Chapter 29 – Freedom to live
The hero bestows the boon to his fellow man.
(Joseph Campbell: The Hero with a Thousand Faces)
Thank you, Melusin, as always Thank you for your patience, your advice and for being a friend.
"Lucius is doing what?" Severus almost choked on his coffee.
His wife of nine years smiled benignly and handed him a napkin. "He's running for Minister of Magic."
"You can't be serious."
"It's true. He's bought several pages in the Morning Quibbles and The Quibbler to advertise his campaign. Isn't it wonderful?"
"I thought you favoured Kingsley," he replied.
"He's a good Minister, but he is too honest," said Hermione. "He lets himself be bossed around by his staff, and most of them are old school. They're the sort of administrators who hate change and try to prevent it as much as possible. They'd never succeed with that if Lucius were minister. He has just the right amount of vanity, dishonesty and charisma."
"Good point," Severus conceded. "And since you are honest to a fault, you don't want to run yourself, isn't that it? But are you absolutely certain?"
"Just as sure as you are that you won't," Hermione countered, shuddering.
During the past nine years, they had both been asked several times to take up the position of Minister of Magic––just as every other hero of the second war had been asked––but they'd found that neither of them had the taste for politics.
Severus chuckled. "Being Headmaster is as far as my ambition goes, as you well know. And Minerva wouldn't be happy..."
"I know," Hermione said with a grin. "She wouldn't enjoy being grandmum to Harry's offspring half as much if she had to worry about a new Headmaster. She still cares, despite being retired. And anyway, Headmaster Snape sounds much better than Minister Snape if you ask me."
"Well, we'll keep an eye on Lucius if he wins. You know that he's a bit scared of you?"
"Really? That's good. I suppose he knows that he can't buy the Morning Quibbles."
Severus nodded, glancing at Hermione. Seeing her dig heartily into her breakfast made him once again thank Merlin, fate and whatever gods there might be for bringing them together. Nine years after the war, their life was good. The wizarding world was slowly changing. The magical government had opened up and become more transparent. People were even getting used to the revolutionary idea of general elections. This change of attitude had mostly been brought about by the press with no little thanks to Lola, who had resumed publishing her column in Witch Weekly, and Rita, who had published her own book about the war.
Hermione had become Luna's colleague and co-owner of The Quibbler. Luna ran the traditional edition, The Quibbler Weekly, and Hermione ran a daily morning paper, Morning Quibbles. After working at the Ministry for a few years, Hermione had decided that, although she liked administration, the bureaucracy at the Ministry was stifling her. Working as a journalist gave her a way of influencing people's views: there was a power there that couldn't be underestimated. Hermione had long known that the Daily Prophet needed a serious competitor, and with her Morning Quibbles, she had risen to that challenge. And now they were calling for candidates for the election.
The wizarding world of Britain enjoyed their first general election so much that they made a holiday out of it. Lucius won by a landslide. His role in the Underground had been made public, but his reputation among some of his peers of old, purebloods of the slightly more liberal type, led to a general acceptance by a wide range of the populace. And Lucius didn't disappoint. With an amazing prowess at diplomacy, he convinced the Wizengamot of the changes the Underground had deemed necessary so many years ago. Muggle parents and children were now introduced into the Magical world as soon as it became clear that the child had magical talent. There was no surprise visit from a Hogwarts teacher when the children turned eleven; the introduction happened much more gradually. Wizarding children, on the other hand, were introduced to Muggle culture through an exchange programme with the parents of the Muggleborns.
As spectacular as that change was, what was to come next would be the acid test for the new tolerant attitude of the wizarding world. Magical Beings had waited patiently for a change to their status and now wanted to have more than a few cosmetic concessions. They wanted to be on the same level as wizarding folk.
"I don't know," Lucius Malfoy said. "Maybe that step is too drastic. Maybe we should introduce these concessions more gradually." They had met in Malfoy Manor for lunch and a long talk.
"I don't think so," Hermione said passionately, ignoring Narcissa Malfoy's haughty sneer and waving her fork at Lucius like a wand. "They've been waiting far too long. They are like us; they need to be given the same rights."
"They aren't really like us," Lucius protested.
Severus sat back with a small smile. He knew what was coming and didn't envy Lucius. Hermione had poured all the passion that had once gone into S.P.E.W. into the campaign for equal rights for all magical beings.
"Of course they are like us. Have you forgotten that the term 'magical brethren' isn't an empty one? Without their blood, we couldn't have woken Harry. I can't believe that the average wizard and witch still doesn't know how closely related we all are. There's been continuous interbreeding, for heaven's sake."
"Still, I don't think that…"
"This isn't a matter of thinking; it's a matter of knowing," Hermione all but yelled. "I can't believe how ignorant people still are. How ignorant they are kept. You're still suppressing knowledge for power, Lucius, don't you see?"
"Actually, I don't. When I say that we are different, how am I suppressing knowledge?"
"Is anybody actually trying to find out about our differences and similarities in a logical, recorded, scientific way? No? See…" Hermione leaned back triumphantly. "It's because there is no scientific curiosity in our world. It's never been supported, has it?"
"That's unfair. I've always felt that a proper education is necessary. I always wanted Draco to be the best…"
"You wanted him to be the best for his status, but not for knowledge's sake. Don't any of you ever want to KNOW? How is it possible that scientific curiosity is so rare among wizards, that it's reserved for people who are seen as oddballs, like Luna?"
"And what does that have to do with magical beings?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "There is so little true curiosity about how magic works, about how the world works… Wizards seem restricted to very basic research about how wizarding magic works and nothing else. But how about the biology of our fellow magical beings? Why can we have children with Veelas, with Goblins? Are centaurs related to House Elves? Are Goblins related to dwarves? How does wizarding biology work? How does magic affect that biology? And how about Muggles?
"We eat, we sleep, we make love, just like our non-magical counterpart. We have similar values, needs, wants, a somewhat similar society. Where, exactly, is the difference? We share a planet. We live under the impression that our magic is more powerful than any Muggle technology, but is that true? Could we defend ourselves against nuclear attack? What happens when Muggles destroy the environment? How could we live with ourselves if we don't intervene?"
Hermione had to stop to breathe. Lucius took the opportunity to get a word in.
"And if Goblins have wands, we'll have another Goblin rebellion on our hands."
"Do you really believe that? They will be busy learning how to use the wands, how to make them and to explore how their magic differs from ours. What do you think? Will they want to have a seat in the Wizengamot? Could a Goblin become Minister of Magic? A centaur?"
"I think what you really want is a University for Magic, Hermione. There, all these questions can be answered. For the time being, the ban on wands for anyone other than magical humans should be lifted, that much we can agree on. Likewise, they shall be granted the safe habitats some of them require."
"Safe habitats?" Severus hadn't heard about that yet.
"Centaurs, giants and merpeople want safe habitats. If we grant them that, and I'm inclined to support their request, they will become the protectors and keepers of forest, mountain and lake, and that should be acknowledged by all of us. They will set their own rules in their regions, but they will be asked to grant access, which they can withdraw if they feel the need to do so. The area granted will be based on mutual contract, not to be broken by either side without repercussions. They will be responsible for the roads that grant safe passage for all beings. They can either tend to these roads and keep hostels and staff and equipment by themselves—which would create a decent income, which in turn means taxes––or they can contract it out to other beings. How they distribute their areas among themselves is their concern."
"You did put a lot of thought into that, after all." Hermione beamed at Lucius. "And how about house-elves? What have you cooked up for them?"
Lucius gave Hermione his most charming smile, and she wasn't immune to that charm. Severus noticed with amusement how she had warmed to her former enemy.
"The general tenor is that house-elves don't want to be free. Which is true, for some, because freedom is inconvenient and hard work at times. What we need to do is to work out a contract that will allow them to bind themselves to a family without this being slavery and an irreversible bond. They should be able to give the family clothes as well, as a group or as individuals. This will rarely happen when they are well treated, but can happen if the need arises. There should also be different types of contract for those elves used to the idea of being free and who want to take their affairs into their own hands, and for those who rely on a family to take care of them until they learn, if they are capable, to look out for themselves."
"This all sounds almost too good to be true," Severus said. "And hearing that from you... remembering how you used to treat Dobby..."
"People can change if they want to," Lucius said with a wide smile, all benevolent politician.
Or at least pretend to if it is in their own best interest, Severus thought, amused.
"Well, it's not something we can do in a month, or even a year. But with patience and the willingness to resolve these issues once and for all, we should get somewhere."
"So what about that university? Were you serious?" Hermione got back to the issue that had excited her the most.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I was," Lucius said. "Dumbledore bequeathed the major part of his fortune for just such a purpose, and he wants to see it used while he still lives. Potter is in favour, too, and he would lend his name and donate a portion of his money towards a thorough and safe exploration of the difference between benevolent and predatory magic. The Potter Faculty for Defence against the Dark Arts, if you will."
"Potter?" Severus asked, surprised.
"Yes. He's always been fascinated by this idea, but never admitted it," Hermione confirmed.
"All right, let's do it, then," Lucius proclaimed. "We'll establish the First Magical University of Britain with you and your friends as the founders."
"Founders. We are founders," Hermione whispered, much later, when they had gone to bed. "We're the founders of the first magical university in Britain. How's that for a career?"
"Not too bad," Severus mumbled, trying to kiss her ear, but getting hair in his mouth. "And why not?"
"I expect we'll see a lot of changes over the next fifty or sixty years."
Severus agreed. The world could completely change in that time. If Muggles could achieve that much change in fifty years, why not magical folk? And if it worked out for them, other countries might follow. But that was a problem for other people and another generation.
Thoroughly content and happy, Severus opened his arms to Hermione, who leaned back against him. We've come a long way, he thought contentedly before drifting off to sleep.
A/N: Thank you, dear readers, for staying with me despite all the delays. Please keep reviewing stories you enjoy, because these reviews are huge motivators for writers and about the only award a fanfic writer gets. How else would we know if anyone actually reads what we write? Hit counts don't tell us that.