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The Harder Struggle by Ericfmc
Chapter 24: Loose Tongues
“Ah, Miss Granger, good to see you again. I’m glad you could come.” Grantham gave Hermione a warm handshake and a big smile.
Hermione smiled back. “Good evening, Mr Grantham.”
“And this is Ronald Weasley, It is an honour to meet you sir.” He shook Ron’s hand with a firm grip. Ron was too surprised at the respectful greeting to do anything other than mumble.
Hermione, Ron, Harry and Ginny had arrived at Gibson Hall in London for Grantham’s fundraiser and were now negotiating the reception line.
Hermione introduced Harry and Ginny. Grantham greeted them warmly. “I really can’t thank you enough for coming. I’m sorry I can’t introduce you to my wife; she would have loved to meet you all. Unfortunately, she is not feeling well tonight.”
“I’ll hope she’ll be alright,” replied Hermione.
“Yes, she’ll be fine. Slight dose of Pixie Pox. Occupational hazard, I’m afraid – she’s a healer on the Magical Infections ward at St Mungo’s. Now I believe you know Peter Lowry.”
“Yes, we met in Sydney. How are you Hermione?
“Fine thanks, Mr Lowry.”
“No doubt George Lonnergan introduced you as part of his campaign against the dark side,” quipped Grantham.
“Actually it was his father, Kevin, but you’re not wrong in principle,” laughed Lowry. “Don’t worry Oliver; you’re only half on the dark side.”
Grantham laughed then turned to meet the next group waiting on the line.
“So how come you’re on the reception line, Mr Lowry?” asked Ron.
“Ah, that’s all Hermione’s fault.”
“My fault?” said Hermione, raising her eyebrows in surprise.
“Oh yes. When you declined the position of Patron, Oliver roped me in. I’m a high profile muggle-born businessman with excellent connections to the people with money. Good qualifications for a Patron.”
“You don’t have any difficulties with taking on the position?” asked Hermione more accusingly than she intended.
“We’re holding up the reception line, Hermione. We’ll talk later, OK.” Lowry turned away from Hermione and greeted Harry and Ginny.
Gibson Hall, in the centre of London, had had a wizarding connection ever since the Greengrass family’s failed attempt to break Gringotts’ banking monopoly back in the 1870’s. Unbeknown to its many muggle customers, it was owned by a consortium of wealthy wizarding families. It was frequently used by the magical community for receptions, weddings and other events. On such occasions all the front of house staff were witches or wizards and no unwanted muggle eyes were able to witness the goings on. There was even a space where arriving guests could safely apparate. Ron and Hermione had been back living at the Burrow for a week now and all four had apparated directly from there.
The Main Hall, where they were dining tonight, was a splendid Victorian era room. It was flanked by Corinthian marble columns capped with gold. A high vaulted ceiling contained three large domes glazed with an intricate black and white pattern and each containing a magnificent chandelier. The decoration had the richness of an Italian renaissance palace but with more restraint. The room had a visual harmony and was a delight to the eye.
Hermione, Ron, Harry and Ginny were first to arrive at their table. They sat down and scanned the room. It was like a who’s who of the wizarding world. There were members of the Wizengamot, leading artists and sports people and doyens of many of the leading families. They spotted Daphne Greengrass with her parents and also the McMillans. Ernie, thankfully, appeared to be fully recovered and walking normally.
“Look, there’s old Celestina Warbeck. I should get her autograph for Mum,” said Ron.
“Get one for Fleur, too,” sniggered Ginny.
Their laughter was interrupted as they were joined by Horace Slughorn who was accompanied by Gwenog Jones, the captain of the Hollyhead Harpies, and her partner, Jordan.
Ginny froze rigid when they were joined by Jones whose poster still adorned Ginny’s bedroom. She barely made it through the introductions without embarrassing herself. She was saved from tongue paralysis by the arrival of Ambrosius Flume and his wife who together ran Honeydukes Sweetshop in Hogsmeade. Reminisces about Hogsmeade visits and happy times in Honeydukes eased the conversation.
“This is just like a reunion of the Slug Club,” said Horace, very pleased with himself. “I believe everyone here was a member, ah …except you Mr Weasley – Reginald isn’t it?”
“Of course, of course. You know Ron is lucky to be alive. If it wasn’t for the quick thinking of my prize student Harry here, he would have died of poisoning right in front of our eyes. I always keep a bezoar on me after that incident, Harry my boy.”
“Well Ron has returned the favour and saved my life a couple of times,” responded Harry
“Of course he has,” replied Slughorn dismissively, as if it was of no importance.
“I understand you’re a star chaser, Harry,” said Gwenog Jones. She was a statuesque black woman with a powerful build.
“I can hold my own. It’s Ginny here who is the real star. She’s a fantastic chaser.”
Gwenog Jones gave Ginny an appraising look. “You’re Charlie Weasley’s sister, aren’t you? I played against him a few times. He was a brilliant player.”
“Ginny’s better. I’ve seen them play head to head a number of times,” Harry replied. Jones raised her eyebrows.
“Ginny is going to be captain of the Gryffindor team this year,” informed Slughorn.
“I am?” asked a wide eyed Ginny.
“Oh Dear, it seems I’ve let the cat out of the bag. Please don’t tell Minerva. She’d be very angry at me if she knew.” Horace managed to look just a little sheepish.
“Have you ever considered playing professionally, Ginny?” asked Jones.
“I don’t know if I’m good enough.”
“Well, I’ll tell our scouts to keep an eye out for you. Unlike Horace, though, I won’t let the cat out of the bag and tell you when there coming.” Gwenog winked at Horace and gave Ginny a big smile.
Conversation was interrupted as the starter arrived, a crab and celeriac salad with avocado mousse. Horace surveyed the dish with great delight and ate with relish. Ron and Ginny were more dubious and approached the dish with the caution of a potioner milking a spider of its poison.
Just as they had finished their starter, Grantham approached their table.
“I’m sorry to drag you away, Hermione, but there are some people I would like you to talk to if you don’t mind.”
“Of course, Oliver.” Hermione stood and followed Oliver. Ron watch them go with great annoyance. When Oliver put his hand on Hermione’s bare shoulder to help guide her through the hall, Ron was shocked. He expected Hermione to shrug it off but she didn’t. She happily let Oliver guide her along. Ron watched them leave the room, none too pleased.
It didn’t help when Horace commented jokingly “it looks like you have competition Mr Weasley.”
Sensing his friend was about to explode Harry tried to defuse the tension. “Only if Grantham’s got the world’s strongest love potion,” he laughed. Only Ginny joined him.
“Well they say power is a very strong love potion,” continued Horace unaware of the effect his words were having on Ron.
“Grantham’s just an ordinary Wizengamot member,” spat out Ron. “So is our friend Neville, there is nothing especially powerful about that.”
“Oh I don’t think there is much that is ordinary about Oliver, in any case I hear rumours that he will soon hold a more exalted position.”
“You need to be more discreet, Horace,” warned Ambrosius Flume sharply. He looked annoyed.
“Yes, yes, forget I said that. In any case Mr Weasley I wouldn’t worry. I am only teasing. Oliver has a charming wife to whom he is devoted.”
“Who just somehow couldn’t make it tonight,” Ron mumbled to himself.
Conversation switched to other, safer topics but Ron barely participated. By the time the main course arrived, Hermione still hadn’t returned and Ron was seething.
Hermione, at that moment, was deep in conversation with the sole other occupant of a small, private lounge room. When Grantham had ushered Hermione into the room Peter Lowry was already there. He stood up to greet her again.
“I’ll just leave you two alone to have a little chat,” said Grantham. He left the room, leaving a surprised Hermione in his wake.
“Sit down Hermione, you wanted to know if I have any issues with taking on the position of Patron of Grantham’s foundation.”
“Well the answer is no.”
“You know I turned down the position of Patron because of my affiliation with PLEJ and a potential conflict of interest.”
“Yes, I believe you did the right thing,” said Lowry firmly.
Hermione looked a little puzzled. “I understood your political sympathies were very much in line with PLEJ and that you were actively trying to advance them. That’s what you said in Australia. Oliver directly opposes much of that. I don’t see how you don’t have a problem.”
“You agreed to give a speech tonight, Hermione. Tell me why.”
Hermione was taken aback. She had been unable to share her real reason with Ron and that troubled her. Now she realised she was going to tell this man, who was for all intents and purposes, a stranger, but perhaps that made it easier. He was also, like her, muggle born.
“‘Mudblood and proud of it.’ That’s what I said shortly after the darkest moment in my life. I had been tortured and nearly killed because of it. My parents were vulnerable because of it. I had to use magic against their will to force them to go into exile because of it. I have paid a heavy price for being a mudblood. But I am lucky. I was able to fight back. Better, I was able to win and my parents did stay safe. I’ve had the personal help of the Minister of Magic in two countries to help restore my parents to their old life. How could I not do something as small as giving a speech if it helped other muggle born whose lives are still shattered.”
Hermione had spoken with growing firmness and passion. When she had finished she looked searchingly into Lowy’s face trying to gauge his reaction. What she saw was compassion and understanding, but there was something else. Was it pride, pride in her? Whatever it was, it didn’t stop him pressing Hermione further.
“But you are reluctant to be more closely associated with the foundation, and in particular with Oliver Grantham.”
Hermione simply nodded.
Lowry sat forward in his seat. “Let me tell you why I agreed to be Patron. Firstly it’s not Oliver’s foundation, it’s the Muggle Born Repatriation Foundation. Oliver is founder and Chairman of the Board, but he doesn’t control it or own it. It’s run by the board on which Oliver only has one vote. Secondly it is not there to promote or support Oliver’s political goals or anyone else’s. It is there to do exactly what the name says. Otherwise I wouldn’t be involved. Just as importantly, you can deduce that that is how Oliver wants it too. He would not have set it up the way he did if he wanted to use it for political purposes.”
“Unlike you, Hermione, I had an easy war. I spent most of it out of the country. My connections helped to protect my interests here. Too many important people had money tied up in the success of my ventures. It made moving against me very hard. The fact that I had it easy makes me very keen, now, to help those who didn’t.”
“I’ll say one last thing, Hermione. If you only ever work with people who are in complete accord with your views and goals, you will accomplish very little in life.”
Hermione spent some time taking this in. “Given what you say, why do you think I did the right thing turning down the position of Patron?”
“My political views are well known but it is not the same thing as being the founder and vice president of a political party, a party very much opposed to Oliver’s Traditionalist faction. If you had taken on the role, that would have been the story, the political conflict, not the foundation. It would have defeated the purpose of being a Patron in the first place which is to promote the work of the foundation.”
“I can see your point,” replied Hermione.
“You and Oliver didn’t bring me in here just so you could explain your choices. Why are we having this conversation?”
“Ah, excellent question, Hermione. When Oliver invited you to be patron, he offered you another position as well.”
“A position on the board.”
“Yes, Oliver, indeed the whole board including me, are of the opinion that you would be a valuable addition to our team. We would like, once again, to extend an invitation for you to join.”
Hermione had sensed the offer coming, but was still surprised to hear it out loud. “Wouldn’t that cause the same problems you’ve been describing?”
“You tell me."
Hermione looked at Peter quizzically. She thought for a while before answering. “The job of a board member is to run the organisation, not promote it. It’s not a high profile position. Also each board member is independent of the other. Conflicting views are not necessarily a problem therefore, but a potential source of strength.”
“Well said. Please think about it. There is one more thing I should tell you if you don’t already know about it. I don’t want you to agree to our proposition only to find you wish to withdraw again”
“You have me intrigued.”
“I am hearing a lot of scuttlebutt about a move against Kingsley Shacklebolt. I really don’t have any more than that except that it is clear that Grantham is right in the thick of it.”
Hermione was in shock. “It would be a disaster if Kingsley lost his position.”
“I agree. Now I think we should get back inside before your boyfriend gets jealous. Please come and see me anytime if you want to talk more on any of this.” He had referred to Ron in jest but Hermione was certain that Ron wouldn’t have been happy to see her walk off with Grantham. He didn’t like him on principle and was against coming in the first place. He was unlikely to be in favour of her taking up this board position.
When she got back to the table she realised things were worse than she thought. She could feel the anger radiating off Ron. He refused to acknowledge her. Worse, he had barely touched his dinner, a sure sign of a raging inner turmoil. She hardly touched her own meal when it arrived.
After the main course it was time for speeches. Peter Lowry was up first, and then it would be Hermione’s turn. She was dreading it. She could hardly concentrate. Fortunately she already had the speech off pat. They were applauding Peter’s speech now and she had to get up.
She grabbed Ron by the shoulders and pleaded, “I need you to wish me good luck.”
Ron looked into her eyes. Somehow he found the ability to reach through his anger and give her what she needed. “Good luck, Hermione, you’ll be fine.” It was enough.
Hermione’s speech went over well, though later she could barely remember giving it.
After dessert the dancing started. Hermione stood up and stretched out her arms to Ron. “Dance with me.” Ron’s anger had been ebbing steadily since Hermione’s speech and he was beginning to feel a little embarrassed by his reactions. He took Hermione’s hands in his and walked with her to the dance floor. Harry and Ginny soon followed.
Ron was beginning to enjoy himself. He loved dancing with Hermione and it was reassuring to have his arms around her again and feel her arms around him. He was just about to twirl her once more when he felt a tap on his shoulder. There stood Grantham. “Do you mind if I cut in?”
Ron said nothing. He stood there, as rigid as stone. He watched as Oliver twirled her away, as he put his hands on her bare skin, as she smiled and laughed at his joke.
Ron turned, walked slowly out of the hall and apparated to the Burrow.
When Harry, Ginny and Hermione returned to the Burrow, they found Ron sitting at the table in the dining room, nursing a cup of tea.
Harry looked from Ron to Hermione and back again. He desperately didn’t want to be there but he thought he should try and defuse the situation. “If I go to bed do you two promise not to kill one another.”
“Go to bed Harry, you too Ginny.” For once, Ginny did what her brother commanded.
Harry saw the cold anger in his friend’s eye and hesitated. He looked at Hermione who simply nodded. Harry left.
“You have no right to be angry at me, Ron.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Didn’t you, so why do you think I’m angry then?”
“You tell me.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you were doing all that time then, that is when you weren’t letting him put his hands all over you?”
“That’s ridiculous Ron, we were dancing. It would have been rude to refuse to dance with him.”
“And were you dancing when you walked out of the Hall with his hands all over you?”
Hermione flushed. “He was just being a gentleman, Ron, something you wouldn’t understand.”
“You certainly seemed to be enjoying it.” Hermione flushed even deeper, which didn’t go unnoticed by Ron.
“Now you’re being absurd, he’s old enough to be my father.”
“Barely, and he is not you’re your father, Hermione.”
“And he has a wife.”
“Who conveniently wasn’t there.”
“I’m going to bed, Ron. I don’t have to put up with this nonsense. This is all in your head. There’s nothing there. I love you, though at the moment I can’t remember why. I am not interested in anyone else. Goodnight.”
“So what did Olivah want to talk about?”
“I’ll tell you in the morning.”
“Tell me now.”
“I didn’t talk with Oliver. I had a talk with Peter Lowry. They want me to join the board of the foundation.”
“And let me guess – you said yes.”
“No Ron I didn’t”
“Good, so you turned him down.”
“I didn’t say that Ron, I haven’t decided.”
“You can’t possibly be thinking of agreeing to this!”
“A second ago you were convinced I said yes, now you’re convinced I’d never consider it. Make up your mind Ron, or does thinking hurt too much.”
Ron flinched from Hermione’s dripping disdain. “Grantham is your enemy, Hermione, but, just because he’s got a degree from Oxford and this powerful man is flattering you with his attention, you’ve gone all weak in the knees. It’s your mind that’s gone to mush if you’re considering this.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed and her nostrils flared. “Did you even stop to think how insulting that was before you said it, Ron. Has it never occurred to you that as a muggle born I might just want to help other muggle born to rebuild their lives. Or maybe from the lofty heights of being a pure blood that seems unimportant.”
Ron reeled as if he had been physically struck. He replied with cold anger. “Don’t you ever, ever say that to me again!”
“Why not, you are more than willing to accuse me of lusting after all sorts of other men,” she replied witheringly, giving him a hurt, accusing glare.
“I did not. I just don’t want you to make a fool of yourself, working with a man who is only going to use you. A man who is your enemy, you keep on forgetting.”
“Oh how noble. You’re just lying to yourself.”
“Who’s lying to themselves? There are plenty of ways you can help other muggle born. Merlin, Hermione, you effectively started a political party to do just that. Don’t you think you should concentrate on that rather than consorting with PLEJ’s sworn enemy?”
“I can do both, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do whether you like it or not.”
“I forbid it. I absolutely forbid it.”
Hermione stared at Ron in shock. In a quiet, measured tone she asked “What did you say?”
“I said I forbid it. You’re not working with Grantham, Hermione.”
Hermione was white with fury. She turned and walked out of the Burrow kitchen and into the night. A few seconds later Ron heard the pop of disapparition. Ron walked outside he was still angry, but he was beginning to feel sick in the stomach.
“She’ll be back soon,” he thought. He waited in the dark for an hour. Then he went to bed and spent a sleepless night going over their argument again and again.
The next morning Ron got up early, but when he went down for breakfast Molly, Ginny and Harry were already there. Harry looked at him questioningly, but it was Ginny that spoke.
Ron turned red but didn’t reply.
“She’s gone hasn’t she? You’re a prat Ron. You had no reason to be angry with her last night. What did you say?”
“She’s decided to join the board of Grantham’s foundation.”
“Is that what you two were shouting about last night? I bet they heard you in Ottery St Catchpole. You’re a complete arse, Ron.”
“Ginny!” exclaimed Molly. Neither Ron nor Harry said anything though both looked miserable.
Ron went outside and stared at the back fence. He hadn’t eaten anything. After a while Harry joined him. “You should go after her, mate.”
“She’ll come back.”
“If you say so.” Harry clearly didn’t believe it.
Ron waited outside for hours waiting for someone to pop into view. Eventually someone did, but it wasn’t Hermione. It was Bill and Fleur come for Sunday lunch. They were shortly followed by the unexpected arrival of Kingsley. Molly promptly invited him to stay for lunch and Kingsley just as promptly accepted.
Molly insisted that Ron join them for lunch. After some general conversation, which Ron ignored, Kingsley cleared his throat. “There are a couple of things I need to tell you.” He looked around the table and seemed to notice for the first time that Hermione wasn’t there.
“She and lover boy here had a spat,” said Ginny.
Ron glared at her, but then added angrily, “she’s decided to join the board of Grantham’s foundation.”
Kingsley frowned. “That’s unfortunate given the circumstances. Still, it’s a good cause and I can see how it would attract her.”
“Why unfortunate?” asked Arthur.
“Well, Grantham’s involved to some degree with both the items I wanted to discuss. These are things I wanted to tell you both as friends but also as members of PLEJ.”
“I am receiving a lot of reports that a move is being made against my position. Best bet is that a vote of no confidence will be brought on before the end of the month. From what I can gather, Grantham is heavily involved in this scheme.” There was dismay around the table.
“Do you have any idea who they propose putting in your place?” asked Bill.
“None whatsoever. It’s hard to see who they could choose who would be generally acceptable to all factions.”
“I bet it’s Grantham,” spat out Ron putting two and two together and getting the answer he wanted. “Horace Slughorn let slip last night that Grantham would soon hold a far more exalted position. Ambrosius Flume was angry, told Slughorn to shut up.”
“Interesting,” said Kingsley rubbing his chin, “Flume is very well connected in the Merchants Guild. All the same it’s hard to believe they’d put Grantham up. He’s far too young, and for the people behind this plot, possibly too honest.”
“Whoever it is, you know you have PLEJ’s support,” said Arthur. “We’ll hold a committee meeting this week to organise. We’ll let you know whatever we learn. Please keep us informed as well.”
“Of course, Arthur, and thank you for the support. The other issue is potentially very serious. Last Thursday night my private secretary, Melanie Watts, was kidnapped.” There were gasps around the table. Molly looked horrified. “She was released unharmed the next morning, but she was interrogated all night using a combination of veritaserum and some dark magic. She has no recollection of who took her or what she was asked. The healers at St Mungo’s are working with her to recover whatever they can. Apart from feeling violated, Melanie is fine but the security breach is potentially catastrophic. There isn’t much about my administration she doesn’t know.”
“You have to assume the worst,” said Percy glumly. “You have to assume that your worst enemy now knows the one thing you would least like him to know.”
“That’s comforting, thanks Percy.”
“You said there was a connection to Grantham. You don’t think he was involved, do you?” asked Harry.
“It’d be out of character. The thing is, though, Melanie is Grantham’s sister in law. She has told me he has tried to pump her for information on a number of occasions. It’s possible there is a tie in with the plot against me.”
“What’s your best bet on what they’re after?” asked Arthur.
“It could have been a general fishing expedition for damaging information or they may have wanted advance knowledge on the War Investigations Commission’s interim report which will be published tomorrow. We’ve had an advanced copy for a week and Melanie has read it.”
Over the last several months everyone at the table had given evidence in front of the Commission. Harry, Ron and Hermione had had multiple sessions.
“Why would anyone go to that trouble just to get the report a week in advance?” asked Harry.
“The report is dynamite. It recommends a lot of prosecutions. A lot of people who thought they were getting away with a rap over the knuckles are in for a rude shock. There are also secret annexures that won’t be published. Our copy included them. I might add, I will get a lot of political flak however I respond to the report. They couldn’t have chosen a better time to bring on a no confidence motion.”
After Kingsley had left Ron went up to his room. He was determined that Hermione should come to him, not the other way around. He had been sitting on his bed brooding for an hour when Ginny walked in.
“What do you want?” he said curtly. Ginny ignored him. She walked over to the cupboard and started taking out Hermione’s clothes. Panic gripped him.
“What are you doing?”
She looked at him with none of the rancour of this morning. In fact she looked upset. She said quietly, “Hermione has sent me an owl asking me to bring over her clothes. She doesn’t want to see you. She was adamant about that.”
Ginny finished collecting the clothes and left the room without saying an additional word. She closed the door quietly behind her.
Ron collapsed back into his bed. He felt as if his life force was draining away – which in some ways it was.