The bell above the door chimed softly as James stepped across the threshold of Lupin's Literary Shop. Inside, at 11AM on a Tuesday, the softly-lit space was free of patrons. In fact, at first glance, the whole place looked deserted.
"Teddy?" James called into the shop.
It had looked tiny from the outside but appearances, as they often were in the wizarding world, could be deceiving. On the lower level, oak bookshelves lined the walls from foot to a head or two above the top of James' messy hair. A rickety spiral staircase tucked into one corner led to the upper floor, where there was a second floor of bookshelves running all the way up to the ceiling. In the centre of the ceiling was a wide, latticed skylight that let a flood of late-autumn light into the space. James knew it was similar to the Great Hall in Hogwarts, which reflected the sky above and gave the same feeling of limitless space.
But James' eye was caught by something else. Around the edge of the lower floor ran a rolling ladder for reaching the higher shelves.
James put the box he was carrying down on the well-worn desk with its big gold mechanical till. There was an open book and a steaming cup of tea sitting on the desk, so Teddy must have just stepped out.
"Teddy?" he tried once more. The shop was quiet.
So James did what he had been thinking of since the first time he had seen the ladder. He took a couple of quick steps and leapt onto one of its lower rungs, pushing off with a swift kick. The ladder, probably older than his parents and maybe even his grandparents, squeaked a bit in protest as it rolled forward a few feet on its track.
Hardly the dramatic effect he was going for. James frowned. He was just getting down to kick off again when a voice spoke from behind him:
"You're going to need someone to push you if you want to go riding around on that thing, James."
James spun around to see Teddy, arms wrapped around a thick pile of books, standing on the lowest step of the spiral staircase.
James smiled. "You offering?"
Teddy shook his head, honey-brown hair shifting over his forehead as he did. "Nearly broke my nose last time I did. Bodily injury on your list of things to do today?"
James stuck out his lower lip. "Not even for a special treat?"
Teddy gave him a considering look. He occasionally wore glasses, and with his old-fashioned trousers and matching camel-coloured waistcoat, he could look a bit like a librarian.
"Maybe," he replied, stepping off the staircase and crossing to the desk. He carefully placed the books on the counter and leaned over the brown box James had left there. "These them?" He leaned over and took a sniff, but when he put out a hand to lift up the top, James leapt off the ladder and scrambled across the shop.
James smacked the top of the box shut with perhaps a little more force than he expected. "Wait."
Teddy raised his eyebrows. "A secret you've got to keep, Jamie?"
"Just a bargaining chip." James' cheeks felt a bit warm. "What do you say?"
Teddy took a sniff of the air which, with just the tiniest crack of the box, had begun to fill with the scent of cinnamon and a hint of sugar. He seemed to consider it before sticking out a hand to James to shake. "Alright. A deal's a deal."
"Yes!" James shook Teddy's hand, clamping down on the thrill that went through him at the touch. To hide it, he turned and hurried back to the rolling ladder, hopping on and grinning at Teddy.
Teddy rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Here you go." He pulled his wand from a hidden pocket in his robes and flicked it gracefully towards James.
James, having half-expected Teddy to push him, wasn't prepared for the sudden jerk of the ladder as it shot round its track, and nearly went flying. He caught one rung and held on tightly as the rickety ladder made a surprisingly quick round of the little shop. The books shot past him in a blurry streak and Teddy was nothing more than a caramel-coloured blob in the centre of the room.
As the ladder came to a shuddering stop, James took a few deep breaths. As soon as it was almost stopped, he leapt off and took a few tottering steps before he caught his balance.
"Merlin's pants, Teds, no wonder you almost lost your nose if that's the way you go about it."
Teddy shrugged but James could tell there was the slightest amused smile tucked in the corner of his lips. "Are you alright?"
James held his stomach as he slipped around the counter and plopped himself down on the stool. "There's a reason Lily is the Quidditch star in the family," he groaned.
"No motion sickness?" Teddy quipped.
"Ha." James reached out and started to slide the top book off the stack Teddy had put down. "Very funny. But yes. Have you ever seen Al after a Floo ride? He looks about the same colour as the flames."
"Bright green?" Teddy reached over and put his hand on top of the book, keeping it in place. "Tsk. Pastries first, books second."
James pouted. "Alright, alright. If you insist."
"Please." As Teddy disappeared into the back room to grab the kettle and the antique tea set he'd inherited from his grandmother, James took a peek at the stack of books.
Ever since Teddy had opened the bookshop at the end of Hogsmeade high street last year, James had been coming up with excuse after excuse to come visit him. Really, he probably didn't need an excuse to pop round for a visit, especially since he had taken up work at Becker's Baked Goods just around the corner four months ago, but it made James feel less obvious to be there for a purpose other than just 'seeing Teddy.'
The most recent incarnation of this was Teddy recommending books for James to read. James had never been much of a reader, preferring to spend more time down in the kitchens with the house-elves, who had found him wandering the hallways down near the Hufflepuff common room when he was a first year and had stuffed him full of tea and trifles before sending him back. He had spent many a winter evening in the kitchens with them, learning how they cooked the huge meals for Hogwarts students. Particularly good were the lessons on baking, which James had taken to early, and which had set him on his career path.
So, he had never been much of a reader, but it had been the first thing that had come to mind when he had gone to visit Teddy soon after starting at Becker's Baked Goods. Teddy had asked what he was doing in Hogsmeade. Rather than go into detail about work, James asked instead for Teddy to find him books. He hadn't even specified what kind of books, so Teddy's suggestions were ad hoc and perhaps a bit chaotic, like the man himself.
When he had mentioned to his siblings, at one of their family's Sunday brunches, that he was visiting Teddy, they had both looked confused.
"You've been seeing Teddy?" Lily had blinked, looking up from her Quidditch Quarterly. "Why?"
"I've been visiting him after work. He's recommending me things to read."
"You read?" Albus had raised an eyebrow.
James had scoffed. "Yes, I read."
"What? Like, books?" Lily had looked confused.
"Like, 'book' books?" Al had narrowed his eyes.
"Yes, books. 'Book' books," James had snapped. His cheeks had felt unaccountably hot. "The first you've heard of them, innit?"
"Merlin's pants, is that what this is?" Al had held up the huge leather-bound tome he was perusing and looked at it with a measure of surprise. "Thought it was a block of wood, if I'm honest."
"It'll match your head then."
Lily and Al 'oohed' in unison, giving each other matching faux-surprised looks before looking back at James with unnervingly similar smirks.
"Oh, I get it," Al had said dryly. "Because I'm a blockhead."
"Do you need me to explain an insult to you?" James had said with his best big brother 'don't mess with me' tone. It hadn't worked as well as he wanted since about fourth year but, on occasion, he tried it again.
"No, I understand well enough to be sufficiently shattered by your scathing assessment," Al had said casually as he flipped to the next page in his book.
Lily had shaken her head. "Now, James, which books are Teddy recommending?"
James had paused, which had been a mistake. Show weakness in front of the Potter kids or Weasley extended family at your own peril.
"Ooh, that kind of book," Lily had said with a half smile. "Okay, I get it."
"It's not—no, not that type of book!" James had felt his face turn red.
Al had smirked. "It all makes sense now. Now I know why you drag your arse all the way out to Scotland every day. Who knew you liked the bookish ones? Wait, I know—everyone did."
"Shut up!" James spluttered. "That's—that's—I work up there!"
Al rolled his eyes. "Like there aren't bakeries in Diagon Alley that would have given their left tit for you to work at them. The only reason you took that job was because you wanted to be near Teddy. Admit it."
"I will not," James had muttered. "Because it's not true."
Al and Lily had exchanged a look that told him they believed exactly none of what he had just said.
Well, he couldn't fault them. Proximity to Teddy, along with a spot opening up at the legendary Hermann Becker's bakery on Hogsmeade high street, had clinched the decision for James.
The funny thing was, they really weren't that type of book. James wondered what kind of reaction Lily would have if he told her that Teddy had once recommended a nonfiction book about the properties of dragon scales, or one about the Trial of the Seven Sisters in Roman-era Britain. Though ultimately engrossing and interesting, neither were particularly sexy choices.
James tilted his head and squinted as he read off the titles of the books Teddy had picked out this time. Teddy had said something about recommending some Muggle authors.
The Charioteer… Brideshead Revisited…
James traced over the gold print of the top book, Maurice, and wondered what the theme was this time.
"Oh, I forgot. Do you take cream?" Teddy's voice floated through the shop.
"Yes, please," James hollered back.
James laughed at the seemingly-incongruous swear. Sometimes Teddy seemed so proper, raised by his aristocratic grandmother, it was strange to hear him swear. James straightened up just as Teddy appeared from the back room.
His arms were full of a tray piled up with teacups and saucers, sugar pot and silver spoons, delicate curls of steam already rising from the blue teapot in its knit yellow tea cozy. An empty pastry tower dominated the other side of the tray.
Teddy balanced the tray on one hand as he drew his wand from his waistcoat pocket. As he waved the wand to Summon the forgotten cream pitcher, James knew what was going to happen a split second before it did. The tray, now no longer evenly supported, slipped slightly in Teddy's hands. The delicate china cups clattered against each other as everything started to slide off.
Instead of being a normal wizard and pulling his wand to Wingardium Leviosa, James went with his first instinct, which was to leap around the counter and dive for the tray. He caught it just as it began to tip over, straightening it with the sound of a bull crashing through a china shop. Thankfully, nothing appeared broken.
There was a pop and a matching cream pitcher appeared out of the air. With an elegant, practiced motion that seemed out of place considering what had almost just occurred, Teddy caught the handle of the pitcher with his wand hand.
Teddy blinked, and looked over at James, who now felt very flushed and awkward, gripping the edge of the heavy tea tray. Teddy's hand, still holding the centre, dug into James' chest.
Occasionally, Teddy had the disconcerting ability to look very—well, if not lost per se, then at least untouched by what was going on around him. It gave him a bit of a dreamy aura, sometimes.
James' mum had always said Teddy liked to live in the clouds or in his own head, and this translated into being unruffled by things changing around him.
James wondered often what Teddy was thinking about when he went off into his daydreams, but pulled back on the thoughts. If Teddy ever caught wind of what James imagined, James'd offer himself to be eaten by the Giant Squid to escape the embarrassment.
"Hello, James," Teddy said, dark brows raising into his sandy brown hair. He seemed not to have really noticed the slipping tray. "You alright there?"
"I'm fine. You?" James pulled the tray from Teddy's hands and walked it over to the desk. His cheeks were burning. By the time they had both settled down, James had convinced himself that his cheeks were a little less obviously flushed.
Teddy shrugged as he Accioed a wooden stool from the other side of the store. "'M alright. Been a bit more busy now that term's started. How're things at the bakery? They allow you to suggest recipes yet?"
"No, not yet." James scowled. "Hermann didn't even try them. He just went, 'Not now, boy,' and told me to prepare the hot cross buns. Boy!" James mimicked his boss's low voice. "Like I'm twelve, or something, not twenty-four."
"Ah, but that's just a boy to him. What is he, eighty?"
"Ninety-seven," James replied.
Teddy pulled off the tea cozy and started to pour tea into each of the mugs. "See? You're just a child to him."
James really scowled this time. There was nothing like your crush talking about how young you were when that was the last thing you wanted to appear to them. "You're only twenty-eight," he said, a bit mulishly. As Teddy put down the teapot, James poured a little cream into both of their mugs and added a couple of sugar lumps into Teddy's mug, just as he knew Teddy liked.
"That's true." Teddy chuckled, taking the mug from James. "Thank you."
"We're both younger than his grandson, actually. "
Teddy raised his mug to James. "To our youth, then."
James clinked their mugs together. "Our youth." As he took a sip of the tea, his gaze caught Teddy's, who seemed to be watching him carefully across the top of his cup. "What?"
"Nothing." There was a small smile at the corner of Teddy's lips as he put the mug down. "You just always make the tea exactly as I like it. I can't even do that."
James wasn't sure how to respond to that, but his face felt as hot as the tea he was drinking. He cleared his throat and put his mug down. "Thanks. Guess I have the magic touch," he joked, even as he felt like he was going to burst into flame.
The tiny smile on Teddy's lips deepened, and his brown eyes seemed to shine amber in the low light of the shop. "I bet once Hermann actually tries your pastries, he'll find out they're amazing," Teddy said. "Your baking skills are just as good as your tea-making skills."
How Teddy managed to say things like that with a straight face, James had no idea. Any time he tried to compliment someone—say, for example, Teddy—James would stutter over his words or say something that wasn't even technically a compliment. He remembered a time when he was about twenty, when he had said to Teddy, whom he had just figured out he had a crush on, 'Your hair is blond,' to which he received a very confused, 'Yes. And?'
It had got a little easier since then, but not by much. It was one thing to realise you had a crush on your dad's godson (and what did that make him to James?), it was another to do anything about it. Especially when the crush happened to be Teddy, who seemed to be on his own planet so much of the time.
James shook his head with an embarrassed smile. "You're just saying that so you can get your cinnamon bun faster."
"Maybe," Teddy replied simply. "Is it working?"
James laughed as he reached over to untie the string tied around the box. "Maybe."
He lifted the lid off the box. Inside, the cinnamon buns looked as perfect as they had as when James had taken them out of the oven. They had been charmed to keep at the perfect temperature until they were eaten, and slight curls of steam were rising from the swirling tops. The scent of cinnamon and sugar filled the air. Mixed with the sweet smell of tea and the distinctive bookshop smell, it reminded James of all the times he had come by to Teddy's grandmother's house and then, when Teddy had moved out the first time, Teddy's flat in Diagon Alley, where James had tried out recipe after recipe in Teddy's tiny kitchen as Teddy sat curled up in an armchair, reading a book from one of the stacks scattered all across the flat.
James thought with a jolt that he hadn't been in Teddy's new flat—which was next to the shop—since Teddy had invited the whole Weasley extended family there for dinner when he first moved in. It was one thing to have tea and sit close and talk about books with Teddy in the semi-public setting of the bookshop, where at any moment a customer could come in; it would be another to actually be alone with Teddy in his flat. James might do something monumentally stupid, like kiss Teddy, and then it would all be over.
Teddy put the cinnamon bun that James handed to him on a plate and placed it in front of James' spot, then took the second for himself. "Well, then. My job is done."
"Oh, is that all you want me here for? My cinnamon buns?" James picked up his bun and peered at Teddy over the top of it. He wiggled it slightly for emphasis. "Just these?"
"Yes, that's it," Teddy said, with a glint in his eye that James didn't quite get. At least, he didn't get it until Teddy reached over and took hold of James' wrist to pull his hand closer. Before James could understand that, Teddy had taken a big bite out of James' cinnamon bun, swallowed, and pulled back with a rare, cheeky grin. "That's it. You can go now."
James just stared at Teddy for a long moment, absolutely gobsmacked. The effect of Teddy's grin was only marred—or was it emphasised?—by the sugar at the corner of his lips. James laughed, shaking his head. "You're impossible."
And before he could think about it, he reached out and brushed his thumb across the corner of Teddy's lips, where a little sugar had caught. Teddy's skin was warm and so soft. When James pulled his hand away and stuck his thumb in his mouth to lick away the sugar, Teddy's grin had faded a little, and he looked slightly confused.
James felt like his heart was beating in his throat. He couldn't look away from Teddy, but he didn't know what to say, either. Fuck, what the fuck had he just done—
The bell above the door tinkled as it opened with a gust of cool, autumn air. Both Teddy and James looked over to see an older witch, her white hair piled up on top of her head and in long, purple robes peering at them.
"Good afternoon, Mr Lupin. Is this a good time to pick up my book?" the witch asked, when neither of them said anything. "Or should I come back later, dear?"
Teddy blinked and dropped James' wrist. James had almost forgotten he was holding it.
"Oh, Mrs McLeod. No, now is perfectly fine." Teddy got up and hurried behind the counter to dig out a book for the witch.
By the time he had finished up with her, another pair of wizards had come in and he had to help them, too. When he finally sat back down, James had to rewarm the tea twice and the moment, if indeed it had been that, was gone.
The cinnamon buns were still warm, though.
"You should just ask him out," Al said. His long legs were crossed and propped up next to James on the sofa in the Potter's living room.
They had finished up another Sunday meal—dinner, this time—and the Potter children were lazing around in front of the fire and waiting for their parents to join them for the family tradition of Exploding Snap. Lily and Al had just listened to the story of last week's meetup with raised eyebrows (Al's eyebrows had actually been permanently damaged by an Exploding Snap game two years before, but that hadn't stopped any of them from playing).
"Why would I do that? He's just recommending books to me, not flirting." At his siblings continued looks of disbelief, James shook his head. "Besides, he's just… kind of unattainable, y'know? He'd be out of my league, anyway."
Both Lily and Albus gave him strange looks.
"What?" James asked, defensive.
"You're talking about Teddy, right?" Lily asked, scraping her teaspoon across the bottom of her mug of cocoa. She raised a skeptical brow. "Teddy Lupin, who missed two of his NEWTs because he got distracted researching some obscure Arithmancy problem that hadn't been solved in 700 years? That Teddy?"
"Well, he solved it—" James started.
"Didn't he get kicked out of Divination because he argued so much with Firenze about the conjunction of Jupiter and Mars and how it didn't portend future disaster, but something something about the ancient Greeks?" Al drawled. "He argued against an actual Centaur, whose entire culture is centred around prophecy?"
"Yeah, and Professor Cassand—" James held up a hand to try to explain.
"And he had that three-year ban from Hogwarts Quidditch games, right?" Lily cut in. "After that idiot Ravenclaw captain Twigham decided for, well, whatever bonkers reason he should be a Chaser first year. And then the first game out Teddy ended up knocking out the referee and breaking one of the goalposts, right?"
"And he created that sinkhole beneath the Great Hall in his fifth year? Which revealed that apparently the tombs of all four of the Founders are actually beneath Hogwarts castle, which, frankly, made me unable to sleep, as I kept imagining Salazar Slytherin appearing above my bed, lecturing me about the proper application of Stupefy—" Al started to say.
"Okay, okay!" James cut in. "I get it. He's, uh…" He was going to say normal, but that epithet had little application to Teddy Lupin.
"Do you? Get it?" Al pinned him with a curious look. "What is it that you get?"
James glared down at him, sorely tempted to shove Al's stinky feet away from where they rested next to him on the sofa. "I get that he's not in my league. All those examples just prove it."
"Okay, first off, James, there are no 'leagues'," Lily said, tossing a crumpled-up napkin at James' head. She really was a first-rate Chaser, because the napkin smacked James right in the nose even though she was across the room. "Either someone wants to date you, or they don't. If some dickhead thinks he's too good for you, then you don't want to date him, and that's that. But I don't think that's the case this time."
"How would you know?" James asked.
Al and Lily gave each other another mysterious look. Sometimes he wondered if they were Legilimens, but only for each other, because they seemed to have the unnerving ability to have a full conversation with just an exchange of glances.
"Oh, we know," Lily said. "Plus, if that's what you're worried about, Teddy's not the only one with a reputation at Hogwarts for weird antics. What about the time you got lost in the Forbidden Forest for three days and no one could find you, not even Professor McGonagall? And you just appeared at the Quidditch field one day at the Ravenclaw-Hufflepuff game and nearly gave Dane Kirkland a heart attack when he went for the Snitch and there you just—were?"
"Well, that Care of Magical Creatures lesson kind of got out of hand—" James started.
"And the time you somehow got the staircase on the first and second floors to turn into giant stone slides?" Al offered, pinning James with a questioning look. "Absolutely wrecked the OWLs testing because they got all the examiners in to try to fix it. And no one could ever figure out how to do it again."
James shut his mouth. He wasn't going to give up that secret.
"And do you remember when you got the house-elves to somehow celebrate Valentine's Day and absolutely every single corridor of the castle was covered in roses or carnations or glittery confetti?" Lily pointed her spoon at James. "I swear some of my robes still had glitter on them in seventh year—three years later—because of that."
"Okay, that may have been a mistake to suggest. I didn't realise they were going to go all out!" James started to protest. "I just said—"
"Point is," Al cut in. "You should just ask him out."
Lily nodded. "Either he says yes or he says no, and either way, you'll know. The end."
James opened his mouth to protest, but in reality there was no response he could offer. "You don't get it," he finally muttered.
"Yes, we do," Al said. "I asked Mortimer Knott out in sixth year."
"He said no!" James replied.
Al shrugged lazily. "Right, but then Scorpius finally asked me out and I said yes, and we're still together."
That James had to concede. "I guess."
"You just think too much, James," Lily continued, taking a sip of her cocoa. "And that's coming from a Ravenclaw."
Just because his siblings thought it enough to just say, ask him out, didn't mean that James was going to do that. It really wasn't that simple.
Apparently what it actually meant was that James avoided going to the bookshop for several weeks. He just kept putting it off and putting it off until he had read through the books Teddy had given him, twice, and then maybe a third time—and was the theme this time really, er, gay? Because James didn't quite know what to do with that, if so—go to work, look down the high street to where he could see the sign of Teddy's shop swinging in the wind, and Apparate home to a quiet flat where he tried to ignore how much he missed Teddy.
Finally, it was the fact that Teddy sent him a rare owl which spurred James into visiting. The letter was in Teddy's typically oblique style, but the essence of it boiled down to—where are you? If James couldn't decide whether or not to ask Teddy out, at least he could visit him. And this time he had a reason to do so.
Of course, the early December day he told Teddy he would stop by after work for a visit also turned out to be the day of what was shaping up to be a blizzard. In the dark of early morning it was just a light snow, by mid-morning snow was coming down in heavy sheets, and by early afternoon, James could hardly see in front of him as he tramped down the street to the bookshop.
The lamp above the door was swinging back and forth in the wind, but a bright glow from the charmed glass door was spreading a determined circle of light over the snow outside. James knocked on the door with his one free hand, the other holding a big box under his arm. It was lucky the box hadn't got blown away in the wind.
James was just raising his hand to knock again when the door swung open. And there was Teddy in his chunky grey knit jumper and brown wool slacks, his hair a little longer around his ears, smiling at James from inside the softly-lit shop, looking like comfort and warmth all wrapped up into one.
"Hi," James said, and perhaps Teddy looked that way because James' teeth were already chattering from the short walk in the cold.
"Thought you might have got lost," Teddy said, pulling James inside.
"S-sorry." James headed over to the desk and put the box down. Besides the light at the entrance and the lamp on the desk, the rest of the shop was dark. The skylight above was shadowed by heavy grey clouds. "Got c-caught up at work. Are you closed?"
"Of course." Teddy locked the door and headed over to pick up James' box. "No one's going to be about in this weather. C'mon, let's go up to my flat."
James opened his mouth, perhaps to protest, but anything he could have said was cut off as Teddy reached out and cupped his cheek with one warm hand. James froze.
"You're bloody freezing, Jamie," he said.
"S-sorry," James replied awkwardly. It was the only answer that he could think of with Teddy touching his face.
Teddy chuckled softly. "Why would you need to apologise?" He let go of James' cheek and ran his hand over the top of James' head, brushing away snow that had gathered there. Warmth, as if Teddy had cast a charm with his touch, flooded down from the top of his head. "Now let's get you warmed up."
James followed Teddy up the hidden staircase at the side of the shop that led to the flat next door, and by the time they were situated in Teddy's kitchen and Teddy had cast a real Warming Charm on him, James had half-convinced himself that he had made it up.
Teddy's flat was just as James imagined it would be, with giant stacks of books still precariously propped up in the corners, its small living room dominated by a big fireplace and a squashy red sofa that had definitely seen better times.
It was small and homey and very, very Teddy. And that is exactly why James had never come up here before. All James wanted to do was sit on the sofa with Teddy with Teddy's feet in his lap as they read together, or wrap up in a blanket together as they listened to one of Lily's Quidditch matches on the wireless (propped up on a stack of books in the corner). It was far more intimate than the shop, and James never wanted to leave.
Instead, James made himself comfortable at one of the rickety wooden chairs in the kitchen as Teddy put a kettle on to boil and started to take down the tea things from the cupboard.
"How have you been, Jamie? Other than trying to turn yourself into an icicle?" Teddy asked as he brought down the teapot and a couple of mismatched teacups.
"Good. Hermann actually agreed to try something I made today." To give himself something to do other than just staring at Teddy, James started to unwrap the box that Teddy had set on the table.
"Oh, and what did you finally convince him to try? Your spice cake?"
"My mince pies. I told him Christmastime was coming up and it would be the time for mince pies. He looked at me and said, 'I have been living in England for forty-five years, boy, I know your little traditions.'" James shook his head. "But he tried one!"
"And what did he say?"
James stepped up behind Teddy and motioned to the plates stacked on a high shelf. "Pass me some, will you?"
Teddy grabbed a couple of plates and half-turned, blinking at James' sudden closeness. "Is that what he said?"
James felt his cheeks flush with heat as he tried to take the plates from Teddy. "Er, no."
Teddy didn't let go of the plates. "What did he say, then?"
James bit his lip. "Er, well. He said they were 'rather good.' Which from him is kind of like an 'O' on a NEWT-level exam."
"That's great," Teddy said in a sort-of distracted voice. He was just looking at James with an unusual sort of intensity.
"Yeah, it's—it's exciting," James said. He couldn't move back until Teddy had let go of the plates, but he was holding onto them tightly. The moment had stretched on a little bit longer than it should have, perhaps. "Are you alright, Teddy?"
"I'm sorry," Teddy finally said. "About last time."
James frowned, tilting his head. The abrupt change in subject had thrown him. "What about last time?" If anything James thought he should be the one to apologise, considering how strangely he had reacted to Teddy doing a completely normal thing like tease him.
"When I, uh," Teddy started, before he seemed to realise he was holding onto the plates. He let go of them and James, still pulling on them, took a half-step back in surprise. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"What d'you mean?" James felt like his heart was beating in his throat.
Teddy turned his head and looked back at the teapot, as if he couldn't look at James as he spoke. "When I, er, ate your pastry."
"It's fine," James said quickly. He tried to get back onto even footing by joking, "I mean, it was rude, but it's fine. Why are you worried about it?"
Teddy looked at him with an uneven smile lifting the corners of his lips. It was clear he was trying to joke as well when he said, "I actually thought it might be why you didn't come by again for so long."
And that was how it always was with Teddy. He seemed very on his own world up until the point that he wasn't, and he said something like that and threw you off.
James was so thrown by it that he said the first thing that came to mind. "It was."
"Oh." The surprise, and then hurt, that flashed across Teddy's face made James feel like the biggest knobhead in existence.
"No! No, I mean—not like that, really—"
"So it was because of me?" Teddy asked, and his voice had flattened a little. He pulled back slightly, but there wasn't really anywhere for him to go.
James cursed his stupid mouth. "No, it was—it was because of me."
"It's fine, Jami—James, it's alright."
"No, it's not alright, I didn't mean that. I mean, I didn't mean it like that," James cut in. "You were just joking around. I was the one who was thinking it meant, well, I was just thinking too much about it. Even Lily said so. So, really, it's my fault."
Teddy looked confused. "What were you thinking about it?"
James really wished he had planned this better—planned this at all— rather than try to explain to Teddy Lupin that James had the most ridiculous crush on him and had done since he was about twenty years old. "I was thinking that it meant, well, that you were flirting with me. Which I know now that you weren't."
Teddy's cheeks were slowly turning a rare shade of pink. Normally, his Metamorphmagus skills meant he didn't show emotion that way, because he could keep himself from looking embarrassed if he wanted to. But sometimes, and Teddy had once explained that it only happened when he was truly taken by surprise, he would blush.
"That's why I didn't come. Because I was trying to, well, sort of get over it before I came over to hang out with you again," James explained. He might as well go all in now.
Teddy stared at him with an unreadable expression. "Did you get over it?"
James felt his grip on the plates get a little harder. His palms were sweating. There was a reason why he wasn't put in Gryffindor, and it was because he normally didn't do anything like this. Confessing feelings sort of thing. "No," he said. "Sort of hard to get over a crush you've had for four years in less than a month."
Teddy bit his lip and looked away, and for a long moment James thought Teddy was going to tell him that he better start trying to get over the crush. Not that he'd say it like that. He'd probably say something like—
"I understand," Teddy said, looking back at James. His eyes were shining, and a smile was tucked in the corner of his lips, like a secret. "I haven't even tried to get over mine."
James blinked, not quite sure if he was hearing right. His heart was beating so quickly in his chest he couldn't even tell the beats apart anymore. "What? You have a crush on me?"
Teddy shook his head, sandy brown hair falling over his forehead. "Wouldn't really call it a crush, Jamie."
"What would you call it, then?" James asked. He wanted to take a step closer to Teddy and he also wanted to put the plates in his hand down but he was afraid if he moved, he would ruin the moment. At least this time there were no customers that could do it.
"I would call it…" Teddy tilted his head. "Not sure, actually. A crush sounds like I saw you across the Great Hall and I just thought you were cute."
James bit his lip so he didn't laugh at Teddy saying the word 'cute.' He joked, "So, you're saying if you saw me across the Great Hall, you wouldn't think I was cute."
Teddy's reply, however, was serious. "I would, but it would be deeper than that."
James felt something catch in his throat. "Oh."
"Mine may not have been four years, but it's definitely been a long time."
James swallowed nervously. Teddy was looking at him very steadily, those brown eyes which could so often seem to gloss over what was actually happening for what was happening in their owner's head, were now focussed intently on him. He tried to think of something appropriate to say, but in reality all his thoughts had kind of flown out of his head.
Instead of saying anything else, he leaned forward and kissed Teddy softly. It was at a little bit of an awkward angle, their noses bumping into each other and then hitting the edge of Teddy's glasses, so when James pulled back, it wasn't with a whole lot of confidence.
Teddy opened his eyes. He pushed up a corner of his glasses and then, before James could apologise for being a bad kisser, he hadn't really kissed anyone in a while, sorry, Teddy reached up and cupped his face between his hands and pulled James in.
This was a much better kiss, Teddy's soft lips on his, the heat of him pressing closer, his hands sliding into James' hair, and okay, James had had a lot of fantasies in his time about Teddy, more than he cared to really admit, but the reality of it blew them all away. It was one thing to think about someone kissing you and another for them to really be doing it, for Teddy to nip slightly at his lower lip in a way that made heat flood through him and maybe make him a little weak in the knees.
James reached up to hold onto Teddy for support, or maybe get his hands into Teddy's hair, but he forgot he was still holding the damn plates. The plates slipped out of his hands and crashed on the wooden floor, one breaking cleanly in half and the other shattering.
They pulled apart. Teddy looked a bit dazed, his cheeks pinked and his lips a little redder than usual. I did that, James thought, with a stab of satisfaction. Then he looked to the side and saw the plates. Also, that, he thought, with somewhat less satisfaction.
"Sorry about that," James breathed. He went to pull away, to get his wand out and repair them, but Teddy finally seemed to focus in on him.
"It's fine, I don't care about the plates." Teddy wrapped an arm around James' waist and held him close. "I care about you."