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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.

Perfect.

"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-"

"Yes."

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.

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