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Conk me Once, Shame on You

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Regulus Black – neé Regina Black – is fourteen when he opens his eyes to blurry shapes and a shrill ringing in his ears. It’s not exactly waking up in the boys’ dorm to rambunctious, early-morning antics, but it’s definitely just as loud albeit a little less comfortable, a dull throbbing sensation nagging at his skull.

His head feels like lead and he’s not sure he can lift it even an inch. But everything is loud and there are three boys looming over him and he’s pretty sure they’re saying actual words. He tries to distinguish what they’re saying but everything sort of sounds like a buzz.

“...scared Regulus, that was quite a nasty bludger you took!”

“Good thing you caught the snitch just before because—”

“You just absolutely plummeted—”

He thinks the boys might still be talking but the sounds are drowned out by the aching in his head. When he furrows his brow his head hurts even worse and one of the boys laughs and their faces are all muddy but they kind of look familiar. Only kind of though.

By some sort of ancient ritualistic magic he manages to form actual words when he opens his mouth – and he then very immediately regrets it and wishes he could stop existing because it hurts. Instead, he croaks out, “Whoz you? and is met with only laughter.

They probably offer some sort of reply, as he can see their mouths moving. The ringing in his head is so loud he can’t really comprehend anything else though, and then as he blinks, eyelids heavy, an older woman appears into view. The matron shoos the dirty boys away, and Regulus kind of hopes she will maybe shoo the ringing in his ears away too.

No such luck, but she puts a comforting hand on his forehead and he thinks that she has a very kind face. She looks familiar and he thinks he must know her name – it rolls around his brain and it hurts, he can’t seem to find the correct sounds, his mouth feels like cotton.

Her touch is oddly soothing, and he realises she must have had her hand pressed to his forehead far more often than he can currently remember. She speaks in soft, assured tones and says words he cannot comprehend. His eyelids get too heavy for him to carry, and the ringing stops. He sleeps, and, maybe, he dreams, too.

***

The next time he opens his eyes everything feels a whole lot better. The ache in the side of his head has all but disappeared and he is vaguely aware of his body feeling a whole lot more like a body than it did before. His eyelids flutter and he becomes aware of a remarkable heaviness at his waist, and then, an itch on his arm.

He’s still a little foggy in the head when he brings one hand over his chest to scratch at his opposite arm and then suddenly becomes acutely aware of the fact that his chest is, in fact, flat.

Regulus sits up abruptly and far too fast for how his brain is pounding into the back of his skull painfully. However, he’s still pretty distracted with the absolute lack of breasts, and brings both hands up to feel at where his small b-cup used to sit.

Like… those wretched things had literally been there that morning, right? His eyebrows furrow when he realises he can’t remember.

“You got rid of them two years ago,” the deep voice coming from his left is filled with mirth.

“Oh, cool,” his own voice sounds flat in comparison to the boy sitting by his bedside, and he’s pretty sure he knows that sharp face, those sharp eyes, and—

Sirius’ palms are pressing into his chest and his magic is thrumming through the air and through his skin and it almost feels like floating, his brother creeping into his flesh and working at him from the inside out, taking and taking and taking his magic bright and comforting and—

The older Black seems to understand the weird look on Regulus’ face, because he simply shrugs his shoulders, grinning, “I did it for you, advanced charms being my forte and all that.”

Regulus can’t fight his own grin from overtaking his face – his mind might still be a little fuzzy, but he’s pretty sure his brother has always been this insufferably cocky. He also so happens to be an absolute softy at heart, ride-or-die for the people he loves. That’s a point he more than happily proves by gently taking hold of his little brother’s hand and warming it between his own.

Then, he goes ahead and absolutely spoils the soft moment by giving a pointed look at Regulus’ groin as he quips, “that took a whole lot of illegal potions, thank yourself for that.”

He’s pretty sure he has a dick. He doesn’t actually remember getting one in the first place and although he loves Sirius with all his heart there is no way he’s just going to whip it out and give it a good thorough check with his brother sitting right there.

They don’t speak for a few long minutes. Regulus fumbles with the blankets and wishes he could just sink through a hole in the floor and never see sunlight again. But there’s this hope in his chest that this is my body and although he doesn’t remember getting it, he’s overjoyed to know he got here.

Sirius gives him this smile, like he knows exactly what he’s going through. It’s silly, because Sirius’ face, all sharp and stupidly baring his canines in a too-wide grin, has been there right by his side, for most of his life. Sirius stupid face is like the red herring through his own story, and if he just looks at his brother long enough he thinks maybe he has the curve of his smile etched in his brain and—

Sirius' smiling face as he helps him dress in his own jinbei, his teeth showing in a grin when he steals the last cupcake from the dinner table and shares it with his brother, hidden away under the linen, a soft smile on his face when he passes the compartment where he's seated with his friends on his first Hogwarts express ride; the corners of his lips curled up when he shows him his Animagus form, his encouraging smile as they steal books on transitioning from the Restricted Section and—

And it’s no surprise he would be there by his side, smiling through all of this, too. His brother is just an insufferable prick that way.

“You got us all worried there,” Sirius says, stroking his thumb gently over his brother’s knuckles – it tickles a little, but it’s a comforting gesture they’ve been doing since they were kids, the pad of his finger pressing into the spaces between his knuckles, “your mates said you were acting a lil’ funny when you first woke.”

It takes him a moment to process the information. He doesn’t remember, not at first, but when he furrows his brow it’s like his brain gets a little shake, and it jolts back into memory. The three muddy faces hovering above his bed, their Quidditch uniforms battered and—

Just like that it kind of clicks.

Regulus Black, Slytherin Seeker, conked in the head with a bludger mere seconds after winning the match against Ravenclaw for them.

The mere humiliation of it all might very well be the damn end of him.

"At least I caught the snitch," he sniffs, unable to hide his irritation.

He’s been on the team since second year now, and not once in those two years has he ever taken a bludger to the head. Or at all, for that case. He is notoriously agile and small enough to make curves and corners many a Quidditch player can only dream of. After all, as a Seeker it’s his job to be light on his broom, to move through the air avoiding all incoming missiles. And he has done so quite splendidly, if he does say so himself. It’s a fact he happily takes pride in,  Rapid Reg his team mates call him, Reg the Unconkable, and he smiles because he remembers with fondness how they’d called him Regulus.

Logically he knows the odds of playing Quidditch for the better half of six years and never getting hit once are pretty much nil, but it would have been really nice to graduate, notoriously Bludger-Free. Or, you know, if maybe he could’ve waited until Seventh year to get hit, go out with a bang so to speak.

“It was very impressive,” Sirius agrees with a solemn face – he looks like he’s having to fight a smile, but his tone is unusually gentle.

It’s this voice that Regulus lovingly dubs the soothing-sugary-sweet-Sirius tone. It’s a tone reserved solely for Regulus, and he knows that because—

"It's okay Regulus," he assures him, soft and sweet, as he allows him to try on his boy jeans, and, "I'm so proud of you," tone gentle and sincere after he told their parents he wants to be addressed as Regulus instead of Regina, and, “I’m here,” as his magic worms its way into Regulus’ chest and—

“So…” Sirius has to awkwardly clear his throat because there’s a whole lot of emotions tuck there. Regulus averts his eyes because they’re both really bad with feelings and the idea of seeing his brother so worried is a little too much to take, “this memory thing…”

The roll of his eyes is automatic, and it hurts. Great. Regulus huffs, exasperated, both at the pain and this stupid insinuation that he would somehow forget the most important person in his life, “I remember you, Sirius.”

His tone is perhaps a little sharp, but his brother takes immediate reassurance in the claim.

“Don’t worry,” Sirius’ face lights up in a grin, his hands warm where they press into Regulus’, “as long as you remember me and your li’l Prongsy you’ll be fine!”

His laughter is deep and soothing but there’s this sinking feeling settling in Regulus’ stomach as he smiles awkwardly, if only because he doesn’t get the joke.

***

The matron – Madam Pomfrey he remembers now – brings him sandwiches in bed for lunch. He hasn’t been in the infirmary all that often, but the woman used to make him a potion to temporarily shrink his chest. He also remembers visiting his brother after matches – where he himself is Notoriously Unconkable, his brother is just a mess on a broom – and bringing him cauldron cakes when his werewolf crush has landed himself in the hospital wing again and his sad Gryffindor ass refuses to leave the brunette’s bedside.

It’s absolutely ridiculous how those two are so painfully oblivious to each other’s affections, when just the mere thought of his brother fawning ridiculously over the werewolf is so bittersweet he thinks he might hurl a little.

He’s seated upright and munching on his sandwiches, moving this way and that to get a feel for his body and fuzzy brain, when an older boy strolls in, calling excitedly, “Regulus!”

He runs his eyes around the otherwise empty infirmary, convincing himself that Tall&Dreamy is really there to visit him. The older boy’s midnight curls are falling into his handsome face and he’s waving, his pearly whites shining as he exclaims, “I brought you Caramel Cobwebs!”

And those are Regulus’ favourites.

Before he can reply – a little dumbfounded, honestly, because Sirius’ friends aren’t all bad but he’s also not very close to any of them, except for maybe Remus because he has enough wits about him not to be a total sod most of the time – the boy’s face is suddenly dangerously close to his own. He makes a rather undignified sound of protest and then manages to push at the strong chest with both hands before James Potter plants a kiss on him.

What are you doing?” his voice is shrill and his eyes are narrowed to slits and he figures, okay, the most popular boy in school who you’ve been crushing on since you were eleven just tried to snog you, you deserve a little sound of indignity.

James’ brow furrows, but he doesn’t move back an inch. Regulus thinks he might be able to count every single lash on the boy’s face, if only he wasn’t so distracted by his obscenely plump lips. They move into half a pout as he dumbly responds, “What?”

What will your girlfriend say?!” Regulus asks, a little out of breath, exasperated.

Because, he is the one in the hospital wing, okay?! How does he somehow still end up having to be the voice of reason that makes sure his brother’s idiot friends don’t make disastrously stupid decisions.

The question seems to deter the older boy, who finally moves back. He goes to sit on the side of Regulus’ bed, and the Slytherin tries not to think about how the plump butt is planted close enough to his feet that he could cope a feel with just a little wriggle of his toes. He doesn’t though, because that’s a not very cool thing to do and also because James looks suddenly deflated, his strong brow knit together in a frown.

“My girlfriend?” he repeats slowly, in a weird sort of tone that Regulus doesn’t understand.

This time he manages to repress an eye roll, remembering how much it had hurt last time. His head still kind of feels like it’s partly filled with cotton, but he’s pretty sure he hasn’t imagined James Potter’s infamous pursuit of Gryffindor’s brightest witch.

“The redhead,” he says matter-of-factly and plops another piece of the sandwich in his mouth, finding the chewing motion brings his brain a lovely distraction. He takes a pause to think and comes up blank, “I’m bad with names,” he insists distractedly.

“Reg…” the way the nickname rolls off the other boy’s tongue sounds too intimate for their friendship, and Regulus’ tummy does a stupid summersault thingy, “you’re usually really good with names.”

He sounds one hundred percent sincere when he says it, too, but this only angers Regulus further. He is not about to have another weird conversations about things he can’t even remember. Least of all with a boy who just tried to kiss him mere seconds ago.

So maybe Regulus has a certain proclivity for said boy. He just so happens to know it is nothing more than a hopeless little daydream he allows himself every now and then. Because, one, James Potter is absolutely straight as a ruler and despite being raised a girl, Regulus is not. On top of that, his mother had nearly disowned him when she found out that, actually mother, I am a boy, he didn’t dare imagine what would happen when she found out that, actually mother, I am a boy that likes boys. It would most certainly be bloody and painful and he would not live very long to like boys after that.

“Babe—” James just breathes out the soft word, his voice tinged with worry and—

“Babe,” James breathes.

And Regulus kind of snaps.

“Is this one of my brother’s weird jokes?” he asks furiously.

Because his brother does happen to have a really odd sense of humour, and using his little memory lapse as a means to embarrass him sounds exactly like the kind of thing that prick would do.

“You…” James hesitates, “you don’t remember?”

It’s fucking annoying how in-tune those two Gryffindors are, and this time he can’t suppress the eye roll. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as painful as last time, and he manages to add an annoyed huff for emphasis. He’s in the hospital wing, if people could just stop insisting that that also means he’s lost his mind that would be lovely.

Of course I remember,” he exclaims, irritated. He gets to watch the handsome boy’s face split into a relieved grin as he continued, “you’re my brother’s best friend, Gryffindor Chaser and probably the most popular boy in year five. How could I forget?”

And then he gets to watch James’ face fall again. He has half a mind of adding how obnoxious the older boy is, too, but the look the raven gives him is making something twist in his gut. It’s something ugly and uncomfortable and he gets the faint idea that maybe that wasn’t what James had wanted him to remember.

The thought that he might be forgetting something after all makes him feel sick to the stomach.

Madam Pomfrey spends the rest of the afternoon asking him all sorts of silly questions, like his name and his age and his Hogwarts house and year. She asks him about how he’s spent his last Christmases, and what he remembers of the events before the Quidditch match.

Then, while Regulus munches on the Caramel Cobwebs and tries to focus on the crunch instead of on the ridiculously worried looks the two Gryffindors are shooting him, she talks to his brother and James in hushed whispers. The three of them keep giving him these weird looks, and the black boy keeps moving his hands around as he huffs, visibly annoyed.

The official conclusion turns out to be that he does in fact suffer from memory loss. The unhappy pit in his stomach coils and he objects through a mouthful of crunching, because he remembers everything.

“Regulus,” she explains patiently as his brother squeezes his hand to mush and James stands awkwardly by the foot of his bed, “you’re sixteen, not fourteen, and you’re already in your sixth year at Hogwarts.”

Which implies that he’s lost all memories of the past two years. He thinks maybe now he’s the one squeezing his brother’s hand to mush.

***

The first night he gets to make his way back through the hallways and down to the Slytherin common room is gently reassuring. Things kind of seem to come to him as he makes his way through the castle, needing no guidance whatsoever to find his way.

Everything looks the exact way he remembers it. The fire is roaring cosily in front of the emerald leather couches and there’s a bunch of first years hunched over a game of wizard chess with their friend’s nose buried in thick tombs as they read through the rulebooks. There are Christmas trees set up in the corners, and students wrapping their presents on the soft carpet in the middle of the room.

The lake is vast and dark beyond the smattering of students. The swaying of the weeds and little glimmers of creatures is soothing, a pale contrast to the timidly comfortable buzzing of life in the common room. Despite the dull lighting in the room, the ominous darkness of the far wall showing the lake, and what others would perhaps describe as a dampened ambiance, this feels like home to Regulus.

He makes his way to the staircases that lead to the dorms with a sense of purpose, determined to change into a nice warm haramaki and some warm pyjamas and then have the best sleep of his life in his four poster. There’s always this small sense of trepidation, stuck in the back of his throat, as he makes his way to the boys’ dorm. A little nagging feeling at the base of his skull, that maybe he doesn’t belong here, but it’s hard to let that take hold of him now, with his flat chest and the memory of his team mates fondly referring to him as “Regulus”.

Except when he enters the dorm there are only three four posters and they’re all taken. He immediately recognises the other boys from the Quidditch team, the two Chasers and one of their Beaters, as the mates that had come to visit him in the infirmary.

They all seem surprised to see him, but the tallest brunette, Alphart, cocks his head in surprise before flashing a confused smile, “Reg! You moving out of the prefect’s quarters?”

Oh? A quick glance down at his own robes confirms that, yes, indeed, there is a prefect badge there, gleaming in the light. Right.

He remembers becoming prefect had been a crowning achievement, if only for the lovely privileges of being able to use the prefect’s bathroom and having his own damn bedroom, where he didn’t feel like his fellow mates were trying to take a peek as he changes clothes, or purposely tried to shock him by comparing their dicks. Sirius even got me that really nice Marvelling Matcha cake from the Diagon Alley bakery.

“You’re more than welcome to share my bed,” the blond boy, Russel, throws him a provocative wink.

He refuses to blush. Russel is an insufferable tease and there’s no way they realise he’s forgotten about being a Merlindamned prefect. He will not be swayed.

“I just wanted to thank you guys,” he lies like the absolute pro he is, keeping his voice level to hide his mortification at his own stupidity, “for visiting me in the infirmary.”

Before the other boys can respond, he gives them a courteous nod and then heads back out.

He’s through the common room and down the hall before he properly comprehends his mistake. It takes another couple of very determined steps to put as much distance between himself and the other Slytherins before he realises that, despite having found his way to the common room without thinking twice, he actually doesn’t have a single clue as to where the prefect quarters are. Great.

There’s a vague memory of the long winding hallway with the Prefect and Head rooms, but whether it’s hiding behind a painting near the towers or lurking underneath a statue down in the dungeons, he hasn’t the foggiest.

As it is he’s already mortified at his own lapse into perceived weakness and there is no way in Azkaban that he is going back to the common room to ask for help. Instead he decides to wander around for a while, because, who knows, by some sort of inane fortune he might just jog his own memory that way.

At any rate, Regulus is definitely having some type of day, and walking off his own frustrations seems vastly better than the alternative of facing his own failures.

Inane fortune brings him no jogged memory, but a slightly flustered James Potter, Head boy badge shining proudly on his robes. He doesn’t look very surprised to see Regulus, as if he’s been roaming the hallways expecting to find lost Slytherins for fun.

“Reg,” his stomach does that stupid floppy thingy again when the taller boy flashes him a grin, “headed to bed as well?”

James doesn’t say what they both probably very well both know; that Regulus is in fact lost and has absolutely not a clue as to where his bed is exactly. So Regulus decides, if the Gryffindor is willing to do him the courtesy of ignoring the obvious, he will gladly play along.

They walk in amicable silence, James leading them deeper into the castle while Regulus tries to subtly memorise the way they’re going. He feels oddly at ease however, with this faint nagging thought lingering in the back of his head, we’ve done this before.

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” comes James’ voice suddenly, just as they head up a flight of stairs, “I mean… cuz you said I did before.”

Regulus isn’t sure what to say to that. The way they’re walking, he can only see part of the older boy’s face. He appears a little flustered, but it could also be the flickering of the candelabra playing a trick on Regulus. At any rate, he doesn’t seem embarrassed, offering the information willingly without being prompted.

They continue on in silence while Regulus contemplates whether or not he should be apologising for something. Should he tell James he was sorry? Is that what friends do?

“I don’t like Lily like that,” James further explains, as if he can read the younger boy’s mind.

It means very little by way of explanation, or so Regulus thinks bitterly. Because last he remembers, the Gryffindor was going to exuberant lengths to get the redhead to date him, much to Regulus’ own disappointment.

“Oh,” he says, non-committedly, and reminds himself that things change in two years, even if he doesn’t remember them doing so.

He doubts that two years’ time can make anyone gay, but he is tired and wants that haramaki and is just overall not ready for that thought.

“Here we are,” James changes the subject abruptly as they arrive at the statue of the Proverbial Vat of Knowledge.

There’s a little indentation at the side of it that Regulus has never noticed in all his years of passing the statue on his way to Transfiguration class. Now, he watches as James takes off his badge and presses it into the dent, the badge fitting perfectly and—

The statue moves to the side to reveal a staircase, leading the Prefect and Head hall, where their personal rooms are. Regulus’ is the seventh on the left, two rooms down from James’ and—

“Black! What are you doing here?! You have Prefect duties in the Astronomy tower!” Severus Snape snaps him from his memories, storming up to them his face set on murder.

Of course, forgetting his prefect duties feels like a natural epilogue to forgetting he is a prefect.

“Give him a break Snape,” James snarls in absolute disgust – Regulus hadn’t forgotten about the Marauders’ hate for the other boy, but if he had, this would have been a stark reminder, the taller boy’s wand clenched in his fist, “he just got out of the infirmary!”

Before the greasy haired boy can retort and the whole situation escalates, Regulus steps in between the two older teens.

“It’s okay, I’ll head there right away,” he tells Snape, whose face softens just a smidge. He waits for the older Slytherin to disappear around the corner before turning to James. The boy’s face is still cloudy, brow furrowed in anger, but it softens as Regulus admits, “I remember being a prefect is a pretty big deal to me.”

He’s not exactly sure why he says it in the first place. But, when the dark face softens and his lips curve up into a smile, Regulus knows he’s done the right thing. It’s not all teeth, face splitting in two, like James Potter usually smiles, but it’s tender, and the moment feels intimate somehow.

Or, you know, Regulus Black got conked in the head with a bludger and is imagining things.

Except then James brings a hand up to touch Regulus’ prefect badge, seemingly straightening it on his robes – even though it had been straight as a ruler, contrary to its owner – his touch lingering just a moment.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” James’ honey voice hums, before turning and disappearing down the stairs, leaving the Slytherin behind in a gay old mess.

***

He spends the next two weeks before the Christmas break in a sort of stupor. In the evenings he stands in front of his full-length mirror, nude, and inspects his own body. He runs his hands down the planes of his flat chest, over his ribs and down to his hips. They’re narrower now, than before, and his pelvis runs down proudly into an honest-to-Merlin dick. It fits nicely in his hand and it’s perfectly perfect. When he looks at his own face his jaw is set, a little bit stronger, and it is the small things that all together make a really big thing; his body.

When he looks in the mirror he sees himself and recognises himself. Finally.

There are a lot more jinbei in his closet than he remembers there being as well as Sirius’ old leather jacket that is completely not his style but he appreciates the gesture. There is not a bra in sight and no traces of the Magical Mending tape he used to bind his chest.

He lies in bed and enjoys the feeling of the blankets on his flat chest and even though he doesn’t remember setting up a little potions nook in the corner of the room, with books collected in heaps and little jars and pots of ingredients littered around the floor, he enjoys the familiarity of it all.

There’s a little ruby pouch that he finds stuck underneath the spare pillow, on the other side of the bed. It has dried aconite flowers, some amrita vein, dried lavender, a shrivelfig and a twig of dittany. The pouch smells earthy and musky with a hint of sweetness, and the soft scent of lavender.

He doesn’t remember making it, but it smells comforting, so he puts it in the pocket of his robes and carries it around wherever he goes, soothed by the scent of it.

Everyone is pretty cool about it all, too. Not a single Slytherin makes a snide remark and it really helps being a Prefect and being amicable with other people who are prefects, too. One morning he passes by the seventh year Ravenclaw and Gryffindor students waiting in line for Transfiguration class, and a tall blond boy sneers, “wearing pants doesn’t make you a man Black.” And? Seriously? He doesn’t even know the guy.

Before he can retort however, James pipes up from where he’d been leaning against the wall, talking to his redhead not-girlfriend, “and wearing a Ravenclaw tie doesn’t make you witty. What d’ya say Lils, ten points from Ravenclaw for blatant transphobia?”

“Mhm,” the redhead nods, her own head girl badge catching the sunlight as she moves, “gender is a social construct McLaird, you should know better.”

Next to him, Alphart’s fist relaxes around his wand, and Regulus shoots the two Gryffindors a grateful look, continuing on his way before his Slytherin mates show how creative they are with hexes. James winks at him and his stomach does a dumb summersault and he tells himself to just be thankful Sirius hadn’t been there, because heads would have rolled.

Just like that, he rolls back into prefect duty and remembers the schedule for his patrols without having to be reminded. He makes his way back to his bedroom without any more trouble, and when he crosses James in the hallway he offers a wave. Classes are easier than he’d feared they would be, because all his amassed and forgotten knowledge seems to kind of seep back in through the cracks as he sits and listens.

It solidifies the belief that yes, in fact, I am a sixth year, I belong here, and he tells himself when he looks in the mirror at his heavier brow and the smattering of chest hairs he’s accumulated, “I belong here,” and he believes it, every day a little more.

If he can remember all the Advanced Potions he’s learned in the last two years, then surely, he will remember everything, at some point, right?

Right. He remembers never second-guessing himself.

Except there are days where it’s still a little wonky, that remind him that he did in fact get conked in the head and it was a pretty big deal. One day he sits down at lunch with the other sixth year boys and they greet him overenthusiastically, claiming that he usually reserves lunch for Sirius. He disappoints them by packing up his half-eaten sandwich and hurrying over to Gryffindor table, but he’s pretty sure the pout his brother would undoubtedly give him for skipping out on quality time would be unforgettable.

He makes it up to his mates later by remembering to sit next to Alphart in Ancient Runes, like he always does, and brings Duncan Berty Bott’s because he remembers them being his favourites. They don’t say anything, but they sit in the common room and munch on the sweets while they do their homework, and rib at Russel when he gets an earwax flavoured one.

The Friday before the holidays is a Hogsmeade outing, and Regulus takes the opportunity to properly dig into his closet. There’s traditional kimono he doesn’t remember getting, and the act of going through his closet releases all sorts of fond memories of shopping with his older brother. This whole experience has been defying description, but finding a midnight blue kimono that has silver embroidery on it that he remembers Sirius gifting him gives him a sense of grounding.

It’s been snowing a lot lately, and the grounds have been covered in a thick layer of snow for a week now. Regulus isn’t one for the cold weather, as it means that he needs to take care of the plants he keeps in his private room a lot more carefully – of course, always with the same amount of undivided love – and it eats into his free time.

To be on the safe side, he fits a soft white fake stole atop his grey hifu for warmth. He can’t remember the last time he’s been to Hogsmeade, and he wants to be able to enjoy the trip despite the cold weather. The fur is soft against his cheek as he buries his face in it, making his way outside.

The wind is strong, tousling his hair none too gently. For a moment all sounds die away – the cries of the enthusiastic third years up ahead, the crunching of the snow under his boots – and all there is, is the howling of the skies and the cold frost biting at his nose.

“Hey Reg!” He’s awoken from his musing of how absolutely shit winter is when James Potter appears besides him. He’s decked out in thick winter robes and his Gryffindor shawl is wrapped around his neck, his thick curls falling down his temples beautifully, “Headed to Hogsmeade?”

For a moment, he forgets how to speak. James’ smile is too soft for the cold weather, and his cheeks are darkened with frost. It’s annoying, because logically, Regulus knows he’s had a crush on the older boy since probably the first day he’d ever met him, but for him to be sixteen now, and a Prefect and absolutely smashing all his Advanced Potions classes, and for that absolutely juvenile emotion to still be gnawing at his stomach, for it to be so absolutely undeniable in the face of the golden glint in James’ scorched hazelnut eyes? It’s downright embarrassing.

He’s not sure he can get his tongue untied in a timely manner, so instead he just nods. James’ hands are hidden in lovely soft red mittens and he casually tucks them into his pockets. He shrugs his shoulders, and then his smile widens as he asks, “shall we go together?”

Even with his perhaps still very much alive crush put aside, Regulus would find it very hard to reject the older boy. He is after all, Sirius’ best mate, and apparently his own mate, too, and the way he poses the question makes it sounds a lot like he already knows what the answer will be. As if James already knows that Regulus could never deny him.

It kind of warms something in Regulus’ chest, and he is absolutely appalled with himself.

They walk in comfortable silence for a while, following the winding road through the Hogwarts gates and then through the plains before the town comes into sight. The snow is fresh at their feet and the crunch of it is satisfying, the scenery a little blurry as flakes continue falling, dancing in the wind.

“Did we—” Regulus isn’t sure what he wants to say when he opens his mouth. This is just so comfortable, and although they’ve never been at odds with each other, he doesn’t remember them being let’s-go-to-Hogsmeade-together close, either. Maybe he’s overanalysing, or, more likely, for some weird reason he’s forgotten all about his friendship with the older boy and that’s just an overall shitty thing to do. So he takes a breath and continues, “I’m sorry… for forgetting our friendship.”

He’s not sure how else to put it, either. Because that’s really the gist of it. By now, he’s remembered he’s close to Alphart and that they’ve spent many a break together, playing chess or talking. He even remembers getting closer to Remus, through their shared annoyance over his brother’s antics, and their shared interest in plants. But, apparently, whatever transformed James Potter from person-I-secretly-crush-on to mate-I-hang-out-with, it has happened in the last two years. And, he’s forgotten all about it, his memory now unyielding.

That is depressing, to say the least, and if he thinks about it for too long it makes his tummy ache.

James manages a surprised snort however, his voice thick with mirth as he exclaims, “’s my own damn fault! Should’ve… become your friend sooner.”

There’s a slight hesitance there but Regulus brushes right past it. He buries his hands deeper into his sleeves and hopes he’s not blushing, because that’s just such a generally nice thing to say and he can’t help but feel flattered. His stomach does that stupid flippy floppy thing again, but this time, he decides it’s not half bad.

***

They flit in and out of some of the shops first, so James can stock up on sweets and Regulus can check the small apothecary for Asphodel and Bouncing Bulbs. James gets him more Caramel Cobwebs and Regulus advises the taller boy on what basic potion ingredients to restock.

As if by accident, they wander towards the Shrieking Shack too, and Regulus doesn’t let the thought linger too much, that perhaps James knows he enjoys looking at the worn-down building, creaking in the wind and imagining that one day Grimmauld place will be just like that: a mere nightmare, left to rot and haunt others.

James is busy talking about how absolute horrendously his last Muggle Studies class had gone because he just doesn’t get them, when he stills, quite abruptly. It takes the younger boy a moment to realise – not because he hadn’t been listening, the wind in his ears almost deafening so he’s been straining to hear – his almond-shaped eyes still fixed firmly on the swaying Shack.

When he turns to face the black boy, James is already looking down at him – not metaphorically speaking, either, because the guy is just impossibly tall, and his luscious curls add even more height to his already amazing stature. There’s mischief twinkling in the golden of his deep eyes, a sight Regulus is all too familiar with. It’s a look his brother wears quite often, after all.

James’ voice has gone soft when he speaks again, the dark timbre making the hair on the back of the Slytherin’s neck stand, “Your nose has gone pink,” he sounds out in wonderment, his smile growing tender; one mittened hand comes up to gently cup Regulus’ cheek, the thumb just barely brushing the tip of his nose, “Are you cold?”

Maybe, for just a tiny little minuscule moment, Regulus wonders whether the other boy is going to pretend to almost kiss him again. Their faces are so close, he can see the small smattering of freckles across his cheekbones, and his palm is warm and comfortably pressed into his cheek. It takes all his willpower not to flatten himself into it, so he reminds himself, this is James Potter.

And James Potter is a very straight, very popular boy who happens to be his brother’s best mate. If he ever does anything to make an arse out of himself in front of the boy, he’ll never hear the end of it from Sirius, he’s pretty sure of that.

So instead of doing anything silly like leaning into the touch, he nods, breaking the connection as he says, “Let’s head inside,” and just like that, the moment passes.

Maybe he’s just really confused as to how Gryffindor friendships work.

The Three Broomsticks is, predictably, packed full with patrons, but they manage to find a single empty table close to one of the huge Christmas trees set up in a corner. James tries to gracefully untangle himself from his scarf and fails, managing instead to almost lose his glasses in the meantime, which is all rather amusing to be witness to.

In return, Regulus offers to get their drinks so the older boy can compose himself, to which James happily agrees, rich skin tinged darker with a blush.

He joins the people waiting to order at the bar, still a little distracted by the previous hilarious sight of James’ glasses, crooked on his nose. It takes him a moment to realise Alphart is waiting right besides him, tall as ever but with his face hidden in his Slytherin scarf, so that Regulus can only see his eyes, squinting down at him in amusement.

“Come to join us?” Alphart greets, voice a little muffled before he pulls his scarf away from his face.

The tall brunette nods in the direction of a table where Regulus can distinguish Russel, standing up in his seat waving both arms enthusiastically at them, a bemused Duncan seated besides him. Regulus doesn’t miss the way Alphart rolls his eyes at the other boy’s antics, but he knows they’re both equally amused.

“Actually, I’m here with James Potter,” it kind of rolls off his tongue easily, like maybe he’s said it a thousand times before.

To add insult to injury, Alphart doesn’t even look very surprised – quite the contrary actually, he gives this look as if he has to physically restrain himself from rolling his eyes again.

“Figures,” he hums, not quite without a certain level of sass, “you guys are real close.”

Regulus isn’t sure if he means to make it sound quite so disapproving. He remembers being friends with Alphart way back since first year, when their love for chess and Quidditch brought them together. He’s also the only Slytherin that has never once mocked his love of plants and dismissed it for being too “Hufflepuff-like”.

It’s normal, of course, that Alphart draws his line in the sand somewhere, as is customary of all Slytherins; after all, most of them do have some sort of reputation to uphold back home, and although being friends with someone who is into herbology might not be such a big offence to Alphart’s family, they might react rather unkindly to discovering he’s best mates with a boy who actually enjoys the presence of Gryffindors.

Just another way Sirius manages to make his life that tad little more annoying.

Alphart generally does a good job at hiding it though, and Regulus, in turn, does not point out how much like the loyalty Hufflepuffs are praised for that is.

It is however a bit of an odd thing to hear someone else say, when he himself can’t even remember the closeness Alphart is speaking of. So he leans close into his friend’s side, and whispers, conspiringly, “Can you keep a secret?” and when the other boy nods, continues, “…I can’t remember.”

Alphart in turn looks properly baffled.

“That’s odd,” he notes with a frown, “you were so close to Potter, why’d you forget? Sure he’s not the one that conked ya?”

He jokes as if it is indeed a joking matter, although Regulus is not amused. When no reply is forthcoming, Alphart soothingly pats his back, offering a grin, “I’m sure it’ll come back.”

It’s a generally comforting thought, even though Regulus doesn’t know how much truth it holds. Not because he thinks Alphart would lie to him, but just because he himself doesn’t have much faith in it.

For some reason, he hasn’t actually second guessed it, how James is the only missing piece in his memory. And now he’s kind of forced to think about it.

He knows for a fact that James did not catapult that bludger his way, but then isn’t it all just a little odd how he’s forgotten all about him? Obviously, James Potter, with his too big smile and his midnight curls and his big hands and even bigger heart, is special.

The thought makes his throat go dry. He drinks half his butterbeer in one go and watches as James nurses his own at a much more relaxed pace, dark eyes twinkling. He listens to the boy talk and then gets distracted all over again, because the Gryffindor smells faintly of earth and lavender, and it’s an oddly familiar scent.

***

The next day they head back to London with the Hogwarts express. He’s forced to stay by his brother’s side, because Sirius simply refuses to let him out of his sight. Madame Pomfrey had agreed that heading back home with his brother for the holidays would be best, as being in a familiar environment might trigger more memories.

He’s not exactly sure how Grimmauld place could trigger any memories but ones he’d happily forget. However the fact that Sirius is willing to go there with him – after moving out in third year – makes it really hard not to trust his better judgement.

He will never admit it out loud, but those puppy dog eyes his brother makes could possibly persuade him to kill; granted, a lot of things make him particularly stabby, but for Sirius? He wouldn’t think twice.

They’re joined by Remus and James who are also going home for the holidays. They get a whole compartment to themselves, and within ten minutes of having left the station the Marauders have unpacked all the sweets from their trunk, and Remus has magicked a little fire to keep them extra nice and toasty.

Regulus pretends not to be absolutely flabbergasted when Sirius presses a kiss to the brunette’s lips, before breaking off a leg of his chocolate frog. His brother catches him staring, perhaps not as subtle as he’d hoped, and gives him a wink. The Slytherin manages a surprised laugh, before rolling his eyes and sneering, “it was about damn time too,” which makes his brother break out in a grin.

It’s all in all a comfortable trip, if Regulus ignores the one very obvious problem: they are headed to their familial home and he has no breasts. Pretending he is still just the same old Regina is going to be a little harder for his mother now that there’s no attributes left to back her up.

He’s broken from his reverie when a particular blond Slytherin quite abruptly pops his head into their compartment with an all too insufferable grin, “Reg, come sit with Alphart and I,” he winks, “livenly up our compartment a bit!”

Regulus doesn’t know why but there’s an odd sort of tension in the compartment when Russel and James’ eyes meet. James has this downright disgusted look of disdain on his face, which is just plain weird because they’ve probably never even properly met.

Before any of the Gryffindors can interject – Sirius spluttering and choking on his Bertie Bott’s bean in indignation – Regulus replies, “No thanks, I’m good here.”

“Well, if you need some fun you know where to find us!” Russel blows a kiss his way before disappearing, his laughter still audible.

The oldest Black brother huffs rather childishly, crossing his arms in front of his chest, a little out of breath after having almost choked to death.

“Why are all your friends so insufferable,” he whines, giving his brother a pout.

“You say that as if none of your friends are insufferable,” the smaller raven retorts, fixing him with a stern look.

“Hey!” James has the audacity to act insulted, even though he knows fully well that he deserves the teasing; Remus doesn’t even react, knowing fully well Regulus would never say such a thing about him.

He thinks maybe his heart does this very silly and insensitive thump-thud-thump thing, but he smiles nonetheless. And then his brother is laughing heartily and he thinks maybe this is what life is supposed to feel like.

***

They have an honest to Merlin flat. It’s not exactly what he’s expecting – far exceeds expectation, as he’d already resigned himself to a tortuous Christmas – but it’s there and it’s gorgeous. It’s tucked away in a small wizarding neighbourhood in downtown London and there’s lots of greenery and he feels good already. When they climb the stairs there’s the unmistakable smell of fresh pumpkin pasties, and a greying witch calls for them from the first floor flat, “Welcome home brothers!”

She’s plump with colourful robes and a tabby cat on her shoulder when she invites them in for tea and biscuits. Sirius makes small talk with her but then soon waves her off with a promise they’ll pop by later – Regulus feels guilty, because he’s pretty sure his brother saw his confusion etched clearly in his face. He doesn’t remember her.

However, after Sirius has already turned away, the smiling witch thrusts a folded cloth into his hands carefully, adding in a hushed whisper, “For your juice,” and then closes her door with a wink.

As he follows his brother, he opens the small package to uncover a silky strand of silver unicorn hair. It takes him maybe half a second – he thinks I don’t remember – and then…

“All these transition potions take unicorn hair,” Regulus whines, greedily gobbling up another cookie as the witch refills his sweet tea, “impossible to steal, Slughorn is incredibly stingy with his unicorn ingredients! And I need one to keep all my downstairs business looking proper!”

He has to rub at his face with the palm of his hand because tears of nothing but pure unadulterated fondness are welling up in his eyes and that’s just unacceptable.

A lot of what happens over the next few days brings forth some very unacceptable emotions. Mostly happiness that brings him to the edge of tears as he basks in what his life has become, overjoyed.

Their flat is small, with a little kitchenette and a kotatsu and too many potted plants to count, and then his own bedroom is crammed with leatherbound books, a cauldron set up and a little corner with different potion ingredients stocked away. Their tub is tiny and the balcony barely fits the both of them, squished in side by side, but he discovers he grows angel’s trumpets and snowdrops, and all the clothes in his closet are boy clothes and in the evening Sirius draws the blinds and they sit underneath the kotatsu and watch the stars.

It’s perfect.

Surprisingly, it gets even better.

The day before Christmas they get invited to spend a day over at the Potter’s, of all people. Regulus is a little afraid to ask if he’s really been invited, or if this isn’t one of those “you’re Sirius’ brother” two for one deals that Gryffindors seem to feel the need to make around him. He doesn’t ask, mostly because it’s embarrassing, but also because he’s actually pretty grateful at the chance to see what Christmas looks like in an actually loving and affectionate household.

No, he tells himself as he fixes his hair in front of the mirror, this has nothing to do with that abhorrent crush. He’s sixteen and it’s Christmas, crushes are a thing he can deal with after the holidays. Besides, he’s excellent at lying to himself; lied about being a girl for half a dozen years, after all.

The Potters are about as ridiculously kind as they come. They embrace Sirius like he is in fact their second son, finally home after months at Hogwarts, and he kind of feels an awkward lump in his throat at this unabashed display of affection and then—

She smells like spices when she hugs him, a chuckle ringing out to meet his ears, and then her embrace is warm after a day spent in the yard, praising, “they look gorgeous,” as she stares at the roses he grew in her garden, and there’s a tight embrace on platform 9 ¾ before she waves him goodbye.

They’ve hugged before, more times than Regulus can properly remember. The realisation sort of stuns him into silence while Fleamont offers him a grin and pats his shoulder amicably.

“Oh love we were so worried,” Euphemia gives him a proper once over, her face betraying the emotion she speaks of, “James told us what happened of course—”

Regulus knows, realistically, that no such thing as ‘the perfect family’ exists. Despite appearances, he knows there must be some cracks in the foundations of these smiling faces and warm hands. They too, must have their flaws, their fights, their boundaries. Be that as it may, with Euphemia’s broad smile it’s very hard not to think of this as the one, the only, perfect family. At any rate, in comparison to what he’s experienced so far, this family comes closer to perfection.

So he decides, just for this once, this small little while, that he can shut off his annoying brain and be.

Euphemia takes him into the kitchen, as she’s promised to teach him how to cook, apparently. He is exceptional at potions, just not so much at warm and homey and nourishing. She invites him to practice with her, and although he’s scared witless by the mere thought, he finds himself enjoying her company.

She makes the pots and pans dance with her hands and the seasoning waltzes through the kitchen and he hears the other’s laughter coming from the living room and he feels good. Euphemia talks about how his plants are doing so well, and how she misses gardening with him, and she shows him how she’s braided some of the roses he grew into her hair.

It’s around that time that he notices she wears a pouch around her neck on a chain, made of an oddly familiar looking ruby fabric.

“Oh,” he realises, fishing out the small pouch he found underneath his pillow weeks ago, “this must be yours?”

“Hmm?” Euphemia stirs the sauce with a wave of her wand, giving a quick glance at the pouch in his hand, “Must be James’ love, we make one together before Hogwarts every year.”

It might be that, or maybe it’s just a whole bunch of little small things. It’s like suddenly he sees everything in the proper light. The house slowly fills with the lovely smell of roasted turkey and Remus reads to Sirius with the raven’s head in his lap. James plays chess by himself, on his stomach by the couch. Fleamont comes to talk to him, relaxed and casual about Potion Opuscule, a tomb they’ve both thoroughly enjoyed, and this little something nags at the back of his head more persistently.

His eyes travel around the living room and then suddenly it kind of clicks.

He’s in the picture on the mantelpiece.

It’s been there all day and he hasn’t even really given it any notice. The mantelpiece is filled with a number of frames where the Potters are smiling handsomely and waving at them from their place atop the mantle. It’s all very inconspicuous, really, just sitting there, amongst the dozens of pictures with grinning faces; it’s him.

He’s wearing an emerald haori in the picture and – “Happy birthday babe,” James thrusts a thick package into his arms, his pearly whites gleaming as he grins and the wrapping comes undone to reveal intricate golden patterns – he thinks he remembers something and this uncomfortable cold comes over him. Because in the picture, James is holding him around his waist, towering above him with this adorably fond smile and he thinks he gets it.

Except it can’t be. Not really, because if this means what he thinks it means that would imply that he’s somehow forgotten about the biggest, most important thing to ever happen to him. He’s forgotten about James Potter falling in love with him.

He finds himself going over to the couch almost on autopilot, prompting politely, “James, could I have a word?” and then when the boy just looks up at him with those big, doe eyes, adds, “Perhaps your room would be more private?”

If James is confused, he doesn’t show it. Quit the opposite actually: he’s looked all mellow, all day, obviously ridiculously at ease in his own home, surrounded by his friends. He practically oozes comfort, and though Regulus loathes to admit it to himself, the older boy is looking particularly good today.

He’s wearing these really soft looking, nice fitting pants that kind of show off his bum and Regulus has to stubbornly avert his eyes as he follows the Gryffindor up the stairs.

Before he has a chance to have a proper look around James’ bedroom, the tall raven has already turned around to face him with a soft smile, prompting, “What’s up babe?”

They stare at each other for a long second. Then, James’ eyes widen comically as he realises what he’s just said.

“Reg,” he corrects frantically, voice too loud – when said boy continues to just stare at him he fumbles, adds hesitantly, “…ulus?”

Regulus, in turn, tries to get as much of his exasperation as is humanly possible translated in his eyeroll. So, you know, apparently James calls him ‘babe’. Yup.

He outstretches his arm between them, unfurling his fist. James’ eyes light up, “I’ve been looking for this!” he grins as he takes the ruby pouch from the smaller boy’s hand, “Thought I’d lost it.”

But he hadn’t lost it, it had been underneath Regulus’ pillow.

And he doesn’t remember, but he doesn’t have to, because he’s sure of this. Right? Right. He never second-guesses himself, he remembers.

So he does the only reasonable thing to do in this situation. He gets on his tippytoes and takes the gorgeously tan face into his hands so that he can pull the older boy into a kiss.

No, this is not just Regulus giving into his indecent desires, this is the only logical conclusion: way back when he woke up after taking a bludger to the head, James did not in fact try to kiss him because of some weird asshole joke he and Regulus’ brother though off, James tried to kiss him because it’s what they do. Because, rationally speaking, if they sleep in the same damn bed, they probably kiss, okay?

His logical conclusion gets enthusiastically confirmed when James immediately wraps his arms around the smaller boy’s waist, turns his face into a more comfortable position, and presses back into the kiss.

And it’s a little bit like magic itself, Regulus thinks. He knows this isn’t their first kiss, but maybe—

James’ face is too close, and all he smells is lavender and then soft, insistent lips on his own and they’re drinking Butterbeers on the rooftop with the Marauders when James leans into his side, his mouth hot and sweet, and then it’s a too gentle press in the evenings before bed and sleepy and conquering in the mornings, always like coming home.

it feels like the first time, every time, his tummy doing a summersault. Regulus wants to live in this very moment for the rest of his life.

They separate for a mere breath and James makes the most pathetic little sound in the back of his throat. Regulus half wishes he could pinch himself because this must be a dream. The raven's skin is warm under his fingers and his mouth is plump and nudging into another kiss and—

Listen, Regulus is not a romantic, but he never wants to stop kissing, ever.

Except James does this really idiotic thing where he pulls away. The audacity.

“Thank Merlin,” the Gryffindor hums and Regulus feels his breath against his skin, forcing goosebumps onto his flesh, "you remembered, I was going crazy babe."

He makes the last part sound like a little whine, and then he leans in for another peck, before sighing happily and resting his forehead against Regulus'. Merlin, Gryffindors are so schmoopy.

He almost wants to lie. But James' eyes are half lit, and his expression is so open and honest and it kind of moves something within him. Even if he cannot remember how and when they became this close, he knows that he could never lie to the older boy – despite being a notoriously good liar.

“I don't,” he admits, and then wants to slap himself for sounding so feeble, “I— can't—”

He's not sure what to say but James makes a face, obviously worried and then he loses his line of thought altogether. The boy’s face is like a canvas, a work of art, painted with all his emotions right there for anyone to see, unabashed.

“It's okay Reg,” James promises him, gently using the hands on the smaller boy's waist to guide him to the foot of the bed, “it's okay.”

Regulus feels shaky as James sits him down – it is so frustrating, he just wants to cry or hit something or just strangle the sod that conked him with a bludger. But the black boy is warm by his side, their thighs pressed together and his hands reaching out to pull Regulus’ into his lap. And it’s a weird sort of comfort, he’s not sure he remembers but—

They’re in the Room of Requirement and they’re amidst piles of books on Animagi when James’ hands find his own, weaving their fingers together and then later still, as they make their way back to the Slytherin common room under the invisibility cloak, James’ rich skin meshed into Regulus’ where their digits are intertwined, and between classes they’ll slip into hidden corners just to have their palms pressed together and…

—he thinks his hands have spent a lot of time locked in the safety of James’.

It’s not okay,” he grounds out – because none of this is.

James Potter is here, holding his hand, and he doesn’t even remember how they got here. There is no version of reality wherein it’s okay to forget about getting your first ever boyfriend. He’s so mad he wants to cry, and that just makes him even more mad because he is Regulus Black, he doesn’t cry.

Except that apparently, being boyfriends also means that they can tell when either of them is being sad, so James gives him this look, somewhere between pity and sympathy and dare Regulus think love, giving the smaller hands in his own a little reassuring squeeze.

“Hey, at least it’s not like last time you conked your head and—” his tone of voice starts off all enthusiastic and then quickly falls when Regulus’ expression does too.

Because this is the first ever time he’s conked his head and James is implying it isn’t, which means this is another one of those things that he, surprise, surprise, can’t remember.

And you know what—

“No,” he shakes his head before James can explain, “I—I don’t want to know. Not today. I—”

He doesn’t know how to explain that being with James is the first time he’s really felt like things were going to be okay again, since getting hit by a bludger and waking up to discover he’s lost two years of his life, memory-wise. He doesn’t know how to say that he wants to be happy and in love now, and only that, for just a little while. Because requited romantic love is new to him, and a lot of this – own flat, own body, free – is new to him, too, and he wants to bask in that for a bit.

He feels like he’s earned that much, at least.

And he doesn’t have to explain, because the raven smiles widely, and it’s like he knows.

***

And, of course, he makes sure everyone else knows, too. He does this super embarrassing thing where, when they head back into the living room, he fist-pumps the air exclaiming, “guess who just got snogged?!” making a total arse out of himself and creating general chaos as Regulus’ brother high-fives him and Euphemia mumbles a “thank Merlin!” before explaining how insufferable her son had been while whining about how Regulus couldn’t remember him. This in turn makes James splutter indignantly and all things considered – all things mostly being the fact that James is an absolute prat – today is a good day.

Dinner is absolutely sublime and everything is so comfortable and homey that Regulus doesn’t ever want to leave. Except then Sirius goes home with Remus and James proposes to side-apparate him back to their flat and suddenly he wants nothing more than to leave and be alone with the Gryffindor.

For totally innocuous reasons, of course.

It’s not awkward. They apparate right into the middle of Regulus’ bedroom and James gives him this soft smile, lips pink and perfectly delectable looking, “let’s go cuddle.”

And, surprisingly, he really means cuddle, too. Regulus should have known better than doubt that the Gryffindor is anything but the perfect gentleman.

He changes into a comfortable jinbei for bed and gets to watch James take off his sweater, revealing his gorgeous sun kissed chest. And then he is being forced into a cuddle on the bed, with the man’s big body fitting perfectly against his back, effectively little spooning him.

They talk in hushed voices, even though it’s just the two of them, as if not to disturb the quiet and peaceful air. James talks about how horrid the last two weeks have been, and how he’s been thinking of him every day. The Slytherin lets his boyfriend talk, mostly because he likes the sweet words of praise but also, if he’s being perfectly honest, because he just really loves the sound of that rich voice.

There’s a lull in the conversation and Regulus is kind of distracted anyway because James’ fingers are drawing patterns into the soft linen of his jinbei and he’s kind of obsessed with how his own fingers would feel, pressed into the ebony flesh of his chest.

“Hey,” he quips, feeling the responding hum against the top of his head, “let’s make out for a bit.”

He refuses to feel silly when he says it, too. Because this is what they do, apparently, and who is he to deny himself? James chuckles in response, but then he’s moving around behind him and before Regulus can complain, his head is gently being turned and he’s being kissed.

The angle is a bit odd but he finds he kind of likes it, too. James’ fingers on his chin and the knowledge that the man is making an actual conscious effort to bend himself into weird poses to be able to share a kiss. He enjoys knowing he has this kind of power over the Gryffindor.

Eventually he ends up turning into the embrace, but he tells himself it’s only so he can touch the older boy properly. His chest is hot under his fingers and everything kind of feels like he might catch fire soon. He himself is too hot underneath his clothes and with the way James’ lips are conquering his own he fears he might melt into a little puddle of too good.

Excitement is nothing new to him – he is a teenage boy, after all – but the way his body reacts to it is a little different from what he can remember. When James’ big hands slide underneath the top of his jinbei to find the warm skin of his back, he has to swallow a moan and notes the way heat pools down in his groin.

More to distract himself than anything else, he pulls back from their kiss, nudges at James’ nose, and hums, “Have we…?”

He feels the raven’s smile against his lips with the next peck against his mouth.

“Not yet,” James replies, and the amusement is audible in his voice, “of course, I am a notorious playboy and you wouldn’t wanna just rush right in.”

Regulus chuckles; leave it to James Potter to pursue a girl for years on end only to get constantly rejected and still deem himself a playboy. Just like that, with the laughter still stuck in his throat, he realises what’s holding him back though, and he replies quite matter-of-factly, “I’m afraid you only like girls.”

Hearing it said out loud like that twists an uncomfortable coil in his stomach. It’s not a fear, per say, more like a little factoid he’s been telling himself any time his crush rears its ugly head. James Potter is straight as a ruler, he reminds himself when he finds himself staring at his brother’s friend for just a little too long, James Potter is for girls only, and you are not a girl.

The look on James’ face softens, and he playfully rolls his eyes.

“An absolutely ridiculous notion,” he says, and Regulus is pretty sure he means it, too, “but, I understand and I don’t mind waiting for as long as it takes for me to prove that I love you.”

He says the words so honestly, so suddenly, that Regulus thinks his heart might skip several beats.

“You—”

“I do,” James grins, flashes his teeth and then thumps his forehead into the Slytherin’s, “say it all the time, too, it’s a little ridiculous.”

There’s a lump in Regulus’ throat that is a whole lot of emotion. He’s not scared, just not exactly ready, because it’s all a lot, and good, and he’s not used to a lot of good. There’s still this nagging feeling at the back of his head telling himself there’s a catch.

“You don’t have to say it back,” James says truthfully, bringing a hand up to cup one pale cheek and stroke his thumb down Regulus’ temple in a soothing manner, “we have the rest of our lives to sort this out, okay?”

The motion of his thumb against Regulus’ temple is gentle and ridiculously calming. Regulus finds himself kind of loving and kind of hating how the older boy seems to know all his sensitive spots, like the Gryffindor can simply push the right button to manoeuvre him this way and then that way.

As it is, he often massages his own temples when he needs to relax, and now, with James’ thumb pushing gentle circles into the side of his face, he can already feel the effects on his body. He feels a little heavy now and suddenly exhausted.

They say nothing more. Regulus leans up for more kisses but he grows lacklustre and allows himself to give in to the sense of calm. He curls himself up into the broad chest and falls asleep, feeling perfectly safe, closed off from the world.

In the morning he gets to put his head in James’ lap while the man strokes his fingers through his hair. He tells him about how Regulus was brave enough to come out to his mother after third year, and how, in response, she tossed him down a flight of stairs.

He talks about how he hit his head pretty bad and had to stay in St-Mungo’s and how they moved in with the Potters before Sirius got them their flat after that. He is soft as he tells the story, his fingers weaving patterns into his dark locks. His voice is sorry but Regulus wants none of it.

Because he can’t remember, not really, but he’s pretty sure he would do it all over again. Because now he’s here, in this flat with his brother, and he gets to have this, tender moments shared with his boyfriend, and, although he refuses to admit it out loud, there’s nothing else he wants more.

And so he pulls down the older boy’s face, hands on James’ cheeks, and kisses him, right there on his stupid face. And he tells himself, it’s a lot but it’s all I want. And he tries to tell James that, too, with his hands and his lips and his sweet kisses pressed into that welcoming mouth.

And for now, that’s enough.

***

The rest of the holidays pass by in a blissful daze. He spends a lot of his time working on his potions while Sirius and James bicker on the couch, or his brother annoys the shit out of the brunette werewolf, pleading for kisses and affection. He spends a lot of his time holding James Potter’s hand and in the nights he gets to kiss his lips and hold him while they sleep. His room starts smelling like the pouch he leaves under the pillow, earthy and lavender and safe.

He gets to get used to his body in this way too, his body being loved and adored and feeling excitement in his belly and warmth in his chest. It’s a lot like magic, he thinks, and he’s grateful for the journey it took to get here, even if he cannot quite remember.

The day before they go back to Hogwarts, James insists on taking him out for a proper date. Together they prepare a picnic in Godric’s Hollow, with James showing him how his mother’s taught him to cook. In turn, Regulus shows him how to fold the gyoza and bake them until they’re crispy, then he gets to feed him one too, and maybe he is a romantic because watching those lovely plump lips wrap around the chopsticks, curling up into a smile at the taste, makes his heart go pitter-patter.

James casts a warming spell on him so he doesn’t catch a cold, all cute and Gryffindor-like, fussing a bit over the younger raven and merely flashing a grin when he catches Regulus rolling his eyes at his worrying. They walk to the neighbourhood park and put down a tarp and thick blankets to sit down on for lunch.

It promises to be the absolute perfect day. Regulus opens up their bento boxes and sets out all the food and James is looking at him, eyes swirling gold, licking his lips and he’s just contemplating whether he’s hungry for food or kisses when—

Regulus Black – neé something else entirely that he doesn’t very much care about – is sixteen when he opens his eyes to blurry shapes and a shrill ringing in his ears. James Potter is hovering over him with a rather anguished look on his face – as if he’s the one who’s just been conked on the head – as there’s a chant of “sorry”s coming over from where a couple of younger kids had been playing soccer before.

The black boy worries his lip between his teeth as he helps Regulus sit up. He has a dull throbbing in the back of his head and he’s pretty sure he’s going to have a bump there until he can get his hands on some Murtlap essence.

He groans in pain as he feels the back of his head. The look his boyfriend is giving him is too much, however, carrying his heart on his sleeve and worrying far too much to be healthy for any one man. Regulus flashes him a half-hearted smile, his brain feeling as if it wants to bash its way out through his skull, and drawls, “I’m okay darlin’” and James eyes widen almost comically because—

“You know I adore your company,” Regulus explains patiently as James noses through his potion kit, “but I’m a little busy here darlin’”

He hopes the nickname will lighten the blow of being told to, quite frankly, stop messing with his ingredients while he’s making a potion, but doesn’t exactly expect the reaction he gets when his boyfriend’s cheeks darken with a blush and he licks his lips unconsciously, eyes a little wide.

“Oh,” he leers, “you like that huh? Darlin’?”

And then he gets to watch James bite his lip before nodding, meekly, and the last thing on his mind is the potion he’d been brewing.

“Merlin you should see your face,” he can’t help but laugh at the shell-shocked look his boyfriend is still making, “better than when you discovered my Patronus is a stag!”

“I—” James looks halfway between appalled and stunned, because—

They’ve been practicing the young Slytherin’s Patronus for weeks now – James had promised him, after all, in return for his help in becoming animagi. It’s not just a cheap trick to be able to spend more time with the smaller raven, absolutely not.

James is a terrible liar, even when it comes to lying to himself.

Except, today is the day. It happens remarkably suddenly, because first Regulus is creating pathetic poofs of silver smoke and then suddenly antlers are breaking free from his wand and then a head and the rest of the stag’s body and it prances around the room proudly.

James is pretty sure his mouth falls to the floor in surprise. Regulus in turn has the audacity to merely roll his eyes, patting the head of his Patronus as it comes up to him.

“So,” he starts, not exactly feeling the brave Gryffindor he knows he is, “does this mean I can stop worrying that my crush might be unrequited?”

The Slytherin’s cheeks turn a soft pink and James is quite sure he has to suppress another roll of his eyes. A smile lingers in the corner of his mouth though, making its way to his face when James takes his wand hand into his own, and bravely plants a kiss on one of the flustered cheeks.

Regulus remembers.

They’re both grinning now and Regulus thinks his cheeks might hurt with how wide his smile is. Before he can say anything else, his boyfriend is invading his space, pressing overly enthusiastic kisses all over his face and wrapping him up into a tight hug.

He remembers forgetting all about James and forgives him his zeal and despite usually not liking such public displays of affection, kisses back with every inch as much affection and hoping that the Gryffindor knows.

Because he’s waiting for the right moment to say it out loud, but he’s been thinking for a while now, that he might want to say, “I love you too,” one of these days.

Regulus spends the rest of his Hogwarts years conk-free and it isn’t until quite some time later that he takes another bludger to the head.

He’s twenty-four now and his husband lurs him into playing a friendly match – despite James Potter being a famous Chaser for the English National team – with their family. He knows he should have stayed on the patio with Remus where he’d be safe, but the black man had been making that face where his eyes go all golden and glittery with excitement and it’s really hard to deny him anything when he does that. They stay close to the ground because Arche is only just learning how to ride their broom and James is notoriously fussy when it comes to his child.

Of course Sirius is an absolutele prat and when he shows Beetie how to hit the bludger correctly he catapults it right in his brother’s general direction, instead of aiming for the line of trees like a better big brother would do. Luckily for him, Regulus’ godchild doesn’t yet have the strength to do any serious damage, so the ball kind of conks him in the skull with only a semi-painful thud.

“Dad!” Arche exclaims in surprise and within seconds James is by his side, helping him off his broom to the safety of solid ground.

“Don’t worry darling,” the Slytherin grins up at his husband, giving him a quick kiss to wipe that worried look off his face, “I’m fine,” and then, louder, as he limps into the direction of where his sod of a brother and small Beetie are looking awfully guilty, he whines, “ohhh, I’m so dizzy, where am I? Who are you people?” and then all mayhem ensues.

Beetie makes a sound of terror and runs up to him, wrapping their little arms around his legs as they shout, “It’s me Regs, don’t you remember your Beetie?” and Sirius whines, “not again!”

Remus is smiling from his seat on the patio and he throws the raven a wink as the man exclaims, “A Beetie?! Can I eat it?!” and then Arche bursts out laughing, their almond-shaped eyes lighting up golden, just like their father’s do when he smiles.

That evening when they’ve tucked Arche to bed, Regulus takes his time showing his husband just how fine he is, forcing away the older man’s concern with kisses and the insistent press of his fingers against that soft ebony skin.

Afterwards, when the older Gryffindor has gone from nervous and fussing to contented and relaxing, they lay in bed, the smell of their garden of lavender and holy wafting in through the open windows. He strokes his fingers through James’ thick, midnight curls, and lets the man use his chest as a pillow, if only because he knows how truly upset he’d been this afternoon.

When James makes this little mewling sound in the back of his throat at the hair-petting, the Slytherin grins in amusement. Even after all these years, the older man still catches him off guard and manages to turn him into flustered, head-over-heels in love sixteen-year-old again.

It’s not exactly out of habit that he hums, “I love you James,” but he’s said it over a thousand times by now and it’s the honest-to-Merlin truth, every time he does. And when James turns to meet his gaze, smile lazy as he tips his chin for a soft kiss, his stomach does that little summersault thingy it usually does.

James returns the sentiment between gentle kisses and then, later, falls asleep being the small spoon because he’s a literal giant of a man, a couple of inches taller than his husband and probably twice as broad, but he’s also a needy little twat and Regulus can never truly deny him.

Before the raven falls asleep, lulled into his dreams by the soft sounds of his husband’s breath and the wind blowing through the trees outside, he muses how it probably doesn’t matter how many more times he gets conked in the head. With his family by his side, he doesn’t think he could ever forget, not even if he tried.

And when Arche wakes them up a couple of hours later, crawling over their dad’s slim form to nestle in between them – much to James’ dismay, who pouts a little at being forced to separate from his lover – pressing his cold feet into Regulus’ calves just like their father so often does, he thinks getting conked in the head is a small price to pay for how happy he feels. He presses a sloppy wet kiss to Arche’s forehead just to see the child scrunch up their face and pout at him from under their pitch-black curls, and then presses a sweeter kiss to his husband’s forehead when the man complains loudly about needing kisses too. Arche makes little sounds of disgust but then kisses his dad’s dark forehead too, and Regulus decides he will never let his family forget how loved they are, not for as long as he lives.