Sirius showed up with two trunks and an angry scowl on the Potters' doorstep. It was nearly eleven thirty PM. Mr. Potter was about ready to be fairly cross, and then Mrs. Potter stepped around him, giving Sirius a hug.
James slept on the floor that night, letting Sirius have the bed. He lay awake for a long time, listening to Sirius toss and turn. They'd have to owl Remus tomorrow. James had no idea what he'd say.
It hadn't seemed all that important at the time, but the first thing James did when he woke up that morning was spill the last bottle of milk all over the counter. He'd slept poorly, as though his body was mounting a full protest, knowing that the days of summer holiday were drawing to an end. Stumbling into the kitchen, intent on a nice bowl of porridge with honey and raisins and plenty of milk, the way they never fixed it at Hogwarts, he managed to knock the bottle right over with a stray elbow or something. And then there was milk puddled all over the counter and dripping onto the kitchen floor, the cats going crazy trying to lick it all up.
James had never been one to mind the ban on under-aged use of magic (especially not now), but his wand was upstairs in yesterday's trousers (stupid, stupid). He ended up sopping up the milk with a tea towel, of all the bloody things. There was milk everywhere and all over the ruddy mail and that morning's Prophet. Once he got it all wiped up, the best thing to do would have been to go straight back to bed.
James was lying flat on his back, staring up at the sky at a point just to the left of the sun, thinking about what he wanted for lunch, when suddenly the glaring brightness was blocked out entirely by the towering figure of his mother.
"So you decided to bathe with the mail this morning, did you?" she asked.
"Thought it might improve the stench," James said cheerfully. His father always called the Prophet a "pile of rubbish" and "no better than fish wrappings."
"Well, I managed to salvage your letter from school," she said, hands on her hips at her apron strings. "So if they've written to tell you that they won't be having you back this year, you'll have to try a more effective method than drowning."
"That's nice," James said dreamily. The sun was warm on his face and school was still ten days away and he had just enough time for a nap before lunch.
Lunch was bread and cheese, which was hardly suitable and left James wishing there'd been some chicken left over from last night's roast. He didn't bother putting down a napkin or anything to catch the crumbs, because the newspaper was still spread out all over the table, crispy dry by now and smelling slightly sour.
James scanned the paper, or at least the parts that were facing right-side up, which fortunately included the Quidditch scores. He read the horoscopes because they were near his elbow and sometimes good for a laugh. He and Sirius often joked that they were prime candidates to take over the Prophet's horoscope column now that they'd both received 'T's in Divination. James' horoscope said to watch out for the shadow of the Grim in his path, which only made him chuckle under his breath.
If there was anything in the Prophet about Ministry regulations concerning part-humans, it was either smeared beyond legibility or he didn't notice it.
He was upstairs thumbing through an old Quidditch magazine when his mother called him down for dinner.
"You haven't opened your Hogwarts letter yet," she said, as she spooned potatoes and thick gravy onto his plate.
"What's the use?" James asked, digging in. "It's the same every year. 'Dear Mr. Potter, Welcome back, here is the list of new doorstops you'll be asked to purchase for this year's schooling.'"
"You might do well to read a few of those doorstops," his father said from behind what he'd managed to salvage of the paper.
The letter was still sitting on the table, underneath the salt and pepper shakers he'd bought his mother for her birthday (they sneezed whenever you shook them), so James dutifully lifted it up and said, "All right, all right, let's see what the damage is, then."
After a few moments, his mother said, "What'll you take to drink?"
James was barely listening though. Instead he was smoothing his hand over the crest on the envelope. It felt authentic, but it must be a joke, something Remus and Sirius had cooked up when Remus had gone to visit in London, it couldn't be --
"Well, what'll it be, then?" his mother asked again.
"Milk, I guess," James said, looking at the signature on the letter, which looked perfectly real, except that --
"We don't have any milk," his mother said, "somebody decided to water the counters with it this morning."
"Hmm," James mumbled.
And then his father said, "What is it? They've thrown you out?"
"Well, it's not quite like that. It says they've made me a Prefect."
"What?" both of his parents asked in unison.
"It's got to be some mistake," James said slowly. "Remus is the prefect for our year, and what bloody good would I be as a Prefect anyway? What am I supposed to do, take points away from myself?"
"You might do well to take a page out of the Prefect's book this year, James," his mother said. "You need to think about your future and... and other things."
But James was barely listening, "Yes, but Remus," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense."
He was just about to rise up from his chair and send off an owl when the doorbell rang.
"Honestly, Sirius Black, can you do nothing right? Regulus is years younger than you and already he's a member of the Honors Club, with some respectable friends--"
"The Honors Club, Mother, is just a place for boys to read dirty books and talk about how much more pocket money their parents give them than other children." He stood, arms crossed. "And then they go spend that pocket money on acid and more dirty books."
"And he's also finally been accepted at a decent school - Durmstrang owled us just this morning--"
"I'd rather be locked in the basement with that disgusting house elf than end up at Durmstrang."
Sharply. "If you continue to talk to me like that young man, that's exactly where you'll be. Keep it up and I'll lock you away until September."
"I'm going to James's this hols. Don't write."
"If there's one other person you don't need to associate more with it's those Potters. Worst sort of pureblood. They don't seem to have the first idea about how to raise their son, nevermind what kind of influence he's having on you. And another thing, if you ever dare dream of bringing a werewolf home again--"
He said it out of anger the first time but never ever once wanted to take it back. "I hope I live just long enough to bury you."
Regulus's mail never interested Sirius in the least, but now he grabbed up all the envelopes with the Black family crest on them and slit them open, new and old. His room was a disaster, but he got the clothes packing themselves as he flipped through letters. One of his father's friends had wrote to tell him a week ago about the possibility of a business takeover, old money changing hands. Sirius only noticed it because he recognised the name of the partner to 'back out' as a wizarding family that was found dead this morning, killed by Voldemort's followers.
Looking back, Sirius realized he should have kept the letter as proof that the Black family was as rotten at the core as he knew they were. At the time, he was shocked and disgusted enough not to think about anything other than confronting his mother about it. Looking back on it rationally, Sirius always knew that his parents wouldn't have been arrested, or even questioned. Money bought everything.
A girl showed up crying on the front porch. His mother was sympathetic just long enough to find out that the girl was Muggle-born, not that Regulus had done something awful to her, and she was hoping that she could get whatever it was he stole back.
"Regulus," she said, gulping. "He, he."
"Just drink your tea," his mother said flatly. While the girl was bent over her sugared cup, Sirius stood there as his mother hissed "imperio."
Immediately, the girl's jaw went slack, spine sagged just a little bit. His mother stood up. "That's a good girl," and his mother patted the youngster on the head. "Now go home, and come back tomorrow to clean our windows. Lie about where you were."
Sirius stood in the doorway, and stared at the girl's face as she went over to their dining room fireplace. There was nothing, not a single thing on her face. "You've finally done it," he said, shaking his head. His hands were shaking, his body was shaking. The girl said her own house on the Floo line in a misty voice, anything of any substance missing and gone. "You've--"
His mother looked up at him, ugly. "The next hex goes to you, boy."
"I'm going to James's," he said. "I'm going to go to James's, and I'm going to have a damned fucking better summer than I ever would here." He picked up an ornate candlestick with the Black family crest on it, the nearest heavy object. "You see this crest?" He threw it at her. "Keep your fucking family crest. I'm through."
"Just try and leave home without our permission," she said to him. "You're not of age yet, you'll be brought home by the Ministry. There's no way--"
"Try and make me stay," he said, eyes glinting, "and I guarantee it'll be the worst two years of your natural lives."
Sirius watched, almost from the outside, as his mother pulled her wand out to punish him. He countered with a spell, that glanced off her cheek and she screamed, screamed and screamed about him being a traitor, about him being not worth being a part of the family, and that he didn't deserve the last name they'd given him, if he was going to dirty it by hanging around with the worst sort of people--
"Mother," he said, and it was calm, "I'm going to go to James's, and then I'm going to write an owl to the Ministry about this. Then, I'm going to owl my boyfriend, and I'm going to tell him that I'm never going to come back here, so he'd better write down my new address."
Her face went chalk white.
"That's right," he said loudly, "my boyfriend. The one you practically threw down the street when you found out he wasn't born into this inbred, snotty, pretentious, cruel family."
"You will do nothing of the sort," she hissed. Her face was pinched, eyes bulging. Her wand was still up, and Sirius eyed the crystal vase on the mantle. "You will cease speaking to that creature as of now, and you will go up to your room - where we will lock your door until we can transfer you to a decent school, a place where you can have this, this blood treachery, this nonsense--"
"It's not nonsense," Sirius yelled back. The crystal vase smashed against the wall, and he watched the pieces fall without even realizing he'd thrown it. "It's my life."
"You have an obligation to your lineage!" she screeched. "Your father and I have been working on finding you a wife from suitable stock for years, and just when--"
"I'm leaving," Sirius told her grimly, wand pointed right at her. "And if you think you can stop me, go ahead and try it."
She didn't stop him leaving the drawing room. She didn't stop him going upstairs. She didn't stop him as he threw his Hogwarts' things into his trunk so hard he broke three vials in his Potions kit and had to stop to mop up the rest of it. She didn't stop him gathering up all the gold he had squirreled away, as well as the gold tucked away in the upstairs parlor - money enough to give James's family for feeding him for the next two weeks. Sirius vowed, teeth grinding as he pulled the most important things off his shelves to tuck into the tin trunk, never to touch her fucking money again.
Sirius figured she was probably as glad to see him go as he was to leave. The rest of his things didn't take long, and two trunks later he was ready to catch the Knight Bus.
Remus really didn't ever want to think about this particular day ever, ever again.
As if being kicked off Sirius's front porch wasn't bad enough, he was also lost in London. The right Tube station was supposed to be right around here, and yet.
Two aborted attempts and he was finally back at Diagon Alley. It was only habit to check in with the latest news, and that was the only reason he found out before his parents gave him the Hogwarts' letter that evening. The Daily Prophet announced it on page twenty two. Obviously werewolf rights weren't high on their priorities.
It seemed he wasn't going to be prefect this year, after all.