The stands were still wet when James escaped to the Quidditch Pitch after dinner. The rain had stopped somewhere around midday, but deep puddles and patches of mud lined all of Hogwarts' grounds. The boy stepped precisely into each puddle he came near, leaving the bottoms of his pants soaked through by the time he reached the Pitch. He swiped his wand over an area of the stands, all the way to the front, to pull the water from it before taking a seat. He would have liked to pretend that he just needed some time to himself, but the truth was, he was avoiding Sirius. He couldn't handle the boy's angry eyes on him; it made him sick.
And he deserved every bit of Sirius' anger. He knew that.
The Gryffindor sat back against the stand and stuffed his hand into his pocket. His fingers brushed against the gold concealed within and closed around the tiny Snitch. A smile threatened his lips as he pulled out his toy and watched its wings unfurl. Fifteen—maybe twenty—minutes melted away from him as he released and caught his Snitch. His attention was focused on one thing only, pushing the rest of the world out of his head. He didn't even hear someone walk up behind him.
The Snitch darted from James' fingers and shot straight up. For a moment, the boy was afraid he might not catch it in time. But it didn't matter, because a new hand closed around the flash of gold before James had a chance to react. He started and whirled around in his seat, his eyes racing up towards the new figure. “Regulus....” His voice failed him after that.
“I followed you,” the younger boy answered to the unspoken question. “I've been sitting back there, trying to work out what to say. I feel like there's a million things running through my mind right now...and I don't know how to tell you any of them.” His grey eyes never left the Snitch captured in his fingers. He waited, possibly to collect his own voice once more or to give James a chance to reply. He cleared his throat and shifted his tone from emotional to factual. “Sirius came to see me earlier. He was asking a lot of weird questions.”
“I told him.” James reached up and laid his hand over the younger boy's wrist. With minimal guidance, he pulled Regulus to sit down beside him. “I couldn't just not tell him. He's my best mate and -”
“You don't have to explain.” Regulus licked his lips and swallowed back his nerves. “I really didn't want Sirius to know about...to know that I'm...that....”
“He already knew.” James looked over and met the other boy's confused eyes. “In Hogsmeade yesterday, he told me that he's had his suspicions since summer.”
“Summer?” Regulus let out a sharp breath of surprise and widened his eyes. “He's known since summer and he...well he's been...that day at your try-outs, he was going on about Lily; I can't believe this.”
Now it was James' turn to be confused. He squeezed his fingers over Regulus' wrist and tugged the boy's hand gently over into his lap. “What are you talking about?”
He wanted to answer, but all he could think about was James' touch and the way the boy was caressing his skin. The Gryffindor didn't take his eyes off Regulus' face as the tips of his fingers moved along the boy's palm and traced each of his fingers. The movement was slow and trance-like, his face betrayed no emotion on the matter. And when Regulus didn't speak, James lifted his hands and cradled the boy's neck softly between them. The pads of his thumbs brushed down the length of Regulus' rigid jaw.
The younger boy held his breath and pressed one hand flat against James' chest; the other still held hostage a now-docile Snitch. His fingers curled around the fabric of James' shirt and urged him forward. Their lips met, softly at first, and both closed their eyes to become lost in the moment. And as it stretched on, the kiss grew more passionate. No longer were they sloppy and ill-experienced, the time locked away together in the changing room had been enough to get the proper feel for each other. Fingers tangled into dark strands; breathless whimpers escaped at every chance; bodies pressed together as close as possible.
When the kiss broke, Regulus let out a shuddered breath and clung to the older boy. His nose brushed across James' cheek and the smaller boy nuzzled his face against his warm, inviting neck. “Was that a goodbye kiss?” His words were broken and hot against the older boy's throat.
James pressed his lips tightly together and ran his fingers through Regulus' hair. “I don't want it to be.”
“But...?” the younger boy prompted. He pulled back just enough to look up into James' eyes and gave him a strained, knowing smile.
“But....” James closed his eyes to avoid the boy's stare. “We can't be together.”
“And it isn't because I don't want to be.”
“Because I do. I really do but there's so much in the way and it's so complicated.”
“James, I know.” Regulus tugged at the front of the boy's shirt and hesitantly pulled himself out of James' embrace.
The older boy made a weak effort at keeping the younger close. He knew better than to fight what was happening. What he would struggle to hold on to wasn't his to keep. It wasn't meant to be his to begin with. He ran his hands affectionately down Regulus' shoulders and met his eyes. “Do you love me?”
Regulus hadn't been expecting such a question, so even he was shocked by his quick reply. “No.” His heart thudded harder against his chest, his eyes searching for wound in James' expression. But he found none. He continued regardless. “I might have. One day.”
James grinned and put his hands over Regulus'. “You and me...we could have had something.” He spoke like he was idly commenting on a lost Quidditch match. “Something pretty good. You know, in a different time. Different kind of place.”
“A different world?”
“I don't wanna do this. Play the...what if game. I don't want to sit here and talk about how if things were different, then we could be together because they aren't different. And the best thing for us to do -” he pulled his hands out of James' grip and held up the Snitch to him “-is to forget. Forget that there was ever anything between us. I want to forget it all.”
“You don't mean that.” He couldn't take the Snitch from Regulus. He just stared down at it and shook his head. “I want you to keep it.” He pushed the pilfered gold back towards the Slytherin and gave him a steady look. “Please.”
Regulus stared down at the Snitch, gave a solemn nod, and slipped it into his pocket. “I should go.”
James silently watched Regulus walk away. He stayed in the stands until the sun faded into a bright orange wasteland and darkness took its place. The Gryffindor took a deep breath of the chilled night air and vowed to put it all behind him. He had taken the time to mourn what never was and now...it was time to move on.
He stepped down from the stands and made his way slowly back to the common room. Remus and Peter met his return with excited smiles and Sirius offered up a forced one. The Marauders retreated to their dormitory to discuss the plan for the upcoming full moon. James couldn't help but feel a slight sense of disconnect; like there was something keeping him from the others. Ever since the group discovered Remus' lycanthropy, they promised no more secrets; they would stick together, each helping to bear the other's load. But this was something James had to carry alone. A weight that pressed on his shoulders and kept his head down. Something he could not yet shake off. And even Sirius—the person he trusted more than anyone in the world—could not help him this time.
They never spoke of it. As James struggled to regain a sense of normalcy, they never discussed why. And he did, in time, return to his normal self. The old James broke through to the surface—a bit more thoughtful, a bit more mindful of his actions—but still the same James. When it was tasteful, he resumed his steady pursuit of Lily Evans, this time a little wiser to her hopes for him.
There were days when Sirius would notice a frown on his best friend's face, catch James' eyes on the Slytherin table, sense trepidation in the insistence that he was fine. But he never once asked why. He never doubted James' love for Lily and his trust in the boy never wavered. He knew that even on the days he caught James wondering what if it never changed what was. When the news of Regulus' fate reached the Marauders, he bore the weight alone. He did not dare go to James with his tears on losing his brother to the Death Eaters...and eventually losing him to death. James did not go to him either. He did not ask if it was because James didn't care or because he cared too much.
James would always wonder if something he said that night put Regulus on the path to death.
And as much as Regulus would have liked to blame James for his horrible decisions, he knew better. The night he walked away from James was only the first of many wrong turns in his life. He carried himself back to the Slytherin common room with a sense of relief. No longer would he have to move through life with the idea of James hanging above his head. He arrived back to find Daphne in another's arms but where rage should have been, he only found motivation.
He made her promises. Promises that he soon broke. Time and time again he vowed things would be different until she eventually gave up on him completely. He soothed himself with other girls. And when they grew tired of his detached nature, they moved on and another took their place. None of them lasted for more than a handful of time. It didn't take long for Regulus to realize that he liked it that way.
Regulus buried his feelings where James was concerned. He honestly hadn't given over a single moment's thought to the boy until his face shined out from page three of the Daily Prophet: a wedding announcement, lined in sepia toned roses, boasting the smiling faces of James Potter and Lily Evans. The date and location were—as expected—withheld. So many little Order members in one place would be prime pickings for his lot. He stared down at the would-be hazel eyes and wished so hard that he could feel something once again. Anything. Had he truly become so cold? Become someone who felt no flicker of affection or remorse? He turned the page and had his answer. On page four lay the obituaries. The face he saw this time was put there by his own wand.
In a perfect world, the reality of his love coupled with the reality of his hate should have been the trigger that led to his eventual betrayal and death. But it was not a perfect world. And it would be many months before any such change began inside of him. The only comfort he ever knew was dying before James did.
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