James is the son of a hero he's not allowed to admire; not in this world, not with the war won by the wrong side. He is fragmented, a thought, born the day of his father's death, a Potter for thirty minutes and a Weasley for a week. He doesn't know the full story behind becoming an Evans, just family as a child, safety as he was older. He learns when he's older that Teddy's surname, Tonks, that name he'd always teased him about, wasn't the name he was given at birth either.
Sometimes, in fits of doubt, when his hands shake and his heart aches, James wonders how much of their lives are real. He never asks his mother, not with the pain in her eyes and the scars on her hands and the heartbreak on her face, and Aunt Hermione, who hides her heartbreak better, behind books and stories and walks in the park, says it's not her place to tell.
Teddy doesn't ask questions. He doesn't ask where his parents are, or his family. He calls Ginny and Hermione his aunts, and keeps his thoughts to himself.
"You're the son of heroes too, Teddy," Hermione says, with James on her lap, begging for another story about his dad, "They were just as brave. Braver, in some ways."
"It's okay if they're not," Teddy says. Later, years later, in the dead of night, he'll admit that he wished they weren't, because hero seems to mean the same as dead.
They are sixteen and twenty when James kisses Teddy. They're sharing a bedroom, barely big enough to contain one of them, all long limbs, teenage angst and an independence that can't be burned through.
James, being a sixteen year old, has imagined many kisses; kisses in anger, kisses in passion, more than a few with Teddy and not nearly enough with the girl next door, with the great rack and the pretty smile.
He doesn't imagine that his first kiss would be with Teddy, definitely not hemming him up against the bedroom wall and kissing with more feeling than finesse, because he's tired of pretending and he's tired of thinking he's wrong or messed up for liking someone who is almost a brother that way.
"What was that for?" Teddy says, when James pulls away with flushed cheeks and anxious hands. He can't see Teddy's face in the dark, can't see anything more than the curve of his jaw, the shape of his nose. He can't see his eyes, or what he's feeling.
"Because I wanted to," James says, like it's obvious, because it is obvious. "Why else would I?"
"Okay," Teddy says, and kisses him back.
Their feet slip as the climb up onto the tiled roof, but they make it, hands wrapped tight around wrists to keep their balance. They settle in the dip beside the the chimney stack, and look over the city. Out of the corner of his eye, James can see the wind whipping his mum's hair into a frenzy, red tendrils curling like smoke around her hair.
"It's nice up here," she says, eyes fixed on the dome of Saint Paul's, like it means something to her, holds something special. "I like it."
"It's not too bad," he says, and realizes he hasn't let go of her hand yet. He feels like a child again, scabby kneed and snotty nosed and holding onto her to cross the road. "Would be nicer if there wasn't so much fog."
"Hermione says it's called pollution." Her mouth shapes the word like it's foreign, something French or Russian, not a perfectly normal English word. "Muggles, the cars, they emit fumes and smoke and that's what it is." She pauses, takes a deep breath and sighs "Hermione says it's ruining the planet."
"Sounds pretty stupid." He holds her hand tighter. "I'm dating Teddy, by the way."
"Don't get hurt, don't hurt him," she says. "Apparently muggles are cutting down all the trees too."
James knows he shouldn't be listening, shouldn't be hiding behind the door way, squinting into the dark kitchen.
"We need to talk," Hermione says, staring across the table at Teddy. A candle sits between them, flickering, casting strange lights on their faces. Half of Teddy is in shadow, a mask and a cape, while Hermione is brightly light, the flame turning her hair a burned umber. "About you and James."
"It's been a few months," Teddy says, and there's a hint of petulance in his voice, a hint of teenager. "He just wanted to tell Ginny first. It took a while."
"And that's okay." Hermione sounds like she knew, and she probably did, probably knew the morning after and kept it held to her chest, tight in her hands, a secret for only her. "But I just want to make sure you've thought this through, the age gap, after all, it's-"
"Hermione." He sounds tired, a sigh, like he thinks this is heading into argument territory. "It's not any of your business."
"Teddy." She imitates his tone. "You're the closest thing I have to a son, you, and James and Ginny, you're the only family I have. Let me worry."
There's a pause, long, stretches out while the house creaks around them. A door opens upstairs, and closes again. Teddy breathes, loudly, and James wonders if that's something he's always recognized.
"Sorry," Teddy says. "He's seventeen, now, it's only four years."
"I just think-"
"I know." James has heard enough. The stairs, for once, don't creak under his feet. "I think it too."
The house they're currently staying in, one abandoned somewhere outside of Salisbury, has a garden. It's the first garden they've had since James was eight - ten years ago now - and they take advantage of it when they can.
James and Teddy take the stoop, curled against the Autumn chill, in hand-knitted scarves and hats, mugs of lukewarm tea between their knees. They watch Hermione and Ginny, roles reversed, as they putter around the garden, discussing rose bushes, daisies, honeysuckle and ivy climbers, things they'd do with the garden in another world, another place. For a moment, it seems like Ginny is going to say something, the shape of words on her lips, before she glances down, her mouth held tight, shut away from them.
Hermione holds her hand, and James mentions the weather.
"Can't believe Summer's gone already," he says, and scuffs the heels of his shoes into the dirt. Teddy's hair is blonde today, a shock of sunlight against tanned and freckled skin. His nose seems straighter too. James' hair is the same as always, his face the same as yesterday.
"It was nice while it lasted," says Teddy, and makes way for Hermione to edge past, Ginny cradled against her side.
James never wishes for the Ginny Hermione knew once. He listens to the stories of curses and hexes and passion and fury, and he knows they're true, because it's still there, sometimes, when they've got a telly and her favourite team is losing, or he's gotten under her feet one too many times, but he doesn't dwell. He doesn't dwell, because mostly, she's a shadow of the stories, a pale replica of a teenager full of promise.
He doesn't ever blame her, because he's never lost anyone, not a fiance or a family, everyone he's ever had is within arm's reach, like it should be.
He looks at the sky, at the still grey clouds, and wonders if they'll ever remind him of anything but his mother.
It's nothing special, but it's a ray of sunlight, a tiny little spark of hope that might become something more.
It's Ginny who convinces Hermione to risk it, Hermione who convinces Teddy and James doesn't need any convincing at all. They bundle up, seemingly against the cold, with scarves wrapped tight around their lower faces and hats pulled low on their heads. It's silly, ridiculous, even, to think that a scarf is going to stop their enemies, but it makes them feel better as they board a train, a muggle train, high speed and no steam, headed straight for Aberdeen.
The trip starts with stories of the Hogwarts Express, mythical to James and Teddy. They talk about chocolate frogs, something Teddy has vague memories of and James none at all, of the excitment, the rush of starting a new school year. Despite their smiles, neither Ginny or Hermione look particularly excited. Hermione's gaze gets colder the closer they get, Ginny's smile gets faker.
By the time they pull into the station, Ginny's hands are shaking and Hermione's face is pale.
"We can go back," Teddy says, eyes comforting, voice soft even as he looks around the train station like he expects something miraculous to happen. "Or somewhere else."
"No," Ginny says, voice sharp. "I need to do this. I, I need to. I need to say goodbye." Hermione takes her hand when Ginny bites her lip. She doesn't let go until they get to Dufftown.
It's a walk from Dufftown out to Hogsmeade, and they skirt around the town, avoiding it, avoiding the Death Eaters that undoubtedly patrol the streets. As soon as Hogwarts comes into view, they stop, standing in a copse of trees, just staring at the castle.
"I thought it might look different." There's pain in Hermione's voice, sorrow and sadness and loss. James doesn't feel anything staring up at the castle. It's a thing of legends and bedtime stories, basilisks in the pipes, phoenixes in the headmaster's office and unicorns in the forest. It doesn't feel like the place his father died, his uncles too. There's no sign, no blood, just a proud castle, standing tall.
Ginny doesn't say anything at all. Her eyes are fixed, a thousand yard stare, and James doesn't know what she's seeing, but it's certainly not what he's seeing.
"We'll give you some space," Teddy murmurs, before he leads James backwards, further into the copse of trees. They settle on a fallen log, legs pressed together. Teddy's hair is wavering somewhere between auburn and a mousey brown, sometimes seeming lighter, sometimes darker as he thinks. He has freckles today, and bright blue eyes like Ginny's. He looks like her son. James rakes a hand through his own hair, and crosses his arms over his chest. "This was a really bad idea."
"Maybe it won't be," James says. Teddy doesn't reply, just gives him a look, an arched eyebrow and a set jaw. They sit in silence, a silence that's been hanging between them for a while now, held together only by love for other people.
When they go back to Ginny and Hermione, James pretends he can't see the tear tracks on his mother's face, and pretends Teddy was wrong.
They curl around each other at night, legs tangled in sheets, arms tangled around each other. James presses his head to Teddy's chest, and they talk about futures and forevers. They talk about ifs - if they were muggles, if the war hadn't gone the way it did, if they lived in Spain or on the moon. They talk about curtains and cats and family dinners full of warmth. They talk in breaths and kisses and the spaces between sentences. They talk of absolutely nothing at all.
The world is bigger than most people understand, Teddy said, once. He never specified what he meant, but sometimes, James likes to think about it.
There are countries and continents, islands and territories, millions and millions of peoples, witches and wizards and squibs and muggles and people who hover somewhere in between. There's children and adults and those who have passed away.
There is democracy, there are dictators, and there is a force that is eating Britain alive, from the inside. A force that cares about nothing but his ideals, an admirable trait in anyone else. A force who rips families apart, and slaughters children. A force that most of Britain doesn't even realize is there. Not yet, at least.
James isn't sure if that's what Teddy meant.
"I love you," James says, a whisper against skin, a nip to shape the words.
"Me too," Teddy says, and the smile on his face could light the room.
"I'll be careful," James says, pulling the hood of his jacket tighter around his head. Ginny's hands are clasped in front of her, fingers twisting together in worrying. "I'll pop in before I go home," he says. "As soon as I'm done."
"Good luck," Hermione says. Ginny says nothing, but he waits anyway, a drawn out second before he shuts the front door behind him. He knows what she would have said anyway.
He takes it slowly, a lazy jog to the end of the road, almost a walk to the center of town. He thinks about preserving his energy, he thinks about reluctance, he doesn't think at all as he clambers over the brick wall, doesn't think about anything more than not breaking his legs as he lands in the garden. There's lights on, and vague sounds of chatter drifting from a half open window.
He edges his way towards the house, keeping low and in the shadows. By the time he reaches the window, he can make out full words, full sentences.
"They're definitely here," someone says. Their voice is low, gruff and harsh. "I saw the Weasley bint the other day. You'd think she'd have changed her hair."
"I don't even understand why they're important." It's a woman's voice this time, high and thin. "It's been twenty years and they've never caused any problems. They've lived as muggles."
There's a loud sigh, a tired exhale.
"Evans," someone says.
"James Potter," the first person repeats. "Is Harry Potter's son. And therefore he is a threat, and he must be killed."
There's a clatter, a chair being pushed backwards, perhaps, and James thinks that maybe he's heard enough.
They've been alone for forty three days when Teddy gets sick, and James gets scared. It's not meant to be like this, it's not meant to be Teddy with a fever, Teddy groaning in pain while James stands by helplessly with glasses of water. There's meant to be a mother or, or, even an aunt, someone who knows what to do, someone who knows how to care for someone who is sick and living in a hovel with rats scurrying behind the walls and dirt on every fucking thing. It's meant to be better than that, James thinks, and very nearly throws the glass into the wall. It's meant to be magic because they're fucking wizards, there's meant to be potions to fix Teddy and spells to clean the room, but they don't even have wands that really work, because they were chosen in the wrong order; the wizard choosing the wand, not the other, the right, way round.
He thinks for a moment that he should risk it, because it's better than nothing, better than useless platitudes and rubbing Teddy's back, except then he remembers the risks, drilled into him over and over by a tired Hermione with bags under her eyes. Spells that go wrong, spells that don't work, being found, because they can track magic, Death Eater's banging down the doors because nobody is meant to be here, especially not someone with a muggle name, not someone doing magic.
"I'll be okay," Teddy says, groans, even though his skin is grey like death and his hair brown like the dirt and the dust caking the room. "It's okay." James doesn't say shut the fuck up, or throw the glass, or any of the other things he wants to do. He smiles and nods and holds the glass to Teddy's lips and wishes for his mother, desperately.
Teddy's body is a map, lines of sinew and muscle leading to different, distinct destinations. There's a tattoo on his bicep, harsh back lines intersecting across skin that changes colour on a whim. Another tattoo rests on his hip, softer, gentler, almost like a painting in the crash of colours.
Bruises tell a story across his body, forgotten moments lingering in patches of purple and yellow. A hand wrapped too tightly around a limb, a catch of teeth against skin, the third step from the top.
When he breathes, his ribs flex with it. Muscles ripple and stretch with the early morning arch of his back. Calves shudder as they push him further on a late evening run.
Arms made to hold and legs made to move and a face made to tell and lips made for James'. A map, together.
The window ledge wasn't built to seat a 26 year old man, but James makes it work. He pushes his feet against the opposite edge, hems himself in with little more than willpower. He's on his third cigarette, but he doesn't remember smoking the first two. He remembers the deep draw of alcohol, the burning in his throat, the stinging in his eyes and the realization that smoking would be better for him.
Snow is falling outside, frosting the bushes beneath the window in white. It's nearly Christmas, James remembers, suddenly, his mind lost somewhere in last July. A time for family, and he's alone with a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of alcohol that's probably better for cleaning wounds than drinking.
He grimaces, and tries not to think of wounds. His foot slips against the wall, and as he rights himself, he thinks he catches a flash of blue outside the window, a flash of blue that means home and family and friends and ten years not lost.
When he looks again, there's nothing there, save for his reflection and the snow.
It rains the day of Ginny's funeral, like the Earth has realized what it's lost, like the Earth is mourning. James is glad for it, because he doesn't know if he remembers how to cry.
They bury her in a muggle churchyard, the one where she'd spent hours, watching the world go by. Nobody comes, save for Teddy and Hermione and the Priest. They don't know who else to invite. There isn't anyone else to invite.
The gravestone reads Ginevra Evans, and James promises to change it, one day, but he doesn't cry. Hermione sniffles into her sleeve, and Teddy's eyes fill with tears, but James just stares into the rain and doesn't know what he's supposed to feel.
Hermione goes home, a little cottage once shared, and Teddy and James talk the opposite road, a flat they'd broken into and turned into something.
"Do you want to talk?" Teddy says, somewhere between the church and home. He's not touching James, not holding his hand or keeping an arm around his shoulder, and there's more comfort in that, James thinks, more comfort in the normal way things are between them.
"No," James says. "I'm angry. I'm angry that it was fucking pneumonia that did it, I'm angry that it wouldn't have happened if we didn't have to live like useless muggles, I'm angry that she was nearly alone and not even fifty and I'm-" He breaks off, voice lost to a harsh breath. "She was my mum. His voice cracks, splintering, and still he doesn't cry.
They stand in the middle of the road, and say nothing. Teddy just watches him, like he can see him falling apart, like it's a spectator sport, like there's nothing he can say.
James doesn't know if there is.
His boots are loud against the tarmac when he sets off walking again, Teddy shadowing his steps, always shadowing, always within arms reach.
"I wish there was something I could blame." James' voice is quiet when he speaks again, almost lost to the rain. "Because that would make it easier."
"I know," Teddy says, and James, finally, realizes the hurt in his voice, the sadness and the loss and he remembers, finally, like an arsehole that maybe she was his mother by birth, but she was Teddy's too, by something almost more special than birth.
"You're stronger than you think you are," Teddy says. His hand is threaded through James' hair, legs resting on the low table in front of them. "I know it's difficult right now but-"
"I think Hermione should stay with us." He doesn't want that conversation, that comfort, not now, not ever, not from Teddy. "I don't like her being alone."
"I asked already." Of course he did, James thinks, and isn't surprised at the bitterness. It bites at his throat, claws at his chest, familiar now. The usual anger is missing, but he's sure it won't be gone for long. "She doesn't want to bother us."
James doesn't say anything. He pulls himself free, untangles limbs that don't feel right anymore, limbs that feel like his and not theirs like they have for so long.
"You're okay, right?" Teddy says, a hand clasped around a wrist.
"Right," James says, and lets the door slam behind him.
The door is locked, and James knows that that means Teddy is gone, gone to people who understand him better than James can.
His trainers slap against the pavement, feet driving up through the balls to push him further. He almost stumbles on a crack in the concrete, but he catches himself, lands too heavily on the heel of his left foot and feels the surge of pain through his knee. His throat burns with the cold air, his chest screams at the effort, but he can hear them behind him still, hooting and hollering and howling for his blood. His shadow changes with every new spell, and all he has is his speed, his knowledge of these roads, his hope. He takes a deep breath, struggling through the pain, and he runs.
It ends on a goodbye. Teddy, with his hands in his pocket, a photo of Hermione in his wallet and memories of Ginny in his mind, walking out of the door. It doesn't end on a sour note, but it doesn't end on a good one either. James lets the door close, and thinks about what he'll make for lunch.