A/N: My muse has abandoned me. I haven't been able to write anything in weeks. Then yesterday on tumblr, I saw a discussion about Sirius calling Hermione 'kitten' and whether or not it was fanon, canon, headcanon, whatever. It was funny and cute and made me start thinking about *why* he would choose to call Hermione 'kitten'. There are any number of possible reasons, all of them valid, but this is what came to me and I was so grateful for this tiny crumb of inspiration that I *had* to write it down.
It began sometime during the summer before 5th year, and, as with most things, the blame could squarely be laid at the twins' feet. Later, Hermione would always associate it with the library at Grimmauld Place. It had been safe, neutral territory for everyone including Sirius.
The Black library held a seductive power for Hermione that few realized. There were volumes that she recognized from the restricted section at Hogwarts and they were just sitting there, waiting for her. There was no looming, disapproving Madam Pince. There were no restrictive spells on the bookshelves.
Usually Hermione managed to sneak a book or two to the bedroom she shared with Ginny. After Ginny's deep even breathing indicated she was asleep, Hermione would conjure a bluebell fire in a jar and read deep into the night.
Most of Hermione's free time was taken up by the Black library. During her 2nd year, when Professor Lockhart had unwittingly given her carte blanche in the restricted section, an incensed Madam Pince had insisted on teaching her several spells that were particular to librarians. They were diagnostic spells that assessed a book's condition and whether or not it was tainted by Dark magic.
"Even if a book isn't under dark enchantments, if it is in poor condition its magic can become frayed and therefore dangerous," Madam Pince had warned Hermione with a sour frown and pinched lips.
"Yes, Madam Pince," Hermione had murmured dutifully and tried to appear innocent and trustworthy.
Madam Pince's eyes had narrowed and she had huffed indignantly. "Imagine! Giving a 2nd year access to the restricted section," she had muttered to herself.
More than once, Hermione had found herself grateful to those stern lessons at Madam Pince's hands. She knew that she could use the Black library safely—perhaps more so than anyone else at Grimmauld Place. She selected a tome at random and performed the diagnostic spells to determine its status. Once she was certain that it was relatively safe, she carried to a tucked away corner and settled down in an overstuffed chair.
Years of primary school had honed Hermione's senses. She knew when she was being watched. Hermione's eyes flicked from the page she had been reading to peer over the edge of her book. Sirius was sprawled across one of the settees, watching her and smirking. Hermione's brow furrowed and she frowned at him. Sirius Black was unlike any adult that she had ever met. In fact, he didn't act like an adult at all. He never acted as she expected him to do. It was unnerving.
"What?" She demanded in a tone that she never would have dreamed of using with Mr. Weasley or Professor Snape.
The smirk on Sirius' face grew. He appeared almost maniacally giddy. Hermione shifted in her chair uncomfortably.
"Is it true?" He asked.
"Is what true?" Hermione countered cautiously.
There were a great number of things that she'd done lately, and it wouldn't do to admit to some of them unless he had proof. She bit her lip and wondered if he'd found the empty jar in the room she shared with Ginny.
"Young Fred and Young George were telling Moony and I a few stories the other night," Sirius explained. "Filling us in on what our Harry's been up to over the years."
"It's best to take the Weasley twins with a grain of salt," Hermione retorted with prim disdain.
"Ah, ah, ah, Miss Granger," Sirius countered. "They told me that you are quite the little Potions Mistress. Why, you even managed to brew Polyjuice Potion in your 2nd year! Quite the feat, Miss Granger, quite the feat. Tell me, how did you acquire the boomslang skin?"
Sirius had abandoned his sprawling pose to sit up on the settee and lean forward. His grey eyes were fixed upon her with an intensity that made her stomach clench and her skin prickle. He knew something.
"Whatever do you mean, Mr. Black?" Hermione asked in a voice that absolutely did not shake.
"Miss Granger," he tutted and shook his head. A sly grin stretched his lips. "Hermione. Can I call you Hermione? Did you, perhaps, steal the potion ingredients from Snape?"
"Professor Snape," Hermione corrected him automatically, and then flushed in embarrassment at having chastised an adult; even if that adult was Sirius Black who could barely be called such.
"By all means, let us give the man his proper title before you rob him blind," Sirius agreed.
"We didn't rob him blind," Hermione snapped. With a stifled groan she hid her face behind the book. Damn him.
"Don't worry, kitten," Sirius told her with fiendish glee. He stood up and sauntered out of the room, but he paused in the doorway to throw her one last smirk.
He knew. Hermione stared at him in horror, her mouth opening and closing silently. He knew. Harry and Ron had known, of course, and apparently so did Fred and George. Hermione was certain that Harry would never dream of telling anyone about the Polyjuice Incident from their 2nd year. Harry was aware of how upset she had been—how embarrassed—and he would never tell anyone else. Ron, however, was apparently another matter.
With a grim expression, Hermione pressed her lips together in a tight line and marched upstairs. It was a shame she couldn't make Ron fit in a jar. It had seemed to do wonders for Miss Skeeter's personality, and Ron seemed to need all the help he could get.
"We're going to play a pick-up game of Quidditch," Sirius announced cheerfully. He grinned at Hermione. "Care to join us?"
Ron snorted in amusement and jerked a thumb in Hermione's direction. "You'll never get that one in the air. She can't stand brooms."
"Oh, I don't know," Sirius replied with a lazy shrug. "I'm sure she'd go with the right incentive. I could ask Buckbeak if he'd like to play if you want, kitten."
From anyone else it would have been completely and utterly obnoxious. It should have driven her mad and made her want to hex things. Hermione hated pet names. She thought they were beyond revolting for the most part and ridiculously twee in the worst possible way.
There was always a teasing lilt in Sirius' voice whenever he called her kitten. As though he knew something no one else knew, which Hermione supposed he sort of did. It never seemed as though he were having her on. It was almost like the way he teased Harry and called him Prongslet or Prongs Jr. It was… nice. It was probably the reason Hermione hadn't sprinkled his sheets with itching powder when she was helping Molly with the laundry.
Maybe it was the way that Sirius only called her that when Ron made one of his callow comments; they weren't meant to hurt or be cruel, but they were thoughtless and vaguely disparaging—usually referencing her love of books and her healthy sense of caution.
"No, thank you, Sirius," Hermione had retorted drily with a roll of her eyes. Hippogriffs as a form of transportation were not her favorite… preferably never again, if she could help it.
"If you change your mind, kitten, just let me know," Sirius had replied with a solemn glint in his grey eyes.
When she woke up, the first thing she knew was pain. Her torso felt as though it were on fire. Too low to be her heart and too high to be her abdomen, it burned with an agony that made her whimper uncontrollably. Someone shifted near her and she heard what sounded like a sniffle and a shaky breath.
Hermione turned her head toward the voice and frowned. "Professor Lupin?"
Another shaky breath and a muffled sort of sob that Hermione couldn't quite credit came from the shadowed figure by her bed. She'd never heard Professor Lupin this emotionally upset—not even when he'd been forced to leave Hogwarts at the end of their 3rd year.
"I think that, after tonight, you can call me Remus," he managed to choke out.
"Is… is Harry-," Hermione couldn't finish the sentence. She just couldn't. Her heart constricted in her chest, rivalling the physical pain of her body.
"Harry is fine. He's sleeping in Gryffindor tower," Professor Lupin… Remus… reassured her. Another shaky breath. "You however, have given us all a fright."
"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered. "I begged Harry not to go, but… he was so worried about Sirius and… it was a trap. I'm sorry, Professor… Remus." She paused and looked around the darkened hospital ward at Hogwarts. "Is… is Sirius with Harry?"
"No," Remus whispered brokenly, and Hermione knew.
"Oh," she breathed.
In that moment, when her insides felt like they were trying to rip her apart, and Remus was doing his best to muffle his sniffles and surreptitiously wipe at his eyes, all Hermione could think about was that no one would ever call her kitten again. Her chest tightened again and her breath caught in her throat.
"Hermione?" Remus' voice was thick with unshed tears.
"It hurts," she whispered, not sure if she meant her heart or her sternum.
"Hang on, Poppy set aside some potions for when you woke up," Remus muttered half to himself. "I'm sorry, Hermione, I should have given them to you first thing."
"'Sokay," Hermione murmured to him once he'd administered the pain potions.
It wasn't okay though. Sirius… who was more like an extra Weasley twin than an adult. Sirius with his barking laugh and his teasing and those smug smirks when he knew she'd gotten up to something she shouldn't have done. Sirius, who called her kitten, not because he was trying to be odd or creepy, but because he was… proud of her ability to flaunt rules and get into trouble and not get caught.
Nobody had ever been proud of Hermione for anything except getting good grades. Her breath hitched in her chest again as her chest constricted. After a moment, Remus took her hand in his. Hermione clutched at his hand, clinging to him in the darkened hospital ward. As the potion kicked in and everything started to go fuzzy, Hermione's fingers tightened on Remus' hand.
"It's alright, Hermione," he murmured at the edge of her consciousness. "I'll stay here. I promise."
With a sigh, she let her fingers loosen and relax, letting the velvety darkness soothe the twin aches of her body and soul.