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James sighed, rubbing his temples and groaning at the mass of paperwork spread across his desk. There were two reports he should’ve finished last week and a lengthy survey about his job satisfaction he’d been ignoring for nearly a fortnight. Paperwork was, by far, his least favourite part about being an Auror. Well, that, and the bureaucracy in general. James really hated the weekly interdepartmental meetings they were required to attend. Though he didn’t dislike them nearly as much as he did the peer review meetings that had been implemented last year to help boost department morale and productivity, or the bi-monthly goal meetings all Aurors had with the Minister. Actually, the more James thought about it, the more he realised there was a lot he hated about his job. But the things he did like—being a part of something that made the world safer, helping people, the adrenaline rush of field duty, being partners with Teddy—well, most days, those things made it all worth it.

“If you sigh one more time, I’m going to hex you,” Teddy grumbled, chucking a ball of wadded up paper at James’s head. It plopped onto his desk atop his half-finished report.

“I can’t help it. I hate paperwork,” he whined.

Teddy snorted, the corner of his mouth turning up. “You don’t say? Merlin, and here I thought you loved it. I mean, for fuck’s sake, who would’ve ever guessed that? Not me. I would’ve never guessed from the fact that I always have to help you finish your reports or the fact that every Friday morning you get to work early and sit at your desk trying to compress two weeks’ worth of paperwork into an hour sprint to get it turned in on time.”

James frowned. “Well, if you were a real mate you would take pity on me and help. Or provide me with sustenance to make the time go by faster.”

“Not a chance. You knew McClouster wanted these reports by ten sharp and yet you still decided to spend all last night watching telly instead.”

James grabbed the ball of paper and threw it back at Teddy, pleased when it bounced off his forehead and flew into the corner to join the small mountain of paper balls James had thrown at him this morning when Teddy refused to go to the tearoom and get him a second cuppa while he wrote his reports. Teddy said it was James’s fault he’d waited until the last minute to finish his reports and didn’t have time to take a snack break. Some partner Teddy was.

“Yeah well, you’re the one who invited me over to your place for pizza and telly, so really it's your fault.”

Teddy pulled a face at James. “The only reason I invited you round to my place was because you told me you finished them!”

James refused to make eye contact. “Yes, well, you should’ve known I was lying.”

He wasn’t about to point out that he would always pick spending time with Teddy over paperwork, even if they already spent all day together five days a week at work and a good chunk of their weekends too. James had even cancelled his plans with Ian to hang out with Teddy last night. Not that he told Teddy or Ian that. He’d told Ian he needed to finish his reports with Teddy and told Teddy that he’d finished his reports the night before. He didn’t feel too guilty about the lie, since all Ian had wanted to do was was stay at his place and watch telly. Granted that's exactly what James went to do at Teddy’s, but watching telly with Teddy was fun and besides, James was still basically avoiding Ian while stoutly pretending he wasn’t.

In any case, he and Ian often disagreed about what to watch, and usually ended up putting on the worst possible thing they could find, spending so much time complaining about what they were watching that neither of them ever really knew what was actually happening. Plus Teddy had let James order whatever he wanted on the pizza, and Ian always insisted they forgo all the good toppings in favour of things like spinach and peppers. Who the fuck wanted vegetables on pizza? James ate enough vegetables as it was, thank you very much. Pizza was his one and only cheat meal and he didn’t plan on ruining it with mushrooms or kale.

James thought it was probably a bad sign that he always ditched his boyfriends to hang out with Teddy instead—in fact, his last two boyfriends before Ian had broken up with him for that exact reason—but it wasn’t his fault he couldn't find a boyfriend he got along with as perfectly as he did Teddy. Teddy was his best mate for a reason, after all. Ian didn’t seem to mind how much time James spent with Teddy, though, which suited James just fine. James secretly suspected Ian didn’t mind because he didn’t care about a whole lot besides his research projects or his calendar.

Though Ian had spent a lot of time wooing James the first few months, that had gradually petered off until his idea of romance was more akin to telling James they could go out to eat instead of getting takeaway. The thing was, Ian wasn’t exactly a bad boyfriend, he just wasn’t a good one either. Although James supposed ditching his own boyfriend to hang out with Teddy regularly meant he wasn’t exactly a great one either. Things had been alright when they first got together. Ian had been earnest in his affections and romantic—or at least, more romantic than he was now—and while James never exactly felt butterflies in his stomach, Ian was clearly interested in the type of committed relationship James wanted. It was nice to date someone and know they wanted the same things as James. Though more and more lately, James wondered if having stability and commitment somehow required sacrificing the passion. His parents seemed to have it all, but perhaps they were simply the exception to the rule.

James and Teddy had been together for nearly ten months, and though James didn’t want to admit it, the only reason he’d said yes when Ian had first asked him out was because the idea of spending another family get together being hounded by every Weasley asking him when he was finally going to settle down and get married was enough to make anything seem like a good idea. Which is how he’d ended up agreeing to a date with Ian from Internal Affairs, who, on their first date, had taken James on a tour of the accounting rooms in the Ministry. Though he’d taken James for ice cream after and had turned out to be a surprisingly good kisser and a thoughtful date. James didn’t exactly see sparks when they kissed, but Ian was friendly enough and he seemed to like James and like his Gran was always telling him, not everyone gets love at first sight. So when Ian had asked for him for a second date he’d not hesitated to say yes. It’d been over a year since he’d been on a date. He thought perhaps he was just out of practice. Of course, their next few dates turned out to be just as unexciting as the previous one. Two dates turned into three and three into four and while he certainly didn’t see fireworks when he looked at Ian, well, Ian was friendly and never lied and there was something nice about being with someone he felt like he could trust. Before James knew it, they’d been dating six months and by the time it occured to James that perhaps he ought to be more excited by the idea of being in a relationship, Ian had already penciled “meet the parents” into his day planner and called his mum to arrange it.

A few weeks later, when his own parents finally met Ian they seemed to like him quite a bit, though Albus and Lily seemed less than charmed and spent the entire evening taking turns kicking James under the table while James pretended he couldn’t read their lips. The only people who’d ever called him on his bullshit were Teddy and his siblings, and since Teddy hadn't said a word about Ian, he thought perhaps they wouldn’t either. That’d been wishful thinking of course, because Albus had cornered him in the kitchen as he’d been serving the pudding, asking James when exactly he’d decided to get married. James had been utterly bewildered, and when he asked Albus what he meant all Albus could do was make a vaguely horrified noise as he gestured to the dining room. James had hurriedly returned with a tray of pie and tea floating behind him to find Ian telling his mother that so long as things went according to plan and he got the raise he was hoping for over Christmas, then he and James could move in before the new year, which would put them right on track to get engaged next Christmas.

James had let the tray slam onto the table with less grace than he’d meant, fairly put out by the entire conversation and wondering if he was supposed to have any say in this. It wasn’t that James was upset at the idea of marriage, far from it. Unlike Teddy, who at twenty-five had once compared marriage to a life sentence in Azkaban, James longed for someone who wanted to spend their life with him. He didn’t think it was so crazy to want the sort of relationship his parents had. The problem was just that he thought perhaps Ian ought to have asked James before making decisions for them, as if it were some business plan and not about love and romance.

That’d been nearly two weeks ago, and it wasn’t that James was avoiding Ian, except he was. A part of him wished Ian cared he was being distant, but the bigger part of him was grateful. He was pretty sure having a boyfriend that wanted to think that far ahead into your future was supposed to make you happy, not make you want to run headfirst into a stray hex.

“Maybe if you didn’t spend so much time complaining, you would’ve finished these when you were supposed to, last week.” Teddy interrupted James’s thoughts as he spoke, crossing his arms and wrapping his long fingers around his forearms. James swallowed and forced himself to take his eyes off Teddy and put them back where they belonged—on his desk.

“I don’t complain,” James mumbled, knowing full well it was a lie. “Much,” he amended when Teddy leaned back in his chair and pretended to be choking.

Much,” Teddy said, voice dripping with disbelief. “Jamie, you make complaining look like an art form. You spend twice as long talking about your paperwork than actually doing it.”

“Don’t you have something to do?” James interrupted.

“Not at the moment I don’t, because I, unlike some people, finished all of my reports on time.”

“Well then make yourself useful and go make me a cup of tea before I die. Why the fuck do they need to know what colour robes the suspect was wearing last week? Honestly. How the fuck do I remember? I was too busy trying not to be hexed to pay attention to the colour of his fucking robes.”

Teddy laughed, rising up from his chair, and James watched from the corner of his eye as Teddy stretched his impossibly long arms above his head. “Fine, I’ll make you a cuppa but only so you’ll shut your mouth.” His tone was teasing and James bit back his sarcastic reply, not willing to risk Teddy changing his mind. He really wanted another cup of tea.

“You’re a pain in my arse, Jamie.”

James stuck his fingers up at Teddy who ruffled James’s hair as he passed. He was halfway through the door when James spun around in his chair and blurted out, “Bring me back something to eat! I forgot to have breakfast!”

Teddy turned around to roll his eyes at James and the last thing James saw was Teddy’s aquamarine and purple hair disappearing around the doorway as Teddy shook his head. Fuck, now that James had entertained the idea of tea and biscuits, his stomach growled loudly.

James tapped his quill on the desk, small blots of ink marring the top half of his next report. It was hard to focus on remembering the details of the case they closed on Tuesday when all James could think about was whether Teddy would be lucky enough to find any of the Naked bars left in there or maybe a packet of the dried fruit and nuts he liked or if the other Aurors would’ve eaten them all. The rations in the snack pantry were usually pretty low by Friday, but if James was lucky maybe Teddy would find something halfway decent. Somehow Teddy always managed to find a bit of James’s favourite things when he was the one who went into the tearoom on their floor for snacks and tea when the casework got tedious or the hours went long. James wasn’t sure how he managed it, since whenever James went to make tea the best he could scrounge up was a crushed package of crisps. More than once he’d wondered if Teddy secretly hid the good stuff somewhere or if he just had a knack for finding the things James couldn’t.

Twenty-six minutes later, it was all James could do to keep his eyes on his reports and not on the doorway. He’d managed to get through four of the seven pages he had left and was nearly done with the most tedious section on spell usage when his stomach gurgled loudly in the empty office. Teddy’d been gone ages and James desperately needed a pick-me-up before their mid-morning department meeting.

James was just bullshitting his way through the last section, not at all sure what the fuck position his wand had been in when he’d cast Expelliarmus, when Teddy’s familiar footsteps registered in the periphery. James could pick out the sound of Teddy walking in a room full of people with his eyes closed—the familiar clank of his favourite boots and the slow, self-assured steps he always took. James bit back a smile.

“Bloody took you long enough. What’d you do, take a nap in the tearoom, old man?” James teased, not looking up as he added his signature to the bottom left corner, swirling the P of his last name with more flourish than was necessary, which for some reason always gave him a little thrill of pleasure.

“Bite your tongue, you tosser, or I’ll eat these myself,” Teddy grumbled, but there was no heat in his words as he dropped a paper bag atop James’s reports. The smell of freshly baked muffins assaulted James’s senses and he dropped his quill and snatched the bag, opening the top and inhaling the heavenly scent of one of Luna’s unique creations.

“Oh Merlin, you went to the Friendship Cafe,” James said, reaching in and pulling out one of the muffins. The bag itself was unmistakable enough, Luna’s familiar artistic skill recognisable at a difference in the bright colours and swirls on the front. Even more unmistakable, however, were the unexpected and heavenly things she usually baked. James reached inside and pulled out one of the enormous muffins.

James had given up sweets a few years back, around the time he turned twenty-six and discovered that sugar and refined carbohydrates were possibly not the best fuel, and worse, that he was no longer a seventeen-year-old who could eat whatever he wanted without suffering physical and emotional consequences. The day he decided to give up all junk food had been one of the most traumatic days in James’s life, but the worst part of it by far had been giving up sweets. James spent weeks falling asleep dreaming of sour Haribo and strawberry laces. It’d been a bit of a shock for James’s system in the beginning and in desperation he’d even tracked down a Muggle store—Holland + Barretts, it’d been called—and bought as many packages of sugar-free sweets as he could afford. Sadly they’d been as grim as he’d expected, and he’d chucked them all in the rubbish bin and resigned himself to never eating anything delicious again.

Until last year, when Luna had opened up the Friendship Cafe. James suspected most people went there because of Luna’s easy demeanour or the cosy ambiance of the cafe, and not because everything she made was locally sourced and organic. The first time James had eaten one of her coconut flour and date-sweetened muffins he’d nearly cried in happiness.

“There was nothing in the tearoom and I know how useless you are in meetings when you’re hungry.” Teddy shrugged, snatching the other muffin out of the bag and moving to sit in his own seat opposite James.

“Admit it, you love me and wanted to make me happy,” James laughed, peeling back the paper wrapper on his muffin.

Teddy snorted a laugh, and if James wasn’t mistaken, the tips of his ears turned a bit red, which was unusual. Teddy was usually pretty hard to rile up, a fact James was well acquainted with, since he tried to do it daily. “I just wanted a muffin, you insufferable wanker.”

A strange warmth spread through James’s chest at the idea of Teddy sneaking out of work and Apparating all the way across town just to get James’s favourite muffins. No matter what Teddy might try to insist, James knew perfectly well that the Ministry canteen sold at least four different kinds of sugar-laden muffins and the only reason Teddy would’ve gone to the extra trouble was for James, since Teddy was a bottomless pit who would eat anything. James was pretty sure it had to do with Teddy’s metamorphmagus abilities, because despite the fact that he was not even close to being a teenager any longer, he still ate like one, and was as lanky and thin as one as well. Teddy had once said metamorphmagi have a higher than average metabolism, something James was just recently starting to feel mildly jealous of now that he was close to turning thirty.

James was the particular one when it came to food and knowing Teddy’d gone to all the trouble to get him his favourite thing was a bit too much for James to handle on such a small amount of sleep. It wasn’t even that unusual, really; Teddy was a good mate and always did things like that, so James didn't have the foggiest idea why it was affecting him so much this morning. James was in desperate need of caffeine and practically starving to death and more than a bit stressed, all of which had clearly addled his brain. That was the only reasonable explanation for why the idea of Teddy bringing him his favourite muffin made his throat tight.

“Sure,” James agreed, biting into the muffin and letting out a sigh of pleasure as the sweet yet bitter candied lemon and violets on the top mixed with the light poppy seed muffin. It was still a bit warm, the edges of the muffin almost crispy and James’s eyes fluttered shut as he took a second bite. “Fuck, I love you.”

Teddy cleared his throat, grinning widely and making the dimple in his chin pop out.

“You forgot the tea, though,” James said, watching as Teddy’s eyes widened.

“Ungrateful fucker.” He stuck his tongue out at James, clearly trying to be cheeky. Teddy looked ridiculous sticking his tongue out like a child in his starched Auror robes, ridiculous and adorable, and James felt suddenly uncomfortable with the swell of affection he felt.

“So do you give this special breakfast treatment to all your one night stands, too, or am I just special?” James wanted desperately to bring back the teasing mood.

Teddy’s eyes flashed with surprise and he opened his mouth, but before he could respond there was a set of three knocks on their office door. Only one person in their department knocked like that. James cleared his throat, grabbing his wand to vanish the crumbs from his desk and sitting up straighter. Teddy did the same, except he was smart enough to vanish the brightly coloured paper bag that would’ve made it clear one of them had been out of the office.

“Potter, Lupin,” the familiar voice boomed, opening the door without preamble.

“Sir,” they both answered in unison, rising from their chairs to turn towards the door and greet their boss. Charles McClouster was nearly seventy, eleven stones soaking wet and had a voice as scraggly as his beard. He also had a mind sharper than a tack and a knack for seeing through people’s lies and bullshit. He was deceptively keen, difficult to please, and while he was in general a good boss, him showing up in the office unannounced was usually not a good thing.

There’d been a time when James had thought for sure his dad would eventually be Head Auror, until he’d turned down the promotion just a year after James had joined the Aurors. He’d confessed to James over several pints that evening that he had no desire to be anyone else’s boss, especially not his son’s, and that if push came to shove he knew he wouldn’t be able to treat James like every other Auror on duty. James had bristled at that at first, annoyance and guilt swirling in his stomach. He didn’t want to be treated differently and he sure as fuck didn’t want to be responsible for ruining his dad’s career. He was nearly twenty, for fuck’s sake. Teddy’d set him straight a few days later, though, reminding James he was lucky to have a dad that loved him enough to know he’d break every law and move worlds to keep his children safe.

“Don’t tell me you were working on your reports for the ten o’clock meeting today, Potter,” McClouster said, giving James a particularly knowing look. James’s eyes darted to his desk where several blank report forms were noticeably visible and blanched.

“I was not, sir,” he answered, which was not actually a lie. When McClouster had walked in James had been eating a muffin, not doing his reports. His boss probably couldn’t see through his lies if he wasn’t technically lying. Teddy coughed suspiciously and James mentally reminded himself to hex Teddy’s bollocks off later.

“I should hope you weren’t,” he said, raising one grey eyebrow at James. He reminded James strongly of Headmistress McGonagall at times like that, voice stern and a twinkle in his eye as if he knew exactly what you were thinking. Sometimes James had to remind himself that he was twenty-eight and an adult now and he was not about to be given detention when he did something wrong. Not that filling out his reports late was wrong. Not technically. Frowned upon, yes, but not wrong. James spent a lot of time thinking about those kinds of technicalities. Time Teddy often told him he should spend actually doing his paperwork instead of philosophising about the grey areas at the intersection of morality and law.

“What can we do for you, sir?” Teddy asked, smoothing back his hair and clasping his hands behind his back. He smiled charmingly. It never failed to impress James, the way Teddy could seamlessly go from sticking his tongue out like an overgrown man-child to presenting himself to their boss in a cool, collected manner, as if he were the most responsible Auror in the department.

McClouster kept his eyes on James as he took two more steps into the room, crossing his arms over his chest. The gold buttons on his Auror robes gleamed brightly even in the shit lighting. “We’ve received credible intel from an undisclosed source about the illegal potions operation in Diagon Alley. It looks like the previous information we gathered about it being run through the recently opened second hand charity shop just outside the entrance to Diagon Alley was inaccurate, though not by much. It’s being run through Florean Fortescue's. They’re set to receive a shipment today at exactly ten thirty two and I want you two to intercept it. We have every reason to believe they’ll be moving several very dangerous and illegal potions and and we cannot risk this evidence slipping through out fingers. I don’t think I need to remind you two how long we’ve been trying to close this case.”

James stood up straight, his hands twitching and his heart racing. He loved this—the adrenaline rush of a mission and the responsibility of being chosen, of protecting the wizarding world—these were the moments that made every boring, tedious moment of his job worth it. These were the moments being an Auror was not just his job, but who he was.

“Of course,” Teddy answered for both of them.

“Is there anything else we need to know?” James asked, already reaching for his wand.

“Yes, don’t fuck this up,” McClouster answered, turning on his heel and walking from the room without another word.

James turned to Teddy and grinned. It looked like they wouldn’t be making today’s department meeting after all.

Nearly half an hour later, he and Teddy stood in the back alley behind Florean Fortescue’s, their sides pressed together as they crouched behind a brick wall, eyes on the back door of the ice cream parlour. No one had been in or out of it for fifteen minutes, but they were nearing the rendezvous time and James knew they couldn’t afford to let their concentration drop.

“Don’t forget, there are innocent people in there. We need to be smart about this.”

“You say that as if I’m not usually smart.”

Teddy snorted. “You tried to blast a hole in a wall to escape last month.”

“Listen, that was an incredibly valid option and we did in fact escape, didn’t we? Besides, we’re wizards, for fuck’s sake. What's the point of being able to do magic if I can’t literally move through a fucking wall when I need to?”

“You’re unbelievable, James.” Teddy sounded torn between amusement and annoyance. To be fair, Teddy had been the one who’d been required to stay back and help with the wall repairs, since James had been in St Mungo’s regrowing the broken bones in his knee from where the brick wall had collapsed on his leg. James still thought he’d got the worst end of that, and they had in fact caught the dark wizard who’d been selling hexed jewelry to Hogwarts students. Fine, James’s methods might’ve been a bit outside the book, but he wasn’t about to let that bloke get away and risk hurting any more kids.

“Thank you,” James said, winking at Teddy at the same moment that three wizards popped into existence just a few feet from them at the bottom of the steps.

“Jamie, that was not—,” but James slapped Teddy’s arm to shush him, sitting up straighter. There were two men and one woman, all wearing the familiar bright purple and white striped robes for Daedric’s Delightful Deliveries, but they also had their wands out in their right hands, which was definitely not the norm for a group of people supposedly only delivering crates of ice cream. Well that, and the fact that they’d arrived without a trolley piled high with tubs of ice cream or sweets but rather one single beaten up looking satchel—the handle held tightly in the tallest man’s left hand.

With a flick of the woman’s wand, all six lamp posts in the alley went out, and James and Teddy were on their feet in an instant. Though it was mid-morning, these back entrances got almost no sunlight and without the lamp posts it became more than a bit difficult to see. The info they’d been given about this had indicated there would be one person making the trade-off, and that it would happen inconspicuously, both facts that were already proving to be inaccurate.

“We need to get closer, work out who we’re dealing with and what might be in that satchel,” James whispered. “Maybe we should go around the front and pretend to be customers.”

“No, what we need to do is move in now,” Teddy answered, already sliding his feet sideways, out of the safety of their hiding spot. “We need to immobilize the suspects and take possession of those illegal potions before they trade hands and we’re left with nothing. We don’t have time to gather intel or better assess the situation.”

“And you call me the reckless one,” James said with a shake of his head. Despite the fact that he wasn’t entirely sure Teddy was right, he also trusted Teddy’s instincts and experience. Teddy’d never led him wrong, not in the five years they’d been partners or the twenty-eight years James had known him.

Teddy grinned when instead of arguing, James simply began to follow him, the dimple in his chin visible even in the dull early light.

James recognised the rush of adrenaline and excitement painted plainly across Teddy’s face, because they were the same emotions beginning to course through James. It was one of the many reasons they made such good partners—they both got a rise from the thrill of the chase. Usually Teddy was a bit more cautious than James, since he had more experience in the field, but there were times like this when Teddy ran not on logic but on instinct and James’s heart raced faster. He knew no matter what happened or how things went down, Teddy had his back. It was a good feeling to know he could trust Teddy with his life—trust Teddy with everything.

Teddy lifted his left hand, pointing to the back of the shop and nodding his head once before dipping his finger down in a funny swirl. James smiled. He didn’t need Teddy to speak to know exactly what he wanted James to do. James took one cursory glance around the alley, prepared to go first. James was faster and quieter on his feet, and Teddy always covered him. James knew all he needed to do was cross the few feet of open space and make it to to the other area of cover near them, behind the stacks of haphazardly piled boxes in the back of Flourish and Blotts waiting to be moved inside, then Teddy would follow.

This would be the easy part. Teddy was ace at cloaking spells and James didn’t question for one second that he might be seen.

With one last wink at Teddy, James moved, his heavy boots somehow light on the cobbled street as he darted out, completely exposed. The three suspects didn’t move, heads still bent together in deep conversation. It was easy. It was too easy. Even with Teddy’s impeccable ability to help James move around unseen, they should’ve had their guards up. They should’ve been looking.

It wasn’t until the fourth wizard stepped out from behind the the exact area James was heading towards that James realised things were not going to go his way.

“Hello there,” the wizard said smoothly.

“Fancy meeting you here,” James said with a nod, wand held high and the other man flat on his arse from a well-placed Stunning Spell before the other three were on the move. “Unfortunately I’m rather occupied at the moment. Perhaps you’d do us a favour and fuck off?”

“James, duck!” Teddy hollered, already moving out to join the fight.

James dropped to his knees and rolled, barely missing an Expelliarmus flying from the end of Teddy’s wand before he popped back up onto his feet. The witch on the left shrieked out her displeasure as her wand went flying through the air straight into Teddy’s outstretched hand. James only had a few seconds to marvel at Teddy’s precise wandwork before the tallest wizard tossed the satchel directly at James. Reacting on instinct, James caught it, a look of confusion on his face.

Teddy opened his mouth, but one of the wizards dragged his wand through the air and sent a blasting curse right at James. With no time to move, James lifted the satchel and felt himself slam into the brick wall behind him as the mass of potions in the satchel exploded.

The last thing James heard was his name falling from Teddy’s lips before his world was reduced to nothing but pain and everything went black.

***

The first thing James became aware of was that he needed to take a piss. The second was that every single muscle and bone in his body ached as if he had been run over by the Knight Bus. Twice. He wiggled his fingers and toes and internally whimpered because, yes, even those hurt.

The next and most pressing thing he became aware of were the shouting voices.

James struggled to guess where he was. The voices near him increased in volume and he struggled to understand where he was or even what the last thing he had been doing was that might’ve led him here—feeling like complete and utter shit.

“Keep your voice down, he needs to rest.” James didn’t need to open his eyes to know who that voice belongs to. Ian. James tried to recall the last time he’d seen him. Was it the day before, or maybe last week? He wasn’t sure. His memories were jumbled and while he definitely knew who Ian was, that was about all he knew about him.

“Then maybe you should shut it and stop talking about how he brought this entire thing upon himself.” And that was Teddy. Good ole Teddy. Except, Teddy sounded annoyed. Teddy never sounded annoyed. His voice was tight and clipped and it was James’s first indication something was wrong. He supposed the fact that everything hurt should’ve been his first indication something was off, but somehow Teddy’s distressed voice seemed far more disturbing than James’s inability to crack his eyes open or make his mouth work.

“It’s the truth. James’s job is unnecessarily dangerous. While I respect the job Aurors do, it’s not what James should be doing. There’s a perfectly safe and stable position available for him in Internal Affairs, where he could spend his day safely behind a desk like a sane person. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I tell him, he won’t apply.”

Even half-alert, James was annoyed. He’d known Ian wanted him to change jobs, but he’d thought it was about a possible pay increase, not because he hated James being an Auror. It was becoming increasingly clear to James that the kind of stability Ian craved was financial and social, and the kind James wanted was emotional.

James bloody loved his job and Ian knew that. Or at least he’d thought he did; he’d not realised Ian’s desire for that stability trumped his desire for James to be happy.

“Are you fucking daft? James would lose his mind stuck behind a desk all day. What, do you want him to be miserable?”

“Better safe than dead, Edward. Honestly, you Auror types are so emotional. It’s not just safer, it has better hours. It’s got a more predictable schedule. It’s clearly a smarter position. Yes, it’s unfortunate James is stuck here in St Mungo’s, again, but it’s his own fault and—”

Ah, St Mungo’s. So that’s where he was. That made sense. James was surprised he hadn’t recognised the obnoxiously sterile smell or the itch of the substandard sheets. He’d been in St Mungo’s enough; he might as well have his own room. James wondered if Teddy was frowning. He hated being called Edward, a fact that Ian definitely knew.

“Ian—” then Teddy’s voice stopped and James could hear Teddy’s feet shuffling across the room and then the sound of Teddy’s boot connecting with the wall, quite forcefully from the sound of it.” James loves his job and he’s good at it. He’s a bloody good Auror, one of the best in fact. The department is lucky to have him. I’m lucky to have him.”

“Yes, you’re lucky to have him as your Auror partner.” Ian’s voice was surprisingly hostile. Fuck, James hurt too much to figure out why the fuck they were arguing.

“Shut up,” James slurred, barely cracking his eyes open. He could see two blearly shapes and he blinked a few times as Teddy and Ian and the hideous white walls of the hospital came into focus.

“Jamie,” Teddy breathed, at his bedside in half a second flat. James would have smiled if he could have, but as it was the small act of opening his eyes and speaking was enough to make him regret being awake, and instead he groaned. Teddy reached out to touch James’s face but pulled his hand back abruptly when Ian crossed the small room to stand beside him.

“How are you feeling, James?” Ian asked. “I was so worried.”

If James wasn’t mistaken, he’d swear Ian and Teddy were giving each other dirty looks, which made no sense. Of course, nothing made much sense at the moment. James felt a bit like he was floating and a bit like there a brick wall on his chest, which was a pretty strange combination.

“Like I got trampled by an angry Hippogriff and then stomped on by an even angier Erumpent.”

Teddy smiled and Ian frowned.

“You took a pretty nasty hex,” Teddy said. “Went straight through a brick wall. Luckily your head is so hard you broke the wall instead of the wall breaking you.”

“This is no time for jokes, Edward.”

James, however, laughed, inexplicably pleased at Teddy’s ability to lighten the mood when James ended up here. Though he regretted the laugh immediately, as it made his stomach muscles ache and he wrapped his arms around himself instinctively.

“Hey, easy there, Jamie. The Healers managed to patch you up but—” a dark looked passed across Teddy’s usually cheerful face, “It was touch and go for awhile. You were in pretty bad shape. But you’re fine now. You’re going to be alright in no time. You just need to rest, that’s all. Everything is okay now.”

Ian snorted. “Not quite everything.”

“What’s going on?” James asked, a strange sense of foreboding overtaking him. He’d woken up at St Mungo’s enough not to be panicked about that, but the way they were both looking at him right now made James feel as if there was far more going on than he was aware of.

“Oh shut up,” Teddy hissed.

“You shut up, Edward. You don’t need to lie to him. Just look at him! That is absolutely not fine.”

James’s eyes darted back and forth between them as panic settled in his chest. What was wrong with him? Did he have horns? Was his skin green?

“Stop making him panic, you git.”

“I see no point in lying to James. He got himself into a poor situation and has to deal with the consequences. We all do. I just got a promotion this week. You think I can take him to dinner with my boss looking like that? He’d never take me seriously.”

James sighed, wondering if they’d forgotten he was lying there. He gingerly reached up and patted at his head. His hair felt shorter, which was really weird, but otherwise there were definitely no horns. He ran his hands over his face and yes, he definitely still just had two eyes, one nose and one mouth. He raised his hands up and blinked at his hands, they seemed mostly the same though James felt like perhaps there was something wrong with his eyesight because they definitely looked more pale than they had when he’d woken up that morning.

“Merlin, you’re such a selfish wanker! James is the one lying in the hospital bed, not you. And you have the gall to—”

“Ugh, shut up, both of you.” James closed his eyes and sighed. His head hurt and his skin prickled and even his fucking eyelashes were sore.

“Perhaps you could go get James some tea, Edward. I’d like a moment alone with him.”

Teddy hesitated, but James gave him an easy smile and Teddy nodded, making his way towards the door. James’s eyes followed Teddy’s familiar head of pale teal hair.

Beside him, Ian sighed heavily. “Fuck it. I can’t do this anymore.”

James turned his head back to Ian, confused. “Huh?”

“You’re a good chap, James. One of the best. But...you’re never going to be what I need you to be. In fact I’m pretty sure I could spend the rest of my life trying to be who you wanted and you’d still never look at me the way you look at him.”

James wrinkled his nose. “Wait, what?”

Ian sighed again. Merlin, the man sighed a lot. “I think we should break up, James.”

“Oh. Alright,” James said, not at all sure what was happening. Despite his confusion, he felt certain he should be protesting this, or at least be upset, but all he could think about was Teddy coming back with a cup of tea.

Ian gave James a tight smile, leaning down to press a single chaste kiss to his forehead. “Maybe it’s about time we both work harder at going after what we want and less time after what we think we can have.”

“Sure,” James agreed, still unsure what the fuck Ian was talking about and still more than a little pissed off that Ian had insinuated James shouldn’t be an Auror anymore. As Ian made his way out of the room, all James could muster was a strange sense of relief and confusion.

James flitted between wakefulness and sleep for awhile, trying to stay conscious in case Teddy came back, but feeling drugged up on pain potions and whatever else they’d likely doused him with.

James’s eyes were shut when he heard Teddy’s familiar footsteps clanking across the tiled floor.

James cracked one eye open, watching Teddy fuss with the stack of papers on the bedside table before setting down a tall paper cup of tea. The steam rose from the top in puffs and James could almost taste the familiar black tea from the hospital trolly already.

Teddy was wearing a pair of well-worn jeans and a soft-looking pale yellow jumper that he’d had since his days at Hogwarts. It was well loved, the elbows worn thin and a hole in the left cuff that Teddy often shoved his thumb through. It was Teddy’s favourite jumper, and James was surprised to find himself not at all as worried about what was happening as he probably should be. Teddy was here. Everything would be fine.

“You want your tea or you just wanna watch me?” Teddy asked, though his back was still turned. James was glad Teddy wasn't looking at him, as he felt his cheeks flush.

“Was resting, that’s all,” James lied. He tried to sit up but grimaced louly when every muscle in his body protested.

“Fuck, James, just ask for help, you stubborn wanker,” Teddy chided, moving to put his hands under James’s arms, tapping the button below the bed with his foot until the bed begin to rise into a sitting position as Teddy supported James’s weight. Once he’d got James in an upright position, he fluffed the pillows behind him, straightening the blanket on his lap and then handing him the tea.

Normally James would protest at being treated like a china doll, but since he actually felt like he might break at the smallest misstep, he resisted, leaning back against the pillows and letting out a sigh of relief as he took a long, slow drink of the tea.

“Good?” Teddy asked with a smile.

James nodded behind the cup. It was perfect. Teddy knew exactly how James liked his tea. Not too bitter, but not weak, sweetened with a bit of honey and just the right temperature.

“You really scared me, Jamie.”

James wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he took another drink of his tea. Usually Teddy was teasing him about being an attention seeker or chastising him for being rash. In all the years they’d been partners, and all the times he’d woken up here from a mission gone wrong, he’d never seen Teddy look at him like that. He wondered if he’d got brain damage. Maybe the brick wall really had broken him.

“I’m fine, you said it yourself.”

Teddy hummed distractedly, shoving his thumb through the hole of his sleeve. James didn’t say anything in response, waiting for Teddy to speak instead.

“You’re mostly fine,” Teddy finally said.

James tried not to panic. Mostly. He felt fine. Well almost, anyway, if barely being able to move or think clearly counted as fine. He wasn’t missing any limbs, though, and he knew his own name, so those both seemed like good signs. It couldn’t be that bad if his dad and mum or a swarm of Healers weren’t in the room with them.

“What’s going on? Whatever it is can't be worse than the time you got hexed by that hag in Knockturn Alley and ended up with two cocks.”

Teddy chewed on his bottom lip and snorted. “Fuck you, Jamie. You weren’t supposed to ever mention that again. You promised.”

James smiled. This felt more normal. It didn’t feel like there was anything to panic about.

“Did I? Sorry, I’m rather confused. I must’ve forgotten.” Truthfully he hadn’t forgotten, but Teddy didn’t need to know that. He’d simply been desperate to make Teddy laugh, to wipe away the haze of unease on his features.

“Liar,” Teddy said.

James stuck his tongue out at Teddy before hiding his smile behind his tea. “So just tell me.”

“Right.” Teddy blew out a heavy breath. “I think it might be easier to show you.”

Before James could ask questions, Teddy reached for a mirror that was sitting on the bedside table. Without a word, Teddy held it out to James, who traded his cup of tea for the ornate mirror.

James thought perhaps he’d see spots on his face, or even some mild disfigurement. Maybe his hair would be permanently discoloured. He saw none of those things. All he saw was himself.

The problem was, the James currently looking back at him in the mirror was not the twenty-eight year old James he’d looked upon while shaving that morning before heading into work. Instead his face looked softer, younger. Much younger.

James held the mirror in his left hand as he touched his own face with his right hand, recognising the subtle differences he thought he’d noticed earlier for what they now were.

James looked like he had when he’d left Hogwarts. Eighteen years old at most, his face that of a teenage boy and not a man.

“Fuck,” James exclaimed, dropping the mirror to his lap and covering his face with his hands. An intense sort of panic began to well up inside of him, making it hard to breathe.

James didn’t want to be eighteen again. He liked being twenty-eight. He’d only recently accepted getting older and liking the changes he saw in his body.

“Don’t panic, okay? The Healers and Unspeakables are working on it right now and I’m sure they’ll figure out a way to reverse this in no time.”

What?” James croaked out, peeking at Teddy from behind his hands. “You mean they don’t already know how to turn me back?” He wondered if he sounded as worried as he felt. If the way Teddy was looking at him was any indication, he probably did. James had never been much good at hiding his feelings from anyone, least of all Teddy.

“Just take a deep breath and wait for the Healer to come in and explain. I already talked to one of the Healers-in-training and they’re trying to get ahold of your Healer now. He got called into Spell Damage unexpectedly, but he should be here soon.”

“I don’t want the Healer to tell me what's happening, Teddy. I want you to.”

“Ah, shit,” Teddy said, dropping into the chair beside James’s bed and rubbing his hands over his face. He looked tired. James wondered how long he’d been unconscious. Usually when he woke up like this Teddy was still in his Auror robes, not in his casual weekend clothing.
Teddy brushed the stray hairs out of his eyes and looked at James seriously. “There’s a lot they don’t really know. We didn’t even know this was happening at first. You can’t imagine what it was like when you got hit with that explosion, James. It was chaos. Shop owners came running, people were screaming, and the area was filled with a dozen Aurors within minutes. You were covered in blood and one of the bones in your leg was popping out and you were covered in different potions. All I wanted to do was see if you were breathing but McClouster kept screaming no one could touch you because of unknown potions exposure. Waiting for the Healers from the contamination and spell damage ward to come and collect you were the longest six minutes of my life.”

“I’m alright.” James shrugged. He hated having a fuss made over him for getting hurt.

Teddy’s smile was tight. “Now. You weren’t then. They took you back here and I had to stay in Diagon Alley to deal with the aftermath and they wouldn’t even let me come check on you for nearly five hours. By the time I got here you’d been placed in a spell-induced coma so they could repair the internal bleeding and broken bones. We thought that was the worst of the worse but then the Healers started noticing that every time someone performed magic on you, you started to look a bit younger. By the time they realised what was happening you looked like, well—.”

“Like I need someone to hold my hand crossing the street?” James supplied. “Like I need parental supervision to use the Floo? Like I’m not old enough to Apparate by myself? Like—”

Teddy laughed and James paused, unable to explain why he cared more about Teddy not worrying than about his own panic.

“Not quite that young, thankfully.”

“I don’t feel younger, though. I remember...well, things are a bit befuddled up there still, but I mean, I think I remember everything. I even remembered who Ian was long enough for him to break up with me.”

“He broke up with you? Shit, James. What a complete fucking arsehole, breaking up with you while you’re in here. I didn’t mean to snap earlier, I was stressed and, fuck. I’m sorry. If that was because of me—”

James held up one hand and squeezed his eyes shut. His head was beginning to throb and he didn’t have the slightest idea why Teddy thought Ian breaking up with James had anything to do with him. James momentarily wished he was back in the spell-induced coma just little longer. He dug the heels of his hands into his eyes, horrified when they were met with an unexpected dampness.

“Oh, hey, Jamie—no. Don’t cry.” Teddy patted at his arm, but somehow that made it worse and James heard a pathetic noise coming out of his mouth without his control.

“Do you want me to Firecall Harry or Ginny? Or maybe Albus? They all left a bit ago to take showers and eat, since you weren’t supposed to wake up until later.”

James groaned, pushing on his eyes hard enough for it to hurt, wondering if that might make them stop leaking. What in the actual fuck was happening? James never cried. In fact, he was pretty sure he hadn’t cried since he was eighteen and got a rejection letter from Puddlemere United. Granted, six months later he’d ended up enrolling in Auror training and had never looked back, so things had worked out just fine for him, but still. Somehow here he was crying in the middle of St Mungo’s, looking like a teenager again and wondering why the idea of being around anyone but Teddy right now made him want to jump off a cliff.

“I know you’re upset about Ian, but there will be other guys. You’re a great guy. One day you’ll find someone who deserves you.”

At this James dropped his hands, looking at Teddy incredulously. “I don’t care about Ian! Fucking hell, he was a wet blanket. He scheduled sex in his day planner, and never let me get pineapple on the pizza like you do, and he talked about work so much I once actually fell asleep during sex and—” James snapped his mouth shut before he could say more.

Fuck, he’d forgotten how loose-lipped pain potions always made him; that and whatever else he must be on was definitely making him feel less than in control of his mental and emotional faculties. He had the sudden urge to tell Teddy he had nice eyes and that his hair looked soft—and that definitely had to be a side effect of some of the potions in his system.

Teddy cleared his throat. “I thought you really liked Ian.”

James dropped his head back onto his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut, wiling away the tears. He opened his mouth but couldn’t decide what to say and closed it again instead, swallowing down the lump in his throat.

“Hey, it’s okay, Jamie. It’s okay.” Teddy reached out to stroke the hair that had fallen into his eyes and James’s entire body thrummed with energy. He felt out of sorts and unbalanced in a way he hadn’t in years and he did not like it. He was groggy and everything hurt and he didn’t at all understand why the fuck Teddy’s fingers in his hair were like a balm to his aching soul.

“You don’t have to explain anything right now. Just get some sleep, yeah? The Healer will be back later and we can work this out together.”

We, James thought. We.

“Sleep, Jamie,” Teddy said again, fingers gliding through his hair.

James let out a breath, relaxing into the bed and letting the soothing rhythm of Teddy’s fingers lull him to sleep. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad the next time he woke up.

***

The next time James woke up, things were not better. Not by a long shot. He still felt achy and sore all over and his head rather felt like if he moved too fast it might split open.

He woke again to the sound of arguing, though the voices were different this time, and he cracked his eyes open to find his mum and dad having a bit of a row with a Healer who looked like she wanted to be anywhere but at James’s bedside. James was far less confused and groggy this time, so it didn’t take nearly as long for him to catch on to what was happening on the other side of the room.

The room was quite a bit darker, an orangish hue seeping in through the open curtains and the best James could guess was that it was probably just after five in the afternoon. Of course, he had no idea what day it was or what time he’d fallen asleep, so that knowledge was pretty meaningless.

“I’ve already told you, Mr and Mrs Potter, there is nothing we can do for James here. He’s perfectly healthy—”

“He looks like a child! How is that healthy?”

James groaned quietly at his mum’s words, though thankfully none of them seemed to notice.

The Healer gave his parents a tight-lipped smile and James wisely chose to keep his mouth shut. He’d learned long ago you never wanted to get between one of his parents when they were upset. The only person with a worse temper than his dad was his mum—well, and perhaps Albus.

“I understand your concern, but I can assure you that James is in peak physical condition. All the preliminary results from our examinations have confirmed that there are no residual effects from the potions, aside from the de-aging.” His mum made a derisive noise which the Healer pointedly ignored. “So far as we can tell he’s been de-aged about ten years, though pinpointing a specific age is impossible without more invasive diagnostic spells, which we obviously can’t perform given the uncertainty of the combination of potions James was subjected too. It’s too risky to perform magic on him again, knowing that was what triggered the de-aging in the first place. It’s entirely possible that if the spell were triggered again, we would not be able to stop it.”

“And yet you still you want to release my son, knowing he is in danger?”

“I understand your concerns, Mr Potter, truly I do, but unfortunately there is nothing more we can do for him at St Mungo’s. The best thing for him is to get out of here and get some rest while we work on the antidote. We’ve got our best experimental Healers working with the top potions experts from the Ministry. We’re optimistic we can have James back to normal within the week.”

His mum bristled. “And in the meantime you want to just send him out into the world helpless?”

James’s eyebrows knitted together in a heavy frown. That was taking things a bit far, even for him. He might look like a teenager but he wasn’t actually one. He was an Auror, for fuck’s sake! Helpless, his arse.

“I am not helpless,” he interjected a bit too loudly, instantly wishing he hadn’t when three sets of worried eyes turned on him.

“James, you’re awake,” his dad said, the all-too-familiar worry lines on his face easing just slightly as his mum ran over to throw her arms around him in an over-exuberant hug.

“I’m fine, Mum!” he choked out, feeling smashed to the the small hospital bed like a pancake.

Fine? Fine! Merlin help me, you’re just like your father. Both of you could be missing a limb and you’d say you were fine. I don’t care how old you get, you will always be my baby, James,” she whispered into his ear. “And you were not fine. You scared all of us, you know.”

James closed his eyes and blew out a heavy breath. It’d been a long time since he’d accepted his parents’ worry; now he usually argued with them about the fact that he was an adult and didn’t need to be coddled, or he begged Teddy not to let them know he’d been in St Mungo’s until he was already home. He’d worked so hard to get his parents, and the world, to see him as his own person—as an adult. So James felt hard pressed to explain why, rather than arguing with his mum, all he wanted to do was bury his face in her hair and accept the hug.

“There’s no weakness in admitting you were hurt,” she added, as if reading his mind, and rather than insisting he was fine again, he instead wrapped his arms around his mum and hugged her back. She squeezed him tighter in response, just holding James for several long moments before pulling back and giving him an easy smile, her familiar fingers stroking the hair off his face. It was hard not to feel like a child when his mother looked at him like that.

“Hello James, I’m Healer Pritchard. How are you feeling?” the Healer asked, walking to the other side of the bed and picking up the chart on the bedside table. James was grateful she’d given them a few moments but he couldn’t help but wish for a few more. He felt painfully close to crying again and his heart was beating so fast it felt like it might jump out of his chest.

“Fine,” he answered automatically, catching his dad’s raised eyebrow and bemused smile and biting back his own. Albus had always pushed so hard against every comparison to their dad, but growing up James had secretly taken a fair bit of comfort in the comparisons, even if he never told anyone. His dad could drive him bonkers, but he was also funny and kind and always had a way of making James feel safe. His dad had a way of making it feel as if, no matter what was wrong, he would find a way to take care of it. At nineteen, James had vehemently denied joining the Aurors to make his dad proud, but in reality that wasn’t far off from the truth. He’d spent years working his arse off to be seen not as his father’s son but as his own man, worthy of the cases and accolades he might earn, and now at twenty-eight James relished being able to work in the same place as his father, to get a pint after work with his dad and Teddy, and talk to them about cases and their bosses as if they were all equals.

“Potters,” his mum said with exasperation, planting one kiss to his forehead before moving to sit beside his dad in one of the chairs by the wall. James tried to give them a smile—which felt a lot more like a grimace—before turning his eyes on the Healer.

“Let's try this again,” the Healer says, not unkindly. “How are you feeling, James?”

James swallowed, staring at a spot on the wall above Healer Pritchard’s right shoulder. “A little confused still, like the edges of my memories have been distorted. In pain. Like I’m not quite in control of my emotions.”

Healer Pritchard nodded, marking something off on the bottom of the chart. “That makes sense, James. Not only were you doused with a hefty combination of illegal potions which were never meant to be combined, but you took a blasting curse to a brick wall. Although from what your partner tells me, you managed to do quite a bit of damage to that wall.”

James allowed himself to look at Healer Pritchard’s face and felt some of his unease bleed away at the kind, almost-teasing smile on her face. “Teddy is a bloody menace; don’t believe anything he says.”

“That’s what he said about you,” she said with a wink, flipping over a page and scribbling down something else. James bit back a laugh. “You should be feeling better physically by tomorrow, though I’ll be sending you home with some mild pain potions just in case.”

James yanked the blanket up to his chest, twisting the fraying corner between his fingers. “What about the uh...the emotional stuff?” he forced himself to ask.

Healer Pritchard looked ever to the wall where his parents were seated. “Mr and Mrs Potter, if you wouldn’t mind giving me a few minutes alone with James.”

“Of course,” his parents answered at the same time, though neither one of them looked particularly happy about it.

Once they were gone, Healer Pritchard turned back to James with another easy smile. “I thought perhaps you’d be more comfortable discussing this alone.”

A wave of gratefulness washed over James and he gave her a tight smile. He thought he rather liked Healer Pritchard. “Thanks. So about the other, uh—stuff.”

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what you’re feeling, James?”

James tightened his hold on the fraying threads and blew out a breath. He really, really hated talking about how he felt. “I uh—I cried the other day. In front of Teddy. I never cry. I just felt so overwhelmed and before I knew it, I was a fucking mess. And then just now, I dunno. I thought I was only de-aged physically but I feel...I feel different.” James couldn’t bear to say more, couldn’t make himself confess that he’d wanted to hide in his mother’s hair for the first time in a decade or ask his dad if everything would be okay. James was an adult, for fuck’s sake; he should be able to take care of himself. And yet he felt entirely off kilter in ways he couldn’t verbalise, in ways that didn’t make any sense.

“That’s to be expected. Your body has been through insurmountable stress and change in the last thirty-two hours, James. Mentally you’re still twenty-eight years old, but physically your body resembles that of a teenager, which means your system is probably flooded with more testosterone and endorphins than you’re used to. It’s got to be quite a shock. Also, depending on when you finished puberty, it's entirely possible that your body is still in the tail end of it, which would explain a lot. It’s entirely normal.”

James clenched his jaw, his throat tightening. Fuck. That meant he was going to keep feeling like this until they figured out how to change him back.

“I think sometimes being witches and wizards, we get used to the fantastical happening, but James, it doesn’t make this any less difficult to deal with. It’s alright to feel overwhelmed. Your body has undergone unprecedented changes and while you are still you, there’s no way of knowing what types of emotions these physical changes could trigger. We’ve had cases of de-aging over the years, but they’re very rare, and never under these exact circumstances.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m going to be pathetic until you change me back.” James cringed when the words came out sounding sad rather than teasing.

“It’s not pathetic to show your emotions, James. Just—” but a knock on the door cut her off. Seconds later Teddy’s familiar face peered through the cracked door, though his hair was dark brown today, with streaks of a deep maroon that made the flecks of gold in his brown eyes seem particularly pronounced.

“Hello Auror Lupin, do come in. We were just finished. I’ll just go sign off on your discharge papers and you’ll be free to go. Take care, James.”

Teddy stood in the doorway until Healer Pritchard made her way out, shoving his hands into his pockets as he made his way to James’s bedside. James wondered if it was his imagination or if Teddy had made himself taller.

“Hello, James.”

“Hey, Teddy,” James said, horrified when his voice came out in a bit of a squeak. Fuck, even his voice was going to betray him now.

If Teddy noticed, he didn’t acknowledge it. “I talked to Harry and Ginny and politely told them they could head home and didn’t need to come in and help you get dressed.” He waggled his eyebrows and James couldn’t stop the snort of laughter from bubbling out.

He knew Teddy was exaggerating, but he also knew it probably wasn’t by much. His parents always reverted a bit when he ended up in the hospital, as if their memory of him being an adult was wiped completely and all they could see was the small baby they’d brought home from the hospital.

James could still recall with the vivid detail the first time he’d woken up in the hospital after officially becoming Teddy’s partner. He’d been twenty-two years old and so proud to go on his first mission. Of course, the mission had ended with James nearly getting Splinched when one of the suspects had tried to Apparate away with him. He’d woken up in the hospital with an aching arm and his mom laying on his chest sobbing like it was his death bed while his dad had demanded to see the head Healer. Not even James waking up and insisting he was fine had been enough to get them to stop, and in the end it was only Teddy’s tact and easy smile that had made his parents leave his room. It was one of the things that made Teddy such a good Auror. He was charming and had a way of getting people to do what he wanted them to do while making it seem like it was their idea. He was unassuming and gentle in ways James could never hope to be.

“Thanks,” James mumbled.

“Don’t mention it, Jamie. Here, you’ll be needing these,” he said, and for the first time James noticed the small bag he was holding. He dropped the bag on James’s legs and James lifted himself into a sitting position, opening the bag and frowning.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. I’m not wearing that.”

“Don’t look at me,” Teddy laughed, holding his hands up in defense. “Albus is the one who volunteered to go to your parents’ and rummage through the attic to find some of your old stuff. The Healers don’t even want us shrinking your clothing to fit you better, because they’re not sure how the magical residue might potentially affect the de-aging, and that was all he could find. Or so he claimed.” Teddy didn’t sound like he believed it, and James definitely didn’t. Albus was an insufferable pain in his arse and he was definitely going to get him back for this later. “Sorry mate, but it’s all I’ve got. Unless you want to leave here wearing that.”

James plucked at the hideous orange paper robe that was standard issue for the patients at St Mungo’s and shook his head, imagining himself walking out of the hospital with his arse on full display. “No.”

“It’s not that bad,” Teddy said, but all James could do was groan in resignation as he pulled out the wrinkled t-shirt. He could not believe he was going to have to put this on. He’d thought for sure he’d thrown it away years ago when he’d finally finished Auror training and began to earn enough money to move out of his parents home.

The shirt was faded from wear, the letters peeling, and James dragged his fingers across the words—“You Don’t have to Say Lumos Maxima To Turn Me On”—lost in memory. At eighteen, this had been his favourite shirt. To say he’d thought it was witty had been an understatement. Although, back then almost everything had seemed funny to James. It was easy to turn everything into a joke when your worries were few and your responsibilities even fewer. Along with a questionable sense of fashion as a teenager, James had lacked any and all shame. Not that he had a ton now, but he had a hell of a lot more than he’d had then. The fact that his Gran Molly had shaken her head every time he wore it to family dinners had simply been the icing on the cake, and made him want to wear it more. Well that, and the fact Teddy always shot him a crooked smile when he wore it. James had liked making Teddy smile. He’d liked it a lot. That’d been the summer James had realised that not only was he definitely not straight but that he also fancied his godbrother.

Of course, he wasn’t about to tell that to anyone, so when Albus had cornered James in the kitchen one hot day in the middle of July and asked why James had developed a sudden obsession with this shirt, James had shrugged and denied it all, which had been his usual mode of handling anything he didn’t want to deal with back then. It wasn’t like he was going to tell his baby brother that the way Teddy looked at him when he wore it made his heart race and his cock hard. James liked to think he’d got better at handling conflict since then, but the truth was James had just become more adept at avoiding emotionally uncomfortable topics, so that other people didn’t realise he was avoiding answering them.

“I’m not sure if anyone filled you in on the plan yet?”

James shook his head as he pulled out a pair of jeans, grateful Albus had included socks and a pair of boxers for him but vowing to hex him the first chance he got once he was back to normal, since the boxers in question had small rainbows on them and the words I’m Gay in bright glittering letters. James supposed he technically deserved it, since these were the boxers he’d given Albus for his twenty-sixth birthday this year at a family dinner with their entire extended family. Watching Scorpius and Albus turn equal shades of red at the end of the table had been worth Albus’s horrified “I’ll get you back for this later, James.” But considering the fact that James was still sore and tired and grumpy, he didn’t care if he had it coming, the last thing he needed was to have to walk out of St Mungo’s feeling like the world’s biggest fuck boy.

“So I know you know about the no-magic-allowed bit. Harry told me that much. Which means until the Healers figure out how to get you back to normal, you’re going to have to live like a Muggle, which rules out staying at either one of our flats. There’s way too much magic there. Same goes for Lily’s or Albus and Scorpius’s place or even your parents’ house. The Aurors offered up one of the safe houses, but Harry’s offered us the cottage in Brighton.”

James hummed his agreement. His dad had bought the cottage on a whim the first year James had gone off to Hogwarts. His mum had said him leaving for Hogwarts had triggered some painful memories for his dad, who’d needed to escape the wizarding world sometimes to get a break. He’d bought the small cottage out in Brighton and that first summer when James had come home, he and his parents and siblings had spent half the summer there. He’d missed being able to do everything with magic, unable to comprehend why his dad would want to do the washing up or cooking the Muggle way when he had magic. But even at eleven, James had been able to see how carefree his dad was when they were there, the way his worries seemed lighter and his smile brighter. Over the years they’d all used the cottage for family holidays, and sometimes near the anniversary of the war his dad would disappear for a day or two, but he always came back looking better instead of worse, so James figured something about being in a place where no one knew him must’ve been good for him. It’d been nearly a year since James had been back, though, having missed the last family weekend because of a case.

“Anyway, you best get dressed so we can head up there if we want to get on the road before it's too dark.”

“We?” James asked, the shirt slipping from his grasp.

“Yes, we. I’ll be the Auror on duty assigned to twenty-four-hour-a-day James watch.” He said it with a wink, as if it were quite funny. Normally the idea of a week off work with Teddy as company would sound like Christmas had come early, but as James looked at the shirt, he couldn’t help but feel like something had shifted. James felt uncomfortable in his own skin and, for the first time in nearly a decade, he felt awkward around Teddy, which made absolutely no sense because Teddy was his best mate.

“I don’t need a babysitter. I’ve been de-aged but I’m not completely defenseless, you know.”

Something on Teddy’s face softened. “No one thinks that, Jamie. Besides, it’s for your own protection. You’re not used to having to be without magic. Besides, I practically had to beg to be allowed to be the Auror to stay with you. McClouster was pretty pissed off that I made the call to move in when I did, but I managed to convince him no one else would be able to handle you for a week once you realised you weren’t gonna be able to use magic to make your food.”

“Oh fuck off, I can cook,” James laughed, a semblance of normalcy setting in his chest. This was just Teddy, and he was still just James.

“Anyone can cook. Whether that food ends up being something fit for human consumption is another matter altogether.”

James made a rude gesture in Teddy’s direction, but all Teddy did was grin in response, his chin dimple popping out as he rocked back onto his heels.

“Right well, I’ll just pop downstairs and get our ride ready. Meet me by the Muggle entrance in fifteen.”

James nodded his agreement, only half listening as he waved his hand at Teddy in dismissal and picked the discarded t-shirt back up. Fuck, sometimes his life was weird.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later, once James was dressed and tying the laces on his trainers, that it occurred to him he had no idea how they were supposed to get from London to Brighton. Teddy had said “ride” but neither one of them had a car. James didn’t even have a proper Muggle license like his dad and Teddy had to—no. It couldn’t be.

James nearly tripped in his haste to exit the room, making his way gracelessly down the corridors and down the lift barely paying attention to the elderly man he bumped into or the small child waving at him. All James could do was try not to get too far ahead of himself as he pushed open the exit of St Mungo’s that let to a small back alley near a pizza place.

The evening sun was already beginning to set on the horizon and James felt the very breath in his lungs leave him as he stumbled on the pavement.

“Hey,” Teddy said with a wave.

James opened his mouth but to his horror the only word that came out was, “Fuck.”

Teddy was leaning against a motorbike. James’s dad’s motorbike. The motorbike Teddy had spent the entire summer after James had turned eighteen fixing up with his dad in the back garden. James had spent two straight months wanking himself raw over that motorbike, imagining fucking Teddy or being fucked by Teddy against it, or even just kissing Teddy against it. There’d even been a particularly vivid daydream about James leaning against that motorbike as Teddy gave him a blowjob. Honestly, as James had been eighteen and realising he was gay for the first time, there’d been no end of fantasies involving Teddy, a good chunk of which had been spurred on by watching the way Teddy meticulously worked on that motorbike.

That fucking motorbike had nearly been the death of James. He’d been forced to spend day after day watching Teddy bent over the bike, sweaty and greasy, as he painstakingly helped to repair the bike from a scrap of metal into a fully restored thing of beauty. James’s dad had been having what his mom called a mid-life crisis and when Teddy had shown up on an unusually hot day at the end of June nursing a broken heart, well, his dad had popped out to buy some ice cream and come home with that. His dad had asked him and Albus and Lily to help, but Lily and Albus had no interest. James had spent one day out in the sun watching beads of sweat slide down Teddy’s long neck, watching Teddy’s jeans stretch across his arse as he bent over to fiddle with gears or laughed loudly at a joke his dad was telling, before he’d high-tailed it back to his bedroom with a flimsy excuse falling from his lips, slamming the door and pulling himself off without bothering to even take his jeans all the way down.

That’d been the beginning of the end and the rest of the summer had only got worse. With every passing day, James had become certain that not only was he absolutely and positively gay, he was gay for Teddy fucking Lupin. Which was a huge problem, since Teddy’d sworn off men and women after his break up, was six years older, and most disappointingly, was his older godbrother. He probably saw James as an annoying younger brother. The idea that Teddy might see James the way James saw Albus made him want to chunder into the nearest rubbish bin. So instead of dealing with his confusion and painful crush on Teddy, he’d done what he always did and lived in denial, holed up the entire summer spying on his dad and Teddy through his window as they worked on the blasted motorbike day in and day out, and wanking so much his wrist ached.

By the time end of summer came, the motorbike looked brand new and James had learned to do a fucking wandless cleaning charm.

Pretty soon Teddy was no longer coming over daily but thoughts of Teddy and the motorbike still plagued his dreams and he woke up most mornings with his sheets sticky and his face flushed in embarrassment. He hadn’t had wet dreams in years, not since he’d turned fifteen and Thomas O’Leary had passed around a copy of Wet Wands. Thomas had apologised that it had both men and women, his brother was bisexual, he’d shrugged. The other boys had laughed and it had taken James a long time to admit that he’d had to make himself turn away from the pages of naked, muscled men stroking their cocks.

“Alright, James?” Teddy asked kindly, shaking James from his thoughts as Teddy stood up. It was only then that James noticed there were two helmets atop the bike. Definitely riding the motorbike, then. Just him and Teddy pressed together on the rumbling machine as they navigated the long roads between here and the cottage in Brighton. But that was fine. Totally fine. Fine, James currently looked like a teenager and one of his teenage wet dreams was about to come true, but he’d stopped fancying Teddy years ago. He’d had to. There was no point pining for someone he couldn’t have. Besides, having Teddy as a best mate had been the best thing to ever happen to James. So what if Teddy was smart and funny and standing in front of him looking fit as fuck? It didn’t change the fact that Teddy didn't want James or the things James wanted.

It wasn’t like James hadn’t known Teddy was attractive. This was not some new revelation he could blame on being de-aged. Of course he had known it; he had eyes, for fuck’s sake. Teddy’s mere existence had given James enough wank fodder to fuel all his teenage fantasies and awkward years of puberty as well as prompting his own sexual awakening. Granted, James had found enough other men attractive that at eighteen he knew it wasn’t just Teddy, but men in general that got him going. But the fact remained that it was Teddy’s smile and Teddy’s voice that had left James in no doubt that he was absolutely and completely gay.

James had spent years after that realisation thinking of nothing but Teddy. Far beyond simple physical attraction, James had been arse over tit in love with him. Of course, it was completely one-sided and by the time James was twenty-three and nearing the completion of his Auror training, he’d realised that Teddy would never feel the same way. Teddy didn’t like relationships, not since things had gone wrong with Victoire. That summer everything changed for James. Teddy seemed more than happy to pull a different witch or wizard every weekend, the less commitment the better. By the time James was almost twenty-four, Teddy hadn’t brought a significant other over to the Potter house in nearly five years, and that had been as much of a blessing as a curse because while it spared James having to see Teddy with someone else, it also meant Teddy would never want the things James wanted—companionship, commitment, love.

James knew he had no right to be jealous of the nameless people Teddy took home. Teddy was a grown man and it was none of James’s business if Teddy liked sex. A lot. It was just that somewhere around the time James began his training, Teddy had finally begun to see James as something of an equal—not just an annoying younger godbrother he tolerated but a friend—inviting him out for a pint on the weekends with his other friends and nudging James playfully in the shoulder as everyone traded raid-gone-wrong or awkward-sex stories. James had been elated to be included, even if it meant his heart felt like it was blasted to pieces every time he watched Teddy’s smile directed at someone else, watched Teddy throw his arm around a different stranger every other weekend and leave James to Apparate home alone.

So yeah, James was no stranger to Teddy’s higher-than-average level of attractiveness. Except it wasn’t something that usually kept him up at night or left his entire body aching with arousal, not anymore. James treated Teddy’s attractiveness as an unquestionable truth, something he filed away along with all the other things he knew about Teddy, like the fact that he still slept with the stuffed dragon teddy he’d got for his seventh birthday, that he always had some kind of chocolate in his robe pockets, or that he liked to sing along to the wireless when he thought no one could hear him.

“Fine,” James finally croaked, making his feet move towards Teddy and trying not to think about things that were clearly in the past. Teddy’s hesitant smile widened into something more natural as he pushed away from the bike to stand up straight. To James’s surprise, Teddy peeled off his prized dragonhide jacket and held it out to James. James wondered if he’d been Confunded. Teddy never let anyone touch that jacket. It was the first big purchase Teddy had made after finishing his Auror training and had cost nearly half a year’s salary. James had begged more times than he would ever admit to borrow that damn jacket and Teddy would always grin impishly at him before shaking his head and refusing. Despite the disappointment he felt, James never actually got put out since he knew without a shred of doubt that it was Teddy’s most treasured possession.

None of that stopped James from indulging in more than a fair few teenage fantasies about it, though. There was just something about the way the soft green dragonhide looked against his pale skin that used to make James hard. Even after he’d managed to get over that, James had held onto a fondness for the sight of Teddy in that jacket. Now that they spent most of their days working, it was a rare sight to see Teddy wearing it. In fact James hadn’t seen him pull it out of the wardrobe since Teddy’s thirty-fourth birthday quite a few months prior.

“Albus forgot to bring you a jacket. It’ll be cold on the back of the bike.”

James was pretty sure if it was going to be cold on the back of the bike, it’d be cold on the front too, but James wasn’t stupid and took the two extra steps needed to reach out and snatch the jacket from Teddy’s hands before he rescinded the offer. The jacket was nearly twelve years old now, the elbows discoloured from wear, but rather than make it seem like it should be replaced, it made it better. The jacket felt infused with life, with Teddy, and as James pulled it on he felt eighteen and on the cusp of adulthood all over again. The jacket fell down over his hands, the buttery soft dragonhide a stark contrast to the itchy hospital robe he’d been in twenty minutes ago.

“It’s a little big,” Teddy said.

“S’nice,” James answered, trying not to focus on how much the jacket smelled like Teddy or why that felt so comforting. It wasn’t like Teddy knew what James was thinking, so what harm could it do to indulge just this once. Chalking it up to fucking teenage hormones, he closed his eyes and pushed his embarrassment aside, inhaling deeply one last time and relishing the woodsy scent of Teddy’s favourite cologne.

When James opened his eyes Teddy was watching at him intently, a look James couldn’t quite understand on his face.

“Ready?” Teddy asked, pushing his helmet onto his head and holding out the spare one to James.

James took the helmet, pulling it down on his head and wondering why his heart felt like it might pop out of his chest. It was just a motorbike, for fuck’s sake.

“Yes,” James lied.

Teddy gave him an encouraging smile before mounting the bike, his long legs easily bracketing the bike. He smiled to himself before wrapping his hands around the handlebars as the bike roared noisily to life. Teddy revved it twice, knocking the kickstand up with his left boot and jerking his head once towards the back of the bike to indicate James should get on.

“Hold on tight!” Teddy yelled over the roar of the engine.

James nodded, then realised Teddy wasn’t looking at him and grabbed a fistful of Teddy’s jumper as he threw his right leg over the bike and slid on behind Teddy.

“Tighter!” Teddy instructed, pulling James’s left hand which was resting lightly on Teddy’s side all the way around his middle. James complied, letting go of the handful of Teddy’s jumper and wrapping both arms all the way around Teddy, the firm muscles of Teddy’s stomach noticeable even beneath the thick material of his woolen jumper. Teddy revved the engine once more before lifting his feet, and before James knew it they were speeding down the road and into traffic.

The sun began to set, the city lights of London dancing before James’s eyes as the bike sped through traffic. Teddy moved in and out of cars easily as if the motorbike were as easy to control as a broom—as if it were an extension of his own body.

James tried to focus on the sights and sounds, the wind whipping across his cheeks and neck, but everything seemed eclipsed by the feeling of the engine rumbling beneath him, his chest pressed firmly against Teddy’s warm back. James wasn’t prepared for this.

***

James was starving and tired and more than a bit cranky when he woke up to the sun streaming through the open curtains. Mostly though, he was just fucking starving. James was used to waking up five minutes before he needed to be at work, grabbing a cuppa on the way through the Floo and hoping he could scrounge up something decent for breakfast from his desk drawer or the tearoom. He’d stopped waking up ravenous years ago and barely ate breakfast anymore, his body having long ago adapted to his work schedule and his clear preference for sleep over food. Except apparently now that James looked eighteen, his body had decided to wake up him up at the crack of dawn with an unwanted morning erection and an emptiness in the pit of his stomach so deep it ached.

James groaned, rolling face first into the mattress and burying his face in the pillow. All he wanted to do was sleep and avoid dealing with reality. He didn’t want to get out of bed and have to act like an adult when for the first time in years, he didn’t quite feel like one. Now that he was out of St Mungo’s the panic was rising again, a sense of unease that they might not find an antidote and an emotional itch beneath his skin as if something wasn’t quite right. Except all rolling over did was bring his naked cock flush against the cool cotton sheets. The friction felt so good he was helpless to stop himself from shoving his hands down between himself and the mattress to cup his cock. He supposed sleeping naked had at least one benefit—an easier quick solo session.

He was so hard, the tip already wet, and James couldn’t remember the last time he’d woken up with a morning woody like this, or indulged in a lazy morning wank. He supposed there was nowhere else he or Teddy could go today, and nothing they were technically supposed to do, so he might as well take advantage of the ability to stay in bed.

James rolled onto his back again, shifting his hips and spreading his legs as he wrapped his right hand around his cock and began to stroke hard and slow, breathy moans falling from his lips. He was no stranger to his own hand, even with a stream of not-so-steady boyfriends and a semi-decent sexual history, he’d never lost the secret pleasure of touching himself exactly as he liked, touching himself in all the ways that felt the best, and which his varying partners had never quite seemed to master. James wasn’t sure if it was his fault, since he never actually told any of them he wanted things differently, but he’d never been able to shake the feeling that they should’ve been able to tell what James liked without him having to say it out loud. The sex had never been bad, in fact one of his exes had been a pretty fantastic shag, but there had always been something missing. Sometimes James had simply found it it easier to come home and touch himself without having to worry that he wasn’t what someone else wanted or that they couldn’t seem to give him what he wanted.

Yet despite his familiarity with the act, something felt different. Maybe it was stupid, James knew it was still his hand and his cock, but it was weird to lift his head and look down to see his stomach flatter than it’d been in half a decade or see the hand wrapped around his cock looking less aged, the hand even seemed smaller somehow—his fingers were thinner, less sun worn and free of ink stains and calluses. James hadn't realised just how much he’d filled out since his teenage years. He let his left hand drift across his chest and down his own body, unable to take his eyes off the dance of his own fingers against skin that felt wholly familiar and unfamiliar all at once. His hips were slimmer, his chest dusted with less hair and there was a sense of touching someone else when he touched himself.

It was him, but not him, and James felt outside of himself as he watched his cock slide between his cupped hands, precome dripping out the top as his cock peeked out from the the stretched foreskin.

Shaking away the sense of unease, he tried to focus solely on the sensations, on the pleasurable slide of his cock through his tightly fisted hand and the drag of his fingertips along the sensitive skin at the inside of his thigh near his balls that made James shudder. Fuck, but he liked to be touched in those inconspicuous places everyone else seemed to ignore. He did it again, dragging his nails across the skin and his mouth falling open when a sudden image of Teddy leaning against the motorbike the previous evening flew into his brain unbidden. James gasped, eyes fluttering shut as he recalled with perfect clarity the pull of Teddy’s trousers across his thighs as he’d straddled the bike and the feeling of his warm, hard body beneath James’s arms.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

James tried to push the image away, to think of anything else, but fuck, the idea of Teddy’s strong thighs was arousing, the memories of the rumbling engine of the motorbike vibrating beneath his arse and Teddy’s exuberant laughter filled James’s mind as he squeezed tighter, gasping out a whimper as he came hot and hard, spurts of come shooting across his hand and his stomach.

James tried to catch his breath, his ears ringing and his body thrumming with his own release. He hadn’t come that hard in longer than he could remember. What was wrong with him? He wasn’t supposed to get off thinking about Teddy. Teddy was his best mate. His best mate who definitely didn’t fancy James.

Fuck, James needed to get ahold of himself. This de-aging thing had clearly rattled his brain, no matter how much the Healers insisted otherwise. That had to be the explanation. There was no other one that made any sense.

“James, are you awake?”

James jumped at the unexpected sound of Teddy’s voice outside his door, blindly looking for anything to cover up with, only to realise he’d kicked all the blankets and the sheet to the floor at some point.

“Uh, yes,” James croaked out, nearly falling out of bed as he leaned over to grab his discarded t-shirt from the night before. He wiped at himself frantically, grimacing at the sticky mess he was making. What the fuck had he been thinking? Wanking without magic was a horrible idea. He couldn't cast a cleaning charm on himself or the sheets and the room smelled like sex. Fuck, if Teddy opened that door he’d know exactly what James had been doing. Well, he supposed him being naked and covered in his own come was probably tip-off number one, but the heavy smell of sex would probably be a close second. Fuck.

“Are you hungry? Teddy asked, and it was only then that he realised Teddy wouldn’t just barge in in without asking. He wasn’t Albus or Lily. Teddy’d always had impeccable manners and respect for other people’s privacy, unlike some people James knew.

“Fuck,” James groaned, eyeing the come-covered t-shirt. Now what was he supposed to wear? Unless Teddy secretly had more clothing for him stored away somewhere, but since he wasn't allowed to do magic he highly doubted that. There might be something in his dad’s wardrobe from the last time his parents stayed here, or he could borrow something of Teddy’s if he had a spare one, but those options would require James to leave the bedroom to look or ask, neither of which he was in any hurry to do. Especially not feeling sticky and gross.

“Jamie?” Teddy asked, a hint of worry in his voice.

“Sorry, not quite awake yet,” he lied, glad Teddy couldn’t see his face. Teddy always said he was the worst liar in the world. “I’m starving.”

“Right.” James could hear Teddy clap his hands together and could picture the pleased smile on his face. Teddy was a bit like Andromeda or his Gran Molly like that, and often stuck himself in the kitchen trying to feed away people’s problems. “I’ll just make us some breakfast; come out whenever you’re ready.”

James sighed heavily as Teddy’s footsteps echoed down the hardwood floor of the corridor and he dropped himself back onto the bed, throwing his arm over his face.

This was fine. It was gonna be fine. James just needed a shower and something clean to wear and some food. James had been told on more than one occasion he was a bit dramatic when he was hungry. Things usually seemed worse on an empty stomach. Certainly the day would get better once James had a full belly.

Of course, twenty minutes later, standing in the doorway to the kitchen in nothing but his jeans from the day before, his freshly showered, still damp hair dripping down his bare shoulders, well, James knew things would not be okay. Not even a little bit.

Teddy was whistling to himself, a tea towel thrown over his shoulder as he stirred what smelled enticingly like eggs frying in butter. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt and a pair of comfortable-looking grey joggers, his socked feet tapping on the tile as he cooked. Teddy’s usually styled hair was falling down around his face in a tumble of bedhead that even James had rarely been allowed to see. Teddy had a thing with his hair. James wasn’t sure if it was part of being a metamorphmagus or if Teddy would’ve been like that anyway, but he rarely let anyone see him looking anything less than perfect. James had always secretly loved to see Teddy like this, though. Not that Teddy put together wasn’t attractive, but there was something private and open about him like this, without any preamble or wild colours to hide behind. Teddy’s hair was its natural chestnut brown, tufts of fluff sticking up in the front and a small patch in the back sticking straight up. Everything about Teddy was familiar and the sense of unbalance James had been feeling since the second time he’d woken up in the hospital lessened just slightly. At least until Teddy turned around, an easy smile on his face, and James knew he was fucked.

Teddy. Teddy was smiling at him. Teddy, with his floofy haired undercut and giant fucking chin dimple and his giant baby blue eyes. Teddy, who was standing in the middle of the kitchen of his parents’ cottage cooking for him and smiling at him and looking so fucking cosy and domestic that James’s head spun. It was as if James’s heart was being assaulted by the fantasy of what it might be like to be with Teddy, to get to see him every morning like this, soft and sweet and uninhibited. The type of future James used to dream about before he’d realised he was being idealistic and wishing for things he couldn't have. Only moments before, this exact scene had made James feel as if everything was alright, only now it made him feel as if everything was wrong.

This could not be happening. James absolutely did not get aroused from the sight of his best mate cooking breakfast. This was absolutely unacceptable.

“Took you long enough. Enjoy your shower, did you?” Teddy said with a wink, voice dripping with innuendo. He was only teasing. They did that all the time. But the idea of Teddy thinking about James in the shower, of Teddy knowing James was banging one out, made his throat close off while his cock betrayed him and began to harden. He’d already wanked twice and he’d only been up for forty minutes. What kind of fucking disastrous life kharma was this? Had James seriously been this horny at eighteen? He knew he’d wanked a lot but this was too much, even for him. And it wasn’t just that he was horny, it was that his body kept latching onto Teddy as the source of its inconvenient erections.

“Fuck you,” James answered, sticking his tongue out at Teddy and plopping himself down at the kitchen table. Truthfully, James had wanked again in the shower, but Teddy didn’t need to know that.

Teddy threw his head back and laughed. “I see that now you look like a teenager you’ve decided to act like one, too.”

James’s cheeks heated and he was glad Teddy had turned back to the stove. Teddy didn’t know the half of it.

“I wasn’t sure what you might be hungry for, but I ran to the Tesco Express down by the train station and grabbed some essentials before you woke up. I don’t know when Harry and Ginny were here last, but there was no food and I didn’t think you’d fancy going to the supermarket on an empty stomach.”

James grunted out a response, his face buried in his hands. He was overwhelmingly grateful Teddy’d gone to all that trouble for him. And wasn’t that just great—somehow it made him even harder. Clearly James was losing his mind if someone wearing a tea towel and running errands for him was his idea of a wet dream.

Teddy didn’t seem to mind James’s lack of conversation; he was well versed in the fact that James was not a morning person. Instead, he continued to hum to himself as he moved around the kitchen, dropping some toasting muffins in the toaster and giving a final stir to the back pot. Whatever it was smelled amazing and James dropped his chin in his hands and watched Teddy move with grace, occasionally catching himself watching the movement of Tedy’s arse more than the movement of his hands.

James was so distracted by Teddy it took him a moment to realise Teddy had finished cooking. It wasn’t until Teddy set a plate of food and a mug of piping hot tea in front of him that James realised what Teddy had been cooking.

“You made eggs benedict,” he said stupidly, because of course Teddy had. There were two toasting muffins on his plate with perfectly fried eggs—something Teddy knew James prefered to traditional poached eggs—and thick slices of ham drizzled with twice as much hollandaise sauce as was appropriate—just the way James liked it. “This is my favourite.”

He dared a glance at Teddy, who’d collected his own plate and cup of coffee and was sitting across from James. There was a look in his eyes that James couldn’t read and if he hadn’t known better he would’ve sworn Teddy was blushing. Except Teddy never blushed. Maybe his eyesight was damaged somehow, along with the other body changes. That would explain a lot.

“I know it is,” Teddy answered, loudly swallowing a drink of his coffee.

James didn’t know what to say to that, so he picked up his fork and dug in, filling his mouth with a bigger bite than was polite and groaning. It was warm and rich and a little salty and fuck, it was nearly as good as the orgasm he’d had in the shower. James almost said that out loud, then thought better of it, taking a second bite before he’d even swallowed his first.

“Hungry?” Teddy asked with a raised eyebrow, still sipping his coffee, his own breakfast yet untouched.

James shrugged his shoulders, reaching for his cup and taking a chug of perfectly sweetened tea. Fuck, he hadn’t had anything this delicious in weeks.

“I haven’t seen you eat like that since you actually were a teenager.”

James paused, fork held in the air. “M’hungry,” he said self consciously, ducking his face.

Teddy cleared his throat, reaching for his own fork. “It’s not bad, Jamie. I just...you look eighteen but you’re still you, you know? I guess I didn’t realise you might feel eighteen too. Or well, that your stomach might, anyway.”

He gave James a smile that James couldn’t quite return.

James wanted to tell Teddy he felt eighteen again all over. That he was tired and hungry and that he felt confused and off kilter about things, or one thing in particular, and that the giant secret he thought he’d put behind him years ago was apparently not quite as gone as he’d once believed. The problem was he also very much did not want to tell Teddy, because that would mean admitting he’d had a crush on Teddy back then and while he was pretty certain Teddy knew, it was not something either one of them had ever acknowledged out loud and James felt a lot safer keeping that little tidbit buried safely in the past where it belonged. He’d worked hard to become the man he was, to have the esteem he’d earned at work and the respect of his dad and Teddy. He didn’t need to go blowing it all by saying something stupid like, ‘Hey Teddy when I look at you things feel less scary’ or ‘Hey Teddy my cock still thinks I’m in love with you.’

What he ended up saying instead was, “Thanks for cooking, Teds.”

“Anything for you, Jamie,” Teddy said, playfully kicking James’s foot beneath the table.

James swallowed down a laugh, shaking his head. This was fine. It was just Teddy. James just needed to wait out being stuck in this ridiculous body and everything would go back to the way it was.

Everything was going to be fine.

***

As it turned out, as the day went on, things got progressively less and less fine.

After breakfast James offered to do the washing up while Teddy showered, except what all James could do was think about Teddy naked in the steady stream of water as he ran his hands over hot soapy pots and wondered what Teddy’s skin felt like when it was wet. Things only went downhill from there, because when Teddy got out of the shower he came out with freshly washed hair. This time the floof on his head was styled in a swoop that went off just slightly the side with teal tips and a chunk of magenta right down the middle that was complemented by the dark purple t-shirt and jeans he was wearing, both of which James recognised as his dad’s clothing and something Teddy must’ve dug out of the wardrobe in his parents bedroom. Of course, once James realised he was getting a hard-on from his best mate dressed in his dad’s clothing, he wished very much for the earth to swallow him whole, or perhaps for a stray band of dark wizards to stumble upon the cottage and just Avada Kedavra him and get it over with.

Honestly, James was pretty sure nothing could be worse than this.

Of course, things did get worse. They spent the morning lazing on the sofa watching old episodes of Friends, which James couldn’t focus on because Teddy’s foot was shoved under his thigh and for some reason that made it hard for James how to remember how to breathe. They stayed that way for nearly two hours until Teddy started to look a bit twitchy and began to wander the house looking for things to clean and tidy. James made himself useful by shoving a sofa cushion in his lap and trying to watch the telly and not Teddy as he puttered around the living room dusting and hoovering. Teddy even managed to rearrange the entire wall of bookcases before James’s stomach began to grumble again. Lunch was a lowkey meal James threw together of cheese toasties and crisps—twice as many carbs as he ever ate at once anymore, but James couldn’t be arsed to care or to try to serve something healthier with it.

Teddy smiled gratefully and they ate in a companionable silence but the second the food was gone, Teddy’s restlessness returned as he tapped his leg and darted his eyes around the kitchen.

Before James could suggest a game of Muggle cards, Teddy pushed away from the table and said something about sprucing up the garden for his dad. James, who had no desire to do weeding and was desperate for another wank, feigned a headache and went to his bedroom, where he stayed for longer than he wanted to admit, fisting himself until his cock was chafed and his wrist sore.

By the time James felt brave enough to venture back into the kitchen, the afternoon sun was shining brightly and casting a warm glow on the pale yellow walls. Teddy, however, was nowhere in sight. James peeked out the kitchen window and saw Teddy hunched over the rose bushes against the farthest wall of obscenely high shrubbery his dad had planted to ensure the family’s privacy. James knew from experience that Teddy might stay out there until the sun set if he let him.

James hummed and hawed to himself about whether to go outside or back to his bed for nearly fifteen minutes. Eventually he was sick of listening to himself think, and yanked open the refrigerator to grab the nearest jug and pour Teddy a tall glass of water. The tosser probably hadn’t had a thing to drink since he went outside hours ago and though it was Autumn, the sun was particularly warm that day. He was exactly like James’s dad in that way because while Teddy was wonderful at taking care of other people he was utter shit at taking care of himself. James was constantly having to remind Teddy to take his breaks at work and to eat a vegetable once a month and sometimes felt a bit like his Gran Molly when he poked Teddy in the side and asked if he’d taken his daily vitamin potions.

By the time he made his way out back, Teddy was standing beside the shed with his shirt rucked up as he used it to wipe sweat from his face, the soft swell of his fit but not-eighteen-anymore stomach falling over the top of his jeans, which hung low on his hips and were smudged with dirt. They clung to Teddy’s strong thighs and long legs and James was reminded of when Teddy was younger. His dad had loved tending to the garden and Teddy was always there helping. James had thought Teddy at twenty-four was beautiful—a youthful exuberance that seemed so mature to a barely eighteen-year-old James. Teddy’d been long arms and legs and an alluring array of multi-coloured hair with an easy demeanor that often hid his insecurity.

Now though, Teddy’s youthfulness had been replaced by a quiet surety that only came with age. Teddy at twenty-four had been beautiful and free, and now at thirty-four he was all that and more. Teddy was a man—his muscled chest that James knew had a smattering of light brown hair and a strong jaw. His hands were tanned from the sun and knuckles caked with dirt. His body had scars and the beginnings of age to it that Teddy could’ve easily hid with his metamorphmagus abilities but instead he wore them as easily as James wore his favourite jumper. Teddy was comfortable in his skin and it showed. James had thought he was too, but being back in his old body, he wasn’t quite so sure anymore.

“Hey, Jamie, come out here to help me?” Teddy asked as he dropped his shirt and laid eyes on James for the first time.

“Pretty sure you don’t need any help, Teddy,” James said, holding out the glass of water and staring at the grass instead of Teddy’s bright eyes.

Teddy’s shadow fell into his line of sight as Teddy took the offered drink.

“Could’ve used your help an hour ago, you lazy wanker. What were you doing, napping?”

James licked his lips. He’d been in bed but he certainly hadn't been sleeping. “Yeah, napping,” he said, which was far better than saying I had to go wank after seeing you come out of the shower and then I decided to hide.

Teddy’s face took on a disbelieving look, his eyes narrowed at James as he lifted the glass of water to his mouth, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he chugged the entire thing.

Something snapped in James as he watched rivulets of water slide down the outside of the glass as Teddy continued to drink. He couldn’t take this anymore. He’d seen Teddy drink about a million times, but it’d been years since he felt like this—a perpetual state of low-grade arousal and his mind swirling with confusion. He almost prefered being high on painkillers in St Mungo’s—at least then he had something to blame his wonky mental state on. Now the only thing he could blame was himself.

“I think I left the kettle on,” James blurted out, purposely ignoring Teddy’s questioning look and turning abruptly, his bare feet moving swiftly across the grass. James yanked the back door open, stepping inside and slamming it shut with more force than was strictly necessary.

“I think I left the kettle on. What the fuck?” James groaned, falling against the door and letting his head drop back with an audible thud.

What the fuck was he doing perving on his best mate and hiding out like Albus had during his teenage emo phase? He was James Sirius Potter! He was a twenty-eight-year-old Auror for fuck’s sake, not a pathetic teenager. This needed to stop and it needed to stop now. Merlin, James had had enough of feeling sorry for himself or hiding out for a wank. What he needed—what they both needed—was to get out of this house and have some fun.

James stood up straight, squaring his shoulders and pulling the door open. Teddy was still standing in the middle of the garden watching the house and James ignored the weird flipping sensation in his stomach.

“Oi, Lupin. Get your scrawny arse in the house and shower. We’re going out.”

“Out?” Teddy asked, but he was already walking towards the house. “Says who?”

“Says me of course, you pillock.”

Teddy stopped a few feet from James, his eyes bright with mirth. “Oh, I dunno. You seem a bit young to be making such important decisions.”

James’s mouth fell open. “Fuck you.”

Teddy’s lips curled into a smile as he threw his head back and laughed. It was a rich laugh straight from Teddy’s gut, warm and infectious and the sense of wrongness that had creeped into James’s stomach was once again pushed aside.

“Yes, yes, this entire situation is hilarious, Teds. Thanks ever so much for your compassion in my time of need.”

“It’s pretty funny, Jamie.”

James pulled a rude gesture as he bit back a smile. Objectively, he could see the humour in looking like a teenager again, but for James, nothing about this felt very funny. Somehow though, being able to laugh about it with Teddy made it all seem that much less horrible. Teddy had always been good at that, at making James laugh, at getting him out of his head. Besides, James had seen the look of worry on Teddy’s face when he’d woken up in St Mungo’s, and he knew that beneath the laughter, Teddy had truly been worried about James. Somehow that made everything feel better.

“We’ll see who gets the last laugh at the club tonight, old man.”

“A club, huh?” Teddy asked, his arm brushing James’s as he walked past him towards the house. His arm was warm and covered in a sheen of sweat and James’s arm broke out in goose pimples at the contact. “I don’t know, Jamie. I’m supposed to be protecting you.”

James spun on his heel, eyes following Teddy as Teddy walked towards the house. “From dark wizards, Teddy. Not from Muggles looking to have good time or get laid.”

“I dunno.” Teddy stood stood up straighter, crossing his arms over his chest. There was a tension in the hunch of his shoulders and a tightness in his jaw as his blue eyes pierced James. James supposed his responsibility as Auror in charge was weighing on him.

“Come on, Teddy. It’ll be fun. We haven’t been out in ages. All we do is work and watch telly.”

Teddy didn’t say anything, but James could practically see the wheels spinning in Teddy’s brain as he stepped forward, insinuating himself into Tedy’s personal space and began to dramatically bat his eyelashes at him. “Please. Pretty please with ice mice on top?”

Teddy snorted and bit his cheek. He was clearly trying not to smile.

“I’ll save my first dance for you, Teddy,” James promised, giving him his brightest smile. Teddy loved to dance.

“I suppose a little dancing wouldn’t hurt.”

James’s stomach swooped with anticipation. It’d been ages since he and Teddy had gone out and done anything fun, just the two of them. They’d been so busy with work lately and then there’d been Ian to consider. James had tried to get Ian to go out dancing a few times, but he’d always refused, saying clubs were cesspools of society. Truthfully James hadn’t been entirely sure the club was his scene anymore, so he’d never argued. He wasn't exactly looking to pull random strangers and never had been, even before Ian. James had never been a fan of casual sex, both because sex seemed incredibly intimate to him and he couldn’t imagine doing it with someone whose name he barely knew and because half the wizards he’d ever met had been so awestruck by his last name that he was pretty sure they wanted to fuck his dad and not him. But James didn’t want to get laid, he just want to dance—wanted to let loose.

“Tonight is gonna be great, Teddy. You’ll see.”

“Fine, fine. But when you’re back to normal we will be having words about you using that puppy dog face on me.”

Teddy’s tone was firm but there was an undercurrent of amusement that had James ducking his head, his cheeks warming. It was something he’d done a lot when he was younger, whenever he wanted something he couldn’t have, really. Eventually it’d stopped working on his parents and aunts and uncles and even his siblings, but it’d never stopped working on Teddy.

When James looked up, Teddy was smiling fondly at him, the mid-afternoon sun gleaming off Teddy’s mass of windswept mint green hair, and there was a small drop of sweat glistening in the center of his dimple. James’s cheeks heated again for an entirely different reason, his cock twitching.

Fuck, he definitely needed to get out of the house before he lost his mind.

***

They puttered around the house most of the evening, making a lazy supper of tea and crumpets eaten on the sofa side by side while watching the telly until it was late enough to get ready. Problem was Teddy sat so close the entire time that his left leg was pressed up against James’s despite the fact that the sofa was large enough to seat half the Weasleys. Worse still was Teddy sitting beside James as if everything were perfectly normal, crumpet crumbs on his shirt, butter on his fingers and laughter on his lips, completely unaware of James’s traitorous body deciding that crumbs were some type of aphrodisiac. James’s heart had raced, his mouth dry and pasty as he’d choked down his crumpet and wondered if Teddy was making his eyelashes longer or why the fact that James could see his ankle bones peeking out from where the hem of his jeans had ridden up was threatening to give him an inappropriate woody.

By the time the sun had set nearly an hour later, Teddy was playfully shoving James off the sofa, urging him to go get ready for the club and James was desperate to touch his cock, which was painfully hard inside his jeans and hidden beneath the sofa cushion shoved in his lap. He’d practically ran from the living room when Teddy mentioned showering, discarding his clothing in a haphazard heap on the floor of his room before stumbling into the shower and squeezing his eyes shut as he gave into temptation and wrapped his fingers around his cock. He stroked himself to the image of Teddy’s long fingers pressing inside him and his soft lips on James’s. Afterward, his body had been light with release, his chest tight with guilt.

By the time James stepped out of the shower, his hair still damp and a towel wrapped low around his waist, he realised the only thing he had to wear to the club was his dirty boxers and jeans. He knew he could rummage around his dad’s wardrobe, since his dad always left extra clothes at the cottage, but he could hear Teddy in there probably doing the same thing and James was unable to face the idea of looking Teddy in the eyes after having just pulled himself off to the idea of being fingered by him. He needed at least fifteen minutes before he was prepared to repress his swirling guilt, arousal, and confusion again.

He peeked his head out of his room and once he was sure the coast was clear, made his way down the corridor to the last room on the left that Lily or Albus usually stayed in. Crossing his fingers they’d left something he could wear, he ran to the wardrobe and yanked it open, a sigh of relief falling from his lips when he saw a meager pile of clothing on the bottom shelf. It wasn’t much, but something was better than nothing. Of course something turned out to be a pair of Albus’s black skinny jeans with holes in the knees and nothing to wear underneath. Not that he’d particularly relished the idea of wearing his brother’s boxers, but it would’ve been better than free-balling it. James hated the feeling of denim against his cock; it chafed.

With a resigned sigh, James dropped his towel and shimmied into the skinny jeans, grateful that his teenage body was at least a stone lighter and quite a bit leaner than his normal body, tucking his cock to the side as he carefully did up the zipper. They were tighter than James usually liked his jeans and a bit too long since his stupid brother had had a late growth spurt at eighteen and was now three inches taller than James, the fucker. They were clean though, which was better than James’s clothing.

Next he rummaged through the pile of t-shirts, throwing aside several ugly worn ones that looked like they belonged in the rubbish bin. He wasn’t sure if they were Lily’s or Albus’s since they both seemed to have some strange fascination with sleeping in the rattiest oversized t-shirts they could get their hands on—usually hand-me-downs from their mum and dad. At the bottom of the wardrobe he found an old black cotton t-shirt that upon closer inspection was definitely Lily’s. He held it up and read the bold white lettering across the chest—Femme Not Frail—and shrugged his shoulders. The collar of the shirt had been cut off and when James turned it around he could see Lily had taken the Muggle scissors from the kitchen to the back of the shirt as well—it was cut open all the way down the back, held together by thin shreds of the shirt tied in knots. James was pretty sure this shirt was barely going to stay on without magic but they were going to a gay club after all, and this was better than the last one he'd seen, which had said Potter for President, was at least two sizes too big, and had an unidentifiable brown stain on the neck.

Pulling the t-shirt on, James’s previous assumptions were proven right. There was a substantial draft at his back and the collar was so wide it kept slipping off one shoulder and exposing his entire left clavicle and the thick smattering of freckles on his shoulder. Except when James looked in the mirror, he didn’t feel like a twat, he felt a bit like he was playing dress up. The face in the mirror was definitely his, the body too. But it wasn’t the James he knew. His hair was a bit longer, damp strands curling near his ears, and even beneath the loose cotton shirt he could tell that his stomach was flat as a fucking pancake, which it hadn’t been in a long time. Not that James’s stomach was flabby at twenty-eight. He ran several miles on the weekends and took care of himself and was in pretty good shape. But he also wasn’t eighteen any longer and liked to have a second pint with Teddy on Friday nights and he was definitely a bit softer around the middle than he’d been a decade before. It was strange to look in the mirror and recognise himself but not feel like himself.

It was a bit of a mind fuck, really, and James shook his head, stepping back into the bathroom to try and do something with the mess of curls on his head. He pulled open the top drawer looking for a brush, which he found. What he also found was a drawer full of Lily’s makeup. James took one more look at himself in the mirror and thought fuck it, pulling out a jar of glitter and one of the makeup brushes. He’d watched Lily get ready for a sibling night out on the town enough times to know how this was supposed to go. Twisting the lid off he dipped the large brush into the powdery silver glitter, lifting it up and swiping it over his collar bones and up the side of his neck. The effect was quite dramatic, and James couldn’t help but smile. He already didn’t feel like himself, but being in control of the change in how he looked made him feel powerful.

He continued to follow the path of the exposed freckles he’d always secretly been rather self conscious about, wondering if he might’ve liked them more when he was younger if he’d tried to cover them in glitter. He looked, well—good. The black jeans and shirt made his glitter-covered freckles pop. Thinking in for a Knut, in for a Galleon, he grabbed the black eyeliner from the drawer and began to carefully line his eyes. It wasn’t nearly as neat as Lily’s and he had a new appreciation for his sister’s ability to apply makeup while doing a thousand other things. Fuck, were all women naturally good at this shit or was his sister just that amazing? Probably the latter. By the time he was done, his boring hazel eyes seemed brighter, more special somehow. Fuck, no wonder people liked makeup. It was like a mask of self-confidence, letting James control how people were going to see him. It was almost like magic.

It was strange to look at himself in the mirror, decked out in his siblings’ clothing and wearing makeup. It wasn’t just that he didn’t look like himself at twenty-eight—he didn’t even look like himself at eighteen. James looked attractive in a way he wasn’t used to. Not that James thought he was unattractive usually, quite the opposite. James had never seen the point in false modesty. He’d always known other people thought he was handsome, but the way other people saw him and how he saw himself didn’t always overlap. Despite the fact that he’d never actually hated how he looked, there had always been things he wished he could change. He had so many freckles sometimes they felt more like cow spots rather than fairy kisses like his mum had always tried to tell him they were, and his nose was a little crooked at the end just like his dad’s. Sometimes when Teddy took home everyone but James, it was easy to look in the mirror and see the flaws. It was just that, unlike Albus or Lily, James had never seen the point in sharing his insecurities.

Looking in the mirror now, though, James felt ten feet tall and invincible. He wondered if this was what his dad had felt like when he’d taken the Felix Felicis potion at Hogwarts. His dad had told him the story only once, the night James had turned seventeen. They’d shared a a glass of Firewhisky in the back garden when everyone else was asleep—the warm summer air as comforting as his dad’s heavy laughter—as his dad shared a bit of himself with James that he’d never shared before. James had felt like a proper man that night, like his dad’s equal, being able to keep his secrets. Standing here now, he thought he understood for the first time what his dad had meant when he’d whispered, “I felt like myself and not myself all at once, I felt like I could do anything.”

Pleased with the outcome, James swiped the excess glitter to the floor, promising himself he’d sweep it up tomorrow, dumping the makeup back into the drawer and making his way to the living room in search of Teddy, who’d surely be ready by now. Teddy never spent more than five minutes getting ready for anything, winking at James and saying he didn’t need anything except some fancy hair to get attention.

Sure enough, James found Teddy plopped on the sofa. He was wearing one James’s dad’s favourite t-shirts—plain grey front with white sleeves. It was just a simple cotton baseball shirt, but the way it fit Teddy’s body as if spelled on made James glad that the stupid skinny jeans were so tight that his bloody traitorous cock didn’t even have room to harden. Teddy was wearing the same jeans as the day before and the floof of hair falling into his eyes was a soft brown, warm as honey with a few streaks of baby blue in it that did funny things to James’s heart.

“There you—” Teddy started when he realised James was there, but his voice cracked and broke off into silence as he shifted his eyes from the telly to James.

“Ready?” James asked, but Teddy just blinked, his eyes raking up and down James’s body.

James crossed his arms almost unconsciously, a sudden shock of fear that he’d gone too far with his look hitting him as an unreadable expression appeared on Teddy’s face. Teddy’s hair flickered hot pink for a few brief seconds before he seemed to gather his wits, jumping off the sofa and walking towards James, his hair settling back into its brown and blue state.

“Too much?” James asked, laughing self consciously as he rubbed at his cheek, flecks of glitter transferring to the palm of his hand.

Teddy shook his head, a half smile threatening to spread across his face as he brushed a curl from James’s eyes. “Nothing could be too much on you, Jamie.”

Teddy’s voice was low and soothing and James closed his eyes, letting it settle in his gut—a balm to his unsettled nerves.

“Ready?” Teddy asked. He’d pulled his hand away but was still staring intently at James.

James nodded. “Let’s show this town how to have fun, Lupin. Brighton won’t know what hit it.”

Teddy’s smile, which had been threatening to take hold, finally broke out, the chin dimple on full display as Teddy dramatically lifted his arm and held it out to James. “Shall we paint the town, Mr Potter?”

James couldn’t help but laugh, linking his arm through Teddy’s. “Let’s paint this town in glitter.”

James’s exuberant mood lasted all of two minutes, until they stepped outside the front door—the frigid evening breeze whipping through his flimsy excuse for clothing—as he took in the motorbike parked in the driveway.

“I think you need this more than me,” Teddy said, once again removing his beloved dragonhide jacket and draping it across James’s shoulders.

“Thanks,” James said as he eagerly shoved his arms into the sleeves, his chilled body absorbing Teddy’s residual warmth as he resisted the urge to smell the bloody jacket again. Maybe the de-aging had messed with his entire magical core and secretly turned him part werewolf or veela. He’d never before had such a strong urge to literally bask in someone else's scent. The jacket wasn’t even enough, because Teddy’d showered with whatever shampoo was in the guest room and not his usual apricot and mint one and he wasn’t wearing the cologne he liked that James had got him for his birthday. James had the strongest urge to press himself against Teddy, to shove his face into his neck and inhale him to get past the lingering smell of sandalwood his dad seemed oddly fond of and to just smell Teddy. Fuck, maybe James was losing his mind. He needed a stiff drink, or ten.

“Ready, Jamie?” Teddy asked, mounting the motorbike and starting the engine. It roared to life and James shook his head to clear his lingering apprehensions. Tonight was about letting go and having fun. Just him and Teddy, like the old days. It was going to be great.

Of course all it took was two minutes on the back of the motorbike for James to question his logic in thinking that going somewhere that would involve his body intimately shoved up against Teddy’s like that would help him not think about Teddy.

Teddy was completely at ease driving the motorbike, his strong body relaxed and warm despite the freezing air whipping around them. James twined his arms securely around Teddy’s middle, trying to ignore his cock trapped in his too tight jeans and wedged up against Teddy’s arse.

Choosing to focus on something else, he rested his chin on Teddy’s shoulder, whooping with laughter when Teddy took the first corner a bit faster than necessary since the windy roads on the edge of town were deserted.

For all that Teddy had always been a beacon of stability and maturity in James’s eyes, he knew quite intimately that Teddy had a wild nearly streak nearly as big as James’s. It was one of the reasons they’d become close so fast once James was out of school and old enough to actually be Teddy’s friend and not just his annoying younger godbrother. Unlike his siblings or even his friends who were constantly trying to talk James out of his impulsive—and alright, sometimes ill conceived—ideas, Teddy was always game for anything. James could still recall with utter clarity the night of his twenty-first birthday, when Teddy had Apparated into James’s room at exactly half past four in the morning, scaring him shitless before tossing a hoodie and a pair of trackies at him. He’d whispered, “Wake up, James, let’s have some fun.” James hadn’t given two fucks what they were doing or where they were going, he had simply shoved on the clothing and grabbed hold of Teddy’s arm. Teddy’d Apparated them directly into the center of Stonehenge, winked at James not to tell anyone about the wards he’d got a friend in the Ministry to lower for them, and pulled a tiny parcel out of his pocket, tapping it with his wand. The shrunken parcel turned out to hold a thick wool blanket, a thermos of hot chocolate, and a breakfast picnic. They’d collapsed together in the dark, the magical ley lines beneath them thrumming with magic and James had felt certain no one would ever understand him the way Teddy did. Years later, James could still close his eyes and see the first light of dawn cracking over the horizon as Teddy’d whispered, “Happy Birthday, Jamie.”

He and Teddy were both smart enough and responsible enough to know when self control or a modicum of decorum was required, but they both also shared a natural impulsivity and a tendency to gravitate towards things that made their hearts race faster. Not for the first time, James wished he could find a boyfriend like Teddy—someone stable and reliable without being a fucking wet blanket.

“Hold on tight!” Teddy yelled. James obeyed without question, tightening his hold on Teddy, unsure what exactly Teddy was up to. He didn’t have to wonder long though, because seconds later Teddy revved the engine, leaning his body back as the entire front of the motorbike lifted off the road. The bottom fell out of James’s stomach, his hands clenching in Teddy’s t-shirt as he heaved a laugh against Teddy’s neck. It only lasted maybe thirty seconds, but the euphoria carried James through the rest of the drive and he barely registered the long queue they had to wait in to get into Revenge, or the random people hitting on him while they waited.

By the time they finally stepped through the club doors, James was practically crawling out of his skin, desperate to move.

“Come on, Teddy, dance with me,” James said, fingers wrapping around Teddy’s wrist as he tried to drag him away from the beeline he was making to the bar and out to the dance floor instead.

“You know I don’t dance,” Teddy laughed, though he didn’t try to remove James’s fingers.

“Don’t chat shit. I’ve seen you dance loads of times.”

“Not sober.”

James stopped walking, pursing his lips in thought as he eyed Teddy. He supposed that was true. Teddy usually spent more time sitting in the booth drinking, or on the edges of the dance floor trying to pull, then he did actually dancing. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more he realised the only time Teddy ever danced was when James managed to drag him out there.

“Fine, alcohol first. Dancing second.”

“I can’t drink too much; I’m supposed to be watching out for you, remember,” Teddy said, allowing James to lead him towards the edge of the crowded bar.

James turned his head to roll his eyes at Teddy as he sidled up to the edge of the bar. “First of all, I’m old enough to watch out for myself, Dad—”

“You can call me Daddy,” the older bloke to his right slurred. James frowned, a pang of revulsion pooling in his stomach as he took one step closer to Teddy. James wasn’t one to judge what anyone else liked in the bedroom, but the idea of thinking about his dad during sex made him want to chunder quite violently.

“Fuck off,” Teddy told the man, wrapping an arm around James’s shoulders and moving him to stand on Teddy’s other side. The man flipped them both off, disappearing into the crowd without a backward glance.

“As I was saying, I can watch out for myself just fine,” James bristled, waving his hand around to try to get the bartender's attention. It’d been years since he’d been hit on at a club like that. He supposed looking the way he did, he was bound to attract a different sort of attention than he usually did when he showed up at the club with Teddy or his siblings in jeans and a t-shirt looking for a laugh and a few drinks.

“What can I get you, sweet stuff?” the bartender asked, leaning on his elbows and winking at James.

James opened his mouth to order and then promptly snapped it shut. They usually frequented wizarding clubs. He had no idea what kind of drink was common at a Muggle club.

“What would you recommend?” James asked, leaning against the counter and grinning. Teddy shifted beside him.

The bartender grinned, leaning back against the wall and crossing his arms as he surveyed James. Usually that type of unabashed sexual attention from someone he didn’t know made James marginally uncomfortable, but tonight it was intoxicating. It was a bit like the year Albus and Scorpius had moved into their own flat and thrown a fancy dress party. There was something about wearing a costume that made James feel free. He supposed his teenage body wasn’t technically a costume, but it was foreign enough it might as well have been.

“You look like you know how to have some fun. Perhaps you’re looking for something lucious and smooth. A pornstar cocktail would suit a sweet thing like you. Or maybe,” he said, pushing off the wall and leaning over the bar, incredibly close to James. So close James could see the flecks of gold in his green eyes. “Maybe you like things a little dirtier.”

Teddy coughed loudly and the bartender lifted one eyebrow. “You look like you need a sex on the beach.”

James turned his head to the side to peer at Teddy, whose lips were pinched in a frown.

“Relax, Teds. We’re here to have fun.”

Teddy gave James a tight smile, nodding towards the bartender who was still waiting.

“Surprise me,” James said. “Surprise us both.”

The bartender nodded, moving towards the rows of alcohol lined against the back wall and grabbing various bottles of liquor. James leaned his shoulder into Teddy’s, smiling at him as they waited. Minutes later the bartender returned with an easy smile and two drinks.

“And for you, this one is called sex on my face for you,” he said, sliding a tall glass towards James. It was the colour of the sunset and had a little palm tree stirrer sticking out the top. James couldn’t help but smile as he took it, lifting it to his lips and sipping gingerly. It tasted fruity and strong and James hummed in pleasure as he took a second drink.

The bartender looked pleased with himself, sliding a short glass towards Teddy. “Grumpy old man,” he deadpanned, taking the cash from Teddy’s fingers and winking at him.

“Keep the change,” Teddy grumbled, looking incredibly put out as he eyed his drink, turning his back to the bar.

“Wanna trade?” James asked, taking another drink of his own and hoping Teddy said no. He rather liked his. It reminded him of a tropical holiday, only better and with liquor.

“Nah it’s fine. It’s a laugh,” Teddy said, though for some reason he didn’t look much like he wanted to laugh.

“Hey, we can—” but James’s words were cut off by a stranger moving directly into his personal space. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, a full head of neon pink hair, arms covered in an array of tattoos, and his left ear full of earnings. His clothes were as tight as James’s, showing off ample muscles. James couldn’t say he found the look entirely attractive, but he had a nice smile and there was something painfully attractive about his mess of coloured hair.

“Wanna dance?” he asked, holding out a hand to James. James instinctively turned towards Teddy, who was eyeing the stranger with general distrust. He guessed Teddy must still be feeling responsible for the de-aging accident and was clearly taking the whole Auror protection thing a bit too far. They both knew it was more for show than for James actually needing any protection, especially in the middle of a Muggle nightclub.

“I promised my friend the first dance,” James answered, torn between his desire to actually dance and his natural inclination to prefer Teddy’s company over everyone else’s.

“Go on, James. I’ll watch the drinks. You have fun,” Teddy urged.

“You sure?”

“You heard him, come with me and have some fun,” the stranger said, holding his hand out once more to James. James hesitated for only a second before taking one last chug of his drink, handing it to Teddy and taking the stranger’s hand.

The stranger, who turned out to be named Oliver, was both easy on the eyes and a good dancer. The problem was after three dances, just when James’s heart was starting to race and the smile on his face grow wider, he only wanted to show James the back corridor of the club. When James politely declined, he was left on the dance floor alone.

By the time he made it back to Teddy, he was parched, ignoring Teddy’s curious gaze as he took his drink and downed the remaining two thirds of it in one go.

“Easy there, James.”

James groaned, shaking his head and slamming the glass onto the bar top. “Another one!” James yelled to the bartender, before turning his eyes back to Teddy.

“Where’d your mystery man go?”

“Thanks,” James said to the bartender, taking his second drink and moving to lean his shoulder against Teddy’s side. “Ah well, he was less than pleased when I didn’t want to take a tour of the darkened corridors. Maybe I should’ve expected that coming here looking like this.” He rubbed his hand against his cheek, blowing out a heavy breath.

“No,” Teddy said firmly, his hand on James’s chin as he turned it so that James’s eyes were on him. “People don’t get to expect sex from you based on how you look.”

James swallowed down the unexpected lump in his throat, Teddy’s fingers were warm and solid against his skin and James wasn’t sure if he wanted to pull away or lean into the touch. “I know it's what people expect when they come to clubs. I’ve just never been able to like casual sex. I want more than that. I know it’s stupid,” he said, abruptly pulling his face from Teddy’s hand to stare into his drink. Teddy’s eyes were too blue, the lights of the club making them shimmer like fairy pools. “I don’t judge anyone else who likes it. I never have. I know it's what you like but I can’t—”

“Wait, what I like? What the—it’s not stupid, Jamie. Besides, you don’t ever owe anyone sex,” Teddy said, voice low. “I know you already know this but I’m going to say it anyway. Just because you said yes to dance doesn’t mean you’re obligated to ever say yes to anything else. If they assume a dance also means a blowjob then that’s their issue not yours. They can fuck right off if they think agreeing to dance means you consent to everything else.”

James shot Teddy a grateful smile. “It’s not just that.”

“You’re not over Ian?” he queried in a tone of voice James was all to familiar with. The tone of voice he used when Teddy really wanted to know something but was trying to look like he didn’t.

“No. I mean yes. Fuck, I mean, no that’s not it. I’m not upset about Ian. Not at all. Maybe that sounds bad but—I didn’t love him.”

Teddy’s eyes flashed with surprise as he sipped his drink, seemingly mulling over his word choice. “You always said you two were happy.”

James sighed heavily. “I wasn’t trying to lie. I think I just wanted it to be true. He was nice and he liked me and maybe things weren’t great but despite the way I might look right now, I’m not fucking eighteen anymore. I just thought maybe that's how things were when you got older. Maybe relationships aren’t all about romance and butterflies and fireworks. Maybe they were just about stability.”

James stole a look at Teddy out of the corner of his eye, surprised to find Teddy watching him. He ducked his head, cheeks heating.

“It’s okay to want more, Jamie.”

James shrugged, gulping down half his drink. “Will you dance with me?”

Teddy looked down at his drink which was barely gone, eyeing the dance floor with trepidation. “Maybe in a little bit. You just have fun.”

James tamped down the surge of disappointment he felt, eyes taking in the hordes of people—mostly men—dancing and smiling. Fine, he’d just dance alone, then.

Gathering his courage, James finished the rest of his cocktail and dropped the glass down onto the counter before making his way to the dance floor. The song shifted into another song James was equally unfamiliar with, but most of the crowd seemed to know it as they went wild, bodies swaying and cheers echoing. James closed his eyes, lifting his arms above his head and letting the music flow through him. He focused on nothing but the steady bass throbbing in time with his heartbeat, his feet moving and his hips swaying to the music. Someone moved behind him, unfamiliar hands on his waist and a firm body behind him and still James kept moving. It felt nice not to think about what someone else wanted from him for once and to just be.

“Fuck, you’re beautiful,” the voice whispered, and James opened his eyes and turned his head to see an older man dancing with him. He was probably in his early forties and he looked good for his age, his dark hair peppered with grey in a way that made him look refined. He had a strong jawline and clear blue eyes, though not quite as blue as Teddy’s, he noticed.

“I only wanna dance,” James said, expecting him to leave.

To his surprise the man smiled, moving his hands to James’s hips and confidently turning him around to face him. He moved his body, sliding his leg between James’s and grinning. “Then let's dance.”

James couldn’t contain his smile, beginning to move his body in time with the music again. It felt good to let go, to dance with abandon and enjoy the feeling of someone else’s body moving against his knowing he wasn’t leading them on. Ian had never liked clubs, and James had rarely liked to dance with someone he didn’t know, lest they think it meant something it didn't. It’s been so long since he could simply let go. Merlin, but James loved to dance.

“I need a drink,” James yelled over the music seven songs later when he could no longer ignore his thirst or need to take a break.

“Want a blowjob?”

James faltered, pulling back. “I said I only wanted to dance.”

The man laughed, mirth in his eyes as touched James’s cheek briefly. “You are an innocent, aren’t you. It’s a shot. I’m buying.”

James’s cheeks heated. For fuck’s sake. How the fuck was he supposed to have known that’s what he meant? He knew what the drinks were of course. He’d bought Albus a round of those shots for his eighteenth birthday and then made sure Scorpius was there to watch Albus take the shots with no hands. Albus never had thanked him properly afterward. He kept saying silly stuff like ‘We were already dating you twat’ but James knew the truth, he’d obviously played an integral part in getting his baby brother laid for the first time.

“So, you up for a blowjob?” the man asked.

James eyed him for several seconds before he nodded, brushing the hair from his eyes and wiping the sweat off his forehead on the back of his hand as they moved towards the bar together. Once they were out of the thickest part of the crowd, it only took seconds for James to spot Teddy, who was sat in a booth at the far corner of the club, his drink only half gone and an unreadable expression on his face.

“There you are, Jamie, I—” but he stopped when the stranger moved to stand beside James, his hand resting lightly on James’s lower back.

“Hey, Teddy.”

“Would your friend like a blowjob too?” he asked, clearly not over his little joke. James blushed as Teddy choked on his drink, eyes going wide as he looked at James. “I’ll take that as a yes. Be right back,” he said, removing his hand from James’s body and walking towards the bar.

The drink, James silently mouthed to Teddy, nodding his head toward the bar where the man whose name he still didn’t know had gone. Teddy chewed on the inside of his cheek, looking between James and the stranger as if he wanted to say something. Before he got a chance, though, the man was back with a round of drinks, dropping one down in front of each of them as he slid into the booth beside James. His thigh was firm and warm and James felt hard pressed to deny how good it felt, even if he didn’t want him in particular.

“Bottoms up,” his mystery dance partner said, clasping his hands behind his back and leaning over the table. James watched as he opened his mouth wide, wrapping his lips around the drink and throwing his head back to down it all in one go before letting the shot glass fall from his mouth and catching it in his right hand.

He caught James staring and winked. “Need a little help?”

“I can handle it just fine,” James said, recalling the vast number of these he’d done on Albus’s birthday after Albus had left with Scorpius and Teddy had left with an attractive brunette on his arm.

With practiced grace he leant over the table, moving his hands behind his back as he darted out his tongue to swirl it around the tip of whip cream spilling over the top in a billowy mountain. He could feel the stranger’s eyes on him, heavy and intense, but he was unable to take his eyes off Teddy, who was gripping the table and watching James as if he’d never seen him. Maybe it was the alcohol he’d already drunk or the heady feeling of being not quite himself, James wasn’t sure, but he felt his cock hardening beneath the table at the idea of Teddy’s eyes on him. Almost forgetting about the stranger completely, James let his eyes flutter shut, emitting a not-so-quiet moan as he wrapped his lips around the glass and threw his head back. The alcohol was strong, and also sinfully sweet and the whipped cream thick and rich. When James was done he tipped his head back down, dropping the glass and catching it with Seeker-fast reflexes as licked the residue from his lips and winked at Teddy.

Not to be outdone, Teddy grinned wickedly and James didn’t have a single moment of warning before Teddy leaned down, dipping his tongue into the whipped cream. James’s cock twitched beneath the table. Fuck. Had Teddy’s tongue always been that long or was he making it longer? The swirl of whipped cream smashed into Teddy’s thin upper lip, the liquor splashing out the sides. James had the overwhelming urge to move his hands below the table, to cup his half hard cock and palm it hard and dirty as he watched Teddy’s mouth envelop the shot glass. Teddy threw his head back, his long neck arched as his Adam's apple bobbed.

Teddy copied them both, letting the shot glass tumble from his mouth before catching it, slamming it on the table and smiling at James as if he’d won this game. James’s stomach dropped, because suddenly it didn’t feel like a game.

The man beside him cleared his throat loudly, eyes darting between Teddy and James with a raised eyebrow. James willed down the urge to blush.

“I see older men really are your type. Let me know if you change your mind and ever want more than a dance.” And then he slid out of the booth and threaded himself back into the throng of bodies moving to the music.

“Well, he was just delightful,” Teddy deadpanned and the ridiculousness of the situation hit James like a hex to head. James was sitting in a Muggle club looking like an eighteen-year-old who got let out of the house for the first time getting turned on by the sight of whipped cream on Teddy’s mouth. What the actual fuck was happening?

“You alright, Jamie?”

James nodded, not sure he trusted himself to speak. Sitting down was bad. There was nothing to do but stare at Teddy as his tongue darted out to lick the whipped cream residue. Nothing to do but take in the the way the flashing club lights made Teddy’s eyes shine and his hair seem to glow.

“Dance. I wanna dance. Come on,” James said abruptly, sliding out of the booth. Teddy hesitated for only a second before he slid out too. Teddy moved to stand beside James and for the first time that night, James allowed himself to really look at Teddy.

Even at thirty-four there was something boyish and youthful in Teddy’s face—an impish innocence in his eyes that nothing could take from him. The dimple in his chin seemed particularly prominent as he smiled at James, hand held out. James placed his hand in Teddy’s, surprised to see the way his younger, slightly smaller hand looked clasped in Teddy’s as Teddy led him out to the dance floor.

The song was fast, something meant to be danced with wild abandon but Teddy placed his hand on James’s hip and spun him around as if leading him in a dance to music only they could hear. It was almost euphoric, and James let his eyes fall shut and blocked out everything—every sweaty body bumping his and the flashing lights and blaring music—until all the remained was Teddy in front of him.

James knew he hadn’t had enough alcohol to be properly pissed yet, but there didn’t seem to be any other logical explanation for why the feeling of Teddy’s body rocking against his own made his head spin and his heart race—why it made him want to surge forward and cover Teddy’s lips with his own.

Teddy’s earlier hesitancy had vanished. Despite his misgivings about getting on the dance floor, now that he was here his body moved with an easy confidence that was nothing short of beautiful. The only thing James had ever loved more than dancing himself was watching Teddy dance—seeing that moment Teddy when let go of his self consciousness and gave in to the rhythm of the music and anonymity and freedom the dance floor provided.

James gave in as well, draping his arms around Teddy’s neck as he moved his body side to side against Teddy’s.

Teddy huffed out a laugh, his eyes crinkling in the corner as he pulled James even closer and his movements began to match up with the primal, sexual beat of the song that had recently started to play.

James was mesmerised, his body thrumming with a rush of endorphins and arousal as he ground his hips into Teddy’s, digging his fingers into the cotton t-shirt at Teddy’s hips. The world narrowed down to the beating of James’s heart and Teddy’s smile. James was rendered dumbstruck by the dawning realisation that it was not just his teenage cock that wanted Teddy—that while his body might be eighteen, his heart was definitely still twenty-eight.

***

“Oh fuck, I’m never drinking that much again. Ever,” Teddy groaned as he stumbled into the kitchen in nothing but his grey joggers and the same t-shirt he’d worn to the club last night.

James’s entire body flushed at the memory of the night before, of his fingers curled in the soft cotton as he’d pressed himself into Teddy without a lick of thought to the consequences.

“I made coffee,” James said from where he was hunkered down at the kitchen table. “And you didn’t even drink that much.”

Teddy grunted, digging the palms of his hands into his eyes as he yawned, his hair sticking straight up. “I didn’t think I drank that much either, but fuck I feel like death warmed over. No, not even that. Like death someone forgot to re-heat. The unwanted leftovers of death.”

James snorted out a laugh. Teddy could be a bit of dramatic wanker when he didn’t feel well, which thankfully wasn’t very often. He thought perhaps it had something to do with Teddy’s distaste for feeling vulnerable, which made him insist he was fine nine times out of ten even when he very clearly was not fine. So the times where he was bad enough to not deny it, he let it all out. Teddy must really feel like shit to be admitting it.

James sipped his coffee, watching as Teddy gracelessly rummaged through the cupboards looking for the sugar. “Oh fuck, I want a hangover potion. Why are the cupboards so loud?” Teddy complained, sighing heavily.

Taking pity on him, James stood up and crossed the room, resolutely ignoring the feeling of his chest pressed against Teddy's warm back as he leaned around him to pull the sugar bowl out from where it was hidden behind the toaster.

“Fuck, I love you, Jamie,” Teddy mumbled.

“You too, Teds,” James answered in a cracked voice, hurrying back to his seat. He plopped down as he wrapped both hands around his own mug of coffee—steaming hot and black—as he watched Teddy spoon three heaping teaspoons of sugar into his before pulling the milk from the fridge and pouring in a disgusting amount that would render his coffee more sugar and milk than actual coffee.

“Want some coffee with that milk, Teds?” he teased.

“Not all of us are heathens who drink coffee black, Jamie.” As if in defiance he added another spoonful of sugar and stirred.

James ducked his head, hiding his smile even though Teddy still had his back to him. James schooled his feature into a semblance of normalcy, proud of himself for not blushing when Teddy turned around and made an indecent sound as he took his first drink of coffee.

Teddy took another hearty drink before he opened his eyes, squinting at James. “Why don’t you look like shit? You drank more than me. You should definitely be suffering with me.”

James laughed. “Because unlike some people I took a shower before I fell asleep last night. And I, unlike some people, didn’t forget to hydrate.” He gave Teddy a very pointed look and purposely left out the part where the only reason he’d taken the shower was so that he could finally, fucking finally, get his hands on his cock without worrying about cleaning his sheets afterward. “Besides, I’m eighteen again, remember.”

James waggled his eyebrows playfully. This might be the first time he was happy to be in a teenager’s body again. If James had been back in his normal body after a night of clubbing and drinking he’d definitely be feeling a lot like Teddy was now, maybe even worse since he’d had at least three times as much to drink as Teddy. Luckily, aside from being tired and thirsty, he felt fine. Well, aside from the devastating black hole threatening to erupt in his chest every time he thought about the fact that he was pretty sure he was arse over tit in love with his best mate. But aside from that, he was fine.

Teddy groaned. “Ugh, fuck you. You’re too happy and too loud. My head hurts.”

“Maybe you should go back to bed. It’s not like we can do anything today anyway,” James said.

Teddy shook his head. “I’m awake now, I can’t go back to sleep. I’m just gonna go and lay on the sofa and rest my eyes for a few minutes is all,” he mumbled, socked feet shuffling across the tile floor.

“Alright you do that, old man.”

Teddy narrowed his eyes and made a rude gesture as he stumbled out of the kitchen. James gave up trying to avert his eyes now that Teddy’s back was to him again and instead let them linger on the curve of Teddy’s arse in the thin joggers as he walked, flushing with the memory of his hands roaming over Teddy’s back as they’d danced, of James not so quietly telling Teddy he never wanted to dance with anyone but him again. Mostly what he remembered was Teddy’s repeated subtle attempts to stop James’s hands from fondling him. James hadn’t meant to keep ending up with his hands on Teddy’s arse, but fuck, Teddy had a nice arse and in his drunken brain it had seemed like a fantastic idea. The second, third, and fourth round of blowjobs he’d drunk had seemed like a brilliant idea, too. He supposed it was a good thing Teddy had more sense than him and hadn’t actually got drunk, because when James had taken off his shirt and tried to get Teddy to do body shots, Teddy had somehow managed to corral James out of the club, conceal the motorbike and hail a taxi for them to get back home safely.

Seconds later, James heard the tell-tale sound of Teddy’s coffee cup being clunked on the coffee table before a grunt that had to be Teddy plopping onto the sofa. James could already picture his long arms and legs spread out over the entire thing like some sort of overgrown starfish. Teddy had this way of filling spaces, his physical presence as striking as his emotional one.

Fuck, how had this become his life? Sitting in his parents’ kitchen stuck in his teenage body, mooning over Teddy again. At eighteen he’d thought being a teenager was fantastic, that he knew everything, but the truth was James liked being almost thirty. He didn’t want to be eighteen again, not for all the gold in Gringotts. He liked the life he’d built and the fact that he wasn't constantly looking for ways to prove himself or crawling out of his skin feeling restless and unsure. Somewhere in the last few years James had settled into a life and a routine that made him really happy, even if he sometimes wanted more. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to feel keyed up and unsettled and turned on all the fucking time. And he wasn't at all comfortable with the realisation that he wasn’t over Teddy and never really had been.

He was supposed to be over this! Except, the more James thought about it, the more painfully obvious it became that he’d never really got over Teddy. He’d pushed it aside because he had to, because being Teddy’s Auror partner and best mate meant Teddy needed him and James was no good to Teddy if he was constantly distracted by wanting something he couldn’t have. At the time, he’d thought getting over Teddy had been as easy as choosing to do it. He’d simply stopped hoping for Teddy to flirt back, stopped letting his eyes follow Teddy out of clubs when he left with someone else, and eventually forced himself to start dating. Granted, in hindsight it seemed obvious that the reason every single one of his relationships felt unsatisfying and off was because James never wanted to be with any of them, not really. He’d still wanted to be with Teddy. He thought back to every single person he’d ever dated and could see that he’d gravitated towards people who were the complete opposite of Teddy in both looks and temperament, because dating anyone who reminded him of Teddy at all would’ve been too close to admitting who he really wanted to be with.

James dropped his forehead to the kitchen table and sighed heavily. At some point—hopefully soon—the Healers were going to have an antidote, they were going to fix his body and return him to the age he was supposed to be. But though they were going to be able to return his body to normal, there was nothing anyone could do to make these feelings go away. There was nothing anyone was going to be able to do to make things feel normal ever again. How the fuck was James supposed to go back to his life knowing the only person he wanted to share it with was Teddy?

Fuck. His hands tingled with excess magic—almost like an itch worming its way up his arms and spreading throughout his entire body—every nerve ending thrumming with suppressed agitation. Normally when he felt this off kilter he’d go flying or take a turn in the Auror training facilities to blow a few things up and release some of the pent of magic. He wasn’t the only wizard to have control issues when he was emotional, not by a long shot. Except most witches and wizards no longer struggled with accidental magic once they got their wand to act as conduit for the magic flowing through them. But some people, well, some people like James found that the wand wasn’t quite enough. Sometimes he could feel his magic threatening to explode. The thing was, years of Auror training and life experience had taught James to recognise the symptoms, how to handle the magic that threatened to burst free when he was particularly emotional. But with nowhere to go, and no wand to use, he had no choice but to ignore his growing sense of unease—as if his skin didn’t quite fit right.

Resigning himself to a day of feeling edgy and ill at ease, James pushed away from the table, no longer in the mood for his coffee. He made his way into the living room where, as expected, Teddy’s lanky body was sprawled over the entirety of the sofa, his mouth hanging open as he puffed out soft, sleepy breaths. James’s heart flipped as he grabbed the blanket off the armchair by the fireplace, draping it over Teddy and resisting the urge to stroke the soft strands of brown hair out of his eyes. How was James supposed to deal with this?

Merlin, he was fucked. Somehow, Teddy being his best mate and partner didn’t feel like it was going to be enough. Except it had to be, because it was that or nothing and James would rather die than lose Teddy’s friendship.

He’d ignored his own feelings for nearly a decade. Surely he could keep it going?

Tapping his fingers on his thighs, James sat himself in the armchair by the sofa since Teddy was occupying the entire thing, the remote in hand ready to waste the entire day watching old episodes of Friends, when a knock at the front door startled him. He barely had two seconds to wonder who the fuck would be knocking at the door when the lock turned and the door began to open.

James was rendered speechless by the sight of Albus and Lily barging into the living room, smiling at him as if it was completely normal that they’d left their busy lives to come all the way to Brighton to see him.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, jumping to his feet and knocking the remote to the floor.

“You mean aside from the fact that you look like a first year?” Albus asked, shifting a basket under his left arm.

“Fuck you,” James said a bit too loudly, head swivelling towards the sofa when Teddy shifted in his sleep, arm falling off the side. James held one finger up to his lips and nodded to the kitchen. His siblings followed after him, Lily shutting the door behind them.

“So, what’s—” James started, but was cut off by Lily throwing her arms around him and engulfing him in a crushing hug. James’s tension melted away as he wrapped his arms around her. “I missed you, Lils,” he whispered. It’d been nearly four months since he’d seen her in person. She sent letters when she could, and Firecalled whenever her and Luna stayed somewhere with a Floo connection, but it wasn’t the same.

“See what happens when I’m gone too long? You can’t keep yourself out of trouble, can you, James?” She squeezed him once more before pulling out of the hug and cupping his face in her hands. She was almost as tall as him and it was strange to be unsure if he felt shorter or Lily just seemed taller. “Fuck, this is weird,” she said.

“You’re telling me,” James snorted, standing still as Lily ran her fingers over his face, ruffling his hair playfully. James took the opportunity to take in Lily’s appearance, from her dark tan to the new piercing in her nose. Lily seemed older, more comfortable with herself and James didn’t think it was solely because he was suddenly de-aged. Lily’d had a rough time of it the year before, her arsehole of a girlfriend cheating on her and the Daily Prophet plastering the story across the paper every day for weeks. Unable to stand the scrutiny, she’d accepted an offer from Luna to track Wrackspurts across South America. Bit by bit her letters had gone from sounding lonely and homesick to being full of stories of the Latin American magical community, the lush wildlife, and the scorching heat. James had suspected the drastic change would be good for her, but seeing proof if it—seeing his baby sister standing in front of him safe and happy—filled James with an swell of love that was overwhelming.

“I missed you so much,” he said, pulling her in for another hug and burying his face in her long hair.

Lily let out a laugh full of warmth and affection as she ran her fingers through James’s hair and planted a kiss to the side of his head. “I missed you too.”

“You two are so fucking sappy,” Albus grumbled, but then to James’s surprise Albus threw his arms around James from behind. “You scared us, you absolute fucker.”

“All it took was me fucking off to another continent for us to all get along. Mum and Dad would be so proud,” Lily teased.

Albus jumped back, pulling out of the embrace and shifting on his heels. “Merlin, don’t tell Mum and Dad about this, it might ruin my reputation.”

“What reputation is that, Ally?” Lily asked sweetly. “The one where you could get dressed in the dark and still match because all you wear is black, or the one where Mum and Dad had to threaten to take legal action if the Prophet published those photos of you and Scorpius or—”

“Fuck you, Lily,” Albus grumbled, but it looked like he was trying not to smile. James strongly suspected he wasn’t the only one who’d missed Lily terribly.

“We brought you something,” Albus said, shoving the basket towards James.

James quirked one eyebrow, taking the basket and pulling a face. It was full of at least seven different kinds of Muggle lubricant. James rifled through the basket, wondering why Muggles needed flavoured lubricant. “What the fuck?”

“Not we,” Lily corrected. “Him. That was all this arsehole’s idea. He insisted we stop at Tesco and buy this before we came to see you.” Lily rolled her eyes dramatically.

Albus just smiled wider, looking a bit like Christmas had come early. “I had to buy my baby brother a present. Besides, I think we all remember what you were like at eighteen. You wanked so much I thought your dick might actually fall off. This was obviously a much needed supply. You should be thanking me for being so thoughtful and generous.”

James flushed with the reminder. “I’m not your baby brother.”

Albus’s grin somehow got inexplicably wider, looking as if it occupied half his face, and it was quite honestly one of the most unnerving things James had ever seen. Albus never smiled like that. “Ah, but you are. I’ve been waiting my entire life for this. Not only am I older than you, I’m taller too.” As if to prove his point, Albus stepped closer, and sure enough he had at least four inches on James. “Today will go down in history as one of the best days of my life. When I get home I’m saving this memory in my Pensieve to live on in forever.”

“Fuck you,” James said again.

“Merlin, you’re a cranky little thing, aren’t you? Do you need a nap?”

James bit back another fuck you and instead barked out a laugh. It was absurd. Everything about this entire situation was absolutely fucking absurd, but Albus taking the piss like he always did somehow made it all easier to bear. The panic that had threatened to overtake him not half an hour before was pushed back to the far corners of his mind. This was alright, maybe he could go back to his normal life and pretend things were like they’d always been. He had his siblings and Teddy, and so what if he might never have a partner? He had more than a lot of people had. He had people he loved that loved him in return and maybe that could be enough.

“So how are you really?” Lily asked, pulling her oversized shoulder bag off and dropping it onto the kitchen table.“ Dad said Teddy called him at half past two in the morning after you two had got home from a night of clubbing.”

James cleared his throat, stomach twisting with apprehension. “What all did Teddy tell Dad?”

“Enough for us to know that you were living your best life as a teenager,” Lily laughed.

“Also enough to know you were as handsy of a drunk now as you were when you were actually eighteen,” Albus added, not at all helpfully.

James groaned, hiding his face in his hands. “Was Teddy horrified?”

He tried to recall exactly how handsy he’d been last night. It wasn’t his fault really, he’d got pretty pissed. James had always been a tactile person, especially with Teddy. And Teddy had never seemed to mind that James like to sit too close on the sofa even when the other half was empty or took any opportunity to hug him. He supposed last night had been a bit much though, even by James’s standards. He was pretty sure at some point he’d even tried to shove his hands under Teddy’s shirt. Something that Teddy had politely discouraged, likely because James was his mate and that was all he would ever be.

“I don’t think horrified is the word I would use,” Lily said slowly, making James drop his hands to look at her.

“I can’t tell if he’s serious or not,” Albus said to Lily, eyeing James with undisguised disbelief.
“James, about Teddy—”

“Wow, I’m thirsty,” James interrupted, desperate to not talk about his embarrassing thing for Teddy. He moved to the fridge, opening the door and pulling out the milk bottle. He twisted off the lid and took a big drink straight from the bottle, ignoring Lily’s grumbling about using a glass. Albus and Lily were no stranger to the way he’d felt as a teenager, but the knowledge that he was not as over Teddy as he’d let himself believe wasn’t something James had any intention of sharing. “So what are you doing here?”

Lily and Albus shared another look. “Dad said Teddy said you needed clothes.”

“So naturally you volunteered? Albus, you’re supposed to be finishing your dissertation this week and Lily, last I heard from you, you were in Argentina. You cannot honestly tell me you two dropped everything to bring me fucking clothes I could’ve bought in Tesco.”

“But you didn’t buy them in Tesco, did you? Instead you went clubbing in our old clothing and you’re sitting in the kitchen wearing that.” Albus raised both eyebrows knowingly and James tugged on the hem of the Potter for President shirt he was wearing along with a pair of too short pink unicorn pyjama bottoms he’d found in the wardrobe that definitely belonged to Lily. “And you know why?” Albus continued, “because you’re an emotionally constipated stubborn fucker.”

“You are really bad about talking about your feelings. Or admitting when you need help,” Lily added, tone less severe than Albus’s had been, through it stung all the same.

“You know what, no. Fuck this. We are not doing this,” he said, chest tightening at the idea of Teddy waking up and walking in on this conversation. It was bad enough he had never been able to hide anything from his siblings; he didn’t need Teddy to come in and hear about their opinions on James’s apparent emotional constipation. What the fuck was that, anyway? Merlin sometimes James hated when Albus psychoanalysed him. Just because he was getting his masters in mind healing didn’t mean James needed him to assess James’s level of authentic happiness every couple weeks.

“Teenagers are so trying,” Albus said dramatically, dropping into the kitchen chair and folding his hands in front of him on the table in an eerie impression of their dad when he was trying to appear more parental.

“Merlin’s fucking tits,” James sighed at the same that Lily threw her head back and laughed. “I hate you both.”

“You love us, really you do,” Lily insisted once she’d finished laughing, pulling open her ridiculously oversized bag and removing a small stack of folded clothing. Well, at least that explained why her bag was so big. “Here, put these on. I can’t take you seriously while you’re wearing that.”

James looked down at his ragged pyjamas once more and decided there was no point in arguing. He did look ridiculous.

Twenty minutes later, standing in front of the cottage with Albus and Lily and and dressed in a much less horrifying outfit comprised of jeans that actually fit and a pale blue cotton t-shirt, James at least felt a little more like himself—even if his physical appearance still didn't quite reflect that.

“So where are we going?” Albus asked.

“And how are we gonna get there?” Lily added.

“Um,” James started, shoving his hands into his pockets. He hadn't actually thought that far ahead. The motorbike was still under a concealment charm in the Tesco’s car park by the club, and besides none of them had ever learned how to drive it anyway. That, and James had no idea where they were going. All he knew was that he wasn’t spending the day cooped up in the house with Albus and Lily poking into his emotional well being. Especially not while Teddy was nursing a hangover on the sofa.

“We could go to the pier?” Lily offered.

“Or the cinema,” Albus suggested immediately. James knew Albus hated the pier and the throngs of tourists that flooded it. Even in the off season it was too crowded for him. Albus definitely preferred the less populated areas of Brighton. As a teenager he’d once spent the entire summer wearing the same black hoodie that read It’s Too Peopley Outside every time their parents had made them leave the house in some sort of silent protest against socialisation.

“Waitrose,” James blurted out. “That’s where we’re going.”

Albus and Lily shared a look.

“Why?” they asked at the same time.

“Because if I’m stuck looking like a fucking teenager I might as well take advantage of it.”

Which is exactly how James found himself wandering the aisles of Waitrose flanked by Lily and Albus one hour and an uneventful Uber ride later.

“You know when you said you wanted to go to the supermarket, I didn’t know you meant to buy the entire store,” Albus snorted.

James ignored him, pulling a bag of sour Haribo off the shelf and throwing it into the trolley. It plopped on top of the bags of crisps and Monster Munch already in there before falling to the bottom of the trolley next to his bottle of Coke.

“I’m hungry,” James said with a shrug, reaching for a pack of strawberry laces. It wasn’t entirely a lie, he was hungry, far hungrier than he usually was. Besides, if he was gonna be stuck with the body of an eighteen-year-old he might as well take advantage of it. It’d been years since he’d had this much unhealthy food and as far as James was concerned the one bright spot in his day was going to be stuffing his face with as much artificial shit as he could without worrying about getting heartburn or indigestion. Maybe if he ate enough sugar he could pretend his life wasn’t like some sort of bad romance novel his Grandma liked to read.

“I didn’t think anything could be weirder than seeing you looking like that, but watching you, Mr ‘Albus are you sure that level of sugar content is a good idea the night before exams?’ buying this much shit is just bizarre.”

“It really is,” Lily agreed, but James noticed her slip a box of maltesers into the trolley beside the back of Traditional Pork Scratchings Albus had added when he thought James wasn’t looking.

“James, do you think perhaps you’re using food to—”

“La, la, la,” James began to sing loudly over Albus, pushing the trolley farther down the aisle and grabbing a Lion bar, refusing to examine why he was buying it since it was Teddy’s favourite, not his.

“If you don’t want to talk about Teddy why don’t you tell us about the distinguished gentleman you shared blowjobs with,” Lily deadpanned.

James stopped dead, crashing his trolley into the one being pushed by mother with two small children who shot them all a rather dirty look before turned and ushered them in the opposite direction.

“How the fuck do you know about that?”

“Well you know Teddy tells Dad everything and Dad can’t keep anything from Mum and Mum can’t keep anything from me—“

“And Lily tells me everything,” Albus finished with a deceptively innocent grin.

“No fucking privacy in this family,” James grumbled.

Albus snorted, throwing his arm around James’s shoulder and bringing his hand up to playfully ruffle his hair. It was undeniably disconcerting to suddenly be smaller than his younger brother. “Don’t pretend you’re any different. You tell me and Lils everything, too. Well almost everything.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” James asked, shoving Albus off his head and sticking his tongue out at him as he grabbed the trolley handle tightly. Fuck, he was starting to feel less mature by the second.

“James, you know we love you. We all do.” Albus put his hand on James’s arm and something about his unnaturally gentle tone of voice broke through the faint buzzing in James’s ears. “But you keep too much inside. You know me and Lils are old enough to take care of ourselves. You’ve always watched out for us but you don’t have to be strong for us anymore—for everyone else, all the time.”

“We thought maybe because of Ian, well maybe you’d finally got over him, but you never seemed happy with Ian. Not really. We just want you to be happy, James,” Lily said. She was looking at him with those same soft brown eyes she’d had at four years old when she used to come to James as if he could solve her every problem, except James wasn’t her hero anymore. Not really. Somewhere along the line Lily had become her own hero and she didn’t need James. Neither of them did. Not the way they used to.

“I’m happy,” he all but whispered.

“Oh, James. We know you love your job and your family and friends. But you spend your life making sure the rest of the world gets what they need, what they want. What about what you need, James? What about who you want?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” James lied, face heating. The buzzing noise increased tenfold, his hands beginning to sweat as he tightened his hold on the trolley. This couldn’t be happening. They were not seriously going to make James confront his feelings in the middle of the snack food aisle.

“I don’t think it’s a good time to talk about this,” James choked out, wanting to run away. Except he couldn’t seem to make his feet work. Instead he simply stopped moving altogether, trolley turned sideways as he blocked the entire aisle. Albus and Lily had stopped as well, staring at each other as in silent debate before Lily opened her mouth and uttered the words that would change everything.

“We know you’re still in love with Teddy.”

Several things happened at once. The buzzing in James’s ears stopped, replaced by an eerie silence and for several long seconds it was as if the entirety of Waitrose had been shrouded in a powerful Silencio. Then just as suddenly as the quiet had come, it was gone and everything went to shit. The lights above them flickered as one by one all down the aisle the bags of crisps exploded at the same time that the packets of sweets beside James did so as well. As if in slow motion, James watched the air around him erupt in an explosion of crisps and brightly coloured licorice allsorts all of which rained down upon them at the same time. Of course, James barely had a moment to worry about the raining snack foods because excruciating pain ripped through his body, his muscles spasming and his blood on fire.

“Fuck,” was all he got out, before he crumpled to the floor and everything went black.

***

When he regained consciousness, the voices around him were garbled and frantic.

“He’s awake,” someone yelled, though the voices that followed were drowned out by the return of the buzzing in his ears. James wanted to open his eyes, but they felt spelled shut, everything still ached and the strain of trying to maintain consciousness was too much. He was vaguely aware of the sound of something exploding before more high-pitched yelling.

“Shhh, relax, Jamie. I’m right here.”

James couldn’t place the voice but he stopped fighting and drifted back to a blissful state of unconsciousness.

The second time he awoke, the room was pitch dark and there were unfamiliar fingers stroking back his hair. The buzzing in his ears was gone, his body light and free of pain and for the first time in days the faint itching beneath his skin was no longer present. Yet his eyes were still heavy, his brain muddled, and no matter how hard he tried to open his eyes, he couldn’t.

“Sleep. You’re alright. Just sleep,” someone said before warm lips were pressed against his forehead.

James wanted to stay awake, wanted to cling to the affection he felt enveloping him, but the pull of sleep was too strong.

The third time he woke up, the artificial light from the enchanted window was streaming through the pale blue striped curtains, which were pulled wide open. There was an elderly mediwitch bustling around the room, her grey hair piled on her head in an elegant knot and there was a kind smile on her face when she noticed James staring. She moved to his bedside the moment she noticed he was awake.

“Ah, you’re finally awake. I dare say your young man will be relieved. He’s been beside himself with worry the last two days. You’ve had this entire hospital in a bit of an uproar, but between you and me, your beau has been the most difficult. In all my years as a mediwitch I’ve never seen anyone more stubborn that boy. I’ll just let the Healers know you’re awake, dear.”

James blinked, mind swirling with possibilities as he watched her send off her Patronus—a tiny fluttering bird—before turning her kind eyes back on James. She reminded him a bit of his Gran. Not in looks, but in temperament. Something about the way she was smiling at James made him feel as if he should drink a cup of tea and spill his secrets.

“I’m not sure who you’re talking about.” James scrunched up his nose in confusion, lifting his hands up and turning them over. They were bigger, rougher, and there was a scar on the palm of his left hand from a curse that hadn’t healed properly last year. He didn’t need to look in a mirror to know he must be back in his normal body. Except unless he’d somehow woken up in an alternative universe, he certainly didn’t have a boyfriend.

The mediwitch pulled her wand back out of her robe pocket, her wrist flicking smoothly as she cast several diagnostic spells. She seemed undeterred by James’s fascination with his own fingers.

“Tall young man. Rather striking hair and lovely baby blue eyes—oh, and a dimple to die for. If I were half a century younger and not entirely gay I dare say I’d find him quite enchanting.” She grinned at James and laughed knowingly which made it impossible to be annoyed with her for so clearly misunderstanding.

James’s stomach dropped with realisation.

“Oh that’s—” he paused, fidgeting with the strings on the corner of the threadbare grey blanket. “That’s just Teddy. He’s my Auror partner. And well, he’s my best mate. But we’re not—he doesn’t.” He stopped, unsure how to articulate his thoughts, afraid he was making things infinitely more awkward by continuing to speak.

The mediwitch—Agnes was her name, written in neat joined-up writing on her name tag—smiled kindly, dragging her wand over James’s lower body and nodding to herself. “My mistake, dear.”

James swallowed. “I like him. A lot.”

“Sit up, dear,” she said, tapping the side of the bed with her wand. Almost immediately it began to move into an upright position. “That’s good,” she muttered, almost to herself, fluffing the pillow behind his head before looking at him again. “Now about this fella,” she said, picking up the chart off the side table and signing the bottom with a flourish of her wand. “I’ve seen a lot of things in my time here. Illnesses and accidents, well they tend to bring out the best and worst in people. And this boy, he’s the best, isn’t he?”

James swallowed, unsure why it was easier to talk to her rather than his own siblings, but somehow the idea of admitting his feelings didn’t feel quite as overwhelming as it had back at Waitrose. “The best.” He closed his eyes as he said the next words. “I love him.”

When he opened his eyes again, Agnes was smiling at him.

“I’d wager all my gold in Gringotts he loves you too, pet. That boy didn’t leave your bedside for two days, stroking your hair and keeping you calm.” James flushed, a rush of memories—lips against his forehead and words murmured into his ear when everything else had been too confusing. “He only left an hour ago because he was called away by the Ministry. Threw a fit about leaving you before you’d woken up, too. I would not want to be on that boy’s bad side. He’s a bit scary, isn’t he?”

She smiled knowingly and James felt his lips turn up in a smile. For all Teddy was kind and open, she was right. As a partner and an Auror, Teddy was formidable and James never felt more safe than when Teddy was at his side.

“Speak of the devil,” she said with a wink. James’s head swivelled to the door, where Teddy stood breathless and disheveled, his normally impeccable Auror robes wrinkled and the top button undone. His hair was a deep blue, almost black, and there were dark circles under his eyes.

“James, you’re awake.” Then Teddy was practically running across the room and throwing his arms around James, pulling him into a fierce hug. “You dramatic fucker. Couldn’t just wait until the antidote was ready, had to get half a dozen Aurors and Oblivators into Waitrose.”

“Sorry,” James huffed, burying his face in Teddy’s neck. Fuck, back to his normal age and definitely still wanting to smell Teddy. He clutched his hands in Teddy’s Auror robes and gave into the compulsion and inhaled, overwhelmed by the scent of Teddy’s favourite shampoo and the residual cologne on his robes.

“I’ll just give you two some privacy. The diagnostic spells seem fine dear, so you’re a low-level priority but the Healer should be in within the hour to discharge you.”

James closed his eyes and inhaled slowly, allowing himself a few moments to revel in the embrace. Teddy had never been one to shy away from touching James. But the hugs never lingered, not like this, and James wasn’t ready for the moment Teddy would pull away. Agnes had said she was sure Teddy felt the same, and Merlin, in that moment it sure felt like it could be true. There was something different in the way Teddy had looked at him, in the way he was holding him. Teddy never got scared, but he’d looked terrified.

The thing was, James knew he couldn’t spend another decade pretending he wasn’t desperately in love with Teddy. But the idea of laying his cards on the table was absolutely terrifying. He knew that if he did it, there was a chance that everything might change and if there was one thing James didn’t want, it was that. He loved the things he and Teddy shared. He wanted to touch him and kiss him, share his secrets with him and alright, he wanted to do a lot of fucking, too, but the other stuff—being partners, going to the pub on Saturday nights or taking the piss out of each other or watching telly together in hideous pyjamas that shouldn’t ever see the light of day because nothing was off limits with Teddy—well, James couldn’t bear for that to change.

“How are you, James?” Teddy asked, pulling back and brushing the hair from his eyes. “And don’t say ‘fine’ or I’ll hex you. Shoving down your feelings is exactly how Snackgate 2032 occurred.”

“Snackgate?” James snorted, raising an eyebrow.

Teddy laughed, sitting on the edge of James’s bed and holding his hands up in mock defense. “Don’t look at me like that. Albus called it that and well, the other Aurors thought it was pretty funny. I might’ve overheard Albus on a Firecall with Madam Malkin’s niece trying to get you a t-shirt made.”

“Fucking Albus,” James said without any vehemence, another bit of the tension in his shoulders seeping away. Despite the fact that he would never admit it, he loved his brother for always taking the piss. It made everything seem a little less serious, a little less like his world was possibly about to crash down on him.

“So how are you really, Jamie?”

James swallowed down the lump in his throat, unable to tear his eyes away from Teddy’s face. Teddy’s eyes were impossibly bright, his smile easy, and something long buried inside of James flared to life.

“I’m in love with you,” he blurted out.

Whatever Teddy had expected to hear, it very clearly wasn’t that. James would’ve laughed at the way Teddy’s mouth fell open, the way the tips of his hair turned a soft yellow, if it didn’t make him so sick to his stomach. “I know maybe it’s not what you wanted to hear, and I’m not asking you for anything. It’s just...I can’t keep pretending I’m not.”

Teddy opened and shut his mouth several times.

“Fuck, I’m sorry, Teddy. Please say something.”

“Jamie—”

James balled up his hands in his lap, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry, Teds. It’s just been so long. I couldn’t keep pretending it wasn’t true. I know you don’t feel the same, but—”

“What do you mean so long?” Teddy croaked and James opened his eyes to find Teddy shifting closer, not farther away from him. He still looked shocked, but not necessarily upset. If anything, he looked almost hopeful.

“I, uh—I’ve been in love with you since I was eighteen,” he whispered.

Teddy let out a long, low whistle, scrubbing his hands at his face. “Ten years? Why the fuck didn’t you ever say anything?”

“You had your own life. You didn’t see me the same way. Besides, once you and Vic broke up, you didn’t want anything serious and I….I wanted more than one night. Not that you would’ve necessarily given me that, either.” James laughed in an almost self-deprecating way, unable to look at Teddy’s face as he spoke. Instead, he pulled threads from the corner of his blanket, wondering when the Ministry was going to see fit to replace these things.

“How do you know?”

“Know what?” James asked.

“How do you know what I want? What I might’ve given you?” Teddy said softly, and then he reached up to cup the side of James’s face, urging him to look up. When he did, what he saw made his chest ache. Fuck. “You never asked me.”

James licked his lips, body shuddering when Teddy dragged a line across his bottom lip with his thumb. “I wanted you. Want you,” Teddy corrected, the pad of his thumb still tracing back and forth across James’s bottom lip. “Fuck, you have no idea, do you, Jamie?”

James wanted to speak, but just thinking was hard enough. Was Teddy seriously saying what he thought he was saying?

“How long?” he managed to get out.

“A long time, Jamie. Not as long as you but...long enough.”

Teddy withdrew his hand and James grabbed for it, holding it between his. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Teddy made a derisive noise. “You always went out with people who were about as opposite to me as it was possible to be; I thought I wasn’t your type. Sometimes, sometimes I’d swear you looked at me like you wanted me the way I wanted you. But whenever I asked if you were happy with Ian, or any of your other exes, you said yes. And I wanted you to be happy, James. Even if that wasn’t with me.”

“Right fucking pair we make,” James laughed, pulling Teddy’s hand up to his cheek again, nuzzling into his palm. Teddy exhaled slowly, his thumb stroking over James’s cheekbone this time. “I couldn’t go out with anyone who reminded me of you, because—because I loved you. It’s always been you.”

James,” Teddy breathed. Then Teddy surged forward, hands sliding around to cradle the back of James’s head as Teddy’s mouth covered his own. Teddy’s lips were warm and soft and he tasted like spearmint and tea and all James could do was choke out a sob as he clutched at the front of Teddy’s robes. Teddy, his best mate and the most important person in the entire world, was kissing him.

“I love you, Jamie,” Teddy whispered against his lips, his long fingers sliding into James’s hair as he kissed him again. James’s heart thumped in his chest painfully, as if it might explode right out of his body. “I love you.”

A throat clearing loudly made them jump apart, Teddy nearly falling off the narrow hospital bed. James felt his cheeks flush when he saw Agnus standing in the open doorway with a self-satisfied smile on her face. “Sorry about the interruption, dears. I forgot the chart.” She nodded towards the side table where, sure enough, his medical chart was lying, and she hummed a song that reminded James very much of a Muggle song he’d once heard about a chapel of love as she strode across the room to collect it.

Teddy ducked his head, looking far more shy than James had ever seen him as he ran a hand through his hair. The tips changed to a pale dusty rose that matched the blush spreading across his cheeks.

“I’ll just leave you two alone,” Agnus said in a cheery voice. She patted James’s leg as she left, winking at him before striding from the room.

“What was that about?” Teddy laughed, scooting closer as soon as they were alone again.

“Maybe I’ll tell you later, but right now I just want to do this,” James said, leaning forward to kiss Teddy. He wasn’t sure he would ever get over the thrill that shot through him and the knowledge that Teddy wanted him back, that when he wanted to kiss Teddy, he could.

Teddy groaned out a sound that James could only take as his agreement with the idea, tugging aside the blanket covering James to slip his hand beneath the hem of James’s hospital robe. James had never been so glad to be butt naked beneath one of them before as he was the moment Teddy’s warm palm began to glide up the inside of his thigh.

“Teddy, fuck—”

“Merlin, I want you so bad, Jamie. Can I have you?” Teddy asked, and James’s brain short circuited. What the fuck kind of question was that?

“Yes, fucking yes,” James huffed between kisses, finding it decidedly unfair that he was wearing nothing but a scrap of orange cotton while Teddy was completely clothed. It wasn’t until Teddy pulled out of the kiss to laugh, that James realised he’d said it out loud.

“I could be naked if you wanted me to.”

“Gentlemen,” someone said, and this time Teddy jumped so far back he really did fall off the bed, landing on the cold floor flat on his arse as James scrambled to yank the blanket up over his lap, hoping to disguise his rapidly blooming erection from the team of Healers standing in the door staring at them.

“I suppose there’s no need to ask if you’re feeling alert and well,” one of the Healers asked, looking like he was trying very hard not to laugh.

“I’m good,” James croaked, watching as Teddy got to his feet and slunk back to lean against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. His initial embarrassment was gradually replaced by his usually unruffled demeanor, and Teddy winked at James and mouthed Later, which did nothing to help James’s predicament. He wondered how he was supposed to face a thorough physical examination with a raging hard-on.

***

Several hours later, after James had been poked and prodded endlessly, passed every mental examination to ensure he was in full possession of his memories and deemed entirely physically fit, he was given a clean bill of health. After that, he was finally allowed to be discharged and given the go-ahead to return to work the following Monday.

Pleased to finally be back to normal, James slipped on the clothing Teddy had retrieved from his flat with a new appreciation for the ways his body had aged and changed. There were so many things he’d not noticed, things that must’ve gotten softer or harder so slowly over the years he’d paid them no mind. Certainly he was a tad softer around the middle now than he’d been as a teenager, but he was also stronger—more experienced—and he understood the things his body could handle. It felt good to be back in his own skin, to know what to expect and what he was capable of. For the first time, he appreciated the small bit of stomach that rolled over his jeans when he sat to put on his trainers, and the multitude of scars on his arms and saw them not not as blemishes but proof he’d survived.

“Ready?” Teddy said, interrupting his thoughts with a knock on the door. He was dressed in a pair of grey trousers and a butter yellow jumper. His hair was styled into a floofy tousle in the front—light brown with several bold streaks of mint green. He looked soft and warm and James bit his bottom lip to keep from blurting out Fuck, I love you again, the swell of affection he felt nearly overpowering him.

“Ready,” James answered, rising to stand.

Teddy gave him an easy grin, walking across the room and wrapping his arm around James’s waist. “Your place or mine?”

“Mine.”

Teddy grinned, his hand sliding into James’s back pocket and giving his arse a playful squeeze before James felt the familiar tug of Side-Along Apparition and then they were standing in the middle of his bedroom.

“Hello,” Teddy said with a grin, squeezing his arse again though decidedly less playful this time as he pulled James flush against his body.

“Fuck, I’m gonna get hard if you do that again,” James laughed, looping his fingers through the belt loops on Teddy’s trousers.

“That was sort of the idea.”

Teddy bent down, kissing James and grinding their hips together in a slow, dirty movement that left James panting and hard in only seconds.

“Fuck, Teddy.”

“Mmm, we could do that. Or I could fuck you. Whatever you want,” Teddy murmured against his lips, sucking James’s bottom lip into his mouth and rolling his hips again.

James grunted out a noise.

“What do you want, Jamie,” Teddy asked again, letting James’s lip fall from his mouth.

“Whatever you want,” James said automatically, reaching for the bottom of Teddy’s jumper and lifting it off. It ruffled Teddy’s hair in the process, making it stand up on one side, and even that was somehow painfully attractive. James didn’t see how it was fair that people like Teddy even existed.

“Mmm, and what if I want is what you want,” Teddy challenged, copying James and tugging James’s t-shirt off in one fell swoop, throwing it to the floor on top of his own jumper.

James paused. No one had ever asked him that before, not really. He’d had boyfriends that said things like “Does this feel good?” or “You want me to go faster, yeah?” to which James always thought it would be rude to answer no, but no one had ever asked him beforehand what he wanted, and James had always felt uncomfortable bringing it up in the middle of sex. And then the times when he’d thought about bringing it up beforehand, he’d always bite his tongue and change his mind. It wasn’t as if the sex had ever been bad with any of his exes, it’d just never been amazing either.

Teddy pulled back once he realised James had stilled, his knuckles stroking lightly down the dusting of dark the hair on James’s chest. “What’s going on, Jamie? Talk to me.”

James shrugged, unable to put his mess of feelings into words. He wanted things, but he didn’t know if they were what Teddy wanted and he wasn’t sure how to handle what might happen if they weren’t.

“You want to stop?”

“No,” James answered immediately, knowing that he could’ve said yes if he really wanted to. This was Teddy. Just Teddy. The man whom he’d always been able to tell almost everything to. Certainly he could tell him this.

“Okay,” Teddy breathed, voice low as he pulled James towards the bed. “Want to tell me what you do want?”

You.” That answer was easy to give.

Teddy grinned, his dimple popping out as he chuckled. “I did gather that much, yeah. I want you too. Quite a lot, if that wasn’t obvious.” It was rather obvious given Teddy’s not at all small erection and the fact that he was just as eager to get naked as James, but hearing him say the words was still something James hadn't realised he needed to hear. It tempered the rage of insecurity threatening to drown out his desires.

James huffed out a laugh as Teddy dropped his head to nuzzle his nose into James’s neck, kissing along the side. “Tell me what you want.”

“Anything is fine,” James gasped, dragging his hands up the smooth planes of Teddy’s bare back.

Teddy hummed against his bare skin. “You once spent nearly half an hour telling me exactly how you wanted me to cook your eggs. You really telling me you don’t know exactly how you want me to touch you, Jamie?”

“Oh fuck,” James bit out, digging his fingers into Teddy’s flesh.

Teddy pulled back, his eyes alight with desire. “That a yes, love?”

James couldn’t have said no if he wanted to, not standing here with Teddy looking at him as if James were everything he could possibly desire, about to have sex with the person he’d wanted as long as he knew what it was to want someone.

“I want you to fuck me. If you want.”

“Oh I want. I want very much.” Teddy’s eyes were flushed with arousal and his hands moved to the zipper on James’s jeans. “What else? How do you like it, Jamie? Do you want me to prep you with a spell or my fingers? You like it hard and fast or deep and slow? You want to be face down in the bed as I press into you or bent in half with your feet over my shoulder as I press my cock inside of you? Or maybe you want to be on top, set the pace yourself.”

James’s cock twitched as he bucked against Teddy, who was working his jeans and boxers down his hips. “Fucking...fuck.”

Teddy bent down to help James remove the rest of his clothing and his trainers before rising back to stand in front of him. Despite his bravado, James knew Teddy well enough to know from the clench of his jaw that he was nervous too, and it settled James somehow to know he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Exhaling slowly, James stepped forward, hands on Teddy’s buttons but eyes on his. “I want you to press me face down into the mattress and get me ready with your fingers. I want you to rim me until I’m dripping wet and close to screaming and then me fuck me so hard I can’t remember my own name. I’m yours. Teddy. Please make me yours.”

“Fuck, James.”

“That was the idea, Teddy,” James teased, regaining some of his confidence at Teddy's unrestrained display of desire for James. He couldn’t even worry that he wanted Teddy more than Teddy wanted him, not when Teddy was making it so clear their desires were equally matched. James grinned at him before undoing Teddy’s buttons and sliding the trousers and boxers down Teddy’s strong thighs, watching as his cock sprung free—fully erect and leaking precome. Once Teddy was equally naked, he stood in front of James with an easy smile, as if being naked in front of each other like this was completely normal and not a revelation.

“Come closer, Jamie,” Teddy whispered, ghosting the flat of his hand down the front of James’s quivering stomach. James felt Teddy’s fingers move lower and was hyper aware of how much softer that area of his body was now compared to when he was eighteen. He wondered if Teddy had found him more fit then, before he’d softened and scarred with age. Teddy had aged too, but in other ways. He’d never quite lost the lankiness in his body and James had bemoaned on more than one occasion the unfairness that Teddy ate and looked like a teenager in his thirties.

“I, uh...I know I’m not eighteen anymore.” James laughed, blowing out his cheeks.

Teddy’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion for only a moment. “Oh Jamie,” he said softly, closing the small distance between. “You’re perfect,” Teddy murmured, his hands moving around to James’s back as he pulled their bodies together snugly, angling his head to kiss James. “So fucking perfect. You were handsome at eighteen, James, but you’re fucking earth shattering now. I want you for so much more than just your body, but rest assured I want that too. I am very much attracted to you now. I don’t want a teenager. I want a man. And you, James, are a man.”

As if to prove his point, Teddy cupped each hand around James’s forearms and caressed them, giving rise to goosebumps as James bit his bottom lip to keep from moaning. Even the simplest touches from Teddy felt sensual and loaded with intention. “These are the arms of a man who could stand back to back and save my life. There’s strength here.” He moved his hands to James’s stomach and let his fingers dig into the flesh as if the fact that James had a soft tummy was erotic. “This is the stomach of a man who is in peak physical shape but still likes to eat an entire pizza on his own. Do you have any idea how attractive it is? How much I love that your body’s changed?” James couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, just shook his head and Teddy continued, dropping to his knees and mouthing at the trail of hair from James’s belly button to his cock as he gripped James’s thighs. “And these thighs, fuck, Jamie. I want these wrapped around me while I fuck you, wanna feel the strength in your body as we move together. I want all of you, James.”

“Teddy,” James groaned, tugging on his hair. Teddy seemed to get the idea and let James pull him to his feet and then Teddy kissed him again, kissed him like he was born to do it, his lips confident as he dragged sounds from James he didn’t even know he was capable of making. James lost himself in the sensation of kissing Teddy—the taste of him on James’s tongue and the soft moans of pleasure he breathed into James’s mouth.

“I could kiss you forever,” Teddy breathed, panting against James’s lips as he practically devoured James’s mouth in between his words.

“Then do it,” James challenged, chasing Teddy’s lips with his own every time Teddy attempted to pull back.

“Merlin, I want to, but if we do that I’ll never get to the other things you wanted, and you have no idea how long I’ve wanted to fuck you, Jamie. That is, if you still want.”

James nodded. “I want. Fuck, I want.”

Teddy pulled out of the kiss, running his pointer finger across the bottom of James’s kiss-swollen lips. “Get on the bed, Jamie. I’m going to make you feel better than anyone has ever made you feel.”

“You promise?” James said, and fuck he’d meant it to sound sexy or teasing but instead it sounded breathy and emotional.

Teddy’s eyes softened, the colouring fading from his hair until it was its natural brown as Teddy dipped his head down to place one chaste kiss on James’s lips. “I promise.”

James shivered. Teddy’s tone was gentle but sure, and fuck did that do things to him. How long had James spent wanting this? Wanting Teddy, wanting someone who cared as much about what James wanted in bed as what they wanted. With one final glance at Teddy, James clambered onto the bed and grabbed one of his pillows, hugging it to his chest as he spread his legs and arched his arse. He felt vulnerable like this, exposed, but then Teddy’s familiar hands ghosted down his thighs, the end of the bed dipping with his weight. James heard Teddy murmur a few protection spells, his insides tingling pleasantly with the touch of Teddy’s magic.

“Fuck, I want to ruin you,” Teddy said, strong hands spreading his arse open.

You already have, James thought, burying his face in the pillow to keep from saying too much. The cool air against his most private part was unexpected, but not as unexpected as the first brush of Teddy’s tongue across his hole. Keening at the sensation of Teddy’s wet, warm tongue swiping across his arse, James bit down on the edge of the pillowcase to keep from screaming.

“Jamie,” Teddy breathed against his skin, his fingertips digging into James’s arse as Teddy’s hair tickled his arse. As much as James had wanted this, had wanted someone to fuck him with their tongue, he’d never thought it would be like this. Even in his wildest imagination he’d assumed it might be something his lover would do to please him. But Teddy, fuck, Teddy was moaning as he nosed at James’s arse and lapped at him as if doing this to James was somehow pleasurable to him. Teddy’s spit dripped down the inside of James’s thigh as his tongue finally slid in and while it felt good, it wasn’t even the physical sensations that had James muffling his scream into the pillow but rather the overwhelming reality of feeling utterly safe and wanted. James hadn’t realised this had been missing.

Fuck, James was not going to last. He’d wanted this for so long. All of his exes had either flat out expressed a distaste for rimming or never brought it up, and despite his fantasies about being spread open and fucked by someone’s tongue, he'd never been able to ask for it. It was a hundred times better than he could’ve managed, though he suspected that was largely do to with the fact that it was Teddy’s tongue probing at him, pressing into the tight muscle.

“Teddy, fuck,” James gasped, finally lifting his face out of the pillow in order to breathe.

Teddy hummed, his fingers kneading the flesh of James’s arse as he thrust his tongue in and out, lapping at the skin and dragged his nose and tongue along the crease of James’s arse. It was intimate and filthy and James’s desire coursed through him, raw and powerful. Then abruptly, Teddy stopped and James couldn’t help a whine of disappointment.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m not even close to done with you yet,” Teddy said, rubbing a small circle on James’s lower back with his left hand as he reached for his wand. Teddy whispered a spell James couldn’t hear over the buzzing in his ears and then Teddy’s fingers were at his arse, slick and warm and pressing inside two at once and James shoved his face into the pillow to keep from screaming, unable to stop himself from spreading his legs and arching his arse backward, trying to fuck Teddy’s face despite the flush of embarrassment.

“Merlin, you look good like this, spread out open and hard for me. You love it, don’t you?” Teddy twisted his fingers up, brushing across James’s prostate and James could do nothing but choke out a desperate sound that he hoped Teddy would take for a yes. James was too far gone to pay attention to the litany of praise and filth falling from Teddy’s mouth as he worked his fingers in and out, scissoring his fingers or twisting them up to massage his prostate again.

Just when James was sure he might actually scream, Teddy pulled his fingers out, nipping at James’s arse cheek lightly with his teeth. “Gonna fuck you now, James. Gonna fuck you so good. Are you ready?”

James glanced over his shoulder to see Teddy hastily rubbing his lubed fingers over the length of his thick cock.

“Yes,” James got out, a shiver of anticipation coursing through him. Except Teddy didn’t move, instead he just kept ahold of his cock, hand now unmoving as his eyes roved over every inch of James’s body. He’d never felt more seen than he did in that moment and it was the single most erotic feeling he’d ever experienced—to feel so wholly desired.

“You planning on doing more than just staring?” James laughed, turning his head to rest it on his folded arm, watching Teddy.

“Shut it, you. Young people are so impatient,” Teddy teased, hands finally back on James’s arse, moving all the way up his back. “I’m savouring.”

James hummed. “By all means, don’t let me stop you.”

“Fuck, Jamie,” Teddy breathed, dragging his hands back down to rest at James’s hips as Teddy lined up his cock and began to push inside. Even with Teddy’s mouth and fingers, the initial stretch stung slightly, but fuck was the burn incredible. James loved fucking too, but the truth was most of the time there was nothing James liked more than being fucked, feeling someone’s weight pressing him down into the bed and moving inside of him. He knew a lot of people who thought bottoming was some act of submission, but James never felt more powerful than when a partner was brought to completion because of fucking him. His body was so full and fuck, Teddy was big. Bigger than any of his past partners and Merlin, it felt amazing. James said as much, unable to keep the awe from his voice as he found the words of praise coming out of his mouth.

“You’re not bad yourself,” Teddy whispered once he was fully inside, dropping his chest against James’s back and kissing his way along the side of James’s neck. “Merlin, you feel amazing.”

“Would feel better if you moved,” James said, wiggling his hips. He couldn’t explain why, but the hesitancy he usually felt in bed didn’t seem to exist, not with Teddy. “Fuck me, now.”

“Should’ve known you’d be a bossy fucker,” Teddy laughed, kissing the top of James’s left shoulder before leaning back and holding on tightly to James’s hips. James opened his mouth to tell him to hurry up, but it proved unnecessary because before the words could fall from his mouth, Teddy had pulled all the way out and then promptly thrust back in. The skin of Teddy’s hips slapped against James’s arse with every thrust, filling the room with a delightfully erotic and dirty sound.

“Haven’t forgotten my name yet,” James said, though in truth he was quite certain his ability to form coherent sentences was diminishing with every hard thrust of Teddy’s cock, his own cock hanging hard and heavy between his spread legs.

“Fucking insufferable,” Teddy groaned, leaning down and releasing his hold on James’s hips so his right hand could fist James’s cock. “Fuck, I love you.”

James felt the air leave his chest as Teddy’s hips thrust. Despite all the touches and the words of adulation, nothing affected James like hearing Teddy say those three words back to him.

“Oh, oh fuck,” James whimpered, because with every powerful thrust of Teddy’s hips he felt Teddy’s cock filling him up, his own cock slipping through Teddy’s hand. “I love you too,” he groaned, definitely losing control of his mental facilities now that Teddy was stroking him in time with his thrusts.

Fuck, Teddy was fucking him. This was real.

“Forgot it yet?” Teddy asked, mouthing his way across James’s back.

“Not yet,” he said breathlessly, thought he was definitely less lucid than he’d been before Teddy’s fingers had enveloped his cock. Teddy’s pace was mind-shatteringly intense, exactly like James had asked for, and James dropped his head between his elbows, eyes fixated on the way his cock looked sliding in and out of Teddy’s long, elegant fingers as Teddy’s cock pressed so deep inside of him he could swear he almost felt it in his stomach.

“Fuck. Want to ruin you for anyone ever again,” Teddy said, voice shaking. The words were whispered against his skin like something precious.

“You already have,” James whimpered. “You already have.” James closed his eyes and inhaled, trying to focus on the air going in and out of his lungs. It was too much and never enough. There would never be enough of Teddy—enough of his laughter and his smiles, his body moving against James or the way his name sounded falling from Teddy’s lips.

Jamie. Oh, Jamie.”

That was all it took for James’s orgasm to hit—unexpected and staggering—hearing his name falling from Teddy’s lips, sounding like the answer to everything. Teddy’s cock kept moving inside him and his hand stroking James was too much to bear. His every nerve ending felt alight with magic.

“Fuck, Jamie. Fuck,” Teddy ground out, dropping his forehead between James’s shoulder blades as his thrusts became erratic, his strokes on James’s cock loose and lazy as he too came, the sound of his release moaned into James’s skin like a prayer.

It was almost too much, lying there pinned to the bed with Teddy above him, his body lax and satiated in a way he’d never experienced. He knew then that nothing and no one else would ever be enough ever again.

It was only Teddy. It had always been Teddy and it was always going to be Teddy.

Teddy rolled off James with an audible grunt, reaching for his wand and cleaning them both up before turning his eyes on James.

“Come here,” Teddy urged, spreading his arms wide. James hesitated for only a second before curling against Teddy’s body, laying his head on his chest and listening to the steady thump thump of his heart beat.

“How are you feeling?” Teddy asked, his fingers already in James’s hair, twisting the messy waves around his fingers.

“Never better,” James answered, and this time it was the truth.

“Me too,” Teddy said, his fingers tracing lazy circles along James’s back. James threw his arm and leg over Teddy, his breathing evening out as he drifted off to sleep, more content than he could ever remember being.

***

The next morning James was roused from sleep by a clatter from the other room, his eyes heavy as he lifted his head from Teddy’s chest and blinked, trying to identify the source of the noise. The room was bathed in warm sunlight and one bleary-eyed glance at the clock on the bedside table told James that it was half past nine, far later than he ever had the luxury of sleeping. James’s entire body was pleasantly warm from sleeping curled against Teddy, who despite the noise was snoring quietly, his hair fanned out on James’s pillow and his mouth open just slightly. James’s chest flooded with warmth at the sight of Teddy in his bed. James wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and lay his head back on Teddy’s chest to soak in another few moments of sleep, but a second crash followed by a familiar voice cursing had James sighing. Fucking Albus. One of these days James really needed to lock Albus out of his Floo. He had the most annoying habit of showing up unannounced at the worst possible times.

Extracting himself very slowly so as not to rouse Teddy, James made his way out of bed, reaching for a pair of boxers and tugging them on in his haste to get out of the bedroom before Albus came in and found him naked in bed with Teddy. Not that he particularly cared if Albus knew. In fact, he rather hoped Teddy was going to be okay telling their family since James didn’t want to keep this a secret. But the truth was, while it was obvious Teddy liked him, they hadn’t done nearly as much talking the night before as they probably ought to have. The last thing he wanted was his bellend of a brother barging in and making Teddy have second thoughts.

With one last appreciative look at Teddy sprawled out in his bed, barely covered by the pale blue sheets, James hurried out of the bedroom and quietly shut the door behind him.

“You’re so fucking noisy, what are you doing?” James asked when he found Albus angrily struggling, his foot tangled in the blanket their Gran had knitted him last Christmas.

“It’s not my fault you always leave shit in front of the Floo. A conscientious wizard would ensure the pathway in front of the Floo was clear for any potential incoming guests.” Albus finally got his boot free from the blanket and kicked it towards the sofa for good measure.

“Says the man who never lets me know he’s coming over.”

“Yeah well, I’m family, I don't need permission to come over. Besides, you’re—wait a minute,” Albus said, voice taking on an unnaturally high-pitched tone.

“What?” James asked.

“You slept with Teddy!” Albus’s mouth fell open and his eyes went comically wide.

James blinked, wondering how the fuck Albus could’ve possibly known that.

“Oh my god, where is Lily when you need her?” Albus seemed to be talking to himself, rubbing his hands on his face. “That's what she gets for being a lazy arse and sleeping in until noon. She’s going to fucking die when I tell her. I knew it! I knew it! Dad said Teddy had helped you home last night and that I should give you some time to rest before I came to visit, but I knew—”

“Calm the fuck down, Albus,” James said, but he was finding himself hard pressed to be annoyed when he was still so overwhelmingly happy. “How did you know Teddy was here?”

Albus just smiled, that same unnervingly bright smile. “Because you’re wearing the boxers Scorpius bought him for his birthday.”

James looked down at himself for the first time and realised that yes, he had in fact picked up Teddy’s bright yellow boxers with the little badgers puttering around on the thighs. Well, there went any hope of keeping things quiet until he’d made sure Teddy was comfortable telling people. Fuck.

“So, do you feel better now that you’re no longer repressing your physical and emotional desires?” Albus asked. “I’d imagine you won’t have as many issues with magical flare-ups now that you’re no longer trying to deny who you are and what you want.”

James snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “Stop psychoanalysing me, you fuck bucket.”

Albus laughed. “I love you too, you overgrown man-child.”

James stared at Albus for all of five seconds before something in his chest bubbled up and before he knew it he was clutching Albus’s arm and laughing, knocking him back onto the sofa, which somehow devolved into a wrestling match as Albus grunted and tried to get James off him. Of course, all this did was make James laugh harder as he attempted to attach himself to Albus and prevent him from moving.

“For fuck’s sake, get off me I can’t breathe!” Albus choked out, moments before he shoved his hands under James’s arms and began to tickle him.

“Fucking cheater!” James yelled, rolling off the sofa and onto the floor with a loud thud.

“Serves you right. I’m an academic, James, not a barbarian.” He attempted to glower at James but the effect was somewhat diminished by the swoop of hair sticking straight up in the front and the smile he was not so successfully holding back. It reminded James of Albus at five years old, following him around and begging him to play with him.

James blew the hair from his eyes, drawing his knees up to his chest. “So what did you come over for?”

“Oh,” Albus said, tugging down his black jumper and staring at his hands. “I wanted to apologise.”

Of all the things James might’ve expected, that was not one of them. Albus never apologised.

“What for?”

“For what I said at Waitrose. You know, about you still loving Teddy. I know I take the piss a lot and I give you a lot of advice you don’t want, but I just...I only ever wanted you to have the things I knew you wanted, James. You deserve them, but I overstepped.”

“You uh—” James scratched his knee. Despite the fact that logically he’d known Albus had matured quite a lot in the last few years, James didn’t think it was until this very moment he realised just how much. He’d spent so long assuming everything Albus said was meant to rile him up that he’d never given enough weight to the bits of advice Albus had tried to give him. “You weren't wrong. I do love Teddy. I think I always have. I should probably thank you.”

“Thank me for being the initiator of Snackgate 2032?”

James laughed, finally lifting his head to look at Albus. “For making me face the things I’ve been avoiding for a long time. You’re the best brother I could have.”

“Considering I’m your only brother, you’re not setting the bar very high.”

James snorted. “Merlin, you can’t let us have a nice moment, can you? Fucking tosspot.”

“Takes one to know one, cock face.”

James smiled, playfully kicking Albus’s leg with his foot. “You’re going to go to Mum and Dad’s and wake up Lily and tell her, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m going to go home and tell Scorpius. Then I’m going to Mum and Dad’s to wake up Lily and tell her. She owes me ten Galleons.” Albus jumped up from the sofa, walking towards the fireplace and grabbing a handful of Floo powder. He tossed it in, a flare of green smoke roaring up. “I’m happy for you, you annoying fucker,” he said quickly before disappearing through the Floo.

James rose up from the floor, shaking his head one last time at the boxers.

“They suit you,” Teddy said.

James spun on his heels to see Teddy leaning in the doorway. He was wearing nothing but James’s plain red boxers and a self-satisfied smile. His arms were crossed over his chest as he watched James with unfiltered bemusement.

“I was in hurry.” James shrugged. He wasn’t at all sorry about the mix-up now. He liked the way Teddy’s pale skin looked in the dark red cotton, and more than that he liked the way it felt seeing Teddy wearing something of his. He’d never considered himself a possessive person but the thrill of visual proof that Teddy was his made his heart jump into his throat. “How long have you been listening?”

Teddy pushed off the doorway, crossing the room until he was just inches from James. “About the time you said you loved me.”

James’s cheeks heated, but he didn’t look away. “You did already know that bit. You know, what with the hospital bed confession and everything.”

Teddy grinned, his boyish eyes alight with happiness. “Yeah, I did. But I can’t say I minded hearing it again.”

“Hmm, that so?” James asked, realising he no longer needed to hold back from touching Teddy. The excitement of wanting to touch him and actually being allowed to was staggering. James grabbed Teddy’s left bicep as he reached out to run his other hand through Teddy’s hair. It was a complete disaster from sleep and Teddy clearly hadn’t done a single thing to it yet, the longer bits in the front sticking up wildly on the side and the entire mess of bedhead surprisingly still its natural brown. “I love you,” James said, not sure he’d ever get tired of being allowed to say it, of knowing Teddy wanted to hear it.

“I love you too, Jamie,” Teddy said, unmoving. He seemed content to let James touch him, his eyes curious but patient as James stroked his fingertips down the side of Teddy’s face, grazing them across his collarbones and down his chest.

“So you don’t mind that Albus knows? Because it means the entire family will know by dinnertime.” James let his eyes follow the path of his fingers, staring intently at the small scar just above Teddy’s belly button.

“Why would I mind?”

There was a tightness in Teddy’s voice that made James look up and there was a vulnerability in Teddy’s eyes James hadn’t expected to see.

“I just...I dunno. We didn’t talk about it. And I know you haven’t brought anyone around to meet the family in years.”

Teddy’s eyes softened, his thumb stroking across James’s hipbone. “I haven't brought anyone around because none of them were the right one. You’re not anyone else, James. I said it before, but I’m not sure you heard me. I love you. I want to be with you. Not just sex, or something casual. I want you and I want you for the long haul. It’s been a long time since I only wanted something casual and that's because the moment I realised I loved you, I knew no one else could ever be enough.”

James swallowed, head spinning at Teddy’s confession. The more he thought about it the more he realised how long it’d been since Teddy had mentioned pulling anyone at a club or anywhere else, how long it had been since Teddy had mentioned anyone.

“Fuck, I’m an idiot.”

Teddy laughed, dropping his forehead to James’s. “Ah, but you’re my idiot and I’m rather fond of you. And to be fair, I’ve been a bit of an idiot myself.”

“We can be idiots together,” James laughed.

“I suppose I better keep you around then; sounds like we’re pretty well matched.” Teddy’s fingers stroked his hip and James’s head spun with the proximity of Teddy’s body, his smooth voice, and the the intoxicating allure of his mouth so close to James’s.

“You might just have to keep me around for a very long time,” James breathed, his lips ghosting against Teddy’s in the softest of kisses. When he pulled back Teddy’s eyes were shut and there was a smile on his face. When he opened them seconds later the smile simply grew.

“I just might,” Teddy agreed, kissing the freckles at the tip of James’s nose. “You hungry?”

“Depends, what’re you cooking?” James asked, knowing he’d agree to anything right now so long as Teddy was cooking it.

“I was thinking eggs. Some arsehole once spent half an hour teaching me how to make the perfect fried egg.”

“Sounds like a very smart arsehole. I’ll have you know eggs are the perfect start to the day.”

“That so?” Teddy asked, backing James up into the kitchen. James grunted when his back hit the table. “I think I might have an idea for something even better.” James snorted, but it quickly turned to a groan when Teddy dropped to his knees, his fingers under the waistband of the boxers and his eyes blinking up at James. “Can I have you for breakfast first, Jamie?”

“Yes, fuck yes,” James agreed embarrassingly fast.

Teddy smirked. “Want to reconsider your ranking of eggs versus blowjobs as the superior start to the day?”

James huffed out a laugh, his hands stroking the hair from Teddy’s eyes as he imagined Teddy’s lips wrapped around his cock. “Let’s see how good your blowjob is then maybe I’ll reconsider.”

Teddy snorted. “Merlin, you’re a cheeky fucker.”

“Your cheeky fucker though,” James said, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling like a fucking loon.

Teddy laughed, the tips of his hair turning a playful purple as he tugged James’s boxers down and leaned forward to kiss his stomach once before he took James’s half-hard cock into his mouth. James was helpless to do anything but moan, fingers fisting in Teddy’s hair as his cock hardened inside the velvety heat of Teddy’s mouth.

It wasn’t eggs. Or blowjobs. But this—just being with Teddy, was the perfect start to the day.