For disclaimer and author notes please see chapter 1.
1991-09-19 17:00 UTC, Gryffindor common room
Harry and Hermione were huddled together in a quiet corner. Between them was a mirror, and in the mirror was Sirius's face, grinning at them.
"So what's up, kiddo", he said. "Why are you calling me at this odd hour; don't we usually talk after 8pm?"
"Something happened just now. Well about an hour ago anyway", said Hermione.
Sirius lost his grin. "Are you both alright?"
"Yes, but it could have gone either way for a moment there", said Hermione. Simultaneously, Harry said "Yes we're both fine, not a big deal".
"OK, one at a time please, one at a time", said Sirius. "Harry, I'll hear your obviously downplayed version later. Hermione, you go first".
"I'm not down-" began Harry, only to be shushed by Hermione.
"Wait your turn Harry", she said to him. Turning to Sirius, she explained about the flying class that day, and that it was the first one for their year, due to some illness Madam Hooch had suffered. Sirius was a little puzzled by that - very few illnesses could last that long in the wizarding world - but he let it go, making a mental note to ask around.
"So anyway, it appears that Draco Malfoy was extremely nervous about flying, to the point of not wanting to fly at all. Madam Hooch was encouraging him to mount the broom and try flying, probably reassuring him it was perfectly safe, and so on."
"Where were you and Harry?"
"I was about fifteen feet up, idling and watching Malfoy and Madam Hooch. Harry was another eight to ten feet above me. The rest of the class was milling around at various heights. There were far too many kids, with too wide a mix of skills, for one person to supervise I think. Madam Hooch was paying more attention to the kids in the air than to the one on the ground, despite the fact that she was talking to him. And I think that's fine of course, but it has a bearing on what happened."
"You're killing me with the suspense", said Sirius. Again, simultaneously, Harry said "oh come on, you're dramatising it too much!" but piped down on a glare from Hermione.
"Anyway Malfoy appeared to have mounted his broom and kicked off, but then he screamed and the broom took off like a rocket."
Sirius did not like where this was going. Only the fact that his godson was clearly alright, and in fact mildly exasperated at Hermione, prevented him from rushing to Hogwarts right then. He waited for Hermione to continue.
"He hit Harry's broom tail from the bottom, with his head, and he was going fast enough to upend it completely - Harry's broom was suddenly pointing vertically down, and in a fraction of a second Harry would have fallen off the broom and would have fallen more than twenty feet to the ground, head-first. Luckily, his reflexes saved him."
Sirius turned to Harry, a question plain in his gaze.
"Well, I don't recall thinking too much - just gripped the handle a bit tighter with my hands, gripped the broom a little tighter with my legs, and then, and levelled off as quickly as I could".
"We spoke to Madam Hooch about it afterward", said Hermione. "And so far we are agreed. Broadly. But there's one thing that I noticed which she - because she was paying attention to the kids already in the air as I said - did not."
She took a deep breath. "The thing is, I am almost 100% sure that he started his scream first, and then the broom took off. That does not sound natural".
Harry had not heard this. In all her talk about needing to speak to Sirius, and in all her discussion with Madam Hooch after the incident, she had not mentioned this.
"What are you getting at?"
"I think it was all an act, but I don't know how to prove it".
"Oh that part is easy", said Sirius. "Let me swing by in an hour, say just before dinner".
About three-quarters of an hour later, Harry got word from Professor McGonagall that she wanted to see him. He and Hermione went to Professor McGonagall's office, to find Sirius also in there, beaming at them.
After a round of hugs, and fresh, in-person, birthday greetings from Sirius to Hermione, they got down to business. Sirius pulled out a pensieve from a bag, and explained to Hermione how it worked. A few minutes later, they were all entering her memory.
When they came out, it was a close call who was angrier - Professor McGonagall or Sirius. (Actually, Hermione's anger would have beaten theirs, but her mind had had plenty of time to process what happened. Still, seeing confirmation of something she was hoping she was wrong about, was not a good feeling.)
"His scream did come out a second too soon to be fear", said Sirius. "But what's more, after it was over, there was a slight smirk on his face", said Sirius.
Minerva nodded. "I hate to say this, but he also landed too expertly - no one noticed only because they were focused on Harry."
"Should we tell Dumbledore?"
"Well, I am suppose to inform him."
"Here's my take on this, Minerva. I am going to follow up on this, but privately. Outside Hogwarts actually - he couldn't have learned all that in two weeks of being at Hogwarts. Dumbledore will only complicate things needlessly, while trying to shove everything under the carpet."
Minerva could only nod in agreement.
"Wait until I figure out what has been going on outside. If Dumbledore asks you about it, remind him that Draco Malfoy and his mother live on my generosity, and it is my problem to deal with if someone I am paying a living allowance to, decides to try and hurt my godson. In short, this is a Black family matter".
1991-09-20 09:00 UTC, unnamed apartment block, Diagon Alley
Despite the fact that he was paying for it, Sirius had never actually been here. It wasn't a bad place, it wasn't run over by seedy or shady people or anything. It was actually quite respectable, without being anywhere near affluent.
Narcissa had wrinkled her nose at having to live here, but when she had moved in, there had not been anyone around to feel the effect of that expression. She had no house-elves, no help of any kind. Her living allowance was not quite a pittance, but was close enough to be one, and she got it, she knew, under the sufferance of Lord Black.
Her days were spent in alternating moods of depression, and thoughts of revenge. Today was, luckily for her, a "depression" day - things would have turned out much differently if Sirius had met her on a "planning revenge" day.
When the bell rang, she waved a wand at the door to open it, without even bothering to check who it was on the other side.
She sobered up quickly, wiping her melancholic expression off her face (though it did not escape Sirius' notice), and stood up. "Lord Black, what brings you here?"
Sirius entered the room, grabbed the only other chair, and sat down regally. He would have loved to have turned the chair around and sat astride it, hands over the back, to rub in her face that he was not a tradition-bound "lord", but this was not the time for that. She respected and feared only tradition, at least as far as he knew.
"What do you know of your son's plans to attempt to murder my godson?", he asked bluntly.
If he had hoped to throw her off-balance, he succeeded. She goggled at him, and could not form a coherent sentence. "I- I- have no- no idea what you mean", she stuttered. "Draco would not do such a thing. I have repeatedly told him that we could not risk alienating you, and I have explained why in great detail."
"What was his reaction? Did he take it as generosity, or humiliation?"
"He has lived in an orphanage the last three years, Lord Black, so it was definitely gratitude for your generosity. I did worry when he said he had been visiting his godfather, but thankfully that did not seem to have an effect on him".
"Didn't you know? Severus Snape is his godfather. I know he is under house arrest, but he was allowed visitors, it seems, and someone has been taking Draco to visit him at regular intervals over the past three years". She blanched on seeing Sirius's expression. "I thought you knew, my lord", she said plaintively.
1991-09-20 09:30 UTC, DMLE offices
"What can I do for you, Lord Black", said Kingsley Shacklebolt.
"Please, call me Sirius. If things hadn't turned out so bad for me ten years ago, we would have been at least friends by now, if not colleagues", smiled Sirius, turning on his charm in full. He wanted to get to know this person anyway, since he had heard good things about him from Hobby.
"Well then you should call me Kingsley, although many people find 'Shack' easier to say so the choice is yours", grinned Shacklebolt. "Now tell me, what seems to be the problem".
"Do you have a pensieve I can show you something in?"
After they came out of the pensieve, Sirius said, "Clearly, someone has coached him. There's far too much subterfuge to be a mere child's revenge, especially the pretence at not being able to fly - you saw how well he landed? So I paid his mother, who lives on an allowance I am making her due to her being a former Black daughter, a visit".
"She's only been out a month before young Malfoy would have left for Hogwarts, wouldn't she?"
"Yes. And I am convinced she did not know anything about this, nor did she have any hand in it. But I found out something quite concerning".
Kingsley nodded at him to continue.
"Draco Malfoy's godfather is Severus Snape, it seems. And it seems young Draco has been visiting Snape at regular intervals. My first question to you is, is that allowed? That is, is Snape allowed visitors at all? Depending on the answer to that, I have to proceed in one of two different directions".
Kingsley looked worried. "I'd have to check - we get so few house arrest punishments you see". He called for one of his aurors to bring him Snape's case file first.
After a few minutes, the case file arrived, and Kingsley quickly glanced through it. "Well", he sighed, "this does not have anything about the terms of the house arrest; we'll have to check elsewhere to determine if visits are allowed. Meanwhile, are you sure his godson has been visiting him?"
"Again, she seemed genuine enough. In fact she thought I already knew".
Kingsley once again called one of his men to send him the roster of duty for Snape's house arrest supervision. There were several junior aurors on that rotation, and it would not be easy to figure out which it was.
Sirius looked over his shoulder at the roster. Six aurors, on a rotating schedule spread to repeat over twelve days. Without knowing when-
"How about we go check out the orphanage records, maybe they kept records of when Draco was taken out for visits?", said Sirius.
Shacklebolt smiled. "You'd have been a good auror, Sirius! Let's go".
While, normally, this would be a job for one of his junior aurors, the fact that Lord Black would anyway be going along, made it different. Even, perhaps, a bit of a protocol issue. He would see to this himself.
They returned from the orphanage with a list of dates - the times were always the same: he was picked up around 5pm, and would return around 8pm.
The dates and times matched up perfectly with the days when one particular auror - Warren Mellman - was on duty.
Luckily, he was not on the Snape rotation that day, and happened to be in the office. Kingsley called for him to meet him in his office rightaway.
He was a young man, barely a few years out of the academy. This was certainly not a death-eater wannabe, in fact he was a half-blood, according to his file.
Setting him at ease with a smile, Kingsley asked him to sit down, and started. "You have been on the Snape rotation for the last two, almost three, years?"
"And you have been taking a young man to see Snape once every couple of weeks or so?"
"I- I did not see anything wrong with that, Sir, he's just a child, what harm could he do?"
"What about harm to the child, from the prisoner?"
"I admit I thought so too, but the child was his godson, sir, and after the first visit it was clear they both enjoyed the visit. A boy in an orphanage sir, and such a simple pleasure which didn't cost anyone anything. I didn't have the heart to to refuse, sir".
"Do you know what the rules are for a house arrest, especially about visitors?"
"Yes sir, I believe they are allowed visitors, according to-" and here he quoted some chapter, section, sub-section.
That answer was too pat. And too obscure for someone that junior to even know. This was interesting.
"Did you know we've been looking for that piece of information since this morning and have not had any luck?" (This was not, strictly speaking, true. But it could have been!) "How is it that a junior auror had call to dig up such an obscure reference?"
"Umm, I didn't dig it up sir. I-" - he seemed to hesitate.
"You were told. By Snape. When he asked you to get his godson for him", state Kingsley flatly.
"Oh no sir, it was not-" then he clammed up.
Making a mental note never to send this guy on an undercover mission, Kingsley waited patiently, while looking directly at the man.
"Umm, it was Professor Dumbledore, sir. He told me of the law section, because at first I refused, saying it was illegal for a prisoner to have visitors. He showed me the relevant section, and only then did I agree".
Well, that earned him brownie points. And not being able to resist Dumbledore, or falling for his manipulation, was hardly a crime, and if it was, they'd have to arrest a lot more people.
"What exactly did he tell you? Did he try to defend Snape?"
"No sir, I would not have fallen for that; I suffered under Snape too you know".
"So what did Dumbledore tell you?"
"He told me about the boy sir. He said Snape was the boys godfather, and the only person who could show him any affection. That it would be cruel to punish a child for the sins of his parents, and the least we could so was to show him things weren't as bad as they appeared, and to give him hope for the future, so he would be a productive member of society".
"How the heck do you remember all that tripe Dumbledore spouted at you?", interjected Sirius. "Do you know what this sweet, loving, child did to my godson?"
"Wait", said Kingsley. "Did Snape have a broomstick, and did he teach young Malfoy to fly?"
"Yes sir. The house was big enough to have a backyard with all the protections to keep the prisoners in - he couldn't have flown out if he wanted so it was perfectly safe."
Sirius turned to Kingsley. "What the heck kind of punishment is that?"
"Well, a house arrest means he can't get out. Everything else is fine. Supposedly. Including having visitors! I don't like it but if that's the law, that's what we have to work with."
"Then I am thinking we were too lenient on him back then", said Sirius. Turning to the auror, he asked, "would you like to see what Snape's godson did to my godson?"
1991-09-24 08:00 UTC, Ministry of Magic, Courtroom 10
This time Dumbledore was not informed. In fact, security was beefed up so he could not enter the main courtroom floor, even if he got wind of it and attempted to enter. (In the event, he did find out, but could only watch from the public gallery - unable to say or do anything).
The Chief Witch, Madam Longbottom, took the chair, and formally started the trial.
"This is a somewhat unusual trial. Here" - she indicated the prisoner's chair, where Snape sat with a stoic expression on his face - "we have a prisoner who was given some leeway during his last interaction with this court. A leeway which, if I am to believe what I am told, was abused quite heavily. And abused in such a manner that it nearly caused the death of Lord Black's godson."
No one needed to be told who said godson was, of course, so there were some gasps at that statement.
"We will try to make this short. Since the prisoner is already under a sentence, albeit a very generous one, his rights as to use of veritaserum do not exist, so we will use the truth potion". Here she beckoned to one of the aurors, who stepped up to Snape with a vial of potion.
A wand lit in one of the front rows. Madam Longbottom acknowledged the wizard who had raise it, permitting him to speak.
"Snape is an accomplished potions master, who has ready access to hundreds of potions ingredients in his day job. Might it not be that he has already consumed a counter to the truth potion?"
"Excellent thought, Mr Abbott. That is why we arrested him three days ago, and had him on a flushing potion regimen since then", smiled Minister Bones, answering the question on behalf of the Chief Witch.
By this time the veritaserum was administered. After the usual "test" questions, the real ones started.
"Did you teach Draco Malfoy how to ride a broom?"
"Was he a good flyer?"
"He was an excellent flyer".
"Then why would he pretend, in school, to be terrified of a broomstick and - at first - refuse to fly?"
"In order to escape detection and punishment".
"Detection of and punishment for what?"
"Of attempting to injure the Potter bastard".
So much for veritaserum suppressing emotions.
"Did you tell him to injure Harry Potter, the boy-who-lived?"
"Of course not. He's a child, he might freak out and not do anything!"
"So what did you tell him?"
"I told him Potter would only be mildly injured, at worst, and that he was a prankster, just like his dad, so it would be OK. After that it would be upto luck - hopefully Potter would be in hospital for a few days."
"Would you have attempted to kill the boy, if you could do so without being found out?"
Snape did not answer. Clearly he was ambivalent on the matter.
They gave him the antidote.
"I have only one question for you, Mr Snape. It is not a question you need to answer so I am posing this to you after the antidote has been applied. Did you consider the effect on your godson if he had perpetrated what he thought was a mere prank, but ended up killing Mr Potter?"
Snape had no answer. Perhaps the thought had not occurred to him. Or perhaps it had, and he had considered the trauma an acceptable price to pay, though someone else was paying it.
Sirius raised his wand, and given permission to speak. "I have a question for Mr Snape", he said formally.
"Please go on".
"Mr Snape, what exactly did a young child of eleven do to you that you would want to injure him, possible fatally."
"He is a Potter spawn who is living it up with his godfather, while I am rotting in house arrest and my godson is in an orphanage", spat Snape.
"Are you forgetting that I rotted in Azkaban for several years, and my godson was in an abusive household, while you were living it up making students' lives miserable at Hogwarts, and your godson had both parents alive and well?" said Sirius in outrage.
The court eventually decided that he had clearly violated at least the spirit of his house arrest, and abused it badly. His arrest terms were changed to Azkaban, maximum security, no visitors of any kind for the next twenty years.
Despite the lack of dementors, Azkaban was still not a pleasant place. Twenty years in solitary was not easy to survive. Snape would be released years later, but by then he would be a raving lunatic. St Mungos would gain another long term patient.
The auror who had facilitated the visits was kept out of it - that would then involve Dumbledore, but the issue was too small to hurt him seriously. Sirius wanted Dumbledore dealt with in a more decisive manner, one where he simply could not get away without being jailed a good long time. This case was not big enough to do that.
Young Draco Malfoy was temporarily removed from Hogwarts by his Lord Black, despite Dumbledore's behind-the-scenes attempts to stall what was effectively a suspension. He spent the next couple of weeks with his mother. Sirius could not say Narcissa had turned around - he would never trust her that far - but she knew which side her bread was buttered. He made swearing a loyalty oath a condition for further financial or other support, and he got it: both from her and from Draco Malfoy, with her permission as his guardian.
Draco Malfoy would continue in Hogwarts, but would never again be a problem for Harry.