Okay, I've had this part written for forever - I've just had so much trouble with the Christmas part, so that'll have to be next part. (And then there was my full-time job this summer, way tiring.)
Welcome home Potters
He wasn't sure what he was expecting.
Logically, he knew James was well-off, even moderately wealthy. (Harry as least had always been conscious of the pile of Galleons and such in Gringotts when seeing a patch on Ron's robes or yet another hand-me-down.)
But James didn't act that way. He never made a big deal about designer labels or having the best of everything. Some of James' proudest possessions were worn and well-thumbed: his… Sirius was the same, if anything proud in his well-used jeans and robes, most likely as a sign of rebellion against his high class parents.
So whatever Harry had been expecting for James' home, a mansion wasn't it. It was massive, a sprawling giant of red brick and dandelion yellow paint. Grimauld Place most likely looked as imposing from the outside, but where it was foreboding, the Potter Manor exuded warmth and cheerfulness.
Harry was frozen just looking at the sprawling compound. Mr. Potter charmed the bags into following them, while James promptly ditched them all, racing into the house.
"Mum's boy," Sirius muttered with a grin, before following.
Harry jumped when a hand clapped onto his shoulder. Warm brown looked down at him. "Welcome to the Potters," his future grandfather said wryly.
They caught up with the boys in the kitchen. James was chattering away, a mile a minute, to a diminutive fair-haired woman. Though age had taken the vibrancy of its color, traces of red remained and she smiled fondly at her only son, as she laid a frail hand on her tea cup. She looked bird-like, thin and gaunt besides her vibrant son, but she still greeted Sirius with vigor, her eyes lighting up.
Around them, a small posse of kitchen elves clattered, checking on dishes and doling out tea, murmuring in loud, cheeky voices - a far cry from the few house elves Harry had encountered previously.
He watched in a sense of awe as Mrs. Potter gestured Sirius over, giving him a hug despite half-hearted protests. One kitchen elf, sporting a neon tie-dyed pillow case, poked Sirius and James, announcing they were 'too thin!' in a loud reedy voice. "And they've dragged in another waif!" she (or so Harry presumed) announced.
Mr. Potter laughed and agreed, passing Harry by to give his wife a gentle hug and kiss on the cheek. "I'm sure you'll fatten him up by the end of the holidays Fracy," he said.
The house elf clucked her tongue, sidling up to him for inspection. Eying her warily, Harry missed Mrs. Potter's gesture.
"Oh Fracy, leave him alone for now. Now come here Harry, right?" he looked up. "I have a hard time keeping track of names sometimes - James always refers to everyone by those nicknames of his," she chided James gently and motioned Harry over.
It hadn't really registered that she hadn't met them at the train station. But looking at her, Harry could guess why. Sitting on a padded stool, being fussed over by the elves, dressed in comfortable, lounging pants and a sweater, she looked terribly old to him, despite the youth in her eyes. He couldn't help the morbid thought of wondering how much longer she had.
James' parents had always been a mystery to him. He'd only ever known of his mother's side - and he felt vaguely ashamed he'd never inquired about his paternal grandparent's fates.
Dutifully, he walked over to the Potter matriarch, aware of everyone's eyes on him. "Well, look at you," her eyes were gentle, "I bet my boys have driven you batty these past few months with all their mischief." Her boys?
…like brothers, they were…
She squeezed his shoulders. "We're glad you could join us for the holidays though. You are more than welcome." Harry's throat was tight and he had trouble swallowing. But Mrs. Potter just clapped her hands. "So, where would you like to sleep? We certainly have guest rooms, but Sirius has his own room and he more often than not ends up conked out in a weird stretch on James' bean bag chairs," Sirius actually flushed a little and Mrs. Potter fluttered her hands, "I know, you're used to bunking together - so we've already expanded his room some and we can always add another bed."
Harry wasn't expecting the offer. "I don't want to be a bother-" he hedged.
"Just set him up in his own room," Sirius threw out, "Flighty here loves his privacy." It was true, as the guys well knew, but that didn't change the bite in Sirius' voice and the fact - every summer, when he woke up that first night away from the dorms, such a terrible aloneness settled into his bones at the sound of only his own breathing -
"I'll bunk with them," Harry announced, ignoring Sirius' curious look.
Harry had lived in a home once before, when he spent the end of summer with the Weasleys. It had been an overwhelming experience, magical in so many different ways. Magic mixed with housework, crazy rambunctious siblings, an absent-minded father, a doting mother… It had been so different from anything he'd experienced. He'd always imagined how it would've been if he had parents and the Weasleys had definitely shifted that vision over the years.
James' house wasn't close. The house was big and well-decorated, but sparse compared to the Weasley's barely-contained chaos. It certainly contained loving parents, but James' privilege showed, not the least in how he was doted on as the only son. Sirius was included almost like some kind of more rascally twin of James.
It was too surreal for him to keep the realization this was his family, in the future - the past, in mind. He watched as the household cosseted Mrs. Potter, a genial smile blossom and remain on Mr. Potter's face, Sirius awkwardly restraining himself under gentle parental disapproval, James plot with his father and spend hours regaling his mother with stories. He marveled at them, a subdued bystander.
And yet… he couldn't deny the tiny whisper inside, this could've been mine…
James recalled him of course, and would spirit them all away for Harry's practice. Sirius tried to convince Harry that meditating out in the cold would be more useful, but James (thankfully) told Sirius if he felt that way, he could sit out there and freeze his bum off without him. Inside or out - it didn't actually make a difference; Harry simply couldn't concentrate. Every time he sat down to meditate all he could think about was Sirius (Sirius!) ducking his head at Mrs. Potter's tsking, her pale dark-veined hands, Mr. Potter's graying hair (James wouldn't live that long…), James off-handedly announcing that he'd prefer a cottage to this mansion -
Homes he'd never known…
But the only excuse he gave them for his lack of progress was he could only concentrate with Remus.
He couldn't sleep.
That made the third night of insomnia. He lay in his bed, hearing the throaty snore of Sirius, James' occasional shifting, watching the light of the nearly full moon trace the ceiling.
He felt too full to sleep; memories played in his mind, vying for permanence. He no longer feared sleeping for waking from a dream, but now closing his eyes and forgetting.
He wasn't going to fall asleep anytime soon, so he got up. Ron was the one who had introduced him to the idea of a midnight snack. He didn't really feel hungry, but perhaps a cup of tea… He made his way through the silent, dark halls, feeling his way down the stairs. It was cold in the night and he was thankful that Mrs. Potter had provided him house slippers.
Turning into the kitchen, he blinked.
Mrs. Potter sat on one of the high stool, legs curled in fleece night clothes, silhouetted in moonlight. She was looking far out into a window. The moonlight and repose smoothed the contours of her face, wisping her hair so that she looked ethereal. He didn't want to disturb her, but after a moment, she turned to gaze out him calmly.
"It's so peaceful at night, isn't it? Even here in London," she mused aloud. "I remember late nights at Hogwarts - it's different of course, but sometimes I think I can hear the wind rustling in those trees." Instead of waiting for a reply, she waved a hand to a seat next to her. "Come, sit with an old woman."
Feeling off-kilter, he yet obeyed. "I couldn't sleep," he blurted out, before abruptly sitting.
"Yes, well Sirius does snore like a hibernating bear." The contrast of dry humor made him laugh and she smiled.
"It's good to hear you laugh. You're more solemn than my boys - I suppose like Remus." He stilled and she patted his hand. "I'm a bit glad, my dear has such high spirits and then put him with Sirius, ah! I have to admit I'm a little glad they met at a slightly older age."
Harry could only nod. They lapsed into quiet for a few moments.
"It's nice having you all home the holidays. We spent many holidays without in the beginning," she said finally. "Charlus, of course, never said anything, but this place, it is so big for two. I always remember that when James is away."
She was looking out the window again and he nodded absently, his mind wandering to his summers alone, isolated from the only ones who cared for him.
She brushed his hand again and he looked up into her eyes. "I have a feeling you know something of that…" His breath caught in his throat, "Though I doubt you know just how happy a child makes a couple," with infinite gentleness, "worth anything."
It was too much and he had to look away, around for a distraction, springing up. "I actually came down to make a cup of tea, would you like some?"
"When is one not up for some nice tea?" she said, still with warmth, - Harry was already reaching for the kettle as she continued, "-but you shouldn't-"
His finger brushed the kettle's handle and there was a sharp crack in the air. Fracy appeared, quivering with rage.
"What are You DOING?" He stumbled back and nearly upset the kettle. Fracy, tied-dyed pillow case nearly glowing in the moonlight, snapped her fingers, calling the kettle and tucked the wrought iron kettle under her arm like a child. "None makes tea but me!" Her eyes swiveled to Mrs. Potter's bundled up form. "Especially for Mistress Dorthea," she finished, lowering her voice.
"I'm sure he knows better now Fracy," Mrs. Potter said soothingly. "No need to be hard on the new young one." Fracy muttered, snubbing Harry in favor of carefully placing the kettle back on the stove. With a flick of her fingers, the heat spiraled on and a tea bag launched itself from a cupboard into the kettle, the lid disengaging to let it do so.
Harry meekly sat back down. Mrs. Potter laughed lightly. "I'm afraid Fracy's a bit possessive of the kettle," she whispered conspiratorially. Fracy's ear flaps quivered and Harry thought better of responding, though honestly, he bet it had more to do with 'Mistress' loyalty.
Fracy bustled around them, muttering to herself, and they ended up sipping their tea under her keen eye. Fracy insisted on accompanying the Mistress up to her bedroom, the two thin forms walking side by side up the stairs, which kinder Harry couldn't tell. Harry was thankful to return to his room.
It was strange, he reflected sleepily, how sometimes kindness hurt more than scorn.