by Seriana Ritani
It was a hot, violent summer thunderstorm. James had fallen asleep listening to it at ten oclock, and he woke up at three without the slightest lessening of its noise or its energy. He rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but through the storm came an irregular thumping noise that he couldnt place.
It was somebody knocking at the door.
He kicked free of the sheet he was sleeping under and groped on the nightstand for his glasses and his wand. Four years ago, he wouldnt have bothered with the wand, but the world had since become a more dangerous place.
He trotted downstairs, the incessant lightning making the Lumos spell unnecessary. Still blinking away the bleariness in his eyes, he unlocked the front door and opened it a crack.
The figure on the doorstep was tall, but hunched against the cold. His skin was pale and wet and both his black hair and black robes hung on him in a shapeless, disheveled manner. James first guess was that it was Severus Snape, but then he spoke, and the voice that muttered Lo, James, was familiar. It was Sirius, looking like something the cat dragged in, soaked from head to heels.
Padfoot? James threw the door open the rest of the way to admit his best friend, who entered, dragging his school trunk and carrying his broom. Sirius, man, its three in the morning. What are you doing here?
I ran away from home, said Sirius shortly. Can I sleep on your couch?
James was only taken aback by this for a few seconds. Yeah, sure, of course . . .
Julianne Potter had followed her son downstairs. Her short, thick, curly dark hair was slightly mussed by sleep, but she scrubbed her fingers through it as she crossed the kitchen and managed to look more awake.
Absolutely not, she repeated, but her voice was kind. Youre not to be exiled to a couch while Im in charge of this household. James, help Sirius get his trunk to the spare bedroom.
Bring it up here, boys, said Charles Potter. Hello, Sirius.
Hey, Mr. Potter, answered Sirius as he and James grabbed the handles of the trunk. Sirius was a frequent visitor at their house, and both of James parents were accustomed to having him around. James knew that his entire family shared his affection for and high opinion of Sirius, and he was pleased to see that his mothers long-standing invitation for Sirius to drop in at any hour of the day or night hadnt been just exaggeration.
Julianne lit the kitchen stove with a flick of her wand and put a pot of milk on to boil. Get dried off, Sirius, then come downstairs and well get you some cocoa and a sandwich. James, you know where the clean towels are?
Charles cast a Levitation Charm on the trunk as soon as he could hit it without having to come downstairs, and guided it down the hall and into the guest bedroom. James got a towel out of the hall closet and some pajamas out of his dresser, then pitched them at Sirius as he fell, exhausted, onto his new bed. Bet you forgot to pack pajamas, didnt you? Sirius hadnt begun a single year at Hogwarts without forgetting his pajamas.
I left in kind of a hurry. Sirius took the towel and scrubbed some life back into his hair. Snuck out while everyone was asleep. But I gave Kreacher a good kick first.
Nice, said James.
Yeah, it was.
James refrained from asking any more questions. He trusted Sirius: if hed decided to run away, it had been the right thing to do. Besides, he didnt want to make Sirius tell the tale more than once, and his parents werent going to rest until they knew precisely what had happened.
Sirius dried off and changed his sopping clothes, then followed James downstairs. Juliannes promise of a sandwich had become half a dozen, and the fanatical gleam in Sirius eyes betrayed how long it had been since hed eaten. He sank his teeth into the first one he could grab and began devouring it.
Charles got himself a cup of coffee and joined the rest of his family at the kitchen table. So, Sirius, he began, You want to tell us what happened?
You dont have to if you dont want to, Julianne interjected. You know youre always welcome here, no matter what.
No, its okay, said Sirius as soon as he swallowed his mouthful of sandwich. I dont think my mum will come looking for me, but just in case, you know . . . He shrugged. Well, it was like this.
Sirius Black came home just after midnight. For a boy his age, midnight wasnt all that late, but there were other factors that ensured he was in a world of trouble. Besides, he wasnt supposed to fly through the streets of London no matter how late the hour. He didnt much care. He was feeling belligerent
With his broomstick over his shoulder, he quietly opened the front door of Number 12, Grimmauld Place.
The darkened hall looked empty enough. Sirius had a momentary hope that hed manage to get up to his bedroom without waking anyone, but before he managed to close the door behind him that hope was dashed.
Where has Young Master been all night, Kreacher wonders?
Sirius whirled to strangle the nasty little house-elf before he could raise the alarm, but no such luck. Kreacher went scrambling upstairs, shouting, Young Master Sirius is all night away, and he comes crawling back to his poor parents in this unseemly hour with mud on his shoes and shame on his most ancient and honorable family!
Lights flared throughout the house, and Sirius heard doors slamming upstairs. He was in for it. With a sigh of resignation, he leaned his broomstick against the wall and pulled off the jacket he was wearing.
His father was descending the staircase. He looked extremely grave. What, exactly, are you wearing?
Sirius gave himself a glance-over. He was clothed in a t-shirt bearing the emblem of some obscure Muggle band and a pair of worn blue jeans, both loaned to him by Ted Tonks. Feeling that these didnt need a whole lot of explanation, he shrugged.
And I suppose it is a waste of my time to ask what sort of company you have been keeping?
Sirius did not feel like skirting the issue -- it would come out anyway. Andromeda and I went to the pictures with Ted Tonks and a bunch of his Muggle friends.
This brazen declaration seemed to render his father speechless. Fortunately, his mother was never at a loss for words.
I am ashamed, she began icily, That this wretch was born of my womb. I should have strangled him at birth, rather than see him befoul the name of his ancestors by mixing with Muggles and Mudbloods. Sirius Orion Black, how dare you show your face in this house again!
I wish I hadnt! Sirius shot back at her. He had long since ceased desiring his mothers approval or even her love. Her disgust with him was by this time old news. I wish the whole blasted building would come crumbling down, and all your sick blood-mad ideas with it! If Regulus had . . .
Regulus has respect for the name and station he bears!
He was arrested, Mum, for playing sick jokes on Muggle kids. Sirius spared a glance for his brother, half-hidden at the top of the stairs and no doubt enjoying the show. But anything he does is all right, as long as hes with Melifluas and Malfoys and Averys, isnt it? Dadll just pull his strings at the Ministry and Regulus is off without so much as a slap on the wrist!
Dont you dare talk so about your brother!
Dont I dare? Just watch me! Ill send every Black in history spinning in their graves! Maybe if I yell the truth at you loud enough, youll have a heart attack and get a grave of your own, you bigoted old hag!
You wretched abomination, you stain on wizardkind!
Tell it to someone who cares.
Sirius, his father interjected, Try once more to understand this. You are born of a proud and ancient pure-blooded house, one that has been gaining its wealth and power for thousands of years. Everything you have, you have because the Black name is still so respected. When you come of age next year, you stand to take a very influential place in wizard society. You owe it to your family to make the most of that. If you insist on making a fool of yourself by consorting with the lesser ranks, I will have to cut you off entirely. I will not allow you to become a stain on this house.
This speech cut Sirius deeper than any of his mothers screeched insults. This man loved his pride more than his son, but he had the decency to be a little regretful about it. That regret -- for the sort of son Sirius ought to have been, could have been -- was fresh, sharp, and bitter. His father would forgive easily and completely if Sirius asked, and would love him and be proud of him if he behaved as a Black was expected.
But if he played the part of the dutiful Black son, then . . . well, what would James say? James hated the arrogant pureblood mindset. He spent half his time defending Muggle-borns from the taunts thrown at them by higher-born witches and wizards. James judged people by merit, not blood. If he, Sirius, started behaving like Regulus and his friends, James would never forgive him.
And James opinion counted a lot more than that of his parents.
I wouldnt take this house, said Sirius carefully and bitterly, And I wouldnt take your money, if they were served to me on a silver platter with Kreachers head on top.
His father nodded. All right, then. Go up to your room and change out of those ridiculous clothes, and give your Hogwarts robes to Kreacher. Ill write in the morning and arrange to have you transferred to Durmstrang Institute. I will also be writing to your aunt and uncle to inform them of Andromedas behavior. You are not to leave your room until I give you permission. Is that clear?
Sirius scowled. Yes, sir.
He picked up his broomstick and headed upstairs. His mother pulled her robes toward herself as he passed, as though afraid he would get Muggle germs on her. Sirius didnt care anymore. He was through.
Regulus smirked at him as he reached the upstairs landing. Usually Sirius didnt waste energy hating his weak and simple younger brother, but tonight he was just tired of it. He lashed out and gave Regulus a solid punch across the jaw, followed by one in the stomach. Ignoring the screams and shouts that erupted from every corner, he went into his room, locked the door behind him, and started packing his trunk.
I waited until everyone was asleep again, Sirius finished, Then I ordered Kreacher to stay quiet, gave him the kick hes deserved for years, and snuck out. And here I am. Ill go to back to London in the morning and start looking for my own place.
Thats probably not the best idea, said Charles. It takes all sorts of trouble for an underage wizard to take responsibility for himself. If you wait until next summer, after your birthday, it will be a lot easier.
Besides, said Julianne, School starts in three weeks. Even if you can find a good place in that time, youll have to set it up and move in and then go right back to Hogwarts.
Im not going back to my parents house, said Sirius. Not for three weeks, not for three minutes. Never.
Who said anything about you going back? asked Julianne. Of course youre not going back. James would be heartbroken if you were sent off to Durmstrang.
No kidding. Im not making my owl fly that far, said James, grinning and stealing one of the remaining sandwiches.
Better to stay here, where we can make sure you get safely back to Hogwarts. Ill write to Professor Dumbledore in the morning.
More likely hell write to us in the morning, said Charles. If he doesnt already know youre here, Im very much surprised. He looked at his watch. Its almost four-thirty. I think Im going back to bed.
Good idea, said his wife. Off with you, boys. Get some rest.
Night, Mum. James pushed back from the table and put his mug in the sink. Sirius followed suit.
Man, am I glad you showed up, said James as they headed upstairs. Its been so boring around here, Ive had nothing to do but homework and chores . . . I reckon Mum will let us go by ourselves to Diagon Alley this year. Get your Hogwarts letter yet?
Yeah, said Sirius. Can we Owl Remus and Peter and have them meet us down there?
Peters in the States for holidays, remember? Hes coming back three days before term starts. But absolutely Remus. New moon was yesterday, so he should be feeling all right.
Oh, and Id better borrow your owl to write my cousin. She figured she was going to get in trouble, but I bet her parents didnt threaten to deport her.
Sure, no problem.
Sirius moved to open the door of his bedroom, then stopped. Prongs?
Yeah? said James.
Thanks. A lot. Your Mum and Dad . . . theyre being just awesome about this whole thing.
James grinned. No problem. You know they love having you around. Ten Sickles says they adopt you by the end of the summer.
Sirius grinned back. I wouldnt mind it. Youd make a better brother than my other one.
Youre the closest thing to a brother Ive got. Those nutcase parents of yours arent shipping you off to Siberia if I have anything to say about it.
Youre the best friend in the world, Prongs.
Yeah, I know I am, said James. Gnight.