Sirius Black stomped all the way down the stairs to the dungeons, cursing Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape equally under his breath. This whole mess was Snape's fault! He was just sure of it, even if he hadn't figured out yet just exactly how blame could be laid at the bastard's door. He wasn't surprised that Lucius had pulled a stunt like this; the man was as slippery as a snake and had more lives than a cat. Just look at the way he'd managed to keep out of Azkaban again, even with Voldemort dead and the rest of the Death Eaters dead or locked up forever.
Sirius smirked slightly. Well, Lucius hadn't escaped retribution completely. The new Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley, had seen to that. Lucius had been stripped of much of his holdings, including his manor house and his Gringott's bank accounts, to be used to help compensate Voldemort's victims. In addition to these woes, his son, Draco, had been killed in the final battle, and Narcissa had divorced her disgraced husband to return to her family. Of course, Sirius didn't doubt that Lucius had squirreled away a tidy fortune in Muggle banks - the man had always been one to play both sides - but Lucius Malfoy was in pretty bad shape in the eyes of the wizarding world these days.
Sirius scowled as he recalled just exactly how Lucius had decided to repair the family honour, and he was still scowling as Snape opened his door.
"Black," Snape said, his voice as warm as an iceberg. "How unpleasant to see you. Go away."
Snape started to shut the door but Sirius wedged his foot in the doorway. "I've got to talk to you, Snape."
"Unfortunately for you, I feel no corresponding desire for communication. If you don't remove your foot from my doorway, you and Moody will soon have something in common."
"It's about Harry."
Snape frowned but stopped trying to shut the door. "What has the brat done now?"
"Hardly a 'brat'," Sirius growled, irritated by the slur on his beloved godson.
"Pardon. 'The Shining Light of the Quidditch World', then," Snape said with a sneer.
"Lucius Malfoy has invoked the Colligare Gentes. I need you to counter his offer," Sirius said flatly.
Snape blinked and released his hold on the door. With a smirk, Sirius pushed past him into Snape's living room. "Got anything to drink?"
Snape shut the door, gesturing towards the bookcase-lined wall as he did. Sirius prowled over and perused the collection of cut crystal bottles, raising his eyebrows as he recognized a very fine wizarding whiskey in one of them. He poured a healthy splash into one of the glasses and then, after looking over at the stunned Snape, poured a second glass and carried it over to the man.
"Here," he said, handing Snape the glass. "You're going to need this."
Snape automatically took a sip and the whiskey appeared to jog his brain a little as he immediately glared at Sirius. "You must be out of your mind."
"What, you think Malfoy wouldn't try to pull a stunt like that?" Sirius asked, settling himself comfortably into what he guessed was Snape's favourite chair. He was starting to enjoy himself. Despite Harry's predicament, it was almost worth it to see Snape off-balance. "Harry's the last of the Potter line, unattached, and under twenty, plus he's the hero of the wizarding world. Of course Lucius would try to grab him. It's his only hope of being allowed back into polite society."
"The Colligare Gentes hasn't been invoked in over a hundred years," Snape pointed out, frowning as he paced over to the fireplace and stood leaning against the mantle, looking into its flames. "The Ministry enacted so many restrictions to its use that it became impractical to use."
"Malfoy evidently doesn't think so, and Albus says the man's covered every requirement. If we don't come up with a Champion for Harry, Malfoy's got the legal right to demand Harry's hand in marriage."
"And you want me to be Potter's Champion," Snape said, his voice flat and emotionless. "Why?"
Sirius shrugged helplessly. "Who else am I going to get? It has to be a member of an old wizarding family. Albus is too old, I'm Harry's godfather, and Remus' curse disqualifies him."
"The three older boys are married, Ron's engaged, and I doubt the twins or Ginny could best Lucius Malfoy in a duel. Frankly, you're Harry's only chance."
Snape frowned as he took a sip of his whiskey and then he turned to look at Sirius. "You understand that if I were to agree to be Potter's Champion, he would be equally obligated to marry me."
Sirius nodded, frowning as well. "Better you than Malfoy," he said reluctantly. "You may be an obnoxious git, but at least I know you've got Harry's best interests at heart."
"Thank you for that ringing endorsement, Black," Snape said dryly. "Does Potter know you're here?"
Sirius shook his head. "No. He doesn't know anything about it - his team's in Italy this week and he doesn't get back till late tonight. Albus received a head's up from Arthur this morning and contacted me, and I came straight here from his office."
"In that case, I think we should wait to see how young Mr. Potter feels about the situation," Snape said, and Sirius thought he must have gotten over the shock as he sounded more like his normal snarky self. "He may have a more appropriate candidate in mind. Therefore, I must request you cease drinking my expensive liquor, vacate my chair, and go home to await his return."
"There isn't a more appropriate candidate, and you know it," Sirius said stubbornly. "Malfoy is one of the best duellists in the country. You're the only one who has a hope of defeating him."
"Black - "
"Please," Sirius forced out between gritted teeth. "I'm begging you, Snape. Please keep Malfoy from getting his slimy hands on Harry."
Snape stared at Sirius in stunned silence for a full moment. There wasn't a trace of the usual arrogance on Black's face, and the sincerity in his eyes was beyond question. "All right," Snape said slowly. "I'll do whatever is in my power - as long as Potter agrees to this as well."
"He will," Sirius said, relief obvious in his voice as he set down his glass and stood up. "I'll make sure he understands what's at risk the minute he gets back."
Snape sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "No doubt you'll completely balls up the whole thing," he said irritably. "Say nothing to Potter when he returns. Bring him here tomorrow and we'll discuss the situation completely. I'll ask Albus to stand as my second in the negotiations."
Sirius nodded and headed for the door, then turned around and came back. Hesitantly, he held out his hand. "Thanks, Snape. I'm in your debt."
Snape stared at the extended hand and then cautiously, as if expecting a trap, took Sirius' hand and gave it a brief shake before releasing it. "Get out, Black, so I can salvage what is left of the night."
Sirius grinned and left, and Snape sank into his favourite chair, to sip his whiskey and contemplate this strange new twist to his life.