The sun was just past the midday mark in the lucid blue sky. A slight breeze, the same which caused the white candy-floss clouds to scuttle across the air, mussed James’ hair for him, although he still ran his hands through it despite himself. He could hear Sirius’ steps only a beat behind his own.
The dry auburn grass of the early September crunched beneath their feet in a pleasant kind of way, and the heat of the afternoon rose from it in lazy, hazy waves, blurring the line of the lake in the distance, and the outermost trees of the Forbidden Forest. Ahead, though, the image of their fellow sixth-years was incredibly crisp, yet the colours seemed to merge and blend into that same softness of the autumnal day.
In the heavy air, their laughs and conversation carried across the wind.
“Prongs, mate, I’m sorry, but…” Sirius said, pulling a faux-apologetic-come-hopeful face as he came shoulder-to-shoulder with James.
“I know, I know - they have food. Bugger off, then, Padfoot.” James half-chuckled to himself as his best friend gave him a little mock-salute and bounded off to join the rest of the Gryffindors’ picnic on the very edge of the cliffs down to the lake. An entertained grin lit his face for a moment as Sirius made his presence known to the group - of course, in the most Padfoot way possible. But as he dropped his head, and looked up again, he noticed that the red hair he’d been looking for wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
Prongs’ hazel eyes roved over the scene once again, and still, no luck. There was Wormtail, Padfoot, Moony, Mary MacDon-
Wait. Moony wasn’t there. Where was Remus? And Lily?
Before long, James reached the group.
“Prongs, you are missing all the fun!” exclaimed Sirius through a bacon sandwich, earning himself a smack from another in the group. “What?” (Almost losing a bit of the half-consumed food from his mouth.)
“Yeah, what took you, James?” asked Wormtail. “Sit, c'mon!”
“Where’s Moony?” asked James, cutting through the conversation to Peter, who shrugged.
“Dunno, mate. He went off with Lily, what, fifteen minutes ago?”
James opened his mouth to ask more, but snapped it shut quickly. Maybe he didn’t want to know. Instead, he reached out and snatched Padfoot’s open butterbeer bottle, and took a swig. Although he instantly began to feel better, the insistent ache didn’t go away.
At this time of night, Gryffindor Tower was always calm and peaceful. James had just spent an hour with Binns in detention, writing lines. He entered the Common Room, hungry and massaging his aching hand. At least he knew he’d be able to count on his friends to provide him with food. On that note - he glanced up to find them and saw Peter and some other sixth years playing exploding snap by the fire, Sirius nowhere to be seen, and some third years chatting sleepily in the dark nook under the stairs up to the boys’ dorms.
He saw all of this, but he didn’t spot them for at least another (blissful) moment longer.
By one of the larger windows looking out onto the waning moon and bright stars, half hidden by a tall bookcase, he could see the familiar red hair of Lily Evans, bent over a small table covered in papers. And right beside her, elbows touching, was bowed Remus Lupin. They talked in hushed voices, every now and then smiling at each other, or pointing something out on the desk. Even as he watched, Moony ran his thin hand through his mousy brown hair, earning an appreciative laugh from his partner.
It took James a full minute, clenching and unclenching his fist so that the nails bit into his palm, before he could face moving. And when he did, he made sure it was without a second glance into that wretched corner.
Prongs sat on Moony’s bed, cross-legged under the invisibility cloak, with the Maurauder’s Map on his lap. He’d already noted that the young werewolf was on his way to the dormitory, so he pulled off the cloak, tucking it inside his robes along with the now-cleared map. He closed the ruby-red hangings on his friend’s four-poster, and sat, unmoving, waiting.
Not seconds later, the door opened and closed with a snick. There were a series of footfalls, and then the curtain directly in front of Jame opened.
Remus jumped at the sight of James seated on his bed, furious dark eyes glaring out at him. But he composed himself, and dropped the arm which had automatically jerked to the pocket in which his wand was concealed to his side. “Prong-”
“Good evening, Moony. Nice night for a little…studying.” James tried to keep his voice cool and calm, but a little bitter taste still managed to creep into his tone.
“Prongs, what’s up?” Moony asked, unsure what was going on. “What are you doing?”
“Funny,” remarked James without hesitation. “I could ask you just the same thing.” When his friend didn’t respond, James continued, and his words came out colder and colder, louder and louder until he found himself shouting, screaming. “You see, you knew. All along - you’ve known for years; since we became friends in Second Year. You tried to help me. And all along, it was you. I should’ve seen it, all those ‘Prefects’ Meetings’ and late-night patrols! What were you examining for three hours every evening in the broom cupboards with Evans? Why was I so stupid?” James smacked himself on the forehead, and grit his teeth to stop a total outpouring, a complete loss of composure and dignity.
“James, I really don’t-”
“Shut up! Just shut up!” Prongs jumped up from the bed, breathing heavily, leaning forward slightly, eyes burning as he stared death into his friend’s face, then spun away in anger, gripping his head as he shook. “Why didn’t you tell me? That you were…together?” (He practically spat the word.) “Whatever it is you’re doing?”
“Prongs, really, I-”
But James had thrown himself onto his own bed, snapping the curtains shut so hard that they nearly tore down completely. There was a brief silence. Then Remus, sensible Remus, with his no-nonsense, straight-laced approach to everything, began to speak earnestly and urgently.
“Prongs, listen. I don’t know what you’re talking about, okay? Whatever it is, alright - little as I want to repeat it - remember what Padfoot said about me? 'So celibate I make a nun look blasphemous’? And…and 'The Unshaggable One’? Remember? So whatever this nonsense about broom cupboards and being together with someone - I can guarantee you it’s not me. Okay? Prongs?”
James huffed, and Remus’ shoulders slumped. At just that moment, Peter came in, supporting a stoned-looking Sirius. They hesitated for a brief moment, looking between the closed curtains where Moony’s gaze fell, and the lycanthrope himself, before Wormtail shifted Padfoot up on his shoulder and asked, “What’s going on?”
“I need to start dating Rosalind Greengrass, that’s what going on,” sighed Sirius, “She is good, let me tell you now.”
Another pause, then (slightly muffled by bedding), “Padfoot, are you high?”
And suddenly everyone (save Sirius) was in fits of laughter.