Chapter 5 : Epilogue
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Twenty years later, he returned to Britain with his wife and nine-year-old daughter. He didn't return to the Ministry, or even Diagon Alley, but bought a small house in Cumbria. There were not many people there, and while he did not like solitude he was used to it. It was preferable to the hate of the crowds.
It had been a hard decision, to come back, but they wanted Sophie to go to Hogwarts. Durmstrang had a poor reputation, and while Beaubatons was good they focussed rather on charms and omitted much Defence Against the Dark Arts. Norbert knew all too well the importance of good Defence knowledge. There had been a war in Britain, by someone targeting muggle-borns and muggles. The kind of attitude he'd been fighting against, the danger signs that had been obvious. It had only been a matter of time before someone with extreme beliefs would surface, and too many people would sympathise.
Sophie came home at Christmas in her first year, and one evening sat down next to Norbert. "Daddy, you never told me you were famous." Norbert realised that he had underestimated his reputation - perhaps Beaubatons would have been preferable.
"What have they told you?"
"You used to be Minister for Magic, but you had to leave because people made up lies about you. It's because you were muggle-born. You tried to help Squibs, but pure-bloods protested. You won a duel but they started a fire and killed a lot of people so that no-one remembered. They made up all sorts of lies about you afterwards which people believed because they are incapable of thinking for themselves. That's why you aren't Minister any more. You changed a law to help Squibs - I don't know how exactly but it was new and you had to make the entire Wizengammot agree."
"Who told you?" He'd thought he was still hated, worried about her being bullied because of him. He'd expected people to still believe those lies. Instead he had at least one supporter.
"Professor Flitwick - the charms teacher and my Head of House." She was a Ravenclaw, like he had been. "Some Slytherins were bullying Maria, who's a muggle-born in my year, and she was crying. Flitwick came in and found her, and told us all about you to prove that what the Slytherins said wasn't true. I don't think he realised it was you."
"When I left, they all hated me. I added two words to a law, but apart from that I managed nothing. Eighty-three people died because I won a duel."
"He said you saved his life." Norbert looked up, then turned to stare out of the window as she continued. "He said he saw the duel - he wanted to be a duellist - and was there when the fire started." Fire, rearing up. Dark fire, fiendfyre, bearing down on the crowds. How had it been only eighty-three? Without the work of the healers, it would have been more. Unfortunately the fountain would no doubt have been destroyed immediately after his resignation - he'd been so proud of it, the proceeds it sent to the hospital.
A boy, struggling in the crowd. Disappearing from sight amongst the flailing bodies. A crumpled form on the ground. Reaching down, grabbing a handful of cloth before reaching up and being drawn out of the crush. He'd seen the boy in the hospital afterwards, unconscious still, but been told there would be no permanent damage.
"Is he well? Uninjured?" He realised too late she'd still been talking, that he'd just lost focus.
"Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be? Well he said they got your Squib Rights law back out after You-know-who was defeated-"
"Voldemort." She stared at him, terrified. "It's only a name. Just another blood-purist, and I knew enough of them. They don't deserve respect, because they don't respect even their own kind." She leant back from the venom in his voice, and he caught himself. "He's gone. There will always be people like him, but unless they have support they will get nowhere. We have to make sure they have no support. If everyone had ignored him, the Aurors would have warned him off for being a public nuisance-"
"If everyone had ignored him, the Aurors wouldn't have noticed-"
"Yes, clever-clogs. Don't be too smart - people don't like it."
"You're smart and people like you."
"They haven't seen me for twenty years. Last time they did, they hated me."
"Flitwick likes you. He says that other people should be like you."
"Does he now? Well, don't listen to him too closely. You get something done with your life - don't just get stuck arguing with blood-purists then have to hide for twenty years. See if you can save more than one life."
"I want to be a healer." He smiled. He'd have been a hopeless healer, would have refused to accept anything. He'd loved politics, and he wouldn't have stopped Sophie if she chose to go that way, but it could be a cruel world. One day loved, the next hated, scapegoat for an entire country. He'd always admired the healers, especially after the November attack.
"Then you be a healer." He'd been proud of the fountain, and of those two words added to a law, and of winning an election in the first place. Six years as Minister. But the one thing of which he was most proud was his daughter Sophie, who would save more than one life. No-one would hate her like they'd hated him.
He leant on his daughter's arm as he stepped into the familiar hall. He raised a hand to acknowledge the cheers, enjoying the sensation he'd never forgotten. Aurors and Law Enforcers were positioned around the room in case of trouble. A platform had been erected in the centre of the hall, and waiting on it already was Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt and members of the current Council. He recognised familiar faces, members of his own Council. Older, reduced in number. Philip was gone, killed in the first war. His nephew was capable too, a great Auror and now Minister. A good politician, and they were rare.
Frances too had died in the same war, but his old Senior Undersecretary and many others had made it. Some he'd met a few days ago in preparations for today, but others hadn't made it. It was a solemn occasion, unlike that earlier time he'd entered the Atrium. Fifty years.
"Fifty years ago, a tragedy occurred in the heart of the Ministry. It would be easy to forget, given what happened since, but the loss of life in a single day was matched not even by the Battle of Hogwarts itself-" The fire, the crush. Images Norbert would never forget. Once he'd been good at concentrating during speeches like this, but he was out of practice.
"I was there fifty years ago, as were so many others - it was the most hotly anticipated event of the decade. Duels were rare enough, except for the regular tournaments. My parents took me and I watched spellbound as Mr Leach triumphed. That was the result. The fact was virtually forgotten during the riots that followed, but it was that duel which first inspired me to work for a career as a professional duellist. I was nine years old, and I nearly didn't make it out."
"Faced by fiendfyre, any crowd would panic. I fell in the crush, and would have died that day had the Minister for Magic himself forced his way through the crowd and pulled me out. Another minute and I would be dead, the healers said. I have never had the chance to say this, but- thank you, Mr Leach. You did great things that day, but they were lost in the wider picture and under the force of later lies-"
Norbert interrupted quietly. "Please do not state opinion as fact, Mr Flitwick."
"-Poorly founded accusations. You did many great things, and it is perhaps only now that they are being recognised. Thank you, Mr Leach."
The speeches dragged on, and Norbert wondered whether he had really been so oblivious when he was a politician himself. Remembering back, there had never been an event quite like this during his time in office. They'd argued over a memorial service for the attack, and in the end it had been a small-scale affair in Courtroom One - invitation only, for the families and friends of the victims. Norbert had wanted to attend but Philip had advised him not to - his presence might form a motive for another attack. It would be safer if he was not associated with it, so references to him had been minimised. Looking back, that hadn't been good for publicity, but it was better than having the whole place go up in flames. He'd made a broadcast over the wireless and sent a statement to the press.
The closest thing to this had been fundraisers at St Mungo's and when he'd been called to open new venues. Congratulatory speeches, plenty of pro-ministry propaganda thrown in as subtly as possible. That was what was expected, and there was only so far he could go against the system. Besides, what else could you say? The organisers wanted more than three sentences, and even the onlookers would have felt rather offended.
More fancy words, then Kingsley - Norbert couldn't think of him as Shacklebolt, the name belonging in his mind to his old Head Auror - led the way down steps in front of the podium to where a large shape was covered with a plum-coloured velvet cloth. There was plenty of space for a new statue - his fountain had been replaced by that golden monstrosity, that demonstration of self-congratulatory denial. Wizards and witches, superior to other magical creatures who in fact held no such admiration for such glorified muggles.
He'd never seen either that or its replacement, just pictures. The latest creation had been simply disgusting, if more effective than its predecessor. Graphic, at least anatomically correct, human forms crammed together in a way reminiscent of some medieval sculpture. But in this case not a warning of judgement day but a crude reminder of the new regime. Tasteless and ill-considered, and yet another self-congratulatory message. Wizard superiority.
That statue was gone, removed the first day after the Battle of Hogwarts. Norbert wondered what had happened to it - whether it had been smashed by ministry workers the moment its protection was gone, vanished in an effort to remove traces as quickly as possible, or taken away to a vault somewhere. Like the medieval judgement day images, it was an important piece of history. Art was possibly the best indicator of the political situation during the period of creation, certainly a great source for study. In the long term, destroying every trace of a past unpopular regime was vandalism and would later be regretted. Hiding it was more shameful than admitting it had happened.
There was one new monument here, a memorial to the dead of the two Wizarding Wars. A vast block of marble topped with simple stylised forms - which looked vaguely human - holding hands. Modern art, Norbert thought scathingly. The naive message of friendship was poorly thought through. While he had no patience for traditionalists, why ignore all the principles of design and skills of craftsmen to produce something reminiscent of cave paintings?
If he had played a part in its development, he would have opted for a message of the reason these people died. Proper frightened human beings, wands drawn and fighting, protecting each other. Protecting muggles, too, because it was muggles who had been the main targets of the regime. So many people had tried to help their neighbours. But as always, the non-magical community had been ignored.
So what was under the cloth? More modern art, expressionless lumps of rock, no doubt. Still, at least it was a memorial. How his successor had managed to strip out a monument without replacement- but no doubt Abraxas Malfoy had been involved, so it wasn't that surprising.
Kingsley took one side, and Norbert another, then they drew the cloth gently over to reveal the new monument. Norbert looked up, and froze. A fountain, in white marble. A witch and wizard, accompanied by a boy and girl in muggle dress. The expressions were exactly the same as he remembered, the inscriptions too.
Kingsley stepped over next to Norbert, looking up at it with him."The original was destroyed, but we found the original craftsman and he still had the plans. Your message must have been appropriate to the time, and it is a suitable enough memorial even if the Squibs don't seem entirely relevant-"
"Not Squibs! Why does everyone think they are Squibs?" Norbert led the way back up to the podium. "I never thought I would see this fountain again - it was one of my proudest achievements, but of course it was destroyed after my resignation. First of all, I would like to put an end to the speculation which surrounded this fountain when it was originally erected. The children may be squibs, or muggles, or witch and wizard. Even in the most traditional of families, children do not wear robes all of the time. The children wear muggle dress because all children do at least some of the time."
"I am glad that we once again have a memorial to all those who died on that day, people who should never have died but who were victims to those who did not care for the lives of others." The deaths had not been motivated by hatred towards the victims. People had died because they were there, an indirect attack on Norbert to make him hated and afraid. To make his supporters afraid.
"At least the victims of the two Wizarding Wars had deaths with some meaning. They were killed for who they were, for something they had done, for resisting. Fifty years ago, eighty-three people died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The killers knew nothing about them, didn't care. The Death Eaters had more respect for their victims. The eighty-three may not have been there to support me. Perhaps they just wanted a break from sitting at their desks, some entertainment during their lunch hour. Their deaths were a message, a demonstration of just how far the attackers were willing to go."
His words were met with silence. People were used to thinking of the victims of the wars - it had been more recent. They had considered the Death Eaters the worst of men, not considered that others might have been worse. The Death Eaters had known the identities of their victims, had chosen them. A hatred of muggles was one thing, but such disregard for life was far more terrible.
"There are people who will kill for the sake of killing, caring nothing for their victims, caring only that there are deaths. But there are others, who save for the sake of saving. Who save the lives of strangers, regardless of who they are. Foremost among them are the healers, for whom I hold eternal respect. They dedicate their lives to helping anyone who needs them, not asking about blood status or whether the one they help is a good person. The healers treated injured Death Eaters after the War, even muggle-borns helping those who had persecuted them. The desire to help overcame personal feelings."
Silence, still. Few realised that injured Death Eaters had been treated at St Mungo's before standing trial. They had not shared wards with their victims, for fear of violence, and their doors had been protected to both contain them and protect them from those who hated them. "It is not just healers who can do this. How many here would save the life of a stranger, if they could? If one of the perpetrators of the attack fifty years ago was dying and you could save them, would you do it? Ignoring everything you know about them, seeing only a human being."
"Everyone here is like you. They have a family, friends, likes, dislikes, hurts, vices, and the desire to keep living. To them at least, their life is important. Fifty years ago, eighty-three people died. Eighty-three families grieving, empty seats at eighty-three desks, eighty-three beds empty that night, eighty-three dinners uneaten. They did not want to die any more than you want to die now, but they did, because the attackers did not care. If everyone remembered that, perhaps such things would never happen again. I am not asking you to become healers if you do not wish to do so, but I am asking you to remember that everyone has a life like yours and that life is as important as any other. Then we will never have a repeat."
There was a pause, silence stretching out. Norbert waited, still, allowing his words to sink in. Then the applause started, and everyone was standing. Not cheering, but applauding him, the atmosphere solemn. Now Kingsley was supposed to have closed the event, but he merely stepped forward and held out an arm to present Norbert to the crowd. Now they cheered, but he did not acknowledge them but turned to take his daughter's arm.
"I've done my bit, Sophie, and I'm tired now. Over fifty years - it's time I moved on. Someone else's turn now."
After his death, Norbert was cremated and his ashes entombed in the base of a statue within the Ministry. The statue was carved to be a true likeness, the sculptor demonstrating the same attention to detail as Norbert himself had in life. He had been offered the Order of Merlin several times, but refused on the grounds that he had "saved only one life". His daughter Sophie continued to work as a healer until declining health forced her to retire. She began as a trainee, then a junior healer, and through hard work and dedication she gradually gained authority. Her name later joined the list of past employees of St Mungo's, and she received no honours other than her qualifications in healing - which in her eyes were honour enough.
A/N: When I started, this was intended to be three chapters long. However the story developed and was impossible to cut short. Very little is known about Norbert - or Nobby Leach - in canon, so I had a lot of freedom. The same applies to wizarding politics - I created the council and much of the system, which contains elements from British parliament but is largely original.
Thank you to MargeretLane for this incredible challenge, including all your wonderful reviews which have been spurring me on to get this finished. I'd never have considered Nobby Leach if I hadn't been looking through the list of past Ministers in search of something which would fit the brief, and having written this one I might try some more "historical" fiction.
Hope you enjoyed it - all I have left to do now is a few edits then this story will be complete. If you liked it, you could always check out my author's page :D
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