Note: I am only posting this here because my friend, Darkness-Chill, demanded it. I begged and pleaded. I asked for more time. She said, and I quote, "NO, POST IT NOW OR I'LL SKEWER YOU." I would prefer not to be skewered, and so here we are.
James Potter rolled over in his bed, inadvertantly entrapping his leg in the snitch-patterned sheets so that when the knocking at his bedroom door startled him awake, he made to sit up and instead fell to the ground with a loud THUNK.
The knocking stopped. "James, dear? Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, Mum, just fell," he grumbled in a croaky early-morning voice, sitting up and grabbing for the glasses on his night table. "You can come in."
Mrs. Potter entered the room with the kind of caution learned by being mother to a teenager. "I know it's early, dear, but…" She paused uncertainly. "…you have a visitor."
James glanced at the broomstick hands of the Quidditch-themed clock on his wall, then blinked at his mother through the lenses of his glasses. "Early? Mum, it's six in the morning!" His gaze traveled to the window. The sky was much too dark, even with the heavy rain that was battering the glass. "Anyone who's visiting me at six in the morning isn't welcome! Bloody hell, what kind of insane sort of person gets up at six. in. the. morning?" He took a breath to continue his tirade but then noticed the troubled look on his mother's face and closed his mouth abruptly. It was the sort of look she wore when someone was gravely ill.
"I think you should come downstairs," Mrs. Potter said quietly.
"Should I change?" James asked, feeling suddenly frightened. What had happened? Was someone hurt? Had there been an attack? A chill ran down his spine. Those were getting more and more frequent lately.
"I don't think he'll mind either way," his mother answered. James nodded stiffly, too nervous to ask who 'he' was. He followed her in his Quaffle-covered pajamas out of his room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen.
James stopped short, blinking in confusion.
Sirius Black was sitting at his kitchen table. He was sopping wet, as though he'd been outside for hours, and shivering under a quilt Mrs. Potter had made. When he noticed James he made an obviously painful yet valiant attempt at his trademark grin and managed only a shadow of it.
"'Lo, Prongs," he said. His voice was hoarse, wavering even in only those two syllables. He was nearly unrecognizable as James's best friend. His hair, normally silky and elegant, was wildly unkempt and bedraggled by the rain. His robes, which were usually impeccable without ever giving the impression that he'd tried to make them so, were ragged, wet, and muddy. The most strikingly obvious difference, however, was in his face. The infamous confidence and spirit was missing. He was very, very pale and would not meet either James or Mrs. Potter's eyes, instead fixing his gaze on his hands, which were folded on the table.
James stared at his friend, speechless for a moment, his sleep-addled brain struggling to understand. This was wrong, all wrong. This was not how Sirius Black was supposed to look. The world must've been turned on its head. Finally he said the first thing that came to his mind.
"What did she do?"
Sirius laughed, an unpleasantly hollow sound. "Nothing she hasn't done before," he answered. His teeth chattered despite the quilt.
There was a pause. Mrs. Potter cleared her throat. "I'll go get you a nice clean set of robes, dear," she said to Sirius, patting him gently on the shoulder.
He smiled slightly but didn't look up. "Thank you, Mrs. Potter." She nodded, turning away with teary eyes and heading up the stairs.
James sat down next to Sirius but waited until his mother was upstairs before he dared to ask his next question. "Did she hurt you?" he asked, studying his friend's face hard.
Sirius closed his eyes. "No."
James frowned, not sure whether to believe him. "What happened?"
He shrugged. "Same old thing. She yells, I yell, she yells some more, I leave."
"But it's never been this bad," James said.
Sirius said nothing for a long moment. Then his eyes opened and he lifted his head, fixing James with a piercing, pale-eyed stare. "I'm not going back this time," he said quietly, his voice shaking with what James realized was suppressed rage. "I'm never going back there. I don't know where I'll stay now but I'm never going back there again. Maybe Dumbledore'll let me stay at Hogwarts over the summer…if…if I explain…" He took a big, shuddering breath. "Or if I have to…I'll just, I don't know, live as a dog till term starts," he said, his voice breaking just a little.
James stared, hit by such an intense wave of hatred for Sirius's mother that he felt physically ill. "Don't be a bloody lunatic, Sirius," he heard himself say through the thick red haze of fury in his head.
"What else am I supposed to do?" Sirius said angrily, sitting up straighter and tossing his hair back. Water droplets sprayed everywhere. "You don't get it, James, I can't –"
"You'll stay here," James cut him off.
Sirius was surprised into silence. His mouth closed and he considered James for a moment. "I can't do that," he said after a pause.
"Why not? Because you have to be big and bad and tough and independent? Don't be a bloody lunatic," James repeated in exasperation.
Sirius opened his mouth to speak but stopped, looking beyond James, who turned around to see his mother standing with a folded pair of fresh robes in her arms.
"We do have a guest room," she said, smiling tentatively at Sirius.
"I know," he mumbled. He'd stayed there for at least two weeks every summer since James had met him.
"C'mon, mate," James said, giving Sirius's arm a gentle shove. "Don't be thick."
When Sirius didn't answer, Mrs. Potter clapped her hands together, startling both boys. "Well, let's get you settled in," she said with forced cheer. "You don't have to decide right now, dear, but won't you stay at least a few days?" she said. "It's been far too long. We've missed you in this house."
"All right," Sirius said reluctantly, unable to say no to the warmly smiling Mrs. Potter. He stood up and followed her upstairs to the guest room, James at his heels, everyone behaving as though it were just another holiday he was spending at Godric's Hollow.
James watched from the doorway as Sirius, newly dressed in the clean pair of robes, helped Mrs. Potter set up the guest bed like he'd done a thousand times before. His mother said something that James couldn't hear and Sirius laughed – a genuine bark of laughter. A smile formed slowly on James's face at the familiar sound, chasing away the knot in his throat. Sirius passed by him to grab a pillow from the closet, and James prodded his arm.
"What was that for?" Sirius said, irritated.
James gazed at him with wide, innocent eyes. "What are you talking about?"
Sirius rolled his eyes and turned away, and James grinned.
Everything was going to be fine.