Chapter Four

Having finally secured the promise she needed from the man who unknowingly dominated her thoughts, Hermione wasted no time in letting her body claim the rest it had long been denied. For once, sleep came with no struggle and though she might not have been conscious to enjoy it, her entire being joyfully reaped the benefits. Months of exhaustion had taken its toll, and what little strength was left had been completely eradicated by the spell. She had been left running on endorphins and their magical counterparts to keep up the façade of normalcy, but even when that gave way, leaving her to faint in Sirius's arms, she was able to rouse herself once more- because she had to know that it hadn't all been in vain. She had to know that he would stay. And knowing he would was all she needed to surrender to the warmth of her bed, and the promise of relief.

She drifted in and out of dreams, the particulars fuzzy and distorted but the fantasy a welcome respite from the real world. The day had passed around her, and even the night came and left without disturbing her slumber. In the end, it was the scent of pancakes that proved a strong enough incentive to stir her from her warm cocoon.

Getting up, she patted at her hair in an effort to tame the mess it had become overnight. She knew she must be an awful sight, and for a brief moment vanity warred with curiosity and her empty stomach before the smart, practical witch who didn't care what she looked like –and really, even if she did, it's not like Sirius would notice either way- regained control and had her following her nose down the steps of her stairs.

There was something incredibly surreal about the sight that greeted her as she reached the bottom step, something incongruous about seeing Sirius making himself at ease in her muggle home. He was facing her, his back leaning against the Italian marble counter her mother had begged for last summer. His hair was clean but tousled in no discernible style, her dad's faded "Trust me, I'm a dentist" shirt hung loose on his frame, and he held her coffee mug in one hand. He looked so… ordinary.

Ordinary was not a word she had ever associated with him before.

The conversation fromthe previous day was fresh in her mind, and she was struck with how unprepared and generally unsuited she was for all this. It was uncomfortable enough spending time with Harry's godfather when they hadn't ever really been alone before, but now she realized it went beyond even that. Because whatever else Sirius Black was in the magical community, here in her family's home, she was faced with the realization that he was still very much a man. And she was just an awkward teenage girl who suddenly, desperately wished for her mother. She didn't know what to say to him, or how she should act. She wanted to sound mature, she wanted to seem confident, and in control. But in the end, all she managed was a shy "Hi."

He returned her greeting, the corners of his mouth quirking up slightly, giving her the impression he was mocking her. She racked her brain, trying to think of something- anything- to say to keep her from making an even bigger fool of herself. She had so many questions, and there was still so much to be said, yet no words came to her. In the end, it was he who saved her.

"I made pancakes. I figured you'd be hungry."

She grasped on to the opening he gave her like a drowning man who had just been thrown a life preserver.

"Yes, thank you." She moved to grab a plate and busied herself with transferring a few of the hotcakes onto it. "Where did you learn to make pancakes? I thought all you wizards were helpless without your wand."

"Yes, well, you might be surprised at what you can pick up when you're on the run." His voice was light but Hermione instantly berated herself for causing him to remember some of his darker days. He spoke up again, as if he could read her thoughts, and lightened the mood again. "Go ahead, try them. There's quite a good chance they're actually edible."

She sniffed the pancakes cautiously, and the delicious aroma soothed some of her concern. She took a hesitant first bite and smiled.

"These are really good!"

"Don't sound so surprised." The small smile playing about his lips caused her to flush and remember just how devastating he could be when his features relaxed and his eyes lit up with emotion. She turned away from him, trying to hide her schoolgirl blush, and walked towards the table to set down her plate. Papers were scattered in an unorganized mess, clustered at one end of the table. She was already grabbing, sorting and stacking them before she even realized what she held.

"These are my notes." She turned back to Sirius, previous embarrassment forgotten, the hand holding her notes thrust towards him in silent accusation. He watched her, his face infuriatingly neutral.

"Yes."

Hermione took one deep breath, then another. Finally she managed a concise, "Explain. Please," in a deceptively calm tone. Had Harry or Ron been there, they would have recognized the tone for what it was, and most likely run for cover. As it was, Sirius averted his eyes and took on the appearance of a young boy about to be scolded for all of a brief moment before seemingly remembering that he was a grown wizard and did not have to answer to the much younger witch before him. Still, it was with a gentle, soothing tone that he spoke.

"I was worried about you. You were unconscious for the better part of yesterday and all of last night. I needed to know what you had done before I could do anything to help you."

"And that gives you the right to go through my things, read my notes?" She wasn't bothering to moderate her own tone any longer and ended on a near screech. She couldn't fathom how he could justify the invasion of her privacy, especially after she had risked so much to save him. She wasn't looking for eternal gratitude; she just wanted a bit of respect. It wasn't so much to ask for and yet instead he treated her like a child.

"I was worried," he repeated in that same irritating calm voice, "and with good reason. I've looked over your notes, Hermione. It's just not possible. It shouldn't have worked."

"But it did. I mean, you're here and in one piece. I'd say it worked just fine." The previous cause for her anger was pushed to a back burner and was replaced by outrage that he would doubt her abilities. She had known it was a long shot when she had first found the spell, but it had worked. He was living, breathing proof of that. She had succeeded even after everyone said she wouldn't, but he wouldn't give her any credit for that either.

"You think so? There's a reason you won't see anything like this on the curriculum at Hogwarts. The spells you use today are a result of hundreds of years of research and experiments. They've taken the guesswork out of it, you say your word, flick your wand and poof, instant result. And it'll be the same result the next time and the next. They've made it reliable, and they've made it safe. This- what you've done- it's not like that. It's unpredictable, it's uncharted. Who knows what damage it might have caused? Or the side effects that came along with it. What's more- Hermione, you shouldn't even have been able to do this. And that's what worries me the most."

Hermione deflated after his lecture, knowing he was right and hating him for it. She hadn't thought of the consequences, not really. He was watching her, she knew he was waiting for her to say something, but she wasn't quite prepared to admit she might have been wrong. "You know, I think that's the most you've ever said to me at one time."

The knowing look in his eyes told her he knew the reason behind the shift in conversation, but he was willing to let it slide. So instead of pressing the point, he transferred another pancake to the stack on her plate. "Eat. You're going to need the energy."

Something warned Hermione that it was going to be a long day.

AN: It's been brought to my attention that I've made a number of embarrassingly careless mistakes in the past few chapters (to which there is no excuse but that I haven't taken the proper care that I should). If anyone would care to help me out by beta-ing upcoming chapters before I post them, please e-mail me at seejaneconform(at)msn(dot)com and I would very much appreciate it. I know there are services out there to connect you with other people for this sort of thing but I'd much rather it be someone that has some interest in the story, thus the plea here. Thank you!