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Chapter 9: Downhill
That’s pretty much the only way I can summarise the way things are going right now. Half the school are swanning around with DOWIAH badges, Scorpius’ Dad is co-producer of DOWIAH’s official newspaper, The Voice of Reason, I have to try and lead a divided school alongside Riordan, a member of DOWIAH, and worst of all, Jem and Alyssa are no longer talking to me. A large percentage of the wizarding community have backed Mum—enough to get the Statute lifted, and DOWIAH have gone from an almost laid-back organisation to an active protest group, picketing the Ministry, coming to school, mass producing The Voice of Reason, in some cases even boycotting the businesses of Unity members. The Ministry itself is divided and the abuse is getting to Mum; Dad’s called me home in a panic twice in the last month because Mum’s had panic attacks and can’t cope. It’s becoming harder and harder to believe the change is worth it.
But I have to believe that it will be.
“Good morning, Rose,” Astoria greets me at the breakfast table. “A note from Professor McGonagall.” She drops a cream coloured envelope on the table in front of me and walks away, and Scorpius watches her go with an expression of slight dismay. Both Astoria and Draco are badge-wearing, placard-carrying members of DOWIAH, and Astoria’s attitute towards me has cooled significantly since I made it known I was a member of Unity.
I open the envelope and scan the brief note inside.
Please meet me in my office immediately.
Professor McGonagall, Headmistress.
Scorpius peers over my shoulder at the note. “What does she want?”
“I have no idea,” I say worriedly, folding the note and slipping it into my robes. “I’ll see you in first period, whatever it is.”
“Potions,” Scorpius supplies. “I hope it’s nothing too serious.”
At his words my heart skips a beat. What if something’s happened to Mum? I scramble out of my seat but Scorpius seizes my wrist. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” I mutter, pulling free and bolting from the Hall. The corridors are empty, nobody around to wonder at my panicked sprinting through the castle. Skidding to a halt outside McGonagall’s office I manage to gasp out the password—Creevey—and continue up the stairs with no change of pace.
“Professor,” I announce, arriving in the doorway.
“Goodness, Weasley,” McGonagall says slightly disapprovingly, peering over her glasses at me. “There was no need to run.”
“You said immediately,” I explain lamely, feeling embarrassed but relieved; it can’t be anything serious.
“Immediately being as soon as you could get here moving at a dignified walking pace,” McGonagall says. “Take a seat.”
I do so, trying to read the expression on McGonagall’s face; no more or less severe than usual.
“There have been concerns about your loyalty, Rose,” she begins.
“My loyalty?” I ask, my voice rising in panic. I don’t know why, but I feel accused, and a horrible sense of foreboding comes over me.
“Yes, your loyalty,” McGonagall continues. “You’re the Minister’s daughter and a well-known member of Unity. There have been concerns that this may affect your ability to lead the school with impartiality.”
“What?” I explode. “My ability? Give me one example of when I’ve used my position as Head Girl to push my own agenda! Give me one way how I am somehow more of a threat to impartiality than Riordan Carter who coordinates the distribution of The Voice of Reason to every bloody student in the school!”
“Sit. Down,” McGonagall says, her voice icy. Seething, I force myself back onto the chair I just leapt out of. “You will not react like that in my office.”
“Excuse me, Professor.”
“I am aware of Mr Carter’s political activities,” McGonagall continues coolly, “However you are the Minister’s daughter. Riordan Carter’s family is in no way associated with DOWIAH or the Ministry of Magic, and he stands to gain nothing from his support of DOWIAH. The wizarding community is concerned that having Hermione Weasley’s daughter as Head Girl of Hogwarts is creating an imbalance.”
“An imbalance?” I ask, my voice shaking with anger. “How is there an imbalance, when Riordan is doing more canvassing for DOWIAH than I’ve ever done for Unity? I made sure that even during my mother’s election campaign I conducted myself with absolute impartiality and I’m sure you and the rest of the school are aware of that. I’ve done everything in my power, Professor, to keep my thoughts and views to myself. I don’t even wear a Unity badge.”
“I recognise that, Rose, but the wizarding community doesn’t,” McGonagall says apologetically, and it’s that tone of apology that tells me everything.
“You’re telling me,” I begin shakily, “That I have to step down as Head Girl?”
I. Will. Not. Cry. I. Will. Not…
“Who’s going to replace me?” I ask, my voice cracking on the final words.
“Don’t do this,” I whisper, hating the pleading in my voice even more than the tears in my eyes. “Professor, I’ve poured my heart and soul into this…”
“It’s not my decision, Rose. It’s the last thing I want to do.”
Silently I unpin the Head Girl badge on my robes and drop it into McGonagall’s outstretched palm. I had no idea something so simple could hurt so much. Turning away, I pick my bag off the floor and hastily leave the office, keeping my eyes fixated on the floor as I walk down to the dungeons, wishing with all my heart to run into Alyssa to have a shoulder to cry on…
I curl up on my bed, pulling the curtains closed around me. I’ve never felt so alone.
I miss Potions and History of Magic, which I’ve walked out of anyway. At interval Alyssa comes through the dormitory, and I have to fight the urge to break down again after her brief, dismissive glance in my direction. We were best friends for six years, how did it get to this in three short weeks?
I watch her as she rummages through her trunk, pulling out a few crumpled pieces of parchment and turning to leave.
Don’t go, my mind is screaming at me. Don’t go, I need you, you’re my best friend, please…
But she walks out without a backward glance, leaving unspoken words behind her, hanging in the air.
“Where were you?” Scorpius asks the moment I see him in the common room. “I went to the library instead of History of Magic hoping I’d see you there, what did McGonagall want?”
“I was in the dorm,” I reply, choosing to respond to only one of his questions.
He frowns. “Where’s your badge?”
That’s all it takes to set me off again, and I bury my face into his shoulder, crying uncontrollably.
“Rose, Rose, Rose, what’s going on?” He places his hands on my shoulders and pushes me back, forcing me to look him in the eyes. I attempt to duck away and hide in his robes again, but his grip on my shoulders is firm. “Tell me.”
You’re being stupid, Rose. Head up, shoulders back, be strong. “I’ve been stood down as Head Girl,” I tell him as calmly as I can before dissolving into tears again. This time he pulls me close and I cling to him as if my life depends on it.
“Rose, listen to me,” he says, addressing the back of my hair. “You’re not defined by your official title or the badge you wear on your robes. I’ve heard thirty-two people this year comment on how you’re the best Head Girl they’ve seen at Hogwarts, and that’s not going to change. I don’t care if you have a badge saying Head Girl or a badge saying Squib, you’re the leader of this school, more so than Riordan Carter, more so than any tramp they bring in from another house, more so in some respects than many of the teachers. You’ve lost the badge, but you don’t need to lose the position or the respect.”
“You’re amazing,” I mumble into his robes.
“I do try,” he replies. “Get back to your dorm, clean up, show up to Charms and prove you’re still Head Girl no matter who wears the badge. Who is wearing the badge?”
“That? Oh dear, sweet Merlin, McGonagall’s off her rocker.”
I grin in spite of myself and head for the bathroom, feeling slightly better. I’m not suited to wallowing in self-pity.
“You hear Rose’s been stood down as Head Girl?” Molly greets me first thing in the morning.
“Heard it from Lysander who heard it from Lorcan who heard it from Antigone Islington that Rose’s been stood down and Antigone’s taking her place.”
“Head Girl?” I repeat. “That whiny, up herself little shit?”
“Yeah,” Molly says.
“I dunno,” Molly shrugs. “I can’t imagine Rose doing anything wrong, can you? She’s like, the best Head Girl this place has seen.”
“Yeah,” I concede, pulling the curtains around my bed and getting dressed. “Bet Antigone’s even more full of it than she normally is.”
“Lorcan says she’s unbearable.”
“I can believe that.” I scramble down from the bed. “Breakfast?”
“Sounds good to me,” Molly agrees. “Voice of Reason comes out today.”
I glance at her. “Where do you sit with this whole thing anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Molly replies hesitantly. “I mean, it’s a good idea, I can see where they’re coming from, unity between Muggles and wizards, but…there are better ways of doing it. It’s going to ruin…no, I don’t want to say ruin, it’ll…”
“You can say it’ll ruin the wizarding world if you want to,” I offer. “I mean, I agree with you. Don’t look at me like that, do I have to agree with my parents on everything?”
“Good point,” Molly says, looking relieved. Now she knows where I stand, she loses her inhibitions and begins ranting about the proposal—well, ranting as much as Molly Weasley can rant, which isn’t much.
“It’s a terrible idea,” she says vehemently. “What’s going to happen to the jobs, to the Ministry, to everyone whose job it was to uphold the Statute—that’s a good several thousand jobs gone in one fell swoop, what happens if a bunch of Muggles take objection to us, the religious groups and stuff? That and what happens to our traditions, our history? We preserve the past and the Muggles just destroy it…”
“Exactly!” I cry, seizing Molly’s last point. “You look at their buildings, they’re horrible and modern, eyesores really, and what about their old buildings? Crumbling ruins. I don’t know about you, but I want to write my essays on parchment with a quill, not a computer. Even things made ten years ago are obsolete in the Muggle world.”
“It’s about history,” Molly agrees, nodding furiously. “And preserving it. Preserving our way of life.” She nods firmly to herself. “I’m going to track down Riordan Carter and ask for a DOWIAH badge this morning. What about you, Lily?”
“I don’t know,” I say hesitantly. Why am I unsure about this? I haven’t seen Natalia, Emily or Damascus wearing DOWIAH badges, and unless they start, I don’t want to wear one either. I don’t know why. They’re different, maybe DOWIAH is too “following the crowd” for them, and if I join DOWIAH they’ll see it as just following the crowd. About half the school is split into rival camps of Unity and DOWIAH, and it seems half of the badge-wearers are just following what their friends think. Maybe if there was another organisation similar to DOWIAH, I would join.
“Morning,” Lorcan greets us, skipping slightly to walk beside me. “Merlin’s beard, am I glad to be out of the common room.”
“Antigone?” I ask.
“Oh yeah. She’s been parading around Ravenclaw Tower with her nice shiny badge and a couple of her minions, putting on all these airs and…ugh. Dom took her down a peg or two though, took five points from her for bragging and calmly pointed out that because Antigone’s never been a prefect, Dom has the power to take points from her. It was worth losing the five points to see the look on her face, I assure you.”
“You guys are coming last anyway.”
“Exactly. Are we meeting up with the Slytherins tonight?”
“I think so, yeah.”
There’s pandemonium in the Great Hall when we enter it. The Voice of Reason is out, and the headline on the front page grips me with fear.
SUPPORT FOR MINISTER’S PROPOSAL ENOUGH TO PASS
“Shit!” I yell, shoving the newspaper in Lorcan’s face. “This can’t be happening.”
“Hold up,” Lorcan says. “It doesn’t say they’ve passed it. They’ve said there’s enough support for it to pass, but it can’t, not when nearly half the wizarding world is dead against it. Hermione wouldn’t be that stupid. Right?”
“I don’t know,” I say, panicked. “But it could happen, the Statute could be gone by lunchtime!”
The noise in the Great Hall swells as more and more students arrive for breakfast and see the Daily Prophet; I’ve never heard it this loud before. Nobody’s eating, a few students including Antigone are trying to organise a student rally to the Ministry in fifteen minutes; a mob of about fifty forms in front of her, jostling and pushing and throwing their fists in the air. Into this pandemonium strides Rose, looking more confident and authoritive than I’ve ever seen her before. Casting a Sonorous Charm as she walks, she steps onto a chair at the front of the hall.
“SILENCE!” she bellows, and a hush slowly descends over the hall. “What’s going on? What do you think a mass riot at Hogwarts is going to achieve? Kids in the hospital wing?” There’s an uncomfortable shuffling and to my astonishment a couple of juniors are helped to their feet from the floor with bloody noses and tear-streaked faces.
“You have no right to be standing up here!” Antigone yells at Rose, making her way towards her.
“Do I not?” Rose challenges. “You may have the badge, Antigone, but it means nothing if you’re in the midst of an angry mob, spurring it on instead of taking some leadership. I never want to see riots in the Great Hall over politics again,” she says angrily, turning back to the crowd. “Nothing will be done about lifting the Statute today or tomorrow or in the near future. Sit the hell down, all of you, and count yourselves lucky you didn’t cause any more serious injuries. Your priority is school, and I can assure you anyone who goes and pickets the Ministry during first period will lose fifty house points each.”
There’s an almost dead silence following Rose’s words and I watch as she steps down from her chair and returns to the Slytherin table. I don’t know what to make of the situation; it amazes me how quickly things got out of hand, and no matter how much I disagree with Rose’s viewpoint I can’t help but admire her leadership. Removing her from her position was a stupid thing to do, realistically. Both our Head Prefects are now members of DOWIAH and it’ll take next to nothing to stir the school into a mob again. But at the same time, I can’t help but look forward to an opportunity to do something, to stand up and fight for the wizarding world, and the thought of the school being stirred to fight alongside holds an appeal I can’t deny. This is going to get ugly, I can tell, but I for one am ready to stand and fight.
“We need to discuss something.” Natalia’s voice is low and almost ominous when we meet that evening in the Room of Requirement. “This morning showed that we need to take drastic measures to secure the future of the wizarding world. We could fall. We could lose all we have, all our ancestors have achieved, if this goes ahead. I don’t need to remind you how high the stakes are. So I ask you all, are you willing to do whatever it takes? Would you be willing to, if it comes down to it, give your life for this cause?”
Her words send a shiver up my spine, but at the same time I feel a stirring in my heart: Yes. We can fight, we can do something about this. We can stop the Statute from being lifted and preserve the wizarding world.
Around me, Emily, Damascus and Lorcan nod determinedly, and I nod as well.
“There is an organisation,” Natalia continues, and her voice drops to just above a whisper. “An organisation committed to preserving the wizarding world the way it is. To protecting our heritage and our integrity. To keeping us safe from persecution and oppression at the hands of Muggles. An organisation that is not afraid of the measures required to protect us. An organisation that I’m asking you all to be part of, with me. An organisation called the Honour Guard.”