Chapter Forty-five: Heart to Heart
Don’t be scared—I’m scared too
But that’s the best part, the best part of love
When it’s brand new
-Ready for your love, Chantal Kreviazuk
Chapter Forty-five: Heart to Heart
Hermione had been silent as she and Sirius walked the path to Hogsmeade, focusing instead on keeping up with the brisk pace he’d set after his confrontation with Regulus. Something had told her that his decision to walk away rather than continue the argument had been a significant development; though the brief years that she’d known him had already begun to fade from her memory by her seventh year at Hogwarts, Hermione was certain that the Sirius she’d known then wouldn’t have been able to do it.
Now, as the two of them entered Hogsmeade proper, the importance of this conclusion and the realization that there really was only one altered variable between then and now—herself—caused a shiver to run through her entire body. Sirius hadn’t looked in her direction since they left the school, seeming to be deep in thought, but, feeling her involuntary shiver, he squeezed her hand and looked down at her just as she glanced up.
“There are rather a lot of people here,” he said, managing a slight smile as they slowed their pace to look around at the excited smiles of their fellow students and townspeople milling around in Hogsmeade. Hermione simply nodded, a bit relieved to see that she wouldn’t have to come up with an alternate reason for looking uncomfortable. Sirius stopped, lifting his free hand to run it through his hair roughly as he contemplated their options.
“Come on,” he said finally, lightening the mood slightly by circling her with a bouncy few steps to grasp her other hand in his before leading her toward a path that wound behind the buildings. The two young people walked again in silence; Hermione wished she could broach the subject of the two brothers’ estrangement, but, knowing what a sensitive topic it was for Sirius, she said nothing. Sirius would talk to her about it if he wanted to, she knew—and besides, as she’d learned from Harry’s behavior in her own time, pressing her male friends for details always seemed to net the complete opposite result from the one she wanted. As Hermione found out shortly, however, she didn’t have long to wait.
Sirius became increasingly restless as they walked further from Hogsmeade and the prying ears of strangers. Releasing Hermia’s hand, he discharged his pent-up emotions by kicking the newly fallen leaves that had drifted naturally into wind-blown piles strewn across their path. Damp leaves didn’t really provide any sort of catharsis, however; his anger simply built upon itself until finally he kicked viciously at a larger heap of leaves and the chunk of tree branch that they’d been hiding soared majestically into the air. By the time it landed, Sirius felt a little ashamed of himself. He glanced over at Hermia, but the look on her face didn’t show disgust, fear, or any of the other negative emotions he’d expected to see as a result of petulant display of temper. In fact, she seemed almost amused.
“Did it hurt?” she asked, doing an admirable job of sounding completely serious. The words themselves had a strange effect on him, however, and instead of answering her intended question, Sirius leaned against a nearby tree and frowned slightly. When at long last he spoke, it was in reference to far older injuries.
“It wasn’t supposed to,” he said, staring intently at the smudge of dirt the impact had left on his shoe. “We’d done a fair job of hiding it until I was sorted to Gryffindor.” Sirius shook his head, trying and failing to keep the bitterness from seeping into his tone of voice. “He saw that as the confirmation that I was the bad seed—not good enough to be sorted into Slytherin.”
“But—” Hermia stopped, as though surprised by the sound of her own voice. “But, you had a choice, didn’t you?”
He looked up, blinking quickly at the shock of both her words and the brightness of the sun’s light glowing behind her in sharp contrast to the muddy forest floor. Sirius forgot the pain in his foot, forgot the immediacy of his confrontation with Regulus, even forgot the many times he’d told himself that his sorting was a secret he’d keep only for himself.
“How did you know?” he gasped out, his astonishment robbing his voice of most of its volume. Instantly, Hermia blushed, looking like she were about to stammer out an apology, but instead, she stepped closer to him, twisting her scarf in her hands.
“I’m—” she began to say, but stopped herself. “It’s supposed to be rare,” she said after a long moment. He wondered what she meant by ‘supposed to be,’ but nodded encouragement to her, wanting to know what she was going to say. She, clearly, had been given no choice—had she taken the time to ask other students about their experiences? Again, however, Hermia James surprised him.
“I don’t suppose your brother was offered a choice,” she said in a low voice, adding as an afterthought to lighten the mood a little, “James either, I’d wager.”
“Regulus?” Sirius responded to her supposition with a shake of his head. “The Sorting Hat crowed Slytherin so quickly you’d have thought it was cursed,” he said wryly. “I’ve never really talked about it…” he trailed off, having meant to transition to telling her one of James’ wild stories about the Hat, but her earnest expression and astute observation made him pause. “I don’t think it occurred to Reg that there would ever have been a choice,” he said, his face blanching slightly at his unconscious use of his brother’s diminutive. Hermia stepped closer to him, took a deep breath, and spoke.
“Do you think it would have hurt him more to think that you chose Gryffindor—or that you were so fundamentally different that you belonged somewhere else?”
“I don’t know,” he said, honestly. “I mean, I think he expected me to be a maverick Gryffindor, after he got over the shock of it. I’d always bent expectations—that I would fit well into our rival house was something he’d never planned for.”
The fact that his phrase ‘our rival house’ referred to Gryffindor—meaning that, in some small way, Sirius still identified himself as a Black—was fascinating to her, but Hermione tried, instead, to focus on the conversation itself.
“Regulus was always so full of pride,” Sirius was saying now. “Every time he signs his name—ever since he first learned how to do it—he signed the ‘Black’ larger than anything else.” He leaned his head back against the tree stump and sighed; clearly Sirius was digging into memories he’d long since buried. “The concept of an identity of his own was too much for him,” he stated, harshly.
“You’re proud, too,” she pointed out, gently, earning herself a crooked grin that verged on impudence.
“Yes, but I don’t scrawl ‘GRYFFINDOR’ in huge letters with candy hearts all around my name,” Sirius said. She scowled at him.
“You know what I mean!”
“So do you,” he countered. He was right, she did know what he really meant… and trying to change Sirius’s irrepressible need to vocalize his vendettas wasn’t something she was prepared to do just yet. Hermione decided to change tactics.
“What was he like? Before you two were at school, I mean.”
“Under all of that self-importance, he actually hates seeing anything suffer,” Sirius said, letting out a long, deep breath that seemed to have been drawn from his toes. “That’s what made all of this so—” Sirius broke off; clearly this was treading into dangerous, private waters. “Well, for example, he used to give food to mother’s house elves when she punished them.”
While she was busy trying to let that sink in, Hermione could see Sirius straighten up and begin to walk again; the nervous energy accrued from talking about things he probably never even let himself think about was obviously affecting him. When she hadn’t appeared at his side, rather than looking behind to see what she was doing, Sirius had merely thrust his empty hand out behind him and waited.
How he manages to be so infuriating and endearing at the same time, I have no idea, Hermione thought to herself as she gathered her scattered thoughts and moved towards him. Deciding that he needed to be taken down a peg, Hermione walked up to his other side and purposefully began to walk in the direction he’d been heading. She could hear him chuckle under his breath as he started to follow her back towards Hogsmeade and their originally planned outing.
As the two of them wove in and out of the various shops and sights of the wizarding town, Sirius asked Hermia about her childhood—whether she had siblings of her own, what she thought of the wizarding world, and what her other friends were like. He could tell that some of the memories that his inquiries had brought up were painful, but Hermia’s face glowed when she spoke of her friends at home, and of the pranks that she had tried to get them out of.
“So, what you’re really saying is—you miss them?” he said, taking her package of quills from her hands so she could examine a rare textbook at the bookshop.
“How would you feel if you…” Hermia’s voice trailed off as a wave of emotion crossed her face before she could even finish the thought. Sirius was fairly certain he knew what it was, however.
“Completely miserable, without James and Remus and Peter,” he finished for her. In reply, she hastily set down the book she’d been holding and hugged him fiercely for a long minute, long enough for his eyes to mist over slightly at the strength of the moment.
“I didn’t mean to make you sad, Mia,” he murmured into her ear when, at length, she let go.
“I know,” she said, simply. “Well, do you think we have enough parcels?” she added in a much lighter tone. Sirius, for once, got the hint.
“Well, my arms haven’t started to ache, but I don’t remember that being a requirement,” he teased, holding up the substantial collection of bags from various stores. Suddenly, he remembered that he’d promised James that he’d pick up something from Zonko’s for their upcoming Halloween prank. “Actually, I still need to pick up something—can I meet you somewhere?”
“Of course! But, are you sure I can’t just go with you?” she questioned.
“You could, but then you’d probably feel obligated to report to Lily about our activities,” Sirius said regretfully.
“I see,” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“I’ll meet you in the Three Broomsticks, then?” Sirius grinned and set off before she could protest. He was still smiling broadly when he paid for his items at Zonko’s, so much so that the joke shop owner asked him if he’d been sampling the merchandise.
When Hermione woke the next morning, the first thing she noticed was an odd feeling that there was something underneath her pillow. She soon discovered that there was—a square shaped package that turned out to be a stack of fresh parchment paper, a gift from Sirius. He’d written his name just as they’d joked about the day before, with garish gold and crimson hearts and charmed letters spelling out a flashy ‘GRYFFINDOR.’ Inside the folder that held the paper, however, he’d written a more serious note to her:
For my Muggle-born, so she can continue to take unnecessarily long notes in class,
and perhaps write to her far-away friends.
His use of that particular phrase was especially touching, and she made sure to cast a preservation spell on the scrap of paper he’d written it on, fixing it securely onto a page of her diary.
Though she was sure she’d have thought of his message often enough anyway, Hermione found his words particularly important to her over the next few days, as she found that she noticed Sirius’s brother’s presence almost everywhere. Prior to the brothers’ encounter on Saturday, Hermione had completely forgotten he even existed—but now, she saw his haughty, aloof figure in the hallways, at mealtimes, and even once in the library. Each time, the students around Regulus seemed to unconsciously leave space for him, as though he had an invisible aura around his body that prevented anyone from getting too close.
It was difficult for her not to associate his remoteness with what she now knew to be true about his character, and this prompted her to see Sirius’s words of affection as speaking indirectly to his brother’s prejudices. Hermione had been thinking about these associations on her way to breakfast on Thursday morning when she looked up and caught Regulus looking directly at her. His facial expression was unreadable, expressing neither disgust nor anger, something that Hermione found very interesting. He had nothing to hide from her, she knew how he felt about her—but then, as she looked away, Hermione remembered her brief but instructive experience of being in Slytherin house. Regulus may not have felt the need to conceal his dislike from her, but it seemed to serve his purpose to keep his feelings hidden from his fellow students.
“Missing somebody?” James asked her when she finally sat down, nodding towards the far table. For an odd moment, Hermione thought of Severus, and shook her head at such a strange reaction.
“No,” she said, still shaking her head. “I’d make up an interesting reason to be staring over there, but I haven’t the energy,” she added, winking at the redhead sitting beside James. Then, Hermione noticed that someone was indeed missing from breakfast.
Remus was usually one of the first ones awake, and nearly always the first person seated at the Gryffindor table for breakfast. Furthermore, she knew for a fact that he wasn’t absent because of the full moon, as that had occurred the week before.
“Come to think of it—where’s Remus?” Hermione said, her brows slightly furrowed in confusion.
“I’m just FINE, thank you,” Sirius said loudly, having come up beside her to sit down just as she’d spoken her concern.
“You’re always late, Sirius,” Lily pointed out.
“Glad to know that if I fall through the moving staircase some gloomy morning, no one will come looking for me,” he said in an injured voice as he settled into his seat beside Hermione.
“There’s always the ghosts,” Peter suggested.
“Honestly—no one is worried that Remus is late?” Hermione said, slightly vexed.
“He’s not late, he’s occupied,” Sirius answered her, yelping shortly afterward as though someone had kicked him. James, as usual, looked innocent and was very likely not.
“Ahh,” Hermione said, realization dawning. “Halloween.”
“Just so.” Sirius raised a jam-covered knife and waved it in James’s general direction before speaking again. “Don’t even think about doing that again—I’m armed, and you hate mulberry jam.”
“It’s not like Hermia can’t figure things out on her own, you know,” James said, though he did lean back a bit in concession to Sirius’s threat.
“It didn’t occur to you two that I might not care to know what rule-breaking and possibly dangerous prank the four of you have come up with?” Hermione said, reaching out calmly to take the gooey knife from her boyfriend’s hands for her own piece of bread.
“I love how you assume Lily’s got no part in all of this,” James said.
“So do I,” Lily agreed impudently. “It’s about time that someone realized that I have no control over your behavior!”
A quiet ‘humph!’ sound resonated from Sirius’s direction, but luckily for him, Miss Evans either hadn’t heard him or chose not to react. Before she could change her mind, the five of them heard the Headmaster’s voice calling all students to listen to an announcement.
“It has come to my attention that the majority of the older students have requested an additional Hogsmeade outing day in order to celebrate Halloween next Monday. While there is a precedent for this, I’ve gotten several owls from shop proprietors such as Zonko’s, informing me of the large increase in sales of… particular items over the past week.” Dumbledore paused, and Hermione sensed that the way he was studiously ignoring the Gryffindor table was a subtle message.
“For that reason,” the old man at the podium boomed, “I have decided that further visits are not necessary.” The sounds of disappointment rang throughout the Great Hall, though the loudest came, inevitably, from the Gryffindor students. “In compensation for this, I have spoken to your Heads of House, and all have agreed to allow some sort of celebration in your common rooms.” The Headmaster’s face broke into a kindly smile at the reversal of groans to cheers. “Do not abuse their good will!” he cautioned before thanking them all for their attention.
“We would never do that in our last year at Hogwarts, would we Sirius?” James said slyly, as Hermione and Lily shot each other worried (but amused) looks.
“Hmmm?” Sirius replied absently, clearly distracted.
“It’s times like these that I wish I wasn’t Head Girl,” Lily groaned.
Remus stepped confidently away from the entrance to the Room of Requirement, not even looking behind him to watch the door melting back into the wall. He’d learned at a very young age that people were less suspicious of someone who appeared to have nothing to hide—indeed, this knowledge had saved him quite a lot of explaining over the years. He did feel a pang of conscience, as he always did, at the idea of using this tactic to conceal mischief, but as James had so earnestly explained to him the night before, the Last Halloween of Their Years At Hogwarts only happened once, after all.
The boys had lit on the idea of hiding their various bewitched items and other objects they planned on ‘celebrating’ Halloween with in the Room of Requirement shortly after Lily’s birthday party. It wasn’t this that Remus objected to, anyway—he had no intention of being caught with dungbombs disguised as pumpkins or enchanted Sneakoscopes anyway. As he neared the end of the hallway, he caught sight of his friends heading towards the Gryffindor Tower before classes.
“Remus! Fancy meeting YOU here,” James said in an overloud voice. Immediately, the two girls made faces and Lily pulled her companion towards the portrait hole.
“Come on,” she said, shooting a look behind her at him and cracking a slight smile. “That’s James’s cue that they’re about to talk about things we don’t want to know about. He thinks he’s clever by trying to drive me away with his antics, but it’s just easier to play along.”
Remus and Sirius both started laughing when James’s face fell at his girlfriend’s words.
“Don’t worry, Prongs—we wouldn’t have let on if it had been any of us,” Sirius said, nudging Peter.
“Thanks.” James sighed dramatically before switching gears swiftly and asking Remus how his ‘mission’ had gone. Lupin winced.
“Please don’t call it that, James—I”
“—have a reputation to protect. Got it,” Potter said, winking conspiratorially. “So you’re saying you’ve procured the contraband?” Lupin sighed inwardly. As much as he loved his friends, he sometimes wished they were less reckless. James Potter seemed to live to define ‘irrepressible.’
“Good news, Moony,” Sirius said, reaching out to muss up James’s hair and grinning at Remus as though to say ‘this will keep him busy for a while.’ “Dumbledore’s allowing us to have Halloween parties in the common rooms—apparently even McGonagall agreed to it!”
“Reluctantly, Mr. Black,” the severe-faced professor confirmed as she exited the portrait hole and walked toward them. “The Headmaster managed to convince me that, if the festivities were confined to each house’s private areas, the other students wouldn’t be able to witness whatever embarrassing and likely illegal pranks you four are undoubtedly planning.”
“Why, Professor McGonagall!” James began with an affected gasp. “You don’t think WE—”
With a swift flick of the older woman’s wand and a softly spoken word, James’s scarf suddenly flew into Potter’s mouth, muffling whatever outraged pretence he was planning to express.
“You will keep an eye on your fellow students, won’t you, Mr. Lupin? You and Miss Evans?” their Head of House said as she turned to walk away from them. Remus could have sworn he saw her eyes twinkle when she looked back at him for his nodded reply.
“Looks like your reputation is untarnished, Moony,” Sirius whispered to him, but Remus wasn’t so sure about that. Just as he wasn’t exactly as he seemed, he felt as though their estimable Transfiguration professor didn’t quite let on exactly how much she knew about the goings on at Gryffindor House. At any rate, it wasn’t until she was well out of earshot that Prongs’s scarf fell limp around his neck again and its victim was claiming that he was convinced their professor had placed a surveillance charm on it during his ‘attack.’ Remus shared an amused look with Peter and Sirius.
All was right in his world.