How Wizards Do Money: Hermione Granger
Hermione sat calmly in front of the Ministry interviewer. Her legs were firmly hooked at the ankles and her hands were perfectly folded, one on top of the other.
“Actually,” she said, “I was hoping I could start my own department.”
Her interviewer was not so perfectly folded. He visibly goggled and his glasses slipped down his nose, but he pushed them right back up again as if it had never happened. She was Hermione Granger, after all. What else had he expected her to say?
“All right, we can discuss that,” he said carefully, knowing that he had been assigned to recruit Ms. Granger, recent graduate and smartest witch of her year, to the Ministry no matter what. “What type of department would you like to start?”
“The Ministry’s Elvish Rights Department,” Hermione said.
“M.E.R.D.” the interviewer replied, writing it down with quivering fingers.
“No, don’t pronounce it the French way,” Hermione said quickly.
M.E.R.D. sounded just a bit off-putting with both the long and short e, but the Ministry was determined not to lose Hermione to the financial sector or, worse, industry. In the end she was not given her own department, but was allowed to undergo a one-year research project under the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures: a field study, collecting data to reflect whether house-elves under the Ministry’s jurisdiction were being treated fairly.
“Fair is a subjective term, though,” Hermione complained to Ron. “There should only be a single yes-or-no question: do house-elves have the same rights as humans? As centaurs? The answer, as it stands, is no. Anyone can tell you that, without doing the research. This is a waste of a year.”
Ron nodded, slowly.
“Also, the term house-elf is completely pejorative,” Hermione said. “It should be elves who work in houses.”
“I just got myself a new elf who works in a house,” Ron joked. “Bit of a mouthful, yes?”
Hermione glared at him. “Sorry,” Ron said. “I mean, of course if someone’s mistreating a house-elf there should be a way to put a stop to that, right? And that’s what your research is going to do, yes?”
“No,” Hermione said, “it’s not even going to do that. It’s just data. It’s so easy to ignore data.”
But Hermione collected the data, though not exactly as assigned. She added a few questions of her own to the Ministry-mandated survey, including “would you prefer to be called elves who work in houses?” and “would you like to take your skills onto the free market?” (And then she would have to, inevitably, explain what the free market was.)
Nearly all the house-elves she spoke with wanted to stay where they were. There were a few who complained about being mistreated, and Hermione reported those names to the Ministry immediately. There were a handful of house-elves who liked the idea of never having to work again, but as soon as Hermione explained that they would still need to work—”only this time you’ll be free to earn as much money as you can!”—they immediately declined her offer.
As the year came to a close, Hermione realized she had nowhere near the data she wanted. Yes, she had pushed hard enough, and demanded enough upper-level Ministry meetings, that five families who were mistreating their house-elves had received sanctions, and a Ministry representative now visited those homes once a month to make sure everything was in order. In one case, a house-elf was removed and rehomed with a new family.
But the rest of the project was worthless, in Hermione’s eyes. She had spent many hours and countless out-of-pocket dollars trying to convince house-elves that they would have a better life if they were free. Her results clearly showed that house-elves were happy as they were.
“What if I quit the Ministry,” she said to Ron, “and you and I used our savings to trick people into setting their house-elves free? Like Harry did with Dobby?”
“We’d go to jail,” Ron said dubiously. He didn’t like the idea of jail.
Hermione didn’t like the idea of jail either—she could feel her entire body recoiling against it—but it was different when you were fighting for civil rights. “We could change everything,” she said excitedly. “We would be heroes again, working to make a more just world through non-violent action.”
The words “heroes again” hung between them, with all the memories they shared.
“Hermione,” Ron finally said, “you’ve got to see it this way. Right now I’m working for George’s shop, yes? And I got the job because I’m George’s brother. Sure, maybe that isn’t fair by some people’s definition. But families watch out for each other, and families watch out for their house-elves too. Most of ‘em.”
Hermione nodded, slowly.
“So stopping abuse is good, and you did that. You changed something,” Ron said. “But you’re telling the rest of them, all the happy house-elves, that they have to leave their families, the homes where they grew up, and the people and elves they’ve known their entire lives, and start over with some other job, which would probably still be cleaning for people, only in a new house where they don’t know anybody?”
“But they’re not free,” Hermione said, quietly.
Over the years, Hermione would come to remember this conversation differently. She would swear that it ended at exactly that point, and then one day it didn’t; one day she remembered Ron making one more suggestion at the end of the conversation, and she got up that morning, a decade older and a more tempered idealist, and began to draft a petition to break the spell that kept house-elves bound to their masters.
It was that simple. Most house-elves wanted to stay exactly where they were, doing exactly what they were doing, in the homes they had known all their lives. The problem wasn’t that they were unhappy; the problem was that there was this layer of magic that technically prevented house-elves from leaving their masters.
“If we remove the magic, they’ll stay,” Hermione said. “They’ll be happy and free.” They didn’t need to initialize the Happy and Free movement, because the title was perfect on its own.
This time the data was on her side. She didn’t need to change anything except the magic: the house-elves could keep wearing sacks and pillowcases—Padma had a long talk with Hermione about minority cultures and the importance of cultural expression that opened her eyes to a few things—and they could keep working and living with the families that had cared for them for generations.
And they could also walk out the door any time they wanted, even though most of them never wanted to.
And Hermione, like the house-elves, was happy—and, finally, free.
Previously: Parvati Patil