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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?"

"Exactly..."

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..."

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