Sirius tugged on the label of the strawberry jam in front of him just to keep his hands busy. Although the waitress had been trying to get him to order something for hours, he'd only given in a few minutes before. She'd obliged with a plateful of blackened toast which was still sitting untouched. With the number of times she'd refilled his tea cup, though, Sirius figured she was beginning to think he was going to stiff her on the tab.
“Sirius?” James came up behind him without notice. “What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be meeting with Dumbledore?”
Rather than answer, Sirius kicked out a chair for James to join him. “Want something to drink?”
“Whatever you're having.”
Sirius waved to the waitress who delivered a fresh cup and steaming teapot to their table. Fixing his own cup, James began nibbling on the burnt toast while the tea steeped.
“So....you and Lily, hm?”
“Geez, not you too,” he grumbled. “Doesn't anyone have something better to discuss than my love life?”
“Gossip already spread, hm? Wasn't me, mate, I swear.”
“It was Remus,” Sirius sighed. “He was drinking and babbling so I guess I can't hold it against him.”
Already knowing his worries over putting anyone else in danger, James leaned toward him. “Do we need to do some damage control?”
“No,” Sirius chuckled and rubbed his chin. “I think Lily caused enough of a scene last night that no one will believe that rumor. While you were off doing who knows what, she threw a left hook at me that almost dropped me to my knees and ruined my reputation.”
“That the reason the waitress keeps looking at you as if you are about to sprout antlers?”
“Antlers are your territory,” he laughed.
“She asked us to escort some of her friends home last night. You have anything to do with that?”
Sirius shrugged, ignoring the questioning gaze.
“Word around says that Death Eaters appeared almost right after we left. And there was something vague about a Gryffindor taking advantage of a 6th year Slytherin which caused some heated moments,” James prodded, waiting for some semblance of response. Receiving none, he folded his arms across his chest. “Even more bewildering, tales say that the Gryffindor ended up leaving with a handful of Death Eaters and looking no worse for the wear.”
“Gossip is a monumental waste of energy, don't you think? I try not to listen to it myself.”
James' eyes narrowed and Sirius knew his patience was done. “How long have you been here and did you at least have the courtesy to tell Dumbledore you were canceling on him or did you just bail?”
“Since sunup and I just bailed.”
James kicked his chair back, letting it lean on two legs. Shaking his head, he sent Sirius a withered glance. “Want me to call you a coward?”
“Then what would you call it?” James countered. “You have information about Snape for chrissakes. You don't think the Order needs to know that?”
“I'd call it a man torn between family and friends, wouldn't you, Mr. Potter?” Dumbledore's voice sounded low from behind them, causing both men to turn. “I didn't realize we'd changed our meeting location, Sirius. But you were right to come here. Public places are much safer and I'm told the cook makes the most wonderful of all cricket omelets. My sincerest apologies if I've kept you waiting long.”
James sat his chair back on the ground and scooted to the side to make space for him to join them. Glowering at Sirius, he turned an apologetic look to Dumbledore. “No need to pretend, Professor, Sirius' already told me he bailed on you.”
“Did he indeed?” he asked, sinking into a chair. Taking a piece of toast, he eyed Sirius expectantly. Rather than respond, Sirius pushed the jar of jam his direction.
James glanced at the awkwardness between the two – Dumbledore waiting for Sirius, Sirius waiting for an opportunity to escape. It was only the smallest twitch in Sirius' normally calm hands that told him how close to anger Sirius was getting.
“You're wrong to question Sirius' loyalty,” he murmured.
“Am I?” he asked, raising an eyebrow Sirius' direction. “Do you agree with Mr. Potter?”
Sirius shook his head, staring at his tea leaves rather than looking at either. “In times like these, it's safer to question everyone.”
Dumbledore nodded as if he approved then turned a patient look Sirius' direction. “Remus wouldn't discuss this with me, only that it was of dire importance that I meet with you. I must say, when someone arranges a meeting with a Black it does more than arouse just general curiosity in me.”
“Made preparations on where to send the body, did you?”
James' eyes flew to him and then to Dumbledore, his body straightening. Sirius could envision James' hand on his shoulder, telling him to calm down, assuring him that Dumbledore couldn't possibly realize how calling him a Black could wound him so deeply.
Waving to the waitress, Dumbledore took a bite of his toast. “Actually, when Remus indicated such a remote location, I--”
Sirius allowed him to get no further. Standing up, he rocked the table with his abrupt move and both men's eyes shot toward him. Tossing the frame onto the table, it clattered against the china, causing tea cups and plates to shatter.
“All yours, James,” he murmured and, before anyone could protest, he tossed a stack of bills on the table and disappeared out the door.
Knowing James would eventually come looking for him, Sirius decided heading straight to a bar mid-afternoon wasn't probably the wisest of choices. He had no desire to run into Remus or Peter either, both of whom would chide him for leaving James to try and come up with some plausible excuse as to how they'd gotten their hands on the photograph in the first place. Jingling his keys as he rounded the corner, he stopped mid-stride when he saw Lily perched on his doorstep. Her legs drawn up to her chest, her head lying on her knees, his immediate worry over her condition was quickly replaced with irritation at her idiocy.
“Are you insane?” he hissed, tugging her up and unlocking the door in one swift move. “Anyone could be watching and you're just sitting on my steps like a damned pigeon?”
Pushing her inside, he cast one more look across the neighborhood. Although nothing and no one seemed out of place there was no way to tell if she'd been seen. Slamming the door, he strode past her and into the kitchen, digging through a junk drawer next to the stove. Grabbing a set of keys, he whirled to go back to her, only to find her standing right next to him.
“I'm sorry, I wasn't-”
“Thinking,” he grumbled. “Yeah I got that. Here,” he tucked the keys into her palm. “Front door, back door. Back door's always safer but if you get in a bind, use whichever is closest.”
“Thanks,” she whispered.
“Don't mention it,” he answered easily. She wouldn't stand for coddling, he knew that, but he couldn't help casting a quick glance at her from head to toe. No marks, no torn clothes, no wounds...so her presence was due to some emotional trauma, then. Moving a pace away, he opened up the cupboard. “Coffee, tea or whiskey?”
She raised her eyes just enough to glance around the room. “What time is it?”
He chuckled under his breath. “Not yet dark but I assure you, I won't tell a soul.”
“Coffee with whiskey then.”
“Have a seat, I'll make it.” He nodded toward the table as he started the coffee, watching her as closely as he could without trying to seem worried. Surely, if there had been some attack nearby he would have know about it already. Even Dumbledore wasn't ass enough to keep something like that from him...it would've been the first thing out of his mouth. Maybe it was her family. He'd been listening to stories of Lily's ungrateful sister for years and it wouldn't surprise him if she'd found some new more creative way to undermine Lily's self confidence.
Grabbing a bottle out of the cabinet, he placed it on the table in front of her and then moved to grab the cups.
“Glen Garioche 1958,” Lily commented, causing him to glance over his shoulder. “This is a $4,000 bottle of whiskey, Sirius.”
“Then it damn sure better be good,” he said, taking the bottle out of her hand and tipping some into both their cups. Sinking down opposite her, he watched as she took a long drink of the piping hot coffee, knowing it had to be burning like hell on the way down. Stretching back behind him, he grabbed a shot glass and put it on the table between them. He filled it then let it sit on the table between them – letting her make the decision of what she wanted. It only took a moment of indecision before she took it, tossing it back with only the slightest of a grimace.
She hesitated briefly, then nodded. After watching her down yet another, he replaced the glass stopper on the bottle and moved it to the side. Not that he minded getting her drunk – she could be the life of the party when she chose to be – but he'd prefer to get the story of her appearance out of her while she was still able to stand.
“Never made it home last night, did you?” he prodded.
“No. The girls made it home, though. Thanks for that. Sorry for hitting you,” she mumbled as an afterthought.
He shrugged. “Had to be done.”
“Yes, but I didn't mean to hit so hard. I mean, I didn't mean to take it out on you-”
“Take what out on me?” he asked, lifting his eyes just as she lowered hers. He moved to her side instantly, dropping to his knees to see her face clearly. “Lily, what happened last night?”
“Sirius!” James bustled through the door with Dumbledore at his heels, stopping at the edge of the dining room when he saw the two.
Rising slowly, he turned, blocking Lily to give her enough time to compose herself. “What is it?”
“I'm sorry, it's just he has questions-”
“Only one actually,” Dumbledore corrected. “I need to know where you obtained the photograph, if it was indeed a reliable source.”
James offered him an apologetic shrug. “It's wasn't my decision, Sirius-”
“What photograph?” Lily interrupted.
“It's nothing, Miss Evans,” Dumbledore smiled.
“A picture of Voldemort and Snape together,” Sirius supplied.
“Or perhaps it is,” Dumbledore chuckled. “So, if you'll just enlighten me as to who-”
“Regulus,” Lily whispered, causing all heads to turn her way. “Regulus gave it to him.”
While he knew the others were surprised, Sirius was dumbfounded. He turned, his eyes searching hers and it took several minutes before his thoughts became clear. There was no way she could have followed them into the shrieking shack. There was no way the other Marauders had told her anything in the time they'd separated. While she could have just been guessing, the look on her face told him she wasn't just grasping as straws and he suddenly knew why she had run straight to him – not just now but last night in the bar as well. His voice was a low hiss when he spoke. “Regulus.”
James recognized the fight response in Sirius immediately. “What the hell-” James was cut off by the strangling look Sirius sent his direction. He glanced to Dumbledore who seemed nonplussed by the whole event, his gaze wandering around the room as if he was memorizing its contents and oblivious to the tense atmosphere that had just developed.
“Perhaps we should go, then?” James stumbled, attempting to gain Dumbledore's attention. “If you have everything you need...”
“Hm? Oh, yes. I'd like to discuss further with you, Sirius but whenever you have time, of course.”
“Dinner, Sirius? La Mazaran? I can order in.”
“Fine, fine,” Sirius nodded distractedly, not even bothering to glance their direction. As soon as he heard the door click, he was once again on his knees in front of her. His hands, trembling as the anger began to overtake him, traveled across her face and arms checking for even the tiniest of marks that might have been left on her. Finding none and beginning to worry that they might have been hidden already, he stood up and took a long swig off the bottle of whiskey. He considered putting it back, thought better of it, and grabbed her by the hand and pulled her behind him toward the living room.
“I don't think he knew who I was. I mean, I don't think he and Lucius came after me specifically.”
“Right because they've never seen us together at school before?” Sirius growled, pacing the floor as Lily dropped to sit in the nearest chair.
“No, really. It was Mary's brother they went after. We were just in the wrong place. Then they followed us to the bar and the girls left but I-” she trailed off, shaking her head.
Sirius narrowed his eyes, obviously disbelieving. His fingers closed tightly on the fireplace mantel, nearly splintering it as he tried to get his anger under control. He'd put her in danger. Not just yesterday but from the first moment they'd met at Hogwarts. How stupid could he have been? Who was next – James? Remus? It was only Lily's shuddering breath behind him that allowed him to regain any sense of composure. Taking a sobering breath, he turned back to her, moving to sit on the edge of the couch closest to her.
“You came to me for a reason, Lils,” he murmured, finally getting himself under control. “Tell me.”
Broken, he thought. She's broken. Sliding down onto the couch cushion he did the one thing he knew he shouldn't – he opened his arms wide. He hadn't taken a breath before she was in his arms, tears falling freely. Rubbing her head gently, he waited until her sobs had subsided before tipping her chin to face him. Not what he had intended but it was impossible to push her away when her lips pressed into his – cold tears mingling with the warmth of her mouth. The scent of summer sweet orchids and the starch on newly pressed Irish lace enveloped him and he clasped her tighter, his lips ghosting down to her throat before realization of his actions dawned. A slight medicinal scent wafted off her as her body heat rose with his touches and, remembering she was hiding wounds he couldn't see, he pulled a breath away.
“You need sleep. Let me grab you a blanket and we'll talk later. Deal?” he asked, sliding out from underneath her to move to the hall closet.
Tossing a pillow at her, he raised an eyebrow. “James what?”
“Isn't he coming back?”
“Along with Remus and Peter, I'd imagine,” Sirius nodded, as he pushed her to lay down on the couch and tucked the blanket around her. Her worried glance made him chuckle. “You've been eating dinner with them for seven years. Don't tell me you've chosen now to despise their poor table manners.”
“No, I just thought-”
“I know,” he nodded, kissing her forehead. “But it's a little too late to worry about that now. Get some sleep.”