This was written for the bigbangblackout fest on livejournal. What a ride this has been. I want to thank my wonderful co-writer ilexx who contributed on several key scenes and wrote one of them outright. A huge thank you to my beta Christine, the Jack Booted Thug Enabler. Thank you for taking my mess and shaping a story. A special thank you to thanfiction for your insight. I also want to thank my cheerleaders the_scorch and tujours_nigel for telling me it was wonderful no matter what. I also have to thank all the wonderful women at the livejournal community sirius_writer Every single one of you is awesome! Thank you for much for everything.
Title taken from Le Flambeau Vivant by Charles Baudelaire.
Le Flambeau Vivant
they march before me, filled with light divine
— those eyes turned magnets by some angel wise;
they lead, my Heavenly Twins, good brothers mine,
whose jewelled fires hold my gazing eyes.
they guard from every sin and error grave,
they show my feet the path to Beauty's porch;
they are my servitors and I their slave,
wholly obedient to their heavenly torch.
enchanted eyes, ye have the mystic ray
of tapers lit at noon: the fire of day
reddens, but quenches not their eery glow: —
'tis Death they sing, while ye extol the Morn;
ye point the way and chant a soul reborn
— stars that no sun can pale nor overthrow!
— Lewis Piaget Shanks (translation of a poem by Charles Baudelaire by the same name)
The sweet scent of jasmine blows in on a warm, sun-kissed summer breeze, gently ruffling the gauzy white curtains in the open bedroom windows. Soft whispers of murmured conversation out in the hall tickle his subconscious, slowly rousing him. There is a small, soft hand warming his, one so familiar and comforting. Weakly, he rubs his thumb across his wife's gold band.
"Sirius, darling, are you awake?" Her voice is the most significant sound in his world. It tastes like sunshine and smells like happiness; wholesome and full of life, and while that makes no sense, it is no less true. It is his truth. He smiles.
"Hermione," he says feebly, as he blinks open his eyes. He tries to lift her hand to his mouth, but he is unable. He is too frail. She knows what he wants and helps him. For a moment they pretend.
"Thank you," he whispers, and presses his lips against her skin. Her hands are no longer as youthful as they once were; the skin is thin and showing signs of age. They are all the more beautiful to him because of it.
The direction of the sunlight through the open windows announces that it is midmorning. He is very glad to be here, and not languishing in St. Mungo's any longer. The bed is new but the comforter is familiar, a product of the last redecoration of their bedroom. The conversation in the hallway slows, and then two figures hover in the doorway.
"Is Dad awake?" Sirius feels a surge of pride. The voice is young and strong, pitched so closely to his. The figures in the doorway move a little closer, though one of them falters to stand in front of the tall wardrobe.
"Yes, Regulus," says Hermione. He hears the strain in her voice, the warning she is giving their son without having to say it. His son moves closer as the other figure edges around the bed.
He blinks to clear his vision and smiles again, first at Hermione. She is still beautiful, not despite the grey in her hair and the small lines around her eyes and mouth, but because of it. It becomes her, he thinks, though she has simply laughed when he has said so. They are there because the years have passed and they have passed them together. Then his smile is for his son, his young lion, now married with two teenage sons of his own.
That thick mane of brown curls rather fits his name, he thinks. The boy got his mother's hair, eyes and temperament. The rest of his son though, belongs entirely to him. Tall and strong, with Sirius' face. Both of their children got that.
"Daddy?" Speak of the devil, thinks Sirius, and then his smile is for her. Her eyes aren't exactly his, a darker shade of grey, though Hermione has always insisted the color of his own is mutable. Her hair is the exact shade of black his used to be, before the grey streaks finally gave up and gave way to white. It is long and silky and tumbles straight down her back. She owned him with her first squalling breath. She is the baby. She is his baby.
"Don't disturb him, Adhara," says Hermione. The warning for their daughter is carried on more than just tone alone. It is habit by now for Hermione. That's because Adhara's personality takes after mine, he thinks wryly. Where Regulus is the responsible one, the studious one, Adhara is not. She is him, and only a direct edict will work.
"Sorry, Mum," she says. Her hand sneaks under the covers and finds his, giving a light squeeze. She is always pushing the envelope, even now that she is grown. Though she daren't push her mother too far, thinks Sirius. Adhara is a good girl, married to Harry's eldest son James with a daughter in her first year at Hogwarts and a son still at home. That would please James and Lily, he thinks.
A feeling of contentment steals through him, surrounded by his wife and the family they made together. Chairs are pulled closer, or simply conjured, as they settle in to visit with him.
"Where're the li'l ones?" mumbles Sirius. He knows what is happening, why they are all gathered around his bed. The end is near and he would like to see his grandchildren one last time. He was stronger yesterday when they were here, but today he feels different. Ready.
"They're with Aunt Ginny, Daddy," says Adhara. "We didn't think –"
"S'okay," he murmurs. He understands. "Love them."
"They know, sweetheart," says Hermione soothingly. "We all know."
He is so tired, but he is happy, too, and loved. His eyes flutter, they feel so heavy. Harry finally got back from his away mission for the Ministry, and came to see him. He realizes now that that is what he has been waiting for.
"All right, Padfoot?" The voice is warm, and achingly familiar. He focuses in the direction it is coming from. Standing on either side of his seated wife are James and Lily Potter. It is almost time. His grin broadens at seeing the pair of them.
"When'd you get here?" he says, a bit more lively. The hospice workers said that he would have a surge of energy close to the end, although it could just be seeing James. He always did have that effect.
"We've been here, darling," says Hermione. There is worry interlaced in her voice.
"We're here, Padfoot," says James. "Whenever you're ready, we're here."
"There's no rush, Sirius," says Lily. "Take your time and then we'll all go together."
"Thanks, Lil," mumbles Sirius, slipping back a little as they step away.
"Hey." A hand strokes his gently, Hermione's hand. "Are you with us?"
"Yeah," he murmurs. "M'here, s'like with the stone. D'you 'member me telling you about Harry's stone? Resurrection Stone, wasn't it? 'Bout James and Lily? They're here."
"Of course, darling," says Hermione. There is a small sound from her, a hiccough, an almost sob that has been choked back. She understands what that means. The reason he can see them. "I'll never forget that night."
He smiles softly with a raised eyebrow, and then glances at her cheeks to see if she is blushing. She is. He chuckles, even now when their time is almost through she blushes for him: Godric, how he loves this woman.
"What stone? What night?" asks Regulus. He looks at his fine, handsome son. They did well together, Hermione and him.
"We never talk about that, do we, ducks? That was a hard couple of years for us. You should tell them, once…" He doesn't want to upset her by completing the sentence with 'once I'm gone.' "Tell them the story, how we fell in love," says Sirius. "Started with the night Kreacher died, for you, didn't it?"
"Sort of," she replies softly. "I always hated the way you treated him, but when you were willing to do the right, well, perhaps not really the right thing, but what certainly seemed to be the right thing, at least to me, I saw there was more to you."
It was a while later for him. There was no question on that. She was too young, it didn't even occur to him. Though, there were other reasons, reasons that had nothing to do with her, reasons all wrapped up in James and Lily, and all that he'd lost.
"The study then?" asks Sirius. They haven't really discussed that time period very much, but there are good reasons for that. He smiles at the memory now, it all turned out just fine. He can see her so clearly.
"Yes, I think so," says Hermione quietly. Her eyes flick self-consciously to their son and daughter and her cheeks are staining a soft pink again. "You looked so different, and you smelled so nice."
"Just had a shower," he murmurs. "Wondered why you behaved so strangely."
"Yes," she says, her tone sharp and crisp. He cannot help the grin, because he can hear a bit of the cracking smart arse he has come to love so well. "You were quite under the impression I had dressed up for you. Harry was right though, you know."
"I know," he soothes, feeling sprightlier once again. She has that effect too. "I was an idiot, and an arse." The rest of his life had been spent trying to make it up to her, and he has loved every minute of it.
Hermione hums, neither in agreement nor disagreement, and it is such a familiar sound that it gives him another reason to smile. She is many of his reasons for that.
"I made a lot of mistakes with you early on," he continues softly. "I am damn lucky you gave me a chance. I love you, you know."
"I love you, too," she says. Their gazes hold for a moment, and the room seems to fade and all he can see is her. His sunshine. His happiness. His forever.
She glances around then, and he knows she is trying to see James and Lily. They are there, quietly letting him say goodbye. She will want to know how much time she has with him. She always wants to know, and he just loves that.
He feels Adhara squeeze his hand. She is so damn much like him. She is being extraordinarily patient for her, the one who always wants to be the center of attention.
"Love you too, kiddo," he says, squeezing back. "You too son, I love you all, and I am very proud of you." He doesn't say it enough, he never has, always preferring to show rather than tell. But sometimes the ones you love need to hear it and he will never get another chance.
"No need to tell them about the night we met. They've heard that story at least a thousand times. Ron does love to crow on about his broken leg," he says, going back to the other conversation. He touches on their beginning first, because it is all relevant in a way.
Hermione quickly interjects. "That's because you broke it, dear."
"Sore loser," says Sirius affectionately. He isn't talking about Ron's broken leg anymore. His bride of forty plus years blushes again. Damn, he likes doing that, and always has.
"Yes, well, all the same," she continues, still mildly flustered. "I think they should hear the story from you,"
He squeezes her hand softly. "There isn't enough time, sweeting." There really hasn't been. He would take another forty, and another after that. But that option just isn't on the table.
Hermione reacts quickly, conjuring a glass bottle. He knows she is trying to cover up her grief with something to do. It is so like her. "That's alright," she says. Her voice is rough and strained with emotion. "You can still show them." She holds up the bottle for him to see more clearly. "Do you know how to extract a memory?"
He nods. "Hand me my wand, poppet, if you don't mind." He has a million little terms of endearment for her, though none of them came into play until that first night.
He considers which memories to show his children. That night alone, the night he made his choice to love her won't make sense, he doesn't think, unless he shows them the mistakes and misperceptions as well. There are bits here and there that he is sure they have picked up, they are just as clever as their parents, but he doubts they have the whole story. It is his last chance to show them what he learned from his error, and show her all the little moments along the way.
"Is that the night you rescued Mum from Bellatrix? Uncle Harry told us how you blasted her right out the window, curtains and all," says Regulus. Sirius looks at his son again, he is so proud of him for being strong for his mum and sister. Though he is a man, and a fine one at that, this cannot be easy for him. In Regulus he can see the grief that he is trying to shield because he knows him so well, but that is the only reason.
While they speak, Adhara has been steadily tracing the lines in his palm, but hasn't been talkative at all. This is not because she is still obeying her mother. Sirius is not so naïve. He knows she doesn't trust her voice.
"No, that was the next day. Your mum, godfather and Uncle Ron went on a mission together," replies Sirius
He remember sending Bella through the glass, her body crashing through the dark cloth that hung in front of the Malfoy's arching window. He hadn't meant to kill her, or at least that hadn't been his first thought. He had sought only to get Bella away from Hermione. He had spent almost an hour listening to her torture and his control had slipped. Though the spell was not an Unforgivable, the power behind it had snuffed her life all the same.
In all honesty, he really doesn't want his children to see what Bellatrix was doing to their mother. The after effect of the repeated use of the Cruciatus Curse was a coma that lasted three weeks, four days, twelve hours and thirty two minutes. Not that he had been counting. When the rage subsided and he had picked her up in his arms, he found that the poor little thing was soaked in her own urine.
Hermione rarely spoke of it, although there were nights for several years after when she would wake up screaming. Fortunately her nightmares had subsided, the last one being more than ten years ago.
"There you are," says Hermione. She places the wand in his hand and closes his fingers around the familiar length of polished wood. She helps him bring the wand up.
"Wait," he says softly. "Some of this will be for the kids and grandchildren, and some just for you. You'll need to sort through it first. You'll know which is which."
"Alright, my love, I'll go through it," she returns tenderly. "I think for it all to make sense, you should begin in the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries. The night Harry thought V-Voldemort was torturing you."
"That far back?" he questions, frowning that even after all this time she still has trouble with that name. She answers with a smile and a nod. He can't help but return a smile, she is so beautiful to him. She brings his hand up to his head and presses the tip of his wand to his forehead. Sirius closes his eyes and remembers.
Thin and wasted though he was, Sirius knew he was still a formidable and dangerous foe. His wand blurred in front of him with the speed he was casting spells. A passion for this deadly game burned hot and bright within him. This was personal, and that fact alone was like Incendio on a bonfire.
They were the last two fighting and both of them knew this was to the death; each of them out for blood, because of blood.
A poisonous glitter flashed in Bellatrix's eyes as a jet of red light erupted from the end of her wand. With clever footwork that was a gift from his childhood and its many tutors, Sirius deftly spun away, avoiding any damage. Bellatrix twirled, ducked and almost lost her footing as a jet of blue singed a few hairs as it sailed overhead. As she secured her balance she shot another hex at Sirius, and this time her aim was true.
The spell hit Sirius hard, square in the chest, lifting him off the ground and toward the archway that was central in the room. As he flew toward the fluttering fabric that hung delicately from the stone, he caught some sort of movement out of the corner of his eye. Someone tall and dressed in purple with a long white beard waved a wand vaguely in his direction. A hard tug pulled him easily in a vertical line toward the high ceiling.
The last thing he heard before losing consciousness was an anguished cry: a young man afraid for his father, his brother, his friend.
Sirius blinked, groggy, feeling like his brain was stuffed with cotton balls. He heard a voice that was feminine, familiar, and vaguely annoying. Others chimed in, and soon he realized what he was listening to, but not where he was. He was about to ask when Hermione spoke again.
"I didn't think they'd put this in print."
"Put what?" asked Harry, which was followed by the creaking of bedsprings.
"An article about Sirius's exoneration," replied Hermione, "of course, it's only a blurb on page six."
Sirius tried to sit up and moved too quickly, causing his head to spin. Muscles in his back, neck, and across his shoulders bitched and moaned about being used. "My what?" he croaked loudly, and then cleared his throat.
Harry leapt from Ron's bed, giving it a solid jostle and earning him an annoyed grumble from the bed's occupant. At the same moment, Neville shot out of his chair and both boys raced over to Sirius's bed.
"You're awake!" exclaimed Harry, as he pushed fallen glasses up his nose.
"Harry's told me all about you. It's a privilege to meet you, sir," said Neville brightly, if a bit shy.
"Merlin's beard!" said Sirius, with a wistful smile. "You look exactly like your father."
Neville reddened a bit, and murmured a small thank you. Sirius could tell this was a sensitive subject as Harry had adopted a rather cautious expression.
"You're Sirius Black," said Luna, as she approached and helped Ginny to settle at the foot of the bed. "The papers say you murdered a lot of people in cold blood, but Daddy says it's all a Ministry cover-up to hide the fact that Fudge wants to control goblin gold supplies."
Sirius grinned widely and then chuckled. From two beds over there was a soft 'tut' of disapproval.
"You're the spitting image of Serena Lovegood," said Sirius. "Are you hers?"
Luna sighed happily. "Did you go to school with mum?"
"I did," replied Sirius. "Although she was a few years up from me; I got to know her better after Hogwarts, and your father, too."
"Hello, Sirius," said Ginny, adjusting her broken ankle on his bed to get more comfortable. "How are you feeling?"
"A little dizzy," he replied, with a nod of thanks for her concern. "And I rather feel like I've been run over by the Knight Bus, but I'm sure in a few days I'll be fine. Now what's this I hear about my exoneration, and where am I?"
"We're in the hospital wing at Hogwarts," replied Harry. "Dumbledore figured this would be the best way to keep news about you quiet."
"Hello Sirius," called out Hermione from his left.
"'Lo Sirius," mumbled Ron, from the other side of her.
Sirius braced his torso with arms against the bed as he slid back toward his pillow. The room spun, and apparently he was swaying because both Harry and Neville had moved to stabilize him.
"Thanks," said Sirius quietly, grateful to the boys and more mindful of his injuries. He leaned over cautiously to clear the bedside table, and gave Hermione and Ron a brief wave.
"Would you like to me to read the article, Sirius?" asked Hermione eagerly.
"Yeah, let's hear what the Ministry has to say for themselves," he replied.
He tried to pour himself a glass of water from the pitcher Madam Pomfrey had left for him, but Luna mildly removed his hand and did the job for him. She offered him the glass with a misty smile as they prepared to listen to Hermione read. Harry and Neville adjusted a few pillows at his back to make him more comfortable.
Ministry to End Manhunt
The largest manhunt in Ministry history has ended today as all charges were dropped, and a full pardon was issued to one Sirius Black. There were no Ministry officials available for comment on this surprising turnaround. Black was imprisoned in 1981 for his involvement in the deaths of James and Lily Potter, as well as twelve Muggles. At the time of his incarceration, Black was jailed without a trial. This reporter wonders if his freedom was bought on a technicality. Are we really safe with this man on the loose?
Silence hung thick in the air as each one of them absorbed the implications in the last line of the article. Sirius might be free, but there was no guarantee of his safety or acceptance.
"What rubbish," said Hermione with a disdainful sniff. "The Prophet has had to print so many corrections to Ministry disinformation that I doubt whether anyone knows if that rag can still be believed. You have Dumbledore's support, and Harry's, and a lot of other people's. This will blow over in time."
Sirius smiled at their concern. "I always knew that if I did manage to get my name cleared, that I wouldn't be accepted straight away. And the truth is, some people never will.
"Though, now that I'm a free man, I can take missions from the Order. Speaking of which," Sirius turned slightly to Harry with sudden urgency, "Do you have the Prophecy? The last time I saw it, I was telling you and Neville to run."
"I'm sorry, Sirius," said Neville soberly, his breath hissing apologetically between his teeth. His voice was thick with guilt. "I didn't mean to break it -"
Sirius cut Neville off with a bark of laughter. "Well, that's wonderful news!"
"What?" asked several voices in the room, confusion tinged with disbelief. The only exceptions to this were Luna, who was smiling serenely, and Hermione, who impatiently huffed.
"Don't you see?" said Hermione. "If the prophecy is destroyed, the Death Eaters can't use it against Harry and the Order. I imagine it's all a bunch of rubbish anyway."
"I wish that were true," replied Sirius. "But you're right as usual, Hermione. With the prophecy destroyed, Voldemort will never learn what it said."
"And you already knows what it says," surmised Luna calmly.
"I do," said Sirius, with a penetrating look at Harry, and then Neville. "I've known for almost sixteen years."
"Lucius Malfoy said it had to do with how I got my scar?" said Harry, uncertainty clinging to his words as he rubbed his scar lightly.
"It does, and I am going to tell you," said Sirius, with a strong hint of determination in his voice. "But I want to wait until we are someplace less conspicuous, for instance my parents' home. And Dumbledore needs to be there as well."
The room fell quiet. Harry was looking at Sirius with a question on his face. There was so much of James there, but the eyes weren't right. If Molly only knew, she would never accuse him of mistaking Harry for James. The pain of all that he had lost sat heavy in him, never really offering him any peace. Just a little less ache as the years went by.
"So what you're saying," said Hermione after a good minute of silence, "is that sometimes prophecies are real?"
"I usually don't put much stock into the notion," replied Sirius. "They didn't even teach it when I was at Hogwarts. But in this case, it is very real and Harry has a right to know."
All eyes glanced furtively at Harry, and then away. Poor sod. This fucking business about keeping Harry in the bloody dark had gone on too long. Now that he was free, he was going to take the stand that he wasn't able to in the past. He finally had an opportunity to be a real father to the son of James and Lily. His son by all rights.
"You might as well tell all of us," said Harry, "Because I'm going to tell Ron and Hermione anyway."
"What about us?" asked Ginny irritably.
"Well, for one," said Sirius, waving his hand at Luna, Neville and Ginny, saving Harry from almost certain social suicide, "you three aren't of age." When Ginny and Neville opened their mouths and protests started to fly at him he put his hand up to silence them. "I know both Ron and Hermione aren't either, but I have other reasons as well."
"I've heard a lot of stories about the things Harry has had to face from Remus and a few others. I've only heard about Ron and Hermione in those stories, and never once about you lot."
Neville shifted in place, staring at his feet and reddening slightly.
"And last," said Sirius, looking right at Ginny. "Your mother would hex me into the hereafter."
"It's not fair," whined Ginny childishly
"Well," said Sirius, with a dark laugh. "I'm not sure if you've noticed, but life is not fair."
The set of her jaw was tight and Sirius knew that her feelings were hurt. The bed shifted as Ginny faced away from both Sirius and Harry to look at the far wall in the small infirmary. Everything he had said was true; Harry was still underage, but as his legal guardian he had final say in this matter. And there was very little doubt that Harry would in fact tell both Ron and Hermione every word.
Or that Molly would hex him for breathing a word to her youngest child and only daughter.
"That night with Kreacher, the night he died, that night didn't start there, did it," says Sirius, blinking open his eyes for a moment.
Hermione shakes her head as she deposits the first memory into the small glass bottle. "No, it really started with that fight between you and Molly, god rest her soul."
"It's still hard to believe that she and I ever learned to get along," he muses.
"No more so than you and I," she counters.
"Hm," he murmurs. "Well, thank goodness my interest in her never changed the way it did with you." He grins at her blush, for he has said it for no other reason, really.
Hermione rallies though and sniffs out a flustered response. "That's just foolishness and you trying to get a reaction."
"True," he replies, not even bothering with a denial, especially since he did get said reaction and knows he is wearing a self-satisfied smirk.
"The next memory then," she evades, sighing patiently.
Despite her ruthless persistence on the matter of Harry's guardianship, Sirius refused to budge on Molly's demands to coddle Harry. A select few had been made aware of the prophecy many months prior, and of course Sirius had known for years. And now, Sirius had finally had his fill of her veiled accusations about his fitness to be a proper father to the boy.
"What happened at the Ministry could have been avoided if he were better informed," said Sirius in reply to her protests. The basement kitchen was quiet except for the sound of stew bubbling softly on the hearth. Molly swelled silently from the opposite end of the table. "I want to keep him safe as much as you do, maybe more," he continued, his tone deliberately harsh, "and this business of shielding him clearly is not working."
"He's too young," said Molly, her fists clenched tightly and arms crossed in determination. "He's not ready and -"
"Whether or not he's ready doesn't matter!" he said, as he slammed his fist on the table. "Voldemort has his eye on Harry no matter what his state of preparedness is."
Molly stood to her feet, eyes blazing and snarled, "Then we'll keep him protected, we'll -"
"Oh, yes," he interrupted sarcastically, "because that has worked so well up 'til now. Have you not been listening? The point is, Molly…" He paused and took a slow breath, setting his expression in stone. "The point is," he continued in a dangerously quiet tone, "is that I am his guardian." He could feel his anger burning in his eyes. "I have final say in his welfare. James and Lily decided to make me, not you, his legal guardian."
"And you've done a bang-up job of that," she hissed viciously through clenched teeth, her lip curled aggressively.
"And when have I even had a chance? When do I get to have a life, Molly?" asked Sirius quietly. "Was twelve years not enough?" You have no idea how much I lost, he thought viciously.
Before she could answer, he spotted a figure in purple robes and sporting a long white beard moving into the doorway. Dumbledore stood there for a moment, observing, before stepping into the kitchen and coughing quietly to announce his presence.
"Albus! Oh thank goodness," said Molly with relief. "I rather think you have the final say in this matter, and I know you are in agreement with me."
Dumbledore gave Molly a small smile as he pulled out an empty chair and took his seat. He gave his sincere greetings and complimented the delicious smell coming from the stew. "Now tell me, Molly, what is this matter you speak of."
Sirius nearly rolled his eyes, reckoning that the old man knew exactly what the battle axe was referring to. He smirked broadly at Dumbledore but was either not noticed or ignored. Sirius was almost certain it was ignored and this made him smirk all the more. He knew why Dumbledore was there even if she didn't.
"We were discussing whether or not Harry should hear the prophecy," replied Molly, with a victorious tone, "and whether or not Sirius should be allowed to act as Harry's guardian."
"Ah, but I have no say as to whether or not Sirius is allowed to act as Harry's legal guardian," replied Dumbledore. "Since Sirius has been cleared of all charges, he is able to resume that position."
There was a pregnant pause as Molly took in the calm words. Her face slowly screwed up into a furious scowl before she finally burst out, "Sirius is a spoiled, selfish, irresponsible child who has no business being a father to Harry!" She slammed her open hand onto the kitchen table and leaned in aggressively toward Dumbledore. "He knows nothing – NOTHING of responsibility, of supporting a family, of the work and sacrifice it takes. He has had everything handed to him in a silver cauldron and now he wants my Harry, too!"
"Sacrifice?" He interrupted incredulously. "I know nothing of sacrifice?" I lost twelve years and the two people that mattered most to me in this life, he thought bitterly.
She swung a furious glare at him. "That boy has had no one to turn to most of his life because you didn't think through the consequences, because you were so self-involved and you had to have your revenge instead of acting like an adult. Harry was better off with you in Azkaban!"
Knocking his chair to the floor, Sirius stood to his full height. Remus tried to restrain his friend with a hard grip on his arm to get him to calm down. "I was innocent!" he roared, his hands balled in frustration. "I never had the opportunity to be the father he needed, you selfish, self-righteous b -"
Sirius was cut off when Remus clamped a hand firmly over his mouth. "Please, Padfoot," pleaded Remus, quiet and desperate at his ear.
Arthur took hold of Molly gently by the shoulders to turn her to face him. "Molly," he whispered quietly in her ear while giving her a tender shake. "Think about what you're saying."
Rolling her arm back to dislodge him, Molly wrenched free and marched out of the kitchen, slamming the door behind her.
Sirius sat stunned and mortified, not knowing what to say. No one at the table looked at him. Their eyes averted downward at their hands, or they busily sipped their tea, anything but look at Sirius.
"I – I apologize," said Arthur finally. "There was no excuse for that. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to see about my wife."
Sirius, still in a state of shock, cleared his throat. He would have to focus on what Molly said later. "Let us try and put this unpleasantness behind us for the moment," he said after Arthur had gone. "I'm really not sure what to say about it."
"An excellent suggestion," agreed Dumbledore, and then looked pointedly at Sirius. "If I may?" Sirius only nodded, glad to have any sort of change in the subject matter.
"As Sirius has stated, he is now legal guardian to Harry, and has decided to reveal the contents of the prophecy. I happen to agree with this decision." Dumbledore nodded to Sirius. "As most of you know, with the exception of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the prophecy was made to me. Up till now I have only spoken to you of the prophecy, but today we are going to view it in a pensieve, and here is where I must offer some of you an apology."
"Apology for what?" asked Sirius tightly. It never bode well when Dumbledore held a secret.
"For not giving you the whole prophecy," answered Dumbledore.
There was something vulnerable, something scared in Dumbledore's expression that made Sirius' blood run cold. He stood up abruptly and went to the counter and with the help of Remus, picked up a large bowl. The pensieve was smaller than Dumbledore's, but was still quite heavy. The bowl landed with a solid 'thunk' as it was placed on the table. The translucent liquid within swirled around from the movement.
Dumbledore pulled a thin, silvery strand from his head and dropped it into the bowl. Sirius gestured to Harry, indicating that they would go first. Together they dipped their heads into the pensieve. Years earlier, Sirius had memorized the prophecy and was now rather impatient to hear the part he was unfamiliar with. The harsh, hoarse voice of Sybil Trelawny began to speak the prophecy, her tone flat and monotonous. Wrapped in a shawl as usual, her eyes were huge and bulging behind her glasses. As she spoke, Sirius said the words in his head with her, a cold sense of unease coiling in his belly and running fingers down his spine….
"And either must die at the hands of the other for neither can live while the other survives…"
Sirius had heard enough and yanked Harry out of the pensieve by his shoulder.
"You arrogant bastard!" said Sirius hotly, seething with anger. "How dare you use Harry like a pawn."
"What does that mean, Sirius?" asked Harry anxiously, and for the first time Sirius could hear a real note of fear in his godson's voice. He looked at Harry and suddenly realized how much of a child he still was, despite the circumstances fate had thrust upon him. A wellspring of emotions bubbled and roiled in him, not the least of which was a pained protectiveness for his only family, for the son James and Lily entrusted to him. His son.
"It means it is down to you, Harry," said Dumbledore gravely. "You and you alone must face Voldemort."
"Oh, it means a hell of a lot more than that, Albus," gritted Sirius, his tone furious. "Neither can live while the other survives," he quoted bitterly. His eyes narrowed accusingly. "Just vague enough to be misleading, but cut through all the nebulous prophecy speak and that means Harry can kill him, but they both will die!"
"If you will allow me to prepare him," pleaded Dumbledore.
"Prepare him?" asked Sirius. "And by that do you mean stick an apple in his mouth?"
"Sirius!" hissed Remus.
There was a moment of quiet as Sirius gathered his thoughts. Regardless of his anger, he knew Dumbledore was not the enemy here, but merely an unfortunate leader in a long battle between good and evil. Still, as Harry's guardian, Sirius had every right and obligation to put the boy's welfare first. Now that he had that right, he was determined to make good on his commitment to his best friend.
"I agree that no one is better able to prepare him than you," said Sirius calmly, his eyes on the table. "But you are no longer permitted to have private consultation with Harry." A glare set in steel met Dumbledore's blue. "I insist on being present."
"Sirius, after the article in the Prophet," said Remus urgently. "I'm not so sure staying in Britain is a wise choice for you, it might be too dangerous until things settle down a bit."
"I'm aware of that," replied Sirius. "I'll – we'll just have to work around it."
"I'm not sure-" began Dumbledore.
"Get sure," answered Sirius sharply, before the other wizard could finish. "Because if I hear of you meeting with Harry alone, I'll yank him from Hogwarts before you can say 'lemon drop.' He's not your chess piece anymore. You've said yourself that prophecies aren't set in stone. There is another way and we're just going to have to find it."
Dumbledore sighed and nodded his head in resignation.
"Now," said Sirius, turning to Harry, leveling a dark look at his godson. "I've got a few questions for you." Harry swallowed, the bob of his Adam's apple clearly visible, and for a moment Sirius nearly smiled.
"First and foremost, why didn't you use the mirror I gave you before you went on that foolhardy mission? Honestly, Harry," said Sirius, and then ran a hand agitatedly through his hair. "The Ministry of Magic? In the dead of night?"
Harry blinked a few times and then said, "Oh!"
"Excuse me," said Hermione.
The edges of Sirius' mouth quirked because her hand was raised as though she were in class. It was almost endearing in a disastrously swotty way. He nodded his head, biting back a laugh as she stood primly to ask her question.
"Yes, thank you," she said crisply. "What mirror?"
"Erm…" began Harry.
"Oh, please don't tell me you didn't share that bit of information, mate," said Sirius, his tone humorously sad. "Your career at Hogwarts has been spelled trouble with a capital T and you didn't think to share that?"
"Well, I forgot," said Harry defensively. "And then you said Hermione was a bit like Mrs. Weasley and that Mrs. Weasley wouldn't approve." Hermione made a little sound that wasn't sure if it was a protest or not.
"Fine," said Sirius. He gave an apologetic smile to Hermione. The boys were not supposed to tell her that. "Why not tell Ron?"
He laughed quietly in disbelief as he shook his head. "So, if you didn't use the mirror, why not check with Dumbledore, or at the very least fire call me?"
"I did," said Harry urgently. "I spoke to Kreacher and he told me you'd left."
Sirius felt the muscles in his jaw clench reflexively in anger. "KREACHER!" he bellowed. "Come here at once." In an instant there was a sharp crack and then Kreacher stood before Sirius, his head bowed so low his forehead nearly touched the floor.
"I want to hear every word of what you've been up to. Why would you tell Harry I had gone?" Sirius glared at the house-elf as he spoke. He heard a small whimper of fear escape from Hermione, but he refused to acknowledge it.
In his low, gravely voice, Kreacher told his tale. Sirius was stunned to learn that the elf was able to leave the house, much less get around an edict never to divulge Order business. When asked, Kreacher detailed the extreme punishments he had performed on himself.
By the time Kreacher was done speaking, Sirius was absolutely shaking with fury. After having endured being shut away in the wretched darkness of his childhood home with this miserable house-elf, to hear that the creature had not only betrayed the Order, but had knowingly tried to get both he and Harry killed, was Sirius' final undoing. He was utterly speechless as he felt an irrepressible rage uncurling in him. First Molly, then Dumbledore and that fucking prophecy, and now, now…
Hermione pushed her chair out, the loud scraping of wooden legs against stone breaking his swelling temper slightly. The clickety clack of her low heels against the floor caused the house-elf to raise his head marginally, despite his Master's focused glare.
"Sirius, please don't hurt him," she begged. "He's done all the damage he can do. Give him clothes and let him go free."
"You don't understand what you're asking," he said harshly, almost regretting the impatient bite to his tone. "It would be kinder to-"
"Please," she begged quietly. He knew enough about her to know that this was at the expense of her pride, and it gave him pause. "Please, Sirius. Be different, don't hurt him." She placed her hand bravely on his arm. He was mildly surprised by the gesture. The sight of a feminine hand on his arm triggered a flash of memory, of another hand, belonging to one equally as earnest, but he brushed it away. Sirius closed his eyes, sighing wearily as reason started to gain control over his anger.
"I really am afraid of what he'll do, Hermione," he said, but even he could hear the note of defeat in his voice. She had a point, Kreacher had very likely said all there was to say.
"Please," said Hermione again, stronger, like someone who is close to victory. "I know you're angry. You have every reason to be, just...please, give him clothes."
Still furious with the elf, but not really wanting Kreacher's blood on his hands either, he nodded and gave Kreacher one last fatal glare before stepping around Hermione. He walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the hallway. There he grabbed an old woolen scarf that was hanging from a line of pegs. He returned to the basement kitchen, half expecting to find Hermione back in her seat. Truthfully though, he wasn't really all that surprised to discover that she hadn't moved.
"This isn't going to be pretty," he said warningly. "I honestly don't know what he'll do."
"This is the right thing to do," said Hermione, beaming brightly at him. Before Sirius could take another step closer to the house-elf, the young witch suddenly flung her arms around his neck and whispered a quick, "thank you," into his ear.
He stiffened slightly before relaxing, but she didn't seem to notice. There was no time to even return the gesture before her arms were sliding away. Since his escape from Azkaban, intruding memories had been a problem. It wasn't that her touch was confusing, he knew exactly who she was, but it reminded him of things that were tucked under many years of regret.
Taking a step forward, Hermione right at his side, Sirius stood directly in front of the house-elf. The anger he felt, while now controlled, hadn't died and was evident in his voice. "Kreacher, you have left me no choice but to give you clothes."
The wrinkles on the house-elf's upper lip began to quiver as large, fat tears squeezed out of the corners of his eyes. "P-Please, M-Master," stammered Kreacher croakily. "Not clothes, please not clothes."
Hermione kneeled down to lay a comforting hand on Kreacher's shoulder but the house-elf flinched away like she was filthy. Sirius ignored Kreacher's pleadings and his tears. He lay a hand on Hermione's shoulder to get her attention, giving his head an upward jerk to indicate that she should stand. Once she was to her feet, Sirius turned his attention back to the house-elf.
Kreacher was waiting, tears leaking from his eyes and long streams of mucous dripping from his snout-like nose. He was shaking his head, back and forth, while mumbling incoherent pleas. Sirius closed his eyes for a moment, paused with indecision. Was this the right thing to do? A gut feeling churned unpleasantly, he knew this was going to be bad. He bent down, forcing the scarf into Kreacher's hands. He then took a step back, guiding Hermione to step with him.
The elf stared at the scarf in utter disbelief. Then all of a sudden he straightened up and said, "Kreacher lives only to serve The Most Noble and Ancient House of Black." His fingers snapped, and after that, everything happened rather fast.
A curious red line appeared on Kreacher's neck, and being puzzled by it, Hermione stepped forward to investigate. Sirius understood too late what the elf had done; a last act of obedience.
"Hermione," he said quickly. "Look away."
"What's wrong with his neck?" she asked, and stepped closer to lay a hand on the elf's shoulder.
The movement caused the elf to fall forward, his head and neck sliding off of his body. Blood, bright red and warm, burst out of the elf's neck in spurts that sprayed Hermione's face and clothes. The head itself hit the floor and bounced with a wet sort of squishing sound before landing at the young witch's feet.
Hermione sprang back in horror, unable to look away before her eyes rolled back and she fainted. Sirius reacted quickly and caught her before she hit the floor.
It took a moment for the others to realize what had happened. As he hurriedly left the kitchen with Hermione cradled in his arms, he heard their shocked cries of discovery behind him.
Unsure exactly what to do with her, he carried her up the stairs to the topmost landing. He entered his room and laid her on the bed. A few cleansing charms later and the blood was cleared from her face and clothes. A small door at the back of the room led to a bathroom where he grabbed a washcloth and ran it under some cool water from the tap. The bed creaked softly as he sat beside her and gently pressed the cool cloth to her face.
"How is she?" asked Remus from the doorway. There was worry evident in his tone.
"Still out," replied Sirius with a sigh. "I had no idea he would try to fulfill Aunt Elladora's wishes."
"Dumbledore took care of the body," said Remus. "While we were cleaning up, Molly and Arthur returned. They've left but Ron insisted on staying."
"You do understand my position on Harry, don't you?" he asked, still pressing the cloth to Hermione's forehead and cheeks.
Remus didn't answer straight away, taking a few moments to lift Hermione's wrist and appear to be checking for who knows what. Sirius wasn't fooled.
"I'm not sure I agree entirely, but yes, I do understand why you're taking this position," answered Remus finally, his tone somewhat guarded.
"What's not to understand," asked Sirius, shifting slightly in the bed to look at Remus. "It's my job to protect Harry."
"As his godfather," agreed Remus. "But as an Order member-"
"I only agreed to give my life," interrupted Sirius. "I never agreed to give his."
A soft whimper from the bed drew Remus near once again and turned Sirius's attention back to the young witch. When her eyes blinked slowly open, Sirius smiled at her.
"There you are," he said quietly. "We lost you for a little while."
It took her a moment to do anything and then suddenly she sat up and threw her arms around his neck once again. "I'm so sorry," she whispered in his ear.
"None of that," soothed Sirius, startled once again by her physical demonstration. He was somewhat better prepared for it this time and encircled her gently with his arms. "Your heart was in the right place."
The apology turned into quiet sobs as she clung to his neck. He looked helplessly at Remus who shrugged his shoulders with a bemused smile. A small part of him realized he missed this; close human contact, a luxury he was seldom afforded. Despite the source, and the fact that it was she who was seeking comfort, he took his as well, allowing himself to enjoy it for what it was.
"Oh, Sirius," said Hermione miserably, as she pulled away, her eyes still brimming with tears. "It's all my fault."
"No," he countered firmly. "It really isn't. It is powerful magic enacted centuries ago that binds house-elves to wizards. It is cruel and barbaric, I will agree, but it is the world we live in. There is no undoing it now, Hermione."
"It isn't fair!" she said desperately. "It isn't his fault at all."
Remus moved a little closer to the bed and smiled at Hermione. "You meant well," he said reassuringly. "And I don't think anyone, not even Sirius, expected Kreacher to do that."
Hermione sniffed and nodded. There was a knock on the door before Ron and Harry shuffled in. They went to the other side of the bed and sat down with a graceless thump.
"You alright?" asked Harry.
"That was bloo-" Ron stopped short, realizing what he was about to say was a little too appropriate for the situation. "Um, I mean awful, just awful."
For a moment, Hermione looked like she wasn't sure what her reaction should be. Then she sort of shook her head and gave him an indulgent, forgiving smile.
"Sorry," muttered Ron quietly. "I'm an idiot." Hermione only hummed in response, neither in agreement nor disagreement which almost made Sirius laugh. Poor Ron.
"Poor Kreacher," he murmurs.
"Yes," she replies sadly. "I often felt rather bad about what happened to him. It was my fault."
He squeezes her hand. "No, pet, I told you then that it wasn't. You did what you thought was best. I had a feeling… though I couldn't have known, never dreamed he'd…"
"Yes," she says again.
A quiet steals over him as he ponders which memories are key. He doesn't want to give his children useless information about facts they already know. With his help, Harry destroyed all the Horcruxes, and then Voldemort. If they want to know how that happened there are dozens of books on the subject, or better still they can ask their godfather.
What he wants them to see is how hard it is for him to not love her. How her eager intelligence and quick wit ever so slowly crept into his heart, so that when he did finally notice she was a young woman, and not just a girl any longer, he really didn't stand a chance. He wants them to see what she saw too, though on that point he isn't as precisely certain.
It is hard to pick out the right moments from those two years. Even now, just now, he has learned that he has been wrong for forty years about when she developed her crush. In fact, it wasn't even the possibility of a crush, it was the possibility of love. Killing the elf was an idle fantasy; he was angry, that's all. Though he didn't doubt there was murder in his eyes, he would never have followed through. She knows the difference now, but couldn't have then.
Their time together in the study - that seems important, he thinks. Another piece in a jigsaw puzzle neither of them realized they were working on, because they both were and were not almost simultaneously.
His eyes are still closed, the scent of jasmine is still in the air, and two soft hands, one young, the other less so, are still keeping his own two warm.
"I'm pretty sure I've run across books on the subject of Horcruxes in my father's old study."
"What?" Dumbledore turned sharply to Sirius.
"I'm almost certain of it," said Sirius with a nod. "But finding them is going to be a challenge."
"I can help with that," offered Remus, but Dumbledore shook his head immediately.
"We can't spare you, and you know precisely why," countered the older wizard.
"Erm…" said Hermione, her voice hesitant and her hand slightly raised once again. "I can help with that. I'm excellent at research and know my way around a library."
Sirius laughed lightly. "Well, the study is hardly organized anymore."
"Why is that?" asked Hermione with a small frown.
"I may have been… a little frustrated over the last year, once or twice." Sirius wore an apologetic grin, although in his opinion, the study had it coming.
"Once or twice?" said Remus with an amused laugh. "Once or twice a week more like."
"So it's--" said Hermione, leading off with a question in her tone.
"A total disaster," replied Remus, still grinning at Sirius. He had the grace to adopt a chagrined expression.
"It will have to be straightened and organized," said Sirius, finally. "That will take time and effort."
"I still want to help," said Hermione firmly. "If Professor Lupin is unable then I still want to lend a hand."
"Fine by me," replied Sirius. "Albus?"
Dumbledore gave Hermione a penetrating look before nodding. "I had planned on searching the Black library, with Sirius of course; however, this will free me to research the Hogwarts library, which has been a bit elusive on the subject."
"Really?" said Hermione, shocked. "I thought most magical texts could be found at Hogwarts."
"That's generally true," replied Dumbledore thoughtfully. "Sirius, when did you run across these books?"
"Within the last year," he replied. "You know before--"
"You utterly demolished the study in a fit of teenaged angst?" said Remus slyly. Sirius answered with a playful glare.
"So, you didn't find these books during your childhood here?" asked Dumbledore, clearly excited about something.
"No," replied Sirius. "Regulus and I were rarely allowed into the study, to be honest. Why?"
"Because Voldemort may have hidden the books in the Black library himself," said Dumbledore. "In fact, I would almost be certain that is how they got here."
"He would have certainly had access through Bellatrix or Narcissa," agreed Remus. "Don't you think Sirius?"
"Damn," said Sirius, clearly convinced. "And to think I've already seen them."
"Not to worry," said Hermione firmly. "We'll find them."
Sirius gave her a nod and a smile. There were a few reservations running through his mind on the advisability of letting Hermione into the study. The house had hidden dangers throughout and he didn't want to see her hurt. The study's current state could almost be described as treacherous. Perhaps he could do a little straightening before she arrived.
"You know this pretty much keeps you in Britain," said Remus after a moment of contemplation. "I still don't believe that is exactly safe for you."
"I have some work abroad," said Dumbledore. "There are some people we need to get in contact with. You can help me there, Sirius."
"So when do we get started?" asked Hermione eagerly.
"First," said Dumbledore. "I think we should get Harry to the Dursleys', and I imagine your parents would like to see you as well."
Sirius gave Harry a huge grin. "I really am going to enjoy this."
"Sirius," said Remus warningly. He was patently ignored.
"You're going to take me?" asked Harry, clearly delighted.
"I was thinking, yeah," replied Sirius, "Been ages since I've seen Petunia."
"You know my Aunt?" asked Harry, shocked.
"Well, sure, um… sort of," answered Sirius. "Your mum was one of my closest friends and she had rather a lot to say on the subject of her sister."
"Sirius, this is not a good idea," said Remus in a stern voice. "You need to send him back on the train with the rest of the kids."
"All our things are still there," said Hermione nervously. "We really have to return to school."
"Fine," said Sirius with a note of disappointment. He grinned suddenly and gave Harry a quick wink. "Don't worry, mate. I still have to pick you up to spend the summer hols with me."
"Spending time with you lot in the common room was like a punch to the gut," murmurs Sirius.
"Hm?" asks Hermione. "Oh, wait, I know. When you and Remus brought us back to the common room, wasn't?"
"Yes," he replies, and then simply nods.
"You seemed very far away right at first," she says cautiously. "You were remembering them weren't you?"
He struggled with his past for a very long while. The soft undertow of mistaken guilt sucked greedily at his pain, like marrow from bones, the night he took the kids back to school.
"I don't know if they would see it though," he says. "Letting go is hard, and it was mostly in my head. Although I did show Harry a trick or two about the girl's staircase, though I'm sure he never showed you."
"Actually, he did, but not until several months later, after that prank with the hat." There is a tone in her voice. Clearer than words ever could, it says that, while certain acts may be forgiven and moved beyond, the pain sometimes lingers, even past what is considered reasonable. With humans there is no 'reasonable' or 'normal.'
Instead of speaking, he squeezes her hand. It has become a sort of emotional shorthand between them over the years. It comforts and acknowledges his wrong doing, though he was forgiven some four or so decades earlier.
"Harry was quite under the impression you would boss me around the way you did them," he says to lighten the mood.
"Was he really?"
"Well, you did try," he teases.
The sight of the Gryffindor common room tugged painfully at once sweet memories that were now nothing more than Dementor fodder. Or less perhaps, although Sirius didn't really want to think too long or hard about memories that may or may not have long since turned to shite in the bellies of those ghouls.
Some of the feeling of being a student here seeped back into his bones, presumably through the couch, as he relaxed surrounded by Harry and his friends. A lot of firsts had happened on the very spot he was sitting. The memories themselves struggled to form proper images in his mind. Her exact shade of long red tresses wouldn't quite bleed through, nor would the emerald in her eyes. The mingling of breathy voices from the first night he let himself be taken practically rang in his ears as they merged into one glorious sound together. They were all so careless once it all took hold, but they were young and in love, and youth is reckless and full of its own importance.
"You haven't been here since third year," said Harry on a lull, where apparently Sirius had been expected to say something. Which would account for the strange look he had gotten from Hermione - had she asked him a question?
A wistful smile crept across his tired face. All in all, it was probably better that Harry knew his godfather was a touch barmy from time to time. There was a flicker of kinship and sympathy in Harry's eyes, but never pity. Merlin, he would hate that.
"I guess so," he finally said, after a long breath, just shy of being an actual yawn. "Yes, that sounds about right." His gaze darted over to Ron, who he had attacked that night, but it was Hermione's eyes that gave him pause. Worried? He couldn't tell, but whatever it was he would have plenty of time to root it out. She had been a little peculiar ever since the incident with Kreacher.
"I really want to hear about all the stuff you and my dad got up to," said Harry.
"Really, well, let's see… we transfigured Sir Cadogan once, brought him out of his portrait," offered Sirius. "Right terror to try and put back, let me tell you."
"Sir Cadogan, really? That's brilliant!" said Ron. "Though I'm not sure I'd want to see it, nutter that one."
Hermione caught Sirius's eye as she stood, books and bags gathered. She looked away quickly though, turning her head toward the stairs. He could only assume she must be exhausted after her ordeal.
"I'm turning in," she said. "Goodnight, Sirius. Boys, don't stay up late." Hermione glanced at Sirius once more before ascending the girls' staircase.
"Goodnight, Hermione," chortled Harry and Ron.
"Glad you're feeling better. See you in a couple of weeks, yeah?" said Sirius. Hermione waved an agreement of sorts before disappearing entirely.
"Did you and my dad ever figure out how to get around that?" Harry was eyeing the girls staircase.
"Nasty shock, that was," agreed Ron.
"You must not have been trying very hard if you hadn't figured that out," said Sirius teasingly.
Sirius looked around the common room which was now empty save for themselves. He pushed up, joints popping and creaking as he stood, and strode over to the girls' staircase. An old forgotten sneakiness slunk into his legs with each step. It was an old emotion, and yet still as familiar as taking too sharp of a turn on your flying motorbike just to hear your best mate scream like a girl. He raised his wand with a flourish, followed by a bright flash of light.
"What did you use?" asked Harry. He was now on the edge of his chair, looking at his godfather in awe. Sirius placed one cautious foot on the girls' stairs. Blissful silence.
"We didn't have a benevolent genius doing all of our legwork for us," chided Sirius. "If you want to peek at the girls' dainties-"
Ron and Harry laughed at Sirius' antics while sporting bright embarrassed flushes.
"I'll tell you what I used and even how I modified it, but the rest I'm leaving up to you to figure out."
Suddenly Ron yawned widely, trying to cover it up with his hand and embarrassed grin.
"If you're tired, go to bed," offered Harry. "I'll be along after awhile. I'd like to chat with Sirius while I can." Ron nodded and got up heavily, waving his 'goodnight' as he left. Harry and Sirius offered their 'goodnights' and then sat quietly as Ron lumbered up the stairs.
"You never said which spell," said Harry after a moment.
"Freezing Charm modified with a dampener for the alarm," replied Sirius.
"Really? A Freezing Charm," mused Harry. "I really don't know much about spell modification."
"Well, first you must know your Latin," began Sirius. "I don't suppose you've taken it, have you?"
"They don't teach that at Hogwarts," replied Harry, "In primary I learned French and German."
"Latin comes in handy when creating your own spells, or when modifying spells," said Sirius with a frown. "I suppose there is some benefit to growing up magic. I was tutored in Latin, Greek and French before coming to Hogwarts."
"French?" said Harry, uncertain.
"Well that was mostly because I was a Black. Not really helpful for spell work, actually," said Sirius with a considering frown. "But Latin and Greek are both very useful."
"You're really not going to give me the spells are you," said Harry. "Do you want me to learn Latin?"
Sirius shrugged. "You're a wizard, Harry. It couldn't hurt to learn about the words our spells are built off of."
"This has to do with Mrs. Weasley, doesn't it?" asked Harry unhappily. "You feel the need to prove that you're responsible."
Sirius chuckled. "Maybe." He gave Harry a wry grin. "So I'll see you just before your birthday at the very latest. I'll be traveling some, but your owl will find me. I believe Hermione will join me in a couple of weeks. Once she's settled I'll try to make a couple of friendly visits."
"If she lets you," grumbled Harry.
"Begging your pardon," said Sirius, a bit affronted. "I am a fully grown wizard."
"So's she in a few months," countered Harry.
Sirius ignored this.
"Ha!" he murmurs quietly.
"What darling?" she asks.
"I can be mature too," he mutters.
Her soft laughter surprises him.
"Oh, I just find it very endearing that your being immature about being mature," she says, and then presses her lips to his cheek.
He scowls slightly, but he doesn't mean it. "Just take the next memory will you, woman?"
"Of course, darling, of course."
Naturally, she knows.
The sound of his boots hitting the castle's stone pathways echoed softly as Sirius prowled the once familiar corridors. There was something bittersweet about being back here. What did it say about his life that his happiest memories were here?
"Big bloody failure, that's what," he muttered to himself.
The years after Hogwarts were filled with more love and belonging than he ever thought possible, but they were also marked by the shadow of fear. It is hard for happiness to hold up under that, but neither were they unhappy. They had each other and that was all that mattered.
His soles slapped against the staircase as he started his descent. Lily smiled her serene smile from shadowy archways, stepping back, beckoning to him. James practically winked at him from darkened corners, dancing about in his periphery. Grinning. Fool-hardy. Besotted.
A few easy steps off the staircase and Sirius soon approached the stone gargoyles. "Evening, friend," he said as he neared.
"Friend? Did you hear that? I'm his friend now," said the first gargoyle haughtily.
"They assume more and more liberties every year," tsked the other.
"Well now that just hurts," said Sirius with an easy grin. "Although I suppose the voice is deeper now, and I've got more facial hair. And worry lines." He sighed impressively.
"Well I'll be a Pygmy Puff," said the first gargoyle. "Sirius Black as I live and breath."
"Neither of which you do," quipped the other gargoyle.
"Well boys, as much as I would love to stay and chat," began Sirius. "Licorice Imps!"
"Say no more," said the first gargoyle, as it jumped aside. "Be warned, HE's up there."
"Ah," said Sirius delicately. "Snape. How fortunate for me."
As he turned slowly, rising, Sirius reminded himself to be calm, wondering sullenly just how long his temper would hold.
"Headmaster, I would just like to register my concern." Sirius rolled his eyes before knocking softly.
"Severus, please –" said Dumbledore, his voice thin and gray. "Ah, Sirius, do come in."
"I see you've found a way to make yourself relevant, dog," spat Snape venomously. "Headmaster, I implore –"
"Thank you Severus, that is all," said Dumbledore, kindly but firmly. Sirius could feel the smirk that threatened to expose him as ridiculously immature tugging incessantly at the corners of his mouth. To distract himself, he peered at Phineas Nigellus, but the similarity between his ancestor and Snape was too strong. His smirk widened until Phineas caught on and stormed out of his portrait in a huff.
Sirius was proud of himself for letting his inner amusement guide his silence. He only mocked Severus with his eyes; however, his inner child danced naked on a table, cock banging out a wild rhythm against stomach and thighs as he physically jeered his former schoolyard enemy. Sirius the Mature Adult calmly took his seat as Severus left, defeated.
"Might I offer my compliments on your composure?" said Dumbledore, as he offered Sirius a sweet from his jar. "It is a most welcome addition."
"I got a tip from the gargoyles," said Sirius, as he popped a small yellow candy into his mouth.
"Well, I shall have to think of a reward," mused Dumbledore. "I trust you and Remus saw to the return of Harry and his friends?"
Sirius nodded. "Yeah, he's left already though. Knew I wanted some time with Harry, that and he had plans with a few of the others."
"I was going to discuss with you some of my plans for Harry's education this year, as well as go into some detail about the away mission in France, but I've just put a few pieces in my puzzle together and was hoping you would accompany me."
"The childhood home of Voldemort's mother."
He decides to skip over their trip to the Gaunt home. It doesn't really matter. They found the ring and Dumbledore slipped it on before Sirius could stop him. What is so damn interesting about that? That was also the first of two pointless trips he was sent on. What is significant, he thinks, is what happened when he got back.
"Some of this is just for you," he says quietly.
"Know how you like to watch, kitten."
Regulus coughs. "Dad."
The old oak door closed quietly with a soft snap as Sirius entered number twelve, Grimmauld Place. The brief mission in southeastern France hadn't been very successful, just as Dumbledore had predicted. It had rained non stop the whole time he was away. As soon as he was able, he apparated home, tired and weary, delighted to be free of the tiresome contact in Camargue. His clothes were absolutely filthy, the bottom three inches of his black robes brown with mud. He could feel the dirt sticking to his skin.
The house was quiet which meant his guest hadn't arrived yet. That was the other reason Sirius had for returning home with such haste. With practiced stealth, he passed his mother's portrait without disturbing her. The other portraits, the ones he hadn't cursed yet, only whispered at his passing. None besides his mother were ready to brave his ire.
The floor boards creaked softly under the tattered runner as he crept towards the steps that led to the kitchen. A flick of his wand brought a few gas lamps sputtering to life. There on the kitchen table was a piece of parchment with a few scribbled words. Sirius walked over and picked up the note, scanning it quickly.
The note was crumpled and tossed into the bin with a mumbled, "Well I already knew that."
Sirius took a quick inventory to be certain there was enough food in the house for a few days, before making the long climb to the topmost landing. The initials RAB barely got a glance as he walked to his room to take a shower.
The grime laden traveling cloak, wet and soiled from his excursion, was shed first and tossed into the laundry bin. Next he removed heavy, dirt caked boots, sighing with relief as he wiggled his toes. Trousers were next, clinging to his legs as he pulled them off, the bottoms just as soaked as his robes. His once white, now mud splattered, button down was shrugged off with barely a thought, followed immediately by his undershirt and boxers.
The hot water felt marvelous against his tired and sore muscles. The last two weeks had been incredibly tense. Most of the leads his contact had given him were dead ends, utterly useless. Filling his sponge with the masculine scent of lavender and sage, he breathed in deeply and sighed, slumping lightly against the wall. The curve of his hip didn't jut as harshly as it once had, and from his brief glance in the mirror, his ribs weren't as visible. With freedom came a greater willingness to eat, and perhaps he was putting on muscle tone again. This was a relatively happy thought as he lathered up and scrubbed away every trace of dirt acquired in the South of France.
The sponge traveled lower, down his torso, only to be abandoned when he reached his cock. The soap mixed with hot water was slippery and wet as his hand smoothed along his length slowly, leisurely. He hadn't been able to have a decent wank in weeks and fully intended to thoroughly enjoy this.
This was the one time he didn't fight the intrusive thoughts. The memory of being stroked just like this, of being taken by happy surprise in the shower, replaced his loneliness during these brief and very few stolen moments.
It had been too long though and he quickly grew impatient. He didn't allow himself this very often, because bringing himself off always resulted in tears, and Sirius hated tears - most especially his own. Working himself faster, down and back, over and over, his breath increasing with each stroke. The hand he had had braced against the wall now cupped his balls, massaging gently.
Flashes of memory gripped him just before his climax, the feel of a hand, or the sound of his name uttered in passionate desperation. It only took a few strokes more before his eyes squeezed shut as he groaned with relief. Streams of white were lost in the hot spray, broken like a forgotten strand of pearls, like all of his hopes, his dreams. Leaning heavily against the cool tile, he let his heart rate and breathing slow to normal. The last of the evidence was washed away as he turned his head into the spray,
Once dried and dressed, now clean and fresh, Sirius descended the stairs to make a snack. As he turned off the stairs, headed for the kitchen, he heard the soft click of the front door latch, and a slight whine from the hinges. The afternoon sun flashed into the dark interior of the old home, silhouetting a slight figure. The house was immediately shut away in darkness once again as the door closed. A few clicks of low heels announced that the visitor was female before her voice confirmed it.
"Sirius? Is that you?" asked Hermione tentatively.
"Last I checked," he teased. "How are you? Are you hungry? I was just about to make a sandwich."
"Thank you, no," replied Hermione, tossing her hair before taking a few steps to follow him into the kitchen. "I just ate an hour ago with my parents."
"What about a spot of tea, then?" inquired Sirius over his shoulder as he entered the kitchen.
"That would be lovely," she replied as she took her seat at the table. "How have you been?"
"Muddy," he replied with a sneaky smile, knowing she wouldn't know what he was talking about.
"Excuse me?" she asked, confused.
"Sometimes Order work is dirty," he replied. "Literally, not figuratively."
"Ah," said Hermione. "Have you heard from Harry?"
"What?" said Sirius, spinning away from the kettle to give her a scrutinizing look. "No million and one questions I can't answer because it is Order business?"
"Well, no," said Hermione, patiently. "You said it was Order business, so I knew you couldn't discuss it."
"Now I remember," he said, his tone amused. "You're the swotty one."
Hermione squeaked a small sound of protest as a low chuckle rolled gently out of Sirius's chest. As he set the tea in front of her, he noticed that her normally bushy hair was smoother, bouncy even, and if he wasn't mistaken she was wearing makeup.
"Well, you certainly look different in the summer," he remarked casually. "Who are you all dolled up for? You do realize it's just going to be you, me and a wrecked study, don't you?"
Instead of answering in her normal, forthright manner she mumbled incoherently and hid behind her mug. Sirius shook his head, and pulled out bread, meat and cheese to make his sandwich. Teenage girls, if memory served, could on occasion be a little odd.
"So, to answer your question," he said, as if there had been no weird or uncomfortable silence which he couldn't explain. "I have heard from Harry, a few times actually. His owls found me in Fr–" I mean, where I was."
Hermione's lips mashed together in a line and he knew she was trying to keep from laughing. Great Merlin, that was much better.
"France?" she offered brazenly, giggle still on tap, eyebrow raised.
Sirius gave her a bland look and took a bite of his sandwich before turning to the cupboard for a bottle of Butterbeer.
"Says he's looking forward to coming here at the end of the month," he continued, as though he hadn't divulged something he wasn't supposed to. There really wasn't much to tell about his trip to France and if there wasn't much to tell, why was it a secret? Hardly the point he reminded himself. What if it had been a real secret?
"I imagine so," said Hermione, cutting into his personal thoughts. "He really hates it there. Say did you hear about the all the storms over France these last few weeks? They've had very little relief."
Sirius took another bite of his sandwich to hide the smile. The swot was cheeky too.
"I'm going to look in on him soon. Been ages since I've seen Petunia," said Sirius, baiting her, hoping to get her off target.
"Sirius do you really think that's wise?" said Hermione, her tone heavy with disapproval. Sirius took another bite of his sandwich and pointed apologetically to his cheeks. Nice one, Black, he offered to himself in self applause. Hermione took a sip of her tea, managing to look frightfully disdainful as she did so. How did one so young manage it? Sirius popped the last bite of sandwich into his mouth, chewed, swallowed and took a swig of his Butterbeer.
"Yes," said Hermione, with an affected sniff. "Quite."
"Lovely," said Sirius, with a large grin. She was in a fine snit. Exactly how had he managed that? He wasn't precisely sure. Oh wait, yes he was. He had dared to mention doing something mildly reckless. Outcome would verify that classification, of course. Or not.
The mission in Camargue hadn't afforded Sirius any time to work on his father's study. The light gasp of shock from Hermione managed to make him feel slightly ashamed. The half broken remains of an ornately etched glass lamp cover were stepped around delicately by small feminine shoes. Their owner was doing her best to mask her horror. Doing his best to remain upbeat about the rather daunting task ahead of them, Sirius put a cheerful inflection into his tone.
"Doesn't seem to be any book damage," he said as an opener to polite conversation. Hermione held up a few sheets, obviously torn from a book and themselves torn in half. Sirius sighed wearily. He really hated consequences.
The heavy black marble top to his father's desk had an impressive crack down the center of it. Sirius moved the broken pieces of Salazar Slytherin's bust so that he could assess the damage to the marble.
"Reparo," he muttered quietly, flourishing his wand as he spoke. The crack smoked a little and let off a few sparks. The repair itself sounded like rocks colliding at a distance. He was about to attempt to repair the bust when he simply rolled his eyes at himself.
"I think these must have come from this one," muttered Hermione absently. Sirius hummed noncommittally in answer.
"Remus and I removed everything we could find that could be considered Dark," he offered conversationally. "Well, except for books. We really didn't do much with those."
"That was before–?" said Hermione questioningly. Disapproval was thick in her tone.
"This, yes," answered Sirius dryly. Merlin she was a difficult one to sort out, sometimes playful and teasing, other times a bit odd or even worse - overly responsible. First there was the change in her appearance, then that strange moment of discomfort when she seemed to lose the ability of normal speech. There had even been a few odd looks now that he thought about it. And now this Molly-like disapproval over going to fetch Harry, and the destruction of the study.
Well, perhaps he deserved that last one.
"I suppose it was rather immature of me," he said, with a slightly self-deprecating tone.
"Oh, I didn't mean–" she said quickly.
"No, no, its alright," he said, laughing as he interrupted. She offered him a smile and promptly blushed.
Sirius chuckled softly to himself. Oh, Merlin, that was just, well… delightful. He considered all the ways he could tease her, but he knew ultimately he was just entertaining himself. The boundaries over what was humorous were sometimes blurred with him, but not about this.
Ah, well. Still, he couldn't have completely gone to seed if he could attract the attention of a pretty young teenager. That thought kept him entertained as he repaired the glass lamp and set it on the desk.
"I expected it to be larger," said Hermione, finally finished with the book. "The study I mean."
"Oh did you now," said Sirius quietly, his tone low and dark. Mysterious. He promptly gave himself a mental rap over the head. This is what he would not do, despite the entertainment opportunity it presented.
Hermione's voice held a waver when she answered. Sirius turned away to hide the smirk.
"I love libraries," she trilled, "and books. Somehow, I just thought it would be larger."
"Well, it's very cozy I suppose," he said, his brow immediately furrowing. Cozy? Okay, that was just an accident.
"Yes," she replied, stronger. "Yes it is. It will be nice when we have it all straightened out." The rent in the leather bound loveseat closed itself up as she muttered something quietly.
"Er, right," he said hesitantly. Oh, Good Godric. Him, lovesick her, and this dark, what had he called it? Oh yes, cozy study. He was an idiot.
Sirius groaned a quiet sound of mild discontent. He had always been a natural flirt, he couldn't help it.
"Are you alright?" she asked, worried.
His arm flew out, palm facing her. "Yes, yes, I'm perfectly fine."
"This place still gets to you doesn't it?" She had taken a few steps closer.
"Believe me when I tell you that is not it," he replied. This was not an issue for him. Pretty? Certainly, for a sixteen year old, or was it fifteen? He could never remember.
"Oh," she replied, her voice unsure.
Sirius needed something to distract her with. Aside from books strew all over the floor, they were nearly finished. The serpent detail on the legs on his father's desk gave him an idea.
"You know what we should do?" he said encouragingly. "We should make this room a bit more Gryffindor friendly."
"Oh," said Hermione. "Oh, yes, I see what you mean." She stepped closer to observe him transfigure the snakes into roaring lions. Then her warm, small hand found its way to his arm. Oh get a hold of yourself, Black. What harm could possibly come from being a sort of safe 'Uncle' figure that she had a crush on? He was making far too big a deal about this. This was Hermione, the girl who had never made a rash or thoughtless decision in her life, Molly Junior if you will. Not the seducer of men twice her age.
"Oh, and what about the wallpaper," she said, distracted for the moment by this new idea. "It's peeling and the color is a dingy green." Her nose wrinkled in delicate distaste.
"The whole house is doing that," he agreed gloomily. "Speaking of which, why haven't I moved out of here?"
"Too dangerous just yet?" she offered. It was definitely a question.
"You sound a bit like Moony," grumbled Sirius insolently.
"Really? You think so?" asked Hermione brightly, as she flourished her wand at the wallpaper. She only managed to pull it away from the wall a bit more. The color was now a muted kaleidoscope of green and red in one corner.
"I hadn't meant that as a compliment," he muttered, too quiet for her to hear. This distraction hadn't been a good idea; they were getting off track. He flicked his wand lazily at parchment he'd scattered when he had blown the bottom left drawer out of the desk. In his irritation over the family's holdings, the old desk had taken a beating that day. There were other places to hide that were available to him, but Dumbledore had wanted him there. The desk held all of the deeds and other pertinent information. He really should have known that his father would take precautions against spell damage.
The drawer rolled in and out easily now, with hardly a hitch, so Sirius tucked the parchment neatly in and shut it. Hermione had since given up on the wallpaper and had started on the books. She was sitting in the center of a large pile that had fallen when the shelving had been pushed over. In fact, the shelving didn't really look all that stable.
"Are there any books still left in that case there?" Sirius didn't want to move it and have books fall on her.
Hermione cocked her head to the side and looked up.
"No, but I'm well clear of it Sirius."
"Oh Hermione," he said, his tone sarcastically sing-songy as he picked up a couple of books that had landed a good five feet from where she was sitting.
"Yes, there are plenty of books," she said in a sardonic tone, "because the downward angle of the shelving is so conducive to holding them in place." The edges of her lips were quivering.
"You know, you can be a bit of a smart arse," said Sirius with a chuckle. "I honestly did not know this about you."
"Sorry," she replied nervously, and then fiddled with the pages of the book she had in her lap.
"What? No, no, no," said Sirius, using his wand to direct the bookshelf back and into place. "I didn't mean that it was a bad thing, just surprising is all."
"Sirius, most of the stuff in this book is either illegal or banned in Britain," said Hermione, abruptly changing the subject. She appeared to be shocked.
"Well, that really isn't all that surprising," he replied. "We're going to be sifting through a lot of Dark material to find even Darker material."
"Oh, of course." Hermione yawned suddenly and then blushed. Sirius looked at his watch.
"It's late and we've gotten a lot done. Let's eat and, I don't know… do you play chess?" he asked, as he gave her hand to stand up.
"No, that's really Ron's thing. I've never really learned," she said, swaying slightly before getting her balance.
"Well then, I do have something to teach you after all," said Sirius, closing the door behind him as they left the study.
The study is where they got to know each other. He isn't really all that surprised that he thought she walked into his house with a crush. Old habits die hard. She left his house with a crush, and as she got to know him better, found that she loved him. He gives her hand a little squeeze and smiles.
He isn't sure if it is all that relevant to show them one of his trips to the Dursleys, but Petunia and Vernon are good comedic value at times, and he knows that Adhara will get some of amusement from it. Plus, if memory serves, which it does, Hermione's name had come up.
Birds twittered happily in the hedges of well manicured lawns along Privet Drive as if they had no idea something as dreadful as Sirius Black was passing by. He grinned at the thought of himself as a bogeyman for the Dursleys.
Slacks and a smart men's blazer covered his ever improving physique, giving him the appearance of an ordinary Muggle male. A short haired man, rather harried, walked briskly past and offered him a stern look of disapproval. Hmmm. Amend that to any ordinary Muggle male that wore a pony tail reaching to his elbows. He might actually want to do something about that.
The walk up to number four gave Sirius a moment to mentally prepare for dealing with the very embodiment of the Muggle stereotype for wizards like his family. It was likely impossible for him not to have some imprint of the Black family stamped on him. He was the eldest son of Walburga and Orion, how could he not?
Once inside, Vernon and Petunia were waiting for him, but as usual Dudley was nowhere to be seen. Did they think he was going to eat the boy? Sirius opened his mouth to offer his greeting but was caught off guard by Vernon's expression. It was rather far fetched to call the thing that Vernon was doing with his mouth a smile. It was more of a toothy grimace, his lips stretched tight over teeth, a pleading expression in his piggish eyes.
"Tea?" asked Vernon nervously, and gave Petunia a light shove off the couch, making her yelp.
"Lovely," replied Sirius politely, pivoting on one foot to glance at Harry who was looking overly pleased, even for this. Sirius rolled his eyes and placed a hand on Harry's shoulder, steering him in a fatherly manner to sit in one of the chairs. With as mild an expression as possible, he gave Harry a look to ask him to please not to enjoy this quite so much.
Petunia passed Sirius's chair looking as nervous as a virgin on her wedding night. He thought back to the woman's sister, marveling that they could be related. It was nearly unbelievable that this long faced creature could ever have been related to Lily Evans.
The sounds coming from the kitchen were the clattery clinks of dishes, punctuated by a quiet nervous trilling and occasional soft whimper. When he turned his head to see if he could look into the kitchen, he caught a look at Harry in his high backed chair, still fighting with a grin.
"Need a hand, Petunia?" called out Sirius. Honestly, he was as bad as Harry, because he knew the answer before he formed the question. Her nervous reply threaded out thin and pained, like a violinist's first lesson.
"No, no," she said, turning the corner with a tray rattling between her bony arms. Cups and saucers, teapots and platters, all tittered nervously as she scuttled in. "Got it all, you just sit right there."
A quiet whimper, hopefully only audible to him, left Harry as he tried not to laugh out loud at his Aunt's attempt at keeping Sirius where she could see him.
"What is Dudley up to for his summer hols? Busy as usual I see," said Sirius in another attempt at actual conversation. Petunia stopped preparing tea and was looking at him like he was mad. Vernon looked like he wasn't sure what this situation called for that wouldn't also trigger a violent response from Sirius. Something was certainly strange because Harry had lost all ability to hold his giggles in and was sniggering softly. Sirius looked at him and Harry looked toward the edge of the room. The only thing he could see was a rather ugly, over large chair.
Well, honestly. He was the size of an ocean going liner and had been completely still for fifteen minutes. Boys were never still. How was he supposed to know he wasn't furniture?
"Dudley, is it?" said Sirius cautiously and somewhat slowly, unsure how much the boy had upstairs. After all he'd been in that one spot the entire visit. "Why are you just standing there, son?"
A little squeal and rather unmanly jump in surprise confirmed for Sirius that Dudley couldn't be all there. The boy simply wouldn't be this ridiculous and not have suffered some sort of brain damage.
"Sit next to mummy, Diddums," cooed Petunia, now sitting next to Vernon, tea forgotten entirely. One only speaks that way to a very small child and not a teenager older than Harry. Brain damage. Poor lad.
"He is enjoying his hols," said Vernon suddenly, as though something very odd had not just happened. "Taken up boxing! Haven't you, boy?"
Sirius tried to imagine what that could mean, boxing. Perhaps it was a sport where he had to stuff himself into a box. Yes, that would be impressive. No wonder his father was proud. He turned to face Harry and mouthed the word 'boxing' to him. Harry mouthed back the word 'later' so Sirius decided to let it drop.
With Dudley apparently settled, Petunia resumed her tea serving duties, although Sirius guessed it probably had more to do with oxygen. He couldn't imagine how the woman had gotten a single breath sitting betwixt those two.
She handed Sirius a delicately thin plate, larger than a saucer, and with a matching tea cup that fit neatly into a groove. The edges were rimmed in gold, a delicate design defining the plate's borders. As he took a bite of the sponge, he realized they, or at least Petunia, were trying to tell him that they were more respectable than he. They had china with gold edging, and sponge, and didn't he now feel vastly inferior. Good Godric. Sirius felt a wave of sympathy for Harry and he realized their upbringing might not be so very dissimilar.
Sirius lounged on Harry's bed later that afternoon, eyes on the ceiling as he relaxed while he waited for Harry to return.
"How is everyone?" asked Harry, shutting the door. The toilet's gurgle was muffled against the closed door and after a minute there was a whine from the pipes.
"Good," said Sirius after a moment. "Hermione is keeping me in line." There was a quiet snort of laughter from Harry. "Merlin, but she is a bossy little thing."
"Her letters are all about how you really shouldn't be coming here to visit me and that you had already gotten in trouble once and–"
Sirius interrupted with a barked laugh. "Yes, I expect I'll be in trouble when I get home," he mused playfully.
"Put you in the dog house?" asked Harry slyly.
Sirius chuckled and then added a rueful hum of agreement. The witch might only be sixteen but she could be scary at times.
"Should I show them everything that led up to the hat prank, or just the prank itself?" he asks. He is still ashamed of the way that he spoke to her, and every now and again she lets him see that the memory stings a little.
"I for one wouldn't mind seeing that." There is something indistinctly waspish about her tone.
"I'm very sorry for how I spoke to you, sweeting."
"No, I know," she says, her tones is relaxed once again. "I would still like to see."
He squeezes her hand once again.
The new quiet of the old house, after so many weeks of the laughter and chatter of several teenagers, made it difficult for Sirius to sleep. He was up late with a cup of herbal tea and a shot of Ogden's Old.
The front door opened, then there was a crash followed closely by his mother screeching at the wide world.
"So much for a relaxing cuppa." Sirius got up and raced down the hall.
As he predicted, Tonks was trying to right something she had knocked over on her way in. She appeared to be in a death wrestle with a coat tree or perhaps was teaching it to tango. His mother screamed a steady stream of filth until he whipped his wand at her and banged the curtains shut.
Sirius put one hand on Tonks shoulder and gently pried the coat tree away from her with the other.
"I think we'll need that so I'll thank you for not killing it," he said, unable to suppress his chuckle.
"Me? Kill it?" she cried indignantly, but then caught that he was teasing. "Oh… you."
"I was just trying to relax with some tea when you came in. Care to join me?" he asked, releasing her shoulder to return to the kitchen.
"Yeah," she said, attempting to match his stride. "I wanted to see you anyway."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Why?"
"I rescued your Harry from the train. It was on its way back to London. He was under a Full Body Bind and his invisibility cloak was thrown over him. Oh, and his nose was broken." Tonks stepped toward the kettle on the stove top.
Sirius pointed to a chair, imploring her to sit. "How? Who?"
"Draco Malfoy," she replied.
Sirius chuckled. "Boys." He set a cup of tea on the table for his cousin.
Tonks remarked in a far darker tone. "Men." She took a speculative sip and smiled at the taste.
"Pardon?" said Sirius, really hoping he wasn't a party to that assessment.
"Nothing," grumbled Tonks, as she moodily poured herself a whisky, foregoing the tea altogether, and slopping some onto the table in her upset.
"C'mon Nymphadora. Spill," urged Sirius.
"No, and don't call me that," she groused mildly.
"Who's your guy?" pressed Sirius, and refilled her recently drained glass.
"You'd laugh at me and tease him," said Tonks shrewdly.
"Probably," agreed Sirius. "So what? Who is it?"
Tonks shook her head. "Uh huh. Not a chance."
"I'll find out eventually," promised Sirius. "Nothing gets past me. I never go looking for it, but I am a gossip magnet."
"He's right," said a calm, quiet voice from the doorway. Sirius grinned at Remus.
"Come in Moony," said Sirius. "We were just about to hear who Dora here fancies."
Tonks visibly stiffened and stood straight up. "Excuse me, boys. I just remembered something urgent I have to do." The speed with which she left was impressive, her quickly emptied shot glass still wobbled where she had banged it down.
"Well that was rather abrupt," said Sirius. "Now I'll have to hound her until she gives over her secret."
"I thought that you waited for the gossip to come to you," said Remus delicately.
"My cousin fancies someone," said Sirius, hinting at his dormant impish nature. "I must discover who this wizard is."
Remus, apparently, had nothing to add to that.
A few days later Sirius was sitting in his kitchen where the activity was. With an Order meeting scheduled for that night, Molly had arrived a bit early to prepare food for everyone. There had been no further discussion on the subject of Harry, nor was there an apology for her outburst and the air between them was still quite chilled.
The front door opened, followed by a soft oath and a few minutes later a shock of pink hair appeared in the doorway.
"Wotcher, Sirius," said Tonks. Her tone was miserable. "'Hello, Molly."
"Still no luck?" asked Molly, patting Tonks on the shoulder.
"Luck with what?" asked Sirius. He tried not to look eager for news on Tonks' man.
"Oh, it's n–" began Tonks.
"Remus Lupin," said Molly firmly, cutting across Tonks. "That's what."
"I can't force him to be attracted to me, Molly," said Tonks, sounding utterly forlorn.
Sirius blinked. "You've got a thing for Moony? That sly dog, erm, wolf."
"Not really," said Molly, irritated. "Dora has been trying to get him out on a date, but he won't budge."
Sirius snorted, as he was hardly surprised. "Well of course he hasn't budged."
"What?" said Molly and Tonks in unison.
"He'll have this whole–" Sirius gestured vaguely at nothing for a moment. "…defense involving poverty and Dark creatures, am I right?"
"Yes! Yes!" said Tonks emphatically. Her eyes were bright with indignation. "Not to mention a whole lecture on the age difference."
"Good ole Remus," said Sirius, clicking his tongue affectionately. "He's as reliable as the seasons. So how does he feel about you? Is there a spark?"
"There is for me," said Tonks quietly; it was almost shy.
"I'll do some digging," assured Sirius. Tonks beamed at him and threw her arms around his neck.
"Thank you," she whispered in his ear and then gave his cheek a peck
"It's not in order, pet," he says. "We planned it over several months. We found my brother's diary first. Was that an important day for you at all?"
"Actually, yes," she replies. "I'd never before seen you so close to crying."
"I don't cry," he insists childishly.
"You cried like a baby when both of your children were born, so don't give me that, Sirius Black."
"That's completely different," he insists.
"You didn't cry, so what's the problem? You were all manly and stoic until you got up and fled the room."
He sighs. "Yes, alright, fine. Take the memory."
It was an utterly gorgeous Saturday afternoon and, therefore, a total disgrace to have to spend it indoors. Although Sirius had only expected Hermione, the study in Sirius's home was actually filled with three teenagers. Believing this task to be of the utmost importance, Hermione had browbeaten Harry and Ron into joining her.
Sirius suspected this had to do with her nervousness around him. He wanted very much to tell her that this was normal, that girls develop attachments to older men. In time she would grow past this.
Harry's smirk let Sirius know that he had caught on and was amused and perhaps exasperated. Ron was slower and confused, probably by her sudden new look. The red head would dart his eyes to her and then lick his lips. It was mildly amusing, really, and as an avid watcher of people, Sirius let himself be entertained.
As the afternoon carried on, new stacks of books were added to the shelves. Hermione had uncovered a spell which would search a book for a word or phrase, however that did not negate the need for a perusal. After being thoroughly searched, Hermione placed the books on the shelves organized by subject and author.
The quiet sound of turning pages served as a backdrop for their conversation, which had turned to Harry's and Sirius' upcoming evening with Dumbledore.
"I believe we will be using a Pensieve," said Sirius in reply to Harry's question.
"Memories?" asked Harry curiously.
Sirius nodded absently, eyes on the text he was reviewing. "Dumbledore wants you to become familiar with Voldemort's background. Apparently he has gone to some trouble to acquire memories from people who either knew him or had contact with him."
"Why?" asked Ron. He closed the book he had just finished and put it on the 'Potions' stack to be shelved.
"It's valuable to understand one's enemy," replied Sirius. He turned a page.
"Found something," said Hermione. Her tone was hushed and excited.
"Really?" Sirius looked up.
"It's – it's a diary," said Hermione, puzzled.
"Let me see," said Sirius.
The black, leather bound book looked familiar and, at first, he couldn't place it. Once he opened the front cover however, it all came back to him. The curious looks of three teenagers faded as he was transported to an earlier time in his life.
"Regulus." Sirius swallowed a tight knot in his throat. "This was his diary."
"Your brother?" asked Harry. "He was a Death Eater, wasn't he?"
"He was," replied Sirius, softly. "He came to see me just before he died, was killed. I think – I think he knew he was saying goodbye." Grief suddenly overwhelmed, his eyes pricked uncomfortably.
"Sirius?" queried Hermione gently. "Would you like a moment – we could go get a Butterbeer."
"No," said Sirius swiftly. "Thank you, but no." He mentally steeled himself for this. "Show me where your spell found the word."
"It's marked – just there," said Hermione. A piece of parchment was placed as a marker.
Sirius nodded, then began reading the entries out loud, starting from where the word Horcrux first appears in the diary.
March 18, 1979
Kreacher returned to me tonight almost dead. Once he recovered, I asked him to recount what had occurred. The Dark Lord has hidden an object using the highest magical security possible. I have had my suspicions for some time now, and I believe this object to in fact be a Horcrux.
March 27, 1979
I don't know who I am anymore. Tonight I watched as Bella tortured and killed a family of Muggles. This isn't what I signed on for.
April 3, 1979
The Dark Lord has obtained the diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. His fascination with objects from the Hogwarts founders is curious. Bella was gloating recently that He had given her the cup belonging to Helga Hufflepuff to hide in her husband's vault. I don't think she was supposed to tell me, though she does love to brag, the sow.
April 14, 1979
In as much as I do believe in the supremacy of purebloods in our world, I can no longer stand idly by. I was asked to perform the Cruciatus Curse on a Muggle child tonight and when I couldn't, Bella herself used it on me. I think she is mad and that Sirius may have been right.
May 2, 1979
I now believe that all of these items the Dark Lord has been planting among his followers and elsewhere are Horcruxes. It sickens me to think how many times his soul has been shredded in order to achieve immortality. I am not sure what to do, or who to speak to.
May 19, 1979
The Dark Lord went to Hogwarts tonight seeking employment. I do not know what he means by this. Rosier said he had the diadem with him. Kreacher told me that the Dark Lord had hidden a locket. Could this have been the Slytherin locket?
June 5, 1979
Lucius Malfoy is as bad a braggart as Bella. The Dark Lord has given him a diary of his memoirs to hold. Lucius would do well to keep his mouth shut.
June 22, 1979
The Dark Lord said he is nearing his goal. I believe he is hoping to steal the sword of Godric Gryffindor from the Headmasters office at Hogwarts. No one was eager to face Dumbledore with him, not to mention that Hogwarts is notoriously difficult to break into.
July 10, 1979
The attempt on Hogwarts has failed and the Dark Lord was in a temper. Selwyn, Rosier, and McNair were punished severely. The Dark Lord raged for nearly an hour about the power inherent to the number seven. As horrific as it sounds, I believe he is planning on making a total of six Horcruxes. I am certain that this is what the cup, diadem, and locket have been used for. As to the other three, I am searching.
I curse the day I listened to Bella.
July 29, 1979
Father is dead. Though he doesn't know it, I saw Sirius on the road watching. He was on a Muggle motorbike of all things. Thankfully Mother didn't see him. I should pay him a visit soon.
August 9, 1979
I am certain that if I attempt to reclaim the hidden locket, my life will be extinguished in the process. If I am dead, Sirius will inherit the family home and holdings. My hope is that he will find this diary and learn of the Dark Lord's plan. I do not imagine he would believe me if I told him in person. I can hardly blame him with this thing on my arm.
August 27, 1979
I am suspicious of the diary that the Dark Lord gave to Lucius. He has indicated that it has strange properties. Could this be another Horcrux? I am unconvinced but curious.
September 6, 1979
I saw Sirius today. He is as mistrustful as I suspected. I cannot say I blame him.
September 30, 1979
Lucius really cannot help himself. He showed me the diary. If one writes in it, the damn thing writes back. This is most unusual magic. Lucius said it did much, much more and that the Dark Lord had entrusted him with his innermost thoughts. He would not show me what he what he meant and I am ever more curious if this may be a Horcrux as well.
October 14, 1979
The Dark Lord has seen into my mind. It will not be long before he sends someone to kill me. I am instructing Kreacher to take me to where the locket is hidden. I am certain the security involved will doom my life. I will instruct Kreacher to destroy the locket.
Sirius closed the diary and quietly excused himself. Ron and Harry nodded solemnly as he exited. Hermione was sobbing quietly, tears running streaks down her face.
"I'd forgotten that you were crying, love," he says, his voice is tender.
"Mum always cries, though," says Adhara.
"Dar," says Regulus warningly.
"What? She does!"
"Children, you have children of your own," says Hermione. "Must you still?"
She has little patience for this today, and he understands why, but in a way he is glad for it, because some things shouldn't change, like siblings who love each other but get under each other's skin. It feels more normal, and he wants a little bit of that, especially today.
"The next one is about the locket," he says quietly. This of course brings the attention back to him. That too is normal. But his reasons are different from the usual, this memory is especially painful, and Hermione knows it, even if she has never seen it.
"Go on, darling." There is a tone again, only this time it is not for him. Their children are immediately quiet.
Since it had been found, Sirius had kept the locket on his person. His mind had caressed the notion that this was one of Regulus' last links to the living world. He'd spent a lot of time gazing at the small 'S' that adorned the small silver lid, wondering what had been going through his brother's mind before he died. Did he think about Sirius at all? He had only gotten through that very difficult time with the help of James and Lily.
"Harry, a little Parseltongue," requested Dumbledore. "Maybe just the word 'open.'"
Harry nodded and when he did as requested the locket opened, revealing a blinking, brown, living eye. Sirius blinked rapidly a few times, wondering just how much wisdom there was in the adage that the eyes were a window on the soul. Here was an actual bit of soul, manifested by a liquid brown eye. As he raised the sword, a voice spoke from within the locket.
"I have seen your heart, your guilt and betrayal."
"Sirius, do something!" said Harry urgently. "Use the sword! Use it now! Don't listen to it"
"You led those closest to you astray, allowed me to kill them, kill those you cherished most. Does Harry know the truth?" asked the locket. "Have you told him how close you truly were?"
"He can't know," said Sirius, stepping back, away, shaking his head. "How could he be made to understand?"
Slowly, out of the blinking brown eyes rose two forms, like immense soap bubbles wearing the distorted faces of James and Lily Potter.
Sirius struggled for air.
"Have you never told Harry how you miss my touch?" asked the Riddle-Lily. "How you swore your undying love while riding hard between my thighs?
"Or that you crave my mouth," said the Riddle-James. "Does he know that you loved it when I threw you up against the shower wall?"
"Please stop," whimpered Sirius. "I've been faithful, ever since –".
"But you weren't then, were you?" said the Riddle-James. "Lily used to cry at night thinking about all of the women you had been with. We were the faithful ones, and the proof is in your betrayal. You as good as handed us our deaths. You never deserved us, were never worthy."
"Noooo!" howled Sirius. "Please no, no, no…"
"It isn't them," said Harry firmly. "I don't care. Just stab it, Sirius!"
"Sirius, stab the locket!" Dumbledore's voice rang out clear.
Sirius brought the sword down. It whistled slightly as it rent the air and then there was a shriek of agony. The locket shattered on the desk, with scattered bits of broken glass and a heavy mark left behind on the desk.
The sword shook in Sirius' hands as he sat heavily into a chair. He missed them so very much.
"I'm sorry, Harry," he whispered. "I'd planned on telling you, but when you were older."
"The th-three of you?" asked Harry, a tremor in his voice.
Sirius nodded, unable to meet his godson's eyes. It wasn't that he was ashamed, but this was their son. He hadn't grown up knowing as they had intended.
"Very well," said Dumbledore. The old man didn't seem all that surprised, which puzzled Sirius. Had he suspected? He looked briefly at the old wizard who was smiling wistfully at him. "I believe that is all for tonight. We shall save the Pensieve and the memory I collected for another time. I do still believe there is value in it."
Harry and Sirius walked the corridors in silence as they made their way back to the common room. Sirius was so far out of his depth on how to broach this topic that it was laughable. How much would James and Lily want their sixteen year old son to know?
"It's none of my business," said Harry, when the Fat Lady was in sight.
"Well, there are certainly parts to it that aren't," replied Sirius. "But an overview, you have a right to that."
"So you, my mum and my dad?" asked Harry. He paused outside the portrait door.
Something that had been lost suddenly flashed into Sirius' mind. Lily's sweet moans; James' deep groans.
Sirius nodded, his eyes straight ahead.
"Their deaths were so much harder on you than I ever imagined," said Harry finally.
Sirius turned his head sharply to look at Harry, to verify that he was hearing that right. "You aren't angry?"
"It's weird," said Harry, nodding. "But I'm not mad."
Sirius laughed, a bit nervously. "They would be proud of your maturity."
Harry said the password and led Sirius into the common room. It was deserted. They fell heavily into separate couches, staring into fire for a long time, wordless. What could they say?
"That was bloody awkward," says Sirius. "What an awful thing for Harry to witness, worst possible way to find out really."
"He never speaks of it," says Hermione. "But I know him. He got over all of this long ago."
"He's a good man," says Sirius firmly. "Ah, back to the hat prank. Are you sure you want to see every little thing that led up to it, ducks?"
"Every little thing, Sirius," she replies. "Please. For me."
"I am sorry, you know?"
"Yes, darling, I know. The memory?"
September had just given way to October before another Order meeting could be called. It had just concluded and the members were starting to disperse in separate directions. As the house cleared of people, the two bachelors who shared the residence retired to the drawing room. The two friends hadn't seen much of each other recently; between Sirius's out of the country jaunts and Remus spending time with the pack, they were both rather busy. They had fallen into a few minutes companionable silence before Sirius remembered his promise to Tonks.
"Nice to see Tonks looking a little better," said Sirius casually. "Saw her a few nights ago, hung up on some bloke." Remus shifted his weight and then straightened his back.
"Oh?" he replied, his tone heavy with suspicion.
"Won't give her the time of day, the way she tells it." Sirius shook his head sadly. "She went on and on about it."
Remus touched a finger to his forehead while releasing a long suffering sigh. "Do you have any idea how bad you are at this?"
"Actually, yes," replied Sirius. "I'd really like to punch myself in the head for it."
"Mm –" agreed Remus. "Look, I am too old and too poor and–"
"Do you find her attractive?" asked Sirius, interrupting. "You know, interesting, intriguing, whatever it is that makes boring middle-aged werewolves want to howl when the moon's not full?"
Remus spluttered, working his jaw for a moment. He finally gave up and took an impressive swallow of his whisky.
"I will let that delightful response serve as a yes," chortled Sirius.
"Do you know she is young enough to be–"
"Your parent's late in life daughter, because thirteen is a little young to be starting a family." Sirius was enjoying himself.
"She pinched my arse!" said Remus suddenly. "No, not pinched, it was a proper grope."
"Shame," said Sirius. "I'll have to speak to her. Really should have been your todger."
"You're impossible," huffed Remus.
"And you're a prude," replied Sirius calmly. "If a hot, young witch was after me, I'd not think twice about it."
"Is a student," said Sirius. "Don't be disgusting and don't change the subject."
"She's seventeen," taunted Remus, grasping at any defense. "That's young and legal."
"And probably as a big a prude as you. Do you want Molly to take off my bits?" asked Sirius. "Because that will get it done."
Remus threw back the last of his whisky. "I'm done with this conversation."
Sirius watched with smug determination as his friend exited the drawing room with his dignity limping beside.
"Did you speak to him?" Sirius was startled from his concentration on a letter to Harry by the conspiratorial tone in Molly's voice. He was unaware they were on such chummy terms. His arching eyebrow and lack of response said as much. "You're still angry with me," said Molly, surprised.
"Yes," said Sirius tartly. "Being told that one is better off in Azkaban will do that to a person." Godric, he hated this house and having to play nice with Molly was really the limit. Without Tonks around he simply refused to play her game.
"Harry… felt almost like one of my own," said Molly quietly. "And then you come along and suddenly it's Sirius this and Sirius that. You just took to each other so well and… oh, call it an old woman's foolishness, I just felt pushed aside. I can be frightful when I'm angry, justly so or not," she said and tried to chuckle, but it died on her lips. "Arthur and I saw Harry as another son and your presence declared that he was clearly not."
"Arthur didn't say Harry was better off with me in Azkaban," pointed out Sirius, though he was somewhat mollified.
"I'm sorry, Sirius," she said sincerely. "I had no right to say that to you."
Sirius looked away, but didn't say anything. Finally after a moment he nodded. "Alright, Molly. Now what did you ask me?"
"Did you speak to Remus about Dora?"
"Yes." His lips twitched, amusing himself by not giving her what she wanted.
"And…?" she demanded.
"Oh, yes," he replied. He wore a filthy grin as he remembered his friend's discomfort. "But I'm not sure how to bring him around."
Molly sat down next to him at the kitchen table, hand fisted and at her mouth. Her eyes wandered into the middle distance as she contemplated the problem.
"Damn," she said finally.
"What he needs is a good kiss, but how do you force a kiss out of a werewolf?" asked Sirius.
"Remus not in the mood these days?" teased Bill as he sauntered in.
"Yeah, care to spot me?" returned Sirius, just as Molly cried out a reproachful 'Bill!'
"I'm too pretty for you, Black," joked Bill, ignoring his scandalized mother. He pulled out a chair and turned it around before sitting down with a mischievous grin. "Really, what's going on?"
"Your mother is trying to make a woman of me." Sirius chuckled. "She wants to pull me into one of her matchmaking shenanigans."
"Shenanigans?" asked Bill cautiously.
"I'm overstating it," replied Sirius. "I asked Remus if he was interested in Tonks. He is. She is moping because he won't pursue anything on account of finances, age, werewolf." He ticked each supposed sin off on a finger. "And now, Molly here is trying to outmaneuver poor Remus."
"It sounds so much worse coming from you," she chided defensively.
"Call it a gift," he returned.
"Never struck me as the self-pitying type," said Bill.
"Oh, its far worse than that," replied Sirius. "It's all about being responsible."
"You know, if he actually wants her, one good kiss should spark something…" Bill trailed off looking thoughtful.
"But how?" asked Sirius. "He's a werewolf, he would smell the love potion and tell me 'nice try'."
"Yeah…" mused Bill. He opened his mouth to say something, but his mother cut him off.
"Do you really think that using magic for this is wise?" she began, laying a few warm crumpets on the table with butter. "There was this one charm when I was in school, it was later banned, but it would make a girl kiss the boy casting the charm." Her cheeks warmed over with red, and then turned away rather suddenly.
"Could it be modified?" asked Bill. "What am I saying? Of course it could."
"Yeah," said Sirius slowly. "To make Tonks the caster for starters."
"Charmed object?" asked Bill. "Something she touches?"
"That would be good," replied Sirius. "What's the trigger?"
"True love," said Molly. He cheeks suddenly bloomed crimson when she seemed to realize she had once again participated when she knew she shouldn't.
"Is she in love?" asked Bill. Molly nodded seriously.
"So, the trigger will be true love." Sirius sighed. "It's doable, but complicated."
"She touches the object, the spell is activated, how does it determine which poor bastard to go after?" asked Bill.
Sirius grinned. "A prompt, but a very clever, very quiet one."
"You can do that?" asked Bill, a bit awed.
"So," said Sirius, with a large grin. "Tonks touches the object, her state of being in love triggers the prompt, 'who do you love?' The spell flies forth, but as long as we are enhancing everything else… I think we need to boost Moony's kissing skills, and maybe his sense of romance and timing."
"Top of his game?" asked Bill slyly.
"Best way to ensure that he enjoys it." Sirius paused, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "We'll need to shut off that overactive brain."
"Could counter the charm?" asked Bill.
"Aye," replied Sirius. "That's the potential problem."
"Wotcher, Bill," said Tonks as she entered the kitchen. "Molly, Sirius, what potential problem?"
"If we can't find a way to get the goblins to negotiate," said Sirius, without batting an eyelash. "We were discussing how to get inside the vault."
Molly and Bill merely hummed their agreement.
"Oh, that little shit," he says. "I'd forgotten about that."
"Harry," he growls.
"What did Uncle Harry do, Daddy?" asks Adhara.
"Well your Uncle Ron was a right prat that year–"
"Isn't he usually?" says Adhara.
Sirius chuckles. "Yes, though I think perhaps he thought they were giving out awards that year. Not that I'm complaining, seeing as it all turned out so lovely."
"What did Harry do, darling?"
"The two of you came to the house for an utterly useless visit, not that I'm complaining."
"I know you're not," she says and gives his hand a little squeeze. "Is it amusing? I don't recall that visit."
"Go on, then, pet," he says. "Get the memory. It's only a small one and then it's back to the hat prank."
"She fancies you and you're nice to her, and Ron's really hurt her feelings," said Harry. He was answering Sirius's question as to why they were there. "She's always had a thing for older blokes, except for Ron. She always titters on about you for a few days after she visits. I figured you'd cheer her up and still be, you know… safe."
Sirius had never wanted to throttle Harry before, but he was very close to it now.
"You're lucky I'm so fond of you," snarled Sirius. "Next time, a bit of a warning, mate."
Sirius followed Harry back into the study. There were in fact many, many books to go through. Sirius was still searching the books for information on Horcruxes but with the discovery of Regulus' diary, the matter wasn't considered as urgent. The school term had picked up and it became increasingly more difficult to get away.
"Why don't you tell Sirius what you overheard at Slughorn's party," suggested Hermione.
"Damn, that's right," said Harry. "I heard Snape tell Draco that he had made the Unbreakable Vow."
Sirius's jaw dropped.
"Ron wore that same look," joked Harry.
"Looks better on Sirius," said Hermione.
Harry snickered and then refused to meet Sirius' eyes.
A day or so later, Fred and George sat at Sirius's kitchen table, having joined the 'project' at Bill's request. Sitting at the table with them were Sirius, Molly and Bill.
"It's a hat," said Sirius. He cocked his head to the side. "That has no style."
"We have a contract with the Ministry," explained George.
"They order hats from us that look just like these," continued Fred. "But they contain a Shield Charm."
"Which means she is familiar with them," said George. "Tonks won't think twice about touching it."
"So we could just set it at her place at the table and wait for her to show?" asked Sirius. His eyes danced with glee.
"When do you expect them next," asked Bill.
"The day after the children arrive," answered Molly.
"So it'll be all out in the open," said Sirius. "Excellent."
"Bill explained the concept behind the trigger. It's a part of the hat now," said George. "It's a really brilliant idea. We're looking into using it in other areas."
"So the trigger is set up, you say?" asked Sirius.
"It was tricky," replied Fred. "But it's done."
"Making the trigger reusable is brilliant," complimented Bill.
"My turn, then?" asked Sirius. He wore a large grin as George handed the hat to him.
Prompts were almost nostalgic for him. As he murmured the Latinate words that would ask the question 'who do you love?' he recalled less altruistic uses. He could feel the magic laid down by Fred and George, solidly anchored into the black felt of the hat. Sirius carefully tied his prompt to their trigger and then smiled impishly. "We need a test kneazle."
"GINNY!" bellowed Fred suddenly.
"What are doing?" hissed Molly dangerously.
George chuckled at his brother who had just tapped the hat with his wand. "How bad?"
"Hilarious," replied Fred.
When Ginny sauntered into the kitchen a moment later, the hat was thrust unceremoniously into her hands. There was a small flash from the hat, startling Ginny into dropping it.
"I dream of Harry Potter's trousers," she said in clipped swotty tones. The palm of her hand made contact with the back of Fred's head. "Prat!"
Sirius chuckled at her retreating form.
"Fred, that was uncalled for," reproved Molly. The edges of her lips were twitching.
"Well, Bill," said Sirius wickedly, "have you sorted out that spell of your mother's?"
"Not really my spell," said Molly quickly. They all ignored her.
"I have indeed," replied Bill. "Works great, doesn't it mum? Dad didn't know what hit him."
"Let's hope it was your mum," replied Sirius cheekily. Molly scowled at them both.
Bill just nodded wearing a mischievous grin.
"Just before you all showed up for Christmas, Harry and I had a chat about James and Lily, about the nature of things."
"Yes, I think so, darling, that one too."
Muggle Christmas carols were not new to Sirius, having been introduced to them by Lily in third year in the Gryffindor common room. White Christmas always reminded him of her and that first year he opted to stay at school for Christmas.
That was the year that Lily Evans learned that Sirius Black was not just a prat who turned her hair vibrant shades of green. He was also a nice boy who returned from the kitchen with pastries and pumpkin juice and told her funny stories that made her smile.
Years later people would remember James and Sirius from school and for some reason believe she had befriended Remus first. The werewolf was far too shy around girls to make friends with very many or very easily. Always so busy with his nose in a book and unwilling to be bothered with the details of teenage girls; at thirteen, Remus was going on forty.
James talked about himself too much for Lily to like him early on. Sirius, despite his tendency to babble, was an excellent listener. It was Sirius who was friends with James and also with Lily, and it was he that brought them together – with himself in the middle of course.
"So why did they get married?" asked Harry. It was uncanny how they thought of the same thing at the same time. "I mean, if it was all three of you, why marry at all?"
"Because Lily wanted children, and unwed mothers aren't well thought of, or at least weren't in those days." Sirius hung a bright red ornament that emitted flashes of light courtesy the furious fairy trapped inside.
"So why not marry you?" asked Harry. He was attempting to pry apart ornament hooks which had developed assertive personalities.
"Not really our dynamic," said Sirius honestly. There was a difference, he got a vague sense of that, but so many of his cherished memories were still inaccessible to him. Their love wasn't really a memory, it was something he knew.
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Well if you just really need reasons, I suppose there were a few: one, I had no family to fuss over a wedding; and two, your mother was Muggleborn, and my parents were such fanatics that I would have worried about her safety. They'd recently made an attempt on my cousin Andromeda's husband. But as I said, me marrying her never came up, I don't think." Sirius rummaged in a box of ornaments for one his brother had made. He thought he saw it hanging the year before. "Also, James' mother dropped enormous dragon sized hints, and we were fairly certain the situation was not one she would understand."
"It's unusual, isn't it?" Harry's cheeks were turning a lovely shade of red.
"It was," said Sirius, amused. "What were you thinking just now?"
"Are you gay?" blurted Harry. He promptly looked like disappearing would be a delightful choice.
"Dunno," replied Sirius honestly. "Your dad was the only one, before or since."
"Was mum the only–"
Sirius cut Harry off with a loud bark of laughter. "Heavens no."
"You and Remus live here together though," said Harry cautiously. "And last year, with the joint present."
"Well, seeing as I couldn't waltz down Diagon with my money purse swinging, and Remus has very little gold, we collaborated," said Sirius. "His free legs, my galleons."
"Oh, yeah," said Harry. "I guess that would make sense… I mean, I wasn't convinced or anything, you aren't very… suspect, for that sort of thing."
"Study the Greeks," said Sirius, smirking. "They'll put a whole new twist on 'suspect' for you. Doesn't really matter, do you think?"
"No, well," began Harry. "The parents thing is still… I mean you aren't supposed to think of them that way."
"Mine were horrible that way," said Sirius. "You can't really tell in the portrait, but before she lost everyone and let herself go she was quite striking. When I was young, she and Father used to think it was hilarious to make me and Regulus squirm."
"Really?" said Harry, sounding very surprised.
"Only around the house," assured Sirius. "Before I went to Hogwarts, growing up here wasn't too bad. It was after, once I was sorted, and started to examine their beliefs more carefully."
"Was it really that big a deal?" asked Harry. "I mean it's just a House, right?"
"It was never the House," replied Sirius softly. "It was your mum, and my friendship with her." Regulus's ornament spun sparkling from a thread as Sirius added a hook and hung it from a midlevel branch.
"How did they know you were friends?" asked Harry. He had finally wrestled a hook free and was adding it to an ornament he'd selected.
"I'd always suspected Regulus," replied Sirius. "I'm not so sure now. It isn't as though I could fart without my mother getting a detailed report." Sirius grinned at Harry's amused snicker.
"You said you had your own place after school," said Harry. He hung another ornament. "Why?"
"Some of it had to do with appearances," said Sirius. His mouth turned down in a thoughtful frown. "There were other reasons, and as for those…" Sirius trailed off as he felt the old familiar pang of guilt. "I guess I always enjoyed my own space too much to ever give it up entirely."
"I feel that way at the Weasley's sometimes," said Harry, missing the layers in Sirius's meaning. "There are just so many of them."
"Mm," agreed Sirius. "There are at that."
Sirius laughs softly.
"Just realizing that the tradition of traumatizing Black children is alive and well, kitten."
"Traumatizing?" she asks.
"Mother thought it was amusing to make my brother and I squirm in discomfort when she and Father were affectionate."
"Hm, your mother was a bit like you then?"
"That," he says, "Is not amusing."
Her laughter smells like sunshine and tastes like happiness, and it is hard to breathe when he thinks about how much he will miss her.
A few days later Christmas morning dawned bright and cold, a fresh layer of white coating everything under the sky. The gathering of the extended and adopted family created a light hum of noise as the house was bustling and full.
Christmas dinner was waiting on a few late arrivals as Molly put the finishing touches on her pudding. The hat carrying the charms of the twins, Sirius and lastly Bill sat innocently in the chair Tonks always occupied at meals. In order to claim her seat she would have to move it.
Hermione had joined them about an hour ago and was off with the two youngest Weasleys and Harry somewhere in the house. Bill, Charlie and Mad Eye had joined Sirius in the kitchen and were talking about the arrest of Stan Shunpike when Remus walked in.
"Happy Christmas," said the werewolf cheerily. He looked a mite less careworn which was nice to see.
"Hello Remus dear," said Molly brightly. Her smile was large and somewhat anticipatory. Sirius couldn't blame Remus for looking at her a bit uncertainly. "Have a hot chocolate." Molly sat a mug down in front of the seat next to where Tonks usually sat.
Remus sighed and Sirius was sure he was stifling a bit of resentment, but he sat regardless, apparently resigned to his fate. Sirius raised an eyebrow at him, wearing what he knew to be his filthiest smirk. His friend showed no sign of recognition, but his smile was a bit too bland.
"Who are we missing, are we all here?" asked Molly. Sirius knew damn well she knew Tonks hadn't arrived yet.
Spilling into the kitchen doorway, a few sets of eyes peered in. "Dinner ready yet?" Ron was flanked by Harry and Ginny.
"Who all is able to make it?" asked Remus. His eyes avoided looking at the seat next to him.
"Dinner is waiting on Tonks," replied Molly. "But I expect her momentarily."
The three teenagers filed in and began to arrange themselves around the table. Molly had not sat Remus in his usual place. Sirius grinned at Ginny's smug expression, having claimed a seat next Harry in Hermione's usual spot. A few moments later Fred and George popped into the kitchen followed by Kingsley. A moment after that Arthur stepped in.
"Where's Hermione?" asked Molly.
"She left a book in the drawing room," replied Ginny. "She'll be right down."
"I wonder what is keeping Tonks?" asked Molly, letting a touch of irritation into her tone.
"Damn," said Kingsley. He began to rise from his seat. "I cannot believe I forgot." He strode swiftly out of the kitchen.
"Sorry I'm late," chirruped Hermione as she rushed in to claim a seat, nearly running into Kingsley as he left. The closest open chair was next to Remus. Sirius frowned with irritation as she began to pull the chair out. Molly's brow furrowed and she shot Sirius a questioning look.
"I was held up in the drawing room," continued Hermione, blithely unaware that her chair choice was causing a few in the room some consternation. "Tonks fire called to say that she would be running a bit late. She hadn't been given the go ahead to leave her post." Hermione picked the hat up off the chair to move it. A brilliant flash of light engulfed the kitchen as the powerful and complicated Charm issued from the hat.
Sirius' pulse suddenly quickened as all his thoughts save one were entirely blocked out: Wasn't Hermione a lovely creature? Why had he never seen this before now?
A sudden shift in his priorities took place as he felt drawn to her as though by a magnet. He rose from his chair, his eyes clasped onto her tender form until the force of his gaze caused her to look up at his approach. A soft gasp left her lips.
Oh, that was just lovely.
He must make her his… but how? And then he knew. A kiss. One kiss and she would surely be his. He held his hand out to her. Her puzzled expression was so endearing. What a prize she was, what a lucky man he.
She accepted his hand with a nervous look at the table. Everyone was watching the strange display. Fred and George were sniggering openly. Bill looked stunned. Harry and Ron were clearly rather puzzled as were Arthur and Mad Eye. Remus looked suspicious. Molly's jaw hung, gaping, but he couldn't worry himself over her reaction. She would simply have to understand. They all would.
Pulling her to him, he couldn't help but admire her grace and poise. Tenderly, he stroked his knuckles along her cheek.
"Sirius?" she queried tremulously.
Bringing his other hand up, he tenderly cupped her face. Sirius lowered his lips to her in a sincere gesture. As she relaxed against him, he smiled into their kiss. Gently, he moved his lips over hers, encouraging her to participate. Tentatively she responded in kind, wrapping her arms around his neck as she pulled herself closer. Softly, he touched his tongue to her moistened lips.
Let me in, my darling.
The sweet taste of her breath filled his senses as she parted her lips for him. He accepted her offering and soothed all her fears with his tongue, curling it around hers. The sweetest sound he had ever heard left her mouth, a soft breathy moan; a tiny sound of pleasure.
One arm crept around to ensnare her waist, the other sunk into her rich brown tresses. Taking full control, he adjusted the position of her head to suit his desire, deepening and intensifying the kiss. A slender calf began to inch up his leg as she wrapped herself around him. Sirius growled his approval before pulling away to gaze into her lovely cognac eyes.
Which is when reality set in.
"Sirius?" The young, vulnerable witch gazed up into his eyes, her expression unfocused and dreamy.
The stunned silence and shocked faces would have been hilarious were he not the butt of his own joke.
"Excuse us," said Sirius abruptly. "You," he cast a hard look at Hermione, "come with me. Now."
With fingers wrapped tight around the bones in her wrist, he marched her to the study, closing the door with a smart snap.
"Are you mad?" he asked harshly, rounding on her aggressively.
"Wh –" Hermione appeared to be having difficulty with the extremes his pendulum swung between.
"That spell," began Sirius, "was supposed to be for Tonks. It was designed to work only on a young woman in love." His glare was harsh and uncompromising.
"I –" Hermione paused, flummoxed. She dropped heavily into the loveseat behind her.
Sirius began to pace. Guilt, not over what he had done to Hermione, the embarrassment he had caused, but over the dead betrayed stole through him. The promise he had made lay in tatters, and again he had failed them.
"I tolerated your little crush because it is a normal part of adolescence," said Sirius, "Better me than someone you can't trust."
Hermione's head dropped, her chin nearly touching her chest. A stain of red had risen into her whole face.
Sirius's pacing went on, losing himself further and further with each step. Cheater! The floor boards groaned under his heavy step. Iniquitous filth! Stomp! Stomp! Each and every name punctuated by his pacing.
"You never made an issue of it, so I saw no harm in it," he continued, despite the wobbling tremble in her lower lip. "But to fancy yourself in love with me?" The pacing halted, he stood directly in front of her, his height towering over her seated form. "You are just sixteen-"
"Seventeen," said Hermione, bravely, with a touch of frost to her tone, but she still wasn't looking up.
"Oh, yes, like that makes a bloody world of difference," said Sirius with hard sarcasm. "I am twice your age, could easily be your father."
The pacing returned. What a mess this was! His fingers began to climb through his dark locks.
Hermione's fingers curled into the fabric of the sofa.
"I really thought you had more sense than this," he said. "No one batted an eyelash at letting you stay here with me over the summer because I am trustworthy. I'm not some lecherous old pervert who gets his jollies with children."
"But you're –"
"I'm what? Someone you know? Well that would be even worse, wouldn't it? Look, I've been seventeen, I know you think you're all grown up, and maybe you are, but this is not right and is not up for consideration."
"Wh – Why would you set such a spell?" asked Hermione slowly.
"It was intended for my cousin," he replied. "Molly, B-"
"Mrs. Weasley knows what the spell did?" whispered Hermione, clearly mortified.
"And Bill, Fred and George as well," said Sirius. He felt a moments pity as a miserable sound warbled out of her throat.
"You are not in love with me, Hermione," said Sirius, determined. "I need you to grasp that. You are much too close to Harry."
Hermione didn't move, but her knuckles had gone white.
"You do not love me," he repeated. "Do I make myself clear, Hermione?"
"Of course, Sirius," she said with a small voice. He realized then, that perhaps he'd been too rough and tried to soften the blow with something akin to fatherly understanding.
"Let's just put this behind us, alright. You'll get over it in no time. There's a whole world of wizards your own age out there–"
"Right," said Hermione, interrupting, her tone sharp and cold. "I've got it."
"Right then," he said stiffly. "See you at dinner in a bit." He turned and left the study to allow her to compose herself. Merlin, what a nightmare this was.
The floor creaked softly under his feet as he returned to the kitchen. It was better that he was harsh now and nip this before it became an actual problem. When he returned to the kitchen, the icy glare from Remus let him know a full disclosure had taken place.
"Is she alright?" asked Molly.
"She'll be fine," he said. "She just needed to be straightened out on a few things is all."
Ginny rose from her chair. "Where?" Her glare was harsh.
"The study is where I left her," replied Sirius. "She's fine, she'll be fine."
"I'll be the judge," replied Ginny as she left.
Sirius glanced at Remus who had not yet looked away. "Oh get it off your chest will you?"
"I hardly have the words," said Remus. "You absolute arse hat."
"I did have help," said Sirius defensively. "I'm not alone in my opinion,"
"It is my life," said Remus firmly. "The decision should be mine."
"But you're being unreasonable, Remus," said Molly. "You won't even give her a chance. No relationship is perfect but you two get on so well."
"Friendship is a lovely way to begin," said Sirius. "And age and money are no guarantees for happiness."
"And what of the danger," snapped Remus. "Soothe the truth of that away if you can."
"A bit over dramatic, don't you feel?" said Sirius. "It's not as though we don't know when you're likely to be a bit grumpier than usual. I assume my cousin knows how to buy a lunar calendar?"
"Don't make light," snarled Remus.
"Oh, get a hold of yourself," said Sirius, flaring back. "You have no clue about what you deserve or what is good for you."
"It's Christmas," said Remus wearily. "Can we focus on that? Now is not the time."
Kingsley chose that moment to return with Tonks in tow. He raised a cautious eyebrow at the obvious tension.
"Bad new?" asked Tonks softly.
Sirius was about to give her an answer but Ginny waltzed back in with a heavy chip on her shoulder.
"Well, she left," she said accusingly to Sirius. "I hope you're happy."
"I needed to be clear," replied Sirius. "She is too young to know whether or not she is in love."
"You knew," said Remus quietly. "You knew and were ready to die in defense of it."
"That was very different," replied Sirius. "We were at war–"
"And we're not now?" retorted Remus with a snort.
"I don't return her feelings," said Sirius. "And I am too old for her to be falling in love with,"
Remus said nothing, but his last comment earned him a smug expression.
"That's different as well," said Sirius quickly. "You do."
"You do what?" said Tonks, looking at Remus.
"Is Hermione going to be alright, Ginny?" asked Remus hurriedly.
Sirius rolled his eyes impressively.
"I'm so sorry you felt like you had to leave, sweeting," he whispers remorsefully.
"Oh, was that the bad one?"
"Yes," he croaks. "I am so very sorry."
"I forgave you a long time ago, Sirius."
"I know. I love you, you know?"
"I know, I love you, too. If I remember correctly, the next time you saw me was when you first noticed me, isn't that right?"
"How could I not with that shapely little bum, kitten?"
"Stop your fussing, Adhara," says Hermione. He doesn't need to see her to know that she is smiling.
A classroom door in the dungeons of Hogwarts opened, releasing the acrid smell of potions gone wrong into the hallway. The tiny little things that rushed into freedom whispered and giggled as they passed a long haired stranger. It was nice to be anonymous somewhere.
Leaning into the doorway, Sirius watched as Snape swept around his classroom muttering. Sirius considered a taunt but Snape would escalate matters too far, too fast so he held his tongue.
"Afternoon Snape," said Sirius after giving the door a short rap. "A word?"
"If this is about Harry's Potions grade I'm afraid you'll have to see Horace Slughorn," said Snape. "I'm only filling in today."
"No, yeah, that's what Albus said," began Sirius. "Actually I want to talk to you about a student in your House."
"Oh?" said Snape. "Draco again?"
"I don't need to know what you're doing," said Sirius. "But you should know Harry overheard you mention something about an Unbreakable Vow."
Snape stilled. "I see."
"Draco has been ordered with to Albus, hasn't he?" asked Sirius.
Snape said nothing, he didn't even blink.
"Which is why you're going to do it," said Sirius, thoughtful.
Not even a stray draft ruffled Snape's robes.
"Tighten your leash on the boy," said Sirius sharply. "If Harry is harmed by his pathetic attempts at assassination, it will not go well for either of you."
Snape was quiet for a moment and Sirius assumed he would get nothing out of him. He turned to leave and was at the door when he heard Snape speak.
"I'm trying. He mistrusts me. He thinks that I've usurped his father's favored place with the Dark Lord."
"Harry is everything," said Sirius without turning around. "My last link to James and Lily; I will harm Draco if it comes to it."
Snape let out a long breath.
"Respect my wishes, my arse," he growls softly.
"Dumbledore again?" asks Hermione mildly, a deliberate lightness to her tone.
Sirius sighs. He has no desire to have this familiar disagreement so he changes the subject.
"Yes, but that isn't the most important thing I discovered that day."
Hermione promptly blushes.
"What was the most important thing," asks Adhara innocently. Hermione shoots her a playful glare. This too has been a familiar and much loved topic in their house.
Sirius smiles at Hermione. "I discovered your mother, of course."
"There is an American wizard I would like for you to meet with. The Ministry refuses to seek help beyond our borders but he has agreed to meet with you to discuss exactly that." He handed a file across the desk.
Sirius thumbed through it. "Before I leave I am instructing Harry not to meet with you again alone. If I am to be out of the country that doesn't grant you access."
"I will respect your wishes, Sirius," said Dumbledore wearily.
"Just get back?"
Sirius hummed a sound that might have been a yes. It was a little unnerving, had always been, that despite his natural stealth, Remus knew it was him. And it had always been this way. No one could sneak up on dear old Moony. Merlin knows he and James had tried.
Rows and rows of white chairs extended both in front of and behind him. Each chair filled with a body, a name, a resentment…
Sirius sighed as he shuffled into a chair behind Remus and Tonks and then repositioned a little restlessly in his seat.
Well… probably not every chair, thought Sirius, catching sight of a messy black head of hair as its owner bobbed down to take his seat.
"It's almost over," said Remus, his voice drifted back soft but clear.
Sirius smiled. It wasn't a happy smile. Remus knew first hand the number of funerals Sirius had been to. And the ones he hadn't. Funerals were for the living, so they could grieve, say goodbye.
Sirius never got that opportunity. What he did get were twelve years surrounded by gliding horrors that ensured he couldn't, at least not while he was in there.
The eerily beautiful song of the Phoenix pulled his attention back to what he was missing.
A shaky hand ran through his silky black locks, sweeping his hair back only to fall into his face once again, a fruitless effort, really.
Damn it! I should have been here.
Clearly he was needed and now, and now there was just so much to catch up with. It was impossible not to think of two gravestones in Godric's Hollow. He had been only once, on his way back into Britain for the Tri-Wizard Tournament. There he had spent an entire night talking to the dead, though they could not answer in kind.
The funeral proceedings faded to the background as Sirius lost himself in a memory that had been stolen so long ago.
"Easy, Pads," James had said as he slid into him. Sirius was trembling, facing a mirror so that he could watch James fuck him.
"Prongs, fuck," he had whispered back.
"You like that, don't you?" said James. "Like it when I fuck that pretty arse of yours."
"Yes," said Sirius helplessly. James rocked into him and fuck, it felt so damn good.
"Lily?" said James. "Come here and suck this hard prick of Padfoot's for him."
"Oh, fuck," said Sirius.
"You don't come until I tell you," said James.
"I won't last," he replied.
"Sure you will, Sirius," said Lily, as she crawled onto the bed. "I'm going to put a cock ring on."
"You are an amazing woman, ginger," said James admiringly.
"Oh, fuck," said Sirius again. Her mouth, his cock and he couldn't come.
Voices – screams – broke into his memory. He blinked, having quite forgotten where he actually was. These moments seemed to come upon him whenever he let his mind wander these days. For the first time Sirius noticed a large white table upon which lay a body, a body around which white flames were licking higher and higher.
With eyes that squinted in the bright sunlight, Sirius watched as arrows flew high in a graceful curving arch, accompanied by a short chorus of shocked cries.
Sirius stood up as a quiet hum of conversation began to break out and looked around for his reason to be here. The full head of messy black hair had kept his seat beside a red head.
'The more things change,' thought Sirius, 'the more they stay the same.'
"We need to talk about him."
"I know, Remus." Sirius sighed. "What a mess."
"Wotcher, Sirius," greeted Tonks. She had slipped out of her seat to walk around to give her cousin a hug. "Good to have you back."
"I see your hair is back to its proper color," teased Sirius. "Can I presume this twat came to his senses?"
A deep blush stained the tops of Remus's cheeks as Tonks bounced up on the balls of her feet and gave Remus a peck on the cheek.
"'Bout bloody time," said Sirius, with a click of his tongue against his teeth. "I tried to tell him he didn't stand a chance, but does he ever listen to me?" He grinned at his friend like an idiot, his teeth flashing in the bright sunlight. Much to Sirius's delight, Remus's natural shyness about such matters was breaking through with glances away, anywhere but at his friend.
"There is something you need to know and you're not going to like it," said Remus. "Harry was alone with Dumbledore the night he died. He witnessed the whole thing."
Sirius could feel his anger begin to swell when a figure broke away from the crowd closest to the casket.
"What does he want, I wonder?" Sirius inclined his chin directionally at Scrimgeour and then looked at Tonks.
Scrimgeour was walking, or rather stalking, over to where Harry was standing alone. When had he gotten away from Ginny?
Remus shook his head faintly. "Dora, you used to work with him."
Harry lifted his hand to show something to Scrimgeour and Sirius knew instantly that the conversation had turned south. Whatever Dora had responded with, Sirius didn't hear her because his legs were already carrying him to Harry's side.
The path between himself and Harry was frustrated with an elderly couple who thought that Sirius was their niece's husband and were persistent in asking after her welfare. By the time that he had them sorted, Scrimgeour was gone and Harry was livid.
"I'm having a shite day."
"Its not even noon, Sirius!" When Harry lifted his surprised eyes to Sirius's, he saw the teasing grin. "Oh."
"Where's Ginny?" asked Sirius, giving Harry a little nudge in side with his elbow. The tone of his voice carried the same tone his letters had, amused but encouraging.
Harry released a wearied sigh. "Hermione and Ron are over there talking to Remus and Tonks and I'm sure the curiosity is killing her, at least."
Sirius looked over and recognized Ron who he could clearly see. Standing next to him was a shapely brunette with curls. Her robes fit her form nicely and it prompted Sirius to give his head a tilt to the side as he made a little noise of appreciation with his lips and teeth.
"Who is that?" Sirius's tone was pregnant with admiration.
"Who?" asked Harry, clearly confused.
"Brunette at two o'clock with the nicest ar–" Sirius was cut off by a sharp jab in the ribs. "Oi! What was that for?"
Harry stepped out, giving Sirius a reproving scowl as he went.
"That, mate, is Hermione." Harry was less than amused.
"Couldn't be," said Sirius. "Hermione was never that shapely."
"You haven't seen her since Christmas," reminded Harry.
Which also reminded Sirius of their ill fated kiss and the words he'd said to her that day; they hadn't spoken since. Truthfully, Sirius didn't know how to bridge that gap, it seemed too large. However, several months had passed. Perhaps she had gotten past the incident, realized that he was right, that she didn't love him. Ron greeted Sirius warmly, Hermione was polite if a bit distant. Harry told them about his conversation with Scrimgeour which prompted Ron to offer to hit Percy. Hermione's gaze paused on Sirius for a moment before looking at the castle with sadness in her eyes.
"Emily," he says. "Merlin I miss her."
"Oh, I remember that. Your timing couldn't have been worse."
"You didn't need to be alone, pet."
"Perhaps," she says. "Perhaps."
The flickering of gas lamps in the low kitchen at Grimmauld Place gave eerie illumination to the drooping circles in Mundungus Fletcher's face. On most occasions Sirius found Dung to be an amusing sort with outrageous tales of his misdeeds. However Sirius didn't find him amusing right now. Mundungus was explaining an idea that he had for retrieving Harry from the Dursleys'.
The problem Sirius was having had to do with the plan's source. Far from being a strategist, Mundungus brought word from stickier places than any of these would ever frequent. So why was he suddenly keen with a scheme? Mundungus could rob you blind and then sell your own things back to you, but this?
Something felt off about it. The problem in rubbing elbows with filth was that sometimes it stuck. Not that Sirius mistrusted Mundungus, it really wasn't that. But of all their members, he would be the easiest to taint.
"Aren't you brewing Polyjuice, Sirius?" asked Moody. The rotating eye swiveled around in his head, looking up through the floors, out through the kitchen wall to the rear yard and then shooting through this level of the old house.
Constant vigilance, thought Sirius wryly. The plan contained many elements that would appeal to Moody, who doubted everything. If there were Death Eaters over the skies of Little Whinging, six decoys would make their work more difficult. It was a smart plan, too smart for the likes of Mundungus, and practically tailored for Moody's approval.
"Yes," replied Sirius. "Just in case Bill and I need it to get into the Lestrange vault."
The meeting broke apart which was followed by the slow emptying of Grimmauld Place. First the Aurors, who had posts to attend and then Moody, who wouldn't like to be thought of as lazing about. Remus followed five minutes after his wife and then most of the Weasleys dispersed to separate destinations. Bill lingered to see if Sirius wanted to go over a few details on his progress with the goblins.
Sirius took the proffered blueprints to the Lestrange vault and spent some time pouring over them with Bill. They still didn't have a way in so this was a little premature. He could have been more enthusiastic, but his concentration and thought process were focused on Harry and how to break him loose.
When Bill finally left and Sirius had the house to himself, he began to go over possible escape strategies. To avoid engaging the Trace, Sirius had ridden his motorbike over to number four, Privet Drive. He had already been twice that summer which proved that someone could drive there and back without being harassed. However, if the house was being watched, it would surely be noticed if one person arrived and two left, particularly if one of the two was Harry Potter.
Sirius glanced at his watch, almost six o'clock in the afternoon. The small Potions laboratory where he was brewing the Polyjuice was just off of the kitchen. Sirius walked back into the small room that was lit only by a few ground level windows set up high along one wall.
There was a way to show up with someone, and then leave with that same person, at least to the eyes of whoever might be watching. The problem lay in choosing that person. His first choice would be Remus, but as far as he knew, no studies had been done with werewolves. He couldn't risk Harry's safety that way, so Remus was out. The Aurors would want to discuss it with the whole Order. That was out because Mundungus was a risk. Fred and George had gone back to the shop which they had already closed down for a few hours to have the meeting. Bill was back at work, and Arthur and Molly would feel much the same as the Aurors would.
Ron was an option, except that Molly would want to know where they were going. Sirius had a genuine talent for lying, but he didn't know about the boy or how he would hold up when faced with his mother. This only left one option, his very last truth be told: Hermione.
It wasn't in Remus's nature to tell someone who they should or should not apologize to, and certainly not Sirius. The werewolf had wheedled his way around to it and then suggested he tell Hermione that 'you're an arse with sensitivity of a baboon' on the way to an apology. That sounded suspiciously like his cousin Tonks.
A set of uniform phials were pulled down from a cabinet and set next to the cauldron containing the potion. The Polyjuice had been ready for nearly a week and kept fresh with a Stasis Charm. Perhaps he had been a bit rough on the girl, he thought as he ladled potion into the phials. What were his options though? The phials were fitted with a stopper and then placed into a slim leather satchel that Harry could carry on his person.
Back in the kitchen, with the satchel slung over his shoulder, Sirius rummaged through a drawer for an address book containing Harry's contacts. The address was hastily scribbled on a piece of parchment which was shoved into a pocket on his leather jacket.
Parked in front of the family manor was his war wearied bike. Hagrid had taken care of her during his incarceration, but not the way Sirius would have. She had a rust spot here or there and a few scratches that appeared to have been made by claws.
"Good afternoon, Miss Em," said Sirius fondly. "How is the world treating you?"
A soft shudder seemed to run through the bike, a side effect that had taken hold after so much of his magic poured into her. The result being that she responded when she heard her master's voice.
With a light tap from his wand she roared to life, purring wantonly between his legs. A lost memory gripped him suddenly, one of Lily reaching for his cock to try and distract him while they flew. Sirius tried to push the memory out, but he should have known that where there was Lily, James wouldn't be far behind. He was rougher than Lily, but Sirius enjoyed both in equal measure. The feel of James' strong hands on his hips as he took him hard from behind tore a forlorn whimper from his throat. There was nothing so exhilarating as sex above the clouds.
"Please stop, Em," whispered Sirius. "I know you miss them too, but please just stop."
Why, oh why Emily chose to remember only the sex, he would never know. There were plenty of other occasions his bike could have reminded him about, but it seemed like it was always this, or something very similar. It took him a moment to recover, for the acute sense of loss to dissipate to the dull ache he was used to living with.
He cast a Disillusionment Charm on both himself and the bike before taking to the skies. The bike rocketed straight up and into the clouds they would hide behind. The journey to Hermione's home wasn't that far by air and soon he was touching down, tires squealing as they left black lines in the asphalt.
Sirius pulled out the parchment with the address to glance at it as he rolled down the street. There wasn't very much of London or the outlying suburbs he wasn't fairly familiar with. Finally seeing the name of her street, Sirius made his left and began counting address until he reached hers.
While hidden under the front overhang and porch, Sirius released the charm that had kept him hidden. He pressed the bell and then straightened his posture, planting what he hoped was a sincere smile on his face. A moment later the door opened and his quarry peered out at him.
"Sirius?" Hermione's voice wavered and her eyes were shot with red. Yet, whatever her problem may have been, she pulled herself together, her voice hardening. "What are you doing here?"
"Hermione what's wrong?" asked Sirius. It was obvious that she had been crying, her lashes were still wet.
"It isn't your concern," she said harshly. "What is it you want Sirius?"
"May I come in for a moment?" asked Sirius. The porch was not where he envisioned having this discussion.
"Now is really not a good time," she insisted. The door was still held open just a crack.
"It's rather urgent," pressed Sirius. "Order business, it's about Harry."
There was a pause as she considered before opening the door to let him in. A long hallway lined with static, unanimated Muggle photos opened into a large sitting area. She gestured to a couch and then took a seat opposite from him.
"What can I do for you, Sirius," she said. Her eyes weren't on him but on the hands she had folded in her lap.
"The Order has been trying to come up with a way to get Harry away from his Aunt and Uncle," said Sirius, starting with the truth. "I've been by to visit a couple of times on my motorbike because we can't travel there using magical means. It seems that so long as the people visiting don't leave with Harry, no suspicions are raised."
"Why can't he just use the Floo?" asked Hermione reasonably. Her eyes were still in her lap.
"Thicknesse, the new Minister for Magic, has declared that most means of magical travel, including Floo, Portkey or Apparition, are illegal to and from the Dursleys'," replied Sirius. Keeping his seat, he moved the edge of the couch. "Hermione, what's happened? It's obvious you were crying before I got here. What's the matter?"
"So what is the Order's plan for getting Harry out?" asked Hermione, ignoring his questions.
"The plan is for you and me to ride on my motorbike, seeing as we really can't use Arthur to get us a Ministry car, and pay Harry a visit. While we're there, we'll help Harry get packed and then when it's time to leave, we'll get a few of your hairs." Sirius pulled the satchel from his shoulder and handed it to her. "Those are phials of Polyjuice, enough for the ride back to London for us and for you to catch a cab ride back to my place with Harry's things. Will you help us, Hermione?" The quiet in the house was a bit unnerving and it made him wonder if she was here all by herself. "Unless, of course, you think your parents would mind."
The control she had apparently been working so hard at failed her then, as tears began to slide down her face. Quickly, she pulled herself together again, rubbing the wet from under her eyes.
"Hermione, are you parents alright?" asked Sirius quietly.
She gave a small bitter laugh and said, "Yes, they're fine." Her voice dropped then and carried a tremble as she spoke. "It's just- you know I spoke to them an awful lot, about everything, about Harry." She raised her eyes finally to meet Sirius's and there was defiance there. "I modified their memories and sent them away, out of Britain. I couldn't risk having Voldemort track them down. They're safer now, I just – I miss them is all."
Sirius dropped his gaze. Her pain was very real and it was hard to look at. Suddenly she was sobbing, and, before he realized what he was doing, his feet had carried him to her couch. He pulled her into his chest and let her get it out. At first she stiffened and tried to push him away, but his arms were stronger and her need was large. When she finally began to quiet he started asking questions.
"Today," she answered miserably. "Their plane took off an hour ago."
"I'm sure they'll be fine," he said, mostly because he wasn't sure what else to say.
"They don't know they have a daughter." He could feel her breath soft against his chest as she spoke. She pulled away once again, and this time he let her. Needing a bit of distance, she moved so that more space existed between them. She sat primly once again, hands folded in her lap. "Thank you," she said quietly.
"No, it's nothing," he said quickly. "I know this must be very hard."
"When do you want to get, Harry?" she asked, brushing off his sympathy.
"I thought maybe now," said Sirius cautiously. It occurred to him that as plans went, this one was rather sudden.
"Alright," said Hermione, apparently unbothered by this. He wondered if his timing hadn't bordered on miraculous. If she weren't so emotionally torn down, she would likely have a thousand questions for him. "I mean, since the Order is behind it."
Sirius looked at her swiftly but she had gotten up, her back turned to him as she walked to a closet. A light jacket was pulled out and then put on. Keys on the kitchen table were grabbed and shoved into a pocket.
Sirius stood. "Ready?"
Hermione nodded and moved to the front to door with Sirius behind her. The door was locked but she stopped on the walk up to her house abruptly, almost forcing Sirius to walk into her.
"Where's your bike?"
Sirius chuckled. "Come here under the porch." Away from prying Muggle eyes, he Disillusioned first her and then himself. The camouflaging effect of the spell made them appear to be distortions. "I parked it on the street."
"Won't it be heard when you start it up?" He could hear the skepticism in her voice, intermingled with fear.
"Probably, but they won't know where its coming from," he replied. "Besides, the street seems pretty quiet."
"Saturday," she said by way of an explanation.
"Ah," said Sirius and then whispered to Emily. "Be nice to her, it's not what you think."
With his leg hiked over, Sirius sat astride his bike and waited for Hermione to get on. If he wasn't mistaken, her faint outline showed crossed arms.
"You aren't afraid to get on ole Emily, are you?" he teased. "She'll treat you right."
"We're flying?" asked Hermione. He could hear the nervousness. It was sort of cute.
"Aye," he replied. "I know you don't like flying, but the bike is safer than most rides."
"Oh?" she said. Her form appeared to waver as she loosened her arms a tick.
"Charms and such," he replied. "She is fully tricked out." Emily gave a little wiggle, but if Hermione noticed, she didn't comment on it.
A moment later he felt her negligible weight slide in behind him. She fidgeted a bit unable to find her seat comfortably.
"Just scoot close to me and put your arms around my waist," said Sirius. He felt her do as she was asked, hands wrapping tentatively around his midsection.
As they rolled down the street, Emily purring softly, he felt Hermione press tightly against him, he hands becoming suddenly vice like.
"Don't be frightened," he soothed. "Just close your eyes and hang on."
Though he tried, it was almost impossible not to compare the feel of Hermione to that of Lily. The similarity of soft, feminine warmth pressed into his back was both disconcerting and oddly comforting. Lily had more confidence on Emily, but even that had come with time.
When they burst through the clouds, Hermione gave a soft little cry of wonder in his ear. The sun was dipping into the horizon and bleeding an array of pinks and yellows into the deepening blue.
"Spectacular, isn't it?" said Sirius. Hermione hummed softly in agreement.
They whipped along the tops of clouds, leaving London as they flew southwest into the outskirts of Little Whinging in Surrey. The cool nip of the evening caused Hermione to shiver slightly at his back and prompted him to cast a Warming Charm over her. The bike landed with a light bump and jostle, but was one of his better landings overall.
They paused to lift the Disillusionment on themselves and the bike because being seen was part of the plan. Street after street rolled by as they wheeled their way to his godson. The neighborhood Harry grew up in came into view and then the sign for Privet Drive. Sirius parked Emily in front of number four and grinned when the noise brought Petunia to the window for a look.
"Have you ever met Harry's Aunt and Uncle?" asked Sirius. He gave her a hand in getting off of the bike. The braid down her back had mostly kept her hair from being ravaged in the wind, but it was much looser now and was starting to pull apart. It was almost attractive in the way the wisps of hair softened her face.
"Only at Kings Cross," replied Hermione. "They never seemed very friendly."
"They're not," said Sirius. "Though they behave far better when I am around."
Hermione grinned then, the first real smile from her that day. "Yes, I've heard you have that effect."
After arguing nigh on an hour over whether or not to accept Order help, it was finally Dudley who made up his parents' minds. Several people, including Kingsley and Arthur, had already been by to discuss the measures being taken for their protection. Taking matters into his own hands, Sirius had only sped up the process.
When they finally managed to get out the door, Hermione was wearing Petunia's face, and Harry's things were packed and waiting by the front door. Sirius had spared him the ignominy of having to change into a girl in front of his mother's family. He had snarled at the Dursleys that Harry was about to do top secret magic and they were not allowed to watch. He gave Hermione an apologetic smile. There was nothing especially humiliating about being her, but Harry was a bloke. Girls sometimes failed to understand why this might be an issue.
Once they stepped out the front door though, Sirius felt his first moment of self doubt. What if they didn't make it? What if their deception was suspected? He hurried Harry to the bike so they could get under way.
The road stretched on in front of them as they sped toward the safety of Grimmauld Place. Emily lit the path ahead as she purred beneath them. The inky darkness on either side hid the even darker shapes of buildings and vegetation that could not be clearly seen. Sirius was grateful they were going too fast for close inspection, because his imagination wanted to see danger where there was none. For the first time he really felt the difference between fighting beside James and protecting Harry. Molly was dead wrong, he knew exactly who Harry was, but she might have had a point in there somewhere.
The boy in question, young man actually, old man in many respects, had been unusually irritable that night. Something was bothering him that had nothing to do with their situation. He had rarely seen Harry stand up to anyone. Not that it didn't happen, he had just never seen it. The boy had a temper when pushed to it. That was good to know.
The tension that held him in a vice loosened its grip as the first lights of London came into view. They were closer to safety now. When they slowed to a stop at a red light, Sirius turned his head to check on Harry. He was taking a moment to knock back another phial of potion.
"Getting closer," said Sirius. The light turned green.
Twenty minutes later they made a right and the familiar sights of his neighborhood came into view. House after house swept by and then they made a left turn. A spot directly in front of his house was charmed to always be available for Emily.
The kick stand steadied the bike as she settled into her familiar spot. Sirius gave her a silent 'thank you' as he shut her off.
"I'm the new Secret Keeper for headquarters," said Sirius. "Dumbledore released the Charm on himself before he died, before he sent me to America."
"Do you think he got rid of you on purpose?" asked Harry. Sirius wasn't sure why Harry's tone bothered him, but it did.
"Lets talk about it inside," said Sirius. He shoved a piece of paper into Harry's hand with the familiar address written on.
The front door swung in with a flick of Sirius' wand. He and Harry moved swiftly down the hall to the stairs leading to the kitchen.
At the table looking worried were Remus and Tonks. Remus was in a half standing position like he had considered going to the door but was conflicted.
"Oh, thank Merlin it's you," said Tonks in a rush. "When it was past one in the morning and you still weren't here we got worried."
"Hello, Hermione," said Remus. His tone was confused. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"Not Hermione," said Sirius. "It's Harry."
Stunned silence followed before either Remus or Tonks could say anything. A muscle jumped in Remus' jaw.
"Have you gone mad?" he hissed angrily when he could finally manage speech.
"Someone's gotten to Dung," replied Sirius. "I'm sure of it, and the plan was going into action in just a few days. I had to act quickly."
"You think Dung has turned?" said Remus. He sat heavily into his chair.
"No...no," said Sirius, "I don't, but when have you ever known Dung to be a thinker?"
"Fair point," agreed Remus. He grinned wryly at Harry.
Sirius looked over at his godson. Brown curls were receding into his head followed by black hair shooting up. Then his chest flattened and his spine stretched. After a moment he adjusted, giving his hips a little wiggle and promptly blushing.
"Got your boys back?" teased Sirius.
"That was weird," said Harry. He avoided eye contact with Tonks.
She looked away but her lips were mashed into a thin line to keep from laughing. It was short lived though, as she leveled a serious look at her cousin. "Mad Eye is going to go spare. I think I'll go and see if I can soften the blow."
"I'll go and speak to Arthur and Molly," said Remus.
"Harry, before they run off," said Sirius, "do me a favor and congratulate the newlyweds."
"I can't believe it wasn't the first thing out of my mouth," squealed Tonks. She flashed her ring in front of Harry's face.
"That's really brilliant," said Harry, grinning. "Congratulations!"
"It was just a small ceremony," said Remus. "We didn't want to alert the Ministry on account of my status."
The front door opened and closed and a soft voice called out to ask if anyone was home.
"Hermione," said Harry and Sirius together. They bolted up the stairs and down the hall. She was levitating a large trunk to the foot of the stairs.
Harry picked up his broom and Hedwig's cage and closed the door. By then Remus and Tonks had joined them in the hallway.
"Harry's things?" surmised Remus.
Sirius nodded. "Thought it was more believable to have the girl on the back rather than in the side car."
"Look," said Tonks to Hermione. She waved her hand in front of the other witches face. "We got married!" A shadow passed over Hermione's features before she smiled. Sirius felt a moment of guilt over the prank that had gone so wrong.
"Congratulations," said Hermione, "to you both."
"Arthur and Molly are worried and waiting on word," said Remus. "I really need to get going."
"As do I," said Tonks. "Sirius, I'd expect to hear from Moody sooner rather than later."
"I'll be ready," he assured. His eyes followed the couple as they ascended the stairs to the drawing room.
"How about tea?" suggested Sirius. Both teenagers readily agreed.
Once it was served and in front of them, Sirius explained the truth of the situation – that he had acted alone, without Order permission or support.
"I assumed as much," said Hermione. Her smile was smug. "I knew you must have a good reason. You wouldn't risk Harry's life. I know that much about you. The plan you described actually made sense, there was little risk to me and, well… honestly, I needed to get out of the house." Her small smile was very sad.
"Oh," he says darkly. "The wedding."
She hums a soft sound that is a bit pleased with itself.
"Singularly spectacular day," he growls. "First you looked so beautiful in Krum's arms and then my bitch cousin shows up."
"Lang – wait, you never mentioned that before," she says and then pauses. "Oh."
"Didn't I?" he says in the most casual voice he can muster.
She squeezes his hand.
"I love you, you know."
"I know. I love you, too. Thank you for that, but maybe now?"
"I don't know," he says doubtfully. What if seeing Bellatrix again brings her nightmares back? "I'm not sure what purpose it would serve, sweeting. And I – I won't be here, you know? Who will hear you? Who will hold you?" He hears the soft scuffing sound of shoes on carpet and realizes their children have walked out to give them privacy. He hears the bedroom door snap shut. He blinks his eyes open and sees her wiping away the wet from under her eyes. "Oh, my sweet little girl, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that, or said it like that."
"No, no," she says quickly. Her voice is a little thick. "I'm alright."
"You are much better than that, " he says softly.
A sound chokes her in her throat.
"Shhh…" he says. "Come here my love, curl up next to me, won't you?"
Their bed dips from the other side, and then her feather light weight is pressed gently against him. She is close enough now that he can pick out the separate notes in her shampoo, and the light dapping of perfume she always wears. She is done crying he knows, for now at least. He hates that she will be alone, she is still so young in his mind.
"It serves no purpose. She was horrible when I was a child and she only got worse. When she showed up you three were long gone. I mouthed off, of course, little surprise there, and we exchanged words, but that is all. No one was harmed." He pauses. "I'm not giving it to you, ok?"
"Please," she says quietly.
"Hermione…" he says wearily, trailing off.
"I also want the night you killed her."
"No," he says flatly.
She squeezes his hand with one of hers, the other drawn up to wipe under her eye.
"Sirius, the thing that has reassured me is your presence. If I knew you were there then she had to be dead. If I have the memory…" She pauses, and he can see that she is putting her argument together. "If I have the memory I can see it for myself, even if," she continues, pausing again to choke out a soft sound that was likely a small sob, "even if you aren't here."
He sighs, and after a minute, nods.
"Now, can you do that comfortably from there?"
"Is that a yes?"
"Alright, on to the wedding, and my arsehattery."
She laughs softly.
"Oh, much better, that."
The band was playing a familiar waltz as Sirius grabbed three glasses of champagne to bring back to the table. Remus was waiting for him with Tonks as the festivities got under way. He was feeling a bit subdued. This was the first full fledged wedding he had been to since the one for James and Lily. It had been their wedding, the two of them, though they implored him to feel as though it were his too.
But he had never needed promises of forever, or 'you and only you'. He just needed to be in there somewhere, to know that the love reached him as well. He had never, not for one moment, felt wanting for anything.
The ruffles of his silk undershirt spilled fussily out of his double breasted silk and wool dress robes. It was too hot to be outdoors dressed this way, though he had always hated dress robes. Even worse was that his neck was yoked up in a cravat. It felt like a noose.
It was in Azkaban that the doubts, worries and fears began to plague him. Had his wandering eye hurt them? It was a strange arrangement, they all knew it, but they also seemed fine with it. Those same doubts lingered with him still. He felt sure that James at least would have told him he was out of line. That he needed to satisfy himself at home, but that conversation had never taken place. And yet the fear that he had done them wrong still clung annoyingly like the cellophane on a pack of fags.
The table where his friends were waiting for him had a clear view of everything. They could see the band, the countryside, the lovely little orchard, all of it. Remus wasn't any happier than he was. He could feel it coming off his friend in waves. It was odd because right after their little ceremony they'd seemed so happy. Sirius's wedding gift to them was a short honeymoon in Majorca. The glow had lasted for weeks but just a few days ago something had happened to change all of that. For her part, Tonks seemed unaffected, radiant even. It was very strange.
"There you go," he murmured as he placed a glass in front of each of them. He then sat on the other side of his friend and observed the festivities as he sipped. He set an Automatic Refilling Charm on his flute. It wasn't firewhisky, but it would eventually get the job done.
The Lupins' wedding had been a quiet affair with no cake or flowers. That would be preferable to this for all the memories it stirred up, memories of things he would never have again, never allow himself to have. It was his fault that he had broken a promise to himself, to them – a promise that he would never touch another intimately. It was his fault they were dead. He was innocent of the crime, he knew that, but he still blamed himself. The punishment was a life sentence in an inner prison with bars carefully crafted with the weight of his guilt.
Tonks was usually quite bubbly, babbling on about this or that, but today she seemed to sense that her two companions weren't up for it. Sirius usually welcomed the energy her vivacious personality seemed to overflow with. Her sensitivity on this occasion was appreciated, greatly.
James and Lily weighed so heavily on his mind he imagined he could feel her eyes on him, hear his boisterous laughter. His eyes closed as he took another sip of his champagne. He could see James standing in the doorway to their bedroom, grinning, cock in hand. He had come home from work early and found Sirius buried deep inside of Lily. Not that there was anything wrong with that. They just hadn't realized James was there. When Sirius adjusted to a different position for deeper penetration they finally noticed him. All he'd said was 'by all means carry on' and proceeded to stroke himself faster.
"Is that Viktor Krum?" Tonks had broken her silence.
Sirius blinked. "What?"
"Viktor Krum!" she said again. "Just there, that's him isn't it?"
A dark haired young man was sitting with Ron, Harry and Hermione. Abruptly Ron stood and held his hand out to Hermione. She looked a little surprised, but smiled and accepted. Her pleasure was short lived. It was perhaps the jerkiest waltz he had ever witnessed and soon he and Remus were sniggering like teenagers. Hermione's sharply pinched facial expression punctuated each halt. This was immediately followed by a deep flush from Ron. The choreography of her pain was flawless.
"I think it might be," said Remus, still chuckling. He had given up watching Hermione negotiate Ron's feet.
"Should we go say hello?" asked Tonks. "Do you think Harry would mind?"
Sirius was about to agree when Krum got up and strode to the dance floor. From there he waded into the throng of dancers.
"Guess not," he said regretfully. "I think I'll go sit with Harry though."
He was about to walk over but Harry had been joined by Elphias Doge and Muriel Prewett. Remus's smirk fairly called him a coward. He had no desire to listen to Doge crow on about Dumbledore like a dearly departed lover or that vicious old bat spit her vitriol. He was saved from having to respond to his friend by Ron who had just stalked over, glowering. He surprised all three of them by slamming himself into a chair.
"I hate Vickie," he grumbled darkly.
Remus wore a small smirk but Sirius was genuinely confused.
"Viktor Krum!" spat Ron. "What's so great about him anyway?"
"Well he plays a mean game of Quidditch, mate," said Sirius. "Why do you care?"
"Hermione," he said sourly. "They're dancing."
Sirius looked back to the dancers and saw Hermione in Krum's arms. She looked absolutely delighted to be there. This sparked a mildly unpleasant sensation in his gut. Wasn't Krum one of Karkaroff's boys?
"Dance with me, cousin," said Sirius suddenly.
"What? Oh, yes," she said, surprised, and put her hand out.
As soon as they hit the dance floor, Sirius began guiding them in a smooth waltz. At six foot three it was easy for him to see over most everyone else. Hermione was on the other side, giggling as Krum swooped her down into a dip. Sirius suddenly twirled Tonks and cut a path to the other side of the dance floor.
"What are you doing?" said Tonks, a little breathless from the exertion.
"I'm concerned Krum is a spy," he replied.
"He plays Quidditch, Sirius," said Tonks skeptically.
"International contacts," he answered, although he felt his own theory wasn't exactly water tight.
"I guess so," she said slowly, giving him a strange look. He spun her rather suddenly because the smile annoyed him. When he pulled her back she was wearing a wide grin.
"If he isn't, it won't have hurt anything to have listened," he muttered, before snapping, "Just humor me, will you?"
"Sure, sure," she said. The grin stayed as they danced close enough to listen.
Krum could never be described as being light on his feet, his grace was reserved for the air, but even so, he was an adequate dancer. Hermione appeared delicate and feminine as she danced with him, which galled him though that made little sense. Trying to explain his strange reaction to Krum, his mind latched on to protectiveness and guilt. He still felt horrible about the hat prank and didn't want to see her hurt further, and the student of a Death Eater must be bad news.
"How haff you been, Herm-own-ninny?" gruffed Krum in his rough English.
"Good, busy, you know. What about you?" Her back was to Sirius and Tonks so she couldn't see them.
"Qvidditch mostly," he answered. "Vas thinking of retiring and vorking for your Ministry. Vas offered Ambassadorship."
As the song came to a close, Sirius and Tonks tried to blend into the poles covered with gold and white flowers, failing spectacularly. Hermione glanced at them curiously. It was no matter; Krum pulled her attention back to him with a gentle knuckle stroking her cheek.
"Vould very much like be closer to you, Herm-own-ninny. If I make move to England, vould you let me see you?" Krum's dark eyes were intense, gazing tenderly on her face. Something small and mean inside of Sirius wanted to claw them out of the Bulgarian's face.
"Oh," she said quietly. "Viktor, I'm afraid my life may be a bit uncertain for a little while." She tried to glance at Tonks and Sirius.
"Vy? Are you not in Hogvarts for last year? Could see you for Hogsmeade veekends." Krum's large hands cupped her face tenderly, determined to have his say apparently. "I know I not only man vith interest in you, but am villing to fight for you." This time it was Krum's turn to glance at Sirius.
"Man? Oh, you mean Ron?" Another song had started up, but she and Krum were still just standing off to the side as silk and taffeta sashayed around them. Tonks nudged Sirius, but he was rooted to the spot, listening intently over the band.
"Not really thinking of Veasley, but if he is contender for your affections..." Krum trailed off for a moment.
"There really aren't any contenders, Viktor," she said with a small smile that was just a little bit sad.
"Not true," he disagreed. "But I can hope his lack of action is good fortune for me. Tell me, mila, can I see you? You give me chance at make you happy?"
Tonks pushed Sirius hard in the direction of Remus. She was grinning larger than ever.
"What the hell was that for?" he grumbled.
"I know that look," said Tonks.
"What look?" he demanded.
"The one you usually reserve for Snape," she replied.
He was about to protest that he most certainly did not have a 'Snape face', but before he could get the words out there was a disturbance. Something large had just landed in the middle of the dance floor. Sirius immediately recognized the Patronus. Sirius didn't need to hear, he knew what the message would be. He drew his wand.
Harry was still sitting with Elphias and Muriel, though Hermione had reached him by now. He wasn't sure when she had managed that. Sirius pushed wedding guests roughly out of his way as he charged forward, hair escaping his tight pony tail and whipping wildly around his face.
He was shouting at them urgently to get going, to take off. They knew where to meet him. He trusted their skills, especially together. Hermione gave him a little nod before spinning and Disapparating, one hand tight on Ron, the other Harry.
A cadre of Death Eaters Apparated into the panic stricken wedding the very next moment, Bellatrix, her husband Rodolphus and Lucius Malfoy were at the front. They coolly surveyed the hysteria their arrival had provoked. Sirius looked around and saw his supporters drawing ranks around him.
"Where's Potter?" asked Malfoy smoothly. "Surely he would attend the wedding of one of his friend's brothers."
"You know, you just missed him, mate," taunted Sirius, "but I'll pass along your regards if I run into him."
"Oh, look it Lucius, it's the puppy," trilled Bellatrix. "The Dark Lord sends his regards as well, Sirius, and he'll be seeing your boy's boy real soon."
"You will never lay a finger on Harry," promised Sirius. "Not as long as I have breath in my body." He felt Tonks' firm grip on his arm, but he didn't care and strained against it.
"That's an issue I can resolve," said Bellatrix sweetly. "Right now if you like."
Fingers tightened around Bellatrix's arm as her husband pulled her back. Sirius suddenly realized that an unwarranted death would bring unwanted attention. They were here for the scare and, if possible, Harry, but Sirius could tell they expected him to be gone.
"Might want to keep your bitch on a shorter leash," said Sirius, baiting Rodolphus in a dangerous game of chicken. "Bad publicity isn't good for business."
"Won't matter soon," sneered Rodolphus. "She'll have her fun then."
"Perhaps," said Sirius. "Might have mine too, though. They're two things Blacks do well and that's death and sex. We've had one, may as well do the other."
Rodolphus hissed. "You lie! She came to me unspoiled! Cygnus took a blood oath."
Sirius grinned broadly at Bellatrix over the nerve strike. She flinched slightly. "A virgin she may have been, but unspoiled? Hardly!"
Bellatrix growled low in her throat and began to raise her wand. "You filthy mongrel!"
"Now, now, can't you see he's baiting you?" interjected Malfoy, still smooth, still calm. "Black is right, her leash really should be shortened. We've done what we came for… for now."
Rodolphus gave Sirius a fatal glare before acquiescing. Malfoy spoke quietly to two of the Death Eaters in the group behind him. When the others Disapparated, they were left behind to observe.
"Did the kids get away?" whispered Molly anxiously in Sirius' ear.
Sirius nodded, his jaw tight.
"I haff heard there is organization that fights back?" asked Krum quietly, who by some miracle had thrown in with the Order. "Is this true?"
Sirius nodded again.
"I vant in," said Krum. "I vant to fight with you."
Sirius sighed wearily and turned to Remus who was at his elbow. "They've gone to headquarters, so that's where I'm headed. Someone explain the Order to Krum."
"I wish you could see that one right now, pet," he said, putting aside his cousin for the moment. "I was already a fool for you and just didn't know it. It's why I was such a prick, you know."
He could see the grin she was trying to hide. Of course she knew, now, anyway.
"You kept your promise, you know," she says. "We've been very happy, haven't we?"
"Happiest," he confirms. "There are several, and they are all connected to that Bulgarian Ballsack."
"You like Viktor, darling."
It surprised Sirius to find himself in the same position Dumbledore had been in with him. He didn't want Harry leaving Grimmauld Place. There were still two Horcruxes left and Voldemort was in control of the Ministry. There was something bothering Harry but he wasn't talking about it. It was convenient to chalk it up to his scar, which was bothering him again. He'd had a sense of it at the wedding, but was too mired in his own misery to pay it much attention.
Unfortunately, he still couldn't focus on Harry because they had a more immediate problem. The Ministry had made attendance at Hogwarts compulsory. Only students who could prove their Blood Status would actually be permitted to attend. It was unlikely that the new crop of Muggleborn first years would have any access to this information. The question was what would happen to those students.
The answer was obvious and horrific.
The entire Order couldn't meet; it was too risky. Only those who were included in the Hogwarts mission had gathered, and that included Krum. Sirius observed him quietly while sipping his Ogden's Old. The famous seeker was seated next to Hermione and they were talking softly. Occasionally she would laugh or blush and it made Sirius's stomach churn with acid. He had a dislike for the young man that he neither understood nor could explain to himself. He just didn't like him. Ron had a similar dislike, which helped Sirius to feel at least somewhat justified.
Remus was annoyingly amused by this. Harry adopted a passive expression whenever he was in the same room with Ron and Krum. None of this made any sense to Sirius. Didn't Krum's former association with Karkaroff, a Death Eater, bother Harry in the slightest?
There was no denying that Krum was a man who knew what he wanted and went after it. Sirius found this a very annoying character flaw. He took a sip of his firewhisky and caught Remus looking at him with a filthy grin.
"Alright you three," said Sirius gruffly, indicating Ron, Hermione and Harry. "Make a list of as many returning Muggleborns that you can remember."
"I know them all," said Hermione. She began to scribble away on a piece of parchment.
"You couldn't possibly," said Sirius, disbelieving. Harry and Ron just snickered softly. Krum looked smug.
"As a prefect, it was my duty to know the names of the entire student body," she replied primly. "I'll have a list in just a moment."
Remus chuckled quietly and shared an amused smile with his wife.
"Yes, well…good," said Sirius gruffly. "Develop a plan to make contact to ensure that they don't return."
"And the first years?" asked Remus seriously.
"Them we rescue," said Sirius firmly.
Hidden among the vegetation, Sirius watched the boat full of frightened first years cross the lake to the castle beyond. A handful of other Order members were hiding with him. As they waited, he turned several things over in his mind. He was still angry that Dumbledore had taken Harry on a thoroughly pointless mission while he was in America. When Snape killed him, Harry had been a witness. But Sirius knew that Dumbledore was already dying, and he suspected that the murder was a setup to spare Draco.
The other Order members were skeptical, but it gave him the confidence to push for this mission, especially after learning that Snape was in charge at Hogwarts. Snape might suspect an attempt to rescue the Muggleborn first years, but he doubted that he would share this information.
The boats made land safely and the younglings were greeted by a witch and wizard that Sirius couldn't place. They instructed the first years to form a line.
"You vere right," whispered Krum as they watched.
"Yeah, about all of it," said Charlie quietly.
Sirius didn't respond, motioning his hand down. They didn't need to be heard. It sickened him to watch as the children were separated out. Some were sent on to new adventures, the others…
"Like picking apples," said the man once the last approved child had toddled out of sight with Hagrid.
"Not quite," said Sirius, stepping out of the shadows and foliage. He had the element of surprise on his side as he dropped both witch and wizard with a Full Body Bind. They fell to the ground stiff, first one, and then the other.
Remus, Krum and Charlie stepped out of the shadows and began to soothe the frightened first years. Sirius tried to find something wrong with the way Krum was handling the kids, but the Bulgarian had softened his voice and was speaking quietly to them. With nothing else to criticize there he made savage comparisons between Snape's nose and Krum's. The famous wizard continued talking quietly, oblivious to the analysis. The children quieted to small sniffles and the occasional hiccough.
"Hagrid left the boats didn't he?" asked Sirius. He decided Krum's accent was really annoying too.
"He did," replied Remus. "Padfoot are you sure you want to stay alone?"
"Go!" said Sirius urgently. "And Hurry! If Snape comes looking I want you lot long gone."
"Be safe, Sirius!" said Remus before following the others.
The sound of the children's quiet whimpers faded as he began his vigil. The pair he had dropped were silent but eyeing him angrily. They were rather unwholesome in appearance, with sloping shoulders and tiny eyes.
"Don't recall ever running across you two before," he murmured. He pushed back the sleeves on their robes and confirmed that they were Death Eaters. "Looks like your boss is getting less picky about who he hires."
A beacon of light flashed on the castle wall from across the lake. They were safely across. He waited another ten minutes in case Snape did come out and was forced to take action. He left the two Death Eaters bound until someone could find them.
A thestral had been tethered for him to ride back into Hogsmeade. The Order had access to a house there. They were risking using the Floo Network to get the children to headquarters because there were so many of them. They had a large task ahead of them getting so many families to safety.
When he reached Hogsmeade he had to pick his landing carefully because the small town had Death Eater guards positioned in several locations. By the time he made it to the house the last of the little ones had just entered the Floo.
"Snape never came to see what was keeping those two?" asked Remus. Krum was standing with him.
"No," said Sirius. "Lets get back to headquarters; there is something I need to tell you about Snape. I'm not convinced everything is as it seems."
The drawing room was filled with the sounds of the sniffling whimpers of frightened children. It was almost enough to break him. He would face another twelve years in Azkaban if it meant avoiding these small trusting lost things in his home. If it meant they would never have to face this, he would gladly do it over again.
A look passed between himself and Remus. There was no time to talk. He immediately crouched in front of a few who were huddled together without any adult assistance. Before long he had them laughing shyly as he performed a few simple Muggle magic tricks, pulling knuts from their ear and such. Hermione looked over at his small success and smiled. He quickly turned back to the small blonde girl who was giving him her parents' names, unable to explain why he suddenly felt more cheerful.
A few nights after the rescue and relocation of the first year Muggleborns and their families, Sirius was on his way into the study. Hermione was back to looking through his books and she had cajoled Harry and Ron into helping her. The three of them were arguing bitterly about something, which was unusual. Harry disagreed with her on something and she was flaring back heatedly. He stood outside of the study and listened.
"Sirius won't like it," said Harry. There was a note of finality that irritated him. He didn't want to replace Dumbledore. He wanted Harry to be his own man.
"I'm sure if we just explained – "
"You didn't see the hex burn across his chest," said Harry, cutting across her. "You may be right, Dumbledore may have wanted us to piece this together, but he won't let me leave this house."
Actually, Harry had a point.
"This symbol means something, Harry, something important," she pressed.
"Did you see those kids, Hermione?" Harry had raised his voice. "Remember the little blond girl?"
Sirius couldn't make out her response but he knew what was coming.
"Good, because she's dead, along with the rest of her family, Sirius barely made it back to us according to Tonks, so just give it a rest! We're not leaving to go on some wild goose chase!"
"That symbol links Dumbledore, Grindelwald and Godric's Hollow. Three things you've been going on about since the start of this," said Hermione earnestly.
Grindelwald? Clearly he had not been included on a few important discussions. He turned the knob to the study and opened the door.
"Everything alright? I can hear you two arguing in the hallway," said Sirius mildly from the doorway. He entered the study and closed the door behind him.
The three of them looked at Sirius and then each other, like they weren't sure where to begin.
"There's a symbol that keeps popping up," said Hermione, "and I think it may be important."
"Show me," said Sirius. He took a seat in an empty chair.
Hermione brought a book to him and turned it to a specific passage. Sirius smiled instantly. "This is a children's book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This copy looks very old."
"Yes, we know," said Hermione impatiently. He raised an eyebrow at her. She blushed but pressed on. "It's a first edition; it's what Dumbledore left to me. There just hasn't been the time to tell you about this since…" She trailed off. He couldn't blame her for not wanting to talk about what happened with the first years. "See this little symbol," she pointed at a triangular sign, "Xenophilius Lovegood was wearing it at the wedding, and it's also here." She thrust another book at him: The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. She had turned the book to a page with a letter between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Sirius had never known Dumbledore to replace the A in his name with this symbol but there it was.
Sirius set Skeeter's tell-all aside and flipped through the aged copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. There he found the fairytale that the symbol belonged to. Supposedly there were a few wizards in the Black family who had possessed the Elder Wand and his mother dearly loved to crow on about such things. He flipped through the book until he came to the story he was looking for.
"It refers to this," said Sirius. "The Tale of the Three Brothers."
"Yes, but Viktor said it was Grindelwald's sign," insisted Hermione. "He was very upset about it." Sirius sighed with irritation over hearing the Bulgarian's name again. "But I think it's a little odd that a wizard like Xenophilius Lovegood would align himself with someone like Grindelwald. He's been so supportive of Harry."
"Yeah, but he's an odd sort," said Sirius snidely. "I actually know Xeno. He's got this one crazy eye always looking at his nose, and will believe anything you can't nail down."
"Good to know Luna comes by it honestly," said Ron.
"Blonde girl, right?" asked Sirius. He remembered her from the hospital wing at Hogwarts. "Yeah, her mother wasn't like that so much; I heard about her passing while I was in Azkaban."
"So are you saying that it really is Grindelwald's sign and that Mr. Lovegood is mistaken as to what it means?" asked Harry.
"Well, I'm not sure," replied Sirius.
"Do you think that Dumbledore thought these things were real?" asked Harry. "I mean if he used this symbol, and this is what the symbol represents, maybe he meant for me to find this wand, to help me win."
Sirius smiled suddenly. "You know he did say he was trying to find a way to help you win. Maybe you're right." He had a sudden fleeting thought of a way to get to James and Lily back.
"I will concede that the cloak does sort of seem to fit," said Hermione skeptically. "And as for the wand, well, we can wait to talk to Remus when he gets back, but a stone that brings back the dead? Dumbledore always said that nothing can bring the dead back and clearly he knew about the stone."
"But first things first, yeah?" said Ron. "Before you can think about ways to defeat You-Know-Who, you need to be able to kill him. We have to do the Horcruxes first."
"Ron's right Harry," said Hermione. "Dumbledore never said anything to you about a special wand, did he?"
Harry shook his head.
"What about you Sirius, you said that he was trying to find a way to help Harry win. Did he specifically mention a wand?"
"Well, no but –"
"Then that settles it," said Hermione firmly. "So where are we on the last two Horcruxes?"
"Bill and I are still working on that," said Sirius. She was right, he knew she was, but he'd never seen her take charge before. Some of the things that Harry had said about her were making more sense. She kept them on target, organized, headed to the right goal. For a moment he was reminded a little of Lily.
"That's only the cup though isn't it?" she said. "What about Nagini?"
"Remus is working on that with Kingsley and Mad Eye," replied Sirius.
"Then I think we should continue to go through these books until we find the ones on Horcruxes," said Hermione. She immediately took her two books back from Sirius and laid them on a low table. A moment later she disappeared to the back of the study where the remaining books were now scattered across the floor; she picked up a stack and came back with them. Putting them down, she eyed Ron and Harry imperiously. "Well, what are you waiting for? You know the spell that searches the books for a word; go grab a stack." The two boys got to their feet swiftly to do as she asked. A small grin crept across her face.
"You aren't all that you seem to be, are you Miss Granger?" said Sirius quietly. When she looked at him, their gazes met and held for a moment. But when Sirius caught himself seeing more in her than he ought, cold fingers of guilt crept along his skin. His smile suddenly dropped and he looked away. "I'll leave you to it then." He left swiftly, his heart crying its apologies to James and Lily.
A few weeks later Sirius was on his way up to his room when he heard a shriek from the study. He turned and raced down the stairs and threw open the door, breathless. Ron and Harry were looking at Hermione with their jaws agape.
"This is a Gringotts key isn't?" she crowed. "And look where I found it – in this book," her nose wrinkled slightly with distaste, "and it's just full of information on Horcruxes. It has instructions on how to make them, what sort of containers you should use and how to destroy them."
"Do you think the Lestranges had a key made for Voldemort?" asked Harry excitedly. He took the key from her and examined it.
"That would make sense," said Sirius. "But it could just as easily be a key to the old Black family vault."
"Old?" asked Harry.
"Yeah, well after my exoneration I had a transfer done," replied Sirius. "After cleaning out this house I realized there would probably be even darker artifacts hidden there."
"Oh, I bet there were loads, weren't there," said Ron, half in fascination, half in repulsion.
"Quite," replied Sirius, but he was grinning too.
"Do you have a spare?" asked Hermione. "Could we do a comparison?"
Sirius walked over to his father's desk and opened a drawer. He pulled out two keys on long chains. They glowed dully in the low light as they swayed, dangling, before he lay them on the desk. He put his hand out for the key Hermione found and then lay it on the desk beside the other two. A swift flick from his wand revealed nothing.
"It isn't the same as my two," said Sirius. He grabbed all three keys and pocketed them.
"What are you doing?" asked Harry.
"I'm going to Gringotts," said Sirius, like that should be obvious.
"No!" said Hermione. "Now just wait, let's think this through a minute."
"What's to think about?" asked Sirius. "It isn't as though I never go there. I do avoid the public eye as much as I can, but these days people have bigger things to worry about."
"Take someone with you," said Harry. "Wait for Remus to get back."
"Viktor will be by later," offered Hermione. Both Ron and Sirius turned their heads quickly to look at her.
"Why?" said Ron. "He doesn't have business here."
"He's actually coming to see me," said Hermione. Her cheeks were burning with red.
"What for, what's he want with you?" said Ron aggressively. But Sirius was already turning away. He already knew and since there was nothing he could, or would, do about it, he didn't want to stay around and listen.
A soft hand gripped his arm tightly, pressing against the fabric of his robes. "Please don't go alone," said Hermione earnestly.
Sirius looked at her hand on his biceps, then up to her face. "Let go, I'll be fine." When she only tightened her hold, he gave his arm a belligerent shake which loosened her grip enough for him to break free. "I said to let go," he muttered darkly.
The front door slammed behind him with a satisfyingly loud crack.
A piece ice cracked softly in Remus' tumbler of Ogden's Old as Sirius relaxed with him, a fire crackled merrily, warming the drawing room pleasantly on the cold December night. They had just gotten Remus's father-in-law, Ted Tonks, settled into one of the bedrooms. The Order was doing what it could to protect its own.
Sirius stretched slightly in his chair.
"By the way, where is Hermione?" asked Remus conversationally. "I didn't see her earlier in the study with the boys."
"She's with the Bulgarian in the kitchen," said Sirius. He tried very hard not to sound like a jealous teenager. The look of amusement on Remus's face told him all he needed to know.
"Well he certainly isn't wasting any time, is he?" asked Remus conversationally. The smirk was only partially hidden behind his drink as he took a sip.
Sirius chose to ignore this deliberate goad. It was bad enough to admit to himself that he was attracted to a girl, a girl, who was half his age, but it was worsened by his guilt. Every time he caught himself watching her read or brew tea or scold the boys or half dozen other perfectly mundane things, he was wracked by an intense sense of betrayal for the only two people he would ever allow to lay a claim to his heart.
"Sirius, Remus, have you got a minute?" Harry was standing in the doorway to the drawing room.
"Of course," said Sirius. "We weren't discussing anything important."
While Harry crossed the room, Sirius conjured another tumbler and some ice for a drink. He handed the glass of amber liquid to Harry with a smile. The boy's timing couldn't have been better.
"Sirius said you knew something about the histories of magical artifacts," said Harry to Remus. "And I think it might be important because my scar is hurting again." Sirius and Remus leaned in, silently encouraging Harry to continue. "The connection, it's still there and I've been seeing stuff again. He's obsessed with wands, and I think it has to do with this Elder Wand that's in The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I've seen him torture Ollivander, and kill another wand maker by the name of Gregorovitch. He's the wizard that made Krums's wand."
A muscle clenched in Sirius' jaw at the name. This immediately shamed him, primarily because Harry had just described what must have certainly been a painful experience, not to mention to horrifying. Merlin, he was a selfish prick.
"He's been doing all of this because he's been looking for something, and I think that something might be the Elder Wand. At first, I thought maybe he wanted them to make him a new, better wand, but that isn't it." Harry looked at his hands. "Don't ask me how I know, I just do. He's looking for something. He just is."
Harry fished around in the pockets of his robes and brought out something small and golden. Whatever it was, he brought it up to his mouth and then handed it to Sirius.
"Read the back of it," said Harry.
"I open at the close," said Sirius. "That's an odd turn of phrase." He handed the snitch to Remus.
"At the close of what, though?" said Remus thoughtfully. "Which magical artifacts did you need history on?"
"Well, the three things in The Tale of Three Brothers," replied Harry.
"Oh, the Deathly Hallows," said Remus.
"The what?" said Sirius and Harry together.
"In the story it's Death that gives them the Hallows," said Remus. "Ergo, Deathly Hallows. According to legend, the three are the Peverell brothers: Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus. The Elder Wand, or Deathstick, has been seen all thoughout wizarding history."
"Mostly the pages that are stuck together with blood and viscera," joked Sirius. Harry grinned slightly.
Remus smiled and pressed on. "It is true that its history is marked with bloodshed. I'm afraid I'm not really up to scratch on my wandlore, but in the case of the Elder Wand in order to possess it, it must be taken from its previous owner by force, hence all the blood. But what does this," Remus shook the snitch in his hand, "have to do with the Elder Wand?"
"Dunno," said Harry. "But Hermione got the book and it did. None of us can figure out why Ron has the Deluminator though."
"You know it's a lot easier to help you if you to come to us with these things sooner rather than later," said Sirius patiently.
"You already had so much you were dealing with," replied Harry. "It just didn't seem terribly important. But now, I'm almost certain that he's going after the Elder Wand, so if there are any clues in that – "
"No, I meant about the nightmares, about your scar hurting," interjected Sirius. "Everything else we'll handle together, with the Order. I really want you to tell me about these things when they happen. Even if I can't help, I can listen."
Remus handed the snitch back to Harry. "We know that the three of you are very capable and talented, but so are we. You've gotten used to handling things among the three of you while the adults sorted out the other problems. That's changed now, because you're adults now, too. We aren't here all the time, but we are here quite often, especially Sirius."
"I just might be seeking your company more often," said Harry darkly, but there was a hint of grin.
"Oh? Why is that? Not that we don't welcome it, but what's going on?" Remus looked amused.
"Ron and Hermione are driving me insane," said Harry. "I don't have any problems with Krum –"
Remus broke out in a chuckle and cast a very amused glance at Sirius.
"What?" said Harry, he was smiling but clearly confused.
"Shut it, you," growled Sirius quietly. He looked at Harry. "Ignore him."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "What's going on? I'm supposed to tell you everything."
"There is nothing to tell," said Sirius firmly with a scowl for Remus.
"You were saying something about Krum..." said Remus lightly. He ducked when Sirius wadded up a piece of scrap parchment and threw it at him.
"Just that Krum seems really serious about Hermione, and since Ron can't seem to help but be an arse about the whole thing, it is really difficult to be around them right now," said Harry. He took a sip of his whisky, but he was eyeing Sirius curiously.
"He's an arse about it, did you say?" said Remus conversationally. "I wonder what that must look like."
"Subtle," remarked Sirius sarcastically.
"Ok, will you just tell me what's going on?" said Harry. "Sometimes it's nearly impossible to read between the lines with you two."
"Have I ever bothered to mention how much I hate you?" said Sirius to Remus, but without any real malice.
"About twice daily since we were eleven," replied Remus, amused. "So, yes."
"You don't like Krum either?" asked Harry. "Is that it? Because I've gotten that feeling, but I can't figure out why since you barely know him."
Remus just smirked into his drink.
"You are enjoying this far, far too much," said Sirius.
"Oh, I don't know," said Remus. "Maybe I'll hunt down that damnable hat. That ought to even things up a bit."
"The hat?" asked Harry, who almost looked like he had been Confunded. "What hat? There was that hat at Christmas when you ki –" Harry came to a full stop. "I don't know what you're talking about, I really don't, but don't do the hat again. Besides just being weird, it was also really hard on Hermione."
"I'm sure it was embarrassing for her," said Remus. "I was only joking, just having a laugh at Sirius's expense."
"I got the impression from Ginny it was more than just embarrassing," said Harry carefully. "I'm sure you had your reasons, though. Still, she was really broken up about it."
"Broken up about what?" asked Remus, straightening. "I mean it was a surprise to learn she had such intense feelings for Sirius, which I'm sure she didn't want broadcast to all of us."
"I needed to be clear with her," said Sirius, wishing there was an easy way to get off of this topic. "I couldn't afford to be gentle with her. She needed to understand that she didn't feel what she thought she did."
There was silence except for the soft crackle from the fireplace, or the occasional clink of ice against glass. Remus looked decidedly uncomfortable with the turn in the conversation, but Harry he could tell was considering what to say.
"But what does it matter if she felt something?" asked Harry. "And even if she did, how would telling her that she didn't change anything?"
"She's too close to you, Harry," said Sirius quietly. "Imagine how uncomfortable that would make you feel?"
"You know, surprisingly enough, I deal fairly well with things I'm not comfortable with," said Harry. There was a bite to his tone. "I wasn't ecstatic to learn that my mum and dad had a very non-traditional relationship with you, but you were all happy, and really, that's all that matters. Did you at least apologize for the prank having gone wrong?"
"Apologize?" said Sirius.
"Yes," said Harry. "Please don't tell me Ginny wasn't exaggerating. You didn't really dress her down for having feelings did you? Because all her feelings ever really did was a mess up a prank for you. I know Hermione well enough to know that she wouldn't have pushed the issue, ever."
"Don't be so sure about that, Harry," said Sirius. Now he was starting to feel a bit cornered. If his godson was going to act like a man that was fine, it was what he wanted, but he wasn't talking to Ron or even the twins. He was talking to him. "The summer before last, when she first came to help me with the study, she had made quite a few changes to attract my attention."
"And you're absolutely certain that had to do with you?" asked Harry, but didn't wait for Sirius's answer. "What changes?"
"Hair, make up, dressing nicely, blushing a lot, and a good deal of general awkwardness," said Sirius. "She had a crush Harry, that's fine, there is nothing wrong with that –"
"So it couldn't possibly be because she was sixteen and a girl and wasn't studying for three or trying to help me save the world. That's been ruled right out, has it?" Harry's knuckles had gone white around his glass.
"Well I suppose the obvious answer to that is no, isn't it?" retorted Sirius. "Since she was obviously delusional enough in her thinking to trigger a spell designed only for a woman in love!"
"That happened months later," said Harry, his voice was now slightly raised. "Why is it impossible that she fell in love with you after she got to know you better?"
"She wasn't in love with me, Harry!" said Sirius. His voice was now bordering on loud.
"Which isn't really for you to say, now is it?" said Harry, louder still.
"She didn't know what she felt," said Sirius hotly.
"No, of course not," said Harry, sarcastically. "She unwittingly triggered YOUR spell because her feelings were strictly platonic."
"Well they damn well should have been!" said Sirius, trying desperately to keep from shouting. "Why the fuck are you arguing her side, anyway?"
"Because she is my FRIEND!" roared Harry. "And from I can see, Ginny was exactly right! What you did was cruel!"
"I didn't – it wasn't meant to be cruel. I didn't mean – something had to be said damn it!" Sirius slammed his drink down on a low table. It sloshed over the side, wetting his fingers. "Her crush had gone to far!"
"So what is this business with Krum, then," said Harry. "Because if you've suddenly changed your mind about her – "
"'Course he has," said Remus, quietly. His surprised expression clearly showed he had not meant to say that out loud.
"You'd bloody well better be fucking around," said Harry. "Are you joking?"
"I said there was nothing to tell Harry," said Sirius. He had slumped back in his chair with a defeated look on his face.
"Oh for the love of Merlin's saggy left nutsack," said Harry. "Are you fucking having me on?"
"Yes, we are," said Sirius. "And isn't it fucking hilarious? Har bloody har."
"I think he may have taken one too many Bludgers to the head in school," said Remus. He was back to being amused.
Harry looked from Sirius to Remus and then back to Sirius. "So what now?"
Sirius let out a sharp breath. This was Harry, who he loved above all else. The son of the two people he still ached for, would always ache for. This conversation had gotten out of control.
"Just leave it, Harry," said Sirius quietly. "Please."
Harry contemplated his drink for a moment, and then finished off the rest in one swallow. "Hermione is my friend," reiterated Harry. "You owe her an apology, Sirius. I don't understand why you haven't done already."
The ice rattled in the glass as he set it down on a low table. Without saying another word he got up. Remus shared a glance with Sirius as Harry left the room. He set the snitch on the same table as the glass and got up.
"I'll talk to him," said Remus, as he headed for the door. A moment later Sirius was alone.
"Harry really let me have it that night," he grumbles.
Hermione just hums.
The snitch glowed softly in the dim light as it sat innocently on the table in front of Sirius. Leaning over in his chair, Sirius grabbed it and then sat back with a soft groan. The words were still faintly visible on the surface of the snitch, but he wasn't really even thinking about that. Memories of James tossing a similar ball in the air so that he could catch it before it whizzed away flew though his mind. James would be disappointed in him for not being man enough to say he was sorry. It wasn't her fault he'd been so angry that day, didn't really have anything to do with her actually. He'd broken his promise and taken it out on her. Harry was right.
The situation was made more miserable for him because of his interest in her now. She wasn't the teenager who had visited him that summer. She was a beautiful young woman who had caught his eye before he realized what he was looking at, before he had known it was her. He wished there was an easy solution, a way to go back to how he used to feel. The guilt of this was eating away at him; he felt like a betrayer every time he wondered if a second kiss would be just as lovely as the first. Not that he would get that opportunity. Krum had wasted no opportunity to visit with her, to get closer, win her heart.
"Oh, I really feel like I'm about to die," said Sirius, with a bit of quiet drama.
The metal shell of the Snitch broke open, and Sirius almost yelped with surprise. How had he opened it? He thought about his words for just a moment, and then the ones that only Harry could make appear. The enchantments on the Snitch worked almost exactly the way that the charmed hat had. Harry was the trigger, but apparently the prompt could be used by anyone. He overturned the small golden ball into his hand and examined the cracked black stone that tumbled into his palm. Could it really bring the dead back? He closed his palm around the stone, turning it three times, fervently hoping that it could.
When he blinked his eyes open, he choked out a small sob as he looked into the smiling faces of James and Lily. Lily was still just as beautiful as he remembered, James handsome, young and strong.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered, suddenly ashamed and unable to look them in the eye. He couldn't tear away from them completely, so he fixated on James's hands. Hands that had helped with many a prank, to build his motorcycle and…
"No," said James. "We don't want that, never wanted that. There was never anything to apologize for."
"But I – " said Sirius. He couldn't name his sins; he didn't feel he had the strength.
"Do you remember how it first started?" asked Lily.
"Of course," said Sirius, "How could I forget?"
"I had this feeling that there was more to you and James than you let most people know. You were so happy for him, but you were a little sad, too. I asked James about it one night – "
James interrupted with a quiet laugh. "What she means there, Padfoot, is that one night up on the astronomy tower she told me she wanted to see the two of us together."
Lily grinned at him. "Oh, alright then, it was more than just a feeling. I actually watched the two of you once in sixth year."
"Where?" said James and Sirius at the same time.
Lily smirked. "Prefect bathroom, I used a Disillusionment Charm. I overheard the password to the boy's side and decided to put it to good use. I worried that you would notice me, but I was willing to risk it. I really didn't have much to worry about, you two were far too interested in why you'd come to pay attention to much else. It took me awhile to realize that what you did with each other, you didn't do with other boys. You both still asked girls out for Hogsmeade and – "
"And the entire school was a witness to James falling over himself around you," said Sirius, he wore a slight grin that he flashed at James. James gave Sirius a playful scowl.
"After that first date, I noticed that you had distanced yourself a bit from James," Lily went on, "so I realized that you had knocked off whatever you had been doing. It felt so right, the thing between me and James, but there was something off with him, too. You and I were already so close Sirius, and, even though it took me a couple months to come to the right answer, once I had it, I quit worrying about what other people would think."
"I still shouldn't have – "
"It felt right with you too, Sirius," said Lily. "But from the beginning James and I knew that you would see other people. There was a difference in the way that James and I regarded each other. With you – " She hesitated. "It was almost as though you couldn't have been as close to us as you were, without expressing that physically. That didn't diminish anything that any of us shared. I'm just sorry that we didn't say this sooner."
"You have punished yourself for too long over something that wasn't wrong in the first place," said James. "It is long past time that you let that go."
"And we miss you," said Lily. "But it isn't your time yet. You are meant to be here, to watch over Harry, to experience love again. Not the way you did with us, but the way that we did with each other. It's your turn, Sirius, and you are pushing it away."
"It isn't too late," said James. "It won't be easy. You've made a right mess of things, but if you're patient and persistent you'll get your chance."
"You will always keep us in your heart, darling," said Lily. "But holding on this way isn't healthy and it isn't right. Keep us in your heart, but move forward with your life."
"I miss you, too," said Sirius. He didn't care about the wetness leaking from eyes so freely. "I love you both."
"We love you too, Sirius," said James.
"And we always will," finished Lily. "Now put down the stone and let us go."
It was awhile before Sirius could do anything but hold his head in his hands and cry. That wasn't something he indulged in often, but for awhile after the shades of James and Lily had vanished from sight, it was really all he could manage. He thought over everything that they had said, that he hadn't done anything wrong, that they loved him, that they were in his heart, but that he needed to move on.
He decided that the best thing he could do for now was sleep on it. When he emerged from the drawing room, stone and Snitch safely in his pocket, his eyes were dry and his heart felt a little lighter. The stairs creaked under his feet as he ascended into the house's higher reaches; but instead of going to his room, he found himself outside of Hermione's. He hadn't meant to come here, felt that perhaps it was too soon for him, but his feet had carried him here anyway. He thought about what James had said, about being patient and persistent. Harry asked him if he had apologized. He also didn't tell Sirius not to pursue Hermione. He had asked him 'so what now?' leaving the matter entirely in Sirius's hands to sort out.
Sirius gave the door a quiet knock. "Hermione?"
Krum opened the door. Behind him was the witch he was looking for, buttoning her blouse and looking generally rumpled. It was clear what was going on in here. Sirius felt his jealousy swim easily into rage in the space of one sharp breath.
Sirius glared cold daggers at the Seeker. "You're wanted in the kitchen, Krum," he lied. His voice was even, but soft and dangerous.
Krum's smug expression as he left Hermione's room made Sirius want to punch it. He stepped into her bedroom and closed the door with a soft click behind him. She was trying to do up the buttons on her blouse as quickly as she could. The expression of horror over being caught hadn't quite dissipated.
"Are you bloody fucking mental?" snarled Sirius, suddenly grabbing her wrists hard enough to leave bruises.
"Excuse me?" Hermione's tone was incredulous as she jerked her hands away from him.
"Sleeping with the enemy!" he snapped, "He's one of Karkaroff's, you know that, and you're fucking shagging him!"
Straightening her shoulders, she squared her gaze on him and answered in a surprisingly calm voice, "He's a member of the Order, Sirius, and last time I checked, who I may or may not be shagging is none of your concern."
Sirius waved impatiently, but his voice was still ragged with anger. "Oh, don't give me that –"
"You've already made it clear that I'm not allowed to have feelings for you, Sirius," Hermione interrupted, her voice strong and cold and increasing in volume. "Are you going to tell me now I can't have feelings for anyone else?"
"So you do have feelings for him?" he demanded.
"I didn't say that," said Hermione quickly, although she appeared to regret her words.
"Oh, so you're just fucking him, then? Well done, I suppose!" he barked nastily, a hateful sneer on his face.
The hand across his face wasn't really all that surprising.
"Get out," Hermione ordered, her voice deadly.
Sirius stood still, utterly perplexed. Hadn't James said it wasn't too late? He didn't understand this at all. Apparently his moment of confusion and indecision was the wrong move. Before he knew what was happening his body was flying out of the suddenly open door to crash hard into the opposite wall. Had she used wandless magic? he wondered dazedly as he tried to get his bearings.
"GET OUT!" she screeched. His head aching from where it hit the wall, he could only nod stupidly and swallow.
"Never, ever speak to me that way again," her voice wavered with rage. "Better yet, never speak to me again period!"
She slammed the door so hard the entire house shook with the force of it. Sirius stared at it, more lost than ever on how to right this wrong.
At the landing on her floor Sirius caught sight of Krum, Remus, and Harry standing at the bottom, their mouths agape at the shouting match that had just occurred.
It was Krum who spoke, though, his eyes narrowing angrily and his voice thick with protectiveness for Hermione that he had no right to.
"Vat did you say to her?" he demanded.
Something in Sirius snapped, and he practically flew down the stairs, his fist meeting squarely with the Bulgarian's face before Remus and Harry managed to pull them apart.
"You ever lay another fucking hand on her and I'll tear your fucking throat out!" Sirius bellowed, baring his teeth like a dog gone mad.
"ENOUGH, Pads!" Remus snarled in his ear, his grip digging aggressively into Sirius' shoulder in a rare show of primal assertion. "Just leave. Leave NOW." He shoved his friend down the hall to the front door. "Go drink… something," he ordered, his voice thick with disappointment.
Muggle whisky wasn't as potent as wizard-made but he was less likely to be recognized here. He could still show his face in the wizarding world without provoking an attack, but all the same, if he was going to get drunk, which was his intention, he'd rather do it somewhere a Death Eater was unlikely to show.
The barmaid flirted openly as she asked if he wanted another. It registered but didn't get the desired response from him. Some nights he would flirt back, most nights actually. He really didn't know how not to flirt back to a pretty girl, but tonight he just wasn't up for it.
"I vould like very much to beat you, right here," Krum began darkly.
Great. Now his night was complete.
Sirius snorted softly at the stupid sounding accent. "Fucking brilliant," he muttered into his whiskey.
"But I care too much for Herm - "
"Hermione," Sirius slurred nastily, pointedly emphasizing the syllables with which Krum had so often struggled.
Krum clenched his teeth and took a calming breath before continuing. "I 'ave vatched you long time now, how you look at her," he continued patiently. "But I do not understand vy you not go after."
"Look, you won, alright? Shouldn't you be, I don't know, having a celebratory shag with her instead of interrogating me about it?" Sirius waved his hand impatiently.
"No," Krum frowned, "Not vin, not 'shag'. Her heart belongs to another, von who hurt her. This I do not understand either – but is truth." He fondled his shot glass thoughtfully. "Von so blind to not see her, but to also hurt her, is either fool or very bad person." He flicked his eyes accusingly at Sirius. "They do not deserve her."
"Wait – 'not shag'?" Sirius asked sharply, ignoring the wizard's other implications.
Krum narrowed his eyes. "That is not your business," he growled distastefully, but added a moment later, "but no." His shoulders straightened in as dignified a manner as possible. "I am 'too special' to her for 'just fucking'," he said, quoting the crude words that Sirius had bellowed for the whole house to hear earlier.
Sirius met Krum's gaze with a bland stare but he was listening. Krum continued. "I do not think you are bad person, Sirius Black. You are loved by those I call 'friend.' You haff let me fight beside you even though I vas taught by Death Eater. And you haff helped many people." Suddenly Krum's wand was out, pressing uncomfortably under Sirius' chin, his other hand firmly clasping a hank of Sirius' hair to hold him in place. Krum drew his face up close to the older wizard's, making sure the grey eyes saw his own quite clearly, and spoke in a soft but dangerous tone. "But if you ever, ever hurt her again, I promise you, I vill bring you great pain. More than you can ever think of. Are you understanding me now, Sirius Black?" he asked quietly.
Before Sirius could grab his own wand or make a retort, Krum straightened and slipped the rod of wood back in its small holster.
"There is other reason I come here for you, of course. Ve are haffing dinner tonight. It is time to discuss the snake."
"The snake," repeated Sirius. The turn around was abrupt. One moment he has a wand under his chin, the next Krum is calmly discussing pet options. "What snake?"
"The von ve must kill," said Krum. "Though I still haff not been told vy."
"Oh," said Sirius, a bit stupidly. "That snake. Yeah, alright." He tossed back the rest of his shot and followed Krum out.
The small, cracked black stone sat on a low table in the drawing room. Sirius had just set it there after explaining how he'd gotten it out of the Snitch in the first place. Silence greeted him as Harry, Hermione and Ron stared at it. Remus was watching Sirius very carefully with an oddly wistful look on his face.
"I believe that is the symbol for the Deathly Hallows inscribed into the stone," said the werewolf, breaking the silence.
"Yes," said Sirius. "I believe it is safe to assume that there is something about the Hallows that Dumbledore wanted you to know, Harry. Once Nagini has been killed, You-Know-Who may suspect his Horcruxes are in jeopardy. I think we need to understand what that might be. You have the stone and the cloak; maybe Dumbledore wanted you to have the wand as well."
"I think he's looking for it," said Harry. "Maybe that's what I need to know." He was eyeing the stone hungrily.
"You think Dumbledore knew he would go after the Elder Wand?" asked Hermione. Her eyes were trained on Harry.
"He never said but the clues are there," replied Sirius. When she finally looked at him, he offered her a small smile, but she quickly looked away.
"If Xenophilius Lovegood was wearing the symbol for the Hallows, maybe we really should pay him a visit," said Harry.
"What about tomorrow?" suggested Remus. ""We're meeting to discuss the destruction of Nagini. It would be a good time for Harry, Ron and Hermione to go on their own. If anything goes wrong they can always use the mirror to ask for help."
Sirius wasn't sure if he liked that plan or not.
"I agree," said Hermione. "We haven't done nearly enough, and Mr. Lovegood isn't a threat."
There was a difference, Sirius knew, between keeping you head down, as he had instructed Harry in his fourth year, and fighting back which he had encouraged in Harry's fifth. This felt somewhere in between. Xeno was a good man, but danger lay outside of this house. However Harry would not be able hide away forever. What could be done in his place was being done. He would have preferred to go with, but he was needed at the Order meeting.
"Alright," said Sirius. "Just in case, do you have that bag packed, Hermione? The one we talked about the night we got Harry away from the Dursleys?"
"Good," said Sirius. "Take that with you. Add anything to it that you think you might need. Harry, the stone is yours. It is understandable if you use it, but don't dwell on it. I know too well how easy it is to focus on the past."
"I want to," said Harry. He was looking intently at the stone. "But I think I'll wait. I think I'll know when I'm meant to use it."
"Dora is staying with her mother, now that her father is here, and I told her I'd be by this evening," said Remus.
"Of course," said Sirius. "Give Andy and Dora my best, won't you?"
Remus smiled, nodded and then stepped into the fireplace and was gone.
"We'd better get our things together," said Hermione stiffly as she rose. Harry and Ron got up with her.
"Hermione, may I speak with you for a moment?" requested Sirius. The minute the words were past his lips a nervous churning turned his stomach over, twisting it uncomfortably.
Harry and Ron picked up their pace to get to the door.
"We have nothing to discuss, Sirius," Hermione answered flatly. The door closed behind the boys with a soft snap as she turned to leave.
"I owe you an apology," said Sirius with a quiet urgency as she turned. He didn't relish having to chase her down for this conversation, but he wouldn't push. "But I'll understand if you don't want to hear it," he added.
Wordlessly, Hermione turned and sank back into the couch. Her expression was blank, but her gaze was intent as she waited for him to continue.
That he had rehearsed this mentally for the last few days did nothing to lessen his sincerity, or the growing nervousness in his gut. Taking a deep breath, he began. "I am very sorry that a prank that was not intended for you so publicly exposed something you were clearly trying to keep private," said Sirius. "I am also sorry for what I said to you in the study. That was very, very wrong of me."
This barely registered a twitch of an eyebrow, before Hermione started to get up. "Thank you, Sirius," she said calmly.
"Please wait," he said.
She regarded him for a second and slowly sat back into the couch.
"I am also sorry for being so crude in your room the other day," continued Sirius, and then he muttered, "Seems I don't handle jealousy very well."
"J-Jealousy?" Hermione repeated with a raised eyebrow, her tone slightly more sardonic than confused. "I don't think I understand. The age difference between us now is no different than it was a year ago," she said, coolly playing at a confusion he didn't believe was really there.
"True," he said and bit back a small smile, secretly pleased that she wasn't making this easy for him. He would rather she show spirit after all he had done. "You see, I made a promise to myself," he explained, "a promise that I broke when we kissed. I was furious with myself, but I took my anger out on you."
"What promise?" asked Hermione quietly.
"I believed, for a very long time, that certain… actions I had taken, hurt two people I loved very much," replied Sirius. "I promised never again to… indulge myself that way."
Hermione moved to the edge of her seat. "What actions?"
Sirius swallowed. He had braced himself to explain everything to her, but that still made it no less daunting. "Physical intimacy," he answered quietly.
"Two people?" said Hermione. "I'm sorry Sirius, but this is...." She shook her head slightly, bemused.
"Harry knows all this," he began, "but James and Lily and I, well, we were more than just friends. Much, much more than friends."
Hermione interrupted. "I'm sorry," she said again. "Do you mean to say that you were involved with both James and Lily? At the same time? And while they married?"
"Yes," he said slowly.
"Together or separately?" asked Hermione, and then her hand flew to her mouth. "I'm sorry," she apologized for the third time. "That's none of my business."
"Take your pick," he replied anyway with a soft chuckle. "I won't deny that it was… unconventional, but that's how it was, and it worked."
"You said you loved them very much. Do you mean - " she hesitated and he heard her slight inhale before she asked, "you were… in love with them, and they you?"
Hermione was quiet for a moment, as if digesting this bit of information. A flicker of sadness crossed her face, and Sirius wasn't sure if it was for him or for her. She seemed to gather her thoughts and continued with her questions.
"I thought you had your own place - didn't you tell Harry you had a place of your own after you left school?"
Sirius felt a reactionary stab of the guilt he'd wrestled with for years, before beating it back with James and Lily's words. Taking a deep breath, he answered her with a calm that surprised even him. "I did, yes, for appearances at first. I don't really know how to explain our relationship, but with me, there weren't really any rules. I'm sure Lily would have used a Severing Charm on James if he ever strayed, but with me…" He felt a bit strange trying to explain this, and scratched self-consciously at his stubbled chin.
"There are a number of explanations," said Hermione briskly, "although polyamory sounds like the best fit for your situation. It isn't too surprising really, given that it was the seventies. What the Americans were getting up to has always gotten wider press, but we Britons were having our own fair share of free love. Of course the term polyamory was only coined a few years ago. There was an article - "
A quiet rumble of laughter rolled out of Sirius' chest. We Britons? She was still in nappies at the time. Sirius frowned slightly at that sobering thought. He glanced up to find her watching him with a quizzical expression. "Sorry, don't let me interrupt the lecture." He fought a smile, though not with complete success. His lips twitched.
She raised an eyebrow at him briefly before continuing. "My point, is that it isn't that shocking if you occasionally poked your head out of the wizarding world and took a look at what the Muggles are talking about. In many ways we're years behind them…" She paused, as if suddenly realizing she had veered away from the real topic at hand. "I'm just not sure I understand why you thought you hurt them, though," she added softly.
He regarded her with a slight feeling of – wonder? Here he had assumed that the hard part of this conversation was going to be explaining his 'unconventional' but now apparently textbook-case polyamorous relationship with James and Lily. But they had quickly moved through that bit and he suddenly found himself faced with baring his deepest pain to the beautiful young witch seated across from him. He had never really told anyone, and yet he realized in a single moment, he wanted her to know.
"When I lost them," Sirius began hesitantly, "when I was in Azkaban, I convinced myself that because I didn't… restrict myself to just them, that I caused them a great deal of pain. This got easier and easier to believe as all of the happy times were stripped away from me. Eventually, all I could remember were the occasional fights."
"Oh, Sirius," Hermione whispered as she comprehended what he must have felt. "That's awful."
Hearing the sympathy in her voice was almost too much, and he found he couldn't look directly at her as he continued, forcing his voice into a matter-of-fact tone. "It all became so distorted, so twisted in my mind. You lose all desire for…" He paused as he searched for a distant, almost clinical way to explain. "Well, for physical satisfaction in there. You aren't left with very much to be honest. It took a long time before, well I don't wish to be crude or embarrass you, but it was awhile before I… was myself again. I think that kiss was the first reminder of what I had been denying myself. Still, it was quite a while before it became an actual hardship."
"A hardship?" she asked, and then swallowed.
"I've been struggling for months," he confessed. "I never meant to fall again, ever again actually. You weren't supposed to have this effect on me, Hermione. But after I was such a – well, a bloody arse to you the other night, that Bulgarian of yours confronted me about it. You see, I had come up to your room to apologize, right after… well right after using the stone."
"Oh, Sirius," she breathed, and then shook her head thoughtfully. "You've been so… well, rather moody towards me for so long, to be honest. I couldn't understand – I thought that after everything… I thought you'd be relieved to see I'd found someone, and then maybe we'd at least get to be friends. I had no idea why you were attacking me, until - " she stopped, blushing slightly as though she'd slipped. Merlin, he loved it when she blushed.
"-Until?" Sirius quirked an eyebrow teasingly.
Her blush deepened and she bit her lip in consternation. "Never mind," she muttered.
Deciding not to press the matter, he continued. "When I used the Resurrection Stone, James and Lily…" He sighed softly. "Well they told me that I had never done anything wrong, that they loved me and there was nothing to forgive. They told me to move on with my life, that they wanted me to be happy, that I had a chance at – at what they had, and they told me that it wasn't too late."
Sirius braved a look at her face. She was now leaning out of her seat like she didn't want to miss a single word.
"Am I too late Hermione?" he asked softly. All the facts and explanations lay before them, and what was left was this final question. He'd gone into this convincing himself that it was just a stab at an off-chance possibility, but now Sirius realized, looking at the precious gift sitting before him, he would gladly drop to his knees and beg if he had to. "Have I fucked this up beyond any hope? I would happily spend the rest of whatever time I have left trying to make it up to you."
"No," she whispered, transfixed. A dark blush crept into her cheeks, as if perhaps she hadn't meant to give so honest an answer. She straightened up and sat back. "I'm so sorry, Sirius. I had no idea you were torturing yourself that way."
"But there's hope?" asked Sirius softly. "You would give me a chance?"
"I'm in love with you," she said quietly with a note of unhappiness to her voice, her eyes fixed on the floor. A tiny frown creased her brow as she added, "What choice do I have?"
Sirius looked at her sitting there, studying the floor. He wasn't entirely pleased with her answer, because she was worth so much more than that, but he was also unwilling to let his chance pass. His own feelings for her weren't entirely settled in his mind – he'd barely had more than a few days to face them full-on, and he hadn't felt quite prepared to admit just what they were, outside of intense and bloody scary, but this is the direction James pointed him in. He had spent so long as a solo act, that now he couldn't imagine fidelity would really be a problem for him.
He decided to trust James and Lily's vantage point, and take a leap of faith. The risk was what made it worth it, right? The floor creaked as he crossed to her couch. She looked up at his approach, but not quite meeting his eyes. The couch sighed with the addition of his weight. He sat facing her, but maintained a safe physical distance to start with.
It had been a very long time since he was unsure of himself with the opposite sex, but, Circe! It had been how long since he'd been with the opposite sex-? He banished that thought, and rallied his confidence. She was interested – the hard part was already done for him.
"I didn't with Viktor –" Hermione began suddenly.
"I don't need to know," Sirius interrupted gently, offering her what he hoped was a warm smile. He already knew, and really didn't fancy a chat about the Bulgarian Ballsack right now, or ever for that matter.
"I'd like to focus on us," he said. He reached out for her hand. She let him take it, but she was trembling. Doubt crept in, and for a moment he felt like a lecherous old man. Was she really this innocent and chaste? He wondered at that for a moment, considering his approach. "I don't scare you, do I? I just want to talk to you, and not have to think about the world outside for a bit, or the other people in this house."
"No," she replied without hesitation, and did seem to relax a little for him. "But, for you… when? I mean how –? You weren't interested in me before." She shook her head, clearly not fully believing or comprehending.
Sirius's sigh was almost exasperated. "You've got three grown men panting circles around you, Hermione. Have you not realized how beautiful, how desirable you are?" A lovely dark flush crept up her neck and into her cheeks.
"Not really," she mumbled. "That was never me, you know?"
He brought her small soft hand up to his mouth for a kiss. "It's you now, kitten," he murmured against her skin. The hand in his was shaking like an aspen leaf in brisk autumn breeze.
"Is this really me?" she murmured softly, dazed. "Is this really us?"
"Do you want it to be?" asked Sirius, though he knew. He was a little surprised that she seemed this inexperienced because clearly something had happened between her and Krum, the twit.
"Yes, of course, I just –"
"May I kiss you?" he asked. Her other hand was clenched in her lap; he really needed her to relax with him.
"What?" she asked distractedly. "Oh... do you want to?"
Merlin. "It's just that we've only had the one, and I'd really like to try again."
"Yes… yes you may," she answered. Thank Circe for small favors. Sirius's lips quirked at the way her prim reply was betrayed by the small tremor in her voice.
Without moving in on her, he leaned over and pressed his lips to hers almost chastely. He held himself there for a moment and then pulled back to gauge her reaction. Her eyes were closed, with lips still forming an adorable kiss pout. Taking this as a good sign he tried again. She moved closer, pressing back.
"Like that?" he whispered when he pulled away the second time, wanting to make certain he didn't overstep his bounds with this tender thing.
Her eyes fluttered open. "Oh," she said with a note of disappointment.
"Is that all?"
Sirius coughed back a laugh. "No," he murmured and then he did move closer. He rested one hand on her hip, the other he lay gently on her neck, fingers stroking the soft skin there as he pressed his mouth to hers once again.
One soft dry kiss turned into two, and then three. His lips moved purposefully over hers, while still employing a good deal of restraint. He nipped at her lower lip and then tried her a little harder with his tongue, just to taste, encouraging her to open up and let him in.
A low rumble rolled out of his chest when her hands started to creep up his arms. So much damage had been done with that first disastrous kiss and all of the aftermath. He felt it to be no small victory that she was finally beginning to truly participate. Their tongues entwined in a slow dance, as they learned each other without some damn meddling spell.
"Sirius," she breathed, pulling away for air.
"Hmm?" he said, biting softly at her jaw.
"Are you comfortable?" she asked. "You don't look comfortable."
"Not especially," he replied honestly, "but I'll manage." Strange girl, not that he was complaining.
"Can I –" She pressed against him trying to push him back.
"Can you what?" he asked, his words muffled against the skin along her neck.
"I – I can't think."
"That is the general idea," he said, smiling, before sucking a small patch of soft skin into his mouth, just over her pulse point.
"Sit back," she panted, even as she turned her head away to give him better access to her neck.
"Happy where I am," he growled playfully. He moved down her neck, slowly, tasting the salt on her skin, learning what she smelled like this close.
"I want to sit in your lap," she said, a little more firmly.
He doubted that he had ever moved faster in his life, with the possible exception of Apparition. This was much more to his liking, he thought, as her knees slid to the outside of his thighs. Feeling like he must surely have permission, the hand not busy controlling her head snuck under her shirt to touch the silky soft skin along her back. Their mouths pressed together, more insistent now. She had a hand curled in his hair, the other rested on his chest.
Soft, sweet sighs escaped her when she breathed, now pressed impossibly close to him. Her head was thrown back so that he could tease and kiss and suck at her neck. He wanted more of her, all of her. Every wiggle of hers further provoked the growing situation at his crotch, literally.
"I want you," he hissed along her skin.
Apparently that wasn't the right thing to say. She had gone completely still in his lap.
"What's wrong? I thought you –"
"I do," she confessed quickly. "I do. I just have never… you know?" The flush of arousal in her face deepened in embarrassment.
He kissed her fiercely then. It was shameful just how arousing that was, but Morgana's Cunt, he'd never heard anything that turned him on more. He wasn't just hard, he was a rock.
"I'll be gentle," he promised, hoping to everything he held dear he wasn't lying. "I need to touch you, taste you, want to watch you come, make you feel so good." He'd given up on her mouth and was biting along her neck, willing her to submit. He wanted to make her his and then beat any poor bastard that so much as glanced in her direction into a sad, wet mess.
"Please," she keened softly.
"Hold tight," he whispered, standing up with one arm around her back, the other under her arse.
She wrapped her arms and legs around him tightly just before he spun on the spot.
When the press of Apparition lifted they were in his bedroom. He lost no time shrugging out of his shirt, before pulling her close again for another kiss. Awkwardly, he walked her backwards to his bed, connected to her at at least a dozen different points. Whatever apprehension she had felt downstairs had clearly gotten lost in his sense of urgency.
He would slow down, he promised himself, just as soon as he had her naked on the bed with his face buried in her nest of wet curls. Which sort of defeated the idea of slowing down, but he really wasn't thinking all that clearly. He was too busy imagining how she would look and sound when he brought her off.
Her knees buckled when they hit the edge of his bed. Godric's Knickers he was hard, he thought as he rubbed along his length to ease some of the pressure. Deft, masculine fingers pulled at her shirt, and then he was tugging at the button and zip of her jeans, pulling them down and discarding of them thoughtlessly. And then he chuckled.
"You matched your knickers and your bra," he stated with no small amount of humor. The surprise of this derailed their progress for a moment.
"Yes, so?" she said defensively.
"It's quite fetching," he teased, "Though I never took you for a Scot."
Her answering scowl was completely worth it. Plumped and red already from his demanding mouth, the slight downward quirk to her lips was undeniably sexy. Thighs slightly parted from when she fell against the bed gave him just enough room to stand between her slim calves that dangled off the side. Her torso was propped up on her elbows with a slight sideways lean, neither lying back flat against the bed, nor sitting up, but something in between the two. Her pose, combined with her fierce expression gave her an almost demanding look. His cock twitched approvingly.
Fuck. There was no way he was going to last. He rubbed along his length again over his denim. Her eyes followed his hand and then rose slowly, over his torso where they strayed for a moment, studying his tattoos he assumed, and then up to his face. Once her eyes reached his, the face she wore was still fierce, but no longer angry.
"I think all your underthings should be tartan," he murmured hoarsely, rooted to the spot, too stupid with lust to know what to do with himself in a moment of uncertainty.
"Maybe they are," she baited. She tossed her hair back, exposing her neck. A clear invitation, he understood that, and oh how he wanted her, looking up at him with an inviting smile, breasts heaving, wearing only tiny pieces of red and gold cloth that should be outlawed. Their banter had given his head a moment to clear. She was a virgin, and he realized he suddenly wasn't all too sure if he could trust himself to be gentle with her.
"I can't wait to find out," he purred. He knew he was stalling, but what else could he do until he could think a little clearer? He should have pounced on that, he knew, but pouncing was what he was trying to avoid doing. She frowned then, and he fidgeted, rubbing his crotch to ease the ache.
"You're nervous, too, aren't you?" she asked, voicing his inner thoughts.
"Bad form, I know," he apologized. This was not going well. "It's been awhile."
She was quiet for a moment. He started to wonder if they would get any further than him standing there stupidly while she watched.
"You already know that I'm in love with you," she said finally, but added quickly, "which isn't my way of trying to prompt you to say it back, but I do need you to know what is at stake for me."
"I really… I really think I love you, too," he replied, surprised at his words, though not at their truth. Godric she was clever, using the pause to her advantage. "It just took me so long to see it." He ran a hand agitatedly through his hair. "Look, I've done enough damage, don't you think? Hard as a rock or not, we would not be up here if I wasn't prepared for the consequences."
"Consequences," she repeated, and then frowned.
"Outcome, then? End result-?" he tried. "I'm saying that I do understand the significance of what this could all mean. I don't regard your heart lightly, Hermione."
"Thank you," she said softly, and then paused. "I'm confused about something though - we both know why I'm nervous, but why are you?"
Somewhere in the ether of the beyond James was rolling on the floor in a fit of giggles. He pivoted on his heel, stepping out from between her legs and flopped onto the bed with an impressive sigh.
Hermione blinked. She turned her head to the side to look at him. "Would you really rather not tell me why? The Joy of Sex says that intimacy is more enjoyable if partners communicate, although this is all new as we haven't coupled yet. I –"
He wasn't sure what The Joy of Sex was, although it sounded vaguely familiar. That wasn't what he keyed into.
"Coupled?" he repeated in a slightly amused tone.
"You know what I mean, Sirius." She looked away, a darling flush staining her chest, and creeping up through her neck.
"I'm going to have to expand your vocabulary," he said with a grin.
"Expand from where? The gutter?" Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"With any luck."
Her lips twitched before she returned back to the topic at hand. "I think I know why you're stalling. The Joy of Sex says –"
"Yes, and what is that – 'The Joy of Sex'?"
"A book? You studied sex?" Oh, Circe!
"Just the theory… mostly." She glanced at him cautiously. He figured she was worried her 'mostly' would make him think of Krum. Oh, bollocks, she could already read him like one of her damn books. She rushed her words together in a hurry to make her point. "Well, I've found that understanding the theory helps a lot in learning magic, and I suppose it was just habit. The point that you are trying to escape from is that I think I know why you're nervous. Would you like to hear it?"
"I am interested in the theory, yes."
Hermione took a deep breath then plunged. "Well, I never realized that you practiced such strict abstinence. If you haven't had sex since 1981 I would imagine you're worried you won't last," she said frankly.
James wasn't giggling. He was howling. Sirius flushed, quite unable to respond, though the situation in his trousers was no longer urgent. But that was only after listening to her voice his fear. Listening to her talk about having studied sex was actually a bit of a turn on.
"Take off your jeans," she said suddenly.
"Pardon?" This, the same girl who seemed as skittish as a rabbit on the couch just minutes ago…
"Your jeans, off, now," she commanded in a clear tone.
"Bossy," he muttered, but he did as she asked. He absolutely refused to acknowledge that he liked it. His cock, however, was traitorous.
Just to prove he hadn't lost control of the situation entirely, he looked at her directly, heatedly, as he flicked open the button on his jeans and lowered the zip. It gave him feeling of power when she licked her lips, and her breath came a little faster. He ignored the voice that reminded him that he was acting at her bidding, and not his own. The rush of blood, of arousal coursing through him told him he rather enjoyed being her plaything. This was not to be dwelt on, however. Especially since, all in all, he didn't really think it was such a bad thing.
"Boxers, too." She was sitting on her knees now, anticipating his reveal.
"What does your book say to do now, kitten?" he asked, as he tossed the garment over his shoulder. His hand smoothed along his length. He could tell she was forcing herself to stay where she was, as she was holding her body tight and tense, mouth slightly open. His cock was back to full attention. Damn, he was already so close with her watching him.
"J-Just what you're doing now," she stammered. He fucking loved how she couldn't take her eyes off him.
"Hermione, I really won't last if I keep doing this," he assured her. He did his damnedest to keep his strokes slow and even.
"Yes," she said, and nodded. "That's the idea." One of her hands had crept to her inner thigh and was stroking the skin just shy from where her pitiful excuse for clothing hid her from his view.
"You want me to come?" he asked. His hand stilled.
"Of course I do," she said. She sounded surprised. Her other hand was teasing along her throat. "Then you can relax and teach me how to have sex."
"Put your theories into practice?" he whispered seductively. He spit into his hand, and went back to stroking himself, faster now.
She nodded slowly as another deeper flush blossomed across her chest and up into her neck.
"You like watching me don't you, kitten?" His strokes were fast, smooth and even now as he neared his goal.
Her hand crept closer to her knickers as she nodded again.
"Don't," he growled. "That's mine."
She stopped, eyes wide.
"That's right," he said. "Mine."
"Sirius, please hurry," she whispered.
"Tell me what you want," he hissed. Fuck! He was almost there.
"I – What?"
"Tell me!" he snarled.
"Come, Sirius," she whispered. "Please." She was trembling with anticipation, her entire focus on his racing hand, and what she wanted to see. Pleasured ripped across his body as his climax thundered through every inch of him, Thick, and milky white, his release splattered her knees and the tops of her thighs. She squeaked in surprise.
Sirius fell forward heavily, just barely catching his knees on the edge of the bed, palms sinking into the mattress, head hanging between his shoulders. His hearted pounded like a racehorse taking the win at the Queen Anne Stakes. Never in his life had he come so hard. His head felt light and dizzy, and he was weak all over. Soft, gentle hands were on his face, feather light touches trying to get him to lift his head so she could look at him.
And then suddenly, he started laughing, as something raw and joyous burst forth. There were no tears. Not one wank since his escape into freedom had come without that heavy price. It wasn't just a moment of weakness where his body released some of its tension and nothing more. That was bloody fantastic!
When he finally did lift his face to hers, he was wearing a wide irrepressible grin. Springing forward, he forced her back against the bed. She collapsed awkwardly, her legs bent at a weird angle and her body curved upward in a forced arc. He pressed hard against her, held up by hands on either side of her head.
"Oh, kitten," he growled softly. "The things I'm going to do for you..." He covered her face and neck in soft kisses before claiming her mouth, pouring everything he felt into it: all his love, and joy and, at long last, freedom.
She mumbled something he couldn't understand against his mouth.
"Try again," he purred. Stretched out comfortably over her, he held his weight off with his knees and one arm, the other one's hand was smoothing up her side, on its way to a first proper caress of one firm, tartan covered breast.
"My legs," she squealed painfully.
"What? Oh, sweeting, I'm so sorry." He rolled to the side, trying to look apologetic, but he was having trouble doing anything but grin.
"Oh, that's better," she breathed, unknotting her body. "Thank you, Sirius."
Swiftly, he moved to hover over her again, wearing a playfully reproving glare, as he tsked at her, head shaking in mock disproval.
"No, no, that's wrong Miss Granger," he chided, his tone clipped and business like, lips teasingly close without touching. Her sweet breath fanned across his face, tempting him. A single brown brow arched questioningly, lips quivering like she was hold back laughter.
"That's Professor Black to you, young lady," he corrected. "I believe you are in need of an education, are you not?" Using the perfect RP his posh upbringing afforded, he played up the role for all he was worth. This is so bloody wrong, he thought, though he truly cared very little. The naughtiness of being old enough to actually have been a professor of hers made his game more fun, though rather dashed by the fact that he was not one for so sedate a lifestyle.
Hermione brought a hand up to her mouth as she giggled, blushing once again. He was never, ever going to get tired of that. Marshaling her expression into one that McGonagall would surely have approved of, provided she had no details for context of course, she gave him a look of swotty, studious interest.
"Yes, Sir," she said, holding back her laughter. "I'm ready for my first lesson."
He paused then, and wondered how far to take the 'professor' thing, but ultimately decided to leave it there. It was perhaps a full blown game to play at another time, but tonight was about her.
"You are at that, aren't you, kitten?" he asked, before kissing her again. Her hands roamed up his arms, giving a light testing squeeze to his biceps like she was confirming this was really happening and to her. Nails scratched pleasingly along his scalp as she found his hair. He rumbled a pleased sound of approval into her mouth, because it all felt so good, being touched and caressed like he mattered to her.
Down along her jaw, and then to her throat, he kissed and sucked at her soft flesh to a symphony of coos and sighs. Regretfully, he pulled away a little, forcing her hands out of his hair to rest on his neck.
"As lovely as this tiny little thing is," he said, fingering the strap of her bra, "it's really time for it to go." With two fingers the front snap on her bra was undone, fabric springing back as her breasts spilled out. "Merlin," he breathed. Her breasts were perfect and full, the dusky rose colored nipples pebbled to perfect points that just begged him to suck, but all he could do was stare.
"What?" she asked self consciously. "Something wrong? There's something wrong isn't there? I knew Lavender was just being nice."
He quirked an eyebrow curiously at that. "Lavender? I don't know who Lavender is, but if she told you that you have a perfect set of breasts I'm intrigued and quite agree. Should I be jealous? Challenge this Lavender to a duel?"
Hermione giggled. "Are you always so silly? Of course you don't need to be jealous, and never mind what she told me. Oh, you do realize I'm still a mess from when you… from when you –"
"Came?" he supplied. "Lesson the first, kitten. Sex is messy. You have fluids, I have fluids, and the fluids will get all over each of us. Don't be squeamish – that's what shower sex is for. Getting cleaned up."
"Oh," she said, and then stifled a giggle. "Oh yes, the book did mention that."
"We talk too much," he remarked, though he wondered if she was referring to shower sex or bodily fluids in that book of hers. "Which is fine, but talking and no doing is unacceptable." He dipped his head suddenly, without warning and sucked a pert nipple into his mouth. Surprised indeed, Hermione squeaked, and then startled him by pulling his head closer as she mewed a soft sound of pleasure.
Encouraged, he flicked his tongue repeatedly before pulling away with a wet smack to repeat the act with her other breast. Her body, so much smaller than his own, undulated and writhed beneath him, seeking, he assumed, to ease an ache of her own. With the bulk of his weight settled onto his arms, he placed a leg on either side of her thighs to straddle her. Now that he had his hands free, he pulled her bra off and discarded of it. Squeezing each perfect breast with gentle hands, he admired the way she moved under his touch.
"You're amazing, you know that?" he rumbled. His hands smoothed down her ribs and over her flat belly and then back up to pinch each nipple. "You were just a little girl one day, and then the next time I saw you, a woman. How did that even happen?"
"I – oh, Sirius…" she murmured. Her mouth opened again, but only sounds escaped, no actual words. He kissed her then, to reassure her he wasn't really looking for an explanation, that he was just admiring her, letting her know how beautiful she was is his eyes.
"Now," he said, leaning back on his heels again. "As much as I've enjoyed seeing you in this, it has to go too." He fingered a tartan strap that wound its way around her hip, feeling smug with the way his touch made her shiver. He rolled to the side and then stood up. Looping the straps in his fingers, he slowly brought the garment down over her thighs, then calves and finally off her feet. The whole time he kept eye contact with her, wearing a small half grin.
The bed jostled a little when he threw himself back down beside her, laying on his side and turned into her. One hand rested on her stomach, the other propped his head up.
"How do you feel? You look a little nervous," he said gently, still wearing that same half grin.
"Nervous," she said, and then swallowed. "Yes, I am."
"If I said 'don't be, it's just me' would that help at all?" he asked. "Or what if I said 'you're bloody gorgeous and too damned good for me.' They're both true, you know."
She just offered a slight smile and shook her head to say none of it was helping.
"Let's see what we can do about that, hm?" he said, dropping his voice to something less playful and more seductive. Her eyes grew wide as the hand on her belly smoothed down, fingers tangling in her curls. "Open your legs for me, kitten."
He watched her carefully as his fingers explored her. The hand that gripped his arm suddenly made him pause, wondering if perhaps she had never even gotten this far with a boy. It seemed unlikely given what he saw in her room that day, but then this was not how experienced girls acted.
"First time anyone's touched you like this?" he asked, voice soft and soothing. She nodded, teeth buried in her lip, and then sucked in a breath when he found her clit. His cock twitched with anticipation.
Continuing on, he found her pool of moisture and rumbled a low growl in approval. "You're so wet, kitten. It feels wonderful."
Using her own lubricant, he went back to her clit and began to touch her softly, circling around and around the small, but decidedly stiff, little nub.
"Are you at least comfortable with me?" he asked gently. She nodded but her eyes pleaded with him not to make her talk. As it was, her breathing was uneasy and the occasional choked sound made past her lips. "Just feel, kitten, stop thinking, and just feel."
He continued on in his happy task, watching and listening as he brought her ever closer. It was obvious she was fighting him, though he didn't think she realized it. That brain of hers really never did disengage. Her body knew though, what was coming, what she wanted, needed surely, by this point.
"Don't be afraid to let go in front of me, Hermione," he urged. "You're there, now let go of it, just let go."
With her eyes shut tight, and her hand gripping his arm, her expression one of extreme concentration, she looked like she was having difficulty with a nonverbal spell. This wasn't working.
"Spread you legs more for me, kitten," he said as he drew his hand away. She made a small noise of protest but complied. She had another noise, one of surprise as he knelt between her legs.
"What are you doing?" she asked suspiciously.
"I imagine your book would have referred to it as cunnilingus," he said mildly, and then grinned at her sharp intake of air.
"Sirius, really… you don't have to…" she tried, but he just shushed her as he wrapped his arms under her thighs so he could hold onto her hips.
"I want to, kitten. This was always going to happen so just relax, you're going to enjoy this," he reassured. First one kiss was dropped on her abdomen, and then he went lower, and then lower still. The scent of her was thick with arousal, heady and intoxicating, going straight to his cock which hardened further with renewed interest.
The first testing taste, just to let her know where he was, resulted in a jolt of her hips, much as he expected. "I said to relax," he said gently. "I want to taste you." Some sort of a sound left her lips, but he couldn't make sense of it. Didn't matter, he had what he wanted. The second try confirmed that she tasted as good as she smelled. She needed to come, but even more so he needed her to. Whether or not it was arrogance, he didn't know, but he wanted her body to submit to him.
Swirling tightly around her small protruding nub, his tongue elicited a satisfying symphony of sound. Her hands were in his hair, sometimes pulling when she seemed to forget herself. His name had become a mantra that she chanted louder and louder until he suckled the nub between lips and tongue. That robbed her of sound momentarily, but then, when he pressed a single finger into her wet warmth, her little body began to shake and shiver. And she was shouting her praises and encouragement.
Something incredible was happening here, to him, to her, and it was about more than the lazy, contented smile she now wore. It was a long time coming, beginning with platonic admiration for a bookish young witch. Was it the war? They were thrown together repeatedly out of necessity and common relations. Never had he sought to claim her, but the clever little thing had wanted him for some reason, and now...now he was completely and utterly hers. The how and the why no longer mattered. Only one thing counted in his mind.
"I love you," he rasped honestly, overcome with emotion he hadn't felt in years. The love he felt for James and Lily was true enough, but it was like a shrine to a long forgotten goddess, crumbling with decay and choked by vines. It was killing him slowly though he didn't see it. What he felt for her ached with the freshness that only new love can, it invigorated and jangled along his nerves.
She opened her eyes and smiled. He felt the ability to breathe sucked out of him in one brief, blinding flash of insight. In her pools of honeyed brown he saw the rest of his life, his children and grandchildren, reflected back at him. Love and life and happiness shone like sunshine from her lips. "I love you, you know," he said again.
"I know," she whispered tenderly. "I can see it in your face. I love you, too."
"Can you see it?" He felt a warm bubble of laughter erupt from deep inside, dazed by how beautiful she was.
"Sirius," she said softy. There was a note of something shy.
"Hm?" he said distractedly, as he laid tender kisses along her jaw.
Her face was burning a delightful shade of red. "Make love to me."
Oh, how he wanted her. It was a need beyond the physical satisfaction that was assured, but to take the gift she was giving, and make her his, just as surely as he was already hers. It was too fine a thing she was offering, her virginity, her innocence, but he didn't have the will to refuse her.
"Of course we will," he soothed. "You're sure that you're ready?" It seemed like a silly thing to be saying after what they had done so far, but he needed this one last reassurance.
"I need you to," she said softly. He understood. Both somewhat sated, though his cock would happily argue the point, it was more than physical relief that she was talking about.
When he started to move though, she had a last attack of sheer nervousness.
"I read an article in… in… oh, damn, I forget, but first time pain isn't so much the hymen breaking but the man's penis having to force its way through clenched muscles. So I'm going to relax and –"
He covered her mouth with his to shut her up. She was only working herself up into a good scare that was entirely unnecessary. Though she had a point, relaxed and needy would definitely be better than braced for pain.
"You're hymen's already broken," he said softly, sucking at her neck between words. "So no worries there.
"And you've had, from what I could tell, a rather good orgasm, so you have reason to be relaxed," he mumbled against her throat. "This won't be something you simply endure. I promise you we will enjoy each other. Just look into my eyes, kitten, everything you need to hold onto will be right there."
As he reached between them to position himself, her hands found his shoulders and gripped tightly to hold him anyway. He could feel her tension in the press of her fingers into his flesh. As he pushed in ever so slowly, he held her gaze to give her an anchor. He could feel his smile tightening though, as the pleasure she gave him, wet and warm, clamped hard around his length.
"Oh, kitten," he breathed, once he was buried up to his balls. "Oh, Hermione, you feel so good." He could nearly sob from bliss.
She didn't appear to be in pain, in fact her face was flushed with teeth worrying her lower lip. There was something so sexy about the innocent, yet not so innocent look. He could scarcely believe he was allowed to do this with her.
"I'm going to move now," he said, his voice strained. "I need you tell me if it hurts, or if you just don't like it, or whatever, alright?"
Once she nodded he began more of a gentle rocking than actual thrusting. The feeling of his girth lodged tight within her sent a frisson of excited tingles through him. He was very glad she had suggested a wank beforehand, because otherwise he would have been done for three gasping wiggles into the dance.
"You feel so good," he murmured as he gazed down into he eyes. Chestnut curls fanned out messily across his pillows.
"Yes," she whispered back. Her hips gave a first tentative wriggle. "You too."
"That's it, Hermione," encouraged Sirius. "Find your rhythm with me. No need to be shy."
His rocking changed to gentle thrusts as she experimented with how to move together. Clumsy and awkward at first, but then it seemed like she gave up control, and let her body take what it needed.
Sooner than he thought would be possible, her hips were rising to meet his thrusts with equal need. He could see the hunger in her eyes, urging him on. Arms wrapped around his shoulders, legs crossed over his back with heels digging into his arse as she tried to force him deeper.
"Kiss me," she insisted. Their sweaty bodies slapped together raunchily as he claimed her mouth with a sloppy kiss, slamming ever harder to meet her rising demand.
They were on a set course now, each seeking their release. He could feel his growing, hers too if the faint flutters along his cock were anything to go by.
"Come on, kitten," he urged. "It'll be easier this time." Adjusting his angle slightly, he searched her secret spot.
"There, oh god, there," she squealed suddenly. He couldn't help feeling a bit smug over that.
Determined, he aimed for that spot again and was rewarded with a first precursory shudder from her lithe little body.
"Yes! Again!" she demanded.
Each time he found the spot, she would shudder again and again. He was thrusting faster and harder now, so close himself he had to concentrate to force the explosion down until she came. When she did, her tight sleeve grasped at him so greedily he could do little other than rock helplessly.
Arms and legs tightening their hold on him, she cried his name over and over. Her passage slicked over with her release, letting him thrust madly through the clench and squeeze of her orgasm.
"Hermione!" he roared. "Fuck!" A brilliant flash of white flared behind his closed lids, the edges tinged in crimson. A rush of pleasured heat, hot and sticky, flooded every part of him. He came so hard for a moment he thought he had blacked out.
Too weak to support him any longer, his elbows gave out. He collapsed heavily still lodged within her. They both gasped for breath, her heart pounding under his. It took a monumental effort for him to ease down her body, sliding out as he went.
Still too breathless to speak, too overcome to think, he just lay with her, his head cradled on her soft belly. Gathering her up in his arms, he simply held her as his body took its time slowing down.
When he opens his eyes, he realizes that he's breathing heavily, but in all honesty, it is impossible for him to think about that night without getting aroused. The give and take they experienced right from the start characterized their life together, in and out of the bedroom. Her book knowledge, innate curiosity, and sheer bossiness kept him in on his toes throughout their marriage.
He looks at her then and she is blushing. She knows. He chuckles warmly and twitches his fingers. It's the best he can manage at an attempt to stroke her, and will have to do.
He isn't precisely sure why he has given her the whole night they shared, other than it is a very 'him' thing to do. He's not worried about her forgetting him, but she will never know how beautiful, brave and sexy she was that night if he doesn't show her. Those reasons are enough he decides finally, it isn't as though he is going to take it back.
"I love you, you know," he says softly.
"I love you, too," she murmurs, snuggling closer to him.
"Can't I talk you out of–"
"No," she says swiftly, but softly. "I told you why."
"Alright, ducks, alright."
He doesn't think he could revisit that day without her close. He needs to feel her next to him while he remembers the closest he ever came to actually losing her.
Each of her small, soft hands was held in one of his, arms down and in front of them. They stood close enough to kiss, but were just gazing at each other and had been that way for a good five minutes. He loathed the thought of letting go of her, hated that she had somehow managed to get out of his room. Sirius pulled her closer, drawing their united hands behind his back. Their lips met in long, slow drawn out kisses that promised more to come later.
"Please be careful, poppet," he whispered. He let go of one of her hands to cradle her face. If he could see the tiniest trace of doubt in her eyes he would argue a case to keep her there. But as he searched her honey brown irises all he found were confidence and determination.
"I will," she assured him. "This will be simple. We'll go visit Mr. Lovegood and then come straight back."
"Hm," he rumbled doubtfully. If the stories were to be believed, which they were, then no doubt a detour was assured. "Please remind Harry that we can visit Godric's Hollow after this mess is cleared up, alright? He is taking something of mine that is very precious to me."
A lovely dusting of rosy highlights flooded her cheeks. From three floors down they could hear the restless rustling of her two companions. Last night, and again this morning, was not enough for him. He needed years, not a few stolen hours.
That morning she seemed determined to prove to him she was not some completely uninformed schoolgirl. The morning erection he had become accustomed to ignoring was treated to her sweet mouth. By the time he was fully awake he was already coming, in possession of a deeper appreciation of her oft heard phrasing that understanding the theory behind a thing, usually magic, was beneficial to doing the thing itself well. Taking into consideration that she was likely sore, he brought her off with his fingers, whispering absolute filth into her ear, making debauched promises of all the things he wanted to do with and to her.
They fell back asleep after that. When he woke once again, an hour or so later, she was double checking her bag for everything the three of them would need. In her repeated attempts to join her friends, not that she fought so very hard, he had only let her make it as far as where they now stood. The door to his room was still open, the frame arching over their close forms.
"I can't find her in the study or the drawing room," said Ron from a couple of floors down. "You don't think she's finally had her fill of Sirius and left, do you?"
Hermione and Sirius broke their kiss to laugh quietly.
"He's going to hate me," said Sirius cheerily, feeling smug, and not even a little bit sorry. Ron would get over it, eventually.
"Don't be daft," replied Harry. "I checked her bedroom and the kitchen. She's here somewhere…" said Harry, his voice trailing off. A moment later quiet steps were on the stairs.
Hermione tried to break away, but Sirius secured her against him with an arm around her waist.
"We're not doing anything wrong," he said softly. Harry had an inkling for what Sirius felt for Hermione, and everyone they knew was aware of her feelings for him. It wasn't a difficult calculation. The steps were louder now with proximity.
"No, I know," she said anxiously. "But –"
"We aren't even kissing," he teased, "which is a travesty, your lips are just begging for it."
"Sirius, stop," she murmured, but her heart wasn't in it. A lovely flush filled her cheeks with pink.
"Well, I expected as much when we couldn't find you anywhere else," said Harry as he stepped onto the third floor landing. "We're ready, so –"
"Yes," said Hermione, and then cleared her throat. "Just give me a minute."
"Sure," said Harry as he turned to go back down. "But I'm not telling Ron. You two can deal with his sour mood."
"Maybe it can wait until we get back," suggested Hermione.
"Good idea," agreed Harry, his shock of black hair bobbing away as he descended the staircase.
"You'll be nice to Ron, won't you?" asked Hermione, once they heard Harry on the second landing. "He's one of my two best friends and… well, I can see where at one time… oh, drat. He's not you, and you're well, you…" She trailed off, an explanation wasn't needed and she seemed to fluster over her disadvantage with him. Sirius wouldn't want it any other way, loving the constant reminder of how strong his effect on her was.
"I'll be nice to Ron," said Sirius. Of course, I will, he thought smugly, he's no threat. "Though I'm not certain he'll extend the same courtesy."
"He'll come around, and I doubt he'll be ugly directly to you, he'll just –" Hermione paused thoughtfully. "Well, given it's you, I don't quite know what he'll do, to be honest."
"It's all going to work out fine," said Sirius confidently. "If we can get through my bad behavior, we can get through Ron's stubbornness. Maybe I'll find a new use for my hat," he teased gently.
Hermione looked at the floor. "I'm happy for, well for this… everything, really. But I hate that hat."
"Sorry, I know, I know," he said. "Though… you know the hat didn't cause any of this to happen, don't you? I would have fallen for you without it."
"You didn't… oh," said Hermione. "I thought, well… that was some kiss."
"I'm far more partial to the one that came after," murmured Sirius, and then he just had to kiss her again, though softly, with great tenderness. "When you get back we'll talk about our future together."
Hermione looked up at him earnestly. "Not until the war is over, everything is so dangerous right now, and… and I don't want you spending another twenty years looking back. If something were to –"
He kissed her suddenly, to quiet and soothe her. He could feel her desperation and fear as she fed on him hungrily. Impulsively, he spun them and pushed her gently against the wall and searched her mouth with his. She was something he needed and he didn't want to think about 'what ifs'. He'd spent years doing that, it was time to live.
"No looking back," he promised, his words whispered between their heated exchanges. "We're winning this thing, we're so close, never been closer and then we're having our forever."
"No looking back," she repeated.
"Didn't you find her?" asked Ron loudly from what sounded to be the drawing room.
"Yeah," said Harry, also loud. "She was just finishing something up."
"I've got to go," she whispered regretfully. Her breathing was uneven and she was wearing the lovely glowing flush he so adored.
"I know," he said. "We'll talk tonight when I see you."
"Tonight," she agreed. Her smile looked like it was built entirely from forced bravery.
"I love you, you know."
Hermione smiled. "I love you, too."
Together they walked down the stairs, not hand in hand as he would have preferred, but close enough to brush her arm with his.
"Krum isn't here, is he?" asked Ron aggressively from the drawing room.
"No, he'll be by later for the meeting," said Sirius as he and Hermione entered.
Harry turned away, to hide the smirk assumed Sirius. Before Harry could adopt a sober, professional look for his godfather, one that was probably meant to assure himself more than Sirius that he was a man and up for this, he glimpsed a boy mentally taking the mickey from his best mate. Sirius grinned, but then sobered himself.
"Be safe, don't take any risks, and for the love of Godric's Knickers ask Hermione before doing anything impulsive. The danger is real, and all around us," said Sirius.
"We're up to this," said Harry. He stood straight up for Sirius, his expression confident yet serious.
"I know that," said Sirius. But mistakes happen, thought Sirius sadly. Harry needed his approval though, now especially. Things had changed, and even if Ron hadn't clued in yet, Harry was about to walk out of the house into a dangerous world with his future wife, the mother of his children yet to be. The boy stood tall and proud, a man surely, and his son, just as sure as if he had got him on Lily himself. "You'll be fine. I'm proud of you, Harry. Now go on, I'll see you tonight."
A glance at the calendar on the kitchen wall explained the reason for the persistent chill in the basement kitchen. It was late December, the day before his birthday to be exact, still a few days away from Christmas. Holiday cheer was the lowest priority this year, a topic they had all neatly avoided. The winter holiday afforded Minerva McGonagall the ability to get away from the school for this planning session. She was a welcomed sight for his eyes, though she looked a little older, and more care worn around the eyes.
"He's moving around a lot more according to Harry," said Sirius, once they were settled comfortably around the long table. The kitchen had never held warming charms very well. The Order members sat bundled up with their fingers around warm mugs of coffee. It was too risky for them all to gather for meetings and Molly had stayed away for this one. Her habit of making stew was an absent luxury, the large cauldron dispelling even this horrid house's propensity to chill.
"The connection isn't still open is it?" asked Minerva, alarmed, her voice hushed with sympathy and tinged with a hint of disapproval.
"Harry has trouble with Occlumency," said Remus. "Though I sometimes wonder how hard he really tries." The words were mild, and spoken in absence of an accusation.
"I know," said Sirius. "But I think he would almost rather know, than not. It isn't pleasant for him, by any means, but not fighting the intrusion has just as valid an argument as defending against it."
"And you think he take snake vith," asked Krum. The tension between himself and the Bulgarian was still there, but tabled. Sirius could grudgingly admit to himself that the Seeker was someone he could respect, and with recent developments in mind, it was easier to tolerate his sour mug.
"Harry hasn't seen Nagini, so she's being kept somewhere common to Death Eaters, a stronghold," growled Moody gruffly. His eye spun lazily in its socket as he scanned the room suspiciously. "My vote is with Malfoy over at that pretentious pile of rocks of his."
"Which makes sense, really," said Sirius thoughtfully. He brought his mug to his lips for a taste.
"Why is that?" asked Minerva. Her slight shiver prompted Sirius to set yet another Warming Charm on the kitchen.
"Harry over heard a conversation between Snape and the Malfoy boy. Snape said something about making an Unbreakable Vow," said Sirius. "Did any of you know that Dumbledore was already dying when Snape killed him?"
"You've mentioned it," growled Moody.
"Consider this," said Sirius. "You're Albus, and you learn that this kid has been ordered by Voldemort to kill you in cold blood. You're already dying, so you tell the one person you know who could kill you under the right circumstances." Sirius paused in concentration. "I'm not sure how, when or to whom the vow was made, but the… I don't know. If Snape did it, it wouldn't be in cold blood. It would have been at his request, an act of mercy."
"Sparing Draco," said Tonks softly.
"Why get a kid to do a man's job, though," argued Moody. "I've never seen the runt, maybe he's made of stronger stuff than your average teenage boy, but we're talking about Albus Dumbledore."
Minerva sniffed sharply. "Draco is just another spoiled, over-privileged Malfoy. He's been pampered and petted his whole life and expects to get by on his name alone, not by working for it. That said, I don't believe he is evil natured, merely brain washed with a heavy does of self entitlement. I certainly don't believe he was gifted enough magically to take on Albus. Which, if you are right, Sirius, is exactly what he thought he had to do."
"Snape did report that You-Know-Who was very angry at Malfoy for using the diary, and losing the prophecy. Perhaps the boy was never expected to succeed in his task," theorized Sirius.
"Then vy is spending time at Malfoy house?" asked Viktor. "That not make sense to me. Karkaroff used to brag about time vith Dark Lord. Vell, at least before Tournament, vy give honor ven name is disgraced?"
"Because it isn't about the honor, is it?" said Remus shrewdly. "It's about what he believes he deserves, the creature comforts an old, rich family like the Malfoys could certainly supply, with the added bonus of not having to behave like a guest."
"So, snake is at house then," said Viktor thoughtfully. "And likely many, vat is vord, understanding, no – concerned?"
"Sympathetic?" supplied Minerva.
"Yes," said Viktor, "Many sympathetic to cause."
"You mean Death Eaters," said Sirius.
"Of course," replied Viktor, "But, perhaps not only them, others too, maybe."
"Damn smart," agreed Moody. "We're just not ready to bring the fight to him, not over the snake, no matter how important it is."
"Oh, that reminds me," said Sirius, standing swiftly. "Excuse me for a moment." As he stood, his eye caught site of the clock on the wall. It was eight thirty, which was worrying. He had expected the three of them back long before now. He patted his robes pocket to assure himself that the mirror was still there.
Closing the study door behind him, he lifted the Enchantments on his father's desk and grabbed the Hufflepuff cup he had recovered from Gringott's. Impulsively, he pulled the mirror out of his pocket as he walked back to the kitchen. He stared into it, but he couldn't see anything. For a moment he thought of James. He did still miss them both, but it no longer ached and festered the way it once had.
Damn it! Where are they, he thought, worried. He shook his head, pushing out the slowly encroaching fear. Harry was shrewd, Ron brave and Hermione clever. He couldn't allow his emotions to let his thoughts run away with him. They were more than equal to a conversation with Xeno about his pet obsession.
"We're not sure how to destroy this," said Sirius. "There are a number of options, of course, but most of them are rather difficult to control. We no longer have access to the sword, so we need to think of some other way." He set the cup on the table, before resuming his seat.
"We've been over this a number of times," said Remus, "but we feel confident that a Killing Curse will work for Nagini. We've both tried it on the cup, but when you touch it afterward, well, you can feel that it is still viable."
Krum muttered something in Bulgarian that sounded to Sirius' ear like it must have been an oath. The Seeker was looking at them like there was a real possibility they were all completely mad.
"What?" said Sirius. There was a hint of aggression in his tone.
Krum laughed. "Vy are ve vorrying over little cup?" He shook his head. "Kill snake, destroy cup. Do ve ever go for man himself, or Death Eaters?"
Sirius rubbed his eyes. They hadn't ever explained Horcruxes to Krum. Sirius was impressed at the amount he was taking on faith, and probably at Hermione's encouragement.
"I'll take care of it," said Remus quietly. He pulled the Bulgarian aside.
"The sword," said Sirius, tuning out Remus and Krum's quiet conversation, "Had the properties of basilisk venom because Harry used the sword to kill it. Minerva, since you know that the corpse is still there, and roughly where it is –"
"Exactly where it is," said Minerva. "Albus and I went down together before we sealed it off again."
"I thought you needed to be a Parseltongue to either open or close the Chamber," growled Moody suspiciously.
Minerva pursed her lips in tight line. "Most ridiculous hour I've ever spent, hissing at those stupid pipes. Albus was convinced that we'd get it eventually."
Sirius couldn't help the snort. The image was an amusing one. Minerva shot him a disdainful look.
"Podqvolite!" swore Krum loudly, followed by a string of what Sirius could only assume was very creative Bulgarian.
"Guess he knows," he said wryly.
A long, low chime echoed down from the grandfather clock in the drawing room. Sirius glanced at the kitchen clock again, nine o'clock. He shared a quick worried glance with Remus. They'd had no word all day. The first hour after they left was bad, as Sirius paced the floor in his room envisioning a thousand unlikely horrors that might befall her. It didn't seem like a natural case of nerves anymore though. It felt real.
"That's it," said Sirius. "Remus, I'm done being patient, so don't even say it."
"Wasn't going to," replied the werewolf. "I was unaware it had gotten so late."
"Vat is matter," said Krum suspiciously.
Sirius let out a sharp breath. "Hermione, Harry and Ron had a simple mission, but they should have been back hours ago by my reckoning."
"Vat mission?" asked Krum, his voice softened slightly with worry.
Sirius braced for the storm, remembering just then that Krum didn't care for Xeno. Apparently, Remus remembered as well.
"Do you remember the symbol Xenophilius Lovegood was wearing the day of Bill and Fleurs wedding?" asked Remus.
"Who?' asked Krum.
"The man in yellow with the sign you didn't like," clarified Sirius.
Krum scowled. "Grindelvald's sign."
"As it turns out," said Remus, "Grindelwald must have adopted it for his own uses, it's actually much older than that and quite benign in its own right."
Krum's face was amusing when he was confused. Sirius hid the grin to be polite.
"Oh," said the Bulgarian sheepishly. "I vas rather rude."
"Almost hard to believe," muttered Sirius quietly. Remus heard him and grinned. Sirius pointedly ignored him and focused on Minerva. "Minnie, would you take the cup with you? Since you know how to open the Chamber…?"
"Of course," she replied.
"I'm going to see Xeno about the k–" Sirius paused. He couldn't think about them like that anymore, didn't really, but it was habit. "Them," he said finally, not able to bring himself to say anything as trite as 'trio'.
"I'm coming with you," said Remus, Tonks, Krum and Moody at the same time.
"Minnie, alert the rest of the Order," said Moody gruffly. "We'll communicate by Patronus. Your first priority is that cup."
"The castle is almost entirely deserted," she said business like. "Even those vultures went away for the holidays."
Sirius wasn't precisely sure who she was referring to, nor did he care. He was already walking out of the kitchen. Tension was mounting within him with every step. By the time he reached the hallway, his feet were pounding to the front door. An extra set of warm outer robes were hastily grabbed and donned. When his hand touched the door, he heard a voice that sent a huge wave of relief through him.
"Sirius?" Harry's voice warbled unsteadily through the mirror in his pocket.
"Harry!" exclaimed Sirius. Remus and Tonks pulled in close, while Moody and Krum looked confused.
"I'm so sorry," said Harry, he sounded exhausted. Sirius moved to stand under a gas lamp so he could see the boy. His face was smudged, sweaty, with a shallow cut over one cheek.
"Where are you?" demanded Sirius. He could get details later.
"Malfoy Manor," said Harry. Sirius had never heard Harry sound more desperate or scared. "Sirius… Bellatrix has Hermione."
"They'll have security tighter'n a niffler's quim," growled Moody.
"We're coming," promised Sirius, ignoring the old Auror.
"I'll alert the rest of the Order," said Minerva as she took the stairs two at time, cup in hand, moving faster than Sirius really thought her capable.
"He doesn't know I'm here yet," rasped Harry. "Sirius, please hurry… Hermione…"
"I'm going," said Sirius, turning the handle to the door. "I can't just sit here –"
He was thrown forcefully against the wall by Moody. "You'll take orders, boy," he growled. "We're going in, and soon, but not without a bloody plan or back up."
"HERMIONE!" bellowed Ron, anguished, some distance behind Harry.
"Hands are tied," said Harry. "We're in the basement, Hermione is…"
"Where exactly?" asked Sirius.
When he heard her scream, muffled through doors and distance, Moody was forced to put a Full Body Bind on him. Remus couldn't look at him and Sirius wanted to accuse him of being a coward and a traitor for just standing there and not helping. An eternity of Hermione's distant and muffled wails, shrieks and screams set off a fresh round from Ron every time. Sirius focused his baleful accusatory glare on the last living token from his childhood. At the moment, he refused to think of him as friend.
Without warning, the front door was pushed open. Kingsley strode in, followed by Arthur and Molly. It opened again to reveal Hestia and Dedalus, and then more Order members as the door opened again and again. They were talking loudly, discussing options, but Sirius turned them all out, forcing himself to listen to her as his anger built upon itself, searing along his nerves in a rage that only needed his release to be unleashed.
Into their midst there was a loud crack of Apparition. A house-elf with long bat-like ears and wide, wide eyes stood among the crowd of witches and wizards in Sirius' hallway.
"Dobby is instructed to take you to his old Master's home," he said. "Dobby can get you past the wards and protections."
Sirius focused his rage into his magic, searching for a way to break the Enchantment upon him. If he could have punched Moody when he started sending others ahead first he would have. He managed an enraged sound as the hallway emptied until it was just himself, Moody and Remus standing.
"I'm not letting you get the rest of us killed," said Moody, his face inches from Sirius. "If I think for one minute that you're about to let that hot head get away from you, I'll knock you out myself." Sirius would only glared back unblinking.
"Now, when that elf gets back, I'm lifting the Charm and we'll go get your boy," continued the grizzled old wizard. "We don't have any idea what we are walking into, and some of us may not make it out alive. Keep your head about you, Sirius."
A small cat, glowing silvery and bright, floated down the stairs and into the hallway. "I've destroyed the cup, and alerted the Order. They should be coming to you, if they haven't already," said the cat in Minerva's voice.
Moody roughly rummaged through Sirius' inner pocket and pulled out the mirror.
"Boy, who is there to defend the place? What are we up against?" asked Moody into the mirror.
"The Lestranges, including Rabastan, Greyback, the Malfoys, Pettigrew and Nagini," said Harry. "Besides myself Ron and H-Hermione, Luna Lovegood and Mr. Olivander are also being held captive here."
"Sit tight boy and don't do anything stupid. We're on our way," growled Moody. Without waiting to hear what Harry's reply was, he shoved the mirror back into Sirius' pocket.
Dobby Apparated back into their midst with another crack, and then looked expectantly at Moody. The old Auror's words had cooled him somewhat but certainly not completely. He was calm enough to think though, and not be so rash as to not earn his ride to Hermione and Harry's side.
When the Body Bind was released, Sirius stood motionless hoping to convince Moody of his calm. The old wizard eyed him imperiously, both of them trained on his face with intense scrutiny.
"One wrong move, Black," growled Moody.
"Yeah, I got it," said Sirius impatiently, Hermione's wails forcing his mercury to rise. "Can we just go already?" Sirius lifted the mirror to his face. "Hold tight, Harry. The Order is coming for you." The boy nodded into the mirror, but said nothing.
Moody grunted, and then jerked his head at the elf.
"Us three," he said. "And be ready to get us out of there."
Dobby nodded, Sirius drawing his wand as the elf took their hands.
"Sirius, you're shaking," says Hermione worriedly. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, poppet," he assures. "Just remembering… things."
"Do I need to –"
"No," he says quickly. "I'm fine, and am so very happy to have you here beside me."
"Alright, then," she says, and presses herself closer. The warmth of her body is so inviting and pleasing, so very necessary as he revisits one of his darkest days for her sake.
The large manor in front of them must have been enchanted to keep sounds in. The sound of Hermione's torture which could be distantly made out in the mirror could not be heard from the house in front of them. A hedge surrounded the front garden, with a large ostentatious fountain and a long gravel path up to the front doors.
An eerie sound like a child crying, 'helllllllllp helllllllllp' came from up high in one of the trees. Sirius startled and looked up, and then around at the others.
"It's just a peacock," hissed Kingsley quietly to his left. "Damn thing won't shut up."
Sirius kept his focus warily on Moody, though he could think of little besides charging in and getting the kids out of there. The old Auror motioned for the others to move in closer.
"Believe it or not, we've got them out numbered," said Moody softly. "We're going in. Keep your wits about you. Our priority is getting the kids and getting out, if you can drop a few while we're at it, do so. This is war, not an arrest or search and seizure."
"Harry and Ron are in the basement, are they not?" said Remus. Sirius nodded.
"Remus, I want you Sirius and Kingley on the Lestranges," said Moody gruffly. "Don't let Pettigrew distract you."
Really not a problem, thought Sirius impatiently. Now was not the time for an old revenge, that much he knew. Can we just go already?
Moody barked out the rest of the plan, while Sirius kept his eyes on the door. Every inch of him wanted to pass through, to get to her now, but he would not let Moody's shaky confidence in him ruin his chance.
That was all Sirius needed, leading the way up to the Malfoy house.
"Deprimo!" he shouted, blasting a massive hole through the doors that left them hanging limply from their hinges. He heard Moody growl his disapproval but what he had expected? To politely ring the bell?
Now, however, Hermione's shrieks and cries could be made out with no problem. Instead of an entry way room, the manor started with a long hall. On the other end was a tall wooden door, Hermione's screams coming from behind it. As Sirius pounded forward, the door opened revealing Pettigrew. Without any thought at all, Sirius drew his fist back and punched him directly in the face. As Pettigrew visibly wobbled on the spot, Sirius shoved him at Moody and out of his way.
In the next room, which was long and lined with tall, darkly covered arching windows, was every person Harry had named. Bellatrix was no longer fixated on Hermione, but concerned for the intrusion. Hermione lay crumpled on the floor in a sad, small heap. She barely looked alive, damp hair clung to her pale face, eyes open but unseeing.
Something essential snapped inside of Sirius, some door to his humanity slammed shut as his rage swelled beyond his ability to control it. He ran forward, teeth bared as though he were Padfoot. He sensed Kingsley and Remus charging beside him but was largely unaware of the chaos breaking out.
"STUPEFY!" he roared, before any of the Lestranges had time to react. They were all caught quite off guard. Sirius could feel the power leave him as the word caused a red light to burst from his wand. The spell caught Bellatrix square in her chest, lifting her up into the air and through the window behind her. The sound of shattering glass was only partially muffled by the dark fabric hanging in the arching window.
He was only dimly aware of the other two Lestranges being dropped in Full Body Binds as he slid to his knees by Hermione's side. Some sort of leather restraint was shoved into her mouth, buckled in place behind her head. Reverently, he gingerly undid the fastening and released her mouth. The roar of the skirmish behind him went on unchecked and unnoticed by him.
"No… Hermione, love, please…" he pleaded with her. As he gathered her up in his arms, he found to his dismay that she was soaked in her own urine. She still hadn't moved and he feared she was already gone.
"Avada Kedavra!" shouted Krum.
That did get Sirius' attention, turning in his kneeling position to watch Nagini crumple to ground lifeless. At some point Harry had been released and was dueling with the Malfoy boy. Sirius was about to rise and help but then the other's wand went sailing into the air, caught in Harry's outstretched hand.
"Get her out of here, Sirius!" roared Harry. He nodded swiftly to his godson. The fight was mostly over with only Greyback still shouting his protestations.
"Ss…" Sirius felt his heart burst with relief as she tried to say his name. She was still alive!
"Shh," he hushed, a gasp of relief breaking through. "I'm getting you out of here. This is going to hurt, and I'm sorry," he warned, before pulling her close to him, his arms cradling her back and legs.
His eyes blink open, fingers softly touching her arm as best he can manage. The silvery, almost gossamer threads are dropped into the bottle for safe keeping. She smiles at him before she rises from the bed to stopper the phial.
He looks over at James and Lily as she rises from the bed to seal the bottle. They are clearer now than they were before, and she, well her colors are fading a bit. His time is almost through, he realizes.
"I love you," he says suddenly, almost fearful he won't hear the words or she won't, possibly.
"I love you, too," she returns, as she goes back to her chair. The warmth of her hand taking hold of his elicits a sigh.
James and Lily have moved out of their corner, smiling their reassurances that it will all be okay.
"I'll never be far," he says, making a promise that he doesn't know if he can keep, but it feels like truth.
"Oh, my darling," she whispers, "Oh, Sirius, I'll miss you."
"Never far," he says again, but this time his voice doesn't sound quite real to him, nor does hers for that matter.
"You're ready, Padfoot," says James. "You're already there actually." He is holding out a hand to Sirius, as is Lily.
With strength he hasn't felt in years, vibrant and full, he leans up. His sweet wife is crying into his hand, or rather, what was his hand, but there isn't anything he can do for her now. Once out of the bed he turns to look at himself in the mirror, surprised to find a reflection.
"I'm young again," he says with no small amount of wonder. "How?" He looks back at the body in the bed, but it is such a far cry from what he sees in the mirror. There is an old man in that bed, long white hair and wrinkled skin, practically skin and bones. At the end they had had to feed him magically because he refused to suck their foul concoction from a straw.
"Oh, poor Hermione," he laments sincerely. Her colors have gotten paler since he left the bed, as though there were a veil or a mist between him and her.
"She'll be fine, Padfoot," says James. "Come along won't you? The others have been waiting to see you again."
"You'll see her again," says Lily. "Sooner than you realize and it isn't so bad on this side of things."
Godric! He wants to hold her, touch her, make love to her one last time, but the pull to her isn't as strong as the pull to something else.
"Come on, Sirius," whispers Lily. "We'll keep you company until she joins us."
He nods then, and lets James and Lily carry him on.
The thing about death, Sirius finds, is that it is a lot like life. That is, if you could see everything clearly. Choices, motivations, paths taken and those avoided. It is all there, just a thought away from being answered. The big surprise was that they chose a lot of what happened, or chose the lessons they wanted to learn. The other surprise is that this will happen again.
Not in the sense that the exact events will play out the same, but life is cyclical and death is not the end. It is back stage where each soul is a playwright, making limited decisions for their character. They aren't quite ready yet for the next go, there are a few key players missing from their little troupe.
That was the final surprise. Learning that soul mates, two souls which belonged one to the other to play out the little drama that is life, is wholly false idea. The truth is that whole clusters of souls are bonded to each other, mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers, all of it. But even these blueprints are just that, the sketches of things to happen. The risk of course is in getting born again, and seeing how it all plays out.
Hermione really wasn't supposed to happen. In fact, he wasn't supposed to have survived past her fifth year. But an odd quirk of fate twisted everything around, and now, well now they wait on her.
True to his word, he's never been far. Their grandchildren have children now, and he has kept a watchful eye over her. He had hoped, and also not hoped, that she might find love again, but she never did. In the last week or so though, the pull to her has been too strong to resist.
She still lives in the house they bought together, the one they raised their children in, and has been languishing for days. Harry joined them within the last year, and since that time her hold on life hasn't been as strong.
As he waits in the same corner where James and Lily waited on him, he watches for any sign that might tell him when she is close. It is a bright morning, with the scent of jasmine blowing in on a cool spring breeze. He always did love her garden.
At first he thinks it is a trick of the light that makes her seem clearer, but then he realizes that he is actually seeing her soul move restlessly within her old and broken body. She looks young, though distorted beneath the mask she is wearing.
When her eyes open, they first adjust to the room, and then they see him. She smiles his smile for him.