Hermione stared down at the desk, arms folded and thumbnail held against her teeth.
The little grasshopper, sitting inside a glass jar atop the desk, ignored her entirely.
Hermione stared some more.
Beside her, Remus crossed his arms. " You know, I don't think staring at him will do very much."
"It could," Hermione insisted, knowing very well it couldn't. At Remus's knowing look, Hermione sighed. "He's just so small, Remus."
"He is," Remus agreed.
"I never found insects cute before, but the more I look at him, the more I think he's a cute little thing."
"Would being not-cute make this easier?"
Hermione bit her lip. That was Remus, always cutting through the fluff. "No," she admitted. "I just wish I could tell him somehow that this isn't personal. That I don't want to hurt him."
Remus shrugged a little, expression neutral. "Then don't hurt him. You don't have to do this right now if you're not ready." Or at all, was what Remus left unsaid.
Interestingly enough, Remus had not said a word against Hermione's idea when she'd confided in him earlier. Perhaps he understood, deeply even, the cost of enduring something untenable.
Deflating, Hermione slumped into the desk and dropped her chin to meet the grasshopper's unassuming stare. "You only live a year, you know. I looked it up in the library. And you're already an adult grasshopper, so you've only got two months left to live. Maybe less."
Remus's lips twitched into an amused smile.
"So actually, you're not missing out much. You've probably impregnated tons of lady grasshoppers and lived a long, fulfilled life." Hermione glanced up at Remus, hopeful. Remus's smile softened, and he shook his head.
Exhaling, Hermione cupped the glass jar in her hands. "Sorry about this, Gropper."
"Gropper?" Remus hiked his eyebrows curiously.
Hermione winced. "I'm not very creative with names."
"I'm more surprised that you named him, at all."
"I know. Like how you shouldn't name the livestock that you intend to eat. You get attached and then you can't eat them. Or maybe it's that you don't take them as a pet." Hermione watched the jar again as the grasshopper finally moved, placing one insect leg against the glass. "I feel… guilty."
Remus looked at Hermione for a moment. Then a desk appeared beside hers, conjured by the Room, and Remus slid in carefully. She felt his hand gently squeeze her shoulder. "You really don't have to do this right now, Hermione," said Remus quietly.
Hermione looked at Remus, her eyes sad. "I know."
A long moment passed in silence, and then Hermione slowly pulled out her wand.
Regulus paced the Owlery impatiently. Give it to Sirius for picking a place filled with shit.
"If looks could kill, Reggie, you'd've been in Azkaban ages ago." Sirius jumped the last step into the Owlery, smiling.
"Finally," Regulus muttered. "Anybody see you come here?"
"Yes, actually. I passed two prefects and a Head Boy, and shook hands with Slughorn before I got here," Sirius deadpanned.
"You're such a prat." Regulus rolled his eyes.
Sirius smirked, then quickly sobered. "We only have a short window to do this. When everyone's off to Hogsmeade tomorrow, we'll summon Kreacher to get in and out of the house."
"Where to first?" Regulus asked.
"My room. Nobody ever goes in there. Then we go to Bella's old room."
"You don't think she'd… be there, do you?" Nervousness crept in Regulus's voice.
Sirius frowned. "During the day? I doubt it. But we'll be careful. Not getting caught is more important than anything, understand? And we cannot be seen together, not even at Hogsmeade. You're watched too closely."
"I know." Anger flashed through Regulus. "I can't stand them."
Sirius gazed at Regulus for a long moment, emotions flitting across his expression. "I know you hate me," he said quietly. "I…"
"What?" Regulus prodded.
"I didn't want to leave you there that night, Reg. I would've taken you with me, if I thought I could. I'm sorry, Regulus."
Sirius's sudden candor caught Regulus by surprise. He glanced away, feeling awkward. "I don't hate you." He squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. "I hate that I didn't realize what I was holding on to. That by the time I realized what was going to happen, it was inevitable." He glanced at his left forearm, covered by the sleeve of his robe. "This is made right by what we're doing now. Putting an end to it."
Sirius nodded, still staring at Regulus. "Thank you," he said, "for saving me in the cave. And everything after."
Regulus smiled. "And you, for coming after me and listening to Mum's screaming."
Sirius grinned and shook his head. "That was nothing. I'd do that a million more times for you."
Regulus's smile slipped, and for a moment he felt a vulnerability that only Sirius had been privy to. He felt so much smaller all of a sudden, transported back to a place where Sirius was the world and nothing could separate them. Back when Regulus was little and Sirius protected him, from insect to bully.
He still does. When that realization crossed him, Regulus could not control what came next; with two steps forward he came to Sirius and wrapped his arms around him, squeezing his eyes closed.
If Sirius was startled, he did not show it. Immediately his arms came around Regulus, holding him tightly. "I've got you, brother," Sirius murmured. " Always got you."
"Please don't chew on your wand, Hermione," Remus said weakly. "I've walked too many students to the infirmary to know it's a bad idea."
"Blast. Sorry, I don't normally do that." Hermione snatched the wand away from her mouth. "Nerves, I guess."
"It's alright." Remus looked at her kindly. "What're you thinking, now?"
Hermione glanced at her watch. An hour had gone by, and she had yet to cast a single curse.
"You can go," Hermione implored. "I don't want you stuck here. This could take me forever."
Remus was unfazed. If anything, his smile widened. "Not to worry. I'm a very patient man."
He really was. Of all her friends, Remus could sit through anything, no matter how tedious. It was in part what had made him such a great professor—his infinite patience with his students and lack of displeasure at being asked tons of questions about the material had set him apart from all the other Defense professors.
But Hermione did not want to be the person to exhaust that patience. She had to get on with it now. Tightening her grip on her wand, Hermione stared at the grasshopper in the jar. With a flick of her wand, the lid spun off and clattered on the floor. The grasshopper didn't hesitate, and sprang free onto the desk.
Hermione lifted her wand. "Imperio."
The grasshopper barely moved.
Remus approached her slowly. "Did it work?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, I don't think so. Something's meant to happen."
Remus glanced at the grasshopper. "Try again?"
Hermione nodded. She lifted her wand again, and stared at the grasshopper. She steadied her mind. I want this. Obey me.
Defiant, the grasshopper turned his back to her.
Frustration swelled. "Imperio!" she cried.
The grasshopper shuddered, then stiffened. Hermione felt it then—weak, flickering, but undeniable—a connection formed between them.
Hesitantly, Hermione lowered her wand. The grasshopper was unmoving, as if in wait. Command, and he shall obey, the book had said.
The grasshopper's will was nonexistent. It was firmly in her hands now. It was waiting for her command.
"Tapdance," she said. With a jubilant lurch, the grasshopper began to dance.
"Merlin," Remus breathed an exhale. A swooping sensation in her stomach had Hermione smile triumphantly.
"Not bad," she said, somewhat shakily. "For a first attempt."
Looking at the grasshopper, Hermione shifted the command in her head. Immediately, the grasshopper ceased its dance and began jumping up and down.
"Nonverbal?" Remus noted.
"Yes. It—it's a curse of wills, so verbalizing the command isn't necessary. I'm a little surprised it actually worked. The book said it takes practice."
"You're good at it," said Remus, giving her a small smile.
"It seems so." Hermione's elation faded a little. "I wonder what that says about me."
Remus hesitated. "Does it have to?"
The grasshopper made a tiny sound, and Hermione glanced at it sharply. "Oh god," she said weakly. "Stop, stop. Just stop." Cancel, Hermione thought quickly. The spell's done, just stop!
Like the whisper of wind, the connection between them faded. The grasshopper trembled suddenly, twitching, then collapsed.
Remus strode forward and checked him as Hermione shoved her wand in her pocket with shaking fingers. "He's alive," Remus said softly, glancing at her. "Just tired."
"I overexerted him," Hermione replied quietly, staring at the creature whose will had been hers for a handful of minutes. "But he couldn't stop."
"Yes," said Remus carefully. "That is what happened. Do you want to practice some more?"
Hermione hesitated. "I… I probably should." But she didn't move.
She could feel Remus's eyes on her, quiet and thinking. Hermione closed her eyes. She had no right to feel this way, feel sorry for herself. She had no right.
Remus gently coaxed the grasshopper back in the jar and closed the lid. The desks disappeared, and wordlessly he picked up Hermione's school bag and zipped the jar inside.
When he held the bag out to her, Hermione glanced up at Remus. He smiled. "Let's go to the kitchens."
Hermione blinked. "I don't know…"
"The kitchens," Remus repeated, and held out his arm. A wave of gratitude overcame her, at the kindness Hermione did not feel she deserved in that moment, and she took his arm.
It was a quiet walk from the Room of Requirement to the kitchens. Remus led her through a stealthy route, avoiding any chance of encountering a prefect. Soon enough they were standing in front of the large portrait, and Remus reached up and tickled the pear.
Together they climbed inside and Remus dropped her arm, moving easily through the kitchens. The house-elves rushed to greet them.
"Master Lupin! The usual, sir?" A very polite elf said in a dignified squeak.
"Yes, but make it a double please."
The elves nodded their assent and rushed around, bringing out pots and plates. Catching Hermione's curious look, Remus smiled sheepishly. "I, erm, come here after my transformations. They know me quite well. Come, let's sit." They settled at a table nearby.
"The usual," Hermione said, repeating what the elf had said to Remus. The gloomy state of mind from which she left the Room of Requirement was rapidly clearing as she looked at Remus with amusement. He fidgeted under her stare. "You have a usual here."
"I do." His mouth curled in a smile. "It's a pretty good one, too."
Hermione narrowed her eyes, thinking. "What would it be? Come to think of it, I don't actually know what kind of food you prefer. It's usually James or Sirius who sneak into the kitchens and bring back food."
Remus's smile was mysterious. "I am a man of intrigue."
Hermione snorted. "I bet it's something sensible. A spinach quiche and a fruit tart. No, maybe not after a transformation. I wouldn't want spinach right after my body splintered a million ways."
Remus choked a laugh. "Yeah, not even close."
Hermione didn't have to wait very long for the answer. Two steaming goblets of hot cocoa, a silver tray of cream puffs, and two heaping plates of crispy-fried chips covered in gravy and cheese curds were set before them.
"Poutine! Oh my god." Hermione didn't wait for a reply as she dug in. The richness of the gravy and crunch of the potato had Hermione close her eyes in bliss.
Remus was chuckling. "I take it you like it?"
Hermione nodded, chewing slowly. "Comfort food. You're a genius. I haven't had poutine in so long."
Remus grinned and joined in. It didn't take very long for their plates to be cleared, left only with their goblets of cocoa. The sweetness of the chocolate spread warmth throughout Hermione's body and the restlessness inside her finally settled.
She gazed at Remus. "Thank you," she said quietly.
Remus smiled softly. "It's like I said. I'll be here."
Hermione stared at him, seeing the truth in his gaze. "You really will, won't you?"
Remus stared back, nodding.
Hermione cracked a smile, until it became a grin. "Oh. You are getting hugged, Remus."
Remus laughed. "Finish your cocoa!"
"No, my mind is set." Hermione stood up.
Remus jumped to his feet at her approach, holding his goblet up between them. "Now Hermione," he started, dodging her a bit. He laughed as she chased him a little around the kitchen. "I'm not much of a hugger, Hermione."
"Are you really not?" Hermione asked, stopping. She shrugged a little and stepped back, and suddenly their game was over.
Remus frowned in surprise. "What, that's it?"
Hermione's brow hiked up, and she set her mouth even. "Well I'm not going to force you, Remus, what do you take me for?"
He saw the humor dancing in her eyes, and Remus began to smirk. His eyes lit with mischief. "I take you for someone who rises to the challenge."
Draining the rest of his goblet, he tossed it at Hermione before dashing toward the portrait hole, laughing and gasping at her shocked face as she caught his goblet.
"Thanks for the meal!" Remus called, clambering out of the portrait with Hermione hot at his heels.
"Anytime, Master Lupin!"
"She's right behind you, Master Lupin!"
Stifling laughter while sprinting stealthily to the seventh floor was no easy feat, but somehow Hermione and Remus managed. Twice they had to dive behind an alcove or suit of armor, narrowly dodging a run-in with a prefect and teacher. To their delight, the suit of armor carefully adjusted its grip on its shield to better hide them as a professor walked by.
Remus beat her to the Fat Lady's portrait and clambored inside quickly, finally allowing himself to laugh openly as Hermione closed the portrait door with a huff.
"I win," Remus declared.
"This time," Hermione replied with a sniff.
"Good on that suit of armor. I'll remember to give it a little polish next time I see it."
Snorting, Hermione shook her head.
Remus watched Hermione's smile slip as she glanced around the common room. It was very late, and the fireplace was barely flickering with embers and fire. The night sunk back in, and he saw the visible change in Hermione's demeanor. Her shoulders drew together and she folded her arms over herself, breathing deeply.
"When will you try again?" Remus asked quietly.
Hermione lifted a shoulder in a little shrug. "Dunno. When I can get away. It'll be often, maybe a few days a week."
Remus nodded. "Don't be alone for this one, Hermione. Let one of us know. Sirius and me, we'll go with you. And the others, if you decide to tell them. We're with you."
Hermone's expression softened, and she nodded. "I will."
Remus smiled gently. Then he opened his arms and lifted an expectant brow, and Hermione's frown was, even if only temporarily, replaced with a delighted smile. She stepped forward into his embrace and they held each other tightly.
"Thank you, Remus," she said, muffled against his sweater.
Remus grinned. "What're friends for? The way you caught that goblet, you earned this."
Hermione laughed and shoved his shoulder.
To the observer's eye, the Great Hall's students filing excitedly to the grounds on their way to Hogsmeade was nothing out of the ordinary. It would seem pure happenstance that Hermione Granger, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, James Potter, Lily Evans, Severus Snape, Regulus Black, and Sebastian Scabior were packed in together as they exited the Great Hall—but of course, it was furthest from.
"Remember the plan," Severus muttered.
"Of course I remember the bloody plan," Sirius hissed.
"Sirius," James said warningly.
"What? He says shite like that—"
"Stay close to Sirius," Lily said to Regulus, whose shoulders climbed up a little at the attention.
"I will," Regulus said gruffly.
"And don't drink anything."
Regulus blanched. "I'm not going to drink anything!"
"I'm just saying—"
"What's this about drinking?" said Sirius.
Severus began to smirk. "Did he not tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Sirius glanced at Regulus with a narrow look. "What did you do?"
"I'm sure this could be discussed later," Hermione interrupted with a frown. "Go over the plan."
"We go far into town," said Sirius.
"I summon Kreacher," said Regulus.
"You have exactly thirty minutes," Hermione reminded.
"Lily and I will keep an eye out to make sure nobody sees you go," said Remus firmly.
"I'll be there to grab Regulus once he's back," said Scabior, nearly bouncing with excitement.
"I'll make sure to keep the Slytherins occupied," said Severus quietly.
"Peter and I will have a table saved at the Three Broomsticks for once Sirius is back," said James, and he grinned at Hermione, "where my sister and I will get a chance to truly bond."
"Perfect," Hermioned breathed. "It's time. Mind your watches."
They split up perfectly. James wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulders and they, along with Peter, went straight to the pub. Regulus and Sirius walked in separate directions but to the same destination: the line of trees beyond Dervish and Banges. Severus set to work, joining the group of Slytherin boys headed toward Honeydukes as Lily and Remus strolled together at an even pace, stopping at the corner of High Street and starting up a chat.
A few minutes passed by. Regulus was the first to arrive, glancing at Lily. She made a furtive check, then nodded. Regulus strode past her and went to the line of trees.
A minute later came Sirius. At Remus's slight nod, Sirius wandered ahead until Regulus came in sight.
"Call him," Sirius muttered.
Regulus nodded. "Kreacher, come—I need you."
Several beats passed. Sirius and Regulus exchanged an unsure look. "D'you think he's not coming?" Regulus asked worriedly.
"He has to. He's been called. Something's holding him up," said Sirius quietly.
A few more seconds passed before a short crack announced Kreacher's arrival. "Sir asked for Kreacher?" Kreacher asked, his voice oily and dripping with reverence. He caught sight of Sirius and immediately stiffened. "Master's brother is to join you too?"
"Yes. Remember what I told you, Kreacher."
Kreacher nodded, bowing deeply. "Kreacher is a good elf. Kreacher will not call Master's brother a blood traitor. Anything for Master Regulus, whom Kreacher has taken care of these many years."
"Thank you. Who is in the house right now?" Regulus asked.
"Master and Mistress Black, of course. And the house-elves. Nobody else, Master Regulus. Kreacher was giving Master Black his tonic when Kreacher was summoned."
"That explains that," Sirius muttered. "Right, take us to my old room."
Kreacher's eyes widened and he looked to Regulus. Regulus nodded. "Do as he says."
Kreacher took both their hands and with a crack, they were standing inside Sirius's bedroom.
"Inform us if anybody approaches," said Regulus seriously. "We mustn't be seen. And do not tell anybody we came here, do you understand?"
Kreacher bowed again, clasping Regulus's hand tightly. "Kreacher swears to tell no one, Master."
Regulus smiled a little and petted his ear. "Thank you." He turned to Sirius. "Let's go."
Sirius hesitated, looking around his bedroom. "It's the same," he said slowly. "They left it as is."
Regulus glanced around and nodded. "Yeah, seems they did."
Sirius ran his finger along his old dresser. It came back clean of dust. They were keeping the room spotless. Why were they doing that? "Why bother?" Sirius whispered to himself, baffled. Not even the posters, several of which were muggle musicians, were taken down. He pulled the door to his wardrobe open and found all the clothes he'd left behind still there, hanging pressed and smelling freshly laundered. Sirius swallowed thickly.
"Perhaps they thought you'd return some day," Regulus said quietly. "Rejoin the family."
Sirius's expression hardened, all wonderment evaporating. "I was the one thrown out." Sirius shook his head. "Come on. We're losing time."
"Why can't we just Apparate to Bella's room in the first place?" Regulus asked. "We wouldn't have to sneak around as much."
Sirius glanced at Regulus. "If I know our cousin, she's spelled it so no one can enter. Aren't I right, Kreacher?"
Kreacher nodded. "Kreacher cannot Apparate inside Mistress Bellatrix's room."
"Come on, then." Carefully, Sirius and Regulus cracked open the door and entered the hallway. Bellatrix's room was one flight up, so they reached the stairs at the end of the hall and started up, jumping the fourth step that creaked, and reached the next floor.
"Third down the left," Regulus whispered.
They stopped before the bedroom door. Sirius stared at it a long while, then reached toward the door. His fingers ran gently down the grain.
"What is it?" Regulus asked. He startled when a creak sounded from behind them, but it was only the rickety creaking of the house.
"I'm looking," Sirius replied, his voice hushed. "There is a lot here." Sirius focused, narrowing his eyes at the door until he could hardly see it. His vision faded until he saw threads, woven in reds and greens, sharp and raw edges, but most of all, powerful.
"Fuck." Sirius looked at Regulus. "There are at least three curses wrapped around her bedroom."
"Three? You see them?"
"They're strong, can't miss 'em. Shit. I'm not a bloody cursebreaker, I can't rightly…" Frustration bubbled forth and he wanted to let out a scream. Sirius pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose. "It's in there. Now we know it is. This is a dead bloody giveaway. She's never warded her room like this before, why the hell would she need to? She hasn't bloody lived here in ages."
"No, but she's been visiting. All the meetings, they're here now," said Regulus gravely. "What do we do now?"
Sirius's jaw worked in frustration. "We have to go back. Until I figure out how to take these bloody curses down and put them back up exactly as she cast them, there's nothing else we can do here today."
Regulus cursed. "We're so close."
"I know, Reg." Sirius couldn't deny his own frustration, but he clapped Regulus's shoulder. "We'll come back. This isn't over."
Regulus stared up into Sirius's eyes and nodded, reassured. Together they crept down the stairs and reentered Sirius's bedroom, where Kreacher was waiting for them.
Regulus glanced at his wristwatch. "We made good time. Let's head back."
He reached for Kreacher's hand, but Sirius paused. He gazed around his room, eyeing the wallpaper and the neatly-made bed.
Sirius jumped a little and glanced at Regulus. "Sorry," he muttered. "Let's go."
"Come off it. Never?" James was scandalized.
"Never," Hermione confirmed, smiling sheepishly. Peter shook his head and James looked pained. They were sitting in the Three Broomsticks as planned, and somehow their conversation circled around to—
"Hermione," said James quietly. "You know I love you like a sister—"
"I am your sister."
"—so it hurts me, truly hurts me, that you've never been to a proper concert. Muggle concerts don't possibly measure up."
"It really is an experience," Peter agreed eagerly. "I went to one and everyone came out with their hair turned purple. Just for a few hours, but it was awesome."
"That's impressive," Hermione noted.
"I'm taking you," said James gravely. "The Goblin Kings are wicked cool on stage—if they play this summer, we're booking tickets."
"It's a deal," Hermione grinned. "But then we have to go to a muggle one together. It's a great time for music right now, you know. Let's think… ABBA, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye, David Soul…" Hermione's eyes widened and she reached over to grab James's hand. "Bowie. We have to see him. He's English!"
James chuckled at Hermione's eagerness and gripped her hand tightly. "It's a deal! We'll do whatever you like."
Hermione smiled up at James, her heart full with how much she adored James. There had been a time, quite a long time ago now, when Hermione could see James as only the father of Hermione's best friend. He was so much more than that. He was family and he was fun.
"What?" James asked, raising an eyebrow.
"You're a bit of alright, did you know?"
James pinkened a little and looped his arm around Hermione, tugging her close. "Ta," he replied, smiling widely.
Peter made a face from where he sat across them. "Aren't siblings supposed to make fun of each other? You're ruining this for me."
"Oi, what's it to you?" James said irritably. "You're family and I make fun of you enough to make up for it. Hermione's exempt."
"Yes, I'm exempt," Hermione said with a dignified sniff.
"For now, until it strikes my fancy," said James.
"Yeah, for—" Hermione glanced up at James, making a face. "How rude."
Chortling, James and Hermione nearly missed Lily and Remus walking inside the pub. Peter gasped, and Hermione turned in her seat to catch Lily and Remus sliding in next to Peter.
"A bit early," Lily acknowledged, answering the question in Hermione's eyes. "Sirius'll be up any moment."
A few seconds later, Sirius walked inside the pub and stomped the snow from his boots. He caught sight of them and immediately sauntered over. "'Lo," Sirius said quietly, sliding in next to Hermione. He bent down to kiss her and Hermione inhaled softly at the cool touch of his lips, straight from the chilled air outside.
"Butterbeers for that table, please," Lily said to the witch who appeared with a quill and notepad.
"And a plate of chips, thanks," Peter added, glancing along the table knowingly. "You must be hungry."
"Cheers, mate," Sirius murmured.
"How'd it go?" Remus asked.
Sirius exhaled softly, shrugging out of his coat and scarf and stretching his arm out behind Hermione. "Well, we got there. Didn't get inside her room. She's warded it up six ways to Sunday."
"Balls," James muttered.
"Yup. God, I was angry. But there was no way I could take down the wards and put them back up just right. I'll have to go back a few times, study just what the hell she's put up."
"Did you get a look at the curses?" Hermione asked.
Sirius nodded. "There are three in total. Two looked sort of red, almost angry in shape. The other was green. That one felt more dangerous." Sirius shook his head, unhappy. "Even if I can see them, how many folks do you think documented the magical signature of those wards?"
"We'll work on this," Hermione said firmly. "This was good, Sirius. Now we know for certain she's hiding something in there."
"We do. I just feel bloody upset, I can't explain it."
Hermione rubbed his chest soothingly, eliciting a small smile from Sirius. "This'll be sorted in time. We can be patient."
Sirius nodded, taking a deep breath and exhaling quietly. He gently enclosed the hand on his chest with his own, stroking Hermione's fingers. "Everything go smoothly here?" Sirius asked the table.
James and Peter nodded. "Got a table. Everything's been quiet," said Peter.
"Hardly anyone wandering around Dervish and Banges," said Lily. "Remus and I enjoyed the quiet."
"No noise from the Slytherin you-know-whats, so Snape did his part," said James. "Did, er, Regulus and…"
At that exact moment the door to the pub burst open, and Scabior and Regulus shoved inside, laughing.
"That answers that," said Lily with a grin.
Sirius slumped a bit in his seat, staring at nothing. Hermione squeezed their joined hands, smiling softly when Sirius glanced at her. You did good, she mouthed. Sirius smiled back a little and nodded. Then the barwitch came back with drinks and chips, and they all got distracted in the moment.
Dating while at Hogwarts was difficult, in some ways. Finding time together, in true privacy, was few and far between. The thought of sneaking to the Room of Requirement was exhausting in itself, and patrols tended to be more robust over Hogsmeade weekends. Thus Sirius and Hermione waited, until the last student left for bed, to sneak back down to the common room and cast a silencing charm around them.
"What's on your mind?" Hermione asked softly. They were perched on the rug in front of the fireplace, leaning against the sofa. Hermione turned to face Sirius. He stared into the glowing embers, seemingly lost in thought.
"I don't know why it's bothering me so much," said Sirius, almost under his breath.
"The… the wards?" Hermione ventured.
"No, not that. I don't like that, mind you, but that's not it."
Hermione waited, stroking his arm.
Sirius pursed his lips, scowling. "I saw my room for the first time in a year. I'd expected it to be filled with rubbish, neglected—even cleared out entirely. But it wasn't." He huffed, an ironic smile twisting his lips. "They've been taking care of it. It's exactly as I left it. Well," he added dryly, "not exactly. See, when I left, I'd shoved as much as I could in a bag and set off. I'd thrown open drawers and shite, all of it was turned over and messy. It's been cleaned and set back properly, since."
"Oh, wow," Hermione remarked. "It's been kept clean?"
"Not even a spec of dust." Sirius's expression darkened. "And then Regulus insinuated perhaps they'd been maintaining it for me, in case I came back and restored honor to my family." Sirius fidgeted his fingers, agitated, then turned to face her. His expression was cut in stone. "I can't even express how fucking angry that makes me, Hermione. It's been sitting in my chest all day, burning, and—and—"
Hermione eyed the tremble in his hands, balled into fists, and reached behind her to grab a cushion off the sofa. Wordlessly she handed it over, and Sirius shoved his face into and muffled a hoarse scream.
He threw the cushion back onto the sofa. Sirius looked drained of energy, but no less unhappy. Hermione tucked in closer against him, wrapping one arm around his middle and the other to push back his hair, stroking gently.
"They have no right," said Sirius, voice trembling with emotion. "No. Right. Even if it's not true, even if Regulus is wrong. I'm still angry. My family abandoned me. Seeing my things taken care of made me so angry. Because if not that, then it's to keep appearances. The shallow reality of living in that manor, to be a noble. A dignified, cold cleanliness. Fuck off."
Hermione nodded, running her fingers through his hair and scalp. "You're right," she replied quietly.
Sirius fell silent. For several minutes the only sound was the crackling in the fireplace, and occasional flutter of a ghost wandering by.
Sirius exhaled, and the tension bled out of him. His hand came up to clasp the arm wrapped around him, and he peered down at Hermione.
"That has to be the fastest you've ever agreed with me," said Sirius, wryly, squeezing her forearm. The anger and tension had left his eyes; all he had left was exhaustion.
The corner of Hermione's mouth lifted. "It's been known to happen on occasion. I mean it though. No one should endure what your family put you through. I won't ever forgive them."
Sirius's gaze softened. "Stick up for me, will you?"
Hermione lifted a brow. "You really need to ask?"
"No," said Sirius, starting to smile, then chuckled. "I know you, love. Insides to outsides."
"A bleeding heart," said Hermione dryly.
"A clever woman," Sirius countered, and pressed a kiss to her neck. Hermione smiled at the sensation, loving how warm he was, how soft. "Hardly had to do a thing to make me feel better."
"You needed to vent," Hermione said honestly. She scraped her nails against his scalp again, and Sirius hummed his pleasure. "I just listened. You did all the work. But I will hex your family if I ever come across them."
"God help them," Sirius laughed, pressing his forehead against hers. "Bloodthirsty witch."
"I know spells that'll curl even Merlin's beard. I know spells on spells on spells."
"Woman after my own heart."
Hermione smiled tenderly, and pressed her lips to his. His mouth moved sweetly against hers. She drew back a tiny bit, tracing his jaw with her fingertips. "I want more of this. More times like this. Just you and me. It's so hard finding any time with you, proper time."
"I know, love." He kissed her again. "We will. Not going anywhere."
'You're not," said Hermione, palming his cheek.
"Stay with me."
Their eyes had grown dark, gazing at each other, until like a magnet they drew together and kissed. The sweetness of before was now molten and hot, Sirius's lips dragging over hers in soft, delirious strokes. Hermione's fingers dove through the hair on the back of his head, curling slightly, pulling him closer. Sirius groaned, and his hands fitted around her waist and pulled her onto his lap, her knees on either side of his hips. Hermione gasped, their mouths slanting as she felt the first brush of his tongue.
Hermione did not recognize the breathy, soft sound that left her throat, but couldn't find it in her to care; a new feeling ignited in her, moved her in ways she never thought to before, pushing against him and rolling her tongue against his. It was getting warmer, so warm, and gods she wanted to feel more of him, his arms wrapped around her, his hand finding the skin of her back under her camisole; She slid her hips forward, wanting to get closer, closer, and felt the hardness underneath his trousers, tearing a gasping moan from her.
She felt Sirius murmur her name against her throat as he pressed kisses there, tipping her backward with her wrapped in his arms. Hermione held him to her, hand in his hair and dizzy with want.
"Sirius," she breathed, and felt him sigh. They kissed again, then again, until their foreheads pressed together, struggling to catch their breath.
For a brief moment Hermione felt awkwardness creep in her, as her heartbeat slowed and her surroundings gathered shape and color again. This was new territory for them. It had been chaste kisses and affection up until now, but that was now blasted into the wind.
But that awkward feeling was fleeting, and Sirius helped Hermione settle back a little further from his hips. She gazed up at him and loved what she saw gazing back. Hermione started to grin. "I messed up your hair."
Sirius snorted. "Did a bit of that too." He nodded at her hair, wild in untamed curls.
Unspoken words bounced between them, as Sirius stroked up and down her arms. Yes, and it's fine. It's not time.
But still. "We should do that again," said Hermione. "Soon."
Sirius barked a laugh. "You won't hear any objection from me, love."
Hermione sighed. "I guess we should…"
Hermione shifted, making to move, when a ghost sitting across the room caught her eye. Hermione's mouth twisted sourly.
"What?" Sirius asked.
"I think we just gave a ghost a free peepshow."
A/N: I've been waiting to write that for-ev-ER!
Aside, anyone else read or write certain marauders and catch feels and start wanting to ship Hermione with them? Remus has been this for me for ten damn years. Writing their scene in this chapter had me feeling some type of way and I went and read some remione fics, hahahaha. Secret's out.
Thanks for reading, loves!