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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.

"Dunno."

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?"

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