It was early on a Sunday evening—the sun had just started to sink down into the barebone trees—and the Burrow was shrouded in a late winter frost. James Sirius Potter knocked on the door.
Luck would have it that the day was also one of the monthly Weasley gatherings, in which Molly and Arthur Weasley would host their children, children-in-law, and all other appendages to the Weasley family at their home for a nice dinner. With all of the kids at Hogwarts or post-grad, these meals were a way for the adults to catch up with each other, sans responsibility. Once in a while a kid would come over to see their grandparents and aunts and uncles, but they were mostly caught up in their own lives of textbooks and oral sex and job applications. Glasses of wine and mead were poured in a way that was never done years ago, when there were little flame-haired children dining with them.
Molly had just finished preparing the meal and other various Weasleys were setting dishes and utensils and trays of food onto the table when James arrived. Harry Potter, wineglass in hand and half-filled, rushed to see who it was. When the crickety old door swung open and none other than his first-born son stood, he dropped the glass. Thank Merlin it was white wine. Glass shattered, but it was nothing compared to how Harry’s heart had been broken over and over by his son, a man who didn’t seem to know what he wanted, a boy too broken by the system. Harry didn’t blame James for his flight, not really, but he wished the circumstances never would have gotten desperate enough to warrant it. Merlin knew Harry had dealt with hard shit in his adolescence, but he would never perfectly understand the isolationism of a pansexual teenager in a world that seemed only partially ready to accept him. Most of the people Harry knew, save for the progressives, hadn’t even heard the term “pansexual” before he had thrown it around, discovering the correct way to support a queer teenager, so that was a clear sign.
(Secretly, Harry had had an extremely brief foray into homosexuality, but the world would never know, not unless Draco Malfoy leaked details of the experiment. But Malfoy seemed content in his heterosexual life and Harry was in his, so it was ancient history.)
Harry vaguely heard someone in the background shout, “Reparo!”, but his attention was devoted to James, undivided, rapt. Immediately, he scooped up his baby boy in his arms.
“Harry? What is—” Ginny appeared from the kitchen, where she had been gathering up wine glasses from earlier to set them at the appropriate spots at the dining table. She froze. “James?” It was barely above a whisper.
Ginny joined her husband and son in the embrace, and the three enjoyed an intimate moment whilst the others convened in the dining room. Hermione set another place at the table between Harry and Ginny’s seats. When the Potters joined the rest, Harry was grinning from ear to ear, and Ginny had dark mascara streaking down her pale, freckled face, a complexion that matched her son's just so.
So that was how James came to dine with his family for the first time in several months. It had been rough, and retelling the pain again and again wasn’t fun, but it got easier each time. Tears glistened on his cheeks, identical to the frost on the browned grass outside, but he wasn’t going to let his anxieties rule him forevermore. It was time to finish this.
“Do the kids know?”
Once the initial story had been laid, a narrative of what led James to escape his life and move to France, this was the first question on everyone’s mind. Disliking the idea of implicating Rose in activities that could get her into trouble, he put his own spin on his version of the truth.
“Rose…” James began, and Hermione squeezed Ron’s hand from under the table. “We ran into each other, completely by chance—Hogsmeade day, it was, and I had been distracted while apparating and ended up near the Shrieking Shack—and, well, she easily could have hexed me into never showing my face again. She had the anger. I forced her to listen, and it worked.
“This happened just over a week ago, by the way. The first Quidditch match this term was the next day, and it was Gryffindor versus Slytherin, so I figured I’d stop by. Gryff won—” As most Weasleys and company had been in Gryffindor, nearly everyone grinned and hollered, eagerly displaying their house pride this many years later. The Gryffindor Quidditch legacy continued, as it would seem. Harry and Ginny, however, maintained a fairly neutral expression. Parents of a Slytherin, they had learned quickly to curtail their own house pride. In the end, Al wasn’t at the table, so they cheered along with the others .
“—and by the end of the party in the Gryffindor commons, everyone knew. Lily’s pissed at Rose, but everyone’s just relieved that everything’s back to normal, Al especially.”
Abashed, James stared down at his plate of steak. Far from the warm bread and street-sold food from cart vendors in Paris, this food was nourishing to the soul, to the heart. He almost felt like puking, but in a happy way; his heart was filled with so much love and familiarity of this place, a house that was just as much his home as Godric’s Hollow, that it was near to exploding. It was an excitement, an inexplicable buzz of energy in the air. Godric, he missed England and all its trappings of home.
“There’s more.” It was barely above a whisper, but it hushed the room. James chewed on a bit of meat as he chewed over what to say. What to say.
“I’ve been studying.” James lifted his head, and he looked around at all the expectant eyes, pursed lips. The suspense in this quest for an explanation wasn’t appreciated, and much like his sexually's relationship with the media, it shouldn't have been a big deal, but it was
“It started in Paris,” he continued. “I was sleeping at Lysander Scamander’s apartment. I enjoyed city life when I was with him, but alone, I wasn’t interested. So I took up some classes to occupy myself while he worked, and it turned into something bigger.”
“What subjects were you learning?” Harry inquired, his eyes, bright in passion, only seeing his beautiful boy. He was so intoxicated with his love for James.
“Muggle medicine, actually. It’s horribly redundant and frustrating for someone who can easily do all the work in half the time, but it’s fascinating. I’ve, er, enrolled in St. Mungo’s academy for healing.”
“So you’re planning on staying?” Ginny’s voice sounded so hopeful; slimy guilt shot down James’ stomach like one of Uncle George’s nausea-inducing gummy slugs.
He nodded. “I moved in with Waylon, my old friend from primary school, on Friday. I'm not going anywhere." He grinned. "I guess you're stuck with me, now."
The rest of the convivial night went like this: as the hour got later, the bottles got emptier. James nursed his wine slowly, remembering that it was his drunken horniness that had led to his broken heart.
What he thought was a paranoid buzzing in his ears was an owl tapping softly at the kitchen window. The color drained out of his face when he saw the spotted barn owl, the one with the black dots creating a unibrow across her face.
“Who’s it from, James?” Ginny called from the table.
Numbly, he fed the owl, Celia, a treat from a bowl on the counter and sent her on her way. Not trusting his actions around his family. he went outside to read the letter. The ground was cold against his thin trousers, and the frost crunched under his weight, but he ignored it. The ice, internal and external, grounded him, easing him from the panic that was rising in his throat.
As far as he knew, Louis wanted to never see his face again. Ly more amicable, but things hadn’t ended well. James took a deep breath then began to read.
In the time since you returned to the U.K. things have settled down. Louis is the type to hold a grudge, so I wouldn’t recommend Paris for your next holiday. Nevertheless, my relationship with him has been harder the past two weeks than it had ever been before, but it’s a start.
I am going to be in England in two weeks to visit my parents and to accompany Scorpius Malfoy to his grandmum’s charity ball. Get this—it’s benefitting a LGBT advocacy agency! How great! I'll finally get a chance to wear that suit again, the nice one you bought me.
Would you like to like to get drinks when I’m in town? As friends? The Three Broomsticks or the Leaky Cauldron sound wonderful after all this French shit I’ve been eating since I moved here.
I wish you would’ve talked to me before taking off. We never did define what we were, even after all those months, but I thought we were in this together. We need closure. I want to talk. I miss your voice, I miss your kiss, I miss you.
James sat there for a long time, thinking. He awoke every morning thinking he was in Ly’s bed, denying the winter temperatures permeating in through the window by snuggling even closer into Ly’s body. It was a past lifetime, but it was all so vivid still.
He remembered spritzing Ly with that intoxicating cologne potion, popping mints from the Paris Honeydukes into Ly’s mouth to counteract the taste of tobacco. Honeydukes mints and cigarettes, that’s what Ly always smelled like. He remembered the contrast of their skin when they were pressed up against each other, pale pale pale, creamy and freckled, against darker skin, a brown closer to Rolf's complexion than Luna's. He remembered drinking the fine mead, the stuff James’ stolen inheritance could afford them. Ly would stay up late after a long day of work to quiz James on vocabulary for his classes, in both English and French, and create inane mnemonic devices relating to creatures James had never heard of. There was a distinct difference between Ly’s depressed handwriting and his blissful script; this letter was neither of the two, but it was so him that a lump formed in James’ throat. It was the perfect life, but it was a rushed dream, painted on borrowed time.
And yet, it was almost too perfect to be believable. James recalled all the fights he had witnessed between Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron. Marriage is work, love is not easy, that’s what every adult, wise from experience, had told him. Eight months in, and there had been no fights, no antagonism, no silent unhappiness. They just seemed to sync. It was when Louis had come back from his extended trip to Venice that problems arose. James came home from his tutorial one Friday with a bag of groceries, prepared to cook Ly a nice dinner since it had been a stressful work week, to find Louis sitting on a bench outside the building in the cold, reading a novel written in Ancient Latin, the pretentious prick.
Maybe it was one step removed from fuckbuddies and it felt like a long sleepover, but some spark had ignited James’ heart in a way he never really got the chance to express. By the time Ly had returned from work, James was long gone, his bags packed and aboard the train to the nearest Portkey station. He should have known it would end like that. The romance of Paris cumulated up and up until it overflowed; James was the superfluous excess that never could survive there.
“James? Are you alright?” Ginny appeared by the door, cheeks flushed from the winter wind twirling her long hair around.
He stood mechanically and walked toward his mum, letting his tears melt into his face in the cold. She took his hand and led him into the Burrow, where the party had congregated around the fireplace in the living room. James tossed the parchment into the fire and watched the flames eat away at the last remaining vestige to whoever the hell James had been when he was with Ly.
Wordlessly, he walked into the kitchen and fixed himself some tea, just like Grandmum Molly made for him. After living for nearly a year in Paris, Muggle ways were more second nature to him than they ever had been before, and it relaxed him to follow through the mechanical procedures.
He drank the tea in silence, willing himself calm. The adults were laughing and narrating humorous and serious anecdotes alike, but he could also hear whispered remarks about himself. Nevertheless, he let the tea, sweetened but not diluted with milk, wash his throat of loving affirmations and bitterness alike, a harsh wave scraping against the rocky shore.
"I take it your studies weren't the only reason for your return."
Harry stood in the doorway, holding an empty wine glass. Setting it down with a small clatter, he sat opposite James, staying quiet to let his son speak.
"Lysander and I... We were something, for a while. Though I didn't know it until it was over, I wanted it to be more. And now... Louis is back.”
“Sometimes relationships run their course. Just because a relationship isn’t permanent doesn’t mean it was a failure.”
“Dad, you married the girl you’ve been dating since you were sixteen.”
Harry pointed out that he and Ginny had split up twice, but they always found their way back to one another. “She is the only one for me, but that doesn’t mean Lysander is the only one for you.”
“Yeah, I guess.”