Title: Burning Bright

Author: Caitlinlaurie

Rating: M, for Language and Smut

Fandom: Harry Potter

Pairing: Hermione/Sirius

Summary: If ever one kiss changed everything, such is true for Hermione and Sirius. From his return, to their love, lives together, and beyond.

Warnings/Notes: I wanted to write a story about what happens if Hermione and Sirius don't get support when their relationship comes out, for lack of a better term. Atruwriter's wonderful oneshot "Accept and Adjust" was the inspiration for this. It was meant to be an expanded oneshot, but somehow morphed into a beast at well over 24,000 words. I wanted to write the reactions, and yet the before and after became more prominent. Anyway, hope you all enjoy.

Disclaimer: All characters and their canon histories are the property of J.K. Rowling.

A/N: This is Fluff, Angst, and Smut…the trifecta! Also, this is canon through DH, but is EWE.

A/N 2: For all of you who have been concerned, now that this is posted I will be returning to The Gift of the Knowing. I have had several oneshots running though my head these past two months, not all of which have been posted yet, and it has delayed that story. Don't worry, I am heading back to it straightaway!


My lids closed down, yet through their veil
I saw him, blazing, still,
And steep in gold the misty dale,
And flash upon the hill.

I turned me to the pillow, then,
To call back night, and see
Your words of solemn light, again,
Throb with my heart, and me!

-- from "Stars" by Emily Bronte


Part One – Beginnings and Returns

When once solicited by her daughter for advice about the marital bed, Queen Victoria was famously rumored to have pronounced, "Close your eyes, and think of England."

I once found that very sensible, if odd, advice. I was never one to be carried away by great passion, though I wished for it. The one boy whose hands I allowed to wander was quickly stopped when I felt nothing at his touch. Yet when I am with Sirius, as he slowly peels down my knickers, I can't help but wonder if Victoria was a bit touched in the head.

Surely the heat, the passion, the feeling of rapture that takes over me with him…surely it is divinity itself. There is nothing staid or dull in our coupling. Our passion is too great to be contained by mere rooms and hushed sighs. It is as vast as the ocean and just as deep. It is wide, uncharted spaces filled with endless fields and streams. It is birth and death all at once, and not at all. It is nothing, and everything as well.

But the simple fact of the matter is, I could not have begun to understand it before him. I was all statistics and knowledge, perfectly content to have my life play out in the pages of my favorite books. Of course, I often had adventures with Ron and Harry, but I had no desire for romantic adventures. (Two or three snogs with Viktor Krum hardly counted to my mind.) For who could truly compare to the heroines and heroes that filled my novels? What mere man or wizard could even come close to glimpsing their perfection? These women and men were so gloriously free; they lived and loved as if it was the most natural thing in the world to have a fairytale romance. And, if I am honest with myself, I yearned for that, yet believed it impossible at the same time.

Looking back now, I partly think that the reason I never found my way to Ron in our earlier years is because I knew that he could not compare to the type of dark and heroic man I craved. He was always so young, so unsure of who he was and what he wanted. He seemed so uncomfortable in his own skin; it often led him to be cruel to me in response. My mum once told me, in a no-nonsense voice, that boys were mean to the girls they liked. Perhaps that was why, and how, I rationalized his behavior. I prevaricated back and forth about whether I wanted him to like me, and, whether or not he did, I certainly used it to explain his behavior.

Which wasn't fair to either of us, really.

I never called him on his unkind comments because I didn't want to hurt him. In the end, though, I suppose I prevented him from growing by doing that. But that was all right for him. He had years to figure it all out, and a lifetime to decide what he wanted. But I couldn't wait for him, nor did I want to. I had decided the course and trajectory of my life long ago, and I always felt ancient when standing next to Ron.

I was driven, everybody knew that. I had plans, goals, things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. He simply didn't, or couldn't, share that type of passion with me. I think his goals were simpler, perhaps more noble; he wanted happiness and a family. It twisted my heart so much that I couldn't bring myself to wish to share that simple existence with him. Because, somehow I knew, that existence did not come with eternal love and passion.

When we kissed the night of the final battle, I think I saw it as giving into the inevitable. I knew that everyone expected us to get together, to become one where there were once two. As much as I wished to make Ron happy, to not disappoint our friends and family, I think part of my soul was crushed when he stood there so valiantly defending elf rights. I knew then that there was no excuse left. I could no longer hide behind my books and stories of heroes that I was never going to meet. Ron was standing before me, caring about what I cared about, and how could I refuse him? When our lips smacked together, my stomach dropped and I knew that there would never be more than friendly love on my part. I felt deep shame then. Much like the guilty tears I had cried when he left us in the forest, I felt relief when he pulled away, like the relief I felt when he abandoned us.

In those short hours following the final battle, before everything changed again, panic was building up inside me. Ron was so tenderly holding my hand, and I felt so unworthy of that which he was trying to offer me. His happy smiles and playful looks were like knives to my sides. How could this simple, sweet boy find happiness in someone as unworthy as me? Didn't he know that his romantic touch made me nauseated? Didn't he know I wanted nothing more than to run away screaming? Didn't he know that the love of his life was meant to give him butterflies? To make hot feel cold, to rob the senses, to ensnare the mind; to make no sense except to him?

It terrifies me now, thinking back, on what would have happened had we continued on our present course. Perhaps I would have married him eventually, and maybe we would have had one or two children. A boy and a girl, I suppose. Dinners would have been had at the Burrow, with drinks on the weekend when we met Ginny and Harry for Couples Night. I would have supported him in his quest to become an Auror, perhaps taking a role in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement myself. It would have all been a lovely and simple existence, I am sure. All those dreams and adventures I had longed for would have faded into distant memories, put aside the way I once packed away my dolls. I would have fought to tamp down my resentment, and he would have tried to rid himself of his anger. I would have been absorbed into the family of redheads, becoming one of the many cogs that made the Weasley clock work. Ron and I would have found happiness maybe, but we would both always have known that there was something missing.

But that wasn't what happened.

Mere hours after the final battle was over, Kingsley came rushing into the Commonroom of Gryffindor Tower, where Ron and I were awkwardly sitting together. His face was wild, not uncommon considering all the death we had all seen earlier that night, but it was the happiness etched upon his features that threw us for a loop. For yes, we all were happy, but this was more of an awed and shocked happiness.

"Kingsley? What is it?" I asked, jumping up with my wand in hand. Nerves bubbled up in me, and I was uncommonly afraid.

He was grinning and laughing. "Is Harry here? Where is he?"

"He's sleeping, mate," Ron cut in. "Has been for the last several hours. Completely knackered after the battle, of course."

"Well, wake him up," Kingsley commanded.

"What?" I cried, suddenly feeling quite protective. "He is utterly exhausted. Whatever it is, can't it wait 'til morning?"

"Hermione," Kingsley said, his deep bass voice sending shivers down my spine. "This can wait 'til morning, but believe me when I say that Harry will be extremely upset if he finds out we didn't wake him immediately."

"For the love of Merlin, what is going on?" Ron asked.

"Sirius," Kinsley said, the one name having so much meaning. "He was found, one hour ago, unconscious in front of the veil. He's alive, mates. He is alive, and he is asking for his godson."


Part Two – Of Boy Meets Girl

And just like that…my life changed again. I can't really remember what followed. I know the three of us, plus Kingsley, rushed to see him at St. Mungo's. I know that our jubilation in winning the final battle spilled over into our happiness at Sirius's return…but I also know that despite all that, those were not happy days. Sirius might have returned from the grave, but his brother and fellow Marauder did not. Remus's death, coupled with Tonks', left Sirius quite introspective and a far cry from the jubilant man we had been expecting.

When a person returns from death, the expected emotion is joy and relief, but I don't think Sirius ever felt that way. I think he saw his return as the signal that his youth was over. Part of him, I know, never got over being that brash twenty-one-year-old, who lost his best friend in the war, but when he returned from the embrace of death—that boy was gone. There were no battles left to fight, no windmills left to tilt at.

He was the last of the Marauders; the one who now remained.

Sirius was completely stoic when he attended his best friend's funeral, not letting any emotion show on that aristocratic face of his. I was holding Teddy in my arms—for Andromeda was too busy crying—but I found my eyes drifting to Sirius every so often. He was sitting to my right, with Harry on the other side of him. His godson was openly weeping, but Sirius retained a tight control. It wasn't until he gripped my hand in desperation that I realized the true depth of his sadness, the true sorrow he felt.

Remus, like his wife and many others, was laid to rest by the Black Lake and Dumbledore's tomb. It had become a memorial of sorts to all the fallen heroes. After handing Teddy off to his grandmother, I scanned the departing crowd for Sirius's form. It never occurred to me to ask myself why I was looking for him, it simply was. When I saw him standing dejectedly by the shore of the lake, I made my way down to stand by his side.

"Are you ready to return to Grimmauld?"

"I shan't ever be ready to return to that place, but I will return if I must," was his oblique reply.

Standing next to him, I looked out at the sight that had captured his attention. The sun was high, peaking from behind clouds and sending a chaotic wave of color across the sky. The orange, pink, purple, and blue hues were breathtaking, but I couldn't bring myself to appreciate them on such a day. Still, I stood by Sirius and watched as the colors were reflected in the water.

"Did you know that this lake was named for a member of my family?" Came his voice eventually.

"Really?" I queried, not remembering that bit of trivia from Hogwarts, A History.

"Yes," he said. "One of my ancestors, many hundreds of years ago, was named Orion Black. The story goes that he loved a Muggle-born witch by the name of Jeanette—she was of Norman descent, I think. When my family found out that he planned to make her his wife, she was turned over to the local rabble and accused of witchcraft. She was incapacitated during the burning and unable to cast the flame-freezing charm. She died a horrible death. When Orion found out, he came here, to where they had fallen in love, and then chucked himself into the lake." He laughed bitterly. "Merely one example of what happens to Blacks that go against the family."

Part of me felt so sorry for him. There was a bleakness in his posture which I could only understand, never share. He hated who he was by virtue of the very name he carried. He was a credit to his family, perhaps the only good thing to come from it, but it was a burden to him.

Clearing my throat, I said, "But that's not true anymore, is it?"

Turning to look at me, his eyes weary, he replied, "What do you mean?"

"Well, you are the last of the Blacks who carry the name. Now, the definition of what the family means and stands for falls to you. Yes, you must carry on the name, but Sirius, you can decide how the next generation of Blacks are seen and defined."

"I don't know how," he hoarsely admitted, looking so very lost and alone. I wondered what the burden of his existence was like sometimes.

"Here's a start," I said. "Bring Andromeda back into the family and recognize Teddy. Then take up your hereditary seat in the Wizengamot and vote for everything that would help Muggle-borns and half-bloods. Help end the prejudice that plagues our society. Then have a big family of Blacks, and never teach them a word about prejudice. Make sure each and every one of them is loved and cherished every minute, and then Sirius, you will have your revenge against your family. By doing so, you will become greater and better than they could ever have dreamt of. After doing this, after making your name a force for the good and the light, your family shall have no power over you anymore."

Sirius turned to face me, an indecipherable expression on his face. "How old are you?" he asked, and I thought I could hear awe in his voice.

"Eighteen," I replied. "Nineteen in a couple of months."

"Then how, Miss Granger, do you know so much?" His voice was teasing, but there was an underlying quality of true confusion.

"Just unlucky, I guess," I said. And it was true. I had grown up too fast, but there was nothing to be done for it now. It was too late, and I was forever defined by my actions and choices. "You know," I said, my voice rasping a bit, "that I went to Australia recently."

"To retrieve your parents? Aye, I heard." He smiled at me then, his face creasing and softening. I felt as though my whole world was expanding with the power of his smile. "They like Oz though, yeah? That's why they're not coming back?"

I laughed bitterly. "No, they are coming back. Just not to me. My parents kindly informed me that my role as their daughter was no longer required. What was it they said? Ah, yes, 'Hermione, we have put up with a lot from you over the years. We could never begin to understand nor approve of the world that you chose to risk your life for, but when you sent us away you proved, once and for all, that you have chosen. We cannot accept or approve of that decision. But do have a nice life, dear.'"

He faced me then, his eyes dark. I was conscious of the fact that he knew exactly what that was like. To be cast from your family—just for being who you were. "I thought they supported you being a witch?"

"In their own way, I suppose they did," I replied. "But it was sort of like having a homosexual child. In the beginning, they were so eager to prove that they were okay with everything. They overcompensated, and I thought they were fine with it. It is only as I got older that I realized just how much they were not all right with it. I think my sending them to Australia was just the justification they needed to be rid of me for good."

"People fear what they cannot understand," Sirius said.

"Yes," I replied, tears filling my eyes as I felt myself losing control, "but they were my parents! They were supposed to love me! And magic is passed down by genes and blood. They made me what I am, just by having me! Why do they blame me for it?"

Moving silently, Sirius took me into his arms and pressed me against his velvet-covered chest. "I don't know what genes are, and I couldn't begin to understand why parents sometimes don't love the way they should, but I do know what it feels like." His voice rumbled against my cheek, as he allowed me to cry away the pain. "Have you told Ron and Harry?"

I shook my head no.

"Why not?"

"Because they would pity me," I whispered. "It is better if they think and believe a lie. Harry doesn't need one more thing to feel guilty for, especially when it is not his fault."

Sirius pulled back a bit. And, with me still snug in his arms, he used the pads of his thumbs to wipe away my tears. "You are much stronger than I could ever be."

"But I'm not," I whispered back. "I don't even have the courage to tell Ron that he will never be more than a brother to me. I am nothing but a coward."

"You're wrong," he said decisively. There was no room in his statement for argument. "You are one of the bravest people I have ever met and Harry is—we all are— lucky to have you. I can't begin to tell you what it means to me that you never abandoned him, that you stuck by his side throughout his search. You are one of the best witches I have ever met, and that has nothing to do with what you can do with magic. There is an innate goodness in you, Hermione. You are stronger than you think."

To this day, I don't know what made me do it. Perhaps it was the way that his slate-colored eyes were looking at me with such desperation and assurance. Perhaps it was the fact that I was standing in the arms of the man that I had once fantasized about so fervently. Perhaps it was the fact that he was everything that those heroes in my books were—kind, handsome, strong. Or perhaps it was simply a moment of sheer abandon where I ceased to think, but whatever it was…it led to a kiss.

Standing on my tiptoes, I gently pressed my mouth to his. I could feel his surprise as he started to pull back, but then I raised my hands to his face and he stilled. My lips had barely moved, rather I was trying to figure out just how to carry on without scaring him, when he took control of the kiss. What had been an innocent expression of trust and care became a raw onslaught of passion and desire. Unheeding of anything else, he rubbed his lips back and forth across mine, parting them and touching his tongue to my own. His hands cupped my face, and when I moaned my desire into the kiss, he pulled me tighter to him. He was thirty-seven and I was eighteen, and there were so many reasons why it was wrong, but I couldn't bring myself to care about any of them. I had never felt it before, this passion and need. His hands steadied me, but his mouth…well, it sent me to new heights of desire. He was demanding, and I pliant. He was strength, and I softness. His mouth commanded me and I had no choice but to obey.

My toes curled under, and I felt my knees begin to buckle, but Sirius just wrapped an arm around my waist, steadying me. Our tongues mated in a heady dance, and the soft velvet of his mouth beckoned me closer. I pressed myself up against him, wishing in vain that there were no robes separating us. I had never been naked with a man before, but in that moment I would have stripped to my knickers at the edge of the Black Lake if I could have. I just knew that I needed him, with a passion that I could neither understand nor tame. His lips plundered mine, and I could only kiss him back with equal intensity. I could feel the proof of his desire pressed against me, but it didn't scare me as it should have. Though I was a blushing virgin, there was just something so right about feeling that from him. Between us there could be no secrets, he knew my desire and I knew his.

When he finally pulled back, he whispered against my raw lips, "We shouldn't have done that."

I felt my heart sink at that moment, so convinced that he was going to turn me away. How could he be unaffected by what just happened? I had been born and died all in that one moment, and I wished he—no, I needed him—to feel the same way.

"…but I am glad we did," he whispered, finishing his thought. I looked up into his eyes, which were nearly black with passion. Cupping the side of his face, I gently kissed him again and then pulled back.

"That will never feel anything but right," I whispered back.

He grinned back at me and claimed my mouth again.


Part Three – Of Secrets and Love

That moment by the lake began the most intense three months of my life. It wasn't an affair, but it was secret. Not more than one hour after kissing Sirius for the first time, I pulled Ron aside at Grimmauld and told him we could never be more than friends. He took it badly, storming out of the house, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Harry was deeply confused, having thought that Ron and I were meant to be or something, but he was tentatively supportive, and I was grateful for it. But any doubts I might have had about hurting my friendship with Ron were immediately dispelled when I saw the look of relief on Sirius's face.

I suppose the cliché would be to say that Sirius and I jumped right into bed and never looked back, but it wasn't like that at all. I think we were both so afraid of our own hearts that we took it slow, despite what our bodies were clamoring for. I helped him integrate himself back into society, and this was our tentative start at dating. I took him to fix matters at Gringotts— Harry was only too happy to return the ownership of all the Black properties and the Black fortune to his godfather— and he took me to lunch afterwards. Shopping in the Alley turned into shopping in the Muggle world, followed by trips to the cinema and the theatre.

He listened to me as I explained what it was like to be a Muggle-born, and the reasons I felt so intensely about Creature rights, and I listened to him talk about growing up as a Black and the sort of mental torture his parents put him through. I told him about the hunt for Horcruxes, about what Bellatrix did to me, and he told me about what it was like behind the veil and the desperation and numbness that he felt. No topic was taboo, but words could never truly explain all that we needed to say to each other. I felt for the first time as if I had met my intellectual equal, and I reveled in the feeling of being able to talk about things and not have them scoffed at.

One afternoon, we went to the country to inspect one of the Black estates and then went for a long walk afterwards, cognizant of nothing but each other. After an hour or so, we stumbled upon a meadow where we stopped and sat in the moist grass. Sirius immediately plopped backwards onto his back, propping his left arm behind his head like a pillow.

"Tell me something about yourself that no one else knows," he murmured, pulling me down beside him and finding my hand on the damp ground as he intertwined it with his own.

"Hmmm," I murmured, thinking about it. "My boggart isn't Professor McGonagall telling me I failed everything like Ron and Harry think. It is my parents telling me I don't belong in the Muggle world, and then Dumbledore telling me I don't belong in the magical one." Caught forever between two worlds, I thought.


I nodded. "Now your turn. Tell me something that no one else knows."

He smiled at me sadly. "You know that I remember everything about being trapped behind the veil and how lonely it was? How I wanted to free myself, but couldn't?"

I nodded again.

"Well, when Harry used the Resurrection Stone we all had a choice. We didn't have to stay shades. We could come back, if that was what we wanted."

My mouth dropped open. "But that is not how the Resurrection Stone worked for other people who used it in the past!"

"Ah, but Harry was master of all three Hallows at the time." I was still flabbergasted, but I waited for him to continue. He did not disappoint. "James and Lily chose not to, their lives had ended long ago. Remus chose not to because he didn't want to return if Tonks couldn't as well. But I chose to come back, because there was something I needed to do. I don't know what it was, and I can't remember why I felt that way, but I know that something inside me was begging for me to return."

"Oh, right," I murmured, desperately curious. "What do you think it is?"

"No, no," Sirius said with a laugh, his smile returning. "My turn. You had your question, let's be fair."

"Okay, shoot," I said.


"Sorry, Muggle term," I replied with a laugh. "It means go ahead."

"Right, well then," Sirius paused, as if he was thinking deeply about what he wanted to know. When he finally asked me, it wasn't at all what I thought it would be. "What happened to Crookshanks?"

I laughed suddenly, slightly relieved, slightly sad he had asked. "He went away. I think to die, but I am not sure. I left him at the Burrow when I went off with the boys to hunt for Horcruxes, but he ran away shortly thereafter."

Sirius looked saddened at the news, and I remembered how much he had cared for my familiar, despite him being more of a dog person.

My turn. "What do you think it is that you had to return for?"

Sirius waited before replying , growing introspective. "I don't rightly know, but it was something. When I was behind the veil—this will sound funny—but I swore that I could hear someone crying at times. I had the urge to comfort, to help that person but I could not." His voice then grew regretful, "I think it was Harry. That, coupled with my guilt for leaving him, led me to return. I have to say, I loved being with James and Lily, but I had to return." My confusion must have shown on my face for he continued unprompted. "When I was in the veil, I was there, yes, but there was always something else there at all. My physical body and mind were trapped in the ether, but my consciousness was not. I could see and speak to James and Lily, despite not having any form."

"I see," I murmured, trying not to let my pity for him show.

It was his turn now, and from the look on his face I knew he wasn't going to pull any punches. I was right. "If your parents had offered to take you back, but you had to give up magic, would you do it?"

"No," I whispered, looking down at my hands. "Magic is who I am. I can't even begin to describe what it felt like to receive my letter, and to have Flitwick explain it all when he came to see us. It was like…" I struggled for the words, "…like an arm had been missing all my life, but I couldn't explain why it was aching until someone pointed it out to me."

My thoughts grew distant then, as I remembered the past. "I never got along with the children in my nursery and primary schools. Perhaps children are simply more sensitive to these things, but they all seemed to know I was different, despite my accidental magic being confined to my home, generally. I had been so frightened about going off to Sharpe Academy, a secondary school for ladies, but then Flitwick came and changed everything. I found myself, and for the first time I felt special and yet normal. And despite the War, despite the prejudice, despite the hard road I know I will always climb in Wizarding society…coming to Hogwarts, being part of this world, it was the best decision of my life."

"I think so too," Sirius whispered, his voice like honey.

My turn again. "What was your father like?" I tried to keep my voice light, but I was desperate to know.

There was another long pause. "He was…he was…complicated, I suppose. That is probably the best way to describe him. He was hard with me, always telling me what I could and could not do. He wanted a proper Pureblood son, but at other times he looked at me with something akin to love." His voice was wistful, almost like if he didn't touch the memories too closely, he could keep them less hurtful in his mind. "My mother used to use the Flagrante Curse when she wanted to make a point, or when I sassed her, but I remember my father sending Kreacher up with bandages and essence of murlap to fix me. He used to get so angry at the advancing of Muggle-borns into our society, but he would always use proper manners with any woman he encountered, be they Muggle, Muggle-born, or Pureblood." There was awe along with the sadness in his voice. "He thought all of Wizarding Society should be separate from Muggle society, but he used to go hunting and deer stalking in the Highlands of Scotland every summer, near Sutherland. I know he encountered Muggles during this time, but he still went. He disdained inter-blood marriage, yet when my mother tried to force me into an arranged marriage with a Pureblood, my father took my part. That was when I ran away, but, I swear, it was almost like my father was sorry to see me go. My mother might have blasted me off the family tree, but my dad never disowned me when he could have, and he prevented my grandfather Arcturus from doing the same. I have thought about that for a long time, not knowing what it meant. I like to think it means that deep down, some part of him must have loved me."

"He did," I said with conviction. "He must have. He was only cowed by your mother, I am sure of it."

Sirius nodded, but it didn't seem as though he believed me. He did look thoughtful though, so maybe some of what I said sunk through. After a long while, he laced his fingers through mine again and asked, "Why did you kiss me that day by the lake?"

"Why does anyone ever kiss anyone else?" I pondered aloud. I was about to give some flippant answer, but the look in his eyes stopped me. Only brutal honesty would do. Meeting his eyes, I confessed, "I kissed you because I wanted to. Because I needed to. Because I felt as though the whole world had fallen away and only you and I remained, and the only thing I could ever desire again was to kiss you. I kissed you because I have wanted to kiss you since I was fifteen, and that has never changed. I kissed you because when Kingsley came into the Commonroom and told us you were still alive, my first feeling was the most divine sense of relief."

Sitting up, I dropped my hands into my lap, the left one still holding onto Sirius's. I couldn't stop talking; it was like the intensity of my feelings had to be released after years of repression. "My feelings for you have never been simple, and if we continue on like this they shall only grow more complicated, but I think that we could be something special. I have always thought so. You are everything that I desire in a man, and I feel myself lose control when I am around you, something so rare for me. I know it is not simple, and our relationship to each other and others will only exacerbate the situation, but I am willing to take the risk…if you are."

He sat up then, pulling loose his hands so that he might cup my cheeks. His breath was hot on my face as he leaned in and kissed the corner of my mouth gently, reverently. As he pulled his lips away, he whispered, "I like complicated."

That was the end of doubt for me. I knew then that there was nothing I would ever do but love this man. I was born for this, for him, and I could do nothing to stop it. Nor did I want to.

Our conversations were so easy, so right. Nothing ever felt forced, never strained. His hand fit so rightly within mine, and I knew a peace with him that I had never been able to find before. So many people had died, and I knew he shared in the survivor's guilt I felt, but it never truly put a damper on our burgeoning relationship.

We kept our activities our own little secret, though some people saw it anyway. I'll never forget the day I saw Luna and she told me that I looked wonderful without all the Wackspurts circling around my head, and that Stubby must be good for me. And once, when the entire Order was meeting for a celebration at Grimmauld, I caught Professor McGonagall giving Sirius and I a calculating glance. In the end, no one who guessed said anything to the others, and I was grateful for it. I had no desire to have our relationship dissected before it had even reached a certain level.

That level was reached about two months after we started seeing each other. Harry, our only other roommate at Grimmauld Place, was away with Ron for a two week trip of manly bonding. They had a lot to deal with I know, lots of resentment was still there on Harry's part and I knew Ron wanted to alleviate his guilty conscience for having abandoned Harry on the hunt for Horcruxes. So Sirius and I were left to our own devices and this led to a candlelight dinner in the kitchen, with the fire roaring in the stone hearth. Kreacher had made us dinner, then departed. Though he and Sirius were learning to tolerate each other, his first allegiance was to Harry and Sirius respected that. After his return from the veil, Sirius freed Kreacher and Harry took over being his master, something that overjoyed Kreacher to no end, but he seemed to tolerate serving both Sirius and I because Harry wished it.

"What's on your mind?"

Turning away from the dancing flames in the fireplace, I smiled at Sirius's face. There was such an openness to him. He always said so much with his eyes, his emotions constantly brimming close to the surface; it was one of the most endearing things about him. After years of guesswork with Viktor and Ron, I always knew where I stood with Sirius.

And looking at him now, I saw devotion in his eyes, so honestly I whispered, "You. You are on my mind."

His eyes changed then, the inky blackness of his pupils swallowing his slate grey irises. A rough hand reached over and took my own, turning it so that our palms might touch. The feel of his hot skin against mine sent shivers down my spine as he traced the path of my fingers with the tips of his own. Gently, he followed my fingers from end to end, our silky skin melding together. He watched me all the while, checking for my reaction I am sure, but it was a heady feeling. It seemed like all the air had been taken from the room, and all that was left was warmth and breath and him.

Catching my wrist in his hand, Sirius yanked me forward without words. Settling me on his lap, he quickly aligned our hips before capturing my mouth with his own. His lips were brutal and hot, commanding me and stripping me of any resistance…but I had none to give. I wanted this. I wanted it much in the same way I had always wanted to be the best, to know things and to bask in the feeling of knowledge. We had been dancing around this for months, and now I was ready to know what all the fuss was about. I wanted to know what the next step of passion was. I wanted to know why my body always felt on fire when he touched my bare skin, and why I seemed to mourn his absence when he took his hands away.

I slid my fingers into his ink-black locks, savoring the tactile feeling of his silky hair. My senses were rioting, struggling for dominance with each other. My lips were touching his own, moving back and forth with eager desperation, while my tongue was tasting and savoring the flavor of Firewhiskey and Chicken Piccata. The pants of our breathing were like music to my ears, and I was drinking it all in, memorizing his groans and reveling in my own. My nose was taking in the smell of vanilla and smoke, whirling all around us. I knew that only this man could bring me to such heights, only this man could reduce me to a purely elemental being.

Sirius suddenly stood, securing my legs around the back of him and apparated us to his bedroom. When we arrived in the darkened room, he cupped my face. "I hope you know that once this happens, I am never letting you go, love." The look on his face took my breath away. It was commanding, yet needy all at the same time. "Make your choice," he whispered.

I tightened my legs around his waist, pressing forward with a grinding motion. Sirius closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, along which I began planting kisses. Touching my lips to one rough cheek, I whispered, "I made my decision long ago. Make me yours, Sirius."

That was all the invitation he seemed to need. He set me down on the bed, pulling back. He took off his robe revealing the Muggle clothes he wore beneath it. His shirt came up over his head in one fluid motion, revealing smooth skin what was nearly golden, despite his pallor. The twin slabs of his chest were revealed, showing the hard definition of his muscles. Chest hair lightly dotted his skin, trailing down into his trousers. I felt myself grow hot at the sight of him. When on the run with Harry and Ron, I had many glimpses of their bodies, but they couldn't begin to compare to Sirius. They were boys; he was a man. His shoulders were broad and defined; his hips narrow and tapered. He had fully settled into his body, into what he would look like, and it was delicious to see. I suppose Sirius must have had scars from Azkaban, but if my eyes saw them, my heart did not. I was enraptured by the man standing before me. Want and need were deliciously swirling around in my stomach, spreading through my veins and muscles at a languorous pace.

Tentatively, I began to unbutton the tops of my robe. Each button released from its catch with ease and precision. Unlike Sirius, I wore nothing but my undergarments under mine, and I was nervous to let him see me that way. Sliding the heavy material down my arms, I revealed the lacy red bra I was wearing underneath. I felt anxious, as if I should cover myself, but then I looked up into Sirius's eyes and all those feelings melted away. His gaze was hungry, predatory, but I wasn't scared. This was Sirius, and I knew he would never hurt me. No, my pulse sped up when I saw that needy look in his eyes. He wanted me, needed me, just as much as I did him.

The slowness that had been between us up until then evaporated at that moment. Sirius suddenly pushed me back on the bed and followed me down, crawling up my body stealthily and settling in the hollow of my legs. His mouth mated with mine as his hands deftly pulled up the skirt of my robes, bringing it up over my knees and thighs until I could feel the denim of his trousers against the thin fabric of my knickers.

"Merlin, you taste so sweet. Like strawberries and Honeydukes fudge all at once." He groaned the words into my neck, kissing and licking his way along my collarbone.

I tossed my head when his fingers began to tease my inner thighs. "Sirius, please," I moaned.

"Please what?" he asked, laughing huskily. "Please touch me, please taste me, please fuck me?"

"Yes, please all of that. Please everything and all of it at once!" My voice was desperate, and my fingers were digging into his shoulder blades, but from the way he moaned with satisfaction, I don't think he minded. He made quick work of my robes, finishing the task of pulling them off and uncovering so much more of my skin. Once that was accomplished, he stood quickly and dropped his trousers, leaving only his underwear on. Settling back into the vee of my thighs, he pressed himself against me and I ground my hips against his instinctively. I was nearly faint with the pleasure that pressure afforded me, but then I felt Sirius put his hands on me and all thoughts stopped.

Gently, he dragged the tips of his fingers from the center of my collarbone down my front, touching briefly over the lace of my bra, then down to my lace covered mound. He fingers rubbed in concentric circles, while he claimed my lips with a passionate kiss. I bucked my hips, so desirous for the feelings he was inciting in me. Something was coiling tight and hot in the bottom of my stomach, and I needed it released.

"Sirius, please," I moaned hotly against his cheek.

"Hermione," he murmured back, sucking at the side of my neck. He then moved his fingers back up and removed my bra with a gentle flick of his fingers to the front clasp. Thoughtlessly, I tossed the material away. His hot hands quickly moved up to cup the mounds of my chest, each hand taking a full breast. He gave a thrum of approval from his throat, looking at me with delight. As he flicked his thumbs over my peaks, I squeezed my eyes shut in pleasure.

"You are so beautiful, love," he whispered. Lowering himself, he suckled one nipple into his mouth. I clutched at his soft hair, threading my fingers through and holding tight. The sensation of his mouth upon my breast made me feel hot and yearning. Gently circling the tip with his velvet tongue, he pulled away with a quiet pop.

My eyes opened and the sight I saw took my breath away. Sirius's orbs were gazing steadily into mine, conveying endless emotion. I saw love, desire, hope, need, and adoration. And I am quite sure that he saw all of that reflected back in my own eyes. He took both of his hands and threaded them through mine, and placing them on either side of my head.

"I need you, Hermione."

I knew what those words cost him. This was a man who wanted to need and love no one, for he had always lost the ones he cared for. Yet here he was, opening himself up to me and blanketing me in the feelings he was offering. How could I do anything but reciprocate?

"I need you too, Sirius. Always," I whispered. I tried to convey with my eyes all that we had not yet said.

He leaned closed to me, murmuring an incantation in my ear, sending shivers down my spine.

We were both naked now.

Gently, he fit us together; flesh to flesh, positive to negative. With a gentle tug on my hips, he lifted them, sinking easily into me. The feeling was so foreign, so strange, I bit my lip in concentration. It was slightly uncomfortable, yet so right in a way that nothing had ever been before. I was being stretched and pulled, widening to his every move. I looked up into his eyes, blinking back tears at the reverent look I saw there. When he reached the barrier of my innocence, he grimaced a bit. We both knew what was coming.

Sirius wrapped my legs around his back, opening me up further to help ease his way. Then, releasing my hands and cupping my cheeks, he gazed steadily back at me. Kissing me briefly, he whispered, "I love you."

"What?" I gasped, not knowing how to respond. Did he mean it?

"I love you," he repeated. "This is it for me, love. Only you, Hermione."

Tears fell out the sides of my lids into my hair that was spread like a halo on the pillow. My eyes were wet, but my heart was full of joy. Grinning, I whispered back, "I love you too. You are the only one for me."

There was eternal understanding in our eyes, and I knew at that moment that I would spend the rest of my life loving this man, and having that love returned. I had never doubted my own heart, only ever his. But I was quite sure now that I would never have cause to doubt again. We belonged together, fitting perfectly like puzzled pieces which had always been missing their match. He was older than me, and I was a bossy swot. He was too experienced, and I too innocent. He was jaded, and I naive. But still, none of that could do anything but bind us irrevocably as one. We were missing apart, but found together.

Then he thrust forward.

The pain I felt was minimal, quickly eased by the incantation whispered in my ear. It was an odd feeling at first, but then he began to move in a rhythm and I quickly understood. It was something that simply could not be told about in a textbook. I knew all the clinical aspects of what was happening, but that meant nothing in the face of this raw passion. I knew the angles I should move to for maximum pleasure as described by the Kama Sutra, but my body seemed to know a movement all its own. It was heading towards something I had read the description of many times, but couldn't for the life of me understand until this moment. My knowledge was, for once, simply insufficient.

When our culmination finally came, I suddenly understood all that I had been missing. I had been a mere girl before, but now I was a woman. When the gentle, yet passionate, movement Sirius was controlling caused my muscles to clench in raw pleasure, I peaked and knew myself more clearly than ever before. But when he came after me…I suddenly understood the power I had over him. This was what it was to be his, to know how deeply he needed me, and to respond with answering love.

As we came together, I was sure that there had never been anything so perfect as being in his arms at that moment. I felt endlessly connected to him, part of his blood and the beat of his heart. Our pulses thrummed in tandem, one in spirit. Our bodies together, burning bright.

"I love you so much," he murmured into my ear, and I sleepily returned it.

I must have dozed off, understandably, for when I woke Sirius was resting on my chest. He was pillowed by my bosom and had become quite heavy, but I didn't have the heart to wake him. He was still settled in the cradle of my thighs, still joined to me but softened, and I could feel the cool air of his breath against my left breast. Though I was sore, and though I couldn't get comfortable pinned to the mattress as I was, I wouldn't have traded that moment, that recognition, for anything in the world. Gently, I ran my fingers from the roots to the tips of his hair, rubbing his scalp lovingly.

If I was honest with myself, that—that very moment—was the reason I had resisted giving into Ron for so long. Because deep down I knew that even the most incredible sex with him (which, frankly, wasn't likely) would never make me like Sirius did in that moment. Ron could never make me feel needed, loved, and cherished all at the same time. He could never look at me and see perfection, or at least the appearance of perfection through eyes filled with love. Ron would never listen to me talk with rapt expression, or tease away my frowns when I worried my lip in agitation. He could never understand parents that loved a child with anything less than their whole hearts, and he would never make me feel better if he tried.

He simply wasn't Sirius.

For all my lover's adventures and past of debauchery, he understood me in a way that scared and thrilled me at the same time. We both had that inner need to be loved and cared for, along with the desperate wish that we were good enough for those we wanted to please. Sirius faced his by being as outgoing and fun-loving as possible; I faced mine with my studies and my drive to be the best. He simply understood when I told him I was scared about the future, and the listlessness I felt, and the lack of connection I had to either world. When Sirius looked at me, I felt thrilling flutters in my stomach, butterflies aching to get loose. He made me live, forced me to step out of my comfort zone and face who I was. In the past months with him, I had lived and enjoyed myself more than at any other time in my life.

Sighing in satisfaction, I kissed the top of his head, clasped him to me, and returned to sleep.


Part Four – Of Pain and Ultimatums

The next month passed in a blur of passion and need. I had never felt so complete. Had I thought that Sirius and I were connected before, it was nothing to the way we felt about each other now. There was a mutual understanding between us that came from love and trust, and a million other emotions that tied and bound us together. The two weeks that Ron and Harry were gone were like scenes from someone else's life. Every morning, I would wake wrapped in strong arms and Sirius would murmur protests under his breath when I would leave the warmth of his bed. I would then tiptoe across cold floors to retrieve a housecoat from the closet, and then head downstairs. Once there, I would make tea and toast for breakfast, waiting for Sirius to wake. I can remember, so clearly, sitting there at that table—with its rough wood, beaten and loved by time—staring out the window into the garden as I waited for him. There was such a wonderful feeling of contentment that I would have when he walked into the kitchen, rubbing a hand over his eyes and yawning as he stumbled over to the table for his tea.

Even though each of the previous nights had been spent in his arms, with him proving how much he loved me, seeing him like that in the morning, sleepy and vulnerable and so happy to see me, it would make my heart wrench with happiness every time.

We would spend our days talking, usually during some activity. I liked taking Sirius into Muggle London to watch the expressions of joy and awe on his face when he experienced how Muggles lived. We went to the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain, as well as many other museums like the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Sirius liked The Kiss by Rodin at the Tate Britain. He smiled and said it reminded him of us. I bit my lip and didn't tell him that it was based on a couple who were having an adulterous love affair, and were eventually slain by the woman's enraged husband.

I preferred his romantic viewing of it better.

We would often wander through the various parks in London, Hyde and Kensington being our favorites. Sirius liked to walk from Mayfair through Hyde Park along the Serpentine, crossing over into Kensington Gardens with a quick stop by the Peter Pan statue. He had loved the story when I told it to him, no surprise there, but he had become reflective when I told him the famous line, "To die will be an awfully big adventure."

I don't think he agreed.

Our days followed that happy routine, and our nights followed a routine all their own. I was lost daily to wandering hands and languid kisses, taken by experienced and teaching lips. My nights became torrid and wicked adventures that would make me blush to think of in the light of day. But each experience, each time he joined his body to mine…I simply loved him all the more.

It is hard to explain or understand the happiness I felt for the first time in my life. It was more than the blush of first love, or the intensity of feelings that were new to me. There was a sense of belonging that I never expected from love, but needed none the less. Our happiness became my freedom, and I no longer feared being a child of two worlds.

Sirius proved that to me when he got his motorbike back from Hagrid and took me flying through the clouds. We chased the sunset to the horizon, gliding through the swirling nimbi that were preparing for a storm. My hands and legs were wrapped around him, tightening at the slightest jarring. Sirius would just laugh all the while, and eventually I learned to loosen my grasp and trust him. Slowly, but surely, my fear of flying dissipated along with the ends of summer.

I simply didn't fear it when I was with him.

I feared nothing with him.

When in the midst of such happiness, it is hard to believe that there can ever be an end in sight. We had started to feel safe, forgetting that not everyone would approve of our connection. Funnily enough, I never noticed looks being directed our way in Muggle London. Much of that was due to the fact that Wizards and Witches age much slower than Muggles and Sirius, despite having been born thirty-seven years before, looked like a man in his late twenties and I looked to be in my early twenties. Strangers didn't know the taboos of our relationship. They didn't know that I had known him since I was fourteen or that I helped him evade the law back then. They didn't know that he was my best friend's godfather or that he was nineteen when I was born. To strangers, we were simply two people who seemed like they were in love.

The day it all came to crisis, Sirius and I were naked in bed together, just having spent the afternoon in a lazy and satisfying manner. I was resting on my stomach, my right hand on top of the muscled flesh of Sirius's abdomen. He was gently dragging his fingers up and down my spine, the way he knew I loved.

"We will have to move eventually, love," he whispered.

"No, don't wanna," I whispered, shaking my head against the pillow. "I just want to stay like this forever."

"Here, in this bed?" Sirius asked with a teasing lilt to his voice. "What about work?"

"Oh well, maybe I'll have a job in another life," I pertly replied.

"Hmm, and what about food? Can't conjure that."

"Call for Kreacher," I said imperiously.

"Hermione Jean," Sirius said, sounding shocked. "You would put a poor, innocent little house-elf to work just because you don't want to get up? That's shocking, love, just shocking."

I grinned. "Well, really, it's not that I don't want to get up, I just don't want to be separated from you."

"Hmm," he said mockingly. "Maybe I can help with that…" he trailed off and claimed my lips with a needy kiss, telling me he wanted to be near me just as I yearned to be near him.

"Oi, Sirius! Get your lazy arse out of bed!"

The door banged open to reveal a grinning Ron and Harry, standing on the threshold clad in Quidditch Jerseys. Harry was wearing a navy blue Puddlemere shirt with gold writing, and Ron had donned his bright orange Chudley one. The rambunctious smiles on their faces faded when they saw me lying naked in Sirius's arms.

"What the buggering hell?" Ron said, his shock easing quickly into fury.

Sirius and I leapt out of bed, and I yanked on the robes I had shucked earlier in the afternoon, foregoing undergarments, as Sirius pulled on a pair of jeans that had been on tossed carelessly on the floor. Turing to his shocked godson and his furious friend, Sirius weakly said, "Harry, what are you doing here?"

"We got tickets to a Puddlemere and Chudley match," Harry managed to say. The look on his face was undeniable, hurt mixed with betrayal. He was staring at Sirius as if he had never seen him before, as if the man he had known all this time was nothing but an act, or a figment of his imagination.

Sirius cleared his throat, looking at me for guidance. Pulling my long hair out of the collar of my robe, I nodded. It was time to tell them.

"Look Harry, this isn't the way we wanted you to find out," Sirius began.

"Find out what, that you're a lying snake?" Ron snapped, his face reddened with rage.

Sirius sighed, yanking a hand through his hair. "We had wanted to sit down and tell you ourselves, but honestly we were afraid of your reaction."

"Afraid of my reaction?" Harry repeated, rather dumbly, but then his voice began to rise in volume. "Great Merlin, I can't imagine why! Afraid of my reaction, he says. For fuck's sake Sirius, she is the same age as me!" That wasn't true, I was nearly a year older, but Harry didn't seem to care about logic at the moment. His rage was showing, bringing with it anger that I hadn't seen since the Horcrux hunt. "Have you two been at this all along? Sneaking around behind my back? Behind Ron's back?"

"Of course not," I murmured. "We only ever got together after Sirius got back from the veil."

Something must have clicked in Ron's brain, because he seemed to turn an even darker shade of puce. "Are you saying that this git is the reason you broke up with me?!"

I shrank back from the fury on his face, but I was determined not to lie. All I could manage to say was, "I'm so sorry I hurt you, Ronald."

"I don't believe it! I simply don't believe it!" he exclaimed. Ron's face then became vulnerable and hurt, so hurt that I could hardly bear to look at him. "Did you ever care for me at all?"

I began to cry then, wrapping my arms around my torso. I could tell that Sirius wanted to come to my side, but there was a bed and the boys standing between us. It felt like kilometers. Through my tears, I managed to say, "Please Ron, I did care for you, but I just couldn't…I couldn't be what you wanted me to be. I…I don't want to be a housewitch like your mum, and I don't want a husband who thinks running a joke shop is great fun."

"I am running it because Fred died!" Ron screamed.

"I know," I sobbed, "I know. But if Fred came back tomorrow, and the twins asked you to stay and work with them, you would be happy to do it, wouldn't you?" I took a deep breath steadying myself. I needed to explain it to him. He had to understand. "I'm not trying to attack your choices—I am happy you are happy—but can't you see that I would never choose something like that for myself? And, honestly Ron, we never really got along, did we? It was all arguments and anger."

"That was because there was tension between us," Ron declared, ignoring everything I had said.

"No, Ron," I said firmly, my tears beginning to dry. "It was because you didn't know how to react around someone that you liked…but it was never like that…for me. I didn't—I couldn't—love you. Not like that. We didn't have enough in common, we fought too much. When you kissed me the night of the Final Battle, I let it happen because I knew it was what everyone expected from me. I knew that it was part of everyone else's plan." I took a steadying breath. "But it was never a part of mine."

Whatever hurt Ron felt turned to disgust on his face. "So what, you thought fucking Harry's godfather would make you feel better, is that it?"

"It's not like that," I whispered.

"Bollocks," Harry said, jumping into the conversation. He looked back and forth between me and Sirius, anger, hurt, and disgust playing about his features. I felt my heart sink. Whatever happened in these next few minutes, I knew they weren't going to accept us. "You have both been lying to us for months," Harry said, his voice low.

"Harry," Sirius cut in, "I'm sor—"

"Save it," Harry snapped. "I can't even look at you right now, let alone think about hearing an apology from you." He turned the full force of his anger on his godfather, his eyes blazing as his voice turned deadly. "The fact that you would do this to a friend of mine disgusts me. I can't even think about what I just saw without getting an image of you and Hermione when she was a teenager, still at Hogwarts. You know, people have always told me that you were a bad seed, that you never really changed, just got tossed into prison, but I never believed it. Never, not until now, not until this moment!" Harry looked like he wanted to cry along with his anger, but he clenched his jaw and continued on. "I could never reconcile the man who seemed to love me like a father with the boy who would send someone to die by the hands of their friend, knowing that friend couldn't help but kill him while in werewolf form. I told myself that you had changed, that you got better, but now I wonder if that wasn't the case. If you haven't changed at all. Perhaps the reason that my parents switched to Pettigrew wasn't because you suggested it to throw Death Eaters off the trail, but because they knew they couldn't trust you!"

"Harry!" I gasped.

I watched, unable to help, as Sirius's lovely grey eyes, which I loved to see in the heat of passion, went cold and dead. He stepped back, staggering, looking to all the world as if he had just been stabbed in the gut. He sat heavily on the bed, dropping his head into his hands.

My heart was aching for him, and I wanted nothing more that to wrap him in my arms, but the distance between us seemed as vast as an ocean.

Looking at Harry, I thought I saw a flicker of regret across his face, but it was gone so quickly that I must have imagined it, because Harry then turned the full force of his anger on me. "I don't even recognize you right now, Hermione," he spat at me. His eyes were full of rage and something inexplicable that I couldn't quite define. "Sneaking around, and who knows what all else. I'm not going to tell you to stop, 'cause I know I don't have that kind of influence, so I am going to give you a choice instead." Harry looked at me steadily, fury deeply hewn on his features, as if to assure that I was listening. "You can keep up this…affair and never see us again, or you can stop and we will forgive you."

Ron looked as if he wanted to protest the forgiveness part, but he crossed his arms over his chest and nodded his head along.

Harry stretched out his hand and said, "Come on, Hermione."

I looked at the hand that Harry was offering to me, my heart thumping a million kilometers per minute. Turning my gaze to where Sirius sat on the bed, I saw that his intense grey eyes were staring steadily into mine, full of pain and feeling. I could barely decipher what was there, but then, I didn't really need to. I had three months of kisses, whispered confessions, and passionate embraces to tell me what I could not see in his eyes. He was offering me love. Harry, with his hand outstretched, and Ron were offering me friendship; the continuing endurance of a relationship that began years before. But it was with conditions.

"There is no choice," I said, staring steadily at Sirius. Tearing my eyes from his confused gaze, I turned to the boys and whispered, "I am so sorry, Harry."

"What?" Harry asked, barely audible.

"I don't believe it!" Ron screamed.

"Sirius," I said, tears pooling in my eyes as I looked at Harry and watched the betrayal play across his face. "I choose Sirius."

"I don't believe this!" Ron repeated, punching the wall. Harry looked shocked, as if he too couldn't believe I didn't choose them.

"You both need to leave," Harry said, his voice full of fury.

"This is my house, Harry," Sirius said, speaking low.

Harry glared at the man he had loved like a father and snapped, "Fine. Kreacher!"

With a loud CRACK, Kreacher appeared and bowed low, "Master Harry calls?"

"Pack up my things, Kreacher," Harry said. "We are leaving Grimmauld Place. Make sure you get all your things as well."

Kreacher looked sad at the thought of leaving the only home he had ever known, outside of Hogwarts, but he nodded, flapping his ears, and croaked, "Whatever Master desires."

"We are going to the Burrow," Harry said. Kreacher nodded again, bowed low, and popped away.

Harry and Ron left without a backwards glance.

I began to shake then, realizing I had lost my best friends. I sat down in a chintz chair in the corner of the room, clasping my hands together in my lap. It could have been hours or minutes, but eventually Sirius came and sat on the arm of the chair, taking one of my hands in his.

After a long moment of silence, Sirius rasped, his voice sounding like it did when he was fresh from Azkaban, "They'll forgive us one day."

Looking out the window, I noticed that it had begun to storm. The rain was pounding down from the sky, falling in rivulets and pattering against the window panes. The bright light which had shinned through those windows only hours before had been replaced by darkness and cloudy skies. There was a feeling of electricity in the air as my heart was lightened by the sight of London rain. Perhaps, most people would take a storm as a bad omen, but I didn't see any such thing. I saw the rain, and I felt as though with each drop it was renewing me, as if it was allowing me a clean slate. A chance, to get out of bed tomorrow and to begin again.


Part Five – Of New Beginnings

Good news travels fast, bad news travels faster, but apparently scandalous news travels at the speed of a supersonic jet. Within three hours, I had received a Howler from Molly Weasley decrying my behavior as that of "a scarlet woman who loves to string honest wizards along and break their hearts" and "if I knew what was good for me I would never show my face at the Burrow again!"

I wish I could pretend that her hateful behavior rolled off my back like water, but unfortunately I took part of her words to heart. As much as I wish it hadn't been so, I knew that I had broken some part of Ron's heart and my guilt for it was wrenching. Just because I couldn't reciprocate his feelings didn't mean I was insensitive to the fact that they existed. I wished too that I could make him understand what I had been trying to tell him. I knew that he hadn't really been listening; he hadn't understood when I had tried to explain to him about how different we really were. He wasn't listening when I was listing the differences in the lives we saw in the future.

But apart from my guilt over Ron, there was an even bigger part of me that felt guilty for causing Sirius to lose Harry. Later that night, when we were lying in bed together once again, not touching, I said as much to him.

"This is all my fault," I murmured. The steady fall of the rain matched the thrumming of my heart and cast shadows over the room.

Sirius turned on his side to look at me, propping himself up on one of his elbows. He tossed his head so that his hair fell behind him while he looked down at me. There was no blame on his face, only intense love. "Why would you say such a thing?"

"Because I started all of this," I said quietly. "If I hadn't kissed you that day by the lake, none of this would ever have happened. You wouldn't have lost Harry, and they wouldn't hate us now."

"Do you regret it?" His voice was quiet, but there was a steely undertone to it. I knew my answer was as important as his question.

I began to cry. "If I was any type of good person, I would. If there was any goodness in me, if I cared at all, I would be nothing but sorry that I had caused so much pain!" My tears fell out the sides of my eyes, gathering in the hair at my temples. I sat up suddenly, careless of my nudity, and looked at the man I had given up so much to be with. "If there was anything in me worth loving, I would have nothing but regret."

Sirius sat up now too, reaching out and brushing the tear-tracks from my face. Then, dragging the knuckles of his fingers along my jaw, he tilted my chin up, forcing me to meet his eyes. "But do you regret it, Hermione?"

"No," I rasped. "How can I regret something that has led me to the most exquisite happiness that I have ever known? If I was a good person I would, but I can regret nothing. Just as I can give up nothing."

With a relieved sigh, Sirius pulled me into his arms and onto his lap. Our sexes were aligned, if separated by a sheet, and I relaxed against his chest. With our skin touching, my nipples rasping against his chest hair, I immediately felt better. It was as if I was pure entropy in that moment, but he was a constant I could cling to.

His fingers tiptoed down my spine, and he whispered, "I can't give you up either. Do you remember?" He pulled my head back from his shoulder, cupping my cheeks and forcing me to steadily meet his eyes. "I told you that first night. I told you that if I had you I was never going to let you go." His eyes were full of some indiscernible emotion, something even greater than love.

"I've never experienced someone like you before," he whispered. "There has never been someone who loved me deeply and wholly, like you do. You accept every part of me, the bad with the good. Fuck, Hermione, I was a horrible git in school and you know the very worst of me—I almost killed someone—and you know this! But still, somehow, you look at me with love in your eyes. You could have anyone; someone not destroyed from years in Azkaban, but that's not what you want. You want me. Me!" Sirius took a breath that seemed to steady him, to help him continue. "Not even James accepted everything there was about me. Or maybe he did, but he could never understand it. He knew about my childhood to some extent—he and his parents kindly opened their home to me—but I don't think he ever really understood, you know? What did he know of an unhappy home and distant parents? I didn't talk about it with him much; I think it made him uncomfortable. He was my brother, but I certainly didn't let him see me cry when I found out my father had died. He wouldn't have understood why I cried for a man who had made me miserable."

His deep grey eyes warmed as they looked at me, sending shivers down my spine that his fingers lovingly traced. "But you—you are this amazing woman who I have told my darkest secrets to, and you look at me with nothing but love and understanding. There is never any judgment, never any reproach. I can meet your eyes easily, knowing I won't be turned away. Don't you see, Hermione? I could never give you up. To do so would be to betray the very thing I have been searching for all my life."

Shock pervaded my entire being. I knew nothing but intense astonishment from my head to the tips of my toes. I could feel tears springing to my eyes, but I blinked them back. Lifting my right hand, I placed it against the side of his face, smiling when he leaned his cheek into it and then turned to kiss my palm. "Sirius," I whispered, my voice full of wonder, "You love me."

He gave me a funny look and kissed me gently. When he pulled back, he said, "I know, love. I've been telling you that for the past month."

"No," I whispered, shaking my head and causing my curls to bounce and toss. "I mean, you really love me. The can't-live-without-each-other-love-you-'til-the-day-you-die-spend-eternity-together type of love."

Sirius chuckled low, twining one of my curls around his finger. "You witches; why do you have to define everything?" Lovingly, he interlaced our fingers and kissed the dip between my shoulder and my neck. "All you need to know is that for as long as I live, you'll be mine…and I'll be yours."


Part Six – Of Refusal

On unsteady feet three days later, I arrived outside the Burrow. The sight of the ramshackle house filled me with unease, much in the way that Molly Weasley's calculated looks always had. As I viewed the multi-tiered home, I tried not to let my nerves get the better of me. A short walk later, and I had arrived at the door. I lifted my hand to knock, but the wooden entrance flew open under its own power.

There, looking awkward and uneasy, stood George Weasley.

"Hey, George," I said softly.

"Hello, Hermione," was his quiet reply. He shifted on his feet, trying to avoid meeting my eyes, finally saying, "I have been told to tell you that you aren't welcome here."

My stomach tightened at the words. I knew they were coming. I, more than anyone else, knew the wrath of Mrs. Weasley, but it still hurt. I tried not to let my emotions show on my face, saying, "I understand. I actually came to see Harry and Ron. Are they here?"

George shook his head. "Ron's working today."

"And Harry?" I asked, not allowing my frustration to bleed into my tone.

"I'm not sure if he's here," George prevaricated, telling me that Harry was indeed inside.

"Well, why don't you check," I suggested. "I'll wait outside."

George nodded, looking apologetic. He then closed the door and presumably went to tell Harry I wanted to talk to him. I used the time he was gone to formulate what I would say to Harry in my mind. I should have a speech, some way to make him listen, but my mind was a riot of fear and emotion. I knew I lacked coherence, but I needed to do this now. Before I lost all the nerve I had left.

With the squeak of the door, Harry arrived. Turning to look at him, I took in his mutinous expression and posture, knowing then that he would not make this easy for me. "Hello, Harry," I said.

Harry crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorframe. "What do you want?" he asked, his voice lacking emotion. For some reason, that hurt worse than it would have had he yelled at me.

"I wanted to see you," I managed to say. "Look, the other day there were a lot of heightened emotions—"

"I meant every word I said," Harry cut in, annoyance the first emotion he displayed. "And in fact, I think I wasn't vocal enough to explain just how what I saw hurt and disgusted me."

Feeling hot tears building up in the corner of my eyes and in the back of my throat, I squeezed my fists for calm. "Harry, we never meant to hurt you," I said softly. "Sirius loves you more than anything in this world and he has been—"

"More than you?"

"What?" I asked, my head snapping up.

"Well, you just said that he loved me more than anything in this world," Harry drawled. "So that means that he loves me more than you. That must hurt."

"I didn't mean that," I said quietly. "I just meant he thinks of you as his son."

"Oh," Harry said, straightening as his voice darkened with anger, "so what you are saying is that my 'father' slept with the best friend of his 'son'. Great, that makes me feel loads better Hermione."

"Harry, please. Sirius needs—"

"Tell me, is my Godfather unable to speak for himself? Did you simply come here to argue his part?"

"No," I said, taking a tremulous breath. I forced myself to sound firm. "No, I came here for myself. Harry," I felt my voice turn gentle and imploring, "We've been best friends since our first year. I have stood by you through thick and thin, and I am asking you to do the same for me now. I can't give an explanation for my behavior other than to say that…I need him." I tried to beseech him with my words, hoping he was willing to listen. "Sirius makes me feel like…like I'm alive. And I have never felt like that with anyone else. I love him," I said simply. "There is nothing for it. I can't change it; I can't take it back. Losing him would be unimaginable, much like losing you and Ron was."

Tears were now falling down my face in earnest, but I couldn't bring myself to care. "You are my best friend, Harry. I would walk through fire for you. I have never left you, never abandoned you. I always have believed in you, even when no one else did. I am asking you now to do the same for me. Believe that I am not trying to hurt you; believe that I still love you, that nothing has changed! Please, Harry!"

I watched his face carefully through my tears, looking for any sign of love or forgiveness. But there was nothing. I saw nothing but anger and…hate.

"I owe you no explanation," Harry said quietly, "but I'll give you one anyway. Sirius is the only parent I have ever known. How would you like it if I went and seduced your mother?"

I blanched. "It's not like that—"

"Shut up! Just shut up!" Harry yelled. "You have no right to talk to me, let alone show up here today. How long have you been lying to me, Hermione? How long have you been keeping secrets from me? How long? I can't believe a word out of your mouth, because if we hadn't found you two that day you would still be lying to me!"

Each word was more painful than the last. I felt as though his words were blades, stabbing me over and over. Now yelling in earnest, Harry proclaimed, "I never want to see either of you again, and that goes for Ron too! You are not welcome here, Hermione. Go away. Go away, and don't come back!"

The raw hate on Harry's face was enough to tell me that he was he was in earnest. Without moving from the stoop, I disapparated immediately back to Grimmauld Place. Upon arrival, I collapsed sobbing into Sirius's waiting arms.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

I shook my head, crying into his chest. I couldn't repeat it. All I could say was, "He'll never forgive us."

"Then I'm sorry for it," Sirius said quietly. "But I can't change the way he feels, and neither can you, love."

"I know," I sobbed.

"Just remember this," he said soothingly. "I'll love you for always, and that will never change."

Sirius left shortly after that and was gone for over an hour. When he returned, he sported a black eye and broken knuckles. Without comment, I fixed him, staunching the bleeding, and after I was done I moved into his arms, holding him tightly.

Maybe I didn't have Harry or Ron anymore, but I had Sirius…and that was more than enough.


Part Seven – Of Steps Forward

Two weeks later, while we were sitting down to breakfast, I received a surprising letter. I had just barely finished buttering my toast when a great spotted owl landed before me, extending one leg with a regal expression.

I stared at the owl, shocked.

"Aren't you going to open it?" Sirius asked, looking up from the Daily Prophet in query.

I swallowed reflexively, taking the letter from the bird. I offered a small bit toast to the bird, and Sirius set a water bowl before him. As the owl drank happily, I looked down at the letter.

Miss Hermione Granger

Location Unknown

London , England

I showed the letter to Sirius and he laughed. "Unplottable location, love. Good to know that we can't be found if we don't want to be."

Turning the letter over, I noticed the heavy seal on the back with the large "M" pressed into the letter with sealing wax. Sliding my nail under the wax stamp, I pulled out the heavy, rich parchment from inside.

Dear Miss Granger,

The Department of International Magical Cooperation is pleased to offer you the position of Ministry Representative for the British Ambassador to the French Ministry of Magic. The position will require your willingness to travel and reside in France.

We were extremely impressed by your Outstanding N.E.W.T. scores in Charms, Transfiguration, History of Magic, Study of Ancient Runes, Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Astronomy, and Arithmancy. It is seldom we receive an applicant of your stature, and we hope you will accept the position. Please send your response by owl as soon as possible.


Percy Weasley

Interim Department Head

The Department of International Magical Cooperation

"But I didn't apply," I said in surprise, handing the letter to Sirius so that he could read it.

His face went from questioning to surprised to thoughtful. "You spoke to Kingsley after the ceremony, didn't you?"

I cocked an eyebrow, then nodded. Two months before, when our relationship had been in the closet, so to speak, many of the people who had fought in the war had been awarded for their efforts. I now had an Order of the Merlin, Second Class. "Yes, we spoke briefly and I expressed my interest in diplomacy, but I certainly never applied for a position!"

"When did you take your N.E.W.T.s?" Sirius asked, his voice full of curiosity.

"About three weeks after the war ended," I said, taking a sip of tea. "I did it in three days."

"Why?" Sirius asked. "I always assumed you would go back to Hogwarts to finish your seventh year." He looked at me sheepishly. "I have sort of been dreading the coming of September 1st because I thought you were returning."

I smiled at him. "I did think about it. One day, while McGonagall and the other teachers were rebuilding, I went and talked to several of them. They all agreed that there was little left they could teach me. McGonagall suggested my taking the N.E.W.T.s through the Ministry. She contacted Griselda Marchbanks for me, and I had them completed four days later."

Sirius shook his head, laughing. "No, I don't believe this. You must be an impostor. Where is my Hermione? There is no way that she would give up the chance to study like mad for an extra year."

I smiled at him and took his hand. "There are other, more important things."

Sirius shared my smile, and then turned back to his paper.

"Do you have a quill in here?" I asked him after taking back my letter.

"In the holder by the window," Sirius murmured.

"Good," I replied. "Let me just refuse this and we can figure out what to do today."

"All right," Sirius said. But then his head snapped up and he said, "What?"

"Let me just—"

"I heard what you said," Sirius replied, waving me off, "but why are you refusing the position? Isn't something like this what you have always wanted?"

"Well, yes," I allowed, "but there are other things to think about."

"Like what?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Like I can't move to Paris," I said, laughing at his silliness. Why was he pushing so hard on this?

I expected him to agree with me, but he just cocked an eyebrow and said, "Why not?"

Flummoxed cannot even begin to describe the way I felt. I sat back down heavily at the table, looking at Sirius with what I am sure was shock all over my face. "You want me to move away? We'd never see each other anymore!"

Sirius looked at me with surprise, and then started laughing. Before I knew it, he was slapping the table with glee and wiping tears from his eyes. I felt more and more confused as I watched him, and a small bit hurt. Eventually, when he had mastery of himself again, he looked at me, still chuckling, and said, "Love, I would come with you."

"But…but…" I began sputtering. "Your home is here; your life is here! And what about the Wizengamot? I thought you were going to take up your hereditary seat when it reforms next month!"

Sirius just grinned at me and said, "Ever hear about international Portkeys, love?"

"What about the Black Family holdings? What about Andromeda and Teddy?"

I mentioned Andromeda because she was one of the few people to come over and wish us both well after the news of our relationship came out. I knew we were shocking to most of the Order, but we had received letters and notes of support from McGonagall, Luna, Kingsley, Hagrid, Neville, and, shockingly, Fleur. In fact, Fleur was the only Weasley to offer her support. I feel bad now for not stopping Ginny when she mocked Fleur all those years ago. I vaguely wondered if Percy's letter meant that he supported us now too, or if it had been an order from Kingsley.

Sirius interrupted my train of thought by saying, "We have a house in Lyon that you and I can use, which isn't too bad an apparition to the French Ministry of Magic. And I can look after the family holdings there, just as well as here. And as for Andromeda and Teddy, they are welcome to come with us. If they want to stay here, then they can come for summers. Château Noir is extremely large with huge gardens for Teddy to run and play in."

I couldn't help grinning at the fact that Sirius automatically thought of Teddy's wellbeing.

With Sirius being so earnest in his suggestions, I forced myself to seriously consider the job I had been offered by the Ministry. Was this what I wanted? The thought of moving to France and being right in the thick of actual diplomacy was thrilling. My French was excellent, honed from summers visiting the country with my parents and years hunched over language books in primary school. In fact, I had even been quillfriends with Aimee Leroux, a girl from Beauxbatons that I met during the TriWizard Tournament. So the language was really no impediment. Sirius had his family home we could stay in, and he was more than willing to come with me.

Under normal circumstances, Ron and Harry would be an obstacle, but they had so neatly removed themselves from the equation. Luna was heading off on travels with her father, and Ginny wasn't speaking to me. Everyone else I would have fallen into a letter-based relationship with anyway, did it really matter if the letters were coming from Lyon instead of London?

Considering all this, I watched Sirius out of the corner of my eye as he returned to reading the Daily Prophet. It simply amazed me that he loved me so much he was willing to move to a foreign country in order to make me happy. As cosmopolitan as Sirius was, he was the quintessential Englishman. He preferred tea to coffee, liked his food bland, and adored a pint in the pub with his friends. His heart belonged to the Tutshill Tornados, wandering through Diagon Alley, and quoting Keats under his breath when he thought no one was listening. The fact that he was willing to give all that up—well, severely limit his connection to it anyway—said so much about the way he felt about me.

I made my decision. Looking up at Sirius, my heart near to bursting with happiness, I said, "Let's do it."

When all was said and done, it was rather easy to pack up our lives. Neither of us had any great attachment to the furniture at Grimmauld Place, so we left it all behind as Sirius assured me that the Lyon house was furnished. Then it was one or two packing charms on our clothes and we were set. Andromeda decided not to leave England with us, wanting to raise Teddy near her husband's, as well as Teddy's parents', grave. Sirius offered her Grimmauld place, but she shivered at the thought and said she wished that evil house would be brunt to the ground. Sirius laughed and told her he had similar dreams all the time. But, instead of burning, Sirius closed up the house, sealing the wards and preventing the entrance of anyone but a blood relative.

We sent off several letters to Harry, Ron, and the Weasleys, but none of them were answered. After a month of no response, Sirius gave up and said Harry would talk to him when he wanted to. I resolved to send him a letter every so often, updating him on our lives. That way, even if he never replied, it was like a part of him was with us. I gave up on Ron and the Weasleys all together, thinking them a lost cause, but I wasn't willing to give up Harry until I had well and truly made myself a pest.

But there was one Weasley I did still have to face.

Before leaving, I went to the Ministry and met with Percy. I had to know what was expected of me, but at the same time I was curious as to what his attitude would be. What I found could not have shocked me more.

"Ah, Hermione," he said with a wide smile as his secretary led me into his office. I was surprised by the kind greeting, but still on my guard. Shaking my hand, Percy ushered me over to the chair in front of his desk. Once we were both seated, he smiled again and said, "I can't tell you how glad I am that you accepted the job. The last fellow was killed by Snatchers, and the whole Ministry has been such a mess that we haven't been able to replace him until now. I remembered from speaking to you during summers at the Burrow that you were interested in Foreign Diplomacy. I hope you don't mind me taking the liberty of checking your N.E.W.T. scores and offering you the job."

"Not at all," I said, matching his friendly tone. "I was rather surprised to read your letter, and I was actually wondering if the Minister had recommended me."

"Kingsley?" Percy said, surprised. "No, not at all. He agreed with me when I ran my choices for various jobs within my department by him, but he didn't have anything to do with my hiring you. Actually, he wanted you for his own office and seemed rather annoyed that I had gotten to you first. He told me to inform him if you refused the job, but you didn't and here we are."

I smiled. "Well, thank you Percy. This is the chance of a lifetime, and it just so happens that I am a unique spot in my life right now that I am able to accept it."

"Good, good," Percy replied. "If you do well in the Diplomatic Corps it might be a good leg up for you to become an ambassador one day. The current Ambassador is Pollux Reading, and he is very good. He's looking to retire in a few years and Merlin knows who we'll get to replace him, so learn as much as you can while you can. Also, you should probably study up on Xerxes Davidos. He is the Ambassador from the United Ministries of Albania, Slovenia, Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Macedonia. There is a rather annoying three-way treaty between us, France, and the United Ministries concerning the sale of enchanted objects."

As I nodded, I was very grateful for Percy's friendliness and warnings. Twisting my fingers in my lap, I studied Percy, unsure if I would bring up anything not pertaining to my job. Eventually, I found my Gryffindor courage and said, "You know, I am rather grateful that you are willing to put aside certain personal issues."

Percy sighed, nodding his head. "Can I be frank?"

I nodded.

"Well, I don't know Sirius Black as anything other than a traitor and a criminal. I don't remember a time when he wasn't in Azkaban. I think I was five when he went in. Anyway, when I came back to my family and Harry started talking about his godfather Sirius, it was always about how great he was and how much Harry cared for him. There was never a bad word to be heard about him, except perhaps from Mother, and my father made sure to say how much he respected him for what he had done for Harry. That carried a lot of weight with me. Then the story of his false imprisonment came out, and he received his pardon…well, it seemed like all I knew that was true about him was how respected he was within the Order."

I nodded again, telling Percy I understood and he continued.

"Then, one night I am over at the Burrow for dinner and Harry and Ron come stomping in—with all of Harry's things, mind you—and they tell this incredible story about how they caught you and Sirius together and how he has taken advantage of you and twisted your mind. Of course, Molly and Ginny were quick to condemn both of you; despite the fact that I thought Ginny was one of your closest friends. My father had little to say, but he made it clear he wasn't going to be involved in any gossip. Said how if Hermione was old enough to go off to war, he reckoned she was old enough to date the man she chose. That didn't go off well, I can assure you." Percy removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose before continuing. "George doesn't have much of an opinion about anything anymore, not since Fred… so he didn't contribute, and Bill said he couldn't care either way. Fleur actually took your part when she found out, said how love is all that matters and that when you are a Veela you learn quickly that age has little to do with a person's maturity. Also, she said that her parents are twenty-five years apart in age and it has never been a problem for them. She then called Ginny a jealous cow and said that she should mind her own business. She said something similar to my mother. She also said that the day before your relationship came to light we would have sung the praises of both of you to the heavens, and that the only thing that had changed in one day was that we all learned you two thought as much of each other as we did of you both individually."

I smiled, having read something similar in the letter Fleur sent to me. I felt so guilty now for the way I had been so jealous of her when I was younger. She was a lovely woman, and I was better for knowing her. I resolved to write Fleur after arriving in France, maybe getting her family's Floo address so I might visit her sister Gabrielle and her mother Apolline. Looking at Percy, I smiled and said, "Thank you for telling me."

He nodded stiffly. "I want you to know that I am aware that it is not right what they have done to you, the way they cut you out. I understand what you are going through." He interlaced his fingers on the top of his desk, and leaned forward. "I know everyone thinks that it was my idea to leave the family a couple of years ago, but I was in a very similar situation to what you are in now. Granted, I made a few bad decisions, but I often felt like I was pushed out instead of choosing to go. From what I knew of Harry, he was a wild boy who got my brother into trouble at the end of every school year with Basilisks and Philosopher's Stones. I thought it was all nonsense, really. So when he said that Voldemort was back, I thought he was batty. Not to mention that I was suddenly promoted and my boss, Minister Fudge, seemed so convinced it was all a lie." He waved his hand, as if moving away the memories. "It doesn't matter now, but I do know what it is like when you feel as though you did nothing but follow the dictates of your conscience, and are punished for it. So that is why I offered you the job. Because, honestly Hermione, you are brilliant and you shouldn't be punished for following your heart."

Blinking back tears, I stretched my hand across the desk and squeezed his intertwined ones. "Thank you," I whispered.

"No thanks necessary…just enjoy Paris."

"I will," I said, standing. "We are going to be living at the Black estate in Lyon, but it is an easy apparition to the Embassy in Paris."

Percy smiled. "Well, enjoy yourself. Oh, and the Black name is held in high esteem in France. I know some French politicians would be interested in what he has to say, especially since he plans to assume his seat in the Wizengamot once sessions start. You should take him to some of the functions you will be required to attend."

I smiled, knowing that was Sirius's idea of hell. "We'll see."


Part Eight – Of a Journey

The next day, on the back of an enchanted motorbike, Sirius and I flew to Lyon. We followed the train tracks to Dover and across the Channel to Calais; from there we headed inland towards the Alps. When we arrived in Lyon, Sirius touched down, removing the invisibility charm, and we road through the city, following the Rhône River south, out towards the country. Eventually, we found ourselves on a long country road. Looking in the distance, I could see endless fields, vineyards, and plowed acres spread out towards the horizon, as well as the thick forests and green trees of the encroaching hills and cliffs. After a while, Sirius pulled off onto a dirt road that I had a feeling was hidden to all except those allowed to see it. If his family's paranoia was anything to go by, the whole estate was probably locked tight with endless, encompassing wards meant to protect it from Muggles and wandering Wizards.

It was no surprise to me that once the dirt road ended, we found ourselves riding up towards a palatial mansion. The building before us was a true Château, and no one looking at it would think themselves anywhere but France. It was three stories and made of a white stone that seemed to catch the sun, sending off rose and blue hues. I could identify the style as that of 17th Century French Classical Architecture. Either the Blacks had bought this home more recently, or it had been given a thorough overhaul during the Renaissance. It reminded me strongly of Luxembourg Palace, if a touch less expansive. But only a touch.

I would later learn that the Château followed a typically French layout of wings surrounding a courtyard, with the chief living quarters looking out towards the garden. The gardens themselves were constructed of gravel and lawn, filled with statues and large ponds and lakes. I could imagine a little boy with Sirius's wicked smirk and my brown eyes sailing a boat along, the current and accidental magic helping the boat race faster.

Once we stopped the bike, and walked up to the Cathedral-size double doors, we were inside shortly. I barely had time to gawk at the large marble entrance hall we found ourselves in when we were suddenly shocked at the appearance of three house-elves, bowing low and shivering timidly. It turned out that Tippy, Babby, and Corry were bound to the house and had been waiting for a Black to return for nearly eight years. Sirius's grandfather Arcturus had been the last one, and they had not seen a human since his death. Unlike Kreacher though, they had not allowed the house to go to pot. Having each other for company—and no mad Horcrux driving them crazy—seemed to make all the difference, for the Château was spotless and fires were set in the clean fireplaces, as if they had been hoping and wishing that today was the day the Blacks would return to Château Noir.

I was inwardly displeased by the elves presence, but after talking with Sirius we agreed to offer the house-elves their freedom, but if they said no then that was that. Unsurprisingly, they all said no, quite distressed at the thought of leaving. I wondered at the fact that all the elves spoke English, but Sirius told me they must have been brought over from one of the estates in England. Sirius and I went on an abbreviated tour, with Babby leading the way and talking all the while about the history of the house. I learned when it had been built (1624), the number of rooms it had (73), the number of ghosts (1, but he didn't like people and tended to stay in the orchard, so the odds were that we would never see him), and the number of Blacks that had used this for a vacation home (19). When we told Babby we were going to be long term residents, he nearly shattered the windows with his squeals of happiness.

Later that night, I slipped between silk sheets and curled up next to the man that I loved. Had I retained any of my practical nature when dealing with Sirius, I would have wondered at the quickness of our courtship and cohabitation, but I had long since disregarded sense when trying to explain my feelings for him. They were simply something that could not be rationalized. My heart was full to bursting when I looked at him, and I was quite convinced that my happiness utterly depended on his continuing presence in my life. He was, truly, a superior man to any other that I had known. The old thought is that women marry men like their fathers, but the man that I had chosen was my father's polar opposite. Sirius had none of my father's cold nature, or his strictly sensible attitude. Nor did they look alike in looks, or resemble each other in feelings.

Sirius had once told me that he came back from the veil because there was something calling to him, and he had something he needed to do. I think now that I am the one he returned for, because I am quite sure that the unfinished business was not his, but mine. I needed Sirius with a desperation that I am sure would have consumed my soul, so he returned from the embrace of death to claim me.


Part Nine – Of Living

"Wake up, my love."

Years could go by and I'd still never tire of hearing those words. Time had passed, and I felt as if my life before Sirius had been a dream. Lyon was so far removed from Orders, Dark Lords, and wars that I almost convinced myself that they had never happened. It seemed as if my life began the day Sirius returned from the veil.

When we first arrived in France, I worried that the pressure of living together in a foreign country would put strain on our relationship, but if anything it made our feelings for each other stronger. Without anyone else to turn to, the closeness we had felt before Lyon was only heightened and deepened by our isolation. Many days would be filled with our rambling through the French countryside, exploring the Black estate as well as the surrounding grandeur. And endless nights would pass with us lying on the floor of our sitting room, wrapped in a blanket and whispering to each other through the silence.

Soon enough though, our idyll was shattered by the return of duty. I began my job as Ministry Representative to the British Ambassador to the French Ministry for Magic, and soon discovered that my love of books was eclipsed by my love of diplomacy. Most days I worked for the Ambassador in his residence in Paris. Pollux Reading was a complicated man, full of enthusiasm for his job and annoyance for the Ministry that employed him. He was a virulent anti-pureblood supporter, despite being a pureblood himself. He seemed to get a kick out of the fact that I am Muggle-born, and often asked me questions about my childhood and my integration into British Wizarding Society. In his opinion, the British Wizarding World was the worst when it came to blood superiority.

"It goes like this," he once said to me when we were in his office and discussing the politics of a British expatriate who had recently come to the Embassy for travel purposes. Pollux was reclining on his leather sofa, a snifter of Ogden's Finest Brandy in his hand. "England is so bloody stuffy about blood because that is all that they have. They have already been surpassed in Magical Education by the Japanese, in industry by the bloody Americans, in Arithmancy and the creation of new magic by the French, and in ritual by the South Africans. Give history to the Persians and the Mesopotamians, and there is nothing left for England to claim as their own. So they choose blood."

"But that is so wrong," I argued. "Why would the English allow this to happen? Surely they wish to remain a force in Magic?"

"They were…once," Reading allowed. "But they have been torn by civil war for so long that I don't think they even recognize how out of touch they truly are. How out of touch we truly are. Now this is not to say Hogwarts is far behind Beauxbatons or Durmstrang, because it is not, but it is certainly no match for schools in Asia and America. This is why people like your Mr. Black are so essential. He knows how corrupt the system over there is, so it is necessary that he be involved in the process of changing it."

That was the first and last time Pollux brought up Sirius in casual conversation. I wasn't even sure if he had read the gossip about our relationship. I knew there had been mentions of it in the Daily Prophet, no doubt by Rita Skeeter, but France seemed far removed from that rag's lies.

Sirius, for his part, had involved himself heavily in the politics back home. Every day he apparated with me to Paris, where we would have breakfast together before parting. He would then go to the French Ministry to catch the nine o'clock Portkey to the British Ministry of Magic, and I would head off to the British Ambassador's Residence. Sirius would then remain for a good portion of the day, working on bills and legislation, as well as sitting for trials in the Wizengamot of Death Eaters and Voldemort supporters from the war, before returning in the late afternoon to Lyon.

In almost no time at all, Sirius had become a force in the British magical government, and his name often was linked with Kingsley's in conversation. He introduced major bills on due process and the prevention of imprisonment without trial, as well as minor bills like house-elf rights. It was one of my happiest days when he did that, and I know that he only did it to make me happy, but it proved to me the type of team that we were. I didn't have to fight alone anymore. With Sirius by my side, I could immerse myself in diplomacy, knowing that my lost causes would be represented by the man who always sought to make me happy.

I often received letters from friends back home. Luna, especially, became a frequent correspondent. Her letters made me smile and laugh, filling me with nostalgia and regret that I hadn't been a better friend to this wonderful woman who stood by my side through everything.

Dear Hermione (and Stubby),

I hope all is well with you, and that you are finding France delightful. I have only visited once myself, and as I was troubled Wrackspurts the entire time, I doubt I shall make a return trip any time soon. There was a lovely bit of wilderness along the Seine, just outside of Paris that I did enjoy though. I often arrived before dawn and listened to the bullfrogs sing away the morning while the sun rose in the east.

Not much has happened here in England. The Ministry is still keeping Heliopaths on retainer for their private army, and I suspect that Mr. Shacklebolt is keeping it from the public so as not to raise alarm. I shall inform you of my discoveries as more develops.

I saw Ginny the other day and she was fairly awful to me. Well, she is to everyone these days I suspect. I generally avoid her here at Hogwarts (and have ever since she was disappointed by not being named Head Girl. The honor went to Amelia Davies in Ravenclaw, and she is perfectly lovely), and try to focus on my studies. Headmistress McGonagall has been quite helpful in making sure I am caught up with all the schoolwork I missed last year while imprisoned in Malfoy Manor. Draco has not returned to repeat his Seventh year, but I suspect he was simply too distracted by all the Nargles infesting his home.

Father and I are headed to Sweden for Christmas and I am determined to finally capture a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. I shall write you as to my success.



I also had frequent correspondence with Andromeda and Professor McGonagall. Initially, I wrote my former professor to keep her abreast of the latest developments of my job and how I was finding life outside of school and war, but eventually the letters took a more personal turn and discussed my adjusting to life, my relationship with Sirius, and the progression of Transfiguration, which she always seemed thrilled to have someone to talk about it with. I valued her counsel, as well as the way she was able to look at life in a no-nonsense sort of way. She rarely allowed emotions to cloud her looking at something objectively, and I was grateful for that.

Her advice became invaluable when, not three months after moving to France, I was shocked by a personal discovery. After a trip to Hôpital des Ste Isabelle, which was a Wizarding hospital much like St. Mungo's, I was in near-tears when I floo-called Minerva's office.

Getting to my hands and knees, I tossed the green powder in the fireplace and called, "Hogwarts, Headmistress's office!"

I had come home from work for the day, much too distraught to consider working. Pollux had asked no questions, just handed me a stack of briefing parchments and told me he would see me tomorrow. I was even too upset to apparate all the way. I ended up apparating from Paris to Bourges, and then from there floo'd home to Lyon.

After a dizzying swirl of green smoking and fast flying fireplaces, I finally reached my destination. Looking from side to side, I finally noticed Minerva hunched over her desk.

"Professor McGonagall?" I called.

Her head snapping up, McGonagall looked to the fireplace and said in surprise, "Hermione? My dear, what a surprise!"

"I'm sorry for disturbing you, Headmistress, but I didn't know who else to fire-call," I sniffed.

Minerva smiled at me, coming over towards the hearth and taking a low seat by the flames. "That is quite all right dear, you know you can come to me whenever you need to. What's wrong?"

"I'm…I'm…I'm pregnant," I finally managed to say, sputtering sadly.

"Oh dear," she said. Her face, aged by war and loss, soften immeasurably when looking at me. "I take it this is not happy news?"

"No…yes…I don't know," I said. "I didn't even notice that I was pregnant. I felt fine, there were no symptoms, but then today I felt dizzy for no reason and nearly collapsed in front of my boss. After going to the hospital here, I was informed as to my condition. It is just such a shock, you know? I didn't expect to be pregnant for years, and we were always so careful! And I have no idea what Sirius is going to say. What if he leaves—"

"Wait a minute," the professor said, cutting in. "Are you telling me that you haven't told that young man yet that he is going to be a father?"

I shook my head no.

"Well then child, I am sure you have no idea how you really feel about this. Until you tell that boy of yours what is what, nothing else matters. Now, I want you to get a hold of yourself and tell your young man when he comes home. Understand?"

I suddenly felt much better. "Yes, Professor. And thanks."

She smiled. "Just tell me word for word what is reaction is. If he is anything like James Potter, his reaction will be thanks enough."

We disconnected the floo-call, and I went into the library, waiting for Sirius to return home and my own personal Sword of Damocles to fall. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. As scary as the thought of having a baby was, part of me had almost been expecting it sooner, rather than later. When thinking of Sirius, I knew that there were certain things that he was ready for, stages of his life he had reached. I couldn't exactly expect him to hold off on living because I wasn't ready, and if I did that I knew there was a great risk of losing him.

Soon, the sound of Sirius's footfalls reached my ears, and I waited for him to enter the library. When he did, it was with a confused smile on his face.

"Hi, love," he said. "You're home early." He easily crossed the room, pressing a kiss to my temple lovingly.

"Come sit with me," I implored, holding out my hand to him. Sirius grinned, complying easily. Taking his seat next to me, he quickly interlocked our fingers and pulled me into his arms so that I was leaning against his chest. "So," I began, "I had some rather interesting news today."

"Oh, yes," he murmured into my hair. "What's that, love?"

"Well, today I felt dizzy for no reason and nearly collapsed." I could feel Sirius tense behind me.

Turning me to face him, he said, "What is it? Are you all right? Are you sick?" His face was an illustration in panic.

"I'm fine," I murmured, meeting his steel grey eyes. "Just pregnant."

There was a long moment of silence, but then Sirius squeaked out, "I'm sorry, come again?"

Taking a deep breath, I repeated myself, "Sirius, I'm pregnant."

He let out a whoosh of air, his chest deflating as his mouth widened in the silliest grin I have ever seen. "That was what I thought you said," he confessed. Awe was wreathing his features as he stretched out a tentative hand towards my stomach. Touching the flat surface, he rubbed gently while looking into my eyes with happy gratitude. "Thank you," he whispered.

Then, reaching into the pocket of his velvet robes, he pulled out a box. "I guess now is as good a time as any to give you this," he whispered.

Opening the box, I was shocked to see one of the most perfect solitaire diamonds that I have ever seen. Tears filled my eyes as I stared down at the beautiful stone. My breath was stuck in my throat; I simply could not respond.

"Hermione," Sirius said, lowering himself to one knee in front of the couch. "I have been carrying this ring around in my pocket for the last four months, simply waiting for the right time to offer it to you. We have been together for only six months, but it feels like a lifetime. I knew after making love to you for the first time that there was no one else in the world I would ever want to be with. Whether we are together for six months, or six years, or sixty, or six hundred…I know it will never be enough. Say you'll marry me, say you'll be mine."

The tears that had been pooling in my eyes fell to my cheeks and I could do nothing but nod. A huge grin lit my love's face and he slid the ring on my finger, pressing an anxious kiss to my mouth.

He lowered us to the plush rug before the fire, his hands seeking urgently.

"Love," I whispered, "maybe we shouldn't…"

"I'll be gentle," he whispered hoarsely. Nodding tremulously, I began to unbutton his robes.

He grinned at me, enjoying that I was willing to take control of the situation. Gone was his pale, shy, and angelic innocent who was afraid, yet eager, to touch him. I now knew the way my fingers and mouth could bring him pleasure. I knew his spots, and where to touch him to make him tremble. I was aware that if I gently dragged my nails up his back that he would bunch his muscles and arch his spine. I knew that if tugged his hair as he licked me that he would growl with satisfaction. I was conscious of the fact that he liked hard pressure and steady suction.

If my first time with Sirius had made me into a woman, every time after that made me into his woman. I was a student of his body and, as I did in all things, I wished to excel. I learned the quavering muscles, and the pleasured moans. I studied the sighs and gasps, learning when they came and how to increase their regularity. I was utter devoted to my subject.

And he to me.

The ecstasy I learned he was capable of that first night only increased as time wore on. He seemed committed to bringing me to new and varied heights. If I had two orgasms, he took it as a personal challenge to bring me to three the following time. His body showed me unwavering intensity, and I found myself unable to do anything but answer back with equal fervor, burning brightly in his arms.

Though he said he loved me often, it was with his body that I truly understood how he meant it. To be plain, he worshiped me.

I feel sorry for women who have never been on the receiving end of the love of a man like Sirius. For when he loved, he did it with his whole heart and soul. And his body was how he communicated it. My pleasure was always paramount; my needs always came first. I was always left trembling, tears spilling from the sides of my eyes and into my curly hair because there were simply no words for what he did to me. And after, when I thought it was impossible to love him anymore than I did, he would raise his eyes to mine and I would see the world in his gaze. He offered me no less than his entire being, and I could do nothing but reciprocate and tumble into the unknown.

And this time, when he joined his body with mine, I could feel the immense satisfaction in his every cell. There was a joy in his eyes that I had never seen before, and I reveled in the fact that I had given him the one thing he had always wanted.

I had given him a family.

Afterward, when I lay naked and sated in his arms, I watched as the firelight played against his face, casting a romantic quality to his even features. It truly wasn't fair that one man could have so much beauty. Or that years spent in prison did nothing to diminish the handsomeness of his face. I sent a vague prayer up to whatever higher power existed that our unborn child, and all the children to come, would look like him. For their sakes, if nothing else.

The side of Sirius's mouth quirked up in a grin, and I could almost see the mischief alight in his eyes.

"What are you smiling about?" I asked, my voice betraying my amusement and suspicion.

"I was just thinking about all the things this baby means." He was still smiling.

I groaned. "It means diaper changes, feedings, and expenses. It means we will both lose sleep and—"

"No," he said with a laugh, cutting me off. "I meant, what this baby means for the future. For the Blacks, specifically. 'Toujours Pur,' that has always been the motto. But I am the head of the family now and my children will be half-bloods." He gave a satisfied smirk. "We have broken the cycle, love."

The warmth of his chest and the roar of the fire were making me drowsy, but I turned my head in full attention at that. "The cycle?"

"Yeah, ducks," he fondly said, twirling one of my brown curls around his forefinger. "The destructive, endless, blood-obsessed cycle that was what it meant to be a Black. For fuck's sake, I am a Black on both sides. And that incestuous cycle is all I have ever known as a member of my family. But now, it's over."

He seemed strangely satisfied that centuries of tradition were ending with him, but I don't think Sirius saw it that way. For the first time, instead of cursing the Blacks who came before him, he was proud of the Blacks who were coming after him.

"Do you remember what you said to me?" he asked, his voice warm and loving. "That day by the lake, I mean?"

I smiled nodding. "You have had your revenge, my love."

"Yes," he said grinning as he pressed his forehead to mine. "But more than that, much more than that. You told me to have children and never teach them about prejudice. To have a big family and to love and cherish them every minute." His fingers stroked my cheek before trailing them down my neck into the hollow between my breasts, eventually settling his hand on my abdomen. "Know this," he whispered. "I shall love and cherish you and any children we have for the rest of our lives, be they long or short."

"Just as I will love and cherish you," I said, smiling a secret smile.

He kissed me gently before raising an eyebrow at me. "What does that smile mean?"

"Oh, I was just thinking about how I always thought fairytales weren't real." Looking into the flames, warmth and peace spread over me. "I guess I never should have doubted them, especially when we live in the world of magic."

"So, did your story end with a happily ever after?" Sirius asked tenderly, kissing my ear gently as he pulled me back against his chest.

"Better," I murmured. "I get to live my happily ever after."

We married two weeks after his proposal, in the office of the Minister of Magic in England. Only Andromeda, Teddy, Minerva, Kingsley, Luna, Fleur, Percy, and Bill were there to see it. But in the end, all that mattered was Sirius. The man I loved, holding my hands and joining his life to mine.

Our lives would never be simple, I knew that. By virtue of who we were, there would always be tests and challenges, but I wasn't afraid to face them with Sirius by my side. And for all the surprises and setbacks, I knew that a love like ours didn't come along often. When it did, you simply had to grab it and hold on with both hands. The promise of forever was rare, but our love gave just that. We were nothing more or less that totally each other's, and I knew that I could endure any hardship with that truth in my heart.


Part Ten – Of Life After & Sixteen Years Later

"Oh, Mum," my daughter Cora said, turning her face away from me, "stop it, or you'll weep all over me."

I tried to be brave, blinking back the tears that were threatening to erupt from my eyes. "I can't help it," I said. "You are my first daughter off to Hogwarts and your Mum is a little emotional, all right?"

Cora sighed, sounding to all as if she was the most beleaguered child on Earth. "Fine, on with it then."

I laughed, leaning down and smoothing the collar my daughter's periwinkle blue day robes. "Have you got everything?"

"Hermione, love, her answer won't change from the last three times you asked."

Turning, I grinned at my husband who had sidled up beside me to wrap his free arm around my waist. The years hadn't changed Sirius in many ways. The only nod to the passage of time was the threading of grey through the hair at his temples, but when I had pointed it out, he just laughed and said that it helped his colleagues feel as though they weren't dealing with a green boy. After seventeen years on the Wizengamot, my husband was regarded as the man to have support your legislation. With the Black Family backing, it was sure to pass. I knew the talk was that Sirius would be the next Minister when Kingsley retired, but my husband had never said anything to that effect. I think he liked being somewhat behind the scenes. I was aware that the thought of having the weight of the country on him frightened him a bit, but I knew it would be an easy job for him considering how well he balanced the weight of our family.

I smoothed one hand down the front of my husband's velvet robe, enjoying the feel of it against my palm. "Toujours Pur" might no longer be the Black family motto as we now went by "Toujours Fidèle," but my husband dressed the part of a Pureblood. Well, in public anyway. At home and on the weekends, Sirius could often be found in linen trousers and cotton shirts making Eggs Benedict in the kitchen as the house-elves tried to shoo him out.

"Why don't you go find a compartment," Sirius said to Cora, "and have your brothers help you put your trunk on the train?"

I smiled encouragingly at my daughter, watching her flag down her twin brothers and walk over to an open door with her trunk floating behind her. Once she was out of my eye-line, I sighed.

"What's wrong, Madam Ambassador?" my husband asked teasingly, kissing the side of my neck.

"She just has grown up so fast. I am not ready to lose her to Hogwarts just yet."

"Don't worry, Mum," my son Regulus said, pulling on my hand. "You still have me and Alastor and Amelia."

Looking down at my son, I smoothed back his unruly black curls and gazed into the eyes that were so much like his father's. "I only have you two more years, love. Then you will leave me too."

Regulus giggled. "Well, you'll have Al and Ami then."

"Oh, they'll grow up too," I said dramatically. "All my children leave me."

"I'll never leave you, Mummy," Alastor piped up from next to Sirius as he held his father's hand. "Who cares about smelly ol' Hogwarts anyway?"

I laughed at the expression on my five-year-old son's face. "That's the spirit," I said.

"All set, Mum!"

Sirius and I turned to see Cora returning with her sixteen-year-old twin brothers, James and Remus, coming behind her. James was holding onto my youngest Amelia, and quickly transferred her into my arms when he reached us. Amelia, only three, was sleeping like an angel and easily settled her head against my shoulder.

"There we go, back to Mum," James said as he passed her to me. "She's tired."

"Well, no wonder having Portkeyed in from France yesterday and with the chaos at Grimmauld last night and this morning," Remus said, his voice sounding concerned. I smiled at my second oldest son, who was deeply sensitive and clung to his family very closely. Although, one should not mistake his sensitivity for lacking the Marauder spirit. He had that in spades.

"What did you want to hold her for anyway, James?" I asked my eldest. He was usually too much in motion to hold onto his younger siblings, unless it was for a rowdy piggyback ride.

"Oh, Ami's great," James said, grinning a wicked smirk that I had seen on his father's face many times. "She helps us chat up birds…I mean…" James stopped speaking with a swift elbow to his side from his twin.

My mouth dropped open in shock, and I would have started scolding them, but Sirius started laughing his lovely bark-like laughter, and I found I could not hold on to my anger. Shaking my head at my eldest two, I said, "Yes, well, when you two manage to find your way away from chasing girls this term, be sure to watch out for Cora, yes?"

"Sure, Mum," James said nonchalantly. "We'll help the little Slytherin get adjusted."

Cora stuck out her tongue at her brother, ignoring the way he was laughing in glee. Ever since two months earlier when I had been describing the houses to Cora, she had decided she wanted to be in Slytherin. She wouldn't hear anything against it and said that she wanted to be "just as cunning as Aunt Andromeda, and change the notion of blood supremacy in the house from the inside."

Of all my children, I was sure that Cora would be Minister for Magic one day. She was just that brilliant.

"Yeah, no worries Mum," Remus said, ruffling Cora's hair. "I'll watch le petite cherie."

"This is so stupid," Regulus said, kicking his foot out from under his robe and scuffing his toe on the ground. "Why do you have to be eleven to go anyway?"

"Cheer up, Reggie," Sirius said, grinning at our younger son. "This just means that we won't have to share the Quidditch pitch with your older brothers. By this time in two years, you should be able to fly circles around these gits and make the House team as a first year."

"Oi!" James and Remus protested together.

Reggie grinned back at his father. As much as he adored the twins, and he spent most of the summer following them around, it was his father who could make him smile with just a few words. And Sirius, for his part, learned from the mistake he once made with the younger brother of the same name who had regarded him with such devotion. This Regulus was never in doubt of my husband's love.

"Yeah, Reg," Cora said. "And I'll write you about our lessons so you can be way ahead of the other first years when you start."

"I'm hungry!" Alastor announced, causing all of us to turn our heads and laugh.

"We'll go get something to eat soon, love," I murmured to him.

The whistle blew, giving a ten minute warning. "All right boys, Cora, give us hugs and get on the train."

The twins hugged me first, kissing me on the cheek and being careful not to jostle their sleeping sister. "Be good," I warned. "If I get any more letters from Headmistress McGonagall and Professor Longbottom…"

"You'll bring us straight home and we will regret what we've done," James and Remus chanted together with cheeky grins.

"We know, Mum," Remus said with a laugh.

I sighed. No one truly understood what it was like to be married to Marauder and raise two more. Well, three if Alastor turned out the way I suspected he would. At least Regulus was more like me. All the twins needed was for Teddy to drop by and chaos would ensue. Part of me was thankful Teddy was gone from Hogwarts now. Especially because I knew he hadn't given the Map to the twins.

Looking over at my husband, I smiled as I watched him hug and kiss our daughter. He was whispering in her ear, soothing away the worried look on her face. I knew Cora would be fine. If she had my brain, she had my husband's spirit. Nothing kept her down for long.

Cora hugged and kissed Alastor goodbye before coming over and doing the same to Reggie.

Cora then turned and hugged me, and I leaned over and kissed her forehead, combing back her black curls with my fingers. "Write me after you're sorted, darling."

"I will, Mum," Cora said, her lip trembling as she gave Amelia's leg a pat.

"Aw, cheer up ol' mum," James said, wrapping an arm around Cora's shoulders. "It's not too late to ask the hat for Gryffindor."

"Oh, stuff it, James," Cora said with a laugh, her previous concerns forgotten.

As I watched my children, happiness filling my heart along with nostalgia, I suddenly had the feeling of being watched. Turning my head, I looked for the source of the feeling and stopped when I saw a pair of shocked green eyes watching me from across the platform. "Sirius…" I whispered.

"What is it, love?" Sirius asked. He then looked in the same direction as me and his entire body stilled.

It was Harry, holding the hand of a little black haired boy with large brown eyes who looked to be about Cora's age. He seemed to be shocked to see us, and his eyes quickly roamed over the six children in our arms and standing by us, all of whom were near carbon copies of Sirius, all having his hair and skin tone, with only the girls resembling me in features and the twins having my eyes.

"Who is that, Mum?" Regulus asked, following his father's eyes.

"That's Harry, love. The one we told you about." My words had a startling effect on all of my kids, for they immediately looked over at the man who had once been my best friend. James especially seemed interested in the man whose father he had been named for.

Looking beyond Harry, I saw Ginny with another smaller boy who looked like Harry's clone, and a little girl who looked like Ginny, herself. Molly and Arthur were standing there as well, along with George and his wife Angelina and their two children. Next to George, though, were Ron and his wife Lavender. Lavender was holding the hand of a child much too young for Hogwarts, so I assumed that they were simply here to see Harry's oldest off.

It was odd to see the Weasleys after all this time. They hadn't changed much in looks, Molly still looked frazzled and harried, and Arthur had lost even more hair. George and Ron had matured and aged, but they simply looked like younger versions of their father. Ginny had widened, but much of that had been staved off by playing for the Harpies for all that time. (I felt a brief, if petty, satisfaction that I still retained my eighteen-year-old figure and unlined face, despite having been pregnant five times and having given birth to six children.) But Harry…he looked so handsome, having matured into the man I always knew he would be.

I knew that Sirius had seen Arthur, Ron, and Harry when he was at the Ministry, but he was curiously closed-lipped about it. I was quite sure that he never spoke to Ron and Harry at all, especially since Aurors and members of the Wizengamot would have little purpose for speaking. I myself hadn't seen them since we left England. Though we no longer lived in Lyon—we now lived in the Ambassador's Residence at the Embassy in Paris —we simply didn't come to England often. My path had simply never crossed with theirs.

The Weasleys looked displeased to see us, excepting George and Arthur, with Molly and Lavender actively glaring daggers in our direction. But Harry seemed to have a curious, yet awkward, look on his face and, clutching the hand of his son, he came towards us with his second son trailing after him. It probably only took him twenty seconds to reach us, but I felt as though my heart had stuttered and stopped a million times in between.

"Sirius? Hermione?" Harry looked genuinely surprised at the sight of our family, curiosity and shock warring on his face. "What are you doing here?"

Sirius seemed to be at a loss for words, so I simply said, "We are here to see our daughter off." I nodded in Cora's direction, and said, "Cora will be a first year, and our sons James and Remus will be starting their sixth."

James and Remus nodded hello at Harry, but seemed hesitant to approach him. Alastor had no such compunction. Tugging on Harry's robe, he chirped, "Hello!"

Harry looked down and grinned at my son. "Hello, what's your name?"

"I'm Alastor," my son said, still holding tight to Sirius's hand. "And that's my brother Regulus and my sister Amelia. I'm five."

Harry laughed at my youngest son's words. "Well, it's nice to meet you Alastor. This is my son James," he said, indicating the boy whose hand he was holding. I saw my own son James start slightly at that pronouncement. Harry continued, "And my youngest son Albus." The other little boy held shyly to the back of Harry's robes.

"So, er—" Harry stuttered awkwardly. "When did you two get married?"

I frowned at him. "Seventeen years ago. I sent you a letter all about it; it was also in the papers."

Harry embarrassed. "Yeah, I never really read your letters. It was too queer, you know?"

Sirius spoke then for the first time, looking at his godson with regret and sadness on his face. "Maybe for you, Harry."

Harry's face pinked a bit, but he said nothing.

I suddenly understood, quite simply, that no matter what happened, we couldn't go back to the way things were before Ron and Harry cast us out. And, for the first time in seventeen years, I was okay with that. We had all changed, all moved on into our separate lives. Harry no more had a place in our life than we did in his.

"So, er, what do you do Hermione? Are you at home with your kids?"

I shook my head. "No, Harry. I am the British Ambassador to France for the Ministry of Magic."

Harry's eyebrows shot up. "Wow, really? That's great, Hermione." He then turned to Sirius. "And you work on the Wizengamot, right? I've seen you in the Ministry a bit."

"Yes," Sirius said with a nod. "As well as tending to the Black Estates and businesses."

"I see," Harry said, smiling easily.

The whistle on the train blew again, and I turned to my children. After last minute hugs and kisses, James, Remus, and Cora ran for the train, hopping on and grinning madly from the doorway. Sirius slid an arm around me, and joined me in waving to our children.

I then noticed that Harry had gone back to his family, and was ushering his oldest onto the train. For a moment, I saw a different scene. Of Harry, standing with my family as our children went off to Hogwarts together, and Sirius throwing an arm over Harry's shoulders. But I blinked the image away, knowing it wasn't real.

"Do you ever regret…"

"No," Sirius said firmly, knowing exactly what I was going to say. "I don't regret one moment that has led to our life together."

Feeling the weight of my daughter in my arms, Regulus's solid presence in front of me, with Alastor clutching his father's hand, all the while Cora, James, and Remus laughing and waving goodbye, I smiled. Turning to the man I loved more than life itself, I whispered, "Neither do I."

His answering smile was the only thing I ever needed to see to know that I had made the right choice.

After the train departed, Sirius and I stood there for awhile, waving a friendly, yet distant, goodbye to Harry and his family when they left.

Sometimes, in the dark of night, I fear that all of this was a dream. I fear that I will wake and it will be the day of the final battle and Sirius never returned. I can't even imagine what my life would be like if that was the case. I like to think that I would have gone on, lived and survived, but I know no such thing. Simply put, Sirius is my other half. I can't endure a life without him, and I gave up the most important relationships of my life for our love. And yet, that is a price I would be willing to pay all over again in order to be with him.

Ours is a fairytale romance, yet it is in the everyday living in which our happiness lies.

"Come along, Mrs. Black," Sirius said lovingly, drawing me from my musings. "Let's go home."

With a smile to my husband, I held tight to my children as we left the station.

Once, I laughingly said to Sirius that I wished there was a star called Hermione, so that when we die I might join him in the sky. Sirius merely smiled at me and said that the Dog Star does not shine on its own. It is a part of something greater. Just as it belongs to Canis Major, he would always belong to me. So though people who turned their faces up towards the heavens might not see me, to his mind, I was always there, shinning right along beside him.

Eternally together, burning bright.



The new Black Family Motto "Toujours Fidèle", means Always Faithful. I thought that fitting for Sirius, who was always faithful to his friends and wife, and fitting for Hermione because she has always stayed true to the people she loves, even when they aren't always true to her.

Sirius and Hermione's children are named for people who perished in the First and Second Wizarding Wars. James, Remus, and Regulus are self-explanatory. Alastor is for Mad-Eye Moody, who Sirius seemed to respect a great deal, Amelia is for Amelia Bones who I think Hermione probably admired, and Cora is for Colin Creevey and Nymphadora Lupin.

And yes, since I am that big of a nerd, I wanted to comment on the fact that all the Black children break the 'named for stars' cycle. In my head, the children are named first for those lost, second for their heritage. There full names are James Castor, Remus Pollux, Cora Lyra, Regulus Leo, Alastor Rasalas, and Amelia Aludra. The twins are named for Gemini, Cora for the constelattion of Lyra, Regulus for the constellation of Leo which his names comes from, Alastor also comes from Leo, and Amelia's comes from Canis Major, and means the Virgin.

Also, the reason the kids went to Hogwarts and not Beauxbatons is because their parents are British citizens, and both work for the British Magical Government. While Beauxbatons is closer to Paris—where the Blacks now live—Hogwarts would be an important experience for the kids in the minds of Sirius and Hermione, I think.