On quiet days Hermione didn't mind her task for the Order. On quiet days when he was calm and rational and wouldn't throw things at her and attempt to curse her.
Yesterday had not been a quiet day and, after he'd finally fallen asleep, she'd spent most of the night setting Grimmauld Place to rights and undoing half a dozen intricate spells.
The more demented he became, the more exotic and complicated his spells.
As she stood at the stove stirring a pot of oatmeal, she absently rubbed a burn mark on her wrist. Too tired to use magic to cook or heal herself, she made a mental note to contact Snape for more healing ointment. The kettle whistled and she jumped, then angrily shook herself for letting down her guard.
It didn't matter how tired she was, if he had another bad day, he could easily kill her if she didn't watch herself. Jumping at the kettle was not a good sign.
Yawning helplessly, Hermione removed the kettle from the stove and poured boiling water over the coffee grounds. She preferred tea, but it wouldn't keep her awake, and she was also out of pep pills.
A noise behind her had her turning slowly, one hand in the pocket of her apron where she kept her wand.
Sirius stood in the doorway to the kitchen, head ducked, eyes lowered, his whole body an apology.
Three years ago, at the start of the war, he'd suddenly popped back out from the Veil, not quite whole, not at all sane, but alive. The Order had been caring for him, trying to heal his sanity, ever since. After the first six months, they had determined that he was the most calm around Hermione. Informed of this, she'd immediately volunteered to become his nurse. She wasn't the greatest fighter and couldn't fly, but she could do any needed research while watching Sirius and be doubly useful.
And so she'd been at Grimmauld Place ever since.
"Sorry, Hermione," Sirius mumbled as he took a hesitant step into the kitchen.
Hermione ignored his apology. Her verbal forgiveness only seemed to make him more miserable. "How are you feeling today?" She began to ladle up oatmeal into bowls. "Sit, coffee will be ready in a minute."
As he slid into a chair, she carried the oatmeal to the table, then fetched a platter of sausages and rashers from the oven and placed them before him as well.
"Better, thanks. Starving, actually."
Hermione smiled slightly as he dug into his food, then turned to bring the coffee pot to the table, where she joined him in eating the hot and nourishing food.
When it finished steeping, Sirius poured them both coffee, then magicked over their copy of the newspaper. When he saw the date, his eyes widened. "It's New Year's Eve? How'd I miss that? Are you going somewhere special?"
The yearning in his voice--both for her to go out and have fun and because he couldn't-- touched her as it always did, and she shook her head. It wasn't that she couldn't leave him for an evening--there was always someone available to back her up--but when was she going to find someone to date when her duty was here? When it was him?
"I thought we could have a quiet evening and a late supper, maybe even a glass of champagne at midnight."
"You should go out with your friends," Sirius replied firmly, then muttered, "Not be stuck here with a nutjob."
"I'm not stuck here," she replied just as firmly.
The tightening of his lips and the resolute look on her face brought an awkward end to the conversation, and they finished their breakfast in silence.
When Sirius was having good days, Hermione could leave him alone for long periods of time, and he'd roam the house, sometimes do research and practice spells, even lift weights to keep limber. She kept a general alert spell on him at all times, because his mood could swing in an instant and for no reason.
But that day everything went smoothly, except that every time he saw her, he pestered her to go out, find a guy, get a life at least for this one special night.
Hermione finally resorted to ignoring him, and Sirius stopped mentioning it. They ate a hearty supper with pleasant conversation, and then sat before the fire in the parlor reading. She thought he'd dropped the topic, but after a late dessert, everything finally came to a head while they were doing the dishes.
"Too late for tonight now, anyway," he said with regret. "I'm sorry I'm putting a roadblock in the way of your life, Hermione."
"You're not," she protested, then silently cursed herself for playing along with him again. "Sirius, really, you have to drop this. I chose to take care of you and help you heal. I'm doing good right here. I'll have time for all that other stuff in the future. I'm only twenty-one. My life's just starting."
He turned bleak eyes on her as he dried his hands on a towel. "None of us truly know what the future will bring, Hermione. The world could end tomorrow. It all can end so quickly," he added sorrowfully. "You don't know."
"Then it will end, but I'll know I've done something good with my life." She turned to him as the water drained down the pipes. "You are worth saving, Sirius. I wish you'd realize that."
Snorting, he turned to leave, but her hand on his arm tugged him back around, and he shook his head helplessly. "I'm used-up. I was used up and useless the day I was thrown into Azkaban. Why bother saving me?"
Hermione was truly shocked by his question and by the look of such loss and confusion on his face. Instinct had her reaching up, cupping his lightly stubbled cheeks, wanting him to feel her compassion and her strength in equal measure. "How can you even ask that? You're the spirit of the Order, Sirius."
He tried to shake his head to deny her, but she held him firmly, and somehow they both took steps forward.
Their bodies brushed together.
And their lips met.
Neither planned it, neither knew who initiated it, all both knew was that something finally felt right for both of them. The kiss was sweet, hesitant, loving, tender, hot, spicy, and when they finally broke apart, the clock was chiming midnight.
Hermione felt herself blush, but made no move away from Sirius as he gazed down at her with glittering dark eyes. "Happy New Year, Sirius."
"Maybe everything will be better this year," he said, before pulling her into his arms and kissing her again.
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