It took a long while for Hermione's tears to abate. It was a testament to how far out of it she was that she didn't spare a moment to feel embarrassed. Something in the back of her mind told her that Sirius, maybe more than anyone else, would understand. It was hard to feel ashamed in front of someone you had seen at their very worst, harder still when that observation of their breakdown was during your first interaction.

As she carried on crying, Sirius stood at her bedside, rigid as a sentinel and at first glance almost as emotionless. Hermione tried to pull herself together, several times, but in the end, she gave it up as a bad job and let the feelings pour out of her. The stress of this year had been eating away at her resolve even more than usual, and it felt good, in a weird way, to let it all go.

Once her sobs gave way to a few lingering, watery sniffs, Sirius released his near-death grip on her ankle and Hermione had the sudden, somewhat fanciful, notion that she might float away. Far from leaving, Sirius shrugged out of his jacket and pulled over a chair. He sat at her side and hesitantly, as if fearful of her reaction, tugged on one of her trembling hands and pressed it underneath his unjustly calloused one.

"How…" Hermione tried and then faltered. It took several coughs before she had warmed her throat enough to speak clearly. "How is everyone? Did we all… is everyone safe?"

Sirius sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "We all made it back, some of us in better shape than others. Not that you lot did anything to help yourselves!"

Hermione averted her eyes as his tone grew cold and Sirius tightened his grip on her fingers. "The trained adults," he hissed out between clenched teeth, "got away with minor injuries. Though Kingsley had to have a few bones regrown in his hand. Considering he broke them nearly caving in Lestrange's face, I doubt he's too put out about it. He always did like to go Muggle when the fighting got rough."

"What about…" Hermione began, and Sirius' hard eyes snapped to hers.

"What about the gang of students who took it upon themselves to infiltrate the Ministry? Well, let me see. Neville's nose was one crunch away from needing total reconstruction, so he's in a bed on the other side of the ward after being dosed up and cleaned up. Little Luna Lovegood had a head wound so deep she lost enough blood to turn her hair pink. Ron got attacked by some truly scary nonsense the DoM are working on and is likely to have permanent scarring. Harry is so racked with guilt he can barely able to look anyone in the eye and you, you Hermione Granger, got hit by some unknown curse that made everyone think you were going to die."

"Sirius," Hermione tried, worrying her lip as he spiralled in front of her.

"No, Hermione, don't," he snapped. "Do you have any idea how terrified we were?"

"It's-" Hermione tried again, but Sirius cut her off, leaning up out of his chair and unconsciously pressing her hand further into the hard mattress as he loomed over her.

"You're supposed to be the sensible one," he bit out. Hermione felt the admonishment settle onto her skin and force her heart down to her toes. "That's why you're always nagging me all the time, remember?" his voice was harsh and horse, like he'd been screaming for hours. Which he very well could have been.

"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered, as she tried to stop the wobble of her bottom lip. "I'm… I'm really sorry."

Her voice cracked as she thought of her friends and even though she screwed her eyes up tight, a few tears made their way down the already sticky paths on her clammy cheeks. Sirius fumbled around in his pockets for a moment before retrieving a rather battered-looking handkerchief and passed it to her with a flourish that was more jerky than she had come to expect of him. Hermione blew her nose, and the sound echoed around the near-silent ward making her cheeks flush all the more.

Sirus rubbed a hand over his face roughly and sagged back into his seat. "Just don't do it again, okay?"

Hermione wanted so badly to agree that her head almost nodded before she could stop herself. Sirius looked awful and considering she had seen him after he had escaped from prison and lived on the run, that was saying something. His clothes may have been nicer now - though still rumpled and oddly scorched from the night's activities - but the haunted look in his eyes was the same.

Hermione turned on the bed as best she could to face him and squeezed his hand as much as she was able. She felt so weak. "You know I can't promise that," she cautiously replied. "Don't you?"

She tried to think of something reassuring to say, how she would always be careful, how it would all be okay in the end. The trouble was she didn't believe any of it. Nor would Sirius. If the fire in his eyes a moment ago was any indication of how the rest of the Order felt, they were going to have a hard time convincing anyone they weren't up to no good for the rest of their lives.

Hermione breathed in deeply to ease the beating of her heart, and she felt an anvil-like weight press against her torso. It made her heartbeat even faster, fluttering in her chest like the wings of a trapped bird. For the second year in a row, Hermione had been made to face the reality that though they were only students, they were now very much players in the game, and sometimes, whether it was fair or not, you lost.

Sirius chuckled mirthlessly, and the rasping, broken sound made Hermione wince.

"I suppose you can't make any promises, none of us can," he said, and Hermione could only nod while they sat together in the quiet. "Nothing ever happens the way it should."

"What do you mean?" she asked, staring up at him even though her eyes felt strangely heavy.

Sirius pushed some of his matted hair back behind his ears and Hermione could see a little more of his guarded eyes. It could have been the lack of light, but she could barely see the grey of his irises at all, it was like he was staring into nothing.

"James… I was thinking about James again, before. It was being out again, the fighting, with Harry this time. Nothing happens as it should."

Sirius stared into space and Hermione settled herself on the bed, she wanted to move properly onto her side, but with every laboured fidget, she knew that was out of her power. She wanted to interject, to draw Sirius out of wherever he had gone within himself that was causing him so much pain. But she didn't. They were similar, in that way if in nothing else, when they were cornered, they would clam up all the more. Hermione waited him out, squeezing his fingers now and again whenever his teeth clenched or his other hand dug into the arm of his chair.

"James was the… he and Lily, they were smart ones," he said, what could have been hours later. "They were the planners. James could be an impulsive nightmare at times, but he always kept a cool head when it mattered. By the end, it always mattered. It shouldn't have been them that got killed."

"No one deserves to die, Sirius, no matter what they are like," Hermione said with quiet authority. She meant it. Losing Cedric had been unspeakably tragic, and it had felt all the more so at the time because Cedric had been so good, so pure, so young. But, ultimately, she knew that no one deserved that fate. Even if Cedric hadn't been all those things, his death would still have been heartbreaking.

Sirius scoffed, either not noticing her introspection or ignoring it. "I was the reckless one… it should have been…"

"Sirius," Hermione forced, trying to break through to him before he fell completely into a spiral brought on by memories. "You can't be at fault for everything. How long are you going to keep punishing yourself?"

Sirius smirked at her with eyes that held no warmth. "Well, that does sound like the pot calling the kettle black."

"Touche," Hermione said was as much of a smile as she could manage before she began rubbing her throat. All this talking so soon after waking was aggravating her. Her throat felt like it had been lined with used sandpaper. She remembered the glowing balls of memory exploding, and she wondered how much dust she had unwittingly ingested.

Not waiting for her to ask, Sirius jumped up to pour her a glass of water and then helped her sit up against her pillows so she could drink it herself. As he moved back to sit in his seat, Hermione noticed his gaze falling to the bruises lining her exposed arms and she tried to obscure them as best she could.

"I'm fine, Sirius," she said, hoping she sounded comforting. "Thank you for coming when you did. I don't… well, I know what would have happened if you hadn't."

"I had to come," he replied, looking at his boots. "He lured Harry there using me," Sirius mumbled as he grabbed the empty cup out of her fingers before setting it down hard on the side, making the water in the nearby jug ripple. "And he didn't' think, none of you did."

Hermione pressed a hand against her head and tried to remember. Now that they were here and the emotions of that moment were gone, it all seemed so simple. They should have tried to find Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick or even Professor Snape. But they hadn't felt like there was time. It had been so urgent, so urgent that Hermione had felt it pressing against her almost as surely as the pain she could now feel in her chest.

"If it hadn't been for me, none of this would have ever happened," Sirius insisted, and Hermione's eyes snapped open. "If I had never escaped that prison, Voldemort wouldn't have a lever to manipulate Harry and you would all be safer."

"It's not your fault Harry loves you, Sirius," Hermione replied in the sternest tone she could muster. "Don't ask him to apologise for it."

Sirius crumpled in on himself, her words seeming to hit him almost physically. "I'm sorry Poppet, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…"

He reached forward again and tucked her hand under his as he pulled himself back together. Hermione averted her eyes and laid back on her side. Despite everything that had happened, despite the unknown and wanting to see all of her friends, to see the proof with her own eyes that they were fine, she was bone tired. She still didn't entirely know what had happened to her; all she knew was that she had never felt this rough before.

"I watched you in the bed for ages," Sirius admitted quietly, "after they sent Harry off to sleep. I wanted… I needed to know you were okay. I've come to depend on you, you know? Sometimes I think I was born without a moral compass and then I realised I don't need one if I've got you reminding me… telling me when I'm fucking up."

Hermione's face scrunched. "I'm not sure I'm the best example of decency Sirius."

"If you were perfect, you'd be no fucking use to me."

He rubbed his fingers over the back of her hand, and his gaze fell to her bruises again. "I wasn't planning on laying into you as soon as you woke up. Last thing you needed."

"It's okay," Hermione said softly. "I'm sure they'll be more than a few crossed words by the time this is all done."

"The others are less likely to swear and get in your face though," Sirius said. He was trying to jest, but she could hear the shame in his voice. She raised an eyebrow, pushing for an imperious look.

"Have you met Molly?"

Sirius chuckled. "I stand corrected. Let me know if you need a human shield when she comes back up on the ward. I owe you one."

"No, it's all right," Hermione mumbled, sleepily. "It's how she shows she cares. It's nice… in small doses."

"You need to go back to sleep, Poppet."

Hermione nodded as much as she was able. "Will you," she began hesitatingly and then worried her lip when a wave of vulnerability crashed over her. The air in the hospital wing was calm, but it was also quiet. So quiet the absence of noise almost felt loud. Her view of the room was obscured by curtains that had been placed around her bed. Hermione knew once the light crept higher in the sky, there would be shadows galore. The prickle of fear that ran up her spine logged in the back of her mind, and she wondered if she would even be able to sleep if she was alone.

"What do you need?"

"Will you stay?" she asked. "Even if it's just until I fall asleep?"

"Yeah I'll stay," Sirius replied and then leant forward and pressed a kiss on her forehead that made tears well in Hermione's eyes. "I'll be here when you wake up."

"Is it safe for you to do that?"

Sirius squeezed her fingers a couple of times in a rhythm that pulsed along with Hermione's heart. "Let me worry about it, yeah? Anyway, I couldn't travel now if I wanted to, I'm knackered."

"Getting old?" Hermione said, desperate to interject some levity into their raw conversation. She expected Sirius to cuss her, or tell her he'd get her back later what she wasn't expecting was the thoughtful expression on his face.

"I might just be," he replied eventually, studying the curtain to the right of her bed. "Apparently you can have too much of something, and maybe I've had too much of war."

"I thought you were desperate to get back to the fighting."

"Not like that Hermione," Sirius said with a shake of his head. "I won't lie, it was immeasurably satisfying to punch Lucius Malfoy in the face, I've been waiting almost my whole life to do that, but I had a close shave back there. It should never have happened. I got too angry, and I let it cloud my judgement. But Bella's always had that effect on me. One look at that bitch and I'd cut off my right hand just to have the chance to cut off hers. Stupid but true.

If I'd been one inch to the right, I could have gone flying back into that bloody veil. Such a stupid way to go after everything. But, Remus had raised the alarm about you, and I woke up from the madness, shook off the red mist and grabbed Harry around the neck to get us both away from there."

"Does it ever get any easier?" Hermione asked, trying not to think too hard on the growling empty pit in her stomach that wanted her to focus wholly on what could have happened if Sirius hadn't made it. "All I can remember is the fear, and chaos."

"Not really, but... It was different when I was young. It's all… It's one thing to be reckless with your own life. It's different when you are worried about others. Anyway, nothing for you to worry about. Once you are out of here, I plan to lock you and Harry into a very tall tower and come back and get you once this is all over."

"Do you think that will work?" Hermione replied as her eyes fell shut.

"Of course not, but the thought is comforting."

They had lapsed into silence when ten minutes later the curtain closest to Sirius was pulled back, and Madam Pomfrey appeared with a long-suffering sigh.

"Mr Black, I would say it is lovely to see you looking so well, but I'm sure you'll forgive me if I skip the pleasantries on this occasion," she said with her usual crispness, and Sirius regarded her fondly.

"Poppy," he greeted with a nod and moved out of the way.

"Miss Granger," she said, stepping forward and holding a soft palm against her head as she shone a light into her eyes. "It's lovely to have you back with us."

"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey."

"Now, I'm going to give you a sleeping draft."

"I'm already… sleepy," she protested, but Madam Pomfrey shook her head.

"We need to make sure you get a proper rest," she explained. "We can talk about everything else later."

Hermione was asleep before she could think too hard on what the nurse had said.


When Hermione next woke, the Hospital Wing was bright and warm, and she had no idea how long she had been out. The curtains around her bed were still drawn, and though she was desperate to see everyone, she was grateful for the few moments of peace so she could gather her wits.

She moved her limbs experimentally, and after a bit of effort, she managed to shimmy herself up the bed and sit up against her pillows. There was a weight on her chest, like a boot with its toes under her chin pressing into her rib cage. It made her lungs ache, and her breathing was laboured.

Sirius wasn't in the chair anymore, but Hermione didn't panic, his jacket remained so she knew he hadn't gone far. Somehow, despite having been asleep since the matron had visited, she knew he had stayed with her.

As she started to debate the potential risk versus reward of getting out of bed for some more water, Madam Pomfrey appeared again, looking better rested than she had the night before. She greeted Hermione with a brusque 'good morning' and shot a few diagnostic spells in her general direction before busying herself with some parchments and potions.

Once Hermione had drunk everything she had been handed, from the flavourless to the disgustingly packed with taste, the nurse sat herself on the edge of the low metal bed.

"Now, Miss Granger, I think we should have a little chat, okay?"

By the time Sirius returned, a couple of hours later, Hermione was sitting up in bed more appropriately, in a position that didn't leave her with her chin on her chest, having been helped by the nurse. Madam Pomfrey had also helped Hermione get washed and let her exchange her horrible hospital robe, that crinkled whenever she moved - for a fluffy pair of her own pyjamas that must have been retrieved without her notice. Hermione had thought about asking for help with her hair, but in the end, she decided to worry about it later. It was currently out of her way in a messy plait, and there would be nothing she could do to improve it until she could get in the shower.

Once she was scrubbed and feeling a bit more human, Hermione had all but begged to see her friends, but they were still asleep.

Sirius smiled at her soft blue pyjamas covered in clouds and set down a hot drink for them both. "Sorry, I wasn't here when you woke up," he apologised softly, and Hermione smiled.

"That's okay. I knew you'd be back. Where have you been?"

"Speaking to Dumbledore mainly," Sirius replied with a sigh. "Though it's as good as speaking to a brick wall."

Hermione almost entirely smothered her laugh, but she was sure her smile was still visible from behind her steaming mug. "But a wall can't reply?" she questioned innocently.

"At least that way you know it's not fucking lying," Sirius bit back and then kicked his boots up on the edge of her bed.

Hermione's eyebrows rose, but she decided against saying anything. If Madam Pomfrey came back and found Sirius lounging like that she'd have kittens, but Hermione couldn't find the energy to nag him about it. Instead, she tried to settle into the comfortable silence, but she was too jittery.

"I didn't only waste time talking to the headmaster," Sirius said, interrupting her musings. "I contacted that boy of yours too."

Hermione's heart sped up in her chest, and she felt a twinge of pain she was sure was psychosomatic. Her chest had been agonizing when she first woke, but it was more now, now she knew what was there. It was like seeing that you had a papercut on your finger and only then registering the pain, only magnified by a hundred.

"Yeah?" she replied, feeling hollow and Sirius' brow furrowed.

"Did I miss something, you're still… I don't know what the kids call it nowadays… together?"

"He's still my boyfriend," Hermione clarified quickly and flushed. She hadn't meant to give away her hesitation. When she thought of Viktor warmth flooded her skin, and it was enough to finally chase away the chill left by the Department of Mysteries. But she was anxious too. She tried to put herself in Viktor's shoes, finding out that she had gotten hurt, while he was so far away and over something she should have known better than to do.

"He's going to be so mad," she murmured, and Sirius gave her a superior sort of smile. Hermione didn't care for the expression at all.

"So he should be," he said, sipping his drink. Hermione wondered if he'd spiked it. "You could all do with being made to see reason."

"Says the convict-at-large to the bedridden school girl," Hermione quipped under her breath and Sirius all but choked on his drink before giving her a stern look.

Hermione went back to her mug, but she couldn't stop herself from overthinking. She'd been here, in bed, and without distraction all morning. It wasn't the first time she had thought of Viktor, she had even wished him there, but now the reality of it being inevitable was making worry bubble in her tummy.

"Why the long face?" Sirius asked delicately. When Hermione met his eyes, she could see that he had become grave again. "I'm pretty sure you're more than capable of handling a devotedly distressed boy. Is there something I don't know?"

Hermione debated how to answer, she could just brush it off as a bit of nothing, but then she would be left to process it alone. She may not be overly experienced with this relationship stuff, but one thing she had come to learn was that if she obsessed over something long enough, she would begin to see things that weren't there. Hermione didn't want to shut off her feelings and retreat inside herself. There had been enough forced silence between them this year to last a lifetime. Viktor deserved better than that. And, when she thought about it, so did she.

Hermione glanced at Sirius and regarded his tattooed fingers, so she didn't have to consider his expression. He would hardly be her first choice for this conversation and yet, who knew when she would get a chance to speak to Ginny or Luna?

"I… Madam Pomfrey showed me my," Hermione stuttered out, gesturing awkwardly to her chest. It was rather ridiculous to be so concerned about the area being near her breasts when her main concern was the mark slashed across her body, but she wasn't in charge of how she felt about it.

"There's a nasty gouge there," she continued eventually. "It's chewed up the skin in a… I don't know how to describe it other than it looks like something I once saw on a show about special effects make up. Nobody is sure, but they think it will scar."

Madam Pomfrey had been kindness itself when she had carefully opened up Hermione's robe and given her a mirror to look down on herself. She had patted Hermione's hand and told her they would continue treating it experimentally to reduce the inflammation. They were confident they could eliminate the pain, but dark magic always left a scar, and this one was a sizable one.

Since she had gotten into her own clothes, Hermione had been pestered by remembrances of Viktor's skin. Of the expanse of chest she had rested against when he'd taken off his jumper upstairs in Three Broomsticks. It had imprinted upon her memory so vividly that summoning it in her mind was like watching a video. To her, he had been faultless, and even though the logical side of Hermione knew that couldn't be true, it made her recoil now to think of it.

Hermione would never whisper a word of it to Sirius, possibly not to anyone, but, ever since that afternoon she and Viktor had spent tucked away together she had imagined what it would have been like if she had taken her own top off at the same time, and been as bare as him. Hermione had thought about how Viktor would have looked at her, how his hands might have felt, and what he might have said. She had thought about it so much that she had set it in stone in her mind, as a part of her future, something that she knew would happen… that she wanted to happen. Now… it felt like that moment, that potential moment, had been taken away. Because instead of just looking at her, Viktor would be seeing whatever was left of the Death Eaters curse. Hermione wasn't vain enough to have hoped to see awe or wonder on Viktor's face - though it had been there often enough in her imaginings - but she didn't want there to be pain, fury or pity.

Sirius regarded her thoughtfully while rotating his mug. He did that with whiskey, Hermione observed to herself, and while the move was utterly pointless with coffee, she imagined such a thing was like muscle memory to him now.

"I take it you are worried… about what he will think… when he sees it?"

Hermione nodded once, not trusting herself to speak. The whole thing was endlessly mortifying. Was she really talking to Harry's godfather about her boyfriend seeing her breasts? Jesus.

"I mean.. I could start a conversation on why he shouldn't be seeing them," Sirius replied, looking anywhere but at her face and Hermione flushed. "But, it's weirdly reassuring to know that underneath all that hair and intelligence, you're still a normal teenager."

Despite herself, Hermione blew out a huff of laughter through her teeth. "Not helpful," she reprimanded him lightly, and he did her the rare honour of looking chagrined.

"Sorry," he said, not sounding it. "Force of habit. But… I really… I think it will all be okay. Much as I never want to think about that moment in any detail."

"Sorry, but… you asked."

"I did," Sirius agreed and then pushed a clump of hair behind his ears before changing his mind and pulling it back forward. "Look, I'm a bit of a dick, at times, but I'm also a pretty good judge of character, with a few notable exceptions, and Krum… I don't think he's going to be put off by something like that."

"You really think so?"

Sirius sighed. "Hermione, teenage boys aren't put off by scars. When I was Viktor's age, I wouldn't have noticed if the other person was on fire if they were naked at the same time."

"Not helpful, Sirius," Hermione bit out as heat rose in her cheeks. "And, I said nothing about being naked."

"Too right too," Sirius returned. "I've not had much practise in guiding another human through life, haven't done brilliantly at getting myself through. But, for what it's worth, I think he… well, I'm assuming he's told you he loves you," at Hermione's hesitant nod he continued, "and he's probably loved you for a while before he admitted it."

"How can you know that?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"He sent care parcels to Harry all summer," Sirius replied matter-of-factly, and Hermione sat back onto her pillows shaking her head.

"He didn't do that for me."

Sirius arched a brow at her. "I don't think you really believe that, do you?"

Hermione began to swirl her cup and kept her eyes fixed on the meagre contents left within.

"Anyway," Sirius continued with a bit of a cough. "that sort of feeling doesn't just die because you've got a few more cuts and grazes. Plus he plays quidditch, he'll be mangled as a pair of old boots by the end of his professional career," Sirius finished with a wink, and despite herself, Hermione laughed.

"That was unkind," she protested, but Sirius grinned.

"It'll be okay, Poppet. You wait and see."

Hermione nodded and pulled the cover higher up on her chest. She wanted to shelve the feelings fluttering within her to analyse later. Her eyes were drawn to the curtain, and she contemplated life beyond it.

"How are they all?" she asked softly and Sirius brightened, which considerably calmed her nerves.

"Ron is still out," he informed her on an exhale. "They wanted to use some paste or other that Snape came up with, and it was better to administer while he was still asleep, so he's been given another sedative. Neville, Luna and Ginny are all okay, patched up cuts and bruises mainly but they've also been sedated again, so they sleep off the worst of it."

"Why wasn't I given a stronger dose?" Hermione wondered. The day had been endless, and she was beginning to feel like a criminal who had been separated from her co-conspirators while the authorities took statements.

Sirius shrugged. "I think Poppy thought of it, but they didn't want it to mix with the other things they had given you. It was better not to take the risk."

Hermione nodded in understanding and Sirius took her cup away from her.

"Right, as it's just the two of us, shall I get you something to eat and we can try and have a conversation where neither of us says anything too emotionally revealing?"

"That sounds good," Hermione agreed, "We could talk about this Transfiguration principal I was reading about last week?"

"No offence," Sirius replied, getting to his feet. "But I'd rather again face the horror of talking to you about showing Viktor your-"

"You," Hermione bit out, "are so rude."

"So they tell me," Sirius agreed with a smirk as he headed towards the curtains. "So they tell me."

Hermione was relieved that the next time she woke up, it was morning, somehow the idea that her body clock was returning to normal made her feel more relieved than she had let herself feel before that moment. The day before had drifted by in spats of fitful wakefulness that never seemed to link up with any of her friends, leaving her to feel more anxious every time she opened her eyes.

Hermione knew there was a weight on the bed next to her, and she could only imagine one person who would have climbed in without waking her in the process.

Harry was lying on his side, facing her, curled up on top of her covers with a dressing gown haphazardly thrown over him, serving as a blanket.

"He arrived about four this morning," Sirius' crumpled voice said from in amongst the curtains around her bed, and Hermione turned to look at him.

If Sirius had looked careworn the day before, today he looked awful. His hair was beginning to set into clumps, and his beard had grown enough for him to look unnaturally scruffy.

"Sirius you should go and get some sleep," Hermione implored, and to her surprise, Sirius nodded.

"Yeah I should," he agreed without protest. "Can't stay here though. Managed to make it work yesterday but the news that you lot are in here has no doubt filtered around the whole bloody school by now. It won't take long before the students start getting curious."

"No one can see you," Hermione insisted urgently. "It's not safe."

Sirius quirked a smile at her nagging, but it didn't quite reach his tired eyes. "I'm going to Remus' for today, but I'll be back tonight. Try getting through to him, would you?" he said, gesturing to the sleep rumbled Harry lying next to her. "He's going to give himself an ulcer at the rate he's going."

Sirius stepped up onto his feet and stretched up his arms until his back cracked so loudly it made Hermione wince. "I'll see you later, Poppet."

"Sirius," Hermione said before her sense of self-preservation could stop her.


"Can you do something for me? It's about," Hermione tried to keep her face neutral. "It's about Kreacher."

Sirius' eyes hardened, and he turned so he could face her. "Hermione, please don't ask me for that."

Hermione, against her better instincts, ignored him. "Please don't hurt him."

Sirius sucked in a breath and gripped the bar at the end of her bed so hard his knuckles turned white. "You know what he did?" he gritted out and Hermione tried to keep her resolve.

"Yes," she replied, worrying her hands into the bed covers around her waist.

"Then how can you ask me to do nothing," Sirius said incredulously. "He deserves what's coming to him."

"I…" Hermione replied, trying to force her words out. "Maybe... But…"

It had been running over in her mind since Sirius had told her what the embittered elf had done. She had told herself, again and again, she needed to have this conversation with him, but she'd been too scared. Now, only just awake she was trying to piece together her arguments while Sirius looked more feral every second.

"But what?" he all but shouted. "How can you still want to protect him? You nearly died Hermione," Sirius' voice had risen enough to make Harry stir in the bed next to her, but as Madam Pomfrey hadn't pushed herself into the little area, Hermione assumed the curtains must have been charmed to prevent the noise transfer.

Hermione glanced at Sirius beseechingly, willing him to understand. "It's not him I'm trying to protect."

That wasn't wholly true, but it was in the main. She didn't want harm to come to Kreacher for his own sake as well. What had that creature ever done to deserve his pitiful existence?

"Me, you're trying to protect me?" Sirius spat with a brittle laugh. "From what exactly? I know exactly who I am."

"I don't think you see yourself as clearly as you should," Hermione ventured bravely, and Sirius became very still.

"You have no idea what I'm capable of," he replied barely above a whisper, and Hermione's heart broke for him.

"You're not that person," she insisted, but she wasn't sure he was listening.

"We'll see," he replied, and then he was gone.

Viktor shrugged off the shoulder guard he had been wearing and rotated his wrist to get some feeling back in his arm. The first training session that morning had been more stringent than most, and he knew he was going to be feeling the effects tomorrow. It would probably have been okay if their coach hadn't insisted they need to run more drills this afternoon. Viktor let his head fall back onto the unforgiving wood of the locker room benches and tried not to actively fantasise about going home and having a bath.

How did people do this till their late thirties?

Viktor smiled to himself as his teammates quietly grumbled around him. All of them were too disciplined to complain, but a bit of quibbling was no less than expected. Apparently, it didn't matter that they weren't due to play for a while; training never took any time off.

Viktor unlaced his boots to help the circulation in his legs, but he left his feet in them. They would be hell to put back on if he took them the whole way off, and he didn't have time for that.


Just as Viktor had convinced himself he might get away with shutting his eyes for ten minutes, Dragomir called to him from the door. "There's some aggressive bird outside waiting for you." Viktor nodded tiredly and got to his feet. "Of the avian variety," Dragomir qualified, and Viktor rolled his eyes as the room filled with a few drained sniggers. Any groupie that managed to get past their elite security team probably deserved to see a player. Not that Viktor wanted 'the player' in question to be him.

Viktor trudged past his battered-looking teammates and made it outside where he quickly spotted an owl looping around the small green. It froze in the air as soon as it saw him and dropped into a graceful dive before depositing a letter into his waiting hands.

Viktor's brow furrowed as he recognised the handwriting on the envelope, but nothing was making sense. The owl that had not even waited long enough for a treat before disappearing was one he recognised, it came from Hogwarts. The letter he was sure was from Sirius Black, who usually sent any of his limited, redacted correspondence by anything from a pigeon to a toucan - but never an owl. Especially not one with a Hogwarts crest around its neck.

Viktor felt a prickle on the back of his neck when he began to appreciate the significance of such a thing, coupled with the owl not waiting for him at home. Viktor ripped the envelope open and sped through the three lines, while his heart crashed in his chest.

The door opened behind him, and Dragomir poked his head out as Viktor began furiously retying his laces.


"I have to go," Viktor managed to stutter before he started running towards the exit.

"What should I tell Coach?" Dragomir shouted after him, but Viktor had no time to worry about those things.

"I'll speak to him later," he replied absently and rushed out of the stadium. He didn't even think to pick up his bag.

By lunchtime, Hermione had shuffled herself on top of her blankets and was picking her way through a tray of food, surrounded by muted but happy chatter.

Harry had left soon after breakfast, and though he assured Hermione he would listen to her and not grow too despondent, Hermione wasn't sure she believed him. She consoled herself with the knowledge that Sirius would be returning in the evening. She was convinced that time with his godfather was the real balm Harry needed to evaporate some of his demons.

Luna was sitting in the visitor chair Sirius had been calling home for nearly two days, and Ginny was perched on the end of her bed. Cho lingered close to the exit between two curtains, absentmindedly eating an apple with a hand that still had a neatly applied bandage.

Neville had already been sent away from the hospital wing, ready to return to the tower and Ron was still in bed recovering. Hermione had managed to make it over to talk to him earlier, but he was so drowsy it hadn't been a long conversation.

Hermione hadn't expected Cho to appear when Ginny had pushed her way behind the curtains surrounding her bed, but she was pleased to see her. Cho had been discharged that morning, once her parents had been in to observe as she was given a clean bill of health. Then they had sequestered her away, no doubt to ask her what the bloody hell had happened.

"Did you hear?" Ginny asked Hermione, failing to suppress a smile. "Cho's parents think we might be a bad influence."

That was probably an understatement.

"They're just worried," Cho said defensively and then dropped into the other chair at the back of the space. "It's not like anything that's happened this year has been normal."

Cho had a point there. Hermione quietly picked at her sandwich as she felt the older girl's eyes linger on her. There was no point beating around the bush; they would never get over the weirdness if they didn't address the elephant in the room.

"I don't know if you've heard yet," Hermione began cautiously. "But I gave the counterspell, the one for Marietta, to Madam Pomfrey."

Cho's gaze hardened. "And are you going to apologise to her?"

Hermione's hackles rose, and she mentally crossed out the first three retorts that were on the tip of her tongue before shooting Ginny a significant look so she would do the same. Hermione had grown to like Cho, a lot, and she wanted to repair their burgeoning friendship but, what kind of friendship would it be if it wasn't built on truths?

"I'll say the words if you want me to," she offered eventually. "But I won't mean them."

Cho tutted. "At least you're honest, I suppose," she whispered, and Hermione felt some of the tension leave the room. "I can't pretend I understand it, Hermione, but, if this last… escapade… has taught me anything, it's that you are dealing with things most of the kids at this school have no idea of. Even after… even after last year, I don't think I got it. I don't like it, but… it won't stop me being your friend. As long as Marietta is completely healed."

"She will be," Hermione acknowledged softly, though the whole thing annoyed her. She still felt like Marietta had gotten away lightly. So what if she had some boils on her head?

With that out of the way, the conversation drifted back to what had happened in the aftermath of their trip to the Ministry. The school had been rocked by the news that several prominent members of wizarding society had been arrested and the battle lines between the houses seemed to be deepening with every day that past.

"So, is this what it's like every year for you guys?" Cho asked. "Everything goes to shit just before we're all packed off home for the summer?"

"Yep," Luna absently replied while eating the last of her peach yoghurt. "Though, the last two years have seemed worse than before."

"Speak for yourself," Ginny muttered. "You didn't get possessed by a diary in your first year."

"What?" Cho asked, leaning forward with interest and Hermione rubbed at her head.

"Story for another time," she countered, and Cho looked between them before backing down.

Soon, Ginny and Luna were talking about some coursework or other they were still expected to deliver before the end of the year, and Cho inched closer to Hermione's bed.

"I'm so glad you're okay," she said softly. "It was… I feel silly now for making such a fuss about going. I was so sure I was going to be helpful. When I got there, I didn't know what to do."

"None of us did," Hermione replied, Sirius' words from earlier knocking around in her head.

"Still, I suppose we have another year before it happens again, right?" Cho said with a laugh and Hermione smiled blankly in response.

Somehow, she wasn't sure they would get the full year this next time.

By the time Viktor was approaching the back gates to Hogwarts school, it was the middle of the afternoon. Despite the multiple apparitions and a certain amount of travel on foot, he felt wired. The pain in his limbs was long forgotten as he pushed himself to get to his destination as quickly as possible. If experience was any lesson, it was likely he would collapse not long after arriving.

Viktor had barely paused in front of the gates when the groundskeeper appeared, looking larger than Viktor remembered him. He had a giant looking dog at his side that was straining on what looked like an insignificant leash, and Viktor immediately took a step back before Hagrid called him off.

"Fang," he shouted impatiently. "You're being very rude."

Hagrid looked back up and smiled broadly, transforming his posture entirely. "I take it this is an unexpected visit, Mr Krum?"

Viktor hadn't been much aware of his state of dress on the way. It hadn't made sense to take the additional time to shower and change. But he was aware now, looking at the amused glint in the groundskeeper's eyes, that he must look a bit of state. Really, it soothed him. He doubted Hagrid would be quietly laughing at him if Hermione was in peril. Sirius' note had said she was okay, but what did that mean?

"Yes," Viktor said eventually. "I'm here to see Hermione. I was told she was in the hospital wing."

"Told by who?" Hagrid asked, and Viktor faltered, not sure how to reply. Eventually, Hagrid mumbled something under his breath about interfering dogs and Dumbledore not being happy, but despite his apparent unrest, he jangled an enormous set of keys that were attached to his belt. "You better come through then."

After Hagrid let him onto the grounds, he took him around a 'shortcut' that Viktor did not recognise from his own time at Hogwarts. He was exceedingly grateful as they barely saw another soul until they were approaching the main castle doors and a small figure stepped out just as he was turning inwards.

"Viktor?" she said, and it took him the space of a couple of blinks to remember who she was. Memories came back to him, hitting even harder given the reason for his unplanned trip.

"Miss Chang," Viktor replied and tried to offer her a smile. He was sure it looked more like a grimace, but he hoped she would understand.

"You're here for Hermione?" she asked, though she must have already known, why else would he be rushing up to the castle doors in his training kit. He had fallen in love with an English girl, but he would never understand the proclivity of her countrymen to state the obvious in the name of politeness.

"Yes, is she still in the hospital wing?"

"She's still there," Cho confirmed, and Viktor moved past her, hoping she would forgive his abruptness given the circumstances.

Cho's hand came out to rest on his arm, and Viktor stopped abruptly and turned back to face her. "She's had a tough time okay?"

Viktor nodded. "I had assumed-"

"Go easy on her," she bade him seriously, and then she was gone.

Viktor made it back to the hospital wing without further delay, but he couldn't quite shake having seen Cho on the way in. He was flooded with an uncomfortably hard-hitting empathy. Thoughts of Cedric danced in the front of his mind, and he was humbled to realise that he had never given much thought to the girl he had left behind.

There was no one at the front desk when he came in, but he didn't need to be shown in any direction, only two beds were occupied now. The first one Viktor peaked in contained Ron Weasley, who was fast asleep with heavily bandaged arms resting on top of the blankets.

Which only left one bed.

Viktor approached quietly and gently pulled the curtain back, remembering a time when he felt like they had been used as a makeshift prison for him following the Triwizard Tournament.

Hermione was dozing, curled on her side. Her curls were trapped in a plait that had long since given up its purpose, and he could see the soft blue of her pyjamas poking up from the cover over her shoulders. Viktor stood at the end of her bed for a moment and just watched her breathe. With every in and out motion of her chest, he felt the knot in his stomach untighten.

Careful of the sound his leather uniform made, he approached and leant over her sleeping form to press a kiss against her forehead. Her reaction was immediate, her arms lurched, gripping around his neck and pulling him closer to her.


"How did you know it was me?" he asked, dropping his head lower so he could see her better.

Hermione's eyes blinked awake, and his throat became scratchy as he traced her face and arms, anything he could see for marks. Sirius' note had only said she had been hurt, that she was okay, but that he should come, as soon as he was able.

There had been a whole world of interpretation that could have been made in that statement. The worst worries of Viktor's mind had been poking at him over the last few hours of furious travel. They had whispered that Hermione was not fine at all and Sirius had not said as much as they had been worried about the message being intercepted. Viktor had been trying to shut out the feeling that they were going to break it to him that things were worse than they had indicated when he got there from the moment he had held the parchment in his fingers.

But Hermione was here, and she was holding on to him.

"You smell like grass," she murmured sleepily, and Viktor rubbed his thumb against her cheek.

"I came from training," he explained and then pressed his forehead to hers. She felt a little clammy, and he tried not to panic, tried to tell himself that it was warm in there and she had been sleeping.

"Sirius said that he had written to you," she said, and her words caressed his lips. "Thank you for being here."

"Where else would I be?"

A/N: Hello lovelies, sorry for another huge delay between chapters. This year finally caught up with me, and I've spent the better part of the last couple of months staring out the window, wondering when things will get better. Also, this will not be the final chapter of part two. As I came to write the last sections, there was still so much I wanted to include, and I wanted Sirius and Hermione to have a moment here, so there will be more to come. Take care of yourselves!