Authors Note: So I realised the other day that it has been nearly 6 months since I last updated this story! I am so sorry to leave you all hanging, it is crazy that time has slipped by so quickly. In my defense, I have gone through exams and moved halfway around the world since then, so perhaps that is almost a reasonable defense?
This story reached a super exciting milestone for me though in the meantime - we have passed over 100 reviews! Thanks again to all of you who did review the last chapter. I don't think I replied to many last time around (once more, I blame uni work!), but I'll definitely try to at least respond to any questions this time around. Once again, no promise of the wait for next update but I assure you it should not be as long as the last. Many thanks for those of you who have kept following this story over the long wait. The end is not far off, but hopefully you enjoy this chapter in the meantime!
And again, as always anything you recognize belongs to J.K. Rowling.
From Chapter 10
"Right," Remus said in a business like tone, "So there's a hearing this afternoon to decide what's happening with your trial. I don't think you're invited somehow - stupid security issues." Sirius had to hold in a laugh at Remus obvious derision at that issue.
"It's mostly a formality and logistics thing anyway. It's pretty certain that your trial's going to be delayed slightly." Remus continued.
As he nodded in response, he couldn't decide what to think about that. On one hand, no Azkaban, on the other... well he desperately wanted to be free from these chains for good - the sooner, the better. Hopefully Pettigrew would stuff up sooner than later.
"I'm helping with the search team for Bill, so I'll try to drop by again in a couple of days, if not sooner to keep you updated ok." Remus added as he got up to leave.
Sirius coughed slightly as his friend turned his back. Remus turned back around, "Thanks Moony," Sirius said, "for everything... and good luck finding the bastard."
Remus just nodded in response, as he was virtually shoved out the door by the waiting Aurors. Sirius had barely even scratched the surface of what he truly felt in those words - jut how much having a friend at his side meant. But it was enough. From the look in his eyes, Sirius knew Remus had known exactly what he'd been trying to say.
Chapter 11: Crouch's Mission
The cells in the Ministry were not a place anyone wanted to be. An improvement from Azkaban, maybe, but after five days of staring at the same dull grey walls, Sirius was worried he'd soon go insane simply from lack of company. Unfortunately, from the sound of it, he had a feeling he wouldn't be leaving anytime soon. One of the Auror's had slipped a note in with his dinner from Mad-eye and Remus. His trial had been suspended "indefinitely" apparently, till Pettigrew was found and who knew how long that would take? But then again, even after his betrayal Pettigrew wasn't the smartest guy in the world so maybe there was some hope.
At least Remus had promised to come by in the next two days or so when he had a break in the search. Sirius had never been more thankful for his friend as he had been in the last week. After everything that had happened, knowing he had people on his side removed a large part of the weight on his shoulders going through this trial. Particularly now he knew Remus, Dumbledore and Moody weren't the only ones anymore; the Auror's were apparently well and truly split in opinion as well.
Those on Crouch's side continued to treat him like scum, seeing him as no more than a traitor. But there were others, no doubt planted by Moody, who had even begun to talk to him on occasion, or conveniently "forget" certain security proceedings at times to make him more comfortable. From Moody's letter, he guessed that thanks to Remus and Dumbledore, it wasn't just a few Auror's he had on his side either – especially after the most recent hearing where apparently many hadn't agreed with Crouch's form of evidence.
He shivered slightly as the cell seemed to drop in temperature as the lights dimmed for the night. He was tempted, oh so tempted, to shift into his animagus form. But he couldn't risk it, not now. If he was discovered, he doubted he'd be allowed the luxury of a ministry cell ever again.
A distant thump echoed down the corridor. Alert at once, he gave a silent call of thanks that he had been smart enough to avoid the temptation to transform. Frowning slightly, Sirius stood up rapidly as he realised that he could hear several pairs of shoes hitting the polished ministry floor of the corridor leading down to his cell. He could hear the Aurors guarding the entrance murmuring with several others out of view and couldn't help but feel a slight queasiness rise in his stomach as he recognised Crouch's voice, but couldn't distinguish the words.
But what could Crouch possibly do? He was still guaranteed a proper trial – and a trial run by the Wizengamot not by the council for that matter. Surely even he wouldn't do anything that could risk his job.
A group of Aurors, none of whom were a friendly face, suddenly appeared before him. Even worse, Crouch was at the forefront, wearing his usual frown. Sirius's eyes narrowed slightly, and he opened his mouth to begin giving them all a piece of his mind – determined not to let any worry show.
That was a mistake.
Before he realised what was happening, a wand was pointed through the bar. As a red beam shot towards him, he took but milliseconds to realise what it was. But in the few split seconds that thought took, he could do nothing to avoid it as the world suddenly began to swim in front of him, and darkness took over.
Several hours earlier…
For a simple hearing, everything seemed very elaborate. When Remus first arrived there were at least fifty people milling about in robes outside the courtroom. Quickly picking out Moody standing next to the entrance, he pushed his way through and muttered out of the corner of his mouth "What's all this for?"
"Blacks case was promoted," Moody replied, "The media's attention has tripled overnight, and considering that it wasn't exactly small to begin with…"
"So the Ministry's trying to make itself look good," Remus said derisively.
"Got it in one there Lupin," Moody scoffed, amusement obvious in his tone, "In any case, Black's fate is in the Wizengamot's hands now. Crouch is in charge of prosecution instead."
"Dumbledore's leading the court then, I suppose?" Remus asked, having not seen him among the Wizengamot members who were filing into the courtroom first.
"What, do you really think he'd leave Black to his own devices again?" Moody grumbled, "No, he's being his usual noble self and stepping down from his place as Chief Warlock at the moment so he can represent Sirius fairly instead. Not that Crouch or anyone else would do the same of course…"
"Who's taking his place then?" Remus asked with a slight bit of trepidation. Then again, surely anyone would be better than Crouch.
"The minister herself," Moody said. "In any case, they're about to start – you best get in there if you want to listen in Lupin – hopefully this whole useless circus will be over in ten minutes."
Remus personally thought ten minutes was being slightly too optimistic, but he kept his thoughts to himself as he slipped through the door.
Moody had been right, however, when he said the media attention had tripled. It was all Remus could do to avoid the cameras which filled one side of the courtroom as he made his way to sit beside Dumbledore in the witness stands. Unsurprisingly, despite the fact that the Wizengamot and media filled the majority of the stands, the number of witnesses, or even Ministry members was low. Those who supported Sirius in any case were out on the search, and Crouch had only a small team with him for the hearing.
Minister Bagnold opened the hearing with a slightly bored air. Remus had never particularly liked her. Sure, she had made it through the war as the leader of the wizarding world – but he had much greater respect for those who had been on the front lines rather than a leader hiding behind the guard of several Aurors while stationed at a desk. Even with all the advice she had received, she had done very little at that desk to reduce the prejudices which had helped the war to start in the first place.
As she went through the opening procedures of the court, Remus began to fade everything around him out. He knew very little of these proceedings would actually be useful, let alone informative, and so was content to let Dumbledore handle most of it until the court announced the verdict.
Arguments passed back and forth endlessly; Dumbledore retaining a calm authority over everything he said as Crouch became more and more impatient.
It was Crouch's raised voice at least thirty minutes later which first caused him to listen in properly once more, not simply let it go over his head. His words caused a rise of anger inside of Remus, and it was no longer pointless arguments he could simply ignore.
"For all reports, yes Pettigrew has been found. But the Council of Magical Law fail to see how this changes the verdict for Black. It was acknowledged at the trial this past Monday after all that Pettigrew may have been a Death Eater, but I see no reason why this implies that the rest of Blacks story is in any way true. At the very least, he would be responsible for the blast killing twelve muggles in broad daylight. He should be charged immediately, and not left for the ministry to deal with for months while waiting for evidence which may never come."
To Remus, it seemed the man could simply not admit he was wrong. Sirius was guilty in his mind, so hence everyone else must also think him such.
"The evidence in that is but circumstantial," Dumbledore said calmly in response, repeating what he had already said once before, "Surely a man cannot be charged with a crime with so little to back it up – particularly after one part of his story has been proven true."
As Crouch started to repeat himself once again, Bagnold cut him off.
"Very well, we have heard arguments from both sides – several times now I believe. As the Minister, I hardly see the point in continuing along this line of discussion. Thus I turn to the Wizengamot. We will adjourn for five minutes of discussion before calling for a vote."
The noise in the courtroom instantly rose. Remus glanced briefly at Dumbledore's face beside him, and could not decipher anything out of the calm expression he currently wore. It wasn't much, but unable to see any kind of concern in his mentor's face gave him a weird sense of reassurance. Surely at least the Wizengamot would have the sense not to simply imprison a man without a trial once more.
"Court to order!" Bagnold shouted over the din. As the noise rapidly settled down she continued, "I now call for the Wizengamot to vote regarding the fate of Sirius Black. All those in favour of immediately charging the suspect?"
To Remus's relief, very few hands went up at this – among them several known dark arts supporters. He rolled his eyes inwardly; surely even that should tell something to the other members of the jury if they were smart enough to notice.
"Those in favour of Mr Black's immediate release?"
Remus felt his heart rate increase slightly at that question and his eyes instantly began to scan to jury – he hadn't even believed release to be a possibility. Any hope died instantly however, when equally few put their hands up to vote at this point.
"Those in favour of suspending the trial indefinitely until the matter of Peter Pettigrew is resolved?"
At this, the majority of hands went up, and Remus couldn't help but feel a slight sense of relief. While it wasn't Sirius' freedom, it would be as they expected all along. Even better, with the trial still potentially able to continue at any day depending on when Pettigrew was found (he refused to consider the option where Wormtail would get away with it), very little could also be done with Sirius in the meantime.
"And lastly, those in favour of continuing the trial this coming Monday as initially scheduled?"
No hands went up at this and Bagnold gave a small sigh of relief. "Very well," she called, "The trial is suspended pending news on the capture of Mr Pettigrew and recovery of Mr Weasley. In the meantime, the ministry, in particular the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, will retain custody of Mr Black, and insure all appropriate security measures are followed."
The noise in the court grew once more and Remus gave a small sigh realising it was over. He couldn't help but feel they had just jumped over another hurdle, however small, in the path towards Sirius' freedom.
Several minutes later, after waiting for the minister and the rest of the Wizengamot to file out of the room, Remus stood in the corridor outside with both Dumbledore and Moody.
"That went well, I suppose," he said, breaking the silence.
"As well as could be expected," Dumbledore replied, "Although I do wish that there was no need for this whole ordeal to begin with. If we simply had known everything we did six months ago…"
"But this is good news, is it not?" Remus pressed Dumbledore, ignoring the Headmaster's useless pondering and focussing instead on his first comment. "We could hardly think he would be let go just like this – I assumed postponing the trial was our goal?"
The headmaster tilted his head to the side, noncommittal. "Perhaps," he said, "It certainly isn't bad, but if I may say, I had hoped that the Wizengamot would have slightly more common sense and take into account how very flimsy the evidence against Sirius now is, particularly after I withdrew my statement."
Remus shrugged slightly, he had very little faith in bureaucracy nowadays. With good reason as well, after everything the ministry had put himself, and Sirius through not only in the past few months but over many years.
"What I am perhaps more concerned about," Dumbledore continued, "Is their last ruling that Barty remain in control of the security around Sirius' imprisonment. I believe that may be one of their least intelligent decisions to date – leaving the main accuser in charge of the prisoner."
Remus couldn't help but feel a twinge of unease at that as well, particularly when he heard Moody hum grimly in agreement from beside him. He had somehow completely missed that part of the ruling till Dumbledore pointed it out.
"But Crouch won't do anything stupid, would he?" Remus said, eyes flicking between the two elder wizards before him, "His job is already on the line as it is after what happened with his son."
"We must hope so," Dumbledore replied, "I do believe it is very unlikely, but simply still an unwise decision."
That was slightly reassuring - just slightly.
"Crouch is out for revenge though," Moody added, simultaneously wiping any relief from Remus's mind. "He believes Sirius has undermined him, and if he is proven innocent, Crouch would probably find himself barely holding onto a job into the ministry as it is."
As Remus gaze flickered to Moody's in alarm, the head Auror chuckled darkly. "Don't worry too much boy," he said, "I'll keep an eye on things here – as much as I can while leading this search. Crouch isn't dumb, or rash, after all, but it never hurts to think ahead. Particularly if this case continues to drag on much longer."
Dumbledore nodded in agreement, "I think I might try to have a talk with the Minister as well – my time has been rather limited till now, but I think it is time she heard the full story. Alastor, keep me updated on how the search progresses, won't you?"
"As always," Moody replied.
"Good – I'll contact the remaining order as well – I believe it is time to convince them of the truth as well. I daresay you may get a few more helpers on your hands by this afternoon if everything goes to plan."
Dumbledore clasped Remus' shoulder in one last show of support before sweeping away to the lifts up to the Minister's floor.
"I'll see you at the Weasley's later then Lupin I suppose," Moody said, before he too turned away.
"Wait!" Remus called. As Moody faced him again, he lowered his voice before muttering, "I don't suppose you could get a message to Sirius? Just with the search and all, I doubt I'll be able to come by and see him for a few days."
"No problem," Moody said, "He deserves to know after all. A few I trust are on the afternoon shift – I'll get them to slip something in with his food."
"Thank you," Remus said sincerely.
Moody grunted slightly in response before walking off.
As Moody disappeared round the corner, barking off orders to the Aurors milling around outside as he did so, Remus felt himself collapse against the wall.
The last few days seemed to very suddenly catch up to him, and he felt a wave of tiredness sweep over him; his legs shook with the effort to remain upright. He almost closed his eyes there and then, but instead forced himself off the wall and started to walk towards the stairs to the atrium.
Determined to focus, he pushed Sirius and Crouch aside momentarily and shifted his thoughts to the search. Where could Wormtail have possibly gone? Any of their old hide outs were unlikely, particularly as he knew Remus must be looking for him – no it was much more likely to be a Death Eater meeting point. He shivered slightly at that, the betrayal still fresh. Even after 6 months of believing Sirius was the traitor, he still had trouble imagining any of the Marauders in a Death Eater cloak and mask.
Lost in thought, he barely realised where he was going until he bumped into someone in front of him. Startled he looked up, only to feel his heart sink as he stared right into Crouch's face. Stepping back slightly, any thoughts of apology for his carelessness disappeared instantly. "What do you want?" he said angrily.
"That's hardly a proper way for one such as yourself to address the head of a Ministry department, Lupin," Crouch replied pompously, though with a slight edge to his voice.
Remus wasn't the slight bit intimidated – Crouch was a fairly small man after all. A small man, with large ambitions and a very wrong way of going about getting what there.
"I asked a question," Remus replied angrily.
"Black's a murderer, Lupin, no matter what you or Dumbledore say." Crouch started, apparently not willing to get into an argument over etiquette after all. Remus felt the anger bubbling below the surface inside of him start to rise, and he desperately clamped it down. No matter how good it would make him feel – punching a ministry head in the ministry itself would hardly help Sirius or himself.
"It's my mission to make sure criminals such as him stay in Azkaban to rot as they deserve," Crouch continued, "but Black is hardly doing that anymore – no, he's got a ministry cell to himself. He'd probably even be able to escape as it is."
"What the hell are you going on about?" Remus growled out.
But Crouch ignored him, "You know Lupin it wouldn't even surprise me if he had some kind of secret to help him with it – a secret with a certain furry nature."
Remus felt dread starting to build up – there was no way, absolutely no way what Crouch had just said could be a coincidence. But no, how could he possibly know? Remus kept his stare strong, desperately hoping that any panic didn't show.
"Come now, Mr Lupin, surely you don't think that I would possibly believe that Mr Pettigrew, weak as he is, had the skill to achieve the animagi transformation by himself; the only one out of your little group? After the events of last night, it's clear we are no longer relying simply on your word and as such no-one can deny Pettigrew did actually manage it. I can draw my own conclusions from that."
Involuntarily, Remus felt his eyes widen. He barely even noticed the concealed insult towards him that Crouch had thrown in, instead concentrating on getting himself under control, hoping his alarm wasn't notice; that he hadn't given Sirius' secret away. Quickly, he tried to express complete confusion at Crouch's meaning
"How am I supposed to know how he learnt it…?" Remus started, but he was shut off before he could even begin to think up an excuse.
"Yes, yes… I'm sure" Crouch said in a slightly satisfied tone. "Very well, that will be all the Mr Lupin." He pushed past Remus roughly towards the elevators, leaving him confused and concerned in his wake.
"Crouch is out for revenge." Moody's words seemed to echo in his brain. The slight knot in his stomach suddenly increased, and he couldn't help but feel uneasy about what the conversation that had just happened could potentially mean for Sirius' future.
When Sirius woke, it was to a slight rocking motion underneath him. As his eye's flickered open he realised that he was no longer lying on the floor of his cell, but on an old wooden floor. He couldn't move either, his hands once more having been restrained behind his back. Muted voices sounded from above him and he shifted slightly in his place.
He wasn't sure if it was this or the sudden gust of eerily cold wind which truly woke him from his stunned state. But that kind of cold was far too familiar for his liking, and in that moment the memory of Crouch's face before him at his Ministry cell suddenly came rushing back.
Weak as he felt, he determinedly pushed himself into an awkward sitting position. It was like history was repeating itself; an image from his worst nightmares. He was on a boat, a boat which had just jolted to a stop, and above him towered the dark shape of Azkaban prison.
Footsteps sounded and Crouch appeared from behind him. Steeling himself, he stared directly into Crouch's face, refusing to look away, or be intimidated by the man. Crouch had tried several times, even while Sirius was an Auror, to glare him down. It had never worked before, so he saw little reason to let it start getting to him now.
"What is this, Crouch?" he snarled. "A new way of getting me to confess perhaps? Scare me into going along with your plan. Whatever it is, it won't work."
"Oh no, Black, you misunderstand." Crouch said.
"Do I?" Sirius replied, "For I see very little to misunderstand in this situation. My trial has been suspended. I'm to remain in custody at the ministry as is protocol until convicted – which if you actually did your job will never happen! As such, I see no other reason than a dirty trick for us to be anywhere near this godforsaken part of the world."
Inside his heart was pounding desperately. He knew the rules; he'd learnt that bloody ministry guidebook back to front during his first year as an Auror trainee. Surely no matter how much Crouch hated him, he wouldn't disobey the rules he had put together and preached endlessly over the past years.
Crouch leaned down closer, and he heard movement behind him on the jetty. Still, Sirius kept his stare, waiting for the answer Crouch had to his words – words he knew were true.
"You see Black," Crouch started, "That's where you're wrong. The minister herself put me in charge of your security. And lets just say that I have certain reasons to believe the ministry holding cells are no longer secure enough for you. As such, I've signed the order for you to be moved. You're going back where you belong Black, have no doubt of that, and with your trial suspended indefinitely after all – I see no reason for you to leave any time soon."
As Crouch waved a signed piece of parchment in front of him, Sirius felt his eyes widen. Desperation started to stir inside him as he was hauled out of the boat onto the shore – the guards beginning to push him along. Surely this was a joke – it had to be a trick. How could Crouch possibly have this kind of authority?
But seeing Crouch standing in the boat once more, face blank with nothing to indicate that it was anything but the truth, he realised exactly what was happening.
"No, listen, no – you can't do this!" he yelled frantically, pushing against the guards pulling him along. But he was still weak; malnourished after six month of languishing in prison; and with his hands restrained there was little he could do. As he was dragged fighting under the dark archway to the prison he glimpsed out of the corner of his eye Crouch standing there with a small self-satisfied smirk on his face. With a last roar he pulled one arm free before an impedimenta spell sent him crashing to the ground.
Dazed, he could feel the guards push him forward a few steps before a cold wet hand grasped his arm. An ice cold sensation swept through his body and as more dementors gathered nearby, intent on feeding on new prey, he felt the last threads of his resistance slip from his grasp.
His hands scraped the ground as he was dropped into the furthest solitary cell, restraints released too quickly for him to do much more than protect his face. In a last desperate attempt to hang on to the warmth from outside, he focussed on his animagus form.
It began slowly, at the centre of his spine before an excruciating pain spread like fire to every inch of his body. He curled into himself instinctively, completely taken by surprise. It took every inch of his remaining self-control not to cry out in agony; every bit of concentration to grit his teeth and not succumb to the pain racking his body.
It wouldn't have been more than a minute, but it felt like hours before Sirius was able to drag himself off the centre of the floor and collapse wearily against the wall. As muddled as his thoughts were, he was still able to recognise one thing; something was drastically wrong. Gingerly, he brought one hand up to the cell and ran it along the bars. The ridged edges of runes seemed to grate under his fingertips and send a deep coldness down his spine once more – an echo of what he had just felt. Sirius let his eyes shut before letting his hand slump uselessly to the ground once more.
He was in a warded cell – a cell specifically, and cruelly, warded against animagi. That could only mean one thing – Crouch knew. The bastard had somehow found out.
If Sirius had been in any other place, at any other time, perhaps he would have realised that it wasn't that unlikely. That as Pettigrew was one, it would be an easy conclusion to come to that he, Sirius, could also transform at will. But the dementors fog seemed to cloud his mind. It press down on any logical sense and cause him to come to the worse possible conclusion; Remus had betrayed him.
In that moment it all came crashing down. He couldn't think straight; screams were beginning to echo in his mind as the accusing glares of his friends appeared before him – memories of the distant past mixed in with those of the last few days. One dementor after another passed in front of his cell. He was in Azkaban. He'd been abandoned here, deceived by those he thought friends. He would never escape this place. Why would anyone ever help the mass-murderer Sirius Black after all?
When the endless stream of dementors hovering in front of his cell didn't abate, after a few hours he felt his last grip on reality disappear as it never had before. With that gone, for the first time in the last six months, he let his own cries of desperation, of anger and grief, join those of the prisoners stuck in this mad house. For he wasn't innocent – how could he be when even after telling his side of the story, everyone he knew had still condemned him to rot under Crouch's rule.