“Remus, it's more than that. I'm telling you, he's just not himself.”
“More than becoming a husband and father all at once?” he chuckled, refilling Hermione's glass of lemonade. “You'd be amazed what a loss of freedom can do to a man.”
“I know Sirius,” she protested, “and so do you. You should have heard him. He sounded like-”
Remus tilted his head her direction as she trailed off. “Like what?”
Remus smiled and steered Hermione toward one of the few remaining empty tables in the Grimmauld gardens. After helping her ease into a chair, he sank beside her. He wasn't about to tell her she was imagining things- he'd seen her temper enough to know better than to do something as foolhardy as that.
But, from where he sat, Sirius was just being Sirius. He watched as Sirius made the rounds of their guests, making small talk, complimenting the ladies, offering false laughs to the men standing beside them. This wasn't Sirius' world. It never had been and certainly wasn't now. Yes, he could play the rich, house of Black bastard that everyone expected but underneath, he was still Sirius.
“You know he's doing this for you, don't you?”
“He's not suffering through the mindless chatter for his own benefit. He wants you to feel at home here, like you belong in his world.” He quieted for a moment. “Me too, for that matter.”
“These aren't our people, Hermione. You know that. Would they talk to either of us on the street if it weren't for our relationship with Sirius?”
“No, they wouldn't,” he cut her off gently. “But as long as Sirius plays the Black family card for all its worth, we will be recognized. Not only recognized but safer, more protected. From gossip or anything else that might be out there. No one, not even Lucius Malfoy, is stupid enough to cross a Black when the world is on his side.”
Hermione let out an exhausted sigh. “He must hate us then. Doing something he despises so much just to keep us safe.”
“He loves us. Otherwise he wouldn't waste his time on these people.” He lifted his head a few inches as Sirius headed their direction. “I wouldn't worry yourself so much. I don't think he's drifted that far into the mentality of being a Black.”
“Wife,” Sirius leaned down to give her a kiss on the cheek, “kick off those fancy shoes and come dance with me.”
“My shoes?” she asked, sending a befuddled look Remus' direction.
“Come,” Sirius tugged her up and into his arms. His voice was soft and warm against her ear. “I want to show you something.”
Sliding into his arms, it was easy to forget how many people were watching them. Like always, a single touch from him seemed to be able to make the rest of the world disappear. She wanted to be angry with him, or at least frustrated, but Remus' epiphany kept her emotions in check. He didn't want to be the center of attention and she would just have to keep reminding herself of that.
“Have you seen Juliette lately?”
He tilted his head backwards without looking. “She's behind the rose bushes with Bill's boys. She's getting frustrated they won't let her play.”
“Won't let her-”
“They're boys, Hermione,” he chuckled as he felt her ruffle in his arms. “No need to call in the mommy police.”
“How do you know where she is at all times? I can't even do that,” she grumbled but dropped her head onto his shoulder anyway.
“The rose bushes provide the best cover for hiding from parental supervision,” he laughed. “Where else would she be?”
“She's too much like you for her own good. You know that, don't you?”
“I do,” he kissed her gently. “I'm sorry to cut this dance short, love, but I see someone I need to talk to.”
Hermione's eyes drifted around the party goers, seeing no one out of place. Then, off to the side of the festivities, she noticed Bill hovering near the doors to Grimmauld. “Bill?” she hissed. “You're going to talk to him about Lucius, aren't you?”
“Going to distract Remus for me?” he asked, nuzzling her neck. “Conspiring can be addictive, can't it?”
“You're such a prat,” she huffed as she watched him move away. “Wait, what were you going to show me?”
Sirius, a few paces away, grinned. “You seem to have started trend,” he said, waving his hand across the crowded dance floor. He offered her a bow. “Thank you for the dance, Mrs. Black.”
It took a moment for her to understand but as she surveyed the crowd of women on the dance floor, she couldn't help but laugh. Cocky, self-righteous, damned irritating and she loved him more than words could ever explain. She shook her head, moving to distract Remus, chuckling at each woman as she walked past. No shoes. Not a single woman was wearing shoes.
“Bill,” Sirius' voice filled with exasperation. “I didn't pull you aside to be given the same bureaucratic shit you give the newspapers. You've spent the last twenty minutes telling me about his capture, knowing full well I already know more than what's in the official Ministry file.”
“Sirius, when you wouldn't-”
“I wouldn't?” he hissed. “Remus prevented me from seeing him and you know it! Don't act like I'm in need of punishment for failing to assist with Lucius. If you give me two minutes alone with him, he won't be anyone's problem anymore.”
“I can't undo it,” Bill shook his head. “Remus is in charge of Lucius' case. My influence is minimal at best.”
“Remus? In charge?” Sirius scoffed. “No, there's no conflict of interest there.”
“Well, if it wasn't for your damn Black family name he wouldn't have gotten the assignment,” Bill returned hotly. “But when he demanded it, no one was about to mess with Sirius Black's closest ally.”
Of course not, Sirius grimaced. While it was nice to know Remus was finally getting some measure of respect, it was piss poor timing for it to happen. He leveled a gaze at Bill, who was still fuming. Conjuring a drink, he pushed it toward Bill as a peace offering. He swallowed it in one gulp, but his anger hadn't dissipated. It took a few minutes for Sirius to understand.
He lowered his voice several notches. “You want him as bad as I do.”
“Yes,” Bill growled. “Ministry rules be damned, I want him to pay for everything he's done to my family.”
Sirius felt a surge of hope. Remus might want to be rule abiding but it seemed Bill would be more amenable to doing whatever it took to get Lucius out of the picture. Given the right circumstances, of course. “He has details of Harry's death?” he asked.
“So he says.”
“And I assume Ginny and Ron's as well, then.” Sirius almost cursed himself for the pained look that washed over Bill.
“In all likelihood, yes.”
Sirius' face darkened. “You realize I have no desire to listen to those details.”
“Nor do I.”
“Are you certain-”
Bill's eyes focused on him without wavering and Sirius nodded. Okay, then. Bill was definitely on his side. “Will the Ministry win at his trial?”
Bill nodded. “Perhaps not on all charges but there are a few that will stick no matter what.”
“It would be much easier if he was allowed to walk,” Sirius mumbled. “No guards, no questions to answer...”
“You can't count on that happening.”
“Has he had any visitors?”
“Other than the Ministry?” Bill chuckled darkly. “Only one.”
Sirius knew without even bothering to think about it. “Snape.”
“That I can do something about,” he grumbled.
But Sirius was already waving him off. “Malfoy will be transferred during the trial, correct? They'll want him closer.”
“Under heavier guard,” Bill added.
“No offense, Bill, but Ministry guards don't concern me.”
Bill nodded. “That will be the best chance to get to him. Barring a change in your admittance to see him anyway.”