Chapter 10: Tribulations and Trials
For a couple of days, life returned to something approaching normality for Graham. He and Remus had agreed that they wouldn't mention their knowledge of Harry's location to Dumbledore, at least for the time being - he'd been reluctant to tell them where the boy was, and neither wizard was comfortable updating him until they knew why.
Remus had left to investigate his parents' old property - his mother, Hope, had died in the late stages of the war, but he'd already been undercover and hadn't had the chance to look at the property's condition; even if it transpired that Sirius was found guilty, he confided in Graham, he still hoped that Remus would at least be able to take Harry on holidays from the Dursleys'.
Graham had returned to work on his wardstones, a task he interrupted only by his frustration at how much more he should have concentrated on runes. The best defence that Lockwood could have was not being known by wizards, which was why he so desperately hoped that Sirius was as innocent as he claimed. Beyond that, an unplottable charm, anti-apparition ward, and a shield he could toggle on or off, he hoped, would suffice for the most part as Lockwood's defences.
The real pain had been getting a muggle-repelling ward to encircle the property, leaving the house itself accessible to the muggles who found themselves on the inside of that ward. Parent-teacher meetings would, after all, be a nightmare if the parents kept on trying to leave, Graham reasoned; but, after two days of work, he was ready to activate the ward. He couldn't help a minor twinge of tetchiness and melancholy as he checked his scribbles one last time for any errors; Lily, he knew, would probably have managed the arrangement he'd come up with in a few elegant runic sentences, in comparison with his clumsy paragraphs. But his own arrangement worked well enough, and finally, as the wards flickered to life he felt at least a little more secure in the place he'd come to think of as home.
Beyond that, though, Graham found himself struggling with the concept of free time. Amelia was telling him very little, having politely informed him that the matter concerned Aurors directly, and therefore she wouldn't be able to update him on the case until his further testimony or input was required. He practiced creating portkeys, having renewed the Potters' license in his name some months before, until he felt confident enough in their application that further practice would be useless; he carried on practicing the spells for combat, though his progress on that front felt as slow as ever; and he visited Alice and Frank at St. Mungo's, although she had been asleep when he'd gone, and he'd shown no improvement on his condition. The days dragged into a week, and still, he heard nothing; finally though, on the ninth of November, news came in the form of Remus sprinting up to Lockwood from the apparition point outside it to hammer on Graham's door.
"Remus - what's up?" Graham asked, bemusedly.
Instead of answering, Remus, panting heavily, thrust a copy of the Daily Prophet into Graham's hand; its headline provided all the context either of them needed.
BLACK TO GO FREE? TRIAL TO TAKE PLACE TODAY, the headline screamed, before adding, in a smaller font, QUESTIONS RAISED OVER JUDICIAL INTEGRITY. And further down on the front page: MINISTRY IN CHAOS AS BAGNOLD FACES CALLS TO RESIGN. It was one of those days when it seemed that the editor was upset that he only had a single front page.
They were both, for a very long moment, lost for words. Graham, for a hysterical moment, wondered if he was the first person in history to collapse a government by accident; then he regained his senses, and skimmed the front page as quickly as he could.
Remus, though, hadn't the patience for this, now that he'd regained his breath. "You can read it at the ministry - Sirius' trial is going to start in an hour, and it's a public gallery. If we don't leave right now, we won't have a chance in hell of being able to see it."
Graham nodded, and reached for a glove from the shelf by the front door, and waved it at Remus, who grasped it as well; then, with a tap of his wand and a quiet "Portus." The two of them were whisked away to the Ministry.
The Prophet, for once, hadn't resorted to hyperbole in its description of the situation at the Ministry of Magic. Graham couldn't remember when he'd last seen as many people in the atrium as they found before them on their arrival - the noise was practically deafening. Besides him, Remus frowned.
"Well, I don't think we're going to make it into the trial, do you?" He said, frustrated. "We're both outside London, so the Prophet takes longer to get to us in the morning - I suppose the early recipients could get here before of us without much trouble; how very irritating."
Graham had to agree with him; the two of them stood there for a moment, trying to weigh up whether it was worth at least trying to make it into the courtroom (Number 7, the newspaper claimed); but, happily, fate chose that moment to intervene.
"Ah, excellent." A sharp voice came from behind the two of them, causing them both to jump in shock. "I'd sent out owls, but I suppose you thought to come here before you actually received them?"
It was Amelia Bones, wearing her full ceremonial robe; she looked, if it was possible, even more serious than usual.
"Well, neither of us got an owl - were you giving us advance warning of the trial?" Graham asked; but Amelia shook her head.
"No." She replied. "I was summoning you, because it's possible that we'll need your testimonies in the course of this trial, although I'll be much happier if we don't; your heritage could complicate matters, and we want this to be as simple and clearcut as possible, Merlin willing."
She quirked an eyebrow at them. "I assume this is something you're both alright with?"
"Absolutely!" "Of course." The two of them said, simultaneously.
"Excellent. I mean, you don't technically have a choice, but I'm glad you're not opposed. The trial starts in half an hour; could you use the time to get some proper robes on? I don't know if you can tell, but it's going to be quite the occasion…"
Twenty minutes later, Remus and Graham, one hurried change of clothes later, found themselves in a small gallery, looking down on the cross-section of the wizarding world on display below; the courtroom was quite similar to an operating theatre, and they were in its top row. Sirius, for all his Ancient and Noble heritage, wasn't exactly the reason, Graham guessed; it was far more the case that people sensed political heads might be rolling, and wanted to see who was on the chopping block.
Aside from the Wizengamot, all of whom were wearing their ceremonial garb (plum robes with a mortarboard cap, making it very difficult to distinguish its members from above), Graham spied the minister herself (looking exhausted, and more than slightly fraught) talking to a couple of black-clad officials he didn't recognise; elsewhere, he could make out the ever-distinctive shape of Dumbledore, who had chosen to wear a particularly ghastly combination of paisley and magenta to the proceedings, and the auror contingent, scattered through the hall; clearly they were prepared for trouble.
Not for the first time, Graham was struck by a very strange combination of feelings; a certain amount of respect for the pageantry of the whole affair, combined with a degree of derision for the whole thing. Among the muggles, fifty-thousand people or so might be represented by an MP, a handful of local councillors, and such minor dignitaries - it was only for Parliament itself that any real amount of ceremony took place, and they were serving a population of fifty million. That wizards put up such pomp and circumstance when there were about ten thousand of them in the country felt, well, a little bit pathetic.
Remus nudged Graham in the side, putting him off his train of thought.
"Do you see the lady down there, in the grey?" He remarked. "That'll be Lucretia Pilliwickle - she's the current head of the MLE's legal team; a bit of a battleaxe, I've heard, but I don't think she had any fondness for You-Know-Who. This is probably good news, I'd say."
Presently, the Wizengamot assumed their stations, and - with a deafening blast of sound conjured from his wand - Dumbledore called the extraordinary meeting to order.
"Friends, esteemed colleagues." He began. "As you are all of course aware, we are convened here on a most serious matter; namely, the trial - or lack thereof - of one Sirius Black."
He waited for some time for the whispers to die down; it was one thing to read it in the prophet, and another entirely to have it verified in the courtroom.
"Of course, the question of how Mr. Black did not receive a trial is a very serious one - but, perhaps one better suited to discussion after his trial, as - if he is found to be guilty - the controversy as it pertains to him would be quite immaterial."
"Point of order!" A sharp voice rang out from the upper reaches of the Wizengamot, and a young man rose from his seat.
Dumbledore looked genially up to meet the gaze of his challenger. "Ah, Mr. Malfoy! Please proceed."
"Chief Warlock; the proof against Sirius Black seems incontrovertible; trial or no trial, the outcome seems hardly likely to change. I'd like to call a motion to expedite him back to Azkaban, in order that we can proceed with the more serious issue of breaches to our judicial code."
Judging by the appreciative murmuring of the other members, this was a well-received notion, and a few wands shot up preemptively; Dumbledore, however, raised his hands, placatingly.
"Friends - while, under normal circumstances, I would indeed aver from unduly taking the time of this august gathering with such a clear-cut case, in the time since his incarceration, the Aurors have made a series of investigations which merit discussion. Ms. Pilliwickle?"
The woman Remus had pointed out earlier stood from her chair at the foot of the courtroom, and turned to face the Wizengamot and public gallery.
"Over the past few days," she began, "the Aurors have employed a taskforce under the command of Alastor Moody in order to investigate the events leading up to Black's incarceration. They will shortly lay their facts before you; but these facts can generally be summarised as follows: Sirius Black was not responsible for betraying the Potters, Peter Pettigrew is alive and at large, and -"
Whatever else she had intended to say was drowned out by a roar of disbelief, rising both from the crowd and the Wizengamot. The minister had shot to her feet, and was whispering furiously to one of her aides; the aurors in the crowd were struggling to push them back as more people tried to force themselves into the courtroom. But Graham couldn't help but watch the man who had raised the question earlier - he hadn't seen Malfoy before, but he knew him very well as one of those Remus had so bitterly railed against while the war wore on.
Unlike those around him, Malfoy had turned to converse intently with a few men clustered near him. They did not look particularly surprised at the bombshell that had just been dropped; instead, they simply seemed frustrated by the pronouncement.
Oh, of course. Graham thought, glumly. They worked for You-Know-Who - of course they'd know that Sirius was innocent, and want him to stay in Azkaban.
It was only another series of blasts from Dumbledore's wand that restored the chamber to a semblance of order; finally, Pilliwickle was able to continue.
"Ahem. As I was saying, we also believe that Pettigrew was responsible for the explosion on the street that day, and the thirteen resultant deaths." She continued. "We will lay out our evidence before the wizengamot; then, Black will be brought into the courtroom to submit to veritaserum testing for a second time."
Order was restored a little more easily after this second announcement, and Amelia Bones was allowed to lay out her testimony in something approaching peace. Not for the first time, Graham was struck by the air of authority she commanded, even as a relatively junior auror.
Quickly enough, the chips began to fall into place. Dumbledore explained the fidelius charm, and his limited role in knowing the identity of the secret keeper; a photo of Pettigrew's thumb was used to demonstrate the impossibility of it having been blown off; Sirius' wand was examined, and the possility of his having a second one discarded.
The tension in the courtroom was tangible by the point that Sirius, still clasped in chains, was brought into the courtroom some minutes later. It was explained that he had been under careful monitoring to ensure that he had had no opportunity to ingest the antidote to Veritaserum in the time leading up to the trial; after some tedious disputes over the veracity of the potion ("The same tired stuff gets trotted out every time," Remus muttered to Graham, "a whole spiel about how it can't be trusted, and so on. Total crap, but it's all to keep the law where it is now - so that nobody has to consent to taking a truth serum, ergo Death Eaters can go free.")
Remus had controlled his emotions admirably through the trial, but the sight of Sirius had him gripping the bench they sat on so hard that it seemed that he would leave grooves in it. He had a strange expression on his face, Graham thought - something lodged between hope and fear. Sirius, on the other hand, looked a little better than he had done when Graham had talked to him; but he still looked rather haggard, and terribly nervous.
"As is standard," Pilliwickle announced, "Mr. Black will be asked a series of questions he has consented to answer before this trial. Auror Moody, if you would?"
The grizzled auror stepped forwards, and held up a bottle for the inspection of the wizengamot; carefully, he gestured for Sirius to open his mouth, and let three drops drip onto his tongue. Sirius' face went slack as the potion took effect, and Moody unrolled a series of questions.
"Are you Sirius Black, son of Walburga and Orion Black?"
"Yes, I am."
"Are you, or have you ever been, aligned with or a member of the death eaters?"
"No, I am not, and have never been."
At this, a susurrus of whispers broke out, but Moody pressed on as if they weren't there.
"Were you the Potters' secret keeper? And, if you were not, who was?"
"I was not their secret keeper; Peter Pettigrew was."
Murmurs were by now full blown conversations; Graham noticed that Malfoy had given up on the trial entirely and was discussing something with his neighbour, both of them looking furious.
"What transpired between you and Peter Pettigrew on November 1, 1981?"
"After discovering Lily's and James' deaths, I tracked his apparition signature, and found him in a muggle district. I was going to try and kill him, but he was quick off the mark; he disabled me with a confundus, cut his thumb off, and cast an explosion. He transformed into his animagus form -a rat - and escaped."
Remus turned to Graham, tears shining in his eyes, and grabbed him in a fierce embrace; but whatever he was trying to say was entirely drowned out. It was absolute chaos in the courtroom, once again; even Dumbledore was struggling to control it, though a barrage of silencing charms eventually did their job. It was not Dumbledore who spoke first, though - one of Malfoy's associates was quicker off the bat, and raised another point of order.
"Friends," he said, "it has been proven beyond doubt that Mr. Black is innocent of all he's been charged in. I propose an immediate motion to pardon him of all the aforementioned crimes?"
"…Granted." Dumbledore said, slowly; this he clearly had not expected. "Would all those in favour raise their wands?"
Unsurprisingly, the motion passed, unanimously; whatever his opponents might have thought, this was not a battle they were in a position to fight. Sirius was declared a free man, and escorted from the courtroom (several photographers fighting their way through the throng of spectators in pursuit), any questions of compensation having been delegated to a future session. Dumbledore then tried to call the meeting to order, but - to his surprise - was interrupted once more.
"Chief Warlock?" The man who had called a vote spoke up again. "I believe that, as the instigator of a successful vote, I may make a concluding speech?"
Dumbledore nodded, his face an apparent picture of geniality. "As you wish, Mister Yaxley."
The thickset wizard paused for a moment, then began to speak.
"My friends; we have remedied a great injustice today, and let an innocent man go free. But our work is not yet complete; for Sirius Black was not the only victim of the Minister's decision that justice be subordinated to the simplicity of immediate incarceration."
Graham felt a chill run down his spine; surely the man wouldn't -
"I propose two remedies to these ills." Yaxley said. "First, as is my right, I wish to call a vote of no confidence against Minister Bagnold. Instead of taking the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as a chance for this nation to heal, she chose to use the opportunity to imprison fifteen innocent men and women on nothing more than political grounds - the fact that they were, by and large, purebloods who would oppose the regime of anti-pureblood reforms she has hinted at. As a corollary to this, I would also propose that we free the others who have suffered the same injustice as Mr. Black, with immediate effect. Innocents cannot be allowed to languish in Azkaban any longer."
Graham had realised where Yaxley had been going quite early in the man's speech; he was more interested to see Dumbledore's response. For all that he had his reservations about the man, Graham couldn't help but admire his chutzpah under pressure; the man hadn't shown an iota of the nerves he must have been feeling at the very real prospect of a terrible blow being struck by Voldemort's former followers. Instead, he merely nodded, graciously, and asked the minister how she would respond ahead of the vote for her removal.
Millicent Bagnold was a pleasant looking woman, but her mouth was set into a very thin line as she rose to address the Wizengamot.
"As many of you will be aware," she said, calmly, "in a state of war, the minister is bestowed with a series of special powers, in order that she may respond immediately to the various threats that a war naturally presents. In the past, this has been employed in a variety of ways; Minister Minchum, my predecessor, constructed a variety of back doors into the Ministry itself in order to furnish the Auror force with greater flexibility in the case of the Ministry falling to its enemies, for example. In my case, Bartemius Crouch and I passed a provision, strictly secret in nature, early in my tenure; a warrant which, in the event of the Dark Lord's death, would bestow limited powers on Ministry forces to apprehend and imprison his Lieutenants with immediate effect in Azkaban."
This did very little to prevent the mutinous whispering which had carried on through her speech; Bagnold, however, seemed unphased by this.
"Under these measures, it was not in fact illegal for the Ministry to have imprisoned Mr. Black, let alone the others we had apprehended immediately around the time of Voldemort's fall. Indeed, were it not for the strength of evidence that Alastor Moody presented me with, I would not have allowed his case to proceed to trial; and yet, in spite of the inevitable backlash I knew it would garner me, I allowed him to go ahead in the belief that an innocent man should not be allowed to suffer from the sins of others."
The hall had fallen silent.
"I do not believe that Sirius Black's innocence should motivate this body to vote to free, arbitrarily, those that were imprisoned alongside him; they should instead be looking to put them on trial, as it is evident that our net of arrests was cast too widely and too deep. If their sentences were unjust, they have nothing to fear in proving this before a court of law; if they were not, then they can be safely returned to their confinement in Azkaban, as opposed to being unleashed on a still-fragile wizarding public. Vote as you will on these proposals; but I implore you to vote with your minds, not your hearts."
Nobody dared to be the first to speak for some time. Finally, though, Dumbledore rose to his feet, meaningfully.
"On the proposal of immediate release of those incarcerated under the Minister's mandate; would all those in favour light their wands?"
Around a third of the room did so; a few stragglers looked ready to join them, but, sensing they would fall short of a majority, decided not to.
"On the proposal that all those incarcerated should undergo trials on the same basis as Sirius Black?"
This time, the room lit up; the motion was unanimous - or almost unanimous. Graham, once again, spotted Malfoy frowning, before he leaned over to his neighbour. Dumbledore was explaining the procedure for the vote of no confidence, which gave Graham a moment to think - then he realised just how clever Dumbledore's wording had been. The other prisoners were to have a trial, but strictly on the same basis as Sirius' trial - namely, with the application of veritaserum, and with a proper Auror-led inquiry. It certainly wasn't a foolproof way of obtaining convictions - but it was far better than it could have been.
"All those in favour of Minister Bagnold's resignation; please light your wands." Dumbledore said, carefully.
The courtroom watched, rapt, as wand after wand lit up. It was an extraordinarily close vote - Graham couldn't for the life of him count which side was ahead. Finally, though, Dumbledore called for any final votes, before casting a spell Graham didn't recognise to display a giant tally on the wall across from him: 53 in favour, 44 against, 3 abstaining. Beside him, Remus was working something out in his head.
"Well, that's the Minister done for, then." He murmured, a moment later. "Technically she's not out - they'd need a supermajority to have ousted her - but she won't be able to carry on with a majority of the Wizengamot in opposition. Barring something really drastic, she's pretty much a lame duck, now - I expect she won't last 'til Easter, if she even manages that."
With that final vote, Bagnold bowed shortly to the Wizengamot, and strode out, head held high; Dumbledore began to initiate the end of the Wizengamot's gathering, and before they knew it, Graham and Remus were outside once again, headed to the offices where Sirius had been sequestered from the media frenzy that had erupted around his innocence.
"Amelia, seriously – I could kiss you right now. Which is to say, could I kiss you right – no? Sorry, just high spirits, no offence meant. But I honestly could, let me tell you!"
Sirius, it transpired, was in an excellent mood. Amelia Bones, on the other hand, looked enormously exasperated; a trait, Graham thought, she shared with most uninterested women unlucky enough to attract the attention of Sirius Black. Finally, though, the pair of them noticed Graham and Remus, who had been ushered through to the office by Alastor Moody, who – twisted by curse damage though it was – had greeted them with a genuine smile.
"Remus! Graham!" Sirius cried, bounding over to them. "The handsome knights to my damsels in distress! This is a happy day – I'm proposing thanks, drinking and merriment, possibly followed by more drinking, and more merriment if we're really lucky."
Remus laughed (he looked, Graham noticed, about ten years younger than he had when Graham had first found him after the war) and pulled his friend into a tight-gripped hug, before moving to hug Graham in turn.
"Sirius needs to go and talk to the media in a bit, I'm guessing – but do you want to break the good news about the little blighter?"
Graham hesitated, and glanced at Amelia Bones, meaningfully; the witch wasn't watching them, but she was certainly listening to their conversation. Remus shrugged, though, and Graham found himself agreeing – with Sirius freed, it didn't seem likely that the information they'd found out was particularly important to keep secret.
"Sirius – you'll be pleased to know that we did manage to track down Harry, though not without a lot of effort." Graham said, trying to ignore the hitch in Amelia's breath. "And he's absolutely safe – though I don't think he can really manage to stay where he is at the moment in any long-term sense. He's with Lily's muggle relatives -"
"Petunia?" Sirius cried, outraged. "Why the hell would he go there? She's a verifiable magic-hater, for Merlin's sake!"
"It's not that bad, Sirius." Remus consoled, patting his friend on the arm. "He's safe there, and the Dursleys have changed quite a bit – Harry's well looked after for now."
It wasn't much consolation to Sirius, but the man relaxed a little, at least. Any further conversation was cut off, however, as Moody poked his head through the office to announce that the media could no longer be reasonably curbed, and Sirius should go down and take the press conference they'd hurriedly whipped up for him in the atrium below. After he, Graham, and Remus agreed on a plan for the evening ("I'm telling you, mate – Soho is the place to be. Birds, bars, and booze – it has everything." Sirius said, excitedly), they parted ways, as Remus and Graham both made to leave so that they could prepare for the evening. As Graham was leaving, however, he was tugged aside by Amelia.
"I know that you let me hear it – I mean, I'm not an idiot." She began. "but – how on earth did the boy-who-lived end up with muggle relatives? It's no skin off my neck, one way or another, but I can't see the ministry putting him up with them, and the minister should have been given power of attorney over him, given that his parents didn't have close wizarding relatives when they died."
Graham frowned. "You mean the ministry gets to put orphans wherever it wants? I'm not sure I like that, to be honest. But – well, I don't really know. I only knew where Harry was out of pure luck – I just happened to know about Lily's sister, I mean. I mean, from everything I know, it can't have been anyone but -"
"- Dumbledore." Amelia finished his sentence, looking more than a little perturbed. "That's really quite strange. It's a bit out of my league, but you might want to investigate that – give Sirius a heads up, at least."
Graham assured her that he would, made his excuses, and headed off; but he couldn't help the by-now familiar feeling that he was becoming involved with things far more important than he'd ever intended to; he apparated back to Lockwood with a strange mixture of apprehension and excitement, and entirely failed to notice the speculative pair of eyes that watched him with some interest as he made his exit.
AN: Thank you for reading! I've cut this chapter off a little earlier than I'd like, just because the cut-off wouldn't work anywhere else – but, as you can probably see, Sirius' trial essentially represents a clear break from canon. I have seen a few people asking how closely this fiction intends to follow canon, and the answer is – not very much at all!
As always, reviews are both solicited and appreciated – they are a huge joy to receive, and a great privilege as well.