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Hermione felt sick as she walked from the lift to the courtroom. Her senses seemed to have dulled, and everything looked very far away and remote. Lead weights had attached themselves to her feet; it was a struggle not to just sit down and refuse to go any further.

People still flooded in through the golden double doors, although they were now giving the centre of the room a wide berth as they made their way to their places on the high circular benches. This was in large part due to the cluster of Aurors surrounding the iron chair, in which, once again wreathed in chains, sat Cygnus, his eyes closed as if in deep concentration.

The Minister for Magic stood behind the judge's bench, talking to an undersecretary. The witness for prosecution sat to his left, dressed smartly and scribbling away with a royal blue quill. Hermione didn't recognise him; he was a small mousey man with a smattering of stubble and a quick, restless air. Crosby was on his left, looking twice as solemn as usual. He nodded once to Hermione, and she realised she'd been staring.

Turning to find her own seat, she saw a middle-aged not-quite-naturally-blonde with two-inch nails pat the bench beside her. Hermione hadn't thought it was possible for her heart to sink any lower, but there sat smiling, Quick Quotes Quill-wielding proof. Rita Skeeter.

She didn't return the woman's smile as she sat. "Why are you here?"

"Well, Little Miss Know-It-All, we meet again. Court reporter, dear. Readers love the drama. Anything to say before it all kicks off?"

"Not to you."

"Darling, the Prophet hasn't had any Potter-related stories in weeks! And here we have his good friend, on the side of the sort of Dark creature he fought so hard to overcome. So what do you say?"

"Keep Harry out of this," Hermione snapped. It wasn't as if she hadn't had run-ins with Skeeter since Hogwarts, but having her here, at this trial, was beyond bad luck. "Anyway, I thought another journalist was covering this trial - Deborah Kirwan?"

The Minister raised a hand at that moment and rapped his wand against the bench. Rita began to say something, but a fat witch in violet Wizengamot robes shushed her, so she merely shot Hermione a puzzled frown before facing front with an intent, expectant expression. Hermione sighed, but her exasperation was forgotten when silence fell over the room. Cygnus raised his head, blinking in the same artificial light that filled the Atrium and her office.

Were they trying to scare him? Hermione wondered. Sunlight, to a vampire, was what thunder, lightening, and the blackest of nights were to a human. Whatever was intended, it had no apparent effect on Cygnus, who stared straight at the Minister, face neutral. Did he fear the Wizengamot's unforgiving stares? Did he even notice? Was he really so confident in her ability to defend him that it didn't matter? Hermione asked herself these questions, and doubted the answers.

The Minister got to his feet. "We will begin," he said. The Court Scribe's quill flew. "Trial of the twentieth December into offences committed under the Decree for Regulation and Control of Non-Human Magical Creatures, the International Statue of Secrecy, and the High Law against Murder by the accused, of no fixed name or address." There was a shuffling of plum robes from the highest of the tiered benches. "Interrogator: Brendan Paul Day. Witness for the Defence: Hermione Jane Granger."

Hermione breathed in. That was the easy part.

"The charges against the accused are as follows: that he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actins, murder five Muggles in the vicinity of St Paul's Cathedral, London, on the third of November at approximately one am, which constitutes an offence under the High law against Murder of 1107, under Paragraph D of the Decree for Regulation and Control of Non-Human Magical Creatures, and also under section 107 of the International Confederation of warlock's Statue of Secrecy. the severity of these offences necessitates the death penalty." He inhaled sharply and fixed Cygnus with his gaze. "How do you plead?"

"Not guilty."

A whisper ran around the room. The Minister raised his hand again and hush fell at once. "I see. Witness for the defence, if you will..." he gestured to Hermione, not even treating her to the ghost of a smile. He'd been a happy man once, and Hermione had liked him, but years of cleaning up after 'the previous administration' (as press releases always called it) had hardened him.

She stood. This was the moment. She was in her element here. She stood, and waited for the rush of adrenaline to catch her. All she felt was a fizzing in her stomach like bad champagne and a roll of nausea. Today all those familiar faces, the faces she'd seen dozens of times before, the Wizengamot, weren't faces at all but a single block of cold etched marble against which she had to carve her fragile little defence. It was frightening, and she was frightened at being frightened; for the first time in a courtroom, her nerve faltered. Breathe, she told herself. Breathe and get through this.

"The defendant is innocent of all charges..." The preprepared speech rolled off Hermione's tongue without feeling. The Wizengamot peered over their spectacles and frowned, either with concentration or disbelief; she very much hoped it was the former. She avoided Cygnus's eyes as she spoke, because if she met them she would surely not be able to go on. The last words leaked from her mouth, and she closed it, relieved but trepidatious.

Brendan Day got to his feet with a little swagger. And then it began. He was good, Hermione couldn't help but admit. Quick and sharp and attentive to detail. Like she was, usually, but today her brain was cotton wool.

Five minutes in, and she was already losing ground on her first argument. "I maintain that there are many other vampires currently resident in the city of London, any of whom could have been the perpetrator."

"Preposterous!" Day said. "There are no vampires registered in London - no vampire would dare come so close to the Ministry."

"The defendant obviously did, in time to be picked up by your Aurors."

Day grinned and pointed to Hermione, speaking directly to the crowd. "You see? Even his lawyer admits he's crazed!"

Hermione was frustrated. Day had an answer for everything; convincing answers, too, judging by the Wizengamot's raised eyebrows and pursed lips. She only had to look at them to see that many agreed with Day's opinion that vampires were by nature vicious and dangerous and only safe when dead.

She had to keep trying.

They flung arguments at each other like clods of dirt. Photographs of the victims - before and after death - were produced and handed around; their names read out: Blaine Updike, Anne McKenna, Anthony Cunningham, Mark Dawson, Elizabeth Stewart. Day spoke of the families' grief; Hermione acknowledged this, but told the Wizengamot how calm and even-tempered Cygnus was now; did he look capable of such a violent crime?

Cygnus answered every question thrown his way flawlessly, without so much as a slip of the tongue. Everything Hermione had gleaned in hours of conversation and research was brought forward and stripped bare for Day to display to the court as fallacies. His lack of evidence was brushed aside. "I may have little direct evidence for, but you have none against. Not even an alibi!"

Hermione pressed her lips together. She glanced at Cygnus, met his eyes, and found she didn't go to pieces; rather, she could think clearer than before. "Certainly we have an alibi."

"You do?" Day's tone was scornful.

"Yes. The defendant was elsewhere at the time of the crime."

"That is generally the definition of an alibi," Day said dryly. "So you were elsewhere, were you?" he said to Cygnus.

A wrinkle appeared between Cygnus's eyebrows. He paused. Hermione nodded. "Yes," he said.

"And where was that?" Now Day's voice was condescending, mocking.

Cygnus spoke, but less readily than before, telling the story he'd told Hermione weeks ago; Lancashire, his old coven, the unnamed woman who'd come to tell him. When he finished, the air in the room was somehow thicker.

Day was smiling. Hermione was suddenly afraid he'd say something about witnesses, but, to her surprise, he didn't. "You say that your kind can run faster than humans. How fast, exactly?"

"I'm not sure."

"Sixty miles an hour? Seventy?"

"Two hundred."

A muffled gasp from the back. Rita Skeeter's hand was a blur.

"You weren't sure a minute ago."

"A guess, nothing more."

"I see. And can you verify that? Is there anyone present who can say for sure that it is possible?"

"Objection!" said Hermione. "There is also no one present who can say for definite that it is not possible."

Day glared at her. Hermione glared back. "Miss Granger-"

"That's enough!" the Minister spoke for the first time in over an hour. "Do either of you have any witnesses to call?"

"No, sir." Day said. Hermione shook her head.

"Then both the defence and prosecution will rest; I think we've all heard enough. the Wizengamot have ten minutes to make up their minds."

Only a few moved. The Minister leaned back in his chair and swigged from a flask. Day sat down and muttered to Crosby, still scowling. Hermione ignored the Aurors now stepping closer to the iron chair and stood beside Cygnus.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

He chuckled, his chains clinking softly. "I should be asking you that."

Hermione winced. "You did well," he added, perhaps too hastily. "Day had his work cut out."

It wasn't true; maybe Hermione had occasionally had the upper hand, but Day bounced three steps forward for every one she knocked him back. She knew the Wizengamot had liked him. "We can only hope."

The Minister stood, too soon. The murmuring subsided. Grim faces surrounded them. Hermione didn't like it. A grim Wizengamot could be thinking anything. Unconsciously, she rested her hand on Cygnus's. He curled his fingers around it briefly.

"Have you reached a decision?" The Minister asked the room. There was a collective mutter of assent. "Well, then. Those in favour of clearing the accused of all charges?"

A smattering of hands. Hermione couldn't count them, not yet, There was still hope.

"And those in favour of conviction?"

And now, like a wave breaking on the rocks, the hands went up.

Crosby's hand.

The Minister's hand.

Many hands.

Too many.

Hermione only dimly registered the events of the next fifteen minutes. The hammer came down. "Convicted of all charges... sentenced to death... sunlight... noon on the twenty-second of December..." The Aurors pulled Cygnus to his feet; Harry touched her shoulder and said something sympathetic; Rita gabbed about her article; Day beamed and shook hands; Crosby smiled apologetically at her; plum robes left the courtroom; the Minister didn't speak as he passed her; the ceiling rushed down; the walls closed in; Hermione fell apart.

*



She was, once again, in the underground cell. Cygnus's chains were twice as thick as before, and his head hung low, chin on chest. He hadn't opened his eyes when she'd entered; she assumed he was resting them after being in such strong light in the courtroom, but then, it was equally likely that he couldn't stand the sight of her. Livid purple marks ringed his wrists where the heavy cuffs had been.

She sighed. "I'm sorry." In the silence it was like ringing a bell.

"Don't be." His voice was like the rustle of dry leaves. He still wouldn't look at her.

"We've been refused an appeal." It was the only reason she had been allowed to come down here; to let him know that he would die in two days.

He didn't appear surprised. "I would have lost with or without even you. I lost six weeks ago."

Hermione reached out and touched his icy, scarily still hand on the table. "I'm sorry," she repeated. She didn't know what else to say.

Now he raised his head, opened his eyes. "Hermione. It's not your fault."

Hermione couldn't reply. Something was wrong with her tongue, her throat, her heart. "Are you afraid?" The words slipped out without her being quite aware of them.

"A little. I don't know." Cygnus closed his eyes. "Yes."

He placed his free hand over hers, almost absent-mindedly. Another silence. "I want you to know," he said softly, holding her gaze with his dark eyes, "that I really do appreciate the effort you've put in... I'm very grateful for that. Not many people would even come near a... me."

Hermione tried to smile. So did he. Then slowly, very carefully, not taking his eyes off hers, he raised her hand and pressed it to his lips. A cold shock shot up Hermione's arm. He let her hand drop, eyes suddenly guarded.

It was only then that Hermione remembered the guards outside, no doubt watching as she and Cygnus had drawn ever closer over the course of the conversation. "I should go," she mumbled. " I'm so-"

"Don't say it," he said, a smile playing around his mouth.

She pushed back her chair, stood. "I - well, goodbye."

He inclined his head towards her. "Goodbye."

She tore her eyes away from him, and left the room. Sure enough, the two guards were staring when she emerged, their eyes wide and wary. They didn't say anything, though, so she turned away and half-ran to the lift. Only when she was safely behind its golden bars did she dare let the first sobs escape, shaking her as the tears spilled over.

She liked him, yes; how could she not, when he was so charming and polite - but love; love was a strong word. Too strong to apply to a man she had only met with a table separating them, a man who had only given her glimpses of himself. But then she remembered how his cold lips had felt against her hand, how her heart had stopped, how her insides had twisted in sympathy with the agony in his eyes.

She didn't know. All she knew was that he could not be allowed to die.







A/N: Disclaimer: A lot of the Minister's dialogue is paraphrased from chapter 8 of OotP, starting page 127 in the British edition.
The rest of the trial is a mashup of To Kill A Mockingbird and every episode of Bones and CSI I've ever seen. Please let me know if something is glaringly wrong or weird (this is totally not the sort of thing I should be admitting =P)

Anyway. Who's pissed off about the way the trial ended? Who's happy for the soppy bits? Who's hated it from the start? Let me know, reviews are always appreciated :D

Beta-ed (well, not this chapter, yet) by curiosity is not a sin

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