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Rainfall by Leonore
Chapter 4 : Empires Old and New
 
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 Chapter Four - Empires Old and New

 

"The Romans brought many things with them when they invaded Britain, things which we take for granted today: baths, central heating, straight roads..." It's Friday, and we're reading about the Romans again. Once we've finished reading the passage, Miss Scott explains more about what we're learning.

"Romans had a very good way of making roads, with lots of layers. Now, I've got a lot of those materials here, and we're going to make a Roman road. Only a miniature one, of course!" She has trays with all different sizes of gravel and sand, and we pour them down and smooth them over in the order she tells us. We end up with a tray down the centre of which is (as far as we can tell) a smooth flat road. We line up plastic soldiers on it, mostly legionaries marching with a centurion at the front of each square of ten by ten.

At the very front we have a plastic horse pulling a chariot, except we decide it's funnier to take the man out of the chariot and put him in front to pull it - and to balance the horse in the chariot as best we can. This is pretty normal for our model making. Two years ago, when we were learning about the Ancient Egyptians, we built a model pyramid by pushing rafts across a large tray of water with the "stones" on them then setting plastic people to dragging it to our pyramid. A lot of plastic people ended up having tragic accidents when rocks mysteriously fell from the sky onto their heads. It's a matter of pride, being able to drop an object from about thirty centimetres up and have it actually hit its target. And we got bored of trying to build our pyramid. I think Mr Benedict did it for us in the end.

Soldiers lined up, we discover that if you poke one it falls into another and the whole lot tumble down. They then start arguing about whose fault it was and wrestle, and when the centurion comes to break up the fight loads of legionaries set on him. The horse gets out of the chariot and gallops across the carnage, and by this point the road surface has started to disintegrate. We go down to the canteen for lunch.

It's funny, doing role play with toys like that. You never get any warning of 'stealth attacks', unless the person responsible tells you that the person they're controlling is creeping up on yours. You have to guess where all of the others are and keep track of all the calls of "and so-and-so stabs so-and-so with his sword and so-and-so dies" and "the horse is bored and has decided to go and eat the centurion". A lot of plastic people "die" in our games but it's fine as they always come back to life a few minutes later. I mean when we have a hundred the same shape, you can hardly expect us to be able to tell them apart!

Our class eats together then we all go out to the playground and scramble round the obstacle course. There are actually two identical ones side by side, so more of us can use them at the same time. They're made up of balancing beams and rope bridges, stepping stones and monkey bars. We can hear another class already there, so we just go to another section. We choose a section and take turns racing along in pairs. When you fall off, you climb back up and carry on. Everyone's used to the odd bruise.

Then we have running races, a couple of us walking away about twenty steps then calling back so we can follow the voices. It's always an interesting challenge in which we crash into each other a lot and which descends into chaos when everyone starts shouting and we can't tell which ones we're supposed to be running towards.

The school bell rings to signal the end of lunch and we gather together, forming a long line and hoping that the two guide dogs are taking us the right way (Jenny's had one for a few years, and Aidan's just got his). If they aren't, one of the helpers will come and find us, but really we'd rather manage on our own.

Once inside, it's easy to find the kitchens for our cooking lesson, and within half an hour the room is filled with the smell of fresh cake. All the ingredients are stored in different shaped containers, and the teachers pass us anything we can't find. Mr Benedict guides my hand to tip the icing sugar into a bowl (rather than all over the worktop), and as it flumps down it sends up a cloud of sweet dust which I open my mouth to taste. It tickles my nose and I screw up my face in an effort to not sneeze.

I mix up the butter icing with a fork, squishing the soft butter against the side until Mr Benedict says it's ready. I wait for him to start talking to someone else before sneaking a finger into the bowl and scooping a little blob of icing. Sweet, rich, and creamy, it melts on my tongue. I suck my finger clean and wipe it guiltily on my apron.

"Hugo!" Oops, apparently Mr Benedict was watching after all. I give my most innocent smile in his direction.

"Etiam, magister?" I use the little Latin we've learnt in history lessons.

"Simiam bucculentam es!" I tip my head to one side, briefly, then decide to ignore the comment. He may or may not translate, depending on what mood he's in, and me asking will make very little difference. In fact he'd probably refuse to tell just to be infuriating.

At the end of the day, I have a box of cupcakes to take home. At Mum's insistence we have to wait until after tea to eat them. Dad's called to work as she's handing them out, and Mum teases him when he takes a couple on his way out.

"It'll be a long night," he replies. "The whole department is on alert in case of any trouble with the International Confederation elections."

"Oh yes, the results are being announced tonight, aren't they?"

"Usually no-one cares, but we're concerned about a couple of blood-purist candidates who've been... rather vocal. The Second Wizarding War saw away with a lot of support for people like that, but the ideas still have a small following. The turn-out for IC elections is so low that a small group of devoted believers like that can make quite a difference."

"Who are you and what have you done with Ron Weasley? I didn't know you'd heard of the IC, let alone understood politics to that extent."

"Being an Auror isn't all hunting down dark wizards, unfortunately. More acting as bodyguards for political candidates and helping the Law Enforcers with crowd control."

"I'd be worried if we had that many dark wizards for you to hunt."

"I'm worried by how close some of the people I'm protecting come to being dark wizards. We have to protect political candidates regardless of their policies. Sometimes I wonder whether it was really a wise move for Kingsley to introduce his election reforms; it might be more democratic, but if it allows extremist blood-purists into power is it really a good thing?"

"What worries me is the possibility that people will actually allow them into power. We should be able to trust the public to make sensible choices and to remember the dangers of people who basically advocate Death Eater ideals. Now go and keep the peace!"

Dad says goodbye and plants a quick kiss on my head on his way out. Mum and I are left alone, and when we've decided that nothing on the wizarding wireless is worth listening to Mum turns on the TV instead. Apparently it's a variation on a muggle device, running by magic instead of electricity, and ours can show both muggle and wizard channels. Usually we stick with the muggle ones, which tend to be more entertaining, but today we agree on a wizarding one. Mum's interested in how the IC elections turn out, for a start.

Apparently they're not announcing the results for another hour or so, and in the meantime there's some documentary on pure-blood riots. I remember most of the content from a few years ago, the fiftieth anniversary, but they've dug out a load of old recordings from the WWN broadcasts of the time. There's something about a duel, then the voiceover pauses for a sound clip. People are cheering, then-

There's screaming and a strange crackling sound. Mum has her arm round my shoulders, and she seems to clutch me tighter. She's stiff, her hand shaking. I can hear the voiceover again. "Vincent Macnair was accused of use of the Cruciatus Curse on the victorious Norbert Leach, but all charges were dropped - supposedly due to a lack of evidence. Considering that the act took place at the end of a much-anticipated public duel, in front of the press and hundreds of other spectators, it comes as no surprise that most are sceptical of the Wizengammot's decision. Nor was he charged for assaulting the Minister for Magic, or for failing to comply with the terms of the formal duel in which he had just been defeated."

"The main reason that this was overlooked was no doubt due to the immediate events. Fiendfyre erupted in the Atrium, and several spectators were crushed to death in the ensuing panic. The events of November the fifth nineteen sixty-four resulted in eighty-three fatalities, and yet no-one was ever charged. It is generally accepted that the attacks were carried out by blood supremacists in an attempt to destroy the reputation of the popular young muggleborn Minister for Magic. But did their actions have the intended effect? Or did they inadvertently drive their target to demonstrate the extent of his courage and devotion to the people, so earning him their respect? Some people would crack under pressure; Norbert Leach excelled."

The sound is cut off suddenly and we sit in silence. What happened? Did the TV break or something? "It's disgusting, what people can do, and how those events are later portrayed. If you want to listen, I'll turn it back on and leave you to it, but-"

"I'm not bothered," I say. I'm interested to know what happened, but Mum sounds upset by it.

"A few years on, are they going to be talking about me like that? How being under pressure, thinking that Harry was dead, realising that perhaps he wouldn't be the one to save us- realising we had to fight for ourselves- are they going to say that the situation allowed us to prove ourselves?" I snuggle against her in silence, no idea what to say. None of my parents have really spoken about their role in the War; we know they were important in it, but not any of the details.

Mum suddenly realises. "We never told you anything about the War, did we?"

"No."

"I guess-" she swallows and tries again. "I guess you ought to know a bit about our role in it, before you go to Hogwarts, because everyone else at school will know who we are. And it's probably better you hear from us rather than just meet it in History of Magic..." Mum tells me about the War, just the basics. How she, Dad, and Uncle Harry spent most of the year on the run, how Uncle Harry seemed to be killed by Voldemort, and how he wasn't really dead - or was he? I don't quite understand Mum's explanation of this point - and how he killed Voldemort. I've heard enough TV and radio programs referring to Uncle Harry as "the hero of the Second Wizarding War", "the Boy Who Lived", and "the Chosen One", but somehow I didn't realise that he himself had killed Voldemort. I've never actually listened to a program on the War. Maybe Mum and Dad avoid putting them on.

"Oh! The election special should be starting now." The TV comes back to live mid-sentence

"-waiting for the first results to be announced. Now we go live to my colleague in Diagon Alley; Teddy, what's happening over there?" Teddy? Our Teddy? Mum sits forward slightly.

"He never told us he'd got a job as a TV reporter! I thought he was still looking for work." The Wizarding Broadcasting Corporation is pretty new, the magical TV something which Dad was reluctant to buy until Mum pointed out that he could watch Quidditch matches on it. And now our Teddy's calm, even voice is coming from the set.

"Yes, hello Susan. As you can see, there's quite a crowd behind me, which is surprising considering the low turnout at the polling stations today. I'm standing next to Gringott's bank, inside which goblins and ministry wizards are currently checking the results. I'm hearing that the International Confederation representative for London should be announced in the next half an hour; I'll keep you updated on the situation here until then."

"Thank you Teddy. So none of the regions have declared yet, but we're expecting that to all change very soon. This is a new system; in the past, International Confederation representatives were always chosen by the Minister for Magic, but as you know Kingsley Shacklebolt has recently introduced new reforms to the election procedures, giving the people a greater say in how the country is run. This is closer to the system used in Australia, Brazil, and many other countries around the world. Terry Boot, one of our political correspondents, is in Australia now. Terry, can you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, Susan!"

"He seems to have survived his long-range portkey. So Terry, what's the situation over there?"

"For a start, it's about six in the morning over here! Which is probably for the best, because you would not believe how hot it's going to get in the next few hours. Results here were announced yesterday evening, late morning in your time, and the successful candidates are now celebrating. There's been quite an upheaval, the previous Chief Warlock Tony Richards losing his seat by a huge margin as his opponent, Tara Mundine, stormed to the top of the poll in Queensland as only the second aboriginal woman to be elected to the International Confederation since they introduced the public vote here in Australia. In fact this year has been the best yet for female candidates, with three of Australia's eight seats being taken by women; in comparison, they had an abysmal showing last year without a single woman elected, prompting many to challenge the country's claims of gender equality. While they still have not drawn equal on number of seats, this year's result was a huge improvement..."

The reporter carries on, then there are a couple of sound clips of first a woman then a man talking in drawling Australian accents. The woman's talking about how pleased and surprised she is to have won, and thanking everyone who voted for her. The man is the old chief warlock, saying how disappointed he is but- he speaks very quickly-  Mundine is a worthy winner and he's very willing to congratulate her.

They go back to the studio, where the presenter goes back to Teddy in Diagon Alley and discovers that the results are still being validated, then, "Over to Seamus, who's in Dublin."

"Seamus?" Mum whispers in surprise. "He was in my year at Hogwarts, in Gryffindor. I was wondering the other day what he was doing now."

"I am indeed, Susan! I'm here in the main hall of the Irish Ministry of Magic, and as you can see the counters are busy behind me adding up votes. I know over in Britain you use magical methods, but over here as Squibs also have the right to vote we use muggle-style ballot papers. It does make for a rather more exciting count and a lot more suspense; you can see the spectators on the galleries around the hall."

"It's pretty impressive, Hugo," says Mum. "They've got a huge hall filled with long tables, and at all of the tables people are directing papers to fly into piles. Then more people are taking the piles of sorted papers and counting them up. There's paper flying everywhere without a single collision, and there are crowds of wizards on balconies peering down."

"Now as you can guess," Seamus continues, "we're quite a way from getting a result. Using magic makes this a lot quicker than a muggle count, but I'd still estimate another two hours, more if the results are challenged and we have to recount."

"Thank you, Seamus, and we'll be back in Dublin later to find out how things are going there. But for now, the first of the British results should be in very shortly. I have Percy Weasley, the Head of the Department for International Magical Cooperation, here with me."

"Uncle Percy?" I ask. He's the uncle I know least well, who turns up at Weasley Christmases but doesn't say much; when he does, it's always about his work and how his daughter Molly is doing at Hogwarts. She's in James' year at Hogwarts and practically the opposite or him: quiet, patient, tactful, and a bit of a genius - at least in front of her parents. Away from them, she's the most outspoken of us all and always a good laugh.

"That's right." Uncle Percy waffles a lot about the importance of these elections to Britain's standing in the magical world and about the huge step that has been made by allowing the public to vote for representatives rather than the Minister just choosing them.

"Sorry, can I cut you off there for a minute, Percy; I think we might have our first result coming in!" Susan interrupts him, not before time. Uncle Percy tends to be pretty quiet at gatherings, but when he does start talking he doesn't know when to stop.

"That's right, Susan, the local returning officer has just come out of Gringotts, and the candidates are waiting..." He tails off and we hear a strange voice listing names and numbers. It doesn't mean anything to me, but suddenly a cheer goes up, and almost instantly its swallowed by boos. "Not a popular decision," says Teddy. "A wizard who has made it quite clear throughout his campaign that he believes wizards to be superior to muggles and magical creatures. There are no end of challenges to the International Statute for Secrecy, but it's rare for one to achieve such public support."

"There's your Dad!" says Mum suddenly. "He's at the top of the steps outside Gringotts, just behind the candidates and the returning officer- with his wand out. The Law Enforcers are in the street behind Teddy, stopping people from fighting.

"A very interesting result." We've cut back to Susan and the studio. "I've got our team of political analysts here. So what do you think of this result? And of the new system - has Minister Shacklebolt made the right decision in this case? Is there a message here about what the British Wizarding society find important?"

"Well, Susan, it certainly does raise some questions. It's only ten years since the Squib Rights Act was passed, and of course we all know the opposition it faced recently. Add to that the reforms to the Werewolf Registry, the ongoing discussions regarding the possession of wands by non-humans, and of course the great interest in Hermione Weasley's house-elf protection society-"

"That's you, Mum!" She hushes me quickly so we can carry on listening.

"-Does this result suggest that we have all misread the opinions of the general public? There are always opponents to change, but for a candidate openly against such changes to gain a majority in a public poll-" Someone else interrupts.

"But judging by the reaction when the result was announced, the majority are not behind him. First of all, there was a very poor turnout - less than twenty-five percent of the wizarding population in Britain. Is it not likely that those who choose to vote are the ones with strong opinions, those who disagree with the current direction of the government and wish to send a message. Those who agree with the current status quo are less likely to realise the need to make their voices heard."

"Indeed. And also if you consider the candidates standing, most are supporters of the current equality movements. So those with less radical views gave their support to the one they liked best of those- was it six? And those who believe in wizard supremacy and an end to the Statute had only one choice. The winner received less than half of the votes, so if it had been a straight battle between someone for and someone against equality movements and the statute the result would be different."

"So you think that several similar candidates running against each other increased the prospects of the one candidate with a very different view?"

"That seems a logical conclusion, Susan."

"So you believe that the idea of wizarding supremacy is still a minority opinion; does this raise questions about the suitability of the election system, if the minority opinion can win out overall?"

"Certainly it raises questions. I maintain that it is a huge step forward that the Minister has made, giving the people a greater say in how the country is represented, however the candidates perhaps need to take into account how the votes are likely to be split between those with similar policies. The logical step now would be for them to agree that perhaps it would be better for those with similar ideals to group together and select just one of them to stand, rather than competing against each other."

"But would they be willing to do that? It would require many would-be candidates to sacrifice every chance of winning, giving up on their dreams."

"If they have a choice between being part of a winning team or standing alone and praying for a stroke of luck, they will have to think about whether they stand for their policies or themselves. They claim to want power so that they can bring about certain changes, so either they will make sacrifices to bring about those changes or they are lying about their devotion to their policies."

"An excellent point. So you believe that the victory today was more due to a lack of votes for the other candidates than support for the winner. But there was support for the winner, clearly. Should we be worried that there is clearly a considerable portion of the population who support wizard supremacy - the main motive for countless Dark Wizards through the centuries and the key aim of the Death Eaters? Considering the number of Death Eaters in Azkaban who have not played a part in this election, is it the number with similar ideals who are still in Britain not surprising?"

"I think it is unfair to compare all of those who believe in wizard supremacy to the Death Eaters. There is no evidence to suggest that they are all willing to go to such lengths."

Susan interrupts them. "We're just going to pop back to Seamus in Dublin. Obviously you don't have a result yet, but do you have any insight for us on how it's likely to go? Any big changes likely, or do you think the same candidates will be re-elected?"

"It's hard to say. Seamus Brody - a different Seamus, obviously - is, as you probably don't know, one of our current representatives. Well, he's recently been suggesting that the IC ends its public information campaign about the dangers of apparating whilst drunk because it's apparently 'perfectly safe'. Faith in his ability to play an intelligent part in any debate is pretty low."

"Kids, apparating while drunk is not safe, as your apparation instructor will explain. But seriously, he genuinely thinks that?"

"Yep."

"Well, over here the main spotlight is on the basic issues of wizarding supremacy and the existence of the Statute for Secrecy - particularly in view of our first result. What's the view on those issues over in Ireland?"

"They haven't really come up. I suppose over here we're all satisfied with the way the laws are at present. We don't have the same issues in terms of wizard supremacy; while there are differing opinions, we have nothing like the kind of extremism that resulted in the Death Eaters."

"Do you want to carry on listening, Hugo?" Mum asks over the sound of the TV. "If so, I can leave it on for you."

I shrug. "Not bothered really." The speaker on the TV cuts off mid-sentence. Mum takes a deep breath before explaining.

"I can't believe they aren't worried by the idea of so many people with ideas like that. Since Rose was born I've been working to promote elfish rights because it would be impossible to build a viable argument based on 'all magical beings should be treated well', and because their position was worse than most. I thought that if I could convince wizards to accept that house-elves deserve rights, it wouldn't be too big a step to extend it to goblins and centaurs and werewolves, all the creatures who suffer in our society. And at the very least, we could move on from all of the 'wizards are better than muggles' and 'pure-bloods are better than everyone else'. But no, we're still stuck in that rut. It's less than twenty years since the end of the last war caused by those ideas, and now they're coming back. Seamus says that Irish wizard supremacists won't go to the same lengths, but I find that hard to believe."

She lapses into silence for a moment. "That documentary that we watched a bit of earlier was about the pure-blood riots, which were based on the same principles. Right back through history, people are being killed because others think themselves better. That's muggle history as well as wizarding."

"The Romans did it when they were making their Empire," I say.

"That's right, and they weren't the only ones. It's just- this argument about wizarding and pure-blood supremacy has been going on since before Hogwarts was founded. And however many times we resist it, it just keeps coming back. We fought wars - people died to get rid of this nonsense. And it's still here."


 







 

Translations (Latin to English):

Etiam = yes

Magister = teacher

Simiam bucculentam es = you are a cheeky monkey (if anyone thinks this is wrong, please don't hesitate to correct me!)

 


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