Chapter Eighteen: Second Impressions
There was something he found terribly unnerving about babies. He wasn’t sure exactly what but as he stared down at the latest addition to the ever-expanding Weasley family nestled in Ella’s arms, he thought it might have been the idea that their entire lives were yet to be determined, that they didn’t even understand the term ‘choice’ let alone have to make one. After the relatively successful trip to his godparents, he had decided that Molly would be a piece of cake. With Ella on his arm, tempted by meeting her boss’s other daughter, he had knocked firmly on his cousin’s door in a way that barely even gave away the fact that his hand was trembling.
Molly hadn’t seemed especially surprised or eager to see him but that would never have been a shock. She’d let him in and offered them tea, not so much as raising the question about why he’d rolled up on her doorstep. Ella enquired after the baby and James politely asked after Imogen; she seemed vaguely impressed that he’d managed to recall her eldest daughter’s name. Their conversation was fuelled by stories of what Molly had done, everyone reluctant to bring the conversation around to James.
“So how long have you two been together?” Molly asked as she took the baby off Ella and settled her down in the Moses basket on the table. The story unfolded and so came about the job and the flat and who he’d convinced around. When Ella went to the bathroom, Molly finally opened a little. “Who do you want me to talk to?” He went to protest but she shook her head. “Come on, we barely used to say two words to each other unless we had to. Is it Vic?”
“It’s nobody,” he said, and it was a half-truth. She seemed sceptical. “Yeah, it’d be nice if you mentioned me but I’m not here just for that.”
She nodded slowly as though she understood but James was quite sure that she didn’t. Now he thought of it, he couldn’t think of the other reason except serving himself. The more people he won around, the better: that had been his thought. Now, he was struggling to find a reason and he missed having Ella at his side or Rose to step in.
“I’ve never had much reason to dislike you,” Molly said. “What you did at the wedding was ridiculous but I don’t think you deserved what you got.” She looked up as Ella came back in but carried on. “I think you’re turning out to be pretty decent.”
At that, she quieted, standing up to find something in one of the cupboards. James looked to Ella who had tilted her head inquisitively. He shook his head and after some hesitant goodbyes, they left.
“She was nice,” Ella said as they wandered through the streets of the small Yorkshire town that Molly lived in. James nodded. “What did she say when I was gone?”
“Nothing,” he said. She didn’t believe him but didn’t press him either. It was close to truth, he thought. It was nothing that would really help but his most selfish side crept out just far enough to leave the voice ringing in his ears as he Disapparated: it was one more on side.
Teddy stood in front of one of the fireplaces in St Mungo’s, Floo powder in hand. There was a line starting to form and the little old woman directly behind him kept whacking the back of his calves with her briefcase. He sent her a glare and turned back to his thoughts. “Hurry it up, there,” came a call from one of the caretakers somewhere in the room and without having truly contemplated what he was doing, threw a handful of the powder in and called out his destination.
James’s place was far nicer than he’d anticipated. It was light, airy, a cool breeze creeping in as was typical at the start of September. The furniture didn’t quite fit with the place but he assumed that to be the fault of spending money on the rent rather than furnishing. He called out after realising he’d been stood there for two minutes and neither seen nor heard anyone, and there was a scuffling from what he presumed to be the bedroom. The door squeezed open and a blonde girl came flying out first, her cloak cast haphazardly over her and her hair falling out of its bun.
“Oh,” Teddy said, not sure whether covering his eyes was the polite or rude thing to do. “Er, wrong address?”
“Depends who you’re looking for.”
How had he ended up in Aberdeen
? He had a tendency to mumble but he most certainly hadn’t confused Aberdeen with Manchester.
“James Potter,” he said and she tilted her head towards the bedroom. He went to say something but couldn’t find the words and let his mouth shut slowly. “Of course.”
There was more shuffling from the second room and James appeared, his hair sticking up in more ways than normal and his face flushed red.
“I’ll come back,” the older man said, though there was something in his voice that didn’t entirely convince him let alone the other two. Molly had suggested – heavily – that James seemed to have turned things around. Evidently some habits were harder to stop.
“Why?” the blonde said before James could offer a word of protest and she stepped forward. “I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Ella.” For a moment, Teddy just stared before he caught James flapping a hand at him out of the corner of his eye and it all became clear.
“Oh,” he said, rubbing his neck awkwardly. “Right. So you’re together?”
Ella gave a nod and Teddy smiled. She glanced up to him then over to James and silently, without even asking if anyone wanted anything, disappeared into the kitchen. The sound of running water and china clinking echoed through and Teddy looked across to the boy that had been both the bane and life of his childhood.
There was something different about his walk; that was the first thing he noticed. It had been more of a strut, a swagger, in his school days. He’d walked with his back straight, head high, taller than all his cousins and he had revelled in it. Now, it was more casual. His hands were dug into his pockets, his shoulders hunched and he seemed more at home in nodding Teddy towards the sofa. They sat down and looked everywhere but at the other one.
“Molly’s been singing your praises,” he said. “Both of them, actually, Molly and Mrs Weasley. They tell me you’ve shown a bit of a change of heart.”
The words were coming out awkwardly and both men seemed a little lost. Everything Teddy thought of sounded stiff and everything James replied with was short and simple. They were speaking but it was pointless. Ella eased between them, holding out their mugs and didn’t say anything as she left the flat.
“She seems nice,” Teddy said, sipping politely. James nodded.
“Rose’s neighbour. She’s been a huge help.”
Another silence swam between them. Teddy put his drink down and leant forwards, looking at James only through the corner of his eye.
“I want to hear the whole story, Jay,” he said and James flinched at the name. Teddy had forgotten he’d been the only person who had ever done it; a childhood mistake that had stuck and even though James had always claimed to hate it, Teddy was sure he’d have missed it when it stopped. Something about the way the boy – it still felt strange to call him a man – had moved made him wonder whether he’d forgotten or maybe it was something else, a secret of his missing years. The darker man looked up and nodded. Teddy assumed he’d told it many a time already and the weariness in James’s voice was confirmation.
When it was over, he felt blank. He had denied himself the thought of considering himself an older brother for James during the boy’s absence and now he felt he wanted to deny it out of shame. His parents were gone; their legacy paled beside Harry’s, despite the adoring tales told by his godfather of them. He had started school feeling an obligation to make them proud, to equal what he had now learned he never could. With a wand in hand, he could make the most perfect Potion or Charm things to do anything but faced with a duel, faced with defending himself, he had always failed.
He still didn’t know if it was sheer inability or fear of being unable to match his parents’ past but he tried not to think on it.
Harry’s legacy was still forming. He was leader of one of the best Auror teams there had been in recent history, he was recognised across the world, his face the future of legend. James had led the three of them into battle against it. The first man in was nearly always the first taken out. Where James had failed, Al had triumphed. Lily stumbled on her way but she had had the others to watch out for her. Teddy hadn’t been there for James but nor had anyone else impressed themselves upon him. They were all at fault and there was something about the guilt that made him want to turn back time.
But that was impossible so instead, he settled for an apology.
“What for?” James asked, putting his mug down and settling back against the sofa. Teddy tried to explain but James cut him off. “I’m over it.”
“You think?” Teddy asked and his host nodded. “Vic’ll come round. She doesn’t know I’m here but she’s been debating it since Molly and your Nanna mentioned you.”
“Good,” James said, smiling. “How’s Rémy?”
Teddy was mildly taken aback by the question but proceeded to discourse on his son’s mischievous two years. A baby when James had last clapped eyes on him, the photo in Teddy’s wallet showed a brightness to the three-year-old that the older man remembered seeing in James.
“And?” James asked, pointing to the baby that he was sure wasn’t the toddler in his youth, unless Victoire had gotten momentarily confused by gender.
“Josie,” Teddy said. “She’s nineteen months.” There was a moment’s silence before Teddy spoke again. “You missed one hell of a lot, mate.” James nodded with a low sigh. He stretched his arms out in front of him and looked out to the window. The nights were drawing steadily in and it was already nearly dark.
“I don’t plan on missing much more,” he said. “You should probably get home before she starts worrying.”
Teddy nodded, slipping his wallet back into his cloak pocket and standing up. James stood with him and there was a beat before Teddy stepped forward and enveloped him in a hug. “You’re a fucking idiot, you know that?” he said, ruffling James’s hair as he stepped back. The younger man tried to flatten it back down but it was in vain and he shrugged.
“Might have been told once or twice, yeah.”
As Teddy stepped into the fireplace, he just had time to give James a small wave before the familiar feeling of being stuck in the spin cycle of a washing machine swept through him and he found himself back at home, listening to Josie crying and Rémy laughing and Victoire somewhere in between the two. He gave a small chuckle: home, sweet home.
Molly picked up the last of the eggs from the chicken coop and bustled back to the house. She’d never much liked September. The air was deceptively cold, the rain almost invisible against the grey background. She set the eggs in the rack on the windowsill and turned, pressing her hand to her chest when she saw a figure sat at her kitchen table.
“Oh, dear, you frightened the living daylights out of me,” she said as she hurried to give James a hug and a kiss. She stepped back and scrutinised him. “Someone’s been feeding you up,” she said, tapping his cheek and he grinned. “Is it this Ella I’m hearing so much about?”
“I’ve not told you about her,” James said and Molly smiled back. One by one, her grandchildren had dropped by with stories of James, questions and queries. Rose had kept her up to date every other day to begin with and as the news became less and less frequent, she had taken it as a positive. She was trying not to Floo or Apparate much; her bones weren’t quite as strong as they used to be and it took it out of her. James had been so busy with work that their only correspondence had been letters.
“I have my sources,” Molly said, smiling and putting the kettle on. “You need some colour in those cheeks though. That hair washes you out.” James laughed and she knew what he was thinking. She always had to fuss about something or other. She couldn’t help it. She was the maternal sort, always had been.
“Thank you,” he said, standing up and following her into the proper kitchen. She turned and smiled.
“Everything,” he said. “Getting Rose to put me up, singing my praises to everyone, all that.”
She’d said it a thousand times but he truly was one of the best boys she knew. She was biased, that was true, but he had fallen so far off the tracks that he could barely even see them anymore but who had now dragged himself back onto the straight and narrow. She was grateful for Rose’s help but at the same time, her granddaughter never could have helped someone who didn’t want to help themselves. James had wanted to change. His story had been heart breaking for her when Teddy had relayed it last week, the only one to disclose the subject matter of their conversations with James to her. She had felt as much guilt as the rest.
But now she felt slightly more as the sound of gravel crunching outside grew louder. James had alerted her that he would be visiting and she had hoped that she could finally fix everything but as the footsteps grew louder and louder, the shred of doubt she’d started with grew greater. James seemed oblivious to anything and it was only when she handed him his mug and he saw the four others that a penny seemed to click.
He didn’t say anything. Molly assumed he didn’t know what to say. Instead, he closed his eyes, leant back against the worktop and waited.
A/N: One chapter to go - your thoughts are as ever very welcome!