Sirius didn't miss the furious look on Wenlock's face as the wizard immediately left the Wizengamot as soon as the doors opened. Sirius stayed in his seat. There would be a three ring circus in the atrium as Cornelius had lined up a press conference to announce the new Muggle Affairs Department with Arthur, and Sirius was quite content to miss it. He'd even convinced Cornelius that his presence there would be distracting, coaxing the Minister into acceptance by pointing out the publicity should belong to him and Arthur.

Richard Bones leaned over from his chair, closing the distance between them. "Wenlock is going to be a problem."

"He is." Sirius agreed, casually erecting a privacy bubble. "What do you know of him?"

"Wenlock's kept himself pretty isolated." Richard commented. "His father went abroad in the early Seventies. Simon was educated in Durmstrang and did a Mastery in Potions. When his father died in 'eighty-five, Simon returned with his family to England. He has two sons and a daughter – all at Durmstrang. Politically, he has aid and support alliances with the Ancient and Noble Houses of Adams, Flint, Nott, Selwyn, Wilkes and Gibbon – but that's all."

Sirius turned that over in his head. All of the Houses named were known pureblood alliance supporters. All of them had alliances with Malfoy although Adams and Flint weren't part of Malfoy's inner circle. If Wenlock decided to build an opposition…

"He has nothing with the Minor Houses?" He checked.

"Nothing." Richard confirmed. "Up until now he's always acted like they're beneath him. He doesn't socialise with them; doesn't court them." He paused. "His agenda is very…" he sighed, "he hates anything that isn't a pureblood wizard with a title who thinks the same as him. It's not just the Minor Houses that he hasn't courted, he's ignored the neutral Ancient and Noble Houses too."

"So if he wants to build an opposition, he has a lot of work to do." Sirius thought out loud with satisfaction. He could get Malfoy doing some pre-emptive negotiations with the Minor Houses that followed the pureblood alliance and he'd talk with the neutral bloc; they wanted the Minor neutral houses in the alliance anyway.

"Do you really think he'll attempt to build an opposition?" Richard asked seriously.

"Grandfather used to say that nature abhors a vacuum; she fills it immediately with whatever rubbish she can find." Sirius said dryly. "The fact is that we've disturbed the natural order here in the Wizengamot. Wenlock was probably content to sit on the side-lines while Lucius held a strong position with the rest of the pureblood Houses but now…"

"I see what you mean." Richard sighed.

"Even if he does set up an opposition, we should be able to ensure it remains a minority." Sirius commented. "Something for us to discuss at the next alliance meeting."

Richard fidgeted, hesitated, and finally committed himself to asking whatever was on his mind. "Something else for us to discuss is whatever is going on with the family magic."

He thanked Merlin he'd had plenty of practice at keeping a straight face during all his years of pranking.

"Oh?"

"The griffin and the snake showing up in the Potter seat as though they're substituting for Harry? All of our family magic responding to the call of the House of Potter?" Richard said dryly. "Need I go on?"

Sirius shook his head; his heart was pounding in fear that they knew, that everyone knew about Harry's affinity with family magic.

"I realise there are secrets," Richard said hesitantly, "but the Ancient and Noble Houses of the alliance deserve an explanation for why our family magic is suddenly responding to someone else." He gestured and looked away to watch the crowds slipping out of the doors. "I thought it was me you know the last time. The magic took a long time to accept me when I did the ritual; I thought it might be because I was never supposed to sit in this chair; never thought it would be me. Merlin knows Edgar was twice as powerful as I am and Amelia could best him in a duel easily. It wasn't until I spoke with Leonard and Augusta that I realised they'd felt the same; like Harry had more of a right to the magic than any of us; that it wants Harry more than any of us." He turned and his honest brown gaze met Sirius's guarded grey eyes. "We're allies, Sirius. Trust us."

Sirius nodded slowly; his heartbeat slowing as Richard's sincerity sank into him. Richard was right. They needed to trust their allies otherwise they wouldn't be allies for very long. "We'll arrange something."

Richard nodded. "It's probably safe to make a move now."

He was right; there were very few left in the chamber, the press conference was probably over, and Sirius would be able sneak out around the crowds flowing through the atrium.

They stood and Sirius dispelled the privacy bubble with a thoughtless show of the small amount of wandless magic he could do.

"By the way, Susan wrote to us about the duel Harry won against Amelia!" Richard said cheerfully.

"Amelia underestimated Harry." Sirius said with a smile as he remembered the duel. "She won't make the same mistake again but he'll be ready for it."

"He could easily be a duelling champion," Richard commented as they made their way out of the chamber, "is he planning to enter any tournaments?"

"He's more focused on Quidditch," Sirius replied, "takes after James that way. He doesn't really like duelling for all that he's good at it."

"Amelia loved duelling." Richard commented. "It's just as well she was his opponent and not me. I would have lasted a minute if he managed to defeat her as easily as Susan made out."

"Maybe you underestimate yourself, Richard," Sirius said seriously, "whether you ever thought you'd be the Head of House or not, the ring wouldn't have accepted you if it didn't find you worthy." He brought them to a gentle halt in the middle of the corridor. "I never expected to sit in my seat either."

Richard gave a grateful nod and they started walking again.

Sirius's eyes widened at the sight of the redhead coming down the corridor towards him and Richard patted his shoulder realising he was about to be shanghaied.

"I look forward to our next meeting."

"Thanks, Richard." Sirius said absently as they drew level with Bill. Richard nodded an acknowledgement to the Weasley Heir and continued walking while Sirius stopped to talk with him.

"What are you doing here?" Sirius asked concerned. "I thought you were still confined to bed rest?" And he really didn't see how Bill could have sneaked out of the Burrow where he'd been recuperating under Molly's watchful eyes.

Bill winced and waved off Sirius's imminent remonstration. "I had an appointment at St Mungo's."

Sirius backed down but he noticed the faint sheen of sweat on Bill's brow and the pale sickly complexion beneath his freckles; Bill was anything but fine.

"Besides," Bill said, "they say everything's on track. I should be back at work next Monday. I just popped down to tell Caro." He grimaced. "You know they've put Lawrence on sick leave?"

"Yeah," Sirius nodded, "he's refused to take any more of the potion Snape created for him." Since the third member of the treasure team had purposefully put on a cursed ring to activate the Resurrection Stone to see his dead daughter, Sirius wasn't surprised; he fully believed that the dead held more attraction to Lawrence than the living. If it wasn't for Harry and Remus, Sirius has a horrible feeling he could relate more than what was considered nominally healthy.

"They think he won't see Yule." Bill continued sadly before taking a deep breath and shaking his head. "Sorry, I think the recent brush with death myself has gotten me maudlin."

"I think you've earned the right to be a little maudlin." Sirius said gratefully. "Come on; let's go find your Dad."

"How'd it go?" Bill asked eagerly. "I tried to make it over from the hospital in time to see him but they'd closed the doors by the time I arrived."

Sirius happily informed him of the Wizengamot session as they made their way to Arthur's office but waited until they were actually in the office and private before explaining about Wenlock and the potential duel of honour that was narrowly avoided.

Bill blinked in shock as he sank into the visitor chair with visible relief. "My Dad almost called out Lord Wenlock?"

"I swear," Sirius said holding up a hand as he perched on the desk, "if the moron had said one more thing, I think your Dad would have done it."

The door opened and Arthur walked in, pausing as he realised he had guests before breaking out into a wide if worried smile at the sight of his son.

"Bill, what are doing here?" Arthur asked, pulling his eldest in for a quick hug. "Does your mother know…"

"I had a check-up with the healers," Bill forestalled the question, putting his hand up, "and everything's fine. I'll go back to work on Monday."

"Hmmm," Arthur made a considering sound and peered at his son as if to verify that the healers had the right of it, "I shouldn't think they said to do anything strenuous though. You still look a little peaky."

Bill squirmed under his father's intent regard. "Well, they did say to take it easy…"

Which probably meant they'd told Bill to sit behind a desk for a week at least, Sirius thought with amusement.

"So you'll take it easy." Sirius instructed. And his work was done; one Bill delivered to Arthur intact. He slid off the desk.

Arthur smiled at him as though anticipating his exit. "I haven't had a chance to thank you yet for your support with Wenlock. Thank you; it was appreciated."

"I was actually hoping he'd say something stupider," Sirius admitted with a smirk, "dealing with him in a duel would be quicker than having to do the political dance that's about to start."

"I know what you mean," Arthur said but he was smiling, "but I can wait. And those are nice robes; you should keep them blood free."

It was an acknowledgement that Sirius would have been the one duelling not Arthur. Sirius thought, not for the first time, that Arthur was a good man. "Sometimes my reputation as a mass murderer comes in handy." He joked.

"Wenlock was certainly quick to apologise." Arthur's face took on a note of smug satisfaction.

"Well, I should get back before Dobby sends out a search party." Sirius said, keeping his voice upbeat.

Arthur's eyes narrowed on him anyway. "You'll come home with us for dinner first. It's the least I can do to say thank you."

There was an implicit order in the offer; Sirius didn't kid himself. His heart ached a little to realise that the look Arthur was levelling at Sirius wasn't too far off the way Arthur had looked at Bill earlier; as though Sirius was a son and Arthur was a concerned father.

Only Charlus had ever looked at him like that before.

"I'd give in before he floo calls Mum to argue about it until you give in anyway." Bill said cheerfully, breaking the moment.

Sirius shot him a grateful look and nodded at Arthur. "I would appreciate dinner; thank you."

Within moments they were back at the Burrow. Molly didn't bat an eyelid at Sirius's presence only checked with Arthur if they knew if Percy was coming home (and Arthur murmured something about Percy working late). She ushered Sirius into a seat at the table, handed a decent bottle of wine to Arthur to open and asked after Harry and Remus.

Sirius spent most of the very delicious meal of pork chops, mashed potatoes with roast vegetables and a divine cider sauce, talking about the kids and the duelling lesson with Amelia. He wasn't immune to the fact that Molly soaked up every word and while Arthur was less obvious it was clear that he missed his children. He thought absently on a wave of parental empathy that he should create a set of communication mirrors for the Weasleys before his inner Marauder pointed out the Weasley children might not be so appreciative of their mother calling every night to check up on them.

Pudding was a warm apple upside down cake with thick double cream and Sirius managed to eat some of it before his stomach reminded him he hadn't eaten quite so much in the last week and that it was very full. He somehow managed to eat the remainder and patted his stomach comfortingly, silently promising it a stomach soother when they got home.

Bill pushed his pudding away half-finished. "I think I'm going to head up and have an early night." He admitted, chagrined.

"Is Alicia not coming over tonight?" asked Molly, whose innocent expression was so falsely innocent that Sirius had to hide his face in his wine goblet so she didn't see his appalled smirk.

"Not tonight." Bill said with a flicker of annoyance in his voice at his mother's probing. He pushed away from the table. "Good to see you, Sirius. Give Harry my best."

"I will." Sirius promised. Harry would be pleased to hear Bill was almost back on his feet. He had a sneaky feeling his son felt guilty for Bill's injury and long convalescence despite the fact that the only person to blame was the one who had attacked them.

They all watched as Bill headed up the stairs, matching concerned expressions and relief that for all Bill was recovering slowly, he was recovering which was the important thing.

Molly bustled around the table, clearing plates and eschewing help. Sirius felt warm and comfortable and loathe to move despite the feeling he should.

"You know we really should continue our weekly dinners." Arthur commented mildly, and Sirius wondered what the older wizard had seen on his face to make the offer. "We did say at the start of the Summer that we'd work on an alliance of friendship ourselves beyond that which binds our children."

"We should." Sirius replied, touched despite the lurking want to refuse on the grounds that he didn't need any kind of pity.

Arthur suddenly smiled with all of the mischief that typified his twins. "Can you imagine the look on Wenlock's face if we announced an alliance of friendship between the House of Black and the House of Weasley?"

The two of them burst out laughing.

"Really." Molly tsked at them. "I don't know what you were thinking, Arthur, almost calling someone out."

Arthur hummed.

"Although the invitation for a weekly dinner stands, Sirius," Molly said, sitting back down with a cup of tea, "we'd be pleased to have you." And she did look genuinely pleased.

"Thank you," Sirius said, marvelling at the change from the start of the Summer.

"I'm afraid it's purely selfish," Molly said suddenly with a rather sheepish smile, "you'll be seeing the children every week and well…"

It actually made Sirius feel better knowing that she wasn't being completely selfless. He said so.

Molly nodded in understanding. "We do understand, you know." Her smile went motherly. "It's hard seeing them away to school." She sighed quietly, wrapping her hands around her mug. "I almost kept Ginny home her first year to avoid having an empty home." She grimaced. "After…I really wished I had."

Arthur's hand slid across the table and Molly took it, their fingers intertwining in silent support that made Sirius think about James and Lily and go slightly wistful for the lack of his own love life.

"How's the mind healing going?" asked Sirius instead.

It was Arthur who answered with a disappointed shake to his head. "We took her to the first one and she was very…" he sighed, "Healer Allen said she needed to want to come if progress was going to be made."

Sirius made a sympathetic noise. He remembered having a similar conversation with Healer Fay over Harry's treatment, specifically the discussion where she'd told him Harry would need to want to recognise the Dursleys' treatment of him as unacceptable before he could begin to heal. Frustration hadn't even begun to cover how he felt.

"So no more mind healing until she asks?" summarised Sirius.

Molly nodded. "Maybe it'll be fine. She seems to have made some new friends this year even if they are a little boy obsessed for my liking."

And he so wasn't going to be the one to tell Molly Harry's theory that Lydia and Jessica had befriended Ginny to get to the Boy Who Lived.

Sirius made a non-committal noise and smoothed a hand down the front of his robes. "Well, I should make a move. Thank you so much for your hospitality, Arthur and Molly."

"Same day next week?" asked Arthur pointedly.

Sirius nodded and got to his feet. The goodbyes were a whirl and Sirius ended up back in The School House with a portion of pudding in a Tupperware box before he knew it.

Dobby sniffed at him, plucked the box out of his hands before he could explain and gave him a stomach soother. He was ushered into his night time routine as though he was a recalcitrant child and Dobby a harried nanny.

He called Harry in self-defence. Their chat soothed him more than the potion and he fell asleep with Harry's discussion about his first fifth year Runes class drifting through his head.

The next morning, after a breakfast that would go easy on his stomach – a surprisingly light oatmeal with wonderfully syrupy strawberries – and a worrying message from Amelia about needing to talk with him about a missing pregnant woman (because it might mean Voldemort was definitely set on the ritual), Sirius set off to the tribunals.

Courtroom Ten was quite imposing but then it was meant to be; it was a courtroom. There was a chair for the accused; stands for the prosecution and the defence, and tiers of seating that would normally be filled by the Wizengamot.

Sirius was the first one there; he looked around the empty room and shrugged. He slid into the Black seat and opened the Daily Prophet. The headline story was the new Department of Muggle Affairs. There was a good picture of Cornelius and Arthur standing side by side on the podium shaking hands and looking suitably serious. His eyebrows rose as he read the article. Rita's words ended up mostly positive towards having the new Department and the direction of Ministerial policy but rather lukewarm about the appointment of Arthur; Wenlock's challenge had been included as a side story.

Another problem to solve, mused Sirius. The publicity over the Summer had been very positive for himself and Harry but he was all too aware that journalists – and Rita in particular – would be circling for blood in the water. It wasn't quite so much fun putting someone on a pedestal if they didn't fall from it, or someone didn't pull them down.

He watched as the prosecution arrived; Amelia with an old female Auror with steel blue hair who looked like a contemporary of Moody's. Rufus hovered in the background. Cornelius wandered in and started talking with Amelia; probably a last minute plea to be the one to prosecute but Amelia was shaking her head and looking determined.

The defence advocates started to arrive. Rowle's was first; Hermon Gelding, a solicitor with dark slicked back hair and a bulbous nose that looked purple from Sirius's vantage point. Jugson's and MacNair's came together; Giles Dotts and Clemence Collingworth of Dotts and Collingworth. They were a small firm but represented many of the pureblood Minor Houses. Both were brown haired and indistinguishable. Travers's advocate arrived last; Barry Bootle. He was polished in his appearance; perfect blond hair, classically handsome features, good physique adorned in quality robes. He'd been one of Regulus's friends.

Sirius's hand clenched on the newspaper and he carefully smoothed it flat again. Regulus had come to his senses and done the right thing in the end even if there had been a moment where he had tried to kill Sirius with Barry Bootle standing right beside him, both of them trying to earn their Death Eater stripes. One day, Sirius would take Kreacher and go back to where Regulus had found the locket and find his body. He would bury his brother.

He shivered, suddenly cold.

And the world started to blur at the edges as his mind slipped into a memory…

James, dead on the floor…

Lily, dead in front of the crib…

Harry crying and bloody…

Hagrid holding Harry and telling Sirius he had his orders…

Peter defiant and yelling something…

The blast and shock shuddering through him…

"I said get those Dementors out of here now!" Amelia's voice cut through the fog and Sirius came back to himself abruptly.

He was curled up, hands over his head; rocking. He stopped and took a deep breath. He shivered violently.

"Sirius!" Amelia was suddenly beside him. She held something out and he took it automatically, recognising the scent of chocolate.

He stuffed it into his mouth.

"They're gone." Amelia said as though Sirius regaining his senses hadn't already told him that.

"I'm so sorry!" Cornelius was wringing his hands together. "I arranged…I thought it was best to have extra security and I didn't think…"

"That's right," Amelia snarled at him before she caught herself, "but we will talk about this later, Minister." Her eyes went pointedly to the gawping defence advocates.

Cornelius nodded unhappily. "Sirius…"

"I'm fine, Cornelius." Sirius said briskly. "I just wasn't prepared for them." He attempted a smile. "A cup of hot chocolate wouldn't go amiss though."

Cornelius's assistant took off immediately to go get it.

"My sincere apologies, Sirius." Cornelius said again.

Amelia handed Sirius another chunk of chocolate and he put it in his mouth, letting the sweetness melt on his tongue. He swallowed and motioned back at her table.

"You should get back to what you were doing," Sirius said firmly, "I'm fine." He wasn't – too cold and the ache in his limbs went all the way to the bone – but he wasn't going to give Bootle any more ammunition. He was already betting that the fact that he'd had a bad reaction to the Dementors would make the Prophet's headlines the next day.

Amelia's eyes were filled with nothing but understanding though. She handed him the rest of her chocolate and went back to work, Cornelius following after Sirius had reassured him again that it was fine.

Five minutes later, Cornelius's bright-eyed assistant, (Marty? Sirius struggled to remember the name), brought him the hot chocolate and Sirius held it close, inhaling the warmth and scent as he staved off the urge to turn into Padfoot. The arrival of the judges – Albus, Gideon and Daniel helped.

Albus hurried over. "My dear boy, I heard what happened. Are you alright?"

"Fine," Sirius lied, uncomfortable more with the knowledge that his reaction had already made the gossip tree within the Ministry (he was so going to kill Monty on his way out), "just could have done without the trip back down memory lane." He pressed his lips together. "Ignore me, Albus, I'll be fine. Just get this done."

"Drink your chocolate, Sirius." Albus said gently, before he moved away.

Almost unwillingly, Sirius followed the instruction. The hot chocolate was still hot; Murphy had obviously got him a charmed mug when he'd gotten it for him and told the rest of the building about Sirius's unfortunate reaction to Dementors.

Seeing Albus reminded Sirius that at some point he needed to talk with his former Headmaster about the Elder wand. The Hallows had to be the 'power' mentioned because Sirius was never going to believe that Harry needed to sacrifice his own life to get rid of Voldemort. Didn't the line 'neither can live while the other survives' suggest that the survivor would live once it was all over?

He slurped down the rest of the chocolate and watched as the mug automatically refilled. OK, Sirius thought bemused, perhaps he'd hold off on killing Murray.

Everything suddenly came to order; the Courtroom door banged shut. A rather cowed Cornelius took a seat by Amelia. The scribe, a young harried looking administrator with bright yellow hair that had to have come from a potion, slipped into position and Albus asked if everyone was ready.

Amelia stood, wonderfully authoritative in her formal robes. "The prosecution is ready."

"And the defence for our four defendants?" Albus's gaze strayed to the four advocates.

There was a chorus of confirmations.

Then, Bootle stepped forward. "I would like to make an objection on the record about the presence of Lord Black."

Sirius wasn't surprised.

Albus blinked. "He is here to observe and bear witness that justice is done as directed by the ruling of the Wizengamot."

"Unfortunately the LeStranges can no longer bear witness to what Lord Black feels is justice." Bootle said snidely.

Amelia was the one to get to her feet in response. "Objection! Mister Bootle is so far out of line he's in a different country. Lord Black's family business is just that; family business." She stared down Bootle across the courtroom. "Chief Warlock, as you are aware the Wizengamot made Lord Black's inclusion mandatory for this tribunal to go ahead. Lord Black is here to bear witness nothing more. There are no grounds to object to his presence unless he attempts to interfere in judicial process."

"I agree." Albus said firmly. "Let's move on. I believe each defendant will be tried separately?"

"Yes, Chief Warlock." Amelia said politely. "The first defendant is Thorfinn Rowle."

"Bring in the accused." Albus ordered.

Rowle had been a few years behind him in Hogwarts. He vaguely remembered a skinny looking blond haired kid who looked half-scared of his shadow and who couldn't aim a curse if it killed him. How old had he been when he joined the Death Eaters, mused Sirius; fifteen, sixteen?

Rowle was escorted to the accused's chair where he crumpled like a wet tissue, sobbing his heart out as he confirmed he was Rowle and his current address.

Amelia began. "Thorfinn Rowle, you are accused of being part of a terrorist organisation known as the Death Eaters also known as the Knights of Walpurgis, and of conspiring to commit a terrorist act on the twenty-fifth of August of this year. You would also have been charged with committing a terrorist act and committing violent spells with intent to harm except for the fact that you were found under an Imperius curse on the night in question." She stopped and raised her head. "How do you plead?"

"Guilty," Rowle sobbed, "guilty."

Sirius had the urge to tell him to buck up and took a swallow of hot chocolate to prevent himself from speaking.

"In your own time, please confirm this signed confession I am entering into evidence." Amelia said, handing over a sheet of parchment to Albus who replicated it and handed a copy each to Gideon and Daniel.

"I joined the Death Eaters when I was fifteen." Rowle admitted with a downcast expression. "I was taken by my father to a group initiation where I received the Dark Lord's Mark."

Which meant that at fifteen Rowle had killed someone.

"I don't really remember that night." Rowle said hesitantly. He cast a look towards his solicitor.

Gelding hauled himself to his feet. "Let it be known to the court that Thorfinn Rowle was previously judged as being a minor and forced to take the Mark following the events of Halloween nineteen eighty-one."

"The court so notes." Albus said formally.

"Recently…" Rowle avoided all their eyes, "the Mark…the Mark has hurt and grown darker. Everyone…everyone thinks he is gaining in strength…the Dark Lord that is. We…we had to do something so he wouldn't be angry!"

"We?" asked Gideon, questioning Rowle as was his right as a judge.

Gelding was on his feet again. "Please note that my client cannot answer that question beyond the other three men that were arrested at the same time without violating an Unbreakable Vow."

Sirius raised his eyebrows and wondered if Rowle was lying. Lucius had never indicated that his alliance was subject to such a vow.

"Very well," Albus said anyway, "let us continue."

"Eventually, five of us volunteered to…to do something at the Quidditch World Cup." Rowle admitted. "We planned to split up; one pair would target the muggles and one would target a muggleborn family. We discussed torture and…and killing them. Dennis would then put up the Dark Mark in the sky to show…"

"The Dennis you refer to is Dennis Travers who was arrested the same night as yourself?" Amelia interjected.

"Yes…" Rowle said. "We paired up together on the night. But he…he was talking and I…I'd never done anything before. I just…I wasn't…I couldn't do it. I don't remember very much until the Auror was suddenly there."

Amelia produced another parchment – the Auror's report – and handed it to Albus. "Please note that Mister Rowle was found at the scene of a crime. His wand had evidence of several dark curses including the Cruciatus. He was, however, under the Imperius curse himself which was broken when Mister Travers was stunned by myself."

"Objection!" Bootle got to his feet. "My client is not here to defend himself from such a charge."

"I was under the impression that was why you had to be present." Amelia pointed out. "For the record, I wasn't aware that I had actually made any kind of charge against your client." She pinned him with a stern gaze. "Yet."

Sirius hid his snort in his mug of chocolate.

"You implied…" Bootle began.

"I merely related a fact: Mister Rowle regained his senses at the point where Mister Travers was stunned." Amelia said dryly.

"And I…"

"Mister Bootle," Gideon interrupted, "your point is made and I think the Chief Warlock, Lord Greengrass and I are capable of understanding that an implication is not a formal charge." His eyes swept to Amelia. "And we are also capable of separating implications from actual evidence. I suggest we move on."

Amelia nodded briskly. "Mister Rowle, you mentioned that you were paired with Mister Travers; who formed the other pair?"

"Arnold Jugson and Walden MacNair." Rowle stuttered out.

"Objection!" Dotts and Collingworth were on their feet.

"Sit down, gentlemen!" Gideon said firmly. "You have no cause to object to an identification and you can challenge in cross-examination."

Amelia looked as pleased as punch as she sat down.

"Mister Gelding, your defence may begin." Albus instructed.

"Mister Rowle," Gelding began gently, "why did you volunteer to take part in demonstrating loyalty to the Dark Lord?"

"My father…" Rowle swallowed hard, "my father failed a mission once back in…back then." His stricken face looked up suddenly. "The Dark Lord killed my mother to teach my father a lesson. When the Mark grew dark, I was…I was scared. I have a wife! And a son! I thought if we…we were to prove ourselves to the Dark Lord…if I could prove my loyalty then perhaps my family…they wouldn't pay for my sin."

Sirius winced. It was hard not to feel sympathetic.

"On the night of the World Cup, Mister Rowle, why did you change your mind?" Gelding said softly.

"The family that Dennis picked out…" Rowle blinked hard against another onslaught of tears, "the boy…the boy is the same age as mine and Dennis wanted…he said we had to kill him. I couldn't…a child! He was just a child!"

"Objection!" Bootle said again.

Gideon stared him down, visibly perplexed. "On what grounds?"

Bootle shifted his weight. "This is hearsay against my client."

"Which we will get to when we get to your client." Daniel pointed out. "As Gideon has already said in much politer terms, we are not idiots. Sit down."

Bootle shot him a furious look but sat.

Gelding cleared his throat. "After the suggestion was made, what did you do?"

"Refused to go through with it." Rowle said clearly. "But then…I don't understand what happened because I was suddenly standing in front of the tent and the boy…" he choked and had to take a breath, "the boy was on the ground in front of me and my wand was pointing at him, and the Aurors were there, yelling at me to drop my wand!"

Gelding nodded and produced a parchment that went to the three judges. "You will see from this independent Healer's report of the night my client was arrested that he was suffering from the after effects of the Imperius curse." He turned back to Rowle. "Do you regret your actions?"

"Yes," Rowle stated baldly, "I regret ever agreeing to take part in it. I should have…I should have stayed out of it."

Gelding tapped the table in front of him. "The defence rests, gentlemen."

Albus thanked him. "Mister Dotts, do you wish to cross-examine on any part to do with your client?"

Dotts leaped to his feet. "Without wishing to strain the vow you took, how can you be sure that those who volunteered on the same day that you did, Mister Rowle, continued to be the same individuals involved with the unfortunate events on the night of the twenty-fifth of August?"

Rowle looked at him confused. "You mean apart from them getting arrested?"

Dotts had walked into that one, Sirius thought amused.

"Exactly." Dotts said brazening it out. "Did you speak to Mister Jugson at all between the meeting where there was an agreement something should take place and the World Cup?"

"No, I only met with Dennis," admitted Rowle who continued to look confused.

"And on the night of the World Cup, did you speak to Mister Jugson then?" Dotts persisted.

"I, um, think so?" Rowle's uncertainty bled from his every pore.

"Why only think so, Mister Rowle, shouldn't you know who you spoke to?" Dotts asked.

"We were all wearing masks." Rowle said defensively.

Dotts grinned in satisfaction. "Thank you, Mister Rowle."

Collingworth asked the same questions and Sirius decided their defence was going to be lousy if they were going for a 'they didn't really do it' tactic when they'd been caught red-handed.

Sirius shifted in his seat as Bootle stood up and declined to question Rowle with a sneer at the quivering wreck in the defendant's chair.

Albus nodded. "Do either of my fellow judges have anything they would like to ask the defendant?"

Gideon and Daniel shook their heads.

"Then as the defendant has pled guilty, my fellow judges and I will deliberate the sentence." Albus raised a powerful privacy bubble which obscured the judges from watching eyes as well as listening ears. It was an impressive bit of magic.

Sirius felt himself being watched and turned with a frown to see Bootle glaring at him. He glared back and was happy to see Bootle drop his gaze.

The deliberation didn't take long. Albus dropped the privacy bubble and turned to Rowle with a compassionate grandfatherly expression.

"Mister Rowle, you have pled guilty and confessed to conspiring to commit a terrorist act and being part of a terrorist organisation. The last war took many lives and we cannot allow this terrorism to take hold again; as a society we cannot tolerate such outright attacks on our government and the peace so many fought so hard to achieve. Yet your defence has offered some mitigation for both charges and you have expressed regret. Keeping this in mind, this tribunal sentences you to ten years imprisonment in Azkaban's minimum security wing." Albus said gravely.

Rowle burst into noisy tears as the Aurors were ordered to take him from the courtroom.

Sirius knew he would have been tempted to sentence Rowle much more harshly but he was satisfied and certainly judicial process had been followed.

The next prisoner was brought in.

Arnold Jugson showed none of the hysterics of Rowle; instead he remained stoically grim-faced through the confirmation of identity.

Amelia's prosecution was swift; she called Wood to testify that he had arrested both Jugson and MacNair at the World Cup, and submitted the forensic tests of both wands and the muggle victims which supported the written statements from Harry and Ron and their accounts of coming across two robed and masked figures torturing muggles.

It was at that point that Dotts got to his feet and objected to the absence of Harry and Ron. Sirius noticed the surreptitious look his way that the solicitor threw him and figured he was expected to leap to his feet and protest loudly at the idea of having Harry testify, voiding the trial with his non-sanctioned interference. So instead he smiled at Dotts and let Amelia eviscerate Dott's argument as spurious as everyone had been notified of the decision not to have them as witnesses and all solicitors had been given the offer to interview the boys before they had left for Hogwarts and declined.

Dotts sat back down defeated.

It was the beginning of the end…Dotts tried to get the conspiracy charge dropped on the basis of lack of evidence but Amelia produced the surveillance photos of Jugson at his meeting with Dennis Travers – the entire reason why the tribunals were sealed because the photos gave away that they were watching the former Death Eaters. The Imperius curse defence was countered by a Ministry Healer who testified.

Sirius watched in satisfaction as Jugson was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to ten years in the maximum security part of Azkaban – where Sirius had formally resided. Jugson didn't say a word as he was led out.

The recess Albus called was welcome since the ever-full mug of hot chocolate had produced a natural consequence that had Sirius finding the nearest bathroom as soon as the doors to the courtroom opened up. He decided to get some fresh air and made his way through the corridors of the Ministry to a little known balcony off on the top level, wrapping around a corner of the building, completely invisible to muggle eyes. He and James had discovered it the second week of their training as Hit Wizards and had used it as an escape to talk occasionally.

Sirius closed the balcony door, and walked around the corner to what he considered his usual spot. He had usually lounged back against the building while James had perched on the metal railing. If he closed his eyes…

He gulped in air and tried to ignore that his shivering wasn't just due to the icy wind that blew across his cheeks and sent his hair flying.

Bloody Dementors, Sirius thought tiredly.

A scuff of the door opening on the other side of the building had Sirius straightening and he squared his shoulders to be polite to whoever was about to disturb him.

"Damn it, Amos! What has gotten into you?"

Leonard Abbott's voice carried around the corner and Sirius shrank back against the building's side, quickly casting a disillusionment charm. He needn't have been worried; neither Leonard nor Amos Diggory walked around to his side of the balcony.

"Are you trying to get arrested?" Leonard continued harshly.

"I just wanted to talk to Walden!" Amos replied heatedly.

"He's about to go to Azkaban!" Leonard stated bluntly. "He's a Death Eater for Merlin's sake! What in the name of all things magical were you thinking?"

"I've worked with him for years, Leonard! He's sat at my table and talked to my son about Quidditch!" Amos replied. "I just wanted to know why! He's not a bad man; he's always been good at his job."

Sirius understood Amos's bewilderment; hadn't he felt the same with Peter? The need to know why had been a nagging constancy of Sirius's thinking on Peter ever since he'd realised Peter's betrayal.

"And now we know why! He's a murdering bastard!" Leonard snarled.

"We don't know what he's done beyond attacking the muggleborn family." Amos said defensively.

Leonard made a scoffing sound. "You must be kidding me, Amos. You forget I've seen some of the creature executions MacNair has carried out. I saw him put down a sixteen year old wizard without pause."

"A sixteen year old werewolf." Amos corrected.

Sirius shuddered, unable to do anything but picture a sixteen year old Remus in the place of the unnamed executed boy.

"I will never agree on your agenda there, Amos." Leonard said firmly.

Amos snorted. "Well, of course not! Not now Black with his pet werewolf has your balls in the palm of his hands!"

"Amos!" Leonard snapped. "We have been friends for too many years to count but you go too far!"

There was a tense silence.

"I apologise, Leonard," Amos said gruffly.

Leonard's sigh was heavy and loud enough to travel to Sirius. "What is going on with you, Amos? You haven't been right since…since you didn't get the Wizengamot seat."

"I was the best candidate, Leonard. The only reason why I didn't get it was because of Black."

"You can't solely blame him for that, Amos." Leonard retorted. "Most of the Houses that voted for someone else prefer Yaxley's view of the world or don't hold your views on werewolves and other magical creatures. They don't like the legislation you and that awful Umbridge woman forced through."

"Werewolves are dangerous…" Amos began heatedly.

"Amos, stop!" Leonard ordered. "Look, what happened with Thaddeus was a tragedy but not all werewolves are as feral as Fenrir Greyback."

Thaddeus? Sirius frowned at the mention of Amos's younger brother. They'd been school contemporaries; Thad had been sorted into Hufflepuff the same year as the Marauders had sorted into Gryffindor. Thad had gotten some job on a creature reserve in the Alps the last Sirius had heard.

"If you're about to mention Lupin; don't." Amos snarled.

Sirius stiffened.

"Amos, I'm only going to say this once; don't set yourself against Sirius." Leonard said firmly. "He's every bit as powerful as his grandfather used to be – maybe even more so. Don't go up against him."

"Thank you for the advice, Leonard," Amos's voice dripped with sarcasm, "now some of us have jobs to do."

The creak and slam of the door echoed around the corner and Sirius heard Leonard swearing under his breath before the door opened and closed again signalling his departure.

Sirius kept himself invisible until he was half-way back to the courtroom. He sneaked back in and sat back down in his chair, nothing absently that the ever-fill mug had disappeared. He sighed. He should have gotten some more chocolate or some tea.

But it was too late because the doors were shutting and Albus was calling everyone to attention as the docket moved onto Walden MacNair.

It was a hopeless repeat of Jugson's trial. All the same arguments bar the one about Harry and Ron, and all the same counter-arguments with the same result at the end of it. But Sirius knew it had to be that way. MacNair's solicitor had to tread the same ground as Jugson's or MacNair could claim a mistrial.

He was ecstatic though when MacNair was sentenced and Albus called for the last prisoner.

The Dennis Travers that walked in didn't quite fit the description of the surly prisoner holding his silence that Amelia had painted but Sirius figured maybe the trial had knocked some reality into Travers's head finally. He was going to Azkaban and probably for a lot longer than his associates since he'd been the ringleader.

Travers sat in the chair and sweat lined his brow.

Yeah, Sirius mused speculatively, Travers was beginning to understand just what was going to happen.

Amelia stood up, her expression the very definition of grim determination. "As the accused has eschewed all attempts to get him to speak since his arrest, I would ask the court to allow the use of veritaserum…"

Bootle was on his feet immediately. "Absolutely not!"

Amelia shot him an annoyed look. "We discussed this yesterday…"

"We did not!" Bootle snapped.

"If this is an attempt to cause a mistrial, Bootle, it isn't funny!" Amelia snapped. "I have the notification document here with your seal on it. What are you playing at?"

Bootle went red. "And I don't know what you're playing at! But I do know you are attempting to falsify evidence. We didn't discuss anything of this kind in our meeting yesterday morning!"

Amelia rolled her eyes. "Not in the meeting in the morning, no, but we did discuss it in the afternoon before you visited your client."

"I didn't visit my client in the afternoon! I was sick as a dog and throwing up in my flat's bathroom!" Bootle stormed back.

The entire courtroom froze.

If Bootle was telling the truth – if someone had impersonated him…but why? Just to see Travers? And if someone had impersonated Bootle they had to know the truth would come out when they'd signed a document Bootle himself would have no knowledge of signing…

Bootle suddenly turned and stared at Travers before glancing back at Amelia. "I don't know what's going on here but my objection stands; I have received no notification, have sealed no such document and do not agree to my client being given veritaserum."

Albus motioned at Amelia. "May we see the notification document?"

Amelia handed it to him. Albus waved his wand over it several times.

"This seems to be in order. The magical seal is verified as belonging to the office of Bootle, Appleforth and Crackton." Albus briefly looked at Gideon and Daniel. "We will allow the use of veritaserum and record Mister Bootle's objection."

Bootle bristled but the ruling had been made.

Travers cringed in the chair.

The veritaserum vial was presented for authenticity and the Auror moved to give it to Travers. Unsurprisingly, Travers had to be restrained before they could get the three drops into him.

They all waited with bated breath for the few moments that were needed for it to take effect.

Amelia moved into position. "What is your name?"

"No, no, no…" Travers squirmed in his seat, tears streaming down his face in his effort to resist the truth serum. "No…"

"What is your name?" asked Amelia more insistently.

"Col…Colin Basil Summers." The words came stiffly forced out.

Dear Merlin, Sirius thought wildly; it wasn't Travers…the prisoner wasn't Travers!

"What the…!" Bootle was on his feet. "Where is my client?"

"They have him." Colin sobbed, answering automatically.

The three other solicitors looked torn between excitement, curiosity and outrage. The Auror guards looked disturbed; the scribe, bewildered.

Amelia brought her hand up and silenced everyone with a look.

"Why are you impersonating Dennis Travers?" Amelia asked snappily.

"They have my sister!" The man – Colin – sobbed. "I was supposed to go to Azkaban in his place. Please, please; they have my sister and she's pregnant and if I don't do this…they'll kill her! Please!"

Sirius's heart leaped into his throat and his frantic gaze met Amelia's.

Voldemort had freed Dennis Travers, another loyal servant, but Sirius didn't care about that. Another pregnant woman was missing which meant there was no doubt that Voldemort was going ahead with the ritual.

And the time was long past that Sirius needed to tell Harry.