A little Luncheon please?
Elections have a terrible effect upon the digestive system. As a political columnist, the thought of being able to churn up political gossip causes quite a churn up elsewhere if you get my meaning. My Tuesday afternoons are frequently spent at L’Albicocca Magica near the top end of London’s Diagon Alley. I had just washed down my Veal Scallopini with a glass of chianti and was waiting for the service of my dessert when those pre-election jitters of excitement quite ruined the mood. Rumour has it that British muggles once developed an excellent laxative breakfast cereal to cope with just such situations. I’m told it was called something like “Brexhit” but don’t quote me. I’ve been unable to find a box of it anywhere.
So there I was, left with no alternative than to take a good old-fashioned after-dinner walk to clear the passageways. With the greatest reluctance, I turned away my plate of semifreddo and ventured out into the late afternoon bustle of Diagon Alley. By chance, I bumped into a gentleman whose first thoughts were the election. “I think the election is rather polarizing.” he told me in his thick Italian accent. Dear me, I was regretting the loss of my semifreddo already. His name was Veruto Buciaratti and he seemed content with first name terms. I wasn’t. It wasn’t a weekend after all nor had I invited him to my home for firewhisky, Merlin forbid. Still, he had plenty to say about the matter at hand and how it would affect his livelihood. “There is a clear candidate for me that I will be backing and it is not the man who wishes to increase taxes on my wares. I’m an alchemist, and more taxes upon potions would be disastrous for my business. Though I want to see the candidates talk more about the statute of secrecy and their positions upon it, capiscimi?”
Ti capisco indeed, Veruto. Nevermind the alchemists, many a witch at a certain time of her life has plenty of potions she needs to keep her public image, you know? Just imagine the consequences if their supplies were limited by the imposition of higher taxes. Who wants the horror of seeing my dear colleague Philomena Pest out in public without her daily magical ablutions? Umbra couldn’t compete. Oh dear, there’s my mouth going too rapidly again. It must be the chianti. Anyway, let me take you back to the idiosyncratic charm of Diagon Alley and its similarly eccentric crowds. Not everybody was quite so confident in their voting intentions. One Ms. Musibella Ramotswe caught my attention from an alleyway just by the corner of the Daily Prophet Offices. She was a housewife and like all housewives knows everything about everything. “I’m not one to talk politics or get involved with the media …” Oh dear, not a receptive opening, I thought to myself. “but… my vote would go to Merriweather.” Ah, two for a galleon in less than ten minutes. Perceptive Ms. R identified the claimed “extremism” of Bloom’s manifesto as her basis for supporting his opponent. She also inclined to ask me who I of all people would be voting for. Naturally, we journalists are quite happy to poke our noses into other people’s affairs provided that they keep theirs to themselves. A gracious, silent smile took me away from her without answering. In any case, I was now quite determined to find at least one Magical Londoner with some sympathy for the man who has actually served as our acting Minister for Magic.
Surely Bloom must have at least one positive quality? Well, I confess that I am still not sure about that myself. Whatever it might be, it certainly isn’t fashion. Take it from a man of my distinction that bowler hats belong nowhere except adorning dancing nifflers at the Hogsmeade circus. Fortunately, one Psyche Hyland was close by to interview and give me the real reasons why one might support him. “If the Ministry were more involved… perhaps I would not have lost my daughter, my dear Persephone.” This was certainly a personal note that I had not expected. The poor lady genuinely dazed out for some moments before focusing her soft blue eyes back upon my mesmerising exterior. I reawakened her interest by asking her what she thought of the two candidates in terms of their political experience: “Oh, yes. Well, I think that Merriweather knows nothing about politics. How could she, she’s only a healer…. but what terribly violent things she must have seen… What tragedies.” And she was off again into her own world. I was now off down the street. Diagon Alley had revealed quite enough and the temptation of going back for dessert was ever present.
Into the Basilisk’s Chamber?
Where might the ever so slightly unscrupulous columnist turn for tender bites of gossip during a contentious election? No, he can’t mean … well, of course I do my darlings. Whitehall isn’t that far from Charing Cross after all. Yes, my instincts were stirred so greatly by this point that I made my way down to the emerald cavern of the Ministry of Magic. I took the visitors’ entrance naturally. It’s the only civilised way. Besides, it allows one to make a most glorious spectacle of oneself before the entire room. This worked a treat as I had not taken two steps before my presence was questioned by one rather senior Executive Officer. “Who am I vo- oh sod off! You come into the Ministry looking to stir the pot, eh? On your way, duck, there’ll be no juicy quotes for you here!” Exclaimed Lark Rosewood, Head of the Department of Games and Sports. I now transcribe the rest merely for our readers’ amusement: “Just who do you think you are? Go on, ‘en. Vacate the premises or I’ll have Metel or some auror of the like send you on your way. I’ll not have any of your right of press bollocks today. Shoo!” A very imperious response from the Head of perhaps the most pointless Division in the Ministry, wouldn’t you agree? If we can have a Department for Games and Sports then why have we neglected to establish a Department of Haute Cuisine and High Living might I ask?
At least Rosewood had some attitude. A further three passers by in the Atrium simply pushed passed me with a glare of disdain. This was clearly not the place to ask intelligent questions. I corrected myself, therefore, by moving down to Levels 9 and 10, the only reasonably intelligent parts of the Ministry at all really. I had a fabulous notion that I might bump into old Warble. I know that Chief Warlock enjoys a good triple-chin wag not to mention the odd firewhisky. I might have even settled for Magistrate Colquhoun despite his lack of humour and atrocious taste in cloaks. Unfortunately, I had to make do with smaller pickings in the form of seated Wizengamot witch Diana Bikovic. She was, I confess, absolutely charming. “It’s a great time for elections” she began – certainly a change of tone. “Although Hannah was such a… generous, great soul, there were many flaws in how everything was maintained. We’re in a need of some damage repair – if I’m frank with you. Honestly, I expect the new Minister to have better control of our beloved school, Hogwarts.” Certainly, I was more than content to agree with her as she went on to explain the number and nature of the attacks the school has faced in as many years. I was beginning to believe that the Wizengamot might actually have some virtues until, oh dear, she forgot that the school now has a Headmistress not a Headmaster. Am I being a pedant? Of course I am darlings and you all love me for it. “Even their Headmistress cannot protect them at all times, as we’ve heard from the last couple of weeks that have been quite unpleasant there. I also expect the new Minister to improve security at the Ministry, especially, I must say, after the last events.” The Council member continued with some balanced views of the positive aspects of each manifesto but there was one policy she simply could not comprehend. Why did Bloom wish to remove the centaurs from the Forbidden Forest? Might it be because their good handsome looks give him some sartorial inferiority complex? Again, bowler hats. Go figure.
To tell you all the whole pumpkin pasty, I have no belief in the independence of the Wizengamot. They are all politicians through and through. Not that I see anything wrong with that, of course, as I am quite happy to have a grumpy council of geriatrics ready to criticise the Minister’s every obnoxious move. But it does mean that I needed some differences of perspective to show something of a balance between its members. “I recommend people to do research on what they want from the new minister some of you should remember what happened to our students with Umbridge reign” Another anonymous Council member pointed out to me quite firmly. I quite agreed, of course. The one thing the Ministry neglected to do when removing that woman was to ban the colour pink from anywhere in public sight. Ghastly. Werewolves were another point of contention: “Registration reform yes it’s there for their protection if it’s changed to rehab. I hope with these increased taxes that we can buy them wolfsbane potions. With this all being said why the tax was this released on remembrance day? We had wizards fighting the war!!!! I don’t see the current minister acknowledge our fellow wizards who passed on fighting the wars.” Naughty Bloom. I hope he will also remember the cost of my hair tonic when he considers his tax rises or he will certainly be facing another war.
I was quite ready to take my leave of this charmless drainpipe of a space when my attention was caught by Desiree Morris. When she explained her job at the Ministry, it was all my effort to keep my wand unknotted. Department of Mysteries employee? Was she quite supposed to admit that? Well, maybe she had been at the chianti too. “I’m sad that Fischer has died as she was my headmistress when I was at school but change can always be a good thing. I think the policies we need in place is more security when it comes to putting the bad wizards in Azkaban, it seems they keep escaping and I don’t necessarily mean dementors because they’ve proven to not always be reliable. I’ve seen the platforms for both candidates and I’ve made up my mind on who I will be voting for.” That certainly did not invite much more prying. Security. Hogwarts Centaurs. It all formed a theme. I certainly did not have the impression that Hogwarts wanted more security. After all, how would the Professors cope without nightly strolls to the public house? Let’s not pretend they don’t do that. They have far more imagination and spirit than any Ministry employee and some actual measurable amount of Magical talent to achieve it. There was now nothing for it than to find out for myself.
Apparition on a full stomach was an appalling idea. Worst of all, its result was to take me to the provinces. I looked around for some interview potential. Nobody looked particularly attractive but then who in Hogsmeade ever does? I nabbed the first person in an open doorway. “Jael… No, I will not give you my surname. I am a housewife, can’t you see?” Yes, my dear, I could see fine well. I just hope that she remembers her surname before her child is actually born. “What do I think about the election? Let Bloom keep the damned position, he can’t botch things worse than Fischer, getting herself killed by a werewolf just after putting those protective laws in place. Oh! But then there’s Merriweather, wanting to make things even easier for those beasties to get by. I suppose either way, you’re all doomed.” A balance in the negative I see. Perhaps we could replace the Wizengamot with a “House-Witches Council” and evoke some real cynicism?
After that unhealthy dose of bleakness, I decided to cheer myself up with a little sweet treat at Honeyduke’s. The shopkeeper was quite willing to give me a little tidbit of politics free with each piece of fudge: “I am sure much is already being said about Blooms draconic stance on many things. I wish to focus on Merriweather.” I wished to focus on the crystallised pineapples but it seemed that politics had followed me into the shop and I couldn’t pass up a perfect comment opportunity. “I think having a Minister that was not a politicians, but come from the people will be a good thing. To often The ministry forgets its there to serve the people, not the other way around. And to have a Minister that not only comes from the people, but one that comes from a profession that cared for them will be the boost we need. As well as her stance on the Umbra. More needs to be learned and rooting them out needs to happen!” Merriweather. Merriweather. Merriweather. It seems that in the minds of many she is to Bloom what Carlotta Pinkstone was to Statute of Secrecy. I began to consider if she had adopted some tyranny of sweetness to convince the public of her opponent’s wickedness in spite of the commonsense alternative. Yet, if this was being achieved by Ms. Feathersweet’s tasty treats, I was hooked.
The fudge and pineapples gave me that extra boost of energy to attempt the impossible. I would walk to the very gates of Hogwarts without puffing out my last or scuffing my calf-skin loafers. For such a civilised institution, Hogwarts really aren’t very good at roads. I pictured myself in my newfound triumph, cheekily wandering the corridors and stairwells asking irritating questions of the faculty and trying not to be thrown out. Alas, a dream this was to remain. I was halted at the gates by the stern but friendly figure of Arianna DracheBlume, Head of Herbology and Keeper of the Keys and Grounds. The last stop but a fine enough view. I will now have to take my comment about Hogsmeade residents. DracheBlume was my first interviewee without the right to vote, being a Lakota without British citizenship. That did not stop her opinions flowing with the firepower of a blast-ended strewt. “All of Bloom’s stances are abhorrent.” This seemed just a tad harsh to me. After all, she certainly wasn’t one of those older witches with a need to cling to her cheap beauty potions. “His desire to remove the centaurs is the one that has me most incensed. I have the unique stance to live near them and I am a friend to the Dark forest tribe.” Well, it was that old issue again but this time very close to home. “They are not wild brutes with no mind, but kind, wise and helpful if you approach them correctly. They have helped protect Hogwarts and Hogsmede many a time in the past.” The issue was clearly personal. As well as speaking directly to the situation of the school, the Keeper was very much reminded of the injustice of land eviction which had been forced upon her own people, now potentially to be inflicted upon another ancient resident of ancestral lands. This was certainly a somber with which to turn graciously away from the gates. As a sherry-drinking office dweller, such concerns were far from the experience of my own life. It was now time to dwell upon them, perhaps in an office with a glass of sherry?
A Table overlooking the Bay?
In London, one must learn when one should be alone and when one shouldn’t. In the afternoon, it is delightfully civilised. In the evening, it is curiously pathetic. Jasper, I told myself, you must beware of the falling evening and find yourself somewhere better to enjoy your solitude. My Veal Scallopini had not yet settled sufficiently to risk apparition for a second time. I therefore relied upon the delightfully traditional floo network and a hardy clothes duster to take me to a charming public house in Brighton Bay. Oh, this quirky corner of magical artists, swimmers, and artisan potions merchants always gives my quite a tingle. The added bonus of an orange sunset across a calm ocean was quite the settling scene for my frazzled political mind. Why do you do yourself Jasper? Isn’t there some nice tailoring magazine somewhere to which your skills could add great advances? Oh oppypock. I wouldn’t give it up if I could. Oh to be a commentator of drama and intrigue in the bellows of Whitehall. The Ministry has it all. Action. Theatre. Crime. Powdered Wigs. Well, not quite. The Wizengamot went for that continental fashion didn’t they?
I ordered a sherry and sat myself down by the window, resting my poor Bruno Maglis from their Hogsmeade trauma. “Oh! Well, Monsieur, I can’t actually vote, I’m not a citizen, but if I had to make a choice, it would be Merriweather. She seems like she understands the plights of the people, ouais?” A comment wafted over from the bar. Oh bother, time to introduce myself again. The lady from whom it had emanated was Adalicia Goddard, owner of Le Cirque Des Sorcieres. Oh, how very “Brighton” I told myself. “I would like to hear more from her about this shadow organisation… the one attacking? They interrupted a performance of ours during the winter. We need to feel as though our government is able to protect us, oui?” Your guess is as good as mine, my dear. If she wanted protection, surely Bloom would have seemed to most obvious character? So another man further down the bar through. And another.
Was the tide of opinion turning somewhere in Brighton Bay? I wasn’t keen to find out. My political tittle-tattle detector was running low on pumpkin juice for the day. Not only had I left a perfectly fine lunch incomplete but I had managed to drag myself to all ends of the country in the search for yokel opinion. Oh come come, my darlings, I jest of course. The one thing I have learned from my meanderings is that the public have just as fine political instincts as those who are apparently running the place. Perhaps after the election, I’ll go back and order that semifreddo after all. That is if Bloom hasn’t evicted it and Merriweather hasn’t sent it for rehabilitation.
By Jasper Aitken-Mayborne, political columnist.