Something rather nasty then. The Daily Prophet had been conspicuously absent from the staff room when I'd swung by on my way to the Great Hall.
Minerva waited until breakfast was half-finished -- by which time, the majority of the students had straggled in (Sunday meals were far more relaxed than weekday) -- and then she rose and drew their attention.
"I'm afraid there has been an incident in London," she began. "Diagon Alley was attacked by a large group of Death Eaters yesterday afternoon."
She waited patiently until the hubbub died down. "There were remarkably few deaths, and to my knowledge, no student families were affected. The focus appears to have been Gringotts, and it is currently under a state of seige. The Goblins have barricaded themselves in, and all financial transactions have halted.
"The Death Eaters have erected barriers around that portion of Diagon Alley, and the Ministry is currently working to break through them. I'm afraid that is the only information we have for the time being -- we shall continue with classes, as usual, until there is further information. That is all." She sat back down and quite practically returned to her breakfast.
After an initial excitement, the students calmed down and resumed their normal conversations, most of them unaware of the implications other than a general attack on Diagon Alley. I wasn't quite so sanguine, nor were the other teachers.
So Voldemort had finally figured out where to hit the Wizarding World where it hurt -- in the wallet. Undermine currency, or disrupt the steady flow of transactions for as little as a few days, and you can bring a society to its knees.
Thank God I am a paranoid. Albus' money was safe in the Swiss account, coverted to Muggle currency. But how it could be put to use now I didn't know: I'd always assumed it could be converted back as needed. That was apparently out of question, until the stalemate in Diagon Alley was resolved.
Things had suddenly gotten much more interesting, and for once I wasn't the least grateful for it.
"But what kind of spell are they using?" Flitwick threw out, nearly bouncing up and down with frustration.
"I don't know, Filius. I couldn't get a good read on it. It's probably newly developed, and I suspect there's a strong theoretic Arithmancy component to it combined with some rather nasty dark wards. The Ministry are bringing in everyone they can to test it, but so far no luck. The Death Eaters are so confident in its effectiveness that they aren't even bothering to... discourage the investigation."
They weren't bothering to take sniper shots, in other words.
"There were a few deaths -- pedestrians caught in the initial cross-fire. We don't know the status of most of the vendors at the far end, though Ollivander made it out. He flooed to Hogsmeade and then sealed the connection."
"What do we do now?" Hooch grumpily threw out. "Just wait?"
"We continue with life just as we normally would," Minerva shot out. "At least until the Goblins decide what to do, or the Ministry breaks through the barrier."
"Is there any question what they'll do?" Sinistra noted cynically. "The Goblins are for the Goblins. We've always known that."
"And for their duty," Filius shot back irritably. (He was one-quarter Goblin, I'd learned.)
"Yes, Filius, we know," Minerva said to soothe him. "It's a difficult position for them, in any case."
"If you have any contacts, Filius, it might be helpful to check with them," Severus told him quietly, "although I doubt they have any more information than we do at this point."
Flitwick gave a nod and shot another indignant look at Sinistra.
"How can we continue normally?" Sprout puzzled. "No salaries or supplies. I have a new batch of hybrid mandrakes on order for next term -- how are we supposed to --"
"It's too early to worry about that," Minerva said firmly. "Much could happen in the next few days, and in any case we do have some reserves outside of Gringotts. We'll be fine until after Yule."
She managed not to look at me as she said it, but I knew she meant Albus' money. I'd have to see her after this meeting, figure out what the devil to do about the exchange problem, and prepare to send Patty to Miss Climpson with instructions.
"I'm afraid the news doesn't get any better," Severus said quietly. "The Dementors at Azkaban turned on their handlers. All the Ministry gaolers have been killed, as well as the more... mundane prisoners. But those loyal to Voldemort, including the Lestranges, have been freed and are unaccounted for."
"Bloody hell," Sirius Black spat out, and Moody cursed volubly. "That... that madwoman is on the loose, as well?"
"Apparently, Black," Severus said coolly, and gave him a rather smug look that I couldn't quite decipher. "I expect she's located Voldemort already, since she and Rudolphus were ranked high in the Inner Circle."
"What about the Dementors?" Moody demanded.
"Whereabouts unknown, but probably with Voldemort. Whatever he has planned, he's not willing to tip his hand, not this early."
"Which means," Minerva said firmly, "that we shall have to redouble our vigilance. I want no repetition of last spring. Hogsmeade has already tripled its anti-Apparition wards and replaced its Dementor Deflectors, but we can't rule out the possibility of danger there -- so no one goes into Hogsmeade unaccompanied.
"Now, I want all discussion of this confined to the staff room," she continued. "I don't want the students to overhear anything that might upset them. Is that understood?"
It was quite late when Severus slipped into bed with me, and he wasn't in the mood to talk: he simply curled up behind me and dropped off almost immediately. And I didn't have the heart to quiz him about it when we woke in the morning.
I did have a surprise -- pleasant or not, I wasn't yet sure -- courtesy of the Deputy Head. Goyle stayed behind after class to speak to me.
"I have a free fourth period on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays" he mumbled, and waited for me to respond.
I looked at him, dumbfounded, and finally found my voice. "Are you requesting tutoring, Mr Goyle?"
"Professor Snape didn't tell you?"
I shook my head.
"He asked me to be your teaching assistant."
Oh, Sweet Jaysus. At the moment, I wasn't certain what I wanted more: to kiss or kill the Deputy Head.
"Oh. Is this, ah, acceptable to you, Mr Goyle?"
He was less than enthusiastic. "He's my Head of House. I owe him," he said with a shrug.
Decision made: kill the Deputy and Slytherin Head, kiss the husband. Perhaps.
"What about your studies?"
"I'm passing. Doesn't really matter how well as long as I certify. I'm not going to apprentice anywhere, and I can't afford University."
That was disturbing. What was he going to do after Hogwarts, then? He couldn't count on support from his family, not after being disowned -- that was a very serious matter in the Wizarding World, and he was effectively an orphan. Most students either stayed in Britain to apprentice with a Master in their chosen field, or moved to the States or the Continent to attend University: Salisbury, Britain's only Wizarding University, had closed in the late 1970s -- there simply hadn't been the student population available to justify keeping it open, which was one reason Severus had attended Oxford for his Doctorate.
I could suss Goyle out on his future plans later: for now I had to deal with the immediate scheduling.
"He hasn't had time to talk to me about it, actually -- it's a bit of a surprise. I'll tell you what -- let's begin on Friday. That will give me time to organise things so we can work more efficiently."
Goyle nodded and then slouched off to his next class.
I know I said before that I found Severus' deviousness attractive, but there were times it also made me want to scream. He'd managed to kill several birds with one stone on this one: he now had me keeping a closer eye on Goyle for him, and he knew I'd have to resort to more quizzes and tests, if only to give Goyle enough work to do -- there was only so much he could do for me in terms of the essay work.
Bloody Slytherin. And for once, this term, I didn't trouble myself to retract the disgusted, derogatory thought, even though I knew he'd been motivated first and foremost by concern for me.
I settled down about it later, of course, though I grumbled mentally as I set about coming up with some quizzes. Severus was doing his best, and expressing his caring in quite typical, no-nonsense fashion. The Deputy Head deserved an official thank you, and my husband would get a thorough demonstration of my appreciation later -- whenever it was I saw him next.
I think I'd better disabuse you of the notion that magic can solve all problems, and maybe you'll be able to grasp the gravity of the situation.
You can rearrange an object's molecular and atomic structure (Transfiguration); you can fiddle with spatial relationships (Arithmancy and the allied art of Warding); you can magically apply an external force to circumvent the laws of gravity, mass and motion (Charms). But you can't create matter from a void: you can't make something out of nothing. And acquiring that something was no different in the Wizarding World than in the Muggle World -- the economics were largely the same: Supply and Demand, and some of that supply came from the Muggle World. There were middlemen who dealt exclusively with acquiring materials from Muggle suppliers.
Construction materials, for instance. Wizarding couldn't produce things like large quantities of wood and stone; there weren't the reserves of timber and quarries in Wizarding hands to enable Wizards to be self-sufficient when it came to that. And while there were farms, they couldn't begin to meet the full demand.
Moreover, Transfiguration and Arithmancy were good at making small alterations to structures, but not wholesale, permanent renovations, and it took vast amounts of power to maintain those alterations (I found that out later in a very embarrassing way).
So the Wizarding World, in Britain at least, was in pretty much the same shape as any society in the midst of war: facing deprivation.
He looked awful. He obviously hadn't slept much, and hadn't shaved for a least a day -- the shadow was dark above his lip and along his jaw, save where it was coming in silver-grey. He'd brought a bottle of brandy with him, and was determinedly attempting to demolish a half-full snifter; presumably he wanted to be sure he could make it to my bed, not matter how much brandy he eventually downed.
He didn't even glance at me as I settled down next to him.
"Sorry -- didn't mean to wake you," he muttered.
"You didn't. I couldn't sleep."
"It's over. The Goblins have capitulated."
"They must have been desperate," I guessed eventually, to break the silence.
"No. They have vast reserves of supplies in the vaults, for just such an eventuality. It's a question of allegiance -- not that it's in question, anymore."
He sat silently for a while longer, and then tiredly volunteered more information.
"Many of the shopkeepers have relocated to Hogsmeade, but I don't know how they expect to do business, now."
"People will find a way. There's always barter, you know."
"That might work on a small scale, but how can you wage a war in these conditions?" he asked bitterly.
"I don't know, Severus. But it will work out somehow. Has the Ministry made any decisions, yet?"
"Too early. It just happened a few hours ago. I doubt there's much they can do: all their resources go through Gringotts. Bloody fucking hell."
It really was a desperate situation, then: he used the obscenity far less than I did -- it was a cultural thing.
"No ready cash, other than what's in circulation at the moment. No food save through barter. No potions ingredients or building supplies...." he trailed off into silence as the implications of the currency freeze alone struck him.
"What is he trying to accomplish, other than hobbling the economy?" I mused. "Could he be planning on using it as a bargaining chip? Join us, or lose your funds?"
"I don't know," Severus admitted tiredly. "There's been no word yet. I'd certainly consider that."
"Well, we can kiss the Ministry goodbye -- at least Fudge."
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
"When a government fails to provide for its citizens adequately, discontent is to be expected -- but when you're talking about the economy, it's vital. They're sure to oust Fudge now, unless he comes up with something brilliant."
"Gods. As useless as Fudge is, I don't know what we'll do without the Ministry. They're the only way to implement any effective response to this."
I hesitated, thinking it through for a moment, and then cautioned him, "Not necessarily."
He shot me a look and impatiently motioned me to continue.
"A new currency would have to be established very soon, before Voldemort has a chance to make any demands."
"How do you establish new currency when the thing itself is locked up in Gringotts?" he asked, more than a little outraged at the suggestion.
"But it's not the thing itself."
This was going to be a very long night: I stopped and took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm no economist, but I know that currency has no value in and of itself. It represents something else -- goods and labour. People's time and talents, in other words. Knuts and sickles are just the physical form that represent those items, and theoretically another standard could be devised and put into circulation, independent of Gringotts."
"Do you have any idea how difficult that would be, even with the Ministry's participation?"
"Immensely difficult -- and actually doing it isn't the hardest part. That's convincing people of its validity."
"And how in bloody hell do you propose to do that?"
I shrugged. "Good God, Severus, I just said I'm no economist. I suppose enough people, both sellers and consumers, would have to be persuaded to give it a try. Hogsmeade's a perfect testing-ground, I think, given the way it's suddenly grown. A lot of businesses are going to fail very soon, now that Gringotts is definitely gone. If the tradespeople accept a new standard, I imagine the consumers will follow."
He mentally sorted through the possibilities in my observation, exhaustion etched across his face.
"It can't possibly be that simple," he muttered.
"Of course not. Everyone's going to have to make sacrifices. Changes in their lifestyles, cutting down on waste. Turning flower gardens into vegetable patches, things like that." (Though of course that couldn't be done until Spring, now, and God help us if this went on that long.)
He nodded, miserably, and said flatly, "I can't possibly do this. I'm stretched thin as it is --"
And he buried his face in his hands.
"Of course you can't, and I'd thump you if you suggested it. But you can convene a committee. It's not as though no one knows what's going on, anymore, whether the Ministry acknowledges Voldemort or not. Have the committee talk to the parish council, get some significant and respected tradesmen to back the plan."
We sat silently for a while, the crackle of the fire the only sound in the room.
"Other than the South Americans, I have never before asked you to involve yourself in this bloody mess," he finally noted, voice muffled through his palms.
"No, you haven't."
"I find I have no choice but to do so now," he said with a bit of desperation. "You may refuse, if you like."
"Why should I?"
He looked up at me in astonishment. "It's not your fight."
I repressed the urge to smack him. "It became my fight the minute Ian and I stepped onto the Hogwarts Express. And if not then, certainly after this," I said dryly, and absurdly held up my left hand -- where we both knew his ring circled my finger, though it was invisible.
"My fault, too," he said, voice heavy with misery. "I simply couldn't stand it anymore. I should have persuaded Minerva to send you away, after spring term."
Oh, good God.
It took me a while to calm down, but eventually I managed it.
"You seem to misunderstand the most basic concept of marriage, Severus. I'm not here just to be coddled and loved into a stupor several times a week." I'd no idea what a pureblood expected from a spouse in marriage, so I had to attack this from the Muggle angle. "There's a marriage ceremony that includes the words 'better or worse, richer or poorer.' Mutual aid and comfort, in other words." I smiled. "I don't think you quite knew what you were getting yourself into, did you?"
"Gods, no," he said fervently in relief, and relaxed infinitessimally.
"I'd help you anyway, whether we were married or not. Think it through, and let me know how I can help."
I don't know why, but I wasn't quite ready to tell him about Albus' money. Time for that later: he looked on the verge of collapse, and if I told him of the resources available, he'd probably sit up for the rest of the night plotting.
Severus stared into the fire for a long time, and then groped for my hand, rubbing at the wedding band like a talisman.
"Can I do this?" he asked softly.
It was uncertain, but at least it was more hopeful than the despair.
"I think you can," I assured him, and he shifted to scan my face to search my eyes for any doubt or reservation.
He didn't find them.
"Come to bed," I urged him, and tugged at his hand.
"I won't be able to sleep."
"Then just rest." I smoothed the tangled hair away from the side of his face with my free hand. "And if you're so inclined later, I believe your wife wants to extend her thanks for her new teaching assistant."
He snorted. "I'm amazed you're still talking to me."
"You shouldn't be. I know why you did it -- both reasons, I think, though you probably had more -- though a warning would have been nice. But I know you didn't have time."
The thanks had to wait until the next afternoon, as it happened. Despite his assertion he fell into an exhausted sleep, and for once I woke well before he did. And though it was unwise I let him sleep, ruthlessly moving his topcoat to the sitting room where he couldn't be shocked awake by Minerva's damnable little emergency alarm should it go off.
Just this once, the Wizarding World could go to hell in a handbasket for all I cared. My husband desperately needed a respite, if only a brief one.
I'm useless at money, really, beyond basic housekeeping. I can't even balance my checkbook.
Nevertheless, I found myself chairing a committe dedicated to coming up with a quick solution to the currency/barter problem. The committee consisted of: Ollivander (representing tradesmen), Sprout (agriculture), Percy Weasley (his work at the Ministry had included commerce and weights and measures), and Hooch (just because we needed a devil's advocate and extra pair of hands, and she had time; turns out she was very good with numbers, like Percy).
It was excruciatingly boring work, based on two separate units of work -- white collar, or administrative-type work, and more physical labour: the white-collar hourly wage was roughly two-thirds the value of an hour of physical labour, and --
Oh, sod it. As I said, it was incredibly boring, and it's all been documented elsewhere: if you're that interested in it, you can consult the Ministry records. The only thing you really need to know is that we named the new unit -- quite predictably -- the Albion.
Well, we had to name it something.
Fortunately, Hogsmeade's Council Chair -- Clover Farquharson -- was rather sensible about the whole thing: she knew she'd have a failing municipality on her hands before long, and she persuaded the few naysayers on the Council to give it a shot.
Hooch and I also pillaged every book on WW II and Britain we could lay hands on, and devised a list of wartime measures. We blatantly ripped off all the old slogans: "Mend, Make Do, Do Without," things like that, and exhortations to "Start Planning Your Victory Garden Now".
By Yule Break the Albion was firmly established as the official Hogsmeade currency, Voldemort and Gringotts be damned.
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