A/N: I'm not entirely sure a long A/N explaining the situation is necessarily a healthy start to a story. But I know some of you will be confused, so this is everything you need to know - Hermione ended up in the past (as she does so often, poor dear) and ended up having a sort of thing with Sirius. I'm inclined to say it's like an AU sequel to Paradox, but I kind of want to leave Paradox as a singular thing, on its own. Still. The idea came about as a one-shot but there was far too much exploration potential for that. I have no idea what I've gotten myself into I'm afraid, but I hope you all enjoy it.
Before the Dawn.
Tonight has been a long time coming.
The Daily Prophet was filled, cover to cover, with photos of him, descriptions of him, opinions of him. She was in one of the photos. So were Lily and James.
Hermione had to look away.
She has not gone to bed yet. She is sure he will come. It's three o'clock in the morning and he has been an escaped convict for around thirty hours.
Not that she's been counting.
She awakes some time later, having fallen asleep with her book on her chest (as is so often the way with her). She can hear a soft scratching, as though something, or someone is pawing at the door. She jumps to her feet, grabbing her wand, and approaches the door carefully. Is he mad at her? For not telling the world the truth? For not fighting hard enough for a fair trial? She fought, dammit. She even went to Dumbledore and told him everything, but the old bastard had already given evidence against Sirius.
She opens the door and stands back. He takes one step inside, transforms back into his human self, and collapses.
A flick of her wand closes the door, and another flick levitates him, up the stairs, into her bedroom and onto the bed. She casts a cleaning charm, though no amount of cleaning charms will be able to rid him of the wasted look he has acquired over the last twelve years. She transfigures his ratty prison uniform into a pair of pyjamas, her wand shaking in her hand as she tries to not think about the complete alteration Azkaban has brought about. She tries not to remember how handsome and happy he had once been, because that would make this moment so much worse.
She climbs into bed next to him, covers them both with the thick duvet, and closes her eyes, her hand linked with his.
She owls in sick the next day. She tells them she's come down with a nasty case of the flu, and no amount of Pepper Up potion is going to make her feel any better.
He wakes around midday, and she has a glass of water waiting for him, as well as some energy replenishing potions (which she's spent the morning brewing) and a bowl of hot chicken soup. He says nothing as he eats, his eyes focused on the tray on his lap. When he's finished he sets the spoon down with a quiet clink.
"He's going to be fine, you know."
"I need to -"
"You don't need to do anything. Nothing even happens until Halloween."
"I was one of Harry's best friends. Of course I'm sure."
"You never told me that."
"There are lots of things I didn't tell you."
"I noticed," there is a hint of bitterness to his tone that he would have been unable to hide from her, no matter how much he tried to disguise it.
"I tried," she says, leaning forward, wrapping her fingers around the back of his hand. "I swear I tried. I even told Dumbledore everything. What keeping you in there meant, what would happen because of it all...but he wouldn't budge on it. He just gave me the changing time lecture again. Didn't care about what was at stake."
"Yeah well Dumbledore was always about the greater good. He doesn't care if some arrogant little shit he used to teach ends up in Azkaban."
"It's about more than that," Hermione whispers. "And it's not that he doesn't care. It's just that...well. This is the way it always was. And I'm not allowed to change it."
"Were you scared?" he asks. "Of what would happen?"
Hermione nods. "You have no idea what's coming...and the thought that things could have been worse..."
"What's coming?" Sirius' voice has turned dark. He's not letting her wriggle her way out of telling him this time. He's spent twelve years in Azkaban because she didn't warn him, his best friend and his wife are dead because she didn't warn him.
Hermione shakes her head.
"How long do we have?"
"Just under two years."
"And he, what, comes back?"
"Worse than before."
Sirius clenches his fists, his knuckles popping white under his skin. "So Lily and James died for nothing."
"Harry's protected. Until he's seventeen. Because of Lily."
"Well that's something, I suppose," he sighs.
Hermione doesn't know what to say. There is a distance between them now much greater than when he was in Azkaban. They are inches apart and yet it feels as though they're on different continents, in different time zones.
"D'you want some more?"
Sirius looks down at his bowl, and nods. Hermione takes it downstairs to refill it, glad to have the chance to shed a guilty tear in private.
He seems to realise what she's been up to when she returns. He takes the bowl from her, and watches as she crosses round to the other side of the bed and sits down, legs crossed.
"I don't blame you," he says, stirring his soup gently. "I guess I just...I just blame everyone."
Hermione nods, and the guilty tears make an unwelcome return. He sets the tray down on the bedside table and pulls her close, though his arms feel foreign and bony.
"Come on, don't do that," he says. "Please don't do that."
She pulls away from him so she can look him in the eye. "Everything that's going to happen is my fault - the worst bit is, I know how terrible it all is, and I'm just going to let it happen."
"Will he be gone for good this time?"
Hermione shrugs. "I disappeared before the end. Merlin only knows what they think happened to me."
He pulls her in again, and it feels as though he's not quite sure what to do with all this human contact that he has craved for so long. His hands are uncertain as to where exactly they should rest on her body, when they were always so sure before. She's not entirely sure she likes the situation. It is a painful reminder of how everything has changed, and how it's only going to get worse for all of them.
"Are you scared?"
Hermione shakes her head. "There's not much left they can take from me."
Sirius murmurs in agreement. She thinks, rather optimistically for her, that perhaps it's like the flu, in that it must all get worse before it gets better.