He meant only to walk the grounds long enough to calm down. Then, when that passed and he still couldn't bring himself to turn back toward the lights and noise, he thought he might wait only an hour or so longer - enough time for everyone to settle into their games and their homework assignments. But an hour became two, waiting no longer for calm or dusk or even night. Now, he merely walked - the words running on a permanent, haunting loop.
Just tell him, mate.
Exhaustion was the thing that finally set him back off in the direction of his bed, ducking into a stone lion outside of the Owlery. His morose ruminations had taken him beyond his conversation with Remus - beyond the change in his advice and his countenance, whatever that had meant. Flickers of memories, skipping and hiccuping with no regard for chronology, raced across the backs of his eyelids despite his efforts to drown them out. Of the many things that would always mark him as a Black - the brooding grin and thousand mile stare, the dangerous familiarity with solitude - would always remain the self-destructive proclivities even he knew he possessed in spades. A wiser man might have considered how deeply avoidance and self-delusion were entrenched in his family inheritance, but it was perhaps the very nature of those things that made him ignore it.
The taste of the air shifted when his head emerged above ground, though the light didn't change and it wasn't long before the sounds other than his footfalls, Remus' words and Lily's intoxicating laughter were reaching his ears. On the contrary, these other sounds seemed to be rooted in reality rather than neurosis and he stopped short of the noise.
"Nox!" he whispered, all of the light sucked out of the room.
Waking up the next morning, he couldn't be truly sure how he'd made his way back up to his bed but Remus was, as usual, already awake, showered and dressed, his books and essays from the night before spread out across his bed.
"Good morning," he whispered wihtout looking up.
Sirius didn't offer a greeting of his own, but it was more than wounded pride that motivated his passive agressive behavior - that same sense of unhappy portend he'd felt last night resting in his chest.
"This came for you last night," Remus added, seemingly oblivious to his friends silence. He tossed the letter in Sirius' general direction and returned to scratching his quill across the parchment, evidently uninterested in its contents.
It took no close inspection to realize the letter was from Andromeda, but he rubbed the sleep from his eyes anyway, turning the paper over in his hands before thrusting it, unopened, into his bedside table. Andromeda, Ted and their daughter may have been the oly family he had left, but that didn't make her constant intrusions any more welcome. She would be wrrying, to be sure, and he struggled to remember how many days it had been since the funeral, and how it was that his Uncle's death had become an after thought.
Remus was quick to remind him. "How was your evening?" he asked conversationally, his voice still low.
Guilt now coloring over hunger - how long had it been since he'd last eaten a proper meal? - he dropped his body back onto the mattress, dragging the blankets over his head. "Just wasn't the same wihtout you," he grumbled by way of reply.
"Pity, I would have thought you could find other company," Remus retored, obviously still annoyed beneath his seemingly calm demenor.
"I didn't," he replied coldly, throwing off the blankets again and letting his feet touch the cold, stone floor.
"Are you expecting good marks for that?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I wouldn't expect high marks from you any day," Sirius shot back, digging through his trunk for a set of clean robes and only coming up with a few pairs of rumpled ones.
Remus opened his mouth to say something else, but he stopped, his jaw snapping shut with a clank as Peter stirred. He muttered something like "Belt up, you two," before rolling back over and plastering a pillow over his face.
"Perhaps we ought to continue this conversation in the common room," he offered, his tone once again measured.
SIrius rolled his eyes. "Because that would be a lively alternative," he muttered. Still, the hubris of early morning was beginning to wear off - dreams fading from the fringes of his mind as he slipped firmly back into his place in reality - and he could see clearly how frightened Lily had looked...how out of place her bright eyes seemed amidst his family relics, and feel once again the resolve of sparing her the danger. "There isn't going to be anything to tell anyone anymore," he hissed, glancing back over his shoulder at Peter's lumpy form.
They stared at eachother for a few excruciatingly long moments. Remus' expression seemed to be shifting between "It's about time!' and "Are you all right, mate?" but he said nothing, carefully rolling a length of parchment in his hands before getting up. "We should get those two up for breakfast," he said simply.
They did not manage to make it down for breakfast. As it turned, they barely made it down to the dungeons in time for Potions, skidding into their seats while Slughorn called the class to order. "If it isn't the Mr's Lupin, Pettigrew, Potter and Black. Lovely of you to join us," he warned indulgently. "The rest of your classmates were just turning to page ninety-seven. We'll be brewing Euphoria today."
"You look as though you might need a little Euphoria today, Miss Evans," Slughorn remarked, stirring Lily's potion a few minutes later. It was the sound of her name hat had called his attention away from his own cauldron but he forced his eyes to stay fixed on the liquid below. Stirring first clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then clockwise again before dropping in another yellow flower petal.
Mercifully, it wasn't long before James distracted him again, gesturing toward Remus and raising an eyebrow in disgust. "Are you eating?' he asked as Remus unearthed a paper package from his school bag and popped something in his mouth.
Remus rolled his eyes and offered the bun over to Sirius, reaching across the aisle.
"In the potions lab?" James asked again, clearly still repulsed.
"I might have been able to enjoy a proper breakfast if you hadn't spent all morning playing with your curlers," Sirius pointed out, abandoning his potion in favor of a snack.
"I can't help it if my hair resents my forehead," he joked, pretending to preen in the reflection of a stray ladle. "It's a burden being handsome, not something you'd understand."
"Your forehead is about to resent something," Sirius muttered as Slughorn took his place in front of the class, clearing his throat and leaving James with no alternative but to throw a well aimed elbow.
"Coming along quite nicely Mr. Black," Slughorn intoned, ladleing up a scoop of the potion. "Do you gentlemen have anything special planned for this All Hallows Eve?" he asked conspiratoraly "Any Hogsmeade establishements I should be avoiding."
"Would we do that, Professor?" James asked without missing a beat.
"Fair enough, Mr. Potter. Fair enough. Do try to keep the mayhem to a minimum this year, I beg of you. It was Christmas before I finally coaxed Miss. Kliebold's cat out of the clocktower."
"I'd forgotten about the cat, actually," Remus joked as they stepped into the hall, still stowing his books safely away after scribbling the latest of Slughorn's homework assignments down onto a spare piece of parchment.
Transfiguration was an almost cruel distance from the dungeons and nearly all of the Gryffindor's were making their way up the staircases. The noise provided more than adequate cover to discuss any potential mischief without alerting passing Professors or Filch and his own batty cat and, as Peter rushed to catch up, he was babbling something about getting Peeves to set off some fireworks before the feast. "We can do better than that," Sirius protested, only half paying attention.
"We ought to have another party," James insisted, clapping them on the shoulders. "See if we can't get Remus a little bit of Erin."
Remus tried not to blush when he answered, Erin no more than a few feet in front of them and glancing over her shoulder. "We ought to clear up the mess from the last one first," he suggested.
The conversation was quickly wandering toward a place he would prefer to avoid, but his attempts to change it's direction fell upon deaf - or at least oblivious - ears. "We wouldn't have to clean it up if we had the next one somewhere else," Peter ventured hesitantly.
Remus was saying something sarcastic about not making suggestions that had no practical application when a paper airplane collided squarely with the back of Sirius' head. James might have tried to stop the handful of sniggering younger students were he not laughing so hard himself as Sirius rounded in search of the person who'd launched it.
Regulus was smirking back at him.
Snatching the snippet of parchment out of the air, he wrenched it open and, scanning the text quickly, pushed back through the throng, blood pounding in his ears.
"Our father sends his salutations on your windfall," Regulus remarked, amused but taking a step back as Sirius reached for his collar.
"By the insanity of the ramblings, I would have thought your mother was behind this," he retorted, crumpling the parchment in his fingers and throwing it to the stone below.
If Regulus was hurt, he didn't show it, his face set coldly. "She's your mother too, you know. But I wouldn't think you would need that pointed out to you. Family ties seem to be running deep these days."
Sirius didn't need the rest to know precisely what his brother had meant but his cold pronunciation of the word punctuated the moment poetically nonetheless. The question - "how is the little mudblood?' - hanging ominously in the air between them.
A thousand things raced across his mind - his sanity, her safety, the tensile strength behind a closed fist - but it had been too long since he'd last bothered rising to a fight with any member of his family on the point of purity, and the less to be said of Lily all around would be the better. Still, the way he referred to her brought acid to the back of Sirius' throat, burning his tonsils and threatening to spill forward in violence. "I'll never set foot in that house again," he replied with every ounce of the icy chill he'd learned in sixteen years under his father's roof.
"Was it worth all that?" Regulus asked, eyeing James and Remus over Sirius' shoulder, both of them suddenly aware that they were no where near alone in the crowded hall, but Sirius didn't care, turning to walk away, all of the bile suddenly fading.
"Peter, if you light one more thing on fire, I swear I will break that thing in half," Sirius warned hours later in the common room. Nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to be beyond an ability to irritate him tonight and Peter's inexpert attempts at completing his Transfiguration homework - most of which had resulted in nearly setting alight the magazine Sirius was trying to read - was no exception. "What time is it?" Blowing out another singed corner, he flipped the page, abandoning the album review and glanced around for a clock. "I'm starving."
James raised his eyes and reached into his pocket for a slightly melted chocolate frog. "Quarter past."
Tossing the paper wrapper, card and all, aside, he kicked his boots back onto the floor and stood up.
"Changing for dinner?" Remus asked with a raised eyebrow, watching as Sirius headed for the stairs. There was obvious concern in his every word and what he meant could only be obvious.
"I did think I'd drop by the market and pick up that new hat I've been eyeing," he remarked, bounding up the stairs. When he got there, however, it wasn't only clothes that he reached for, yanking out a bag of crisps and a handful of licorice wands before falling backward onto his mattress with the letter from Andromeda as a distraction.
If he was being honest, and he wasn't, but if he were, he would have had to admit that the only thing he wanted at the moment was to feel that warmth on his skin - that comfort of another person's head resting on his chest and that sweet honeysuckle smell of Lily's hair mingling in his every breath. She wasn't easy and she almost never made any sense, but she was a comfort - a reprieve from the darkness he'd assumed as his own. In the pages of the letter from his closest cousin, he would find a handful of attempts at comfort, a little levity and perhaps a story or two from his youth but, mostly, he would find that, she too - married to a muggle, mother to a happy, bubbly little girl and living a life entirely apart from their macabre beginnings - had never fully been able to escape the curse that was all things Black. Fortunately, he wasn't being honest.
Pulling himself back up off of the mattress and, once again, tossing the letter aside, he reached for his jeans and jacket, bolting out the door a few minutes later.
"Up for a little debauchery?" he asked, reaching the bottom of the stairs with a thud as he leapt over the banister.
It had been dusk when they'd left but, by the time the Knight Bus delivered them in London, even the halos around the streetlamps were turning an inky navy. "Excellent idea, mate," James remarked, drink in hand as he leaned back against the bar.
"You don't know the half of it," Sirius replied, smirking at a girl on the other side of the room.
"No way she goes for it," Peter whispered.
"You're on," James answered, watching as she smiled mischievously back before leaving her friends, making a meandering (perhaps drunken) line for the bathroom, glancing over her shoulder just the once. Peter handed over a galleon. Sirius hesitated only long enough to empty his glass and grin at his friends - the restlessness, the frustration, the guilt and the denial propelling him toward this happy end.
"Hi," she cooed when he pushed open the swinging door, still grinning lecherously.
"Hi, he answered back, his fingers already halfway through pushing her skirt up over her hips. She wiggled a little as his thumbs hooked in her panties and let his tongue entwine with hers. Her kiss was chalky. On any other night, that might have stopped him cold - at least long enough to ask what it was - but, in the moment, he couldn't bring himself to care, the angry violence he'd felt all day channeling into the tearing of lace. Swiping the pill from beneath her tongue with his and biting down on it, he ground it into powder between his teeth while she fumbled for his belt.
"Relax," she managed between breaths, "We're gonna be here for a while."