"I," said Sirius, bursting into the dormitory and flinging himself into a armchair, "have got to go to an engagement party."
"Which?" said Remus, turning away from the window. "Not Emmeline Diggory. You hardly even know one another."
"Who?" said Sirius, frowning for a moment before carrying on with what was clearly, to him, very dramatic news. "Lucius Malfoy has announced his engagement to Narcissa Black, so now the Family--" Family, when Sirius said it, really did have an implied capital F, much like in those Muggle films he talked about. "--is having an engagement party and my mother's finagled me permission to go. Not even the headmaster says no to my mother when she's in a state."
Sirius looked like he wished he would, not that James could blame him. The last place Sirius wanted to go was home, which not-so-coincidentally under ordinary circumstances was the last place that wanted him.
"All those Malfoys and Blacks in the same place at the same time," said Remus. "Sounds like a bit of a nightmare to me."
"Oh, I think I can make a go of it," said Sirius. "I'm sure I'll find something to do to entertain myself. Maybe I ought to dig up some dirt on Malfoy before I go and trot it out in front of his one and only."
If it was dirt Sirius wanted, rumour had it that Lucius Malfoy had made his way through a significant portion of the older students at Hogwarts this term, but rumour was very often just that and James put little stock in it. Given the other rumours he'd heard about Lucius this past year or so, he'd hardly have had the time. But all the same James had no doubt that Narcissa Black was not his one and only conquest, and possibly not even his latest.
"I know she's your cousin, Padfoot, but back in third year I'd've given my left bollock for a go at that," said Peter.
"She'd've had your left bollock if you'd tried," Sirius snapped back. "And if she hadn't it would've frozen off the moment you tried to touch her. I challenge any one of you to prove she's not actually made of ice."
"I'll take that challenge," said Peter. "I've mastered all my warming charms."
"Unlike in third year," said James, lacing his fingers behind his head and sprawling back on his bed. "So who are you taking to the engagement party? Someone suitably inappropriate, I hope."
"You, of course," said Sirius, as though it were already a foregone conclusion. "Do wear your best robes; I wouldn't want to take it too far. Mother can be terribly loud when she's displeased."
"Are you sure you don't want me to sneak into the girls' dorm and borrow something?" said James, smirking at him. "I'm sure Moony can do something froofy with my hair."
"No, I'm serious. You've got to come with me, Prongs; if you don't I'll end up hexing someone before the house-elves serve the pudding."
"I'll come," Peter offered quickly, as James sat straight up in bed again. "It'll be my last shot at her."
"And the fact that you're likely to take it is the reason I'll not be bringing you," said Sirius. "I've got to be there, and if I've got to be there then James had got to be there as well. There's no other choice."
"If you think I'm going to stop you from hexing someone before the plates have been cleared, you're mad," said James. "Narcissa and I hate one another."
"Narcissa hates everyone," said Sirius. "You're not that special. What about those robes your parents sent over holidays last year? Do they still fit? I've got a charm around here to fix that if they don't."
"I'll have to check," James told him. "You know, I might've had plans, Sirius. Have you thought about that?"
"You haven't," said Sirius, "and even if you had, this is more important. How often do this many wizarding families gather in one place at one time without a war breaking out?"
"Every time someone gets married," muttered James, leaning back on the bed again. "All right, I'll come. But I'm not bringing a gift."
"No one is expecting you to," said Sirius. "You're a nasty boy from a bad family and obviously haven't any manners at all. I can't wait to bring you to supper."
"I'm sure you can't," said James, letting his forearm rest over his eyes and squeezing them shut beneath. He was almost certain that Sirius had something planned, and on this particular occasion he wasn't sure he wanted any part in it at all. Except that Sirius's plans were frequently brilliant, and despite the rest of the guests he'd likely have a better time than he would remaining at Hogwarts with Moony and Wormtail wondering what Sirius was getting up to.
"Fantastic," said Sirius, jumping up from his seat and hauling James up with him. "Let's find you something to wear."
It was a scene straight out of some old tome James might have studied in History of Magic, with the high fashion and the ceremonial silver and the chins high in the air. He'd been to Sirius's house before, of course, but seldom by invitation and never for something as affected as this. Strictly speaking he wasn't there by invitation now, but for the fact that protocol dictated Sirius be allowed - in fact, encouraged - to bring a guest.
"I've already got half the guests glaring at me," he leaned over and whispered in Sirius's ear between courses.
"No, they're glaring at me," insisted Sirius who, after telling James to dress in his best, had done his utmost to dress as outrageously for dinner as he could while still remaining within the bounds of what was, by tradition, appropriate. "You're just in the line of fire."
James was still fairly certain at least some of it was, in fact, at him but it wasn't worth arguing about, particularly since the salad was about to be delivered and those dozen pairs of eyes would be off both of them again. And then soon enough, after all the courses had been daintily picked at, they could escape to the safety of Sirius's room while the rest of the guests mingled and schemed.
"I think Bertha Tillsbury isn't glaring at you," Sirius felt the need to add, just to add insult to injury. "I think she's giving you the once over."
"I'd rather shag a troll," said James, and buried his face in the salad.
Staying behind with Remus and Peter was looking better by the second, particularly since there seemed to be no grand scheme at work, though he couldn't quite shake the feeling that Sirius had something up his excessively tight sleeve. To be fair, it was also difficult to shake that feeling even in the middle of the night when Sirius was fast asleep and snoring.
And true enough, Sirius abandoned him almost from the moment they stood up after supper, claiming he was going to the loo but disappearing to parts unknown, leaving James to fend for himself. It was only amid the tea and sherry that James could finally make his own discreet escape, though not so far as Sirius's bedroom, the stairs being inadvertently blocked by Nott and Goyle, two blokes James didn't have the fortitude to push past under these circumstances. He hadn't promised Sirius not to cause an incident, but it had been implied.
James might not have known this house as well as he knew his own, but he did know that the corridor off the reception room led not only to the kitchens but also to a study, which later on in the evening was bound to be used for machinations James wanted nothing to do with, but at this point in the evening was likely to be deserted.
He was not so lucky.
Through a narrow crack in the door he could hear voices and through the keyhole he could see figures, unidentifiable at first but soon moving into James's range of vision. The traitorous, family-dodging Sirius and the guest of honour no less. A whiff of trouble was in the air and James hung back, watching through the keyhole and waiting to intervene, or to help, whichever seemed appropriate when the moment arrived.
"I'm told you're well matched," said Sirius, moving to the sideboard as if to pour them a drink, then to the cold fireplace mantle which he did no more than lean in towards and clutch with both hands. "I'm sure you'll have very blond children."
"You're much more tolerable when you're silent," said Lucius, moving swiftly up behind him, speaking close to his ear. "Blacks should be seen and not heard."
"Shall I share that sentiment with my cousin?" said Sirius. "I'm sure she'll find it fascinating."
"Cissa will be a Malfoy soon enough," said Lucius, "but you will be a Black until the day you die, which with any luck will be some time in the near future."
"Is that why you followed me in here?" said Sirius, glancing back over his shoulder. James knew coyness when he saw it. He was more than a little disturbed to see it in place of justifiable suspicion. "Have you got your wand at the ready?"
"Always," said Lucius, "but I'm not a man of such bad manners to kill a member of the family hosting his engagement party. I shall have to find some other use for it."
"I would have thought you were past the Bs by now," said Sirius, "or are you working through the alphabet backwards? That would put you nearly at an end."
"And just in time as well," said Lucius, making no denials though the truth of that rumour was still in doubt. "The wedding will take place before the holidays."
"Up the duff already, is she?" said Sirius. "You don't waste any time."
Lucius jabbed him in the back with something that James sincerely hoped was a wand. "None of that," he hissed. "Cissa is a joy and come my wedding night I shall be the most devoted, most faithful husband to his virgin bride that the wizarding world has ever known." James, unlike some of his friends, did not actually doubt the virgin designation; no one was likely to have ever got close enough. "But I am not. Married. Yet."
"And you think I'll let you get your end in?" said Sirius, hooding his eyes slightly. James suddenly felt not only Trouble but a Big Mistake coming on. "Maybe I'm not that kind of wizard."
"And maybe I'm not a Malfoy," said Lucius, "but neither of those things is likely." Sirius's dress robes, made in the Muggle fashion which had so scandalised the dinner party, came open easily under Lucius's hand, and Sirius let them.
"The next time I see you I'm going to try to kill you," said Sirius as the robes fell to the floor.
"I have no doubt," said Lucius, kicking them away disdainfully. "You and your little friends would take great pleasure in that, wouldn't you? Of course, you're assuming I'm going to give you the opportunity."
"You're assuming you'll have that choice."
Had it not been for the engagement party, and the fact that Lucius Malfoy had not yet actually done anything James could justifiably hex him for, James would have taken great pleasure in it right then and there. One of the two of them was in over his head, but James hadn't quite decided yet which was which.
James could have left then. James should have left then, returned to the party and tried to mix with a gathering of people that, given the choice, he wouldn't have ever known. But his eye never left the keyhole, and much as he wished he could have, he couldn't blame that on a passing Imperius curse.
"Don't deny," said Lucius as he groped Sirius into place, pressing here, prodding there, smoothing his hands over perfect skin like it was wrinkled fabric, "that you knew this was coming."
"Don't deny that you knew this was coming," said Sirius. "That's why you insisted to my mother that I be here, isn't it? That's why you so carefully insisted on adherence to propriety."
"Can you think of any other reason you'd not have been encouraged to stay at school, or with that blood traitor Potter?" James's hand tightened on his wand. "I will have a Black tonight. I'm sure you'd prefer it was you."
"Oh, I don't know, I bet Bellatrix would be up for a go at you if you got enough wine into her," said Sirius.
Lucius grunted and thrust him up against the mantle, fingers diving down to penetrate him as though that were the most effective method to shut him up. And for a few moments it worked, Sirius choking on his words and throwing his head back. But as with everything when it came to Sirius, it didn't last long.
"I bet you wish you were in my place," said Sirius, arching his back like he was presenting himself, like a crup lifting her tail. Remus would've had something to say about that, the mating habits of magical creatures, but then Remus never would have stayed and watched.
"Go on and believe that if it makes you spread like that," said Lucius, but God help them all, Sirius was right. James could see it in his expression, the first look of genuine longing he'd ever seen on Lucius Malfoy's face. He wasn't sure he ever wanted to see it again.
"Do it then," said Sirius. "If you can get it hard enough."
"You have no idea how hard it can be," said Lucius, whipping out his wand and dispensing with his own robes in order to prove just that. Sirius, despite any protests he might've made, was ready for it.
It was only then that Sirius fell silent, intentionally silent. James couldn't see if his eyes were closed, but he imagined that they were. He couldn't tell if Sirius was thinking of someone else, but he imagined that he was.
Lucius slicked himself as if preparing for a blood ritual, slowly and carefully and showily, even though no one was watching. But then, Lucius probably always thought someone was watching him, and more often than not would've been right.
If there was one moment that James shouldn't have watched, if he insisted on watching at all, it was this own, this one moment, barely a few seconds in length, when Lucius gripped Sirius's hip with one hand and spread him with the other, pushing inside in one smooth stroke. It was a moment that, once watched, could not be unwatched, and once seen could never be unremembered.
It was almost like they were lovers, moving in a rhythm that obviously wasn't unfamiliar to either of them. There were only sounds, not words, because if there had been words they would have been harsh and unforgiving and the moment was more than that. It couldn't last, not for the duration, but while it did James held his breath.
"That's it, Cissa," said Lucius, closing his eyes and winding Sirius's hair around his fingers even as he thrust into him. "Take it just like that."
James exhaled so loudly he was momentarily afraid he had been heard. But loud as he had been, Lucius and Sirius were louder, panting for breath and letting out those guttural sounds that substituted for words.
A few moments later Sirius started bucking back against him, letting go of the mantle with one hand just to reach down and start jerking himself frantically. Time was suddenly of the essence, and a cramp in James's calf reminded him just how long he'd been watching them.
"Fuck," murmured Lucius, first yanking Sirius's hair then letting go entirely to grip both his hips, to drive into him so hard that Sirius's whole body moved with the force of it. But not once did Sirius ever try to stop him, not once did his body make any of the protests his mouth had.
Lucius came with a strangled shout, vicious in its suddenness and in its effort to get past all of Lucius's restraint. So fixated on this display, James almost missed Sirius pulling himself to orgasm, as he'd occasionally heard in the dark but had never before witnessed right in front of him.
For a few breaths everything was silent save for the helpless panting of both men, recovering from the encounter and, perhaps, being assaulted by second thoughts. Lucius finally pulled away, with what might've been a grunt or perhaps a muffled expletive.
"That was your last chance, wasn't it?" said Sirius, his voice oddly soft and a little breathless. "To get what you really wanted."
Lucius just turned away and kicked Sirius's robes back towards him with the sole of his foot.
Sirius looked back over his shoulder and the silence dragged on, palpably awkward, until he pulled his robes back on. James could see they were disheveled, crooked, but given the outlandish style he doubted that anyone else at the party would notice. No one else at the party had the experience with Muggleborns to have any idea what they were looking at.
Sirius was a trophy, a passing moment of slumming to be laughed over at very particular dinner parties to come. To Sirius, James suddenly realised, Lucius was the same.
"When did you get back in?" said Peter, looking up and yawning as James kicked his shoes off under the bed and pulled his robes off in a quarter of the time it had taken to get them on in the first place.
"Just now, you great prat," said Sirius. "What does it look like?"
The sun was just beginning to come up, barely enough to illuminate the room, but at least they had no lessons to get to. All James wanted was to do was crawl into bed and pull the covers up over his head and pretend the night had never happened.
"It looks like the party was better than anything that happened here at Hogwarts," said Peter, leaning up on his elbows. "So did the ice queen finally melt?"
"Don't you wish you knew," said Sirius with a smirk, tossing his hair back over his shoulder. But he couldn't keep it up, and finally just rolled his eyes. "It was a formal engagement party, Peter, not something fun. Everyone was on their best behaviour."
"Is that true, Prongs? You're just getting in now but you've got nothing to tell us about it?"
James couldn't help looking up at Sirius, just for a moment, before he let just one little white lie slip. "No," he said. "Nothing interesting happened at all."