"The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."
(a small price to pay)
From an editorial in the Daily Prophet, not long after Voldemort’s downfall in the summer before Harry Potter’s seventh year at Hogwarts:
This time around, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named will not return from the dead. The Dark Arts and its practitioners have fallen, mostly due to the effectiveness of the Ministry of Magic in handling He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s rise from the dead, and in orchestrating his second downfall, this time for good. Thanks to the leadership of Rufus Scrimgeour, these dark and difficult times are coming, at last, to an end…
“Professor Lupin?” asked Hermione tentatively.
She and Harry stood side by side in the doorway. Some distance behind them were Ginny and Ron. He and Hermione had not once looked at each other since they had left Hogwarts that morning, and there seemed to be a barrier preventing them from getting within a ten-feet radius of the other. Both looked like they could keep up their stony fašade indefinitely.
Remus Lupin, sitting slumped in a chair next to a hospital bed, turned. When he saw his four ex-students, he smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. His grief was palpable, as was his weariness.
Ginny and Hermione went to either side of the hospital bed. Tonks was diminished: her skin looked pale and waxy, her body seemed to have shrunken under the bedsheet, and, most depressingly, her vivid hair was dull brown and matted. Lupin was doing his best, but he could not prevent Nymphadora Tonks’ slow, steady decline.
Tears in her eyes, Hermione grasped the Auror's lifeless hand. “We’re here, Tonks.”
“Can she hear us?” Ron asked, subdued.
Lupin shrugged tiredly. “There’s a chance she can.”
“How is she?” Harry met his former Professor’s eyes.
“Worsening.” Lupin’s voice broke. “I don’t know what spell they used… I’m just glad it wasn’t the Avada Kedavra… but they say that the longer she stays unconscious, the less her chancesare ofever awakening…”
The four students all turned respectfully away, giving Lupin time to collect himself.
“But let’s not talk about that.” His voice sounded steady enough, so they looked back at him.Lupin had composed himself. “Why don’t we talk outside? I don’t want to disturb Tonks.”
Hermione and Ginny were reluctant about leaving Tonks alone, but Harry and Ron, as depressed as though a Dementor were in the vicinity, readily agreed. Outside the room, they sat in hard plastic chairs and waited for Lupin to tell them what was going on.
“I need you to do me a favor,” he said. The four students traded alarmed looks. Reading their expressions correctly, Lupin added, “And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Death Eaters.”
“What, then?” Hermione and Harry asked at the same time.
“There’s a case coming up at the court of the Wizengamot,” said Lupin. “Demetria Kilrathi vs the Ministry of Magic. I assume you’ve heard of it?”
Only Hermione nodded. “The Aurors mistakenly tortured her husband, Virreor Kilrathi, for his alleged collusion with Death Eaters.”
“Correct,” said Lupin. “He is now insane. I have met Demetria, and she wants compensation from the Ministry for authorizing the use of the Unforgivable Curses against anyone who was a suspect. Even the ones, like her husband, who would later turn out to be innocent.”
Harry hesitated. “But isn’t the Ministry justified? After all, the Death Eaters were using the Unforgivable curses on them. The Aurors had to fight back.”
“Yeah,” Ron said. “I know it sounds cold, but I don’t think it was a mistake for the Ministry to allow the Aurors to use the Unforgivable Curses. Wasn’t it necessary to defeat You-Know-Who?”
“Necessary?” Lupin asked incredulously. “And why must we use the Unforgivable Curses to begin with? When did we sink to the level of Voldemort? We are different from Voldemort precisely because we don’t seek to control other people with the Imperius Curse. We don’t use Avada Kedavra on Death Eaters, we put them in Azkaban. And we don’t revel in the pain of our enemies. We don’t torture them into insanity with the Cruciatus curse.”
Lupin paused. “We didn’t need to use the Unforgivable Curses. We needed to defend ourselves, and we needed to defeat them. There are other kinds of magic we could have used, ones that didn’t involve the Dark Arts.”
Harry and Ron exchanged uncomfortable glances and said nothing. Despite Lupin’s impassioned speech, they were unconvinced. Ron said, “But the mistaken use of an Unforgivable Curse against one person doesn’t outweigh all the other terrible things prevented by the use of it.”
Lupin stared at him. “Doesn’t it? You think sanity of a wizard whose only sin was being in the wrong place at the wrong time is a small price to pay so that the Aurors could use the Unforgivable Curses against anyone they believed to be on Voldemort's side? And Virreor Laguna wasn’t the only victim.”
“Professor Lupin’s right,” said Hermione quietly. “Plenty of innocent witches and wizards suffered under the Ministry. They were desperate to look like they were fighting back.” She looked at Harry. “Have you forgotten Stan Shunpike?”
Harry flinched. “But…” He trailed off, reflecting.
“Albus Dumbledore, as far as I know, never once used an Unforgivable Curse against the Death Eaters,” Lupin told them. “And yet he was one of the greatest of us who opposed You-Know-Who.” Lupin looked at Harry. "And you only ever used the Avada Kedavra against Voldemort. Isn't that right?"
Harry nodded reluctantly.
Ginny spoke up for the first time. “What task did you want us to do?”
Lupin coughed. “The lawyers for Demetria Laguna want to ask Neville Longbottom to be a witness for them.”
There was a silence while the four students considered.
Finally, Hermione spoke, aghast. “Because of his parents. Frank and Alice Longbottom met the same fate as Virreor Laguna –” Her eyes widened. “Under the hands of Death Eaters who were then sentenced to life in Azkaban, for doing the exact same thing that the Aurors did.”
“Precisely,” said Lupin. He smiled, and this time he reached his eyes. “This is irrelevant, but I’d forgotten, Hermione, how clever you are.”
Hermione looked like she didn’t know whether to be flattered or confused. “Er – thanks, Professor – but Neville –”
“It'll kill Neville," Ron broke in. "You know how much he hates rehashing what happened to his parents. Why not ask his grandmother to testify instead?”
“Because she has refused,” Lupin said simply. “Despite the fate of her son and daughter-in-law – or perhaps because of it – she believes that Scrimgeour did the right thing by authorizing the use by the Aurors of the Unforgivable Curses. She loved Frank and Alice, and she could never pay back their tormentors…”
“Poor Neville,” murmured Ginny.
“I want you to tell Neville,” said Lupin. “His grandmother has forbidden us from requesting this of him, and though she seems to have forgotten that not everyone needs to obey her orders, I will. I believe that Neville will volunteer for the task, without us having to ask him outright, once he understands what we want him to do.”
No one spoke. Hermione looked anxious, Ron fidgeted, and uneasiness was clear in Harry’s eyes.
“I’ll tell him,” Ginny said abruptly.
The three older Gryffindors turned to her, all wearing identical expressions of surprise. Hermione recovered first. “Perhaps you should leave that to us, Ginny… we’re closer to him…”
“No, you’re not.” Ginny’s voice was apologetic, but firm. “He admires you, but come on, when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with him?”
“When was the last time you did?” Ron countered, looking more astonished than antagonistic.
“The day before yesterday. He and Luna have gotten into the habit of studying together in the library during their free time, and I join them when I can.” She narrowed her eyes at Harry’s dubious expression. “It’s more pleasant than you think. They’re very kind. I can talk to them about practically anything.”
Ron, Harry, and Hermione had nothing to say to that.
After a moment, Lupin spoke, not quite able to conceal his worry. “Very well, Ginny. You can tell him. I don’t want to pressure you, but the Wizengamot will hear the case in a few weeks. There’s a lot at stake here, not the least of them Rufus Scrimgeour’s career… we’ll need to talk to Neville, prepare him for questioning.”
Ginny nodded. “All right.”
The anxious look did not vanish from Lupin's face. "You must understand the depth of Scrimgeour's support... the Daily Prophet did nothing but praise him after Voldemort's downfall, saying he was responsible for the return of peace and order. People credit Scrimgeour for ending Voldemort's reign of terror. It will be difficult to go against such a respected Minister of Magic."
"All right," Ginny repeated.
Hermione watched Lupin. “Sir… why are you getting involved?” She flushed at the bluntness of her question. “I mean, do you know Demetria Laguna?”
A shadow crossed Lupin’s face. His voice, when he answered, was hard and quiet. “Not directly, no.” He glanced up at the walls, searching for a clock. “And now, I think it’s time for you to return to Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall told me you would still attend your afternoon classes.”
There was nothing more to say, except the perfunctory goodbyes and wishes for Tonks to get well soon. Hermione conjured up flowers for the fallen Auror, a tricky bit of magic which won another real smile from Lupin. Then the four students left. Ron and Hermione maintained their distance from each other.
When they were gone, Lupin buried his face in his hand and exhaled.
“Demetria seems to be an offshoot of the Black family tree,” said Hermione in a low voice. “She used Kilrathi, her mother’s maiden name, as her surname until she married Virreor Laguna. Her father was some randy Black.”
The three of them were in the library, talking in low voices. Originally it had been Hermione and Ginny, but then Harry showed up. Ron had been with him, but he veered away from the table as soon as he saw Hermione. He was now seated with Neville and Luna in a distant table.
“How did you find out?” Harry asked.
“Old school records,” Hermione explained. “I’ve been checking old issues of the Daily Prophet too. The gossip section.”
“It's all so complicated,” Ginny groaned.
They fell silent, each contemplating the situation.
“I feel terrible for Tonks,” Hermione said softly.
“I think Lupin has it worse,” Ginny admitted.
Harry’s mouth had thinned into a firm, hard line. “Lupin didn’t tell us anything about what happened to Tonks. I think that’s more important than this Demetria’s case against the Ministry, though I hate Scrimgeour as much as she probably does. I want to know why Lupin thinks Death Eaters were behind the attack on Tonks.”
Neither Hermione nor Ginny answered him.
Some tables away, Ron gazed at Neville, whose head was bent over an Herbology book, with a hint of sadness. Later, he knew, Ginny was planning to talk to him. Soon Neville was about to be thrust into an intricate game of wizard rights and politics, and he would have a difficult time. Ron only hoped Neville could handle it.
“Why are you looking at Neville like that?” Luna asked in her blunt way.
Ron blinked. “What?” He flushed. “I mean, I’m not looking at Neville.”
“Yes, you were,” said Luna.
Ron sighed. “It’s a long story.”
Luna considered him. “Well, any time you feel ready to talk, we’re right here.”
Draco wanted to kill Blaise Zabini.
“Drakie, sweetie, what’s this I hear about you and some other girl?” Pansy asked, hands on her hips, head tilted annoyingly.
In a nearby couch, not bothering to hide the fact that he was eavesdropping, Zabini remained calm under the force of Draco’s glare. “Don’t look at me, Malfoy. I wasn’t the one who told her.”
“What do you mean, it wasn’t you?” Pansy rounded on Zabini, her eyes flashing. For once she didn’t look like she wanted to eat the good-looking Slytherin right up. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Ask your boyfriend,” Zabini suggested mildly.
Draco wondered if he was imagining the emphasis Zabini put on the word ‘boyfriend.’ But he could see that Zabini was telling the truth – whoever had told Pansy that his attention was shifting elsewhere, it hadn’t been him. So who? Draco remained quiet, weighing whether it was better to mollify Pansy now or to let her see that it was over between them.
He decided on the latter. “You know how gossip is, Pansy.”
“Untrue?” Pansy asked pointedly.
Draco's silence intimated just the opposite: that, in fact, the rumors were very true.
Furious, the Slytherin girl slapped him. She actually slapped him. Draco saw it coming, but he didn’t prevent it, partly because he was being an ass and he knew it. Never mind the fact that his dumping of Pansy had been a long time coming. The sound of her palm connecting with his cheek rang through the common room, silencing the boisterous noise of the other Slytherins.
Crabbe and Goyle jerked up, aware that harm had been done to Draco but not sure how to deal with the girl who had inflicted it.
Draco shot his minions a look that told them to keep still. Then he reached up and rubbed his stinging cheek, gazing evenly at Pansy.
She crumbled. “Draco…”
“I’m sorry, Pansy.”
She burst into tears and stormed away, leaving Draco alone with Crabbe and Goyle. And Zabini. And a bunch of fourth-years who looked torn between fascination and a strong desire to be anywhere else but there.
“If I noticed, other people are bound to,” Zabini pointed out.
“Notice what?” Draco snapped, his hand still on his stinging cheek. Who knew Pansy was so strong?
“You and Ginny Weasley.”
The bald statement made Draco freeze. “What are you talking about?”
“Stop playing innocent, Malfoy. I don’t even see why you’re doing it. Playing innocent, I mean. Are you afraid of what people will say? I know my opinion of that Weasley girl isn't exactly sterling, but listen – I don’t care. You could date a bloody Squib if you wanted. So don’t hold back from dating anyone – squib, muggle-lover, muggle, or otherwise – on account of me… though I can't imagine you going out with a Muggle...”
For a moment Draco was still, then, albeit reluctantly, he laughed. “Your unprejudiced open-mindedness, Zabini, may be the best of your traits.” Then his tone changed. “However, just for the record… I’m not afraid of what people will say.”
Zabini raised an eyebrow. “Then what are you waiting for?”
A/N: I hope to update soon… bear with me... :)
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