"I want to move out." Ginny's voice was gentle but firm.

"WHAT? Why?" Harry turned from the ancient kitchen counter where he was pouring himself a cup of tea.

"He's not getting any better with us here, and well... I just don't feel comfortable with the idea of bringing our child home to... this" she waved her hands around vaguely.

"What do you mean, to 'this'?" his voice held a note of defensiveness.

She sighed, "Look around us, Harry – even without the mood swings and drinking habits of your godfather, Grimmauld Place is not where I want to raise our child."

Harry's jaw clenched briefly, but when he saw the pleading look on his pregnant wife's face, he knew this wasn't just another argument about Sirius's behaviour. Ginny was right. He was going to be a father soon, and as much as he hated having to make this kind of choice, his new family had to come first.

He sunk into the chair next to his wife and sighed, "Who's going to take care of him, though? He's going to be here all alone again."

"Harry, Sirius is a grown man, and-"

"She's right Harry." Sirius's tone was bitter but resigned as he entered the kitchen. "I am a grown man and I can take care of myself."

He forced a thin smile, his eyes flicking to Ginny's swollen belly. He nodded, adding softly, "And Grimmauld is no place for a child to grow up. I should know."

"But Sirius..." Harry tried to interject, but was stopped.

"Harry, if I have to, I will throw you out. You need to focus on your family – your family now. I'll be fine."

Harry stared at his godfather for a long moment, frowning. What a load of shit, he thought angrily. Sirius had been back for three months and he had barely left the house for anything more than restocking his liquor cabinet. Harry knew he could never fully understand what his godfather had been through, but Sirius didn't seem interested in even trying to actually live. He vacillated between sullen brooding and drunken rages, both usually within the confines of his bedroom, but the latter Harry and Ginny could frequently hear from all the way down on the first floor.

Still, Harry had stayed, hoping against hope that Sirius would snap out of it, would want to actually participate in life a little. Even his motorcycle, which had been Harry's welcome-back gift, sat untouched in the back alley. He knew that once they left Grimmauld Place, there would be no one else to try and help Sirius.

And now, he was essentially being kicked out with one last subtle "fuck you." Deep down he knew that, while in theory the reasons they should leave were valid, this was more about Sirius' bizarre desire to stay shut away from everyone, combined with an underlying dislike that had formed between his godfather and his wife.

Harry just shook his head and muttered, "Well, nice to see you two finally agree on something."

He stormed out of the kitchen, leaving Ginny and Sirius in a tense silence. They didn't like each other, and they both knew it, but they at least tried to keep things civil, for the sake of peace, and for Harry's happiness.

In a rare show of human emotion, Sirius smiled sadly at his godson's wife, "I'd like to help, if I may. I know Harry has plenty of money, but it would please me if you would allow me to have some things for the baby sent to your new home."

Ginny looked down at her hands on the table, "That would be nice. I'm not sure how Harry would feel about it right now, but I'm sure he would appreciate the gesture at some point."

Sirius chuckled under his breath and shook his head to himself.

Despite her blandly gracious words, he knew full well what Ginny Potter thought of him. He had heard her, heard them, every time, no matter how softly they whispered. He could hear every muted argument between she and Harry, and every not-so-muted rant session Ginny had with her mother, on the rare occasion the Weasley matriarch came to Grimmauld. She was becoming more and more like Molly every day, and Sirius only hoped it was just pregnancy hormones, for his godson's sake.

Most of the time, he couldn't bring himself to feel hurt by it. Usually he was too busy trying to drown them out, drown everything out. Still, while he couldn't give a rat's arse what the two Weasley witches thought of him, it pained him to hear Harry come to his defense, every single time, excusing his irrational behaviour and reclusive tendencies. Harry understood nothing, just like everyone else, yet he still hung around, waiting fruitlessly. Sirius couldn't stand it.

There were times when he hated them all, hated everything. He hated being able to hear their whispers three floors up and he loathed the piercing laughter and occasional raised voices, and most of all the godforsaken wireless that was always tuned to some grating nonsense whenever the redhead was in the house. The food they tried to fix tasted like salt and sand most of the time, and Sirius wondered if it was him, or if Ginny really never managed to pick up on her mother's finest skill. Harry seemed to stomach the stuff well enough. He loathed the way they insisted on having the curtains pulled in the parlor, but thankfully most of the house was designed to be dimly lit and shadowy.

Most of all, though, he hated the smell.

For the most part it was just the girl. Something about the flowery fruity perfume she wore, or perhaps it was just her shampoo, combined with her natural chemistry and it just set his teeth on edge. In all fairness, he wasn't too crazy about the smell coming off of his godson, either, but in Sirius' more bitter moments he attributed that to the lingering scent of Ginny that stuck to him.

Harry could never understand. It was simpler just to let him believe that his godfather returned from the "dead" as a sociopath and an alcoholic than to try and explain to him. Sirius cringed at the thought of the pity and obligation that would result if Harry knew.

As he headed back up to the fourth floor, Sirius could hear Harry slamming things around in the room he shared with his wife. He paused, struggling briefly with the impulse to try and make things right. Sighing resolutely, he continued to the dark confines of his bedroom and private study.


He couldn't take it.

Cursing himself for his own stupidity and pride, Sirius threw back another shot, wincing at the foul taste that never seemed to diminish.

A patronizing sigh emerged quietly from the only painting in the whole house that didn't have a human occupant. Sirius looked up to see Phineas Nigellus sneering at him, casually tossing a ruby red apple he had plucked from the bowl of fruit that featured in the art work. Sirius shifted angrily away from his deceased relative, his chair legs bitching against the kitchen floor as he did so.

Sirius poured and slammed another shot and thought blackly about his predicament.

Still, he wouldn't crawl. He refused to go to Harry and ask them to come back. He wouldn't be that pathetic, or selfish. Bitterness may have coloured his words at the time, but they still rang true: Harry needed to move on and start building a better life with his new family and not waste his time waiting on his demented godfather to miraculously be human again.

Another shot, then frustration at its lack of effect. Why the bloody hell wasn't it helping? All he wanted was some dullness, to not feel strangled and scratched by something as simple as a fucking shirt.

He snarled in frustration, yanking the tee-shirt over his head, then shivered when the cold air hit his skin.

Now, instead of the annoying whispers and overheard conversations, the sounds of his environment grated at him. The soft creaks of the house settling at night, acorns dropped on the roof of the back porch, someone slamming a car door five houses down, all sounded like gunshots to him. The silence was almost worse, reminding him of the nothingness that made him this way.

He reached the bottom of the bottle, and still - nothing. Not even drunk.

The growl that had been building as he paced the kitchen finally broke loose as he hurled the empty bottle at the kitchen wall, taking a kind of twisted pleasure in the painful sound it made as it shattered.

"Hello? Is anyone home?"


Someone decidedly female had managed to enter the front door of the old mansion just then. And here he was without even a fucking wand. Sirius had assumed that with Harry and Ginny gone, there was no one left with any call to come to Grimmauld Place, thus he never gave a second thought to magical defense. He still hadn't made it to Ollivander's for a new wand, since his old one did not make the return trip with him.

"Hello?" the voice came closer, with clean but soft sounding steps in the hallway, softer than he was used to. She was heading towards the kitchen, and he'd be damned if he was going to be caught hiding in the dark from some bird. If she was an enemy and took him out, well, he supposed he'd be out of his misery once and for all.

He pushed the kitchen door open and climbed the stairs up to the dimly lit front hallway.

The first thing Sirius noticed was the obvious, especially to a man who had been marooned from humanity for half his life: whoever this witch or woman was, she was beautiful. Not "gorgeous" in the centerfold-piece-of-meat sort of way, although he could imagine if she was dressed to fit the part she'd easily fit the bill. But beautiful nonetheless – dark curls spilling from the clasp at her neck, tall and slender with curves in the right places, angelic face but with the kind of lips that inspired filthy thoughts. She was dressed like a Muggle, but nicely so, and she didn't have a wand in her hand which made him all the more uncertain as to how she got in.

The other thing he noticed was that she was looking right at him with only mild curiosity, as if she had every right in the world to be waltzing into his house uninvited.

He frowned, his voice low, "Who are you and what are you doing in my house?"

The female cocked her head at him then, her lips slowly turning up into a delighted smile.

"Sirius?" she asked softly, although she seemed to already know the answer, as a split second later she let out a small squeal and ran up to him, throwing her arms around him unabashedly.

He stood frozen for a moment, completely taken aback. Then, she started permeating his senses. Her silk blouse felt cool and soothing against his chest and arms, and her body... Merlin it felt amazing to be touched and held by this strange creature. Sirius wrapped his arms around her, taking advantage of the chance to feel... feel something good for once.

He let out a silent sigh. She even smelled good. He was starting to think it wasn't possible – it seemed like everyone he had been in close proximity to had such an unpleasant stench to them.

Something in his senses quirked as he inhaled her scent again. Something familiar.

Sirius quickly prodded at his sensory memory and it hit him.

"Hermione," he whispered finally.

She pulled back from him in response, with an amused grin on her lovely features, "You just now recognized me, yet you let me throw myself at you in the meantime?"

Something of his old self stirred in him just then, and he felt an almost unfamiliar pull in his face before realizing he was smiling, really smiling, "Now, love, I never was one to deny a pretty witch, you should know that."

Even in the dim light of the hallway, Sirius could see the blush that painted her cheeks as she looked first down at his bare torso and then away, dropping her arms. He suddenly realized foolishly that he was just flirting with Hermione, his godson's best friend.

Clearing his throat and stepping back slightly, he asked, "Can I get you a cup of tea?" steering her towards the parlor.

Once she was settled with couple of smaller lamps lit, he set about cleaning up the mess of shattered glass in the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil.

After waiting longer than she was used to tea taking, Hermione peeked into the old kitchen to see what Sirius was up to. She heard the scraping of glass across stone floor coming from the corner and spied him crouching with a dustpan and broom, muttering under his breath.

"Sirius, what are you doing?" she asked, allowing herself a split second to admire his muscled back before reminding herself just who she was ogling.

He leaned back on his haunches, flipping his black hair out of his eyes as he looked up at her with a half smile.

"I ah, had a small accident just before you arrived. Careful of the glass over there," he nodded to the corner by the door where there was a pile of broken whiskey bottle remains.

Her lips twitched quizzically, "I see that, but why are you doing it that way?"

He looked down at the broom and dustpan in his hands. Damn. "Oh, my wand isn't... down here. Just thought I'd take care of it this way's all."

The water in the teakettle started roiling, steam billowing from the hole where the lid would have gone, so he stood to fill their mugs. Hermione shook her head and cleaned the mess with a wave of her wand.

"Thanks," he smiled sheepishly over his shoulder.

As they headed back into the parlor, Sirius noticed the luggage in the hallway.

"What's with the suitcases?" He asked.

"Oh," Hermione frowned, "Erm, well I just finished my residency in the States, and I'm not due to start at Hogwarts for another month, so Harry said I could stay here in the meantime. Didn't he tell you?"

Oh dear, Sirius thought. He decided to skim over the larger concern but answered her question honestly.

"He probably did, Hermione, but I'm afraid I haven't been the best at paying attention or remembering things," he admitted.

She smiled warmly, "Well, I suppose that's to be expected. It's just good to have you back. I was so excited when I finally got the news. How long has it been?"

"Since I got back?" he asked, "A little over three months... when did you find out?"

"Only a few weeks ago. Communication is a little spotty over there. The Bureau has a lot tighter regulation than we do."

Sirius chuckled and shook his head slightly, "The Bureau?" he asked, "What the hell were you doing in the States, anyway?"

Hermione blinked and reminded herself it was unlikely Harry would have had much to say about her to Sirius.

"Well," she began, "After the war, I began studying as a Healer. I finished up training in a couple of years and was about to sign on as a MediWitch for St. Mungo's, but a new exchange program opened up that would let me train in the States as well. Their schooling system is quite different from ours – very modern, and it includes some Muggle medicine and emergency care. Not enough to earn a full doctorate, but enough to incorporate a lot of new practices to benefit both worlds during emergencies. I'll be starting a teaching position at Hogwarts this year with a new course in Healing Fundamentals for sixth and seventh years."

She paused at the unreadable look on Sirius' face and cleared her throat, "...But I suppose that's probably more than you needed to know."

"What?" he shook his head at her, "No – it's just... you're..."

"...Not a kid anymore?" She finished for him, smiling.

Not quite what I was going to say, he thought, amazing, incredible, beautiful, perhaps...

"I supposed you're not," he agreed lamely. "So how long have you been away?"

Hermione looked down at her hands, "Three years," she replied quietly, wondering to herself if it was long enough.

While she was secretly grateful for the chance to delay the inevitable, it was getting late, so she asked, "So, where is Harry and Ginny, anyway?"

"Well," he hesitated, taking a deep breath and looking away, "They moved out, actually."

He hazarded a glance at Hermione and cringed at the look on her face.

"Oh..." she replied in a small voice, "I see. I – how silly and presumptuous of me, I'm so sorry, Sirius. I... I'll get a hotel..."

"What?" he exclaimed, "You'll do no such thing. There's more than enough room in this house, Hermione. Too much room for one person, I might add."

She gave him a doubtful look so he pressed on while trying to keep his own desperation out of his voice, "The entire second floor is yours if you'd like. The main bedroom might need some dusting, but it has its own bathroom and everything. Really." He added softly.

Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat. She was mortified, touched, and hurt at the same time. "Thank you," she whispered.

Sirius visibly relaxed back into his chair then, "I suppose there was no way for anyone to tell you, and it was rather short notice anyway."

"What happened? I don't understand why-?" she asked. Harry had kept Grimmauld Place after the war, and while he had mentioned in his letter that he returned the title to his godfather upon his return from the Veil, she was under the impression they were still going to live there.

"Well, you know Ginny's quite far along by now," Sirius explained softly, "and well, she didn't feel comfortable with the idea of bringing their child home to this dark old place to raise it."

Hermione hummed and responded with a mutter, "More of Molly's wonderful influence I'm sure."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise but couldn't suppress a small smile before continuing diplomatically, "Perhaps, but I'm inclined to agree with Ginny. This is no environment for a child, and a fresh start would be best for them. It really is for the best – Harry needs to focus on his own family now."

Sirius stood up to take their empty cups back to the kitchen, "They're staying in a little flat downtown while the work is finished on their new house in Godric's Hollow, so they're not on the floo network yet. But I'll get you their address in the morning, hmm?"

Hermione nodded and forced a small smile, secretly relieved. As she looked up at Sirius, her eyes lingered slightly over the blue tee shirt that stretched over his expanse of chest before traveling over his neck, bearded jawline, those lips that were full but still so masculine, and then finally meeting his eyes, which were watching her closely. The intensity of his gaze made her feel like a cornered mouse. Neither of them moved for a moment as they regarded each other as simply man and woman, forgetting briefly the ties and boundaries of family and friends.

Merlin, she wondered briefly, was he always this handsome?

A small muscle twitched in his jaw, distracting her just enough to break their staring contest. Her lips twitched wryly as she looked away.

"What is it?" Sirius asked, reaching for her teacup.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at him, "You look younger than I remember, Sirius. And I like the beard." She grinned now, feeling somewhat triumphant with her own daring.

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. He shook his head with a low chuckle before turning, "Go upstairs and pick out your room, little girl. I'll bring your things up in a bit."

She felt a warm flush at the way he called her little girl, the tone implying anything but the fatherly affection one might expect.

Pushing the thought away, she ascended the familiar old staircase and poked her head into the room off the landing she and Ginny once shared in her fifth year. It had been changed, the two small twin beds removed and replaced with a four-poster king sized bed. Hermione wrinkled her nose, realizing it was probably Harry and Ginny's former master suite. She continued up the stairs to the second floor and found a less familiar bedroom at the end of the hallway with a connected bathroom that would suit her needs. She lit a few lamps and cast several cleaning charms to make it livable for the evening, deciding to pick up some fresh bed linens tomorrow.

"Andromeda used to stay in this room when we were children, you know. 'Bella and Cissy' always took the ones on the third floor."

Hermione jumped a little at the sound of Sirius' voice. She frowned quizzically when she noticed he'd carried her luggage up the stairs by hand, yet she hadn't heard him at all. She watched as he gently set her belongings inside the door and turned to go.

"Thank you again, Sirius," she said softly.

He paused without turning back, "It's nice to have you here, Hermione," he replied, then slipped out into the hallway.


Hermione awoke with a start some time in the dark early hours of the morning. She didn't know why until she heard it again. Somewhere from above came an almost inhuman moan, then a male voice crying out in agony. Her heart jumped. Sirius.

Slipping out of bed as quietly as possible, she grabbed her wand and crept into the hallway. More sounds, less sharp but just as unpleasant, drifted down from the fourth floor. Hermione padded as quickly and softly as she could in her bare feet up the stairs. When she reached Sirius' bedroom door, she paused, wondering briefly if she was mistaken, and not wanting to walk in on something else that would cause odd noises in the middle of the night. Her thoughts were answered by an almost dog-like whimpering and a guttural "No..." from the other side of the door.

She bit her lip and slowly opened the door, cringing at the vision before her, but setting about quickly to help.

The moonlight seeped in through the partially closed curtains covering the floor-to-ceiling windows, offering enough light to make her way to Sirius' bathroom. She dampened a washcloth and crept to the huge bed where he lay, covered in sweat with sheets tangled around him. He arched off the mattress, another agonized moan escaping him, his lips pulled back tight in a painful grimace.

"Shhhh..." Hermione whispered, easing herself gently onto the bed and softly brushing the hair from his forehead. He was ice cold so she did a quick charm to warm the cloth in her hands before gently bringing it to his face. "Sirius," she murmured soothingly, "Sirius it's alright, I'm here, it's just a dream..." she cooed to him while tenderly caressing his face, shoulders and torso with soft fingers and the warm cloth.

He quieted down relatively quickly, his body relaxing slightly, still tense but no longer racked by whatever was haunting him. Hermione continued her care of him, whispering reassuringly as she worked to bring him to a state of calm, hopefully without ever waking him up.

As Sirius' breathing slowed and the tension drained from him, Hermione set the washcloth aside and rested her hand lightly on his chest. She sat there for several moments, still lightly stroking his brow as she felt his heart beat normalize under her fingers. She took the opportunity to study his features unhindered, her fingertips absently following her eyes over his forehead, down his temple, across his cheek and over his bearded jawline where the coarse hair tickled her fingers.

He really did look younger than she remembered, although she suspected that was more a result of her own growing up than anything. There were still tiny creases at the corners of his eyes. And then his lips – she hesitated, wondering what they felt like. They looked soft, yet lacked the smooth perfection of youth.

With a soft intake of breath, Sirius' eyes suddenly fluttered open, glinting silver. Hermione started to pull away, straightening slightly, when a strong hand grabbed her wrist and held it in place.

"Don't-" he whispered, his voice slightly hoarse as he leaned his face into her touch, closing his eyes again as he sighed.

She relaxed her hand against him, understanding, and continued to lightly stroke his face as he lay back into his pillow. As she watched his acute reaction to her gentle touch, her heart broke a little. What must it be like to go through this alone, and for how many times? She knew if he were even slightly more conscious, he'd be furious with her for overstepping the boundaries of his pride, but she didn't care. She'd deal with that if and when it came up, and she'd do it again however many times necessary.

Hermione stayed until well after Sirius' breathing had deepened and she was certain he was in a heavy sleep.

When the darkness started to fade from the room ever so slightly, bringing the first paleness of daybreak, she eased herself up from the edge of the bed. She paused, looking down at the dark haired wizard who was still sleeping peacefully. He deserved so much more, she thought, as she leaned over and pressed her lips to his forehead before quietly exiting his bedroom.

Hermione bypassed her new bedroom and headed towards the kitchen. She had completely missed dinner the night before and now her stomach was rumbling. She moved silently through the old basement room, assessing the current inventory with disappointment. She frowned in frustration, wondering what Sirius had been doing for food. Finally giving up, she returned to her room and got dressed as quietly as possible. She made up a quick list and slipped out of the house, hoping fervently that the little market two blocks up that she remembered from her last stay at Grimmauld was still there.


Sirius awoke to a painfully bright light spreading across his bed from the open curtains. He shielded his eyes and stumbled over to the window, angrily yanking the heavy material shut against the offending rays before realizing that he had actually been woken up. Which meant he'd actually been deeply asleep. Usually he dozed fitfully between nightmares at best. He kept the curtains in his bedroom partially open because he was always awake well before dawn and took a small pleasure in the slow dim light before it got too bright to tolerate.

The feeling of being well rested was foreign but pleasant as he stretched and, breathing in, he stopped, frowning curiously.

There was a smell, several smells, actually, and his stomach grumbled in response. Four floors below him, someone was cooking, and for once in his life since he'd returned, it smelled divine. He quickly pulled on the jeans that had been kicked across the floor last night and yanked open his door, inhaling deeply. Before he stepped into the hall, however, he paused, wondering just who was doing the cooking. The only witch or wizard he knew that could cook worth a damn was Molly Weasley, and surely she wasn't slaving away in his kitchen.

He picked up the sound of a feminine voice humming to herself and suddenly remembered – Hermione. He slowly backed into his bedroom, his brain picking through the remnants of sleep fog. Images of the dark haired beauty who had appeared like an answered prayer last night had all but obliterated his old memories of the brainy little swot she used to be.

Glancing in the mirror on the way to the bathroom, Sirius cringed. What was it she said? "I like the beard"? He considered his pale reflection for a moment then decided on a quick shower and shave. He wasn't crazy about the beard, but he'd compromise by at least neatening it up. He was quite proud of his ability to handle a Muggle razor at this point, getting by with only one minor nick on his neck.

Picking up the damp washcloth from the side of the basin, Sirius suddenly recalled the reason why he was so well rested. Memories of a sweet soft voice and tender fingers had managed to slip into his nightmares, systematically dissolving them until he'd opened his eyes to catch an angel looking down at him.

Sirius felt his stomach twist with a mix of emotions, the first of which was humiliation. Damn fool, he thought bitterly to himself. Here he was cleaning up for the one witch who had every reason to laugh in his face or worse, pity him for his weakness.

And yet, he couldn't deny wanting more of it. Since the moment she tackled him in the hallway last night, he felt pleasantly drugged by Hermione's presence. He'd been in a feeling-less limbo for seven bloody years, and upon returning, every thing and every one had been nearly unbearable for him until she showed up, and now he hungered for more of it. Pathetic, he thought with disgust. She had acted as a concerned friend and a Healer and he was licking it up like a starved dog.

In the end, Sirius' stomach finally decided for him, and he pulled on his last fresh pair of jeans and one of the few decent looking shirts he had left. He made a mental note to find some way to do laundry today, and with one last look in the mirror he headed downstairs.

He stopped just outside the kitchen door and braced himself for the inevitable confrontation about his nightmares. Knowing that it was exactly that, inevitable, Sirius took a deep breath and pushed the door open.

Hermione had just set a bowl of warmed fruit compote on the large kitchen table when he entered the kitchen. She smiled up at him, her chocolate eyes meeting his stormy greys with no hesitation, "Good morning," she greeted him warmly with no fanfare before turning back to the stove.

"Do you like crepes? I was also thinking of making an omelet," she asked over her shoulder.

He took in her slender but curvy frame, admiring the jeans that hugged her hips, the fitted soft blue shirt that rode up slightly, exposing a strip of flesh at her waist as she reached above her for a couple of mugs. Her hair was pulled back at her neck, she had tied a dishtowel around her waist as an apron, and she commanded the kitchen in her bare feet. Sirius sighed hopelessly.

"I also picked up some coffee beans because you were pretty low," Hermione continued as she stirred a pan of sliced bananas in sauce. "I wasn't sure how strong you liked it though, so you'll have to make your own."

"You didn't have to do all this," Sirius said quietly.

"Hmm?" she responded absently, "Oh, I do this all the time Sirius, trust me – 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day'" she recited with a grin, sliding a delicate thin crepe onto a large plate. "Not to mention one of the most delicious."

She turned to him, holding the plate expectantly, "Well?"

He blinked in confusion.

Her eyes sparkled cheerfully as she clarified, "Did you want a crepe, Sirius, and if so, would you like bananas or compote?"

His mouth watered and he stood dumb with indecision.

"Both, then?" Hermione began spooning the banana filling into one half of the pancake, then the compote before folding it neatly and setting it on the table with a small flourish. "That will stay warm while you make your coffee," she teased, "I think you need it."

"Thank you," Sirius mumbled, trodding past her to the kitchen counter. It was then that he noticed the familiar strains of a melody ever so soft coming from the far end of the table.

"Is that Miles?" he asked as he poured the Italian roasted coffee beans into an old hand grinder.

She looked at him strangely. How did he even hear that? She wondered. She had set the small modified CD player at the far end of the kitchen and had been listening to it with the volume set low while she read the paper earlier. But now at the other end of the kitchen, she could barely make out one or two notes of the familiar music, and only if she strained to hear it. Maybe Padfoot's senses... she reasoned with a mental shrug.

"'Kind of Blue'" she nodded as she ladled more batter onto the round griddle, "I hope you don't mind?"

He merely grinned to himself as he turned the crank on his beans.

"Wait – I didn't know you listened to Muggle jazz," Hermione turned to him, squinting suspiciously.

"I could say the same for you," he tossed back, emptying the fresh grinds into the stovetop percolator and pulling open the side drawer for the matches. "And anyway," he continued as he turned the gas burner on and struck a match to light it, "That album was a classic before you or I were even born..."

He grinned as he turned to her, but was stopped by the slight frown on her face as she eyed the matches and hand grinder on the counter.

"Sirius," Hermione said quietly, stepping over to him. She glanced down at his neck and recalled the Muggle razor she had noticed on his bathroom counter the night before. She absently swiped the tiny nick that was still bleeding before looking back up into his eyes.

"Sirius," she began again softly, "where is your wand?"

Her eyes were solemn and concerned, but he couldn't find the pity he expected to see there. Habit and instinct should have moved him to make something up like usual, or to tell the young witch to sod off and mind her own damn business. Instead he opened his mouth and the truth stumbled out.

"It didn't exactly make the return trip back with me," he replied quietly. His shoulders dropped as a small weight felt as if it had been lifted from them.

"And you haven't bothered to get another one?" she asked.

"Your pancake, Hermione," Sirius nodded to the griddle behind her.

"Damn!" she exclaimed at the bubbling mess before sweeping it away with a wand motion and ladling another scoop of batter in its place.

"To answer your question, no, I haven't been to Ollivander's yet." Sirius sighed, "Haven't been quite up to dealing with Diagon Alley, to tell the truth." It was the truth, he reasoned, and he had no obligation to share the details anyway.

"I suppose that's understandable," she replied, checking the oven while the crepe pan tilted itself around. "I mean, Diagon Alley can be a bit much even for someone who hasn't spent seven years stranded on the other side of a drapery..." She levitated the large cast iron skillet from the oven to a trivet on the table, then slid another crepe onto the plate next to the griddle. When she turned back to him, he was watching her with an unreadable expression.

"Sirius?" she asked cautiously, worried she might have offended him somehow.

He cleared his throat, "Yes, I suppose you're right," he replied. "Is there something I can help with?" added, changing the subject and looking around.

Hermione nodded to the table, "Eat."

Sirius pulled out a chair and sat, blissfully inhaling the aromas that swam around the kitchen before picking up a fork to dig into his crepe.

Hermione's back straightened with a slight shiver at the ecstatic moan that rumbled from the man behind her. She turned, raising an eyebrow as she watched him take another bite, eyes closed and a euphoric expression on his face. She wasn't sure whether to feel embarrassed or flattered, but the noises coming from him were practically erotic as he ate. She ducked her head and turned to the stove where the coffee was – doing nothing. With a wave of her wand the brew was percolating, and she poured two steaming mugs for herself and Sirius before seating herself across from him.

He opened his eyes as she plunked the two mugs on the table and smiled contentedly at her while chewing happily. Hermione gave him an amused smirk, "There's omelet as well, you know."

"Hermione, you are a goddess," Sirius mumbled wholeheartedly through another bite of food. He swallowed then took a sip of the rich black coffee, relishing in its bitter contrast to the sweet crepe. He saw her raise her eyebrows skeptically, and thought with amusement of how she had no idea. He could nearly have wept with joy over how utterly good it all tasted. In one single dish he had proof that the life he returned to wasn't utter shit as he'd come to believe.

Knowing she'd never understand such an overreaction, he simply said, "I had no idea you could cook."

Hermione gave him a half-smile as she dished some omelet onto her plate as well as his, "I couldn't, actually. But my roommate in the states was a Culinary Witch. I must have gained fifteen pounds the first year we lived together, but she taught me a lot in exchange for some help with her potions course work."

He dug into the fluffy blanket of eggs, mushrooms, ham, tomato and cheese, groaning in another round of culinary bliss. Hermione couldn't help her laughter at this point.

"Sirius! It's not THAT good," she chided.

He shook his head, "You have no idea. I could marry you for this, you know."

Hermione felt her cheeks flush and her stomach gave an unreasonable twinge but she replied teasingly, "Well I wouldn't put you through that. But it is the least I can do to repay you for letting me stay here."

He furrowed his brow, his tone serious, "There's no payment needed for that, Hermione. You are always welcome in my home, I want you to understand that."

She simply smiled in response and sipped her coffee before changing the subject.

"I'm actually going out to Diagon Alley this morning, as well as a couple of Muggle shops. You're welcome to join me if you like."

Sirius peered into his mug regretfully, "Thanks, but I'm not really-"

"It's okay," she interrupted him in her effort to not pressure him, "But when you feel up for it, I'll be happy to go with, if you want company."

She stood, taking her dishes to the sink, "Can I pick anything up for you while I'm out?"

He regarded her back silently for a moment before answering, "Actually, would you mind picking up a pair of sunglasses for me?" When she turned to him questioningly, he grinned and added, "You know, something sexy."

Hermione shook her head and chuckled, "Sure, Sirius. Anything else?"

"That should do it," he replied, thinking to himself that perhaps it would be a start. He might be able to at least tolerate the daylight enough to get out of the house and do some things for himself, like laundry.