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"Are you taking the bloody mick out of me?” 

 

Hermione’s eyes went to the cigar in Sirius’s hand as he gaped at her. A pale wisp of smoke wafted from the end of his half-smoked cheroot as it wavered between his lax fingers. It looked in imminent danger of overbalancing and falling onto the rug, but in the next moment, he’d raised it back to his mouth and clamped it between two rows of white teeth, now bared at her in a wide grin. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you, poppet?”

 

“No, I’m not.” She had a seriousness in her tone that sounded almost hard. He was behaving as though this was all just a joke, and she sat up straighter in response, shaking her hair back. “Look, it’s really very simple. The law says that for the purposes of integration, all Muggleborns need to be married to a Pureblood. I’m a Muggleborn—”

 

He eyed her warily, puffing out smoke rings in double time. “I got that,” he cut in. His foot, encased in a brogue boot, resumed its restless tapping. 

 

“—and you’re a Pureblood.” She shrugged with nonchalance, but her hands twisted in her lap. “And—” she added with emphasis “—you owe Harry.” With her eyes, she dared him to argue with her on how they’d rescued him from Dementors.

 

With anyone else, she would have led up to the point gradually, possibly with a few sad tales to soften up her audience. With Sirius, Hermione knew she was dealing with a possible ticking time bomb. Whenever she saw him, he was always on the go—his hands fiddling, his feet pacing, his eyes flitting through the room as though he were already bored and it bothered him to be physical still. He seemed ever ready to drop whatever he was doing to do something else.

 

She only had a few seconds to capture his attention. The knowledge made her nervous. She'd always thought him a bit of a wild card, emotional and impetuous in a way that reminded her of Harry.

 

Only Sirius was almost twenty years older, and even harder to predict.

 

He raised an eyebrow and gestured at her with the tip of his cigar. His signet ring glinted with orange light from the dancing flames, and she could see the faded black and green ink of his tattoos rippling over his knuckles. “ You’re not Harry.”

 

She shrugged again and gazed at him pointedly. “You owe me too, Sirius.”

 

Both of his eyebrows flew up at that, and his cheek bulged as his tongue swept to one side of his mouth. His other hand tapped out a rhythm on the armrest as his eyes focused on her with shrewd regard—as though he’d never seen her before. “You’re a bold one, aren’t you? And to think I always had you pegged as such a sweet young thing.”

 

“I am a sweet young thing…when I want to be,” she retorted with as much spirit as she dared show without launching into a rant. Lecturing about misogyny now wouldn't benefit either one of them. “I just happen to not wish to waste any time. I don’t want the Ministry-appointed divination experts to call on me to look into their crystal balls. I don’t need a prejudiced Pureblood hoping to make an example out of his wife. I want to take control of my own life.”

 

She leaned forward. “Besides, this isn’t going to be a real marriage. It’s only for the purposes of playing by the rules and using the rules against them. ” She gave him another look that said very clearly, “Well?”

 

Sirius let out a breath of air and stubbed out his cigar in the ashtray on the coffee table. He pushed to his feet with impatience and passed her as he prowled over to the liquor cabinet. “I need a drink if I’m really going to be blackmailed into this by my godson’s ‘good friend'.”

 

The dark look he sent her under his brows as he emphasised the last words showed that he wasn’t going to acquiesce easily to her request. Well, she’d been prepared for that.

 

“Pour me one too, thanks,” she said to his back.

 

By the way his shoulders froze briefly, she’d surprised him again. He’d have to get used to it. He hadn’t even sat through Part One of her plan.

 

When he turned around, she’d risen to her feet to meet him. By the look of the colour of the liquid in the glass tumbler, he’d given her Firewhiskey, the same thing he was drinking. His eyebrows were raised as he walked over to her. He stood so close that the toe of his boots tapped her on the side of her shoes. She didn’t move as he passed over the glass. Her heart was beating double time, but she didn’t back down. 

 

She’d never been alone with him before for so long. Grimmauld Place was currently empty of even the movement of Kreacher. It was usually filled to the brim with people, as Sirius seemed possessed with a fervour to live every day up to his neck with company and gaiety. She couldn’t really blame him for that, but it’d taken a bit of effort to set up this private meeting. 

 

She had only half an hour to convince him, and she’d bet that he’d take pains to avoid being around her after this.

 

“Cheers,” he said in a deep, low voice, and his mouth curled upwards at one end to reveal a dimple that had surprisingly survived the worst of his many trials. He was looking at her without blinking, and there was an intimacy in his expression that made her blink in surprise. 

 

His head was tilted to one side, and he was gazing at her in such a way that made her think he was going to kiss her.

 

That was crazy, wasn’t it? She’d already said this would be strictly impersonal.

 

Hermione almost took a step backwards before another thought struck her. This was a test. Combined with the Firewhiskey he was giving her—when he’d never seen her take so much as a drop of the foul drink—he was certainly up to something.

 

“Cheers,” she replied. She watched him take a sip, pretending to be engrossed with the sight while her hand behind her back waved a small loop. There was a faint shimmer that passed over the surface of her drink before it stilled, and she drank from the amber-coloured water. 

 

She was certain he hadn’t seen her cast the spell. He’d been too intent on using his physical presence to make her back down. Her elbow almost bumped his shoulder as she lifted the glass up to drink, and still he didn’t move away. She drank deeply, watching him closely as his smirk faded and his eyes widened slightly. 

 

When she lifted the glass away, it was half-empty, and he wasn’t looking so smug anymore. He had that speculative look in his eyes again, as though his brain was moving at twice the speed of its usual indolence.

 

Her voice was low and persuasive when she spoke. “I need this to be you, and I can make it worth your while.”

 

His eyes flickered down briefly, to glance at her body in that instinctive perusal men gave all women. A host of expressions flashed across his face: suspicion, cynicism, conjecture, and amidst it all, curiosity. “What exactly does that mean?” he asked, and each word was measured and careful. 

 

He hadn’t moved backwards, and Hermione wondered if he knew just how much he was invading her personal space. She had to tilt her head back to look him full in the face, and she could smell the cigar and Firewhiskey on him, as well as his personal cologne that made her think of leather and velvet.

 

He hadn’t smelled like leather and velvet when she'd first met him. 

 

Back when she’d rescued him with Harry, they’d all been crammed on top of Buckbeak. She’d taken the middle seat because she’d been scared to death of falling off. Harry, who’d been the most used to riding Buckbeak, had ridden in front. The rancid smell of Sirius Black with his arms tight around them had been stamped into her brain forever. She’d been too polite to speak of it then, but he’d smelled of sour meat and piss, and his breath above her head as he’d yelled out his elation with Harry had reeked of bad dental hygiene. 

 

He was a far cry from that man now.

 

For the first time, Hermione could finally understand why Ginny had claimed Harry’s godfather was “fucking fit.” 

 

She’d been aghast at Ginny’s honest crudeness at the time. “Ginny! How can you go from thinking Cedric was fit to—to— him?”  

 

Hermione truly didn’t understand it. Cedric had been the ideal man; polite, intelligent, hardworking, and it just so happened that he looked like a male model. In comparison, Sirius Black was scarred and tattooed, with ratty hair and the sallow complexion of very unhealthy living habits. 

 

“Haven’t you seen old photographs of him?” Ginny had asked. “Although, if you ask me, he’s so much fitter now.”

 

They’d all seen the photographs. No one could fathom the clean cut, model-like appearance of a Hogwarts Sirius, but no one had dared to bring it up given his current disfigured appearance. Every single photograph of Sirius back then had been with the deceased James Potter. The difference had been so remarkably jarring she hadn't even been certain she'd been looking at the same person.

 

She’d been wide-eyed with revulsion and a little admiration at Ginny’s open-minded attitude. 

 

Now, though, she understood what Ginny was saying. She hadn’t back then, not when she was still in school and the memory of Sirius’s skeletal frame and sunken appearance had been so fresh on her mind. Four years after she’d finished her made-up year at school, she finally saw what Ginny had been extolling.

 

Sirius Black was handsome in a way that owed itself all to good bones and nothing whatsoever to healthy living. At forty-two, with a better haircut and a goatee to go with the return of his enviably youthful build, she could now attest to the attractiveness that still had women double back to give him another look.

 

She'd also noticed that he never gave them a second glance in return.

 

"I'm well aware you aren't interested in me in that way," she said, meeting his eyes straight on. "This isn't going to be that kind of an arrangement. This— law , such as it is, isn't going to last. And I don't want to be stuck in a binding relationship when it's inevitably repealed."

 

He frowned quizzically at her and took a step back. "Aren't you with someone? Ron or…" He made a loose gesture with his hand, as though he couldn’t be bothered to keep up with the details of her love life.

 

"We were," she said. "It didn't work out, and while I know he'd help me out, he's currently dating someone, and I don't want to put spokes in that just for something I can solve myself."

 

He leveled her a look. "With my help."

 

"Yes. And you," she said, "don't want a real marriage."

 

"Definitely not." His voice was crisp and certain. "But I'm also used to being on the run. I see no issue with running off to the beach for a good five years—since you've said it'll be repealed?"

 

She nodded. "I'm making certain of it.”

 

“And I’ve no doubt of your resolve, having—er, encountered it before. Then what’s compelling me to want to deal with the unbearable hassle of matrimony?”

 

“Well, with Harry going into the Auror program, he'll be sworn into his duties. He'll take an oath, and he’d be compelled to turn you in whether he likes it or not." She paused for a calculated moment. "You wouldn't want to put Harry in that position, would you?"

 

Sirius made a grimace and swirled what was left of the Firewhiskey in his glass. "Put a lot of thought into this, haven't you?"

 

"Of course. I always do my research beforehand. And I know that you are the last male Black. Under wizarding heredity law, you're bound by the Oath of the Sacred Twenty-Eight into resuming your duties as Head of house. It’s what will enable you to access the Black vaults—or else they’d revert back to the Ministry."

 

There was another grimace, this one accompanied by a sound that sounded like a low growl. "Don't remind me." He finally left her standing by herself and made his way back to lounge in his armchair.  As was usual, he began to fidget—taking out a Muggle lighter, flicking the flame open with one hand, snapping it shut and then open again just as though he were Arthur Weasley encountering the device for the very first time. "Unless you have a plan to get me out of that. In which case, I'd certainly be obliged to you."

 

Hermione felt the first flutters of giddiness tickle her stomach. Calm, she told herself sternly. Stay very calm. Success felt so close, closer than she'd count on when she’d embarked on this mad scheme. "I do, actually. As the Black mistress, I'll be entitled to take your place in office in the event you are incapacitated…by, oh, any lingering malaise due to your stint in Azkaban," she said in a purposefully offhand manner before her tone changed and turned businesslike. "It was written into the code in 1623, and it's been largely forgotten, but it's still in effect. I’ve checked. It was last upheld in 1945 with Mistress Lament, whose husband fell off his broomstick. And after we separate, you can take an extended leave due to bereavement."

 

He leaned his head back against the headrest and examined her down his straight nose for a long moment. His fingers didn't pause in playing with the lighter. Click, snap, click, snap. "You've got it all planned out."

 

"I do. It doesn't do to leave things up to chance."

 

“What’s to prevent me filing for an exception due to—bereavement, I think you said— now?” He sat low in his chair, the hand not playing with his lighter obscuring his mouth as he observed her.

 

“You could , but it would take away the satisfaction of conforming to their misbegotten law by forcing a Muggleborn into their midst.” 

 

That brought a lopsided smirk to his face. "You know, you've got a point there."

 

He launched himself out of the chair then with an agility that startled her. He was standing in front of her again before she could react.

 

"I don't believe in wasting time making up my mind, you see. Such a lot of wasted time in my life already. You, my dear, have got yourself a deal."

 

She'd known she could make it happen. She'd come here with the certain knowledge that she could make the argument of a life debt to force him into complying with her wishes. Even so, his acquiescence without her resorting to that last desperate argument made her momentarily breathless with anticipation. "I do?"

 

"Naturally. Wasn't this what you planned, then? Shall we pop some fizz to celebrate?"

 

"No—"

 

"Then the traditional way must be what you intend."

 

Before she could step backwards, Sirius Black had an arm around the back of her waist and his mouth was descending on hers. It was a brief but very thorough kiss that left her more breathless than ever.

 

And puzzled. 

 

She was sure he didn't fancy her, or perhaps any woman. He'd never displayed any indication of female companionship that she knew of, and wasn't that just a bit odd if he had such an inclination?

 

He let her go and set her back on her slightly unsteady feet. His eyes were glinting with knowing humour. "There. Now you've got yourself a deal."

 


 

Ginny was the first person she told. 

 

“Wow,” Ginny said. “You and—Sirius. Harry’s godfather. What’s he going to say?”

 

“He can’t say anything, since he’s not a Muggleborn or a Pureblood and as such has been exempted from the law. And you? What are you going to do?”

 

Ginny shrugged and tossed her hair over one shoulder. "I dunno. I'm kind of curious who the Ministry will assign to me if I don't do anything about it, you know? And since it didn't work out with Harry…" 

 

Hermione glanced at Ginny for a moment until the other girl laughed and nudged Hermione on the shoulder. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I'm not still holding onto a massive crush on him. I'm glad we tried, it didn't work, and now I can get on with my life, you know?"

 

Hermione didn't say anything for a long time. Then she inhaled and looked up with a determined smile. "This is a shit situation, isn't it?"

 

Ginny returned the smile with a shrug. "It really is, isn't it? But then Harry always said to 'never trust the Ministry.'"

 

Hermione snorted. "And who is it who's become an Auror and is vowing to uphold all laws?"

 

Ginny shook her head and raised the bottle of Butterbeer up to her lips. "Boys."

 




She'd explained it all very carefully to him, and he'd listened with half a ear. They wouldn't even have to consummate the marriage. The way the regulation had been drafted had been full of holes. She was expecting the entire thing to be thrown out in the next five years. Sooner—if she could expedite her seat on the Wizengamot.

 

His attention had been elsewhere already. 

 

Honestly, for all that he seemed like a rehabilitated person in society, he behaved exactly like an adolescent male. Or a big giant puppy. 

 

He first took exception to the fact that they couldn't just get married "on the spot."

 

"Why not?" Sirius asked. He was wearing his leather jacket, and Hermione wouldn't admit it to herself, but there was something about an impatient man that was just the slightest bit intimidating. His eyes were already somewhere over her head, searching for new horizons to pursue. As far as he was concerned, he'd agreed to her request but not to all the hassle. She'd agreed to save him from hassle, remember?

 

She could just picture him saying that. Her lips firmed. "I'm not saying we need a large wedding in front of a thousand witnesses," she said, ignoring the look of horror that had crossed Sirius's face at that. "I'm saying that we are doing this to appease the Ministry, so it has to be at least by the book. Which means we need to at least appear in the Ministry together to file the paperwork."

 

He was looking at her now, and the horror hadn't abated. His eyes were wide, and he blinked several times. "You can't be serious. You're expecting me to go into the Ministry? Voluntarily?"

 

Hermione just about managed not to heave a sigh. "This is simpler than a large wedding, Sirius. Trust me."

 

"Trust you!" Sirius lifted a hand and clenched it into a fist that he brought up to his pursed lips. "This was supposed to be the easier route. In name only, remember?"

 

She took offense at his tone. He was acting as though he were the injured party here when she was trying to do good for the entire country. "It is in name only. But first, we need to register that bloody name! How hard is that to understand?"

 

His fist froze in mid-air, and his head swiveled back to her. "Well now. The kitten has claws, has she? I do believe that's the first time I've ever heard you curse, poppet."

 

"You'll hear a lot more than that if you don't just trust me on this. How else did you think I could legally and magically become your wife, if not through the sanctioned route?" She wanted to stomp her foot.

 

He shrugged. "Never thought of it, really. I imagine I thought you could wave your wand and run around with some paperwork, and that'd be that."

 

Hermione set her jaw. "Really, Sirius. How old are you? Most people try for a modicum of responsibility. Do you plan to drift aimlessly through your life forever?"

 

His head was tilted back as he regarded her with narrowed eyes. "Not forever, no, but I figure I deserve it, after being framed for the murder of my best friend and tossed into Azkaban to rot for the rest of my natural life."

 

Hermione sighed, her hands going up to rake through her bushy hair. "Sorry. I shouldn't have—I'm sorry. I'm on edge too. This law is ruining everyone's lives, and nobody is doing a bloody thing about it!"

 

There was a knot in her throat that made her think sniffles were imminent, so she cleared her throat and inhaled sharply to forestall it.

 

"Oh, blow me with a feather," Sirius muttered. "Come here, you."

 

He reached over and pulled Hermione into his arms like he had that first summer they'd all been congregated at Grimmauld Place, back when he'd been placed on lockdown and had been so happy to see them he'd run around offering them everything in sight. Rather like an overenthusiastic puppy. 

 

He'd been skinnier then and his cheeks still hollow. It was a wonder he hadn't turned into a permanent alcoholic, although she thought he'd come rather close to it. Freedom, true freedom, had made a lot of difference on the recovering Sirius, but he was by no means completely healed of his scars, physical or otherwise. She should have been more sensitive to his issues, but she’d gone in with all the finesse of a rampaging erumpent.

 

"I'm really sorry, Sirius," she muttered into the shoulder of his leather jacket. It smelled of his cologne and felt soft and supple under her cheek. "I—took out my frustrations on you. Listen, I'm—I'll try to be less abrasive in the future."

 

"Abrasive, you?" He scoffed, as though her words had amused him. "You're so small it's like seeing a kitten trying to paw at me."

 

At that, she pushed away from him and scowled. "I was being serious!"

 

"I was too. Well, I'm always serious. The name, you know." When she rolled her eyes, he rolled his with her and pulled her into his embrace again. "You left yourself wide open for that one. Anyway, look. I'll do the Ministry thing. This once. God, I hate that place with a passion. I'd set it on fire if I could." He tilted his head to one side. "Wait. Maybe I could have Kreacher do it—"

 

She groaned. "You're not setting anything on fire. This whole plan was to rehabilitate your image, remember?"

 

He scowled as she tried to pull free of his grasp, and he hauled her back by her scruff, keeping an arm around her shoulders as he propelled her to the Floo. "I don't want to be rehabilitated. Do you know what happens then? I'll get loads of women trying to proposition me all the bloody time. It's only thanks to this dastardly reputation that they stay clear, you know. They aren't entirely convinced I didn't kill anyone." He waggled his eyebrows at her.

 

"Well, it's my job to keep them clear after this," she said. "After all, you'll be taken."

 

He squeezed her arm affectionately. "Thank bloody God. Lunch in Muggle London after this? Arthur is meeting me there."

 

“Are we going to the Ministry now ?” She stopped in her tracks right in front of the Floo.

 

“No time like the present,” he said as cheerfully as though he hadn’t been planning on arson just a moment ago. He gave her a push in the small of her back, and she had to duck to avoid hitting her head on the overhanging brick wall. “I never put things off if I can get them done now.”

 

He kept up a light-hearted string of chatter the entire way to the Ministry through the new Floo entrance, a reconstructed Atrium set in an entirely different part of the building. Once they'd walked out of the newer entrance hall into the main area, his speech faltered as he looked around with a nervous chuckle. 

 

"So this is what it looks like now, is it?"

 

His tone was upbeat, but she could tell by the arm around her shoulder that he was tense. There was something slightly wild in his eyes, like he was being backed up into a corner by predators. She gripped his hand, afraid he planned to turn into a dog at any moment. He still did it occasionally, just as a general fuck off in the middle of conversations even amongst friends.

 

She'd forgotten that this was the place of many bad memories for him, many of which she'd only heard about secondhand. He'd been brought here as a runaway underage wizard. He'd lost his trial here and been pronounced guilty of betraying his friends and killing a multitude of Muggles. He'd lost his wand here and had been frozen in place to be instantly transported to Azkaban. 

 

He'd almost been killed by his cousin here.

 

She snaked her other arm around his waist and gripped the side of his hip tightly. Perhaps a bit too tightly, because he jolted and glanced sideways at her in what looked like alarm. "Courage," she whispered. "Gryffindor, yes?"

 

His smile was lopsided but genuine as he patted her on the shoulder. "Gryffindor, yes."

 

"Then let's go fuck the Ministry and get married."

 

It wasn't like her to say something so obviously crass when she planned to be a part of the Ministry herself in another month, but it was the right thing to say just then. His smile grew, and he visibly straightened. "Lead on, kitten."

 

That was how Hermione and Sirius Black came to be married.