Bad and Worse
Behind many layers of privacy wards, DMLE-head Amelia Bones and Albus Dumbledore met to discuss Voldemort's offer.
"Fudge is all for it, of course," Amelia reported, "It somehow gets him out of having to admit he's been wrong, despite all logic."
"Well, logic has never been his strong suit. Or the strong suit of the people he wants to impress. Plus he's always been in Malfoy's pocket. What about you?"
"I don't like it, but I'm not sure we have a choice. Endmoor's funeral is tomorrow. He was one of the best men I've ever known: dutiful, gentle, caring. Always cleaning all the loose ends. Always worrying about how the people he obliviated would cope afterwards. Probably could have been a mind-healer, but he understood how vital obliviators were. Am I going to look his family in the eye and tell them that I turned down our best chance to nail those who are responsible?”
“And what about the families of all the people Voldemort killed?”
“Like me, you mean? I lost a brother in the war, remember? But we're not giving up on him. Just delaying.”
“He didn't insist on a full pardon for himself and his servants?”
“He asked, but we negotiated him down to charges held in abeyance. Once the crisis is over, we'll be back where we started.”
“He has no intention of paying for his crimes. If he offered that, then he has a plan to weasel out of it.”
“What he plans is one thing. What happens is another. We'll just have to foil that plan when we come to it.”
“If we can. This is handing a huge advantage to a horrible monster.”
“A monster, yes, but not the scariest one. I've spent most of my life afraid of you-know-who. I thought he was as bad as things got. And when you told me about the 'slayers' and how they fought him, I thought they might be good guys. But that's not how it's working out. He's bad; they're worse -- a threat to our very existence. They've effortlessly carved through two of the best-defended points we have, and from the sound of it, they could have gotten into Hogwarts if they'd been willing to work hard at it."
"That's far from certain. Yes, they found a vulnerability in the wards, which I've since corrected, but it would have taken hours for them to exploit it -- hours during which I and others could intervene."
"But that was with four of them. Your source said there were hundreds, right?"
"That makes enough for a contravallation force."
"You forget Fawkes."
"I suppose. That's a wildcard I'm not used to worrying about. I wouldn't care to bet our children's lives on it, though. Not if we have a choice."
"And our choice is Voldemort."
"I didn't say it was a choice I liked. He's a dark wizard, as dark as they come, but he's still a wizard. One of us. He wants to rule over us, maybe reshape us in his image, but not destroy us."
"And are you sure that's what the slayers intend? They're known as a force for good."
"Good as they see it, which makes them much harder to negotiate with than someone who is motivated by self-interest. Don't forget that all the witch-hunters of the burning times considered themselves forces for good."
“They considered themselves a force for good. Soulless vampires didn't vouch for them. I realize the irony involved, but the forces of evil often are the best at knowing who the real forces of good are.”
“Spotting total hypocrites is one thing, handling subtlety is quite another. The slayers have shown us that they consider obliviation unacceptably evil. And maybe it is evil. But it's a necessary evil. The obliviators are the heart of our society. We can't function without them. And the slayers can't tolerate them. I don't see any option for peaceful co-existance.”
“Maybe we can do without obliviators? I know plenty of mind-healers who would be happy to see that.”
“We can't. We really can't. They're secrecy's last line of defense. And they're busy. Without them, we'd be exposed within weeks.”
“Could we survive exposure?”
“I'd rather take my chances with you-know-who. Even if the old hatred has burnt out, and I doubt it has, they'll look at the history of death eaters and declare total war on wizardkind.”
“So you would make the very accusations they would destroy us for true?”
“It won't help us for them to be false. It's too late to catch you-know-who early in the war (the first war, maybe I should say), or to correct the past fifty years of tolerating low-level muggle-baiting. I'm not guessing here. I got the muggle Minister alone and away from recording devices, and gave him the truth. He started planning war against us. He was willing to talk about collaboration, but he's no occlumens. I obliviated him afterwards, of course. And you know what muggle war looks like. Even you-know-who has more restraint. There'll be nothing but dust and ash rising between hollow skeletons of buildings. The reports from Dresden --”
“I was there. I passed through just two days after the final bombing run. The chaotic death punched a hole in Grindelwald's wards. I'll never forget what I saw there. You don't need to remind me.”
“And that's the culture these slayers come from too. Total war. No restraint. Victory at all costs, no matter how long the road may be. And no matter how many bystanders get ground to dust in the process. I'm not saying I like working with you-know-who. I'm not saying I can ever forgive him. I just don't see an alternative that leaves us alive. Do you?”
“I'm working on it.”
“We don't have a lot of time.”
“I know.”* * *
Alone in his office, Albus Dumbledore let his weakness show. He dropped his head into his hands and gave himself to painful thoughts. Was there an ambiguity in what the slayers had done? Any sign that they were amenable to compromise? He didn't see one. If heroes were out to destroy his people, did that mean he had become evil? Or was it true that overzealous heroes were the worst villains of all? Grindelwald certainly met that description, but Albus had long ago learned not to view the world through that lens. Yet could allying with Voldemort ever be the right move? Was there any way for that to not turn into disaster? Was the world simply doomed?
“I just don't know which side to fight on anymore” he said aloud.
“You are the headmaster of Hogwarts,” the sorting hat reminded him, “Yours is not to fight, but to teach.”
“Can I allow the ministry to be destroyed? And the statute of secrecy with it?”
“I watched the ministry begin,” one former headmaster said, “It seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe its time is over.”
“And I hardly care for what it's become in the past century,” another portrait added “Rampantly corrupt.”
“Even so,” Albus said, “they're the core of wizarding society.”
is the core of wizarding society,” the hat said. Many portraits nodded.
“I watched that begin. A mistake, I called it. Cowardice.”
“Can we survive without it?”
“So long as Hogwarts endures, wizarding survives. So long as one generation of wizards follows another.”
“Even the bloodthirstiest of muggle warriors will hesitate to attack a school full of children.”
“Hogwarts, then,” Albus thought aloud, “Hogwarts is safest standing aside...” He paused to consider, then began again, “I cannot help but recall a saying that 'the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintained their neutrality.'”
“It's not your
neutrality you're maintaining. It's the children's. They're entitled to it. To a chance to grow up.”
“For the children, then.”
He drew out a fresh sheet of parchment. He addressed it, paused, vanished the parchment, drew out another one and began again. He loathed to even write this greeting, but for his students, he would do it.To Lord Voldemort* * *
Lord Goyle removed the last of Walden Macnair's enchanted bandages. It was one of the few things he was really good at. The wounds were fully healed, but Walden's spirit was still shaken.”
“I just keep thinking back to that fight,” he said, “She moved so fast. I though the aurors were bad, and they were bad, and when I heard about the attack on Azkaban, I thought these slayers might be good guys. But I think they're worse than the aurors. I don't know what to do.”
“What we always do,” Goyle said, “Trust in the Dark Lord. He's probably ten steps ahead of all of them. We don't need to understand it ourselves. We just need to obey.”
“That we can do,” Walden said, but he didn't sound very confident.* * *
The Daily Prophet issue announcing Voldemort's offer sat in the middle of the Council's conference table, surrounded by books and back-issues of The Prophet. Willow had made many trips to Flourish and Blotts, mostly wearing glamours. Diagrams of assertions and surmised power relationships within the wizarding world covered the whiteboards on the walls. Andrew had even attempted to sketch a Bayesian network of competing hypotheses.
“We could probably spike this alliance if we offered to work with one side against the other,” Vi said, “I'm just not sure which one.”
“There's no question the ministry are bad guys,” Willow said, “and when I met Voldemort and saw him fighting them I figured he was a good guy. But it looks like he might be ever worse.”
“Might be?” Faith said, “His servants were torturing that family for fun
. I wouldn't bet on any of the three fully recovering. And they do that routinely. This is Angelus-level evil.”
“And what fraction of Azkaban victims recover? Even in death
? At least Voldemort's victims get their proper afterlives. And routinely? The ministry does this so much it has a bureaucracy for it.”
“Are we really stuck choosing between bad guys?” Xander asked, “I mean, call me a crazy optimist, but I'm thinking there must be good guys somewhere. Maybe Dumbledore? I think he turned out to be innocent of everything.”
“Except for working with the ministry,” Willow said, “He held high office there. I can hardly call him innocent of all they did.”
“At least what they do isn't for the joy of cruelty,” Faith said, “They're trying to maintain law. There's some good purpose in it.”
“Maintain law. Like the law against acromantula smuggling? Sentient beings fleeing the destruction of their homes in Burma?”
“Some of their laws are legitimate.”
“It doesn't matter,” Buffy said, cutting off the argument with a commanding voice. “It doesn't matter who's the bad guy and who's the worse guy. We're the heroes. We beat the bad guys. And the worse guys. And we don't much care what order we do it in.”