Harry’s foot bounced with nervous energy. He and Severus sat outside the courtroom in stiff backed chairs, waiting to be called in if need be.
“How do you think it’s going?” Harry asked nervously.
“It has been ten minutes, Harry,” Severus stated. “They probably have not even finished filling out the paperwork.”
“Right,” Harry said. He tried to still his spirit. He was finding Occlumency hard to come by at the moment. Harry traced the mosaic pattern in the ceiling with his eyes in order to pass the time. After perhaps a half an hour, the heavy oaken door to the courtroom opened.
“Mr. Potter?” A woman’s voice said.
Harry’s head snapped to where a young woman stood looking professional.
“They have a few questions to ask you,” she said in a slightly stiff tone.
Harry nodded, stood and smoothed out the dress robes that they had bought just for this occasion. He walked to the door, trepidation growing with each step. He glanced back at Severus who gave him a reassuring nod. With a deep breath, Harry followed her in to the courtroom.
Arranged in a tiered circle, the courtroom was an intimidating sight. Sirius sat in a chair in the center, surrounded by wizards who varied in age; many had gray hair and more than their share of wrinkles. Dumbledore sat on a square platform directly in front of Sirius, looking to be the center. Harry was led to a chair from which he could not see Sirius. The wizards in the stands craned to get a glimpse of Harry. He fidgeted nervously, then forced his hands to stop shaking.
“Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said, a comforting twinkle in his eye. “Do you know Sirius Black?”
“Very well, sir,” Harry said. He imagined that he was sitting in Dumbledore’s office, talking only to him. The thought was relaxing and Harry’s tension slowly drained away.
“How do you know him so well?” Dumbledore asked.
Though Harry knew that Dumbledore was aware of the answer, he said, for the benefit of the others, “He has been living with my guardian and I for the summer.”
“And you feel safe sleeping in the same house as a murderer?” A witch spoke up from a few rows behind Dumbledore. Harry looked up in her direction. She sat looking smug in a ridiculous pink jacket.
“Yes,” Harry said confidently. “He’s not a murderer.”
“How do you know?” She demanded. “He could have used tricks learned from the Dark Lord to fool you.”
Harry smiled inwardly. “I think my guardian would have seen through that, ma’m.”
“Your guardian being...”
Harry’s brow lowered. He found it unlikely that she did not know, but perhaps she did not read the papers. “Severus Snape, ma’m.”
Murmurs spread through the stands. She shut her mouth with a snap.
“Mr. Potter, is it true that Mr. Black broke into your dormitory and threatened you with a knife?” Dumbledore asked.
“Yes,” Harry said, then hesitated. “Well, threatened my friend anyway. But not him, his rat.” Harry cursed himself for his stumbling words.
“And you still do not feel threatened by him?” Dumbledore asked.
“No, sir,” Harry said. “The rat was Peter Pettigrew.” he stated as if that explained everything.
Dumbledore nodded. “That coincides with Mr. Black’s story. Does anyone have any questions for Mr. Potter?” he asked the congregation.
An elderly wizard rose to his feet. “Why do you believe his story?”
Harry frowned. “I was there when Pettigrew pretty much confessed. He didn’t deny anything, just begged for mercy.”
“Mercy?” he asked. “Was his life threatened?”
Harry winced, berating himself for letting that slip. “He did seem convinced that he was going to be killed, yes,” Harry admitted. “Sirius didn’t let it happen, though,” Harry lied.
“Why would he have such a change of heart after threatening him with a knife?” the wizard asked suspiciously.
Harry inclined his head to look up at the man. “He realized that dead, the truth died with him. Alive, he was certain that the court system would realize the truth and let him free. If he was truly guilty, why wouldn’t he have killed him then, figuring that he would be sent back to Azkaban either way? He could have killed us all.”
The old wizard looked contemplative and nodded. He sat down. Harry saw a few members of the group talking to the people sitting next to them.
“Anyone else?” Dumbledore asked. No one volunteered. “You may go, Mr. Potter.”
Harry left the room eagerly, sneaking a quick hopeful glance at Sirius. He looked deathly pale. Harry rejoined his guardian in the hall, slumping into his seat with a shaky sigh. Severus knitted his brows and put a reassuring hand on Harry’s back. A few deep breaths later, Harry had calmed down enough to speak. Just as he opened his mouth, the door opened once more and Severus was called in. He patted Harry once on the back then followed the same witch, steps confident.
Harry watched him go and hoped that the court would not use their prejudice against him to discount Sirius’s story. He wrung his hands in frustration for he could do nothing but wait until Severus returned.
Severus stepped into the hall with a swish of his long black dress robes. He met Harry’s anxious eyes as he moved to sit down.
“Well?” he prompted.
“From what I could discern it is going well,” Severus said. “I am unsure of whether my testimony helped or hurt him.”
Harry frowned. “How much longer, do you think?”
“I have no idea,” Severus replied.
They fell into silence as they waited for something to happen. It seemed like an eternity before the door opened again. Witches and wizards filed out, some looking tired, some looking irritated. Many eyed Harry and Severus as they passed. Harry stepped forward to try to look for Sirius but was restrained by Severus’s hand on his shoulder. He looked up at Severus who subtly shook his head. He and Harry waited in that manner until the corridor thinned out. Harry looked worriedly at the trickle of people coming out of the doors. Where was Sirius?
Finally, Sirius stepped out, last. Harry’s heart beat fiercely in his chest. No one was restraining Sirius, did that mean he had won? Harry ran over to him even though they were only a few yards apart. Sirius gave him a one armed hug and a smile.
“I’m a free man,” he said in a vaguely excited tone.
Harry grinned. “That’s wonderful! I knew that you’d get off.”
Sirius smiled weakly.
“Congratulations,” Severus said in a tone that qualified as gracious for him. Sirius nodded at him.
“Guess I didn’t need that promise anyway,” Sirius murmured. Severus raised a brow. Harry looked between the two before deciding not to ask.
“Are you okay?” Harry asked, for his godfather did not seem as excited as he rightfully should be.
“Just a lot to take in. How about some lunch?” he suggested.
Harry laughed. “Free or not, some things never change.”
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll treat.”
Arm still around Harry, the three of them walked towards the lift, eager to get out of the Ministry.
“So did it work?” Harry asked. “The veritaserum?”
Sirius nodded. “They don’t know I’m an animagus.” He looked at Severus then shifted his glance quickly. Severus frowned.
Harry ate with a gusto. The morning seemed to have taken its toll on him, or at least on his appetite. Sirius pushed his food around with his fork.
“Why aren’t you happy?” Harry asked his godfather with a concerned look.
Sirius shrugged. “I guess it hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m free. I guess this means I should move out,” he said with a weak smile.
Severus nodded. “I agree.”
“Where will you go?” Harry asked in a tone of disappointment.
“I have a house. My parents’,” he said glumly.
“You’ll still come and visit though, right?” Harry asked.
Sirius glanced at Severus before patting Harry on the shoulder. “Of course. You can come over to my place too.”
“Is it more cheerful than Spinner’s End?” he joked with a light smile.
“Less,” Sirius said seriously.
“Oh,” Harry said. Looking a little uncomfortable, he excused himself to go to the restroom.
Alone now, Severus scrutinized Sirius.
“There is something else bothering you,” he accused.
Sirius kept his gaze downward.
“Tell me,” Severus commanded.
Sirius seemed to be considering whether or not he should obey. “I almost told them you were a death eater.”
Severus raised a brow, heart speeding up ever so slightly. “Almost?”
“I caught myself but...” Sirius shook his head.
“So you did not tell them?” Severus asked. Sirius shook his head again. “Then what is the matter?”
Sirius looked up, seeming surprised that Severus would dismiss it so easily. “I stopped myself because I didn’t want it to look bad on me, you know, living with a death eater when I was supposedly working for You-Know-Who.” He frowned. “It wasn’t because I didn’t want to get you in trouble. I realize now that it should have been.”
Severus was forced to choke down the surprise that threatened to overwhelm him. What was this madness?
“Black, I assure you, I care little why you did not tell them as long as you did not. Self absorption is merely one of the less desirable traits of a Gryffindor such as yourself,” Severus replied. Sirius just shrugged. “Second only to your penchant for guilt.”
Sirius didn’t comment. Severus snapped his fingers under Sirius’s nose. “Pull yourself together. I just said it was fine. Now be happy so that you do not have to explain all of this to Harry.”
“Right,” he said, looking up. “Sorry, Snape.”
Severus waved a hand dismissively as Harry came to join them once more. Severus studied Sirius as he put on a lively countenance, mostly for Harry’s sake. Perhaps he was not quite as bad as Severus had first thought.
Harry helped Sirius pack the last of his things into a small spare trunk that they had found in the attic. He truly did not have much.
“Are you sure you have to leave so soon?” Harry asked sadly.
“I think Snape will feel better if I do,” Sirius said. “But there’s not really much to do at my house; I’ll be here so often you won’t even know I left.”
“Good,” Harry said earnestly. “Can I come with you to see your house?”
Sirius twisted his lips. “Not today, Harry,” he said. “Let me get the place fixed up a bit first. In a few weeks, I promise.”
“Alright,” Harry said easily. Together, they carried the trunk down to the fireplace. Severus sat in an armchair reading a large book. He looked up when the entered.
“Leaving?” he asked. Sirius nodded. “I get the feeling you will not stay away for long, regrettably.”
Sirius grinned. “Like I told Harry: it’ll be like I never left.”
They set the trunk down on the hearth. Sirius turned to Harry.
“Well,” he said, looking at Harry softly. “Guess I’ll see you later, kid.”
Harry smiled. “See you, Sirius. I’m really glad you’re free.”
Sirius patted him on the arm. “Me too.” He stepped over to the fireplace. “See you, Snapey!”
Snape shot him a look. Sirius chuckled, threw down some Floo powder and said, “Grimmauld Place.”
He picked up his trunk, stepped in and was gone. Harry looked at the empty fireplace a little sadly.
“Good riddance,” Severus muttered. Harry sat down heavily on the couch.
“What should I do now?” Harry asked glumly.
“Yes, now that your main source of entertainment has gone...” Severus drawled. Harry looked at him. “Perhaps finish tinning that insect bite ointment that we put off the other day?”
“Okay,” Harry said eagerly. He had grown to like brewing and such after doing it so often with Severus. It was one of the few things that he and Severus had done without Sirius that summer and Harry found himself looking forward to those hours in the lab.
Severus set down his book and followed Harry up the stairs. Once inside the laboratory, Harry turned on the flame beneath the cauldron that contained the set cream. He sat on a stool to wait until it melted enough to pour. Severus stood close by, arms crossed.
“Do you really still hate Sirius?” Harry asked of him as they waited. “I don’t think he hates you anymore. You’ve grown on him.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Well even if you won’t admit it, you know he’s grown on you too.”
Severus was silent. Harry knew he was just being stubborn.
“Potion’s ready,” Harry pointed out after a few minutes. Severus moved stiffly to get the tins. Harry stirred the cauldron to ensure that it was entirely melted. Severus provided him with a ladle and they worked together to dish the cream out evenly. At first, the mixture in the tins was clear and shiny. Harry could see the bright eyes of his reflection staring back at him. In seconds, as the cream cooled, his reflection became cloudy, murky until he could no longer see who it was who stared back at him from the tiny metal dish.