Written for Emily, via the Monthly Oneshot Exchange. JamesRegulus, game!au. A big thank you to Liza for helping me with this.
"What are you two doing?"
James looks up guiltily, offering Remus a grin. "We nicked this from Filch's office," he says. "Figured it'd be a good laugh. Looks like some sort of game. Brought it out here to the courtyard to give it a go."
"No instructions," Sirius adds, tossing the twelve-sided die from hand to hand. "Come on, Moony. Sit. Play."
Remus and Peter exchange glances. Peter is the first to shake his head. "Remember the last time you stole from Filch? That flute damn near bit my arm off."
"It's a game, Peter," James says flatly. "See? No fangs. No venom dripping from it. Just a die and a blank card."
"Peter's right," Remus says, and James hates the tone he uses. It's the tone that says he has a perfectly valid argument that will trump their silly, childish desires. "If it was confiscated, there must have been a reason."
"Boring!" Sirius groans. "Live a little. Play."
"Actually, I already have plans to help Peter study for the Charms exam tomorrow," Remus announces.
James glares at Peter. Even though he knows the two of them wouldn't play anyway, it makes him feel a little better to have someone to blame. Before he can attempt to persuade them, however, they've already started away.
"Well, just you and me, Padfoot," James says brightly.
Sirius sighs and leans forward, resting his chin in the palm of his hand. "I suppose you'll have to do," he teases, and James notices the disappointment in his voice.
"Okay, so, obviously this card is supposed to be impor-"
The sentence fades into a gasp, and James drops the card as writing appears on its surface.
In the land of Drogralia, the people live in fear of the Dark Lady.
"Dark Lady?" Sirius snorts. "Did someone imagine our own evil git as a woman?"
"I hope they had the decency to at least give him a wig," James laughs, though he can't but shudder at the image.
"He has hair," Sirius points out.
"Yes, but it hardly screams out Dark Lady. I'm thinking long, dark curls."
"Sounds like my cousin," Sirius snorts.
Many brave souls have answered the call of the quest. Though they fought valiantly, none were ever heard from again.
"That's promising," Sirius mutters.
James rolls his eyes. It's just a game, so he doesn't find anything particularly ominous about the words. He does, however, find himself wishing Remus hadn't left. If the game is meant to be challenging, it would be helpful to have him around.
The table changes. A castle appears, and though it looks solid, James' hand passes right through it. He has to admit that whatever magic has gone into the game is quite impressive.
Three brave warriors have taken on the quest.
"Three?" Sirius asks, counting to two on his fingers and looking at James. "There aren't three of us."
James Potter, part of the royal guard, Sirius Black, the healer, and Regulus Black, a scoundrel and thief in search of redemption.
"How many other Regulus Blacks are at this school, James? But what does he have to do with-"
"Oi! You two!"
As though summoned by their conversation, Regulus angrily stalks over. "Care to explain why the floor outside the Slytherin common room is covered knee deep with shampoo?"
"You can't possibly think that was us," Sirius huffs indignantly.
"Every few minutes, it splashes up and leaves a message on the walls. 'For Snivellus. Use it, you greasy git.'"
James grins, betraying his guilt. He was quite proud of that prank.
"If you think that it's funny to-"
"James," Sirius interrupts. "The game…"
"Not now, Sirius. Let your brother finish."
"No. James it's doing something. It's- Oh, Merlin!"
The sudden silence draws James' attention to where Sirius sits. Or, rather, where he was sitting. The chair is now completely empty.
"He- He just vanished," Regulus mutters, his face growing pale. "Where's he gone?"
With a scream, Regulus' body blurs and grows translucent until he's faded completely.
James jumps to his feet. He has to tell Dumbledore. It doesn't matter if he has detention every night until he finishes Hogwarts. He has to explain everything and reverse it somehow.
"Remus!" he calls, looking around the courtyard for his friend. "Remus, you were- Oh no."
His own hand has grown translucent, just like Regulus had before he'd vanished. James takes a step forward, but his surroundings melt away, and he feels a terrible falling sensation.
James groans as he lands. He doesn't know what's cushioned his fall, but he's grateful for it, especially when he notices the rocks only inches from his head. He sighs in relief.
"If you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you would get off me," comes a voice from underneath.
Before James can respond, Regulus pushes him off and stands up, dusting himself off. He scowls at James as though it's somehow his fault that Regulus had become his safety net.
"Where are we?" James asks.
"You're not going to like the answer," Sirius calls, and James spots him in a tree. "It's the game."
"What do you mean the game?" James asks.
"Very funny," Regulus snaps. "Oh, a real laugh. What did you two do? Slip me a hallucinogenic potion?"
"Believe me, mate," Sirius says, jumping down from his vantage spot, "we are just as surprised as you."
James starts to confirm, but writing appeared in the air before them, like thin ribbons of fire.
The journey was off to a rough start. The cunning thief was already wary of his companions. With terrible things still ahead, the three would need to learn how to put their differences aside, lest they become lost like all those who came before them.
"Terrible things?" James asks. "What terrible things?"
Sirius raises his brows, offering him a mischievous grin. "Well, I suspect there's only one way to find out."
"I'm not going anywhere with you two," Regulus says.
"Sorry, but you're part of the story. You have to continue," James points out.
New writing appears the moment the words leave Regulus' lips.
The journey begins, and the trio face their first trial only moments after stepping over the village's boundary. A wall of fire blazes behind them suddenly, slowly creeping in.
"Wall of fire?" Regulus scoffs. "What wall of… Oh."
James doesn't know which happens first. Does he hear the sudden crackle or feel the heat of the inferno? Really, he guesses it doesn't matter. "Run," he says, sprinting ahead, the others following.
"What the hell kind of game is this?" Regulus demands as he catches up.
"Not a clue," Sirius admits. "We stole it. Just a card and die!"
"Roll the die, you idiot!" Regulus snaps.
"We're running for our lives," Sirius says, gesturing at the blaze that has grown. "Not the best time to roll!"
"Do it!" James calls.
He doesn't know what good it will do, but it's the best idea they have to go on. They don't know where they're going, and they obviously can't run forever.
With a groan, Sirius stops just long enough to drop the die. It comes up a nine.
Sensing the travelers' distress, the local dryads rush to their aid. Around the three, trees fall suddenly onto the path. Though the fire eats through the wood, killing the spirits inside, it provides a wall that slows the flames, if only for a moment. The trio will have enough time to escape.
"They… They sacrificed themselves?" James asks. "For us?"
"Whoever this Dark Lady is, everyone must want her reign to end," Sirius points out. "I guess it's just like a real war."
James flinches at that. A real war. It reminds him of the tensions that are growing in their own universe. He had hoped the game would let him escape those thoughts, if only for a moment. Instead, he's been thrown into a strange world with a strange foe.
Sirius scoops up the die. "We'd better go."
James isn't sure how long they walk. The pocket watch he keeps at his side vanished upon his appearance, replaced by a sword and dagger. Time is impossible here, and, realizing his wand has gone missing as well, they don't even have magic to help them.
They travel in silence. Normally, James would find some way to make conversation. Now, his mind is too consumed by the impossibility of this. Judging by his companions' silence, he guesses that they've found themselves lost in their own thoughts.
As the trio ventures farther into the woods, they approach a bridge. Guarding it are two twin trolls, fearsome and ugly, armed with heavy clubs.
"Trolls," Sirius sighs. "Of course it would be trolls."
As expected, they find themselves at a bridge. The trolls step out, and James tries not to laugh. They almost look exactly like Lucius Malfoy, except twice his height and much, much heavier. They snarl, revealing yellowing, crooked teeth.
"The troll next to me is a liar," says the one on the right.
"No. I'm the honest one. He's the one that always tells lies," says the one on the left.
James looks at his companions, frowning. "I feel like this is a puzzle," he says.
"What happens if we don't guess the right one?" Sirius asks.
"We'll eat you!"
"He's lying! We'll leave you on a pike!"
James shudders. Regardless of which troll speaks the truth, he doesn't like either outcome.
"You can ask one question," the one on the right says. "If you can't figure out which of us is the liar, we'll eat you!"
"Leave you on a pike!" the left troll corrects.
"Ask which one is the liar," Sirius suggests.
Regulus snorts. "They'd accuse each other. You'd have to be really lucky and guess regardless," he points out.
Sirius deflates at that. "If only we had Remus with us," he sighs. "He'd be able to figure it out."
"Roll the die," James suggests. "If nothing else, maybe the roll will give us a painless death."
"Your optimism is beautiful," Regulus snorts. "A painless death?"
James shrugs. "Well, better than nothing," he says, taking the die.
"That seems to be our working philosophy," Regulus says dryly. "Best idea we have. Better than nothing. Is there anything we actually have to go on?"
"Of course. I mean, I end up trapped in fantasy worlds all the bloody time," Sirius says.
"Enough talking!" the first Lucius troll snarls. "Hungry!"
"Want to stab!" the second argues.
James glances up. The trolls have turned on one another, tangling together and hitting each other with their clubs. Maybe there would be a way to sneak past them, but he doesn't like the slim chance. The last thing they need is to get crushed to death by a pair of trolls.
"We need Remus," Sirius sighs.
James lets the die drop, watching as it bounces twice before showing a four.
All hope seemed lost for the heroes. Though the trolls were occupied with their own quarrels, any attempts to sneak past them would lead to certain death.
James sighs. At least he had rolled first. Acting on impulse would have gotten them all killed.
As the three stood together, wondering how to proceed, a young scholar happened by.
"Scholar? What does it mean 'scholar'?" Regulus asks.
"Why do you keep asking questions?" Sirius grumbles. "Obviously we don't know!"
"No one likes a smartass."
"Can you two set your sibling rivalry aside for like two seconds?" James snaps. "Listen!"
At the sound of footfalls behind them, the three turn. A young man with tawny hair and amber eyes appears, and James grins. "You got trapped in the game too!" he says, clapping his hands together. "Scholar, eh? I guess it fits."
The young man raises his brows. "I beg your pardon, dear sir? You must have me confused with someone else."
Remus doesn't understand what he's seeing. He blinks rapidly, rubbing his eyes, but the scene is still very much the same.
The projection of the fantasy land, while impressive, isn't the unusual part. It's the fact that James and Sirius have vanished from where they were only moments ago when Remus left, and now they're inside the projection with Regulus Black.
"Is that you?" Peter asks, leaning in closer.
"No. I'm right here," Remus says, his attention drawn to the bridge and the strangely familiar blond trolls.
"Obviously," Peter snorts. "But you're there too. 'As the three stood together, wondering how to proceed, a young scholar happened by.' That's what the card says."
Remus follows his friend's gaze. Sure enough, a fourth figure has reached the bridge, and there is no denying the similarities. The only difference he can see is that the figure isn't scarred.
"How are you in the game?" Peter asks. "And Malfoy?"
"Peter, I know we usually let James and Sirius make mistakes without any intervention," Remus says, grabbing the card and studying it, "but we aren't doing that today. Get Dumbledore and McGonagall. I think we're in over our heads."
"Remus, mate, now is not the time for jokes," Sirius says.
"Remus? What a strange name," the scholar says. "My name is Moony, Moony Romulus."
"Moony?" James laughs. "That's brilliant."
"Why is my brother's boyfriend here if Remus wasn't part of the game?" Regulus asks.
"Oi! He's not my boyfriend. He's… He's a friend!" Sirius insists, his cheeks glowing a dusty pink.
James pinches the bridge of his nose, exhaling deeply, trying to make sense of it all. The person looks exactly like Remus. Then again, the trolls look identical to Malfoy, and James is reasonably sure Lucius was nowhere nearby whenever they were brought into the game.
"The big mystery aside, look, not Remus, we need to ask a question to figure out which of these trolls is a liar," Regulus says. "Otherwise, we're either going to be eaten or stabbed. I'm not sure which one, but I don't like my chances against them. A little help would be wonderful."
Moony laughs, and James recognizes that tone. Remus uses it whenever he and Sirius overlook something obvious, which, admittedly, happens a bit too often.
"Really, this is too simple," Moony says, stepping forward. "Let me guess, you were going to ask which one's the liar?"
"Well, my brother is a bit of an idiot," Regulus confirms, and Sirius punches him in the arm. "Ow!"
"Great trolls that guard the bridge! We have our question!" Moony announces.
The trolls immediately stop pummeling one another and focus on the newcomer. James holds his breath.
"What color is the grass?" Moony asks.
"Green," says the one on the left.
"Red," the right Lucius answers.
"The one on the right is clearly the liar," Moony announces. "We have earned safe passage."
The truthful troll slumps forward with a defeated sigh. "But I really wanted to stab you!" he pouts.
James gestures for his companions to follow along. He doesn't know if they have a certain length of time before the trolls change their minds, but he doesn't want to find out. The hideous beasts part for him.
"Lucky you," the Lucius on the right says. "It's much more peaceful on the other side of the bridge. No danger at all!"
James swallows dryly, pausing in the middle of the bridge. No danger at all, coming from the liar. Sirius seems to read his thoughts. He nudges James gently with his shoulder. "No choice, mate. Remember last time? Wall of fire?"
James shudders. He doesn't want to stick around and find out what else the game will throw at them to force them to move.
"Hope you don't mind some company," Regulus says, appearing at James' side. "My brother is in denial about drooling over the scholar."
James glances over his shoulder, grinning. Sure enough, he spots Sirius walking just a little closer to Moony than is actually necessary. "I don't mind at all," James assures him.
"I know I keep asking questions, but one more. What the hell is actually going on?" Regulus asks as they venture deeper into the forest.
James explains about the game stolen from Filch's office, but that's all he can offer. "There weren't any instructions. It just sort of recognized us as players. You too, I guess."
"Obviously," Regulus chuckles.
"Obviously," James echoes. "I mean, here you are, so… Obviously."
He wants to smack himself. Words always come easily. Now, however, he finds his voice tightening. He repeats himself. James Potter has never been a particularly nervous person, but Regulus makes him into a wreck.
"You and my brother really are idiots, you know that right?"
James smiles. "I guess we are."
As the three heroes and their companion quickly found happiness early in their journey, a sound caught their ears, and the mood quickly changed.
James groans. He's grown to truly hate the mysterious writing that glows in the air. It brings nothing but bad news. The least it could do is tell them that a nice buffet is approaching.
The sudden clicking sound makes him groan again. It's high pitched, almost like a chirping. More clicking joins in.
"That sounds suspiciously like a swarm of something," Moony says, nearly crashing into James who has come to a complete stop.
The scholar spoke the truth. The forest held many dangerous creatures. Very few of them hunted alone.
"More bad news!" Sirius says cheerfully. "Marvelous, that is. What the hell is the game? A Journey Among Things That Want You Dead?"
"Foolish travelers," someone calls to their left.
James turns, drawing his sword. Why does it have to be a sword? It feels so heavy and clumsy in his hand. A wand would have been much more preferable.
"So eager to join those who have perished in our forest?" a second voice laughs, this time to their right.
"I warn you. I'm armed!" James calls, grateful that his voice does not quiver.
Regulus draws the bow that rests on his back. Sirius holds a dagger. Only Moony looks out of place, clutching to his book for dear life.
"Many have faced us with weapons before," a third voice says, closer than the others. "Humans taste so delicious when they put up a fight."
A figure steps out onto the path, and James jumps back. It's humanoid, but the face looks like a strange combination of human and spider. Rows of beady eyes blink at them, and though it has pincers that conceal its mouth, James is certain that it's smiling.
"What'd I miss?" Peter asks, returning, Dumbledore and McGonagall close behind them.
"Spider human things," Remus answers.
"The Arachnian tribe," Dumbledore says grimly.
"You know about this game, Albus?" McGonagall asks.
"I was the one who confiscated it many years ago," he answers.
The card glows before more writing appears. Remus swallows dryly. He doesn't know if he can stand to read it. Still, his eyes are drawn to it.
The heroes found themselves face to face with the proud Arachnian tribe. Their leader Fennyben circled them, venom dripping from his pincers.
"Fennyben? Benjy Fenwick?" Remus asks incredulously.
"It's my understanding that the game latches onto people in the real world, creating projections in the game," Dumbledore explains. "Your projection presented itself as a friend. That's one small mercy."
But Remus doesn't care about anything being said. He watches in horror as more than a dozen spider creatures file out of the forest.
"They're outnumbered!" he gasps. "What happens if they die?"
"No one knows."
"James killed one!" Peter announces happily.
Sure enough, an Arachnian beast lays dead at James' feet. It's not too comforting. There are still several beasts and only four humans, one of whom is unarmed.
With one Arachnian warrior dead, the others swarmed. Blood would be shed.
James has no idea what he's doing. The sword feels awkward in his grasp, but something seems to guide him. He stabs and slashes, laughing as another falls.
Regulus seems to have mastered his bow. He sends an arrow soaring. It buries itself in one of the creatures near Moony.
"Nice one!" Sirius calls, felling another monster with his knife.
James smiles. Somehow, against all odds, they're doing well. Only three more remain. He laughs. "I thought this would be harder!" he shouts, beheading yet another one.
The moment he says it, he regrets it. A beast overpowers Regulus, biting into his shoulder. Somehow, Regulus manages to shove an arrow into its neck, but he falls only seconds after the creature.
"Bastard!" Sirius screams, lunging at the last one.
The final creatures flees before Sirius reaches it. Sirius swears loudly before kneeling beside his brother. "Reg… Reggie," he mutters. "Come on. You can't…"
"The venom will spread quickly," Moony says gently.
"Roll," Regulus groans, his face pale and beaded with sweat.
James fishes for the die and takes a deep breath, letting it drop. It lands on one.
The thief was fading quickly. Arachnian venom shot through his veins, sending him into a fit of unbearable agony.
"Shit," James says, and he's tempted to throw the stupid die far off into the woods. "Shit! I'm so sorry."
He doubts Regulus hears him. The younger boy screams, his body contorting into strange positions. James is vaguely reminded of the pictures he's seen of Cruciatus Curse victims.
"Did you just doom my brother?"
"It's the bloody die!"
The healer knew that he needed to act quickly. Guided by the scholar, he set off to find the Elven Pearl, the only plant known to counteract the effects of the venom.
"Know what this plant is?" Sirius asks Moony.
Moony already has a book in hand, thumbing through the pages. "It's only found in the moss that grows near the Elven sanctuaries," he answers. "We'll have to leave the trail."
"I'll stay with Regulus," James assures them.
James holds Regulus' hand, his heart racing painfully. The screaming has died down, but the younger boy has fallen unconscious. His body still twitches and jerks without warning.
"It's going to be okay," James whispers. "It has to be. Whatever differences you and Sirius have, he's not going to let you die."
With his free hand, James turns the die over, scowling. It isn't the die's fault, and he knows that it's stupid to have so much hatred for an inanimate object. But logic means nothing. He still curses the wretched thing.
"Albus, you have to do something!" McGonagall insists, staring at the scene in horror.
"There is no way to pierce the veil that separates the two universes," Dumbledore sighs. "I spent years trying to learn the game's secrets. Whatever magic went into making this was unlike anything I've ever seen."
Remus doesn't like the sound of that. He's always looked at the headmaster like he's some sort of hero. Dumbledore can do anything. For a game to be so advanced….
He shudders, his eyes wandering over the scene. Sirius and the game's version of Remus are no longer in sight. It seems centered around James and Regulus.
"Come on," he whispers.
"Does the Ministry know about this game?" McGonagall asks.
Dumbledore smiles sheepishly. "I'm afraid to admit that it slipped my mind."
"Look!" Peter says, pointing. "They're back! Is that me?"
It looks like Peter. At least, almost. This version of his friend is taller, more elegant. But he still has the shifty eyes and nervous smile.
"As I've already told your friend, my name is Wormbill," not Peter huffs.
"He's an elf," Sirius says. "Not like the ones at Hogwarts. And a lot nicer than Kreacher."
"Move aside," Wormbill says gruffly, and James gives him room. "Your healer sought me out. My plant normally comes at a high price, but when he told me what you were doing… Well, it's always beneficial to stay on the winning side, isn't it?"
There's something in his smile that puts James off. He can't quite place it. "Thank you for your assistance," he says.
The elf produces a plant unlike any that James has ever seen. As the name suggests, it looks like a pearl, round and a soft white. Wormbill breaks it in half, pressing one half firmly against the wound on Regulus' shoulder.
The color returned to Regulus' cheeks slowly. The Elven Pearl worked its magic, and the thief began to stir.
As the writing predicts, Regulus shifts, groaning. He opens his eyes. "Why do I feel like I have a horrible hangover?" he asks, wincing as he sits up.
"Careful!" James cautions, reaching out and steadying the younger boy. He doesn't know why he blushes whenever he touches Regulus. "You, uh… The spider thing. You were attacked."
"James got us a bad roll. Nearly killed you," Sirius adds.
"Thanks, mate. We could have left it at his being attacked," James mutters before turning his attention to the elf. "Will you travel with us?"
Remus' counterpart has already joined them. It seems only fitting that Peter's does as well. The Marauders should stick together, even if only half of them are actually Marauders.
"I am no hero, dear traveler. This is not my journey to take."
James can't help but feel disappointed at that. It would have been nice to have not Peter around.
"I will leave you with this advice. The path will split in three. Take the road that leads to the right. It will be the easiest passage," Wormbill says, offering them that strange smile again. "You'll reach a peaceful village that will aid you in your quest."
"Brilliant. Well, we'd better get going," James says quickly.
"But it's nearly dusk. These woods are dangerous at night," Wormbill says. "Camp. Rest. You will need it, for your journey has only just begun."
"Have I mentioned how much I hate not having magic?" James asks once he finally gets a fire started.
"Only fifty times in the past five minutes," Regulus teases. "Let's hope Sirius and Moony have an easier time collecting food than you've had making a fire."
"How's the shoulder?"
Regulus stretches his arm. He moves much more easily now. It's easy to pretend that he was never attacked at all. "Better," he answers. "Did you really almost kill me with the die? Really, if you wanted to get rid of me, you didn't have to be so dramatic."
James' cheeks burn, and he isn't sure if it's from the campfire or embarrassment. "I don't want to get rid of you. You're actually not that bad."
Regulus snorts. "Not that bad? Careful, Potter. As rude as you usually are to Slytherins, I might think you're flirting with me."
"I'm not- That's ridiculous!"
"I wouldn't mind," Regulus adds, watching the flames dance.
James swallows dryly. Regulus is handsome. And he's proven to be pretty noble for a Slytherin. He moves in closer. "I assure you, you'll know if I'm flirting with you."
James opens his mouth to reply, but Sirius appears, looking quite disheveled. James is certain he and Moony have done more than just collect food in the woods.
"I hope you two like berries. That's all we have," Sirius says, a broad grin stretching his lips.
James quickly moves away from Regulus, nodding. "Berries. Yeah. Berries are good."
They decide to take turns guarding the camp. James ends up with the second shift, and he's awakened by Regulus. "You're up."
James yawns, rubbing his eyes. He can't recall what he'd been dreaming of, but he knows it was rather nice. "Another five minutes would have been nice," he mumbles, the words warped by another yawn.
Regulus grins. "I'm sure it would have been. Need some company while you wake up?"
James shakes his head, drawing his sword and and resting it across his lap. "I'll be fine. Quiet night?"
"Thought I heard laughter, but nothing ever came of it."
As the thief spoke of laughter, the guard felt his doubts. Little did he know, however, that as he took his place watching over his friends, he would find the source of the noise.
"On second thought, some company might not be too bad," James decides.
"How is it already night?" Remus asks, leaning in closer to see the scene which has darkened. "It's only been half an hour."
"Time works differently in the game," Dumbledore explains, sitting at the table and studying the fantasy world. He draws his wand and mutters a spell that Remus has never heard before, but nothing happens.
"Are they stuck there, Albus?" McGonagall asks,drawing her wand as well.
"Until the game plays out, it seems so."
Remus watches as new writing appears on the card. "'As the scholar and healer slept soundly, footsteps approached. The laughter grew louder until everyone at the camp was awakened by the noise. The first goblin swept in quickly, stealing the guard's sword from his lap.' Goblins? Like the ones at Gringotts?"
"When has anything in the game actually been like the real world?" Peter asks dryly.
"What the hell was that?" James yells, his hand still in his lap as though his sword might somehow reappear.
"Oh, hello, travelers four. The goblins have come for your shinies and more. Give us your sword, your gold, your knife. Perhaps we will allow you to escape with your life!"
The creature, a goblin apparently, appears in the moonlight, holding James' sword, a wicked grin on his face. A second appears in a blur, and Regulus' arrows disappear.
"Son of a-"
"Do not curse, do not fuss. Just give all the shinies to us!"
Sirius grips his knife. "Not bloody likely," he snaps.
Another blur. Somehow, Sirius is faster. He thrusts his leg out, tripping a third goblin. It crashes to the ground with a distressed squeal, a cloud of dust rising. Sirius presses his foot against the creature's back, his knuckles white as he tightens his hold on the blade. "I have a better idea," he says. "Get the hell out of here, and I'll let you lot go peacefully."
"The healer heals, this we know is true. He shan't take our lives, for it's not the healing thing thing to do!"
James groans. He's written his fair share of bad poetry, always trying to woo Evans. But the couplets these things come up with is possibly more atrocious than his own writing.
"Wanna bet?" Sirius asks.
Quick as a flash, he pulls the goblin up by its ears, slashing his throat. The other goblins gasp.
"Now, kindly return our weapons, and I'll spare you."
But they're already gone, weapons and all.
"That could have gone better," Regulus says quietly. "You enjoyed that, didn't you?"
"Why would you think that?" Sirius asks.
"The goblins looked an awful lot like Kreacher."
Sirius shrugs. "We should just continue the quest. Maybe the villagers will be able to help you two with weapons."
"Are we sure we can trust Wormbill?" Moony asks. "Elves are often quite fickle. Their only true loyalties are to their own kind. Well, at least to themselves. They'd sell out their own family in a heartbeat."
"Before we met you, a group of dryads sacrificed themselves to save us," James says. "They were so afraid of this Dark Lady that they were willing to die so that we had a chance. Elves may have their faults, but if we can stop the Dark Lady, maybe they'll show loyalty."
"Should we roll to decide?" Sirius suggests.
James shrugs. The last go with the die wasn't exactly happy, but everything has worked out so far. He offers the die to Regulus. "Would you like the honors."
Regulus reaches for it. Their hands brush for just a moment, and James nearly drops the die. "Thank you, James," the younger boy says, letting the die fall.
It bounces and spins before finally showing up a six.
The scholar planted the seeds of doubt. In this strange land, could they trust anyone? No one knew, but one thing was certain. Goblins often traveled in larger groups. If they waited around, it was only a matter of time before they had an angry army on their hands.
"Well, that settles it," James says.
Sirius nods, lifting his knife. "I'm the only one who's armed," he sighs. "So, I guess that makes me the fearless leader today."
Regulus leans against James as they walk along. "I hope the village has a nice bed," he murmurs. "I'm exhausted."
James wraps an arm around him. He tells himself it's only because Regulus is tired and might need the support. The flutter in his stomach, however, tells a different story. Regulus doesn't pull away, and James isn't sure why it makes him so happy.
"Ah, the budding of young love," Dumbledore says wistfully.
Remus shifts uncomfortably. He's certain that the headmaster means James and Regulus, but his eyes are fixed upon his own counterpart who smiles and laughs whenever Sirius takes his hand. He wishes he could ignore the acidic jealousy that burns in his stomach.
"The game characters… They'll stay there, won't they?" Remus asks.
"I would assume so," Dumbledore answers. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason," Remus mumbles, watching the quartet continue their journey, the scene changing and expanding to show the three paths. "Will it really be the safest option?"
"It was my projection," Peter points out. "It has to be helpful."
Remus frowns. From what he can see, the three paths are equally quiet. "What's in the village?"
"Assistance. That's what Wormbill said," Peter says.
Fresh words scrawl across the card.
The travelers chose to trust Wormbill. Upon arriving at the split path, they chose the road to the right. The village was not too far away. By sunrise, they would have at least a moment of peace.
"So, Moony," James calls, still keeping an arm around Regulus. "What can you tell us about this Dark Lady?"
Moony laughs. "You must be joking. Everyone knows of her wicked ways."
"We're sort of new in town," Sirius says.
"But your friend back there guards King Albadore."
"It's a long story. Just, uh… Pretend we're definitely completely new here," James suggests.
"No one has ever gotten close to her. They say that she is a necromancer who brings the dead back to do her bidding," Moony explains. "But magic is not her only skill."
"How come she gets magic?" James grumbles. "I wanted magic."
Regulus snorts and nudges him with his elbow. "Come now, James. Set your jealousy aside. You're supposed to ask what other skills she possesses."
"Right. What other skills does she possess?" James asks.
Moony laughs. James guesses his and Regulus' conversation wasn't private. "She is said to be a mighty warrior," he answers. "Capable of tearing open a man's chest and ripped out his heart with her bare hands."
"This story keeps getting better and better," Sirius says. "Anyone else thinks she sounds like Evans? Pretty sure she could do that."
"I'd hardly consider her a Dark Lady," James points out.
"Makes you wonder which person this game will have as the Dark LadySomeone from our memories, obviously," Regulus says, and he shudders. "I can think of a few."
"We'll get to our Dark Lady eventually," James says. "Before that, though, we really need to get new weapons."
"Well, we're in luck," Sirius says, gesturing to what is undoubtedly the village they've been searching for. "Weapons. Food. Sleep. Food. Food."
"You mentioned food already," Moony snorts.
"Food is the best part!"
At sunrise, the travelers arrived at the village. A group of villagers were there to greet them, almost as though they were expecting the quartet.
"Bit ominous," James notes.
"Welcome! Wormbill has sent word of your arrival," a villager with dark hair and warm blue eyes says, stepping forward. "My name is Lenamar. Welcome."
"Lenamar. Marlene," Regulus guesses. "Let's hope this one isn't ready to kill Sirius like the real one."
"It's hardly my fault McKinnon had no sense of humor," Sirius snaps.
Lenamar smiles, clearly confused by their conversation. She steps aside, ushering them inside with a quick sweep of her arms. "Come," she says kindly. "We have room for you in the inn. No gold necessary."
James nods. It's a pretty nice deal. Lucky too, since they don't have any gold in their pockets.
"We will wake you for lunch. Don't worry. Alank! Ralice! Kindly take these brave travelers to your inn. They will need their strength, I'm sure."
A duo nod and move forward. The woman takes James and Regulus by the hand and lead them while the male does the same with Moony and Sirius.
"We'll fix you up a nice glass of wine," the female says. "Alank makes a wonderful peach wine. The village is renowned for it."
"I wouldn't mind a drink," James says. "Look at us, Sirius! For once, we aren't having to smuggle alcohol in."
Ralice leads them into the inn. "Here we go. First four rooms are yours," she says sweetly. "Alank will have your wine shortly."
James enters his room, quickly settling in. It's hard to believe how lucky they are. With everything they have faced, it feels nice to have a warm bed and to be around people who aren't trying to kill them.
Someone knocks at the door, and a moment later Alank enters. "Your wine," he says cheerfully, placing the goblet on the table. "Enjoy."
Before James can even thank him, the innkeeper is gone. With a shrug, he takes a deep drink from the goblet. It doesn't taste strong, but it must have more alcohol than he realizes because his head begins to swim almost immediately. With a moan, he collapses on the bed. Before his eyes close, writing appears in the air, and he only realizes what it says when it's too late.
Remus feels sick when he reads the words on the card. His eyes shift back to the scene where the four travelers are all unconscious in their separate rooms in the end. The villagers linger outside, and though he can't hear what they say, they seem to be in a deep conversation.
McGonagall grabs the card. Her face pales, eyes widening. She places her hand over her heart and takes a deep breath. "'The travelers thought they were met with hospitality. None of them suspected a thing. Who would ever think that the elf would betray them? No one noticed the sleeping powder mixed into the potion. The sweetness masked it easily enough. It was only a matter of time before the villagers would feast.' Feast? On the boys?"
Dumbledore frowns. He waves his wand again, muttering another incantation, frantic this time. Nothing happens.
Peter slumps into his seat. "I betrayed them? Why would I do that?"
"It wasn't really you, dear boy," Dumbledore assures him.
"He's right, Peter," Remus agrees. "It's just a game. I mean, Marlene is an evil cannibal apparently, so…"
"The scene is changing. Look," McGonagall says.
When James wakes up, he is definitely not in his comfortable bed. The metal bars further confirm his suspicions, as do the ropes around his wrists.
"About time you woke up," Regulus says. "Our friends here are cannibals. The Dark Lady has given them permission to eat anyone on the quest. Lovely, isn't it?"
James groans. He vaguely recalls the writing in the air, the strange words about the elf betraying them. He swears under his breath. "Where's Sirius and Moony?"
"In the kitchens. Got a plan?"
James eyes the large pot over a fire warily. "Nothing comes to mind. I can't really break out and do the Gryffindor thing."
"Lucky for you Slytherins have a more useful weapon. Our tongues."
"Regulus, now is hardly the time to offer me a good time."
Regulus snorts. "That's it. You're really flirting with me, you pervert. Just… Trust me, okay?"
James frowns. Trusting a Slytherin doesn't sound like the best idea ever, but he supposes he has little choice. Besides, Regulus has proven to be surprisingly loyal. "Just don't get us killed. I'm not done flirting with you yet."
Regulus grins before leaning against the bars. "Excuse me! Lenamar! Miss Cannibal Lady?"
The leader walks over, head tipped to the side. "I'm not used to my meals requesting a talk before I eat them," she says with a laugh. "Unless you've decided to beg for mercy."
"Oh, no. Not at all. It's an honor to be eaten by your village," Regulus assures her with a winning smile.
James raises his brows. This is definitely not where he thought this conversation was headed.
"However, I'm afraid that our meat is much too fine for your vegetables. What do you intend to cook us with?"
Lenamar frowns. James suspects that her meals have never questioned her culinary skills. "Parsnips and mushrooms," she answers hesitantly.
"Shameful! I can promise you the finest meal you've ever had. You'll need to send your people out to fetch wild strawberries- they must be wild. Uh… Carrots. Pesto-"
"Pesto?" she echoes. "What is this pesto?"
James grins. At least Regulus found something they'd never heard of.
"You've never had pesto? We passed a dozen pesto trees near the bridge with the trolls."
Lenamar considers this. "Our village is small. I would have to send everyone out to fetch these things. Only I would be left, and I can't prepare you by myself."
Regulus' grin broadens. James recognizes that look. It makes him look identical to his brother whenever Sirius has a brilliant idea. "I would be happy to help. Of course, I'll need my hands free. But once I've helped you prepare the others, you can turn on me and prepare me."
Without a word, she walks away. James leans in, trying to formulate a plot in case this plan fails. He's bound, and the cage appears to be well above the ground.
"What are you planning?" James asks.
"Trust me. Please," Regulus sighs.
And James does.
It amazes him that the plan works. The villagers leave, all but Lenamar. Regulus is freed. It looks like things might work. James only hopes that Regulus can pull off whatever he has planned.
"Let me prepare this one first," he suggests, pointing to James.
Lenamar frowns but nods. She guides James out of the cage. He falls, but Regulus catches him, holding onto him for a moment longer than needed. "Leave his hands bound," Lenamar instructs. "Cut off his shirt. But know that if you try to use that knife on me, it will be the last mistake you ever make."
Regulus nods and helps James onto a table. "Ordinarily I'd wait until our third date to take your clothes off," he murmurs.
James grins. "Now who's flirting?"
Regulus winks. Carefully, he pulls James' shirt tightly, piercing the fabric with the knife. "Am I the only one strangely aroused by this?"
James snorts. "I'd be lying if I said no."
Lenamar clears her throat. "If you two would kindly quit playing around, I have a village to feed."
"Of course," Regulus says sweetly, making quick work of tearing away the shirt. "Now, I will work on the trousers. And- Oh, dear! Lenamar, are you planning to boil us?"
"It makes you taste more savory."
"This pot… You couldn't boil anyone in that!"
"Of course I can!" she huffs angrily.
"You couldn't. See?"
Regulus sticks his hand in the water. James notices the flicker of pain and wonders how Regulus endures it, even for a second. "It's like a warm bath. Come see."
James waits. He doesn't think it will work. The cannibal can't possibly be that stupid.
And yet, hesitantly, she stands beside Regulus. "It's boiling," she insists. "It will do the job."
Regulus grips her hair and forces her head forward. James looks away. He knows that she was going to kill him, but he still doesn't have the stomach to watch her die. He doesn't dare move his head until Regulus is at his side.
"I'm going to be sick," Regulus mutters.
"At least free my hands first."
Regulus does. Immediately after, he doubles over, heaving. James swallows dryly and climbs to his feet, resting a hand on Regulus' shoulder. "You were amazing."
"I killed her."
"She isn't real. She looks like Marlene, but she isn't. It's just a game."
Regulus doesn't look reassured by this. A thought crosses James' mind.
"The game called you a thief seeking redemption," James says. "That's not just your game persona, is it? Something is bothering you."
"You know my family. My cousin. She expects me to follow her," Regulus explains hesitantly, looking pointedly. "I'm afraid. But I don't have a choice."
"You always have a choice."
Regulus laughs, the sound hollow and bitter. "Maybe I should roll the die, let it decide my fate."
James wraps an arm around him, pulling him close. He's never been good at reading signals. The flirting may just be playful, meaningless. But if it's not…
He leans in close.
"Hey! Anyone out there!" Sirius calls.
"We should rescue them," Regulus mumbles.
"So, what happened?" Sirius asks as they raid the armory.
"I took care of things," Regulus says dismissively. "We'd better get going before the cannibals realize there's no such thing as a pesto tree."
"What's pesto?" Moony asks.
"Really? What the hell is wrong with your world? How do you not know what pesto is?" James asks. "It's delicious!"
"Beside the point," Sirius interrupts. "You said the cannibals would be back."
James nods. "Right. Better go."
Remus breathes a sigh of relief. "They did it," he whispers.
McGonagall nods, a proud smile on her lips. "James and Sirius have a talent for escaping messes," she says. "It seems Regulus takes after his brother."
Remus turns to Peter. His friend hasn't spoken much since the game announced Wormbill's betrayal. "You okay?"
"My persona sent them to their deaths," he says quietly.
"But you'd never do that. That's the important thing."
Peter nods, but he still looks uncomfortable. Remus can't blame him. He'd be unsettled if the scholar betrayed his friends. It can't be easy to take in.
"A cave. Why a cave? Caves are creepy," Sirius complains.
James nods. They've walked until sundown. The game has been unnervingly quiet. Part of him wonders if they've gone the wrong way, and there is no adventure left for them to endure until they turn around. Before he can suggest it, the writing appears.
Many spoke of the cave. Legend said that the Dark Lady dwelled within its deepest cavern, controlling the fate of the world from her lair. Few heroes have ever made it this far. None of them made it to her lair. The four heroes knew that there was no choice. They would have to continue the quest.
James takes a deep breath. "Well, the game has spoken. It's time."
He's grateful that his friends look just as afraid as he feels. At least he's not alone, and they have weapons again. He isn't sure that they would make it through with only Sirius' blade.
"Better get going," Regulus says. "Use the buddy system. Stay close."
James offers him his hand. "Be my buddy?" he asks, grinning.
"I'd love to."
They make it a few feet in before the first trap is triggered. Regulus puts his foot down, and a fireball shoots from the wall. James lunges, knocking Regulus to the floor and landing on top of him.
James' heart pounds rapidly. He swallows dryly, painfully aware of how close his face is to Regulus'.
"Thanks," Regulus says, smiling.
James leans in. Their lips nearly touch when Sirius clears his throat.
"Get a room. Actually. No. James, that's my brother! Except… Well, Regulus, you have good taste. But also, James, hands off my brother. I mean, I guess James would be good for you, but…"
"Leave it to my brother to kill the mood," Regulus mutters.
"This will happen eventually," James laughs, rolling over.
"You sound awfully sure, Potter," Regulus teases.
"I get what I want."
"Is now the best time for flirting?" Moony asks. "I feel like we should prioritize getting through the cave without dying."
"Fair point," James concedes. "Regulus, take the lead. Use your bow to press down on the ground. If there are more triggers, it would be best for you to find them that way."
"Take the lead. Great. No pressure," Regulus snorts. "Any advice?"
"They might actually make it," Remus says, smiling.
"They've made it this far," McGonagall says proudly. "The traps are horribly sloppy. Fireballs from the walls. Spears from the walls. Why is it so easy?"
Dumbledore looks worried. He leans in, examining the scene, a frown on his lips as he watches their progress. "They're nearing the passage to the center," he says. "The lair. The security will be much better there."
"Have you played before?" Peter asks.
Dumbledore doesn't answer. He offers a small smile but remains silent.
Remus watches as the four heroes drop through the rocky chute. They're so close to the end, by what Dumbledore said. But the part about heavier security outweighs the relief over their progress.
"They're going to make it," Remus says, and he doesn't know if he's reassuring himself or the others around him. "I know they will."
They have to. He can't imagine a world without James. The thought of Sirius never coming back to him hurts his heart. There's no other option. They will succeed.
Once again, James ends up on top of Regulus. He grins. "I feel like the universe is trying to tell us something."
"For Merlin's sake! Wait until we get out alive. Then you can shag my brother all you want!" Sirius groans.
James clears his throat, climbing to his feet. "Sorry. Adrenaline," he says innocently.
Sirius rolls his eyes. "Save the adrenaline for the crazy bitch we have to stop." he suggests.
With a shrug, James pulls Regulus up, frowning as he notices the arrows in his quiver. Most of them have broken on the fall down. Apparently the cannibals aren't good at making durable arrows. "What?" Regulus asks, removing his quiver. "Oh."
"Don't worry. We'll figure something out. We're almost at the end. Maybe we won't need the arrows," Sirius suggests.
There's a groan.
"I know it's not ideal, but don't pout," Sirius snaps.
"I didn't say anything," Regulus says.
Another groan, then another. James watches in horror as figures climb from crevices, a rotting stench filling his nostrils.
"That is disgusting," James says, slashing his sword at one as it approaches. It falls.
"Arrows would be pretty useful," Regulus murmurs.
"Stay behind us," Sirius says. "James and I can stab them."
"I don't need you to protect me!"
James stabs another walking corpse. "Enough bickering! More fighting!"
He watches, impressed as Moony smashes a book against one's head, sending it flying. It seems the scholar has more knowledge than he realized.
Regulus takes his bow, slamming it into the nearest corpse. Brain matter splatters the cave wall. James nods. They've got a chance.
Once again, something seems to guide him. He wonders if it's part of his game persona bleeding through. It's the only thing that makes sense as he spears a corpse and decapitates another.
"There's too many of them," Moony says. "You three go. You're the heroes, not me."
"Thank you, Sirius, for everything you've done for me. My life was quite boring before I met you."
James knows that they don't have much time, but he wants to buy Sirius a moment to say goodbye. Regulus seems to have the same thought. They close ranks, keeping the other two covered as they fight.
"You have someone waiting for you," James hears Moony say. "This is a game. I thought you were mad when you told me, but maybe it's right. You need to go to that person. They can give you a proper life. A real life."
"I wish I'd known you better," Sirius whispers.
"You knew me at my best. Remember me that way."
James glances over his shoulder for just a moment, catching a glimpse of the two sharing one last kiss. He turns away quickly, barely managing to stab an approaching corpse.
"Oi! Come on! I've got a feast for you!" Moony screams.
The corpses sniff the air, growling. Their attention turns from James and Regulus.
"Go!" Moony cries as he leads them away. "Go!"
Sirius doesn't move. James grabs him, pulling him along.
"I'm sorry," James says as they run. "I'm so, so sorry."
He doesn't look back, even as he hears the sounds of their friend being torn apart. James blinks back tears. It isn't Remus. He tells himself that over and over, but it doesn't seem to make a difference.
His legs burn and ache when they finally reach a second chute. The corpses are far behind them, but James knows that they can't stop and rest. Not yet. The danger is too close.
Writing appears as he steps toward the chute.
One was lost. The scholar who never intended to join the quest became a hero as he sacrificed himself. But the journey was not over. The final battle awaited them, a battle that would test their hearts as well as strengths.
"Wanna go first?" Regulus asks James. "I'd like to end up on top for once."
Remus still feels lightheaded.
"Mr. Lupin?" McGonagall says gently.
"Give me a minute, mate. I just died," he says.
"I'm your professor, not your mate," she says, but her tone is gentle, not stern. She understands.
Remus knows that it wasn't actually him. It was just his counterpart. But that doesn't help him to comprehend it.
He can still see his counterpart kissing Sirius before throwing himself into the sea of corpses. His friends didn't watch as Moony was torn to pieces by the undead, but Remus did. He isn't sure that he'll ever find a way to get the image out of his mind.
The thing that chills him to the core is knowing that he would have done the same if he'd actually been there. His counterpart reflected his true intentions. Now, he finds himself studying Peter, wondering why Wormbill would have betrayed the group.
"You look sick," McGonagall notes. "Do you need to visit the hospital wing?"
Remus shakes his head. "No. I need to know how this ends," he whispers, his mouth dry.
James slides down the chute, Sirius behind him, then Regulus. Remus watches the scene shift again, icy fear gripping his stomach as the Dark Lady shows her face.
"You are braver than I thought."
The woman sits upon a throne made of rock and bone overlooking a chasm. She grips a staff in her hand as her free reaches the hood of her cloak, pulling it back.
Sirius shakes his head before rubbing his eyes. "Bellatrix?"
Not Bellatrix scowls. "Bellatrix? Close. I am Dark Lady Beatrice."
James laughs. He's grateful that Sirius finds it just as amusing. "Beatrice…"
"Dark Lady Beatrice," Sirius roars, doubling over and gasping for breath. "That's brilliant! Right. Intimidating name. Beatrice. Tremble before Beatrice."
"Silence!" she shrieks, slamming her staff against the ground. "How dare you come here and make a mockery of my title. Regulus, these are the best heroes you could find?"
At the question, James feels as though he's been punched in the stomach. He turns to Regulus, jaw slack.
"I'm sorry. It's the game. I could feel it the whole time," Regulus whispers. "I had no choice."
"There's always a choice," James says sharply.
The thief was revealed to be a traitor.
James groans. He doesn't want to read the stupid narration now.
Though he grew to care for the guard, Regulus had his own quest to fulfill. He stood between the Dark Lady and his lover, his heart torn. He knew what he had to do, which option was best.
"Regulus, don't," Sirius says. "It's just the game. You can fight this! I'm not losing you too!"
Regulus offers his brother a thin smile. "I'm sorry, Sirius. It was nice to have you back. Sorry we didn't have more time together."
James wants to scream as he watches Regulus approach the throne. He wills his body to work, to reach out for the younger boy, but his limbs are suddenly useless. Regulus pauses halfway and turns.
"I really did care for you," Regulus says softly before turning again.
"See? The thief is smarter than he looks," Beatrice cackles. "Kneel before me."
Regulus comes to a stop inches from her. He obeys.
Beatrice looks at James and Sirius, a triumphant smile on her lips. "This is all you have to do," she says sweetly. "Don't fight it. Be smart like your friend here. Kneel before me and pledge fealty. Otherwise, prepare to die."
Regulus mutters something that James can't quite hear. Judging by the frown that pulls at the evil woman's lips, he guesses Beatrice doesn't understand either. "Speak up!" she barks.
Regulus lifts his head. "I said there's always a choice. There's always a better option."
Beatrice snorts. "There's no other option except death," she hisses.
Regulus rises to his feet. James notices the broken arrow in the Slytherin's hand. He doesn't know whether to cheer or cry.
"Like I said, better option."
James isn't sure many people could pull it off. He knows that his own movements would have been too slow. But Regulus has the speed and reflexes of a Seeker. His arm shoots out, the arrowhead piercing the woman's throat. She swings her staff, catching Regulus in the ribs and sending him over the edge of the cliff and into the chasm.
James watches, his heart dropping to his stomach, as Regulus vanishes over the ledge. It takes several moments before he's able to move. He sprints forward, Sirius close behind. James peers over the ledge. "No sign of him."
Sirius turns his attention away. James continues to peer into the darkness, squinting his eyes as though it will somehow make Regulus appear.
"You killed my brother," Sirius says, his voice eerily calm.
James turns to see Beatrice reaching for her staff which has fallen inches out of her reach. He's certain she'd be able to heal herself with it or, at the very least, kill him and Sirius before she takes her last breath. With a growl, he kicks the staff off the cliff.
"How long does it take a person to bleed out?" Sirius wonders.
"I think it'll happen faster if you remove the arrow," James answers. "Frees the blood flow."
"Now, the important question," Sirius says, nudging the splintered shaft below the arrowhead. "Do we want her to suffer for taking Moony and Regulus from us, or do we want to get out of here?"
James kneels beside her. He can still see her smashing the staff into Regulus' body. "As much as I'd like to see her suffer," he says, gripping the shaft and yanking it from her neck, "let's go home, Padfoot."
Slowly, the cavern begins to dissolve. James is ready for it this time. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes as the world fades away.
"About time you two made it back. I guess dying immediately after she died gave me a boost."
James opens his eyes at that familiar voice. Regulus sits beside Remus, an exhausted grin on his lips. Peter, Dumbledore, and McGonagall are there as well. James braces himself for the lecture that's sure to come, the inevitable threat of an eternity of detentions.
Instead, Dumbledore takes the pieces of the game. "Perhaps a more secure place would be best," he says gently.
"Like the Ministry," McGonagall mumbles.
"Perhaps. Come, Minerva. I believe these young men have much to discuss."
When the adults are gone, James turns to the others. He doesn't know what to say now that they're back in the real world.
"You saved us," he manages, looking at Regulus.
Regulus shrugs. "It was the best option we had," he chuckles.
Sirius throws his arms around Remus, holding him close. "God, Remus," he sighs. "I- Did you-?"
Remus nods before kissing him. "We saw everything," he says.
"I didn't… I would never betray you," Peter says nervously, his voice squeaky.
James groans. He doesn't want to go through this. Not now. "Don't worry about it, mate. I know you wouldn't," he says. "I need to… I'm gonna walk. Clear my head."
Regulus finds him by the lake. "Following me?" James laughs.
Regulus shrugs. "We're back in the real world. Sirius said we could shag all we wanted now," he reminds him.
James almost smiles at that, but something bothers him. "You defied Beatrice," he says.
"You and Sirius showed me there's a better way."
"Are you going to defy Bellatrix?"
Regulus doesn't look as confident at that question. James takes his hand, offering it a gentle squeeze.
"This isn't an imaginary adventure," Regulus says quietly. "This is real life. It's not as easy."
"But there's always a better option."
Regulus snorts, pulling a cigarette from his pocket and tucking the filter between his lips. He lights it, inhaling deeply. "Like what?"
The Slytherin grins. "You drive a hard bargain, Potter," he teases. "Tempting. So tempting."
James leans in, his face dangerously close to the younger boy's. "Temptation is good," he mutters before pressing his lips to Regulus'.
Regulus relaxes at the kiss. James' fingers tangle in the Slytherin's hair, smiling against his lips.
Regulus is the first to pull away. A grin plays at his lips. "Are you really planning to use my attraction to you to get your way?"
"Depends. Is it working?"
A smirk playing at his lips, James kisses Regulus again. "Then yes."