Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize. There is no profit gained from or involved with this story.

Infinite thanks to Lady Lynn, my fantastic beta, because she went through all forty-eight pages of this one-shot.

This was originally written for the GrangerEnchanted Christmas prompt (#8: Gathering around the yule log, two people desiring the one that's forbidden), but the holidays thoroughly kicked my ass, so I wasn't able to complete this in time to enter it into the contest. Bah humbug.

This is not Epilogue compliant. I resurrected whoever I felt like resurrecting because it's Christmas, damn it.

Please read the End Notes when you've completed reading the chapter.


"I don't care what consequence it brings, I have been a fool for lesser things." - Billy Joel

The snow was falling from the night sky so heavily that it almost looked fake, like a bad special effect in a Muggle movie. Flakes the size of Knuts drifted down from the sky and blanketed every surface as far as the eye could see. It looked picturesque, and Hermione almost wished she had a wizarding camera, so she could take a snapshot of the view from her flat. High Street in Hogsmeade looked like an illustration out of a book of Muggle fairy tales. It would be a nice decoration to frame and hang on her bare walls. Then, she would be able to watch the snow fall so majestically whenever she wanted, like a snow globe she would never have to shake.

Hermione Granger sat on her large windowsill, resting her forehead against the glass of her window with one knee drawn up to her chest, trying not to breathe too heavily. She didn't want to fog it up so badly that she couldn't see outside. The glass was ice cold, but it felt good against her warm skin. Her dark chestnut hair fell in tamed waves, a few wisps falling over the hazel eyes that lingered thoughtfully on the passers-by. Down on the normally busy street, people were sparse, and when a pair did cross paths, they nodded their holiday greetings and hurried along. They were all probably on their way to see their loved ones. That was the only reason Hermione could come up with for why someone would walk through a blizzard, with the hem of their cloaks caked with frost.

It was Christmas, and Hermione was due at Grimmauld Place in only a few hours for a family dinner. Well, technically she wasn't related to any of them by blood, but they were all she had, and she loved them all fiercely. Her parents were still miffed about the Monica and Wendell Wilkins incident, but Hermione refused to feel sorry for protecting them and keeping them alive no matter the cost.

It had been five years since Harry Potter triumphed in defeating Voldemort. The Golden Trio were famous, seeing as Harry had refused to take all the credit and insisted to the public that had it not been for Hermione and Ron, he would have died long ago. Hermione, of course, didn't need the praise, but it warmed her heart to know that Harry loved them so much. Five years of peace had been a welcomed reprieve for the Trio, after a childhood full of danger and death. Her Muggle parents would never understand how serious the war was, since it was kept completely out of sight from the non-magical. Therefore, Hermione would not blame them for their grudge, but she wouldn't explain in detail what she went through, either. She would rather have their defiance than their pity. Her parents took holidays without her now, and were currently in America on a skiing trip.

When Harry had found out, he refused to take no for an answer when he Flooed Hermione and told her to come to Grimmauld for Christmas. Of course, he couldn't understand why she wanted to stay home alone, and she wasn't about to tell him. If he knew the truth, he would probably never speak to her again -- at least, that's what her guilty conscience told her. How could Harry ever continue to look at her the same way if he knew his sister by all but blood had a secret yearning for the man he considered a father figure?

Sirius Black had been pulled from the Veil eleven months ago, by none other than the brunette currently looming over High Street, as well as a team of Unspeakables appointed to her by the Minister of Magic. Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt might have been tied with Harry and Ron as her number one supporter during her three years of non-stop research.

After breaking quite a few records concerning N.E.W.T. scores and leaving Hogwarts, Hermione immediately set out for six months on a trip around the world while Harry and Ron trained for Auror qualifications. It was for educational purposes, of course, funded to her via Albus Dumbledore's will; something Scrimgeour had conveniently left out when he read them the last will and testament of their departed headmaster. Though, she supposed he was more concerned about figuring out what the objects passed to them would be used for, and cared little to mention a frivolous graduation trip paid in full by an eccentric old codger. Albus had even mapped out where she would be going for the first four months, all places he had visited and learned exponentially from. The last two months were free for her to choose where she wished to go. When Hermione had learned of the gift, she had gone straight to the Headmistress' office, requesting a few moments alone with Dumbledore's portrait.

And proceeded to sob her gratitude to him for nearly twenty minutes.

Hermione had always been a sucker for happy moments, as Harry and Ron constantly reminded her. She couldn't help it. Harry insisted it was because she had such a kind heart, and Ron said it was because she was a sap. Both explanations made her smile.

Albus had set her up to stay with trusted friends of his in each place she visited, and her list of acquaintances grew. During her tour of the magical populaces around the world, she had learned things she had only before dreamed of discovering, including new techniques of potions that worked wonders, yet were never publicized due to their creators living in communities that were practically in the middle of nowhere. She had learned new spells and heard whispers about tales of forgotten ancient magic. Hermione had seen the ruins of Camelot and the deserted isle of Avalon. The tomb of the Once and Future King took her breath away, as did Merlin and Nimue's adjacent resting places. Muggles always got the tale wrong. She could tell how much they loved one another by the stone carvings above their tombs, holding hands in a tribute to their undying love. Hermione even travelled down to the watery depths of the sea to visit the lost Atlantis with a merman as a tour guide. The latter nearly ended disastrously when, before she got into the water, she tried to ask him in Mermish if it was very cold, and ended up saying his mother was a fat toad.

She had just been a beginner, after all!

The time passed quickly, but the places and the things she learned were never forgotten. Berlin, Helsinki, Sankt-Peterburg, Egypt, Wuhan, Osaka... the list went on.

Her face was, of course, well known in all wizarding societies, but there was also talk of her being Albus Dumbledore's apprentice. Hermione had difficulty accepting that title at first, since there was no living Dumbledore to apprentice under, but it did make sense. Was this his way of teaching her from the great beyond? If he had lived, would he be the one guiding her through these places? Perhaps. So, eventually, when people asked if she was indeed Dumbledore's apprentice, she confirmed the thought. She highly doubted Albus would object.

Along the way, she had met, studied, and trained with many different types of wizards and witches: Arithmancers, Potion Masters, Legilimens, and Occlumens. All of which were taken aback by how quickly she picked up and excelled at their practices, murmuring their praise and predictions that she would indeed do great things. She had stayed with Charlie Weasley in Romania for a few days as well, watching the art of dragon taming from a distance. From there, she went to Transylvania and visited Bran Castle, which she was surprised to see open to Muggles during the day time. Of course, once the castle was cleared for the night, Hermione and a few other well connected wizards and witches visited, and were pleased to be welcomed inside by Alucard - who insisted that Hermione call him Al - and given a private tour. She was happy to note that the rumours about him were completely fabricated. He was a as harmless as a kitten. Well.. a blood-sucking kitten, but a kitten nonetheless.

By the last week of her trip, she was eternally grateful for the opportunities Albus had given her, but she missed home. For that reason, she chose her last destination simply because of its close proximity to her family. The gypsies of Scotland were fascinating. They relied heavily on Divination, which normally Hermione would protest, but she knew that they were legitimate masters in the art. Hermione was still hopeless at it, but they didn't hold it against her. They lived a free life, travelling from place to place, spreading their abilities of fortune telling to everyone, including Muggles, as long as they earned a profit to keep their stomachs filled. An old man, Declan, who always dressed in deep purple robes with silver trimmings, had known Dumbledore personally. Hermione found herself spending a lot of time with him, since he was one of the few who actually had the patience to answer her incessant questions. Afternoons were spent helping him set up his fortune stand, and evenings were spent pulling it apart once again. The gypsies never relied on magic for physical labour, and believed anyone who did was lazy and abusing their privileges. She couldn't help but admire them for that.

When her last night in Scotland rolled around, Hermione stayed up late with the old wizard, learning how to brew the delicious teas Declan had created himself. His Scottish Terrier, Mona, was watching her six-month-old puppies uninterestedly while they tugged at one another's ears. The pups were all unnamed, and Hermione assumed he would be selling them, so he didn't want them to get used to being called one thing when someone else would name them another. One of the jet black puppies had tugged on the hem of her robes the whole time while she tried to concentrate on creating the mixtures, and when it was time for her to say her goodbyes to Declan, the old man had given her the puppy as a parting gift. She tried to turn him down, for the offer was too kind, but he would have none of it, insisting that the familiar chose its witch or wizard, and that the tiny Scottish Terrier had chosen her. Crookshanks had passed away while Hermione was Horcrux hunting, and it still brought a pain to her heart whenever she thought about him. The idea of replacing him didn't suit well with her, but she could not refuse Declan's kindness. The pup was adorable, after all, and she knew he would grow on her quickly. She affectionately named him Wulfric, after Dumbledore's middle name.

Seeing Harry and Ron again was like a breath of fresh air. They were waiting for her at her Portkey destination in Walworth, both holding huge balloons, though Ron looked puzzled about why he was holding floating rubber spheres on a string. Wulfric went wild, barking and pouncing around like only an excited puppy could. He and the boys hit it off smashingly, and Hermione didn't want to let them go from their long hug. Six months of nothing but letters just wasn't enough, and she had missed them terribly. Later on, she was flattered when Harry and Ron took her back to the Burrow for a surprise welcome home party. The Weasleys, the Lupins, Neville, Luna, and Hagrid were all there, and Hermione was so overwhelmed she shed a few tears, making both boys beside her shake their heads amusedly. Teddy Lupin had even given her a sloppy kiss and turned his hair a brilliant shade of blue for the attention, convincing Remus further that his son was a lady charmer, much to Dora's bemusement.

Hermione and Ron picked up their relationship where they left off, and both helped Harry completely refurnish the entire house. Cleaners were called in, to wipe any lingering nasties in the rooms. Hermione finally pried Mrs Black off the wall after a full six hours of breaking down the charm on the portrait layer by layer. Mrs Black shrieked the whole time, and when Hermione finally ripped the portrait off the wall, Harry snatched it and wrapped it up in a thick Slytherin coloured blanket. He wasted no time carrying it all the way up to Buckbeak's old room, which now stored junk. Harry and Ron were rubbish at decorating, but she insisted they go shopping with her for the furniture and paint, so Harry would be able to make sure he liked what she chose. They followed behind her the whole time, pouting like children who were robe-shopping with their mother, and she finally let them go to Quality Quidditch when Harry tried to get a mustard yellow and pea green sofa for the lounge. Which, she figured out afterwards, he probably did on purpose just to get out of there. In the end, Grimmauld Place looked nothing like it had before. The only thing that was still the same was Sirius' room, which both she and Harry had unspokenly agreed not to change.

Ron and Hermione moved into Grimmauld Place with Harry shortly after that, although Ginny practically lived there too when she wasn't touring with the Holyhead Harpies. However, with Harry and Ron still in training to be qualified Aurors, Hermione didn't get to see Ron a lot, and when they were home at the same time, he was usually exhausted. It left her a lot of time to think about what exactly she wanted to do with her future, and in the end, she decided she wanted to do something that would make an impact.

Hermione soon applied for a position as a Ministry Unspeakable. When she met with Minister Shacklebolt to discuss it, she rattled on for at least an hour, telling him about her desire to work in the Department of Mysteries, particularly the Death Chamber, and how she was interested in examining the Veil after she saw three other mysteries, very similar to the Veil, in Dumbledore's instructed travels. There was one in Venice, only it was a pool of water that had the same effect. Instead of voices, people would hear splashing and gasping, even though the water was still. A person who fell in would just sink beneath its depths and never resurface. In Osaka, there was a pit of what appeared to be mud, but anyone who stepped in it would slide down beneath it inhumanly fast, never to rise from it again. And, lastly, in Zimbabwe, there was an archway, almost identical to the Veil. However, instead of a black curtain, a thin wall of un-extinguishable flames would consume anyone who passed through it. It was almost as if Dumbledore had wanted her to see them, perhaps to link them all together.

Kingsley was intrigued, and her Unspeakable training began a week later. She only got to spend time with Harry if she was very lucky, since she was on an opposite schedule, but Ron would slip into her bedroom at night, even though they were usually too tired to do anything. She and Harry managed to leave each other a lot of notes, as well as catch up over their morning tea before they left for work.

After a year and a half of training, Hermione finally qualified as an Unspeakable. Of course, no one knew exactly what it was she would be doing, except for the Minister and her fellow Unspeakables. Harry and Ron had an idea, as she was only able to tell them she would be working in 'that room.' It had taken the boys a few minutes to figure out she meant the Death Room, but she noticed Harry sat up a little straighter when he did. Ron, too, looked like his head was going to pop off, both boys concerned for her. She assured them she would be fine, and even hinted that she was working on a way to 'reverse it,' and Harry's face visibly lightened and she could almost see the cautious glee on his face. It made her heart swell with pride to see he had so much confidence in her, although Harry always did hold her intellect on a pedestal, especially after the war. Ron, too, looked surprised, but there was no trace of doubt on his features.

Hermione researched ardently, using not only the books the Ministry provided, but texts from the Black library, as well as Dumbledore's personal library, which his portrait informed Minerva was open to any of the Trio should they ever need it. It intrigued Hermione that the Veil, the Pond, the Pit, and the Flaming Archway all had a connection. They made up the four elements. Fire, earth, water, and the Veil was air, with its black curtain that blew like a breeze was hitting it, even though the air was stagnant. It occurred to her that if the Veil sucked people in once they passed the curtain, then there might possibly be a way to reverse the "air" and force them back out.

It was another sixteen months before, after careful analysis, Kingsley approved her task. The ancient elemental magic she had discovered from texts in Dumbledore's library, as well as from the Black family library, were considered dark by Ministry standards, but when Hermione pointed out that they were only dark depending on what they were used for, Minister Shacklebolt had reluctantly agreed. Hermione moved out of Grimmauld a week later under Unspeakable orders, and into a flat above High Street in Hogsmeade. Ron and Harry had protested it and even went so far as to not speak to her for a few days, but in the end they realized it was for work and that it wasn't anything personal against them. She accepted their sheepish apologies, and unfortunately had to put a halt on contact with them. She assured them that it wasn't permanent, and that it was only until her mission was complete.

She missed them in those few weeks, especially since she wasn't even allowed to talk to them via post, but it would be a small price to pay if her hard work paid off.

When the time finally came, the Minister and a group of Unspeakables gathered in the Death Room and watched as Hermione pointed her wand at the Veil and murmured hushed incantations that no one could make out. For almost three hours, they stood and watched as she never even paused with her quiet spell, even when she grotesquely sliced open the palm of her hand, without so much as flinching in pain, and smeared blood on the stone archway. Everyone watching from the benches was getting restless, and Hermione had even heard a few muttering about when they would be able to get lunch, and how it was a waste of time. Precisely three hours and thirty-three minutes after Hermione had begun chanting, the black curtain on the Veil blew upwards from a gust of wind that no one had felt. It stayed up in the air, as if a continuous gust of air from the other side was keeping it suspended. The faint whispering began growing louder, and everyone on the benches stood up and watched with disbelieving eyes. A few of the Minister's body-guards even stood in front of him, just in case.

A body of a woman came tumbling out, as if an immensely strong gust of wind had literally pushed her. She had tawny hair and she was clutching her throat. One of the Unspeakables rushed towards her and made a lasso-like motion with his wand, effectively pulling her away from the Veil with magical ropes and over towards the other appointed Ministry officials. A man came out next, stumbling so hard he tripped. His eyes were wide with surprise, as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He was shouting something, but Hermione wasn't listening. One by one, people came stumbling out, taking in their surroundings with a look akin to confusion and shock. After a little over forty people, Hermione was feeling her energy falter, but she was determined. If she had to stand there all bloody week until he came out, she would.

And just as she thought it, a dark shadow appeared, just beyond the Veil, slumped and laying on the floor. Hermione scrunched her brow with concentration and began chanting a little louder, with more force behind her words. This body wasn't stumbling like the others had, it was limp and in a heap. The non-existent wind blew stronger, it seemed, for the figure started to roll slightly. When the figure - which she assumed was a man - had finally been moved enough that he was just outside the Veil, an Unspeakable pointed his wand at the man and Charmed him to float over to the group of trained wizards and witches. Up until that point, whenever someone was securely out of the Veil, they were immediately taken to the Hospital Wing in the Ministry to be examined. However, when that last body had floated towards the group behind Hermione, she could still recall the exaggerated gasp that nearly broke her concentration.

"It's Sirius Black!" one of the Unspeakables gasped. Hermione's shoulders tightened, and she looked over at the limp body. Harry made sure the man had been cleared of all charges once the war was over, even though his godfather wasn't around to see it, and informed the world that Sirius was a hero. The Ministry went under a lot of heat after the public found out, but Kingsley had rectified that by passing a new law that stated no man could be put away without a proper trial. Hermione was happy to see that everyone was aware of the man's status and no one was trying to hurt him. "Why isn't he moving like the others?"

"Hermione, get over here," shouted Kingsley. "He was the last person to fall through, there's no more to help. He's the only one not moving!"

The incantation died on her lips and the black curtain of the Veil fell back down as the magic wind ceased. The fabric substance fluttered ever so slightly, looking just as she remembered it the first time she had seen it.

Hermione's body felt completely drained, like she hadn't had water in days instead of hours. She was light-headed, but she managed to make her way over to the body, even though the room was spinning. The brunette was still gripping her wand as she knelt down on the floor. She waited for her eyes to adjust before she nudged the Unspeakable holding him out of the way, and cradled Sirius against her chest as she murmured a diagnostic spell over his limp form. He hadn't aged a day. He was exactly the same man who had fallen through the Veil seven years ago, and his face still held that confused smile. Hermione couldn't understand why he wasn't moving like the rest of them, but she soon remembered that he had been hit with a jet of red light before he fell.

She silently pleaded to whoever could hear her for it to have only been a Stupefy.

With a deep breath, she pointed her wand over the centre of his chest and muttered: "Enervate."

The body against her jolted as though it had been shocked, and steel-grey eyes snapped open. Sirius sucked in a shocked breath, obviously taken aback by all the men leaning over and staring down at the pair on the floor. He began to thrash, but Hermione encircled her arms around him to keep him steady. She could feel him shaking against her, and his breathing was still harsh.

"Sirius," she said, softly, so she wouldn't frighten him, and his head snapped up, as if just noticing he was in her arms.

"Who -- where...?" his voice was barely audible and it sounded rough. Hermione was trying to fight off her exhaustion, but her hand still shook as she brushed back his hair.

"It's Hermione Granger," she answered. "You're alive, and you're safe."

Sirius looked perplexed and weary, as if he feared he would never understand the situation. She could see his eyes drooping, and he looked as exhausted as she felt. He examined her through his hooded lids. "Safe," he repeated, before his eyes shut. His body relaxed against hers completely and his breathing regulated, and Hermione knew he was sleeping.

"Take him..." she instructed to the Unspeakables watching with surprised eyes, still trying to take in the events of the day. They were all looking at her with a respect that hadn't been there before, and three of them immediately moved to carry out her command, manually lifting Sirius to take him from the room, like a fallen soldier.

"Hermione, you were--" Kingsley began, beaming down at her, but Hermione cut him off.

"Kings," she slurred, no longer able to fight the inevitable. "Hospital," was all she managed to say before everything faded to black.

When Hermione opened her eyes and blinked, she adjusted fairly quickly because the room was dark. She could tell she was in the Ministry Hospital Wing, and her whole body felt sore. The events of what had occurred played back in her head, and her heart gave a leap of excitement when she remembered Sirius. Harry would be so happy when he found out! She tried to glance around to see if anyone was watching over her, or if she was alone. The Ministry was underground, but the windows were charmed to show what the night above was like, and the moonlight was streaming in. Groggily, she tried to sit up, but muffled a groan when her arms wouldn't support her weight. She was so bloody thirsty.

Faintly, she heard a mattress squeak, but she was too busy trying to wrestle her way into a sitting position that she didn't even register it. It wasn't until she felt an arm snake around her back and pull her up that she realized she wasn't alone.

"Alright?" a male voice asked quietly, and Hermione adjusted the pillow behind her back and looked up. He sounded familiar, yet she couldn't quite place him. The window was behind him, so she saw nothing but his silhouette and a face covered by shadows.

"Mm.. Water?" she replied, her voice thick with sleep. She saw the man move over to a stand and heard the distinct sound of water being poured. He was back a moment later, sitting down in the chair beside her bed. He held out the glass, but when Hermione took it, she couldn't get a firm grip. She couldn't believe how exhausted her body was.

Hermione felt the man's hands grip hers quickly before the cup fell from her fingers, and he pulled it away from her. "Let me help," he said, and Hermione rested against the headboard and let him hold the glass to her lips. After a long sip, during which she practically polished off the glass, she drew back so he would know to pull the glass away.

"Thank you," said Hermione, looking over at him. He had shifted his chair, and she could make out his facial features in the moonlight now. Her brown eyes widened. "Sirius?!" she whisper-shouted with surprise. "You're awake!"

With shaggy, obsidian hair falling over his eyes and aristocratic, haughty good looks, Sirius Black was silently observing her. He was smiling, but it looked more like a mischievous smirk, and his irises looked silver in the light of the moon. "Really?!" he asked in mock surprise, but it was playful.

She couldn't wipe the grin from her face. It had really worked. But if he was up already, then how long was she sleeping...?

"How long was I out?" she asked, confused, and she saw him frown slightly.

"Well," replied Sirius, sounding thoughtful. "I was asleep for three days, and I've been under observation since I woke up for four days, so..."

"A week?!" she yelped in a hushed tone, in case there were any other patients sleeping. She had been asleep for a week straight?

"You exhausted yourself," he said in a much more serious tone, and Hermione raised her brows at the look of concern on his face. He leaned forward and Hermione felt a little intimidated by the impressive figure he cut in the moonlight.

"Tell me something that I don't know," she muttered, still feeling said exhaustion throughout her weakened body.

"You could have killed yourself if you had gone on any longer. Did you know that?" he asked with harsh sarcasm, making Hermione flinch. "You had to know you were losing energy, why on earth would you continue?"

She was silent for a long moment. Hermione didn't want him to feel guilty because she had been waiting for him to come out, but she had a feeling he had guessed it already. "I was there to save you. I wasn't about to quit before you were set free. The magic may not have worked on the Veil a second time." Her chin raised defiantly, and she thought she saw a hint of a smile pass over his face.

"You silly chit," admonished Sirius with a shake of his head, though his words held an obvious fondness. He leaned back in his seat, and Hermione noticed then that even in the hospital's pin-stripe pyjamas, he still looked like a GQ model. She had to keep herself from grinning when thoughts of her childhood crush on him resurfaced. The man she had seen fresh out of Azkaban had been such a far cry from how he looked when he cleaned himself up. The before and after looked like two totally different men, and when she first visited Grimmauld, she hadn't even recognized him. It was almost a decade ago, but she could still remember the way her and Ginny's faces had lit up like red Muggle Christmas tree lights.

"So, how many times are you planning on saving my life, Hermione?" He broke her concentration, and she smiled.

"At least once more," replied Hermione, cheekily, and she smiled when he barked a laugh.

"Is that a promise?" he asked, rubbing the stubble on his cheek. Hermione could only nod, because she was busy trying not to revert back to 'schoolgirl with a crush' mode. He had only been back for a week, so her current train of thought as she stared his masculine hands were entirely inappropriate.

"Oi?" a sleepy male voice called, and Hermione looked around. She hadn't even noticed Harry and Ron sleeping on the two neighbouring beds. "Hermione!" the man said, climbing out of bed with renewed energy, and she realized it was Harry. His glasses were askew and his hair was ridiculously messy, and he climbed right into her bed and kissed her right on the lips.

She blinked, a bit stunned, but she saw the goofy grin on his face and knew he only did it because he was so happy. "You're brilliant, you know that?" he asked, but didn't stop to wait for a reply. "You said you were going to do it, and you did it! I knew if anyone could do it, you could, and I was right. You're the most amazing witch on the entire planet, you know? You're more brilliant than anyone I've ever known. I reckon you're even smarter than Dumbledore. Isn't she smarter than Dumbledore?" he addressed an amused Sirius. "Tell her she's smarter than Dumbledore."

"You're smarter than Dumbledore," parroted Sirius, steepling his fingers over his torso. "And much prettier as well, if I do say so myself."

Hermione giggled uncharacteristically and Harry laughed like it was the funniest thing he had heard in his entire life. She had a feeling Harry would be like that for quite some time around Sirius, and she thought it was adorable.

"Whassagoinon?" spoke Ron, wiping what appeared to be drool from his mouth with the sleeve of his robes. His eyes widened when he saw Hermione sitting up and mirrored Harry's earlier movements, climbing out of his bed to get into hers. Harry got kicked in the gut as Ron climbed over him, but made no complaints. It was a tight fit with the three of them, especially with Ron in between her and Harry because he was the tallest and had a wider frame. "You're bloody brilliant!" He, too, kissed her right on the lips, and she vaguely realized that this was the first time they had kissed in over a month.

His kiss wasn't as chaste as Harry's had been, and it lasted much longer, until Hermione pulled away because of a cramp in her neck. Her body was still tired.

"Thank you," replied Hermione, tucking a strand of hair behind her ears and looking anywhere but at the men around her. She hadn't done it for compliments or praise, she just wanted Harry to have his godfather back.

Brown eyes met the emerald irises of the Boy-Who-Conquered, and the gratitude she saw in them made her give him a cheesy grin. He mouthed I love you to her, and she mouthed it back.

"Aww," said Ron, dramatically when he caught the exchange. "Where's a camera when you need it?" He earned himself a smack in the chest and a punch in the arm, but the Trio laughed. "You can move back into Grimmauld Place now, Hermione," reminded Ron, brushing his shocking red hair out of his face.

"Yes. Though, now that Sirius is back, the house is his," Harry nodded eagerly, but Sirius had no objections.

"They've caught me up on everything," the Azkaban escapee spoke up, stressing the word 'everything' darkly. They must have told him all the details of the war. She really didn't want to go into that, and luckily, neither did he. "They said you completely refurnished the place and pried my mother off the wall." His smile was contagious. "I'm looking forward to seeing it, especially since Harry said it looks nothing like it did. I may even be able to tolerate it now. You should already know that you're always welcome in my home, Hermione."

"Er, actually..." said Hermione, frowning a little. She knew Sirius wouldn't mind either way, so she looked over at Harry and Ron while she explained. "I have my own flat, and I... Well, I kinda like it there. Not that I don't want to be with you guys," she added when she saw the look on the younger men's faces. "It's just... well, you're guys, and it's like a bachelor place, you know?"

Harry was frowning and Ron looked serious, which was never a good sign. Her boyfriend opened his mouth to say something, and Hermione was quite sure she wouldn't like it, so she cut him off.

"I'm really sleepy," she said with a yawn, and the yawn hadn't even been intentional.

"Wait a minute," argued Ron, but Sirius cut him off.

"No. Let her get back to sleep. You can talk to her tomorrow," he said, giving her a sly wink when she looked over at him gratefully.

"Night, Hermione. G'night, Sirius," Harry immediately acquiesced, and when Ron looked unsure, Harry tugged the redhead's collar and pulled him away. She heard them climb into their beds, but was a little puzzled about why Sirius stayed seated next to her bed.

He must have seen her expression. "I'll stay here until you fall asleep, so he won't try and sneak over to bother you," explained Sirius, quietly.

That was definitely something Ron would do, so Hermione didn't bother hiding her smile. Sirius had only been back a few days and he already had Ron pegged.

Her eyes were drooping, and her body felt like she had taken a dose of Dreamless Sleep, because lethargy was setting in. "You look exactly the same as I remember," commented Hermione as an afterthought, her sleepiness making her more honest.

"Mmm, I'm still thirty-five according to the physical examinations," he spoke in a low voice, and Hermione was glad it was dark because she was slightly horrified when a blush crept up her neck at the sound.

Hermione was surprised, but she believed it. Technically, he hadn't existed for those seven years. Something that didn't exist couldn't really age, could it? Vaguely, she wondered if it was wrong to be happy he hadn't aged at all. He was so handsome, after all, and it would have been a shame for him to lose even more years off of his life due to another uncontrollable event.

She started to drift off, and the last coherent words that went through her mind before she fell back asleep was of her wondering whether or not she had said that last thought aloud.

Hermione was released from the hospital ward a week later, as good as new. She and Ron had had the inevitable argument, but in the end, once Harry caved and took her side, she won. It wasn't too difficult to sway Harry's opinion, since she had just brought his godfather back. Ron soon relented after that, and Hermione was, needless to say, relieved. Hermione knew exactly what she was, and made no excuses for it, but Sirius didn't need a bossy woman in his home at that point. Now that he had his life and his freedom, he would probably want to get out and bring home girls every night so he could sow his wild Marauder seeds, or whatever he called it. He would surely feel stifled if he had to curb his behaviour simply because there was a female living in the house, so she stayed at her flat. It wasn't too bad, and it was actually quite spacious. The only thing that separated it from being a 'home' was the white walls and lack of personal decor. She didn't have time to fix it up. Ron was over frequently when he wasn't training, and Harry made it over at least once a week, but he was a bit busy with his own training, as well as spending time with Sirius.

There were celebrations and parties once word got out, and Hermione had been hounded by paparazzi almost as tumultuously as she had been when the end of the war was still fresh. She had even caught that Skeeter bint going through her rubbish, but after a reminder about the information Hermione still held over her, the beetle scuttled away and kept herself at a safe distance at all times. Hermione basically barricaded herself in her flat when she wasn't working, just so she didn't end up on the Prophet's Page Six. They had a fancy for snapping horrid pictures of her while she was out eating in restaurants and shoving food in her mouth, or when she was out walking Wulfric in her frumpy pyjamas with messy bed-hair. It was enough to make a woman want to crawl in a hole and never come out.

She made only one exception about a month later, however, and that was for the party Molly had thrown at the Burrow for Sirius' return, as well as Hermione's job well done. The Weasley matriarch had waited a while in the hopes that the publicity would have died down, but ended up having to hex a few reporters who tried to climb the fence into the backyard celebration. Said reporters soon learned quickly enough that the business end of Molly Weasley's wand was not to be underestimated, and promptly left while they still had most of their limbs in tact.

"And stay out!" screeched Molly as the last reporter Apparated away into the night. There was a small sheen of sweat on the woman's brow, and her grey-streaked red hair was a bit frizzy from waving her arm wildly as she sent off the hexes. No one stopped her- they all just watched with amusement as the men in robes squealed like girls and got out as fast as they could. With another wave of her wand, a hood of a huge tent sprouted forth and effectively blanketed the backyard, so no one could see the party.

Everyone was at the Burrow, from the Trio to most of the surviving Order members, including Minister Shacklebolt. Hermione was proud of Kingsley, simply because his Minister of Magic status hadn't changed him. He was still the same man who used to make her his famous hot cocoa when he stayed overnight at Grimmauld, putting up with her never-ending range of questions about his line of work. The Minister was sitting with Remus and Nymphadora Lupin, and it looked like they were sharing jokes by the way Remus blushed and Kingsley and Dora laughed. Arthur was holding a tiny, snoozing Victoire, and Molly was double-checking to make sure she had brought all the food out and hadn't left anything in the kitchen. There were three long tables set up, two for the guests to sit down and eat, and another to sit the food so everyone could serve themselves buffet style, where Hermione was standing and observing her surroundings. There was music playing, and a few of the guests were dancing, including Harry and Ginny. Hermione couldn't help but smile at the pair as they swayed back and forth, staring at each other like they were the only people around. Ginny didn't even seem to mind that Harry kept stepping on her toes.

The tent was lit by magical blue flames on tiki-torches, though they were just for illumination. No heat or smoke emanated from them. The March air was a little chilly in the back garden - at least, it was to Hermione. Everyone else was sipping butterbeer, laughing, or dancing. Hermione just kept to herself. She really wasn't in the mood to hear any more praise, or to go sit by Ron and the twins just to listen to perverted jokes. She leaned against the buffet table, with her arms folded over her chest. She dressed simple. A black skirt, leather stiletto boots, and a crimson jumper. Her hair fell in soft waves and her brown eyes were lined smokily. It wasn't too much of an effort on her part, but Ron could have at least said something when she arrived earlier. Instead she just got a sloppy kiss and an affectionate pat on the bum.

A giggle caught her attention and Hermione looked down when something hugged her leg.

"Lift me up, Hermione," commanded a blue-haired Teddy Lupin. He was missing quite a few teeth, but she could tell he would look exactly like his father when he grew up. Hermione scrunched her brow to see what he was laughing at and running from.

A giant, shaggy black dog was prancing towards them, with his tongue hanging laxly out of the side of his mouth. It was a far cry from the skinny, dirty, matted dog she had seen when she was fourteen. Now, Padfoot looked even larger because he was a healthy weight, and his shaggy coat had a beautiful sheen to it. Everyone at the party were all trusted friends and family, so Sirius had no problems playing with Teddy in his Animagus form.

Hermione obliged and picked up the boy when little Teddy squealed excitedly as Padfoot got closer, and she couldn't keep the grin off of her face when the dog stood up on his hind legs and transformed back into the other guest of honour.

"No fair," pouted Sirius to Teddy. "You cheated, mate. You're as sneaky as your father. He and your Uncle James used to hide behind your Aunt Lily."

Teddy seemed to find this incredibly amusing, probably because Remus was always telling stories about his departed friends, because Teddy let out a peal of laughter and buried his face into the crook of Hermione's neck.

Sirius looked fetching, she had to admit. Motorcycle boots, jeans that looked like they were made to have his arse in them, and a black long-sleeved shirt rolled up to his elbows. She could see the etching of a few sparse tattoos, remnants from his days as a prisoner. Freedom suited him well. There was a calmness to him that she had never seen before, and his handsome face was relaxed, making him look younger. His hair was shaggy, like his animal counterpart, and it fell over his eyes. He pushed it from his forehead, but it fell right back down, albeit a bit more strategically. At least now she could see the fathomless silver-grey eyes through the fringe of hair.

Said fathomless silver-grey eyes examined her from head to toe, making her fight down a blush.

"You look lovely," said Sirius with a little smirk, and Hermione smiled faintly in return.

At least he had said something.

"Thank you," replied Hermione, quietly. "You don't look so bad, yourself." He smiled at her jest and watched with intrigue as Teddy snuggled closer to her and rested his head on her shoulder. The little terror was five, so that type of behaviour was unusual from the rambunctious Teddy.

"You're good with kids," he commented. She was surprised to see the haughty Black heir cross his arms over his chest. It reminded her more of a shy gesture, like the one she had had moments before Teddy had tried to climb up her hip.

"No, he just likes the smell of the homemade lotion I wear," she replied. Teddy's breathing was relaxed, and she knew if she held him much longer, he would fall asleep. His hair had already shifted to a sandy brown from grogginess. "It relaxes him for some reason. It smells like--"

"Almonds," he finished with a nod, and his eyes flicked down to the floor for the briefest moment before they returned her gaze. "I know."

There was an unidentifiable flutter in her stomach for no apparent reason, and she didn't know how to respond to him, so she just gave him a curious nod of acknowledgment.

Someone cleared their throat to the side of them, and Hermione smiled when she saw Remus. He and Sirius embraced in a brotherly hug, before the werewolf stepped over to Hermione to give her a chaste, friendly kiss on the lips. They had always had a bond, since he had a strong trust with Hermione, probably because she had kept his secret way back when he taught at Hogwarts. It only got stronger after the final battle, when she had saved Remus from Dolohov. Hermione had used the same curse the Death Eater had tossed at her all those years ago in the Department of Mysteries. Hermione had, luckily, just barely survived that curse when she was sixteen, and it was only because of her youthful health.

The fifty-eight-year-old Death Eater hadn't been so lucky.

"Let me take him off your hands," insisted Remus, reaching over to take the sleepy Teddy. When the boy was safely shifted into his father's arms, he nestled against his embrace. Hermione thought the way Remus held the boy as he walked away was adorable. Gently, as though he were afraid to break him, but firmly enough to make sure he didn't slip.

Hermione did want children one day, and she noticed that when she saw Remus and Bill so natural in their roles as loving fathers, her maternal instincts started to kick in. Of course, this was just a normal yearning - wanting something that she didn't have. A woman's biological clock sometimes began to tick when viewing testosterone driven males showing their softer side with their children. Hermione knew that at any moment, she could tell Ron that she wanted to have a baby and he would cart her off to be married, so they could get started on the baby-making as soon as possible, but she couldn't help her hesitation. She couldn't quite place what exactly was holding her back. It was like a natural instinct - one she didn't want to own up to out loud.

"You haven't stopped by the house lately." Sirius broke her from her thoughts, and her eyes slipped away from Remus' retreating form to look at the tall man in front of her. "I hope you're not uncomfortable visiting Harry and Ron just because I'm there."

His face was impassive, but she knew he was trying to gauge her reaction.

Why on earth would he think he made her uncomfortable?

"You don't make me uncomfortable, Sirius," admonished Hermione, smiling incredulously. "I've been hiding out in my flat to try to escape from the crazy photographers. If I had to see one more picture of myself stuffing my face in the Prophet I was going to leave the country."

Sirius barked an endearing laugh, and Hermione noticed that he looked even younger when he was smiling. "I saw that one with the exceptionally long sandwich," he recalled, much to Hermione's horror. "You've quite a talent there, Hermione."

"You prat!" she laughed, smacking him in the arm.

He was undeterred. "And then there was that one with the ice-cream cone from Fortescues..." There was an amused fondness in his voice, and Hermione recalled that picture with a blush. She had certainly given the bloody thing a licking worth remembering.

She hadn't eaten an ice-cream cone since.

"You wouldn't believe the owls I got the next day from strange men asking to take me out on a date," she told him with a wry smile. "I won't even repeat the filthy innuendos I had to put up with," she added with a roll of her eyes.

"Strangers sent you perverted letters?" asked Sirius, raising his brows in surprise.

"No, the twins did." Hermione pursed her lips when Sirius laughed, but soon ended up joining him. If you couldn't laugh at yourself, then life would be much too dreary. "It isn't really funny, you know," she added with mock seriousness. "I now have to think twice about what I put in my mouth."

Sirius' smile widened, but before he could respond, a voice cut him off.

"Nothing fun ever goesh in your mouth anyway," said Ron with a goofy grin, holding a glass of Firewhisky. He must have stumbled his way over. His cheeks were red and his eyes were watery, and Hermione knew he was going to have a hell of a hangover tomorrow. He was completely plastered, and Hermione's shoulders tensed at his remark. "She doesn't shuck the sugar quill, if you catch my drift," he told Sirius in a drunken whisper, which wasn't a whisper at all. "Every time I try to convinsh her she tellsh me she'll hex it off if I put it anywhere near her face," he slurred.

A deep flush spread up her neck from her overwhelming mortification. Ron didn't mean anything, she knew, he was just drunk. Hermione found she couldn't look up at Sirius' face, so instead she stared at his chest like it was the most interesting thing she had ever seen.

There was a pause that lasted only a few beats, but it felt like an eternity.

"Well, thank Merlin for small favours," replied Sirius. Hermione's brows narrowed in confusion, and she dared a chance to look up at his face. Sirius was looking at Ron with a face the bordered between arrogance and amusement, a haughty look that reminded her that the man before her had, indeed, been raised as an aristocrat.

"Whazzat 'posed to mean?" asked Ron, swaying a little on his feet, but still wearing a stupid smile.

Sirius opened his mouth to reply, but seemed to think better of whatever he was going to say. Instead, he shut his mouth and shook his head slightly. "Go sit down, Ron," he commanded, and Ron slurred an okay and headed back over to the twins, who were singing the Inebriated Imp song.

"Well, that was awkward," commented Hermione with nonchalance she didn't feel.

She could tell he saw right through it by the frown on his handsome face. Hermione was half expecting him to come out with some sympathetic rubbish about how respectable girls don't do that, but he surprised her altogether by remarking: "He's about as charming as a vomit flavoured Bertie Bott, and twice as nauseating. If I were a bird I wouldn't even want to kiss him, never mind blow him."

She gaped. It was crude, wry, and such a completely cruel thing to say about his godson's best friend...

But Hermione laughed so hard she had to rest her hip against the buffet table to keep her balance.

"What's so funny, dears?" asked an interested voice, and Hermione saw Molly Weasley heading over to them. She was carrying a big tray of what smelled like chicken, no doubt to refill the empty ones.

If Molly found out what Sirius had said, she would probably Transfigure him into a flobberworm and feed him to the garden gnomes.

"I was just telling Hermione how charming I think Ron is," answered Sirius, flashing Hermione a mischievous smile. Hermione had to bite her lip to hide her amusement.

"Oh, thank you, dear," said Molly, as if Sirius had complimented her directly. "I can't wait until he and Hermione finally tie the knot. I'd like some more grandbabies as soon as possible, you know," she added, looking over at Hermione with a large smile.

Hermione vaguely wondered why it made her want to hex something. "What makes you so sure Ronald and I will get married?" she asked, glad she was able to keep the bite out of her tone.

"Oh, come on, love," said Molly with a laugh. "It's just fate, everyone knows it. I can't wait to see some little Rons running around." The matriarch finished by pinching Hermione's cheek before she sped off again.

Hazel eyes were staring off into the distance, while her mind superimposed Ron's large head onto little baby bodies.

She visibly shuddered.

Suddenly, Hermione felt quite tired, and she couldn't explain why. It was probably due to the fact that Molly had just put an emotional weight on Hermione's shoulders. People did expect her and Ron to get married, and if they didn't, Hermione would probably be shunned by the Weasley's for turning him down.

"Are you alright?" asked Sirius, and Hermione snapped her attention back towards him.

"Mm," she agreed half-heartedly. "I think I'm going to call it a night, though. I'm exhausted."

Sirius raised his brows and looked around at the party. It was still going, and probably would be for a few more hours. Hermione hadn't even mingled yet, but she would rather be at home with Wulfric.

"You can't go," informed Sirius when she went to give him a kiss on the cheek goodbye.

Hermione arched a brow. "Why ever not?"

He ran his hand through his hair again. "Because then I'll be stuck here alone."

"Er... Sirius, there's at least twenty-five other people here," she replied in an amused tone.

"Yeah, but they're going to ask questions about the Veil and I don't feel like dealing with that tonight." His eyes were focused on her in determination to make her stay.

Admittedly, she felt a twinge of guilt. Sirius must have been going through his own kind of reporter hell, and he'd actually seen everyone before this party. He had to put up with their inquiries while Hermione stayed cooped up in her flat, ignoring the world. "You could just go back to Grimmauld?"

A frown marred his handsome face, and she somehow knew he didn't want to be there alone, regardless of whether or not the place was refurnished. She was decidedly baffled. This was Sirius Black. Remus had told her so many stories about the wild, fun-loving Marauder that were utterly confusing her now. If he was indeed that person Remus had described, why didn't he just ditch the party, go to a bar, and have a threesome with the first two girls he met? It's what she would expect from him -- what she expected he had been doing for the past few weeks.

"Or you could come hang out by my flat?" she suggested. A brief alarm flashed through her mind, telling her that was entirely inappropriate and she should retract the invitation, but he answered her before she could.

"Okay," he agreed, grinning. It wasn't a perverse grin, though, so she knew he hadn't taken it the wrong way. "We're taking my motorbike, though," he told her, and Hermione shook her head to object. He was already walking back inside the house to grab their coats. Harry had told her that the first thing Sirius had bought with his re-inherited fortune was a motorbike. He had let Hagrid keep his old one, because it reminded him too much of that night. It didn't take a Legilimens to know he was talking about the night James and Lily died.

Hermione made her way around the tables as everyone ate, and began saying her goodbyes. The drunk ones gave her sloppy kisses on her cheek, and the sober ones tried to convince her to stay. Ron was already sleeping in his chair. Harry and Ginny were nowhere to be seen, and Hermione didn't even want to know where they had snuck off to.

"Why are you leaving, Hermione?" asked Remus as she kissed him goodbye, his face full of concern.

"She's not feeling good, mate. I'm taking her home," said a voice from behind her smoothly, and she felt Sirius hold her coat open for her while she slipped her arms in.

Remus and Nymphadora shared a look. Dora looked like she was fighting back a laugh and her eyes were wide, and Remus looked bemused. "Sirius..." he whispered, looking pointedly over at Ron. "You can't just take a girl home who belongs to someone else."

The werewolf shifted in his seat when Hermione's eyes narrowed into slits, and flinched when Dora punched him in the arm.

"I wasn't aware that I belonged to any man, Remus," she said warningly, and Nymphadora hissed an agreement. She wasn't even that angry, she just put up the front to remind him to watch what he said. She was a Gryffindor girl, after all, and it was never a good idea to rub a the brown-eyed lioness the wrong way -- something that Harry and Ron had learned long ago. Besides, it was amusing to watch Remus, whom was feared by the world because of what he turned into during the full moon, squirm because a pair of women were giving him the stink-eye. "I'm pretty damn sure that I make my own decisions, and if anyone else says differently, I'll have to hex something valuable off - regardless of how good a friend he is or how much I like his wife."

"I didn't mean it like that, ladies," said Remus nervously, with audible gulp that was almost comical. He kept looking over to Sirius for help. The Animagus, however, was content to just watch with amusement. "I just meant that him taking you home can be misinterpreted..."

"Bite my arse, Remus," said Hermione without any malice as she kissed Dora goodbye. "C'mon, Sirius," she called, making her way towards the front yard. Sirius kept up her stride, but they both flinched when they heard Molly's voice.

"Where are you two going?!" she asked rather loudly, looking quite put out. Hermione couldn't blame her, since this was, technically, their party, and Molly had gone through all of this trouble.

"I don't feel good, Molly, and Sirius is going to take me home. If I Apparate I may splinch myself," she replied, glancing over at the man beside her.

"I'm sorry you don't feel good, dear," said Molly sympathetically. "But someone else can Apparate you home. It would be a shame for Sirius to miss his party, too."

She felt, rather than saw, Sirius shift his weight. "I feel like taking a ride anyway, Molly. The party was lovely, really, and I appreciate it. I just -- I just can't take big crowds..." Hermione knew that was a lie, but she nodded her head in agreement.

The frown on Molly's face made her feel quite guilty, but soon the woman actually looked suspicious.

"You're going to take her home... and then what, Sirius Black?" she asked with a dangerously arched brow.

Sirius actually looked offended, and even Hermione's brows disappeared into her hairline. Was Molly suggesting...?

"And then I'm going to shag her senseless and turn her into a scarlet woman. What else would you expect?" he replied, and his tone was quietly vicious.

Hermione was officially uncomfortable. On one hand, she was offended by Molly's accusations, but on the other, Sirius had just said something quite crude about her... but she found she didn't care.

Was it wrong to feel a flutter in her stomach when he said he was going to shag her? Probably, but she didn't have time to ponder it.

"I'm sorry, Sirius," said Molly, looking remorseful. "I know you wouldn't do anything untoward. I was just... You two look so..." she trailed off. "Forgive an old woman?"

His expression was still hard, but he nodded sharply and accepted the woman's kiss on the cheek. Molly repeated the gesture with Hermione and bid them a safe journey, informing them that she would send home leftovers later.

"I'm sorry I said that," he apologized, but Hermione shrugged.

After finally regaining her wits, she decided she didn't care. "Don't worry about it, Sirius. Molly has always believed I would break Ron's heart one day, even back when I was fifteen."

Sirius barked another laugh as he climbed on his bike. Hermione awkwardly held her skirt closed, but besides that, climbing on behind him was rather easy, which surprised her. She shifted so she could sit on her skirt in a way that wouldn't let it fly up. "What made her think you would break his heart at fifteen?" inquired Sirius, and she felt him reach back to guide her arms around his waist.

She took the hint and wriggled closer to him, wrapping her arms around him. Her chin automatically went to rest on his shoulder, and she was surprised to find that she wasn't the least bit nervous. Sirius had a certain confidence to him that could put anyone at ease. "Rita Skeeter posted in the Prophet that I was breaking hearts. Dating Harry, leaving him for Viktor Krum, blah blah," she finished tiredly, and she felt Sirius chuckle as the bike switched on upon his silent command.

"I remember those articles," he said, shaking his head at Molly's gullibility. "Hold on," he said casually, and Hermione braced herself by tightening her grip as they sped off.

Hermione buried her face in the crook of Sirius' neck as the bike gradually lifted off the ground as it rode on, like it was driving up an invisible hill towards the clouds. It was dark, so the night covered them from any non-magical people, but she only chanced a look around once in a while when she could work up enough nerve.

"Hogsmeade, yeah?" asked Sirius, and Hermione mumbled an affirmative into his shoulder. She was obscenely close to him. He was between her thighs, and she was pressed right up against his back as she held on for dear life. She could feel the firm body beneath his leather jacket, and with her face hiding in the crook of his neck, she unwittingly breathed in his scent every time she inhaled.

"I like your jacket," she spoke, trying to keep her mind off of both the ride and the way it felt to be pressed up against him.

"I used to have a better one," he said, glancing over his shoulder at her momentarily. "James got it for me when we were seventeen."

Hermione felt a pang of sadness for him, knowing that the Ministry had probably repossessed all of his belongings once he was put in Azkaban without a trial, and they said no more about the topic for the rest of the ride.

Not even fifteen minutes later, they were descendingon High Street, and the bike landed slowly and lightly. Hermione had been expecting at least a jolt when they hit the ground, but there was nothing. The motorbike practically purred as they passed the Three Broomsticks, and past two big apartment buildings before they finally reached hers. "This is it," she said with a nod as they came up to it.

"How did you manage to get a flat on High Street?" he asked curiously as they got off the bike. It was a pretty exclusive place, and one was extremely lucky to even find a vacant flat, let alone have enough connections to actually rent it. There was a hint of amusement on his face as she opened the doors and led up to her flat. "Did you drop your name?" His voice reverberated off of the corridor walls.

"No," she said, bumping his hip with hers as they made it to her door. "Minister Kings got it for me," she informed with a smug smile, and Sirius grinned. Wulfric immediately started barking when he heard her magical key in the door.

Sirius raised his brows, but said nothing. He obviously figured out Crooks had passed, and didn't want to bring it up. Hermione could make out a hint of emotion cross over his face. He and Crooks had been close, possibly just as close as she had been with her familiar.

"This is Wulfric," said Hermione as she pushed open her door. She lifted the Scottish Terrier that was already trying to jump on her, yelping happily that she was home. Sirius shut the door behind them and took the excited dog from her, grinning as he scratched him and accepted his affection like only a true dog-lover could. "He's not a very good guard dog. I fear that if anyone ever tries to break in, he'll just try to lick their faces off. He likes to leave 'presents' in Ron's trainers, though..." she added as an after-thought, and raised a brow sceptically when she thought she saw a hint of a pleased smirk on Sirius' face.

"Make yourself at home," she said, pulling off her jacket to hang it on the coat rack. "I've got a bottle of Rosie's fine mead, want some?"

"Sounds great," he agreed, plopping down on the couch like he owned the place. The way he sat was distinctly masculine, with his arms spread out and resting on the back of the sofa, and his legs parted lazily, observing his surroundings without any discretion. So far, besides Draco Malfoy, Sirius was the only man she had seen pull it off naturally, without coming off like he was trying too hard to be cool.

Hermione took out two glasses and brought the bottle with her when she sat down next to him.

And so, the unusual pair spent the hours swapping funny stories and drinking mead, enjoying the buzz of the alcohol.

"So, I told him," said Sirius, "I said to him, I said: Prongs, of course she was freaked out. I don't think any bird wants to hear that you used to follow them around under your invisibility cloak, regardless of how 'cute' you assumed she would think it was."

Hermione broke out into a peal of laughter, especially since she knew Harry used to follow Ginny around too. It seemed stalker-esque blood ran through the Potter males.

"Wow," she said when she caught her breath, "James really loved Lily from an early age, huh?"

Sirius nodded, smiling fondly. "She punched him in the nose in our second year. He was gushing blood all over the place. But right after Pomfrey healed it, he informed me that he was going to marry her one day. I, of course, thought he was out of his mind for thinking he could crack Evans, but he proved me wrong in the end." Hermione couldn't stop herself from smiling along with him. She was a sap when it came to love stories.

"Nymphadora had to fight to get Remus to even consider her because he thought so low of himself," she told him, putting her glass of mead on the side table.

"Tell me something that I don't know," said Sirius with a shake of his head. "Moony was always so hard on himself, even when we were kids. It must have been even worse for him without me and James there to remind him that he was a good man."

Hermione noticed Sirius staring into his cup, obviously thinking about sadder times. She didn't want the mood to turn sombre, so she leaned forward with a grin.

"What are you doing?" asked Sirius, cautiously, when he noticed her moving closer to him.

"Telling you something that you don't know," she giggled uncharacteristically, a bit giddy from the mead. Sirius smiled with amusement as she leaned over and cupped his ear to whisper her secret, even though there was no one else but Wulfric in the flat.

"Dora calls Remus 'Cuddlepuppy' when she thinks no one else is around," she hissed, trying to keep her laughter under control.

"Cuddlepuppy?" he asked, looking aghast. His face soon turned mischievous, and Hermione had the distinct impression that Remus would never live it down. His brows furrowed. "How do you know that?"

"I walked in on them... er..." she shifted awkwardly. "They were practically doing the Mommy-Daddy 'cuddle' in the kitchen at Grimmauld when they thought everyone was sleeping, if you know what I mean..."

Sirius barked a laugh, startling Wulfric from his slumber.

"But it was cute," she argued on their behalf. "They really love each other."

He said nothing, only nodded thoughtfully.

"And you?" she asked, hesitantly, unsure if she was about to open any old wounds. He looked at her quizzically, and she elaborated. "Were you ever in love?"

He actually looked amused by the question, which eased the tension in Hermione's shoulders.

"No," he said, putting his mead down. "I'm the bloke you spent a night with, not a lifetime with."

Hermione tried and failed to hide her blush. She was no virgin, but she had only been with one man, and Sirius had just made it very clear that he spent his younger years shagging nameless faces. Of course, she already knew that from the stories Remus told, but hearing it straight from the man's mouth was a little surprising. He didn't even try to deny it for gentlemanly reasons, he was just blunt and brutal with his honesty.

And she liked it.

"So, you didn't even date? You just shagged?" asked Hermione, hiding an embarrassed smile behind her wavy hair.

"At Hogwarts, girls were interested in my looks and my money, and afterwards, it wasn't much different. And with the war going on, and Order work, I didn't even have time to try to get to know anyone. They were all pretty dumb anyway." Once again, Hermione was shocked by his honesty, but oddly refreshed by it. "Lily was always telling me to find a woman who could add without using her fingers for help," he paused a moment to grin at the memory, "but I just wanted to have fun. Then once the prophecy happened and James, Lily, and Harry were in danger, I just stopped picking up birds completely."

"Because it was dangerous?" she asked, quirking a brow.

He nodded, and ran a hand through his shaggy hair when it fell in his eyes. "Couldn't trust anyone. But I ended up trusting the wrong person anyway..."

"It wasn't your fault, Sirius," said Hermione, stubbornly, but even though he nodded, she knew he didn't agree. "Do you think it was Harry's fault for falling for Voldemort's trick and going to the Department of Mysteries? Do you blame Harry for your fall through the Veil?"

Sirius' face hardened with momentary anger for her even suggesting such a thing, and she was reminded of the Azkaban prisoner, and the reason why Sirius Black had been so feared. "Of course not!"

"Voldemort was clever," she said, quietly. "Evil, disgusting, and a disgrace to the human species, but clever. He played on everyone's weaknesses. For Harry, it was his love for you. For you, it your love for your friends. It wasn't your fault."

Sirius stared at her for a long while, and after a few minutes, Hermione had to fight not to fidget under his gaze. How the hell was he able to make her blush with just a look?

She suddenly realized how close they were sitting, but she couldn't move away just yet. It would be too obvious, and he would pick up on her discomfort.

But he picked up on it anyway.

"Why are you blushing?" he asked, his voice soft, a sharp contrast to the harsh tone he had used earlier while he was angry.

She cleared her throat and tried to will down the soft pink flush of her cheeks.

"Why are you staring?" she bantered back, glared up at him, and grinned.

"I'm an avid admirer of beauty," he replied, and his eyes trailed down her face and body, only to slowly meet her eyes again.

Oh, Merlin. She understood now how he was able to charm a new witch into his bed every night.

"Are you trying to seduce me, Sirius?" she asked in an amused tone, but inside her stomach was doing flip-flops.

"Would you like for me to seduce you, Hermione?" asked Sirius quietly, and her eyes searched his face for any hint that this was a joke. She couldn't tell if he was kidding or not, and her heart was racing.

How had the conversation turned so quickly? The fact that he was beautiful didn't help her situation, or the way he was staring at her so intensely.

But before she could answer, he was already leaning his head down towards hers. She instinctively met his lips with her own, her mind pleasantly blank.

There was a delightful jolt between her legs when their tongues met, and a muffled whimper came from Hermione's throat when she felt Sirius' hand slide down from her neck to her waist, and he used the leverage to gradually ease her onto her back to rest on the soft cushions of the sofa without breaking their kiss. His weight above her felt... right. There was really no other way to describe the way his body just moulded against hers. She was vaguely aware of the way her legs moved of their own accord to lock around his waist, as though they wanted him to be trapped between them.

And then he was pressing himself against her centre. The cotton material of her panties was thin, and she could feel the contours of his jeans creating a wonderful friction where she wanted it most. It was then that she also noticed the bulge that felt like it was fighting to be free of its denim enclosing from the way it pressed against his pants.

Her panties were already wet from the movement, and she wantonly met his thrust each time he rubbed himself against her, much to her own surprise, since she had never thought herself to be a very passionate lover. It had certainly never been like this with Ron.

Hermione's eyes snapped open.


The self-depreciating mental commentary began when the Weasley buzz-word was triggered.

What was wrong with her? She was dating Ron, her best friend and a boy she had known since she was eleven! Maybe Rita Skeeter had been right, Hermione really was a slag. And Mrs. Weasley had known it all along! Hermione had always held a grudge against Mrs. Weasley for ever thinking that Hermione would break the boys' hearts in fourth year, but maybe the Weasley matriarch had an inner eye after all. Hermione had a horrible vision of herself at the Burrow, standing on the kitchen table, with Harry, Ron, the Weasleys, the Order, and all her old friends from school on the floor, saying horrible things about her and insisting she wear a crimson 'A' on her chest for 'Adulteress', like Demi Moore in The Scarlet Letter. She had always thought that Sirius looked a bit like Gary Oldman when the actor was younger, but her thoughts were digressing.

She was a scarlet woman!

A tidal wave of guilt crashed over her and she broke the kiss. She immediately unlocked her legs from Sirius' waist, pressing her palms against his toned chest so he would rise.

He complied, looking confused, but before he could ask what was wrong, she said, "Get out."

His eyes widened, and he looked like she had just smacked him. "What?"

"I said, get out," she repeated, pointing towards her door. He knew she was dating Ron, so why did he look so surprised?

"Look, I'm sorry," he said, scooting towards her, but she stood up from the sofa completely. His brows narrowed and he frowned. "I'm not sorry I kissed you. But I am sorry you're freaking out about it."

Hermione's eyes bulged in disbelief. Damn right she was freaking out about it! She was a sleaze! "Get out!" she said, almost frantically, pulling open her door. He was quiet for a few moments, with his jaw clenching and unclenching, but eventually he realised that she wasn't going to listen to anything he had to say. He stood, grabbed his coat off the rack, nodded to her, and left.

And when Hermione heard the dull roar of his motorbike as he drove away, she cried.

Hermione had avoided Sirius like the plague after that. She made excuses to stay away from family dinners at the Burrow, and turned down any invitations from Harry and Ron to visit Grimmauld. It wasn't a very mature route to avoid the situation, she knew, but she couldn't bring herself to try to discuss it with him. She had completely pushed Ron from her mind and disregarded her lover and best friend's feelings. If Ronald had found out that she and Sirius kissed, he would never forgive her.

And the very worst part of all was that she had liked kissing Sirius. That's what made it so dangerous. If it had been a harmless little kiss, she would have laughed about it and forgotten it, simply because there were no feelings behind it. But, alas, her traitorous emotions had to tamper with her and excite her. Curse them and their infernal meddling!

But, logically, what hot-blooded straight woman wouldn't get a case of the warm and fuzzies when Sirius Black kissed her? He was in his mid-thirties, yes, but he was sinfully handsome. His body was fit and he could probably wear nothing but a pink tu-tu and still look like he belonged in a Calvin Klein advertisement.

And the way his fingertips had caressed her neck while he penetrated her mouth with his tongue had sent shivers up and down her spine...

The man knew what he was doing.

The natural reaction her body had had was to unwittingly press up against him. She had probably rubbed herself against him like a wanton slag. She was horrified by her actions, and had seriously contemplated sneaking into Grimmauld in the middle of the night, Muggle-ninja-style, and Obliviating Sirius while he slept. Luckily, her morals kicked that idea to the rubbish bin. Hermione couldn't even bring herself to kiss Ron for more than a few minutes, because the guilt would eat away at her.

Guilt because she had kissed Sirius, and even more guilt piled on top of that because -- although she tried very, very hard not to admit it to herself -- she kinda-sorta-in-a very-teenie-tiny-way, wished she was kissing Sirius again instead whenever Ron tried to put the moves on her. And whenever that miniscule voice whispered that thought from its hiding spot in the very back of her brain, Hermione suddenly understood why house-elves bashed their heads into the wall when they felt guilty, because she had the exact same desire.

Ron would just look at her with confusion when she pulled away from him every time he tried to deepen their kisses, and look down at her with those baby-blues swimming with hurt. Every time that happened, she would search the Prophet for anyone renting a hole she could crawl in and die. It got to a point where she just started telling him she was extremely busy at work so he wouldn't come over too often, and when he did, if he tried to pull any hanky-panky business, she would suddenly be too tired. It was wrong for her to hold back affection because of her own guilt, but she couldn't bring herself to kiss and touch him when there was another man on her mind. But she also couldn't bring herself to tell him that there was another man on her mind, so it was a just a very large, vicious circle, and whenever it came back around at her, it burned her on the bum like a blast-ended skrewt.

Especially when, quite a few (celibate) months later, Harry's birthday rolled around. Hermione couldn't not go, and for some reason, Ron was still trying to make an effort with their relationship. He hadn't even brought up the topic of breaking up, even though she had barely even kissed him in months. She didn't know whether she had been happy or sad about that.

Hermione, Ginny, and Ronald stood in the lobby to the grand wizarding hotel where Harry's party was being thrown. Ron was busy asking where they had to go from there while the girls adjusted themselves in the beautiful mirrored wall beside them. Ginny smoothed the invisible creases in her little black dress that left very little to the imagination. She looked ravishing, with her deep red hair pulled back in an intricate wrap and dark, painted red lips. Harry was going to blush like a schoolgirl when he laid eyes on his vivacious girlfriend. Hermione adjusted the cowl neck of her own sleeveless silver dress. It fell to mid-thigh and showed off quite a bit of her long, toned legs. She was wearing open-toed heels as well - a bit higher than she preferred, but when she went shopping with Ginny and Tonks for something to wear, the redhead had said in no uncertain terms that if Hermione didn't get the entire outfit, she would face the wrath of a Bat-Bogey Hex, and, needless to say, she purchased the ensemble a few minutes later. Dora had, thankfully, kept silent about the distance Hermione had been keeping, and just looked happy to be out shopping with the girls. Hermione had been afraid that the silver might clash with her porcelain skin and make her look washed out, but now she could see Ginny and Tonks were right when they said the dress was made for her. It clung to all the right places, and her dark chestnut hair fell in soft, tame waves down to her shoulder blades. Hermione just watched amusedly when Ginny snatched her chin and added a little clear gloss to Hermione's lips, and made sure the smoky shadow she had applied to the brunette's eyes was still perfect.

"You look hot," assured Ginny with a pervy grin, which Hermione returned.

"So do you," countered Hermione, and Ginny gave a pleased shrug of her shoulders.

"I know," the redhead said haughtily, and both girls giggled.

"C'mon, girls," said Ron from the lobby counter, beckoning them to follow him. "He says we have to go through this way."

The girls locked arms excitedly and followed the six-foot-four redhead.

The hotel, Castle Vania, screamed elegance and wealth. It was run by a Romanian family that were known to build only the trendiest hotels and restaurants. Hermione's breath caught in her throat when the three of them stepped into the party room. It was as big as the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and there were round tables with chairs surrounding them. They looked like they were made of ice, and the beautiful silverware atop them were clear and sparkling, like diamonds. The room felt cool, a welcomed reprieve from the sticky July weather. There were floating, silver, sparkling candelabras above the tables, and the huge dance floor was charmed to look like icy-blue water. There was a bar on the far side of the room, and it appeared to be ice like the tables, but when she squinted, she could see magical, colourfully jewelled fish swimming around in the ice. Sirius must have spent heaps of Galleons to rent out the entire bloody hotel for the whole night.

Hermione and Ginny shared a slightly worried glance when they felt the colder air hit them, because neither was wearing a bra with their dresses, but they shrugged it off. They probably weren't the only ones with that problem tonight. It looked like everyone was already there. People were standing around and mingling, from former classmates to co-workers (from both during the war and after) and ex-professors. Everyone was dressed winningly - the women wore elegant dresses or robes and the men wore robes or Muggle suits. They immediately spotted Harry, wearing a pair of black slacks and a white shirt, who was conversing with an excited Neville, and the three immediately went over to him. The-Man-Who-Lived did a triple take when he saw Ginny, and his jaw practically unhinged. The girls shared an amused glance.

"Gin, you look... you look so... I've never seen... you're... this is the best birthday ever..." He was incoherent, and Hermione had to bite back a grin when she noticed his emerald eyes were looking the redhead up and down rather perversely. Ginny didn't seem to mind at all, and even teased him by pressing up against him when she kissed him hello.

"Happy birthday, Harry," said Hermione, and Harry's eyes widened happily when he saw her.

"Hermione? You came," he said with an endearing smile, and the next thing she knew, she was caught in a bear hug, and her feet were literally dangling an inch off the ground.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," replied Hermione, feeling another twinge of guilt for separating herself from her best friend. "I'm sorry, I've just been so busy..."

Harry cut her off with a shake of his head. "It doesn't even matter, love. You're here now, and that's all that counts."

Her heart swelled, and the gratitude she felt was overpowering. She had basically ignored everyone for months, but Harry treated her as if nothing was different. Ginny had been away touring with her Quidditch team, so she hadn't known about Hermione's distance with everyone. Ron, of course, was very aware, but had yet to comment on it. She was waiting for the moment where he would just explode, in typical Ronald fashion.

"Hey, Nev," grinned Hermione, giving him a hug and kissing him on the cheek, which made him blush.

"You look gorgeous, Hermione," complimented Neville, and she nodded her appreciation.

"You're looking quite dashing yourself, Mister Longbottom," she replied, and his blush grew more pronounced. "Does anybody want a drink from the bar? I'm going over there to get one, myself," asked Hermione, glancing around at the four people surrounding her. Neville was wearing beautiful robes of royal blue, and Ron was wearing silky copper robes. While they made him look rather nice, they clashed horribly with Hermione's dress, which was what Harry was currently laughing about. Ginny had already given her brother a mouthful for not asking what colours he could have worn so the pair would match. Hermione didn't really care whether they matched or not, which was a sentiment that Ron shared.

After taking their drink orders, Hermione made her way across the room, greeting familiar faces as she passed. She was more than a little put-out when Molly Weasley pretended she didn't see her and walked right past her, but Hermione could hardly blame the woman. Hermione had been rejecting offers for dinner at the Burrow for months, and Ron had no doubt informed his mother of the way Hermione was distancing herself from him.

Hermione really needed that drink.

The bar was indeed made of ice, but it was Charmed so that, while it was cold to the touch, it wouldn't melt and skin wouldn't freeze to it if you rested your arms on it. The man behind the bar was busy finishing drinks for a group of women, who were eyeing him like he was a seven course meal and they were starving. He wore a tight, black, long-sleeved shirt, with black pants that looked like they were tailored to fit him. There were black motorcycle boots on his feet, and leather gloves on his hands that must have been Charmed to have a no-slip grip. One of his eyes was blue, and the other was green, but both were startling shades. His black hair was a little long, but it suited him. He reminded her somewhat of Johnny Depp, but better, and Hermione made a mental note to keep Tonks away from the bar. The metamorphmagus harboured quite a crush on the Muggle actor, much to Remus' dislike. The man looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn't quite place his face. It surprised her, though, because she didn't think she would forget those eyes.

Hermione sat on a stool and leaned her arms on the bar, staring down at the fish scaled with glittering stones and jewels that were swimming beneath the ice. Her side of the bar was empty, which she preferred. She could barely be seen by the attendees of the party, thankfully, since she didn't really want to have any small talk until she had at least one drink in her. It might be more bearable that way.

When had she become such a recluse?

She was still waiting for the bartender to finish showing off for the girls when someone came up behind her. The person put a hand on either side of her on the bar, effectively closing her in.

Her shoulders stiffened and her eyes widened, but she didn't dare acknowledge the person. She already knew who it was - she could tell by that dangerously delightful cologne he wore.

"Four months," said Sirius quietly after a long moment, and Hermione nearly jumped. She hadn't realized he was so close, and his mouth was right by her ear so passers-by wouldn't hear. "You've been ignoring everyone for four bloody months. Remus isn't stupid, you know. He put two and two together and realized it all started that night I took you home. I nearly had my innards hexed into a bowtie because he thought I may have forced affections on you."

Hermione gaped and spun the twirly top of her stool around, forgetting her hesitations out of concern for the man that had been the bane of her existence for the past few months. "Remus would never think you would force yourself on someone?!" she whisper-shouted, though it came out as more of a question.

"Hermione, I'm not saying he thought I raped you," he replied with a roll of his eyes, and Hermione parted her lips, in a silent Oh. "But he thought I made you uncomfortable enough to not want to be around me for any reason whatsoever."

The brunette shifted awkwardly.

It was true, in a way, but she wasn't going to own up to it. It didn't help that he was looking even more handsome tonight than usual. She loved him in casual clothes, but it was a rare treat to see him dressed up so formally. His dress shirt, long trousers, and shoes were all onyx, except for his tie, which was silver, matching her dress perfectly. Her eyes shut and she had to fight a frown.

Why did he have to be so perfect?

Was he even this perfect, or had her mind just built him up that way?

When she looked up at him again, his steel-grey eyes were on her, and she was quite sure she could stare at them all day and never get bored. She could tell someone had tried to fix his hair, but he had purposely mussed it, and it suited him well.

Hermione felt an ache in her chest when she had finally taken in how handsome he looked. Too many emotions at once - and guilt was the one that surpassed them all. Guilt for kissing him, guilt for finding him so handsome, guilt for ignoring everyone and making him fight with Remus in his defence, and guilt for daring to have these weird... urges for Sirius while she was with Ron. There was something else that she was feeling too, but she didn't care to admit to herself that it hurt because he wasn't hers.

She was just a silly chit with a stupid crush.

Honestly, what was wrong with her? This was Sirius Black. Playboy. Heartbreaker. Lady Killer. How many times had Remus told her stories about him and his new-girl-every-day ways? It was just a stupid kiss, and a silly compliment. He had probably written it off as soon as he got back on his motorbike as a failed attempt to get laid. Sirius probably told anyone with a vagina that they were beautiful. Why couldn't she just pretend it never happened?

She had to forget her desires, and in order to do that, she would have to push him away.

"I apologize for putting you in an uncomfortable situation. I'll talk to Remus in a few minutes and set everything straight," she assured, turning the stool back to face the bar. Her tone hadn't been cold, but it had been monotonic.

His hands were still on the bar, blocking her in, but she stared ahead at the bartender to forget him. He would have none of that, however, and her breath hitched when he pressed up against her back. On of his hands moved to her lower abdomen, caressing the silky silver material, making it brush up against the soft skin on her stomach. She barely controlled her shiver, and even though it seemed like such an innocent touch to anyone who might glance over, Hermione felt a distinct heat nestle between the juncture of her thighs.

Merlin, she was pathetic. One platonic touch from Sirius made her ready to rut right there on the bar in front of the entire party, yet if her boyfriend did that, the complete opposite effect would occur.

"I like this dress," he informed her. Hermione had to refrain from turning around to glare at him. Why did he say it like she had worn it for him?

Even if she had...

She didn't reply, and the handsome bartender finally made his way over. He walked with a swagger as confident as Sirius', and his face lit up with a smile when he landed his mismatched eyes on Hermione. "'Ermione, da?" he asked in a thick Romanian accent, and she raised her brows. So she had met him before. He seemed to notice she had trouble placing him, so he reintroduced himself. "Dragos Manole. Ve met years ago at Bran Castle. I asked you for dinner."

Again, Hermione stared, perplexed. There had been quite a few wizards who asked her for dinner in Romania, especially the ones who recognized her as part of the Golden Trio. She was trying to place Dragos' face. It was still familiar, but why didn't she remember his eyes? Dragos must have noticed where her attention was, and smiled. "I vas vearing dark glasses at the time, Uncle Al... eh... how do you say... he made us say hello to each other...?"

Recognition crossed over her face and she nodded. No wonder the girls were swooning, he had vampire blood in his line. "Oh, I remember now! Alucard introduced us, you mean? You're his nephew, right?"

"Da," he agreed with a pleasant grin. "I own zis place, as vell as a few ozzers."

Hermione had to keep her mouth from unhinging. She had heard all about his inherited businesses. He owned some of the most popular wizarding establishments in Europe.

"You should haff told me you knew 'Ermione, Mister Black. I vill give you a discount." Hermione wanted to object, not wishing to take advantage of his kindness, but since it was saving someone else a whole lot of Galleons, she didn't say a word.

"I wasn't aware you two knew each other," she heard Sirius say, and shook her head slightly when she thought she heard a hint of possessiveness in his voice. She was really starting to let her mind run away with her - turning him into some kind of Prince Charming.

"That's very kind of you, Dragos," said Hermione politely, smiling at him with gratitude.

"Anything for you, 'Ermione. Uncle vill be pleased vhen I tell him I haff seen you." Alucard had taken quite a liking to Hermione, especially because of her campaign against the Werewolf/Vampire restrictions. "Vhat drinks may I get for you?"

She turned her head and looked up at Sirius to see if he wanted anything, but he shook his head.

"Three tall flaming firewhiskys, a poisoned apple, and a cherry curse, please."

Dragos nodded and went to work on them. Hermione couldn't help but grin as he showed off, flipping the bottled around the Muggle way as he poured and mixed the drinks.

"Alucard? As in
the Alucard?" she heard Sirius inquire, and his head was dipped again so his lips were by her ear. Hermione smirked and nodded.

"How in a flaming hippogriff's Hell did you meet Alucard?" he asked, but she heard the amusement in his voice.

"He was friends with Dumbledore. When Albus sent me on that apprenticeship, I met a few of his former acquaintances..." She shrugged, trying to sound bored with the conversation. Why wouldn't he just leave her alone?

Dragos was finishing up the drinks, setting fire to the big glasses of firewhisky, placing an apple slice on the side of the big martini glass, and dropping a few maraschino cherries into Hermione's. Normally, it only came with one, but he seemed to recall that she liked them.

"There you go, pretty," said Dragos, placing the cherry curse in front of her. She was flattered he remembered which drink she had liked. "Who do these go to?" he asked, motioning over to the rest of the drinks.

"Um..." Hermione glanced around at the crowd, and spotted the others. She pointed to them. "Those four over there, blue and copper robes.." Dragos nodded and sent the drinks gracefully over the crowd with his wand, and they lowered themselves slowly in front of their designated drinkers. Hermione didn't really think Ron should be having such a big glass at once, since he didn't know how to take his time with it, but she stayed where she was. The four of them glanced around to see where Hermione was, but she and Sirius were hidden from the crowd with the angle of the bar. She felt Sirius shift and sit down on the stool beside hers.

Hermione plucked a cherry from her drink and put it in her mouth, twirling it between her lips by the stem. The cold cherry felt good against her warm tongue, and the juice was so sweet it made her let out a tiny, barely audible moan of satisfaction. She plucked it off of its stem by her teeth and savoured it as she chewed, but her gaze turned curious when she saw both men watching her intently.

"What?" she asked, confusedly, but they didn't answer her.

Dragos cleared his throat and started wiping down a glass, but he addressed Sirius. "You are a very lucky man, Mister Black," he said with a hint of envy, and Hermione just wrote off the whole conversation as 'man-talk', something she would never understand.

"Only for the moment, Dragos," replied Sirius, and Hermione let out a yelp of protest when he picked a cherry from her drink and plucked it off the stem with his lips. She really shouldn't have watched his mouth so intently as he chewed it and licked the red juice from his lips. Why the bloody hell was it so erotic? Was that why they were staring at her when she ate one earlier? Sirius noticed where her attention was and smirked, but she looked away, trying her best to seem uninterested.

Hermione sipped the sweet red liquid, tasting cherries and the warmth of alcohol. Muggle drinks really couldn't compare to wizarding drinks. She tried to ignore the fact that Sirius was watching her unabashedly, but after a few minutes, she looked over at him. "What?"

"Nothing," he said with an easy shrug, and it surprised her how infuriating he could be with just a simple gesture. "You just look more stunning than usual tonight."

She shook her head. Sirius Black was trouble, plain and simple.

"We match, you know," he added, lifting his silver silk tie, which only drew her attention to the firm chest that was encased in a black, Egyptian cotton dress shirt that probably cost more than her whole ensemble did.

"Yes, I did pick up on that. A coincidence, I assure you," she replied, sipping on her drink to distract herself from her straying thoughts.

"Don't think so," he argued, and picked another cherry from her drink. She scowled half-heartedly but snatched the last one. He continued to talk while he chewed the cherry, but she found she wasn't repulsed by him chewing with his mouth open like she was by Ron. Maybe it was because he chewed it discreetly instead of holding the food at the forefront of his mouth and spitting it everywhere like the redheaded man did. "Remus and Nymphie dropped by this evening to help us at Grimmauld get ready, because we cretins can't dress ourselves." His voice dripped with sarcasm, and she hid her smile behind her glass. "Nymph insisted I wear a silver tie, and when I told her I didn't have one, she just happened to be carrying a spare in her purse."

Hermione nearly spit out her drink, but she managed to choke it down before she laughed with widened eyes. Nymphadora had gone shopping with her and Ginny, so she knew Hermione's dress was silver. And if she had been at Grimmauld before the party, why didn't she tell Ron that his robes were going to clash with Hermione's dress? Did Dora know she liked Sirius? Had Tonks actually figured out the real reason why Hermione avoided the Burrow dinners and get-togethers?

She looked over at the woman in question, who was looking dazzling in her tiny violet dress, complimented nicely by her hair, which was black and a matching shade of purple tonight. Everyone always underestimated how bright Tonks was, and Hermione frowned a little when she realized she had, too.

"We're going to have to talk about it sooner or later, Hermione," said Sirius, breaking the brunette from her trance. "You can't keep avoiding everyone because of me."

"No, Sirius, that's not it. I just..." don't love Ron anymore. "I can't..." figure out how to tell him. "I have..." an insane urge to jump your bones whenever you're around. "I can't..." ever have you, because Harry will never forgive me.

"Just say it, love," implored Sirius, and she noticed he was leaning over, watching her intently.

Her eyes flicked down to his lips, but she frowned and looked away. "I'm just messed up right now, Sirius," she said quietly, finishing her drink.

His brow scrunched with concern, and Hermione thought she saw a little disappointment cross his features, but it was gone as quick as it came.

Hermione froze when hands rested on her shoulder, and turned her stool to see Ron grinning down at her.

"Hey, love," he said. "We were looking for you everywhere."

Hermione gave him a tight-lipped smile. "I was just talking with Sirius. Hadn't seen him a while."

Ron nodded bent down to kiss her forehead. "That's because you've been hiding from everyone," he reminded in a quiet voice. It wasn't snarky or condescending, but Hermione couldn't help the spark of anger that flared. Subconsciously, she knew that she was only looking for reasons to be mad at him, but it was inevitable.

"I've not been hiding from everyone, Ronald. I've just been busy. I don't appreciate you trivializing my life because I miss a few Burrow dinners, and I especially don't appreciate your mother snubbing me for the same reason. I write and keep her updated, it's not like I'm completely ignoring her. And who do you think you are coming over here and talking to me like I'm a child?"

Ron's eyes widened with every new word, and were now bulging comically. "Hermione," he began, in a slow, forcefully calm voice. "What the hell is the matter with you lately?"

Hermione's cheeks flushed with anger and she gritted her teeth, looking away. "Don't even start, Ronald."

"No, no," he argued, but he kept his voice down out of respect for the party guests. "I really would like to know. For months you cut everyone off, and you barely even kiss me anymore. Did I do something wrong? Or is it something to do with Unspeakable work?"

Hermione raised her brown eyes to glare at him, and both seemed to have forgotten that Sirius was right there, watching the whole scene transpire. "No, it's nothing to do with Unspeakable work. I'm not even an Unspeakable anymore - haven't been one for nearly four months. I work in the Magical Creatures department now. I can't believe you. You pretend there's nothing wrong for months, but you finally decide to address the issue at Harry's fucking birthday party." It was rare that she cussed, but when she did, Ron knew she meant business.

He looked like she had just smacked him. "You're not an Unspeakable anymore? Why the bloody hell didn't you tell me?"

"Because you and Harry were so proud of me being an Unspeakable that I didn't want to let you two down," she bit out, and her anger dissipated at her admittance and her shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry."

"Is that what's been bothering you, love?" asked Ron, taking the seat on the other side of Hermione. "You know Harry and I don't care what you do, we love you no matter what you choose."

She had an urge to scream at the top of her lungs. Why did he have to go and be sweet? This would have been much easier if he had just been an insensitive git like when he was when they were younger. When had Ronald Weasley grown up?

"That's not entirely it," she said, looking up into his eyes guiltily. Sirius was still watching, but she couldn't see his face. "I just... do you love me?"

Ron looked at her with an incredulous expression. "Of course I love you, Hermione, you know that."

"No, no," she said with a shake of her head, and reached up to brush the red hair out of his eyes. "I know you love me, but are you in love with me?"

"Are you saying you don't love me anymore?" he asked, and Hermione sighed deeply.

"Please don't jump to conclusions, Ron. Don't steer off in another direction. Are you in love with me? And I want you to actually think about what being in love is. I know you love me, and that you would do anything for me and take an Avada for me, as I would for you. But when you look at me, do you get butterflies in your stomach? When I touch you in a non-sexual way, do you get excited anyway? When I'm not around, do you miss me so bad it almost physically hurts?"

Ron was staring at her very, very intently as she spoke. When she stopped and waited for him to answer, there was a long pause. Ron's handsome face looked deep in thought as he considered her questions.

She wasn't sure what he was going to do. Was he going to hate her? Make a scene and disown her in front of the party? Was Harry going to kick her out of the party and tell her to never come back?

"Merlin, Hermione," he said, finally, giving her a curious stare. "Was it ever even like that with us?"

Hermione's lips twitched, and she didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry. "No... I don't think so, Ronald."

"Why didn't you say anything sooner?" he asked, but there was no anger or hurt in his voice, just genuine inquiry.

"Because I was afraid you would hate me and leave. I do love you, Ronald, even if I'm not in love with you, and I couldn't live without you in my life." The knot in her chest seemed to have untied itself. "Why didn't you say anything to me over the past few months?" she asked.

Ron grinned sheepishly. "Same reason," he admitted, and he and Hermione laughed, giddy with relief from the weight that had been pulled from their shoulders. He leaned in and gave her a chaste kiss, which she returned. Her hands cradled his face as she smiled up at him.

"You don't have the emotional range of a teaspoon anymore," she admitted.

Ron beamed. "Well, I Transfigured it into a tablespoon when you weren't looking."

"You guys made up?" an excited voice asked, and she and Ron turned to see Harry with happy, wide emerald eyes.

"No, we broke up," said Ron cheerfully, and Harry sputtered in horror.

"What?!" he yelped, and she and Ron grinned.

"It's okay, Harry. We're happy now! It just wasn't meant to be, and that's okay with us," assured Hermione, getting up from her seat to give Harry a hug.

"If you two are happy, then I'm happy," said Harry into Hermione's hair as he hugged her. Hermione felt an embrace from behind and knew it was Ron, especially when he lifted both her and Harry up a few inches off the ground, making them both laugh ardently. When Ron set them down, the Trio leaned in and locked their arms around each other's shoulders, resting their foreheads together like they used to when they were younger. Before every test, every fight, every battle with Death Eaters, every Horcrux... How many times had they formed this triangle? Hermione had lost count.

"I was scared you guys were going to drift so far apart we would never be the same," Harry whispered quietly, and Hermione couldn't stop the tears from rising in her eyes.

"Don't be daft, mate," said Ron, snorting with amusement. "We'll always be a trio. No one will ever understand what we have."

And that was the final straw that broke the dam. All of the emotions over the past few months came pouring out, and Hermione began crying happy tears in earnest, touched by the love the three of them shared.

"Oh Merlin," said Ron, good-naturedly. "It's really not a sappy moment unless it's complete with Hermione wailing in the background." Harry laughed and nodded an affirmative.

"You p-prats!" hiccupped Hermione, though there was no malice behind it, and she actually laughed with them. Somehow she ended up between both Ron and Harry, taking turns to cry unintelligible words of love into their chests.

When she was finally through with her cry-fest, and had dried the wet spots on their clothes with a swipe of her wand, she thanked Merlin for the Staying Charm she had placed on her makeup, otherwise she would have looked like a drowned rat.

"I gotta get back to Ginny," said Harry, kissing Hermione on the cheek and clapping Ron on the shoulder.

Hermione grinned as he walked away, and noticed Ron picking up the new Firewhisky he had ordered. "I'm gonna go sit with Fred and George," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "Wanna come?"

She shook her head and kissed his cheek. "No, I'm going to get another drink and hang out over here."

Ron gave her a wary look, but she halted his thought process before he could finish it. "I'll be over there in a bit, I promise," she assured. The redhead grinned and headed over to his brothers.

Dragos already had another cherry curse for her, and Hermione realized Sirius was still sitting at the bar. He was holding some kind of smoking drink she didn't recognize and watching her with raised brows. She suddenly regretted not going to go sit with Ron. Her issues with her ex-boyfriend had been cleared, but her Sirius issue had not.

And it never would be. She would ignore her feelings for him.

But they could be friends, right...?

Hermione smoothed her silver dress as she sat down beside him, and offered him one of her cherries, which he accepted with a grin.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," said Hermione, sheepishly, sipping her sweet drink.

"What for?" he asked, shaking his head. "That was friendship at its finest. I'm happy I saw it. It reminds me of James and me." He added that last part quietly, and Hermione's heart broke for him. What would she have done if she had lost Harry and Ron in the war? She certainly wouldn't have wanted to live after that.

In that moment, a hint of an emotion Hermione didn't quite recognize flickered alive, and she had a secret desire to scoot her stool closer to his to hug him. Her admiration for him grew, knowing that he had endured so much. Being torn from his best friends, losing one indefinitely, another for twelve years, and being betrayed by the last. Twelve years of Azkaban and Dementors sucking out every happy thought he had. Practically living as a dog for another year, eating rats and Merlin knew what else, only to be kept a prisoner in his hated childhood home for another year, until his fall through the Veil. At least he hadn't lost any years from his age while he was gone, so he still had quite a long life to live. He was almost as strong as Harry, and it made her want to say something to him, let him know how she felt.

But she wouldn't.

"About what happened..." said Hermione, effectively making Sirius' head snap over towards her. "Let's just forget it happened," she suggested, but didn't mean a word of it.

Sirius was silent for a long time, and Hermione finally gathered her Gryffindor courage to look at him.

There was no emotion on his face, but his eyes kept flickering over her face. Finally, he focused his icy irises at some point over her shoulder. "Okay," he said, simply, and Hermione nodded and turned to her drink.

It hurt.

Yes, she had suggested it, but he didn't even protest. It just proved her point. It really had meant nothing to him, and she was a foolish, foolish girl.

Hermione had eventually relaxed around him after a few more drinks, and had even gone around the giant room to mingle. Word had spread quickly about her and Ron's break-up, and the whole room was aware of the split. However, judging by how the Trio had been laughing with each other every chance they got, everyone knew it was going to be alright. Molly looked a bit put out, but invited Hermione to the Burrow anyway the following weekend, which Hermione accepted. She spent the rest of the night getting sloshed and hitting the dance floor. She danced with almost every man the room, including Dragos, as well as some of the women. Ginny, Tonks, and Hermione had put on a drunken show of dirty dancing together to a Muggle song called - ironically enough - Dirrty. It had been quite a hit among the male guests, and when the Muggle video cameras that had been charmed to float around the room to record the party were compiled into videos for Harry and a few guests, the trio of girls had watched in fascinated horror at their drunken dance with one another. It was basically just them rubbing against one another and randomly slurring a joke to the crowd that they were going to kiss. There had literally been a gang of guys surrounding them to watch, but the girls had been too inebriated to realize at the time - even drinking while they danced, each holding a fruity drink in one of their hands. They shook their hips seductively and it was enough to make the girls want to crawl under the sofa -- not to mention certain attributes were more pronounced because of the cold temperature in the room, so their slinky dresses certainly made imaginations run wild. The boys got a kick out of watching the girls blush as they watched themselves, and Dora mumbled something that Hermione couldn't quite catch, but it sounded quite close to No wonder Remus had practically pounced on me when we got home.

Things certainly changed after the party. Harry and Ginny got engaged a little over a week later, when Harry proposed to her on her birthday. Hermione stopped distancing herself from everyone and went to family dinners at the Burrow every other weekend. She was at Grimmauld Place at least four times a week, usually cooking dinner for the boys, including Sirius. Sometimes when Harry and Ron weren't home, Hermione and Sirius would go over to Remus and Dora's place together. The pair of them had spent a lot more time together, and Hermione firmly kept her feelings for him secret. It was a shame to stop herself from getting to know him just because of a stupid crush, so she ignored what she wanted and kept her gestures neutral and platonic. They got on quite well, whenever they weren't arguing about a difference of opinion -- and even when that occurred, it wasn't really arguing. It was more like a heated debate between two stubborn and intellectual people, and usually ended in laughter or a truce.

Ron eventually started dating Susan Bones, effectively squashing Molly's hope that he and Hermione would be getting back together. The Weasley matriarch had tried to sit Hermione and Charlie together, but the subtle nudging was laughed at by the pair. Sirius had even leaned in to ask them both quietly when Molly would ever figure out that Charlie was even more gay than Albus Dumbledore's fuzzy pink Pigmy Puff slippers. It had earned him a buttered roll to the head by the Weasley man in question, but even he had to laugh.

Sirius started showing up at the Ministry on weekdays during Hermione's lunch break, since he was bored out of his mind at Grimmauld during the day. They went to cheap Muggle establishments for take away and ate it in the dingy restaurants while they talked. Hermione would have been lying to herself if she said she didn't get a flutter of excitement every time she would see him waiting for her in the Atrium, leaning against the wall like he owned the place. If Harry or Ron weren't at Grimmauld in the evenings and he didn't feel like bothering Remus, Sirius would drive his motorbike over to Hermione's and give her puppy-dog eyes so she would make him dinner with the groceries he picked up on the way over.

She learned a lot about him she hadn't known before. He hated tea, onions, and peppers. He wasn't fully awake until he had his coffee, which he drank with three sugars and a splash of milk. His mother had made him and his brother take ballroom dancing classes from a very early age. Travis and Jonathan were the names of his best friends until Sirius was nine, and they were the Muggle boys who lived near Grimmauld Place. The boys had made him realize that they weren't so different after all, and that's when his resentment for his family first started. After the brothers moved away, he was stuck counting down the time until he could leave for Hogwarts. Regulus and Sirius had been close until their Hogwarts Houses separated them, and Sirius was proud of his brother for changing his tune in the end. He admitted that, secretly, he wished he would have had a chance to talk to him one more time.

Severus Snape was still a sore subject, but he did genuinely feel remorse for treating him the way he had. Sirius had been especially surprised when Harry told him why Snape had changed sides, and he grudgingly admitted that he had a teeny-tiny ounce of respect for the 'greasy git' because of it. Hermione had a feeling it was a bit more than a teeny-tiny bit, but he would never say that out loud. He could play the piano and the guitar, but hadn't touched an instrument in almost two decades. He had loved the Beatles growing up once Lily had introduced the Gryffindor common room to them, and his new favourite Muggle band was The Libertines. He liked Muggle movies as long as they weren't too sappy, and he surprised her by being a cuddler. He loved dogs and Wulfric was his favourite besides himself, and he really surprised her when he told her he wanted a bunch of kids one day. A whole Quidditch team's worth, he had joked, so they could enter the World Cup and dominate it.

He was on the Gryffindor Quidditch team when he was in school, but he only joined because James begged him to. He played Beater and basically watched James' back so he could thwart off any Bludgers aimed at the star Chaser, since the Harry look-a-like was always their main target. He couldn't cook to save his life, but he could eat enough to feed three people, yet he always stayed trim. When he was thoughtful, he had a habit of rubbing his hand over his five o'clock shadow. When he was angry, he looked downright fierce, and she could see why so many people had been intimidated by him. But when he smiled and laughed, he had a youthful look on his face, enough to remind people of everything he had lost, but hadn't let destroy him. He had a biting sense of humour, he was clever, and he could match Hermione wit for wit. He liked making other people laugh, and when Hermione did find him amusing, his brows would raise just a bit and his mouth would curve into the tiniest of smiles while he watched her peal with laughter. Sirius Black had a softer side, but not very many people saw it.

Hermione was glad that he showed it to her, even though she sometimes felt her mind drifting off whenever she stared at his lips, or his toned forearms, or the way his pants always fit his bum so nicely...

Her desire for him gradually built the more time she spent with him, but she always kept those feelings at bay when he was around. At night, though, Hermione would have the most exquisite trysts with him - all in her head of course, while the Wickedwitch vibrator Ginny had bought her as a gag gift did its job.

Never once did she touch him inappropriately or even try to kiss him again.

Until that October.

"Trick or Treat!" called Hermione as she entered Grimmauld Place. On the street outside, little kids in Muggle costumes were holding bags full of candy, while the older ones sprayed each other with silly string. None of those people could see the Unplottable house, however, so Hermione had to Apparate strategically on the front step so she wouldn't be seen vanishing into thin air.

The door thudded closed behind her, and she was a little surprised that there was no reply. Usually, everyone was gathered in the kitchen or the lounge, but when she passed the sitting room, no one was in it. In her hand was a plate of Halloween biscuits that she had baked from scratch, and she made her way into the kitchen to leave them on the counter. She was in the middle of penning a note to tell them that she had dropped by while everyone was out, when she heard a crashing noise upstairs that nearly made her leap out of her own skin.

Hermione drew her wand and went straight into war-mode - light on her feet as she walked up the stairs, avoiding any steps that she knew would creak. She heard scuffling coming from the third floor, and held her wand at the ready when she reached the landing.

"Homenum revelio," she murmured, and a smoky mist appeared before her in the shape of a man. Her brow furrowed. If there was only one man, what was he doing that would cause a crash?

A creaking noise from Sirius' room made her head whip towards that door instead of Regulus', and she frowned, but kept her wand up.

"Sirius?" she called, curiously.

"Hermione?" his voice called back, but didn't wait for an answer. "You can come in if you want."

She opened the door, and the first thing she noticed was that he had redecorated since he had been back. The room was no longer bright red and yellowish gold, and there weren't any posters of Muggle biker girls all over the walls anymore. The walls were a deep crimson that nearly looked black in the dim light of his room, and his silk bed sheets were red but the expensive quilt atop it was black. Sirius was laying flat on his back on his bed, with his hands folded behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling. Hermione noticed then that the ceiling was black and glittering with stars that looked real, Charmed to illuminate the room slightly. She had a feeling they probably grew brighter on his command since there were no candles or torches to light in his room, but tonight it seemed he preferred the dark. The light from the stars highlighted his porcelain skin, and Hermione bit her lip when she realized he was shirtless, wearing nothing but pyjama pants. She could see a few tattoos on his skin, but she couldn't make them out.

Hermione stepped forward, and something crunched beneath her boot. With a nonverbal Lumos, she realized it was the source of the crash she had heard earlier -- a dusty, framed picture of Sirius, James, and Peter. He must have thrown it, because the glass was cracked. She put out her magical light and waved her wand over the broken glass to Vanish it, then rested the picture face-down on his dresser. He still hadn't said anything, and she couldn't tell if he was watching her or not in the faint glow from the ceiling. She had a feeling he was, because she felt that familiar prickle at the back of her neck.

He had lost James and Lily two decades ago on this night, because he had told them to choose Peter... Hermione couldn't imagine life without Harry and Ron, and just the thought of it brought a sick feeling to her stomach.

There were no words she could think of to say that would comfort him. Everything she came up with sounded lame or could be taken the wrong way and inferred as condescending.

So, instead, she laid her wand down on the dresser, kicked off her shoes, and climbed in the bed next to him.

She felt him tense with surprise, but he relaxed a moment later and shifted, snaking an arm around her waist to draw her near him. Her head rested on his bare chest, and her leg curled around his. They didn't speak, since words weren't really necessary.

They laid like that for a long time. Hermione's head rose and fell in time with his breathing while she listened to his steady heartbeat, and her fingertips traced the tattoos on his chest and abdomen. The companionable silence remained.

A little over an hour later, she recalled the biscuits she had brought over. She wondered if he had eaten anything that day, knowing that he tended to skip meals when he was depressed, so she finally lifted her head to ask.

"Are you hungry, Sirius?" she whispered, not entirely sure why she did since there was no reason to. But his eyes were closed, and he didn't answer. "Sirius...?" she asked, even more quietly this time, and her plump lips suppressed a smile when she realized he was sleeping. His handsome features were relaxed, and his hair was messy from staying in bed all day. Her brown eyes roamed down his toned chest, and she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth when they fell on the trail of hair that swirled around his belly button and travelled down, only to disappear into his pyjama pants. She had felt it earlier when she was running her fingers over his chest, but hadn't dared to look at him so unabashedly. Her eyes darted back to his face to make sure he was really sleeping, and moved down to his lips.

It would be a complete violation of trust if she were to dare kiss them while he slumbered. The guilt would eat her up. She wasn't sure she could look him in the face again if she did it, especially since she didn't have the guts to do it while he was awake. Hermione had been so strong the past few months, resisting temptation so well, so why was it that she could barely suppress the urge while he slept? Was it because he would never know?

She shouldn't have leaned down to press her lips against his.

But she did.

And, a few moments later, a horrified blush crept up her neck when she felt the bastard

"You little sneak!" she cried, after she wrenched her face away from his.

Sirius barked a laugh, and despite the situation, she was glad he was able to smile on this particular night. "I'm the sneak?!" he asked, laughing. "I wasn't the one trying to violate a sleeping man."

Her cheeks grew even hotter than they were, and she thanked Merlin it was dark in the room.

"I wasn't trying to -- I just -- You were -- and I --" she stuttered incoherently, at a loss for words.

His arm was still wrapped around her from earlier, and when she tried to lift herself from his embrace, he tightened his hold, causing her to fall against him. She lifted her head to glare at him, but her breath caught in her throat when she saw the way he was looking at her. She had seen that expression on him quite a few times before, but only once had it been that intense, and it had ended with her back pressed against the sofa and Sirius performing his closest impression of what it felt like to have a dementor suck out your very soul with a kiss.

"Do it again," he demanded quietly, and her heart beat faster.

Her eyes searched his for any sign that this was a cruel joke, but she saw nothing but uncharacteristic vulnerability staring back at her.

So she did.

And kissing led to touching, and touching led to undressing, and as the night wore on, he finally buried himself between her thighs.

Three times.

Her fantasies about him had been rather dull compared to the real force that was Sirius Black.

The next morning, Hermione had waken with a voice hoarse from moaning the night before, and the most wonderful ache between her thighs that could only be caused by having been thoroughly shagged. It was a sensation she had never felt before, but even when she stood to pull her pants on and there was a twinge of pain when she moved the wrong way, she would have still done it again in a heartbeat.

She had been rather mortified when the front door had slammed and she heard Harry and Ginny coming up the stairs. Hermione really hated herself for the guilt that had weighed her down when she thought about her actions in the heat of the moment. What would Harry say if he knew? He would probably turn his back on her and never speak to her again. She was Harry's best friend, and she had slept with his godfather - the man he saw as a friend and father figure. Her cheeks had burned with shame, and it was that thought that made Hermione sneak out like a thief, leaving the sleeping Sirius none the wiser.

And again, just like when they had kissed the last time, she avoided him. Guilt was running rampant again. Guilt for sleeping with Harry's godfather, guilt for enjoying it, guilt for leaving Sirius afterwards, and guilt for avoiding him. But then again, he was Sirius Black. He didn't care, right? As long as he got a shag. He had said it himself. He was the kind of guy you spent a night with, not a lifetime with.

It wasn't until a week before Christmas that she had seen anyone besides Harry and Ron, and she had only done that because Nymphadora had cracked the wards of Hermione's flat, as only the protégé of Mad-Eye Moody could, and dragged her out to go Christmas shopping despite the fact that Hermione had a stomach flu she just couldn't seem to kick.

"So why have you been hiding?" asked Nymphadora as they walked down the streets of Wizarding Glasgow, where they had Apparated to on a whim. That was the best part about spending a day with Tonks. She lived in the moment and that attitude rubbed off on everyone around her.

Hermione frowned and tried her best to look confused, fiddling with the cloak fastening at the base of her throat. "What are you talking about?"

Dora raised a brow, looking stuck between amusement and bemusement. "You've been weird since you brought Sirius back from the Veil."

The curly-haired brunette almost visibly flinched. Were all the descendants of the House of Black always so blunt?

She thought about it for a moment - using any excuse to keep from replying. Sirius, Nymphadora, Draco Malfoy...

Yes, brutal honesty must be in the Black blood.

"Well, I'm glad you're not denying the obvious," said Dora after a few minutes, pushing her red and green hair out of her face with a mitten-clad hand. "Did something happen between the two of you?"

Hermione hadn't told anyone about the night she shared with Sirius - not even Ginny, because she feared the redhead would let it slip to Harry. Ginny wasn't a malicious being, but she had unfortunately gained Molly Weasley's penitent for gossip, so Hermione couldn't risk it. Tonks, however, could definitely keep a secret. She was an Auror, for Merlin's sake. There was a risk she would tell Remus, but Hermione knew for certain that Remus would never tell a secret of Hermione's, no matter the cost. There was a possibility that Sirius had already told him anyway.

But in the end, Hermione couldn't bring herself to say it.

"Nope," was Hermione's simple answer, and she immediately distracted herself by examining the items on the cart of a wizard street vendor.

"Fine, but if you want to talk, I'm always here," replied Tonks, obviously not believing the younger witch.

Hermione felt a tug on her sleeve, and she looked away from the glittering necklaces to gaze at Nymphadora curiously. The Metamorphmagus' demeanour had completely changed, and she was now rocking back and forth on the heels of her feet, looking like she was ready to burst with excitement.

"What is it?" asked Hermione, unable to keep the smile from her face.

"You have to swear you aren't going to tell anyone," she said, pulling Hermione away from the vendor and looping arms with her.

"I shan't tell a soul," vowed Hermione, and both women leaned their heads closer as they walked.

"I'm pregnant again," whispered Dora with an excited smile.

Hermione gaped uncharacteristically, but was soon giggling along with the woman beside her. "Congratulations!!" Remus was going to be bouncing off the walls when he found out. Especially since it had been discovered three years ago that only female werewolves carry the dominant lycanthrope gene in reproduction. "How far along are you?"

"Four weeks," she informed, with a new skip in her step that Hermione couldn't help but mirror. "I hope it's a girl. I mean, I don't care if it's a boy again, but I know Remus would love to have a daughter too."

The smile on Hermione's face hadn't dissipated for the rest of the day. She was excited for Remus, but Dora wasn't going to tell him until Christmas Eve, once Teddy went to bed. Hermione had left Dora with strict instructions to owl her Christmas day with all the details, since the younger witch was going to visit her Muggle parents on Christmas. It was a lie - her parents were going on a holiday, but Hermione used them as an excuse not to attend the dinner where Sirius would surely be. She would make Harry pick up the presents on Christmas Eve and distribute them on Christmas day for her.

And when Christmas Eve finally came, and the sun had set hours before, Hermione was buttoning her coat just in time for Harry's arrival for their annual ritual, trying to calm her sick stomach. Every Christmas Eve, Hermione and Harry went to the cemetery in Godric's Hollow to pay respect to Lily and James. It was a tradition that had started years before, during their Horcrux hunt. Ron had left them to fend for themselves, and neither of them would ever forget that night. It was something that only they shared, and a tradition very few knew about.

"Ready?" asked Harry as he stepped out of the Floo already bundled up, looking quite dashing in a Muggle knee-length peacoat and leather gloves. It looked like Sirius' sense of style was rubbing off on Harry, which was a good thing since the poor boy once thought that orange and green went nicely together against his pasty skin.

"Yup," agreed Hermione, taking his hand to lead him down the steps of the apartment. When they reached the street and stepped into the frigid air, Hermione clutched on to Harry and spun them on the spot, Apparating them to Godric's Hollow.

It was almost like deja-vu. They arrived in the same spot they had years earlier. The stars above were glimmering and Christmas decorations twinkled in the windows of the houses. Golden streetlights ahead of them indicated the centre of the village, and a few inches of snow coated every surface. The icy air stung their faces as they passed the cottages. They passed a windblown Christmas tree, shops, a post office, a pub, and a little church with glowing, jewel-bright stained-glass windows.

They passed the war memorial and paused, taking a moment to stare as it transformed into the statue of Harry's parents. It was amazing to see how much Harry resembled James - it almost looked as though the statue was carved after Harry. The scar-less baby Harry sat in Lily's arms, and Hermione felt a familiar pang of sadness for Harry for growing up without their love in the flesh. The pair started moving again at Harry's discreet nudge, and Harry got that same look again as he stared up at the church. The look was filled with longing and an emotion she couldn't quite place, so, as she had done every year since their first time here, she took his hand and led the way behind the church, into the old cemetery.

Their feet carried them on the familiar path, and when they reached the white marble headstone, Hermione's eyes teared. She hadn't known them personally, but they were more special to her than anyone could have ever known. James and Lily created Harry, her brother by all but blood, and James had been the very same thing to Sirius.

With a flourish of her wand, moved in a circle through the air, Hermione created a wreath of Christmas roses as she had every year since their first time here.

Harry caught it and rested it on the grave.

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." He read the saying on the tomb aloud, and wrapped an arm around Hermione. Bursts of white escaped their mouths from the cold, and she snuggled closer. "That first night we came here, when you said it meant living beyond death, I thought: 'But they're gone. They're not living anymore.'" Hermione's heart broke from not only his words, but the way the tears fell freely down his face as they did every Christmas Eve - the only time he cried for them. She was the only one who he allowed to see this vulnerability in him, and she was grateful for it.

After a few minutes, he composed himself and continued. "But you were right. They destroyed death. Sirius reckons my dad's still causing mischief and my mum's still trying to keep him in line." He smiled, and although his cheeks still had tear-tracks, his breathing had regulated, and she knew she wouldn't see tears for them again until next year.

Hermione grinned and wrapped her arms around Harry's neck, and the pair stood before the tomb hugging, comforting each other as only true best friends could. "Sirius is right," she said, ignoring the twinge of shame she felt saying his name while she was hugging Harry, when unbeknownst to the boy who lived, she quite literally had had his godfather inside of her. "I'm sure your father is up there right now with some master plan of mischief that only a true Marauder could pull off."

"Well, whatever the plan is, I hope it's going to distract Sirius. He was acting a little weird these past couple of weeks," informed Harry, gazing at the tomb.

Her heart skipped a beat, but she scolded herself for her hopefulness. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with her. He could get any girl he wanted. He was probably just regretting shagging her.

That thought hurt her more than she cared to admit, and in her onslaught of confusing emotions, she informed Harry: "I'm sure he'll get over it."

Harry furrowed his brows and looked down at the shorter woman. "That was a little mean. Is it your time of the month?"

Hermione's jaw dropped, and she smacked him on the chest. He laughed, muttering that she must be if she was resorting to violence.


She glared at him, and was just about to tell him she wasn't due for it until...

But then her eyes widened, and she froze, and Harry was oblivious to her change in demeanour.

When had been her last period?

She silently calculated, and her stomach plummeted to the ground.

The first week of October. Over two months ago.

Was she... could she be pregnant? That would definitely explain the stomach flu that came and went yet was never quite eradicated.

Hermione tilted her head back and glared up at the sky.

Somehow, she knew that somewhere up there, James Potter was smirking down at her.

By the time she and Harry had arrived back at her place, Hermione was all too eager to hand him the presents for everyone and send him off on his holly-jolly way. He ended up staying for a cocoa, however, and Hermione had to control the panic attack she was having so she wouldn't alarm him. When he was finally gone, she performed a pregnancy diagnostic spell when she worked up enough nerve, and made a strangled noise when blue sparks shot from the tip. She knew that blue meant positive and red meant negative, but that didn't stop her from looking up the spell in every book that bore information on it just to be sure. She did the spell three more times, and when it came out positive on every try, she had run downstairs and Apparated to a Muggle chemist for every pregnancy test they had and a big bottle of juice.

Two hours later, Hermione had huddled in her bathroom, with positive Muggle pregnancy tests scattered sporadically around her, crying silently to herself.

She was pregnant.

She was pregnant with Sirius Black's baby.

Would he deny it? Would he want her to get rid of it?

She had immediately clutched her stomach protectively, even though she knew Sirius would never ask that of her. Regardless of whether or not he chose to acknowledge it as his own, this was her child. Her baby. She was going to be a mother. Hermione had never envisioned herself as a mother this early on in her life, but now that she knew a little life was growing inside of her, she wouldn't have it any other way.

Hermione (shamefully) debated with herself, wondering if she should even tell him. They were all going to notice she was pregnant sooner or later, and he wasn't stupid - he would be able to calculate. Or, maybe she should just pack up and leave and raise her baby alone.

But just the thought of leaving everyone behind ripped her heart to shreds. She honestly didn't know how Ron had been able to leave her and Harry all those years ago during the hunt.

No, Hermione would be an adult and talk to Sirius about it. She had been running from him for too long. Where was her Gryffindor bravery? It seemed to flee from her whenever Sirius Black was involved. However, she would do this right. It was his choice whether he wished to be a part of the baby's life, but she didn't need anything from him, and she wouldn't hold it against him if he wanted nothing to do with it. Neither of them had planned this, after all.

Hermione had decided she would go see Sirius after the holidays, once she had worked up enough nerve to look him in the eyes.

But Harry foiled that plan when he Flooed in a few hours later like a bat out of hell. Thankfully, she had disposed of the pregnancy tests and dried her tears by then. Apparently he had owled her parents to wish them a happy Christmas and to tell them he was glad they finally decided to invite Hermione home for the holidays, and her parents had informed him they had no idea what he was talking about, since they were going on a holiday. After half an hour of Harry telling her in no uncertain terms that she would either show up for Christmas at Grimmauld or he would come over with Ron and drag her, she relented and told him she would be there the next day for Christmas dinner.

And now, here she was, staring out of window of her flat at the passers-by of High Street. A part of her was still scared about Harry's reaction, but she knew once he heard he would be getting a godson or goddaughter, he could never hold a grudge.

Dinner was in forty minutes, so Hermione stood from her seat at the window and padded over to her bedroom. The deep brown, almost black, thin dress she wore clung to her curves and contours. It fell to about mid-thigh, was long sleeved, and had a low cut neckline. It was more risqué than she would normally wear, but since her figure was going to change drastically soon, she figured she might as well be daring while she could.

After she slipped on her stilettos, Hermione stood in front of her floor-length mirror and stared at her reflection, instinctively caressing her tummy. She wasn't showing yet, but from what she knew about pregnancy, it wouldn't be long until her stomach started to show the signs. Her breasts were already more sensitive and definitely a bit larger than normal, judging by the way they looked more firm pressed together. The top of the dress felt tighter than she remembered, and she scolded herself for not noticing the signs of pregnancy before.

She left her wavy chestnut hair down, because she recalled Sirius saying he liked it best when it was loose, although she tried to convince herself that she just felt like wearing it that way. Smoky shadow lined her eyes and, when she was finally done, she fought down the butterflies that were beating each other up in her chest.

Harry had taken the presents ahead to Grimmauld last night, so Hermione pulled on her cloak and grabbed her wand. Wulfric was barking when she walked through the flat, and Hermione frowned. She usually took him with her on holidays because she felt terrible for leaving the little guy behind. She had done the same with Crookshanks all those years ago, but she didn't know if Sirius would like having a semi-annoying little Scottish Terrier running around his home.

However, in the end, she picked Wulfric up and put him under her cloak, so when she left the flat and stepped out into the snowy night, he didn't have a chance to catch a draft.

Hermione turned on the spot and Apparated to an alleyway a block away from Grimmauld. It was bloody freezing, and Wulfric was snuggling against her. By the time she reached the Unplottable house, her teeth were chattering and her hood and shoulders were covered in snow.

She knocked, and a few moments later, the door swung open. Remus greeted her with a warm smile and hurried her inside so she could get out of the cold.

Wulfric felt the change in temperature and yipped happily when Hermione pulled her cloak aside and put him on the floor, and the overly-happy dog immediately took off at a run to sitting room, where all the laughter and talking was coming from. As soon as his little tail disappeared into the room, the noise escalated as everyone shouted the dogs name in greeting. Hermione grinned and hung up her cloak, and Remus surprised her with a hug.

"I feel like I haven't seen you in ages," he said when they parted, and Hermione smiled guiltily. "You look gorgeous."

"Thank you, Remus," she replied, placing a kiss on his cheek. "And you're the sexiest daddy-to-be I've laid eyes on today," she replied in a flirtatious tone, all in good fun, and Remus grinned with pride.

But when they stepped into the sitting room, Hermione's eyes immediately found Sirius, who was reclining on one of the various armchairs, with Wulfric resting on his leg while he grinned and pet him. He was wearing a soft, light grey jumper that made his eyes look silver, and his shaggy black hair fell with a casual elegance over them. He was beautiful, and Hermione felt a rush of heat spread through her. She mentally took her previous statement back and corrected it - Sirius was definitely the sexiest daddy-to-be she laid eyes on today. She vaguely wondered if it was the hormones that made her feel randy out of nowhere, or if it was just her natural reaction to being in close proximity to him.

The room erupted with greetings when Hermione stepped in and Sirius looked up, catching her eyes. Everyone was getting up to greet her, but Hermione stared at no one but him, and secretly delighted in the way his eyes moved down her body, unabashedly appreciating it.

There was various Weasley men around her, some hugging her, some twirling her around so they could get a good look at her, some kissing her cheeks or forehead, and some (named Fred and George) catcalling her. She accepted the attention with a humble blush, and grinned when Harry and Ron came into the room and physically lifted her up a few inches off the ground when she hugged them. Mrs. Weasley fussed over Hermione for a bit, taking the time to pinch the younger girl's collarbone and to tell her she wasn't eating enough before she pranced from the room to check on dinner. Teddy hugged her leg and after she gave him a kiss and a cuddle, the girls finally got a chance to say hello. A very pregnant Fleur was the first, and she pressed her plump cheeks against Hermione's to kiss her hello. Then there was Ginny, who had a rock on her finger almost the size of Hermione's eye. Luna was next, who was dating Ron, much to Hermione's delight. A few old schoolmates were there too, such as Angelina and Katie, who were dating Fred and George, and Penelope Clearwater, who was there with Percy. Dora came over to her and hugged her, and Hermione was secretly pleased that Fleur and Tonks were going to be pregnant with her. At least she wouldn't be alone through it all.

And, finally, her journey around the room led her to the armchair where Sirius was sitting. Wulfric was being chased around the room by Teddy, and although it was rather noisy in the room, it felt like it got quieter in his presence. He hadn't gotten up to greet her, and although it hurt, she couldn't blame him. Everyone in the room was distracted with the other, sharing jokes and stories, but Hermione and Sirius were off in their own separate corner, where she was standing in front of his armchair, looking at his chest because she found she couldn't meet his eyes at this close of a distance.

His chest rose and fell softly, and she fought not to look down at his thighs or think about what lay between, though she failed miserably. Memories of Halloween came back to her. Him above her, behind her, below her... A soft flush crept up her chest and neck, and she chewed her lip when he still remained silent.

Her heart was aching. Yes, she had left him that night, but she got scared. And her bloody Gryffindor pride refused to let her go back to him and say she was frightened off by Harry, so she avoided him all together. She was, in all likelihood, nothing more to him than a shag, but he was no doubt fucked off because she avoided him afterwards.

But, secretly, it hurt to be nothing more to him than a one-night mistake when she knew she was carrying his baby.

"I'm sorry," she admitted quietly, finally, if only to break the silence between them, and she raised her big brown eyes to finally meet his. "I heard Harry come home and I got nervous."

His face, which had been hard a moment ago, softened slightly upon hearing her apology. He stared up at her for a few long moments, but in the end, he stood and hesitantly embraced her.

She felt like a love-sick schoolgirl when she pressed up against his front to return the embrace, since the safety she felt when she was in his arms made her heart flutter. She buried her face in the juncture between his neck and shoulder and breathed in the intoxicating scent that was distinctly Sirius.

"I missed you," she admitted, though it came out muffled against his neck.

"I missed you, too," he replied into her hair. His hands were caressing her back through the thin fabric of her dress, and he pulled her closer to his body. "Swear to me you won't ever run off on me again," he said, and she would have laughed if he hadn't sounded so serious.

Her stomach did flip-flops. Did that mean he planned on rolling around in bed with her again? She had to refrain from rubbing her thighs together wantonly in front of the entire room just from thinking about a repeat of that night.

But, no, he probably meant avoiding him in general, and she nodded against his shoulder. "I promise," she said, and she meant it.

He pulled back and smiled down at her, and Hermione couldn't help but wrap her arms around his waist to rest against him while she looked up into his face. There were very few people allowed to see the genuine smile of Sirius Black. Usually he would only flash half or give them a Marauder's smirk. But when he did grant the few he loved a smile, it lit his face up, and Hermione was content knowing that she was one of the few that he cherished.

"Get a room," Ron jokingly called from across the lounge, and Hermione blushed a shade darker than the redhead's hair and pulled away from Sirius.

Dinner was served soon after and the magically elongated table was surrounded by the people there. Not all of them were related by blood, but they were as good as. Hermione couldn't help but glance over at the man sitting a few seats away at the head of the table every free chance she got. This was his first Christmas back and with him there, it finally felt complete. After their very first Christmas at Grimmauld, with Sirius singing carols around the house and getting up to all sorts of mischief with Harry, holidays always felt like they were missing something with him gone, and she knew Harry had felt the same way. Now, with Harry's godfather back, it almost felt like it did before the trio became jaded by all the despair.

But every time Hermione's thoughts betrayed her, reminding her that this was, indeed, Harry's godfather, she would stare down at her plate or strike up conversation with one of the Weasley men around her to try and forget yet again. If she was going to tell him tonight, she would have to get him alone. That wasn't news someone could break to a man in front of mixed company - especially mixed company that didn't even know they had any romantic... liaisons in the first place.

When both dinner and dessert were through, the guests once again gathered in the lounge, occupying the various comfortable sofas and armchairs while the yule log warmed them. The guests would be departing after presents were exchanged and opened, except perhaps for Hermione and the Lupins, since they were the best friends of the inhabitants of Grimmauld. Anxiety was starting to set in for Hermione because she knew she would have to break the news to Sirius soon. There was still a small voice that reminded her that she didn't have to tell him now, but they would all eventually catch on that she was pregnant once she started to show, and he would probably be upset that she hadn't told him as soon as she found out. Fear was a big issue for her in that current moment as well. Whether it was fear he wouldn't want anything to do with the child's life. or fear that he would, she wasn't sure.

"Now can we open presents, Daddy?" Teddy basically shouted over the crowd, and everyone paused to smile at his eager tone.

Remus looked around at everyone, and upon their silent approval, he nodded and stood to walk over to the corner where dozens of presents of all shapes and sizes were stacked. With a few swishes of his wand, the presents rose high in the air and started zooming over to the person they were addressed to so they could land on the floor in front of them. Teddy's pile was the largest and far taller than he was, and his hair was rapidly changing colours from his excitement.

The sound of wrapping paper tearing, ooo's, aah's, thank-you's, and laughter echoed through the room. Hermione opened her presents with distracted enthusiasm, since her condition was never far from her mind, and she had a feeling it wouldn't be until she spilled the Bott's beans. Her presents were pretty mediocre, but she loved each of them because, after all, it was the thought that counted. So, with each new gift she opened, she added to her collection of pretty soaps, books, jumpers, candles, and candy. She was pleased to receive four tickets to a play at a popular wizarding theatre in Portsmouth from Remus and Tonks, since she had mentioned to the thoughtful werewolf a few months ago that she had been wanting to see it but hadn't found the time to pick up tickets. Remus caught the look of gratitude on her face and grinned knowingly, since he too had a pile of mediocre presents, except for the moonstone cufflinks, embedded with actual bits of moon rock, which Hermione had gotten him. They would ease his jitters around the full moon, and judging by the fact that he had already put them on and was absently stroking them, they had already had a soothing effect.

Finally, her last gift was from Sirius, and her heart raced. She shouldn't have gotten her hopes up, especially since she was nothing more than a friend to him and he had been upset with her for ignoring him, but she just couldn't help it. She glanced up at him and he caught her eye to grin. It looked like it had been wrapped by a professional, but Hermione knew from her first Christmas at Grimmauld that Sirius was just exceptionally good at gift-wrapping. Hermione bit her cheek and tore at the sparkling blue wrapping paper, and her heart skipped a beat before her eyes landed on... a book. About the history of House-elves. And to top it all off, she had already read it. Twice.

Her shoulders dropped.

It was a very anticlimactic moment, and it only furthered her belief that she was nothing more to him than a one-night stand with a frumpy bookworm.

"Have you read it already?" he asked, sounding a bit worried.

"No," Hermione lied. "I love it... Your turn now," she said, pointing to the present she had brought here for him.

Sirius brushed his hair out of his face and reached for the gift wrapped (rather messily) in gold wrapping paper. He wasted no time to tear it open, and when he lifted the top off of the rectangular box, he froze in disbelief.

"What is it?" asked Harry, looking over at his godfather curiously.

Hermione had to keep her tears at bay when she saw the way he looked over at her and the contents of the box in thrilled confusion. When a nod from her confirmed that it was truly what he thought it was, he pulled it out of the box like it was made of glass.

The black leather jacket James had given to him on his seventeenth birthday dangled from his fingers, and his free hand was roaming over the coat as though it were trying to memorize every stitch. Hermione glanced over at Remus, who had obviously recognized what it was, because he looked like someone had smacked him.

"How did you...?" was all Sirius could ask, and his voice sounded just a little hoarse, but Hermione was sure not many picked up on it.

She gave a modest, one-shoulder shrug, refusing to let him know that she had spent the months tracking it down since he first told her, and was only just able to find it two weeks ago in a thrift shop in Grimsby.

"I asked around," she said, vaguely, and he gave her a look that said he knew she had done a little more than ask around.

"Sirius?" inquired Harry, still confused about why a leather jacket was such a big deal, especially since Sirius had one already.

"Your father gave me this when I turned seventeen," he elaborated, and many eyes widened and glanced at Hermione in disbelief. "It was repossessed with my other belongings after I was put in Azkaban... but Hermione tracked it down."

Harry's jadeite eyes softened when they landed on Hermione, and she knew he was silently thanking her for doing something so wonderful for Sirius.

"Well, try it on and see if it still fits, old man," said Remus with a grin, and Sirius stood, but glared at his long time friend.

"You're just jealous because I'm physically almost a decade younger than you now. And, anyway, I'll have you know, I have the physique of a twenty-year-old anyway -- probably even better." There was a smile on his face as he pulled on the coat, and Hermione could attest to his glorious body, but reminded herself that would be highly inappropriate to say. "Just because you let yourself go a little loose around the middle, doesn't mean all of us did."

"Oi!" Remus cried out, but he was laughing, and everyone else was grinning at their antics. "I'm still the same size I was when I was in Hogwarts!"

"I'm sorry to hear that, mate," said Sirius with a pitying look, and Remus flushed scarlet.

"I didn't mean that," argued Remus, but he could barely get his words out through his laughter. "You are the most perverted man I know."

"I've never had any complaints before," defended Sirius, and he gave Hermione a knowing wink. She was lucky she didn't spontaneously combust from embarrassment. Of course, no one else had even seen the wink, but she had, and it was enough to flare up memories of the night she tried so hard to keep off her mind.

But then he smiled and hooked a finger in her direction, and with a severe case of the warm and fuzzies, she stood and walked over to him. When his arms wrapped around her, she returned the embrace, thoroughly enjoying the chance to have another stolen moment pressed against him.

"Thank you," she heard him whisper, and Hermione smiled against his shoulder.

"You're welcome," she replied, and when they pulled away from one another, he cradled her face with his palms and kissed her lips in a chaste fashion, but either it was her imagination, or he really had left his lips on hers a little longer than necessary.

By the time she snapped out of her daze and he stepped away from her, she couldn't help but notice that the older occupants of the room were looking at them in bemusement. Thankfully, Wulfric broke the tension with a bark, and Hermione noticed that the dog had his own little pile of presents that were waiting to be opened, so she and Teddy headed over to unwrap them for him while the others laughed.

Almost two hours later, the majority of the guests had said their goodbyes and gone home, except for Hermione, Ginny, Luna, and the Lupins. Hermione had helped the boys clean up, and was sitting in the lounge afterwards to rest her feet. Teddy was asleep on one of the squishy sofas with Wulfric curled up and snoozing by his tummy. In an armchair to her left, Harry was resting against Ginny and the redhead was running her fingers through his hair while his eyelids drooped. Ron was playing chess with Luna, though they kept using any excuse they could to touch one another. Remus and Tonks shared an armchair as well, and they were cuddled up together and whispering to each other.

Hermione's face was stuck between a smile and a frown, and she was vaguely aware that she was actually lonely. It wasn't a feeling she was used to, since she always had Harry and Ron. She still had them, she knew, but it wasn't the same as it had been. Back when they were teenagers, they were barely away from each other for more than a few hours if they could help it. They had a bond no one would ever understand, but a sad smile crossed Hermione's face when it finally sunk in that the three of them had grown up when she wasn't looking. Attached at the hip from the time they were innocent kids to jaded teenagers, going through trials that no one their age should have gone through. Then, once the war was over, the three had been at a loss for what to do with themselves. They had been so used to a life of war - always on guard, ready to duel for their lives if they had to. So used to living and breathing awareness that Voldemort was back and could attack at any minute.

So, when it all had ended, the three teenagers were lost. Everyone who knew them could see it in their eyes. They should have been happy it was all over, and they had been - still were - but a part of them had died in the war, after witnessing first hand so much violence and death. They all slept in the same bed for months afterwards. There was nothing sexual about it. They were just three traumatized teenagers afraid to let the other two out of their sight. And the nightmares... Hermione had to shut her eyes to hold back her cringe. She could recall so vividly the way Harry would wake up yelling, or the way Ron would cry while he slept. She, too, would be awoken by a worried Harry and Ron after visions of the battles and Malfoy Manor crept into her slumbering mind. But, eventually, Hermione realized that the way they were dealing with their trauma was unhealthy, and informed them that she was going back to Hogwarts for a year. Harry and Ron couldn't believe it, and had even pleaded with her to stay, but she had made her decision. She would have to be the logical one, as always, and the one to teach them how to live without each other. The boys wouldn't return to Hogwarts, she knew. Too many bad memories.

She never told them how hard it was for her to be there, especially all alone. Memories of dead bodies lined up in the Great Hall under the twinkling sky would make her lose her appetite altogether many days. Headmistress McGonagall had even had to give Hermione her own dormitories, because the young witch would hex her roommates unwittingly if they tried to awake her when she screamed from a nightmare. No one blamed her, of course. She was a hero to them, even if she didn't feel like one. One-third of the Golden Trio. The three of them were already in every new edition of history text books in the wizarding world. They even had their own Chocolate Frog cards. Everyone had an inclination of what Hermione had been through. The trio had not informed anyone of the Horcruxes or the Hallows, and they never would. Both were magic too dangerous for people to hear about, too dangerous for people to get curious about. So the secret would die with them. However, Bill Weasley hadn't realized that Hermione didn't want people to know about her torture under Bellatrix's wand, and he had let it slip to reporters. They had hounded her to find out how she had survived it in tact when so many others had broken or lost their minds. Hermione had no answer for them. It was just luck, she supposed. But her classmates regarded her as some kind of super-witch. The brain of the trio with a mind strong enough to withstand torture under Voldemort's right-hand woman. And the pitying looks they would give her when she would wake up screaming was enough to make her want to Obliviate them and leave. But she dealt with it, and kept true to her silent vow. She stayed away from the boys so they could learn they couldn't depend on her to think for them, and in the end, she felt a motherly pride when they learned to walk on their own feet.

But the loneliness was still secretly depressing her. She was stuck watching the couples with a heavy emotion. Not jealousy, because she was happy for them. It was more of a longing for what they had. She was sitting there, alone and pregnant. She wasn't even dating the man who had fathered her child. The press would have a field day when it finally got out. The wizarding world was very old-fashioned, and all children born out of wedlock were frowned upon, and the mothers were usually shunned by high society.

Harry or Ron, of course, would claim the baby and marry her in a heartbeat if she ever asked them to, and give up their own shot at being truly and deeply in love. But she would never do that. The media and haughty aristocrats could bite her arse for all she cared. It would actually be a bit amusing to see what happened when word got out about her pregnancy, since she was a 'war hero' and Harry Potter's right-hand woman. They probably wouldn't outright disgrace her, but there would be whispers. That didn't bother her. She was used to rumours flying about her, both from mouths to ears as well as printed on paper.

Her heart was heavy in her chest, and she tore her eyes away from the canoodling couples and distracted herself with the book Sirius had bought her. She had heard the front door close while she was doing the dishes a few minutes ago, so the handsome man had probably headed over to a pub to pick up a leggy blonde. Hermione had to fight down the stab of jealousy that she felt in her gut at the thought, and pondered whether she should just go home. He was gone, so she wouldn't get a chance to tell him tonight anyway, and it really was masochistic to sit in a room full of couples.

But she told herself she'd go in a few more minutes. It was better to stay here with people around her than to go home to an empty flat. She would just end up eating a pint of ice cream if she did that. Her fingers trailed over the gold print of the book distractedly. House-elves: A History. Well, at least he had bought a book about a subject she was interested in, right? He had obviously put some thought into it. It was a nice edition, too, the more expensive one she had never bothered buying, since the leather binding wasn't worth the extra Galleons to her.

Hermione flipped open the cover of the book to see if Sirius had at least written something nice on the inside, and her jaw dropped. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she covered her mouth with her free hand. The book was hollowed out, and resting on a bed of black velvet was the most beautiful necklace Hermione had ever seen. It wasn't big or flashy, and it was exactly her taste. No one had ever picked her out a piece of jewellery she actually liked before. The silvery chain was thin, and hanging from it was a curved journey diamond pendant in white-gold. It was simple, yes, but she knew it must have been more Galleons than she could ever afford for a necklace. It was something she could wear with everything, and she had to force herself not to cry while she put it on with shaky hands. She really was more weepy than normal lately, but she would probably get used to it over the next few months. Before anyone could see the tears in her eyes, she rose and tried to tiptoe her way out of the room.

"Where are you off to, Hermione?" asked Remus, and sometimes she wanted to hit him upside the head for being so bloody caring.

She cleared her throat, but kept her back to him and continued her journey. "Just for some air," she answered in what she hoped was a nonchalant tone. He must have been satisfied because he said no more. She was still fastening the string at her neck when she stepped out onto the porch, careful not to let it get knotted on her necklace, when a voice nearly made her leap out of her skin.

"Do you like it?"

Her eyes widened when she realized she had somehow grabbed her wand from its holster around her thigh and pointed it at the man in barely a second, since she hadn't even consciously made the decision, but when she saw Sirius sitting on the built-in bench on the porch, she put it away and tried to calm her racing heart. He gave her an apologetic grin, and she smiled back. He had been out here the whole time? Why hadn't he sat in the lounge with everyone else? It was snowing heavily and the cold wind was practically biting. But then again, she was out here too, so she couldn't say much. Perhaps he hadn't felt like watching the couples, either.

"I love it," confirmed Hermione, walking across the large porch to stand near him. He was wearing the leather jacket, and despite the cold, he had it open, and she could see a strip of his light jumper. His arms were around the back of the bench, and she could see the Christmas lights of the other houses blinking through the dark night behind him. "It's perfect."

His pleased smile was endearing, and Hermione obliged when he motioned for her to sit down next to him. Almost immediately she regretted it, since it seemed she wasn't able to handle being close to the Marauder. Her cloak, only fastened at her neck, opened as she sat, but she drew it closed with her hands to tent around her, so Sirius wouldn't see her cross her legs to try and keep the unladylike urges off her mind. She tried not to think about the way the shadows covering parts of his face reminded her of how he had looked that night in his room, with only the faint glow of the stars on the ceiling above to illuminate the surfaces of him the light touched. His arms were still leaning against the back of the bench, but she could feel her back resting against one and she was way too pleased to note that he didn't move it. His thumb was even stroking her cloaked shoulder, but she tried not to dwell on it.

Hermione silently scolded herself. Her bloody concupiscence was the reason she was in this situation in the first place - sitting next to a man that saw her as nothing more than a one night stand, who was also the father of her child, unbeknownst to him.

She would have to rectify the unbeknownst part, and technically, now was the perfect time since they were finally alone.

"Sirius..." she said, quietly, and he shifted slightly to look at her.

"Yes, love?" he replied, curiously, and she froze.

What exactly was proper etiquette for this kind of situation? She went through a mental list of possibilities.

I'm pregnant. It's yours.

Nope, not enough emotion.

Sirius, I'm pregnant. There's nothing about you that I don't love, and I know I'll feel the same about our baby.

Whoa, way too much emotion.

I'm having your baby. Happy Christmas!

No, much too crass.

"I'm nervous," she admitted, and he gave her a look of complete un-surprise.

"Tell me something I don't know," he replied with a sympathetic smile. Now that she thought about it, she probably did look like a timid little fox afraid to get eaten by the big dog.

But that was it. That was her opening.

She scooted closer and cupped her hand around his ear, as she had done so many times before. Sirius leaned down with a smile and waited for her secret, although he was probably thinking she was going to tell him something funny, since this had been their ritual to break any tension or sombre moods.

However, the most serious words Hermione had ever spoken slipped past her lips.

"I'm going to be a mother... and you're the father."

His whole body tensed, and Hermione pulled back to look at him, waiting with bated breath while his silvery-grey eyes met hers, wide with shock.

There really had been no tasteful way to say it, and she feared his reaction, but she could handle it, no matter what he said. If he wanted to be there, great. If not, that was fine too. She had her friends to help her so she wouldn't be completely alone. She had only found out she was pregnant hours ago, but already, the little clump of goo and fingernails inside of her was more precious than anything else in the world. No matter what Sirius' reaction was, her baby's life would be full of love.

Yes, it's an evil ambiguous ending. It's up to the reader to decide how he reacted.

This was originally intended to be a one-shot, and that's the reason it's ridiculously long. However, I'm interested in doing a sequel, so we can see how Sirius grows into fatherhood, but it all depends on the response this gets. I'll just leave it as a one-shot if too few are interested in seeing it furthered. I should warn you, though, that if I do write a sequel, the rating will definitely be changed to NC-17.

Reviews are welcomed and encouraged, so let me know what you thought, and tell me if you'd like a sequel story!