James experienced three life-altering moments in his seventh year at Hogwarts. He decided that he wanted to be a professional Quidditch player, he worked out that he was gay, and he realised that he was in love. That last one gave him a bit of trouble.
It had all been going better than James could have even planned, which was why, when Ariella whispered breathily into James's ear one night while they were going at it, that she thought she was ready, James had easily agreed.
James hadn't ever told anybody, but he'd never felt the same rush to have sex that all his mates did. He still hadn't managed to get laid, though his friends were all under the impression that he'd lost his virginity a couple of years ago, with some french bird over summer hols. The truth was, as much as he liked the idea of sex, every time things had started getting hot and heavy with a girl, he just couldn't seem to push for the next step. Even though he and Ariella had been dating for a few months, he still couldn't seem to muster the same enthusiasm for her curves as the rest of his dorm mates. James knew he didn't love her, and he wondered if he should feel guilty about that, if it should worry him that he was about to have sex with somebody he didn't feel that strongly for. But those thoughts never seemed to last very long. He didn’t exactly fancy the idea of dying a virgin, and she seemed like as good a choice as any.
The sex was...less than he'd been expecting. It was awkward—quick and polite. True, once he'd pressed inside, once he'd felt that tight, wet heat wrapped around him, it was just about the best thing he'd ever felt; he didn't even last two minutes thrusting into her before his orgasm hit him like a Bludger. It wasn't until afterwards that he'd felt a little disappointed. James had always thought there would be more—stars and fireworks. Something a lot more monumental. Ariella had seemed happy enough though, smiling softly up at him. James felt embarrassed for wanting more than a physical release. Merlin, he was supposed to be the man in the relationship.
He went back home feeling relieved that he would have time away to process his experience with Ariella, to figure out why his stomach had felt heavy and his skin prickly, ever since their night together. Hell, even Albus and Lily’s constant bickering would be a welcome distraction this year. Unfortunately, the picture of Draco Malfoy sucking face with another man on the front page of the Daily Prophet had squashed all of James’s hopes for relief. As the star Seeker of Puddlemere United, Malfoy had always been James's favourite player growing up. Now that he was the manager of the team James hoped to someday play for, he'd been pretty much elevated to God status in James's eyes. Seeing the photo had his stomach twisting and his skin heating up.
Being gay might be more accepted nowadays by the wizarding world, but prejudice still existed, and nowhere was it more prevalent than in the sports industry. The whole ordeal made James's palms sweat when he thought about Malfoy—his idol—losing his job because he liked men. When he wasn't obsessing over Ariella and himself, he was staring at the photo of Draco Malfoy and this mystery man. He felt fidgety and enthralled as he watched the two of them in their passionate embrace. Draco had seemed so calm in his press release, and Albus said that Scorpius had already known for ages—that it wasn't a big secret. But James knew that there was a reason Malfoy hadn't come out willingly, and James didn't know why it made him so panicky when he thought about what might happen now that the truth was out. Malfoy was shrewd, powerful, and damned good at what he did, but he couldn't control everything. Despite the anxiety that James felt whenever he thought about it, he welcomed the distraction from trying to decipher his feelings for Ariella.
James's break wasn't exactly going as planned, and he knew his family was noticing his moodiness. Luckily they all seemed inclined to put it off to general teenage surliness, which would have pissed James off—he wasn't normally that moody—if it hadn't meant that they'd left him to his own devices.
Of course, James should have realised that not everybody would be so accommodating.
"Alright, Jamie, time to talk about whatever's got you in such a state."
James bolted up from the bed, heart racing at the interruption. It was after midnight, and James certainly hadn't been expecting anybody to barge into his room. He flushed inexplicably as he took in Teddy, his sleep-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders as he stood in the doorway with a bottle of Firewhisky and a cheeky grin. Teddy shut the door and climbed up onto James's bed, before conjuring two glasses and filling them to the top.
"Come on now, you've been holed up here for days avoiding everybody. That's no way to spend Christmas!"
"Maybe I wanted to be alone," James said, without heat, as he took the glass. His chest felt funny at the thought of Teddy noticing his absence. That he'd specifically sought James out to try and make him feel better. He sat down next to Teddy on the bed.
"I don't believe that for a minute. The James I know much prefers being the center of attention," Teddy teased. His hair was his natural light brown, and it almost seemed to glow in the faint light from the corner lamp. James averted his eyes a took a large gulp of Firewhisky, feeling it burn all the way to his stomach. "Hey." Teddy's voice was softer now. "Talk to me."
James bit his lip. "It's nothing. It's stupid." It was. Or Teddy would think so. Teddy had probably never had any problems with sex. He'd probably never felt mixed up and confused like James did. He'd dated Victoire for ages, one of the most sophisticated girls James knew. They'd always seemed so easy together. James had felt a bit jealous whenever he'd seen them at family gatherings, a weird squeezing around his chest whenever Teddy brushed her hair back behind her ears.
"I doubt that," Teddy said confidently. "If it's got you all tied up in knots, I'm sure it's not stupid. Come on, talk to me. If you don't, you know your dad is just going to end up here in a few days trying to get the story out of you. I mean, if you'd rather talk to him…"
James snorted. "Subtle, Teddy."
"Whatever, Jamie. I'm a patient man. And we've got this whole bottle of Firewhisky here. You'll tell me eventually." And there was that cocky grin again, the one that made James's heart speed up. Or maybe that was just the alcohol starting to kick in.
He tore his eyes away from Teddy and focused on the Puddlemere poster of Draco Malfoy on his wall. It was from back when he was still Seeker, his graceful figure zooming in and out of the frame, pausing every once in awhile to flash a wicked smirk. His dad hated that poster, always going out of his way to avoid looking at it, his jaw tightening whenever he happened to catch a glance. But he'd gone with James to the store to purchase it when James had saved enough money, he'd helped him hang it, and he'd never once said anything disparaging about James's hero—the same couldn't be said about the rest of the Weasleys. Even now, when the entire wizarding world had something to say about him, his dad was firmly silent.
"James," Teddy murmured, drawing James's attention back to the present.
James sighed. Maybe it would be good to talk to somebody, and if he was going to confide in anybody, it would be Teddy. He took a fortifying sip of Firewhisky. "I had sex. With Ariella."
Teddy raised his brows and clinked his glass against James's. "Well, congrats! Is that what's got you all keyed up? Losing your virginity?"
James blushed. "Yeah, I guess. It just wasn't—I mean it wasn't bad or anything—she seemed to enjoy it and I got off, it...I don't know. It didn't feel the way I thought it would."
Teddy smiled, and his eyes filled with understanding. "Nobody's first time is perfect, Jamie. It's always a bit awkward. It takes awhile to figure out what you like." Teddy looked over at James and smirked. "And to build up stamina."
"Hey, now! I didn't say anything about my stamina," James protested as he shoved at Teddy's arm.
Teddy laughed. "You didn't have to. But don't worry, that's all normal. And it gets better. Much better." He looked off dreamily into the distance, and James's throat felt tight as he wondered what—or who—was putting that look onto Teddy's face.
"Well, that's easy for you to say," James muttered bitterly. "Your first time was probably brilliant."
"Well," Teddy said slowly, clearly weighing his words, "my first time with a girl was pretty embarrassing. We were both sixteen and pissed and I only half remember it. Irene still teases me about it when we run into each other."
"Yeah?" That did make James feel a bit better, if only marginally. Though a petulant part of him felt a little annoyed that Teddy had been younger than James when he'd lost his virginity.
"But my first time with a bloke..." James ears perked up, his eyes widening as he absorbed Teddy's words. "That was actually pretty hot. Though I'd had a bit more experience by then, so I managed not to completely embarrass myself when he got a hand on my cock."
"So you're—are you—"
Teddy smiled patiently. "I like both, always have."
James felt dizzy, and he set his glass down on the window sill. "I—I didn't know that. Does anybody else…"
"I haven't told a lot of people. Just some friends. It doesn't really feel like anybody else's business, you know?" Teddy finished off the rest of his glass in one long swallow, then refilled it with a flick of his wand. "Maybe it'd be different if I ever got serious about a bloke, but I'm not really looking for anything long-term right now, not with anybody. It's...people are more accepting about that kind of thing nowadays, but it's still not easy, especially in the Aurors." Teddy's expression was tight, nothing like the teasing openness he'd had just a second ago.
"Maybe it's cowardly, not telling people. But I already get shit for—" He broke off, and took an angry swallow. "For my dad being a werewolf, and not everybody is all that trusting of metamorphmagi either. I'm not ashamed of any of it. I'm proud of my dad and my mum, proud of who I am, but it's—it's a lot to handle sometimes…" Teddy looked over at him, his eyes scanning James before he ran a hand over his face. "Wow, I did not mean to unload like that. I must be a lot drunker than I'd thought."
James reached out and grabbed Teddy's wrist, taking a moment to feel the warmth of his skin and the strength of his bones beneath James's fingers, before pulling him forward into a hug. He smelled warm and spicy and James had the strangest impulse to stick his nose behind Teddy's ear and inhale him. He must be drunker than he'd thought, too.
"You know I don't care about any of that, right?" James asked when they'd separated. "It doesn't matter who you love." Teddy gave him a slow, soft smile, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and James's heart beat an uneven tattoo in his chest. Teddy nodded, and turned to bring his glass up to his mouth for another taste of Firewhisky. James watched, strangely mesmerised by the way Teddy's throat moved as he swallowed, by the shine of alcohol on his lips, and the way his tongue darted out to lick up the stray drops.
He cleared his throat and poured himself another glass.
The rest of break passed in a much more pleasant blur, and before James knew it, he was back at Hogwarts. But something had changed.
Maybe it was his disappointing experience with Ariella, or his idol being pushed out of the closet, or maybe it was his revealing conversation with Teddy, but James couldn't help but notice how much he was noticing other blokes: the bulge of a bicep, the jut of a collarbone, the tight curve of an arse. James found his pulse quickening in a way that it never quite seemed to around Ariella.
By the time Easter hols had rolled around, James was well and truly sure he was gay. He had broken up with Ariella a few weeks earlier with little drama. He just couldn't keep dating her once he'd realised the truth. Not after he'd spent weeks coming his brains out as he pictured strong, masculine hands pinning him to the bed, while he slid his own slick fingers lower and lower.
The realisation freaked him a out a little, especially considering the fact that he wanted to go into professional Quidditch. Knowing that he'd have Teddy to lean on until he was ready to come out was a big comfort. Which was why, when Teddy pulled him aside during Easter hols, his face flushed with excitement as he told James that he'd gotten into the Auror exchange programme he'd applied to, James's stomach dropped. Teddy would be leaving at the end of the month. For two years.
He knew Teddy was expecting James to be happy for him, so he plastered on a smile and gave him a big hug.
"That's amazing! I knew you'd get it. They'd be stupid not to pick you." James wasn't lying, even if his words felt hollow. Teddy practically glowed with pride and happiness.
That night, when he was finally alone, he thought about Teddy leaving for two years and let the emotion wash over him. His gut felt shredded, like somebody had come along, scooped out all his insides, and left him empty. Just the thought of being so far away from Teddy for so long made him sick, and he worried about how it would feel when he was really gone.
He thought about how, ever since he'd broken up with Ariella, he couldn't seem to wank without picturing Teddy. James's fantasy men always morphed into Teddy, even when he'd purposefully tried to think of somebody else. He thought about how his stomach jumped and fluttered whenever Teddy smiled at him. About how just getting a simple letter from Teddy was always the highlight of James's day. It all pointed to the same undeniable truth.
James was in love with Teddy.
The realisation couldn't have been worse. James knew Teddy loved him, but he would never be in love with him. He'd always be like a little brother to Teddy. James knew he could never tell him how he felt, especially not with Teddy leaving for the next few years.
Harry was thrilled with Teddy's accomplishment, and threw a party celebrating the big news. James did his best to smile and look happy, and when he hugged Teddy goodbye, he only held on a little too long.
By the end of the year, James had his own big news to share; he'd been drafted to play for Puddlemere United. His first impulse, as it always was when he had big news, was to rush up to his room and write a letter to Teddy. This time, though, the act of writing left him feeling hollow, instead of content. Exchanging letters with Teddy had always been one of the highlights of his time away from home, something just for him and Teddy, keeping them connected until he came back from Hogwarts. It was used like a balm, making it so James could feel okay with their temporary separation. But now, their separation wasn't temporary. James wouldn't be seeing Teddy for years, and this letter would probably take weeks before it even reached him. It would be ages before Teddy even knew about the biggest thing to ever happen to James. Somehow, that knowledge managed to sour the taste of James's victory.
Making Puddlemere United had been James's dream for as long as he could remember, and now, he suddenly felt like he'd trade it all in an instant, if he could just have Teddy back.
A letter had nothing over the real flesh-and-blood Teddy, but it would be enough.
It had to be.