The next couple of days were accompanied by a steady snowfall across the castle grounds, as well as a deep chill in the air. Not for the first time, but certainly with the same amount of relief, she was glad Sirius Black had a warm tent in the midst of the worsening weather.

Despite the cold, she would have gladly left the castle to spend more time with her new convict friend. From the one day they spent talking— person-to-person rather than person-to-dog— Lucy decided that she enjoyed Sirius's company. She had been a little wary at first, but she soon found out that Sirius Black was compulsively honest. He obviously had some secrets, like everyone did, but when it came to his opinions, he blurted out whatever came to mind. Lucy never thought she'd meet someone who disliked Slytherins as much as Ron, but alas, Sirius existed. Now, she didn't agree with that, but the fact that he told her knowing she had a few friends in Slytherin gave him a few more points in her mind.

She wanted to visit the tent again, but Anthony advised her against it. He'd never stop her, of course, but she had to concede that he had a strong point on why she shouldn't. She and Anthony disappeared for only a day, and it left the professors with loads of questions. Not only had Professor Lupin asked where they'd gone, but Professor Sprout, McGonagall, and a curious Madam Hooch inquired as well.

"It was too damn quiet," was Madam Hooch's only input.

Ordinarily Lucy would not let a little suspicion from the professors stop her from her adventures, but there was more at stake here than her own boredom. If the professors acted on their concern and searched the castle, only to find them missing— especially considering she'd spoken to Sirius Black face-to-face before— they'd organize a search mission. Lucy could talk herself out of an awful lot but she wasn't sure how well she'd fare if the professors found two of their students lounging deep in the Forbidden Forest.

Anthony left every morning to bring Sirius food, and he wouldn't return until late in the afternoon. Then he'd spend a few hours doing homework, or hanging out with Lucy, before he left again in the evening to deliver the man dinner.

"I won't have any of my ducklings starving," Anthony told her sternly when she commented that he might have brought a little too much food for a malnutritioned man to handle. "'Sides, I made a magic refrigerator, he'll be fine."

"You made a what?"

He didn't elaborate and Lucy was furious she wouldn't find out until later.

Instead of visiting Sirius Black, Lucy had to find other means to keep herself entertained in the agonizing two days until Christmas Eve. She and her friends finished the details on their upcoming blizzard prank in the Great Hall and there wasn't really anything for them to do other than homework and... dear merlin... Wizard's Chess... Lucy was an absolute master at that game, but she hated her skills with a burning passion.

No, not her skills. Her curse. Voldemort had cursed her with amazing chess prowess, and for that she would never forgive him.

The night before Christmas Eve found Lucy wandering through the corridors aimlessly. Now that she knew Sirius wasn't a mass murderer, she felt as though it was safe to roam around. There weren't any crazed Slytheirn stalkers looking to throw her off a staircase... that she knew of, anyway, sometimes Theodore looked tempted whenever she made a pun about his last name... And there was a distinct lack of basilisks slithering through the pipes.

She considered the lack of basilisks a flaw at this point, because come on, that was awesome. Now that she thought about it, she reckoned she could hatch one of her own. It wasn't that hard. She could give it to Harry for Christmas. Wait, no, Harry might kill it, and she loved snakes! She used to think they were gross, but that was before she could speak to them. Although Ford was rather rude. Then again, she was very annoying. And she already got Harry a Christmas gift, a basilisk would just be overkill. She couldn't help all of her Christmas cheer!

"Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock," she sang, rounding a corner. She drew her wand and twirled it as she walked. For once she appreciated her wand's dramatics, as it let out a rain of green sparks. "Jingle bells swing, and jingle bells ring."

She turned and pointed to the window, at the worsening snow outside. "Snowin' and blowin' up bushels of fun," and then she kept walking, hopping over the cracks in the floor. "Now the jingle hop has begun! Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock, jingle bells chime in jingle bell time. Dancin' and praincin' in Jingle Bell Square—"

She rounded the next corner and tilted her head back, singing out loud, "IN THE FROSTY AIIIIIR!"

It was most unfortunate that at the same time she rounded the corner, she screamed those last words into the face of Professor Snape.

He stared down at her, seemingly at a loss as to what to say, and she stared back at him, racking her brain for a proper response. She pursed her lips and then held up a finger to him. "This never happened," she said quietly, stepping around him. Professor Snape turned his head to continue staring at her, utterly dead inside.

But the moment Lucy was a few feet away from him, she continued on with the rest of the song. If Professor Snape sighed, she certainly didn't hear it.

She wasn't sure if it was rotten luck or her own subconscious that led her to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. The moment she caught sight of the door and the puddle outside it, she stopped in her tracks. Despite what she told Myrtle on Halloween, she was hesitant to return to the bathroom, and in turn to the ghost who she was supposedly well acquainted with while she was possessed. Myrtle probably held a lot of answers for what she did in those last nights, but... did Lucy really want to know?

Lucy stood there, battling with herself. Would knowing help her in any way? Would knowing detract from what happened last year? No, certainly not, but... she was curious. It was her body that was moving without her knowledge. It was her memories that were deprived from her. The matter was, then, not that knowing would help her, but that she deserved to know. This was her knowledge.

It was settled. Lucy strode up to the bathroom door and opened it, calling out, "Myrtle? Are you in here?"

She heard a haughty sniff from the last bathroom stall.

Lucy took that as a yes.

She grimaced slightly and closed the door behind her. Myrtle was probably sore that she hadn't visited in the past month. But before she made her way over to the ghost, she took a cursory glance of the bathroom— more specifically, the faucet she knew to reveal the Chamber of Secrets. She waited for her brain to make some sort of reaction, but she didn't feel anything toward it, not a scrap of familiarity. Tom had done an excellent job in hiding his actions.

Objects went missing from time to time, like her History of Magic book and torn out pages, by why on earth would Lucy have suspected Tom of that? When she knew him, he was always telling her to keep track of her belongings and he'd even help search for them when they went missing. The pair of them were both very good actors, unfortunately even to one another.

"This is my bathroom now," Lucy decided, glaring at the sinks. "And that's my Chamber of Secrets. Piss off, Voldy."

"What?" Myrtle's confused voice sounded from the stalls. Then she realized she was meant to be mad at Lucy and scoffed. She floated through the door and down toward Lucy, her arms crossed over her chest. Lucy realized that they were now about the same height. Last year, and even in her first year, she thought that Myrtle must have been a fifth year or something, but she looked rather young. "Well?" she said impatiently. "What do you want?"

"Company, of course," Lucy said, like it was obvious. She walked over to the special sink and used it as her chair, swinging her legs off the edge. "It's Christmas Eve Eve, you know. Special occasion."

"And you only visit on holidays?" Myrtle said scathingly.

"Sorry about that," Lucy winced. The ghost was entirely unmoved. "But... to be fair, it was for a very good reason this time. And if I tell you, do you promise to keep it a secret? You can't tell anyone this time, not even Harry, regardless of his roguish good looks!" She'd rather eat slugs than say that in front of Harry, since he was about the furthest thing from roguish, but Myrtle seemed to agree with her. "This must stay between you and me."

"All right, then," Myrtle said, giving her a suspicious look.

Lucy grinned. Obviously, she wasn't going to tell Myrtle about Sirius Black, she wasn't that stupid, but Myrtle would appreciate someone letting her in on a secret. She leaned closer and said in a hushed tone, "Anthony and I are sneaking to Diagon Alley tomorrow."

Myrtle's eyes widened. "What?" And then she let out a loud, cackling laugh. "You're insane! They'll expel you for something like that!"

"And if they expel me, I will die of heartbreak and haunt them along with you," Lucy countered. She wasn't particularly worried about being caught because as she learned through the years, she and Anthony working together were an unstoppable force. Heck, she managed to break into Dumbledore's office, and that was almost entirely her own plan.

"When did you die?" Lucy asked suddenly, looking over at Myrtle. She couldn't figure out how old she was.

"That's a personal question," Myrtle said, but she looked more flattered than offended.

"I'm a personal person," Lucy shrugged. "How old were you, I mean? I know it was 1942 and all."

"Oh, I was in my third year," Myrtle said it so casually that Lucy almost didn't register it. Really, Tom killed a thirteen-year-old when he was fifteen?!

This meant that Lucy only had one year to beat Tom's high score.

...That was a joke.

Probably.

Myrtle floated over to the sink beside Lucy and sat down as well, mimicking Lucy's posture."I was in that stall over there—" she pointed to where they'd made the Polyjuice Potion, "— hiding because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses. Then somebody came in, and they used that strange language I heard you using sometimes. But it wasn't the language that was bothering me. It was that a boy walked in! To the girl's toilet!" Myrtle was repulsed at the very thought.

Lucy agreed wholeheartedly. "What a creep, am I right?"

"Such a creep," Myrtle scowled. "I unlocked the door to tell him to use his own bathroom, and then," she straightened up and looked over at Lucy proudly. "I died!"

Lucy could hardly blame her for being proud of her death, because if she ever came back as a ghost, she'd be awfully smug about it, too. Then nobody could escape her annoyance, not even through death. "That's wicked, Myrtle," Lucy grinned at her and held up her hand for a high-five. Amused, Myrtle gave her one, although her hand moved through hers. "Do you know who killed you?"

"I heard it was Hagrid, on accident, of course," Myrtle said. "Makes things a bit awkward when I see him walking around."

"Nah Hagrid was framed. I know who really killed you," Lucy began, taking a dramatic pause. She once again found it funny how Myrtle was only mildly interested in who killed her. "The culprit was... drumroll please... Tom Riddle!"

Myrtle snapped her fingers. "I should have known!" she groaned, clapping her hands over her cheeks. "I saw him leaving the girl's toilet earlier that year. He said he heard a commotion, and I didn't quite believe him, but I just thought... y'know..."

"You thought what?" Lucy's smile took up her entire face.

"...Well, he never seemed to have a girlfriend, so I thought he was a bit of a peeping Tom."

Lucy couldn't help it, she collapsed backward against the sink laughing, imagining Tom Riddle having to explain to Myrtle Warren why the hell he was leaving the girl's bathroom. "What- what a loser," she managed through her laughter. "Please tell me you told someone. Please tell me you spread a rumor about him."

"Nobody would believe me," Myrtle's eyes were shining at the sight of someone laughing with her instead of at her. "I thought I hallucinated it myself for a while. Tom Riddle lurking around the girl's bathroom. I always stared at him after that, and sometimes he caught me, and he always glared— wait, Tom Riddle killed me?!" Myrtle finally seemed to realize what Lucy had told her in the first place before they got sidetracked on his creepy behavior. "That stuffy old prefect?!"

"His basilisk did, so it was much cooler than if he did," Lucy assured her.

"That's a relief," Myrtle huffed. A grin slowly spread across her face. "Wait until I tell Peeves that a basilisk killed me. He's been teasing me that I died in a bathroom for ages."

"Why don't you ever punch him? Can ghosts punch poltergeists?"

"I've never tried," Myrtle said, but now she looked very tempted. "Maybe that's why he's afraid of the Bloody Baron."

Again, imagining the Bloody Baron decking Peeves in the face was enough to make Lucy lose it again. Myrtle waited patiently as she collected herself, and she studied the other girl thoughtfully. "You're a lot more wild than you used to be," she mused.

Lucy pursed her lips. "Well... about that..." She fiddled with her hands. Myrtle ought to know that she didn't remember a single thing about their friendship, other than that skewed memory last Halloween. She wondered how the ghost would take to finding out that it was Tom Riddle meddling yet again. Well, there was only one way to find out. She glanced at Myrtle and half smiled, half grimaced. "Myrtle, all those times I was in the bathroom, except for the Polyjuice potion... I don't remember a thing that happened."

Myrtle's smile froze. "What do you mean?"

"It... it wasn't really me. Well, it was me, as in it was my body, but— I was being possessed at the time." She looked Myrtle in the eye and frowned. "Tom was possessing me at the time. And so I don't remember what I told you—"

"So you didn't say any of that?" Myrtle demanded, and her eyes were beginning to flow with all too familiar tears.

Lucy hastily raised her hands to try and calm the ghost down. "No, it wasn't me— but that doesn't mean I don't like you, Myrtle! Because I do!" And she meant it, too. Myrtle was a bit dramatic sometimes, but so was she. And Lucy couldn't exactly blame her for being miserable all the time. She was dead, and she apparently died right after being bullied. "Like you said, I'm more wild than I used to be— because that wasn't really me. This is me." She pointed at herself.

"But... why would he do that?" Myrtle said despairingly. She buried her face into her hands. "I told you— him— someone so many things— why would he—?"

Something cold stirred in Lucy's chest. She knew exactly how Myrtle felt. She felt like Myrtle was feeling now all the time, but the worst part was that she didn't have the answers. She didn't think anybody knew why Tom did it other than himself.

"I don't know," Lucy said gently. She placed her hand on Myrtle's shoulder. "He lied to me, too. I had no idea I was being possessed. I didn't know I opened the Chamber of Secrets. I—" and her gaze flickered, as something akin to anger welled up in the pit of her stomach. Her usual attempts at mustering anger at Tom only resulted in despair and conflict, but now, all she could picture was her image lying to Myrtle Warren, her image setting the basilisk after Hermione, after Daisy, after Anthony. She would have never done that. She would have never done that.

Lucy would never get the chance to ask Tom why he did everything he did, and in this moment, she didn't particularly care either. All she knew was that there was another person who was feeling the way she felt that night, and that made her furious. She jumped off the sink and turned around to glower at the faucet.

A small smirk curled on her lips, and she drew her wand, pointing it at the inside of the sink. "Defodio," she said, and it didn't work. She glowered at her wand and summoned all her will. "I believe I said Defodio," she snapped, and a strained beam of magic shot out of her wand. She carefully wrote each word, mindful to keep her usually messy scrawl neat.

Right in the middle of the sink, she had carved,

LEGENDER'S CHAMBER NOW.

"Okay, I don't quite understand your line of thought," Myrtle said, eyeing the manic smile on the other girl's face. Ghostly tears were still in the corner of her eyes, but the strangeness of Lucy's action was enough to keep them at bay for the time being.

"Nobody does!" Lucy said cheerfully. Satisfied, she turned back to Myrtle. "I am very sorry you had to deal with a knock-off Lucy Rochester," she said solemnly. "When the real one is so very awesome and beautiful. Would you, Myrtle Warren, do me the honor of being my friend rather than that imposter's?"

Myrtle eyed her for a long pause. Finally, she inclined her head. "I guess I'd take you over Tom Riddle any day," she said at last.

Lucy's eyes lit up. "Really?"

"All you— well, he did was boss me around all the time, looking back on it," the ghost frowned. Lucy knew exactly what she meant. Most of the time Lucy didn't listen to him, but someone like Myrtle, who didn't have many friends to begin with, would have gladly followed his word.

"How come you didn't recognize him when he took me into the Chamber? You went to school with him, didn't you?"

"Yeah, fifty years ago, and we were in different Houses," Myrtle said, rolling her eyes. "He wasn't exactly memorable."

Lucy had the strange impulse to defend Tom, as she'd done with Ron and Anthony last year, but she restrained herself. Instead she allowed herself to laugh at the fact that at least one person had been immune to Riddle's charm all those years ago. She really underestimated Myrtle. Yes, the ghost was emotional, but she was also headstrong and followed her own interests.

"The person I wish I could forget was Olive Hornby," Myrtle went on, obviously bored of talking about Tom.

Lucy sat back on the sink, making herself comfortable as she settled in for what was sure to be a long, dramatic tale.

Moaning Myrtle was a rather strange ghost.


After a busy night of decorating Cedric Jr, Anthony and Lucy woke up bright and early on the morning of Christmas Eve.

It was Lucy's idea to sneak out on this day— she heard from Madam Hooch that the staff were holding their own holiday gathering in the staff room. Professors would, of course, still patrol the castle, but on such a holiday Lucy deduced that the only ones willing to skip the festivities would be Professor Snape and Filch. Both of them never bothered to check the other three common rooms. With the professors taken care of, her next step was to distract Ron, Harry, and Hermione. She told the three of them that she and Anthony were planning a huge prank for the next day, and so she likely would not resurface from the common room for the rest of the day. They believed her, obviously, and now she'd have to think of a last minute prank big enough to warrant an entire day.

Lucy waited patiently as Anthony ran all around the common room, getting everything ready. He tripped over the tinsel hanging from Cedric Jr. at least four times before he gathered everything in Lucy's backpack. Then he and Lucy ran the entire way to Sirius's tent, eager to set their plan into motion.

"HANDS UP! IT'S THE POLICE!" Lucy shouted, barging through the clearing.

Instinctively, Sirius turned around and held a rock, poised to throw it, "YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE!" He realized it was Lucy and huffed, lowering the rock. "That was cruel, Rochester! Cruel, I tell you! The first time I see you in two days, and this is how I am greeted?"

"It was a safety drill, and I have to say, I am very disappointed in you," she said as she skipped over to him. She took the rock out of his hand and grinned. "A rock? Really? What's that going to do against a Dementor?"

"You'd be surprised," Anthony muttered.

She and Sirius both squinted and slowly turned to look at him. Anthony jumped and plastered a nervous smile on his face. "I mean— who knows what it would do? I certainly wouldn't know what a Dementor scream sounds like... No, not at all..."

Sirius was entirely unconvinced, and narrowed his eyes even more at the other boy. "Stay away from the Dementors," he warned. "They might not seem it, but they're smart creatures. They have a good memory."

Anthony shrugged. He knew he ought to stay away from them now, but he couldn't help but give them a hard time whenever their paths crossed. "Only if they stay away from me— and that's a rather hard feat in itself, Sirius, because I am so very irresistible."

"And yet here I am, resisting you," Sirius snorted.

"I should expect nothing more from someone who doesn't like chocolate." Anthony sniffed.

"I never said I didn't like it, I said that it might kill me! I haven't had it since I first turned into a dog!"

"Always excuses with you, isn't it, Black? If you were really a Gryffindor you would have tried it."

"I'll not take such judgement from a Hufflepuff!" Sirius snapped. Lucy made an annoyed sound, and he turned to give her an innocent smile. "Except you, of course, Lucy." But then he turned back to Anthony and glared again. "But you have no place to blame me for not liking chocolate—"

A triumphant grin lit up Anthony's face. "Aha! So you admit you don't like it!"

Sirius ignored him and continued on, "— when you apparently do not like peanut butter."

Anthony let out a long, drawn out gasp. He lay a hand over his chest and stumbled backward, collapsing against a tree. "I... I can't believe you'd use that against me..." he said quietly. "After all we've been through... These past four days... have they meant nothing to you?"

Lucy gave each man a blank look. "So I'm going to ignore all of that," she said, swinging her backpack off her shoulder and dropping it to the ground. "As the leader of this group—"

"Why are you the leader?" Anthony cut in with a pout.

She pulled her wand out of her pocket and pointed it at him, giving him a 'try me' expression. "Do you want to duel for it?" She was sort of hoping he'd say yes, since she knew he was a good duellist and she hadn't gotten to duel anyone since... well, since the dueling club, really. "Because I'll absolutely duel you for it."

"Hah! No."

Lucy sighed and put her wand away. "Worth a shot." She turned back to the backpack and asked, "Can I look inside it now?"

"No, I will dramatically reveal it all in my own time," Anthony said. She glared at him until he laughed and went over to the backpack. "Okay, fine, I suppose we'd better get started if we want to leave before people start wandering around Hogsmeade." He crouched down and rummaged through the magically extended backpack, pulling out a few items. There were two bundles of clothes, and he handed one of them to Sirius. "I've got some disguises for us. We're all quite recognizable, since we're all beautiful and stuff, so I've put together the perfect outfits to keep people from asking questions!"

Sirius tried to examine which clothes he was going to be wearing today, but Anthony cleared his throat loudly. He pointed a finger at the tent. "Go! Change!" he ordered.

"But what are they—"

"You'll find out! Now begone!"

Sirius grumbled as he stepped into the tent, but when he left a few minutes later, Lucy almost didn't recognize him. Before, he wore ratty old robes that he confessed he'd stolen out of a bin at Knockturn Alley, and he still resembled a fugitive with the plain clothes Anthony lent him after. Now, he was dressed in a sharp three-piece suit. He was straightening his silver pocket watch as he stepped out and had a black trench coat draped over one arm. He shot them each a grin, and his teeth were far less yellow than they'd been a week ago. His hair, too, was no longer matted, and there were only a few grays in it.

Anthony let out a wolf-whistle, while Lucy gave Sirius a high-five. "We've got a gentleman on the block, lads!" he grinned.

"I don't know how you convinced me so easily," Sirius said, giving a slight grimace as he pulled at one of his sleeves, "When my own mother couldn't get me to wear a suit."

"It's because of my charming smile paired with my alluring personality."

"My word, you are a handful today," Lucy informed him. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a Daisy-esque glare. "Bring that inflated head back down to earth, please."

"I'm inflated?" he demanded. "You told me you could fight God twenty minutes ago!"

"Well, yes, because I could. I never said I'd win." She paused. "Okay, of course I would win, have you seen me?"

Anthony rolled his eyes. He shoved a bundle of clothes into her arms and pointed at the tent. "Go change. NOW!"

She stuck her tongue out at him and ducked into the tent. He mentioned he had disguises for them last night, but he didn't give her any specifics. She was expecting a fancy disguise like Sirius, but she was surprised to see that the clothes weren't too far off from what she'd buy if she had more money. She was already wearing her torn muggle jeans, as instructed by Anthony, but she put on a new, seemingly high quality gray hoodie paired with a black denim jacket and then fingerless gloves. She pulled on the pair of black boots— a bit surprised because they made her taller— and then left the tent.

Anthony gasped and clapped his hands to his cheeks. "My creation!"

"Where's your disguise?" she demanded.

He smirked and shed his robe, revealing an outfit he already had on underneath. He had on a navy blue sweater over a white buttoned-up shirt, slacks, and fine dress shoes. He reached into the backpack and pulled out a black overcoat. "That's my secret, Little Luce," he tisked at her. "I'm always in disguise."

"Disguised as a sane person when you're absolutely mad," she muttered.

"What was that?"

She smiled innocently. "I mean, you're absolutely rad."

"That's what I thought," he sniffed.

"So what's the reasoning behind these disguises again?" Sirius spoke up. He was still adjusting the suit, obviously feeling very out of place in it.

"Well, as I have learned through the years, nobody questions a man in a suit. That is just a fact." Anthony nodded his head at Sirius's suit. Lucy opened her mouth to argue this point, but then she realized he was right. Every single time a man or woman showed up to Wool's in a suit, she assumed they knew exactly what they were doing. "If we wore robes, we'd likely be approached by other wizards, because that's what our lot do; they talk to one another and see if they've got any connections. Gross socializing, I know. And I've also learned, through you, Luce, that nobody approaches a young girl wearing torn muggle clothes. Back in first year I'd watch you hex Malfoy but nobody approached you when you wore the muggle clothes."

Lucy grinned. First year had actually been rather fun, now that she looked back on it. She'd say it was the most stressful, but she got away with a lot due to her position in spying on Professor Quirrell. Malfoy had been a brilliant test subject for most of her newly learned hexes and jinxes.

"And that's not the only part of our disguises," he said, and he pointed his wand at his face. He muttered a spell and his hair immediately fell flat instead of its usually messy half-curls. After another spell, it was combed back in a neat fashion, only a strand falling in his eyes.

This time, it was Lucy who let out a wolf whistle. "If only Daisy could see you now!"

"I wouldn't let her catch me dead without my luscious locks," Anthony shuddered at the thought. He said a few more spells and by the end of his transformation, Lucy had to admit she'd never recognize him out in Diagon Alley. His freckles disappeared and his light brown hair was now a very dark brown, the same going for his eyes.

He pointed at Sirius. "You're next!"

The man could only raise his eyebrows as Anthony used the same series of spells on him. Lucy was amazed just watching it. Sirius's hair was still black, but it was shorter and combed nicely, the gray hairs disappearing. His face was fuller, his teeth white, and his dark circles vanished. And then, Anthony changed some of his features. His nose was a little sharper, his lips fuller, and his cheekbones were now less pronounced. If she saw him as a stranger, she might have thought they looked similar, but the difference from the wanted poster was amazing. The finishing touch was when Anthony turned his gray eyes dark brown.

Finally, it was Lucy's turn.

Anthony pointed his wand at her hair and then frowned after a few moments. "Why isn't it growing?"

She also frowned. Madam Pomfrey had tried that same spell last year, but nothing worked, not even a potion. Lucy had been sort of relieved back then because the missing hair was evidence that Tom had, in fact, existed at one point, but now she sort of missed her long hair. "My best guess is that Tom used one of his own spells, or some other dark magic," she sighed.

Anthony scoffed. "Smarmy git. Wouldn't a simple diffindo have sufficed?" Sirius cleared his throat and gave him a pointed look. "Er— or preferably if he hadn't tried to kidnap you and fake your death at all."

"Everybody makes mistakes," Lucy shrugged.

Anthony snorted and continued on his process anyway. He turned her hair black, and she wasn't sure what her face looked like until he handed each of them a mirror. Lucy raised her eyebrows. Anthony hadn't changed her facial features at all, but her eyes were now a bright, piercing blue. She didn't think she liked the change.

"What about my face?" she complained.

"I've only learned these spells yesterday, cub," he admitted. "I haven't tried undoing any of them yet. If I have to go to the hospital wing, better one of us goes than both of us." He smirked at Sirius. "Sorry, but in that case, you're screwed, mate."

"Somehow I think not looking like my wanted poster is more of an advantage," Sirius snorted. "Are we ready to go yet?"

"One moment," Lucy said. She reached into her satchel and pulled out the Invisibility Cloak. She presented it to them with a proud grin. "Harry lent it to me!" She didn't even have to ask him. He offered as soon as she told him she and Anthony were working on a prank. Her best friend was so awesome.

Sirius stared at the cloak with an odd expression on his face. Lucy could practically sense the memories rushing back to him from all the times he and his friends used it for their misdeeds. "I hope you've been causing trouble with that old thing," he said once he snapped out of his daze. He gave Lucy an expectant stare.

"Well, so far we've snuck a dragon out of the castle with it—"

"What?" Sirius demanded.

"And snuck into the Slytherin common room with it—"

"Ah, well, we've done that already. Forty-three times to be exact."

"And then snuck into Hagrid's hut while he was being arrested with it."

Lucy sighed, slightly disappointed with herself. Now that she thought about it, Harry hadn't used it for much. They had a means to sneak around the school without getting caught, and they'd barely used it. This was yet another reason she was glad to have Sirius around. Without him and the stories he had of the Marauders, she would have never thought of abusing the Invisibility Cloak with Harry, and while her friend wasn't nearly as much of a troublemaker as his father and Sirius, she was certain he'd be willing if she mentioned it.

Sneaking into Hogsmeade was a little more difficult than they thought it'd be. Since the Dementors were barely tolerated on Hogwarts grounds, they had to feed elsewhere, and that happened to be the village of Hogsmeade. Though they had the cloak, Sirius turned into his animagus form anyway. Anthony told her quietly it was because the effects of the Dementors were lessened in a transfigured form.

Lucy suddenly wished she was an animagus, too. The Dementors weren't close enough that she felt like she might pass out, but the soft, angry whispers in her ears were still unsettling. She hadn't heard them since the first couple of months after the Chamber incident, but the angry voice of Tom Riddle was still very unsettling. She tried to ignore it by focusing on her first trip to Hogsmeade— and yet she found the village lackluster as she approached it.

Diagon Alley was colorful and exciting, while this village looked the exact same as any other muggle village. Yes, there were magical items in the windows of shops but she didn't feel like she was missing out on much. If anything, she was saving money by staying at Hogwarts, and money was something she really needed to think about for when she left Wool's Orphanage.

Anthony led them through the barren streets toward an inn at the edge of town. If possible, this inn was more dark and crowded than the Leaky Cauldron; the window shutters were peeling and some were broken altogether, and as they stepped inside, the place was nearly empty except for a few people sitting alone at each table.

"This way," Anthony whispered to her. She followed him through the bar, ignoring the suspicious glances the other patrons sent her way. She couldn't imagine many other people snuck out of the castle to Hogsmeade, at least, not since Sirius and his friends were at Hogwarts.

He strode up to the bar. "Have you got a floo back there?" he asked in somewhat of a bored tone. She found it odd that Anthony wasn't being his courteous self, and then she remembered that they were in disguise.

The barman, an old fellow with a long, steel gray beard and dirty spectacles, studied Anthony for a moment before jerking his head toward the back. "Down that hall there," he said. He glanced down at Sirius and frowned. "The Floo isn't good for animals, you know."

"Really?" Anthony raised his eyebrows. "Fluffy has never shown much of a problem before."

Sirius was outraged at this nickname as he turned to glare at Anthony. Lucy rolled her eyes and tapped Sirius pointedly on the head. If he started a fuss now, she wouldn't put it past the barman to prevent them from using the floo altogether. Sirius sniffed at her and strode toward the hallway.

"Phase one, complete," Anthony said in a dramatic whisper as they stepped into the grate.

"Phase two begins," Lucy added in an equally dramatic whisper. She grabbed a handful of floo powder and threw it on the ground, saying clearly, "Diagon Alley."

Anthony stumbled out of the floo and hunched over, coughing onto the ground. "Son of a— give a guy a warning, Luce, my mouth was open and everything!" he complained, spitting out bits of ashes. Like any good friend would, she pointed and laughed at him instead of apologizing. He scowled and crossed his arms over his chest, still letting out small coughs. "You're evil. Maybe it's you who should go to Azkaban."

"Maybe you should learn how to use the floo, " she mimicked his complaining tone. He tried to swipe at her, but she laughed and dodged out of the way. "C'mon, Sir— er, Grimm, you can change back behind the next corner..." She led them out of the floo station and sure enough, there was a small, almost indiscernible alleyway right beside it. She knew the layout of Diagon Alley like the back of her hand by now, both from the summer after her first year and from working for Mallory.

Sirius stepped out of the alleyway and shot a cautious glance at every witch and wizard that passed them by. For the first time in, well, around twelve years, he was out in the open among the rest of society, and this was also the first time none of the other citizens spared him a glance. "This is so weird," he muttered.

"Better get used to it," Lucy shot him a grin as she nudged him with her elbow. "That'll be everyday life after we clear your name."

"Well, except for the mounting fame we'll gain, of course," Anthony added. "We'll be more famous than our resident Voldemort-Murderer."

Lucy rolled her eyes as Sirius raised his eyebrows at Anthony. "He did not murder Voldemort," she said, glaring over at him. She hadn't been sure they would be able to behave like civilized people for the entirety of this mission, but she also didn't expect them to start bickering so early on.

She couldn't say she was disappointed.

Anthony poked fun at Lucy a little more as they headed toward Gringotts at the end of the street. Little things, like pointing in a certain direction to make her look, dodging whenever Lucy turned to smack him. It was only when he stepped on the back of Lucy's shoe that Sirius turned around to give Anthony an exasperated look.

"Anthony, keep your hands and feet to yourself. Lucy, for Merlin's sake, put your wand away!" Sirius pointed a threatening finger at each of them. Lucy immediately stowed her wand away in her pocket, thinking for a moment that Mrs. Cole had appeared out of thin air. Anthony stared at him with a wide grin, and slowly, the older man's eyes widened in horror. "Oh Merlin... Oh Godric... Did I just...?"

"Enforce your adult authority upon us?" Anthony said sweetly. "Yes, yes you did, sir."

"Agh!" Sirius put his hands over his ears, "Don't call me that!"

Anthony shot Lucy a pointed glance, and with a wicked smile she joined in. "Sorry, sir, we didn't mean to upset you," she continued, "You're so responsible, sir."

"Stop! Stop it!" Sirius kept his hands over his ears as he strode up ahead of them, leaving the younger two laughing behind him. "Can't believe I'm being bullied by two teenagers." He paused for a moment. "Oh dear Godric, this is how Slughorn felt, didn't he? Oh dear Godric, did I really just compare myself to Slughorn?!" He turned around and pointed at each of them, glowering. "Thanks for the existential crisis, kids!"

"That's what we're here for," Lucy said, and she gave a deep bow.

Although it was Christmas Eve, Diagon Alley was still crowded with people, perhaps more than Lucy had seen in her entire life. Evidently witches and wizards also left gift shopping for the last minute. She had to move quickly to keep up with Sirius and Anthony so as not to lose them in the crowd; there were hardly any children walking about, and she could hardly see over the sea of people walking in and out of Gringotts. The crowd was moving so quickly that she could not even bid the goblin at the door a good morning.

"Enter, stranger, but take heed," Anthony said ominously while he pushed the door open. He held it for the people behind him and then shot Lucy a wink. "Of what awaits the sin of greed."

"You're lame," she informed him.

He pulled a face at her.

Now that they arrived at the building, Sirius seemed to snap out of his daze. Knowing his new wand was somewhere beneath his feet was enough to bring a slight grin to his face, and he straightened up, composing himself as a sturdy businessman. He walked up to the counter confidently while Lucy and Anthony trailed behind.

"I'd like to request a private room," he said, clasping his hands behind his back. Lucy could see he was clenching his hands into fists. If any goblin decided to report him, they'd be in for an awfully difficult time.

The goblin eyed him curiously for a few moments, studying Sirius's face. Slowly, he turned his head over to the goblin sitting in the desk beside him. "Oldrok," he said in a low voice. "Show them down the hall."

Oldrok, while vaguely annoyed he was drawn from his work, climbed down from his stool and rounded the counter. "This way," he said. He didn't spare them a glance and walked toward the end of the bank.

He led them through a dark oak door that closed behind them, and she thought she heard the click of a lock. They walked through a few corridors, each decorated as grandly as the rest of the bank. This was deeper into Gringotts than Lucy had ever gone before. She knew the building was huge, but the corridors alone had ceilings as tall as the Great Hall, with intricate paintings of landscapes and goblin towers; it was a far more beautiful history than the type she learned with Professor Binns.

They finally arrived at a room. Oldrok beckoned them inside, and he closed the door behind him. He sat behind a desk with his name on it and folded his hands on the surface. "Now," he began, pulling his dark eyes up to Sirius. "What is your business here today?"

Lucy's hand was in her pocket, ready to draw her wand at the first sign of trouble. Sirius's expression didn't change. "I'd like to access the Black family vault," he said calmly, as though it was the most practical request in the world.

Oldrok studied him for a few moments, just as interested as the other goblin was. Lucy wondered if they had a way to see through magical disguises, or if he recognized Sirius. She decided the latter was more likely when a wide smile took up the goblin's face, revealing a row of sharp teeth. "And who might be requesting this?" he asked.

Sirius glanced at Anthony. Anthony nodded at him and shot him the thumbs up. He looked back to Oldrok and said, "Sirius Black."

The goblin's expression did not change, nor did he look surprised in the least. He kept his gaze with Sirius. "Do you have a key?"

Lucy let out the breath she was holding. Anthony was right after all. The goblins didn't care who was wanted and who wasn't. She didn't really doubt him, but she couldn't help but worry anyway. She could fight a hoard of aurors, and she would if she had to, but she didn't fancy becoming the second most wanted person in Britain— at least not while they finally had a good Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

"No," Sirius said. "And I don't have a wand, either."

"Then I will have to confirm your identity in another way."

Oldrok left the room, and as soon as the door closed behind him, Sirius let out a huge breath. "Salazar's balls, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!" He looked over at Lucy and Anthony. "How are you so calm?" he demanded.

"I know a lot about Gringotts," Anthony shrugged.

"I don't think about the consequences of my actions," Lucy said, smiling.

"That is very fair," Anthony nodded.

Oldrok returned shortly, holding a blank piece of parchment in his hand. He set the parchment down on his desk and sat in his armchair. He gestured for Sirius to sit in the chair across from him, and after a moment's hesitation, the man did as instructed. He eyed the goblin suspiciously as Oldrok held up a needle.

He stared at Sirius with a nasty smile. "Should you be lying about your identity, this parchment will ignite—and I cannot promise that this parchment will be the only thing that ignites."

"Wicked," Lucy whispered.

Sirius, with a perturbed expression, stuck his hand out. He didn't flinch as Oldrok pricked his finger, but he was slightly hesitant as he pressed his finger to the parchment. There was not any hesitation. In an elegant red script, a few words scrawled themselves on the parchment.

Lord Sirius Orion Black III.

Oldrok's smile only grew while Sirius looked a little irritated to see his name written in such a way. The parchment glowed a dim blue color and then disappeared completely. "I'm pleased to do business with you, Lord Black."

Sirius was clearly displeased at being called 'Lord' but he didn't bother arguing it. "Can I get into the vault now?" he said impatiently.

Anthony seemed to agree, but Lucy was rather interested in the proceedings of a magical bank. All she'd done was set up an account and have her paycheck automatically deposited, which was hardly a magical process at all. So far she had only been learning spells, but that piece of parchment piqued her interest a little more. She wanted to learn what else she could do with magic besides cutting trolls in half and turning a brain inside out.

"All in good time," Oldrok said. "But there are a few matters you might wish to go over."

"I wish to get into my vault—" Sirius began rudely.

"What matters?" Lucy interrupted. She shot Sirius a hold on glance. He was ready to burst with impatience, but he settled back in his chair, a scowl on his face.

"You, Lord Black—"

"Call me Sirius," he cut in.

Oldrok narrowed his eyes at him. "Mr. Black, you are the sole and standing Heir to the Black fortune. The entirety was meant to go to Regulus Black, but upon his death Lady Walburga Black decided that the remaining funds should stay in the Black line and dictated the rest to you. And given that you are the standing Black Heir, you are entitled to the entirety of the Black family vault along with the private vaults of the late Regulus Black, Alphard Black and Arcturus Black."

"Sounds great," Sirius began, but Oldrok ignored him completely and continued on speaking.

"Along with those Black vaults, you may also claim the Lestrange vault." Sirius's eyebrows shot up. "As of now, the Lestrange vault has remained untouched and unclaimed, but unofficially it is under Lucius Malfoy's watch. As you are the standing Lord Black— the only male Black remaining in the line— you have the authority to take ownership of the vault. In doing so, however, you would restrict Lucius Malfoy's access to the vault unless you granted him permissions."

"What happens if I decline?" Sirius asked slowly.

"Well, should neither Lord Lestrange or his wife come to claim the vault—" Sirius snorted at the thought. "—it will enter the Malfoy Heir's custody as soon as he is of age."

Sirius's eyes suddenly glittered with mischief, and a smile not unlike the kind Lucy had seen on the Weasley twins' faces shone brightly. "Bellatrix's vault, you say?"

"You will not get access to Bellatrix or Rodolphus Lestrange's personal vaults," Oldrok sent, casting him a strange look. "In her will, she was very specific with her belongings should she pass away or become unable to attend to them. As instructed in Rodolphus's will, half of the contents in the Lestrange Family vault were transferred to his wife should he also pass away or become unable to attend to it. This would, however, leave you with the other half, and any item stored within it."

At first Lucy thought it was odd that they went through such lengths to preserve their vaults, since they were so young, but then she realized why they were so cautious. As Death Eaters they certainly were in danger of incarceration and death. They must not have considered that Sirius Black might escape from Azkaban and claim their vaults, and that in and of itself was absolutely hilarious.

"I'll take it," Sirius said instantly. He caught Lucy's gaze and matched her wicked grin. "Anything to spite a Malfoy, right? Imagine Lucius Malfoy's anger when he realizes an escaped convict has taken claim of an Old Family vault."

Lucy burst out laughing, and she reached out for a fist-bump. He gladly returned it.

"Excellent," Oldrok said, his smile wide again. He didn't move, yet stacks of paperwork appeared on his desk. Sirius's mirth slowly faded as he realized what claiming vaults really entailed. There were four thick stacks of paperwork and then a smaller pile of parchment. A bundle of quills and a few inkwells were also set on the corner of the desk. The goblin stood from his desk and bowed to Sirius. "I will be attending to other business in the meantime. Ring the bell if you have any questions or if you have finished."

He left the room, leaving one Sirius Black to his worst nightmare: homework.

"This sucks," Sirius groaned, reaching for the first stack of parchment. "He should have called the Aurors on me after all."

Anthony drew up a couple chairs and sat on one side of Sirius, taking another stack of parchment. "That's an awfully dour attitude for someone who's probably the richest man in Britain right now," he snickered. "Two family vaults, not including Alphard, Regulus, and Arcturus? I reckon Lucius Malfoy's going to lose his mind when he finds out."

"If he finds out," Sirius snorted. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was too arrogant to check the Lestrange vault for a few more years. This is more to piss off Bellabitch, should she ever resurface from Azkaban. And I hope to Merlin she doesn't. She was the worst cousin ever."

"Really?" Lucy said, thinking of Dudley.

"When I was eight, she threw me out a window for running in the halls." He shuddered. "A second floor window. And that's only my misfortune. Sometimes I have to pity Narcissa. She had to live with Bellatrix for seventeen years and now she has to live with Lucius Malfoy for the rest of her life. Can you imagine being married to that slimeball?"

Lucy shuddered as well, while Anthony gazed into the distance with a thoughtful expression. "He's not that bad looking," he mused.

Without any hesitation Lucy drew her wand and sent a stinging hex at Anthony's shoulder. The older boy yelped and scooted his chair back, rubbing the sore spot. "What the hell, Luce?" he complained.

"I had to hear you talk about how hot Voldemort was all of last year and most of this year! You are not going to start the same thing with Lucius Malfoy of all people!" she snapped. She had been under the Cruciatus but hearing Anthony swoon about Lucius would be the worst torture she could imagine.

Sirius agreed and shook his head at Anthony. "Have some standards, man!

"You're right, you're right," Anthony sighed. He paused for a moment. "So about Severus Snape—"

Lucy and Sirius both sighed and started the process of ignoring Anthony, which was really the only thing they could do at this point.

Eventually Anthony quieted down and focused on the paperwork. He couldn't sign anything, but he was a fast reader and would push the parchment over to Sirius whenever the man had to sign something. Lucy was hopeless and not to be trusted with any sort of paperwork at the moment, and so Sirius had her look over the wills. She arched an eyebrow at the first will on the pile.

"This is the Potter family will," she pointed out.

Sirius looked up at her. "Really?" He took it into his hands, and his eyes lit up. "Oh, right." He handed it back to her. "James's parents took me in when I was younger. When my parents disowned me, that is." And he looked extremely proud of that fact. "They became my legal guardians, and I consider them my parents too." He glanced back at the will, touched. "I suppose they considered me their son as well."

"You might want to ask Oldrok about that," Anthony said without looking up from the paperwork. "If he gave you the will, it means you have some sort of claim to it."

Sirius frowned. He reached over and rang the bell. He jumped back with a startled shout as Oldrok appeared sitting in his armchair, staring at him. "Yes?" Oldrok said expectantly.

"Ah... the Potter will..." Sirius blinked at the man. He tried to work out how exactly Oldrok appeared out of thin air but after a few moments of pondering he gave up altogether. "Why did you give it to me?"

"You have a claim to it," Oldrok said, like it was obvious.

"That's all Harry Potter's," Sirius said. "But if I can assume control of it, then who else can?"

Oldrok was silent for a minute as he contemplated it. "If any of the Black relatives looked into it," he began, "They might manage to find a way to claim at, as they are related to you, who became a legal ward of the Potters."

Sirius's eye twitched at the thought of Lucius Malfoy getting his slimy hands all over Harry's vault. "Then I'd like to ensure that it's in Harry's name," he said firmly.

He almost regretted his decision when he was presented with another stack of paperwork. Oldrok left once more, and Lucy had a feeling they'd be stuck in this room for a while. Even with Anthony leaving to get them coffee every half hour, it was still monotonous work. She helped Sirius fill in the information about Harry— his address, birth sign, height, all of that trivial stuff, and after that was finished, she went back to looking over the wills.

The Potter will was the easiest to read, and it was the most straightforward as well. Fleamont and Euphemia Potter had plainly left their estates and funds to James and Sirius and their families, and since Sirius was the only one remaining and Harry was his godson, it was clear who everything would go to. It was the Black family will that made her pause. There were properties listed that would clearly go to Sirius, but there were other words— and she knew they were words— that her mind simply couldn't process, as though she had forgotten to read altogether.

She showed Sirius what she meant after she failed to read the last half of the Black family will. He nodded at the sight of it, giving a rueful smile. "It's common in Old Families to protect the contents of their will," he explained. "If there's something incredibly valuable and, say, illegal, then the testator— the person who writes the will, that is— can invoke a little something called Utmost Secrecy and have a vow placed upon the parchment. Then the information is only shared with the few that are granted access. That's what James did when he bestowed the Invisibility Cloak to Harry, and that's what my Uncle Alphard did with me when he died."

Lucy could not believe she was learning more about wizarding society in one morning that she'd learned from Professor Binns in two and a half years at Hogwarts. She couldn't help but feel a little excited at the information, like she was finally becoming privy to knowledge other wizards knew automatically. "Most of the Lestrange and Black will is protected," She said, handing the wills to him.

"The Lestranges and Blacks had a lot to hide," Sirius countered. He looked over the Black will and grimaced slightly. "Yeah, that looks about right. Loads of dark objects to be placed in the vaults upon their deaths..." He then looked at the Lestrange vault and squinted. "Ah, dear Bella and Rodolphus were a lot more secretive than my parents. I can hardly read this." He picked up another will, opened his mouth to insult it as well, but then he stared, stunned at the sight. "He... He left everything to me."

"Who did?"

Sirius was quiet for a while, reading the will over and over again. "My brother," he said finally. "He left me all his belongings. All his money. Even his wand. Why would he leave me his wand...?" He shook his head, scowling, and then went further down the parchment. "I guess even he had something to hide. In the event of my death..." he squinted at the parchment and sighed, tossing it to the side. "I guess I'll never know."

It was approaching noon by the time they finished all the paperwork, and even then they had to wait another hour as Anthony and Sirius double checked it all again. They secured the Black and Lestrange vaults under Sirius's name, and they also ensured that nobody could claim the Potter Family vault except for Harry Potter. If there was any doubt in Lucy's mind that Sirius was innocent— which there wasn't, of course— they would have dissipated the moment Sirius heard someone might be able to steal Harry's vault. The man had not even hesitated in securing his godson's legacy.

As was required in claiming vaults, Oldrok had to take them to each and every one of them. Since it was a private matter, Lucy and Anthony were only allowed to come if they had vaults to attend to as well. Luckily, both Lucy and Anthony had their vault keys on them. She had never visited her vault in person before and she was interested to see what it looked like.

They went to Anthony's vault first, and he snorted as he stepped inside his family's vault. Lucy had never seen a real vault before, and she was stunned at the amount of gold inside. Anthony caught her slight surprise and grinned. "Purebloods," he explained. He reached in and took a single galleon. "My parents are going to be so confused when they check the withdrawals," he snorted.

"Won't they be suspicious when they see you've been to Gringotts on Christmas Eve?" Sirius wondered.

"Sirius, my parents have long since stopped questioning my methods."

If Lucy had parents she was certain they would feel the same.

The next vault was Lucy's. It was further down than Anthony's, and before Oldrok turned the key, he announced, "The Rochester Family Vault." Lucy felt a rush of pride. She was the only Rochester of her kind, and she was damn smug about it.

"Welcome to my legacy," she said dramatically, leading the way into her vault.

There were not many Galleons inside anymore thanks to her school supplies and the Christmas holidays, but she was willing to bet there was more than your typical orphan. Well, except for Harry, but he didn't count since he didn't live in an orphanage.

Anthony quirked an eyebrow at the sight of her vault. "Not bad for an orphan," he said proudly, holding his hand out for a high-five.

She high-fived him and smiled back at him. "You're looking at a hard-working woman," she said. She only retrieved a Knut from her vault, and she handed it to Sirius. "Merry Christmas. That one's lucky, you know."

He pocketed it in and said in a serious tone, "I will treasure it forever."

The Lestrange vault was next, and if she was surprised at Anthony's vault, she was positively floored by this. The room was triple the size of the Great Hall and was entirely filled with piles upon piles of Galleons. Sirius stepped inside and gave the room a rather disdainful glance. "Take whatever suits your fancy," he said offhandedly. He glanced over a pile of objects. They positively reeked with dark magic. He tilted his head and glanced back at Lucy. "Hey weirdo, do you want a knife?" he called.

Her eyes widened with glee. "Yes!"

"No!" was Anthony's faint protest, but it was too late.

Sirius handed her a jeweled sheath, and she took it out to see a brilliant knife. If she thought the one Mallory stole from Macnair was expensive, it paled in comparison to the craftsmanship of this. The blade was the color onyx and it was razor sharp. The blade shimmered in the light, shifting from purple to dark red. She heard a faint magical humming from it, felt the classic taste of dark magic on the back of her tongue— blood with a hint of rain.

"I'm gonna kill so many people with this," she said in as serious a tone as she could muster.

"Merry Christmas," Sirius laughed. Then his eyes widened. "Merry Christmas! I need to get Harry a gift! Lucy, give me your satchel!"

She watched, amused, as Sirius shoveled loads of Galleons into her satchel. She had a feeling that if the Lestrange family knew Sirius Black was using their money to buy Harry Potter a present, they would drop dead on the spot and then proceed to roll in their graves.

Once they entered the Black vault, Lucy understood why the Black name held so much weight in the wizarding world, why Malfoy walked around with such an inflated ego. If Malfoys and Blacks were on the same level of notoriety, and he had this much money in his vault, she wasn't surprised his father was able to buy an entire team Nimbus 2001s on a whim. The Black vault utterly dwarfed the Lestrange vault.

Sirius did not so much as glance at the gold. Instead he started digging through the piles, searching for the wand. The vault was so big that he'd probably have a better chance of getting lost within rather than finding the wand by hand.

"What's your brother's name?" Lucy asked him.

Sirius paused in his digging. "Pardon?"

"His name?"

"Oh. Uh, Regulus."

She held up her wand and said clearly, "Accio Regulus Black's Wand."

There was a faint jingling from deep within the depths of the vault and then it flew out from under the piles of gold. She caught it easily, and it felt wrong in her hand, before she handed it to Sirius.

He stared at the wand in her hands for a few moments. An unreadable emotion flickered through his eyes. He took in a slight breath and grabbed ahold of the wand. A stream of yellow smoke burst out from the tip, and a smile spread across the older man's face as for the first time in twelve years he felt a familiar rush of magic.

"Just like mine," he said quietly.

They left the vault immediately after. Before they entered the cart, Sirius turned to Oldrok. "I'd like to donate a thousand Galleons to Gringotts for your trouble today, sir. As well as the..." He took out the Black will from his pocket and went over each of the objects. He snorted. "I think perhaps you'd like the Shield of Summoning?"

Oldrok's eyes flashed with glee. "It's refreshing to have such appreciatie clients," he said, more friendly than ever before.

The cart led them to the main floor of Gringotts, and Oldrok then led them to his counter in the main hall. He reached into his desk and pulled out several keys on a ring. He handed them over to Sirius.

"I want two copies of the Lestrange and Black vaults," Sirius said, "For these two lovely children beside me."

Lucy's eyes widened. "Sirius, no, that's all yours—" she began quickly.

"That's all too much for one man," Sirius countered.

"I appreciate the thought, but I agree with Lucy," Anthony said firmly. "Seeing you walk as an innocent man will be payment enough for the both of us."

"I'm giving you keys," Sirius said, unmoved.

"I'll never use it," Lucy told him.

"I'll give you a key anyway."

Lucy and Anthony begrudgingly stowed the keys away in her pockets. She appreciated where Sirius was coming from, but she knew that she could never bring herself to use anyone else's money. The Galleons Harry gave her from their bet were used for Christmas presents for her friends. Hell, she even used Lockhart's money for good. She felt strangely guilty when she heard the man lost all his memories and so she anonymously donated the Galleons she scammed him out of to St. Mungo's. That was, however, a secret she would take with her to the grave, because if people thought she was soft then she'd lose her edge.

Sirius was practically dancing down the steps when they left Gringotts. He received strange looks from people passing by, but they were focused on his strange demeanor rather than his likeness to the wanted poster. "I've got my wand, I've got Bella's money— it really is the Christmas season, isn't it?" he said brightly. He looked toward a random person and called out, "HAPPY HOLIDAYS!"

Lucy narrowed her eyes as the person gave Sirius a scowl. "Say it back, or I'll kill you!" she called toward him.

Sirius quickly pulled Lucy away from Gringotts as the person's eyes widened with fear. "That's not how you spread holiday cheer, Maraudette!" he scolded.

"Maraudette?" she asked with a wide smile spreading across her face.

"Of course! You are both young Marauders in training," Sirius continued cheerfully. He stopped at some of the shops to look through the windows. "Harry will soon be one as soon as he realizes his Godfather is awesome and not a murderer. Speaking of that, what on Salazar's slimy beard should I get him?"

"You really need to reevaluate your turn of phrases," Anthony informed the man. "First Salazar's balls, now his slimy beard? I'm getting all nauseous."

"That was the intended effect, young man," Sirius said. He looked surprised with himself. "I just said young man. Maybe I really am old."

"The first step is acceptance," Lucy said sweetly.

"I thought the first step was denial," Anthony argued.

"CHRISTMAS!" Sirius burst out. He strode up to the next shop and squinted. "Does he like books? But books are a bit of a lame gift, aren't they?"

"He's not one for reading," Lucy admitted. Harry actually liked to study and learn when it was just the two of them, but Ron and Hermione tended to distract him most of the time. The point being, he would likely never read a book unless it was over the summer or he was alone. "But he loves Defense Against the Dark Arts and all sorts of magical objects. Oh! And Quidditch. He loves Quidditch."

Sirius's gaze landed at a shop at the end of the street. "Quidditch, you say?" he said in an ominous voice. Lucy followed his line of vision, and she smirked when she saw him staring directly at the Firebolt. "I know what I'm getting him. I know what I'm getting him! Lucy, your satchel?" She handed it to him easily.

"But what if the professors suspect it's from you?" Anthony cut in.

He laughed. "What are they going to do? Arrest me?"

Lucy nodded in agreement. "He's got a point there."

"See, kid, you just get me!" Sirius beamed at her.

Anthony huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. "Well excuse me for trying to be the responsible one around here!"

"I'm plenty responsible," Sirius argued. "In fact, I'll prove it. I'll be right back— stay here!"

And he turned on his heel and strode toward the Quidditch shop.


Sirius realized halfway to the shop that perhaps leaving two children alone in a busy street was not quite as responsible as he made himself out to be, but it was too late to turn back now. Well, he supposed responsibility did not mean he had to underestimate his companions. He knew very well how capable they were, especially the Rickett boy.

He could scarcely believe he was walking freely in public. A week ago, he would have never thought it possible. He was a rather cunning man, he did escape Azkaban after all, but he was not a Slytherin at heart, and he would have never been so ambitious as to visit Gringotts as the most wanted man in the country. But thanks to these kids he did, and now he had a wand, endless money, and a chance to give Harry a Christmas gift for the second time in his life.

The man at the counter was floored when Sirius requested the Firebolt. He inquired if there were two, because he knew Lucy had broken her broom as well, but there was only the one on display. Ah, well— Lucy wasn't as fond of Quidditch as most people believed. One of the many things she told Grimm was that she enjoyed flying more than Quidditch, and she believed any old broom would do. He was the same way when he attended Hogwarts. He only joined the team as Beater because James wanted him to and he was never torn up over losing.

"Will you be taking it with you?" the employee asked, his eyes still wide as he wrapped the broomstick up.

"No," Sirius said. He thought about how to best deliver it, and then he realized he had a wand. "Actually, yes." He pointed Regulus's— well, it was his wand now, at the broomstick, and muttered a spell. The broomstick shrunk to a manageable size and as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he placed it in his suit pocket, right next to the pocket watch. The employee was horrified at the display. Sirius didn't particularly care. He opened the satchel and magicked three hundred galleons onto the counter. He was a bit of a git to pay in coins instead of a check, but he didn't have too many options at the moment.

He glanced toward the end of the street and sighed when he saw Lucy and Anthony had disappeared. Great. He was really responsible, wasn't he? He already lost his two young companions. This was why he could never be a prefect. Aside from never deigning to lower himself to accept such a terrible position, that is.

Well, he'd find them soon enough. At the moment, he had a load of galleons at his disposal and an entire street full of shops to browse through...

Exactly twenty-five minutes later, Sirius found Lucy leaning against the Apothecary, looking very dead inside and bored. She caught sight of him and let out an exasperated gasp. "Is this what grocery shopping with your mum feels like? Because I think I hate it," she complained.

He felt a rush of amusement at her dramatics. "What's he doing in there?"

She huffed. "He dragged me all around Diagon Alley looking for 'supplies' and I can't tell whether it's important or for pranks." Then she paused. "What am I saying, they're both important! Dear Merlin, I sound like a prefect." She shuddered at the thought.

"A terrible fate indeed," he said gravely. How very unfortunate that one of his own friends fell to such a demise. Remus argued that one of them had to become the Gryffindor prefect because every year had them, but Sirius would hear none of it. He had only been more horrified when James was made Head Boy. "Can you imagine my surprise when my partner in crime became the worst sort of prefect, a Head Boy?"

"If Harry becomes a Head Boy, it won't be Voldemort he'll have to worry about," Lucy said sternly.

Sirius let out an incredulous laugh. After that terrible war, he never thought he'd run into people who were as open to joking about it as he and his friends had been. Clearly, Harry was making the right sort of friends.

Five minutes later, Anthony left the Apothecary carrying a few bags. He caught Sirius's curious look and explained. "Just in case we need a few potions in the future, I figured I'd better start brewing them now."

"What sort of potions?" Lucy asked, peering into the bag. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of the ingredients.

"Well, with these we could make Polyjuice, Veritaserum, and Sleeping Draughts, to name a few."

Sirius was once again amazed at how prepared Anthony Rickett was at times. He wasn't unlike Remus in that way; whereas he and James would dive into pranks without much thought, Remus was always there to iron out every detail, ensure whatever scraps of anonymity he could weasel in.

Their plan for the day had completed, but their disguises were still intact and Sirius wasn't excited to go back into hiding when they went back to Hogwarts. He eyed each of the kids and then checked his pocket watch. It was well past noon at this point. Oh, hell... It was well past noon, these kids were probably hungry!

"We'll get something to eat before we leave," Sirius said firmly when Anthony started back toward the Floo station. Luckily, he thought to transfer himself a bit of muggle money before they left Gringotts for good. Hogwarts food was good and all, but while they were in London, he might as well treat them to some human-made food. "Muggle London sounds good to the two of you?"

Lucy and Anthony shared a surprised but delighted glance. "Sounds brilliant," Anthony grinned.

Admittedly, Sirius's knowledge of London faded from his time in Azkaban and so Lucy led them out of Diagon Alley and toward the heart of the city. There were plenty of people bustling about here, too; wizards were not the only creatures who procrastinated. They arrived at a long street filled with restaurants, and Sirius eyed them all before he decided on one in the middle. It was as busy as all the others, but he caught Lucy staring at it intently. He strode toward it before he realized why she was looking at it. The name of the restaurant was Riddle Cafe.

He felt a tug of pity for the younger girl, but at this point turning back would only point attention to why she was staring at it. He shot her a teasing grin and said, "Let's see if Voldy's namesake means good food, yeah?"

She looked sorry for a split second, but at his words, a bright smile lit up her face. "Bet it tastes like snakes," she joked. "Don't tell Ford I said that."

"I'm totally telling Ford you said that," Anthony teased.

"And I'm telling Daisy you called Lucius Malfoy hot."

"I did not call him hot!" Anthony argued as they stepped into the cafe. "I just said he wasn't bad looking."

"Tomato, potato," she dismissed. Anthony didn't bother telling her that wasn't the saying.

Anthony claimed a booth in the corner, placed smartly next to an emergency exit. Sirius doubted anything would go wrong now. He didn't expect to venture out into public under a disguise, and the Aurors wouldn't expect such a thing either.

Sirius dropped his coat onto one side of the booth and looked toward the front. There was a line of people ordering, some of them impatient. "I'll go order for us," he said, "Since I'm an adult."

"You're getting lots of Godfather experience today," Lucy agreed. "I'd say you leveled up a few times."

She couldn't imagine how pleased Sirius was to hear that. "Really?"

"Yeah! You've filled out loads of paperwork, you've given us presents, tried to share the Black fortune with us, and now you're ordering us food." Lucy counted off her fingers with each one and looked up to give him a smile. "I'd say that makes you at least level five."

"How many levels are there?"

"I guess you'll find out," she laughed.

Sirius laughed as well, and he went up to order.

The line moved fairly quickly and by the time Sirius was at the front, people stopped coming into the restaurant. The man at the register was slightly out of breath. He reached up to run a hand through his blonde hair. Sirius arched an eyebrow at him. "Busy day?" he mused.

"You'd think more people would cook for themselves on Christmas Eve," the man complained. He glanced behind him to see if anyone heard. The coast was clear. He turned back to Sirius. "This shit sucks."

Sirius snorted. "I can imagine." He glanced at the menu above the employee's head. "I'll have a, uh..." He squinted, and then his heart decided exactly what he wanted. "Grilled cheese and a coffee. And—" he looked over his shoulder and called out, "Kids, what do you want?"

"Food!" Lucy called back.

"Yeah, real funny," Sirius rolled his eyes.

"We'll both have waffles, please," Anthony said, leaning over to ruffle Lucy's hair. She scowled and batted his hand away, leading to yet another battle between the two of them.

Not for the first time today, Sirius was filled with an odd sort of pride. He treated Anthony as his equal, but there were moments each day that he was reminded that they really were just kids. Brilliant kids, but kids nonetheless.

"Those your kids?" The employee asked, amused at their display. Sirius glanced at his nametag. Jack Bennet. He wondered if Jack Bennet would call the police if he recognized him, if Jack Bennet would be as friendly if he knew Sirius's name.

He considered Jack's question. Anthony has felt like more of a friend, and it felt slightly demeaning to refer to him as only a kid, but even smart teenagers needed someone to look out for them every once in a while. Only a week had passed since Sirius reached out to the two of them, but he already felt more capable, like he wasn't a bundle of madness waiting to burst at the seams.

And he felt particularly protective over Lucy Rochester. The young girl had every right to hate him for disguising himself, yet she forgave him easily and was doing leaps and bounds to help him. She'd known him for only a week, but he'd known her for months. He knew all the mischief she got up to, and has kept her safe from said mischief on more than one occasion. She was a smart kid and it'd gotten to the point where whenever he thought of Harry, thoughts of his godson's best friend followed closely behind. He might only be the official godfather to one, but he'd gladly look out for both of them.

"I'm looking out for them," Sirius nodded, a proud grin on his face.

"That's a yes, then," Jack grinned. He punched the order into the funny muggle machine. Sirius never really understood how they worked. "I've always wanted kids. Never gotten around to it."

Sirius found that hard to believe. "A handsome young man like yourself?" he let out a dramatic gasp.

"I know, right? I'm so handsome," Jack grinned. Then he sighed. "But I'm not that young. Thirty-two and all alone in life. It's rather sad, isn't it? I only have customers like you to appreciate my beauty."

"I think you've got a good job going here," Sirius argued. He might be alone, but not everyone needed a husband or wife. He certainly didn't. And this restaurant was nice. It wasn't fancy, but it was homely, the sort of place people want to return to because of how friendly the atmosphere is. When his name gets cleared, he might consider returning.

"Yeah, I do," Jack agreed, smiling again. He punched something else in the register. "I've gotten you all ice creams. They're on the house." Sirius gave him a surprised look. "I've got a soft spot for kids, mate, and anyone who calls me handsome automatically gets free food." He winked and ran a hand through his hair. "Although if I actually enforce that rule, this place would be bankrupt by now."

Sirius laughed. "You're funny, Jack Bennet."

He pointed a finger at Sirius. "And don't you forget it."

Sirius returned to his booth, shaking his head fondly. How could anyone hate muggles? Death Eaters had the audacity to commit atrocities against both muggles and their own kind, pureblood or not, and yet they still claimed that muggles were worse than them? He felt another sting of anger that he was imprisoned for being a Death Eater. He hated Death Eaters. He hated them. He hated anyone who could look at a man like Jack Bennet and want to kill him on a whim.

"Making friends?" Lucy asked. She craned her head to see who Sirius was talking to, but there were too many people in the way. She gave up easily, leaning back in her seat. She leaned her head on Anthony's shoulder.

Sirius smiled, leaning back as well. "It's good to be out."

They took their time eating. Sirius listened intently as Lucy and Anthony swapped stories. Anthony rarely ventured into muggle London, so he was amazed at all the muggle devices. He almost jumped out of his skin when he saw a muggle take a telephone call, and his jaw dropped at the sight of a Walkman. Lucy explained how they worked to the best of her ability and Sirius chimed in every now and again. He had a Walkman too when they first came out— Lily had given it to him as a gift.

Sirius was somewhat reluctant to leave the restaurant, and the other two certainly weren't in any rush to get back to Hogwarts. Lucy led them through the streets of London, telling them what she knew about each place. But halfway through her explanation, she stopped in the middle of the pavement. She squinted, and Sirius followed her gaze— they were passing right by Wool's Orphanage.

He looked through the iron gates and saw her staring at a group of people. He recognized them as Emma and Nathan from the times he spent around this area, but there were a few other boys surrounding them.

"Luce, what are you...?" Anthony stopped, staring at the orphanage and the metal bars. He didn't put two and two together. He snorted. "Bloody hell, that looks like a prison."

"Home, sweet home," Lucy said amusedly.

Anthony quirked an eyebrow, and then he groaned, clamping a hand to his forehead. "Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry!"

"No, you're not wrong," she was quick to reassure him. She looked back at the courtyard, feeling the stirrings of loneliness building inside her as she remembered all the wasted nights she spent in her room last summer, curled up under her covers, shivering from a persistent cold that seemed to have settled deep inside her bones in Tom's absence. The nightmares had been awful, then. She briefly believed Tom might have been haunting her in the form of awful nightmares and auditory hallucinations, but since they had been slowly diminishing, she dismissed the idea.

Conflicting emotions churned within her at the sight of Wool's. She didn't hate the place. It just generally sucked. Anyone else in the building (maybe except for Jennifer Bishop— she was such a bloody suck-up), would agree with her. Hogwarts was an oasis compared to the orphanage, but Wool's was still the place she had grown up in, and a part of her was pleased to show it to Anthony.

"It's not all bad," Lucy couldn't help but add, letting her eyes wander over the grim old building. It didn't look so ugly, in the wintertime. Snow dusted the roof, falling in powdery heaps off the side into the courtyard. There were a fair amount of kids outside— nearly all of them, in fact. She recognized two immediately; Emma's hair stuck out like a sore thumb, and Nathan always wore the same pair of bright white trainers. "Look, there's my muggles!"

"Where?" Sirius squinted, leaning closer. "Bloody hell, there's half a million of them."

Lucy gave him an amused look. Compared to the older times, they didn't have many orphans at all— most of the attendees had their own rooms, if they wanted one. "They're over there," she said, pointing toward Emma. "See the ginger? That's Emma. The one next to her is—"

"Another ginger?" Anthony cut in before Lucy could finish, "Don't you think you've collected enough of them?"

Lucy turned to stare at him. "I will never have enough," she uttered. With that declaration, she turned back to point Nathan out— only to watch in shock as he was suddenly clocked across the jaw by none other than Dan. Lucy felt something cold settle inside her. Fucking bastard.

"Are we in a rush?" she asked in an eerily calm voice.

Sirius and Anthony shared a glance. Anthony looked somewhat cautious, while Sirius fully supported Lucy in whatever she was about to do. He heard some of the terrible things these other children had to say. He knew that kids could be cruel, but these people took it to another level.

"Not at all," he assured her.

Lucy walked toward the Orphanage. They followed behind, and soon enough they were within earshot.

"All I said was to leave Emma alone, Dan," Nathan was saying, his voice quiet but firm. Dan hadn't hit him too hard, apparently, as he didn't have any trouble talking, but he was rubbing his cheek, glaring at the older boy in front of him. Lucy shot him an impressed glance. Last summer, the boy's voice usually shook when he stood up to bullies. He had changed.

"And I said to quit being a coward and make me," Dan retorted. 'Dan' was larger than Nathan by a wide margin. Whereas Nathan was lean and wiry, his adversary was tall and well-built. He towered over the other boy.

Lucy's lips quirked upward. She cupped her hands over her mouth and called over to them. "Hey, Dan!"

Nathan, Emma, and Dan all jumped and looked over at her. None of them recognized her, with her head of black hair.

"Who the hell are you?" Dan called back, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Your worst nightmare, if you don't leave them alone," she said cheerfully. Sirius had to cough to hide his laugh when she pulled out the knife he gave her. She unsheathed it and tapped it against the iron bars a few times.

Sirius could see the bully's eyes widen from here. "I'm telling the headmaster," Dan snapped at her. "And he'll tell the cops there's a lunatic on the loose," he warned, and he walked briskly toward the Orphanage.

Nathan was still squinting at Lucy, mouthing the words your worst nightmare to himself. Then his eyes widened. "Lucy? Is that you?!""

Lucy let out a burst of laughter. Sirius and Anthony snickered from behind her.

Nathan and Emma ran over and clung into the bars. They both stared at Lucy in amazement as she put away her knife, smiling widely at them. "Long time, no see!" she said cheerfully. "How have you been, then? Alright, I hope? In good health? How are the kids, Nathan?"

"You're supposed to be away at school," Nathan said, stunned. "It's in Scotland, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Lucy smirked. "I'm... bending a few rules."

Anthony leaned over to Sirius with a grim expression. "I think she's trying to look cool," he said in a stage whisper.

Lucy scowled, while Sirius whispered, just as loudly, "I think you are correct, Anthony."

"Is it working, do you think?"

"Absolutely not. Why do you think she bothers?"

"Because of that cute boy in front of her, I reckon," Anthony had an evil smile on his face as he looked between Lucy and Nathan.

Last summer, Nathan would have blushed furiously, but now he looked over at Lucy and raised his eyebrows mockingly. He offered her a crooked grin. "Is that true?" he said innocently.

Lucy's eyes narrowed. She refused to be flustered by anyone. "What, you being cute? Yeah, I'd reckon." And she reached forward to tap him on the nose. It absolutely worked, and Nathan glared at her as he leaned away.

"You're rotten," he informed her.

"And you're easily embarrassed," Lucy countered.

Emma was looking between Sirius and Anthony with a curious expression on her face. "Who are your friends?" she asked. She squinted at Sirius in particular. "Is that one of your professors?"

"No," Lucy said, at the same time Sirius said, "Yes." She rolled her eyes at Sirius. They're cool, we don't need to lie." She turned back to Emma. "This is my friend... Padfoot. And the annoying one is Anthony. I've told you about Anthony, right?"

"The one who dueled a courtyard full of Slytherins?"

Anthony was scooping some of his ice cream into his mouth at that exact moment and as soon as Emma spoke, he choked on it, coughing and hacking it onto the pavement. He looked up at Lucy with watery eyes. "What the... What the hell, Luce! Is the Statute of Secrecy nothing to you?"

Sirius was not remotely surprised at this turn of events, and Lucy was just as unbothered. "Basically, yeah," she said, shrugging.

Emma laughed at Nathan's stunned expression. She pointed a finger at him. "I told you! I told you she was telling the truth after all!"

"But... that means that you're..." Nathan stared at Lucy, disbelieving. "You're really a witch?"

"Legally speaking, everything I've told you was a lie," Lucy said. She winked. "But yeah." She even pulled out her wand to prove it.

"Oh my god," Nathan muttered. Emma looked incredibly smug from beside him. He looked over his shoulder, suddenly remembering where Dan left to. "We'll talk about that in the summer, or over letters, but you've got to get out of her," his voice took on a hint of urgency. "If Dan comes back here with the Headmaster— and he recognizes you—"

Lucy snorted. Mrs. Cole was the unofficial Headmistress of Wool's Orphanage for years. She didn't think they'd bother getting a new one, but evidently she was mistaken. "What's he going to do? I'm not at Wool's for months."

"But you'll be here eventually," Nathan stressed. "And he's— Lucy, the Headmaster's not good. He doesn't tolerate anything. Anything. And he remembers everything."

As if on cue, Sirius noticed two figures above the entrance of Wool's orphanage. "Mrs. Cole's old office," Lucy muttered to herself. He couldn't make out the features of the taller man, but he certainly recognized Dan.

"I can handle him," Lucy insisted.

"Emma's already in huge trouble," Nathan said, shaking his head. "She's not allowed anywhere except for school, and she didn't break a single rule."

"I broke one of his moral rules, apparently," Emma scoffed. She caught Lucy's confused glance. "Jennifer caught me snogging Charlotte and told the Headmaster. He..." Emma's gaze darkened, and she held up both of her hands. A huge rush of anger brewed within Lucy, Anthony and Sirius. The skin on both of her knuckles was split badly. It was mostly healed, but there was bruising around it and a thick white scar beginning to form. "It was either fifty times on each knuckle or twenty times on my back, and I'll be damned if I'll show that bastard my neck."

Lucy was very quiet.

Emma and Nathan both gasped as the twigs at their feet exploded into splitters.

"I'll get him back," Lucy assured him quietly. Sirius recognized that look on her face; it was the same kind he wore whenever he heard of people bullying Peter and Remus. With him, it never ended well, and he silently hoped the Headmaster of that orphanage retired before Lucy returned. Lucy reached toward Emma and rested a hand on her wrist, mindful of her injured hands. "Next summer, I'll get him back." She turned to Nathan and winked again. "I'll see you guys, probably not anytime soon, but you know when— stay out of trouble!" she warned them.

They quickly moved further up the street before anyone noticed them.

Sirius was just as angry as Lucy was. "He hit her for a thing like that?" he demanded. The wizarding world was only slightly better with tolerance, but it still surprised him when he heard of blind hatred.

Lucy remembered what Tom told her, how some people weren't okay with things like that. Growing up at Wool's, she would have never imagined something like that was frowned upon by wizards or muggles. Mrs. Cole certainly never commented on it when the older residents held hands in the courtyard.

"I'm already plotting my revenge," she muttered.

"I wouldn't test your luck," Anthony cautioned. "If he hit your friend for that, I'd hate to see what he does when you deliberately break the rules."

"That's if I'm caught," Lucy countered. "I can be rather sneaky when I put my mind to it."

Sirius did not doubt that for a second.

At last, it was time to return to Hogwarts. The Hog's Head was entirely empty when they returned and it was pitch black outside. It had stopped snowing, revealing a clear night sky as they stepped into the village of Hogsmeade.

"With all of this effort," Sirius began, falling into step beside the other two on the way toward the Forbidden Forest, "We might as well be the next version of the Marauders."

Lucy rather liked the comparison. Anthony, however, rejected anything that compared him to other troublemakers— in his eyes, he was the best. "I'd say we're a bit better than the Marauders," he scoffed.

Sirius let out a gasp, and he pointed his newly retrieved wand at him, mock-threatening. "Never say something so terrible and untrue ever again, kid."

Now Lucy could not let this stand. She pointed her wand at Sirius in turn. "Don't threaten my brother, old man," she warned him.

Anthony's teasing smile vanished, and tears sprung to his eyes. "Brother?" his voice cracked. Sirius stared at him, shocked, while Lucy beamed at him.

"Yeah!" she cheered.

He let out a dry sob and captured her in a hug. He collapsed onto her, and while she struggled to hold him up, she turned to gaze at Sirius thoughtfully. "But I do like that we have our own secret group now," she continued, as if Anthony was not throwing his entire body weight on her. She discreetly cast a weightless charm on him so that he didn't send her toppling to the ground. "But Anthony's right, we can't have a name as dull as the Marauders—"

"You're on thin ice!" Sirius shouted.

"—And so before our meeting for tonight is adjourned," Lucy continued, ignoring him, "I require a good name for this operation."

"Well, we have threatened a lot of innocent people today," Sirius said thoughtfully, all traces of anger vanishing. Off the top of his head he could name that random person outside of Gringotts and the boy at Wool's Orphanage.

She pointed a finger at him. "No man is innocent."

"Regardless of innocence, it was hilarious."

She laughed. "Yeah, it was. We're rather dangerous. Triple threat, am I right?" She nudged Anthony with her elbow, but she nearly jumped out of her skin when Sirius gasped loudly. "Agh! What! Don't do that!"

"You, Lucy Rochester, have just flawlessly picked our operation's name," he said in a serious tone.

"We are a Triple Threat!" Anthony abruptly stopped pretending to cry and instead took advantage of the weightless charm. He hopped into Lucy's back, claiming his owed piggyback ride. "Do we get to pick names too? And do they have to be stupid like Padfoot and Moony?"

"Now you take that back!" Sirius glared.

"I will not! Prongs? Really? That's just a pair of antlers!"

"I'll have you know I picked out that name, thank you very much!"

"And don't even get me started on Moony. How obvious can you be?"

"They are Gryffindors," Lucy reminded him.

Anthony pursed his lips. "Ah. Point taken. But we are not Gryffindors, we are amazing Hufflepuffs and so we deserve names that aren't lame."

Sirius sniffed and crossed his arms over his chest. "The Dementors were never this cruel to me."

"The Dementors, Sirius, did not have as much taste as us," Anthony countered.

"I want a detective name," Lucy cut in before Anthony and Sirius started outright dueling. "A cool code name."

Anthony stared at her for only a few seconds before he decided. "You're Canary."

"What? How are you pulling these names out of thin air?" Sirius demanded. When he and his friends chose their names, it took many weeks of brainstorming and trial and error. He had to hex James a few times when he tried dubbing him Fluffball for all eternity.

"And I'm Gumshoe," Anthony continued, kindly ignoring Sirius's existential crisis.

Lucy narrowed her eyes at him. "You've had these saved for a few days now, haven't you?" she said knowingly.

"Silence, Canary!" he said, poking at her cheek. She loosened her grip on his legs, ready to let him fall to the ground. He made a panicked noise. "Sorry, sorry! Sing all you want, Canary!" She held on tight again, grinning.

"That's what I thought," she snickered.

Sirius eyed Anthony warily. "Do I really want to know my nickname?"

"I don't care if you do or not," he said brightly. "You are now upgraded to Bloodhound."

Sirius was silent for a few more minutes. And then, when they neared the edge of the Forbidden Forest, he turned to Anthony and sighed. "If only I thought of that when I was thirteen." He quickly darted into the woods before Anthony could rub it in his face.

"SEE?!" Anthony called at his retreating form. He laughed, shaking his head as he patted Lucy on the shoulder. "Onward! To the castle, my noble steed!"

"You're pushing your luck!"

They still had two hours before curfew, but both of them were entirely exhausted. It was strange to go from spending an entire day in the real world to arriving back at Hogwarts like nothing had happened. Lucy carried Anthony the entire way, and she resolutely ignored the strange stare Professor Snape gave her as she passed by. The short time she forgot Snape existed had been heaven on earth.

Lucy dropped Anthony onto one of the couches, and she promptly collapsed down beside him. She was ready to sleep at any given moment, but a thought occurred to her.

"We still have to pull a giant prank tomorrow."

Anthony screamed into a pillow.

Lucy burst out laughing, and then she suddenly leaned over and hugged him. Today they had bickered and exchanged teasing insults, but not once had her appreciation for Anthony ever wavered. "Thank you," she told him. "For staying. For helping me all the time." And she wasn't only referring to today. She pulled back with a rueful grin. "I wish you really were my brother," she confessed. She wished a lot of things.

"It's not blood that makes people family, Lucy," Anthony said, and he looked incredibly touched by her words. "It's who we choose. As far as I am concerned, I am your brother and you are my little sister."

Before long, they were curled up on each of the couches, underneath loads of blankets.

"Merry Christmas, Anthony," Lucy said, closing her eyes.

Anthony let out a laugh. "Merry Christmas, Cub."