Fic: Until We Meet Again, pt. 1/2 (Harry/Teddy, NC-17) for ciraarana Author:hollycomb Recipient:ciraarana Title: Until We Meet Again Rating: NC-17 Pairing(s): Harry/Teddy Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended. All characters engaging in sexual activity are 16 years or older. Summary: Harry Potter, now considered a dangerous loner by Wizarding society, has financially provided for Teddy Lupin for the boy's entire life. Emotionally, however, he has been completely unavailable, until the summer before Teddy's final year at Hogwarts, when Teddy finally connects with his remote benefactor. Warnings: EWE Word Count: 18,755 Author's Notes: Thank you so much to my betas, C & E, for all their help.
After the war, no one would have guessed that the mansion Harry Potter purchased in the mountains of Northumberland would become as quiet and foreboding as the manor where the Malfoys still lived under house arrest. Teddy Lupin was often asked about the place at school. He'd spent every summer there since his second year at Hogwarts, when his grandmother Andromeda died of a stroke on the front steps of Gringotts. He was walking beside her when it happened, and he'd drawn his wand and turned about in panicked circles, looking for the attacker.
For a grieving child, the Potter mansion was hardly a cozy place of refuge, though Harry did try to make it so when Teddy first arrived. Teddy had never been around house elves much at all, and he was terrified of Kreacher, Harry's faithful servant. Harry allowed Teddy to spend his days with him, or, if not truly with him, than in his physical presence. Teddy would stretch out on the floor of Harry's massive study and draw pictures while his heroic benefactor sat smoking a pipe that Teddy would later learn contained ground brood flower leaves, which have a pleasant numbing effect when smoked. They would take their dinner outside on the magnificent stone patio that overlooks the Muggle village far below, and it was this time of day when Harry seemed most open to Teddy's thousands of questions about the war, his parents, and Harry's own history. Harry's answers were still rather terse, but with his mouth full of roast lamb or Peking duck or whatever else Kreacher had lovingly prepared for the evening, he was at least willing to offer a yes or no. Sometimes he offered both, such as the time Teddy asked if Harry was there when his parents died.
"Yes," Harry said, his lips still around his pipe. "And no."
As the years progressed and Teddy's final family tragedy became a distant memory, Harry's efforts at companionship lessened. He began having guests to the house, and Teddy was not invited to join them in his study, which would be shut up with a proper soundproofing charm. They were often quite older than Harry, studious-looking wizards and witches who smelt of foreign lands. Harry always seemed to forget Teddy existed when he was in the company of these whispering strangers, and by the time Teddy was fifteen, Harry seemed to have forgotten him altogether. When Teddy came home from Hogwarts after his fifth year, Harry was described by Kreacher simply as "away." He returned briefly at the start of August, and bestowed upon Teddy several extravagant presents before leaving again. Teddy hadn't even the time to ask him where he'd gotten that horrible gash on the side of his neck before he had Apparated away.
During his sixth year at Hogwarts, Teddy received only one letter from Harry Potter: a record low. As with anything to do with his famous caregiver, his classmates regarded the letter with curiosity, and Teddy had to creep off to a quiet corner of the castle to read it in private. He wasn't sure why, but he increasingly felt like he had to protect Harry's interests from the prying eyes of onlookers.
The letter began, as usual, with the only endearment Harry Potter had ever used for him:
I apologise for my lack of communication this year. It is an important one for you at school. Many decisions to be made. Do not be hasty with any of them. I will provide you with the means to decide what to do with your life at a leisurely pace. It is important to me that you do not feel pressured to become anything in particular. If any of your professors are harassing you about your future, please let me know. Hermione Granger especially may be guilty of this. If so, I can advise you that you will have to resort almost to absolute rudeness to dissuade her. She means well, but this has been my experience with her enthusiasm.
I hope you are well. I'll see to it that Kreacher sends you some of those ginger snaps you like.
Until we meet again, Harry
Teddy read the letter several times, looking for clues or a hidden meaning. It was a habit he could not seem to break, despite the fact that he'd never found anything secret or subtle in Harry's letters. He sighed and shook his head at Harry's familiar sign-off. Until we meet again. When would that be? Teddy would be at Hogwarts for Christmas, and when the year ended, he'd likely return to an empty mansion to begin a lonely summer of studying for his N.E.W.T.s.
As he predicted, when he arrived at the mansion that summer, the gigantic rooms were as hollow and cold as ever. Kreacher had opened up the windows and positioned fresh flowers in several key receiving areas in an attempt to make the place look somewhat lived-in, but it was a pitiful effect, only serving to further illustrate the mansion's emptiness.
"Where is he now?" Teddy asked Kreacher as they moved toward the kitchen, where Kreacher was preparing Teddy's usual homecoming meal of tomato soup and a cheese sandwich.
"Master is away," Kreacher said reverently, waving his hand as if to dismiss the need for such an inquiry. "Would Young Master care for oyster crackers with his soup?"
The summer days passed as usual, with the weather growing truly beautiful and the cool mountain air finally warming, at least when the sun was out. Teddy walked down to the valley below the house some days to swim in the lake, always hoping he would run across a hiker or a wizard collecting mushrooms for a potion, or maybe even Harry returning from wherever he'd gone this time. No one appeared, and Teddy wrote to his friends from school, dropping subtle hints about his boredom, but they never invited him to stay, only asked if they could come and visit the famous Potter mansion. That was not expressly forbidden by Harry, but Teddy had discerned that he wouldn't like it, and he knew that it would make Kreacher nervous and surly. He disliked the idea of houseguests himself; people had a macabre fascination with Harry and wanted mostly to see what sort of cage he'd constructed for himself, not to actually spend time with his orphaned charge. Toward the middle of July, the mansion finally had a single visitor. Hermione Granger Apparated into the front room around lunchtime and found Teddy napping on the back patio, his face planted in his Advanced Transfiguration book.
"There you are!" she called, waking him. "Studying, are you?" She glanced with distaste at the spot of drool he'd left over a description of the dangers of transfiguring food. Teddy moaned and blinked up at her, the sun glowing up from behind her silhouette. Hermione was his Potions professor and apparently a childhood friend of Harry's, though they hadn't spent much time together, according to Hermione, since the death of their mutual friend Ron Weasley. He and Harry were Aurors for three years after school, working together mostly on cases that dealt with the mistreatment of house elves and various other magical creatures. Ron was murdered by a wizard in Belize whom he and Harry discovered running an underground brothel full of Veela slaves. Harry killed Ron's murderer in retaliation and then retired.
"I didn't know you were coming over," Teddy said, guiltily rearranging himself. He was wearing only a long pair of board shorts, his skin burned unevenly red by the sun.
"I just thought I'd pop in and see how things are going." Hermione gave the place a once-over. The flower arrangements on the patio were trimmed to perfection and the gleaming stone had been polished with Kreacher's usual ferocity. Still, Teddy felt embarrassed by the place. It did not belong to him, and he did not really belong within it. Were it not for Harry's detached generosity, he would be spending his summers shuffling between the harried families of his friends. Perhaps that would be more fun, but he felt also that he had a duty to fulfill in this giant, empty house, though in four years he hadn't figured out what it was exactly.
"Harry's away," Teddy said. Hermione hummed with checked disapproval.
"I don't suppose you know where?"
"I don't ever know." Teddy hadn't meant for that to come out sounding so resentful. He had no right to complain about the attention he did or didn't get from Harry. He had no real claim to anything from him.
"Are you alright?" Hermione asked. In six years of having her as a professor, Teddy had learned that she never understood when she should not ask a question like that.
"Yes, fine." He stood up and stretched, yawning out at the dozy afternoon. He had been wishing for some company, but already he wanted Hermione to leave.
"Have you seen Harry recently?" Hermione asked.
"Not since --" Teddy paused to try and remember. It was sometime before he'd left for Hogwarts last summer. Or was he thinking of the summer before that?
"I'm hearing from him less and less," Hermione said. She walked into the house and Teddy followed, enjoying the cool darkness of the hallways after so much sun. She stopped in front of Harry's study and touched her chin. The door was shut as usual. Teddy always assumed it was locked; he never tried the knob. "Well." Hermione sounded a bit flustered, suddenly. "Can I take you down to the village for lunch?"
Teddy agreed, though he wasn't especially hungry and did not relish trips to the Muggle village at the far end of the valley that the mansion overlooked. Over a wrought-iron table covered with a wine-colored cloth, Hermione asked him the usual questions: how was his studying going, in which subjects was he going for N.E.W.T.s, what did he want to do when he finished school? Teddy answered the last question noncommittally, thinking of Harry's letter.
"Your father was an excellent teacher," Hermione said. "A natural, I would say. Very compassionate and patient. And your mother, well. A legendary Auror for someone so young --"
"I don't want to be an Auror," Teddy said, perhaps a bit sharply. He felt as if he'd been possessed by Harry for a moment, and realized suddenly what the letter Harry had sent to school that year had really tried to tell him. Harry was asking him not to make the same mistake he had, not to go on watching people die when he'd already had his share of loss.
"You haven't ruled out teaching, then," Hermione said, trying to conceal an excited grin. Teddy smiled just to humor her. He had no idea what subject he might teach. He wasn't especially passionate about any of them, though he did enjoy Defense Against the Dark Arts, which was taught by Ginny Longbottom, the late Ron Weasley's younger sister. He didn't dare tell Hermione this was his favorite class at Hogwarts; she had an odd sort of rivalry with her fellow professor, though purportedly they were great friends.
After lunch, Teddy Apparated back to the house, and Hermione back to the creaky little apartment she rented in Cambridge during the summer. Teddy was on his way to his room to check his bed for letters when he spotted one propped neatly on the front table, where Kreacher kept the house's most dramatic flower arrangements in a black and gold vase Harry had purchased on an Auror mission to Hong Kong many years ago. The letter was leaning against the base of the vase, and it was addressed simply to "Harry." Teddy recognized his professor's handwriting, which often instructed him on his returned Potions homework to pay closer attention to measurements. Hermione must have left it there before she met him out on the patio.
Teddy was normally not a snoop, especially where Harry was involved, as he completely believed that if Harry wanted to remain private he had every right to do so. But for some reason the letter, with its textured paper envelope and extravagantly thick wax seal, called out to him. He could easily open and reseal it; it was a basic spell he'd learned in his second year. He'd never before used it outside of school, but he was seventeen now and he had full license to try, except that it would be rude to poke into a letter addressed to someone else. He licked his lips and checked around the corner for Kreacher, who, though kind to him, was far more loyal to Harry. When he heard the far off sounds of Kreacher sorting through pans in the kitchen, he turned and snatched the letter off the table before he had any more time to consider whether or not he should.
His heart was pounding by the time he entered his room and shut the door behind him. He went to the window and closed the drapes, as if Harry might be lingering outside on a broom, frowning in disappointment. He lit a lamp beside his bed and knelt on the floor to read the letter, his fingers shaking. He was not a gossip and didn't generally relish learning secrets that were not meant for him, but when it came to Harry, he'd repressed his desire to learn about his life for so long that just the impulse to finally do something about that desire was exhilarating. He found himself actually whispering the contents of the letter aloud to himself as his eyes scanned down the page:
I have arrived at your home only to find yet again that you are missing. I will attempt to speak to Ted Lupin about your whereabouts, though I'm sure that even if the boy knows anything you've asked him not to divulge this information to others. Harry, I will be frank. I am hearing disturbing rumors about your activities abroad. My potions supplier in Krakow tells me that you have been seeking black oil lilies and a friend in Hogsmeade informs me that you were almost arrested in Egypt earlier this year after you were thought to be involved in the attempted procurement of a certain antiquity that I do not dare mention in writing.
Harry, I have known this dark path you are treading. Many of us who survived the war have entertained the same notions. You are one of the few who are in a position to actively pursue the folly of exploring them seriously. You will recall, perhaps, another individual who had the means to collect artifacts and ingredients on a quest to do something extraordinarily unnatural. You killed him when we were seventeen. I apologize for the harshness of this comparison, but I cannot imagine that you have not considered it yourself.
I have regrets, Harry, and I long to see certain people we lost very much. Occasional despair over these feelings is normal and healthy. Plotting to rid yourself of them entirely is madness.
Please write soon and tell me that I am horribly wrong.
Love always, Your friend, Hermione
Teddy could barely get the letter back into its envelope, his heart pounding and his hands trembling. He resealed the letter on his third try, bungling the spell horribly the first two times, his voice not exactly steady. He thought he might discover something of interest inside the letter: mentions of a past love affair between Harry and Hermione, or information about where he'd been traveling this summer. He did not expect anything about near arrests, dangerous artifacts, or plots that could equal Voldemort's schemes. He couldn't get the letter out of his possession fast enough, and when he set it back in place on the table in the foyer, he felt that he'd still left a guilty mark on it somehow. He swung around looking for a sign that someone had spotted him returning to the scene of the crime, but the mansion's high ceilings and paneled walls only stared back at him with the usual disinterest in his day to day activities.
"Would Young Master like his tea now?" Kreacher asked from the dining room doorway, and Teddy yelped in surprise. Kreacher looked startled by his reaction, and held up his frail hands as if to apologize.
"Tea," Teddy sputtered. "Yes. Excellent."
Teddy had trouble sleeping for the next two nights, imagining Harry doing things awful enough to warrant such suspicion from one of his closest friends. He couldn't imagine that Harry's intentions weren't good, but he was unable to come up with any real theories about what he might be trying to accomplish. When he walked past Harry's study during the day, he found himself itching to try the knob, but he didn't dare. He was almost afraid to learn more. The letter remained in the spot where he had replaced it by the vase, and he was tantalized by the sight of it, as though it would contain new information if he opened it again.
He waited for word from Harry, but received nothing until the wee hours of the first morning of August, when there was a terrible crashing sound from down the hall on the second floor. Teddy awoke as if he had been waiting for it. Before he had even found his slippers, he knew that it was Harry.
"Master!" Kreacher was exclaiming with measured terror when Teddy arrived in the parlor where Harry had landed after what looked like a barely successful Apparition. He was on the floor on all fours, panting and spitting blood. His mouth wasn't the only part of him that was bleeding; his trouser leg was cut open and stained dark red, and his shoulder looked slightly splinched. His robes were in tatters around him.
"What happened?" Teddy blurted before he could stop himself. Harry looked up at him with half-lidded eyes, a thick strand of blood hanging from his bottom lip.
"Young Master will send for the Mediwizards while Kreacher tends to Master!" Kreacher instructed, his voice unusually shrill, and Teddy nodded.
"No!" Harry croaked when Teddy turned for the door. "Send for no one, Teddy."
"But Master is hurt --" Kreacher began to protest.
"No one shall come here!" Harry bellowed with surprising force. He seemed to suffer for the effort, and crumpled entirely to the ground.
Teddy had never heard Harry speak harshly to his house elf. Kreacher seemed to be at a loss for a moment, but then he gathered himself and began summoning bandages and healing ointments. Teddy watched the supplies glide past him and into Kreacher's nimble hands. Harry was lying on his side and huffing like a wounded animal.
"What can I do?" Teddy asked. He was horrified, and part of him wanted to simply turn and run, but Harry needed help that Kreacher couldn't give. Teddy considered going against his wishes and calling for the Mediwizards after all. He was afraid that Harry would die if he didn't.
"Young Master can take these away," Kreacher said, yanking on Harry's ruined robes. Teddy raised his wand and said a spell to remove Harry's clothes with as much strength as he could muster.
Harry had looked quite disturbing enough, bleeding and writhing on the floor, and once he was naked Teddy couldn't stand to look at him at all. He lingered in the doorway, breathing hard and trying not to whimper when Harry screamed in pain as Kreacher applied potions to his wounds.
"So much blood," Kreacher said fearfully. Teddy's eyes began to water.
"Do you need help?" he asked, but Kreacher didn't seem to hear him. Teddy glanced at Harry's face. His eyes were open just in slits, glazed over with a sheen of pained resignation.
"I've got to call someone," Teddy said. "Please, Kreacher, look at him --"
"No!" Kreacher said, dropping his deference and the title of 'Young Master' that Teddy had always hated. "Master has forbidden it!"
Teddy sat down the floor and watched Kreacher work, wrapping Harry's wounds after applying appropriate potions. He could defy Kreacher if he wanted to, but he didn't. They both trusted Harry enough to believe that he knew what he was doing, even when he was hovering on the brink of death. Kreacher was out of breath by the time he'd gotten all of the wounds wrapped, and Teddy wanted to help, but he didn't know what he could possibly do.
"Master will need rest," Kreacher panted. Teddy stood on wobbly legs and raised his wand. He was nervous about casting a levitation spell on Harry Potter. He'd never come near to casting anything on him before. He steeled himself before casting, and Kreacher stood back, seeming to understand that Teddy needed to calm down for a moment. When Harry was successfully floating in midair, his body trembled along with Teddy's arm. Sniffling like a child, Teddy guided him along to the master bedroom, walking close, not trusting his aim.
Teddy had never been inside Harry's bedroom. It wasn't a secret place, and he had at least glanced into the room when Kreacher was inside cleaning. The door was left open unless Harry was inside sleeping, but Teddy had never had reason to enter. It was a massive room with soaring ceilings, the centerpiece a tall, wide bed with a dark wooden frame and velvety red sheets. As Teddy placed Harry on the bed and let the levitation spell die off, he tried to imagine the cupboard Harry had been forced to live in as a child. There were mutterings among the Wizarding community about the ostentatious size of Harry's home, but Teddy understood the need for such height and width after sleeping in a place the size of a bathtub for years.
"Yes, yes, Master will be fine," Kreacher muttered to himself a bit madly as he arranged Harry's slumped form under the blankets. "Just rest, rest is what Master needs now."
Teddy stood at the foot of the bed and said nothing. His eyes were sore and burning, though he hadn't really cried. He watched the rise and fall of the blankets with Harry's breath, comforted by the sight. He wanted to climb into the bed and stay the night beside him, checking periodically to make sure he was still breathing, but he knew that Kreacher would keep an eye on him and wouldn't sleep until Harry was up and leaving on another secret mission.
"To bed, Young Master," Kreacher said, tenderly pushing Teddy from the room. "It's late, much too late to be awake."
"Kreacher," Teddy pleaded, but he had no idea where to go from there. Kreacher shook his head firmly and took Teddy's hand to lead him down the hall. Teddy turned back, and saw only a tuft of Harry's wild black hair tossed across his pillow as Kreacher drew him away.
"All will be well in the morning," Kreacher promised, but his voice was shaking with doubt.
Teddy spent the night lying on his back in bed, knowing he would never be able to get to sleep. His heart was still racing, and his body felt like it was still in motion, buzzing with some unspent energy. He listened for sounds at the end of the hall where Harry's bedroom was located, but he heard nothing.
Every time he shut his eyes, he saw Harry sprawled on the floor, covered in blood. He wanted to go to someone and talk about what had happened, but he felt that would be a betrayal of Harry's trust, and even then, who would receive him at this hour of the night? More than that, he wanted to go to Harry himself, to curl beside him in bed and have Harry wake to reassure him that things would be alright, that he was going to be fine, that he wasn't going anywhere.
He stayed where he was, feeling foolish and more alone than he'd ever been in his entire life.
When morning finally came, Teddy took a bath and dressed in nicer clothes than he usually bothered with during summer, as if Harry were giving a party and not just suffering in bed. He crept out into the hall with his hair still damp and looked down at Harry's bedroom door. It was shut, and the whole house was as silent as it was when he was gone.
Downstairs, Kreacher was making an elaborate breakfast. The fancy china was set out on the dining room table, along with a silver tray Teddy had never seen before. Teddy stood listlessly and watched as Kreacher arranged eggs, bacon, toast, tomatoes and everything else he could come up with neatly on the plates and then the tray. He poured a cup of tea, humming to himself nervously.
"Young Master can eat after Master has been fed," Kreacher admonished, as if Teddy was staring at the food jealously. "Master is weak, Master needs --"
"Can I take the tray up?" Teddy asked, stepping in front of Kreacher before he could bustle out of the kitchen with it. Kreacher gave him a slightly suspicious look.
"Please," Teddy said. He knew it was hard for Kreacher to refuse him anything, but it was also true that Kreacher believed no one could care for Harry as well as he could.
"Young Master will let Kreacher know if Master requires anything else?"
"Of course." Teddy eased the tray from his hands. "Thanks."
He walked upstairs with the heavy tray, wishing that he had thought to use a levitation charm before taking it from Kreacher. The food smelled good, but Teddy had no appetite. He was anxious about how Harry would react to him coming into the room and attempting to look after him the way Harry had always, quietly and from a distance, looked after Teddy.
"Hello?" he whispered when he had the door open. "Harry? Are you awake?"
There was no answer, but Teddy walked into the room anyway, closing the door behind him with a gentle nudge of his arse. The room was dark, the drapes still drawn, but Teddy could see that Harry hadn't moved since last night. He was still rolled onto one side and slightly curled in on himself, his messy hair flung across his pillow. Teddy carefully set the breakfast tray on top of Harry's long, spotlessly polished dresser, and picked up the cup of tea. He walked over to the bed with it, knowing that he should leave Harry to rest but still unsettled enough by the scene in the parlor that he needed confirmation that Harry was alive. For all Teddy knew, Kreacher might be stubborn enough to go on pretending he was even after he'd gone cold. Terrified by the thought, Teddy set the tea on Harry's bedside table and put his hands on the enormous mattress. The bed was so tall that the top of the mattress came to the middle of Teddy's chest.
"Harry?" Teddy said. He half-expected Harry to fling himself upright, grab the front of his shirt, and point his wand in his face, but Harry didn't stir. Afraid that he might have stopped breathing, Teddy reached out to cup his hand over Harry's shoulder. It was warm, and Teddy could feel the weight of Harry's breath moving through him. He sighed with relief, and didn't draw his hand back until Harry made a soft moaning noise and shifted in his sleep.
"Ron?" he said blearily.
"It's Teddy. I've -- Kreacher's made you breakfast, if you're well enough to eat."
Harry groaned and rolled onto his back, wincing. He let out his breath in a hiss and turned his head toward Teddy, opening only one eye to look at him. Teddy stood stock still and allowed himself to stare. Despite knowing him personally, at least as much as anyone could claim to anymore, Harry Potter was just as intimidating and mythical a figure to him as to anybody else in the Wizarding world. He had always seemed huge to Teddy, not just physically but also figuratively. He seemed to fill every room he occupied completely with a burning presence that demanded attention, though he rarely sought it.
"Teddy," Harry grumbled, as if he'd been struggling to remember his name. "What a spectacle I've made of myself. I'm so sorry if I frightened you."
"You didn't," Teddy lied. Being near Harry like this again after so long, talking with him in the quiet solitude of his bedroom, filled the space between Teddy's ribs like sunlight. Harry was unshaven and had dried blood in the corner of his mouth and dark shadows under his eyes, but just the sight of him, conscious and apologetic as ever, was so comforting that Teddy had to bite away a smile.
"Would you like some tea?" Teddy asked when Harry only stared at him. "And Kreacher's made you a full breakfast as well."
"Of course he has." Harry struggled to sit up, and Teddy helped him by placing several pillows behind him for leverage. He offered the tea, and Harry took it with a sigh.
"My God," he said. "How long was I out?"
"Only eight hours or so. You came in last night around two in the morning."
Harry made a disapproving noise and glanced at the dresser. Teddy hurried to get his breakfast, then felt stupid again for not using his wand.
"You're seventeen now?" Harry asked as Teddy laid the tray across his blanketed lap.
"Yes. It's hard to get used to being able to do magic outside of school. I mean -- it's not hard -- but --"
"I imagine it would be. I was forced to do so often enough before it was legal, so I wouldn't know about that. Do you want some of this?"
"Oh, no, you should eat. Kreacher will make me something when I go back down." "Do help me finish it, won't you?" Harry ate half a slice of bacon in one bite. Teddy felt like he was in the presence of a demi-god, some insatiable creature who only ate food humans offered for fun. He felt himself blushing.
"I haven't gotten my full appetite back, and Kreacher will be insulted if I don't clean the plate," Harry said. He inched over to the other side of the bed, grimacing as he moved, and Teddy realized with mortification that he was inviting him to sit at his side and eat off of his plate. Harry started in on the eggs as if he were in no hurry to find out if Teddy would join him or not.
Teddy looked toward the door. What was waiting for him outside of this room but another aimless day of falling asleep between the pages of his schoolbooks? He hoisted himself up onto the bed with as much grace as he could manage, and placed himself at a respectful distance. Not wanting to be greedy, he took only a triangle of toast.
"It's been a long time since I've seen you," Harry said, his eyes still on his plate.
"It's okay, I know you're --"
"You're beginning to look a lot like your father."
"Oh." Teddy dragged the toast through the yellow slop from Harry's eggs. He'd seen pictures of his father, of course. He never looked as happy as his mother did.
"Fuck, I'm sorry," Harry muttered. "People told me that all the time when I was in school. It began to irritate me after awhile. I don't mean to be one of those, you know. People."
"It's okay," Teddy said. "I don't mind." He had been dumbly flattered by the comment. It seemed odd that Harry would have given a second thought to the way he looked.
"Are you in much pain?" Teddy asked after they had been eating in silence for awhile, the indifferent hum of the room making him grow uncomfortable.
"I'll manage," Harry said. He tossed the crust of the toast he'd been eating onto the plate and leaned back on the pillows. He shut his eyes and set his mouth in a very tight line until he got comfortable, and folded his hands over his stomach as he exhaled. Teddy was still sipping at the cup of tea, which had magically refilled itself five times since he and Harry began drinking from it. He knew he should collect the tray and let Harry rest, but it felt good to lean beside him in the giant bed, Harry's tattered body warm and fragrant with the clean, acidic scent of healing potions. Teddy felt a bit mad, appreciating the heat of another person so much. Hermione was the only other person he had even seen since leaving Hogwarts.
Remembering that lunch, Teddy thought of the letter that was waiting for Harry downstairs. Suddenly he wished that he had just thrown it away. Harry was in no condition to read her accusations. But perhaps she was right to be concerned.
"So what happened to you?" Teddy asked. He knew he had no business bombarding Harry with such a bold question, but he wanted desperately to have an excuse to stay with him, to talk to someone, to talk to him, finally.
"There was an accident," Harry said gravely. "I barely escaped with my life."
"Have you -- are you doing work for the Ministry?"
"Hardly." Harry leaned back and shut his eyes. A quiet space stretched between he and Teddy, like a clock whose second hand was drawing Teddy farther away from him with every tick.
"I'm going to sleep now," Harry said. Teddy pulled his wand from his back pocket and sent the tray away to rest again on the dresser. He turned to Harry, who hadn't moved. Teddy had never realized before how long his eyelashes were. He had never before been this close to him.
"Can I stay?" he heard himself ask, in a voice like a child's, one that climbed up his throat from some deep, buried place.
Harry opened his eyes just a crack, and tipped his head to look at Teddy, as if to check the sincerity of this request. He frowned slightly and reached for him. Teddy held his breath. Had Harry Potter ever touched him? Yes, he had, at St. Mungo's, when he arrived to retrieve Teddy after his grandmother's death. He was wearing the finest robes Teddy had ever seen, black and long and velvety, and when one of the nurses pointed Harry to where Teddy was standing, his face red and blotchy and his eyes raw from crying, Harry came to him and scooped him into an embrace as if they were old friends. Teddy was surprised, but too ripped apart not to wrap his arms around the man's neck and take comfort in the oddly familiar smell of him. He smelled like wealth and strength, like someplace safe.
Teddy sat perfectly still until Harry's rough hand cupped the side of his face, his thumb snug along the line of Teddy's jaw, and then he quaked, just a bit, though he had no doubt that Harry felt it move through him. Harry seemed startled by his reaction, and he took his hand away.
"Yes, you can stay," Harry said, and Teddy got the impression, somehow, that he had stopped himself from saying something else entirely.
Harry seemed to fall asleep instantly, and Teddy curled beside him, just a few inches apart from him on the mattress. What had changed? Something, certainly. Teddy felt different, warm and happy but also on the edge of something reckless, at a kind of precipice, afraid to move. Harry was the same generous man who had taken him in at twelve years old, still overly cautious and still the saddest person Teddy had ever met. Perhaps it's I who have changed, Teddy thought. Harry had always given him what he needed, but never before had Teddy been brave enough to ask for something he wanted.
The days that followed were blissfully filled with Harry's company. He was still weak from his injuries and spent his time moving slowly about the house, Teddy at his side under the pretense of keeping a watch should he need medical care. Kreacher was in the best spirits Teddy had ever seen him, both proud of himself for healing his beloved Master and happily preoccupied with cooking for him. Around six o'clock in the evening, when the light outside melted to an almost unbearably beautiful glow and just before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, Teddy would help Harry out to the patio, and they would both sip Elligaster Cavenston's Fortified Brandy while they watched the lights of the village come on below. Harry also smoked his brood flower, which he claimed eased the pain of his injuries better than any healing potion he'd tried. Teddy would get moderately drunk and ask Harry questions the way he had when he was young.
"What does the Department of Mysteries look like?" he asked one evening.
"I found it more frightening than the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts," Harry said.
"The chamber with the snake? The one you fought? The night you saved Professor Longbottom?"
"Yes." Harry smiled around his pipe. "Professor Longbottom. I'd like to go back to second year and tell Ginny she'd end up marrying dear old Neville. She would be mortified."
"Why?" Neville Longbottom was one of the most accomplished herbology experts of his generation. He came to Hogwarts once a year to give a demonstration on whatever rare specimens he'd been collecting in the world's most remote regions, and his talks were always well attended, with at least ten questions about his role in the Battle of Hogwarts, his beautiful wife batting her eyelashes at him from the professors' table.
"He was a bit hapless when we were in school," Harry said. "Believe it or not."
"Hmm." Teddy had heard that; it only added to the fantastic nature of Neville's story. He was a hero awkward schoolchildren could relate to, unlike the man sitting beside him and smoking with one hand while he drank with the other. Teddy smiled to himself.
"You must have had a lot of girls, in school," Teddy said. "You were a hero in your first year -- before it, even! Hermione teases Professor Longbottom about having a crush on you back then."
"Does she?" Harry didn't look especially excited about the subject, and Teddy's cheeks burned. He knew he had to be careful. It was great fun talking freely with Harry again, but he could leave anytime he wished, as soon as Teddy became annoying.
"Have you got a lot of girlfriends yourself?" Harry asked. He tapped his pipe against the iron armrest of his chair, and ashes fluttered down onto the stone.
"No," Teddy said, blushing harder. He'd never quite figured girls out. The only ones who seemed interested in him were not interesting to him, and the especially beautiful girls were far off ideals, statuettes on the horizon, nothing he dared or even wanted to actively pursue.
"I suppose you'll ask me next why I never married," Harry said. He'd had two more brandies than usual, his appetite for such things beginning to return.
"No!" Teddy's whole body flushed, and he downed the rest of his drink in a gulp, coughed. "I wouldn't -- it's none of my --"
"I'll tell you," Harry said. He often began to talk more to himself than to Teddy after a few drinks. "I was not interested in women." He turned to Teddy as if to dare him to be shocked by this. "You understand what I mean?"
"I think so." Teddy was stiflingly uncomfortable, the backs of his knees beginning to sweat. He looked to the great archway that led in from the patio, hoping to see Kreacher approaching with the announcement that dinner had been served, but he only saw the gauzy curtains over the archway wafting in the breeze.
"The love of my life died when I was twenty-one years old," Harry said. He spoke as if he was giving a press conference. Teddy's hands began to shake. He did the math, and realized who Harry must be talking about.
"Of course, he didn't know he was the love of my life," Harry continued. "At that point I'd hardly allowed myself to accept it. That's the funny thing about death, you see. The finality strips away your hesitation. It allows you to confront some things. And the more often you confront death, which, in my case, I should say, well, that is, I am the record holder there, yes? The more often you confront it, the less you care to stop yourself from trying for anything you want. This ridiculous house, for example. Ron would have found it horribly tacky. To Ron's ghost I would say: you died at twenty-one. You did not yet know the pleasure of shocking yourself with your own taste."
Harry stopped there, seemed to suddenly realize that he was still talking, or that he'd been talking aloud at all. He sucked in his breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose, pinched his eyes shut.
"Well," he said. "If I didn't frighten you well enough by nearly dying, I'm sure I've done it now."
It took Teddy a moment to find his voice, but when he did, he answered honestly: "No, you haven't."
Harry stood from his chair and hobbled over to the fat stone railing. Afraid that he would throw himself over it, Teddy hurried to join him. When Harry would only gaze forlornly down at the village, which was just beginning to glow softly against the night, Teddy touched his shoulder to let him know that it was alright. Teddy was not here to judge him. He was not like the rest of the world; he expected nothing from Harry Potter, even after Harry had given him so much.
When Harry finally turned to look at him, Teddy felt something almost solid move between them; it landed in his chest like a thing on fire and smoldered there, waiting. Harry's lips parted with a tiny, wet sound, and Teddy's fingers curled around his shoulder, pressing into the flesh beneath his shirt.
"Masters!" Kreacher chirped happily from the archway. Teddy jumped away from Harry as if they'd been caught in a torrid embrace by his wife.
"Dinner is served," Kreacher said, oblivious to the moment he had just interrupted. He bowed deeply, with relish, and Teddy followed him to the dining room without looking back at Harry. He felt ill, and light on his feet, as if he could step out of reality and into something better but far more dangerous, a place that existed only inside this mansion, and only when Harry was with him.
Harry went to bed straight after dinner that evening, and Teddy was left to sit alone in his room, his heart a wild drum that made his body feel unfamiliar and out of control. He thought of wanking off; it would feel good, a release of some of the energy that had been building up inside of him since Harry's return, but he was afraid of what might happen in his fantasies if he were allowed to shut his eyes, spread his legs and rub himself until he was hard and reckless about where he would let his mind wander. Just the thought of it made him shudder, a small thing that moved along the soft length of his cock, but he stood from the bed before he could do anything about it.
"Stop it," he said to himself. He slapped his cheek. He'd had enough brandy to feel dozy, but he doubted that he would be able to sleep if he tried. He paced his room until he came to a stack of schoolbooks near the window, and he selected an herbology text from last year that he'd been using to review. If he were honest with himself, he didn't care much about his N.E.W.T.s, but it was a useful distraction. He sat on the floor and read about the medicinal properties of orchid roots until his eyes began to droop.
He must have fallen asleep on the floor. This was his thought when he opened his eyes and saw a pair of boots level with his nose just before he was lifted up into the air. Assuming he was dreaming, he enjoyed the feeling of strong hands and arms drawing him against a solid body and carrying him easily before depositing him into bed with surprising tenderness. A familiar smell enveloped him, and when it began to pull away he moaned in protest and reached out to grasp the source, relieved when his hands found the warm shape of the person who had carried him.
"Teddy," someone whispered into his face, almost like a warning. Teddy had the wild, half-awake notion that it was his father, and he smiled and rubbed their faces together, pulled him closer.
"Dad," he said, his voice broken and strange. It was a word he had quite possibly never uttered, certainly never in the direction of a particular person, and he had always wanted to try it out. There was a sharp intake of breath, and Teddy kept his eyes shut, because he was beginning to wake and realize that the man who was leaning down over him was not his father but Harry. Unwilling to leave the dream world behind, he arched up and pressed his body against Harry's, which felt as warm and powerful as he had always imagined. Harry was struggling to back away, but Teddy wouldn't let him. He brought his mouth up to the strong push of Harry's breath and licked his lips. Harry whined in protest, as if Teddy had opened one of his cuts, but Teddy wouldn't let him go.
"Please," he whispered, his eyes still shut tight. He kissed Harry again, his lips soft and hot and tasting of their color, deep pink like a secret weakness. When Harry moaned into his mouth and let his weight spill onto him fully, Teddy was almost startled enough to let his eyes fly open in surprise. He had never even come close to doing anything like this, not with a classmate and certainly not with an adult. He began to suspect that he had awoken something tremendous, like a sleeping animal that would tear him to pieces, but the thought only made his cock hard.
"Harry," he breathed, wanting to peek but afraid it would ruin the illusion that this was happening without their consent. Harry's big hands were on both sides of his face, tipping it up toward his, and he was sucking the breath right out of him as he kissed him, his lap hovering above Teddy's, hot and spread open like an invitation. Teddy's hands were moving wildly from Harry's chest down to his thighs, not daring anything more. It was thrilling just to be able to touch his collarbone, his belt, and to push a hand under his shirt to feel the map of scars on his side. Teddy ran his fingers over the raises and dents in his skin, imagining the origin of every one, things he took notes about in history class, the Whomping Willow and the Shrieking Shack, the dragon and the maze, the night the Great Hall became a battleground.
Teddy couldn't stand it anymore. He opened his eyes.
Harry's glasses were dislodged, only hooked around one ear, and his eyes were shut as he licked the skin beneath the line of Teddy's jaw. He was a dark figure above him in the unlit room, a comforting invader, the threat of something too good to stand. Teddy drew a hand through Harry's thick hair, tangled his fingers at the back and arched up against him as Harry's mouth moved down Teddy's neck, soft but frantic, as if he couldn't decide where to start. When he pulled back to look at Teddy's face, their eyes finally met. Harry's were green enough to be illuminated by the moon through the window, and Teddy swallowed hard. He was the dream of every witch for the past three generations. The ruined hero, panting on all fours, his mouth wet and swollen.
"I can't," Harry said, and the words didn't make any sense to Teddy until Harry was stumbling off of him and away from the bed. He tried to find the words to make him stay, but Harry was gone quickly, and Teddy, despite what he might call progress, wasn't feeling entitled enough to ask him to come back. He lay on his back with his door half-open, Harry having only pushed it shut half-heartedly as he went. Down the hall, Harry's door shut with a polite little click, almost an apology, not quite an invitation. Teddy was motionless, trying to catch his breath. He didn't want to sleep, didn't want the chance to wonder if it had only been a dream.
In the morning, Teddy woke to the mess he'd left on the sheets. It had only take a few clumsy strokes after Harry left to send his orgasm rioting through him, though it immediately left him with a cold sense of anticlimax. Still, he was optimistic. He had spent several hours contemplating the situation before finally succumbing to sleep. There was something between him and Harry, perhaps there always had been, and of course it would be difficult at first, but Teddy was willing to be patient. He bathed and dressed in clothes he had bought, like almost everything he owned, with money from Harry. Maybe Harry was worried that Teddy would think he had been grooming him for this. Teddy wouldn't particularly care if he had, but he knew Harry was not the sort of person who would plot such a thing. He'd simply wanted to take care of Teddy when there was no one else who could, not properly, and Teddy was ready to let him do that in ways that hadn't been possible before. He needed taking care of, like anyone, and he smiled deviously at his reflection in the mirror as he smoothed down his wet hair.
Harry's bedroom door was open, and Teddy jogged downstairs, happy that he wasn't going to have a very long sulk over what had happened. They usually met on the patio for breakfast, bacon and eggs for Harry and French toast or waffles for Teddy. As he headed down the main staircase, his eye caught the front table, where Kreacher had arranged a collection of fiery red and orange flowers in the black vase. Hermione's letter was missing; Teddy hadn't noticed before, and wasn't sure when Harry had found it. A sense of things being amiss began to clutch at him even before he reached the patio and found it empty.
Kreacher was in the kitchen, and Teddy knew from the set of his shoulders that something was wrong. He gripped the door frame and tried to ignore the feeling that he knew the answer to his question already: "Where's Harry?"
"Master is away," Kreacher said, without turning from the dishes. Teddy knew that Kreacher was disappointed, too, but he still felt angry, as if they were conspirators.
"Away, Young Master, away! Kreacher does not know where."
Teddy believed him, but wanted to throw a fit anyway. He looked at the wooden chairs that were arranged around the kitchen table -- eight of them, and why in God's name did they have more than two of anything? -- and wanted to raise one over his head and slam it against the stone floor, watch the pieces bounce violently around the room.
"When will he be back?" he asked, though he knew Kreacher didn't know this, either. The elf just muttered to himself unintelligibly, and Teddy knew the answer well enough anyway.