There was a flurry of activity around Sirius. A small army of white-cloaked Healers, who had been summoned specifically from St. Mungo's to treat those suffering from the dementors' attack, followed the direction of Madam Pomfrey as she bustled from bed to bed. Silver carts full of chocolate and potions clinked and floated haphazardly between patients. When he first woke, Sirius had amused himself by watching them for some time. They were polite medicine carts, and they murmured soft apologies to each other if they passed too close and, from time to time, could be overheard asking their patients if they required a Healer.
It was quite an impressive display of magic. Most of it—being in Hogwarts again, watching wands work…seeing magic performed…it was marvelous. Sirius had probably terrified a few of the young witches with his staring, if their uneasy glances and whispers had been anything to go by.
But after they'd decided to get back at him by forcing a barrage of nutritional and mental health potions down his throat, Sirius hadn't wanted to have anything to do with them or their magic. He wasn't so mad he'd continue marveling over his torturers if that was the game they were going to play.
Remus had nearly fallen out of bed when he'd heard Sirius mutter the thought aloud, and Sirius probably shouldn't have flung his pillow at him. The Healers hadn't liked that much more than his staring.
He hadn't been awake for long. When the first dose of potions finally had finally taken effect, Sirius had been lulled to sleep, and he had not woken until many hours later, when the Ministry officials arrived.
What transpired had been far more amusing than staring at magical potions carts. Ignoring the tasteful admonitions of Madam Amelia Bones and the blunt insults of old Mad-Eye, Fudge had barged in unannounced and shouted the patients awake. Madam Pomfrey hadn't been too pleased, to say the least. She had put her foot down, lectured him on appropriate behavior in a Hospital Wing, and kicked them out.
As Fudge sulked off, Sirius had found himself meeting Harry's eyes…and then struggling to fight laughter with him.
After that, Sirius only had eyes for Harry.
It did worry Sirius that the dementors had such a strong effect on him, but the attack did not appear to have any lasting effects. The boy was pale, but he was finally sitting up in bed, accepting chocolate and chatting with Madam Pomfrey. Once she moved off, Ron Weasley muttered something to Harry, who laughed and responded with something that must have been equally funny, seeing as Weasley snickered and Hermione rolled her eyes.
Sirius didn't recognize Harry's laugh. It was far different than the cheerful giggle he once knew, but he decided this was better. It was his own, something that wasn't his father's or his mother's. His laughter was…Harry. All Harry.
And Harry was truly remarkable. Last night, he had proved he was not only a powerful wizard in his own right, one that the Potter ancestors could look down upon with pride, but he also proved something far greater to Sirius.
He was merciful, and he was compassionate. He was brave, steadfast, and everything of James and Lily they could ever hope for.
And he saved my life.
Sirius smiled and wished he had the physical strength and courage to get up and speak to him. Thank him. Praise him on his bravery. Maybe make him laugh, too…
Dammit, Sirius loved the kid. He had loved him before, of course, but it was easy to love a little baby, who blew spit bubbles at his dad, flew around on his little toy broomstick, and called him "Foo" because "Uncle Padfoot" was a too much of a mouthful for him to say. Sirius had heard often enough from his own family that it was difficult to like their offspring once they became teenagers, but Sirius already knew there'd be absolutely no issue when Harry moved in.
When. Not if. Pettigrew was in an isolated magical ward—the one Remus used before the Wolfsbane Potion was invented, ironically enough—and there was no escaping the enchanted suits of armor and security spells guarding that room. The Ministry was here, no doubt interrogating those fit enough after the attack to answer their questions. Harry was alright, Remus was well, and Sirius' freedom was guaranteed.
Who needed potions when Sirius had the feeling of victory, his friends, and his godson to help him through the trials ahead?
Even though the war...
No. He wouldn't dwell on the war. He wouldn't dwell on the lost lives or the broken families. He had to focus on the present and what really mattered. Harry. Harry mattered, and Sirius himself was on the mend. The Healers assigned to his case had only positive things to say about plans for his recovery, and already, he felt stronger. Better yet, his mind was finally beginning to banish the sluggish fog that had tainted his mind since he entered Azkaban twelve years ago.
I'm not going back, he realized again. I'm free. Sirius laid back in bed and grinned gleefully at the ceiling.
"You look like you've just discovered the illusive thirteenth use of dragon's blood."
His annoyance at the metaphor was fleeting. Sirius turned his head to find Remus drawing up a chair beside him. "Amazing what a wash and hair cut can do," Remus added. "You're looking better."
"Feeling better. What are you doing up? Surely Pomfrey hasn't confined you to bed?"
"I took my dose just in time last night. I'm feeling fine now."
Sirius scanned his friend, searching for a lie. He did look well. Better than last night, at any rate. Teaching at Hogwarts suited him. "Shame I can't join you this time. I've missed running around the grounds like a maniac." Sirius sighed and folded his arms behind his head. "Next time, I suppose."
Remus laughed. "You still are a maniac, you know."
"I'm wounded, Moony. That label should be gone by the end of the week! It was all a misunderstanding, and the mind Healer says I'm doing very well all things considered, thank you very much."
Seeing Remus' humor die and his face pale, Sirius cursed under his breath and struggled to sit back up. "It was a joke, Remus."
"A poor one," Moony muttered.
"No, you're not." The corners of his mouth turned upward into humorless smile. "How can you joke about this? You…We…"
"Stop." Sirius closed his eyes. "I can't think about it now. I'll be speaking enough about it in the days to come. So I make jokes. It's easier."
There was a heartbeat of silence. "How very Sirius of you."
It'd been awhile since he heard his name used as a pun, and for a second, Sirius stared at his deadpan friend…before breaking down into hysterical laughter. He was still laughing to the point of crying when the doors to the Hospital Wing opened to admit Albus Dumbledore himself.
For having gone through the stress of organizing an emergency Portkey and crossing several countries, the Headmaster looked unruffled and calm. His purple robes were immaculate, and every last hair was perfectly in place. His twinkling blue eyes, rather less twinkly and more somber than Sirius ever remembered them being, scanned the room.
Sirius and Remus, subdued by Dumbledore's entrance, were the last to receive acknowledgement from the Headmaster, and Sirius was almost surprised by the rage that erupted within him.
"Glad you could join us, Professor."
Sirius blinked in surprise and turned to Remus. He had only heard that tone of voice twice in his life: once when Sirius had pulled that stupidly ill-advised "prank" on Severus Snape in fifth year and once when Remus found out that it had been no accident he'd been infected with lycanthropy.
Remus Lupin was furious, and the only thing more terrifying than an angry Remus Lupin…
Sirius couldn't quite fathom.
Dumbledore inclined his head, looking unfazed. His gaze flickered to Harry once, which made Sirius bristle, but then he approached with a smile. "Good morning, Remus."
Remus did not respond, blue eyes flashing dangerously, and Sirius almost missed Dumbledore's next words.
"Sirius," the Headmaster said, addressing him for the first time. He reached out, as if to grasp Sirius' hand. "It would seem…we have much to discuss."
Sirius eyed his hand and then looked him up and down. Pristine. Collected. There wasn't a hint of remorse in his eyes, no shame…he didn't care, did he?
This man had been my hero once.
Dumbledore dropped his hand and faced Remus, who whispered, "That's all you have to say? After all this time, that's all you have to say?"
"Remus, my boy…"
That condescending fucker. Sirius narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth, ready to defend his friend, but again, he was cut off.
"Oh, no, I don't think so. We're not children anymore, Albus! You have no right. I trusted you. I respected you. I have loved you like my own grandfather. You have done more for me than anyone outside of James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew. You've done so much for all of us, but this does not excuse the mistake you've made."
"No, I knew something wasn't right the night Sirius was taken in and Peter was nowhere to be found! I knew! But you refused to see it! Your arrogance led us here. You wouldn't look beyond face value because you were so sure Sirius was to blame. You had me doubting myself and one of my best friends, the only one I had left, and you turned me against him. I lived twelve years of my life trying to reconcile that, and Sirius…" Remus' eyes flickered to Sirius, who stared unblinkingly back at him. "Forgive me, Professor, but I refuse to let you 'discuss' anything with Sirius until you give him the respect he deserves. The apology he deserves."
By the end of Remus' tirade, the old man was dumbstruck, a hint of shame flushing his cheeks. Quite surprisingly, Sirius felt no victory. He was exhausted…and just wanted to find home again. It wasn't worth being angry right now, not when there was so much to do.
"Sirius…" Dumbledore began.
"I don't want your apologies. Or your excuses," Sirius snapped. "I don't need anyone's. The Black name is obviously still too powerful to change anyone's stereotypes. So…no apologies, no excuses needed. What I need is to change things. And I need your help to do so."
Dumbledore was a stubborn man, but he was also an intelligent one. Inclining his head, he simply asked, "What can I do for you, Sirius?"
"The least you can do is ensure Remus and I get to witness Pettigrew's confession."
Blue eyes flashed. "As Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, I cannot."
He didn't even sound apologetic about it. "As Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, you most certainly can and will," said Sirius. "I was denied a trial and a defense counsel, rights I had as a citizen of Wizarding Britain. Sure, the evidence was piled against me—Peter did his job well—but rules have already been broken in my case. Things have already been overlooked. Surely you can overlook this."
If Dumbledore noticed the suggestion in Sirius' words, he gave no sign. "Everyone will witness memories of the confessions in the courtroom."
Shaking his head, Sirius said, "Not enough. They'll only show the necessary bits in court. No, I want to see it all myself. I want him to look us in the eye when he says it. What he did. How he did it. How he could do it at all. Don't Remus and I deserve that?"
Moony's jaw twitched, and he nodded firmly. "I think Harry might want the same opportunity."
Over Dumbledore's shoulder, Sirius saw Harry turn their way, drawn from his own conversation with his friends by the mention of his name. Without taking his eyes from his godson, Sirius added loudly, "And speaking of Harry, that is the second thing I must ask of you. I would like our solicitors to review James and Lily Potter's will, as well as Harry's certificates, and form a—"
"This I cannot allow," Dumbledore interrupted, his tone brokering no argument.
Sirius watched his godson flinch, watched hope fade from his eyes and disappointment still his smile, and he decided it was well worth being angry now.
"Harry has agreed," Sirius said tersely. "And I am his godfather. Surely the matter of guardianship—"
The Headmaster leaned forward and lowered his tone. "It is not a matter of how easy it would be for you to assume guardianship. This is a matter of security."
Sirius' brows rose. "You doubt my ability to protect Harry, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore leaned forward, lowering his tone. "I cannot discuss it in detail here, but know this, Sirius: the protection Harry has through his aunt is unparalleled. Infallible. There is nowhere—"
Sirius tried to pay attention to Dumbledore's passionate appeal. Truly. But he focused instead on Harry. His godson—his brilliant godson—undoubtedly knew exactly what Dumbledore was saying, and he watched as Harry's disappointment became grim resignation, then bitter amusement, and finally apathy.
Familiarity struck Sirius again, and this time, he could place it. Fury overwhelmed him, and he wished he had his wand on hand so he could start hexing on the spot.
How could they not notice? How could they turn a blind eye?
Didn't Remus see? Remus was the first to see in Sirius' case. Didn't…?
D'you...D'you think they'll let me? Harry had asked. D'you think they'll let me?
"Not so infallible if he's running away from home," Sirius spat. "If he's so ready and willing to leave the Dursleys for a man he hardly knows. No." Harry's head shot up, and Sirius could sense the distrustful hesitance emanating from across the room. "I will not allow him to go back. He will not step foot in that house again. I will fight you on this, Albus, and I will not play nice. Hear me now. Think what you want about the name of Black, but if there is one thing I can say with pride about my family, it is that we never go back on our word."
He held Dumbledore's gaze, daring him to respond, daring him to make the first play, but the Headmaster was saved from moving his first pawn by none other than Cornelius Fudge himself, flanked yet again by Amelia Bones and Mad-Eye, whose electric blue eye swiveled and darted before finally settling directly on Sirius, Remus, and Dumbledore.
"Madam Pomfrey, Albus," Fudge greeted, removing his bowler. Nodding in Sirius' direction, he added, "Mr. Black."
Dumbledore stood fluidly. "Cornelius. I assume it is time?"
"Yes, I'm afraid I will not be kept waiting any longer." The words made Sirius' heart leap with anticipation. "We cannot afford any more lapses in protocol and must get on."
"I do apologize for the intrusion," Madam Bones added politely. "I am sure this is an emotional time for all of you, but we cannot delay much longer if we wish to see justice served this day."
"And if we wish to beat the Prophet from making a fucking mess of things," grumbled Moody. "Because the Ministry couldn't possibly look any worse than it already does, now could it, Black?"
That was about as much of an apology as he was going to get from his old boss, but Sirius didn't mind. He grinned wolfishly. "Of course not, Mad-Eye. The Ministry does that well enough on its own, I would say."
"Hush now, Alastor!" Madam Bones said, and looking between Remus, Sirius, and Dumbledore, she frowned. "I do hope we were not interrupting anything?"
Dumbledore smiled politely, obviously ready to deflect the question, but Sirius wouldn't have that. "Yes, in fact, you are. We were discussing something of great importance."
Madam Bones' brow rose. "More important than your freedom and upcoming trial, Mr. Black?"
"Oh, there will be a trial this time?"
He was rewarded with snickering from Harry and Ron Weasley, but the adults in the room weren't impressed. "None of your sass, Black!" Mad-Eye snapped. "Nothing is guaranteed. Answer the question."
"Is what we were discussing more important? Of course it was. We were talking about Harry."
To his credit, Fudge caught on really quick. "Ah. You wish to attain guardianship, Mr. Black?"
"I will attain guardianship, Mr. Fudge."
Fudge chuckled, and Sirius stared, uncertain what was so funny. "Is Minister Fudge patronizing me, Moony?" he asked.
"It certainly seems that way, Padfoot."
Fudge's expression soured momentarily when he overheard the exchange, but his superior little smile was back in place in the blink of an eye. "Forgive me. I just don't understand. It...has been a long time for you, Mr. Black. Surely you understand the responsibility?"
Well, that was not okay. Not fucking okay in the slightest. And when Harry's expression faltered once again, fear and acknowledgement of Fudge's words settling into his mind, Sirius had had enough. Fueled by renewed anger at the complete idiocy surrounding him, Sirius grunted and swung his legs over the side of his bed. He toppled upright and walked right up to the Minister, glaring all the while.
Remus hovered nearby, ready to offer support should he fall, but Sirius would be damned if he fell now. After a moment of silence, Sirius said, "It's not a responsibility." He broke his eye contact with the Minister to speak directly to Harry. To show he meant it with all his heart. To ensure Harry knew.
Sirius would gladly spend the rest of his life ensuring Harry knew how much he loved him.
"It's a privilege."