"Maybe something black?" Pansy suggested with a shrug. "You know, like playing at his name?"
Hermione dropped the blue dress she'd had her eye on down atop the chair by the vanity table and turned back toward Pansy's expansive wardrobe—in fact, the Parkinson Heiress, herself, often forgot what dresses and dress robes she had in there. "I suppose. I mean, black does compliment everything, doesn't it?"
"I still can't believe any of this," Harry said, scowling as he looked on from where he sat on the bed. Both witches turned to look at him, Pansy was frowning, but Hermione appeared worried, now.
Harry hated that his expression was causing her misgivings, but he just . . . . This was just . . . . It was bizarre, was what it was. His best friend and his godfather?
"Oh, stop your moaning!" Propping her hands on her hips, Pansy shook her head. "This is a good thing for Hermione. Don't you dare make her feel guilty for it!"
"Oh, I see." He sat forward a bit and folded his arms across his chest. "A good thing. Well, all right. Let's hear it then, Pans. What's so good about it?"
"Why don't you start by telling me what's so bad about it?" She blindly shot up her hand, preemptively covering Hermione's mouth to stop her from interrupting. No, no. She could out-argue Harry Potter perfectly well on her own. "They're both single, they get along fantastically, they're both so fit it could make regular people cry—"
"I think that's a bit of an—"
"No! You look here, if you really think about it, they're great together." Glancing at Hermione, who she could see was still furiously blushing over the compliment, Pansy let her hand drop back to her side. "Okay, maybe they have a great time and something comes of it. Maybe they realize they're better as friends and break it off. But with you acting this way, all you're going to do is make her feel bad, and possibly negatively effect whatever could happen."
His shoulders slumped. He knew he was being unfair. Sirius had his hands full as it was with how unpleasant Remus was being about the matter. When he'd told Harry, however, he'd sounded so . . . happy. Hermione, too. Dammit, all, Pansy was right.
If there was a chance Hermione and Sirius could really be right for each other, who was he—or Remus, for that matter, what had gotten into that man?—to stand in the way of that?
"Okay, okay." Smiling, Harry stood and crossed the room. "You're right." He kissed Pansy, and then dropped a second kiss on Hermione's cheek. "Hermione, I may feel awkward about it, but I hope you have a great time tonight. Just . . . not too great a time, yeah?"
Hermione snickered as she nodded. "Do I have to make you a promise on that? Because I've no idea if—"
Harry covered his ears, babbling incoherently as he made his way toward the door.
Both girls laughed as they watched him leave. In the silence that followed his exit, they almost seemed to forget what they'd been up to.
"Ohhh!" Pansy'd returned her attention to the matter at hand for only a moment when the most wonderfully wicked notion occurred to her. "How about . . . are you ready?"
The other witch pivoted in a slow, measured movement, to face her. "For?"
Snickering, Pansy winked as she murmured, "Virginal white?"
Unable to help herself, Hermione burst out laughing. "Virginal? Is that how you see me?"
"Oh, no. I know better, I've met Viktor—and Cormac, for that matter. That one couldn't keep his hands off you." Pushing past Hermione, Pansy started shuffling through the variety of fabrics. "Doesn't mean you can't look sweetly innocent. What color are your knickers?"
Embarrassingly enough, Hermione actually had to check. She was desperately nervous about her date with Sirius tonight—would there be another date? Would she act like a complete little idiot and accidentally dash any romantic notions he'd ever had toward here? Would she act like a complete idiot and end up having breakfast with him tomorrow?—that she'd been in a bit of a tizzy this morning. She'd not really paid attention as she'd gotten dressed, blindly grabbing anything and pulling it on.
Pausing, the dark-haired young woman peered over her shoulder at Hermione. "Oh, I could not have planned this better."
Hermione smirked, a bit of her friend's natural air of mischief seeming to seep into her. "It is sort of sinful, isn't it?" she asked, amusement threading her tone as she crinkled the bridge of her nose.
"I'd say it's wildly appropriate for a man who looks like sin made flesh. Wait, even better . . . ." Struck with a moment of sin-inspired brilliance, Pansy turned back to the wardrobe. Dragging out one dress, in particular, she spun in place, displaying it to Hermione. "Red knickers and no bra?"
While Hermione did very much like the idea, she was concerned she was being too eager for a first date. "I'm not sure. Are we overdoing it, maybe?"
Tossing the dress at her, Pansy shook her head, but that slightly wicked grin of hers stayed in place. "No. Because, just as I told my simpleton of a boyfriend, maybe nothing comes of tonight. But, you and Sirius aren't just two people who bumped into each other on the street and decided to go on a date. You've known each other for years, so it's a first date, but it's also sort of not. You already know each other, you have a spark. What's to say it would be unexpected for things to get that far tonight?"
At that, Hermione felt a curl of panic unwind in her belly. She pressed her palm over her heart, darting her gaze about frantically. "Oh, God, you're right! I . . . I could very well end up shagging Sirius tonight, couldn't I?"
Pansy snickered at the other witch's fretting. "If you're lucky."
Hermione slumped where she stood. "It's not funny, Pansy!"
Clearing her throat and nodding, Pansy moved closer. She clamped her hands over Hermione's shoulders. "Yes, it is. You're taking this far too seriously. Could you end up letting him make you the most enviably happy witch on the planet for a few hours? Sure, but that's only one possibility. A possibility, Hermione, which means . . . ?"
Giving a nod of her own in response, Hermione replied as she forced her breathing to steady. "Just one of many potential outcomes of a situation."
"Right. For all we know you could end up back at your own flat at a decent hour, with no more action than a polite kiss goodnight."
The witches stared at each other for a moment before the utter impossibility of that caused them both to burst out in laughter.
"Okay, that was a bit of a stretch," Pansy said, shrugging, "but the whole point is you never know. Just relax and go where the night takes you."
Hermione nodded, once more, feeling reassured . . . if still mildly terrified.
By the time dessert was served, Hermione and Sirius were both mildly tipsy. His face hurt from smiling so much, and she couldn't remember the last time she'd laughed so hard—she was certain they'd disrupted the dining experience of the restaurant's other patrons with their boisterous conversation.
As the dishes were placed before them, a decadent-looking mess of chocolate, fruit, and whipped toppings, Sirius reached across the table and nicked her plate.
Her jaw fell open as she watched him set her dish next to his. "Sirius Black! Just what do you think you're—"
"Shhh," he said in a low voice, his attention on the food while he speared a bit of fruit with his fork and dipped it into the chocolate and cream. Smirking, he lifted his gaze to hers as he reached across, holding it out to her.
Wide-eyed, she nibbled at her lip as she looked from him to the food, and back. The symbolism of their gestures—his in feeding her, and hers in how she let her eyes drift shut as she leaned forward to close her lips around the delectable offering—was not lost on either of them.
Hermione sat back, opening her eyes once more as she chewed. Sirius' attention had been on her face the entire time, and just now, the mildly dazed expression he wore and the look in his blue-grey eyes were in danger of stealing her breath.
She could swear she felt the rise and fall of his chest as he inhaled and exhaled, painfully slow, before he set down the fork and said, "I think we'll be needing the check now, don't you?"
Swallowing hard, she nodded, not entirely certain where her voice had disappeared to.
She also was not entirely certain why she was even a hint surprised when they stepped from the restaurant moments later, decadent desserts packed to take along, and he slipped an arm around her. Pulling her against him, he Apparrated.
Landing them squarely at the front door of 12 Grimmauld Place, she lost all sense of . . . well, anything, really, as Sirius covered her mouth with his own. He fumbled to unlock the door behind him, nearly falling backward over the threshold with the witch in his arms.
She broke the kiss, laughing against his mouth as they stumbled. After they'd righted themselves, he slammed shut the door between them and the rest of the world.
Pulling away enough to meet his gaze, she said in an airy whisper, "I suppose you could've waited until we were inside this house, Sirius."
He leaned close, his attention dropping to her mouth as he bit hard into his bottom lip. "Oh, I think I'm starting to lose all sense of judgment when I'm around you, little love."
Her heart skipped a beat at his words. He'd called her that before, but now it seemed to take on an entirely different, far more intimate context. She knew the sensation was reflected in her features, because his expression sobered as he stared at her.
Smiling, she searched his face. "Call me that, again. The exact way you just said it."
Sirius brought his hands up to cup her jaw. He closed his eyes and brought his mouth to hers, speaking so his lips brushed against the delicate skin of hers as he repeated himself in the same gravelly pitch. "Little Love."
She dropped the bag as they started stumbling blindly through the foyer, once more. Hermione had no idea she could get lost so fast in anyone's embrace, but the feel of his hands moving over her through the fabric of her dress, of his tongue caressing her own as he moved her toward the staircase, had every coherent thought fleeing her head.
Until the sound of tearing parchment intruded on their happy, steamy little world.
Breaking the kiss—though they still held tight to one another, their bodies pressed against each other as the caught their breath—they both looked about.
She met his gaze, one eyebrow arched in question. They shared a perplexed expression before they, seeming to move as one, turned their attention to the floor.
There, under Sirius' right foot, was a missive. It must've been delivered while they were out at dinner.
But who the bloody hell sent an owl at this time of night?
Hermione seemed good-natured enough about it. After the last several minutes, she was much more at ease about the turn the evening had taken. This—them climbing all over each other as they tried to stumble up to Sirius' bedroom—had felt like a natural progression, after all.
She wasn't sure if it was the bit of alcohol in her system taking the edge off her inhibitions, or simply that she was feeling wicked enough to want to tease him in such a way, but she turned in his arms, putting her back to him. "Let me get that for you," she said in a low voice.
"Oh, Merlin, kill me now," he murmured with a breathy chuckle as she bent forward at the waist—not so inadvertently pressing her bum against him as she moved—to retrieve the envelope. Dear God, he didn't know if it was simply that it was her, that it had been far too long for him, or some combination of both, but he thought he could easily explode on the spot with her brushing so deliberately against him like this.
But then she straightened up and her entire frame slumped against his as she read the return address. Well, there was a mood-killer, right there.
Puzzled by her sudden change in demeanor, Sirius turned her in his arms to face him. He didn't like the frown gracing her lips one bit. "Hermione? What's—?"
She held up the missive. "It's from Remus."
His shoulders drooped as he relinquished his hold on her to take the envelope. "You'd think he knew exactly what he was interrupting."
With a mirthless laugh, Hermione sat down on the stairs. Propping her elbow against her knee, she dropped her chin into her palm and let out a miserable sigh. "Well? May as well open it."
Sirius furrowed his brow as he looked from her to the envelope and back. "Sorry."
Shaking her head, she shrugged as the sound of him breaking the wax seal to open the envelope seemed to fill the house. Holding back a second sigh, she leaned against the banister. Just when she'd resolved to put her ridiculous, unresolved feelings behind her . . . .
"Oh! Oh, but this is good news!"
Surprise colouring her features, she looked up. "What is it?"
"He said the Ministry just contacted him about an experimental potion that could stop his dependence on wolfsbane!"
Her eyes shot wide and she jumped to her feet. "They contacted him, already? I told them it's not ready, yet!"
As she slapped her hands across her mouth, she met Sirius' curious gaze.
"Wait, you knew about this?"
She let her hands slip down as she fell back to sit on the stairs, once more. "I'm not supposed to say anything, yet. Not until it's all finalized. They made a contract with me to help devise a potion that would work better for full moons . . . . Even with a wolfsbane potion, Remus and those like him still barely hold on, and fighting his transformations makes him so sick. I thought . . . I thought he's Harry's friend, if I can help him . . . ? Anyway, that's what I was working on when you found me on New Year's. I told them I'd had a breakthrough and I thought I had something that could work, but it would need testing. I never expected they'd contact him, or anyone, about it until we were sure it was ready."
There was something in her tone, something that the more he thought on it, the more it crushed him a little. Folding the missive, he sat down beside her. "My God. You like Remus?"
Her eyes rolled so hard the lids fluttered with the force of it. "No." She shrugged and shook her head. "I used to. It was dreadful feeling something for someone who can't stand to be in the same room as you. Then that disaster happened with the mistletoe and I decided to put it behind me."
"Is that what this was tonight? On New Years?" He dropped his gaze to the toes of his shoes as he asked, "You putting your feelings for him behind you?"
"Dear Lord, no!" Shifting to face him, she reached out, clasping her hands around his. "When you first kissed me that night, yeah, I panicked a bit. I worried I was only letting that happen because I knew Remus would never . . . . But then I thought about it. Really, really, thought about it. I like you, Sirius, because I like you. Not 'because' of anything or anyone else. Just you. If I'd felt any other way, we wouldn't be here, now. I wouldn't do that to you. Or to myself."
He flicked up his gaze to meet hers, a shockingly, completely un-Sirius-like bashful expression on his face. "So . . . does this mean after we finish reading this letter, you'll still let me take you upstairs and do unspeakable things to you?" As the last word fell from his lips, he couldn't hold the innocent look any longer and a wicked grin curved his mouth.
She couldn't seem to stop herself from smiling as she nodded. "You had better!"
Clearing his throat, he opened the letter, once more. "Well, then, let's hurry with this. Okay, okay . . . blah, blah, blah. Oh . . . oh, dear . . . ."
His shoulders slumped all over again as he lowered the letter to his lap and looked at her. "They contacted him to see if he would be the test subject."
"Don't tell me."
Wincing, Sirius nodded. "Blasted fool agreed to it."
She propped her fists on her hips and frowned. "Well, that's a lot of confidence in my abilities!"
"Little Love, don't take that personal. You know any number of things can go wrong with an experimental potion. And, besides, you just said yourself, 'Don't tell—'"
"That's different," she said with a pout. "I'm allowed to have doubts about my work. As my boyfriend, you're supposed to have unwavering faith in me."
His brows drew upward and the corners of his mouth perked ever so slightly upward. "Your boyfriend?"
"Well, aren't you?"
He considered that a moment. Up until Remus' intrusion—he wasn't even present and somehow he'd found a way to interrupt them!—they'd been having a perfect evening. And he had every intention of making a repeat performance. As many times as she'd let him.
"Why, yes, I am!"
She nodded, smiling.
"Well, as your boyfriend, I should probably warn you about the letter's conclusion, then."
Oh, she did not like the sound of that, at all. "Which is?"
"Apparently, the Ministry must be your boyfriend, too, because they've got such unwavering faith in your abilities that they've already arranged with him to test the potion on the upcoming full moon."
"All right, first of all, I'd never date the entire Ministry. I mean, how would I figure time for them all?"
Sirius chuckled at that with a shake of his head. He was a little hurt that Remus hadn't mentioned any of this to him face-to-face. Maybe the werewolf didn't feel they were that close, anymore, if Sirius was dating a witch he couldn't stand.
That just made the rest of what Remus had written seem more painfully ironic, though.
"But that aside, I don't really see what you're—"
"When he takes the potion, he's to be under the supervision of the person who devised it. I don't think they explained that it's you."
"Of course they didn't, or he'd never have agreed," she said in a sour tone.
After a quiet moment, she leaned close, assuring herself she had his undivided attention. They both needed something to take their minds off this matter. "Now, weren't you supposed to take me upstairs and do unspeakable things to me?"
"Don't have to ask me twice." He shot to his feet and pulled her up beside him so fast that before she even knew what was happening, they were stumbling blindly up the staircase as he stole her thoughts and her breath with another series of delicious, hungry kisses.