Teddy dangles a set of keys in front of him, and James knows his face is all lit up in that stupid boyish way because his mom is laughing in the background.
“Really?” he says, grabbing the keys and turning towards his parents. “I get to- really?”
“You’re pushing twenty, and the flat’s nearer to the Ministry anyway,” his dad says, grinning. “It’ll do you good to live alone and leave us be.”
James wants to point out that technically he’s not going to be living alone, he’s going to be living with his best friend and whoever Teddy’s seeing at the moment. He also knows that he’s being overexcited, knows that behind his mom’s happiness at his happiness is a desire to not let him go, so he doesn’t say much, just calms down and hugs his mom and flips the bird at Lily.
The next morning is spent packing, and he goes to the flat to check it out, loving the feel of the metal against his palm. His room is opposite Teddy’s along the narrow hallway. The bed is comfortable enough, the mattress bouncing underneath his weight. Teddy’s chuckling as he leans against the doorframe, no shirt and holding a mug of coffee, his jeans hanging low on his hips. James could get used to this, but he makes sure to push the thoughts away.
He’s not in a chick flick; he’s not falling in love with his best friend.
No one told him that Aurors do battle with quill and ink as much as with their wands. He bitches to Teddy every Friday, even though Teddy’s heard it for years now, when he’s finally off work for the week, and they get drunk, because it’s what they do.
The living room is their new playground; James likes to lie down with his head hanging off the couch, lifting himself up when it feels too hot from the rush of blood, which is every thirty seconds. Teddy likes to sprawl on the floor, playing with the bottles of beer and James’s forgotten tie.
The first kiss is sudden and sleepy. James falls on Teddy and they laugh, but then James moves forward and Teddy strains upwards and they kiss with lazy ease, as though it’s not their first time at all.
“Teddy,” he says when they wake up beside each other on the carpet, feeling the familiar name swirl in his mouth. “Teddy, I-”
Teddy quirks a violet eyebrow and holds James in place with a heavy arm on his chest. “Rules. We don’t say anything to anyone. This stays here, okay?”
James wants, can feel the itch in his palms turn into something tangible. He nods, doesn’t care what this means, not right now with Teddy beside him, warm and saying without words that he wants James too. This is enough, for now, and besides, really, he can’t see his family not being happy for him and Teddy, if that’s what they end up as, Teddy and him, but that’s later. Their second kiss is full of teeth and tongue and lips, and it’s nothing like James has done before, even though he has.
James turns to Teddy, and maybe he wants to say something to the man beside him, the one with the turquoise hair tipped in purple, the one with the half-grin on his face, but James doesn’t, because Teddy’s still facing forward and his foot is on the pedal, and they’re racing against the wind, the unsaid words strewn behind them like bitter imitations of cans on strings.
They reach home quick enough, and Teddy doesn’t quite carry James over the threshold, but presses James against the front door and kisses his neck while the key slots in and turns and suddenly they’re falling onto the cool tiles in the dark.
This is nothing. There is no meaning to this, just pure sensation. A pull on James’s arm and a shove to Teddy’s chest, and they’re on the couch, the front door slamming shut with a flick of a wand that’s just as quickly tossed into a corner. The clattering sound complements the way James breathes into the dip of Teddy’s clavicle, the way his fingers skitter down freckles to rest at the top of Teddy’s jeans.
“Jamie,” Teddy says, his voice thick with arousal, “Jamie, please.” And James doesn’t think, he can’t afford to think, because there is no time and there is just this; he just bites down hard on where Teddy’s neck meets his shoulder and sucks a vengeful mark into the skin. Teddy tastes of salt and James kisses it once, twice, tenderly, a quiet sorry on his lips, even as Teddy tugs on his hair for more.
They do this in the dark, the dim light from the moon skating across the moans that get stuck between their lips. They do this as quietly as possible, leaving only lines and imprints that can be easily covered up with clothes and charms.
When morning comes around, James is lying face down on his own shirt, back covered with the blanket from his room. Alone, like the nights before. They’re always careful; what if Lily drops by, like she does from time to time? What if mom and dad bring breakfast around? Besides, this means nothing. His wand is lying on the glass coffee table, and James swears he can see the nick he made with his thumbnail from casting Alohomora the night before. A little detail that no one else will notice but he explains it away to himself anyway. Frustration, a little too much paperwork. Teddy emerges from the kitchen, whistling an unknown tune, and disappears into his room without looking at James. This is nothing. The red mark on Teddy’s neck is nothing.
“I’m in love with you,” he says, and maybe a random bathroom in Grimmauld Place halfway during a Christmas party isn’t the most ideal, but it feels right. His cheeks are red, he knows, and it’s getting stuffy in the cramped space.
Teddy doesn’t say anything, just sighs, and looks to the floor, and the feeling in James’s stomach flips around and goes wrong.
“We need to stop.”
James doesn’t need to hear the rest. He opens the door, walks out. This is stupid. This was never anything, and this is stupid. He goes out, lights a cigarette, feels the cold against his skin. His breath is shaky, and he concentrates on the crackle of the inhale and pretends that it’s the smoke’s fault that his eyes are watery.
He goes back in, dodges everyone, has a drink or five. Maybe he laughs too loud, maybe he swallows too fast. His mom looks at him sharply, and Lily drags him home but doesn’t say anything, even as he tells her everything about Teddy.
James wakes up with a curse at the sun, downs the hangover potion Lily left on his nightstand, gets up, and looks at himself in the mirror. There are ashes on his collar, and he smells like whiskey. He hears the shower running, hears a female voice giggle out Teddy’s name. This is stupid.
“I know.” Lily leans against the wall, a duffle in her hand. “C’mon, Jamie. You can stay with me for a while.”
She makes pancakes. He opens the presents from her, from Albus, from mom and dad, from friends. There’s one wrapped in Teddy’s signature colour-changing paper. He puts that one aside, and eats his pancakes. He moves out of their flat a week later, and into a one-bedroom place in West London. Teddy doesn’t come around. He spends his Friday nights drinking beer alone.
Victoire is as beautiful as ever, gracious, friendly, nice. James supposes that he’s glad that she’s so nice. And funny; Teddy had always appreciated a good sense of humour.
Once, on a train platform, years ago, the sight of Victoire and her elegant hands and mischievous smile wrapped around Teddy’s lean figure had sent James into running delight. He remembers talking to Lily, that day on the train to Hogwarts. He remembers wishing to be Teddy’s best man. Well.
The dinner is not awkward at all.
“Pass the salt, please, Jamie,” Teddy says with his usual smile, the one that crinkles the corners of his eyes.
He passes the salt, and tries not to think about the brush of skin. He remembers biting down softly on the flesh of Teddy’s thumb, remembers the drawn-out breath, the hiss, the tug of his shirt collar and the press of chapped lips against his own. He puts too much pepper into his soup and coughs.
“Are we okay?” Teddy asks, when they’re alone in the library. James just wants to get out. The memories of them laughing over spelling errors and joke books are suffocating. This is nothing. This is stupid. This is not right.
“Yes,” he says, the lie bittersweet on his tongue. He forces a grin, knows it’s not enough but damns it to hell anyway, and walks out. The feeling of déjà vu is unpleasant. He drowns it with a swallow of wine, and engages Albus in a game of wizard chess, loses himself in war.
When the clock strikes twelve, a cheer goes up, and there are hugs all around. James smiles for real this time, his arms around Lily, then mom, then Albus, then dad. Victoire smells of lavender and Teddy’s minty soap. He loses his smile somewhere between her and the warm press of Teddy’s body against his.
He lets go. This is getting easier.
“Hello,” the man says. “I’m Scorpius Malfoy.”
James nods. He knows this. This is Scorpius, he was from Ravenclaw, he was from Albus’s year, he’s one of the liaisons for the Auror Office. He shakes Scorpius’s hand, smiles, and makes small talk about the Head Auror and his love of liquorice.
When Lily announces that it’s time for the birthday boy to cut the cake, he rolls his eyes and excuses himself with an apologetic grin, goes over and messes his sister’s hair up because he can. The candles on the cake wobble as he blows the flames out. He wishes out loud for less paperwork and hears the small crowd laugh.
Scorpius lifts his bottle of beer in a cheerful salute all the way across the room, his grey eyes lit up by the dim light of James’s flat. James hesitates, bites his lip, and does the same, elbowing Lily when she whispers that their mating game is in need of some modernisation. She’s drunk. They’re all drunk. The cake is infused with something that tastes like whiskey.
He does his laundry just before noon, and finds a slip of paper in the pocket of the jeans he’d worn the night before.
“Tell me,” Scorpius says, his head on James’s chest, and James complies. This is easy and comfortable, him and Scorpius, Scorpius and him. A shared cigarette at midnight, in a one-bedroom flat that seems just big enough for the two of them. He talks about Teddy and he talks about puzzle pieces that seem to fit in your head but not when placed together on the burn of a carpet. He talks about the wedding, about how beautiful Victoire looked, and how he’d grown up in those few moments between the ‘do you’s and ‘I do’s.
When he’s tired of talking, he rests his fingers in Scorpius’s hair and listens as Scorpius hums a tuneless song. His eyes close, and he feels Scorpius flip himself over, and he can smell the smoke on his breath, sweetened with the dessert they’d eaten hours before. Their legs wind together, and so do their fingers, tight, strong, uncompromising. Then there is a slow kiss that presses James deeply into the bed and swallows all his sounds.
They take their time; they don’t stop.
The night is quiet and content, and so is the morning.