the present
Chapter Twenty-Two: Protecting Draco

He dropped onto the floor with exhaustion, ignoring the shivers he felt coming on from the soaking wet cloak he was wrapped in. He could feel Remus prodding him to move but couldn’t seem to summon the energy to even open his mouth. Faintly, he could hear Remus calling for someone nearby. Why did he sound so worried? Sirius tried to lift his eyes but failed, the tiny action causing him to gasp for breath. He felt his throat constrict, as if an invisible hand was pressing over his larynx and preventing him from sucking in any air. It was only momentary, though, and then he felt nothing at all.

“Sirius?” Juliette’s voice quavered a bit and he could feel her tiny hand grasping his. “Uncle Remus, he’s awake.”

A heavy weight caused Sirius to roll to the side. His eyes fluttered open to see Remus staring at him, his face haggard, his warm breath tinged with whiskey. “Been out awhile then, have I?”

He struggled to sit up but felt Remus’ strong arms under his shoulders helping shift him into position against the headboard. He looked from one to the other, both eying him with an odd look of morbid fascination. “What happened?”

“You jumped in front of Draco,” Juliette provided smiling as she curled up next to him. “Whatever spell they were firing caught you right in the chest. You’ve been out for two days.”

“And Draco?”

“Minor injuries,” Remus provided then smirked. “But playing the broken man for everything its worth.”

“Remus says he’s being a big baby,” Juliette quoted and giggled. “I would’ve got ‘em all and you never would’ve been hurt.”

“Well, let’s not test that theory, all right?” Sirius ruffled her hair with all the strength he could manage. “Could you run downstairs and get me some food, Juliette?”

She gave him a quick hug. “Yes, I’ll leave you alone so you can talk to Remus,” she called as she bounced out of the room and into the hall.

“Just so long as you bring food back…I’m starving!” he yelled after her. His eyes immediately turned to Remus. “Draco?”

Remus shrugged, a brief look of confusion passing across his face at Sirius’ sudden concern for Draco’s welfare. “He took a few stunning spells and something that caused him to bleed profusely from the ears but Bill and Fleur were quick to tend to the most life threatening wounds. He’s mostly mended now but I’m sure he’s still exhausted and a bit battle sore. He’s been in bed since we arrived back at Grimmauld. He tested his legs to the first time today so he’s recovering quite nicely.” Remus eyed him seriously but his voice was casual. “Hermione’s been with him night and day.”

“As she should be,” Sirius returned, turning a tired but quizzical look Remus’ direction.

“You can’t tell me it doesn’t bother you. You two are getting closer even Tonks and I see it, Sirius. Then this stupid stunt happens. Requiring you to risk your life for him—"

“I have risked my life for much less,” he returned easily. “Besides, I’m nothing more than a convenient diversion for Hermione, Remus. Surely you recognize that.”

“What I see is happiness in a man who hasn’t had it since we left Hogwarts. Whatever you choose to call that, I can only imagine it will end badly. No offense, but you don’t have the best track record when it comes to romantic entanglements.”

“Yes, well, fortunately for you, I realize that and am always prepared for failure. It prevents any unnecessary concerns about the future.” Sirius cleared his throat before Remus could retort. “Was Lucius caught?”

“He wasn’t there. We caught two other lingering Death Eaters, though, so the mission wasn’t a complete failure.”

“Sirius?” Hermione’s soft voice filtered through the last remaining haze of his brain.

He offered her a smile then motioned her inside. “Draco will be all right, then?” he asked, avoiding Remus’ gaze.

“Back to his regular charming self this morning,” she nodded, dropping onto the bed beside him. “Juliette told me you were finally awake.”

“I’ll go check on that food she went to go get,” Remus offered then patted Hermione’s head lightly as he walked past. “Can’t let the injured starve now, can we?”

Hermione was quiet as she watched him go, the ease with which she had recently talked to Sirius now seeming to have evaporated. But his grey eyes were still smiling at her when she finally faced him and she slipped her fingers into his as she began to relax. “How about you? Are you really all right?” her voice was quivering slightly, her loose hand running along the bandages that covered his ribs.

“Better off, I should imagine. From where I stand, I just took a rather long nap,” he said grinning. “Being knocked out does have its advantages.”

“I’ve sat with you, you know. Late at night after everyone was asleep,” she offered but he squeezed her hand.

“Kind of you but unnecessary. I wouldn’t think less of you for staying with Draco every minute. You know that, don’t you?”

“I do, but—"

Sirius pulled her closer to him, gently brushing her hair out of her face. “You come to me when you choose, Hermione. Draco’s presence doesn’t change that. If you think I’m going to go off on a jealous rampage and will refuse to continue relations with you because you’ve been at his side, you mistake me for a possessive man.” He could feel his own stomach turn at the words, a shadow passing over his grey eyes. He pulled away from her to ease back against the wall.

She studied him for a moment, the sudden stop to his lecture catching her off guard. She watched as he withdrew from her, his thoughts obviously turning inward as he was berating himself for something. She puzzled over it for a moment, letting his words drift through her mind as she searched for what might have made him uneasy. It took her a few minutes to draw any conclusions and the longer she took the more uneasy he seemed to become. “You have become possessive,” she whispered, her voice holding a note of pride that she had been able to figure him out but a note of unease at the realization.

“Perhaps more so than I would like to be. But,” he shook his head, “make no mistake I’ve learned to walk away from anything. You, my dear, are no exception.”

“How nice it must be to remain so detached from everyone and everything,” she mumbled, drawing her hand away.

Sirius eyed her closely but she was deftly avoiding his gaze. He gave a knowing shake of his head. “How unfortunate for you,” he whispered, “that upon Draco’s return you realize I may have turned into more than just a quick shag.”

“That’s not true,” she tried to argue but his eyes pierced into hers with an unwavering demand for honesty and she faltered.

She dropped her head against his, unable to verbalize the tumult to emotions that were rising to the surface now that both men were once again under the same roof. She had so much invested with Draco…a lifetime of history, tender moments, quiet time that could never be replaced. But Sirius made her feel alive, made her fight for what she wanted and never let her slide by with anything less than the whole truth. She could sit with Draco for hours talking about a hundred million things and learn nothing. She learned more about Sirius in the dark, melancholy silence after midnight. It was as if the less he spoke, the more she understood not only about him but about herself as well. He was helping her become the woman she somehow knew she always had inside. She glanced to Sirius helplessly.

“Go to him,” Sirius ordered quietly, “before I don’t let you.”

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