Whoever thought to put the Astronomy Tower at the very top of the castle, only accessible after you’ve thickened your thighs to thrice their size trying to climb all those stairs—well, they were probably being quite smart about it, actually, but Scorpius still hates them to the core.
He’s wheezing by the time he makes it halfway up the first staircase. Not because he’s unfit or unused to exercise, although admittedly he’s not the best at going for morning jogs or turning away pastries when they float his way, but because it’s October, which means his allergies are in full bloom.
Albus always looks at him askance when he complains about the cold weather making him sniffy, like he thinks Scorpius is lying about the gunk filling his lungs, but hay fever in Autumn is perfectly normal. Aggravating enough to make him want to rip his nose off, but normal.
“Oh, holy bees,” Scorpius rasps to himself, clinging tightly to the banister as a shiver works its way up his spine. “What is it with wizards and not putting glass in the windows?”
In fairness, the walls of the Astronomy Tower are pockmarked with windows filled in with stained glass, but the top of the Astronomy Tower may as well be an open-top bus for all the good it does against the chilly autumn weather. It’s all pillars and wide open views. The wind whips past him as he climbs higher, rattling the metal staircase. He ducks his head further into the collar of his shirt, climbing the last few steps at a record speed.
There, victorious, he bends at the waist, groaning and gasping for breath.
“Scorp?” Albus’s voice floats over from some hazy, judgemental corner of the Tower. “I wondered who was making all that noise. You sound like you’ve got windchimes for a windpipe.”
There is a distinctly whistling edge to his panting, that’s true, but Scorpius doesn’t appreciate the observation. He heaves himself upright, pushing his hair back with a sigh, and squints in Albus’s direction.
He looks distractingly handsome, wearing a plain black t-shirt and a pair of loose, comfy jeans. His hair is all mussed from the wind, his cheeks pink with the cold, though he doesn’t seem to have noticed the weather enough to do anything about it. One of his hands rests on a telescope, and the other is in the business of tucking a retractable quill into his pocket. There are books piled haphazardly at his feet, and all manner of star charts spread out on the floor.
“What are you doing here?” Albus steps away from the telescope. “I thought you had a meeting.”
“What am I doing here?” Scorpius splutters, stalking forward. “I’ve been looking all over for you! You said you were going to bed, and that we could do our gift exchange after my meeting finished, but I spent five minutes talking to your bed curtains before I realised you weren’t behind them. I looked like a right idiot.”
Albus snorts with laughter, sudden and jarring. He waves a hand when Scorpius looks at him incredulously, saying, “Sorry, sorry, I was just picturing it. C’mon, you know I wouldn’t have sat in bed and ignored you for five minutes. I’d never ignore you.” Before Scorpius can be too pleased by the promise, he adds, “I’m not sure you realise how impossible it is to ignore you once you get going.”
“I don't think that was necessary,” Scorpius mutters, rolling his eyes. “What am I doing here, he says, as if we haven’t planned this all week. Did you—”
Scorpius stops suddenly, trailing off with an unsure hitch of his breath as a thought occurs to him. Tentatively, he twists his fingers together.
“Did you not want to do the gift exchange?” Before Albus can speak, Scorpius hurriedly adds, “I understand if you don't! It’s weird, isn’t it? People don't usually do gifts just because of a new season, but mostly it’s because I had an idea of what to get you and thought you’d like it, but if you think it’s odd—”
A gust of wind drifts through the Astronomy Tower, cutting him off. Albus’s expression doesn’t change much these days, but Scorpius likes to think he knows the nuances by now. He used to be an open book, his emotions easily pinpointed, but privately Scorpius wonders if that’s because the anger and depression used to blot everything else out, making it the easiest thing to feel, the easiest thing to see.
Albus is much better now. In his sixth year, he’s calmer, more confident, although he still doesn’t speak up much in class, and he refuses to join all the same clubs that Scorpius does, even though he’d probably enjoy them. But it’s clear that he lets himself feel more, even if he doesn’t quite show it the way other people do.
“Is this your way of saying you don't want my gift?” Albus says, mouth curling slightly in amusement. “Even though we’ve been planning this all week?”
The worry leaves as abruptly as it came. Scorpius lets his shoulders fall, the tension unwinding from his neck, and sniffs once or twice to clear his sinuses. Not because he’s huffy and indignant.
“I was just checking,” Scorpius says. “There’s no harm in being sure.”
“Maybe you don't trust my taste,” Albus says, ignoring him in favour of being a dramatic arsehole. “All these years of friendship, and you still don't think I know you. I thought you’d have more faith in me than that.”
“Yes, yes, you’ve made your point.” Scorpius scowls, nudging him. “Christ, I’m sorry for doubting you.”
Albus stuffs his hands in his pockets, grinning properly. “You’re forgiven.”
The look on his face, the soft, friendly grin and the easy way he sways into Scorpius’s space is a little too much. Scorpius averts his gaze, clearing his throat, and casts about for something to bait his attention with. His eyes fall on the books and the star charts.
“Oh! You still haven’t told me what you’re doing up here. I thought you said you were tired?”
“Mm, I was, but I’d forgotten that it’s a full moon tonight.” Albus points, not at the full moon embedded in the thick, velvet sky, but at the edge of the Tower, where several jam jars stand to attention, lids unscrewed. “Grookroot is way more potent if you soak it on a full moon, and I need it for a potion.”
Sure enough, when Scorpius darts closer to get a good look, there are clumps of thin, tangled roots floating in the jam jars, drowning in a violet liquid. Each root gleams slightly in the moonlight.
“Freddie reckons we can use it in a new type of gum for the shop, but he’s too busy to do it himself, so he sent me an Owl.”
“And a bribe, I imagine,” Scorpius says, because he’s been exposed to Albus’s various cousins for long enough now to know their tricks and habits, even if he still feels a little bad for saying it out loud. “That, or blackmail.”
“Just a bribe, this time. New laces for my Dragon-Hide boots. I keep splashing potions on them, and the boots are fine but the laces keep disintegrating. These ones shouldn’t, though, if Freddie was telling the truth.”
“I’m glad I didn't get you shoelaces then,” Scorpius says, perking up at the reminder.
Albus tilts his head, watching him curiously as he bounds across the Tower. The wind picks up and Albus finally seems to register that his arms are bare, goosebumps rising on his skin as he shivers, hunching his shoulders. Scorpius, kitted out in thick robes, feels rather smug for approximately half a second before the guilt and worry hits him.
“You should wear a coat if you’re going to be up here looking at stars,” Scorpius scolds him. “Here, this’ll help! Perfect timing, actually.”
He digs about in the pocket of his robes and produces a tiny parcel wrapped in orange twine. The brown paper crinkles as he places it in Albus’s hands, and a quick swish of his wand makes it grow to the size of a throw cushion, lumpy and squashy.
“It’s not even that big, you could have carried it up the stairs,” Albus says, with a teasing grin. “Thanks, Scorpius. Yours is here—hang on, let me just…”
He puts the lumpy parcel under one arm, carefully, and summons a small box from behind the pile of books. It feels surprisingly heavy, fitting easily enough in one of Scorpius’s hands. He holds it up to his ear and shakes it curiously, listening to the faint rattle of whatever’s inside.
“Uh,” Albus says, brows climbing rapidly. “Maybe don't shake it? Unless you like broken glass.”
Scorpius lowers the box sheepishly, blushing. He peels back the cardboard lid, hyper-aware of Albus’s gaze on him, the fondness in his eyes that doesn’t dim even when Scorpius struggles to get through a single slip of sticky tape. The lid comes free eventually, after much prising, and Scorpius pulls the gift free with a triumphant shout.
It tapers off immediately, culminating in a soft, almost inaudible sound. More of a feeling than a noise.
“A snow globe,” Scorpius murmurs.
The snow globe is a bit smaller than most, easily cupped in his hands. The base is made of shiny burnished metal, and the scene at the bottom of the globe is delightfully quaint. There are naked trees on either side of an old, abandoned railway track, which winds through a valley of leaves. Two hazy figures make their way along the track, tiny and lost in each other. Smoke rises from a thatched cottage in the distance, and Scorpius can almost hear the crackle of a warm fire.
“An autumnal snow globe,” Albus corrects him, leaning heavily on the emphasis. “Technically there isn’t any snow, so it’s just a globe, but the thought counts.”
Scorpius shakes the snow globe gently, taking infinitely more care with it now that it’s out of the box, and inhales sharply as red, gold, and copper leaves fill the globe. Each leaf is small, barely half a fingernail wide, and glimmers with threads of gold. It’s a storm of colour, a whirl of fluttering fire.
“You can put it back in the box if you want,” Albus offers, quietly. “I won’t be offended.”
Scorpius holds the snow globe closer to his chest, smiling faintly. There’s an ache in his chest. His tongue feels thick with all the words he wants to say.
“It’s going on the mantle with the others.”
When she lived, Astoria Greengrass had been a very beautiful witch, with a very beautiful way of seeing the world. She passed that trait onto her son, showing him the nature of flowers and herbs, teaching him to grow things, encouraging him to read stories simply because they were fun and full of delight. It became a hobby of theirs, to seek out things that depicted all kinds of living and loving; paintings, books, poetry, plants. Anything that could grow, or encourage your own growth. Anything that showed off the world in all its glory. And soon that translated into snow globes every holiday, a new one each year with a new view of somewhere in the world. Some were full of constellations and others were full of intricately-designed buildings. One was awash with waterfalls.
It was their thing. A small, possibly-senseless tradition that filled them both with a sense of comfort. Once a year, Astoria would plant a little bow on the glass dome and leave it on Scorpius’s bedside table for him to find in the morning.
The first Christmas after Astoria died, Scorpius had come to terms—quite slowly and with a growing sense of desperate grief—with the fact that he would never get another snow globe as a gift again. There would be no little bow, no towering mountains made tiny. His dad knew better than to try carrying on the tradition, and Scorpius had never let him know that it hurt. It was better not to ask, he thought.
But apparently Albus had known better than either of them.
“Scorp?” Albus pokes him gently in the arm, before wrapping his fingers carefully around his wrist. His touch is cool from the wind, and his fingertips are rough from scrubbing cauldrons and picking at guitars, but Scorpius welcomes it anyway.
“Sorry.” Scorpius sniffs again. “I just…”
Lost for words, Scorpius darts close enough to lay a hand clumsily on Albus’s cheek, catching his sharp gasp with his mouth. They tilt their heads and shift ever closer, noses bumping, and Albus makes a shaky little sound that sets his heart racing. The kiss doesn’t last very long. Long enough, perhaps, for the world to shift a little and the wind to grow a little warmer. Long enough for Scorpius to realise that he’s wanted to kiss Albus for a really long time now. Long enough, hopefully, for Albus to realise the same thing.
When he pulls back, Albus’s eyes are wide and dark, and he looks like he’s recently been clubbed over the head.
“Is that how we say thank you now?” Albus says, sounding strained. “Because I’m okay with it.”
Laughing, Scorpius scrubs a hand over his cheek and steps back a little, giving him some room.
“Open your present, and let’s find out.”
No parcel paper in the history of existence has ever been shredded with such ruthless speed before. It makes Scorpius snicker into his palm. He sets the snow globe back inside the box and levitates it carefully over to the telescope, where it rests out of harm's way against one of the metal legs.
It’s so late that it’s a miracle they haven’t been caught yet, and he’s tired and cold, but Hinkypunks hopped up on Pepper-Up Potion couldn’t drag him away from the sight of Albus unfolding a thick, cable-knit sweater.
Albus holds it up, brows crinkling, before his face smooths out in realisation. “Did you… knit this?”
“That’s what all the meetings have been about.” Scorpius folds his arms over his chest, hugging himself as he hops from foot to foot. “We started a knitting club, and I was pretty awful at first, but some of the Hufflepuff’s are really quite good at this crafty sort of thing—Emily makes really lovely embroidery, you know—and I got the hang of it after a while. I managed to finish it tonight. Is it alright?”
“It’s brilliant.” Albus glances up at him quickly, a sort of vulnerability in his expression. “It’s yellow.”
And it is, indeed, yellow. Not a bright neon yellow or a dark mustard yellow, but a soft buttercup colour, somehow pale and warm at the same time. Scorpius made sure to find the softest wool possible, and if he had to spend an obscene amount of galleons to have it posted from an obscure French tailor that his dad swears by, then that’s between him and his rather empty pockets.
“Yes, well. Didn't you say you were fed up with green and red?”
Slytherin and Gryffindor. It’s died down somewhat now, the bickering and pointed remarks from Albus’s family over something as silly as a House, of all things, but it’s still there. It’s there in the bedsheets and the flags on the wall and the ties that get washed with pursed lips.
“I did,” Albus says, drawing the jumper in close, a rawness to his voice. And here comes the deflection: “You were busy reading one of your weird Muggle sex books though, so I didn't think you heard me.”
Quick as a flash, Scorpius snatches the jumper out of Albus’s hands and wrestles it over his head, smothering his awful words and smug, hysterical laughter.
“It was research,” Scorpius hisses, red-faced. “You promised not to bring it up!”
Albus pops his head through the jumper and grins at him, toothy. He looks pink and pleased with himself. His hair is even more of a mess, but Scorpius has never ever seen it look tidy, not even at formal occasions, so it’s hardly a surprise.
“I can’t believe you,” Scorpius mutters. “First you make me walk up all those stairs when we could have been cosy in bed right now, when it’s cold and windy and you know I have allergies, and then you give me a better gift than the one I made, and now you’re making fun of me. Ridiculous. For Christmas, you better buy yourself a new best friend, that’s for sure.”
“Huh.” Albus steps closer until their shoes are touching, until he can rest tentative fingers on Scorpius’s shoulders, the sleeves of his jumper pulled down over his palms. “What about a boyfriend? Do I have to buy one of those, or do you want to go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?”
“Ah,” Scorpius says, blinking rapidly.
“Or maybe you could knit me a boyfriend,” Albus suggests.
“Not likely,” Scorpius says, a little breathless from the proximity, from the warmth of the jumper and Albus’s hands and his soft, happy gaze. “You didn't even say thank you for this gift.”
God, he’s so close, Scorpius almost can’t stand it. And then he has the audacity to get closer, pressing a kiss to the corner of Scorpius’s mouth, then kissing him properly, deeply, wrapping his arms lazily around his neck and sinking into it. It’s a warm kiss, one that keeps the chill at bay. Even the cold wind can’t pry them apart.
“Is that enough of a thank you?” Albus asks, when the kiss trails off, voice quiet and deep.
“Oh, definitely not.” Scorpius swallows back the happy blubbering that wants to come pouring out of him. “But I have something I want to ask you first, before you go back to thanking me, because something’s been bugging me since I came up here, and I only just figured out what it was.”
Albus tilts his head, and Scorpius reaches up to prod the bridge of his nose, sending him jerking back.
“Oi, what the hell?”
“I’m just wondering if I should get you glasses next time we do gifts, because I really don't see why you need an entire telescope to look at a full moon,” Scorpius explains, and he has to dodge a particularly grouchy swipe before bursting into laughter.
“At least I don't need an inhaler just to walk up some stairs!”
Scorpius stops laughing abruptly. “It’s my allergies! There’s dust in the leaves, I’ve told you this a thousand times—”
It is precisely because of this that Albus decides to cut him off with another kiss, and he doesn’t manage to make argument number one-thousand-and-one until well after the moon has untethered itself, leaving behind two boys curled together on the lip of the tower, huddled up against the crisp, October morning, sharing the warmth of one jumper.