Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit.
AN: I went back and added to the previous chapter since it felt a bit, well, short. If you read the previous bit before this was posted, I'd recommend going back. (The prologue has a bit more too, but not all that much.)
There's a lot more worldbuilding than what this story really needs, so I'm somewhat considering omakes.
Trying my hand at InDecline!Hogwarts. Wheee! Goblins will make an appearance eventually, and like elves, they have no good reason to like humans. (It really does bother me when goblins suddenly start helping Harry for no good reason whatsoever. Sorry).
It's a fairly slow start for a reason. I don't think Hermione would trust Hogwarts right off the bat; Hogwarts isn't going to trust Hermione right off the bat, etc.
WRT to morality, bashing, etc. I believe in gray-vs-grey, with characters (and societies!) doing the best they can with the information they have. I am going to treat all the characters as fairly as possible. All of them. Elves. Goblins. Humans – muggles, muggleborn, and pureblood alike. In a similar vein, expect no additional Chosen One mechanics or Special Once-Off Items that don't exist canonically.
WRT to inconsistencies between this chapter and the previous...I do intend them.
Oh, I'm mostly ignoring Pottermore, and in some cases, outright messing with some of the smaller details of canon to make it slightly more consistent with, well, reality. For example, Sir Cadogan cannot possibly be a Gryffindor if he was also a Knight of the Round Table, since King Arthur existed between two to four centuries before Hogwarts was founded.
Music: "Angel with a Shotgun", The Cab
Chapter 2: Lies, More Lies, and Occlumency
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The wind swept through, ruffling their hair, bringing promises of a rain to come soon. They were sitting under a tree by the lake, and the foreboding weather meant that they were the only people outside. Why here? Hermione didn't really know, but she suspected that, for some reason, she felt less spied-upon out here than she did inside the castle. Sometimes, she wondered about the portraits. Did they report to Dumbledore? Could Dumbledore free the elves if he wanted to?
More things for the list of questions.
"I'm not sure we should be getting into this," Ron was saying, staring off across the lake.
"Why not?" Hermione asked. What a role reversal, she thought, with Ron of all people being cautious this time around. It was usually her job, to be cautious and careful. It was usually Harry's job to dash forward on principal alone.
"Elves...aren't exactly known for being nice people," Ron started. "There's stories Mum used to tell us, about elves and goblins and how they'd trick humans. Steal human children and the like." He made a sort of awkward fluttering motion with one of his hands. "Not anymore, of course."
Hermione didn't quite know how to respond to that. And yet you trust them to be your bankers was an option, maybe, except she knew that Muggles had a fairly close parallel with their treatment of Jews forty or so years ago, so she couldn't speak about that. And that's nothing on the profoundly horrible treatment towards anyone with even slightly darker skin. True, the British weren't nearly as bad as the Americans, but...
"Like what?" Harry asked, before Hermione could select the right thing to say.
Ron paused for a second. "There's an epic Mum used to read to us, when we were younger. Elves kidnapped the young princess of Isoldia and turned her against her own people, and the hero had go and capture her heart to bring her back."
"Which hero?" That didn't match at all with the history Hermione had managed to acquire from the library so far. Why was this city coming up again and again?
"Lumi, the Bringer of Storms," Ron replied. When Hermione didn't react to that, he asked, "does he not exist in the Muggle world?"
Hermione shook her head no. Yet another thing that differed between the wizarding world and the Muggle one, she guessed, an entire world of mythology she somehow never managed to run across so far. She made a mental note to see if Hogwarts' library had any fiction books the next time she had the opportunity to visit...
"...and then the elves kidnapped the princess and brainwashed her into hating her own people and there were like thirty pages of really boring songs that I don't remember and..." Ron was saying.
Right. She should not zone out in the middle of a conversation. "How can you be sure that your legends are true?" she asked. After all, Muggles had legends too, and as far as she knew, none of the Greek gods or goddesses had ever existed.
"Oh don't tell me they don't teach you about the Medea Wars either."
Then again, those just might be true as well, and given all the odd things that happened in the magical world, she supposed that Zeus might not be entirely too out of place...
But if then, where did magic go off to? If it was so powerful back then, why are wizards hiding and Muggles in control of the planet, so to speak.
Ron's voice broke into her thoughts. "Do you guys have the legends of King Arthur as well? With, you know, the Knights of the Round Table, like Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, Sir Cadogan..." He trailed off as all of them remembered just where they've heard that name before.
"The portrait of that knight on the seventh floor?" Harry asked. "I wonder when that was painted."
Hermione paused, trying to remember. "According to Hogwarts, A History," she began, hesitantly, "Sir Cadogan was a Gryffindor. But King Arthur, if he existed, did so in the late 5th to early 6th century..."
"And Hogwarts was built around 990 AD," Harry finished for her. "What! I may have never read Hogwarts, A History, but I'm certainly capable of remembering what you've told me about it!"
"And you still do poorly in Binns' class." It honestly bothered Hermione that neither of her two friends applied themselves in any class other than Defense of the Dark Arts. Sure, it might be rather difficult to pay attention to Binns' monotone voice, but that's what taking very detailed notes was for. "Speaking of Binns..."
"Yes, yes, we'll add him to the interrogation list after that crazy knight," said Ron. "Although I suppose you should do that, since you're the only one doing well in his class."
Hermione nodded eagerly. More information was always useful. "Speaking of that, would you mind finishing the story about Lumi and Isoldia?"
"Where was I..." Ron thought for a while, and then continued, "Oh, yes. And then Lumi took the ring he got from the Queen, and when he took it to the princess, she fell in love with him. And she turned against the elves, and in her rage, she burned them to ashes. And then the princess and Lumi lived happily ever after, and Lumi ruled Isoldia – "
"– Until a plague killed them off not much later..." Hermione finished for him.
"Well, that's not in the legends," Ron said, simply.
"It was in the history of Isoldia I read this morning. What? What else did you expect from me?" With a sigh, Hermione pulled out a quill and some parchment, ready to chart this mess until it made sense again, but she was interrupted by Harry saying, "I'm not sure I see the point of any of this." He looked at Hermione with a sigh. "Look, 'Mione, I get that you don't want to see anyone enslaved, but I'm not sure if house elves could even handle freedom."
"Dobby seems to be handling it just fine," Hermione retorted, but then she remembered the sodden, drunk mess that was Winky. Another person she should possibly talk to, and as soon as possible.
"Dobby wanted to be free," Ron replied.
"They were forced to be slaves..." Hermione said. "At some point of time in their history, they knew what it was like to be free."
"It's been a thousand years. A lot of things change in a thousand years," said Harry.
A million things rushed through Hermione's brain. Thousand years. Yes. That basilisk that Harry slew, back in second year, must have been sealed within the castle by Slytherin himself while it was being built. (Did Hogwarts know about the basilisk? She should ask that. Another thing to the list.) A topic in history class from back when she still thought she was just a Muggle, something about the white man's burden? And a question she should have asked much earlier. "Did...either of your families own house elves?"
Ron dipped his head. "Yes. Our last elf was sold after my great-grandfather died. He...didn't leave a will, and his six children couldn't figure out a way to divide his estate without liquefying it."
Hermione looked towards Harry.
"I don't know," he replied. "I...actually don't know the extent of my inheritance. I've seen the Gringotts vault, but nothing beyond that."
She flat out gaped at him. "How can you not know!" She wasn't even an orphan and she had a pretty good idea of her parents' financial assets, just in case. And Harry was the sole heir of the House of Potter, and he probably had all sorts of claims on all sorts of titles at this point...and to not know anything about it.
How did they get on this topic of discussion in the first place?
What did being a wealthy pureblood mean in wizarding society anyways? Did titles mean anything, or could any random person claim to be a Lord? (Isn't that what Voldemort did?) More things to add to the research list.
"I suppose I should figure that out," Harry was saying.
Then again, if the heir of the House of Black could get thrown into Azkaban without a trial...Come on, girl, Hermione thought to herself, you should be able to figure out how this world works, you've read enough about it.
But what if the books were wrong? Hogwarts, A History flat out contradicted what she thought she knew about the history of the legends of King Arthur. What if they were simply propaganda? Hadn't Goebbels said something like "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself."
No. Unlikely. If Hermione had to suspect someone of lying, she'd definitely suspect Hogwarts over the Hogwarts library.
"I suppose we should gather more information," Ron was saying (stealing Hermione's line once again; what was this strange backwardness that's come upon them?)
"Yeah, I guess," Hermione replied. They divide up her list-of-things-to-research-and-people-to-ask among the three of them.
"But no, seriously, 'Mione," Ron said. "And I can't believe I'm saying this to you, but I think you should...be careful...with this whole S.P.E.W. thing. Freeing the elves is probably not good for them, and certainly not good for us."
"I know," she replied. "But I still don't think anyone should be a slave. Not like that."
And this, this she truly believed. Yes, Hogwarts was probably a lying manipulative bastard, but everyone deserved freedom.
The conversation ended after that – Ron to finish the essay on potions, Harry to Quidditch practice, Hermione back to the library. (Despite the last three and change years, they were still students, and unfortunately still had to do things like essays.) Long afterwards, two things came to Hermione: firstly, according to Hogwarts, elves weren't enslaved until 1057AD, and secondly, Lumi had been the king's bastard daughter, not son. Hermione sighed. She really need to chart all of this.
"You were like a sister to me." Lumi kneeled on the dirt ground outside of Arythenia's cell.
"I know, Lumi." Arythenia lifted her head as best she could. "Do you think I had a choice?"
Arythenia let her head fall down on her chest, her dirty mane of hair falling in front of it.
"You always had a choice, Arythenia. You know your father would have done anything for you."
"I wasn't his daughter," Arythenia replied in a whisper. "You are."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
~ USA Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson
"Why can't they just get along?"
This was a question that Hermione often asked her dad when they're standing in front of the huge world map. She was looking at Israel right now; her father had drawn in lines separating Palestine from the rest of Israel.
"That's an excellent question, my dear." Charles Granger picked up a small plastic toy solider from a nearby table. "You love me, yes, my little general?" He often used that nickname for her; she rather liked it. Liked the idea of being a general, calm and commanding in battle.
"Yes, daddy. Of course." As usual, Hermione had no idea where her father's line of questioning was going, but she'd figure it out in time.
"And if anyone ever hurt me, what would you do?"
"Call the police, of course."
"Let's pretend there's no police. What would you do then?"
She paused. "I...don't know."
"Would you be angry? Would you want justice for me?"
"Yes. Of course."
"And if there were no police, would you take justice into your own hands?"
But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success."
~Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf. Often mis-attributed to Joseph Goebbels
That night, Hermione visited the library in her mind again, and Hogwarts was there, once again with a cup of tea. "Congratulations," she said, "for looking in a place most witches and wizards wouldn't. Pity I had to stop you." She smiled; it did not reach her eyes.
"What was that for, Hogwarts?" Hermione asked. "You didn't have to make Dobby punish himself -"
"Your Headmaster is a Legilimens," Hogwarts cut her off. "And I could leave nothing up to chance." All bits of yesterday's randomness and little smiles were gone; she looked as serious and weary as any battle-hardened solider.
"When it comes to war, and I don't remember a time where we haven't been at war, everything counts."
"Hermione," Hogwarts continued, leaning over the table towards Hermione, "Understand while I would do anything to free my people, it's been nearly a thousand years. We have waited this long; we can wait for longer. And right now, I'm far far more worried about you jeopardizing my mission than you abandoning me." Her blue eyes flashed darkly. "So. This is what will happen. I will teach you Occlumency; you will teach your little friends Occlumency."
"And what if I disagree?" Hermione replied, as calmly as she could.
"Then I will wipe your mind and also the minds of your friends."
Only later did Hermione notice that Hogwarts' voice was different – it wasn't the voice of a thousand elves, but the melodic, alto voice of a single female elf.
But for now, she just simply nodded. "Okay." After all, Hogwarts hadn't asked her for anything yet, and learning Occlumency might just be helpful. She didn't know if Hogwarts could carry out her threat, but she certainly didn't want to find out.
Hogwarts settled back down into her chair, taking another sip of her tea. "Thanks. You should get started by getting acquainted with your own space." She gestured around.
Hermione stood up, looking around. Her mind-space was quite a bit larger than what she had originally thought. Bookshelves formed a pair of staircases leading to an entire second floor she'd managed to miss so far; they framed the fireplace symmetrically. She observed the books on the first floor first; perhaps there was some importance to the ordering? She could see little; books about Hogwarts' history next to books about permanent Transfiguration next to books on explosive potions. Her fingers itched to rearrange the books by subject, or something.
Incidentally, how did she know what these books contained without having to open them? She supposed it was her mind-space.
She concentrated on making just the first floor make sense, and to her surprise, books began flying around, apparently on their own. Right. Mind-space. Stop expecting things to work in a Muggle way, are you a witch or not? Here was a book on the fifth goblin war, there went a book on potion ingredients that were likely to cause explosions no matter what they were mixed with. Hogwarts watched Hermione as she organized.
Some books, Hermione found, contained memories that were effectively useless (did she really need to remember what she had for lunch yesterday?) Others were much more useful, but probably didn't need to be in her mind-space's atrium. And after her rather long day, it was somewhat...relaxing? maybe?...to sort through her memories of the day like this. For that's what they were, she realized. The books in the atrium all things she's had to think about today.
Afterwards, she wandered upstairs, only to be greeted by piles and piles of books, all stacked precariously on top of each other. The Gryffindor-themed furnishings weren't nearly as prominent up here; actually, it rather resembled some sort of attic filled with dusty books. Hermione winced. Is this really what the inside of her head looked like?
"With Occlumency, you can guard your mind, make it run more effectively, organize it, and so on," Hogwarts had said.
She hadn't expected this much reorganization.
By the time Hogwarts came upstairs to tell Hermione that dawn was coming and she should really wake up soon, Hermione had already made a sizable dent in organizing the cavernous space. A fairly sizable amount of floorspace now sprouted shelving that she'd somehow managed to will into existence; books continued to be piled in stacks around the shelving. Reference numbers hovered over some of the shelves, matching the reference numbers used by Hogwarts' library. She hadn't managed to find the far walls of this place yet, and she suspected there was additional space under the flooring, but still. A reasonable start.
"Wow, you're catching on pretty fast," Hogwarts commented, glancing around. "We might be able to get to actual Occlumency within the week. Oh, by the way, this is for you." She handed Hermione a scroll, waved, and vanished.
Hermione opened the scroll carefully, having existed in the magical world long enough to realize just about anything could be booby-trapped. A voice she didn't recognize said, "The Sacred Twenty-Eight, huh. I wonder why the Potters aren't on this? I thought they were a really old pureblood family...and why are the Weasleys of all people on this? Why? And I don't see the Dumbledores either..."
Hermione slammed the scroll shut, shutting up that strange stream of consciousness that ran through her head. What was that? She had the slight inkling that it was someone else's memory she'd been listening to.
Oh well. Two more things to add to the research list.
AN: In the line of "why did I ever think this was a good idea"...Arythenia used to be a half-vampire. Whose inhuman paleness was attributed to her having chloroplasts.
And yes, this is my angry response to genderbent stories.
Preview: No preview for the next part since I'm working a lot on a one-shot...but a preview for the one-shot:
Twelve years ago, Hermione walked in the ruins of the same castle, and she asked Harry, "What are you going to do with the Elder Wand?"
He had simply looked into her eyes and told her, "I plan to die peacefully." Simply. Easily. And they buried the wand again with Dumbledore, because as far as any of them were concerned, it was Dumbledore's. Even now, Hermione remembers this as clear as day; the house elves singing for their fallen brethen, witches and wizards crying for the deceased, McGonagall chanting spell after spell, the castle reassembling itself, the trees of the Forbidden Forest rustling in the winds.
Easier said than done, Harry, she thought.
In the present, the house elves sing, and the castle rumbles, and Harry is dead. Hermione looks at the ring, and puts it on. "Harry James Potter," she calls out to the wind.