"I was afraid to be alone,

Now I'm scared that's how I'd like to be,

All these faces none the same,

How can there be so many personalities?

So many lifeless empty hands."

- Azure ray's November

December 17th, 2000

"Children! Come down now!" Molly called the five of them downstairs, stunning Mrs. Black's portrait in the process. Several people were walking through the door and down the hall. Harry reached the dining room, which was already full of Order members, including his Godfather, and his best friend.

Ron's audible gasp was a feeling shared between all the Weasley's and Harry. They gawked at her openly.

The unrecognizable young woman stood; shoulder's back. Her arms were crossed across her chest. Her face held no expression. This was not feisty, eager, and intelligent Hermione. Hermione was small, very small. They'd told her, or Dumbledore and Remus did, really, that she would never regain a small portion of her body weight because of how she suffered in Azkaban. Her sinewy muscle showed from battles well fought, not bulky, but definite underneath. However, she was very skinny, there was no meat on her bones. Her posture had changed completely as well. She held herself like a strong warrior, defensive. She was skinny enough that she could be bending over, but her posture made her sunken face and sickness a little less noticeable. Her face was sharp and harsh, she had no cheeks. Absolutely none, completely hollow, her cheek bones protruded, fully emphasized. He could see this too clearly in her profile.

The similarities between Hermione and Sirius were surprisingly undeniable. Being out of Azkaban years now, Sirius had gained back a decent amount of weight, and looked healthy enough, though he would never quite be the same as he had once. His face, lined and also angular, though usually merry in expression, held a similar hollowed shape. Hermione and Sirius could've been brother or sister, or even a couple.

Luckily, she was facing away, because Harry was sure he would see the haunted, dead look he had seen in Sirius' eyes back in third year and even in the fireplace in fourth. He could not bear to see it in his best friend's eyes as well.

Harry went to greet his Godfather, who stood just a few feet away from her.

"Sirius." He grinned and they embraced.

"Welcome home, Harry. Happy to be home for the holidays?"

But Harry didn't respond; he was barely listening. Sirius noticed Harry's attention had already turned to Hermione.

Harry wanted over to greet Hermione, but he wasn't sure how. He hadn't seen her in a couple years, and no matter how much she had changed, she was still Hermione.

She's still Hermione, Harry reminded himself.

He stepped forward toward her. Harry could feel Sirius' eyes on him. "Hello, Hermione." He said quietly. "We missed you so much." She grimaced weakly, an attempt to smile at him, and stepped forward to kiss him lightly on the cheek for a brief moment. Harry felt relief wash over him.

Sirius was shocked. Her reaction to contact had not been so pleasant previously. She was really pushing her limits.

"Everyone, take your seats, now! He'll be here any second." Molly interrupted them.

Not everybody paid too much attention to Hermione. She had been back for little more than a month now, only the five of them had not seen her. Hermione didn't meet the eyes of anyone. She stood until everyone else was seated, and then sat right next to Sirius when Molly asked her to sit, again. She didn't seem to be listening very much, and definitely not responding. Her eyes kept darting around the room almost involuntarily, like an instinct.

Harry had sat right down on the other side of her. He wanted to support her, no matter what.

Dumbledore suddenly appeared at the end of the table and spoke. "The first part of the meeting will include the younger members, and after that part is addressed, we will eat and then the real meeting will commence. Kingsley, would you please update us to the current status regarding Sirius and Hermione's escape from Azkaban?"

Kingsley rambled about the Ministry, but Hermione barely heard. Since her return, she tended to tune everything out unconsciously. She often couldn't remember walking to her room or taking a shower until she was about to crawl into bed and looked down at her fresh pajamas and washed hair.

"Can I…", Hermione tried to say, clearing her throat, "Could somebody, uh, get me a spare wand?" She asked.

Ginny and Harry shared an undetectable glance of apprehension, Hermione's voice was slightly deeper than before. Harry could only imagine why that was, from what he knew of Dementor's...

"Oh yes," Dumbledore replied easily, "Forgive me, it slipped my mind…I will summon a spare from my office in a moment."

Afterwards, almost everyone had cleared out. It was just Sirius, Hermione, Harry, Ginny, Ron, Fred and George back in the living room.

Ron, Fred, and George were conversing loudly, just little away from Harry and Sirius, seeming to be pretending Hermione was part of the conversation, or so Harry thought. They didn't want to isolate her. She stared at the table and her hands, occasionally glancing at one of them when they laughed too loudly.

Hermione seemed to never leave Sirius' side.

"Why does she stay so close to you?" He asked Sirius quietly, since the others were mostly out of earshot.

Sirius looked at her thoughtfully for a second, and then turned back to Harry. "I think she feels safe around me. Earlier, when Molly saw her for the first time, I sort of helped her out. She doesn't really want to be touched, right now."

Harry understood that. With a pang, he thought of Cedric, someone who was kind and good and who had helped him out. After the incident and school finished, Harry barely spoke for days, and often found himself dreading contact with anyone for a bit. He and Sirius had had a talk about it. Harry was still dreamt it every once and awhile.

"It's because you've been to- there, isn't it?"

Sirius nodded slowly, considerately.

"When you came out of Azkaban", Harry continued, "you were fine…I mean, you wanted to kill Pettigrew, but you talked to me just fine, after that, asked me to move in, you were happy, even…"

"Mostly because I had you, and I was freed of the wretched place." Sirius did not mention the many other things that had happened to Hermione other than simply Azkaban. He would have to tell Harry soon, but he honestly didn't want to.

"So she'll be okay, then?"

Sirius did not like for Harry and Ron to see their best friend suffer. As much as Hermione would have enjoyed the company, Sirius was glad they were busy in training. At this stage, Hermione was somewhat recovering health-wise, but the emotions she bore were quite in another directin.

In all honesty, Sirius wasn't sure she would be okay. She was so young…maybe she couldn't pull through…

Sirius remembered that particular moment.
- - - - - - (flashback)

November 4th, 2000

"Hermione!" Mrs. Weasley squealed happily. She stumbled over to Hermione, to hug her.

"Molly," I warned her quickly, "you shouldn't—"

Hermione cringed away, hard. Molly looked very hurt and confused. She stepped back.

Hermione closed her eyes, and turned her head away, downward, her face scrunched in pain. She did not seem to expect to have that reaction…it was just too much, too soon.

Sirius ushered a dejected-looking Molly back to the kitchen.

"It's okay. Surely, you understand? She didn't mean to…to be rude."

Molly was a smart woman; she would empathize.

"I- well, just didn't expect it. But my boys don't like to be hugged till this day, so it's quite all right. She's had a hard time, after all."

Sirius gave them both a moment to themselves, busying himself with porridge, a stead-fast remedy for weight gain and warmth, two things Hermione needed right now.

When he returned to Hermione, she looked positively exhausted.

Her bloodshot eyes followed him from the kitchen door back inside the living room.

"Sit down, Herm'. Don't worry about Molly, she understands. Just rest…and eat something, drink something warm... You've no school, no worries. I'm guessing you don't want me to inform your friends you're here?"

She shook her head. Sirius stared on, feeling the need to let her know...

"I was the same way, you know. At first. I had a lot of time alone, on the run, before I came into more positive contact with others. But even when I was finally hugged, it was scary. Like, you get so used to numbing yourself to the pain, that you don't expect anything else. But you finally come into contact with it, it's like your body and mind just don't know how to handle it. So you panic. But it gets better."

Hermione's blank eyes flickered for the briefest moment before she turned her face away. Sirius knew her mind was reeling.

Then, she laid down on the couch pulled her feet up, and stared into the fire.

"It gets better," he whispered, plopping down into onto the rug next to her. He set the steaming cup of porridge down onto the floor next to her head. "Drink up, it tastes bloody fantastic." And he didn't need to.

His mission was accomplished when Hermione sat up a bit, picked up the mug and sipped it, hugging it around her cold hands.

She didn't set the mug back down.

- - - - - - - - - - (end flashback)

December 17th, 2001

After everyone left, Sirius lingered in the kitchen, sipping some tea, with soft Christmas music playing from the Wizarding Radio. Harry and Hermione had gone upstairs to their rooms. It was much too cold in the gloomy Grimmauld Place this winter, even colder than usual. Sirius lit the many fireplaces in the whole house this night.

Stirring his tea absentmindedly, Sirius thought about the remainder of the holidays. He really didn't know what to expect. Would Hermione talk to Harry? She hadn't spoken much since her return. He wasn't sure if Harry's presence would hurt or help her.

After Sirius finished his tea and went to out the fireplace in the living room, he found Hermione curled up on the couch with a blanket, sound asleep.

He really didn't want to leave her downstairs by herself; it was quite scary at night. Also, the fire was so warm and welcoming…

Sirius slid into the armchair, sighing in the relaxing light of the fire. Soon, his eyelids began to droop and he fell asleep.

" Would someone care to classify

Broken hearts and twisted minds

So I can find, someone to rely on..."

When Hermione woke, she spotted Sirius in the armchair by her feet, snoozing softly, and she tears suddenly leaked from her eyes and trickled down her face. So surprised at her own reaction, she touched her cheek and felt the wetness.

She had become so accustomed to pain and sadness, that it was almost always accompanied by the numbness she forced upon in during her imprisonment.

But she was so touched by his presence, that this...the tears couldn't be contained. He must have left the warmth of his bed to stay with her, just to stay with her.

He looked so innocent there, so soft and innocent. If he could be so happy, after everything he'd been through, couldn't she?

Couldn't she?

When Hermione finally convinced herself to get up, the first thing she did was pull her body up off the couch and drag her feet up the stairs to shower. She, too, felt better, and not quite as exhausted emotionally and physically. But the comforting, warm fire she slept next to almost everyday was too hot today, and she needed a good shower.

Maybe I should try and sleep in my own room… she thought idly, as she headed toward the bathroom. Sirius had set up a very comfortable room all to herself, but Hermione had taken to sleeping on the couch. She noticed that, when she was around the fire, the extraordinary warmth slipped like a blanket over her usually numb, unfeeling body.

Rubbing her blurry eyes, Hermione searched with her fingers along the wall till she found the light switch. She flipped it up immediately, the bright light shocking her eyes; she had to close them for a few seconds. Fluttering them slowly open again, Hermione resumed her showering procedure…remembering why that light was so bright...

When she first arrived at Grimmauld place, she had an unpleasant experience when she went to shower. She had entered and locked the door to the small bathroom, just to turn around with wide eyes and open it again, rushing back into the hall, panting for breath. After a couple seconds in the rather dimly lit bathroom with the door closed, Hermione felt the air tighten like strong fingers around her throat, taking away her breath, and behind the curtain were odd shadows; she could've sworn something was hiding in the bathtub. Of course, it was all her imagination, but still, her hands on her bent knees, gasping, she tried to convince herself to go in again.

Once she magicked the lights brighter, she wasn't so frightened. She could see every corner of the bathroom clearly. Plus, she didn't have to lock the door, only Sirius was around and he would know not to enter. Hermione left it a crack open. This minor change was somehow such a relief that she could breathe in the tiny bathroom. She knew it was childish, maybe even foolish. But, she was just a little claustrophobic, that's all.

But, no, I'm not… I'm scared, She admitted. And sleeping by the fireplace in the glow of the ever-burning yellow, illuminating light, she avoided the darkness and shadows that she would have to sleep in in her room.

She stepped out of the shower, sighing at the too-long hair she saw in the mirror, damp and darker coloured with water, somehow it had grown in her 2 year stay in prison, despite being completely malnourished. Wrapping herself carefully in a towel, she stretched all her muscles the hot water had loosened, wincing when she saw a few scars.

She ran across the hall to her room, locking the door quickly. The rush of cold air had chilled her body when the wet droplets met it. Hermione hated when that happened. She liked to savor the remaining warmth of the hot water…but at least her room was specifically altered by hers truly to be extremely warm.

Along with spells, Hermione put candles all about the room to warm it. Almost a hundred candles floated all around the perimeter of her ceiling at a variety of heights. It smelled very pleasant, but not too strong. Most were unscented. It also set a very lovely atmosphere to the room (Hermione's favorite part).

It very much reminded Hermione of her home in Hogwarts (which was very possibly the inspiration).

She sat in a huff on her bed, still wrapped in her towel. The tip of her finger played absentmindedly with the flame of the long white candle set right next to her preferred side of bed.

A very heavy weight rested on Hermione's shoulders these past couple days. It was really starting to get to her since she hadn't done anything about it yet. She knew what she had to do, and she could think of no better time to do it then today. Today was a very, very good day. Nothing terrible was happening, yet, unlike the crazy days before she was sentenced to Azkaban… She might as well take advantage of it.

I have to talk to Sirius. She sighed, and stood up to quickly get changed and get her butt downstairs for some good hot food in her stomach. She was even looking forward to it.

After an agreeable dinner, they both retreated to their usual activities, Hermione by the fire, and Sirius bustling around doing otherwise. Sirius had just walked into the living room to find Hermione on the couch.

"Sirius." Hermione called nonchalantly. She sat up. He plopped down next to her. She had something to say.

"Hermione…" his finger brushed the side of her jaw. He wanted her to show some expression. He knew this face too well; he had this face once.

"Sirius," Hermione said swiftly, "I'm sorry I haven't been able to…to really talk to you about…anything really these past couple weeks." She paused, struggling for words.

He said nothing.

"Especially about…before," she took a deep breath. "I've really wanted to, but since I got here I've really been having a hard time…my stomach hurts, my head hurts, my heart hurts, the worst part…" she mumbled, "yet it is so terrible that-" she stopped. "I feel like… I'm all hollow. "

Her voice was calm, but still melancholy. Sirius could sense what she wanted (although she showed no expression) through her words alone, and by his own experience: he had once wanted to hear as well that somebody knew what he felt, understood it, just got it. Then, no one did. The fact that she was talking about it all was a very, very good sign.

"Don't apologize, I was going to bring it up myself, but Molly told me to give you some time to adjust…you are one of the strongest people I know, and the smartest. You have a lot of love around you. Just let yourself deal. Then, we can really talk."

She replied by looking him in the eye. It was probably the first time she had really done that since she had returned from Azkaban.

"Did you ever feel like you didn't want to be alone…too scared to go around the house by yourself, even, but didn't want company either? Even just going to the loo, or walking down the hall…"

He nodded. Hermione lay back down on the couch, on her side, staring into oblivion in front of her once again. That was not what she originally wanted to talk to him about, but during dinner she realized that she could not get right into it, like she thought she could. She would have to work up to it; but somehow, Sirius had already said something she'd wanted to hear.

He continued to watch her almost fiercely. He wanted to say what he was sure she really wanted to hear. But there was something revealed on her face, however, in the littlest portion. It could simply be content…but he felt she had found a spark. Maybe it was best to leave it at that.

He realized he didn't want to look away…because her eyes had captured him, somehow.

When Harry walked in, they both looked up abruptly, as if he had alarmed them. Sirius wondered if he'd heard what Hermione had said. It was the most she'd spoken since her return.

Hermione admitted to herself, that night, that she had felt comfort. A flicker.

Sirius stared up at the dark ceiling in his room. The covers remained underneath him, he heard Hermione close her bedroom door from across the hall. The house was so quiet and empty, he imagined he could hear Kreacher muttering in his sleep in his cabinet.

Sirius closed his eyes, and tried, hopelessly, to fall asleep again. Instead, Hermione's dark hazel eyes blinked back at him. His heart squeezed in pain, they were cold and unnatural. Then, another of her smiling wonderfully at him outside in a beautiful green backyard while they visited her parents...and another, a much cloudier one, of when they took her away, right out of his hands, and his heart...

He opened his eyes again, fiddling anxiously with his pillow. His heart thundered in his chest. Flipping onto his side, he breathed deeply and tried to think of other things- Remus would be visiting soon, he needed to write Harry... But, Sirius was left with the image of her scorching eyes for that night. Their first eye contact brought back, deep, beautiful and ugly memories...things from before...it was more hurtful than anything.

In the middle of the night, Sirius was even tempted to go to her. The desire to leave his unwelcoming bed and go to her was pulsing within him. Although he had no idea why.

Just to check on her...he battled on with his mind.

But that would be inappropriate, he decided. He will stay here and try to sleep best he can, and then tomorrow, he will take the first step. Small talk.