Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Also, this fic is based on Aya Macchiato's story 'Harry Potter and the Gift of the Morrighan'. With permission!
A Necessary Gift: A Harry Potter Story
Chapter Twenty Five
The nature of Slytherin House meant that the common room was more of a place to 'see and be seen' rather than a comfortable space in which to relax. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, however, and that meant that all the Slytherins from third year and up were in the village, leaving the dungeons almost deserted.
The second years had taken advantage of the absence of the older years to commandeer the table and armchairs next to the fire, where they were studying in companionable silence. Well, relatively companionable, Harry thought as he looked over to where Hermione sat as far away from him as it was possible to get. She'd been ignoring him for a while now, though whether out of anger or hurt or embarrassment, Harry wasn't certain. He'd lost any faith in his ability to guess what she was thinking.
"Finally, I've finished!" Nott threw down his quill and massaged his hand to relieve the strain. "Three rolls of parchment for Professor Snape and two for McGonagall."
"Good for you," Draco muttered sulkily, still with a mountain of homework in front of him.
Nott ignored him and instead looked over to where Hermione was reading a novel (George Orwell's 1984, Harry was trying not to read any deeper meaning into her choice). "It took me forever – it's amazing how you manage to finish everything so quickly," he said admiringly.
Hermione looked rather surprised at the praise but smiled at the Slytherin boy. "Thank you, Theodore."
"Orion has also finished everything," Draco was quick to point out, gesturing to where Harry sat nearest the fire. He'd rushed through his homework as usual and was reading a rather depressing letter from Sirius – it seemed that Voldemort's political career was off to a flying start.
Hermione pointedly turned back to her book.
"Need any help, anybody?" Harry asked, looking round at his housemates in the hoped of a distraction. His friendship with Hermione might be on very shaky ground, but he was determined to remain on good terms with the rest of his housemates.
"No thank you, Orion," Daphne said with a pleasant smile, casting Hermione a quick glance. "Although it is very kind of you to offer. You're a true gentlewizard."
Harry didn't quite know how to respond to that and so said nothing, only bowing his head graciously in acknowledgment. He'd seen Arcturus do that on certain occasions and thought it looked like a good way of avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.
It didn't deter Daphne from continuing, however. "Please pass on my congratulations in your letter to your father, by the way. I hear that Paterfamilias Black is well thought of amongst the Wizengamot."
"How would you know? Your parents aren't part of it," Draco was quick to point out. "My father on the other hand is one of the leading members."
"There was an article in the Daily Prophet's political section, if you must know," Daphne said coldly.
"Really?" Hermione asked, looking up. She'd apparently not yet abandoned her crush on the handsome Sirius Black.
"Yes, you can borrow it if you want," Daphne told her. "It has quite a well-written overview of the political process of the Wizengamot and its history."
Hermione glanced at Orion before turning back to the other girl. "Thank you, I'd like that. I know most of that information already though. There are currently fifty-three members of the Wizengamot and Professor Dumbledore is the Chief Warlock, which means that he presides over every gathering."
"Ah yes, Granger, it's obvious you understand the basics," drawled Draco.
"I also know that the Wizengamot is the main legislative body and court of law," Hermione said. "Which means that it not only makes the laws but is in charge of enforcing them, giving it extensive power over the lives of every magical citizen despite most being banned from fair representation." Her tone of voice made it very clear what she thought of that.
"Muggleborns aren't banned from joining the Wizengamot," Harry said firmly. "Although I agree that it's unfair that magical beings don't have a voice on it."
"You think they should all be given seats? Even werewolves?" Daphne asked, sounding faintly horrified.
"Especially werewolves, since they still live amongst ordinary wizard society," Harry said. "I doubt the centaurs and mermen care what a bunch of old wizards say."
"Muggleborns might not be banned but we're hardly welcomed with open arms, are we?" Hermione said.
"Well I must say you're doing a very good job of showing why that would be the case," Draco said with a sneer before turning back to Harry. "Really though, Orion, do you honestly believe that beasts like werewolves should be accepted?"
He nodded. "I do."
"Yet you don't think muggleborns should have more of a say?" demanded Hermione.
"What I believe is that all magic should be valued equally, no matter who wields it," Harry said. "And Draco, just think about what would happen if you were bitten. Would you really consider yourself as nothing more than a mindless animal?"
"Well…" Draco frowned. "I suppose some werewolves might be all right. The pureblooded ones anyway."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ridiculous," she sniffed.
Draco glared at her before deliberately turning his back. "The more I think about it, the more I agree with you, Orion," he said. "Werewolves would at least understand our ways. I'll mention it to father."
Harry got the distinct impression that Draco was only agreeing out of a desire to prove how much better he was as a friend compared to Hermione. Whatever his motives, Harry would take what he could get.
He and Hermione hadn't properly talked since their last explosive argument but that didn't stop Hermione from bringing up the subject of muggleborn rights whenever she could. From what he'd seen and heard, Harry gathered that SPELL was steadily growing in popularity. That was probably partly due to the social side of the club, with Dean Thomas organising weekly soccer matches and the muggleborn Ravenclaws starting a regular poker night (it seemed Hermione disapproved of the gambling, but was convinced to go along with it for the sake of 'muggleborn solidarity'). Harry was pretty certain that the current trend in wizarding politics was another reason for the surge in membership, however.
He'd been receiving owls from Sirius after every Wizengamot meeting and the news was far from encouraging. Together they'd come up with some small changes they wanted to implement to test the waters and put them in a better position if Voldemort every revealed himself, but Sirius' every suggestion had been shot down for one reason or another. The so-called 'goblin crisis' had led to the Ministry budget being cut substantially, leaving very little money for training new Aurors or updating the wards around the building. Meanwhile Voldemort, with the help of various Death Eaters, was using his new seat on the Wizengamot to put a stop to any attempt at making criminal trials more thorough or impartial. Finally, pretty much everyone was united in dismissing any hint of hiring more muggleborns or introducing legislation to fight the nepotism that was rife within the Ministry.
The one bright point was that they'd had some success in reducing the prejudice against werewolves, with Lucius Malfoy even going so far as to publicly admit that the invention of the Wolfsbane Potion meant that some of their current laws should perhaps be reconsidered. Further than that, however, no one was prepared to go.
Harry did his best to reply to Sirius with encouragement and new ideas, but was also trying to juggle Quidditch, tutoring sessions with Neville, and his own research and spell practice. On the face of things Quidditch was perhaps a waste of time, but it let him be on friendly terms with several of the older Slytherins. They all had ambitions for when they finished Hogwarts - Adrian Pucey wanted to become a Hit Wizard and Marcus Flint was aiming to join the Montrose Magpies as soon as he got his NEWTs – which made them good people to know. In his old world Harry had only ever had a small circle of close friends and hadn't made any effort to get to know anyone influential, but this time he was purposefully building up a network of contacts in the hopes of gaining support for the war he was sure would come.
He had the occasional crisis of conscience (was he being manipulative? was he tricking people? was he turning into someone he hated?) but really he was only doing the same as every other Slytherin, even if his adult mind gave him a slight advantage over the others. His new status as the Black heir also helped, since Harry had definitely noticed that his housemates were now more prepared to listen to him and his opinions. He was careful not to rock the boat too much though, mostly talking about the importance of protecting all magical blood and how terrible it was that so many pureblood families had been killed by Voldemort during the last war.
He hoped it might at least dissuade some of them from joining Voldemort when they finished school. It had never made sense to Harry how on the one hand Death Eaters insisted they were fighting on behalf of purebloods everywhere and on the other they were doing things like wiping out whole family lines and torturing the Longbottoms into insanity.
Not that that last event had happened in this world. Frank Longbottom was alive and well and one of the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers Harry had ever had. Even as mere second-years they were drilled in shield charms and simple hexes, with talk of a school-wide duelling competition being used as the end-of-school exam. Unfortunately when it came to Neville, however, Professor Longbottom was far from ideal. He was putting increasing pressure on the boy and Harry was spending hours every week helping him to learn spells that would otherwise be beyond him. What Harry couldn't figure out was whether the Professor was acting alone or if it was part of some plan to train Neville to fulfil the prophecy.
Whatever the case, even the Slytherins couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for the Gryffindor boy after watching him being humiliated by his own father every lesson. Hermione even unbent enough to tell Harry that she thought the extra tutoring he was giving Neville was a really good thing. It didn't solve their difference of opinions over SPELL and muggleborn rights, but at least it gave Harry hope that they could agree on other things. For now he would settle for their being civil to one another.
"Ah Hermione, I'd hoped to find you here alone," Daphne said, walking into the Slytherin girls' dormitory. It was a spacious apartment with five four-poster beds, a giant fireplace surrounded by several green velvet armchairs, and an en-suite bathroom that was rumoured to rival that of the prefects' bath.
Hermione wished there was a study area attached, or at least a small desk and chair, but she'd grown used to going to the library whenever she had to study. In fact she had been just about to head there when her friend came in.
"Mmmm, the others have all gone on a walk around the lake," Hermione said, distracted with shoving a mountain of library books into her bag. Thank goodness for lightening charms.
"I know," Daphne said, closing the door behind her. "I wanted to have a quiet word in private."
Hermione looked up and focused properly. "Is something wrong?" she asked in concern. She hoped Daphne hadn't had any bad news from home.
"Not exactly," Daphne said carefully. "Or not in the way you mean. I only wished to speak about the current… tension between Orion and yourself."
"We've argued, yes."
"Might I inquire as to what your argument was about?"
"About how muggleborns are treated in the wizarding world," Hermione said, crossing her arms. "About how he seems to expect muggleborns to be happy as second class citizens. About how he sees any attempt to put ourselves on an even footing as a threat."
"Do you consider your friendship to be over?" Daphne asked.
The question made Hermione lose her defensive stance and she sat down on her bed with a thump. She could see Daphne hide a wince at her unladylike deportment, but for once the other witch didn't mention it and instead sat down next to her.
"I don't know," Hermione said. "I don't want to lose him as a friend, but then again… were we ever really friends? It's not just about his Assessor ability," she continued as she saw Daphne prepare to speak. "It's about how he wants me to follow his advice even though he never really explains his reasoning. He treats me like a child!" Hermione felt a renewed sense of indignation as she thought back to their argument. "If he thinks he can talk down to me just because I'm a muggleborn…"
Daphne laughed lightly. "He treats all of us that way, haven't you noticed?"
Hermione stared at her in surprise. "Really?"
"We all have our faults and perhaps his is to be slightly condescending at times," Daphne said. "As his friend, however, I think you should overlook it. It would certainly be in your best interest to do so."
"I suppose you're also going to tell me that he's the only reason I've been accepted in Slytherin," Hermione sighed.
"He is," Daphne said matter-of-factly. "Although your intelligence and ambition have earned you your own place amongst us now. Once we leave Hogwarts, however, those qualities will not be enough."
Hermione knew they wouldn't be, that was the whole point behind SPELL. Muggleborns didn't have ready-made connections in the wizarding world like the pureblood students did. The only way they would get anywhere was if they stuck together. Orion claimed it was dangerous and maybe it was –for whatever end-goal the Slytherin boy had in mind (not that he ever shared what that was exactly). Personally Hermione didn't think any cause was worth submitting to injustice for.
"Orion already has a surprising amount of political power," Daphne told her. "He's always been strong magically but now he's also the direct heir of the Noble and Ancient House of Black. Even the older years listen to him. Why only yesterday I heard Marcus Flint agree that magical creatures should be allowed jobs in the wizarding world! Almost anyone else voicing the opinions Orion has would be ignored if not outright ostracised."
"Orion has a lot of opinions and isn't afraid to share them," Hermione agreed. "But when I talk about my beliefs he refuses to listen. Oh, he says he mostly agrees with me, but then always insists I need to keep my head down and wait."
"Which is not bad advice," Daphne said calmly. "Also keep in mind that just because he tells you to keep your head down doesn't mean he disagrees with your ideas, just maybe with your timing and perhaps presentation. I think you'll find he himself is quite careful about what he says and who he says it to – it's one of things that has allowed his influence to grow as much as it has."
Hermione didn't want to be friends with Orion just because he was politically powerful. She wanted to hang out with him in the library, she wanted to practice magic with him in the common room, she wanted to discuss ways to solve all the problems in the wizarding world - above all she wanted him to agree with her. Not just to a certain extent but fully and whole-heartedly. Good people believed in equal rights - if Orion didn't, then what did that make him? Why couldn't he see that doing nothing would get her exactly nowhere?
It wasn't just him. She wished all the purebloods would realise how wrong it was to cling on to their traditions and to exclude muggleborns. The wizarding world had so much potential that was just wasted. How could they just shut their eyes to the injustice inherent in their antiquated society?
She didn't want to lose yet another friend, however, and so kept her mouth shut. It took a bit of effort. "I haven't been shy about telling people what I want," she said, dropping any discussion of Orion. "Equality, mainly. But what do you want, Daphne?
Daphne waved her hand airily. "Ah, that's the difference between the two of us, Hermione. I prefer my motivations to remain a mystery."
Hermione didn't see what was so mysterious about Daphne's obvious goal of growing closer to Orion, but once more forebore to comment. Maybe sometimes, she thought, discretion really was the better part of valor.
Politics, Sirius had discovered, not only involved shady deals and hidden motives but also mind-numbing boredom. He idly tapped his wand against his leg, wondering if he could somehow get away with casting a silencing charm in full view of the Wizengamot. He bet Orion didn't have to endure this sort of tedium back at Hogwarts, no matter how much he complained about being stuck in a castle full of children.
"… and so with the location of the Philosopher's Stone still unknown, we are faced with the constant threat of large sums of gold being released into circulation," Dirk Cresswell from the Goblin Liaison Office said, reading off his prepared notes. He was obviously nervous about speaking in front of the gathered Wizengamot, clutching his small stack of index cards and trying not to look up at the witches and wizards in the seats above him. "This has caused substantial economic instability in the Wizarding World, not only here in Britain but also abroad…"
Sirius was sure it was all important information (especially considering the goblins were still refusing to release his inheritance and the Goblet Horcrux was almost certainly hidden within Gringotts), but the uninspiring delivery meant that his attention wandered. Judging by the mostly bored and restless expressions of his fellow Wizengamot members, he wasn't the only one who felt that way, although there were a few notable exceptions.
Dumbledore was listening politely from his seat nearest the central podium, smiling in encouragement whenever he chanced to meet Dirk Cresswell's eyes. Several tiers above him, the newly instated Empero Gaunt stared down at the muggleborn wizard with a calculating expression on his handsome face.
"… while the Goblins continue to insist that any treaties with them are now broken due to the theft of the Stone. This has led to panic in the general population and a rush on the bank, as well as hoarding of supplies. Inflation is rising uncontrollably and shows no sign of stopping," Dirk Cresswell read out. He paused to shuffle through his notes and then continued. "If left unchecked, it could lead to the total collapse of our economy. Thank you."
It took a moment before anyone realised that he had come to the end of his presentation. There was a rustle as people sat up straighter and pretended to have been listening all along.
"Thank you, Mr Cresswell," Dumbledore said kindly. "I am sure we all found your words most informative. I now open the floor to questions from my esteemed colleagues."
"Hem hem," Dolores Umbridge coughed. "Is it quite appropriate for a muggleborn to lecture the Wizengamot on wizarding matters?"
Sirius rolled his eyes and wasn't alone in his exasperation. "Must we go over this again?" Madame Longbottom demanded. "Mr Cresswell is an expert in the field and it was agreed that he should be invited to speak. Can we please stick to real questions?"
Umbridge looked affronted but subsided into silence.
"I have one," Sirius put in, half rising from his seat. "You said that inflation needed to be stopped, Mr Cresswell. What I want to know is how?"
There were several heads nodding in agreement. "Hear, hear!" Evander Macmillan said.
"Er, well, Mr Black," Dirk Cresswell began, only to hurriedly correct himself. "I mean Paterfamilias Black. I suppose the best way would be to, well, find the Philosopher's Stone and place it back into the care of the goblins."
There was immediate outrage at the idea.
"What? Are you mad?" Minister Fudge asked. "We couldn't possibly give it to the goblins. The voters wouldn't stand for it!"
"And no wonder - why would we trust the blighters with anything?" Paterfamilias Nott said. "They won't even let me into my own bank vault!"
"What guarantee do we have that they will honour any agreements we might make?" Lucius Malfoy added. "They are already demanding immediate repayment of all loans and are even threatening to confiscate any goblin-made artefacts they find."
Sirius could hear mutters of discontent from all around him. The goblins were incredibly unpopular but he rather thought people were missing the point. "This is a hypothetical issue in any case. We don't actually have the Philosopher's Stone in our possession at the moment. That's the real problem."
"True true," Minister Fudge nodded. "We must redouble our efforts to retrieve it!"
This apparently didn't sit well with Madame Bones. "I assure you, Minister, my Aurors are already doing their utmost to solve the case."
"Then may I ask why you've failed to arrest anyone yet?" Umbridge asked with false sweetness. "I haven't heard of any progress being made so far."
"The Department of Magical Law Enforcement is not required to report every detail of ongoing an investigation to you," Madame Bones retorted.
The meeting looked set to dissolve into petty bickering until all eyes were drawn to the self-styled Empero Gaunt as he stood up. The wizard had been quiet after he had first accepted his seat, but it seemed that was about to change.
"My esteemed colleagues, I urge you all not to be distracted from the matter at hand," Voldemort said, his voice calm and persuasive. "While I am sure Madame Bones," here he bowed to the witch, "and the Auror Office are doing everything in their power to hunt down the thief, the return of the Stone would neverthless come too late. Our world is in a crisis now."
Voldemort was very good at appealing to a crowd, Sirius thought. The earlier nervous-sounding speech by Dirk Cresswell only served to highlight Voldemort's own confidence and charisma. So far what he was saying was completely reasonable, but Sirius dreaded what was going to come next.
"Our economy is being held hostage, indeed our very way of life is under threat," Voldemort continued. "The goblins refuse us access to our vaults and deliberately leave our economy to flounder. I say, no more. It is time we took back control of our own finances."
"I agree completely," Lucius Malfoy said.
"That's all very well, Mr Gaunt," Madame Longbottom huffed, "But how do you propose to do such a thing?"
Sirius thought he could see a flash of annoyance on Voldemort's face, but the wizard answered smoothly. "Very simply, madam, by setting up our own banking system."
There was a shocked silence.
"You can't do that!" Dirk Cresswell blurted out. He paled as everyone stared at him, but otherwise held his ground. "It goes against every treaty we have with the goblins, they'll rebel for sure!"
"Let them try," Voldemort said. "We wizards have bowed down to the demands of goblins for long enough."
"Well said!" Evander Macmillan called out in support and many others had thoughtful looks on their faces.
Sirius decided it was definitely time to speak up, before Voldemort succeeded in plunging them all into another goblin rebellion. "Setting up a bank would be both time-consuming and costly, two things which we can't afford," he argued, hoping to appeal to people's self-interest. "Our gold is still in Gringotts after all. Surely it would be better to negotiate with the goblins."
Voldemort only smiled and looked around at the wizards and witches around him. "Auror Black - excuse me, Paterfamilias Black I should say - raises some important points but I believe I hold the answer. As many of you know, my family's fortune is on the continent and safe from all goblin interference. I am willing to lend the starting capital necessary to found our own bank, run by wizards for wizards."
Excited murmurs broke out as Sirius tried to figure out a way to disrupt Voldemort's plans. Was he seriously trying to provoke a war with the goblins while painting himself as a saviour and gaining complete control of the wizarding world's finances? If so, it seemed to be working. It also proved that under his charming exterior, the Dark Lord's ruthless cunning was very much in force.
Sirius was relieved to see Dumbledore move forwards, hoping he would be able to convince people that a goblin war was the last thing they needed.
"I must remind everyone that setting up a rival bank is illegal under the terms of our agreement with the goblins," Dumbledore told them all gravely. "An agreement that we of the Wizengamot signed and promised to uphold. Breaking our word would have serious consequences with not only the goblins, but our many allies overseas."
"You make a good point, Chief Warlock," Sirius hurried to back him up. "We have to obey the law."
"Very true," Madame Bones agreed. "All of us here have sworn solemn oaths to act in the best interest of the wizarding world."
"Oh I wouldn't dream of acting without the support of this noble body," Voldemort said smoothly. "I would like to suggest, however, that it is in fact the goblins who have broken their promises."
Minister Fudge pounced on the opportunity to push the blame onto someone else. "Yes exactly, it's all their fault."
"I quite agree, Minister," Umbridge simpered at him.
"Nevertheless, any actions on our part would be premature," Dumbledore said firmly. "Unless the goblins actively rebel, the wizarding government is tied to the terms of the treaty."
The Wizengamot members continued to argue back and forth, but Sirius had stopped listening. He was instead looking over at the visitor's gallery, where several reporters were sitting and scribbling down every word. The current session hadn't been declared closed to the public and no doubt news of a wizard-run bank would appear in the next day's newspapers. Even the rumour of such a step could be all that was needed to tip the goblins into rebelling.
Sirius couldn't see that leading to anything other than disaster. The weak economy would be damaged still further, leaving Voldemort in the perfect position to exploit his unlimited supply of gold; the general prejudice against non-humans would grow into outright hatred, making any chance of helping the werewolves almost impossible; and the already overworked Aurors would be tasked with protecting wizards from attack (or even attacking Gringotts themselves), meaning that violence would be almost inevitable. Most important of all, a rebellion would prevent any possibility of getting the Goblet Horcrux out of Bellatrix' vault, which along with the Philosopher's Stone would make Voldemort practically invincible.
Sirius couldn't allow that to happen, no matter the sacrifice involved.
As soon as Dumbledore had called the Wizengamot meeting to a close, Sirius left the building and apparated to the entrance of Gringotts. He walked straight up to one of the heavily-armoured goblins guarding the doors, ignoring all the spears that were being pointed in his direction.
"I wish to speak to the Managing Director," he announced. "Tell him I'm here to negotiate a deal."
The goblin spat out what sounded like a curse in gobbledegook. "Your Auror badge and family name won't earn you special treatment here, wizard. No one with a wand is allowed into the conference rooms."
Sirius took a deep breath, then slowly drew his black pine wand and offered it to the goblin handle-first. "Take it then."
Moments later he was marched into Gringotts under heavy guard.
A/N: So on the downside, I've been procrastinating like crazy lately. On the upside, that means I've been writing lots of fanfiction. I hope you enjoy the result.
The scene from Hermione's POV was a last-minute inclusion. After reading some of the reviews people have left I wanted to give readers a bit of insight into her thought processes.
Edited to add: thanks to Philosophize for giving me the words to put into Daphne's mouth.