Today is James's birthday. Was his birthday? Sometimes the verb tenses get mixed up in Teddy's head. He supposes that happens when you don't know if somebody is dead or alive.
Twenty years ago today, James Sirius Potter was born into this world. Four years, two months, and six days later, somebody took him.
If James were still here, Teddy would have a big celebration to look forward to tonight—the Weasley and Potter families know how to throw a good party. There'd be Grandma Molly's mouth-watering chocolate cake, piles of thoughtfully chosen and terribly wrapped presents, and Uncle George would inevitably manage to turn somebody into a chicken. James's brother, Albus, would tease him about becoming an old man, his sister, Lily, would wrap him in a tight hug as she wished him happy birthday, and Teddy would feel full of pride and contentment as he watched his family celebrate the life of his godbrother.
If James had not been taken, today would be a day of joy and happiness.
Instead, it's a day of bitterness, guilt, and a pain that never seems to fade, no matter how the years pass by.
Reluctantly, Teddy pulls himself out of bed before brushing his teeth and washing his face with weary reluctance. All he wants to do is crawl back under the covers and sleep this horrible day away, to let the guilt and misery gnaw at his gut in blessed solitude. Unfortunately, he has work today, and Head Auror Chang made it clear that she expects him in at nine a.m. sharp to greet his brand new Auror partner, fresh from America. Who the hell starts a job on a Friday, anyway?
Teddy tries not to think of it as a bad omen that his new Auror partner is starting on one of the worst days of the year, at least in Teddy's estimation. Though Teddy supposes he should be happy the bloke isn't starting on the anniversary of James's abduction instead. Teddy always takes that day off, and he certainly wouldn't have altered that routine for whatever wet-behind-the-ears Junior Auror that Chang has decided to saddle him with.
He groans and knocks his head lightly against the door to his bedroom. That isn't fair of Teddy. Teddy's sure the bloke is competent enough, and Teddy's the one who signed up to partner with the new recruit in the first place. He's been partnerless since Auror Hodge retired last month and fucked off with his wife to Boca, and Teddy's right sick of being stuck behind the desk doing paperwork. Having a partner means he'll be allowed to go back out in the field again, and he's seen the bloke's file—his training scores are suitably impressive. Not to mention the fact that Teddy can't deny he's more than a little curious to learn more about America and how things are done over there. He's excited to meet his new partner, really, it's just this blasted day that's buggered everything up. It never fails to put him in a bloody awful mood, and Teddy hopes he can manage to control himself enough not to scare the poor fellow off entirely.
Teddy checks his watch, noting that he has just enough time to stop off at his favourite café for some coffee and a bagel before he's due at work. He takes a quick survey of his empty and somewhat uninspiring flat, and then Apparates to Diagon Alley.
The street is just as bustling as it always is during the morning rush, and though it shouldn't, it surprises Teddy, just a little. Everybody and everything looks and sounds and feels the way it has every other morning he's travelled this same path to work. It's astounding to him that every person on the planet doesn't feel the acute misery of this day as painfully as Teddy. Intellectually he knows, of course, that not everybody knew James, that not everybody thinks of him every day the way Teddy does. But the day James was taken, it was like somebody had taken a giant chunk out of the world with him, leaving a huge and empty void in its place. Teddy feels it always, and he knows he's not the only one that does. So though he knows better, it still feels a little bizarre that this throbbing ache isn't shared across all of humanity.
He orders a flat white with two sugars and a blueberry bagel with cream cheese—his usual—and he wonders as he pays what James's regular order might have been. Would he like black coffee, or one of those fancy, sugary drinks that make Teddy's teeth ache? Would he prefer a croissant, or maybe a cranberry scone, instead? It happens more often than Teddy would like to admit, thoughts of James intruding throughout the day during the most mundane of tasks. Teddy wonders what music he'd have preferred, and what career he'd have aspired to; he wonders if he'd hate coriander as much as Albus, or if he'd prefer a perfectly made sidecar to an ice-cold beer, the way Teddy does. These painful thoughts, the what-ifs and might-have-beens are always worse for Teddy on James's birthday. James is a steady presence in the back of Teddy's mind, his own personal ghost. As painful as it is—imagining things Teddy will never get to know—it's almost comforting. In a sick sort of way, James is always with him. Sometimes Teddy wonders if it's James's actual ghost that haunts him, but he knows that's foolish. Teddy has met real ghosts, he's spoken to them.
He hasn't spoken to James in nearly sixteen years. Not since the night he was taken.
The day is unseasonably warm for March, but Teddy still shivers as he begins his walk towards the Ministry, the cold radiating out from deep inside his chest as he's taken back to that night. Memory is a strange and imperfect thing, and his recollections of that night are simultaneously clear and foggy.
There was a large party at the Potter house, like there was every year around the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts and the end of the war. The Ministry always holds some kind of fancy dinner or gala, commemorating Harry's brave acts and the conclusion of the terrifying period in their history, but Harry hated them, still does, really. So after he and Ginny got married, they began to throw their own party, one for their friends and family, one that celebrated the life and sacrifices of everybody during the war, particularly those they had lost. It was a way to honour the people they all missed dearly, while trying not to lose themselves in grief.
The Potters had held that party every year for as long as Teddy can remember, and though his godfather always made sure to remind him that Teddy's parents were two of the brave souls that were worth celebrating and honouring, it wasn't until he was much older that Teddy really appreciated it. He was a boy of ten at the time, and his priorities had been quite a bit different. Teddy supposes that's why he can remember mountains of sweets, and loud joyous music, and the bitter injustice of being sent to bed early with crystal clarity, while other details fade into the background.
Of course, that was the last year Harry and Ginny threw their once-annual party, but Teddy thinks that's only reasonable, given what happened. The fact that James was taken on that day—on a day where so many people were already grieving for other lost loved ones—made everything even worse.
Teddy doesn't remember seeing Harry much in the days and weeks and months after it happened. He was a Senior Auror at the time, and he used every available resource at his disposal in the search for his son. In the end, though, they came up empty. There were so many people at the house that night, and it was impossible to narrow down the suspect pool. In the days that followed James's abduction, the Potters must have received hundreds of owls with letters claiming they had information on James or claiming to have taken him themselves in some sick bid for their fifteen minutes of fame. Everything was well and truly muddy at that point, and the Aurors were run ragged chasing down leads that went nowhere. A year after James was taken, the case was officially put to rest, with James missing, presumed dead.
Harry hadn't lasted much longer in the Aurors after that. Teddy supposes the pain and guilt of not being able to use his skills when it really counted, of not being able to save his own son, took its toll on him. Teddy was worried about Harry, when he quit (Teddy had been a rather perceptive eleven-year-old), knowing that Harry needed to help people, needed to do something for other or risk going mad. Harry’s still like that, even today—that, at least, hasn’t changed. Starting up the charity for orphaned children was a good call, a way to capture some of what Harry loved while still keeping him apart from the horror and violence that was unavoidable as an Auror.
Sometimes Teddy wonders what it would have been like if Harry hadn't left the Aurors all those years ago, what it would be like to work together. Teddy was nervous when he told Harry his decision, worried about what he'd think, if he'd be disappointed in Teddy's course. It was a patently ridiculous fear, and Harry had been just as proud and supportive as Teddy could have wished. Teddy wonders if Harry suspected what had been Teddy's inspiration for dedicating his life to fighting crime; if his thoughts turned towards James in that moment, as Teddy's had.
How could he not be influenced by what happened that night, when sometimes he still chokes on the guilt-soaked memories?
Teddy had resented the fact that he was being put to bed with the Potter children. He loved them all, but they were babies, and Teddy wasn't even tired! But the adults hadn't budged, and Teddy had sulkily gone to his room in the Potter house, while Ginny and Harry put down James, Albus, and baby Lily.
Four-year-old James worshipped Teddy, and though Teddy loved him and usually doted on his cheerful and rambunctious godbrother, that night he was in no mood. James wanted to sleep in Teddy's room that night, had practically begged Teddy if he could share, but Teddy turned him down. He pretended it was because James's mum hadn't given permission, but it had more to do with Teddy feeling bitter that he'd been sent to bed with James and his younger siblings instead of getting to enjoy the party. James cried, and though Teddy's chest twinged, he left him alone in his own room.
Three hours later, James was gone, and Teddy was left wondering if James would still be there if only Teddy hadn't been so selfish and hard-hearted.
Teddy crams the last of his bagel into his mouth as he reaches the public Floos. He knows he needs to stop obsessing, to banish these painful remembrances, at least until he gets off work. Chang will kill him if he fucks up his new partnership on day one.
Grabbing a handful of Floo powder with his free hand, he tosses it into the fireplace and calls out for the Ministry. He materialises in the large, familiar Atrium, and nearly trips over a short, portly wizard who apparently decided to camp out right in front of his fireplace. Teddy swears as his stumbling motion sends a bit of scalding coffee splashing on his hand. The older wizard gives Teddy a nasty look, and Teddy barely manages to keep himself from snarling. Instead, he walks briskly towards the Auror department, forcing himself to take deep, slow breaths.
Of course, the first face to greet him as he walks into the office would be the disapproving countenance of Head Auror Chang.
"Auror Lupin, nice of you to grace us with your presence." Her voice is severe, her words clipped. Teddy looks down at his watch.
"It's only two minutes past…"
She gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look. "On time is five minutes early. At least your new partner seems to have taken that to heart. Maybe he'll rub off on you."
Any other day would see Teddy suppressing a snicker, but today he just nods in resigned chastisement. "He's here, then?"
"Yes. He's just finished going over his new employee paperwork with Renton, and I believe he's getting settled at his desk now. I'd like you to spend today showing him the ropes around here. We'll get you a new case on Monday."
Teddy nods before making his way to his cubicle in the far corner, saying hello to Lee and White and Samson as he passes their desks. He exchanges a curt nod with Jacobs—they were in the same year at Hogwarts and never got on, but Teddy's capable of being civil, if not friendly, even today.
The new bloke is sitting at the previously empty desk across from Teddy's when Teddy rounds the divider. His back is to Teddy and his fingers drum against the desk, pausing every few seconds to fiddle with one of the quills or notebooks in front of him. His hair is a tangle of dark auburn waves, riding the line between bed-head and stylishly tousled. The dark red of his Auror robes cling to the breadth of his shoulders, tapering down to a trim waist. Even without seeing his face, Teddy's heart begins to race, his skin prickling with the first glimmers of arousal.
And then the bloke turns around, and Teddy's racing heart stops still.
"Hi," he says, standing up from his chair and bestowing Teddy with a full and blinding smile. "Are you Auror Lupin?"
Teddy blinks for a moment, recovering from the wave of attraction that threatens to bowl him over. The bloke is bloody fit, tall and athletic, with smooth tanned skin stretched over a broad jaw, and rich, brown eyes that sparkle with intelligence and good humour. And don't even get Teddy started on that American accent...The smile begins to slip from his face, however, when Teddy lets the silence go on for a little too long.
Teddy mentally shakes himself off, before summoning a genuine smile. "Sorry, bit of a rough morning. Please, call me Teddy. We're going to be partners, after all."
The grin returns, somehow even wider than before, and the bloke holds out his hand for a brisk handshake. His skin is warm, his grip solid, and the feeling of his palm seems to linger against Teddy's own several seconds after he pulls away. "I'm Griff," he says, those brown eyes sparkling. "Griff Glasfair."
"Nice to meet you, Griff."
"Likewise." He stretches, Auror robes pulling taut across his chest. It's a little obscene, how tight they are, but Teddy can't bring himself to complain. "I hear you're going to show me the ropes."
Oh, Teddy wants to show him the ropes all right. Wants to show him right into his bed. He won't, obviously. It's just been far too long since his last lay, and being unexpectedly confronted with tall, dark, and handsome is throwing Teddy for a loop, is all. Teddy has to work with Griff, and he's not about to blow his new partnership because he's got a hard-on for the bloke.
"That's right. Shall we get started? The sooner I get you up to speed, the sooner we get to work real cases."
Griff's grin is pure excitement. "I'm all yours."
Teddy barely keeps himself from groaning. He has a feeling that his new partner just may kill him.
Normally he throws on a pair of sweats and an old t-shirt and starts scrounging around for something to make for dinner, but today he reaches for a pressed pair of trousers and a mostly unwrinkled button-down. He doesn't need to try too hard—it's just dinner with family, after all—but he still likes to look semi-presentable. Especially today.
There's a standing invitation for dinner at Harry's house every Friday night for his children and Teddy, and, now that Harry and Draco are dating, for Draco and Scorpius as well. It's rare these days that all of the kids are able to make it to the same meal, but Teddy has a feeling everybody will be there tonight. Teddy's the only one of them that's old enough to remember James, but Albus, Lily, and even Scorpius, to an extent, have lived with the shadow that night has cast for most of their lives now. They know how deeply it cut their father, and all of them love Harry unconditionally. Enough to cancel any other plans they might have had so that they can be there with him tonight.
Besides, even if they weren't decent enough human beings to show up on their own, none of them are stupid enough to risk the wrath of Draco Malfoy. Draco's completely mad about Harry, and he can get a little overprotective. Personally, Teddy doesn't think that's such a bad thing. Teddy knows who Harry is to the rest of the wizarding world, the things he's done, and he sees the way witches and wizards treat him, the way they defer to him and make demands of him, wanting him to continue to be their saviour. Teddy's glad that Harry has Draco in his corner, somebody who understands that sometimes Harry is the one that needs the protecting. Honestly, Teddy wishes Harry would just move in with Draco already. It's obvious that Draco is good for him, that they're good for each other, but considering how long it took Draco to convince Harry to even date him, Teddy's not sure how long Harry will hold out on taking that next step. Draco's already more than there, though. In fact, Teddy's pretty sure Draco would take more from Harry if he could get it, that he'd be willing to head to the Ministry tomorrow and get married if he thought Harry would be up for it. But Harry's cautious, and Draco knows him well enough by now to understand they need to take things slowly. It hurts sometimes, when Teddy thinks about it too much, because he knows Harry hasn't always been this way. There was a time when Harry wasn't so guarded, when he was less careful with his heart. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what changed.
One way or another, everything always comes back to James.
Teddy checks himself in the mirror, realising how little he thought of James today at the same moment he registers the deep auburn of his hair. His cheeks heat. Generally he has to concentrate to use his metamorphmagus ability, but sometimes his hair will turn completely without his realising it, usually if he's feeling distracted or indecisive—or, on occasion, when he's feeling a particularly powerful emotion. He hopes the colour changed after he got home, and not in front of his handsome new partner. That would be unbearably mortifying.
They spent the day together, Teddy giving him the grand tour of the offices and the holding cells and some of the various departments that they might be called upon to partner with on any given case. He explained that Jeremy the file clerk was not above being bribed with a chip butty from the shop off 7th if Griff wanted to get his various requests moved to the top of the pile, and that he had best not use the loos for a good hour after Dallings had been in there if he knew what was good for him. Teddy showed him to "Restaurant Row", an avenue that branched off Diagon and was filled with tasty cafés and restaurants, perfect for an Auror on the go. They ate at one of Teddy's favourites, a quirky restaurant that sold burgers and teriyaki—both delicious.
Teddy finds his chest tingling as he remembers it, remembers the easy flow of conversation and the feeling of utter rightness. Griff is...captivating, there's no other word for it. Teddy can't remember the last time he was so enamoured with somebody. Something just clicks when they're together, and even thinking about him now sends a little flush of heat straight through him. Griff's obviously smart, with a keen eye that Teddy can tell is constantly taking in details about their surroundings. He asks intelligent, pointed questions, and it had been clear all day that he was absorbing everything that Teddy was saying and taking his Auror assignment seriously. Even beyond his intelligence—a trait that's always turned Teddy on—is his wicked sense of humour. Teddy knows Griff was trying to be on his best behaviour and put on a professional front, but as the day wore on, more and more sly commentary and biting wit slipped through. Teddy takes it as a sign that Griff felt as instantly comfortable around Teddy as Teddy felt around him. He can't wait to work with Griff, to see him in action.
There's still the pesky issue of Teddy's attraction to him, however. If anything, it grew worse as the day went on, as Griff gave Teddy more and more reasons to want him. It's like somebody asked Teddy to describe all the things he finds attractive in a bloke, and then decided to hand-deliver them all to him in the form of his new Auror partner. They even got the accent. Teddy's always had a weakness for accents in general, and American ones in particular. He lost his virginity to an American exchange student, Amy, during sixth year. It broke his heart when she returned home at the end of the year, and left him with an incurable attraction to sexy Americans.
Teddy doesn't know that much about Griff—it's understandable, it's only been one day—but there's something intriguing about the mystery of him. He's so warm and friendly and open, but Teddy's not an Auror for nothing, and there's something closed off below the surface, Teddy can tell. Griff is only as open as he wants to seem. It makes Teddy curious, makes him want to learn more, makes him want to be somebody that Griff lets past those defenses. Yes, it's only been one day, but in that one day, Griff managed to do what few people have ever managed—he took Teddy's mind off James. He'd gone into work that morning, fully expecting to be snappish and bitter and barely tolerable as memories of James and what might have been assaulted his mind. Instead, he found himself charmed and captivated, his mind focussed on the here and now instead of drowning in the past.
Of course, that reprieve couldn't last forever, and Teddy expects James to be at the forefront of everybody's minds that evening. He steps up to the Floo and grabs a handful of powder, bracing himself as he walks through the green flames and into Harry's parlour. Teddy loves his godfather, but he's sure tonight won't be as light and warm as his day. Dinner will undoubtedly be a sombre affair, but he knows how much his presence means to Harry. Misery does love its company and all that.
Teddy is a little later than expected—he'd been enjoying himself so much with Griff that he'd lost track of time—and the lot of them have already sat down when Teddy makes his way to the dining room.
"Teddy!" Harry's voice is warm with affection, though there's a heavy note of grief there that's unmistakeable. "I was starting to think you forgot."
Teddy smiles tiredly. "Sorry I'm late. My new partner started today, and I guess I lost track of time catching him up to speed."
"No worries," Albus joins in. "We just sat down. Haven't even started yet."
"Excellent." Teddy sits down in the open setting between Draco and Lily before reaching for the bowl of mashed potatoes and helping himself.
"You said something about a new partner?" Draco says after several long moments of subdued silence as they serve themselves.
"Yeah. Chang promised to partner me with the first available Auror after Hodge retired last month, and we just took on a new Junior Auror from the States. Griff Glasfair. It's only been a day, but I think it'll be a good match."
"He cute?" Lily asks. She was terribly disappointed when Teddy's first Auror partner turned out to be a bloke older than her father. In Lily's outspoken opinion, the best part of having a godbrother in the Aurors is easy access to handsome men in uniform.
Teddy’s cheeks heat, and Lily's mouth widens into a grin. "Finally! You'll have to bring him to dinner some night."
Harry gives his daughter a faintly exasperated look, before turning kind eyes onto Teddy. "She's right, you should. Any friend of yours is welcome here, I hope you know that."
Teddy's throat itches and he looks down at his plate. "Yeah, I know," he mumbles, before shoveling some green beans into his mouth.
"How's Aunt Andromeda doing?" Draco asks after an awkwardly long pause.
"She's still in Spain. Not due back for another couple of months." These past few years his grandmother has taken to spending England's colder months somewhere a bit more tropical. This time it's Spain, likely because the man she's been dating for half a year now has family in Seville.
"Ahh, right," Draco says with a small wrinkle of his nose. "She's staying with her new beau. Thomas? Tortoise?"
Scorpius and Albus snicker and Harry rolls his eyes fondly. "It's Torquil, and he seems like a perfectly fine gentleman. I hardly think you're one to make fun of somebody's name, Draco."
Draco inclines his head in acknowledgement, and the room falls silent once more.
The rest of dinner goes much the same way, stilted snippets of conversation pulled out of one another like particularly difficult teeth. Even Lily with her normally endless chatter, or Albus and Scorpius, with their constant inside jokes and playful banter, are unusually quiet. They were never old enough to eat dinner all together as a family, but James's absence still hangs over the room, painful and oppressive.
Teddy wonders what this meal might have been like if James were here, alive and well. Would Draco still be sitting at the table, looking at Harry with tender concern? Or would Harry and Ginny be together instead, raising a whole and happy family?
Harry and Ginny divorced nearly ten years ago now, though they're still on mostly amicable terms. Sometimes, when Teddy sees them talking to one another at a family gathering, he wonders if what happened to James is what set them on their course towards separation, or if it was always in the cards for them. He remembers how close they seemed to him as a child, both before and after James's abduction, the way the pain and strife seemed to almost drive them together instead of apart. His grandma Andromeda had remarked on it, once, in the early days, how unusual it was for a couple who lost a child to stay together in the wake of their loss, how human nature made them blame one another and themselves. Harry and Ginny seemed to be the exception to that rule...until they weren't.
Now, Teddy can see that they coped with the loss differently, and maybe that played a role in their eventual separation. They were both devastated, but where Ginny seemed to accept that James was dead after a few years and tried her best to move on, Harry had a harder time letting go of his son. She didn't care any less than Harry did though, Teddy knew that much. Teddy saw her two years ago crying quietly in her old bedroom, during the party at the Burrow celebrating Albus leaving Hogwarts. Grant—her new husband—had his arms wrapped around her as she twisted an old Gryffindor tie between her hands and sobbed. Teddy knows with complete certainty that she was thinking of James, of her fearless little future-Gryffindor son whom she would never get to see leave her alma mater.
The only way for Ginny not to drown in her own grief was to lock it away, to compartmentalise as much as she could and move on. Teddy thinks that was hard for Harry to accept, that he couldn't reconcile the fact that their grief didn't manifest the same way, that they were divided in their heartache. They divorced the month James would have left for Hogwarts, and Teddy's sure that's no coincidence. He was on the platform that day with Harry and Ginny as they waved him away for the final time. Teddy doesn't think he'll ever forget the bewildered loss and open anguish on their faces as they watched the train pull out of the station, short one person.
Ginny got remarried a couple of years later to Grant Page—a brilliant Quidditch player, and a decent enough bloke as far as Teddy can tell. She seems happy. Harry on the other hand...Teddy sighs quietly. Maybe that isn't fair. Harry doesn't seem unhappy, and in the past few years, Teddy would even say that he seems damn near content. Teddy credits most of that to Draco. He wonders if Harry does as well.
Harry and Draco had been friends of a sort, even before everything imploded. Though maybe reluctantly polite acquaintances was more accurate. Ginny and Astoria were the real friends, meeting at work and forming an instant bond, which meant Harry and Draco were forced to suffer through one another's company. Afterwards, though, that seemed to change. Maybe it was because Draco wasn't a close friend or family member, and Harry needed to confide in somebody with some distance. Maybe it was because Harry had been in a dark place, and he didn't want somebody to be kind and pitying. Or maybe it was something else altogether, but Harry began to spend a lot more time with Draco. They became actual friends, leaning on one another through the hell of those first few years after James's abduction, through Harry leaving the Aurors and starting his charity, through Draco's divorce, and then through Harry's.
Teddy's not sure just when he realised that Draco's feelings for Harry weren't exactly platonic, or when he realised that Harry returned them. What he does know, is that Draco spent a good two years actively trying to wear Harry down, before he finally consented to a date, and that Draco has battled for each and every inch Harry has given him since. Teddy loves his godfather, but sometimes he doesn't know why Draco does it, why he fights so hard to be a part of Harry's life, when Harry is so scared, so reluctant to open his heart.
And then he sees the way Draco looks at Harry, and sometimes he even catches a glimpse of the rare, unguarded moments when Harry looks right back at Draco, and Teddy knows.
For all of the love in Harry's heart, the love he showers on his children, on Teddy, and even on Draco, in his own slow and stilted way, that night changed him. Or maybe there was always that carefulness in him, that subtle reluctance, and James's abduction was the catalyst to bring it all out to the forefront.
Teddy remembers there was a time when he believed what all the stories say, that Harry Potter isn't afraid of anything. He knows better, now.
Harry Potter is afraid of having his heart broken again.
Teddy can't say he blames him.