Summary: Dolores Umbridge learns that "middle class" is a very muggle term.
Characters/Pairings: Dolores Umbridge-centric
Genre: Backstory/Character Study
Word Count: 1,616
Can the Order post to Tumblr?: Yes
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Middle-class is a very muggle term. Dolores learned that truth early.
She liked to think of herself as Pureblood for both of her parents had wizarding blood in their veins, but it was a shaky argument, couched in liberal theory – a bad crutch for a concept which was as traditional as they got.
Her mother, Agatha, was the youngest child of an impoverished and dying Pureblood family. The family’s only son and heir was impotent. His first wife died early after a fertility spell gone awry and he, blaming the family for the entire ordeal, eloped with a muggle girl, thus sealing the family’s shame. He was disowned and the family fortune split among the remaining children for their dowries, but there were five daughters and it was a small fortune. Dolores’ father, Ralph, was the son of a pureblood squib and a mudblood. Despite the unglamorous heritage, his family was rich, their economic power extending both into the muggle and the wizarding worlds. Although their estate was to be split between Ralph, his elder brother, Thomas, and his sister, Jane, Ralph was a skilled and prudent merchant, inheriting knowledge and talent in the trade from his parents, who did quite well for himself. Either way, this was far more than Agatha’s parents could expect for their youngest daughter. They had attempted to find “decent” blood matches for their elder two daughters, but the younger three were utilized shamelessly as the family’s cash cows.
Dolly – Agatha never called her daughter Dolores, detesting the name, but allowing her husband to chose it as Pureblood tradition dictated – was her parents’ only child and grew up in a strange mixture of Pureblood and muggle aristocratic customs and behaviors, tempered by her father’s sizeable but not limitless bank account. Her father was not home often, unless it was a holiday or late in the evening. Ralph worked hard to bring in the money, which was a very upper-middle class behavior, or so Dolly saw from her father’s friends – many of which were, incidentally, muggles or mudbloods. Her father preached prudency, punctuality, professionalism and basic dinner table manners. Dolly did not have many wizarding children to imitate growing up as Agatha was no longer well received in Pureblood society after her marriage. Most of the children Dolly saw and played with were from muggle or mixed-blood families of good income but whose culture identity was mixed and confused at best. All this resulted in pink dresses and doll houses, china tea sets and a large peach-furred cat with a jingle bell around its neck whom Dolly proudly names Fluffy-Kittie.
Agatha encouraged these habits in her daughter because she saw them as the only way to breed feminine traits in her. Agatha suffered from nostalgic memories of her childhood: candle-mirror fortune telling, family history recitations, Latin and dance lessons from a thin, lanky Italian wizard. She taught her daughter what she could about the way a proper lady should sit – legs crossed – walk – head up, back straight – speak – mildly and sweetly at all times – and do all manner of other things. But all her teachings were often lost beneath the onslaught of foreign cultural interferences, influences which Agatha could not block out without completely isolating her daughter. She was lonely enough herself; putting her darling Dolly through exile would have been unbearable.
Little Dolly did not think of her family as lowly, in fact she thought they were quite well respected. Her father had numerous colleagues and friends who brought well-manner, well-dressed children for play dates in their sunny and comfortable suburban house. She knew some basic spells and theories of magic from her mother by the time the Hogwarts letter came and thought that since her father was a wizard and her mother a witch there ought to not be any questions about whether she belonged at Hogwarts.
Getting sorted into Slytherin changed all that.
It took Dolly two weeks to start referring to herself as Dolores. Not because there was anything wrong with the name Dolly in and of itself but it rhymed too easily with trolley and folly and such other words. She heard the whispers and saw the disapproving looks and did not understand why her housemates singled her out. She was not the smartest in her year but there were many children far less sharp, even those who had had private tutors at home before school. She had been told by her mother that Slytherin was a very elitist house, but there were some people who were no richer or even less well off than her family and yet they received far more attention.
In two and a half years of school Dolores did not manage to make any close friends. She tried to imitate the behavior of others to fit in, checked her manners, ridiculed members of other houses, spoke like her mother had taught her to speak, described the most extravagant things that she and her parents owned or did as though it were nothing and yet they all still looked down on her. Her father told her to not worry and simply concentrate on her schoolwork but her mother only frowned and cried in a locked room after she thought Dolores had gone to bed.
Three weeks before the Christmas holidays of their third year, Melisande Avery passed out invitations to a large children’s ball that the family was holding over the break. Dolores watched the envelopes go around, sealed with the Avery seal, watched as everyone in the second, third, fourth and fifth year was invited. Everyone except for her. The feeling was of utter confusion. Strangely enough, although the others teased her, she was not hated and lately her adaptive techniques began to work. Her teachers liked her and held her in favor which made some of her classmates defer to her in academic matters. She could hold her own in gossip, so the girls in her year allowed her to sit in with them at meals and discuss members of other houses and even some of their housemates. That year she brought a beautiful Persian cat with her as a familiar and everyone tried to be pleasant to her when they wanted to play with it.
Confused, Dolores waited until she could get a moment alone with Gregory Selwyn, a cousin of hers, and asked him quietly, her voice rising and distorting in a half-panic, “Gregory, why have the Averys not invited me to their party?”
Selwyn looked at her as though she had lost it. “Dolores, are you mad? The Averys only want the good families to be present. Don’t you see? It’s a matchmaking party. The children will dance and sing and play and the parents will arrange for marriage contracts.”
Dolores furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. “I know we are not exactly…of the purest blood, but both my parents are of wizarding blood and we are certainly better off than Patricia Cobweb and I know I’m not…very pretty, but neither is Alecto Carrow.”
“Idiot,” Gregory muttered, slapping his forehead. “Has Aunt Agatha not taught you anything? It doesn’t matter if you’re pretty or rich, not really. All that matters is your blood-status. There was a Ravenclaw prefect – he graduated a couple years ago – who was handsome and rich and of good family. He was invited everywhere but the idiot let it slip that his great-grandfather had been a warewolf. No one would touch him after that. Your father is a Half-Blood, and that’s being generous. Not to mention the way he makes a living.”
“What’s wrong with how he makes a living?”
“A merchant? Selling things – not other people selling them for him – but going out there and paddling like a common muggle? Dolores, you’re a smart girl, use your brain. If you have to work, at least do something decent. The Ministry or something. But don’t be a commoner.”
The older they got, the more apparent it became that Selwyn was right. Dolores could gain respect through prowess and intimidation and bribery but her blood status always hung over her head like a sword waiting to fall. Girls like Alecto Carrow could be frivolous and foolish and bad-mannered, but they would still be invited to balls and tea parties and boys would still ask them to Hogsmeade sometimes and call them “Ms.” while Dolores remained in the background. Money was important, but blood came first, and it was hard to be “middle-class” with that sort of criteria. One could be respectable or not.
Yet there was one work-around that she could utilize – the same one she had used so far. Power was important; power was something that all the “respectable” families had. If Selwyn had been of any use to her it was in his advice to join the Ministry. There her talents, her ability to manipulate people, to imitate their behaviors, were of use. There she could utilize what she had learned during the seven years in the dungeons: who was important, who wasn’t, who had a secret ace hidden up their sleeve. From her childhood she dragged with her a peculiar combination of gaudy jewelry and pink dresses along with exaggerated mildness and sweetness of manner. Dolores knew that she lagged behind the Pureblood girls with proper raising in tact and manner but in the end it was not catastrophic. If anything, people underestimated her and that gave her the element of surprise.
Dolores always had one thing to keep her going: once she had enough power, maybe people would forget about her blood and the family shame. And if they did not, once she had enough power, she could make them forget.