James Potter was in a precarious position.
James considered himself an honorable person. His friends meant everything to him, and he would never betray them in any way. It naturally followed that if a friend told him something in confidence, he would keep that confidence until the day he died.
Even if it meant watching the most absurd scenario he could conceive of unfold.
Hogwarts, Third Year
"You can't tell anyone."
James shrugged. "I won't."
Sirius glared at him. "Don't just shrug at me! This is serious, James!"
James refrained from making any of the jokes he usually made whenever Sirius said the word "serious." His best friend did, in fact, look serious--more serious than James had seen him since they had first met, when Sirius had feared his ancestry would condemn him to Slytherin house. They had just been lounging about under their favorite tree by the lake, chatting about their friends, but the conversation had just turned--well, serious.
"I am serious!" James protested. "I would never out you. That's just evil. I don't think a lot of people here care, though. I mean, you know what they say about Dumbledore. But in all seriousness, word of honor, I won't tell anyone."
"Does it freak you out?"
"You got a crush on me?"
"... No offense, or anything. With the ew."
"I guess I'm just not your type," James said with a theatrical sigh, pulling an expression of exaggerated disappointment. He stretched out on his back, then instantly regretted it as the sun shone directly into his eyes. "Hey, what is your type? You flirt with an awful lot of girls for a gay guy, mate."
"Just for fun."
"Well, don't go breaking hearts." James experimentally waved his wand at a tree branch, trying to move it so that it would shade his eyes. He was rewarded with a shower of leaves. "Seriously, what kind of guy do you like?" Although he was relieved that Sirius' coming out was not, in fact, a precursor to revealing a crush on James, he had to admit to feeling just the littlest bit insulted by the "ew." He would've dated Sirius if Sirius was a girl.
Sirius shrugged and leaned against the tree. For a moment James thought he wasn't going to answer, but then Sirius spoke. "I guess someone quieter than me. I mean, you and me are like twins, right? It's super fun, but it isn't... you know, what you go for in someone. That thing that makes you fall for someone. You fall for someone a bit different than you, so their strengths are your weaknesses and vice versa."
James was impressed in spite of himself. Maybe he wouldn't have dated a girl Sirius after all; maybe he needed someone quieter too. Sirius usually wasn't this mature--maybe hiding his preferences had made him think about them more. "Yeah, I get that. So, someone quieter than you. That's not hard to find."
"But still with a good sense of humor," Sirius stressed. "And still willing to get into trouble. Just... not as much as us. And smart. Couldn't go for someone who wasn't smart."
"Nah, me neither."
"And who thinks before he talks. And..." Sirius squirmed, like he was a little embarrassed by his next qualifier. "Nice. I mean, obviously not to everyone, cause most people don't deserve it. At least I don't think so, but he does. He would, I mean. The right guy would."
"Mm." James peered up at the leaves, wondering if he should say what he was thinking. "You know you're describing Remus, don't you?"
"... Yeah, I know. Don't tell."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Hogwarts, Fourth Year
They said it was the always the quiet ones who snapped. That saying was in the back of James’ mind as he looked into Remus’ eyes across the dorm room, noting the somewhat manic glaze in them. “You can’t tell,” Remus said. “Not anyone.”
"It's not a big deal." James tried not to let his unease show. He had always suspected that Remus had the capacity to suddenly start talking and not stop for several hours--he kept so much to himself, he had to lose control once in awhile. But James hadn’t planned on being on the listening end of one of those explosions. "I mean, it's definitely not a big deal to me, but I don't think it would be to a lot of other people either. Definitely not to our friends. Definitely," James repeated.
"You're saying 'definitely' a lot."
"Well, that's because I'm sure of it! I would never out you, that's evil, but you should come out to our friends. Definitely."
Remus closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I didn't even mean to come out to you, James. You were just here when I needed to talk about it. Not that I don't appreciate your response," he added hastily.
"So what's eating you? Why'd you need to talk about it?"
Remus shook his head. "There's a limit to how many secrets I can burden you with, James. You already know two big ones about me."
"It's really, truly not a big deal. I mean, you know what they say about Dumbledore."
"Yes, I know. Well, it's just, sometimes it's difficult to not be able to express yourself. I mean, when you fancy a girl, you probably don't stop and ask yourself if she's into men, do you? You just assume it. Imagine if all the girls around you were lesbians. No, don't imagine that, that's a terrible analogy. I'm doing an awful job of explaining this. I'd probably never be able to talk about anything like this with a boy or go on a date with him unless he asked first, and even then he'd probably think I was crazy. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's hard to be around a straight boy that you find attractive. Not you," Remus added quickly. "Not that you're not an attractive person, just--I mean--"
"I get it, I'm not your type,” James said, feeling an overwhemling sense of deja vu.
"I didn't want you to think that was why I was telling you all this. I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I can't seem to stop talking. James, you will take this to the grave, won't you?"
"...Yeah, I will, but--"
"I know you think I should come out to our friends, but I can't. I'm too used to keeping secrets. Oh, who am I kidding, I'm too afraid of being rejected. I guess that's why I find it so compelling, being around someone who makes me forget to be afraid. I should stop talking."
"It's okay, I know you're talking about Sirius," James said with resignation.
Remus paled. "Am I that obvious? James, do you think he knows?"
James briefly considered the possibility that this was all an elaborate practical joke, one that had taken years to execute. "No, I'm pretty confident he doesn't."
"You cannot tell him."
"I think he'd be very much okay with it. I really, really think he would."
James sighed. "I won't tell."
Remus smiled. "You're a good friend, James. I certainly didn't plan to have this conversation, but I think I'm glad I suddenly started babbling like an idiot at you. It's going to be good to have someone to talk to about it. I never thought I'd be able to trust someone with secrets like this."
James considered pounding his head against the wall, but he stopped himself in time to avoid a lot of awkward questions. "Yep. You can trust me."
A lesser man might have shrunk from the challenge. A lesser man might have kept his own counsel and let events progress naturally, but not James Potter. And a lesser man might have broken his promises in the name of the greater good, but not James Potter.
Sometimes he wished he were a lesser man.
He couldn't think of any way to get Sirius and Remus to just tell each other without revealing information to at least one of them that he was honorbound to withhold. He could only offer very general urging about how great it would be to come out, and that got very old very fast. He couldn't get anyone's advice, because he couldn't speak of it. Even if he could have, it was his two best advice-givers that were the problem.
He refused to give up. But he still occasionally wondered if they were pranking him.
Hogwarts, Fifth Year
"Hey, look at this!" James said, pulling a pack of transfigured playing cards out of his bag. "Lifted 'em off a second year. I saw her using them at lunch, they're supposed to be able to tell you who fancies you. Want to give 'em a go?"
"James, you know cartomancy is a waste of time," Remus muttered absently, not taking his eyes from the essay he was writing.
"Let me guess. They all say 'Lily Evans, Lily Evans, Lily Evans,'" Sirius said in a bored tone, also not looking up.
"I want to see!" Peter piped up, moving closer.
"James?" Remus put his ear against the door, listening intently. "James?"
"You don't think he did this on purpose?" Sirius asked, gesturing to the broom cupboard they were locked in.
Remus looked bewildered. "I don't think he's there anymore."
"Oh, screw this," Sirius said, pulling out his wand. "Get out of the way. I'm going to blow that door off its hinges and strangle him with his own robes."
James had been watching Sirius fall asleep with a level of concentration usually reserved for far more scintillating events. They were in the mostly-empty common room, the fire halfway dead. Remus, exhausted from the full moon the night before, had fallen asleep on the couch an hour ago, and no one had had the heart to wake him up. Now, Sirius was three-fourths of the way asleep on the same couch and listing dangerously to one side. If James could give him a little magical nudge at exactly the right moment, Sirius would fall asleep with his head on Remus' lap.
Unfortunately, James overestimated the amount of oomph he needed to put into his nudge. The resulting spell sent Sirius' head into Remus' torso with roughly the force of a Bludger. The two woke and instantly got into a bitter fight.
Unheard by either of them, James muttered, "They've got to be pranking me."
Attempt # 51
"Anyone want to play Truth or Dare?" James asked.
"What are we, eight year old girls?" Sirius scoffed.
Peter looked anxious, as he always did when he voiced an opinion different from a friend’s. "But, James, we can't mess with the potions supplies today. Slughorn'll make us clean it up tonight, so everything's ready for class tomorrow, and then we'll miss the--you know."
"Don't be silly, we won't get caught!" James was, in fact, planning on making so much noise that half the staff would come investigate. "You're acting like I want it to just be Moony and Padfoot tonight! I mean, think of all the time they'd have to spend alone together! Sirius would stay to walk Remus back, don't you think? All alone in the dawn’s light, after a whole night with just the two of them. Who knows what could happen?"
"James," Peter said, "you are acting really weird."
"You don't know how to swim?"
Sirius scowled, mistaking the sudden glee in James' eyes as a sign of imminent teasing. "I already regret telling you. I suppose I held out hope that my best friend wouldn't want me to drown someday."
"Oh, no, I'm rubbish at it--but Remus is really good!" James grabbed a handful of Remus' robes and practically shoved him at Sirius. "Just head on out to the lake and start practicing! We won't expect you back for awhile. Oh, make sure you teach him how to float first," James added, remembering how his mother had cradled him in her arms, close to her body, while teaching him this trick. "Have fun!" He grabbed Peter and dragged him away.
Remus looked at Sirius, mystified. "I actually don't know how to swim either."
After nearly a full year of efforts ranging from the subtle to the blatant, the sensible to the frankly ridiculous, James had experienced two revelations.
One was that his friends were idiots, and if he ever had to rely on either of them to infer what another person was thinking, he'd be dead.
The other was that he was doing them a disservice. Enough was enough. Wouldn't he be a far truer friend to both of them if he were to fudge just the tiniest bit on the strictest interpretation of his promise? If they were in his shoes, if they knew what he knew, wouldn't they want him to tell? Wasn't it better to be just a tad dishonorable than to let them go their separate ways, never knowing how much they had pined for each other?
(James thought up all these justifications after the fact. In reality, he just snapped.)
"SIRIUS ORION BLACK. If you heave that lovesick sigh one more time--"
"That is not a lovesick sigh." Sirius' indignant reply was barely audible over the crackling of the fire full of salamanders they were observing. Remus was nearby but not in hearing distance, paired up with Peter at a nearby fire to give him some help understanding the lesson. "It is a perfectly dignified expression of appreciation."
"I will feed you into this fire, Black. Piece. By piece."
"You're not being fair," Sirius said, his face red with more than the fire's heat. "You can just go up and tell Evans how you feel whenever you want. I can't--"
"YES YOU CAN."
"I can't! You don't understand."
"YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I--Sirius, listen to me. You are not the only person who has ever asked me to keep a secret." James gave each and every word its own heavy emphasis. "I know things that I am not permitted to say. All I can say is that, given what I know, I think it would be a really, really, REALLY fantastic idea if you tell Remus how you feel about him."
James could tell when Sirius understood by watching the slow dawning of hope on his face. "...Really?" Sirius said in a soppy voice.
James lost it.
Ten minutes later (after they had been pulled apart, Professor Kettleburn had cured the lump on Sirius' head and given James detention, and James had formally apologized for hitting Sirius with his cauldron), they were back to whispering about it. "I'm not at liberty to confirm or deny anything Remus might have said that makes me think you should tell him you like him," James said, rather aggressively prodding their salamanders into motion. "And bear in mind, that would be a completely ridiculous thing for me to say if I did not, in fact, have an excellent but unfortunately confidential reason for urging you to take this course of action."
At the next fire over, Remus was shooting dirty looks at James and sympathetic ones at Sirius as a result of the cauldron bashing. Sirius responded with a weak smile that made him look like he was about to throw up. "... Maybe I should wait until after the next full moon. Y'know, catch him in the best possible mood."
"If you come up to the dorm tonight without talking to him first, I will straight up murder you.
"With my hands."
"You're... a little invested in this, James."
"You have no idea, Sirius. You have no idea."
When class was over and Professor Kettleburn was gathering up the salamanders, James decided to give Sirius a little more encouragement.
"Remus, Sirius wants to talk to you," James announced, pushing Sirius at Remus with enough force that he tripped and Remus had to steady him. "It's really important, so don‘t let him chicken out." He then grabbed the only remaining obstacle--Peter--by both shoulders and, getting behind him, marched him off to the castle.
Remus frowned at Sirius. "I hope this doesn't mean I was a part of whatever made James throw his cauldron at you?"
"Oh, no. I mean, yes. That is--not directly? But sort of."
"I see," Remus said, nodding sagely. "That explains everything." He waited, but Sirius didn't retort. He didn't even seem aware Remus was making fun of him. "This must be important," Remus said, half to himself.
"We should probably talk somewhere private."
"Dorms?" Remus suggested.
"No, I'll get murdered," Sirius said instantly. Remus blinked, and Sirius flushed slightly, but didn’t explain. "Let's just go over to the edge of the forest," he muttered.
The forest was easy to slip into from Care of Magical Creatures, and it had long since lost any ability to frighten the four who roamed so freely under the full moon--but it was a fair bet that no other students would be found there. Remus and Sirius walked there in silence. Remus found himself becoming more tense with every second Sirius did not speak. "Well?" he demanded once they were under the cover of the trees.
"Well..." Sirius' hands were balled up in his pockets. "Well... James wants me to tell you something."
"Surely you're not going to let him bully you into saying something you don't want to?" Remus asked.
"I kind of want to. I just... it's just that... well, you know..."
"No, I don't know," Remus said, staring at the rare spectacle of a Sirius who was completely flustered.
"I'm gay," Sirius blurted out. "I told James third year, and he's always been totally fine with it and keeps telling me I ought to come out to everyone else--but lately, especially, to you."
Sirius couldn't seem to bear to either look at Remus or not look at him; his eyes flicked from his face to the ground and back again. Remus spoke without thinking, his shock overriding any ability to censor himself. "Oh. That must be because I..." Remus' brain caught up with him, and he swallowed heavily, remembering to be nervous. But it was too late to go back. "I mean, I... I am too."
Sirius' restless gaze crossed Remus'. After so many years of suppressed desire, and in the wake of that first confession, no words were needed to communicate the rest of it. The meeting of eyes was all it took.
"You told James in third year?" Remus asked, later--after the better part of an hour, after they were trying to fix their clothes and hair so that the entire student body would not be able to deduce what they had been doing.
"I told him in fourth. The poor man." Remus looked torn between sympathy and amusement. "He must have been going crazy all this time, knowing we liked each other and we'd both made him swear not to tell anyone. Including each other."
A look of dawning comprehension came over Sirius' face. "You mean that time he locked us in the broom cupboard..."
"And getting himself and Peter thrown into detention on the full moon. I was so angry at him for that."
"The swimming lessons."
"That was a weird one."
"How are we going to get back at him?" Sirius asked.
"Get back at him? I think he's been trying to help... in his own, very weird, way. Although, technically he did break his promise to me, not to tell you..." Remus considered for a moment. "I think I know what to do."
"... at great risk to himself, of course. Could've easily been bitten or killed. But James goes to great lengths for people. Don't get me started on the knot he's been unpicking between Sirius and myself. Can't go into the details, but suffice it to say he's poured a great deal of time and energy into saving us from, let's say a misunderstanding, without breaking promises he had made to both of us. He's a very honorable man."
Lily was quiet. She had been quiet for the better part of the last half hour, as Remus had started walking with her and suddenly begun unburdening himself of the most terrible secrets. Secrets which she was humbled to be trusted with, but which had somehow evolved into a description of the merits of one James Potter.
At first she had been suspicious that James had put him up to it, but she simply couldn’t believe it. James could be arrogant, but he would never expect someone to admit to lycanthropy just so he could tell a girl some impressive stories. James hadn’t asked him to do this; and that meant the things Remus were telling her had to be the truth.
"I remember one time in fourth year, when the full moon was coming up... Oh, hello Sirius!" Remus said brightly, as the rounded a corner and nearly walked into him.
"Hey, guys. Look what this girl just loaned me." Sirius held up what looked like a pack of ordinary playing cards. "Supposed to tell you the qualities of the person you'll fall in love with. Want to give it a go?"
"I'm in," Remus said.
Lily looked at him suspiciously. "Don't you think cartomancy's rubbish?"
"It's either this or a broom closet," Remus replied.
"Swimming lessons," Sirius muttered under his breath.
"Lily, please." Remus took the cards from Sirius and held them out to her. "We are in the unenviable position of owing James for both a great deal of happiness and a great deal of irritation, and you are in the even more unenviable position of being in the middle of it. Don't ask us to make sense. Just take the cards."
"...And they actually had very sweet things written on them. Mostly. I think Sirius slipped a few past Remus. Have you really worn the same underwear for an entire week?"
"I'm getting him back for this," James muttered, turning pink.
Lily flicked his forehead; but then she smiled, a smile that set James' heart pounding. "I think you guys are even."