This is a plot bunny that came and whacked me over the head...last summer. I'm fairly certain some of you will remember this as we get into it. It has honestly taken me this long to get it even close to presentable, and a lot of that is due to the absolutely marvelous and talented keeptheotherone, who got this thing on its feet just last week. I am STUNNED and thrilled with the butt-kicking she gave it, so this one is for her. Her stories "Sharing Life Together," "Consequences," and "Auror Take Two" spurred me to finish and clean this story up for the rest of you. :) Short form: she's the best, people.
30 March 2029
"Go on, Hermione, you'll be brilliant," said Ron, smiling at her. Hermione finished cleaning her spectacles, perched them on her nose and flashed him a quick smile before hurrying to seat herself at a table in the center of the wide, round courtroom.
Ron sat back in his chair, glancing up at Harry, who was with the other heads of department, and winked. Three loud knocks on a wooden table drew the attention of the chattering crowd.
"The Wizengamot acknowledges the closing petition of Madam Hermione Jean Granger Weasley, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," boomed Kingsley Shacklebolt from the Chief Warlock's seat.
Hermione rose, placing her fingertips on the table, and looked squarely at her audience.
"Witches and warlocks of the Wizengamot, heads of department, and fellow public servants," she began loudly, looking all around the courtroom. "Our world has survived two wars that were based solely on discrimination against one other, against our own people. Half-blood resentment of pure-blood, pure-blood prejudice against Muggleborns, and I can say, proudly, that we as a community are finally moving beyond such low forms of cruelty and injustice," she paused, "to one another. From one wizard to the next. But what of those beings with whom we share our world, to whom we don't extend this newfound sense of justice? What of goblins, centaurs, merfolk; sentient beings with whom we ought to be able to live in peace?"
Hermione stepped out from behind her table, taking a walk about the round room and looking several members of the Wizengamot in the eye. "Well, for goblins, we have striven to ensure that they, at their own request, are given jurisdiction in their own legal, financial, and social matters. We have offices to assist with any problems that may arise, and we have finally stopped trying to control them. For centaurs, we have done as they asked; we have left them alone. We do not ask them to be counted, herded or tagged like animals. We respect them as thinking, feeling, and independent from us. Merfolk are guaranteed similar rights. Where they do not attempt to seize power over us, we afford them the same courtesy."
She swept her eyes to Kingsley, who was watching her closely, his hands folded. "Yes. I am proud of the things I have seen happen in my career to make our world a just one. But I have one great pain. There is one thing that, for as long as I can remember, has always made me sick to my stomach. The one thing about our world, which I so love, makes me furious, even resentful of our diplomacy and policymaking. House-elves have never been afforded the courtesies and justices of their magical brethren."
There was a rumble of speech among the Wizengamot that faded quickly, and Hermione surveyed her audience coolly before carrying on.
"House-elves are required to clean homes, cook meals, care for generations of families, who in turn are never asked to provide their workers with any kind of fair treatment. And yes, it is in a house-elf's nature to accept this way of life. That is one of the main reasons that such old-fashioned practices as retaining multiple generations of house-elves are still in use." Her look hardened. "But that does not make it right."
And there was a sudden outbreak of applause. Ron glanced over at Harry, who was smiling almost imperceptibly, and then looked back to Hermione. He chuckled inwardly when he saw a twitch in the corner of her mouth. The applause died down, and she carried on.
"It is wrong to assume that because a being has been bred to think in such a closed-off manner, it is happy. A house-elf is, perhaps, the only magical being whose status we, wizardkind, do not recognize. More often than not a house-elf is treated as nothing more than an appliance, a tool, something with which the housework gets done faster. Wizards have told them time and again that they are inferior, when we know very well that their magic can rival, if not overpower our own. This is wrong, and it is foolish to think that we may blindly maintain the upper hand. Now," Hermione said, her tone changing, "on the other side, we cannot undo what we have already done to the race of house-elves. We cannot suddenly snatch from them everything that makes up their lives; that is cruelty in an even lower form."
She drew a deep breath. "This piece of legislation which I have brought before you, The House-Elf Bill, as it's come to be known, will not liberate house-elves who have no wish to be free. I understand and respect—as, I hope, do you—that this is true of much of their population. However, it does provide protection and universal, basic rights. With passage of this bill, a house elf may petition for their freedom if they so choose, with the understanding that if they do, they have the right to remain as employees of their families. In turn those families who have inherited house-elves will be required by law to register with the Ministry of Magic, and will be responsible for reporting their elves' status to a new task force in the Ministry dedicated solely to equalizing treatment of elves.
"Above anything else, this bill offers a house elf the opportunity and the right to change their station, a basic right long-since denied their race. I hope that in my lifetime, I will be able to see house-elves receive a fairer kind of treatment than they have since long before I was born. We owe this much to beings who are swept into the corners and cracks of our world, and have never once raised a hand against us. We owe them fair treatment. And for those of you who are thinking of voting no for the sake of preserving what we have labeled their 'happiness,' I would like to say, once again, that just because the house-elf is accustomed to the treatment that he has received his entire life, that his ancestors received for their entire lives, it does not mean he is happy. Do not confuse docility in the face of maltreatment with what is right. Thank you."
To a great deal of applause, Hermione strode purposefully behind her table and sat down smartly, watching the court. She folded her hands on the tabletop as she glanced sideways at Ron, who nodded encouragingly, and returned her gaze to Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was calling the room to order.
"Having received testimony on the resistance to this bill in previous hearings, the Wizengamot will now deliberate," he called, and silence fell again. "All in favor of passing The House Elf Rights Bill into law, please vote now."
Ron watched hands go up—ten—twenty—fifty—his heart leapt. Nearly all of the Wizengamot had raised their hands. He looked at Hermione, who had gone very stiff in her chair, her eyes wide.
"All opposed?" asked Kingsley. Hands went up, here and there, but not nearly as many as before.
"The bill is passed. Congratulations, Madam Weasley."
27 June 2029
"Hi." Hermione leaned across Ron's desk, beaming at him over her silver spectacles.
"Hi," he said, grinning back.
"The staff and I are going to the Leaky Cauldron," she told him. "We're celebrating the end of our inquiries. Do you want to come along?"
Ron sighed and looked at the pile of work on his desk, considering it. "All right," he said finally, shoving the parchment into a folder and making a neat stack. "I can get this done tomorrow."
He got up, stretching, and put an arm around Hermione, following her to the lifts, where Hermione's team of workers were all waiting for her, chattering and laughing excitedly. As Ron and Hermione approached them, the doors of a lift jangled open, and Harry walked out.
"Hey, mate, we're going to the Cauldron. Tell Ginny. We'll save a place for you," Ron called. Harry, who was deep in conversation with Dennis Creevey, the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, gave a brief wave to indicate that he'd understood.
Within fifteen minutes, the entire party of Ministry workers, with Ron and Hermione in the lead, had arrived at the Leaky Cauldron, which was crowded and full of loud conversation from the other patrons.
"How are you both?" Hermione asked.
"Brilliant, if you're bringing us business like this all the time," Neville laughed, shaking Ron's hand. "Celebrating?"
Hermione was glowing with happiness. "We finished our inquiries! I can't say we've got all house-elves accounted for, of course—that would be amazing—but it's a step."
"We wanted to thank you for bringing us those four you found," Hannah told her. "They're such a huge help."
"They're happy?" Hermione asked hopefully.
"They've adjusted really well," Neville affirmed. "Jordy is still nervous about taking pay. He keeps trying to put his ears in the oven door whenever he thinks of it. But we've set aside all that we owe him," he added hastily at the expression on Hermione's face. "When he's ready, we'll give it to him," Neville promised.
"Thank you so much," Hermione said, touching his arm. Ron grinned; she looked ready to start floating a few inches above the ground, she was so happy.
"Come and see them," Neville suggested, but Hannah swatted his shoulder.
"Let her have her dinner, Neville," she laughed. "Come on, I'll send one of them out to see you," she promised Hermione, chivvying them over to a long table that her elder daughter, Alice, was wiping down.
When she saw Ron and Hermione, Alice turned bright red, laughed nervously, and darted away without saying hello. Ron frowned. "What was that about?" he asked curiously.
Hermione shrugged. "Maybe because she's supposed to be studying for her Auror exams," she said.
"Not bloody likely, she's the best in her class," Ron scoffed. Hermione wasn't listening.
"Order the stew, John, you won't regret it," she said to the wizard from her office who had seated himself on her other side. "Hannah's an amazing cook." She looked back at Ron, smiling conspiratorially. "I think I'll have a gillywater," she said in a low voice.
Ron snorted. "Hold you back, no one can stop you." Hermione shoved him.
"Good evening, sirs and madams!" squeaked a tiny voice near Ron's elbow, calling the attention of the entire table to a house-elf wearing an overlarge violet t-shirt marked with an enormous letter A. Hermione beamed.
"Hello, Abner," she said. "How are you?"
"Abner is well, Madam Wee-slee," he said, going scarlet. He produced a notepad and pencil from the folds of his shirt. "Abner is here to take your drink orders."
Ron chuckled at the expression of pure joy on Hermione's face.
"I'll have a gillywater, please, Abner," she told the elf, who nodded excitedly and, concentrating hard, painstakingly wrote down the order.
The little elf moved around the table, taking orders. Hermione couldn't keep her eyes off of him. Ron, however, had just noticed something.
"Ah, no—I don't believe it…"
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked.
"I've left my briefcase at work," he said, rolling his eyes and getting up.
"Surely it'll be all right until tomorrow morning?" Hermione asked.
Ron shook his head. "It's got gold I took out of Gringotts this morning in it," he said. "For your birthday gift. And don't go asking what it is, you're never going to find out."
"You've been saying that for thirty years, and I always do," she informed him. At his frown, however, she put on an expression of mock surprise. "I mean…my birthday?" she asked, widening her eyes.
"Senile at fifty." Ron shook his head.
"I'm not fifty until September." She pointed a finger at him. "And you're only six months after me!"
"Which means that I'm being your extremely thoughtful, much younger husband," he said. "Better not chance it with the gold, anyway. I'll be back in a minute and tell Harry to get a move on."
Hermione smiled. "All right."
Ron hurried out of the bar, accidentally walking straight into Neville near the kitchen door.
"Going so soon?" Neville asked.
"Left something at work," Ron said, trying to move past him. "Be back soon!"
"You don't want to go that way," Neville said hurriedly. "Someone's been sick in the alley, I was just going to clean it up." He pushed open the kitchen door. "Go out the back way."
"Thanks, mate!" said Ron. He gave Neville a hurried wave, cut through the kitchen to the back door, and Disapparated from the alleyway directly into the Atrium of the Ministry, where he nodded to the security guard. When the lift deposited him on the level of the Auror offices, Harry was just closing his office door.
"Oh, I just sent Ginny a message. I was coming to meet you," he said, tapping the doorknob with his wand and locking it.
"Forgot my briefcase—it's got the money I needed for Hermione's birthday present," Ron answered, reaching under his desk and producing it. He stuffed several folders and pieces of parchment inside, checked that his bag of gold was still there, and snapped it shut. "C'mon, let's go, I said I'd only be a minute."
"Ron, what's that?" Harry asked, frowning at Ron's desk.
He turned. Hopping onto the desktop was a small, silvery toad Patronus. "That's Neville," he said slowly before the toad opened its mouth and spoke with Neville's voice.
"Come to St. Mungo's now. Emergency. Hermione's hurt. Meet you there."