Remus followed Fudge and Dumbledore into the ampitheater, his eyes naturally moving to the dais at the bottom, where the veil still fluttered slightly from the arch. This place seemed too quiet now, after the swirling events of the night before. Everything was still and dim, unlit by flashing jets of colored light, unmarred by shouts and taunts. He had not wanted to come here. He wanted only sleep, and preferably a dreamless sleep that would temporarily erase the events of the night before. In the past, the absence of dreams allowed him to be in a place where Sirius wasn't innocent or guilty; no negative thoughts and no positive memories. Often it was hard to distinguish which were worse. Now he wanted a dreamless sleep where Sirius was neither alive nor dead. He didn't need dreams. The past two years had been his dream.
"And this is where they found the children?" Fudge asked. He removed his bowler hat and turned it in his hands, looking down at the arch.
"Yes," said Dumbledore. "I arrived later, but Remus can tell you what happened."
Remus turned cold eyes to meet Fudge's uncomfortable gaze. They both knew quite well that his word meant nothing to either Fudge or the Ministry, and that this forced politeness was accounted for only by Dumbledore's presence and Fudge's need to atone for a year of stupidity. Remus didn't care one way or the other.
He had come here because Dumbledore asked him to, but mostly because leaving Grimmauld Place provided him with a dull kind of pleasure. Every feeling seemed dull and muted now, until everything bled together into empty nothing. There were no lines between anger and grief and pleasure, and he was beginning to wonder if he felt anything at all.
"Well, Lupin?" said Fudge.
"There were five of us," he said in an absent voice he hardly recognized. "Severus had alerted us, and we left immediately. We entered this room just in time to save them."
"And who was with you?"
"Nymphadora Tonks, Alastor Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and..." He gave the slightest hesitation, suddenly unsure if Dumbledore wanted to go into this complicated aspect of the night's events. Then he realized that he didn't particularly care what Dumbledore wanted at the moment. It felt odd, yet strangely liberating, not to care. All of this decided in a second's time, he kept his eyes fixed on Fudge's. "Sirius Black."
The bowler hat fell from Fudge's hand and landed on the stone step just beneath them. "What? B-but-- Black-- what?"
Remus heard Dumbledore's sigh and glanced down at the arch. Sirius could have walked into Zonko's or the Three Broomsticks today, an innocent man. Free, if he had only stayed one more night in that house, with his mother and the past sucking out his soul with far greater ease and power than any Dementor.
"What is the meaning of this, Dumbledore?" Fudge demanded. "Do you expect me to believe that Sirius Black was here, in the Ministry of Magic, fighting the Death Eaters? And if he was, where is he now?"
"I'm sure you recall a night two years ago," said Dumbledore calmly, stooping to retrieve the hat and handing it to Fudge, "when a couple of my students tried to tell you that Sirius Black was innocent."
"Merlin's sake, not this again," said Fudge. "I came here to find out what happened last night. We have some important people awaiting trial, and now you're rehashing old nonsense spouted by the Potter boy under a Confundus charm."
"You do realize that we've wasted a precious year because you refused to believe Harry Potter." Dumbledore's voice was still level, but there was a cool firmness to it now. "Sirius Black was innocent. Peter Pettigrew betrayed James and Lily, and his confession was heard by three of my students, not to mention Remus."
"Peter Pettigrew, whom no one has seen in fifteen years."
"Sirius somehow escaped from Hogwarts," Dumbledore continued, "spent a year on the run, then returned last summer when Harry needed him. He has been working for the Order of the Phoenix this year, and died last night at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange."
Fudge shook his head in quick little jerks, huffing with something like laughter. "Ridiculous, Dumbledore, utterly ridiculous." He waited for a response, but received none. Dumbledore's eyes sparked with something like anger, and Remus only clenched his jaw. "Do you expect me," Fudge stuttered, "to announce not only that You-Know-Who is back, but that Black the murderer was really a hero? If he died, where is his body?"
"He fell through the archway," Dumbledore said quietly.
"Ah. So we have no proof that Black was ever here. How do you expect me to explain this to the Prophet?"
Remus turned away in silent anger. He wandered down the stone steps and onto the dais. Behind him there was only silence, before him the indistinct whisperings of the dead. He wouldn't fall into the simple trap of self-pity and foolishness; the trap of finding pleasure in his grief, however much they blurred together; the trap of finding comfort in his tragedy, Sirius' tragedy, their tragedy; the romance of turning away from happiness and declaring it impossible. There was pleasure and there was grief, but they were not one and the same. There was no comfort now, but there would be eventually. And happiness was not impossible. No, because he had known happiness.
He laid a hand on the arch and stared at the curtain and waited. But Fudge and Dumbledore said nothing. He turned and looked up at them from the dais, his stage. After years spent in prison, running, and hiding, Sirius had died on a stage, in front of everyone. One moment of openness and honesty and freedom, laughing before he took his bow.
"Sirius was innocent," he said, the shape of the room carrying his voice. "If you don't believe a werewolf, two children, and an old man, you can ask Nymphadora, Kingsley, Alastor, Dedalus, Emmeline, Hestia... shall I go on?"
Fudge sighed, pulled out his handkerchief, and swiped his brow. "Even if I did decide to declare his innocence, it would have to wait. I can't announce--"
"You will announce it today!" Remus shouted. His words echoed off the walls, and the whispering behind the veil seemed to grow quieter. He glanced at Dumbledore, surprised to find him nodding slightly, a grim smile on his lips.
"Lupin, I hardly think that you are in a position to order the Minister of Magic to do anything," Fudge retorted.
"Someone has to order you to do something. You've done a fine enough job of doing nothing for the past year."
He hardly knew what he was saying, but judging by the look on Fudge's face, it was exactly what he should be saying. He bounded up the steps and felt himself smiling with a strange kind of happiness. Perhaps he wore the same smile that had shone through Sirius' sunken face when he looked down at Wormtail. Vindication. A long-overdue declaration of innocence.
"Sirius Black died last night to save the lives of six of my students," said Dumbledore in a tired voice. "And today you will have them publish the truth of his innocence."
Fudge again swiped the handkerchief over his face. "I will announce it to the Ministry," he sighed. "I'll do it today. It may not appear in the Prophet for a few weeks, after people have had time to deal with our present concern." He glanced at Remus, who met his gaze fixedly, then continued hurriedly, "As far as the Minister of Magic is concerned, Sirius Black is innocent of the crimes for which he was imprisoned."
Accused without a trial, pardoned without a trial. No more of those twelve years regained, no less dead for the freedom he might have enjoyed today. But Remus allowed himself a grim smile as he followed them around in silence. He thought of Harry, back at Hogwarts with the Marauder's Map. There, at least, Padfoot and Prongs could still run about, laughing about Snape's greasy hair for as many decades as they pleased.
His smile widened and felt more real, surfacing through his grief.
Give five signs that identify the werewolf. One, he's at the Ministry of Magic. Two, he just shouted quite rudely at the Minister. Three, his name's Remus Lupin...
And the history books would have to be rewritten, because Sirius Black was innocent.