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Chapter 6: Six
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,
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