Chapter 1: Life on the other side
The strangest thing about his return to muggle life, mused the last student out of the laboratory, was how close and distant the ongoing war in Wizarding Britain felt at the same time. When he'd graduated from Hogwarts in 1977, Graham Longshaw had, like every muggleborn in his year, been taken aside – in his case, by Professor Flitwick, his head of house – and given the firm instruction that whatever plans he might have had for a life in the wizarding world should be set aside. If muggleborns wanted to contribute to the fight against Voldemort, that was well and good, and Dumbledore would be able to offer them a degree of protection; if they didn't, they should return to the muggle world, remain vigilant, and avoid detection as best they could until – with any luck – the situation improved.
That said, Graham thought, it had been nearly three years now, and his irregular access to the Prophet showed that Voldemort remained stubbornly alive, and his supporters as vocal as they had always been. It certainly didn't feel as if things would be over by Christmas.
While Voldemort's war had gifted the muggle world with a steady stream of headline-grabbing stories – unidentified serial killers on the loose, bombings which the IRA wouldn't own up to, a disturbing number of disasters and unexplained deaths – the sporadic contact which Graham still had with the magical world indicated that the muggle world was, statistically, a far safer place for him to live.
For all his distaste for the situation which faced magical Britain, the 'disappearance' of a muggleborn friend who had graduated the year before Graham had reinforced a notion which percolated for most of his final year: namely that, at least for the foreseeable future, all that he wanted to do with the magical world was to leave it. (This was a notion further heightened by the reappearance of his missing friend, or, more precisely, of about two thirds of his missing friend, in the spring before Graham took his NEWTs.)
Copious use of the Confundus charm, along with a summer of desperate catch-up work, had secured a place at Oxford, where he'd continued with this crushing work schedule (just like everybody else studying Medicine there).
By now, Graham had reached the Lamb and Flag, his regular haunt on Friday evenings. After ordering his usual (whichever pint offered the best pence-per-unit ratio) he found his way to the table at the back where a few of his friends were nursing their own drinks, already deep into the griping which characterised most student conversation.
"I swear, this is the first time I've been able to get out in weeks! We're being worked to the bone. Literally to the bone; I'll bite my hand off before I sit through another anatomy lecture, I swear-"
"Oh, stop being such a wuss, Dave. You've literally been out three nights this week, and I know for a fact that you've half-arsed the essay we were set for our tutorial – oh, evening, Graham!"
This last pronunciation came from Jessica, who – along with her now-chastened boyfriend, David – were Graham's best friends.
"Evening, guys." Graham said, pulling up a chair. "What's the domestic this time – anything more exciting than Dave's creative approach to work?"
That, of course, set off a whole new round of teasing which marked the start of a pleasantly unproductive evening. Eventually, though, the closing bell heralded the group's splitting up; after David said his goodbyes and headed for his college, only Jessica and Graham remained.
Once they were alone, a little of the levity left Jessica's posture, and she sighed heavily as they walked towards the flat they shared.
"Have you heard the news?" she asked Graham. "Apparently, the aurors found another two muggleborns yesterday – Ellis and Smithson, from the year below us. God, pretending to be cheerful has been a bastard today."
Jessica and Graham had both been in the same year at Hogwarts, and had planned the move to Oxford together; their then-relationship, the original motive for the joint move, had quickly petered out into a much more comfortable friendship.
"Seriously? God, what a shame. Did you hear what happened to them? Actually, never mind - I really don't want to know."
The horror of more muggleborn deaths had become more of a dull ache than any particular shock; the fact that Philip Smithson (and, given how close the two had been, probably Charles Ellis as well) had been so eager to work for Dumbledore's cause had effectively rendered it a question of how long they had before they ran out of luck; Death Eaters tended to injure or capture half-bloods and purebloods, but they usually left just about enough muggleborn behind for reassembly with the help of a forensic expert.
Given how small the wizarding population was, it was a sensible procedure. After all, any conqueror needed someone to rule, and, if they killed all wizards with the fervour they used to pursue muggleborns, that population would rapidly evaporate.
They walked in contemplative silence until they reached their flat; once they were inside, Graham drew his wand and gestured to summon a bottle of Firewhiskey and a pair of shot glasses; as she returned from checking the flat's wards, Jessica accepted the glass which had been eagerly poured for her by the animated bottle, and sank onto the sofa next to Graham. The two sat in silence for a moment as they sipped their drinks; another gesture from Graham lit an unfueled fire.
"It's just so disheartening." murmured Jessica. "I know that there's a good number of us that went into hiding, and there are a few muggleborns that've stuck around in the wizarding world, but – well, do you actually know anyone who's still able to live a proper life there?"
"Well, there's Evans," Graham offered. "She's still published in the charms column of the Prophet now and then, isn't she?"
"And she's been the personal target of You-Know-Who twice, for Christ's sake! Not to mention the fact that she's probably working with Dumbledore behind the scenes along with Potter. At least she's standing up to him at all, I suppose."
It was an old argument, if it could even be called an argument. Both Jessica and Graham knew that their decision to go into hiding had probably saved their lives. There had been eleven muggleborns in their year, and they knew that four of them were dead; another one had "disappeared", as a brief notice in the Prophet had noted a few months earlier, and the remaining six, the two of them included, had sought out new lives. Graham had been able to get some support in transitioning back to the muggle world from his parents, who had moved to New Zealand in his third year; but for Jessica, who had been orphaned at the age of eight, the pain and frustration of being rejected from the new world she'd made her home to return to one which seemed to have rejected her long ago still resurfaced from time to time.
After a brief pause, Jessica spoke again. "The thing that really bothers me more than anything else about the Vol- sorry, about the You-Know-Who situation is that I can't imagine anything is really going to change, even if Dumbledore eventually manages to defeat him. Just look at Minchum; he was elected with sixty-five percent of the vote and he's hardly any less popular today!"
Harold Minchum had been appointed Minister for Magic in 1975 after running on a ticket which promised to restrict the occupations which muggleborns were allowed to occupy on the basis that certain institutions of magical life – chief among them the ministry, spell creation, and healthcare – could be irrevocably transformed by an influx of wizards not raised in the magical world. He had decried such 'barbaric' muggle inventions as operating theatres and IV drips to prove the destructive and terrifying effects which muggle influence could wreak. His campaign, carried out amid a time of rising anti-muggle tension and terrorist attacks, proved a resounding success: and, true to his word, in his first weeks in office he quickly passed legislation which included the banning of muggleborns from the profession of Healer.
Just like that, as Madam Pomfrey had frankly, though not unkindly, informed him, Graham's ambition to work as a healer had been scuppered; his decision to study muggle medicine was as a direct result of that disappointment.
There was another silence, which the bottle used to refill both their glasses.
"The problem's one of demographics, in the end." said Graham. "I mean, if you think about it for a minute, there were, what, seventy or eighty people in our year? And the average wizard can live to be a hundred and twenty, hundred and thirty. So you end up with perhaps a bit under ten thousand wizards in the UK. And there are probably seventy-odd muggleborns in Hogwarts at any one time, so perhaps one or two thousand in the whole country?"
"And that's not even counting the number of muggleborns that leave the magical world, emigrate, or get killed." Jessica interjected.
"Yeah, exactly. So you end up with this situation where the muggle-born population is small enough that they have very little political power, but significant enough that they're always ripe to be scapegoated. Even if Dumbledore were to win the war, it'll just mean that we'd be living in a state controlled by someone who doesn't mind sending muggleborns to their death instead of someone who actively wants to kill them."
Jessica snorted at that; she'd lost most of her sympathy for Dumbledore's resistance movement long ago, and it was eroded a little more every time she learned that another of her friends had "vanished". She took another sip of her Firewhiskey.
"Well, there's not much to be done to increase it, is there? I'm sure that you'd be a wonderful parent, Gray, but I've certainly not got any plans to pop out sprogs for the cause any time soon -" (Graham couldn't help but laugh at that) "- and even if I was, even if every muggle-born was – it's not like it'd be fast enough to make enough of a difference to the wizarding population at any real pace; and frankly, I have absolutely no interest in consigning my kids to life as second class citizens."
Once more, silence descended on the two of them: as it always seemed to with wizarding politics, the conversation had come to a dead end.
Eventually, though, Graham had an odd thought.
"Jess," he said, "have you ever heard of BPAS?" Seeing her shake her head, he carried on. "Basically, they're a gynaecological organisation I learnt a bit about in my Ob/Gyn module – so they do birth control, and so on. But they also do, uh, sperm donation." This was, understandably, not a conversation that Jessica had expected.
"I'll have you know I've no problems in that regard, thank you so very much!" she retorted, but Graham was quick to mollify her. "No, no, it's not that, I didn't mean to – but just imagine if it was a wizard that donated to them. In fact, imagine if you were able to replace all of their donations with, ah, magical offerings. A bit less than a thousand children last year were born from donors; and I know that most children of muggleborns are magical themselves. The odds would be pretty good that most of them would have the spark! Or whatever selector it is that gives people magic, anyway. As far as I can tell, it's not as if there's a limited number of magic kids that a given wizard can have."
"Hah! I've got no idea how you'd even do that, but it'd be a shock to the magical system, wouldn't it? Imagine how long the Sorting would take with ten times as many pupils – or how high Flitwick'd have to pile his books so that the whole class could see him!" Both wizards found this highly amusing, and, as the bottle decided that they'd had enough to drink and floated back to its shelf, they agreed that this was enough silliness for the night; after one final toast to the memory of Smithson and Ellis, they retired to bed.
As he nursed his hangover over a cup of coffee (mercifully brewed with a few muttered words and, thank Merlin, no physical effort) the following day, though, Graham's drunken idea didn't leave him. More accurately, the idea of muggleborns (or would they technically be half-bloods, he wondered) outnumbering purebloods ten to one was proving to be a remarkably resilient one.
Clearly something of this was showing on his face, as the first thing that Jessica did when she came into the kitchenette a few minutes later was to look at him, then let out a groan entirely unrelated to her alcohol-induced headache.
"You've had an idea, haven't you?" Before he could ask about her newly acquired deductive capabilities, she answered for him: "I think it's a Ravenclaw thing. You just get this look on your face, like you're imagining something very odd and probably very troublesome, I guess?"
"Well," began Graham defensively, "It's not troublesome, exactly – it's more an idea that could save the wizarding world. Or change it, at least. You know what I was saying, last night, about sperm banks?"
Jessica snorted with laughter.
"No. No way in hell, Gray; that's just such a terrible idea in so many ways, and I know you know that." As she talked, Jessica was assembling herself a Bloody Mary with sheer force of willpower and a little wand-work. "I mean, set aside the practical difficulties for a minute, and just think of the ethical issues! You'd be violating thousands of pregnancies, not to mention the institution itself, and, well, just think about what you'd be imposing on the children!" Guiding a crowning stick of celery into her remedy, she joined Graham at the table.
"Well, that's the thing, Jess. I mean, is it actually that horrible of a thing, to be a wizard? Setting aside the magical powers and so on for a second, what we'd be offering parents - yes, not with their consent, I know - what we'd be offering is the opportunity for their kids to live to be maybe a hundred and fifty years old; to have lives which will, by any probabilistic measure, be more enriched and exciting than they would otherwise enjoy; and even if some of them turned out to be Squibs, they'd suffer none of the stigma, and would still get some of the improved life expectancy. I mean, it's a win-win, isn't it?"
Jessica stared at him for a few moments until Graham sighed. "Okay, okay. It's a win-win apart from the fact that they'd be entering a world where they're actively discriminated against, where half the population hate their very existence, and where a terrifying lunatic's dead set on killing them. You're right, of course. I know that you're right. But still..."
The two of them sat in silence as they finished their drinks (an experiment as to whether Graham could handle cereal in the state he was in having proven dramatically unsuccessful) before Jessica proclaimed that she finally felt human enough to venture into the wider world, and that she was "going to meet Dave for a proper breakfast, so don't have any more Ravenclaw moments before I get back!", leaving Graham at the mercy of his thoughts.
Although she'd suffered a far harsher loss than he had in the car crash that had taken her parents away from her, Jessica had still taken well enough to life in a less judgemental muggle England. Graham knew that she was serious enough in her relationship with David that she was starting to think about popping the question, or at least hoping that he would; he wasn't quite sure how she was going to breach the other 'M' topic, though.
Even if they'd quickly realised that things simply weren't working out for them romantically, he and Jess were both glad to have someone with whom they could share the part of their lives that magic was; hiding it from the person she loved was taking its toll on her, and it certainly explained her reluctance to accept the idea that imposing that same dual existence on children could ever be a good idea.
The problem was that, in some ways, Jess was absolutely right. It would at the very least be immoral to consign thousands of children to the potential threats that muggle-raised wizards would face in a world as hostile as theirs; and three years studying Medicine left him in no doubts of the ethical murkiness of his proposition when it came to consent.
But Graham was just as certain that, if nothing changed, there could be no world in which British muggleborns might shed their pariah status once and for all. In the same way that Jewish people had been a convenient target for persecution throughout history whenever societal tensions came to a peak, be it due to famine or religious vitriol, muggleborns would always be a convenient target for a demagogue to turn against whenever the magical world needed a scapegoat to blame its latest crisis on.
Most of the muggleborns he'd known about in his early years at Hogwarts had ended up working in the magical equivalent to working class jobs: as factory-line potions makers, shop staff, or in minor administrative work. God knew what their status would be if Voldemort won – would they be allowed to live at all, and if they were, would they be allowed wands, or education, or afforded any life beyond indentured slavery? Something had to change. If it didn't, things would be the same for any children he or Jessica might have – and all the new muggleborns with the misfortune to manifest magical powers would be forced to enter a world that sought at its kindest to exploit their existence and at its cruellest to end it.
But if they were given some magical support before going to Hogwarts, if they were protected from the wizarding world for long enough, if -
All of a sudden, Graham was gripped with excitement; although its pieces were still slotting into place, he had the beginnings of a plan. He rushed to his bedroom to dig through his trunk, ignoring his mirror as it tutted over his appearance and complete lack of proper etiquette; a minute later, he remembered that he was a wizard, summoned the letter he had been looking for, and rushed to the telephone. He dialled the neatly written-down number, and drummed his hand against his thigh impatiently; the phone on the other end rang for some time before being answered.
"Hello – is that Lily?" he said. "It's Graham Longshaw – from Charms Club? You posted me your number last year in case I needed to get into touch with you, given that I don't have an owl." Graham paused to listen. "No, no, everything's fine, it's just excitement that's given me nerves. You see, I've had an idea that I think you're going to want to hear, but I suspect I'm going to need your help with it..."