Disclaimer: "Harry Potter" belongs to J.K. Rowling and her legal licencees. In the section describing events in the Ravenclaw Common Room, I've followed Deathly Hallows as closely as possible. This means that several phrases and descriptions are quoted from the original. No plagiarism is intended.
Author's Notes: My undying gratitude to my beta, Kelly Chambliss, for her excellent advice, encouraging words, and virtual hand-holding during a severe attack of Writer's Insecurity.

Pomona Sprout looked at the tidy front garden. Some shrubs, and a beautiful, small Acer Palmatum that would provide a marvellous show of colour in autumn. No grass, but an austere pattern of gravel in different hues. It was one of the few cases where easy maintenance and real beauty were combined. And it went well with the simple, modern lines of the little bungalow. On the one hand, it was the perfect accommodation for a very old woman. On the other hand … She checked and double-checked the address she had noted down a few hours earlier.

"Are you going to knock, or what?"

The acerbic voice startled Pomona from her reverie. She looked up into an open door. Lowering her gaze slightly, she saw the diminutive, stooped figure of the woman she'd come to consult.

"Professor Marchbanks! I wasn't quite sure ...," Again, she was interrupted.

"You expected something else. Thatched roof, whitewashed walls, roses, hollyhocks, lavender. And inside more lavender and the smell of beeswax, right? Or, perhaps, piles of photographs and the smell of too many cats? Never was one for either. A thoroughly modern Millie, they used to call me long ago. Well, I still am. Come in, will you?"

Pomona followed the remarkably spruce figure into the house. The living room came as another surprise. Stark, white walls. A comfy, modern sofa. Two chairs, the right size for the small witch, that had a straight back and arms you could get a good grip on when you wanted to get up. All in various shades of grey and sand, with a few cushions in muted purple for a bit of colour. It was the last thing you'd expect from the quintessential Elderly Witch.

"Told you I'm not the world's Favourite Granny. Got this a few years ago," Professor Marchbanks said, waving in the direction of the furniture. "I wanted a change, and it's a nice, calm background for the books."

The woman would form an excellent pair with the doorknocker of her former House at Hogwarts. That had all the questions, she had all the answers. Pomona looked at the two walls that were completely lined with bookcases. Everything from Wizard vellum to the bright orange paperbacks of a well-known Muggle publisher. She smiled.

"What are you thinking, girl?"

"I was thinking I've come to the right place," Pomona said, deciding to match frankness with frankness. "What you just said – about the furniture being a good background for your books. Most people would see it the other way; they'd say the books add a splash of colour. But you don't. Nor does Minerva. I can see why you two get along so well."

"So you've come to see me about Minerva? Worried, are you? Well, that makes two of you. I got an Owl from Wilhelmina – Grubbly-Plank, I mean – only two days ago. Then yours. So let's talk."

The two witches sat down in the chairs, which turned out to be every bit as comfortable as they looked. Pomona heaved a sigh of relief.

"Well, you already know what it's about, then," she said.

"That I don't," was the unexpected answer. "Wilhelmina just wrote that there's something wrong. Said she had talked till she was blue in the face, but didn't get anywhere. She asked me to come and see Minerva."

"Oh." Pomona was silent for a moment.

"Out with it. I dare say she told you in confidence. Told Wilhelmina in confidence, too, obviously. If anyone's going to break it, better you than Wilhelmina. You're a friend, Willa is her partner. But I can't do anything until I know what this is about."

Professor Marchbanks was right, of course. A Ravenclaw through and through, with the same astonishing perceptiveness Pomona had often seen in Filius, but in his case it was tempered by endless discretion. Griselda Marchbanks clearly felt that at her age, she was past discretion. Or perhaps she'd always been like that.

"In about two weeks' time, the Hogwarts Board of Governors will meet, and Kingsley Shacklebolt will offer Minerva the Headship. We all know that."

Professor Marchbanks nodded enthusiastically. "Damn fine job she'll make of it, too. I'm glad I'll get the chance to see some of it. About time some things changed."

"She's going to refuse," Pomona said flatly. Professor Marchbanks stared at her in utter disbelief. "She told me," Pomona continued, "that she'll stay on as Acting Headmistress for one year. To rebuild the school and sort out the mess. Then she plans to retire."

"What? Has she gone mad? She wants that Headship. Always wanted it. Worked towards it, too. All that so-called 'second-in-command' business … she encouraged Albus to go gallivanting around, offering consults all over the place. And in the meantime, she already ran the school. Now she's got the chance to really make her mark and … It's insane! Why?"

"She didn't tell me," Pomona said. "But … I've been going over this again and again. For weeks. Looking at all the options. Listing them. Weeding things out."

Professor Marchbanks nodded approvingly. "And?"

"It's not her health. That Stunner attack was bad, but she got over it. And it's not Severus Snape's death, either. They've always been good friends, except for those months when we all thought he was … but they had made their peace long before the Battle.

"For some time I thought it might be Willa. They've had a difficult patch, last year. They've even been apart for a while. I could see it happening; the change in Minerva, I mean. Willa has always known how important Hogwarts is to Min, but I think that during the past year, she felt that Hogwarts had won. That Minerva simply didn't see her as a real part of her life. I've felt the same, sometimes. We've always been close, but last year there were moments when I wanted to shake her and yell at her to look at me, her friend. To focus on what I was telling her, instead of working out the next Hogwarts problem. She was …"

"I know what you mean. She can be courageous, selfless, dedicated, and totally infuriating."

Pomona grinned. "All that, and more," she said. "But after The Battle, Willa and Min were back together. And Willa wouldn't stand in her way, not with this. The Headship is too important to Min.

"It is what started it, though. The Battle, I mean. I didn't realise at first. She was different. Worried. But then, there were funerals every day, most of them our former students. You don't wonder about someone not being herself. "

"So it's The Battle," Professor Marchbanks said, thoughtfully. "What of it? Not the dead. The losses are ghastly, but it wouldn't make Minerva refuse a Headship. There's no point in that, and Minerva doesn't do pointless things. She has a reason. Ideas?"

"Well, I told you, I've been going over this for weeks. Trying to find a reason. And perhaps a part of me still hoped it was Willa when I came here. I know that sounds stupid. Because if Willa really would object, would make an ultimatum of that Headship, it would be awful for Min.

"And there is only one other thing I could think of. But I can't really believe it."

"Or won't really believe it, perhaps?" Again, the question was incredibly direct, but Professor Marchbanks's eyes were friendly and inviting. Pomona suddenly felt that she could say the unthinkable, after all.

"You see … what I was thinking of… It happened during the First … Voldemort Period." She still stumbled over the name. "We were both in the Order, Minerva in a far more prominent position. I was merely a messenger. And in the beginning of 1980, things got worse and worse – and very quickly. Killings everywhere. The Giants on his side. Death Eater attacks every day. And then Albus decided … It was the day we really became close friends, Min and I. I think it's about that."

Pomona realised she was being incoherent. But in spite of her sharp ways, Professor Marchbanks was a good listener, who knew when someone needed time.

"It was the day we learned to use Unforgivables," she finally said. "Albus had told us to go to Headquarters …"

"Alastor?" Pomona looked around the door of the Order's meeting room. "Ah, there you are."right sort of people?" Minerva continued with a voice that could shatter a Bludger.that what you call a 'clear conscience'?"mean it.

She opened the door further and stepped in, followed by Minerva McGonagall. The large room was empty except for Alastor Moody, who sat at the far end of the meeting table, staring morosely at a piece of paper in his hand. He looked up as the two witches sat down. Which was highly unusual; normally, Alastor would be standing with his wand ready whenever someone even approached the door.

"Did Albus tell you?" Alastor asked.

"No, he just said we were to come here, you would explain," Pomona answered.

"Bloody Albus. Always the same thing."

Pomona and Minerva exchanged a look. Alastor was nothing if not outspoken, but this was unusual, even for him. It didn't bode well.

"It's simple," Alastor finally said. "Dumbledore has decided that all Order Members must be able to defend themselves. Same as Aurors. So … that's why you're here. To learn the spells. Whole Order has to. Let's get started."

The last words sounded a tad too businesslike. And, sure enough, Minerva protested.

"When you say 'same as the Aurors"', she said, her normally faint Scottish brogue suddenly a bit more pronounced, "do you suggest we learn to cast … Unforgivables? "

The last word sounded as if Unforgivables were what you found when you turned over a moist stepping stone in the garden, Pomona thought. How typically Minerva. She nearly smiled.

"Yes."

"And when you judge us capable enough, we'll get some sort of shiny Order Badge?" Minerva asked. The remark sounded so completely incongruous that Alastor and Pomona both stared at her.

"So that people will know they are Imperius'ed, or tortured, or even killed, by the

"No!" Alastor shouted. "It isn't about 'right' or 'wrong'. Or about 'them' and 'us'. It's about life and death. It's about … there!"

He threw the piece of paper on the table. The photograph of the Order, it was. Pomona looked at the smiling, waving group. Arthur. Molly. Arabella. Mundungus. Hagrid. Albus. Alastor. Marlene. Oh, Merlin, Marlene …

"Arthur was attacked by a Death Eater last week," Alastor continued, calmer now. "He did a Shield charm and a Petrificus, captured him, and brought him here. By the time I got my hands on the bastard, it was too late. The McKinnons were dead. But they might have been saved! If Arthur had known how to Imperius him … the louse knew! He could have told us … could have led us there!" His voice again rose to a crescendo.

"There's no such thing as a 'clean war'. They kill blindly, these days. They use Unforgivables. They use Giants, dammit! And they're never alone. You must be able to defend yourself – or others."

"If the need arises," Minerva said coldly, "I'd be able to perform an Avada Kedavra. As Albus knows."

"Well, he wants you to prove it," Alastor grunted. "To my satisfaction. Dammit, woman, if we have another McKinnon situation on our hands … could you live with yourself knowing you might have saved them, if only? Is

The debate went on for some time. Pomona agreed, mostly silently, with everything Minerva said. Min was right that 'Unforgivables' had their name for an excellent reason. Which was that those curses were, in fact, unforgivable. Not 'Occasionally Acceptable'. Not 'In Specific Circumstances Allowable'. And most definitely not, and that was the crux of Minerva's reasoning, 'Wrong When They Perform Them, but Quite All Right for Us'.

But in the end, each and every time, it boiled down to the same, crucial point. If Minerva had been there and could have saved Marlene and her whole family, children and all, by casting an Imperius, would she have refused to do so?

"How can you live with yourself if you don't use that curse?" Alastor had asked, and Min had stared at the waving, smiling Marlene in the picture.

"How can you live with yourself if you do?" Pomona finally whispered.

"With difficulty," Alastor grunted. "With Firewhisky, sometimes. With nightmares. Hell, if I thought you two could cast an Unforgivable, walk away, and forget all about it, I'd have refused to be here. I don't expect you to do it for kicks. But in extremis …" Alastor's voice died away.

Finally, Minerva gave in. On the issue of the Imperius and the Avada Kedavra. Not the Cruciatus.

"There's only one reason to cast an Unforgivable," she argued, "and that's saving someone's life, or defending it. And I do think that if someone willingly and knowingly participates in such an atrocity," she pointed at the picture, "then forcing him or her to undo some of that evil is … acceptable. And may save lives. But every other reason is simply 'it's all right for us, just not for them'. There would be no difference left between us and You-Know-Who and his minions. And there is no reason, no excuse, ever, for a Cruciatus. If an Imperius doesn't work, a Cruciatus won't, either."

Alastor retorted that, in the end, a Cruciatus always worked. If there was something to tell, it would come out. But Minerva pointed out that a Cruciatus could destroy people. It would mean destroying a wrong 'un to save a good 'un, and she refused flatly.

Suddenly, Alastor smiled. "Knew you'd say that," he said. "That's my girl. Wouldn't want you any other way."

And from the look in his eyes, Pomona suddenly understood in just how many ways Alastor did want Minerva. Which simply wasn't going to happen; he had to know that as well as she did.

Minerva put a hand on his shoulder in an apologetic gesture. The way she looked at Alastor made it quite clear that she meant much more than apologies for not following orders. Alastor shrugged and harrumphed, and Pomona quickly looked away. At least, let the poor man have the idea that no-one else had noticed that brief, revealing moment.

And then, albeit reluctantly, they drew their wands.

An exhausting hour later, Pomona realised that Unforgivables were remarkably easy from a strictly technical point of view. Normally, the wandwork and incantation demanded endless practise, but not here. Third-year students could do it, Pomona thought. As long as they really

And that was the difficulty.

Pomona could Imperius a spider – after a few tries. So could Minerva. Then Alastor ordered them to Imperius him, and Pomona got so exhausted that she burst into tears. Alastor started to bully her into trying again. That was when Minerva managed a faultless one – it broke straight through Alastor's defences.

Killing a spider was, again, easier for Min, who'd never particularly liked them, than for Pomona, who knew the different types and their usefulness. But they both managed fairly well.

"Right," Alastor said. He took two further spiders out of the terrarium on a side-board and Transfigured them. To their horror, Minerva and Pomona found themselves face to face with a badger and a cat.

Pomona, who had grown up on a farm and was more familiar with the killing of animals than Minerva, hated the job and the seeming cruelty of Alastor's order, but she understood why he did it.

Minerva stared long and hard at the Order photograph. Pomona could see the words 'to defend someone's life' hovering on her lips.

"She managed, in the end. She could have done it if it had really been to defend someone. But just like that, for practice ..." Pomona stared at her hands.

"And then we both returned to Hogwarts, and we went to Min's rooms. Well, I went with her, and I poured her a stiff drink. That night we both drank too much. Start of our real friendship, that was. I mean, we'd been colleagues before, but …"

Griselda nodded. "Creates a bond, that sort of thing. The bastard. Her Animagus-form."

"It wasn't just cruelty. Alastor was right, it was about life and death. About knowing what someone would do in an extreme situation. I understood. We both did, Minerva as well as I. 'Poor devil,' she said, 'how does he live with it?' And, you see, that's … I think …"

"You think that somewhere during that battle, Minerva cast an Unforgivable she can't live with. She has judged herself and found herself guilty. And now she's imposing the penalty. With that damnable Scottish stubbornness and that bloody Gryffindor courage. This isn't going to be easy, you know. We had better be going. Can you Floo to her office?"

Pomona looked up in surprise. "Yes," she said, "but surely you don't need me?"

"I don't," Professor Marchbanks answered. "But Minerva will. To me, she's the best friend a woman could have, but I was her teacher once. And then her mentor. She'll need a good friend who is just that. By the way – that badger?"

"Not just Hufflepuff," Pomona said, "my Patronus as well."

Professor Marchbanks nodded briefly. "Fits you. Let's go."

As she stepped into the hearth after the Professor, Pomona wondered what it would be like to get an Order of Merlin. On the whole, she thought she preferred Professor Marchbanks's curt assessment.