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Chapter Nine


“Sirius...I have to tell you something.” James took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I kissed your brother.” He gave a little nod then groaned loudly. “No, no, that won't do at all.” The boy kicked at the base of the bathroom sink and glared at his own reflection in the mirror. “Okay. Sirius...I made a mistake. No! Mistake sounds like I regret it. I don't regret it. I just....” The boy sighed loudly and stared down into the sink. Did he regret it? He didn't want Sirius angry with him, he didn't want to ruin Regulus' relationship, he didn't want to get either of them in trouble, he didn't want to give up trying to be with Lily...but did he regret the kiss?

Even though he knew it was the wrong thing to do, nothing about kissing Regulus had felt wrong. Not then, not in the moment. But now, he wasn't so sure. He gripped the edges of the sink and met his own hazel eyes in the mirror. “Sirius, I've done something that you won't be too happy about. I didn't mean to; it just sort of happened. It was an accident.” The boy scoffed at himself and turned his back on the mirror. “Yeah, I just accidentally kissed someone. About fifty times. That's real believable, James.” He shook his head and started pacing the bathroom floor.

“He's going to kill me. He's going to kill me, bury me, dig me up, and kill me again.” The boy dragged his hands through his still slightly damp hair and took several long, soothing breaths. “Maybe not. Maybe he'll understand. If I just explain it gently enough, then he won't -”

“James!”

The boy ran rigid hearing Sirius shout his name from the bathroom door. He barely turned in time to see the other boy before he was engulfed in a hug.

“Where the hell have you been? We were looking everywhere for you. We were afraid you got hurt or something!” Sirius shook James a little and stared into his eyes. “James, are you alright?”

“Yeah, yeah.” James let out a shaky breath and nodded. “I'm fine. Why were you all looking for me?” He peeked around Sirius to see a relieved Remus and Peter in the doorway. Guilt lurched in his stomach and made his mouth line with saliva. The others had been out looking for him, Sirius had been worried about him, and he was hiding away, betraying his best friend's trust.

“Your practice ended over two hours ago.” Remus held up his watch, looking a bit put out.

“We were afraid you got caught in the storm or something,” added Peter. “We checked the hospital wing even.”

“I was – the map?”

You have the map, James.” Sirius hit his friend's shoulder, a mix of anger and relief on his face. “You think we're that stupid?” He shook his head and rubbed his hand through the boy's wet hair. “Where were you?”

“I got stuck at the Pitch. I didn't wanna walk back with all the lightening.”

“You weren't at the Pitch.” Peter widened his eyes and folded his arms. “I checked there first for you. And you weren't in the changing room or the equipment shed.”

“I wasn't in the...um, Sirius can I maybe talk to you...alone. For-for just a minute.” James ducked his head and kept his eyes on the tips of his shoes, not daring to look at any of the Marauders. Their worried tones only made his guilt double. “Please?”

Remus and Peter frowned but didn't argue the matter. They left the bathroom and closed the door behind themselves.

“James, what the hell is going on?” Sirius leaned back against a sink and stared over at the other boy.

James took a minute to compose himself before turning to his friend. “Sirius, I did something....” He sighed heavily and looked down into the boy's confused grey eyes. “I did something that you're not going to like. In fact, you're going to very angry with me and I just hope that you won't hate me when I tell you what it is.”

“I could never hate you, but you're starting to scare me a little.” Sirius folded his arms and raised an eyebrow at James. “Come on, out with it. What's so bad that you could think I would hate you?”

“I....” James stepped closer to Sirius and put on his most apologetic face. “I was at the Pitch...when it started storming. I was down there, just not...not in the Gryffindor changing room.”

Sirius shifted in place and pursed his lips. “Go on.”

“Look, I didn't plan for this to happen, okay? I thought there was an intruder and I went to check it out and I should have left, I know that I should have just turned around and left but I couldn't because...I don't know. Maybe I'm just weak, I don't...know. But I know that I messed up.”

“James...what – did – you – do?”

James swallowed back the lump in his throat and covered his face with his hands. “I kissed Regulus.”

Sirius let out a sharp laugh and tilted his head. “You're putting me on, right? This is some kind of joke?” When the other boy didn't answer, he stiffened up and stepped away from the sink. “James, tell me that you're only joking. You wouldn't do something like that. We just talked about this. I just told you how dangerous it was to let him keep falling for you and you – you go and...and I can't believe this. James tell me that you didn't!”

“I'm sorry.” His apology was a mere whisper, barely able to leave his lips.

“I can't believe you.” Sirius balled his hands into fists and held them in front of his face, doing everything he could to reign in his temper. “Dammit, James!” The boy grabbed onto the front of James' robes and pushed him against the bathroom wall, hard enough to make a point, but not enough to actually hurt him. “How could you do this?!”

“Sirius....” James curled his fingers around Sirius' wrists and looked him straight in the eyes. “I messed up. I know that. Please just....”

“Please what? What? Just get over it? Just forget what you said? What, James?”

“Just don't hate me.”

“I have never been this mad at you.” Sirius clenched his teeth together painfully and brought his face nearer the other boy's. Each word he spoke was pointed and teetering on the edge of a yell. “I kind of want to hit you right now and I've never felt that way before. Ever. But as mad as I am...I could never hate you. I love you -” he loosened his grip on the boy's robes “- the same way I love Regulus.”

“I didn't mean for it to happen.” James pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. “I really didn't. I would never go behind your back on purpose. I feel like a complete arse.”

“Well, you are a complete arse.” He turned his back on his friend and leaned over the sink, holding on to the edges to keep himself steady. “How could you let something like this happen?”

James did his best to steady his shaking hands as he replaced his glasses and moved closer to his friend. “Like I said before...I didn't know it was him, I thought there was someone breaking in and I went to stop them...but it was Regulus. It's not like I walked in there thinking that I was going to kiss him. We started laughing and joking around and it just happened.”

“Everything I told you yesterday, the warning I gave you, what I said about our parents, none of that mattered? Do you not even care what this could do to him?” Sirius kept his eyes down as he spoke. “He isn't prepared to deal with this.”

“Sirius...he's not a little kid. He can handle being kissed.”

“Can he?” He looked up at James and quirked a brow. “So then what happens now? Are you two together or something? Was it a one time thing or did you plan on sneaking around behind my back for the rest of the year?”

“No!” James grabbed the boy's shoulders and shook his head adamantly. “It was never the intention to betray you, Sirius. I told you what happened. Right away.”

“That doesn't answer the question.” Sirius pushed James' hand off his shoulder. He was his best friend, and he loved him dearly, but he couldn't control his temper well enough to have James touching him at a time like that. “Was it a one time thing?”

“I don't know.”

“Does he know?” Sirius held out his hands and backed away. “You're telling me that you kissed my brother but you didn't tell him whether it was a one time thing or not?” He dragged his hands back through his hair and let out an angry growl. “What if he thinks it means more? What if he runs out and breaks things off with Daphne? Did you even think about that? She's good for him, you know.”

“I know, she's...nice.”

“No, she isn't just nice. She's a good girl. She might be a Slytherin, but she isn't one of those Pureblood, elitist fiends. I've asked around, her father actually works at the Ministry campaigning against anti-Muggle-born legislation. Do you know how good it would be for Regulus to be around her family? Do you even care?” He gritted his teeth again and gripped the edges of his own robes. “You stupid...stupid arse! You're in love with Lily, aren't you?” he demanded.

“Y-yes. But that doesn't -”

“And he might be love with you! Whatever happened out there might not have meant shit to you, but have you even considered what it meant to him?” Sirius didn't bother trying to keep his voice down.

“I never said it meant nothing to me.” James' face flushed red in the heat of the moment. “Sirius, I'm not a complete monster. It did...mean...something. It isn't the same as with Lily, but he...” he licked his lips and shoved one hand into his hair, his entire face contorting in distress “...he matters. I like being around him. I like talking to him and I liked...kissing him. Lily, she makes me wanna be a different—not just different—a better person. But Regulus is different; he makes me feel like it's okay to be me.”

“My brother is not some kind of consolation prize.” Sirius narrowed his eyes. “And he's not some kind of tool to make you feel better about yourself.”

“That's not how I meant it, Sirius.”

“That's what it sounded like.”

“I don't know how to explain it any better.” James swore loudly and unwittingly sent his hand crashing into the small collection of toiletries lined up beside the sink. Bottles of cologne, tubes of toothpaste, and four toothbrushes scattered over the bathroom floor, making James swear again at his own brash actions. He dropped onto his knees and began to collect up the mess.

Sirius crossed over to the door in three large strides. He jerked it open and looked down at his friend. “You fix this.”

“How?”

The boy held up his hands and twisted his lips. “You got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out. Besides, you've made it very clear that you can't take my advice.” He walked out of the bathroom and slammed the door.

Sirius glanced around, wondering where Remus and Peter had vanished to. Perhaps the two didn't want to overhear James and Sirius' fight once the voices got a bit too loud to be confined to their bathroom. He shoved his hands into his pockets and bounded down the stairs into the common room. Sure enough, the missing Marauders were sitting on one of the couches, talking between themselves. They looked up, wearing matching concerned expressions, the moment Sirius got near them.

“Everything alright?” Peter glanced back at the stairs, wondering if James would be following.

“Not really. But it will be.”

Remus shifted in place, the questions obvious in his eyes, but he stayed silent.

“It was just a fight, okay? Friends fight sometimes. James and I...we'll be fine, Moony.” Sirius didn't want to be standing there when James emerged from the dormitory. “I need to go...handle something. I'll see you guys at dinner, alright?” Without waiting for a reply, the boy turned and dashed out of the common room. He made his way towards the dungeons, which wasn't always the best idea considering who he was. And even worse an idea when he was alone and without James' cloak for protection. Luckily for him, the only two Slytherins he saw were a couple of first years who wouldn't dare pop off to him. “Can you get my brother for me?”

The first years didn't even answer, they simply disappeared behind the wall into their common room. For a while, Sirius wondered if they had just gone off and not bothered to do as he asked, but eventually, Regulus emerged, his eyes alight with confusion.

“Sirius...what are you doing down here?” Regulus pulled his robes tighter around himself and started down the hallway, hoping to get as far away from the Slytherin habitat as possible. “Are you alone?” He looked around, watching carefully for any signs of shifting and listening for possible foot shuffling.

Regulus was very well aware of the existence of James' invisibility cloak. The summer the elder Potter passed it on to his son, James and Sirius took it upon themselves to play practical jokes on Regulus. It had gotten so out of hand, the young Black refused to come out of his room for days, claiming that the house was haunted and he was going to be killed. Sirius had finally taken pity on his brother and the two oh-so-clever Gryffindors confessed their secret. Why Regulus had never told anyone else about the cloak was a mystery even onto himself. His brother hadn't even threatened him to keep it a secret. Part of him thought, maybe he just enjoyed being in the know on one his brother's little secrets, and telling other people would taint the magic of it all.

“Yes, I'm alone.” Sirius chuckled at his brother's paranoia and shook his head. “I promise, Regulus. I'm alone. Would you look at me.” He snapped his fingers in front of the boy's face and called his attention back. “I came alone because I wanted to talk to you.”

“Yeah, but it's not really a good idea for you to be around here.” Regulus stopped searching for signs of other people, though in the back of his mind he still wondered if he was being spied on. The boy continued down the hall, not feeling as though they were far enough away from the Slytherin common room. “What did you wanna talk to me about? Are you in trouble?”

“What? No, I'm not in trouble.” Sirius balked at his brother and folded his arms. “I didn't come for some big reason, I want to see how you're doing. How's class going, how's Quidditch going, how're things with you and Daphne?”

“Oh.” Regulus' face lit up a bit. “Well, class is going alright. I think that I'm going to drop Potions next year though.”

“Mum and dad won't like that.”

“No, but Professor Slughorn will.” Regulus laughed and shared a glance with his brother. “I swear, I almost melted a cauldron last week.”

“And Quidditch?” Sirius tried not to sound like he was in a hurry to get to the answer he truly wanted.

“Quidditch is fantastic. I think we're going to take the Cup this year, but I always think that, so....” He shrugged. “You seem awfully interested in me all of a sudden.”

“You're my brother.” Sirius came to a stop at a window and lifted himself onto the ledge of it. “Mary was telling me that I don't pay enough attention to you. She's right. We're not as close as we used to be.”

“I see.”

“Yeah, so what about you and Daphne? How are things going there?”

“They're good.”

“Just good?” When Regulus quirked a brow, Sirius held up his hands. “I'm only asking. I mean you said Quidditch was fantastic and Daphne's just good.”

“Okay then, things with Daphne are fantastic.”

“Are they really?”

“Yes. Sirius....”

“And this whole Genoa thing, that's still on?”

Regulus huffed a little and leaned against the window sill opposite his brother. “You're asking if my plans have changed since I saw you in the store? Yesterday. No, they haven't changed. I don't typically cancel holiday plans in a span of twenty-four hours.”

“I was only asking, don't get so snippy at me.”

“Sorry, I just think it's weird that you would ask.”

“Regulus, can't a bloke just show some interest in his brother's life without it being suspicious?” Sirius looked out of the window. He pushed the guilt off his face and arranged his features to look as offended as possible. “I miss talking to you about stuff. And we've never talked about girls before. This is like...a right of passage or something, the older brother talking to the younger brother about girls.”

Regulus felt crummy inside for being so harsh to his brother. It was still awkward, the sudden interest in his life, but the last thing he wanted to do was push Sirius away. “I've never had anything to talk about before. Girls have always been your area. I've always been...the other Black.”

“Regulus, you are not the other Black.”

“I kind of am, Sirius. You're the rebel, the bad boy, the Gryffindor. Everyone lines up to fall at your feet. It's a bit sickening, really.” He scuffed his toe up against the stone wall and grinned. “And then there's me. I've always been in your shadow but now....”

“...now?”

“Now...I'm not. I finally feel like someone wants me. That I'm the first choice.”

Sirius cleared his throat before going on. “You're talking about...Daphne right?”

“Of course I am.” Regulus kept his eyes on the ground as he spoke. “Who else would I be talking about?” He regretted the question the moment it came out of his mouth.

“I don't know. You're fifteen, it's kind of soon to get really serious about anyone. For all I know, you have three girls on the side, just waiting for Daphne to bugger off.” Sirius forced a laugh and put his hand on his younger brother's shoulder. “You're not like that though, are you?”

Regulus shook his head and slowly lifted his eyes to meet his brother's. “It's just Daphne.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and twisted them around. “Why would I need anyone else? She's brilliant, she's sweet but...” he let out a soft laugh and started grinning “...she can also be a real bitch when she needs to be.”

“And she's gorgeous.”

“Very.” He nodded in agreement and leaned against the wall. “She's very gorgeous. Mum and dad approve. What more could I ask for?”

Sirius looked out of the window for a minute before climbing down. “I have to go.”

The words stung Regulus. “Already?”

“Yeah...I forgot I had to meet Mary in about ten minutes.” Sirius checked his watch, but didn't even focus on the time. “Sorry. We can talk again later. I promise.” He flashed a tight smile before turning on his heel and jogging off down the hall.

The younger Black stood there, speechless, as his brother dashed away. He wrapped his arms around himself and swallowed back a lump in his throat. The blood drained from the boy's face as he realized what was happening. Sirius knew. There was no doubt in Regulus' mind that his brother knew. He wasn't shocked or angry, it was James' prerogative to confess what had happened to his best friend if he chose, but deep down, Regulus felt disappointed. And most of all, he was afraid.

He took a long breath to compose himself and trekked back to the common room. Everything was as he left it: Daphne was sitting on the couch nearest the flickering fire, her History book spread open in her lap; Evan was sitting across from her, pretending to read his Potions notes while discretely starting at Daphne; and Severus was sitting next to Evan, prattling on about some euphoria inducing elixir. The boy took his place back beside Daphne and pulled his book into his lap.

“Everything alright?” The blonde tucked her hair behind her ear and offered up a sweet smile.

“Everything's fine.” Regulus looked down at his book and reached across the cushion, taking the girl's hand into his own. His treacherous heart longed for James, but his hand stayed steady and resolute. He shifted and pressed his lips against Daphne's cheek. “It's perfect,” he whispered.

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