FAMILY

Disclaimer: Still not JK Rowling, although I imagine that would be awesome…

"OI! DON'T YOU KNOW THAT NORMAL HUMAN BEINGS ARE ASLEEP AT THIS HOUR?"
It was due only to very great skill that James Potter did not fall off his broom when he heard the shout below him. As it was, he did plummet several feet, sliding nearly to the end of the handle. He evened out and looked down, then dove very quickly for the ground, landing perfectly. He stared at the black-haired teenager in front of him. "Padfoot? What in Merlin's name are you doing here? You usually at least send an owl before you show up!" He fixed his glasses, which had fallen askew during his scramble to right his broom. "And I'll thank you for not trying to kill me first thing upon your arrival, either. Some best friend you are!"

"Aw, you know you love me, Prongs," Sirius replied sweetly, then retorted, "Anyway, you deserved it! Getting up at sunrise just to fly…" He grinned, but something was wrong.

"I have to practice! I might be made Quidditch captain this year, and I can only do it before the Muggles are aw-," James broke off abruptly, having noticed that something was off about his friend's smile. The realization that it was sunrise, several hours before Sirius Black ever got up, hit him. Looking at him properly now, James noticed that his face was drawn, and that there was a large gash across one cheek. "Sirius, what are you doing here? And what happened to your face?" It was a mark of his concern that he did not add a clever comment stating that it made him even uglier than usual.

The fake grin slid from Sirius' face, and he muttered, "Got in the way of one of my mother's curses. Didn't dodge fast enough." He paused. "I've run away."

James stared. He saw for the first time the trunk sitting just inside the garden gate, which Sirius had been deliberately standing in front of but revealed when he shifted his weight. James looked from it to his best friend, and said, "Well, you'd better come in for breakfast, then."

He turned around and made his way into the house, Sirius following. They entered the kitchen, which was deserted. James ran a washcloth under the tap and tossed to it Sirius, who pressed it to his face. Then he pulled some bowls, a box of cereal, and a jug of milk (enchanted to remain cold) from a cupboard. He poured himself some and then shoved the box across the table, saying, "Mum'll make us a proper breakfast when she gets up, but this will tide us over. I'm always hungry after practice. I'll have to go upstairs and warn her when she wakes. Wouldn't do any good to have her fainting in shock."

"But your mother loves me," Sirius said, mildly surprised, then hesitated, "… doesn't she?"
"Yeah, but the sight of your face is enough to make anyone pass out, especially when they're not expecting it," James sniggered. He did not voice the alarm caused by the fact that his friend did not catch on to the joke immediately.

"Then I can only imagine what happens to your poor mother when she sees you every morning," Sirius fired back.

They continued to abuse each other for a while. James, however, was watching his friend closely. He noted that although Sirius did relax as they joked, his eyes did not light up in their usual way. He wanted to know what had happened. Living with the Blacks was no picnic, James was well aware of that, but usually Sirius just sent him long, ranting letters. Although he was not allowed to associate with "blood traitors", Sirius often snuck out to visit the Potter residence, but it was always planned in advance- at least by a few hours. Something more than the usual pureblood mania and general hatred of each other had taken place between Sirius and his parents. James could tell this just by looking at his friend; usually he could read a great deal of what was going on in the nutter's head (a fact which sometimes caused him unease; what did it say about him if he could understand Sirius' mind so easily?). And reading Sirius just now, he knew that he had to let his friend unwind before attempting to get the story out of him.

The sun had risen properly by the time movement could be heard in the master bedroom overhead. James gave it fifteen more minutes, during which he and Sirius mocked each other's intelligence (or lack thereof), before he went upstairs. He knocked on his parents' bedroom door and his mother called for him to come in. He stepped inside, watching his mother fasten her usual locket around her neck. She glanced at him in the mirror and he caught the reflection of her smile. "Morning, darling, been out flying again? Don't worry, I'll have breakfast soon…"

"Mum, Sirius is here," James said quietly. She turned around in shock, and he continued with a sobriety quite unlike him, "He's had a huge row with his parents. He turned up this morning while I was practicing. I haven't been able to work out just what made this fight so bad, but he says he's run away. He even brought his trunk. I think… I think it might be best to let him stay here. There's only a month left of the holiday, anyway."

Mrs. Potter stared at her son. The words had the loyalty and maturity of someone much older than her Jamie. She thought of the Blacks, her insides clenching. She knew enough about them to know they weren't fit to wipe the dirt from their son's shoe. She certainly wouldn't send him back there if she could help it. She nodded at James, smiling warmly. "Well, of course, Sirius is welcome to stay here as long as he likes. He can have the usual room."

James grinned. "Thanks, Mum! I knew you'd understand."

"Of course, with both of you here I probably won't get a moment's peace…" Mrs. Potter trailed off, laughing at the slightly guilty look on her son's face. "Well, let's go down and have breakfast then, I know Sirius is always hungry, and your father's already gone to work; he had an early meeting." She led the way back to the kitchen and smiled when she saw the dark-haired form lounging in a chair. "Hello, Sirius, lovely to have you back, my d- your face!" She had just caught sight of the cut, now no longer bleeding but still quite nasty.

"Told you the effect your face has on people, Padfoot," James teased, and then lowered his voice to murmur to his mother, "Sorry, forgot to mention… happened during the row…"

Mrs. Potter hurried forward and traced the gash with her wand a few times, after which it was completely gone. She turned toward the stove and began pulling down pans, muttering something about pancakes. What she did not let the boys see was her trembling hands. Cold fury was coursing through her veins. No one ever, ever had the right to harm any child, much less their own, and most certainly not Sirius. She'd come to love the boy almost as a second son, understandably, considering someone who didn't know otherwise would think James and him brothers. She vowed never to let Sirius go back to those horrible excuses for parents, not even if the Blacks came marching up to the door and demanded she turn him over!

Mrs. Potter had calmed down by the time she set a small mountain of pancakes in front of each boy. She then straightened her lime-green robes (she was a Healer at St. Mungo's), and stepped toward the fire. "Well, I've got to get to work. I'll be back around six. Just don't demolish the house while I'm gone, all right, boys?" With that warning, laughing inwardly at the grin James and Sirius gave each other, she threw a pinch of Floo powder into the fire and was gone.

James and Sirius continued to plow their way through their pancake mountains. They talked of Quidditch, letters they'd received from Peter and Remus, girls. Well, James talked about Lily Evans; Sirius talked about snogging. Finally, when their plates were clean, the two went back into the garden to grab Sirius' trunk. They carried it upstairs to the spare bedroom across the hall from James' room. When they'd set it down, James sat on the bed.

"Well, Padfoot."

Sirius' eyes narrowed warily. He guessed where this was going. Beginning to unpack and purposefully not looking at his friend, he asked, "Well, what?"

James refused to back down. "Well, what happened? If you're going to show up at my house at dawn needing a place to stay, I deserve to know the reason, don't I?" Quietly, he added, "C'mon, Padfoot, this is me. Don't think you can keep secrets from me… it didn't work for Moony, either."

Sirius laughed in spite of himself, and stopped rummaging through his trunk. Straightening up and crossing to sit on the window sill, he ran a hand through his hair. It fell straight back into place and James was momentarily distracted- why couldn't his hair look that way? Maybe if he had nicer hair, Lily would like him… he focused again as Sirius began to talk.

"I… I really don't know, James. I was eating dinner and ignoring the dirty looks my family threw me, as usual. Then my father started talking about some horrible new woman at the Ministry who wants stricter laws against all the half-breeds, and how she wants to exterminate werewolves entirely." Sirius saw James blanch. "Yeah, I know. Normally I can just keep my mouth shut, but being themselves my parents and Regulus were all supporting her, talking about how evil werewolves are, what a blight on society, blah, blah… I thought about Remus and I couldn't help it. I pointed out that werewolves were perfectly normal human beings except once a month. From there it degraded into the usual all-out shouting match about how I'm dishonouring the Black family name and what a terrible excuse for a son I am. I was just- so angry- and I said well, I didn't want to be their son, anyway, and that I was ashamed of being a Black. All of which is true, but I'd never said it to their faces before. I didn't mean to then, but I was still thinking about Moony and it just came out." He paused. "That was when the curses started flying. I ran out of the room and by the time I got upstairs, I couldn't stand the thought of being in that house one more second. So I threw my stuff into my trunk, grabbed it, and dragged it downstairs. My mother caught me as I was leaving and tried to stop me- that's when I got the cut- but when she tried to run down the front stairs after me, she bounced back like there was a wall in the way. I think I did magic without meaning to, though I didn't stop to think about it at the time. Then… then I turned aside into a park after dragging my trunk for an hour and realized I didn't have anywhere to go. Eventually, I flagged down the Knight Bus and came here. It was the only place I could think of." He stopped, then very suddenly grabbed a vase from the sill beside him. He hurled it across the room, where it shattered. "I'M JUST SO SICK OF IT! THEY'RE EVIL, AND THEY DON'T CARE! I WISH THEY WEREN'T MY PARENTS! I WANT THEM ALL TO JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"

James merely watched him for a few moments. He appeared to be looking for something else he could throw, however, so James said bracingly, "I think they will now, Sirius." When he didn't look like he believed it, James continued, "I really do. I mean, they disowned Andromeda when she got engaged to that Muggle-born. I think shouting at them that you didn't want to be their son might make them disown you as well. Which is completely to their loss. They didn't deserve you anyway," James said quickly, and added softly, "You'll finally be free of them."

Sirius appeared slightly cheered by this possibility. "Yeah, they just might. Still… I'll always be a Black, even if I get rid of their company permanently." He spoke the surname as if it were a disgusting swearword.

"It's just a name, Sirius. It doesn't mean anything, anymore than being a Muggle-born or a half-blood does. You of all people should know that labels don't mean anything; one of our best mates is a werewolf, remember? Haven't we learned firsthand that nothing people say about them is true? You're the furthest thing possible from a Black, and everyone knows it," James reasoned, and grinned, "Besides, you'll always be Padfoot to me."

Sirius smiled back. "And you'll always be Prongs." He looked at the opposite wall. "Sorry about the vase."
James shrugged. "Mum will fix it when she gets home. Don't worry about it. She only warned us not to demolish the house; I think she'll be able to handle one vase."

Sirius grinned, and finally there was nothing wrong with it. "Oh, we're going to have so much fun this month! It'll be just like we're brothers."

"You were already my brother, Sirius," James said quietly.

Sirius met his best friend's eyes, touched. A beam of understanding passed between them. Simultaneously, they walked toward one another and embraced.

"C'mon," said James as they dropped their arms, "I know a grove where we can set off some fireworks as long as we keep an eye out for approaching Muggles."

"Awesome. Can we get some food first?"

"You've just had breakfast!"

"So? Does that mean I can't be hungry? A growing boy needs to eat…"

They made their way downstairs, bantering, and the house itself seemed brighter as their voices echoed through the halls.

A/N: Reviews are the chocolate of the fanfic world.