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Chapter 16 : The Mundane
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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.”
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