Author Notes: I'm going to try to be more prompt about updating. I already know how the fic ends, I just need to get it out. I think that I should be able to finish this fic off in 5 or 6 chapters.
The key to Lord Voldemort's immortality was, much to Hermione's surprise, very easy to find. Considering the numerous texts devoted to the Dark Arts that Draco had brought her, it had come as a shock to find what she wanted four pages into the very first book that she opened. And while it looked to be a highly time consuming spell, the general magic used was quite simple, the concepts could be understood and mastered by a Hogwarts' 5th year.
If pressed, Hermione would have admitted to feeling a slight disappointment in the Dark Lord's un-creativity. Thankfully, Sirius did not think to ask.
"Somehow," Hermione murmured, after having read the chapter in question three times, "I expected something a bit more difficult."
Sirius, who had taken it upon himself to make breakfast, leaned out of the kitchen. "It sounded complicated when you read it earlier. Doesn't it involve potions, charms, and rather extensive knowledge of magical creatures?"
With a shake of her bushy, brown hair Hermione leaned back in her chair. "It is complicated, I will give it that. However, with a little bit of determination almost anyone could do it. One does not have to be a powerful wizard to cast the spells required. You would not need a Potions Master to brew you the necessary liquids."
Hermione set the book, which was bound in dark, cracked leather, on the kitchen table and fixed Sirius with a thoughtful glance.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," She answered and quickly leaned back over the table so that her loose hair could hide her blush.
Hermione couldn't possibly tell Sirius that, for a moment, he had looked quite handsome standing there in the arch of her kitchen, spatula in hand. She had certainly never wanted to do horribly illicit things with Ron whenever he used to make breakfast.
Hermione was finding Sirius' attempts to not antagonize her to be even more distracting than when he was. She kept being struck by the shine in his hair, the strength in his hands, and that hopeful smile he seemed to have permanently possessed since waking up that morning by the side of her bed. He hadn't wanted to leave her alone while she suffered the after-effects of Mulciber's torture. It didn't matter that he had received the brunt of it or that she, oddly enough, really wasn't suffering very much from it. He had stayed the night with her, his calloused hand gently brushing her hair back from her forehead in an intoxicatingly sensual sort of way. She had been certain that there was no possible way that she would fall asleep with him leaning so protectively over her. How could sleep overwhelm her when his near presence had been making her heart beat faster?
But it did.
And he had stayed with her through the night. When Hermione had awoken that morning Sirius had been fast asleep, his head leaning back, mouth slightly open, and his right hand resting on the bed atop her own. He had looked so young to her then.
"Did you want toast? I found some marmalade in the back of the pantry." He asked, interrupting her thoughts.
Hermione looked up startled, her cheeks going pink again, "Sure, toast would be good."
Sirius smiled at her, a knowing smile that Hermione wasn't entirely sure she liked.
"What?" She asked sharply feeling unusually self-conscious.
Sirius came up to her, the cocky smile still on his face. He leaned down so that his face was very close to hers. Hermione could smell the subtle smell of Harry's soap on him. A few strands of his dark hair were still damp from his shower.
"Have I told you how pretty you are when you blush?" He asked softly.
Goosebumps rose on her cheek where his breath gently caressed. She looked up at him wide-eyed, the cursed flush going even darker. Hermione shook her head slightly at him even though she knew that it was a rhetorical question.
"Well," He continued, his hand cupping her cheek gently, "It does."
Hermione's eyes fluttered closed as he leaned down further to kiss her.
But he stopped just a hair's breath away from her. Hermione opened her eyes. He was smiling at her, not cockily or calculatingly, but honest and happy.
"I always wanted to tell you."
The front door opened.
Sirius jerked back from her. He spun around, his left hand grasping Hermione, who had started to go past him and held her behind him. He pulled his stolen wand from the back pocket of the borrowed jeans he was wearing. Steps came down the hallway towards them and Sirius suddenly thrust Hermione away from him and into the kitchen.
"What are you doing?" A disinterested voice asked.
Hermione regained her footing and rushed back out of the kitchen. "Draco, you are all right." She said happily.
He looked tired and worn but Draco smiled at her. She walked past Sirius, ignoring the fact that he still hadn't put his wand away, and hugged the younger man tightly. His arms came up around her and he squeezed her back.
"How are you feeling?" He asked her. "And why haven't you magicked away this bruise on her cheek?" He asked Sirius over her shoulder as he ran a finger along her cheek.
"I feel fine, a little tired, but oddly enough no after-effects of the Cruciatus." Hermione replied, ignoring his mention of the dark bruise that still marred her face.
Draco set the tip of his wand against it.
"There is no need to remove-" She started to say but Draco didn't listen.
He murmured quietly and Hermione could feel the skin at the point of his spell relax. She knew that her face was no longer disfigured.
Sirius glared at Draco. "Hermione said that she didn't want it removed."
Draco sighed as if he was dealing with someone very slow. "You will find that there are times when you just shouldn't listen to her." He smiled at her. "She's not always right."
"I never said that I was. But you know-"
"Oh," Draco interrupted, "I smell toast and marmalade. I'm famished."
"I guess getting rid of a body will do that to a person." Sirius responded.
Draco said nothing.
Hermione's balled her hands into fists; she was so tired of the petty fighting. If it wasn't for Draco, they would probably both be dead now.
Then, as if reading her thoughts, Sirius put his wand away and said softly to Draco, "I shouldn't have said that."
Draco studied him silently.
Hermione stood between the two men, watching as some unspoken communication passed from one to the other. Draco nodded finally and he relaxed slightly. The tension, silent and creeping, that had been lingering over the flat ever since Draco and Sirius had taken up residence eased. Hermione sighed with relief. She was terribly tired of playing referee to two adult men.
"Now, about that toast?" Draco prompted with a gleaming smile that he used to charm his was under the robes of more witches than Hermione wanted to think about.
Hermione pushed a wayward curl back into the pitifully loose knot of hair at the back of her head. She twirled a quill absentmindedly in her right hand, the dark blue plume swaying rhythmically back and forth, unaware that both Draco and Sirius had stopped to watch her with exasperated looks. When she began to tap the fingers of her other hand on the book in front of her Draco cleared his throat.
"Hmm?" Hermione murmured without looking up, the tapping pausing only momentarily.
"Hermione." Said Sirius and he reached across the table to touch the back of her restless hand.
That brought her out of her reverie. Draco had to restrain an amused chuckle as she shot out of her chair, hand clutched to her chest as if it hurt.
"What?" Hermione gasped.
Sirius was openly grinning at her response. "You were fidgeting. I was finding you to be highly distracting."
Hermione bit her lip and tried not to blush at his openly suggestive remark. "Well, please forgive me," She grumbled, still unknowing rubbing the back of her hand, "I'll try not to bother the two of you again."
Draco nodded. "You have my deepest thanks."
Hermione huffed before stalking past them into the dark kitchen. They had spent the rest of that morning, afternoon, and most of the evening reading through the ancient books that Draco had brought her the day before. With an almost friendly truce having finally been called between Draco and Sirius they had settled into the mode of fellow researchers quite well. Sirius, like he had claimed, was well versed in Latin. He was far more competent at the translation than either Draco or Hermione. Draco unsurprisingly, given his background, was quite proficient with the Dark Arts. He was able to draw parallels between many different spells and potions at once from memory. And Hermione, being an astoundingly gifted spell learner was able to test most magic after only a single read-through.
Not that Hermione would ever admit it, but when it came to research, Sirius and Draco far surpassed Ron and Harry.
From in the kitchen Hermione could hear Draco yawning.
"About time we called it a night, don't you think?" He tilted his chair back so that he could see her. "It's almost one."
Hermione finished pouring herself a glass of juice and emerged from the kitchen frowning. "But we're not done. We still haven't-"
"Do you really expect us to find a way to thwart one of the greatest dark wizards ever known in just a day's worth of research?" Draco asked.
She had been hoping.
"Of course not," Hermione replied.
"It's almost like there is an urgency." Sirius interjected. He had been deeply engrossed in a text apparently devoted to interesting and obscure ways of removing one's flesh without causing immediate death.
"Not planning on going out to take on Voldemort tomorrow are you?" Draco chuckled.
Hermione took a long sip of her juice.
"Are you?" Sirius asked with a concerned look, his dark eyes catching her fiercely.
"Of course not," Hermione replied with a straight face, "why would I go looking for Voldemort tomorrow?"
Sirius and Draco looked unconvinced.
Hermione drank the rest of her juice quickly. "But you are probably right, Draco, it is late. We should go to bed."
"Tomorrow, for a change of pace, I think we should study the potion aspect of his enchantment." Draco said while arranging the thick pages of vellum that he had been taking notes on. "That's the part that I really find interesting. He has all these different spells that he binds to a rather simple potion base."
"Well, you're right," Hermione agreed, "That is part of what I find so interesting about all of it. It is just so simple. Everything about the enchantment is simple."
"Makes me wonder why more people don't do it."
Hermione nodded and added, "I wonder if there is something more to it, something that we're just not getting."
Draco crossed his arms and scowled at the open book as if expecting the solution to just magically appear.
Hermione yawned. The backs of her eyes were beginning to ache. Yesterday had been a long day, what with the torture and the killing, and she had spent all of her time today hunched over old, moldering books. She distractedly squeezed her right shoulder while leaning her head to the left. "I think I'm going to take a bath." She mused aloud more to herself than her companions.
"Need any help?" Draco responded without looking up. "I'm very competent at holding towels and the application of fragrant oils."
Sirius scowled but didn't rise to the bait.
"Thank you, but no. I would rather do without the distraction."
"That is very true," he picked up a book entitled 'A Witch's Guide to Ritualistic Mutilation' and started to thumb through it. "I can be quite engrossing."
With a roll of her eyes Hermione walked into her room. A bath would do her good. She needed to relax and she needed time to think. With her guests being as distracting as they were Hermione was finding it difficult to focus as much she needed to. Time was running out. There was a growing apprehension, a growing excitement, in her stomach. Harry and Ron were close to finding Voldemort. The Dark Lord was about to show himself, to finally step out into the sunlight and declare himself for the entire world to see. But Harry was going to stop him, and Hermione and Ron were going to help if Hermione could figure out a way to undo Voldemort's protections.
She ran hot water into the bathtub. Hermione must have used a dozen scouring charms on the faux porcelain surface trying to expunge the oddly colored rings that marked it but with little success. She wasn't sure what the former renters had bathed in the bathtub, possibly pigs rolled in purple paint, but after three weeks Hermione had given up and had decided to accept the violet rings as a unique part of her living environment.
Ginny Weasley had given her a whole set of Bathilda's Bathing Beauty Salts for her birthday last year. Hermione chose the vial of juniper and hemlock salt to pour in. The steaming water immediately turned green with swirls of silver. Hermione slid gently into the water, wincing slightly as the too-hot water came in contact with strained muscles.
Hermione let her mind wander for quite some time before making it return once again to what was important.
If Voldemort could make himself practically immortal then Hermione knew that she could figure how to take that power away from him. Everything that they had sacrificed up to this point, would be futile if she couldn't get her head together long enough to figure things out. Hermione knew that she had to stop letting things divert her from the goal. She had to stop letting Sirius distract her.
There was soft knock on the bathroom door followed by Sirius' voice, "Hermione? Are you all right, you've been in there a long time?"
Hermione groaned, slid down in the water, and submerged her head.