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At The End of The Rope

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Faint sunlight filtered through the fraying and hole-ridden curtains of the attic room. Outside, a gentle spring rain fell against the window pane, tiny soft droplets misting the glass. The lilac leaves of the wisteria growing outside, climbing along the side and rafters of the house, swayed gently in the breeze, the movement sweet and calm. A small thatched robin's nest was visible on an utmost branch, three turquoise blue eggs nestled safely in the centre.

Inside, James struggled against the ropes binding him.

“Look, I don't even know you!” he yelled as he pulled against the scratchy hessian of the bindings. Fuck, these were tied well; conjured rope was always so bloody hard to get out of. He gritted his teeth.

Across from him, the middle-aged man smiled kindly, like he would at a friend, or an old companion.

“Ah, but you will know me, you will my sweet boy.” James recoiled as the man reached out to touch his cheek, fingers almost brushing the skin. “You're so like your father.”

James paused, frowning in disbelief. “You know my father?”

“No, no, not yet. But I will, I will, when I bond with you, oh yes when we become one!” He smiled, his eyes glazed and his teeth perfectly straight. The man’s face was handsome, if a little plain, his hair a light sandy blond and neatly trimmed, his skin clear and the corners of his eyes crinkled with gentle crow’s feet. His eyes themselves, though, were less gentle. They were a light hazel-green, a lovely colour, but they were glassy, unsettling.

The man looked perfectly normal, James thought, and completely fucking insane.

“We’re going to be so happy together,” he whispered, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “The Potters and I. Such a happy family.”

“Er…” James recoiled further. He swallowed, looking from the man’s pristine smile to his unhinged eyes. “Sure we are.”

The man moved his hand, almost touching James, before drawing his fingers back and taking a deep breath. He returned to the elaborate potions station on the table against the far wall, his back to James.

James leaned as far away as the rickety wooden chair he was tied to would allow, his expression caught somewhere between shock and disgust, and a completely inappropriate urge to laugh. Or, perhaps given the circumstances, it wouldn't be that inappropriate. There was something quite hilarious about this situation, about James Potter, Auror of two years, getting captured by a man who smiled like he was in a tooth whitening commercial and whose eyes indicated he was about as connected with reality as the people who bought said toothpaste hoping it would improve their appearance.

James cleared his throat, reminding himself that unhinged or not, this guy was armed ― James could see the wand peeking out of the top of his pocket ― and thus potentially dangerous. James didn't see the need to panic just yet, though.

His squad would have seen him go into that theatre on the ministry wand register, right before Captain Smiles over there had disarmed him and Side-Alonged him to this dump of a room. Clever, really, James had to admit ― calling out a disturbance to that abandoned theatre, then hitting James with the spell from behind. But Teddy was James’s partner, and Teddy was good. Better than that, he was efficient, and he had an almost uncanny ability to know when James was in some kind of strife. Which was, well, more often than it should be, admittedly, but it did help to know that Teddy always had his back, no matter what life was putting said back up against. He’d figure out soon enough that something wasn't right. For a routine call out, James shouldn't have been in there that long, shouldn't have dropped off the grid and out of contact with them the way he did. Sooner or later, they’d put a track on his wand, and realise that the last magical signature to touch it hadn’t been his own, and then voila ― it would be bonjour rescue team, and au revoir to this creepy, kidnapping arsehole. James steeled himself internally. He just had to keep calm, and keep Sunshine over there talking and… and this would all be okay. James breathed in sharply through his nose, fighting to keep his heart rate steady. This would all be okay.

He pulled again experimentally at the ropes binding his wrists over the back of the chair, testing their strength. They were...he grimaced. Dammit, they were so tight. And tied bloody well ― this fucker obviously knew how to cast ― but maybe if he could just move his thumb a little to the ….

Across the room, the man’s chair scraped along the floor. James stilled, looking up slowly to see the now seated man staring at him, one leg crossed over the other. Next to him, on the granite work top, one of the potions vials burbled ominously. James plastered a sickening smile onto his face.

“Bond, you were saying?” he asked conversationally, smiling and still trying to reach the knot of the rope with his fingers. He tried to keep his expression as benign as he could when the man glanced down at his arms, bent behind the chair as they were. James raised his brows, still smiling sweetly and pretending he was just scratching his shoulder blades against the chair. Somewhat mollified, the man’s expression eased. God, this wanker was as thick as two bricks, James thought.

“Yes, the soul bond. The true declaration of love and harmony between an Alpha and an Omega.” His eyes shone again as he looked away, at the two vials of liquid he held in his hands. When he spoke again, it was at the liquid swirling in the simple glass tubes. “It’s the purest and most sublime form of love there is, and can ever be,” he finished in an awed whisper.

James blinked, fighting the urge to groan derisively. The purest form of ― what was this tosser on?

James took a deep breath and pinched his mouth shut. The man turned back to him, his expression euphoric, and James tried to smile as reassuringly as he could.

“Don't you agree, James?” the man asked. James resisted the urge to shiver at his familiar tone; they’d never even met before. James fought his repulsion down.

“Oh, uh, well.” He cleared his throat. “Of course! Of course, it's beautiful. With the…” James shook his head. “Souls, and bonding. Gosh, it's just, all so… wow! You know?” He smiled again, as charmingly as he could, as he stalled.

He didn't know much about Omega and Alpha bonding, but he did know it was just a fancier way of saying "claiming", and meant no more than that. Alphas could claim anyone, Omega, Beta ― hell, even another Alpha if they wanted ― by biting their neck when in rut. A lot of people only saw it as valid and natural, though, when performed between Alphas and Omegas ― but a lot of others thought those people were idiots.

It was meant to be, sexually at least, an incredibly intimate and erotic experience for all parties involved, similar to being marked by a lover ― baring a neck, having them leave their mark on it. The bond it created wa To some people that meant a bond.

To others, it was just an outdated mode of signifying ownership which had simply taken on more romantic notions these days. Kinda like real marriage, Albus had said to James once, his voice heavy with scorn. According to him, it had sod all to do with love, pure or otherwise; it was about fucking, about Alphas claiming what was theirs.

He also knew it was permanent. The bite mark would fade, but not entirely, and the claim would never leave. That didn’t mean someone was forever tied to the Alpha who claimed them; the couple could split up, separate, never see each other again if they liked. They could form a new relationship, take a new lover ― but they could never be claimed again, the same way an Alpha could only claim one mate. There was only one shot at a bond, and while that didn’t mean an eternity locked together, a failed bond meant a permanent peach-coloured mark on a neck and a whole lot of regrets.

James remembered that much from those overly cautious Reproductive Education classes at Hogwarts, his fellow students tittering around him as the Professors talked about ‘avoiding the folly of youth’ and ‘waiting to meet the right person before jumping in to claiming or being claimed as a mate’.

That last fact made it somewhat rare. James himself didn’t know anyone who had done it, had never talked to anyone about it. To be fair, though, James generally found a reason to leave the room whenever people brought up claiming; as someone who had never presented, James found those types of conversations both awkward and incredibly painful to be in the room with. He hadn’t known it back then, as he sat in those Hogwarts classes and giggled over claiming along with the rest of the students, but there was never going to be anyone jumping into a claim with him, not as far as James could see. Who the hell would want an Absent Presentation as a mate?

Albus and Lily had both presented as Alpha, but neither of them had ever had a serious special someone in their lives ― although James suspected Albus was seeing someone on the sly. As for himself, well, James now had to break the unfortunate news about his lack of presentation to this creepy, smiley, bondage obsessed prick.

He smiled again, tilting his head and trying to look as guileless as he could.

“It all sounds wonderful, it really does. The only issue I can see here is that…” James paused, weighing his words. He needed this to make an impact on the guy, but he also needed him not to flip out and introduce James to the green end of his wand. He lifted one shoulder, still trying to look as reassuring and harmless as possible.

“Well, the issue is, I am not, in fact, an Omega,” James stated as bluntly as he could. Best break it to him gently, yes, but get it through his thick skull all the same. Then they could get on with ending this farce, and Smiles could shut up about bonding and souls and god knows what came next. The honeymoon in Florida, presumably.

The man blinked back demurely at him, and James fought another wave of repulsion. And then a second wave of worry; he hadn't expected that reaction from him. Anger, surprise, humiliation, yes ― but not this. This golden haired, straight-toothed lunatic didn't look phased in the slightest by the large spanner James had just inserted into the wheels of his plans.

“I'm not even a Beta,” James repeated, more clearly. “With the… I never presented. At all. I'm not… you can't do that bond with me.” He frowned, swallowing hard as he fought the wave of shame that came with saying that. Every time, no matter how many times it came up, James still felt it, no matter how much he told himself he’d made peace with what he was.

He was used to it now, really, used to the knowledge that there were three types of presentation ― and that he was none of them. Absent Presentation was “a developmental abnormality in which presentation never occurs. This is different to delayed or reduced presentation, as the subject does not carry any of the attributes assigned to Alphas, Betas or Omegas, and will never carry or possess them.” At least, according to any Healer worth his salt. James had seen enough of them in his time to know that, been taken by his mildly worried mother when he was fifteen and still hadn't shown an inclination to one of the three sides. And then again when he was sixteen....and then again at seventeen.

By that stage it was clear enough to all and sundry that this was more than delayed presentation ― this was a complete lack thereof. It was clear to everyone, that was, except James. He nodded along during appointments and check-ups, as his dad sat next to him and patted him on the knee, told him there was nothing wrong with him, this was just something that happened to some people. His dad had looked so kind, his hair just starting to go grey back then, and his expression earnest and sincere. James had tried, but he couldn't believe him. Surely this wasn’t normal? If it was, why so many tests, why so many hushed discussions between Healers and his parents, why was his dad taking such care to comfort him?

“It’s just routine for this sort of thing, Jamie, that’s all. Hey, don’t look so worried.” His dad had smoothed his hair back from his forehead, wrapped an arm around him.

“But if it’s normal, why is it such a big deal?” he’d mumbled into the scratchy wool of his dad’s jumper, the green fluff of the knitted H getting caught in his mouth. He pulled it off his tongue, wrinkling his nose in disgust. His father had sighed, his voice deep and comforting as he’d rested his chin on James’s head.

“You’re just a little different, that’s all this is.”

But James felt more than a little different. He felt like a freak. But he’d swallowed that down, looked up at his dad like he believed him, like he didn’t fear his parents were disappointed James hadn’t turned out normal ― proper normal ― like everyone else’s kids.

When Albus presented as Alpha two years later and in the springtime, like it always happened with fifteen year olds, he had been too worried it would upset James to tell him, wearing heavy cologne so no one would catch his scent, changing his sheets and hiding all evidence from his father. It only lasted three days, before Harry figured him out, congratulated him and organised his appointment with the usual Healers. Albus’s face had been so apologetic, so unnecessarily sad, when he looked at James, but James had simply smiled and hugged him like everyone else had. It was an open secret among the family by that point, that James was a little different as his father had said, that there was more to it than just a delay in his expression. James smiled and pretended he was okay with it, that he’d never minded much how he presented in the first place, his voice confident and cocky enough, only wobbling every now and again. Most people believed him, or believed him well enough, but his brother knew him better than that.

James hadn’t even cried, not until much later that night, and then it was as quietly as he could, his pillow stuffed into his mouth to suffocate the sound. He’d woken up the next morning, exhausted, and had nearly trodden on his brother, who had crept in during the night with his pillow and blanket and slept on the floor. James thought perhaps he hadn’t been as quiet as he’d thought.

He’d kept hoping, on the inside, that it would come. That he would wake up one morning and feel that warmth between his legs, on the back of his thighs, that his senses would change and he would pick the scent of those around him. Above all, he’d hoped that he would be an Omega. He’d have settled for a Beta, an Alpha; Alphas were the most common presentation, and he knew that was what everyone expected of him anyway, with his last name and his athletic prowess, his confident and reckless nature. But even from that very first lesson in Reproductive Biology, James had wanted to be an Omega.

At first he just liked the word; Alpha sounded so strong, so definitive, so bold and direct, but omega fit in his mouth perfectly. It rolled around on his tongue as he shaped the word, reading the scrolls and parchments the school had given them for their Reproductive Traits class.

“What’ll you be, Jamie?” Clarence had asked, elbowing him. James had rubbed his side, shrugging. Beside him, Sarah just snorted, sucking on a sugar quill.

“Alpha, Clarry, Jamie's clearly an Alpha! Doesn’t take a Ravenclaw to see that.” She had pulled the quill from her mouth with a loud smack. James had stared at the traces of sugar on her lips as she pushed her glasses further up her nose, her frizzy black hair framing her face.

“Really?” James had asked, his voice quiet and wondering. Alpha? He didn’t feel like an Alpha. He had turned back to Clarence, sitting next to him and chewing on the nail of one of his long fingers. Clarence had winked, and mouthed Omega at James, and James had felt the most wonderful rush of warmth in his belly, and lower as well. He liked the idea of that, the sound of that. He wanted to be an Omega, with their cycles, their unique scents. He didn’t want to be an Alpha, he knew then as he looked at Clarence's smiling hazel eyes; he wanted to be with one. He couldn't wait to hit fifteen, to present, to finally know.

But it had never happened.

Of course, the older he got, and the further away any kind of presentation seemed to get, the more desperately he wanted it. He’d always been popular enough, always fit in well, but as everyone else started presenting around him ― when the Omegas started talking about heat suppressants, and James heard the Alphas bragging that they’d gone into their first rut at fourteen, no thirteen, no twelve! ― James had listened with a sinking weight gathering in his gut. Even the Betas, with their somewhat less pronounced attributes, could scent, could mark and claim. When they talked about the way someone made them feel when they walked by and caught that heady, unique scent, James couldn't join in. He didn’t smell anything, not like they described ― or didn’t describe.

“It’s like…,” Clarence waved a hand, “it’s too hard to explain, Jamie. Sorry,” he’d said, his expression apologetic. “Hey, see you at Quidditch practice? I’ve got to…” he’d looked over his shoulder then back, trailing off as James had just nodded absently, the warmth in his belly that Clarence used to cause now a long-forgotten comfort. Clarence had looked like he’d wanted to say more, but James had already walked off, not wanting to see the pity and the lack of interest on Clarence’s face that he was sure would be there now.

James had breathed in as deeply as he could, as he strode away, but all he could smell was the summer air, and the rain that had started to fall as it gently hit the warm pavers. Nothing else. Nothing unique, he’d thought glumly as he walked over to join Polly and Isak, the last two people in his year who had not yet presented, and who were hiding from the rain under an archway.

When even Lily overtook him ― his little sister Lily, and how proud his father had been at her being an Alpha, just like him, just like the woman she was named after ― James had known. It wasn’t going to happen to him. He wasn’t just late, a slow developer; he was nineteen, nearing his second year of Auror training, and he was unequivocally, undeniably, an Absent Presentation.

With characteristic determination, James had decided that it wasn’t going to stop him from doing what he wanted in life, wasn’t going to let it hold him back in any way ― beyond the unchangeable ways it would always hold him back, of course. Relationships, love ― claiming. Those things were always going to be closed off to him, no matter how many times the Healers reassured him there were ways around that for Absents, that it would be more than feasible for him to date and love anyone he wanted to. James didn’t ― couldn't ― believe them. Who would want him, knowing that he was effectively sterile, that he would never have a heat or a rut. He could have sex alright ― everything worked fine ― but he couldn't be knotted without prep and a careful stretching lotion. There would never be a heat, never be a baby as a result of it; what Alpha would want that, would waste their claim on him?

One night stands James could do, hidden safely under a Glamour, and had before, but his partners could alway tell there was something different about him from the first time they caught his scent. Alphas could always tell.

That was what James liked, when sex was a scratch he needed to itch ― and sometimes they liked him too, liked that they couldn't quite place his scent. They were intrigued. He’d play along, aware that his looks were at least enough to keep their interest, to get them from the bar to his flat and then out of their clothes. But he knew he couldn’t keep them, couldn’t let an Alpha fuck him; they’d figure him out in seconds, that something was different when his body couldn’t naturally accommodate a knot. It wasn’t a guarantee that an Alpha would knot everytime, but if they did...well, James couldn't risk that humiliation. True, they might just think he was a Beta, but James knew that was unlikely; he didn’t smell like a Beta, as more than one Alpha had told him, their hands tangled in his hair as he took them in his mouth.

Polly, the one person James had drunkenly confided his virginity too, had always maintained that all he needed to do was be upfront with them and he’d be surprised how few people would care in the slightest. James was pretty sure she would be surprised how many people would.

The sex was always good, for one night, but it never happened twice. He wouldn't be able to keep the charade that he was presenting up any longer than that, and he couldn’t stomach the idea of telling someone what he was ― what he wasn’t ― and seeing their face twist with pity, with their apologies, as they left. Because there was no other option, as far as James could see; they would leave him.

As for that particular Alpha in his life, that man he knew and admired, who made James’s stomach twist when he smiled at him, and made James’s heart flutter and ache when he laughed ― that was a door James had slammed shut on his own face as quickly as he’d seen it open. It was hard sometimes, working together like they did, seeing each other so much through family and mutual friends, but James was good at hard. He could go days, even, without thinking about of the way Teddy sucked on his lower lip when he was reading, or how Teddy’s arm felt around him as they left Friday night drinks together. If he sometimes imagined the men he took home had hair the shade of robin’s eggs, dimples when they smiled and clever, strong hands, then James let himself have that ― but only that. The real thing was so far out of his reach that he couldn’t even let himself dream of trying to touch it. That was a rejection he couldn’t bear.

There were times, though, when he felt himself getting close to testing it, testing how firmly that door was locked. Sometimes he found himself noticing the way Teddy spent so much time with him, the way he never seemed interested in the people who tried to pick him up. Teddy would shrug them off, tell James he ‘was waiting for that special someone to come and take me home’ while staring at James like there was a secret there they both knew. James would feel hope flare in his chest...and then die out again as quickly as it would come.

Teddy didn’t mean him; Teddy just meant he was fussy, that he had standards, that he just hadn't met the right person. James would berate himself for being so ridiculous, as he looked away and signalled the bartender for another pint, and if Teddy looked disappointed those times, James knew he was imagining it ― just like he imagined it on the faces of the men he went home with when he refused to stay for breakfast.

No, James wasn’t going to let being an Absent Presentation hold him back, but he wasn’t going to let himself believe he could ever have what those who presented did. And if this creepy, kidnapping fucker thought James was going to somehow end up bonded to him, well. He was going to be more disappointed as James was on the springtime of his fifteenth.

Across from him, his abductor giggled, a soft tinkling sound. James returned his attention to him, feeling dread trickle down his spine as Sunny Smiles leant forward.

“I know,” he whispered, excitement and happiness clear in his voice. “I know what you are.” James stared.

“So, if you know, then ―”

“It was in the papers, you see.” The man’s voice was high now, almost proud as he shared this information. “I read about you, oh I read about you all. Albus, and Lily, and your beautiful, powerful mother ― ahh, and your fierce, strong father!” The man sighed dreamily, then shook his head, looking back at James. “It was you I read about the most though. The eldest Potter boy, the heir, so handsome and as strong as his father ― and then...Absent Presentation!” He bit his lower lip in glee, as if this was the most wonderful thing he’d ever heard.

James stared back, confusion overwhelming him. He was beginning to feel more than unsettled by this guy, by his tone, that he knew so much about him. James had known the papers had had a field day with his lack of presentation ― once they figured out that the reason his parents wouldn't say what he was was in fact because he simply wasn't. Even when they tried to be kind they couldn’t resist praising him for doing so well in the Auror division “despite the hand that life had dealt him.” Patronising arseholes. The pitying, overly familiar tone just made James even more determined to excel, to prove that he wasn’t lacking any kind of power or ability simply because he’d never gone through that second stage of puberty. Still, though, it hit him every time, the knowledge that he was different, and that bloody everyone knew.

Including this bastard. James set his jaw. He was getting very done with this whole situation.

“Yeah, that’s me. Oldest Potter, no expression, it was in all the papers. There’s a book coming out about it soon. Merrick Chambers will play me in the film adaptation,” he added, annoyance getting the better of him. His arms ached, and his legs were getting stiff, and where the hell was his back-up? He wanted out of this, and surely they had done a track on his wand by now?

“Look, if you know all this, you’ll also know that you can’t do this lovely soul bond you’re so excited about, so it would be best for all of us right now if you just released me,” James swallowed, trying to regulate his tone back back down to something calmer, “and we can talk about what to do next,” he finished in his calmest voice. He‘d had the standard negotiator's training, he knew the buzz words to use and how to try and moderate situations like this. He’d never been in a real one though, not before this; third year out in the field, and James was good, but he was still a little green around the edges, even he could admit that.

“I’m defunct!” he exclaimed as the man simply stared at him, smiling at him in that revoltingly familiar way.

The man sighed again, shaking his head as he looked at James, adoration shining in his eyes.

“No, lovely boy. Not defunct. Perfect,” he whispered. “I knew you were special, from the moment you were born. I knew this was destiny.” He raised the vials again, the deep red liquid swirling in one, the opal white liquid in the other as still as ice. “Of course, I had hoped there would be an Omega in the family. That it would be you ― so handsome, so courageous and reckless, oh how I had hoped you would be an Omega, like your mother.” James watched as the man brought the two vials together. “I’m an Alpha you see, no surprises there. All the men on my father’s side have been Alphas for, oh, decades. Born to rule, we are,” the man finished smugly, and James laughed internally; ah, there we go, the Alpha Supremacist rhetoric. Figures someone with their head as far up their own arses as that lot would think kidnapping someone, then tying them to a chair, was the perfect atmosphere to tell them how wonderful they were. You’re a real Prince Charming, mate, James thought angrily.

“I do confess I was a little disappointed when you turned out to be Absent,” the man continued, and this time James did roll his eyes. Yeah, you and me both, pal, he thought caustically. Oblivious, the man continued undeterred.

“But I knew, still, that there was something special about you. You were the one. My way in,” he looked up at James, his expression turning greedy as he slowly began to tip the white substance into the vial of deep red liquid. “My beautiful golden ticket to the Potter family. Through you, I would become part of them, part of the legend. Through our bond.”

The man looked up at James’s horrified face, the deep-red liquid in the vial slowly turning a vibrant cherry-red colour. He discarded the second now-empty vial, let it hit the wooden floor and roll until it hit the far wall. His smile never wavered. For the first time, James began to feel panic settle in, felt it run down the back of his neck. He flicked his gaze from the vial, to the man’s face, then back again.

“Look, I’m very flattered, mate, but you can’t ―” he tried again, but the man waved his wand and James jerked as he felt the ropes tighten, curling up his arms to his shoulders. He jerked again, the bindings crossing his forehead, as they pulled his head back, exposing his neck.

“Wait, what the ―” James struggled, grimacing as he tried to look around the room. He tensed his arms and thighs and tried to move anything he could. It was useless. “There’s no need to ― we can just talk! About the,” James swallowed, his Adam’s apple rubbing painfully against the tight burn of the rope, “about the bond stuff!”

“Shh, Jamie. Can I call you Jamie?”

No!”

“It’s okay, Jamie.”

James’s eyes widened as the man’s face appeared, hovering over him. In his hand the vial of liquid swirled ominously, and James recoiled as much as he could as horrible realisation hit him.

“What is that, what are you doing with that?” he asked, his voice rough from the tight press of the rope and the way the angle bent his neck back. “What’re you ―”

“It’s just a potion. Just a little potion, to help you,” the man said, his eyes gleaming and his smile ecstatic.

“Ah,” James laughed dryly. “No, you know, I don’t...I don’t really need any help.” He tried to twist his face away as the man moved close enough to almost touch his cheek, let his fingers hover just over James’s mouth. “I don’t really need any touching either, buddy, so just cool it with the ―”

“Shhh, I won’t touch you,” the man leant forward, close enough that James could feel the breath on his face, could smell him, “not yet,” he finished, anticipation clear in his voice.

Oh, gross.

James shut his mouth; if the fucker tried to kiss him, he was going to...well not much, considering he was tied to a chair, but he could probably bite his tongue off, possibly throw up on him. He pushed back as hard as he could as the man raised his wand, his fingers gripping the wood hard.

“Now, open up.”

James glared. Yeah not likely, arsehole, he thought, then jumped as the man whispered a spell and James’s jaw flew open. He tried to close it but it wouldn’t budge. Ohh, shit.

Above him, the man shook his head sadly. “I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. That you would agree to this willingly ―”

“‘Illing’y?! ‘Ou ‘ucking ‘iece o’ ‘it! ‘Et ‘e ‘o!” James groaned in frustration, struggling enough to make the chair scrape against the floor as he tried desperately to shut his mouth. He tried harder as the man smiled again, his eyes bright and feverish.

“Open up, James Potter,” he said in an almost reverent voice, his wand pointed at James’s throat. James cringed, then gagged as the man tipped the vial forwards, the potion hitting the back of his throat and easily slipping down.

It had no taste, not at first, but slowly an overpoweringly sweet flavour, like coconut and fermenting cherries, hit James. He gagged again, trying to wretch, to close his throat, but it was no use; his options were choke or swallow.

“There we go, good boy, good boy. Swallow it all,” the man crooned as James gasped.

James tried to move his head, to spit it at the man’s face ― good boy, he wasn’t a fucking thestral ― but he was too overcome by the cloying, sweet taste of the liquid, the way it seemed to fill all his senses, and the distressing numbness it was causing as it travelled down his oesophagus and into his stomach. He gasped one last time, the vial now empty and his abductor beaming down at him like he’d never been prouder. The man made an almost child-like squeak of delight.

“Good boy!” he repeated, whispering a soft Finite and allowing James’s jaw to relax. He closed it slowly, his head still angled back by the ropes and his eyes watering as he stared at the ceiling. His stomach was churning, an unsettling warmth spreading up from his abdomen to his ribs.

“What did you just…” he slurred, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his mouth. His voice didn’t sound right; nothing sounded right, felt right ― smelled right. James felt like his senses had been simultaneously dulled and heightened at once.

He lurched forward as the man released the ropes around his forehead and neck, leaving him still bound but able to move his head.

“I made you better.”

“You poisoned me,” James murmured. “You...arsehole.”

“Don’t speak to your Alpha that way!” the man snapped, raising his voice for the first time. James made a derisive sound, the room beginning to spin. Oh, there was a whole lot he would like to say to this particular Alpha, if he could just make the room hold still long enough for him to get his wits together.

His abductor breathed in deeply, getting himself under control. “You shouldn’t speak to me like that, Jamie. You must behave,” he said more calmly, that overly familiar tone back in his voice. “But soon, you will,” James heard his footsteps recede slightly as he returned to the potions work-table, then became louder as the man returned to him.

“And now, the final stage,” James heard the quiver of excitement in the man’s voice, felt his stomach turn at the sound, “just one touch, and in twelve hours you’ll be ready, so ready for our ―”

Expelliarmus!”

James heard the sound of the door crashing open, the clatter of the man’s wand as it hit the floor.

“Ha!” James croaked a laugh, and then coughed unpleasantly, as the man began to scream at the three Auror’s entering the room.

“No, you’re ruining it! You’re ruining it―”

“Wands up! Renholm, Disarm him, Lupin, see to Potter!”

“― You’re ruining everything! Don’t touch him, he’s mi ― don’t touch him!”

There was another crash, a flash of silvery light and the sound of boots scuffling along the dirty wooden floor. Internally, James crowed in triumph as the man screamed in frustration again, his potions equipment spilling onto the floor. Externally, though, all James managed to do was moan. Fuck, this potion was making him woozy, was making his limbs feel heavy and…wrong somehow.

“Cram a sock in it, you shrieky bastard! What the hell is all this gear for ― Carmichael, send in to Pritchards at The Ministry, we’re gonna need the Potions Analysis mob on this.”

James felt hands on his shoulders, the soft slide of magic washing over him. Familiar magic. It was cool and soft, and James sighed in relief as the ropes around his wrists and ankles began to ease. He felt the blood rush back to his limbs, his fingers tingling unpleasantly ― or perhaps that was the potion. He felt beyond weird.

“Alright, James?” Teddy whispered. “Got yourself into trouble again, huh? Never mind, I’m here.”

“S’about time, Ted. Was almost worried,” James mumbled, the room spinning faster and beginning to blur. He startled slightly, then sighed as a comforting, tingling sensation began to emanate from the palm of Teddy’s hand, warm and firm on the bare skin of James’s neck.

“S’alright, Jamie, I got you.”

James nodded absently, his eyelids drooping shut as everything faded to an overwhelming black.

“I got you.”

-*-