Author's Note: Holy crap! I'm really sorry about the long wait on this chapter. You have no idea how long it took me to figure out the story. I know, I know, I shouldn't go into it without knowing.. but I do that. Updates should be quicker from now on. I hope you enjoy what's to come!! There are probably about 10 chapters left of this story.. plus an epilogue, or perhaps a collection of one-shots that shows everyone after the end of this. :)
Much thanks to the girls on SAYS - Gubby, Emz, and Andy - for being excited about the spoilers...even though they probably won't read this. =P
And thanks, too, to Candy for poking me into getting this chapter up. Your enthusiasm REALLY helps!!
And (I swear, almost done) to David who assured me, once again, that it's not rubbish. =D
Escalation. Things just kept getting more and more complicated. What with the time differences and the bad decisions, the consequences and the nearly undeniable future, Hermione was in a right state. Every which way she turned, there was a reason to turn around. It was like being a rat in a cage, like she was part of some sick experiment.
She applied a cool cloth to her face and leaned against the counter, breathing out a heavy sigh. The next few days had passed quite eventfully. James stayed with her and Sirius and Lily was being tended to by Remus, who had finally gotten his way. Though, everyone knew that she just couldn't face being alone. Remus, as guilty as he was for causing such an upheaval, was doing his best to be there for his new family.
James maintained the disposition to disregard Lily's existence. Sirius took James out on the town a few nights out of the week. And Hermione kept herself occupied with reading books on pregnancy and carrying twins. She held contact with Lily on a daily basis through the floo network when James and Sirius were not around. She and Remus seemed happy, though Hermione could tell in Lily's eyes that she missed James.
Her courage was no further along than it had been the day she almost told Sirius that these babies, their future, could actually be James's. Why spoil something that is working so well, she figured while clutching onto her silence.
Morning sickness had kept constant in her second month of pregnancy. Her stomach expanded very little, but time seemed to speed up. Lily and James were no closer to getting back together, Remus was now spending every minute that he could with her and the baby. Sirius and James were hard at work against Voldemort. Hermione stayed behind, preparing for the baby.
It was repetitive, the days as they wore on. It was all the same. The only thing changing was the friendships that were forged so long ago. Hermione had ruined those by choosing to stay here. The consequences were beginning to form more clearly. It was frightening.
She threw up again, holding back her own hair. Maybe her choice wasn't worth it. There was hardly any intimacy between her and Sirius. James kept droning on about quidditch and fighting Voldemort. Hermione felt useless and invisible. Until that very evening.
After having emptied her stomach for the last time that night, Hermione slipped into her pajamas and tossed her hair into a messy pony tail on her head and sat in the living room of their flat, reading a pregnancy book. She all but jumped out of her seat when she heard singing coming from outside and then a very loud crashing sound. Tossing the book aside, Hermione ran to the door and opened it, trying to contain a laugh at the sight in front of her.
Sirius was trying to lift James from the ground and James was adamantly telling his best friend that there was something spectacular hidden in the bushes that they had to see. It was very important to him, as evidenced by his chorus about pretty, pretty plants in the pretty bright sun.
"Here," Hermione said, walking out to Sirius with an amused smile on her face. "Wingardium Leviosa!"
James was lifted from the ground and began floating into the flat. Sirius shook his head and continued on after his girlfriend and best mate, rolling his eyes at James's discovery that flying was just the same as floating on air.
"What did you two do? Drink the entire bar?" Hermione asked after they put James to bed. She was partially angry, but the sparkle of laughter in her eyes still hadn't faded entirely.
Sirius held on to the wall, keeping his balance. "Quite possibly more than that, love." He pushed away from the wall and sauntered, unsteadily, to Hermione with, what she assumed was supposed to be, a sexy smirk across his face. "I've been thinking of you all night, you know? About you and us and how we haven't really had a chance to be alone..."
Hermione sucked in a breath as he got closer to her and then quickly covered her mouth when he breathed his whiskey soaked breath all over her face. Without a word, she spun on her heel and ran to the loo, losing, once again, the contents of her stomach. She sat near the toilet for several minutes trying to catch fresh air.
"Fresh air by a loo. Lovely," she muttered to herself as she stood from the ground.
When she entered the room again, Sirius had gone, probably angry, to bed. Sure enough, she could hear the snoring coming from their room and turned away from it in order to continue her book. It stung more than she would admit, that the only time he would ever take notice of her now was when he had gone on a round of drinks with James. It seemed at any other point that they were just friends having a baby.
Curling up on the sofa again, Hermione reached for her book and held it close to her face as she read. Twins, obviously, would be much harder than one baby, but reading these real life accounts of parents raising twins was beginning to scare Hermione. She had let Lily hear her fears about it, but felt unjustified... at least she still had the love of her life backing her up. Didn't she?
A creaking on the floor boards had caused her to stir. She didn't remember falling asleep, but saw that her book laid littered on the floor. A blanket was covering her body, she noticed while furrowing her eyebrows. Her heart rate increased when she looked up and into the eyes of James, who was staring at her intensely.
"Couldn't sleep," he mumbled, putting his hand in his hair. "Sirius is noisier than a hippogriff parading through an exploding snap factory."
Hermione chuckled and sat up on the sofa, pulling up the duvet to cover herself more fully. "I reckon you had a rough night again, huh?"
He nodded deftly and closed his eyes. "I love going out with Sirius, but we don't talk much about Evan-" James rolled his eyes at Hermione's glare, "Lily and what happened. It's just drinking, really. We barely say a word until either of us are too drunk to realize what we're saying out loud."
She nodded in understanding, though she thought it was ridiculous that he hadn't been able to talk about his feelings. "Why was tonight different, then? You've slept fine every other night, haven't you?"
James turned his head and scratched the side of his neck absentmindedly. "Yeah. There's something you should know, Hermione."
Hermione perked up and raised an eyebrow, worried about what she was about to hear. Something about Sirius, no doubt. "James, if it's something that I'm ever going to regret hearing, please don't tell me, okay?"
"I told Sirius." James blurted out quietly, gritting his teeth soon after. "I don't know how much he'll remember, Hermione, but he's not stupid. I had to get it off of my chest; he's my best mate."
Her chest tightened. "It wasn't your place, James!" She shouted at him, standing up from the sofa. "I'm supposed to be the one to tell him!"
"But you weren't going to, were you?" James stood up, matched her tone and glanced back to Sirius's room. "He wasn't asking questions, so you weren't giving answers. Hermione, he knows more than he lets on! He just didn't know the timing of it all!"
There was a rage of guilt and fury inside of her that she had never felt before. "Why did you tell him, James? You can't be happy, so no one can? Is that it?"
James stepped closer to Hermione, his face only inches away from hers. "It's not my fault that you cheated on him, got pregnant and are afraid to tell him the truth." His jaw twitched as he clamped down on his teeth, trying to hold back his anger. "You slept with me, Hermione, knowing full well that you loved him. That, sweetheart, is not my fault."
The first slap across his face hadn't even sunk in before Hermione raised her hand and slapped him again, this time taking no care in how loud or painful it was. "You pretended to be someone else, someone I trusted! Sirius was in the past for me and I needed to move on! You knew that he was there! You knew that my professor was Sirius. You said nothing to me at all! How dare you insinuate that I ever cheated on him. I love him !"
Holding his hand to his face, wincing slightly at the sting, James shook his head. "You remember that night, don't you? You wanted me, Hermione. I could see it in your eyes. You wanted me that night."
Hermione laughed dryly. "You're delusional! I was in pain and you took advantage of me - as my best friend." She stepped closer to him and balled her hands into fists at her sides to keep from slapping him again. "Why did you tell him, James? Was it because Lily doesn't want you anymore, so you want me now?"
James put his hand to her chin and stared deep into her eyes, a feral snake whipped behind his hazel eyes. Hermione's breath caught in her chest when she saw the desire that she recognized too easily. He ran his thumb over her skin and then pressed his lips into hers. Her eyes fluttered closed and his lips melted into hers. She didn't stop him. She couldn't.
When he pulled away, Hermione couldn't open her eyes. She stood still and let him stare at her. "I've always wanted you," he said softly, letting go of her. "But you chose him."
He walked away as easily as he had kissed her, leaving Hermione standing with her mouth open, eyes wide and hands trembling. James didn't look back, nor did he say any more the following day when he woke up and found Hermione pouring over a book, sipping on tea. It was all she could do to keep herself relatively calm. As her hands turned pages and gripped the book, they couldn't shake. With her mind wrapped around the words of babies and the care they require, she couldn't think of what Sirius would be screaming at her in the next few hours.
"Morning," James mumbled, fumbling over a the coffee pot. He scorched his hand with the hot liquid and cursed loudly. "Sirius been out yet?"
Hermione snuck a glance of James and buried her nose back in her book. "No."
"How are you feeling?" He asked as he drummed his fingers on his mug.
She didn't stop focusing on the book. "Fine."
"Reckon Sirius is alright?" James shifted nervously in his seat.
Hermione shrugged her shoulders and turned a page. "He seemed fine last night after we put you in bed."
"He had been drinking," James told her skeptically. He reached over the table and took the book from her, shut it and set it aside. "We have to talk about this, Hermione."
She grabbed for the book, but he took hold of it and placed it on his lap. Sighing, Hermione rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes. "No, we don't. You've done enough talking for the both of us. Sirius will be up soon and I'm sure that he will have a lot to say to the pair of us. It happened in the past and that's where it's going to stay."
The drumming of his fingers stopped and James's eyes never left her face. "Sirius might not understand..."
Hermione scoffed. "He's not an idiot, James. He didn't expect me to wait for him if he wasn't coming back to me. He'll understand just fine so long as you keep yourself under control from now on."
"Actually," another voice entered the conversation, "I wouldn't be so sure that I'd understand. Nor would I expect you two to be talking about me while I'm not around. Especially in the same house I've granted you both entrance to." Sirius threw himself in a chair between the two and rested his elbows on the table. "We all need to talk. And I'm done with this dancing-over-the-issues bullshit."
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