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Astonishment: Yes, two updates in as many weeks! I love having an Easter vacation. Sadly, it was my last for a while, so I'm not sure how quickly the next chapter will arrive, but I thought you all put up with that sudden cliffhanger pretty well and deserved a rapid continuation.
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9 September 1991
Sirius was immediately covered by three wands; both Shacklebolt and Robards had theirs pressed to either side of his neck and Bones was across the room in a shot to add hers. "What the hell, Black?"
He held his peace, hands spread out and not daring to move. "You have my testimony under truth serum, Director. If I could have managed to do this in private, I would have. But I asked for a meeting with Albus twice and received no response."
Whatever the director planned to say next was lost as a familiar voice rang out behind her. "Madame Bones, please have your Aurors stand down!"
She shook her head at Shacklebolt and he kept his wand in place as she turned to face the headmaster. He was sitting up and being helped to his feet by Lancaster. He was pale and sweating, rearranging his robes fussily. The Wizengamot members in the gallery began to relax.
"I ask the prosecution and Madame Longbottom to be allowed to take the stand first."
The acting Chief Witch frowned in concern. "Is that wise, Albus? You look quite ill. I think we should summon a Healer."
"No, no need for that. I promise to see Madame Pomfrey as soon as I return to Hogwarts, if it will put your mind at ease, but what I have to say should not wait a moment longer." He gave Madame Longbottom a reassuring smile, his eyes twinkling madly, and she relented.
Sirius felt hands on his shoulders and obeyed the unspoken command to sit. People returned to their places as Dumbledore climbed to the witness stand. He took out his wand and used it to freshen himself up. With one final massage to his temples, he leaned on the railing for support and looked at Lancaster expectantly.
The prosecuting wizard shuffled frantically for the list of questions that had been prepared, obviously rattled. "Pl—please state your name for the court."
"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore."
"What is your relationship to the accused?"
"Sirius was a student at Hogwarts from 1971 to 1978. After graduation he began Auror training and worked with me to help fight Voldemort and his ranks of Death Eaters."
Sirius noticed the shiver of fear in the room at Voldemort's name and could not keep his eyes from rolling. The man's been dead almost ten years!
"What can you tell us about the events on 31 October, 1981?"
Dumbledore straightened and smiled over at Sirius. "I can tell you that Sirius was most definitely not the Secret-Keeper for the Potters."
The crowd began to buzz as people reacted to the news with their neighbours. Madame Longbottom pounded on her gavel to restore order. "Quiet! Please continue, Lancaster."
"Thank you, Madame. Mr Dumbledore, why did you not make this statement at the time of Black's arrest?"
"Because I allowed myself to be Obliviated of the knowledge as an extra measure of security. I performed the Fidelius to hide the Potters away and was part of the discussion to give the public the impression that Sirius was Secret-Keeper when in reality we chose Peter Pettigrew in an attempt to bluff Voldemort. My former students were incorrigible pranksters at school and this was just the kind of thing they would think of. I allowed Lily Potter to perform the memory charms so I would not give the plan away."
A number of people brightened, putting the pieces together. Dumbledore nodded, noticing the comprehension dawning.
"Mrs Potter was most proficient with charms. In other circumstances she would surely have gone for her mastery and might have ended up taking Professor Flitwick's place upon his retirement. But I digress. We arranged that any of the four involved—James, Lily, Sirius and Peter—would be able to break the memory charm with the code phrase 'Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country'. It was something Lily had heard from her sister, something to do with Muggle schooling."
"And because Bagnold and Crouch sent Black to Azkaban without a trial, he was never able to cancel the charm," Lancaster observed.
"Precisely. Because of the memory charm, I made the same assumptions as everyone else, much to my shame, and never sought a trial for Sirius. The public's need for a scapegoat was so great that it threatened to destabilize our society just at the point where the worst danger had passed." Dumbledore turned to look at Sirius directly. "I apologize for that. I apologize for taking the easy path instead of seeing things through properly."
Sirius nodded at him. With the memory charm in place, Sirius didn't blame him for what he believed. For not fulfilling his duty, for following Crouch's lead, Sirius blamed him very much. But now was not the time to dig into that.
"It explains everything now, my headaches and attempts to avoid even mentioning Sirius since Pettigrew was discovered. The pressure on the hidden memory was quite strong."
Lancaster looked at Madame Longbottom. "The prosecution rests its case."
"Rightly so. York, do you have anything to add?"
York stood. "Only the submitted evidence of Peter Pettigrew being alive and in Auror custody along with the Veritaserum testimony of both Pettigrew and the defendant." He sat back down.
The acting Chief Witch waved Dumbledore to his chair and looked around the room. "Wands out and ready, please. Lit for guilty and unlit for not. On the charge of betrayal of James and Lily Potter and being a Death Eater?"
A few wands lit up and Sirius saw Bones nearly put her face in her hands. But the vote was indisputably "not guilty".
"On the charge of murdering Peter Pettigrew?"
This time not a single wand was lit.
"By the evidence presented and the decision of his peers, Sirius Black is found not guilty of the crimes for which he stood accused and is free to leave the court without a stain on his character." Madame Longbottom pounded the gavel for the last time. "You are hereby free to go, Mr Black."
After collecting a copy of Amelia's report on Black's trial, Minerva went down to the gates of Hogwarts to keep her appointment with the Esperança House doctors. She had communicated with them by owl the evening of the train's arrival, assuming that the children would send their own letters. Once the trial date had been set, she had arranged to meet them the same evening.
She Apparated to the same upstairs conference room as before, finding the red-haired nurse waiting for her. "Good evening, professor. If you'll wait here I'll let Dr Greene and Dr Aymler know you're here." She waved a hand at a tea set. "Help yourself while you wait."
Minerva investigated and found the tea to still be warm, but not piping hot. She cast a warming charm on it and poured for herself. She poked her head into the other rooms, finding them still furnished as bedrooms but empty of the children's belongings. She returned to her seat and pulled out the parchments that Amelia had prepared. A few minutes later, Dr Aymler entered.
"Good evening, professor. I apologize, but Dr Greene is delayed. We have an issue involving one of our new residents and the fact that we frown upon biting our aides."
Minerva chuckled at that. "I would most certainly support that. In my school days we might have Transfigured the offender into a beaver for a few hours of non-stop chewing to make our point. We don't allow such punishments anymore."
"Pity. It strikes me as effective." The doctor poured a cup of tea and sat down. "Now, do you have all the information needed to tell us what has happened?"
She passed over the parchments. "You may keep this report. It is by Director Bones, our top official when it comes to police and criminal matters."
He eyed the sheaf of uneven, buff-coloured paper. "I don't suppose you could make that look like a printed report?"
He opened a folder in a stack he carried with him and showed her the crisp, white pages with neat black lettering. With a wave of her wand, the report turned into a similar handful of pages. She continued, "The short version is that I remembered correctly. Sirius Black was never tried for his crimes in 1981. That has now happened and Black was found to be innocent of all charges against him."
"How was it proven, besides the fact that the murder victim turned up alive?"
"Director Bones conducted questioning of Black with Veritaserum, a potion that forces a person to speak the truth for a short while. She learned that Harry's father and Black tried to bluff the Death Eaters, making them think that Black would be the one to hold the knowledge of where the Potters were hiding. They actually used Pettigrew instead, unaware that he had already defected to the other side."
Aymler nodded. "I see. So what does this mean for Harry going forward?"
"Well, Black is Harry's godfather, so it's possible he'll ask for custody of Harry once he's sorted out his own affairs after being imprisoned."
Aymler sat back, tugging on his moustache. "We'd need to discuss it with Dr Greene, but I think we'd be open to the possibility of visitation and such, let Harry get to know the man in advance of a slow transition. A sudden switch in living arrangements on top of everything else would be a great deal to ask of Harry, not to mention the need to provide enough documentation on this side for there to suddenly be a new guardian after so many years."
Minerva nodded, thinking about the exasperating man-child that Sirius Black had been before the Potters' murders. "I agree that any transition should be taken slowly."
"Now, tell me how the kids are settling in. We've had letters from Harry and Hermione so far and they sound excited about everything. Dean wrote one short note to his parents, but didn't give many details. How do you think they are doing?"
Minerva did a quick spell to add tea from the pot to her cup and warmed it again. "They're doing very well, much better than we usually see with our Muggleborn pupils. The whole lot of them stick together, though they're friendly enough with the other students. They've even added one child to their ranks, a boy named Neville Longbottom, and it might be the making of him. I do see them having some issues with the actual magic, getting it to focus through their wands and behave accordingly, but that isn't unusual with Muggleborns."
What she did not share, what she was not going to share with anyone just yet, was her suspicion that the three who had stayed at Esperança House might have a tremendously difficult time adjusting to wands. Nothing had been declared in the open and her only evidence was the amazing display of wandless magic at the first meeting. Yet she felt sure that between the methodical atmosphere of the institution, Hermione's thirst for knowledge, and the likelihood of Harry having his father's curious nature, there had been experimenting going on.
"The classroom that we talked about setting aside for the children to work on their non-magical education is almost ready. I'll have the children send an owl when they're ready for the first round of books needed. Space will be somewhat limited, but we'll do what we can."
The doctor grinned. "Actually, space may not be a tremendous issue after all. Let me show you what Harry and Dean are giving Hermione for her birthday."
19 September 1991
"Please, Hermione? It's just back down the stairs."
She grumbled but began following Harry back to the staircase. "How on earth did you manage to leave your Charms homework in our schoolroom in the first place? We hardly ever unpack our magical homework in there."
They were returning to what they had begun calling the schoolroom, to separate it from the various classrooms for their magical subjects. In the week since Professor McGonagall had shown the Muggleborn group their space, the children had rearranged the furniture and shelves to their liking and even decorated it a bit. They had tacked posters up, looking incongruous against the stone walls: a West Ham poster from Dean, Terry's poster from the movie The Empire Strikes Back, and Sally Anne's poster of a boy band called New Kids on the Block. Hermione had carefully labelled each bookshelf in anticipation of the subjects they would study, leaving space for fiction and magazines. Professor McGonagall had sealed the room for them and given them a password to prevent magical students from entering without permission.
She was jerked from her thoughts as the staircase suddenly moved under her feet. They had been told, along with the other Firsties, that the staircases could shift without warning, but this was the first time she had seen it. Harry gripped the banister above her and growled, "Why now? Come on, shift back!" She could see him straining to try and reverse their course, but they swung around until the bottom of the stairs met a hallway they hadn't visited before.
They scrambled down to the landing. Harry was sweating from his efforts to divert the stairs and Hermione offered him a handkerchief – she had found the long, loose sleeves of the Hogwarts robes to be quite handy for storing extras. They looked around, trying to sort where they were now, and Harry spotted a doorway at the end of the hall. "Isn't that the Defence classroom?"
As he ran down to open it, Hermione frowned. "Harry, I think we're on the wrong floor!"
He ignored her, intent on checking for himself. The door refused to open and Harry tugged at it again. "Come on, open!"
Hermione felt him add his magic to the order and the lock clicked, allowing the door to swing open. Harry ducked inside to see which room it was and Hermione followed him.
He halted and she bumped into him. For an instant she thought he was groping for the lights before remembering that they were in a magical castle, not a house with electric switches. Then she heard the growls.
The light from the corridor showed her two heads and two enormous paws standing on a trap door in the floor before she seized Harry's arm and yanked him beyond the reach of huge teeth. The heads began barking as they slammed the door shut.
They ran back to the staircase and mounted it in leaps to the next floor. Once they were on the landing, the staircase began to move once more, returning to its original position. Gasping for breath, Hermione threw her arms around Harry, who clung to her in return.
"What was that thing?"
She buried her face in his shoulder. "Obviously it was a two-headed dog."
"What?" She lifted her head to look at him.
"It had three heads, not two, as if it makes a difference! What is a three-headed dog doing inside the castle?"
Hermione pulled back and gave him a look. "One, if it had three heads, that makes it a Cerberus. They're listed in the Fantastic Beasts book. And two, didn't you see the trap door at its feet?"
Harry glared back. "I was paying more attention to its teeth!"
"Anyway, it's guarding something. That's what a Cerberus is for. They guarded the gateway to the underworld in old Greek mythology."
Harry frowned, as if he had remembered something, and held up his hands. "Okay, I'm sorry. We should leave it alone. And we need to get back to the schoolroom."
Hermione nodded, accepting the apology. "I'm sorry, too."
They ran back down the stairs before they could be redirected yet again and headed for the schoolroom. They were nearly there when Harry shouted, "Come on, Hermione!"
She looked at him, bemused, as he opened the door and held it for her.
Hermione basked in the attention, the perfect remedy after the adventure with the dog. Harry and Dean had gathered the rest of the Muggleborns and a few of the other students they'd begun to make friends with. There was a small pile of cards and a few presents on top of a very big wrapped box.
The Weasley twins arrived, levitating a large cake and two buckets of bottles. She saw Ron glance over at Harry and give a thumbs-up, which Harry returned. Dean leaned over to her. "When Harry asked about how one got food other than mealtimes, Ron said his brothers could take care of it."
The twins also demonstrated basic conjuring and produced party plates, forks, and hats for everyone. When Neville put his hat on, it gave a loud bang and shot out sparks through the tip. Hermione sorted her cards during the next few minutes of chaos as everyone else tried a hat. She laid the letters from her parents and the doctors aside for later.
When things calmed down, she quickly opened and read the cards, then the small packages. Every package was a book and she smiled at the mix of Muggle and magical titles, laughing out loud at a children's book titled Harry Potter and the Clever Clauricorn.
"Seriously?" She held up the book for Harry to see. He covered his face with his hands.
Seamus Finnegan nodded. "There's a whole series of them, A to Zed. Most wizarding children grew up with them. I liked this one since it takes place in Ireland. I thought it would be a good joke."
Ron chimed in. "My sister has them all. Re-reads them until Mum had to put Reparos on them, they were falling apart."
Hermione set it to the side. "Well, at least it gives us an idea what kids here think of Harry, if this is how they know him." She stood. "That just leaves this thing!"
She looked at the tag that said from Harry and Dean—we dare you to fill it all the way! Her eyes lit up as she speculated what might be under the paper and began tearing it off. She squealed as her efforts revealed the upright storage trunk she had begged her parents for on their second trip to Diagon Alley. "Thank you, thank you!"
Padma Patil perked up. "Is that a library trunk?"
"Sure is!" Terry stepped forward to help Hermione open it. "My mum told my dad that she wants one for Christmas."
Once it stood open, Hermione let everyone step in and explore the small shelved room it contained. She was further awed that the boys had managed to get all her books from Nottingham into the trunk, arranged in the exact same way that they had been in her room, filling over half of one wall of shelves. The wizarding children looked at the collection with interest, asking about various titles.
"This is perfect!" Hermione gushed. "We can keep it in here and we'll have enough room for all our course books."
Ron shook his head. "I don't get it. Why would you want to do more studying?"
She glared at him. "Because we want to keep our options open. If we want to go on to university after Hogwarts, the best way to be prepared is to keep doing our normal courses."
"Why would you want to keep going to school? Seven years of Hogwarts is plenty!"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe I want a career that isn't part of the wizarding world, like being an astronaut or an architect or a pilot or a Member of Parliament!"
"What's an astronaut?" Neville piped up, preventing the fight from escalating. Harry began to explain it to the rest while Dean guided Hermione over to the cake so she could cut it and share it out.
As conversation died down in favour of enjoying the cake, Hermione's thoughts went back to the Cerberus in the corridor. She glanced at Harry, seeing him also quiet and thoughtful. What in the world could be so important as to have that beast protecting it? And if it's that important, why on earth is it in a school?
Author's Note: As always, thank you for reading! I hope the first part addressed most of the immediate questions about that cliffie. As I told a few folks in my review replies, this time it was rather out of the blue with only a fumbly Dumbledore to hint at it. But this will set up something down the road. Thanks again for your patience!