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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.

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