I just can't seem to leave Severus and Hermione alone. It's a Post-Hogwarts, EWE, of course. Two things I need to say right off the bat:
(a)The characters are not mine. Duh.
(b)I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Toodleoo, Beta and Brit-Picker Extraordinaire
- The process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste
- The process of making a person or activity more refined or polite
The war was over.
Once the funerals were over and the injured were being well cared for at St. Mungo's, once the rebuilding had begun at Hogwarts, I headed straight for Australia to find my parents. Harry joined me for the trip, eager to escape the oppressive attention of going from the Chosen One to the Boy Who Conquered. Ron would have come along, but deserting his family again so soon after Fred's death was out of the question. So Harry and I set off, relishing every second of our newfound freedom from mortal peril. It was disconcerting, to be honest; we were both more than a little twitchy still.
My parents were not so easily found, as it turned out. And once I had located them, they were not at all pleased that I had gone to such lengths to protect them the past year. There were tears and more than a little shouting on all our parts. Most hurtful was the way they looked at me. Now that Monica and Wendell Wilkins were once again Jean and Tom Granger, they recognized me and yet didn't. It was almost as if I had become a stranger to them a second time, the wizarding world having turned me into someone who played fast and loose with people's very lives, and damn the consequences.
Harry and I flew back to England while my parents tried to decide what to do now that their existence was upended once more. I cried for most of the plane trip home. At least the prospect of home brought me some comfort: there was Seventh Year to look forward to, as well as my fledgling relationship with Ron. With Voldemort dead and gone, I would be able to throw myself into my coursework with gusto, as well as enjoy the perks of having a real boyfriend for the first time in my life.
Imagine my shock and disappointment when I discovered that Harry and Ron would not be rejoining me.
"They're not giving you real N.E.W.T.'s," I argued. "They're honorary. It's like—like cheating."
But my two dearest friends merely looked at me as though I had scrambled eggs for brains. It was fine for me to go back to the grind of school if I wanted to, but they were headed straight into Auror training.
"It'll be okay," Ron had whispered, taking me into his arms at King's Cross on September first. "When we do get to see each other, it'll be special. Absence makes the heart grow longer, and all that."
"Fonder," I corrected, gritting my teeth.
Seventh Year finally went by. My parents chose not to return to Britain, and any communication with them was both sporadic and tense. I collected an impressive number of N.E.W.T.'s—over which I sweated bullets, although no one seemed to take my anxiety seriously—and applied at the Ministry. By the time I moved into Grimmauld Place with Harry and Ron, I had five job offers to choose from. There wasn't a major department that wouldn't have been pleased to have me, but I was slightly worried. It smelled largely of wanting me for my war hero status.
"You're barmy," Ron told me flatly. "D'you think anybody else leaves Hogwarts and gets their pick of plum jobs like that?"
"You don't understand, Ronald. I want to do a real job and make a difference in the wizarding world. Do you think we fought Voldemort just so I could become some department head's trophy hire?"
In the end, I decided to go to work for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I was going to make life better for any downtrodden, oppressed being in Britain. It was only a matter of time.
Little did I know how wrong I was.
"Why does a supposedly enlightened society continue to treat magical creatures as
substandard citizens? Did we somehow forget that a world united against evil is an
example of our best selves? House-Elves remain victims in many instances. Centaurs
have no desire to come into closer fellowship with humans, and given how they have
been treated by us over the years, can anyone fail to see why? Werewolves are still
relegated to the fringes of society, even when Wolfsbane is readily available to all…"
I finished reading over the rest of my letter (entitled 'Why I Speak Up in Outrage') and smiled in smug satisfaction. All points were covered: the injustices which continued to this day, the indifference of most of the wizarding community, and the sluggish response of the Ministry itself. It was nothing less than a mandate for change, I thought proudly. It might finally shake things up. I picked up my quill and signed the letter with a flourish.
Three years at the Ministry, four since war's end. Despite my best efforts at work, nothing had changed. I'd lobbied long and hard with nothing to show for it. I had written no fewer than fifteen proposals for change, sending them to my boss, Merle Swinely-Ross, and even to the Minister himself. I often had the distinct impression that my superior wanted to pat me on the head and tell me to go sit quietly like a good girl. Even Kingsley, as honest and upright as any Minister for Magic had ever been, had reminded me time and time again to be patient, that it was impossible to mandate the kind of sweeping overhaul I so wanted to see.
Tomorrow I would send the letter off to the editor at the Daily Prophet, but first I wanted second opinions. I left the library at Number Twelve and went in search of Harry and Ron.
After leaving Hogwarts, I'd moved in with Harry and Ron, and we still inhabited our little corners of the old Black family mansion. For Harry, it was home. Ginny Weasley shared his living space when she wasn't off playing for the Holyhead Harpies, much to her mother's chagrin. Molly frequently dropped blatant hints about how lovely it would be when Harry and Ginny actually got married. Meanwhile, Ginny was in no hurry to end her Quidditch career, and Harry knew better than to try to encourage that train of thought.
Ron and I shared a room…usually. He had made the oblique reference to marriage now and then, but he was in no hurry either. In fact, we had broken up twice in the past, only to get back together again. Harry and Ginny seemed wonderfully happy. Ron and I were certainly happy. Most days. I supposed it was best to work out the bugs now, so that when we presumably tied the knot someday, things would run smoothly.
Truth was, I didn't see the boys all that often. They were official Aurors now, but as the new kids, tended to draw weird shifts and crummy assignments. My schedule was the steady one: nine to five, every day. But on this Saturday night, we were all at home. I found the boys in the kitchen, wireless playing in the background as they tried to put together a homemade pizza. From the look of the strange assortment of toppings they'd laid out, I wasn't sure I wanted any part of it.
"Here," I said, waving the letter at the two of them. "Tell me what you think. I'm sending it to the editor at the Prophet tomorrow."
Ron took the parchment and began to scan the page; Harry leaned in to read along, not wanting to touch it with his flour-covered hands.
"Blimey, Hermione," Ron said when he'd finished, "you don't hold things back, do you?"
"Why should I?" I said indignantly. "I've worked long and hard for three years, and where has it gotten us? Nowhere, that's where. I'm tired of playing nice. I have to do something."
"You've done loads of stuff," he reminded me. "You researched what other countries do in regards to magical creatures, you sent all those proposals to your boss, you even convinced Kingsley to hold a Magical Creature Appreciation Day last year."
"But mostly I've only pushed parchment," I grumbled.
"Hermione…" Harry looked up from the letter, brows knit in concern. "Do you think maybe you've come on a little too strong?"
"But you signed it."
"As Hermione Granger, from the Department of Magical Creatures. Won't you get in trouble for that?"
I waved his objection aside.
"You have to get people's attention, Harry. Nothing else has worked. This will. You'll see." I didn't mention to him that I'd even thought of personally picketing the Ministry, which sounded wonderfully dramatic until I remembered that I couldn't march for a wizarding cause in the Muggle world.
Harry shrugged and left it at that. I folded the letter and put it in my pocket. The following day, I sent it to the Daily Prophet via owl post.
On Monday morning, I was ready to walk out the door for work when an owl arrived with an ominous red envelope in its beak. Ron, bleary-eyed after pulling a night shift, retrieved it. He took one look it and handed it to me, a look of impending doom on his face.
I swallowed and opened the letter. My boss's voice filled the front hall of Number Twelve at ear-splitting volume.
"HERMIONE JEAN GRANGER, THIS IS TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE HEREBY SUSPENDED FOR TWO WEEKS' TIME. I SUGGEST THAT YOU USE THE TIME TO SEARCH FOR EMPLOYMENT ELSEWHERE! SINCERELY YOURS, MERLE SWINELY-ROSS."
I dropped the Howler as if it were a hot potato. It shredded itself into pieces; Ron silently Evanesco'd the remains with a flick of his wand.
"Bloody hell," he muttered. "They're giving you the boot."
Harry came hurtling down the stairs half-dressed, one side of his face still unshaven.
"What was that?"
"Howler," Ron told him. "Hermione's been canned, from the looks of it."
Harry stared at me, stricken. And I remembered his caution about possible ramifications of my letter.
"But you're going to fight it, right, Hermione?" Ron put in confidently.
I looked at the two people dearest to me in the entire world, hot tears pricking my eyes. Fight it? Go marching into Swinely-Ross's office breathing great gusts of fire? Right now, my only, overwhelming thought was that for the first time in my life, I had failed at something.
Before I could come up with a coherent reply, a silvery Patronus in the form of a lynx materialized. Kingsley Shacklebolt's voice sounded, almost a whisper compared to the volume of the Howler.
"Hermione, could you see me in my office at your earliest opportunity, please?"
I swallowed. Hard. My friends regarded me with outright sympathy.
"Guess you should get going, then," Harry said drily.
Thirty minutes later, I sat in front of the Minister for Magic, numbly wondering what fate awaited me. Kingsley, although he looked somber, didn't appear ready to wring my neck; it was small consolation. Needless to say, a copy of the Daily Prophet sat on the desk in front of him.
"Hermione," he began, "do you know why I asked you here?"
"Because of the letter I wrote," I said, nodding toward the newspaper.
Kingsley rested his elbows on the desk and clasped his hands, his dark eyes boring into mine.
"Is it safe to assume that you realize that you represent the Ministry even when you are not physically within the confines of this building?"
"And that in writing this letter and having it published in the Prophet, you appear to be contradicting some official Ministry policies with your list of indictments?"
"And that for all the fractious human beings in this building, we generally manage to work toward the same goal of trying to improve life for the wizarding populace of Britain?"
"Yes, sir." I was beginning to feel very small.
"Then why did you do it, Hermione?" Shacklebolt leaned back in his large chair. His voice was unexpectedly gentle. "Why put your name to it? Why not just submit the letter anonymously?"
"I was frustrated," I said, a traitorous lump forming in my throat. "I suppose I was absolutely at my wit's end. Nothing's changed. Nothing ever will change. Nobody cares about the issues."
"That's where you're wrong. Things will change, people do care. But you can't force it. Trying to force change and make the world run the way you want it to sounds rather like the uprising we managed to quell four years ago, doesn't it?" He waved an appeasing hand when I opened my mouth to object. "Oh, I know, you'd never dream of Dark Magic and the like, but do you take my point?"
I had no choice. I nodded.
"So, where does that leave us? Has Swinely-Ross spoken to you this morning?"
"If by speaking to me, you mean a Howler that could have been heard all the way across the Channel, yes. He suspended for two weeks and advised me to look for work somewhere else. Basically, I don't think he wants to lay eyes on me again."
There was a brief silence while Shacklebolt considered this. "I don't generally intercede in the decisions my department heads make, but if I were to talk to Merle and ask him to give you another chance…? Provided you're willing to amend your behavior, of course."
Go back to my old job? Have my colleagues laughing behind my back, not to mention Merle Swinely-Ross watching me like a bug under a microscope? I frowned. Now that the shock of being fired had begun to subside, I realized that perhaps Fate had done me a favor. This could be an opportunity in disguise.
"I don't know," I admitted. "I think I'd be ready to try something else, but I don't know what it would be. I never really considered it. I just wanted to help make things better."
For the first time, Kingsley Shacklebolt smiled. "Tell me, Hermione, would you be willing to relocate?"
Dinner that night was at our favorite Italian restaurant.
Harry and Ron both said the same thing, but with very different reactions. Ron, speaking through a chunk of breadstick in his mouth, sounded revolted. Harry, on the other hand, was delighted.
"My mum was from there. And Petunia, of course, although that's not much of a recommendation. And Snape, too. I guess there must be a fairly sizeable wizarding community in the area."
"Sizeable enough," I said, brandishing my fork with a bit of salata speared on it. "That's why a Regional Office was headquartered there."
When the immediate post-war reconstruction efforts had subsided and life in wizarding Britain returned to something akin to normal, Kingsley Shacklebolt began to enact some of his designs for the future. He wanted to decentralize some Ministry functions, to bring them closer to the people they served and hopefully establish a bit more in the way of good will in the process. As a result, Regional Ministry Offices were born. Each site offered an Ombudsman to liaise with the locals, a mediwizard to save citizens the bother of going all the way to St. Mungo's for minor ailments, and an Auror to deal with trifling offenses in the area. The project seemed to be working well enough, from things I'd heard over the past several years.
"You're going to be an Ombudsman?" Ron asked, narrowly pronouncing the word correctly.
"Yes, although I'm technically known as a Ministry Representative. I'm there to deal with any concerns the public might have. Deal with their problems, get them assistance quicker than they might receive coming all the way to London and trying to handle it themselves."
"So you'll still be helping people and making a difference, even if it's not House-Elves or other creatures," Harry pointed out.
"True. I think it could be very exciting." It was only ten hours since my visit to Kingsley Shacklebolt's office, but I was already fully invested in this new opportunity. Not to mention grateful to remain employed.
"I don't know why you can't continue to live here, though," Ron argued. "All you have to do is Floo there every day, or Apparate. Cokeworth's just a run-down old mill town, isn't it? Who wants to live there?"
"We're supposed to be seen as part of the community, Ron," I said, dismissing his objection out of hand. "Besides, I can always spend weekends back here. Most of them, anyway."
"Guess we'll be batching it, Harry. You want to invite the dancing girls, or shall I?"
Harry snorted. "Don't look at me. The Quidditch League is on hiatus for a couple of weeks, so Ginny'll be home. I think the new job sounds brilliant, Hermione. We'll miss you, but I suspect we'll survive."