It’s not that important, is it?
We’re not kids anymore, Al. I’m too old for this silly thing, every year.
Just let it go.
James had tried to spin the story in his head but there was no denying. He’d messed up last year. He hadn’t meant to, but he had to admit that he was responsible for messing up that tradition for his brother last year.
In truth, he had forgotten. But at the time, with his friends waiting behind him and the stress from their latest exam still lingering, it seemed better to pretend he just didn’t have the time because he was older now, to act like he’d missed it out intentionally, instead of having to admit that his brain had been a let down. For once, he just wanted to not be the unreliable brother that Albus had clearly become used to; but he didn’t realize that he might have been something much worse.
“Hey, Jamie!” A voice called down the hallway. It was undoubtedly his brother, but James felt slightly startled at the pitch as his brother's voice had now dropped slightly, was rougher and more mature around the edges. How did he not know that? They really hadn’t spoken in ages.
He sighed and hung back, calling for his friends to wait up while he found out what his dippy brother wanted.
Albus came scurrying up to him with a slight grin, his friend Scorpius trailing behind. Merlin, those two were inseparable. “What is it?” James asked, when his brother was in earshot.
Albus seemed slightly caught off guard by the question. “Well, it’s the first of December…”
“Yeah, I know. What, you come to pinch, punch, first of the month me or something?”
“No, I…you know, don’t you?”
Albus would have sulked for a week and moved on, he kept telling himself. He couldn’t imagine his brother spending more than five minutes upset about it anyway, it was only James. He would just wait until the next year, which is why James had an envelope leaking glitter in his hand, and was creeping up behind him in the corridor.
Tiptoeing until he was a breath away from Albus, he reached out and tapped his shoulder, making him jump nearly ten feet in the air before turning to glare at his giggling brother.
“James! Are you forced to do that every single time or do you just choose to be that annoying?”
“Aw, cheer up, Ally-poo.” he cooed, ruffling his hair. Albus scowled further if that were possible and slapped his brother’s hand away. “Ow! Come on, can’t I at least get a smile…?” He plastered the cheesiest grin on his face.
Albus met him with a blank look. “You look like a maniac. Why are you bothering me anyway, I have Charms soon.”
“Know what? Come on, Al, my friends are waiting.” His brother’s eyes drifted to the gaggle of boys behind him, eyeing them with little whispers and giggles. Albus shifted the weight on his feet and swallowed.
“Uh, well, remember the thing, the December 1st thing of…um.”
James tipped his head to the side, brain circling through things that he could need to remember. When nothing came up, it was frustrating and he sighed. “Al, can you actually use words. I don’t know what you mean b-”
“Come on, Jamie! We’re waiting! Don’t wanna be around the snakes too long, do we?”
“Yeah, alright, alright, I’m coming.” He called back with a laugh, holding a hand up to them. When he looked back at his brother, Albus had deflated. “What?”
“It’s just…” his eyes went back to James’ friends.
“Oh, come on, Al, they were only joking.” He brushed off, with a little eye roll. “Don’t take everything so seriously. You still haven’t told me what you want, anyway.”
“God, you’re in a bad mood.”
“Fuck off, James. It’s been a bad day, alright.”
“Oh, what? It’s Christmas! Can’t be that bad.” James reasoned, with a shrug.
“Yeah, well, McGonagall cancelled my Christmas so…”
“Come on, she didn’t mean that. I still have a Christmas thing for you!”
“Do you?” Albus asked, monotone.
“Boom.” James withdrew the envelope from where he’d concealed it underneath his jumper, flecks of glitter following it. Albus raised an eyebrow. “We can still do our Christmas thing! Look, it’s fine, I mean, I’m sure McGonagalls not gonna care about a card and...” Albus scoffed at him, then bit his lip. “What?”
There was a long pause.
“Maybe I don’t care about a card either.” Albus eventually murmured into the silence. James pulled the card he was offering out back to his chest.
“Our thing, Jamie. The card thing, here’s yours.” Albus pulled it out from behind his back.
James felt a weight grow in his stomach. He had forgotten about it completely. He had nothing.
Albus looked at him expectantly, watching as his eyes scanned the room, before it dawned on him. “You forgot, didn’t you.” He whispered, sure of the answer but needing it confirmed anyway.
“Look, I didn’t forget…” Albus’ arms dropped, the card falling to his side. He had disappointed him…again. All because of his stupid forgetful brain. James prickled uncomfortably at the guilt he felt when looking at his brother. He almost looked resigned, used to it. Used to being let down by James-and he hated that it was expected from him. He wouldn’t have it.
“It’s just a silly card, Al. It doesn’t matter.” He told his brother, and Al’s expression changed. It was a complete lie but at least now James wasn’t too forgetful, he was too busy. Surely, that would be better than the truth? It sure felt better than being useless and Albus would understand.
“But we always do it. Every year.”
“Well, I haven’t got you one.”
“Why not ?” James accused. He felt a lump forming in his throat but swallowed it down, trying to keep his angry expression.
Albus hesitated, then frowned. “Why d’you care, go hang out with your dippy friends.” His brother made to leave but James grabbed his arm before he could, holding it tightly. “Let me go .”
“No, you can’t just push us away all the time, Albus! What’s your problem, exactly?”
“Right now, you .”
“Oh, really mature.” Albus rolled his eyes and tried to break free, but James stopped him, tightening the grip on his arm. “No, I’m not just letting you leave. I want an explanation. Why are you doing this?”
“James, let go of my arm, you're hurting me.” He tried to struggle out of it, but failed.
“The poor little Albus act is getting really boring. I have to watch you mope around all the time, and when I try to have a laugh with you, all you do is just shove me off. But then when I don’t help, that’s on me ? I’m done with being made the bad guy, when all I’m doing is trying! Trying to cheer you up. I just, I just can’t win with you-do you want my help or not?”
“ Ow , James, you don’t…”
“I mean, I’d love to spend more time with you, but you act like you hate me! If you don’t want me around, you’re going the right way about it but I at least want to know why. Why? Why are you pushing me away?”
“ I push you away.”
James rolled his eyes. “Albus, I can’t remember the last time you talked to me or even smiled at me. You never, ever try with me and I’m getting tired of it! If you really can’t be asked then, I swear, I’m not going to either because that’s clearly what you want. Isn’t it?” Albus shrugged, staring daggers at James. “Oh, there we go! Just know that this is your fault, I’m here but you just don’t make any effort.”
“I have tried , but I gave up on you a long time ago when I realised that you weren’t someone I could rely on. It’s not my fault that you’ve realised you want to be ‘brothers’ a bit too late.” He spat.
“It’s not that important is it?” Albus looked up and James shrugged at him, with an expectant look.
“N-no, I guess not.” He slowly shook his head. “But Jamie…”
“We’re not kids anymore, Al. I’m too old for this little thing, every year, you know. I’ve got friends to hang out with and school to think about. I'm sure you do as well.” Exactly, he was busy. He had other responsibilities. It wasn’t his fault that he forgot.
He watched Albus nod again, eyes glazed over. Still, he said nothing, but stood there. James looked over at his friends, who tapped their wrists impatiently and then raised their arms in question. He gave a nod to them.
“Just…let it go. I’ve gotta get to my friends.”
Albus gave a final nod and James watched him for another second. Surely, his brother would know they’d just do it next year. It was just one year.
“For Merlin's sake, Albus, you have no idea!” He said, stomping his foot. “I’ve always said that you could come and talk to me if you wanted, you just never gave me a chance! I mean, what more do you want from me?”
“No, you don’t understand, it’s…”
At those words, James saw red. “Of course I don’t! You keep ignoring me, how am I supposed to! You can't get upset at me for it, make me the bad guy when you’re the one who pushes everyone away. Me, Lily, Dad, people at school…in fact, the only person who you hang out with is Scorpius. Ever since you even got sorted into Slytherin, you changed, you moved away. And it’s been worse since you did the thing with the Time Turner, I don’t quite know what happened, of course I don’t, but I know that you need to move on and not take it out on us! Let’s face it, you threw a tantrum and then got your knickers in a twist because of the consequences. And I don’t doubt that an alternate reality would have been scary but it’s fixed now! Big deal! But you’re taking it all out on the rest of us, and it’s getting exhausting. You’re closed off, cold, distant. You overreact to everything I say, resent me for not being reliable, as you put it. But how am I supposed to help if I don’t know what’s happening! So I’m done, final chance. If you want me to help, tell me what the problem is, it’s really not that hard.”
He waited expectantly, but his brother merely looked down, and whispered. “James…please.”
Anger flared through him again as his brother once again shut him out. “No! I’m trying to help you, we all are, and we’re all here if you need us but you can’t even give us the time of day! You just push us all away! It hurts! It’s ungrateful. And, it-it’s selfish! It's not fair on any of the rest of us. It’s not fair. So either tell me what the fuck is actually going on or stop making it my problem.” James finished, close to Albus’ face and glaring.
His brother was leaning back as far as he could, and let out a shuddering breath. Al’s emerald eyes stared back, scanning James’ face. “I’m a problem?”
James’ grip loosened. “What?”
“I’m a problem.” Albus repeated, more surely. “For you. I’m a burden.” He freed his arm and fixed the sleeve, rubbing slightly at where James’ grip had been tight. James opened his mouth to backtrack.
“I didn’t mean that , I… no, you’ve taken this the wrong way, what I was…”
“No. I didn’t.”
“It’s fine. I get it. I am a problem, I…weigh you guys down, I know. So, why would you, why would anyone want me around. Or like me?” James pulled a face of confusion, opening his mouth to argue. Albus didn’t let him. “ I don’t. So I’m trying to do you a favour. You don’t have to pretend you do either…’cos I’m only your pathetic, disappointing, embarrassing, exhausting , waste of space, Slytherin brother, right?” he spat coldly, voice high and tight and he brushed past James. He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry.
Scorpius placed a hand on Albus’ arm, making both Potters jump. James hadn’t even noticed him shuffling closer as they had talked. “Come on, Albus, let’s go.” He said gently.
His brother peered up to his friend, and words passed between them silently in the look they shared.
“Yeah. Bye, James.” Albus said coldly, and turned to walk away with Scorpius resting a hand on his shoulder.
“Bye then, Al?” he called out.
James’ eyes furrowed as he watched them go but it slipped from his mind as his friends slapped him on the back and dragged him in the opposite direction down the corridor.
James straightened his robes after a second, trying to ignore the stares of a few groups in the corridor. He didn’t know where that had come from, but it was unsettling. He’d thought he was only being honest, fair, but now guilt was looming and his words left a bitter taste in his mouth. And the way Albus had talked about himself…
He was even more confused than before. And concerned. James had to find his brother.
His mission had been very much unsuccessful. After a week of missing Albus after his lessons, watching him slip away from the Great Hall before he could catch up and being ignored when they passed by in the corridors, James was at his wits end. He’d taken to lying upside down in his bed, trying to get all the blood to rush through his head and carry with it a plan on how to corner Albus and say what he wanted to say. Frustrating minutes passed, before he threw his arms up in triumph causing him to slip headfirst off the bed. Wincing slightly as he sat up, rubbing his head, James grabbed his robes and threw them on. He flew out of the dorms in a hurry, for he needed to find someone. Scorpius.
The Slytherin dorms were at the other end of the castle to the Gryffindor tower, which James had not resented until he had tried to run the entire length in one go. He arrived, sweaty and out of breath, without any real plan, and only when he realised he would come unstuck when he was met with a closed entrance and no knowledge of a password, he began knocking on the door. In fact, knocking may be putting it lightly as anyone who would have walked past would surely think that James was trying to break it down.
James almost missed the humming from behind him, before a voice sang through the corridor. “Hello, who’s at the…James?” Scorpius approached slowly, staring dead at the older Potter with an unreadable expression. His soft stare, usually seeming to be glowing with kindness, now appeared laced with intimidation. James shuffled on the spot.
“Scorpius. Hi.” He put a hand on his chest, still breathless from all the physical exertion.
“Hello, uh, what are you doing here?”
“Al and I had a fight, and…”
James paused, slightly caught off guard. “Right, well. I came to find him, Albus, I need to talk to him.”
Scorpius nodded slowly and his gaze flitted between James and the door behind his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I, uh, I don’t think he wants to talk to you. You might be better coming back another day.”
James shook his head desperately. “Please, I need to…he’s my brother, you can’t just keep him hidden away.”
“Well, I’m not hiding him away- this is his house common room.” Scorpius said defensively, eyebrows furrowed. “Look, James, I really don’t want to make Albus upset. If you think that this will make him feel better, I can go and get him but-”
“Are you saying that I’ll make my brother upset?”
Scorpius opened his mouth, unsure what to say, then pressed his lips together. “Yes.” He said quietly.
“Oi, right, you can’t just, you don’t know about our relationship, about our lives, so you can’t just…”
“I know Albus .” Scorpius interrupted, suddenly meeting his gaze challengingly and stepping forward.
“Excuse me?” He gaped slightly, taken aback by Scorpius’ boldness. “You think I don’t? He’s my brother .”
“I know, but…” Scorpius swallowed. “Well, what’s his favourite colour? Or…what does he have for breakfast every morning? His life’s dream, biggest secret?”
“I…he has toast for breakfast with…” His fist clenched when the blond shook his head, looking disappointed.
“You don’t know, do you.” James looked away, saying nothing. “He has coffee every morning. Black coffee, I don’t know how he can drink it like that but he does. And the occasional bowl of cereal when he has a morning appetite.”
“Right. But that doesn’t prove you know more than…”
“And his favourite colour is silver. Specifically not grey, but silver. His dream right now is to work with animals, you know, and magical creatures and try to understand them better or rehabilitate or… and his biggest secret is…” James looked up. “...is his secret. So, it’s not mine to tell.”
“It’s not a competition, I don’t want it to be one. But, I think I know Albus well enough to be able to see that you upset him. Maybe you don’t mean to, I doubt that you do, but you upset him.” James was silent. Scorpius’ calm, even voice made the words sting. His sweet nature was a slap in the face.
“ Alright , sorry.” James mumbled. He sounded sulky and he knew it, but he couldn’t bring himself to change it. “I doubt Albus would be upset though. Don’t think he even cares about me anymore.” He kicked the side of his shoe with a slight pout.
Scorpius sighed lightly. “Is this…about the tradition thing?” James looked up with a slight nod. “I can tell you that he definitely does care about it.” He scoffed at the blond.
“Sure, yeah. That’s why he didn’t do it this year, and said he didn’t care about a stupid card.”
“Did you still care even when you didn’t do it last year?” Scorpius asked, then slapped a hand over his mouth. James was a bit lost for words.
“That…that was different.”
“How?” The blond said behind his hand.
“Because…well, I didn’t tell Albus that I didn’t care. He knew that I did, I was just busy and we were going to do it next year, or this year, rather.” A pit began to grow in his stomach as he saw Scorpius shake his head. “Of course he knew.”
“If that’s what you meant, he didn’t get that. In his eyes, he went to you about it, but you brushed him off and didn’t have time for him. You told him it was time to grow up and move on, and so… he did.”
James shook his head. “No, that was a mistake. He didn’t care, he would’ve known we’d do it this year.”
“Albus cried himself to sleep about it. He did care.”
“He just thought that you didn’t care. And you didn’t really make him think any differently. I don’t know how it is for you, but I know it was really important to him and when it was over…it was more than just a tradition. It was proof that you thought about each other. I mean, really, Albus just wanted you to give him some time, whether it was through the card or not, but it didn’t happen…so he let it go, and I think it made him let you go as well.”
James had really gone and said all the worst things to Albus, hadn’t he. He groaned, slamming his hand into the wall behind him. Why couldn’t it ever go right ? “I just feel like I can’t even talk to him anymore!” He burst out. “Everything I say is somehow the wrong thing! I really did want to spend time with him, but he seemed to hate me. I…I try to joke around and he just scowls at me. Like last year, I was just joking around and. He just doesn’t seem to understand, I mean, all my friends were laughing and…”
“I think Albus isn’t the only one who doesn’t understand.” James furrowed his eyebrows. “Your ‘friends’ hate us, James.”
“ Hate you? No, they don’t. I know that Albus sometimes doesn’t get on with them but they’re nice enough, just trying to have a bit of banter with him. We all do it, it’s just boy stuff. And honestly, the amount of times they’ve come to me about stuff that he has said, it’s…”
“That’s because they put me in the hospital wing, James. It’s not just a bit of… banter, at least I think, I’m not sure what that word means, but they’re bullies.”
“They did what ?”
“That’s why he doesn’t like them, they’re some of the worst ones, apart from the people in our year.”
“ My friends?”
“Your friends, they, uh, they shove us around, and sometimes it just goes a bit too far, hence the Hospital Wing. They ripped up both of our books, write insults all over our stuff. Oh, and they’ve hexed us more times than I can count.”
“They’ve done all of this?”
“Albus had a concussion for a week once, after one spell threw him against the wall .” Scorpius listed, counting on his fingers, now lost on a tangent. “They cut up his tie and scarf and all his Slytherin things. And then there’s all the stuff they say to us, as well. They’re not very nice people.”
James watched him with his mouth open. “They did what to my brother?” He said in a low voice, and Scorpius shrank away.
“I, well, I only was saying because you didn’t seem to know, sorry, I wasn’t…”
“What did they say to you guys?”
“All kinds of things. I don’t…stuff about us being in Slytherin, things ab-bout him being disappointing for the family, stuff about me but that doesn’t really matter.”
“Waste of space?” James asked, and Scorpius nodded slowly. “I’ll kill them.” He snarled. “I’ll… Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t Albus tell me? What the fuck?”
“You chose them. He thought you didn’t care and just agreed with it, because they spend time with you and well, they’re your friends.”
“Well, they’re not anymore . Surely though, surely he can’t think that I’d…”
“You didn’t really stop them when you were around. Whenever they’d make fun of us, you would laugh along. Or you’d join in, and with all the comments you made at home…so I think Albus thought…well, you’d have to ask him.”
The blond tentatively walked closer as he sank against the wall, shaking his head, tears burning at his eyes. Scorpius was right. He did upset his brother. His brother . All the times he’d laughed at Albus, ignoring his pain because he found it funny. Suddenly, everything made sense and regret broke over him like cold water, making him gasp. “Oh Merlin, what have I done?”
“Just take a breath, don’t beat yourself up about it. You really don’t need to.” Scorpius assured. “I know things aren’t easy, between you two. I just thought this might help you understand. This is just what Albus sees and I’m not saying that it’s your fault, that’s not what I’m trying…”
“It is. My fault.” Scorpius’ head tipped to the side, sending James a sympathetic look. He buried his head in his hands, breaking into sobs. “I’ve fucked up. I’m his older brother, I should know this stuff, I’m meant to protect him but…no wonder he pushes me away! First, I miss our bloody tradition and I’ve been friends with…with them and…I’m sorry!” He let the guilty tears fall, making his robes damp as he covered his face with them.
A gentle hand fell on his shoulder, rubbing comforting circles there. “It’s not your fault, it’s complicated, okay.” Scorpius whispered. James shook his head, focusing on getting his breath under control as he sniffled. He was thankful that the blond just let him cry, sensing his needs, and James vaguely noted that he could see why Albus took to Scorpius so much. He seemed to have an aura of comfort around him that James didn’t know how he’d missed before.
Eventually, the tears subsided, leaving a dull ache in his head. The hand squeezed his shoulder lightly. “James…James.”
“Hey, I know it’s a lot. But it’s not your fault, really, or…there’s a lot to it. Listen, um, you should just know. Albus is really struggling right now. I mean, it’s been a hard few months but this is a rough patch. So he just needs some time. After the things with, her…”
Scorpius shut his eyes, hand moving to grip his tie tightly. “Mm-hm. Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “After that, well, Albus has been struggling with a lot and right now he’s finding it really hard to let people in. That’s why you might feel like he’s pushing you away, but there is a reason and it’s really not you. I know it’s not always easy, but…well, we went through it together and it’s hard to feel like anyone else understands but us.”
James sniffed, wiping his nose on his robe sleeve. “Understand what?”
“I…am guessing that you don’t know, then, and I wish I could tell you but…all I can say is that Del…Delphi…turned on us, on him. She pretended to be his friend, but she really wasn’t, she was a…monster.” Scorpius broke off, taking a deep breath and smoothing his robes down.
After some silence, James tried to send him a reassuring smile and he sent it back, finding the courage to continue. “And now, it’s hard to trust anyone because it really messed with his head. But it’s also the only thing that he can think about, so it’s hard to let anyone in who doesn’t know. So he feels like he would have to say, so people understand. And then, see, he feels like he shouldn’t say anything because he also feels like it’s his own fault anyway and he thinks he’s a burden and like he would just cause more problems than he already thinks he has and it’s all just a big, complicated, messy…mess.” The blond finished, waving his hands around to emphasise the chaos.
His heart rate increased tenfold, as his words from earlier echoed around his head. What he’d said, what that would’ve done. “I didn’t know.” he whispered to himself.
“No, I didn’t know! Scorpius, no one told me the half of it, Albus didn’t…I didn’t understand, I said…because I wouldn’t have thought…” he trailed off.
“James. What did you do?” He looked away from the penetrating gaze of the blond, opening and closing his mouth stupidly as he tried to come up with the best answer. There wasn’t one that sounded good.
He sniffed. “I… I told him to just get over it. Scorpius, I didn’t know any of this but I…I said he was making it all our problem, and it wasn’t fair. And then he got upset…and I made him feel like a burden.”
“Oh, tell me you didn’t.” Scorpius rested his head against the wall, with a sigh. “Why are Potters so complicated?” He whispered to himself.
“I’m just like everyone else…I’m meant to be his brother!” Tears began sliding down his face again. “I’ve made him feel like a w-waste of space like everyone else.”
“Look, hey, hey, hey. Don’t start that again. You haven’t, I promise it’s alright.” Scorpius hurried to offer him some comfort. “Sure, it’s not the best thing you could’ve said…but it’s not your fault. He knows you don’t know. Maybe he could have communicated better, maybe you could have…whatever. Just don’t blame yourself like this, please don’t. It won’t help.”
“But still, I…he should be able to trust me, and now…oh, Scorpius, I’m sorry. I really am.” He said, nodding his head earnestly. Scorpius smiled sympathetically, head tipping to the side.
“I know. But I’m not sure it’s me who you should be apologising to.” He said softly.
“What do I do?”
“Fix it- that’s the only thing that matters, not about who did what or who’s to blame. The past is the past. You’ve just lost your way a bit, but you can find him again. I know Albus, I know you can.” Scorpius smiled hopefully.
James nodded but suddenly grabbed his hand tightly. “ Please , Scorpius. He won’t go near me, keeps ignoring me, you know. I have to talk to him, can you help? I don’t know what to…please?”
“Um…” Scorpius gently freed his hand from James’ grip. “I can't make any promises but I can try something. Christmas holidays are coming up so I can’t be there but, hmm, it would be better when it’s at home, anyway.” He said to himself, formulating a plan. “Leave it with me.”
“It’s for Albus.” He replied honestly.
“I know. Thank you.”
They had only been at home for a few hours after the long journey back on the Hogwarts Express when James heard back about everything. “Scorpius sent me a letter.” His mum came behind and whispered in his ear. “I think we should have a chat, don’t you?”
“Yes, with Albus. Come on, now, before the Christmas holidays get started already.” James nodded and began to head to the living room whilst his mum called his brother and warned off the rest of the family from the room.
As Albus walked in, a pit of dread fell through his stomach and he looked away, sitting on one edge of the sofa. Albus sat as far away as possible on the other side.
Ginny sat down between the pair, Albus letting her take his hand while James leant into her side. She sighed.
“You are silly, silly boys.”
“Mum!” They both protested in unison and she let out a small laugh.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into the both of you, but sort it out. I know you can.” She looked between her sons but neither of them were ready to say anything. “You know, I have a lot of experience with brothers. I mean, with how many uncles you have. I have, uh, had six brothers.” Albus shuffled closer to his mum. “Some of them lived far away, so I didn’t see them as much, but they were still family. Some of them were my closest friends, who joked with me every day. And then, there was your Uncle Percy.”
“Yes. I know you aren’t supposed to have favourites, but Percy always seemed to understand me in a special way. He was my best friend. When we were kids, he’d take care of us, always get involved. We’d degnome the garden and I’d be his second in command while he told everyone what to do, or he’d referee our Quidditch matches and give me extra points. He always was a stickler for the rules, except when it came to me.” She laughed softly. “And then, he went to Hogwarts and we grew up. He was…very distant when we were older. Embarrassed by us, embarrassed by me. Things changed, and all of a sudden, I don’t know. He never wanted to be around, and I never wanted to be around him and we grew apart.”
“But you’re close now! Uncle Percy always comes to family dinners.” James mumbled into her arm. She nodded and ran a hand through his hair.
“He does, but that took a long time. So I missed out on years of memories that could have been with my brother because we both lost sight of what was important. Each other. And I wish, more than anything, that we’d healed things more quickly, or taken time to understand each other. If we’d listened to what the other was feeling, thought about what they were going through, it would have made things a lot easier.”
“But you did fix things?” Albus asked, quietly. “They got better?”
“They did.” she nodded.
“And it didn’t matter how you’d treated each other in the past?” James said, sitting up.
“It mattered that we’d made each other feel bad, like outsiders in each other’s lives. But it only mattered to us because we wanted to change it, not because we wanted to blame the other. And we were family. No matter what, no matter what we had done, we would always be that and we would always love each other.” Albus pulled his knee up to his chest, resting his cheek on it.
“We are friends now, but it was hard to get there. I really wouldn’t want the same thing to happen to you two. For you to waste that much time. You know, you two used to be so close.”
They all smiled despite themselves. “I remember.” James nodded.
“You’d go around causing mischief, Albus would do everything that you did, James, like your little clone. You’d play games with each other, try new things together, make up secrets to keep from me and your dad. Oh, and you even made up your own language.” She laughed, gently wiping a tear that had begun falling down Albus’ cheek. “That was a difficult two weeks.”
James sniffed. “Mum, why did we start the tradition, where we give each other the cards?”
Ginny sighed and scrunched her face up in thought. “Goodness, let me think. Well, Jamie, you were about four and Al was three when it started, if I remember rightly. James had come toddling in after school on December 1st, with a card that said “Merry Christmas, Al” scrawled on it in big letters and a little blue thread bracelet. Your teacher had told you to make them for someone as an activity and you chose your brother.” They both smiled and Al rested his head on her shoulder too.
“When Albus saw it, he grinned so big and decided that he had to make one too and you sat together at the table and made another card and then you showed him how to make the bracelet and he gave it to you. You got glitter everywhere, I found bits of it in both of your hair for a week. But Jamie, you said, ‘Let’s do this every year’. And the two of you did.”
“The year isn’t over, boys. And you’re still the same people.” Ginny told them, kissing Albus’ head. “You can’t just lose something that quickly. You’re always going to have got glitter over my table from making Christmas cards for each other on December 1st when you were four, and stuck your hands together with glue when you were seven and nearly cut off the circulation to your fingers with thread when you were ten. You share those memories because you share this tradition. It’s yours, and that can’t change. My Jamie and Albie.”
They both looked over at each other, from each of their mum’s shoulders and smiled slightly as they saw the other was crying too. Just then, Albus shot up.
“Albus, where are you going?” His little brother looked back with a meek smile, wiping his face dry of tears.
“Just wait a couple seconds, I’ll be back.” The look was promising and James nodded. Albus slipped up the stairs and he shifted on the sofa, waiting intrigued for his return, whilst his mum ran a hand up and down his arm. After a few minutes, he reappeared, with his cheeks pink and hair slightly more messy than it had been before.
Ginny stood up, giving them space and Albus flopped down on the sofa next to James with a huff. He received an expectant look.
“Where did you go?”
“To get this,” Al said, revealing a slightly familiar envelope from behind his back. “I kept it, just in case you changed your mind.” It was the card he had made from third year, still decorated in the same swirly patterns.
James’ heart melted. “Oh. I didn’t think you would still have it.” He took it, looking down sorrowfully. “I’m sorry, I’m an idiot. I’m such an idiot. But I guess I did change my mind, even though it took me about a year too long.” Albus laughed slightly, and James felt a swell of pride at making his brother smile.
“You are late to everything.” Al teased and James shoved him lightly.
“I call it living twenty minutes behind everyone else. I’m always on time for when I plan to be there.” Albus scoffed. “It’s your fault for having too high expectations for me.”
“Uh, I don’t think expecting you to be fully dressed in the mornings before we leave the house is expecting too much, James.” Ginny said from the doorway, and he shrugged. She nodded at them and decided to slip away.
“So, are you going to open it?”
James nodded and opened it, scanning the writing. A fond smile came to him as he began reading the message inside, and the smile quickly turned into a giggle and Albus sent him a questioning look.
“What’s so funny?” He asked, slightly affronted. He couldn’t remember exactly what he’d written a year on, but it certainly wasn’t laugh worthy.
“Just…open your card, Al. Really.”
Albus nodded slowly, pulling his own card out of the envelope. His eyes scanned it and the same smile as his brother came to his face. “Albie, Merry Christmas. I know that things have been difficult recently…”
“Ugh, you don’t have to read it out.” James cringed. Albus smirked at the challenge.
“I know things have been difficult recently, both for you and for us. I can’t fix your life, but I can try with me and you. I miss making fun of your stupid face.” Albus threw him a quick look of contempt before reading on. “We haven't laughed with each other or talked in ages, I don’t like that. And I would love it if we could…” his breath caught slightly at trying to read the words aloud. “…if we could be proper brothers again. I miss us. So yeah, if you want to chat, hey. Let me know when I can help. From James.”
Albus looked up and his brother shrugged at him. “I…”
“The reason I was laughing is because…well, you wrote. I’m just gonna read it out. Merry Christmas, Jamie. I feel like we haven’t talked in a long time and I know you’re busy with school but if you wanted to go to Hogsmeade with me and maybe even Scorpius next weekend? We can catch up over Butterbeers. I miss you. I'm sorry that I’ve been grumpy, you’re just annoying sometimes but I do still love you. Can we make up and be brothers again, like before you went to Hogwarts? I’ve been thinking about how family is important recently and I don’t want to lose you. Or be so far away. So, let me know. Love From Al.”
There was a pause and they let the words settle around them.
“You can see how they’re quite similar.”
“Hm.” Albus agreed, looking in thought.
“Just thought it was funny, it’s weird.”
“S’not that weird. We’re brothers, it’s probably got something to do with it.”
“Yeah. Yeah, we’re brothers. And I promise that no matter how busy I am, or how much time it’s been since we last spoken, we’re always going to be brothers. I know things feel a bit…divided right now but.” He looked down at the festive card. “Shit, I’m sorry it’s taken a year to get this. If I’d got this a year ago…really I would have tried harder. I should have. And it shouldn’t have taken this, and I…”
“Jamie…” Al waved his hand in front of them. “Just, stop apologising. I’m sorry too. For pushing you away, you were right. We both could have done things better, but we can’t change that now. The past is the past.”
James suddenly smirked. “Funny, Scorpius said exactly the same thing. You are literally sharing a brain cell. Or does it just take travelling through time for you to realise that fact?”
“Shut up, Jamie. But we can’t be better brothers if we’re clinging on to the past, with resentment for each other or ourselves. So, let’s at least try to let it go.”
James gave him an approving look. “Well, that was very mature of you, baby bro.” Albus rolled his eyes.
“You’ve got a year on me, you’re not that old.”
“I’m your big brother, so you’ll always be a baby to me.” Albus rolled his eyes with a laugh as James ruffled his hair. There was a beat of silence and he looked down. It suddenly felt awkward again, at the prospect of his next question. But he couldn’t just not ask, he had to at least try. “It…also means that I should protect you. And I don’t think I have, have I?”
Albus tensed. “I…I don’t…”
James took a deep breath, and decided to blurt it out. “Al, are you being, you know, bullied ?”
His brother furrowed his eyebrows. “Isn’t it… obvious? Everyone hates us.”
“Yes, but I mean, you’re being really, properly bullied.”
“I don’t know quite what that means.”
“Well, I thought you meant, like, a bit of teasing, not…Scorpius told me what my ex -friends did. I swear, if I’d known at all about any of it, I never would have stayed around them. Though to be honest, I shouldn’t have let them tease you anyway. I knew you didn’t like it but I didn’t notice because I thought it was funny.”
“It’s fine, you don’t have to apologize.” Albus muttered.
“No, I do. But Albus, why didn’t you tell me, or tell anyone?”
He pulled at the green thread bracelet from inside the card. “S’no point. No one cares, ‘cos it’s Scorpius. It’s only us two, against it all.” James smiled sadly, then put an arm around his brother.
“Not anymore, I promise. I’ll protect you.” Albus relaxed in his hold, smiling back in thanks. “For all the times I didn't, I’ll protect you. And whenever you need me, if you need to talk, just let me know. Whenever you are ready.” His brother blinked hard as his eyes glistened with tears again. For the first time in years, it felt like they understood each other.
“Thank you. I… I’ll remember that and…I love you.”
James gasped lightly, then pulled his brother closer. “Yeah, I love you, too, Al. You’re never a waste of space to me, okay? You’re not any of those things you said. Don’t you go forgetting it.” His brother nodded against his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Scorpius doesn’t let me.” James hummed approvingly.
“He’s a good guy, you know, your Scorpius.”
“ My Scorpius?”
“Your little friend, Scorpius. He helped out with this.” James waved his finger between them. “Sent mum a letter on our behalf telling her what was going on and that an ‘intervention’ was needed.” Albus smiled fondly. “I don’t like him.”
“Why?” Albus demanded, raising an eyebrow.
“Because I really do like him-and I can see why you do as well. He's a very comforting person.” Al sighed, with a nod. “Just you feel bad for even asking him for help, ‘cos he’s so giving.”
“You don’t like that he makes you feel like you’re getting more than you deserve from him.” Albus concluded and James hummed.
“He’s a much better person than I am. Intimidatingly nice.”
“Intimidatingly nice? What the fuck is that supposed to mean.” James shrugged and pulled a face. “He is nice.”
“He cares about you . A lot .”
“We care about each other, we’re friends .” Albus deadpanned. James raised his eyebrows, a coy little smirk coming to his face.
“ Yes . Struggling with the concept?”
“ Just friends? Or do you want to be more than friends.” Albus’ eyes widened at James, and he spluttered slightly but no discernible words came out. James grinned widely, his theory all but confirmed by that reaction. “Don’t worry, Al, I’ll keep ya secret. That’s what brothers are for!” he said, poking his side as he stood up.
“I don’t have a secret!” Al cried, his cheeks flushed.
“And I’ll be here when you realize you do-o-o. Merlin knows you couldn’t talk to Scorpius about it.” Albus relaxed against the sofa with a sigh, but then smiled. James would be there-and this time he believed it.
James would be there and he had the proof right in his hands. For it may just be a silly little card but it may be something more.