Teddy is six years old when he meets his soulmate.
Of course at six years old Teddy doesn’t quite understand what soulmarks are, or even that James is his soulmate. James is a baby, you see. He’s only one day old and he’s kind of ugly and wrinkly and he screams a lot. He’s got a mass of black hair on his head just like Harry, but there’s one long tuft of sky blue hair sticking up in the front. It’s Teddy’s favourite color.
The problem is James is boring. He eats and poos and cries. In fact, the only time he stops crying is when Ginny has him cradled to her chest or Harry is dancing him around the room singing him lullabies— Teddy’s lullabies, the ones Harry used to sing to him—and they look so happy with James that instead of loving him, Teddy hates him a little bit.
Teddy has never hated anyone. Not even Arthur Malory, the boy who refused to sit next to him in nursery school because he said he’d get werewolf cooties. Teddy wasn’t a werewolf, of course, but his dad had been. His Gran and Harry told him lots of stories about his dad and how kind and loyal he was. So even though Teddy was only four and didn’t quite understand what being a werewolf meant, and even though he knew he wasn’t one, he’d still howled at Arthur before trying to bite him.
As James gets older, he stops crying and starts laughing. A lot. Teddy likes him when he laughs. James is still kind of boring and can’t do much, but he loves to put his chubby hands in Teddy’s blue hair and pull on it. When Teddy morphs his features into a cat or a troll, James bursts into laughter until he gets hiccups and Ginny and Harry smile at Teddy in a way that makes him feel ten feet tall.
By the time James can walk and talk, he does nothing but follow Teddy around. Sometimes Teddy loves it, and sometimes, well sometimes Teddy wishes James weren’t always in his shadow. It makes Teddy confused, knowing that he’s supposed to grow up to love the little brown-haired, freckled boy who follows him around and makes jokes about tooting and tries to sit on Albus’s head. Teddy likes James alright, he’s just not sure he could ever like him.
By the time James is five, Teddy has stopped letting his hair turn blue when other people can see him. It’s still his favourite color, he still feels the most himself when the tips of his hair are bright blue and loud. Sometimes Teddy feels quiet and confused, isn’t sure who he is besides the things people tell him—grandson, orphan, metamorph, godson, James’s soulmate—and all Teddy wants is to know who exactly Teddy is.
The night before Teddy leaves for Hogwarts, Harry pulls him aside and tells him it’s alright, that he doesn’t have to love anyone he doesn’t want to. That Teddy isn’t the only one in the world with blue hair and that James’s soulmate could be anyone. It’s not the truth, but when Harry says it, Teddy choses to believe him anyway. Harry knows what it’s like to feel lost behind the person people need you to be, to feel like you’re drowning in the destiny people say is yours. Harry understands him. Teddy loves him more for it.
Teddy does see James all that much the next five years. He sees him at Christmas, of course, and a lot more over the summer, but being away at Hogwarts gives Teddy the chance to be anyone. He feels free in a way he hadn’t known was possible. He dates Victoire because she's funny and beautiful and makes him happy. He knows she’s not his soulmate and so does she, but they come together anyway and Teddy learns that something doesn't have to be forever to be important.
Teddy is seventeen when James comes to Hogwarts. Teddy’s Head Boy, has a gorgeous girlfriend and friends he loves. His studies are going well and he’s on track to head into the Auror program—something he chose, not because he should, but because it felt right—and he’s happy. Really happy. James had a growth spurt that summer so while he’s still at least a foot shorter than Teddy, he’s taller than he used to be, gangly arms and legs and a smile too big for his face. His hair is a dark brown, almost auburn in the sun and that damned tuft of blue hair still stands straight up at the front of his head. On anyone else it would look ridiculous, but James wears it like everything else—with confidence.
It surprises no one when the Sorting Hat barely touches James’s head and shouts Gryffindor. James smiles, waving at Teddy and sitting down at Gryffindor. Unlike the other first years who all look close to chundering, James looks like the King of Gryffindor. James has never doubted who he is or where he belongs. Teddy doesn’t hate him for it anymore, but it makes something painful and tight twist in his chest.
James is fourteen the first time he bites his lip and asks Teddy if his hair has ever been blue. Teddy feels like the floor might drop out from beneath him. He knew James had a crush on him, everyone in the family knew. He also knew James suspected Teddy might be his soulmate. James isn’t stupid and though Teddy’s hair hasn't been blue in almost a decade, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out there aren’t many people who could have hair that particular colour.
“No,” Teddy lies. He hates himself when James’s face falls. James doesn’t ask Teddy again.
James is seventeen the first time Teddy wishes he would ask again. He’s left his teenage awkwardness behind, his smile still too big for his face and his hair still a mess. But there’s something about the way he moves, as if he truly likes who he is, that makes Teddy feel okay to be who he is, too, when he’s around him.
When James leaves Hogwarts, it only seems natural to offer him the spare room in his flat. It doesn’t need to mean anything. Teddy’d decided long ago he didn’t want a soulmate, didn’t want anyone else’s destiny. James smiles and hugs him tight, whispering, “Thanks, Teddy,” and something loosens in Teddy’s chest at the feeling of James’s arms wrapped around him. James is eighteen now, nearly as tall as Teddy and broad-chested and strong. When the hug lingers longer than necessary, Teddy lets it, Teddy welcomes it.
Living with James turns out to be better and worse than Teddy could’ve ever expected. James is a right pain in the arse. Teddy is not a morning person, but James is, and he insists on waking up with the sun and blaring the wireless as he sings off key and cooks breakfast in nothing but his pants. Teddy wishes he could be annoyed by the noise but it's hard to be annoyed by anything when James looks so cheerful, hard to look away from James’s vast expanses of tanned skin and the freckles that ghost across his shoulders like a light spring rain.
Teddy knows James watches him, sees the way his eyes linger on Teddy’s hair when it flickers colours unexpectedly. Sometimes, when James falls asleep leaning against him on the sofa or Teddy watches him fly he can see the tips turning to blue as if he has no control. Teddy isn’t sure why that terrifies him so much.
James is nineteen the first time Teddy kisses him, pressing him back against the kitchen counter and laughing into James’s mouth as the spoon he was cooking eggs with falls to the floor with a clatter.
“What are you doing?” James whispers in surprise, his breath coming out in shuddering gasps when Teddy kisses him again.
Teddy pulls back to look at James, really look. To watch the hope rise and begin to fall in his eyes. To watch the slow rhythmic movements of his chest as he tries to slow his breathing.
Teddy wants to tell James he’s sorry. That he loves him more for giving Teddy space. For letting Teddy be who he needed to be first, for giving Teddy time to find James in his own way. He wants to tell James he loves him for his bravery and his patience and his courage. That he loves him for loving Teddy even when he thought he’d get nothing in return.
But he can’t, can’t find the words to explain the way he feels when James is around—not burdened or suffocated by their bond, but comforted.
Teddy reaches out, fingers wrapping around the blue streak in James’s hair and closes his eyes as he feels himself relax, feels the walls he’s built protecting himself slip away. When he opens them again he knows his hair matches James’s now. He doesn’t need to look in a mirror to see it, only needs to look at James’s eyes and see exactly what he’d been afraid to see before— love.