James sat curled up in a squashy armchair, his legs tucked beneath him. In his hands he held a mug of scalding coffee, which he blew on at regular intervals in an attempt to cool it. Curls of steam rose gently from the cup, seemingly melting into the air. However, he paid little attention to the coffee, for he was focusing on the scenery outside the window.
Snow was pouring down in thick clusters, obscuring the landscape outside. It was a downy blanket, smothering everything it touched in a stifling blanket. It rested in banks and drifts on the window sill. The window itself was cracked in several places, allowing a cold current of air to flow into the room. The coldness caressed his skin with icy fingers. He rearranged the cushions underneath him, and pulled the hem of his jumper down to cover his knees.
His mother walked into the room, wringing her hands agitatedly. She pulled the curtains over the window sharply, before turning her attention to her son.
“James,” she said, “please can you start lifting a finger around here?” James swung his legs out from underneath him. His heels made contact with the floor with a little too much force, sending a jolt of pain up his leg.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked evenly. The family walked on eggshells around his mother. To his surprise, Ginny stayed silent. He realised her eyes were flooding with tears. Droplets of water welled up and rested on the edge of her eyelids. She turned her head away, trying to keep it hidden from James.
“I’m… sorry,” she said, gulping in large quantities of air between her words. She did not need to explain her reason for crying. Most of the time, James felt like doing much the same thing. He wrapped his arms around her, and she rested her head against his shoulder. He felt her tears soaking through his jumper. He pulled his mother close, his arms encircling her waist.
She drew away, attempting to give him a fragile smile. He realised with a jolt that she hadn’t smiled much in the year. There hadn’t rally been anything to smile about recently. It was not a joyous smile, but one more of comfort. James wasn't sure who she was comforting.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked her.
“Go and tidy your room,” she ordered him. “There are socks up there that are breeding new forms of life.”
James climbed the stairs, wondering, not for the first time, why he had never bothered to learn cleaning spells. His room looked like it had been the victim of a nuclear bomb attack. Clothes lay scattered around the room, tossed over every available surface. His room was piled with old school books and parchment, and most of the other debris that he hadn’t thrown out after his Hogwarts days.
He took out his wand and waved it around, muttering nonsense under his breath. Rather than cleaning the room, the spell simply managed to make everything look slightly hazy.
He half-heartedly moved a couple of objects around, shoving an armful of clothes into the depths of his wardrobe. There wasn’t much room left inside, and it was struggle to close the door. He stacked up the book and paper in a corner. After all of this, his room looked just about passable.
Ginny popped her head round the edge of the door. Her eyes were a pale red colour, and her cheeks were still crusted with dried tears. “How're you doing?” she asked.
“I’m pretty much done,” said James.
Ginny cocked an eyebrow at him, and pulled out her wand. She waved her wand quickly and muttered, “Scourigify.” The room was instantly cleaned.
“You’re amazing, mum,” he said. It had become a habit of his, trying to heal his mum by praising her. He wondered if it was actually working. She didn’t seem to be much affected by his words, but at least she’d stopped crying.
“Thank you, dear,” she said in a hollow voice. She ruffled his hair, and quickly left the room.
“Pass the veg please,” said Harry. James lifted the ceramic bowl, which was stacked with disks of butter carrots and peas, and handed it to his father. Harry inclined his head in thanks.
“How was your day?” asked Ginny tentatively. Harry looked up at her with eyes void of emotion.
“Fine,” he answered, his face hard, his mouth set in a straight line.
The Potter family ate in silence, spooning casserole into their mouths. They were not a family any more, but just strangers passing in the night. Every so often, one of them would open their mouths in a half-hearted attempt to start a conversation. None of them ever managed to force the words out.
James eventually broke the silence. “I’m going for a job interview in a week,” he said. “It’s for the reserve seeker for the Chudley Cannons.” His voice was enthused with the same false happiness that he used to talk to young children. It was a habit he’d gotten into lately. With his words, James spotted a flash of something, perhaps recognition, awaken in his father’s eyes.
“That’s great,” said Albus through a mouthful of beef.
“Albus Potter, don’t talk with your mouth full,” said Ginny. Albus protested, his words muffled by the food.
“Lay off him,” said Harry. Ginny turned to him, her eyes alight with a kind of passion that she had not expressed for a long time.
“He’s my son, Harry. It’s up to me to teach him good manners. Merlin knows you never do,” said Ginny. Harry did not reply immediately, but his face betrayed a flicker of anger.
“Albus, go upstairs,” whispered James. Albus nodded, quickly sliding off his chair and darting out of the room. James followed him as fast as he could. His dinner lay abandoned, only half eaten.
James collapsed on his bed, staring up at the blank expanse of ceiling. He knew every fissure and discolouration that disfigured it. He listened to the voices of his parents downstairs. They were not shouting at each other, but what they were doing was arguably far worse. Each word was hissed with the sharpness of blades. They all seemed to cut into James too.
He wondered at what had become of his family. They had been replaced by shells of their former selves, and what had made them his parents had been lost to the winds. He would give anything at all if it meant that wasn’t the case. He would give up everything he owned to make his parents the people they once were.
It was all her fault.
James instantly tried to erase the thought from his mind. Sometimes, these thoughts managed to creep through the barriers he threw up against such emotions. It was becoming more common now, a growth of ivy that was threatening to destroy his barriers at the foundations.
She had broken his family. It was her, she’d done everything. She’d left them.
He loved his sister, of course he did. But sometimes, when he was caught unawares, he blamed her for everything.
A/N- This chapter is dedicated to Georgia, who encouraged me to write this. Chapters WILL get longer; this is just to set the scene. Thank you for reading it! As always, reviews=love.
This chapter has been rewritten as part of an extensive rewrite of this story. Please excuse the fact that for the next couple of weeks, things may seem a bit disorderly. This will not be the case forever, I promise!