The Morning After
"Can you believe that McGonagall wants me to pair up with that nitwit?" Cass complained.
"Unbelievable," Harrison replied absentmindedly.
"Harrison, are you even—" Cass began, but she was interrupted by the sound of low whistles and wings batting against the wind.
"For the love of Merlin," Cass breathed.
Harrison followed Cass' line of sight then looked around the Great Hall and had to contain his amusement at the bemused expressions on the faces of everyone. In the morning, dozens of owls usually flew into the Great Hall to dispense mail from the families of students, and copies of the Daily Prophet to the professors and the students who chose to subscribe, which was normally only those in the higher years. However, that morning hundreds of owls flew into the Great Hall, each one clutching that mornings edition of the Daily Prophet. Thump after thump echoed around the Great Hall as an issue of the Daily Prophet landed in front of every student and professor.
"Brilliant," Daphne said under her breath.
Harrison felt he couldn't agree more. He looked down at that mornings Daily Prophet and decided then and there that he was going to buy Rita Skeeter something for Christmas. Under a picture of an emaciated Sirius Black next to one of Dumbledore, whose eyes failed to contain their usual sparkle, was the headline, Sirius Black Declared Innocent of All Charges: Dumbledore guilty?
"You knew about this," Cass accused, her eyes narrowed.
"Of course," Harrison admitted shamelessly. "Father told me to expect an interesting front page in the morning, and that he would ensure everyone at Hogwarts would see it."
"This is perfect," Daphne said. "Dumbledore looks the fool."
"Look at McGonagall," Leo whispered.
"Forget McGonagall, look at Hagrid," Draco said.
Harrison looked up at the professors table. Hagrid was shaking his head in denial, and McGonagall's lips were thinner than Harrison could ever recall seeing. His eyes landed on Snape whose face was frozen with the most hateful expression Harrison had ever seen. Harrison knew that Snape had a less than cordial relationship with Sirius Black, and he was sure the man was anything but happy that Sirius was now a free man.
Harrison found the entire situation to be amusing. He did not care about Sirius Black at all, and he had only heard stories that made the man out to be an immature child. Yet he knew that his father had reservations about the man. Sirius Black was the heir to the Black fortune and properties. Now that he was a free man, Sirius would have access to enough money to ensure that the Order of the Phoenix would have everything they needed to fight in the war. They would also have access to a library almost as extensive as the Malfoy's. Two things that didn't seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but Harrison knew differently. For now though, he would watch how events began to unfold.
"Could it be that Albus Dumbledore, supposed champion for justice, is more corrupt than those who put Sirius Black behind dementor guarded bars?" Leo read with relish.
"This article is definitely one of Rita's best," Daphne said.
"I couldn't agree more," Harrison said, as he tossed his issue of the Daily Prophet aside. "And it would appear that our fellow students feel the same."
Harrison watched as the Great Hall descended into whispers. Students at the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables were whispering furiously with one another, and several were talking animatedly with their neighbors. Many of the students at the Ravenclaw table appeared to be reading the article more than once. The students at the Slytherin table appeared unconcerned, but Harrison knew most of them well enough to see the glee and disgust in their eyes.
Harrison knew that the article would come as a shock to most, especially the purebloods, as they had all grown up hearing horrible tales about Sirius Black. That the supposed madman was innocent was no doubt a shock to them. However, what Harrison assumed was the biggest shock was that Rita Skeeter had dropped hints throughout the article that Dumbledore had failed his former student by allowing Barty Crouch Senior to sentence Sirius Black to Azkaban without a trial. As Chief Warlock, Dumbledore should have, and could have, forced there to be a trial for Sirius. That Sirius Black, a pureblood, had not been given a trial was enough to infuriate even those whose families supported Voldemort. Harrison knew that it wouldn't be enough to sway those who were firmly rooted on Dumbledore's side, but it would cause those who were neutral to think.
"Do you think Dumbledore knew that the Prophet would print something like this?" Pansy asked. "He always shows up for breakfast, and he isn't here this morning."
"I have no doubt," Leo said. "The man is a fool, but he isn't a stupid one." Leo stood up and slung his bag over his shoulder. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't wait to get to class."
"Excuse me?" Cass asked incredulously.
"Weasley and his little friends are in our first period," Leo said.
"Enough said," Draco smirked.
Harrison's lips twitched as he followed his friends out of the Great Hall. First period Potions would prove to be very interesting.
"Say something," Sirius said. Even after dozens of healing potions his voice was still weak, and according to the numerous healers who had seem him in the past twenty-four hours it would continue to be for a few more days. "I can't stand the silence."
"I'm sorry," Remus said sadly. He looked imploringly at Sirius, as if begging him to believe his next words. "I never should have believed that you had betrayed James and Lily. You and James were always like brothers." His voice cracked on his last sentence.
"We all were," Sirius said tonelessly.
A pained look filled Remus' eyes and the wrinkles around his eyes became more prominent. Sirius sighed and ran a withered hand down his face.
"It isn't your fault Remus," Sirius said. "You have nothing to be sorry for. James and I thought that you were…" he trailed off.
"That I was the traitor," Remus said. There was no trace of bitterness in his voice, only acceptance. That tone made Sirius feel even more guilty than he already did.
"Yeah," Sirius said. "We were all wrong. We know that now. Let's just forget about it. You're my best friend, Remus."
Remus' amber eyes filled with tears. "How can you ever forgive me? Because of me you spent twelve years in hell."
"No," Sirius said fiercely. Remus looked taken aback. "Because of that traitorous rat I spent twelve years in hell." He shuddered at the thought. "It was war. We all believed things that we shouldn't have. I wish I could take it all back. I wish James and I had trusted you instead of that rat. I wish I would've arrived at Godric's Hollow sooner, maybe I could have saved H—" Sirius' voice died in his throat.
Sirius had thought of many things during his time in Azkaban. He did nothing but think, and the one thing he had thought of the most had been his godson. Sirius would close his eyes and images of Harry smiling would flash in his mind, taunting him every day. Not a day went by that he didn't see Harry's messy black hair and emerald green eyes — the perfect blend of James and Lily. He had hated himself for twelve years for causing James and Lily's deaths, but Harry's death is the one that had hit him the hardest. He had only been a year old. Innocent, beautiful, and the light of Sirius' mostly dark life.
Remus' eyes had darkened, and Sirius could see a shadow of the wolf that lurked within him.
"You could not have stopped him, Sirius," Remus said. "Had you arrived earlier, the only thing that would have happened differently is that Voldemort would have killed you as well."
The room descended into silence, and a minute passed that felt like eternity. Sirius clenched his hands into fists. He couldn't stand the silence. Sirius had lived in virtual silence for the past twelve years. The only time the silence had been broken was when one of the inmates would scream out in pain or despair. Disturbingly, Sirius had come to like the screams. The tortured sounds reminded him that he wasn't alone in that hell. Sirius hated himself for that.
Sirius looked at Remus and saw something akin to realization flash in his eyes.
"Where are you going to stay?" Remus asked.
Sirius grimaced. "I'm not sure what properties are in my name besides Grimmauld Place. You know I was disinherited." Sirius shrugged. "Uncle Alphard left me Grimmauld, Merlin only knows how he came about inheriting the place from dear old dad." Remus grimaced. He heard all about Alphard Black being blasted off the Black family tree after he gave Sirius money when he ran away. "So, until I can visit Gringotts, I'm going to have to stay there."
"You can stay at a hotel," Remus suggested. Sirius knew his best friend was aware of how much he hated his childhood house.
Sirius offered a strained smile. "The press is going to have a field day with me. Grimmauld Place may be hell on earth, but at least it's secure." He frowned. "Where are you staying Remus?"
Remus' cheeks tinged pink. "Hogwarts."
"Hog—" Sirius' eyes widened in realization. "Are you a professor?" A hint of incredulity in his tone.
"Yes," Remus answered.
Sirius burst into laughter. Remus' lips curved into a smile, it was both relieved and amused.
"I am glad to see you find that so amusing," Remus said wryly.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said, sounding anything but sorry. "It's just hard to imagine the boy I used to sneak out of Hogwarts and into Hogsmeade with is now a professor, enforcing the rules and assigning homework. Well, I can actually believe the homework bit."
"Sirius," Remus said with mock sternness.
Sirius' laughter doubled and he was soon joined by Remus. For a second it seemed as if no time at all had passed. Then the realization of where he was hit him and Sirius stopped laughing, and Remus' laughter faded until only a small smiled remained on his lips.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said. "I don't know why I found that so funny." Sirius looked at Remus seriously. "I am happy for you, Remus. You deserve to have a good job."
Remus smiled. "Thank you, Sirius."
"Am I interrupting?"
Sirius looked at the entrance and saw Dumbledore standing just inside the door. He looked as if he hadn't slept in days.
"Albus," Sirius said civilly. "Remus and I were just catching up."
Sirius had read that morning's Daily Prophet. He had noticed the not so subtle hints that Rita Skeeter had dropped in regard to Dumbledore not forcing the Ministry to grant Sirius a trial. Sirius wanted to hate Dumbledore for what he knew was true, but he also knew that Dumbledore had been told my James and Lily that he, Sirius, had been the secret keeper. Sirius knew that logically he shouldn't blame Dumbledore because of that. After all, Dumbledore had always been one of Sirius' biggest advocates. There had been those that had said Sirius was as black as his name, but Dumbledore had always supported him. Or he had, before that night. Yet a part of him was furious that Dumbledore hadn't at least asked Sirius if he had betrayed James and Lily. After years of loyalty to him and the Order, Sirius felt that he had at least deserved that much. But he pushed that small amount of fury down. He felt too weak to get into a screaming match with his old headmaster, and he needed time to think.
"Good, good," Dumbledore said genially. "The healers tell me that you can go home in a few days."
"Yeah," Sirius said. "Once my vitals are fully stabilized."
"Good, good," Dumbledore said. Sirius could feel Dumbledore's blue eyes searching him. He didn't feel like forcing a smile so he stared impassively back at the older man until Dumbledore smiled. "Well, my boy, I am glad to see that you are looking better. I will continue to check your progress."
"Thank you," Sirius said.
"Of course, my boy," Dumbledore smiled. "Remus, I will see you at dinner."
"Good afternoon, headmaster," Remus said kindly.
Sirius watched as Dumbledore's purple robes slid across the gray marble floor and out of the door. Sirius couldn't help but feel that life as a free man wouldn't be as easy as he had thought it would be.
Severus wanted to slaughter every person in the room, his cover be damned. The past half an hour had consisted of his fellow professors spewing different variations of "How awful, twelve years in Azkaban as an innocent man" and "I can't believe the nerve of Rita Skeeter." The only reason he was still in the professor's lounge was because he hoped one of his fellow professor's would let something important slip. However, he knew the chances of that happening were about as high as him giving Ronald Weasley an O.
"What do you think, Severus?" Trelawney asked. As usual, her voice came out in a forced tone that sounded as if she was trying to yell and whisper at the same time. Severus knew the woman thought she sounded mystical, but the sound grated on his ears.
Severus stared cooly at the annoying woman. Dozens of gold bangles glittered from her thin wrists, and her large spectacles made her eyes an unnerving sight. Severus wanted to tell the woman that if he had it his way, Sirius Black would've received the kiss when he had been captured twelve years ago. There was no one on earth that Severus hated as much as Sirius Black. From the moment Severus had stepped foot on the Hogwarts Express, Sirius had made it his mission in life to make Severus' life hell. Severus had always known that Sirius was innocent — Sirius had been as loyal to James Potter as Severus was to the Dark Lord. In fact, knowing that Sirius was innocent was the icing on the cake to the man being locked in Azkaban. Severus couldn't think of a worse place to be than Azkaban, and there was no worse scenario than being locked up there as an innocent man. It was a fate that Sirius deserved more than anyone. Instead, Severus stared impassively at the Divination professor.
"I care not one way or the other," Severus said.
"Severus!" McGonagall said. She looked at Severus as if he had just pushed an old woman in front of the Knight Bus.
"Severus," Dumbledore said disappointedly. "You and Sirius had your differences, yes, but he was innocent. Surely you cannot truly believe that an innocent man deserves Azkaban?"
Severus could see Remus watching him carefully out of the corner of his eye. Severus wanted to say something to make the man snap, to make the wolf come to the surface, but he clenched his jaw.
"You cannot blame him, headmaster," Umbridge simpered. Severus' jaw clenched further. He didn't care that the woman worked for the Dark Lord, he found her to be more insufferable than Trelawney. "We all thought that Sirius Black was guilty. One cannot be expected to change their opinion over night." She let out a childish sort of giggle and Severus saw Remus cringe.
"Of course not, Dolores," Dumbledore said. He peered at Severus over his half moon spectacles. Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I think we have all had enough talk for one evening. Feel free to retire to your chambers."
Severus stood up to leave, but Dumbledore looked pointedly at him.
"Severus," Dumbledore said over the clatter of chairs moving. "A word, my boy."
Severus' lips turned down at the nickname. He stood still as a statue while the other professors walked out. He stared blankly at Dumbledore as he peered up at him.
"If you don't mind, headmaster, I'm quite tired after the days events," Severus said.
"Of course, of course," Dumbledore said. "I merely wanted to make sure you weren't going to go off and do anything foolhardy." Severus' eyes narrowed. "I know that you blame Sirius for Lily's death and—"
"If that is all," Severus said sharply.
He looked away as Dumbledore stared sadly at him.
Severus thought that it was just like Dumbledore to think that his hatred towards Sirius was because of Lily. Yes, Severus had loved Lily, but that was years ago. He knew that a romantic relationship would never have worked out between the two of them, they were far too different. However, he did still care for her as a friend, and her death haunted him, but his hatred for Sirius Black had begun years before Lily's death. From the moment he had laid eyes on Sirius, Severus had known that the Black heir would bring nothing but misery into his life.
Severus wanted to go out and find Sirius then slice his chest open with a well placed cutter. He wouldn't want it to kill Sirius instantly, merely injure him enough that he would slowly bleed out. Unfortunately, the Dark Lord wanted Sirius alive. Severus didn't know why, the Dark Lord was playing this one close to his chest, but Severus had to follow his orders. Although, that wouldn't stop him from fantasizing about it.
"Goodnight, Severus," Dumbledore said, his tone resigned.
"Headmaster," Severus said in a clipped tone.
Severus brushed passed Dumbledore, flung the old wooden door open, and strode briskly into the hall.