S.P.E.W. drabble fic
Disclaimer: Anything Harry Potter-related belongs to JKR, Bloomsbury, Warner Brothers, and a zillion other people that aren't me.
"How are they any different than owls, Hermione?"
Surprised, Hermione stopped mid-word to turn and stare at Harry. "Huh?"
Harry grinned to see his normally articulate friend momentarily speechless. He repeated his question. "How are they any different than owls?"
It was a Friday night, the weekend loomed ahead of them, calling to them, and so Harry and Ron--for once--were trying to get their homework done "before the fun starts," as Ron put it. But Hermione was intent on giving them another one of her S.P.E.W. lectures, about how house elves were poor, mistreated creatures, condemned to servitude and slavery forever, and with no alternative because no one in the wizarding world cared enough to do anything about it. To say that Harry and Ron couldn't concentrate on their homework was putting it mildly.
"Different than owls?"
"Yes, Hermione, how are house elves any different than owls?"
"Well... they, they just...are!" Hermione sputtered.
Harry raised a brow at her. "Oh? Indeed? Then please enlighten Ron and me how 'the plight of those poor house elves' is all that much different from the use of an owl."
"What are you talking about, Harry? Owls are not at all like house elves. Owls aren't enslaved!"
"Oh, really? Ok, then, let's compare. We use owls to deliver our mail. We use house elves to make our food and clean our houses. Hmmm, so far, it still looks like they both provide a service for us."
"Yes, but owls aren't enslaved, Harry. They choose to help us with our mail."
"Really? So Hedwig chose to be bought by Hagrid to become my pet? Pigwidgeon chose to be bought by Sirius, to go to Ron?" Hermione opened her mouth. "Yes, Crookshanks probably chose you, by argument that he didn't scratch the heck out of you when you bought him. You bought him, Hermione; he's your possession. Same as house elves are the property of the families that they serve."
Hermione was getting flustered. "Owls and familiars are pets, Harry. House elves are servants, slaves."
"What is a pet, exactly? What are our responsibilities to pets?"
"Well, we're supposed to care for them, see they have enough to eat and drink, see that they have a decent place to live, and we're supposed to care about them."
"I do all of these things for Hedwig, don't I?"
"Yes, Harry, you do."
"So wouldn't you say that Hedwig likes being my pet? That's why she helps me by delivering my mail?"
"Well... I suppose so."
"It's not usual for owls to deliver letters; otherwise, they would do it for Muggles as well. But owls choose to help wizards by delivering their mail. They choose to be used for such a purpose. Otherwise they'd just fly off and not come back. That's why you have to be nice to owls, so that they want to deliver your mail."
"Exactly, Harry! You have to be nice to owls, but house elves are enslaved, so you don't have to be nice to them! You can order them around, kick them, beat them, and they have no way of getting away or fighting back."
"Let's move back to the enslavement issue, Hermione. How many house elves have you ever met?"
"Well, Winky, at the Quidditch World Cup. And you told me all about Dobby."
"Ok, and who were the owners of those elves?"
"Well, Malfoy owned Dobby, and Crouch owned Winky."
"And one of those was a Death Eater, and the other was so narrow-minded and cruel that he sent his own son to Azkaban--rightly, of course, but you see my point."
"So you've only seen two examples of how House Elves could be treated. You've never been down to the kitchens with me and Ron. Dobby and Winky are pariahs, Hermione. The other elves want nothing to do with them. Winky drowns her sorrows in Butterbeer; she can't stand the shame of being free..."
"That's just because she has been conditioned to think that way," Hermione interjected.
"But the other elves are happy, Hermione. They're happy doing what they do. In fact, they're sad if they have nothing to do. You've never seen the Hogwarts elves, how good they have it. You've seen two examples of poor creatures treated miserably, and you made the assumption that the entire race was treated like that. Do you really think that Malfoy treats his owl all that well? That he converses with it, pets it, cares for it like I do for Hedwig? I highly doubt it. He probably doesn't give it a thought other than when it's giving him a letter, or he wants one delivered. You can't base your judgment of the entire society of house elves based on two examples."
"Let me ask you this: if you manage to free them, then what?"
"What do you mean?"
"What will happen to them then?"
"Well, they could get paying jobs."
"Doing what? What are they equipped for?"
"Just because they're small--"
"I'm not talking about size, Hermione! Who would hire them? And hire them to do what? If people could get used to the idea that they could hire house elves--and they wouldn't belong to houses anymore, so I guess that name would be moot--and then people began to hire them, imagine what they'd hire them to do. House elves don't want wages; they want to belong to a family. So if they were freed and had to receive payment, they'd probably ask for a price so low that stores would hire them over humans in an instant! Suddenly witches and wizards are being fired because the jobs that they've been doing can now be done by house elves, who want a lot less pay."
"And what happens to the economy then? Witches and wizards suddenly find a huge lack of jobs. They no longer have any income, so they stop spending as much. They stop spending, stores find they are selling less. They sell less, their profits go down. Profits go down, they fire more workers, leading to more wizards and witches out of work. Eventually it gets bad enough that they have to fire the house elves, too."
Ron and Hermione just stared at Harry in shock. Hermione found her voice first. "Where did you learn about all that?" Harry just shrugged. "And anyway, I highly doubt a depression would result from hiring house elves. And if it did, it couldn't be as bad as all that."
Harry shrugged again. "Fine, but where will the house elves live? There's no apartment building in the world that would rent an apartment out without receiving a down payment, and the house elves currently have no money, so how are they going to make that payment? So where will they live until they have a job--a job which, let's not forget, once belonged to a witch or wizard."
"Well people would have to pay the house elves back wages, that's all."
Ron snorted and actively joined the conversation for the first time. "Ha, yeah right, 'Mione. Ok, not only do you lose your servant who's been a part of your family for years, but you have to pay them on their way out the door... Yeah, that would go over real well." Hermione shot him a glare that would have frozen the Sahara.
Harry turned her attention back to him. "Ron brings up a good point, Hermione. These elves have been with their families for their entire lives. They know things, family secrets, that these families wouldn't want the whole world to know. And once the elves are free to go elsewhere, when they no longer have that binding family loyalty--the kind that made Dobby hurt himself whenever he tried to warn me, going against Malfoy's orders--then what's to stop the house elves from blabbing those secrets? Most people aren't going to want to take that risk."
"Well they can just hire back their house elf. If they have so much family loyalty anyway, then they'll want to come back and work for them." Hermione crossed her arms huffily. "And that would solve the elves-working-in-stores issue, too."
"Yeah, that sounds great, 'Mione. I'm sure that, given a chance, Dobby would willingly go back to work for the Malfoys." Harry rolled his eyes. "It's in the nature of house elf magic that makes them unable to speak or act against their family, Hermione, not any innate desire. Once that magic is removed, whatever abused house elves there are are going to want to get far away from their masters... And those masters aren't going to want to allow that. They'll most likely kill the elves." Hermione paled. "Did you think that far?"
Hermione shook her head weakly. Harry sighed. "Hermione, it's not that I don't understand where you're coming from. Enforced labor with no way out is not something that anyone should have to endure. No matter what their species. But labor happily given, labor given freely, is different. You want to take away the joy that these creatures get in doing what they're best at. Being bonded to a family gives a house elf a sense of belonging, a sense of family. Even those bonded with places like Hogwarts have a sense of family, they're Hogwarts Family. And you want to take that away from all of them because you feel that it's wrong."
Hermione still had that stubborn tilt to her chin, her arms over her chest. Even seated she seemed to be saying Your arguments are good, but I don't want to be convinced.
Harry sighed. "Look, Hermione. You know I'll support you in whatever you do, but if you really want to give this S.P.E.W. thing a chance, then you should consider everything I've said. I think that you'll find that giving this up might be the wisest course of action." She started to protest. "But if anyone can think of a way to make this work--and not result in massive amounts of house elf deaths, huge amounts of wizards and witches losing their jobs, and the economy going down the drain--then I know it's you. You've got the best mind here at Hogwarts, including some of the teachers--"
"Like Trewlaney," mumbled Ron.
"--and so if anyone can make it work, it's you. But you need to consider every step from beginning to end and not just focus on Step One and your personal outrage."
Harry waited until the light of a challenge had overtaken the glint of stubbornness in Hermione's eyes and she nodded, before he continued. "In the meantime, Ron and I are going to get back to our homework. There's Hogsmead tomorrow and a pickup game of Quidditch on Sunday."