Chapter Eight: Societal Congress
Rose Parkinson radiated beatific unconcern as she was waltzed across the dance floor by Giancarlo Zabini at what should have been her daughter's wedding reception. The lady was not as complacent as she pretended to be about Pansy's missish refusal of Blaise.
But one doesn't disappoint people who are expecting a party.
And her husband, Michael, had an announcement to make.
"Friends and honored guests," Mr. Parkinson called to the assembly as the strains of the waltz faded, "I am so very pleased to see you all enjoying yourselves."
A good natured swell of cheer rolled through the crowd.
"And because of our mutual fellowship, I feel confident that you will all join me in persuading our gracious host, Giancarlo Zabini, to speak to us now on a matter of great concern."
The Under-Secretary of Wizard-Muggle affairs moved swiftly to stand by his friend's side on the platform on which the orchestra was playing.
There was a smattering of polite applause.
"Thank you, Michael. Good evening, friends. Now, I won't keep you from the amusement of the evening long, but I feel that, in these uncertain times, it is best to speak openly of my plans. As many of you know, I have long been troubled by the lack of control we wizards—and witches, of course—have over the management of our wealth."
Someone groaned. "Not this again, old man!"
Mr. Zabini chuckled. "I'm afraid so, Mr. Ollivander. As we rebuild our society in the wake of the Dark Lord's defeat, I know that I am not alone in desiring a greater measure of security in the disposition of our monies. As long as the Ruling Clan of the goblin families is permitted to . . . safeguard our gold, we will remain ill-prepared to develop beyond our self-imposed boundaries."
"The boundaries of which you speak were imposed to end the Great Goblin War and protect all of us, Zabini," Ollivander retorted. "You surely aren't suggesting the we break our treaty with the Ruling Clan and reveal ourselves to the Muggle world, are you?"
"My position on Muggles is clear, Sir, as I believe you know. For those present who are yet unaware of my thoughts on the matter, I will briefly outline them. While it is prudent to train the gifted among the Muggles, I do not wish to make ourselves known to them. Yet, the goblins increasingly have truck with such people through the agency of Squibs. This is an alarming situation, and one all wizards should oppose."
Ollivander snorted. "And witches, too, of course."
"As you say, witches, too," Zabini agreed. "My proposed Wizard Bank of Merlin would have no troublesome affiliations, and, therefore, would not risk our exposure. Such an institution would also allow us to conduct business with the financial houses of other wizarding governments, something that the Ruling Clan has ever been loathe to do."
"And how would that provide greater security for Wizarding Britain, Giancarlo?" Minister Weasley asked.
"Sir, it is not my intention to diminish our political capital, but I feel we might increase our security by increasing our wealth. To do that, we must have trade among all Wizarding nations. Surely, you see that, do you not?"
"I fear not," Arthur replied. "Your proposal would, by necessity, exclude the non-wizarding members of our society from benefiting from the alliances you would seek, as the majority of wizarding governments afford no protections to—and do not treat with—such beings. Denying our allies the benefits of . . . growth would do nothing but disrupt the peace we've enjoyed with them for centuries."
"Hear, hear!" called several people in the crowd.
"With respect, Minister, our 'allies' have held us back by their fear of foreign wizards for years. That sort of behavior is certainly not what Merlin intended when he arranged the armistice between the goblin clans and our kind."
Albus Dumbledore materialized on the stage beside Giancarlo. "And what is it that you believe Merlin did intend?"
To his credit, Zabini evinced no startlement to find the great wizard next to him. "Ah, Dumbledore! I'm glad you asked," he said cheerfully. "I believe our Founder would have wanted to see wizard-kind working together toward our collective good. He could not have foreseen how the Wizard-Goblin Accords would have prevented our growth as a society, a nation, and a financial power. The times have changed, Sir, and we must change with them."
"The alteration you seek to make would disenfranchise the non-wizarding beings whom Merlin held in high regard, Giancarlo, and I do not believe that, ultimately, such a change would bring us any true benefit."
"Yet to hide behind the false security of an ancient, irrelevant, exclusionary treaty will, Sir?"
"Great age does not necessarily imply uselessness, boy," Ollivander said.
"Indeed," replied Dumbledore, "though perhaps the years have caused you to forget your history. Have you forgotten that the Wizard-Goblin Accords were struck to both end the hostilities between our peoples and to ally them with us against those who would shrink our borders to gain more territory?"
"Yes, exactly," said Arthur.
"The old wars are over—"
"—which is why," Arthur continued, ignoring his host, "I find your distrust of the Ruling Clan odd. The goblins have performed their duties responsibly and well for generations. Why seek to cause a rift with them, now?"
"I agree," replied Ollivander. "What makes you believe we can trust our foreign contemporaries, many of whom supported Voldemort, when the clans stood with us against that wizard?"
A hush fell over the crowd at the elderly wizard's accusatory tone.
"Can you prove the collusion of France or Italy with the Dark Lord, Mr. Ollivander?" Zabini challenged sharply.
Arthur's expression hardened. "Permit me to answer that, Sir," he said to Ollivander before turning to Zabini. "It's known, Giancarlo, who our enemies are, by everyone here—even if we cannot produce evidence of their . . . activities."
"And why can we not do so?" Michael Parkinson asked, breaking the tension in the room. "Because there is no evidence other than general distrust and prejudice, that's why!"
"'Prejudice', you say?" asked Ollivander in amusement. "That's rich, coming from one of Voldemort's lapdogs."
"He goes too far!" hissed someone toward the back of the room.
"Rosewood, eight inches, gryphon's tongue—shut your mouth, young Carlton Snappersham, if you cannot give voice to your thoughts in full view of all of us."
Some people laughed then, but many remained stonily silent.
"Come now, Mr. Ollivander," Parkinson said hurriedly, "of course there were those of our kind who sympathized with He Who Should Not Be Named because they . . . mistakenly felt that wizard might advance our people, but it does not follow that we should ignore Giancarlo's ideas about working with wizards who would help us to develop."
"Perhaps," Albus commented, "so long as we do not forget who our friends are, and remain conscious of our enemies, perhaps such a scheme as the Wizard Bank of Merlin might be worth pondering."
Zabini silently cursed the meddling old wizard for sounding reasonable. It worked against his interests. But there had been enough discussion.
"Thank you, friends, for the stimulating debate. Please enjoy yourselves for the rest of the evening as you engage in less . . . political pursuits," Giancarlo said, signaling the orchestra to play on.
Draco Malfoy approached Minister Weasley. "Good evening, Sir."
"Ah, Mr. Malfoy! What do you think of the proposed Wizard Bank of Merlin?"
"It's rubbish, Sir, and nothing more than an attempt by Zabini to exert his influence over our government. It's well-known that the man's Italian brethren long to get their hands on the wealth of our island. Without the goblins and no real army of our own, we'd be defenseless."
"Excellent point, my boy!" Ollivander exclaimed. "I'm not sure who the man thinks he's fooling. Since Roman times, that lot has wanted nothing less than to control the whole of Wizarding Europe."
"We'll just have to remain firm," Arthur said. "It wouldn't do to allow what supporters Riddle has left to cause a schism among our peoples."
"You're making Mum nervous, Dad," Ginny Weasley informed her father from behind him.
Arthur chuckled. "Oh, dear, we can't have that. You remember Mr. Malfoy from school, don't you, Ginny?"
"Of course I do," the witch replied with little kindness in her tone.
"Miss Weasley," Draco said, bowing slightly.
"I say, I think the two of you ought to dance to take your mother's mind off of politics, Gin."
"I'd be delighted," Draco said, offering the young lady his hand.
Reluctantly, Ginny accepted it.
Arthur winked at Draco as the boy led his daughter to the floor, and Albus crossed it to join his party.
Mr. Ollivander smiled expansively at Arthur. "Nicely done, Dad. Their wand cores match nicely. Perhaps they, too, would suit."
"Oh, I say! I didn't mean—"
Albus' eyes gleamed with prognosticating merriment. "You needn't worry, Arthur. It's only a dance."
"That's right," Ollivander agreed. "You only need worry once the music stops."