Chapter 13: Achievement

"Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks are born with their trauma. They've already past it. They're aristocrats."-Diane Arbus

The trial had, thus far, gone very, very well. It had been a bit disconcerting to see first-hand the enchantments on the courtroom that rendered the audience invisible to those testifying, but the Wizengamot members, at least, were clearly in evidence.

Hermione had almost wished they weren't - their facial expressions alone had been quite distracting during her own testimony. Still, it had been heartening to notice them gasping in all the right places as "the children" told of their "terrifying ordeal."

McGonagall had so termed the situation when she was called to the stand, and, though a bit overly dramatic, the phrase seemed to stick. Hermione was of two minds about this. One one hand, Pettigrew was now certain to be convicted of something. On the other, Remus (apparently forgiving her secrecy) had given her a careful pat on the back and reassured her that counselling would be available to help her work through the trauma of the incident.

(He hadn't seemed to be joking.)

Hermione blamed Tonks, as she doubted so many of the Wizengamot members would have taken her own clinical synopsis of events as "an obvious case of shock" if it hadn't been for the Metamorphagus' now waif-like stature and watery blue eyes.

Tonks seemed to have a sixth sense for keeping a crowd on the edge of its seat, drawing out the tension without appearing to do so. Add in her little gasped sobs and trembling bottom lip, and even Hermione – who knew from the summer at Grimmauld Place that Tonks was both a skilled performer and quite a tough witch – felt sympathetic and concerned. It had been quite the impressive show. Especially when Bill, limping – honestly! limping! - down to provide his own testimony, had given "poor Dora" a consoling pat on the shoulder as her half-sobbed rendition of events came to a close.

Honestly, Hermione had half a mind to start a Drama Club. There was clearly quite a lot of talent going to waste at Hogwarts.

Once McGonagall and all the students had testified, it was time for the rest of the adults to take the stand. Hermione noted that many of the questions posed now assumed Pettigrew's guilt as a matter of fact. While this ordinarily would have been viewed by her as a shocking abuse of the justice system, she found that, as it was Pettigrew's trial, she didn't much care. (She made a note to herself not to let that happen again. She knew Pettigrew was guilty, so she didn't feel too bad about not sticking up to ensure the rules were followed to the letter- but then, a lot of people had "known" Sirius was guilty, too.)

Remus Lupin's testimony was particularly damning. It answered the question of "why didn't Dumbledore suspect that Pettigrew wasn't dead" and gave a detailed account of Wormtail's character prior to all the mass-murdering and framing business. By the time he concluded his statement, it was clear that people were wondering if it was possible that Black had been falsely accused, though Fudge's evidence of the crime scene had not considered the possibility that Pettigrew had cast the curse and killed all those Muggles. (Although there were more than a few comments questioning "how can we really be certain of this particular witnesses trustworthiness, especially given the nature of his condition," which made Tonks scowl and McGonagall tighten her lips.)

Luckily for Hermione's stress levels, an Auror had come in with signed statements from Pettigrew - then under Veritaserum - that he had both performed the curse that had killed the Muggles and been spying for Voldemort for over a year before betraying the Potters. Apparently he had waived the right to be present at his trial. (Hermione hadn't known that was possible, though after observing the faces of the audience as they heard the news, she realized it might have been necessary for the little rat's continued survival.)

Hermione had not quite realized just how… revered Harry's parents were.

Revered was definitely the term. It was almost frightening how many faces had turned to nameless fury at the news. It was definitely frightening how many had broken the mandated audience silence to scream furious epithets at the betrayer's defence representative.

Hermione supposed the Pettigrew case was pretty much in the bag, and wondered if they'd even bother to do a separate trial for the next defendant.

Many of the more politically-involved members of the Wizengamot were shifting in their chairs by the time the last witness came to the (metaphorical) stand. Some had eager looks of anticipation on their faces as they foresaw openings in certain high-placed governmental positions, others the fixed and manic expressions of those who are preparing to deny knowledge of everything.

Hermione didn't notice, because the last witness was Sirius Black.

He'd been roughly handled out of the fireplace and dragged, coughing and choking, through the crowded Ministry halls. His hands were magically bound, and his skin was paper-white around his wrists. He was aware of muttered comments and horrified gasps as he was shoved into the chain-covered chair, his head knocking loudly against the back. He knew that, after four years of Azkaban, he looked awful.

Despite Sirius' physical appearance, his mind felt sharp and clear for the first time in years. It was a different kind of clear than the emptiness left in the wake of his burning, obsessive rage against Pettigrew. He felt… as if he could do something. As if he had the strength to conjure a Patronus charm, or the intelligence to browbeat his guards into allowing him to see Remus or Dumbledore, or the emotional fortitude to actually explain what had happened, even if they didn't believe him at first.

Someone had caught Pettigrew, finally. They'd found the little bastard. Part of him chafed at the realization that he wouldn't be able to exact revenge, but another, larger part was whispering that the Order might believe him. That Moony might believe him.

(The Dementors must be far away, then.

Usually at this point of his train of thought, they'd have forced him to remember once more the reasons why that would never happen, imagine his old friend's devastated face, the exact expression it had been after he'd discovered that Snape had been led to the Shrieking Shack…)

Damn it. Sirius shook his head.

He didn't have the right to feel betrayed by Remus, not after he'd abused his friend's trust so badly before. Not after, years later, he'd cast aside their friendship on Pettigrew's word alone, with far less "proof" than the Ministry had against him now.

He didn't have the right… but it still hurt. (An entirely different kind of pain than the chains currently biting his skin. Or the agony that shot through him with every cough. Or the lump currently forming on his head.)

"Auror Quinn, I must remind you that your rights only extend to use of necessary force," Amelia Bones said tightly from one of the benches ahead of him. Sirius jerked out of his musings, dimly realizing that she was talking to Old Sadist. Since when had he been entitled to prisoner's' rights?

She turned on him with a stern gaze, and he felt a bit less unsettled. He expected hostility -- it was kindness that unnerved him.

"Your medical records show that, aside from a minor allergy to Gillyweed, you have no medical problems that might interfere with effectiveness of Veritaserum. Do you consent to its use upon your person, Mr. Black?" Her voice was firm, but gave no hint to her opinion of him.

"Yes," he replied without hesitation, then licked his lips nervously, "Bbut I want to make a request of the court."

Bones' reply was bland. "Our response depends on the nature of the request."

Forcing the words out was harder than he'd expected them to be. They felt strange and harsh on his throat, and for a brief instant, he felt as if an entirely different person was moving his mouth. "I want you to ask me questions. Ask me-ask me to tell the truth. Because…I wasn't the Secret Keeper." He swallowed, his eyes shut tight. "Or a Death Eater. And I don't expect you to believe me but…"

His voice trailed off. He was sure he should be explaining himself, trying to convince the court before he was taken off and dragged away for the nerve of trying to pretend he wasn't the killer, but he couldn't seem to make his throat work.

It was a few moments before he noticed the absence of the hissing and shocked exclamations he'd expected.

Bones wearily replied, "Request accepted," and the rest of the Wizengamot all had expressions with varying degrees of pity and guilt.

They couldn't possibly believe him, could they?

As it turned out, they could.

Sirius Black's testimony lasted almost two hours as he was questioned and cross-questioned.

Tests were run to insure that he had not been Memory-Charmed, Imperio'd to lie, or secretly fed an antidote for Veritaserum. They all came back clean.

Pensieve accounts of the Fidelius Charm Lily Evans had performed, as well as Pettigrew's actions on November 1st, were shown to the court.

And the audience saw everything.

It was a peculiar law that had been in place some centuries, Hermione knew. As the audience was comprised of only those in some way related to the case, had been rendered invisible to those testifying, and were bound into silence by a series of stringent charms laid upon the courtroom, they made an excellent check of ministry power.

The Wizengamot had therefore been made unable to legally bar them from the courtroom. Not outright, at least.

This because of a law except only changeable by "a unanimous vote, conducted by every wWizarding male over thirty, in possession of either at least twelve acres of property or a healthy goat not past breeding age.")

Hermione had, at the time, approved of such a measure (barring what had constituted a "unanimous vote."). But watching a man's secret pains on show for the world to see… no. That wasn't right.

More than a few members of the audience, unseen by Sirius and unnoticed by the Wizengamot, had slipped away during the heart-wrenching testimony. Arthur Weasley, not wishing his children to be exposed to more horror than absolutely necessary, was one of them. Fudge and several other Ministry officials had followed, no doubt in haste to do something to preserve their jobs.

McGonagall and Remus made no move to leave, though.

Nor did Tonks.

And Hermione owed it to Sirius to stay, if only to try and understand the man she had so often found fault with the previous year (or, rather, some ten years into the future.).

The Wizengamot announced the need for a brief thirty-minute recess in order to discuss the verdict privately, which did little to help Remus' nerves. Sirius' haggard looks and numb, hoarse-voiced account of what had transpired had already caused him quite a bit of emotional turmoil. Remus couldn't help but replaying the limp way Padfoot had fallen in the chair after Madam Bones had ordered the Aurors to give him a Dreamless Sleep potion. She'd disguised the mercy that it was by citing the necessity of restraining a prisoner who had yet to be declared innocent, but Remus could see the guilt in her expression.

(Or he thought he could, at any rate. Perhaps he was projecting.)

The drawn and shattered man who'd stumbled into the courtroom bore little resemblance to the Sirius of old; the laughing, black-haired romantic with a barking laugh and ready grin. The teenager with an unconscious confidence in his stride, who showered charm on women with an ease Remus had always half-admired, half-envied… there was no trace of that boy in his friend's ragged features, now.

And, as short ago as yesterday, he would have thought this justice.

Remus didn't try to disregard the tight, painful lump in his throat as his friend was carried away to (he presumed) one of the holding cells, where he was surely not allowed to follow. At the moment, he felt that he deserved every bit of unpleasant misery his body could inflict upon him. (Which, as it was less than a day after the full moon, was quite a great deal.)

However, the pain was a welcome distraction from the unreasonable fear (Merlin, he hoped it was unreasonable) that this might be the last time he ever saw Sirius again. What if they declared him guilty? It couldn't –wouldn't happen, he insisted to himself. But as much as his head insisted it couldn't possibly happen, the fear remained. So his hands shook, and his stomach churned, but he ignored his nerves and lingering transformation pain and leaden-limbed exhaustion as his eyes stared dumbly at the silent discussions of the Wizengamot, waiting for the verdict.

The thirty-minutes were up, and Peter Pettigrew was sentenced to life in Azkaban.

Sirius Black, however, was not cleared of any of the charges raised against him, due to the rather unsettling fact that he had never been formally charged with anything in the first place, but merely "detained" in accordance with the War Powers Act of 1972.

The issue of compensation, it was determined, would be hammered out later. (Probably after the Ministry had set enough lawyers on the case to cover their collective skins.)

Sirius had been fed a draught of Dreamless Sleep immediately after his testimony, and, once he was determined as innocent, quickly rushed to St. Mungo's for treatment of the rather obvious health issues he'd been having. Apparently the Ministry, although taking pains to make clear to everyone that they could not be held "officially responsible" for the situation, was not keen to have a dead body on its hands.

Remus, accompanied by Mad-Eye Moody, had rushedhurried to follow close behind his unconscious friend, accompanied by Mad-Eye Moody. (It was only due to the old Auror's insistence that the werewolf even bothered to pick up his wand at the front desk.)

Hermione Granger, Nymphadora Tonks, and Minerva McGonagall were largely ignored as the Wizengamot members hastened to exit the courtroom.

"Now, remember," the professor said, "not to speak of anything you've learned at the trial here. The magical restrictions won't allow you to, of course, but I've heard that trying to fight the compulsion is extremely unpleasant."

"Can we still speak about things that we knew before the trial?" Hermione asked, biting her lip to fight a yawn. She'd have to tell Dumbledore about the events in her future sometime, and it would be more than a little problematic if she was rendered unable to do so.

"Yes. You're capable of telling others about what you personally witnessed, or things you would have known knew already, but you cannot publicize facts revealed by the testimony of other witnesses, unless you were told that information before entering the courtroom."

"That must make the official announcements of trials difficult," Hermione mused.

Professor McGonagall shook her head. "The Wizengamot is under different, but no less stringent, restrictions."

"This is interesting and all, but can I visit Sirius?" Tonks asked the professor. "He's my cousin, and it's always been part of school policy to make curfew exceptions for really serious personal situations-"

"Miss Tonks, it is-" " here the professor checked her watch- "almost four in the morning, and you just fell into Miss Granger while trying to stand up. I have a responsibility for your health, and I would be remiss if I didn't ensure you geot the rest you need. Mr. Black will not be waking up for at least a day while they treat his malnourishment." McGonagall's voice trembled on the last word, but Tonks knew better than to argue the point.

"I don't see why the witnesses weren't given that strengthening tonic," Tonks grumbled as she stumbled after McGonagall, her eyes drooping. Then she blinked. "But I can visit Sirius in a week or two, right? When he's… a bit better?"

"We'll have to see," McGonagall replied distantly as she led her charges back to the fireplace, wondering what sort of rumours would be traversing the school. (As Arthur Weasley had already escorted his boys back to Hogwarts, probably quite frightening ones. No doubt the whole of Gryffindor Tower was awake and swapping stories.)

"Aren't the O.W.L.s in less than two weeks?" Hermione yawned.

AN: Thank you for all your patience. I'll likely post next when I have finished at least a rough draft of the entirety of the story, although I have a pretty strong outline already. I also want to thank freedachickens for her beta help on this chapter.