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Chapter 1: Life is full of Choices
They all lay huddled in a side street, amongst the muck and the sludge, like the vermin they were branded to be. They were all as white as sheets, and as skinny as skeletons. The saddest sight anyone can behold, but no one stops to offer help, or to even throw a scrap of food to fill out the hollow cheeks. Some say this is the punishment they deserve for the crime they committed. But most were scared. The masked guards patrolled the streets, making sure no one helped them. Let them rot in their self-made hell. Help them, and join them.
“Please, I am begging you not to go,” Ernie clasped both Susan and Justin’s hands across the small wooden table that stood near the ancient, sooty fireplace in the deserted Leaky Cauldron.
“Ernie, we’ve been summoned, we have to,” Justin gently shook Ernie’s hand from him. He knew his heart was in the right place, but he didn’t fully understand.
“Just because you’ve been summoned doesn’t mean you go Justin! It's not like a fair trial, it’s a death sentence!” Ernie looked at him with pained eyes.
“You don’t understand, this might be my, our only chance to get back into Hogwarts,” Justin looked over at Susan; she was nodding silently in agreement.
“Please don’t go,” Hannah whispered, tears streaming silently down her face.
“Neither of you seem to understand the fact that if we don’t go, we could be killed,” Justin’s voice rose slightly. The sound echoed through the silent, dusty bar, save for themselves and Tom, the longstanding barman.
“If you do go, your demise is a certainty,” Ernie’s voice shook with emotion. Justin’s hands balled up into fists in underneath the table, his knuckles were a prominent white against his pink, flushed skin. Justin had what you would describe as a rosy complexion.
“We have to go,” Justin rose to leave, and the others followed his lead.
“Take care of yourself old chap,” Ernie shook his hand in his usual pompous manner, but Justin could see the tears in his eyes.
“Keep safe, both of you,” Hannah hugged them both quickly.
“You too,” he whispered into her hair. She smiled weakly and dried her eyes, but Justin saw it falter as they walked towards the door, and a sob broke out from behind them, as they stepped out onto the bustling London streets and made their way to the Ministry entrance, where a steady stream of white-faced people making their way into what looked like an ordinary public toilet.
“Now, I’m going to ask you again, where did you get the wand?” Dolores Umbridge smiled down at Justin, whose forehead was coated in a sheen of sweat, despite the freezing court room. All his worst memories kept flashing before his eyes. The Basilisk through Nearly-Headless Nick, Harry lying across Cedric Diggory’s dead body. That had been the first time he had every seen Harry lose control, and that was terrifying enough minus the lifeless corpse. Dumbledore lying crumpled and broken at the foot of the Astronomy tower. And all he could see in between these terrifying hallucinations was Umbridge’s face, smiling evilly down at him.
“I won’t ask you again, where did you get the wand we seized from you on your arrival?” Umbridge's smile turned into a vicious snarl. Justin felt the shackles tighten around his wrists and his ankles.
“I bought it, in Diagon Alley when I was eleven,” Justin panted. It seemed the Dementors were draining his energy as well as his happy memories.
“You lie, a man snarled from Umbridge's right “Muggles can’t enter Diagon Alley, let alone buy a wand!”
“I am a wizard,” Justin’s head fell onto his chest, beads of sweat dripped onto his shirt.
The whole courtroom erupted with cruel laughter.
“It clearly states here that your father is an accountant and your mother is a solicitor, do those sound like wizard professions to you?” Umbridge’s voice had a hard edge to it, it echoed around the courtroom.
“They’re not wizards, but I am, I went to Hogwarts,” Justin raised his head again to see Umbridge leaning over the podium, staring down at him.
“And what house were you in, if you went to Hogwarts?” the man spoke again, he snorted towards the end of his sentence.
“Hufflepuff,” Justin strained against his chains, in an attempt to loosen them.
The courtroom erupted again.
“I didn’t realise that you were so misinformed, Hufflepuff doesn’t count,” Umbridge spat down at him “A house of incompetent idiots and muggle-lovers is no better than Gryffindor!”
Justin stopped struggling, and stared straight up at her. Justin had worked out while listening to countless victims scream for pity that Umbridge liked to break people, strip them down until they were raw, and then push them over the edge when she took away everything important to them. Justin resolved that he was going to deny her that pleasure.
“Take him away, I have nothing more to say to this vermin,” she elongated the last word, as if it would hurt him more if it lasted longer “Snap the thief’s wand, and empty his vault. Transfer the gold to the Ministry’s account.” She smiled once more, displaying her short, stubby, icicle-like teeth “And mark his file red!”
This was the point in which Justin began to panic. When someone’s account was marked red, it meant they were unhirable. And with no money, Justin didn’t know what to do. He looked up in shock at the devil that was disguised as a Ministry employee before his very eyes. Rough hands grabbed Justin’s forearms and dragged him from the courtroom. He stumbled along, shell shocked. His eyes locked with Susan’s as he was led down the freezing hall.
“Run,” he mumbled, over and over, his voice getting louder and louder. Eventually he had stopped dead in his tracks, screaming at her to escape, but it was too late, she had been led through the gates of hell.
Justin shifted slightly, the hard brick wall scraped along his already thread-bare coat, offering even less protection from the incessant snow. There were times during the wet, windy November, that they had all prayed for snow, to freeze the mud solid. 'If only it would snow' was a common heard phrase. How they were paying for their idle wish now. The snow mixed with the mud, to create sludge. And there was no way to escape the cold. Justin looked down the alley to where the two Creevey brothers lay, huddled together. Dennis' raspy cough reverberated against the walls, the harsh sound made Justin wince. Colin was hunched over him, as if trying to transmit some of his body heat into that of his little brother. Justin flicked up the collar on his coat, in a desperate attempt to save the back of his neck from the onslaught of the wind. He turned his back towards the offending gale, and found himself looking out on to an unrecognisable Diagon Alley. Gone was the bustling street that had amazed his eleven year old self, and in its place was a cold, dirty, grey rabbit warren of side alleys, littered with dirt, grime, and vagrants. Because that was what he, and everyone else in this alley was. A vagrant, vermin, nothing. Sometimes Justin wondered if he would have been better off not to enter into the world of magic. He could have gone to Eton, led a normal life. He would probably have studied English and Maths, instead of subjects that were absolutely useless to someone if they didn’t have a wand. He would be at home, sleeping in a comfortable bed, enjoying his Christmas holidays from school, instead of sitting in an alleyway, coated in a fine layer of grime accumulated over four gruelling months. Justin was interrupted from his thoughts, by the sound of shuffling coming from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, half poised to dart out of the alleyway, as was customary whenever one of ‘The Black Ones’ were spotted, but it was only Susan, dragging herself along by her elbows. Her hair swung in matted clumps in front of her face, blocking the bruises that were inflicted on all of them by the cruel and the evil. Justin sat up a bit straighter.
"What’s wrong Susan?" he asked, concern colouring his voice.
"My legs have gone numb Justin," she laughed. Justin noticed her laugh had a slight manic edge to it. She shuffled a bit more, and slumped against his shoulder. "Look, I'll show you," she began frantically pounding her left leg, harder and harder each time. Justin sprang forward and grabbed her wrist. It was stone cold.
“Susan, your freezing,” he gasped. He pulled her closer to him, and rubbed his hands up and down her arms, attempting to return them to their proper colour. She was turning blue; her skin was becoming almost translucent, like cling film. Justin ripped off his jacket and bundled her into it, in a last ditch attempt to warm her up.
“There Suzy, is that better?” Justin pulled her across onto his lap “You’ll be just fine Suze, don’t you worry one bit, we’re just going to warm you right up,” Susan’s teeth chattered loudly, and her eyes rolled back in her head.
“Suzy? Susan!” Justin shook her roughly “Come on Suzy, stay with me now,” he pleaded. She giggled softly and raised an ice cold hand to rub his stubbly cheek.
“You need to shave,” she laughed, smiling more so to herself rather than to Justin.
“I know I do Suzy, that’s why you have to stay with me, to make sure I do” Justin watched in horror as her eyes began to flutter “Come on Susan, you have to stay with me! Please Susan!” he shouted, his voice breaking towards the end. She didn’t answer this time.
“Colin! COLIN! Come here,” Justin roared up the alley. Colin looked up from where he sat, huddled over Dennis “COLIN!” Justin bawled, hot tears flowing down his cheeks. He looked down to his lap where Susan lay sprawled, gasping for breath. He looked up the alley again to see Colin and Dennis slipping and skidding towards him, across the frozen cobbles. They crouched down beside Susan’s body, which was now shaking uncontrollably, only the whites of her big brown eyes were visible.
“Go find help Justin,” Colin croaked. He removed the dirty quilt, which was covered in the sludge from around both their shoulders and wrapped it around Susan. Dennis watched with wide eyes, horror-struck. “Go Justin! She won’t last much longer!”
Justin sprang up and hurtled out of the alley. The dawn was just breaking across the bleak street. He looked around desperately and eventually saw a witch exiting Knockturn Alley. She looked young enough, close to Justin’s age. He ran towards her, his chest heaving with the effort. Gone were the muscles he had obtained while playing beater for the Hufflepuff house team, he was nothing but bones. She froze when she saw him.
“Please! You have to help me!” he panted. She stared blankly back at him “My friend. . . . . . . I think she’s dying,” he began to cry again on the last word “Please help” he fell to his knees. Her eyes softened, and she took a hesitant step forward.
“Astoria!” A deep voice boomed from behind her “Get away from that!” A tall, slim man came into view, a black cloak billowing from behind him. He raised his ornate walking stick, and walloped Justin across his face. He fell back from the force, blood spurting from his nose. The man stepped over Justin, dragging the girl behind him, pausing just long enough to spit on Justin and kick him in the stomach. The girl looked back over her shoulder while her father stormed up the street towards Gringotts. Justin thought he saw her look at her father in disgust, but it could just as easily been for him. That was the last thing he remembered before he passed out.
Colin’s face says it all when he eventually staggers back to the alleyway. Susan’s tremors had turned to full on convulsions, only the whites of her eyes visible through the two narrow slits. Her chest heaved up and down, but from the sound of her raspy breath, not an ounce of the vital oxygen was reaching her starved lungs. Justin sank to his knees beside her and wrapped his arms around the frail body. She had always been outshone by Hannah in Hogwarts; Susan Bones had never been anything special or extraordinary. But she had become a beacon of light in Justin’s life. Her optimism, and cheer, and general Hufflepuff personality had kept him going, stopped him from turning into a barbarian like so many of the others. And now she was gone.
Justin’s cry of sorrow and anguish broke the silence of the dreary morning.
He held the blade in between his teeth and an unfamiliar wand in his hand. He grabbed at the clumps of ivy, and scaled the familiar stone walls. Justin no longer regarded himself as a boy, he had seen too much, lived through too much. Anarchy had erupted. The boards had been ripped from Ollivanders shop front, and the wandless had swarmed, grabbing the first wand within reach. Most had apparated to safety, to family members, but not him. He was scaling the walls of Malfoy Manor. He laughed a little to himself, imagining what Ernie and Hannah would say if they knew what he was about to do, but as long as he got to his target before his death sentence was served, he’d be happy. He knew the man would be there, the man who had stopped him getting to Susan in time. For that was what he consoled himself with, what he kept the grief at bay with. Of course it was all that man's fault; it had nothing to do with Justin fainting. How many times had he been hit, and not once had he ever done that. But when his friend had been depending on him. . . . . . .
Justin blinked his eyes impatiently, dispersing the tears from his eyes. He grunted as he dragged his skeletal body over the wall. The drop on the other side seemed to rattle his whole body. He took off running up the hill towards the looming manor house, but he barely even noticed, he could have been running at a shack in the middle of a forest for all he cared. His eyes were zoned in on the open window on the ground floor. He slunk through the gap and ripped the blade from between his teeth, and sunk it into the nearest black, hooded figure. He didn’t pause to wrench it out; he just continued on, clumsily casting badly aimed spells in every direction he saw a black cloak. Bodies crumpled, but Justin continued on, until he saw him. He stood at the top of the marble staircase, and stared down at Justin. Gone was the grandeur in which he had carried himself before. Now he was as dirty as Justin, just as unshaven. The Ministry ordered house arrest hadn’t been kind to him, Justin could see that. He was glad. He finally understood Umbridge’s method. It was always more fun to break a desperate man. More black-cloaked figures poured out from a large wooden door on the left. Justin hated black, he hadn’t understood why that was the colour the newly reformed Auror’s office had chosen for the new uniforms. It made them the ‘Black Ones’. And unfortunately Justin had sworn to kill every single ‘Black One’ he ever came across while he had lain over Susan’s lifeless body. So he aimed his wand towards the oncoming hoard, and uttered the first Unforgivable Curse he had ever done.
“Sectumsempra!” he bellowed, along with his fellow comrades. And they all fell crumpled, broken. Justin turned his attention back to his target. He stared at him wide-eyed, fearful. And he uttered his second Unforgivable Curse of his life.
For Justin, it hadn’t mattered how long the war had been over for. He hadn’t wanted to reform, he hadn’t wanted to forgive and forget. Because he was never going to forget Susan. Not as long as there was life in his body. They had tried to recuperate him, they had offered in therapy, a wand, the works. But that was not what Justin had wanted. He had wanted revenge. Along with countless others of the wandless. It had been very easy for them to announce that they were all going to move forward in a new world, to a better life. That was what they wanted, not Justin.
He was famed for being the only Hufflepuff that had ever gone bad. People talked of how he showed no remorse at his trial; he hadn’t even shed a tear. But they didn’t understand that you can’t break something that was already broken. And some things can’t be fixed. The Dementors had been removed from Azkaban, so Justin had been left with all his memories. He regarded this as both a good and a bad thing; sometimes the happy memories haunted him more than the others. Because he was reminded of just how much he had lost in his one act of revenge.
That lifeless corpse hadn’t granted him as much pleasure as he thought it would. The ceremonious funeral that had taken place the next week had undermined the whole thing. They all acted as if he was some sort of tragic hero. They didn’t seem to understand just what he had done. Justin understood that he himself had killed, but hadn’t the exact same thing happened daily on the streets, and no ceremonious goodbye had happened, the body had just been stripped of all valuables and discarded somewhere. And the very people who had imprisoned him had let that happen. So really it was them that belonged in this high-security cell, not Justin, he had simply been repaying them for the pain they had inflicted on everyone, but especially on Susan.
It was as he lay in his dark, damp cell that he came to fully realise how much one choice can affect someone’s life. Justin knew he had made a terrible decision that had ruined his life, but he couldn’t pin-point which choice was the one that had.
New and improved version! Beta’d by the absolutely wonderful shazalupin to whom I am eternally grateful!
Just a side note: I know that Sectumsempra isn’t an unforgivable curse in the books, but I have a feeling that Harry would have made it one when he joined the newly reformed Ministry!