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Innocent by MarauderLover7
Chapter 56 : Guilty Hearts
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 17


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Remus thought he was lucky to have made it through his questioning with his voice still intact; Sirius was practically croaking out his answers to Fudge’s questions, and Remus could see him shooting longing glances at the glass of water in front of Amelia.

“-all very well and good, but can you prove it?” Fudge said, looking smug. “Where’s Pettigrew now?”

“If I knew, do you really think I wouldn’t have arranged for him to be here?” Sirius asked hoarsely. He’d come into the trial having fun, Remus thought, but that had long passed. “He’s an evil git and a coward and he’s in hiding-”

“Which matches your story nicely,” Fudge said. “But can you-”

“I’ve given you as much proof as I can!” Sirius wriggled his arm in the chains until he managed to get his sleeve back. “Look, no Dark Mark. After everyone’s testimony, you can’t honestly think I’m an evil murdering Death Eater!” Yes, Sirius was definitely fed up. Remus glanced in Sirius’ direction and offered him a small smile, but he was too busy scowling at Fudge to see it.

“Perhaps not, but that’s the thing – we don’t like to rely on opinions. We like facts to trust-”

“Facts?” Sirius demanded. “Then why the hell is Malfoy sitting up there, free, while I’m in chains?” Malfoy shifted in the crowd. “And what about Snape?!” Remus knew Snape had helped Sirius a few times, but there was still obviously no love lost between those two. “Both of them have Dark Marks, and you can put their parts in the war down to the Imperius curse, but there’s no way to prove that, is there, so obviously you did go on opinions-”

“There was ample evidence to support Mr Malfoy’s innocence,” Fudge said.

“Galleons don’t count, Minister,” Sirius croaked. Fudge’s face turned a nasty red colour, and Malfoy was pink up in the stands. Amelia, Dumbledore and even Scrimgeour looked disapproving.

“That’s not- he didn’t- Mr Malfoy is not the one on trial,” Fudge said. “He was found innocent-” Fudge’s face crinkled, as if he’d just thought of something unpleasant. “-and before you ask, Black, Dumbledore himself saw to Snape’s trial, so-”

“He what?” Sirius asked, and there was something in his voice that Remus couldn’t place. “He-” Sirius looked at Dumbledore, who seemed to be expecting a challenge. “-I mean, you gave Snape a trial?” Movement caught Remus’ eye and he saw Snape fold his arms.

“I did,” Dumbledore said, perhaps a touch defensively. Sirius stared at him, and Dumbledore continued in a gentle but firm voice. “Severus Snape’s innocence has already been determined and whatever it is you find objectionable about that is irrelevant to the matter at hand.”

Sirius blinked. He was quiet for a long time, and Remus didn’t like the scents coming off of him at all; there was shock, anger, sadness and above all, genuine confusion. It was hard to say exactly what Sirius smelled like, but whatever it was, it made Remus’ chest ache. It was a bit like when Sirius had been struggling with the Dementor’s Draught.

“Well, back to what I was saying...” Fudge said, apparently pleased that Sirius had quietened. “What- that is to say, is there any tangible evidence can you offer us, Black? Because we want to believe you, really-” Remus snorted quietly, but he was worried; Sirius didn’t appear to have heard Fudge, which was unusual because Sirius had been listening to everything today.

“Sirius?” Remus murmured, stretching out to kick Sirius’ ankle. “Padfoot.” Sirius jerked in his chair, but his eyes never left Dumbledore.

“I don’t understand,” he said finally, looking hurt.

“Black,” Fudge said impatiently, “it was a simple-”

“He was a Death Eater,” Sirius said, tilting his head toward Snape. “You know he was a Death Eater. And I wasn’t- I never- but- Why him?” Sirius’ voice was very quiet, and actually rather pitiful. Remus was usually very good at following Sirius’ line of thought, but even he still wasn’t entirely sure what Sirius was talking about.

“Pardon?” Dumbledore asked.

“I said: why him?” Sirius repeated, in that same, shattered voice. “If you wanted to give Snape a second chance, then fine, but why didn’t I get the same?” Sirius frowned at the floor. “Maybe one good deed’s enough to redeem him from a life of pretty questionable choices, but I lived a good life... I fought-” Sirius’ voice broke. “-for you, would have died for our side... but then it looks like I’ve made one mistake and that’s enough to condemn me?” Sirius cocked his head. “I just- I don’t understand.”

Oh Merlin, Remus thought. He’d known about Snape’s trial, of course, though it had been private, so he hadn’t been able to attend. He hadn’t cared that Dumbledore had given Snape a trial and not Sirius – Remus had hated Sirius back then – but looking back... He’d probably be furious if it was him, but Sirius just looked rattled. Fudge noticed and, ever the politician – though a terrible one – seized the advantage.

“Answer the question, Black: Can you prove your innocence?” Sirius looked over at Fudge, annoyed.

“I can’t prove anything,” he said. Then he frowned, and even Remus knew he’d made a mistake. “No, wait-”

“No evidence?” Fudge said, arching an eyebrow.

“My character and morality have had a pretty thorough-”

“Very well, we’ll judge you on your character,” Fudge said. “You say that you didn’t abuse Harry Potter-”

“Of course I didn’t!” Sirius sounded... off. He’d raised his voice a few times during the trial, but this wasn’t for emphasis. It was a loss of patience, or loss of control. And Sirius’ eyes were still flicking between Dumbledore and Snape. “I’d never hurt-”

“But he was hurt, wasn’t he? Badly?”

“Yes-”

“While in your care?”

“I was trying to help him-”

“Was he hurt while in your care: Yes or no, Black?!” Sirius tore his eyes away from the crowd and the Wizengamot and fixed them on Fudge.

“Yes, he was, but-”

“And you were the one responsible for putting him in a position where he could have been injured?” Sirius had carefully evaded the details behind the cave in his testimony, but the Ministry had been involved with Harry at St Mungo’s , and so they knew the outcome anyway.

“No-”

“So Harry makes the decisions, does he? You let a boy make the judgment calls?”

“No, I did-”

“Then you were lying to me?”

“No- Merlin, yes, but-”

“So you endangered him, failed to protect him, and then left him in the care of a man – sorry, werewolf, who you weren’t friendly with at the time, in the hopes that he’d get the boy the necessary treatment, correct?” Sirius glared at him, face red. He was obviously angry, and trying to think of what to say; Remus knew better than anyone that Sirius could be a bit of a liability when he was angry. If he spoke out now, he’d probably insult someone, but if he said nothing, it was basically an admission of guilt. “Black?”

“It wasn’t exactly like that-”

“So my summary of events is wrong?

“Well, no-”

“So you’re not really a fit guardian,” Fudge said, smoothing his robes. “And,” he continued, before Sirius could protest, “what interests me is that, despite your Auror training and supposed dedication to the law, you still broke it to befriend your werewolf.”

“He has a name,” Sirius snapped, and Dumbledore seemed to be nodding in agreement. Remus felt a little warmed.

“Could you explain why?”

“Why, what?” Sirius asked.

“Why you broke the law? Am I right in assuming it was for belief? Did you think that some things were more important?”

“I suppose,” Sirius said, looking confused; Remus was confused too – why was Fudge suddenly so understanding?

“So you’d do anything, as long as you thought it was the right thing?”

“Wouldn’t we all-”

“Yes or no?”

“Stop cutting him off!” Remus said angrily.

“Stop speaking out of turn,” Fudge said. “Now, Black: yes or no.”

“Yes,” Sirius snapped. He was obviously slipping and getting frustrated with himself and with Fudge.

“Your family were strong supporters of You-Know-Who, weren’t they?”

“Some of them.”

“Your brother was a Death Eater, correct?”

“He quit,” Sirius said stiffly, obviously startled that Regulus had come up. He shouldn’t have been; Remus was sure he’d probably anticipated the Black family angle, and even planned how to deal with the inevitable questions. He seemed to have forgotten that, though.

“Get it together, Padfoot,” Remus murmured.

“You don’t think I’m trying?” Sirius hissed.

“But he was?” Fudge asked.

“Yes.”

“And we know from Lupin that you’d do anything for a brother, even if they weren’t related to you, don’t we. If your brother had wanted you to join his master, you would have... ‘anything’ was the word Lupin used.”

“Not-”

“That wasn’t a question, Black. Please hold your tongue.” Fudge rocked back on his heels, apparently enjoying himself, and Umbridge wore a wide smile as her hand raced over her transcription. After a moment of staring into the crowd, and a few thoughtful glances at Sirius, Fudge announced that he was finished. Sirius slumped, looking annoyed and relieved all at once.

*                      *                       *

Gawain staggered as he landed, worry making him perhaps a little less steady than he’d usually be. It had been almost three hours since McKinnon was supposed to have met him, and she hadn’t even contacted him with an excuse. She’s sounded like a mess when he spoke to her that morning, and she’d been fragile lately anyway... silence from her on the day of the trial was definitely not a good thing. He cursed the twitchy little Prophet reporter who’d caught him on his way out of the courtroom and bombarded him with ridiculous questions; Gawain had answered two and then given up and told the man to go and listen in if he wanted news.

Gawain shook his head, still irritated, and tucked his Sidekick into his robes. He glanced around and then he spotted her.

McKinnon was sitting, hunched on the ground beside a large white gravestone. Gawain was a few yards away, and could still see that she was trembling. Not far from her feet, a man lay, unmoving. Oh, dear Merlin, no, Gawain thought, hurrying forward.

Expelliarmus,” he said – thinking that this was becoming his usual way to greet her - and her wand flew into his hand. She hardly seemed to notice.

“I’m a monster,” she choked, as Gawain knelt down beside the man. He had a pulse, thankfully, and didn’t appear to be hurt. He aimed his wand at the man, and McKinnon let out a shriek and knocked his hand away. Gawain flicked his wand and ropes wrapped around her, the way they had in the cells the day she went after Black. “No,” she said. “No, he’ll get away!” Something in her voice made him pause.

“I see,” he said carefully. She continued to tremble – in fact, she was almost rocking – and her eyes never left the unconscious man. “McKinnon? McKinnon, look at me.” She did, slowly, and her eyes were half-sad, half-mad.

“He killed them,” she said. Gawain glanced at the man again.

“He’s a murderer?” he asked, and she let out a sob and nodded. Gawain didn’t get a coherent word out her for another few minutes, just a lot about Black and monsters. Gawain tried to talk to her, and tried to pat her knee or her hand, but that got him nowhere. Eventually, she calmed down enough for him to inch a bit closer and try to get an arm around her, but she wriggled away, struggling against her ropes.

“Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t, I don’t deserve it!”

“McKinnon-”

“Don’t! I should be in Azkaban!” She wriggled and wiped her wet cheek on her shoulder because her hands were pinned. “Arrest me! You have to arrest-”

“Enough!” Gawain said; being gentle hadn’t worked, so he hoped a rougher approach would. “I’m not arresting anyone, do you understand?” She blinked up at him, and Gawain was sorry to see that she didn’t seem to understand.

“But you have to – him and me- both of us- we’re both monsters! Please, sir, please, you have-”

“Enough!” he said again, and she flinched and fell silent. He felt guilty for yelling at her when she was very obviously not in her right mind, but he pushed that down. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with you?”

E-everything’s wrong with me,” she began, and Gawain sighed.

Should have seen that coming, he thought resignedly.

“How about him?” Gawain asked, gesturing to the unconscious man.

“I put him to sleep,” she said.

“I can see that,” Gawain said patiently. “Can you tell me why?”

For the first time, a bit of what Gawain thought was the real McKinnon, peered out through her brown eyes. The look she gave him was almost condescending.

“He- he’s Peter Pettigrew,” she said, as if it should be obvious.

“Peter Pettigrew?” he asked. It was a name he was familiar with – one he thought he’d heard recently, in fact – but it took him a moment to remember where. Gawain swore loudly and rather colourfully, and looked at the man with new eyes. “I thought he was dead?”

“S-so did I!” McKinnon said, breaking into a fresh round of tears.

The implications of Pettigrew being alive hit Gawain like bludgers. He was reasonably familiar with the case – it had seemed like a smart thing to do once he knew he’d be working with McKinnon – and so it was easy enough to deduce the truth with the new evidence.

It meant Sirius Black, had in all likelihood, been framed for his mass-murder. Black was... innocent. He glanced at McKinnon, who’d obviously reached this conclusion hours ago and was also struggling to wrap her head around what the consequences of that were; he was willing to bet now that Black hadn’t shown up in her house in September to hurt her. He’d probably wanted a friend, wanted to confide in her. And, then there was the significantly more troubling matter; McKinnon had attempted to murder a trapped, unarmed, innocent man. That had been bad when they’d thought Black was evil, but now that he wasn’t... well, if he was McKinnon, he’d probably be curled up on the ground too.

Gawain breathed in deeply, counted to ten, and then exhaled. Black’s life was potentially at stake. Then, he removed the ropes around McKinnon, who didn’t move much at all, and tossed her wand back.

“Courage, virtue, determination and intelligence,” Gawain said into his Sidekick, and reached out to put a hand on McKinnon’s knee. She didn’t respond. He murmured, “Phoenix,” which was Moody’s password, and his Sidekick warmed briefly.

“Robards?”  Moody’s growled greeting was soft, and Gawain was fairly certain he was still sitting in the stands. There was a buzzing sound behind him, like people talking. “Have you found her?”

“I have. What’s happening with the trial?”

“They’re revoting,” Moody said.

“Voting? Already?!” He hadn’t even been gone for an hour yet. He’d been expecting to have more time.

“Lupin was quick – they didn’t really question him at all - and Black obviously knew exactly what he was going to say because he was done in ten minutes, and Fudge took half that to tear him to pieces.” Gawain could hear the shrug in his voice.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think,” Moody admitted. “Most of the Wizengamot are against him, but Dumbledore and Amelia are on Black’s side and that counts for a lot... Fudge isn’t happy – he’s called a recess and there’ll be another vote in about ten minutes.”

“Did Black say anything about Pettigrew in his story?”

“He did,” Moody said, sounding suspicious. “Said Pettigrew framed him, in fact. Of course, Pettigrew’s dead, but aside from that, it sounded plausible... why?”

“McKinnon and I aren’t alone here.”

“Who- no?!” Moody said, sounding stunned.

“Yep,” Gawain replied grimly. “He’s subdued, and I’ll get him there as soon as I can.” Moody cackled – apparently he realised just how quickly things were going to turn upside down. “Have a word to Scrimgeour and Bones, if you can; give them warning.”

“And Fudge?” Gawain grunted; he had as little respect for Fudge as the rest of the Auror Department. Moody cackled again, and then Gawain’s Sidekick fell silent.

“You’re taking him in?” McKinnon asked, with a rather pinched expression. “You’re going to free Sirius?”

“I am,” Gawain said, and she relaxed a little bit; her expression smoothed out at least, and she no longer looked like she was in pain. Gawain checked Pettigrew for any weapons but he had none, and so he conjured ropes and added several other binding and sleeping spells. To anyone with the ability to see magic, Pettigrew would probably look like some sort of cocooned insect. McKinnon watched with an unreadable expression as Gawain cast another charm on Pettigrew that held him upright and allowed Gawain to control him like a puppet. Then, Gawain turned to McKinnon and asked, “Would you like to help me?”

Gawain was hoping the chance to amend some of her wrongs might be incentive for McKinnon to pull herself together. The response he got was a little less dramatic than he’d expected, or wanted. Instead of leaping to her feet, she froze, and picked up her wand. She twirled it between her fingers and then looked up at Gawain.

“Handing Pettigrew over will mean Sirius goes free?” she asked.

“It will,” Gawain said. The tiniest smile flickered over her face, and she got to her feet. She was a little wobbly, so Gawain steadied her and got a nodded thanks. Hen gripped Pettigrew’s limp arm and then offered his other arm to McKinnon.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. There was a crack and Gawain reached for her, but his hand only caught air. Her Sidekick clattered to the ground.

“Damn it!” he snarled. He flicked his wand at the place where she’d vanished and put up preservation wards that would keep her magical trace intact until he could come back and use it to track her. He snatched up her Sidekick, made sure he had Pettigrew, and then turned on the spot.

*                     *                    *

Sirius saw Dumbledore look over at him out of the corner of his eye, and studiously avoided eye-contact. The fact that Dumbledore had voted in his favour had lessened Sirius’ anger, but other feelings – hurt, betrayal, disbelief – were all still there. Sirius couldn’t look at him properly without feeling like he wanted to break something, or alternatively, cry. He glanced at Remus, who’d closed his eyes just after the first vote and was yet to open them. Sirius thought he was attempting to control his stress levels by pretending he was somewhere else.

Mad-Eye was glancing in his direction too – he and Scrimgeour were over by the Wizengamot instead of in their respective seats – but the only one Sirius looked at was Scrimgeour. Sirius wasn’t afraid to see acceptance or judgement or anything on the Head Auror’s face, but Mad-Eye scared him. What if he hadn’t believed Sirius’ testimony? What if he still blamed Sirius? Sirius was ashamed to admit he was afraid to find out. So, he focused on Scrimgeour, who, disarmingly, grinned.

Sirius gave him a tentative, very wary smile back and risked a look at Dumbledore, who looked torn between smiling and looking grim. Encouraged, he dared to look at Mad-Eye... who was limping over. Remus opened an eye and stiffened when he saw who it was. Mad-Eye stood in front of Sirius for a long time, and Sirius hardly dared to move. He wasn’t even really breathing. Then, Mad-Eye grinned as if he knew something Sirius didn’t, and nodded before walking away.

“Right,” Sirius said, tapping impatiently on the sides of his chair. He and Remus shared a long, worried look and then Remus shut his eyes and went back to trying to calm himself down. Sirius’ insides twinged with worry; he was worried about himself, of course, and of what would happen to Harry, but he was also incredibly worried for Remus. Sirius, at least, had been able to justify his actions. Remus, who would be judged with Sirius, hadn’t even had a chance to explain himself.

“Padfoot,” Remus muttered, as Sirius’ tapping intensified. “Padfoot.”

“What? Now it sounds like a hum instead of a tap-”

“Either way it’s annoying,” Remus snapped, without opening his eyes.

“Yeah, well I’m restless,” Sirius growled. Remus opened one eye and looked at him. Sirius glowered back.

“It sounds like you need a walk,” Remus said. “Next you’ll be chewing the furniture.” Sirius’ anger faded, and he even stopped tapping. He gave Remus – who had both eyes closed again – a grateful smile, for making a joke; otherwise, it was likely to have descended into a petty argument, which was the last thing either of them needed. The corners of Remus’ mouth turned up.

Sirius let out a loud sigh and shifted in his chair so that he could follow Fudge’s movement back to the stands. As Fudge opened his mouth to speak, however, he was interrupted by Scrimgeour putting a hand on his shoulder and gesturing to the courtroom door.

Sirius glanced in that direction, where Robards, and another man – a shortish, rather average looking bloke - were standing. The man – who’d been slumped, and probably not standing on his own – moved a little and then slowly straightened, looking around with confused terror. Then the man’s eyes found Sirius and he staggered backward, trying ineffectively to get past Robards. When that didn’t work, he hunched – the way Sirius often did when he was about to become Padfoot - and looked even more afraid when that failed.

Godric Bloody Gryffindor, Sirius thought, his mouth falling open. It couldn’t be- but it was. Sirius knew that wispy, fair hair, and that pointed nose, and those small eyes. He couldn’t see their colour, but he knew they’d be blue and probably watery.

Remus made a sniffing noise next to him, probably wondering what had happened to Sirius’ scent. Sirius kicked him in the shin, hard, and Remus swore and blinked his eyes open.

“Sirius, was that really-”

“Moony,” Sirius managed to say, his eyes never leaving Peter. He was surprised how calm he felt; he’d expected to see Peter and go mad and vengeful. Revenge was the furthest thing from his mind at the moment, though. Mostly, all he felt was shock. “Moony, bloody look.

“Oh my Merlin,” Remus whispered, and he looked furious. Remus looked like he’d like to get up and tear Peter to pieces; his fingers were twitching, and his shoulder were tensed, as if he was preparing himself to try to break free of his chains.

“Calm down,” Sirius murmured, watching Scrimgeour and Mad-Eye go to help Robards with an unsurprisingly reluctant Peter.

“I’m afraid there’s been a mistake,” Peter was saying shrilly, “I can’t be here – it’s not safe! Sirius Black’s a murderer, and he’s going to try to-” Remus growled again and moved as if to lunge out of his chair, but the chains held him back.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” Sirius told him, nudging Remus’ ankle with his foot. Remus kicked him. “Moony, calm-”

“Calm down?” Remus snarled. “Sirius, Peter’s the reason we’re in this whole mess! He’s the reason Harry doesn’t have any parents-”

“And he’s about to be tried for all of that,” Sirius said, glancing at Harry out of the corner of his eye. Any murderous feelings he still harboured for Peter faded, though the loathing and fury were still there.

“What is the meaning of this?” Umbridge cried. “Minister, I thought we were voting-”

“We’ve got another witness, Madam,” Scrimgeour replied, shoving Peter forward. “I’d like to introduce Peter Pettigrew.”

The stands were instantly in uproar – some people were angry, some disbelieving, others were confused or relieved – but one figure in particular caught Sirius’ attention. He watched as Harry stood – Matt reached for him, but Harry had a rather intent look on his face and didn’t even seem to have noticed – and made his way out of the stands. That, of course, made everyone carry on for an entirely different reason (“It’s Potter! He’s here! He’s alive!”), and Harry’s shoulders slumped but he didn’t stop until he was standing in front of Peter, who was still babbling to the Aurors.  Peter flinched, and Robards shook him, as if reminding Peter that he had nowhere to run.

Everything went dead silent, and so Sirius heard it perfectly clearly when Peter squeaked out a, “H-Harry.” There was a pause, where Harry looked uncertain for a moment, and Sirius found himself straining against his own chains, wanting to be there with his godson. “Harry, you’ve got to help me- they’re going to kill me! Your parents wouldn’t have wanted me dead, I was their friend, Harry-” This time, it was Harry who flinched. Sirius’ hands balled into fists. “-they wouldn’t have wanted anything to happen to me-”

“Shut up,” Harry said, and Peter’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. Harry looked scared, and actually glanced in the direction of the stands, where the Malfoys , Matt, Dora and the Hogwarts staff were sitting.

Merlin’s hairy knuckles, Sirius thought. What the hell is going on? Harry took a small step closer to Peter. Robards, Mad-Eye and Scrimgeour looked uncertain, but seemed willing to let Harry do whatever he wanted to Peter, who looked absolutely terrified. Sirius wondered if he might faint. Remus growled quietly beside him, and it was so quiet in the courtroom that the sound echoed.

Harry’s next words echoed too.

“You,” he told Peter, “are going to tell them everything.”

*                      *                      *

Peter’d already confessed enough to earn him a life sentence in Azkaban by the time Scrimgeour conjured him a chair and forced him into it. If Sirius hadn’t felt so worried – he had no idea what Harry’d done to make Peter confess everything, and hoped it was nothing dark or dangerous – or so vindicated, then he’d probably have felt sorry for his former friend.

Peter looked absolutely terrified as he spewed out secrets – without prompting – and he was obviously trying to fight whatever it was that was making him talk. Occasionally he’d stutter, or try to talk into his shoulder, but an invisible force would compel him to face Fudge and the rest of the Wizengamot and continue.

The worst moments were where he’d clamp his jaw shut and manage to stay quiet for a few seconds, but then his eyes would bulge, and he’d swell then explode with another condemning testimony. Sirius desperately wanted to go free, and he hated every fibre of Peter’s miserable being, but this sort of compulsion wasn’t right. Sirius wondered if it was possible that Harry had used accidental magic to cast an Imperius curse.

Remus was watching Peter like prey, and the rest of the audience also had their eyes glued to him, but Dumbledore, like Sirius, was watching Harry. Dumbledore looked troubled, and perhaps even a little bit scared at what was happening. While Sirius was still angry and disappointed with his old Headmaster, he couldn’t blame him for feeling that way, because he felt the same.

Harry’s eyes were wide and scared, and his face pasty, and that he seemed to want to melt into the wall behind him, by the stairs that led into the stands.

“Well,” Amelia said, as Peter admitted to having gone to Godric’s Hollow after Lily and James’ deaths to kill Harry, “I think we’ve heard enough. You can stop, Pettigrew.” Except Peter didn’t. He kept babbling, and looked terrified all the while. “Those in favour of dropping the charges of dark magic, and of being Death Eater, against Sirius Black, and, by association, Remus Lupin...?” Amelia asked, over the top of Peter’s high-pitched confessions. Not one person left their hand down. Sirius didn’t feel relieved, or euphoric, or anything like that.

In fact, the only thing he thought at all, was, Finally. Remus glanced over and they shared a small, tired smile. Several cameras flashed, and several reporters shouted questions. Harry looked dazed – he was crying – and still staring at Peter in horror.

“There’s still the matter of their other crimes, however,” Fudge said, shooting Peter a look.

“Not today,” Amelia said, with finality. “You will both be required to attend a secondary hearing at a later date. You are not required to remain in Ministry custody until then, but your wands will not be returned to you until afterward.”

“Fine,” Sirius said, shifting in his chair. Scrimgeour came forward to release them.

“-should be dead! I meant for them to die, for all of them to die! I would have killed them!” Peter announced, shrilly. Remus snarled, and Scrimgeour gripped his arm to restrain him. Sirius took a step forward, only to be intercepted by Shacklebolt.

“Get out of my way,” Sirius snapped, shoving the other man aside.

“Black-” someone called. Sirius ignored them. Peter shrank in fear, and continued to talk about how much he’d wanted them all to die.

“Death would have been kinder than Azkaban, Sirius. I didn’t want to hurt you, and Remus wouldn’t have been alone in death, like he was in life. He’d have been cured! And Harry would have been with Lily and James-” Sirius could have punched him – he was close enough – but the thought didn’t even stay in his mind long enough for him to consider it.

No, Sirius strode right past the quivering, chatty mess that was Peter, to where Harry was standing, and knelt down. He put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, startling him. Slowly, Harry dragged his eyes away from Peter, to Sirius, who he seemed a little surprised to see. Sirius opened his arms and Harry launched into them, hugging Sirius so tightly around the neck that Sirius was in danger of suffocating. It it was a small price to pay when this was the closest he’d been to Harry for over a week.

“I just want him to stop,” Harry whispered, shaking. “I didn’t know that it would- that he’d- Padfoot-”

“End it, kiddo,” Sirius said gently. His voice was hoarse – and maybe a bit shaky – though he definitely didn’t feel like he might cry... well, maybe he did, but just a bit.

F-Finite?” Harry said, and it sounded like a question, but Peter fell silent behind them. For a moment, anyway; then he started to sob like an over-grown baby. Sirius moved to scoop Harry up – the way he had on Halloween the year before – but Harry moved back. Sirius scanned his face, and smiled slightly at the stubborn set of his jaw; Harry was in a right state, but he still wasn’t about to let Sirius carry him out in front of this many people.

“Let’s go home,” Sirius murmured. Harry wiped his cheeks and slipped one small, rather cold hand into Sirius’. “Moony, are you coming?” he called, as he stood. Remus was watching someone up in the stands – maybe Matt or Dora? – and nodded slowly, mouthing, ‘sorry’, and came to stand beside them. Sirius transferred Harry’s hand to Remus’, and then went to crouch down by Peter’s chair.

“You’re right that death would have been kinder,” Sirius said quietly, and Peter quivered and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “And it would be kinder now, for you. But you’ve fought so hard to stay alive – to survive – that I think it’s only fair that you get to live the life you sold everything to keep.” He straightened, and Peter burst into noisy tears. “I’d put up wards to stop him from transforming and escaping,” Sirius said, glancing at Scrimgeour. Then he glanced at Amelia. “I’ll be in touch.”

She nodded, and no one said anything – except for a reporter, who wanted to know how Sirius felt – so Sirius ruffled Harry’s hair and led him and Remus toward the doors of Courtroom Ten.

Sirius passed through them, not quite free, but closer to it than he’d been in a long time, and smiled at the other two. Remus smiled that same, slightly sad, slightly tired smile, and Harry managed a smile too, though he still looked shaken. For the first time in a month, it was just the three of them.

Things weren’t all right - Sirius was optimistic, but he wasn’t stupid – but, while they’d definitely had good times in hiding, things hadn’t been properly all right then either. Now, Sirius thought that - eventually - things could be.

*                     *                     *

“Remus? Sirius?” Albus left the courtroom in time to see Sirius unlocking an abandoned office door. Sirius glanced up, passed Harry the wand he’d been using, and then gestured for them to go inside. Sirius didn’t follow. Instead, he turned to face Albus, his eyes wary, and rather sad.

“Did you want something?” Sirius asked, in a rather abrupt voice. Albus didn’t step any closer.

“For what it’s worth, I’d like to offer you my apologies-”

“Your apologies?” Sirius asked, with a stony look. “With all due respect, sir, that doesn’t really fix anything.”

“I know,” Albus sighed. He’d expected that sort of response, and that didn’t stop it from hurting, but he was glad; he deserved the pain. “I’m not even asking you to accept it. Discard it, if you so wish. I would not blame you if you did.”

“I don’t hate you, you know,” Sirius offered.

“That is more than I deserve.”

“I know,” Sirius said, with a small smile. It faded quickly, to be replaced with another sad look. “You were doing what you thought was right, and that makes up for it... a bit. And I understand why you made those choices – in all likelihood, I’d have made the same ones if I was in your place – but just because I understand it...” He trailed off, frowning.

“You do not have to explain yourself to me, Sirius. I gave up the right to that information-”

“Look,” he said, “I don’t... hate you. But I do blame you, and I’m pretty bloody disappointed with the way things played out after the war. It’s not all your fault, but Azkaban and my lack of trial is pretty much on you.”

“I know,” Albus murmured. Sirius stepped forward, and rather abruptly, hugged him. Albus patted his back  but just as quickly as Sirius had approached, he’d backed off again.

“And I hope you feel guilty,” Sirius said, in a rather choked voice, “for a long time, sir. I’m sorry. Contact Harry and Remus as much as you want – this doesn’t involve them – but leave me alone. I trust you – despite everything, can you believe it? – but I know you can’t be trusted to make the right decisions for me, and I’ve already spent enough time suffering through the results of your attempts.” Albus bowed his head and tried to wipe his eyes without Sirius seeing, but he needn’t have worried; Sirius had turned and entered the office.

“Sirius,” Albus said, planning to tell him that yes, he’d stay away. He never had the chance, though; Sirius had made the choice for him, because when Albus looked into the room, it was empty.


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