Chapter 6 : Cold Hard Fact
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.: Chapter Six – Cold Hard Fact :.
Monday, November 12, 2004
Splitting. Burning. Tearing. Unseen claws, relentless in their malicious intent, tore at her mind; it felt as though her head was splitting in two. With a small groan, she rolled over, burying her head into the pillow. The last time she’d drank that much – well – she’d never drank that much! Alcohol rarely agreed with her, and when it did, it was only because she’d had half a glass or so. She’d never been able to hold her liquor, so it made sense to avoid the situation entirely. No one had seen her drunk, tipsy maybe, but never drunk, something for which she was beyond grateful. Wincing, another wave of nauseating pain tore at her mind, shredding without remorse. Gritting her teeth, Hermione dug her elbows into the couch in an effort to sit up. Her limbs ached, tired with exhaustion; it was as though she had run a marathon – or two. With a strangled cry, she flopped, defeated, against the couch. Alcohol was a creation of the devil – it just had to be! Nothing had ever made her feel this lousy – or helpless; not even Ronald’s scathing words during one of their routine arguments made her feel this awful. If only the twins could see her now. They’d been trying for years, persistent and slightly desperate, to get her drunk. They hadn’t succeeded yet, and she was sure as hell going to make sure that it staid that way. She didn’t want to imagine what they would do if they found out about this; something horrible and humiliating, no doubt. But right now, she couldn’t care less; her head was pounding and her pillow – moving?
With a high pitched squeak, she was scrambling, suddenly aware that the pillow she had found so comfortable earlier, was in fact solid and – human. Her mind was working furiously, ticking at a near impossible speed as it tried to put the pieces of this suddenly, unnerving puzzle, together. With an echoing thud, she fell to the floor, eyes snapping open in horror. Oh god! What if I – What if we – Oh Merlin! What will I tell Ron? The sound of a deep, reverberating chuckle met her ears, successfully drawing her back to reality. As her eyes focused, recovering from her momentary lapse of sanity, she couldn’t stop the scowl from spreading across her face. Sirius was staring back at her, an amused and slightly arrogant smile on his face. Propping himself up against the couch’s arm, she noticed the sparkle in his eyes, and much to her annoyance, his barking laugh followed.
“Shut up!” how dare he laugh? It wasn’t even funny! How was she supposed to know what happened – or rather what hadn’t? “It’s not funny,” hissing, she tried to stand up, wincing as she did so.
“Oh, but I think it is,” screwing her eyes shut, she grabbed aimlessly for something to hold on to. Kill me now, she thought sourly, trying desperately to remain standing. Everything, every sound and every movement, seemed amplified. It all echoed, like a drum, beating rhythmically against her skull, constant and unwelcome. Sirius’ laughter certainly wasn’t helping either, not only was it grating on her last nerve, but it was stabbing away what rationality she had left.
“This is still my house,” gritting her teeth, she forced her eyes to open, glaring murderously at the man staring back. “And so help me god, but I can throw you out!” she hissed, grinding her teeth against the agonizing pain that washed through her head.
“You can try,” he waved his hand nonchalantly, rising gracefully from the couch in one swift motion. Part of her knew that despite her words, she wouldn't throw him out; the other part however, was slightly less rational. “But you won’t,” with a scowl she tried to move forward, stopping immediately as the room began to spin.
A small groan escaped her lips, agonized. “I’m never drinking again,” squeezing her eyes shut, she concentrated on her breathing. The last thing she needed was last night’s dinner all over the living room floor. A deep chuckle resounded behind her, Sirius’ warm breath tickling the back of her neck. Shivering slightly, she tried to remain upright, swatting away his helping hand. “I am capable of standing, I’ll have you know,” she snapped, whipping around far too fast. Grabbing her head, she swayed on the spot, instantly regretting her earlier motion.
“Obviously,” his mocking laughter burned, echoing painfully in her ears. Throwing him a murderous glare that would’ve made Snape proud, she eyed his outstretched hand.
As a Gryffindor, pride came easily and was often mistaken for arrogance, but in this case, it came dressed in the disguise of a hand, offered by a friend as a means to help her. At Hogwarts, people had often mistaken her pride for arrogance. Terry Boot had offered to help her with a Transfiguration essay, thinking that because she’d been in the hospital wing with a bad dose of the flu, he’d be helping. She’d said no, adamant that she didn’t need any help. He’d mistaken her vanity, for arrogance. In truth, she’d never had to ask anyone for help, and despite the fact that she did need his help, she’d had too much pride to admit to it. It had been the same with Hannah Abbott and Astronomy. Now, Sirius stood there, smirking at her in a way that made her blood boil, yet she knew that he had the best of intentions. By taking his offered hand, she would be admitting that she needed help. Maybe it was time to do right, where she’d done wrong before and accept that yes, she couldn’t stand – at least not without support. Growling, she snatched his hand and elbowed him in the ribs, impatient for him to move.
“I didn’t know it was possible for a woman to growl like that,” he laughed, moving forward steadily, stopping every now and then to let her regain her balance. Gritting her teeth, she resisted the urge to attack him and send her fists flying.
“Yes, well, I can make a lot of sounds,” she ground out, stopping abruptly as soon as the words left her lips, mortified. Oh god! Did I just say that? Losing the raging battle within herself, she looked up, horrified. “T-that came out wrong,” flushing, she tried to ignore Sirius’ barely restrained laughter, elbowing him weakly in the stomach. “I need coffee,” she said feebly, pointing half-heartedly at the coffee pot. Great one Hermione, she thought sourly, “I can make a lot of sounds?” shaking her head, she tried to focus on the smell emitting from the kitchen; coffee and scrambled eggs with bacon. Sirius must have taken the initiative and made good use of his magical abilities for once, she thought idly.
“You don’t have any hangover potions, do you?” he asked, gently pushing her into one of the large mahogany chairs, twisting elegantly up from the ground.
Looking up briefly, she shook her head, “I never saw the need,” she said quietly, leaning forward to rest her head against the table, trying to ignore the churning of her stomach. Groaning, she wrapped her arms around her abdomen, fighting the urge to run and take refuge in the bathroom.
“I’m going to floo over to Harry’s for a second, will you be alright?” nodding her head numbly against the table, she opened an eye as she felt him kneel beside her. Grey eyes stared worriedly back at her, his brow scrunched up in concern. “Sure?” he asked, searching her face for any hesitation. Nodding, she smiled weakly at him, thankful that he was there to take care of her. “Okay, I’ll be back in a sec,” he smiled. “Try not to be too stubborn – just sit there and don’t move, okay?”
“Does it look like I’ll be going anywhere any time soon?” she growled in response, throwing him an irritated look. Determined to ignore the arrogant smirk on his face, she held his gaze, refusing to acknowledge defeat. He stared back, unblinking as though he knew she was daring him to contradict her. With a small smile, he stepped back and into the fire place, vanishing in a sea of green flames. “Arrogant git,” she hissed half-heartedly, closing her eyes against the rays of undiluted sunlight, cascading down in a golden haze, beautiful and pure.
Groaning slightly, she felt her stomach turn. Last night was a blur, there were bits and pieces, snippets of a conversation, or a memory, but other than that, it was a hazy fog of possibilities. So many things could have happened. She could have said something, broken someone’s trust by letting their secret slip, or worse, one of her own. She cringed at the thought. Secrets;she hated them, yet she had a whole closet full. What if she’d let one slip? What would happen then? She had always been a fiercely private person, hating both the media and the public for their prying eyes. It was like she was on show and they were the spectators. They had to know what was happening and when it was happening. They had to know the ins and outs of everything; her life was nothing but a show to them. It was like they expected her to tell them everything, every minor detail in full, so lying through her teeth became like second nature. She didn’t care what people thought, or what they said. If little white lies enabled her to keep what small part of her life that wasn’t written on paper, or captured on film, private, then she would continue to tell them. But if she’d let them slip last night – well, she didn’t know what to do. Sirius would have something over her, and even though she trusted him, a small part – a small inconceivably insecure part, didn’t. He’d treated her so well, made her laugh and eaten her horrible cooking just to make her smile, but despite all of that, she didn’t trust him. She rarely trusted anyone – at least not fully. Not Molly, not Ginny, Harry or Ron. She was a private person, and even though they were her friends, she liked having a little of herself kept hidden away. Maybe she was insecure, afraid of giving herself fully to someone, secrets and all. Did it really matter? They were her secrets, her hidden memories and cherished opinions, and they were kept that way for a reason.
A loud tapping, woke her from her thoughts. Shifting to her side, Hermione turned around to look out the window, squinting from the sunlight. A small, tawny owl floated outside her window, swaying from side to side as it tried to stay airborne. The owl twittered, hitting its beak against the window pane, clumsily dipping to the right as it lost balance. Hermione instantly recognized the small animal. Forcing her legs to move, she stood up, wincing at the sharp pain in her head. The distant roar of the fireplace made her stumble and grip the windowsill for support.
“I thought I told you to stay put,” an angry voice snapped in irritation. Grimacing, she threw an angry glare over her shoulder.
“And since when have I ever listened to you,” she ground out, biting back the urge to push his bracing hands away. A flicker of irritation crossed his face, before the cool mask he’d perfected over the years, went back up. She felt a twinge of guilt as the older man guided her back to the chair, blatantly ignoring her pleading gaze. “I’m sorry,” grabbing his arm; she forced him to look at her. “There was – is an owl, Ron’s owl, at the window. I was just –”
“I’m not angry,” laughing, he shook his head. “Just annoyed. You are far too stubborn for your own good. You could have fallen, or hit your head –”
“Walking to the windowsill is hardly dangerous,” she reasoned, sighing despite herself.
“That’s beside the point,” he snapped, reaching into his coat pocket. Hermione suddenly noticed the green vial in his hand, its liquid a dark, muddy brown. She instantly knew what it was. “Now drink up, love,” he smirked, uncorking the vial before pushing it under her nose and waving it tauntingly.
Glaring up at him, she snatched the vial. “You’re taking far too much pleasure in this,” she hissed, pinching the bridge of her nose to block the unsavory smell, before downing the potion. “Arghh,” coughing, she clutched the table, nails digging into the hardened surface.
Cold. It was so cold. Gritting her teeth, she refrained from screaming as the potion’s liquid intensity burned its way through her veins. It was like ice liquefied. Thousands of invisible flames danced destruction inside her, searing their way through the tangible limbs of her once responsive body. She couldn’t think of anything but the pain. It stripped her of her senses, numbed her body and stabbed at her mind. She couldn’t feel the hardwood floor beneath her feet, nor the splinters in her fingers. It was blinding. She could feel her body shaking, small, ice blue clouds forming with each haggard breath. It was hard to concentrate on anything but the pain, but she fought for that level of control still. She could feel a hand, comfortingly warm, rest on her shoulder. There was a voice, soft and low, whispering to her, telling her to ride it out. Gasping, she tried to ignore the sudden rush, the burning sensation in her legs, moving upwards. With a strangled cry, she leaned forward, hitting her head against the table. First, it was her toes, then her legs, tingling with the remnants of the potion’s icy assault. Next came her arms, and then her hands, until finally, with one last jolt, the icy haze that had surrounded her mind cleared, freeing her from the dizzying pain.
Gasping, she lifted her head from the table, looking up at the man kneeling beside her. “You could have warned me,” she hissed half-heartedly, leaning back against the chair with a discontented huff.
“And where’s the fun in that?” he laughed, ignoring her scowl. He held her gaze, grey eyes twinkling against the sunlight, a smile brighter than the sun on his face. She felt her anger ebb away, fading to the back of her mind, a smile of her own tugging at the corners of her mouth. She didn’t know how he did it; he could infuriate her one moment, but make everything better the next. Laughing, she shook her head, nudging him playful on the shoulder.
“I’ll get the owl,” a small sigh escaped her lips. She wondered what Ron wanted this time. He rarely owled her, so it had to be something important – by his standards at least. “You get breakfast,”
With a cheeky smile and a salute, he was off, walking toward the sizzling eggs on the stove. Shaking her head, she pushed herself up, testing her legs before walking over to the windowsill. She idly wondered what Sirius had said to convince Harry to give him the hangover potion, but pushed the thought to the back of her mind. It would notdo well to think about it too much – at least not yet. She’d ask him later, but she doubted she’d get a straight answer, and if she did, well she was sure she wouldn't like it. With a small sigh, Hermione gently unclasped the latch on the window, moving to the far left before pushing the glass pane outwards. The little owl swooped in, twittering excitedly.
“Pigwidgeon,” she said, trying to catch the tiny owls attention as it darted about, flying in sporadic circles. Gritting her teeth, she tried again, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Sometimes the owl could be as dense as it was hyperactive. “Pig!” she all but yelled.
“I am not a pig, thank you very much,” whirling around, she snorted at Sirius indignant scowl.
“Not you,” she snapped, eying the piece of half eaten bacon in his hand. “The owl; Pigwidgeon – Ron’s owl,” she offered, rolling her eyes at the blank look on his face. “You bought Ron an owl at the end of our third year, remember?”
A spark of realization lit up his eye as the excitable bird twittered about, landing unceremoniously on her shoulder. “Carry on,” with a nonchalant shrug he turned around, busying himself with the crackling bacon, but not before she noticed the red tint of embarrassment color his cheeks.
Shaking her head, she raised her hand, watching as the tiny owl skittered over, perching there by instinct. “Lets see what Ron has to say this morning, huh?” she cooed quietly, scratching the bird on the back of the neck affectionately. After untying the tiny piece of parchment she watched as Pigwidgeon took flight, soaring through the open window. “I guess he doesn’t want a response,” she said somewhat bitterly, moving to the table.
“Breakfast, my dear lady, is served,” looking up, she laughed.With an elegant bow, Sirius lazily made his way to the table, directing the floating kitchenware with his wand.
Turning her attention back to the letter in hand, she contemplated leaving it until after breakfast, but decided against it. For Ron to owl this early in the morning had to mean something. Breaking the seal in one swift movement, she opened the letter, frowning at its length. The more she read, the more pronounced her frown became.
We need to talk. Something unexpected has come up. Meet me at Lila’s around 11.
Fear gripped her heart, squeezing without remorse. Had something happened? Shaking her head, she tried to separate each thought and distinguish the facts. The letter was too vague. If anything serious had happened, she doubted he would tell her in a letter, and if he did, he would not have suggested they meet at Lila’s. The fact that he wanted to talk, made her suspicious. Ron wasn’t the talkative type, but the letter suggested that today would be an exception. Something had to have happened to provoke this, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what that something was. The fact that he’d suggested they meet at Lila’s served to increase her nervousness and ebb away her fear at the same time. One way or another, by his choosing the small coffee shop tucked away in the far corner of Diagon Alley, assured her that the conversation would in one way or another, drastically change their lives. The quaint little coffee shop served as a reminder of their time together. It was there that he’d proposed to her, with a simple “How bout it?” They hadn’t been back since. She was sure that whatever he wanted to talk about wouldn't be as pleasant as she hoped. Lila’s would be his safety net.
“Hermione, are you okay?” tearing her eyes away from the parchment, she noticed Sirius’ concerned expression.
“Yeah,” she replied quietly, folding the letter neatly and pushing it to the side. “Ron wants to meet me to talk,” she said, an extra kick of venom in the last word.
“Oh,” she could have sworn she saw a flicker of anger in his eyes, but quickly dismissed the idea, deciding to distract herself. Grabbing a fork, she stabbed the piece of bacon on her plate, toying with the idea of ignoring Ron’s letter. It was her day off, she’d much rather spend it with Sirius.
It was unavoidable, that much she knew. If she didn’t turn up, he’d floo and another fight would follow. She hated fighting with him, but it seemed that it was all they ever did. His words were sometimes cutting, but only because they spoke of the truth. He’d accused her of not wanting to marry him and the words, while hurtful, were true. She didn’t want to marry him. They’d been through so much over the past few years that it seemed like a life time had passed. She had held his hand through the hard times and he to her, but now, it all seemed inconsequential. Too much had happened for her to ignore it, at least not now. She didn’t know what it was, but something just clicked. For so long, she’d ignored the truth, finding it easier to just brush it under the rug and move on. Maybe it was Sirius. They’d been living together for just over a week now, but so many things had changed. He brought out the playful side in her, the unserious Hermione that she hadn’t seen in years. Sure he annoyed the hell out of her some times but more often than not, he made her laugh. What’s more, he gave her perspective. She had loved working at St Mungos, it had been a real challenge and she had relished in it, but now, it seemed too impersonal. Sirius had given her perspective; he’d opened her eyes to so many things. Life was too short to spend working at a place where there wasn’t any job satisfaction or the feeling of a job well done. There were so many possibilities, so many opportunities and she could have her pick of any of them; she could do something worth while, something she loved. He’d made her see that it was okay to quit because it wouldn't mean her failure, it would just mark the beginning of something new. Maybe it was time to throw out the old and bring in the new.
Looking down at her wristwatch, Hermione noted the time and picked up her pace, weaving through the crowd of oncoming shoppers; Diagon Alley was always busy this time of year. Christmas was fast approaching and it seemed the majority of wizarding families had the same idea; it was cheaper to get the presents before December, when all the prices skyrocketed. Of course if one looked at it rationally, they would see that the prices tend to go up in October, then double in December. She did her shopping as she went, if she saw something she knew would be perfect in June, then she’d buy it in June and hold on to it. It seemed the easier root to follow, she didn’t spend half as much as her other friends and she got in before the Christmas rush; it was the perfect preparation. Except for now; she didn’t have anything for Sirius. It was a dilemma and one that had been weighing on her mind the past few days. She didn’t know what he liked. Sure she knew how he liked his coffee, how he preferred muggle music to wizarding, and how he seemed to love the television, but she didn’t know what to get him. It had to be perfect and she’d be damned if it was anything but.
Gnawing on her bottom lip, she scooted past a couple as they walked down the path, oblivious to everyone else but each other. They used to be like that; Ron and her. Things were so different to the way they used to be. Ron tried really hard, she wouldn't deny him that, but one way or another, things always turned out worse than they were before. She just hoped that today, what ever he wanted to talk about, wouldn't be too damaging. Today was her day off, she had a massive headache despite the hangover potion and she really didn’t want to get into another fight. But something told her, despite all her hoping, whatever it was, it wouldn't be good. That something was right.
As she turned the corner, Hermione stopped dead, her breath catching; Lila’s was straight ahead. Her eyes had to be deceiving her, she had to be imaging things. This couldn’t be happening – not now. She wanted it to be a bad dream, but rationality told her that it was cold hard fact. It wasn’t so much what she was seeing, but the old hurt that seeped back into her bones because of it – that was until she saw a third person sitting at the table, only then did she know what it felt like to have her heart shatter.
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