The white card, embossed in gold print and slipped into an ivory colored envelope was delivered to Sirius by a tawny owl that knocked impatiently on his window. He had been lying, face down on the sofa and snoring softly, his arm hanging down the edge and his fingers loosely curled around an empty bottle of whiskey. The noise of the owl's beak rapping against the glass sent splinters of pain sparkling up his head. With a loose moan, he propped himself up on his elbows and peered around blearily.
The owl hooted impatiently.
Dragging himself off the sofa, Sirius made his way to the window and pushed it open. The owl flew in, and immediately extended its leg. With numb fingers, Sirius untied the envelope and gave the owl a rude stare that sent it on its way. Flipping open the envelope, he slid out the card and stared at it for long moments.
Then, with a sharp cry that echoed around his small, dingy apartment, he crushed the card in one fist and turned on his heel.
With shaky, abrupt movements, he headed to his refridgerator, and yanked it open. Pulling out the vegetable bin, he rummaged amongst the collection of amber-colored bottles inside, and selected one. It was glass bottle of cheap Ogden whiskey, sharp on the tongue, and unpleasant to the palate. Sirius didn't care though. He uncapped the bottle and wrapped his mouth around it, feeling the fiery, bitter liquid seep down his throat and hit his stomach with a bang that made the pain in his head and heart lessen simultaneously.
As he lowered the bottle from his mouth, his raging emotions somewhat numbed, he felt the hard edges of the crumpled card in his palm. Crossing over to the sink, he tossed it into the trash. He spent a few moments watching the card, nestled amongst a few empty cans of beer and some tissue paper blotted in lipstick, and then sat down at his kitchen table. He pulled a steel tumbler from a cupboard, and filled it to the brim with whiskey. Taking another deep draught, he felt his breath calm slightly, and his mind slow down.
He sighed, his fingers curled over the cold surface of the glass. Little drops of water had begun to condense on its curved surface. In the fractured morning light that sifted through his heavy, drawn curtains, they sparkled optimistically. Sirius frowned heavily at them, and then glanced back at the trash can.
He took another swig. The burning in his throat had subsided now, and the alcohol that streamed through it had no more effect on him than water would have. He felt parched, but getting up to the tap was not an option right now. His whole body ached, and his mind felt thick and fuzzy.
Half an hour later, the bottle of whiskey was empty, and the tumbler that he still held pathetically in both hands reeked. Sirius sighed, and briefly closed his eyes. Fragmented, unclear images flit under his lids- Hermione, sitting cross-legged on his bathroom counter, combing out the tangles in her hair. Hermione, leaning back on his sofa and feeding him bits of tuna straight from the tin. Hermione, firmly taking a bottle of whiskey away from him and telling him she would not have been drinking like this all the time.
He blinked. He hadn't seen her in six months, now.
With a grunt, Sirius swung himself off the chair and headed to the sink. Lifting the lid of the trashcan, he picked up the crumpled card, and slipped it into his pocket. He glanced at it one last time before doing so.
You are cordially invited to the Flourish and Blott's for the official book launch of Adversary, a new novel by Hermione Granger, tonight at nine.
He hadn't seen Hermione in ages. In fact, now that he thought about it, he hadn't seen her since she graduated from Hogwarts. Molly had dragged him along for that ceremony, even though he hadn't wanted to go. It was on a Saturday, and he would have been perfectly happy following his weekend routine- nursing a bottle of Ogden's finest and watching porn the whole day. But nonetheless, he had gone, and dutifully congratulated the three newest graduates. He had left early, stopping only at the video store on the way home.
He tried to remember, now, what she had looked like at that time. He remembered a girl who was pale and scrawny, with a halo of frizzy brown hair, and unremarkable brown eyes. She had been dressed in her school uniform, her white shirt hanging off her thin shoulders unattractively, ridiculously stick-like legs poking out from under her skirt.
But now, sitting opposite him in a bistro, with the ripeness of afternoon sunshine falling across her, she looked different. Her hair, which was still laughably frizzy, seemed a little shinier, the shade of brown a little softer. Her face had filled out, a new maturity settling into the swell on her cheeks. He didn't know whether it was because of the rectangular glasses she wore, but her eyes seemed more narrow, a little darker. She had pierced her nose, and a little black stud glimmered every now and then when she moved her head.
She was sipping a cup of coffee. Sirius, who had ordered one black emptied the contents of a small, silver flask into it.
'Do you always do that?' Hermione asked, with interest.
Sirius blinked. 'Excuse me?'
'It's the middle of the afternoon,' she explained, 'And you just poured a whole lot of something alcoholic into your coffee.'
Sirius stared at her. He wasn't too used to people asking him upfront about his drinking. There were a few times that Molly had skirtishly brought up the topic, especially when he polished off two whole bottles of wine in one sitting during dinner at the Burrow, and once Tonks had asked him about it, when she apparated to his apartment at ten in the morning to find him doing shots. It was a thing of the past, though. He had always imagined that the topic made them so uncomfortable, they would rather avoid it altogether.
He chose not to answer her question directly. 'It's whiskey.' he said, instead.
Hermione nodded. 'Ogden's?'
She took a sip of her coffee. 'Is that all you do, then?' she asked. 'Sit in your apartment, and drink all day?'
Sirius felt a little frisson of anger growing inside his belly. 'Yes,' he said, abruptly. 'That's about it. Is that a problem?'
Her eyes widened a little with surprise. 'Of course not.' she said.
There was a brief silence, and then Sirius asked her, 'So what do you do?'
Hermione took a sip of her coffee, and put down her cup before answering. 'I write,' she said, briefly.
Sirius tried to hide his surprise. He had always imagined that she would get into some fast-paced corporate job. Apparently, he had been wrong.
'Anything I might be familiar with?' he asked, easily.
She laughed bitterly. 'I don't think so,' she said, and then explained, 'I haven't published anything yet.'
Sirius frowned and bit his lip. 'Too much competition?' he asked, sympathetically.
Hermione shook her head. 'No,' she said, 'I haven't sent anything to the publisher's, yet."
She saw the look of surprise on his face, and laughed abruptly again. 'You think I'm mad, don't you?'
'A little,' he admitted. 'It's been four years since you graduated, hasn't it? Why on earth haven't you tried to get anything published till now?'
She shrugged. 'I don't think you'll understand.' she said.
He leaned back, cradling his spiked coffee in one hand. 'Try me.' he offered.
Hermione surveyed him calmly for a moment, and then said, 'I haven't written anything real enough.'
Once more, Sirius's brow furrowed. 'Real?' he said. 'Are you- are you writing non-fiction?'
Hermione laughed, a deep, throaty chuckle that sounded like it should belong to a man. Sirius found himself both embarassed and angry at the same time.
'No, I write fiction,' she said, a little gently. It sounded to Sirius like the same tone a mother would use when telling her child that Santa Claus didn't exist after all.
Hermione rummaged in her bag, and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. She lit one and inhaled languidly, thinking for a moment before continuing.
'I write fiction,' she said, again, 'But fiction has to be real too, hasn't it? After all, these characters that I- I create- if I want them to exist on paper they have to be real to me, have to mean something to me.'
Sirius nodded. 'I see.' he said. 'And that- that hasn't happened yet?'
Hermione shook her head. 'No,' she said, a little ruefully. Then, her face lit up, and she added, 'I'm trying a new technique, now, though.'
She laughed again, a little self-consciously. 'This is going to sound cliched, but I'm trying to model my characters on people I know in real life.'
Sirius raised an eyebrow. 'You're right.' he said. 'That does sound cliched.'
Hermione shook her head slightly. 'Don't say it like it's a bad thing,' she chided, 'If it's cliched, it obviously means its good- it means lots of people have tried it out and it worked.'
'I see,' said Sirius, 'And tell me, which unfortunate souls in your life have been transformed to fictional characters.'
Hermione smiled mischeviously. 'Ah,' she said, 'Now that would be telling.'
Sirius sighed. His coffee was over, and he found that he rather missed the sensation of alcohol sliding down his throat. Perhaps, he thought, he could apparate back to his apartment now, dig out that bottle of Ogden's, somewhere in his fridge...
He viewed the idea approvingly, and said to Hermione, 'Well, I should probably get going now. It was nice meeting you, Hermione, after such a long time.'
Hermione raised a perfectly arced eyebrow. 'Did you really think I'd let you off so easily?' she asked.
Sirius frowned. 'What do you mean?'
'I demand a second date, Sirius. How about tomorrow night?'
The frown became even deeper, as Sirius ran his eyes up and down her. Taking Hermione out on a date? The idea seemed- well, preposterous. She was a girl, fresh out of Hogwarts, ridiculously quirky. He hadn't even planned to meet her today- they had simply bumped into each other in the supermarket, and walked down to the bistro to catch up a little.
But now, he found himself inspecting her small, firm body, eyeing the black woollen slacks, and beige sweater that she was wearing. The sweater looked thin, and he didn't think she was wearing anything underneath it, save for a black bra who's outline he could see faintly through the material. She wore black flip-flops, two small diamond studs in her ears.
'Alright,' he found himself saying. 'I'll pick you up at eight.'
He had arrived at eight fifteen. Hermione had been standing outside her house, her arms crossed across her chest, and her narrow eyes furious. As Sirius walked up to her, he could practically feel the anger radiating from her body.
'What's wrong?' he asked, pulling up in surprise.
She bit her lower lip. 'You said eight,' she informed him, coldly. 'It's eight fifteen.'
Sirius glanced at his watch, and then back at her, bewildered. 'I'm just fifteen minutes late,' he protested, 'Has that really got you so spitting mad?'
She nodded tightly, and Sirius could see the tendons in her neck straining. 'It sure as hell does,' she spat. Then, she calmed down a bit, and said, 'Never be late for me, Sirius.'
As he took her hand, and they walked down the road, he turned his eyes to her, continuing the careful scrutiny he had begun the previous afternoon. She was wearing a black dress, with short sleeves, and a slightly flared skirt that ended above her knees. Unlike the silky fashion of the time, her dress was made of pressed linen, and hung stiffly- but not unattractively- on her small frame. Her feet were in sandals, and she carried a practical black leather bag over one shoulder. Around her neck, she had wrapped a fuschia pink pashmina shawl. Her nose stud glinted in the dim lamplight.
'You look hot.' Sirius said. The statement surprised even himself.
Hermione's hand jumped self-consciously to her hair, which she had knotted at the back of her head. 'Thank you,' she said, matter-of-factly.
They didn't exchange another word until they reached the restaurant. But both of their tongue's loosened over a bottle of Merlot, and when Sirius dropped her back to her apartment a little past midnight, she asked him to come in.
Sirius smirked to himself, and followed her, as she led him up a narrow flight of stairs. Her front door, he noticed, was painted bright green. She simply unlatched it, and stepped in, flicking on the foyer light as she did so. She stepped out of her sandals, and padded barefoot to the kitchen, Sirius following her.
'Would you like something to drink?' she asked, fiddling around with some saucepans.
'Whiskey would be nice,' Sirius said, looking around. The kitchen was painted yellow, with pumpkin-colored tiling. The counters were wiped clean, and the little table had a checked cloth over it. 'Do you have any?'
'I'm making some tea.' she replied.
Something in her tone of voice stopped Sirius from protesting. But when she brought two blue china cups of hot tea to the table, and slid one in front of him, he pulled his flask out of his pocket and uncapped it.
'Don't even think about it,' Hermione said, warningly.
Sirius blinked. 'What?'
'Put that flask away, right now. Or better yet, give it to me. Don't you think you've had enough to drink?'
Anger. Bubbling anger. It started in the pit of his stomach, and then wormed its way up his throat. His dark eyes turned cold.
'No.' he said, abruptly. 'As a matter of fact, I don't.'
'See, this,' said Hermione pointing to the flask. 'Is why I called you up here. I wanted to talk to you.'
'Your drinking. I think you're an alcoholic.'
Sirius stared at her for a moment, and then groaned, and slid his large hands over his face to cover his eyes. 'Are you fucking kidding me?' he asked. 'This is why you called me up here? I thought we were going to have sex!'
'This isn't a laughing matter, you know. They say that drinking can be a man's greatest adversary. If you are an alcoholic-'
'If!' Sirius echoed, laughing mirthlessly. 'Hermione, there is no "if"! Of course I'm an alcoholic. If I'm not drunk, I'm not happy. I'm pretty clear about that.'
Hermione's eyes glowed. 'Do you mean to say,' she asked, breathlessly, 'That you know you're an alcoholic, but you don't stop drinking?'
Sirius nodded. He fiddled with the collar of his expensive Italian shirt. Apparently, this date was not ending in her bed, and he wanted nothing more than to go home.
'Didn't you ever think of stopping?'
Oh, great. He didn't need this right now, he thought, with a mental growl. He was sick of girls who pretended to care about his drinking problems- not that they were problems. They fit perfectly into his life, and he was content that exact way.
'No,' he said, coldly. 'I don't think of stopping.'
Hermione surveyed him thoughtfully. 'You want to go home, don't you?' she asked.
Sirius nodded. 'That would be nice.'
Hermione sighed, and stood up. With one fluid motion, she unzipped the back of her dress, and Sirius watched with his mouth slightly open as it pooled down to her feet, leaving her in nothing but the fuschia shawl that was wrapped tightly around her neck.
'Would you like to come to my room?' asked Hermione. There was no shyness about her at all.
Sirius moved over to her in two strides, and picked her up.
After they were done, they lay together naked in bed. Hermione lit a candle, and they held it amongst themselves, poring over each other's bodies.
'Where is this from?' asked Hermione, running her hand over a small scar on Sirius's hand.
Sirius laughed. 'I have foot long scars on my back from Azkaban, and the one you pounce on was the one I got when I jammed my finger in my mother's cupboard.'
Hermione smiled as well. 'Foot long scars don't interest me,' she said, dismissively. 'This one, though. How old were you?'
Sirius was surprised, but tried to remember. 'I think I was ten,' he said, doubtfully. 'It was definitely before I joined Hogwarts.'
'What were you doing in your mother's cupboard?'
Sirius chuckled. 'I was trying to get at her pearls. I wanted money to buy cigarettes. Crazy, I know, but I was a crazy kid.'
'You smoked when you were ten?'
'I started at nine. My dad used to leave them lying around, and I was curious.'
'Did you cry?'
'When you jammed your finger in the cupboard? Did you cry?'
Sirius thought about this for a moment.
'I'm pretty certain I wailed my ass off.'
Hermione smiled, and wrapped her body around his once more.
The thing about Hermione, he realized, once they began to spend more time together, was her godforsaken interest in him. She wanted to know everything. She ignored the fact that he had spent years in Azkaban, asking him instead how his life was at home with his parents. She never brought up James and Lilly. Instead, she talked to him about the long process of becoming an Animagus.
'I don't see why you're so interested,' he protested, as she quizzed him about him.
Hermione's eyes glowed. 'I think you're brilliant,' she replied, and, winding her body down onto his lap, she leaned over and licked his ear lobe.
She was unlike any girl he had ever met before. It was after their first night that Sirius realized he wasn't going to be able to let her go that easily. He wanted more and more of her, he realized, as the first days of their relationship sped by. It only turned him on more that she made her desire for him and his company so blatantly clear. There was one time, he remembered, when he had just finished a bottle of whiskey, and was staggering to his bed, when he heard a soft tapping at her window.
It was her owl.
Come over, she had written, I want you.
And he had gone.
After their love making, they spent long hours simply talking. Hermione asked him all sorts of inane questions. She didn't bring up the topic of his drinking for a while, but made it a point to only serve him tea at her place, and never order wine when they were out to dinner. Slowly, Sirius learned not to mention his drinking when he was around her. He ceased to bring out his flask in her presence, and when she gave him a cellphone for his birthday, he never told her during their late night conversations that he had been drinking, although he was certain she suspected it.
The odd thing, he decided, was that his drinking didn't seem to bother her that much. In fact, after the first time she had mentioned it in her flat, she didn't bring it up at all.
It was only after one particularly passionate night, when Sirius looked down at her curled up in his arms and asked her to move in with him, that she began to speak about it.
'Of course I want to move in with you,' she said, matter-of-factly, 'You know that as well as I do. But Sirius, we have to talk first.'
Sirius groaned. 'Don't tell me.'
'This is serious.'
'So am I.'
'I have no times for poorly-worded jokes,' she said, a little sternly. 'You know how I feel about this. You have to stop.'
He spread his arms out, grinned childishly. 'But I can't! You know that.'
'On the contrary. It's your biggest adversary. I insist that you stop.'
'Have I ever insisted that you stop smoking?' Sirius asked, indignantly.
'I'm not addicted, and it's not as harmful as your habit.' Her eyes softened, and she said, 'Please, Sirius. It would mean so much to me.'
Sirius fully intended to tell her to fuck off. Good sex wasn't enough to put him off drinking, he reasoned. Besides, she wasn't the only girl who was fantastic in bed. But he looked down at her face, pale and calm despite their recent passion, and the balloon of hair that spilled across his pillow, and suddenly realized that he might just be in love with her.
Interesting, he thought. An idea worth pursuing. He loved her.
'Alright,' he said, 'I'll give it a try.'
He hadn't honestly thought he would stick with it. In fact, he was pretty certain he would give up right away. Hermione, however, would have none of that.
They moved into his apartment, and she immediately cleared it off all the alcohol bottles, whether empty of full. She whirled around the cramped space for a few days making changes in little places- adding a colorful table cloth, or a few printed cushions, or a vase of flowers that gave the entire apartment a homely feel that Sirius had never noticed. She moved all her stuff, her clothes, and shoes, and books- mostly books to his place as well, and they spent a weekend erecting a wooden framework bookshelf for her to stack them in.
And then she brought her type-writer.
Sirius had not realized, until she moved in, how dedicated she was to her work. But the first night the typewriter came, they didn't have sex. That in itself should have warned him, but all he felt was affection as he watched her hunched over the table it was put on, staining her fingers, and somehow, the tip of her nose with ink.
'You're writing like crazy,' he said.
'A lot is coming to me,' she said, solemnly. 'I think it's because of you.'
Sirius watched her curiously. 'Are your characters getting at all- all real?' he asked.
Hermione did not reply.
She typed the entire of the second night too, and Sirius found himself uncharacteristically grumpy during the third one. At one in the morning, he stomped into the living room. Yes, she was still typing. Every now and then she would pull a page from the type writer, and add it to a growing sheaf she kept at the edge of the table.
'Are you still typing?' he askd, a little irately.
Hermione glanced up, and scrutinized him for a moment. Then, she stood up.
'Are you feeling lonely, my darling?' she asked.
Sirius felt the roof of his mouth go dry. It was the first time she had addressed him using any term of endearment. He felt himself go rock hard, and almost laughed at the irony of it all. Ramshackle blondes, and corset-clad women had employed every manner of love-filled terminology on him, but the moment this little goddess in pajamas called him "her darling", he felt week in the knees.
They had frantic sex that night, and after it was over, they both curled up together beneath a maroon duvet, their knees and ankles touching. After a few minutes of silence, Hermione said, 'You asked me once about my writing.'
'Yes. That first day, when we were having coffee at the bistro. You asked me which unfortunate souls were being converted into characters for my story.'
'That's right,' he nodded.
'I'd like to tell you.'
Sirius touched her chin with his finger, and she turned to look up at him.
'You're writing means a lot to you, doesn't it?" he asked, gently.
'Then, I'd be honored if you told me.'
And so she did.
She told him how she had a character in her book, called Jeremy, and how she had modelled him on Harry.
'What's he like?' Sirius asked, curiously.
'Well, the biggest thing about him is he's compassionate. He would never hurt someone innocent intentionally. He's also quick-witted, impulsive, and terribly impetuous. When he was a child, one of his older classmates beat up his best friend, and he tripped the bully over with a skipping rope.'
Sirius blinked. 'You've thought this out in a lot of detail, haven't you?'
'That's how they get real to me,' she said, with a little smile.
'Tell me more.'
They spoke the whole night, and Sirius found himself entranced in the elaborate fantasy world that she had created. She had incorporated so many people from their daily lives, and given them such detailed pasts and vivid presents that it almost felt like a violation. And as he thought about this, for the first time, he felt a spark of fear at what Hermione was doing to herself with her writing.
He never mentioned it to her. Once, when they were cuddled on the sofa watching the telly, he asked her, 'Do you ever get scared that you'll hate to come back to real life?'
She knew what he meant immediately. 'You mean when I'm done writing the book?'
She considered it. 'I don't think so, you know,' she said, 'After all, the book is my real life.'
The answer only worried him more.
It didn't help, that, throughout this he was suffering through intensive pangs of withdrawal symptoms. He craved alcohol all the time. After so many years of giving into his indulgences, this absistence caused physical pain in his body. He woke up in the mornings, drenched in sweat, his body wracked with pain. At night, he went to sleep with his hands shivering, and his eyes bright and feverish. Hermione helped him, of course. She held his hand when he needed her, stroked the sweat-stained hair off his face when the pain got especially bad, and carefully weaned him off the alcohol in ways that nobody had ever cared to try before.
'I need a drink,' he had rasped, once.
'Well, then,' said Hermione, swinging a leg over his lap and straddling him, 'Drink me.'
And he had forgotten all about it.
At the same time, he couldn't help feeling that her active interest in his health was a bit too- a bit too clinical, or disengaged. He chided himself, sometimes, told himself that it was stupid, and that he was lucky to get someone who cared so much. But the odd pit of unease remained in the back of his mind.
'How do you feel, darling?' she would ask him.
'Horrible,' he rasped back.
Hermione frowned. 'Why don't you tell me exactly?'
'My head hurts,' he said.
She reached out and covered his hand with her little palm. 'Tell me everything, Sirius.'
He had learned, by then, how she wanted him to reply. 'There's a sort of dull ache in my head,' he would say, 'And the muscles in my arm feel stiff and painfull. I feel a little feverish.'
She would nod, with satisfaction.
'Have some water,' she said, giving him a bottle. 'And then come here. I'll make you feel better.'
She told him more about her writing. And as her recounting of her story progressed, Sirius began to feel uneasy. It wasn't anything that he could put his finger on, however. It was only one night, when they were relaxing in the tub together with glasses of cola in their hands (Hermione had given up drinking as well in his presence) that he realized what it was.
'I'm worried about your book,' he said.
She frowned. 'What do you mean?'
'You won't take this the wrong way, will you?' he asked, her anxiously.
Hermione laughed and shook her head. 'You know I won't.' she said, affectionately.
'Well,' Sirius said, a little nervously, 'I was just thinking that you're character's seem a little- well, wrong.'
Hermione stiffened. 'What do you mean?' she asked, a little tersely.
'Not what you're thinking, so please, relax. What I meant was, they're all very real, but also very insignificant. Well- at least they're only significant in their own ways. It's like all their roles are leading up to something.'
Hermione inhaled slowly. 'Do you really think so?' she asked.
'Don't look now, but I think you're missing a main character,' Sirius said, playfully.
Hermione burst out laughing. 'Oh, darling,' she said, turning around in the water and wrapping her arms about her neck. 'Let me worry about that, will you?'
Two days later, she was in a foul mood.
Initially, Sirius thought it was because it was that time of the month. But a quick calculation told him that that wasn't possible.
Two days later, she finished the book.
Sirius stepped lightly onto the hard pavement outside Flourish and Blott's.
The night was dark and cool. Pale clouds drifted across the face of the moon, and a soft breeze touched his shoulders as he walked to the brightly lit shop. He had borrowed one of Remus's suits specially for the occasion. The jacket and trousers were both a deep shade of navy, but fit a little awkwardly onto his shoulders, ended an inch above his wrists. He wore dark socks to hide the extra bit of ankle below the hem of his pants, and old shoes that he had shined thoroughly and patiently, until they regained some of their long-lost lustre.
He had rather hoped, when Remus had agreed to lend him the suit, that the latter would charm it to fit Sirius's larger frame. However, Remus had simply summoned it from his closet and handed it over to Sirius still on the hanger.
'You can alter it, can't you?' he had asked, carelessly.
Sirius didn't have the heart to tell him that he couldn't.
He couldn't apparate to Flourish and Blott's either. Instead, he took the Underground. It was strange, frightening experience, especially since he hadn't stepped out of his apartment in a while. He had looked himself up and down in the mirror before leaving, noting the stubble on his chin, and the wide, dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. His skin had turned sickly from staying indoors, his hair grown lank. His hands, when he looked about for a razor, were shaking so much that he thought it safest not to shave.
He couldn't, of course, pick up his wand and charm off the stubble.
As he walked across the Flourish and Blott's, he saw that a small crowd had begun to gather outside. Most of the witches and wizards around looked young, fresh into their careers, and full of bright enthusiasm. They were dressed well, the woman in bright clothes, with sparkling jewelry, and thickly scented hair, and the men in pressed suits that fit perfectly over their wrists and ankles. Sirius began to feel odd and out of place, as he walked amidst them, and showed his invitation to the sullen page boy at the door.
'It's all crumpled up.' he said, accusingly.
'I sat on it by mistake.'
'Silly thing to do, seems.'
The page boy scrutinized him for another moment, and then said, 'Alright, then, in you go.'
So Sirius stepped inside.
He looked around, wondering at how much the shop had been transformed. The dingy, book-filled shelves had been cleared away, leaving a large open space that was dimly lit with candes and well-decorated. It had been filled with small, circular tables, holding lilly centre pieces. Suave waiters moved between them, amongst occasional glimmers of cutlery. A crowd of well-dressed witches and wizards milled about, shaking hands and air-kissing vigorously about them.
Sirius could just imagine how irritated Hermione would be with all this.
'Amanda!' said a fleshy woman with a blonde wig, 'Darling, it has been extensively long. You simply must come here and tell me all about your new nose.'
Amanda glided over the woman, and loudly kissed the air about a foot left of her cheek. 'You look absolutely divine, Mary,' she said, admiringly. 'That color is so penetrating on you. Whatever is it called?'
'Barely Mint,' said the fleshy woman, preening. Sirius choked down an exclamation of disgust, and moved on. Towards his left, was a cluster of more intellectual looking people- slightly older men and women, who were dressed in more sober colors. And suddenly, he saw Hermione standing amongst them.
Sirius was left with the distinct impression that his heart had leapt, and crashed directly into his front teeth. He hadn't seen her in six months, and it was only now that he reminded himself of how beautiful she could look. She was dressed in something pale gray and silky, which gathered into pleats below her bosom, and fell in an uninterrupted column to her feet. It was strapless, and her pale shoulders and elegant neck seemed to glow in the soft light of the candles. Her hair, which was as crazy as ever, was pulled back into a half-hearted chignon. She had left the rectangular glasses firmly wedged to the bridge of her nose, and the stud above her left nostril still glimmered calculatingly. Her expression was irate and tired all at the same time.
Sirius sucked in his breath, and took a few steps closer.
She was talking, at the moment, to a tall man with a ravaged face and a peppering of hair above his lip.
'-above all, my dear,' he said, warmly, as Sirius inched towards them, 'The maturity with which you handle your characters! It's wonderful, for someone as young as you. They seem ridiculously real.'
'That's because they are,' Hermione said, shortly.
The man's eyes widened. 'How do you mean?'
Hermione shrugged. She didn't seem to want to continue with the subject. 'I suppose all characters are real to their authors,' she said, vaguely.
The man nodded, as though her statement had been incredibly profound. 'Well, I still say it was the work of a genius,' he said, admiringly, 'And you're main character- Javier certainly had strains of mortality in him, don't you think?'
'Of course I do,' Hermione said. She bit her lip. Sirius realized that she had just seen him.
Abruptly, he turned around and headed to one the circular tables. He sat down heavily, and promptly a waiter materialized behind his left elbow.
'Champagne, sir?' he asked, smoothly.
Sirius took a glass, and drained it in a gulp. As he set the glass back on the table, clutching the stem with his large fingers, he heard her behind him.
'Some things don't change very much, do they?' she asked.
Sirius did not respond. He twisted his head very deliberately in the other direction, and flagged down a waiter who glided towards him.
'One more champagne, please,' he said, and then added, 'Actually make it two.'
He heard movements, and the next thing he knew she was sitting on the chair beside him.
'You look like hell,' she said, honestly.
He turned to face her. 'I feel it,' he growled.
Hermione chuckled- the same, deep man-chuckle he remembered from their first date- and said, 'Are you still drinking then?'
Sirius did not respond. Two flutes of champagne had been brought to him. He grabbed the first and took a long swig.
Hermione sighed and shook her head. 'Well,' she said, 'I guess that answers my question.'
She was silent for a moment, and then gently placed both her hands, palm-down, on the table.
'I wrote you a letter after I moved out,' she said, quietly. 'Why didn't you reply.'
Sirius didn't skip a beat. 'I was drunk.' he said.
She pursed her lips. 'Sometimes, it's considered obligatory to answer a letter that's written out of concern.'
'Not breaking my heart would have been charted under good manners as well,' Sirius said, finishing his first glass of champagne. His fingers tightened around the stem as he heard her exhale.
'You needn't take it so personally,' she said, quietly. She glanced around to see that nobody was watching them, and then leaned even closer. 'I would have done it to anyone. You just fit the bill.'
Sirius looked up at her, feeling the blood pound in his head with anger and drunkeness. Her face looked solemn, and a little sweet, despite the sparkle in her eye.
He sighed, and felt some of the anger ebb away.
'When did you decide?' he asked.
She didn't hesitate. 'The first date. I thought I'd give you a shot. You poured whiskey into your coffee, for Christ's sake.'
'And when did I progress from a trial to a certainity?'
'The night before we first fucked. Do you remember it?'
'I told you that I was concerned about you, and you told me to my face that you were an alcoholic and had no plans of changing.'
'And that fit in very well with your story, didn't it?'
'Ridiculously well. I practically warned you, Sirius,' she said, a little softly. 'The first date. I told you I was working on a new method of writing.'
He laughed bitterly. 'That was a warning?'
'Did you expect a painted neon sign that read I'm A Bitch And I'm Playing You?'
'It would have been more helpful, certainly.'
'Well, it's a stupid expectation. Would you like more champagne?'
Sirius looked at her incredulously.
'There was a time,' he reminded her. 'When you wanted me to stop drinking.'
She refused to show him her final draft of the book.
That was what had put him on edge. When she had first told him, that he rather not read it for a few days, he had felt a tinge of unease, small and sharp like the edge of a blade, creep into his senses. He had tried to tell himself that it was nothing. He had resolutely put the thought- not even a thought, he argued, a half-formed notion- out of his mind, and quashed his desire for alcohol.
But two days later, when he came home from the supermarket, laden with bread and mustard-cheese and a lettuce for dinner, he found the flat empty. Not only was Hermione not there, but all her stuff had disappeared as well. The cupboards were stripped clean of her clothes, the bathroom shelves emptied of her shampoos and creams, and the rack devoid of her small, open-toed sandals. She had even taken away the curtains, the table-cloth, that shaggy carpet she kept in their bedroom.
It was like she had never lived in these rooms. It was like she had never existed.
Sirius had run frantically from room to room, heart thudding and fingers shaking as they gripped the door-frames, his eyes pleading for anything that would tell him she hadn't vanished for good. Just when he had given up hope, when he had been about to grab his broom and go look for her, he remembered something.
He rushed back into their bedroom, the floor feeling cold and hard below his feet, and turned his attention to the small table on which she kept her typewriter.
It was gone.
In it's place was a neatly bound manuscript.
Sirius moved slowly, reluctantly towards the table. The manuscript was haloed in a circle of moonlight, its sand-colored cover gleaming feverishly. A single word was embossed on it.
Sirius sat down on the little stool kept before the table. With trembling fingers, he pulled the manuscript before his and turned to the first page. The words that Hermione had typed stood out harsh and hard before his blury vision.
It was not simply a momento of his life as an adult.
It was not something hazy, something destructible that he had constructed in his mind. Instead it was real, frighteningly so, and harsh and hot in ways he had never truly understood before. All he knew was that when his fingers curled around the refreshing chilliness of cut glass, and his tongue felt the metallic promise of the alcohol burning on it, he was transported to a world where he truly felt at home. Where the blissful ignorance of drunkeness could keep him away from the pain.
That was something else, he didn't understand. On his knuckle was a small scar, deep and red and triangular-shaped as though a child had cut a piece of his skin out. He remembered the day it had imprinte itself there. It had been in his mother's bedroom- the cold, harsh forestry of the furnishings catching down on his breath in a claustrophic way. He had been after her pearls, he remembered. The promise of nicotine was feverish on his tongue, in his throat. His fingers had been fumbling with the lock of her closet, desperate to open it. He heard a click, and the door gave. With a sigh of relief, he swung it open-
Sirius continued to read, and as he did so, he felt his face begin to freeze over with horror. Every word seemed to hit him like a brick, small sharp ones at first, which gradually grew into purposeful daggers that were piercing at his skin. He felt the bile rise in the back of his throat. A swarm of prickles were collecting at the base of his neck.
Jeremy reached out and touched his hand.
'I think you've had enough,' he said, softly.
Javier chuckled. 'Jem- I love you and you know it. But I don't think this is quite enough. I don't think it's nearly enough at all.'
Sirius's fingers splayed across the rough parchment, smearing themselves across the words, as though hoping to spread them so thin they would simply evaporate. The names, the words- all so painfully familiar from the bits of her story she had recounted to him. Except, she had left one character out. She had left the main character out. She had never told him about that person.
He remembered jibing her. 'Don't look now,' he had said, 'But I think you're missing a main character.'
No. It was him who was missing the main character.
He was the main character.
'How do you feel?' Elijah asked, anxiously.
Javier groaned. 'There's a dull sort of ache in my head,' he said, 'And the muscles in my arm feel stiff. I think I need a drink.'
'You know you have to stay away from alcohol,' Elijah said, sternly.
'Do you know how fucking difficult it is to quit?'
'Of course not,' Elijah said, softly. 'I have no clue how difficult it is to quit. Only you would know that, wouldn't you?'
The horror had begun to sweep down his spine in slow, agonizing strokes now. Yes, Sirius realized, the only person who would understand the pain was an alcoholic who was quitting. The agony of the absistence was not something a layperson could describe.
He remembered Hermione's words, as the bistro, on their first date.
'I'm trying something new.'
'You're right, that does sound cliched.'
He had been a model. Nothing more than a model for her clay-horse story to build around, he realized. The horror had moved down to the small of his back, turning him numb, like morphine would. She had wanted to write a story about a quitting alcoholic. He had been the conveniently provided alcoholic. Now all she needed was to convince him to quit.
He remembered how, during their first date, he had been ridiculously irritated with her. He had been about to leave. And she had dropped her dress. Everytime he got bored, or tired, she had simply shown him pleasures to wonderful to even talk about. Everytime he had even thought of leaving, she had wrapped herself so completely around him that it was as though they were melded, as though he did not truly exist without her.
'Drink is a man's biggest adversary. I insist that you stop.'
And he had. Why? he wondered. Was it because he loved her? Or did he truly, really want to sweep himself out of the sick coil that had been his drunkeness?
He turned the pages feverishly, reading like a thirst was plaguing his eyes. And suddenly his entire life, all his fears, all his dilemmas, were laid out bare before him.
His heart felt cold. Stony.
She had needed a quitting alcoholic to observe, to understand how to write her book.
And he had given her one.
A wail began to rise in his stomach, clutching at his entrails with a vice-like grip that felt carved from ice. A torment of wind was beginning to develope in his lungs, pulling and then pushing them, leaving him gasping for breath like a madman. His skin burned with feverish intent, his fingers trembled viciously.
He got up, and left the apartment.
Half an hour later, he was back on the couch, with six large bottles of whiskey beside him, and a solitary, chipped tumbler keeping him company.
'There was a time,' he reminded her, 'When you wanted me to stop drinking.'
Hermione looked thoughtful. 'You're right,' she agreed, 'I really did want you to stop.'
Sirius raised an eyebrow. 'Is that so?'
'There's no need to look so scathing. I had to observe you.'
'Interesting little experiment, was I?'
'Terribly. I couldn't have written my book, you know, without you.'
Sirius let out a stacatto bark of laughter. 'Somehow,' he said, 'That does not comfort me much.'
Hermione shook her head softly. After a pause, she said, 'Did you ever wonder why I did it?'
'Not really. It came quite easily to me.'
'Would you care to share?'
'You're not a real person.' said Sirius, bluntly.
Hermione flinched. 'What do you mean?'
'I mean you're not real. You spent so much time making your book real, that you've lost yourself. Look at you. Do you even know who you are anymore.'
'I'm smart.' offered Hermione.
'And cold and ruthless. You played about with me so that you could write the perfect book. You dropped your panties so that you could make sure every word was just right. You aren't a person, Hermione. You don't live and breathe and feel. Your nothing but a cold bunch of pages that are slowly getting filled up.'
Hermione laughed, but not in a carefree way. Sirius was glad to note that some amount of worry tinged her expression.
'I asked you once,' he said, 'Whether you would hate to come back to the real world after writing your book.'
Hermione looked at him for a long time, her eyes expressionless between her glasses. Then, her lips twitched and her face crumpled a little bit.
'Yes,' she whispered. 'You did.'
'Do you know now?'
Slowly, she nodded. 'You were right. I hate it.'
Sirius nodded complacently. He grabbed another glass of champagne from a passing waiter.
'You were too caught up in your work.' he said. 'How does it feel, now?'
Hermione shrugged. She looked a little helpless. 'Like I'm alone.'
Sirius quirked an eyebrow. 'When you were living with me, and spying on me, and playing with me- didn't you feel alone, then?'
Hermione shook her head. 'They were always there with me,' she said, softly. 'All those pages. And now- now, they're simply carefully printed words that are read by men and women too arrogant to truly understand them!' Her voice rose a little, and then she controlled herself. 'I wish I had never published.' she said, regretfully.
Sirius turned his attention to his champagne glass. When he had drained it, he said, 'Do you know I've lost my magic.'
She turned her face to him.
'That's right,' he said, laughing mirthlessly. 'I'm practically a squib, now. I think it's because of my drinking.'
She bit her lip. 'Is that why your suit doesn't fit?'
Sirius was silent for a moment, and then said, 'I always knew there was a reason I slept with you.'
'I don't understand the connection between those two statements.'
'You don't need to. You're done with anyway, Hermione.'
She frowned. 'What do you mean?'
'I mean you're over. You have no purpose left, don't you understand? Your only purpose was writing, and now you've realized that it hurts you too much to follow. It hurts you, doesn't it, when all these ill-bred men and women read your book? These are your words, your thoughts and emotions in these pages. You've made it too personal. It feels like a violation.'
Her breath caught in her throat. 'How do you know?'
He smiled, a little sadly. 'I always did.'
He swallowed. His mouth felt dry, and he knew he was well on his way to drunkeness. In a few moments, his mind was be taken by that swell that was his own numbness, and his thoughts would be hot and unformed, words would spill from his mouth like a cancer. But there was one thing he needed to say to her before he lost himself. One thing he needed her to know.
'You never really thought about what this book would do to you, did you? And you still don't, really. Just in an unformed sort of way. But let me tell you. This is just beginning.'
She said quietly, 'What do you mean?'
'These thoughts- this hatred, you're feeling. It's just a beginning, Hermione. It's too strong for you to resist, and soon you're going to be taken with the flood, to places you didn't even knew existed.'
She bit her lip. A frowned formed between delicately arced eyebrows. 'You're blabbing, Sirius.'
'I'm almost drunk, my darling.'
'Perhaps you should leave.'
He chuckled then. Chuckled, and felt a wave of warmth rush over his body. He knew it was not over. It was just a beginning.
'You once asked me not to ever be late for you again,' he said, 'Do you remember that?'
She nodded, tightly.
'Well, I've decided to keep my promise. I'm going to Hell right now, and I'll be waiting for you when you choose to join me.'
He stood up with a shaky swagger, pushing his chair back and the table forward simulatenously. Clutching at the lapels of Remus's jacket with shaking fingers, he stumbled towards the door, and then out of it, without stopping to turn back. Hermione watched his shadow, stylistically elongated, until it swooped past the doorframe and disappeared around the corner.
Author's Note: I know this story was a little confusing. It was a strange blend of past-and-present, and I chose not to write it in a flashback form, because I just thought that would ruin the continuity of it. There are also some ends that I've left untied, and I want you to know that I've done that on purpose. There are some things which I think a reader should interpret in their own way. For example, in these lines:
She bit her lip. 'Is that why your suit doesn't fit?'
Sirius was silent for a moment, and then said, 'I always knew there was a reason I slept with you.'
There is actually a strong reasoning behind this seemingly random statement. But it's not for me to tell you. It's your story, after all.
Also, there are some phrases and statements that I've borrowed. The bit about Sirius's heart leaping up and crashing against his front teeth is P G Wodehouse. It was written in a comical sense, but it sounded exactly the way I thought Sirius would feel in a situation like this. Irony, I call it.
Also, the term Barely Mint, I am sorry to admit, belongs to Sarah Jessica Parker. That's how she described her dress in the Oscar's. Just goes to show how jobless she is, but you know, whatever.
I know this story seems random. But if it makes any sense, it's purposefully that way.
Thanks for reading =D