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"What power, exactly, does the Board have in school matters?" You murmur softly.
"Hm... some." Alistair says. "I'm not sure of the entire degree. For a lot of things, they have to have an overwhelming majority or unanimous consensus, so... not too much, in that light. But they have final say in who to select as Headmaster, they can veto staff decisions if there's enough of a consensus that it's a bad idea, and if they're in full agreement then they can remove a Headmaster from his position. There was an incident, a couple years ago, where they removed Dumbledore."
"And yet, he is clearly Headmaster once more." You point out.
"Of course. It was a political move Lucius pulled, in light of a lack of confidence in his ability to keep the students safe, or some such. But Dumbledore has no little clout of his own, and it seems that once things started getting even worse without him, most of the Governors were scrambling to have him back in the school. Of course, they had to cover their own backs, so since Lucius was the ringleader, they made a scapegoat out of him. Claimed he'd threatened their families."
"... I'm not saying Lucius isn't the sort of person who would follow through on a threat like that, once made, but I much doubt he would have been hot-headed enough to make such a threat in the first place. Imply, certainly. But nothing concrete, that could be used in court against him. And definitely, if so many people had testified that he'd made that sort of an overt threat in order to push a political scheme through, and any of them could testify that he had come out and said such a thing directly, under veritaserum... Well, he wouldn't have gotten back on the Board of Governors after that, would he. And wizards in general are fickle enough that they wouldn't have needed much in the way of prodding to sack Dumbledore, at that time, if it was suggested to be a good idea."
"I see. As a whole, not a great deal of power, then..." You note.
"Oh, as a group, maybe not, in many lights. But if you get on the wrong side of a Governor, they can make your life...." Alistair pauses, frowning, as he thinks. ".... Annoying, anyway. Since you don't plan on living in Britain in the long-term, and politics are only going to effect you for so long. But while you're here, they can definitely cause you at least some problems."
"I suppose I shall have to avoid vexing others without due cause, then." You note dourly, ignoring Alistair's worried look as he tries to mentally determine what you may or may not consider 'due cause'.
That done, you gather your thoughts and composure, and ring the bell. A sniveling, cowering little wretch of a being arrives to heave the gate open. Vague 'taste' of fae. Household-retainer sort of a creature. You flick through your mental library before coming to a conclusion. Brownie. Likely also referred to as a House Elf, if your readings are correct. Something like a household youkai that exists for the sole purpose of performing chores and housework, and will waste away to nothingness and, if Alistair's own now-recalled stories are verifiable, madness, if prevented from working.
You mostly ignore it as it leads the way down the path and through the Manor interior to a well-furnished parlor, most likely more for the expedient purpose of making sure you don't poke around where you aren't welcome rather than politeness or the insulting assumption that you cannot find your way around a large house on your own.
Lucius is seated at the head of the table, what you can only presume to be his wife and child seated on either side of him, and a dour, greasy looking man seated on the opposite side of his son. His clothing is uniformly black on black... the better to hide spatters of some sort of fluid, which you cannot immediately identify. The Brownie squeaks loudly as it announces your arrival, casting furtive gazes between the master of the house and yourself. It is clearly aware enough to determine what you are not, but not so much as to understand what, exactly, you are. Suspicioun is focused on you, as such, and upon Alistair, partially from association with you, and partially because you suspect it has him pegged for what he is right away.
"Ah. Welcome, madame." Lucius says, genially enough, eyes calculating. "You may not yet know Severus. However, as Defense Instructor, I believe you will come to be a close associate of Hogwarts' Potions Master and Professor. And closer to home, a dear friend of the family."
"Charmed." The man almost snarls, before reclaiming his own composure and merely frowning in distaste. The son has straightened up, and where he had initially dismissed you as uninteresting he is now giving you an appraising look.
"Please, be seated. You shall have to excuse Severus. He makes something of a point in submitting his application for your post with every year that passes, and it seems that the sting grows no less sharp with every rejection." Lucius says, voice carefully smooth.
"Is that so?" You say, as you take a seat across from him and next to Lucius' wife. Alistair sits on your far side, and Severus makes a point of scowling as the delicate, silver utensils are collected from his place by the Brownie and replaced by heavy, cruder work of black iron. "Is your ability somehow lacking, that you would merit being turned aside from the post?"
"Not at all." He snaps, turning his glower back to you. "Albus has personal reasons to forbid me the position, to the point where he would even sooner risk having a ministry lackey installed than allow me to take that place."
"Ah." You reply, calmly sniffing at the tea. An interesting blend of fragrances. More importantly, you can detect no poisons, intoxicants, or any other additives which you recognize. "That does seem unfortunate. Though I cannot complain about a situation where I stand to gain something I wish, no matter the trifle it is."
"I thought you said you weren't coming in here to make enemies." Alistair hisses softly through the corner of his mouth, trying not to be overheard.
"I did not, and have not." You counter, in normal conversational tone. "I am merely stating fact. Incidentally, this tea is acceptable."
Severus scoffs and the boy rolls his eyes. Beside you, you can hear the wife give a slight sniff of disapproval, even as Alistair sighs. Lucius, by contrast, seems vaguely amused.
"It seems that you are not a simple woman to please." He drawls. "But come. There are a number of small repasts that the House Elves have prepared. Eat as you please... it is my hope that you will find this, likewise..." He pauses, and a small smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth. ".... Acceptable."
"My palate has been spoiled, I do not doubt." You remark, without specifying the hows of it, and after a moment of thought collect some manner of sweet pastry to join the tea.
"I am curious, I will admit, as to what exactly Dumbledore offered you to take the position." Lucius remarks idly, after a moment. "He was of course required to note, in passing, that something more than the salary offered had been required in order to lure your interest, but was unfortunately less than forthcoming on specifics."
"Mere stipends of gold would not have swayed me in any case." You reply.
"Oh? A fascinating opinion to hold." Lucius says, before slyly continuing. "I have often found, however, that those who take such a position will indeed not be swayed... for anything less than a very great deal of gold."
You set your teacup down.
"... Were I so inclined, then I could recreate an exact duplicate of your luxurious Manor, fashioned entirely from emeralds, the purest of jade, and gold." You say, sternly and honestly. "My coffers would not be impacted in any significant way by this venture. If there is a thing which I doubt I shall ever have desperate need of, and not have to hand, then gold it is not. As I have said, no amount of money can be brought to bear to influence my decisions, and I have no intention of grading any of my students on anything aside from their own merit... or lack thereof."
Lucius arches a brow at what he seems to take as mere boasting, and it is the son's turn to scoff. You use the opening to turn your attention to him, as though you had only just noticed the boy's presence.
"And this, I take it, is your son, Lucius?" You ask politely, drinking tea once more.
"Indeed... this is my son, Draco. I take a personal interest in the boys education... he is, after all, my only heir." Lucius replies. Then frowns, though it is only for a moment, and focused on Draco himself. "Though I would expect him to have made a better showing of himself than he has thus far."
"I've said this before, father." Draco replies, a touch stiffly, clearly unhappy about this being brought up in front of company. "It is hardly my fault that the instructors so blatantly favor that Granger girl. And Potter." He finishes, almost as an afterthought.
"Miss Granger." You say. "I can understand. From what I have seen of her scores across the board, accusations of favoritism would not be unheard of. I shall determine for myself if this is the case. As for Mister Potter... he appears a less than enthusiastic scholar, and I am uncertain of your basis for accusation. Kindly explain."
Lucius' eyes glint, and Draco scowls. Severus speaks up, darkly.
"Mister Potter, you will find, has an unwarranted amount of fame behind him. He has no limit to the number of his adoring supporters, even, you will find, among the castle staff." He says, tinge of bitterness in his voice. "Of course, the brat uses it shamelessly to his own advantage, and gets away with all manner of mischief and troublemaking which his supporters on the staff make a point of overlooking, in light of his status."
"Albus did seem to be rather... overly fond, from what little I had heard of the boy." You admit, now frowning. "I will take it as a warning. If he has been achieving better than average marks through such means, he will find my classes... an unfortunate turn of events."
"You're going to be extra hard on the scar-head, then?" Draco says, eyes alight with eagerness.
"No more than I will be on you." You say warningly. "As I said, students will thoroughly deserve the grades I award them."
You don't want to promise anything here, anyway. Especially since you doubt what is being said is entirely without bias, given that Severus is a 'friend of the Malfoy family'. Young Draco seems relatively mollified, in any case.
"As long as Potter and his pet Mudblood get-"
"Draco." the wife snaps, and the boy looks taken aback for a moment, then sheepish. "That is not an appropriate word to pass the lips of a well-bred young man in public. Nor in private, even."
".... Forgive me." You say, dryly. "I am unfamiliar with the local blend of... crude vulgarities. The term refers to?"
"It refers." Severus says, frowning at Draco, who now looks more than a little humiliated. "To a magical person born of non-magical blood. Referring to that heritage as though it were mud flowing through their veins. Very offensive, it could be considered similar to any number of racial slurs. Not the sort of word that a gentleman should be belting out at every opportunity, taking delight in the startled reactions such vulgarity might bring. Especially when that young gentleman considers that it can in many cases be stretched to cover any person not of entirely pure blood."
"You know I wasn't aiming it at you..." Draco complains, churlishly. "Besides, you're a full Half blood, and nobody in their right mind holds the rest against you. There aren't any real mu... muggleborns here, anyway."
For a moment, you toy with the thought of claiming to be of non-magical stock, simply to drive in the knife a little deeper... but you see little point in it, and many ways such a claim could turn against you. And it seems that Lucius is going to take this unexpected opportunity to pry into your history, given the gleam in his eyes.
"Indeed..." He drawls. "Alistair, for certain, is of good breeding, in spite of... personal misfortunes. And Madame..." He says pointedly, eyeing you like a hawk.
"The house of Knowledge traces its lineage back over two thousand years of recorded history." You say, perfectly honest and serious.
You even have a great-grandparent that was around in those days, if you recall correctly. Presuming they haven't gone ahead and died yet, or launched themself into space to find another planet to live on, as many of their half-senile rants had indicated a mind to do. You couldn't say. Your family has never been... what would be called 'close'. It's been decades since you had so much as thought of another member of it. What comes of being a family of Magicians, you suppose.
"Indeed..." Lucius muses, clearly digesting this tidbit, even as the boy looks a little gobsmacked at the number. Clearly, there are few families that count their years so far back, for whatever reason. "There is no person at this table that such a label could be applied to. Nevertheless it is not a term to be bandied about lightly. Neither is your vendetta against the Potter boy. It is not... politically expedient to be publicly seen as anything less than accepting of both, no matter how grudgingly. Even to affect warm feelings for such... if you can stomach that much, Draco."
Draco has set in to mulishly sip his tea.
"Headstrong. He gets that from the Black in you, I fear, Narcissa." Lucius sighs. "But in any case, Madame Knowledge, with your unfamiliarity with vulgarities... I suppose, where you come from, the Muggles do not rise above their station often enough to have a commonly accepted term for their spawn?"
"... If by 'Muggle', you refer to a person without magical capability... then it is closer to the opposite." You correct. "Though not quite. The simple matter is that in the realm I dwell within, there is not one person that cannot, if they so choose, use magic to some degree. No matter how limited or weak their ability might be."
Lucius seems startled, and now honestly interested by this.
"There are no Muggles?" He says, seeming to deeply consider this. He seems greatly pleased by the thought of their absence.
"I can see by your face that you consider this an ideal state of things. Your son as well." You reply, sipping your tea. "However, you must also consider this, in your visions. While there are no people without the ability to perform magic, there remain... unpalatable tasks. I believe I understand your social hierarchy now. Those of purest blood remain at the very top of the ladder, the most well respected and nobility, yes? Scaling beneath them are those of poorer breeding and lineage, down to those born of entirely unmagical stock, who form the lowest acceptable social tier. Let us say this is the second rung from the bottom. Dirt, who recieve all the most menial of labor and the meanest of recompense, which can only hope to bear children with another magical person to form an infant of slightly higher quality. Perhaps one rung up the ladder. Barring exceptional circumstances, they themselves will never advance beyond their current station."
Severus has an odd look on his face, and Alistair, next to you, seems uneasy as he shifts in his seat. Lucius seems to be thoughtfully considering your words, though.
"Beneath them is the bottom rung. Below dirt. The Muggles, as you call them, with no magical ability whatsoever to their name. Untouchables. Few would be seen even in the same vicinity as one, much less consort with them. Now, consider if the bottom rung were to be... removed."
"You would have a society without them..." Draco says, almost exhilirated.
"An idealistic viewpoint. And incorrect." You say, and the boy starts, then frowns at your shattering his delusions. "A ladder with the bottom rung sawn off does not hang in the air of its own right, without being held there by some outside interference. You now have a ladder with one less rung. Nothing more than that. Everything which applied to Muggles, now applies to Muggleborn. Suddenly, they find themselves the bottom of the tier, and their children only barely reaching where they once were, sometimes, and so on up the line. The very top, the purebloods, hardly notice the change. Then, eventually, people grow tired of suffering the continuance of those Muggleborns. So they are removed from the ladder as well, and the next rung upwards slides down to fill their place... for the purposes they filled, street-sweeper, rubbish collector, dirt farmer and livestock keeper... they are not glamorous functions, nor are they particularly well respected, but someone must fill these roles, and it is only right that the bottom level of society do so, no? But then Half-bloods become unsightly in the eyes of nobility... and suddenly, one day, nobility is all that remains. And they do not find it what they expected, for suddenly they find themselves with empty larders and hungering in the night, where they were full before, filth and detritus piling up on even the most well traveled of roads. The only thing to be done then, certainly, is to consult the lineages and breeding records, to determine who is the purest of the pure, the most noble among nobility.... and the lesser degrees, which might be nudged into accepting such stations without too much fuss. Is this not so?"
Lucius seems at least a little thoughtful about such a scenario, seriously considering how such a case might affect him, if it comes to pass. Draco's face, however, is twisted into a sullen grimace. He's clearly hearing your words, but refusing, petulantly, to listen to them.
"I don't have to listen to your... rubbish about ladders and Purebloods being made into cleaning ladies." He seethes. "The Dark Lord-"
"Draco!" Lucius snaps, broken from his thoughts, suddenly frowning darkly at his son, glancing quickly your way.
"Pfeh. I care nothing about what allegiances you may hold. I care nothing for social ladders, nor the ambitions of Lords, Dark or otherwise, or how your society will be affected." You say, finishing a pastry. "I have no intention of taking sides over such nonsense. I am merely stating fact. Do you believe that simply because all from whence I came can practice magics, that all do, and well?"
Usually, of course, this is by choice, either spurred by a simple lack of significant aptitude or enjoyment of the craft. It's enough to leave Lucius looking thoughtful and again, and suddenly mildly uncomfortable.
"These are unpleasant topics for tea conversation." Narcissa says, clearly intending to suggest that another be substituted, before Draco interrupts with an angry "Don't believe a word of your nonsense. I'll bet that you don't know a thing about what you're talking about, a two thousand year lineage of talentless squibs sounds more like what Dumbledore would pull out of his beard!" .... It looks like there's nothing but a sound beating that will get through to the little wretch. You might even be able to get permission. Lucius looks disapproving once more, though whether it's for what Draco is saying, or that he is daring to insult one of Lucius' guests, you can't really tell.
Things seem to have gotten slightly off track, somewhere.
[ ] What do you do?