Fandom: Harry Potter
Word Count: ~ 2,200
Prompt: 61. A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. --Ariel Durant.
Summary: 'On the Recent War, the Purity of Blood, and the Historical Context': text of the keynote speech given by Griselda Marchbanks to the Ministerial Conference on the Development of Magical Society in the New Millennium, March 2000.
Notes: Many thanks to lazy_neutrino for betaing this fic and for a number of very helpful suggestions, including the title. Any remaining problems are my own fault.
They have only themselves to blame.
It was both iniquitous and foolish for pure-bloods of good family and supposed high character to have supported such a wizard as He Who Must Not Be Named, one himself so steeped in wickedness that he wished to be known, even among his followers, as the 'Dark Lord'. But even we pure-bloods who opposed these 'Death Eaters' find ourselves soiled with the same potion in these times. It is sometimes hard to bear, even as one realises that it is neither unnatural nor unreasonable for those targeted by these people to now think as they do.
One almost feels that one has to apologise for being a pure-blood in these days, when He Who ... well, I suppose we can now name him as Voldemort ... was finally defeated by a young, courageous half-blood, and when so many of those who provided vital assistance to him in his time of need were themselves half-bloods or Muggle-borns or ... let us say people of mixed breeding. Good people all, people that one feels proud to have met ... but sometimes I wish that it could be acknowledged that representatives of all sectors of magical society worked together to defeat this evil, that pure-bloods too had their role.
This is particularly ironic as it now appears that despite the pure-blood creed propounded by Voldemort and his supporters, he was, in fact, himself a half-blood originally called Thomas Piddle. At least, this is so according to a recent article in the Daily Prophet. Its track record and my personal experience of its reporting do not inspire me with great confidence in the veracity of this information, but it may be so.
I now feel a strange mixture of regret and shame when I remember what it used to mean to be a pure-blood, when we genuinely were an elite -- not through the exercise of coercion and the murder of opponents, but simply by virtue of our own strengths. When I was a girl, which was over a century and a half ago, it was a proud and honourable thing to be a witch from a long line of witches and wizards. My parents taught me of the many great deeds of our forebears; of the steady increase in knowledge that has brought us to what we are today; of the leading events in our history such as the laying of the first enchanted stones at the founding of Diagon Alley; of the wisdom of the creation of such places as a means of separation from the Muggle world.
But in this current climate it is important to emphasise that when those of our kind appeared in that world, we did not turn them away from our own. We were courteous towards the strangers in our midst; we found a place for them; and if that place was perhaps not one of the greatest honour, it was nevertheless still entirely possible for those of ability to greatly improve their station. I have made it my life's work to educate the young, from whatever background they may come, so that they may learn to control and to exploit the great gift they have been given. Magical talent is a rare and a beautiful thing, and to me it has never seemed an act of wisdom to reject any of those who possess it because of a mere accident of birth.
But alas, one knows that over the years far too many of our kind have not regarded things in this way. Sadly, the prejudice against all things Muggle-related expressed with such virulence towards the end of the old millennium was not novel; it had always been a part of our society. This is in spite of the many aspects of our supposed unique culture that any witch or wizard capable of logical thought could see are held in common with the local Muggles of the countries in which we live, and indeed the many developments in our society that are directly traceable to similar developments in the Muggle world. I hope that I have never been so foolish as to reject such things simply because of their origin.
Our position can indeed be a contrary one. The terrible memories of past Muggle persecutions of wizardkind down through the centuries have left their imprint on us. We persist in regarding ourselves as a small island about to be swamped by the tide, or a castle beset on all sides by dangerous enemies, even though it is plain to any rational person that, when we exercise our powers, we pose far more danger to the surrounding Muggle world than they do to us, despite their greater numbers. But there have always been those who should know better, but who have allowed themselves to be swept along on such currents of fear; perhaps because it resonates with their prejudice, or perhaps because it is simply convenient for their political ambition. All too often this has been the defining feature of the pure-blood mindset as I have known it, and certainly as those who have grown up in the last thirty years have known it.
And yet it has not always been so. My perspective on events perhaps benefits from longer personal experience than almost any other of our kind, but I still think of my youth and young womanhood as a golden era for our people -- that time in the late nineteenth century when by and large both cultures were accepted, and Muggles gave no real consideration to the existence of witches and wizards. My late husband and I endeavoured to raise our own children to be tolerant, and I still recall with pride the disgust of my sons at the public campaigns of the insane for the legalisation of Muggle-hunting, and the naïve but well-meaning enthusiasm of my daughter for the work of Oswald Beamish on behalf of the goblins.
Of course, it cannot be denied that the succeeding century has been an immensely unsettling one for our people. The carnage of the Great War in the Muggle world came as a deep shock to all, and many pure-bloods seized upon this as an example of the innate savagery of the Muggle mind. It was all too easy to forget that this was but a reminder of the potential for brutality in all human beings, as has been demonstrated so clearly in recent years in our own world.
But even this did not touch us in the way that the increasing sophistication of Muggle devices did. I sometimes have the ridiculous thought that many of our problems can be traced back to the invention of their airyplanes. Suddenly, we were not the only humans who could fly, when for centuries it had been almost an article of faith that this demonstrated the superiority of the wizarding race. Worse, within a very few years the Muggles had achieved things that we had never accomplished. I remember well standing in Diagon Alley shortly after the end of their war, and exchanging astounded looks with other shoppers when we saw the front page headline in the Prophet (in those days a newspaper whose accuracy could be relied upon), which reported that two Muggles had actually succeeded in flying across the Atlantic, several years before we even had brooms capable of such a feat.
And as we all know, the outbreak of the second great Muggle war was a further cataclysmic upheaval to the established wizarding way of life. At least, this is well known to those of us who lived through it; my work with the Wizarding Examinations Authority has left me saddened at the appalling standard of historical knowledge demonstrated by the young. For this time one of our own chose to use the carnage and chaos of that war as cover for his bid for power in our own world. In fact, the situation was even worse than this; Grindelwald was prepared to cast aside the Statute of Secrecy and influence the course of that war where it suited his aims. We were shocked that wizards had been involved in some of the events that took place, but still more shocked by those that we had nothing to do with. Wizards found it harder and harder to avoid being caught up in Muggle warfare and protect themselves from being killed by Muggle weaponry, and many of us were terrified of what devices such as their atom bombs could do.
The reaction of the wizarding world was to retreat into itself. How well I remember the bitter debates of the Wizengamot between those who insisted on the wisdom of separation as the only way to avoid such disasters, and those who urged closer links with the Muggle authorities. Little came of it at the governmental level, other than new protocols for meetings between the Minister and their Prime Minister, although I must be honest and admit to being glad that the decision was not mine to make. But I still contend that the general worldwide trends in wizarding society at this time were not beneficial, as even in Britain there was a new wave of prejudice against Muggle-borns, who were both despised and feared for their background in equal measure. Many opportunities were lost. For example, on the Continent, a once-promising movement to persuade Durmstrang to open its doors to students from a non-wizarding background was stillborn. A culture that emphasised purity of blood was allowed to take root.
We have now seen the dangers of such a recoil into defensive paranoia. In this kind of culture events such as the Muggle moon landings were deeply unsettling rather than a cause for wonder. We had never thought such a thing possible even with magic, and there were those who feared that some new source of power might be found there that would destroy us. It was in this climate of uncertainty that Voldemort began his rise to power, and it is all too easy for such a pernicious creed as his to gain a foothold by appealing to the secret fears of ordinary people. And once a sufficient base of support has been gathered, it is again easy to use it to seize power by force, such that few then dare to oppose. Many told themselves that the destructive behaviour of the Death Eaters was merely a regrettable necessity on the way to a cleaner world, a world in which wizarding blood could once again be treated with the reverence due to it, and those of pure lineage and wizarding family could once again take what was believed to be their rightful place at the head of creation.
We all know what the outcome has been. These beliefs have long been with us in latent form, but the war in which they were finally given free expression resulted in shattering defeat for those who held them. The seeds of their rejection were sown in the interval of relative peace between 1981 and 1996, as a reaction against the preceding eleven years of nightmares; the relatively short and brutal resumption of the war at the end of the century merely emphasised the dangers of such principles. It is a considerable irony that pure-blood culture has accomplished its own destruction in a way its enemies had never been able to achieve, by weakening its own foundations until they were rotten. With the revulsion against such a culture that we have seen as a result of the war, its opponents had merely to push for the whole edifice to crumble away, because it had already been destroyed from within at the hands of those who sought to reinforce it.
And yet ... I cannot help but regret what has been lost in the collapse. Over the course of these two wars we have seen the extinction of many ancient wizarding families, lineages of antiquity and glory. I think of the familiar names of my youth and cannot restrain a pang of regret that so many of them will be unknown to the coming generations. There are now no more Blacks, no more Crouches, no more Gamps. The lines of the Longbottoms and the Potters and the Malfoys are reduced to a single thread. I see many young girls in an almost unseemly rush to shed their proud names in marriage for new ones that are prosaic and untainted and belong to those of unquestioned mixed blood, and fear that we will lose sight of the greatness that those names once possessed by right of the great works performed by those that bore them.
And although I recognise, both in public before you all today, and indeed in my heart of hearts, the value of a world in which blood is not of overweening importance, and in which blood is not spilt in the defence of it ... I should also confess to you that sometimes, in the privacy of my own bedchamber and the quiet of the night, I cannot help but weep for what we have lost in our own arrogance and foolishness.
We have only ourselves to blame.