A/N: It's short & a bit heavy, but it's an update. I'm planning out future chapters that are going to fly a little faster. I just had to get some things dispensed with that set up other things. You all know how these things go.
Also unbeta'd. This one might be a little raw. Just warning you. I wanted to get something out there so I wasn't too bothered with sensible things like accurate grammatical construction. I'm sure you're all going to be thoroughly put off by that. Please, try to contain your rage.
For GrandeVanillaSkimLatte. I urge you all to go & poke her about a TheGoldenDuo22 update. :0)
Chapter 41 – A Sleepless Night
Sirius woke with a start, body tense and poised for danger. His fingers had found the comforting wood of his wand beneath his pillow and he clutched it, white-knuckled and wide-eyed, as he stared out into the deep dark. A brief, terrifying moment had him wondering if he was somehow back in the Veil; once again trapped by the vast, inky nothingness of that hellish place. He wasn't sure he could survive another imprisonment. He didn't know how many more battles he could win when he was fighting against his own mind. Even now, his sanity was still tenuous at the best of times.
Breathing deeply, the roar of adrenaline pounding in his ears slowly gave way to the muted sounds of late-night London. Sirius allowed his body to relax, only the mild protest of muscles indicating just how scared he had been. Bringing his knees up, he let his forehead fall onto them and ran his hands over the back of his head. He continued to breathe evenly, his heart rate steadying as he did so. He counted backwards from one hundred silently, each number stripping away the tattered vestiges of nightmare that clung to the back of his eyes.
When he was certain he was fully aware of his surroundings, he lifted his head and exhaled. He didn't need to glance beside him to know that Hermione was not there. If she had been, the nightmares wouldn't have come. He had come to think of this as fact, though he would never tell her. She had enough to worry about without having to dissect the 'hows' and 'whys' of his psyche, as he was sure she would do if he told her about his theory. So he kept it to himself, content to just accept it. Some magic, in his opinion, did not need to be explained.
Some things, however, did need to be explained—like why his wife was out of bed at three o'clock in the morning. Sliding out of bed, he threw on a pair of jeans and headed down the stairs. The house was silent and Sirius rubbed his arms, realizing that London winters and Georgian architecture were not conducive to walking around half-naked. He was about to turn back up the stairs to grab a jumper when he noticed a warm glow coming from beneath the door to his study.
Sirius's brow furrowed. Hermione's own, considerably larger study was literally right across the hallway and housed all the books and essays and research notes she could ever hope to read. By comparison, his study was practically minimalist. He himself rarely spent time in the room, as they had shoved all of their unopened wedding gifts in there to get them out of the way. What possible reason would his wife have for sitting amongst their unopened wedding gifts in the early hours of the morning?
He opened the door an almost didn't see her amidst the piles of brightly-coloured boxes and superfluous ribbon constructions atop tiny presents. Arching an eyebrow, Sirius closed the door behind him and ventured further into the room, almost knocking over a pile of misshapen presents almost as tall as he was. Sliding around them, he found himself in the middle of the room. Hermione sat there on the floor, legs crossed, staring into the lit fireplace. Cradled in her hand was a glass of amber liquid, the contents of which matched the contents of an open bottle at her feet. He smiled slightly. If there had been any doubt that she was the woman for him, here was the proof against it.
"Got another glass?" he asked, plopping down next to her with what he hoped was an ingenuous smile.
Wordlessly, she passed him a beautiful cut-crystal short tumbler and the bottle of what appeared to be very expensive firewhisky.
"This is an impressive bottle of firewhisky, you know," he said, deciding to start the conversation if she wouldn't. "Who gave it to us?"
"Kingsley," she replied distantly. "Along with half a dozen of those glasses and a beautiful decanter."
Sirius glanced at her and for a moment he lost himself in the reflection of the dancing orange flames in her eyes. It reminded him—as if he could ever really forget—of how passionate, fiery and generally incredible she was.
Smiling to himself, he said, "Good on ya, Shacklebolt," and downed his glass. The smooth liquid slid down his throat and caused a pleasant warmth within him, relaxing him enough to refill his glass and settle back to watch the fire with her, saying, "I see you're trying to put a dent into this forest of ribbon and tulle."
"It was bothering me," she said by way of explanation. "I couldn't sleep. Figured I might as well."
Sirius momentarily toyed with the idea of prying into why she couldn't sleep, but it seemed like a silly question to ask given the circumstances so he simply asked, "Anything else interesting?"
He wasn't sure, but he thought he saw her tense.
She was silent for such a long time that he thought she hadn't heard him, but then she slid something along the carpet toward him and said, "This was one of the twins' gifts."
Sirius looked down at what looked like a large hand-held spyglass. The frame was painted in the twins' signature purple and orange stripes and the glass was polished to perfection. Clearly another product from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Sirius looked blankly at his wife. "What is it?"
"It's their Image-O-Child. Remember, from the night before our wedding? Obviously, they've put some finishing touches to it, but…that's it."
Eyebrows knit, Sirius tried to remember. "Was that that little glass-thing that flew around Harry and Ginny's head? The one that showed their children?"
"Yes," she replied.
He chuckled. "Well, I think we have some time before we'll have to use it."
He half-expected her to laugh along with him, but she merely glanced at the spyglass before taking another sip of firewhisky and shifting her gaze back to the fire. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong but then she said, "There's a chance I could be pregnant, Sirius."
Had she told him that she was secretly a half-dragon mermaid with a cocaine addiction, Sirius would not have been more surprised. And in his surprise—and the ensuing panic—he said the first words that came to mind: "By whom?"
Her head whipped around and her eyes narrowed dangerously, "What do you mean, by whom?"
"I didn't mean that," he said quickly. "I meant 'how'."
"And yet you said 'by whom'."
"Yes, I know, but I didn't mean—"
"I think you did, Sirius," she said softly. "The first words out of anyone's mouth in times of great shock tend to be the closest thing to the truth. And you honestly thought, for the briefest of moments, that the paternity of this child may be a multiple choice answer."
"I can't say the idea didn't pop into my head, kitten, but that's really only because I thought we were careful about this type of…thing."
She stared at him. "You thought "we" were careful about this? "We"? I'm sorry, the last I checked, I was the only one doing anything about contraception in this relationship and since that's the case, why the fuck do you think it would be any different if, by some miracle, I could break out of the fidelity charms long enough to screw someone else?!" she screamed, eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Hermione, I'm sor—"
"And another thing," she interrupted, face flushing as she placed her glass down to gesture angrily. "In the event that I have somehow been able to secretly break our unbreakable fidelity bond, please enlighten me as to when, in the midst of mysteries, murder plots, general mayhem and a demanding career, I could find the time to fuck another man?"
"Darling, I'm trying to apolo—"
"Or perhaps you think it's Remus's," she interrupted again, letting the accusation hang in the air.
Sirius would be lying if he said the thought hadn't popped into his mind. In spite of knowing how happy Remus and Emily were, as well as knowing that it was nigh impossible for Hermione to break their bonds, Sirius still carried an undercurrent of jealousy for the relationship Remus and Hermione once had. They had been lovers for three years. He and Hermione had barely been together for three months. There was a depth of history between the two that he would never be able to understand. That, more than anything, fed his suspicion.
"How little you must think of me," she said softly, cradling her glass once more and gazing into the tawny glow. "For all your words of love, you still think that I'm little more than the slag you knew before all this nonsense started." She chuckled, the sound hollow, before downing the rest of her drink. "Well, maybe I am. After all, we've had more sex in the past few months than I've ever had with any of my other lovers. But make no mistake, Sirius Black," she added, looking directly at him again. "If I am pregnant, the baby is yours."
"I know," he said. "I know it is. You have to believe me, 'Mione, I know."
She shook her head. "But you said—"
"I know what I said," he cut in. "I don't know why I said it. Panic, maybe. Fear. Jealousy. Probably jealousy. I look at you and there are times I still can't believe you're mine. Maybe that's why I said it. Because I sometimes think that this is all a dream, and one day I'm going to wake up and none of it will be real."
She narrowed her eyes. "That's romantic, Sirius, but that's not why you said it."
"Hermione, think very hard. Even before all this happened, did I ever once judge you for your choices?"
She frowned, thinking. "No. But just because you didn't say it out loud—"
He smiled slightly. "Do you remember a time when I left anything unsaid? Especially judgments?"
He caught a whisper of a smile on her face as she thought about it. "No."
He silently exhaled the breath he had been holding. "I'm not going to lie, Hermione…the fact that you have been with several men bothers me. But not for the reasons you think," he added quickly when she opened her mouth to protest. "What bothers me is that they got to have a proper courtship with you. Perhaps not traditional, and perhaps not very in-depth, but there wasn't a timeframe put upon it. There weren't documents and laws and government oversight to deal with. It was just you and that person because you wanted to be together and we…we never got that opportunity."
She rolled her eyes. "I think we've established quite clearly how we feel about each other, Sirius."
He shook his head. "That's not what I mean, love. We were thrown together; two reluctant people trying to…to act like we were in love. True, love did find us and we are the better for it but…but you didn't choose me."
"You didn't choose me either, Sirius."
"But I would have," he said softly. "Out of all the women in all the world, if you had given me a choice of who I would want to spend the rest of my life with, it would have been you. Even if sex weren't involved, you have so many qualities that I admire and I may have moaned a bit about the actual wedding and marriage bit but…but never about you, Hermione."
She softened, eyes losing some of her anger. "I never knew that."
He shook his head. "I wasn't really sure myself until after we were thrown together. Didn't you wonder why I wasn't a panicked wreck?"
"To tell you the truth…I wasn't really thinking about you."
He smiled slightly. "Fair enough." Then he sighed. "The truth is, Hermione, there are a lot of moments in our relationship where I have to pinch myself to make sure it's real. I'm sorry I said what I did. But you have to believe that it wasn't because I think little of you; it's because I don't think that highly of myself when it comes to you. You deserve…so much better than me."
"True," she said, a hint of mischievous smirk on her face. "But I wouldn't trade you for anyone. I've already got you so well-trained."
He chuckled and pulled her to him, heaving her into his arms and holding her body against him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled into his neck, her breath warm on his skin. He felt the cool glass of the tumbler against his back, and all at once a different set of instincts started kicking in. He pulled back and looked at her, "If you're pregnant, should you be drinking firewhisky?"
She sat back on his thighs and looked at the glass thoughtfully, replying, "Probably not." Then she sighed. "God, Sirius, I don't know what I'm going to do if I am pregnant."
He frowned slightly. "What do you mean, what you're going to do?"
"Well, if I keep it, we'll have to—"
"Wait a minute. Keep it?"
"There are ways to…stop it from happening."
"I'm keeping all my options open, Sirius."
"And I'm behind your decision, love, so long as we talk about it first. After all…that child is half mine."
She gave a frustrated huff and slid away from him, murmuring, "Typical bloody man." He, however, caught her before she pulled away and said, "I'm not a caveman, 'Mione. I just think we need to have a conversation about it considering we've never actually had a conversation about children."
"Of course we have, Sirius. When Mr. Crisp was here—"
"When he was here, the situation was time-sensitive and overwhelming. We have not discussed it since. You've avoided it."
She bristled. "I've avoided it? You're not exactly opening the conversational doors to it, either, Sirius."
"I'll accept that so long as you accept that we haven't had a proper conversation about it."
She opened her mouth to argue but Sirius felt a surge of triumph when she closed it again and merely nodded. "Fine. Shall I just reiterate that I didn't think we should be having children this soon? It hardly gives us time to do anything, it will limit the work that I can do, and it's just another thing that can be used as leverage against us. It's also severely impractical to have a child in a world that would sooner see it dead than live a happy, healthy life."
Sirius nodded. "Those are all very logical points, my dear. But what does your heart say?"
She sat in silence for a moment then sighed. "I don't know, Sirius. I used to think, 'No, absolutely not. I'm not maternal at all.' But being with you…in love…it's changed a lot. I don't…I don't know if I hate the idea anymore. I get a little…squishy, I guess…at the idea of having a baby with you." Then she shook herself. "But not now."
Sirius looked into her determined honey eyes with a smile. The idea of this woman, swollen with his child, sent a small thrill down his spine. He had never thought that he could be a father—either in temperament or circumstance—but then again, he never thought he could be a husband. His emotions, however, did not supersede his absolute belief that a child would be the worst thing for them at that moment. On that, at least, they were agreed.
"I suppose the big question is this, love," he finally said. "Is the impracticality of having a child so strong that we're willing to…to…"
"To abort it," she finished softly. "I don't know, Sirius. That's what I was thinking when you came in here." Then she sighed. "Hopefully, this will all be a moot point, but I suppose we'll have to wait until we know for sure."
"I suppose. And, er, how long does that take, usually?"
She gave him a sly look. "In all your days of carousing, you've never had a pregnancy scare? Really?"
He chuckled slightly, glad she was bringing some levity to the subject. "To be honest, love, most of the time, I don't really stick around to see what the results are."
"The portrait of chivalry, you are."
"What can I say, love? You've tamed a savage beast."
She grinned, "I should hope not."
He laughed. "Well, if there is some progeny of mine running around somewhere in the world, I don't know about it. And if there was a scare…well…I don't know about that either."
She sighed, settling back into his arms. "I'm fairly certain there isn't a mini-you running around, because if there had been, they would have surfaced before the wedding to muck everything up. We've just had that kind of luck."
"That is a good point well-made."
For several moments, they sat watching the fire, both caught up in their individual fantasies of what their life would look like with children. Hermione went to take a sip of her firewhisky then stopped herself, instead shifting a bit and putting it on the tray beside them.
In solidarity—or rather, in hopes of preserving the very nice, very expensive beverage for longer—Sirius abstained from drinking any more as well. Handing Hermione his glass, he stretched out his long limbs and made himself more comfortable. In doing so, his hand nudged the forgotten Weasley spy glass.
Which was the precise moment that both wizard and witch had the exact same idea.
"The spy glass!" they said in unison before staring at each other. Then Hermione giggled and, to Sirius's utter surprise and certain delight, blushed.
He hadn't thought it possible before that moment, thinking nothing could fluster his cool, unflappable warrior wife. He found that he liked it.
Then she said, "Please promise me that we won't become one of those annoying couples that always—"
"—finishes each other's sentences?" he finished with a broad grin. She narrowed her eyes, though she still smiled, and shook her head at him.
"The spy glass," she repeated, reaching around him to grab the object. "Should have a time element on it. Fred and George are smart enough to know that this would only be effective—and successful—with a non-invasive, untraceable method of pregnancy detection. For wives to avoid St. Mungo's." She frowned as she looked at the glass, studying it. "If I know them, it'll probably be heralded by something loud and obnoxiously-neon."
"Aren't all the best messages delivered thusly?" Sirius teased.
She snorted. "It certainly would have made history far more interesting." She rapped the spy glass firmly and said, "Hermione Granger and Sirius Black."
For a long moment—or maybe it just felt that way because they were holding their breath—the spy glass did nothing. Then, slowly, it levitated, moving purposely around Hermione's head and then Sirius's. When it finished, it moved away, floating in front of them. They waited for it to hum and glow yellow, as it had done months ago. They waited for the glass to darken and a figure to appear.
But it didn't.
Instead, it started to shake; softly at first, then progressively more violent. It started to glow, but not the rich, buttery yellow as before but a dull, greenish-yellow that conjured to mind unpleasant bodily fluids. Then it shifted to orange, the shaking intensifying and the glass starting to crack along the frame.
Then it turned red. And exploded.
Sirius had had the forethought to move back further, shielding Hermione just in time as glass and metal ricocheted off the furniture to bury into the wall paper. Luckily, neither had been hit by shrapnel, though there was much coughing and spluttering as they threw open the door and windows to let the smoke out.
When the room was once more smoke-free, they looked at each other in bewilderment. Neither had to vocalize their thoughts to know the other was thinking the same thing.
'Well, that can't be good.'
I hope you enjoyed it.
If not, please do remember that you chose to read this, so really you only have yourself to blame.
More to come soon(ish).