Yesterday, when Lavender laid out her tarot spread, the cards spoke of crisis and change. The first sign of trouble came this morning when she received an owl from her boyfriend Kenneth, delivering the news that he was dumping her. He gave no reasons and Lavender could not think of any behaviour of his that might have given warning. When last she'd seen him,he'd showed none of the signs of boredom or regret that Lavender remembered well from her experience with Ron. He'd been attentive, which had been flattering coming from a man long gone from Hogwarts with a job at the Ministry. After his previous interest his news came as a complete surprise.
She thought the break-up was the crisis, but it wasn't. It was just the first sign. Then Mr. Patil sent an owl asking to speak to her parents as soon as possible, warning her that Death Eaters had taken over the Ministry. The situation was becoming very dangerous for Muggle-borns.
Within an hour, Lavender was sitting at the kitchen table crammed next to her brother William, while Mr. Patil explained to her parents what he knew about the fall of the Ministry, and what it would mean for a Muggle-born girl. She had a shocked, sick feeling about Kenneth and his reasons for ditching her. She suspected it had something to do with Mr. Patil's news.
Lavender's father grew grey-faced and grim as Mr. Patil described the Death Eaters. He flinched when her little sister Jane wandered in carrying her pet rabbit, Binky the Second. Lavender was relieved when he sent Jane upstairs for Mr. Patil had begun to describe some very nasty things.
"Lavender, it's just like the war," her brother cried, excitement in his voice. "They're like Nazis."
"Quiet, William, you're not helping," her father snapped before turning to Mr. Patil. "It would have been more honest for your lot to have made these attitudes clear to us when they invited Lavender to come to their school."
"Dad, that was…" Lavender started to say. Her father silenced her with a look over the top of his glasses. He was angry. He'd figured out that she'd kept a lot of what was going on at the school from him and her mother. Lavender gave him back glare for glare. She was of age, in the Wizarding World anyway, and she had a right, if she wanted, to keep things to herself. He shouldn't treat her like a child, deciding her future, speaking over her head with Mr. Patil.
"It was dishonest of them, and unfair," her father continued.
"I'm sorry for that; I really am, but the past is past. We have to deal with what is happening now," Mr. Patil said. "My work at the hospital gives me contacts with some who know what is happening at the Ministry. Patients of mine have tried to warn me of what is coming. They say all Muggle-borns will be required to register with the new Ministry including students."
"Lavender won't," her father said flatly, before she could even speak. Really, he had no interest in what she had to say! Not that Lavender knew what she wanted, but he should be consulting her, discussing this with her. Why did everyone treat her with so little respect, the adults ignoring her, and Kenneth dumping her like a piece of used tissue?
"I agree," said Mr. Patil. "But she can not simply hide. They're forming gangs to pursue fugitives."
Lavender imagined herself on the run from these gangs, maybe with Dean and a few other Muggle-borns from school. Mr. Patil underestimated her. She was a fighter.
Lavender's mother, agitated and frightened, stood up and paced around the room and then tried to hide her upset by starting another pot of tea. "We can't leave the country, my mum's too sick to be moved and I won't leave her and your mum… your mum needs you," she said to her husband.
Jane wandered back, this time carrying one of William's pet mice. She let the mouse go, leaving it floating in the air while she grabbed a cup of tea and a biscuit from their mother, smiling at the mouse as she ate.
"Put the creature away, Jane," Lavender's mother said as she carried the teapot."It doesn't like it in the air."
"Running is not the answer, Mrs. Brown," said Mr. Patil, as her mother gave him another cup of tea. "It's better if these wizards don't look for you at all. We need to give Lavender wizard ancestry so she can live as a half-blood. I know where we can buy a false identity for her. Thank the gods Brown is a common name in the Wizarding World as well as the Muggle."
"Fake papers!" her brother said with a laugh. "Dad, this is just like a movie."
"William, I said enough!" Lavender's father turned to Mr. Patil. "You come to my house with plans to rescue my daughter, to protect my family, and I thank you, but that is my job and I think I will do it myself."
"You can't, Mr. Brown. You have no ability to protect anyone against these wizards." Mr. Patil nodded to Jane, the baby of the family. "I've heard Lavender tell many stories of this child's bouts of accidental magic. These dancing chairs and floating mice are amusing but dangerous. The Ministry doesn't know about the child yet; she is still too young for Hogwarts, but if they come for Lavender, they will find her and I can't say what will happen then."
Lavender could imagine herself on the run, hiding from Death Eaters, but the fantasy fell apart when she thought about Jane. A little girl like Jane needed a home with a family that loved her.
"Jane's just a little girl," Lavender's mother said. "Would they hurt such a little girl?"
"I'm afraid they already have," Mr. Patil answered.
Lavender remembered the Montgomery sisters. Death Eaters had had their little brother killed by a werewolf. The creature had practically eaten him. Evil people like that couldn't be allowed near Jane. Lavender didn't like hearing such people mentioned while Jane was around. Jane giggled as her floating mouse paddled its legs in an attempt to find firm ground. Lavender jumped from the table, snatched the mouse from the air and marched out of the kitchen, knowing Jane would follow. She could not stand to sit and watch her sister play for another moment, not while Mr. Patil talked about the kind of people who would send a werewolf after a little boy, not while knowing that those people would do the same to Jane without a qualm.
"Oi Lavender," Jane wailed. She was such a baby, such an annoying, silly, playful, little baby.
"Listen, said Lavender,"if you put that mouse away and stay in my room till Mr. Patil leaves, you can play with anything you want there. It's all yours, my clothes, jewellery, anything. But you have to stay upstairs."
Jane didn't even answer, but took off at a run. Lavender wished she knew more defensive spells and could wrap the house with protections. She wished she could wrap Jane in magical protections strong enough to keep all their enemies away. Shereturned to the kitchen to listen to Mr. Patil. He had a plan and Lavender decided she would follow it, for Jane and for the rest of the family.
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Lavender moved into the Patil home that same day, sharing a room with Parvati, breaking ties with the Muggle world and her own family. Lavender agreed with Mr. Patil, her father couldn't protect any of them. Lavender would have to do it and she would, even if it meant hiding under a fake identity.
Lavender's parents emptied their building fund accounts, sold their car, and borrowed money to come up with all that was needed to buy a wizard family tree for their daughter. A pure-blood friend of Mr. Patil's, who had a reputation for currency speculation, converted the money to Galleons. "We can't have anyone asking why a young witch has so much Muggle money," Mr. Patil told her. Of course, both the friend and the Goblins took their cut; everyone did except Mr. Patil.
She was alone when she met with the man who was faking a history for her. He had insisted that he would not meet with her unless she was. When she arrived, he handed her a magical contract to sign: she was to reveal nothing of their relationship to anyone. He didn't, of course, offer to sign anything for her in return. She didn't want to sign -- she remembered Marietta's fate – but she did, because she had no choice.
The man knew she was a Muggle-born; he knew her name and could identify her. If he wanted, he could turn her in to the authorities the moment she walked out of the office. He was a threat, so when she handed over her money and he wanted more she gave it to him; she gave him all that he demanded, despite whatever she thought of his demands.
Lavender was grateful to be safe behind the fake half-blood background that she had received from that pig. It had worked; she'd been given blood status to attend Hogwarts, while everywhere Muggle-borns were losing their wands. The newspaper was full of attacks on Muggle-borns, on books written by Muggle-borns, on art made by Muggle-borns and on romances between Muggle-borns and those the newspaper called true wizards. Her ex-boyfriend's behaviour was easy to understand now. Kenneth had been ambitious. He hadn't wanted to have a girlfriend who might jeopardise his standing at the Ministry. He had been a Gryffindor; he was supposed to be brave, and chivalrous, but when he needed to show it, he ran away and abandoned her.
But Lavender didn't understand how dangerous it was to be a Muggle-born till a week after she had moved in with the Patils. Mr. Patil had floo'd home from St. Mungo's and immediately closed off the Floo and strengthened the defences on the house.
"Whom are you protecting us from?" Mrs. Patil asked.
"From everyone," Mr. Patil answered. He had tears in his eyes. "They threw the Muggle-born patients out of St. Mungo's today," he told his wife, his daughters and Lavender. "We couldn't stop them. When they reached the second floor and marched into the Dilys Derwent Ward, we told them the patients were contagious and couldn't be moved. We were fools, but what could we do when they could infect others? They killed the contagious patients right in their hospital beds. They killed the patients and then told us to dispose of them as we thought best."
He put his head in his hands and said, "No one warned me. My contacts told me nothing." His voice sounded horrible.
He looked up and turned to where Lavender stood next to Parvati and Padma. "You girls are staying in the house until school starts. No going out for any of you."
Lavender didn't argue like she normally would. The story was too terrible. Death Eaters had killed sick Muggle-borns like they had been dangerous animals and no one had been able to stop them. The Aurors hadn't rushed in to protect their victims; the Healers hadn't called the Ministry because the Death Eaters had had permission. They had free reign over Muggle-borns. The patients in the hospital had had no rights. Lavender had no rights. She was a Muggle-born so the Death Eaters could do anything they wanted to her. Lavender realized that she was lucky to have a place to hide.
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Neville could see the effects of the Ministry's collapse on St. Mungo's as soon as he walked through the hospital's glass front window. A large banner was hangingabove the Welcome Witch, declaring So called Muggle-borns will not be provided service at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies. He and his grandmother had to prove their blood status before they were allowed up the stairs to visit his parents. Previously open floors were locked to all visitors except immediate family.
At the Janus Thickey ward they were stopped and asked for identification by an unfamiliar medi-witch, which felt strange, because normally the Longbottoms and the staff knew each other on sight. Inside, they found the patients agitated and upset. An old man paced back and forth in front of a window muttering to himself, while an attendant tried to comfort him. Lockhart peered out at Neville from under his bed. Another medi-witch, obviously unaccustomed to caring for such a patient, was trying to lure him out of his hiding place, straining to keep her voice gentle despite her visible frustration with her charge. Neville realized that Agnes was missing from the ward. A middle-aged woman with the head of a dog, she was hard to overlook. She was one of the first patients he noticed whenever he visited. Her absence troubled him because ordinarily she never left the ward.
Neville's parents were still wearing pyjamas. He hated it when they weren't dressed for the day. It was an unkind reminder of how little they had in their lives, that they had no place to go, and nothing to get dressed for.
His gran let out a small yelp. Neville realized his father sat frozen in a Body Bind spell, a hex banned from use in their ward. Without asking for permission from the medi-witch, Gran marched over and removed the spell from her son, who immediately scrubbed at his face with his hands and then rubbed his arms, hands and chest. His pyjamas were dirty, and looked like they had been worn for days. He had nasty bites on the thumb and fingers of his right hand.
Neville's mother rocked within a round protective bubble. Trays of food lay next to her, untouched, while his father had his own collection of uneaten food. Neville became angrier and angrier. What was the point of leaving his parents food trays when it was obvious that neither could eat from them? How many trays would be allowed to pile up before anyone noticed that the two of them were going hungry?
Gran vanished the trays beside her son and daughter-in-law with quick and angry motions of her wand. The medi-witch moved her mouth as if she was about to comment on the loss of the hospital's trays, plates and silver, but closed it in a thin line after one glance at Gran.
"Very wise," Gran said. "I suppose you can explain the disgraceful mess that I've found here today, but don't bother; I'll be talking to the healers when they make their rounds."
Rather than looking disturbed by those words, the witch looked relieved, but she added in a half-voiced grumble that Mr. Longbottom was a big man and difficult to handle when upset. Gran gave the remark the snort it deserved and marched over to her daughter-in-law, leaving her son to Neville's care.
Neville approached carefully. His father really was difficult when he was angry, but now he seemed more interested in injuring himself than anyone else. His father raised his hand to his mouth to bite it again. Neville caught the hand and gently pushed it down. Though his dad gave himself some very nasty bites when he was upset, Neville could usually distract him from the habit with a little attention.
He pulled a hamper of food from Gran's red handbag and restored it to normal size, and dished up some Mulligatawny soup and roast beef for his dad.
"Come on Dad, let's eat." Neville held a spoonful of soup toward his dad, trying to coax him to open his tightly closed mouth. "It's not a trick -- this food's worth trying."
Frowning, his father allowed Neville to slip the spoon into his mouth. As he tasted the soup, his whole face looked startled with surprise. Gran's Mulligatawny was spicy and surprisingly beloved by both his mum and dad, who probably enjoyed the break in the monotony.
"See, decent food," Neville said, as his father grabbed a spoon and settled into a steady pattern of eating. The man could feed himself, but he had to be coaxed into it. Neville cut up the meat and carrots and pushed them over to his father.
"You were hungry, weren't you Dad?" Neville asked, "Would anyone have fed you if we hadn't visited today?"
When his father finished eating, Neville started cleaning him up. He meekly sat blinking and frowning as Neville preformed the spells that left him washed and clean-shaven but became difficult when the time came to take off his shirt. From the sounds coming from behind the curtain where his gran was dressing his mother, she wasn't being any more co-operative. Neville's parents were heroes, but they were also a lot of work.
"He's upset," Neville said, as he manoeuvred his dad to a seat beside his wife.
Gran didn't answer; she had her attention on the medical team which had just walked into the ward. Several healers who would normally be present were missing. The head of the team put up a privacy bubble even before Gran reached him, not wanting the entire floor to hear her complaints. Neville remained behind. His parents weren't in a state to be left alone.
"Do you want to write a report, Dad?" Neville asked, as he handed his dad some parchment and a quill out of Gran's handbag.
His father furiously scribbled nonsense lines of circles, crosses and dashes across the page, leaning over the paper and frowning with all the concentration of an Auror sending a report to his superior. His mother looked on as her husband made his scribbles, her face as clouded and grim as his was.
When his father reached the end of his parchment, he pushed the report towards Neville. "Thanks Dad," he said, handing his father a new parchment to work on. He glanced over the page of scribbles, frowning as if he were reading it.
One of the medical team members, a healer whom Neville had known for years, drifted over to where he stood. "I'm sorry about all of this, but we're in a mess right now," he whispered. "All the Muggle-borns on staff were driven out yesterday. We lost a lot of people." The healer leaned over, pretending to study the scribbles Neville's dad was making on the parchment. "Wizards from the Ministry Apparated into the building right past the protective charms. They hit every floor and broke the wands of every Muggle-born they caught."
There was a Muggle-born trainee healer, whom Neville had secretly fancied when he was fifteen. She had been kind and friendly to him and he had worshipped her with a love that had been made more intense by its impossibility. He wondered where she was, if she had a wand or anywhere to go.
"Today, they came with a list of Muggle-born patients, and tossed every single one out of the hospital," the healer whispered, turning his head slightly toward Neville. "We were completely unprepared, though if we had been smart we would have seen it coming. They took Agnes and left her to wander Diagon Alley. We had to send a house-elf to look after her, while we tried to find her son."
The healer took Neville's father's hand and healed the bite wounds, leaving the skin as smooth as if the marks had never been there.
"Your father became … angry when they came. The force they used to take Agnes… their behaviour upset him. We had to restrain him to protect him from them. Do you understand?"
Neville nodded. He supposed he did. Those people could have hurt his father if he'd angered them. His father was unpredictable and could do almost anything while he was upset.
The healer studied Neville's face for an uncomfortable moment. He gave a little nod, like he had decided something, glanced quickly over to the visiting medical team and then back to Neville. "I've heard rumours of even worse crimes, crimes I can hardly believe could be true, that patients have been murdered in their beds in this hospital."
Neville was shocked at how calm he was in the face of this description of murder and murder of sick people at that. His insides were frozen. He felt too empty to be anything but calm.
The healer whispered with more urgency, "You've fought them. You were with Potter, fought alongside him. Last June, you were even wounded. I saw it in the newspaper before all of this."
Neville supposed it was true, but hearing it made him feel like a fraud.
"They watch us all the time now," the healer warned. "They put Death Eaters in the hospital to make sure no one is secretly treating Muggle-borns. They're watching the casualty ward."
Neville had the strange feeling that this healer thought Neville was important, and working with people who were rebelling, perhaps with Harry Potter himself, all because his name had been in the newspaper. Neville didn't know what to say. He hardly knew anything.
"Your parents are safe, I think. They're pure-blood and the Death Eaters view them as practically dead; they see no need to speed upthe process. A few of them came to the ward today, to take a look at your parents but made no move to hurt them. They think they're too injured to bother with."
The medical team returned to their rounds. The healer joined them without a look back. Gran walked over to Neville.
"They claim that this place will return to a proper state soon," his gran said, her eyes on the healers. "They are calling in retired healers and medi-witches. Well, we shall see. I will be watching. You can be sure of that."
Neville nodded absently. The healer's last words angered him. It was intolerable that those people should come to stare at his parents to gloat over them in their suffering. He'd seen it before, the odd look in Crouch's eyes while he masqueraded as the Auror Moody. He'd talked to Neville about his parents' fate, gloating all the while. Old Malfoy had joked that Gran was familiar with losing family. The Lestrange woman had laughed at what she had done to his parents. They all thought their crimes were a joke. Neville hated knowing they laughed at his parents, who were so much better than they were.
His dad finished another paper covered in scribbles, handing it to Neville formally like he was his boss. Neville glanced at it to be polite, and stuffed it in his pocket. "Bad things happened today and you couldn't stop it could you, Dad?" hewhispered. "You wanted to, but you couldn't and that made you angry, didn't it? That's why you acted the way you did. I understand." Neville understood that feeling completely.
He'd been scared in the Department of Mysteries with Harry, but when he had seen the Lestrange woman, he'd become so angry that he hadn't cared about anything, as long as he could stop her, and keep her from getting what she wanted. He didn't even know what she wanted, really, but he could see that keeping what ever it was from her frustrated her. Neville wanted to thwart her, even if it meant getting hurt, because it was the only way he could do anything to her.
"Is that how you felt, Dad?" he whispered. "Was anything worth fighting them – even this?" Neville glanced around the Janus Thickey ward, where his father had spent the last fourteen years. He knew deep in his bones that his father had fought them with all he had and his fight had brought him here, to this place, to this madhouse. The least he could do for his father was fight them, too, as best he could.