The days are short,
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark
— John Updike, January
It is winter again.
More than one person has informed Scorpius that this year is much colder than the last, though he can't decide for himself whether or not this is true. He doesn't notice much anymore. All he knows is that he is perpetually blue around the mouth and numb in the fingers, though he doesn't think he'd notice even this if James Potter didn't constantly point it out to him. Scorpius's new nickname this winter, courtesy of James, is Smurfette. But Scorpius never laughs when James calls him this. James isn't funny, and Scorpius doesn't even know what a Smurfette is.
He decides to run away from home one afternoon over Christmas break and ends up in Godric's Hollow, right outside Harry Potter's home. He doesn't care that his father will likely belt him for his insolence upon his return. The manor is an ice-castle during the winter: cold and suffocating and empty. Scorpius wants to be there less than ever now that his mother is gone.
Ginny Potter pretends not to be shocked and disturbed when she opens her front door to find Scorpius Malfoy standing on the porch, wet and shivering, pale hair pasted to his skin. A better hostess than Astoria Malfoy could ever hope to be, she quickly ushers him inside and out of the cold, insists that he address her as 'Ginny', and even calls him "darling."
Once inside the warmth of the house she makes Scorpius a cup of strong tea and Casts him a warming charm. He sits there awkwardly at the kitchen table, hands twisted in his lap, and waits while she fetches James.
James doesn't hide his shock upon seeing Scorpius, though. But then he is notorious for little if not his lack of restraint. His face drains of blood, and after an excruciating silence he demands, "What are you doing here?"
Scorpius fights hard to smother a smirk. Seeing James get upset is one of the few things Scorpius actually takes enjoyment in anymore. When James is angry his face is pale and blotchy all at the same time; he looks exorbitantly ridiculous. Scorpius finds it quite hilarious.
"I wanted to see you," he tells James simply. He tilts his head to one side, birdlike and inquisitive, and adds, "Why, aren't you happy to see me?"
James glances up at his mother, and slowly, after what appears to be a strenuous internal battle, his hands begin to relax at his sides. "Course I am," he grunts. He lumbers forward to grab Scorpius's arm with more force than is necessary. "Come on, then. Let's get out of Mum's hair."
Scorpius smiles to himself, vaguely satisfied, and waves at Mrs. Potter as James drags him out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
As soon as they are alone and out of earshot James turns on him, expression feral with anger, and shakes him by the shoulders. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" His teeth are bared.
Mildly surprised, Scorpius answers him with a vacuous stare.
Scorpius winces slightly as James digs strong fingers into his flesh, and carelessly replies, "I told you before: I wanted to see you. Now get your hands off of me, would you? You’re hurting me, you stupid brute."
James ignores this request and instead narrows dark eyes at him. "You wanted to see me, eh?" He snorts, apparently unconvinced. "Look, this is what's going to happen: You're going to go downstairs and ask Mum if you can use the Floo. Then you're going to go home. Now."
"Fuck you," Scorpius mutters. He shoves James away from him and saunters off down the hall, pushing open the first door he finds. "What's in here, I wonder?" he ponders aloud. He knows and takes cruel delight in the fact that James wants to strangle the life out of him right now and is struggling to control himself, that having Scorpius here, inside his house, is more of a nightmare for him than it could ever be for Scorpius. But then Scorpius never asked to be James’s friend in the first place, and as such cares very little for the other boy’s feelings.
He stands dead in the centre of the dark room. The curtains are drawn, letting in only narrow chinks of grey light that streak across the floorboards and over his shoes. He wonders who this room belongs to.
“He’s not in here, Scorpius," James announces behind him. He is breathing heavily now. "He didn’t want to come home for the holidays; said he was too busy. And anyway, this is my room, not his. He’s … He’s not here.”
Scorpius turns around, slowly, and laughs at him. But it sounds hollow to his own ears. “You think I’m here to see him?” He laughs louder still. “What do you take me for?”
His smile fades in spite of himself, and his voice shakes with anger. “Merlin, just how pathetic do you think I am?” he demands. “I’m not here for him, all right, so spare me your melodrama, James.”
“I don’t think you’re pathetic, Scorpius.” James sounds weary now, defeated. “I think you miss him is all. But like I said, you’re not going to find him here. He’s gone. I don’t even know when he’s coming back.”
At this, Scorpius’ skin burns hot with humiliation. It is like he has been caught out in a lie; is standing here naked and exposed to James’ gaze; vulnerable and feeble and pitiable. Still, he refuses to validate anything James has said with a typical outburst of hostility. He did not come here to see Albus, he silently repeats to himself, over and over and over again. And he will not hear anything alluding to the contrary.
“I came here to see you,” he snaps finally, struggling to conceal the hitch in his tone. "I won’t say it again. Now shut your mouth and turn on the lights. I can’t see a damn thing in here.”
James sighs and, with a click, the room is flooded with orange light. They can see one another again. James no longer looks furious with him but rather pitiful instead. Somehow this is so much worse. Scorpius cannot bear to be pitied.
It is awkward now that the door is closed and the two of them are alone. It feels wrong.
“Do you want to borrow some clothes?” James asks, staring down at his own over-sized feet.
Scorpius glances down at his soaked clothing and realizes that he is cold—freezing. With a shrug of one shoulder, he says, “Fine.”
James nods. “Mum should have dried you when you came in, but … never mind. Look, just wait here.” He leaves the room in a rush. When he returns it is with an armful of clothes. He throws them down on the bed and indicates them with his head. “Take your pick.”
Scorpius doesn’t bother to demand privacy before he strips off his wet clothes and leaves them in a pile at his feet. James is both too boy and too gormless not to stare at him as he undresses, and Scorpius couldn’t care less what James thinks of him anyway.
He picks a blue hooded jacket and a faded pair of jeans. As soon as they touch his skin he knows they belong to Albus. He flushes with unwelcome pleasure at the thought, and daydreams about the way his father will look at him when he arrives back at the manor wearing second-hand Muggle clothes—second-hand Muggle clothes that also happen to belong to a Potter. Smiling to himself, he imagines he’ll even rather enjoy the flogging it will surely garner him later. This is ever so worth it.
“You look good in normal clothes,” James observes, still avoiding Scorpius’ eyes. “I like it.”
Scorpius raises a brow at him but doesn’t say anything. He is well accustomed to James’ standard lack of appropriateness around him by now—he isn’t sure whether it’s because James genuinely fancies him or whether he just behaves that way around anyone with two legs and a heartbeat; but whatever the reason, he’s over it.
Once warm and dry he potters around James’ bedroom and, uninvited, fiddles with his things. “What’s this?” he asks when he comes across an ancient-looking rosewood chest. He nudges it with his foot.
“All my old toys,” James replies, gently pushing him aside. The taller boy gets down on his haunches then and flips open the latch, lifting the lid. “Mine and Al’s. Go on and have a look if you like.”
Scorpius gets down on his knees beside him and rifles through the toys. Most of them are boring, Muggle and stationary; they do nothing extraordinary, not like the toys Scorpius had owned as a child—he’d always had the best of everything and more. Among the toys are tiny little replicas of cars and other Muggle machines Scorpius can’t name; plastic dinosaurs, glass marbles, and even a tiny, naked, nipple-less woman with a missing head. “This is a toy?” Scorpius asks, pulling a face, and picks up the doll to examine her more closely. “How disturbing. Where’s her privates, then?”
James laughs and takes the doll from him, throwing it back inside the chest. “That was Lil’s old Barbie,” he tells Scorpius, glancing at him sidelong. “I think she might have done something to piss Al off once, and so he stole her favourite Barbie and ripped its head off to get back at her. He was a bit like that as a kid. Passive-aggressive.”
Scorpius stares at the mutilated doll and tries to imagine a tiny Albus ripping off its head, a cold and calculating look on his tear-streaked face. But Scorpius cannot—not because he can’t deign to imagine that Albus would ever do something so vicious, but because thinking of Albus’ face at all fills Scorpius with equal parts rage and longing. He hates himself for the longing. Hates Albus for it more.
“I probably would have done the same thing,” he admits finally, and resumes rifling through the toys. At the very bottom he spots a bunch of little dolls which slightly resemble fat Cornish Pixies. “What are these?” he asks, laughing.
James smiles at his amusement. “I’m not telling you,” he says slyly, and leans on the edge of the trunk, chin in his hand. He’s even taller than he was the last time Scorpius saw him. Vaguely, Scorpius suspects the boy will be even more popular with the girls than he already is upon their return to school.
Dismissing this thought, he frowns down at the fat little blue doll in his hand. It is wearing a silly white hat, and with its rounded cheeks and stupid smile it also manages to put him in mind of those painted little things Muggles put in their gardens and call gnomes. “Is this a Smurfette?” he asks then, suspicious of the doll’s blue skin, and glares daggers at James.
James stares right back at him. “Not exactly,” he murmurs, snatching the doll from Scorpius and throwing it back in the trunk. “Smurfette’s the hot one.” He pulls out another of the blue abominations, this one with flowing blonde hair and flirty eyelashes, and hands it to Scorpius so he can get a better look.
Scorpius studies the Smurfette, a look of mingled horror and amusement on his face. “I see,” is all he says, and sets the doll back down. He refuses to say anything else on the subject, and has rather suddenly lost interest in the toys.
He and James sit beside one another in silence for a long while. It is not a comfortable silence, as it is deeply uncharacteristic of James to remain quiet for more than a minute. Scorpius can hear the wind howling outside; it batters the doors and windows of the house, shakes it to its very foundations. Rain lashes against the tin roof, and Scorpius doesn’t think he’s ever been inside a house with a tin roof before today.
It is James who breaks the silence: “I should get you home soon. Your father must be going mental worrying about you.”
Scorpius shrugs off his concern. “He probably hasn’t noticed yet.”
“I’m sorry I yelled at you before, I just … I didn’t want you to come here. Not after—”
“Shut up,” Scorpius advises calmly. “I don’t care about him; stop forcing me to pretend that I do.”
“But you do care,” James argues. He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’re not pretending. And maybe things’d get better if you just talked about it every once in a while. I can see it’s eating you up, and I … I know how that feels, believe me.”
Scorpius doesn’t bother to hide his disgust at James’ transparent attempt to have a Deep and Meaningful with him. With a cold laugh, he says, “You don’t know anything about how I feel, and that’s because there’s nothing to know. I don’t feel anything.”
James casts him a wry look. “Did you really just say ‘I don’t feel anything’? Come on, Scorp, even you must know how ridiculous that sounds—”
“Let it go, James,” Scorpius interrupts, in a tone that demands the subject be left alone. “Just let it go.”
“You know what? Fine,” James snaps, and his expression turns hard. The anger in him is palpable, as it always is. James can’t conceal a thing about himself, and Scorpius will never understand why the boy continues to try and find a kindred spirit in him, either. They are too different, he and James; too at odds to ever find solace in one another. And solace is the last thing Scorpius wants.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going downstairs,” James grumbles then, and gets to his feet. “I can’t even sit in the same fucking room as you sometimes; you’re so cold.”
“Wait.” Scorpius reaches for the other boy’s hand. James doesn’t pull away from him. Sometimes it’s as if the boy craves only this: touch, togetherness, someone who knows; who understands, no matter how little, what has been lost.
“Don’t go yet,” Scorpius says softly. James’ hand is warm in his own. “I need you stay. When I told you I came here to see you, I wasn’t lying.” This, at the very least, is true. Oftentimes he struggles to understand his own motivations for doing stupid things, but this time he is able to recognize exactly what it was he sought in coming here: company, togetherness, understanding.
In this respect he supposes he and James are alike after all.
James stares down at him, hesitant, almost as if he doesn’t want to believe what Scorpius is saying—as if he fears he’s being lured into a trap. “I can’t be him, you know,” he declares, swallowing. “If that’s what you want, you can’t get it from me. I can’t ever be him for you.”
“You’ll never be him,” Scorpius replies, and tries desperately not to sound bitter about the fact. “Feel grateful for it. And regardless, I don’t want to speak another word about him; it’s boring. He’s boring.”
“He didn’t want to hurt you, you know. He never meant to—”
“James,” Scorpius warns him, loudly. “Don’t.” It’s too late. A fierce rush of hatred, of pain, wells up inside him and hits him square in the chest.
Sitting down beside him once more, James doesn’t let go of his hand. “Alright,” he whispers. “Enough.” He covers Scorpius’s hand with his own, and without looking at each other, they sit there in the silence and try to appreciate the only thing either of them have to offer the other: togetherness.