The Struggle Within Peace
There wasn't a word in Hermione Granger's extensive vocabulary that expressed precisely how she felt after Minister for Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt told her that her division at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was one of those on the short list for being "redistributed." The first word that had popped into her mind was shock and then, perhaps panic with just a dash of fear and worry. But now that she was back sitting in her large corner office with the blinds and doors closed to hide herself from her coworkers, she didn't think that those words were at all accurate. She probably spent a quarter of an hour searching her mind for a correct word - or words - but nothing came up. For one of the first times in her life, words failed her.
This in itself was unsettling - it wasn't often that words failed Hermione Granger, but coupled with the fact that she had a meeting in fifteen minutes with Ernie MacMillan, former Hufflepuff and Dumbledore's Army member, who was now working in the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures Office, Hermione felt rather sick. The meeting was absolutely crucial for her latest – and perhaps last – act in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. And it was absolutely imperative that she succeed. It had been a cause close to her heart for quite a long time. But she had yet to send it in for the Minister's stamp of approval. And she knew that, at the moment, she was unlikely to get it, even with the success of her last project. She needed someone else's voice. Which was where Ernie came in.
They were meeting for lunch in a quaint little restaurant down the street, where Hermione was looking forward to purchasing a cinnamon roll. Or, with her current state of mind, perhaps something a little sweeter was in order.
Exhaling loudly, Hermione straightened her spine and gave her hands a little shake. "Time to face the world," she muttered. With an air of confidence that she really didn't feel, she threw open her office door, grabbed her cloak and announced to Beth, her legal assistant, that she was going out.
Ernie was already waiting for her when Hermione arrived at the shop, which surprised her - she made a point of always being at least five minutes early to a meeting, and this time it ended up being nearly ten minutes. "I hope you haven't been waiting long," Hermione told him quietly as she slid into the chair across from him.
"Oh, not at all. I'm early. I always try to be at least twelve minutes early to a meeting." He smiled widely as Hermione stared at him. She didn't know anyone else who made a point of getting to a meeting earlier than she did, not to mention such a strange number as twelve. He continued to grin as he waved the waitress over to ask for menus. They perused these silently until they ordered - Hermione had skipped the cinnamon roll, ordering instead a caesar salad. She had the sudden need to seem as professional as possible. "So." Ernie said importantly once the menus had been taken away and their drinks had been set in front of them, "What can I do for you, Hermione?"
Hermione blinked. It was usually lunch-meeting protocol to at least have the orders in front of you before bringing up the reason for the meeting. Hermione usually liked to play safe and wait until they were nearly finished their meal.
She cleared her throat after a few moments hesitation and pulled out a folder full of her research and petitions. "I've been working on something that I thought you might be interested in." She pushed the folder towards him, feeling suddenly much more comfortable and confident. Her departmental problems vanished from her mind almost as if a charm had been cast on her. "Do you remember when I started up S.P.E.W. at Hogwarts?"
Ernie had been about to open the file when she mentioned S.P.E.W., but he quickly removed his hand, almost as if it was poisonous, and looked at her warily. "You're not still on about that?"
Hermione frowned at him. "Yes, Ernie, I am. Non-humans are seriously mistreated by wizards. Their rights need to-"
Ernie sighed heavily and shook his head. "Hermione. House Elves are happy with the way things-"
"I'm not just talking about House Elves, Ernie," Hermione said shortly. "I'm talking about all non-humans. Goblins, Werewolves, House Elves, Giants - yes, Ernie, even Giants. Of course, there would have to be clauses about violence towards both other non-humans and humans in the bill."
"I really don't think this will fly with the Ministry. It's been this way for ages."
"That is no reason to keep it the same!" Hermione exclaimed, but just as she was about to gear up for a rant, their food arrived, and she was forced to fall silent. This, she thought, is why I wait to start. Ernie immediately began to eat, but Hermione didn't touch her salad. Instead, she watched him very carefully while he shoveled food into his mouth. "Ernie, do you really think that all of the prejudices in the Ministry - in the Wizarding community - are okay?"
Ernie shook his head, but didn't respond immediately. He took his time chewing and then took a long draught of his drink before responding. "No, I don't. But I thought you'd be wanting to crack down on those ignoring your last bill."
Hermione leaned back in her chair, understanding. "Is that what your resistance is about, then? You're upset that I'm trying to free the non-humans from their awful lot before I continue my fight against blood prejudices? Ernie...non-humans have a much worse time than muggleborns do."
"I'm not saying that I don't agree with you. I'm just saying that your last bill only just went through. Change needs to be slow."
He took another generous bite from his plate while Hermione contemplated what he had said. She picked at her salad absentmindedly, turning it around in her mind until she realized that he was very much correct. "You're right," she conceded, taking a sip from her iced tea, "and I had hoped to continuing my fight against Purebloodism. But right now, my focus is this. Are you interested, or not?" Ernie sat back in his chair, his plate nearly empty, and considered her. But before he could speak, Hermione continued. "Having another voice on this - especially yours, being in the Department for Control of Magical Creatures - would really help."
Ernie glanced down at the folder resting beneath his hand. "What is this?"
"My research. Testimonials. A very rough draft for a bill that I want to go through the Minister's Office and the Wizengamot, now that it's been reinstated. Support from the public."
He flipped the folder open and scanned its contents very briefly. "I'd like to take a look at what you've got here before I give you a definite answer." He glanced up at her. "But tentatively, I would like to help you."
Hermione grinned widely. "Thank you, Ernie. I really appreciate it." She glanced at the clock on the wall behind Ernie and was surprised that fourty-five minutes had passed. She was about to mention it, when Ernie did. He suggested they go back to the Ministry, which she agreed on, and once they had paid the bill, they left together.
They were silent for the journey back to the office; both seemed to have a lot to think about, until they stopped to wait for the lift. "Hermione, I was wondering...what are you doing tomorrow night for dinner?"
Hermione jolted in surprise and turned to stare at him. He looked completely serious. She really hoped he wasn't. "Er, tomorrow night?"
The lift doors open and Hermione stepped inside hesitantly, suddenly not eager to be in the empty lift alone with him. "Er...well it's Harry's birthday party tomorrow."
"Well what about next week then?"
Hermione frowned. He certainly was persistent. And if this was anything but professional, she wasn't sure she could bring herself to accept. She hadn't even thought about going out on a date with anyone for months. "Ernie, I really don't think-"
"I'll give you my answer."
Hermione frowned. Was he actually trying to bribe her into going out with him? Or was this all just business? "Well...alright. But not dinner. How about coffee?"
It was Ernie's turn to frown at her. He was obviously not happy with her changing his plan. "Alright," he said slowly, "should we say Friday after work? I know a good place not far from here."
"Er, yeah, alright."
The lift doors opened then, and Hermione was glad when Ernie left, albeit a little reluctantly. She sighed heavily and leaned against the wall, which was vibrating slightly with the movement of the lift. She could already tell that this was going to be a stressful week, and it was only Monday.