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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 44 : Friends Lost And Found
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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The door burst open behind Marlene, just as Sirius hit the floor. She twisted, wand up and ready. It was Gawain and she hesitated. He didn’t.

Expelliarmus!” he said and her wand soared out of her hand and landed somewhere behind her. “Incarcerous,” he said, looking grim, and Marlene didn’t fight as the ropes wound around her.

It’s done, she thought, glancing at where Sirius lay unmoving. Finally. She thought she was in shock – she just killed someone – and she’d used an Unforgivable – her mouth felt foul, like she’d eaten dirt, or licked the floor of a public toilet - but she felt relieved at the same time. Not because he was dead, but because she’d finally fulfilled her duty. She’d expected to feel happy about it, but she didn’t.

She hadn’t wanted to kill him, in the end - the moment she’d seen him again, she’d been plagued by doubts – what if he was innocent, what if Lily and James wouldn’t want the traitor dead, what would Harry think, was revenge worth losing the life she’d spent the last few months building for herself? – but she’d had to. It had needed to happen. Her doubts hadn’t exactly made it easy, or fun, though.

Fun. Merlin I was stupid to think his death would be a happy occasion. She’d always imagined it would be but now... she couldn’t convince herself. She’d spent months living for this moment and now it fell pitifully short of her expectations. She snorted a laugh and Gawain threw a disgusted, disappointed look in her direction, which made her heart sink again. Was it worth it? she wondered. She knew from Gawain’s cold expression that he wouldn’t want to hear her justifications – weak as she thought they’d be. In his eyes, it was murder.

It was murder, Marlene’s conscience – who sounded a bloody lot like Lily (a very disappointed Lily) – whispered. He was defenceless. He didn’t have anywhere to run, to hide.

“He deserved it,” she said in a small voice, but she wasn’t sure he had, not like this. Maybe she should have given him the chance to at least fight back. Lily didn’t answer, but Gawain did; he was halfway to Sirius’ body when he turned.

“Did he?”

“Yes,” Marlene insisted. She shifted in her ropes so that she could lean against the wall of the cell. It didn’t escape her notice that last night, Sirius was the one who’d been in this position. Last night, Sirius had been alive. “He killed them- he was a murderer!”

“And now you’re no better,” Gawain told her. There was none of his usual humour in his eyes, none of his usual warmth. Marlene felt very cold, and not just because of the Dementors outside. Gawain picked up his badge, which was lying on the table and pocketed it. “Do you regret it?” he asked, watching her carefully.

She hadn’t had doubts that this course of action was the right one until she’d walked into the cell. She’d seen it in Sirius’ eyes that he hadn’t thought she’d go through with it, seen the lingering faith that she wouldn’t truly hurt him. His trust in her had belonged to her Sirius – a man who’d died long before today – not to the monster with his face who lay under the white table in the white cell. But the monster hadn’t acted like a monster. He hadn’t fought back, he’d only tried to talk to her. She’d thought for a moment that maybe, just maybe, her Sirius was still there. She’d hesitated. Apologised.

“I’m sorry it’s come to this,” she’d said. And then she’d had to remind herself that she was supposed to want him dead, that she had a duty to go through with it, even if it would cost her everything. She’d lifted her wand and only long honed instincts had kept her hand steady. And then she’d forced out those words, those filthy, foul tasting words and ended it. Ended him. It should have felt like the right thing to do, but it felt like betrayal.

You’re being ridiculous. Sirius was a traitor. We were on different sides. It’s not- it can’t be betrayal. It had to happen.

She took a deep breath and tried to justify things. Harry was safe, and she was safe and Sirius wouldn’t hurt anyone ever again... or so she hoped. It would be very like him to haunt her.

And with that thought, she burst into tears and started to laugh all at once.

Gawain looked alarmed and stepped toward her and then resolutely away. His eyes hadn’t softened at all, and no doubt he thought she was just as mad as the cell’s former occupant. He turned away from her, which hurt, and crouched down beside Sirius. Marlene wanted to tell him that she hadn’t really wanted to kill Sirius, that in the end, she’d done it out of a sense of obligation, not bloodlust. That she hadn’t enjoyed it and that she wasn’t happy, didn’t feel any better now.

“It had to be done,” she said, in a wobbly voice. She looked at Sirius, sprawled on the floor beside Gawain and tried to hate him – then, maybe she’d be able to feel like she’d done the right thing - but couldn’t. It was hard to hate a dead man and harder still to hate one she’d killed herself. She let out a hysterical sob, but Gawain didn’t pay her any attention; he was waving his wand over Sirius, doing Merlin knew what.

Rennervate,” Gawain murmured.

“It won’t work,” Marlene said flatly. “He’s dead.

Except he wasn’t.

Dead men didn’t gasp and let out spluttering coughs.  Dead mean didn’t roll over and vomit. Dead men didn’t wipe their mouths on their sleeves and slowly, shakily push themselves upright.

Sirius Black wasn’t dead.

Marlene couldn’t hate a dead man, but she had no trouble with a living one. She’d had her doubts about killing him but that didn’t mean she wanted him alive.

“What have you done?” Marlene demanded, thrashing against her ropes. “Gawain, what have you done!? He’s supposed to be dead!” She was crying again, but these weren’t hysterical, confused tears. They were angry, confused tears partially because she’d failed, and partially because part of her – not a very big part, but part of her nonetheless – was relieved. “Gawain!”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He was supposed to be dead and she was supposed to feel uncertain, maybe even guilty about it, but she’d have got over that. Now, she’d used an Unforgivable on an unarmed man, been caught doing it – Gawain would have seen the green light through the cell door window – and didn’t have anything to show for it. She broke into loud, frame-shaking sobs, straining uselessly against her bindings.

“W-why?” she asked. “What did I- W-why aren’t you dead?” she snapped, glaring at Sirius though blurry eyes. He looked so shaken and sad that she obviously wasn’t going to get an answer from him. He stared at her for a moment and then turned away abruptly and staggered over to his little bed. He flopped down and rolled over to face the wall. His shoulders were trembling. “Gawain, why?” she choked.

“You have to mean it,” Gawain said, coming to sit beside her.

“But I did- I did mean it, I s-swear,” she whispered. But she hadn’t. She’d had doubts. She’d been acting out of duty, not passion or defence. Duty might be enough for a Death Eater, but not for her. She thought that was a good thing, but it didn’t feel like it right now. It felt like failure.

“I told you you were better than that,” he said, wrapping her in a hug. Ridiculously, that made her cry all the harder.

“I’m n-not, though. I want h-him dead- you should be dead!” she said to Sirius’ back.

“If that was true,” Gawain said, coolly, “then he would be.”

“He’s not but he should be,” she corrected. “I’m going to be expelled from the Program, even though I failed.”

“No,” Gawain said, pulling away from her.

“W-What?” she asked, brushing her cheeks.

“You’ll be fined – you’re going to donate a very large amount of money to St Mungo’s or some other charity. You’re also going to do your best to make it through the Program- better, actually. I want you to be the top of the class.” Marlene stared at him; neither punishment was unreasonable. In fact, they seemed light; Marlene was already ranking highly in the class, and she donated to St Mungo’s regularly. “And,” Gawain said, “you’re going to promise me that you will never try something like this again.” She gave him a stony look. “You cast the spell but you didn’t mean it, and that’s good enough for me to offer you a second chance, but if you can’t promise me this, then you’re not worth saving.”

She’d just risked losing her job, her friends- her life, to kill Sirius. She wasn’t going to do that twice. She was being given a second chance – one she hadn’t expected and one she didn’t deserve – and she was going to use it.

“I promise I won’t kill him myself,” she said slowly. She could promise that. She could want him dead without arranging it herself. “But I’m not about to stop the Ministry if they decide to have him Kissed.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Gawain said. “But do you promise?”

“I promise,” she said.

“Good girl,” he said. He Summoned her wand, untied her, and passed it over. “So you’ll stay quiet and I’ll stay quiet and we’ll keep your punishment between us. That only leaves one small problem.” He glanced at Sirius again. “Black.”

“Robards.” Sirius’ voice was muted and shaky and he didn’t roll over to face them.

“Are you okay?”

“What do you think?” Sirius reply would have had more sting if his voice hadn’t broken on the last word. Gawain didn’t seem to know how to respond; he was frowning thoughtfully at Sirius’ back.

“Are you hurt?” Gawain asked after a pause. Sirius didn’t reply for a moment.

“Fine,” Sirius said tersely. His voice was off, but Marlene, absently, didn’t think she could blame him for that. “And I’m not pressing charges.”

“Why not?” Marlene demanded. “What’s in it for you?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Sirius snapped. “And as for why... I’m crazy, remember?”

“I’m not complaining, Black,” Gawain said incredulously, “but I’m finding it hard to believe that you won’t twist this to get your way, somehow.”

“That sounds like complaining to me,” Sirius remarked. Anger and confusion and sadness pierced Marlene; it was something Sirius – her Sirius – would have said.

“Thank you,” Gawain said slowly, and gestured for Marlene to stand. She did, and Sirius didn’t move or say anything back. He remained facing the wall as they left.

*                      *                       *

Sirius hadn’t thought Marlene was capable of killing him. Oh, he’d known that she was capable of killing – she’d killed a Death Eater to save a pregnant Lily during their Order days – but not killing him. He’d expected – if she ever got the upper hand in a confrontation – that she’d hex him, and hand him over to Dumbledore or the Ministry. She’d talked about killing him before and while he’d believed that she wanted him dead, he’d never thought that she’d be willing to act on it herself. Accepting that would have meant accepting Marlene as the enemy – not in the way that Lily and James had been ‘enemies’, but rather the way that Voldemort and Dumbledore had been.

Sirius hadn’t wanted Marlene as an enemy. He’d loved her back in the Order days, though he’d never admitted it to anyone until after her ‘death’; amidst the crying and shouting and swearing and destruction of his possessions with the nastiest hexes he could think of at the time, he’d confessed to James. Not even Marlene had known. And, despite thinking she was dead for seven years and going to Azkaban, Sirius’ feelings – though slightly less powerful than they had been – remained.

He rolled over and winced. He suspected he had one, maybe two broken ribs from where he’d hit the floor. He didn’t remember falling, but he’d gone from standing up to lying down so he assumed that was what had happened. Carefully, he slid his robes off and pulled up his jumper and t-shirt. He let out a pained whistle and grimaced. His side was covered in a nasty yellowish purple bruise and an angry, mottled red bruise covered the skin over his heart, where her curse had hit him.

Well damn, he thought and wondered if he should have said anything to Gawain when he’d asked if Sirius was hurt. Injuries like this certainly wouldn’t be easy to hide and they’d be even harder to explain.

He’d deluded himself into thinking that her own feelings might still be there somewhere. Sirius realised now that they were either buried deep beneath layers of hatred and resentment, or that they’d been destroyed entirely by what she thought he’d done. Old affection wasn’t going to help him, and he’d almost died for thinking so. It had been stupid and reckless, and he wouldn’t underestimate her again; her spell – her Killing Curse - had hit him. Some lingering doubt – which, to be honest, he could probably thank the Dementors for – had weakened the spell. It wasn’t something he could rely on again and he suspected that if she’d been just a tiny bit madder when she’d cast, he wouldn’t be alive to be contemplating all of this.

There’s a cheerful thought.

He’d never be able to hate her – how could he, when he’d have done the exact same thing if it was Peter? – but he could stop himself from actively liking her. She’d be an old acquaintance, and above all a threat. She’d be nothing else to him. Hoping for her to accept his story and forgive him and suggest they pick up where they’d left things eight years ago would only make Sirius miserable, or get him killed.

She’s the enemy now, he thought, feeling shaky but determined. He wondered, briefly if he should tell someone about the attack – wasn’t that what enemies did? – and then disregarded the thought. My life for her job, he thought, and that hadn’t been his reasoning at the time but it seemed fair from his new non-friendly vantage point.

With that sorted, Sirius turned his attention to the Dementors. He hadn’t slept well – all right, at all – overnight because of them, but they weren’t affecting him much while he was awake, other than to make him feel cold, or make him think something depressing on occasion. He’d been the same for his first day in Azkaban, and then everything had hit him like a rampaging Hippogriff on his second night in prison. He didn’t intend to let that happen this time; he needed to be as mentally sound as possible while he was dealing with the Aurors.

He wasn’t going to tell anyone about Peter just yet – that was something to hint at, and then bring out at his trial – but he couldn’t refuse to share other details or they’d decide he was a waste of time. It would be a very delicate process. He hoped Remus came to visit; he knew he wouldn’t get any news of Harry from anyone else.

Sirius took a deep breath. He closed his eyes, willing himself to fall deeper and deeper into his mind. Azkaban bloomed, like an ugly grey flower and Sirius was standing on grey stone, instead of lying on his lumpy bed. He pushed open the door of his cell and stepped out.

He rifled through a few happy memories until he found one happy enough. Expecto Patronum, he thought, focusing on Christmas with Harry and Remus. He thought of how it had felt to be back on a broom again, and the way Harry’s face had looked while he was flying and on the way Remus had shed the weight of the camp and smiled and laughed. Sirius remembered what it had felt like to have a family again and then Padfoot burst out of his wand and into the darkness.

Just like he had when he’d got rid of the Dementor’s Draught, Sirius opened his mind to the Patronus and gave it access to every happy memory he had. It glowed, casting warm, silvery light over Azkaban’s ruins and the stormy North Sea.

Stay here, he whispered, and Padfoot wagged his tail and ran off. Sirius laughed; the Patronus was spreading its protection to the perimeters of the island – which was what Sirius wanted - but it had directly disobeyed his command. He supposed it was poor wording on his part.

He watched, smiling, as Padfoot passed through a happy memory; Remus’ speech on Lily and James’ wedding day echoed in his mind-body’s ears, and Sirius saw Lily’s vibrant hair, the flash of James’ glasses, and heard his own bark-like laugh. Padfoot was white now, glowing like the star Sirius as named after and he loped off down the cliff path to the beach. Sirius grinned and opened his eyes.

“Aargh!” Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic, leaped back. Sirius yelped – Fudge had been leaning right over him – and pushed himself upright. It hurt, but he tried not to let it show.

“I don’t know what you’ve lost, Minister,” Sirius said, as Fudge hid behind Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones, “but I doubt it’s up my nose.” His attempt at humour fell pitifully short; Fudge was too thick to see the humour in it, Scrimgeour had a rather dry sense of humour and Amelia’s sense of humour was entirely Ravenclaw and so incomprehensible to everyone else.

“We have questions for you, Black,” Scrimgeour said in his brittle voice.

“Thought you might,” Sirius said. He heaved himself to his feet and the three of them flinched. He rolled his eyes and sat down in the chair at the table on the furthest side of the room and gestured to the seats opposite. “Have a seat.” The three of them exchanged uneasy looks, though Scrimgeour looked mildly amused – unless Sirius was imagining it – and sat. Fudge had already recovered from his earlier shock.

“So,” he said. “I bet you never expected to end up here, Black, did you? I bet you thought you were going to evade us forever.”

“You might remember I was an Auror, Minister,” Sirius said politely. “I know exactly where the Ministry’s captives are taken so I did in fact, expect I’d end up here.” Fudge’s face turned a brilliant shade of purple. Sirius didn’t know whether it was from anger or embarrassment. “And no. Fun as our little game of Snitch and Seeker’s been, I was getting rather tired of running. I’m an innocent man, and I think it’s time that was recognised.” None of them seemed to know what to say to that.

“An innocent man?” Amelia said finally, looking cautious. “Mr Black-”

“Sirius is fine,” Sirius interrupted; they’d been in the Order together, and hearing her call him ‘Mr Black’ was too strange to handle.

“Sirius then,” she said slowly, frowning at him. “Did you or did you not betray Lily and James Potter to Vo-” She cleared her throat. “-to He Who Must Not Be Named?”

“I did not,” Sirius said calmly. He felt his Patronus begin to fade and quickly bolstered it with another happy memory; Harry saying his Animagus form looked like Padfoot.

“You deny serving the Dark Lord?” Scrimgeour asked, his tawny eyes flashing. Sirius rolled back his sleeves and put his bare forearms on the table.

“Does that answer your question?” he asked. They were silent. Suddenly, Fudge got up and strode to the door. He tapped it with his wand, vanished, and returned a moment later flanked by two Dementors. Sirius felt the cold enter the room but he didn’t feel affected by it. He felt quite warm, particularly with his side throbbing like it was. Amelia and Scrimgeour both shuddered, and Fudge looked uncomfortable. “Did I say something wrong?” Sirius asked, watching the Dementors warily.

Fudge had a shrewd look on his face, and Sirius suddenly understood; Fudge had noticed that Sirius wasn’t mad or miserable. He was testing him.

“Go on,” Fudge said and the Dementors drifted forward. They stopped, one on either side of Sirius and he felt the temperature drop, though he wasn’t actually cold. Sirius thought of another happy memory – the day Remus had brought Harry back from St Mungo’s – just in case Padfoot needed more fuel, but the Patronus seemed to be holding its own.

“Could you... er.. turn it up a bit?”

‘Turn it up a bit’, Sirius thought, sighing. And this from the man who’s responsible for all of wizarding Britain... Wonderful. The Dementors looked – a word Sirius used loosely, since they didn’t have eyes – at Fudge for a moment and then turned back to Sirius, who felt the cold creep up on him once again.

Amelia was very pale – obviously the Dementors were affecting her – and Scrimgeour looked grim, but Sirius’ mood was unchanged. He thought he probably should have been unconscious and trapped in nightmares. Curious, he gave Padfoot another happy memory and pushed a little. The Dementors moved back, ever so slightly and Sirius immediately stopped pushing. If he could actually force the Dementors to keep their distance, it would be better if no one knew.

Accio wand!” Scrimgeour said, jabbing his own gnarled wand at Sirius. Nothing happened and the three of them exchanged concerned looks. “What are you doing, Black?” he asked.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sirius said pleasantly.

Finite,” Amelia tried and Sirius watched her calmly. The Patronus was magic, but it was mental. A spell to remove physical magic wasn’t going to do anything. None of them seemed to know what to make of the situation and the Dementors probably weren’t helping; Amelia had started to shiver.

“Why don’t you wait outside,” Sirius suggested, glancing at the pair of Dementors. “I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.”

“You can’t tell them what to do!” Fudge said angrily. “You’re the prisoner!”

“I know,” Sirius said derisively. “But I’d like to be a prisoner for as short a time as possible – I think I’ve spent enough time playing that particular role, don’t you? – and having you three sit here shivering isn’t exactly speeding things up.”

“Go and wait outside,” Scrimgeour snapped, before anyone could say anything. The Dementors left and the others relaxed slightly. Sirius didn’t feel all that different. “Go ahead then, Black. What do you want?”

“A trial,” Sirius said at once. “And to know how Harry is.”

“You’re never going to have anything to do with that poor boy again!” Amelia snapped. Sirius spared a moment to wonder what had happened to the concept ‘innocent until proven guilty’. “And if you think any of us-” Amelia gestured to herself, Scrimgeour and Fudge. “-are going to help you find him, then-”

“I didn’t ask where Harry is,” Sirius sighed. “I asked how he is.” Amelia blinked, not seeming to understand. Fudge wore a similar expression, and Scrimgeour was looking at Sirius with a bizarre combination of fascination and repulsion. It was as if Sirius was something that had wandered out of the exotic pet shop in Knockturn Alley. “Is he safe?” Sirius asked, talking very slowly and clearly. “Is he happy? Is he scared out of his mind? How is he?”

“That’s not your concern, Black,” Scrimgeour said. Sirius fell back against his chair and folded his arms.

“Like hell it’s not,” he said, too frustrated to pay much attention to the pain in his chest. “He’s my godson. I have more right to ask that question than anyone else alive.” Amelia’s face shadowed over.

“We’re not telling you anything,” Fudge said.

“Fine,” Sirius snapped. “Fine. Don’t tell me a thing.” He glared at the three of them. “But for your sakes, he’d bloody better be safe.”

“Language, Sirius,” Amelia said quietly. He made a face at her, and she looked so taken aback that he almost laughed.

“Is that a threat, Black?” Scrimgeour asked softly.

“Yes,” Sirius said. “Yes, it is.”

“Is it really the best idea for a man in your... ah... current predicament... to be making threats?” Scrimgeour pressed.

“Probably not,” Sirius said amiably. “But I care more about Harry’s safety than my own.” Fudge laughed, and Sirius wanted to throw something large and heavy at him. “Something funny, Minister?” he asked.

“Harry Potter is in Ministry custody,” Fudge said, still looking amused. “He couldn’t be any safer.”

“Really?” Sirius arched an eyebrow and Amelia closed her eyes for a moment; he’d have bet the contents of the Black vault that she knew what was coming. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Minister, but the last time Harry was in Ministry custody he was questioned – which, might I add, is illegal if there’s not a parent or guardian present.” Fudge glanced at Amelia, who nodded reluctantly. “But, illegal or not, I can understand the questioning; given the circumstances Harry arrived under and the fact that you needed answers and I wasn’t there to give them to you, you did what was necessary.”

“Thank you,” Fudge said, puffing his chest out.

“The part I don’t agree with is trying to trick him into drinking Veritaserum.”

“Rubbish,” Fudge said with an edgy laugh; both Amelia and Scrimgeour had given him sharp looks.

“Well, that’s what I thought initially,” Sirius said. “I mean, really, who could possibly be stupid enough-” Fudge flushed and Sirius could have sworn a small smile flicked over Scrimgeour’s lined face. “- to try something like that? There are a whole set of laws which were put in place to stop that sort of thing happening. If you were caught pulling a stunt like that... you’d be sacked on the spot, and I thought surely you weren’t that thick.” He let that hang in the air for a moment. Fudge shifted uncomfortably. “But the only other alternative was that Harry lied to me...”

“Children can be imaginative,” Fudge said stiffly. Sirius shrugged to show that he’d heard but didn’t think it applied; children were creative, but Harry was the type to omit details, not insert them. And, Sirius had had the whole story confirmed by Remus, who’d been told my Dumbledore.

“So I had two choices,” Sirius continued.  “Either you’re an idiot, or Harry’s a liar.” He leaned forward – being careful not to bump his chest on the table - and said, “Harry’s not a liar, Minister.” Fudge hadn’t miss the insinuation and neither, Sirius was pleased to note, had Amelia or Scrimgeour, who looked interested by the turn the conversation had taken, and not at all inclined to come to the Minsiter’s defence.

“Nothing happened,” Fudge said, his face purple. “He never drank it.”

“No,” Sirius agreed. “But that’s because of his cleverness, not yours, Minister.”

“Didn’t drink it?” Amelia asked, looking confused, relieved and angry at once. “I was there, and he definitely...” Fudge shrank into his chair.

“Nope,” Sirius said, beginning to rather enjoy himself. “He was soaking his sheet – I thought you’d have found it when you searched the room.” He knew they had; Remus had told him that Dumbledore knew... but he couldn’t exactly bring that up.

“I searched the room myself,” Scrimgeour said tartly, “and I never found any sheets.” Fudge looked like he wanted to vanish through the floor and Sirius, suddenly, knew what had happened. He couldn’t help it; he laughed. Amelia and Scrimgeour both looked at Fudge, who was looking longingly at the floor, as if he hoped it might open up and swallow him. It didn’t.

“I couldn’t be outsmarted by a little boy,” Fudge mumbled, fiddling with the brim of his lime green hat. “People would think- It would have looked-”

“Do you mean to tell me,” Scrimgeour said, cutting him off in a dangerous voice, “that you let us waste time and resources following up Potter’s ‘confessions’ because you were too proud to tell us he never drank the potion?”

“Well...” Fudge squeaked. The look on Scrimgeour’s face told Sirius that there’d be words about this later, but he wasn’t willing to have the rest of this conversation in front of Sirius.

“So,” Sirius said, drawing their attention back to him, “we’ve managed to get a bit distracted, but I trust I’ve made my point.”

“What point?” Fudge asked wearily. Sirius wondered if he still genuinely had no idea, or if he needed to know which of Sirius’ many valid arguments he was referring to. Sirius gave him the haughtiest look he could muster – one he took right from his git of a father’s face.

“That – given your record, Minister,” he said innocently, “I think it’s perfectly reasonable that I’m concerned for Harry’s safety.” Scrimgeour’s mouth twitched.

“The boy will be taken care of,” Amelia said.

“Oh, I know,” Sirius said. “Apart from anything else, you have no reason to have to ask Harry anything because I’m conveniently housed right here.” He gave them all a cheery smile. Amelia looked thoughtful, Fudge looked angry and embarrassed and Scrimgeour leaned forward, looking curious again.

“Well,” the old Auror said, “if nothing else, this will be interesting.”

*                    *                     *

Harry was worried out of his mind for Sirius. He’d had no news about his godfather, though he’d overheard something about ‘the prisoner’ and ‘holding cells’ and suspected that might be Padfoot. He’d been kept in Bones’ office since being brought to the Ministry the night before and had had a steady flow of visitors.

First there’d been a medi-witch and the Auror he’d given his and Padfoot’s wands to – she’d introduced herself as Finch - and Mad-Eye Moody, who Harry’d recognised immediately from Padfoot and Moony’s descriptions. They’d stayed with him for several hours, checking him for traces of dark magic with all sorts of spells and probes and potions. Then, Bones had arrived with Dumbledore, and they’d stayed with him until early that morning. Since then, he’d seen Fudge, Umbridge, an Auror named Scrimgeour, Lucius Malfoy, a man called Thomas Rattler and – thankfully – Moony.

Moony had stayed for about an hour, but he’d been so pale and scared looking that he hadn’t been very good company. Harry’d been dying to talk to him, to ask him what was wrong, and about Padfoot, but Umbridge and Rattler had been there too and so Harry had resigned himself to awkward, polite conversation – though he actually quite liked Rattler – and tried to remember to call Moony ‘Remus’.

Then Moony had left with an Auror – he’d walked in, thanked Remus for the tip off and said everything was fine and then he’d looked upset and asked Remus to go and comfort someone. Moony’d looked worried at that, but still noticeably better than before, so Harry tentatively assumed everything was okay. Then, Malfoy had arrived and departed with Umbridge, discussing custody, and Rattler had sat and played Exploding Snap with Harry until a few minutes ago, when he was called out by another Auror to help Bones with something.

Much as Harry had been beginning to feel like an animal in a zoo exhibit, he felt rather lonely in the big, tidy office.

“Shh!” someone on the other side of the office door hissed. Harry, who’d been dozing in Bones’ desk chair, jerked and almost knocked over the plate of biscuits on the desk.

“You’re the one being noisy!” an indignant voice retorted. Harry didn’t think it belonged to an Auror. Or even an adult. Still, he was wary; he slipped out of the chair and hid behind a bookshelf in the corner of the room.

“Oh, please,” a higher-pitched voice snapped. There was a rustle and then a metallic scratching sound. Harry pressed himself further into the shadows, wishing for his wand. He didn’t think he’d need it, but not having it made him feel bare. There was a click and the door groaned and swung open. “You wouldn’t know quiet if it hit you with a Beater’s bat.” Harry heard two sets of light footsteps enter and then a click as the door shut again. “Wow,” one of them said and Harry knew it was definitely a girl speaking. “This is much nicer than Dad’s office.”

“Yeah, except it’s empty,” a boy’s voice retorted. Harry took a deep breath and stepped out of the shadows; he didn’t think they were going to hurt him.

“No it’s not,” he said. He was surprised to find he recognised them; the first was the red-haired boy he’d met when he accidentally Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron in March last year. Harry remembered him being short and stocky, but he appeared to have been stretched; he was easily taller than Harry now, and lanky. The second was his skinny, fiery haired sister, who was about Harry’s height and looked smug.

“Told you he’d be here,” she said. “We thought you’d be lonely,” she added, smiling nervously at Harry.

“I am a bit,” he said, smiling back. “It’s Ron, isn’t it?” Harry said tentatively. The boy – Ron – looked taken aback.

“You remember my name?” he asked, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. Harry remembered him because he was the first person around Harry’s age who’d ever been even remotely friendly to him. He didn’t say that, though. He just nodded and turned to the girl.

“I don’t know your name,” he said apologetically.

“Her name’s-”

“I can introduce myself, Ron!” she snapped. Then, blushing furiously, she turned to Harry and said, “I’m Ginny.”

“Harry,” he said. They both looked at him as if he was daft. Harry cleared his throat, his face feeling hot all of a sudden. “ I guess you know that.” Then, at a loss of what to say he added, “Er... Biscuit?”

“They’re yours,” Ron said, shaking his head.

“Which means they’re mine to share,” Harry insisted. He hadn’t really had anyone – other than Padfoot or Moony - to share with before. “Go on,” Harry said, offering them the plate. Ginny blushed again and took one with an embarrassed ‘thanks’ and Ron took one slowly, as if he thought Harry was joking. Harry grinned at him and after a moment, Ron grinned back.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem.” Harry sat down on the edge of the desk and watched them for a moment. He wanted to ask them how they’d got in – Harry knew for a fact that the door had been locked and warded, because he’d been warned they’d know if he tried to escape. Since he couldn’t think of a way to word that without being rude however, he said nothing. In the end, Ginny said it for him.

“You’re taking this very well,” she said shyly, breaking off a chunk of her biscuit. “If two strangers barged into my room, I’d probably hex them.”

“No wand,” Harry said, joked, and with an air of false sadness, showed them his empty hands. Ron and Ginny laughed.

“I don’t really have a wand either,” Ginny admitted. Harry was pleased to notice that his attempt at a joke had caused her to relax a bit, though her cheeks were still slightly pink. “But wands are pretty easy to come by, particularly over the school holidays.”

“Why’s that?” Harry asked, curious.

“Everyone’s home,” Ginny said simply.

“Harry?” Ron said tentatively. “When do you start Hogwarts? Because in the Leaky Cauldron you said you’d be starting with Fred and George, but you’re, you know, here, so-”

“Yeah,” Harry muttered, flushing. “I... er... sort of lied about that. Sorry,” he added but Ron just grinned and sat down in Bones’ chair to wait for a response. “Next September,” he said. Ron beamed but Ginny’s face fell.

“We’ll be in the same year then,” Ron said happily.

“Brilliant,” Harry said, relieved that he’d know someone when he started; he’d never had much luck with friends, and Ron was someone Harry could see himself getting along with. “So you’ll be in the year below us?” he asked Ginny who looked surprised and pleased that he’d remembered her. She nodded.

“Do you follow the league?” Ron asked suddenly.

“I don’t, really,” Harry said, shrugging. “But Pad- er- Sirius – he’s my godfather-”

“We know that,” Ginny said. Harry felt his face heat up again.

“Right,” he muttered. Ginny looked absolutely fascinated.

“It’s so easy to forget that this is all real to you,” she said.

“Er... what?”

“Well to us-” She gestured between herself and Ron. “- you and Sirius Black are names in the Prophet and characters in bedtime stories – you’re not now, that we’ve talked to you, obviously – but to you he exists... not that he doesn’t exist,” she amended hurriedly, “but you know him, live with him. You thought you had to introduce yourself and him-” She blushed, apparently deciding she’d said too much and said lamely, “It’s just strange to hear it from you.”

“Oh,” Harry said intelligently. It wasn’t that she hadn’t made sense – she’d made perfect sense – it was that he just didn’t know how to respond.

“So who does Bl- uh- Sirius follow?” Ron asked and Harry sent him a grateful look. Ron’s ears turned red.

“The Cannons,” Harry said, sniggering.

“Oh dear,” Ginny said, starting to giggle.

“They’re a perfectly good team!” Ron said hotly.

“They’re rubbish, Ron.” Harry was glad Ginny’d said it, not him, because he was firmly on Moony’s – and now Ginny’s side – as far as the Cannons’ Quidditch abilities were concerned. Ginny looked at Harry and started to laugh again. “Sorry- It’s just- Black likes the Cannons,” she said helplessly.

“So do you play Quidditch?” Harry asked, trying to keep a grin off his face as he attempted to distract Ron; he was looking insulted on behalf of his Quidditch team.

“Yeah,” Ron said, turning away from his laughing sister. “I like Keeper, but I can play Beater or Chaser too. Do you play?”

“I fly,” Harry said, shrugging.

“You look like a Seeker,” Ginny said, squinting at him.

“Shut up, Ginny,” Ron said, obviously taking revenge for the insult to the Cannons. “You can’t even fly.”

“I bet I could outfly you,” Ginny shot back. Ron snorted and Harry thrust the plate of biscuits between them before things could escalate. Things settled after that and then Ginny spotted the Exploding Snap deck and the three of them gathered around the desk to play.

I wonder if this is what it’s like to have friends, Harry mused, listening to Ron chuckle at a scowling Ginny, who’d just lost an eyebrow in an explosion. He thought it might be.

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