James did not consider himself a particularly suspicious sort of fellow.
That is to say, he had never found himself inclined to be unreasonably mistrustful towards his fellowmen. In fact, he liked to think that he harbored a very fresh and non-assuming outlook on human nature.
Slimy Slytherin gits did not, of course, count.
The point was, when he returned to school after the Christmas holidays only to find his two closest friends acting very oddly and – dare he say – suspiciously, his initial reaction was not to jump to wild conclusions or shout about inane conspiracy theories. He just figured they were both having an off day and left it at that.
However, when the odd behavior did not go away for the next several days, and in fact got considerably worse, James found himself required to go against what he considered his own inherent, non-suspicious nature.
Because no matter what Sirius said, it was not normal for him to be sneaking back into the dormitory at one o'clock in the morning, especially not with a certain Remus Lupin at his side. And it wasn't normal for the two of them to be frequently disappearing at odd times, only to reappear together a couple hours later, looking slightly worse for the wear.
No, things were definitely not normal for the Marauder's (or what counted as normal), not by any stretch of the imagination; and James, being the selfless friend he was, was going to get to the bottom of this mystery. It was what any good Marauder would do.
Which was why James was currently slinking furtively along the corridor, concealed beneath his Invisibility Cloak, while trailing his two friends and side-stepping around other students. He had concluded, in true Marauder fashion, that the best way to unearth what was going on with his friends was to spy on them.
It was a simple, brilliant plan.
James just wished, as he narrowly avoided being trampled by an overeager herd of second years, that he had the map with him. Unfortunately, it seemed whenever the two canines went AWOL together and sneaked off to Godric knows where, they always took the map with them.
James frowned tetchily as he thought about it. It was called the Marauder's Map, for goodness sake. Not Moony and Padfoot's Map. This was blatant map-monopolization.
He neatly dodged a tiny Ravenclaw as it tore past him, then looked up just in time to see Sirius and Remus slip around the corner into another corridor. Between James and that corridor was a milling, churning mass of humanity.
Oh bugger. This sneaking around under the cloak thing was much easier during the night, when the halls were empty.
As it was, he was forced to perform an odd sort of invisible dance as he darted and dodged his way down the corridor, leaping occasionally to avoid treading on anyone's toes (except maybe a few Slytherins'). He was just glad that no one could see him, because he was sure he looked incredibly ridiculous.
After several minutes of skilled dodging and many near disasters, he reached the corridor his friends had disappeared down and, poking his head around, was frustrated to find it empty of any Marauders.
Well, James knew when to acknowledge a hopeless case (despite what Sirius thought, Evans was not a hopeless case – she'd come around eventually). So after one last sweeping glance down the corridor, he dodge-danced back up to the common room, feeling dejected and slightly annoyed.
Just what were those two up to?
After two days of frustrating and ultimately futile spying, James abandoned that particular scheme. Somehow Sirius and Remus always managed to shake him. It was all becoming quite obnoxious, actually.
That was not to say he was quitting; any Marauder worth his salt did not give up so easily. He just needed to come up with a better plan, one that could help him figure out exactly what was wrong with those two friends of his.
Maybe some subtle interrogation was in order.
"Pads, old chap," James casually began the next morning at breakfast. "We're friends, right?"
Next to him, Sirius regarded him with an elegantly arched brow. Someday, James wanted to learn how to pull that off as well as Sirius did – but that was neither here nor there at the moment.
"I don't know, James. I don't think I've known you quite long enough to call us friends, exactly. More like nodding acquaintances, I'd say."
"Oh, shut it, you prat. I mean, we're close enough that we don't keep things from each other, right? Like…secrets, or something?" James said, trying to seem innocently curious.
Sirius instantly stiffened, though James wouldn't have even noticed the slight tension if he hadn't been watching so carefully for it. That wasn't good… James was now positive his friend was hiding something from him.
"That's a strange question," Sirius answered in a carefully offhand voice as he turned to back to his eggs. "Peter, don't you think that was a strange question?"
Oh no. The situation was worse than James had feared. Sirius was being evasive. Sirius was absolute rubbish at being evasive and he knew it, which was one of the reasons James had chosen him to interrogate rather than Remus.
"Er…" Peter looked like he couldn't decide which friend it would be better to agree with.
"Never mind, Pete," James came to his rescue. "It was a strange question."
James needed time to regroup and consider this new development. Things were much more serious than he had originally thought.
Two days later, and James was still stumped.
At the moment, he was sprawled gracelessly in his favorite chair in the common room, staring intently at his two friends. They appeared to be working diligently on their homework. Well, Remus was at least. Sirius was seated next to him and doing his best to distract the other boy from his work.
James frowned. Nothing seemed different now, but he was sure if he waited long enough the strange behavior would begin again. It always did. In fact, James would bet he could predict how the rest of the evening would play out. First, Remus would get up and leave…
Remus stood and gathered up his books, unaware of the scrutiny he was under.
"I'm going to head to the library; I need to look up a few things. Back in a bit."
James listened as his quiet steps padded out of the common room but didn't respond. Instead, he counted down unenthusiastically in his head.
"Well," Sirius stood as well and stretched languidly. "I think I fancy a bit of a walk. See you."
Again, James didn't bother responding. Honestly…a walk? Just how stupid did they think he was? It was the same pattern, almost every evening: Remus leaves, usually to the library, then Sirius follows, often with an unbelievably lame excuse.
James had spent two days puzzling over the whole strange situation and frankly, it was making him quite agitated. He was no closer to figuring out just what was wrong with his friends, and consequently no closer to getting them back to normal. And that made him agitated.
He just wanted his bloody friends back, and to stop feeling as if they were avoiding him all the time.
Wait a minute…
They were avoiding him all the time! Maybe he was the problem here! Had he done anything to make them angry with him recently, and they hadn't wanted to confront him about it?
No, no…that was ridiculous. First of all, James was an incredible friend and hardly ever made his friends angry with him. Secondly, on those rare times he did happen to offend them (not through any fault of his own, of course) Sirius had no problem telling him exactly what he thought James's problem was, and in no uncertain terms.
So that theory was out. It seemed the only possible explanation in this situation was that the two of them were hiding something very big from James. The only question left was what they could possibly be hiding.
And that was where James always came up empty. What secret was big enough to warrant Sirius being evasive with James? The last time Sirius had been so evasive was when… Actually, James couldn't even remember the last time. It just didn't happen – not between the two of them.
Moony was a different matter, of course. He had learned to keep secrets ever since he was six years old and first dealing with his lycanthropy. Remus was a master at being evasive.
So James wasn't exactly surprised at Remus's behavior. Sirius, on the other hand, had always been like a brother to him and told him everything. So when Sirius began being evasive…James knew there was trouble.
A horrible thought suddenly struck James, so horrible that he bolted upright on his chair. What if Sirius and Remus had gotten mixed up in some sort of dark magic? They could've been tricked or threatened into it (because James would die before he suspected his friends of willingly getting involved in such a thing).
The idea was completely laughable, but the facts fit: sneaking off all the time, especially at night; coming back looking mussed and disheveled, looking like they'd been in a scrap with someone; Sirius being evasive and avoiding James's eyes half the time they had a conversation. It was all very suspicious behavior, suspicious enough that even such a seemingly outrageous explanation as dark magic was justifiable.
No, no, no. Never mind. James knew how much Sirius hated his family. He'd never allow himself to be involved in something they thought was a good idea, especially not something like a dark magic conspiracy. Sirius would give up his magic before he did that.
So that was out of the question. Unless, maybe…
NO. James was being stupid. This whole mess had begun to fuck with his mind, making him paranoid. He needed to solve it before he became certifiably insane.
Which meant it was time to turn to the one place he tried to avoid as much as possible: the library. He could hardly believe he would be willingly entering that hellish place without even a homework-related excuse. Things must be desperate.
But it was for his friends, and James was willing to suffer the terrors of the library for them if need be. This had better help, though.
James glanced down at the list of books in his hand. Madam Pince had been surprisingly helpful, once she had finally stopped glaring at him suspiciously as if he were about to start chucking dungbombs around at any moment. Honestly, didn't she know Remus would happily murder him if he even thought about pulling a prank in the library?
At least she had given him a decent-sized list of books, though. Surely one of these would be helpful.
"Let's see," James muttered to himself, the books he had already found floating behind him as he began searching for the next book on the list. "Friends for Dummies…Friends for Dummies…Friends for Dummies… Just where the blazes are they keeping that damn book?" It was probably at the back of library, where people only went to snog. Terrific. Why the friendship books weren't all together, James didn't know. It was likely one of those inexplicable things that librarians did to mess with people's minds.
With a destination now fixed in his mind, James strode determinedly to the dark, dusty corners of the library's least-used section. Academically used, that is.
Finally, he arrived at a particularly dusty and abandoned-looking aisle that seemed a probable location for the book he wanted.
Yep, he thought to himself as he poked his head in and did a cursory examination of the contents on the nearby shelves. This looked like the one. He glanced a little farther down and discovered, unsurprisingly, there was a couple concealed in the partial darkness, tightly wrapped together and eating away at each other's faces.
Just don't look at them, and they won't even notice I'm here, he thought breezily. Now, where is that book?
James ambled down the aisle, scanning book titles as he went and his other books bobbing along behind him.
Nope. Nope. Not here. Not there. Where was it?
By now, the only place he hadn't checked on the aisle was behind the obliviously snogging couple. Well, that was easily solved.
Halting directly in front of them, he discretely ducked down just a little so he could peek in through the space in between their necks – the only place there was air between them.
Aha! There, he could see the bottom corner of the book he needed, which meant the rest of it was right behind these two slobbering mouths…
"Excuse me," he asked politely as he wriggled his hand carefully between the mouths, gently separating the students' faces. Eww. Drool. "I need to get a book."
Let's see… He tapped his fingers along the tops of the books. Where had it gone? There! Friends for Dummies. Excellent.
"Thank you," he said absently as he slipped the book out of the shelf and glanced at the cover. "Carry on."
Now then, what was the next book on his list? He better be almost finished; he had already spent far too much time in here. Pulling the list out, he tapped his thumb on the parchment and furrowed his brow as he thought. He already had The Friendly Book of Friends, What to do When you Suspect your Friends of Evil Plotting Against your Person (that one was a precautionary measure), and he had just found Friends for Dummies, so that meant the next one on the list was…
"The Magic of Friendship? Is that really the title? Oh Merlin, that sounds so damn poncy." He spun on his heel and strolled away still muttering to himself, leaving behind an extremely shocked pair.
"These books had better help. I'm not sure I can live down the shame of reading The Magic of Friendship."
When James had at last found all the books on the list, he plunked them down on a nearby table and threw himself into one of the chairs. Now for the hard part.
He began with Friends for Dummies. As he flipped through it, glancing at the chapter titles as they flickered by, he decided that this was going to be a big waste of time. He didn't need to know techniques for making friends, he already had them! There was nothing in this book about figuring out what the hell was wrong with your friends!
James slammed the book shut in disgust and grabbed the next one from his pile.
The Magic of Friendship. Yuck. Even the cover looked poncy.
But James flipped it open anyway. If it could help him figure out what Sirius and Remus were hiding, then it was worth it.
He scanned down the chapter titles. Hmm… "Friends and Secrets" looked promising. Page 478.
Quickly flipping to the given page, James began skimming the chapter. Ugh, this wasn't helping either. This was all about how painful it could be when friends started keeping secrets and the detrimental effects it had. James knew all that; he wanted to know how to fix it!
Another book was slammed in disgust.
Twenty minutes later, James was still no closer to figuring his friends out. This library trip had been an utter waste of time – not a single book had anything remotely useful in it. They only thing they had done was make James feel crazier than ever. He swore, by the time this whole thing was over, he'd already be packed off to St. Mungo's.
He let his head collapse on the table in front of him, connecting painfully with the wood. Stuck once again with no clear solution, it seemed. Maybe if he just confronted them straight out? It looked like that was quickly becoming his only option.
"Did I tell you my sister just had her baby?"
"No! Did the delivery go alright? No problems?"
Two girls, just a few tables away, were whispering to each other, and it was just loud enough for James to hear.
"It went just fine. They had a baby boy."
"Was this the sister who tried to hide it from her husband at first that she was pregnant?"
"Yeah, that was her. She wanted to surprise him with it…don't know what she was thinking. Tim was getting so worried. She was always avoiding him – trying to hide her belly, of course. Got too obvious after a while, though. By the time Tim figured it out, he was so excited about being a father that he didn't get mad, so it all worked out alright."
"That's good. Hey, do you remember…"
James tuned the conversation out as it turned to other, pointless gossip and mulled what he had heard around in his head.
What if one of his friends was pregnant? He'd never considered that.
Oh, good heavens. Did James really just suspect one of his best friends, one of his male best friends of being pregnant? There was a reason he had never considered that option. He desperately needed to get out of here and get to bed, before he started suspecting his friends of really being the giant squid in disguise or something.
When James reached the common room, he found the stairs to the dormitory blocked by the two boys who were the root of all his problems lately. They were sitting on them, talking quietly together, though they stood purposefully as James approached.
He hoped they didn't want to talk to him right now. The effects of the past week were really catching up to him, and all he wanted was to sink into bed and shut out all the hysterical theories bouncing around his head. If they talked to him, he couldn't trust himself not to start spouting off nonsense.
"James!" Sirius said. "Let's sit down for a bit."
His two friends each clapped a hand on his shoulder and steered him over to his chair, which he allowed with a sense of resignation and slight foreboding. Sirius and Remus then pushed him down on the chair and sank into the couch opposite him. Well, Sirius sank and lounged as he always did. Remus settled comfortably on the middle of the seat.
"James, we need to talk," Sirius began casually, looking at James's nose.
Oh no. This was not good – Sirius was avoiding his eyes again.
"We've got something rather important to tell you," he continued, now looking at James's left ear. "Something…big. It's going to be a bit of an adjustment at first…"
James stared at him in growing horror. It couldn't be…
"Sirius!" he interrupted suddenly. "Bloody hell, you're pregnant, aren't you?"
"WHAT? No! Of course I'm not-"
James darted his hand over and began anxiously patting his friend's stomach, looking for the tell-tale bump. How could this have happened? How could he have not noticed the signs?
"Remus, why'd you let him do something so irresponsible?" James continued frantically, now poking roughly at Sirius's center. "You're supposed to be keeping us all in line! What the hell are we going to do with a baby at Hogwarts? We're only sixteen!"
"I think he's finally lost it," Remus said, meeting Sirius's incredulous gaze.
James ignored him, lost in his crazed thoughts as his senseless jabs to Sirius's stomach increased in intensity. "I can't do this! I'm not like Tim – I'M NOT READY TO BE A FATHER!" he shouted hysterically.
"James! James!" Sirius snapped out of his shock and finally pushed James away, then reached over to shake the frantic boy's shoulders. "Get a hold of yourself, mate!" he yelled. "None of us are pregnant – blokes can't get pregnant, you dolt! And even if I were, I don't know what makes you think you'd be the father!"
Oh, wait…that was right. Boys don't get pregnant.
James, his body at last going limp, collapsed and buried his face in his hands. He took a few slow, shuddering breaths. Sirius let his hands drop from James's shoulders.
"I'm sorry," James said, looking up from his hands. "I know you couldn't really be pregnant, Pads. Don't know what came over me."
"Well, technically," Remus interjected, looking like he couldn't quite help himself, "blokes can get pregnant. The spell's been outlawed for centuries though, because it had an extremely low success rate and mostly ended in the man dying. Few people even know about it anymore. That's not to say I think Sirius is carrying your baby though, James," he added somewhat hastily.
"Right," James rubbed his face sheepishly. "Sorry. It's just that I've been trying to figure out what's been going on with you two all bloody week, and it's driving me absolutely bonkers. I honestly think I've gone insane. And if you repeat that," he glared at them suddenly, "I'll hex you bald and make sure it doesn't grow back for a month. It's your two's fault, anyway."
Remus at least had the grace to look guilty, but Sirius just rolled his eyes. "It's hardly our fault that you decided to think your male friend was pregnant."
"But you don't deny that you two have been hiding something!" James said knowingly.
Sirius looked away. Evasively.
"Listen, you two," James said seriously. "This has got to stop, or I honestly will end up crazier than anyone in Sirius's family. Please, for my sake, tell me what's going on. It can't be that bad. It's not like you're secretly shagging or something," he laughed, quite amused at the idea.
Wait a minute…
James squinted at the two of them suspiciously, who in turn tried not to shift around like the guilty teenagers they were.
The pieces were falling together in James's mind. It was so…bloody obvious! Sneaking away together…coming back looking disheveled yet satisfied…spending more time together…
"You're shagging!" he leapt out of his chair, jabbing a finger at his startled friends. "You blokes are shagging! Shagging! Admit it. You're shagging. Going at it like bunnies. Poncy bunnies, but you get the idea. You're shagging! Aren't you?" he finished accusingly.
Remus and Sirius looked at each other.
"Er…" Sirius ran his long fingers through his hair, turning to James. "Well…when you phrase it that way…you see…um…actually, we're…well… Yes. We are. Rather a lot."
"Huh." James was feeling a bit dazed. Shagging!
"Do you…have a problem with that?" Remus asked carefully, no doubt trying to avoid triggering any hysterical reactions.
"What?" James came back to himself. "Oh, right. Yes, I have a problem with it!" James glared down at the pair. "I can't believe you two! This is so wrong!"
Remus's face became suddenly guarded and he looked away, over James's shoulder, his lips set in a firm line. Sirius's eyes hardened instantly.
"Excuse me?" he all but growled out, his tone dangerous.
"You heard me!" James insisted, refusing to back down. "Friends don't hide stuff like this! Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
"Oh." Sirius blinked, his menacing aura evaporating, and Remus relaxed slightly as well.
"So you don't have a problem that we're gay?"
"No, no, of course not," James flapped an angry hand at them. "I just wish you had told me. You have no idea what's been going through my mind the past week." He sagged back down into his chair. "I even thought for a minute that you were mixed up in some kind of dark magic conspiracy!"
Remus's and Sirius's eyes connected for a brief moment. Then the two burst into uproarious laughter.
James glared at them, but they gave him no heed. In fact, they probably couldn't even see him. Sirius had his head thrown back in carefree laughter, and Remus was bent forward, his hands on his knees as he chuckled helplessly.
James waited impatiently.
"Dark…magic…conspiracy…?" Sirius asked breathlessly, his laughter at last subsiding.
"Only you, James." Remus shook his head, still grinning.
"Well, what was I supposed to think?" he asked indignantly, glare still firmly in place as he crossed his arms huffily. "You two were sneaking off all the time, making lame excuses… did you expect me not to notice?"
"I like this one even better than the pregnancy theory," Remus chuckled, ignoring James. "What do you say, Sirius, fancy a bit of a dark magic conspiracy to liven things up?"
"I'm sure I have some relatives who would be more than happy to help us start down our path of wickedness," Sirius grinned back.
"And they won't find your sudden interest in dark magic suspicious in the least, of course."
"Well, some of them might drop dead from the shock, but that's not exactly a bad thing, now is it?"
James was beginning to feel more than a little embarrassed about the whole deal. But still…shagging! That one had completely blind-sided him.
"So you two are going out now?" he interrupted suddenly, feeling quite curious about this revelation. After all, it wasn't every day you found out your two best friends were shagging behind your back.
"Yes," Remus answered, still smiling a little at the thought of Sirius announcing his interest in dark magic to his family.
"It happened during the Christmas hols, while you and Peter were away," Sirius added, drumming his fingers lightly against the arm of the couch.
"Hmm." James scratched his cheek. "Well, congratulations, I guess. But don't think I've forgiven you yet for hiding it," he insisted, glaring.
"We were about to tell you tonight anyway." Sirius seemed unperturbed at the death-glare pointed his way.
"We were going to tell you eventually, but after the incident in the library we decided to tell you sooner than planned," Remus clarified.
"We were so sure you had caught us," Sirius said to James, but he was grinning at Remus. "You practically shoved your hand into our mouths!"
"That was you?" Stunned, James thought back to the couple in the library. He hadn't even noticed it was two blokes, not to mention his two best friends. He had been too focused on…
Shit! What if they had seen…?
"Yes," Remus answered, looking away from Sirius and smiling, but there was a wicked gleam in his eyes. "That was us. Did you enjoy The Magic of Friendship?" he asked innocently.
Groaning, James struck his forehead with his palm. "You two are not allowed to ever mention this again. Ever."
"Alright," Sirius agreed, smirking. "We won't mention your poncy friendship books – I wouldn't want that to get out either, if it was me."
"I don't think you have any room to be calling me poncy, you damn fairy," James grinned back.
"At least I'm getting some, unlike other blokes I could mention. Sorry, Prongs, but I really don't think someone constantly hexing you can be considered a sign of their secret love for you."
James scowled. "Hey, I've still got another year! And she hasn't hexed me for months."
"Very promising," Remus said dryly.
As the talk tumbled to their usual banter, James finally was able to relax after a week of worry. The mystery was solved, and he wouldn't have to worry about wild theories any longer. He could return to his usual, calm and non-assuming way of living.
His friends dating was definitely something he could handle, now that he knew what was going on. He'd just have to make some very firm rules about when and where and to always use silencing charms.
Speaking of which…
Hadn't they said they had gotten together over the Christmas holidays? Which meant James and Peter weren't there…
Which meant Remus and Sirius would have had the dormitory to themselves…
Which meant when they'd finally gotten together they'd had four different beds at their disposal…
Which meant it was possible that...
"Hey! You guys didn't shag on my bed, did you?"