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Macabre by BitterEpiphany

Format: Novella
Chapters: 16
Word Count: 37,814
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Romance, Angst
Characters: Lupin, Sirius, Lily, James, Pettigrew
Pairings: Sirius/Lily

First Published: 01/07/2010
Last Chapter: 07/04/2011
Last Updated: 07/04/2011


Chapter 1: One
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Authors Note:

Brink was supposed to be the story that I worked on to scratch the angst/romance/drama/humor itch whenever original fiction wouldn't allow it. It was supposed to be the thing that helped me move forward. Unfortunately, characterization issues that seemed menial at the time are making the story impossible for me to rework so I’m taking a break from the break to get a better handle on my characters .

I know I normally say that things are unedited (because they are) but this wasn’t' even composed in a real word processor - I wrote it in the web version of DarkRoom which is really just a glorified version of notepad. I wrote it in-between phone calls and I've barely read through it enough to remember where I've been. It's an exercise, so please don't judge me too harshly (for this anyway :P)

“That was in Witch Broomstick last month, wasn’t it?”

James and Peter’s interest had drifted from a debate on the finer points of skiving off classes in favor of broomsticks. Interested though he usually would have been in discussing the merits of the Comet against the Nimbus, the nervous atmosphere had the hair on the back of his neck standing on end and he was too uneasy to follow the conversation for more than a few inane phrases. “Remus,” he said quietly, catching the most reticent of his friends by the elbow. “I have some errands to run on the other side of the wall. I’ll be back a half hour.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “I’m surprised they let you come at all, knowing we would be here. I’m not sure being out there is the best…” Remus trailed off, not finishing the sentence in the face of Sirius’ bemused expression.

“They don’t let me do anything, mate,” Sirius replied, patting Remus on the shoulder and mixing out into the crowd.

Despite the knowledge that the air on the Muggle side of the Leaky Cauldron was exactly the same as he’d been breathing amongst the throngs of witches and wizards moments before, he couldn’t help but savor the taste of fresh air on his tongue. There were days, like today, when suspicious glances from shoppers and schoolmates were enough to make him long for life in the Muggle world. To be sure, magic wasn’t something to be traded or bartered and he knew, no matter how hard he may try, he would never be able to truly escape the world in which he lived but, on occasion, he wondered what it might be like to exist beyond the reach of the Dark Lord.

It was almost disappointing when he reached his destination – the small storefront coming into view much sooner than he’d expected. Pushing open the door to the jingle of little bells dangling from the handle, he started for the counter but stopped a few feet short.

"Lily Evans?" he asked, wearing a sardonically surprised smile. Before him Lily stood, frozen with surprise, her finger wrapped tightly around the album she'd been inspecting when he noticed her. "Fancy seeing you here," he teased, still mocking.

Diagon Alley was always a bustle of activity in the weeks before a new term at Hogwarts began and it didn't surprise him to see her there. What surprised him was to find her not in Flourish and Blotts but rather, on the other side of the brick wall, in a record store no less.

He waited a few beats for her to respond - either to storm off or say hello - but she didn't make any effort to reply, evidently as surprised to see him as he'd been to find her. Extending a hand to pluck the album from her grasp, he tried again, flipping it over to examine the cover art. "I didn't have you marked for the kind of girl who would wander off by herself at a time like this," he observed, part patronizing, part genuine concern.

"Why should I worry when there are individuals like yourself out there to rush in and protect me," she shot back acidly, reaching out to snatch the album back again. Her cheeks flushed crimson - not with embarrassment but with fury.

"If i didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to hurt my feelings," he teased, yanking the record out of her reach before she could get it from him.

Glaring at him for only a fraction of a second, she considered her options before turning away in a swirl of frustration and red hair. "Clearly, you don't know me very well," she chided, thumbing through the records again.

It wasn't more than three breaths before she braved a glance in his direction. She found him watching her, the same rakish smile playing across his lips. Embarrassed, she stammered as she searched for something to say, trying to mask her discomfort. "Aren't you in a bit more danger here than I am?" she managed finally, gesturing to the room at large - her implication clear.

Sirius snorted a laugh - the sound ringing disingenuous even to his ears. "Lily," he started, the temporary rapport he'd felt with her evaporating in an instant. "You're thick if you think the people keeping an eye on me would be worried about something as inconsequential as a visit to a record store. If you're hoping for a way to get rid of me, they might be forced to do me in if they thought I were considering diluting the family blood line with a Muggleborn girl such as yourself. Though," he added as an afterthought. "That might prove more dangerous for you than for me."

He didn't have to watch her expression to know that it was shifting from irritation to anger and then sinking into utter revulsion as he spoke. "You're disgusting," she mouthed, the bitter taste of his words coloring her own.

"You're going to have to do better than a cold reproach to get under my skin," he replied, still smirking. His original pursuit long forgotten, he dropped the album back onto the shelf in front of her and turned to walk away. “And really, Lily, Wouldn’t You Like It?”

As he pulled the door open again, the little bells tingling their melody, she opened her mouth to stop him – regretting her admonition. “Sirius, wait!” The apology was evident in her tone but he didn’t hear her – already on the sidewalk outside.

Once, in the course of a Divination assignment gone horribly, horribly, awry under the late Professor Negilla, James and Remus opted to describe a vision in which they saw Sirius' mother, in a fit of kindness, declare an undying affection for her eldest son. It was meant to be a joke - the kind of jab they'd all taken a time or two when things with his family were proving particularly problematic. In any case, it took them the better part of a quarter of an hour to decide what word to choose to describe her but no more than a few seconds to describe the house - looming.

The house on Grimmauld Place did nothing if not loom. It's height loomed over the street. The ornate architecture loomed over the other houses. Even its blackened windows - darkened not by shades but by magic - loomed over anyone who dared stand at its stoop.

"Dissendium," he whispered, approaching not the front steps but a gargoyle positioned menacingly a few steps away from it.

"Skulking around again, Sirius?" his father asked. Sunken low into a high-backed arm chair, nestled into one of the many dank corners this house had - all far too convenient when one wanted to disappear.

"I didn't want to wake anyone," Sirius lied automatically, his grip tightening around his school bag. It was full to the brim with new books, potion ingredients, robes and a few of the other things he couldn't face another term at Hogwarts without.

His father smirked, getting up. It was the first time they'd spoken since Regulus' ill-conceived birthday celebration two weeks ago and the mere act of remaining in his presence brought forth a bitter bile in his throat. "I had someone go back into London and pick this up for you," he said conversationally, extending a parcel from the shadows. "Your man seemed to think the little mudblood your friend is so infatuated with had you too distracted to finish your shopping."

"Is that all?" Sirius managed through clenched teeth, not making any move to take what his father was holding out for him.

"Is it took much to expect for a father to be able to have a conversation with his son?" Orion asked, dropping the album into Sirius's bag.

The obvious hostility in his question, however well he'd controlled his tone, had broken their convivial ruse and Sirius' free hand closed into a fist reflexively. At sixteen, Sirius met him eye for eye, shoulder for shoulder, but one too many nights spent peaking through the banister made him all too aware that his father's strength wasn't in his size. Suddenly, he regretted pocketing his wand. "You made it fairly clear I was no son of yours," Sirius pointed out, turning toward his room

"How dare you walk away from your father, you ungrateful, muggle loving, half-witted..."

His mother's shrieking was so high-pitched that he didn't hear his father muttering a curse behind him - didn't see it coming until it was too late and his skull was colliding against a candelabra on the wall. In the distance, the liquor bottles clattered out of his bag, shattering as they landed. He hit the floor only a few seconds later shards of glass, laced with alcohol digging into his skin.

It took his father a full minute to coax his mother back from the brink, her rage spewing forward even though its target was drifting in and out of consciousness. In his flickers of lucidity - in the mere seconds before the searing pain overwhelmed him again - he could hear them talking, his father's voice placatory and reassuring.

"There's no point in being upset," he simpered, taking a few steps toward her.

From his limited vantage point, Sirius could see only the hems of their cloaks rustling across the floor, but he heard her muttering under her breath as she walked away, her tiny kitten heels pounding against the hardwood. "As for you," Orion sighed, turning his attention back to his son. He hooked his shoe under Sirius's arm, pushing him over onto his back. Sirius fought against him, only going limp when his father cut off his oxygen, resting his shoe on Sirius' throat. "Don't ever forget where you come from, Sirius," he warned. "That is the last time I ever want to hear of you fraternizing with a mudblood." Releasing him with one final tap of his heel against his chin, Orion turned away, stalking down the hall.

His father was gone before he could muster the strength to pull himself up, the edges of his vision still blurring with each breath he took. On his feet again, he drew his wand from his robes and took the stairs two at a time, following the sound of voices into the sitting room. Regulus was the only one who looked surprised to see him, getting to his feet at once. "What happened?" he asked, his concern genuine and immediate. If Sirius had been able to see himself, Regulus' concern would have made more sense.

His hair was matted - caked with blood - and shards of glass stuck out of his face at odd angles, refracting the light eerily.

"Stay put," their father ordered, reaching out to stop his younger son - their pride and joy. Regulus did as he was told - his eyes shifting between the two of them, clearly still afraid. "Sirius, you should go back upstairs and clean yourself up. You look a mess."

Sirius shook his head, despite the pain, his glance stealing toward his brother for only a fraction of a second. "Regulus ought to see first-hand what name he's so eager to protect."

"As long as you bear the name of Black you will be mindful of this family's legacy or so help me I will make you mindful," Orion warned, getting to his feet and brandishing his wand again.

"I don't want it anymore," Sirius answered, his own wand at the ready.

Orion's next words were an order. "You will not walk away from us."

The two of them glared at each other for only a fraction of a second - their hatred palpable - before his mother was in the fray as well, her expression far removed from that of his brother. A wild fury played across her gaunt face as she descended upon him, pushing him toward the stairs and barking at him in words too garbled to be understood.

It was the first time in his young life it had ever occurred to him to raise a hand to his mother. Gripping her emaciated arm he threw her back, shaking his head all the while. "I don't want it anymore," he repeated, cutting a beeline for the front door.

Chapter 2: Two
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"You look worse than I do," Sirius observed when James opened the back door. His pajamas were singed all the way to his knees and he had a smear of soot running across his forehead.

"You had to set the bed on fire," James quipped, turning to go back into the house, leaving the door swung wide open behind him. Sirius hesitated for a moment before following, not sure if he'd woken James' parents. The Potter's were inherently kind people and they'd long since gotten used to finding Peter, Remus, Sirius or any incarnation of said at the breakfast table in the morning, but he wasn't sure that even their compassion could extend to the sight he must have been now.

In his hurry to put as much distance between Grimmuald Place and himself, he'd walked a mere four blocks, immersed in the macabre reality of his situation, before ducking into an unlocked garage to transform. He spared no moment to clean himself up and, whatever the bloodied leather jacket, the the shards of glass and the reek of whiskey weren't doing for his appearance, the journey surely had.

"So what happened to you?" James asked, sleepily, flicking the kitchen light on and heading for the sink.

Sirius almost smiled. Remus was a wonderfully sympathetic friend and far handier than James with a healing potion, but of all his friends, James was the only one who could be counted on to act as if nothing had happened. "I had a minor disagreement with the family silver," Sirius offered by way of explanation. Taking his jacket off and draping it over the back of a chair.

James raised an eyebrow but didn't inquire, running a towel under the tap for a few seconds before handing it to Sirius.

"Did we wake your parents?" Sirius asked.

The question was pointless - mere seconds after the final syllables escaped, there were shuffling footsteps cutting across the sitting room.

"James, what on earth are you shouting o... Well hello, Sirius."

James' father was a kindly looking man, even when awoken at two thirty in the morning, and his expression only softened when he realized they weren't alone. It was precisely the opposite greeting James could have expected had he been the one to appear at Grimmuald Place.

"I'm sorry we woke you," Sirius apologized immediately, genuinely sorry for his intrusion.

"Nonsense. And you'll call me George," he reminded them, pulling his glasses out of the pocket in his dressing gown and putting them on, screwing up his nose at Sirius. "Now, lets take a look at these cuts, hm?"

"It's nothing," he replied, his tone placatory and light, drawing away from James' father even as he spoke.

"I heard - something about the family silver." With the hands of a physician trained for more years than James and Sirius' combined age, he gingerly inspected the cuts on Sirius' face. "That father of yours does have quite the temper," he observed, taking out is wand and conjuring a pair of tweezers.

Standing up a few seconds later, George observed both boys for a moment before speaking, a patient smile over top his ill-concealed worry. "Well, I can debride this here just as well as they could at St. Mungos. James, go get him some clean clothes and stop by and lie to your mother about what we're up to, would you?"

James didn't argue, disappearing into the corridor.

In his canine form, it had been easy to ignore the macabre thoughts that occupied his conscious mind, but in the silence that fell with James out of the room, they proved impossible to shake. The Potter's had treated him like a second son since his first visit to their home and they would take him in without hesitation, but his father's cold admission had brought to bear a very cruel reality - he would be endangering them. For years, the nagging belief that he might be a potential hazard to his friends had eaten at him, but he'd ignored it because it felt like paranoia. If tonight had proven anything, it was that everyone in his life was a potential target for his father's aggression. Idly, he wondered what James would say if he knew that Lily had been bandied about in the black household with such hostility.

Down the hall, James was creeping past his parents bedroom, stopping only long enough to listen for the soft rustle of pages turning.

When he poked his head back into the kitchen, dropping a clean t-shirt onto the table as he passed it, George stopped what he was doing long enough to inquire has to the more complicated portion of his mission.

"She's reading. I told her Sirius was spending the night," James answered, opening the icebox in search of something to snack on.

"Can you hand me the first aid kit?" he asked in return, holding out his hand for the bag. James retrieved it from a cupboard by the door and gave it over. "What did she think of your pajamas?" George asked warily, rifling through the bag and drawing out a potion bottle.

"That Sirius should save his pranks for business hours," James snarked in response, grinning.

Tension broken, James slid into the chair opposite them and put the plate of cold roast on the table, pushing it toward Sirius.

"No thanks," he answered, shaking his head.

"Hold still," George reminded him, pouring a little of the potion onto a strip of gauze before daubing it on the large gash in his forehead. Sirius winced, the potion stinging as it came into contact with the exposed flesh. "That will be the liquor," James' father explained, glancing between them. "Now seems like an inappropriate time to remind you both to keep OUT of trouble but nevertheless...' He trailed off for a moment, still smiling lightly as he worked.

Wounds all properly cleaned and bandaged, James' father got up, patting Sirius on his good shoulder paternally. "You should eat something. That potion will have a tendency to fiddle with the appetite a bit." Sirius nodded. "All right then, I'm off to bed."

The two of them sat in silence for a few minutes, staring blankly at the roast before James got up, pushing his chair back from the table. "We should probably go upstairs before my Mum starts poking around."

Sirius nodded again.

Distracted by his own dark thoughts, he wasn't much of a conversationalist as James tried to pry the details loose, offering only grunts of acknowledgment interspersed with short phrases. Eventually, James gave up, nodding off and leaving Sirius to his musings.

Lost in thought, Sirius didn't pick up on the telltale signs of morning - birds chirping in the back garden or the sounds of footsteps on the floors below. Instead, he lay flat on his back, still dressed, in exactly the same position he'd been in when he laid down, staring blankly at the ceiling.

"I don't want him going back there," James' mother hissed to her husband, filling a kettle and setting it on the stove with a heavy clunk. "We should have dome something years ago, George."

"I don't like it any more than you do, Mary, but he's not seventeen yet and we certainly can't stop him if he wants to go home," he protested from behind his paper.

"Why would he want to?" she asked, her tone incredulous. "He's not welcome there and he knows it - why would he want to risk something like this happening again?"

"It's his home."

"He could have been killed," she said in an angry huff. "He can stay here - at least he'd be safe."

"He could," George answered slowly, setting the paper down and taking off his glasses. "But we can't force him to."

"Well why not?" she asked, not really meaning it.

"I know you're frustrated," he responded soothingly. "It will work itself out."

In the background, the kettle squealed shrilly - a sound no one could have escaped hearing and Mary rushed to daub her eyes. "They'll be down any second," she managed from behind the dish cloth, trying to compose herself.

She wasn't wrong. Seconds later, Sirius was rounding the corner into the kitchen alone. "G'morning," he intoned, trying to smile without wincing.

"It's good to have you back, Sirius," Mary whispered, setting a carton of eggs onto the counter before catching him in a warm hug.

"You warned her then?" Sirius asked, smirking at James' father as he pulled away from her. Mary Potter mightn't have been the quintessential picture of a matriarch but it certainly wasn't in her nature to over look the bandages on his face or the awkward way he was held his shoulder.

She smiled genuinely again before gesturing for him to sit down.. "There is a clean cup for you on the table," she ordered, returning to her eggs.

"You don't have to do this," he started to protest, but she shushed him. Smiling knowingly, George shook a section of the paper loose and slid it across the table. "I should be getting back anyway," he lied.

James' parents exchanged a loaded glance before George put the paper down, folding it neatly and pressing the creases - the room stone silent. "Sirius," he started, taking a deep breath. "What happened last night?"

Sirius bristled at once, straightening up in his seat. "It's nothing." While his parents were harder to fool - never hesitating to take matters into their own hands - deceiving James' always came with a pang of regret. As much as he'd felt like he'd taken advantage of them last night, lying to them now seemed even more disingenuous. What was worse, he was so obviously not doing it well.

Mary, eyes on her eggs, had stopped with an eggshell still in her hand and George's patiently knowing smile was unfading as he looked on. "It wasn't nothing," he corrected. "And it's not the first time."

Casting a sidelong glance at James' mother, Sirius leaned across the table. "It's fine," he hissed under his breath.

"Mary and I discussed it this morning," he replied, ignoring Sirius' protests. "We'd like you to consider living here instead."

The words were barely out of his mouth when Sirius was on his feet again. The chair, shoved hastily back, scraped on the wooden floor before crashing back down again.

"No," he answered coldly. The sudden rush of adrenaline had his pulse throbbing across his wounds - the pain a reminder both of why he was here and why he couldn't stay.

"Stop arguing with them," James grumbled from the dining room. Angry, Sirius hadn't heard him come down the stairs. Still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, James collapsed into the nearest available seat and seized a cup. "It's pointless... and loud," he added, ignoring the palpable tension.

"Sod off," Sirius fired back, glaring at him.

"What? Where else are you going to go?" James asked rhetorically

"Term starts in a week," Sirius reasoned, taking a deep breath in an effort to steady himself. Defying his parents had been more than just a frequent pastime - it was simply a matter of course in the Black household and he'd spent the first fifteen years of his life honing the skill. Reasoning with people required a different kind of talent all together. Combining that with their worried expressions and he could almost feel their eyes boring into his psyche. "You're over reacting."

"You could have been killed," Mary pointed out, interjecting into the conversation for the first time. Sirius didn't need to see her face to know that she was crying - the choked off tears sounding in her voice. "Don't make me worry over you more than I have to. Stay here," she plead.

It was a maternal gesture he'd never experienced before and it stopped him in his tracks, the color draining from his face at once. For his part, James simply rolled his eyes. "Give over mate, you practically live here anyway. This will just be less travel time."

Chapter 3: Three
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"Do you have all of your things?" It was at least the four hundredth time James' mother had asked that question since breakfast and both boys rolled their eyes.

Four days of avoiding the subject of his parents had done wonders for his mood. Now, standing on Platform 9 3/4, he caught himself glancing up each time someone new came through the wall.

"We have everything, Mum," James promised, leaning over his trunk to kiss her on the cheek.

"That's what you say every year," she chided, squeezing his arm. "And every year I have to send something along."

"I didn't actually forget that box of sweaters from Aunt Agatha," he reminded her. Sirius sniggered, elbowing Remus in the ribs, wondering how many of them were still hanging from the top perches in the owlrey.

With Mary and James now occupied in a near argument over the Aunt he hadn't seen in nearly a half-dozen years, George took the opportunity to catch Sirius by the elbow, guiding him away from the throng of parents and students exchanging goodbyes. "Have you seen them yet?"

Sirius shook his head, glancing toward the entrance reflexively.

"Well, you'll see them eventually," he replied. "Sirius, up to now, I haven't said anything because I knew you didn't want to talk about it but permit me just this one indulgence?"

The train whistle spared him - shrieking above the throng to announce the final call for passengers. Trying to make his smile reassuring, Sirius clapped James' father on the back and said a quick goodbye.

"You're always welcome," George assured him.

They said their goodbyes in a hurried rush, Sirius' strained smile giving way as soon as they were out of sight. Explaining the full scope of what the last week had been to Peter and Remus wasn't something easily accomplished. It was even less so under James' mother's watchful eye - so it didn't surprise him that Peter and Remus were still regarding him suspiciously as they dragged their trunks from car to car in search of an empty compartment.

"What did my father want?" James asked conversationally, sliding the car door open and crossing into the next one.

Sirius opened his mouth to answer, not sure what he planned to say, but stopped when he caught a glimpse of Severus Snape poking his head out of compartment. Sirius groaned at once.

None of the Gyffindor's liked Snape. For most people, the greasy hair and snide remarks were enough to put them off spenidng any time with him. James, who hated him more than most, had a particularly loathing with far more to do with Lily than anything. For Sirius, it was different.

Since their first day at Hogwarts, it was obvious they would never be friends. With his pureblood background, family stature and the name of Black at his back, Sirius had the impression he was everything Snape ever wanted to be. The more Sirius besmirched the family legacy he'd been handed, the more Snape hated him. For his part, Snape's descent into the Dark Arts did little to endear himself to Sirius. After six years, they didn't need to exchange words to be certain precisely what one thought of the other.

"That's bold," Remus observed, following Sirius' gaze to the cruel smile playing across Snape's face.

Sirius bristled. It wouldn't have taken a savant to realize that the thing that had Snape experimenting with facial expressions entirely new to him was with the fresh scar on Sirius' temple or, more accurately, the story that had led up to it.

"Fancy that," James quipped, dropping his trunk and pulling his wand out of his pocket. "I just found a book in the library - 100 Hexes You Have To Try."

Sirius ignored him, pulling open the door to the nearest compartment. It wasn't unoccupied, but the first years - already changed into their Hogwarts robes - didn't need to be told to get out. The biggest among them, a boy who barely looked eight, let alone eleven, leapt out of his seat and began dragging his trunk out into the corridor without so much as a word.

"This might be the kind of behavior Dumbledore was hoping you wouldn't engage in with a prefect around," Remus suggested, following Sirius in and shoving his trunk under one of the seats. Peter hesitated before following suit, leaving James in the corridor alone. "Do you intend to do something about that?" Remus asked, looking pointedly in Sirius' direction.

"I haven't read the book," he replied, pulling a pack of exploding snap cards out of his pocket. "I doubt I'd be of much use."


"Fine," he intoned, rolling his eyes. Leaning out the compartment door, he gestured to James. "Oy! Ignore it."

"Afraid I'll box you round the ears like your father did?" Snape asked, raising his eyebrows.

Sirius scoffed, looking back at Lupin for only a fraction of a second before drawing his wand and heading down the corridor. "James, what was number ninety-three?" he asked.

"Twitchy Ears," James answered, grinning.

"That won't do," Sirius replied, baring down upon them and stepping inside. James had Snape cornered on one side of the compartment, his wand resting on the seat in the other. Snape, perhaps too accustomed to their abuse, refused to look frightened.

"There's always a stinging hex," James offered.

"It's been done," Sirius countered, pretending to mull over the decision a while. "Have you ever practiced the knee-reversing hex?"

"Now you mention it, I haven't, Sirius."

"Well I should think you'd relish a chance to try," he suggested, grinning darkly at Snape. "After all, what are we if we stop trying to improve ourselves?"

"Indeed," James replied, pulling back his sleeve. "Patella Retrorsum!" he cried, flourishing his wand dramatically.

There was a brilliant flash of red sparks, followed by two loud popping sounds, but when the smoke cleared, Snape was still standing before them, scared but unscathed.

"Well that was a bit of a let down," James observed, putting his wand back into his pocket and patting Sirius on the arm. "I'm sure it will go better next time."

They left the compartment without another word, either to Snape or each other. "Did you get it out of your system?" Lupin asked, smiling in spite of himself.

"For the time being," James answered, collapsing onto one of the benches and winking.

"What did you use?" Peter inquired, sitting up straighter with excitement.

"A knee reversing hex. It was a good show but the ending was dreadfully anti-climactic. Peter," James asked, his tone changing abruptly. "Don't we have some business to attend to?"

Remus got up at once. "I think I'll head over to the Prefect's compartment and see if there is anything I should be doing," he said promptly, excusing himself. James smirked.

Dumbledore's decision to make Remus Lupin a prefect had been a source of infinite entertainment among the three of them since he'd gotten the letter. Of all of them, Remus was arguably the most responsible and it wasn't as if there were a number of other fifth years to choose from. The only other Gryffindor boy in their year was Alfred Morton and he was so hapless there was a fifty percent chance he would pin the badge on upside down. Still, if making him a Prefect had been Dumbledore's way of imposing a collective conscience on them, it was a failed effort. Whenever any of them so much as intimated doing something he could be compelled to tell Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall, he simply left the room.

"Are you coming?" James asked, standing in the compartment door again. Sirius shook his head and leaned back on the seat, draping his jacket over his eyes.

“Where’s Remus?”

The voice at the compartment door was high-pitched and girlish, despite the owners’ honest attempt to couch it with irritation but it still registered an octave too high to be a welcome sound in the middle of a nap. “Lily,” Sirius grumbled, reaching up to knock the jacket off of his face. “Do you think you could possibly go away and come back never?”

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the mid-afternoon sunlight outside the window, but that didn’t stop him from scowling in her direction when she didn’t leave like the others had, letting herself in instead and sitting down on the bench across from him. “I thought you were James,” she supplied a few seconds later, swinging her feet idly.

“I’m not Remus either,” he pointed out, making no effort to soften his tone. Her politeness surprised him. He hadn’t seen her since their accidental meeting at the record store in London. With the tumultuous nature of his life in the last week, the minutes passed more like months than anything else, but she wouldn’t be subject to the same time line. "If you're here to lecture me though, now really isn't the best time," he added, thinking of her friendship with Snape.

She didn’t answer.

“Did you mean what you said in London?” she asked finally, looking up from under her eyelashes. For a moment, he was confused, but the weight in her tone was foreboding and impossible to mistake for anything other than sincere concern.

It was concern he had no intention of indulging. “Yes,” he answered slowly, letting the word linger in the empty space between them – the silence sounding far louder than the students wandering past the open compartment door. Yet again, she didn’t answer, waiting quietly for him to continue. Resigning himself to the notion that he wasn’t going to get back to his nap until he’d dealt with her, he sat up, leaning against the glass. “The Bay City Rollers are dreadful.”

Lily rolled her eyes, sparing him the slightest smile in spite of herself. “And I should be listening to what, The Ramones?”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” he suggested, digging in his jacket pocket for a pack of Droobles.

Distracted, he didn’t notice the change in her countenance as she brought the subject back around to the question she’d really been asking in the first place. “I meant,” she started, tilting her head to see his expression. “Your family, Sirius. Did you mean what you said?”

“That they’d kill you for being seen with me?” he asked, not giving her a chance to answer. “You can relax. I assure you, they probably didn’t even register your presence,” he answered darkly.

She hesitated for an instant before responding. His answer wasn’t what she’d meant either, but it was more telling than she’d expected it to be. Foolhardy bravado was commonplace when any of them – even Remus, quiet and considerate though he was, could be nudged into their swaggering tendencies – so that didn’t surprise her, but the sadness residing just under the surface of his calm expression betrayed the truth of his fears despite the confidence he was trying to display. In that instant, he reminded her of Severus more clearly than either of them would have been pleased with. "I didn't mean that either," she said carefully, waiving off the piece of chewing gum he offered her. "Do they really watch you?"

"Does that surprise you?" he asked in turn, raising an eyebrow.

The easy cadence he'd always maintained, brought about by equal parts masochistic amusement, confidence and dismal reality, had evaded him for days but, as he talked to her it seemed to be returning to him. It struck him as surreal to have a conversation about his family as if they last week hadn't happened - as if he hadn't run away mere hours after their last conversation. In the few hours since he'd stepped onto platform 9 3/4's, he'd been asked by no less than a half-dozen of his housemates and a handful of Slytherins (though with somewhat less friendly concern) if the rumors were true. They'd caught him in the corridors, stopped by the compartment and woken him up to ask. How it was possible that she didn't know escaped him.

"It does, a little," she answered finally, her expression a mixture of horror and sympathy. "What happened to your forehead?" she asked.

"Nothing," he answered stiffly, going silent again.

"Does it bother you - that they follow you, I mean?" she tried again, the pity in her voice all too evident.

"If you're looking for someone pitiable to rescue, try Snape. I hear he's having a bad day," he fired back, retrieving the book Remus had abandoned on the window sill and pretending to read.

She hesitated a few moments before getting up but he didn't watch her. Instead, turning the page despite having read no further than the first paragraph. "Do you know where Remus is?" she asked again, annoyed.

"Not a clue," he answered indifferently, his eyes on his book. He didn't set it down until after she was gone, the telltale sound of the train clunking along it's track rising and falling again as she moved from car to car. Idly, he wondered what was keeping James and Peter.

He didn't wonder long - minutes later students in the corridors began winging as a disembodied foot trod on theirs or an invisible something nearly knocked them over. "Budge up," James ordered, rattling the window in the door as he pushed it all the way open.

Sirius moved his leg seconds before something heavy was dropped onto the seat beside him. When James pulled off the cloak, the heavy thing was revealed to be a wooden crate marked on each end with stamps reading "Fragile! Explosives!"

"Fireworks?" he asked, kicking the invisibility cloak out of the middle of the floor while James pried the crate open. "How do you plan to get those past Filch?"

James laughed. "I'm going to put them in your trunk."

"And how do you presume that will help?" Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Dumbledore isn't going to let Filch search you after what's happened. One look at that scar and you'll be waived by and given an ice lolly. You could put a half dozen death eaters in there and no one would notice," he argued, reaching down to drag Sirius' trunk from underneath the bench.

"Where was that attitude when I wanted to hide my pot in your trunk last year?"

"That was just for you, Sirius," he pointed out in his best impersonation of his mother, already loading fireworks into Sirius' trunk and barricading them with books. "These are for everyone."

Chapter 4: Four
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If one had a mind for it, mischief was never far out of hand at Hogwarts. Five years of looking for it and never failing to find it mean that, on a night when he wasn't looking for trouble, nothing else seemed to find him.

The corridors were usually empty the first night of term. First years, too afraid to leave their dormitory, let alone the common room, stayed put as soon as they were shown their beds and most everyone else had too many friends to catch up with to venture out into the halls. Even the Professors were ensconced in their offices or classrooms making last minute preparations. When Sirius set out to take a walk through the castle, it never occurred to him to take the map. His hubris was shortly repaid as he rounded the corner on a well worn path, ducking a patrolling Auror to find himself nose to nose with Severus Snape.

"Oy - watch it," Sirius muttered, a weeks worth of pent up aggression spilling forward in an angry whisper. The moonlight from a nearby window illuminated the space - each beam emphasizing the pallid nature of his skin, sickly and green.

Snape simply sneered back, antagonism emanating from him in waves. "Perhaps you might try looking where you're going?" he suggested. "Or did you father knock the sense out of you this time?"

"Tred carefully, Snivellus," Sirius warned, reaching for his wand. "Have you forgotten how last term ended for you?" It might have been cruel to bring up the way James had upended him in front of their entire year at the close of their OWL exams the previous school year - Snape certainly seemed to be unnerved by it's mention - but Sirius didn't care. It wasn't that he hated Snape. Their mutual enmity was well documented and long lived but the week away from his family had given him time to clear his head and the malice he felt for them and everything they stood for had cooled to be replaced by a malevolent indifference. Where, for years, he'd felt as though he was facing many individual enemies, now he realized what he was standing against was an idea, not a person. His rivalry with Snape seemed insignificant in the face of the greater adversary.

Snape, however, didn't seem as high minded. "You wouldn't dare," he hissed, taking a bold step forward, his wand drawn. "Potter might be willing to take a cheap shot when a persons back is turned but you - Black - you were raised better than that."

Whether it was the sound of his surname being uttered with a strange sense of reverence or the fact that Snape was suggesting his parents were responsible for his virtues but white hot anger was bubbling forth before he could stop it - the hex coming out of his mouth without any thought to the consequences.

The flash of vividly white light was followed immediately by two sounds - a scream of pain and the fall of heavy footsteps on the stone floor. As the Aurors rounded the corner, wands at the ready, a single thought occurred to him - the map and the cloak.

“Well that was bracing,” Sirius joked as an Auror deposited him in one of the ornate chairs across from Dumbledore’s desk with a swift jerk to his shirt collar. Snape thudded into the other a few seconds later, though with somewhat less jovial amusement.

“Well aren’t you the lucky one tonight,” he murmured, glaring at Sirius from behind his greasy hair. “Auror’s stepping in just in time to rescue you.”

“To rescue me from what – having to watch you writhe around on the floor?” Sirius fired back, still amused.

“Oy! Could you two cut it out?” the youngest of the Aurors asked, agitated.

Sirius snorted a laugh but stopped his commentary there as Dumbledore descended the steps from his private quarters and into the office proper. No stranger to being dragged to the headmaster’s office in the middle of the night, the fluffy carpet slippers and dressing gown were no surprise to him but he might have been the only one as the rest of the assembled crowd fell silent. “Sirius, I hadn’t expected to see you so quickly after the start of term,” he said conversationally, wiping his glasses on the corner of his sleeve before replacing them on his face. “And Severus, you I didn’t expect to see at all. So, what are you two doing in my office?”

One of the Aurors answered for them, stepping forward from behind the chairs. “They were dueling in the corridors – out of bounds no less,” he volunteered, each syllable offered with the cadence of military precision. “It would seem that Mr. Black hexed Mr. Snape.”

“I see,” Dumbledore observed disinterestedly, sitting down at his desk. “Sirius, I trust all of your appendages are in working order?”

“All of the important ones, Sir,” Sirius answered, still smirking.

“Lovely to know. And Severus, can I assume the same or should I send for Madame Pomfrey?”

Snape sneered at him in response. “I’m fine,” he answered when Dumbledore didn’t rise to the bait.

“Well done then. Mr. Willcox, could I implore you to send for a prefect from each house to escort these two back to their common rooms then?”

The Auror disappeared without another word, turning up mid-way through Dumbledore’s lecture on house unity and seeking our similarities rather than our differences with Remus and a Slytherin seventh year in tow, each of them looking vaguely amused. “More importantly,” he finished a few minutes later, “You should remember that dueling on Hogwarts grounds is reason enough for suspension and I should think neither of you want to be sent home for fighting half-way through a term. But enough of that – back to your common rooms.”

“Good that we got that out of the way then,” Remus jested in the hallway, a few hundred paces away from Dumbledore’s office.

“It is starting to feel a bit old hat, isn’t it?” Sirius observed, grinning. “I’ll have to come up with some other way to keep you from getting dull on us.”

"She's in quite the mood," Peter observed as Lily pushed past them at breakfast. Her angry glare - aimed pointedly in Sirius' direction - wasn't lost on anyone.

The presence of an Auror in the common room last night was enough to rouse those students who weren't already awake and by the time Sirius and Remus made their way back to Gryffindor Tower, the common room was full of poorly concealed curious onlookers, peering from the staircases and peeking from behind books. The school was a flurry of whispered rumors by morning and Sirius had been the recipient of more than one sidelong glance.

"She's always in a twist over something," Sirius replied indifferently, sliding onto the bench and snatching a few pieces of toast from the pile.

"As if I didn't already have enough trouble with her," James whined.

Sirius snorted a sarcastic laugh, rolling his eyes at his plate. "If your imaginary relationship can't withstand that, you've no hope."

"Are you saying you wouldn't bury the hatchet for the sake of my happiness?" he asked, his tone dripping with mock sincerity.

This conversation, like so many others, was rapidly descending into a performance for anyone close enough to hear it and Sirius played alone, spreading marmalade on his toast. "If your imaginary sex life can't withstand a row over something as inconsequential as Snape, I doubt anyone has to be concerned with you developing an actual sex life any time soon. But, hey, maybe she'll talk to you in Charms today," Sirius answered, clapping James on the back and leaving a sticky smear of marmalade across his robes. Behind them, a few Ravenclaw third years sniggered conspiratorially. Sirius threw them a wink before returning to his toast.

Lily Evans proved to be the only one who didn't talk to them during Charms. While McGonagall and Slughorn took the first class of term as an opportunity to set expectations, Professor Flitwick opted for a more unorthodox approach, throwing them directly into a remedial lesson on jolly jinx’s, cheering charms and hiccupping hexes that they all desperately needed. By the time the classroom cleared, almost everyone had a distinctly cheery haze about them.

The jolly atmosphere extended into the Gryffindor common room. While fifth years fretted over their course loads and first years clung to the walls, the rest of the room was a flurry of jovial discussion and loud jokes. "Oy, Remus - taking this a bit seriously, aren't you?" Sirius asked. Remus was standing amidst a batch of titchy second years trying to mediate a dispute of some sort, looking utterly miserable.

Remus rolled his eyes, navigating his way across the room and collapsing onto one of the sofas. "Something about a rat, a toad and a neck tie," he explained, wrenching around to pull a forgotten spellbook from between the cushions with a grimace.

"All the makings of a bad joke," Peter mumbled, not taking his eyes out of his book.

"What are you studying so attentively?" James asked, appearing from nowhere to peer over his shoulders. Peter shrunk back, closing the book defensively but James snatched it out of his hands. Sirius was watching with mild interest as James's expression tensed. "Are you a dolt?" he hissed, leaning in so Peter could hear him. Peter didn't answer so James thumped him on the side of the head with the book before sliding it into his bookbag.

"What was that all about?" Sirius asked a few hours later. The common room was considerably emptier after dinner, students lingering in the library and the only people close enough to hear were a handful of second year girls, far too nervous and giggly to put together the pieces of whatever James had been so upset over.

James didn't say anything, handing over the book instead. Scrawled across the cover in unusually large letters were the words "Demystifying the Animagus."

Sirius rolled his eyes and handed it back.

The conversation drifted after that, the two of them commiserating over dull Defense Against the Dark Arts homework and reminiscing over old Transfiguration homework before James endeavored to ask the question he'd been waiting all night to ask. "Have you seen your brother yet?"

He watched Sirius out of the corner of his eye for a moment, trying to maintain a reasonable level of nonchalance to his manner. It failed miserably, Sirius picking up on the tick of interest far too easily.


His answer was flat and, he was sure, somewhat unsatisfying, but Regulus was, as far as he was concerned, no longer his problem. Blood bonded they might be, but there couldn't have been a bigger divide in a family than there was in his. Regulus had dozens of opportunities to get out - to side with Sirius over their father and he'd chosen the family line every time.

James' expression was prompting him for a more lengthy answer - one Sirius wasn't willing to offer. Sirius opened his mouth to make a smart ass remark he hadn't yet thought of but he was interrupted by another voice - this one much angrier.

"I absolutely cannot believe you."

"Sharp words. Sirius, you should go, maybe she'll discipline me," James said, sidling up to her and snaking an arm around her waist.

"James, take this very personally and sod off," she barked, pushing him away.

Her admonishing words had somewhat less of an effect than she'd anticipated, James merely grinning wider and winking in Sirius' direction before walking away. Throughout their exchange, Sirius hadn't moved. He was still lounging lazily, his feet kicked up on one arm of the couch at the hearth, surveying her with a cool disinterest when she regained her composure, rounding on him angrily. "Why can't you leave well enough alone?"

"You'll recall that you're the one meddling with me, Lily. I've done nothing of the sort," he said evenly.

"You couldn't have just walked away? You had to start a fight?"

"I'm sorry, what are we talking about?" he asked, nonplussed.

Lily rolled her eyes and put her hands jauntily on her hips. "You know what I'm talking about. You and Severus in Dumbeldore's office again - what over this time?"

Sirius opened his mouth to answer but, for the second time in two minutes, was interrupted again. This time, the source of the noise wasn't coming from inside of the common room. Rather, just outside the portrait hole, two distinct voices wafted in. One, the easier to hear among them belonging to the fat lady herself, her exasperated tone pricking his ears. The other was the obvious source of her concern.

"Excuse me," Sirius said abruptly, getting up.

"I'm not done with you, Sirius Black!" Lily shouted.

"Uh-huh," was his only response, no longer listening to her. The closer to the portrait hole he came, the more clear the voices and their words became. He flung the portrait forward with no concern for it's occupant, knocking the fat lady off her balance and sliding her into a neighboring portrait, Sirius looked upon the face he knew he would find there - Regulus.

"I don't suppose we could have this conversation in there?" Regulus asked. Sirius didn't answer. Eventually, Regulus spoke up again, his hands thrust deeply into his pockets. "You're healing up well."

"James' father is a wonder to have around when you're bleeding," Sirius replied, coldly. Whether Regulus was here at the behest of their father or not, whatever he intended to say wouldn't be the only thing Sirius was willing to hear from him because he knew through and through that Regulus was too much the coward to turn away from their parents.

"No one would tell me what happened," he said finally, endeavoring to make eye contact with his brother for the first time. "People are asking and I don't know what to say."

"That's on you, Regulus," Sirius answered, bristling. "If you hadn't been so busy hiding downstairs, you might have found out for yourself."

If Regulus had been expecting him to say more, he was to be disappointed as Sirius turned on his heel and headed back into Gryffindor common room without so much as a word. Again, he slammed the portrait closed with far more force than was required, rattling the tapestries on the stone walls.

For the briefest moment, he permitted himself to sink into the mire that was self-pity, self-loathing and self-deprecation. Standing in the middle of the common room and allowing for just an instant the realization of what his life had been and become to wash over his psyche. It wasn't until he emerged from it - opening his eyes with a fresh clarity - that he remembered he wasn't alone.

"How much of that did you hear?" he asked, his tone still dark.

"Enough," Lily answered. The fury that had tinted her cheeks pink mere minutes ago was gone - all color drained from her face.

"Good," he replied bitterly, turning toward the stairs. "Then you won't need me to explain it for you this time."

“I...” she stammered, sixteen questions jockeying to be first out of the gate, but Sirius was gone, bounding up the steps two at a time until he disappeared from her sight.

Chapter 5: Five
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One look at Sirius' face when he pulled the heavy wooden door to their room open was enough for James. Getting up from the edge of his bed and pulling the cloak out from under one of his pillows. "Who's up for a drink?" he asked, grinning.

Remus and Peter followed without hesitation, Peter pausing only long enough to snatch the map from its hiding place before catching up again. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he whispered as the rest of them crowded around him on the landing. Four little blips were moving up the girl’s staircase – presumably consequence to Lily rounding up the girls that were still out of bed and sending them away. They waited on a few seconds, Peter handing the map over to James before descending the stairs and pushing out of the portrait hole.

“Craddock or the witch?” Sirius whispered, looking to James.

James shook his head and gestured to their left. “You said the Auror’s are patrolling the halls at night?” he asked. Sirius nodded silently. “Then it’s Craddock.”

Craddock was the occupant of the painting concealing one of dozens among Hogwarts secret passages. He was also, unfortunately, an ill-tempered soul with a deviated septum. His snores would have woken the entire castle if he wasn’t so far out of the way but they were nothing when compared with his furious shouts on the occasions that they’d accidentally woken him up.

“I wonder if you can stun a portrait,” Peter asked under his breath, creeping around a corner warily.

No one answered him – not making another sound until the collective intake of breath when they reached their destination. The massive gilded frame sparkled slightly in the moonlight as Remus – the steadiest among them – endeavored to swing the portrait upwards without disturbing the sleeping Wizangamot justice.

He succeeded, allowing Sirius, James and Peter to step through the jagged cutout first following them only when he was sure they’d escaped without notice.

The way ahead was well worn, a neat cutout in the canopy of spider webs overhead. Sirius, the tallest among them, shot spark into the air, singeing anything that threatened to entangle itself in his hair. In front of him, James was handing the map over to Remus for safe keeping - evidently sure that no one had been following them.

It was merciful, perhaps, that what took nearly twenty minutes of walking through the meandering cobbled paths of Hogwarts took less than ten by this far more direct route. Peter and Remus' obviously convivial conversation grew tiresome within matter of seconds but nether James or Sirius felt compelled to interrupt them until the flat path turned into shallow, stone steps, arching into a wooden ceiling - the underside of Rosemerta's floorboards. The room above them was dark and quiet. No one needed to be told to extinguish their wands while James pulled the cloak out of his pocket, draping it over his shoulders with an unnecessary flourish before gesturing for Sirius to lift up the loose board. Peter was boosting him up through the void before silence fell again.

Quiet didn't last long as a disembodied arm began setting bottles in a neat row for them to take. Their little heists were a finely honed machine - something they'd done so many times before it no longer required any conversation.

They left Rosemerta light by almost twenty bottles, carefully replacing the heavy plank before heading back up to the castle through their passage way.

"Don't you ever worry she'll figure out it's us who've been doing the knicking?" Peter asked when he was sure his voice wouldn't carry into the bar. They'd left Rosemerta, as they always did, almost twenty bottles light.

Had his hands not been full, Sirius may have reached up and thumped him aside the head. Fortunately for Peter, eighteen oddly shaped bottles didn't carry themselves and, with his pocket stuffed, his hands were still otherwise occupied. James opted to say it for him, rolling his eyes."If you're not up to it, the rest of us can make it without you." It wasn't a real threat, but where Peter was concerned, James needn't have bothered - Peter never would have disappointed James by choice.

Mercifully, Remus elected to change the subject before Sirius' snickering and James' sarcastic commentary made it worse, shifting the bundle in his arms and looking back over his shoulder. "What is the occasion for the early trip?" he asked politely. Hanger on though Peter might have been, no one was more out of place during activity of questionable morality than Remus. He relished in the thrill but never the risk - far and above, the most responsible among them.

"Early?" Sirius asked, deflecting the question. "It's been a full day since we got here. We've been remiss in not doing it sooner."

"Is that the case?" he remarked, raising an eyebrow.

Remus let it drop and, mercifully, no one else picked the subject up again. By the next morning, it was nearly forgotten and, by that afternoon, there were too many other things to discuss. "Oy, Sirius!" James barked, waiving a hand in front of his friends face and nearly landing his elbow in a pie. "Can I interest you in a little conversation about a thing I like to call mischief?"

"I have detention this evening," Sirius reminded him.

"If you're going to miss out on a bit of mischief for something as silly as a detention you're a complete tosser," James argued.

"The detention came straight from Dumbledore," Remus pointed out, sliding into the seat next to Sirius. "If he skives off, we'll all regret it, won't we?"

"And on that note," Sirius muttered, getting to his feet and grabbing his school bag from the bench beside him. James rolled his eyes, evidently resigning himself to the reality of the matter.

"Are you aware you have feathers in your hair?" he asked, his attention turned to Remus again. Remus explained but Sirius didn't hear it, already on his way out of the Great Hall.

The Astronomy Tower, he supposed, had it's own particular charm but that charm was lessened, somewhat, by the fact that most of the hours he'd spent here had been polishing telescopes by hand with a bit of Madame Glossy's Silver Polish and a few spent rags.

It took the better part of two very quiet hours, Professor Sinistra flitting in and out only once, to shine them appropriately but the work was a small price to pay in exchange for getting to skip both the heartfelt lecture from Dumbledore and a few hours with Snape. He was coming out the bottom of the staircase when someone else materialized, as if from no where.

"Well, Sirius, how funny that I should see you here," Dumbledore announced jovially, clapping a hand on Sirius' shoulder.

"Funny indeed, Professor, that you might find a student serving a detention you assigned where and when you assigned it," he muttered under his breath. Dumbledore wasn't a subtle man, but it annoyed Sirius when he tried to play the part of the accidental mentor rather than the overbearing Headmaster - perhaps more when he'd spent two hours serving a detention he'd only complied with because he thought it would get him out of having this conversation. Still, it was clear that Dumbledore had something he wished to say and, in six years at Hogwarts, he'd yet to see that desire be foiled by anyone - nature included. Arguing the point just didn't seem pertinent.

Dumbledore just smiled merrily back at him, directing him into the corridor. "Could I trouble you to take a walk with an old man?" he asked, aiming his wand at the pail, it's weight abruptly leaving his hand as it blinked out of existence. Idly, Sirius wondered what became of all of the things that Dumbledore vanished but before he could carry that line of thinking too far, Dumbledore was speaking again. "I hear you've gone to live with the Potters," he said matter of factly. "They're great friends of mine - George and Mary - and they do have an affection for you. I've wondered though, what inspired your decision to leave home?"

"Not one to beat around the bush there, are you?" Sirius asked in spite of himself.

"I find, in situations such as this, being forthright is an underestimated virtue," he replied, unperturbed.

"Suffice it to say, my family and I have very little in common," he answered finally.

The response was cold and unemotional but Dumbledore took it for what it was, his smile dipping into sadness for a fraction of an instant before stopping outside his office and squeezing Sirius' shoulder. "You're correct, Sirius - you've never had much in common with your family and that, I feel, is a great gift to us all." He waited a few more moments before stepping up the stone gargoyle and away from Sirius. "You will forgive me, Sirius. I'm afraid there is a bit of correspondence I've been neglecting, though I do think I see your friend Mr.Lupin just around the corner. I trust you can find your way back to your common room without getting into trouble."

"What was that all about?" Remus asked a few seconds later, confident they were out of ear shot.

"The man never misses an opportunity to pontificate," Sirius explained, opening the nearest broom closet door and tossing his supplies inside. He was agitated - stiff for reasons he couldn't quite explain and made all the more uneasy for the tension.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he answered quickly, shaking off the creeping discomfort in his muscles with a shudder and picking up his step.

"Lily told me a bit of what happened the other night," Remus said, jogging a bit to catch up. "You spoke to your brother?"

"I wouldn't call it speaking to him," Sirius spat, rounding on Remus. "And I wouldn't exactly call Lily apprised of all the details though it's probably not all together unlike her to run her mouth over things she doesn't understand."

Remus rolled his eyes, ignoring Sirius' fury. "Oh come off it, she's not exactly running her mouth - telling one of your best mates. She was worried about you. Your family doesn't make a fat lot of sense to people who haven't seen it for themselves," he argued, his tone even.

"And I suppose you explained it to her, did you?"

"I told her not to stick her nose into other people's business, actually," he answered, rising into anger now. "But I thought, since I had the information, I might try to find out a bit more about why this good friend of mine has been acting like a git since we got back to school. Obviously a misplaced effort on my part, my apologies."

A steady application of alcohol made getting to the next Hogsmeade weekend remarkably easy. Remus, level headed as he was, forgave Sirius his outburst without another mention. Lily, having tried to corner him a half-dozen times since his argument with Regulus, seemed to lose interest in sympathizing with him after a particularly comical altercation between Snape and James and Regulus hadn't been bold enough - or perhaps interested enough - to pay their side of the castle another visit. It left an inordinate amount of time free to do things like throw licorice snaps at James during Quidditch practice and tease Peter as he tried to mix up a batch of Cupid Crystals for Erin Brooks.

Still, it was a surprise to find the Great Hall in a flurry of activity and mittens on Saturday morning. Going into the tiny village that skirted Hogwarts lost it's appeal when it took place under the watchful gaze of the entire staff - it was far more entertaining, Sirius felt, with somewhat less company. The knowledge that the common room - if not the entire tower - would be a veritable ghost town still held it's charm as he considered the mountain of vinyl stacked haphazardly in his trunk.

"Are you coming then?" James asked from across the table, a waffle suspended midway between his plate and his mouth.

Sirius shook his head instead of answering, gesturing toward the ceiling with his spoon.

"Afraid of a little rain, Black?" one of the Slytherins asked, pushing past them.

"It's not good for the leather," he answered glibly, turning back to his cereal.

An hour later, he found himself having the same conversation.

"Come off it, Sirius - It's a Hogsmeade weekend," Erin Brooks was arguing. Perched on the arm of the sofa Sirius was lounging on, she'd been pleading with him since she came into the common room twenty minutes ago, his mild interest turning into vague irritation after about fifteen.

"It's always a Hogsmeade weekend," he pointed out, thumbing the newspaper in his hand and examining the margins.

"It is not! Besides, what are you going to do here by yourself?" she asked, slapping his leg playfully. He looked up to find Lily looking, as usual, annoyed.

"You'll find that Sirius can, and often does, do precisely what he likes," she interjected, seizing her friend by the arm and tugging her toward the portrait hole.

"I think we'd both find you a touch more entertaining if you gave in to what you wanted a bit more often, Lily," he replied, winking.

"Does it occur to you that you're lecherous?" she asked, glowering at him again.

He'd managed to avoid speaking to her since their, some might say, truncated conversation a week ago and he was no more eager now to have the conversation she'd been looking for that night. "I never think much of it at all," he answered, grinning as she stalked away, Erin in tow.

"I don't think it's considered a talent, putting women off like that," Remus commented as he came down the stairs.

"It ought to be when it's those two," Sirius remarked, swinging his feet onto the floor and sitting up. "Staying or going?" he asked.

"Going, I think. Though, I suppose I'll be getting my night out soon enough."

Sirius nodded his agreement before getting up. "Do you think Peter will be up for it by then?"

Remus laughed. "For your sake, one can hope. Maybe you ought to ask him to stay behind - coach him a bit?"

The suggestion had been half-sincere, but Sirius glowered at him ironically nonetheless. "Are you in on something with the Brooks girl? Trying to corner me in a back alley?" he asked, inclining an eyebrow suspiciously.

"I wish," Remus intoned, his eyes wandering across the room to look at her as he pulled on his jacket.

"Do you want me to bring something back for you?" Erin half-shouted, leaning back in through the portrait hole and looking at Sirius. "Something from Honeydukes or butterbeer maybe?"

Considering her for a fraction of a second, he grinned before slapping Remus on the back. "I've something you could take to Hogsmeade for me," he answered with a wink.

Chapter 6: Six
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It took longer for the common room to empty that was usual and far more of the first and second years hung about, their quills scratching on parchment as the penned heartfelt letters home or slightly less sincere essays for Divination.  Among the lot of them there was the occasional disenfranchised seventh year sharing his nonplussed response to a wet weekend spent warming up in the Post Office or Madame Puddyfoots.  Either way, even the slightest lean toward the record player in the corner was enough to illicit glares from all parties involved and what was intended to be a welcome respite was readily becoming confinement.

Taking the stairs two at a time, Sirius opened James' locked trunk with a swift kick and rummaged for the cloak and the map, shoving both into his jacket before bounding back down two at a time.

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good," he whispered as the fat lady swung shut behind him.  Ribbons of ink bloomed up from within the parchment itself lacking their way across it to become rooms and hallways and staircases.  Another tap of his wand and banners appeared over the moving ink droplets that represented the castle's inhabitant - their names sketched in Remus' untidy scrawl.  Dumbledore was in his study, Professors Sinistra and Slughorn in their respective offices.  Thick lines defined secret rooms and passages - places they'd discovered and mapped out partly by happy accident and partly deliberate subterfuge.

Aware that it wouldn't be the first time a student snuck into Filch's office while he was away, Sirius was careful to disturb as little as possible as he searched the drawers and cabinets for something he could use - a confiscated note or a mysterious appearance of a student somewhere they shouldn't have been able to get.  Filch kept painstaking records of every infraction he ever punished.  There was a full drawer dedicated entirely to things he'd taken from James over the years and another for Sirius' own escapades. 

"Oy, my blasting bombs!" he muttered, pulling a few brightly colored marble sized cylinders from a box under the desk and pocketing them.  For good measure, he also knicked a few bottles of a lethal looking green potion, a pack of six inch tall exploding snap cards and a twenty-five year old bottle of firewhiskey.

His search turned up nothing in the way of interesting places to go poking about for secret passages, but the new store of sweets, liquor and odd potions would have been enough to amuse anyone for the rest of an idle afternoon so he was understandably pleased when he began his way back toward Gryffindor Tower.  It was a mood that might have lasted all day had he found his way back unhindered. 

A quick dodge behind the tapestry of Ethelred the Unready should have cut him a clear path through the castle and deposited him in a broom cupboard just outside the Fat Lady's frame.  Instead, he found someone waiting for him just on the other side of the ornate canvas.

"The hell are you doing here?" he asked at once, recognizing the face on the business end of his wand.  It was resting on his brother's throat, each beat of his heart pulsing through the wood and into his palm menacingly. 

"Did you think you four were the only ones who knew their way around the castle?" he asked in return, sidestepping away in the tiny space.

"You've never shone signs of being that clever," Sirius replied acidly, not relinquishing his aim.

"I was going to give you this in Hogsmeade but I heard you weren't going to go, so I brought it here instead," he said, extending a sealed envelope in his hand.  Even in the dim wand light, the Black family crest was visible - Tojours Purs emblazened across the waxy shield. 

"I don't want anything from them," Sirius replied, shoving past Regulus with such force that he almost knocked him off balance.

"Uncle Alphard died," Regulus offered after him, still holding the letter outstretched in his hand.  Sirius stopped in his tracks at once.  "An owl came with the news this morning.  Anyway, it's your letter and I thought you might like to know." 

The Black family tree could be traced back nearly 1000 years.  In the lot there hadn't been a squib among them and, with the exception of Andromeda and Uncle Alphard, not a single one of them was what Sirius considered a decent person.  Naturally they'd been written off years ago - not all together, he suspected, unlike the way he must have been.

"When's the funeral?" he asked finally, looking Regulus in the eye for the first time.

"Tomorrow at two," he said, his voice heavy with mingled regret and sorrow.  "I'm not going, obviously.  Neither is anyone else.  You should," he added after a few beats of silence. 

Regulus left a few seconds later, not sure of what else to say.  His absence left Sirius alone in an out of the way place with a liquor bottle, a letter he didn't want to open and a question he barely even wanted to consider.  Where seeing his brother a week ago had meant frustration and anger, this meeting left him with a bitter melancholy he scarcely recognized.  Regulus was becoming an enigma, stuck somewhere in between what his family was and what he was - as if he was unable to choose a side.  Some people might have seen that as an endearing sense of hope, but for Sirius it meant little more than that his brother was too much the coward to choose. 

If there was any one lesson he'd learned in his tenure at Hogwarts it was that one should never endeavor to perform spells while inebriated.  Alas, said lesson was stored in a region of his brain that was inaccessible after three quarters of a bottle of whiskey.  Those two incontrovertible facts should have been swirling through his mind as he stood in front of the statue of the witch that led to Honeydukes and Hogsmeade, the cloak hanging limply off of his shoulder. 

"Dissenium," he ordered, tapping the statue squarely on the nose.

Nothing happened so he poked her again for good measure and heaved a heavy sigh.  "Denssenidium!" he declared, trying again. Nothing happened.

"Oh for fucks sake - Dissendium," he whined, not really expecting anything.  When the witch slid aside, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

The walk through the passage way gave him ample time to finish off the bottle in between stumbles and, by the time he made it to the basement storeroom at Honeydukes, he'd forgotten why he'd come in the first place. 

The woefully empty swig he attempted to take reminded him - more liquor. 

Whether it was dumb luck or an astrological alignment on par with the birth and subsequent survival of kind hearted member of the Black family, there was no one in the store room when he poked his head up through the floor with as much subtlety as an emu in an elephant suit. In any case, blending in with the throng of students upstairs should have been easy but his wavering gait was a dead give away as he hung closely to walls, tables and shelves for balance. 

"Sirius!"  Erin Brooks shouted over the crowd as she cut a path towards him, Lily in tow.  "I thought you weren't coming out today?" she asked, somewhere between offense and excitement.

Lily rolled her eyes.

"Call it a change of heart," he explained, leaning on a barrel of acid pops in what he hoped registered as a debonair gesture rather than an awkward crutch.

"Remus wandered off about an hour ago," she offered, unfazed.  "Lily and I are going to meet some friends at The Three Broomsticks.  Do you want to come along?"

"Not particularly, no," he answered, somewhat more honestly than could have been considered socially acceptable. 

"Well what do you want to do then?" she asked, not missing a beat.

"You're just that side of annoy-" he started to say but Lily cut him off, promising Erin one thing or another to get her to leave.  She complied, walking toward The Three Broomsticks some thirty paces ahead of them as Lily dragged Sirius by a shirt sleeve into the empty alleyway beside Honeydukes.

"Subtlety is entirely lost on that girl," Sirius observed as they rounded the corner, an impish grin playing across his face.

Lily didn't stop until she was sure they were out of sight from the bustling street, crossing her arms irritably.  "You're piss drunk, aren't you?"  She hissed the word 'drunk' under her breath, as if the mere act of saying it were enough to earn her a detention. 

Sirius smirked unevenly, amused.  "I am a bit knackered," he admitted, snaking an arm around her waist and pulling her toward him.  "Though, I swear, if you wanted to take advantage of me I wouldn't mind a bit."

"Well aren't you hilarious?" she remarked sarcastically, shoving him back against the brick wall and stepping away.  "Dumbledore will have Remus and me scrubbing cauldrons for a week if he finds out you've gotten into this much trouble already," she warned, glaring at his wrinkled shirt.

"I think even Dumbledore will let this one slide," he scoffed, 

"What happened?"

Her worried expression was far more sobering than the chilled wind or the subject matter but he resisted its effects, changing the subject without missing a beat.  "I find it disturbing that my licentious behavior no longer offends you."

"You're a git - I've learned to cope.  What happened?"

"You do realize that leaves me with no choice but to assume your indifference is an invitation?"

"What happened?" she asked again, refusing to be dissuaded.

Rolling his eyes and standing up straight, he unwrapped a piece of gum and tossed the wrapper into the bushes.   Her gaze followed its trajectory as it fell, arcing into the bare branches and lodging itself on a dried leaf.  Sirius chewed it slowly, popping it loudly as she watched him, resolutely calm.  "Honestly, what do you really think you're going to accomplish here?" he asked when he'd resigned himself to her continued presence. 

"A lot more than you can honestly expect to get out of trying to snog me in an alley," she quipped.

"You spend too much time with Snape." 

He'd been referring to her misapprehension that everyone was interested in having a heartfelt tete a tete every time they stubbed a toe but she didn't take it that way, bristling at once.  "Fine," she said, her former acid returning all at once.  "If you won't tell me what's wrong, I'm taking you back to the castle before you make this worse."

"Marching me straight up to the Headmaster's office?" he asked, feigning a sincere concern.

"Sod off," she shot back, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him a few steps forward.

When he finally acquiesced, raising his hands in a ridiculously affected gesture, she relinquished her grip on his arm to double back and pluck the gum wrapper out of the bush, stuffing it into her pocket.  "A girl scout to the ruddy end, aren't you Lily?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Ha ha," she said loftily, catching up to him on the muddy street a few seconds later. 

They walked in silence for a while, nearly outside the bounds of the village before anyone spoke.  She'd walked the entire way staring at her shoes, with her hands buried so deeply in her pockets that the sleeves of her jacket bunched up, so when she glanced up to look over her shoulder, it caught his attention.  "People are going to talk," she whispered, annoyed as though that outcome hadn't occurred to her.

"Why do you think I agreed?" he asked, smirking again. 

"You're remarkably quippy for a drunk," she observed suspiciously, glaring at him.

"I find that incessant whining has an adverse impact on inebriation," he replied, touching a finger to his nose for dramatic effect.

"I wasn't whining!" she chided, smacking him on the arm.  The gesture was playful and light, no where near the angry frustration she usually dealt him when he teased her and the ensuing silence became suddenly companionable.

"My uncle died," he said a few minuets later, apropos to nothing.

"I didn't think you were close with your family," she whispered.  It wasn't an observation or an accusation - it was an apology for a transgression he couldn't identify and she resumed her empty staring at the tips of her shoes as soon as she finished.

"For the most part, I'm not," he answered, sighing in spite of himself.  "Uncle Alphard wasn't like the rest."

"Are you going to the funeral?" she asked after a few seconds.

"I'm not sure," he replied honestly, slowing his gait to a listless wander. 

"Your dad?" she asked, her voice heavier than before.  "I...Remus mentioned something, I thought maybe..."


Whether he went or not wasn't a question of obligation or familial complications - Regulus had been right that no one would go. It was something else entirely that was holding him back from the decision but he couldn't place his hesitation.  His Uncle Alphard, while not a constant presence in his life, had always been kind - always the first to offer him sanctuary after one of his families little spats and never one to turn away from a fight.  That loyalty was why he'd become so estranged in his old age.  Regret and guilt mingled together as Sirius considered the fleeting nature of his own loyalties while he walked, forgetting Lily was there at all.

Death wasn't a subject he labored over.  Given his allegiances and the family from whence he came, the notion that death could strike him without warning had never been particularly surprising.  Still, the realization that his Uncle - the closest family he'd ever had - had died completely alone turned his stomach. 

Lily didn't interrupt his musings until they were at the castle gates, clearing her throat.  "If you were like this more often, people might actually like you," she teased, offering him a half-smile. The cloudy afternoon skies had given way to the gentle drizzle he'd predicted over breakfast and he was surprised to find Lily unfazed as the cold rain streaked her hair and soaked through her thin jacket. 

Sirius laughed, grinning again.  "Permit me this one indiscretion, Evans?  I'll go back to winding you up tomorrow."

"Scouts honor?" she asked, raising an eyebrow

Chapter 7: Seven
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Of all the phrases could describe Sirius Black, 'morning person' was not among them. 

After six years of rooming together, no one was likely to wake him unless a significant portion building was on fire but reason seemed to be on a perpetual holiday as James yanked the pillow out from underneath Sirius' head with a swift jerk and thumped him on the back with it.  "Oy!  Did I hear you were snogging Lily Evans in front of Honeydukes yesterday?" he asked.

"Piss off, James," Sirius muttered.  Through the haze of sleep, he could make out only every other word but "snogging," "Evans" and "Honeydukes" came through clearly enough and he rolled over, tugging the blankets up over his head to drown out the noise of his reply.

The walk back from Hogsmeade had been both exhausting and restorative, and when Lily begged off to return a book to the Library, he'd taken the opportunity to wander the corridors.  Hogwarts Castle was, in it's own right, a wonderfully quiet place.  It's numerous inhabitants - from chatty portraits, wandering poltergeists, bewitched armor and noisy students - were loud but, when they'd been stripped away, the stone corridors were insulating and utterly silent.  Two floors up, the sounds of dinner being served in the Great Hall were barely whispers as he wandered.  When he finally did return to Gryffindor Tower, it was well past midnight and he stumbled into his bed clumsily, the hangover already setting in.   James' disruptive greeting less than four hours later was nothing if not unwelcome.

"Piss off yourself," James fired back, annoyed now.  "The hell are you doing snogging Evans?"

There was an edge of anger in his tone that was discernible even to Sirius but the fact that the room seemed to spin around him whenever he opened his eyes made him ill-disposed to care as he threw back the blankets and sat up.  "First off - what I do with my time is no concern of yours, particularly not at six thirty in the morning.  And second, I wasn't 'snogging Evans' anywhere."

"I saw you leave with her," Alfred interjected, pulling on a sock.

"What I do with my time is never a concern of yours," Sirius spat, rising up to his full height. 

"Why look, it's breakfast," Remus announced hopefully, looking at his wrist.  "And you've got Quidditch practice in an hour.  You two are going to have to shelve this for a later date," he added, clapping James on the back and directing him toward the door. 

"Are you coming?" Peter asked, lingering at the exit a few seconds longer.  Sirius didn't answer him, just shaking his head before collapsing back into his mattress again.

"Is he coming?" Remus asked under his breath when Peter emerged from the room, shutting the door behind him.

Peter shook his head stiffly, his eyes on James.  Already half-way down the stairs, he was still edgy, pushing past people when the reached the common room and nearly knocking a first year off his feet as he walked by him at the portrait hole. 

"Oy, wait up!" Remus called behind him, doubling his pace to catch up and grabbing James by the sleeve in the hall outside.  "You two aren't really going to fight over a girl, are you?" he asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow.  Just then, the most unfortunate person who could have appeared crawled out of the portrait hole behind them - Lily. 

Whether it was a bruised ego or an overblown sense of betrayal that had James on edge, his disposition wasn't improved when Lily stopped long enough to say good morning to Remus and then continued on her way without so much as a word to James or Peter.  "Wo - James, come off it!" Remus yelled after him, turning away from Lily to find James stalking away in the opposite direction.  "Oh for Merlin's sake.  Peter, will you go and find out what has him in such a twist?" he asked, throwing his arms into the air with exasperation and rolling his eyes.

Peter did as he was asked, jogging down the corridor after James, leaving Remus alone in the hall, now just as irritated as everyone else had been.  "Un-bloody-believable," he muttered, glancing at his watch before setting off in the direction of breakfast.

When Sirius finally did get up, the sun was already high in the sky.  No one, not even Alfred, had come back to the room since they'd all gone down to breakfast and he was grateful for the silence when he awoke.  The sleep had been anything but restful as his subconscious mind grappled with the question he'd been avoiding when he was awake, still, it was partially due to that fitful sleep that he'd reached into the far depths of the wardrobe, not for jeans and a t-shirt, but for a somber sport coat and a tie. 

The tiny bag of Floo Powder felt heavy in his hands, the velvet cool against his skin, the embroidered crest turned deliberately to his palm, as he descended the steps into the common room, far too overdressed for a Saturday morning but no one was there.  Whether it was dumb luck or cosmic design, the room remained empty long enough for him to toss a handful of the powder into the fire and mutter his cousin's address before stepping into the flames. 

When he stepped out on the other side, careful to avoid the walls of the fireplace for their soot, a tiny girl, Andromeda's daughter, Nymphadora, screeched his name.  She couldn't have been more than knee high and he rhair shifted through at least a dozen shades in her excitement as she ran across the room.  He opened his arms and knelt down to scoop her up only seconds before she collided with him, throwing her tiny arms around his neck.

"Not shy, this one," he remarked to her mother, still standing a few feet away at the piano. 

"For the person who always smuggles her sweets she isn't supposed to have?  I should think not," she replied, reaching out to rumple her daughter's now lilac hair before scrutinizing her cousin more seriously.  "How is your brother?" she asked, her eyes fixed on the faint traces of a scar that ran across his temple. 

"Still a complete tosser," he answered uneasily. 

Before the mood could turn tense, Nymphadora began tugging at his lapels.  "What did you bring me?" she asked.  Sirius forced a smile and fished in his pocket for a treat, handing her a chocolate frog before setting her back down.

"Don't get that on your clothes, young lady," Andromeda ordered as she disappeared into the kitchen.  They both listened until the sounds of tearing paper gave way into giggles as she chased the candy, Sirius's gaze drifting from the doorway back to the piano, settling on the photos.  She watched him as he crossed the room, forgetting not only her but himself to pick up one of the frames and examine it more closely.  He looked more than tired - he looked exhausted.  Even his skin looked pallid in the bright, artificial light of her sitting room.

"We were just playing," a six year old Sirius argued as his father yanked him up by the arm.  He could feel the blossom of bruises forming under his shirt sleeve as he struggled to move his legs fast enough to keep up with his father's larger gait, his knees smacking hard against the front steps as he was being dragged up them and back into the house.

"You would do well to remember that we don't mix with their kind," Orion warned him, letting go of the boy as if he were something grimy and unpleasant.  "Get out of my sight," he ordered a second later, the disgust dripping from his every word.

Sirius did as he was told and disappeared to his bedroom.  It was stark in comparison to the other neighborhood children.  There were no pictures or posters on the walls - no children's books lining shelves.  Instead, his shelves were filled with treatises on the importance of purity, text books on dark magic he was made to study though could scarcely comprehend, let alone practice and a few ancient family albums, filled with photographs of similarly cruel faces. 

From his ornately carved desk, he drew out a small bag, intricately embroidered with the family crest - their motto sewn into the fabric with a sparkling silver thread - and poured the handful of marbles out onto the floor, flicking them with his fingertips.  The soft, tinkling sound of their collisions drowned out the sounds of yelling for a time, until the shouts became louder and impossible to ignore.

"What is the harm in him playing with the other neighborhood children?" his Uncle Alphard was asking, his tone remaining reasonable despite his volume. 

His mother's more haggard, frantic response came far more shrilly, "Oh surely you would love it if I were to let him play with the filthy little muggles.  It might be nice for you not to be the only filthy member of this family Alphard."  There was a pause for a moment - either as she collected herself or simply wound up for the next round of screaching - before she started in again.  "I won't let him turn out like you - a disgrace to his proper heritage.  Get out!  Get out!" 

"Stop blaming yourself, Sirius," Andromeda interjected, calling him away from his musings.  "It wasn't your fault."

He didn't answer, but it was no matter as Ted poked his head in from the hall, a few black umbrellas tucked under his arm.  "Are we ready then, Andi?"

She stole one last glance at Sirius before nodding her head and shouting for her daughter.  "Time to go, Nymphadora!  Come and put on your jacket."

The ride, wedged into the back seat of the car next to a singing toddler was, as anticipated, lengthier than Sirius might have liked.  She sang along with the radio, making up words or replacing them with sounds as she went and kicked her feet against the seat along with the music.  Her carefree laughter seemed an eerily fitting punctuation to the somber occasion as they pulled into the cemetery, the paved road turning first into brick and then into gravel before Ted pulled the car to a stop. 

"Do you remember what we talked about, Dora?" Ted asked, coming around to open her door and pluck her from her carseat. 

"No funny business," she answered merrily shifting her hair back to brown.  A half-dozen blue bubbles had escaped her lips as she'd spoken, the gum smacking loudly on her tongue.

"Did you give her Droobles?" Andromeda asked as one of the bubbles floated out of the car door and drifted away, disapproval evident in her tone.

Sirius merely grinned.  "There's no on here to notice it, Andi," he teased, heavy emphasis on the nickname she loathed most of all. 

She hesitated a moment before electing to let it go, elbowing him from underneath her umbrella instead. 

It proved impossible to keep ones mind from lingering over the reason they were all there as the gravel crunched loudly under their feet while they walked.  It was the only interruption to the silence of the empty graveyard, the four of them the only living souls in sight.  They passed nearly a dozen headstones before reaching their melancholy destination - a single, white slab of marble surrounded by a seemingly spontaneous outcropping of white chrysanthemums. 

Sirius hesitated before approaching it, taking a deep breath as if it would help him control the flood of guilt, regret and sadness threatening to overtake him.  At first glance, the headstone looked like any other - a name and a series of dates carefully carved into its surface but, upon closer inspection, it revealed a far more intricate design.  A twisting snake wrapped around the Black Crest, the single center star - the heart of the beast - seemed to twinkle or shimmer under the rain as it wound itself around the etched dates and a single phrase - Tojours Purs.

Chapter 8: eight
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Becoming an Animagus had changed a good number of things in Sirius' life. What had initially been designed to support Remus quickly revealed a handful of unanticipated perks, not the least of which was how easy it was to ignore his troubles with four legs and fur.

The moon caught his attention through Andromeda's kitchen window. A pot of tea and a plate of cold sandwiches between them, they'd sat at the worn table exchanging stories from their respective childhoods for hours. Ted laughed with them, chiming in whenever Sirius' stories promised particularly embarrassing details about his wife's youth and Dora slept on the couch, a piece of bubble gum stuck in her hair. When it came time to say goodbye, Sirius begged off another trip through the Floo, opting instead for a less favorable ride on the Knight Bus.

"I can't take you into the Hogwarts grounds," the driver reminded him, eying his newest passenger warily.

Sirius merely shrugged his shoulders and asked to be dropped off near the gates. In truth, he had no intention of making his way up to the castle tonight, but his years of experience at home had taught him that lying was often, if not always, the easiest option.

The Shrieking Shack was already loud with the sounds of hardwood in distress by the time he reached the front steps but six months of practice made the transition much easier than it had been the previous year and he was bounding up the rickety steps in seconds, the weight of his day falling away at once. It was always that way with the transformation - a glorious respite from whatever was troubling him - and with James, Peter and Remus at his side, he became so distracted that his worries dissipated completely.

He'd arrived late and received more than a few annoyed glares but they too existed in the happy haze, rushing off into the chilly darkness to roam the forest and the village as they always did.

His awakening the next morning was disruptive as always and the act of sleeping curled up on the floor did little to improve his mood. James, human again, kicked him hard in the ribs, though he would call it a nudge later, and dropped a heavy envelope onto the rug at his feet.

"Post," he grumbled. Evidently, in the vibrant light of day, all was not forgiven.

Sirius stretched a moment before rising up to his full, human height and picking up the letter.

"We missed Transifiguration," Peter observed lamentably, glancing at his watch.

All three of them stopped what they were doing to glower at him.

"On a less ridiculous note, we missed breakfast," James said, reaching for his left shoe and pulling it on.

Remus answered him but Sirius had stopped listening entirely, his attention absorbed by the lengthy letter in his hands.

Half an hour later, he was bursting through Andromeda's front door without knocking, still wearing yesterday's coat and tie. "Did you get one of these?" he blurted out, jabbing the letter in her direction.

She paused a moment to read it over, the hoover her well meaning mother-in-law had given her standing at her side. When she was finished, she paused a further moment, folding it carefully along it's creases and sharpening them with her fingernails before speaking. "He wanted you to be taken care of," she answered in a measured tone. "He'd have given it to you ages ago but he was afraid your parents would have denied you access to it."

It was the polar opposite to the answer he'd expected and he found himself momentarily stunned. A "yes" he'd anticipated. A "no" he was prepared for but the knowledge that she'd known all along and didn't tell him was more than a surprise.

Andromeda let a respectful amount of silence lapse before handing the letter back to him and clearing her throat. "I think a trip to Diagon Alley is in order. Just give me a moment to change."

Tie hanging loose, shirt untucked, Sirius didn't return to Gryffindor Tower until long after dusk had ebbed into darkness. Evenings had always possessed a peculiar sense of vacancy for him. Since childhood, no matter out fraught the day was, all emotion seemed to drain from his very being as night settled in, leaving in its wake a kind of spasmodic energy he'd come to regard as friend rather than foe. By the time he made it to the portrait hole, he was well past restless, so when he bounded up the stairs he attracted more than a few sidelong glances.

Finding his room empty was a surprise.

He considered his options for a few seconds - too edgy to sit still. Turning on his heel and not bothering to change, he rushed down the stairs again, skipping the trick fourth step deftly by jumping over the banister.

"Where are you off to?" Lily asked, suddenly not only present but on her feet.

"You're going to have to come along if you want the answer to that question," he answered. He hadn't noticed her in his haste and he barely stopped now, hesitating only long enough to shoot her a brief glare before pushing the portrait open.

At the time, it hadn't occurred to him that she might take him up on the offer.

That, as it turned out, had been more than a minor oversight on his part.

Rather than trying to argue him into staying, she'd simply set her books down and followed him out without a word.

"You're going to freeze to death out here," he said finally, exasperated.

"I'm f-fine," she answered, trying to sound convincing as her teeth clanked together. Taking his question as an invitation to speak, she dug her hands into her pockets and doubled her stride to catch up. "Where a-are we g-going?"

Rolling his eyes and heaving a sigh that could have toppled the leaning tower, he stopped and turned to glower at her. "We aren't going anywhere. You are going back up to the castle and I am going to go do something you'll disapprove of."

"What makes you so s-sure I'd-d disapprove?" she asked, not backing down.

"Here," he managed through gritted teeth, taking off the stiff suit jacket with all the petulance of a three year old and thrusting it at her. Somehow her antics had seemed more adorable when he was inebriated.

"I'm fine," she repeated, taking a step backwards.

"For Merlin's sake, don't be difficult - I'm not impressed. Just take the jacket."

"If I take it, I can come along?" she asked warily. He didn't answer, and she eyed him for a minute, trying to gauge his expression - to find some emotion behind the obvious irritation but she found nothing.

"Lily, I wouldn't take you with where I'm going for all the gold in Gringotts."

His answer was measured but she just rolled her eyes. "Your family is already responsible for more gold than you could spend." She recognized her mistake almost at once and hurried to correct it, replacing it with something else. "Besides, if you won't take me with you there then I guess we're both going somewhere else."

"The only place I'm taking you is back to the castle," he replied. She was still shivering but he'd long since given up, dropping his arm to his side and gesturing for her to turn toward the distant twinkling lights, flickering out in one room only to start up in another seconds later.

"I"m not a girl scout," she declared, snatching the jacket out of his hands and pulling it on.

He remained silent, observing the rush of crimson in her cheeks - even the blush seeming to hide behind her freckles in the moonlight. "What are we doing?" she asked when she could stand the scrutiny no longer, taking a few deliberate steps away from the castle. The eager way she grabbed his hand, trying to drag him along, surprised her as much as it surprised him. The gesture was uncharacteristic and brazen but she did it anyway. Whatever the impulse that had driven her to follow him - to come here at all - carried her forward. "Come on, Sirius. I've never been out on the grounds at night - show me something."

"It's pretty much the same as it is during the day. Trees...grass...fairies...Hagrid..." he lied, following her only reluctantly.

"No monsters, really?" she replied back sarcastically, rolling her eyes. "One of the third years told me she saw the Grim yesterday."

"Ooo, spooky," Sirius remarked, smiling at his own private joke.

"Fine, show me something else," she shot back, tugging on his arm. Her insistence was no longer hesitant and feeble, her voice stronger than before and she was surprised to find herself smiling when she glanced back at him. Agitated though he was, his expression was kinder than usual - the hint of a grin hiding in his glare. Night, she was finding, seemed to suit him.

"Do you think we can go into Hogsmeade?" she asked finally, resigning to the fact that he was going to offer no destination of his own. "Have you been into the village after hours?"

Temporarily distracted by what was either annoying innocence, endearing ignorance or some combination of the two, he laughed wryly in lieu of answering her. Twenty minutes later, the pair of them were standing at the base of one of the huge braces for the Quidditch risers, a narrow opening evident in the foot boards at the prompting of Sirius' wand.

"This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'under the stands,'" she observed, surveying the seemingly bottomless hole dubiously.

"I'm not opposed to the original interpretation if you have some aversion to small spaces," he teased, gesturing for her to take the plunge.

"Oh, i'm not going first," she exclaimed, trying to ignore the taunt but blushing anyway.

"And if I go what's to stop that figment of your imagination from snatching you up?" he asked just to wind her up. "Or more importantly, to stop you from running up to the castle and bringing McGonagall's wrath down on me? No way. In you go."

They argued a few minutes more before she relented, sitting first on the edge before letting go. The stone beneath her was slick and severely sloped. When she landed, she was so completely upright that she fell forward, scraping her hands on the ground as she tried to catch herself. "Perfect," she muttered, getting up and moving out of the way. "Now watch him leave me down here..."

Sirius didn't make her wait long, landing behind her a few seconds later, albeit more gracefully. "Your wand," he muttered, lighting his own mere seconds before the last chink of moonlight was choked out by the closing floor.

"How did you know this was here?" she asked when they broke out on the other side.

Clambering through a thicket of brambles, Sirius pulled the thorny branches back so she could pass. "If you weren't a girl scout, you wouldn't be asking me that question."

She glowered at him by way of a response, sticking out her tongue petulantly, but before she could return a smart remark of her own, a breeze rustled the swings in the distance - the creaking chains sounding eerie and ominous with the whistling wind. He extended a hand instinctively to steady her, but she was gone, running full tilt across the grass in a direct beeline for the park.

"You make me smuggle you into Hogsmeade at midnight so that you can play on a swing set?" he asked as he approached, his pace much slower. It wasn't a necessary question - the moonlight illuminated her features so fully her happy expression would have been visible at any distance, but he asked it anyway just to hear her answer.

"Relax for five minutes, won't you?" Her laughter was neither reserved nor mocking. Rather it was a easy, free sound and it struck his ears in a chorus of giggles, foreign in his world of wry remarks and and loaded exchanges. He watched her for a few seconds, unconsciously wandering a few steps closer to lean on the bars at her side.

Lily pumped her legs for a few more turns before dragging her feet in the wood chips, slowing the swing to a stop. "Where were you today?" she asked, kicking a dried leaf with the tip of her shoe, his sleeves pushed up to her elbows.

"Business," he answered evasively when he could wait her out no longer. Somehow, getting around to the conversation that they both knew had been her motivation for coming at all seemed unfair - like it was stealing something pleasant away from him.

"Your uncle?" she asked, looking up at him from behind a fallen lock of hair.

Sirius nodded, closing his eyes for an instant to shake off the sadness before it took hold. When he opened them again, Lily was no longer perched on her swing. Instead, she was standing in front of him - so close that he could pick up the scent of her skin. "What were you going to do tonight?" she whispered, suddenly heavy with a sadness all her own.

"Drink," he replied automatically, drawing a flask out of his back pocket.

"Where did you get that?" she asked, surprised again.

"Lots of little nooks and crannies in old passages, Evans," he said with a wink, opening the bottle and offering it to her. "Ladies first."

She froze for a fraction of a second before taking it from him. When she did, taking a much larger gulp than was wise, her expression shifted from shock to horror - comedic gold. Eyebrows knit together, nose screwed up, she forced herself to swallow before hadning it back to him. "Merlin," she managed, her eyes sparkling with would be tears. "That's foul!"

"You'll learn," he replied, savoring the familiar burning on his tongue and offering it to her again with a sadistic grin.

Chapter 9: Nine
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Up to this very moment, Lily had experienced the same, consistent series of sensations upon waking up each morning - a jarring sound, a subtle light, the cool shock of air as she threw back the blankets and the relief of rubbing dry, itchy eyes. 

This morning felt somewhat different. 

Where the irritating sound of her alarm should have been, it was the chirping of birds that awoke her today and, instead of diffused sunlight working it's way through curtains, she awoke to rather a series of shards than a hazy filter.  There were no blankets to discard, only a something wool and oddly shaped draped over her but she wasn't cold, nestled against something warm and unfamiliar.

She struggled to recall what had happened the previous evening that had led her to this perplexing set of circumstances but she couldn't seem to find the thread in the face of the entirely otherworldly amount of pain residing between her right eye and her left ear.  It was pain she couldn't place - more uncharted territory she supposed, weaving back through the mundane details of her yesterday in an effort to understand.

Sirius, on the other hand, was very familiar with the circumstances under which he awoke. 

Lily whimpered raising a hand to her temple when he moved beneath her, attempting to free his numb arm.

It took him a moment to get his bearings.  They were sprawled underneath one of the massive oaks at the park - a fact Sirius was painfully aware of, one of it's roots digging into his spine in a manner in which he was certain he would never recover from.  As the world around him came into focus, it wasn't the locale or the condition in which he found himself that surprised him, but the company. 

Her hair tangled around her fingers as she ran them through it, shaking it out unhappily.  Her eyeliner smudged into a dark band around her eyes and her brow furrowed with dissatisfaction, he observed her through bleary eyes, licking her dry lips and straightening her shirt, not really aware of him yet. 

Perhaps it was the foggy vision, the hangover, the sleep deprivation, the sunlight, the dysfunction of his up bringing but, for the first time, he registered that she was pretty - more than that, alluring in her disarray.  He dismissed at least six criminally prosecutable impulses before she paid him any mind, evidently finished fussing over her appearance enough to consider the world on the other side of her eyelids. 

Reality, it would seem, hit her like a ton of feather pillows.

"The hell..." she exclaimed, reaching up to massage the bridge of her nose at the volume of her own voice.  When she spoke again it was much softer but still drenched in disbelief.  "What happened?"

Sirius grinned lecherously.  "CRAFT," he answered, offering no explanation until she groggily demanded one, inspecting the cuts on her hands with obvious confusion.  "Can't Remember A Fucking Thing, darling."

Lily groaned again.

As a both a courtesy to her and a display of his excellent self-preservational instincts, Sirius neglected to mention the specific nature of his company when James, Remus and Peter had demanded to know where he'd been the previous evening. It would seem, as the day, and then the week, wore on Lily had done the same.  Whether it was embarrassment or anger, she'd made no further attempts to corner him for weighty conversations or inquire as to his well-being and he permitted her the distance, making no effort to apologize.  Put at ease by the explanation of his inheritance and the subsequent lie about a solo drinking binge, not even James brought it up again until he caught Snape glaring menacingly at Sirius across the potions classroom.

"Something has gotten into him," he muttered under his breath, glancing around the room for Professor Slughorn before gesturing toward Snape with his ladle. 

Sirius looked up from his cauldron, the liquid just two or three shades lighter than it should have been, to follow James' gaze.  Snape did, indeed, look as if something had gotten into him.  He was scowling across the dungeon so intensely that Sirius was <i>precisely</i> sure of what it was that had him in such a twist, but it was the sheepish look on Lily's face that had him annoyed.  "When is he ever not?" he asked  She was whispering something under her breath at Snape - her eyes pleading but he was evidently unmoved.

His attempt at nonchalance failed and James shot Sirius an inquisitive glare but Slughorn was leaning over their cauldrons a few seconds later, inspecting their potions.  "Keep stirring gentlemen," he warned merrily.  "Only ten minutes left."

The instruction, it would turn out, was too little, too late but they both earned passable marks on their almost correct efforts which was, as anyone would tell you, quite good enough for any Potions class.  For all of Snape's many and oft enumerated shortcomings, his skill at potion making was rivaled only by Lily's.  Getting full marks wasn't something either he or James ever expected. 

Lily begged off as soon as the class ended, weaving her way through the throng of students in the hall before either Sirius or Snape could corner her.  

Snape scowled at Sirius instead, deliberately knocking into him as he rushed past to catch her. 

"Rather like a wretched lap dog, that one," Remus observed, poking his head in the door.  Fresh off of a free period, he and Peter were impatient as Sirius and James packed their things. 

"You would think she would have better taste," James replied, making a face.

"That might not actually work in your favor, mate," Sirius said, clapping him on the shoulder before heading into the hall himself. 

Lily was far too frequently the topic of conversation for Sirius' taste - an unfortunate situation made all the more disagreeable since their drunken pseudo-tryst.  "Who is playing this weekend?" he asked, ignoring James' feigned affront and changing the subject.

"Hufflepuff and Slytherin," Peter answered, starting into the endless list of statistics he stored.

The way Remus scrutinized him all throughout lunch made Sirius nervous.  Remus was nothing if not perceptive and even the flicker of a possibility that he might already be aware put a knot in his stomach.  Idly, he derided himself for the unease.  His quasi-friendship with Lily was far from inappropriate.  Moreover, if it had been, it still wouldn't have been anyone elses business.  Nevertheless, he felt guilty when James addressed him directly.  "Are you up for it?" he asked, his expression positively aglow with the prospect of mischief.

Utterly lost on the conversation, he was somewhat mollified by the opportunity to present blind allegiance and agreed to whatever it was that James had suggested much to Remus's apparent dismay.  "I suppose that means I'll be going for an excessively long walk this evening," he lamented.

Getting down to the dungeons with James at two thirty in the morning without being spotted by a restless professor or a patrolling Auror was one thing.  Doing it with a crate of fireworks floating between them and a hand drawn schematic was another matter all together.  To boot, the round about route they had to take to avoid Filch and Mrs. Norris had them doubling back as often as they were moving forward, James' eyes never leaving the map.

When they reached their destination - the blank wall that gave way to a long hallway, the Slytherin common room at it's end - Sirius nudged the crate further into the corridor, stopping it mere millimeters from the cold stone.  "How did you get the password?" he asked under his breath, half shocked, half surprised. 

He mouthed the words "first year" before stepping through the suddenly gaping hole in the wall.

The light, artificial and green, did nothing to improve the dank atmosphere.  The air, perhaps due to it's proximity to the lake - was thick and heavy.  There was a flavor to it when it hit his tongue and it had all the olfactory appeal of an antique store - rotting wood, millenias of old dust and silver polish.

It reminded him, in short, of his parent's house.  Idly, he wondered if Regulus had stashed a few of the old elf heads hanging on his dormitory walls.

"Charming place, this," James muttered, consulting the map one more time before stepping out into the empty common area. 

It wasn't the first time they'd snuck their way into this particular portion of the castle - they'd short-sheeted Snape's bed more times than anyone could count - but, perhaps because each of them had such happy associations with Hogwarts, it was hard to imagine that a room such as this one existed within it's confines. 

"Reminds me a bit of home, actually," Sirius observed, shrugging his shoulders and tugging the cloak off of the crate and pulling a piece of tattered parchment out of his pocket.  "We should start with the whiz-bangs and work our way up..."

Rigging an intricate, time delayed, domino effect and, most importantly, destructive display of wizarding explosives took the better part of two hours.  How they were fortunate enough to keep the common room empty that long was a miracle on an order that wouldn't occur to either of them for years, but they didn't stop until the crate had been emptied of all but it's tissue packaging, Sirius stuffing the final firework between the teeth of an angry looking bust.

"Family friend?" James asked, running a trip cord across the floor for the first sleepy student who stumbled out of their room in the morning. 

"Now you mention it, yes," Sirius replied with a smirk, gesturing to the name plate - Phineas Nigellus, former Headmaster, dark sympathizer and phantom Black family member.

"Merlin, I hope Snape is an early riser," James joked on the return trip.  They were lax, wands down, map blank as the navigated the corridors and passages from memory, discussing absolutely nothing at all.

"Personally, I'm hoping Regulus has a hard time sleeping tonight," Sirius mused, cracking a sinister grin.

"That wouldn't be bad either, but I'm still hoping it's Snivillus.   Just the picture in my head is satisfying..."

Neither of them said anything for a while, the silence settling in.  Sirius meant to reply with more than an absent laugh but he couldn't muster anything to say.  James, it would seem, was similarly afflicted so they listened to nothing but the sounds of their footfalls echoing off the walls until they were back above ground.  "We would have gone with you, you know," he said finally, glancing back to check Sirius' reaction.

His family, his Uncle's funeral and the night he spent in Hogsmeade with Lily were three things he didn't want to talk about.  "I know," he answered without elaboration.

James let it drop, picking the conversation up with something he knew Sirius would talk about at exhausting length - music. 

"Going to bed?" he interrupted to ask when they made it into the common room.

Though the weight of a twenty-two hour day was beginning to bear down upon him, the prospect of going to sleep held no appeal and Sirius waived James off, going upstairs only long enough to grab a handful of albums out of his trunk and barreling back down the stairs. 

In the light of the common room, rifling through the stack, the bootleg he'd gone into London to buy a little over a month ago caught his eye.  As if his friends, his brother, Dumbledore, James' family and the entire population of Hogwarts staring and whispering hadn't been enough, the fading scar in the mirror served as a daily reminder.  Tipping the sleeve, he put it on the turntable and set the needle before slouching onto the nearest sofa, rotating the cover in his hands.  

It was stained with blood and whiskey, one color seeping into the edges of another.  How a night of

He started at it for what must have been an hour.  The fire in the grate was crackling out, the record popping and scratching uselessly as it spun past it's playable area but it wasn't those sounds that called him out of his musings, rather it was Lily on the stairs, clearing her throat.  "You're up early," she said in a whisper, pulling her sweater tighter around herself.

"Haven't been to bed," he replied, getting up to put another log on top of the dying embers, abruptly aware of how cold he'd let it become.

"I forgot, you're a rebel."

"Nothing a man likes better than being patronized," he muttered.

"Nothing a girl likes better than waking up with leaves in her hair and a hangover."

"Now you're blaming me for that?" he inquired, raising an eyebrow and picking up the album to shuffle it back into the stack. 

Lily grinned, opening her mouth to make a smart remark but stopped herself - the words choking off in her throat as she followed his movements back to the album sleeve.   "Another recommendation?" she asked, pulling it out of the pile slowly - almost certain he was going to snatch it out of her hands.

He didn't. 

Searching his psyche for the impulse to stop her, he found only resignation and, somewhere in the depths of his mind, perhaps a sense of relief as she picked at the droplet of blood obscuring the R, chipping it away with her fingernail. 

"Sirius, what happened to your forehead?"

"A minor disagreement with the light fixture," he replied evasively - finding that he left out the details more for her well-being than his.  He expected her to ask again and was surprised when she didn't - further when she reached up to stroke her fingertips across his scar instead.  "Lily," he whispered as she let them drift over his eyelid and cheek, tickling the sensitive, new skin.  "Are you trying to give me the wrong impression?"

"Maybe the right one," she teased.

"Really then?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. 

Lily drew back at once, mortified.  "You would like that, wouldn't you?" she replied, trying to maintain her composure.  Despite her best efforts, her sudden squirming wasn't lost on him and she started fussing with her clothes as if her life depended on it. 

Before she could pick a hole in the hem of her shirt, the telltale signs of other students waking up  in the floors above began to filter down, calling their moment to a close.  "I should..." she started to say, trailing off in the face of Sirius' smirk.  "I'll see you at breakfast?"

"Evans," he said as she turned to leave, grabbing her by the wrist.  When she whirled around, her pony tail brushing over her shoulders, he caught her face with his free hand and pulled her toward him, kissing her hard on the mouth.  He lingered only for a second, barely long enough breathe in the sweet citrus smell of her skin before letting her go and stepping away.  "I'll keep that in mind."

Chapter 10: Ten
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Lily took the steps back up to her dorm two at a time and didn't come back down until she had a half-dozen friends to hide behind.

James, Peter and Remus were already heckling his slow progress toward the portrait hole when she reappeared.  "Sirius, you're a fine mate but your sense of timing is deplorable.  If you want to wax philosophical over the finer points of an album called 'Spunk' you'll have to do it after breakfast," James ordered, flicking the tuner arm back to unseat the record. 

"Okay, lets be gentle with the demo's, hmm?" Sirius suggested, smacking James' hand away to replace it in the sleeve.  From the corner of his eye, he watched Lily's progress through the common room, grinning when he caught her stealing a glance in his direction.

"You're awfully chipper this morning," Remus observed, catching the portrait of the Fat Lady before it could swing closed behind the girls. 

"There is mischief afoot," he replied, ignoring Remus' particularly penetrating gaze.

"Is that all?" Remus inquired. 

He hadn't really expected an answer and it was for the better, because Sirius had no intention of offering him one.  Fortunately for both of them though, James interjected before Sirius had the opportunity to say something glib, gesturing toward a handful of Slytherin second years or, more directly, at their singed robes and distinct lack of eyebrows. "It is always cheering when something goes according to plan."

Following James' gaze, Remus rolled his eyes.  "There certainly won't be any fall out from this," he muttered to no one in particular before sliding onto one of the benches at their table.  Ahead of him by a few feet, the gaggle of girls took their seats as well, Lily casting Sirius a sidelong glance before sitting down, rushing crimson and looking away when she realized she'd been caught. 

Across the Great Hall, nearly half of Slytherin house was missing and those that were present certainly looked worse for the wear.  There was soot on ever collar and a healthy number of burn marks in all of their robes.  As he ran his eyes down the table, taking in the carnage, Sirius crossed eyes with his brother - Regulus looking pointedly back at him.  The stared at one another for a fraction of a second, a tiny, wry, Black smile creeping across Regulus' face before he raised his glass and nodded in his brothers direction, returning to his conversation.  Sirius smirked. 

"Any sign of Snivellus?" he asked, turning his attention back to his own company.

"Not yet," Peter replied.  "If we're all terribly lucky, maybe he'll have been seriously injured."

The sadistic grin hadn't yet faded from Peter's lips when Remus reached across the table, pointing toward a greasy haired figure they all recognized, making his way to the breakfast table.

"Oy! Snape!" Sirius shouted, picking up a roll and tossing it across the room.  It bounced unevenly off of his shoulder, landing in a pitcher of pumpkin juice with a resounding 'plunk.'  "What happened?"

"That went well, I think," James quipped as the stone gargoyle outside of Dumbledore's office resumed it's stoic post.

"We all got a month's worth of detentions!" Peter exclaimed, his voice high and squeaky.  "What about that seems to have gone well?"

James rolled his eyes and clapped Sirius on the shoulder.  "What shall we get into now?" he asked, grinning widely and obviously ignoring Peter.

"I think Charms is the next thing on our agenda," Remus pointed out, gesturing toward his watch.

"It's too late to go to Charms now," James argued.

"We're barely half an hour late," Remus protested

They were well on their way to a full length argument when Sirius begged off to go back to the common room.  Once inside, he collapsed into his bed still fully dressed, vaguely aware that he should set an alarm before falling asleep but lacking any interest in actually getting up to do so. 

He slept not only through the duration of Charms, but also through his subsequent free period and the vast majority of lunch before Remus, either taking pity on him or as a safeguard to his Prefect badge, came to rouse him for History of Magic. 

"Come off it, Remus.  You have to admit, it was one of our better efforts," Sirius mumbled from inside of his trunk, searching for a tie.

"I'm not saying it was unimpressive, but it might have been nice if you could have resisted the urge to openly gloat.  Some of us aren't fond of spending our evenings scraping Droobles off of the stands with spatulas or polishing the armor."

"We're all fond of polishing the armor," Sirius corrected with a grin, tucking in his shirt.

"Because that's precisely what I meant," Remus replied sarcastically, picking up a text book off of the bed and tossing it to Sirius before heading down the stairs into the common room.  "Speaking of polishing things - I don't suppose you're going to tell me what is going on between you and Lily Evans?" he asked as they climbed through the portrait hole.

Sirius bristled at once.  "Well that was about as subtle as a ton of circus clowns."

"No more or less well executed than your clandestine whatever the hell it is.  She was with you the other night, wasn't she?" he pressed when he got no reply.

There were really only three approaches to a question like that - leaving, lying and launching an outright attack.  Since none of them appealed to Sirius at the moment, he opted for a fourth option - indignation.  "And if she was?" he asked, shifting his bag from one shoulder to the other.  "Am I going to get a lecture about corrupting the pure at heart?"

"I was going more for 'skulking around with the girl your best friend has had a crush on since the first year', personally."

"She followed me."

"You invited her," he argued.

Sirius stopped in his tracks, rounding on Remus with such violence he was sure it betrayed far more than he intended it to.  "Do you have spies in the common room or something?" he asked, eyebrows raised.

The glared at each other for a few moments before simultaneously erupting in laughter. 

Tension broken, the rest of their walk to History of Magic passed somewhat more convivially with Remus sprinkling bits of sage advice into the conversation rather than beating Sirius over the head with it.  With a much firmer grip on the Giant Extermination of 1403 or, at least, much lengthier notes on the subject, the Gryffindors made their way down to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom in a clump.  "Who would have thought anyone could make the systematic execution of massive magical creatures sound dull," James remarked, catching up with them.

"Binns could make anything seem dull," Alfred remarked from behind them.  Peter nearly jumped out of his skin.

Alfred was short, squatish and just a little too...something to be likable.  He did all right with the Hufflepuffs but, among his own house, he was nearly invisible.  Perhaps that was why he was so easy to forget.  Either way, he hadn't been greeted with anything but a start since the third year. 

Despite his general disinterest, Sirius felt bad for him when they made their way - straggling behind everyone else by a few minutes - into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom to find that Lily had forsaken her usual table mate, Severus Snape, in favor of Molly Archer.  Alfred, on the other hand, barely registered the difference, taking the empty seat next to Snape without complaint.

"There is something off about him," James observed while they dug out their text  books, taking a seat next to Sirius.

"Like he's taken a few too many bludgers to the head, you mean?"


Before the conversation could continue, Professor DeMimsy began the lesson, splitting them off into groups and shuffling the desks off to the side.  "Wands out and at the ready," she ordered, wandering amongst the ranks and correcting form where necessary.  "Most wizards will tell you that the key to a proper stunning spell is aim.  They, unfortunately for them, would be wrong.  When it comes to stopping your opponent in his tracks and keeping him there, the technique is everything."

Taking anything seriously, even when the skill would likely turn out to be a matter of life and death, was difficult when your ominous opponent was your best friend.  In the six years since Sirius' first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson, things had taken a turn toward the the morbid, the murky and the macabre.  Voldemort...He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named...The Dark Lord, whatever one wanted to call him - his rise to power had driven a manic kind of determination into the hearts of most of the student body.  Throughout the room, people paired off and shot spells at one another with a sense of desperation that turned his stomach.  For Sirius, the difference between right and wrong - between good and evil - had always been distinct.  Then, with an example of cruelty so fine as his own father, the deck might have been stacked a bit.  Still, the change in everyone else was palpable.  He supposed, watching Molly holding her wand at the ready, waiting for the moment when she would need to repel Lily's attack, that it boded well for the future that there were so many people willing and ready to fight, but as he glanced in the other direction - his eyes settling on Alfred as he prepared to fire a spell of his own at Snape - he wondered if Snape was really practicing his ability to rebuff defensive techniques more than anything else.

He didn't have long to wonder.  Professor DeMimsy gave the order to switch roles a few minutes later and everyone exchanged places.  "Mr. Black, either you're an excellent hand at defense or Mr. Potter needs to stay after class," she remarked as she passed, reaching out to unlock his elbow.  Before she could touch him, a flash of red light was soaring across the classroom - Snape shooting a stunning spell so strong that it knocked Alfred clear across the room, past the neat stack of cushions and against the cold stone of the wall at his back.  The next crack of sound was that of Professor DeMimsy reprimanding Snape and taking his wand, followed by the fall of twenty individual shoes on the floor as the students rushed to surround their fallen fellow. 

Over the heads of the crowd, Sirius could see Lily at his side, barking at people to back away in one breath and cooing at him in the next.  He tried to get up but Remus intervened, kneeling down to help keep him calm until Professor DeMimsy could get near enough to look him over.

Injuries at Hogwarts were common and, while often severe, there were few things Madame Pomfrey couldn't mend.  Still, the resounding crack his skull had made when it collided with the stone had everyone on edge.  Even Snape milled about nervously while a stretcher was conjured out of thin air and the boy was gingerly lifted onto it.

"I didn't mean..." Snape stammered at LIly as she shoved her things back into her bookbag.

Sirius observed their conversation from the other side of the room, waiting for James and Peter to round up their own belongings.  Behind him, they too muttered darkly, milling over the odds that the force of his spell had been intentional.

"Of course you didn't mean to hurt him," she spat back, nearly upending an ink bottle in her haste.  "You were angry with James or Remus or Sirius and you just accidentally almost killed Alfred.  That's not good enough, Severus."

If her temper had been intended to lessen his aggression toward them, it failed.  Mere seconds after she stormed out of the classroom, her footsteps fading away toward the hospital wing, he was back to glaring at Sirius.

"We should go and see if he is okay," Remus prompted, the significance in his glance unmistakable.

"Half the house is up there already," James argued, thinking more of his dinner than anything else.

Conventionally, Sirius would have reminded him how many points his kindness might have scored him but the afternoon walk with Remus made him hesitate, changing his approach all together.  "Yeah, but we're his roommates," he pointed out instead, turning toward the door.

Snape bristled.

"Something to say to me?" Sirius asked, stopping to look at him.

"Not to them," Snape replied, gesturing to his friends. 

James took two combative steps forward but Sirius waived him off.  When they were gone, he turned his attention back to Snape, relaxing against a nearby cabinet.  "And?" he prompted after a few seconds silence.

"Stay away from Lily," he growled.

The words were meant to be intimidating but, with so many comical memories, he couldn't bring himself to be frightened by the likes of Snape.  Certainly, he could brew up a potion that might knock out half the castle and, given his recent display of force, he might even make a worth opponent but there was a cowardice about him - a readiness for defeat that defined the outcome of his every endeavor before he embarked on it.

"Or what?" Sirius asked.  "You'll slick down the stairs ahead of me with a flip of your hair?"

"What do you want with her anyway?" he asked, ignoring the oft relied upon insult.

Sirius smirked.  "I want what anyone wants - a bit of snogging and, if things are really jammy, perhaps a bit more." The longer Sirius talked, the redder Snape seemed to turn.  "It's a bit odd, seeing color on your skin," Sirius remarked, straightening up to leave.  He gave Snape a moment to stop him but he seemed to be too furious to speak.  When he rounded the corner in the hall, Remus popped up in front of him from nowhere.  "Merlin, you are learning to sneak about," Sirius exclaimed, startled.

Remus smiled sheepishly.  "I...uh...sorry," he said lamely before regaining himself.  "I begged off to make sure you both left with the correct number of attached pieces," he lied, matching Sirius' longer stride.

"No you didn't."

"Fine," he admitted, annoyed.  "I lied.  I begged off because I have a secret love of listening to you two dolts argue."  When Sirius didn't answer, he pressed on again, the sarcasm fading long before the last word was out.  "How much of that did you mean?"

"If you're hear to protect Lily's precious honor, I think she'll die right here on the spot."

"I'm not defending anyone's anything," he whispered, eying a passing Ravenclaw warily.  "James is your friend and if this is just...that then you really need to reconsider your priorities."

"I"m sorry," Sirius teased, grabbing the Fat Lady's frame and giving her the password.  "Which of those pronouns was a euphemism for a game of slap 'n' tickle?"

Remus blushed but pressed on anyway, following Sirius into the nearly empty common room. 

Sirius dropped his books onto the table next to the albums he'd abandoned this morning.  It had been twelve hours since his conversation with Lily - less than twelve hours since he'd impulsively kissed her.  He'd scarcely had time to consider what intentions - if any - he had for her and he was already being interrogated by interested parties.  "She has quite the mouth on her," he muttered to no one in particular.

"I wouldn't know," Remus replied, rising to the perceived indelicacy.

"Huh?  No, I meant she talks too much.  For fucks sake, man..."

Chapter 11: eleven
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Dumbledore's limitless creativity seemed to have met it's match in the abilities of James, Peter, Remus and Sirius to generate a need for detentions. It seemed to Sirius, when he was sent off to the hospital wing after dinner that Dumbledore had given up all together. Madame Pomfrey, on the other hand, hadn't run out of new and uniquely unpleasant forms of penance. It wasn't until he got back to the dormitory ad found it empty that he realized he'd gotten off easy.

He'd spent the better part of the evening trying to make conversation with a partially lucid Alfred to keep him awake so the quiet of the empty room was a relief. Leaning back against the stack of pillows on his bed, he rummaged in his nightstand for this morning's post. Andromeda's letters no longer came with wax seals as they once had. Now, she dropped her notes into flimsy paper envelopes, her ornate handwriting lacking it's usual flourish in the thin, straight lines only achieved with a pen.

He read it twice without really grasping it's contents, not because his mind was teeming with other thoughts but rather because his mind was entirely blank - devoid of anything substantive. By the time anyone came in, he'd abandoned the letter in favor of meditative silence somewhere between waking and sleep. Opening his eyes, he expected to find Remus or Peter, up to their elbows in silver polish.

Lily was, as always, a surprise.

"Can I help you?" he asked, sitting up and raising an eyebrow. The words came out colder than he'd intended them to but she seemed to be prepared for that, unfazed by his rudeness.

She had a stack of albums pressed to her chest and she gestured to them sheepishly, taking a few more steps into the room. "You left these in the common room," she managed, trying to be aloof rather than embarrassed and failing at both.

Sirius smirked in spite of himself and got up to take them from her - his 'thank you' sounding far more genuine than his earlier rebuke. "Making up excuses to see me are you?"

"No, I... Where is everyone?" she asked after an awkward pause, idly fidgeting with the cuff of her sweater again.

"Detention," he answered blithely, trying to make his smile seem gentle. He'd felt guilty for what his flirtation with her might do to James but the impact it was so obviously having on her was comical. Lily was neither shy nor unsure of herself and it was amusing to watch how dramatically a change in his mood could influence her. "I got stuck in the hospital wing but I think Madame Pomfrey just sent me away because I was annoying her."

"Imagine that," she teased, permitting herself the tiniest of smiles before starting in on a rambling excuse for her presence. "I only came to bring those up...I should let you get back to whatever criminal activity you're planning for this weekend."

She hesitated for a fraction of a second and, before he could stop himself, he was speaking on impulse again. "Do you want to come along? Nothing exceptionally criminal, I promise."

The odds that either James or Remus would kill him for this were about ten to one, he mused. The odds that he'd be serving detentions for the entire term if someone caught him sneaking her out of the castle were at least twice as bad. Nevertheless, he couldn't bring himself to care when he caught a glimpse of her in the common room at almost midnight, in her jeans and t-shirt, looking entirely the part of the uncorrupted youth.

"Where are we going?" she asked when he pulled her into a passage way she'd never been down before.

"At the moment or in general?" he inquired, glancing over his shoulder automatically even though it was too dark to see her face.

"I'd settle for either piece of information, really," she whined, following along with petulantly heavy footsteps.

Her feeble complaints persisted throughout their trip out of the castle and off of the grounds but she quieted down momentarily when he hailed the Knight Bus. Its, some might say, seedy operator gave her a once over, clearly aware that she was a student out of bounds but never said a word, Sirius dropping a few extra coins into the box.

"What is this?" she asked as they passed a half-dozen bolted down beds in pursuit of the stairwell to the upper deck.

"It's the Knight Bus," he replied, temporarily dumbfounded. It was easy to forget, he supposed, that she wasn't, like him, raised in the wizarding world and that things as mundane as the Knight Bus would be entirely foreign to her.

"And how do you know one of them wont say that they saw us?" she asked imperiously, her gait slowing as she inspected the hanging chandelier and the half dozen beds bolted firmly to the floor.

Sirius rolled his eyes, answering her question with an air of superiority he knew would infuriate her. "Because I bribe him on a semi-regular basis."

It had the intended impact and she swatted at the back of his shoulder, coming up the stairs behind him by a few steps. "Sirius Black! How could you?!"

"Evans!" he barked, rounding on her at the top of the stairs, his brow furrowed with irritation. "Girl Scout."

"Fine," she grumbled, taking the last few steps a second too slowly. Before she could slide onto the bench seat next to him, the driver was taking off - the bus lurching forward without warning. The force was enough to set her off her balance and she clutched at the nearest solid object to stop herself from falling over completely.

When she righted herself, he was laughing unabashedly.

"You're a git," she grumbled seconds later, sliding into the bench seat next to him.

"I didn't realize I was dealing with someone who doesn't have a cursory grasp of physics," he teased, resting an arm across the back of the seat.

She glowered at him instead of answering, kicking the seat in front of them as if it had run over her cat. "Will you at least tell me where we're going?" she asked acerbically, unable to come up with anything else to say.

"Don't pout. Not knowing where you're going is supposed to be half of the fun."

"Well that was unpleasant," she announced twenty minutes later, stepping gingerly onto the curb.

"You seem to say that a lot in my company," he remarked, guiding her down the sidewalk.

Somehow, she resisted the urge to ask where they were going, but her curiosity was sated soon enough, Sirius jumping a railing ahead of her and flinging open the heavy wooden door. A cacophony of sound and light streamed onto the sidewalk when he did - the burst of air that followed it thick with smoke of several varieties.

Sirius watched her from the corner of his eye, gauging her reaction as they walked into the pub. She seemed fairly nonplussed, her focus turned to the tiny raised stage that was responsible for the uneven noise. He had to call her name twice to get her attention long enough to hand her a drink.

"Sirius, I'm not sure I should be dri-"

"It's club soda," he replied without further explanation, inhaling his own somewhat less innocuous beverage and replacing it on the bar to be refilled.

She hung back a bit when someone she didn't know emerged from behind the drum kit and leapt over an amp to say hello, clapping Sirius on the back with an unmistakable familiarity. "Haven't seen you 'round in a while, ya tosser."

"I haven't been around in a while," Sirius replied.

They chatted for a few minutes more, forgetting Lily almost entirely until she cleared her throat.

"Oy, who's this?" he asked, scratching the inside of his elbow absently while he surveyed her.

"This," Sirius answered, snaking the hand that wasn't occupied with his glass around her waist. "Is a Girl Scout."

"She does rather look it..." he remarked. Lily flushed predictably, eliciting a smirk from Sirius and an apology from his friend. "Don't sulk, love. It's a good look on you."

Lily clung to his side after that, uncomfortable in her surroundings until he directed his full attention back to her. If he were to endeavor to describe her expression, the only word he could think to use would be grimace. She looked tense and unhappy. "You're scowling, are you aware of that?"

"Vaguely," she replied tersely, rotating her empty glass in her hands.

Sirius observed her for a few seconds, considering whether or not he should offer to take her back to Hogwarts but she answered the question for him, snatching the glass out of his hand and emptying it with a similar gusto. His grin widened. "Can I get you another?"

Coming up with a magical means of transportation that was at least passably comfortable when inebriated was a task worth dedicating a lifetime to but surely he could cross the Knight Bus off of the list. It was nearly four am when they made their way out of the pub. By then, the majority of the crowd had dispersed but there were still a few stragglers, several of whom had passed out leaning against the building.

The crunch of dried leaves was noisy beneath their feet when he glanced in her direction again, her usually pale cheeks flushed, not with the embarrassment he was becoming so accustomed to but with nervous energy, excitement and alcohol. "Wasn't that a little fun?" he asked, elbowing her gently.

"It was," she answered, qualifying the statement before he could get a word in. "I might have enjoyed the prospect a bit more if I'd known where we were going."

Sirius scoffed, grinning nonetheless. There was a sort of pleasure in knowing that she'd enjoyed herself - something unfamiliar and difficult to place. Either that or the slight buzz was making him wax contemplative. "Really then? You'd have preferred it if I told you I was taking you to a seedy pub in London to see a band no one has ever heard of practice the same six songs in a constant rotation that would quickly degrade into an excuse for gratuitous drug and alcohol abuse by a bunch of degenerates like myself?" he inquired.

They walked a while longer in companionable silence before she spoke again, leaning heavily against his arm. In the distance, Gryffindor Tower was just visible, all of it's windows dark and she gestured toward it lamely. "I don't want to go back to the dorm..." she whispered, letting her head fall to rest on his shoulder.

"Not to be pedantic, but it's four in the morning."

"I doubt that's ever been a problem for you before," she pointed out, straightening herself back up again in an effort not to look tired.

"Of course not, but you're an amateur. By my math, you'll be completely knackered until dinner," he teased, only half-kidding.

"Why don't you let me worry about that?" she suggested, stopping where she stood to feign a great affront.

"And what would you propose I do with you in the meantime?" he asked, pulling her around to face him.

The question was loaded and they both knew it but when she didn't stop to consider her answer before issuing it, he caught himself trying to count the number of drinks she'd had against the number of hours they'd been gone. Was it five or six? Had she eaten something? Before he could weigh the averages, she was entwining her fingers with his and pulling him along a different path.

"Lily," he whispered, the words sounding gravel when she stopped just short of Madame Hooch's broom shed. "Do you have any idea what you're getting yourself into?"

"Don't you?"

"Good," he rumbled, pushing her roughly through the unlocked door and kicking it closed behind them.

There was a crash as a dozen or more ancient broomsticks clattered to the floor under the weight of her discarded jacket but neither of them paid them any mind. Under his fingertips, the cold of the evening disappeared from her skin, replaced with a feverish warmth. Her breaths, coming in fits and spurts - mere gulps of air when her lips weren't otherwise entangled with his, rose into wisps and curls above them, mingling with chinks of moonlight and upset dust.

It was a practiced hand that pulled her t-shirt over her head but he might have hesitated - might have stopped all together - had she not immediately returned her clumsy, frozen fingers to his belt buckle.

For this, James would kill him.

Over the years, there had been any number of times when Sirius was sure that James might kill him but, for this, there was no question - he was a dead man.

Remarkably, none of that seemed to matter much.

The tiny giggle when she backed into the work bench and the subsequent whimper when he pressed against her, the cold metal of his belt buckle shocking against the warmth of her skin - they were all consuming sounds, drowning out everything else.  It was a problem only compounded when she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer still.

"I'm only asking this once," he murmured, his fingers poised over the button on her jeans.  "Are you sure?"

Chapter 12: Twelve
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Definitely a dead man.

The stone wall was cool against his back when he leaned against it, struggling to regulate his blood pressure again.  Lily, still flushed, had managed to locate the vast majority of her clothing, despite the darkness but while she searched for her t-shirt, slivers of moonlight bent around her, hugging the contours of her torso as his hands had done mere minutes before. 

"Looking for this?" he asked, picking it up from amidst the tangle of his jacket, a handful of twig clippers an upset box of old quaffles.  He dangled it on the tip of his index finger, just outside her grasp.  When she reached up to take it from him, he grabbed her arm and pulled her into another kiss. 

"What was that for?" she asked when he released her, pulling her shirt on over her head and shaking her hair out.  Despite her best efforts to seem comfortable, she remained ever so slightly ill at ease - nervous in his presence.

"If I have to explain it, I'm losing my touch," he quipped, pulling on his jacket and kicking aside the quaffles so he could open the door. 

"That is not what I meant!" she chided.  The pitch of her voice picked up an octave or two like it always did when she was embarrassed but she struggled to modulate it, stubbornly refusing to let him get the best of her.  "Shouldn't we pick some of that up?" she asked, gesturing toward the open door and it's disheveled contents.

Stopping to let her catch up to him, he smirked unevenly.  "Girl scout."

Fall, it would seem, had slipped into winter during the few hours he'd been asleep and he swore a bit too loudly when he stepped out onto the grounds and directly into a puddle of muddy slush, surprised to find it snowing.  "It's fucking October!"

"If you hadn't slept through breakfast, you might have known that was going to happen," James quipped.  He was obliviously chipper as he always was when there was a quidditch match - far too eager to spend a freezing morning sitting fifty feet in the air.  Even Peter seemed to find him grating but while his silence was bought with friendship, Sirius' was motivated entirely by guilt.

Of all the varieties of weather that graced the Hogwarts grounds, snow was easily the least welcome.  Where the chill had felt invigorating last night, now it was simply cold but the castle remained stuffy as always.  Even if one could brave the extreme temperatures, there was still the actual snow to contend with - clinging to everything it touched.

"Who is playing again?" he asked, trying to sound interested in the answer.

Unfortunately, interest was the last thing he felt for the subject and he didn't realize he'd been tuning them out until he was knocking his boots off on the riser to dislodge the clumps of snow between the treads.  James picked a seat as far from McGongall as was possible and hunkered in.  The Hufflepuff and Slytherin stands were packed with onlookers but the showing of Gryffindor and Ravenclaw support was lacking in the face of the spontaneous temperature drop.  Still, pockets of students huddled under blankets, their every breath contributing to the haze fog hanging over the pitch.

As he scanned the crowd, a shock of red hair peeking out from beneath a knobbily knit hat caught his attention.  She was sitting a few rows ahead of them, clustered with a group of other Gryffindor girls over a steaming thermos of something warm.  As if she could feel the weight of his gaze on the back of her head, she turned to look at him and smiled, drawing one hand from beneath her checkered blanket to wave. 

Before he had the opportunity to let his mind wander too far into the realm of indecency, Peter was talking aain, scraping ice off of the bench with a chocolate frog card and complaining to James..  "We need to get you some warmer hobbies," he suggested, flicking a stray snowflake off the face of Hengist of Woodcroft.

"Always with the whinging," James lamented.  He checked to see if Professor McGonagall was looking before reaching into his jacket pocket and unearthing a familiar flask full of an even more familiar amber liquid.  He held it out for Remus to take but Sirius cut across him, unscrewing the lid and downing more than was probably practical at ten o'clock in the morning on a empty stomach and almost no sleep.

"A bit early for that, don't you think?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.

Sirius neglected to answer him, only passing it off to Peter when the game began.

When it ended, he was considerably warmer, if a little more unsteady on his feet.  If there was one thing to be said for Quidditch it would have to be that the game moved quickly - so quickly, in fact, that he'd been so engrossed in the game he forgot Lily and her friends a few rows in front of them until they were face to face.  Erin clambered up the stands to stop them, grinning widely.  The others followed a few seconds later, Lily included and Sirius wondered aloud if Remus might be able to ellucidate on their obvious pact mentality. 

"What are you four up to today?" Erin asked

James, Remus and Peter all answered her at once, their simultaneous response sounding more like "studrich" than they'd intended but Sirius, hanging a few paces behind them, had his eyes fixed on Lily.  What started as an attempt to discern whether or not she was still speaking to him - whether or not he had more than James' future discomfort to feel guilty over rapidly became something else when she let slip the tiniest of crooked grins before reminding Erin she had somewhere to be and pulling her off in the direction of the stairs.

He watched her leave, Lily mixing in with her friends almost immediately before rejoining his own surroundings.  "What is it that we intend to do today?"

Remus spent the next three hours casting significant glances in Sirius' direction when he thought no one was looking but he didn't catch Sirius alone until it was nearly dinner time.  With everyone else down in the common room and Alfred still laid up in the hospital wing, Sirius took the opportunity to be alone.  Solitude wasn't conventionally something he relished in - too many days spent this way in his youth taking all of the pleasure out of i, but it was a reprieve from the guilt he felt each time he looked at James so he elected to remain in the dormitory endeavoring to build a house of exploding snap cards.

When Remus cleared his throat, it promptly collapsed, triggering a series of explosions that left him with little more than a pile of ashes.

"Are you out of your ruddy mind?" he hissed, slamming the door behind himself.

"You aren't the first person to ask me that," Sirius quipped, directing a gentle stream of warm air from his wand tip to guide the pile of ashes back into the card box and giving it a hearty shake before pouring them back out onto his trunk again as cards.  "I'm thinking that can't bode well."

"You need to tell him," he urged, trying to ignore Sirius' more flippant response in favor of actually accomplishing what he'd come here to do.

"There isn't anything to tell," Sirius lied, setting a four of spades precariously atop the two of hearts.  It was the second time in so many days that he'd caught himself lying about Lily for no compelling reason.

Collapsing onto the foot of James' bed, Remus looked drown and exhausted.  "You're a dreadful liar when you feel bad about a think, Sirius.  You slept with her, didn't you?

"I wouldn't say that, no," he answered evasively

Remus observed him for a few moment before getting up again, hi expression set with some sort of resolve.  "I'm not going to tell him," he said before he left, a hand resting on the door knob.  "But I'm not going to lie for you either."

The sound of the door being slammed was still resonating off of the walls when he got up to follow.  "Sirius!" Peter exclaimed when he passed.  "Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"Dropped something this morning," he lied fluidly, not stopping.  "I just have to run back out and get it before Filch or Madam Hooch find it.  I'll see you at dinner."

Their vague objections filtered into the corridor when he swung the portrait hole open, startling a Ravenclaw second year so badly that the boy jumped, red faced and frightened.  "Oy, what are you doing skulking out here?" he asked gruffly.

"I...uh...I..." he stammered, blushing further.

Rolling his eyes, Sirius yanked the Fat Lady's frame open again, poking his head back into the common room.  "What's her name?" he asked, catching a student he knew by the shirt sleeve and gesturing toward the puffy eyed little girl, pouting in the corner.

"Amanda Holden, I think," he answered.

"Amanda!" Sirius shouted across the room, scaring her so badly she dropped her diary and spilled purple ink all over the table.  "You'd think I was wandering around with an axe or something," he muttered under his breath, gesturing for her to get up.  "There's someone here to see you."

He didn't stay long enough to see if she came out, sidestepping the now mortified boy.

The Hogwarts library was easily impressive.  If the architecture didn't hold any appeal, there were always the stacks - full to the bursting with books on every subject magical or muggle alike - but it wasn't knowledge he was looking for today.  Today, he was looking for Lily.

He leaned across Madame Pince's high counter and tried not to sound arrogant, cheeky, cavalier or any of the other things she'd called him over the years.  "I have an essay due for Professor Slughorn on fatal potions.  I need a few titles that are kept in the Restricted Section," he lied again, pulling a forged permission slip out of his pocket and handing it to her.

She scrutinized it carefully, even poking at it with her wand a time or two before reaching for her keys.  "Horace didn't mention any assignments that would require students to access the Restriction Section," she pointed out imperiously, eying him once more.

"It's extra credit work," he tried, misleading teachers having become second nature eons ago.  "To make up for an exam I missed for my Uncle's funeral."

Madame Pince hesitated only a moment more before coming around the counter to unlock the gate and letting him pass.  "Third isle, second shelf and remember, the Restricted Section closes at eight."

He ducked down the isle, pausing behind the massive shelf until her footsteps died out in the distance.  It took him less than a minute to find Lily, tucked into one of the enclosed desks, her quill scratching across her parchment feverishly.  Sirius crept forward, careful not to startle her as he did.  "Lily," he whispered, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle the scream.  "Shhh..."

"What the hell are you doing back here?" she asked when he let her go, furious.

"You looked like you wanted to see me," he answered blithely, leaning against the desk with deliberate nonchalance.  Lily rolled her eyes and slammed her book shut on his hand, smirking as she did.  "All right, fine," he managed, wincing and massaging his hand.  "I wanted to see you."

"Well now that I can believe," she teased, reaching up to seize his shirt collar and pulling him toward her, close enough to kiss.

"Evidently I made quite the impression last night," he laughed, straightening up.

It was strange for Sirius, how quickly their relationship had turned from a mild enmity to this...whatever it was.  He'd been aware since their inadvertently shared evening in Hogsmeade that Lily, despite her occasional assertions to the contrary, was not a girl who would take kindly to being toyed with.  Had the thought crossed his mind last night, he might have had the good sense to stop himself all together before running the risk of hurting her but she was pleasant to be around.  There was no word for it other than to say that he enjoyed her presence - the innocence, the ignorance or nothing at all.  Still, she may not have been the sort to be toyed with but he was no more ready to be what she needed either.

Now, tucked away from prying eyes in the middle of the nearly silent library, he couldn't seem to bring himself to say what he had come to say. 

Her words interrupted his musings before he could follow the line any further.  "I didn't tell anyone," she volunteered, staring down at the back of her book sheepishly.

"I didn't imagine you would," he replied, metering his words carefully.

"I just know...with James...things might be difficult for you."

Sirius let out a hollow chuckle and ran his hand through his hair, staring off into the distance.  "Lily, I don't think 'difficult' begins to describe it."

"That's sort of what I meant," she added, her tone a little lighter.

It occurred to him that the uptick he was hearing wasn't relaxation or happiness, it was hope.  He'd come here, yes at Remus' near constant prodding, but he'd come nonetheless, to tell her - to try to make her understand - that he'd taken advantage, that he was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again.  Instead, he found himself brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and trying to assuage her fears. 

Cheered, he supposed by his unintentional encouragement, she piled her books into a stack and stood up, smiling again.  "What are we doing next weekend?"

Chapter 13: thirteen
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Authors Note: I'm posting this chapter, not because I think it is good, but because it's necessary.  I've had a hard time filling the empty space that was chapter thirteen and I by no means think this is a great thing to have, but it is, at least, filler and, if we can all be honest about that, I think we'll make it through :P

Madam Pince eyed Sirius suspiciously when the gate creaked open, his arms conspicuously empty.  "Find everything you were looking for Miss Evans?" she asked, making notes in her ledger before handing the books back to Lily.  "And you Mr. Black, did you find everything you needed."

"I have my notes right here," he lied, patting pocket.

Free from her watchful gaze, Lily dropped back a few steps, falling into line with his meandering gait.  "Are you going back to the common room?"

"At some point," he replied.  "We should talk,"

He'd reached out to stop her but it was an unnecessary gesture - the weight in his tone had been more than enough to do the job for him.  "Sirius, I'm fine - I really am.  You don't need to feel guilty."

Her body language ran contrary to her words - the vice-like grip she had on her books betraying every ounce of her fears - but he smirked anyway, finding the desire to comfort her far more compelling than that for truth.  "It isn't you I feel guilty over, Lily," he promised, all too aware that those were almost the words she wanted to hear.

"James then?" she prompted, bristling a little.

Of all the many directions he could have taken the conversation and their disparate and varied outcomes, the absolute worst thing he could have done was to roll his eyes.  Naturally, that was precisely what he did.  Her response was predictable and angry, a red flush working its way to the roots of her hair almost instantly.

Sirius cut her off before she could say anything - interjecting his own tirade over the one about to come from her.  "Don't you go getting into a twist.  James is my best mate and I can't lie to him."

"That might have been something to think about last night," she suggested bitterly.

"You knew exactly what you were getting into," he replied coldly, the volume of their conversation rising with each word.

"I did," she said, her tone matter of fact, though still an octave or two higher than he might have preferred.  "You're the one who seems to be confused."

"I'm not interested in arguing with you - I'm telling you, I'm not lying to him," he hissed through clenched teeth, eying a cluster of passing students warily.

Lily didn't share his desire for discretion, glaring at him for a few seconds before finally letting out a long steadying breath.  “And you think this is fair to me, then?”

He hesitated, not following the convoluted line of thinking that had brought her to this particular argument.  “What do you-”

“I'm not one of your conquests to be chatted about with the boys, Sirius.  No matter what, I'd think I've at least earned a little more respect from you than that.”

“That isn't what I meant and you know it," he replied, rolling his eyes again.

“Of course it isn't.  You just don't think."

Exhaustion caught him by surprise as he made his way toward the Great Hall, settling in and turning his legs into lead without regard for the second meal he would miss that day or the fact that it was the common room Lily had been heading for when she stalked away from him.  Doubling back, he collapsed onto his mattress, completely certain that if he'd had to remain awake for even another minute he might have fallen over in the hallway.  When he awoke, it was to the sounds of hushed voices whispering back and forth.

"What do you think it is?" Remus was asking.


Sirius opened his eyes a crack, a cloud of bleary confusion still wrapping his consciousness.  Remus was peaking out the window nervously - as if he was afraid someone on the other side might be looking back at him.  James did the same, but with somewhat less apprehension

"That's an unusual amount of disinterest for you," Remus remarked, letting the heavy drapes fall closed. 

"It's not disinterest," James replied, thumping the foot of Sirius's bed without warning.  "But there's no point in speculating when you can find out first hand."

"Telling you I don't give a damn would be pointless right now?" Sirius grumbled, getting up despite his protests.

Ten minutes later, the only sound was the crunch of snow under their feet as they made their way down the steep, cobbled steps to Hagrid's hut and the source of the flickering purple light.  Peter had scarcely stopped complaining since they broke out onto the grounds.  First, it had been over the noise Sirius's untied shoe laces made when they collided with the stone floor. (Sirius had taken this opportunity to point out that he would have taken the time to tie his boots if he hadn't been dragged out of his bed against his will.)  Next, he started complaining about the path James had chosen - a direct route to the perimeter of the forest.  "Why don't you do something useful and cover our tracks," Sirius suggested.

"You do realize that they'd see us ages before anyone would pick up our footprints in this mess," James asked under his breath.

"Mostly I just wanted him to shut the hell up," Sirius replied, not bothering to keep his voice down.  The argument with Lily was long forgotten but the agitation left in its wake was not and even James was grating on his nerves.  Fortunately for all of them, Hagrid's hut was in sight, the light and a new crackling sound coming from the back garden. 

Gesturing for silence, Sirius drew his wand and ducked under a tree branch, hugging the edge of the forest as he crept around to a spot behind the snow covered pumpkin patch.  Peering through the frozen vines, he caught a glimpse of two figures.  Hagrid was impossible to miss in any setting.  Even hunched over as he was now, Hagrid was easy to pick out but the other man wasn't identifiable.

Motioning for the other three, Sirius strained his ears, trying to hear their conversation but caught little more than a few bars of drunken singing. 

"Anyone you recognize?" Remus asked, looking at James.

James shook his head, inching a few steps closer.  "He's getting pissed with Hagrid, what are you expecting, the Minister's Under Secretary just back from dinner and dancing with my parents?"

"He's not from school," Peter added, trying to be helpful but stepping on a twig instead.

"No shit," Sirius spat, straightening up.  "Oy, Hagrid!" he shouted, emerging from the treeline and into the open.

Hagrid jumped, rounding on the boys at once, his umbrella brandished like a red hot fire poker.  "Who is that?" he exclaimed, his already heavy accent slurring the words into a single sound.

"It's just us, you big oaf," James shouted, following Sirius into the garden closer to the fire.

"What are these?" Hagrid's companion asked suspiciously.

"Students that shouldn't be out of bed after hours."

Sirius rolled his eyes, threading his way though the brambles to take a closer look at the fire.  "The purple is a bit conspicuous, don't you think?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.  The vivid light was blinding in the otherwise dark night but at the core of the flames, something gelatinous seemed to be shifting unnaturally - alive and active.

"Purple means its working," the stranger interjected, obviously offended.

"What is it, Hagrid?" Remus inquired, his guarded interest poorly cloaked with sincerity only he could pull off.

"It's none of your business, is what it is," he chided, his cheeks turning even redder under scrutiny.  He milled about a moment more before gesturing for them to come closer.  "If you lot are going to stay, you might as well make yourselves comfortable.  There's a pot or the stove and the tea is in the cupboard."

"I'll turn you down on the tea, Hagrid - but I'm sure our silence could be bought if you shared that bottle of firewhiskey," James offered, extending a hand to take the bottle.

Hagrid considered him for a moment before handing it over, muttering something disparaging all the while.

"My head hurts," Peter complained.  At five am, there were already a handful of over-zealous students wandering the stacks in the library with piles of books and parchment - seventh years mostly - but it gave the boys someone to mix in with when a wandering Auror passed so Sirius wasn't about to protest.  James, on the other hand, found a retaliatory complaint ready at hand.

"Your head hurts?" he scoffed.  "Hagrid just let something loose in the lake, Sirius polished off an entire bottle of whiskey without sharing and you're going to complain about having a headache?"

The slow demise of not one but two bottles of cheap booze around the crackling magical fire that had the potential to be either a great harbinger of doom or nothing at all gave way to the slow demise of a similar quantity of mead around Hagrid's massive table and that, as it was bound to do, gave way to dozing fits of sleep.  Their napping wasn't interrupted until Fang's eager scraping at the door began to register as whining and then to rumbling growls.

"Would you shut up?" Remus asked irritably.

"Someone is nursing a hangover," James remarked, clapping him hard on the back just to be obnoxious.  "Let's distract you with something," he suggested, glancing back at Sirius.  "We should put together a party in Hogsmeade tonight."

"Why?" Peter interjected.

The conversation had drifted into the realm of the banal - James and Peter verbally sparring either for sport or because Peter really was that daft.  Regardless, Sirius' ears pricked at the prospect of a diversion.  Hagrid's curious creature proved to be rather dull after the initial interest wore off and now he was faced with another day of doing his best to avoid encountering Lily and James in the same room.  Doing absolutely anything else seemed like an excellent alternative. 

"There's the park at the end of the lane," Remus suggested half-heartedly.  "No one ever seems to notice us there."

"No one ever notices the four of us there," he corrected.  "There's the shack."

Remus bristled at once - his response cold and final.  "It's too dangerous, James.  Dumbledore spread those rumors for a four legged reason."

"You don't think we could get away with doing something at the Hogs Head, do you?" Peter asked, throwing himself into the middle of the argument to ease the tension.

"There's always the Grenning house."

Sirius floated the idea tentatively, hesitant to even mention it.  Where the rest of the school and a good number of the villagers feared the supposed spirits inhabiting the Shrieking Shack, it was the unassuming house on the very outskirts of Hogsmeade that chilled his blood.  The Grenning house had been a thing of legend in their younger years - the crazed, crochety old coot who hexed anyone who dared to wander onto his property yet he was tolerated - spoken of with a respect that bordered on reverence by the entire community.  His sudden and inexplicable disappearance rocked the tiny town - the first among what would become many people who disappeared under The Dark Lord's reign. 

Perhaps it was the somber tone to the Professor's lectures or the presence of Aurors in the castle or the sinister headlines, but his suggestion was met with a round of eager agreement and, venue decided, they'd set out to do something they'd done so many dozens of times before.  There was catharsis in executing the familiar - in sneaking into Slughorn's office and relieving him of a few bottles of his best stock and bewitching bits of parchment to whiz about the corridors and common rooms. 

He'd nearly forgotten he was tired by the time Peter and James appeared in the common room, whinging about lunch.  And he'd forgotten about Lily all together until she appeared at his side.  "Are you planning a party?" she asked pointedly. 

She marched down the house table with an authoritative air that never ended well for anyone.  That she was already angry with him did nothing to improve his outlook on the outcome. That she was angry with him, looking purposeful and in what could best be defined as mixed company made the muscles in his hands tense involuntarily - gripping his fork with more force than was necessarily rational.  "Are you upset because you didn't get an invitation?" he asked blithely. 

"Are you under some misapprehension that I won't tell Professor McGonagall if you offer me one?" she fired back, still determined.

"Amity, as you know, means friendship, Lily" he said with a wink, turning back towards his plate.  "Pass the rolls, please, Remus?"

Chapter 14: Fourteen
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"I hate to point this out while the three of you are so obviously enjoying your slip into insanity, but you do realize we're going to get expelled for this," Remus pointed out, shifting the weight of the crate he was carrying.

In the few months the house had been abandoned, vines had encroached on the property, creeping up the brick walls and embedding themselves in every crevice. Sirius had to yank them back by the handful to expose the door, but the lungful of stale air and dust he took when he pushed it open made him wonder, briefly, if the place hadn't been vacant much longer. "Oy, Peter, get up here," he ordered, gesturing with his free hand for the lighted tip of Peter's wand. "And when did you get so fatalistic, Remus?"

"It's not fatalism - it's realism," he said with a wink, his words echoing off the walls.

Beneath their feet, the floorboards creaked in that way floorboards only do when you're somewhere you're not supposed to be doing something you shouldn't be doing - an eerie, melancholy kind of sound - but Sirius paid them no mind, crossing through the untouched kitchen and into the sitting room before dropping his overstuffed schoolbag - full of LP's rather than books.

In the background, James and Remus were discussing what charm could best be used to conceal the light and noise. They hadn't reached an agreement when Sirius turned around again, searching for a light switch. "If we're going to do this," Remus sighed, doing his level best to pretend he wasn't looking forward to any evening he might have a chance to spend in the company of Erin Brooks. "We might as well do it properly. You handle the concealment, I'll handle the visitors?" he suggested. With a flourish, a strip of barely visible blue light raced around the house, whizzing past the windows as it wound itself through the property before returning to Remus' wand.

"Now what did you go and do that for?" James asked, affronted. "Why not save the showy bit for when there are girls around to appreciate it?"

Sirius' eyes wandered across the myriad of bottles - stacked from one end of the tiny kitchen to the other. Across the counter was strewn a handful of glasses, all half-filled with a congealed, purple substance but, between them, the subject of his current attentions could be found.

This was precisely the kind of distraction he'd been looking for, so it bothered him when his meandering gaze kept making it's way back to Lily. What had seemed vaguely irritating two hours before bordered on maddening now as he caught himself glancing over his shoulder, back into the living room where she was.

She'd been drinking and, of a party goer, he expected no less, but there seemed to be a much more manic motivation in the way she flitted from one cluster of boys to the next, far and away too short of drunk to explain her behavior. As she repeated the sequence - a disingenuous giggle followed by a slight wavering on her feet and an altruistic rescue by whomever was closest - Sirius found his legs attempting to move of their own accord. Instead, he focused the extra energy on unscrewing the whiskey bottle.

"Enjoying yourself?" a voice asked from behind him.

Sirius started, knocking the bottle lamely against his teeth before forming his features into the look of loathing Remus so richly deserved. Remus merely smirked, gathering up an arm load of glasses and dumping them into the sink.

"In a mind to meddle, are you?" Sirius asked rhetorically, taking another swig.

Before Remus could return an unsolicited smart remark of his own, there was a screeching hiss from the sitting room followed by a combination of complaints, groans and laughter - the telltale sounds of vinyl in distress.

"Oy, hands off of it!" Sirius shouted, slamming the nearly empty bottle back down on the counter and pushing his way through the crowd. When he peered over the few remaining heads to isolate the vandal before they could escape, it was Lily's eyes that met his.

"I told you he would be mad," she teased, the sing-song sentence slurring into a single word. "Sirius takes his music very seriously."

She leaned heavily on the shoulder of a Ravenclaw seventh-year - someone he knew but whose name he couldn't, in the moment, place. The boy ventured a sarcastic reply but Sirius didn't hear it, his attention too consumed as his eyes raked across her frame. At a distance, her listing movements and the way her sweater fell off of her shoulder - jeans slung too low on her hips - had all seemed intentional and flirtatious, On closer inspection, she was less pressing herself against him as lolling from side to side, coming to fall on the nearest steady object, less deliberately allowing her clothes to allude to what they covered than too devoid of the fine motor skills required to control them any longer.

Nevertheless, she paid neither thing any mind, too inebriated to force her pupils to focus on any one thing for more than a few seconds. Instead, she permitted the boy to drape his arm around her waist and pull her in the direction of one of the empty rooms at the end of the hall.

Sirius' reaction was decisive and immediate, grabbing the boy by his shirt collar and yanking him back as if by the scruff of his neck. "She's a bit too far gone for that, don't you think?" he asked acidly.

"Wus it o you?" the boy asked. If his enunciation was to be trusted, he wasn't much better off than she was - nearly ready to walk the very same plank. That, or he would prove to be from the East End, but either way, really.

"I'll make you a deal," Sirius offered, groping for the nearest body and snatching the drink out of their hands. "You take the beer, I'll take the girl."

The boy surveyed him for a moment, teetering on the balls of his feet, but Sirius had already taken Lily by the waist, guiding her toward the front door.

This, he thought, propping her up against the brick wall outside, was entirely his fault.

From the kitchen, she looked like she'd enjoyed a few too many friendly libations, but his closer inspection in the living room had painted a much grimmer picture. Now, in the moonlight, he could see clearly what it sickened him even to suspect before - she wasn't drunk or even merely stoned. Her pupils were dilated to the point of saucers, completely unable to focus on anything. Her feet dragged along behind her legs like an afterthought.

"D-d-don't," she whined, three seconds behind the scene, snaking her fingers inside of his jacket. Her palms felt like fire, even through the fabric of his shirt, but she shivered anyway, teeth chattering wildly.

"Evans....Evans, look at me," he ordered, putting a hand to her cheek. "Did you take anything?"

"Accusing me of things again, are you?" she slurred, trying to step toward him but thinking better of it and collapsing back against the wall. "I won't have it. It isn't my fault you forgot to consider James' feelings."

"Lily, I need you to listen to me," he soothed, futilely trying to make eye contact. "Did you take anything? Did anyone give you anything? Pills or a potion or..." His words trailed off long before he finished the question, her eyes closing, head suddenly falling to the side, heavy in his hand.

Oh yeah, definitely his fault.

Finding a place to take her would have been difficult on any night. Finding a way to get her there only complicated things. Doing all of this while keeping her conscious proved nearly impossible.

There was the Shack - it had proximity and solitude on its side, but this wasn't James on a bender. Taking her there meant either endangering her life or betraying Remus' secret. There were a dozen hidey holes within Hogwarts, but that meant getting her back on the grounds. The passage under Honeydukes was perhaps large enough to accommodate them for a few hours, but getting inside would require far more stealth than she was capable of, even under the best of circumstances. Her temperature was fluctuating too significantly to wait things out in the forest and there were too many students about to consider staying in the village. It left only one reasonable alternative - London.

Stale pipe smoke hit him like a mallet when he pushed open the front door, assaulting his sinuses like an invading army, but there was scarcely time to take notice. At his side, Lily still murmured and swayed, but her pulse was quickening, body temperature rising quickly. "Where are we going?" she asked for the umpteenth time as he helped her onto the sofa.

"We're already there," he answered absently, leaning over her as he tried to extricate her arms from the sleeves of her sweater.

Whatever she'd taken - or been given - it seemed not to be of magical origin and taking a predictable course. So long as he could keep her from overheating or falling down a flight of stairs, there was really nothing for her to fear. For him, on the other hand, a series of entirely new regrets was taking up residence, dusting off old wounds and unpacking in the recesses of his mind. Where to begin the flagellation? There was the knowledge that Lily Evans wouldn't have stepped within 100 meters of a place she might be drugged if it hadn't been for his influence. Or the fact that they never should have thrown the party in the first place? Perhaps he should be focusing on the fact that she might not have been so vulnerable were it not for their argument the day before.

She interrupted him before the morose musings could drag him under too deeply, her voice still uncontrollably staccato when she spoke. "I'm c-cold," she complained, reaching up, once again, to weave her arms under his clothes.

Again, he pushed her off - this time, more gently than the last. "I know. You'll warm up now that we're inside," he lied, kissing the top of her head.

"Sirius," she whispered, catching his shirt in her fingers as he tried to pull away. The look in her eyes weighed more than any he'd ever imagined her capable of and it was difficult to tear himself away, his only compulsion - to take her in his arms - the last thing he could do.

He took her hand instead, untwining her fingers from the fabric, and setting it back on her lap. "You'll warm up," he repeated, crossing the room to the nearest window and wrenching the glass open. A frigid breeze whistled around the room, raising goosebumps even on his skin. Lily flinched. "Trust me."

"I do trust you."

The words were half of a sleepy sigh but they stung as if she'd shouted them - salt ground into the wounds he so richly deserved. There was a time, he mused, when the thing he feared most for her had been his father. It seemed poetic, somehow, that the thing destroying her now was him. The best thing for her - the decent thing for him to do - should have been to walk away and never look back. Instead, he'd maneuvered them into the only circumstance where he couldn't possibly leave her.


Yet again, his brooding was deferred, this time by her fingertips, slipping themselves underneath his unbuttoned cuffs. He grimaced, forcing himself to face her but he needn't have dreaded the moment. Almost as quickly as he could turn around, she was losing her battle with gravity, her expression shifting from wicked to frightened in a second. "You need to lie back down," he instructed, half-carrying her back to the couch.

"I don't think I f-f-feel so g-good," she managed, the shivers becoming first shudders and then more violent shaking.

Doing his best to turn her on her side, he pinned her where she lay to control the worst of it, but it was to little effect. The seconds it lasted seemed like hours, each convulsion cutting a fresh gash in his psyche but it was a lashing he deserved and he forced himself to absorb every ounce of it, knowing all the while how much it would displease his father to discover what pains his eldest son suffered over an inconsequential, muggleborn girl.

He didn't risk moving until the trembling had, for the most part, ceased. When he did, her eyes were closed, face gone slack, limbs completely listless - she'd fallen asleep. It cost him something to wake her - to coax her back into a sitting position - more still when she didn't seem to understand why he wouldn't simply let her sleep. Still, it wasn't long before she was stretched out again, her feet dangling over the ornately carved arm, her head resting in his lap. "Tell me a story," she demanded eventually, apparently tired of counting the specks on the ceiling.

Sirius smirked, letting his fingers fall into her hair. "Once upon a time," he started, forcing his voice into a low, raspy whisper. "There was a boy and a girl who lived in a mundane land. The boy decided to host a ball for all the townspeople to enjoy but the girl, knowing it wasn't her thing but being a nosey little girl scout anyway, decided to gate crash...."

She slapped him. Or, rather, she tried to slap him. Strictly speaking, she grazed his knee with the back of her hand, jamming her pinkie finger in the process, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless. "Tell me a real story," she whined, popping the injured appendage in her mouth dramatically.

"This may come as a shock to you, but I don't exactly have a lot of bedtime story worthy material in my personal history," he teased, regretting it at once when an impish little grin flitted across her face again, her fingers suddenly occupied in the very different pursuit of unbuttoning his shirt. "Evans," he warned, chuckling darkly and hooking her wrists in his own fingers to push them away. "You would never forgive me for making tonight unforgettable."

Chapter 15: fifteen
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This was on the fringes of becoming a habit and a bad one at that.

Searching the recesses of her memory, she remembered going into Hogsmeade with Erin. She could even almost remember the house but the rest of the evening remained a stubborn blur. It wasn't gone, it just wasn't clear either. Her recollections shifted and swam, not all together unlike the contents of her stomach, but the pieces wouldn't assemble themselves into anything recognizable. It wasn't until she opened her eyes to search for Sirius that she realized she had no idea where she was. Then, she had no real idea why she was expecting him either.

Sitting up slowly, she propped herself up first on her elbows, then ventured fully upright, waiting for the nausea to spill over. Whatever had happened, it wasn't something she would be eager to repeat, pain slicing across her temples with her every movement.

Sirius, as it turned, was perched on a chair clear across the room. It was obvious he'd been watching her, something that looked strangely like contrition etched in the furrows of his brow. Taking care not to wake him, she inched toward the open window, praying it would close silently.

It couldn't have been more than ten degrees, but the chill seemed to suit the setting, a slightly sinister sense about almost everything in the room. With the window shut, the dusty curtains falling closed almost automatically - shutting out the daylight entirely - it was like no place she'd ever been, completely and utterly still. Her mother would have reminded her that snooping was bad manners, but as she trod over one of a half-dozen haphazardly placed rugs, she couldn't seem to find any harm in inspecting things more closely. Besides, she mused, it was the only thing currently distracting her from how badly every muscle in her body ached and Sirius had brought her here on purpose, after all.

Wandering to the writing desk, she slid open one of the drawers, glancing over her shoulder all the while, and drew out its contents. Some were letters, but she read no more than the addresses, others photographs. The faces she didn't recognize but the malice, she imagined, she could - Sirius' family. Aunts and Uncles? Or perhaps his parents? Suddenly, she felt guilty for prying but the curiosity remained. Replacing them, she slid the drawer shut, careless in her haste.

The sound of wood scraping against wood startled him awake and he was on his feet at once, wand at the ready. For the first time, it occurred to her to be afraid of him. He looked every bit the part of a Black - his hair tousled from sleep, eyes deeper and darker than she'd yet seen them, wand trained expertly at her chest. "I didn't mean to wake you," she apologized at once, her own hands raised in a mea culpa.

"What are you doing?" he asked gruffly, pocketing his wand but not the anger.

"I d...." she stammered, taking a half-step forward, then a step back.

"Nevermind," he interrupted, irritably, raking his fingers through his hair and disappearing into the kitchen.

He left her there, standing uncomfortably in the middle of the room, too afraid and too stunned to move, but he returned a few seconds later with a glass and a handful of tinkling little bottles.

"Aren't you going to ask me how I am?" she inquired, wandering awkwardly back to the couch, the leather crackling as she sat down, brittle in the frigid room.

"No," he replied, icily, unstoppering a few of the bottles and doling their contents carefully into the glass. He handed it too her before she had the opportunity to formulate a response. "If you can walk, you're fine. Just drink it," he ordered as an afterthought.

The crystal felt heavy in her fingers and the liquid slowly shifted from red to green, to silver and back again while she watched it. Under different circumstances, she might have protested but, for the moment, she couldn't think of a reason to risk an argument. Taking a deep breath, she upended the glass in one gulp, surprised to find it sweet and spicy on her tongue. Setting it down, she leveled a significant glance in his direction - what she wanted to ask was 'what happened?' but the question that came out was "Where are we?"

"My Uncle Alphard's," he answered flatly, reaching into a chest along the wall and pulling out a blanket.

'Why?' was the next logical question but that didn't seem like it would go well either, so she opted to equivocate again, but Sirius ignored her, too preoccupied to care. "What the hell were you thinking, Evans?" The malevolence of 6 hours spent hovering at her side spilled forth but she didn't feel as slighted as she'd expected. On the contrary, it felt like asperity she deserved. "Do you have any idea how badly that could have ended?"

"How badly what could have ended, Sirius? I don't even know what happened." It was then that he remembered why he'd always avoided entanglements such as these. As tears glistened behind her eyelashes, spilling onto her cheeks and intermingling with the errant hairs still plastered to her face, two conflicting urges gripped him - one to leave, the other to stay. He couldn't be sure which he found more disconcerting. "What happened to me?" she asked again, crying in earnest now, her shoulders beginning shake.

Better angels must have been smiling upon him - or would it be her? - because he gave into the impulse to comfort her, crossing the room in a few strides to crouch down in front of her. "Lily," he whispered, taking her chin in his fingers and tilting her face to his. "Nothing happened to you."

He repeated it like a mantra, brushing the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs until she composed herself enough to leave. She pressed him for details perhaps a dozen more times, and her refused to proffer them. The value of cautionary tales aside, he couldn't bring himself to explain but she didn't seem to need it, her words becoming apologies before they were even back on the grounds.

Tonight, when that spasmodic energy gripped him as it always did, he would reach into the recesses of his mind and withdraw his final glimpses of his Uncle's home - the place he'd known so well as a child and felt so safe as a youth. Tonight, he would remember what he'd cost the girl at his side. For the moment, however, he was resolved only to appreciate the steady sound of her breathing and the evenness of her footfalls in the gravel. She had, for the moment, survived him, and he would make it a point never to endanger her again.

The common room felt unbelievably warm when he stepped into it, a consequence, no doubt, of so many hours spent deprived of heat and real sleep. How long had it been since he'd slept well? Had he enjoyed a good night's sleep since he'd left the Potter's? Was there ever one, even there?

Lily, he'd deposited at the doors to the Great Hall, insisting that she eat the lunch he probably should have joined her for but begging off on the grounds that people would already be suspicious enough without them reappearing at the same moment. His hopes that James, Remus and Peter might be downstairs as well were dashed as soon as he reached the stairs. Their laughter wafted down to greet him the sound seeming suddenly loud. He was so distracted, he forgot to skip the trick step, his leg sinking in up to the knee.


"A little help?" he suggested, almost shouting so they could hear him over their guffaws, heads already beginning to poke out of the doorway, all three of them grinning widely.

Remus and Peter took the stairs two at a time, hooking him under the elbows to yank him up while James smirked in his general direction. "Rough night, then, mate?" he asked, an eyebrow raised.

Sirius rolled his eyes, pushing past them into the dormitory to collapse onto the mattress of his four poster.

"We were almost worried when we couldn't find you," Peter interjected, "but then we realized half the girls in Ravenclaw didn't turn up last night and we figured resentment might be more appropriate."

"That was just you, Peter. I had a lovely evening with Miss...oh, what's her name - she's a fifth year...Hufflepuff...brunette?"

Remus, it would seem, was the only one not laughing when Sirius cracked one of his eyes open again, struggling not to look anything like he felt. "Quidditch practice?" he asked, scrutinizing James closely enough to realize he was carrying his broom.

Sirius let his head fall back onto the pillow when James and Peter left. He knew better than to believe he was going to get to stay here - peacefully ensconced in blankets and self-loathing - but he savored the moment anyway, only consenting to give it up when Remus dropped a stack of parchment at his side. "Thinking of a career in paper products?" he grumbled, rubbing his eyes and sitting up again.

Remus just stared back, annoyed. "When is the last time you did a homework assignment?'

"May," he answered without missing a beat.

It was a sad circumstance indeed when five consecutive uninterrupted hours of homework seemed like a welcome diversion. True, an essay recounting the life story of Hengist of Woodcroft wasn't entirely his idea of a good time but, in light of the recent situation, ancient wars seemed simpler than his current entanglements. Regulus, somewhere within these walls, couldn't be further away. With the exception of a congratulatory glance after James' little prank and their hallway altercations, they hadn't exchanged so much as a predatory glare during passing times. Lily, rapidly succumbing not to her lesser nature, but to his. The daily irritations that were people like Erin Brooks and Severus Snape, all of them were encroaching over whatever sense of calm he once possessed.

Lost in the same morose, rambling thoughts that had plagued him for days. Sirius scarcely noticed when they reached the library, only really aware of their arrival when Remus dropped his schoolbag on the desk with a heavy thump.

Sirius flinched, peering out from behind one half-closed eye, expecting to find spilled liquor or shattered vinyl all over Madame Pince's pristine floor.

"Forgot you could put books in one of these?" Remus asked, drawing one out dramatically.

"Just can't really understand why you would want to," Sirius quipped in return. Sliding into a chair, he pulled a roll of parchment out of the center of Remus' neat stack, knowing how much it would irritate him. "Potions or D.A.D.A.?"

Circumstances, as it turned, did not improve.

"Nice pull," Sirius remarked, trading a completed essay for a few pages of notes and another blank sheet, Merlin only knows how much later. The handwriting was round and flowery - both obviously stole and easy to copy. "I don't suppose you stole these right out of Erin's back pocket last night?"

"You might not have to ask if you'd been there," Remus pointed out.

Sirius rolled his eyes, throwing his own quill down on the table between them and getting up. The only thing he wanted to think about less than the look in Lily's eyes as she'd clung to him last night, tremors wracking her body, was what James would say if he knew about it. "I'm not in the mood, Lupin," he hissed, breaking into the corridor, books abandoned behind them.

He was cutting a beeline for the front doors but Remus wasn't to be dissuaded. He pushed aside a handful of wandering Hufflepuff's to catch up but Sirius' longer legs took the stairs two at a time. They were in the grounds before Remus finally made any headway, grabbing Sirius' arm and yanking him around. "I told you I wasn't going to lie for you."

There was clearly more but Sirius didn't wait to hear it, cutting him off at the pass. "Have I ever asked you to - have I ever once asked you to l-"


Remus' emphatic response set him off of his guard for a moment, catching him slack jawed and unaware. It shouldn't have surprised him. James, he knew, had been otherwise occupied but it was only now that he realized he had no idea where Peter was. How sure was he, really, that James was still upstairs? Could he have seen something and, if he did, what was to be said? For once his intentions with Lily had been anything but indecent and now he was going to be caught? His mind raced through a dozen scenarios before he remembered he'd seen James already.

"The lying is on you," he growled, knowing no matter how apt a liar Remus was turning out to be, nothing he could have said would have kept James from his morbid curiosity.

"What the hell were you thinking, dragging her off in public like that?"

"Dragging her off?" Sirius shouted, biting back the acerbic, bitter adrenaline rushing across his palette like the venom of a snake. "That would have been smarmy. She was fucking drugged, Remus. I spent the entire night making sure she didn't choke on her own vomit."

It was Remus' turn to be dumbfounded, watching his friends expression for some sign that he'd been lying. "She's all right?" he asked when he regained himself - still stern, his voice almost threatening in that cadence.

When Sirius answered, raking his fingers through is hair, he caught his voice breaking and struggled to mask it. "She's fine."

"Good to hear." Remus's reply lacked any sense of relief and Sirius caught his fingers, tightening at his side. "Would have been better coming from Madame Pomfrey," he added with a bitter poison all his own.

"What was I supposed to do with her? Carry her through the village?"

"You got her to wherever you were going all right."

"I took her to my uncles," he shouted. It felt like a confession but it sounded like an accusation, his volume rising with every syllable he uttered. He couldn't recall a time when he'd been angrier with Remus. With James or Peter to be sure, but Remus was the level one - te peace keeper. It wasn't like him to push on issue this for and then to refuse to back down. "I took her to my uncle's and no one needs to know the rest."

"There shouldn't be a 'the rest,' Sirius," Remus reasoned. "Not under James' nose."

If he'd been thinking clearly - seeing clearly - he would have see Remus' fingers, limp at his side. He would have noticed that Remus had backed away. Sirius opened his mouth to reply - to continue along his diatribe - but James and Peter were coming up the path - too far away to see in the fog, but their laughter close enough to hear.

"Just tell him, mate," Remus tried again, the lethality gone from his tone.

Chapter 16: Sixteen
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He meant only to walk the grounds long enough to calm down. Then, when that passed and he still couldn't bring himself to turn back toward the lights and noise, he thought he might wait only an hour or so longer - enough time for everyone to settle into their games and their homework assignments. But an hour became two, waiting no longer for calm or dusk or even night. Now, he merely walked - the words running on a permanent, haunting loop.

Just tell him, mate.

Exhaustion was the thing that finally set him back off in the direction of his bed, ducking into a stone lion outside of the Owlery. His morose ruminations had taken him beyond his conversation with Remus - beyond the change in his advice and his countenance, whatever that had meant. Flickers of memories, skipping and hiccuping with no regard for chronology, raced across the backs of his eyelids despite his efforts to drown them out. Of the many things that would always mark him as a Black - the brooding grin and thousand mile stare, the dangerous familiarity with solitude - would always remain the self-destructive proclivities even he knew he possessed in spades. A wiser man might have considered how deeply avoidance and self-delusion were entrenched in his family inheritance, but it was perhaps the very nature of those things that made him ignore it.

The taste of the air shifted when his head emerged above ground, though the light didn't change and it wasn't long before the sounds other than his footfalls, Remus' words and Lily's intoxicating laughter were reaching his ears. On the contrary, these other sounds seemed to be rooted in reality rather than neurosis and he stopped short of the noise.

"Nox!" he whispered, all of the light sucked out of the room.


Waking up the next morning, he couldn't be truly sure how he'd made his way back up to his bed but Remus was, as usual, already awake, showered and dressed, his books and essays from the night before spread out across his bed.

"Good morning," he whispered wihtout looking up.

Sirius didn't offer a greeting of his own, but it was more than wounded pride that motivated his passive agressive behavior - that same sense of unhappy portend he'd felt last night resting in his chest.

"This came for you last night," Remus added, seemingly oblivious to his friends silence. He tossed the letter in Sirius' general direction and returned to scratching his quill across the parchment, evidently uninterested in its contents.

It took no close inspection to realize the letter was from Andromeda, but he rubbed the sleep from his eyes anyway, turning the paper over in his hands before thrusting it, unopened, into his bedside table. Andromeda, Ted and their daughter may have been the oly family he had left, but that didn't make her constant intrusions any more welcome. She would be wrrying, to be sure, and he struggled to remember how many days it had been since the funeral, and how it was that his Uncle's death had become an after thought.

Remus was quick to remind him. "How was your evening?" he asked conversationally, his voice still low.

Guilt now coloring over hunger - how long had it been since he'd last eaten a proper meal? - he dropped his body back onto the mattress, dragging the blankets over his head. "Just wasn't the same wihtout you," he grumbled by way of reply.

"Pity, I would have thought you could find other company," Remus retored, obviously still annoyed beneath his seemingly calm demenor.

"I didn't," he replied coldly, throwing off the blankets again and letting his feet touch the cold, stone floor.

"Are you expecting good marks for that?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I wouldn't expect high marks from you any day," Sirius shot back, digging through his trunk for a set of clean robes and only coming up with a few pairs of rumpled ones.

Remus opened his mouth to say something else, but he stopped, his jaw snapping shut with a clank as Peter stirred. He muttered something like "Belt up, you two," before rolling back over and plastering a pillow over his face.

"Perhaps we ought to continue this conversation in the common room," he offered, his tone once again measured.

SIrius rolled his eyes. "Because that would be a lively alternative," he muttered. Still, the hubris of early morning was beginning to wear off - dreams fading from the fringes of his mind as he slipped firmly back into his place in reality - and he could see clearly how frightened Lily had out of place her bright eyes seemed amidst his family relics, and feel once again the resolve of sparing her the danger. "There isn't going to be anything to tell anyone anymore," he hissed, glancing back over his shoulder at Peter's lumpy form.

They stared at eachother for a few excruciatingly long moments. Remus' expression seemed to be shifting between "It's about time!' and "Are you all right, mate?" but he said nothing, carefully rolling a length of parchment in his hands before getting up. "We should get those two up for breakfast," he said simply.

They did not manage to make it down for breakfast. As it turned, they barely made it down to the dungeons in time for Potions, skidding into their seats while Slughorn called the class to order. "If it isn't the Mr's Lupin, Pettigrew, Potter and Black. Lovely of you to join us," he warned indulgently. "The rest of your classmates were just turning to page ninety-seven. We'll be brewing Euphoria today."

"You look as though you might need a little Euphoria today, Miss Evans," Slughorn remarked, stirring Lily's potion a few minutes later. It was the sound of her name hat had called his attention away from his own cauldron but he forced his eyes to stay fixed on the liquid below. Stirring first clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then clockwise again before dropping in another yellow flower petal.

Mercifully, it wasn't long before James distracted him again, gesturing toward Remus and raising an eyebrow in disgust. "Are you eating?' he asked as Remus unearthed a paper package from his school bag and popped something in his mouth.

Remus rolled his eyes and offered the bun over to Sirius, reaching across the aisle.

"In the potions lab?" James asked again, clearly still repulsed.

"I might have been able to enjoy a proper breakfast if you hadn't spent all morning playing with your curlers," Sirius pointed out, abandoning his potion in favor of a snack.

"I can't help it if my hair resents my forehead," he joked, pretending to preen in the reflection of a stray ladle. "It's a burden being handsome, not something you'd understand."

"Your forehead is about to resent something," Sirius muttered as Slughorn took his place in front of the class, clearing his throat and leaving James with no alternative but to throw a well aimed elbow.

"Coming along quite nicely Mr. Black," Slughorn intoned, ladleing up a scoop of the potion. "Do you gentlemen have anything special planned for this All Hallows Eve?" he asked conspiratoraly "Any Hogsmeade establishements I should be avoiding."

"Would we do that, Professor?" James asked without missing a beat.

"Fair enough, Mr. Potter. Fair enough. Do try to keep the mayhem to a minimum this year, I beg of you. It was Christmas before I finally coaxed Miss. Kliebold's cat out of the clocktower."

"I'd forgotten about the cat, actually," Remus joked as they stepped into the hall, still stowing his books safely away after scribbling the latest of Slughorn's homework assignments down onto a spare piece of parchment.

Transfiguration was an almost cruel distance from the dungeons and nearly all of the Gryffindor's were making their way up the staircases. The noise provided more than adequate cover to discuss any potential mischief without alerting passing Professors or Filch and his own batty cat and, as Peter rushed to catch up, he was babbling something about getting Peeves to set off some fireworks before the feast. "We can do better than that," Sirius protested, only half paying attention.

"We ought to have another party," James insisted, clapping them on the shoulders. "See if we can't get Remus a little bit of Erin."

Remus tried not to blush when he answered, Erin no more than a few feet in front of them and glancing over her shoulder. "We ought to clear up the mess from the last one first," he suggested.

The conversation was quickly wandering toward a place he would prefer to avoid, but his attempts to change it's direction fell upon deaf - or at least oblivious - ears. "We wouldn't have to clean it up if we had the next one somewhere else," Peter ventured hesitantly.

Remus was saying something sarcastic about not making suggestions that had no practical application when a paper airplane collided squarely with the back of Sirius' head. James might have tried to stop the handful of sniggering younger students were he not laughing so hard himself as Sirius rounded in search of the person who'd launched it.

Regulus was smirking back at him.

Snatching the snippet of parchment out of the air, he wrenched it open and, scanning the text quickly, pushed back through the throng, blood pounding in his ears.

"Our father sends his salutations on your windfall," Regulus remarked, amused but taking a step back as Sirius reached for his collar.

"By the insanity of the ramblings, I would have thought your mother was behind this," he retorted, crumpling the parchment in his fingers and throwing it to the stone below.

If Regulus was hurt, he didn't show it, his face set coldly. "She's your mother too, you know. But I wouldn't think you would need that pointed out to you. Family ties seem to be running deep these days."

Sirius didn't need the rest to know precisely what his brother had meant but his cold pronunciation of the word punctuated the moment poetically nonetheless. The question - "how is the little mudblood?' - hanging ominously in the air between them.

A thousand things raced across his mind - his sanity, her safety, the tensile strength behind a closed fist - but it had been too long since he'd last bothered rising to a fight with any member of his family on the point of purity, and the less to be said of Lily all around would be the better. Still, the way he referred to her brought acid to the back of Sirius' throat, burning his tonsils and threatening to spill forward in violence. "I'll never set foot in that house again," he replied with every ounce of the icy chill he'd learned in sixteen years under his father's roof.

"Was it worth all that?" Regulus asked, eyeing James and Remus over Sirius' shoulder, both of them suddenly aware that they were no where near alone in the crowded hall, but Sirius didn't care, turning to walk away, all of the bile suddenly fading.

"Is this?"

"Peter, if you light one more thing on fire, I swear I will break that thing in half," Sirius warned hours later in the common room. Nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to be beyond an ability to irritate him tonight and Peter's inexpert attempts at completing his Transfiguration homework - most of which had resulted in nearly setting alight the magazine Sirius was trying to read - was no exception. "What time is it?" Blowing out another singed corner, he flipped the page, abandoning the album review and glanced around for a clock. "I'm starving."

James raised his eyes and reached into his pocket for a slightly melted chocolate frog. "Quarter past."

Tossing the paper wrapper, card and all, aside, he kicked his boots back onto the floor and stood up.

"Changing for dinner?" Remus asked with a raised eyebrow, watching as Sirius headed for the stairs. There was obvious concern in his every word and what he meant could only be obvious.

"I did think I'd drop by the market and pick up that new hat I've been eyeing," he remarked, bounding up the stairs. When he got there, however, it wasn't only clothes that he reached for, yanking out a bag of crisps and a handful of licorice wands before falling backward onto his mattress with the letter from Andromeda as a distraction.

If he was being honest, and he wasn't, but if he were, he would have had to admit that the only thing he wanted at the moment was to feel that warmth on his skin - that comfort of another person's head resting on his chest and that sweet honeysuckle smell of Lily's hair mingling in his every breath. She wasn't easy and she almost never made any sense, but she was a comfort - a reprieve from the darkness he'd assumed as his own. In the pages of the letter from his closest cousin, he would find a handful of attempts at comfort, a little levity and perhaps a story or two from his youth but, mostly, he would find that, she too - married to a muggle, mother to a happy, bubbly little girl and living a life entirely apart from their macabre beginnings - had never fully been able to escape the curse that was all things Black. Fortunately, he wasn't being honest.

Pulling himself back up off of the mattress and, once again, tossing the letter aside, he reached for his jeans and jacket, bolting out the door a few minutes later.

"Up for a little debauchery?" he asked, reaching the bottom of the stairs with a thud as he leapt over the banister.

It had been dusk when they'd left but, by the time the Knight Bus delivered them in London, even the halos around the streetlamps were turning an inky navy. "Excellent idea, mate," James remarked, drink in hand as he leaned back against the bar.

"You don't know the half of it," Sirius replied, smirking at a girl on the other side of the room.

"No way she goes for it," Peter whispered.

"You're on," James answered, watching as she smiled mischievously back before leaving her friends, making a meandering (perhaps drunken) line for the bathroom, glancing over her shoulder just the once. Peter handed over a galleon. Sirius hesitated only long enough to empty his glass and grin at his friends - the restlessness, the frustration, the guilt and the denial propelling him toward this happy end.

"Hi," she cooed when he pushed open the swinging door, still grinning lecherously.

"Hi, he answered back, his fingers already halfway through pushing her skirt up over her hips. She wiggled a little as his thumbs hooked in her panties and let his tongue entwine with hers. Her kiss was chalky. On any other night, that might have stopped him cold - at least long enough to ask what it was - but, in the moment, he couldn't bring himself to care, the angry violence he'd felt all day channeling into the tearing of lace. Swiping the pill from beneath her tongue with his and biting down on it, he ground it into powder between his teeth while she fumbled for his belt.

"Relax," she managed between breaths, "We're gonna be here for a while."