"Sirius! It - it's the most amazing… I – I'm a father! Dora just had the baby, and he's, well he's beautiful, perfect really, and – and I'm really a father, Pads! You've got to see it! Hermione, too, if she can get away! Come as soon as you can!"
Hermione turned to Sirius as the silvery white, wolfish-looking Patronus vanished into a thin mist. She couldn't help but grin at the expression of excitement and happiness on Sirius' face as he stared at the spot where Remus Lupin's voice had broken the wonderful news.
She quietly summoned the clothes that had been tossed around the little room at the Three Broomsticks, before nudging him out of his reverie.
"Hey," she said softly, handing him his trousers and nodding toward the door. "Shall we?"
Sirius blinked. "We don't have to go right now, love," he said. "Can you even get away? Don't you - "
"Sirius," Hermione laughed, interrupting him. "Of course we're going right now! I'll send word to Professor McGonagall. As long as I'm back by nightfall, I'm sure it'll be fine." It was the first new life brought into their circle since Ginny was born, the first post-war baby, the son of their dear friends and fellow Order members. "Come on," she added, taking his hand and tugging.
They were both surprised and rather sheepish to find that they were the first and only visitors to see the new family. Remus quickly dispelled their concerns, however, informing them that no one else had yet been given the rather exuberant invitation that had come to Sirius and Hermione in Hogsmeade.
He tapped gently on the master bedroom door of the modest cottage. "Dora, love," Remus called softly. "We have guests," he said before peeking in and then pushing the door open.
"Hey," Tonks said quietly, giving her cousin and Hermione a weary but happy smile. She was propped up with multiple pillows in the large bed, and her hair was now a soft, subdued pink colour, like that of spun sugar. "You're just in time – Teddy just woke up." As if on cue the bundle in her arms gave a wiggle and a muffled whimper.
"Go on," Remus urged.
Sirius cautiously approached the bed, with Hermione lingering a few steps behind him, and Tonks' smile widened. She raised an eyebrow at them. "Don't tell me you're nervous around babies," she teased her cousin.
Sirius gave a snort. "Hardly. I was there for Harry, you know. Changed quite a number of nappies myself, actually."
"Good, then you can be the first to hold him. He's been very anxious to meet his famous Uncle Sirius," she said.
"You're my cousin," he corrected.
"Doesn't matter. Here." She held out the bundle of baby to Sirius, gently shoving Teddy into his arms before he could get another word in.
A corner of blanket fell away, revealing a full head of shocking blue hair on the newborn who was now eying Sirius curiously. Hermione watched with rapt attention as Sirius' entire demeanor changed, softening in a way she'd never seen as he smiled down at the baby in his arms.
"Hey there, little fella," he murmured softly to the squirmy bundle, hooking his finger into one of the tiny little outstretched hands, and chuckling quietly when Teddy gripped the digit tightly. He glanced up at Hermione for a moment, his eyes filled with warmth. Just as quickly, an unreadable expression flickered across his face and he looked away, focusing his attention back on Remus and Tonks' son. With perfect timing, the pink little face screwed up into an expression of pure unhappiness before his tiny mouth opened and let loose a long, startlingly loud wail.
"Nice job, Pads," Remus teased from the doorway as his friend tried to comfort his son.
"Never mind him, Sirius. Here – he's just hungry." Tonks held out her arms. "Why don't you and Remus go make yourselves useful in the kitchen or something? Give me some time to catch up with our girl here," she suggested, nodding to Hermione.
"Sorry," Sirius mumbled as he gingerly placed the crying baby back in her arms.
"Hush," she replied, and shoo'ed the two wizards out of the room before opening the front of her robe to feed Teddy.
When Hermione instinctively averted her eyes, Tonks clucked her tongue. "Nothin' to be shy of, y'know," she chided teasingly, laughing at the blush that crept over Hermione's cheeks.
"I know," she responded with an indignant look. "I just thought you'd want some privacy."
When Tonks just smiled and shrugged and shook her head, Hermione regarded her with curiosity. While she felt it was a very natural and almost poetic thing, she had been raised to consider breastfeeding as something rather private. "What's it like?" she asked after a moment.
"Hmm? Oh. Well, it's kind of weird, actually," the pink haired witch answered placidly. "I mean, it's weird in that it's not weird, even though until he was born I kind of thought it would be – at least a little strange feeling. But it's perfectly natural, really."
"Hm," Hermione said with a nod. She shifted a little on her feet, still feeling as if she were intruding.
"So," Tonks drawled with a mischievous tilt of her head. "You gave us all the slip right after St. Mungo's. No one heard a thing from either of you until you returned to Hogwarts, you know."
Hermione simply looked at a spot on the bedspread, not knowing what to say.
"There was a several-weeks-long gap in there, dear," she said meaningfully, her eyes dancing merrily. "So, are you going to tell me how things are going, or not? Between my cousin and yourself, I mean." Tonks gave Hermione a piercing look.
"Oh, it's fine." Hermione tried to answer in a casual voice, but she was unable to keep the smile from her voice or lips.
"Uh-huh," Tonks grinned. "You'll have to do better than that, love. I've got my tit hanging out here like some cow udder – the least you can do is dish a little to make up for the lack of sexiness happening here."
Hermione opened her mouth to protest that motherhood was one of the most beautiful things in nature, but Tonks cut her off. "Have a sit," she added, wiggling her feet under the covers.
Sighing, Hermione sat on the edge of the bed. She remembered what Sirius had said just that morning about not hiding their relationship. An irrational part of her feared that telling anyone even a little bit of it would somehow lessen its dearness. However, there was another part of her that had been bursting to tell someone, to share a little of just how wonderful it all was. As much as she appreciated Lavender and Parvati, Hermione guiltily had to admit that she didn't feel they were quite mature enough to grasp what she felt for Sirius.
Tonks, on the other hand – the age difference between her and Remus, and the personal and social adversities they'd had to overcome – and now she was a nursing mother…
"Honestly, it's all rather surreal," Hermione finally admitted with a smile. "To actually have those… those feelings returned, and it's more, it's so much more, and better than anything I could have imagined. I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall, or to just wake up and find none of it was real." It was only a tiny admission, but it was a step, right?
Tonks let out a dreamy sigh then raised her eyebrows. "Oh, it's real alright," she said. "You can ask anyone who visited you while you were out. He lived in that hospital room, practically, and Molly fairly well had to force-feed him that whole time. I saw it coming from a mile away, ages before that, though."
Hermione just hummed in response, remembering how Tonks teased Sirius about his jealousy over Viktor.
"Oh, I think we're done for now. Here, hold him a moment, will you?"
"Oh…" Hermione breathed as she suddenly found her arms filled with sweet-smelling infant. She couldn't help but snuggle Teddy close to her – he looked so pure and innocent, so utterly true.
Tracing a finger lightly over his little brow, she found herself in awe of his newness. One day he would be a little boy, fretting over his lost toy dragon, or showing off his bug collection. Then he'd be a teenager, a student at Hogwarts. She wondered briefly what house he'd be sorted into - she was learning only now, after war had brought all four houses together, that no one house was superior or inferior to the others. Hermione smiled at the tiny little nose and mouth and continued her reverie. Of course, eventually he'd become a man, falling in love, making mistakes, creasing his forehead with worries and his eyes with laugh lines…
But right now – right now he was fresh from wherever it is souls come from, as close to 'God' or lightness as a human can be. Did he remember? What was he thinking in that little head of his? She felt her heart swell with wonder and a deep sense of reverence, as well as a sudden hope that one day it would be her own child - hers and Sirius' - in her arms, wrapping tiny fingers around her pinky and letting out a contented yawn.
She felt those grey eyes on her before she even looked up to see him standing in the doorway. The beatific smile on her face slipped at his expression, however. His brow was furrowed into something between a frown and a grimace, and though his storm cloud eyes were looking at her, they were unfocused, as if seeing something from a long distance.
"Sirius? Is everything alright?" she asked, concerned.
He blinked a few times as if startled. "Hermione…" he said raggedly, then shook his head as if unable to say anything more.
Her gut twisting in worry and dread, Hermione quickly handed Teddy back to his mother before rising from the bed and following Sirius as he backed out into the hallway. "What is it? Has something happened?"
Sirius simply shook his head again and led her out the kitchen door into a small garden behind the house, where he proceeded to pace in front of her, running his hand through his hair
Hermione felt her stomach drop. Hadn't she just said she was waiting for the other shoe to fall? Was this it? She frantically searched her mind for anything she might have been doing that would prompt Sirius' sudden turn of mood. She had only been holding Teddy… Oh… she thought suddenly. He doesn't want that. He doesn't want children, or a family, or… or…
Her worries were interrupted as Sirius dropped to his knees before her. The look on his face was… 'Lost' was the only word she could think of as his gaze searched hers beseechingly. When she saw that his silver eyes were bright with unshed tears, she stroked her fingers along his temple and cheek tenderly.
"Sirius?" she asked gently. She still wasn't at all certain what was wrong, but clearly he needed her there, and all that mattered was making things right.
He shook his head again in response, opening and closing his mouth several times. Finally he grabbed her hands in his, bringing them to his face and planting kisses over her fingers and palms. "Hermione - " he rasped, but was still evidently unable to say anything more.
Finally, as if giving up, his shoulders slumped and his forehead rested against her stomach. He released her hands, allowing her to lovingly run them through his hair. He took a shuddering breath and, not looking up yet, raised his hand. There was something in it, and for a split moment Hermione's mind wouldn't process just what she was seeing. Then, with a pathetic snuffle, Sirius sat back on his heels and looked up at her again, his expression pleading as he held the small black velvet box open to her, revealing something that sparkled brightly in the mid-afternoon sunshine, blurred by the sudden tears that were threatening her own vision.
"Hermione…" he croaked again, and shook his head.
"Oh, Sirius," she breathed, dropping to her knees to face him, her hand on his. "Is this - ?"
He nodded his head sheepishly in response, swallowing hard.
She reached up and cupped his face in her hands, staring into his eyes, almost blue in the afternoon light against the smoke-coloured scarf hanging loosely around his neck. In those ocean-silver depths she suddenly saw it – their lives together, their children and grandchildren, their sorrows and joys. It struck her so deeply it made her gasp.
"I'm not ready for this," she found herself whispering, despite her own emotions. "It's not a 'no'," she immediately amended, floundering with her own thoughts and feelings.
"I know," he answered quickly, taking one of her hands in his and bringing it to his lips. "I know, love," he reassured with an awkward grin, then sighed as if a weight had been lifted from his chest. "But I am. And I always will be, whether it's next week or five years from now. All you have to do is say 'yes' when you're ready. I just – I needed you to know."
Hermione searched his eyes and found only love – a steady, fierce love that filled her with awe. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "I love you," she mumbled into the collar of his leather jacket, smiling as he wrapped his arms around her.
Until her last breath, she would never know just what it was that made the word finally slip past her lips, or why it took nearly a year for it to do so. Perhaps it just took her that long to recover from the war, to reach a point of normalcy she could trust. Maybe it was the fact that Sirius flew with her all the way to Australia to retrieve her parents, that he was the one who held her as she grieved over their anger and disappointment in her. Or, that he was there when they finally forgave her. It could have been the fact that, unable to find a painless and death-free way to release the remaining Black Estate house-elves, he'd sent them to work for various homeless shelters and charities throughout the Wizarding community. She would never know for certain.
Hermione would always remember when she finally said, "yes," however.
It was early April, still cool enough to need a fire in the fireplace of the moderately-sized house they'd both fallen in love with. She was curled up in a corner of the sofa, and he was stretched out on the floor in front of the hearth. He'd gotten up moments earlier for a glass of water, and had come back with a mug of tea for her, fixed just the way she liked it. As she sipped at the sweet warmth, her eyes wandered over his long, toned body, starting at his bare feet, traveling over his faded jeans, across his broad shoulders and chest hidden beneath a dark blue cable knit sweater.
She had to bite back a sigh at the sight of him in his latest acquisition - reading glasses. He'd fought them tooth and nail for months, refusing to submit to the trappings of "old age," until he finally couldn't tolerate the headaches from trying to read without them. And Merlin, the man read a lot. She'd had no idea, until they were finally living together. It was a good thing, too, because it afforded her her new secret fixation about the dark haired wizard. He looked absolutely delicious in them.
He was going to be forty soon. She wondered what he'd be like at fifty, sixty, eighty… And, just as she did that day in Remus and Tonks' garden, she knew she would be there for every one of those milestones. The only difference was that she was ready for that journey to begin now.
"Yes," Hermione said softly, though in the quiet night her voice cut through clearly.
Sirius didn't respond right away, and she wondered if he'd heard her. Just as she was about to nervously open her mouth again, he glanced up at her while removing his glasses and setting them down on the book he'd marked and closed. He pulled himself upright and tilted his head at her questioningly.
Hermione knew that he knew what she was saying. Her heart hammered in her chest as she nodded.
"Yes," she whispered again, unfolding herself from the couch to face him directly.
He moved to kneel between her legs, and dug in his jeans pocket, pulling out that small, black velvet box.
"You've carried that around with you - ?" she asked, amazed.
Instead of answering her, Sirius calmly opened the box and removed the sparkling, elegantly simple ring from its cushion.
"Hermione Jean Granger," he began, but was cut off as she pressed her fingers to his lips. He'd already asked her. It was her turn.
"Sirius Orion Black," Hermione whispered. "Will you marry me?"