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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 50 : Trying Times And Trials
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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“Eurgh,” Tonks said, wrinkling her nose. “You’d have to be thick to think you hadn’t been poisoned when it tastes like that!” She set the empty phial down and Gutnich – the Auror supervising her this morning – chuckled.

“This one’s nasty,” he agreed. “But concentrate. What do you feel?”

“Dizzy,” Tonks said. “Tired – that could just be because it’s seven and we’ve already been at this for hours-”

“Concentrate,” he sighed.

“Keep your hair on,” she muttered, but he didn’t seem to hear her. “Dizzy,” she said again, shifting so her back was to the wall. “And sort of sick. Achy. And my eyes are itchy.”

“Good,” he said, and his voice sounded strange. “Can you suggest-” She didn’t catch the end of whatever it was he’d said.

“Hmm?” she asked blearily.

“An antidote,” he said.

“Symptoms are pretty general,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “Pretty much anything should work.”

“Name one.”

“Antidote for Common Poisons,” she managed to say.

“Good,” he told her but she felt too faint to feel any pride. “Name an ingredient.”

“Bezoar?” she asked.

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Telling,” she said, trying to sound like she knew what she was talking about.

“Run,” he told her.

“What?” She squinted at him through her puffy eyes – which she couldn’t seem to fix, even with her abilities.

“Run!” he bellowed and she got unsteadily to her feet. “Around the room until you can’t go anymore, and then pull your wand out and hold a Shield Charm for as long as possible.”

Tonks stumbled forward, forcing her feet to move. Other trainees were running too – Tonks staggered past Edwards and Brown with a grunted hello – Edwards was feeling her way along the wall, apparently blind, and Brown was gasping, apparently struggling to breathe.

Next thing Tonks knew, she was lying down on a conjured bed, while a Healer fussed over her.

“Bloody ridiculous,” her Healer said, forcing a bottle of something into her hand. Her eyes were so puffy she couldn’t read the label. “Absolutely barmy, every single one of you. Drink that.” She swallowed it – it tasted a bit like orange juice – and blinked a few times, her vision returning to normal. “Better?”

“Yeah, thanks,” she said.

“Another one’s down, sir,” a younger Healer – only a trainee, Tonks thought – said, looking mildly amused by his mentor’s agitation. Her Healer cursed under his breath, and tossed another bottle at Tonks before stalking away in a flurry of lime green to help Patel. Tonks gulped down the second potion – this one was unpleasantly like drinking sea water – and then hopped off the bed and made her way back to Gutnich.

“Wotcher,” she said; McKinnon and Florence had taken her place and McKinnon seemed to be sampling a poison. She was surprised to see them both – Florence hadn’t come in at all yesterday; she was still taking Melvin’s death quite hard, Ben had told her, and McKinnon had been skipping lessons lately too. McKinnon was sad about Melvin, but Tonks didn’t think that’s what was bothering her. Something else was up.

“All right, Tonks?” Gutnich said.

“Fine,” Tonks said, though her mouth still tasted funny. “When’d you two get here?” she asked Florence.

“Ten minutes ago,” Florence said, shrugging.

“Sleep in again?” Tonks asked, sympathetically; Florence always slept in – it wasn’t uncommon for her to miss a training session every week – but she’d been missing more recently because of Melvin. She hadn’t said anything, but Tonks thought it was safe to assume she hadn’t been sleeping well; she certainly looked worn out.

“It’s ridiculous,” Florence muttered, as McKinnon tottered over toward the Healers, looking distinctly green. “I mean, really, whose bright idea was it to schedule a training at four in the morning?”

“Is that a yes?” Tonks asked, amused by her irritation.

Yes, I slept in,” Florence grumbled, “but what do they expect? Four in the morning is uncivilised!”

“We’re going to be Aurors,” Tonks reminded her, through a rather poorly timed yawn. “Constant vigilance and all that.”

“Ridiculous,” Florence said.

“You know what’s ridiculous?” Gutnich said, rapping them both over the head with his wand. “Your current lack of attention. For the second time, Prewett, pick a poison. There’s only half an hour left and you haven’t tried anything yet.” Florence picked up a phial containing a sludgy, bright purple mixture and uncorked it. She sniffed it and wrinkled her nose, before holding it up.

“Cheers,” she said, pulling a face.

The poison rendered her blind in about a minute, but she seemed remarkably relaxed about the whole thing, and managed to walk around the room once – though she did collide rather spectacularly with Yaxley, who was suffering poison-induced hallucinations and had a panic attack – and was able to locate and administer the correct antidote upon arriving back.

McKinnon had returned too by that point and was talking quietly to Tonks. Any walls they’d broken down in the months they’d been trainees together were back up, however; she seemed as abrupt and detached as ever, and it frustrated Tonks to no end.

“I’m glad that’s over,” Tonks said, as she, Florence, McKinnon, Ben and Yaxley – who’d been more or less inseparable since the Dementor attack in the holding cells – left through the broom cupboard exit. Tonks could think of far worse outcomes to the Dementor incident than spending time with Yaxley, and since Yaxley’d either revised her opinion of Tonks since school, or was at least able to keep her opinions to herself, Tonks was more than willing to tolerate her.

“Same,” Ben groaned, itching absently at a lump on his neck – his poison had caused him to break out in hives.

Florence – still blinking and readjusting to being able to see again - muttered, “I don’t know about you lot, but I’ll be climbing straight back into bed – for a few hours at least.” She and Tonks were on Sirius and Harry duty that afternoon, with Shacklebolt.

“Same,” Yaxley said, laughing, and then looked sheepish, as if she’d realised what she’d just said, and who she’d said it too. Tonks caught Ben’s eye and they both laughed, effectively breaking the tension. It was a little forced, but no one seemed to notice. McKinnon attempted to laugh a few seconds too late and the tension came rushing back.

Tonks was just searching for something to say – Ben appeared to be doing the same – when Mad-Eye poked his head out of his office and called Tonks over.

“I’ll see you lot tonight,” she said. Florence hugged her, Yaxley smiled awkwardly, McKinnon nodded and Ben mouthed, “Can I come too?”

“Nymphadora,” Mad-Eye said, as she shut the door.

Sir,” she said, folding her arms. He looked troubled, though, and her glare softened. “Is something wrong? Did Sirius-”

“Greyback’s dead,” he said, looking grim.

After Mad-Eye’d filled her in on the details – which were quite horrific and made her feel queasy – and arranged for her to come around to be briefed on their new case, he dismissed her. Tonks went home. Mum was at work , so she Apparated straight into the house – startling Dad, who upended his porridge on Canis – and trudged down the hall to her bedroom. She threw on a change of clothes – her current robes had a lingering poisonous odour that she didn’t like and didn’t think Remus would appreciate – packed a bag, and Disapparated to Remus’ doorstep.

“Remus?” she called softly, knocking on the door.

“Oh, yes, be quiet now after you’ve just made a lot of noise Apparating,” he called, and then added, “I’m not opening the door. Let yourself in if you really have to.” Fighting a smile – she hadn’t seen Remus this early after a full moon before, and his grouchy attitude was so foreign to her – she opened the door and stepped inside. “I’m in here,” he added, and she spotted him sitting at the kitchen table.

One leg was propped up on a chair, bleeding steadily from a nasty wound on his ankle, and his t-shirt was slung over the back of that same chair. His back and shoulders were covered in long scratches and so, she could now see, were his arms. There was a massive book open on the table, propped up against a small, bubbling cauldron, and Remus had bandages draped all over his lap, the floor and what little space was left on the table.

“Horrible, isn’t it?” he asked, without looking up.

It’s just a bit of blood, she told herself, and took a moment to make sure her voice wouldn’t shake. “I brought chocolate,” she offered. He lifted an arm and gingerly waved her over. She sat down on his right, with her back to the kitchen bench and glanced at the cauldron, which had an inky blue potion bubbling away inside it. “What’s in there?”

“A bit of everything,” he said, peering over the book – which was on healing magic – to look at it. “It should speed up the healing, reduce scarring, and replenish a bit of blood.” He picked up a bottle of Dittany and dribbled it onto a cut on his forearm. It sizzled and closed, leaving a very faint mark.

“Rough night, then?” she asked. He rolled his eyes, not bothering to answer. Instead of being offended, she was amused. “Do you want help?” He grunted and relinquished the Dittany. “There’s not much here,” she said, frowning.

“Really?” he asked sarcastically. She bristled, and he must have sensed it – or maybe smelled it – because he sighed and said, “I know. This is the first time I’ve had to use my own healing supplies in months. I didn’t realise I was running low.”

“St Mungo’s?”

“What?” Tonks stepped around him and came to kneel down beside his injured leg.

“Do you usually go to St Mungo’s?” She pushed his pyjama pant out of the way – cringing a bit, because it was soaked in blood – and tried to decide where to start.

“Oh,” he said. “No.” He hesitated and then said, “A friend of mine fixes me up. He always uses his own stuff.”

“And he didn’t come today?” she asked, frowning. She squeezed a few drops of Dittany onto Remus’ ankle and suspected it hurt a lot more than he let on; his hands curled into fists and his lips whitened, but that was it.

“No,” he said, sounding completely normal. She added a few more drops.

“He couldn’t spare a few minutes to come and help you?” she asked, frowning; Remus deserved better than that.

“It’s not his fault!” Remus snapped, and Tonks was taken aback by his vehemence. They sat in silence – Tonks a little stunned, Remus fuming – and then Tonks resumed her healing work. Remus, apparently taken by surprise, hissed out a few words she’d never have expected him to say and then managed to compose himself.

“Sorry,” she said, grimacing. She examined his ankle, which was covered in drying blood and still looked a bit red beneath that, but it had scarred over.

“It’s fine,” he muttered, wriggling his ankle.

“How’s it feel?”

“Better.” Applying Dittany wasn’t difficult, but she still felt rather proud of her newfound healing skills. She stood up and moved around to stand behind him. “Start with the worst ones,” he said, so she did.

“I’ve run out,” she said, reaching around his shoulder – she made her arm grow a bit – to show him the empty bottle.

“I don’t suppose you know any healing charms?” he asked.

“Erm, no, sorry.” She’d never had to worry with healing charms because she could simply grow skin over any cuts she got. Anything worse than that and Mum would panic and drag her to St Mungo’s.

“Damn,” he said.

“Sorry.” He shrugged. “I can clean them for you, though.”

“I’m already contaminated,” he said. She swatted his head, and he turned around, scowling. “Your bedside manner needs work.”

“I’m an Auror, not a Healer,” she said with dignity.

“You’re a trainee,” he corrected. She shook her head, fighting a smile and conjured a cloth and warm water. Then she went and fetched salt from one of the kitchen cupboards and added a few pinches of that. She finished his back and then made him look at her while she cleaned the cut on his forehead. She accidentally got salt water in his eye, and she also tangled herself up in bandages as she attempted to cover the wound, but eventually she managed to cocoon the top of his head entirely.

“Done,” she said, and then snorted; it looked a bit like he was wearing a bulky, white turban. Remus prodded the bandages and sighed, but the corner of his mouth was twitching. “Is that a smile, Remus?” she asked.

“Definitely not,” he said seriously, but a small smile had settled on his face. Tonks found herself grinning back, at least until she remembered the real reason for her visit. Her smile faded and Remus looked worried. “Did I say som-”

“No,” she assured him. “I- er... I’ve got some news for you, and I’m not quite sure how you’re going to take it.”

“I see,” he said evenly.

“How about that chocolate?” she said cheerily, grabbing her rucksack. Remus’ eyes brightened when she pulled out the block and passed it to him, but then he frowned. He looked at it, and then looked at her and sighed.

“This is a bad idea,” he said, passing it back.

“What?” she asked, not sure what he meant, but she was sure that she didn’t like his serious tone.

“I haven’t had breakfast yet, so if you give me that, you won’t be getting any.”

“Oh.” Tonks laughed and Remus gave her an odd look, obviously wondering what she’d thought he meant. Tonks didn’t know what she’d thought, and would have welcomed his opinion on the matter, but he didn’t give one. He just leaned back, adjusting his turban – a loop of bandage had escaped and was dangling over his eye – and gave her a small, slightly troubled smile. She snapped two rows of chocolate off and kept them for herself before offering Remus the rest; he’d need it more than she did once he heard about Greyback, and he probably needed the sugar after last night.

He ate some of it right away – grinning the whole time, apparently unable to help himself – and then he poured the contents of his little cauldron into a teacup and gulped that down. Tonks wrinkled her nose.

“Multipurpose healing potion and chocolate?” she asked, arching an eyebrow. “I’ll bet that’s an appetising combination.”

“It’s the breakfast of champions,” he said, with dignity as he devoured another row of chocolate. Tonks nibbled on her own piece, amused. “So, what’s this news?” Tonks opened her mouth, closed it and then steeled herself.

Just spit it out, a voice in the back of her head told her. It sounded a bit like Mad-Eye. “Greyback’s dead.” Remus froze. She’d expected a reaction – laughing, or yelling, or at least disbelief – but he just sat very still. He didn’t even look shocked, just blank.

“Remus?” she asked, tapping lightly on the side of his bandaged head. Abruptly, his eyes focused and he turned to look at her. And there was the reaction she’d been looking for; hope, disbelief, worry, joy, confusion and a million other things flitted across his face. The result was an odd, almost pained expression that made him look like he was either going to burst out laughing or crying.

“How?” he asked hoarsely.

“It was quite... disturbing, apparently. Mad-Eye was shaken; his cell – the bars, the floor, the walls, the roof – even the toilet! – turned to silver. He... er... well... his body-”

“I can imagine,” Remus said faintly. “So silver poisoning...” He shook his head. “That’s mad! I always imagined he’d- well, I don’t know what I imagined, actually, but it wasn’t-”

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I don’t- it’s strange, trying to wrap my head around it... He’s dead!” Remus said, and let out a little, disbelieving laugh. “Do they know who did it?”

“That’s my new case,” Tonks said, shrugging, and then flushed. “I probably shouldn’t have told-”

“I didn’t hear a word,” Remus promised. He reached up, as if to run his hand through his hair, but rubbed the bandages instead. “Merlin. He’s dead. Murdered.” He still didn’t seem able to believe it; in fact, he repeated those words – or variations of those words - to himself for the next few minutes. Tonks was beginning to get worried.

“Remus?” she asked tentatively. “Are you-”

“What a mess,” he said, rubbing his eyes, and Tonks was relieved to hear him say something different. “Sirius and Harry are in prison, Greyback’s been murdered in Azkaban...” He sighed loudly. “The camp.”

“The-”

“The camp,” he snapped, obviously impatient. Tonks was momentarily startled, but put it down to Remus still recovering from the full moon. Obviously his emotions were a bit disordered. Or perhaps he was just tired and stressed. “Greyback’s camp.” He paused and then looked ashamed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap-”

“It’s fine,” Tonks said, brushing his apology away. “What’s wrong with the camp?”

“They don’t follow wizarding news,” Remus said, looking tired. “I doubt they even know he’s been arrested – Greyback’s pretty much the only person that ever leaves that place, and most of the other people there are so caught up in Greyback’s propaganda that they don’t care what’s going on in the wizarding world. It’s unusual but not unheard of for Greyback to be away for a few weeks. They won’t even suspect-”

“They must have an inkling, surely?”

Remus snorted and said, “Not likely. Dora, you were there – you saw how much they worshipped him!” She didn’t know that she’d quite seen it to that extent, but she’d certainly seen enough to trust Remus’ judgement on the matter. “Their father can do no wrong.”

“I’ll talk to Mad-Eye,” she muttered. “I doubt he’s thought about that and we’ll have to find some way to get them the news...” She paused, thinking. Maybe they could send an owl to someone who lived there – Remus would be willing to give them a name, surely? Or maybe- “What?” she asked. Remus was staring at her like she was missing something obvious.

“I’m practically a ready-made messenger,” he said, stunned. “Didn’t it even occur to you-”

“You hate it there,” Tonks said, a little hurt that he’d expected her to suggest he be the one to go. “I’m not about to ask you to go back, and neither’s Mad-Eye.”

“Mad-Eye will,” Remus said. “He’d be mad not to – it’s the quickest way to get them the news and it’s got the least chance of going wrong-”

“Least chance?” she asked incredulously. “Remus, from what I saw, you weren’t exactly er... popular with the other people living there. If you go marching in saying Greyback’s dead, someone’s going to think you did it.”

“They can think whatever they want to,” he said wearily. “It’s a better alternative than letting them believe the Ministry’s behind it.”

“But they’re not-”

“Azkaban’s Ministry territory,” Remus said. “That’s all that’s going to matter as far as they’re concerne-”

“So you’re not going to tell them how he died?” she asked dubiously. “That makes it pretty damn hard to explain how you know, doesn’t it? And if you can’t explain it, then they’ll definitely think you did it!”

“If you’ve got a better idea then I’d love to hear it,” he said tersely. They sat in silence – Tonks was looking for a solution to their problem – and Remus was glaring at the table. “Dora, I’m sorry,” he said, looking up after a moment. “I’ve been a complete git this morning, haven’t I?”

“No, of course not,” Tonks said quickly. “You’re obviously just tired-”

“Dora.” Tonk bit her lip and her fringe turned an odd green-pink colour.

“Well, maybe just a little bit,” she said apologetically.

“Sorry,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “I’m not usually this- actually I am, but usually it doesn’t matter.” Remus’ voice cracked and he planted his elbows on the tabletop and buried his face in his hands

Because no one else is around, Tonks finished in her head. “Remus...” He took a few deep breaths, and laughed shakily but didn’t look up.

“Godric, I’m a mess this morning,” he muttered.

“You’re allowed to be,” she said. She found a clear patch of skin near his shoulder – one with no fresh injuries – and put her hand on it. He jumped at the contact. “You’ve just had a bloody terrible night-”

“Worst one in a while,” he agreed in muffled voice.

“Greyback’s dead-” His shoulder stiffened under her hand. “I know you didn’t like him, but-”

“I hated him,” he said hoarsely. “I’m glad he’s- gone.”

“It’s still a lot to take in,” she said firmly. “And then there’s Sirius...” If his shoulder had stiffened before, it was stone now. She could see Remus’ jaw trembling and his breaths were shaky. His face was still hidden behind his scarred hands. “You’re perfectly justified in being a little... off.”

Remus’ entire frame was shaking now, and his breaths were coming in sobs. She’d seen him nervous – like when he’d told her about his condition, and when he dealt with Malfoy – she’d seen him worried – like he had been when Greyback attacked Matt, and at the camp, and when Greyback had cornered them in this very cottage not so long ago – she’d seen him sad – like when he’d comforted her after Melvin’s death, and like when he talked about the Potters – but she’d never seen him scared. He was quite literally breaking down before her eyes. Even his little meltdown at the Ministry after seeing Sirius hadn’t been anything like this.

It was so foreign that, for a moment, Tonks had absolutely no idea what to do. That faded almost immediately. She liked to think it was her Hufflepuff instincts kicking in.

She dragged her chair closer to his – she could imagine herself overbalancing and falling off otherwise – and wrapped her arms around him. It was a bit awkward – the edge of the table was digging into her ribs and one of her arms was looped over both of Remus’ – he was still leaning on the table, face in his hands – but it was enough.

*                    *                    *

The corners of the parchment were already beginning to go soft – Harry’d handled it that much in the last few days. It was obvious Harry hadn’t drawn the picture – he’d never shown any interest in drawing before, and didn’t have the quill control to produce what was, in Sirius’ opinion, no great work of art – he suspected the artist was young – but a decent image nonetheless. As far as style went, anyway; Sirius spared his Quidditch team’s coat of arms a sad look – had the artist really had to depict it on fire?

“So who drew it?” Sirius asked.

“One of my friends,” Harry said mysteriously, but his whole face lit up and Sirius could smell something close to delirious happiness radiating off him. Sirius thought it was the fact that he had someone to refer to as a friend. Harry hadn’t named his friends yet, but Sirius thought that was probably a good idea; he knew Harry must have met them in the Ministry somewhere, and so he suspected their meeting hadn’t been entirely legal. It probably wasn’t something the Aurors should know about. “I reckon it’s brilliant.”

“The dragon’s not bad,” Sirius allowed, and Harry grinned. The dragon’s eyes were slightly different sizes, and he almost mentioned this but then thought better of it.

Instead, Sirius’ gaze flicked to the door, as it had every few minutes for the last day; instead of Snape – the git - bringing Harry back yesterday Harry’d come back with Fudge, Malfoy and Umbridge. Umbridge and Malfoy had just talked to Harry, while Fudge had said they were considering a trial – finally – and that he’d be back ‘later’ to discuss the matter further.

It was definitely later and Sirius was still waiting for that visit. He just hoped Fudge hadn’t changed his mind. Dora saw him looking in her general direction and her hair turned a deep red. Sirius smiled at her – he wasn’t sure what he’d done to make her so angry, but she had her wand in a knot about something this afternoon - and got a scowl back in return.

Sirius looked away, figuring it was best to just leave her to it. He was tired – Harry’d been restless in his sleep again and when they’d been awake, they’d both been worrying about Remus and the full moon – and he didn’t want to be denied the trial he’d been waiting eight years for over an argument or because he’d lost his temper.

It was a long afternoon. Harry fell asleep and Snape was the only one who visited. He took one look at Sirius, then glared at Harry and stormed out again, looking absolutely livid. Sirius didn’t even have time to insult him. Remus didn’t come – he probably wasn’t in any state to leave the house, and Sirius still hoped for the thousandth time that the night before hadn’t been a rough one – and neither did Dumbledore or Rattler or any of the other D.M.L.E. staff. Sirius figured Dumbledore was probably at Hogwarts; he’d been spending a lot of time at the Ministry lately, and Sirius suspected that wouldn’t have made him awfully popular with McGonagall.

The D.M.L.E. staff were probably working with Fudge to arrange Sirius’ trial – or so he hoped – which was a very good thing, except it made for poor company down in the holding cells; Rattler wasn’t there to play games with – they were for Harry’s sake but more often than not, Sirius joined in – Amelia didn’t visit either – she sometimes brought Sirius crosswords from the Prophet - and Scrimgeour hadn’t even made an appearance. Sirius respected Scrimgeour rather than liked him, but at least the man was willing to talk to Sirius like he was a human.

So, Sirius had to sit in his cell, bored, listening to Harry mumble occasionally – about chocolate frogs and broomsticks, thankfully, not Voldemort or leaving Sirius in the cave – and trying to ignore the angry looks from Dora that were burning into the side of his head.

“You don’t even care, do you?” she demanded at one point.

“About what?” Sirius asked, startled. Shacklebolt glanced at Tonks, but didn’t seem inclined to interrupt just yet, though Sirius knew Shacklebolt would if Dora got out of hand; Shacklebolt was a good sort. The other trainee – a thin, dark haired girl – had been asleep for most of the time and didn’t stir, even now.

“About- about anything!” Dora said angrily. Her hair – mostly deep red, but tinged with purple and orange – made her head look like it was on fire. Sirius wasn’t sure what to say to that; he almost said, ‘Do too!’ but something told him that wouldn’t get him anywhere. So he said nothing, and Dora went back to scowling at him.

Sirius spent about an hour working on his mental Azkaban – which resembled an island again, but was still a while off being finished. He’d also spent a bit of time wondering what sort of state Keira and the locket were in; hopefully she’d destroyed it, but Sirius worried it might have attacked her. That, of course, brought him back to worrying about Remus, and sighing lots, which made Dora glare at him even more.

It was a very long, very uncomfortable afternoon – for everyone, he suspected.

Fudge arrived with dinner, and Sirius didn’t know which he was more excited to see. He greeted Fudge  - who looked rather irritated about being forced to carry in Sirius and Harry’s dinner - and turned to prod Harry awake, only to pause when he heard more people enter. It seemed that, to make up for the lack of visitors that afternoon, everyone had decided to come now.

Scrimgeour, Amelia and Rattler were all there. Scrimgeour looked preoccupied, and mildly annoyed, Amelia looked like her usual, unflappable self and Rattler looked as cheerful as ever. Umbridge followed, wearing a hideous set of fluffy pink robes and a smug expression. And, last but not least, Malfoy and Narcissa stepped inside and Sirius wondered what in Merlin’s name they were doing in his cell. Malfoy was smirking and Narcissa’s expression was unreadable; of all of the Black children – Andy, Bella, himself and Reg – she’d always been the best at that. Over his cousin’s shoulder, Shacklebolt was nudging the other trainee awake before Scrimgeour noticed her sleeping during a guard shift that didn’t run overnight.

Sirius turned back to Harry and found him awake and putting on his glasses. He looked a little surprised to see this many people in the small cell, but he didn’t say anything except, “Is that dinner?”

“That is Black’s dinner,” Fudge said. “You’ll be eating later, Harry.” Harry and Sirius shared an uncertain look and then, reaching an unspoken agreement, stood and sat down at the table. Fudge had already arranged himself in one of the spindly chairs and said,  “Would you like to eat now, Black, or later?”

Sirius gave his dinner a longing look; there was some sort of soup, roast chicken and an assortment of steaming, vegetables. He was almost tempted to eat now – to make everyone wait, because they’d kept him waiting all day – but he shook his head.

“If someone’ll put a charm on it to keep it warm, I’ll leave it until later.” Amelia did, and floated it over to the end of Sirius’ bed. Scrimgeour, Umbridge and Amelia claimed the remaining chairs and Rattler, Malfoy and Narcissa conjured their own. “I take it this is about my trial,” Sirius said.

Please, he thought, please, please...

“It is,” Amelia said.

“And am I getting one?” Sirius asked. Harry seemed to be holding his breath – his face was slowly turning pink. Sirius nudged him and he let out a breath, looking sheepish. No one had answered yet. Sirius’ heart thumped loudly in his chest.

Please. Please, please, please-

“You are,” Fudge said.

“YES!” Sirius said, before he could stop himself. Harry’s grin was so wide it looked like it might split his face. “Yes! Thank you! Thank-

“It will be held,” Fudge continued, and Sirius shut up immediately so that he could hear the details, “ten days from now, in Courtroom Ten.”

“At ten o’clock?” Sirius asked, smirking. Only Rattler and the formerly-asleep trainee laughed. Fudge just rolled his eyes and exchanged an exasperated look with Malfoy.

“You will be tried in front of the full Wizengamot and Council of Magical Law.” Sirius nodded.

“Sure,” he said. “Fine.” He couldn’t wipe his grin off. I’m getting a trial! Finally, finally, I can prove I’m innocent. He didn’t have Peter which would make things difficult, but he’d talk them around. He’d have to admit to being Padfoot, but once they saw that, they’d be willing to believe that Peter was a rat. And, since Sirius had been careful not to let the truth slip, they’d be unprepared for the truth. The shock-value alone might convince them. “Thank you!”

“It will be a public trial,” Amelia said. Sirius frowned but nodded. He didn’t particularly want it open to anyone who was interested, but he wasn’t going to argue with them, not when they’d just given him a trial.

“There’s also the matter of your isolation,” Scrimgeour said. “I’ll be withdrawing the Auror guards.” Sirius looked at Harry and grinned. “They will be replaced with Dementors.” Sirius sobered immediately. It was not a nice feeling. Harry looked scared.

“But-but you can’t,” Sirius stammered. He’d begun to reconstruct Azkaban, but he still needed a few more hours before he’d be able to cast his Patronus again. If the Dementors came after Harry, he wouldn’t be able to do anything. “You saw what they did to-”

“Arrangements have been made for Mr Potter,” Umbridge said, speaking for the first time. The reason for Narcissa and Malfoy’s presence suddenly dawned on him.

“No,” he said. Harry’s eyes flicked to his face, bright with questions.

“Black, be reasonable,” Fudge said, twirling his hat. “The boy can’t stay with you while the Dementors are around after what happened last time...” Harry’s eyes dropped to his hands and he studiously avoided eye contact with everyone who’d fixed their attention on him following Fudge’s words.

“No, he can’t. So the Dementors’ll go.” Scrimgeour opened his mouth. “I’m not arguing with isolation – it’s important to have an unbiased trial and all that-” And it was; the last thing he needed was to be accused of bribing or enchanting people to believe him. “-but you can keep the Dementors away without bringing the Aurors back.”

“Black-” Umbridge began.

“I’m not a danger to Harry,” he said. “We don’t have to be guarded – I’ve been saying this since we got here. I proved it when those Dementors came! The Aurors did a fat lot of good – I’m not blaming them,” he added, as Scrimgeour bristled, “-it was a bloody terrible situation. But Harry and I were unguarded, in the cell, all night-”

“There were Dementors,” Umbridge said primly.

“They were trying to attack us, not guard us,” Harry snapped. “If Pa-Sirius hadn’t been there-”

“If he hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t be in this situation, Mr Potter,” Umbridge said. Harry glowered at her. “In fact, I daresay we’d all be better off.”

“I wouldn’t be,” Harry muttered, but Sirius didn’t think anyone else had heard him.

“Legally,” Sirius said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder, “Harry’s as involved in this as I am. There are no laws that say we can’t be housed together – that would be true even if I wasn’t his guardian.” And that was true; it wasn’t uncommon for prisoners to share a holding cell, as long as they weren’t likely to fight, and they weren’t likely to cause trouble.

“You cannot be trusted-”

“We’ve been living in a house together – pretty much alone-”

“You had visitors?” Rattler asked sharply.

“I told you I wasn’t giving you anymore answers until after my trial,” Sirius said, but mentally, he cursed the slip up. “Anyway, it’s been over a year. A whole fourteen – nearly fifteen - months since I took Harry, and he doesn’t look dead or injured to me.”

“In St Mungo’s last year-”

“I told you: that wasn’t him,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “He’d never-”

“Even if Black- Sirius,” Amelia said, as Sirius opened his mouth to correct her, “was not responsible for giving you those injuries, Mr Potter, the fact remains, he did nothing to prevent them.” Sirius prayed Harry would keep his mouth shut – if he said anything about Sirius not being able to because he hadn’t been there, Sirius would never be able to talk them around.

“He prevented the Dementors,” Harry muttered, glowering at the table, and Sirius sighed, relieved. Amelia sighed a different kind of sigh.

“Mr Potter-”

“We won’t leave you alone with Black,” Scrimgeour said. “I’m sorry, Potter, but we’re not prepared to take any risks at this point.” Scrimgeour even gave Sirius a slightly apologetic look.

“And if I refuse to let him stay with Malfoy?” Sirius asked. Amelia sighed again.

“For as long as Mr Potter stays down here with you, the Aurors will remain on duty. For as long as the Aurors remain on duty, we are running the risk that you mislead one-”

“They’ve been down here for nearly two weeks,” Sirius said. “If I was going to mislead anyone-”

“For as long as the Aurors remain on duty, we are running the risk that you mislead one,” Amelia continued loudly, as if he hadn’t said anything, “and as such, it will not count as isolation. Your trial will be postponed until you are willing to comply.”

“What if I don’t talk to them?” Sirius asked, but he knew that wasn’t the point of isolation; the main point was that he not be able to win any allies in the lead-up to the trial, but also to that anyone he might have put a spell on had time to show symptoms and be cured.

None of them dignified his answer with a response.

“Understand, Sirius, that this situation is already unusual.” Amelia’s eyes flicked to Harry. “We have – though there was no choice at the time – already deviated from Ministry procedure.” Sirius agreed – it was unheard of to have Aurors guarding the cells, not Dementors. “With your trial approaching, we are trying to handle this as professionally as we can – we’re already facing scrutiny from the public-”

“-Skeeter’s tearing us all to pieces,” Scrimgeour said, his eyes flinty. Sirius suddenly understood why they were making his trial public; it was to give the Ministry a chance to show how competent they were, when Sirius had been making them look anything but. If Sirius was found guilty, the Ministry would be praised for their just decision, and if – no, when – he was found innocent, they’d look good for giving him the chance to prove it. And very bad for hunting an innocent man for so long. He had to hide snigger. “A trial of this size must be played by the book – you were an Auror, Black, you must understand-”

“I’ll go,” Harry said.

“What?” several people – Sirius among them – asked.

“I said I’ll go,” Harry said, squaring his jaw, just like James had used to when he was being stubborn. Amelia relaxed, and so did Scrimgeour and Malfoy.

“Harry-”

“Do you want your trial or not?” Harry snapped.

My trial. Sirius sighed. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Fudge he cared more about Harry’s wellbeing than his own. But was Harry’s wellbeing really in danger? Malfoy wouldn’t try anything when the Ministry knew Harry was with him. If he hurt Harry, he’d be arrested in a heartbeat.

In fact, Malfoy would probably be pleasant – he was probably hoping that if Sirius was found guilty, custody of Harry would go to him. In fact, Sirius was sure that’s what Malfoy wanted. Harry Malfoy, Sirius thought, wrinkling his nose. So Harry probably wouldn’t be in any danger – it’d be unpleasant, certainly, but if Harry was willing to go... Sirius still didn’t want him to. But was not wanting him to a good enough reason?

Yes, Sirius thought sulkily, but his rational side – which still sounded uncannily like Remus – cleared its throat threateningly. “Fine,” Sirius said, and everyone looked stunned before starting to talk at once. “Shut up!” he shouted. “There are conditions.”

“Name them,” Scrimgeour said.

“The first,” Sirius said, “is that it’s definitely temporary. Me agreeing to let him stay with my lovely-” Sirius glowered at Narcissa and she raised her eyebrow in return. “-cousin and her pompous husband is not me surrendering custody.”

“Obviously,” Umbridge muttered.

“Good. The next is that Harry’s allowed to come to my trial,” Sirius said.

“Of course he is,” Rattler said.

“Good,” Sirius said again. “The next one is that Harry’s wand is returned to him, and that he can take it with him to Malfoy’s.” Scrimgeour and Amelia exchanged looks, and Harry’s eyes had brightened. Malfoy looked thoughtful. “He’s not going to attack anyone,” Sirius said. “But given the Dementor attack – which happened on Ministry property, remember – I’ll feel better if Harry’s got some sort of protection.”

“I don’t see a problem with that,” Narcissa said, smiling, before anyone else could respond.

“Very well,” Amelia said. “Is there anything else, Sirius?”

“Kiddo?” Harry shook his head.

“I actually have a request,” Narcissa said, looking shy.

“Madam?” Fudge asked.

“I’d like to request an Auror to supervise Mr Potter while he’s staying with us.”

“Narcissa, that won’t-” Malfoy began.

“Lucius, the boy was attacked,” Narcissa said, her eyes brimming with tears. Sirius couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to him, or to any of us! What if more Dementors come? What if they come after Hydrus or Draco?” Narcissa’s hand was clamped around her husband’s wrist, and her blue eyes were shining as she stared at Scrimgeour. “Please, Auror Scrimgeour. For my own peace of mind...”

“Of course, Madam,” Scrimgeour said curtly. Malfoy looked exasperated, but he kissed his wife’s hand and didn’t say anything.

“Thank you,” Narcissa whispered, dabbing her eyes. “Sirius, did you want a say in who’s responsible for guarding your godson? If it was me-” Malfoy baulked.

“Perhaps Dawlish,” he started to say over Narcissa.

“Mad-Eye,” Sirius said shrewdly. Malfoy paled a bit.

“Mad-Eye’s busy, Sirius,” Dora said irritably.

“He’s working another case,” Scrimgeour said, nodding. “A new one.” He and Dora exchanged grim looks. “It’s rather important that he’s focused on that for the next little while.”

“I really think Dawlish,” Malfoy was still saying, but no one was really listening to him. Narcissa’s eyes were boring into Sirius’ and he had no idea what she was playing at, but she hadn’t given them away that day in Diagon Alley, so he was going to assume she was on his side. Or at least, not against him.

“Fine,” Sirius said. “Not Mad-Eye.” It was a shame – Mad-Eye would have  kept Malfoy on his toes; as an old Order member, he was under no delusions about Malfoy’s past. And, as an old friend of James’, he’d definitely keep Harry safe. There was another person that might possibly scare Malfoy more, though, and despite her obvious problems with Sirius, she’d die before she let anything hurt Lily and James’ son. “McKinnon, then.” That shut Malfoy up completely, and Narcissa’s eyes gleamed. Dora and the other trainee made shocked noises.

“She’s just a trainee-”

“I’ll vouch for her competence,” Amelia said quietly.

“Perhaps a r-roster would be best,” Malfoy said, speaking mostly to Fudge.

“Nonsense, Lucius,” Narcissa said. Her tears were completely gone and she looked as calm as ever.

“We can’t expect an Auror – a trainee, no less – to guard the boy for ten days,” Lucius continued, looking a little desperate now. “She’ll be exhausted, and what’ll she do overnight-”

 “She can have the second guest room,” Narcissa said serenely, and Sirius let out a bark –like laugh at the horrified look on Malfoy’s face.


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