When they were eleven, they played tag around the school grounds, ducking behind pillars and sprinting down halls. McGonagall noticed the habit early on and tried to make sure an adult was always near at hand in case one of them were injured. The two were reckless. Annie had a habit of climbing to get out of Sirius' reach, and Sirius had a habit of trying to lose Annie by dodging behind teachers and scary-looking older teens.
James Potter, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew often watched the boy who shared their dormitory with thinly-veiled envy. James especially looked as if he wanted to join in the game but was held back by the conceit of it being too childish. Most of the other children were of the same opinion, which was why Sirius played with Annie, a Slytherin.
Leaving his brother Regulus, who was scarcely a year younger, had been the hardest thing Sirius had ever done. He cried for three nights straight after arriving at Hogwarts, hiding behind his bed curtains so that the others couldn't see him. But they heard. Regulus was his other half for his parents had raised them like twins. Though they wrote to each other nearly every day, it wasn't the same, and the fact that no one else liked to play with him made Sirius even more miserable. So when Sirius had asked Annie to play tag and she'd said yes, he'd loved her for it.
Sirius' cousins Narcissa and Bellatrix, for their part, seemed embarrassed by their younger cousin's childish antics but at the very least, they approved of his choice of playmate. Being Slytherins themselves, they had never been able to fathom how their own flesh and blood had found his way into Gryffindor. Bellatrix mostly figured it was a sign of his inferior intellect, an assumption which was affirmed to her every time he tried to hide behind her as Annie chased him.
"Get off!" Bellatrix shrieked as Sirius climbed the half wall behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders so that he could leer over her head, sticking his tongue out at Annie. "Sirius!"
"What?" the boy answered with a giggle.
Bellatrix yanked the boy's hands off her shoulders which made him topple on top of her in mid-taunt. Bellatrix snarled as Annie and Narcissa laughed. "You rotten little toadstool!" Bellatrix yanked him off the half wall behind her and shoved him onto the ground. No sooner did his feet hit the cobblestone than he took off again with Annie on his heels.
Narcissa was still laughing so her sister fixed her with an accusatory glare. "Well at least he's not with one of them," Narcissa said, jerking her head towards the three Gryffindors Sirius shared a dorm with.
Narcissa's smile faded. "She's pure."
"No Irish are pure if you ask me," Bellatrix muttered as she adjusted her robes.
Sirius sprinted down the hallway of the courtyard, ignoring Professor McGonagall's shriek for him to slow down. Annie's robes whipped against the professor's as she tried to catch up with her quarry, her dirty blonde hair bouncing behind her.
McGonagall could see what was about to happen before the children did. Sirius had made a beeline for Lucius Malfoy, who already had a sneer on his face as he saw the boy approach. Sirius was looking over his shoulder at Annie and missed the expression on the older boy's face, so he had no warning. As he darted past Lucius, the sixth-year subtly stuck out his foot, tripping Sirius at the top of a set of stairs. "Mr. Malfoy!" McGonagall shouted as Sirius fell headfirst and disappeared down the stairs with a cry. Lucius turned to the head of Gryffindor with an expression of mock shock.
"Sirius!" Annie cried as she skidded to a halt at the top of the stairs.
McGonagall shoved her way past the two Slytherins and spotted Sirius struggling to sit up on the flagstone. The stairs were stone and led to a section of the garden with a fountain meant to be a quiet retreat. She could already tell that the boy's cheek was bleeding and she hiked up her skirts before hurrying down to assist him. "Mr. Black," she said quietly, resting her hand on the back of his shoulder.
Instead of shrugging her off with a laugh, Sirius coughed then sucked in such a lungful of air that she knew the wind had been knocked out of him. Once he could breathe, he let out a quiet whimper and McGonagall could see tears pooling in his eyes.
She whipped her head to the top of the stairs. "Well, don't just stand there, Prefect Malfoy! Fetch Madam Pomfrey!"
"Yes, Professor," Lucius said with a small smile. He didn't budge from his place as if was reveling in the younger boy's misery. Sirius let out a small sob and curled his leg into his chest, trying to see his knee. McGonagall could already see blood staining the black of his trousers and helped Sirius up by the arm. He felt too shaky to stand so she guided him towards the stairs to sit. Sirius wiped at his cheek as he slowly hobbled beside her, and the action made Lucius guffaw. "He's crying," Lucius said in shock. "He's actually crying."
There was a snort from his side and both Sirius and McGonagall looked up to see Annie biting her lip, trying to keep from laughing. One look from Sirius' glistening eyes, however, and she burst out in a fit of giggles that quickly spread among the Slytherins present.
"It's not funny!" a child's voice called and James Potter pushed past Annie and Lucius to look down at the two. "Professor, Peter has gone to tell Madam Pomfrey."
McGonagall nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Potter." She returned her attention to Sirius who was now staring ahead looking for all the world as if he were trying to stop the crystalline tears slipping silently down his cheeks. She gently rolled up his trouser leg and winced at the bloody mess of his knee. Though he tensed and another tear escaped, he didn't make a sound or move to try to stop her. James was doing what he could to disperse the crowd at the top of the stairs. When the head of house finished examining her student's wounded knee, she looked up into his face and saw rosy cheeks an knew that the shame of having cried in front of other students, and the embarrassment of having Annie laugh at him, would sting much longer than the abrasion on his leg. "It's not how we fall, Mr. Black," McGonagall said quietly. She waited for the boy to meet her blue gaze with his grey. "It is how we pick ourselves back up that shows our true character."
Sirius took a deep, shaky breath and let it out, and she could tell by the clarity in his eyes that he understood her.
"You alright?" James asked as he hopped down the steps and plopped down on the third next to Sirius.
Sirius nodded, bearing up against the pain enough to start to compose himself again.
"I fell like that once," James continued in a cheery, conversational tone. "Hit my head at the bottom of the stairs, though. That's why I can be a little… daft at times." James tried a tentative smile and was rewarded with one from Sirius. "Sometimes I even forget my name," James added with a chuckle.
McGonagall slowly straightened, watching the interaction between the two, realizing that they were becoming friends before her eyes.
"No you don't," was Sirius' hoarse reply.
"Do, too," James insisted. "You're lucky you didn't hit your head."
"Yeah," Sirius agreed with a sniffle before wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve.
Peter returned with Madam Pomfrey and McGonagall stepped aside to allow the healer attend to her student. The rest of the students dispersed as classes resumed, but after looking to McGonagall for approval, James stayed behind, still sharing the step with Sirius.
Pomfrey looked over Sirius' injuries then pulled out a cleaning salve. "I must warn you, Mr. Black. This will hurt."
Sirius hesitated a moment then nodded, clenching his jaw in anticipation. Pomfrey doused his knee with the solution and Sirius tensed but didn't make a sound. Out of the corner of her eye, McGonagall spotted James rest his hand over the other boy's as Pomfrey poured the solution on his knee again.
From that moment on, the two boys were inseparable, and Sirius never played with Annie again.