Chapter 1 : Great Sights
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Author's Note: Thanks to Tinkerbell01 for the inspiration for this piece. I can still recite many of Dr. Seuss' works by heart, and Yertle the Turtle was a childhood favorite. I hope you enjoy the wizarding spin on this classic children's book.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
"Madam Granger-Weasley's office. Yes, Mr. Weasley, I'll put you right through."
The office fireplace glowed incandescent lime. Hermione slammed her hand down hard on the desk. Ink splattered from her eagle-feather quill, fanning out over a heap of scrolls. "Ronald, I've had enough of these interruptions. I'm trying to get some work done. Hugo. Is. Fine."
"It's not about Hugo this time." Ron laughed. A halo of emerald sparks coruscated from his hair. "Listen, I've got Ginny to take the kids tonight. Up for dinner and a show?"
Hermione felt the constant tension in her shoulders drain away. She rushed down to the hearth, kneeling beside the grate. "Ron, that would be lovely. It's been ages." She smiled at her husband and leaned closer to the cool, green flames. "As long as we finish this census report on time."
"Are you still working on that?" Ron chuffed. "This the one you complain about all the time? Almost as bad as Umbridge, huh?" Hermione furiously shushed Ron's gleaming green face. He laughed and caught her hand in the fire, giving it a loving squeeze. "Listen, I'll pick you up at seven." A sudden outbreak of squeals erupted in the background. Two-year-old Hugo laughed with delight. His four-year-old sister, Rose, was screaming. "Crikey, they're at it again. Hugo! Put the broomstick down, and get away from your sister! I'm gonna get Uncle Harry for giving you that bloody thing."
Ron's head ducked down through the embers. The cool fire returned to its normal warmth and hue. Drifts of ash fell from Hermione's work robes as she rose, and she brushed them onto the Persian carpet.
"Hermione?" Parvati Patil peered into the open door. "Goodness, you look terrible. I popped round to see if you could come out for tea. I thought you were going on holiday, but Percy said you were in the office!"
Hermione grimaced. Typical Parvati, quick to take offense when she wasn't kept abreast of things. The two witches had never been that close at school, but with Parvati working next door in International Magical Cooperation, Hermione could scarcely avoid her. Her old dorm mate was good company, when she had the mind to be. Hermione found her chatter relaxing, when she had the time.
"Parvati, I'm really sorry, I can't take the time today. We've got this gigantic Census report for the Minister, and it's due at six. Mum and Dad were very upset when we had to cancel our trip." Hermione looked down at her desk, and shuffled the scrolls around, uncovering her favorite quill.
Oblivious, Parvati settled into Hermione's red leather guest chair and kicked off her painful-looking shoes. "So, where were you going on holiday?"
"Switzerland," Hermione said vaguely. "Mum and Dad's choice."
"Oh! I love Switzerland... have you ever been before?" Parvati launched into a review of wizarding bed-and-breakfasts.
"Hermione, it's very rude to interrupt."
"I'm sorry to shoo you away like this, but I really need to get back to work." Hermione stood and held the door open. An offended Parvati bundled her silken robes about her, patting her jeweled hair clip back into position. "Next week, we'll go out for a long lunch, I promise." Hermione gave Parvati a gentle push out the door, disguising it as a sisterly pat on the shoulder.
As soon as Parvati had gone, Hermione cast a handful of subtle proximity alarms and barriers on her door. At this rate, she'd never get out to dinner with Ron.
On her desk, Hermione caught sight of a tersely worded note from her mother. She slumped in her chair. Lately, it seemed like everything in her life conspired to make her feel guilty. She'd ruined her family's holiday. Ron had decided to go ahead and take the week off and stay home with the kids, so at least he was having a good time. Hermione was jealous: she'd wanted so badly to have her whole family together, with no distractions. She even felt like she was neglecting Ginny and Harry. It had been months since their families had enjoyed a nice, quiet evening. A smile flashed briefly across her worried face. "Quiet" was probably not an apt description when all five cousins were together.
Her guilt and uncertainty also stemmed from the work itself. Was it really necessary to register all the House-Elves? It wasn't Hermione's place to decide. Others were impressed by her title, by her connections, by the comparatively plush office at the Ministry. In reality, Hermione was mired in middle management, with so many levels above her, she couldn't effect change.
Ten years into his term, Shacklebolt simply continued so many of Fudge and Scrimgeour's old policies. Hermione had once thought better of Kingsley. He was an Order member, and a war hero in his own right. Over the years, her disenchantment had grown. It seemed to Hermione that Kingsley was just sliding along on waves of good will left over from the war. She wasn't sure whether he cared that his reforms fell short at reaching all levels of the wizarding world.
There weren't many in the Ministry who believed that non-humans should be full members of society. Not even Ron shared her beliefs completely.
Hermione gathered an armload of scrolls from the desk and knocked on her deputy's door. "I've got myself into a bind," she confessed. Failing to locate a clear area to dump the scrolls on the desk, Hermione stacked the others with her wand. She dropped the new ones in the vacated space.
Startled, Edward Franklin looked up from his desk. Numbers danced away from him, wiggling to an unheard Caribbean rhythm. Franklin waved his wand, and the numbers shimmied back into place. One straggler, a recalcitrant seven, insisted on doing the limbo through the handle of Franklin's beaker full of cold tea. Franklin poked at the runaway digit. The seven slinked back into its column on the broad, lined parchment, making a sound suspiciously like a raspberry.
Hermione couldn't help smiling. "Were you playing Muggle music in here again?"
"Helps me think. Hope it wasn't bothering you, boss."
"No, not at all. Listen, Franklin, we're in a spot of trouble. We're supposed to have this report done by six o'clock, and you and I both know we're not going to finish it."
"Don't give up hope," Franklin smiled. "I'm almost finished with this precinct..." Franklin's crinkled blue eyes widened as he saw what Hermione had deposited on his desk.
"Please don't tell me you found the lost records from Cornwall."
"None other. This is your half."
"Nice." Franklin's wand moved surreptitiously to the wireless on his desk. A Calypso beat tinkled from the small, wooden set as he unrolled the first scroll.
"I don't know how you do it, Edward."
"How I do what? I could fix your wireless to play that eighties station you like. Dead simple."
"No, I don't mean that. I don't know how you handle so much pressure without even batting an eyelash. Look at me. I'm your boss, and I'm about ready to take a broomstick and make for Norway."
"Everything's personal for you, boss. That's what makes you so damned good at your job, but it's not all about saving the world, you know. Some of it is just work. You need to learn to tell the difference between the two, for your own sake."
Hermione didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted. She allowed Franklin a great deal more license than most heads of offices would their seconds-in-command. She doubted that even her easygoing father-in-law would let Perkins talk to him like that. Hermione certainly never confided her uneasiness with the work they were doing: though she often wished she could, she felt it would make her a poor manager to do so.
"Edward, I'm not sure what you mean."
Her deputy looked up at her with compassion. "You need to find the 'off' switch, for your own sanity. I know that's how you operate, but I've been worried about you." Franklin's blue eyes were steady and sincere. "Listen, give me half of yours. I can get them downloaded and tabulated faster than you can. Give you time to write the introduction."
"Downloaded," Hermione said whimsically, hoping to cover the sudden rush of tears to her eyes.
"You're the one who's Muggle-born, boss, not me."
"You're a lifesaver. Thank you."
"Almost performance evaluation time, don't forget me then," Franklin said smartly. Hermione threw a crumpled ball of parchment at him, and it bounced off his balding head.
As Hermione contemplated the stack of rolled House-Elf Census reports, her receptionist came rushing through the door. Hermione's hasty charms all went off at once, causing the whole room to vibrate, and a pale purple web to appear at waist height. Mabel shrieked, throwing a handful of papers up into the air.
Hermione rushed to help her up, blushing and apologizing. Mabel got up with some difficulty, untwisting her pink paisley robes from around her legs. "Mabel, what's the matter?"
"Madam," the older woman said in a quavering voice, "Turn on your wireless."
Hermione reached over and switched on the small set on her desk. "This is Lee Jordan, reporting outside the Ministry of Magic in London. We are not being allowed inside the atrium -- cracking good job suppressing the press, Minister Shacklebolt, I've got my eye on you -- but we are hearing unconfirmed reports that a rogue house-elf has taken a Ministry employee hostage in the Fountain of Magical Brethren."
Hermione scrambled to the door. Franklin appeared in the doorway. "What is it? Do you need me to come with you?"
"Finish the reports!" she shouted. "I'll be back as soon as I can!"
Hermione pushed through the milling witches and wizards, most just returning from long Friday lunches. "House-Elf Relations! Coming through!"
"Hermione!" called Arthur Weasley. Her father-in-law reached out to take her elbow.
"No time now," she panted, breaking into a run. She was unable to get close to the fountain. Terrified little screams and wails erupted from the assembled witches and wizards. No wonder they were frightened. The idea of a mad house-elf terrified most magical folk. House-elves held immense power, but they chose to use it to benefit the human race. The strictures of their own code of service were all that kept house-elves from wielding it for themselves.
Hermione saw a familiar stately form off to the side, passing instructions to a group of nervous aides. "Why didn't you call me right away?" she demanded.
The Minister frowned at the scene in the fountain. "I was just about to call you."
Hermione couldn't see a thing, there were too many broad shoulders and pointy hats in the way. She jumped up in the air, completely forgetting her own dignity in the urgency to see what was going on.
"Who is it, Kingsley? Tell me, do you know?"
"It's Wilkie Twycross. The Apparition examiner."
Hermione growled with frustration. "Not the wizard! The house-elf!" Minister Shacklebolt looked down at Hermione in mild surprise. Hermione gulped. "Sorry, Minister."
The Minister gave a subtle wave to a group of wizards and a stony-faced witch standing just at the edge of the fountain. They were Hit Wizards. Hermione shrieked and shoved her way through the crowd. The Minister tried to catch her, but Hermione cast a Slippery Jinx on herself, weaving through the tightly pressed shoulders like an otter in a stream.
Reaching the rim of the fountain at last, Hermione tripped on the artfully piled edging stones and splashed into knee-deep water. Coins shuffled under her feet, galleons and knuts kept bright by the enchanted waters. Wilkie Twycross sat very still, leaning against a gilded knee.
Hermione knew the elf on sight: Elmer was marked as a potential troublemaker in the Census. A slight, youthful figure in a torn yellow shirt and white shorts, the house-elf pressed Twycross' own wand against his jugular vein. Sweat dripped down the Examiner's forehead. Only his hazel eyes turned toward Hermione, mutely beseeching.
"Elmer, what are you doing?"
"Madam Granger-Weasley!" sneered the elf. "I know you! Used to like you, used to trust you! Big protector of house-elves. Then Elmer's father found out about your House-Elf Census!" Elmer glared across the softly plashing fountain. His oversized grey eyes narrowed as he spoke. "Some protection! She's put together everything about us, tracking us, like we're some kind of nasty pox, or a cloud of poisonous bugs!"
Elmer twisted the wand against Wilkie Twycross' throat. The Apparition Examiner screwed his eyes shut. Hit Wizards fanned out silently, training their wands on the house-elf. Hermione raised her own wand, raising an outraged cry from the crowd.
"Stand aside, Ma'am."
"I am bloody well not standing aside! House-elves don't behave this way without a reason."
Edward Franklin rushed through the crowd, and goggled at the Hit Wizards. "Hermione, don't do it! Get out of their way!"
"They wouldn't dare," Hermione growled. In the back of her mind, she was ashamed to know that her personal connections meant more than her standing in the Ministry. This was one situation where she was willing to exploit them.
"Madam Granger-Weasley knows what this Registry is for. Already enslaved by pure-blood families, wiping up their messes, washing their pants. Now, the Ministry has to know wherever we go, what our special powers are, who our mothers and fathers were! Elmer says, No!"
The Hit Wizards all raised their wands. Hermione threw up a quick Shield Charm, but she knew it wouldn't buy her much time. "Elmer, no, you've taken it all wrong! We're going to put all the information together for statistical purposes. It's not meant to be used one by one." Elmer clearly didn't believe her. Hermione realized, with shame, that she barely believed it herself. "I'm sorry."
Elmer laughed. "A witch apologizes to a house-elf. Elmer should be all grateful and ashamed of himself! Elmer should be offering to move in and polish your shoes!" He pointed Wilkie Twycross' wand at the shining faces of the witch and wizard, high above them.
Elmer spread his arms, and shouted, "I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom, we, too, should have rights!"
Hermione's wand dropped to her side. The Shield Charm dissolved. Spray from the fountain soaked her hair and face once more. As she turned to stare at the house-elf, her eyes were wet with more than water. For years, every professional decision she had made had been a well-intentioned mistake. Normal house-elves might deny that they wanted freedom, but that didn't mean they didn't deserve it. The Hermione of old would have jabbed a S.P.E.W. badge into her eyeball. She thought she was working for equality all along, but she had lost sight of her ideals, lost sight of herself.
"Please, Elmer, let Mr. Twycross go. We'll both be in a lot more trouble if something happens to him." Elmer nodded, and released his hostage. Wilkie Twycross splashed into the waiting arms of Magical Law Enforcement. Wrapped in a heavy, gray blanket, the Examiner sank onto a stretcher and was floated away.
"Hermione, what in hell is going on?" Harry shouted. Hermione couldn't wave to him. The Hit Wizards' wands were still trained on her and Elmer. "Stand down, you idiots. That's my sister-in-law."
With resentful grumbles, the Hit Witch and Wizards stood down. The Head of the Auror Office splashed into the fountain. The ghost of a lightning-shaped scar was just visible on his forehead, halfway hidden behind damp, black hair.
"Incarcerous!" Elmer struggled against Harry's conjured ropes.
"Harry, you can't do that!"
"He's been holding Twycross hostage. He threatened to kill him, Hermione. You have to give it up. He's going to Azkaban before his trial."
"I do. I give up. Actually, I quit." Hermione turned toward Kingsley Shacklebolt. The minister stared at her. "I remember what it was like, being hunted down for my parentage. How hypocritical we are to take equal rights for ourselves, and fail to give them to the beings who work alongside us, no more than slaves."
Hermione knew it would be all over the Prophet and the chat shows, but she didn't care. Harry helped her out of the fountain, past the Hit Wizards, past Magical Law Enforcement, and out the employees' exit. Light snow fell softly onto the slush-covered street. A crowd of reporters, including Lee Jordan, were waiting outside. Harry motioned to them to wait. Hermione started to get the shakes, realizing what she had done. Plus; it was March, and she was freezing cold in her soaking wet robes.
"Wait, Hermione!" Edward Franklin hurried to catch up with them. "You're crazy, boss, but you're right."
Hermione smiled. "I'm not your boss anymore. Doesn't that make you Head of House-Elf Relations?"
Edward laughed. "I don't want the job. I think I'll finally take my pension and build that sailboat. The wife's been anxious to go south. I wanted to give you this. It's a present, I forgot your birthday." Hermione unwrapped the golden tissue paper, and brought out a Hawaiian shirt, printed in bright blue, red, and yellow. She blushed, and grinned. "That's to remind you to slow down and take things as they come. Especially if you're going to strike out on your own, slaying social evils single-handed and all."
Hermione gave Edward a quick hug, wetting him comprehensively. "We'll stay in touch. Don't go anywhere an owl can't find you."
"Or a parrot," Harry chuckled. Edward saluted and went back into the Ministry, disappearing through the periodontist's office.
"That door won't let me in anymore," Hermione said whimsically.
"Never say never. Hermione?" Harry took her arm, and together, they went to give an exclusive interview to Lee Jordan.
The following morning, two leaping toddlers knocked the wind out of their sleeping mother. "Oof! You two are getting to be gigantic!" Hermione grabbed both Rose and Hugo and hugged them tight, one in each arm. They giggled, squirming away, and ran back into the nursery next door. In the doorway, Ron held a white tray with two cups of coffee, buttered toast, and the Daily Prophet. Hermione rubbed her eyes when she saw the front page of the paper.
"Merlin's pants... Granger Off Her Rocker! Muggle-Born Ministry Official Sacked. I was not sacked, I quit!" Hermione crumpled the front page of the Prophet and gulped back half of her coffee.
"Lee's program played your whole interview. Ginny says most of the readers are supporting you." Ron set the tray on the side table and pushed back the blankets. Hermione scooted over for him. "Most of the house-elves are actually pretty disappointed you're out. They remember how you treated Dobby and Winky."
"I don't want to coast on my record anymore! I promised them years ago that I'd make things different, and I haven't done anything." Hermione sighed and leaned on Ron's broad, freckled shoulder. "I've been a complete hypocrite."
"Not my Hermione," Ron said loyally. He kissed the top of her head, and had to spit out an errant curl. Hermione giggled. "Have you thought about what you're going to do now?"
Hermione looked around their bright little bedroom. On the old chair by the wardrobe, a brightly colored tropical shirt lay across her black work robes. "After a day or two off? I'm going to study up and get ready to take the bar exam. Elmer will need representation."
At the very mention of 'studying up,' Hermione's eyes were shining. Ron laughed. "You're the only person I know who'd be likely to follow through with that plan."
Hermione reached to the side table for her coffee cup, and saw two unused theater tickets by the base of the lamp. "Oh, Ronald. I'm so sorry we missed the show last night."
"That's all right, love. We were sort of busy with that media firestorm you single-handedly created."
"Shut up!" Hermione pounded on him. Laughing, they rolled over onto the Daily Prophet. On the cover, Hermione's wild-eyed photograph protested, moving its mouth in a soundless tirade.