyes glazed and pupils blown, and his lips red from biting down on them.

Shaking his head to refocus, he shifts, spreads James’ legs a bit wider and grabs one of the pillows to put it under his back, before conjuring some more lube and slicking up his cock.

He leans forward to kiss him deeply until James is relaxed underneath him, one hand in his hair and the other on his hip before he carefully lines himself up. His heart is racing in his chest and his throat is dry, a weird mix of arousal and nervousness rushing through his veins. He wants this to be perfect, wants to be sure that James knows that it’s not only about sex.

“Ready?” he murmurs into his ear, biting softly into his neck right underneath it and James moans.

“Yes please, fuck Sirius –“ he breaks off when Sirius pushes in slowly, body tensing around him and he instantly stops, wrapping one hand around James’ cock and stroking him slowly until he’s relaxed again

“Alright?” he asks, waiting until James looks at him and nods.

His arms are trembling with the effort to hold himself up. James is incredibly tight around him and it takes all the restraint he possesses to hold himself back.

It takes some time but eventually, he can move slowly, and he groans at the heat and the friction. James’ hands are scrambling over his shoulders and arms, nails digging into skin and ankles locked behind him and he’s trembling and moaning into Sirius’ neck. “Please, fuck can you move that – there.”

Sirius sets a faster pace but keeps his hand slow, unable to not tease a little and wanting to draw this out, to have this feeling last because it never actually felt like this, so bloody perfect that he wants to never let go.

Letting his hands roam over James’ arms, he links their hands together, pinning them next to James’ head and pushes in deeply with his next thrust. “Gods, you’re – you feel so, I can’t,” he stutters, and he’s unable to tear his eyes away from James’ face; wants to press all the things he can’t say into his skin until he’s certain that there’ll never be any doubt about them.

He’s moaning and panting, quickly losing his last restraint at the steady rhythm and clashes their mouth together, whimpering when James’ bites his bottom lip.

James clenches around him and Sirius’ hips stutter, movement becoming more erratic as he comes, breaking the kiss to bury his face in James’ neck and repeating his name over and over into the flushed skin underneath his lips.

His vision blacks briefly, the feeling too intense and sudden, and it’s not like something hits him or catches him by surprise; it’s more like drowning into something he never wants to come out of again.

He keeps moving though, uses one hand to stroke James’ again and it only takes a few twists with his thumb over the tip of his cock, a few, deep thrusts with angling his hips just so until James arches off the mattress once again, fingers gripping his so tightly that his knuckles turn white as he comes, head thrown back and face contorted.

Sirius stares, transfixed, but his arms are trembling and he feels like cotton, so he carefully pulls out before lying down next to James and instantly pulling him close. They’re both still breathing harshly, trying to get their bearings back and Sirius thinks if they do this for the rest of their lives, it still won’t be enough.

The record ended at some point, only the creaking of the house and their heavy breathing filling the room, and he lets his fingers trail over James’ arms and shoulders, over his neck and through his hair and kisses the top of his head over and over, closing his eyes against the waves of emotions rolling over him.

He has never associated sex with feeling so much and he’s overwhelmed with what he’s supposed to do with all of it.

As usual, James somehow seems to sense it and curls is fingers around Sirius’ wrist, pressing his thumb into his pulse and kisses his palm. It’s such a small gesture but it’s enough to calm him down, and he links their fingers together, staring at their hands.

“We really should have realized sooner, huh?” he asks, amused when he thinks how normal of a gesture this is for them.

“When did you?”

Leaning back slightly to look at him, he sighs. “After the cave when you – when we just made it back to our flat. I don’t even know what did it, I just knew. I think I just became aware of the difference in my panic about you and Regulus. Not that one was worse, just – different,” he says. His voice still breaks at the memory and he hates that he somehow just can’t get over that particular night.

“Remember when I came home after Lily asked me to move in with her?” James asks, drawing circles over his knuckles and watching him closely. “You were lying in the middle of the living room, listening to Dire Straits and smoking a joint. I thought about not living with you any longer and you looked so bloody peaceful and happy. And I thought the way I felt looking at you, the way I’d rather spend my time with you than anyone else, how the most important thing always is to see you that happy, was how I was supposed to feel about her.”

Sirius only stares, so much awe and affection welling up inside him that he nearly chokes on it. “That’s been weeks ago – wait, that is why you were so weird the day after, right? That makes so much sense.”

James just shrugs and looks back at their hands. “It turned out well in the end, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he says quietly, burying a bit deeper into the covers. “Now we have to thank Remus for the rest of our lives because we were both cowards. Great Gryffindors that we are.”

Snorting, James shoves him. “Come on, it’s a brilliant story. Friends for, what, ten years, but too dense to realize until their third best friend points it out to them. Remus knew all along.”

Sirius just hums and watches the amusement dance in James’ eyes.

“Oh, your brother apparently knew as well, after spending less than 24 hours with us. At least about me,” James adds, rolling his eyes. “How is Regulus anyway? Did he tell you what happened?”

Sirius groans softly and rolls them over so that he can lie half on-top of James and bury his face in the crook of his neck. “Regulus is fine, but I don’t want to think about anything else outside of this bedroom until tomorrow.”

“Fair enough,” James says, trailing his hand up and down his spine and Sirius closes his eyes, letting his tiredness take over. It must have been months since he’s been this relaxed and content.

Weak light is spilling into the room when he wakes up and, lifting his head slightly, he can see that the whole forest is covered by a thick layer of snow. Turning to look at the hideous clock James has had ever since he can remember, he sighs in contentment when it’s only nine am.

He’s not really tired anymore, but he pulls up the blanket again and rolls over to watch James’ soft expression, the steady rise and fall of his chest and how his messy hair spills over the pillow.

He raises a hand and traces the line of his jaw and his eyebrows, grinning to himself when James grumbles and scrunches up his nose. Merlin but he’s quickly becoming a ridiculous sap.

“Stop that,” James mutters, one hand searching for his arm and tugging him closer. Sirius goes willingly, putting his arm around him and letting James bury himself in his chest.

It’s another hour until they get out of bed to take a shower and have some breakfast, and he’s kind of reluctant to leave the house and the warm domesticity they’ve created within the last 24 hours.

It’s easy to forget, here in a small house in the middle of a snowbound forest with James’ thigh pressed against his under the kitchen table, what waits for them as soon as they step out of this little bubble.

They just finished eating, only a cup of coffee left in front of them and sharing a smoke when James sighs, leaning back and looking out of the window. “Tell me about what Regulus said?”

It’s a good transition, as far as the suspicion that Voldemort has more than one Horcrux can be called anything remotely good, and Sirius repeats what Regulus told him yesterday.

James looks only mildly surprised, as little as he did in Dumbledore’s office, and when Sirius asks him about it, he just shrugs. “Makes sense though, doesn’t it? He exaggerates with everything he does, and after Arcturus told us that he’s a Half-blood with a severe case of Pureblood-mania, it’s even less surprising. It won’t get us anywhere to drive ourselves crazy over it. Let’s just talk to Dumbledore and see what the plan is.”

All things considered, he does have a point and Sirius leans against him. “I think I’m just pissed that Regulus had to take the brunt for it, again. I shouldn’t have let him go back there.”

“It’s not like you could have stopped him and I mean, try to see it from his perspective. No matter if he joined because he wanted to or because he let himself be forced, he realized how bad it really is and wants to make up for the things he did. You’d be exactly the same– you are the same, trying your hardest to show everyone that you’re not like them. Granted, you’re also a huge sucker for taking risks in general, but that doesn’t diminish my point.”

“I hate when you’re reasonable,” Sirius mutters, kissing his cheek and getting up. “Come on, let’s pick up my renegade brother and see what Dumbledore came up with this time.”

When they arrive in Hogsmeade, the carriages are just coming down from the castle and Sirius remembers with a start that it’s only a week until Christmas. He has absolutely no idea how the time is passing so fast and a look at James shows him that he’s just as surprised.

“We need to go shopping for presents,” James mutters, running a hand through his hair and waving at Rosmerta in passing.

Linking their hands together, he says, “Yeah, I’m sure Regulus is going to need some stuff anyway, it’s not like he can go back to Grimmauld’s right now.”

“I’d love to see your brother in some washed out, ratty Muggle clothes though,” James laughs. “Oh, you know what, we should absolutely take him to Camden.”

Sirius laughs, trying to picture Regulus in between a crowd of absolutely sloshed punks and failing miserably. “I think if you don’t want to try your hand at the Imperius Curse, that’s not going to happen.”

James hums and throws him that cocky grin that never bodes well for anyone. “We’ll see.”

He just shrugs; it’s not like he has anything to lose, he just wants to be there when Regulus hexes James. Come to think of it – “You should take his wand before we go.”

James bumps their shoulders, and he smiles to himself all the way up to the castle.

They visit the Infirmary first, where Regulus is already sitting on his bed dressed, raising a brow as soon as he sees them walk in with their hands linked. “Did you two finally get your act together or is that a ‘just friends thing,’ too?”

“Careful, you’re going to live with us for the unforeseeable future and I have it on good authority that we were the most troublesome students that Hogwarts has seen in decades,” Sirius shoots back with a smirk, ruffling Regulus’ hair for good measure.

“I’m going to regret this,” Regulus mutters but gets up. “I’m allowed to go, but Dumbledore said we should come by his office before we leave.”

“Thought so,” James mutters. “Let’s go then and hope he hasn’t changed his bloody password already.”

Thankfully, he didn’t, and both him and James sober as soon as they sit down in front of the desk. Sirius already misses the careless mood from minutes ago.

“Are you both aware of Regulus’ discovery before his cover was blown?” Dumbledore asks, obviously for once getting straight to the point.

“Unfortunately,” Sirius sighs, leaning back in his chair and forcing himself to keep his feet down.

Dumbledore nods in understanding. “We have a few problems now. First of all, Voldemort is aware that his secret was discovered. We had an intruder last night and I suspect that the person in question retrieved a Horcrux that might have been hidden within the school. He was nearly caught, but suddenly simply disappeared.”

He looks between him and James with a meaningful look and after a moment, Sirius gets his meaning. Peter, of course. Great.

“Anyway, this led me to a thought that it might not be the worst thing –“

What?” Sirius exclaims, only to snap his mouth shut at Dumbledore’s pointed look.

“I suspect that Voldemort is gathering all his Horcruxes together. He doesn’t trust anybody but himself.”

When he doesn’t come forward with anything else, James tilts his head. “Well, alright, we don’t have to search for them, but they’re with Voldemort so really, is that so much better?”

Sirius agrees wholeheartedly, though he’s not that sure if Voldemort is much worse than the cave.

Dumbledore just tips his head from left to right. “Debatable, but for now not our biggest issue.”

Biting back a groan, he exchanges a glance with James. Really, how much worse can it possibly get?

“The problem is that we can’t say for sure how many he’s created. You retrieved the locket, Regulus’ intel leads us to believe that he left two with followers he trusts to some degree, and one might have been at Hogwarts. That makes four – an absolutely unremarkable number, which I doubt is what he would aim for in anything related to his soul.”

“Of course, four isn’t nearly enough,” James mutters and slumps in his chair. “Is there any way to find out?”

Dumbledore strokes his beard and looks between the three of them. “I spent some of the last years researching Voldemort’s past.”

“He went to school with our parents,” Sirius says, only just remembering what Arcturus told them. “And don’t get me wrong, you know I couldn’t care less about it, but he’s not even a Pureblood. Did you know that?”

Regulus is staring at him with wide eyes and he shrugs. “Arcturus told me. Funny story, that.”

Dumbledore clears his throat but he’s smiling slightly. “Indeed. Tom Riddle, orphaned at birth by his mother, Merope Gaunt, and abandoned by his father, a Muggle from whom he got his name. My theory is that Merope used a Love Potion on Tom Riddle, which is why he left her. This is not important though, or only slightly. I taught him myself, and nearly everyone was easily won over by his charm and prodigious talent.”

James makes a strangled, disbelieving noise under his breath and Sirius doesn’t really manage to put together what Dumbledore is telling them with the inhumane monster he has met too many times over the last year either.

Dumbledore ignores them though. “Tom and I never got along well, let’s put it like that. But as I’m sure you remember, Professor Slughorn always had an eye for talented students and was also Tom’s Head of House. My – admittedly slightly far-reached – assumption is that he might have a clue about Tom’s ambitions. He provided a memory to me, but it’s been tampered with.”

Sirius can see where this is going, and he hates it already. He could never stand Slughorn, never went to any of his bloody parties, and when they graduated, he drank a whiskey in celebration solely for never having to see him again.

He’s pretty sure that he and James are the last people who’d ever get any information out of the slimy bootlicker. “He’s not going to trust any of us,” he voices his thoughts, eyes lingering on Regulus for a moment.

“I was in the Slug Club, but he became rather distant to most of us in the upper years when the Dark – when You-Know-Who started recruiting,” Regulus says while his hand ghosts over his left forearm.

James sits up straighter, a crease between his brows and his lip drawn between his teeth. Sirius’ eyes are drawn to the gesture before he pulls himself together.

“I have an idea,” James says slowly, eyes meeting Sirius’ once more before he looks back at Dumbledore. “Slughorn – “

“Professor Slughorn, James,” Dumbledore reprimands mildly and Sirius hides his snort with a cough, a look from Regulus enough to tell him that he failed miserably.

“Uh yes, Professor Slughorn always had a particularly soft spot for Lily.”

Sirius knows instantly what he’s thinking and sits up straighter as well. “Oh that’s brilliant, and she could appeal to the danger she’s in because of the war and being Muggleborn and overall pull the pity-card. All ‘you don’t want me to die, Professor Slughorn, do you?’”

James stares at him and shakes his head slowly. “You know, sometimes I do wonder why you didn’t end up in Slytherin.”

“You don’t mean that,” Sirius exclaims in mock-indignation.

Boys,” Dumbledore says, just a hint of impatience in his tone.


“Anyway, the idea is not bad, but we would have to inform Lily about everything,” Dumbledore says, frowning slightly and watching his Phoenix.

“Well, it’s the only real chance we have, isn’t it? If we don’t want to use force, I mean,” Sirius says, which earns him another incredulous look from Regulus.

Dumbledore sighs but nods. “Very well. Can I ask you two to talk to Lily today? There will be an Order meeting tomorrow and we can finalise the plan then.”

“Sure, if that’s alright with you as well, Reg?” he asks and turns to his brother who looks a bit startled at being addressed.

“Well, I agree that it’s not exactly great to let somebody else know but it’s the only option I can see,” he says with a shrug. “We need to know how many there are before we can plan anything else, and I’d rather not have it take longer than strictly necessary. Or use force,” he adds as an afterthought, mouth twitching faintly when he looks at Sirius.

“Then we should go and set up the Fidelius Charm now,” Dumbledore nods, perking up and clapping his hands together.

They apparate to the edge of the village, seeing that it’s too complicated to explain just where inside the forest Dumbledore would have to apparate to, and their old Headmaster looks around them cheerfully.

Sirius shakes his head, exchanging a glance with James and both of them hide a smile as they’re leading their little group into the forest.

Sirius watches curiously as Dumbledore casts the Charm with Regulus becoming the Secret Keeper, and the house simply vanishes in front of their eyes. Try as he might, he absolutely can’t remember where it is or why exactly he’s standing here, and he looks at James with slight trepidation.

Regulus steps close to them and murmurs, “The residence of Sirius Black, James Potter, and Regulus Black is the Ponds house in the Forest of Dean in Soudley Brook.”

Something in his head tingles and the house reappears, and he shakes himself in an attempt to get rid of that feeling.

“That was dreadful,” James says, face scrunched up while Dumbledore chuckles at them.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” he says with a nod before he turns on his heel and apparates away.

They all look at each other for a moment before Sirius grins brightly. “Well, come on then. We have a house to fix up, a stubborn woman to convince, and Christmas presents to buy.”

The house already seems warmer and brighter somehow, and Sirius gets down the record player to set it up in the kitchen and puts on the Ramones.

As expected, Regulus takes his old room and after they’ve had some lunch, they distribute the tasks.

“Obviously, everybody does with their room whatever they want, and I’d suggest that we basically leave most things as they are, simply cleaning and repairing for now. I’m not sure when or who was here last but there’s a chance of cursed objects so be careful.” The last bit is directed at James who raises his brows.

“Fantastic,” Sirius says, ignoring his disbelieving expression. “Reg you’ll probably be busy with your room for now, right?”

“Yeah, I’d like to take a shower first though. Can I borrow some clothes?” Regulus asks, looking faintly uncomfortable which only gets worse when Sirius smirks. 

“Sure. I’ll do the living room and you the kitchen?” he asks James, already getting up and letting his hand linger on his neck briefly.

“As if I would let you close to the kitchen,” James snorts and tips his head back to grin at him before he looks at Regulus. “I assume you can’t cook for the life of you either?”

“No, but we could actually call in Kreacher – “

“No,” Sirius says before he can finish that and at Regulus’ glare, softens a little. “I’m sorry, but both mother and Arcturus could order him to give up information, and I don’t even know if the Fidelius works for elves as well. Not to mention that I’m rather sure that she probably dragged him off to France with them.”

Regulus pulls a grimace but nods, his shoulders slumping a little.

Sirius leaves them to it, getting some sweatpants and an oversized jumper and pressing them into Regulus’ hands with a bright grin.

To his immense frustration, Regulus only looks at the clothes, then back at him and shrugs. “Nice, should be comfortable,” he says with a faint smirk and leaves the kitchen.

“Well, that was no fun,” he mutters with a deep sigh, turning to James, whose shoulders are shaking in silent laughter.

“You know what? I think I like your brother,” James quips, getting up and turning towards the shelves.

Sirius just grumbles under his breath and moves into the living room, flicking open the windows and starting to clean. He turns the music louder, singing along and acting it out as if he’s directing an Orchestra – honestly, it’s the only way he can stand cleaning for longer than ten minutes. He has no idea how Muggles put up with it.

He jumps when two arms sneak around his waist from behind and then sinks against James, turning his head to grin at him. James is smiling softly, tilting his head up and raising a hand to his cheek to kiss him.

Sirius closes his eyes, turns and wraps his arms around James‘ neck before he walks them to the closest wall, pressing James against it and deepening the kiss. Everything else around them falls away, becoming inconsequential like it couldn’t possibly matter as much as this does.

A cough from their right eventually pulls them apart and they both turn their heads slowly to look at Regulus, who stands with his arms crossed and an eyebrow raised, lips twitching. “You know, there are like, four rooms upstairs. You should try them some time.”

Sirius takes great pleasure in smirking at him and saying with a wink, “Did that already.”

Regulus groans and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Anyway, I’m finished with my room and was looking for a book, not a show.”

Giving a long-suffering sigh, he turns back to James and gives him a quick kiss before stepping back.

“I’m nearly finished here as well, and we need to visit Lily anyway. We could invite her over for dinner?” he says with a questioning look at both of them.

Regulus just shrugs but James is shifting from one foot to the other, burying his hands in his pockets and looking up at him from underneath his lashes. “You think she won’t be mad about – well, us?”

To be honest, it didn’t even occur to Sirius yet. He tilts his head and thinks about it for a moment before he waves him off. “I think she suspected already. As nearly everyone did. I mean, we don’t have to throw it in her face exactly, right?”

James sighs and nods, and after Regulus wrote down their address on a piece of parchment, they leave the house, Sirius hoping dearly that his prediction will hold true.

Chapter Text

James is fidgeting while he waits for Sirius in front of Lily’s apartment and his heart is beating painfully hard in his chest. It takes him a moment to understand that it’s not only because he’s wary of her reaction; the last time he’s been here was directly after Marlene’s death, the night they’d spent drinking their grief away, looking at pictures and consoling Dorcas.

It feels like a lifetime ago and the assault of memories is overwhelming, making his eyes burn, and he leans heavily against a streetlamp. He jumps at the crack from Sirius’ Apparation and turns his face away to hide his expression.

“Hey, are you alright? You know Lily won’t actually tear your head off, right? Or do you want to keep it from her?” Sirius’ voice becomes strained at his last question and James whips his head around to look up at him.

“No –“ he stops when his voice breaks and Sirius frowns, stepping closer. It’s hard to breathe and he can feel his hands shaking. “Just – Dorcas, Marlene. I –“

Understanding washes over Sirius’ face and he instantly pulls him into a hug, carding his fingers through James’ hair.

James fists his hands into the back of Sirius’ jacket and presses his face into his shoulder, trying to fight against the burning in his throat and the tightness of his chest. He hates that he can’t seem to get over it, no matter how well he knows that it makes sense.

“Hey, it’s alright,” Sirius murmurs into his hair. “I still get fucked up over losing them too, and over the bloody cave, and Regulus, and Peter. Don’t beat yourself up for still needing time.”

A sob breaks out of his throat and he presses closer, shaking his head. He wants to say something, but the words are getting stuck in his throat, only choked, broken noises spilling past his lips.

“We can do this another day if you want, I’m pretty sure Dumbledore will understand –“

Raising his head to look at Sirius, he shakes his head, breathing deeply and rubbing his sleeve over his eyes. “No, it’s – no, I’m fine. Or well, at least fine enough to do this.”

Sirius looks doubtful but doesn’t protest, just pulls out a pack of cigarettes and hands him one. They smoke in silence, and he actually manages to calm down again, the cold wind a relief against his hot skin.

“I’m so sick of all this,” he sighs when he’s finished his smoke. “Come on, let’s go.”

Lily opens the door after a minute, wand raised and eyes narrowed, and she only relaxes slightly upon seeing them.

“Alright, come in then,” she says with a smile after they’ve exchanged questions and gives them both a brief hug after she’s closed and locked the door behind them.

James is a bit surprised by how not weird it is between them, and even more so when they find Remus sitting in the kitchen, nursing a cup of tea.

“Did you miss me or is there a reason you turn up unannounced?” Lily asks, and James glances at Sirius, hoping that he will do the talking.

He seems to sense James’ look and gives him a small smile before turning back to Lily. Remus raises a knowing eyebrow at James, who just grins in response.

Really, he should get Remus an extra Christmas present this year he thinks when he turns his eyes back to Sirius, lingering on his forearms as he pushes up his sleeves.

“We need to talk to you about something important before the Order meeting tomorrow. And we also wanted to give you the address of our new house, it’s under the Fidelius.”

Her expression turns serious. “So, it’s true that you had to move out of your flat? Couldn’t you have adjusted the wards?”

“Oh, you don’t even know yet that my brother defected, do you?” Sirius sends Remus a surprised look who smiles mildly.

“Not my story to tell.”

“You’re too noble, Remus.” Sirius jokes, kicking off his shoes and pulling one leg up to his chest. “We wanted to ask you to come for dinner, Lily. You can come too, if you like Moony, though we’re going to need to catch Lily alone for some time.”

Lily and Remus exchange a glance and Sirius raises a brow at James, pointedly looking between the two of them. James just shrugs; they’ve been good friends ever since fifth year, and it makes sense that they’re still getting along well – he’s not so sure what Sirius is getting at if he’s honest.

“Only if James is cooking,” Lily answers with a grin, already getting up and putting away her and Remus’ mugs.

“To quote him on that matter; as if he would let me even close to the stove, and he’d do good to apply the same rule to my brother,” Sirius laughs.

Lily turns back with a frown. “Your brother is living with you two? Won’t he have a problem with me? Because believe me, I’m going to hex him if he does.”

“You’d have to wait until I’m done with him,” Sirius says with a shrug, grinning as he stretches. The movement has his jumper riding up high enough that James can see a sliver of skin.

A smack to the back of his head startles him and he whips his head around to stare at Lily, who’s smirking down at him. “Honestly you two. So, did you finally sort yourselves out?”

Both him and Sirius stare at each other, then back at her and finally at Remus.

“Oh come on, it’s not like I wouldn’t have figured it out by myself,” Lily laughs, flicking her wand to summon her cloak. “It took me a while but eventually it was rather obvious, and you’ve been here for ten minutes and made sappy heart-eyes at each other the whole time.”

He runs a hand through his hair and grins at her sheepishly. “So you’re – alright with that?”

She sighs, face softening. “Yeah, I’m happy for you. Don’t get me wrong, I was hurt when you broke up with me but it’s not like you hurt me on purpose or wanted to lead me on. And we have much bigger things to worry about, so yes. We’re fine, James.”

He didn’t know how much he needed to hear it until now and can’t help the bright grin splitting his face. No matter that their relationship didn’t turn out as he had always expected it to, he does value her a great deal.

“Alright, enough of all these sappy declarations,” Sirius says, clapping his hands together, but James can see that he’s satisfied with the way things just went. “Remus, Lily, read this and remember it, then we’re going to side-along you, alright?”

It’s already getting dark again when they appear back in the forest. The low light from the cottage and the thick layer of snow over blackened wood and dead plants wrap the world around them in silence and make the small house appear like a picture from a children book.

“I thought your family was all Victorian gothic style?” Lily asks Sirius who snorts and nods.

“They are, believe me. This is an exception though, and my uncle, who left it to me, was the odd one out anyway.”

Regulus is sitting in the living room when they enter, curled up in front of the fire with a thick, old book balancing on one knee, and he only looks up when Sirius touches his shoulder, seeming startled by the group of people.

“I’m sorry, I was –“ he gestures down at the book and Sirius smiles softly.

“Absorbed in your book? What a shock. I can’t believe I never guessed that the hat would’ve considered putting you into Ravenclaw.”

Regulus rolls his eyes but gets up and gives a wave at the rest of them. Lily and Remus both look surprised at the whole display, not that James can blame them. Regulus is still wearing Sirius’ clothes, and the whole exchange was just so unlike everything that Sirius ever told about his family that, if you didn’t witness it for a while now as he has, it must appear utterly strange.

They move into the kitchen where James starts cooking, assigning tasks to the rest of them while Sirius puts on some music.

“Did you think about moving in, Moony?” Sirius asks, and James turns to watch them.

Remus nods slowly as he lets his eyes roam through the kitchen. “I would have expected it to be more –” he trails off and gestures vaguely.

“Gloomy?” James offers, grinning slightly and flicking his wand to make the gravy stir itself.

Flashing an apologetic grin at Sirius, Remus shrugs. “Yeah, but it’s actually rather cosy. If it’s really no bother?”

“Of course not,” Sirius waves him off. There are three free bedrooms upstairs –“

“Three?” Regulus interrupts with a frown before realization washes over his face. “Never mind.”

Lily snorts with a smirk and exchanges another glance with Remus.

“So, you’re welcome to pick one. Of course, the offer stands for you as well, Lily,” Sirius finishes, his knife slipping off where he’s cutting potatoes, and James sighs, crossing the distance to take it from him.

Sirius just smiles at him and he narrows his eyes. “You know, sometimes I think you just act like you’re utterly incompetent because you know that I’ll do it for you then.”

“Oh no,” Regulus says with a sly grin. “When we were kids and had tutoring before Hogwarts, every time we were in the potions lab it ended in one disaster or another. I think we went through nine different tutors in the course of two years.”

Sirius nods sagely, looking smug and leaning back in his chair. “Potions are useless anyway.”

“Just because you don’t have any talent for it doesn’t mean it’s useless, Sirius,” Lily says, rolling her eyes at Sirius who just shrugs. “Did you ever realize that if you’re bad at something, you proclaim it useless or annoying?”

“Well, I’m bad at only very few things so it makes sense.”

Anyway,” James interrupts because he knows that Sirius can discuss this for an indefinite amount of time if they let him, and they’re only going to lose. “So, you’re moving in Remus?”

“If you’re really – “

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, stop it. We wouldn’t offer if we had a problem with it, would we?” Sirius groans, flicking a piece of potato at Remus who ducks to the side to avoid getting hit.

“What about you, Lily?”

She tilts her head to the side, eyes lingering on the piece of potato Remus is just picking up and shakes her head. “I think I’m good, but thanks. I’ll come and visit.”

James would be lying if he said that he wasn’t a little relieved – getting on with each other like this is one thing, sharing a house something else entirely, and he suspects that he and Sirius would have been more careful and considerate around each other with her here.

It’s a bit selfish, and he wouldn’t have protested if she had wanted to move in, but he’s glad that they won’t have to do that.

Dinner is a cheery, relaxed affair. They stay clear of the topic of the war or Peter, reminiscing over their schooldays with the occasional story from the House of Black by Regulus and Sirius, and James thinks that they’re all rather surprised by how well Regulus fits into their little group.

They’ve just finished their food when Regulus suddenly hisses, his face contorting in obvious pain as he clutches his left forearm.

“What – are you alright?” Sirius is the first to react, taking the seat next to his brother and carefully touching his arm. There’s a deep crease between his brows and he looks less confused than the rest of them.

“No – yeah, it’s just –” Regulus presses out between clenched teeth, and Sirius sighs before he grabs his hand and softly pulls it away from his chest. “Don’t –“

“Oh, don’t be stupid and let me see,” Sirius says in exasperation, but he’s unable to hide his fondness and worry.

Regulus bites his lip but eventually, he nods, and Sirius pulls back his sleeve, revealing a tattoo of a skull and a snake that’s twisting and moving, a red tint to the black ink.

Sirius growls low in his throat. “Is this a normal call, or…?”

He trails off, but it’s enough for James to finally get what’s going on. Sirius had mentioned the mark only in passing, but now that he sees it, he remembers what he’d said. When Regulus shakes his head, he can feel anger bubbling up within him and he grinds his teeth together.

Sirius looks just as furious, his eyes flashing dangerously, and he draws several measured breaths. “Is there anything we can do?”

“I don’t know, I –” Regulus gives a jerky shrug and closes his eyes. There are beads of sweat on his forehead and his hand is trembling within Sirius’. He’s pale and his posture rigid, and James knows that he’s probably in way more pain than he’s letting on, if he’s anything like Sirius.

“Let me see?” Lily suddenly speaks up, and after a moment of hesitation, Regulus holds out his arm to her. “Oh dear,” she mutters but pulls her wand. “I know a charm that could numb the skin there for a while. I’m not completely certain that it’s going to work, but I know it won’t make it worse. May I?”

Regulus’ eyes flicker to Sirius briefly before he nods, watching closely as Lily tips her wand against his skin and mutters the incantation. The effect is instantaneous; Regulus’ shoulders slump, he exhales in a rush and all the tension leaves his face and posture.

“Thank you,” he says, and it sounds so earnest and relieved that it strengthens James’ assumption about the pain being much worse.

“You’re welcome,” Lily says with a smile. “Come on, let’s move to the living room and I’ll teach you the charm.”

Of course, Sirius isn’t ready yet to leave Regulus out of his sight again and James watches as the three of them disappear out of the kitchen.

Remus helps him clean up before he says, “I’m going to go home and pack up my things, then you three can talk to Lily about whatever you need to, alright?”

The reminder of that particular topic dampens James’ mood even further. After Remus is off, he brews some coffee and moves to join the others in the living room, plopping down half on top of Sirius in the armchair he’s sitting in.

One look at Regulus and Sirius tells him that neither is particularly keen to do the talking, not that he can blame them. Regulus feels most likely rather bad about what he’s done before defecting, and everything related to the Horcruxes is a sensitive topic for Sirius, so he sighs softly to himself and starts to summarise the last few weeks.

How they’d found out that Regulus was a Death Eater, how Sirius met with him and how he turned up on their doorstep. He glosses over all the baggage that comes with their relationship and only tells Lily enough that she gets an idea of how this all came to be.

He stumbles over the theory behind the Horcruxes and Regulus takes over for that part, speaking quietly but surely while Lily is getting pale, eyes wide and horrified but letting them talk.

James picks back up when Regulus is finished. He only gives a very brief explanation of what exactly went down in the cave and focuses on how both him and Regulus got hurt. How Sirius called Peter, Dumbledore, and his mother, how it resulted in Dumbledore convincing Regulus to work as a spy, Peter’s betrayal, and how Regulus crashed into their living room at night.

“Merlin, I wondered how exactly you’ve found out but I can’t believe – I mean, it’s because of him that –“ she stammers, tears swimming in her eyes, and Sirius gets up to sit down next to her, pulling her into a hug.

Regulus disappears into the kitchen and returns with some whiskey to spike their coffee with, and they wait quietly until Lily gestures for him to go on.

“Sirius and I went to Peter’s flat the same night and confronted him, but he got away, which of course, is shit but might have helped us with something else. Regulus found out that Voldemort most likely created more than one Horcrux –“


“Yeah, I wish I could say I had the same reaction. Sirius did though,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Anyway, the point is that Voldemort knows that we stole the locket and is gathering his Horcruxes. At least that’s what Dumbledore believes because Peter was seen at Hogwarts. The problem is that we need to know how many he’s made – four is not an important number and Dumbledore knew him when he went to school –“

“He went to Hogwarts?” she interrupts again, frowning as if she never considered the possibility. Not that James can blame her, he never gave Voldemort’s past much thought either. Somehow, he appears so inhumane that it’s not something people seem to think about.

“The point is that Dumbledore is convinced that he talked to his Head of House about it, asked questions, these kinds of things. Which was Slughorn,” he finishes, thinking it might be a good thing to give her a moment.

“So, Slughorn knows how many he planned to make?” she asks, tilting her head and looking between the three of them.

“Hopefully,” Sirius says with a nod. “The problem is that he gave Dumbledore a memory that’s been tampered with, probably because he’s ashamed, and now someone needs to convince him to tell us what really happened.”

“We never got along too well with him, considering we ignored all his invitations apart from pranking a few of his parties,” James picks up again, exchanging an amused grin with Sirius at the memory.

“Well, and I don’t think he would talk to me either,” Regulus says with a shrug, his legs thrown over the armrest of the armchair he’s sitting in and looking remarkably like Sirius.

“So you want me to convince him,” Lily says, leaning back against the couch and rubbing a hand over her face.

“He always had a soft spot for you, and you can argue about the danger you’re in and that he would be able to help us defeat him,” Sirius explains with a careless gesture, but he’s looking at her intently.

“How very Slytherin of you,” she says dryly and James laughs, smirking at Sirius in triumph.

Running a hand through her hair, she stares at her knees for a few moments before she gives a sharp nod. “Obviously I’ll do it, but I have one – let’s call it a request.”

“Anything,” Sirius says instantly while James is a bit more hesitant, noticing the glint in her eyes.

“James will come with me. As the former Head boy and reformed troublemaker, it will be helpful and Slughorn will simply love the opportunity to finally get his hands on you. You’ve always been good at potions and while it might deter him at first to admit his shame to two of us, I think together we’d have a higher chance of convincing him.”

It’s Sirius’ turn to laugh while Regulus looks slightly exasperated, dropping his head against the backrest and staring at the ceiling.

“I always told you the whole Head boy thing would come back to haunt you eventually,” Sirius says with a smirk as he lounges back on the couch.

James sighs, but he can’t deny that Lily has a point, so he just bows his head in resignation. “Alright, if Dumbledore agrees, we can do that. We should get there a bit earlier tomorrow so that we can talk things through with him.”

They agree on a time and Lily is just saying her goodbyes when Remus returns.

After they’ve set him up in one of the rooms, he and Sirius hole up in bed, only the low fire spending some soft light in the large room.

“Do you think Slughorn will give in?” he murmurs into Sirius’ shoulder, one arm around his waist while Sirius is drawing aimless patterns into his back.

Sirius hums, shifting slightly so they can look at each other, and links their fingers together. “I don’t know how he could possibly refuse you,” Sirius teases, but then becomes more serious. “Let’s hope so. I know Dumbledore doesn’t like the idea but I’m not above forcing him. I mean honestly, this is paramount for defeating Voldemort and just because he’s ashamed –“

“Yeah, I know. I don’t like that I have to be the one to suck up to him though,” he says, wrinkling his nose.

“Plant some dung bombs before you leave, for old times’ sake.”

He snorts and shakes his head before he leans forward to kiss him softly. Sirius cards one hand into his hair, his thumb tracing over his jaw. James sighs into the kiss, parting his lips and letting everything else slip from his mind; lets the world narrow down to soft lips, warm skin under his fingertips and Sirius pressing against him.

He has no idea how much time has passed when they break apart, leaning their foreheads together and trying to catch their breaths. This is enough, he thinks; he could spend days just kissing Sirius, legs tangled together and hands tracing the ridges of bones and scars.

When they enter the kitchen the next morning, he’s surprised to find Regulus and Remus already there, both with a cup of coffee in front of them.

“There’s more,” Remus points over to the counter with a knowing grin. Sirius only grumbles incoherently and sinks down next to Regulus while James gets them both a mug.

“If I had known how useful roommates are that aren’t as useless as Sirius is in the mornings, I would have got another one ages ago,” James jokes and has to take a quick step to the side to avoid Sirius’ scrambling hand trying to smack him.

“You shared a dorm with him for seven years, forgive me if I don’t have any pity for your oversight,” Remus says dryly.

When they have to leave for the Order meeting, Sirius is awake enough to write down a list of things Regulus needs, and they resolve to go Christmas shopping later today.

Lily’s already waiting for them in front of Headquarters, wrapped into a thick cloak and a scarf that’s hiding half of her face. “Dumbledore is inside already. Did you bring coffee?”

Sirius only raises the thermos in response and she grins, holding the door open for them. There’s a fire burning in the kitchen and after greeting Dumbledore, they sit down around the table while Remus hovers at the edge.

“Oh, Remus I’m sorry, please sit down. I don’t think anything we have to talk about can’t be heard by you,” Dumbledore says, smiling kindly and summoning mugs for them all, filling his own with tea from the stove.

“If you’re sure,” Remus says with a shrug, sitting down next to Sirius and gratefully taking his coffee.

Dumbledore looks at Lily then, expression turning serious. “I take it they’ve filled you in and you agreed to help?”

“Of course,” she nods, a hint of indignation that he even has to ask colouring her tone.

“Wonderful. I’ve already talked to Professor Slughorn last night and mentioned that I heard you might plan to step by for a cuppa.”

She takes a sip from her coffee and sends James a look before she smiles at Dumbledore. “I actually thought I would take James with me, Professor. Seeing that he was Head boy, very good at potions and well, let’s say, became slightly more responsible in his last year, it might make it easier. You know, the talented Muggleborn and the tolerant Pureblood –“

“Who’s the Slytherin now,” Sirius murmurs under his breath with a small smirk, and James knocks their knees together under the table.

“Anyway,” Lily says with a quick glare in Sirius’ direction who only smiles innocently. “I know that it might make him more hesitant at first but overall I assume it would higher the odds, so to speak.”

Dumbledore looks thoughtfully between the two of them. “Indeed, a good point. Especially because I think that Professor Slughorn is still of the conviction that the two of you are going to marry soon and will most likely assume that you would tell James about it either way –“

Sirius chokes next to him and James has to force himself to keep his face blank. To his great relief, Lily just laughs and wordlessly hands Sirius a tissue.

Dumbledore simply smiles and goes on, “And I’m sure that if both of you promise to keep anything he shows you between yourselves and me, he will be easier to sway.”

“Professor,” James smirks. “Are you telling us to lie?”

“Of course not. I think stretching the truth would be the more fitting description. To come to our next point, as soon as you’ve acquired the information, we can continue our planning. Though we should probably wait until the rest of the Order arrives as this will involve all of us.”

They nod in agreement just as the door opens and Moody, Kingsley, and Doge walk in, looking surprised to find them here already. James has to admit that he’s rather curious about what Dumbledore is planning, though he’s not so sure that he’s going to like it.

The kitchen fills up quickly and it’s easy to see that while everyone is still tense, the lack of large attacks over the last week and the discovery of the spy did them all some good. James can’t really share the sentiment, but at least he can hope that it might be over soon.

When everyone is seated, Dumbledore clears his throat, pulling the attention towards him. “As I’m sure you all know by now, we discovered that the spy has been Peter Pettigrew.”

There’s resigned nodding and low murmurs of disbelief, but the relief that the mole has been found is palpable.

“The good news is that it led me to discover a few pieces of information that are of the utmost importance to possibly end the war; the origin of some of Voldemort’s strength. Forgive me for saying that this is information I can’t share with you for various reasons but for the first time in months –“

The noise in the room is so loud now that it’s hard to understand Dumbledore. Especially Moody is demanding to receive more information on the subject and James exchanges an exasperated glance with Sirius.

It’s not that he doesn’t understand; he would probably feel quite similar if he didn’t know what this is about, but he thinks the fewer people know that something like Horcruxes exists, the better.

Silence,” Dumbledore’s doesn’t raise his voice, but it gets everyone to shut up immediately. “I understand your worries perfectly well, but this concerns artefacts of the darkest, most vile nature in existence. The point is that I’m in the process of discovering how many he’s made and where they are. Which leads me to the most important subject we have to discuss today – the attack on Voldemort with the goal to end the war, as soon as we can be sure that the objects in question are destroyed.”

The room is deadly silent, and James realizes that he’s gaping as well. This is not what he expected, though the longer he thinks about it, the more he can see the logic behind it.

“Now, I’m sure that my research will be finished within a few days and while I know that this is very unfortunate, I think the wisest decision would be to schedule our attack for Christmas. We need to gather as much support as we can and pick the observation of any Death Eaters we know about back up. I’ve narrowed down the location of the possible base of operation to three, which need to be observed for the following week.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Sirius mutters next to him, which sums up James’ own thoughts on the matter rather well.

Moody is the first one to get his bearings back and he leans forward, crossing his arms on the table. “I think Kingsley and I can manage the Ministry. With the appointment of Bagnold as Minister and Crouch taking up the position as Head of the DMLE, they’re planning to increase the push-back. If we provide them with the information that it’s the main base, they will most likely agree to send every available Auror with us, and the legislation for the allowance of the Unforgivables has just been passed.”

Dumbledore doesn’t look happy about the last part but inclines his head. “The most important issue we have is that under absolutely no circumstances must our plan get out. If Voldemort and his followers are prepared for our attack, we’re bound to fail.”

“We will only inform Crouch and Bagnold, then. The call for the Aurors will go out half an hour before the attack,” Kingsley says after exchanging a glance with Moody.

“Very well. I’ve already contacted all of our inactive members, we will have the support of many of the Hogwarts Professors, the Potters, Andromeda and Ted Tonks, Arthur and Molly Weasley and a few others. I have reason to believe that only Voldemort’s inner circle can be called on short notice, so we won’t have to worry about the giants, Dementors or werewolves appearing within the first hour, which gives us another advantage.”

“We will need someone to take down the wards,” Moody notes with a quick look in Sirius’ direction.

“Am I correct in the assumption that your guest has the same talent for them as you do?” Dumbledore asks with a twinkle in his eyes, the question getting another frown from Moody.

Sirius nods and then speaks up hesitantly, “Professor, shouldn’t they know who that is to prevent any possible… confusion?”

James grimaces – it’s rather likely that when Regulus turns up there, he’s going to be mistaken for someone from the other side.

Dumbledore considers it for a moment. “Let us talk about that later and maybe take his own opinion into account. I think for now that is all, I have the necessary information for your assignments here, at least for those of you whose schedule I was aware of.”

With a flick of his wand, parchment distributes itself amongst the table and James quickly unfolds his, smiling when the first thing he sees is Sirius’ name. He has a strong suspicion that Dumbledore did that on purpose.

“Stakeout again, huh?” Sirius whispers to him, linking their hands together.

“Makes sense, with the cloak and everything,” he sighs, scrunching his nose to push up his glasses. “Besides, it sounded like he’s rather sure that those are in use, so let’s hope that it won’t be completely boring.”

Seeing that the discussion has just turned to Ministry business and the assignment of other tasks, they follow Remus out of the house when he gestures for them, Lily walking behind them.

Sirius hands them both a cigarette when they’re outside and they throw up a Silencing Charm.

“Remus and I are assigned to follow some Death Eater around, starting tonight, so it would be good if we could visit Slughorn right now?” Lily says, taking a step away to avoid getting smoke blown into her face.

“Sure, our stakeout starts tonight as well,” he nods before turning to Sirius. “Do you want to come with us and wait, or start on getting the stuff for Regulus and we’ll meet in London for shopping later?”

“I’ll go to London, getting a whole wardrobe and everything will take some time,” Sirius says. “Want to come with me, Moony?”

“I pass, thanks,” Remus says with a wry grin.

“Fair enough.” Sirius shrugs. “Let’s meet at Camden market in two hours?”

James considers it for a moment before he nods. “Should be enough. Let’s go, then?” he directs at Lily, and at her nod, he presses a quick kiss to Sirius’ lips and they walk past the wards to apparate.

Hogsmeade lies silent and empty when they appear and it makes James’ heart clench, memories of the village being full of cheerful Christmas decorations, stalls selling hot chocolate and little trinkets still fresh on his mind.

“Let’s hope it will be over soon,” Lily says as she follows his gaze and obviously thinks along the same lines.

“Yeah,” he mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Do you think Dumbledore’s plan will work? A direct attack is…”

“A huge risk with the potential to lose even more people than we already have?”

“That. I mean, I can see his point and I know he wouldn’t take an unnecessary risk, but it’s still – honestly, I think I just don’t know if I can take losing anybody else,” he says with a half-shrug.

“I know what you mean,” she says quietly, eyes sad when she looks up at the castle that’s just coming into view. “I don’t even know anything about how the – artefacts work, but just because they’re destroyed – and we don’t even know what his plan for that is, yet. It’s not a guarantee that we can defeat him, is it? I mean, this war has been going on for years now, it’s not like nobody has tried before.”

Her voice turns bitter towards the end and that they’re probably both remembering the night Dorcas died. Normally, James would just hug her as he’d do with any of his friends but despite them being on good terms, he’s not sure how welcome that would be.

“Yeah, but on the other hand, we can’t keep going like this – always being the ones who simply react, doing damage control. The only way that can end is with him taking us out one by one,” he mutters after considering it, only now realizing how true it is.

She hums and wraps her arms around herself. “Well, either way, it will be over in a bit more than a week, won’t it?”

“Merry Christmas, I suppose.”

They’re silent for some time, passing the gates and slowly making their way through the snow, both lost in their own thoughts.

“You know what we should do? I mean, besides another last, great round of following around people and staring at old Manors?” she says when they reach the double doors, a small smile tugging at her lips. “We’ll hole up in that little house of yours, bake Christmas cookies, decorate, exchange presents. Just – act like it’s a normal Christmas season, as much as that is possible.”

He smiles, buries his hands into his front-pockets and cocks his head. “You know Evans, if it wasn’t for Sirius –“ he says before his thoughts catch up with his mouth, and then his eyes widen in horror.

She just laughs loudly though and shakes her head. “Only you, Potter. Come on, we have an old Potions Master with an obsession for networking to convince to possibly destroy his own reputation.” 

Chapter Text

Slughorn greets them with a cordial grin and a warm handshake before he ushers them into two armchairs in his office and gets out a bottle of wine.

“Isn’t it a bit early for a drink?” Lily asks with an amused smile but Slughorn just waves her off.

“As long as you don’t have a particular reason to refuse, I absolutely insist.”

It takes James way too long to grasp the implied meaning and he ducks his head to hide the blush that’s creeping over his cheeks.

Lily merely gives a pleasant and obviously fake laugh. “Oh, if I were pregnant, you’d be the first to know, Professor.”

Well, seems like Sirius did have a point, and a bit of wine might actually help their case, James thinks, taking the glass Slughorn offers him with a gracious nod.

They spend nearly fifteen minutes on small talk, Lily and Slughorn doing most of the talking. James watches in growing amusement, his part mostly reduced to agreeing whenever Slughorn addresses him about one of Lily’s numerous talents. Not that he disagrees but the whole thing is just terribly weird.

“And you’re both not working yet?” Slughorn eventually asks, filling his glass up for the third time.

“Oh, you know how it is with the war,” Lily says with a sigh, and for the first time since they stepped foot into the office, she sounds honest. “Most of our time is going into business for the Order, and well – not knowing if we survive, especially with my heritage, getting a secondary education seems a bit pointless.”

Slughorn shifts in his chair, turning his glass around in his hand while he stares down into the liquid. “Of course, dreadful business.”

They exchange a glance between them before Lily sits up straighter, leaning forward. “You know Professor, there might be something you could help us with?”

“I’m an old man, Ms Evans, I’m no help in a fight,” Slughorn says with a sad smile, and James can’t tell how honest he is.

He bites his tongue to stay silent though because he knows that he just doesn’t have the subtlety to manipulate this in their favour, and hides his expression behind his glass.

“Not about fighting, Professor. It’s more – about information, you could say,” Lily says carefully, taking the bottle from the table between them to fill a bit into her own glass before she handing it to Slughorn, seemingly unconsciously.

“Oh?” he asks, perking up and watching her with interest after emptying the remains of his wine to top it up again.

Sirius will laugh himself stupid over Lily getting Slughorn sloshed, James just knows it. His eyes are already slightly glazed, and he’s stumbling over some of his words.

“Indeed. We recently learned that Vol – You-know-who did something to secure his own survival even if he should be beaten in a duel, and we think we discovered what exactly he did. Our research leads us to believe that he attended Hogwarts in your time, and we thought you might have known him?”

It’s a rather direct approach and Slughorn has gone rigid in his chair, eyes flicking between the two of them. The hand around his glass is clenched, his knuckles white, and James thinks he might just jump up and run or throw them out.

Lily doesn’t give him time to do either of those things. “You did, didn’t you? And he was in your house, so, the helpful Professor that you are, who we all valued in our time here because the most important thing to you is to teach us, you helped him as well, not knowing who he would become one day.”

“I – I didn’t – I’ve told Dumbledore everything I know already,” Slughorn exclaims, his cheeks flushed and hands trembling.

James digs his fingers into his thighs to not snap at him, to stay in his seat and not just shake him because this is such a ridiculous discussion, for Merlin’s sake. The man knows that he has the key to help them end this war or to at least turn it in their favour, and it’s his bloody pride that prevents him from doing so.

A glance at Lily tells him that she’s thinking along the same lines, her shoulders tense and expression stormy.

“Professor,” she says, her voice low, “I know that you value your reputation, but people are dying, every single day. We’re risking our lives over and over, we’ve lost so many of our friends already, and if he wins, the chances that I’m going to survive is low. The chance that I will acclaim to anything is non-existent. So if you ever honestly valued me for more than just my academical achievements, you’re going to help us. We promise that it will stay between the three of us and Dumbledore, nobody needs to know, but please, please for everything that is holy, stop pretending that you don’t know what we’re talking about.” 

James has to hide his grin behind his glass again because it’s such a typical Lily-rant that it briefly threw him back into their school-time.

Slughorn looks pale and taken aback though, staring at her with wide eyes before he hangs his head. “It’s – you’re right, but what if he… What if he finds out?” he whispers, and James flinches with guilt over his assumption that it was simply a matter of pride.

“He won’t,” he says quietly before Lily can speak up. “He knows that we know about the Horcruxes, but he blames Regulus Black for it. Seeing that he was the one who discovered that he made at least one, and other followers of his couldn’t keep their mouths shut about there being more, I think you’ll be fine, Professor.”

“Re – Regulus Black?”

“Long story,” James waves him off, unwilling to let the discussion derail. He can feel the wine already, making his head fuzzy, and he thinks that they’ve been here for long enough.

Slughorn is silent for a long time before he sighs deeply, summoning a vial to himself and tipping his wand to his temple.

“Just don’t think too badly of me,” he pleads after handing the vial to Lily who quickly puts it away into her bag.

“Of course not, Professor,” she says, standing up and smiling kindly as if her outburst never happened in the first place. “Have a good day.”

They walk up to Dumbledore’s office in silence and he greets them, leaning against his desk and smiling brightly when Lily hands him the vial.

“Very good. Do you want to accompany me?” he asks with a gesture to the Pensive behind him.

They exchange a look and nod – honestly, James would be lying if he said that he wasn’t curious about Voldemort as a teenager.

As soon as they land in the same office they’d just met Slughorn in, Dumbledore points at one of the students sitting to Slughorn’s right. “That’s Tom Riddle, today better known as Voldemort.”

“Well, you could put that face next to his current one and add a slogan, ‘Don’t do Dark Magic, kids,’ and it would probably be successful,” Lily mutters and at James’ confused look, waves him off. “Muggle reference.”

She’s right though; no matter how revolting the mere thought feels, Tom Riddle is ridiculously handsome, and James can see what Dumbledore meant when he described him as charming.

He easily takes advantage of Slughorn’s naïve trustfulness, though James is a bit taken aback by how easily he’s giving up information this dangerous.

His brain refuses to consider the idea of creating seven Horcruxes too much.

When they return to Dumbledore’s office, Lily instantly drops into a chair and rubs her forehead. “Seven. Seven, I mean – what the fuck? Excuse my swearing, Professor but that’s…”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore says with a nod, grim satisfaction clear on his face. “Though we should keep the possibility in mind that he hasn’t created all of them yet, and I think he would aim for seven, including his main soul-piece. This leads me to the conclusion that there are probably five, maybe six. But if I know Tom Riddle as well as I like to think, it might be reasonable to assume that he’s saving his last one for when he is certain of his victory.”

“So, we think he has five?” James asks. “How can we be sure?”

“We can’t,” Dumbledore simply says. “But I think he’s currently keeping all of them close to himself, which is why we’re going to attack his base. I assume you might have some questions?”

“How do you plan to get to the Horcruxes beforehand? We can only destroy the locket right now,” James instantly says, leaning forward in his chair.

“We won’t. There are only two ways to destroy a Horcrux, Basilisk Venom and Fiendfyre, so I will have to come by before next week to deal with the locket. When we attack his base, you, Sirius, and Regulus will hide under your cloak and after we open the fire, sneak in and try to find the others. We will meet each other, and I will destroy the rest. If – or when – someone manages to deal the final blow to him, it will be obvious if he actually died or not.”

“That – well, that’s – “ James doesn’t really know what to say. It’s not that he doesn’t see the logic of the plan, but there are so many things that could go wrong. Still, it’s probably the best chance they have and he’s pretty sure that Dumbledore wouldn’t rely on a strategy with so many uncertainties if there was any other way.

Unable to put any of this into words, he focuses on something else for the time being. “Sirius can cast and control Fiendfyre. It will save us the trouble of finding you on the battlefield.”

Dumbledore looks surprised before he nods. “I forgot, yes. The Blacks have always been rather insistent to teach their children certain questionable skills.”

If James was any less shocked, he would’ve laughed at the euphemism, but his mind is still reeling with the fact that he, Sirius, and Regulus are supposed to sneak into Voldemort’s base.

Sirius is going to hate that so much after what happened the last time the three of them stole a Horcrux.

“Sir, do you think we have a chance?” Lily asks quietly, speaking for the first time in minutes.

“Yes, I do. My research leads me to believe that the destruction of several Horcruxes at the same time will weaken him,” Dumbledore says, and he sounds so certain that James finds himself believing him.

“He won’t feel only the locket, but the loss of all of them at once is something different altogether. Many of his followers will be home over the holidays, as ironic as it might seem. Until now, they’ve been the ones setting the pace and we, as well as the Ministry, simply followed. As long as they don’t know that we’re coming, we have the element of surprise on our side.”

It probably sounds much easier than it will be, but it’s not like James could come up with something better.

They leave not long after that and walk back down to Hogsmeade in silence. Lily promises to come by the next afternoon and James apparates to London.

Sirius is already waiting for him, cheeks flushed from the cold and eyes bright, and he pulls James into a kiss as soon as he sees him, obviously unconcerned that they’re standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk.

James leans his head against his shoulder after they break apart, just breathing for a few moments in an attempt to calm his mind.

“Are you alright?” Sirius asks softly, one hand on his neck and he sighs, stepping back.

“We did get the memory from Slughorn, but let’s talk about it later? I honestly just want to forget about it for a while, I’m already nervous as it is about the next week and how it’s going to end.”

Sirius pulls a grimace and links their hands together. “Come on then, I already got the stuff for Regulus. We’re getting some mulled wine and then we can go for presents. Good thing that half of our friends should have been in Ravenclaw because we can simply visit a bookstore and then get a bunch of useless, pretty stuff on the market.”

It manages to get a smile out of James, and he lets himself be dragged after Sirius, getting infected by his enthusiasm.

The mulled wine on top of the stuff he had with Slughorn is making him pleasantly tipsy and they stroll down the market of Camden, arms wrapped around each other and getting carried away in the careless, festive atmosphere that is missing in all the wizarding areas.

Thankfully, Remus agrees to cook dinner when they get home after he takes one look at James, and he and Sirius fall onto the couch in front of the fire, tangling their legs together and dozing until the food is ready.

It goes a long way to sober them up and no matter how much he still wants to avoid talking about it, wants to ignore that he knows what is waiting for them in a few days, they eventually sit down with Regulus in the living room.

James gives them a brief rundown of their conversation with Slughorn, the memory, and their meeting with Dumbledore.

Regulus pales when James comes to the part of the plan where they’re supposed to sneak in to find the Horcruxes, but his voice doesn’t shake when he says, “If it’s still the same house he used before my cover was blown, I know the basic layout.”

“Don’t you think they might have changed their location after learning that you passed on information?” Sirius asks, who has his head lying in James’ lap and has been grey in the face ever since James mentioned the five possible Horcruxes.

Regulus shrugs and stares into the fire. “With the way the Order was keeping track of their movements, there aren’t actually that many possibilities. He mostly uses family Manors, but empty properties are rare. He’s most likely convinced that he won’t be attacked directly, not to mention that the wards are quite strong.”

“Oh yes, we’ll have to help deal with them, by the way,” Sirius mutters. “I also thought that it might be a good idea to tell the Order that you’re on our side. You know, so you don’t get cursed by both sides.”

It’s said nonchalantly, but James can see the worry in Sirius’ eyes and cards his fingers through his hair, smiling softly when Sirius relaxes against him and stretches his neck to press into his hand.

“You’re probably right,” Regulus agrees with a nod. “Though I’m not sure that they’re not going to do that anyway.”

“I think they’re just going to be glad to have as many people on our side as possible. The whole plan still sounds more like a suicide mission to me than anything else. Not that I have a better idea,” James says, leaning his head back and closing his eyes.

Sirius’ fingers close around his wrist, his thumb drawing circle into James’ pulse-point and he sighs softly. He just hopes that they will make it out alive.

The next few days are flying by way too quickly, and at the same time, it feels like walking knee-deep through mud, slow and exhausting without really moving forward.

For once, there’s actually some activity at the Manor in Little Hangleton they’ve been assigned to watch. Dark-robed, masked figures are visiting in irregular intervals through the night, and many of them come out worse for the wear than walking in.

They note down every little thing and Sirius starts to inspect the wards carefully, as much as he can without alerting anyone to what he’s doing.

After catching a few hours of sleep, they do their bests to shove any and all thoughts of what will most likely be the final battle away. Lily is visiting every day, and they all decorate the house while Christmas songs and punk rock are blasting from the record player. They bake biscuits with too much icing and sprinkles, of which most lands in each other’s hair and faces or on the kitchen floor.

Regulus, Lily, and Remus bond over their love for books, some of their discussions only broken up by harmless pranks he and Sirius pull on them, things like toothpaste under door-knobs and spells that change the hair-colour or leave you to talk in non-sensical languages.

After two days, the three of them band together, Regulus brewing a potion that gets mixed into their lunch that has the same effect as a Tickling Charm but lasts longer. It’s the start of a week-long prank war between all of them.

By an unspoken agreement, they’re all careful, acutely aware that they’re on edge. They avoid anything that could startle or make someone jump, unwilling to add any unnecessary stress, however short-lived, on top of everything.

Remus, Lily, and James are cooking every night, extensive, exaggerated meals and they drink wine and whiskey until they have to leave for their missions again.

None of them ever mentions it, but they’re all aware that it’s like getting the most out of their remaining time. James is more grateful for it than he could ever put into words – whenever there’s a lack of activity, deep, all-consuming melancholy and fear threaten to overwhelm him.

Sirius and he barely leave each other’s side. They always have their hands linked or ankles tangled together under the table, and their nights at the stakeouts pass with their arms wrapped around each other, pressing as close as humanly possible.

They both have nightmares, and they don’t need to talk about them to know what they’re about. James is more scared of surviving but losing Sirius than dying himself, and he knows that it’s more or less the same for Sirius.

He thinks again and again how irrational this is, because it’s not like it’s going to be their first battle or that there’s any reason to assume that it will be the worst. But up until now, they’ve rarely known beforehand when they would have to fight, always just reacting, scrambling to get their shoes and their wands and their bags and apparating before they could worry too much.

Now there’s this build-up, this terrible nervousness and anticipation that is driving him absolutely mental when he doesn’t manage to distract himself. Not to mention that Voldemort is going to be furious and most of their plan relies on the element of surprise, and the rest on him, Sirius, and Regulus to find and destroy the Horcruxes. It all makes him feel like they’re basically walking to their execution, no matter how logical or illogical that is.

On the last day before the battle, there’s an Order meeting in the morning with everyone who’s going to be there the next day, and James is surprised when he sees Slughorn next to McGonagall, sparing him a small smile.

His parents are there as well, and Andromeda Tonks and her husband with their small daughter who keeps changing the colour of her hair. Sirius greets them warmly and pulls faces at the little girl when she attempts to grab his hair.

James' heart clenches painfully when he sees how many small children are running around the kitchen, oblivious to the possibility that after tomorrow, one or both of their parents might not come back home. At the same time, it strengthens his resolve, makes him squeeze Sirius’ hand tightly, confirms once again that it’s the right thing to do. The only way to at least attempt to get them a better future.

Dumbledore eventually calls order and a young, red-haired woman who reminds James painfully of Fabian and Gideon Prewett takes all the children into the living room.

“First of all, thank you for coming,” Dumbledore starts, his smile only slightly sad. “Everyone who’s here now will fight with us tomorrow, aided by another thirty Aurors and Hit Wizards as well as a few others who couldn’t make it today.”

James looks around the table and tries to get a rough idea of how many they will be tomorrow. He’s unable to hide his grimace when his result comes out at more or less sixty people. It’s not exactly bad – they know that Voldemort’s inner circle has less than half of that. It all stands and falls with Voldemort being unable to call in the creatures, unimportant followers, and the people he has under the Imperius or simply threatened out of their minds.

“Now, I’d like to hear your reports from the last week so that we can decide which location we will have to focus on tomorrow and if any of you have noticed strange behaviour from the targets you followed. Did it seem like there was a restlessness that could indicate that our plan got leaked?” Dumbledore says and James closely watches everyone, relieved when most of them shake their heads and stay silent.

“There were a few attacks on Muggle villages again, and some of the Ministry workers we’re suspecting to be work for him or to be under the Imperius are pushing to replace certain head figures in higher positions. There was a failed attack on Crouch, but it all looks more like the usual business and the attempt to further the infiltration of the Ministry,” Moody says gruffly, one finger tapping against the table.

“Very well,” Dumbledore nods in satisfaction.

“Fenrir Greyback visited Knockturn Alley a few times, frequenting the pub that’s used by many werewolves as a meeting place,” Lily speaks up, her voice straining at the name.

James chances a glance at Remus, whose face is hard and fingers tight around his mug. Lily seems to notice as well because she puts her hand on his elbow and Remus relaxes, smiling weakly at her.

“So we have to assume that he and maybe some of his pack will be there, or at least able to appear sooner or later,” Dumbledore says with a thoughtful look. “Seeing that it is not a full moon tonight, it’s not of a greater consequence but good to know, nonetheless.”

The remaining reports only confirm activity that they’ve already observed weeks ago. It’s still useful as there are descriptions of clothes that fit with many of the people that he and Sirius saw in Little Hangleton over the last week.

They let the others finish their reports, those who had Manors to watch all reporting no or very little activity, and he inclines his head when Dumbledore sends him a questioning look.

“There has been a lot of coming and going at Riddle Manor,” he says when Frank is finished, exchanging a glance with Sirius who picks up from there.

“People were coming and going irregularly but many times they looked battered when they left, which would fit with our knowledge that Voldemort’s talent for torture isn’t reserved for his enemies. It’s also the same house Regulus told us was used as a base until his cover was blown.”

Sirius’ voice doesn’t change from his clinical tone when he mentions Regulus and it takes a beat or two until the words seem to sink in.

It’s Diggle – and of course it is, James thinks, not bothering to hide his exasperated sigh – who speaks up first. “Regulus? As in Regulus Black, your brother?”

“The one and only,” Sirius says with a smirk, crossing one ankle over his knee and leaning back in his chair.

“I knew you still had contact with your family. And you insulted me –“

“No,” Sirius says quietly, leaning forward again. “I said that I had no contact with any of my family that isn’t on our side, and at the time, Regulus wasn’t. He defected though, worked as a spy for Dumbledore until Peter ratted him out and is, quite frankly, the one you can thank for the fact that we’re finally having a chance.”

Diggle sputters and the rest of the room starts murmuring among themselves, their expressions ranging from doubtful to disbelieving.

“It’s true,” Dumbledore says with a smile, but his voice leaves no room for argument. “Regulus Black is the one from whom I received the information necessary to conduct this plan, and he risked his own life more than once over the last few weeks.”

“It’s obviously a trap,” Diggle exclaims, his face red. “He’s a Black.”

James laughs, unable to suppress it. “Honestly, that’s such a ridiculous thing to say about someone who spends his day discussing Charms with Lily Evans and History with Remus, who is lounging in our house in sweatpants and eats too many sweets. We were there with him when he discovered the artefact, and he landed in our flat after Voldemort found out that he was working as a spy and revealed his best-guarded secret, half-dead as he was. After everything that happened with Peter, how in Merlin’s name can you still be so ridiculously prejudiced?”

Well, he didn’t mean to rant but he’s just so tired of this.

“Just leave it,” Lily snaps when Diggle opens his mouth again. “I spent the last week with them and he’s great. If you don’t trust us, fine, stay home tomorrow. It’s not like you’d be of much help anyway.”

James stares at her with raised brows but she just rolls her eyes at him.

Thankfully, Dumbledore seems to have enough as well because he pointedly clears his throat. “I trust Regulus Black, and he could not have orchestrated this in any way, seeing that he’s neither my only source nor was he in any way involved in the planning. He, James, and Sirius have a task tomorrow before they’re joining us in the fight, so all I’m asking of you is to not attack him or mistake him for an opponent. We have much to thank him for.”

Sirius sighs softly and when James looks over, he can see how sick he is of this whole argument. Not that he blames him.

They are there for another hour to finalise the plans of who will arrive where, to form one team to set up wards so nobody can apparate in or out directly, and another to take those around the Manor down. They also all get a few batches of potions, and several Portkeys that will take injured members to St Mungo’s and captured Death Eaters into Ministry holding cells.

At the last point, Moody nods at Sirius and says under his breath, “You know, for those still too squeamish to use more than a bloody Stunner.”

It’s long past noon when they’re finally done, and his parents accompany them home for lunch. They take as quick a liking to Regulus as they did to Sirius, and his father instantly ropes Regulus into a discussion about potions when he mentions his interest in the subject.

Of course, it doesn’t take his mother long to notice the shift in his and Sirius’ relationship and she’s not above smirking at him smugly and say, “I told you so,” but he can’t find it in himself to be bothered. She’s right, after all, as she always is. He should have known.

After lunch, they exchange presents – it’s a day too early, but James suspects that they’re all thinking along the same lines; it would have felt wrong to not buy any, but this might be the last chance to give them. Nobody wants to find what they’d bought afterwards and be unable to give it to the person they thought of when they bought them.

After his parents leave, they all gather outside in the dead garden and Sirius conjures up a circular stonewall, letting the locket drop into the middle of it.

“You want to do the honour?” Sirius asks Regulus, who looks startled at the suggestion.

“I – I’m not as good with Fiendfyre as you are.”

Sirius waves him off. “You did just fine when Arcturus taught us. If you lose control, I can always rein it back in. Really, you should do it.”

“The cave was worse for you than for me though,” Regulus points out hesitantly, his eyes fixed on the locket and missing the way Sirius’ face clouds over.

“I already burnt down an army of Inferi, and it’s not like we’re going to be short of Horcruxes to destroy tomorrow. Just do it, Reg.”

Regulus visible steels himself, shoulders drawing back, and his chin lifting slightly. His hand is steady when he casts the spell, flames so bright they’re nearly white shooting from his wand and swallowing the locket.

There’s a horrible screeching sound and black mist rises into the air, whirling around and making the hairs on the back of James’ neck stand up. It twists and twirls, convulsing into different shapes as if it’s trying to resemble a person, and then there’s another blood-curling scream and it disappears.

The flames slowly die out and James is still staring at the charred, blackened ground when Sirius’ fingers curl around his wrist, pulling him back to the present.

“Well, that was – something,” Remus says, his voice strained and brows pulled together.

Regulus is trembling slightly, sweat glistening on his forehead, but there’s also a grim, satisfied smile curling his lips. James understands all too well how he feels.

Chapter Text

Dinner is a silent affair; none of them manages to hide their worry and rising nervousness much longer, and they all know that it would be useless to pretend otherwise. Lily decides to stay the night and they all sit together in the living room for a while, but no matter how much James loves his friends, the burning need to be alone with Sirius is becoming more and more insistent. He breathes a sigh of relief when Regulus gets up to go to bed, and he doesn’t protest when Sirius pulls him upstairs shortly after.

They undress silently before slipping under the covers and Sirius immediately pulls him close, their foreheads leaned together and legs entangled.

There’s nothing they could say that they don’t know already or that wouldn’t sound meaningless, so James just holds on tightly to Sirius’ hand and closes his eyes when he kisses him softly.

He presses closer, lets go of his hand so that he can run it over Sirius’ arm and back, can clench his fingers into his shirt and his hair and his jaw.

Sirius pulls back a bit, eyes still closed and his voice barely above a whisper. “Can we – can we sleep with each other? Please, I’m not – not even for the sex, I just need to feel you inside me. Just make me forget– “

“Yeah,” he murmurs and kisses him again, slow and firm before he sits up to pull his shirt off. “I’m not – tell me if I do anything wrong, yeah?”

Sirius just smiles, throwing his shirt away and tugging at James’ wrist to pull him on top. They kiss for what feels like ages, bodies moving against each other slowly until they’re both hard and breathing heavily, and James' heart feels like it’s going to burst out of his chest.

Sirius’ fingers ghost up and down his back, over his sides and his neck and jaw, tangling in his hair and he’s shivering under the touch. His skin feels too sensitive, and he wonders how the bare brush of fingertips can have such an effect on him.

He draws back and looks down at Sirius, lets his eyes roam over his face, the swollen lips and blown pupils. There’s such an open vulnerability to Sirius’ expression that James has to close his own eyes to keep from choking on all the love and fear and desperation that’s rushing through him.

Swallowing against it, he moves away, fumbling for his wand and simply vanishing both of their boxer shorts, unwilling to pull away for long enough. He conjures some lube and lies next to Sirius, kissing him again before he lets his hand brush over Sirius’ cock and balls, lets his hand wander until he can feel his hole under his fingertips.

Sirius moans into his mouth, throwing one leg over his and forcing him to move his hand around his hip to get a better angle.

“Not going to break, Jamie,” Sirius murmurs against his lips, pushing back against his fingers to undermine his point, and he smiles softly before carefully pushing in.

Sirius makes a low, whimpering noise in his throat, his fingers clenching in James’ hair, and he deepens the kiss until it makes his head spin. 

He takes his time though, not only because he wants to make sure that he doesn’t hurt him but also because this isn’t about sex, not really. He wants to draw it out, memorise every little sound that’s spilling from Sirius’ lips, every curve of his body against his. How Sirius moves against him, pushing back on his finger and looking at James like he’s the single, most important thing in the world. 

Sirius pulls away, lips grazing over his cheeks and his nose, kissing his forehead and then ghosting over his ear and down his neck. “Another,” he breathes against James’ ear and he shudders, adding a second finger and stilling when Sirius tenses.

Sirius just moves his hip though while biting his neck and James groans, tilting his head to give him better access before he pushes in deeper, twisting his fingers around. He didn’t think that this alone would already make him lose his mind, the way Sirius clenches and moves around him, and the thought of actually sleeping with him this way only makes him harder.

Sirius kisses him again, lets his nails scrape over his ribs and hip before he wraps a hand around James’ cock, stroking him slowly. James wouldn’t manage to bite back his moan if he tried; he’s already trembling and light-headed, the only coherent thought still left being that he wants to be closer, wants to make sure that Sirius feels as good and loved and whole as he does. 

He adds a third finger, and Sirius doesn’t wait long to roll onto his back, pulling James on top of him and spreading his legs. “Want to feel you, now,” he pants, fingers digging into James’ back and his cheeks flushed.

James' heart is beating in his throat and he draws his thumb over Sirius’ jaw and lips, kissing him over and over before he gets his wand and conjures some more lube. “Are you sure?” he asks again, and Sirius nods with a soft smile.

He pushes in slowly, groaning at the heat and tightness, and he stops after the first few inches, burying his head into Sirius’ neck and breathing deeply to keep himself still.

Sirius moves his hips though, arms wrapping tightly around James’ back with his hands clenched into his hair, and he pushes up slowly until James is inside him all the way, both of them panting and trembling.

“Don’t move, just kiss me,” Sirius pleads, pulling at his hair until James turns his head to meet his lips.

He lets one hand roam all over Sirius’ body, every spot he can reach, every rib and bone and scar, all soft skin and sharp edges he will never get enough of. Sirius flicks his tongue against his lip, biting it softly and he opens his mouth, all the sensations nearly too much. It’s like he can feel him everywhere, and at the same time, it’s still not enough; he wants to sink into him, bury himself into his chest and never let go again.

Sirius shifts and James pulls out slowly before pushing back in, Sirius’ nails scraping down his back and up his sides, hands scrambling all over him.

“Fuck James, you’re so – you’re so bloody perfect, do you know that? How can you be so –“ Sirius murmurs, voice rough and wrecked and hands coming still on James’ jaw, looking up at him with a myriad of emotions warring in his eyes.

He swallows around the lump in his throat that just doesn’t seem to go away anytime soon, leaning down to kiss Sirius’ face, his cheeks and his forehead and his mouth and nose, tracing the lines with his finger and thinking that he will never be able to put any of this into words because it’s just so bloody intense that every single thing he can think of seems like it could never be enough.

“Don’t leave me,” spills from his lips before he can stop himself. “For fuck's sake Sirius, don’t you dare leave me or –“

“Never,” Sirius vows, eyes burning and boring into his. “Not in a million years, remember?”

A strangled sound escapes him, and he kisses Sirius roughly, sinks his teeth into his lips and his fingers into his skin, tries to push in deeper and they both moan, tension coiling slow and hot in his gut.

James takes both of Sirius’ hands, pinning them over his head and entwining their fingers. “I love you, fuck, I love you so much I can’t –“

“I love you too, I’m not going anywhere, I promise, alright? I promise you – “

James’ orgasm washes over him slowly, long and drawn out and he doesn’t break the kiss but his whole body is trembling and shaking, fingers clenching around Sirius’ who arches his back, presses impossibly closer and follows after him, their sounds swallowed between them. James has to clench his eyes shut harshly because he feels like he might actually cry from the overwhelming intensity.

Sirius pulls his hands out of his, wraps his arms around his waist again and James crosses his behind Sirius’ neck, hiding his face in his hair and trying to get his breathing back to normal. He doesn’t want to pull away, doesn’t want to put even the smallest amount of space between them, and if the way Sirius is still clinging to him is anything to go by, he’s probably feeling the same.

They’re both silent, the cracking of the fire the only sound in the room. James can feel both of their hearts racing against his chest, and Sirius’ fingers drawing lazy patterns into his back and his neck, nearly too hot on his cooling skin.

Thoughts of the next day creep back into his awareness and he presses his face into Sirius’ hair more firmly, taking in his smell and shivering slightly.

“Tell me about the vacation you want to go on,” Sirius whispers and presses one hand between his shoulders.

It takes James only a moment to understand what he’s talking about and he turns his head to be able to speak. “Somewhere warm, I thought. Far away would be nice as well. New Zealand always sounded nice, I heard they have more sheep than people.”

Sirius laughs softly and kisses the side of his head. “Alright, New Zealand. What else?”

He hums, the tension in his body melting away slowly and he closes his eyes, trying to picture them on a holiday, somewhere far away. “South America, I think. Chile, or Peru – neither of us speaks Spanish, we will have to think of something. Or how about Panama?”

“No reason why we shouldn’t do all of them, is there?”

“What about you?” he asks, carding his fingers through Sirius’ hair.

“If you choose the warm countries – how about Iceland? Or Canada? Lots of snow, and very few people as well?”

“Sounds like a plan. Why Canada?”

“I heard they have lots of stags,” Sirius deadpans, startling a laugh out of him and he raises his head to kiss him.

“Thank you,” he murmurs, and Sirius grip around him tightens.

“I wasn’t joking, you know. Apparently, they’re now representing my soul better than a dog does,” Sirius says, amusement and fondness unmistakable in his voice.

James props himself up on one elbow and looks at him in confusion.

“I need my wand, and we should clean us up a bit, don’t you think?” Sirius smirks faintly, kissing the tip of his nose.

“Sap,” he sighs, rolling his eyes before carefully pulling out and lying down next to Sirius. “What’s that about your soul, then?”

Sirius watches him for a few seconds, expression open and soft before he grins and waves his wand to clean them up. He clears his throat then, the barest hint of nervousness flashing over his face and says quietly, “Expecto Patronum.”

James stares in disbelief at the bright, proud stag that’s suddenly standing in their bedroom, tossing its head and walking around. Another wave of too many emotions to name them washes over him and he laughs, looking at Sirius with wide eyes.

Sirius just gives a small shrug and flicks his wand again. “It’s been like this ever since I found out that you feel the same about me. At least that was the first time I saw it.”

James wordlessly takes his wand from him to cast the same spell and laughs incredulously when a big, shaggy dog jumps onto their bed where it rolls onto its back.

Sirius snorts but his eyes are dancing with warmth and happiness. “Well, let’s just hope our Animagi are still the same,” he grins, leaning forward and kissing James, who instantly melts against him.

Really, he shouldn’t be this ridiculously happy over a spell, but he doesn’t care; he just wants to stay in this little bubble with Sirius pressed against him, warm and soft and his.  

James feels like he hasn’t slept at all when their alarm goes off at five am. He’s barely able to open his eyes and just wants to curl closer into Sirius’ side, ignore the alarm, the whole day, and just stay here.

But he knows that Sirius won’t get up if he doesn’t force him, and he’d rather not have Remus barge in here.

“Turn that off,” Sirius grumbles into his hair, arms tightening around him and it takes every little ounce of willpower that he has to sit up and shake Sirius’ shoulder roughly. “Come on, we need to get up.”

He flicks his wand to make the blanket fly to the bottom of the bed and laughs loudly at Sirius’ horrified, betrayed expression.

“You’re lucky that I’m too tired to transform and lick your whole face.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t transform into a stag?” he throws back with a cocky grin, summoning their clothes and pulling on Sirius’ shirt.

“Fuck, I should have never shown you that. Give me that hoodie of yours, you ungrateful bastard,” Sirius says with a theatrical sigh, the effect kind of diminished by the fond gleam in his eyes.

James turns his nose up and smirks while he holds the hoodie just out of reach. “I’ll have you know that my parents have been married for a long –“

“Shut up.”

“Make me.”

Sirius laughs and tackles him flat on his back, giving him a loud, wet kiss and grinning down at him.

“Prat,” he mutters, tangling his hands in Sirius’ hair and pulling him down to kiss him firmly. There’s a desperate urgency brimming underneath the surface though; Sirius’ fingers are digging into his jaw and James wraps his arms around him tightly, thinking that if he can just keep him as close as possible, they might somehow make it through this day.

They only break apart when there’s a sharp knock on the door. James keeps his eyes closed and Sirius groans, hiding his face in James’ neck when Remus calls through the door. “Are you up? We have to leave in thirty minutes.”

“Coming!” James shouts back, sighing and tightening his arms around Sirius before he finally lets go reluctantly. “Come on then, we can’t hide out here.”

Sirius just grumbles something incoherent but pulls himself up, grabbing the hoodie from next to him and rummaging through one of his bags until he finds a full set of clothes.

Lily, Remus, and Regulus are already sitting around the kitchen table, food on their plates that mostly lies untouched. James doesn’t feel like eating either, his stomach already tied up in knots, but he forces himself to at least have some toast and coffee, wordlessly putting some on Sirius’ plate and glaring at him until he eats.

They don’t talk much, all of them tense and lost in their own minds. Sirius sits so close to him that they’re pressed together, ankles linked under the table, and a ridiculous part of himself just wants to cling to him, to all of them, and keep them all here and safe.

Of course, he doesn’t, and too soon they’re standing outside the border of the Fidelius Charm. The bells from the church in the village are just giving the sixth chime, barely audible in the forest, when they’re all popping away to the outskirts of Little Hangleton.

A small group of people is already awaiting them and they only nod to each other in silence, waiting until the whole Order and the additional members, as well as the Aurors and Hit Wizards are there.

“Welcome, everyone,” Dumbledore says in a low tone that still carries, and James reaches for Sirius’ hand. “The Manor is on the other side of the village. The assigned groups to take down the wards will go first, the rest of you, please position yourselves close enough to step up as soon as the wards fall. It should be obvious when they do. From there on, we have to see how things go. Good luck to all of you.”

A low murmur of well-wishes rumbles through the large group and everyone starts to Disillusion themselves before disappearing into the group of trees. Dumbledore, Moody, Andromeda and two Aurors join him, Sirius, and Regulus and they silently make their way along the overgrown path and down to the village.

“Are the wards to keep anyone from entering or leaving up already?” Sirius murmurs to Dumbledore, who only inclines his head in response.

It takes them nearly ten minutes to reach the run-down Manor on the top of the hill, their path leading through a graveyard so dark that it’s difficult to see three steps ahead. There’s still a collective sigh of relief when they see that most of the windows are dark and there seems to be no sign of activity.

Exchanging glances, they all disillusion themselves as well and start working on the wards, only a low murmur of voices audible. Thin silver threads appear, flaring faintly in the dark and connecting the wands to a still invisible net of magic.

The threads slowly start glowing stronger, twisting and shuddering, and James watches in fascination as they stretch out around the grounds, pulsing and buzzing with magic.

“Now,” Dumbledore says lowly after another fifteen minutes, and there’s a burst of energy, a spidery web of all the threads forming and growing becoming visible for a few seconds before an ear-shuttering bang nearly throws him off his feet. The whole picture collapses in itself, glowing brightly before it disappears altogether.

They can hear movement around them, indicating that the remaining members of their side are taking their positions and James quickly pulls his cloak out. He has to strain his eyes to make out Sirius and Regulus through their Charms before he throws it over the three of them.

Not a second too late, because just then the front door to the Manor bursts open, hitting the wall with a loud crash, and Voldemort comes storming out, clad in black robes and illuminated by the light that’s streaming from inside the house. It lets his ghostly pale skin only appear creepier.

He’s followed closely by others, masked and robed and James feels his heart sink. He counts around twenty Death Eaters and wonders if there has been a meeting or if they’re actually all roommates, and then he has to press a hand over his mouth to stifle a hysterical laugh at the mental image despite the seriousness of the situation.

Sirius tightens his arm around him and whispers, “Let’s try getting closer to the house already before the actual fight starts, so we only have to slip through the door.”

Regulus and he both hum in agreement and they stay close to the brick wall that runs around the extensive garden. It’s slow-going, not only because it’s difficult to move under the cloak with three grown adults, but also because they’re all unable to draw their eyes away from Voldemort and his lackeys, who are murmuring to themselves in obvious confusion.

As if on silent command, spells start flying from behind them, but Voldemort conjures a broad, silver shield around him and his followers. With another flick of Voldemort’s wand, James can feel the Disillusionment Charm slip away. A quick look shows him that it happened to everyone, and they press themselves against the wall, reapplying the charm.

“You dare attack me in my own home?” Voldemort hisses, eyes roaming over the group of Order members and Aurors. “Wormtail.”

James freezes at the name, the nickname they gave Peter, now used by the man he’s betrayed them to. He watches in disbelief as Peter walks forward, his trembling visible even from their point of view, and kneels in front of Voldemort with his eyes fixed on the ground.

“Your arm.”

Peter pulls his sleeve back and Voldemort presses his wand to his wrist. Regulus hisses softly next to them but James is still staring at Peter, bile rising in his throat. He clenches his eyes shut, swallowing harshly against the nausea, the burning betrayal he can feel all over again and the urge to storm forward to either save or kill the bloody rat.

“That won’t help you now, Tom.” Dumbledore’s voice is easy to make out and James pulls himself together, watching as their old Headmaster steps forward.

“That’s no longer my name, you old fool,” Voldemort spits and James would laugh at how ridiculous this is if he wasn’t frozen to his spot still. “You think you can defeat me? Very well, we shall see who makes it out of this battle alive.”

Within the fraction of a second, all hell breaks loose. Spells are flying everywhere, a myriad of colours and buzzing sounds filling the air with static energy.

“Let’s go,” Sirius mutters with a soft tug at him and he nods, then shakes his head forcefully to refocus on the task at hand.

They creep along the wall but keep a careful eye on their surroundings to make sure that they aren’t hit by any stray curses and eventually, they reach the corner of the house.

The tight group of Death Eaters has dispersed by now, duels taking place all over the property, and James has to force himself to not rush off to help some of their allies. They move slowly along the house until they reach the door, wands at the ready as they slip inside.

The entrance hall is dark, the wallpaper is hanging in threads from the walls and he can see dust dancing in the flashing lights that fall in through the dirty windows.

Sirius flicks his wand, most likely to set up a Silencing Charm around them. “What now?”

“I can’t be sure, obviously, but there’s a study on the second floor he used sometimes. We should look there first,” Regulus murmurs, his body tense and face hard. James can see the fear in his eyes though and wonders how many memories being back here is bringing up for him.

He doesn’t say anything, just nods his agreement, and they make their way up the stairs, wincing at every creaking sound from the dark, wooden steps. The noise of the battle outside is slowly fading away, only an occasional shout or scream reaching them, and it does nothing to ease his fraying nerves.

The second-floor corridor is even darker, making it hard to see but they don’t need to talk to know that none of them wants to risk lighting their wands, so they just carefully feel along the wall until they reach a door at the end.

To their great surprise, it’s not locked, but that vanishes quickly when they’re confronted with a huge snake, head raised and staring straight at them when they click the door shut behind them.

“It can’t see us,” Sirius reminds them lowly, his hand clenching on James’ waist, and he sounds more like he wants to reassure himself than anything else.

“It can smell us, you bloody idiot,” Regulus hisses, and before James can even begin to process that piece of information, Regulus raises his wand and mutters something under his breath. There’s a flash of light and the huge beast is suspended in the air, a black cage around it that barely leaves enough room to move.

“Smart,” Sirius remarks dryly and looks around the room.

It’s as ratty as the rest of the house, dirty dark floorboards and dusty curtains, the armchair that’s standing in front of the fireplace threadbare and worn, and the shelves look like they could break under the weight of books upon books at any moment.

There’s a huge desk shoved into one corner with a lamp that’s burning, and it takes James a moment to comprehend why it’s standing out to him. “This is a Muggle house,” he breathes, looking around once more. “The portraits don’t move, the light isn’t magical –“

Sirius hums, flicking his wand to close the heavy curtains and shooting another spell at the fireplace and at the door. “Just making sure we’re not interrupted.”

They pull off the cloak and stare at each other for a moment before Regulus clears his throat. “He probably doesn’t have them lying around, right? Let’s check the shelves and desk, search for secret compartments.”

They all take a corner of the room, and after carefully checking over the desk for the first time and coming up with nothing, James starts casting Revealing Charm after Revealing Charm.

Nearly twenty minutes later, there’s still nothing and he sighs, turning and looking at Sirius whose shoulders are tense, face clouded over with annoyance and frustration.

“Oh shit, you know what? Remember that Charm we invented in fifth year to find secret passages in Hogwarts?” James asks, eyes wide and barely keeping from hitting himself.

Sirius has no such qualms, hand colliding with his forehead and lips twisting in a self-deprecating sneer. “Bloody idiots. Alright, let’s start again.”

They quickly teach Regulus the spell and get back to work. After another five minutes, there’s a low, victorious sound from Sirius who’s crouched behind a shelf he’s pushed away from the wall.

Regulus and James both stride over to him and when he moves, their eyes instantly fall on a small hole in the wall. Sirius’ hand hovers in front of it and James quickly bends down to snatch it away. “Don’t be stupid, for fuck's sake! Do you honestly think hiding is the only security measure he has after everything that’s happened in that cave?”

He regrets it as soon as the words are out of his mouth because Sirius’ face becomes hard and anguished in an instant.

Regulus levels a vicious glare at him that he really deserves, and puts a hand on Sirius’ shoulder, softly pushing him away before raising his wand, and muttering a long, twisted incantation in a language completely foreign to James.

Black mist emits from his wand, twirling like smoke and sinking into the wall around the hole where it builds a net that pulses slightly, fizzling like hot oil in a pan.

“There are curses in the wards here, but I think we should be able to dismantle them,” Regulus says eventually and exchanges a glance with Sirius.

“Might take a while though.”

James watches as the two of them start a low chant, silver mixing into the black, and it reminds him a little of the sewing work his mother does from time to time, threads unwinding themselves and becoming loose. It looks like the black threads are trying to repulse the silver ones, swallowing or cutting them off from time to time.

Regulus’ and Sirius’ faces are scrunched up in concentration, sweat glistening on their foreheads and their hands trembling ever so slightly, and not for the first time since the war has started does he regret that he has never paid attention when his father was lecturing him about wards.

He jumps when there are footsteps echoing down the corridor, tearing his eyes away from Sirius’ face and sparing a second to shake his head at himself. The knob of the door is rattling, finally alerting Sirius and Regulus to the problem as well, and he can actually hear Sirius grinding his teeth.

Chapter Text

He jumps when there are footsteps echoing down the corridor, tears his eyes away from Sirius’ face and spares a second to shake his head at himself. The knob of the door is shaking, finally alerting Sirius and Regulus to the problem as well and he can hear Sirius grind his teeth.

“We only need another minute or two,” Sirius presses out. “Keep that door shut, will you?”

James just nods, turning his back towards them and flicking his wand to move one of the shelves in front of the door, hoping that it will hold. He keeps his wand raised though, eyes fixed on the door, and already conjures a shield for good measure.

Voices seep into the room but he can’t make out the words. The lock is clicking a few times and the door rattles in its hinges.

Yes,” Sirius exclaims behind him, but he forces himself to not turn around.

“Let me check one last time,” Regulus says, sounding worried.

“Be quick.”

“Oh really? I planned to take my time, you know.”

Despite the rather dire situation, James can’t help the small snort at their bickering and breathes a sigh of relief when Regulus finally gives the go.

There’s a clinking noise behind him at the same time as the door bursts open; the shelf is blasted away with so much force that only his shield saves them from getting hit by large chunks of wood, books, and plaster from the wall around the door.

“Fuck!” Sirius curses, next to him in an instant, and then there’s no more room for talking. Three Death Eaters are barging into the room, already throwing curses, and they have to focus on shielding and trying to land a hit.

Sirius takes out the first one easily enough but the other two are more competent, fighting in a duelling stance that suggests that they’ve done this for years and deflecting anything Regulus and Sirius send their way as easily as James does, conjuring pieces of furniture into a shield.

“Oh look, the traitor is here,” the left one says, a woman if her voice is any indication, and James can hear Regulus snarl next to him.

“Carrow, I’d say it’s a pleasure, but I would be lying. Deprimo!”

She deflects it into the wall next to them, a gaping hole appearing, and sends a Killing Curse at Regulus that he only just shields with a conjured metal shield.

Sirius growls next to him and shifts his focus to her, sending such a fast, varied battery of curses at her that she doesn’t manage to block them all. She sidesteps one of them which puts her directly into the way of Regulus’ curse, who probably anticipated the move.

The man next to her gives an unnatural howl and redirects all his spells at Regulus. In his rage, he forgets to shield himself properly and between the three of them, it’s easy enough to take him down.

The sudden silence seems ominous, and Sirius is the first one to break it. “Are you two alright? No injuries or –“

“I’m fine,” Regulus says with a brief smile, and James simply squeezes Sirius’ hand.

“Alright then, what about these three?” Sirius says, unceremoniously kicking the guy he took out first.

A quick check tells them that the woman won’t survive for much longer, but they put Portkeys on all of them, deciding that it’s on the Ministry to choose if they’re going to treat her injuries.

James isn’t sure if it’s the adrenaline still rushing through him or if he’s simply this desensitised by now, but he doesn’t feel much in the face of the deep, bleeding gashes on her chest before she’s whisked away. As soon as he thinks about it, he remembers the sick, green light of the Killing Curse flying at Regulus, and the only discernible emotion he’s capable of is relief that they got them first. 

He doesn’t get more time to ponder the issue; there are more footsteps sounding from the corridor and he quickly throws the Invisibility Cloak over the three of them while Sirius sets up another Silencing Charm.

“Do you have them?” he whispers to Sirius as he pulls him and Regulus out into the corridor where they press into a little alcove to let four more Death Eaters pass.

Sirius nods and they creep back down the corridor, ignoring the loud, confused voices coming from the study and only stopping at the top of the stairs to send a batch of curses at all of them when they step back into the corridor.

They’re too surprised to put up a real fight and despite Regulus’ protests, Sirius slips out from under the cloak, running back to apply another batch of Portkeys. James knows that it’s a good idea because they can’t be sure that nobody will come up here to check on them, but he barely keeps himself from storming after him anyway.

Thankfully, they don’t meet anybody else on their way back downstairs and stop when they arrive in the Entrance hall once again.

“Is there another way out of here? We should destroy the remaining Horcruxes first before we join the battle, and I’d rather not try to sneak past a bunch of duels,” Sirius asks with a questioning look at Regulus.

Regulus tilts his head, frowning before he nods and points at another corridor to their right. “We should have access to a closed-off courtyard from one of the rooms there, I think I saw it once.”

They pass through a huge room that must have once been an opulent ballroom; a long table with mismatched chairs takes up half of it, the rest is merely empty space. Regulus shudders slightly when they walk past a throne-like chair, and when Sirius makes a questioning noise in the back of his throat, he quickly shakes his head.

“It’s where he holds his meetings,” Regulus says, voice flat and eyes resolutely fixed on the door at the other end, and it takes James only a second to get his meaning – it’s where Regulus nearly died after Peter blew his cover.

Sirius obviously understands as well, and they quicken their steps without saying anything, entering another long corridor with doors left and right.

Regulus stops them at the third door to the left. “Master bedroom, it could have an exit to the courtyard.”

“Let’s try it,” Sirius says after a moment of deliberation. “The sooner we’re out of here, the better.”

James bites back a grimace at the thought of setting foot into Voldemort’s bedroom, but it also brings back his earlier theories about Death Eater sleepovers, and he vows to tell them about it when all is said and done; maybe they can get a good laugh out of it. It’s strange to think about inconsequential nonsense like this, now of all times, but it helps a bit against the overwhelming stress and anxiety, and so he clings to it as much as he can.

There are French doors at the other side of the room, a faint sliver of light falling through the dirty glass, and they carefully make their way over. Of course, it doesn’t go as smoothly as he would have liked, and he has to bite his lip harshly to bite back a curse when he hits his knee against something.

At least they do find the courtyard, and James locks the door behind them before they stay still for what feels like minutes to make sure they’re alone.

“Alright, let’s do this.” Sirius’ tense voice breaks the silence, and he steps out from underneath the cloak. He disillusions himself quickly, and James’ hand clenches around his wand, nails digging into his palm to keep himself from going after him.

Regulus is standing rigidly next to him, breathing fast and ragged, and without thinking too much about it, James reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. Regulus relaxes only marginally but his breath leaves him in a rush, and they both watch as a bunch of objects scatter to the ground at the other side of the small space.

“How many are there?” James asks, a bit taken aback that he only thinks of it now.

“Four. I just hope Dumbledore’s theory is correct,” Regulus says bitterly and James nods with a sigh. There’s nothing they can do about it either way. 

White, sizzling flames appear seemingly out of nowhere. James has to shield his eyes against the sudden brightness that’s lighting up the whole space around them and he instinctively takes a step back at the heat that’s creeping over his skin.

He doesn’t have enough time to question if it was a smart decision to use Fiendfyre in such a confined space; there’s the loud, horrible screeching noise again, just a hundred times worse than the locket, and four separate shadows rise in the flames, forming shapes and surging forward, twirling and twisting as if they’re trying to get away.

The flames reach higher, the heat is getting close to being painful, and for a moment, James fears that Sirius has lost control of the spell. But then he notices how the fire starts to form shapes, of a stag and a dog and a wolf, a fox jumping in between and charging at the shadows, swallowing them, and with another loud cry, they disappear, collapsing into themselves.

The flames extinguish shortly after. The sudden darkness and silence feel unnatural, oppressive, like there’s something just waiting to lunge at them. His heart is racing in his chest and his hands are trembling, the smell of fire still filling the air all around them.

He stretches his hand out when he sees something move to his left, the Disillusionment Charm not enough to hide Sirius completely, and he curls his fingers around his wrist, pulling him close not only to get the cloak back over him.

“Let’s go. If Dumbledore is right, he should have felt that and I’d rather not be still here if he understands what happened,” Sirius mutters against his neck and he shudders at the hot breath ghosting over his skin and the smell of scorching fire.

Sirius is trembling as well, and James tightens his arm around his waist as he pulls all of them back through the room and out into the corridor. He considers asking Regulus if they should take a different route, but thinks he’d probably prefer to not have his discomfort pointed out, and that he would have already told them if there was another way.

They don’t encounter anybody else on their way back. The sounds of fighting are becoming steadily louder and the occasional flash of coloured light flashes through the windows, all of it only increasing his nervousness with every step.

They stop a few feet away from the front door to steel themselves.

“We should stick together, no matter what happens. And only take off the cloak when we’re at the other end, better not risk anybody seeing us come out of here,” Sirius says, voice strained and his whole body coiled with tension.

“Yeah, let’s stick to the same strategy as upstairs – I keep to defence, you two to attack,” James agrees, thinking that Sirius is probably desperate to keep Regulus close to him.

Not that he blames him or would do it differently – Voldemort and the Death Eaters are bound to be furious over the betrayal, and he’d rather not consider how loyal and helpful either Order members or the Aurors are going to be.

After Regulus nods, they carefully slip out of the door and track back the way they came, all of them trying to get an impression of what’s going on.

It’s difficult, close to impossible really. It’s still dark outside, the only light coming from spellfire and a few lanterns on the grounds of which half are already destroyed, and it’s hard to differentiate between allies and enemies.

They’re halfway back to where they arrived when James’ eyes catch on a flash of red hair. Lily is battling two Death Eaters and quickly losing ground. Without thinking about it twice, he raises his wand and sends several cutting curses at the back of the taller one, breathing a sigh of relief when he hits his target.

Nobody questions where the curses have just come from, but Sirius shakes his head. “You could have hit her, you moron.” His voice is soft though, understanding ringing through it, and his hand tightens briefly on James’ waist.

“Nah.” He waves him off with a forced grin, but he knows it’s true. Still, the risk was lower than the possibility of her losing to one of them.

“We should be fine now,” Regulus says with a jerk of his head into the direction of the Manor, by now far behind them.

“Fuck, there’s Remus,” Sirius exclaims before James can answer and he follows his line of sigh, wincing when a bright spell from Remus illuminates both his and his opponents face.

“Of course Greyback would pick him. Let’s go.”

“Wait,” Regulus holds both of them back, struggling against their weight and they whip their heads around to stare at him in disbelief. “Look! He doesn’t seem like he needs help, and Greyback isn’t the most skilled magically. Don’t you think it would be very satisfying for him to take him out himself?”

“How do you know – “

“Oh please, it’s not hard to put it together, and you just confirmed what I already guessed,” Regulus says with a huff. “Those, on the other hand, look more like they need our help.”  He points to their right where the property ends, bordering on a forest.

It’s true; James can’t really tell who’s fighting but the two of them are outnumbered by a group of four Death Eaters, and they don’t look like they have as much experience as some of the Order members. Before they can move, two men who look like Aurors join the fight though, and James isn’t sure if he should be relieved that they got help, or be disappointed that he can’t do something already, to just barge in and stop thinking so bloody much.

He lets his gaze travel across the grounds again, and while he can barely make out faces, it’s the same picture everywhere; groups of two to three against another of four to five.

“They must have gotten backup, bloody hell,” he curses. “Where the fuck is Voldemort, by the way?”

“Look –“ Sirius says with a nod towards the house that’s partly blocking the view of another duel taking place. “I think there, and I suppose he’s duelling Dumbledore.”

They walk another few steps to be able to see better. James is itching to throw himself into the fight, and he knows that at least Sirius and probably Regulus as well are feeling the same. But it makes sense to have a general idea of what is happening where, especially with how outnumbered they are, so they restrain themselves in unspoken agreement.

They’re just far enough to make out the two tall figures duelling each other, their view obscured by the many people between them. It’s easy enough to make out the long, white hair of Dumbledore and the just as white skin of Voldemort though, gleaming ominously in the colours of spellfire and the first few rays of light that are slowly creeping over the horizon, the sky turning a dark blue.

It’s impossible to say who has the upper hand, but the area around them is void of other people, and they move so quickly that James would have to strain his eyes even if there weren’t people stepping into his line of sight again and again.

Still, the lack of other fights around the duo is what lets him notice the one person slowly creeping closer to them. His eyes catch on the reflection on a white mask and once spotted, it stands out against the dark background. He knows what’s going to happen before it does.

He wants to break into a run, try to prevent it, but Regulus still has a tight grip on him and Sirius, and the distance is too large anyway. He probably would have run into the path of one of the stray curses flying around.

The spell that hits Dumbledore’s side is purple, and he can see him stumble, halting in his fluid movements before he falls as if in slow motion.

“Shit! Fuck, fuck –“ Sirius wrenches himself free of Regulus’ grip and storms into the direction, ignoring the spells flying left and right, and only the stupid luck of the reckless saving him.

“Let’s go,” James grinds out, already pulling the cloak off and stuffing it into his bag as he breaks into a run after Sirius, throwing up a shield around all three of them.

Voldemort is laughing, loud and cruel, doesn’t even bother to check on Dumbledore before he’s striding away, secure in his victory. James ignores him for the time being, grinding his teeth and dropping to his knees next to Sirius who’s already running a Diagnostic Charm on Dumbledore’s still body. He doesn’t allow himself to think about what losing Dumbledore this early on in the fight means for them, regardless of his survival in the long run.

“Not dead. Nearly, but not yet,” Sirius breathes in relief. His fingers are fumbling with his bag to get a Portkey, but his hands are shaking badly and keep slipping from the cord that holds it close.

James takes a deep breath before he curls his fingers around Sirius’ wrist. “Breathe, Sirius. You’re no help to anybody if you panic.”

Sirius meets his gaze, eyes wide with fear, but James can see that he’s listening and forces a smile. “That’s it, now come on. Send him off to St Mungo’s, and then we have a few Death Eaters to deal with.”

Sirius leans forward, gripping James’ head tightly between his hands and kisses him, lips pressed hard against his and it’s just for a moment, but it gives him more strength than it has any right to.

“For Merlin’s sake,” Regulus snaps, whacking them both over the head and glaring down at them. It instantly brings him back to the present, the screams and shouts, flashing lights and the smell of fire hitting him like a bludger, and he closes his eyes for a second.

Then he looks up at Regulus, an apology on the tip of his tongue, and only just sees a spell fly towards them, aimed at Regulus’ back, and he barely manages to conjure a shield. He’s acutely aware of how lucky they got when it holds against whatever curse was thrown at them.

“Portkey!” he shouts at Sirius, already getting up and stepping next to Regulus to shield Sirius for long enough. There are three of them coming towards them, walking slowly as if they have all the time in the world with their wands held loosely at their sides.

Regulus obviously doesn’t intend to let them get close; he starts to string curses together that James has never heard of, forcing them to shield, and James quickly casts a series of spells and protective charms around them, still relieved when Sirius appears at his side.

“Oh look, the traitor is here. Ran back to your mutt of a brother, did you?” one of them drawls when they’re in hearing-distance, and James sneers when he recognises the voice.

“Snivellus,” he spits, unable to help his grin when Sirius laughs cruelly and shifts his focus to the bloody bastard. “Only ever strong in a group, aren’t you?”

“You will regret ever trying to fight me,” Snape snarls, voice trembling with barely concealed fury as he steps forwards. He’s casting silently and at a speed that forces James to focus immensely to keep them shielded, once again using transfiguration to have a physical barrier he can move. It demands more concentration and strength, but it’s a lot safer, and he knows that Snape has absolutely no qualms to kill them.

Granted, no Death Eater has, and he’s not convinced that they have either, but this is a bit more personal.

The other two either hold back or simply aren’t very talented, and the first one goes down when Sirius lands several Bombarda Maximas at their feet. It’s a good tactic, theoretically, and Regulus instantly uses the seconds Snape and his companion need to get their footing back to strike down the second one, but it also throws up so much dirt and rubble that it’s hard to see their opponents for several seconds.

Something red whizzes past his ear, way too close for comfort, and he casts another shield in front of them, hoping it will hold.

Snape suddenly stiffens and falls forward, despite none of them casting anything that would warrant that. They look at each other in confusion, until James’ eyes catch on flaming red hair once again and a startled laugh escapes him as his eyes lock with Lily’s.

“He can be lucky it was only a Stunner,” she says when she reaches them, her voice hard and eyes lingering on her former friend before she straightens up, getting a Portkey out of her pocket and tapping her wand against it.

“You alright?” Sirius asks, looking her up and down as if searching for injuries.

“Spectacular,” she replies dryly. “You were successful? He screamed at some point, around half an hour ago. Nobody knew what’s going on, but Dumbledore seemed very smug, storming over to duel him. Come to think of it, where –“

“St. Mungo’s,” James answers, eyes flicking to the spot behind them that’s now empty, only scorched patches in the ground remaining.

“But yes, we were successful. Are you alone? Where’s Remus?” Regulus asks with a frown and taking a step forward.

“Lost him,” she says with a sigh and runs a hand through her hair before she flicks her wand to tie it back up. “There are just – so many. About half an hour after it started, a group arrived, some of the werewolves Remus said and – well. I lost track of what’s going on where long ago, I have no idea how many of our side are hurt or – or worse.”

“It sucks, but we should get back to it,” Sirius speaks up. “Let’s stay together, maybe with four we have a better chance.”

They all nod and quickly move back into the chaos, trying to pick out groups where Order members or Aurors seem to be at a disadvantage. It’s contradictory, how the fights seem to blur together, repetitive motions James doesn’t even have to think about anymore, warring with the rapid pounding of his heart, the never-ending fear and anger because no matter how many times they’re doing this, it never becomes less dangerous and nerve-racking. 

For every Death Eater they take down, another seems to appear. They pass Moody, Kingsley, and Frank battling Voldemort and deliberate if they should help, but there are only so many people who can duel the same person without putting themselves into danger, so they move on.

They stumble across Remus and McGonagall facing off against four men and quickly join them, but they get separated when another three arrive. He and Sirius get pushed aside from the rest of them by three bulgy men that are violent but slow, but it’s enough.

James grits his teeth and suppresses the urge to look over his shoulder for the rest of his friends, focusing on the fight in the hope that when they’re finished, the others will still be there. He and Sirius do manage to take them down with a combination of Explosive Curses and Stunners, and quickly send them off to the Ministry, but when they turn around, the others got lost somewhere on the chaotic battlefield.

He can see the worry in Sirius’ eyes as he scans the surrounding area, and he takes a moment to squeeze his hand. “He will be fine. Lily and Remus will look after him.” After all, there’s not much they can do right now; curses are flying everywhere and while it’s slowly getting lighter, dust is polluting the air and makes it hard to see further than a few feet, much less recognise faces.

Sirius gives him a strained smile. “I know, it’s just –“

They’re interrupted when a beam of green light flies towards them, and Sirius crashes into him to throw them to the ground. They both throw up shields around them before they can even make out where it came from.

They quickly jump up, looking around, and James curses under his breath when a group of four masked figures is striding towards them, spells already flying and forcing them on the defensive. James tries to shield as much as he can, but he doesn’t have the time to transfigure anything and they have to rely more on dodging.

Sirius barely manages to dive out of the way of another Killing Curse, and it makes James’ heart stop for long enough that a Crucio catches him on the leg, his world instantly narrowing down to pain that’s overtaking his whole body.

It doesn’t last long, and he instantly rolls to the side when it’s lifted, scrambling to his feet and fixing his eyes on the two Death Eaters laughing at him. Still, it was enough for the other two to push Sirius farther away from him.

No matter how much he wants to run over, he has to focus completely on the two of them that are advancing quickly. His hands are still trembling, and he barely sidesteps another Crucio, only just managing to throw a Bombarda that at least knocks one of them backwards.

The time it takes him to take out the second one feels excruciatingly long, and regardless of how badly he’s trying to concentrate solely on the fight, he’s distracted enough to notice a Cutting Curse a little too late. It only grazes his arm, and he’s too pumped up to pay it any real attention, but when the bloody bastard finally goes down, it’s already become impossible for him to make out Sirius amongst the throng of people around him.

He curses violently to himself and tries to shove through them, but he’s drawn into another duel by two unmasked men with so many scars littering their faces that he’s sure that they belong to Greyback’s pack.

Night is fading slowly, but the weak light barely manages to break through the clouds and while it’s useful to make out who’s from which side, it also reveals several unmoving bodies lying on the ground. He thinks that, as soon as he finds Sirius, they should try to check who’s still alive and either send them off to St. Mungo’s or the Ministry.

He could use a break from active fighting anyway because, no matter how much he’d like to deny it, he can feel exhaustion creeping up on him.

There’s not much room for him to consider any of it though; he has only just stunned both men and placed the Portkeys when another Death Eater attacks him from behind. Whirling around and ducking at the same time, the purple spell misses him, but the guy doesn’t seem to mind much.

He’s laughing maliciously, not even bothering to do much more than shielding James’ spells. “Oh look, the Potter boy. Do you miss your friends? It was such great fun, taking the McKinnon’s out one after another. Did you know we made your little friend watch while we tortured her parents?” the man taunts, and while James can’t see his face, his voice is dripping with cruelty.

He clenches his jaw, refusing to be baited, refusing to let his mind picture the scene, but there’s anger rushing through him and he increases the speed of his casting, sidestepping the spells thrown at him and stringing together Cutting and Explosive Curses.

There’s a high, manic cackle coming somewhere from his right that he instantly recognises, and he would have ignored it if it wasn’t followed by a scream that makes his blood freeze. At the next curses the bloody bastard sends at him, he takes two quick steps to the left to dodge, chancing a quick glance into the direction the sound came from and just witnesses how Sirius is hit by two curses to the chest, instantly toppling over, not moving.

He’s not moving, and Bellatrix is laughing with her head thrown back, jumping up and down, and James' ears are ringing, loud and insistent and his mind is blank, only hot, white fury overtaking everything. He thinks he’s shaking, maybe, there’s a red haze clouding his vision and the only thing left within him is the burning, all-consuming desire to make her pay.

Chapter Text

He’s not moving, and Bellatrix is laughing with her head thrown back, jumping up and down and James' ears are ringing, loud and insistent and his mind is blank, only hot, white fury overtaking everything. He thinks he’s shaking, maybe, there’s a red haze clouding his vision and the only thing left within him is the burning, all-consuming desire to make her pay.

A low, guttural sound wrenches itself out of James’ throat, tearing at his vocal cords and he growls, whirling around to cast the first thing that comes to mind at the Death Eater in front of him. He ignores the Cutting Curse that has grazed his leg during his lapse of attention, and he doesn’t spare a second glance when the man goes down, already storming over.

“Crucio!” he snarls, the blood-red spell connecting with Bellatrix’ back who stumbles forward, laughter morphing into a scream but it’s not enough, not nearly enough because Sirius is still not moving.

“Deprimo, Incendio Tria, Confringo, Bombarda Maxima,” he spits. Her body is thrown around like a ragdoll and he thinks she must be dead but it’s not enough, still not enough for fuck’s sake.

“Avada Kedavra.” He doesn’t even manage to feel surprised when the spell works, sickening green light connecting with her unmoving back, and he wants to cast it again, again and again until the terror and the fury and everything that is currently making his chest constrict finally goes away, wants to resurrect and kill her all over.

There’s another high, blood-curling scream coming from his right, and green light whizzes past his head, only just missing him. He’s not sure if he even still wants it to not collide with him, to not make him fall and not move again like whatever hit Sirius. There’s a small, distant voice in his mind pointing out that the spells that hit Sirius weren’t green though, that there’s still a chance, and that he can’t die without knowing, not yet.

He whirls around and takes an instinctive step back at the sight of Voldemort storming towards him, his face contorted in a furious snarl, and James has barely comprehended his advance when he’s hit by his second Crucio this day. The pain is much worse than the first time, lighting up every single nerve of his body but it’s not enough, still not enough.

There’s still Sirius falling at the forefront of his mind and he bites his lip, his tongue, bites through all of it and rolls away before the spell is lifted, green light hitting the ground next to him.

He’s back on his feet in an instant, sending whatever curse he can think of at Voldemort, the fucking bastard who’s to blame for all of this. For the death of their friends, the betrayal, the pain, the loss, everything, and he doesn’t even bother shielding anymore, casts dark magic and Diffindos, Explosive Curses and Unforgivables because none of this fucking matters anymore, nothing does, and he just has to get to Sirius because he can’t be dead, he can’t –

The second Crucio throws him backwards as it hits him straight in the chest and it’s stronger, seems to go on and on and he can feel his consciousness slipping, his thoughts becoming tangled and incoherent. When it finally stops, he can’t move, can only stare up at the white, inhumane face staring down at him, a wand just as white raising, pointing at his chest and he knows he has to move, must –

Someone steps up next to him and he cranes his neck to look up, frowning when his eyes fall on Regulus, wand held loosely in his hand and shoulders drawn back.

You,” Voldemort hisses, and when James looks back at him his mouth is twisted into a cruel, mocking smile. “You thought you could betray me, you inconsequential, little fool. I should have known that you were too soft, nothing but a name to show for. What do you want to do now? You can’t kill me, even if you managed to make it out of the cave.”

“Well,” Regulus drawls, his voice sounding merely bored, and he doesn’t flinch away from the burning red eyes that seem to be boring into him with malicious glee. “Maybe not if I had only destroyed the locket, but I think with all five of them gone, I have a fair chance. It was I who discovered your secret, and it will be I with whom you’ll meet your end.”

“You lie,” Voldemort spits, but his expression betrays his sudden fear and James laughs, a hollow and twisted, horrible sound.

He grips his wand and forces himself to sit up, but he can’t help the way his gaze strays to Sirius’ still form before he meets Voldemort’s eyes once again. “If he doesn’t, I will. You should be careful with those who have nothing left to lose.”

Voldemort laughs again and points his wand back at him. “Oh, you still don’t have enough? Such bravery, such waste. I shall show – “

“Avada Kedavra.” Regulus’ voice is quiet, dispassionate, green light connecting with Voldemort’s chest, glowing around him and illuminating his face; his expressions shifts to surprise for the fraction of a second before he falls backwards, his body hitting the ground with a dull thud.

“Always talked too much,” Regulus says with a shrug before he turns towards James and offers him a hand.

“You – you just – “ he stammers, eyes still fixed on Voldemort’s still form and then he’s laughing, or maybe he’s crying, it doesn’t really matter because what does he care that Voldemort is dead if Sirius is, too?

He stumbles to his feet, ignoring Regulus’ hand and the shaking of his limbs, crosses the short distance and drops to his knees next to Sirius.

There’s blood seeping through his clothes, his face deathly pale and still, and James grips his shoulders, shakes him, lets his hand roam over his face and his chest, ignores the blood coating his hands because he has to wake up, he has to. “You promised, for fuck's sake Sirius you promised me, you have to –“

A sharp, stinging pain in his cheek startles him. There are fingers digging harshly into his shoulders and he meets Regulus’ eyes, vision blurry and unfocused until there’s another slap to his cheek.

“James, focus! He’s not dead yet, but if you keep shaking him like a bloody lunatic he will be, for Salazar’s sake. Now get your hands away. I can heal the gashes, so he won’t bleed out in front of our eyes.”

He swallows, throat constricting painfully, and he clenches his eyes shut, slowly taking his hands away and curling one of them around Sirius’ wrist. There’s a pulse there, slow and faint but he can feel it and a sob escapes him.

Pressing a hand against his mouth, he watches as Regulus carefully pulls the torn fabric of Sirius’ jumper away, of James’ jumper that he just threw Sirius this morning, before –

He wildly shakes his head, trying to dispel the pictures because it just increases the urge to cry, to get up and kill every single person that has ever dared to raise their wand against him.

“I know that spell,” Regulus murmurs, seemingly more to himself, and raises his wand. “She didn’t hit him full-on, thank Merlin, but she must have landed another curse.”

He wants to shake Regulus, wants to make him finally get on with it, and digs his nails into his palms, his teeth into his lips, jumping violently when a warm hand lands on his shoulder.

His mother looks down at him, her cheeks streaked with dirt and hair a mess but he’s so relieved to see her that he doesn’t even question what happened, just squeezes her hand so tightly that it must be painful.

Regulus is chanting something under his breath and James watches as the deep gash travelling down Sirius’ side and over his left arm closes slowly, leaving pink skin behind. James laughs wetly when he thinks how Sirius will show off the scar, claiming it has character, and then he’s choking again because he still doesn’t know if that will ever happen.

“I don’t know what else she’s got him with,” Regulus says, sitting back and looking down at Sirius with worry etched into every line of his face.

His mother clears her throat, crouching down and casting spell after spell, but her face only turns more serious by the second. It makes it hard to breathe again, his hands are shaking and he’s feeling faint.

“I can’t tell what it is exactly,” she says after what feels like an eternity and shakes her head in frustration. “You should get him to St. Mungo’s.”

“Yeah, I –“ he starts, already fumbling in his bag for a Portkey. Looking up, he realizes with a start that the fighting around them has mostly stopped and Aurors and Order members are walking around, checking on the many bodies. He thinks that the sight would normally turn his stomach but right now, he only feels numb, only wants to whisk away with Sirius to make sure that he survives, the uncertainty enough to make his chest constrict.

“Here,” Regulus says, pressing something into his hand.

A spoon, James realizes, staring down at it blankly for a few seconds. “How can you be so bloody calm? That’s your brother, for fuck’s – “

I know,” Regulus snaps back, fury suddenly flaring up in his eyes. “And if I didn’t force myself to stay calm, he’d be dead now because you bloody snapped and nearly got yourself killed by Voldemort, and then had nothing better to do than to shake – “

“Boys,” his mother’s voice is calm but commanding, and James squeezes his eyes shut.

“I’m sorry, it’s not your fault,” he says with a sigh, running a hand over his face and staring at Regulus in confusion when he pulls it away.

“It’s alright. But your hands are full of blood and you just – wait a moment.” He raises his wand and James doesn’t even flinch when he points it at his face. “Tergeo. There you go. Now take my brother to St. Mungo’s, I’ll come as soon as I can. Moody’s just walking over here, and I suppose they’ll want to know how I killed You-Know – Voldemort.”

“Fuck, you really did, huh,” James murmurs, then shakes his head again in an attempt to clear his blurry vision. “I will celebrate the fuck out of you if – when Sirius wakes up.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer, just takes a tight hold of Sirius’ arm and lets his mother tip the Portkey.

They land in a white, sterile room. James loses his balance upon landing and only just prevents Sirius’ head from hitting the floor, and he feels like the walls are still whirring around him.

Before he can get his bearings back, two Healers storm into the room, looking between the two of them and obviously deciding that the one unconscious is more important. Not that James is complaining, he would’ve probably thrown a fit if they’d focused on him instead.

They put Sirius on a bed in the corner before one of them turns to him. “Do you know what happened?”

James is still struggling to get up, his eyes resolutely fixed on Sirius, and he thinks he will never be able to forget his still, pale face, so unlike defiant, wild, alive, reckless, beautiful Sirius –


He shakes his head, the room blurring around the edges, and he leans against the wall heavily, running his hands through his hair and glancing at the Healer. “I – no, the battle, he – a Cutting Curse. Something dark, but it’s healed. Something else, I don’t know – I think, I think it was yellow, maybe. Or purple, I can’t–“

He chokes up again, pressing a hand against his mouth and clenching his eyes shut. The scene of Sirius being hit in the chest is replaying itself, over and over, the way his face slacked, how he just dropped. Then there’s just a white haze, a rushing noise like their telly before they’d fixed it to work around magic, and then it starts all over again. Bellatrix’s cackle–

A hand touches his arm, and he recoils so violently that he stumbles and barely catches himself, staring in confusion when he notices that his wand is pointed at the young woman standing in front of him, both hands raised in surrender.

“Sir, I think you’re under shock,” she says calmly when he lowers his hands and lets his eyes be drawn back to Sirius.

“No, I’m fine just – just wake him up, just fix him, he promised me–“

Another set of hands land on his shoulders and he struggles against them, tries to wrench himself free to find his wand, but they just push him into a chair somewhere, outside the room, some spell to keep him there and he thinks he might be shouting, his throat is raw and hurting and his vision blurry all over.

Then, calm washes over him and he can finally breathe again, feeling a bit drowsy like he’s been wrapped into a thick blanket from head to toe, but it’s fading quickly. “Sirius,” he croaks, shaking his head wildly and trying to pull himself out of whatever this is.

“Sir, you’re under shock and injured, we need to examine you and–“

“Sirius, I need to make sure–“

“He will be fine; the Healers are currently with him. Are you family?”

“No, but–“

“Then we can’t tell you–“


He’s shouting again, all sense of calm vanishing. But his body is tired, refusing to put up a fight any longer. Pain is threading through him, his leg and arm are hurting, and everything is sore and trembling. There’s a vague memory of crimson spells and rage, of blood that might have been his own, and he wonders if he simply didn’t notice that he’s been hurt but he doesn’t care, he just needs to make sure that Sirius will be fine.

Something is keeping him in place, and he can do nothing but watch as the Healer runs spells on him, can’t even flinch away from her wand as if it’s reasonable to point it at him right now. He scowls at that particular thought and loudly wishes her a long, painful eternity in hell which seems to bother her far less than it should.

Some of the pain fades and then something is pressed against his lips, a bitter taste on his tongue but he swallows automatically.

“Now, was that so hard?” she says, rubbing her forehead. “You will have to wait–“

“Fuck this, let me see him,” he spits again, struggling against the invisible bonds and thinking that she probably shouldn’t have healed him as the fading pain only increases his resolve to get free, to curse the living daylight out of her and check on Sirius.


“Excuse me,” a voice sounds from the doorway and he knows that voice, so similar and at the same time nothing like Sirius’.

“Can you please tell her to let me see your brother, I swear to Merlin, Morgana and–“

“The Healers are still with him, for Merlin’s sake. I can’t let you into that room in your state,” she finally snaps, and he feels a twisted sense of pride that he has finally managed to get a rise out of her.

“How is my brother?” Regulus demands, taking a few steps towards them and looking down at her with that quiet sort of arrogance that is such a Black trait.

“We can’t say–“

“Then I’d suggest you check,” Regulus orders. “And let him go, you’re going to have less trouble if you simply accept that he will get what he wants one way or another.”

“You can’t just–“

“I just killed Voldemort; I can do whatever the fuck I want. Now go and check on my brother or I might consider resurrecting him and use his Inferius to haunt you for the rest of your days.”

She’s gaping at him, her eyes wide, and probably wondering if she should check them both into the mental ward. Regulus still looks utterly unmoved though, arms crossed loosely over his chest and raising a pointed eyebrow when she doesn’t move.

“Of course,” she says eventually and flicks her wand to let James go. “But I really do have to insist that you wait until the Healers are finished, at least for your brother’s sake.”

Regulus nods slowly and her sigh of relief is audible even to James, who’s still debating if he should actually listen to her. But whatever she did to him at least made him see that she might have a point with insisting that he lets them do their work, no matter how much a part of his brain is still screaming at him to barge in there and make sure that Sirius is still breathing.

She quickly strides out of the room, muttering under her breath, and Regulus flops down into the chair next to James, exhaling in a rush. “Wasn’t sure that would work, but it’s even better than ‘I’m a Black,’ to be honest.”

It gets a short, startled laugh out of James and he leans back in his chair, the exhaustion slowly threatening to take over his body. “You really did, you actually killed him. Still hasn’t sunken in, to be honest, and I think it won’t until–“

He can’t finish the sentence as the reminder that he still doesn’t know if Sirius will actually survive hits him all over. He closes his eyes against the tears and tries to breathe, startling at the touch of Regulus’ hand on his arm.

“He will be fine, James. He’s a stubborn, tenacious git and he’ll make it, alright?” Regulus says quietly, desperation palpable in his voice and James slumps, realizing how selfish it is that on top of it all, Regulus has to console him.

“I just – I think I lost it when I saw it happen,” he admits, pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes. “I don’t even remember what I did, I just–”

Regulus hums, but his eyes stay fixed on a spot in front of him. “I saw it, too. Saw you as well. Do you want to know?”

James considers it; he doesn’t like the feeling of missing pieces in his memories and eventually nods.

Regulus glances at him out of the corner of his eye before he leans forward and props his elbows on his knees. “You sent a Blood-Boiling Curse at the Death Eater you were duelling that was so strong that nobody is able to tell who it was. You then crucio’d Bellatrix, successfully enough to throw her over at least, followed by a number of different Explosive Curses and two Killing Curses. Then you duelled Voldemort like you were on a suicide mission, threw off his first Crucio and looked like you wouldn’t move out of the way of his Killing Curse after the second. Merlin, you looked–“

Regulus shakes his head and James doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t even feel regret, simply stares at his hands in quiet disbelief and wonders if he would have tried to move, in the end. There’s a distant memory of thinking that it wouldn’t matter if Sirius didn’t get up again.

“Sounds like Sirius in a fit of rage,” he finally says, closing his eyes again and trying to shove away memories of Peter’s kitchen, and of Sirius duelling Bellatrix after she’d taunted him about Regulus. “Do you know about the others? Remus and Lily…”

“They’re alright. Lily has some injuries but nothing quite as severe. Remus killed Greyback. Pettigrew died, I think it was Moody. There are others, but I don’t know who exactly. They’re still figuring out how many Death Eaters were captured, killed, or got away. It was chaotic when I left.”

“But you’re alright?” James asks, looking up and for the first time, checking him over.

Regulus shrugs and stares at the door for long moments. “I’m the hero now, aren’t I?” he finally says, his tone amused and bitter in equal measures. “The Death Eater who defected, turned the tables, and killed Voldemort.”

James huffs and then he starts laughing. At first, it’s merely a chuckle, but he can’t seem to stop. He knows that he must sound mad but it’s all just too much. Maybe it’s just compensation because he feels like he doesn’t have any tears left to actually cry, and he fists a hand into his hair and stares at Regulus who merely smiles, obviously amused.

“Fuck they’re going to hail you in praise, and you’re going to hate every second of it,” he sighs when he finally calms down again. Sirius will find this utterly hilarious, he thinks, and the thought instantly dissolves the brief flicker of amusement.

Yeah. ‘Under shock’ wasn’t probably too far off, after all.

“It’s better than Azkaban, or dying in a cave, I suppose,” Regulus says and rolls his shoulders. “If they annoy me too much, I’ll point out that I only did it so the Potter heir wouldn’t get killed by Voldemort after he threw around my cousin like a ragdoll in a mindless fit of rage.”

“Merlin and Morgana, I really did. Do you think I’ll get in trouble?” he asks, the first time that the possibility actually occurs to him, not that he can find it in himself to worry about it right now. He’s always known that he would burn the whole world down for Sirius, he just never had to act on it quite so literally.

There might come a time where he’s going to struggle with it. But it’s not now.

“I don’t think so. The Aurors were already allowed to use Unforgivables, and it’s not like anybody will mourn her. Everybody loves you and nearly nobody witnessed it, and the few who did probably won’t make much of a fuss about it,” Regulus says, looking at him oddly. “I just never pegged you for the torture-type.”

James grimaces because admittedly, he could have killed her right away, and he has no explanation for why he didn’t. Well, that’s not exactly true. “I’m not, but–“

“Don’t worry, I get it. I’m not judging you, just – I don’t think even Sirius could cast the spell –“

James snorts and shakes his head. “Oh he can, if it’s someone who hurt his friends. Or his brother,” he adds with a pointed look and Regulus looks so surprised that James would have told him once more to finally get into his head how important he is to Sirius if not the mention of Sirius alone would make him choke again.

They fall silent, then, both getting lost in their own minds and James counts the steady ticking of the clock on the wall.

He has no idea how much time has passed but he must have dozed off at some point when Regulus shakes his shoulder softly. James slowly blinks his eyes open and follows Regulus’ tilt of head into the direction of the Healer who has treated him earlier. 

She’s standing in the door, looking at them with wariness and like she doesn’t want to come too close. “We discovered what is wrong with him,” she says, and James instantly sits up straight, all feelings of exhaustion vanishing.

“Will he be alright?” he rushes out, the words blurring into each other and his hands clenching painfully tight around his chair.

“He was hit by a curse that mirrors the effects of the Draught of the Living Death. In combination with the dark Cutting Curse, it could have been deadly within minutes if it had taken any longer to get him here. We will administer the antidote that’s common for the potion, stretched over a week, and then he should be fine.”

“Should be?” they ask at the same time, exchanging a quick glance.

She hesitates, shifting her weight from foot to foot, and he can feel Regulus tense next to him. “It’s a rare curse,” she finally says, slowly, as if dragging it out will make it better. “Among the few documented cases, there have been some with reported memory loss, only about half of them with a chance of regaining those memories.”

It’s – James doesn’t know what it is if he’s honest. There’s relief, a bloody lot of it because Sirius will live. At the same time, the idea that he might not remember – them, their time at school, him – Merlin, what if Sirius can’t even remember him?

“To what extent?” Regulus’ strained, flat voice breaks through to him and James breathes, once, twice, fixes his eyes on the woman again. He should ask her name, he thinks.

“It differs. For some, it’s only a few, seemingly unimportant memories. For others a year, maybe two. The most extensive case has been up to five years, there’s really no way to tell. It only applies to approximately forty per cent of the cases anyway, but seeing that there are so few – “

“If that’s meant to be comforting, it’s not working,” James snaps, jumping up. “Can we see him now? Please?”

She looks at Regulus for a moment and then nods, turning on her heel and gesturing for them to follow.

Sirius is in a different room, at least James thinks so from the bits and pieces he can remember. The bed is standing in front of a large window, two chairs next to it and a small sofa and a coffee table in the corner next to the door.

He’s lying on his back, and it seems all kinds of wrong because Sirius hates sleeping on his back, always curled up on his side or splayed out on his front. He’s still deathly pale, black hair contrasting against his sickly grey skin and the white sheets, and the only sign that he’s still alive is the slow rise and fall of his chest.

James' legs feel weak, his eyes are burning, and he falls into one of the chairs before he simply topples over. Reaching out carefully, he curls his fingers around Sirius’ wrist, pressing one into his pulse and counting the steady beats in a feeble attempt to calm his pounding heart down.

They sit in silence for a long time. At some point, his parents come, and he thinks there was a discussion with a Healer about visiting hours but James doesn’t move, stays in his chair and refuses to let go of Sirius’ wrist, afraid that if he does, he might miss something. That he might just slip away, and James wouldn’t even notice.

Outside, it’s getting dark again, shadows turning long, and he thinks Regulus might have left at some point.

He wakes up with his face pressed against Sirius’ shoulder. His neck hurts and his throat is dry, and he forces himself to go to the bathroom before he returns to his position.

Healers come and he thinks some of them try to talk to him. Someone leaves food on the bedside table, but the thought of eating makes him want to throw up. His parents come again, Lily and Remus as well but it all seems separated from him, far away and absolutely inconsequential in the face of Sirius’ unmoving, pale appearance.

His mother forces him to eat something, and James ponders if Sirius would fall in love with him a second time, if he’s going to remember him at all. He’s still not sure that he’s convinced he will survive.

The days stretch on like this; people come and go whose faces he barely registers, much less what they’re saying to him. He eats for his mothers’ sake, only leaves Sirius’ side for short breaks in the bathroom. He thinks the Healers might have started spiking his food with potions to prevent him from toppling over, and all of the staff has given up on trying to make him leave on the second day.

His mind alternates between replaying the scene of the final battle and a myriad of other memories. Their first prank, their last; their first time sneaking into Hogsmeade, the first time Sirius told him about his parents. Sirius moving in with him, them choosing their flat, getting drunk on the roof of the Gryffindor tower, smoking cheap cigarettes and laughing until their stomachs hurt.

Sirius telling him he loves him, the first time. Their first kiss, their obliviousness, Sirius pressed against him in bed, under his cloak, their fingers linked, always together. Laughing, fighting, crying, it doesn’t matter as long as Sirius is there, as long as they can share it, reminiscence in it.

His eyes are raw from crying and his throat hurts, everything hurts, and he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do if Sirius can’t remember even a single thing of what makes them them, Sirius and James. Padfoot and Prongs.

It seems selfish, somehow, because at least Sirius is going to live and it’s not like they’re solely made up of memories, of shared experiences. They’re so much more than that and James wants to believe that they would have always found each other. But he’s too tired, too exhausted, and too bitter to cling to that optimism for longer than a few, desperate minutes. 

After three days, Sirius finally regains some colour, and on the fifth, he starts twisting and shifting in his sleep.

It’s the night after the sixth day, and James is sleeping with his head next to Sirius’ shoulder, buried in his crossed arms when he feels fingers carding through his hair slowly. At first, he thinks it’s his mother, but when he slowly blinks his eyes open the room is still dark, only a soft trickle of light from the streetlamps outside filtering through the window and he raises his head so quickly that his neck cracks painfully.

“You’re awake,” he breathes and rubs his eyes as if to make sure that he’s not dreaming, not hallucinating, but Sirius is still looking at him with a small, fond smile curling his lips.

“You look like utter shite, Jamie,” he croaks. His voice is rough and he instantly starts coughing, his whole body shaking with the force of it.

James quickly reaches for the glass of water on the bedside table and hands it to him, and he’s still staring, transfixed, as Sirius drinks, the glass unsteady in his trembling hands.

“Thanks,” Sirius says after he puts it back, then smirks faintly. “You know, Marlene would tease you endlessly over the stubble you’ve grown.”

James’ heart sinks, cold dread washing over him because during the whole week, it has never once occurred to him that if Sirius loses his memory of the last year, even only the last few months, he would not only forget them, but James would have to tell him about all the friends they’ve lost, about Peter’s betrayal, about Horcruxes and –

“James, you’re crying,” Sirius says softly and reaches for his hand. “Is that the way you greet your boyfriend after he woke up in what at least appears to be St. Mungo’s?”

A startled, wet laugh escapes him and it’s all too much, he’s happy and terrified and his mind seems to be in scrambles. “You remember,” he simply says, hand squeezing tightly around Sirius’. “You bloody remember.”

Sirius’ frown deepens and he tilts his head. “Of course I do, what do you – what even happened? I only – wasn’t I just fighting my bloody bitch of a cousin?”

“Merlin, you fucking git, you absolute, infuriating moron – “

“Hey, getting angry when worried is my thing, remember?” Sirius interrupts him with a tug at his hand.

He laughs again, leaning forward to kiss Sirius gently before resting their foreheads together. “Merlin you – you nearly died; I get to insult you as much as I bloody well like.”

“And here I thought you might be extra nice to me,” Sirius pouts, but quickly turns serious again. “Honestly though, what happened?”

James tries to gather his thoughts, tries to focus, but the only thing he can manage is, “Your brother killed Voldemort. Just – told him it was him who discovered his secret, that he’s going to be the one to kill him and cast an Avada Kedavra. Such a dramatic, over-the-top, Black thing to do – and you. Getting yourself cursed by your cousin, what were you thinking?! Do you have any idea–“ His voice breaks and a sob claws itself out of his throat.

“Alright, come here,” Sirius says softly, shifting to the edge of the bed and tugging at James’ hand again.

He doesn’t protest, doesn’t think he would have the strength even if he wanted to and it’s like all the tension of the last week leaves him in a rush as soon as he’s curled up against Sirius, head buried into his neck and Sirius’ arm tight around him.

Sirius doesn’t say anything for the whole time he cries, just runs his fingers through the tangled mess of James’ hair and kisses the top of his head again and again. 

It takes him ages to finally calm down but when he does, deep, heavy tiredness is setting in and he just presses closer to Sirius, twisting his fingers tightly into his shirt.

“We can talk about it tomorrow,” Sirius murmurs. “It’s finally over, that’s all that matters right now.”

He smiles into Sirius’ chest but pulls away a bit to meet his eyes. “I think I want to tell you now, before – before you hear it from someone else.”

Sirius nods slowly and runs a thumb over his jaw. “Alright then. For how long have I been here? And what got me here in the first place?”

“We got separated, remember? I tried to find you but got attacked, first by two werewolves and then by one of the Death Eaters that killed the McKinnon’s. I heard Bellatrix cackle and you were screaming, and when I looked over you just…” He swallows, closing his eyes against the images, and Sirius tightens his grip on him.


“No, it’s – it’s okay. Well, it’s not, but anyway, I need to do this. I snapped, like, really snapped, I don’t even remember half of it. I killed the bastard I was duelling and then hit Bellatrix with a Crucio, a lot of other spells and apparently two Killing Curses.” He gives a hollow laugh, shaking his head and refusing to look at Sirius. “You just – you weren’t moving and I – I couldn’t–“

Sirius presses their foreheads together and the hand on James’ jaw clenches slightly. “I would have done the same, and if anybody deserves it, it’s Bellatrix.”

“I don’t even regret it,” he admits quietly. “Voldemort attacked me then. Would’ve killed me, probably, if Regulus didn’t step in.”

Sirius tenses, but doesn’t say anything.

“Voldemort was monologing, of course he was, and Regulus just – just killed him, said he always talked too much and then prevented me from panicking, healed the Cutting Curse on you – I think my mother was there as well before I got you here. I was – well, I think they had to sedate me at some point, got me out of the room until Regulus arrived. Fuck you were so-“

“I’m here now, aren’t I? I promised.”

He laughs wetly and presses his face into Sirius’ chest again. “It was too close. She cursed you with something, you could’ve lost your memories. Of the last year, fuck, the last five years, you could have–“ James chokes again and really, he’s getting rather tired of that happening over and over.

“But I didn’t, we’re fine, you and I, we’re fine. Are the others–”

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Lily and Remus both, my parents as well. I think Moody was here over the week, I don’t remember very well.”

“A week? I’ve slept for a week?” Sirius says disbelievingly and James laughs again.

“No idea what’s been going on, to be honest,” he mutters, the last days more like something out of a nightmare to him.

“Of course you would completely neglect yourself,” Sirius sighs, shaking his head and clenching his fingers into James’ shirt.

“As if you wouldn’t have done the same, you git.”

Sirius just hums softly. “So, my brother killed Voldemort, huh? Good for him, I bet he will hate the attention that gets him.”

“Oh yeah, he was already annoyed when he got here, though when the Healer wanted to tell him off he said something like, I killed Voldemort, I can do what I want, so I think he’s making the most of it.”

Sirius laughs loudly, his chest vibrating against James’ face and it makes his heart soar, the confirmation that he’s alive, that he remembers, that it’s finally all over and that it will be alright.

It’s how the Healers find them later. They both dozed off at some point and besides a pursing of lips, the Healers don’t even bother to comment on them sharing the bed.

They check Sirius over and ask countless questions until they finally conclude that there’s neither any lasting damage nor memory loss, and tell him that he will probably be fine to go home that night, or the next day.

James’ parents, Lily, Remus, and Regulus come by shortly after and he’s not sure if they’re more relieved that Sirius is awake and fine or that he finally broke out of his apathetic state, something Sirius is already teasing him over.

He can’t say that he cares much if he’s honest, doesn’t have the strength left between bone-deep exhaustion and ridiculous happiness, mixed with still lingering disbelief that they’ve all made it out on the other side.

Moody comes by over the afternoon as well, pats them both on the shoulder and proclaims gruffly that he’s glad they’re fine.

“You both have to give a statement on everything you remember, though I’d suggest you leave out some of the more questionable methods you used.” He pointedly looks at James, who can’t find it in himself to feel ashamed and just nods.

“What will happen now? Regulus mentioned that some Death Eaters got away after Voldemort died,” Sirius asks with an annoyed crease between his brows.

Moody nods. “The Aurors are busy with trying to round them up, there have been a few failed attempts of attacks. You should be careful over the next few weeks, don’t move back to your flat yet for starters. Though I’d like to offer you a place in the Auror trainee program, you two would make a great addition.”

It’s high praise, coming from Moody, but all James can feel is a sense of dread spreading through him at the idea. A quick look at Sirius shows him that he doesn’t look exactly enthusiastic either.

“We’ll think about it,” Sirius says after a beat. “Are there going to be trials?”

“Already starting,” Moody nods. “ But you won’t have to testify, your statements should be enough.”

“And Regulus, will he–“

Moody gives a bark of laughter, shaking his head. “Lad, your brother provided the information necessary to defeat him and then killed him personally. You haven’t seen the papers I suppose, but the public would lynch the Ministry if we even tried to start any form of investigation. Nothing to worry about there, besides the sudden public attention.”

Sirius grins. “Oh, my mother is going to hate that. Brilliant.”

Moody leaves shortly after and the Healers declare Sirius ready to go home, with a myriad of restrictions and advice to take it slow. If James has any say in it, they’re not going to do much over the next few days anyway.

Remus and Lily have just finished cooking when they get home, and there’s an easiness and relief in the air that James hasn’t felt since they’d left school.

They share their stories from the final battle between them, drinking on Remus killing Greyback and on Regulus being the one to finally kill Voldemort, pride shining bright in Sirius’ eyes that Regulus shrugs off, insisting he only did it so he doesn’t have to hear Sirius’ whining for the rest of his life over James’ death.

There’s laughter and warmth and a feeling of home that makes James smile to himself the whole night as he’s leaning against Sirius’ side, trying to grasp that this is how it can be now, without any threats or dangers hanging over their heads.

It’s only later when the two of them are lying in bed, wrapped around each other, that he remembers Moody’s offer. He turns so that he can look at Sirius, the soft glow from the fire spending barely enough light to make out his features. “What do you think, about becoming Aurors, I mean?”

Sirius sighs, linking their fingers together and staying silent for long seconds. “Honestly? I feel – I think that I’m tired of fighting. Maybe it’s kind of selfish, it’s not – It’s not just over because he’s dead but – I don’t know if I can keep doing this. I always thought it would be the perfect work for me, for us, but the last few months…”

He trails off, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths, and James pulls him close until Sirius’ face is buried in his chest.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I think I – I can’t, either I don’t want to see you like that ever again and – maybe we’ve done enough.”

Sirius relaxes like he’s been afraid that James would disagree and they’re silent for a long time. He buries his hand in Sirius’ hair, tipping his head back so that he can kiss him, over and over until their lips are swollen and they’re both out of breath.

“Do you want to move back? Into our flat, I mean?” he asks eventually, drawing circles into Sirius’ neck who has his eyes closed and his forehead leaned against his.

“I don’t know. I mean, I loved our flat but it’s – A lot of memories I’d rather forget about are connected to it, and I like living with Remus and Regulus. Lily more or less lives here too by now and I – it’s nice, having all of them close after everything that happened. But if you–”

“No,” James says quickly, shaking his head and smiling softly. “No, I agree with you, and I – and we probably all need time, to return to something even close to resembling normality. To figure out what we want to do.”

Sirius hums, kissing him again before burying into his chest once more. “Yes, but we finally have time now, don’t we?”

James tightens his arms around him and breathes deeply. It’s true, he thinks. They have time, finally have the chance of a future that is only for them to decide. When they’d left Hogwarts, he would’ve never thought that it would be like this, but it feels better than anything else ever has.

Chapter Text

Sirius hears the tell-tale crash of the front door hitting the wall and then slamming shut, and a bright grin breaks out on his face. Not a second later James comes barging into the kitchen, cheeks flushed and his grin lightening up his whole face.

Sirius flicks his wand to turn the volume of the music down. “And? How did it go?”

James runs a hand through his hair, and he looks close to jumping up and down. “You’re looking at the new Chaser of the Falmouth Falcons!”

“Fuck, that’s brilliant,” Sirius laughs, reaching out and pulling him close by the front of his jumper to kiss him deeply. He sneaks his arms around James’ waist and doesn’t let him go when they break apart, just presses his face into the side of his head and sways them around the kitchen to ‘I love you baby’ by the Ramones that just starts playing.

“Where are the others?” James asks, wrapping his arms around Sirius’ neck and laughing when he does a spin.

“Lily and Remus are on a date, again, and Regulus is over at your parents, doing some potions experiment with your father I think.”

James snorts softly. “I swear, sometimes I think my father likes him better than the two of us combined.”

“Doesn’t matter, I like us enough to make up for it. So, as soon as we’re back from New Zealand, your season starts, right?”

James only hums in response and presses closer.

“It’s around the same time my Curse Breaking training starts. Back to real life, I suppose,” Sirius says with a soft sigh, kissing the side of James’ head.

James pulls away a bit and looks at him intently. “You’re sure you’re alright with that?”

He smiles, kissing him again. “Yeah, I really am. Are you?”

“I think so,” James says with a shrug, but he’s smiling as well.

Once again, Sirius marvels about the progress they’ve made over the course of one year. It’s nearly Christmas, close to the anniversary of the final battle, and it’s been interesting, to say the least.

The first few months after Voldemort’s fall, none of them had left the house much. They holed up in their little, safe bubble together and tried to keep the demons at bay until James’ parents had enough and ordered all of them to see a Mind Healer.

They’d protested, of course they had, but he couldn’t deny that it was the best thing that they could’ve done. The war had changed all of them, and not necessarily for the better.

James still panics sometimes at night and wakes him up because he suddenly can’t take seeing him still and asleep. Sirius still can’t breathe from time to time, his whole body tensing whenever James or Regulus have to take a potion.

They’d been nervous and on edge, alternating between quiet, depressing weeks where none of them left the house, and manic, close to hysterical bouts of energy where they all got lost in the streets of Camden or Soho for days on end, drinking too much until at least one of them crashed.

And it’s not like half a year of therapy has simply vanished the effects, but they’re all slowly getting there, establishing routines back into their lives and learning to pull themselves and each other out of their lows.

They fight, of course they do, but none of them would change their living situation for anything else. Sirius has become calmer, less reckless – not that he did change completely, his decision to go into Curse Breaking reflects that well enough, just as James finally going for professional Quidditch does, but they’re more careful, aware of what they’ve lost and how lucky they all are to still be here.

He tightens his arms around James and breathes him in. “You’re going to be brilliant. But first we’ll have a fantastic three weeks in New Zealand.”

“Yeah,” James says softly, kissing him again, long and slow and it makes Sirius push closer, pressing him against the counter, the feeling of having this, of being so incredibly lucky that James loves him just as much as he loves James still as amazing to him as on the first day.

It’s not all picture-perfect, but it’s them, and their friends, and they all know that as long as they have this, they’re going to be alright.


The End