Her mousy brown hair, unruly and drifting across her face, caused Hermione to let out a puff of air to remove it and he could barely contain his amusement. Seeing her sitting on the stairway, her knees tucked under her flowered skirt and her brow creased with hours worth of worry, Sirius couldn't imagine anything he wouldn't do for this woman. She hadn't eaten, she hadn't showered, she hadn't done anything other than take up vigilance waiting for either his safe return or bad news about his fate. How could you not adore someone who could wrap themselves so neatly into your life as if they had always been there? As if their breaths were entwined, their pasts interwoven, their futures aligned...her every movement called to his soul like a drought starved plant receiving its first rain.
But he didn't love her. No, he couldn't love her. Not if he wanted to protect her.
Shaking off his melancholy thoughts, Sirius moved stealthily toward her and tugged her into his arms before she could react. His lips caressed hers, gentle and welcoming – his way of thanking her for the needless worry over his own safety. Her hands interlinked behind his neck, trying to pull him closer into her but he resisted, smiling broadly.
“I regretted everything the moment you left,” she whispered. “But you knew I would, didn't you?”
“Of course,” he grinned and kissed her again, refusing to stop until he could feel the tension in her body melt away. “Remus had my access restricted. Won't let me see Malfoy.”
“What?” her eyes opened wider, confusion evident. “But he's the one-”
Sirius waved his hand in the air. “Something about not wanting me sent away to Azkaban for killing Malfoy. I tried not to listen to his rambling.”
“Well, I don't want you sent off either,” she defended. “But-”
“Relax, love,” he let his lips drift along her neck, placing errant kisses in the places he knew she loved best. “When have you ever known the Ministry to be capable of keeping me from what I want?”
“You aren't going to go conspiring against Remus, are you?” she demanded, pulling away to send him a reprimanding glare.
“Are you kidding?” he laughed. “Conspiring against Remus is one of my favorite past times. The poor bloke would have no adventures whatsoever if I didn't egg him on.”
Shaking her head, Hermione sent him a crooked smile. “Being your wife is going to take a hell of a lot of patience, isn't it?”
“My wife,” he mused, letting the word roll off his tongue. It would definitely take some getting used to. Tugging her body tighter into his, he let his his fingers slip along her spine, his lips tracing an imaginary line down her jaw. His voice, soft and inviting, brushed across her ear in a whisper. “I like the sound of it. Fetch me dinner, wife! Another glass of ale, wife! Wife, bring me my tea!”
“Prat,” she murmured chuckling, pulling away from him to start up the stairs.
But he was behind her in a second, his arms locking her along the banister where they had first kissed so many moons ago. His lips caressed hers, his fingers sliding into her hair and holding her head gently in place so she couldn't move. As he'd expected, though, any thoughts she'd had of storming away were soon gone and her breath became warmer as he continued to explore her mouth with his own. “Wife,” he murmured silkily, “come to bed before I lose my last ounce of self control.”
Sirius let his hand slip along her burgeoning stomach, his hand drifting lightly so as to not wake her. Although they rarely talked about it, he knew Hermione was worried about the child. It was growing steadily, healthily if its size was any indication, but she feared finding out who the father was almost as much as Sirius did. He knew her thoughts without hearing them but her worry filled dreams as she curled beside him each night were descriptive enough to fill any voids he might have had.
It was impossible for him not to see the resemblance to his long ago affair with Lily. It was years before her involvement with James, nearly a decade before thoughts of Harry came into play. They had been stupid, careless, wild and free teenagers and never bothered with any type of sexual protection. And then she was late. Not a little late but days turned into weeks. When they could steal moments alone between their schoolwork, they would lie in each others arms contemplating where this possible child might lead them. He – an already disgraced Black – having a child with a muggle born. She – the reserved head girl – bearing the offspring of the notoriously reckless Sirius Black. A rough life lay ahead of them but to have created something that was a part of them and them alone had been one of the most magical things in the universe. Just about the time they had both gotten used to the idea and adjusted their perceptions on life, the news came: she was no longer pregnant. And instead of relief as most normal people might have felt, they both were heartbroken.
Sirius could still taste the salt of her tears as she sobbed uncontrollably in his embrace, could still feel the tremble in his own arms as he tried to hold her tight and not fail her, could still smell the scent of winter's first snowfall as it drifted silently through the open window panes. They had lost what may have been their only chance and both of them knew it. She considered it an omen of her future; he knew it was the gods punishing him for his misdeeds.
Had it remained true, the entire course of magical history would have been changed.
Had it remained true, Lily would still be in his arms today.
Hermione stirred beside him, causing Sirius to shirk away and come back to reality. Sliding out of the covers, he pulled on a pair of pants without bothering to button them and strode quickly to the window. It was as much space as the room allowed but he still felt suffocated. He had no right to lay next to her with the memories that were surging through his head. Hermione deserved better.
He jumped as a soft hand slid up his back, her touch causing his trembles to cease. “You're remembering Lily, aren't you? That time when she was-”
Sirius could not bear her to say the word out loud and cut her off. “I forget you have my memories.”
“You told me there were some memories that Remus couldn't know. This is one of those, isn't it? You never told him, or any of the marauders, did you?”
“No,” he murmured, “we never told anyone. Come, you need your rest.”
He tried to steer her toward the bed but she was unwilling to let him slip by her. Instead, she cupped his face in her palms forcing him to face her. It worked for only a moment and then he dropped his eyes away. But Hermione was persistent. She held tight until he finally gave in and met her gaze once again.
“Sirius, I love you. But you need to tell him. You need Remus beside you during this. If it turns out to be....” she trailed off, unwilling to voice the fear that it was Draco's child out loud. “I'm not strong enough for both of us. I wish I was but I'm not. You'll need Remus. We both will.”
He sank down onto a chair rather than respond, his eyes drifting closed as he listened to her move about the room. Burning off her emotions he assumed but as the sounds continued, he opened his eyes to see her at the dressing table attempting to make some sense of her unruly hair.
“I don't think you need to dress for Remus and Tonks,” he said, already leery.
“We're having guests tonight, remember?”
“What guests? I can't think of anyone I care to dress up for.”
“That's because you are always dressed up,” she countered smiling. “You would look impeccable in a paper bag, I should think.”
“Hm,” he chuckled, amused at her attempt to soften him. “So guests I am not likely to approve of then. Will these blasted parties of yours ever end?”
“It's not my fault you restored Grimmauld and now everyone and their dog wants to come visit. I don't even know half these people. They just seem to keep inviting themselves over to congratulate us. The Blacks,” she frowned, “seem to have been known for their gracious hospitality.”
“So lock the damn doors,” he mumbled. “I don't care what anyone thinks.”
It was far from true and they both knew it. He did care what people thought. He wanted to change his family's name – to make it known for better things that just its previous pureblood mentality. It was one of the reasons he had allowed such events to go on rather than slamming the door in the faces of the people that shower up unbidden on his doorstep. He wanted to erase the stigma of the Black name, even if deep down he knew it was an impossible hope.
He watched as she shuffled around the room, going through a dozen different outfits to try and find one she might look appropriate in. In childhood, he'd watched Narcissa spend hours doing the same thing, looking for the outfit that would best showcase herself. For Narcissa, it was an attempt to be the most beautiful belle at any ball. To Hermione, though, he knew it was something completely different.
“Come here,” he whispered, holding out his hand to her as she began to get more frustrated. Sighing, she dropped into his lap.
“How is it you always look amazing?” she questioned. “No effort at all. Is it that pureblood air about you? Aristocratic blood and all that?”
“You have the money, Hermione. What's mine is yours. If you want new things just go get them. I don't do shopping but I'm sure Tonks would be delighted to go with you.”
“I might,” she gave him a faint smile then dropped her head to his shoulder.
“You are now head mistress of the Black household.”
“Oh, no pressure there,” she grumbled.
“Only that which you put upon yourself,” he countered. “You could wear a sack on your head and go barefoot and it wouldn't matter. Everyone would mimic you no matter how ridiculous you might look.”
“Because my name is now Black?”
Sirius shuffled her off his lap, moving to get himself dressed. Her disbelief was obvious. Her background, her childhood, were so much different than his. It was impossible for her to believe that a simple thing like taking the Black name could have such far reaching consequences. Of course, that was one reason he married her – she didn't love him for his name but for who he actually was. But it was also one of the dark fears that rose within him if he lingered too much in his own head. It seemed silly in the daylight, but he sometimes wondered if bringing Hermione into his world would change her into someone he didn't recognize. He'd seen a glimpse of it when she was ready to destroy Malfoy but otherwise, his fears of her name change seemed to have remained unfounded.
“Fear of a name...” he murmured, shaking his head.
“I can look the part. I can play the part even,” she whispered, “but I'll still never be accepted.”
That she might want the acceptance of the devilish, worthless people that had been congregated at Grimmauld as of late both terrified and angered him.
“You need no acceptance other than mine. You'd do well to remember that.”
The idea that she could become like any of the other Black women he'd known in his life made his words come out much more threatening than he intended. He had meant to let her know she belonged by his side and nothing else mattered but the way she flushed and backed away from him told her she had taken it differently.
No matter, he assured himself. If it kept her from safe from all of them, she could take it however she wanted.