Love is friendship set on fire.
Teddy Lupin had read all the journals. He’d seen all the photographs. He’d heard all the lurid stories—or at least, the lurid stories that had survived. He knew better than anyone: waking up on a Monday morning with a vicious hangover was a time-honored Lupin tradition.
The knowledge wasn’t really much of a comfort.
“Fuck,” Teddy groaned, rolling over and swatting at his alarm. It blared on undeterred. He wondered if this was a punishment for throwing it into the wall last week, or if he was merely being paranoid. The paranoia was, of course, a possibility—then again, it was also entirely possible that the sunlight streaming through his window really was mounting an attack against him. He wouldn’t have been surprised.
“Wake the fuck up!” his alarm clock screamed. Teddy glared barefully at it.
“Charming,” he growled, sitting up against the protest of all his muscles. “Remind me to thank Albus for such a lovely gift.”
The alarm clock rang once more, managing to be haughty about it. “I’ll set an alarm for you,” it said, snidely, and fell silent. Teddy shot it one last nasty look and stood, scrubbing a hand through his hair.
“Even my alarm clock hates me,” he muttered. He stretched, and regretted it instantly. “How bloody depressing is that?”
“Very,” said an amused voice. Teddy froze for half a second, allowing what he remembered of the previous evening to wash over him.
“Bugger,” he said, with feeling, and turned.
“Not exactly,” James replied. He was leaning, tousled and grinning, in Teddy’s bedroom doorway, wearing a pair of flannel pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt. “Though you are looking lovely this morning, Auror Lupin, that vomit on your shirtsleeve is especially fetching.”
Teddy blanched, glanced down, and discovered that there was, in fact, something that looked remarkably like vomit on the edge of his sleeve. Most people he knew would reply to this discovery with embarrassment. Teddy, the exception that proved every rule, stepped into the sunlight and turned his hair a bright metallic silver, just to screw with James.
“Oh, fuck you,” James snapped, shielding his eyes. “The thanks you get for doing a bloke a favor, I ask you.” Teddy tried to grin, realized that even his teeth hurt, and sank pathetically back onto his bed.
“State your business,” he said, wearily. “That’s all the contrition I had in me, I swear.”
James sniffed once in feigned annoyance, and then let it go and sat on the bed beside him. “Made me promise I’d swing by, didn’t you? Bring you a hangover potion?”
Teddy felt hope swell in the pit of his stomach. “You’ve brought hangover potion?”
James at least had the good sense to appear ashamed of himself. “Uh, no,” he said, looking shifty all of a sudden, “fresh out. Sorry.”
“You got my hopes up,” Teddy moaned, and dropped his head into his hands. “God, I’m too old to go out drinking with you anymore.” James clapped him on the back in what Teddy could only assume was a gesture of support—it hurt like a bitch, and he made a noise to express that.
“Proof positive that you’re a pussy,” James told him, and Teddy lifted his head just enough to shoot him a dirty look.
“You’re awfully chipper, Potter,” he growled, suspicious. “Would you say you ran out of potion before or after you dosed yourself?”
“Hmmm…couldn’t say,” James replied, musingly. “Hard to remember these things. Alcohol does that to the brain, you know. Makes you forget.”
“Well, remind me to kill you when I can move again, then.”
James laughed and stood to crack his back. The sound was bright and clear and too loud for Teddy’s momentarily oversensitive ears. “I’ll get right on that.”
Teddy flopped backwards across his mattress. “Anything else, you wanker?”
“Yeah.” James reached out a finger, as though to poke Teddy in the stomach, and then clearly thought better of it. “Spoke to Dad this morning, he says he still expects you ‘round for dinner on Wednesday, and bring a dessert, because Lily’s volunteered to make tripe.” They both pulled a face. “And, damn, something else—oh, yeah. You said at the pub to remind you about breakfast?”
“What break—oh, bleeding hell, Gram,” Teddy breathed, throwing himself out of bed. “She’ll kill me if I’m late—can you pop down to my office when you go into work, tell Malfoy I’m running behind?’
James made a truly horrified face, but nodded. “Is that all, milord,” he asked, sarcasm dripping heavy and amused in his tone, “or shall I have a tray brought? You know how I love to please.” Teddy turned to find James leering at him and rolled his eyes, wondering vaguely what cosmic power had decided the hangover wasn’t punishment enough for his sins. “Isn’t there anything else I can do? Anything at all?”
“You can get the bloody fuck out of my apartment,” Teddy said, but he was grinning.
“Wish, command,” James replied cheerfully, and he threw himself into the Floo.
Breakfast with Andromeda was a painful affair.
“I just think,” she said for the thousandth time, pouring Teddy yet another cup of tea, “that a man your age should be thinking about settling down.”
“I’m twenty eight!” he protested. Then he pulled out his wand to conjure a cup of coffee, and she swatted at it.
To repeat: she swatted. At his wand. Teddy Lupin, trained Auror, Unspeakable of the highest order, no match for the swatting prowess of his 73 year old grandmother.
And she wouldn’t give him any hangover potion. Life was so unfair.
“Twenty eight is well past the appropriate age for marriage!” Andromeda insisted blithely, pouring cream and sugar into his tea and firmly ignoring his muttered protests. “I’m not old-fashioned about much, Ted, you know that, but I was married when I was twenty. So was Harry, so was—”
Teddy put his head down on the table and groaned his frustration. “Look, Gram, I know I came out to you, I remember it happening. Eighteen years old, burst into tears like an absolute prat, got snot on your favorite sweater? I’m sure you recall—”
“Well, of course I remember,” Andromeda snapped. Teddy was surprised to see she actually looked a little put out. “I can’t see how that makes any difference; both of Harry’s boys are, after all. And then there was my cousin Sirius and—”
Teddy lifted his head to give her a baleful look. “Don’t start about Dad,” he warned, and she, as was customary, ignored him.
“Now Ted, I know you don’t like to talk about your father and—that, but if things had been different, well, he and Sirius were practically married even before they were twenty! Not that he didn’t love your mother very much, of course. It’s just something to think about, dear, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Please, Gram. Please. Can we not discuss my father’s—urgh—bisexuality? Preferably ever again, but at least not before 9 A.M. I’m—I’ve gotten used to it and everything, but it’s weird, ok?”
Andromeda sniffed disdainfully. “It’s 9:15.”
“Oh, well, that’s all right, then.” Teddy rolled his eyes and stood, nicking a bun. “I’ve got to get to work, but I’ll owl you later, alright?”
“Fine.” Her expression softened after a moment, and she patted his hand. “I just want to see you happy,” she said, misting up a little. “I don’t really need you to get married—lot of fuss, this gay marriage business—but I would like to see you with someone stable, dear. Someone I could meet. To keep an eye on you.”
Teddy was touched, despite himself. He grinned at her, even as his hair flushed red with embarrassment. “You might give me that hangover potion if you want to see me really happy,” he quipped, covering the quiver in his voice, and her eyes were clear at once.
“No, you’ll learn from your mistakes. That’s what you get, running about with James Potter—now, he’s a rather fit bloke—”
Teddy groaned, long and low, and reached for her Floo powder. “Insanity isn’t a good look for you,” he told her, stepping forward. “Just so you know.”
He heard her laughter echoing after him as he was pulled into the flames.
Work was no better. He got exactly two minutes of quiet before James traipsed in without bothering to knock.
“How’d breakfast go?” he asked, picking up Teddy’s favorite paperweight and tossing it up into the air. It thwacked loudly in his hand as he caught it, and Teddy winced at the sound.
“Fine,” he said, “don’t you have work to be doing?”
“Not so’s you’d notice.” When Teddy glared James rolled his eyes. “Oh, fine. Internal Review is up there, some kind of safety meeting. I needed a place to hide.”
“Someday they’re going to fire you for being such a lazy shit,” Teddy said, pulling a file out of a drawer.
“Someday they’re going to fire you for being so obnoxious,” James shot back in good cheer. He tossed himself into one of the chairs in front of Teddy’s desk and leaned across it in interest. “Working on anything good?”
“You know,” Teddy murmured, “some days I think you’re after Unspeakable secrets, and some days I’m sure you’re just trying to torture me.”
“Awww,” James said, “can’t I do both?”
Teddy was just formulating an answer when Harry burst through the door, looking hunted.
“Oh my god,” Teddy said, “what do they do to you lot in those safety meetings?”
Harry blinked. “What safety meetings?” Then he saw James and sighed. “Oh, those. Jamie, for the love of Merlin, they’re mandatory for junior staff.”
James rolled his eyes. “Do they have any value?”
“No, not really—”
“Are you planning on firing me today?”
“Of course not—”
“Then I can’t see what it matters,” James shrugged. “I’ll clear out if you need to talk to Teddy, though.”
“How sporting of you,” Teddy muttered. “It’s almost like it’s my office.”
“Almost,” James agreed, winking. “Dad, you want me to go?”
“No,” Harry said, “I’m actually glad you’re both here. I, ah.”
He paused, and his face creased with a dark expression. Teddy exchanged a worried glance with James.
“Are you okay?” James said. “I’m sorry I skipped the meeting, I honestly didn’t think—”
“No, it’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” Teddy asked. “Because I’m always happy to see you, Harry, but if you need to yell at James I’d just as soon—”
“Do you think I made you gay?” Harry demanded, flustered. Teddy’s mouth dropped open.
“What are you on about?”
“I said,” Harry said, enunciating more clearly, as though that was the problem, “do you think I made you gay?”
“What the fucking—” James started, but Teddy waved a hand at him, and he quieted sullenly. He stood and shut the door; Harry was pacing like a caged animal, and James was bristling in his chair already, and Teddy really didn’t fancy the idea of his boss walking in on a full scale Potter brawl.
“No,” he replied, hesitantly, “I don’t think that’s how it works. Honestly—even if it did, you don’t—you’re not, uh. Particularly gay-making?”
James snorted. “I don’t know,” he drawled, “all the Quidditch and beer and fart jokes with Uncle Ron; that’s totally what turned me on to blokes. Dad. Come on.”
Harry looked only marginally relieved. “What about Albus?” he asked, desperately. “Was I at work too much? Was I a—uh, how did she—an ‘unavailable male influence?’ Did I do this to you kids?”
“Oh,” said Teddy, understanding creeping over him at last. James made a tiny sputtering noise in the corner, but Teddy felt justified in ignoring him. “Albus came out to Gin, then?”
Harry nodded, misery buried in every crevice of his face. Teddy sighed and gestured for him to sit. “Christ, Harry,” he muttered.
“I just—I’m fine with it, you know that, and so is she, she always has been, I think it’s just—three, you know? All three of you.”
But I’m not your son, Teddy opened his mouth to say, and thought better of it.
“Mom really said that?” James asked, sounding furious. Harry made a harsh noise in the back of his throat.
“She didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” he sighed, and scrubbed his face with the heel of his hand. “I know she didn’t. She just doesn’t always—fuck. I’ve said some pretty awful shit to her over the years, so I’m sure we’re about even.” He sighed again, and eyed the desk speculatively, as though he was considering beating his head against it. Teddy could certainly sympathize. “Maybe she’s right. Maybe you three want men because I wasn’t around enough.”
“All right,” Teddy said, trying to keep his voice in check, “you’re upset and you’re ancient so I’m not going to thump you for that, but let’s try to be a little less ridiculous, okay?”
“I think ridiculous is understating it a bit,” James snapped. “What the fuck, Dad? Do you think Lily would be out munching rugs if Mum’d played a few more rounds of Quidditch?”
“Well, no, of course—”
“What about George and Lee? You think their son is going to turn out gay just because his parents are? You honestly think this is about what kind of example people set?”
“No! I’m not some kind of—”
“Bigot?” James finished, glaring. “Homophobe? Arse?”
“All right, James, I don’t care how bloody upset you are, I am your father and you can’t talk to me like—”
“Yes I fucking can! I’m not five anymore and if you’ll let Mum fill your brain with completely unfounded drivel—“
“Don’t talk about your mother like that!”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Shut UP,” Teddy yelled, effectively silencing them both. James shot him a dirty look; there was a vein pulsing in his neck and his eyes were flashing.
“What,” he snapped, “you agree with him?”
“Of course I don’t,” Teddy returned, “he’s being a tosser, but I don’t think he can help it.”
Harry squawked, but Teddy didn’t turn around; he put a hand on James’ shoulder instead. It moved under his palm as James took a deep breath, and then another. “Calm the fuck down,” Teddy hissed. “This is your father. Does he ever mean to be this much of a shit?”
James maintained his glare for a minute; then he dropped his eyes and sighed. “Probably not,” he admitted. “But, Teddy—”
“I know,” Teddy said, “even when he’s not trying he does a damn good job.”
James bit back a laugh as his father scowled. “I am right here,” Harry said, glaring at both of them.
“Yeah,” Teddy said, “you are. But this is my office, so I get to make the rules. Come on, Harry. Do you really think for a second that your work schedule makes any difference in your kids’ sexual preferences?”
“Your kids’ inborn sexual preferences?” James added sharply.
Harry glanced between the two of them in surprise. Then he winced as his thought process caught up to him. “Fuck,” he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
“Make massive demeaning generalizations about sexuality?” James finished dryly.
“Yeah,” Harry said, “that. Er. Any chance you’d be willing to forgive an old man his failings?”
James looked at him for a long minute. Then he shrugged; Teddy felt his shoulder move under his hand again, and realized he’d never actually removed it. He felt himself flush as he pulled away.
“I guess I can let it go,” James said, shooting Teddy an odd look. “Given that you did, you know, raise me and stuff.”
“And clothe you,” Harry put in, smiling a little. “And put food on the table—”
James groaned as Teddy laughed. “Hey,” he said, “you got off easy. You’re lucky this is James—Al would have made you sign documents to get him out of those safety meetings for a month.”
“Fuck Al,” James cut in suddenly. “He couldn’t have warned you he was going to tell Mum?”
“Not really his style, warnings,” Teddy sighed. “It’s a shame, though. I thought you and Ginny were getting along.”
Harry threw his hands in the air. “We are! We were, at least, but there’s always something. Don’t ever get divorced.”
“Not likely, considering,” Teddy returned mildly. James snorted and butted his shoulder but said nothing, and Harry gave them both an odd, inquisitive little smile.
“She’ll come around,” he told them, as though trying to convince himself.
“She always does,” Teddy agreed. “Probably won’t take as long, this time.”
“Fuck, I hope not,” Harry groaned. A companionably silent moment passed, and then he stood and gave them a sheepish look. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to hijack your morning.”
James laughed. “I was way ahead of you on that.”
“Yeah,” Teddy muttered, “he started last night, actually. A menace to society, this one.”
Harry coughed hard, like there was something in his throat. “I’ll just be going then,” he said, and was gone before either of them could say anything further.
“Wow,” James muttered. “That’s not how I was expecting to start the day.”
“At least you have hangover potion in your system,” Teddy returned. “You do know how loud you were yelling, right?”
“Am I supposed to apologize to you now?” James grinned cheekily at him, a glint in his eye. “Oh, Teddy, I’m so sorry I took you out and forced you to have fun, I am a terrible person for saving you from your stodgy, boring existence—”
“I am not stodgy—”
“You would have spent last night with a stack of file and maybe a lager,” James laughed. “Do you deny it?”
Teddy flipped him two fingers. “Piss off,” he said, “some of us have work to do here.”
James rolled his eyes but slipped out the door. Teddy glared after him.
“Stodgy,” he muttered, shaking his head as he spelled an avalanche of files onto his desk and flipping into the first one with relish. “How ridiculous.”
He made it fifteen minutes without another interruption. They were a glorious fifteen minutes. Despite the hangover, the pressure behind his eyes, and the unshakable voice of his grandmother whispering “the right age for marriage” in his ear, Teddy loved his job.
He’d started as an Auror, of course. It was what was expected of him, his skills in defense being what they were, his godfather being who he was. And it had been his dream, as a kid, to follow in his mother’s footsteps—Gram had always spoken so highly of her, with such sadness in her voice. Teddy had expected to take to it like a fish to water, and had been dismayed and a little hurt to discover he loathed it.
It was just—brute force, all the time, and running into things without thinking, and asking questions later. There was a time and place for all that, Teddy was sure, and he didn’t object to it occasionally as a strategy, but it was no way to run a department. He’d been a Ravenclaw, after all, and Ravenclaws, if nothing else, knew when to do their bloody research.
He’d thought, though, that it might get better. It wasn’t like there was much to be done about it in any case—he couldn’t quit, because Harry would take it personally, and he couldn’t transfer to desk work, because he’d kill himself with the boredom. So he’d slogged along, miserable and silent, until Draco took him out for a drink a few days after his twenty-second birthday.
“Still enjoying defending the wizarding world?” Draco had asked snidely, and Teddy had stared at him in shock. No one had ever actually asked him if he liked his job before; they’d all assumed, and he’d never corrected them. Confronted with the direct question, Teddy found himself telling Draco everything, spilling it all forth.
It had taken him about half an hour. When he’d finished, he’d drawn a long pull from his beer and Draco had looked at him contemplatively for a moment. “Well,” he’d said finally, “I actually have a position I think you’d be rather perfect for.”
Teddy had flushed. “I told you,” he’d replied miserably, “I can’t quit, it’ll kill Harry.”
Draco had just arched an eyebrow. “I am decidedly unconcerned,” he’d drawled, unimpressed, “with what might upset Potter. That said, you wouldn’t actually have to quit, which you’d know if you’d bothered to listen when I tried to explain, instead of prattling on about your insufferable godfather.”
Teddy had stared. Draco had…explained, and a small, fluttering core of hope had started to swell wildly in Teddy’s chest.
That was six years ago. Teddy had gone to Harry with a proposal, trained with Draco for a year and half, and come out of it the first official liaison between the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and the Department of Mysteries. He still drew his salary from the Aurors, but his office was down several floors from their headquarters, and he was, for all intents and purposes, an Unspeakable.
Teddy had never dreamed he could love a job so much. It was the excitement he’d liked about working as an Auror and the research he’d loved while being a Ravenclaw, combined with the delicate dance of political relationships and the rich, heady flavor of secrets. He still went out on cases, but only those that he handpicked, and he held ultimate power over every Auror but Harry. He made recommendations to the Minister himself—and of course, he got to work under Draco, who, while often less than pleasant, was a better boss to him than Harry had ever been. Unafraid to hurt Teddy’s feelings when he fucked up, totally unbothered if people thought he was showing favoritism—that was Draco. It was great.
They were working on a fascinating case now. There had been a rash of arsons in the last month and a half, but the Aurors had only recently thought to connect them. Teddy, of course, had noticed the massive spike in fires first, and had been working on the case for three weeks.
That was one of the other benefits of being an Unspeakable first and an Auror second—he didn’t have to tell the whole goddamn world about his hunches.
Still, there’d been four counts of arson in the previous week alone, and the case had exploded into a media frenzy. The Aurors, of course, were concerned with the criminal aspects of the case, the risk to life and limb of the Wizarding citizenry, and it wasn’t that the Unspeakables didn’t find that important. It was just—the magic involved was disquieting at best and horrifying at worst, and, unfortunately for the victims of the fires, it was brilliant.
Whoever was doing it, they had clearly developed a new, more intense variant on Fiendfyre. The blazes destroyed everything they touched nearly instantaneously. Remains of a few bodies demonstrated that it burned perhaps slightly slower on human flesh, but at best guess, someone trapped within the vicinity of the fire had about fifteen seconds to escape. More unsettling still was the fact that this fire seemed to be controlled, torching only the dwelling of the intended victim and then immediately dying out. In one case, the victim had lived in an apartment. Everything within the space had been destroyed—every lick of furniture, every scrap of paper, even the paintings hanging on the walls—but the walls themselves weren’t even charred.
Teddy had visited that crime scene. It was, somehow, worse than the houses that burned all the way to the ground.
And then there was the worst thing about the fires, worse than the speed at which they were executed and the Dark magic clearly afoot and the wily grace of their perpetrator: there had been fifteen cases of arson since the beginning of the month, and twelve of them had taken the lives of Ministry employees. Four of those employees had been incredibly high-ranking. Another two had been direct underlings of the incredibly high-ranking. Another three had been Auror trainees.
Needless to say, the Wizarding world was enthralled and furious. There were calls for the Ministry to be shut down until the perpetrator was caught, despite the numerous times Minister Shacklebolt had explained that the perpetrator could not be caught without the Ministry. The Prophet was rabid over the whole thing—Teddy privately rather thought that they might start setting fires themselves if another didn’t show up soon—and the Ministry itself was in an uproar. People were terrified for their lives, and it showed.
Teddy, for his part, found the whole thing as wildly interesting as he did worrisome. Of course he wasn’t in support of loss of life and risk to safety, but the possibilities of a controlled Fiendfyre were endless, and he was also fairly sure whoever was behind this was using some kind of remote trigger to enact the spell. He was just delving further into that possibility, flipping through the aggravatingly sparse case files, when a note appeared on his desk.
My office, it said, now. Draco.
“Bugger it all,” Teddy spat, and went.
Draco’s assistant, Pomarina Derrick, had been a few years above Teddy in school. She’d been in Slytherin, but her closest friends had always been in Teddy’s house, and he’d known her, if only nominally. Still, it was always nice to see a familiar face, and she ran Draco’s office with terrifying competency.
She raised an eyebrow at him when he approached. “Someone had a hard night.”
Teddy winced. “Fuck, is it that obvious?”
She laughed. “It’s usually a safe bet with you, on Monday mornings. But yes. You might have brushed your hair, at least.”
Teddy knew there was something he’d forgotten when he left the house. He wanted to beat his head against the wall, but resisted the impulse. “Awesome. He sent me a note—”
“I sent you a note,” she corrected, absently, flicking her wand and sending a massive stack of files toward the cabinet. “As per his specifications, of course.”
Teddy winced some more. “So he meant it to be that short? Bugger and fuck.”
She nodded grimly at him. “Didn’t even drink his coffee this morning. Just pounded on the walls for a few minutes and asked for you.”
Teddy groaned. “What did I do?”
“If you don’t know,” she said, primly, “I certainly won’t be the one to tell you. Wand, please?”
The handing over of one’s wand before entering Draco’s office had been common practice since a former Death Eater in the rictus of dementia had tried to murder him in there three years ago. Despite this, Teddy hung to his a little tighter this morning.
“Pom,” he said, “you remember that time he put Jelly-Legs on me, don’t you? I have a lot to do today and I really don’t have time to be tied up because I can’t cast a counter-curse, and you know the crazy bastard would do it—”
“Slandering me,” came a low, irritated drawl, “is not going to endear me to your cause, Mr. Lupin.” Draco emerged from his office, looking ready to throw a right strop. Teddy cursed under his breath.
“Your language isn’t appreciated either,” Pomarina told him sternly, and snatched his wand. “I’m sure he won’t hex you, Teddy. You’re in for a maiming at most.” Both men glared at her, and she smiled the cheerful smile of those too competent to worry about being fired. “Off you go!”
Teddy groaned again and walked into the office. Draco followed him. They dropped into chairs—Draco into the formidable black one behind the desk and Teddy in the designed-for-discomfort beige one in front of it. Draco cleared his throat.
“Look,” Teddy began, “I don’t know what this is about, but if you’ll just tell me I’ll go about fixing it and—”
Draco reached into a drawer, slammed it shut, and threw a copy of that morning’s Prophet down on the desk in front of him. Emblazoned in large, undeniable black and white on the front page was a picture of Teddy, sucking on the neck of a very fit bloke in a leather cat suit. Teddy himself was wearing nothing but a tiny black thong. To his horror, it appeared to be sparkling.
So that’s what he’d done last night. Fuck. He made a strangled noise and dropped his head into his hands.
Draco, having apparently decided Teddy had seen enough, picked up the paper and began to read. “‘Gay Romp in West London—Ministry’s Best and Brightest Caught in Scandal,’” he started, managing to sound both piqued and very, very angry, “this does sound interesting, doesn’t it? Let’s see—ah, yes, here we are. ‘Caught in flagrante delicto at The Wizarding Staff, London’s premiere gay dance club, was none other than Auror and rumored Unspeakable Teddy Lupin. Auror Lupin was seen to follow the man pictured above, who has yet to be identified, into the restroom mere moments after this photo was taken. Also in attendance was Auror James Potter, son of famed Auror and war hero Harry Potter. Notoriously elusive to the press, Harry Potter was unable to be found for comment before press time today.’”
Draco threw the paper back down on the table and raised both eyebrows at Teddy. “It goes on,” he drawled, “as you might imagine. ‘In these trouble times, it’s hardly right,’ etcetera. ‘Not focused on their jobs,’ etcetera. ‘Embarrassment for the Ministry,’ etcetera. What is wrong with you?”
“Hey,” Teddy said, lifting his head, “I had no idea the press was there, I would never have—”
“You were too drunk to be paying attention,” Draco drawled back, his voice icy and furious. “We’re in the middle of a very high-profile case, as you may recall—supposing there had been a fire last night, and we’d activated your tracking spell?”
“I would have cast a Sobrietus!” Teddy cried. “Jesus, Draco, I’m sorry about the bad press but it’s not like I meant for—”
“‘Rumored. Unspeakable. Teddy. Lupin!’” Draco shouted.
Teddy flinched, the volume playing havoc with his hangover, and Draco glared at him unapologetically.
“Do you have any idea,” he hissed, leaning forward, “what I’ve done to protect that information? Keeping you on the Auror payroll, the secrecy spells—do you imagine this has been easy? Do you even begin to understand the risk you draw to your exposure when you behave like this?”
Teddy felt regret creep up through his veins. He opened his mouth to speak and Draco cut him off. “You will not be an effective agent,” he snapped, “if everyone knows what they are up against. That is the whole fucking point of this bloody charade!”
Teddy pushed a hard, anguished breath out of his nose. “Am I fired, then?” he asked. He kept his eyes firmly on the floor and wanted to be sick.
Draco gave him a withering look. “No,” he snapped, “you are not fired. In fact, this is not this morning’s Prophet.”
Teddy’s head shot up. “What? What? What the fuck do you mean it’s not—”
Draco waved a hand. “This would have been this morning’s Prophet,” he said, sternly, “if I didn’t have spies in their offices, up to and including my own son. I received the owl with this mock-up at 2 A.M and was able to convince Miss Cuffe to pull the story before they went to press. She is, thank all the gods, rather more reasonable than her late father.”
Teddy breathed a heavy sigh of relief, and Draco looked him up and down. “That does not,” he added, severely, “lessen the importance of this transgression. You have to understand that with each idiotic stunt you pull you jeopardize this entire department and your position in it. What is our motto, Teddy?”
“Mundus hic mutus est,” Teddy murmered.
Draco peered at him sternly. “And what does it mean?”
Teddy sighed, reminded forcibly of his training, when he’d been asked to do this at the start and end of every day. “The world is quiet here.”
Draco nodded. Then he matched Teddy’s sigh, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Look,” he said, “aside from all of this, you are the best agent we have. Nothing against the rest of them, they’re all very good at what they do, but we’ve never had anyone quite like you. You’re better at this job than I could have dreamed.”
Teddy flushed at the unexpected compliment. “I—thank you,” he said, quietly.
Draco fixed him with a glare. “And,” he added, as thought it pained him to do so, “it goes without saying that you are more-or-less family, and I am, despite myself, fond of you.”
Teddy nodded, and swallowed. Draco never played the family card unless he was going to ask for something unpleasant. Sure enough:
“I think,” Draco said, “it is time you got married.”
Teddy was so shocked he actually stood to run without realizing it. “What?”
“Do sit down,” Draco snapped, “and don’t feign deafness, it makes you look like an imbecile.”
Teddy sat and stared. Draco merely raised an eyebrow at him. “Have you been plotting with my grandmother?” Teddy asked finally, his voice cracking. Draco lifted the other eyebrow.
“I do not plot with the elderly,” he replied, coolly. “Though your grandmother is a very intelligent woman, and I would encourage you to take any advice she had to offer.”
“Oh my god, you are plotting with her!” Teddy cried, and dropped his head into his hands for what felt like the hundredth time since waking. “I should never have gotten out of bed.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic.” Teddy thought this was rich, coming from Draco Malfoy, but didn’t comment. “I just think a marriage would settle you down, help you focus on your career.”
“Draco,” Teddy said, feeling as though the whole world had gone mad while he’d been drunk, “people don’t get married to focus on their careers.”
“Just because you’ve had to overcome your mixed-blood heritage doesn’t mean you can ignore reality,” Draco snapped. “Marriage is a business transaction.”
“You’re crazy,” Teddy told him. “Absolutely crazy. Marriage is about love. And, and sex. And babies!”
“No,” Draco said, “marriage is about money, and status, and, yes, alright, I’ll give you the point about the babies. ‘Heirs,’ really, but you can say ‘babies’ if you wish to be uncouth.”
Teddy fixed him with a glare. “What, so you’re not attracted to Astoria?”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Of course I am attracted to Astoria,” he shot back, “have you seen Astoria? There are wildebeests attracted to Astoria.” A strange, soft smile flitted across his face for a moment and then faded as fast as it had come. “I also happen to love her,” he added, “but that was merely a lucky bonus.”
Teddy cast his eyes around for something sharp. Sure, he’d left his wand outside with Pom, but there had to be something in here with which he could hastily welcome the sweet release of death. Finding nothing, he instead turned to Draco and said, “What, so you’re firing me unless I get married?”
“No,” Draco drawled, and scowled. “That is, I am told, illegal these days. I am, as your boss, merely strongly suggesting that you consider the idea.”
“You do know that I’m gay, right?”
“Even if I hadn’t, that article would have enlightened me.” Teddy winced. “It makes not a whit of difference. Just—find a family you want to be part of, preferably with some wealth, and insinuate yourself. Man or woman, there are procedures that will do either way. The goal here is a binding legal contract, nothing more.”
He must have read something in the look on Teddy’s face. “Yes,” he sighed, “you may even try for one of the Potters, if they’re who you want, though I deplore of your taste. Surely one of them piques your fancy?”
Teddy shook his head, making a face. “Well then,” Draco said, “work on that, or choose another family.” Teddy sighed and nodded, and stood to leave before Draco waved him back into his seat. “There was one other thing.”
Teddy’s jaw tightened, and he waited on tenterhooks to be told he needed to produce an heir by the end of the fiscal year. Draco, however, merely pulled a file out of his drawer and tossed it over to Teddy.
“Another fire,” he said. “Confirms the Fiendfyre theory beyond a shadow of a doubt; I went over and saw it myself this morning.” He shuddered briefly and then continued. “The Aurors should just be getting hold of it. Go supervise, will you? Don’t let them touch anything, the bumbling idiots.”
“Sure,” Teddy said, relieved to be dismissed. He was almost to the door when Draco cleared his throat, and Teddy turned, apprehensive.
“I am fond of you,” Draco said, flipping through a file and not looking up. “Do try not to do anything else this week that forces me to consider terminating your employment.”
Teddy half-smiled and shifted his hair to a deep, army green. “Yessir,” he answered, in his best American accident, offering a salute and standing at attention.
The expression on Draco’s face put every dirty look he himself had ever given to shame. Teddy laughed about it all the way to the Apparation bay.
The Aurors had beaten him to the scene. Teddy scanned the ruin of the house, taking stock. He only saw three of them: Harry, looking calmer than he had the last time Teddy’d seen him, Dean Thomas, disturbingly quiet and disarmingly competent, and Ron. Team leaders all, and well liked; the old guard. Teddy nodded his approval at Harry’s choice—a team like this, small but notorious, and all with stellar war records? It would do a lot to ease the concerns of the public if the press showed up. It said “This is not a big enough threat to bring out the whole force, but we do have our best and brightest on it.”
Still, despite himself, Teddy was a little disappointed. He’d rather hoped to get a chance to talk to—
“Oi,” James said, directly behind him, “is standing around in the shadows a necessary Unspeakable procedure or something?”
Teddy wheeled, feeling a strange tightness in his chest ease slightly. “If it was, I couldn’t tell you, now could I?”
“Bad influence.” Teddy said it lightly, but with just enough steel in his eyes that James swallowed and took a step back.
“Ah. So you’ve, uh, remembered what happened last night, I gather.”
“No,” Teddy said, grimacing. “I was shown what happened last night.”
James’ eyes widened as Teddy briefly rehashed his meeting with Draco, carefully leaving out the part about marriage. “Cor,” he breathed, when Teddy had finished, “I’m sorry, mate, I’d never have—”
“Oh, forget it,” Teddy said, easily enough. “Not fired yet! But let’s look around so I don’t get fired, yeah?”
James nodded, still looking a little guilty, and they drew their wands and moved into the ruins of the house. Teddy waved hello to Harry, Ron and Thomas, who nodded back at him. They were looking at what remained of the outer molding, and Teddy didn’t feel like telling them they were wasting their time. There hadn’t been anything in the molding of any of the houses, including the apartment in which said molding had remained intact.
“They’re barking up the wrong tree, aren’t they?” James whispered. Teddy grinned and nodded, not looking at him. James broke away to distract them. It was something they did, when they worked cases together—the Aurors, even old friends like Harry and Ron, didn’t particularly like taking orders from Teddy, and James was good at redirection.
Teddy watched James’s arse out of the corner of his eye as he walked away. There was something to what Draco had said—he had always longed to be a Potter, to be real family with the people who’d loved him best. And his grandmother had been right, James was quite fit, in his own way. He thought about it.
“What am I doing,” Teddy muttered, shaking his head. The man was his best friend, practically his brother. It didn’t bear considering.
He went back to examining the arson site. The rubble, like every case before it, reeked violently of something Teddy couldn’t identify; one of the Muggle-born Aurors had insisted it was petrol. But Teddy had done some research, and petrol was a dangerously unstable accelerant, which—how were they managing to control all these supposedly uncontrollable variables?
He sighed, pulled a sterile evidence bag out of his pocket, and scooped up a lump of ash from the most pungent part of the wreckage for further testing. Then he waved everyone out and cast Stasis wards on the whole place, which would allow them all to look, but nothing more.
Harry walked over a moment after he finished grounding the spells. “My men aren’t going to like that,” he said, mildly enough.
“Take it up with my boss,” Teddy shot back, a wry grin dancing over his face. He knew how much Harry hated having to talk to Draco. “My only instructions were not to let anyone touch anything.”
“That certainly sounds like him, the little bastard.” Harry was scowling, but even discounting that, he looked a tighter than usual around the eyes. Teddy recalled the morning’s argument and felt bad for giving him lip.
And then—well, Harry was fit enough, wasn’t he? Older, sure, and god, he’d be James’ stepfather, which would be horrifying, but they’d get past that eventually. Teddy had gone for older men before. He’d had a ridiculous crush on Draco as a teenager, hadn’t he? Not to mention that guy A.J., who’d been at least 40, and a few others that Teddy could recall.
There was, of course, the fact that Harry was straight. But then, Teddy mused, was he really? He and Ginny had gotten divorced after years of what looked like a picture-perfect marriage, and he hadn’t been seen dating anyone since. It had been two years! Maybe that was why they’d ended it—they’d both been ridiculously closed-mouth about the whole thing, the press had been rabid. Harry could be gay, and closeted.
It was improbable, Teddy decided, but it wasn’t impossible.
“Teddy!” Harry snapped, and Teddy jumped, ripped abruptly out of his thought process. “You all right?” Harry actually looked a little worried…which was adorable, and not fatherly. Not at all. Of course not. “You checked out for a second.”
“I’m fine,” Teddy replied, brusquely. “Look, I know you’re stressed about Ginny and Al—why don’t you come ‘round my place tonight? Drink some beer, watch the Quidditch match. Take your mind off of things.”
Harry looked taken aback for a moment, and then he laughed. “You sure I won’t cramp your style? I hear you’re running with an awfully young crowd these days. Wouldn’t want to stomp on your buzz.”
Teddy tried to convince himself that the phrase stomp on your buzz was retro in a cool way. It was a losing battle. Still, he pressed on.
“Hey,” Teddy said, “after last night, I could do with some more mature company.” He made what he thought were suggestive eyes.
Harry squinted at him. “I think you should try to find some hangover potion,” he said, finally, “your face is twitching something awful.”
Teddy sighed and gave it up. “I’ll grab a pizza if you get the beer,” he said, wearily, and Harry shot him an uncertain look.
“Seriously,” he said, “you don’t have to—I’ll be fine, I didn’t mean to guilt you into having me by, coming to your office like that this morning.”
“Harry!” Teddy snapped, frustrated. “Come watch the game with me. I swear this isn’t a pity invite or something James put me up to or any of the things you’re thinking, ok? I just want to hang out.”
Harry gave him one more nervous glance and then, apparently deciding to take him at his word, grinned. “Great,” he said, “balls up at 8, so I’ll see you at 7:45?”
“Sounds perfect,” Teddy said. He looked at Harry’s arse as he walked off, and focused all his mental energy on finding it attractive.
It wasn’t the easiest thing he’d ever done, but Teddy was sure he could manage it if he tried hard enough.
At 7:45 precisely, there was a knock on Teddy’s door. Punctuality, Teddy thought, I like that in a man.
He opened the door. Harry was wearing a leather jacket, which Teddy approved of, and a Chudley Cannons t-shirt that bore the legend “World Cup ’99.”
Ok, Teddy thought, steeling himself, you know how old he is. Don’t let it get to you, Lupin.
Teddy smiled, took the six pack from his hand, and said, “Hey, make yourself comfortable.”
Harry pulled off his jacket, throwing it across the chair next to him and nearly knocking over Teddy’s favorite lamp. Teddy thought about making a quip about how comfortable was too comfortable—but that would be more father-son than first date, wouldn’t it? Would it? Fuck.
“Thanks again,” Harry said, flopping down onto the sofa. “I would have just moped about at home, thinking about Gin and Al and the whole thing, if you hadn’t asked me over.”
“I know,” Teddy said, and grinned. “Someone has to save you from yourself.”
Harry smiled back. “It’s a full-time job,” he deadpanned, and Teddy laughed. He’s charming, Teddy thought, desperately, unassuming and funny and charming. Definitely things I like it a man.
Harry cracked a beer and waved his wand at Teddy’s Floo. The game screamed to life in front of them. Then he turned to Teddy and gave him a quizzical look. “You planning on sitting down?”
Teddy realized he’d been hovering. “Yeah,” he said, his voice cracking with apprehension on the word. “Just—the pizza.”
“Oh, yeah!” Harry said, brightly. “I’m starving, that sounds great.”
Teddy grabbed it, wordlessly, from the counter, and put it on the coffee table. Harry waved his thanks and snatched a piece, munching away happily. They settled into an uncomfortable silence. At least, Teddy felt uncomfortable. Harry, as far as Teddy could tell, hadn’t noticed.
Harry was looking at the game, but Teddy was looking at Harry, taking inventory. Gorgeous dark hair (that I imitated until I was 6), a warm, inviting gaze (that watched me learn to walk), beautiful broad shoulders (that I used to spit up on), large capable hands (that changed my fucking nappies, oh my god). He was fit, by all accounts, but there was no getting around it—thinking about sleeping with him made Teddy’s stomach roil unpleasantly.
I can get over that, Teddy thought, trying to convince himself. Draco and Gram think I have to get married and I love the Potters, and Lily’s not an option and neither is James, ha, and Albus is so BLOODY annoying--
Then Harry leaned back his head and let out a long, low belch. He coughed, satisfied, and grinned at Teddy. “Not as good as I used to be,” he said, contemplatively, “but man, I could get you to laugh for hours with one of those when you were eight.”
Teddy stared at him. After a second, the full ridiculousness of the whole situation washed over him—Jesus, this man was practically his father, and he’d invited him over here to—to what, exactly? To chat him up? To seduce him? He started laughing, wildly, at the thought of it. Harry Potter. Harry Potter. It was ridiculous.
Harry, obviously encouraged, let out another burp. Teddy howled with laughter, leaning into him. “I’m sure it’s just that I look ridiculous,” Harry said, smiling a little bemusedly, “but it’s good to know some things never change.”
The next day, Teddy was feeling considerably less cheerful. He’d woken to an owl from his grandmother, entreating him again to “just consider it, Teddy, for me, I won’t be around much longer.” That had been followed shortly by an owl from James, taking the mickey out of him for wanting special bonding time with Harry.
What, James had asked, and Teddy could just see the smug smirk on his face as he read it over, did ickle Teddy need some attention? Is ickle Teddy feeling unloved?
You have no idea, he’d thought, grimly, and gone into work.
There had been an owl for him there, too. Distinctive handwriting, no signature, just Come to the Manor.
So now Teddy was staring at the austere wrought-iron gates of Malfoy Manor wondering, as he always did, what the next step was. Did he knock? What was there to knock on? Should he yell? That seemed uncouth. But there wasn’t a button or anything, and Teddy knew in his bones that Draco had designed it this way on purpose, to make people uncomfortable. He probably had a recording charm going, so he could watch everyone fidget over and over, cackling.
Teddy gave up, and sent his Patronus. It seemed the only logical thing to do.
The gate swung open a moment later. Even the creaking managed a sort of haughty self-importance; Teddy sighed and followed the winding path up to the house. An entire murder of crows appeared to be nesting in one of the trees. “It’s sunny out,” he told them, “your effect is lost in this weather,” but they merely cawed impetuously. He sighed again and finally reached the front stoop, where Astoria, in a pair of sweatpants and a clingy t-shirt, opened the door.
To her credit, they appeared to be couture sweatpants.
She smiled at him. Always gorgeous, today her hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail and she was wearing gardening gloves. Teddy had marveled, even when he was little, at her lithe grace, the easy, relaxed beauty she brought to everything she did. She was almost the polar opposite of Draco.
“Hey, Aunt Astoria,” Teddy said, grinning. He’d missed her.
“Hey yourself,” she said, yanking off a glove. “Sorry about the state I’m in; things have been a little hectic.”
He raised an eyebrow in a rather poor imitation of her husband, hoping to communicate his curiosity at how hectic things could be with an army of house-elves at your beck and call. She laughed, but it sounded a little forced. “Oh, you know how it is,” she said, and then she pulled him in for a hug.
“This is bad,” she hissed in Teddy’s ear. He put his arms around her to return the embrace, listening intently. “He’ll explain, but I’m counting on you to fix it. Don’t mention it, or ask about my business, or anything, until he gives the okay. Squeeze if you agree.” He did, and he felt her heave a sigh of relief.
Then she released him, smooth and smiling, like nothing had happened. Teddy thought—not for the first time—that she’d have made a pretty fabulous Unspeakable. She patted an errant hair back into place and led him into the kitchen.
“I like the remodel,” Teddy said, looking around. It had been awhile since he’d come by for dinner, which he felt a bit guilty about.
She waved a hand. “More counter space.” She flicked her wand at the kettle, which started hissing instantly. Then she looked at him. “You’re a coffee drinker,” she said—not a question. He nodded anyway, and she made a delicately horrified face.
“Foul American swill,” she muttered, but she snapped her fingers. A house-elf appeared at once. He was, unsurprisingly, far cleaner than any other house-elf Teddy had ever seen, in a pristine white sheet-toga. Draco had a thing about that.
“Lindy,” Astoria said, “would you make Teddy a cup of coffee, however he takes it? You know I’m terrible with the stuff.”
The house-elf nodded and clapped his hands. Instantly, Teddy’s own palms were wrapped around a mug of steaming dark roast. He took a sip—cream and one sugar, exactly how he liked it. Astoria smiled.
“Thanks, Lindy,” she said. Lindy bounced once, excited at the praise, and vanished. Astoria herself poured a cup of tea from the kettle, and was able to take one long, slow sip before the house-elf reappeared.
“Lindy is sorry to bother the mistress,” he said carefully, “but Master Draco is sending for you and Mr. Lupin.”
She sighed and nodded; the house-elf vanished again. Smiling a little sheepishly at Teddy, she pointed her wand at her chest and jerked it once. Her sweatpants transfigured instantly into a pair of crisp khaki slacks, and her t-shirt—which Teddy had thought looked nice on her—reconfigured itself into an infinitely more flattering swoop-necked purple blouse. Her socked feet were suddenly strapped into a pair of expensive-looking heels, and her neck was adorned with a delicate diamond necklace that she certainly hadn’t been wearing the moment before.
“I do loathe this lady-of-the-manor business,” she murmured, and then, before Teddy could ask her what the hell was going on, continued loudly, “I’ll show you into the drawing room, Mr. Lupin.”
He followed her, mute and confused, to Draco’s home office. “Draco, your guest has arrived. May I present Mr. Theodore Lupin.” She stepped aside, and Teddy was able to enter the room.
Instantly, he understood her clothing change.
“Minister Shacklebolt,” he said, surprised.
The large man nodded at him. Teddy, who knew perfectly well when to adopt a speak-when-spoken-to persona, said nothing further, and the Minister turned to Draco.
“I apologize again for the inconvenience,” he said. Draco smiled up at him.
“Not at all,” he purred. “Of course, I completely understand. Given the circumstances, you haven’t much choice.”
The Minister cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I hope you know that this doesn’t lessen the Ministry’s appreciation of your, ah, generous contributions.”
Draco smiled again. It looked, Teddy thought, like the smooth, easy smile of the trained politician, unless you knew Draco very well. If you knew Draco very well, it looked dangerous. “Let’s hope,” he said, demurely, “that things wrap up smoothly. I would so hate to have to…reevaluate my finances this year.”
“Yes,” Shacklebolt said, making that same uncomfortable sound. He picked up his hat and made to leave. “Good day, Mr. Malfoy, Mrs. Malfoy.”
“And to you, Minister,” Astoria murmured, stepping aside.
“Auror Lupin,” the Minister said, reaching out a hand. Teddy shook it.
“Minister,” he repeated, feeling more than a bit out to sea. Then the door shut behind Shacklebolt, and they all listened for the tell-tale sound of Lindy ushering him out the front entrance.
They breathed easier when they heard the gate clang shut. “Fuck,” Draco muttered, just as Astoria cast the spell to switch back into her gardening clothes.
“Do you think they’ve bugged the house?” she hissed, barely audible. Draco sighed.
“Not in here, I’ve got wards up,” he said. “But the rest of it? I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Astoria swore under her breath. “Can I keep working?”
“You’ll be safe with your tamer clients,” Draco replied. “I’d hold off on anything class C tradable or higher—doesn’t matter what permits you have, they’ll use whatever they can get for this one. Definitely don’t send Longbottom that Venomous Tentacula until we know more.”
Astoria swore again. “So I’m your run-of-the-mill florist until further notice?” she asked bitterly. Draco laughed, sounding only slightly strained.
“You’re never run-of-the-mill, darling,” he said, and won a small, wan smile from her. “But otherwise—yes. I’m sorry.”
She made a face. Teddy, sick of being in the dark, cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said, sounding anything but, “but what the fuck is going on?”
Draco and Astoria sighed together. “Do you want me to tell him?” she asked, and Draco raised an incredulous eyebrow at her. She laughed. “Sorry, sorry,” she said, “I’ll just go finish the Concealment spells on the back garden.”
Draco nodded, and she bent down to press a light kiss to the side of his mouth. “I love you, for all you’ve gotten yourself into trouble,” she murmured, and then she was gone.
Draco sighed, and gestured for Teddy to sit. “This arson case,” he started, and then he paused.
“Every victim, excepting the first two, visited my office in the days before their death,” Draco said slowly. Teddy gaped at him. “Yes,” he snapped, correctly interpreting Teddy’s expression, “I know how that looks.”
“Do you?” Teddy said, finding his voice. “Do you really? Jesus Christ, Draco—”
“It is a coincidence,” he said, firmly, “or someone is trying to set me up.”
“Well obviously I don’t think you—”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did. The evidence is rather damning.”
“Like I give a fuck, you’re my uncle—”
“I’m your second cousin, actually,” Draco said nastily. “So if you’re uncomfortable—”
“Oh shut up,” Teddy snapped. Draco The Boss—who could fire him and humiliate him and order him memory-wiped at will—bordered occasionally on being terrifying. Draco The Uncle—whom Teddy had known since he was three and who was often whiny and obnoxious and who had gotten drunk and thrown up over Teddy’s balcony one time—was about as frightening as burnt toast. It was a complicated way to relate to a work superior, but Teddy had found he didn’t mind it. James thought the whole thing was an easy case for hostile workplace, but James worked for his dad, so Teddy tended not to think much on his opinions of normal employment environments.
Granted, if James knew about the new “get-married-or-else” aspect of their working relationship, he might have a better case.
“I’m not planning on deciding you’re a traitor and carting you to Azkaban,” Teddy continued, annoyed and not afraid to show it. “Partially because it would be hell to explain to your wife and partially because you’re family whether you want to admit it or not, and mostly because I do actually trust you, despite my godfather’s best efforts. Would you just tell me what’s happening? Why are you here? Why was Kingsley here?”
Draco gave him a considering look. Then he stood, pulled a bottle of Firewhiskey from the bottom drawer of his desk, and took a long pull from it.
“I’m under house arrest,” he spat.
“And then,” Teddy said, waving his sandwich in the air, “he told me that if I wanted to get in touch with him I had to go through Pomarina or actually go out to the Manor. They’ve disconnected the Floo. He’s not accepting owl post.”
James shrugged and took a bite of his own sandwich. “I don’t see why you’re frothing at the mouth over this. I’d love a couple days at the office without Dad. Maybe I’d actually get some sodding work done, without him barking at me every five minutes. I swear, sometimes I think he’s going to write out a chores list like they did when we were tykes.”
Teddy grinned despite himself. “I remember those.”
“You were never on them, you lucky little shit,” James laughed. “I was always jealous of you for that.”
Teddy frowned, briefly. He’d hated not being on the Potters’ chores list—it had just reinforced his feeling that he was a guest. He’d even asked to do chores, but Harry always shooed him off. “You shouldn’t feel obligated,” he would say, and a dark look would come over his face, and Teddy would slouch off to sit somewhere quiet until he felt better about the whole thing.
Astoria, though. She had set him to work weeding her gardens every summer, which had been perilous at best and often close to lethal. She’d made him help the house-elves with the washing up when he’d been by for supper. Draco, too, had given him chores—they were usually really disgusting, but they’d made him feel wanted. Loved.
Maybe, Teddy thought, it made sense that he felt like he needed to marry a Potter to be part of the family.
Still, he shook off the moment and scowled at James. “Anyway,” he said, “it’s not just that he’s out of the office. There’s—well, there’s stuff on this case only he’ll be able to help with, and I hate to have to pass it through Pom.”
“Why? She’s great, met her a couple times.” James, who had an endearingly disgusting habit of talking with a little bit of food still in his mouth, swallowed. “She’s quick, and dead good at her job. It’s not like she’ll be out selling secrets.”
Teddy didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t about trust so much as it was about saying as little as possible to as few as possible. “Mundus hic mutus est,” he said, instead, and James rolled his eyes.
“You’re an obnoxious git,” he told Teddy sternly. “Try to work on that.”
Teddy just grinned. “Will do. Thanks for lunch.”
Before James could stop him, he was up and out of his chair. “Hey!” James called after him. “That was a steak sandwich you ordered!” When Teddy didn’t turn around, James yelled “Fuck you too, Lupin!” and then made a still-audible noise of frustration when the whole room gasped at his language.
“He stuck me with the bill,” James muttered, sullenly. Across the room, an elderly woman tutted at him, and he turned crimson and sank in his chair. “Sorry.”
In actual fact, Teddy hadn’t stuck James with anything—he’d paid for both meals while James had been in the loo. It was worth it, to watch the look on his face through the window when he figured that out.
“There’s no way anyone could use petrol to control Fiendfyre!” Teddy yelled, eight hours later. His office walls were soundproof, so he didn’t have to worry about anyone overhearing him.
Then again, his office walls were soundproof, so no one could hear him and come explain the damn thing either. He stared again at the evidence bag, which the lab had gone over thoroughly. The rubble was indeed soaked with gasoline.
But…even if it wasn’t Fiendfyre—which it was, Draco himself had confirmed that and he’d been the foremost authority on the subject for years—how was the attacker soaking the place with petrol in the first place? Couldn’t do it too far beforehand because of the scent, couldn’t do it while casting because the fire itself would burn you to death. Why was it even necessary? It wasn’t like something as powerful as Fiendfyre needed any help in the accelerant department.
Teddy scrubbed at his face and checked his watch absently, starting when he realized it was already 9 o’clock. “Fuck,” he muttered, “Albus,” and he left at once.
He’d owled the younger Potter brother when he’d left lunch with James. He’d always found Albus more than a little irritating, but he was younger than Harry, and gayer than Harry, and less Teddy’s father figure than Harry. It was an idea, anyway. No harm in trying.
When he arrived at the address Albus had specified, he groaned aloud. The kid would make him come to a bar like this, wouldn’t he? He should have known better than to let him pick the place. The sign—well, calling it a sign was generous. The garish monstrosity blinking above the bar door read, of all things, “The Back Door.” It was purple. And…glittering. Teddy sighed, subtly adjusted his hair color and face shape to make him less attractive to the horrifyingly young crowd, and slipped inside.
Albus was sitting at a table in the back, sipping from a drink that was casually, shockingly pink. Teddy fought the urge to weep with despair. He himself was as gay as they came, James too, and they hit the clubs with the best of them—as evidenced by that photo, said a Draconian voice in his head—but this was just obscene. He wondered, absently, how Ginny could possibly have been surprised when Albus came out.
Albus laughed at him outright when he sat down. “That nose looks terrible on you,” he remarked, and Teddy, who had put this face on purposely, just smiled.
“At least I can change mine,” he said, amiably enough. It was a joke. It wasn’t even a particularly pointed joke—James would have laughed. Albus just scowled.
“Nice,” he snapped. He actually looked hurt. Christ, but the kid was touchy. “Bring me out to abuse me, did you?”
Teddy said, “Come on, that wasn’t what I —” and then Albus’s look went from injured to calculating so fast that it was a little unnerving.
“Yes,” he drawled, twirling the straw in his drink—which would be a much more effective intimidation tactic if it weren't bloody pink— “why did you bring me out? Inquiring minds want to know.”
Teddy shrugged uneasily. “Hadn’t seen you in awhile.”
“Oh, because we’re so close,” Albus shot back. Then he sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation. “Look, if you want to lecture me about not warning Dad before I came out to Mum, James and Lily and my father have already done a spiffing job with it, so I’d just as soon not have you at me too.”
“It’s nothing to do with that!” Teddy said, irritably. “Though I do think—”
“Oh, fuck right off! You can’t lecture me because I reminded you to, that’s foul play. Shut up for a second and let me think, yeah?” Teddy resented being told to shut up by such an obnoxious kid—an intern for a fucking barister’s office, no less—but he remembered the horrible attempt with Harry the night before and bit his tongue. It was possible, he thought, that someday he’d find Albus Potter slightly less irritating. He owed it to himself to try.
Albus studied him for a moment and then, talking mostly to himself, said, “Hmm. Can’t need money, you’d have gone to my dad for that. Though you did see him last night, maybe he wouldn’t loan—but then it’d be Mr. Malfoy, wouldn’t it, and Dad would have let something slip—”
“I don’t need money, Albus, I get a very good Ministry salary.”
“Hmm,” Albus said, again. “Not money, then…you don’t want me to set you up, do you? Are you looking for a new little playtwink?”
Teddy groaned audibly and dropped his head into his hands. “I am going to kill James for coming up with that fucking word.”
Albus didn’t appear to have heard him. “Can’t be a new toy, gets those on his own. Why would he come to me? Houseroom—no, he’d go to James for that. Advice? He’d go to James for that too…bugger.” He looked sternly at Teddy. “What the fuck is it you want?”
“You are so annoying,” Teddy snapped. “It’s not possible that I just wanted to see you, buy you a beer?”
Albus smirked. “It’s possible,” he drawled, “it’s just not likely.”
Teddy felt a strong, nearly overpowering urge to tear out his own hair. Fighting that back, he gestured for a waiter. “That’s what I’m doing, ok? I wanted to see you, Merlin knows why. Christ,” he added, as the waiter approached, “do you ever stop with the suspicion? I thought you’d grow out of that.”
Albus smirked some more. “Slytherins never grow out of anything,” he said, “which is why we tend to live so much longer than the rest of you buggers.”
Teddy rolled his eyed and ordered them both a pint, ignoring Albus’s horrified face. “So, uh,” Teddy started, and remembered that this kid, who looked so much like his father, had exactly nothing in common with him. “How’s the job?” he tried finally, for lack of anything better to say.
To Teddy’s great surprise, this seemed to be the right question. Albus animatedly began discussing the position he’d taken on, name-dropping occasionally. Teddy half-listened, and focused on looking instead.
Al was…well. He was really bloody irritating, and even as a kid he’d rubbed Teddy the wrong way. It was a mutual feeling, Teddy knew—three-year-old Albus had put paste in his hair while he was sleeping on the Potters’ couch one summer, and they’d been at each other’s throats ever since. He loved Albus, of course, in the sense that he’d save him unthinkingly from a burning building or make him dinner if he was starving. He just didn’t like him very much.
But—well, he did look a lot like Harry, and Teddy had admitted to himself only yesterday that Harry was attractive. He looked like a much younger version of Harry, with darker eyes and slightly longer hair. He was scrawny, too. Teddy generally preferred them wiry, if not quite so wiry as Al—but it was close. It was close.
“Are you even listening to me?”Albus snapped, irritated.
“Fuck it,” Teddy said, and lunged across the table and kissed him.
It was—oh, god, it was terrible. Albus was stock-still underneath his lips and the edge of the table was digging bitterly into his stomach and he didn’t feel anything, excepting maybe thick incestuous revulsion brimming up under his bones and—
“OI!” Albus yelled, recovering himself and shoving Teddy back. Teddy tumbled over his stool and hit the floor, and Albus scrambled over to stare down at him. “What the FUCK are you playing at? Oh my god!”
“Nothing!” Teddy snapped, coloring. “I just—I thought—”
“You just thought you’d kiss me?” Albus cried. “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?”
“I have a boyfriend!” Albus shouted. “And you have to know it would kill—”He bit his lip and flushed, which Teddy thought was a bit bizarre. Then he shook his head as if to clear the madness out and glared again.
“Is this some kind of—oh my god. Oh my god, do you have feelings for me, oh he’s going to murder me, I think I’m going to be sick—”
Teddy stood up, trying to retain as much dignity as possible while receiving dirty looks from nearly the entire bar. “No,” he hissed, “I do not have feelings for you. Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Don’t be ridiculous?” Albus repeated, his voice getting higher and higher with rage. “YOU kissed ME and now I’m ridiculous? Really? You’re such a bastard, Teddy, I don’t even know where to fucking start.”
“Shit,” Teddy muttered. “Look, I—that was stupid. I promise I’m not secretly in love with you or anything, I just—fuck. I had a moment, I don’t want to talk about it.”
Albus eyed him suspiciously. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of ‘sexual favors’ when I was coming up with reasons you wanted to meet me,” he said, darkly, and Teddy sighed.
“I don’t want sexual favors. Christ, Al, can’t we just—finish our beers and forget that ever happened?”
Albus grabbed his drink and tossed it back in three large gulps. “My beer’s done.”
Teddy sighed. “Al, I’m sorry, okay? Why don’t you just—tell me about your boyfriend, I didn’t know about that, and then I’ll promise that we never have to do this again and we can both go home feeling less weird than we do now.”
Albus gave him a long look. “If I agree,” he said, finally, “no one ever hears about what just happened. Not your stupid boss, not Lily, not my parents, and especially not my brother. Okay?”
“Believe me, kid,” Teddy said, “I’m not going to be telling anyone.”
Albus let out a relieved little breath, slid into his chair, and signaled for the bartender. “Fine,” he said, as Teddy resumed his own seat, “but I’m going to need more alcohol.”
Wednesday, Teddy didn’t leave his office. He’d gotten an owl from Astoria on his way home from the bar, letting him know that Draco had been moved from the Manor to a secure holding facility in Glouster in response to another fire. It wasn’t Azkaban, but it was close, and Teddy had to figure it out. He’d gone to the site of the latest crime—the same as the rest—and then come straight in to work, figuring he could sleep when he sorted everything and cleared Draco’s name. He’d pulled all-nighters before; he could do it again.
But the whole case was bloody impossible, and he was older than he’d been the last time he’d skipped a night of sleep, and his boss was more or less in jail, and everything was going to explode around him if he didn’t get to the meat of it soon. He’d papered his walls with sketches and lists and documents, tracing the magical paths, the similarities between sites, the personal details of each victim. Aside from the fact that they’d met with Draco shortly before their deaths, he couldn’t figure out how they were similar.
It was a relief when James stuck his head in Teddy’s door, looked around, and whistled. “New wallpaper?”
“You could say that.” Teddy scrubbed at his face; he’d caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror hours ago, and he wondered if the circles under his eyes had gotten less prominent since then. He kind of doubted it, but a man could always hope. “Look, I can’t tell you how much I’d love to do lunch today, but I’m swamped—”
“Lunch?” James interrupted. He gave Teddy a concerned glance. “Mate, it’s 5:45. I came to make sure you’re still coming to dinner.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not.” James moved over to the side of Teddy’s chair; he clapped a hand to Teddy’s back, and Teddy leaned his head down to rest on the cool surface of his desk. “You look like shit,” James said quietly. “Has anyone mentioned that?”
“Just everyone I’ve seen today.” James made a sympathetic noise. “D’you know how long I’ve been here?”
“I can guess,” James muttered. “You’re going to drive yourself crazy like this, you know. Have you slept? Eaten anything?”
“There were some crackers in the drawer,” Teddy muttered. Then he thought about what James had said about dinner, and sat bolt upright. “Christ, is it Wednesday?”
“Yeah,” James said. “Family dinner.”
“I forgot to get the dessert,” Teddy moaned. James laughed.
“We’ll stop on the way,” he said, offering Teddy a hand. “More then one way to avoid Lily’s tripe, don’t worry. We can get you some headache potion, too. And you’re not coming back to this office until tomorrow morning.”
“But—” Teddy protested, letting James haul him up out of the chair.
“You’ll burn yourself out like this,” James said firmly. “I understand that you’re crazy and everything, and I know that this is stressful, but you’ve got at least a week before anyone gets up the cojones to throw Draco sodding Malfoy in Azkaban.”
“You’re not supposed to know that’s a possibility,” Teddy protested, as James dragged him toward the door. “Which—security leaks. Maybe…can I at least grab that file, I need to check—”
“No, you can’t,” James said. “We’re leaving. And I’m not a security leak, you twit, I’m Harry Potter’s son. I hear everything. Calm down.”
“Sometimes I hate you so much,” Teddy said. James grinned at him and slammed the office door behind them.
“No you don’t,” he said. “Come on, let’s find you that potion.”
James and Teddy actually showed up at Harry’s before anyone else; Teddy fell asleep on the couch while dinner was cooking. James shook him awake at seven, and he blinked his way blearily into consciousness.
“Plonker,” James said fondly. “I told you—burning yourself out. We’re eating now. Go say hi to Lily and Al.”
Teddy stood up and groaned. “You’re sure I can’t just, you know, die?”
“Not an option,” a light voice said. Teddy turned, and Lily smiled at him, blue eyes dancing. “You have to at least say hello first, it’s bad form to expire before you’ve greeted everyone.”
“Who could argue with that logic?” Teddy asked. He opened his arms and Lily hugged him. Her hair, red and wild, got in his mouth a little, and she was soft and yielding against his chest. Teddy thought about how easy everything would be if he could muster up even the smallest bit of interest in women, and sighed.
“Good to see you, Lil,” he murmured, breaking away. She grinned.
“Pleasure’s mine, really,” she returned. “I hear you got dessert; didn’t want to risk my attempt?”
“I, uh—” Teddy started, warily, but she laughed.
“You’re so predictable,” she told him. “I only ever threaten culinary disasters because I know you’ll bring éclairs.”
“Sneaky Slytherins,” Teddy said, a chuckle belying his tone. Albus, setting the table, preened.
“We pride ourselves on it,” he called over. “Not our fault some people were sorted to lesser houses.”
“Hey!” James, Teddy and Harry protested at once. Albus grinned.
“Envy,” he said, to Lily, rolling his eyes. “It’s sad, really.”
“What’s sad is that I’ve raised such traitorous children,” Harry threw in. “Let’s eat before it gets cold, yeah? You lot know I can only barely manage to toss together a decent meal, I’d hate to see how it tasted lukewarm.”
“Hear, hear!” James cried.
They sat; Teddy was next to James and across from Albus, who gave him a few nervous glances but otherwise acted entirely normal. Teddy was grateful—he’d been worried things would be awkward between them. He’d also been worried that Albus would want to spend yet another twenty minutes rambling on about Draco’s son’s glorious arse, but he’d apparently gotten that all out of his system the previous night.
The meal was delicious, even if James did have to elbow Teddy awake rather too hard every 10 minutes or so. “Git,” James muttered, every time, and Teddy smiled viciously at him and stole bites of chicken from his plate as punishment. Albus made a choked noise every time this happened, for reasons Teddy couldn’t fathom.
After the fourth time Teddy nearly dropped his face into his peas, Harry rolled his eyes and said “For Merlin’s sake, Teddy,” and grabbed him some Pepper-Up out of the cupboard. He protested that he wasn’t sick, and Harry gave him a stern look chock full of typical parental dismissal, and Teddy wanted to laugh hysterically at the idea that he’d ever considered Harry a marriage possibility. Then Lily mentioned that Harry only ever stocked Auror’s Pepper-Up, which was a strange combination of the original potion and a metric fuck-ton of caffeine, and Teddy downed it at once. It helped.
No one mentioned that Ginny, who came to family dinners every week and had since the divorce, was not in attendance. Teddy caught Harry glancing at the empty chair a few times, and felt bad; twice he felt James stiffen next to him, and knew he was noticing it too. That, Teddy supposed, was the trouble with having a host of trained investigators over to supper, but it couldn’t be helped.
Still, the whole affair was pleasant and relaxing, and Teddy was just starting to feel that third glass of wine when Harry yawned and said he was going to have to turn in.
“At 9:30?” Teddy asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re getting old, Harry,”
“Like you’re one to talk, Mr. Asleep At The Table,” James snapped, only half playful. Teddy gave him a baleful look, which James met with a stern gaze of his own.
“Some of us didn’t sleep last night,” Teddy said, a challenge.
“Then some of us are idiots.” James’ tone was light, but his eyes were more worried than joking. Albus made that choking sound again, and Teddy could hear Lily snorting around a badly held-in laugh.
He looked away from James; Harry was smiling at him, strangely. Teddy would worry about it later—if they all left at once, there was the chance James would forget to tail him home, and he could go back to the office.
“Better let Old Man Potter get his beauty sleep,” he said.
“Yeah,” Albus said. “I, uh. I’ve got to meet someone.” His mouth tightened, and it occurred to Teddy that dating someone whose father was more or less under arrest couldn’t be easy. He wanted to say something, but Albus had made him swear up and down not to mention anything to the family. He settled for a kind smile instead; Albus twitched and looked away, clearly thinking he meant something else by it.
“Thanks for dinner, Dad,” Lily offered, as Teddy was contemplating exactly how fucked up this whole situation was. “It was delicious.”
“Anytime, Lilybilly,” Harry said. She winced at the name, but stood and kissed him on the cheek; Albus and James both hugged him, and Teddy clapped him lightly on the shoulder. Harry rolled his eyes and put an arm around Teddy’s back, pulling him in for a hug.
“Don’t drive yourself crazy over this case,” Harry said in his ear. “Everyone who matters knows Malfoy didn’t do this. It’ll work itself out.”
“Let’s hope so,” Teddy said, smiling grimly and pulling away. “Without him, I’m not sure I have a job.”
“There’s always a spot for you on my team, Ted,” Harry said, firmly. “Don’t forget it.”
“Thanks,” Teddy said. Harry showed them out, and Teddy offered a quick goodbye to Lily and Albus; he was just contemplating the best way to sneak off when James grabbed his arm.
“We’re going to my place,” he announced.
“Oh,” Teddy said, feigning a yawn, “well, uh, I’m really tired—”
“There’s enough caffeine in one of those Pepper-Ups to keep an Erumpet awake for a week,” James said. “You want to go back to beating your head against that desk, and I’m not having it. We’re having a drink. Come on.”
Four beers later, Teddy was feeling a little tipsy.
It wasn’t, he protested to himself (or, possibly, to James—he was having a little trouble deciding if he was thinking out loud or not), that he was a lightweight. He was a heavyweight and older than James by a fair margin besides and James shouldn’t be laughing at him. He was an experienced drinker, he’d just not slept and had that Pepper-Up and the headache potion and three glasses of wine at dinner besides and there’d been that whole thing with Albus—
“What thing with Albus?” James asked, amused. That answered the thinking-out-loud-or-not question, Teddy supposed.
“Oh,” he said, absently, “kissed ‘im. Bloody awkward, innit?”
James spat out a mouthful of beer, and Teddy laughed so hard his stomach hurt, even as he slapped James on the back to keep him from choking.
“You what?” James gasped, when he could breathe again. Teddy shrugged, still snorting, and leaned back against James’ ratty couch.
“I kissed ‘im,” Teddy repeated. He took a contemplative swig of his beer. “Bad idea. Draco’s fault. And m’grandmother. Meddly-like. In my business. You know.”
James pulled the beer out of Teddy’s hand. Well—really he ripped the beer out of Teddy’s hand, spilling some of it on the floor. “I don’t know, actually,” he snapped, his voice clipped. “Explain.”
Teddy waved a hand; then he reached for his beer, which James held out of his reach. “You know,” he said, annoyed, “meddling! Said I had to get married an‘ stuff. Pick a good family and—contracts. Stuff.” He stopped and peered at the beer bottle James was still holding. “How many ‘f those have I had?”
“More than enough,” James said. He looked—angry. Really angry. As angry as he’d been that time when he was 16 and Teddy’d needed to borrow his broom for a case and had ended up flying it into a tree. Angrier, maybe.
“I wouldn’t’a!” Teddy protested, realizing why James was upset. “I didn’t know ‘bout his—Scorpius—thing.”
“Wait, Al’s mystery man is Scorpius Malfoy?” James said, momentarily distracted. Then he seemed to come back to himself and said “Fucking hell, Teddy.” He looked angry again, and he got up, slamming his way into the back of the flat.
He’d left Teddy’s beer. Teddy downed the rest of it and yelled “’M sorry!” but James didn’t answer him. He was vaguely worried about that, and he was digging around for his wand to cast a sobering spell when James came back out. His eyes were flashing and he was wearing his leather jacket, the one that had been Harry’s godfather’s.
“I’m going out,” he snapped. Teddy raised both eyebrows in confusion but stood; he wobbled, and James said “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He whipped out his wand and said “Sobrietus,” viciously.
Teddy felt the force of the spell wash over him; it was too strong by half, and he could feel it eating away at the potions he’d taken too. “Hey!” he cried, hideously, abruptly sober, following James as he stalked out the door, “what the hell are you playing at? That nearly knocked me over!”
“Fuck off,” James growled. “You were making an arse of yourself. Something had to be done.”
Teddy found he had to jog to keep up; this was unusual, because he had the longer legs, and James wasn’t exactly running. He was just…moving at the speed of rage, Teddy supposed, which would make sense if Teddy could figure out what, exactly, he was so bloody angry about.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked, panting. “I’m sorry I kissed your brother, all right? I wasn’t planning on fucking him or anything, I just wanted to see—”
James ignored him, and turned left abruptly; Teddy realized they were at The Wizard’s Staff. “Hey,” he said, holding up his hands, “after that thing with the Prophet, I’m not sure I want to—”
“Then don’t,” James snapped, and vanished through the doors.
“Fuck,” Teddy groaned. He idled on the sidewalk for a moment, then cursed again and followed. He could feel exhaustion nipping at his heels, and the burning hangover of an over-eager Sobrietus behind it, but he couldn’t just leave, not with James this upset. It—aside from the time with the broom, and the time last winter when Teddy’d had to spend a week in the hospital because he’d gotten pneumonia and used suppressing charms to hide it until he’d nearly died, James had never been really angry with him. Annoyed, sure, even pissed, but never furious like this. Teddy was surprised to find that the experience left his stomach in hard, aching knots.
The lights were dim inside the club; somewhere a strobe was going, and Teddy glanced around desperately. He’d never been in here sober, and he decided at once that he liked it better drunk. In the brief flashes of light he could see men writhing against each other, and he searched almost frantically for any sign of James—the flashes of red that sometimes shone out from his dark brown hair, that olive skin, those hands that were too big for his body.
His clothes, you idiot, Teddy thought, suddenly, you’re more likely to identify that jacket than his fucking hands in the dark. He swore and, feeling like an imbecile, cast his eyes around for—
There. James was up against a wall, having a spirited discussion with a man nearly twice his size. He saw Teddy looking and scowled. Then he said something that Teddy couldn’t make out to the man, who grabbed James by both shoulder and kissed him roughly.
Teddy felt something twist, violent and furious, in his chest. As he stalked over to them, he was nearly knocked down by the sudden cacophony of thoughts clamoring for first ranking in his mind. Sharpest among them was Fuck, I am an idiot; most persistent was Seriously, I am a fucking idiot. There were innumerable others—shades of panic, the fact that he’d never actually seen James touch anyone at a club before, ways he could commit murder without being traced—but one drowned out all the rest.
It said, quite simply, Mine.
Teddy tapped the strange man on the shoulder when he reached them; the guy broke from James and turned to Teddy with a lazy, arrogant grin on his face. “Little busy here, mate,” he said.
“I am not your fucking mate,” Teddy snapped, and punched him.
It was, admittedly, not his best punch ever. Teddy had been a Ravenclaw, and they weren’t much for physical violence; he’d gone through hand to hand combat training with the Aurors, of course, but that had been nearly a decade ago. Still, he put all of his weight into it, and he felt pretty good about himself as the guy reeled backward, clutching his face.
He felt less good about himself when James yelled “What the fuck is wrong with you,” like he’d stomped on a kitten, and less good in general when the guy straightened up and sighed heavily. Teddy, in his rage, had not taken into account exactly how massive he was.
“A jealous boyfriend,” he said, cracking his jaw against his hand. “Right shame, but I get that. I’ve been there. We could have discussed it; I would have been reasonable. But now,” he said, a little mournfully, “now you’ve gone and hit me.”
“I’m not sorry,” Teddy said, valiantly. He was sorry, a little, because he could see where this was going, but the bastard had deserved it.
“Of course you’re not. I told you, I’ve been there. But man, I am sorry—because nobody hits me and gets away clean. Bad for the reputation.” He cracked his knuckles and glanced at them, a little regretfully. “You seem like a nice enough guy,” he said, “but a man’s got to do what he’s got to do, you know?”
“Fair enough,” Teddy said faintly, and the guy cracked him hard across the jaw. Teddy stumbled back but didn’t fall—Auror training, even a decade old, apparently had its advantages—but fuck if that didn’t hurt. He spat blood onto the ground while the stranger shook his hand out.
“And you,” the guy said, wheeling on James. A little quicker on the uptake about this kind of thing than Teddy, he had his hand on his wand, and he glanced between the two of them warily.
“Going to hit me too?” James asked—always the false bravado. The man sighed again.
“No,” he said, “you’re too pretty to hit. But you need to sort your shit out, because that—” he jerked a thumb at Teddy without turning around, “is bad for business.”
Without any further explanation, he grabbed both James and Teddy by their collars and hauled them to the door. Teddy, who hadn’t been forcibly removed from a bar since he was 23, felt ridiculous—James, who hadn’t, to Teddy’s knowledge, ever been forcibly removed from a bar, was white with fury.
The door slammed heavily behind them. “I hope you’re happy,” James yelled; Teddy was torn between a pressing need to yell back and the new, strange desire to touch.
He settled for yelling, because the other option seemed infinitely more dangerous. “Happy? What, that I got thrown out of a bar by your new boyfriend? Yeah, I’m thrilled.”
“He was the bouncer, you prat! And what fucking right do you have to, to, to punch people in the fucking face—”
“I didn’t want him to touch you.” Teddy meant to yell it, but it came out quiet, a little ashamed. “I saw him, and I—I didn’t—”
James’ mouth twisted into a wry, feral smile. “Oh,” he said, “so I’m the best Potter for the job, am I? Picked me, did you? I’m flattered, Lupin, but I just don’t think I’m ready for that kind of commitment.”
“What are you on about?” Teddy snapped. “For fuck’s sake, Jamie, would you just—”
“Don’t,” James said, breathing heavily out of his nostrils, “don’t you fucking call me that. That’s a family name.”
That stung. Teddy took a reeling step back and James advanced, cornering him against a lamppost.
“Thought you’d just pick one of us,” James hissed, “and everything would work out, is that it?”
“What the fuck are you—”
“Wanted to marry into a good lot,” he spat, furious, and Teddy actually felt the blood drain from his face. “That’s what you said, right? And what better family than the famous Potters, especially for an up-and-coming Ministry man like yourself.”
“It wasn’t like—”
“So you tried Albus and that didn’t work, poor Lily’s got a vagina so she’s right out. I suppose I can only be thankful you didn’t go for my father—”
Teddy couldn’t stop the guilty, shamed expression that flitted across his face, impossibly hard though he tried. He covered it as fast as he could, but not fast enough—James saw, and his eyes went from furious to disgusted to hurt before Teddy could blink.
“Oh my god,” he said, stunned. Then he started laughing; it was a horrible, raw sound. It made the bruise on Teddy’s face throb. He reached out a hand, wanting to—to do something, and James shied away from him and went abruptly silent.
“James,” Teddy tried, “if you’re just—”
“Do you know,” James interrupted, his voice deadly calm now, “how hard it was? To be your friend, your brother all these years? Because that’s what you wanted, and I wanted to do what you wanted, never mind that I’ve been in love with you since I was fifteen.”
“James,” Teddy repeated, his voice cracking.
“I kept telling myself,” he said, and sighed heavily. He looked old: suddenly, terribly. “I kept telling myself that you’d come around eventually—because everyone else saw it, you know. People kept asking me, ‘How about you and Lupin,’ and I’d smile and tell them we were just friends and I kept waiting, I kept waiting for the fucking day you’d—”
He stopped and took a deep breath. Then he smiled; the expression left him looking nothing at all like himself. “And apparently,” he said, his voice bitter, “you have come around. I’m just the last resort. The last Potter standing. How fucking romantic; you should write a novel, Teddy.”
“It’s not like that,” Teddy said, desperately. James gave him a pained, knowing look and Teddy didn’t know what he could possibly say, because of course, of course it looked like that. What else could it look like? “I didn’t realize—”
James reached out and ran two fingers across the bruise on Teddy’s cheek. “Fuck you,” he said, softly.
“Let me explain,” Teddy whispered.
James leaned close, his lips just barely brushing Teddy’s. “Drop dead,” he hissed. Then he stepped back sharply, turned on his heel, and stormed away, leaving Teddy reeling and alone on the street corner.
Teddy woke up on his kitchen floor, surrounded by papers. He glanced at them balefully; half of them seemed to be drafts of letters to James, and the other half were loose sketches of possible resolutions to this case—all dead ends. He sighed and glanced at the clock, which read 7:15. That meant he’d gotten at least a few hours of sleep; last he could recall looking at it, it had informed him that it was a few minutes past four.
He sighed and hauled himself up. He felt like shit (lack of sleep lack of breakthrough lack of James), but he had too much to do to worry about that. He made his way to the shower and washed quickly, the brutally hot spray doing wonders to wake him. Then he spelled his coffeemaker on, dressed, and tried to decide what the best course of action was.
Going in to the office was, of course, the right thing to do. Draco was going to go to jail if he wasn’t quick about this, and he had an impossible, unbearable amount of work to do. The trouble was, he didn’t think he’d be able to concentrate until he’d at least spoken to James.
As if to confirm this thought, a thousand images of James popped up behind his briefly closed eyelids—James running after a loosed Snitch, James dumping water over his head, James sullen and closed off after his parents told him about the divorce. James’ eyes, blue and piercing and amused, staring him down over a beer. James touching him, casually, and that spark that always went through him, the one he’d somehow missed.
He thought too about how many times he’d ditched a guy because his hair wasn’t quite the right color, because his eyes were green instead of blue. “I’m picky,” he’d said, when people (usually James) had asked. What he had meant, apparently, was “I’m looking for someone else.”
He didn’t understand—how he had missed this, why he had missed this. In the blinding Thursday morning light, he felt like the biggest moron on the planet. Being a Ravenclaw, he wanted to spend a few days in a quiet room, analyzing this, combing himself for clues until he found the answer. But he didn’t have time—there wasn’t enough time.
He sighed, took a swig of coffee, and walked to the Floo. He might as well at least try to find James first.
“Oh my god,” Teddy said. He stared—Harry went bright red under his gaze, and Ginny went white under Harry.
“Oh my god,” Teddy repeated. He stumbled back toward the fireplace, hoping to Floo back out, but the powder had worn off and he did nothing so much as lightly singe his hand. “Fucking hell,” he hissed, jerking it back.
“Teddy,” Harry said, “What happened to you? Your face—”
Teddy turned back around, despite the damage the sight of them was probably doing to his sanity. Ginny was spread eagle on the rug, topless, and Harry was above her, his pants down but his boxers, mercifully, still on.
“I’m fine,” he said, shortly. “Long story. What are you doing here?”
Ginny flushed. “I could ask you the same question!”
“I was looking for James!” Teddy cried.
“Floo’d me this morning, said he’s sick.” Harry gave Teddy a suspicious look. “Why would you think he’d be here?”
“I didn’t—I just thought—how was I supposed to know you’d—aren’t you—I distinctly remember the two of you getting divorced.”
“We did,” Harry said. Ginny sighed and wriggled out from under him, covering her bare breasts with her left arm. “Sometimes things just happen.”
“We were fighting all the time,” Ginny added, fishing behind the couch for her shirt. “Doesn’t mean we don’t love each other.”
“I—” Teddy couldn’t even begin to align the screaming incongruent ridiculousness that was his life. Also, he figured I thought you were gay and maybe willing to be seduced by your godson would only get him in trouble. “Are you getting back together?” he asked, finally, and Harry sighed.
“No,” Ginny said, gently. “That’s why we haven’t told you.”
“We didn’t,” Harry stopped, and waved a hand in frustration. “We didn’t want to…give you lot any ideas. We’re not really sure—”
“Spare me the details,” Teddy said hurriedly. “Really. I won’t tell anyone, just—I have to be…somewhere else. Right now. Uh.” He smiled shakily at them and turned back to the fire, pulling some powder out of the jar. “Good to see you?”
He stepped into the Floo fire quickly, but not fast enough to miss hearing Harry yelling after him, telling him that he needed to get that bruise looked at.
Scorpius Malfoy opened the door at Al’s place; Teddy was both unduly relieved to be able to avoid talking to Albus and horrified that this kid was seeing him gallivanting about when he should have been at the office, clearing Draco’s name.
“Uh,” Teddy said, “hi.”
“He’s not here,” Scorpius said, by way of greeting. “James, I mean. Al either. Come on in.”
“How do you even know—” Teddy started, stepping into the apartment after him, but Scorpius cut him off with an unimpressed look that he’d definitely inherited from Draco.
“First of all,” he said calmly, “Al tells me things. Secondly, I am not deaf.”
Scorpius waved a hand. “James was here last night,” he said, crossing to the fridge and rummaging around in there. “Hungry?”
“No, thanks,” Teddy said. “What—when James, did he—is he—”
“Well,” Scorpius said, shutting the fridge door and taking a bite out of a large apple, “he and Al got into a screaming row about that kiss, and then James told us what happened.” He chewed for a long second, musingly, and added, “You’re kind of an idiot.”
“I know,” Teddy groaned. “Believe me, I know.”
“Anyway,” Scorpius continued blithely, “Al said he was gonna kill you, but I sucked him off and made him smoke with me before he went to work, so I think he’ll probably just beat you til you cry.”
“That is a great comfort,” Teddy deadpanned. Scorpius tossed his apple into the air and caught it, and then he gave Teddy a hooded look.
“I know you can’t tell me much,” he said, slowly, “but the case—is it going okay?”
There was actually some emotion in his voice, which surprised Teddy. He’d always been an oddly self-possessed child, having inherited all of Draco’s commitment to emotional control but none of his dramatic tendencies, all of Astoria’s stern pragmatism but none of her exuberant, ebullient affection. He’d grown up not laughing much, not crying much, only smiling when you really earned it.
It occurred to Teddy that, placed next to over-the-top, easily incensed Albus, Scorpius Malfoy actually made a lot of sense.
“I’ve got a few leads,” Teddy said, gently. “I’m not going to let them get him, don’t worry. He’s innocent. I’m on it. I can’t say anything else—”
“The world is quiet here, I know, I know,” Scorpius said, a tired smile plying the corners of his mouth up. “I’ve heard it before.”
“Come to ask for my hand in marriage?” Lily asked, swinging the door to her apartment wide. Teddy winced at the fire behind her eyes, the steel in her tone.
“No,” he said, “I…no. Fuck, Lil, I’m sorry—”
“He’s not here,” she snapped, “and don’t apologize to me. I’m not the one you owe that to.”
“I know, I know, I can’t believe I—”
She slammed the door in his face before he could finish.
Teddy couldn’t think of anywhere else James was likely to be, and he wanted to try every unlikely place he could think of—holed up underground, tucked into the crevices of Big Ben, swimming the Channel—but his time limit was eating at him now, reminding him of how fast the clock was ticking towards disaster. Feeling guilty, he went to work.
He ran into Pomarina in the elevator. She looked about as awful as he felt.
“You look like you’ve seen better days,” she murmured. Teddy laughed—between the bruise on his face and the circles under his eyes and the fact that he wasn’t entirely sure what color his hair was, he was sure she was right.
“This case is driving me crazy,” he said.
“Any closer to getting to the bottom of it?” She stared at him, intensity thrumming around her, and Teddy thought about how much worse it must be for her; having to go to him and pass on his messages, having to run his life without him. He knew she’d been to the holding cell this morning; he wanted to ask, but he didn’t want to know.
“No,” he said honestly. Her face fell. “But I’ll get there, Pom, I promise.”
“Just—” her voice broke, and she laughed, a sad, shamed little trill. “Just let me know, all right?”
“Of course,” Teddy promised her. She smiled shakily at him, and the elevator ground to a halt. She went down the hall to her desk and Teddy turned into his office.
It looked exactly as it had the day before, as dismal and papered with dead ends as when James had rescued him from it. Don’t think about that, Teddy told himself, and he honed in on the piles of paper in front of him.
He spent hours in there, thinking like he’d been thinking all week, going over possible suspects, MOs, case histories. It got him nowhere, and it finally occurred to him that he was considering this case like an Auror, not like an Unspeakable.
“If I was the magic,” he said out loud, his voice nearly deafening in the silent office, “where would I start?” He pulled out a sketch he’d done of the apartment crime scene. Everything the victim owned had burned, but the apartment itself, which he’d rented—that had stayed intact. He’d thought it was weird at the time, but he hadn’t pushed it. Now…
Teddy rifled through the case files. There had been a number of strange instances of things remaining untouched in the wreckage of other crime scenes—a pottery wheel at one, a blue dress at another. The Aurors had been taking them to pieces, looking for a spell-trigger, but it had never occurred to them, or to Teddy, that this whole thing could be based in a different kind of magic entirely.
He made a few Floo calls. Every surviving item had been either rented or borrowed.
Teddy grabbed a pencil and paper and started scribbling, the pieces of the case spilling out in front of him. Possession, ownership, was its own branch of magic—an ancient thing, dating back before Hogwarts. If you owned something, it was yours, and it remembered that. Even Muggles showed traces of it; things they lost found their way back, inexplicably; they felt strange wearing someone else’s clothes. And with wizards, ownership magic was stronger, more tangible. You put a little piece of yourself, a tiny snippet of your magical signature, into every item you possessed.
It didn’t explain how the hell the arsonist had started the fires to begin with, or why, but it was a breakthrough. Teddy whooped, going over the case in his mind as he did so, fitting the puzzle together. Of course the houses had burned down, but not the apartment. He was willing to bet they’d burned faster, too—the more important the item in question was to the owner, the stronger the bond of the possession magic. That was why it was so hard to separate a wizard from his wand—
Teddy silenced mid-whoop, stunned. “The wands,” he breathed. “Could it really be that simple?” He grabbed his pencil again and ripped down the papers he’d tacked to his office walls. Then he started tracing the magical path on the drywall, Draco’s potential wrath be damned.
It was impossible to control Fiendfyre. But if you mutated it, made it something new, bound it with the ancient magic of possession, gave it a target—it could, apparently, be reigned. It was brilliant, he realized, writing the probable roots of the thing in frantic, crabbed Latin in case he forgot it later. Impossibly dangerous, but brilliant.
And to tie it in to wandlore, that was brilliant too. No wizard distrusted his own wand, he’d take it anywhere, and the magic signature on it would match that on everything else he owned. But—Teddy frowned, and stopped scribbling.
But a wizard trusted his wand because the wand chose the wizard. Wands didn’t willingly betray their masters barring extenuating circumstances; wizarding society had learned that thousands of years ago, and been reminded of it in the Second Voldemort War. So you’d have to—you’d have to hoodwink the wand into thinking its master had been bested.
Couldn’t do that with a duel; that many duels would have come up in the investigation. But a potion, maybe—if you infused the wood with something that would fuck with its magical alignment, or, hell, if you replaced part of its core, filled it with something that belonged to the arsonist…that would confuse a wand, wouldn’t it?
But in order to take out part of the core, you’d need some kind of fuel to bind everything, something to make up for that lost magical force—
“PETROL!” Teddy shouted, gleefully. “FUCK. YES.”
He tore out of his office, skidding to a stop at Pomarina’s desk. “I need to see Draco,” he said, urgently. “I need you to tell you where in Glouster they’re keeping him.”
“Teddy,” she said, hesitantly, “have you made some kind of—”
“I’ve got it,” he breathed, thrilled, leaning across the desk. “Or—or I’ve got how it’s done, anyway. It’s—wands, I can’t believe we never—I need to see him, to figure out who, I have to tell him—”
“Teddy,” she said, gently. “I don’t know where he is.”
“What?” Teddy said, furious. “What? But you’ve been there, you have to know—”
“They have a Secret Keeper,” she said, sadly. “So I guess I mean I do know where his is, but I can’t tell you. I’m sorry, Teddy.”
“Fuck,” Teddy said, tangling his left hand in his hair. “Fuck, fuck, fuck--can you go, I don’t know, get him? Or tell the guards to get me?”
“I—” she started. Then met Teddy’s eyes, and her face softened. “I’ll try, okay?”
“Thank you,” he said. She just sighed and grabbed her coat.
“I was going to go see him now anyway,” she said, tidying her desk absently. “You should go home, it’s nearly 8:00.”
“At night?” Teddy cried, shocked. She smiled at him.
“Don’t worry,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. “You’ve had a long day. Easy to lose track. Get some sleep, all right? I’ll owl when I’ve news for you.”
He nodded, and he decided going home probably was a good idea; he wasn’t planning on sleeping, but he could get rid of that bruise, maybe make himself another pot of coffee, figure out what the hell he was going to say to James when he found him. Then he’d come back here, set in on the suspect files with a fresh head. Yes.
He waved goodbye to Pom and hopped the elevator downstairs; the Floo grates were roaring and he threw himself into one gratefully, arriving at his apartment in seconds. He was so out of it that he didn’t even bother to turn the coffeemaker on, just wandered into his bathroom to hunt down his bruise remover. He found the tube in the back of the cupboard, grabbed it victoriously, and went back into kitchen.
And then, well. Then three things happened in order, but so quickly they might as well have been at once. First he waved his wand at the coffeemaker, the same way he always did; in that moment he looked at the clock, realized it read 4:30, and thought, wait, what?
And then, immediately, horribly, he smelled it. Unmistakable and familiar, the scent that had been haunting him for weeks on end.
“Pomarina,” he whispered, and caught fire.
The wand went first, twisting and blackening instantly. He took some comfort in knowing he’d been right about that, at least. He threw it away from him as his entire apartment was instantly consumed—the fire moved faster than anything he’d ever seen. He watched, morbidly fascinated, for a split second; pictures of his parents, his friends, being devoured whole. Then the smoke got to him, the heat quick on its heels. Coughing, burning alive, Teddy felt his body take over, his skin cells rearranging themselves, trying on different callouses, melanin levels, anything that would help. He tried desperately to make it to a window, to the door, but this was Fiendfyre; it gathered into violent, monstrous jaws that snapped at him whenever he got close.
And, Teddy realized, his mind remarkably clear over the pain of the flames licking at his legs and arms and face, this is why no one gets out alive. Because Apparation was a non-verbal spell, but doing it without a wand on your person was next to impossible. Because the fire moved fast enough to block all the exits. Because in so many ways, it really was the perfect crime.
The worst part of it was that he was going to die without having talked to James, without having explained to anyone. He thought about James’ face the night before, cruel and furious and hurt, more than anything. He thought about it so hard he stopped thinking about the pain, or the fire, or how difficult it was to breathe.
He thought about it so hard that he Apparated, landing on the floor of the Malfoy Manor drawing room. Which—well, it hurt. A lot. His back felt raw and he screamed before he could stop himself.
“What the—oh, fuck, Teddy?” Teddy was pretty sure it was James talking—the voice sounded like James, but Teddy’s eyes had suddenly slitted, were more or less swollen shut. He was proud of himself, though; Apparating wandlessly and getting through the Manor wards.
He was proud of James, too. Teddy never would have looked for him here.
“Call St. Mungo’s, call them NOW, and get Astoria,” James was barking, probably to the house-elves, and that reminded Teddy—about Draco and then his dirty little assistant, and he coughed, hard, until he thought he could speak.
“Pom,” he said, his voice barely there, his throat unbearably dry, “I—I figured—Fiendfyre and, wands—she—my apartment—”
“It’s okay,” James said. He sounded like he was maybe a little hysterical, but then again, Teddy was pretty sure his hair was still on fire. “You’re going to be okay. Stop talking.”
“Sorry,” he rasped, “I—that—first, should have—but I had to—the case, I—”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” James pleaded, and he definitely did sound hysterical now. Teddy wanted to calm him down, but couldn’t remember how. “It’s going to be fine and you’re going to be fine but please stop fucking talking, you’re going to hurt yourself, Teddy, Jesus Christ—”
“No—” Teddy tried, “I—need to—explain—”
“Oh my god,” and that was Astoria’s voice, and then shouting and hands, hands touching him and he screamed because FUCK that hurt and James was making noises that made Teddy’s heart ache and saying “You’re okay, you have to be okay,” and then he felt consciousness slipping away from him, like a prize he’d been trying to win, like a case he couldn’t quite solve.
He dreamed of James, James screaming orders and James bursting into white rooms with his wand drawn and James pacing next to the bed Teddy was lying in. He dreamed of James and he said “I thought you were angry” and James said “I am angry,” but laughing and crying a little, as though this whole thing was some big joke Teddy didn’t get at all.
He woke up and everything hurt, his hands and his feet and his thighs and his eyelids but it hurt less than it had, so that was all right. And James was there, just James, sitting on a chair and holding Teddy’s hand gently, like he might break it.
“Hi,” Teddy said, only it came out “Hnnng.” He tried again, and got it right.
“Hi,” James said, smiling at him. It looked kind of wobbly, James’s smile, but then the whole room looked kind of wobbly, so there was no way to really be sure.
Teddy wanted to say something else, but there were so many things that wanted to go first—I’m sorry and Am I going to live and Here, let me explain what really happened with your brother and How long have I been out and Did they catch her—that he didn’t know where to start. He made a frustrated sound and James smoothed his hair back carefully, shushing him.
“When I said ‘drop dead’ the other night,” he said sadly, “I didn’t mean you to take it so literally.”
“Am I dead?” Teddy croaked, and James laughed softly.
“No, you tosser,” he said, only a little strangled, “but you gave it your best effort, didn’t you?” Teddy opened his mouth and James said, “Don’t. Stop talking. Your voice—you sound fucking terrible. You’ll make it worse.”
Teddy wanted to argue but found he couldn’t bring himself to. He shifted against the pillows and pulled a half-hearted face, and that won a little smile from James.
“I know,” he murmured, “I’m a right bastard, aren’t I? But I’ll tell you everything I think you might want to know, I promise. Okay?”
Teddy nodded, and James sighed, playing with the hem of Teddy’s hospital-issue pajamas absently. “We caught the bitch,” he said, “you’re probably worried about that. Arrested her myself.”
“Bet Draco wanted to do that,” Teddy rasped, unable to help himself. James fixed him with a stern look.
“I told you,” he said, “not to talk. And they’re letting Malfoy interrogate her, so I’m sure he’ll get over it.” An expression of unholy terror crossed over his face briefly, and Teddy almost laughed. “I hope so, anyway.”
“And, let’s see…you’ve been asleep for—don’t yell, you’ll only hurt yourself—2 days.” Teddy opened his mouth and James, the little shit, put his hand over it, so all that came out was a muffled groan.
“I warned you,” he intoned, raising an eyebrow. “You’re a bad listener. Can I take my hand off of your mouth now, or are you going to keep being obnoxious?”
Teddy rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Yes, you’re going to continue being obnoxious or yes, I can move my hand?”
Teddy lifted his head to nod; then he tilted his head to shake it. Then he focused on his energy on glaring at James, who laughed.
“You’re so easy,” he said, but he pulled his hand away. “You’re going to be fine. They think the Metamorphmagus thing saved you—you kept shifting your skin, the spell couldn’t grab hold, so you got hit almost entirely with regular fire. You had third degree burning over most of your body, they had to give you a fucking vat of DermiGro, which is why you feel like such arse. And it’s gonna be about a week before your lungs are sorted and feel normal again.”
“Scarring?” he gasped. James scowled at him for a second, and then smiled.
“Vain bastard,” he said fondly. “Just one. The—your wand hand.”
Teddy lifted the hand at once; there was a dark, ugly mark there, long and thin, in the exact shape of his wand. James traced it sadly with his forefinger.
“They did everything they could,” he murmured, “but that’s a fourth degree burn; they could barely manage to get the rogue magic out.”
Teddy nodded. “Wand caught first,” he said. His voice really did sound terrible, but there were things he needed to say. “Look, James—”
“Teddy,” James said, “just don’t. Don’t, okay? You’re in a hospital bed, you nearly burned to death, and even if you could talk properly I wouldn’t believe a damned thing that came out of your mouth. You’re too out of it. We can talk about it later.”
“What if you’re not—”
“I will be.” And Teddy wanted to argue that, wanted to make sure, wanted to explain, but his eyelids were getting heavy against his will.
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning his face into the cool expanse of the pillow. As he drifted off, he could hear James sigh, could feel him carding his fingers through Teddy’s singed hair again.
“I know,” James said, “I know you are.”
He dreamed of James: James at ten, curled up on the guest bed at Teddy’s brand new apartment, laughing hysterically as Teddy rearranged his face. James at seventeen on the same bed, high off of some shitty weed he’d nicked from the guy downstairs, reading Muggle comics and waxing poetic about Peter Parker’s fatal flaw. James at twenty, dragging Teddy into and then out of the Ministry elevator to show off his brand new office, fresh paint job still drying. James at twenty-one, saying Never mind that I’ve been in love with you since I was fifteen. James at twenty-five, kissing Teddy good morning.
He didn’t want to wake up.
The unmistakable sound of a heated whispered argument was bouncing around the hospital room, ominous and irritating. Teddy sighed and resisted opening his eyes. On the one hand, he felt better—shockingly better, almost entirely better. On the other hand, he was of the personal opinion that he’d spent enough time in the last week putting out fires.
And starting them, an obnoxious, Albus-esque voice in his head murmured, but he ignored it. Then he heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like Draco’s snap, “Well, Potter, I must say, if I’d had any idea you were such a scintillating conversationalist I wouldn’t have blocked so many of your funding requests—”
Teddy opened his eyes. He didn’t really have much choice.
“He’s awake,” Andromeda said, derailing the retort Harry’s mouth had been open around. They all—Andromeda, Harry and Ginny, Draco and Astoria—turned to look at him, and Teddy smiled wanly.
“Don’t you ever,” Harry said, gruffly, “scare us like that again,” and before Teddy had the chance to respond he was being hugged, Harry on one side, Ginny and Andromeda on the other.
“Oh yes,” Draco said, bitingly, “touch the burn victim, brilliant.” They pulled back at once and Teddy laughed at their horrified faces.
“I’m fine,” he said quickly. “Didn’t hurt at all. Don’t scare the civilians, boss.”
“I’m not a civilian,” Harry muttered. Teddy grinned at him.
“Sorry,” he corrected, “don’t scare the civilians and the Head of the Aurors.”
“But they make it so easy,” Draco said lightly. Then, to Teddy’s unending surprise, he stood up. “Besides, I had to clear them out somehow.”
He leaned forward and hugged Teddy. It was a brief thing, fleeting, but from Draco it was practically an open declaration of fatherly love. Teddy laughed again, shocked, as Draco pulled back and Astoria took his place, enveloping him more warmly. She moved away after a moment, and Andromeda took his hand.
Teddy smiled at all of them. Then he glanced around the room, looking, despite himself, for—
“James left,” Astoria said, quietly. “Few hours ago. We sent him home—he’d been here for three days. He needed to get some sleep.”
“And a shower,” Harry put in, wrinkling his nose. Ginny rolled her eyes and nodded.
“He’s as bad as you that way,” she told Harry, who pulled a face.
“I have never been that smelly. Jesus, even Al was better than James, and he went through that whole phase after fifth year where he hated bathing.”
“Of course, you never washed your own Quidditch kits,” she returned. “That was always my job, and god knows—”
“Anyway,” Andromeda said firmly, shutting them up. “He left. Said he’d be back tonight.”
“Teddy…” Harry said. Ginny, Andromeda, Astoria and Draco all glared at him, and he closed his mouth.
“What?” Teddy asked, honestly curious. “What is it? I know about the scar on my hand, and—”
“Don’t you dare, Potter, he just woke up—” Draco started.
Harry ignored him. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know what’s going on with you and James and you know I’ll love you both the same either way but just—please tell me you didn’t cheat on him or something.”
Astoria groaned. Teddy raised both eyebrows and spluttered. “What?”
“Well, I just—”
“James and I aren’t dating,” Teddy said. “We—I—it’s a mess. But that’s not—why would you think that?”
“Oh come on,” Harry said, like Teddy was being incredibly thick. “You spend almost all your time together, you’re both gay, you do that thing—” he made cow-eyes, and Teddy had to bite back a peal of hysterical laughter. “It’s okay,” Harry continued blithely. “We know you haven’t told us because of the age difference, but we don’t mind. It’s fine.”
“We’re not dating,” Teddy repeated. “I—we. Um.”
They stared, and he sighed and explained, conveniently forgetting to mention Harry’s piece in it. Astoria, who’d heard James’s side of things when he showed up at her door at 2 A.M., cleared up the last few parts of the story for him.
“And that’s what happened,” Teddy finished, nearly half an hour later. He opened his eyes, tentatively, expecting to see fury; to his surprise, everyone in the room was glaring at Draco.
“Marriage is binding legal contract, is it?” Astoria said, acridly. “Funny, I seem to remember being told that it was a…how did you put it… a ‘successful union of two fated souls.’”
“Well, it was, when I proposed to you! And it—I—this scrutiny is unappreciated!” Draco glared back at everyone in turn, and then sighed and dropped his head into his hands. “How was I supposed to know the lad would take it the way he did?”
“How else was he supposed to take it?” Ginny cried. “‘Go find yourself a family you want to be part of and marry into it, even the Potters will do’—like he wasn’t already family, how ridiculous.”
“And you!” Astoria said, turning to Andromeda. “Honestly, ‘I won’t be around much longer,’ you know how oddly duty-bound he is—”
“I was just expressing my concern for him!” Andromeda protested. Her voice was imperious, but there were tears in her eyes. “I had no idea he’d—”
“Okay,” Teddy snapped. They all stopped talking and looked at him. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.
“First of all,” he said, “I am not a child. This really isn’t anyone’s fault but mine. And secondly,” he added, hurriedly, as Ginny and Astoria both started to protest, “I know I was nearly burned to death and everything, but I did actually survive, and I am actually right here. So maybe you guys could try talking to me and not about me?”
Astoria and Ginny both flushed, embarrassed. Andromeda sniffled and glanced at the ceiling, and Draco was glaring sullenly at the floor. Harry, who’d been remarkably silent through the whole thing, looked at Teddy like his heart was breaking.
“All these years,” he said, quietly, “and you think you have to marry one of my children for me to think of you as my son?”
“I,” Teddy said. Ginny sighed, and took his hand.
“Teddy,” she said, gently. “As far as we’re concerned, you are our son. Just because you didn’t live with us doesn’t mean—we’ve always thought of you that way. I thought you knew.”
“I,” Teddy repeated. And then Astoria sighed and put a hand on Teddy’s shoulder.
“Not that my husband will admit it,” she murmured, “but we’ve always felt the same way.”
“And,” Andromeda put in, taking Teddy’s other hand, “you know you’ve got me, for as long as I’m still kicking.”
“You,” Teddy tried. He closed his eyes to stop them stinging. “Thank you,” he said, not looking at any of them. He felt a squeeze—his left hand first, then his right, then his shoulder.
When he opened his eyes, they were all carefully looking elsewhere, giving him a moment to compose himself. He almost laughed at the picture they painted; Andromeda, prim and controlled but with that wild hair barely managed, Ginny with her mouth set, Astoria with a smudge of unnoticed dirt on her cheek, Draco and Harry glaring daggers at each other.
As families went, he could do a lot worse.
“So,” he said, “tell me about Pomarina.”
The six pack was heavy in Teddy’s hand as he trudged up the stairs. He could shrink it—Draco had lent him a wand, an old one that Harry had made a strange noise upon seeing—but the details of Pom’s confession were still fresh and haunting in his mind.
“I played Quidditch with her father, at school,” Draco had explained, while Teddy tested his legs’ ability to hold him upright. “He was fond of me, and spoke of me highly when she was a child. Apparently that—” He’d waved a hand and flushed, which was so uncharacteristic for him that Teddy started.
And then he’d filled in the rest of the story—the surveillance charms she’d placed on his home, the photos of him she’d doctored and sexualized, the clips of his voice playing over and over on loop they’d discovered in her home. The entire arson thing had been a misguided attempt to get the attention of her obsession; she’d get him framed, take care of his pesky wife, and then free him, handily setting herself up to be Mrs. Malfoy the second. She’d been plotting it for years—the assassination attempt that had forced Draco to bar wands from his office had been her doing.
“So that’s how she—” Teddy had said, and Draco had sighed, resigned.
“Terribly clever, isn’t it? And she’s been having you tailed—James too, after the other night. She figured you knew he was at the Manor, that you’d Floo there, that the first magic you used would be in my home, and Astoria—” Draco had paused, choking a little on it. “Well,” he’d said, composing himself. “I’m just glad we’ve caught her.”
“You and me both,” Teddy had responded, faintly.
Even now, hours later, he was turning around constantly, checking behind him. He was wary of using any magic at all, though he knew he’d have to get over that eventually. But for today, he could enjoy the sensation of simply avoiding it, giving in to his paranoia.
He reached the landing. Nervousness of a different sort was twitching in his stomach, but he tamped it down as best he could, placing the six pack on the ground. Then he swallowed hard and knocked.
James opened the door a minute later, his hair damp. Teddy grinned despite himself—that was just like James, to sleep first and shower later. He almost made a crack about it. Then he remembered why he was there, and his smile slipped from his face.
“Hey,” he said.
“You’re supposed to be in St. Mungo’s,” James replied evenly. “I know they weren’t planning on releasing you until tomorrow, and Teddy, if you broke out of there I swear I’m going to kill you.”
“I didn’t,” Teddy said, quickly. “I just—I talked to the Healers, they said I could go.”
“Then you should be sleeping,” James returned. “And don’t give me any bullshit about your bed being burned to the ground, I know the Malfoys and Andromeda and my dad have all set up rooms for you—”
“I didn’t,” Teddy started, frustrated. Then he sighed. “I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until we’d talked.”
“Fine,” James said curtly. He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “Talk.”
Teddy swallowed hard. “I need you to understand,” he started, slowly, “that none of this is what it looks like.”
James raised an eyebrow. “Really,” he said. “So you didn’t kiss my brother and try to—to seduce my father, of all people?”
“Well,” Teddy hedged. James cut him off.
“And you didn’t punch some hapless bouncer in the face—”
“He wasn’t hapless! He was bloody massive— ”
“And you didn’t,” James finished, his tone dangerous, “do all of this because you decided it was high time you marry into a nice family?”
“Look,” Teddy said, desperately. “I’m not saying I’m not an idiot. But I just—I never realized—I think I tried so hard with them because I couldn’t see that I wanted—” He stopped, and sighed heavily.
“I never realized,” he said, quietly. “I never let myself see it. But James, you—”
“Don’t,” James said. His voice was—clipped, and strained, and maybe a little terrified. “I don’t need you to do this. I’m angry as all hell but I’ll get over it. You don’t need to, to, to pretend that this is something it’s not. We can be friends. It’s fine.”
“I’m not pretending,” Teddy said. “And I don’t want to be friends.”
“Goddamn it, Teddy!” James cried, throwing his hands up. “This isn’t some game to me, this isn’t some joke, you can’t just—”
Teddy leaned forward, and James fell silent. He eyed Teddy warily as Teddy reached a tentative hand up, placed it on the back of James’s neck.
“Shut up,” Teddy said, and kissed him.
James’s mouth opened under his, tentative at first. Teddy kissed him, gently and then decidedly less gently, and James responded with desperation, like he couldn’t help himself. For all his words had been standoffish, his body said something different, arching into Teddy’s with abandon. His hands were on Teddy’s hips, on Teddy’s back, and Teddy himself was tangling his fingers in James’s wet hair. James’s mouth was slick, working against his, those chapped places on his lower lip rubbing brilliantly against Teddy’s gum.
“Jamie,” Teddy moaned, and James stilled and stepped back sharply, fear on his face.
“We can’t,” he said, “I can’t, how—how the fuck do I know this isn’t just—”
“James,” Teddy said. He could hear the smile in his own voice and let it creep onto his face just a little, because he was sure. He was sure now. “Fuck, I’m not asking you to marry me. I just want to—I want to see you. I want to see you like this. I want to make up for being such a prick.”
James eyed him with trepidation, but when he spoke, there was some give to his tone. Teddy’s smile widened. “All right,” he said, slowly. “And how you do propose we—”
“It’s Sunday,” Teddy said. He bent down and picked up the six pack he’d brought. “The game’s on. I thought we could have a few beers and just…do like we always do. See how it goes.”
James stared at him for a long minute. Then he nodded and moved aside, let Teddy slip into the apartment. They settled on the couch, maybe a little closer than usual, and James waved his wand at the Floo. Bulgaria was up three and Teddy’s beer was cold between his legs and James was so close, warm and laughing against him. After the fifth Bulgarian goal, Teddy bit his lip and quietly, casually took James’s hand in his own.
James smiled, and didn’t let go. “Fucker,” he said, under his breath.
“Takes one to know one,” Teddy murmured. He knew now that everything was going to be all right.
“For he's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us!”
The song finished on a high note, Fleur’s light soprano mixing with George's deep baritone to drown out everyone else. Teddy flushed with embarrassment, already feeling a little buzz, and lifted his glass in thanks. The table—well, the room, really—whooped gleefully back at him.
“Twenty-nine!” Bill called, from his end of the table. “Only one year left, kid—everyone knows at thirty your life goes stale. Scared?”
“I ’ope,” Fleur sniffed, the sparkle in her eyes the only indication that she was joking, “zhat you consider yourself the exception to zee rule.”
“Well of course he does!” Ron, who’d already had a few lagers too many, made the universal gesture of female endowment appreciation. “Be hard to get bored with those, eh?”
“Ron,” Hermione hissed, at the same time Rose moaned, “Dad!”
“Oh, come off it,” George said, leaning around Lee Jordan’s arm to join in the debate. “I’m not even that way inclined, but it’s just fact, Hermione. And Rose, haven’t I taught you better than to give your father the satisfaction of scandalizing you?”
Teddy laughed. He turned to his left, but James must have gotten up without his noticing it. Shaking his head, Teddy stood.
“Even the birthday boy has to take a piss sometimes,” he said to the inquisitve stare Scorpius Malfoy shot his way. Scorpius lifted an eyebrow and made a face that said very clearly that Teddy was a bad liar, so he slipped off before anyone else could ask where he was going.
He hadn’t entirely been lying, of course. He did have to go to the bathroom. If he happened to glance around for James on his way there, then so be it.
James was nowhere to be found, so Teddy used the facilities and came back out into the room they’d rented. The place was decorated with Albus’s typical horrifying flair—Harry said he got the tendency to go overboard with the crepe from Ginny, and James had laughed himself sick when he saw it. Still, it was nice that he’d gone to the trouble. Teddy rather suspected that Harry and Draco had pooled their funds to pay off the bartenders, though—he’d seen more than one of them muttering about the indignity of it all.
He leaned against the far wall and looked for the Potters in the crowd. Harry and Ginny were next to each other—Teddy watched them shoot each other hooded glances, and bit back a laugh. Albus had taken a seat in the back of the room, nearly in Scorpius’s lap, and they were furtively smoking a joint; Teddy was pretty sure Harry knew about that, but not sure enough to tell him. Lily and her new boyfriend had showed up last minute, bearing some story about Muggle cabs, but from the way her hair was mussed, Teddy knew what they’d been doing.
And then…well, then there was everyone else. Draco was in the back corner, having an animated conversation with Fleur about his property in Nice, and Astoria was whispering intensely to Neville Longbottom, who was apparently trading in a good deal of Class C substances these days. Molly Weasley was leaning heavily on Arthur, red-faced and smiling; Charlie was arguing healing techniques with Lee Jordan, who still had one arm around George. Andromeda seemed to be entertaining Louis and Hugo with a story from her most recent trip to Prague, and—
A familiar head of hair settled in on his shoulder. “Old fart,” James said, pressing into Teddy’s back.
“Whippersnapper,” Teddy returned, relaxing into him. “Where’d you go?”
“Head bartender’s having an existential crisis,” James muttered irritably. “Apparently George thought it would hilarious to tell him about Harry Potter’s legendary temper; he thinks Dad’s going to murder him if he runs out of lager. I hope you like this party, because the fuck if I am ever throwing you another one.”
Teddy turned around and leaned against the wall, his face level with James’s. “I love this party.”
“Yeah, yeah,” James said, but he flushed, pleased. Teddy took advantage of this to nick James’ beer and take a long swig.
“I was drinking that,” James said, easily enough. Then he bit his lip, a little nervously. “I know it’s a little bigger than you wanted, but Bill told Charlie and Charlie told Percy and I haven’t the faintest how Draco found out, but he sent me a very nasty letter--”
“It’s perfect,” Teddy said. He pulled another swig of James’s beer and reached out a hand to play at the hem of his shirt, and was just considering making some kind of soppy declaration when his thought process was interrupting by a yell.
“Oi!” Albus cried, “don’t bogart! I paid good fucking money for that weed, you twat!”
Scorpius’s laughter was audible, but his response was lost to the roar of the collective Potter-Weasley chatter. Teddy raised an eyebrow.
“That’s a nasty name your brother called my boss’s son,” he said, mock-serious. “Should I be worried?”
James laughed. “Like we haven’t called each other worse.”
Teddy made great show of considering that. “Prat,” he said, lightly.
James leaned close, a grin splitting his features. “Wanker.”
“Fucker,” Teddy said, his voice going soft. James, clearly remembering the afternoon to which Teddy was referring, flushed.
“Arse,” he replied, closing the limited distance between them so his lips were just brushing Teddy’s. We are so fucking weird, Teddy thought, but he smiled, the edge of his grin just touching James’s.
“That one’s true,” James murmured, and he pressed in, eliminating that last space between them. His mouth was warm and wet, the faint taste of the beer Teddy was drinking still lingering there. Teddy let both hands rest on James’s hips and sucked, scraping his teeth along James’s lower lip. James moaned faintly and bucked into him, and—
“Get a room!” someone cried, amusement heavy in their tone. Teddy broke the kiss and turned to see who had yelled; to his surprise, Draco was bright red, staring into his glass of mead like it had betrayed him. Teddy raised an eyebrow at him, and he grimaced apologetically.
Laughing, James pulled away from Teddy, leaving an arm draped loosely behind him. “A toast, then,” he said, and then seemed to remember that Teddy had taken his drink. “Lily, be a love and toss me a beer, would you? Someone doesn’t understand the rules of decorum.”
“It’s my birthday!” Teddy protested, taking another sip. James flipped him a two fingered salute and then caught the beer Lily lobbed at him, popping it open with a spell.
“What’re we drinking to?” Ron called. James grinned and lifted his beer.
“To the birthday boy,” he said. Everyone clapped and drank; when they finished, Albus lifted his glass.
“To comedies of errors,” he said, with a wink at Teddy, who choked on his beer. The crowd—who all, as was the way of any large family, knew the whole story—laughed and clinked glasses, drinking again.
They lifted them one last time, looking to Teddy. He wanted to say something poignant, to sum it all up—his thrill, his gratitude, how utterly fucking perfect his life had turned out to be.
He looked at James, who smiled encouragingly at him, putting a little more pressure into the hand he still had on Teddy’s back. “Go on,” he said.
Teddy raised James’s beer. “To fucking it up,” he said, “and getting it right. But mostly to family, without whom you couldn’t do either.”
There was silence for a moment. Then George cried “Hear, hear!” and everyone echoed him, the sound loud as stampede. They stomped their feet as they drank, all the people he’d come to love over the years, shaking the floor.
Only James, next to him, wasn’t aiding in their noisemaking. He was working his hands into Teddy’s back pockets instead, gaining the leverage to pull him out into the hallway, push him up against a wall.
“Good birthday?” he asked, breathlessly.
“Great birthday,” Teddy answered, kissing him, as he realized for the hundredth time that he’d gotten exactly the Potter he wanted.