Death Eaters. They were all surrounded by Death Eaters; Remus, Tonks, Kingsley and Mad-Eye... fighting against Malfoy, Bellatrix and the others... Harry and his friends had been injured already. He could see himself dodging curses and casting spells in defense of the attacks that kept coming his way... Bellatrix... she was laughing maniacally as she tried to steal the object that Harry held in his hands... he had to protect his Godson, no matter what. James and Lily were counting on him... to keep Harry safe.
Then suddenly someone shouted Dumbledore's name; if he was here then the fight would be over soon... but before he could do anything, Bellatrix shot a spell his way which he barely managed to dodge.
"Come on! You can do better than that!" He heard himself taunting her, which didn’t help him at all.
After that, the last thing he could remember was Bellatrix attacking him again.... followed by darkness... he didn't know what had happened, was he falling? dying perhaps... it felt painless and cold, but he could still think. And for the first time in his life, he knew that there was something to live for, someone to live for, a lot of people were depending on him to be there for them - his Godson, his best friend, his cousin and... and Rose. That sweet, kindhearted, beautiful five year old girl who always had a smile on her face, who had no one else to turn to, who had gone above and beyond to make him laugh, she was counting on him… to come home… to her. He couldn’t let Rose down, not when he promised her that he would return; if anything happened to him, she would be all alone...
“Rose!” Sirius called out, breaking through the darkness that had held him down as he opened his eyes, very much alive.
Breathing heavily, Sirius squinted his eyes against the glare of the sunlight, streaming in through familiar looking windows. He was sitting in a bed, dressed in a hospital gown? This wasn't St. Mungo's, it felt... homely; like the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. It had been almost 20 years since he’d set foot in the Castle and yet, nothing much had changed… he really was here.
"What?" He couldn't believe that this was possible; he was alive and inside the school?
Just then, Sirius realized that he wasn't alone; laying by the foot of his bed, curled up beside his legs... Rose was fast asleep. She hadn't heard him shout for her, but she was here. Seeing her like that, so peaceful, it warmed his heart… he wouldn’t openly admit this to anyone, but he truly had gotten deeply attached to her in the past year. What she had done for him, what she continued to do… Rose was the reason he had fought to stay alive.
"Maybe I'm dreaming and this is what Heaven looks like." The thought crossed his mind as Sirius reached a hand out to touch Rose's head.
Before he could do or even say anything, there was a voice that brought Sirius out of his daze.
"Ah, Sirius. You're awake." Dumbledore spoke softly as he entered the room.
"Dumbledore! You... what is going on? where am I? Harry! Is he alright?" Sirius did remember the fight inside the Department of Mysteries.
He couldn't recall all of the details though. The last thing his mind could comprehend was Bellatrix attacking him… her laughter echoing in his ears. His memories were a bit mixed up; when he touched his forehead he felt a bandage there, and his arms were covered in minor cuts and scratches which were already starting to heal themselves.
“Harry is quite alright, as is everyone else. There’s no need to worry, everything is over for now.” Sitting down on a chair beside Sirius’s bed, Dumbledore kept his voice low so as to not wake Rose who was oblivious to the new visitor there.
“What does that mean?” Frowning at the old wizard, Sirius couldn’t bring himself to entirely tear his gaze away from Rose; he was not sure how he had reached Hogwarts, but seeing her sleeping was already calming his nerves.
“The Death Eaters were caught after I arrived, unfortunately Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort managed to escape.” Dumbledore began to explain, “There was a lot of confusion over what happened to you Sirius, but from what I have been told, it seems to me that your other cousin, young miss Nymphadora is responsible for deflecting that last attack Bellatrix cast your way." He spoke in a tone of joy towards his ex-student.
“Tonks?” Sirius was slightly surprised to hear the Headmaster’s words, “She… she saved me?” He knew that Tonks was a brave witch; the fact that she had been able to stop a dangerous spell which may have been fatal... Sirius felt a rush of pride for his cousin.
“Indeed she did. Although, it seems that even after you were hit with a stunning spell, Bellatrix was successful in using the Sectumsempra spell on you.” Dumbledore’s voice was very grim when he explained the true extent of injuries that Sirius had sustained, “That is why you were unconscious for some time… but Madam Pomfrey assures me the worst has already healed.”
Sirius barely registered the Headmaster’s words for as soon as he heard of ‘Sectumsempra’ he couldn’t help but vaguely recall the memory of agonizing pain which tore through his body, lying on the stone ground by that archway. He had to force those thoughts away and focus on what was important.
“Is Tonks okay? She wasn’t injured was she?” Sirius needed to know that she was fine; he worried about her more than she would ever realize.
“Yes, she is perfectly fine, as are Remus and the others; they are all here, resting in their respective Houses ever since the chaos died down.” Dumbledore said, reassuring Sirius that the members of the Order were safe now.
“How… how many days has it been since the attack at the Ministry?” He asked, and then realized something that hadn’t struck him until now… him being here at Hogwarts posed a risk. Not just to him or the others, but to Rose.
“Three days.” Was Dumbledore’s immediate reply; the older Wizard did not seem to sense Sirius’s fears for he said nothing else.
“Three? And Rose…” Sirius turned to look at her properly now, not knowing what else to say. Just thinking if she had stayed here in the hospital wing while he was unconscious, he still was amazed at how much she worried about him.
“Miss McKinnon has never left your side for more than a few minutes since your arrival at Hogwarts, Sirius.” He could now see the worry reflected in Sirius’s gaze on Rose as she continued to sleep even now, “She has grown quite fond of you… and seems very much like her aunt does she not?” This was the first time that Dumbledore had brought up Marlene’s name, but having spent a few days around Rose, even he had seen aspects of Marlene in the child.
“She is like Marlene in some ways yes.” Nodding his head in agreement, Sirius seemed to be talking more to himself now, “A very special child too. She has so much compassion and love and cheerfulness even after losing both her parents at such a young age… I have learned a lot from Rose.” He was thinking about how she had changed his life since that first night they’d met at his house and everything the two of them had gone through together since then.
“As I’m sure she has learned a lot from you.” Watching Sirius from behind his half-moon glasses, Dumbledore knew that sending Rose to live with Sirius had proven to be beneficial for them both.
“I haven’t been the best role model before… but I am trying my best…” Sirius confessed, “I don’t have a lot to offer her, even now… we shouldn’t be here.” Glancing at Dumbledore for a moment, Sirius wondered how he was still at Hogwarts when the risk of him being exposed was very high.
“Ah, yes. I had forgotten to tell you about that.” Dumbledore started to say as he pulled out an envelope from his robes, “It seems to me that your situation has changed; after the events that occurred, there has been a development with regards to… well, everything.” There was a hint of a smile on the old wizard's face.
Sirius was confused on hearing Dumbledore’s words, but took the envelope and saw that it was addressed to him; only when he turned it around to see the Minister of Magic’s seal at the back, did he realize what this possibly could be.
“What is this?” The disbelief in his voice was apparent as he started to open the envelope, surely it was impossible.
“I believe that it is a formal pardon from Cornelius Fudge himself. For wrongful imprisonment of an innocent man, who has been cleared of all charges against him.” Knowing that Sirius wouldn’t believe anything unless he heard it from him, Dumbledore explained the contents of this letter.
“But… how…?” Sirius couldn’t begin to fathom a world where he was finally granted his freedom, after all these years, could this be real?
“There is to be an official inquiry over the next several weeks but Cornelius was provided with strong evidence as to your innocence.” The Headmaster wasn’t going to bother him with technicalities just yet, he knew how important this was to Sirius.
“Then this means… that I’m… free.” Shock, surprise and wonder filled Sirius as he was processing the words that were written in the letter.
“Yes, as free as we all are at this stage of the battle. The danger is very much prevalent even now; Voldemort is out in the open and there will be a reckoning. Harry needs all of our support if he is to face the future that lies ahead.” Dumbledore knew that Sirius would be ready when the time came, and there was much to discuss, but it could wait for another time.
“I will do whatever it takes to help my Godson, but I have to think of Rose as well now.” Sirius said without hesitating; he knew the responsibilities which he had to fulfill and would always support Harry, but there was another person whom he had to think about, to take care of and protect at all costs.
And it was at that moment when Sirius saw Rose begin to stir from her sleep. She yawned as she rubbed her eyes, having slept peacefully throughout Sirius and Dumbledore’s conversation without being disturbed. As soon as she saw that he was awake, Rose jumped up from her spot at the foot of his bed and immediately launched herself into his arms.
“Sirius!” She exclaimed with a loud shout of glee and hugged him tightly, “You’re okay!” Rose buried her head in his shoulder, squeezing both arms closer to make sure that he was really there.
“Hello love, I am alright now. It’s all over. I'm here." Sirius said as caressed Rose’s hair, feeling the relief and happiness flood him as he held onto her.
“I’ll leave you two alone, and I will let the others know that you are awake.” Dumbledore said to Sirius as he stood up to give them some privacy.
“Thank you Dumbledore Sir.” Turning around so that she could see the Headmaster but not wanting to let go of Sirius, Rose beamed brightly when she saw him leaving; for the last two days, ever since he had personally brought her to Hogwarts once the fighting commenced, Dumbledore had stayed with her until Sirius arrived there.
“One last thing.” He started to say, “Dear me, I do seem to be forgetting all the important things today… perhaps a sherbet lemon will do me some good.” Dumbledore chuckled to himself, “Sirius, the matter which we had discussed earlier has been approved.” This time, there was a scroll of parchment that Dumbledore handed over to him.
“I thought… but what of the difficulties we talked about?” Sirius was amazed at how quickly the Headmaster had worked to make these things possible; first his freedom and now this… he wasn’t sure how to feel… there had never been so many good things coming in his life for a long time, not since Rose had found her way to him.
“It has all been taken care of. Amelia Bones was kind enough to help us out." Dumbledore had agreed to offer his assistance to Sirius when they had conversed several weeks ago. "I wish you luck." He said before speaking to Rose, "I trust that you will take care of Sirius. Good day." Saying so, Dumbledore left the Hospital Wing.
"What was that?" Rose asked Sirius, she faced him now but still had her arms wrapped around his neck.
"That... that was a surprise. For you, love. A late birthday gift." Sirius replied as he sat her on his lap before moving to open the scroll.
"But I have a gift. You got me the pictures of Momma and Daddy and all of the others." She was a little confused, but mostly curious as to what sort of gift this piece of parchment could be.
"Yes, you are right about that." He smiled at her, "This is a second gift that I hope you will like just as much." Sirius could sense his own fears as he unraveled the document; he and Rose hadn't had a chance to properly talk about this, but he believed that she would agree with his decision.
"Show me! I will like it." Rose sat sideways on his lap so that she could see Sirius and the scroll in his hands.
Without saying anything else, he opened it up and showed Rose exactly what this was. A lengthy document with words all over, from top to bottom, most of which Rose knew she couldn't read easily; she still reached out to look at it closer and saw her name mentioned there, as well as Sirius's.
"Is it a story?" Rose was able to decipher a title at the top. "A... D... O..." She hadn't heard of a word like this before.
"No, it isn't a story." Sirius started to say, "It... well it is an important paper from the Ministry... a form to adopt someone." He hesitated for a second before explaining what that meant. "I know that we have known each other for only a year now love, and I know it is not the same as having your family... but there is a process, in the Wizard and Muggle community, where a child can be adopted... to find a new family..." If he was being honest with himself, Sirius had no problem admitting that he felt worried about what Rose would think.
"A new family. For me?" Rose frowned as she tried to understand what Sirius was trying to tell her. "You. You will be my new Dad?"
"I know that things have been different for you... and I know that you miss your parents... but I can adopt you and... I... I won't replace them, but it would be like having a second father... if you will have me?" Sirius was well aware of the letter that Thomas and Jane had written with the legal will for him to be Rose's guardian, but he wanted her approval for this before it became official.
"Are you not my Dad from before?" It was an innocent question that Rose asked Sirius, but the meaning behind it was clear - she had already been thinking of him as her Dad.
They had never found an opportunity to call each other by the title of 'father' and 'daughter' all this while, but there was that unspoken agreement between them for as long as either one could remember. And to Sirius, when he heard Rose say that... the first time she called him 'Dad', he wanted to hear it for the rest of his life.
"Yes, yes. I am." His voice was beginning to choke up as he nodded, "And you have been my daughter from before too. We still need to sign our names here; there is a magic to it - once you sign this document, we will be a real family. I don't have to hide anymore, I am... free." The word felt much more strange to Sirius than the word 'daughter' did; although perhaps that was because he really had always thought of her as his own for many months now.
"Then I can call you Dad?" Rose knew that she had never said it out loud, because she was not sure if that was what Sirius wanted. She wouldn't doubt his commitment to taking care of her, but it was like he said, this would make everything official.
"You can call me anything you want love." This was only the second time that Rose had used this new name for him and Sirius was already used to it.
"Do I have a new name?" She certainly had a lot of questions about this process and Sirius was happy to answer all of them for her.
"Only your last name will change to mine." He replied, waiting to see what Rose thought of that.
"Marlene Rose Black. I like it." Without thinking twice, she tried her new name and smiled when she heard how it sounded to her ears.
"I like it too." Sirius admitted; there was a part of him that did find it a little surreal to know that Rose was part of his family now, but knew that he would adjust in no time, just as she would too.
She beamed brightly as Sirius picked up the quill at last, exchanged a glance with her and then signed his name. Rose watched with eyes wide open as the parchment glowed a gold light where Sirius's name was; when she took hold of the quill from him and started to write her name, Rose realized that this was a mere formality, for she had never thought of Sirius as anyone but her new Dad. She was aware that her parents were not with her anymore but they would certainly want her to be happy and have a family that would love her as much as they had.
"Well that's that." Sirius said when Rose had finished and the magic had made it legal now.
He started to roll up the parchment, leaving it aside for the moment, when all of a sudden, Rose made a move to hug him again. The two of them stayed that way, without needing to say anything, embracing each other for a few minutes until Madam Pomfrey showed up; she had been busy visiting all the other Order members and checking up on their condition before coming back to the Hospital Wing. She was absolutely delighted to meet Sirius again and chatted with him about how much Rose had helped her take care of him for two days. It didn't take her long to declare that he was in good health and ready to be dismissed, telling him that there was a room made up for him and Rose in the Gryffindor Tower where Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione were asleep at this time in their respective dormitories.
"And Remus?" Sirius wondered out loud as he finally stood up, stretching his muscles, walking up and down the room.
"Oh... well... Remus asked if he could help me with my other patients; I was in the Hufflepuff Tower checking up on Nymphadora last. He may still be there." Madam Pomfrey replied nonchalantly, as she observed Sirius.
"Is Mad-Eye still here?" Dumbledore had told him that everyone who was at the Ministry was in the school, but Sirius wondered if Mad-Eye had probably returned to work already.
"I believe professor Dumbledore asked him to personally escort Neville Longbottom home to his grandmother." The matron watched as Sirius showed full signs of recovery and was glad to see him walking about.
"Neville and Luna came to say goodbye to me." Rose suddenly chimed in; she’d sat down at the edge of the bed now.
"Kingsley has gone to escort Miss Lovegood home. He and Alastor should return soon." Madam Pomfrey added, knowing that Sirius was concerned about his friends.
“What of Minerva? Is she still at St. Mungo’s?” Sirius wasn’t sure who had told him about McGonagall’s attack, but he remembered that she had been transferred to the other Hospital that same night… had it only been four days ago?
“No, Professor McGonagall returned here yesterday; she’s in perfect health now. Still, I advised her to stay in her chambers for a week to recover completely.” And just as Madam Pomfrey was about to say something else, Sirius interrupted her.
"Well then... I'd best go and see what Moony and Tonks are up to." Sirius grinned as he figured this was the best time to change out of this dressing gown and into his usual clothes, they’d be folded and kept aside carefully by his bedside.
“Very well Sirius, but remember to get some rest later tonight; just because you were sleeping for two days doesn’t mean your body has healed.” If there was one thing that Poppy Pomfrey remembered all too well about Sirius, it was that he had rarely listened to her advice.
“I will make him rest.” She may not have known him for as long as anyone else, but Rose had firsthand experience of his stubbornness and while Sirius was busy taking care of her, he would forget to take care of himself; which is what she was there for.
By this point, Sirius had pulled back the curtains as he finished changing outfits, and when he poked his head around to see Rose standing by Madam Pomfrey’s side, he didn’t know whether to laugh or be proud of how mature she already sounded.
“See what you’ve done? You turned this precious girl into a doctor already.” He feigned shock as he pulled Rose back to him.
“She’s quite skilled at being a nurse, I don’t see why she shouldn’t start training from now if she wants to pursue a career as a Healer.” Madam Pomfrey said with an honest smile.
“Yes!” Rose was excited now; she’d spent most of her time here watching over Sirius and getting a chance to do all that she could to help him, she had even observed Madam Pomfrey work with various magical herbs and medicines to heal his injuries.
“Alright, we’ll talk more about this after we eat something, what say love?” Sirius knew that this was just the beginning of his fatherly concerns about Rose’s future education and eventual career; the two still had a long way to go, but he didn’t mind starting somewhere.
“Okay. I’m hungry.” Hearing him not say ‘no’ to her idea of being a Healer like Madam Pomfrey one day, Rose figured it was time to focus on the present and get some food first; her stomach was on the verge of growling even as they stood there.
“Me too. Come on, let’s take a detour to the kitchens.” Sirius held out his hand for Rose, “Thank you for everything Madam Pomfrey.” He said, with Rose waving goodbye as he led her to explore the castle, he was free at last and had finally returned to a place which had been home to him for a long time; the only thing left now was going back to his other home, when the opportunity was right.