A pre-series one-shot. Warning for language and mentions of violence.

Visitor

It's just gone nine o'clock on Christmas Day evening. After deigning to spend all day with his parents, James has gone upstairs to write to his friends. Euphemia doesn't mind, because Jim's been sweet today. He thanked Mia and Monty over and over for his presents (new flares and shirts, a pair of leather broomstick gloves, and a pouch of fifty galleons), and he didn't complain about the way Mia had cooked Christmas Dinner. Besides, it's nice to cuddle up with Monty, sipping Firewhiskey and listening to the wireless, without James interrupting or making sick noises at them. Mia's Christmases have been busier since she retired- nowadays she's involved in organising Christmas bazaars for the Witches' Institute and the Muggle church, plus there's the Wizochoc charity appeal, and the party which she and Monty still put on for Sleekeazy employees and their families. Not to mention the shopping, planning and cooking Mia does for her own family. Reaching the end of Christmas Day feels like finishing a marathon. It's a full week until Mia's next engagement, the Reynolds' New Year party. Tonight is a night for relaxing with Monty as they congratulate themselves on another Christmas Day successfully over with. It's raining outside, and Mia's always loved the feeling of being inside the warm while listening to the rain pound outside. She feels calm and cosy, just ready to drop off to sleep.

And then there's a knock at the door. Three sharp raps on the pane of glass. Mia huffs irritably.

"Carol singers," she grumbles, "At this time of night,"

It's Christmas Day! Why aren't these daft Muggles at home having a nap or a glass of brandy?

"Ignore them," yawns Monty.

"Hmph," Mia agrees.

They sit in silence for a few moments, until another trio of knocks tap on the door. Mia begins to roll her eyes, but stops when she realises something: "They haven't rung the doorbell. Muggle carol singers would use the doorbell,"

Their caller must be a witch or wizard, and moreover one who has limited experience of living amongst Muggles.

"If it's important, they'd have owled or Flooed," sighs Monty, although the last half of the sentence is interrupted by more knocking, faster and more urgent.

"Sounds like they're not buzzing off until we answer," Euphemia decides. She eases herself out of the armchair- she's not as spritely as she once was, and Christmases are exhausting even without a lively fifteen-year-old in the house.

She walks into the hall and across to the front door. It's too dark to make out the shape of the person on the other side. Mia withdraws her wand from her skirt pocket- you can't be too careful these days- and opens the door. She's met by the sight of a young man standing on the doorstep, dripping wet with his long hair plastered to his face and coat by rain. He's holding a bulky suitcase and a broomstick, and when the door opens he tips his chin up to look at Mia, meeting her eye with a fierce gaze.

"Hello, Mrs Pott," says Sirius Black.

Against her better judgement, Euphemia's liked the young man standing in front of her since the day she met him. Mia and Monty hadn't been best pleased when, at the start of of James' first term at Hogwarts, he'd sent them a letter excitedly explaining that Sirius Black was his best friend. The Potters hadn't wanted their son to get mixed up with that type of family, especially after the news that the Black boy had been sorted into Gryffindor, not Slytherin. Wanting to avoid overplaying the situation, Monty and Mia had decided not to mention their concerns to James. They reasoned that he could hardly have met any other children at school yet, and would probably find more suitable friends soon. In November, an owl arrived from Professor McGonogall informing the Potters that their son had been caught throwing a ball around in the History of Magic classroom for the third time that week. Although Monty and Mia wrote to James to reprimand him, they hadn't been truly angry. Jim was boisterous but not a tearaway, and it had only been History of Magic. More disconcerting than what James was in trouble for was the fact that the letter mentioned Sirius Black had been caught misbehaving with him.

That first Christmas holiday, Mia had seen James leap off the Hogwarts Express chatting to another boy. His hair was black like Jim's, though much longer, like Muggle pop stars had these days. Thrilled as she'd been to see her son again after three months, Mia couldn't help but have her eye caught by the long-haired boy. He was a taller than James, with dark eyes and a beautiful face.

James noticed his parents, and Mia saw him gasp elatedly, run a few steps towards them, then stop and go back to a walk.

"Jim!" called Monty, "Hello, son!"

Mia beamed and waved. James glanced around, unsure what to do, and Monty swooped over to hug him. Mia bundled on too.

"It's good to see you, James," she whispered.

"We missed you," added Monty.

"Missed you too," he answered.

"What would you say to be a massive slab of chocolate waiting for you at home?" whispered Mia.

"Hello, massive slab of chocolate waiting for me at home," Jim grinned.

"Look how big you've got," said Monty.

"Have I?" gasped James. Then he remembered that he was in public, and broke out from the hug.

"Soppy," he mumbled.

"See who's embarrassed by his old man now he's a big Hogwarts boy!" said Dad, kissing James' forehead.

"Geroff," James hissed, and Monty pretended to wrestle him. As her husband and son scuffled, Mia noticed that the other boy was watching them. When he saw she was looking back, he immediately smiled and walked over to her.

"You must be Mr and Mrs Potter," he said, "It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Sirius Black,"

He stuck out his hand to shake. Euphemia noted that that was a strange thing for a child of his age to do unprompted- even a child of the Black family.

"Hello," said Mia, taken aback.

Jim stopped rough-housing with Monty, leapt over to Sirius and announced, "This is my partner in crime,"

"Yes, we've heard about your escapades together," said Mia, ruffling James' hair (this was back in the days before he took to messing it up himself).

"How's your term been, Sirius?" Monty inquired.

"Fantastic!" enthused Sirius, sounding more like an eleven-year-old, though still offering Fleamont a handshake.

"It was ace," chipped in James, "I'm the best at flying. I don't even need the lessons,"

"James'll get on the Quidditch team next year," said Sirius.

"Told you I would, didn't I?"

"You did," chuckled Monty.

Not many lads his age would bound up to a classmate's parents, who he'd never met before, and start nattering away. But Sirius was self-assured and engaging, and launched into telling Mia and Monty an anecdote about flying lessons. He and James were recounting Jim's fourth-best dismount-without-breaking, when a sharp, aggravated voice interrupted them.

"There he is. Sirius, come here at once,"

Sirius' shoulders drooped. The self-confident child disappeared and he looked tense. Then he looked grumpy. Then he sighed, "I need to go,"

"Have a good Chri-" Monty began.

"I'll write," Jim promised seriously.

"Definitely," Sirius nodded, "Bye, James. Goodbye, Mr and Mrs Potter,"

"Goodbye," said Mia, but Sirius had already given James a friendly shove and raced off towards the direction of the voice. Jim had explained in a blasé tone that that was his mother, who hated him. Mia hadn't taken this to heart given that her son was prone to exaggeration, although she'd felt perturbed at the aggressive vexation in Sirius' mother's voice. She craned her neck to see where Sirius had gone, but James started speaking again and distracted her before she could find Mrs Black in the crowd.

Mia managed to spot her though, returning James to King's Cross after that first Christmas holiday. Like Sirius, Mrs Black was tall and slim with dark hair and high cheekbones. Like Sirius, she was striking to look at. Unlike Sirius, she didn't smile or chatter- although Mia noticed that actually, Sirius wasn't smiling or chattering now either. His mother was talking sternly to him. So were many other parents on the platform, offering last-minute warnings and reminders, except no other parents were shaking their child as Mrs Black was manoeuvring Sirius, nor were they reprimanding their children with the ferocity with which Sirius' mother berated her son. Once the boys had boarded the Hogwarts Express, elated to be reunited, and the train had left the station, Mia attempted to give Mrs Black with a cheery wave, though Sirius' mother glared and marched away. It was the same reaction the next few times Mia attempted to engage Mrs Black in conversation, so eventually she gave up.

At the start of every holiday, Euphemia watches James and Sirius cavort with Peter and Remus as they disembark the Hogwarts Express, and finds herself looking forward to her conversations with Sirius, who always makes a point to talk to her and Monty. He really is exceptionally charismatic. He called Mia and Monty, "Mr and Mrs P," until he realised that Peter's parents were the same, so they became, "Mr and Mrs Pett," and "Mr and Mrs Pott". Mia can't help but chuckle at that. Peter and Remus are sweet, but Remus shuffles nervously and doesn't make much eye contact, and Peter never seems to know what to say. Euphemia's own son speaks too quickly and is constantly interrupting. Mia knows that this is all perfectly normal for teenage boys, though sometimes talking to Sirius Black isn't like talking to a teenager. To converse with Sirius is to receive a barrage of flirting, questions and cheekbones. He's a drama queen no doubt, though in an endearing way. Sirius' name is usually mentioned in the letters Mia and Monty receive from school about Jim's misbehaviour, but he's so charming and interesting in person that it seems rude, almost, to reprimand him for his mischief when they see him in person.

Sirius is the oldest of Jim's friends, and he looks it. His voice had dropped by the end of their second year, he's taller than Peter and Jim, though not lanky and gawky like Remus. Sirius knows how handsome he is- he can barely get through a sentence without fluttering his eyelashes or running a finger down his long cheekbones. Sirius, Jim, Peter and Remus board and jump off the Hogwarts Express together, and often Sirius has a girl draped on his arm too, or a female classmate will blush or splutter into giggles as they pass him on the platform (Mia wonders if Jim has his eye on anybody. Whenever she brings it up he becomes cross and embarrassed, which Mia assumes means he does). More than once, Mia's suggested to Sirius that he might like to come to stay with their family for a few days during the holidays. Every time, Sirius has politely declined, then changed the subject. He never mentions his younger brother- in fact, it took until the end of the boys' fourth year for Mia to learn that Sirius had a sibling.

"Why haven't you mentioned him?" Mia challenged Jim, once they were home from King's Cross that day.

"Don't see him much," James muttered, "He's a Slytherin. And an idiot,"

"How do you know he's an idiot if you barely see him?"

"Sirius says he's an idiot,"

"Sirius talks to him at school?"

"No. They don't get on,"

"Why not?"

"I don't know, Mum. Stop asking boring questions," Jim huffed.

Mia received the same defensive reaction when she asked James about Sirius' relationship with his mother. He shrugged that the Blacks were a strange and old-fashioned family, and when Mia dug further Jim snapped that he and Sirius didn't discuss tedious stuff like their families. Euphemia knew there was something wrong about it all. Sirius was far from a deprived boy materially- no child of the Blacks would ever go without comfort- yet Mia never sensed any affection between him or his family, and she was concerned by Jim's caginess. What was going on in Sirius' home? Had his sorting caused a rift, or was it the mischief he got up to with James? Did Mrs Black not find it insulting that Sirius speaks to Mia and Monty before his own family? Why's she never confronted Mia about it, or said hello, or anything? Surely she knew how close their sons are. A couple of years ago, Mia asked Remus' father if he had concerns about Sirius too. Mr Lupin babbled that some families preferred to keep things private, then rushed away, muttering that he had an appointment to keep (the Lupins seemed a peculiar family too, and Remus had also declined an invitation to stay with the Potters. James had provided a little more explanation to that, however, telling Mia and Monty that Remus was sickly. It was too dangerous for him to stay at other people's houses, or for James to stay with him, in case Remus got ill). Mia and Monty had discussed it, though they weren't sure what more they could do.

Sirius and Jim have greeted the Potter together every end-of-term since, and or the last year or so Mia and Monty have hugged Sirius hello too. He's never shown any sign that he realises speaking to his friend's parents before his own is unusual. And then, like that first time, Mrs Black will shout across the station for Sirius, and his body language changes. When the boys were younger, Sirius would wilt and wince. When he scuttled to his mother, she put her arm around his awkwardly, as if she had only practised hugging on a mannequin. She never looked pleased to see him. Mia never saw any irritation either, as many youngsters and parents felt towards one another. What Euphemia witnessed between Sirius Black and his mother could best be described as dislike. Nowadays, Sirius so longer cringes or scurries- he walks back to Mrs Black with a strut. Mia hopes that that meant he's becoming more sure of himself in his family, although with a lad like Sirius it's hard to tell. Now, it's been a while since Mia saw Mrs Black hug him. They eye each other with disdain, then leave the station, Mrs Black marching ahead with her younger son and Sirius sauntering behind. That had been Mia's last glimpse of Sirius, at the end of the Autumn term a week and a half ago. And now the same Sirius Black is standing on Mia's doorstep, dripping wet and swagger-free and certainly not making a Christmas Day social call.

"Are you alright?" Mia asks.

"No," Sirius confesses. He takes a heaving breath and says, "No, Mrs Potter. It's really me, I swear. My middle name's Orion and your old cat was called Busey,"

Mia was too surprised to remember to check, though now Sirius has clarified she realises that his unexpected arrival is suspicious. But of course it's him. She knows it. Mia notices then that Sirius' eyes are slightly reddened and there are tear-tracks down his cheeks.

"You'd better come inside,"

Sirius staggers into the house with his trunk, and Mia shuts the door behind him and puts her wand back in her pocket.

"Who is it?" Monty calls from the sitting room.

"Are you in danger?" Euphemia checks. The world's a dark place at the moment, even for a Black.

"No. No-one's following me or anything," Sirius breathes. Despite knowing Sirius since he was a little boy, the notion of him crying is surprising to Mia.

"What's happened?"

"I can't go back. I'm not going back, ever,"

"Back where?"

"Home. I ran away. I should have done it ages ago and I'm never going back,"

"Padfoot?" calls a voice. James' head appears over the banister. His eyes swivel from his best friend to his mother, then trots downstairs to them.

"What happened? What did she do this time?" he interrogates.

"Excuse me?" Euphemia asks sharply.

"Not you, Mum, Sirius' mother," explains Jim impatiently, "What's she done?"

Sirius draws himself up slightly taller as James approaches. "It wasn't mother," he declares in a bolder tone, "It was me,"

"Don't worry. You're staying here now," James affirms, clapping his hand on Sirius' shoulder.

Monty leans out of the front room, "What's going on?"

Sirius breaks out a winning smile, "Merry Christmas, Mr Potter. Sorry to intrude,"

"Sirius?"

Monty's eyesight's been fading for years, and their hall's dingy when it's dark outside, so he can barely see what's happening.

"Good evening," greets Sirius, just as he would on the King's Cross platform.

"You don't need to be sorry," James tells Sirius curtly.

"What's going on?" Monty repeats.

"Sirius is staying," proclaims Jim.

The three of them sound ready to spend all evening gawping and throwing statements around without listening to one another. Mia decides to take charge.

"James, put the kettle on," she orders. She doesn't normally boss her son about, but this is not a normal situation. Something terribly wrong must have occurred for Sirius to come all the way here at this time of night of Christmas Day, and with seemingly all his belongings. He's turned on the bravado for Jim and the charm for Monty, but when Mia opened the door she saw a troubled and nervous boy in need of help.

"Mum-"

Monty pulls James away from Sirius and prods him towards the kitchen, "Kettle. Biscuits. Now,"

Jim folds his arms. "Promise you won't send Sirius away,"

Amongst the bemusement about what's happening and how she should handle this, Mia can't help feeling proud of James' loyalty. As a parent, however, she must be responsible. She doesn't want to send Sirius away, but she can't keep him here without his parents knowing.

"Do your family know where you are?" Mia questions Sirius.

"No,"

Mia had guessed as much. Whatever's happened, she's not keeping a teenager here without his family knowing. When Jim's out alone or visiting Peter, Mia and Monty insist on knowing where he's going and when he'll be home. James is frequently late back, though he's ever done anything like this. Mia and her husband would be worried sick if he did.

"We'll have to send them an owl to let them know you're safe," she explains, "You're welcome to stay for tonight, but I won't keep you if your family want you home,"

Mrs Black may be cold and disdainful, but she's Sirius' mother. As a parent herself, Mia cannot prolong another mother's panic or befuddlement.

"They don't, and I don't want to see them either," Sirius scowls. This brazen statement sounds meant to shock, which means it has the opposite effect. Mia's beginning to suspect that Christmas Day tensions at the Black's house have overboiled and Sirius has flounced off. Perhaps all he needs is time to cool down. Mature as he can seem, he is a teenager.

"Why don't you put your luggage down and come into the sitting room?" prompts Monty.

"I'll take your coat," says Mia, "James, put that kettle on and fetch a plate of biscuits, no arguing,"

Jim skulks into the kitchen.

Sirius drops his suitcase and broomstick, takes his coat off and follows Monty into the sitting room. Usually guests remove their shoes at the Potters' doorway, but Sirius doesn't make any effort to and, although his boots are soggy, Mia doesn't ask him to. She hangs Sirius' coat up in the cupboard under the stairs. It's a long, dark red overcoat, double-breasted with a big collar. It's an expensive item, especially as it isn't waterproof. Mia notes that she and Monty wouldn't buy Jim a coat so impractical. Families like the Blacks are silly with money.

When Mia joins Monty and Sirius in the sitting room, Sirius has plopped himself on the end of the sofa and is pushing strands of wet hair off his forehead. Mia's seen him do that many times before- the movement designed to make highlight his elegant bone structure and long dark hair. She summons the seldom-used rocking chair from the corner of the room, and takes a seat. The wood is uncomfortable on her bones, but she doesn't want to crowd Sirius on the couch.

"I know it's Christmas Day, but this is the only place I wanted to go," he tells them. Celestina Warbeck is still warbling out of the radio, so Mia flicks it off with her wand.

"You know you're welcome here," Fleamont promises, sitting down in his armchair, "We've wanted you to visit for years. Though I'm not sure we expected you so suddenly,"

"I know. I'm sorry,"

"Like my son said, there's nothing to apologise for. So take a few deep breaths, then tell us what's gone on,"

Monty is the consummate negotiator. Even years after his retirement, he's at his best when calmly discussing and calculating a route forward.

Sirius nods. He takes his deep breaths loudly and obviously. James reappears with two mugs of tea and a plate stacked with gingerbread. He hands the plate and one of the cups to Sirius, then sits down beside him clutching the other mug.

"You don't need to tell them anything," Jim states. He leans forwards towards Mia and Monty, as if he's Sirius' lawyer. Mia feels touched witnessing this caring side of him. For years she's felt proud that James protects sickly Remus and Peter, who's rather slow. Her heart feels even fuller at seeing him be protective toward sophisticated, bold Sirius.

"No. I want to explain. Merlin knows I've waited long enough," seethes Sirius, then turns to Monty and says in a pleasanter tone, "Although it's a long story,"

"Take all the time you need,"

"How much do they know?" Sirius asks James.

"Hardly anything. I never wanted to tell them,"

Sirius groans. He pushes his hair behind his ear again. Then he looks Mia in the eye and announces, "I hit my mother. I smacked her in the face and I'm glad. I'd do it again, Mrs Potter. I'd pay galleons to do it again. She's had it coming for years,"

Hit his mother? Sirius? He wouldn't do such a thing. Sirius is a livewire but he isn't violent, and certainly not towards his own mother.

"Why don't you tell us from the beginning?" Mia suggests. Sirius has had an emotional day and a long journey, so perhaps he isn't expressing himself clearly. Mia and Monty need to hear properly what's gone on, from the start.

"There's not a beginning. I hate my family and they hate me,"

"Nobody could hate you," says Monty.

"Yes, they could. They always have. You know what Purebloods like my family are like, Mr Pott. They think they're gods. They throw their weight and their money around so nobody argues with them, but I do. Even before I went to school I knew they were wrong. I told them it was bullshit, and they despised me because they knew I was right. It's disgusting the way they talk about you and Remus' family and the Minister, anyone whose can't trace their bloodline back a billion years. They yammer on about the Dark Lord- you should see it, it's pathetic. Only Bella had the balls to actually join. The rest are a fan club, like the Dark Lord's their favourite Quidditch player. It's pathetic,"

This isn't a surprise to Mia- they are the Black family, and their attitude towards Muggle-borns and "blood-traitors" was the reason Mia hadn't wanted James being friends with Sirius in the first place. Mia had heard rumours about the Lestranges, who are related to Sirius by marriage, though she had assumed that, being French, they would avoid involvement in the Dark Lord's madness. It seems she was wrong. Mia wants to refuse to believe that Sirius is despised by his family. However, picturing his and his mother's physicality at King's Cross makes her close her mouth before she can deny it.

Sirius picks up a gingerbread and pops it into his mouth. He manages to make the movement appear aggressive.

"My fathers' a limp biscuit, he doesn't do anything," he sneers, "It's Mother who has it in for me. She loathes me,"

"She doesn't l-"

"It's alright, Mr Pott. I loathe her back. Christmas is the worst because we have to all be together and they've got their stupid ancient traditions. It's worse since Andy ran away. She used to make me laugh,"

"Who's Andy?"

"My cousin, Andromeda. She stuck up for me, but she's gone now,"

One of Sirius' cousins, Mia remembers, eloped with a Muggle-born boy a few years previously.

"They laid into me at Christmas Dinner, and when my cousins left Mother carried on. She was drunk, she's always drunk, and she started saying how I'm betraying the family to mix with Muggle-borns. She said she'd take me out of school and keep me at home to learn respect for my ancestors. I said I don't have any respect because they're all lunatics. She's a lunatic, she was practically frothing at me, Mr Pott. She called me wicked and a fanatic. She said I'd go to prison if I kept going the way I am, and I told her I'd rather end up in Azkaban than end up like her, drunken old bitch. She warned me I'd get a smack in the mouth, and I said I'd get there first. So I did,"

Sirius' face cracks into a grin.

Mia doesn't know what to say. She's appalled by Sirius' claims about his family's attitude towards him. What sort of mother calls her own child wicked? His claims of violence towards her are especially alarming- it seems he's telling the truth about physically attacking her. More disturbing still is his apparent revelling in it.

"Has your mother ever hit you?" asks Monty.

Mia doesn't want James hearing this. Neither she nor Monty have ever laid a finger on Jim, though Mia knows that plenty of their friends gave their children a clip around the ear or a smack across the back of the legs. Mia's brothers had been disciplined the same way, and it didn't do them any harm.

"Sometimes, when I was little. Not very hard," Sirius shrugs, "She hasn't since I got bigger than her. I reckon she knew I'd be able to hit her back harder one day,"

The grin became a smirk. "And I did,"

"How d'you get here?" James pipes up.

"Walked to the end of the main road and stuck my arm out for the Knight Bus. Full of pissed wizards too drunk to apparate,"

"I did it, Prongs," Sirius murmurs after a moment. He beams up at Jim, "Finally fucking did it,"

Sirius lets out a long, jubilant breath, as if he's successfully completed an assault course. James smiles back and gives him a punch on the shoulder, "Good,"

"Can I stay?" Sirius asks. It's a request, not a plea- Blacks don't beg. But where will Sirius go if Mia and Monty refuse him a bed here? He won't return home tonight.

"We're not sending you back out into the rain," Mia promises, "You can sleep here tonight if you send a note to your parents to tell that you're safe,"

That's the best solution for now. Tomorrow they can sit down with Sirius to agree where he should stay for the rest of the holiday. Once Sirius and his mother have calmed down, they can work on rebuilding their relationship. Mia's got friends who could try to give them counselling, if Mrs Black could be convinced that that'd work. Mia could write to Mrs Black herself to explain how troubled Sirius is. The Dark Lord connection is disconcerting, though. Mia hadn't realised how close Sirius' family were allied to You-Know-Who. She certainly doesn't want to delve further into that, though it seems to be one of the main cause of Sirius' venom towards his relatives, and rightly so. He must have a strong backbone to stand up to a family full of You-Know-Who's supporters. He's got plenty to gain from siding with them, and a lot to lose by turning his back. Mia hadn't realised he was so politically engaged, though perhaps it's inevitable when growing up in that home. The Potters are a notorious "blood traitor" family and Mia was proud to marry into them, but it's different for a Black. Mia doesn't know what happened to Sirius' cousin who eloped with a Muggle-born. Would she be able to help him?

"They won't care," Sirius drawls.

"As parents ourselves, we can promise you that they will," maintains Mia in a firm voice, "Use Jim's owl to let your family know you're safe, and in the morning we can decide what more to do,"

She isn't certain how welcome Sirius' note will be at home after what he's done. But she's certain that she should make him send it.

"It isn't-" begins James.

"Give Sirius a minute," interrupts Monty. Mia understands this negotiation of Monty's- he wants Sirius to agree to their terms, and it won't be helpful to have Jim interfering in his decision. Mia's family are settled and content, and her home is one of games, in-jokes, talking, fun and love. She's tremendously proud of that (even more so having heard about Sirius' upbringing), but it means that Jim can't understand what Sirius is going through, or the stakes of this.

Sirius nods and says, "Yes," and Mia breathes a sigh of relief. She notices that Jim looks mollified, too.

"James was just writing you a letter, I believe," Fleamont smiles.

"Now I can show you my Christmas presents properly," chirps James, "Come on,"

He leaps up and Sirius begins to follow him. Mia tries to stand up, too.

"We don't need you to come, Mum," James sniggers. He tousels his hand through his black hair. Mia's noticed that's a habit he has around his friends.

"I want to make sure Sirius' note gets sent properly," insists Mia. This letter will be a stop-gap; a promise to the Blacks that Sirius isn't in danger and a solution will be found as soon as he and his family are ready to talk the situation through. Communication's been lacking in that family, and Mia will get it started.

"But-"

"I'll fetch the camp-bed," adds Monty.

"Why are you fussing?"

"Because we want Sirius to be safe. Is there anything more you need tonight, Sirius?"

"No thank you, Mr Pott,"

"Food, shower?"

"I feel like I've had a shower outside," says Sirius with a small smile.

"There's leftover Christmas Pudding in the kitchen," Mia remembers. She's managed to get to her feet by now.

"I'd be more interested in a glass of that Firewhiskey," Sirius suggests, fluttering his eyelashes at her.

"Oh, stop it, you,"

Sirius winks, and James rolls his eyes and pulls him from the room. Jim's miles faster on his feet than Mia is, though she has the advantage of apparation. She apapparates to the top of the stairs while the boys are running up them.

"We've got a spare room, but it's full of Dad's old stock," James is explaining, "I'll show you the garden tomorrow,"

"The infamous Potter garden," chimes in Sirius. He's carrying his broomstick while Jim lugs the trunk.

"And this is my room," Jim announces as they reach the top step. He passes Mia and kicks open his bedroom door.

"Green walls?" Sirius mock-gasps, "Traitor,"

"It's a Quidditch pitch, idiot," James snarks, "Look,"

He points to the grey hoops painted onto his bedroom walls over the green of the grass colour. Mia and Monty had Jim's room repainted for his thirteenth birthday present. The repaint did not, however, have the effect of making James keep his bedroom any tidier- the floor's covered in jumpers, socks, broomstick twigs, quill-nibs and magazines. Around Mustapha's cage is a small collection of pellets and animal bones.

James springs to the shelf where he keeps his medals. "Now you're here I can finally show you-"

"Letter first," Mia says pointedly.

"Mum-"

"No, you're right, Mrs Pott," Sirius relents. He slopes to Jim's desk, drops into the chair, takes a fresh roll of parchment and picks up the quill.

Then he sighs. "Don't know what to say,"

"Fuck you," offers James.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that, James Potter," Mia glowers.

"I said pluck you, Mum. Like plucking a Christmas turkey," James protests, grinning and scrubbing his hair again. Mia chuckles- he does make her laugh. Jim doesn't swear much- he's showing off in front of Sirius. She waves her wand at him mock-threateningly.

Sirius scribbles a couple of words on the parchment, and holds it up to show Euphemia, who reads a single sentence in Sirius' neat handwriting: I am safe.

"That's it?"

"That's what they need to know, isn't it, Mrs Potter?" Sirius asks. He doesn't sound surly or rude. He's genuinely inquiring. It's as perfunctory as a letter can get- however, Mia asked Sirius to tell his family that he's safe, and he's told them that he's safe.

"Yes," she allows. It wouldn't be enough to satisfy Mia were she in Mrs Black's shoes, but it's a start. Tomorrow Monty can negotiate with Sirius to decide what to do next and send a more thorough letter to his family. Mia wonders if it would be helpful or not if she herself were to write.

"Let's send it," chirps James, springing across to his owl's cage. He takes Mustapha out, as Sirius folds the letter into an envelope and writes an address on. Mia knew that Sirius' family live near King's Cross, and she recognises the street name- Grimmauld Place- from when she volunteered nearby at Haringey Wizarding Animal Hospice. As Mia remembers, Grimmauld Place houses are towering and imposing. When money from Monty's business started coming in, he and Mia had discussed buying a London townhouse, though they'd eventually decided on heading North to Cheshire. Given Jim's penchant for riskily low flying, Mia's sure that the countryside was a better idea than the city. Growing up on a street like Grimmauld Place must have been claustrophobic for Sirius.

Sirius hands the envelope to Jim, who ties it to Mustapha's foot, and hurls the bird out of the window.

"Thank you for doing that, Sirius," says Mia. Monty apparates outside the bedroom door with the camp-bed.

"We do have a spare room," he tells Sirius, "Though it's full of Jim's old baby toys,"

Monty drops the little box onto the floor, and taps his wand on it to make the box unfold into a single bed with a pillow, quilt and duvet.

"Not the comfiest bed in the world, but it should do for now. I'll leave you boys to it,"

"We'll be downstairs for a while longer if you need anything," says Mia, "Do you have pyjamas? Toothbrush,"

"I brought all my clothes. I'm not going back,"

Mia doesn't want to get into that again now. "We'll talk in the morning. You two catch up and get some sleep now,"

She isn't sure what time it is, although it's much earlier than Jim normally goes to bed during the holidays, and they'll have a lot to talk about. For best friends who spend every day together at school, ten days of holiday is a long time not to see each other. Mia's sure that they'll be up gossiping for hours, as they should be. Given what Sirius has told them about his home life, it sounds like he needs time to relax and be silly. Perhaps, Mia realises, that's what first drew him to her wild-haired, wisecracking son. Jim's clearly known about Sirius' family situation for some time- he's been protecting and listening to Sirius for longer than Mia could have imagined. Since James was young, Mia and Monty have had dinner-table discussions with him about respecting people of different blood types, and of course he's aware of the worsening situation regarding You-Know-Who. Some people are even calling it a war. But James is only fifteen, and spends most of his year miles away in the safe bubble of Hogwarts. Mia didn't know that he was so engaged and passionate about the national crisis. She feels proud of his courage, but also disconcerted and slightly scared for him.

"Thank you, Mrs P. You're the real Mr and Mrs P now," Sirius enthuses.

"I'm honoured," smiles Monty, "Goodnight, lads,"

He raises his hand and apparates downstairs.

"Merry Christmas," says Mia, learning over to Sirius, "It's a pleasure to have you with us,"

She hugs him tight around his damp shoulders. He's been through a lot today, and long before too. Mia thinks, sadly, of the stiff hugs she's seen Mrs Black give her son. She squeezes him tighter, wanting him to feel a proper mother's hug, and know that he'll be safe and accepted and cared for in her home. His family surely do love him, but not like this.

"Mum!" gasps James, mortified.

"Do you want a cuddle too?" Mia offers in a sickly-sweet tone.

"No! Goodnight!" James orders, blushing. Mia winks at him as she lets go of Sirius.

"Night, you two. Merry Christmas,"

She gives them a wave as she leaves the room. Jim shuts the door firmly behind Mia, but she lingers outside to hear if Sirius reveals any more about what's gone on in his house with Christmas. She wants to know as much as she can before they discuss the circumstances again tomorrow morning.

"I'd forgotten they call you Jim," she hears Sirius chuckle, "Reckon I'll start using that. Jimothy. Jimbob. Jimmy-poo. Pumpjim,"

"What?"

"Like pumpkin. Although pumpjim sounds like something you'd like her to do behind the owlery- ow!"

Mia hears the thump, then another one, then sniggering.

"Thought your bedroom would be a shrine to her," Sirius continues, "Or do you have your photographs under your pillow-"

"Shut up," hisses James.

"Remember you used to keep all the notes she sent you when she asked to borrow a quill or a garlic clove?"

"That was when we were twelve,"

Sirius cackles. "I'll search for them in the morning,"

Mia smiles at the idea that James has his eye on a girl. A lad like James will make a young lady extremely happy. Mia isn't sentimental about Jim growing up and no longer being her baby. She's excited for him to become a man, leave school, get a job, travel, get married and make a name for himself. The world has a treat in store in the shape of James Potter.

"We can go into Crewe tomorrow," Jim promises.

"I've been to Muggle London, Prongs. Why would I want to see the Muggle North?" Sirius sneers.

"Tough, 'cos you're here for good now. Mum and Dad won't kick you out,"

"Your Mum fancies me,"

"Eurgh, don't,"

"Touched me up when she hugged me just now,"

"They've been embarrassing," sighs Jim in an appalled voice.

"No," Sirius shoots back, "They've been amazing,"

Jim must have pulled a face because Sirius continues, "I told your parents I punched my mother in the face but they've still given me a bed for tonight,"

"That makes them sound more bonkers than amazing,"

"Perhaps I'll kill you all in your beds," Sirius yawns "It'll make Bella jealous,"

Mia can tell that he's joking, but it's a disconcertingly dark one. Not the reference to herself- the mention of Bella, which she knows must be Bellatrix Lestrange. Is Sirius trying to sound tough in front of Jim? Or is that the kind of violence the Death Eaters in Sirius' family are involved in? He's braver than Mia ever realised. Is it safe for Sirius to return to a family whose worldview is not only entrenched and vicious, but who live with a Death Eater in their midst? Especially as Sirius is so certain of his convictions. No wonder he often doesn't seem much like a teenager- he's been finding, sticking to and standing up for his beliefs since he was a small boy. Mia feels a bubble of pride for him, then concern. The world has a treat in store with James, but what does it have in store for Sirius Black?

Jim snorts with amusement. Sirius adds in a less jovial tone, "Seriously, though. I can't believe they've been so kind to me,"

And they'll keep being kind to him. He's clever and rakish and engaging, but he's also a boy with fury, pain, bewilderment and betrayal. Sirius is in need of stability and help and somebody to listen to him. Thank goodness he's here.

Mia's son must be thinking along the same lines, she realises, because he tells Sirius softly, "Well, that's what parents are supposed to be like".


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