A note from Serade Black: As always, thank you for the reviews. I absolutely love hearing about when you read my stories (on a commute, at home for the holidays, at the in-laws...it makes me feel like the storytelling is so much more validated). Some of you are speculating and though I will not say right or wrong about anything, I will say this: I am not a fan of O.C. that are an essential part of a story. Throw them in once in a while, yes...but to take over focus - not my thing. That is all. Stayed tuned! ;) On another note, I need to apologize for my horrendous updating (or there lack of) habits. I recently have dabbled into another Fandom, but will NEVER forget my love for Sirius & Hermione. Bear with me...- SB

Ch. 12

The solitude in number twenty-four was just as dark and unforgiving as Azkaban prison. There were reminders on every wall, in each closet, with every turn of a doorknob and every morning when waking up alone. The big house that offered comfort, safety, and protection had long been shifted into a new dynamic.

Hermione chose to remain alone for the next few days, allowing the new development to soak into every orifice of her mind. She replayed the news over and over in her head, as if something in there might have been missed or that she would wake up and it would have been just a dream. Of course, if that were a dream, then perhaps Sirius's departure would have also been just a nightmare.

Wishful thinking on the latter, the reality of Hermione still becoming a mother was settling within her bones. As she laid on her left side in her big king sized bed, her arm absent-mindedly reached for the other pillow, willing it to still be warm from its previous occupant. Her roaming hand ran over the sheets where he would sleep; her mind imagined him close as she closed her eyes to the darkness. But, as her hands felt the air and the coldness of the sheets, it was evident that she did not have as powerful an imagination as she had hoped. She only harbored strong vivid memories to cling to with every ounce of strength of her being.

Feeling like a child once again, her mind played out several different scenarios on how she was going to break the news to her parents. They knew their only daughter to be a strong, independent, intelligent witch who had the drive to thrive on her career path, but she was sure they didn't plan on her becoming an unwed single mother. They rather liked Sirius. Her father thought he was ideal for her, because he was an intelligent man that didn't spend all his time in the library and brought out a new side of his daughter, while still challenging her intellectually. Her mother, who always had an opinion, couldn't find much against Sirius other than his age, but she quickly warmed up to it and accepted the fact that her heart wanted what the heart wanted.

Her friends, the magical ones, would be a different plan of action all together. They all had separate relationships with Sirius and it was going to affect them all in many different ways. She couldn't defend his character anymore than what he had already set as an example in this situation, but considering the fact that Sirius was not currently aware of her condition, he couldn't be judged too irrationally.

Life had to shift, it was changing. Hermione had a new adventure on the horizon...motherhood.

Her sleep patterns were erratic and the nausea was kept a little more at bay with the special herbs she had purchased from the Healer. However, she still tossed and turned in the big bed all by herself, waking to small sobs and cries that were the aftershocks of a broken heart. One night she had awoken to the darkness, her sobs subsiding and her hands went to her belly. She imagined herself big and swollen; her skin stretching and conforming naturally to allow a new little life to begin inside of her. Some moments she couldn't help but feel like a lonely scared little girl, when other times she felt like a strong independent woman about to embark upon a momentous event backed with a wonderful support system.

She battled her own conscious, believing it to be quite unfair not to share it with Sirius. Sadly, his mind had been made up and she forced herself to accept the answer that this was not what he wanted and would now be missing out. For Hermione to reach out to him in order to inform him of this new development would not help the situation, only hurt it, for if he were to come back for her, for the baby, then Sirius had to do it on his own. With that in mind, she would force her friends to promise never to tell him and she would do everything possible to hide the pregnancy as long as she could. Bulky clothing, beware.

On one particularly brave day, Hermione mustered enough strength and will to prepare herself for a trip to Diagon Alley. The day itself was overcast and a bit drizzly, similar to her overall attitude and inside emotional state. The trees along the sidewalk leading towards the Tube were dancing haphazardly in the wind; its branches pressing their brittle limits. Leaves fell into the air like nature's confetti, littering the ground with evidence of the circle of life preparing to die, only to be reborn in the Spring.

With a light scarf wrapped tightly around her throat and her favorite blue jeans she thought fondly of having to discard in a few months time, she stepped onto the train like the rest of the mundane, trying to prepare herself for the reality of letting the world in. The car swayed back and forth as it rode effortless along the tracks, stopping and going, letting the muggles on and off.

Her eyes fixated on a little girl, no more than two, sitting close to her mother on the bench. They were looking at a book together; the little girl's arm was wrapped through her parent's. Hermione imagined that would be her: alone and with a small child. No one to help, doing this all by herself. The father out of the picture, hopefully pining for the family he nearly had, but knew nothing about.

Her body knew the route to the Leaky Cauldron well. She allowed her feet to lead her in the right direction, looking down at them and mentally counting the sidewalk cracks, without really keeping count on where she'd last left off. The wind blew her hair around her head and she tucked her chin in lower, bracing herself against the chill and her arms hugged her body tighter, as if protecting herself from any ill.

The black metal sign of the Leaky Cauldron came into view of the same witch hovering over a cauldron. Muggles couldn't see the sign, in fact many muggles just avoided that same abandoned-looking street in every effort to not be mugged, or in our case, hexed. The door was heavy as she pulled it open and without looking about the pub in the slim chance she would see the dark brunette she had met as, Aiden, she kept her eyes low and private. In her peripheral, memories of Sirius's ill fated "wanted" posters could still be seen screaming in silence against the walls they decorated. She slipped through the back door and passed beyond the brick wall.

Diagon Alley looked bright and inviting on such a day, even with the overcast skies above, but she was not jaded by their invitation. As she dodged a low flying owl that swooped in to perch outside Elop's Owlery, her eyes finally focused on the sign of Flourish and Blotts with immediate need.

The little bell hanging over the door alerted Remus, the bookseller standing behind the counter, of her arrival. She was met with a warm smile and friendly eyes that allowed Hermione to have that moment of calm, before the storm. It took a lot of courage to find her way out to the bookstore, but she had concluded that he needed to be the very first one to know. Though she was not seeking direction, it was confidence that she needed, as well as the assurance that things would eventually be all right.

"Hermione, I am so pleased to see you," Remus greeted as he set down a stack of books he appeared to be cataloguing, indicated by his floating clipboard and quill. He left a kiss on her cheek and embraced her into a hug, wrapping both arms tightly around her as if to offer a personal invisible blanket. "It's good to see you out of the house."

"Yes, I'm sorry I've been all out of sorts these days," she excused, shoving her hands into the pockets of her jacket. Her eyes looked about the store, trying to focus on something balanced to say as well as to see if there were many customers in the shop. "Do you have a few minutes to step away for a quick bit?"

"Everything all right, Hermione?" Remus asked, giving his head a curious tilt. She nodded and then gestured back outside. His eyes never left her face, but his brow managed a slight furrow as he announced into the air, "Brian, I'm taking a quick break." He followed her out the door, allowing her to silently lead him away from the bookstore and away from many distractions. She brought them to a bench along the sidewalk, where passers-by kept on their way, stopping in on shop after shop.

He joined her on the bench and folded his hands in his lap, waiting for her to start. Hermione was thoughtful, mindful of her words and almost not quite sure how to start. She never looked back at him, but his presence was already reassuring to know that when she spoke, he would be there to listen. He would be her one way street, her confidante and she knew that he wouldn't mention anything to anyone, unless she asked.

She focused on a young boy across the street. He appeared to be about eleven and she could only imagine that he had just received his first letter to Hogwarts. He was tall, skinny and had dirty blond shaggy hair that fell over shoulders. His eyes were wide with discovery as it appeared his mother was presenting him with his very first owl. The boy put his arm out, waiting for the bird to transfer from his mother's arm onto his. The mother looked pleased, excited for her son and without a moment's hesitation, she promptly left a kiss on her boy's head.

A mother's love.

"I miss him, Remus," she finally said, after staring into the voided space the boy and his mother had vacated.

With a heavy sigh, Remus nodded and followed her gaze to the empty space in front of them, feigning interest trying to look casual. "I know," he said low, "I do, too."

"Have you heard from him?" she asked in a dull monotone. Like her voice had no emotion, she had put on a heavy blanket of melancholy. "Do you know where he is?"

"He's in Ireland," he replied, understanding the need to know at least a hint of him.

The idea of knowing where he was, happened to be just as painful as not knowing. She felt a burn in her chest, an empty feeling that could not be quenched. Though her heart broke, she couldn't help but ponder the thought of him so close...yet, truly so far. Holding back tears, she shut her eyes tightly and balled her fists.

Concerned, Remus laid a hand on her arm, trying to offer a little more support, "Hermione, is everything all right?"

Without looking up, Hermione found a morsel of inner strength in order to compose herself just enough without allowing a flood of emotions take over. She licked her lips and nodded, "I've got some news. You mustn't tell him." Remus remained silent and focused on his friend. "Remus, I'm pregnant."

An expression of shock rippled through him that he forced himself to tear his eyes off of her and attempt to focus on something else in order to gather his thoughts. His breath nearly silenced as it became more and more shallow; the surprise unsettled him, but then began to subside. He gripped her arm tighter and slid along the bench, closing the space between them. He moved his arm behind her shoulders in order to pull her in, where she fell against him willingly, like a sister would a big brother.

"You've only just found out, haven't you," he assumed, laying a kiss on her head lovingly.

"I've known for a few days, now. I got confirmation. You're the only one I've told," she said quietly, welcoming the warmth from her friend. "And, I've already decided that it is what I want."

"Are you sure?" he asked and she nodded against him. "And what about, Sirius?"

Hermione sat up and wiped her eyes as she shook her head, "No. If he comes home, then he'll know. Until then, if I can't have him, then I'll raise the memory of him with me. It's what I wanted, Remus, not what he wanted. That's why he left; that's why he didn't stay with me."

"No," Remus said with an assertive head shake, "he left because he loves you. The fact that he's an idiot, that's his family's fault." He believed that she needed to know more about the selfless act his friend had committed in his departure. She was always Sirius's priority, only he gave her up in order for her to have the best chance with someone she could raise a family with. Fortunately, this new development rendered that selfless act moot.

"He's so stubborn," she said a little annoyed.

"Are you all right to do this alone? Financially, I mean?"

Hermione nodded, her lip sneering at the thought of comfort, "Yes, he made sure of that before he left. Jerk."

"Yes, he did that to me, as well. I was just making sure."

She looked up at her friend and gave the shadow of what a smile might have been, "I know I can't keep this a secret for very long, but I do not intend on making a big announcement. I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this quiet. At least until I tell our friends."

"Yes, of course," he nodded, pushing a lock of hair away from her face, cherishing her innocence long taken. "Would you be inclined to move back into Grimmauld Place? Tonks and I could help with the baby and I would feel so much more at ease if you were close."

She smiled and shook her head, turning down the thoughtful offer, "No Remus, but thank you. You and Tonks need your time and I would rather stay where I am. It's what I know and it's what I love. I still have wonderful memories in that house."

"Well, you know I'm here if ever you need me," he assured, pulling away his arm and patting her hands that were now folded delicately in her lap.

"I appreciate that, Remus." Hermione gave him one more hug and as she pulled away, a small light began to simmer within her. She felt warm, lifted and lighter, now that she had finally told someone close to her. The road ahead of her was long, but by just speaking to him about it, things seemed a little less foggy to accept. Giving herself a small mental shake, she glanced back at Remus, "I don't want to keep you long. I've got to get going, anyway."

"And where is it you are going, now?" he asked with a warm comforting grin. He remained seated on the little bench as Hermione stood up and turned to face him.

With a small smirk escalating into a proper smile, she began to beam, "Shopping. I'm going to need new clothes." Yes, speaking to Remus had been very good for her and though it was fleeting, perspective was finally coming in to focus.

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Later that evening, the house was nearly asleep. The sun had retired for several hours and the half moon was shining bright and strong in the night sky. Hermione's owl had perched somewhere outside her window in a tree in the back garden, watching for small unsuspecting prey. It hooted softly, igniting the life of the evening's activities.

One of the lights in the kitchen remained on, illuminating the small two-person dinette where Hermione was seated with a pad of paper and quill. She had just begun to scribble out her list of things to accomplish within the next six months, when her mind began to wander. She had visited her own muggle doctor that afternoon in order to confirm her pregnancy with a familiar OBGYN and when she heard the fast fluttering of the baby's heartbeat during the ultrasound; she nearly fell off the examining table. The pounding, the proof of life, the small little being that had started its journey into life had shifted everything into definite perspective. Seeing the small tiny bean shaped organism that was beginning to thrive within her stomach made the world pause all around her. The muffled beating sound was loud, but euphoric. Frightening, but exciting, and more than anything her life was to complete itself in a new way.

Reality had slapped her hard across the face when she was filling out paper work in the office, for she had marked "unwed" (but, not without trying) and that the father was "not involved". However, somewhere deep down, she mustered up the strength to still put down Sirius's name and birth date, partially including him, should he ever return and take responsibility for this precious creation. She had no plans of leaving him off, because someday that matter of information might deem very valuable. It was still too early to tell the sex of the child, but for the time being she just referred to the small growing baby inside of her as "peapod".

The house seemed very big and very empty to her. She and Sirius had worked hard on this house together, redoing the floors, the cabinets, updating the appliances and light fixtures, putting pictures on the walls, picking out new furniture and all of it was beautiful...but no longer important. Hermione's new eyes saw another's' perspective - a baby's perspective. She noted how many bumpers she was going to have to put out on the corners of the coffee table and the high counter tops, where she was going to put the small pram, a new gate needed to be bolted in front of the fireplace...

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The muggle pub was old, dusty and very outdated. It appeared dirty, just scraping by whatever code was enforced, and had a strong musty smell of stale cigarettes. In the last corner booth towards the back, a man sat with his back against the wall, one leg outstretched and the other bent up as he rested his arm over his knee flicking a metal lighter open and closed. A pack of cigarettes sat on the table in front of him next to two empty pint glasses and one that was currently being nursed. As he sucked on the end of the half burned cigarette, it illuminated his face enough to see that the man was unshaven and his hair was pulled back in a pony tale. Smoke circled all around him, giving off a mysterious dark illusion.

The bartender came over to his table to collect the empty pint glasses. He was short, but thick. He had arms the size of small tree trunks and a face that said he had seen plenty of bar brawls in his time. With a thick Irish brogue he inquired on the smoking man, "You up for one more, lad? It's last call." The unshaven man with the ponytail nodded to the bartender and held up two fingers. He rested his head against the back wall with a soft thud. "This is an Inn, as well. You be needin' a room, too?" The man sighed and nodded again, this time holding up one finger. "Alright, what name shall I put on the room, then?"

The man chuckled to himself and flicked an ash into the ashtray, "Stubby Boardman."

"Stubby it is, lad," the bartender called out as he turned away from the table to return to his bar.

"Stubby, then?" said a woman sitting at the bar who had overheard the brief, albeit short, conversation. She had taken an interest to the stranger in the shadows and hadn't spoken up until then. "Sure hope that's only a nickname and not a reputation."

For a moment he considered her, but knew that he was a much better man and much stronger man than to allow that. He would not allow himself a weakness, not when he had someone he loved dearly missing him as much as he was missing her. He felt empty and soulless as if the Dementors had finally taken the Kiss he was intended for and was left with very little feeling or consideration. His hair was dirty and his fingernails were gritty from hours spent riding his motorcycle with no gloves or hat. He hadn't showered in at least five days, only stopping for sleep when he couldn't ride any further or wanted a drink. He had resorted to a diet of beer and cigarettes, sustaining only on depression and memories. If he had reached the end of his road...it was here.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed the woman sliding off her barstool like a slithering snake approaching their unsuspecting ignorant prey. Without bothering to look up, he held up his hand and shook his head as he said, "Not interested."

He flicked her away like the ash of his cigarette; smirking at the colorful name she called him under her breath as she retreated to her barstool. He took the last long drink from his beer and picked up his cigarettes, pocketing them in the front of his jacket. He reached for his backpack that sat on the grimy dusty floor and slung it over his shoulder. With a nod to the bartender, he climbed the stairs at the back of the pub to the room he had reserved, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep instead of just tossing and turning like he had every night, since he rode away on his motorcycle.

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"Hermione, I have to say it's really good to see you out and about these days," Harry said, putting his arm around his best friend as they walked together down the sidewalk to Flourish and Blotts bookstore.

She smiled and wrapped her coat a little tighter, keeping the chill at bay on the windy night. The brisk air kissed her features delicately, but the sensation was stinging all the same. "Well, who would I be to turn down a night at the bookstore?"

Ginny, Harry and Hermione were nearing their destination of the old bookstore in Diagon Alley, an old haunt from their childhood years, but a staple these days. Remus had informed them of a new violinist that was hired to play and apparently, he was amazing. It didn't take long for Hermione to be coaxed into joining her friends at one of her favorite places to get lost in; the potential of hearing good classical music was something she needed in order to calm the nerves these days.

The bookstore was like an old friend. It was warm and inviting, the scent of new printed pages filled her senses and just being around them gave Hermione a strong sense of comfort and serenity. That evening, the store had been slightly transformed when you first went inside. In the back, where she remembered Gilderoy Lockhart signing autographs, there was a small music stand and several chairs positioned in front of it in a half circle. She saw Remus and immediately went to him for an inviting hug and friendly kiss on the cheek.

Before the small performance began, Hermione pulled away from the couple to explore her usual favorite places within the store, starting with the small shelves the lined the staircase as you first walked in. She slid her hand along the arm rail as her eyes scanned the titles that were unfamiliar. She knew they were new, because dust hadn't settled into the small crevices on the corners of the shelves.

She rounded the top banister and breathed in the enchanted scent of fresh parchment and bound leather. Feeling a sense of tranquility in her private heaven, she closed here eyes and ran the tips of her fingers along the bindings, casually peeking when a book called to her. Smiling to herself as she ventured down the second aisle, she remembered her moments fondly when Sirius, the younger Sirius, met her there and attempted to play it cool over a small argument that now seemed so insignificant. But, his energy still seemed to be amongst the books she stood between in the narrow aisle. His aura surrounded her, her heart warmed and she felt that for a second, just a short brief second, that he was nearby and close. Of course, that was impossible.

She heard some voices from down below, followed by the beginning notes of a solo player of the violin. The silence was deafening as the music slowly began. There was a subtle sound of the jingle of the bell that sat over the door announcing late arrivals coming to see the evening violinist, waiting to be enchanted by the beginnings of a crescendo.

The music was peaceful and serene. The notes of the first piece of music were light and flowed freely over the strings. The player was highly skilled and anyone could identify that by the light vibrato he was able to produce with nimble fingers. Hermione closed her eyes and allowed the music, the smells, and the ambiance fill her senses, enchanting her to a calming level of sanity. She laid her finger on the end of a book and pulled it out slowly, losing herself in the music and making her forget the stresses in her life. She sighed contently as she looked over the book. Smiling to herself, she had found a new title to immerse herself in.

Believing that she had left her friends alone for too long, though she doubt they were bored by the beautiful music that filled the bookstore, she ventured down the stairs towards the first level. Taking each step very carefully, her presence barely noticed by the on-lookers taking interest in the player that stood at the back of the store, Hermione turned onto the first landing and saw only the backs of Harry and Ginny through the crowd. Her eyes glanced in the direction as everyone else and as she looked beyond the crowd coming down onto the first floor, she froze.

It was Aiden.