I'd like to thank fredfred, InquisitorCOC and Brian1972 for beta-reading.
Chapter 5: Culmination
Kent, Greengrass Manor, October 24th, 1998
"Hello, Neville." Daphne smiled at Neville as soon as he had cleaned the soot from the fireplace off his robes.
"Hello, Daphne." Neville nodded at her, and she surprised him by hugging him. That was a little more familiar than he had expected, despite casual greetings having replaced the standard forms some time ago.
"I heard what they said on the wireless last night," she whispered close to his ear.
The wireless… Ah. He tensed. Potterwatch. Lee - or Hermione, or whoever had given him his information - had crossed another line. 'Longbottom leads a blood purist mob.' Neville hadn't led or ordered around those bigots! He had only talked to them to avoid a bloody riot! She hugged him a little harder, and he forced himself to relax. "They've already made me out as a bigot; this is not much worse." Even if it hurt much more.
Daphne released him and nodded. Her smile looked a little brittle, though. Not that he could fault her, given the situation in which they found themselves. He patted her shoulder. "The others haven't yet arrived?"
She shook her head, her smile growing more genuine. "No, you're the first." Of course he was - the meeting wasn't supposed to begin for another hour. But that was how things were done. "I'll keep you company until the other guests arrive."
As usual, his time with Daphne was far too short. It felt as if he had barely sat down with her before the other members of the 'Greengrass Circle', as it was indeed known, Neville had found out, started to arrive. They usually met on Sundays, but given the recent developments, Neville had pushed for a meeting on Saturday - they needed to act before things spiralled out of control.
And since he had called for the meeting, he couldn't spend a little more time with Daphne until most of the rest had arrived. That would have been a faux pas. Fortunately, it didn't take long for everyone to gather - they must have heard about the purist mob as well. And no one was conspicuously absent.
Though, as Neville quickly found out, not all of them seemed to understand the ramifications of what had happened.
"Finally! Proper wizards and witches are finally voicing their disgust at the way the muggleborns and that witch are behaving towards us!" Mr Rosier was beaming. "This will change things! No longer will the streets belong to the rabble!"
Thanks to Gran's lessons,Neville managed to refrain from calling the man a bloody fool. Instead, he cleared his throat. "I don't think that this development will benefit us. Quite the contrary, actually."
"Sorry?" Mr Rosier frowned at him. "We've been lamenting the fact that the rabble has more wands than we do, and you think people taking to the streets to support us is a bad thing?"
"I do." Neville shook his head. "You haven't seen these people. I have. They are a mob - no discipline, and I wager they have less training than a seventh year. If you pitted them against the same number from my fifth year Defence study group, I'd bet on the study group." The Defence Association would wipe the floor with the bigots.
"Dumbledore's Army is an exception," Madam Smith pointed out.
He nodded at her. "It is indeed - but that exception overwhelmingly supports our opponents. If people come to blows, who do you think will prevail, those who stood and fought Voldemort's Death Eaters, or a bunch of drunk bigots causing trouble in the Alley?"
"Not to mention that the Aurors would quickly put an end to any rioting mob," Mr Greengrass added. "At least if the mob were targeting muggleborns."
Neville sighed. "And that's the real danger we face: Those people are blood bigots. They might not have supported Voldemort, but I doubt that the muggleborns will care about that if they see a mob calling them mudbloods while attacking their shops."
Mr Rosier blinked. "The muggleborns will think they are Death Eater remnants!"
"And will treat them accordingly," Neville confirmed. His former friends wouldn't show any mercy. To be fair, he wouldn't, either, if someone attacked him or his family while screaming Voldemort's propaganda.
"And they will blame us for their actions as well." Mr Greengrass looked grim.
"But we haven't had anything to do with them, have we?" Mr Rosier asked.
"Not to my knowledge," Mr Greengrass replied. "But how would we prove it?"
"If Harry and the rest of the Aurors arrested us, an interrogation with Veritaserum would prove our innocence," Neville said. It would be very unpleasant and humiliating but might save their lives - if they were arrested and not simply killed outright.
"'If'." Madam Smith scoffed.
No one had to point out that the Wizengamot would be finished anyway, should that happen, no matter whether they were proven innocent or not afterwards.
"Which means we need to distance ourselves from this… rabble," Madam Fawley said. "Which will be a little difficult, after the rumours concerning your involvement." She looked at Neville.
He sighed. "I told them to go home, but you know what Potterwatch made of it."
"We still have to do our best," Mr Greengrass said, patting him on the shoulder.
Of course they had to - anything less would shame them and their families. Neville wouldn't do that to Gran, or to the memory of his parents.
"But that doesn't solve our lack of wands," Mr Rosier said after a moment. "We should look into hiring mercenaries. They have experience and no ties to the muggleborns."
"And no ties to us, either, other than our gold." Madam Smith scoffed. "They'll run at the first sign of trouble."
Madam Fawley agreed. "Remember Minister Minchum? He tried to hire mercenaries to fight the Death Eaters. Biggest waste of gold in his term of office. The scum melted away as soon as they saw a black robe. Fortunately, Millicent replaced the fool."
Madam Smith chuckled. "I heard the sight of a group of Hogwarts students in the evening in Hogsmeade once sent three mercenaries flying."
Mr Rosier wasn't giving up on his idea, though. Neville saw him clenching his teeth. "So, what about training our own Defence Association? If fifth years can do it in a few scattered lessons, we can do it much faster! Gather proper purebloods, teach them how to fight, and the muggleborns will lose their advantage! Mr Longbottom could easily train them, I wager!"
Neville went rigid. Train their own army? It was possible, he thought, but…
Mr Greengrass spoke up before Neville could. "While that seems like a possible solution to the current imbalance of power, I fear the possible consequences of such an action would be too dangerous."
"Sorry?" Mr Rosier repeated himself.
"If this gets out then the muggleborns will think we are preparing a coup," Madam Smith replied.
They would be preparing a coup, Neville realised. That was what Mr Rosier was pushing for, whether he realised it or not. He shook his head. "Even if we could keep such training secret, which I doubt, it would lead to war sooner or later. And Britain can't survive another war." Too many had died already, too much had been destroyed. Including families and friendships. "The country would tear itself apart."
"We can't survive if we can't stop that witch!" Mr Rosier spat in response. "If we don't do anything, she'll win. Bernie was the first but more will follow his example and change sides, unless we give them reasons to think that we'll win in the end!"
Neville glanced at Madam Smith, remembering Mr Macmillan's words, and bit his lower lip before he forced himself to stop. Mr Rosier wasn't wrong, but suspecting treason everywhere wouldn't help anyone.
Mr Selwyn cleared his throat. "I've looked into the matter. That witch keeps harping about representation. We could appoint a few more muggleborns to the Wizengamot. If we had four or five, that would match the percentage of muggleborns in the population."
"That would give them what they want!" Mr Rosier blurted out. "They'd win!"
"It might placate them," Madam Fawley said. "It would be a compromise. And we'd still outnumber them."
"And it might split that witch's support base. If we offer this to them, a number might reconsider their willingness to go to war for her demands," Madam Smith said. She didn't sound like she was considering switching sides - but then, neither had Mr Macmillan.
And she could be correct, Neville thought. People were sick of the war. A compromise might see them through this crisis. Gain them enough time to regain control of the Ministry. Or at least wrest it away from Hermione's allies.
"Provided we can find trustworthy muggleborns," Madam Fawley said, "who won't join in with that witch's demands as soon as they have taken their seats."
That was a problem. And, given his own experiences, Neville was certain that any muggleborn member of the Wizengamot would be denounced as a traitor by Potterwatch if they didn't join Hermione. Maybe even if they did, he thought with a sneer.
"And what will we do if the half-bloods will demand seats of their own?" Mr Greengrass asked. "If they get a proportional number of seats as well, they'll outnumber us."
Neville drew a hissing breath as others cursed or gasped. Mr Greengrass was right - Hermione and her friends would certainly support the demands of the half-bloods. Once the floodgates were opened just a little, they would soon be swept open all the way.
"But we have to do something!" Mr Rosier repeated himself.
Neville agreed with him - but he couldn't think of anything that wouldn't hasten their defeat.
London, Ministry of Magic, October 26th, 1998
Neville glanced again at the Daily Prophet on his desk in the Wizengamot Chamber.
Wizengamot Denounces Bigoted Mob.
Well, he could only hope it would help. At least the Prophet's editor had been very understanding and had taken care to correctly portray what had happened in the Alley between Neville and the bigots. Whether Hermione and her supporters would believe it, and whether they would acknowledge it even if they believed it, was another matter. The Daily Prophet's unfortunately well-deserved reputation for taking liberties with the truth wouldn't help there, of course. The Wizarding Wireless was broadcasting a similar message - but they weren't held in higher esteem than the Prophet.
He glanced at Hermione's seat. She hadn't arrived yet, which was a little unusual. And worrying. If she wasn't here, where would she be? What would keep her from going through her notes a few dozen times to make sure that everything was perfect?
There she was - standing in the door, talking with Harry and Ron. And she looked mad. Not annoyed or cynical, or arrogantly condescending. Angry. He glanced at Mr Rosier, but the wizard didn't seem to be more nervous than usual or expecting anything. Mr Selwyn, though, looked a little concerned. More than a little. What could have happened?
He blinked. Shacklebolt was also talking to Hermione. And he looked angry as well. What was going on?
Neville pointed this and Mr Selwyn out to Mr Greengrass. "Should we ask him if he knows what's going on?"
The other wizard shook his head. "That might be premature, I think."
Neville nodded. A breach of etiquette. But it meant they would have to wait for more information. Neville hoped it wouldn't turn out to be too bad.
They didn't have to wait very long. Not long at all, as it turned out - Doge called on the Minister first, which was unusual, though not breaking any rules.
Shacklebolt rose, and his voice did carry a hint of anger as he addressed the Chamber. "Honoured members of the Wizengamot! I have asked the Chief Warlock to make a statement because a matter of importance that touches upon the Wizengamot's jurisdiction has come up." He frowned. "Yesterday, Albert and Elizabeth Wilson were arrested for violating the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Both are adults, having taken their N.E.W.T.s fifteen and fourteen years ago, respectively."
That caused a few, short-lived, laughs.
"The reason given for their arrest was that their daughter, Bethany, who had just celebrated her eleventh birthday last week, had been casting the Wand-Lighting Charm with her newly bought wand - in Diagon Alley." Shacklebolt frowned. "As you can surmise, both myself and John Dawlish were rather surprised at such an event - even more so when we found out that the arresting Aurors had already filed a trial in front of the Wizengamot for next week."
Which meant that they couldn't squash it in-house any more, Neville knew. It was now under the purview of the Wizengamot. He frowned. "One Knut says it was Mr Selwyn's son who made the arrest," he said under his breath.
Mr Greengrass snorted but did not disagree.
Shacklebolt went on: "I ask that the Wizengamot refuse to hold this trial and hand the case back to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Cases concerning improper use of magic by underage wizards and witches are not a matter for the Wizengamot."
And Mr Selwyn was raising his wand. Merlin's beard, what had they been thinking?
"The Chair recognises Mr Selwyn."
Mr Selwyn raised his chin as he started to speak. "Honoured members of the Wizengamot. Minister Shacklebolt. While it is true that the improper use of magic by a child isn't a matter for the Wizengamot, deliberate endangerment of the International Statute of Secrecy is."
That caused a lot of murmurs, and Mr Selwyn had to wait a moment before he could continue. Neville closed his eyes. That bloody idiot!
"Those two people - muggleborns, I have to add - did teach their daughter, who will not be entering Hogwarts for another ten months, a spell and let her cast it in public. Even encouraged her, according to what I have heard. That wasn't a mistake, or an enthusiastic youth trying out their wand - they, adults, deliberately flouted the law! How can we expect their daughter to respect the law - and protect the Statute of Secrecy - if she is used to casting spells in public? Should we wait until she does so in front of muggles?"
He shook his head.
"This is a serious crime, threatening the foundation of our entire world, and deserves a trial in front of the Wizengamot!"
Neville groaned as Hermione raised her wand. Mr Selwyn was an ally, but right now, Neville dearly wished he weren't.
"The Chair recognises Madam Granger."
"Honoured members of the Wizengamot. Minister. I am shocked and appalled at this crass abuse of authority - and the blatant disrespect shown to our laws and regulations - by the arresting Aurors! We all know that children regularly get taught spells before they enter Hogwarts, even if it's usually put down to 'prodigies picking it up from observing their parents', or whatever flimsy excuse they use, if they bother at all. To condemn two people for doing what every pureblood does merely because they are muggleborns is hypocrisy of the worst kind."
She sneered at Mr Selwyn.
"It is telling that your son didn't even inform his superiors about the arrest and case, but went around them and filed for a trial without permission! No one would do that if they thought they had a real case! And they haven't - this happened in Diagon Alley, where no muggles are found - none that wouldn't already know about magic. The Statute was never endangered; to claim so is absurd - and maliciously so. This is a case of juvenile magic, the purview of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, not the Wizengamot."
Hermione scoffed once more.
"There was another case in recent memory where a supposed violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery was put before the Wizengamot: When Minister Fudge tried to abuse his power to silence Harry Potter after the Boy-Who-Lived had defended himself against an assassination attempt! We all know how that travesty of justice ended! Are we really trying to follow Fudge's example? Will we see Malfoy gracing us with his presence again? Bending the law to protect the guilty and persecute the innocent, paid for by gold stained with blood? You might as well don the white masks and black robes if you think this is right and just!"
Neville hissed through clenched teeth. After this, anyone who defended the law - and his ally - would be tarred as a blood bigot at best, a Death Eater at worst. He shouldn't do it - this had been a political ploy by Mr Selwyn, and a stupid one. He shouldn't sacrifice his own reputation and defend what couldn't be called anything other than a travesty of justice, given the circumstances.
He shouldn't do it. But he had to. Someone had to defend the law. And he had the best reputation among his allies. Even Potterwatch would hesitate to call him a Death Eater. And if he did nothing, then he'd still suffer for this - everyone knew Mr Selwyn was a member of the 'Greengrass Circle'.
He raised his wand, ignoring Mr Greengrass's groan.
"The Chair recognises Mr Longbottom."
"Honoured members of the Wizengamot! Madam Granger and Minister Shacklebolt have voiced their anger at the fact that a young Auror bypassed the normal procedure of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. I completely understand that the Minister and the Head of the Department are annoyed, or even angry, at this apparent defiance of their authority. And I also understand that my esteemed colleague would wish to exploit this for her own political aims."
Hermione glared at him, he noticed with a faint smile, as applause rose in the Chamber.
"But we should not see malice in place of inexperience. As all of us know, the current Auror Corps is a pale shadow of its predecessor, with most experienced Aurors either having been killed, corrupted or taken other posts in the Ministry. Can we truly blame a young, inexperienced and naive Auror for being a little hasty when enforcing the law? For, possibly, being a little too eager to make his name and solve an important case?"
He ignored Mr Selwyn's grimace as well as Hermione's scoffing.
"But, on the other hand, I do think the Minister and Madam Granger were a tad too hasty to dismiss the case. If there is the possibility, even though it may be remote, that a serious crime was committed, then a case should be brought before the Wizengamot. Madam Granger rightfully pointed out how Minister Fudge tried to abuse his power - leaving major cases to be dismissed by officials who might have ulterior or questionable motives, especially if it involved such serious accusations as endangering the Statute of Secrecy, would open the door for abuses Minister Fudge only dreamt of."
More approval was voiced by his peers.
"Especially in these often turbulent times, where Ministry departments have to be rebuilt from the ground up, the Wizengamot's function as a stabilising influence, as a check for the often rash actions of young Ministry employees, is needed more than ever. The wisdom accumulated over decades of dedicated, honourable service should not be discounted so easily, least of all for short-sighted goals."
He ignored Shacklebolt's glare as well.
"Because, without knowing the details of the case, I do not think that it should be dismissed so hastily. There is a difference between teaching a child at home a few spells, in response to their attempt to imitate their parents, and letting them cast spells in public as a political statement. Children should be treasured, not exploited for their parents' protests!"
More applause made him pause for a moment before he could finish.
"Therefore I propose that we see this case, and I trust that my esteemed colleagues, whose opinions and views often differ greatly, but all of whom form part of this Chamber, the highest authority in Wizarding Britain, will decide in a responsible and even manner how it should be judged."
He sat, nodding to the Chief Warlock as more of his peers raised their wands. Mr Greengrass was smiling widely and congratulating him for 'another great speech' - but, Neville noticed, Hermione was smiling as well. It was a faint smile, and she was glaring at him, but he couldn't help wondering how she would respond.
London, Diagon Alley, October 31st, 1998
"Freedom for the Wilsons!"
"Down with the Death Eaters!"
Neville hadn't seen so many drawn wands in one location since the Battle of Hogwarts. The stream of wizards and witches passing in front of the windows of 'Le Canard Vert' went on for minutes. He shook his head, lips pressed together. They were protesting the upcoming trial against the Wilsons even though they hadn't even been convicted of anything yet - and, after studying the evidence, Neville doubted that much would come of it. A mere fine for breaking the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery seemed most appropriate; he hadn't found anything that would prove that they had, deliberately or not, endangered the Statute of Secrecy. After all, the Statute had been fine for two hundred years before the decree had been passed.
"Down with the traitor!"
He hissed at that yell. He wasn't a traitor! He wasn't the one trying to replace the Wizengamot against all the laws. But the muggleborns and half-bloods out there waving their lit wands around had been listening to Potterwatch last night, where that despicable insult had been coined. And where two stupid parents about to be fined had been turned into martyrs facing Azkaban or the Veil.
He felt Daphne's hand on his and looked at her. She patted it and smiled at him. "They are ignorant barbarians using lies and slander because they haven't anything else they can use against you."
He smiled back, but he could tell that she was rattled; she was repeatedly brushing a lock of her hair back behind her ear without realising it. The sheer size of the protesting mob outside - fortunately, the restaurant had privacy charms on the windows, so he hadn't been recognised - was impressive, he had to admit. "I know," he said, trying to sound confident. But he knew that Daphne was wrong - the muggleborns and, he was forced to admit, the half-bloods, had more than lies and slander to use against him and his peers.
They had numbers and anger.
Neville and his allies only had the law and tradition on their side. Without wands to enforce the law, it wouldn't be of any use - the mob outside certainly didn't seem to respect the law at all. And they definitely didn't care for tradition.
He took another bite from his dish once the last of the mob had passed, but it tasted like ashes. He could still hear their yells. And he could almost feel the tension. There were Aurors outside - but would they step in if the mob went out of control, or join it?
He put the silverware down and sighed. "There's a rally scheduled for this evening."
Daphne nodded. "That broadcast mentioned it. You're not planning to go there, are you?" She added, her eyes wide. "You heard them - if they recognise you, they'll attack you!"
This time, he patted her hand reassuringly. "No, I won't go." He saw her relax and felt even worse about what he was about to do. "But I need to meet with them this afternoon, before things grow even worse." He didn't have to say who 'they' were.
He didn't have a choice. A protest rally, on Halloween? After the protests all week? And after everything that had happened on that date in the last few years? He knew Hermione scoffed at Divination, but this was asking for a bloody riot. Or a bloody revolution.
He had to stop this.
London, No 12 Grimmauld Place, October 31st 1998
"Hello, Neville." Harry nodded at Neville with a polite smile. Nothing more. But at least he didn't call him 'traitor'. He was wearing muggle clothes, of course. "The others are in the living room."
"Harry." Neville nodded at him. He didn't expect the proper forms, but this was colder than he had expected. Though not as bad as he had feared.
Hermione and Ron were sitting on the sofa when Harry and Neville entered the living room. Ginny was also present, curled up in a large armchair. She should have been at Hogwarts - Halloween wasn't a Hogsmeade weekend, last Neville knew. Another rule flouted. Then he remembered what today's date meant for Harry and felt ashamed. Of course, Ginny would want to be with him, today of all days.
"Neville." Hermione's head twitched slightly in what generous people might have called a hint of a nod. Ron nodded, at least. And Ginny glared at him. And that after all they had gone through last year.
"Hermione. Ron. Ginny."
Harry gestured at a free chair in between the sofa and the large armchair, then sat down next to Ginny, in the same chair. That explained the size.
Neville pressed his lips together and took his seat. Harry and Ginny to his left, Hermione and Ron to his right. Not that he would stand a chance anyway if it came to a fight. And he had come to talk.
"You wanted to talk," Hermione said. "You said it was important." Her tone and expression clearly showed that she doubted his claim.
Neville swallowed his anger - he was no liar who bent the truth when it was convenient to do so! "Yes. Things cannot continue."
"Things?" Hermione raised her eyebrows.
Neville clenched his teeth. "This whole... conflict." He forced himself to calm down. He had prepared his speech and couldn't afford to lose his temper and start to snap at her.
"You mean, our just demands for a proper democratic system." She smiled, but it was more as if she were baring her teeth at him. Ron chuckled. Neither Harry nor Ginny said anything.
"Call it what you want, but if things don't change we'll have a war on our hands!" Neville replied.
Hermione inclined her head. "I agree."
For a moment, he thought she had acknowledged the danger. Then he realised what she meant. "Merlin's beard! Have you lost your mind? The country won't survive another war!"
"I'm aware of that." She shook her head with that condescending smile of hers. Then she leaned forward. "But why should we care? It isn't our country, is it?"
He blinked, his lips moving before he snapped his mouth shut. What was she saying? "Of course it's your country!" he blurted out. "You're a British witch! All of you are!" She had gone to Hogwarts! Ron's father and brother worked in the Ministry!
She scoffed in return. "No, Neville. I'm a British muggleborn witch. That's a significant difference. It's not our country - it's yours. The Old Families. Everyone else doesn't matter - or so you thought. But we won't be second-class citizens in a country for which we fought and bled."
He shook his head. "That's not true! You're equal to anyone else!" Bloody hell, she was even a member of the Wizengamot!
"Apart from the Old Families," Ron said. "No matter what we do - and we did pretty much everything possible, earned the highest Order of Merlin saving the country - we won't, ever, be considered equal to them. And we have to work twice as hard if we want to succeed without an Old Family pulling strings for us - unlike their relatives."
Harry spoke up for the first time. "Even our seats in the Wizengamot, should we claim them, are second-class seats. Limited to our lifetimes, while yours is hereditary. Your children will be considered better than ours," he added as he wrapped an arm around Ginny's shoulders. "They'll be members of the Wizengamot."
"Just for being born. No matter how stupid or intelligent they may be - they'll be ruling us," Hermione spat. "By virtue of their birth. All wizards are equal, but some are more equal than others."
"And that's enough of a reason to start a war where who knows how many people will die?" Neville snapped. "Didn't you have your fill of death and blood in the last war? Haven't you seen enough of our friends die?"
He snapped back as Ron jumped up and drew his wand. "Why you…"
For a moment, Neville stared at the glowing tip of the wand, cursing himself for not being prepared. And for losing his temper.
"Ron!" Hermione snapped.
Ron took a deep breath, then sat down next to her. She put her hand on his thigh. A glance told Neville that Harry was now holding Ginny's wand. To see them react like this - lose their temper - both scared and comforted him. They were only human as well.
Which made the whole situation even more dangerous.
"To answer your question, Neville," Hermione spat, "we have had our fill of death and blood. But that is why we won't back down. We've lost too much, too many, to stop and accept that we should be considered inferior just because we were born to the wrong people."
"We fought the bloody war to stomp this nonsense out," Ron growled.
Hermione smiled. "And let me ask you a question: How many people will you sacrifice just so you can keep lording it over us? How many people will you let die so you and the other Old Families can keep their power?"
"What's left of it, anyway," Harry said. "I doubt that even a third of the Aurors will risk their lives for the Wizengamot if it comes to war."
"And those who do aren't exactly the most talented Aurors," Ron added with a smirk.
Neville was aware of that. Well aware. Adam Selwyn's stunt had demonstrated that quite clearly. And his friends - or former friends, probably - had clearly shown that they were willing to go to war to achieve their political goals. A war they would also, in all likelihood, win. But he wasn't like them. He still had a conscience. He knew what he had to do.
He took another deep breath to calm himself. A little. "What about a compromise?" he asked. "Split the seats. Some are elected. Some stay hereditary and appointed. Like the muggle Parliament."
"The Parliament is divided into two houses," Hermione corrected him.
He managed not to roll his eyes. "You know what I mean. Split the power. Like the muggles do." She was considering it, he knew. Or she would have rejected his proposal already.
Neville stared at Harry. What?
"No." Harry shook his head. "The time for compromises is over. We want full equality, without any privileges kept for a tiny minority. My mum was a muggleborn, and her sacrifice saved the country exactly seventeen years ago. I won't accept a country where she would still be worth less than someone who did nothing, but was born to the right parents. That's what we fought against: the idea that your blood determined your worth. The same idea you're so desperately defending." He sneered at Neville. "The only reason you're offering a compromise now is that you and your peers are afraid of a war. Otherwise, you'd still cling to your power. Go tell your peers that the only 'compromise' we'll accept is true equality. No more hereditary seats. No more privileges for a tiny, entitled minority. Enough!"
Neville swallowed. He hadn't expected Harry to act like this…
"He's right," Hermione said. Ron nodded.
"Of course he is!" Ginny cut in, leaning against Harry.
Hermione snorted, then addressed Neville: "You've tried everything you could think of to stop us. You failed. All you have left now is the choice between going to war or accepting that you lost and letting us reform Wizarding Britain into a democracy."
"You'd actually go to war over this," Neville said. He shook his head.
"Yes, we would." Hermione scoffed. "You know what Fudge did. To Harry. To Hagrid. To Sirius. No one stopped him. And no one has changed the system since Voldemort's defeat. We're just one bad choice away from another Fudge. One bad choice made by the same people who elected Fudge in the first place." She pressed her lips together for a moment. "Yes, we'll go to war if that's what it takes to ensure it won't ever happen again."
Neville closed his eyes and struggled with his temper. He couldn't lose control. Not now. "I see," he managed to say. "I'll speak to my peers."
"You do that. But don't take too much time. The people on the streets are growing impatient."
"Egged on by Potterwatch," Neville spat as he stood. He knew what they were doing.
"Instead of lied to by the Daily Prophet," Harry snapped.
"On the orders of the Wizengamot, this time!" Ginny added with bared teeth.
Neville realised that he had misjudged the situation. Hermione wasn't dragging Harry and Ron along, like she had been during that S.P.E.W. farce. Harry and Ron - and Ginny - were not even merely supporting her - they might actually be more radical than Hermione.
And who knew how many others felt the same? How many purebloods who, like the Weasleys, were not closely related to Old Families and didn't owe them any loyalty, would follow Harry? How many were waiting for the Old Families to fall? Or, even more concerning, how many actual members of Old Families might betray their Head of Family to replace them? What was Doge and Shacklebolt's role, anyway?
Kent, Greengrass Manor, November 1st, 1998
Neville took a deep breath and glanced at Mr Greengrass. The other wizard was the only one who knew what he was about to do - Neville had told him and Daphne after leaving Grimmauld Place. They deserved to know. Especially Daphne.
"...and I say we need to make an example out of the Wilsons. Show that we'll bring the full force of the law to bear against anyone who breaks it. If we let that slide, they'll do worse next time," Mr Rosier argued.
It was as good as any opening. Neville cleared his throat. "If we do that, we'll start a war. A war we'll lose."
"What?" Mr Rosier wasn't the only one who said it, but he was the loudest. The others showed more self-control. "Sorry?"
"If we sentence the Wilsons, there'll be war," Neville repeated himself.
"How do you know that?" Madam Smith asked.
"I've seen the protests, and I talked to Harry and his friends yesterday," Neville explained. "The muggleborns and the half-bloods are riled up - they see our actions as repeating what Minister Fudge did. Or the Death Eaters."
"How dare they!"
He cleared his throat again. He had to keep talking. Lay it out - everything. "That's how they see this: the law being bent to punish innocent muggleborns."
"Innocent?" Mr Rosier scoffed. "They admitted their crime!"
"A crime of which most of our families are guilty," Neville snapped. Not his - he hadn't managed to learn a spell before Hogwarts. Not with his father's wand. But that didn't matter. "And they know that."
"It's still the law. And they openly flouted it!" Madam Fawley said.
"The law doesn't matter to them." Neville shook his head. "It has been bent and broken for Malfoy and his ilk for years."
"That's why we need to enforce it again! Strictly!" Mr Selwyn cut in.
There were too many people talking, discussing this. Neville ground his teeth. "And by doing so against a muggleborn couple, we'll turn them into martyrs." He leaned forward. "I've seen the protests - they are waiting for an excuse. Waiting for a spark. Sentencing the Wilsons will be that spark. And the Boy-Who-Lived won't lift a finger to stop them."
"He's an Auror!"
Neville scoffed. "When I spoke with him and his friends, he told me that he's willing to go to war if that's what it takes to change the Wizengamot. I proposed a compromise - split the seats into hereditary and appointed, and elected ones. The muggles did that."
He shook his head and ignored their reactions. "He flatly rejected it. Hermione might have gone for it, if only as a step towards her goals. Harry? He said he won't tolerate a system where his mother would have had fewer rights than someone born to the right family. He thinks that the Old Families are acting like Death Eaters - judging people by their blood." Neville sighed. It was unfair and exaggerated, but not entirely baseless, he had to admit, if only to himself.
"The Boy-Who-Lived is willing to go to war against us?" Madam Smith asked. It was more that Harry wouldn't prevent a war, but the outcome would be the same, so Neville nodded.
"Too many will follow him," Madam Fawley said. "It's that witch's fault!"
And many Wizengamot members would join him, Neville knew. Out of fear, or because they revered Harry. Or because of Doge and Shacklebolt, who certainly had their own plans. "That doesn't matter any more. What matters is that we are about to lose everything if we continue what we've been doing. If there's a war, we won't merely lose our seats but also our homes, our fortunes, even our lives. We can't win this. Not the war, and not the political struggle."
"But we can't simply give up!" Mr Rosier all but yelled. "We can't let them win!" He was quite worked up for a man who had hid - probably out of country - during the last war.
"They have already won," Neville said. "The only question now is whether we will start a war and be destroyed, or do what we can to ensure that we only lose the Wizengamot, and nothing else." Like their lives.
"But if they take over the Wizengamot, they'll destroy us!" Mr Selwyn said.
"If they want to destroy us, we can't stop them anyway," Mr Greengrass said. "But I think we can preserve our families, our fortunes and our legacies."
"And living under a muggleborn regime?" Mr Rosier spat.
"It wouldn't be one," Neville pointed out. "Half-bloods are the majority."
Mr Rosier grumbled something everyone pretended not to have heard.
"Mr Greengrass is correct. We need to accept the reforms that are proposed and adapt to them." Neville stood. "We'll still have our legacies. Our families. Our homes. Our fortunes. Everything that matters." He hesitated a moment. But the dice were cast. "And we'll be able to preserve or regain at least some influence in matters thanks to that. That's how it works for muggles."
Mr Selwyn shook his head. "It won't work. Shacklebolt's been cracking down on bribes. Two of my distant relatives have been fired already just for looking out for their families' interests."
"I wasn't talking about bribery," Neville said through clenched teeth. Sometimes he wondered… He cut off that thought. "But thanks to our fortune, our family ties" - he couldn't help smiling at Mr Greengrass as he said that - "and our experience and knowledge, we'll be able to influence people. Malfoy didn't just bribe people - he also donated a lot to charity, or appeared to do so. If we gain the trust of the people, they'll vote for us."
"Ah!" Madam Smith nodded. "It'll be costly, though."
Neville shrugged. It was still less costly than a war. Far less, in so many ways.
"Others are already preparing for this," Mr Greengrass pointed out. "Like Macmillan."
"And more whose change in allegiance we don't yet know," Madam Fawley added. "They could rejoin us, though, if we adapt quickly enough."
Probably - Neville had read about examples of such. But he doubted that it would be easy. Harry had a lot of gold as well - the remains of his godfather's fortune.
"I still don't like it!" Mr Rosier snapped.
"No one among us likes it," Mr Greengrass replied. "But it's the best option we have left."
And the only one that might let them win in the long run.
Neville still loathed it. To bend to threats, to bow to pressure like this was wrong. Harry and his friends were trampling all over law and custom. It wasn't as bad as Voldemort's coup, but it wasn't that much better in principle. Might making right.
But they had no choice. And Neville had more to care about now than just himself and Gran. He glanced at Mr Greengrass. He would have to officially talk to him, and to Daphne, of course, but they had an understanding already.
No, he had too much to lose, now, to sacrifice himself in a hopeless gesture of defiance. A family. A future. Love.
And for that, for all of that, he'd swallow this bitter potion.
London, Ministry of Magic, November 2nd, 1998
"...and, therefore, I resubmit my proposal for democratic reform of the Wizengamot," Hermione finished her speech and sat down. Neville didn't look at her. He didn't want to see her gloating.
"The Chair recognises Mr Longbottom."
Neville steeled himself and stood. He didn't want to do this. But he had to. It was his idea. His duty to see it through and lead the way. As he had been taught, he'd take responsibility.
"Thank you. Honoured members of the Wizengamot! You all know my opinion of Madam Granger's proposal. I've laid out why I think it is a bad idea and why adopting such reforms will harm our country."
He took a deep breath.
"And yet, I stand here, now, to urge you to accept it."
Murmurs filled the Chamber from those members who hadn't been informed in advance. He had expected that.
"Not because I have suddenly reversed my opinion, but because failing to accept this proposal will destroy our country."
He ignored the ruckus that his words caused and pushed on.
"Wizarding Britain teeters on the brink of a civil war. Tempers are running high. Radicalised people are gathering in mobs, ready to go and attack those with differing viewpoints. If we do not stop this, we'll soon have fighting in the streets and widespread destruction that will dwarf the atrocities of the war against Voldemort."
"And you would surrender to the pressure of the rabble?"
He clenched his teeth as he turned to face Mr Parkinson. "I would bow to the inevitable to avoid the destruction of our country! To avoid a bloody civil war which will see every one of us dead or driven into exile! I have watched the rallies and seen the protests. And I have fought against Voldemort, and know what we are facing. The Ministry is torn. The half-bloods and muggleborns are riled up and demand reforms. Further, a lot of the people in the streets fought in the last war and haven't forgotten their training or experiences. If war breaks out, there will be massacres everywhere. Instead of a small group of fanatics led by Voldemort, mobs will roam the streets and turn their wands on anyone they consider an enemy."
He raised his chin, still not looking at Hermione.
"I cannot deny that we, the traditional leaders of our country, have lost the trust of a large part, perhaps even the majority, of the people. As much as it hurts me to admit it, we have lost the power to steer the country safely through this crisis. Too many people are willing to raise their wands against the government if their demands aren't met. And too few people would be willing to uphold the law, especially when faced with their kin. A war would be a catastrophe from which we would not recover.
"Whether we try to fight it or accept it - we cannot hope to preserve our traditions and customs. In such a situation, the only moral course of action is to give in instead of risking war. When we cannot win, our sole concern has to be to minimise the loss of life and property. And for that, as much as I loathe having to say so, accepting Madam Granger's proposal is necessary."
He nodded at the Chief Warlock and sat down, staring straight ahead as Mr Greengrass clasped his shoulder in support and the Chamber was filled with yells and raised wands.
The proposal would pass, Neville knew. Between Hermione's allies and the votes from the Greengrass Circle, as well as from those members who took their cues from them, they had a majority.
The proposal would pass and the Wizengamot as they knew it would be gone. Replaced with a muggle institution. But, at least, they would live to see it happen, and wouldn't be driven out of their homes or killed.
Neville still loathed it.
London, Diagon Alley, March 2nd, 1999
"What a beautiful day!"
Neville nodded in agreement. Daphne was correct. Blue sky, warm - for March - and no wind. The perfect day to enjoy a stroll through Diagon Alley. And he needed a relaxing afternoon, after a week of campaigning and a pointless session in the Wizengamot. It wasn't as if any decisions of note would be made until the elections in a week's time finally formed the 'New Wizengamot', so the Ministry pretty much had the run of the country. Which meant Hermione and Shacklebolt were deciding things. And as expected, the other nations didn't care at all about the coup - or pretended not to care, as they had when Voldemort had controlled the Ministry. Fools.
He pushed the thought away. He wanted to relax, not dwell on the end of the Wizengamot and the death of traditions that had lasted for centuries.
At least the situation was not entirely hopeless. The election campaign was doing well, as far as he could tell. As well as could reasonably be expected, anyway, especially after Rosier had been caught trying to buy votes and then had compounded his mistake by trying to bribe the members of the electoral commission investigating the matter.
And while Neville's family business hadn't been hurt much by Shacklebolt and Hermione's business reforms - part of Hermione's election promise of "ending the stranglehold the Old Families" supposedly had on the country's economy - other families hadn't been as fortunate and had seen key employees - sometimes even relatives - leave to start their own businesses. With knowledge learned from their old employers. They would be supporting Hermione, of course. And Neville didn't doubt that Harry was using the Black fortune to help with that as well - like he had funded the Weasleys business.
He snorted. There was no point worrying about that. Not today, at least. He would do nothing but enjoy a beautiful afternoon with his beautiful fiancée!
Of course, just as they approached Flourish and Blotts, who should step out of the shop? Hermione, with Ron at her side.
Neville schooled his features and nodded at them. "Hermione. Ron."
"Neville. Miss Greengrass." Hermione's smile was barely polite. Ron merely nodded, as if he hadn't been taught any manners. Well, he had always been biased against Slytherins. Or their friends. "You know, you can buy muggle books far cheaper in muggle bookshops," Hermione said as she stepped to the side.
"I prefer to support traditional wizarding businesses," Neville replied.
"Subsidising your potential voters? I understand." Her faint smile took on a condescending air that rankled Neville.
"Not everyone has the opportunity to abuse Ministerial decrees for that," he retorted.
"It's no surprise that you would consider providing equal opportunities for everyone a bad thing." Hermione sneered. "Fortunately, the days of the Old Families dominating the field of business are over."
He scoffed, ignoring how Daphne subtly squeezed his arm. "You think you've won, don't you? But you haven't. You've got the advantage right now, I'll admit. But that won't last. I've studied things. Among the muggles, things always change, sooner or later." He bared his teeth at her. "We might be a minority right now, but the common people are always complaining and never satisfied. The same people cheering you on right now will turn against you when you cannot fulfil their ever-growing expectations any more. And when they do, they'll remember who opposed you from the start when they go to vote." He laughed. "We'll beat you with your own weapons. One day, sooner than you might think, we'll have the majority in the 'New Wizengamot'."
But she wasn't growing angry, as he had hoped - she was smiling sweetly at him. "Why, Neville, I'm so happy to hear you say that!"
What? He glared at her as he ground his teeth. She was mocking him.
"To know that you, who had opposed my proposal so fanatically and for so long, are now running your own election campaign, striving to persuade others to trust you to represent them. And doing everything you can so that one day, you'll get a majority in the Wizengamot and can implement your vision for Wizarding Britain - with the support of the majority of the population."
He balled his fist so he wouldn't draw his wand and curse her as the Knut dropped. At that moment, he hated her and everything she stood for.
"Why, Neville, you've finally embraced democracy!"