Stepping through the portrait hole, the last thing Hermione expected was to find the Marauders in their usual spot by the fire with Lily sitting among them trying to look like she wasn't feeling out of place. She sat perched at the edge of the sofa in one corner, with her knees pressed together and her hands nervously fiddling with the end of her braid. Her back was a little too straight for the casual environment, with James and Sirius sitting on the floor on either side of the coffee table, playing exploding snap; Peter was leaned over with his elbows on his knees as he watched them from the other end of the couch, and Remus occupied his usual arm chair, ankles crossed over the armrest, and his sketchbook open on his lap. They were, for the most part, the only occupants of the common room. Notwithstanding the handful of first and second years, and a couple of older students who sought the peace of an empty castle, cloistering around the alcoves.

As the warmth of the crackling fire washed away the autumnal chill that had invaded the corridors, Hermione's presence became known to the group. Sirius was the first to take note of her, having been facing the portrait hole, and had been anxiously peering up to check for her arrival.

"Hermione!" He blurted, drawing the attention of the whole group. He scrambled with an athletic grace that she recalled had hardly aged in the future. He approached her, eyeing her basket curiously. "How did it go with McGonagall?" He didn't waste any time in guiding her to the sofa and pressing her into the cushion.

She kept her basket in her lap. "McGonagall took me to Danby's," she said excitedly, grinning up at him. She lifted the lid to the basket and watched as Sirius peered into the soft lining at the two little sleeping kittens laying inside. His eyes lit up and he sat down next to her, his hip pressed against hers as he leaned in close to stroke each kitten on the soft fur between their eyes.

"Kittens!" Was all he could exclaim in astonishment. He grinned wildly, making Hermione feel even more fluttery and blissful than she already was at having Crookshanks back.

Seeing him smile like that had once been a treasure that had to be carefully uncovered in her past life. Seeing it had always left her feeling breathless. And though she still mourned him, and all his beautiful tragic smiles, and the security and protection he so desperately provided – like it was the pillar that kept him standing – she couldn't help but cherish these easy, unalloyed happy grins of this Sirius. Though he wasn't untouched by the deprivation of his mother's love or his father's guidance or his family's support, he hadn't yet lost that ingenuous hope for the future that had barely begun to re-emerge in the last few months of his life.

None of them had, in fact, lost their artless outlook on life. It was both a source of comfort and of anxiety for Hermione to look into the eyes of those around her and see the awareness that they were heading towards an eventuality of war, but lacked a true understanding of what loss they would actually experience. To them – those who had yet to come face to face the darkest of man's proclivity towards evil– they were still invincible, and untouchable. Because each person was the center of their own universe, and their own story. And a good story never kills off its own protagonist. That sort of naive hope was precious, but so often necessary to destroy. If Hermione could protect it in these people and spare those whom she most loved and inadvertently left behind, she would step into any fire to do so.

Lily had stood from her spot when Sirius had gotten up to greet Hermione, and had been awkwardly standing at the end of the couch but now was leaning forward to see inside the basket. James, Peter and Remus had all scrambled from their spots to crowd around Hermione and look at the kittens. Peter and Remus stood behind the couch, leaning forward over Hermione and Sirius's shoulders, and James sat in front of them on the coffee table.

"Oh my God! They're so precious!" Lilly squealed, trying to keep her excited voice low so as not to startle them. Her hands leapt to her cheeks in her excitement.

"So, this is what McGonagall wanted you for," Remus said in awe as the black kitten squirmed closer to Crookshanks and stretched out one of its front paws, its tiny toe pads spread out before relaxing. Two green eyes opened and looked up at them.

"Yeah, she thought it'd be good for me to start looking for a new familiar. But to our surprise I found two," Hermione explained as she reached into the basket and carefully extracted the little black puff. It let out a little squeaky meow as she brought it to her chest for a cuddle. It burrowed into the knit of her sweater, one eye peeking out at the crowd around them.

The loss of warmth must have woken Crookshanks. He glared up at them and cried out indignantly and started trying to climb the sides of the basket. Sirius picked him up and moved the basket to the floor before leaning back and holding up the angrily wriggling and squeaking ginger ball of fur up to his face with both hands.

"Hey there little man," he grinned at the grumpy kitten. He brought Crookshanks down and rubbed noses with him. "You're a fussy one, aren't you?"

"I want to hold one," James pouted, as the black kitten climbed up Hermione's shoulder and struggled through her hair. He watched jealously as Remus plucked it out of its curly trap and held it close as he turned towards Peter so he could give the kitten ear scratches. Everyone ignored James as Hermione cooed over Crookshanks in Sirius' hands and Lily leaned in to play with his paws. Hermione couldn't help but giggle at his expense. Though, he was suitably distracted by the sudden near proximity of Lily, her long red hair brushed his knee as she leaned over to be closer to Crookshanks.

"What did you name them, 'Mione?" Peter asked, as he took a turn at holding the little black cat.

"Hm…the orange one, his name is Crookshanks. I haven't decided on what to name the black one. I initially was thinking Poe or Salem, but I'm not sure. Those might be too obvious," she answered, as she watched James and Sirius tease Crookshanks by baiting him into biting at their fingers and moving out of the way before he could latch on.

"Sometimes it takes time to find the right name," Lily reassured, squeezing the Crookshank's toes individually making the teeny tiny claws protrude. "My parents dog, Boris, didn't have a name for a week after they brought him home."

"I suppose you're right. It's better to wait and figure it out than give him the wrong name," Hermione nodded, in agreement. She watched Lily for a moment as she moved away to play with the shy little black cat who had hid its face against Remus' vest. "So, not that it isn't nice to see you in the boy's presence, but can I ask what brought it on?"

"Oh!" Lily seemed to come back to herself as Hermione reminded her of her unusual company. She became a little less relaxed and a little more awkward again. It made Hermione feel a bit bad, considering it was the first time she had ever seen Lily amicable around the Marauders. "Well, I was actually looking for you. They invited me to sit with them while they waited for you to get back," she explained hastily. She came around and sat on the armrest of the couch to face Hermione a little more directly. "I wanted to ask you what happened with Marlene earlier, and if you were okay."

The altercation with Marlene had been driven from her mind in the euphoria of reuniting with Crookshanks, and the warmth of her talk with McGonagall. The reminder was sobering, and brought her back down to earth to deal with her more worldly concerns.

"She cornered me outside the bathroom of the Three Broomsticks," Hermione began, watching Lily's face. "She didn't say anything new. She accused me of playing a part and stealing Sirius from her." She felt Sirius' hand slip behind her and press reassuringly against her back. It did its job and served to ease the discomfort she felt at the topic. "It wasn't a pleasant encounter and it hardly resolved anything."

Lily chewed her lower lip and looked torn as she considered her next words. "Did you happen to hit her?" It came out on tenterhooks. She obviously didn't feel comfortable asking it and given the tensed reactions of the boys, they were upset with the line of questioning as well. Peter made an abortive attempt to say something but Hermione beat him to it.

"I did," Hermione admitted. She didn't flinch away from Lily's eyes, though she could feel Sirius' hand curl around her hip in agitation. "Marlene grabbed my arm and wouldn't let go. I didn't have my wand on me, so I smacked her to get her to let me go." Sirius' grip tightened.

Lily looked even more upset. "She grabbed you? Hard?"

"Jerked me about a bit," Hermione nodded in confirmation. This seemed to distress Lily further. It was no wonder she felt upset. It was natural to take a friend's side, but to find out that the friend that you trust by default turns out to be the instigator is not an easy pill to swallow.

The portrait hole opened and admitted a group of girls. Marlene and Alice, and another girl that Hermione had seen around but had yet to meet. All occupants of the room seemed to collectively hold their breath at the sight of each other. Lily took a step forward but stopped, conflict warred on her face.

Marlene couldn't seem to decide where she wanted to focus her attention and shifted her red rimmed eyes between Hermione, Sirius, and Lily. Alice and the other girl worriedly hovered behind Marlene, clearly unsure of what to do.

Hermione hated the added tension in the room. After everything she had gone through, after every near death experience, and every epoch-making decision, she almost couldn't believe that she was in this sort of situation. Yet, despite having had decisions placed in her hands that affected the lives of the entire Wizarding Community, it didn't make this any easier. She had never been good at teen drama and she felt even more clumsy at it now after having had the fate of the world crushed down on top of her. It left her a bit numb in some areas, and hypersensitive in others. She wanted to do what was right, always, but sometimes she felt too tired to care about the feelings of someone who she barely knew when she was constantly feeling the claws of grief and responsibility digging at her chest.

Crookshanks cried out and clamored his way over to Hermione, across Sirius' chest, out of the one armed hold he had been held in. He let her pull him to her, his instant purrs helped calm her down. It also broke the awkward silence that had fallen on the room. Alice perked up at the sound and so did the other girl, a petite brunette with long shag hair. They clearly wanted to see the kittens but were unsure if it would be construed as a betrayal to Marlene.

"Lily, what are you doing with them?" Marlene finally spoke. Anyone in the room could tell she was angry. Her nostrils flared and her voice was gummy from her previous tears.

"I was finding out what happened earlier today," Lily said with as much calm as she could muster. "You didn't offer much detail."

"Do I need to?" Marlene shot back, angrily. She folded her arms and marched up closer to the group. "You're my best friend."

Hermione unconsciously moved back, bracing herself against Sirius' side and shoulder. She didn't trust Marlene to not lash out and given the way Lily bristled at the implied accusation, she wasn't too comfortable with being anywhere near where she could get caught in the crossfire.

"What reason have you given me to give you the benefit of the doubt lately, Mar?" She shot back, ignoring the way the two girls behind Marlene tip-toed their way around them and towards Remus and Peter who were still involving themselves with the back kitten. "You've been snappish and mean and using your broken heart as an excuse for being so! But that's not good enough anymore, Marlene! You led us to believe that Sirius had been stringing you along, getting your hopes up for a serious relationship and then, out of the blue, changed his mind. It was only after I made a total ass of myself that I realized that wasn't what happened at all!"

"How can you be taking their side, Lily!" Marlene shouted. "You've even been trying to be friends with her! And now you are actually blaming me?!"

Hermione felt Crookshanks flinch against her chest, looking down she watched his ears lay flat and his eyes dilate. She squished him gently closer to her and pulled her knees up to create a makeshift enclosure, hoping it would make him feel safer. She felt rather than saw the subtle shift of the boy's bodies moving into more alert and protective positions at her anxiety. Their animagus pack instincts taking over at the sudden and loud aggression. Remus maneuvered the black kitten into Hermione's arms and nonchalantly leaned his hip into the corner of the couch, positioning himself just in front of her, and crossed his arms. Alice and the other girl shuffled out of the way, reading into the suddenly inimical posture of the boys. James didn't move, but his back was stiff and he watched the two arguing girls out of the corner of his eye. She felt Sirius adjust himself forward, his feet becoming more grounded and ready for quick movement, but his hand stayed where it was, thumbing the concave curve of her waist. They all bore a sudden and striking resemblance to the creatures they transformed into, as though an animalistic and primal instinct had woken up in the presence of a threat.

Marlene clearly noted the repositioning, her attention zeroing in on them. She folded her arms and popped a hip out in the definition of teenage attitude and glared down her nose at them.

"What? You think I'm going to jinx her or something?" She sneered at them, she swept a strand of long blond hair over her shoulder. "She's the one who jinxed me and hit me! You keep acting like she's some powerless little damsel you need to protect."

"Who's been putting her in a position that she needs to lash out?" James interjected suddenly. He spoke with a surprisingly calm and even tone, but there was an eerie chill that undercut his words. He tilted his head to look at Marlene directly, but he didn't move anything else. "From where I'm sitting you've been the aggressor from the start. You got mad that Sirius stopped fooling around with you, and you chose to throw the blame on Hermione. Because why else would Sirius not fall for you unless he was tricked by someone else?" He said the last part sarcastically and with a curl of his lip.

Lily's mouth popped open, but she didn't say anything. She looked at James like someone she'd never seen before. And for once his attention wasn't on her to notice that she was assessing him.

"He's right," Sirius growled out. Hermione almost flinched. He was close enough that his low, rumbling tone made her ear almost tickle from the vibration. Ge sounded like a dog growling at someone threatening their person. "You know next to nothing about Hermione, what she's been through and what she's currently going through, and yet you're taking your anger and frustration out on her because you saw her as an easy target, and it infuriates you that she's not. You also have no right to deem us unqualified to decide who we want to protect and associate with." Frustrated tears sprung to Marlene's eyes as he spoke. She tried to rebut but Sirius continued to speak ignoring whatever she tried to say. "Your hurt feelings are understandable, but your arrogance and entitlement are not. I won't tolerate you isolating and cornering her, or any of us, to sooth your wounded ego anymore."

Hermione could feel his heartbeat against her shoulder. It was steady but strong, thumping against her with the force of his anger and indignation. It was oddly reassuring to feel his reaction, on top of hearing it in his words. Within the aegis of the Marauders she knew that she was protected and any action against her wouldn't be met with swift retribution, but she wanted this conflict to be resolved finally, and worried that the unintended mobbing that was happening might cause an unforeseen backlash.

"My wounded ego? My wounded ego?! Who is she then?! Fuck you, Sirius Black. You don't get to use me and expect no consequences! How convenient it is that you don't want me anymore as soon as she appears! Why is she here?!" Marlene shouted. Her face was splotchy from both her anger and her tears. "She came out of nowhere. No one knows who she is. And after she shows up, you stop wanting me? You say you want 'the real thing,' but I'm not good enough for you? And you three," she gesticulated wildly in their direction. Her rage made her nearly incoherent. "You surround her like she's the Queen of Sheba! She must have done something. Slipped something into your drinks, or a dark curse, something to change you and get you to fawn all over her! Why is no one suspicious of her but me? She could be a spy, or maybe she's just so good at suck–" she cut off when Sirius stood up abruptly. Her face paled and her eyes got wide with shock as he stepped around Hermione and moved towards Marlene with that predatory grace that had once scared Hermione when she first met him as the emaciated Azkaban escapee they all thought was hunting Harry.

Goosebumps rose along Hermione's arms and the back of her neck at the sight of him. In her experience, despite his reputation for recklessness, Sirius was usually quite patient with people. Especially the people he cared about. But, when someone he cared about was being threatened or mistreated it would go one of two ways. Either he became explosive, or he became calm. The calm was worse. It didn't just explode once and fizzle out, it smoldered and could be fanned into something uncontrollable and deadly.

She could barely recall a moment between consciousness and oblivion, when she watched Sirius' graceful wrath as he fought Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries. He was so focused, his movements were so deliberate and ferocious, and his eyes were like sharpened, icy shards of moonlight. His wand strokes were swift and sure as he grinned like a predator through the fight. His figure cut such a heroic image, he might as well have been Achilles at the gates of Troy. She remembered feeling relieved to see him with her dimming vision. He had seemed so invincible, powerful and commanding in that moment that she had let herself relax. She let herself submit to the pressing darkness that her injuries at the time were ushering her into with the peace of mind that he was there. That he would always be there.

The next time she woke it was in the hospital wing to find out he wasn't invincible. That, like Achillies, he was as mortal as everyone else. It had shattered her. It hurt worse than the curse that scarred her. It hurt worse than anything she could think of. She'd lay a thousand years petrified by a basilisk to not feel that pain.

She watched –half in a trance of harrowing memory– as Sirius stalked forward. He towered over Marlene as she backed away, until he backed her into a wall. He stared at her dead in the eye for several long seconds without saying anything. Regret flooded Marlene's face as she opened and closed her mouth like she was trying to find words to say. Slowly, he bent over her, his shadow casting over her face as he spoke in a quiet voice that Hermione almost couldn't hear.

"Stop," he said firmly as he glowered down at her. That one word was dark and low and full of dangerous promises. "Stop saying things that you will regret. Because believe me, you will come to regret them one way or another."

Marlene seemed to shrink in on herself at the implied threat and slipped out of his shadow and ran toward the girl's dormitory. The room was silent. Lily and the other girls looked at Sirius with apprehension, their eyes wide in shock.

Looking at the boys around her, Hermione thought it should be surprising to see how stoic the three were as they disdainfully eyed Marlene's retreating form, but it wasn't. She didn't know exactly what they thought of Marlene and Sirius' situation as she had never talked to them directly about it; though she could safely assume Sirius had. Even without talking to them she could guess well enough. They were his best friends, after all. It was highly unlikely they were all that sympathetic towards Marlene, if Sirius had told them what he had told Hermione.

Shifting her feet to the ground, Hermione stood up from the couch and gently set the kittens onto the seat she vacated where they squirmed to their feet, struggling to stand on the squishy surface. Both Remus and James moved to steady them. Gingerly, Hermione approached Sirius, reaching for his shoulder with a light touch of her palm.

He turned to her, looking down at her with frustrated gray eyes, and his jaw clenched with anger. She watched him for a moment, as his nostrils flared until he collapsed forward to rest his head against her shoulder and pull her closer with his arms around her waist. She tiptoed a bit to make herself taller and wrapped her own arms around his shoulders.

He wasn't crying. But he was shaking from his leftover emotions and adrenaline as he took deep breaths to try and come down from it all. Hermione watched from over his shoulder as Lily talked to Alice and the other girl. They seemed to be trying to decide if they were going to follow Marlene up to their dormitory or if they were going to leave to let her calm herself down alone. They eventually went up, leaving apologetic glances Hermione's way as they nervously ascended the stairs.

Hermione rubbed soothing strokes into Sirius' shoulder blades. He nuzzled his nose into the curls at the base of her neck, like the kittens had done earlier. The hot breath against her throat made her feel hypersensitive and she had to suppress her flinch when his nose grazed her skin.

"Your arm?" He asked into her neck.

"It's okay. It's a little sore but it's okay," she reassured him gently. "Come on, Sirius. Let's sit," she urged him, swallowing down the warmth that ballooned in her chest and stomach.

He straightened up at her prompting, and guided her back to the couch, leaving one hand around her ribs. Remus moved out of the way so that they could sit down together Sirius slumped into her like a tired toddler as soon as she settled.

"Hopefully Marlene gets a clue after all that," Peter said in a huff, breaking the silence.

Hermione craned her neck to look up at the blond boy. He was cradling the black kitten as he glared up the stairs. He looked back down at her, his soft boyish face becoming gentler as he looked at her.

"You okay, 'Mione?" He asked her, concern for her bled into his tone.

"I'm okay. I'm just tired," she assured him with a smile. It was true enough. She was tired. Emotionally, mentally, and physically tired. She didn't think she would have been able to stand if it weren't for their support. The weight of her situation would have crushed her weeks ago.

"Unfortunately I have my doubts about how Marlene is going to react after this," James said with a sigh. He had snagged Crookshanks earlier when Hermione had gone to Sirius, and had the kitten in his lap, scratching behind his whiskers. "She's not one to back down."

"She also stepped into a situation where she was outnumbered, at least five to one. And, Alice and Mary, stayed out of it. She might construe that as a betrayal," Remus added, moving back to his usual armchair, crossing his legs over the armrest.

"Wouldn't that make her realize that she's the crazy one in this situation?" Peter asked. He came around and sat on the ground with his back against the couch, fighting with the struggling cat in his arms.

"Not when she's like this," Remus shook his head. "She's like a cornered dog, backing isn't an option in her mind. Or if it is, I'll be impressed."

"She's feeling low. She was already hurting and now not even her best friends are supporting her," Hermione said as she scratched Sirius' scalp. He had rested his head on her shoulder and was slowly letting his tension go. "She probably feels like if she loses this fight she'll lose everything. Her crush, her friends, her pride."

"But she hasn't lost her friends!" Peter said, he seemed upset at the notion. "Lily doesn't hate Marlene over this. I don't even hate Marlene over this, I just don't like how she's treating you and Sirius."

Hermione smiled and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Thanks, Peter."

Sirius snagged her hand from Peter's head and returned it to his hair, with an unintelligible grumble. Hermione couldn't help the snort of laughter that escaped her, at the petty move. She summoned one of the many throw pillows around the room and set it on her lap, like she used to do for older Sirius. "So needy," she mumbled rolling her eyes

"She'll come around eventually, I'm sure," James said, watching Hermione nudge Sirius' head onto her pillow edge lap with a slightly amused raised eyebrow.

"Yeah, but I'm worried about how she might act out in the meantime," Remus said, jiggling one of his crossed feet in irritation. "I don't think Sirius' threat is going to be what snaps her out of it, though hopefully it stops her from pulling anything nasty that directly affects us."

"Let's stop talking about it for now," Hermione urged. Sirius' hand had slowly tightened around her knee as they talked, signaling his distress.

"Sure. Though, in Marlene's defense you are quite clingy to Hermione, Sirius," Remus remarked, smirking wickedly at the instant flush that lit Hermione's cheeks.

"Shut it, Moony," Sirius replied. He burrowed his face deeper into the pillow and sent Remus the finger to show him how much he cared about the observation.

Crookshanks freed himself of James clutches and made his way to Hermione, leaving a few accidental claw marks on his hands in thanks. He curled himself up against Hermione's diaphragm, using Sirius' head as a perch. He batted experimentally a couple of times at the dangling daisy charm in Sirius' hair before quickly getting bored and falling asleep.

"When did I turn into a mattress?" Sirius asked, his voice muffled by the cushion.

"I think you're the wrong person to complain about that, Pads," James laughed.

Hermione sighed, feeling like some of her equilibrium was returning after the chaos of the day, as she went back and forth between petting Crookshanks, and stroking Sirius' hair.

The Hospital Wing was quiet that evening. Hermione was sitting on her cot cross-legged, finishing up some homework that she hadn't been able to get to, and Sirius was sitting at Pomfrey's desk looking through a microscope at epithelial cells. He had his textbook and a little sketchbook next to him and was attempting to draw out what he saw and labeling the parts.

He had to admit aspects of learning muggle academics were quite a bit more stressful than he'd anticipated. Most of Hogwarts' education was more about ability and connection to one's magic than the nitty gritty of how's and why's. Not that there weren't more practical magic classes but most were elective after a certain point. But, chemistry, biology, physiology; the sciences, that he was barely scratching the surface of, were so dependent on understanding foundational ideas that he felt he could spend decades learning and still be at the beginning.

Sitting back in his chair Sirius rubbed his fatigued eyes. He took a deep breath and labeled the last few structures he could identify on the sketch and slid the sketchbook aside. He looked over at Hermione's bed. The privacy curtain was open so she was in full view. Her long curly mane twisted up in a frizzy bun with her wand stuck through to hold it up as she read and took notes. She used the muggle pencil she had gotten from Dumbledore, shamelessly writing in both the textbook and parchment. The two kittens were in a complicated pile of furry limbs asleep against her hip.

After the chaos of the day, watching her in her element was relaxing. Even when she was bent awkwardly enough that he knew she was going to feel it in her neck later. He moved over to her bedside and placed a hand over the back of her neck. The small loose curls giving way under his fingers to the slightly chilled skin underneath.

She sat up straight at the contact, a few vertebrae popping as she did so. Sirius didn't miss her wince or her hand covering her right side.

"Kitten! Are you in pain somewhere?" He asked, alarmed, trying to think back if she had been injured. The pit of his stomach churned, the only time she had been out of sight was when she had been with McGonagall, and when Marlene jumped her.

"I'm fine, I'm fine. It's just an old injury that gets tight when I'm crunched up too long," she said, rubbing her ribs and reclining back.

Sirius wanted to kick up more of a fuss but he restrained himself. A She hadn't talked about the scars she had before the incident that brought her back in time. Even though he had read her patient file and journal, there had been a separation between reality and what was written down so while he knew the facts, he didn't know the actuality. After the day she had, the emotional whiplash she probably was feeling, he wanted to let her mind rest as much as possible and not dwell on terrible things.

"The first Quidditch match of the season is next weekend right?" She asked as she slid down onto her side. She absently cuddled closer to the kittens, petting them carefully as not to wake them. Though, by their purring, Sirius would guess they were probably awake but too comfortable to move.

"Yeah, Slytherin vs. Gryffindor, as usual," he answered, reaching over to remove her wand from her hair, smoothing a few curls away from her face as he did so, and placing the wand on her bedside. "Should make for a festive Halloween weekend."

"Hm…" she hummed her agreement under his hand. "You better win I don't think I could deal with the Slytherin's gloating if you lose."

"They don't stand a chance, Kitten," he said, laughing. He combed back the strands of hair behind her ears. Noting that her ears were pierced, though she didn't have any earrings in. He wondered what kind of jewelry she liked. Probably simple and classic. He thought pearl drops, small diamonds would look nice. Gold would obviously be the best metal color to suit her skin tone and hair.

"Mr. Black, you better have finished up your assignment before you went about pestering Hermione," the stern voice of Pomfrey floated over to them.

The tight little amused smile that lit Hermione's face was adorable. It pinched her mouth like she was trying not to laugh at him but the corners curled up in rebellion anyway.

"I finished it, Madame Pomfrey," he called out to her.

"Hm…we shall see," the nurse said suspiciously.

"Did you label everything correctly?" Hermione asked, looking up at him with amber eyes that glowed in the lamp light.

Sirius struggled to make his brain work but eventually answered. "I think so. If not, she'll make me do it again."

They spent the next few minutes chatting before Madame Pomfrey came by the bedside to administer Hermione's bedtime potions. She gave Hermione a dreamless sleep potion at Sirius' suggestion and sent her off to get dressed for bed.

"Are you staying the night again?" Pomfrey asked, as she cleaned up the dosage phials

"Yeah, I don't feel comfortable with her sleeping alone when anyone in the castle has access to her here," he answered honestly. He helped her straighten out the covers and tidy up the books strewn about Hermione's cot while holding the sleepy kittens in one arm. They seemed to like him a lot, and behaved for him.

"Well, so long as you stay in your dog form, I won't say anything against it. I don't want to find out you were acting like a scoundrel, you hear me?" She added with a tut. She pointed her finger at him as thought it had the power to keep him in check.

Sirius grinned at her which made her frown even more, though he knew Pomfrey trusted him. It was more of a formality than anything. "Yes, ma'am! I'll only shift back if there's an emergency."

Her expression softened and she patted his cheek gently.

"Good boy," she praised. "Now lights out no later than ten o'clock, if I come in here later and I see so much as a lumos, your furry behind is getting the old boot."

He laughed at that and assured her he would make sure to follow her rules.

A/N: I apologize for the extended wait on the next few chapters on this and Touch Starved I've been horribly busy this holiday season and have been getting used to a new daily routine so I have to beg for your patience as I recalibrate my life. I haven't forgotten these stories at all.

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and a Happy New Year

I hope you enjoy the double update as my apology and my Christmas gift.