AN: Hey all - I hope you are all safe and having a wonderful day. This took a bit, but it happened! Thank you to all the lovely and kind reviews; I know I didn't get to reply to all of them but I read each one, and they're all treasured gold. This chapter has been, uh, years in the making. You've all been so patient, and this chapter is intentionally very lighthearted. Next chapter will return to the meat and potatoes of the plot. I hope you enjoy x
Chapter 25: Flutters
Sirius's lips were soft, warm. A soft shiver rippled through her from where their lips touched—and then Sirius pulled back. He stared at her, uncertainty flickering in his gaze.
Hermione gazed back, then dropped her stare to his mouth. Amusement rippled through her. "You know what's funny?" she said suddenly.
Sirius blinked. "Er. What?"
"When I came to this decade, the first thing I thought about you was how wrong and gross it would be to think of you in a kissing sort of way."
Sirius swallowed, nodding unsurely. "And now?"
Hermione started smiling, and swooped in to kiss him again. She could feel his smile against her lips.
Merlin, it felt good. It was as if months and months of tension had finally melted away, and all the confusing myriad of emotions Hermione had been feeling finally found absolution.
Abruptly, though, Sirius drew back. "What do you mean wrong and gross?"
Hermione started laughing and shrugged helplessly. "Well, you know! You were Harry's godfather. You were all grizzly and old in my time—I'd never think of you that way."
"Grizzly and old?" Sirius's face contorted comically.
"You know what I mean! You were twice my age, Sirius."
Sirius winced, but conceded. "Was I at least still handsome?"
Hermione lifted a brow. "Who says you're handsome now?"
"Now Hermione, let us not pretend here. I know you think I'm handsome."
"Oh?" Hermione's tone was challenging, eyes dancing with mirth.
Sirius smiled knowingly. "I do. Case and point…the shrinking sweater."
Hermione froze, mouth parting but couldn't immediately muster a response—Sirius's grin widened as she spluttered, "I—well—that was just—"
"Uh-huh," Sirius chortled, and Hermione shoved his arm.
"That wasn't anything!"
"Love, that was everything."
Hermione's cheeks flamed but she didn't deny it. The shrinking sweater incident had made her notice him more, after all. Instead, she replied, "So then you noticed me noticing you?" Her mouth twitched into a little smile when Sirius continued staring at her, teasing amusement in his gaze. "I've always noticed you, love. You're hard to ignore."
Hermione looked up at him. Sirius's expression sobered, now peering down at her seriously. "I really like you."
The corners of Hermione's mouth lifted. "Really?"
Hermione looked away, staring at their hands. Their fingers were still laced together. "I do too," Hermione said softly. Sirius smiled, a shy sort of tug of his lips.
"You want to do this?"
Swallowing, Hermione nodded.
He kissed her again, and a warmth flared in Hermione's chest that stayed for days.
There was something quite novel about starting a relationship.
It was as if someone had given Hermione implicit permission to let go of…something that she'd been holding into, and could now just be. Frankly, dating someone wasn't even something she thought about often. She had so many important things on her mind and for a while, those things were all she could think of.
But something had slowly been changing; the longer Hermione stayed here, the more friendships and deep connections she was making, the less alone she'd begun to be. And Sirius, it seemed, had been a quiet constant through all of it.
What she'd told him had been true; Hermione had never given any thought of Sirius in a snogging sort of capacity when she'd arrived here. Those parameters, however, had changed; she was not the Hermione Jean Granger who had left Hogwarts in the nineties, and Sirius Black was not the tired man who'd escaped Azkaban. He was a student, a friend, a support system, and an ally. He knew her so well now; more than that, she just felt…connected with him. It was a softly growing flame of light. And now it had been ignited.
It was like flying without a broom, this feeling. She could hold Sirius's hand whenever she wanted, all day if she so wished, and Sirius would look at her in such a way that it made her heart race. It was all those feelings she'd kept bottled now sprung loose, filling her with lightness and affection and that thrum inside her chest that would shoot up when she was around him.
It was incredible.
James noticed the very next morning, of course. He'd taken one look at Sirius, then Hermione, and deadpanned, "You finally snogged."
Hermione's eyes bulged and Sirius said immediately, "Oi, that's my girlfriend you're talking about!"
"Yeah, and you've snogged. And you just call her your girlfriend."
"How could you possibly tell from one look?" said Hermione, perplexed.
James sniffed. "I am man of many talents. Also I passed by Sirius's room last night while you two were necking it."
Sirius nearly threw something at James's head.
They had only two days before they had to return to Hogwarts, and those days went by faster than ever; Sirius had finally completed a solid twenty-five percent work on the motorbike, and Hermione explored shifting into her Animagus form and back while he worked. He'd even chased her around a bit in his dog form, which ended with Hermione jumping on his back as trotted around.
It wasn't until their last night, after dinner had ended, that Charlus noticed.
Sirius had pulled one of Hermione's errant curls down and watched it spring back up, making Hermione narrow her eyes and stick out her tongue. Charlus observed the exchange with a baffled look. "Merlin's beard. Are you two dating?"
Dorea sighed and sipped her tea.
Hermione glanced at Sirius then Charlus. "Er, yes, actually."
"Since when? All winter?"
"No, no—two days. It's, er—"
"That's my signal to get up now," said James as he deftly rose from his seat and bolted upstairs.
"Hermione," Charlus said in a delicate voice. "Did your parents…did they ever…discuss, you know…"
"Merlin, help us," Sirius muttered, staring at the ceiling.
"Charlus, do stop before you hurt yourself," Dorea said dryly. She turned to Hermione and Sirius. "You're free to leave the table, dears. We trust you know how to behave yourselves, regardless of, well. You know." She gave them a stern look. Blushing furiously, Hermione fled upstairs with Sirius on her heels.
James was already in Sirius's bedroom when they came in. He took one look at their faces and burst into laughter, bowling over himself.
"Oh, shove off," Sirius grumbled, sitting moodily on the bed.
"Just wait until you start dating," Hermione said darkly. "Don't for a second believe you'll be safe from your parents having a talk. Heavens forbid they show you the banana thing." Hermione shuddered. "My mum did that when I turned sixteen. Popped a cassette in the VCR and sat me down. I was never the same again after that."
"What's the banana thing?" James asked curiously.
Sirius started to smile. "Oh, James. You sweet lamb."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's where they show you how to put on a condom on by using a banana."
"Bloody hell!" James exclaimed and Sirius rolled over on the bed, muffling his laughter into the pillow. "Hermione!"
"That's—that's not polite," said James in a stage-whisper, glancing nervously at the door.
"But you asked," said Hermione, nonplussed.
"But it's too much for his delicate high-bred sensibilities," said Sirius, sitting up again. He looped his arm around her waist and coaxed her to sit on the bed with him. "We mustn't speak of carnal things with such candor."
"It's not that. I'm just not used to throwing words like 'condom' so abruptly," James said defensively. "Especially from a girl. A girl who's like a sister!"
"Yet you say 'twat' and 'nob-end' around me without a second thought." Hermione raised an eyebrow.
"She's got you there mate."
"Seriously, though, what did your parents do to tell you about these things?" Hermione asked.
Sirius shrugged. "Dad gave a book and told me to study it."
James nodded. "Same here, 'cept I had to sit through a half hour lecture. It was bloody excruciating."
"Judging from what happened downstairs, I'd expect a second lecture when you start dating," said Hermione, lips curling upward.
James groaned. "Who says I'll be dating anyone anyway?"
Sirius and Hermione exchanged a knowing glance.
"Oh, honestly," Hermione muttered as another student paused in front of their compartment, nearly pressing themselves against the window. The sound of giggling girls would ring in her ears for weeks. "Don't they have better things to do?"
"If it really bothers you, you could always let go of my arm," Sirius offered, amused.
"No!" She clung onto his arm even tighter. "I shouldn't have to change just because everyone's decided to make us the school's gossip."
"You're dating Sirius, Hermione. Did you really expect less?" said Lily matter-of-factly.
"What about Sirius?" Hermione said moodily.
"Contrary to what you believe, I am rather popular in school," said Sirius, humor sparking in his eyes. "And in similar regard, so are you."
"I am not." Hermione turned to Lily, but she only lifted her eyebrows. Hermione glanced at Remus. "Right, Remus?"
"Hermione," Remus said kindly, "why does it bother you if you are?"
"I—I'm not bothered." Sirius gave her a pointed look, and Hermione deflated. "I'm a little baffled, that's all. I just really didn't think either myself or Sirius would get this much attention for holding hands on the platform. I didn't think anyone cared. Least of all popular."
"Perhaps that word is what bothers you. But you are very well-liked by both professors and students," said Remus. "You're kind, smart, a powerful witch—and now a source of envy." Remus paused. Then, delicately, "There's also the small matter of how you came to Hogwarts."
"Yes. That." Hermione sighed, slumping against her seat. "I suppose you're right. But I really don't want the attention. The point was to fly under anyone's notice so I could…you know, get things done."
"If it helps, you won't be stared at forever," said Lily helpfully. "It's always like this when someone in our year starts dating. Or argues. I got a lot of looks when Severus and I weren't on speaking terms."
Just then, the compartment door opened and James and Peter stood holding armfuls of food from the trolley. "Think we can squeeze in, lads?"
Lily stood up and nodded at Remus, who stood with her. "We were leaving to do rounds anyway. Enjoy the rest of the ride." She smiled warmly at James, who smiled back.
James and Peter squeezed past Lily and Remus, sitting in the empty seats. "Right-o. We've got licorice wands, two bottles of pumpkin juice, and more pumpkin pasties than you can count."
The compartment door slid open again, revealing Regulus and a supremely annoyed Severus.
"Severus?" Hermione sat up, alarmed.
"Budge up," said Regulus, harried. They moved in closer to let them both through and Severus closed the compartment door, pulling down the shade.
"This is a very bad idea," Severus seethed, throwing a menacing glare at Regulus.
"We won't get a better chance while in school, not for a week at least," said Regulus shortly. "And we need to talk about our plan."
Before another word could be said, Sirius drew his wand and muttered a silencing spell. "Better be quick, Reg, before you're missed."
The compartment door slid open again and Scabior nearly fell in, closing the door hastily.
"What is he doing here?" said everyone but Regulus.
"Will somebody lock that bloody door!" Severus shouted.
Sirius threw a locking charm on the compartment door before rounding on Scabior. "What are you doing here?"
Scabior brushed dirt from his robes. "Was told there was a meeting."
"By who?" Hermione said incredulously.
Scabior pointed at Regulus.
Sirius's eyes rounded disbelievingly. "Regulus, you didn't."
Regulus all but burst. "I had to tell somebody! You were nearly dead and Hermione was catatonic! Besides, if there's a blabbermouth here it's her," he nodded at Hermione. "We all know because you told us. And you learnt the fiendfyre curse from Scabs; it's only fair."
Hermione was still as a deer in headlights, too shocked to formulate a reply. "Er…okay," she said finally. "I guess Scabior knows." She turned to the group. "Did you all tell anybody else?"
A chorus of 'no's followed, to Hermione's relief. "Good. It has to stay that way."
"Wanna move over a bit, mate, so I can sit?" Scabior said to Regulus.
"We can't get in any closer," said James, unimpressed.
Scabior glanced at Hermione. "Why don't you get cozy on your new honey's lap so we can sit?"
"I will not," said Hermione, ignoring Sirius's suggestive glance.
Severus gaped in shock. "Are you two together?"
"Yes." Sirius fixed him with a daring glance.
Severus gave him a dirty look. "Ugh. Hermione, you've really lowered your standard."
"Watch your bloody mouth—"
"Will somebody move over so I can sit?" Scabior complained loudly.
"Fine," Scabior sulked, sliding down against the compartment door. "I'll just sit on the floor." He clapped his hands together. "So, what's the agenda? How're we doin' in You-Know-Who?"
"Well, there's no real 'we'," said Hermione, causing an uproar.
"Bloody hell, not here we go," Sirius muttered.
"Hermione, you know you can't do this alone," said Severus just as Peter burst out "There's always a 'we'! It'll be 'we' forever!"
"For Merlin's sake!" Hermione exclaimed, holding out her hands. "I only meant that a few of us would do that actual hunting and destroying of—of the you-know-whats."
"Right, and what is our plan?" Scabior repeated. "I reckon we've all got a part to play here, yeah? What do we do next?"
"Aren't you a Death Eater?" Peter stared at Scabior warily.
Scabior scoffed. "My arms are clean, mate."
"It would hardly matter, considering both Snape and Reg are, Peter," said Sirius.
"Here is what we know," said Hermione firmly. She was starting to get a headache. "Unless Voldemort made a you-know-what in the last month, there is only one remaining—Helga Hufflepuff's cup. We've already deduced that Bellatrix was entrusted with it. It's a matter of figuring out where she would hide it."
"Regulus and I already decided we would check our house. Bellatrix still technically lives there; she might have hidden it away in her old bedroom," said Sirius.
"Yeah, and if it's not there?" said Scabior skeptically. "That's not much of a plan."
"I don't know," Hermione said, frustrated. "I don't know what else we should do. I haven't got a clue how else to approach finding the cup before Voldemort realizes all the others have been destroyed."
"I thought he already did?" said James.
Sirius shook his head. "He only knows the diary has gone missing from Malfoy Manor."
"Yes, and it won't be long before he starts realizing one his servants destroyed it. Especially the new recruits," said Severus silkily. "So we had better move fast."
The handle to the compartment door jangled, then several knocks sounded. "Hermione? Sirius? Anyone there?" It was Lily.
Hermione unspelled the door and Lily slid it open, just as Scabior darted away from it. Her eyes grew wide, as did Remus's from where he stood beside her. "Blimey," said Lily, impressed. "Nobody told me there'd be a party."
In the end they left the compartment with no real answer to their problem, but still in high spirits to be returning to the castle. It glittered in the moonlight cast upon the snowy turrets, windows flickering orange from the lit fireplaces. Sirius spelled their trunks together as they walked inside, and Hermione bit back a smile as he winked down at her.
They were spared hardly a moment together once the feast started, everyone catching up with each other and some of Lily's friends started asking Hermione what she'd done over the holidays. Dinner itself was extraordinary, as always; smoked salmon and kippers, mashed potatoes and heaps of freshly baked bread.
The long day finally caught up with them, and soon enough Dumbledore dismissed them to their dormitories. Hermione washed up and changed into her night clothes quickly, waiting for what felt like an hour until the girls' dormitory fell silent. Quietly, Hermione put on her slippers and crept down to the common room.
The fireplace was still lit, albeit dimly. She hesitated near the entrance to the boys' dormitory, chewing on her thumbnail while holding her arm. Sirius hadn't said for her to go up to find him, but impatience was getting the better of her.
Her frown turned into a relieved smile when Sirius slipped out of the boys' dormitory. "Sorry I kept you," Sirius said in a low voice, smiling sheepishly. "Peter was struggling to fall asleep."
"You're fine. I only just got here." Hermione beamed up at him as they drew closer. "Hello."
"'Lo," Sirius muttered, eyes bright in the flickering flames of light. His hands were warm where they ran down her arms, falling at her waist. "You sure you're okay with this?"
Hermione tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
"Touching you." Sirius peered down at her emphatically. "Just a few weeks ago you couldn't bear the thought of it. I don't want to do anything that'll make you feel uncomfortable, dating or not."
Smile widening, Hermione slid her arms around his neck. "I promise you, I'm okay with it. The nightmares don't come anymore. I'm healing."
Sirius exhaled, looking relieved. "I'm glad."
"Will you kiss me now?"
The corner of his mouth twitched, and he nodded. She leaned up on her toes to meet him halfway, and immediately warmth coursed through her body from where their lips met. His hand burrowed in her hair as his other slid to her hip, squeezing, pulling her closer. A small shift in position deepened their kiss, bright bursts of pleasure making Hermione ache to be closer, to burrow into him. Merlin, she didn't remember kissing to be quite like this. It made her burn.
They broke apart, and Hermione smiled against his mouth. "You smell good."
Sirius chuckled, still a little breathless. "Ta, love. You smell like roses."
Dizzy with fatigue and overwhelming joy, Hermione wrapped her arms tightly around his shoulders. Sirius held her close, swaying a little with her and burying his nose in her neck.
"Sirius?" said Hermione, her voice muffled by his shirt.
"I'm really worried about the last horcrux. Scabior was right. What if we can't find it?"
Sirius pulled away slowly, searching her gaze. "We know where to start, at least. That's no small thing, remember."
"I know. I just…we're so close. We're so close to being finished, to have our final obstacle be with Voldemort himself. It…kills me to think that it could all be for nothing."
"Hermione, look at me."
Sirius's change in tone caught her attention. Hermione met his gaze. He stared down at her firmly. "We are going to find the cup. It's not a question of 'if'. It's when. And when we do, you're going to destroy it as you did the others. You've come this far, love." Sirius cupped Hermione's cheek, brushing her skin with his thumb. "And you're not alone anymore. There's eight of us to help you."
Hermione cringed, dropping her head in her hand. "Oh god. There really are eight of you."
"Yep. Can't get rid of us, either. Admittedly, the group you've selected is an interesting one."
Hermione shook her head and moved her hand back around Sirius's neck. "You're all my friends. Scabior, Regulus, Severus…it was meant to be this way."
"Loathe as I am to say it, it's true. We couldn't have done without them. They're…good people."
Hermione drew her head back, giving him a teasing look of shock. "Am I hearing right? This coming from the same person who said all Slytherins were evil?"
Sirius rolled his eyes as Hermione started laughing. "Laugh it up, yes. I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong. But I remind you that all the Death Eaters recruited from our school are from Slytherin. At the very least there's a correlation."
"Ooh, big words."
Sirius gasped, making Hermione laugh harder. Sirius shushed her, pressing his hand to her mouth lest they wake someone; or worse, wake McGonagall. It didn't help that Sirius was trying not to laugh with her.
"Right, it's off to bed, troublemaker," Sirius said with mock-sternness. They kissed again briefly, then went up their separate dorms.
Hermione climbed back in bed, pulling the covers over her tightly and closing her eyes. Seeing Sirius and talking to him had loosened a knot in her chest. Smiling contentedly, Hermione was fast asleep within moments.