Make it magnificent tonight make me tonight not too many horns can make that sound way on down south way on down south London town unpage the colors unfurl the flag love just kissed you in my mind and in my car can't rewind we've gone too far it's up to you what's your pleasure…
The words tumbled through his mind; frantic, disjointed, snarled and thrown together on fragments of guitar and scattering pulses of synthesizer, but it was something, it was anything, and it kept him out. Well, didn't keep him out. Nothing could keep him out.
And I feel her from across the room yes it's love in the third degree let the spirit flow all through your body just lend us an ear don't stop 'til you get enough and I can't get enough of you baby can you get enough of me…
He'd never been good at Occlumency, it was too cold, too disciplined, but even a master couldn't hold against this. Break the body to break the boundaries to break the mind, and even though he didn't know – he honestly didn't know – where his brother was, he knew plenty of other things.
Why don't you ask him who's the latest on his throne are you happy are you satisfied how long can you stand the heat you don't fight fair but that's okay see if I care knock me down it's all in vain…
Things that could get people hurt, get people killed, and he couldn't keep him out, but he could still do something. Fill his thoughts with the useless and the mindless and the meaningless that filled the Muggle airwaves and beat time in the clubs, soared across the sky behind the handlebars and oh Merlin, let it be enough. Even if he gave up and just killed him, it wouldn't matter if he hadn't betrayed himself, betrayed all of them.
Then it stopped, the feeling of sharp hands shredding his memory, or maybe it hadn't and he'd finally broken. Maybe he was just finally mental, because that would make more sense. Otherwise Voldemort had stopped, had pulled away – and he never gave up, they all knew that – and the dark-shadowed room had exploded into the brilliant flashes and ear-splitting bangs and cracks of the most ferocious duel Sirius had ever imagined.
He couldn't have gotten up if he wanted to, the magical ropes still bound him firmly to the exposed pipes, but things became even more surreal to his abused and exhausted senses as a woman's face swam into focus. It was round and sweet, could pose on a packet of cakes as any young English housewife, but her blue eyes were sharp as wand sparks, and he felt his hands fall loose. "Can you move?"
Sirius shook his head in disbelief. There still seemed to be a violent battle somewhere very close by, and he could hear voices, and they sounded like…no. Couldn't be. No bloody way. She had his shoulder now, hauling him to his feet none too gently, and he nearly fell as the legs that had been folded under him far too long refused to respond to the demand to stand, but she caught him easily. Stronger than she looked. He shook his head again, fighting the nausea that was rising heavily as the curses withdrew. "Alice? How? You can't…is that…James?! Lily!?"
Now that he was no longer too low to see anything but the swirling hems of robes and blinding light of the spells, it was unmistakable, and his heart began to pound harder than it had even under the torturous imminence of his own death. It was them. Lily, her red hair looking as vivid as blood in the unnatural glitter; James, still as gangly as a teenager, a blur of motion that battled for his life with Seeker's speed; and Frank, tall and confident, with an eerie, even icy calm, as if he took on a Dark Lord twice daily before breakfast.
It was three to one, and they were three of the strongest fighters Sirius knew, dueling at the very extremity of their skill, but they were barely holding their own, Voldemort's reptilian white face showing no sign of effort as he forced them slowly back until Lily was pressed into a corner, Frank only inches from being himself against the wall. James still darted and ducked, elusive as a mirage, but the hexes were flying closer each time, it seemed, and Sirius couldn't keep himself from crying out through the shock as one sent the edge of his friend's sleeve smoldering.
He tried to lunge forward, not even knowing how he would even begin to help – wounded, wandless, still disoriented – but Alice still had him firmly, and her voice came hot in his ear. "No! Come on, Sirius, we're getting you out of here! Sirius! Sirius! SIRIUS!"
Sirius' eyes snapped open, and he ran a hand through his hair, not at all surprised to feel that it was damp with sweat, that he was shaking. The ache of the torture still echoed through his body, but he ignored it, forcing it back as he took in the reality of his surroundings. Faded wallpaper. Cold ashes in a fireplace that was just a little too heartlessly ostentatious to be elegant. Moth-eaten carpet that still found more dust no matter how many times it was cleaned. The scorch on the chair rail where his mother's spell had missed by inches when he said he was leaving.
"SIRIUS!" His head whipped around as the voice sounded again, a high-pitched division between fear and frustration, and he felt himself smile in sheepish embarrassment as he realized what had happened. He'd gone again, and Hermione had been trying to get his attention for who even knew how long. She was standing just beside the couch, hands on her hips, a few wild strands of her irrepressible hair escaping the confines of the bandanna she had donned for the unending cleaning.
Sirius tried to summon his best innocent look, as if completely unaware that the redness of her cheeks suggested that this wasn't the first time she'd gone all the way to shouting. "Yes?"
"You sleep harder than anybody I've ever met!" She huffed, then crossed her arms across her chest, the worry slowly gaining ground on her pretty face. "I don't think that's healthy, we should get someone to –"
He raised a hand, cutting her off with a dismissive shake of his head. "I wasn't asleep."
"Oh, for goodness sakes," she rolled her eyes. "There's nothing wrong with dozing off sometimes."
"I was just remembering something, that's all." He paused, the memory now like the recollection of a dream, and with the distance of hindsight able to blunt the immediacy of the pain and panic, he was able to smile as fondly as they had even within hours of the harrowing rescue. "How Harry got here, now that I think about it…in the broader scope of things, not however Dumbledore's planning on getting him here."
Hermione was not convinced, and two tiny creases appeared in the smooth skin of her forehead between her brows as her frowned deepened. "Remembering so deeply I had to yell in your ear to get you to stop remembering?"
"Actually, yes." He sighed, twisting to face her properly, one arm draped over the back of the couch. "How much do you know about what it's like in Azkaban, Hermione?"
She looked away for a moment, and if he hadn't known better, he would have sworn that she actually seemed embarrassed to not be an expert on the deliberately mysterious horrors of the wizarding prison. "I haven't been able to find as many sources as I'd want."
"Well, there's a reason for that," he offered in conciliation. "But I'm sure that you know the prisoners are encouraged to, er…reflect."
The dark eyes studied her scuffed trainers, but when they raised to his, there was the mixture of understanding and sorrow that he usually saw only from Remus or Arthur, and it was disconcerting to see that same worldly comprehension of suffering from the soft, unlined gaze of a teenage girl. "The Dementors…a person relives all their very worst memories."
"And that's just what it is." His voice surprised him, quieter and rougher than what had been intended to be a matter-of-fact explanation of his occasional fuges. "You don't remember, you relive. A hundred times more vivid than a Penesieve."
She was silent for several seconds, circling around to sit beside him, one small, ink-stained hand resting tentatively on his knee. "That still happens sometimes?"
The touch of Alice's hand on his shoulder was almost as real as Hermione's on his knee, and it drifted so close again that he knew it would take nothing but closing his eyes to fall back through an abyss wider than this young woman's entire life. So he kept them open, kept them locked on hers, and reminded himself that Alice's were blue, Lily's green, and though Marlene's just as warmly brown, they were rimmed more darkly and set in the dusky caramel complexion of her Lebanese father. "Sometimes."
"I'm so sorry, Sirius." She squeezed his leg gently, then her head tilted, her curiosity as consistently impossible as her hair. "But I didn't realize that the night Harry was born would be such a bad memory. You seemed really upset; it's why I woke you."
"Not the night he was born," Sirius chuckled, "the night I'm pretty sure he was conceived."
Her eyebrows arched almost to the edge of the bandanna, the curiosity piqued irresistibly. "Oh?!"
He settled back into the couch, and it felt like taking command of the past that could still so literally consume him to turn it over in his conscious mind and fit it to simple words. "It was about two weeks after my brother disappeared, late autumn of '80, and I got myself captured by Voldemort…." He heard her gasp, but he nodded, continuing. "He was a lot more involved in the first war. Hadn't tasted his own mortality yet, I suppose. Fairly unpleasant business, but James and Lily and the Longbottoms rescued me."
Her mouth dropped open in disbelief. "They took on Voldemort himself to save you?"
It was strangely vindicating to see. At the time, James and the rest of them had played it off so casually to the rest of the Order that he had felt like a fool for still finding heroism remarkable, and it was nice to finally see someone else who didn't shrug it off. "Not just once, either. We Apparated out, but he followed us twice – and they fought him off each time –before Lily realized he was using Legilimency to know where we were going. Then James…" He made no effort to hide the awe still potent in his voice. "I swear, Hermione, you should only get to see that kind of courage once in a lifetime."
"What did he do?" She had drawn her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them as she stared attentively.
"As soon as Lily caught on, he didn't even hesitate. Shoved his glasses and wand into Frank's pocket –"
"Frank tried to stop him, but he just grinned and said 'Rule Twenty eight and a third: If you've got it, flaunt it.'" He couldn't stop a small, dark chuckle at his friend's boundless audacity; always such a thrilling and dangerous match to his own flair for the dramatic. "Next thing any of us knew, he'd transfigured and charged Voldemort as a stag. I couldn't see what happened after that because Alice Apparated me away, but when Frank appeared a few minutes later, he was stark white and had James across his shoulders like a bloody hunter. Flank pretty badly shredded, but Marlene patched that up, and I think it's safe to say that everyone celebrated that night. You know, given that there were babies within hours of each other about nine months later."
"That really is amazing…" Her look of satisfyingly genuine awe was interrupted by that curious frown again. "But what was the 'Rule Twenty-eight and a third' about?"
Sirius laughed more freely this time, realizing that she had no way of knowing the running gag that had so permeated the first Order. "That was their bit. Frank was James' mentor, sort of, in the Auror Department, and every time he had a piece of advice, he'd give it some ridiculous number. Six billion and twelve. Fourteen B. Thirty-nine point seven. Like that. He was a really good man, and a damned fine Auror." The smile sank from his lips as he remembered that according to Remus, their son was being raised by Augusta now, and the Longbottoms themselves had been permanently destroyed, sent to a prison even more inescapable than Azkaban. "Sometimes I think we lost just about every decent witch and wizard there was that year."
"That's not true!" Hermione protested, and the unexpected vehemence took him somewhat aback.
"Oh, I know," he admitted quickly. "Remus made it, most of the Weasleys, Kingsley, Hestia –"
"Hmmph." She had sat up properly again, uncurling to face him, her eyes flashing a challenge that he deliberately ignored. "You know, I said that kind of courage is something you only see once in your life…but that's not true. When I think about what we were like at your age, it almost scares me what you lot could be if you get a chance to get past being kids. The first time I saw Harry, I knew him before I heard his name – he's a perfect Gemino of his father – but it was at the lake I realized how much he really is James' son."
The shadows were close and easy again, and he almost didn't hold them back, because they still were the closest he could get to his friend that wasn't the child he'd left. To me, not to Dumbledore, but fat lot of good anyone listens to you on that, eh, James?
"That night at the lake was years ago, Sirius. I'm not a little girl any more, and you're not a mass murderer on the run."
The bright-eyed young man vanished into wisps of reality, the glint of the Snitch just a patch of flaking gilt on the wing of an overwrought cherub on the mantelpiece, and he smiled bitterly. "No, I'm a mass murderer on the sofa."
"You know perfectly well what I mean!"
He shrugged distantly, brushing her off with a kindly pat on the shoulder. "That's sweet of you." The fat little wings could so easily become silver and light, humming with motion, always motion. Wouldn't have had half so much trouble keeping weight on if he wasn't always moving, fidgeting, tapping a foot or drumming his fingers….
Sirius had expected her to tell him not to get lost in the past, like everyone else always did. Not to dwell on those who could never come back or on what he couldn't have or hadn't done, as if there was anything else to do in this museum to the road that maybe could have been worse or not. He did not expect her tone to be so hotly offended, or for her to press in so unexpectedly close on the narrow old couch. "Don't talk to me that way, like I'm six years old!"
"I'm nearly sixteen, and like you just said, I'm a lot older than that in a lot of ways." There was a long, heavy silence where she studied him in a way that seemed just as probing as the Dementors, but utterly different, seeking things that they had discarded as the unwanted scraps of a life in search of their rotted feast of its shadows. He didn't know what she was looking for, but he knew when she found it, because her lips parted a fraction, and there was the tiniest shift in her eyes; a decision made.
Hermione reached out, brushing a hand across his cheek to push a lock of hair behind his ear, and there was a smile on her lips so very not at all six years old that he shivered. "There can be things here for you too, you don't have to run away into the memories, Sirius. Didn't you just say last night that you consider me a grown witch?"
He took her wrist firmly, even if there was a part of him that sighed regretfully for the feeling of that incomparable softness that was a young woman's skin under his fingers, that sulked over far too long as he pushed her hand back into her lap. "That's when we can talk about the underlying magical principles of Animagi and I don't have to hold back on the N.E.W.T. level terminology, not when you're putting your hands on me."
She gave a scornful snort, managing somehow in that way women seemed born with the knack for to cock her hip at him without ever leaving her seat. "Right, because you have to protect my tender virtues, like sex is the one thing I mysteriously know nothing about."
Sirius tried not to let his smile be too broad, knowing that she wasn't responsible for and had no business being aware of Eulcinda Everhardt and her carefully copied diagrams. With the arrows. And footnotes. Oh, Merlin, but he could definitely see Hermione as the type for the footnotes. "There's more difference between books and reality when it comes to that than in anything else, Hermione."
"For your information," Hermione replied, "it's not all theoretical."
"Really, now?" He cast her a raised eyebrow of his own, then gestured towards the door that led to the rest of the ramshackle townhouse. "The way Ron looks at you, I'd have been willing to bet my wand he hadn't gotten –"
"I prefer older men." She retorted archly. "Boys like Ron are sweet as friends, but they're really too immature for my tastes."
Sirius' eyes widened at the hands-on experience she was so clearly implying – not as any hollow boast, either, if he was still any judge of such things – and he heard himself blurt out the first disbelieving thought that crossed his mind before he had a chance to even consider it. "Dear Merlin, Remus has not –"
Hermione gave him a look that could have left a dragon with a frostbitten tongue. "Victor Krum, as a matter of fact."
"International Quidditch star." He grinned more than was probably good for him in sheer relief that his last remaining companion from the old days hadn't gone so far round the twist as to start up with his own former students. "Brilliant! Though I'm a little surprised he'd risk his career shagging an underage witch."
Her retort seemed poised to go after the gracelessness of his remark, then honesty won out over indignation and he watched bemusedly as she appeared to wrest the confession from herself with what looked like some probably unethical forms of psychological torture. "Well, we didn't precisely shag."
Now it was his turn to allow just a touch of smugness. "I didn't think so."
"But we certainly did plenty that was perfectly sexual," she insisted quickly, recovering the ground she had lost with remarkable adeptness. "It's not all about intercourse, you know."
"Hermione, I've been between more witch's legs than the entire Comet series," Sirius scoffed. "I assure you I know. The point is that I am extremely literally old enough to be your father."
Credit where it was due for cheek and stubbornness – and Sirius himself had once claimed specialty in both areas – the girl didn't back down a fraction at this reminder. "Research has shown that if a young woman's first sexual encounter is with an experienced partner, she is more likely to later –"
He folded his arms carefully, cutting off her recitation of what he had no doubt were meticulously researched statistics about orgasm frequency, fidelity, overall sexual performance, and a hundred other things that he couldn't give less than crap about as he leaned back to assess her from a safe distance. She was young – very young – but her body was far more a woman's now than a child's, and she had blossomed into quite a lovelier girl than he ever would have expected from the buck-toothed, bushy-haired little miss with the Time-Turner.
What Victor Krum had seen wasn't hard at all to imagine, and her membership in the exclusive little club that was the Close Friends of Harry Potter, and he wasn't likely to be the last, either. Maybe he was Harry's Godfather, but didn't that give him an obligation in a way to those the boy loved, and didn't that extend to doing what he could to spare them the pitfalls between witches and wizards that could be so brutal in adolescence? "You want me to teach you how it's done, is that it?"
She nodded, licking her lips in a gesture too truly nervous to be seductive. "You just said you certainly have the credentials."
"How did we get on…" Sirius stopped himself, pinching briefly at the headache that was considering a position directly behind his left eyebrow. "No. Never mind. I know exactly how we got here." Another long pause, and he let out a deep sigh, extracting his wand from the pocket of his robe and motioning towards the door to lock it, seal it, and throw in a Muffliato for good measure. "All right, Hermione. You want to be taught about sex, I'll teach you…but nothing, nothing goes beyond this room, do you understand me?"
Hermione nodded again, and it was probably a good sign that she looked precisely equally terrified and triumphant. "Completely."
Sirius took a deep breath, feeling as though his robes had been transfigured to lead as he stood, turning to look down at her. She was staring up at him in breathlessly suspended anticipation, and every instinct of what was right wanted to look no further than those wide brown eyes that were so much more innocent than she knew, but he had promised to help her, and whether or not she was ready for what that would really mean, he knew what he needed to do.
Closing his own eyes for a moment, he pushed back the creeping feeling in the pit of his stomach that said this was the little girl who was one of the best friends of James' son, that odds were better than not he had kids of his own this age – or older! – out there somewhere, and when he opened his eyes again, it wasn't Hermione sitting there, and he wasn't the hardened ex-soldier and ex-convict any more.
Maybe he should have expected it would be easy to lose himself to time, but if he let the years drop away, he could almost hear Blondie on the radio and these robes almost fit him again, and the big, frizzy curls were permed and crimped and how they all had worn it, and the flared jeans weren't retro, and her body was balanced on that enticing edge of lithe and lush that only came easily when the curves were new, her lips parted just a little, her cheeks rosy and smooth with no need for artifice. He knelt, reaching out one hand to cup against the side of her face. Somewhere, there was a last, whimpering whisper that this was wrong, but it was the protest of a conscience that had long resigned itself to a token presence in its owner's life, and she shivered as he gently tipped her head to expose the pale line of her throat to his lips.
Dry and rough, not lush and vainly pampered as they had been, he let them slip across the delicate skin, tracing the path and rhythm of her pulse, breathing in the scent of soap and dust and shampoo and girl beneath the roses that came as no surprise. Girls like her always wore roses, a flutter of femininity against bitten fingernails and no makeup, and he lapped his tongue against the briarless blossoms in a lingering appreciation, an indulgence in what he shouldn't before the necessity of what he should.
Hermione moaned, so softly that he wouldn't have even heard it if his ear wasn't against her throat, but it was almost enough to make it too easy to just keep going. The top button of her workshirt was open, not at all low enough to be immodest even to Molly's eye, but he could see the top edge of a soft cotton bra patterned in what were either polka dots or flowers or jelly beans but were just a little too shadowed to make out, even if more than enough for him to know her knickers would match. He knew it as surely as he knew that she'd have shaved her legs but missed the backs of her thighs at the top, and as surely as he knew he was a single breath of salt roses away from not caring any more.
Expelliarmus! The non-verbal spell jerked the wand from the waistband of her trousers, and before it had even clattered against the stone of the cold fireplace, one hand had clenched in her hair, the other gripping her shoulder to push her down to her back. In a single swift motion, he was on top of her, his knee shoving hers apart, and Hermione was pinned helplessly beneath him, her scream too shock-stifled to be more than a high-pitched squeak of sudden terror. "SIRIUS!"
His own wand was in his hand, his other clasping her wrists against the arm of the couch as she struggled beneath his weight, and he brought it down in a quick slash, opening the shirt to her waist. They were polka dots, and he lowered his mouth again, nipping the edge of her jaw not quite hard enough to bruise, his voice a broken glass growl roughened with a decade of futile screams against his own waking nightmares.
"This isn't how it was supposed to go, is it? Your innocent trust and the offer of your precious virginity was supposed to stir my wounded soul and prove to me that I'm not beyond hope or love, wasn't it?" He emphasized the taunt with another nip, this one against her bare chest just above the first swell of her breast as he pushed his hips forward between her legs, letting her feel him through the folds of his robes. "I'm supposed to show you the way and it'll be just as perfect and magical and romantic as a Fifi LaFolle novel, with none of the parts that make you feel squeamish or uncomfortable when you look at the boys your own age, because I'm not going to be fumbling or stammering over my own erection."
Hermione's mouth opened and closed again a few times, and he could see the disjointed words stammering through her mind as she twisted her face away, trying to make sense of the unexpectedly cruel shards of her bright idea. "Right?" Sirius used the end of his wand to force her face back to his. "Look and me and tell me the truth! Isn't that what you thought it would be?"
"I…I guess…" She sucked in a deep, trembling breath, and he found himself oddly impressed by the young witch's bravery as she wrangled the panic back to a surprisingly level tone, no longer attempting to fight him physically, though he could still see the swirling churn of options for escape or retaliation storming the brown eyes. "I didn't --"
"It's all right, Hermione." Sirius sighed, releasing her hands and standing up off of her with a deliberately gentle, apologetic wave towards the fireplace. "Get up. Get your wand. I'm not going to hurt you."
If he thought he had seen shock and confusion before, it was nothing like the look tangling her pretty features now, though it wasn't enough that she didn't scramble for the weapon immediately, and he raised his hands, letting his own drop to the floor as she leveled it at him in a two-fisted grip that was aimed very deliberately just below waist level. "You son of a bitch!" She snarled, the tip of the wand sparking as livid red as her flushed cheeks. "If you think that was funny –"
"No, Hermione, not at all!" He promised quickly. "I just needed to scare you good and proper."
"Because talking to me -!"
"Wouldn't have mattered." Sirius took a seat at the farthest end of the couch, gesturing her to sit as well. "But I think we can talk now, if you still want to learn a few things."
She didn't move, nor did her aim waiver. "I'm not sure I want to have anything to do with you after that…that stunt."
"This is anything but a stunt, Hermione – notice that I am taking more than a bit of a risk of you hexing parts I'm rather fond of into oblivion." He nodded with a dark smile towards her wand. "But I don't think you'll start casting spells until you know what's going on."
Hermione frowned, then slowly, she took her own seat on the extreme edge of the armrest, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "I wouldn't rule it out, Mr. Black. It's going to take a lot of explanation for me to see why any decent man would have –"
" -- and if you'd been wrong about me being a decent man?" Sirius interrupted, raising one eyebrow at her. "Considering that any man my age saying yes to a girl your age should have been a giant warning that I wasn't, then by all rights it shouldn't have come as a shock at all, and you should be in a lot of trouble right now."
A shadow of doubt crossed the frown, and she folded her arms as she stood again, though the wand was still held tightly. "That doesn't make sense…I'd be in trouble if I had been right, but I was right and so I was wrong? What kind of nonsense is this? If the answer is no – which it clearly is – then fine." She tossed her hair back, gathering up the last bits of still-rattled dignity like a protective cloak. "We're both old enough that everything stays here and you don't have to try and humiliate me with it just because I was trying to help you."
"That's the problem, Hermione." Sirius let out another sigh, running his hand through his hair. Strange how a man could feel fifteen years younger and thirty years older than his true age in such a short span of time. "You were…oh, for Merlin's sake, sit down, Hermione, and do up your shirt. Pouting at me like that makes me feel like I just half-raped a toddler, and I'm already feeling enough of a bastard that I did it to a teenager. Did I hurt you?"
There was a long pause, in which he found himself unexpectedly terrified that the answer would be yes, that he had misjudged his still-returning strength, but at last she shook her head, sitting down cautiously. "No."
"I'm glad," He smiled softly, hoping she could see that he genuinely meant it. "I didn't want to hurt you, but you were trying the single most dangerous, stupidest thing that witches do, and you're better than that, Hermione. You're better, and you're smarter."
Curiosity was slowly seeping into the edges of offended hurt and anger on her face, and she tilted her head at him. "What do you mean?"
"It's the women's version of the Damsel in Distress," he explained. "The Bad Boy who Just Needs Love. Most eternally popular load of non-existent bollocks this side of a true love potion."
Hermione let out a skeptical little snort. "You make it sound like Harry's own father didn't have that reputation."
"James…." Sirius began, then stopped, chuckling as he settled himself more comfortably on the couch with a bemused glance to the cobwebbed ceiling. "I can't believe I'm going to explain this to a fifteen year-old girl when most grown women never get it, but I think you can."
He met her eyes deliberately, making no effort to be anything but completely honest with her, letting er see that he was speaking to her not as his Godson's friend, but an adult and an equal. "A woman's love has never, ever, ever changed a man, Hermione. It has sometimes changed his circumstances, corrected a mistake, or provided motivation, but it has never changed him, and if you put yourself in a bad situation either in hope of or for the sake of changing someone with love, you're only going to wind up hurt. And you'll be bloody lucky if it's just your heart, because what I just proved to you is that 'I know a lot of spells, I can take care of myself' isn't worth Doxie Dung against a wizard twice your size and twice your age."
"You're splitting hairs," she challenged intently. "If love can motivate someone to change…"
"It's still their decision, not something that you can make happen," Sirius insisted. "James decided to change for her, she didn't change him." He chuckled despite himself at the memories of the staggering head-on collision Lily had brought about between his friend and his ego. "He also thought he was the grooviest thing on two – or four – legs, and she definitely corrected that. Anyway," the old grin flashed across his face before he even knew his mouth could recall it, "everyone knew that was me."
The cocky assertion brought the quirking edge of a smile to Hermione's lips, but she became serious again almost at once, though he was thankful to see that it was now the slow dawning of comprehension, not obstinance. "But that wasn't changing him either, because he could have ignored it."
"And would have early on if he thought he could still get in her knickers," he admitted, even though part of him felt as if he were not just betraying his old friend, but the entirety of wizardkind. "A girl offering her body isn't a reason to change, it's a reason not to have to."
Hermione seemed to consider this for a long time. She was no longer perched so defensively on the edge of the couch, and she curled her legs beneath herself as she leaned back into the corner of the upholstery, running her fingers over the carved handle of her wand in thought. The nostalgia was tight in his throat again to look at her, but it was unexpectedly for Lily, though the two witches bore no resemblance to one another, and he shuddered as he realized where he had seen that exact expression and posture before, on a night in Gryffindor tower a score of years ago.
I don't want you to tell James, he'll go absolutely mental, but I thought…how could he say he cares about me and then turn around and pledge himself to everything I hate? I thought maybe…but it didn't. It doesn't. It just means now he thinks he can have both, and he can't, and he never could, and I don't know what I should do now…
But Hermione was two years younger, her hair was frizzy and dark, not sleek and red, and the eyes were brown, not the vivid green Lily would pass to her son, even if the wounded defiance was the same. "I don't want to change you, Sirius, I just want to show you that you're not some horrible monster."
"I don't think I'm a monster," he corrected her gently, then spread his hands, smiling in tight self-awareness. "I think I'm useless and bitter and that my life has been taken from me, and Remus thinks he's poorer than a naked goblin and an outcast from society, and we're both right." Sirius shrugged pragmatically. "Maybe he'll meet a witch who loves him with all her heart, but unless she also has plenty of gold and is invulnerable to scorn, nothing will be different there either. And unless you can clear my name, Hermione, you're not going to make things better for me."
The skeptical frown reappeared more strongly than ever. "Then you're saying that there's no point trying to help people? I won't believe that."
"I'm saying that you help people with your clothes on," he refuted, satisfied to see the flash of embarrassment it prompted. "You take them off if you like them the way they are."
Her chin lifted, and there was a line so thin between girl and woman there that it was dangerously near non-existence. "And if I like you the way you are?"
"You're still fifteen."
"Were you having sex at fifteen?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," he answered smoothly.
"Then you're being a hypocrite," Hermione announced, and he almost laughed at the righteous rebuke in her voice.
"I was having sex with other teenagers. If two stupid, hormonal kids want to roger each other into every flat surface they can find, they're welcome to it, because they'll be making the same decisions with the same tools." He moved a little closer now, grateful that she didn't wince back when he lay a hand carefully on her knee. "I wouldn't have to overpower you, Hermione. I'm old enough – I've seen enough that I could have played you like a bloody violin to get anything I wanted from you, and you wouldn't have had anywhere near the experience to know what I was doing. It would have been as good as the Imperius curse."
"You could have pretended I made you feel better because you knew what I was trying to do, even if you didn't feel better at all and just wanted my body." Her voice was soft with an edge of newly realized vulnerability, and he nodded, even as he hated himself for having been the one to strip her of her innocence in this way.
She looked down and away, plucking at a loose thread on her trouser cuff. "How can you still have any respect for me?"
"Because your heart was in the right place," he said kindly, then extended two fingers to lift her head so that she could see the real respect in his eyes. "And you didn't go storming off like a little girl in a snit, you listened, and I think you've even understood, which is a lot more than most women twice your age would have done. You are a remarkable witch, Hermione."
Slowly, as if it ached, she smiled, and it was a woman's comprehension there, not a child's indignation. "So if there was a boy, and he seemed like he could be a decent bloke, but he had some really awful prejudices and ideas that I just couldn't stomach, the thing would be to try and correct his thinking and then…just wait and see if he changed on his own?"
This time he couldn't hold back the chuckle. "I think Ron might come around eventually, yes." There were several seconds of silence, then Sirius took her hand, squeezing it lightly. "You still want to learn a few things for if he does?"
Her head snapped up, her brows drawn tight together over a smile that had frozen half-formed. "You'd still…after everything you…?"
"Sort of." Sirius shifted so that he was facing her completely, and he was distantly surprised to feel that at some point, enough flesh had returned to his cheeks to dimple as one side of his mouth quirked upwards. "I'll tell you to make sure that before you let him inside you the first time – even fingers – make sure you're wet enough to soak through a good pair of denims, and I'll tell you not to try and swallow him all the way until you've gotten a lot of practice, and I'll even show you something if you really want. How something should be done."
Hermione had blushed from her collar to the roots of her hair. "What's that?"
"Just a kiss?" It was impossible to tell whether the question was asked in disappointment or fear.
"No. A kiss." His voice was a low, promising purr, and she licked her lips, the faintest of nods the answer that closed his eyes and released her hand to cup the back of her neck and draw her mouth to his. It had been a lifetime since he had last kissed a witch, but it was like riding a broomstick, and he hadn't forgotten how to angle his head so that their lips fit perfectly and their noses didn't bump, how to brush his mouth lightly over hers a few times just to tease before they came together properly, how deep and sweet and lush and sensuous a kiss – just a kiss – could be, and how it could raise the heat in his body against the wet warmth and the press of tongues….
Molly's voice rang out from the floor above, and they sprang apart as if she had appeared behind them, both sets of eyes wide and both breathing harder than either had expected as Hermione wiped quickly at her face with the back of her hand. "I…I've got to go."
It wasn't just Molly's call, it was something in her eyes that said she had almost wanted more, even after, and he nodded quickly, a little horrified himself at even the distant possibility that still tingled in his body that he might not have refused. "Yes, you should."
She ran her hands hurriedly over herself, checking the tarnished mirror above the mantle to ensure that nothing looked out of place before she left, but just as she was pointing her wand at the door to unlock it, Hermione stopped, turning slowly back to him with an expression that was utterly unreadable. "Thank you."
"No." The smile was deep and bittersweet, aching for things too vague for him to elucidate, and he closed his eyes, stretching his legs out on the couch in front of him as he laced his arms behind his head. "Thank you."
There was no answer, just the click of the latch and the groan of old wood and unoiled hinges, then he was alone, and it wasn't long before the music began again.
How can it be? You're a different space and time. Come to me, feel like I'm home in a place I used to know. Long ago….