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the present by timeturner
Chapter 1: The Future
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Chapter One: The Future
She couldn’t believe they were fighting over Santa Claus. It wasn’t as if she still believed in Santa but she wasn’t about to tell her six year old daughter Juliette that. The child had enough to deal with as it was but to steal away her last moments of innocence before it was time was more than Hermione could bear. How dare he walk into her house and accuse her of lying to her own daughter! The nerve of him!
Hermione cinched her bathrobe angrily as she twisted on the silver faucet, determined not to let another fight with him ruin her evening. It had been weeks since she’d had any time to herself and her plans of a scented bubble bath, a glass of wine and a good book were not about to be forgotten just because of his arrogant “I know best” attitude. She slipped her fingers under the warm water, letting it slid through her hands. Her eyes rested momentarily on the third finger of her left hand, wondering what it might look like with a gold band around it.
Shrugging off the thought, she eased out of her robe and into the mound of bubbles filling the oversized claw foot tub. She had been lucky to find this room…Grimmauld was a maze of mysterious passageways and dark tunnels but, with its golden dragon feet and pristine white ceramic glaze, she could almost believe the house was the grand palace it had been when the Black family owned it. Laying her head back against the edge, she closed her eyes and let the scent of warm vanilla and peppermint wash over her. Her thoughts muddled slowly, her tension drifting slowly from the muscles in her neck. A rush of chilly air made her eyes open and turn towards the doorway.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, trying to force the irritation out of her voice.
“I’m not here to fight, Hermione,” Draco whispered softly as he sank down beside her at the tub. He lifted a glass of red wine her direction and she grudgingly accepted it. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay before I took off.”
“What possessed you to think you know what’s right for my child? Juliette is none of your concern and neither am I,” she hissed.
“That’s not true and you know it. Since Ron and Harry’s death—"
“No.” Hermione raised her hand to silence him. “I won’t go through this with you again. I won’t.
“You’re being an obstinate twit.” Although the words were biting, he said them softly to take the edge off. “You won’t explain to her about magic and yet you’ll have her believe in Santa?” He shook his head. “Sometimes your stupidity surprises even me.”
“She does know about magic,” she countered, ignoring his attempt to recommence the fight. “I just have chosen not to use it. Draco, I lived half my life without magic. It’s not as if one can’t survive without it, you know. Besides,” Hermione bit her lower lip to contain her emotions, “you, Remus and Tonks have pretty much made up for anything I had wanted to keep from her.”
“I don’t know—" he tried but the stiffness in his back spoke volumes.
“I’m not a fool. I know all of you are teaching her magic behind my back and I don’t hold that against any of you. She deserves to learn it and practice it.” Hermione’s voice softened and she covered Draco’s hand with her own. “But you have to respect my decision. I’ve chosen not to do magic. It destroyed my life, Draco. Can’t you understand?”
Draco caressed her cheek tenderly, unwilling to continue arguing as the tears began to forming her eyes. He knew things had been difficult for her…even though they had all lost something; her losses seemed much deeper than the others. He hadn’t been there for the worst of it, his childish loyalty to purebloods keeping him at Voldemort’s side. He, of course, knew about her and Ron. They were mere weeks away from marriage, waiting only for Harry’s return from his latest mission to become husband and wife. Tonks had been kind enough to tell him how Hermione had begged and pleaded with Ron not to go after Voldemort to avenge Ginny. She had tried to convince him to wait on Harry or Remus but, Ron had never been one to think level-headedly. He rushed off in a drunken rage and had never come home. Harry had been the one to find his body or, at least, the remnants of what had remained after the Death Eaters were done with him.
He wasn’t exactly sure what had happened to Hermione after that...she never talked about it. He knew that Harry had taken more control then, become more powerful, and Voldemort’s growing fascination with Harry had taken its toll on the Death Eaters. It was sometime during this that Draco began to vacillate…to wonder if he’d made the right choice. He took a chance by going to Harry, finding him alone one night in Godric’s Hollow. They fought, Harry won, and Draco succumbed to the truth. Voldemort was not going to win.
In the darkened streets of Godric’s Hollow with Harry’s wand touching the fringes of his throat, his fear had been the only thing to make him come clean. He admitted his deeds, admitted his role with Ginny, and admitted to helping destroy the Weasley family one by one. He expected to be struck down, his breath had even hesitated with the resignation of his own fate but, Harry never did the expected. In an act that reminded him of Dumbledore’s last words at Hogwarts so many years before, Harry had forgiven him.
He took him in, offered him the protection of the Order and, surprisingly enough to Draco, never told anyone of his misdeeds. Harry insisted that they were no one else’s business and, if he trusted Draco that should be enough. He had come to Grimmauld with nothing and had been offered the safety and security of a family. Hermione and Tonks fussed over him, Remus had grilled him nightly for information and Harry had hidden himself away from almost everyone. It was sometime in that year before Harry’s death that Juliette had been born. With her dark brown hair, vivid green eyes and unruly temper, Draco had immediately fallen in love. He’d never known a child that could be so carefree and, unlike with the others where he often felt as if they were pretending to accept him for Harry’s sake, little Juliette knew nothing about his previous life. In her, Draco saw his chance to start over.
“Ron was raised with his magic, Hermione,” he tried to reason. “Would he want his daughter to have a muggle upbringing?”
“We aren’t talking about Juliette, we’re talking about me. I caught the little hellion doing spells on the cat yesterday.” She laughed as the vision of her daughter chasing down the cat and launching spells that puffed up its tail crossed her mind. “I’m just not going to do it.”
Draco fought to control the rage that welled within him. How was it possible for anyone to be so stubborn?
He let his eyes roam her body. Although hidden under the bubbles, he could still envision the curves he had learned so well over the past few years. He shook his head to clear his mind. She hadn’t, after all, let him near her in ages. Amidst a fight was definitely not the time to try and rekindle that.
“Are you telling me no, Hermione?” he asked finally, the scent of her bath beginning to turn his stomach.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, Draco’s flash of annoyance making her want to scream “NO!” at him. But, she refrained…she had other things to think about now. Draco wasn’t a bad man; he was good looking, stable, rich and loved Juliette with every ounce of his being. “We have such a history, Draco.”
“No, I’m not arguing. I’m just saying I need time.” She offered him a tiny smile. “That’s good enough for now, isn’t it?”
“As if you are leaving me any choice in the matter,” Draco murmured. He forced a smile and held out his hand. “Then keep it until you to decide. Deal?”
Hermione hesitated. She glanced at the clinched fist he held out before her, but she was unable to force herself to move. He took her hand gently in his and dropped the golden colored band in her hand. He tightened her fist around it then kissed her hand tenderly.
“Forget the past, Hermione. It’s over and done with. I am your future. Yours and Juliette’s,” he whispered then kissed her gently on the lips, their kiss lingering longer than either had intended.
“I’ll see you soon.”
Chapter 2: The Past
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Chapter Two: The Past
Juliette Granger peered around the corner uneasily. She’d been told hundreds of time to stay in the “common” areas of Grimmauld…the areas that had been deemed safe by her mother or Uncle Remus. But she couldn’t help it…the entire house was like a fairytale castle full of ghosts, gnomes and hidden passageways. This wasn’t her first night perusing the castle long after everyone else had gone to bed, but this time was different in one important way: tonight she was on a mission.
It had started just days ago when she came across an old photo album of the Black family. Their were pictures of what the house had looked like in its days before the darkness settled over it…the way Juliette dreamed it would one day be again. Dashing men in formal clothes, ladies dressed in the most elegant attire and, rather than the gray gloominess she knew so well, the house seemed alive with love and fellowship. The people in the photos were laughing and joking, carrying on in their fanciful clothes as if they had no cares in the word…all except for one.
Knowing her mother wouldn’t approve of where she found it, she’d taken it to Remus and asked about the dark haired, gray-eyed teenager that seemed so miserably unhappy. It had shocked her to learn that it was none other than Sirius Black. She had, of course, been hearing stories about Sirius since before she could remember…Remus told of his hijinks at Hogwarts, Tonks told of holidays when Sirius would incite Nargles to attack party guests and even her mother, who rarely shared memories of the past, would laugh whenever someone brought up his infamous escape from Dementors during her own school years.
He’d become quite the legend to her…a dark knight that gave the ultimate sacrifice. Although Draco scoffed and called him a convict whenever his name was mentioned, Juliette couldn’t help but see Sirius as a fabled hero from one of her many story books. To see him so terribly sad had confused her and when Remus explained how unhappy Sirius had been at Grimmauld, Juliette knew exactly what she had to do.
Sensing the coast was clear, she slipped around the corner and down the darkened hallway. As she ventured further into the shadows, soft candlelight along the walls began to flicker to life as if ignited by her mere presence. Silently begging the door not to squeak, she stepped into the pitch black room. She jumped as cobwebs coated her face and intermingled with her hair. Brushing them off as best she could, she flipped on the light, her eyes burning as they adjusted to the new brightness.
The jumbled mess was the same as it had been during her previous visit and she could only assume her mum was too busy to have set to work on cleaning this room yet. The objects that filled the room were glorious: golden goblets, emerald studded frames that had once lined the halls of Grimmauld with family portraits, ornate mirrors with scrolls like snakes surrounding their edges. Juliette had filled many hours treasure hunting through the mess but had never taken anything from the room. She wasn’t sure exactly why, but something had told her that the carvings signified dark magic…the kind Draco had warned her against. He’d frightened her upon catching her in here once, telling her devilish gnomes would steal her breath while she slept if she didn’t mind her mother. Thankfully, she was older now and didn’t believe in such nonsense but the feeling of darkness permeated the room with such realism she couldn’t ignore it.
She squeezed her eyes shut as she tried to remember where it was. She retraced her steps in her mind, trying to remember exactly where she’d seen it last. Try as she might, though, she couldn’t recall. Her eyes fluttered open in annoyance, her gaze drifting over the many objects. She jerked involuntarily at the sudden weight in her hand. It wasn’t heavy but it was heavier than an empty fist. Unnerved, she lifted her hand slowly and gingerly uncurled her fingers. She smiled. Just what she was looking for.
The delicate silver filigree locket was heart shaped, vines entangling each other as they wound around the design. It was hollow and she held it up to the light to make sure it held nothing inside. She could easily imagine it a cage for some small object or creature and was afraid she may have disturbed its contents. Fortunately, it was still empty. Slipping the long silver chain around her neck, the heart landed almost at her belly button and she couldn’t withhold a giggle. How exactly, was she going to hide its presence from her mum?
Deciding that was something she’d deal with when the time came, Juliette stepped back into the hallway. She peered closely for any would be tattle-tales but, finding none, she hurried back to the privacy of her own room. Slipping off her pink chenille robe, she climbed into bed, covering her head and all underneath the mound of pink cotton.
“Lumos,” she whispered softly and a soft light emitted from the wand she kept hidden under her blankets. Cupping the locket in her hands, she studied it carefully…trying to find some way to make it open. She wasn’t even sure it did anything but it had been what Remus called “instinct”. For days she had had the feeling that the locket was a key to something important and only tonight, when she’d heard her mother arguing with Draco over getting married, did she realize what she had to do.
Certainly, it was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen and she didn’t want to believe it was bad but, Remus had warned her the things you loved most were the very things that hurt you most. She didn’t really know what he meant but she trusted him. She had thought about it, rationalized it, and had finally admitted that she didn’t care if the locket was created with dark magic…if it could help her mum, she do whatever it took.
Now that she had it though, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. She didn’t know any real spells and she didn’t know of any spell books that her mum didn’t keep locked up. As she began mumbling any magic words that came to mind, a soft knocking caused her to jerk from underneath the covers.
“Juliette?” Remus peered around her door. “Are you asleep?”
“No,” she answered, shaking her head more violently than necessary.
He tilted his head to the side with a smile as he sank down on the edge of her bed. “I came to say goodnight but, now I’m rather curious as to what’s causing that guilty look on your face.”
“Me?” she smiled innocently. “I’m just getting ready for bed.”
“You are in bed, Juliette,” Remus said pointedly, raising an eyebrow. “Do I even want to know?”
Juliette paused and considered. She shook her head with a shrug. “No, probably not.”
He chuckled. “Fair enough.”
“I have your Christmas present,” she whispered conspiratorially. “Would you like to see it?”
“It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
“Well, I have another one, too. I just can’t really give you this one in front of people.”
“Well,” Remus nodded seriously, “by all means, give it to me now then.”
“Close your eyes.” She demanded and when be obeyed, she slipped the locket into her nightgown out of his view. Stretching to the nightstand, she opened the door with a squeak. Checking to make sure he still wasn’t looking, she pulled out a tattered picture. “Okay, open them,” she smiled brilliantly as she held it out.
Remus sucked in a breath. He tried to feign a smile but couldn’t manage it. “W-where did you find this?”
“Did I do something wrong? They were your best friends, weren’t they?” Juliette was near tears. “I’m so sorry.”
“No, no,” Remus sank back against the headboard and slipped his arm around her shoulders. “It just took me by surprise is all. I didn’t even know this picture existed.”
Remus let his eyes rest on the picture of Sirius and James. Like many other things in retrospect, Remus wondered where Peter had disappeared to on this particular occasion. Sirius had his arm draped around James’ shoulders, both of them grinning widely. It was a muggle picture…the two weren’t moving around… but Remus could envision them in the room as if they were both still with him.
“They look so happy.”
“They were,” Remus chuckled. “It was the weekend after finals in our sixth year. Sirius had gotten this brilliant idea to sneak off grounds and take a trip to Hogsmeade. Do you remember me telling you about Hogsmeade?”
Juliette nodded. “Why did they have to sneak out?”
“They both had detention.”
“As usual,” Juliette giggled.
“Exactly,” Remus said nodding. “On the way back, we got caught by a Slytherin. He was determined to turn us in and get us in trouble.”
Juliette gasped. “What did Sirius do? He did something he shouldn’t, didn’t he?”
“You know him well. He magically bound him to a tree just inside the Forbidden Forest. The teachers had to come answer his screams. This picture was taken right after they helped him back to the school.”
“Was he hurt?”
“No, just scared. So he looked like a big baby to all the other students,” Remus frowned as he spoke. “It wasn’t a very nice thing to do.”
Juliette nodded seriously and exchanged a look with him that caused them both to grin. “But it was funny.”
“That is was. Sirius and James knew how to liven up anything.” Remus kissed her forehead. “Get some sleep, Juliette.”
“Can’t I have a bedtime story first?”
“What did I just give you?” Remus asked laughing. “All right, all right.”
Once upon a time a long, long time ago a handsome dark haired boy lived in a castle somewhere on the outskirts of London. He was a prince of a boy, noble from birth and destined for great things. He wasn’t a happy boy, though. His family was mean and treated him very badly. They convinced him that he was never good enough for anything and, after many years, he came to believe them. His birthright forgotten, his destiny lost, he left his home to find the one thing that could bring happiness back into this life.
One day, while on his magical quest, the prince came upon a trio of boys near the edge of a forest. They were leaning close together, their voices in a low whisper. They laughed out loud at their own jokes and the prince couldn’t help but be drawn to them. They became his knights and they all lived happily for many many years. Theirs lives were laced with colorful characters, beautiful maidens, goblins and fairies. It was a magical, magical time for all the boys who became known as the Marauders.
But one day, a darkness fell over the land and an evil force like none other threatened the world they had created for themselves. An evil lord, intent on spreading hatred across the nation, crossed their path and their fates were cast. They resisted for as long as they could but one by one the daring knights fell. The prince was one of the last remaining and, despite the dark times he had faced, he was determined not to lose the happiness that he had searched so long to find. The world was a better place because of him and the people who knew him never forgot the wondrous laughter and blessings he bestowed on them by merely being their friend.
Remus kissed Juliette softly, tucking the covers tightly around her tiny body. He tried to hide the tears that had streamed down his face with the story, but she was too observant. She wiped them away without comment though, offer him a hug of reassurance.
“Night, Uncle Remus.” She curled onto her side as she heard the door click behind him. It made her heart hurt to see him so sad…times like this reminding her how many people at Grimmauld were sad. There was no laughter here.
She tightened her grip on the locket, wishing she knew how to make it work. Sirius had found a way to be happy even in the face of Grimmauld…couldn’t she find a way too? She would learn how to make the locket work…no matter how long it took her.
Her eyes fluttered heavily, her mind drifting into the magical world of the prince and his laughter filled world of love and companionship. If only, she thought hazily.
If only mum had the prince for her own.
Chapter 3: The Collision of Time
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Chapter Three: The Collision of Time
Under the frosty window pane, she waited for him to come. A smile crossed her face as she saw the cloaked figure moving, his face hidden under the moonless winter night. She could feel him getting closer more than actually see him but, no matter how long she waited, he never seemed to appear any nearer than he had been moments before. He would pause, hesitate, turn in circles as a dog that had lost its way might try and find a trail to lead himself back home. She tried to be patient…her mother had lectured her so many times about learning patience…but, finally, she could stand it no more. Ever so softly she called, “Sirius?”
A thundering crash woke her from her dream…a deafening explosion assaulted her senses….a flash of brilliant red, green, and gold temporarily blinded her and, before she could contain it, a lung filled scream of terror escaped her lips with such force the house shook.
When she arrived in the room, Hermione’s screams matched her daughter’s.
Remus, Draco and Tonks appeared instantly with wands drawn--it was a practiced move even after six years of peace but none were prepared for the sight that met their eyes.
Sirius Black, almost ten years after passing through the veil at the Department of Mysteries, stood before them, a belligerent grin spread across his handsome face.
Tonks looked near faint and Remus’ strong body trembled, his wand slipping out of his hand and clattering to the stone floor. Only Draco seemed immune to the sight of Sirius and he shot a curse at him before anyone had the chance to intervene. Hermione grabbed for Juliette but she rushed to Sirius’ side, blocking him from Draco. Her tiny arms outstretched in front of a man four times her size but it had the effect she’d hoped for…Draco’s fear of almost striking Juliette caused his face to blanch and his muscles to turn to stone.
“No!” Juliette’s voice held not a hint of fright but a commanding order that echoed through the silent room.
Remus was the first to regain his composure. “Stupid prat,” he murmured, shoving past Draco and moving to his friend’s side. “Sirius?” he asked, dropping to his knees as Juliette moved to let him near his friend. “Is it really you?”
“Who the hell else would I be?” The darkened look on his face was aimed directly at Draco. The look of pure hatred frightened Hermione and she tugged on Draco’s arm, pulling him away from Sirius.
Her gaze met with Sirius’ for just a moment and she could sense his revulsion at her attempt to protect Draco. He couldn’t possibly know that Draco had changed, she knew, but that he would judge her so quickly made her want to strangle him herself. As soon as she felt it though, Sirius smiled at her--offering her the benefit of the doubt-- and she couldn’t help but send him a lop-sided half-smile.
“Oh, yes,” Tonks whispered, “it’s definitely him.” She slipped her arm around Hermione. “Let’s take Juliette downstairs, Hermione, okay?”
Hermione nodded distractedly, unable to tear her eyes from Sirius…he looked so, so…Sirius. He was dressed just as he had been on that fateful night…his cloak coated in dirt and speckles of blood from the fight; his wand held defensively in his right hand; his hair mussed from the struggle; and the smile across his face made Hermione blanch. Who on earth appeared a decade after his death with a cocky grin like that?
“Hermione,” Tonks whispered, tugging on her arm as she pulled her and Juliette toward the door.
“All right, Hermione?” Sirius called from the corner, his head tilted at an odd angle as if he was puzzled but accepting of the whole turn of events.
“F-fine, Sirius,” she managed, “thanks for asking.”
She could hear him chuckling as she hurried out of the room. “Are you all right?” she asked, hugging Juliette to her chest as she carried her to the kitchen.
“The noise scared me but just for a second, Mum, I swear. I’m sorry I screamed.”
Hermione forced a laugh as she ruffled her hair. “Trying to reassure me, are you?” she tapped her bottom as Juliette climbed into a chair and began eating the toast Tonks had conjured.
“Is it Christmas?” She asked timidly, slipping further back into her chair so that her short little legs hung loose over the edge of the chair. She kicked them distractedly as she nibbled on the toast, her eyes moving back and forth between the two women.
“Not yet.” Tonks answered off-handedly, sharing a look of utter confusion over the entire situation with Hermione.
Juliette frowned. “So, he’s not my present?”
Hermione choked on her tea. “What?”
Tonks managed a tight laugh. “Exactly what did you ask Santa for, little girl?”
“Nothing, nevermind. Can I sleep in your room, mum?”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed as Juliette disappeared into the hall. She turned to Tonks. “You don’t think…”
“I’d put nothing past that girl of yours.” She lowered her voice, taking the tea cup in her hand and swirling it around uneasily. Her hair had tinged from its bright Christmas red to a more subdued ash blonde and the worried look on her face took Hermione off guard. “Do you think he’s alright? Sirius, I mean. Is he him?”
Hermione could see the slight shake in Tonk’s normally vacant expression and she covered her hand. “He seemed fine. He acted as if he hadn’t lost a moment of time, didn’t he?”
“Yes, almost as if he was still in the battle,” she answered nodding. Her voice lowered, a squeak emanating from her as she tried to hide her emotions. “Hermione, he’s missed so much.”
It was bad enough he’d scared the living daylights out of all of them, but Hermione couldn’t fathom what Sirius must be facing…the loss of almost everyone he knew, an entirely new world where Voldemort was no longer a threat. The idea of having to explain ten years of memories to him was incomprehensible. Little things, big things, things they’d all already forgotten…how did you even begin to try and explain a lifetime to someone?
“Harry,” Hermione voiced what they both were thinking. “How do we tell him about Harry?”
“We don’t. Not right now,” Remus interrupted, sinking between the two and putting a comforting arm around Tonks shoulders.
“Remus, how did this happen?”
“Where is he?” Hermione’s eyes narrowed nervously. “And where is Draco?”
“I took the liberty of escorting Draco out,” Remus couldn’t hide the bite in his words. “I gave Sirius a sleeping potion so we could try and sort this out.” Remus waved the tea pot towards him. “He’s come straight from the department of mysteries it seems. To him, he fell through the veil to here.”
“Just like that?” Tonks brow furrowed.
“To him, yes, just like that.” Remus didn’t miss the uneasy glance between the two. “I assure you, it is Sirius…the one we know and love. The question is what do we do with him?”
“Did you explain anything?” Hermione asked.
“Enough for him to know we thought we were seeing a ghost. He started asking questions about the last ten years and I felt it best he rested. I didn’t want to hit him with too much at once.” Remus chuckled. “You know Sirius…he took it in stride. He said he bet even Dumbledore never would’ve figured on this one.”
“But how did he get here?” Hermione shook her head. “It doesn’t make any sense. Tonight…what on earth brought him here tonight? After all this time?”
“Who,” Remus whispered with a knowing look. “I think the question is who brought him here.”
“Juliette,” Tonks and Hermione whispered in unison.
A quiet fell over the group as the reality of Sirius’ presence came down on them.
Remus wanted to reassure them, he wanted to be the rock they seemed to so desperately need but his mind wouldn’t let him. Visions of Sirius were flying through his mind at a rapid pace—the boy who used the most unorthodox means to teach him everything he knew about women; an adolescent that stayed loyal to him even when he attacked him after a rather difficult full moon; a teenager that would cry like a broken child in James’ arms as he ran from his life and his parents; and, a man he loved closer than a brother and who had been lost not once, but twice, only to return. And, as loving and caring as he was, he took his fate as it came worrying more about the effect it had on everyone else around him.
“But how could Juliette…I mean, she’s just child…how could she possibly have brought him back? It’s obviously possible, but how did she do it?” Hermione mumbled out loud, in deep concentration as she tried to fit the pieces together.
“Don’t you think if I knew how to bring him back I would’ve done it ages ago?” Remus asked with a low growl.
“Of course, Remus,” Hermione chided herself for saying something so thoughtless. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just—” she trailed off, realizing he was paying her no attention anyway.
“Go home and get some rest,” Hermione hugged Remus from behind as she passed his chair. “I’ll take care of him, okay?”
“I can’t ask—"
“You aren’t asking,” Hermione said smiling. “You need to be ready to face him, Remus. Let Tonks take you home.”
Chapter 4: Ten Years' Time
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Chapter Four: Ten Year’s Time
Hermione wasn’t sure why she felt the need to watch over him. Remus had put him into such a deep sleep that he’d been out for hours and she’d caught herself drifting in and out of consciousness. At some point, Juliette had come to join her, an oversized woolen blanket trailing behind her as she lay down on the floor in a darkened corner. Hermione knew she felt safe there and resisted the urge to scoop her into her arms. She fell quickly back asleep, leaving Hermione to wonder in quiet musings as to what exactly she was supposed to do with a previously dead man that was now sleeping in her daughter’s bed. A vague worry that Sirius might send them out of Grimmauld crossed her mind. After all, the whole event was so extraordinary; she couldn’t really blame him if his mind was a bit out of sorts. Visions of St. Mungo’s flew through her mind accompanied by dreams of being a healer that she’d long since given up when the war against Voldemort ravaged the wizarding world.
“Hermione?” Sirius coughed slightly as he tried to sit up. He noticed Juliette’s sleeping form right away and lowered his voice. “Is she all right? I didn’t frighten her?”
“You frightened us all, Sirius,” Hermione whispered, moving to sit closer to him. “What about you, how are you?”
“Remarkable well for a man who apparently fell through a veil and has been considered dead for, how long again?” He asked, his brow furrowing as he tried to piece together what Remus had told him before so unceremoniously sneaking sleeping potion into his firewhiskey.
“Ten years, give or take.” Hermione watched him for some sign of mental instability but even his gray eyes seemed to look exactly like they had the last time she saw them. “We think Juliette brought you here but we aren’t really sure how yet.”
“Juliette?” he asked, nodding to her. “Your daughter, right?”
“Yes.” Hermione moved away from him. A sudden nauseous feeling had grown in the pit of her stomach and she stepped closer to where Juliette was beginning to rouse from sleep with their discussion. Discussing Juliette with Sirius was not something she had planned on…the others were one thing, but Sirius? He had always been able to see straight through her.
Sirius’ weary eyes fell on Juliette, who was struggling to unwind herself from the giant fuzzy blanket to get a better look at him. “So it was you who brought me here?” He asked quietly for fear of frightening her.
She nodded but still made no attempt to move. She had tucked her legs under her long nightgown, her body trembling. “I made a wish.”
“A wish?” Sirius glanced to Hermione, who shrugged helplessly. “Can you tell me what you mean, Juliette? What kind of wish did you make?” He motioned for her to come forward but she still seemed too unnerved to do anything.
“She doesn’t come to people; she’s a bit shy…” Hermione’s words fell off as she watched her daughter pull herself out from the corner and move to Sirius’ bedside. Sirius sent Hermione a glare for silence.
“It’s a secret, Sirius,” she whispered, climbing up next to him on the bed.
He eyed her curiously, her deep brown hair sticking in all directions from being so tightly rolled in the blanket. He reached up to brush it down and could feel Hermione’s eyes on them. He knew she wanted to rush forward and pull Juliette away from him…he was, after all, nothing more than a ghost to her. Ignoring the need to try and comfort and reassure Hermione, Sirius smiled warmly at Juliette. His eyes met hers and a shock of familiarity coursed through him. He glanced to Hermione, wanting an explanation but somehow knowing he wasn’t going to get it anytime soon. A shiny sparkle caught his attention as he turned back to face her and he tugged at the silver chain hidden beneath the collar of her nightgown. She gripped it tightly, concealing it deep within her gown, but she hadn’t been quick enough to prevent Sirius from seeing it.
Sirius sucked in a heavy breath, a knowing smile crossing his lips. “I’m very good at keeping secrets, but you know that already, don’t you?” he grinned mischievously. “You’ve been exploring Grimmauld on your own, haven’t you?”
Juliette glanced at her mother quickly, her voice strong. “I’m not allowed to do that.”
Sirius couldn’t help but laugh at the indignant nod Hermione sent him…he’d forgotten how prim and proper she could be. It probably would never occur to her that no matter what rule she put down, a child was going to go off exploring as soon as they got the chance. He winked conspiratorially to Juliette. “Yeah, neither was I.”
“Sirius!” Hermione moved to them, her arms resting on Juliette’s shoulders. “If she said she didn’t—"
“Well, she didn’t actually say that, did she?” Sirius tapped her nose. “Off to bed, Juliette. You’ve had quite the adventure and that floor can’t be too comfortable.”
“Do you want it?” she asked quietly, avoiding Hermione’s questioning gaze.
“Want what?” Hermione interrupted but neither paid her any attention.
“No, you keep it for now,” Sirius smiled, his teeth flashing a brilliant white underneath his shadowy stubble of a growing beard. “But no more wishes, okay?”
“I promise,” she breathed a sigh of relief and hugged his neck. Her lips close to his ear, she whispered and with a grin confided, “I wished for mommy to be happy again.”
Sirius nodded uneasily, unsure of what to say as Juliette disappeared out of the room. How could a wish like that bring him here and why wasn’t Hermione happy to begin with?” Sure, Hermione had always been the serious one, but she did seem to have a rather dark cloud hanging about her that he’d never noticed before. He had so many questions…where everyone else was; why they were at Grimmauld; and what had happened to Voldemort anyway? An image of Draco fluttered into his mind, causing his face to flush with anger.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Hermione bristled.
“I apologize,” Sirius offered her a smile. “You are afraid of me?”
“No I-" Hermione began but the grin on his face infuriated her. “Of course not. It’s just not everyday a dead man shows up in your daughter’s bedroom.”
“Well, in all fairness, this was my bedroom first,” he countered. “I wondered why Remus put me to bed under a mass of pink sheets.”
Hermione couldn’t help but laugh and all of her fears and tensions melted away. “Feel like going downstairs for something to eat?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Sirius hopped out of bed and allowed Hermione to lead him to the kitchen. He withheld the urge to show her a shortcut, knowing she was just now beginning to relax in his presence. But when she suggested they sit down at the table, Sirius refused and deftly led her into the parlor so he could sit in front of the fire.
“You don’t like the kitchen?” She asked, sinking down into a chair opposite him.
“It’s about the last thing I remember before that battle,” he explained quietly. “Sitting at that damn table.”
He shrugged. Popping several of the tiny sandwiches in his mouth at once, he turned a questioning gaze to her. She met his gaze but only briefly.
“I can’t tell you, Sirius. Remus said to wait.”
“He always was the paranoid sort. Hermione, I’m fine,” he insisted. “I’d rather hear the news now without a hundred people around to watch for my reaction.”
He watched Hermione carefully for some reaction but it seemed she had learned to withhold her emotions as she grew up. He knew she was probably afraid he’d go off on her. He wasn’t, of course, known for holding his temper very well. Her last memories, of course, had to be of his turmoil at returning to Grimmauld and being sentenced to exile while everyone else fought on behalf of the Order. He had hoped that maybe over the years she had come to realize why he had reacted so violently to that ordeal but the uneasy look on her face told him she still viewed him as an adult that was unbalanced at the least and, at the most, someone who deserved to be institutionalized.
But, he also knew that, other than Remus, Hermione was seemingly the only person left who had ever seen him at his weakest…she had been there in the shrieking shack. She had seen his anger, his heartbreak, and his emotional breaking point at the lowest point in his life when the darkness had finally overcome him and he was willing to take a man’s life. Remus was too consumed with protecting him to tell him anything…he had hoped Hermione would be braver than that. Or, should she lack bravery (which he highly doubted) he hoped that she had other things on her mind rather than caring about his emotional state.
Sirius’ mind wandered to Juliette and he realized Hermione must fear for her safety in the wake of his appearance. Finding a way to convince her he was able to handle whatever had happened through the years was his only option.
“Harry’s dead,” Sirius prodded, his face remaining placid.
Hermione turned to him, her eyes unreadable. “How did you know that?”
“He would’ve been at my side immediately if he could,” he answered with a reassuring smile. “I have no doubt about that.”
“Oh.” Hermione tried to look indifferent but couldn’t seem to manage it. She surveyed him…he certainly looked stable. Other than Harry, there was really nothing else worse that she could tell him. Well, there was Ginny but was something someone else would have to tackle even if he did prove sane. She gave a resigned sigh and sank heavily back onto the couch. “The list is a long one, Sirius. Very few are left.”
“Ron? Ginny? Moody? Dumbledore? Peter? Hagrid?” Sirius prompted, watching her closely as he said each name. Only the mention of Ginny and Hagrid seemed to evoke any emotion from her. “All of them?”
“Hagrid is around. He still lives at Hogwarts so we don’t see a lot of him. He tends to scare Juliette still.”
“Your daughter,” Sirius murmured, trying to let it all sink in. “I think I would rather wait to hear the details, if it’s all right with you.”
She released a relieved sigh she didn’t realize she had been holding. “Of course.”
“Draco,” he raised his eyes to hers. “What is Draco doing here at Grimmauld?”
“He doesn’t live here,” Hermione offered. “He…he…”
Even in the darkness, Sirius could sense the flush in her cheeks. “You and Draco?” he asked, unable to withhold the disgust he felt.
“No, well, he wants that. He loves Juliette, you see.” Hermione defended. “But, no, we aren’t…” she trailed off, unsure how to phrase what she was trying to say. “He came to our aid in the end. Harry brought him to Grimmauld and he’s just sort of stayed around since then. He’s asked me to marry him.”
Sirius choked on his sandwich, causing Hermione to rush to his side and offer him a drink. “I’m sorry. I should’ve listened to Remus. Won’t I ever learn?”
“Apparently not if you intend on marrying a Malfoy,” he murmured through coughing spurts. He brushed off her motherly care and began to pace the floor. Juliette’s wish jumped to his mind and he was suddenly afraid he understood…she was afraid Hermione would marry Draco and be forever unhappy. “Tonight? He proposed tonight, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but how did you know that?” Hermione stepped away from him slightly, her eyes wide.
“Hell, Hermione I’m not doing dark magic on you. I’m just being observant,” he grumbled.
“I didn’t say…”
“You didn’t have to. I can read you like a book,” he sank onto the sofa and motioned for her to sit beside him.
“You aren’t going to play give the girl advice, are you?”
“Advice? You’re looking at the wrong Marauder.” He chuckled and Hermione sank down beside him. He slipped his arm around her shoulders, giving her a tiny squeeze. “You are going to be all right,” he murmured quietly.
Hermione didn’t bother to ask how he knew she was upset or even how he knew exactly the right thing to say to her. Instead, she relaxed in his protective arms and the safety he offered….a safety she hadn’t felt since Harry’s death.
“I know.” Hermione said and, for the first time in years, she finally believed it.
Chapter 5: Existing
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Chapter Five: Existing
Hermione snuggled deeper under her covers, the wintry wind seeming to pierce through her room. She didn’t even want to guess at what time it was. Once she’d finally convinced Sirius to retire for the night, she climbed into bed with Juliette. The warmth of her daughter’s body so close to hers had given her strength and she wanted desperately to waken her so that they could share whispered secrets like they had in years past. But, she withheld her desires, realizing that at some point Juliette had turned to herself for strength rather than to her. The distance she hadn’t even realized had grown between them saddened Hermione and she had dropped off into a fitful sleep.
“Hermione?” The gentle weight of a body sinking into the bed made her peek out from under the covers. “Are you all right?”
Draco’s worried eyes made Hermione smile. “I’m fine. You shouldn’t worry so much.”
“If I’d known Remus was going to leave I never would’ve left. To think of you here alone with the likes of –"
“Stop, just stop right there.” Hermione sat up in the bed. “This is his house. We are his family. I know you don’t understand that, that you may never understand it. But he is not only welcome here…he belongs here.”
Draco leaned away from her slightly, the fire in her eyes confusing him. It had been years since he’d witnessed any emotion from her and not since their days at Hogwarts could he recall her being so protective of anyone but Juliette. Forcing himself to take her hand in his, he tried to calm his shattered nerves. He was so close to getting what he wanted…he couldn’t afford to have her angry with him now. He fingered the ring she was wearing as he touched her hand. Knowing that she still cared enough to wear it made him feel somewhat at ease and he kissed the back of her hand tenderly. “Then make me understand,” he offered quietly. “Just once, let me in, why don’t you?”
Hermione chewed her bottom lip unconsciously until he touched it slightly to make her take note of what she was doing. She intertwined her fingers with his. “Him being here, like this,” her voice cracked slightly as she spoke, “it just brings everything back.”
“You aren’t that scared little girl anymore, Hermione,” he offered quietly. “You can handle anything. I’ve seen you do it.”
He slipped down beside her, letting his arm rest lightly across her shoulders. “If you want me to move in here, I can.”
Hermione couldn’t suppress a smile. “Somehow, I don’t think having you and Sirius under the same roof will ease any of my fears, Draco. Besides, I think Juliette’s already grown quite attached to him.”
Draco frowned. “What do you mean?”
“She ran off with him first thing this morning. She wanted to make his breakfast.”
“You’ve left her alone with him?” Draco struggled up from the bed, pushing her aside. His mind whirled with what kind of dangers little Juliette could be facing. What would possess Hermione to leave her daughter alone with a murderer?
“Draco, wait!” Hermione scrambled after him, chasing him down the hallway towards Juliette’s room. She threw open the door to find both Sirius and Draco with their wands drawn. Juliette was sitting on the bed, an amused look on her face as she watched the two. Draco looked ready to kill but Sirius was watching him with a cocky, almost
“Don’t think you’ll get the jump on me twice in one lifetime, Draco,” he said, then turned a winning smile Hermione’s direction. “Good morning, Hermione. Have a nice rest?”
“Oh, put your wands down both of you!” Hermione ordered. “Your both acting like arrogant little kids.” She turned to Juliette. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, mum. But you should’ve seen Draco’s face,” she giggled. “He looked like a lobster.”
Hermione couldn’t suppress a smile and she touched Draco’s arm as she felt him stiffen. “He was just worried about you, honey,” she offered. “Sirius, you’re up early.”
Sirius winked as he lowered his wand. “And you, my dear, still need to get dressed.”
Hermione blanched. She had been so worried about getting to Draco before he did something crazy that she’d run through the house in nothing but her slip on. The pale pink fabric clung tightly to her and she flushed in embarrassment. Draco tried to push her behind him but with a move that even she had to admire, Sirius slid past him and offered her a robe. “I’ll see you two at breakfast, then?” He turned to face Draco, his head moving down slightly since he towered above him. “I assume we are done here, Draco?”
“Mr. Malfoy, thank you,” Draco hissed causing Hermione to grip his arm even tighter.
“Yes, well, I’ll try and keep that in mind, Draco,” he laughed and turned away. He extended his hand to Juliette. “Come, Juliette, let’s see what mischief we can do to cause them to run like that again. It was amusing, wasn’t it?”
Juliette giggled again, taking his hand with childish security and disappeared through the door with him.
Hermione whirled on Draco as she pulled on the robe. “Draco, you can’t do this!”
“You left her alone with him, Hermione! Have you lost your mind?”
“Sirius is no more of a danger to him than you are. And you’d do well to remember that.” She tightened her robe as she fought to control her anger. The broken look on Draco’s face caused her heart to wrench and she pulled him to sit on the bed beside her. “I know you love her, Draco, but I promise you, Sirius is harmless. You can’t keep antagonizing him, though. You have to realize he doesn’t know who you are. All he remembers is a death eater’s son that caused hell for Harry.”
Draco’s hand reached instinctively to his forearm, as if the decades old dark mark had inflamed once again. Hermione covered his hand with hers. “Don’t do that. Don’t let yourself go back to that time again, even in memories,” she whispered. “You are not that person anymore. He’ll come to learn that. Just like you’ll come to learn what a wonderful person he truly is.”
Hermione leaned toward him, her lips brushing gently against his. His hands slipped around her face, cupping it in his as if he needed her strength to keep him stable. He kissed her tenderly until wet tears began to roll down her face. He cursed himself. “I’m sorry, Hermione.”
He drew away but held tight to her hand. “We’ll make it through, just like we’ve made it through everything else.”
“Existing isn’t living,” Hermione mumbled. “Or so my daughter tells me.”
“Yes, well, she’s too smart for her own good,” he grumbled smiling. “Come on, let’s get that breakfast they offered and I swear to behave. But if Remus shows up and the two of them gang up on me, I swear, I’m going to have your hide.”
Hermione laughed and kissed his cheek softly. “Deal.”
Chapter 6: Remus' Request
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Chapter Six: Moving On
“I have no right to ask it, Hermione…”
“You have the right to ask anything, Remus,” she cut him off. “If it weren’t for you-"
Remus raised a hand to keep her from continuing. “The Ministry has made Draco an offer. It’s for a temporary position in Bulgaria just for a few weeks. He’d be back by Christmas.”
Hermione nodded. She had known when Remus pulled her aside that whatever he wanted to discuss was serious. Sirius had been back just three days and everyone’s life had turned upside down. Remus wouldn’t go near him…wouldn’t stay in the same room alone with him. Tonks was acting as if her best friend was back for a visit and Draco couldn’t seem to leave Grimmauld for more than an hour at a time. Draco’s presence was wearing on Sirius who, Hermione knew, was trying his best to be cordial for her benefit. Draco’s constant being, though, prevented any of them from discussing the things they so dearly needed to work through. She hadn’t even had time to talk to Sirius privately about how Draco had changed. She sighed. “You want me to convince him to take it.”
“I know it’s unfair, well, with you and he—" Remus dropped his voice. “I just want this to be easier for Sirius. And Draco is making…”
“Things difficult on all of us, I know,” Hermione sighed. “He doesn’t mean to. He just knows a different Sirius than we do. He’s so worried about Juliette he can’t think straight sometimes.”
“I think if Sirius just has time to adjust he can handle dealing with Draco,” he offered. “Sirius is just set in his ways.”
“So are you,” she returned softly, not meeting his gaze. “You don’t have to say it. I know you don’t approve.”
“Well, I’ve never known you to care too much about approval, Hermione.” Remus touched her hand softly. “Sirius is better at forgiveness than I am, though. He’s forgiven me for far worse things than Draco’s ever done.”
She nodded, glancing away from him. His hand tightened in hers, though, and she dropped her eyes.
“What is it, Hermione?”
“It’s just…” Hermione tried to find the words she was looking for. “He’s been through so much and has had such a difficult time. I’ve been through nothing like what he has and yet he is able to keep this air about him…this belief that people are still good and the world is a place filled with possibilities.”
Remus leaned away from her, his eyes narrowing. “You’ve been through your share of pain, Hermione,” he murmured. “Everyone deals with it in different ways.”
“Don’t lecture me.”
“Don’t be difficult then,” he returned. “I’m not stupid, I know you are talking about Sirius and not Draco no matter how you disguise it.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“You can’t seek answers from Sirius, Hermione. Even he will tell you that,” he said softly. “You have to find them yourself.”
Hermione choked. “I can’t, Remus. I don’t even know where to start.”
“Making her cry again, are you?” Sirius’ voice made the two jump apart. “You do have a way with the ladies, Remus, have I ever told you that?”
Sirius sank onto the couch beside Hermione, slipping his arm around her shoulders. “Juliette is fast asleep minus one of Remus’ horrible bedtime stories about princes,” he sent an amused gaze his direction. “Dragons are much more to her liking anyway.”
“I’ll just go say goodnight and then be on my way,” Remus nodded. “Hermione-"
“I’ll take care of it, Remus, I promise. Give Tonks my best.” Hermione nodded, avoiding Sirius’ gaze. They watched Remus go and she could feel Sirius shift beside her. “Is something wrong?”
“Just wondering how long it will be before people stop whispering about me behind closed doors,” he shrugged. “Although I suppose I should be used to that by now.”
“Remus is still avoiding you?” she asked sympathetically.
“Like the plague,” he nodded but cut off any further conversation about it. “What about you? Are you better tonight?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Hermione could feel his eyes on her but she couldn’t fathom what he was talking about. Had he heard their conversation?
“I heard you last night, Hermione,” he said softly. “You were having nightmares that seemed endless.”
Hermione blanched. It was true…she’d been having nightmares for years but had managed to keep them hidden from everyone. It was one of the reasons she refused to let Draco stay through the night with her…she didn’t want to have to explain them to him. “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
Sirius neither laughed nor smiled just sat patiently, his voice coaxing. “Do you have them often?”
“Too often,” she whispered grudgingly. “They never seem to go away.”
“Then I suppose talking about them would just make them that more worse,” he replied and squeezed her shoulder. “You should get to bed. I believe we promised Juliette a day of Christmas decorating tomorrow and with your refusal to use a wand it might be a very very long day.”
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She should’ve known better than to think Sirius would push her into anything. He had so many secrets of his own that he would be the last person to attempt to drag something out of her. She shuffled slightly in his arms, the weight of his muscles digging into her shoulders. It reminded her a bit of Harry…he had always been so much more muscular than Ron that she felt like a doll when he held her close. Her own thoughts made her stomach turn.
“Hermione, are you all right?” Sirius shook her slightly as if he somehow knew she had gone to another place. His eyes were filled with concern, their pale color shaded to a much darker gray.
“I’ll be fine,” she whispered. “I’m glad you’re here, Sirius, do you know that?”
He nodded distractedly, his mind still on whatever had suddenly made her so uncomfortable. It could only be Harry…he had to be reminding her of Harry somehow. He cursed himself for being so careless. “Have a good night, Hermione.”
Long after Hermione had gone to bed, Sirius sat alone in the darkness, sipping the firewhiskey Remus had left on the table. He didn’t know how to get through to Remus…he supposed he would just have to beat some common sense into him. The thought made him smile. And, as for Draco, he’d prefer him to just disappear all together. He was just pondering ways at how to make that happen when he realized how late it had gotten. Slipping up the stairs, he paused at Hermione’s door. He could hear nothing, though, so he stepped inside and shut the door behind him. He circled her bed, her fitful dreams causing her to toss and turn. He waited quietly, hoping she would say something, anything, to give him some idea as to what might be disturbing her so much that it filtered into her dreams. If bothered him to think his presence might have brought the dreams on and he reminded himself to ask Draco or Remus about it in the morning.
He could hear her suck in a breath and her body go rigid. He dropped to sit beside her, letting his hand slide through her long hair. “Go back to sleep, it’s only me.”
“Sirius?” she asked groggily, the fear in her eyes slowly washing away and her breathing returning to normal.
He kissed her lightly on the forehead then moved to sit in the chair opposite her. He could feel her eyes watching him closely, as if she was memorizing each step he took. He sank down and propped his feet up, lighting a cigarette as he watched her try and rearrange herself in bed. Something told him she knew he could come…she had chosen to dress in flannel pajamas rather than her normal silk slip. That she was able to predict him made him uneasy and comfortable at the same time.
“Are you drunk?”
“Go back to sleep,” he growled at her without meaning to.
“You have them too, don’t you?” she asked quietly. “Nightmares of the past?”
“Of course I do. We all do.”
“Do they ever get better?” she asked quietly, refusing to look at him as if he might be able to see her through the darkness.
“No.” He stood up and moved to her side. “I could lie to you if you want but it seems you get enough babysitting around here.”
Hermione nodded, reaching out to take his hand and pull him to sit beside her. “Can I ask you something, Sirius?” She could feel him waiting expectantly but he didn’t respond. “When James and Lily died, it took a part of you with them, didn’t it? How did you ever get that back?”
“I didn’t,” he answered smoothly, willing his voice to remain steady when she so obviously needed help. “I moved on. There’s a difference. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them and what I caused.”
“Caused?” Hermione sat up. “Sirius-"
Even under the cover of darkness, she could see the tears he was fighting off. It was more emotion than she had ever seen in anyone other than Harry and the connection made her immediately melt. Remus had often described Sirius as a little boy that never grew up and, for the first time, Hermione could sense the weak, childlike view with which Sirius saw himself. She knew with anyone else, anything else, he was the stable, tender man Harry had looked up to. But, James and Lily were apparently something else entirely. She reached up to stroke his face, the slight stubble causing a gentle raking sound to echo in the darkness. He took her hand in his, though, his momentary bout of memories seemingly over.
“Get some sleep, Hermione,” he repeated, his throat constricting as if he’d swallowed cotton.
“You won’t leave?”
As if in answer, Sirius leaned back against the headboard, pulling her to lie on his chest. He rubbed her hair slowly as if to put her to sleep and she felt his lips touch the top of her head gingerly as she began to drift off. Whether she was making him feel better or he was comforting her, she couldn’t tell.
Chapter 7: The Deal
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Chapter Seven: The Deal
In the haze before sleep and wakefulness, Hermione could feel the presence beside her. Warm, warmer than she ever remembered, and the smell of him…smoke, leather, and a bit of fresh clean air like he’d never spent more than an hour indoors. She rolled closer to the smell, her hands instinctively moving along the ridges of his chest. Her lips sought the soft curve of his neck but all too soon, the warmth moved away and a cold drift of air caused her to slowly open her eyes.
“You didn’t tell me you were a morning person,” Sirius chuckled as he shifted away from her. “Had you told me that I would’ve left before you woke up.”
Hermione blushed fiercely as she jerked awake immediately…what exactly had she been doing to him in her half dazed slumber? She tried to remember but she couldn’t discern what had been a dream and what was real. And how long, exactly, had he let it go on before stopping her? He was only smiling kindly at her, though, a mischievous glint making his entire face light up. “I apologize,” she managed as calmly as possible.
“No need,” he returned quietly. “But you do need to let me up. It wouldn’t do to have Juliette to find me in your bed, I don’t suppose.”
“Oh, of course,” Hermione hurriedly moved to allow him to get out of bed. “Or anyone else for that matter, I guess,” she murmured, following him out of the bed to pull on her robe.
Sirius turned to face her, the seriousness on his face catching her off guard. “I don’t care about anyone else.”
Hermione considered him for a moment…the turn of events taking her off guard but not so much she was willing to allow him the upper hand. “Nor do I.”
But when he stepped toward her, his breath warm on her cheek, she couldn’t help the shiver that flooded through her. “That’s a dangerous place for a betrothed woman to be and as accustomed as I am to being the other man, this situation is entirely unacceptable.”
He paused only a moment but it was long enough for him to feel her heart racing in his presence. He kept his face placid but couldn’t help the emotions tumbling within him. It had been foolish for him to come to her room, he knew that. She was the only link he had to he past since Remus was being so standoffish…he didn’t want to use her. But her touches had been so emotional, so heart felt, that it had taken everything he had to pull away. If things had only been different…if her life didn’t require such solemnity, he would have gladly stayed in bed with her the whole day and shown her that life was meant to be lived. Why did it seem like everyone he knew took it for granted?
“Since when does Sirius Black care about acceptable?” she whispered, the heat from his body reminding her how long it had been since she had felt a man’s touch. She reached to touch his chest and could feel the slight tremble in him. He moved a pace away, his eyes never leaving hers.
“Good morning, Juliette,” he murmured, his eyes still on Hermione. He couldn’t understand her…did she really believe he was that vile? That he would appear out of nowhere and ignore the fact that she was engaged? Yes, she had a pull to her that he couldn’t ignore and yes, he had been without someone for so long it was almost maddening. But, it was not in him to destroy whatever plans had been made for little Juliette…no matter how wrong they seemed to him.
“Are we going to decorate today, Sirius?” she bubbled, taking her hand in his. “Right after breakfast?”
He smiled and squeezed her hand. “I promise but first we have a bit of shopping to do. We need to go to Ollivanders and get your mum a wand. He is still around, isn’t he?” he turned a questioning gaze to Hermione.
“Yes but, I don’t want a wand,” she shook her head vehemently.
Sirius chuckled. “My apologies, Hermione, you mistook that as a request.”
“Pardon?” She stuttered. His sudden change threw her and she couldn’t seem to get her bearings again. “You can’t make me—"
“I can make you do anything I damn well please,” Sirius laughed softly, moving closer to tower above her. “Don’t mistake me for Draco or Remus, Hermione. You can’t bully me.”
“You arrogant, self-centered—" Hermione tried to push him away but he was too strong. He didn’t even flinch with her movements, a smug grin lighting up his face. It was only a moment later she remember Juliette was in the room. She quieted, fuming internally that he would spring this on her when he knew she couldn’t argue. “I have to see Draco first. I promised Remus,” she managed finally.
Sirius’ eyes narrowed. “Juliette, can you get breakfast on the table? We’ll be down in just a moment to join you.”
“Are you going to yell at mommie?”
Hermione’s face blanched but Sirius grinned and patted her on the head. “Indeed, I believe I am, Juliette.”
Juliette bounded away in amusement, glad for once to see someone not treated her mum with kid gloves. Sirius turned to Hermione, whose face was white.
“Relax, Hermione. I’m not going to yell.”
“As if your silence is any better,” she retorted icily. “How could you—"
“Hermione,” his voice was soft, his touch on her shoulder even softer. “I have no idea what Remus has asked of you but I can only assume it involves me. He’s an overprotective old fart and has been since he was fifteen. Don’t let him guilt you into something that you don’t agree with just for my sake.”
The softness Hermione remembered from the night before was back and she couldn’t help but feel grateful for not only his honesty but his protection. How he had guessed it was about Draco, she had no idea, but the tiny movement in which he touched the ring on her finger gave his thoughts away. He didn’t want her to make a bad choice just for his sake.
But, she knew Remus was right. Draco had pushed her for awhile and Sirius’ appearance had just made things worse. She wasn’t being fair to him and she knew it…she would have to make a decision soon or fear losing Draco altogether. And she had so many things she’d thought she’d forgotten…so many old wounds that had reopened with Sirius’ appearance. Everything just seemed to be spinning out of control all at once.
“It’s not just for you,” she finally managed. “There are things I need to get through. Things I can’t do with Draco here. Convincing him to leave for just a little while might…”
“Honestly, Hermione, I don’t want to think about what might happen,” he murmured quietly. “Just do what you think you need to do and not what someone else wants, that’s all I’m asking.”
Hermione straightened. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“A deal?” Sirius smiled. “That sounds as if the real Hermione Granger may have joined us.”
“I’ll talk to Draco, truly talk to him, if you talk to Remus.”
Sirius chuckled. “And I gain what by you talking to Draco?” He shook his head. “If I talk to Remus you will let me take you out for the evening.”
“Out where?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“What fun would there be in telling you that? Do we have a deal?”
“You won’t make me do magic?”
“Not at all.”
Hermione chewed on her lower lip. But, try as she might, the more she attempted to figure out what he might have in mind, the more unnerved she became. Deciding it was better just to stop thinking and react, she smiled half-heartedly. “Deal.”
Chapter 8: To Win a Bet
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Chapter Eight: To Win a Bet
Sirius paced the floor in front of the stone fireplace, his agitation finally getting the better of him. He’d listened to Remus piss and moan for over an hour about the extended list of obituaries, memories he’d almost lost and how he and Tonks had been doing the underpants Charleston for the last decade. While that was all well and good, what Sirius was most interested in (and what would prevent him from losing a bet to Hermione Granger) was why on earth Remus had taken to avoiding him at all costs. He let his eyes wander to the window, where the sun was beginning to cast a yellow tinged glow over the Grimmauld grounds.
He hated losing bets…especially to a woman.
Deciding a direct attack was his only chance, he sank down onto the couch beside Remus, placing a tight grip on his forearm. “If you are afraid of losing me again, Remus, I can understand that. I can’t promise it won’t happen, of course, but while I’m here could you at least pretend to enjoy my company?”
Remus hesitated. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again. Sirius moved where Remus couldn’t avoid his gaze, though, and he finally faltered. “Do you know what it’s like, Sirius? To spend so many years of your life coping with the death of someone you love? Just to have them come back and do it all over again? Every time I think I’ve moved on, you magically appear and turn everything upside down again.”
“I do apologize for being so inconvenient in my struggles with the great beyond,” Sirius mumbled. “I seem to fail at everything in a quite flamboyant fashion. I’m rather surprised you thought death would be any different.”
“Don’t do that. Don’t give me the ‘woe is me’ crap. You wanted the truth and I’m giving it to you,” his voice softened. “I’ve never known you to shy away from the truth.”
Sirius moved away from him to pace the floor again, trying to calm the fears rising within him. It was almost as if Remus preferred him to stay gone. Was that even possible?
“I’ve never been blamed for my own death before either,” he returned with sarcasm he didn’t feel.
“Sirius,” Remus’ voice was steady but his hands shook ever so slightly. “We’ve never really understood each other. I don’t pretend to understand you even now.”
“Will you stop?” Remus jerked him to face him. “This isn’t another prank, Sirius. For better or worse, you are back.”
“Worse?” Sirius fought to conceal the hurt that welled within him. “Worse,” he repeated more softly as the words took their full effect.
“I didn’t mean it like that and you know it. Everything is just coming out wrong,” Remus moved away, fiddling with the stray threads on his cloak. “Blasted Tonks,” he murmured. “I should never have listened to her.
Sirius hesitated. He wanted to sulk or hex Remus for his words but the mention of Tonks made him pause. “What advice?” he asked after a moment, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
Remus dropped into a chair with irritation. “She suggested I share with you how I feel. I should have known better than to listen to her.”
Sirius couldn’t resist the urge to laugh. “Since when did you get so whipped you now take advice from someone who enjoys turning her hair bubblegum pink and blowing raspberries at the dinner table?”
“A man stoops to many levels for the sake a woman, Sirius,” he answered with a sigh. “Fortunately, the returns make it worth the effort.”
Sirius frowned momentarily, recalling a bet with Hermione was the only reason he was putting either of them through this blasted conversation in the first place. He shrugged it off as best he could.
“Yes, but is it worth the embarrassment?” he chuckled, dropping down across from Remus. “Don’t answer that. I’d prefer not to know.” He feigned seriousness. “Exactly how long have you been bedding my cousin, anyway?”
Remus sent him a mischievous grin. “You tell me what you were doing in bed with Hermione this morning and I’ll tell you tales about Tonks that you…”
“Ugh,” Sirius put his hands in the air. “Spare me the sordid details. A werewolf and a shape-shifter? My nightmares come to life.”
“If I knew, I’d be happy to explain it to you,” he replied honestly. “Juliette, though-"
Remus nodded, a smile lighting up his face. “She’s an amazing little girl, isn’t she? Everyone loves her to pieces. Devilishly clever, though. She’ll sneak away from you and find trouble given half the chance.”
“Much like her father,” Sirius murmured. “The assumption that Ron is her father--”
Remus cut him off with a dark look. “It’s actually not discussed, Sirius, and I’d advise you against it as well.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Remus shuffled uneasily in his chair. “It’s never mentioned, Sirius. She loved Ron and they were to be married. Anything else isn’t our business.”
“But you see it, don’t you?” he shook his head. “How can you not see it?”
“Of course I see it,” Remus hissed. He lowered his voice. “But what purpose does it serve to accuse her of having an affair with Harry? He’s gone, Ron’s gone, it only brings back more hurt for everyone involved.”
“You aren’t giving her enough credit. She’s stronger than that. You are just allowing her to hide from the truth. You, of all people, should know that only causes more problems in the end.”
“It’s not something I have the right to confront her with,” Remus’ voice held a note of forewarning that Sirius chose to ignore. “When she feels comfortable, she’ll tell everyone the truth.”
“Geez, Remus, the child is going to be an adult before that happens!” he frowned. “Don’t you think Juliette deserves to know the truth?”
“At what price to Hermione, Sirius?” he lowered his voice, casting a wary look toward the doorway. “If you haven’t noticed, she is not the mentally stable person you once knew. If anything she grows more reclusive everyday.”
“Well, perhaps all of you are contributing to that by allowing her to drown in her own thoughts, have you considered that?”
“No,” he answered quietly, a feeling of uncertainty flowing over him. “You’ve been where she is, haven’t you, Sirius?”
“Don’t try and analyze me, Remus,” his eyes glinted dangerously. “I’m not nearly jovial enough to be so accommodating.”
“We’re okay, aren’t we, Sirius?” Remus asked off-handedly as he felt Sirius temper begin to flare under the scrutiny.
“Yes, we’re fine,” he answered huffing. “I’m just pissed off.”
Remus chuckled as he watched him stomp away. “And the world is right again.”
Author’s Note: I apologize for the length on this one but I tried combining it with the next chapter and it ended up well over 3,000 words so I decided to go ahead and split it. I’m putting finishing touches on Chapter Nine so it should be up within just a few more days. Thanks to everyone! I’m having such a fun time writing this thing!
Chapter 9: Tortured Thoughts
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Chapter Nine: Tortured Thoughts
“Your talk with Draco must have gone as well as my talk with Remus,” Sirius muttered, barging into the kitchen and brushing past Hermione as he slammed the cabinet doors. When she failed to answer, he turned her way. She was fussing about the kitchen, burning toast and muttering under her breath as she tossed it to the table. She barely managed to keep from dropping the coffee pot as she tried to pour him a cup. “Trouble in paradise?”
He ducked as the hot liquid flew through the air, missing him by mere inches. Leaning against the counter, he crossed his arms, eyeing her with genuine curiosity now.
Hermione could feel his eyes burning into her back but she refused to turn. Couldn’t he tell she just wanted to be alone? She hated him right now, almost as much as she hated Draco. Draco and his damn insistence at staying by her side…she had tried everything she knew to convince him to take the mission with the Ministry. But, no, he was ‘worried for her safety’ and couldn’t ‘fathom leaving her alone with the likes of Sirius Black’. As if I’m any safer with Draco around, she thought furiously. He’d told her if she would just be willing to do magic then he might feel comfortable leaving her at Grimmauld…his veiled threat had sent her reeling and when he had the gall to suggest that she would miss his touch and their nights alone, Hermione could do nothing but slam the door in his face.
“He’s a skunk. Can’t he ever just let things go?” she mumbled to no one in particular which caused Sirius to chuckle. Her cheeks flushed with anger as she whirled on him. “And you,” she seethed.
“Yes, me,” he said with a grin, “I knew we would eventually get to me.”
“Self-absorbed, arrogant, self-centered—"
“Surely you can do better than that. Those mean the same thing, my dear.” He leaned to the side as she sent another mug flying his direction.
She turned her back on him, shoving her hands under the soapy dishwater and fiercely scrubbing at imaginary spots. “There are not enough words in my vocabulary to even describe how much I loathe the two of you right now.”
Sirius wasn’t sure what made him do it. But she was so angry and full of life and so ready to knock him senseless that he couldn’t resist. Leaning in to her before she could react, he kissed her gently. “You are beautiful when you hate me, do you know that?”
She hesitated. Her breath caught in her throat, the dirty glass in her hand slipping to the floor in shock. But Sirius only smiled and moved away from her, chewing on the burned piece of toast she had tossed on the table.
She stood still a moment, trying to understand what had just happened. She came up empty though and followed after him. He was halfway up the stairs and she saw him hesitate when she appeared. His smile dissolved as he watched her and she could see a bleakness come over him as if he had suddenly realized what he’d done.
Sirius gazed at her in mild perplexity, as if her following him had changed something. She no longer seemed so unapproachable. Although she looked terrible- her apron was dirtied, black crumbs from this morning's toast sticking to it, her hands covered in suds, and she looked distinctively like a muggle with her hair pulled back- she had a dignified, prideful air about her that he hadn’t witnessed since Lily died. The thought caused his heart to ache…he had been present for the terrible fates that had given Lily her tenacious character. That Hermione may have endured such hardships made a flurry of guilt wash over him. His eyes came to rest on the ring on her hand, the glint from the over-sized silver setting causing a vague and rather unpleasant memory to stir in him.
“I apologize. I had no right.”
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers as he watched her approach him…if she was going to slap him, well, at least he’d had worse. But she moved to stand on the step above him, making her almost eye level with him and forcing him to turn her direction. That she had somehow gotten such control over him within a matter of minutes infuriated him. He was about to launch into an offensive verbal attack when she cocked her head slightly to the side, her words a whisper.
It was the last question he had expected and one he wasn’t prepared to answer. He could tell her how long he’d been without a woman in his arms, he could tell her how she reminded him of a love long lost or…he could lie.
He chose the latter.
“It’s the ring,” he murmured, twirling the engagement ring Draco had given her. “Forbidden fruit and all.”
She hesitated only a moment before making her decision. She slipped the ring off her finger, dropping it into her apron pocket and looked at him expectantly. Her move had thrown him and she could see him fighting. A moment later she understood.
He stepped toward her quickly, locking her against the banister as his lips pressed into hers with a passion that made her weak. She gasped for breath but he kept coming back, lack of air and space causing her to feel faint. His arms were strong around her, though, holding her steady so that she couldn’t move away. She felt the hard, desperate clutch of his body as he pulled her closer. But when she began to let her hands travel him, he pulled away. His lips were soft next to her ear, their ragged breaths coming rhythmically as they tried to calm themselves. “Or perhaps the ring was keeping me away.”
“It’s a piece of metal, Sirius,” she whispered, her hands running through his hair.
“Perhaps to you.” He pulled her hands away, moving out of her grasp. “To Draco, it means a hell of a lot more.”
Sirius struggled to quell the emotions tumbling within him…it had been years since he’d felt so confused and out of sorts. Avoiding her gaze, he climbed the stairs, slamming his door behind him. He paced the floor as he tried to get himself in check, wondering exactly when she had become the cold hearted person he’d just been witness to. No, that wasn’t fair. He tempted her…he knew she hadn’t been with anyone….she told him herself how she had cut everything off with Draco while she tried to decide what was best for Juliette. How could he blame her for a natural reaction to a man’s touch? But, no. It was what she had said that bothered him…not that she would have so easily been bedded. Did she really think so callously about a ring that meant the world to Draco? It was the only decent thing Sirius had ever seen Draco do…how could she be so ungrateful?
“How dare you!” Hermione burst into his room, slamming the door louder than he. “How dare you decide you know what’s best for me. You have the nerve to kiss me and then when I choose to reciprocate you judge me?” She shoved him angrily. “Screw you and whatever arrogant tangent you’ve decided to be on today. I don’t need shit from you. I get enough from everyone else as it is.”
“Me?” His anger suddenly matched hers. “Exactly when did you become such a bitch? Draco gives you a part of himself and you’d find it so useless to just toss it away without a second thought?”
“What are you talking about?”
Sirius hesitated. He turned to look at her more closely. Her anger had caused her face to flush a dull red but he saw nothing else. Could if have misjudged her so terribly? “Give me the ring.”
“Give me the ring,” he growled. He winced as she tossed it effortlessly his direction. He turned it over in his hand. No, he hadn’t been wrong. “Have you looked at it, Hermione?”
“Of course. It’s been on my finger for…”
“You assume I care about that,” he cut her off. “Have you looked at it?” He shoved it her direction. “See that? N.B. Do you know who that is?”
“Narcissa Black,” she whispered, sinking onto the bed. She fingered the ring hesitantly now, almost as if she was afraid of it. Sirius took it away and sank down next to her.
“My parents gave this to her as a wedding present,” he explained. “This was his mother’s wedding ring. Not merely a piece of metal, as you so eloquently described it.”
“Oh, Sirius,” her voice cracked. “I had no idea. I swear. Why on earth would he do that? It’s not as if…” she trailed off, her eyes meeting his.
“Perhaps he feels more strongly about you than you imagined?” he asked quietly. He tucked the ring back in her hand, tightening her fist around it. “Either way, my actions were inexcusable and I do apologize.”
He moved away to the window, closing his eyes as the warm winter sun streaked through the panes. He knew he had to clear his mind…he had to think clearly with so much at stake. That locket was so full of dark magic- he had to take care of everything before unfortunate things came to be. He knew that but still couldn’t bring himself to say anything that might cause Hermione to make rash decisions.
“Sirius, it doesn’t change anything.”
Her whispered voice behind him caught him off guard. She slipped her hands to his biceps, her hands tracing lightly over his shirt. “I mean it changes some things, of course, but not this.”
He breathed deeply to calm the quiver in his stomach. “I’ve made this mistake once before in my life, Hermione. I can’t do it again.”
“I’m not married,” she whispered, turning him to face her. “And I’m not ashamed to be seen with you either. I don’t want to confuse, Juliette, but…”
“No,” he shook his head. “She doesn’t count. Things are different with her.”
“But there is no one else I would keep you hidden from,” her voice was soft and reassuring. “Whatever she did to you, it’s not fair to assume I’ll be the same. The ring was a mistake. Nothing more and definetly not how I would have acted had I known.” Her voice quieted. “Did she know?”
He stiffened considerably. “I don’t know—"
“The person you gave the ring to…did she know how much it meant to you?”
“She should have,” he murmured. He drew away from her, the sudden exposed feeling making him uneasy. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It matters if you are unwilling to kiss me because of something some whor—"
“Never say that! Do you understand me! Never say anything like that!” Sirius was shaking her before he even realized. He let go of her instantly, as if she was on fire, and backed away.
“Sirius—" she took a step toward him, unsure of exactly what to say. She’d never seen anyone react quite so violently…well, not since Harry had first learned of the prophecy anyway.
But his voice was a mere whisper and Hermione continued forward. As if calming a child, she ran her hand through his hair, speaking softly to him about nothing. She kissed his face, her lips pressing gently all around to help soothe his tortured thoughts. When she was certain he was calm, she kissed him gingerly on the lips, almost afraid of bringing out more demons that he had hidden away. She pulled away slowly, hoping to keep him in the calmness she had invoked in him with her movements.
“Don’t trust me, Hermione,” he murmured. “Promise me you won’t ever trust me.”
Hermione met his gaze strongly, surprised that for once he was wavering against her. He wanted her to lie…she could see it in his eyes. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I trust no one else,” she whispered.
Chapter 10: Manipulation
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Chapter 10: Manipulation
“You look very handsome.”
Sirius glanced from the mirror as he shaved. Juliette, already dressed in her long pink nightgown, was watching him intently, her head tipped inquisitively to the side as he’d seen Hermione do many times in her youth. Unlike Hermione, though, he couldn’t help but sense the pureblood air about her…undoubtedly instilled by Draco. Her words heralded in memories of his own childhood, where proper language and etiquette were demanded long before you could even walk. He made a mental note to try and rectify her noble upbringing before it ruined the inquisitive part of her he had already fallen in love with.
“Are you going out?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” he nodded and motioned for her to hop onto the counter beside him. She jumped to the cold marble slab, dangling her feet over the edge, her tiny lace rimmed socks causing him to grin. “And just where have you been all day? I thought we had a date to decorate Grimmauld?”
Juliette frowned and her unusual silence caused him to look her way. Her eyes were downcast, though, not meeting his. Laying down his razor, he tipped her face to his. “That’s a rather serious face you’re making.”
She nodded but still didn’t respond. Tugging a towel off the nearby rack, she began wiping off the foam that still clung to his cheeks. “Are they always so rosy after you shave?” she murmured.
Sirius took her hands tightly in his, pulling them away from his face. “Juliette,” he chastised gently.
He could feel her grip tighten on the towel, her tiny fingers wringing it as if it somehow would calm her. “Draco doesn’t like you very much,” she managed.
Sirius knew better than to laugh at her. As if I care a bit what the Malfoy brat likes, he thought indignantly. “Indeed?” he asked, managing to keep his face expressionless. “Took you away today, did he?”
She nodded, confusion evident on her face. She wrapped her arms around Sirius' neck and buried her face in his chest. After a moment, he folded his arms around her, gently comforting her, uncertain if he was doing it right. She wasn't crying, but he didn't think it would take much, her little fists were clenched tightly in his robes and her face was fearful and guilty. Carrying her into the bedroom, he sank down on top of his jacket, pulling her to settle on his lap.
“Juliette, what do you know of the great war?” he asked, brushing unruly hairs away from her face.
“The good guys won,” she brightened a little. “Mommie was one of the good guys.”
“Yes, she was,” he hesitated, determined to make sure he didn’t confuse her even more. She was watching him intently, pleading with him to tell the truth. He had seen it echoed in Regulus’ face enough times through the years to recognize it immediately and he could almost envision himself wearing the exact same expression as a child- asking only honesty and respect even if someone thought you were too young to understand. Somewhere in the back of his mind alarms blared, warning him that he should probably check with Hermione before discussing this with Juliette, but he dismissed it quickly. No one would give him that look and be denied like he was. “When Draco was very young he was not on the good side.”
“He’s a bad guy?” her brow furrowed immediately and he chuckled.
“No. He made a mistake. You understand about mistakes, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” she nodded. “We forgive people for those.”
“Yes, we should,” he faltered, choosing his words with extraordinary care in hopes of containing any bitterness. “Draco was lead to believe I was a criminal. I don’t think anyone has really explained to him what actually happened.”
“Everyone thought you were a murderer,” she whispered, shifting in his lap and intertwining her tiny fingers with his own. “But it was Peter Pettigrew.”
Sirius started, his eyes searching hers. “How—"
She sent him a mischievous smile. “Uncle Remus’ bedtime stories are always based on something,” she shrugged. “I pulled out old newspapers.”
“You are much, much too clever, little girl,” he chuckled, ruffling her head.
She fumbled with the buttons on his dress shirt, her smile calming a quiver in Sirius’ stomach that he hadn’t even noticed. “Can’t you just tell him you’re good?”
Unable to say what was on his mind, Sirius winked at her in response then moved her off of his lap gently, returning to the mirror to finish dressing. She brought him his jacket dutifully and, as he tugged it on, she began brushing off the tiny bits of pink fuzz that had attached to it from her socks.
“Well, I think if we’ve had to forgive Draco for the things he’s done then he should have to forgive you.”
Sirius hesitated, his eyes narrowing. “What do you mean?” he asked in the lightest tone he could manage.
“Juliette,” Remus’ quiet voice made them both turn. “I believe its time for that story I promised.” His eyes were glazed and he glanced away from Sirius quickly, knowing his emotions could be easily read. Ignoring Sirius altogether, he took Juliette’s hand to tug her away.
Try as he might, Sirius couldn’t control the rage welling within him. He tried to remind himself that Draco was just immature- that he didn’t know better- but that was the Draco he remembered, not the one he was faced with now. He knew Draco had it in him to be manipulative…hell, he couldn’t be a pureblood without at least learning that. But to do so to a child was unthinkable...even Sirius wouldn’t be that deceptive, no matter what the stakes were. The more he thought about it- the more he envisioned the hurt and confused look on Juliette’s face and Remus’ pathetic attempt to keep something from him- the more reckless he became. When she kissed him good night, her trust and innocence overwhelmed him and it was more than Sirius could possibly stand.
He strode into the main hall, pushing past Tonks who was waiting patiently for Remus to return so they could leave. His cloak billowing behind him, his face contorted into a fiery rage, he moved quickly to the kitchen, striding past Hermione. Without even the tiniest pause, his fist plowed into Draco’s face, knocking him to the ground with a single swing.
Draco grabbed for his jaw in shock, blood dripping through his fingers. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sirius dropped his knee onto Draco’s chest, his voice a low growl. “Never again shall I hear you’ve tried to manipulate that little girl. If you want me, Malfoy, you name the day but I will not allow you hide behind a child. Am I abundantly clear on that?”
He lifted his knee slightly, enough for Draco to take a gasp of breath. When he didn’t answer, Sirius shoved it back down, barreling his full body weight into Draco’s ribs. Only a slight crack that echoed in the still kitchen gave any indication of the force he was exerting. “Do I need to repeat myself?”
“No,” Draco choked, his face turning pale white with his pain.
“I thought not,” he hissed then stood up. After straightening his clothing and giving one last glance to Draco’s crumbled form, he offered Hermione a smile. “Are you ready to go, Hermione?”
She glanced hesitantly at his smiling face, her eyes drifting to Draco’s crumbled form. Sirius touched her chin and turned it toward him, an act of supreme confidence considering they were standing within wand’s reach of Draco…she couldn’t decide if it made her angry or excited but she somehow knew reacting to his blind act of masculinity with either emotion would give him the upper hand.
“Do you intend to explain this to me?” she asked quietly, her gaze locking with his.
Sirius considered her for a moment, ignored the worried gaze Draco shot him, and then chuckled. “Now what on earth would possess me to do that?”
“Oh, perhaps, honesty, truthfulness…”
His head fell back in laughter. “You have once again confused me with someone else. I have no intention of spending my evening talking about Draco. Now, do you intend to welch on that bet or shall we get moving?”
Her eyes narrowed at his challenge, a brief thought of how long it would take him to get drunk passing through her mind. It took her only seconds to map out a plan for the evening…a step by step guide to finding out what had gotten him so angry at Draco in just a mere few hours. She took her arm in his and let him lead her away, ideas still teeming across her mind. It was only when they were a few blocks away and his grip tightened around her shoulders that he finally spoke.
“Don’t try, Hermione,” he murmured quietly. “Yes, I intend to drink and yes, you can possibly get me to the point of telling you. But,” he gazed at her meaningfully, “trust me when I tell you it’s something you’d prefer not to be involved in right now.”
“Right now?” she questioned softly, somehow believing him. Unlike everyone else who seemed to be trying to protect her from everything, Sirius seemed willing to let her in…at least eventually.
“I made the mistake once in my life of keeping people in the dark too long, Hermione,” he nodded regretfully, “don’t think I didn’t learn my lesson.”
The silence that hung after his words caused her heart to ache. After a few steps, she stretched up to kiss his cheek. “Enough depressing thoughts for one evening, it’s time to let the world know Sirius Black has returned.”
Author’s Note: Wa-hoo! Everyone ready for a night out? Who do you bank on benefiting the most from any “celebrating” they may do? Think anyone will interrupt their evening out and will Draco plot revenge? Oh! The burning questions!!! I’m having just so much fun with this story and I hope you are, too. Let me know what you think and thanks so much for all the support!
Chapter 11: Crappy Honesty Talks
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Chapter Eleven: Crappy Honesty Talks
She wasn’t sure why she had agreed to this. As if being out in Hogsmeade again, being this close to Hogwarts, wasn’t bad enough she was in the presence of one of the most well known wizards in the world. She hated the attention, the whispered voices, the welcoming smiles of his return but, most of all, she hated that Sirius seemed to be enjoying it. For the first time since she’d met him, she could see where he’d gotten his reputation of being the wildest Marauder.
He had kept at it for hours…the dancing, the singing, and the general celebratory happiness that seemed to engulf him. She didn’t blame him, of course, but his forcing her into such a happy little world was beginning to tear at her soul. She wanted to say she was having a horrible time but, the truth was, she hadn’t had this much fun since her days at Hogwarts. He somehow managed to make her forget the all too serious world she had left at Grimmauld and only now, as the bar began to slow and the patrons disperse did she begin to have that hollow feeling of guilt for taking the time to enjoy herself. They had long since stopped serving drinks to everyone but Sirius and, with her own glass already empty, she reached across the table to steal his. She had just finished polishing it off when his soft voice filtered over her shoulder.
“Thief,” he whispered, chuckling softly in her ear. “Come, stop being a wall flower and dance before they throw us out.”
“I don’t want to dance.”
“Well,” Sirius sank into the chair next to her with a huff. “We can dance or we can talk about Harry’s daughter Juliette…your choice.”
Hermione choked. Her stomach revolted and dizziness like she’d never experienced caused her to drop her head between her knees with no concern for who might be watching. Her breaths came in ragged gasps, her deep coughs causing tears to stream from the edges of her eyes. She managed a broken, “I hate you,” before she slipped out of the chair and into the dusty floor with a clumsy thud.
Sirius sank down onto the floor beside her, ignoring the curious glances of the few remaining patrons. He stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankles, waiting patiently for her to regain some sense of composure. It took a few moments for her to regain her breath and she pulled her knees up underneath her long cloak, watching him with eyes full of fury.
“I hate you,” she managed again. She tried to stand up but he held her back, his hand sliding into hers.
“No, you don’t,” he whispered, pulling her back down beside him. “You’ve wanted to tell someone for six years. I see it every time you look at her. You want someone, anyone, to understand.”
Sirius could see the longing in her eyes, the desperate hope that she could finally be honest with someone after all this time. But just as quickly, he saw the fear that held her back and, as if he was looking in a mirror, he could feel the tension overtake her like an animal that had been caged far too long. He stood up and offered her his hand. “Let’s go somewhere less public, shall we?”
She slid her hand into his, her voice almost inaudible. “Not Grimmauld, please, not Grimmauld.”
He smiled at her nervousness, unsure of where her sudden timid nature had come from. Mere minutes ago she looked ready to slug him and now she looked near collapse. He slid his arm around her shoulders for support and led her into the cold night air. His steps were short, matching her own less confident ones, and he could feel her trembling next to him.
“You know,” he offered smiling, “your guilt over this whole thing is pretty ridiculous. It’s not as if being with more than one person is a crime.”
Hermione nodded, moving closer to him as he led her to Hogsmeade train station. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“And why is that? Because I was some Hogwarts playboy? You really do listen to Tonks too much.” He laughed as he motioned to the attendant behind the ticket counter. They spoke for a few moments before Sirius handed over a stack of coins from his pockets. “You’d think with me being dead and all people could find something better to gossip about than my sexual exploits,” he chuckled as he accepted two tickets and led her to a nearby bench to await the train.
“You weren’t?” Hermione asked, sinking down beside him.
“No, I was chased more than doing the chasing,” he grinned, “price of being a Black.”
‘Oh, yes, you poor thing,” Hermione couldn’t help but smile back at him. “At least you haven’t lost that arrogance you’re so famous for.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he laughed as the train pulled up, inches from their feet. The scarlet red engine made Hermione hesitate and Sirius slipped his arm around her waist. “Its okay, this one goes no where you’ve ever heard of, I assure you.”
She nodded without comment, a flurry of memories washing over her as she followed Sirius through the corridors and into one of the back compartments. Unlike the school train she remembered, this train had formal sitting areas, overnight accommodations, and from the marker on the map, a full service restaurant and bar. Her voice was full of surprise. “It’s like a muggle train.”
“Every once in awhile a muggle can have a good invention, can’t they?” he asked holding a door open for her.
“I didn’t mean—" her apology was lost in a smile as she noticed the grin on his face. “Remus was right…you can’t ever be serious.”
Sirius stopped her as she tried to walk through the doorway, his hand resting lightly on her arm. “You are about to find out how untrue that is but, that also is something I prefer to keep out of public view.”
Hermione locked her gaze with his, his sudden honesty causing her breath to catch in her throat. She’d never felt comfortable with Sirius when Harry was around. It was almost as if his presence turned her into an outsider but now, with his body so close to hers, she couldn’t help but understand what Harry had seen in him. His love of life, his arrogance that couldn’t help but draw you in and make you laugh until your sides hurt and then there was that look. Certainly Harry had witnessed it…he wouldn’t have been so trusting in Sirius without having seen it himself. But, Hermione had never actually felt the depth of his gray eyes and the kindness, loyalty and caring that lie hidden under his many scars. When she realized how close she had drawn to him, she quickly stepped away. “I understand.”
“Somehow, I knew you would,” he smiled but Hermione couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Coffee?” he asked as he slipped off his cloak and tossed it onto the seat. He sank down opposite her, waiting for a response, giving her a quizzical look. “Hermione?”
“Whiskey, if you can manage it,” she whispered quietly, refusing to look at him. Why did she feel like such a child around him? She hadn’t felt so uneasy, so lost, since before she graduated Hogwarts.
Sirius nodded, a smile lighting his face. “I prefer brandy for these rather crappy honesty talks but whiskey it is.”
Hermione laughed but quickly covered her mouth. “Brandy works fine.” She accepted the glass, taking a small sip while she chose her words. “How did you know?”
“Her eyes,” he answered simply.
She smiled. “They’re Lily’s, aren’t they?”
Sirius nodded, taking a drink rather than respond. He leaned back against the soft red velour, the squishy cushions softening the train’s jerky movement as it began to pull out from the station.
“Have you ever been in love, Sirius?” she asked quietly. “Real love, where it makes your heart ache?”
She had expected him to be surprised but he didn’t even raise his eyes her direction. “No.”
“No?” Hermione frowned, her eyes searching his. But his emotions were well practiced and, except for the darkened gray of his eyes, she couldn’t read a thing. Did anything ever phase this man? “Really?”
“Love turns normal people to fools,” he returned as he poured himself another drink, “so no.”
“Ah,” she nodded, trying to withhold her smile. “She broke your heart, then?”
“I refuse to answer that.”
She had expected a smile or even a cocky grin but the heart-wrenching look he couldn’t hide caught her by complete surprise. She reached for him, her hand resting lightly on his knee. “Sirius?”
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” his voice broke ever so slightly. “I just can’t.”
Hermione shifted slightly, moving to sit beside him. She heaved a heavy sigh, letting her hand rest on his thigh. “So, you are human after all.”
“One day when I’m drunk you might be lucky to get it out of me,” he smiled. “But back to you. You loved Ron that much, hm?”
“It devastated me. Looking back I feel like such a fool for reacting to his death the way I did. He deserved so much better. He deserved to have his memory treated with love and respect and…” Hermione grew quieter, silent tears beginning to run down her cheeks. “He deserved so much better than me.”
“Oh,” Sirius murmured as understanding washed over him. He let his arm drop around her shoulders, pulling her head to rest in his chest. “You and Harry, then, you ran to each other when he died?”
“How did you know that?” she gasped, wiping away the tears she hadn’t even noticed were falling.
“I ran to several people when James and Lily died,” he admitted quietly. “More than I should probably confess to. I just kept thinking that someone, somewhere, would be able to fill the emptiness I had inside.” He shifted uneasily, moving away from her to take his glass in his hand. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be telling you that.”
“Why?” Hermione slid her arm into his and pulled him back into the seat. “Afraid I might learn you actually have feelings?”
“No, just…” Sirius tried to reach for his glass again but she stopped him. He looked up at her, an automatic sarcastic remark flying to the tip of his tongue. But something in her closeness, the sincere desire she had to actually understand him made him hesitate. The sudden feeling of wanting to be honest with her - something he hadn’t felt the need to do since James and Lily’s death- caused his breath to catch in his throat and his words came out more emotional than he had intended. “It’s easier for me to listen than it is for me to talk, is all.”
“Yeah,” Sirius chuckled, knowing she was letting him off the hook and appreciating her for it. “I am.”
Author’s Note: I broke the chapter in two…I promise they are still together in the next chapter and the rating will come in to play in chapter 12 (young’uns be forewarned!). Thanks to everyone who is following this…you’ve all made this so fun to write each chapter!
Chapter 12: Taking You Sober
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Chapter Twelve: Taking You Sober
Sirius draped an arm over the edge of the burgundy chair, tilting his whiskey bottle back and forth as he watched the last swallow of amber colored liquid with quiet wonder. The soft rumble of the train and a brief roll of thunder somewhere off in the distance signaling a winter storm had arrived in England had a narcotic effect on his reflexes…almost as if he was moving hours slower than the rest of the world. He would cast a reflective look toward Hermione on occasion, but for the past several hours they had remained silent except for courteous pleasantries as they passed the bottle back and forth. He’d never met someone with whom he could have a “comfortable” silence and, in fact, had often wondered if there was such a thing. It seemed that someone always felt it necessary to fill the voids in conversations, as if even the slightest amount of quiet signified something akin to tension or awkwardness. He felt none of that in her company…they both seemed content to be alone together, reveling in their own thoughts and happy that the other was kind enough not to intrude.
“Sirius, we’ve finished the bottle,” Hermione shook him slightly. “Just how much did you drink in the tavern anyway?”
“Never fear.” He waved his arm lazily to provide her another bottle. “I can do magic in my sleep, my dear.”
“Pureblood abilities,” she nodded, pouring herself another glass. “How I do admire them at times like these.”
“Please, don’t compare me to Draco,” he murmured, wanting to be angry but knowing the whiskey would prevent it. “I just might vomit.”
She laughed. “I was thinking of Harry, actually. After Ron’s death, he kindly kept me well stocked on liquor.”
Sirius frowned…a slow frown as her words sunk in.
“No,” she laughed a silly drunken laugh. “He’s much too noble for what you are thinking. I was very much sober the first time…” she blushed, “well, the first time we were together.”
Sirius’ deep laugh echoed into the hall. “A shame you can’t count on me to be so noble. I’d ravage you right here if I thought I could stand up.”
“Oh, do tell.”
He ignored her teasing comment, something tugging in his mind and telling him he was going too far in his suggestions. “Alas, I am unable to stand much less fumble with my clothing so your virtue is quite safe with me.”
For the first time since he’d been alone with her, he felt it. That awkward tension when he’d once again stepped over some invisible line. He felt he should say something but could think of nothing that would be even half appropriate, so he merely sighed with resignation and an apologetic grin. When she failed to return it, he eyed her more closely, his drunken haze allowing him to see things he wasn’t sure were real.
Or maybe they were.
She sank back into her seat, sipping from her bottle in a dignified airy manner, but Sirius could sense the change in her. Her movements were more on edge, her eyes burning into him. She shifted easily, almost in a professional manner, so that his gaze would fall to the slight curve of her thigh as it disappeared under her skirt. He met her gaze steadily but she gave nothing away. He watched as she carefully placed the bottle on the table between them. She stood up, her hands moving to the back of her waist. She slipped off her skirt, the sight of her lace lingerie causing his breath to catch in his throat.
She moved a step closer to him. Pulling off her shirt, she stood before him, a look of mild impatience and amusement crossing her face. “Do tell,” she whispered softly.
“I should say something to dissuade you,” Sirius murmured, a slight furrow growing in his brow.
“Probably,” she nodded, dropping to her knees as she snaked her body closer to his, her teeth pulling gently at his pants leg as she slid her face across his thighs.
“I should be responsible,” he tried, watching in a half drunken daze as her tiny hands pushed aside the bottom of his cloak and began slowly, agonizingly slowly, undoing the leather belt around his waist.
“Mm-hm,” she mumbled as her hands slipped below his waist, her mouth warm on his exposed flesh.
He tried to untangle his thoughts but the warmth of her breath and the sensual feel of her against him was too much for him to take. His body reacted instantly, causing him to grab her hands in his fists, tugging her away from him to try and regain some control over himself. His mind cluttered, his thoughts muddled, he could find no way to verbalize what was wrong with this situation.
She knew he was struggling…he could see it in her eyes. But she made no attempt to move forward or reach out to him. She was letting this be his decision…if he told her to stop, he knew she would. Her fingers laced into his as she waited for his answer, her rapid breathing filling the entire room and stifling every thread of meaningful thought he tried to conjure. He gritted his teeth.
When, exactly, had he become the cautious one?
Dropping his glass to the floor, he jerked forward and pulled her onto his lap, his teeth burying in the pale freckled flesh on her abdomen. “Fortunately for you I am neither rational nor responsible.”
She accepted his answer readily, her legs straddling him easily, her slow easy movements quickly being overtaken by his more aggressive, demanding ones. It had been too long for both of them and in the excitement of a new found lover’s touch, both came quickly and easily. She remained on his lap as their trembles began to dissipate, unwilling to release him from the connection they shared.
“Mornings and trains,” he murmured with a soft chuckle, “you really should give me advance warning of these things, you know.”
Hermione smiled mischievously, unbuttoning his shirt so she could let her lips trace the curves of his chest. Her touches were slow and pleasing, her lips seeming to memorize each ripple of muscle and pink tinged scar. “I rather enjoy surprising you.”
“I’m drunk, you know that?” he asked, letting his hands slip through her hair and wander across the purple lace fabric of her bra, caressing her skin with a tenderness neither had taken time for before.
“Yes, but you would’ve let me take you sober.”
He gave her a look of disdain even though his hands had clasped around her breasts as a fire began to rise again within him. There was something about her--her fiery temper; her unbridled lust; her commanding take-charge tone that demanded to be acknowledged-- that tore into the very fabric of his being and required him to push her out of her own comfort zone. “I deny it.”
Hermione gasped as he pulled her deeper into his lap, his mouth searing a path down her neck. He moved more slowly this time, effortless in his timing to tease her as her moans became deeper, her senses more engaged.
He was teasing her…laughing, tickling, and smiling as if pleasing her was the only reason for his existence. He enjoyed being the sole object of her attention, she could tell, and for her efforts, he contented her with touches so silky and smooth she could easily delude herself into believing that were only for her.
Never had she known such freedom as she did under the touch of Sirius Black.
Author’s Note: I apologize for the delay in updating…it’s been a bit hectic around the site lately. I hope you are still enjoying it, I know I’m still having a wonderful time writing it. Thanks to all of you for the wonderful reviews, I love hearing about what you think is coming next and where this story is headed. Thanks to everyone!
Chapter 13: Indications of Truth
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Indications of Truth
“You just getting in?”
Sirius sank down into a dining room chair and accepted the warm coffee Remus offered him. He nodded as he let the lukewarm liquid draw him awake. “Yes, father.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Remus offered with a grin. It was impossible not to grin…Sirius’ tousled hair, sleepy eyes, and half unbuttoned shirt were classic signs that he had apparently had a wild evening. As if he had any doubt, rose colored lipstick stains on his collar shown brightly under the room’s chandelier proving at least some tempestuous encounter had befallen his friend. “I just thought I’d get you some breakfast if you hadn’t eaten.”
Sirius nodded gratefully and Remus conjured a steaming plate of sizzling ham and eggs. Before he even had a chance to take a bite, hot biscuits with a drizzling of honey poured over the top had appeared as well. He ate hungrily, a soft grin playing on his face as he shoveled the food in his mouth. “You’ll make someone a damn fine wife one day, Remus.”
“Sod off,” he returned good naturedly as he refilled his own mug. “Did Hermione desert you or did you leave her to fend for herself and catch her own way home?”
The silence that met his jovial question caused his eyes to narrow. He watched Sirius uneasily…he knew his question had been heard but Sirius avoided his gaze, his eyes seemingly transfixed by the yellow puddle of egg yolk that was invading his biscuits. Remus dropped his back against the chair, a feeling of déjà vu that he hoped would never happen again washing over him. He closed his eyes as visions of Sirius’ past caught up with him, the slight ding of silver against china causing the memories to fade in and out of view. He wanted to be sure…it had been so long since he’d seen Sirius’ mannerisms that he refused to take anything for granted. But no, he knew this was one thing he could never possibly get wrong. He exhaled heavily, his soul aching for the foolish path his friend was choosing to take….again.
“She loves him, I think,” he murmured, causing Sirius to look his direction. “I catch her looking at him once in awhile.”
“Who? Draco?” Sirius questioned innocently, as if he had paid no mind to either of them since his return to Grimmauld.
“Yes, Draco,” he answered, shaking his head. He twisted the napkin on the table and then, when that became obvious, he shuffled around the dishes Sirius had already picked clean. “Can’t say they make each other happy but there’s probably few things legal that make a Malfoy happy.”
Sirius paused with his fork in mid-air. It was unlike Remus to be so critical of anyone, much less someone he was entrusting secrets to. “You don’t think much of him, do you?” he asked quietly, watching him closely for some indication of the truth.
“I think,” Remus said lightly, forcing a smile onto his serious face, “that you are much too clever for me. But, I will say, it’s nice to have someone around to take him down a few notches.”
“Ah, you heard about that, did you?” Sirius shook his head. “I’m afraid I lost a bit of control there.”
“Sirius,” he chuckled, “that’s what you’re famous for.”
He raised his eyes in mock protest but warm feeling of friendship that quiet time with Remus brought him had filled his entire being. He joined in the laughter, feeling a freedom he hadn’t felt since before James and Lily’s death.
“So, you are really going to decorate this place for the holidays?” Remus asked with a sigh, his eyes drifting across the homey but rather dank surroundings.
“I promised Juliette,” he shrugged as if that settled it.
“Won’t it be hard?” Remus asked quietly, “I mean Christmas here, a real one…after all these years.”
Sirius wiped his mouth with the marigold colored napkin and dropped it to the table. “The past is done, Remus.”
He nodded, wondering if everything was as simple as Sirius always made it. “Tonks and I are off work for the holidays. So, if you’d like some help--”
Sirius scooted his chair back from the table. “Thought you’d never offer. Come on,” he clapped him on the shoulder, “let’s go find Juliette.”
“I think she was trying to transfigure Draco into a ferret while he slept,” Remus grinned mischievously. “I probably shouldn’t have told her that story.”
Draco leaned heavily against the rough hand carved doorframe, watching the lot of them decorate. Wide grins were plastered across each of their faces as the baubles floated around the tree, hanging themselves with perfect precision. Juliette, looking as if she was in training to be a seeker, was catching half the ornaments before they could reach their spots causing Remus to chase after her before she could squirrel them away. His eyes sought Hermione’s but she was observing the chase with an affectionate smile, and though her grin was only slight compared to the others in the room, he couldn’t help but think she radiated happiness. Draco couldn’t even remember the last time she was this happy and he grimaced visibly, wondering if Sirius had anything to do with it.
Remus had turned Juliette over to him and, to Draco’s chagrin, Sirius seemed to have no problem controlling her. They sat down on the floor together, both working together to decorate Crookshanks with brightly colored ribbons and tiny jingle bells. Hermione was scowling at them…but, not with the scowl he was used to receiving. It was more playful and friendly with only a hint of reprimand.
Draco eased back out of the doorway, his ears still ringing with laughter, his eyes still burning with the vision of Juliette’s stocking feet balanced on Sirius’ as he twirled her around the room in a Christmas dance. He had never known this kind of family -- one that wasn’t about regal traditions or family blood. It didn’t matter that he’d been there the day Juliette was born…he suddenly felt like an outsider, knowing he could never be part of that commonality.
“Draco?” Hermione’s soft voice caught him as he was walking away. “Aren’t you going to join us?”
He knew better than to try and explain himself to her and, instead, offered her a smile. “I was just thinking of some air. Will you join me?”
She glanced back into the room, the frivolity continuing in her absence as Remus began to sneak kisses from Tonks under the mistletoe. Her eyes met Sirius’ briefly and he offered her a wink of encouragement. Or, challenge….she couldn’t ever quite tell.
“Is everything all right?” she asked, tearing her attention from the scene and back to Draco. “I mean, are you all right? You seem a bit…out of sorts.”
Rather than reply, he grabbed their cloaks and pulled her into the wintry paths of the Grimmauld gardens. He buttoned her cloak for her, then slid his hand into the pocket as they traipsed slowly through the growing piles of snow.
“Hermione, do you remember the night of…” he hesitated, surveying her for some sense of her mental state. “Well, the night you learned about Ginny.”
“Of course,” she answered quietly. How could she possibly forget? That night had changed everything…it flooded their lives with a terror and disbelief that almost capsized them all.
His voice softened, his eyes willing her to look his direction. “You came to me that night. It was raining and lightning so hard we thought the storm would knock the walls of that place down.”
Hermione nodded without glancing his way, pulling away just far enough so that his hand slipped out of her pocket. “I remember.”
Draco stopped and pulled her to face him, unwilling to let her put a wall up between then again. “You asked me to go after Harry.”
“And you refused.”
“I wouldn’t leave you alone,” he corrected softly. “Just like Harry would’ve wanted.”
She wanted to chastise him…to tell him how much she wanted him to go after Harry and, at the same time, how much she wanted him never to leave her alone again. Why, of all times, he would’ve chosen then to remain beside her had plagued her for years…he was right about that. And, it seemed that since then he done nothing but run away from her each time things got too rough in their lives. He wasn’t a coward, she knew that. If was more as if he thought time apart would heal all wounds they seemed to deal each other. But, she couldn’t quite summon the courage of truth she needed and she bit her lower lip instead. “But--”
“Stop being so damn stubborn, Hermione! We both know I’m right.” He paused but only briefly. “You told me I made you feel safe.”
“I was scared and felt deserted,” she responded, dropping her head. “Everyone was off somewhere saving the world except you and I.” She hesitated then took a deep breath steadying breath. “It was a lifetime ago, Draco.”
“It was awkward,” he tried. “I…we were awkward and nervous and everything was new.” he admitted quietly, as if it hurt him to admit any fault. He touched her cheek gently. “We were together the first time that night and you’ve held that against me for years. You don’t have it say it out loud. I know it and fashioning me a fool that doesn’t understand gets us nowhere.”
Something about his touch emboldened her and she moved a pace away, stuffing her hands deep into her pockets. “What’s your point, Draco?”
“Sometimes what you think are mistakes aren’t…it’s the truth taking told of your life whether you like it or not.”
“I never said you were a mistake,” she shook her head. “And I never would say that.”
He tiled her chin to his, his eyes piercing into hers. “You never said I wasn’t either.”
She pulled away rather than respond, unwilling to give him what he wanted. She began walking away but his words made her stop and her stomach turn in knots.
“I have to leave.”
“Remus has asked me to take care of something for the ministry. I don’t know how long it will take but well, I’ll come back for Christmas no matter what. I already promised Juliette.”
Hermione nodded. It wasn’t as if this was the first time Remus had sent Draco off somewhere. But the finality of Draco’s words weren’t like any time before either. They had so many things they needed to talk about, how could he just walk away now? She glanced at him uncertainly, her fists tightening into little balls in her pockets. “Is it dangerous then?”
He deftly avoided her penetrating stare and, instead, slipped his arms around her easily, his hand rubbing gently over her head. “I know its bad timing. I know how hard the holidays are for you. We’ll have plenty of time to talk things out, Hermione.”
“Then it is,” she couldn’t keep the soft crack in her voice at bay.
He couldn’t help but soften…he’d told himself the only way to leave her was to keep it business-like and non-emotional. However, the silent tears streaming down her face were more than he could take. Dark memories of his mother flittered through is mind…moments when she would fall apart at the choices she had been forced to make at the hands of his father. He hated seeing her cry then, and now Hermione’s tears made him feel much the same way. He’d always attributed his mother’s tears to weakness…over time, though, he’d learned the hard way that her tears for him were merely the release of her frustrations and worries. The actions she’d taken to keep him safe displayed more courage than his father ever dreamed of having. He pulled Hermione into the hollow of his chest in a way he could never have done with his mother. Her sobs caused both of their bodies to shake uncontrollably and her tiny arms wrenched tightly around his waist, her slightest touch reminding him why he hated to leave.
“This isn’t permanent…it’s just another mission. I will come back,” he promised softly, his husky voice causing his own emotions to spin out of control. He took a deep shuddering breath as he tried to calm himself. “I’m not going anywhere, all right?” he brushed his lips against her tear stained face then moved inches away. She still wouldn’t meet his gaze and he wiped away what tears he could before kissing her with the strong reassurance he knew she needed. “I’m not everyone else…I’m not walking out.”
Author’s Note: Yippee! New bannner, new chapter…few new twists in the works…did you see any of them hinted at here? There’s at least three…let me know what you think :) And thanks for sticking with me and all the wonderful questions and reviews, I appreciate them all! Oh, and please please forgive me for any spelling and grammar errors (but do point them out) I was just so excited to get this posted!
Chapter 14: Singing Frogs and Peppermint
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Chapter Fourteen: Singing Frogs and Peppermint
Hermione entered the house in a daze. The quietness reached the edges of her senses but she couldn’t quite discern what it meant. Was everyone gone? How long had she been with Draco?
She shuffled out of her cloak, letting it drop to the floor. She tried in vain to wipe the tears from her face but they just refused to stop falling. She stood in the hallway, her eyes darting several directions as if she had no idea which way to go.
“Mum?” Juliette slid her tiny fingers into Hermione’s hands, pulling her into the parlor. “Are you okay?” Hermione sank down into a chair, pulling her daughter into her lap. She buried her face in the pile of hair at Juliette’s neck, hiding her tears from view. She rocked her gently, more to appease herself than her daughter.
“Hey,” Sirius’ deep voice and his soft touch on Juliette’s leg caused them both to look up. “Juliette and I have a movie date in the parlor. Why don’t you go on up to bed? There’s no telling when our movie marathon might end.”
Hermione nodded her thanks and watched in silence as Sirius took Juliette’s trusting hand in his and led her away. She expected him to look back, to at least check on her but he never did. She was temporarily incensed at his lack of concern for her but then thought better of it. It wasn’t lack of concern but profound concern…he somehow understood that the last thing she wanted was for her daughter to witness the collapse in her world. Hermione smiled briefly, wondering if this is what he had done for James…taking little Harry away on adventures to keep him out of the myriad of horrors that must have filled the Potter household.
She traipsed to her bedroom in a drunken state, almost unable to contain the emotions welling within her. Ron, Harry, Draco….why was it they all felt the need to run off and save the world? Just once, couldn’t someone decide to save her?
She dropped to the bed, curling herself into the tightest ball she could manage. She rolled to her side, her eyes drifting across the shadows playing on her walls. They change shape as she watched them…from one horrible image to another until she finally could see nothing but a deep purplish black all around her. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, a faint light from the bath causing her head to clear. She move toward it, a soft familiar scent making the tension in her neck to release immediately. Peppermint.
She stepped into the bathroom, the wafts of peppermint seeming to drift intermittently through a thick bluish white cloud that was hanging inches above the tub. Tiny stars floated inside it, flittering almost like pixies as the cloud slowly turned. She stepped forward, unable to resist running her hand through the cloud. It was warm and silky, almost like slipping on a coat of baby oil. She reached for the glass of wine perched on the edge of the tub, letting its fruity aroma wash over her as she slipped off her clothes. She stepped in the tub slowly, trying to avoid disturbing the cloud but then, as an afterthought, chided herself and remembered that enchantments were going to disappear just because she disturbed them. She sank into the steamy water, gently caressing the sweet blush camellias that were floating in the top of the water. They were her favorite things and only one person could have known them…Juliette.
That her daughter would go to so much trouble for her caused a trickle of happy tears to fall. It didn’t take long, though, for her to realize that she could not have done this alone. She had solicited Sirius’ help…or he had asked Juliette for her mother’s favorite things. Either way, she warmed to the thought that the two of them had become so close. She could almost envision the two of them in the bath, Sirius trying to enchant things while Juliette waved her wand recklessly, pouting because she thought she could do it best herself. It bothered her momentarily to think that Sirius could read her so well, that he had somehow know how desperately she was hurting right now but it also made her weak, wishing and longing for the friendship she had had with Harry, Ron and Ginny. They had know everything about each other and, oftentimes, knew things they probably shouldn’t. But they were her family and being without them had never hurt quite so much before.
Hermione peered around the door to the parlor, the quietness of the room catching her off guard. She wasn‘t sure how long she had stayed in the tub but had come down still expecting them to be watching movies. She stopped at the door, though, the dim static coming from the television casting an eerie glow over the room.
Sirius was stretched out the length of the couch, one leg dangling crookedly at the knee for lack of room. Juliette, her tiny frame dwarfed by his, was lying on his chest, a tiny wet spot of drool on his shirt indicating she had been asleep for quite some time. Hermione leaned against the doorframe, watching them intently, wondering if Juliette would ever feel quite so comfortable with any other man. It wasn‘t just that she had brought him back…there was some connection between them that she couldn‘t quite define. She had thought it was perhaps Grimmauld but watching them now she knew it had to be something much deeper. Their mannerisms, their magical abilities, their general arrogant feisty take on life…they were like two sides of a coin that had somehow been unfathomably split. Even in sleep, his arm resting protectively around her tiny body and Hermione couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy…when was the last time she had felt so safe?
“Sirius,” she touched his shoulder, “might I have my daughter back?”
He turned a groggy smile her direction, rubbing his eyes. “Sorry. James always said I had a bad habit of corrupting children.”
“You weren’t letting her watch bad movies, were you?”
“Yes, the butterflies and singing frogs were just dreadful,” he answered seriously. He shuffled gently to move out from underneath Juliette. “Should we leave her or carry her on to bed?”
“Just get her a blanket and her rabbit if you would.”
Sirius obliged, conjuring it easily, pulling the blanket over her and tucking the yellow rabbit snugly under her arm.
Hermione bent down to kiss her, her fingers instinctively circling around the locket on her neck. It was the first time since Sirius’ return that she had seen it. She knew Juliette wore it at all times but she kept it safely hidden beneath her clothing. That is had been pulled out and openly displayed for Sirius aroused not only her curiosity but her jealousy as well. She tried to turn it over but Sirius grasped her hand gently and firmly in his own. Their eyes met and she immediately felt guilty…this was not her secret to know.
“Come on, I’ll walk you to bed,” she tugged him forward with a smile. “Not that I could catch you if you fall, but—“
“You are determined to be polite nonetheless,” he chuckled. “A guest in my own house…some things never change.”
She paused on the steps, the deep tone of his voice catching her off-guard. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I’m not very sociable in the middle of the night,” he apologized. “I’ll be my regular chipper self in the morning.”
‘Hm,” she murmured, not quite believing him. She took the hand he offered as they continued up the stairs. He slowed slightly as they reached the landing, allowing her to link her arm into the crook of his. He said nothing, though, and Hermione couldn‘t keep her thoughts at bay. “Aren’t you going to ask if I’m okay?”
He looked at her puzzled for a second. “No, should I?”
“It’s generally the thing one does after the scene I made earlier.”
“I rarely get along with societal rules. I figure if you aren’t okay you’ll tell me. Otherwise, it wastes way too much brain power to contemplate what might bring a woman like you to tears.”
She frowned and tilted her head, giving him a disapproving glare. “I’m not entirely certain that’s a compliment.”
“Astute of you,” he stopped at his doorway and turned a softer, more gentle look her direction. “Would you like to stay with me tonight?”
She wasn’t sure how she knew he meant it platonically--that he had no intention of bedding her this evening-- but she did and it was the most warming feeling she’d had in years. She nodded and stepped in before him, a wave of uncertainty washing over her. She wasn't sure if it was the tousled state of his bed sheets or the array of clothing he had stacked haphazardly on a dresser, but something tugged at her and told her she was invading his normally private world. He stepped around her easily, dropping onto the bed fully clothed. He rubbed his face, drawing his hands above his head and letting them rest across his forehead.
"I promise I won't attack you if you want to get undressed," she answered as calmly as she could manage as she slipped out of her robe and placed it at the foot of the bed.
"Too tired," he murmured, his voice already tinged with the grogginess of half sleep.
Hermione smiled and, without asking, removed his shoes so he could at least be a bit more comfortable. Climbing onto the bed she lay near the edge, unwilling to make him regret his invitation. She lay still, watching his chest move up and down with heavy breath and silently wondered how close she could get without disturbing him. She had no idea the last time he shared a bed with anyone and she didn't want to chance making him even more uncomfortable at Grimmauld.
"Come here," he chuckled softly and out stretched one of his arms so that she could roll onto his chest. She scooted in to him, resting her head in the tiny niche between his shoulder and chest.
"Mm," he rubbed her hair softly then, in near exhaustion, she could feel his arm fall to rest lightly on her arm, "peppermint."
She suppressed the giggle she felt coming on and instead snuggled deeper into his chest. "Good night, Sirius."
Chapter 15: Stand Ins Need Not Apply
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Chapter Fifteen: Stand Ins Need Not Apply
“Hermione,” Sirius’ deep voice cut into her, his strong arms tightening painfully around her arms. “Hermione!”
She glanced up, unsure of where she was or exactly what was happening. She could barely make out his face in the darkness and her surroundings were completely unfamiliar. Sweat dripped from her forehead, her hair plastered to her head.
“Just a nightmare,” he whispered consolingly, brushing her hair out of her face. “Go back to sleep.”
Unable to do anything else, she nodded silently, dropping heavily onto the pillows as she tried to get her breathing to return to normal. She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt him move away, trying to get the images to pass.
Ginny….Harry…Draco…Voldemort…Ron…they streaked across her mind like a summer storm. She took a deep breath to try and calm herself, her hand reaching instinctively to her stomach to check her own breathing pattern. She exhaled slowly, flushing the images away and replacing them with the darkened shadows crisscrossing the bedroom ceiling.
“Still having them, then?” Sirius asked from somewhere nearby…somewhere far enough to give her space but close enough to make her feel safe. She could vaguely make out his shape near the dresser, pouring what she assumed to be liquor.
“I don’t want a drink,” she protested.
“What makes you think its for you?” he asked with a chuckle. He moved to her side and sank down on the edge of the bed. “I think we’ve both had enough alcohol in each others presence,” he smiled. “It’s water. Take a drink.”
She nodded her thanks and struggled to sit up, leaning her back against the headboard for support. She sipped the water slowly, attempting to come up with a response to his question. “Still more frequently than I’d hoped,” she answered. “What about you? Do you ever sleep?”
He grinned. “On rare occasions.” He pushed her across the bed, giving himself enough room to stretch out next to her. “So, Draco is off again, hm? Bulgaria didn‘t appeal to his senses so Remus offered something more enticing?”
She could hear the forced casualness in his voice and immediately felt guilty. “You don’t have to do that. You don’t approve of him, I know and after what happened the other night, I can see how it might be uncomfortable.”
“It’s not my place to approve or disapprove,” he responded. “I leave that to Remus. Besides, who else are you going to talk to?”
He was right…and she knew it. Although she exchanged gossip with Tonks and intellectual banter with Remus, she really didn’t have some one to talk to. Draco would listen to her but it never failed he would judge her so she’d stopped sharing things with him ages ago. She longed for the time when she had Ron and Harry to talk with…even when they made fun of her she still knew they loved her. Her smile faltered as the memories rushed over her but Sirius was too quick and knew her moods well.
“Tonks?” he nudged her out of her reverie. “Miss happily ever after herself?”
Although she tried to withhold it, her soft laughter filled the room and her dark mood vanished. “He’ll be back and I refuse to worry about it until then,” she answered stoically. “Better?”
“Much,” he nodded approval.
She sank down next to him, resting her arms across his chest so that she could fondle the stubble growing on his chin. “And, as for the other night, what exactly did happen?”
“Got me,” he murmured, “I was drunk.”
Hermione leaned forward to kiss him but he pulled inches away. “Hermione,” his soft but firm voice caught her off-guard. “Use me for almost anything but don’t,” he touched her cheek to ease the bite he knew his words would have, “use me as a stand-in.” He waited for his words to sink in. “Deal?”
She bit the inside of her mouth has her stomach churned. He seemed neither offended or upset…he was just making a simple request for her to honor. He was offering her a boundary for wherever their relationship might be heading, she understood that, but the idea that she was able to treat some one like that made her nauseous. She didn’t want to admit she could ever do such a thing but knew, deep down, that it was not only possible but was a mistake she had already made many times in her life. Having to admit that weakness was hard enough but that Sirius knew her intentions so easily was unnerving. He wasn’t trying to demean her and for that she was thankful. She glanced at his darkened eyes as he awaited her response and realized his request did, in fact, have little to do with her but more where he stood on their being lovers ever again.
“Deal,” she whispered finally. She gave him a tentative smile, his warm chuckle putting her mind at ease.
“Sirius?” she asked, lowering her head to rest on his chest.
“I don’t feel guilty for what happened.”
“And you think you should?” he asked knowingly.
She sat up, tugging her shirt down tightly over her legs. She considered him for a moment then shrugged. “I think people that are committed wouldn’t treat each other the way Draco and I do. And if by some twist of fate they do hurt the other then they would feel sorry.”
“Stop saying ‘they’, Hermione,” he ordered gently.
“Me,” she corrected softly. “If I was committed to Draco I would feel guilty for seducing you.”
Sirius hesitated for a moment, realizing this was probably not the appropriate time to comment on her powers of seduction. “Which draws the reasonable conclusion…”
She exhaled heavily. “That I’ve no idea what I want.”
“And begs the assumption…”
She frowned. She could follow his reasoning so easily. Why had none of this occurred in her own mind? She was rational, responsible, thought things through…why was it that it had taken Sirius to open her eyes?
“That Draco would even remotely care who I share my bed with.” Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t think he does?”
He laughed. “I’ve no desire to look into the thought patterns of a Malfoy, my dear.”
She couldn’t help but send a playful punch to his ribs. He returned with laughter, tickling her until she could barely breath. When he finally stopped to allow her to catch her breath, she whispered a heavy “thank you” in his ear. She touched his face, gently brushing the strands of hair that had fallen loose in the tumbling back into place. “For listening but making me figure it out for myself.”
He nodded, moving away from her and the closeness he was having difficulty ignoring. “Any time.”
He slid off the bed, directing her to climb under the covers. He smiled mischievously. “I will say that no intelligent man would leave a woman with your sexual appetite alone for very long.”
Hermione’s face crinkled. “Funny how your compliments can always be taken as rather nasty insults as well.”
Chapter 16: The Mundane
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Author’s Note: Yay! With the posting of this chapter this is officially the longest fic I’ve written chapter wise. I’m so proud! Hope you enjoy and if you are a Sirius fan…you may want some tissues handy for this chapter. :(
Chapter Sixteen: The Mundane
She had forgotten there was such a thing as a pleasant life. For nearly a decade, nothing but gloom, terrors and bad memories had surrounded her entire existence. Sirius, for what it was worth, told her she had been holding her life together with remnants of the past…whether they were bad or good. She had taken his wisdom with a grain of salt considering that he and Remus were two sheets to the wind when they cornered her but, now, she was beginning to think he was right.
Life at Grimmauld had taken on an almost mundane pattern with Draco’s departure. She would rise each morning to find Juliette and Sirius at the breakfast table, planning their adventure for the day. She was never invited with them, although Remus did appear on occasion to accompany them in their mischief. They never failed to return by lunch, both usually covered in a muck of dirt and grim that could only mean they had explored some dark corner of the house that her cleaning marathons had not yet reached. They would lay an exhausted Juliette down for nap in the parlor, Hermione reading her a story until she fell fast asleep. Some days Sirius would fall asleep with her and on others, he would follow Hermione and watch her clean. It never failed that they would argue - he insisted on using magic to clean and she was adamant in her ability to do without it- until they finally tired of the banter and retired to the dining room to share a cup of hot tea until Juliette awoke.
At least twice a week Sirius would disappear with Remus, returning late into the night amid drunken attempts to climb the stairs. It appeared they were making up for lost time and both Tonks and Hermione found their childish whims riotous. The women would stay up chatting about nothing, wondering exactly what kind of trouble the two might get in until they would finally arrive…drunk, laughing, and hanging on each others shoulders for support. The men told them nothing of their night but both had a sneaking suspicion they were telling Juliette everything when they tucked her in bed.
Hermione’s nightmares came less and less-- mostly due to Sirius’ constant presence at her side. As if he knew when the night had turned wrong for her, she would awake to him standing beside her, a comforting touch and a few well planned remarks lulling her back into safety. On the worst nights he would stay with her, holding her close and trading stories. She learned some about his childhood, a lot about James, and a few things about Harry that she had never known. But, for the little he shared, he made her tell almost everything. She told him about her family and how they had perished, her childhood dreams, and the remainder of her years at Hogwarts. She talked little of the war and he never pressed but she did tell him of some of the missions she went on before Ron’s death. They talked endlessly of Juliette…he seemed to absorb every little detail of her life and nothing delighted Hermione more than bragging on her daughter.
But with every day that she grew more relaxed with the safety and happiness Grimmauld now offered, she could feel Sirius withdrawing from them more and more. He made no excuses for it but provided no answers either and when, a mere two weeks before Christmas, Juliette came to her in tears because a present she left on his bed the night before still remained unopened by morning, Hermione knew it was her turn to confront his demons.
Hermione sank into the plush chair in Sirius’ bedroom, wondering how long it would be until he came home…if he came home. She wriggled uncomfortably in the chair, trying to fluff up the dents from where his legs apparently dented the pillow. She hated being in here without him. Her bedroom had become their meeting place by default - he came to ease her nightmares and they just remained there as they talked. But here, in his room, she felt like she was intruding into a place she had no invitation. For Juliette she would do anything, though, and sipping coffee until dawn if necessary in a chair in his room was a small feat.
She had run her speech over in her mind all day--prepared for him to saunter in with a smell of stale drink and cigarettes that both comforted and aggravated her. She would criticize him, make him feel guilty for Juliette’s treatment, and then play nice knowing he would be better the next day. Well, perhaps not better, but at least pretending to be better which suited her purposes just fine.
She glanced at the clock which glowed a hazy time near midnight then let her eyes roam the room for something to bide her time. Reaching to a nearby table, she grabbed the only two books he had. She balanced her mug on the edge of the chair, glancing at one title then the other. Not surprisingly, one was apparently a Black family heirloom, a coating of thick dust letting her know he hadn’t been wasting his time with it. The other, a book of Juliette’s that he had apparently forgotten to return to her bookshelf. She sighed heavily, tossing the books aside, the clunk of them hitting the floor echoing loudly in the room.
“Not up to your standards?”
She jumped, knocking her mug towards the floor. Sirius caught it easily, though, handing it back to her with a smile.
“Certainly didn’t expect to find you in my room.” He slipped off his cloak and sank into the chair opposite her. “Bad dreams or just missed me too much to stay away?”
“Funny,” she countered, suddenly unable to recall the speech she had been practicing. He conjured a mug for himself, waiting patiently for her response and she took a deep swallow. “Think you are getting home late enough these days?”
His glare sent shivers down her spine. He eyed her with fury but, when he spoke, his voice was calm. “Home?”
She tilted her head in confusion. That was the word he choose to call her on? She had been prepared for the old maid lines, the cracks about being his keeper, but home? She hadn’t expected that one. She was quiet, trying to decipher whatever it was he was expecting her to understand that she couldn’t quite get.
“Stop trying so damn hard, Hermione. You’ll hurt yourself,” he seethed. “Just go to bed.”
“Juliette--” Hermione began, a forced chill in her voice. She moved her hands to her hips but he whirled on her before she couldn’t complete the action.
“She’s not mad at me. You are. I’m no fool.” Sirius growled. “Let me take a stab at your day, may I? She came to you in tears about an unopened gift. You flew into a rage at me and my apparent disregard for your daughter’s feelings. Knowing you, you’ve probably got a speech committed to memory about how selfish and unfeeling I am which includes some veiled threat of either kicking me out of Grimmauld or a threat that you will take Juliette and leave.” He leaned forward, the bitterness in his voice causing her to move away. “Care to tell me how close I got?”
Hermione shook her head. How did he know?
“I didn’t think so,” he replied. “Go to bed, Hermione.”
“No. You aren’t going to bully me into letting you get away with your actions. You will not mistreat my daughter or me…” she trailed off, realizing her anger was making her say things she hadn’t intended.
But her brief spout of self righteousness had apparently knocked the chip off his shoulder and he gave her a brief smile. “I knew you were in there somewhere,” he murmured.
“You….you did this to teach me something?” she asked incredulously, a slow fury beginning to grow inside her.
“No, no,” he answered hastily, seeing the anger in her. He gave a defeated look. “I’m not mistreating you or her, not intentionally anyway. I apologize if you’ve taken it that way.” He lowered his voice a notch. “I never intended to hurt you. I just have….I just have things I need to deal with.”
She wasn’t sure why but a sudden clarity came to her…an unspoken understanding that he had expected her to know. No, wanted her to know. But she had been so wrapped up in her anger that she hadn’t paid attention. Guilt rushed over her. After everything he had done for her the last few weeks, how could she not have realized?
“Harry,” she whispered.
He nodded. “I had to know, Hermione. But it upsets you so much, I wanted to keep you from it. I tried to wait until you were ready to tell me but I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to know,” he repeated quietly, his face masked with an emotion Hermione could feel echoed in herself.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. He dropped his head in his hands, looking years older than he was. She slid toward him, taking a seat just below his feet. She reached up tentatively, taking one of his hands in hers. “Did they…what did they tell you?”
“What they know, I suppose,” he answered, his voice hoarse. “The Ministry, Remus, Bill, Draco. I’ve talked to--”
“Draco?” Hermione couldn’t hide the shock in her voice. “You’ve talked to Draco?”
“Don’t worry, he lived through the process.” Sirius broke away from her, moving to the dresser. He tapped his cigarettes lightly before taking one out and letting it hang from the corner of his mouth without lighting it.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“I know what you meant,” he returned, watching her intently. “Your secret, whatever it may be, is safe. In a rather pitiful but honorable retreat, your lover refused to divulge anything about the circumstances of Harry’s death.”
She didn’t miss his snide remark but she couldn’t quite comprehend it either. Since their one drunken encounter in Hogsmeade, neither had made any advances on the other. Why he would choose now, weeks later, to make such a devilish hate filled remark?
She swallowed hard. Hate filled? she questioned herself. It wasn’t hate filled, he merely stated the truth, didn’t he? She shook herself, trying not to give any weight to her current emotions. It wasn’t as if being someone’s lover was a bad thing…it was just something she was unaccustomed to hearing beside her own name.
“He talked about me, though, didn’t he?” she asked slowly.
“Don’t act so scandalized. I know your bedroom prowess from first hand experience. Besides, I got him drunk.” Sirius gave her a half smile then lit his cigarette. He paced the room, touching everything but seeming disinterested in it all.
“You were drinking? With Draco?” She pulled her knees up to her chest, the confusion evident in her voice.
“Trust me, it was not something I intend to make a habit of. He drinks like a pansy, complains like a woman and scares about as easy as a mouse. But,” his voice lowered a notch and although he tried to maintain his composure, she could she him struggle. “He was the last chance I had to learn the truth.”
“Sirius-” she opened her mouth but he was at her side in an instant, covering it with his own hand.
“No, not a word. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I want nothing from you, Hermione. I’m just tired and frustrated and….”
“Grieving for someone you love,” she whispered.
He nodded, moving away from her to crush his cigarette and avoid her gaze. “Make no mistake, I won’t trade your happiness for the truth. Please believe that. It’s why I’ve been this way...so removed from everything…I didn’t want to pressure you at all. I didn’t want you to feel like you had to tell me anything.”
Hermione shivered, understanding some tiny bit of him for the first time. He knew the distinction…there was nothing he could do for Harry. He wanted to understand it but there still was no changing it. Hermione, though…he could help maintain her happiness or strip it away in a single demand for the truth. He was choosing to put himself last--to live with uncertainty from now on-- just to keep her world intact. This, she knew, was the man Remus and Harry loved.
She stepped toward him, his eyes following her every move. Taking her hands in his, she pulled him toward the bed. Sitting on the edge, her feet dangling loosely against the blankets, she pushed him gently to his knees knowing his desolation was the only thing that gave her any power over him. She ran her fingers lightly through his hair until she felt him drop his head into her lap, his arms circling around her waist. Although no tears fell, she could feel his body tremble next to hers.
“I know,” she whispered, “I loved him, too.”
Chapter 17: A Visit from Dobby
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Chapter Seventeen: A Visit from Dobby
Hermione held tightly to the mug in her hand, watching the snow flurries through the kitchen window. The coffee was steaming, heat radiating through the ceramic and warming her senses. It was frigid--the coldest day yet-- and the weather was calling for continued snow all day and long into the night. She smiled defiantly. Today would be a good day…blizzard conditions or not.
She could feel his presence when he arrived. It was the first morning she had beaten either him or Juliette to the kitchen and he had paused somewhere paces behind her. Whether it was surprise at seeing her or after affects of his breakdown the night before, she wasn’t sure. But before she could turn he had stepped forward and slipped his arms around her waist. He overlapped his hands, dropping his head to her shoulder.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he murmured.
“I’m sorry I’ve been treating you like this was my loss and not yours, too.”
She let her free hand tighten around his forearm, the scratchy wool of his cloak reminding her of the wool blanket she and Harry had often curled under when things were at their worst. It had been one of the Weasleys, a family hand me down that Ron had brought with him when he moved into Grimmauld. The connection made her melancholy but, for the first time, she realized she was able to think of them with happiness rather than guilt and regret. She kissed his arm lightly, both for the fond memory and his presence beside her.
“So, are we both sufficiently apologetic now?” he asked with a smile.
She nodded and snuggled closer into his chest, the residual heat of his body seeping into hers. “Just how did you know about that unopened gift?” she asked, tilting her head to give him a quizzical look.
“One of Remus’ infamous bedtime stories,” he answered with a shake of his head. “Don’t ask, I’ve learned we’re safer that way.”
Hermione giggled and the contented feeling spread to her toes. “Do you and Juliette have plans today?”
He chuckled. “Always. Why do you ask?”
“I was thinking,” she kept her voice steady, “we could all do something together.”
He shifted, just barely, just enough to kiss her cheek. “I’d like that.”
Hermione tilted her head, her face inches from his. He exuded a warmth from within and for a man who had been considered dead for so many years it amazed her how he seemed to grow more and more passionate and full of life with each passing day. She closed her eyes as his lips moved within inches of her own. She could feel his breath on her lips and the pads of his fingers trickling over her skin. She opened her eyes again to find him hovering just above her, a smile quirked on his lips as if her automatic assumption that he intended to kiss her had amused him.
A soft giggle from behind them caused Sirius to break free from Hermione.
“Good morning,” Juliette bubbled, climbing onto a chair, oblivious to the tension that had developed with her appearance.
Sirius could feel Hermione struggling…having found them in each others arms was not something she had counted on. Her mind was whirling, Sirius could almost see it, with excuses and explanations to placate her child. He slipped his arm back around Hermione, sending her a reassuring smile.
“What has you full of giggles this morning?” he asked lightly.
“There’s a house elf in the hall.” she answered, eyeing her mother’s cup of coffee. “Can I have some? With milk and sugar?”
Hermione gave a breath of relief then turned a disdainful look Sirius‘ direction. “You’ve been letting her drink coffee?” she shook her head. “Hot cocoa for you,” she said but before she could begin to make it, Sirius had already conjured a cup.
“A house elf, you say?” he sank down beside Juliette as she drank.
She grinned and fell into another fit of giggles. “He has a tea cozy as a hat and is wearing seven pairs of socks,” she explained through laughter. “And none of them match!” She continued to laugh as Sirius and Hermione exchanged a knowing grin.
“Dobby,” they answered grinning.
As if on cue, he appeared in the room with a pop.
“Mistress Hermione, it’s been so long!” he squeaked.
“Hello, Dobby,” she nodded as his eyes fell toward Sirius.
“Oh! It’s true then!” he grabbed Sirius hand and shook it wildly. “Master Black, loyal friend, noble wizard, loving godfather who gave his life for my dearest Harry Potter.”
Sirius cringed. Hermione straightened. Juliette laughed.
“Sirius isn’t dead, silly.”
“Dobby,” Hermione cut him off, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“I heard of Master Black’s return and had to come.” He twitched nervously. “I knew only a great wizard like Sirius Black, the animagus Black, the only one to escape Azkaban, the one who saved--”
“Dobby!” Hermione shook him forcible as Sirius seemed to be unable to move.
“Oh, of course,” he nodded. “I knew only the most excellent wizard could help me now.”
“What do you mean? Are you in trouble, Dobby?”
“No, no. Dobby is a good elf. It’s the darkness,” he lowered his voice, his ears curling downward. “It will come here, you know. To the immaculate Grimmauld Manor--”
“Oh, Dobby,” Hermione said with exasperation, “the war is over.”
“Dobby,” Sirius had finally found his voice and interrupted. “Perhaps you and I should go to the parlor?”
“Oh, yes,” Dobby said, giving a nod to Juliette who was watching the encounter with sheer amusement. “I wasn’t thinking.” He banged his head against the edge of the table. “Stupid, stupid Dobby. A child here in the room….Harry Potter’s --”
“Dobby!” Sirius gripped the house elf’s spindly arms as Hermione dropped into a chair in near faint. “Please,” he said more gently, “the parlor?”
Hermione paced the floor in the kitchen as Juliette ate. She had expected Sirius to return in short order but a quick glance at the clock told her he’d been with Dobby over an hour now. She had spun herself into a knot of bad memories, theories and general terror of what could possibly be wrong now.
When he did finally step through the doorway, he looked edgy, the stiff way he carried himself causing her to suck in a breath. “Sirius?”
But he shook his head to silence her, placing a kiss on Juliette’s head. “I apologize for the interruption. Where were we?”
“Planning our day, remember?” Juliette asked, oblivious to Hermione’s worried look.
“I think you mum has already made plans for us today,” Sirius offered Hermione a wink to ease her fears. “Didn’t you?”
She nodded distractedly. “What would you say to visiting Santa Claus today? Christmas is just around the corner, after all.”
Sirius’ face crinkled and Hermione steeled herself for the speech she had already heard once from Draco.
“Really?” Juliette was on her feet, hugging her mother’s neck. “I’ll go get my list!”
She hurried out of the room and Hermione turned a defensive look to Sirius. “Go ahead, tell me why letting her believe--” but she trailed off the puzzled look on his face catching her off guard. “Wait-- you do know about Santa Claus, don’t you?”
Sirius frowned. “I seem to recall something James said once…”
Hermione laughed, her worries quickly forgotten. Sirius would tell her when there was something to fear, she knew that, and the childlike curiosity on his face was just more than she could stand. “You, the excellent most noble wizard Sirius Black, are in for a treat.”
Chapter 18: Traitorous Sons
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Chapter Eighteen: Traitorous Sons
The fat little man piqued Sirius’ interest immediately. Although the velvety red suit and enormously oversized waistline would catch anyone’s eye, it was the black sack beside his chair that seemed to be causing a curious itch to rise within Sirius. “So, this Santa fellow delivers toys and gifts to kids, hm?”
“Don’t even think about it,” Hermione tightened her grip on his arm. “Toys or no, you are not riffling through that bag.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he winked conspiratorially with Juliette as the Santa stood up and one of the elves placed a poster in the armchair he had vacated. “Looks like he’s off to take a pi-”
“Feed his reindeer,” Hermione cut him off with a glare. “Why don’t we just stroll around a bit until he comes back?”
She tugged lightly on his arm as she pulled him and Juliette away from the mesmerizing sight. They strolled along the sidewalk of the outdoor stores, each one decorated in typical Muggle fashion for the holidays. Cranky parents were escorting their children from one place to the next, their arms overflowing with packages and gifts. The kids seemed to be unable to contain their curiosity and Hermione couldn’t help be beam with pride as Juliette managed to keep her hands deep in the pockets of her red cloak. Sirius, on the other hand, seemed to thrive with the masses, the infectious laughter of the children causing him to fondle each object he came across in a store.
They were just making their way back to the quickly forming line to visit Santa when he spotted a tiny street vendor carrying something Hermione could only imagine was an old fashioned set of train whistles. Sirius was picking up each one in turn, oblivious to the grumpy saleswoman’s demeanor and the more Hermione tried to tug him away, the more enraptured he seemed to become.
“Shouldn’t you be off to see Santa?” the lady grumbled, nodding toward the line that was growing longer by the minute.
“It’s okay, he’s never met Santa,” Juliette explained. “The toys are all new to him.”
The woman’s eyes studied Sirius carefully over her horned rimmed glasses, the idea that a grown man had never visited Santa Claus seemingly lost on her. “You know he has rules don’t you?”
Sirius turned to her, his glittering eyes focused on her. “Rules?” he asked, as if he had no understanding of the term.
“He checks, you know, to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. All year,” she added, jerking the train whistle out of his hand with a meaningful glare. “So I would advise you behave.”
Hermione could feel him ruffle beside her and she placed a hand on his arm. But, he smiled jovially at the woman and tossed her a few coins in exchange for the whistle. Tucking it into his pockets he grinned.
“I’ll try and remember that next year,” he winked at her then took Juliette’s hand to return to their place in the line. He had just spied a rack of elf hats when he felt a soft tug on his cloak.
“Sirius, can I talk to you a minute?” Juliette whispered, tugging more fiercely on the fabric.
“Don’t want to lose your place in line, do you?” he asked distractedly as he threaded through the stack of red and green elf hats searching for one that might fit him.
“Mum will save it, won’t you?” she asked, bouncing a bit. “Please?”
Hermione chuckled. “Yes, yes. I’ll stay right here and find an elf hat to fit Sirius.”
Before Sirius could retort, Juliette tugged him to a nearby bench. They sank down on the cold wood and he eyed her expectantly. “Everything all right?”
She swallowed hard. “In January, I poured out Uncle Remus’ potion and filled it with rotten milk. I fixed it when I realized it was his wolfie potion. Then, in February, Draco was trying to be all romantic with mommy and I pretended to be sick so he’d stay with me instead. I even did a spell to make my face green.”
“What?” Sirius tried to follow her but she was going through her escapades so quickly he was having a tough time keeping up.
“And then, in March, I got really mad at Bill because he wouldn’t let me spend the weekend at his house so I decided to glue his wand to his hand. I covered the whole thing in this super fast acting stuff and his wand has never worked right since Remus had to do the spell to get it undone. And then--”
“No, no,” Sirius grabbed his knees as he bent over in laughter, “no more.” He took a few shallow breaths to try and contain his laughter then glanced her way. The serious look on her face caused him to sober.
“Is this confession?”
“Never mind,” he laughed. “What’s brought on this string of honesty?”
“She said he checks! Didn’t you hear? If I’ve been naughty or nice!” Tears were starting to form at the edges of her eyes. “I’ve been naughty all year!”
“Oh, Juliette,” he smiled affectionately as he ruffled her hair. “You are the nicest girl I know.”
She sprang on him, engulfing him in a monstrous hug.
“Come; let’s get back to your mum.” He slipped his hand around hers, tugging her along but she hesitated. Her hands flew to her hips, her eyes searching his.
“I’m the only girl you know,” she countered.
Sirius sank to kneel beside her, offering her the most dazzling smile he could manage behind his laughter. “Naughty is a very very relative term,” he whispered with a wink. “If he happens to ask, what say we call you mischievous?”
Juliette considered him for a moment then let her hands fall to her side. She smiled and slipped her hand back into his. “Mischievous…I like that.”
“Loopholes are my specialty,” he chuckled.
They wandered back to where Hermione was waiting for them, a curious expression on her face. "What was all that about?" she asked as they squeezed back into line.
"Excuse me, no pushing in,” huffed, a lump of a woman behind them.
Hermione turned around and glared at her "I wasn't waiting in a line with smelly brats just so I could sit on Santa's knee," she snapped then caught the mischievous glint in Sirius’ eyes. “You keep your mouth shut.”
“I’ll do just that,” he offered her a nod. “You don’t be so nosey; Juliette and I are allowed conversations of our own, aren’t we?”
“Depends on what you were planning,” she murmured her eyes narrowing with playful ridicule. She lifted to her toes and placed a green and red felt hat on Sirius’ head, the slight jingle of silver bells on the edges causing curious passersby to look their way. “See? Perfect fit.”
Sirius offered her a kiss on the cheek in thanks as the line started to recede, the Santa quickly moving through the line of children and their pushy mothers. He’d listen with half interest to their Christmas wishes, hand them a lollipop and move on to the next child. When it came to their turn, Hermione could almost sense the mischief emanating from Sirius. He held out a hand to block Juliette, offering her a winning smile.
“Me first?” he asked and when she nodded, he made a quick beeline for the plush red chair. Leaning down he whispered something in Santa’s ear. A look of shock and surprise registered briefly on his face but he nodded. Sirius waved to Juliette before taking a place beside Hermione. “He says you should go first.”
Juliette nodded nervously, traipsing up to the chair with tentative steps. He smiled happily, though, his arms outstretched for her to climb into his lap.
“What did you say to him?” Hermione whispered, the attention he was lavishing on Juliette being noticed by all the cranky parents waiting nearby for their photos to be developed.
“Something akin to if he ever wanted to ‘feed his reindeer’ again he would be wise to give her a bit more attention.”
Hermione fell into a fit of giggles, causing Sirius to wrap an arm around her waist. The sheer sound of her laughter seemed to reach Juliette and she became more animated, her nervousness gone. She mumbled for what seemed like ages until Sirius finally tugged Hermione toward the chair. “Come on, our turn.”
“No way,” she tried to pull away from him but Sirius held tight. They were still wrestling when he plunked her down on his lap and then sat down on Santa’s legs himself. The picture clicked before he would release her though, the Santa tossing curse words at both of them under his breath. Hermione broke free, hands on her hips as she tried to regain her composure. Sirius’ laugh was infectious, though, and she couldn’t keep her face straight.
A slight nudge beside her moved her out of the way though, a hand reaching out from somewhere behind her.
Sirius accepted Remus’ hand as he pulled him out of Santa’s lap. “Strange how finding you in this particular position doesn’t seem abnormal.”
“Ha-ha, want to take a picture with us?” Sirius asked grinning. “You can tell him what you want for Christmas…”
“Pass,” Remus said, shaking his head. He ushered him away from Hermione and Juliette as they picked up the pictures and lowered his voice. “Sirius -”
“Yeah, Dobby, I know,” he nodded understandingly. “Give me just a minute and I’ll meet you over by the fountain in the park, all right?”
Remus nodded, waving to them before disappearing out the side door.
“Everything okay?” Hermione asked, showing off the picture of the two of them half sitting and half sliding out of Santa’s lap.
“Remus just being Remus,” he replied with a wink. “Why don’t you ladies go warm up with some hot tea and then we’ll do a bit of shopping before heading back?” He kissed them each lightly, lingering a bit longer on Hermione than he intended. He offered her a grin then slinked away to find Remus.
“Coldest day on record,” Remus offered as Sirius sank down beside him with a visible shudder.
Sirius nodded, tightening his cloak to try and block out some of the bitter wind. Swirls of snowflakes circled around them and, after a quick glance about, he summoned two steaming cups of coffee for them both. He handed one to Remus who tipped the Styrofoam cup to him in cheers before taking a drink.
“I wasn’t trying to keep things from you, Sirius,” he offered quietly.
“Sure you were,” Sirius returned chuckling, “but I expect it so no harm done.” He drank his coffee for a few minutes, willing the hot liquid to seep into his skin to keep out the frigid air. He gave a brief, accepting nod as if he knew the happiness and peaceful world he had returned to was just an illusion.
“Don’t do that,” Remus mumbled. “Don’t take responsibility for this. You have nothing to do with it. The Ministry will handle it.”
“As it has been for the last decade?” He countered. “Ten years after the war is over and you still have a Malfoy running around loose? Yes, the Ministry has everything under control, as usual,” he spat bitterly.
Remus was quiet, knowing better than to argue with him. He was, after all, correct this time. They’d been trying to round up the last of Voldemort’s followers for much too long now. It was one of the reasons Remus felt so much bitterness toward Draco…he didn’t seem to be making any concentrated effort to assist the project. He knew Draco wasn’t thwarting their efforts but he wasn’t willing to aid them in advancing their goals either. “Draco hasn’t been very cooperative,” he offered.
“Blaming it on the boy, are you? Nice touch.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Remus stammered.
“Yes, you did.”
“If anyone should know the whereabouts of Lucius Malfoy and the rest of the remaining Death Eaters it would be him. But he is so damn stubborn and hell bent on staying with Hermione that he bides his time doing menial tasks to keep his hands clean of the entire affair. As if he doesn’t care that this is more important than--”
“Enough, Remus,” Sirius cut him off. “As usual, you have gotten so determinedly intellectual that you refuse to see anything in front of you.”
The jab, as honest as it was, cut into Remus. He knew ten years time was more than enough to get rid of the straggling followers that were still holding so tightly to their beliefs of pureblood supremacy. He understood Draco was still fighting with the demons of his past and wanted to distance himself from anything remotely related to Voldemort. He understood it but couldn’t equate it with his own need to have everything tied up and put away in a nice neat package. After Voldemort’s first demise, he had hidden himself away, avoiding facing things much like Draco was doing now. But now, with years of age and reason behind him, he knew delaying the inevitable was no way to live your life.
“You think I’m being too hard on him,” he said quietly and felt Sirius shift beside him.
“Oh, hell no,” he shook his head with a tight laugh. “If anything, everyone’s treating him like a damned golden boy that can do no wrong.”
“Then what do you suggest?” Remus asked, unable to contain the smart tone to his voice.
“Find Lucius,” Sirius said flatly, “before he finds his traitorous son. Because that, my friend,” he clapped Remus on his shoulder as he stood up, “is something you’ll never forgive yourself for.”
Sirius stuffed his hands in his pockets, his eyes as unreadable as ever. “I’ll talk to him.” He could see Remus’ protest coming, could see the protective look as he moved to stand beside him. Remus’ hand was soft on his arm, a withered look causing deep lines to form at the corners of his eyes.
“You didn’t ask, Remus. I offered,” he consoled him with a brief smile. “No one, absolutely no one, knows the role of a traitorous son more than I.”
Author’s Note: Wanted to offer an apology for not sending out email updates as of late. I got a new computer and haven’t been able to transfer over my email lists. If you want to be added to my newly created list, please drop me an email or pm and I’ll make sure to let you know when the next chapter is up. Thanks so much for all the support and the wonderful and helpful reviews and just the general encouragement you’ve given me throughout this whole story!
Chapter 19: That Time of the Month
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Chapter Nineteen: That Time of the Month
“I’ll just avoid her,” he mumbled, pacing across the kitchen. “That’s all there is to it. I’ll avoid her for another week, Draco will be back and he can attend to…”
“Sorry, didn’t quite catch that.” Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she entered the kitchen. “Did I hear mention of Draco?”
Sirius scowled. “Eavesdropping now, are you?”
Hermione glanced around the vacant kitchen, her eyebrows rising in mock laughter. “To a conversation you are having with yourself?” she questioned. “Really, you’d think returning from the dead would have required your brain cells to come with you.”
“Ass,” she retorted lightly, pushing past him and filling her mug with what remained of his coffee. “Juliette is waiting for you upstairs. Something about an adventure,” the slight rise in her voice indicated it was a question but Sirius merely nodded.
“Thanks.” He tucked his hands in his pockets as he walked past her, just missing Tonks as she bustled into the kitchen with a tray of home baked cookies.
“You know,” Hermione called, leaning against the counter as she sipped her coffee, “you really have been an unbearable person to live with these past few days. PMS?”
Tonks stopped in mid-stride, nearly dropping her platter. She glanced from one to the other, her head cocked at an odd angle in amusement.
“Just stay on your side of the house and we’ll get along fine, my dear,” he murmured with a mock bow then slinked out of the kitchen before she could retort.
Hermione chuckled, and then turned her attention to Tonks. “Morning, bringing us more Christmas goodies?”
“Fleur dropped them off. Do you know she makes them without magic?” Tonks shook her head and poured herself a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table. “Can you imagine? Just what would you put in a cookie anyway?”
“Flour, sugar, eggs…” Hermione recited, trying to recall Christmases from her childhood when she would help her mother mix up holiday treats. Pulling the wrapping off the tray, she glanced over the collection of tiny cookies, biscuits and pastries. Fleur had apparently become quiet the homemaker…each delicacy was decorated carefully with bright red and green colored frosting or sprinkles. A few had been shaped into snowmen and a dozen or so others had been cut into wizarding hats.
“Raw ones?” Tonks let out a shudder. “Disgusting. So,” she dropped her voice, “tell me what that was all about.”
“No idea,” she shrugged. “He has been in the foulest mood lately. Pacing the floor, locking himself away either with Juliette or by himself. He won’t stay more than two seconds in my presence before finding an excuse to run off.”
Tonks chewed on one of the cookies in deep thought. “You don’t think it has something to do with…well, the way he came back?”
Hermione’s mind flew to their time alone together weeks ago in Hogsmeade. Although he had avoided her since, except his entreaties to comforting her nightmares, she couldn’t seem to forget their drunken encounter. She had stayed away from him as well, afraid he might mistake any movement on her part as using him as a quick replacement for Draco. But, it seemed the last few days, Sirius was the only thing she could think about. It was as if the more he avoided her, the more she wanted to have him. Her face reddened and she dropped her head down to keep Tonks from noticing.
“Hermione?” Tonks prodded, a quizzical look on her face as she lifted her head from the box of goodies.
“No, I assure you,” she answered smiling, “he’s at full capacity.”
Tonks tilted her head in curiosity but chose to delve no further. “Perhaps we should ask Remus-”
“Ask me what?” Remus stepped into the room, his long overcoat showering them both with freshly fallen snow. He grabbed the cookie Hermione held in her hand, taking a bite before handing it back. “Did Sirius and Juliette leave without me?”
“Where exactly are you taking my daughter, Remus?”
“Would I get her in trouble?” he asked innocently, avoiding her gaze and taking a seat near Tonks.
“With Sirius leading the way?” she scoffed. “I have no doubt.”
Remus slipped Tonks’ mug from her hands, taking a sip before beginning to riffle through the contents of Fleur’s package. He chose a handful of the smaller wizard hats, downing them all in one swallow. “So what are we asking me about anyway?”
“Sirius is acting a bit odd,” Tonks supplied. “Have you noticed anything?”
“Nothing more odd than normal for him.” Remus glanced to Hermione. “Is everything okay?”
Hermione didn’t answer under his friendly gaze. Although she couldn’t explain it, she felt Remus was going to give her an explanation about Sirius’ behavior that she didn’t really want to hear.
“He is avoiding Hermione.”
“Just Hermione?” Remus questioned, his eyes thoughtful. He gazed again at Hermione but she pushed away from the table, moving to the counter to fix him a cup of coffee. “Want me to speak with him?”
“No, no.” She shook her head as she handed him a cup of steaming liquid. “Really, it’s nothing to worry over. It’s just odd.”
But Tonks wasn‘t about to let it go so easily and she made a confusing sound with her cheeks. “When I got here, they were bickering like you and I before the full moon hits.”
Remus sudden movement caused both of the women to jump. He pushed away from the table, the chair scraping loudly across the wood floor. “I should go,” he mumbled, his face turn a deep shade of red.
“I didn’t mean it like--” Tonks hurried.
“No, no,” he kissed her cheek quickly. “It’s not as if my transitions aren’t well known in this household. I just have to go.”
“Wait,” Tonks tugged on his arm, her eyes narrowing. “You know something, don’t you?”
“Remus Lupin, if you don’t tell us…”
Hermione couldn’t help but laugh at the stern commanding voice Tonks thrust at him, poor Remus’ head hanging lower to hide the red flush on his cheeks.
“Remus,” she commanded again, louder this time, to cover Hermione’s laughter.
“It’s just, well,” he paused, causing Hermione to cover her mouth to suppress her giggles. She had never seen him more uncomfortable in his life. He had stuffed his hands in his pockets, his elbows jerking uncomfortable under their curious looks.
“Animagi, they-” he stammered then looked meaningful at Tonks. “Their senses are well developed. They sense or smell or…” he trailed off, glancing to both of them as if for help. “They know when its time for certain things to occur.”
He locked eyes with Tonks for a moment, willing her to understand. Finally, a wide grin spread across her face and he nodded. “I have to go,” he mumbled, shuffling out the door as Tonks’ laughter began to fill the room.
“What in the world got into him?” Hermione dropped onto the chair opposite Tonks. “You’d think we asked him to strip down to his skivvies or something.”
“Hermione,” Tonks tried to calm her laughter, “Remus is a bit shy around women.”
“No, really?” She frowned. “I never would’ve guessed.”
“What he was trying to say was that it is near your time of the month,” Tonks explained. “Sirius apparently has already picked up on that.”
“Oh,” she responded quietly. Then again, more amused, “Ohhh.”
Hermione leaned into Tonks with a conspiratorial whisper, a grin playing across her lips. “This could be fun.”
“Hermione!” Tonks admonished her voice serious. “Torturing a man is never a good thing…they will always get you back.”
“Of course,” she nodded, her mind reeling. She had no intention of telling Tonks…that was exactly what she was hoping for.
Chapter 20: Dogs in Heat
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Author’s Note: Before I get the “he’s so mean” reviews, please know this is meant as a fun, lighthearted chapter. There are, of course, some important parts hidden in here but, really, this is just meant to have a little fun and laughs and show Sirius at his Maraudering best. Enjoy!
Chapter Twenty: Dogs in Heat
Hermione sank onto the chair in her bathroom, glancing at herself in the mirror. The end of her hair was still dark from the shower, her skin glistening slightly from the water. She picked up a bottle of lotion and then thought better of it. Remus had told her it was her scent that was playing with Sirius’ mind and she had no desire to cover that up with some bottled perfume. She let her hands slide across the two gowns she had pulled from deep within her dresser, still unable to decide which would be the perfect one to complement her plan. The black one was more risqué and definitely left nothing to the imagination. The other, a vivid satiny red, was more common…like a simple slip she would wear under her ordinary clothing. The simplicity of it was what had appealed most to her but she was trying to appeal to Sirius rather than herself. She hesitated with her hand on the black one for a moment then lost her nerve and grabbed the red, pulling it on in one swift more before she could question herself yet again. Since there was no telling who might be roaming the halls of Grimmauld these days, she pulled on a weathered chenille robe to cover herself.
She padded quietly through the hall, listening for any sounds below. She paused at the bottom of the stairwell, the soft warm glow from a lamplight causing her to grow self conscious. She cinched the belt tighter around her stomach, then frowned. She hadn’t planned this all day, hadn’t strode close to Sirius all afternoon, hadn’t made sure to lean over his shoulder at every opportunity just to loose her nerve now. He was, after all, only Sirius.
“Sirius, are you going to bed?” she asked casually, entering into the front room that had become his makeshift office.
“I promised Remus I would get through these tonight,” he answered. “He said Draco failed to check in this morning,” he glanced her way, “if you care.”
“Trying to set me off again, are you?” she moved to stand beside him, her fingers rifling through the Ministry documents spread across the desk. “That’s becoming a habit of yours in the daylight.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” she fought to keep her voice even, “I know you still watch over me every night after I’m asleep.”
He nodded. “I don’t deny it. But you aren’t having nightmares anymore, are you?”
She faltered. He was being too nice, too accommodating. “No, I’m not.”
He nodded again, straightening the piles of paper without looking her way. “I’ll finish these tomorrow. Have a good night, Hermione.”
He kissed her cheek lightly but she could feel him hesitate. She wanted to lunge at him. She knew her own hormones were raging…it’s why she couldn’t get him out of her mind. And she knew the effect that must be having on him. She could almost feel him inhale her scent. But something in his demeanor, his almost weakened state, caused her plan to shatter into a million pieces. She stepped away and nodded.
“Sirius, are you still awake?” she whispered, peeking into his bedroom door.
“Yeah,” he answered, his voice notches lower than normal, as if he was dreading her appearance.
“May I come in?”
She couldn’t blame him for hesitating and when he mumbled a quick “yes” she hurried in before he could change his mind. She sank down onto the bed next to him, her eyes roaming his bare chest. It was unlike him to sleep in the nude and she couldn’t help but cringe. This would not be easy.
“We have to talk about this. If we are both going to live here, we can’t dance around the issue.”
“What issue?” he grumbled, not looking her direction.
“Sirius,” she struggled for his attention, “I knew nothing about animagi and their senses…none of us managed the transformations in school,” she explained. “But when I learned, make no mistake, my entire goal in coming to you this evening was to ravage you.”
“I would have expected no less,” he returned a brief smile. “I’ve said it before; you have the sexual appetite of a man. If you knew you could have that power over me, I had no doubt you would use it.” He took her hand in his. “That you chose not to is an amazing feat.”
“The nights not done.”
He slid a finger along the edge of her robe, tugging the fabric gently open. The silk red slip she had underneath gleamed under the lamp light, the cloth shimmering to different shades of scarlet with her movements. His fingers traced along the tiny lace edging, brushing against the tops of her breasts.
“You were determined, weren’t you?” he asked, his eyes filled with amusement.
“I tend to over plan.” She nodded. “We have to deal with this. We can’t ignore it and treat each other like crap once a month.”
“What do you suggest?” he asked, his hands still roaming along her body but his voice amazingly steady. He was managing to maintain control over his senses…he took pride in it but it infuriated Hermione.
“I suggest,” she whispered, “we take your advice.”
“Advice?” he asked, sitting up to rest his back against the headboard. He lifted her easily, moving her to straddle his waist. His strength alone caused her breath to grow heavy.
“The present is meant to be lived,” she quoted, ignoring the idiocy of their conversation. Neither cared what the other said...their minds were already on a different course and a need for mutual fulfillment.
“My advice,” he murmured, as he buried his face against the silky fabric covering her bosom, “is notoriously bad.”
He inhaled deeply, letting fingers roll across her spine as he pulled her in closer.
“What,” she asked with a bit of amusement at his actions, “exactly do I smell like anyway?”
“Peppermint and vanilla with a hint of baby lotion,” he answered easily, letting his lips brush with longing against her nipples, now pressing firmly against the fabric of her slip.
“No,” she gripped his chin, dragging him to face her, a wide grin playing on her lips. “Niceties aside. What do I smell like?”
Honesty…nothing turned him on more than honesty and his body couldn‘t help but react. The pink tinge to her flesh had spread to her face, her body warming quickly to his trivial touches and her erratic breathing told him how much she wanted him. Her breath was shallow, falling in tiny gasps as his mouth snaked across her. It was almost as if her throat had closed tight, and only with his touch could she allow herself to come up for air. He tested his theory teasingly, moving inches away only to find her gasp for breath when he finally moved his body back next to hers. It was sudden, a tiny shift in her being that caused all her many scents to meld into one and he took a deep shuddering breath.
She felt him shift beneath the sheets, and her breath caught in her throat. The tiny event--one she never would have noticed before as it had always been a mere necessity to sex—flooded her senses. The realization that her desire alone could excite him made her shiver.
“I’ll offend you,” he murmured heavily but didn’t seem too convinced of his own words. In truth, he was afraid telling her would set them on a course they couldn’t stop.
“It doesn’t matter. You‘ll still get lucky.” She sank heavily on the bed, letting her thighs slip down the sheets so that she could feel him touching her. The irritation of the sheets between their bodies caused her to grimace with frustration.
He chuckled at her desperation, leaning lazily back against the bed. He could feel her moving against him, her body sliding across his with a rhythm even he had to admire. Her lips traveled his chest in mock loving seduction, but he was unwilling to let her make the event into more than it was. He pushed her head away lightly and, taking her hands in his, he replaced her face with the sharp corners of her fingernails. It was only when she attempted to slide her mouth under the bed covers that he drew her back up to him. “You smell,” he kissed her deeply, his tongue plunging into her mouth as she wiggled against him, “like a dog in heat.”
But only for a moment.
“My, you do have a way of sweet talking a woman.” She smiled innocently but her nails raked lightly against his flesh, letting him know her intent had still not changed. “How exactly should I take that?”
That she had not run off like he intended caught him off guard and his defenses plummeted. He could withstand her no longer and he moved swiftly, rolling her off his lap and onto the bed, the sheets twisting restrictively around their arms and legs. They thrashed about wildly in an effort to free themselves, a desperate hunger to have their flesh meet consuming them both.
Hours later, they dropped into a tangled heap of body parts, neither having quite enough breath to say anything for several moments. A dank odor of wild sex, sweat and almost sickeningly sweet peppermint permeated the room, their smells and breathing patterns now intermingled beyond division.
Sirius offered her a weak and exhausted smile. “Take it however you like.”
She ruffled his hair playfully, laughing as he fought to stroke it back into place on his head. “I’ll take it as a compliment.”
He sighed contentedly, unable to wipe the grin from his face. Leaning across her naked form, he poured himself a glass of water, her fingers following the muscles in his arms as he moved. He paused to kiss her then dropped once again to the pillows. He downed half the glass in a swallow then offered the rest to Hermione. She sipped it slowly, her eyes peering at him over the glass.
His eyes fluttered--whether from sleepiness or contentment she couldn’t tell-- and the red marks streaking across his chest gave her pause. There were teeth marks, too, and slight indentations that matched the crescent shape of her nails. She couldn’t remember ever being so violent in bed before and it gave her an immediate sense of gratification to know she had been able to match his passion blow for blow. Vaguely, she wondered if his mastery in bed was acquired by specific woman or if it was the result of many different encounters. Not that it mattered to her, but she had never been good at quelling her curiosity. Knowing he wouldn’t stand for any of her nonsensical questions made him an enigma and she couldn’t help but smile.
“What?” he asked, his perceptive eyes narrowing with the changes in her facial features.
She smiled, offered him the last sip of water, and then placed it carefully on the nightstand. “Ready for round two?”
It wasn’t as if they weren’t careful. They stayed at arms length whenever Juliette was present and made certain to keep their gestures friendly in front of others. A few unintended hand movements such as when Sirius would slip his hand to her waist or when she would squeeze his arm as she passed him in the doorway caused curious glances from Remus and Tonks but they were otherwise quite proud of their ability to keep their relationship a secret. For Sirius, being secretive was in his nature but Hermione found it thrilling to be a part of something that no one else had a clue about. Late at night, curled in each other’s arms after sex, the two would laugh and joke about close calls or passionate needy kisses stolen quickly when the potential for getting caught was high. Their initial fall had taken ages but now that they already succumbed, it seemed that neither could get enough of the other.
Their late night talks had resumed but something about their intimate stance had allowed both of them a chance to learn more about the other. With their defenses down, they talked of Harry and James, both finding comfort in the other. Hermione explained more about Ron and how they had fallen in love and, for his part, Sirius listened intently without telling her love was for fools. More often than not, though, they simply lay silently together, the dawn coming much too soon to quell their needs to be in each other’s arms. They avoided talking of Draco, although Sirius knew it was on her mind constantly. Sirius wanted her to understand that he would walk away whenever Draco returned but couldn’t quite figure out how to phrase it where it wouldn’t offend her. So they both avoided it, pretending that Draco’s return wasn’t becoming more imminent with each passing day.
Chapter 21: The Locket
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Chapter Twenty-One: The Locket
Sirius let his fingers trail up and down Hermione’s bare arm absently, his eyes fixed on the pale sliver of the full moon that was visible through the partially opened curtains. The soft crinkle of the newly starched sheets caught each move he made, leaving a hollow, scratching noise echoing into the darkness of her bedroom.
“Everything all right?” she whispered, without raising her head from his chest.
“Fine. Go to sleep, my dear.”
“Thinking of Remus?” she asked. “There’s no need to worry. I taught Tonks how to make the potion myself.”
“So you do do magic?” he chuckled.
“Telling her which ingredients to drop in a jar hardly qualifies.” She shuffled to face him, doubting that even their intimate position would allow her access to whatever was going through his mind. His face wasn’t masked, though, his grey eyes filled with a touch of concern she’d never witnessed before. “What is it?”
“Habits are horrible things, do you know this?” he asked, letting his fingers slide over her tangled hair. “My father said they were a sign of weakness.”
“Sirius Black, are you saying that bedding me has become a habit?” she asked lightly but when he failed to respond, she nodded. “No, of course not. You are warning me that I’m making a habit out of you.”
“I suppose we are both a bit guilty there,” he offered unconvincingly. “At least we make good company.”
“Your father was a fool,” she returned and kissed him lightly on the chest. “Stop letting him dictate your actions and you’ll be a much happier person.”
“Hm,” he frowned and tipped her face toward him, “strong words from a woman who can’t seem to let go of her own past.”
She rolled over onto her back, a disturbed sigh exhaling into the chilly night air. “I hate it when you get like this…all Remus-like and serious and giving out blanket words of wisdom.”
“Wisdom? Hardly, I just point out the obvious,” he chuckled and pulled her back to lie on his chest.
“Sirius,” she eyed him carefully, trying to judge his mood before continuing, “what do you know of the locket? The one that brought you back?”
His eyes lifted to meet hers, a sudden desire to be anywhere else flooding through him. Her look was more inquisitive than frightened and he had to remind himself that this was what he had expected and, in fact, what he was hoping for. Not directed at him or the locket, of course, but seeing the inquisitive, intellectual nature he remembered from her youth slowly coming back made him fill with something akin to pride.
“You’ve been trying to trace it, haven’t you?” he asked quietly, his voice well rehearsed and steady. “I saw the books lying out in the library. You didn’t find anything, did you?”
“No, nothing,” she admitted. “You do know something, don’t you? Has Juliette endangered herself? Its dark magic, isn’t it?”
Sirius watched her carefully, unsure of exactly how to phrase his response. “She is not in mortal danger, no. Did you ever come across the Mirror of Erised, Hermione?”
“Harry and Ron did so I know about it but no, not personally,” she answered, shaking her head. “Is that what it does then, give you your deepest desire?”
“Something like that, yes. It’s been in our family for ages. My family, of course, isn’t known for its love of the happier magic, to put it politely. That locket has been used for dark magic more times that I could possible count. What effect, if any, that has had on the locket is anyone’s guess.”
“Is it temporary? If your desire changes, so does the outcome?” she asked softly, refusing to look at him.
“Do you mean am I going to disappear tomorrow?” he chuckled. “Not likely. Once her wish has been fulfilled the locket will expect repayment. Nothing is free.”
“Repayment?” Hermione sat up. “What do you mean? Juliette--”
“Nothing will happen to Juliette,” he assured her softly. “And that repayment assumes the wish is ever fulfilled anyway.”
“Do you know what she wished for, Sirius?”
“I do,” he nodded, “but I’ve no intention of telling you.”
She stared at him defiantly for a moment but, all too quickly in his mind, the emotion passed.
“If you tell me she’s safe, I’ll believe you. Please don’t patronize me where my daughter is concerned.”
“I would never do that,” he answered, his voice flat with disdain. She leaned forward and kissed his anger away, then dropped her face close to his.
“She’s falling in love with you, Sirius.” Hermione could feel him falter and the look on his face was unmistakable…he was going to apologize for it. He was afraid something would take him away from her just as it had broken him apart from James and Harry. “They were better people for having known you. Whatever happens, we’ll muddle through. She’s strong and independent and can survive anything that’s thrown at her. I have no doubt that loving you will only make her that much better.”
Sirius pulled her face towards him; his lips brushing hers in a tender, heart felt thanks. His touch was soft and warm, his kiss relaxed and reassuring. Slipping her head down to rest on his chest again, he rubbed her head rhythmically, knowing it would quiet her tortured thoughts. “Go to sleep, Hermione.”
Hermione pulled away from the slight shake that was disturbing her sleep. “Hm?”
“Mum, I’m starving. Can I conjure breakfast?”
Hermione turned a disapproving look towards her daughter who was curled up beside her on the bed. “You didn’t eat with Sirius? What time is it anyway?”
“He said I should have breakfast with you because he only had time for a quick cup of coffee. He said I should wait until you woke up but I’m really hungry. I can conjure it, if--”
“No, no,” Hermione pulled herself up to sitting, tugging the sheets around her nightgown. She tried to brush the heavy sleep out of her eyes, glad that for once she’d listened when Sirius had ordered her to get dressed before falling asleep. She glanced around the room uneasily, searching for some sign that might let Juliette know he had been there but, as usual, he had left no trace of his presence. She tugged Juliette toward her, straightening the pig tails that Sirius had apparently done in haste this morning. “I’ll take care of it. What do you mean he didn’t have time? Has he gone somewhere?”
She could feel Juliette stiffen beside her. Her eyes clouded, all sleepiness now forgotten. “Juliette--”
“He went for Draco.”
Hermione turned her to face her, her hands gripping tightly on her daughter‘s tiny arms. She fought to keep her voice steady. “Juliette, has something happened? Where‘s Remus?”
“He came for Sirius early this morning. They left together about an hour ago. Please, can we eat now?”
“Juliette,” Hermione hugged her tightly to her chest, “please stop trying to protect me, okay? I know you think you need to but this is one of those times when not telling me isn’t helping me. Okay?”
Juliette nodded, her voice soft and reassuring. “Draco hasn’t been calling in to the Ministry. They finally located him late last night and Remus pulled together a team to go and get him. Remus showed up this morning just before dawn. He and Sirius argued for awhile, that’s what woke me up. Then Sirius left with him.”
“Sirius didn’t want to go?”
Juliette shook her head. “He was willing to go, he just wanted to have his coffee first. He said something about Remus being too anxious for his own good.”
Hermione nodded, the tight knot in her stomach making her feel nauseous. “Breakfast, then?”
Juliette smiled, pulling her along with her to the kitchen. It took no time for the cereal and toast to be made and Hermione sank down next to her daughter, sipping on coffee as she tried to calm herself. Juliette passed a bowl to her.
“Sirius said to make you eat,” she said, almost apologetically. “He made me promise you’d eat something.”
Hermione nodded, eating the food without tasting it, her stomach revolting with each bite she took. Her eyes glazed over as she stared at the ripples of milk in the bowl, her mind wandering to a time when every day had brought news of a new death to Grimmauld. The deaths had been bad enough but the uncertainty of it all had almost driven her mad. Not knowing when or if people would come back. She cursed Sirius for putting her in the same position all over again. Her cheeks flushed with anger as her temper flared…why hadn’t anyone told her this mission was dangerous? Vaquely she recalled Sirius mentioning something about Draco not checking in and the idea that she had ignored him made her grip her mug tightly in her hands. So Sirius did mention something, couldn’t he have been more forceful about it? He was so damn obstinate and argumentative…why had he chosen to be so silent about this? She bit her lower lip. Because she told him she didn’t want to talk about Draco…this wasn’t Sirius’ fault, it was hers. And she’d never forgive herself if something happened to Draco and she hadn’t taken the time to--
“Mum?” Juliette had moved beside her, her tiny little hands placed securely on Hermione’s. She entwined their fingers, her face strong and assured. It was Harry’s look…the one Hermione had witnessed so many times over the years when he realized someone else was counting on him. “He told me to tell you he’d bring him back.”
“Sirius,” she whispered. “He said when your mum goes off the deep end; tell her ‘I’ll bring him back safe.’ He said it’s the only thing you really need to know anyway.”
Chapter 22: Protecting Draco
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Chapter Twenty-Two: Protecting Draco
He dropped onto the floor with exhaustion, ignoring the shivers he felt coming on from the soaking wet cloak he was wrapped in. He could feel Remus prodding him to move but couldn’t seem to summon the energy to even open his mouth. Faintly, he could hear Remus calling for someone nearby. Why did he sound so worried? Sirius tried to lift his eyes but failed, the tiny action causing him to gasp for breath. He felt his throat constrict, as if an invisible hand was pressing over his larynx and preventing him from sucking in any air. It was only momentary, though, and then he felt nothing at all.
“Sirius?” Juliette’s voice quavered a bit and he could feel her tiny hand grasping his. “Uncle Remus, he’s awake.”
A heavy weight caused Sirius to roll to the side. His eyes fluttered open to see Remus staring at him, his face haggard, his warm breath tinged with whiskey. “Been out awhile then, have I?”
He struggled to sit up but felt Remus’ strong arms under his shoulders helping shift him into position against the headboard. He looked from one to the other, both eying him with an odd look of morbid fascination. “What happened?”
“You jumped in front of Draco,” Juliette provided smiling as she curled up next to him. “Whatever spell they were firing caught you right in the chest. You’ve been out for two days.”
“Minor injuries,” Remus provided then smirked. “But playing the broken man for everything its worth.”
“Remus says he’s being a big baby,” Juliette quoted and giggled. “I would’ve got ‘em all and you never would’ve been hurt.”
“Well, let’s not test that theory, all right?” Sirius ruffled her hair with all the strength he could manage. “Could you run downstairs and get me some food, Juliette?”
She gave him a quick hug. “Yes, I’ll leave you alone so you can talk to Remus,” she called as she bounced out of the room and into the hall.
“Just so long as you bring food back…I’m starving!” he yelled after her. His eyes immediately turned to Remus. “Draco?”
Remus shrugged, a brief look of confusion passing across his face at Sirius’ sudden concern for Draco’s welfare. “He took a few stunning spells and something that caused him to bleed profusely from the ears but Bill and Fleur were quick to tend to the most life threatening wounds. He’s mostly mended now but I’m sure he’s still exhausted and a bit battle sore. He’s been in bed since we arrived back at Grimmauld. He tested his legs to the first time today so he’s recovering quite nicely.” Remus eyed him seriously but his voice was casual. “Hermione’s been with him night and day.”
“As she should be,” Sirius returned, turning a tired but quizzical look Remus’ direction.
“You can’t tell me it doesn’t bother you. You two are getting closer even Tonks and I see it, Sirius. Then this stupid stunt happens. Requiring you to risk your life for him—"
“I have risked my life for much less,” he returned easily. “Besides, I’m nothing more than a convenient diversion for Hermione, Remus. Surely you recognize that.”
“What I see is happiness in a man who hasn’t had it since we left Hogwarts. Whatever you choose to call that, I can only imagine it will end badly. No offense, but you don’t have the best track record when it comes to romantic entanglements.”
“Yes, well, fortunately for you, I realize that and am always prepared for failure. It prevents any unnecessary concerns about the future.” Sirius cleared his throat before Remus could retort. “Was Lucius caught?”
“He wasn’t there. We caught two other lingering Death Eaters, though, so the mission wasn’t a complete failure.”
“Sirius?” Hermione’s soft voice filtered through the last remaining haze of his brain.
He offered her a smile then motioned her inside. “Draco will be all right, then?” he asked, avoiding Remus’ gaze.
“Back to his regular charming self this morning,” she nodded, dropping onto the bed beside him. “Juliette told me you were finally awake.”
“I’ll go check on that food she went to go get,” Remus offered then patted Hermione’s head lightly as he walked past. “Can’t let the injured starve now, can we?”
Hermione was quiet as she watched him go, the ease with which she had recently talked to Sirius now seeming to have evaporated. But his grey eyes were still smiling at her when she finally faced him and she slipped her fingers into his as she began to relax. “How about you? Are you really all right?” her voice was quivering slightly, her loose hand running along the bandages that covered his ribs.
“Better off, I should imagine. From where I stand, I just took a rather long nap,” he said grinning. “Being knocked out does have its advantages.”
“I’ve sat with you, you know. Late at night after everyone was asleep,” she offered but he squeezed her hand.
“Kind of you but unnecessary. I wouldn’t think less of you for staying with Draco every minute. You know that, don’t you?”
“I do, but—"
Sirius pulled her closer to him, gently brushing her hair out of her face. “You come to me when you choose, Hermione. Draco’s presence doesn’t change that. If you think I’m going to go off on a jealous rampage and will refuse to continue relations with you because you’ve been at his side, you mistake me for a possessive man.” He could feel his own stomach turn at the words, a shadow passing over his grey eyes. He pulled away from her to ease back against the wall.
She studied him for a moment, the sudden stop to his lecture catching her off guard. She watched as he withdrew from her, his thoughts obviously turning inward as he was berating himself for something. She puzzled over it for a moment, letting his words drift through her mind as she searched for what might have made him uneasy. It took her a few minutes to draw any conclusions and the longer she took the more uneasy he seemed to become. “You have become possessive,” she whispered, her voice holding a note of pride that she had been able to figure him out but a note of unease at the realization.
“Perhaps more so than I would like to be. But,” he shook his head, “make no mistake I’ve learned to walk away from anything. You, my dear, are no exception.”
“How nice it must be to remain so detached from everyone and everything,” she mumbled, drawing her hand away.
Sirius eyed her closely but she was deftly avoiding his gaze. He gave a knowing shake of his head. “How unfortunate for you,” he whispered, “that upon Draco’s return you realize I may have turned into more than just a quick shag.”
“That’s not true,” she tried to argue but his eyes pierced into hers with an unwavering demand for honesty and she faltered.
She dropped her head against his, unable to verbalize the tumult to emotions that were rising to the surface now that both men were once again under the same roof. She had so much invested with Draco…a lifetime of history, tender moments, quiet time that could never be replaced. But Sirius made her feel alive, made her fight for what she wanted and never let her slide by with anything less than the whole truth. She could sit with Draco for hours talking about a hundred million things and learn nothing. She learned more about Sirius in the dark, melancholy silence after midnight. It was as if the less he spoke, the more she understood not only about him but about herself as well. He was helping her become the woman she somehow knew she always had inside. She glanced to Sirius helplessly.
“Go to him,” Sirius ordered quietly, “before I don’t let you.”
Chapter 23: Old Home Week
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Chapter Twenty-Three: Old Home Week
Sirius paced in the darkness uneasily. When exactly had he become possessive of her? He didn’t care if she was physically intimate with Draco. Although she probably doubted it and he knew Remus would never believe him, he had learned years ago that it was not only possible but sometimes beneficial to have nothing more than a physical relationship with someone. Exactly when he had started to feel something other than sheer animalistic attraction to her befuddled him. She was a female…he expected her to feel something. It was unlike a woman to not mistake sex with some other silly emotion like caring or friendship or love even. He shuddered. When had he lost control over this situation and, more importantly, how the hell was he supposed to get it back?
He dropped into a chair, rubbing his stubbly chin in concentration. He couldn’t expect Draco to be good enough in bed to make her forget about him. Not merely because his talents would be sub par, but Sirius knew enough of Draco to know he’d open his mouth and say something stupid at the most inopportune time. Why couldn’t the boy learn to keep his mouth shut? He could keep quiet, sweep Hermione off her feet and Sirius would never have to worry about this brief nasty bout of mixed emotions that he was trying to subdue.
“You look like you could use a stiff drink,” Bill called from the doorway. He offered him a smile. “Up for an evening out with the boys?”
Sirius grumbled before he could contain it. “If ‘boys’ includes ferret face then no, I think I’ll pass.”
“I’m not sensing a bit of tension between you two, am I? Grateful you saved his life not grateful you are bedding his wife to be?” Bill grinned at Sirius, who turned a stunned look his direction. “Don’t worry, he doesn’t know. Neither does Remus because that will undoubtedly be your second question.”
Sirius frowned, his mind whirling with moments when he could have possibly made their relationship visible to anyone much less Bill who was at Grimmauld on such a rare occasion.
Bill smiled. “You would never know by looking at the two of you, Sirius. Relax. She mentioned to Fleur that her nightmares have ceased,” he explained with a self conscious shrug. “You and I both know, there’s only one thing that makes her nightmares go away. Like I said,” he continued, “you could probably use a stiff drink.”
Sirius nodded gratefully, the ease at which Bill was accepting of his predicament making him feel less isolated. He had worked hard to hide his relationship with Hermione to protect Juliette but, as Bill was willing to point out, there really was no need to be so secretive with the adults. Sirius cursed himself for once again falling in to a “need to be accepted” mode rather than just being honest and straightforward with the others. He offered Bill a lopsided smile. “Best offer I’ve had in days.”
“How many have we had?” Bill asked the waitress as she brought them another round of drinks.
“Not as many as you want, I suspect,” she replied smiling. “Anything else, boys?”
Remus waved her away with a smile then pushed his empty glass aside to replace it with the fresh one. “Tonks is gonna kill me for coming home drunk again.”
“When are you going to marry her and make an honest woman—"
Sirius laughed. “Marriage doesn’t bode well for the Marauders, Bill.”
Bill nodded drunkenly. “Yeah, you do have a point.”
“Hey, isn’t that—" Remus nodded across the barroom as a rush of patrons crowded to the doorway.
“Viktor Krum,” Bill nodded.
Sirius perked up immediately. “As in Hermione’s first kiss, Krum?”
Remus laughed as he raised an arm to Viktor. “Can’t say that’s what he’s most famous for, no. He helped us a lot during the war; used his bloody popularity to rally supporters for us.”
Remus stood up, wavering just a tad, as Viktor approached the table.
“Sit down before you fall, Remus,” Viktor clapped him on the back and helped him sink into a chair. “Bill,” he outstretched his hand then turned a smile to Sirius. “I don’t believe we’ve—"
“Viktor, meet Sirius Black.”
“The dead one?”
“The only one,” Sirius countered already liking the Bulgarian’s cocky matter-of-fact manner.
“Join us, will you?”
“I don’t want to interrupt,” he answered Bill’s question but his eyes were still peering curiously at Sirius.
“Stay for the whiskey or stay for the company of previously dead people,” Sirius slurred, “one must appeal to you.”
Viktor dropped into a chair and took the drink Sirius offered. “Just for one, though, I’m meeting someone. Perhaps you know him? Oliver Wood?”
“Ah, yes. I know Oliver well,” Bill nodded. “Rumors are true, then? About the two of you restarting the Quidditch World Cup?”
“It seems like its time,” he answered nodding, trying to ignore the cackling of patrons that had assembled around them. “We still need Ministry approval, of course, and financial backing, but—"
“Lucky for you, then, that you are drinking with a top Ministry official and a filthy rich bastard.” Sirius grinned.
“Sirius-" Remus tried.
“But, Remus,” Sirius turned a pleading look his direction, “it’s Quidditch!”
“I did not mean—" Viktor tried to stand but Bill pulled him back down.
“They can help you,” he admonished. “Be grateful not guilty. Look, there’s Oliver. Oliver!” Bill jumped up and enveloped him in a hug. “Sit. My lady! Drinks for all, if you would.”
Oliver turned a mystified look to the table. The motley assortment causing him to hesitate. “Are you all drunk, then?”
Viktor downed a glass and nodded. “Close enough.”
Oliver’s eyes scanned the group, passing over Sirius and then traveling back. “Sirius Black?” he breathed and a hush fell over the group.
Loopy from his drink, Sirius lifted his fingers to count things off. “I didn’t kill James and Lily Potter. I was never a Death Eater. I didn’t use dark magic to escape Azkaban. I fell through a veil ten years ago but apparently didn’t die and now I am back.” He glanced curiously at this fingers and then to the group. “Did I miss anything?”
Remus laughed. “He knocked Draco senseless the other day.”
Oliver seemed flummoxed but the honest kinship he saw between the men made his reservations evaporate. “Well, if you are punching Draco Malfoy, you can’t be too bad in my book.”
The harried waitress stumbled through the growing crowd around their table. Remus just managed to catch the bottles before they dropped to the floor. She nodded her thanks but turned a stern look to them all. “Either you have to stop drinking so fast or the fan club has got to go. I’m not—"
Sirius chuckled at the drunken apologies. “Seeing as how we’ve no intention of slowing down—"
He rose high in his chair, spreading his arms wide. He toppled a little in his drunkenness and nodded gratefully to Viktor and Bill, who had grabbed his feet to keep him steady. His voice low and gravelly, he tried to keep his laughter in check.
“I, Sirius Black, having risen from death, command you to leave before I must cast—"
He got no further before the group filtered a dozen different directions.
“Sirius, really,” Remus took hold of his arm and pulled him back into the chair. “Have you any idea what the papers will read tomorrow?”
“Zombie that defied death threatens masses?” Bill offered laughing. “Good show, Sirius. Now, where were we?”
Oliver glanced from one to the other, a smile crossing his face as he realized none seemed coherent enough to remember. “Toasting Sirius for kicking Draco’s ass?”
Chapter 24: Forgotten Comfort
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Chapter Twenty-Four: Forgotten Comfort
Their roguish laughter had filtered all the way up to the bedroom where she was sitting with Draco and she couldn’t withhold the urge to go to the window and check on them. She could tell by the way the group of men were leaning on each other that they were drunk. She bit her lip to hide her smile, wondering how on earth Viktor Krum and Oliver Wood had managed to get entangled in their escapade. She bit her lip, wondering exactly what Viktor and Sirius could have possible found in common other than her. As if they felt her presence, the men glanced up at her simultaneously, a few waving wildly for her to come down and join them. She smiled and offered them a tiny wave of regret behind the curtain, shielding her movements from Draco’s view. In response, Sirius and Viktor dropped their pants and stuck their bare butts her direction. Trying desperately to contain her giggles, she tugged the curtain shut before Draco could come to see what she was looking at.
“Do you think,” Draco’s asked from the bed, “we should find a new place to live?”
Hermione turned from the window to eye him more closely. “Why? Juliette loves it here. It’s the only home she’s even known.”
“Come here,” Draco tugged on her arm, pulling her to sit beside him on the bed. “I’ve asked you to marry me, Hermione. I want us all to start a new life together. We don’t seem to be able to do that while you are still holding on to the past and everything Grimmauld reminds you of.”
She opened her mouth to object and then thought better of it. It wasn’t, perhaps, wise to tell him she felt happier at Grimmauld than she had anywhere else in her life. She touched his arm gingerly. “The past happened, we can’t change that. But I am moving on. I’m trying to deal with things and work through them if you’d just give me a chance.”
“Work through them?” he questioned. “Hermione, mere mention of Ron or Harry tears you up inside. When you look at me, I see it. I remind you of them every time you look at me. You have to stop blaming me. We were young and did stupid things, all of us.”
“Stupid? Bonding Ginny-"
“Don’t,” Draco cupped her face in his hands, “please don’t. We can’t keep reliving every little thing we did wrong, Hermione.” He hesitated, wondering what perhaps might forge the connection with her he was hoping for. He dropped his hands away from her but continued to gaze at her intently.
“Sirius would tell you the same thing, wouldn’t he? He made huge mistakes and you’ve forgiven him. You allow him home down the hall from your only daughter. Just once, can’t you give me the same chance you allow everyone else?”
Hermione nodded meekly, her guilt overwhelming. She knew he was right. Every time she looked at him she was flooded with memories of her youth. All the things she’d done right easily overshadowed by the one thing she did wrong. How was it that in Sirius’ presence none of those things seemed to matter? That nothing she did-whether good or bad- seemed to make any difference to him?
She tried to imagine what conclusions Sirius might lead her to right now. He would tell her she was being silly; tell her that nothing in the past mattered; convince her that this moment in time was the only thing that should ever make a difference in the decisions she made. He’d tell her to stop being so damn analytical and get her clothes off.
“You’re right,” she whispered. “I have given him a chance. But, Draco, you have to understand that he accepts me. You’ve never even attempted to do that. You still have that mentality that you are better than me, that you will always know what’s best not only for me but for Juliette as well.”
Draco leaned forward, his voice low. “I have never said I was better than you.”
His words cut through and she couldn’t help but lean into him, allowing his lips to press softly against her own. It had been ages since she’d been this close to him; since she’d felt the warmth and comfort that was so common and familiar to her. For so many years he had represented safety and security for her – the only man willing to stand beside her when she lost the two loves of her life.
“Hermione,” his soft voice filtered through her mind, his fingers trailing gently along her arm. He leaned forward kissing her hesitantly for fear of her running away again. “You remember me, don’t you?” he asked softly, his voice soothing and calm. Her shiver bothered him but she nodded in response, her eyes transfixed on some object far behind him. He tilted her face to his, “Tell me you remember.”
Her voice was a whisper. “Of course I remember.”
“Then stay with me.”
She thought of all the many reasons she didn’t want to stay – the confusion to herself; fear of hurting Sirius; fear Draco would expect her to marry him immediately; Juliette being down the hall. She squeezed her eyes shut in a desperate, final attempt to gain some control over her emotions but failed. She wanted to believe Draco. More than anything, she wanted to believe that he was the man she had always wanted him to be – loving, tender, caring only for her well-being. She looked up into his eyes saw an earnest man looking back, trying to fix things that he had destroyed through his reckless past. For a brief moment, she wanted to bleed him of his arrogance and scream at him until he could see what he had done to her over the years but, instead she stemmed her violence and and silenced the scream that had risen in her throat.
She let her hand slide tentatively into his hands, his perfectly manicured fingers wrapping tightly around hers for fear of her changing her mind. He glanced at her as if for confirmation and when she gave the briefest nod, he lifted the covers for her to join him. She slid in, her face resting warm against his overstuff down pillow.
‘It’s only one night,” she murmured.
Although he nodded, the look in his eyes told her something completely different. He already was seeing this as more than she did. She fought back tears from her past and the memories she’d tried to bury so long as his lips traced down her neck.
Flashes of Ron and Harry flew threw her mind and seconds too late she realized – this was a mistake.
Chapter 25: A Knife to His Throat
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Chapter Twenty-Five: A Knife to His Throat
Hermione lay silently watching Draco as he slept. She had forgotten this side of him—the kind, gentle man who had seen her through so many ordeals. If he could only remain this way in the daylight or perhaps treat her less as a prize to be won and more like the love of his life. She watched his bare chest moving up and down contentedly, the light tone of his skin contrasting starkly against his deep green sheets. Scars, old and faded to a pasty white, criss-crossed his arms but his chest remained amazingly clear of any visible wounds. He had often joked about it with her, telling her he’d rather his arms be cut off than have his beautiful chest marked but she’d always known better. His lack of scars compared to the Order members such as Bill and Remus served as a constant reminder to him of how long he had remained under the protection of Lord Voldemort. He hated himself for it—it was a venerable reminder of his failure and cowardice. Even in his sleep he was tugging the sheets over himself, blocking off her revelries. It was something they had never been able to balance…his need to ignore their past and her desire to never forget it.
Sliding out from underneath his bare arm, Hermione tugged on her clothes as quietly as she could and then grabbed her cloak. She fought off the hot tears she felt coming, knowing he would hear her and try and convince her to stop and talk things out. She didn’t want to talk…she wanted to forget the last few months had ever happened. She wanted to be back before Sirius had arrived and caused her life to turn upside down. She sped down the hallway toward her room, her feet skidding to a stop as she caught his recognizable form a few doors away. He was the last person she wanted to face right now or perhaps he was the only person she wanted to see.
He was standing outside Juliette’s door, his hand still resting on the doorknob from pulling it closed. He glanced curiously at her and she had no doubt her scattered appearance told him she had just come from an escapade with Draco. She stopped in front of him, knowing it would do her no good to try and hide, peering at him for the look of disapproval and waiting for the vicious retorts she expected. She felt like a whore, after all, and Sirius had never been one to mince words.
“She’s just gotten back to sleep,” he said, nodding toward the door. “It’s my fault for getting in so late. Please don’t be angry.”
Hermione nodded, tears beginning to well in her eyes again…the double meaning of his words going unnoticed. How could he do this? Standing here so nonchalantly even knowing she had been with Draco? Did he really feel nothing for her and could he not realize how confused and broken she felt? She lifted her tear filled eyes toward him. He hadn’t moved but his stance was somehow more serene, almost as if he had come to some level of realization or acceptance about her.
“I should know,” he murmured in a somewhat perplexed voice, “what you need but I don’t.”
She nodded understandingly. It wasn’t that he didn’t care…he cared only about fixing whatever was wrong and, for once, he had no idea how to do that. Loneliness he could cure with a quick lust filled shag; nightmares by merely listening; and sadness with his trademark humor. But for her current turmoil, however it might be defined, he had no solution. She offered him a half smile through her tears. “Will you walk with me?”
He didn’t answer but slipped her cloak out of her hands and helped her put it on. Pressing her gently in the small of her back, he led her through the halls of Grimmauld and into the barren gardens. The night air was cold, assaulting their faces as they tramped slowly through the snow packs. As the lights of Grimmauld melted away, she slipped her hand into his, the silence and surrounding darkness causing her mind to clear and her emotions to settle. She had no idea how long or far they had walked but he seemed to walk with purpose and she took comfort in that.
Though overgrown and far from the normal gardens of Grimmauld, Hermione had seen the Black family gazebo many times. It was a favorite haunt of Juliette’s – she always liked to imagine summer garden parties and grand affairs that might have been held there during its better days. Winter and time had come here, though, icicles glistening under the full moon giving the white lattice work an almost forbidden appearance. Thorns, she mused silently but a glance to Sirius seemed to indicate that he noticed none of it.
“Are we friends, Sirius?” she asked quietly, sinking down as he took a seat on the scuffed and warped wooden benches.
“Before anything else,” he returned.
He hesitated, unable to read her in the darkness. “I’ve turned on only one person in my life, Hermione.”
“Peter,” She could feel him bristle beside her and immediately felt guilty. She placed a reassuring hand on his arm. “Of anyone I’ve met, Sirius, yours is the loyalty I would never question.” She dropped her voice. “In my experience, very few men can separate friendship and sex. I just needed assurance that you can.”
He gave a relaxed, warm chuckle. “No offense, my dear, but I don’t consider you a friend because of your prowess in the bedroom.” He smile was large enough to see in the darkness. “You are my friend because you are you.”
“Friends share things, don’t they?” she tried to say it lightly but he knew better. She moved away, reaching up to take down a broken, rusted lantern hanging near the gazebo’s entrance. She held it out expectantly and he lit it for her, his eyes searching hers.
“What is it you want from me, Hermione?”
She glanced at him and then dropped her eyes. How did she explain to Sirius – the man who refused to share almost everything – that she needed reassurance that someone, anyone is completely honest with her; she needed to know that one day Draco would be able to tell her about his scars rather than hide from them. How did she tell him that she merely wanted assurance that Draco would never become the man that Sirius had turned in to?
She let a trembling hand graze lightly across a scar along his neck, following it down the collar of his shirt where it intermingled with several others. “Where are they from, Sirius, do you know?”
He moved her hand away gently but firmly. “Of course.”
He could feel the bitterness and resentment rising within him. He would have to do this because of the locket- to keep Juliette safe- but it didn’t mean he had to be happy about it. He didn’t care if she used him to learn something about Draco, it might help make her happy and Sirius knew that standing in way of locket could endanger Juliette. But he hated to be cornered and she, more than anyone, should realize that.
He gave a resigned sigh without looking at her, slowing unbuttoning his shirt. He hesitated as a feeling of complete exposure washed over him but, knowing he had no choice and it was better to control the situation than react to it, he slowly began the arduous task of explaining the history of each and every scar that was visible to her. Dozens of them were scattered across his chest… small ones; large ones; Marauder scars; stupid childhood antics; war scars; werewolf confrontations…they all held memories of his life that he’d never intended on sharing. His foray into the past over, he began to slowly button his shirt but her soft fingers reached to a scar he’d chosen to overlook. Tiny, almost infinitesimal and definitely older than most. Near his left shoulder, it appeared to be shaped, unlike the others, and resembled a Celtic knot.
“A woman?” Hermione guessed as his unease became evident.
“No,” he answered quietly and pulled away from her touch. He walked paces away and finished buttoning his shirt.
Hermione moved to stand behind him, her hands running along the fabric of his sleeves, following the curves of his muscles soothingly but nothing seemed to make his tension depart.
“Sirius-" she whispered.
From somewhere in the darkness, Remus’ gravelly voice caused her to jump. “It’s a bonding mark, given when he accepted his role as Harry’s godfather.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, squeezing his arm but Sirius merely nodded, his hands trembling with cold as he tried to button the tiny buttons on his shirt.
“Hermione,” Remus draped a heavy blanket around her shoulders, “you must be freezing. Get inside and get some rest, won’t you?”
She nodded briefly, with only a backwards glance to Sirius. When she had disappeared into the darkness, Remus conjured another blanket and placed it on Sirius’ shoulders, leading him back towards the gazebo bench. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Sharing bits and pieces of your life and never knowing how someone is going to react? Whether they will run or stand beside you, admire you or loathe you.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked vacantly, pulling the blanket tighter around him, never realizing exactly how cold he had gotten.
Remus nodded up towards the heavens. “Just sobered up and realized it’s the last few hours of a full moon, thought you might be willing to keep me company.”
Sirius nodded, dropping his head back heavily against the railing. “Is it a man, thing, do you think?” he asked without moving. “To hate to share anything?”
He chuckled. “It’s a Marauder thing.” He conjured mugs of steaming coffee for them, placing one in Sirius’ shivering hands. “It’s the locket, isn’t it?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know—"
“Stop, just stop,” Remus cut him off. “I’ve known you too long. You wouldn’t tell anyone the things you just shared with her unless someone had a knife to your throat.”
Sirius lifted his head, his eyes drifting aimlessly at the surroundings, and then took a long drink of the coffee. He had missed this more than he realized. The quiet moments with Remus where they could talk freely, things not said somehow meaning as much as the things they did manage to say. He knew Remus was curious about his relationship with Hermione but he also knew Remus would allow him his privacy no matter how much the situation concerned him. It was an unwritten agreement between them…Sirius would make his mistakes and Remus would watch silently as he made them, picking up the pieces when everything fell apart. And, it always fell apart. Sirius didn’t have the courage to tell him that some deep, long forgotten part of him had enjoyed being able to share something so private with her no matter how heart wrenching it had been.
“Yes,” he mumbled, “it’s that damn bloody locket’s fault.”
Remus nodded resolutely, sinking his back against the wood with a thud. He drank silently for a moment, his eyes studying Sirius with well-practiced ease. “I should know better than to ask, but have you found no way to break the spell?”
Sirius shook his head, glad Remus wasn’t asking him to explain the magic behind the locket. “It’s impossible and you’ll just have to trust me on that.”
“I don’t doubt you,” Remus frowned. “I suppose I was just hoping that there was going to be an easy way out for you.”
“You and I both,” he returned with a half smile. Sirius dropped a head into one hand, letting his fingers run through his hair. His fingers caught in the wind curled knots and he held them there for a moment, too tired to pull them free. The icy feel of his hair made him realize how much the temperature must have fallen and he immediately felt guilty for not only allowing Hermione refuge out here but now Remus as well. He knew Remus was waiting on him…waiting on some direction or instruction…and had no intention of leaving until he received it.
“Remus,” he mouthed, his voice croaking slightly as the cold began to seep in. “I need the boy alive,” he whispered, then chanced a look at his friend. “Whatever that takes or entails, I need Draco alive.”
Remus’ eyes bore into his but he asked for no further explanation. He placed a rough hand on Sirius’ leg, his voice strong and unflinching. “Then so be it.”
Chapter 26: Unwelcome Publicity
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Chapter Twenty-Six: Unwelcome Publicity
“I don’t remotely care whether or not you want to hear what I have to say,” he countered. “I promised Remus I would talk to you and I am. So, just shut your mouth, stop interrupting and we can get through this conversation that much quicker. Deal?”
Sirius could feel Draco bristle but he nodded acceptingly. “I know Remus is after you to assist the Ministry in catching the remaining Death Eaters, most notably your father. I’m not here on his behalf asking the same. I won’t ask someone to track down their own father and sentence them to death even if that someone is you. What I am willing to do, however, is make you understand the gravity of your own situation.”
“My situation?” Draco’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, his grip tightening with a mixture of nervousness and disdain. “What do you know of my situation?”
“I know you have straddled a fine line between Voldemort and the Order for many, many years. I’m not calling you a traitor,” Sirius added quickly as he felt Draco’s anger flare. “I’m saying that you are choosing to help the Order and the Ministry only in the areas that don’t affect you personally. I can’t say I blame you, of course. No matter our dedication to the Order, hunting down your own family is a task none of us would relish. That said, there will come a day when you will have to make a choice, Draco. Not for any virtuous reason. I know better than to appeal to your sense of virtue.”
Draco bristled. How dare the playboy of the year that might as well have killed his best friend lecture him on virtues. He straightened to face him. “You--”
“Make no mistake, your father is hunting for you. You betrayed him; you left his side when he needed you most. He will find you and kill you. It’s only a matter of time. Putting him away will save your own life. If you think in some small part of your tiny little brain that Lucius will have any hesitation in killing you, you are not just stupid as I previously believed but delusional as well.”
“Your sarcastic insults aren’t swaying me to your side, Sirius,” Draco hissed, his body tensing under the intense scrutiny. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten the finer points of persuasion.”
Sirius chuckled. “I have no need to persuade you of anything. I could kill Lucius today if I so chose. Thing is,” he smiled faintly, “I have absolutely no reason to do so.”
“No reason? He’s one of the evil ones, isn’t he? Isn’t that good enough for you Order people?” he asked, his voice rising in challenge.
Sirius stifled the laughter welling within him as he watched Draco’s posture change from irritation to near rage. An image of Lucius flooded into his mind, the mirror like version in front of him – so damned proud and undeserving – causing Sirius to rebel instantly.
“The only thing killing him would do is save your worthless life. Fortunately, saving you is a task I’ve not yet been assigned. Nor, might I add, do I ever expect Remus to ask such a thing of me.” Sirius chuckled at the disgruntled look on Draco’s face. “My fondness for you not withstanding, should you decide it in your best interest to locate Lucius, I’m happy to offer you my assistance.”
Draco rose to face him, his back straight but his eyes holding a questioning and hint of fear that Sirius had never anticipated. “And if I choose not to locate him?”
Sirius bit the inside of his lip, suddenly uneasy with the turn of the conversation. He sat his glass down on the parlor table with a plunk, steeling himself before rounding on Draco. “Then your death will certainly make my life much less complicated. Good day, Draco.”
“Tad cold and heartless, weren’t you?” Hermione asked from the kitchen doorway as she watched Sirius pour himself a glass of juice.
“He relates to nothing else,” he shrugged and dropped into a chair. “Eavesdropping again?”
“Seems to be the only way I can learn the truth around here,” she sank down in a chair opposite him. “That’s what Dobby was warning you of, wasn’t it? That Lucius was looking for Draco and if he finds him first…” she trailed off but quickly shook off her concern. “Will he look for Lucius now?”
“I suspect it will take awhile for him to understand just how angry his father is.” He lowered his voice. “I know it did for me.”
He brushed her away. “He will, however, be much more careful and observant in the future. Situations like what we retrieved him from should not occur again.”
Hermione opened her mouth but Sirius put a hand up. “Don’t you dare thank me. If you say thanks I’m liable to strangle the both of you while you are lying naked in each others arms.”
“Sirius Black, you aren’t jealous, are you?” she laughed then squeezed his hand. “No, I suppose being jealous of Draco Malfoy would be beneath you. Still,” she kissed his head as she moved past him, “I’d say you have more important things to deal with than who I might possibly be naked with.” She tossed a folded newspaper across the table to him.
He unfolded it with a sense of impending dread and he wasn’t disappointed. He glanced up at the amused look on her face. In bold black letters across the front page, it read:
Underneath it had a picture of Sirius moving in slow motion as he raised his arms and spread them wide as if beckoning to all. Beside him, Bill and Remus’ steadying arms were barely visible making it appear as if they were worshipping him rather than holding him up.
“Shit? What does that mean?” Juliette asked from the doorway and caused him to blanch. But Hermione was chuckling and ruffled her hair.
“That’s one of those words only adults are allowed to use,” she explained and moved to stand behind Sirius. She let her elbows rest on his shoulders, as she watched the picture repeat itself over and over. She tapped it with her nail and tilted her face to his. “I don’t know, I think you look rather regal. What do you think, Juliette?”
Juliette slid under Sirius’ arm to sit in his lap. She lifted the page to get a better look, surveying the picture with intensity. “I agree.” She nodded with certainty. “Beagle,” she miss-pronounced, causing Hermione to fall into a fit of giggles.
“Can you read that?” he asked pointing at the headline.
Juliette shook her head. “No, silly, I can’t read on my own yet.”
“Thank Merlin,” he murmured and leaned back into Hermione’s laughing arms. “Remus is gonna kill me.”
Chapter 27: The Dark Mark
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Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Dark Mark
Hermione hesitated as she felt Draco shift in her arms. His caresses were more demanding, his breath more urgent. She’d forgotten how he moved, the slight turn of his muscles at just the right time, the way he shifted his body weight so she could feel his bare skin next to hers. She let her nails trail along his arms…down from his shoulders, around his tanned biceps, across his forearm until it rested on the dark mark he had taken so long ago. His lips were tracing her neck -the place he knew like no one else- when she felt it. He was too busy to notice, she knew, and she squinted her eyes in hopes of it not being true. But when she opened them again, she jerked away from him, causing him to almost topple to the floor.
“What the—" Draco whirled on her as he tried to zip his pants. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Voldemort,” she whispered, unable to hide the fear she thought she’d buried long ago.
It took Draco a minute to understand. “No, no,” he shook his head vehemently and lifted his arm towards her. The dark mark glowed dangerously, the snake wriggling slowly out of the skull’s mouth. “It’s not him!” He moved closer, grabbing her arms tightly. “I swear, it’s not him! Ask Remus…he’ll tell you. Hermione, I swear.”
As if the mention of Remus had given her senses back, she faltered. “Who then?”
“Hermione, you don’t need—"
“Don’t patronize me! Who?”
Hermione started. “Bellatrix? As in Bellatrix that caused Sirius to fall into the veil.”
“So Remus tells me,” Draco murmured and Hermione didn’t miss the sarcasm.
“Does he know?”
“No,” Draco put his hands up. “And that was Remus’ decision not mine. I would have just as soon let the two of them fight it out amongst themselves.”
“Get out! You foul loathsome…”
“Hermione!” Draco backed away as her fists pummeled into his chest.
Hermione wrenched the ring off her finger and threw it at him. “And take your damn loyalty to the Black family with you!”
Draco tried to move to her, tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t allow him near her. He fumbled with the shirt she threw at him, fumbled with the ring, he’d never felt so humiliated in his life. What on earth had he done that was so wrong?
Hermione knew she had to say something to Sirius…he had been the only one to make her face the truth of Juliette. She couldn’t bring herself to hide anything from him but she couldn’t find a way to tell him either. In the days to come, Remus assured her that it was Bella and not Voldemort and that, yes, he had asked Draco to keep quiet about it. He felt Sirius had enough on his plate and didn’t want to bother him. He understood that Hermione felt the need to tell Sirius but swore he couldn’t be a part of it…exactly why, she never really could tell. Draco had gone off again, whether on ministry business or to punish her, she didn’t know. But he did promise Juliette to be back for Christmas and Hermione knew her time to talk to Sirius was limited.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Remus and Tonks had offered to take Juliette for last minute shopping and she knew Remus was giving her the last chance she had. When she finally found Sirius strolling through the house humming carols, though, she hesitated. He scooped her into his arms, offering her a kiss under the mistletoe but the stiff way with which she held herself gave her away.
“What is it?” He moved away quickly, watching her closely. He knew she had been fighting with Draco and he worried that he might have been the cause. She was no longer wearing the ring Draco had given her and, although he felt a twinge guilty, he felt more vindicated than anything.
“I need to talk to you.”
“That sounds a bit ominous.” His eyes narrowed. “Sounds like something Remus might say actually.”
“Don’t make this more difficult for me, Sirius.”
“It’s Christmas Eve, can’t it wait?”
“It’s waited long enough as it is.” She retaliated softly, taking his hand in hers and leading him toward the front parlor. “Would you like a drink?”
Sirius surveyed her questioningly. “Will I need one?”
“I will,” she murmured but offered him a smile and sank down beside him. “This mission…”
“Draco’s mission,” he provided, already not liking the way the conversation was starting.
“Yes. I’m not sure whether or not you are aware but in our sixth year, Draco took the dark mark.”
“I had assumed so, yes.” Sirius met her quizzical look with a chuckle. “He’s a Malfoy, Hermione. No better than a Black in that regard.”
Hermione nodded. “Someone has been trying to communicate with the others…not Voldemort, someone much less powerful. Someone just trying to stir up trouble.”
Sirius sighed. “This story will never end if you don’t forget whatever advice Remus gave you and just tell me the damn truth. Someone? Lucius? Crabbe? Goyle?”
“Bellatrix,” she whispered and Sirius halted.
It took only a moment before frustrated anger flooded through him and he whirled on Hermione. “How could you not tell me this? Bella, of all people!”
“Sirius, it wasn’t important. The war has been over---"
“It’s never over while she’s still alive. Don’t you understand that?” Sirius towered above her. “She poses a danger to you, Remus, Juliette, everyone,” he tried to keep the shake out of his voice. “Does that mean nothing to you?”
She touched his arm gently. “Of course. Her knowing about you doesn’t change anything. If she had wanted to come for us, she would’ve done it ages ago.”
“No, you’re wrong.” He shook his head, his body trembling. “She will come for me and all of you will be in danger because of it.”
Flashes of James and Lily flew through his mind at a rapid pace, making him dizzy with grief. “I have to leave.”
Hermione cornered him before he could walk away. “I won’t let you.”
“I’m not letting you walk out of our lives again,” she murmured.
“Lily, oh God,” Sirius crumbled to the floor instantly, the weakness over powering him. Hermione dropped to her knees, holding tightly to his hands in confusion and worry.
“Sirius!” She tried to shake him but he was lost in memories.
“That’s what she said. She said I wasn’t protecting them I was walking out.” He dropped his head in his hands.
With sudden understanding, Hermione’s heart broke. The pieces of the puzzle had fit into place for her, and after all these years, she finally felt she knew him. “It was Lily,” she whispered, tilting his face to meet hers, “You were in love with Lily but you walked away.”
“James was my best friend. I’d give him the world if I could,” Sirius’ broken words caused tears to form in Hermione’s eyes. “I still would.” He glanced at her. “Hermione, I’m not walking out. I’m not. But, I can’t let her roam free.”
“Draco will handle her.” She pulled him to standing, leading him to the couch as he tried to get his emotions under control.
“He’s not strong enough, you know that,” he said, shaking his head. “Do you not trust me to do it? Do you not trust that I’ll come back?”
She sucked in a breath. It was the question she had wanted to avoid since the first moment she realized Bella might come after Sirius. She considered lying. She considered ignoring his question. But the heartbreak on his normally passive face was more than she could stand. “Either of you could be killed facing her,” she whispered, her eyes turning away from him. “I don’t want to lose you.”
She could feel him bristle beside her but didn’t have the nerve to look at him. She knew it sounded horrible…it sounded like something Voldemort himself might do. She was effectively saying it was okay to lose Draco but not Sirius. The thought disgusted her, made an acid taste rise from the bottom of her throat and made her stomach tie in knots. She twisted the edges of her skirt anxiously. “I know it sounds terrible but…”
“Don’t say it,” his husky voice cut her off. “Please don’t say it.” He leaned into her, his lips inches from her ear. The smell of peppermint tickled his nose and drew him even closer to the soft scent of her skin. He could feel her breath catch in her throat as she tilted her neck closer to his lips, the pulsating rhythm of her racing heart inviting his mouth toward her. “Swear it.”
“I swear,” she breathed before he pressed his lips deeply into hers, the warmth of his skin causing beads of sweat to form on her forehead. His rough hands cupped her face gently, holding on to her as if he was afraid she’d slip away. The heartbreak he’d experienced melted with his touches and Hermione could feel the longing well within him. He never changed pace though, seemingly content to only have her lips be a part of him. It was a needy move—a move she had not experienced since Harry came to her for comfort after Ron’s death. But Harry had been different… he needed her comfort, her friendship, tender embraces that reminded him he had to go on. This was something entirely different. Sirius didn’t need someone, he needed her.
As her lips began to travel to his neck, she could feel him bristle…a slight change that she could tell he was trying to fight but seemed unable to win. He wanted to run to her, to need her but something was keeping him away. She could feel him struggling, hovering between emotions that he seemed unable to control. She paused, her lips inches away from his skin, her breath still ragged from their passionate kiss. “You’re not ready for this,” she whispered then pulled away to look into his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?” He smiled but moved away from her, willing his breath to calm itself.
“Is it Lily?” She asked quietly.
“No, no.” He chuckled. “I fought that battle with myself years ago.”
“Then what?” She shifted uncomfortably afraid of his answer.
“There are so many things wrong with this I can’t possibly name them all. I’m Harry’s godfather.” He paused. “Was. And you, Draco has proposed to you. Juliette, what about her? Or the fact that I’ve apparently been dead for ten years. Need I go on?”
“With excuses? No, I think I’ve heard enough.”
“They aren’t excuses, Hermione. They’re facts.”
“My haven’t you changed, little Ms. Follow the Rules. Is that my influence?”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” she tried to wipe the smile off her face but failed. She dropped her voice. “You bring out the best in me. A part of me I thought I’d lost.”
“What a frightening pronouncement,” he murmured with rare honesty. Reaching over he fingered the silky strains of her hair that had fallen loose during their passionate embrace.
“It feels right, doesn’t it?” she asked softly, her eyes locking with his. “I’ll be the first to admit I’m lonely, Sirius. That doesn’t mean its wrong but it doesn’t mean I’m not just using you either.”
Sirius’ laughter echoed in the darkened room. “Did you actually mean to say that out loud?”
“Well, except for admitting you are lonely, it’s what you’d say, right?” she countered.
“Yes,” he answered, still chuckling, “that sounds exactly like something I might say.” He leaned toward her, kissing her softly. “And yes, it feels right,” he murmured and then, with a tiny laugh, he sunk his teeth into her earlobe. “And feel free to use me all you like.”
“I may-" Hermione leaned toward him but a bustle from the doorway caused her to jump away.
“Dark enough in here?” Remus asked, leading a giggling Tonks into the room with him. “Have we seen Santa yet?” He asked, with a wink as the two sank onto the hearth.
“He hasn’t yet made his appearance,” Sirius grinned. “Where’s the twitchy ferret boy?”
Hermione gasped. “How did you learn about that?”
“Remus tells me everything, don’t you Remus? Except for when he first bedded my cousin here. That he keeps a closely guarded secret. I think he’s rather afraid she might turn herself into a weregirl and give him a run for his money.”
“A weregirl?” Tonks laughed. “How much have you been drinking?”
“Not a drop.” Hermoine answered. “But now that the adults are here we can certainly find something to keep us entertained. Is Hagrid coming?”
Remus nodded. “He and Grawp should be here before Juliette wakes up. Draco left us at Hogsmeade station, something about getting a last minute present for her as well.”
“Bill and Fleur will be here tomorrow with those boys of theirs in tow and…”
“Come on,” Sirius interrupted testily. “Enough with the guest list. Whoever shows up shows up. Bring on the Christmas punch and the horrid memories of our worst presents ever.”
Chapter 28: Amongst Friends
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Chapter Twenty-Eight: Amongst Friends
“You are uneasy, my friend.” Remus put his hand on Sirius’ shoulder. “You’re acting like, well, like someone else.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Sirius glanced at Hermione as nonchalantly as possible, who seemed to be in deep conversation with Dobby, who had stopped by with a gift (undoubtedly of socks) for Juliette. She glanced his direction and gave her a half smile before turning his attention back to Remus. “I’m having a great time.”
He glanced around the darkened room, softly lit by fire light and candles dotted around the room. Juliette had decorated this room last – especially for him. Unlike the over done décor that enlivened most of Grimmauld, Juliette had created this room just for him. Fresh pine cones sat in a basket on the hearth, waiting for anyone who passed by to cast one into the fire and let off a simmering scent of fresh pine. She’d placed no tinsel, no wreaths but had merely placed fresh greenery and berries in strategic places around the room. It was quiet, subdued…a retreat for Sirius where he would know it was Christmas but not be forced to be jovial for the sake of others. How she knew he would need such a place as the holidays closed in was anyone’s guess, but he’d never been more grateful in his life.
“You know,” Remus leaned closer to him, “if the two of you want to run off to bed early, we won’t be offended in the least.”
Sirius’ quick jerk caused Remus to laugh out loud. “Tonks’ pink hair has warped your brain.”
“I’m just saying that you are amongst friends, here, Sirius.” Remus shrugged. “It you two walk around each other one more time Tonks and I are both going to call you on it. However, should you choose you choose to curl up on the sofa with her and stop acting like a damn moronic prat, we’ll be happy to keep our comments private so as not to embarrass you.”
“That’s it?” Sirius raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
“Oh, hell no.” Remus shook his head. “This will require a lengthy detailed conversation and lecture between the two of us but, tonight is Christmas Eve. Tonks would never forgive me for ruining what she sees as one of the most romantic nights of the year.”
Sirius nodded. Remus was giving him a gift, he knew that. But a quick glance to Hermione told him she would never accept it. She hadn’t, of course, been with the two of them growing up. She would never realize that Remus would judge neither of them. His heart would break for them, yes, but he wouldn’t judge them.
“Best present you’ve given,” Hermione suggested as she carried out a new tray of snacks, oblivious to the undercurrent of tension in the room. She got halfway to the coffee table before Sirius waved his hand and floated them out of her hands and onto the table with a grimace. He ignored the irritated glance she sent his way but it stirred something inside him that he couldn’t contain.
“I gave my mum a bouquet of dead roses once,” Sirius offered laughing as he stood up to go refill his drink.
“I put bubblegum in Sirius’ fur while he was in dog form one year,” Remus laughed. “Or is that not what you meant?”
“Not exactly,” she replied smiling, and tried to move away from the punchbowl as Sirius’ form loomed above her. He blocked her with a well placed hand on her waist though, deftly turning her back to lean against his chest as he reached for the punch bowl. She could hear Tonks bubbling away about a story, her drunken voice making everything seem more amusing. Sirius’ soft breath on her neck was distracting, though, and although she tried to pull away in the seconds it took him to fix his glass, she couldn’t seem to out maneuver him. “What are you doing?” she hissed.
“Calling your bluff,” he whispered and slipped his hand into hers. “Come sit with me.”
“Are you nuts?”
“Certified even,” he nodded, his eyes glinting mischievously. “Chicken,” he chuckled and moved away from her.
She whirled to face him, anger flushing her face. He had already moved to the sofa, though, propping one leg up on the cushion while the other hung loosely off the edge. He had interrupted Tonks’ story to tell of the bubblegum incident, and the trio were laughing uproariously. He sent her a cocky grin and she couldn’t resist his challenge. Taking her drink in hand, she moved to the sofa, sliding into place between his legs. She leaned back against his chest, taking a sip of her drink as nonchalantly as possible.
“What about you, Hermione? Best gift you’ve given?” Remus asked, smiling but acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
Tonks, unfortunately, was unable to conceal the drunken giggle that escaped her lips. “She just gave it.” She shook her head and, as an afterthought, added, “I really should not drink.”
“I gave Juliette a picture of Harry,” Hermione whispered, making the room fall quiet. She could feel the stares of Remus and Tonks on her, their disbelief that she was finally admitted this to them evident on their face. They glanced to Sirius questioningly and he wrapped an arm around her chest, pulling her tighter into him and giving her a kiss on the top of her head…it was all the courage she needed. “She doesn’t understand yet, of course, but I gave it to her anyway.”
“Six years,” Tonks whispered, tears forming in her eyes as she dropped to Hermione’s side and took hold of her hand. “We’ve waited six years for you to trust us enough.”
“I know and I’m so sorry,” she whispered, patting Tonks head as if she was a child. “I just couldn’t face it…everything.”
“It’s all right, Hermione,” Remus nodded and pulled Tonks back to his side. He sent a glance to Sirius that Sirius couldn’t quite discern. “And that will turn out to be the best gift, I’m certain.”
Hermione gave him a faint smile. “Thank you.” She shuffled in Sirius’ arms, gazing up at him. “And you? You are the only one left.”
“I’m much better at getting than giving,” he answered vaguely.
“Sirius,” Remus chided but a quiet, almost sullen look had come over Sirius and Remus immediately quieted.
“It’s yet to be given,” he replied quietly then offered them all a brief smile. “But that’s a rather dull response. Music and dancing that’s what we need to cap off the evening.” Without waiting for a reply, he pulled Hermione onto the dance floor her giggles carrying them all across the room.
Chapter 29: A Library of Sorts
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Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Library of Sorts
Hermione tightened her grip on the back of Sirius’ shirt as he climbed the stairs. He glanced at her over his shoulder, but she couldn’t discern a thing. His happy mood was gone, though, replaced by a melancholy air that she couldn’t quite understand. “Are you all right?” she asked once they had reached the top of the stairs. He turned on her abruptly, pulling her into his arms in an unexpected kiss that held more emotion than she knew he had.
“You’re scaring me,” she whispered when he finally drew away.
“I know,” he answered nodding but offered no smile or explanation. “Come, this way.” He shuffled her toward a darkened hallway, one she’d never quite had the nerve to venture down in the time she’d been at Grimmauld. He hesitated at a doorway, a look Hermione could only imagine as a goodbye passing his face before he offered a faint smile. “Nothing dangerous behind this door, I promise. Well, not for you anyway.”
“Sirius-" Hermione couldn’t help but hold him back. “Whatever it is…”
“Nothing so dramatic, my dear.” He nudged her slightly. “Go on.”
Hermione’s eyes squinted at the darkness of the room, even the candle providing little light. Dark wood bookshelves, possibly cherry, lined every wall of the room. Desks of various kinds – plain metal, ornately carved wood, rusted iron- were scattered haphazardly around the room leaving her little room to walk. Figurines of all shapes and sizes littered the room, not an inch of space being left vacant. Dust billowed up off the ceramics and scattered to the floor as wind from her moves caused the stale air to stir.
“What is this place?” she asked as she wandered around. She turned to Sirius who was leaning against the door of the room, his fists buried deep in his pockets.
“A library of sorts…don’t touch that!”
Hermione jerked her hand away from a golden goblet perched on the edge of a table. She turned a wary look his direction. “What do you mean library?”
“The objects, all of them,” Sirius shrugged around the room to indicate, unwilling to pull his hands from his trousers. “They are memory collectors.”
“Objects that are used to hold the memories of a person once they’ve passed on.” Hermione recited. “Often used by nobility to make sure family knowledge and traditions are passed on to the next generation. Once started by a founding member of the family, each dying person receives a collector automatically.”
“Whether they want one or not,” Sirius murmured nodding. “They are intended to preserve memories in case a family member dies an untimely death. Memories are automatically collected by magic in case they die before important information can be passed along.”
“You,” she whispered. “You are here.” She glanced around the room, the littering of hundreds of objects overwhelming her. She had almost given up when she spotted it…back in a far corner, behind several ornate vases and talismans. A tiny polished wood figurine of a lion with a snake perched precariously on its back. The snake was curled in a ball, looking almost as if had fallen asleep while on watch.
“Very perceptive,” he nodded at her unasked question. “It holds every memory I have until Juliette brought me back.”
“All of them?” she asked quietly, stepping away from the lure of it to return to his side. “Even…”
“All of them.” He slipped his hands out of his pockets, rubbing her arms as if she was cold. “Hermione,” he hesitated. “I have nothing else to give.”
“Sirius—" Hermione shook her head. She knew what this meant to him…he was the most private person she’d ever met in her life. He encapsulated his life just like he compartmentalized his friends. If you weren’t there at the time, you just had no idea what had gone on in his life. That he was offering her a chance to know him, to know everything that made him who he was, made her feel completely inadequate.
“This is partially self serving, Hermione. Please don’t get me wrong. I have no desire for anyone to see those things. If there was a way to destroy it I would but there’s not. Anyone, including Bella and Draco and whoever else is still out there, has the ability to steal the only thing that is truly mine.” His gaze softened. “Do you understand?”
“For reasons you’ll come to see, there are memories he can’t know.” Sirius murmured. “You can turn me down. I’ll understand.”
“You are offering me the truth?” she questioned. “About everything?”
He nodded and she could feel his body tense next to hers. “You believe I’ll want nothing to do with you, don’t you?”
“We all do things we aren’t proud of in hindsight. Some of us, like myself, make a career out of bad mistakes and stupid childish whims. I hate who I was. I can’t imagine you will be any different.”
“But why?” Hermione asked confused. “Are you trying to push me away? That’s not necessary, you know. All you have to do is say—" her words were cut off as Sirius kissed her tenderly.
“Because you deserve the truth,” he whispered, “and nothing less.”
Hermione nodded, approaching the figurine slowly as if it might bite. “What will happen?”
“All you have to do is touch it,” he explained. “It will be instant. Not even long enough for you to take a breath. You will just suddenly have all the memories as if they were always there.”
She bit her lower lip in anxiety. He was offering her a gift she couldn’t refuse…her curiosity alone wouldn’t let her. But somehow she knew it was something more. He was offering her a part of him that he’d never been willing to share with anyone. She glanced at him one more time, his face unreadable but his unease evident in the stiff way he was holding himself. Closing her eyes she took hold of the figurine and inhaled a deep breath.
Flashes of light…
Collages of memories…
Faces of people she’d never known…
They flew around her at an astonishing pace, making her dizzy with mental and emotional overload. In the time of a breath, though, it was over. She opened her eyes slowly, her eyes meeting Sirius’ worried gaze.
“Hermione? Are you all right?” he asked worriedly. He wanted to step toward her but the expectation of her hatred held him back. How could she not hate him after the life he’d led?
She nodded and picked herself up off the floor, the now useless figurine gripped tightly in her hand. She glanced to Sirius, incapable of verbalizing anything that she’d just witnessed.
“I’ll go,” he whispered and hurried out the door before she could reply.
“Sirius!” she rushed to the hallway and as he turned, the battered and worn look on his face caused her heart to break all over again. She stood still a moment, trying to gauge what the look on his eyes might mean, but he had once again managed to drive the emotion off his face before she could decipher it. His hands were once again slipped into his pockets, clinched fists that seemed to be gently pounding the inner fabric being the only indication of his unease.
She lifted her foot-barely lifted it-to move toward him, and he backed away, running into the wall in his distracted state. “Sirius,” she said more softly and tried to move toward him again.
With only one step, though, Remus materialized between them. His arms were outstretched on either side...a move of protection she had seen him do with Harry hundreds of times over the years. He was acting as a shield for Sirius, Hermione knew, what she didn’t understand was why or how he even knew Sirius might need one at this particular moment. Behind Remus’ protection, Sirius slipped away, without so much as a look in her direction.
“Let him go, Hermione,” he murmured quietly. He lowered his arms as if sensing Sirius had retreated and took her by the elbow. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, no, I mean—" Hermione hadn’t noticed she was shaking. “I don’t know.”
“Come, you need rest.” Remus steered her out of the hallway and toward her own room. She could feel the tension in his normal consoling touch and it took her a few minutes to gather her thoughts enough to understand.
“He’s gone, hasn’t he?”
“For Bellatrix?” Hermione asked, afraid she already knew the answer.
“I don’t understand.”
“Then you’re a fool,” Remus whispered, “because I understand and I don’t have anything near the gift he just gave you.”
Author’s Note: Did you like it? A bit different I know but I hope you enjoyed it. This was one of the first scenes ever written for this story and I’m so happy that after a year it’s finally posted! I hope you liked it and thanks for all your support and wonderful comments!
Chapter 30: Understanding Sirius
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Chapter Thirty: Understanding Sirius
Hermione tossed uneasily in her bed. Draco was gone. Sirius was gone. How on earth had she managed to run both of them off on the very same week? She pulled the covers tighter around her, images of Sirius’ past still tumbling through her mind. His time with the Marauders had been so wonderful to him…he held onto that so dearly. And Lily…he’d given her up for James. Hermione had sifted through the memories for that first, she had to know if Sirius had ever truly been in love. All she had encountered was Lily, though, which had seemed more like safety and security than love. Was it possible he had never been in real love?
The memories that had flooded through her had taught her so much about him…moments from his childhood and his terrible vile parents; visions of Grimmauld in its greatness. It was the times at Hogwarts that were most vivid, though, full of life and happiness. She couldn’t help but blush at some of his memories…his first kiss, his first sexual encounter and later ones that would have made even a sailor redden. Amazingly to her, he remembered them all. He remembered things about Remus, slight touches in James’ absence, that Hermione couldn’t quite decipher…she had no reference only the memory, so she wasn’t sure if it had been mere teenage experimentation or if he might have possibly been later in life. Either way, she knew they had been loving and tender, as if Remus had taken Sirius under his wing to help console him over one of the many dark events of his lifetime. It had explained to her not only why Sirius was the way he was but, in a way, taught her about Remus and a part of his life he’d never been willing to share. It was almost as if Remus had adopted Sirius as his own and she finally understood why Remus was so terrified at the idea of losing him again. And the secret keeper…now she understood, really understood, why Sirius had never forgiven himself.
She kicked off the covers in frustration. How could she possibly sleep with everything that had happened tonight? How long would he be gone? Knowing Sirius, she knew it wouldn’t take long…he would know exactly how to find Bella and he wouldn’t waste precious moments on conversation. His memories had told her that…once his mind had been made, his resolve could not be deterred. He would march into her, raise his wand and all would be over. He would not give her a second chance to threaten those that he held dear. Sitting up and letting her legs dangle off the edge of the bed, Hermione tried to quell the what-ifs that raged through her mind. What if Bella was expecting him, what if she wasn’t alone, what if she found him before he found her?
A slight movement at the edge of her vision caught her off guard. Now she was seeing things, she cursed herself as she glanced at the clock. Everyone would be arriving in just a few hours…where had all that time gone?
“Is Draco with you?”
From somewhere in her darkened room, he was there. Had he not really left or was he already returning? Hermione’s stomach fluttered. “Of course not.”
He moved slowly, as if in a daze. She could see no visible scars on him, and his hair was only ruffled from the hand he kept dragging through it. Dust and light snow fell from his cloak as he walked, the only physical sign that he had indeed been off somewhere else. But he wouldn’t meet her gaze and that told her enough. He sank down in front of her, burying his face in her lap. Her hand hesitated in mid-air before resting on the top of his head. He wasn’t crying, wasn’t even emotionally spent from the look of him, but the resignation of what he had done seemed to have enveloped him. She wasn’t sure how long they sat that way—his exhausted face pressed deeply into her bare legs—but she couldn’t bear the thought of pushing him away for even a moment.
His soft breathing had almost lulled her to sleep when she felt it...the soft silky slide of his lips along her flesh. His hands slid across her thighs, pushing the already short fabric of her nightgown higher up. He didn’t ask permission, didn’t even glance her direction for approval and that alone gave her chills. His mouth traced slowly along her skin, first sliding up one thigh and then down the other as he nuzzled her gently with his growing beard. Her breath caught in her throat as he scooted her further back on the bed, his hands drifting aimlessly along her curves as he shifted his body to lay on top of her. His touch was light, almost irritatingly so, and Hermione gripped his shirt tightly in her fists in at attempt to pull him toward her. Her movement accomplished nothing, though, not even a change in his breathing pattern as he continued to slip his tongue along the curves of her neck. His fingers tightened around her breasts, causing her to let out a tiny gasp. His mouth moved to cover hers, the pressure of his lips on hers and his hot breath causing her to almost suffocate under his demands.
Sirius undressed casually as if he was stepping into the shower, his movements seeming painstakingly slow to Hermione. She wanted to grab for him, pull his body into hers and show him the desperation with which she wanted to be a part of him. But, he would have nothing of it. His caresses were smooth but never tentative, well-practiced yet never rehearsed. She let her fingers slip along the muscles in his arms, across the sharp angles of his shoulder blades that arched rhythmically as he moved. When he finally did come for her, she knew no other way to describe it…his body possessed her.
Hermione lay silently in his arms, his fingers gently tracing the curve of her waist. She wasn’t sure if she should say something or if he preferred silence…she’d known him to enjoy both but tonight had not been like any other night.
“Ask me, Hermione. I’m only giving you a limited time to come up for air.”
Whether it was a threat or a promise, she wasn’t sure. She considered the many things she wanted to ask him…about his past, her past, Remus, James, even Harry, but none of them seemed to be appropriate after the tender, almost reverent, love making they had just shared. “Are you all right?”
“That’s perhaps the one question I didn’t want you to ask,” he murmured silkily.
Hermione rolled to face him, kissing his chest as she rested her body on his. “Then let’s forget I mentioned it.”
She kissed him tenderly but he was hesitant this time. He pulled inches away from her. “I’m not,” he said quietly, “and you should probably know that going in.”
“Sirius,” she smiled gently, “I knew that the moment you left.”
Chapter 31: An Old Mentor
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Chapter Thirty-One: An Old Mentor
He was too tired to fight, to argue or even analyze. Too tired to be rational and think about how wrong his running to Hermione actually was. But staring out the frost covered window into the dark as he sipped his coffee, the caffeine was beginning to unfog his senses.
What exactly had he been thinking? Running to her with no idea whether or not Draco was beside her. How would he have explained that? Just appearing in her bedroom in the middle of the night? How could he have been so careless?
And Bella. He had killed his cousin tonight. Not that the relationship particularly meant anything to him but the virtue of life certainly did. Was he as heartless as people seemed to think? Perhaps he was being too hard on Hermione, pushing her to face facts from her past that she wasn’t yet ready for.
Or maybe he was just looking for a way out. The commonality, the normal life, the routine – he’d never done well in these settings. Something usually fouled everything up and if it didn’t, he seemed to be able to cause enough disruptions of his own. He could just fly away. Take off to some exotic locale and forget about Hermione and Draco and Juliette and Remus. He could do without them…he was sure of it. Exile was something he didn’t like but it did seem to be the one thing he excelled at. And they could certainly handle life without him – they’d been doing it for over a decade.
“Sirius,” Hermione’s soft voice was beside him, her hand slipping into his. “You’re shivering. Come back to bed.”
When he failed to move immediately, her eyes narrowed in the darkness. “What is it?”
He opened his mouth to respond but the flickering Christmas lights from outside the house were bouncing off her face, contorting it into a freakish ribbon of multi-colored strands. Her eyes were still narrowed on him, as if waiting for the bad news to hit and he wavered.
It would be so easy…to stand here and insult her. To make her so angry she would never want to see him again. There were a million tiny things he could say knowing that they would cut through her. He had no doubt - he alone knew her soul. He could build her up or destroy her in a few simple words. He could offer her security or strip away everything with mere syllables. Or, perhaps, words weren’t even necessary. He could break his grip and stride away. He could storm out the door and cause a scene.
But what purpose would it serve? To protect her? She was in no danger. Confusion and heartbreak perhaps but no danger.
Heartbreak. Sirius scoffed. As if she was using him for anything other than kinship and a roll in the hay. They had chemistry, he knew that, and he knew she was clever enough to take advantage of it whatever chance she got. Not that he was complaining, of course, but it would be nice to have something like Remus had – something beyond friendship and sex. Something that didn’t have to be hidden.
What on earth was he saying? Wasn’t this what every man dreamed of? A warm and willing woman anytime he wanted with no strings attached? Nothing tying him down or weighing on him. He wanted this…he started this.
No, he shook his head. Leaving would solve nothing for her but it would protect him. He was in over his head and Remus knew it. Hadn’t he even warned him? Remus didn’t want to pick up the pieces when she chose Draco over him. But, hell, when had Remus ever been right about anything? So, he was going to be upset and pissed off when she married Draco. He’d get over it…he’d done it once before already, hadn’t he?
He had learned the hard way – he’d much prefer to have her for a few moments than to never have her at all. Broken hearts be damned.
He turned toward her, cupping her face in his hands. He let his lips brush hers with a soft, feathery touch. “Happy Christmas, my dear.”
Hermione’s face melted into a relaxed smile. “I’ve got you a present you know,” she murmured, padding across the floor in her bare feet. “Mind you, it’s not a statute full of memories that will make you blush or anything but I suppose it’s the thought that counts.”
“Is it?” Sirius asked, feeling his heart return to normal from the race he’d just lost to himself. He sank down onto the bed, as she climbed on to sit next to him. Smiling, she handed him a box wrapped in red tissue paper, little stars moving around the paper as if in a Christmas dance.
“W-where…” Sirius’ voice faltered as he stared at the gift. Tangled under the tissue paper lay a single framed photograph. Harry was standing by himself, quite solemn, his green eyes flashing brilliantly in what Sirius could only imagine was a late summer sun. His cloak was billowing with the wind, one hand clutching his wand and another hanging loosely at his side. A brief smile would appear and then disappear only to be replaced with the melancholic look that was so characteristically Harry. “He, he looks so old,” Sirius managed, his fingers running across the photo with Harry’s tiny movements.
He was not the rangly boy he remembered but a strong, tall, capable man. His muscles had filled out, his shoulders now broadened with time. His face wore the heartbreak of a thousand lifetimes and Sirius couldn’t help but swallow hard.
“He was only twenty-three. We were in Bulgaria maybe or Romania, I really can’t recall. It was the day before his birthday,” Hermione offered. “Most photographs I had were destroyed ages ago in one way or another. I tried to find one where he looked a bit more gleeful but it seems Harry wasn’t ever very gleeful when cameras were around.”
“No, I suppose he didn’t live a very happy life, did he?” Sirius closed his eyes, guilt coursing through him. He loved seeing Harry, felt a surge of pride at seeing the man he had become but the solemnity that had to have engulfed Harry’s life filled him with anger and despair. “I did this you know. I should have been there, I should have – “
Hermione tugged the photo out of his hands. “I didn’t give it to you so you could berate yourself, Sirius. He loved you. Even the brief time you two had together meant the world to him. He carried it with him every day. No one, absolutely no one, is responsible except Voldemort.”
“Indeed?” Sirius’ countered. “Then why do you carry all that guilt around with you?”
“Don’t try and analyze me.”
Sirius turned away, unwilling to let her bait him into an argument for mere distraction. He wanted to be miserable…he deserved to be miserable. “I fuckin’ hate the holidays.”
Draco huddled under his cloak, pulling the edges of his hood tighter around his face to obscure it from view. He kicked aside a drunk lying in the street, glanced quickly in all directions, then stepped inside the dilapidated building. He threaded through the stairwells, carefully stepping over holes that showed through to the floors below. He glanced up at the rusted metal number, raised his knuckles to knock and then hesitated.
An image of Juliette passed through his mind…her asking him not to leave tonight, almost as if she knew he was going somewhere he shouldn’t. He had smiled, kissed her as usual, and then debated his options. But he knew no one else to turn to.
He rapped heavily, the door opening immediately. He recoiled at the aged and bitter man standing before him. “Severus?”
“You shouldn’t be here,” he hissed and tried to slam the door.
Draco shoved his foot in the doorframe, his eyes searching his old mentor. “I had no where else to turn or I assure you I wouldn’t have come.”
He could feel Severus breaking into his mind but made no attempt to stop him. He had nothing to hide from him, after all…Severus knew everything. Draco held his gaze steadily, letting him probe until a vision of Sirius flashed across his mind. He broke the connection immediately but had not been quite quick enough - the startled look on Severus’ face proof of that.
“May I come in?”
Severus nodded without replying, backing away from the door to allow him entrance. He waved to a torn and weathered chair in the corner. “You take a big risk coming here. You put not only yourself but me at risk as well.”
“I don’t fear my father, Severus. You should know that.”
“But you do fear Sirius Black,” he commented, leveling a gaze at him. “Perhaps you should learn to fear them both.”
Draco nodded and sank into the chair, a cloud of dust rising to surround him. As it settled, he turned a pained look Severus’ direction. “As usual, you are probably right.”
Severus sank down opposite him, his hand rubbing the stubble on his face. He waited patiently but Draco seemed unable to verbalize anything on his mind. “How long has he been back?”
“Too long,” Draco responded quietly. “You’ll leave him alone, Severus. He doesn’t even know you are alive and I’ll keep it that way. You have to assure me you’ll leave him alone.”
A small smile crept across his face, the nearest thing to a laugh he could manage. “That’s not what your mind says you want.”
“Yes, well, when have you given much stock to my intelligence?” he countered. “I’ll deal with Sirius.”
“The only other reason for your appearance that I can deduce from your limited brain function is the lovely Ms. Granger.” Severus sent him a dark glare. “Surely you haven’t risked both our lives for the sake of her.”
“I’ve asked her to marry me, Severus.”
“I’m sure that’s endeared your father to you even more.”
Draco couldn’t hide the grimace that passed across his face and is old school professor cackled loudly. The laughed died out quickly, though, replaced with a fit of coughing that made Draco’s heart wrench with both pity and disgust.
“She’s a site better than living in some shack with only myself for company,” Draco spat and stood up to pace the room. “Let’s not waste both our times, alright? You know why I’m here.”
Severus lowered his eyes, a brief moment of regret passing over him that Draco could sense even from across the dusty room. “I can offer you no advice, Draco. I’ve nothing left to offer anyone.”
“You know me better than anyone – "
“You are no longer the person I knew. The boy I knew loved himself above all others, he was ambitious and would never settle for less than he believed he was entitled,” Severus whispered. “That boy is long gone.”
“Enough!” he sat up in the chair. “Even I have better things to do that worry about your love life, Draco.”
“Hermione is none of your concern either.” Draco shuffled uneasily. “I need information.”
Severus head twisted slightly to the side, an inquisitive look passing over him before he could hide it. “Indeed?”
Draco sank down opposite him, knowing that trusting Severus was like playing roulette. He could and possibly would, turn on him in an instant. He also knew he had made a vow to his mother years ago. Severus would not betray him. Nor would he turn him away. He had no choice and they both knew it.
“I need to know about a Black family heirloom. What its properties are, how it works, what type of magic it’s bonded with.”
“And what makes you think I would know anything about a Black family heirloom?” Severus’ eyes narrowed, his voice a low growl. “Try asking your dear friend Sirius.”
“I’m asking you,” Draco returned. “If my mother was around, of course, I’d be happy to ask her but as you know—“
“Fine,” Severus cut him off. “Tell me and don’t waste my time with nonsense.”
Draco nodded. “It’s a locket. A locket that makes wishes become real.”
A small wry grin spread across Severus’ haggard face. “Yes, Draco. I know it well.”
Chapter 32: Relief of a Woman
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Chapter Thirty-Two: Relief of a Woman
Sirius could feel her slip under the sheets beside him. The rustle of fabric roused him from sleep and the mix of vanilla and peppermint that clouded his senses could be no one else. He rolled over on his side, her tear stained face catching him off guard. His fingers brushed away the wisps of hair that were clinging to her face, then he slipped his hand between the clinched fists held tightly to her chin. “What’s happened?” he asked softly, trying to keep his voice steady.
“I just can’t do it anymore,” she choked the words out, her emotions tumbling out of control. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“Draco’s back,” Sirius guessed, trying to ignore the warmth of her body next to his but when she nodded, she moved her body closer to his, burying her face in his chest. He could feel the softness of her skin, the slight dampness of her hair, letting him know she had just come from the shower. Her clothes were still damp and he realized she had come to him in a rush, without thought. That she had somehow found a way to trust him so much made Sirius ill, knowing his body was betraying her with each move closer to him that she made. He tried to move away but she was too quick for him.
“No,” she whispered softly, pulling him back to her without raising her face from his chest. “I won’t let you do it.”
“Hermione—" He didn’t want to explain to her what her closeness was doing to him. He didn’t want to have to admit that weakness to her. She’d been here before…she should understand.
“Be embarrassed all you like, Sirius,” she murmured, “I’m not letting you push me away that easy.”
So, she did understand. The thought made Sirius smile and his tension depart. “I can’t be objective about Draco, you know that.”
“I know,” she took a deep steadying breath then rolled onto her back, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips. “Damn, Sirius, why does everything have to be so complicated?”
“It’s not,” he chuckled. “You just think too damn much.”
She turned back to him, watching him closely as he stared at the ceiling in a pathetic attempt to calm himself. She had run from Draco, sent him away without a second thought. But nothing could have prepared her for this. She didn’t know why she had run to Sirius’ room…she’d foolishly stepped out of the shower, yanked on her clothes and ran to him without so much as a hesitation. But now, with him lying so close to her, his every breath tugging the sheets they shared, she suddenly realized why she had come. She wasn’t running from Draco but to Sirius and the thought terrified her.
With sudden nerve she hadn’t felt since their first night together, she moved closer to him, resting her arms on either side of his chest. “You’re right. I do.”
She leaned toward him, her body resting lightly on his bare chest as she pressed her lips into his. She continued to kiss him, waiting for him to show her some sign of reprocity. She had almost given up when she felt him move. Just a slight move, an educated move that caused her hands to slip from underneath her and cause her body to crash heavily into his. She let out a gasp as she felt the rigid muscles of his chest press into hers. His hands held her face in place, though, his lips pressing into hers with a depth she’d never felt in her life. It wasn’t that he was more experienced…it was more as if he knew what she wanted and longed for mere seconds before she even thought it herself. She could barely think of where she wanted his hands and they were already there, she could wish his lips to be on her neck and they would already have arrived. The lack of control caused her heart to race, and her senses to go into overload. With each of his moves that she tried to anticipate, she found herself being surprised at every turn. That she seemed to be unable to predict him infuriated her and she couldn’t help but laugh, a loud gut wrenching laugh that tickled her toes.
Embarrassed and afraid she had offended him, Hermione clutched her hand to her mouth, a look akin to terror crossing her face. But, when she lifted her eyes to his, she was met with only an amused smile that, for the first time since she’d really known him, reached all the way to his eyes. No dark shadows, no hidden meanings, just pure unhindered happiness. “You are impossible,” she rolled away from him with a laugh.
“I infuriate you, don’t I?” He asked, refusing to let her off so easily. Rolling onto his side, he let his hand slid under the covers, his fingers tracing lightly against her curve at her waist.
“Yes,” she tried to sound mean but his light touches were in all the places she wanted them to be and it came out more as a plea. His hand gripped tightly around her breast, his mouth biting hard against the flesh on her neck.
“Good,” he murmured as he shifted his weight onto her body, causing a gasp of passion to escape her lips, “you are so much more fun when you hate me.”
He didn’t pause to let her say anything…afraid she might say words he wasn’t willing to hear. He hesitated in his movements to allow her the chance to take control but, in a brief moment of unmasked emotion, he realized what she really wanted was what he was offering—a few hours where she didn’t have to think about anything and even if she tried it would accomplish nothing—so he obliged. He managed to make her laugh and cry in the same breaths, moan for more and yell stop at the same time and the pure, honest laughter he’d forgotten even existed made him physically weak.
Sirius lay on the edge of the bed, his breathing slowly returning to normal after hours spent tormenting Hermione. Her clothes lay in shreds across the room, her naked body lying on top of the covers as if she hadn’t a care in the world. His senses were returning to normal, though, and the madness of what he had just done was starting to tear at him. He could feel Hermione moving closer to him, her hands slipping under the sheets to caress his chest and he couldn’t help but chuckle. “No, my dear, I’m spent.”
“You’re shaking,” she murmured, her hands tightening around his biceps. She knew he wanted her to get under the covers, or at least put on clothes, but she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. He had called her on too many things the last few months to allow him to get away from her so easily.
“I’m fine,” he assured her, taking her hand off his chest and kissing it lightly. He tried to pull the sheet up around her but she deftly avoided his movements. He had to admire her persistence and finally gave up. His eyes wandered her body, the soft marks he’d left on her body giving him a vague sense of pride. He laughed inwardly at his foolishness and wondered how, even for a brief moment, he could have been jealous of a boy half his age. The thought made him grimace…what the hell was he doing?
“Ah, I knew it would come,” she whispered, moving him and letting her lips slid along the ripples in his chest.
“What?” he tried to shirk away but couldn’t bring himself to move too far from her touches. He had missed her more than he counted on.
“That guilt you carry with you. I wondered how long it would take to surface.” She smiled genuinely, and then stretched up to place a soft, tender kiss on his lips. “I do thank you for keeping in check this long.”
“I was born guilty,” he offered.
Hermione stretched lazily, reveling in the feel of the burgundy silk sheets slipping against her bare skin. The soft caresses of the sheets caused her to reach for Sirius but she wasn’t surprised to find him missing. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, a soft orange red light in the corner of the room caught her attention. It brightened and then waned and Hermione smiled.
“Smoking can kill you,” she murmured just to let him know she was awake.
“I’ve died twice, Hermione, and neither was for such a mundane occurrence as my health.”
Even in the darkness, Hermione could feel his eyes on her. Circling on her stomach, she moved to lay her head at the end of the bed, so she could see him better. Propping her face up on her hands, she tilted her head at him quizzically. His broad chest gleamed under the few moonbeams that snaked through the heavy curtains. He was sitting leisurely, his trousers on and zipped but still unbuttoned, one leg propped up on the nearby writing table. She couldn’t recall ever seeing him more relaxed or at ease with his surroundings. “You’re dressed. Are you going somewhere?”
“Not at all.”
Hermione frowned. She’d never been with someone who would get out of bed and get himself dressed knowing full well he would be back in bed with her shortly. Slipping out from underneath the sheets, she padded to him and climbed into his lap. “Is there a reason you’re dressed, then?”
Sirius chuckled. “Would you have walked across the room naked to ask me something if I wasn’t?”
“And just what does that mean?” Hermione ruffled.
“Nothing so devilishly clever as your mind might imagine,” he answered, wrapping his arm around her waist to prevent her from moving. “Rarely is a woman so relieved of her inhibitions as when a man is safely concealed.”
“Come back to bed, Sirius,” she murmured, dropping her head to rest on his shoulder. “You’ve avoided me long enough already.”
“Careful, I might assume you’ve been missing me during my self imposed abstinence.”
“You’d assume correctly, then,” she whispered and could feel his body tense in her arms.
He crushed out his cigarette. “No, I think I’ll go find food.” He kissed her head but made no effort to move her off his lap.
“You’d trade time with me for something as basic as food?” she asked in mock offense. “How horribly crude.”
He laughed. “Yes, well, you’re an irritating conversationalist after sex and besides, I’m starving.”
Hermione punched him playfully in the chest and conjured him a tin of pumpkin pasties. “Next excuse for deserting me?”
He had reached in a grabbed a handful before he realized what she’d done. He hesitated a moment, his hand still hanging in the container as his eyes met hers. Realization of what she’d done flooded through her and she jumped from his lap, the tin clattering to the floor. Sirius rushed after her as she yanked on one of his shirts, not bothering to take the time to button it.
“I have to go,” She managed, trying to brush past him. He refused to let her by though, his body easily blocking her path. “No, please, Sirius, not now. Let me go.”
But he refused. Cupping her face in his, his kissed her tenderly, all thoughts of leaving her now forgotten. He could feel her tension melt away with his kiss and could taste the salt of her tears on his lips. Her hands slipped instinctively around his neck, pulling him closer to her as the memories of why she had stopped doing magic washed over her. With sudden comprehension of her reliance on him and what it meant, she pulled inches away from.
“Sirius, this isn’t…” she fought for the words. “This is different. It’s not just…”
Slipping his hand into hers, he led her to the edge of the bed, knowing what he was about to do was wrong but somehow knowing that nothing else felt right. He kissed her gently, his voice warm on her face. “At least we’re clear on that,” he murmured before slipping off her shirt and laying her gently back on the bed.
His hands stroked her hair consolingly, waiting patiently for her breathing and the wild thumping in her chest to dissipate. When she seemed to have calmed, he pulled her tightly in his arms, his voice a tiny whisper. “Will you tell me why you chose not to do magic?”
Hermione didn’t miss the questioning in his voice, as if he almost didn’t feel he had a right to ask. She clung tightly to him, the memories washing over her as if nothing else in the world existed.
“Ginny,” she whispered quietly. “It’s my fault. Everything that happened with Ginny.”
Hermione’s broken sobs were punctuated by tiny bits of her story, Sirius never stopping her but never prodding her on either. As if he didn’t care how long it took, as if they had all the time in the world for her to get through this single solitary blackness that had blanketed her for so many years.
Chapter 33: The Maiden's Tale
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Chapter Thirty-Three: The Maiden’s Tale
Sirius paced the floor around the bed, biting the inside corner of his lip in deep concentration. It wasn’t what Hermione had told him that was tearing at his soul but more what he had made up his mind to do. Upon his return, he had worked hard to open himself to her, to give her nothing but the truth no matter what it cost him just in the hope that she would one day realize her past was nothing to be ashamed of. But if her story was true, Hermione and Draco had caused Ginny’s death and, ultimately, Ron and Harry’s as well.
He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t believe it. It was all too neatly packaged and nothing, he knew, was ever quite so easy in the magical world. There was something nagging him about her story, something perhaps she didn’t even realize had played a part in the whole ordeal. He tripped slightly on the Persian rug and, as he grabbed the banister to keep from pitching forward, a vision fluttered into the recesses of his mind.
Peter. They had never counted on Peter. They had been young and arrogant and believed they had accounted for all options. But some things couldn’t be planned for—a childish mistake, a careless oversight, a friend whose loyalty was up for bid. They hadn’t considered those things and, for it, James and Lily had lost their lives. What if the same thing had happened with Ginny? Something had to have gone wrong. Something neither Hermione nor Draco had ever planned for or anticipated. He couldn’t believe Hermione was responsible for their deaths.
His eyes drifted to her sleeping form, her bare freckled shoulders visible just above the sheets. Her arm was curled lazily under her pillow, a crooked position that she’d certainly regret when she awoke. Her mass of hair was spread across the bed and Sirius squeezed his eyes shut to block out visions of the varied caresses he had shared with her…soft, comforting ones; wild, insatiable ones; touches so dizzying that neither had been able to determine where one body ended and the other began. His stomach was queasy, his head feeling faint. He wouldn’t believe it. He refused to believe the woman he was now sharing his bed with was the person responsible for his godson’s death.
He waved his wand near her then hesitated, struggling with the idea of putting a spell on her. It was a breach of trust, something you never did to someone you cared about. A furrow came over his eyes, knowing he perhaps shouldn’t be caring so deeply anyway. With a stifling breath, he quickly waved his wand across her body to keep her from awakening before he lost his nerve. He had to find answers. Not just for himself but for her as well.
“Juliette.” Sirius shook her gently. “Juliette?”
“Sirius?” she asked groggily, tiny fists rubbing her eyes as she struggled to sit up. “What’s wrong? Has something—"
“Stop being your mum,” he whispered. “I need a favor, darling.”
“It is an adventure?” she asked, now fully awake. She scooted over so he could sink down beside her.
“Not exactly.” He shook his head as he straightened one of the tiny yellow bows on her nightgown distractedly. “I need to ask you something about Remus.”
She frowned and batted his nervous fiddling away. “He’s not being a poop again, is he?”
“Always,” he chuckled. “You know the stories he tells you? The bedtime stories?”
“About the princes and knights,” she answered nodding. “But I know who they really are. You and James and—"
He patted her hand to quiet her. “Yes, but I need you to think very very hard for me. Will you do that?”
“Do you recall any stories that weren’t about us? I mean, any one of us…Harry, James, your mum—"
Her brow furrowed in concentration.
“Perhaps one you didn’t quite understand?” he prodded and her eyes lit up immediately.
“The maiden!” she exclaimed. “The one with the love potion!”
Sirius exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Can you remember it? Word for word, it’s very important.”
“No,” she shook her head. “He told it to me right after you come back.”
He offered her a faint smile to try and hide his disappointment. She was too observant for him and patted his hand lightly.
“Don’t be sad, it’s okay, I taped it.”
She nodded and reached into a drawer beside her bed. She pulled out a tiny tape no bigger than her hand. “Muggles have these things called tape recorders. And you can record things to play them back later. I taped some of Uncle Remus’ stories so I can listen to them when he’s not here.”
Sirius turned the tape over in his hand. “The story is on here?”
“Sure,” she answered and pulled out another device from the drawer. “Just put it in here and press play. You’ll hear everything.”
He looked hesitantly at her, her green eyes looking back at him with a trust and love that made him far weaker than he had ever expected. Mistaking his hesitation as confusion, she hugged him. “It’s okay. I’ll show you how to do it.”
He nodded silently, his eyes moving away from her as the tape began to play.
Once upon a time many, many moons ago, there lived a beautiful fair maiden. Her head was crowned with gleaming red hair, her face colored with freckles from the sun. Unlike most maidens, she was vivacious and full of spirit. She was brave and loyal and loved adventures. The maiden had many brothers and sisters and they all lived in a small but loving home. Being the youngest, the older siblings rarely had time for her and she often felt sad and lonely. Always trusting, one day she accepted a gift from a stranger. The gift was very special—a wondrous book that would write back to her whenever she touched her quill to the page.
“Sounds like dark magic,” Juliette interrupted.
“Indeed it was,” Remus answered before continuing.
She was pulled into a darkness like she’d never known. She did things she didn’t understand—hurt people in ways she would never have imagined possible. Page by page the book began to take away the very breath of her soul. Until one day, a brave boy found her. She was near death but he destroyed the book and saved her. As time passed and years waned, they grew to love each other. But many things stood between them. Histories, prophecies, stubborn pride—all of these things began to tear them apart. It was a sad, sad time for them and their friends. Their friends watched helplessly as the two tried to stay together but seemed unable to overcome the obstacles they faced. The couple was always torn apart by something.
Then, one day, in the darkest of night, two friends who loved them very much decided they knew how to help. They would magic a love potion. Not any love potion but a potion that would bind them together no matter what tried to tear them apart. They would be able to overcome anything and be together always.
“A potion couldn’t do that,” Juliette admonished. “But there’s a charm—"
Remus chuckled. “Only imagined ones, Juliette.”
“It didn’t work,” he cut her off. “And something terrible tore them apart. Their love was gone and never to return. Shortly after, they both perished.”
“That’s a terrible story!” she chided.
“Not all magic is pretty, Juliette,” he hesitated. “Sirius’ coming back is a blessing but it may not be pretty, right?”
Juliette laughed. “I like him. He makes mommy’s eyes flash.”
Remus laughed. “Just wait. Knowing Sirius, he’ll have her blowing steam out her ears soon enough.”
Sirius reached over and clicked off the tape. He moved it slowly to the bedside, trying carefully not to disturb Juliette, who had fallen asleep during the replay of the story. He tugged the covers around her, his eyes closing in silent thanks for her presence.
“Sirius,” she mumbled near deep sleep, “the charm exists, you know.”
He nodded, ignoring the gnawing pain rising within him. Remus hadn’t believed her…he hadn’t listened. If he’d only listened—
He leaned down to kiss her head. “I know, darling. I know it exists.”
“But it’s in—"
“The room where you aren’t supposed to go,” he said with a nod. “Yes. I know that, too. I won’t tell your mum. Go to sleep, darling. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Chapter 34: When Memories Come Calling
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Author’s Note: It had to happen, didn’t it? Remus and Sirius having the dreaded talk they’ve both been putting off for ten plus years? Well, I figured they had to eventually. I apologize for the length of this chapter – it’s quite a bit longer than the normal ones I’ve posted with this fic but there really wasn’t a good breaking point. Also, I want to say thank you to all of you who have come back from the ashes, so to speak, to help support me and keep my heart swelling with your kind reviews and amazing discussions (not to mention insights) over at the forum. Writing is often a private pursuit but all of you have made me feel like family and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Chapter Thirty-Four: When Memories Come Calling
Sirius dropped a piece of ice into his glass, a soft tinkling sound echoing through the Grimmauld kitchen as he stirred it absently. The eerie silence of the house made him guess it was near midnight but in his current mindset, he really couldn’t tell. Hermione had made the kitchen livable – almost welcoming even – but Sirius still could not bear to look at the dismal surroundings. So he sat alone in the darkness, resembling more a ghost than a real man.
Tipping the chilled glass to his lips, he grimaced as the pale liquid slid down his throat. He had never been one to like Muggle whiskey, even in his younger days, but it did have the affect he was looking for. Memories haunted his daily existence but at night his heart physically ached with guilt over the responsibilities he had been unable to fulfill. It had been days since he’d slept and since Juliette’s revelry, Sirius knew he had to get rest before he began lashing out at everyone in firing range. He had settled into the kitchen long after everyone else was asleep, determined to drink himself into oblivion if that’s what it took to stop hurting the people he cared about most. Sirius forced himself to take another drink then leaned back to prop his legs on the table. He smirked to himself, thinking of what his mother might say if she witnessed his filthy scuffed boots resting on her hand carved table. Out of pure spite, he shook his foot violently causing dried mud to scatter across the wood.
He cursed aloud for letting the memories carry him away again and, angrily, he took a swig of the whiskey straight from the bottle. It was always like this when he drank. The first few drinks made him melancholy and reflective but after a few more, he knew the whiskey would begin to drown all thought. The idea of having nothing streaming through his mind made Sirius reach for the bottle again.
“Drowning your memories, Sirius?” a hand held tight to the bottle preventing Sirius from taking a drink.
How Remus always seemed to know that he was in need drove Sirius nuts and made him feel loved at the same time. Unfortunately, being loved by anyone was the last thing he wanted tonight.
“Tonks letting you out past your bedtime again?” he countered, not bothering to glance up.
“She went over to Fleur’s while Bill’s out of town.” Remus refilled Sirius’ glass for him then moved to sink down opposite him. He hesitated briefly, “you disapprove?”
Sirius eyed Remus curiously. Although their friendship had continued as if no time had elapsed, Remus often seemed edgy, fearful even, when talking to him and it was beginning to unnerve him.
He topped off the whiskey in his glass and then slid it to Remus, keeping the bottle for himself. “No, but you do.”
“I disapprove of myself?” Remus laughed tightly but Sirius didn’t miss how he avoided his gaze.
Ignoring the question, he sat in silence, waiting for the feeling of euphoric respite to come. When it didn’t arrive, his eyes shifted lazily and he noticed the tension in Remus’ body – the taut muscles in his face; the white knuckles that were gripping the fragile glass; the downcast eyes that refused to hold Sirius’ gaze for even a moment. He hated seeing him so uncomfortable and wondered if Tonks was really the only thing on his mind.
“If you’re here for advice, I should warn you I’m only half sober,” he replied quietly.
“That’s the best time to get the truth out of you anyway,” Remus returned with a small smile. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, causing a pained look to cross Sirius’ face. When Remus finally spoke, his voice was low and contemplative, which grabbed Sirius’ full attention. “I see it in her eyes, you know. When she looks at me. I don’t think she even realizes it yet. She’s young, innocent…”
“Tonks, innocent?” he chuckled.
“You know what I mean, Sirius.” His voice dropped a notch. “You, if anyone, know what I mean.”
Sirius remained silent, determined to let Remus continue. It was the first real conversation, the first true admission of emotions, he had witnessed from Remus since his return from the veil, perhaps even before that. Even when he had returned from Azkaban, their conversations had been limited to daily banter or discussions regarding Harry. It was almost as if concentrating on Harry’s problems had allowed them to ignore the fact that, before that tragic night of Lily and James’ death, they had once been the best of friends.
“I see her watching me and I see…” Remus trailed off and, after a moment, he took a drink rather than continue.
Sirius studied him carefully, wondering why he hesitated. He knew what was on Remus’ mind...it had passed through Sirius’ own the first time he saw Tonks gaze at Remus when his back was turned. But Remus had never been one to like having his feelings exposed and although once upon a time Sirius would never have hesitated in confronting him, things were different between them now. He focused his gaze on the bottle in his hands, picking at the label uneasily until he finally realized what he was doing. “Lily,” he murmured finally, “You see Lily.”
He could see the relief wash over Remus and he braced himself with a long swig of whiskey, his emotions beginning to tumble out of control. Why did everything have to be so complicated? He could feel Remus watching him and knew Remus was trying to gauge his emotional state before speaking. If he was the reckless one, Remus was undoubtedly the cautious Marauder and Sirius took comfort in the notion that even after all this time some things had still not changed.
“I see you and Lily,” Remus corrected softly.
Sirius sighed heavily, knowing even the whiskey couldn’t dim where this conversation was heading. “She was young and naïve.”
“As is Tonks.”
“And I was careless and callous which, of course, we know you’d never be.” Sirius’ voice held a note of bitterness and regret that he couldn’t conceal from Remus.
For the first time, Remus locked a gaze with him. “You walked away. It was perhaps the most noble thing I’ve ever seen you do, Sirius.” Although he still held the gaze, his voice wavered. “I guess it’s my mistake for not telling you that years ago.”
A pained look crossed Sirius’ face and he knew Remus was reaching out to him. But what he was wanting, Sirius wasn’t yet strong enough to discuss. “You’ve watched me make a lot of mistakes in my lifetime, Remus.”
“I’ve seen you do a lot of things right, too,” he defended and Sirius gave a faint smile.
“I’ve watched you be a passive observer to your own life since you were eleven. When do you think its time to actually enjoy what little this pathetic world has to offer?” Sirius couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. “So Tonks is younger than you, do you really give a damn?”
He didn’t realize he was shaking until he reached for his drink. He wished he could make Remus understand. His years in Azkaban had given him plenty of time to reflect on missed chances and lost opportunities. If anything, his return from the veil had only re-enforced the ideal. And yet here Remus sat, years of freedom wasted away by some self-imposed exile. Sirius knew Remus was afraid – afraid of being rejected; afraid of being the sole Marauder again; afraid of a hundred things Sirius had never understood during their school years. James had. James had always understood Remus even when no one else could.
It took a moment for Sirius to realize how harsh his words might have sounded and he frowned. “I still have a habit of talking without thinking, Remus. I apologize.”
But Remus didn’t seem angry or upset. Rather, a look of deep concern had caused his brow to furrow. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. I don’t think I even want to,” he whispered. “But I know that living in Azkaban is something I am not strong enough to do. Much less this, this fiasco of a return from death for a second time around.”
Sirius tried to wave his seriousness off. “You don’t live in Azkaban, you are fortunate just to survive. And you isolate yourself once a month. It probably would have been a breeze for you.”
“It’s not the same. I know it wasn’t the same,” Remus prompted. “You can’t hide from the memories forever, Sirius.”
“I’m not hiding,” he growled but Remus pushed a fresh bottle his direction and Sirius couldn’t resist. He tipped the bottle to his lips, a vague memory touching the edges of his mind. “Do you remember the last time we did this, alone together, I mean?”
“You’re changing the subject.” He grinned as he pulled the bottle away to re-fill his own glass.
“Yes, but only temporarily,” Sirius admitted. “I’m waiting for the liquor to kick in before I talk about that place.”
Remus smiled, accepting his answer because he knew Sirius needed him to. “Then I won’t tell you that you’re already slurring and instead tell you, yes, of course I remember. It couldn’t have been too long before the charm was invoked.”
Sirius refused to look at Remus. “Yes, that’s correct.”
His formality caught Remus off guard and he reached for him. “Sirius-”
He pulled away from Remus’ grasp and moved to look out the window over the sink. He swayed slightly, the liquor finally having the effect he was hoping for. His eyes tried to focus in the black nothingness out the window but it couldn’t hold his attention. He gripped the edge of the sink, dropping his head to try and quell the guilt rising within him.
“I don’t blame you for not telling me,” Remus said quietly, causing Sirius to turn. “Had it been me, I wouldn’t have told you either. It’s the world we were living in, Sirius. As much as we hoped it would never come between all of us, we knew it eventually would. It’s been so long ago.” He gave a melancholy shake of his head. “You have to let it go.”
“Were it not for me, Harry would have had his parents. James and Lily would still be here with us. Harry would not have been forced to live some cursed life and Peter would damn sure not have been on the loose to aid in Voldemort’s return.”
“Dammit, Remus, stop being so consoling!” Sirius slammed his fist into the cabinets. “Don’t you get it? One choice. One choice and everything fell apart. I’ve made a dozen wrong choices in my life and the only one that ever had to pay for it was me. But this, I made a choice by convincing them to use Peter and it destroyed everyone.”
Remus jerked toward him, grabbing Sirius by the arm. “Sirius, we were all young and you had reasons to believe you wouldn’t be the best choice as secret keeper. There was no way any of us could’ve known Peter would turn to Voldemort. You can’t blame yourself for what’s going on now.”
“Don’t you?” he managed, his words hoarse with years of pent up emotions. “Don’t you blame me, Remus?”
“No,” Remus answered without hesitation. “You’re a Black. You’ve carried that label around your entire life and it’s terrified you. I can’t imagine what you went through when you made that choice. I’ve tried. You loved James with everything you had and that you had to trust someone else with his life is a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone.” Remus quieted. “Sirius, I know it was there. Deep down you were afraid that your Black family values would somehow reveal themselves and get James and Lily killed. You did what you thought you had to do.”
“And they got killed for it anyway,” he murmured with finality and broke free from Remus. Fighting back the tears he could feel coming on, Sirius grasped the wall for support as he moved in the sitting room. He hesitated a moment at the doorway, partly to make sure Remus intended to follow and partly to let his eyes adjust to the dim candle-lit room.
He dropped heavily onto the sofa, cradling his bottle to make sure none spilled out as he moved. He closed his eyes for a moment to block out the vivid flickering of multi-colored lights coming from the Christmas tree Juliette refused to let them take down. They flickered in some random pattern that irritated his senses but, Hermione had insisted that was normal for the Muggle creation. He waved his hand gently toward them, causing them to flicker momentarily and then soften to a warm steady glow of muted rainbow colors. It was a much more subtle glimmer and Sirius smiled at the effect. “Much more civilized,” he murmured.
“Tell me something, will you?” Remus sank into a chair across from him, his voice still tinged with anxiety. “James did die either way, but which would have been worse for him? To die at the hands of Voldemort knowing Peter had betrayed him or, in those brief moments before death, having had to face a world in which Sirius Black, his best friend in the world, had chosen to abandon him?”
Sirius gave a withered look and poured half the bottle of whiskey down his throat without a breath. “I did abandon him.”
Remus sank back into his chair, unable to come up with a response Sirius might believe. He sat silently, thinking of the years he’d spent growing up with Sirius but still couldn’t think of anything that might break through the wall Sirius had created or pull him from the deep hole he’d fallen in to. Only Hermione could have driven him back to these horrific memories and, in as much as he wanted to warn him off, Remus wanted to see him happy even more. Happiness was so rare in Sirius’ life that, no matter how he knew it would end, Remus wanted to allow him whatever breath of joy he possibly could.
Leaning forward, he jerked the bottle out of Sirius’ hand, ignoring his friend’s grimace at having it snatched away. He drank it slowly, the liquid sliding down his throat but burning into his soul.
“What about you?” Sirius asked, pulling out his wand and waving it lazily to conjure his own bottle of alcohol. “What did you do with yourself all those years I paced from one moldy rat infested wall to another in Azkaban?”
Remus struggled to hide the look of hurt his words caused but too many drinks had softened his reactions and he couldn’t conceal his emotions. He had abandoned Sirius when they needed each other most. He’d chosen to believe Sirius was the traitor and, in so doing, had cost them both the only companionship they had left. He tilted the bottle to read its label…a fine brand that only Sirius would’ve conjured. He twisted it in his hands, letting the cold sweat from the bottle chill his hands.
“This,” he said motioning to the bottle then leaning back and offering Sirius a sad smile. “I don’t recall every being sober. Of course, it wasn’t on such a finely crafted ale, I must admit.” He laughed but sobered immediately. “I was passed out cold the day Dumbledore showed up and told me that Harry was going to be attending Hogwarts.
Sirius jerked involuntarily and glanced away quickly but, like Remus, his reflexes had been dimmed by the whiskey and memories that had come calling.
“Sirius,” Remus frowned.
“You didn’t check on Harry?” he asked softly. “Not even once?”
Remus dropped his eyes, unwilling to let him see the anguish he felt. “No.”
Sirius was quiet, unsure of quite what to say. Not a day went by in Azkaban when he hadn’t thought of Harry. He imagined him growing with each year, wondered if he had a knack for trouble like James; dreamed of what he looked like and what traits he had inherited from his parents. His sleep was punctuating with horrific nightmares wondering if Peter had perhaps already gotten to Harry first or that Dumbledore wouldn’t watch over him as well as Sirius himself would have. His desire to escape and claim Harry for his own had almost driven him mad.
He had long wondered why Remus had never gone to Harry. He had blamed it on Remus’ grief for awhile then later he blamed Dumbledore for hiding Harry away with the Dursleys. But, in truth, he couldn’t imagine anything that would’ve kept him from seeing Harry and found it unfathomable that Remus didn’t feel the same way.
“Will you let me explain?” Remus’ voice was near pleading.
“It’s not necessary, Remus," he offered him a half smile. “You said it yourself, we all did the best we could.”
“Don’t let me off so easily, Sirius. I know you, don’t I?” he asked, shaking his head as he spoke. “If you don’t let me explain now you’ll just keep stewing about it for another ten years until you decide beating the snot out of me is the only way to deal with the issue.”
“No,” he shook his head morosely, “we have more pressing things to deal with than a past we can’t change.”
“Such as?” Remus could feel himself sobering and hated the idea. He tipped the brandy but, this time, Sirius blocked his path.
“Harry and Ginny,” he whispered quietly, his eyes boring into Remus’. “It’s time for the truth.”
Chapter 35: Chance for Goodbye
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Chapter Thirty-Five: Chance for Goodbye
“Mum?” Juliette shook harder. She had never seen her mother this hard to wake up. She stared at her quizzically before the realization dawned on her. Her mother was under a spell. She crossed her fingers, closed her eyes and then, with a deep breath, touched the tip of her wand to Hermione’s head.
Hermione’s eyes opened immediately and she turned a sleepy eye toward her daughter. “Juliette?”
“I swear, mum, I wasn’t doing magic. Well, I was but you wouldn’t wake up and--”
Hermione frowned…she hadn’t been unable to wake up in years. Yes, it had been a heck of a long night but still, when her daughter called she always jerked wide awake. Her eyes narrowed. Surely Sirius hadn’t put a spell on her? She glanced around the room as she struggled to sit up. Had last night even happened?
A tin of pumpkin pasties scattered across the bedroom floor was her answer.
“Honey, have you eaten? Where’s Sirius?”
Juliette crawled under the covers to sit next to Hermione. “He and Remus are still sleeping.”
“I guess he came in the middle of the night,” Juliette shrugged then giggled. “I think they’ve been drinking.”
Of course, Hermione thought. Was there ever a time Remus didn’t appear to ease Sirius’ tortured soul? She bit her lip. Yes, there was once. Once, but only once, Sirius had run to her.
“Mum, are you okay?”
Hermione wiped the struggling look off her face and smiled. “Of course. Would you like to eat breakfast in bed with me today?”
“Really? I could go get toast and eggs and--”
“Actually,” Hermione touched Juliette to keep her from moving. “How about this?”
Taking Juliette’s wand, she touched the bed and two breakfast trays appeared. Juice, eggs and slightly burned toast. Hermione frowned at the toast but the giggling of happiness Juliette was trying to withhold made her melt.
“Guess I’m a bit out of practice.”
“It’s okay, Mum,” Juliette waved her hand over the toast. “See? I can remind you of everything you need to know.”
“Yes, darling, I suppose you can.”
They were quiet as they ate, Hermione watching closely as Juliette seemed to take everything in stride. She could already see so much of Sirius in her. Her easy going manner, her automatic acceptance of everyone and everything—she knew no one but Sirius that could have instilled those traits in her. Even if Sirius did leave them, she knew he had already left his legacy behind.
“Is Sirius why you decided to do magic again?”
Hermione hesitated. “Sort of, why?”
“Well,” she dropped her eyes and Hermione tickled her to get her attention. “I guess I just thought he’d be happy ‘cause he’s wanted you better for so long.”
“You know how some memories are sad ones?”
“Sure,” she mumbled through a mouthful of crumbly toast.
“I think that perhaps Sirius is remembering things that make him sad right now.”
“Like you were.”
Caught off guard by Juliette’s perception, she nodded slowly. “Yes, I guess I have been sad for awhile.”
“If he fixed you then you can fix him, right?”
Juliette’s trusting smile made Hermione’s heart break and she pulled her into a tight hug. “Oh, honey, I wish I knew how.”
“Remus,” Hermione whispered, touching his leg gently. “I’ve brought coffee.”
He struggled to sitting, running a hand through his disheveled hair. He offered her a tiny nod of thanks as he took the cup from her.
Whatever they had been through while she slept had taken its toll on both of them. They both looked like hell. Remus’ face was haggard, tinged to near gray and even from across the room, she could see the knots in Sirius’ hair where he must have been running his fingers through it to alleviate stress the night before. She turned her attention back to Remus who was tipping his cup precariously toward his lips.
“Are you all right?” she asked softly, sinking down beside him.
He glanced to Sirius who was still stretched out on the opposite couch sound asleep. “I’ve endured worse.” Slightly embarrassed, Remus nodded and bent his head to sip the bitter coffee, his hair falling forward over his face and covering the slight flush on his cheeks.
His robes were carelessly fastened, and Hermione thought he could glimpse Muggle clothing underneath. Hermione’s eyes darted to Sirius.
“And him?” She tried to keep her voice steady but Remus wasn’t falling for it.
“Hermione, for years, you have been like family to me.”
He wasn’t looking at her. He was staring into his cup, his eyes transfixed. His voice was a monotone that caused her heart to stop. “Remus, please.”
“I know you haven’t meant for any of this to happen. I know you are just as much a victim or circumstance as he is...” Despite his appearance, Remus expression was oddly evasive. Not what she was accustomed to in their years of muddled friendship.
He hated her. He blamed it all on her, she could feel it. It didn’t matter what he knew and what he was just guessing at—Remus sensed she had somehow wronged Sirius. And if Sirius’ memories had taught her anything, it was that no one deserved forgiveness for doing wrong to a Marauder. Her voice cracked as she spoke. “But?”
“But,” he just shook his head, and kept his eyes focused on his cup. After a moment, he turned the cup in his hands and took a long sip of it before continuing. “He is my brother and I will never forgive you if--”
“Don’t,” Sirius’ groggy voice cut into their whispering. Although a haze was still obvious by his slow movements, his eyes were blazing. “Don’t put more on her shoulders than that which she deserves. My mistakes are my own.”
Hermione watched the silent conversation between them wishing that just once, she could understand how they managed to say so much with so little.
Remus inhaled deeply, a slight frown on his face as he studied Hermione. He wanted to say something else to stress his point, but all that came out was “I’m going to check on Juliette.” His voice was vacant as brought the cup to his lips and downed it one go. He set it back on the table and, without a glance to either of them, disappeared.
Hermione chanced a look at Sirius and, for the first time, felt as if she had been transported back a dozen years. She felt childish and as if Professor McGonagall would appear at any moment to remind her she was still just a kid and adults would handle the big problems. She shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, her heart dropping to her toes as if she’d just lost 100 rubies for the Hogwarts house cup competition. She had been so happy this morning—doing magic, playing with Juliette. And the night before, no matter how heartwrenching—to lie in Sirius’ arm and know, truly know, that he expected nothing other than her to be her. Feeling, just for a moment, the brief chance at freedom that a life with Sirius could possibly offer. And now she was trying her damnedest to keep the tears from falling…this wasn’t her life to have and she knew it.
“I think,” Sirius murmured without sitting up, “that perhaps Remus and I had a bit too much to drink last night. Please accept my apology for both of us.”
Months ago, his formality would have caught her off-guard. She would’ve felt like he was angry or reprimanding her like a child. But now she knew better- he had never considered her a child. His formality was his defenses going up...an automatic slip back into his upbringing when he could find no solutions.
“He loves you, I think,” she offered quietly, still not looking his way.
“Yes, I suppose he does.”
He was unmoving except for the slight turn of his eyes her direction. His eyes were on her, concerned, and she couldn’t help but feel guilty for it.
“He’s afraid you’ll get hurt.”
“You should go back to bed, Hermione. You had one hell of a night.”
He didn’t want to deal with her right now, she could tell from the way he was trying to dismiss her. It wasn’t that he didn’t care or was angry – he just needed time to collect himself. But she was so damn tired of him being calm and collected and in control of every situation that ever arisen.
“And you didn’t?” she countered softly.
He nodded, his head dropping back against the couch, his eyes slowly closing to break their gaze. His hand slipped through his tangled hair as he tried to will the leftover alcohol from his foggy brain. He knew she needed him right now but he couldn’t seem to garner the strength to want to be there for her. Wasn’t this what he always did? Run when everything just got to be too fucking hard?
He glanced her way, the forming tears catching him off guard. How the hell was he supposed to walk away if she started crying? And even before she had the words out, he knew what she was going to ask. And he hated her for it.
“Damn you, Hermione.”
She moved across to him, her tiny fisted hands barely grazing his chest. Her tears dropped onto his shirt, her eyes barely able to focus through her sudden emotions. Her voice was a whisper, “am I a mistake?”
This is what he did…telling people what would hurt them most to drive them further away. But it never seemed to work with her. If he lied, she always saw right through him and forgave him for it. And no matter how brutal the answer, if he told her the truth it only seemed to draw her closer.
He didn’t want to have this conversation. He didn’t want to be telling her goodbye even if Remus had given him the perfect opportunity to. He didn’t want to think that this might be the last time he’d hold her as his own. But a small voice in the back of his mind was quietly nagging at him…she wasn’t his. She never had been.
“Yes,” he murmured finally, watching her tears come in torrents. His hand reached to touch the strands of hair that had fallen loose around her face. He moved them away gently and tilted her face to his. “But I still wouldn’t change a thing.”
Hermione nodded, crawling to curl up on his chest the way she’d seen Juliette do so many times. She dropped her head into his chest, letting her tears fall freely. His arms wrapped tightly around her, his willingness to still hold her making her sob even harder.
Chapter 36: Unconditional Love
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Author’s Note: Okay, so I hate posting chapters so close together because it means I lose all my reviews on the earlier one and I never know if it was good or bad or what I need to fix and/or work on or explain. But, I love our HPFF staff and am willing to help them out no matter what even if it means posting earlier and losing reviews. So…if you review this chapter (any chapters actually) and put “Support Team _____” at the end of your review, I’ll give points to your favorite team. No review spamming now! You can’t just leave a support this team review or I’ll have to delete it and I really really hate doing that. So, have fun, support your team and I really hope you enjoy this chapter.
Chapter Thirty-Six: Unconditional Love
Draco shrank backwards a few steps from the sight before him. Hermione…in Sirius’ arms.
No. More than in his arms. Lying atop his body, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, his hand threaded through her messy hair as she slept on his chest.
He backed into the table, jarring a crystal pitcher and causing Hermione to jerk awake. Her hand reached deftly into Sirius’ cloak and drew his wand (how the fuck did she know where he kept his wand?) and brandished it toward him as if it was a daily occurrence.
“Oh, Draco,” she lowered it immediately and moved to sit up properly on the sofa.
Oh? All she had to say was oh?
Draco couldn’t seem to focus – his eyes darting from the wand to Sirius. At least she’d unarmed the bastard for him.
“Sirius,” Hermione nudged him. “Wake up, Draco’s here.’
“At least you two had the decency to keep your clothes on in the parlor,” he seethed, drawing his wand before Sirius could even struggle to sitting.
“I’m in no mood for this,” he mumbled irritably.
“Please-” Hermione’s voice was soothing. “Let’s be rational. Draco put the wand down.”
“Since when are you doing magic again?” he asked, his wand still pointed Sirius’ direction.
“It doesn’t matter. I-”
“Doesn’t matter to who exactly? What the fuck has he done to you?”
Hermione could feel Sirius bristle beside her, his eyes now blazing.
“I would suggest, Hermione,” he offered calmly, “that you rein in your pretty boy here before-”
“My pretty boy?” she jumped off the sofa, her anger now matching theirs.
Draco leveled a gaze at Sirius. “Have you slept with her?”
“What I have or haven’t done isn’t any of your business.” Hermione seethed. “And this doesn’t concern him anyway. If you have something to accuse me of, then ask me.”
“I’m not asking you, I’m asking him.”
Sirius glanced casually from one to the other, watching as they both seemed to feed off each other’s anger. He withheld the urge to smile, knowing that his amusement would just add fuel to their argument. “Perhaps you two could take this little quarrel to a more secluded location? My head is killing me.”
They both turned on him in an instant. Draco stepping closer as Hermione whirled, her hands instantly going to her hips. Both opened their mouth to say something but then realized the other was going to speak and hesitated. In the temporary quiet, Sirius couldn’t help but chuckle. “See? Isn’t that better? You do have something you can agree on.”
Hermione glared at him. “We would both like nothing better than to strangle you where you sit?”
“Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?” Yanking his wand out of Hermione’s hand, he strode toward the doorway but, with a well placed hand on his chest, Draco stopped him.
“We’re not done here.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow, offering Draco the tiniest smile. “So you do have some courage in there somewhere. How refreshing. Now get your hand off me before I separate it permanently from your arm.”
“I deserve the truth, Sirius,” Draco’s voice was quiet as he moved his hand away, “and you know it.”
He met Draco’s gaze unfalteringly but couldn’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for the boy. Standing up to him was perhaps the most mature thing he had ever seen Draco do and, unfortunately, it made Sirius understand – Draco wanted to love Hermione, he just didn’t know how. Had it been anyone else, Sirius would have had no problem in blurting out that they had been lovers for months now.
But as it stood, this was Hermione’s battle to fight and not his. He wanted to be honest, to admit the truth to Draco so that the ensuing anger would be directed at him rather than Hermione. He wanted to protect her – and that alone kept him silent. If she had only given him some position over her, some indication that she wanted his protection and everything else that entailed, he would have jumped at the chance to pummel Draco…the locket be damned.
He glanced at her, hoping to see some emotion…hoping that for once she would drop the shield she had crafted around herself to prevent either him or Draco from getting too close. But if there was something there she had hidden it so well even he couldn’t find it.
He took a shuddering breath- one oblivious to Draco but one that caused Hermione to turn his way. She had recognized the defeat in him and he cursed himself for allowing her such entry into his mannerisms. Ignoring her, he turned a dark look Draco’s direction. “While I know how much my bedroom escapades must intrigue an innocent like yourself, you have mistaken me for one of your schoolmates, Draco. I neither kiss and tell nor do I share my sexual activities with anyone so they might use visualizations of me when they are alone in the shower stalls. So, do us both a favor and please, find someone else to aim your wet dreams at.”
And with the softest pop, he vanished.
Hermione paced around Sirius’ bed, glancing at the clock every few minutes to check the time. He had been gone all day, had missed seeing Draco pass out drunk, had missed seeing Draco and Remus come to blows, had missed seeing Tonks drag away a still half drunk Remus, had missed tucking Juliette in bed and now, long after bedtime, he still hadn’t appeared. For a brief moment she wondered if he was gone for good and a sickening feeling she refused to acknowledge rose in the pit of her stomach.
She sank down onto the bed, wondering how much longer she would have to wait. Would he be gone all night? Draco always disappeared to punish her or avoid her (she never really knew which) but she didn’t think Sirius would do the same. She knew something had happened during the fight with Draco…she had seen a shift in him that she didn’t quite understand. She knew she had somehow hurt him and she was determined to find out what she’d done wrong. She jerked involuntarily as a large, black dog jumped onto the bed beside her, stretching out next to her. She smiled and let her hand float along the fur which was slightly damp from having been outside. “You can’t avoid me forever,” she whispered, “although Juliette has mentioned several times wanting a pet.”
He changed instantly, standing before her, his grey eyes darkened to nearly the color of his previous fur. “Is that what I am, then? A pet?”
“I can accept that, it’s a sight better than whatever position you’ve given Draco in your life.”
“Did I deserve that?” she asked quietly.
“Did it make you feel better to say it?”
“A bit, actually.”
Hermione exhaled a heavy sigh. “Oh, Sirius, what have we done?”
He nodded, feeling the same overwhelming exhaustion that he could see in her eyes. “Made a right bloody mess of things, haven’t I?”
“Stop taking responsibility for everything, will you? It’s getting a bit tiresome.”
“Fuck you, Hermione.”
Hermione watched as he moved to the dresser, his body movements giving away the tension he was trying to hide. He paced around the room, picking up clothes and tossing them somewhere else. His eyes paused briefly on the picture of Harry she had given him for Christmas and he buried his hands in his pockets.
She stepped forward, touching his forearm lightly. “Do you know how foolish you are?” she asked softly. “You act as if Lily betrayed you, as if she chose James over you. That didn’t happen and you know it. You couldn’t love her. She knew that and went to someone who could.”
“Then learn a lesson from her and just go away.”
He brushed her away and moved to pour himself a glass of water. His head was low, his eyes downcast and Hermione hated knowing that she couldn’t fix whatever she had broken in him.
“Earlier, you wanted to yell at me, I know that. You took it out on Draco instead but it was all my fault. You needed something from me.”
“Need and want are two separate things,” he answered, shaking his head. “What I want is definitely not what I need.”
He glanced at her but only momentarily. “I am determined that this time, I’ll be man enough to know the difference.”
Memories coursed through Hermione at a rapid pace. Sirius had played such an important role in the lives of the people she knew. He had saved her from herself, given Lily the ability to be strong even in death, given James a trust so deep that it had endured for generations. Was it really possible that Sirius couldn’t see what he’d given people?
Of course. To him, his life had been nothing but failure. What she saw as breathtaking, he saw as defeat.
She slipped her hand into his, intertwining their fingers and pulling him towards the bed. Although he sank to sit beside her, she could sense his misgivings.
“You,” she whispered, “are like no one I’ve ever met. You are reckless and devoted, caring and careless. You can make me so frustrated I can’t see straight and the next moment you can brush it all away with a single touch. And just once, I wish I could make you see how many wonderful things you’ve done for so many people.”
“He loved you so much, Sirius. I know you feel like you deserted him but, truly, in your brief time with him you taught him everything he ever heeded to know.”
“To go off half-cocked-” he growled, trying to pull away but Hermione held tight.
“No,” she touched his cheek to get his attention again. “You taught him about unconditional love. In a world where he was devoid of family, you became that. You showed him that your love would be given no matter what. You accepted him for who he was no matter his faults or his past or his mistakes. You taught him what James and Lily believed and to understand that love was worth fighting for.”
She turned his face towards her own. “You taught him love is worth dying for, Sirius. And, in the end, that saved us all.”
She could see him struggling, unable to accept what she was telling him. He wanted desperately to believe her but couldn’t seem to let go of the dark emotions that had clouded him since birth. He moved away to stand near the window. His eyes met hers briefly and, for once, she finally understood the desperation he was feeling.
“I can’t fight you, Hermione,” he whispered. “So I am asking you, please, go to Draco.”
“Sirius-” she could feel her throat tightening. How could he do this? To send her away after everything she’ just told him.
“I don’t deserve you. Perhaps he does.”
Hermione rushed to his side. “No, I need-”
He whirled on her, his emotions tumbling out of control but still unwilling to let her say something she couldn’t turn back from.
He cupped her face in his hands, his breath warm on her face. His voice was low and shaking, his eyes piercing through her. “I need you more than I’ve ever needed anything in my whole life.”
“But you want me to leave?” she asked quietly, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks to trickle over his warm hands.
“I want,” he whispered softly, “for you to give Draco the same chance you gave me.”
Chapter 37: Just when things were going well...
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Author’s Note: I have been informed by a little bug that one of my reviews was deleted. It was apparently written by a regular reviewer and they used the word “fuck” in the review (non 12+) as they were commenting on the language in the past chapter and how foul it was. I’m not sure who you were but if it was you – yay! You are the only person that mentioned such a thing and that took some really close reading and paying attention. The language did go foul and there was a subtle reason for it. There were some big emotional changes going on in that chapter, tensions were extremely high and the characters were in a place where they would not normally be emotionally. It was a subtle way to try and get readers to understand the emotional riptide all of the characters were under at that point in time so that when things start to fall, people would understand the characters had pretty much gotten through the anger and were now dealing with the aftermath. So, to whoever you are, thanks for noticing – I wish I’d gotten to read the review! I hope you enjoy the few remaining chapters!
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Just when things were going well…
Hot tears spilling onto his chest caused Draco to stir. He didn’t move, unsure if he should disturb her. She was so warm and seemed so needy and brokenhearted—he had wanted her to come to him for so long and now that she finally had, he was afraid even the slightest move would cause her to run. He considered trying to read her mind but knew that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted Hermione to open up to him on her own not through some magical means. He slipped his arm around her and, when she didn’t move but continued to sob in his arms, Draco feared he understood.
“You’ve been talking to Sirius,” he said quietly. It wasn’t a question.
“Please,” she managed through broken sobs, “just don’t.”
Draco moved his hand to her head, rubbing it gently to try and console her. He knew better than to think Sirius had done something to hurt her physically and she definitely wasn’t crying over being angry. That left only one other reason and vague ideas that had touched his mind since Sirius’ return all became clear. He let out a deep, resigned breath and moved her to face him. “Do you love him, Hermione?”
She didn’t answer and it made his heart jump to his throat, wondering just how they had ended up here. They had spent the last ten years together…making amends; trying to move on; finding solace in each other; trying to ease each other’s pain. He couldn’t understand how things could have suddenly gone so wrong.
He closed his eyes, letting images of Hermione and Sirius wash over him. They had had an immediate kinship from the moment Sirius had arrived. Draco wasn’t surprised by that – Sirius was, after all, more like Harry than anyone he’d ever met. If was naturally that Hermione would be drawn to him like she was drawn to the rest of her past. She had never been able to let her past go and he could only hope that this was what it was with Sirius – a memory of her past that she was unable to exorcise.
But there were other things, too. Her doing magic again. Her defense of anything related to Sirius. The soft, almost heartbroken look, that filled Sirius’ eyes when he glanced Hermione’s way. It wasn’t love, Draco knew better than to think that a Black could love anyone but it still gave him pause whenever he saw it pass through Sirius’ eyes.
He knew Sirius had been able to revive things in Hermione that he never could. She was once again full of life and vibrant and, to his own detriment, once again determined to choose her own path rather than follow someone blindly. He hated Sirius for it…and respected him at the same time.
And perhaps that was it. All this time, he had been so busy trying to giver Hermione what she wanted that he never bothered to take the time to find out what she actually needed. Could he really have been so stupid?
His eyes washed over her broken form, touching her mess of hair with the gentlest touch to make her look his way.
“We’ve gotten through much worse than the likes of Sirius Black,” he murmured, not sure if it was true but knowing it was what she wanted to hear. “And I’ve always been too bloody stupid or arrogant to ask – what is it you want?”
Her recoiled as she began to sob even harder. Could he do nothing right? He pulled away from her and started to climb out of bed but her grip on his forearm remained tight. She pulled him back toward her, kissing him gently on the cheek as her tears began to soak them both.
“I’ve only ever wanted,” she whispered, “for you to ask me that.”
He returned her heart-broken kiss, wishing that he knew how to make understand that he only wanted her and Juliette to be happy. That there was nothing, absolutely, nothing that he desired more. Everything else had been a charade – the world and emotions that his parents had taught him - the reactions and attitude that had been ingrained since childhood that he’d never been able to shake. He didn’t want to own her or convert her to his own way of thinking. He didn’t want her to be someone she wasn’t…he didn’t want all those things that his parents would have expected him to want. For once, he just wanted it to be the two of them with no one else’s ideals or beliefs hanging over their heads.
He clasped her face in his hands, his voice holding a tinge of pleading and, for once, he didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. “Marry me, Hermione, and I’ll prove to you happiness is possible.”
Hermione closed her eyes to try and subdue the nausea washing over her. Draco’s soft snores beside her told her he had long since gone back to sleep and she ached to wake him and have him make the sickness go away. He could do it, couldn’t he? He had always been able to make her forget about the pain. A sudden hot flash rose within her, causing her to break into an immediate sweat. She paused, sudden realization washing over her. She knew this feeling.
Rushing to the restroom, she cast a quick spell on Draco to keep him asleep. She slid across the stone floor, barely missing the tub as she crouched to her knees and vomited in the toilet. She grasped the basin, her arms shaking uncontrollably. Taking a few shallow breaths, she felt her stomach return to normal. She sank to the stone floor, pulling her legs to her chest and dropping her head to her knees. This couldn’t be happening. Not now, not when she was finally being honest with everyone, when she had finally made some dent in the rift between her and Draco. Not that Sirius had given her any alternative- like usual, he was pushing her away so forcibly she had no choice but to do as he asked.
Draco was finally growing up…he was learning to put her first and he’d finally stopped running away every time they argued. He was staying with her, beside her instead of chasing after some phantom demons from his past that might kill him. He’d made the choice she always wanted him too…to pick her over everything else.
Tears began to stream down her face, unable to control the fears rising within her. But what if it wasn’t true? For all his actions, what if they were just more of the same vain attempts to sway her to him and not a real change into the man she desperately wanted to love? And she did want to love him. Their history; they way he helped her through so many things; the tender way he touched her; the loving way he held Juliette—everything she wanted in a husband was right before her for the taking.
She cursed Sirius. It was all his fault. He came back and confused things. He made her think she needed him, that she needed his laughter and arrogance and aggravating touches the always drew her in. Why couldn’t he have stayed behind that damn veil, stayed away from Juliette, been snotty and nasty instead of charming and irresistible so that Juliette hadn’t fallen in love with him? Why couldn’t he have had some semblance of self control and kept himself out of her bedroom so she wouldn’t be in this whole mess in the first place?
She tightened her grip on her knees, her entire body shaking. How, exactly, was she supposed to tell either of them she was pregnant?
Chapter 38: Echoes of Fate
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Author’s Note: I am posting this really quickly so, if you missed it, this is the second update for this week. Don’t miss Chapter 37…it was important :D. Thanks again, everyone, ya’ll are the best, most wonderfully kind people I’ve ever come across. You’ve been supportive and helpful and honest and I love all of you for it. I hope you enjoy!
Chapter Thirty- Eight: Echoes of Fate
Hermione grimaced as her eyes met Sirius’ through the doorway. Somehow, she had forgotten he rarely slept…of course he would already be in the kitchen. His eyes met hers only briefly though, then returned to the newspaper lying open across the table.
She moved slowly, her hand jumping from table to chairs to counters as nonchalantly as possible as she made her path to the sink. Sirius was too observant for his own good, though, and she could feel his eyes following her precarious balancing act. She tried to fill the glass but it slipped out of her hand, bouncing into the kitchen sink. The noise caused her head to pound and she teetered near falling before Sirius’ strong arm wrapped around her waist and pushed her into the nearest chair.
“Sit down before you fall,” he ordered then handed her a glass of water. He sank down opposite her, taking the newspaper in his hands without looking her way. “Another hang over from a drunken encounter with the husband to be?”
“Go to hell, Sirius.”
“Been there, thanks,” he replied easily. “Not feeling well this morning?”
“I feel fine. Just a tad too much activity for me last night,” she retorted icily. “Draco is a very accomplished lover, you know. Unlike you, he tends to listen to what I want instead of just doing whatever he pleases.”
Sirius’ eyes narrowed and he dropped the paper onto the table. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Then what would possibly give you the indication that I give a shit about your bedroom escapades with Draco?”
Hermione’s anger flared, his calm demeanor infuriating her even more. Even if she had planned on telling him about the baby right now she was too livid to think straight. How could he be so calm when everything had suddenly gone so wrong? “Thought you might enjoy knowing at least someone in the house was getting lucky.”
“You consider bedding Draco lucky? More like a nightmare come to life.” He pushed away from the table, unable to sit still any longer. If she wanted to be angry and throw things in his face, fine. But he refused to sit around and listen to tales of her and Draco when it had taken all of his patience not to strangle them both as they slept. Knowing they were together a few doors down the hall, knowing Draco’s arms holding the curves he himself had memorized ages ago filled him with a jealous rage.
The only thing that had curbed his fury was knowing that the two weren’t having sex. He knew her too well—knew her moves after sex, her scent, her attitude, her insatiable hunger that sent her immediately to the kitchen for food—he hated to admit that he had been watching for those things— but he had and there was not a single telltale sign that she had ever moved to a more intimate relationship with Draco since the night she asked about his scars. He knew they were merely sharing a room and nothing more and that she was trying to twist it to her own advantage just to hurt him made his blood boil. Yes, he had purposefully driven them together and knew intimacy would eventually follow. It’s what he wanted, wasn’t it? Draco to stop being an ass and learn to really listen to Hermione so he could make her happy?
His stomach turned and his face flushed angrily. No, it was what he needed not necessarily what he wanted. He cursed himself for his mixed emotions…he needed her with Draco, he wanted her for himself.
That she had now been with Draco caused his blood to boil. He wanted to both run and fight at the same time.
“Where are you going?”
“Away from you,” he spat. “Fall and crack your head open on the stone floor, for all I care. Maybe you’ll be lucky and your precious Draco will actually show up to catch you this time.”
Hermione winced. She hadn’t meant it to go like this. She didn’t want him to hate her. Why couldn’t she ever seem to remember how easy it was to hurt Sirius? Everything bounced off Draco but Sirius was different-- every tiny word she muttered, every sideways glance she gave-- they all pierced through him as if she’d broken his heart. It was the child in him that never grew up, the one that always sought acceptance and feared rejection.
“I’m marrying him, Sirius,” she whispered, causing him to turn. Although his face was stony, revealing no emotions, she could see the twitch in the muscles on his arms and the tightened grip of his fists.
“And you expect me to make a scene? My dear, you should know me a sight better than that.”
She nodded and let the glass slip to the table. “I wanted you to hear it from me. You deserve that.”
“I deserve nothing,” he mumbled, straightening himself to meet her gaze. “But I appreciate the courtesy.”
Hermione could feel her tears falling again but, unlike usual, Sirius made no attempt to come to her aid. “Sirius, please-"
“I wish you the best, Hermione,” he offered quietly, his voice cracking with emotion he was trying to hide. “Tell me you believe me.”
“I do,” she whispered, “I do believe you, Sirius.”
She moved to stand beside him, knowing her tears were weakening him with every step she took. She had no idea what she wanted or what she expected from him but it wasn’t this. She reached her hand to his chest but he caught it in mid-air, keeping her inches away from him.
“You know my soul better than anyone, Hermione,” he said quietly, his voice strong, his emotions now back under control. “Stop being so damn self-centered for a second and think. You need no words to understand what you’ve done to me. I can make it no simpler than that.”
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I swear, Sirius, please—"
“Don’t be sorry,” he kissed her forehead gently, pulling her into a brief embrace before pushing her away. He held her an arms length away, his eyes boring into hers. “He’s had enough hurt in his life, Hermione. Love him with everything you’ve got or don’t love him at all, understand?”
She nodded through her tears but didn’t reply and he shook her slightly, his eyes imploring as he held her gaze.
His words quiet, his tone near pleading, he softly ordered, “Love him like you love me.”
Sirius knocked heavily on the wooden door, keeping his fist against the weathered gray wood for balance. It opened a few moments later, causing him to stumble forward. He tried to straighten himself but failed miserably. “’lo, my little werewolf buddy.”
“Have you been drinking?” Remus asked, his eyebrows raised in amusement.
“Drunk, I believe. Belligerent even. Can’t say I’ve been this smashed since graduation, to tell the truth,” Sirius grinned widely as he nodded. “Thus, my need to be safely locked away from any impressionable children for fear of what might slip out of my mouth.”
“Leave it to you to use big words even when you’re drunk,” Tonks interrupted, peering over Remus’ shoulder.
“Can I come in or what?”
“We really don’t have the room, Sirius. Why don’t we go somewhere—"
“You have a couch, don’t you?” he asked, pushing slightly inward so that Remus was forced to catch him before he fell.
Tonks took hold of Sirius’ arm and led him to the thread bare couch, where he dropped with a heavy thud. “Geez, Remus, you act like I don’t know you’re poor. You’re poor, I’m filthy rich. Bloody lot of good the difference has done for either of us. I love you no matter what.”
Remus dropped into a chair opposite him, a grin lighting his face. “You are drunk.”
“Juliette showed up in my room and I didn’t think it wise for me to be in her presence at the moment.”
“Where are Hermione and Draco?” Tonks stopped, glancing worriedly from one to the other.
“Together,” Sirius waved absently into the air, “somewhere. Who knows where.”
“You left Juliette alone?” Tonks was already readying herself to leave but Sirius’ bellowing laugh made her pause.
“I’m drunk not absent minded. Of course, I didn’t leave her alone. Fleur is watching her. She brought over all the Weasley brats to keep Juliette company.”
Remus eyed him worriedly. Drunk or not, it wasn’t like Sirius to be so cutting in his remarks about anyone. Only when something had thrown him back into the mindset of being a Black would he ever utter such a thing.
“What’s happened, Sirius?”
“She’s impossible. The damned woman is impossible.” He shook his head more than was necessary. “She tells me she’s going out with Draco for the evening and wants me to watch Juliette. Aside from being relegated to the status of a babysitter, I merely asked her to take a wand. A wand!”
He was up and pacing the floor, causing Tonks to drop to the couch to get out of his way. “What person would go out with a Malfoy or a Black for that matter without having the sense enough to carry a wand?”
“She refused, I take it?”
“She went through the roof and started screaming at me. The girl has completely lost all sense of reason.”
“Or she loves him,” Tonks interjected.
Sirius’ eyes narrowed and a bottle of whiskey immediately popped into his hand. He continued to glare at Tonks over the bottle as he took a long swig.
“Okay, then,” Tonks offered a tiny wink to Remus. “Perhaps coffee? Or tea?”
Remus nodded, withholding the smile Tonks had inspired in him. It was wrong, after all, to be so amused at Sirius’ emotional turmoil.
“Sit down, Sirius.”
Although he hesitated, Sirius obeyed. “If you say ‘good dog’ I’m going to have to kick your ass.”
“Did you come here to fight or talk or whine like a pansy?”
The normal rise it would have caused didn’t happen and Remus sank back into his chair. He watched Sirius silently for a moment, letting his mind play through everything he’d been through with his friend. He knew that Sirius had come to him for help – to pick up pieces – but, unfortunately, Remus wasn’t quite sure what needed to be said. Unlike in years past, Sirius had been very private about his relationship with Hermione and that alone made things enormously different.
“She’ll break you heart, Sirius,” he said quietly, “if she hasn’t already.”
“Don’t compare her to everyone else,” he growled quietly.
“I’m not. I know you, I know how easy it is for someone to love you and I know how impossible it is for you to love them back.”
“Stop being so damn analytical about everything, will you? I didn’t come here for asinine theoretical bullshit, I came here to drink myself senseless without murdering anyone. I thought you’d be ecstatic that I had the forethought to think ahead.”
‘Or would you prefer the Ministry to call you out to send me to Azkaban again? Put me away, would you?”
“Drunken fool,” Remus returned, shaking his head. “It’s all ‘poor me’ isn’t it, Sirius?”
“Enough!” Tonks’ voice broke over their squabbling. “Juliette is here.”
“What?” they turned to her in unison, their tempers dropping instantly.
“Floo powder and don’t you dare ask me how she knows how to work it because I haven’t a clue. Probably some of those damned adventurous genes she inherited.” Tonks nodded to the doorway behind her. ‘She’s in the kitchen but she won’t tell me what’s wrong.”
Remus hurried to the kitchen, Sirius following at a much slower, almost disinterested pace. He knew it was about Hermione…what else would have brought Juliette out at 3 in the morning? Juliette or no, Sirius had no desire to help Hermione out of whatever idiotic scene she’d gotten herself stuck in this time.
“Juliette, what are you doing here so late?” Remus touched her shoulder gently but she brushed past him and into Sirius’ arms.
“Sirius, its Dobby. Mum and Draco are in trouble.” She buried her face into his cloak and Sirius grabbed a chair to keep from falling over.
“Lovely,” he grimaced and let Remus help him into the chair.
“What’s happened?” Remus’ tense voice had frightened her, though, and she crawled into Sirius’ lap.
Sirius shook his head at Remus, wondering exactly when his friend had become so Ministry-like. He let his hand stroke Juliette’s head as she peered at him expectantly.
“Tell us, darling, what’s the little house elf to say this time?”
“It’s Draco’s daddy. The bad one.”
“Does he have another?” Sirius raised an eyebrow that caused Juliette to giggle.
“I thought not. So, what’s the bad daddy up to this go around?”
Juliette glanced around the room as if looking for any potential traitors in their midst. Sirius squeezed her waist gently, offering her his measure of support.
“He’s going to hurt them. Both of them. Fleur was calling Bill for help but I knew I had to find you and Uncle Remus.”
“Wait,” Sirius’ voice was stern. “Fleur doesn’t know you are here?”
Sensing she had done something wrong, Juliette pulled away slightly. “Um…’
“We’ll contact her.” Tonks offered her hand to Juliette, tugging her off Sirius’ lap. “Come, Juliette, before Sirius’ swats your behind for not checking with Fleur first.”
“Sirius, you’ll save her, right?” she asked over her shoulder as Tonks pulled her into the other room.
“I’ll do something to her,” Sirius assured her with a curt nod. He turned his gaze to Remus whose eyes had darkened perceivably. “What?”
“Aside from your inappropriate comments that you should only be glad she didn’t catch?” he asked hotly. “Where are they?”
“How would I know where they’ve gone off to for some lover’s tryst?”
“Sirius, you’ve studied every move Draco has made since he came to Harry. You’ve read everything you could get your hands on since coming back. You’ve had me steal documents meant for no one else’s eyes from the Ministry just so you could learn absolutely every single thing about the boy! You know where to find them,” he shook him slightly. “Stop pitying yourself long enough to think clearly, would you?”
Sirius broke away from Remus, his eyes narrowing. “Of course, I know where they are, you prat.”
Remus recoiled, his voice dropping to an incredulous whisper. “Are you telling me you have so little left in you that you would send her into the hands of Lucius Malfoy?”
“I’m telling you, it’s time Draco did some of the saving in this little fairytale.”
Sirius turned away, attempting to hide the pain that was coursing through him. Of course, he didn’t want anything to happen to Hermione. Or Draco, either for that matter. Well, at least not by Lucius. But, in what twisted world did he have to be the hero of the woman he’d just given up? No, not just given up…walked away from. Forcibly threw her out of his arms, his life, his bed, and was still trying desperately to get her out of his mind. The bitter irony of it all made him ill.
“Sirius, my friend,” Remus’ voice was soft beside him, his strong hands gripping tightly to his shoulders. His body, so much smaller than Sirius’ own, seemed to break the tiny wall that Hermione had somehow built between them. His tone was pleading, his voice near breaking at the foolish path Sirius was trying to take. “Please, Sirius, don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Sirius dropped his head. Was it possible he could make the same mistake twice? To leave a woman he cared so deeply about without safety and protection? To lead her into the hands of someone so vile that she had no chance to survive? Had he not learned anything?
His shoulders drooped with Remus’ touch. He felt utterly defeated and resigned that his fate must have been cast in some long ago century before he was even born. “I hate her,” he whispered, so softly even with Remus’ close proximity it was difficult to hear.
“No,” he returned. “But it would make this so much easier if you did.”
Chapter 39: The Collision of Time and Place
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Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Collision of Time and Place
Hermione rolled over groggily, flinching against the violently bright sun. Immediately, she was stricken by the pain in her neck and couldn't recall where it had come from. Gathering herself slightly, and recognizing the throbbing against her temples, she wrenched an arm free from the blankets and took stock of her surroundings. It was a hovel of sorts, dim and dank with old newspapers and litter scattered everywhere. It reminded her vaguely of the shrieking shack of her childhood, but the room had a more violent, brutish tinge to it.
As some of the foggy veils of sleep fell away, reason made its way to the forefront of her mind. She recalled the early evening hours with Draco and losing her nerve to tell him about the child. She vaguely recalled his heavy drinking and his touches becoming more frequent and demanding. Flashes of the dark mark pressing and rubbing into her bare flesh as Draco’s body moved against hers caused a bile to rise in her stomach. She glanced around again to calm herself, but the sight of the bra she had been wearing the night before strewn carelessly across a table so dirty she would never have touched it under normal circumstances made her squeeze her eyes shut again. The pain in her neck lifted suddenly, causing her to jump and, with an overwhelming urge to vomit she realized he was still beside her…his naked body serving as undeniable proof of her stupidity the night before.
Slipping out from underneath his arm, the dark mark mocking her with each trepid move, she tried to locate the most obvious clothing so she could get out as quickly as possible. Spying her shirt across the room, she tiptoed toward it, anxiously glancing back as she heard him toss across the bed. She tugged on her shirt quickly, her eyes roaming the room to try and locate her panties. An edge of pink lace peeked from underneath Draco’s shoulder and she grimaced. Deciding it best to leave them be, she pulled on her jeans hastily, unsure exactly how long he might remain unconscious.
She considered summoning Sirius to pick her up--he might be angry but he would rescue her nonetheless-- then the pounding in her head dissipated enough for her to think better of it. Had she listened to him, she would have brought her wand with her and could have quickly fashioned a portkey to get herself home. She tapped her foot, wondering if she should risk apparating, knowing she hadn’t done in it nearly a decade. Visions of splinched classmates during their apparating class caused her to dismiss the thought.
She stood still, turning in a slow circle to try and fathom what on earth would have made him bring her here. Then she recognized it…the deep brownish circle in the corner, the litter of newspapers having been painstakingly brushed aside to remind her of her past.
She dropped to her knees, her fingers trembling as she reached a hand toward the spot. Flashes of moments streaked across her memory…her own body lying in this very spot; blood from a small wound in her side mixing with that of Harry’s, or was it Ginny’s? She couldn’t recall and withdrew her hand hastily, her movements jerky and uncontrolled.
Draco’s arms around her…comforting her and tending to her injuries…her cries and desperate pleas for him to go after Harry…his refusal…the single golden phoenix feather landing in her lap…the scroll of parchment that announced the war was over…
It all happened here, in this horrid filthy place that she never dreamed she’d see again. Her throat constricted, her stomach lurched and she bent at the waist spewing the remnants of whatever she had eaten last across the floor.
He was at her side immediately, tugging on his boxers and striding to her in one move. He slid to his knees, grabbing her hair to keep it out of her face. He wiped her mouth with a dirty rag, streaks of black soot now hiding the flush in her face. She glanced up, his look of worry and concern making her feel ill once again.
“Why,” she tried to breath but couldn’t seem to manage it. “Why would you bring me here?”
He looked at her in perplexity as if he wasn’t following a thing she said. “Hermione, I…” he seemed to think better of whatever he was going to say. He reached out to her, his hand icy on her warm flesh. “This is where we began.”
“Began?” she hissed. “This is where my world ended, Draco! Don’t you understand that? Everything, everyone, it all ended here in mere moments!” She tried to struggle to her feet but couldn’t summon the strength to lift herself. She scooted across the floor, away from his attempts to console her. “Don’t you understand anything?”
Draco’s face fell, his heart tumbling out of control. “It’s where we began,” he tried again, more softly. “Our life --mine, yours, Juliette’s--it’s where we were granted a new start...together.”
Hermione’s tears fell in torrents, unable to understand anything he was telling her. Could he possibly be so self-centered? So arrogant that he didn’t realize what he had done to her? Her body shook with convulsions, emotions causing her to feel faint. She could see him moving toward her but she couldn’t move, barely managing to pull herself into a tight ball to avoid him. “I don’t want a new start,” she screamed through uncontrollable tears, “I want---”
But she had no more in her. She fell silent, unable to stop her trembles or his advancements or even her breathing. He was within inches of her, her vision fuzzy but she could sense his nearness. But in the space of a heart beat something changed…he stopped mid-stride, a wand jabbing into his throat from somewhere high above her head. He wasn’t moving--his head tilted slightly up to avoid the tip of the wand, his body caught somewhere between sitting and standing.
“Don’t touch her.”
Using his leg as leverage, Hermione pulled herself behind him, blocking Draco from her view.
“You can’t be serious!” Draco growled. “We’re engaged, you foul moronic prat!” He attempted to move again, causing Hermione to flinch visibly. It was her, more than the wand at his throat, that caused him to stop. As if he had sudden understanding of how much he had hurt her, his eyes drifted to Sirius’.
Sirius’ voice was calm, resigned, a tinge of his own hurt at finding them together shining through. “Do you love her, Draco?”
“I-” he paused, an infinitesimal pause but one that echoed through the room. But he quickly straightened himself, his voice defiant. “I want to marry her, don’t I?”
Sirius couldn’t hide the look of disgust on his face and his wand flicked dangerously along the blueish vein in Draco’s neck. Hermione shuffled beside him, though, her clenched fists tightening on his cloak and tugging heavily on his shoulders. He dropped to his knees, wrapping an arm around her waist to help steady her. He lifted her up easily, her fingers digging into the flesh of his back as her arms circled around him. She titled her head towards him and he met her eyes, briefly, the deep wounds of her past visible to him in all their horror. His hand caressed her cheek lovingly before he realized where they were.
With sudden recollection of place and time, he tucked her head into his chest, his arm wrapping protectively around her. He turned a fleeting look Draco’s direction, choosing his words with extraordinary care. “Touch her again without her consent and you’ll have no need to worry about your father’s whereabouts,” he hissed. “Have no doubt, Draco, I will kill you myself.”
Chapter 40: The Worthless Black
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Chapter Forty: The Worthless Black
Sirius stumbled, Hermione falling out of his embrace and into the outstretched arms of Remus and Tonks. Remus sent him a quizzical look…he hadn‘t apparated to the wrong location since he was 17. “Sorry,” he mumbled, “didn’t account for the armchair.”
He straightened himself, accepting Remus’ hand as he helped pull him off the floor. He watched as Tonks directed Hermione into the chair they’d tripped over, Hermione’s body still trembling, her face still drained of all color. He glanced away, unable to mask the hurt he was feeling.
She was with him. He shouldn’t have been surprised but to find them there like that…her bra hanging from the lamp; her panties lying discarded on the pillow; him in nothing but boxer shorts; the smell of rotting food, vomit and dried blood hanging heavy in the air; Draco standing paces away from her while she cried hysterically…Sirius couldn’t withhold the visible shudder that befell him.
“Sirius?” Remus asked quietly, moving to stand behind him, his arm resting gently in the center of his back. Sirius raised his eyes then quickly lowered them again, unable to get any control over his grief.
How could she have done this? After everything he’d offered her, after every tiny bit of his soul he’d let her chip away until there was nothing left for him to hide? The moments in twilight when she taught him to forgive himself for the past, when he came to realize she wasn’t like everyone else, times when he almost believed love was possible for someone as hapless as him. He couldn’t believe she would be like everyone else, he hadn’t wanted to believe it even when Remus had warned him. Why couldn’t he ever learn?
“Don’t say I told you so,” he begged quietly. “Just please don’t do it.”
Remus shook his head, his voice cracking in desperate whisper. “I’m so sorry, Sirius. That this happened, that you--”
“Please,” Sirius broke him off, afraid if Remus went any further he might collapse. Taking a deep breath, he turned slowly, his eyes automatically locking with Hermione’s who was watching him with a mixture of fear and gratitude.
He strode toward her, Tonks shuffling out of his way in haste. He sank down to face her, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and attempting to wipe away the soot smeared across her cheeks. “Are you all right?”
“I don’t deserve you,” she managed, her tears beginning to fall over again.
Sirius couldn’t quell the murderous rage welling within him. He wanted to kill Draco, wanted him dead more than he’d ever wanted anything else in his entire life. Not since Harry had prevented him from killing Peter all those years ago had he been so prepared to take the life of another. But then he had looked into Hermione’s eyes and everything came flooding back…Juliette, that damn locket, all of it. Had she been unable to return his gaze, had she not had the strength or courage to put her arms around him in front of Draco he had no doubt he would’ve killed him. He could still feel the warmth radiated from the vein bulging nervously in Draco’s neck. It would have taken just a twitch, the tiniest move, and Draco would have been out of their lives forever.
That he still had such a murderous, deadly side of him told him the truth – he would never amount to anything more than a worthless Black.
“No,” he kissed her forehead tenderly, holding her head against his lips to hide his face from her view. “You deserve so much better.”
“Stop it,” she pushed him away fiercely, causing him to stumble backwards. “Just stop! You, of all people, I expect the truth from you!”
“Tonks,” Remus’ voice cut through her tirade with a low whisper, “see to Juliette, take her home.”
Tonks hurried out with a quick squeeze to his arm. Remus moved to help Sirius up, leading him to drop into a chair opposite her. “Hermione-”
“Stop! Both of you stop. Your damn chivalry and precious Marauder ethics that make everyone feel so inadequate.” Although her tears were still falling there was no weakness in her voice. “I didn’t intend to sleep with him…do you think I walked in there expected to find myself waking up naked in his bed? Don‘t you think the last person I wanted to rescue me was him,” she pointed to Sirius, “the only other man alive who’s possibly done me enough times to even know what I like?”
Remus blushed fiercely and glanced to Sirius but neither spoke. They seemed transfixed, both unable to think of anything that might ease whatever she was feeling. She was on her feet now, advancing on both of them as if they were one. As if there was any mistaking her intent, a fierce wind circled around them as she launched an object from the table toward them. They ducked simultaneously, the object crashing uselessly into the wall. Remus looked to Sirius for some direction but Sirius merely smiled.
“The fury of a woman scorned,” he commented and ducked as another charm missed him by inches. “Damn good thing she’s out of practice.”
“Scorned my ass!” she seethed. “If it wasn’t for you or Draco I wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with!”
Remus gave a brief chuckle but a dark, worried look had settled over Sirius. He tried to step toward her but she backed away. Oblivious to Remus’ presence, he gripped her arms tightly to hold her in place. His eyes dark, his voice sharp and filled with concern, he shook her slightly. “What do you mean ‘or’?”
It was a tiny word, he knew, but it stood out to him as if she had said nothing else. She hadn’t mispoke, he could see the look of fear and detestation in her brown eyes. She wanted him to worry, wanted him to have to come to her…wanting, with every fibre of her being, for him to demand truth so that she could no longer shy away.
She struggled away from him, backing into the wall and trying desperately to regain her composure. Her voice was a low hiss when she finally spoke. “I’m pregnant, you fool.”
Remus started but Sirius nodded as if her announcement was of no particular surprise. He slid his hands into his pockets, watching her expectantly for some further explanation.
“You have nothing to say? No words of wisdom or condescending remarks?” she asked hotly, her fear of telling anyone now replaced with sheer anger at herself for getting in this situation in the first place. “No righteous indignations?”
“What, exactly, would you like me to say?” he asked seriously, ignoring the uncomfortable shift Remus was making beside him. It wasn‘t as if Remus hadn‘t figured out long ago the two were having sex…he‘d just been too gentlemanly to probe about it. Her vindictive comments tonight had sealed any doubts Remus could possibly have had as to how far the two of them had ventured in their activities and Sirius was too worried about her to be concerned with placating Remus‘ more sensitive nature.
“Do you want me to say that I’m surprised? Because I’m not. It’s not as if we’ve been exceedingly careful and considering the stout remnants of liquor that you reek of after each of your encounters with Draco I don’t assume the two of you gave much thought to it either.”
Remus stepped between them. “Perhaps we should have a seat, a drink even?”
“Perhaps,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “you should stop trying to protect dear Sirius. Tell me,” she turned to Sirius, “is this what you did to Lily? Swept her off her feet and into your bed?”
Remus advanced on her before she had the chance to take a breath. His hands were on her arms shaking her angrily. She tried to break free but he was too strong. “You’ve no idea what your saying, Hermione!”
“Voldemort’s equal,” she continued, struggling against Remus’ tight hold, “heir of Gryffindor, is any of it true? Or was Harry merely the result of one of Sirius Black’s desperate attempts to have--”
“How dare you,” Remus hissed. “How dare you insinuate that Sirius would ever betray James! He's done nothing but protect you! Comforted you!"
Sirius was between them in an instant, breaking apart their wrestling bodies with a well placed calming hand on each of them. As if his presence had stirred common sense back into them both, they took steps away from one another their ragged breathing filling the room.
Hermione dropped to the couch in defeat, her head falling into her hands. Remus was pacing the floor, his anger casting a series of spells across the room making objects shatter where they stood. Sirius waited for him to settle then turned a pained almost desperate look Hermione’s direction.
“I would’ve loved Harry if he were mine or James,” Sirius told her quietly, his voice steady and even. “But there’s no mistaking his parentage.”
Remus turned, opening his mouth to speak but Sirius raised his hand for silence.
“Juliette could be Ron’s or Draco’s or Remus’ for all I care,” he continued, “I would love her just the same.” He dropped his voice, his hurt and anguish displayed for all to hear. “As I will your future child. That you would believe anything different just shows exactly how little you know of me after all.”
Chapter 41: Slytherin's Lair
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Chapter Forty-One: Slytherin’s Lair
Remus stepped into the dark ominous room uneasily. He had never been to this area of Grimmauld and couldn’t say he would ever want to return again. It had an air about it…dank, immoral, wicked even. But it was where Sirius had escaped to. He hesitated at the doorway, Sirius sitting in a chair, a small sliver of remaining sunlight filtering through the dust covered emerald curtains. His head was held in his hands and he didn’t bother to look up.
“How did you find me?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“Juliette,” he answered, kicking the door shut with his foot. He balanced two glasses in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. He moved to stand beside Sirius, placing the glasses on the table with a clink and then poured them full. He took a deep swig off the bottle before placing it on the table.
“What is this place?” Remus asked, pacing around the edges of the room, blowing bits of dust away to look at the carvings that had been painstakingly inlaid into the wood.
“Slytherins lair,” Sirius mumbled, sinking back into his chair and toying with the bottle in front of him rather than taking a drink. Remus jerked his hand away from a snake carving and Sirius chuckled. “It’s a guest room. In its more brilliant times, the best purebloods stayed here. Riddles, Blacks, Malfoys, Potters…” he trailed off.
He was never good at reading Remus but the fire in his eyes was unmistakable. This was his best friend…the man who would give his life to keep Sirius from being hurt and he’d just witnessed one of the deepest wounds he had ever been dealt. Sirius wanted to reassure him, to tell him he was okay, but he couldn’t bear the thought of lying to the man before him.
“There was no need to defend me, although I did appreciate it.” Sirius offered as Remus dropped into a chair beside him.
They were silent for several minutes, Sirius knowing that the longer he remained quiet the more time Remus was being allowed to let Hermione’s remarks fester. He watched as Remus downed one drink and start on another. As he lifted it to his lips, Sirius covered the glass with his hand. “She didn’t mean it.”
“Don’t defend her.”
“There’s nothing to defend,” he answered cautiously. “She is scared and feeling like she’s ruined her entire life.”
But the tone in his voice had already warned Sirius where he was headed. “Don’t do it, Remus. Just be your calm, reasonable self for one more minute, okay?” He placed a tight grip on Remus’ forearm. “If it was anyone but me….anyone…would you be so angry?”
Remus considered for a moment but couldn’t seem to get his anger to subside. “Why will you fight for what you believe in but not fight for what you want?”
“And what is it that I want? Do you know because I sure don’t.”
“Stop putting your tail between your legs and cowering in the corner as if you don’t have a choice. For once in your damn blessed life, fight for whatever it is you want!”
“I don’t know what I want,” he repeated more forcefully, refusing to meet his gaze.
“You want that child to be yours.”
“No,” Sirius returned vehemently. “I want it to be hers--no conditions, no prophecies, no future plans or premonitions-- hers without question.”
“Sirius?” Juliette’s tiny voice sounded from the doorway, causing both men to turn. She stood quietly, her hand locked tightly in Hermione’s. “Mum was looking for you. Is it okay that I brought her here?”
Sirius nodded, opening his arms wide for Juliette to climb into his lap. He nuzzled her neck gently, breathing in the warm scent of little girlish-ness that was Juliette.
“Are you all right?” she asked quietly, worried green eyes locking with his.
He knew better than to lie to her…even if it was what both Remus and Hermione wanted him to do. Besides, Juliette was probably smarter than the entire group of them put together.
“Not really but it’s not something you can fix either.”
“If you could, darling, I’d let you do it in a heartbeat,” he offered smiling and planting a kiss on her forehead. “Can you let Remus tuck you back in bed? You had one heck of an adventurous night.”
“You’ll be here for breakfast?”
Sirius hesitated and he could feel all eyes turn his way. But he still wasn’t going to answer any of them. “Off to bed with you.”
As they disappeared, Sirius’ tired eyes moved to survey Hermione. She looked uneasy, fearful even, and he knew she was going to apologize. And it was the last thing he wanted.
She sank onto the floor as his feet, crossing her legs underneath her. “I’m about as good at apologizing as you are.”
“No apologies are needed,” he whispered, touching her cheek tenderly to let her know he meant it.
“Don’t do that. Don’t let me off so easily. I know you didn’t bed Lily when she was married and for me to have used something like her against you--”
“Stop,” he drew away from her. “Please stop,” the slight pleading in his voice made her weak.
She nodded but was unsure of what to say to make things right between them. Luckily, Sirius always knew where to lead them.
“Hormonal changes aside,” he murmured, “I would think you’d be a bit more happy with the news.”
“I am happy,” she offered him a faint smile. “I’m just--”
“Scared,” he provided with a resigned sigh. “I know.”
He tugged on her arm, pulling her to sit across his lap. She sat there peacefully for a few seconds then began kicking her feet in random nervousness. He intertwined his fingers with hers.
“What do you want, Hermione?”
It wasn’t really something that she had to think about but more something that required courage to say. She leaned forward, her lips brushing lightly against his, knowing he alone could give her the strength she needed.
“I want it to be yours,” she whispered. “More than anything in the world.”
“It will be mine. No matter who the father is.”
“No, I mean…”
“And I’m telling you,” he cut her off, his voice stern but his lips kissing her tenderly, “Stop worrying yourself sick. It will be mine.”
“Sirius,” her soft voice filtered across the room as she watched him dress. She knew he had not intended on having sex with her…she had cornered him in to it. She knew his weaknesses and preyed on them when he was most vulnerable. She hated herself for it and couldn’t blame him for leaving as quickly as possible. But, just once, she was determined to summon the courage he had revived in her.
“I need something from you.”
“Are you hungry?” he chuckled as he finished buttoning his pants.
“No. I mean yes, of course, but,” she hesitated, “I need you not to leave.”
He straightened, his hands frozen in position on his zipper. “What?”
“I know I hurt you. More than anyone. More than your vile mother or any of your relatives. More than those years in Azkaban and even Peter. But,” her strong voice had faded to almost a beg, “I need you to stay. You don’t have to play nice…yell at me, scream at me, do whatever you wish. Just please,” she whispered, “please don’t leave.”
As if her admission had sparked something in him, he moved into a frenzy of activity. He bustled around the room, moving objects then moving them back. He mumbled incoherently, small snippets of words like “impossible”, “should’ve know better”, and “coward” reaching Hermione’s ears. He grabbed a vase, hurling it across the room and causing it to shatter into tiny pieces. He dropped his head, his knuckles turning white as he throttled the edge of the dresser. When he finally spoke, his voice was tinged with an uncontrollable emotion that Hermione couldn’t define.
“How is it possible,” he asked, “to hate you and love you in the same breath?”
His announcement stunned them both. Hermione tightened herself into a ball on the bed, unable to even breath. He dropped his head between his arms, a sickening feeling of exposure causing him to feel faint. He collapsed to the floor, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his arms on his knees.
He watched her tentative steps toward him. Her hair still mussed from their tumble, his long white dress shirt reaching almost to her knees. He could tell the floor was cold on her feet by the way her toes barely touched her the wood; her face was still flushed pink from their love making and her fingers were curled tightly around the French cuffs of his shirt in fear and uncertainty for the emotional windfall he’d just dealt her. If only she could remain this way he might could love her…perfect but tarnished; beautiful but edged in thorns; prim and proper but wild and insatiable when she got him alone.
If only…she wouldn’t open her mouth.
He cursed her. He begged her to leave. He damned her to hell. Then, in case she missed it (since she seemed in no haste to leave) he did it again. Twice.
He was just considering launching into a fourth hate filled tirade when she placed a tentative pink fisted hand on his chest. The other soon followed and her hands moved over his shoulders, up to his neck to rest on either side of his face. She touched him as she might Juliette…brushing away loose strands of hair, wiping away invisible fuzz that only a mother could see, and pressing her lips gently into his forehead with the comfort as only a mom could possibly do.
“Being in love,” she whispered, “is not nearly as miserable as you’d have the world believe.”
Sirius couldn’t quell the urge to flee. Even with Hermione lying in his arms, his pronouncement of love had made him physical weak. The concept that he had somehow exposed himself, that deepest darkest part of himself that he had kept from everyone, to her made him vulnerable. It wasn’t that he feared rejection but the thought of that damned locket that hovered in the back of his mind. He was terrified that his love for her would complete the entire vicious circle…that Juliette’s wish was now fulfilled. She had wanted her mother to be happy and the contented sleep with which Hermione now slumbered told Sirius that time had arrived.
He had always known the day would come- the time when the inscription on the locket would fall upon Grimmauld and he would have to explain to her that her happiness was the only real reason for his return from the veil. He hadn’t expected it to be him. He had counted on the fact that Draco would be the source of her happiness but now that the moment of truth had arrived, Sirius was beside him with worry. How could he ever explain that the repayment for her happiness was for him to leave? And what if the locket wouldn’t accept him? He had to be willing to walk away…how many times had he told her that? But with her lying in his arms, the one person that had ever managed to break through the shell he so carefully crafted around himself, he wasn’t entirely sure he could do it. He had been walking away from people his entire life and now, as he lay in the pale yellowish-pink haze before dawn, he knew…he was failing at the most important test of his life.
Chapter 42: The Mission
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Chapter Forty-Two: The Mission
Hermione rolled over in the darkness, unsure of exactly what time it was. It had been one of the longest nights she could ever remember but dawn still seemed hours away. The evenness of the bed told her Sirius was no longer beside her but she could still smell the scent of his cologne somewhere nearby. She rubbed her eyes, her vision blurry from all the tears she’d cried in the past twenty four hours. She sat still a moment, her eyes trying to focus on the intricately carved posts of the bed. She’d forgotten for a moment that they were in neither her nor Sirius’ room but some far removed corner of Grimmauld that Juliette had had to lead her to. She stretched, a low moan escaping her with the pain and soreness she felt in every part of her body. Her hand went instinctively to her stomach, her previous feeling of fear now replaced with a desire to protect her newly growing child at all costs. For all the terror and heart break of the day before, she knew it was for the best. Sirius knew the truth; Draco would soon know it and she could move on with her life and whatever that happened to entail. She glanced across the room as her eyes adjusted and she could barely make out Sirius’ form in the darkness. He was standing near the table she had found him at last night, his back to her and fully clothed. She shifted slightly, readying herself to slide out of the bed and cross to him but as if she had suddenly been cast immobile, an invisible hand held her in place. She glanced to Sirius who, although he had not turned to face her, had his hand lifted her direction to hold her in place.
“Stay where you are, Hermione,” he ordered softly, “Remus is here.”
He let his hand drop so that she could move again and Hermione pulled the covers tighter around her naked form. She struggled to see and now could barely make out the outline of another person sitting at the table.
“My apologies,” Remus murmured and she could hear the distraction in his voice.
Conjuring herself a robe, she pulled it on and moved toward the men. An odd-shaped, yellow tinged map lay flat on the table between them; half empty coffee cups letting her know they had been at this awhile. A stack a papers with the Ministry seal, ones she vaguely recalled seeing Sirius with before Christmas, threatened to tumble off the edge of the table. She pushed them further onto the table and glanced from one to the other. “What’s going on?”
“You should get some sleep,” Remus smiled faintly. “I can get you some tea, if you like-"
“I would like,” she returned steadily, “to know what’s going on here.”
Sirius’ slipped his hand around her waist, pulling her to stand with him. He kissed her tenderly and then gave a soft chuckle that caused her annoyance to evaporate. “You’ll have to forgive him, Hermione, his chivalry tells him to protect women at all costs. I, on the other hand, fear your wrath more than I fear this mission.”
“Mission?” she pulled away from him slightly.
“Sirius-" Remus admonished.
Sirius squeezed her hand and sent a steady gaze to Remus. “I’m done keeping secrets, Remus.”
Remus gave a tired, almost resigned nod. Waving his hand over the table lamp, it sprang to life, causing Hermione to blink against the brightness. “We’re going after Lucius.”
“What?” Her fingers tightened on Sirius’ cloak. Not now, she wanted to scream. Not after everything they’d gone through. She lowered her eyes, unwilling to let them see her fear. Sirius knew she was frightened, she could tell by the secure embrace with which he held her but she was determined to not let Remus see it as well. Sirius’ hand stroked her back comfortingly as he spoke.
“He’s been spotted and we don’t have much time before he disappears again. We have surprise on our side if we act quickly. He’ll be in Azkaban by dawn.”
She looked from one to the other. They were telling her what was happening. They were including her in their plans but neither seemed to want her opinion. Their minds were obviously made up and telling her about it was merely a courtesy. A vague understanding that they were doing this for her—to protect Draco for her—caused her stomach to tie in knots. She chanced a glance at Sirius who was watching her intently but gave no sign of the reaction he expected from her.
As usual, he was going to let her act however she chose. But, for once, she was determined not to disappoint him. She kept her voice as steady as possible. “Just the two of you? That’s rather risky, don’t you think? Lucius undoubtedly has supporters – "
“Bill, Charlie, Hagrid, Viktor and Oliver are all downstairs waiting on us,” Remus answered.
“And the Ministry?” before she had the words out, she could see Remus shift uncomfortably in his chair. “Ah,” she nodded, “this is not Ministry sanctioned, then?”
“Catches on quick, doesn’t she?” Sirius chuckled. He nuzzled her neck, his voice more solemn. “We need something from you as well, Hermione.”
She bristled uneasily. Surely, neither would ask her to go into a battle again…her thoughts began to tumble but Sirius’ voice beside her kept her from drifting to far away.
“Will you make certain Draco remains here?” he asked then nodded at her questioning glance. “Yes, he’s here. He returned to Grimmauld about an hour ago.”
“Surely you can think of something other than sex to keep him occupied, can’t you?” Sirius asked, moving away from her as he pulled on a well-worn scarf and tightened it around his neck.
Her eyes narrowed but Sirius merely chuckled. “You foul, dirty rotten-"
“Sirius has grown a bit possessive of you, it seems,” Remus interrupted lightly. “It might not be in Draco’s best interests to be found in your bed. In fact, I dare say, his life may balance in your hands.”
Hermione folded her arms against her chest but couldn’t manage to be angry. How the two of them managed to insult her and yet make her feel like she belonged was beyond her. “If Lily had to deal with the two of you and your nonsense, it’s no wonder she ran off with James.”
Sirius and Remus laughed simultaneously, both sending her winning smiles that made her warm all over.
“And, indeed,” Remus said through his laughter, “she does catch on quick.”
“I’ll give you a few minutes,” he nodded to Hermione, his soft touch on her shoulder an apology. “Sirius, we have to-”
“I’ll be down momentarily,” he assured him. “Just get them all ready to go.”
Sirius rubbed Hermione’s arms as if she were cold, his eyes watching her closely. She’d been so strong in front of Remus that he half expected her to fall apart. Either that or knock him senseless.
“You have to tell Draco, Hermione.”
“I know,” she nodded. She kissed him softly, her voice warm on is stubbled cheek. “I won’t leave you in this position, no matter what. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Sirius?” she backed away as she handed him his wand. She held tight to it a moment before releasing it so that it could tuck it into his cloak. “I’ll never forgive you if you don’t come back.”
He sent her a cocky lopsided grin that made her smile. “Afraid a Malfoy will get the better of me?”
“No, afraid you’ll do something stupid like fall into a veil for ten years again.”
“Yeah,” he laughed heartily, loving that her sense of humor had finally found its way back home. “That would suck, wouldn’t it?”
“You’ll be careful then?”
He kissed her deeply, his eyes meeting hers with his promise. “I’ll see you soon.”
Chapter 43: Face Off
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Chapter Forty-Three: Face Off
Draco paced the room in a drunken rage. Ignoring Hermione’s presence, he cast angry spells off each wall, hoping she would have the nerve to tell him off for destroying her precious Grimmauld.
But either she was letting him vent or she didn’t even care anymore…either choice making him feel even more worthless. She had long ago begun to ignore his tirade and sunk into her own little world of worry and concern for those that had left on this secret mission against his father.
How could she have done this? Lied to him all this time? About Juliette’s lineage, about the affair with Sirius, about having a child, for chrissakes! Was there anything she had been truthful about it? He cast an angry glare her way and opened his mouth to ask but then thought better of it. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. It might be better if he didn’t know.
He clasped the locket tightly in his hand that he’d taken from Juliette earlier that evening. She had been so tired, the night had been so hard on her, that she hadn’t even noticed when he slipped it from around her neck. He intended to confront Sirius tonight. It was the only reason he had returned to Grimmauld after the whole sordid ordeal in the shack. He was tired of waiting for Sirius to do the right thing and was going to force him out of their lives forever. Severus had told him everything he needed to know and it was time to use that information for his own benefit.
He stopped mid-pace, his face blanching white. What on earth was he saying?
He turned a gaze to Hermione, who had moved to watch out the window. No doubt waiting to make sure Sirius returned safely. He was crushed not so much that she’d chosen Sirius over him but more that he’d let himself turn into such a simpering idiot over the whole sordid affair.
She turned, pale faced, her fist holding tight to the curtain. Her voice was exasperated when she finally spoke. “I’m done fighting, Draco.”
He stepped toward her, slipping his hand into hers and pulling her toward the bed. “I hate him, I do. But not you.”
“I know. You shouldn’t feel that way but I know I can’t change that.”
Her eyes drifted to the window again but he pulled her face to his. “He’ll come back,” he assured her softly.
She raised her eyes, unsure if she could believe him or not. “How do you know?”
It pained Draco to admit it even as the words came out of his mouth. “Because I wouldn’t but it will never cross his mind not to.”
He wanted to be the bigger man, he did. But seeing the mangled group of them stumbling into the house caused his anger to boil again. Casting a quick spell across Hermione to keep her asleep, he stumbled toward the stairway.
He could see them all, the muddled mess of them that was left. Cuts, scrapes, blood flowing off most of them. He felt vindicated that his father didn’t at least go without some kind of fight. Only Sirius seemed to have escaped injury and that meant either he was a bloody coward or had gone after Lucius when his back was turned. That Sirius might outwit or out-fight his father never entered his mind.
“Kill my father, did you?” he asked from the top of the stairs, causing everyone still able to stand to turn his way.
“No, Draco, we did not.” Remus answered for them all as Hagrid began cursing under his breath.
“What’s that you big oaf? Couldn’t quite hear you.”
Remus reached out an arm to prevent Sirius from advancing on him. “He’s drunk, Sirius.”
“And?” Viktor returned from somewhere nearby.
“What, one Malfoy wasn’t enough for the evening? Now you want to take on another? Funny how all of you have something like a woman in common,” Draco pushed around them angrily, shoving them down as best he could. He glared at Viktor. “Question, is there anyone here who hasn’t slept with Hermione?”
Sirius advanced on him before anyone could react. He had him pinned to the ground, Draco laughing drunkenly, completely nonplussed by Sirius’ move. “Seems we have the answer about you now, don’t we?”
Sirius was sitting on his chest, his legs straddling Draco’s body his hands wrapped tightly around his throat. His fingers curled angrily, Draco’s eyes drifted closed, his face turning to a ghostly shade of bluish gray. A trickle of blood slid out from the corner of the mouth before Remus and Bill appeared at their side. Grabbing an arm, they tried to pull him away but nothing seemed to distract him. Remus watched in agony, knowing Sirius was too furious to comprehend what killing Draco would mean.
“Hagrid,” Remus whispered.
Hagrid stepped forward pulling Sirius off with one hand and locking him underneath his arm. Although he tried to protest, it was useless and Sirius watched as Viktor and Oliver rushed to Draco’s side.
“Sirius,” Remus touched his arm and, when he didn’t even glance his way, Remus grabbed him more forcefully. His voice barely audible, he reminded, “the locket, Sirius.”
The anger flushed from him immediately, almost as if Remus had placed Juliette in his arms. He nodded imperceptibly, his gaze moving from Remus to settle on Draco’s prostrate form. “Let me go, Hagrid.”
Hagrid looked to Remus for confirmation and, when he nodded, Hagrid released him. Sirius strode to Draco where Oliver and Viktor were working furiously to try and save him. They had no idea what spell he had being using while he strangled Draco and he knew they had no chance of saving him. He knelt on one knee, his head tilting to the side in curious observation as he watched Draco’s chest shudder in an attempt to get air. It would be so easy to let him die. He would have to do nothing. They couldn’t save him in time and if he only waited a few more seconds-
“Sirius.” Remus’ voice commanded from somewhere nearby.
He scowled but waved his hand across Draco’s chest and throat. The effect was immediate…as if he had suddenly been pulled from drowning, Draco’s eyes opened and he coughed with the sudden influx of fresh air to his lungs. Sirius stepped paces away as the others helped Draco to the sofa, color returning to his face by the time they had conjured him a glass of water. Draco peered at him uneasily as he tried to calm himself, the others murmuring and pacing on the fringes of the room.
“Voldemort,” he said finally, causing everyone to turn.
“Do you think you are the only one with an upbringing in the dark arts?” Sirius hissed. “Time to grow up, Draco. You’re superior to no one.”
They stared at each other for what seemed like hours, the others shuffling around uneasily in the silence. It was Remus who finally started ushering them out, Hagrid helping the wounded along as best he could.
“Sirius,” Remus touched his arm lightly to break the trance the two men seemed to be in. “We’ll be at Bill’s house. Fleur can patch everyone up.”
He nodded, but his eyes remained trained on Draco. “Take Hermione and Juliette with you, please.”
Remus hesitated and, as if he realized Remus’ unwillingness to leave, Sirius sent him a half hearted smile. “You’ll call if I’m needed?”
Remus nodded, his eyes landing squarely on Draco. “You realize he can kill you without uttering a word?”
“I’m fucking terrified,” Draco returned hotly.
Sirius put an arm up to restrain Remus as he started for Draco himself. He chuckled. “Let the boy alone, Remus. It’s not everyday your father gets sent to Azkaban and you lose your fiancée to a man who was once dead.” Sirius paused thoughtfully. “No, twice dead I believe.”
“I won’t kill him, Remus. Not without giving you the chance to convince me otherwise first, deal?”
“Deal,” Remus muttered and with a cold stare to Draco, disapparated.
Author’s Note: Just wanted to drop a quick note of thanks for all the amazing support everyone has given me on the story. The reviews and comments in meet the author have been absolutely heart-warming. There are only two chapters remaining and I intend to post both before my vacation set to start on July 18. I hope the ending turns out to be everything you hope it would be and, if it doesn’t, I at least hope I was able to keep you guessing and interested in this as it unfolded. Upon my return, the first chapter of Echoes of Fate will be posted. It will serve as a sequel to both this story and Reckless (for those of you who have read that). Thanks for everything, it’s been a lovely ride and I have all of you to thank for it.
Chapter 44: Bearing All
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Chapter Forty-Four: Bearing All
Sirius paced around the room in a small line, his eyes glued to Draco. He seemed to be calmer now that Remus was gone, although why he would want to be alone with Sirius there was no telling.
“I assume by your drunken stupidity that she told you she’s with child?”
Draco glared angrily at him but sipped his water calmly, Sirius’ recent attack still fresh on his mind.
“Do you think it’s yours or mine?” he mused.
“Do you think,” Sirius asked softly, “hating her vindicates any of your actions?”
He watched Draco for a moment, a curiously odd feeling of pity for him catching him unaware. He moved to the sidebar and poured himself a glass of water. He took a long drink and then tipped the pitcher towards Draco. When he nodded, Sirius stepped toward him and re-filled his glass.
“So she was honest with you?” He turned a penetrating stare Draco’s direction. “Tell me, Draco, did you bare your soul to her as well?”
“I don’t know-"
But the stricken look on his face told Sirius he knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Would you prefer to be sober for this?” he asked casually, his voice as calming as possible.
Draco glared at him for a moment then nodded. Sirius placed a hand on his head as he walked past the sofa, Draco’s head clearing immediately.
“I could’ve used that in school,” he murmured in thanks.
“Came in handy for me as well. But, yes, Lucius wasn’t much of a drinker. Narcissa, on the other hand-" Sirius chuckled, “I’m surprised she didn’t pass that one along to you.”
“Funny how the adult you would most readily identify with is the one you never really take the time to listen to.”
Sirius didn’t miss the double meaning in his words. “Ah, Draco,” he said, exhaling slowly, “we were destined to be enemies from the beginning.”
“Probably some damn prophecy somewhere with our initials on it,” he mumbled and Sirius couldn’t help but laugh.
“Touche,” he said nodding as he sank down opposite Draco. He waited a few moments to let the shock on Draco’s face to settle. “Do you intend on telling her?”
“To be honest, Sirius, with the things I’ve done in my lifetime you are going to have to be a hell of a lot more specific with me here.”
Draco lifted his eyes and rather than the look of fear he had expected, Sirius saw nothing but tired, miserable regret. He exhaled heavily, placing his glass on the table and letting his head drop into his hands.
“For a decade,” Sirius couldn’t keep the anger out of his voice, “you have allowed her to believe that Ginny going to Voldemort was her fault. She stopped doing magic, put herself in some horrible self imposed exile, stopped living her life, all under the belief she had caused not only Ginny’s but Ron and Harry’s death as well.”
“The potion was complicated, we don’t know-"
“I know,” Sirius’ voice was low and accusatory, “you know.”
“Yes, okay, yes!” Draco was out of his seat and pacing the floor. “Of course the potion was perfect. It’s Hermione for goodness sakes. Has the woman ever gotten a spell wrong in her life? But, I didn’t plan it! I swear to God, Sirius, I had no idea-" he dropped back onto the sofa in exasperation. “I’d left Voldemort, I was finally free of him, and I would never have done it on purpose. You have to believe me.”
“I do believe you,” Sirius whispered. “The bonding charm went wrong, didn’t it? You somehow bonded her to Voldemort rather than Harry.”
Draco raised his eyes, fighting off the tears he felt coming. “We were stupid and arrogant and thought we had it all figured out. I was alone with Ginny when I cast the charm and she just went –" his voice caught as the memories flooded over him. “She started talking about Riddle and how he knew her better than anyone. That no one else had ever really understood her. She was making no sense but, looking back, she was making perfect sense.”
“Riddle’s diary,” Sirius offered with a sad nod. They had been mere children trying to save the world, trying to save Harry. They had thought they were doing the right thing and it turned out the worst thing imaginable. Much as his forcing the secret keeper on Peter had destroyed so many lives a generation before. If he’d only been here to counsel them, to convince them that fate wasn’t something you could undo so easily.
“Bonded to the one whom your bare your soul,” Draco whispered miserably. “She never talked to anyone but Harry. They’d spend hours locked away just talking. Had we not been so stupid—"
“When did you realize?” Sirius cut him off. “How long have you known it was you?”
“Juliette,” he admitted, his voice a mixture of pain and remorse. “No one has ever talked to me so openly, shared so many things with me. She’d share the deepest darkest parts of her soul with me.”
“A child that has no reason to fear,” Sirius explained, “will always be more honest than the rest of us.”
Draco dropped his head back against the sofa, his hands running through his hair as he focused on the ceiling above. “Ginny was so young. My father gave her that damned diary her first year at Hogwarts. She told it everything, told him everything.” He sat up, facing Sirius directly. “But she grew up, learned to hide her emotions, learned to keep thoughts from Harry.”
“We all hide things to protect those we love,” Sirius mumbled, his eyes never wavering. He dropped his voice a notch and tightened the grip on his glass before speaking. “Again I ask, Draco, do you love her?”
“I wouldn’t know how to love her,” Draco murmured, his voice barely audible. He dropped his face into his hands, unwilling to face Sirius.
Sirius watched him silently for a moment, visions of his own youth mirrored in Draco. He clasped his glass tighter in his hand, wanting desperately to tell the boy off but knowing this was perhaps his last chance to do something right. Since his return, he had done everything in his power to keep Draco safe. To keep harm from him...to keep him alive so Hermione wouldn’t loose yet another person in her life. But for all his effort at saving Draco, he’d failed miserably to take into account the boy’s soul.
“I know,” he nodded, his eyes meeting Draco’s briefly. “It’s not her, you know. It’s anyone. The Blacks, the Malfoys…we were raised the same, Draco. Love is a weakness not meant to be learned. Why would anyone willingly allow themselves to become weak at the expense of someone else?”
Sirius couldn’t help the emotions that filled him. Draco was nothing more than a copy of himself…an echo of his own destructive soul before Juliette had brought him back. How could he never have seen it before?
Draco sank back on to the sofa, his desire to throttle Sirius suddenly evaporating. It wasn’t as if this was his fault…it wasn’t either of their fault. They had both made their mistakes and the only bright spot was that Juliette had been sheltered from them all. “Harry told me,” he said, “on the night he forgave me that it wasn’t his forgiveness that mattered. I had to forgive myself. I haven’t been able to do that and I don’t ever expect to. I can never make up for all of those things I’ve done to everyone. I destroyed Hermione’s life, Sirius,” his voice broke slightly. “And it took you to save her. For that, I’m forever grateful.”
“I didn’t intend-"
“No,” Draco shook his head. “Of course you didn’t. I imagine you did your damnedest to push her away at every turn. I suppose that it was inevitable, really. I’ll always remind her of what she lost, you remind her of what is possible.”
“Draco,” he leaned forward, his voice solemn, “that has to change. You have to change that. The locket—"
“Yes, that damned cursed locket,” he sighed heavily. “Bane of my existence and my freedom as well.”
Sirius hesitated. His eyes drifted to meet Draco’s, who now had a smile playing lightly across his face. He pulled the locket out of his pocket, wrapping the long chain around his fingers. He opened it gingerly, stared briefly at the picture, then tugged it out and handed it to Sirius. “You won’t mind if I leave that with you, then?”
He held tight to the picture of he and Hermione….the silly idiotic picture from Christmas when they’d all gone to see Santa Claus. He knew better than to ask where Draco had gotten it. Juliette would not have given it to him willingly…he had to have stolen it while she slept. It had crossed Sirius’ own mind several times – how exactly to get the locket away from her without her questioning him. That Draco had been planning this...that he was methodical and organized, told Sirius his decision had been made long before tonight’s drunken confrontation had ever occurred.
“Draco—" Sirius stood up to move toward him but Draco raised his hands and the exasperation in his voice made Sirius stop.
“For once in my damned forsaken life, Sirius, let me do the right thing,” his voice was almost pleading. “Please. She loves you, Juliette needs you. I, have nothing to offer them except by some bizarre twist of fate, I can give them you.”
“There will be another way-"
“Really?” Draco laughed—not a condescending laugh but the warm and almost brotherly laugh Sirius received from Remus. “See any other willing purebloods about, do you? Surely, you didn’t overlook the inscription. It’s a Black family heirloom, after all.”
“Not hardly,” Sirius shook his head. “Volo purus…a pure wish. What Juliette gave.”
“Volo purus…a willing pureblood. What it wants in return.” Draco nodded. “Bloody irritating how wizards never just mean one thing, isn’t it? Two tiny words two different meanings. I’m surprised actually that Hermione never figured it out,” he glanced at Sirius. “But, I suppose you never let her see it, did you?”
Sirius shook his head and turned away. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets, his mind teeming with reasons to convince Draco his plan was absurd.
“You did the right thing, Sirius,” he murmured, “and now it’s my turn. I must admit, I don’t envy you having to explain this to everyone when I’m gone.” He gave a tight, tension filled laugh that Sirius couldn’t join in on.
“Your decision is made then?”
Draco nodded. “You’ll take care of them, Sirius? Both of them?”
“You won’t stop loving her when she’s obstinate? And Juliette, you know how special she is, don’t you? The things she can do—the magical abilities she possesses at six- you understand her future in the wizarding world?”
Sirius nodded, unable to equate the hatred he had once felt for Draco with the noble gesture he was now witnessing. But the smile on Draco’s face sought neither approval nor pride from Sirius, just reassurance and a promise of no interference.
“I don’t relish being in debt to you, Draco,” he offered.
Draco laughed and, this time, Sirius was able to join in. “Funny, that’s the part I’m particularly fond of.”
“Draco,” Sirius moved to stand closer to him, his voice wavering with uncertainty, “I disappoint everyone. I fail at everything.”
Draco placed a comforting hand on his arm. “You’ll succeed here, Sirius. I’ve given you no other choice.”
Sirius nodded and watched as Draco grasped the locket tightly and, with a solemn nod, headed toward the door.
“Draco, for what it’s worth,” he called, making him turn, “the sorting hat was wrong about you.”
“Gryffindor?” he asked with a smile. He nodded his heartfelt thanks for the meaning behind Sirius’ words. “Tell it off for me, will you, then? Damned thing has cost me half my life.”
Sirius offered him the tiniest bow. “It would be my pleasure.”
Chapter 45: The Present
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Chapter Forty-Five: The Present
It was the dream world Juliette had envisioned for as long as she could remember. Although she missed Draco terribly, the gaiety that had enveloped Grimmuald on this one, single day was enough to almost make her forget. She watched as Hermione snuggled close to Sirius on the wooden floor in the center of Grimmuald’s formal gardens. He had one arm around her waist and another hanging loosely at his side as he twirled around in a dance that seemed to make them oblivious to those watching from the perimeter of the square.
Sirius waved his hand to her in greeting, and she smiled, wondering how angry he would get if she un-did the ringlets on her head that Fleur had taken hours to make look just perfect. He winked at her mischievously, his hand lifting her direction before turning Hermione in quick step that caused her to mother to laugh out loud. Juliette reached to her head, disappointed that the ringlets were still there, and then she felt the movement on her tummy. She glanced down to the horrid dress she’d been forced to wear- a white one to match her mother’s but it was covered in tiny pastel butterflies that made her look like a freakish flower garden. She’d hated the dress that morning and made no qualms about the frilly thing to Sirius.
She glanced back to Sirius who was smiling at her as he left Hermione on the dance floor to head toward Remus and the other men assembled at a nearby table. He had enchanted her dress…the butterflies now dancing and fluttering across the fabric of her dress as if to keep her company. She tumbled with glee, dropping on the grass to see if she could actually catch any of them or if he was only teasing her.
“What on earth is she doing?” Remus asked, watching Juliette as he kicked a seat out for Sirius.
“Chasing butterflies.” Sirius shrugged and took a glass off the table, surveying the pastel layered liquids with bemused interest. “Pink and yellow?” he asked, shaking his head. “Let me guess, Tonks picked out the colors?”
“Funny,” Remus snorted. “Oliver and Viktor brought brandy to spike the fluffy girly drinks.”
“Brilliant.” He raised a hand to call them over.
“Viktor is harassing people about the Quidditch World Cup,” Oliver explained, grinning as he poured a dark, ruby colored liquid into Sirius’ glass without even being asked.
“Sorry, Sirius, it just seemed like a good opportunity-"
Sirius waved him off. “As long as I get free tickets, harass all our guests until they leave.”
Viktor nodded as if to say “I told you so” and then sank down between Remus and Bill. “Oliver is making moves on Gabrielle.”
“She’s just a kid!” Oliver argued but took a good natured seat with them anyway. “Besides, without that stupid veil luck he had, Sirius would be as old as Remus now.”
“Don’t remind me,” Sirius grinned and clinked his glass with Remus’ as a peace offering.
“When are you going to make an honest woman of Tonks anyway, Remus? Twelve years is a pretty long courtship even for an old fart like you.”
“Marauders aren’t the marrying type, remember?” Bill reminded them and then glanced at Sirius. “Oh, sorry mate.”
Remus threw his head back in laughter. “I figure I’ll let Sirius give it a go. If he’s still alive in a year or so, maybe Tonks and I have a chance.”
“Sirius has defied death how many times, again?” Viktor asked, grinning. “He’s got damn better odds than you at surviving marriage.”
Sirius’ eyes drifted to Hermione. She had moved to be with Juliette, her white cotton dress swaying in the spring wind. He could find nothing more beautiful than watching her bare feet, so simple and at ease, twirling around the grass with her daughter. Could there possible be a more normal, mundane, breathtaking thing in the world?
The late spring sun glinted off his wedding band, and he glanced at it curiously - the strange color or perhaps the band itself seeming horribly out of place on his own hand. He had stared at one on James’ finger for ages, and even before his death had never quite gotten used to the look of his friend wearing such a tiny but monumental piece of metal. Of course, this was no ordinary band…made of neither gold nor silver, it flashed a somewhat silverish white which sparkled with colors of red, green and gold if you held it against the prisms of light just right. Hermione had fought him about it but he’d never been one to be swayed when he made up his mind. He’d had the locket melted down for their rings, determined he would never forget the gift Draco had given them both. He knew as time went on Hermione would feel the same and, indeed, even today, mere months after his sacrifice, she was beginning to remember Draco with fondness rather than remorse.
He felt the heavy weight of Hermione’s arms around his neck as she leaned down to steal his off-colored drink. The other men looked at him anxiously, but Sirius merely grinned; he knew Hermione’s drinking well enough to know she had no doubt in what she was doing.
“I sincerely hope you don’t expect me to call you Mrs. Black,” he returned with a mock shudder, as he let his hands slide across her bare skin to keep her close.
“Perish the thought. I’ve no desire to be compared to that old bat.”
“She would make one frightening mother-in-law, wouldn’t she?” Remus asked, refilling the glass for Sirius and Hermione to share.
Hermione dropped into Sirius’ lap, nodding her thanks to Remus. “You know what Tonks is serving over there?” She paused for effect. “Lemonade. Now really, Remus-”
Remus held his hands up with a laugh. “I suggested we all run off to London and forget this whole blasted wedding thing.”
“Well,” Hermione kissed his cheek softly, “I figured if you weren’t going to ever marry the girl, she might as well get to plan someone’s wedding.”
The boys howled with laughter, one by one getting up to leave the couple alone. Hermione nuzzled Sirius’ neck. “How much longer until I get you in bed, Mr. Black?”
“Sexual appetite of a man, I tell you.”
“Tell me you love me,” she ordered, entwining her fingers in his.
“What on earth would give you an idea like that?”
“Tell me.” She punched him gently in the ribs.
He kissed her lips softly, knowing he loved her but still unwilling to say the words out loud. His eyes met hers, hoping she understood.
He knew he would one day have to explain Draco’s role in Ginny’s death, but for now, it had been hard enough to work through the gift he had given them both. He had no desire to tarnish the memory so soon after his death or disappearance or whatever it was the locket actually did with him. And no matter how much he loved her, he knew he wasn’t nearly free enough from his guilt to tell her what she wanted to hear.
He dropped his eyes away, but she quickly turned his face to hers and planted a kiss on his lips. She smiled. “It’s okay. I can wait. For once, we have time on our side.”
He nodded, knowing she was accepting him for who was as no woman had ever been willing to do before. Taking her hand, he pulled her back toward the dance floor.
“By the way, thank you,” he said, as they walked hand in hand toward the crowd.
“What for? My graciousness? My wonderful insight into your mannerisms? Putting up with you stupid boyish gestures? Or your arrogant, incessant fighting over pointless things?”
“No,” he pulled her into a warm embrace, trying to conceal the grin that was forming across his face. But her eyes were sparkling with his - she knew him too well, and he couldn’t help but laugh. “For not wearing a fucking veil to the wedding.”
Hermione sank into his easy movements on the dance floor, letting his strong arms pull her into the curves of his chest that she’d memorized so well under the cover of darkness. She glanced around the festive atmosphere, trying to keep her emotions in check. She dropped her head against his shoulder for the briefest moment, though, and knew she’d given herself away.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his lips soft against her ear. “It’s okay to say no.”
As always happened, Sirius’ voice caused the world to melt away and allowed her to believe nothing else existed. “Sirius, do you think it’s possible for people like us to be happy? The things we’ve done, the things we’ve failed to do...what gives us any right to happiness?”
He chuckled, kissing her forehead gently. “I care little about what the world sees as right, my dear.”
“Sirius,” Hermione chided, sliding her hand around his waist to make him look at her in earnest.
“You and I?” he whispered reassuringly, the crooked grin that had welcomed him back from the veil so many months ago, sliding across his face, “we’ll make the world jealous.”
Author’s Note: There is no possible way to put into words how much I owe to all of you. I have read every single review (the good and the not so good) and have learned something from every one. This story was meant to be done in two months time and now, two years later, is finally finished. For those who have been with me from the beginning – your support and encouragement have meant the absolute world to me. To those who joined in as it was in progress – nothing compares to having someone drop a note and tell me they skipped work to read something I wrote. It’s an amazing and wonderful feeling. To all of you who voted for this story (and me personally) in the Dobby’s I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Never did I imagine the nominations much less the out pouring of support all of you gave to me during this.
As to what’s next: I have an original work that is keeping me quite busy but I’m not about to give up on fanfic. I love it and HPFF too much. The sequel to this and Reckless will be posted shortly (I need to edit the first chapter) as my site duties and real life allow. But it shouldn’t be long, I promise! The Out of Your Realm Challenge has begun again as well and I may attempt an entry in it (and hope that it doesn’t take over my life like it did last time around!). If I seem to take to long….please come hound me in the meet the author section at the forum…nothing gets my off my butt faster than that :P.
Again, thank you and I hope this story means as much to you as all of you readers have meant to me.