A/N: It's amazing how quickly time can pass! To all of you who have read and followed I owe you an apology. I hate it when I get into a story and then it is suddenly stagnant. I've been focusing on ADSM, but I haven't abandoned this story.
Many thanks to "I Kneel for Loki," "Crazy anime chick since 1993" and "dream18shadows" for the awesome reviews! You three are the reason this chapter is here :)
Now on with the show...
Sirius & Hermione have a plan...
Question of Brilliance
It was raining and for reasons Padfoot couldn't explain, he wanted to transform and run out in it, then rub himself all over Hermione. Sirius Black grinned as he carried the thought further to envision her repulsed reaction. He knew secretly she would love it, much as she denied being a dog person. Crookshanks meowed in his hand just then and Sirius rolled his eyes when Hermione bent to peek inside the half-kneazle's carrier.
"I can manage just fine without you nannying over me, you know," he reminded the Witch. Sometimes he wished he didn't look quite so young as she. She might listen to him a bit better. Though she never had before, he remembered with fond and lingering frustration. Hermione blew a stray curl from her face and he watched, fascinated as it insisted on springing back into its proper place.
Her eyes sparkled in spite of her harsh tone. One of the things he was loving more and more about her, was her inability to remain angry with him.
Very useful sometimes, that natural charisma.
"You barely managed to take care of Buckbeak, and you're a..." she paused to glance around the street corner they stood propped against, "a you-know-what."
"I prefer Animagus," he said.
Hermione stiffened immediately, her cloak shrouding her petite frame and making her deceptively childlike. He'd caught more than one glance at her in their cramped living quarters. He couldn't help it. He was Sirius Black and it had been a very long time since any Witch had captured and held his interest to such a pitifully overwhelming degree.
Longer than she's been alive, you perv, he thought with a cheeky grin.
"Sirius! You can't go around Muggle London talking about magic!" she hissed and jabbed him with her finger.
Sirius rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "You're just jealous you haven't learned how yet." He grinned when she scoffed and added, "Come on, love. You and I both know you'll spend all your secret free time researching the topic, if you haven't already." He chuckled when she stamped her foot and began to look to the alley around them.
"I still can't believe Dumbledore convinced the Order to let me leave unguarded. Or that I managed to sneak you past Mad-Eye." She continued her monologue, mentioning Dumbledore and Aurors and Mr. Snakey Face.
Sirius had learned long ago not to interrupt her when she started spouting off like this. The pack Hermione had transfigured for him was one of the many leftovers she had pilfered from Grimmauld Place during Mrs. Weasley's impromptu summer cleaning. He recognized it, actually as one of Reggie's old things. The thought sobered him when he recalled the locket trapped in a special pouch even deeper in the pockets. He'd been reluctant to hold onto it for long periods of time made him feel positively wonky. As if it wasn't bad enough, having to live with his younger, less attractive self, who had a habit of making new memories he hadn't recalled before the Veil. It left his head feeling constantly muddy. In fact his head was so filled with memories and things he couldn't remember which of his two selves had said it, he felt the need to interrupt.
"You know, this just proves I'm right again," he announced with a superior tilt of his chin. Hermione rolled her eyes and huffed over the interruption.
"Whenever I begin to find you remotely tolerable, you have to go and ruin it with your ego."
He jabbed her in the shoulder and took a step closer, enjoying the way her cheeks flushed in the morning light. "I'll have you know I'm a damned good authority on lots of things."
Her eyes widened imperceptibly and her lips twitched at the corners. "Please don't let me stop you from proving your brilliance, oh wise and mighty Merlin."
Sirius felt a faint stab at the mention of his best mate's second name. Prongs had always hated that name and had been known to threaten lives over it on more than one occasion. He brushed it aside, hoping she wouldn't notice. Tipping off his fingers was made difficult by the cargo in his hands and arms but he still made it look effortless. "Besides my intelligence boosting god-like appearance, I was a damned good Auror, became an Animagus at fifteen, went into the veil and back..."
He had her right where he wanted her, he could tell. She was shaking her head but keeping her chin tucked, as if he couldn't see her smile working its way through. So he pressed on, "But you want to know the one thing that proves why I'm always right?"
Rain began to fall in a light shower over their heads, transforming her already poofy curls into an untameable mane. He fought the urge to follow through with his original plan, only this time, he intended on transforming back into a Wizard so he could bury his face in her hair.
She glanced up at him and then froze, her eyes widening and her smile seeping through against the rain. "Besides the fact that you rely on dumb luck and instinct rather than sense and knowledge?"
He reached up and tapped her rain spattered nose, smirking when she took in a quick telling breath. "Did I not once say you were the brightest Witch of your age?"
She sputtered, "I-I don't see what that has to do with anything."
Though he could clearly see she did, that she knew exactly what he was implying. That she was his salvation and always had been, as the other Sirius was obviously beginning to understand. He suddenly felt extremely eager to get to Hogwarts and was ever the more thankful Dumbledore insisted on their early arrival. The sooner he got Hermione away from his mangy old paws the better.
Only room for one of us in her life, mate, he thought with a cheeky grin.
"What are you smirking at?" she said with a grimace.
"Ah! I see you have arrived early as the bird that caught the worm," a wispy, deceptively gentle voice announced.
Both of them turned to face Albus Dumbledore and Sirius couldn't exactly place whether he was overjoyed or annoyed at the interruption. Much as he loved the old Headmaster for letting the Marauders get away with practical murder, he'd learned later what a manipulative old bastard the Supreme Mugwump was.
Hermione sighed with something like relief and Sirius cringed at the forced perkiness in her voice.
"Professor! We didn't want to be late," she said.
"Ah, never fear Miss Granger. I long ago perfected the art of arriving fashionably late, whether I intend to or not. Come," he said, ushering her with an outstretched hand, "shall we be off, then?"
Hermione nodded and Sirius watched in fascination as her slick curls bounced with added spring. She took the Headmaster's hand and Sirius frowned as he met Albus's expression over her short head. There was keen knowing and almost eager curiosity in the old Wizard's expression. He could only imagine the questions he was about to be asked and he wondered if it had been so wise for them to include Albus in his secret, even if she had been selective in her information.
But then Hermione glanced over her shoulder entreatingly and his paranoia faded and he smiled as he clasped her small hand in his. He felt the pressure build in his ears and his body twisting inside out as they were Apparated inside Hogwarts grounds, the Headmaster's chamber naturally.
A sinking, nervous feeling returned to his gut as he surveyed the stones that would house him for the rest of the year.
Sirius's obvious wonder over Apparating right in the middle of school grounds, was not lost on Hermione or Albus Dumbledore. Though she was trying desperately not to notice his surprise. She had explained the process of their transportation earlier that morning, no doubt as he stared at her breasts or some other inane thing. Hermione had grown used to his penchant for zoning out during her more tedious but necessary explanations, hoping that somewhere in that nutshell subconscious mind of his, he was storing it up for later.
Their time together in Grimmauld Place had forced an unnatural bond between she and the time traveling Wizard. One she was loathe to acknowledge or examine at the moment. Sirius had argued heavily with her over including Dumbledore in their plans, but she hadn't the experience or reason not to trust her Headmaster. And secretly, she felt a bit important enough for Dumbledore to reply to her Owl so quickly and then arrange for their meeting at the station.
Though she hadn't bothered explaining it to Sirius, she'd always felt a tad slighted over how much attention the Headmaster gave to Harry. She wasn't jealous, per say. She wouldn't trade her burden for her best friend's for all the galleons and quid in the world. But it had been difficult, being the Muggleborn friend of Harry Potter at times, and if anything, she felt alienated from many of her classmates and professors because of it. They preferred to blame it on her obsession with the library and learning, naturally. No one bothered to ask her if she wasn't using her books as a refuge, or that she felt useless if she couldn't at least offer something to the "Golden Trio".
She hadn't been listening to Dumbledore and Sirius was actually carrying the conversation, she realized with a start.
"I'm quite proficient with Transfiguration, Albus," Sirius retorted.
Dumbledore actually laughed. "I have not forgotten. I do believe a pair of my old spectacles never did transfigure quite right after you tampered with them..."
"Oh, ehm, that must have been Prongs or Wormtail..." he stopped midsentence to glower at the floor and clench his fists. Hermione reached up to cover his fist with her hand, understanding his fury. She hadn't been there the night Wormtail betrayed his friends, but she remembered the Shrieking Shack and Sirius's agony. Either memory would have been painful.
Dumbledore's voice was gentler as he added, "It is for this and other reasons I have agreed with Miss Granger's outlandish proposal. We have not had an assistant since Minerva's addition to the staff..."
Hermione tried desperately to turn her laugh into a cough, and frowned when Sirius winked briefly at her. Dumbledore's eyes twinkled from behind his half-moon spectacles.
He continued, "No doubt she'll be glad of your aid. Again, I hope you understand my reasons for involving the Ministry. I am most eager to help you and Miss Granger in your mission, but we must proceed with caution. If Tom were ever to learn of the properties behind the Veil, or its time altering capabilities..."
"I understand, Albus. I may look like a teenager but I'm still an old dog inside," he said with a winning grin. Hermione sighed lightly and shook her head.
"Excellent! I've already arranged for Poddy to attest to your lineage. No doubt when your younger, older self learns of your claimed parentage, he'll need to see this record," Dumbeldore said with a chuckle.
Hermione was exasperated by the maniacal grin that took over her Sirius's handsome face. He seemed awfully pleased to disrupt his other self's already miserable life.
It was your idea, Hermione, she reminded herself.
"Oh I have every hope he will," Sirius said as he pulled Hermione along with them.
She let him lead her without question. At first the habit had annoyed rather than flattered her. Most girls would have been over the moon with the attention of such a Wizard. He was tall, broad shouldered and muscle bound with a narrow waist and a firm bum. His arms were well toned and a light dusting of dark hair littered his chest but it was his smile and his eyes that were the most devastating, along with his incessant habit of pushing his long, curled hair from his eyes, while looking at her through his lashes nervously.
Hermione told herself these were all products of his boredom. She had never wanted a pretty man at her side, possibly because she was well aware of her lack of certain feminine graces or "assets." So she pushed him away. Somehow his fingers always ended up right back where they were, toying with her hair, teasing the hem of her jumper or skirt. Now she was so used to the presence of his hand, she let him guide her without question.
Only when Dumbledore paused to eye their joined hands did she try to slip away. He was right. It might have been okay when they were alone and she might have even secretly begun to enjoy the feel of another person's warm skin against her own. But now they were in Hogwarts. Now they had a job to do, to keep Harry safe with the Ministry increasingly meddling in their affairs.
Dumbledore showed them where Sirius's office would be located, near Gryffindor tower, though tutoring sessions would best be held in the library. His quarters were located behind the office, and Hermione wondered if he had recently added the rooms magically, or they were another leftover of past days.
Either way, her mind began to wander back to Grimmauld Place against her will. Harry had been so confused and upset as to why she was leaving early. She felt guilty for leaving him behind when he was obviously still grieving over Cedric's death and Voldemort's return.
"Harry, it's for the best. Dumbledore thinks we'll be less of a target if we don't arrive together."
"But I don't understand why he needs you Hermione!" Harry burst. He had been increasingly short tempered since his arrival, she noted with concern.
"Harry, there are...things you don't understand," she began but he interrupted her.
"Then help me understand!" he shouted, and Hermione wondered why he sounded so jealous.
"Harry," Remus Lupin placed a hand on her best mate's shoulder and he calmed, "What Hermione's trying to say is that she is Muggleborn and in some ways, under a greater threat. We believe she'll be a target for You-Know-Who."
Harry flung off his former Professor's touch and stalked off, "I could have protected you too!"
"Harry," Remus called after him with an apologetic, typically sad smile for her.
Hermione dug her nails into her fists and listened to the sound of their voices in the next room, until a sheet of blank parchment slid over the kitchen table to rest in front of her. She lifted her chin up quickly and was shocked to find the aged, still handsome face of Sirius Black in front of her. She couldn't help her smile, even though the other Sirius, the one waiting upstairs had warned her not to. She didn't see anything wrong with a smile. And oddly as she now found it, this Sirius was her friend.
"What is this?" she asked, gesturing to the parchment.
The older Wizard smirked in a way eerily reminiscent to his teenaged self. "A little going away present. I heard you were leaving..." he paused to frown and pick at the wooden table. "So I only just charmed it. James and I used it sometimes during classes. I have another sheet that corresponds to this one. Whenever we write on them, the message will appear on the other. This way you can keep me informed on my godson and help me keep my sanity."
She smiled as she touched the parchment and felt the tingle of magic trickle into her fingers. "And what do I get out of this?"
"Amusement," he quipped, then added gently, "And maybe I've grown used to your wit these last few days, Granger."
"Sounds like this benefits you more than I," she teased.
"Indeed." He smiled, but there was raw pain in his eyes she had never become acquainted with, in either of his forms.
"Well, what do you think?" Sirius asked her, dragging her out of the recent past to find an amused expression on his expectant face. "Whoa, you really went for a ride for a while there, love."
She frowned and looked for the Headmaster only to find him gone. They were alone in Sirius's new private quarters. "Wha-where's the Professor?"
Sirius shrugged, "Buying more melon drops? How should I know? He said for me to tell you your trunk is already in your room. Though, I dunno about you, Granger but I think we should keep taking showers together at least. Think you're gonna miss having me as your flatmate."
Hermione slapped him in the chest, halfheartedly, but as she looked up into his slate gray eyes, she wondered what he thought of the parchment his other self had given her. She felt a sudden need to plunder the restricted section for some of the more dangerous affects of time travel. McGonnagal had never spoke of consequences like this, only inevitable paradoxes and madness. One thing was for certain. With two Sirius Blacks in her life, she was well on her way.
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