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The Harder Struggle by Ericfmc
Chapter 25: It Has to Come from Within
He had been waiting half an hour. Was it still too early? He didn’t want to antagonise Hermione’s parents. It was now 7:00 am and Ron didn’t care anymore. He rang the Grangers’ doorbell.
It was a while before anyone answered. For Ron, his heart thumping, his stomach in a knot and palms sweaty it seemed like eternity. Finally the door opened to reveal Jean Granger in her dressing gown. There was no animosity in her expression, no anger. If anything there was sympathy with a small overtone of amusement.
“My, we are early Ron.”
“Good morning Mrs Granger. Can I speak to Hermione?”
“I’ll ask her, Ron, but I don’t think she wants to speak to you. It’s still ‘Jean’ by the way. Please wait here.” Jean closed the door gently. It was ten minutes before she returned.
“I’m sorry Ron, she doesn’t want to see you.”
“I’ll wait then,” said Ron.
“I don’t think it’s going to help, Ron. She is adamant she won’t see you.”
“I’ll wait anyway,” replied Ron. Jean simply nodded and returned inside. Five minutes later she returned with a cup of tea and some biscuits.
“Here Ron, you may as well have these.” Jean left Ron to his vigil on the Grangers’ front porch.
A little later that morning, Seven witches and wizards were gathered in a wood panelled meeting room near the main Wizengamot assembly chamber. They sat in high leather chairs around a dark wooden table. Each had a thick report in front of them.
It was the Wizengamot Honours and Awards committee job to approve or reject awards recommended by the Minister of Magic or by a number of other bodies. The committee hadn’t met for eighteen months, and for its newest and youngest member, Oliver Grantham, this was his first meeting.
In addition to a number of prosecutions, the War Investigations Commission's interim report had, in a secret annexure, recommended a large number of awards to people who had made important contributions during the recent war. The Minister of Magic had forwarded them on with his full support.
“It looks like we have our work cut out for us,” grinned the Chair of the committee, a grizzled old witch with amusement in her green eyes. She was wearing comfortable looking, if still elegant, plum robes.
“It’s pretty straight forward, I would have thought,” said a tall wizard with a dark beard. “These awards are well deserved. We should have little problem approving them.”
“You’d have to be joking, Barnabus,” scoffed a short dumpy witch. “The number of awards alone is unprecedented and the political ramification of some…”
“It is not our job to consider the political ramifications of these awards,” inserted the Chair. This gave rise to chuckles and a sarcastic chorus of “Yeah, right.”
“Ok,” said the Chair, “I suggest that we quickly go through the list and mark off those that don’t pose a problem for anyone. Then we can concentrate on the others.”
It soon became clear that the biggest stumbling block was the award of the Order of Merlin, First Class to three teenagers.
“It’s absurd. The First Class Merlin is our highest honour. It is specifically reserved to those who have made extraordinary contributions to society over a lifetime. How could you award it to a bunch of teenagers whose life has barely begun?” asked short dumpy, witch.
“I’m sure you would have had far less a problem, Esalda, if the Merlin First Class didn’t come with automatic membership of the Wizengamot or if the three teenagers in question were on your side of politics,” replied the tall wizard with a dark beard.
“Rubbish, they’re just too young. But as you mention it, giving life time membership of the Wizengamot to three teenagers does seem bizarre.”
“Alright, let’s do this systematically. I want to hear from each of you whether you believe their contribution is significant enough to merit an award of this magnitude. Then we’ll discuss whether it qualifies as a lifetime contribution,” said the Chair.
Almost every speaker was happy to heap praise on the three youngsters, with some concluding, though, that the contribution didn’t quite get to the level required. Perhaps a second class Merlin would be more appropriate. The most negative was Esalda, the short dumpy, witch.
“There is a lot we haven’t been told about these three. For example, I am told on good authority that Weasley abandoned his friends at the most dangerous part of their mission almost getting them killed.” Esalda looked at each of her colleagues in turn. There was spittle on her lips. “Not as heroic as we are led to believe, eh. What else don’t we know? We may well find ourselves a laughing stock if we give this award now only to find out most of what we have been told is a lie.”
Grantham, as the most junior member of the committee was last to speak. He was compelling.
“I’m sorry, Esalda, but I don’t put a lot of stock in unsubstantiated rumours. I deal in facts and the relevant facts are these. Voldemort is dead and it was Harry Potter who destroyed him. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. Potter insists his two colleagues were indispensable to the task of destroying Voldemort. I have heard him say it with these ears and I have no reason to doubt him. The question, then, is does the destruction of the Dark Lord meet the standard of an outstanding contribution to our society. I have to answer emphatically in the affirmative. I believe Voldemort was a threat to the very existence of our society.”
“Oh come now Grantham, don’t be dramatic. You go too far,” objected the tall wizard who favoured the award.
“Do I now?” replied Grantham. “Any of you who had travelled abroad recently would have been aware Wizarding society in North America and elsewhere was preparing for war against us should Voldemort grow stronger and expand into Europe. That is the least of it.” Eyebrows raised around the room.
Grantham continued. “Voldemort also planned to enslave the Muggles. In our arrogance we assume this would be easy. So few remember the background to the The International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy in the seventeenth century. We were losing to the Muggles then, so we withdrew behind a veil of secrecy. If we were losing when all they had was pitchforks and muskets, how do you think we would fare now when they have machine guns, H bombs and computers? We might have won, but at a price unimaginably high. Do I think these three teenagers have made a sufficient contribution? I believe they have made as great a contribution as any other wizard alive.” Grantham sat down to stunned silence. He wasn’t sure if they were stunned by what he had said or because he was the one who said it.
The Chair cleared her throat. “Now we need to discuss whether the contribution of these three young teenagers meets the standard of a lifetime contribution.”
Those opposing the award were on strong grounds here. They attacked the proposition with high mockery and withering logic. Those in favour mumbled incoherent responses. Once again it was Grantham whose argument was decisive.
“You are all arguing the wrong point here. The law is quite specific. It defines ‘a lifetime contribution’ as one made over a period of 5 years or more. The information put before us in support of this award is that these three people first came together and defeated the Dark Lord at the age of eleven. This is extraordinary but is well vouched for. They have been fighting the Dark Lord, to great effect I might add, for seven years. They qualify with two years to spare.” With half the heads in the room nodding and the other half shaking in disbelief, Grantham resumed his seat.
“OK,” summed up the Chair, “I count four in favour of the award and three against. I hereby decl-“
Grantham jumped to his feet. “Madame Chair, I did not say I approve of this award.”
The witch in the Chair looked confused, “But after what you have said…”
“Madame Chair, I agree that the three individuals qualify for the award. That doesn’t mean I believe we should award it. There are many other factors to consider.”
“Please go on, Grantham, I just have to hear this,” replied the Chair.
“Unlike you I am not so sanguine about handing lifetime Wizengamot membership to people so young. Their characters are still in formation. What will they be like in 10, 20 or even 30 years from now? Also, I am concerned about the impact on the three individuals of receiving society’s highest award so young. We would not necessarily be doing them a favour. It is possible that we could be doing them a disservice. That would be poor recompense for what they have done.”
“So now you are opposed to these awards, Grantham?” asked the Chair.
“I haven’t decided. This issue requires further consideration and I would like time to do so.”
“Alright, we will finalise this matter at our next meeting. We stand adjourned.”
“Hermione, dear, is it OK if I come in?” Hermione had barely talked since she had turned up late on Saturday night. Jean had the sense to mainly let her be.
“Come in Mum.” Hermione was still in her pyjamas. She was sitting up in bed with a book on her lap but Jean thought it unlikely she had actually read a word. Her face was blotchy and her cheeks tears stained. She looked utterly miserable.
“He’s still outside, waiting on the front porch. He’s been there for two hours now.” Jean informed her daughter.
“I don’t want to see him, Mum.”
Jean sat down on the bed, facing Hermione. “That’s alright, Hermione, you don’t have to,” Jean reassured her. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“We had a bad fight.”
“Do you want to tell me what it was about?” asked Jean.
“He gets so jealous, Mum. It’s irrational. He doesn’t trust me. He gets aggressive. He said some awful things.”
“He didn’t hit you did he?” asked Jean suddenly apprehensive.
“Oh God no, Mum. He would die before doing that, No, never.” Hermione looked genuinely shocked at the suggestion and Jean was relieved.
“So why was he jealous, did he have reason?” Jean asked. Hermione explained about the foundation and Grantham and the invitation to join the board.
“There’s absolutely nothing there, Mum,” Hermione concluded.
“Is it usual to invite 18 year old girls onto boards in the wizarding world, Hermione?”
“And would you say this Oliver is good looking,”
“I guess, I haven’t really thought about it. He looks like the actor in that old movie we saw a week or so ago –North by North West I think it was called.”
“Cary Grant! Oliver looks like Cary Grant?” asked Jean her eyebrows raised.
“Yeah,” replied Hermione, “Only a lot younger of course.”
“Have you ever given Ron any reason to think you’re interested in Oliver?”
“Of course not. … though I suppose I did rave on about him for about an hour after I had first met him….OK Mum, I know what you’re thinking.”
“I seriously doubt it.”
“Mum, I love Ron so much. I don’t care about anyone else. Why can’t he just see that? Why can’t he trust that?”
“I’m guessing you know the answer to those questions.”
“He doesn’t trust my love because he doesn’t think he deserves it. I think he fears I’m going wake up to myself some day and realise he’s a nobody and then move on. He isn’t a nobody, far from it, and that isn’t going to happen.”
“So, how do you think he might react when a mature, intelligent, sophisticated, powerful and wealthy man, with the looks of Cary Grant pays inordinate attention to you?”
“Mum, I know where he is coming from. I’m just not sure I can live with it. I don’t know what to do. I have tried to bolster his self-confidence time and time again. I have reassured him of my love. It doesn’t stick. I am who I am. I will always be working near the top of any area I am in. That means I’ll always be working with powerful men. If Ron can’t deal with it, it just isn’t going to work. He gets hurtful and controlling and then I get nasty and hurtful in return. I hate it.”
“Well, you obviously have a lot to work through. Eventually you’re going to have to do it with Ron. Don’t give up on him.” Jean gave her daughter a reassuring smile.
“I’m not giving up on Ron. I’m not giving on our relationship. I made a vow to Ron on that and I intend to keep it. I want to keep it more than anything else in the world. I just have to work out what to do.”
“Just remember, all the answer isn’t going to come from here.” Jean pointed to Hermione’s head. She then touched her daughter’s chest. “Most of it has to come from here.”
“Is Ron really still downstairs?”
“He must really be hurting.” Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. Jean brushed them away with her fingers.
“It does a boy’s soul good to suffer a little for love. Besides it gives them the motivation to work through their emotions. They find it far harder than we do and it takes them a lot longer.”
“I’m not ready to talk to him. Maybe in a day or two.”
“I know. Your father will be home at lunch time. If Ron is still here I’ll get Robert to talk to him. He’ll be gentle, don’t worry.”
At lunch time Robert arrived home and drove straight into the garage. Ten minutes later he emerged from the front door.
“Hi Ron, mind if I join you?”
“Not at all Mr Granger,” he replied with some nervousness.
Robert sat down next to Ron. He remained silent for a few minutes, and then he said, “She’s not coming out, you know.”
“I know, but if I stay here at least Hermione will know I’m not giving up on her, on us,” replied Ron.
Robert looked at him with sincere concern and also respect. “She’s not giving up on you either, Ron.” Relief flooded Ron’s face. He looked close to tears.
“I wouldn’t get too cocky son, she has a lot to work through. You hurt her badly you know.”
“I should really beat up on you for that. It’s part of my job.”
“You’re too late. I’ve been doing it to myself for the last day and a half.”
They sat in silence for a while.
“I don’t want to sound cruel, Ron. But I’m sort of glad you two are going through this.”
Ron looked at Robert curiously, not sure what to make of this statement.
Robert expanded. “When you first told us of this lifebond thing I was worried. Sometimes it takes painful conflict in a relationship to give you the energy, willingness and insight to take it to the next level. This is especially so in a young relationship. I thought you might miss out on that.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I am not as overjoyed as you at the moment,” said Ron with a painful smile.
Robert chuckled. “Go home, Ron. Think things through. Come back in two days. I’m sure she’ll talk to you then and you can start to put things right.” Robert stood up; he gave Ron a reassuring pat on the back and went back inside.
Ron left five minutes later.
The next evening Harry was seated at the dining table watching George tease Ron, who had just informed George he was taking the morning off to see Hermione.
“You can’t do that Ron! The store would collapse without you. Of course I could just buy a sack of potatoes and put that behind the counter. We might not notice the difference. The customers might even get better service. At least the sack wouldn’t be rude to them.”
“I’m not that bad,” protested Ron.
“No of course not, Verity was just being vindictive when she put up a sign in the store window saying ‘Warning – staff member mooning ex-girlfriend. Enter at own risk’”
“Don’t blame Verity, George. I saw you put that sign up, you great git. I think the guy who snapped a photo of it and me was a journalist. That’s really going to upset Hermione if she sees that in the paper,” responded Ron.
“Oh isn’t that sweet,” continued George, “Hermione dumps him and all he cares about is her feelings.”
“She hasn’t dumped me!” shouted Ron, getting angry at George’s taunts.
Just then there was a faint pop. Ron rushed outside, only to return a few moments later, looking disappointed. He was accompanied by Neville who was still wearing his auror’s robes.
Ginny gave him a wolf whistle, then got up and gave him a kiss. “You look very dashing, Neville. I bet Luna would be impressed.”
“Uh thanks Ginny, though to tell you the truth I can’t think of anyone in the world less likely to be impressed by a uniform than Luna.”
Ginny laughed along with Harry. “You’re probably right,” she replied.
“Hi Neville,” said Harry, “what brings you here?”
“I was hoping to have a word in private, Harry”
“Do you mind if I tag along?” asked Ginny.
Neville regarded her for a moment, and then shrugged. “That’s up to Harry, I guess,” he replied.
Harry nodded at Ginny, “Let’s go outside,” he said.
Twilight was giving way to a delightful summer evening. Harry transformed an old log into a comfortable wooden bench and they sat down overlooking the garden.
“So what’s on your mind, Neville?” asked Harry.
“Savage, for starters, he’s not up to the job.”
Although nominally operational, the new recruits were still organised into two training units both reporting to Savage with Cherry McGruder as second in command. Neville had been appointed team leader of unit A, which was the same as the old red team. Grollo had unit B. They had been involved in a number of routine tasks such as surveillance and providing some investigative shoe leather. They were still spending a large proportion of their time in training. The plan was for the training units to be dissolved in three months’ time and the recruits absorbed into the regular structure.
“We’ve sort of had this conversation before, Neville. There’s not much we can do about it. All the more competent Aurors are flat out on other assignments. Savage is learning,” said Harry.
“Yeah, well one of us might get killed before he learns enough,” Neville responded.
Ginny gasped. “Is he really that bad?” she asked looking concerned.
Harry glared at Neville, and then he tried to look reassuringly at Ginny. He couldn’t bring himself to lie to her, to deny what Neville was saying.
“We’ve been through this before Neville,” said Harry edgily, “What are you really trying to say.”
“That the time may come when we have to do something.” Neville looked into Harry’s eyes, trying to see how he was reacting. When Harry didn’t respond Neville continued.”
“It worries me, Harry that you’re choosing not to step up. I’m not sure I understand it.”
It was Ginny’s turn to glare at Neville. “Harry has good reasons for doing what he is doing!”
“Do you want to share them with me? It would help,” replied Neville.
Harry looked at Neville pleadingly, asking to be spared this explanation but then he simply nodded to Ginny and lowered his head.
“Harry’s been having nightmares and far worse. He had a breakdown. He was constantly reliving the horrors he’d been through, even in broad daylight. Signing on to the aurors brought it on, especially the prospect that he would once again be responsible for people dying.”
Neville looked horrified. He looked from Harry to Ginny and back again. “Why didn’t you say something, Harry. We would have understood.”
“It’s not the sort of thing you talk about and I didn’t want to appear weak,” replied Harry softly.
“Weak? Harry, you are the strongest person I know, and that says something because I also know Ginny Weasley, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Luna Lovegood.” Neville had spoken with all the earnestness at his command. He softened his voice and continued. “A lot of us are having nightmares, Harry, and we only went through a tenth of what you did. I still wake up from time to time, dripping with sweat and with the image of Rothena Green’s broken, beaten body in front of my eyes. Sometimes it’s Ginny here or Luna as they looked after they were beaten up by Pansy’s mob. Thank Merlin it’s not so often, now the war is over.”
Neville paused. When no one said anything he asked “Are you getting treatment, Harry?”
Ginny described Harry’s work with Healer Stephen Keyworth.
“Good,” said Neville. “To be blunt Harry, if you’re not prepared to lead at some point there isn’t much point you being in the Aurors.”
Harry snorted. “No one would follow me at the moment. They think I’ve lost it. I can see the disgust in their eyes.”
“They’re just confused is all,” responded Neville. “They don’t understand. I’ll sort that out. They don’t need to know any details. But Harry, the time may come sooner than you think when you have to step up. I hope you’re doing what this Keyworth says.”
Neville took his leave. Ginny turned to Harry. “You are doing the exercises Keyworth gave you aren’t you, Harry?”
“Of course I am,” lied Harry.
Finally it was 8:00 am. Ron rang the Granger’s doorbell. This time, Jean Granger was fully dressed when she opened the door. She showed Ron into the lounge room then went to fetch Hermione.
Ron paced the room, his heart thumping, his emotions jumping rapidly from fear to hope to remorse and back again. He heard Hermione arrive and turned to look at her.
The air rushed out of his lungs and his heart stopped. He felt an upwelling of love for Hermione. Love, fear, hope and remorse played across his face. He saw the same emotions on Hermione’s face, but there was more. There was also hurt and resolve.
He couldn’t stand the separation anymore. He rushed to her and she started moving towards him. They crushed together and held each other so tightly that they might never separate.
“I’m so sorry Hermione, I’m so sorry,” sobbed Ron, “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Ron. I’m sorry too,” sniffled Hermione. “Just hold me tight, don’t say a word.”
They stood like that for some time, drinking each other in, drawing comfort and strength from each other, healing each other. When they broke apart, Hermione pulled Ron over to the sofa and they sat down together.
“We need to talk,” she said. Ron nodded gravely.
“You really hurt me, Ron.”
“I know. I am so sorry.”
“I know you are Ron, but it’s not enough.”
Ron’s apprehension began to rise. “I don’t know how to respond to that Hermione.”
“I want us to look at what happened and work out how to prevent it happening again,” she replied.
“That’s sounds reasonable,” replied Ron beginning to panic.
“First of all, do you accept that you were acting out of jealousy?”
Ron didn’t think jealousy was the only reason behind his behaviour, but he didn’t think it would be wise to say that right now. He simply nodded.
“OK, so why? Why are you jealous of Grantham? And please, don’t go on about his having his hands all over me. That was just insulting, and it wasn’t what happened.”
“Alright, Hermione, objectively I agree. He didn’t have his hands all over you. But, Hermione that is how it felt to me. I can’t stand the thought of that man touching you.”
“Yes, but why. You don’t get upset if I hug Harry, or if I dance with Neville. If your father put his hand on my back and guided me through a room, as Grantham did, you wouldn’t get upset. So why Grantham?”
“Because he’s a smarmy git who wants to hurt you and you can’t see it.” Ron tried very hard to say this without any venom but didn’t really succeed.
“I don’t think any of that is true Ron. It just makes it easy to tell yourself that. I see very clearly who Oliver is. I have spent more time with him than you and I have done my research. He is a political opponent, a very effective one, but he bears me no personal animosity or ill will. He has a genuine respect for me. For you and Harry too for that matter. He is a man of principle. His interest in helping muggle born refugees is genuine and deep. In this area we have a shared passion. In this area we are not opponents, but potential collaborators. So I ask you again, why does he get to you so.”
It was only as he listened to Hermione praise Oliver and felt his hackles rising that he realised that she was right and he understood why he truly disliked Grantham.
“It’s because you like him so much, think he’s fantastic. It’s because he is mature, sophisticated and powerful. It’s because he is smart and well educated and has a degree from Oxford, all the things I can never be and you love so much. On top of that he has the audacity to be bloody handsome.” Ron gave a self-deprecating smile as he heard himself say this last bit.
“What I love so much and what Oliver can never be is you, Ron,” said Hermione quietly.
“I know, but I don’t understand it, I find it hard to hold onto. At times it seems too good to be true. I mean those things that are so important to you; learning, knowledge for its own sake -those aren’t me. Why doesn’t that matter to you?”
“You’re passionate about Quidditch, Ron. Did you ever want to ditch me because I couldn’t care less about it?”
“All the time,” he joked. “Ok, I take your point. It doesn’t affect how I feel about you in the tiniest respect.”
“Here’s the heart of the problem, you don’t think your worthy of my love, which is rubbish. That’s the problem we have to solve.”
Ron went pale and then shivered.
“What’s wrong, love,” asked Hermione, suddenly worried.
“Voldemort understood this. It’s how the horcrux chose to attack me.”
“Perhaps it’s time you told me about it, Ron.”
“While I was wearing the cursed thing it tried to make me believe that there was something going on between you and Harry. It was easy really, you were best friends and we were living in very close proximity. There were lots of little scenes that could be misinterpreted. By the end, it had almost convinced me. That added a fair bit of venom to that final fight I had with Harry.”
“Harry? Are you mad? I have never felt that way about Harry.”
“Yeah, well, why not? He was the Chosen one, the tri wizard champion, the hero. I was just his sidekick,” asked Ron in all seriousness.
“Who’d want a broody, scrawny, specky git when there was this tall, gorgeous, warm, funny boy just next to him?”
“I’ll tell Harry you said that,” teased Ron.
“Just don’t tell Ginny.” They both smiled.
“Any way, I know there is nothing between you and Harry. I mean I know it here.” Ron thumped his chest. “At the time, though, it seemed real.”
“So what happened when you destroyed the Horcrux? You said Harry saw it too.” Hermione looked both curious and uneasy.
“When Harry opened the locket, it projected a vivid, compelling image. It was an image of you and Harry. You were entwined in each other’s arms. You weren’t wearing much.”
Hermione blushed. Ron continued. “You were both mocking me. Harry, sneering, saying my family didn’t want me and preferred him. You were laughing dismissively at me, saying no one would choose me over the chosen one, that I was nothing. Things like that. Then you and Harry kissed.”
“So how do you feel about that now?” asked Hermione uncertainly.
“Not much really. At the time, those images pierced my soul with fingers of ice. I almost wanted to kill Harry and I had the sword of Gryffindor in my hand. That’s what the horcrux wanted. It made a mistake though. I was far angrier at the thing showing me those images. I didn’t want to know this truth. I stabbed it with all the hatred in the world to destroy that truth. Of course, what I really destroyed was its lies and the power behind them. Harry told me straight afterwards that he did love you, but as a sister and I knew he was telling the truth. When you and I finally got together, I knew for certain that all the rest was a lie too.”
“For some time now, Ron, there has been a truth right at my centre, my core.” Hermione pressed her hand to her heart. Her eyes were aflame. “That truth is that I love you. In recent months that has been joined by another truth, the certainty that you love me too. It is the most indescribably wonderful thing. Those are your words by the way. It’s how you described the knowledge that I loved you that night we made a commitment to each other. Do you remember?”
“I remember just about everything about that night, Hermione, especially the commitments we made to each other.”
“Do you remember that you also described the fact that I loved you as ‘scarcely believable’? I want for you, Ron, what I have. I want you to know in your heart of hearts, as a part of who you are, that I love you and that you are well and truly worthy of that love.”
Ron was overcome. His wet eyes were filled with tenderness and adoration. “I do know it most of the time, Hermione, and it is indescribably wonderful. But then all of a sudden it seems too good to be true, or maybe I hear someone say you could have anyone you want or you come home and start raving about some superman you’ve just met. It all goes out the window.”
“Ron, I can’t help you with this. This is what upsets me so much. It has to come from within you. Harry or I can tell you how wonderful you are and it doesn’t do any good. I can tell you all the reasons I love you and it doesn’t do any good. You have to find a way to have faith in yourself and to trust my love for you.”
Ron just nodded. He had no idea how he could do this thing.
“Ron, this is important. Throughout my life I am going to be working with powerful and successful men. If you can’t deal with that, it’s going to be a real problem. I want you to think very hard about it. You think very well when you choose to. Then we can talk about it again on the weekend.”
“You’re not coming back to the Burrow?” Ron was crestfallen.
“I think I’d be too much of a distraction. You really need to work this through Ron.”
“I think better after I’ve been ‘distracted’,” Ron grinned.
“You are talking to me, Ronald Weasley, I know exactly what you’re like after you’ve been ‘distracted’.”
The hard part was over. The two friends sat comfortably with each other. They talked and they laughed. They talked about George and the shop, about Harry and Ginny and Hermione’s parents and about the challenge to Kingsley and the meeting of PLEJ to be held that night.
When they parted they knew it was temporary and that, however difficult, they would work it out. The light had returned to their world.
Kingsley stood before the assembled leadership of PLEJ. Some wondered what he was doing at this meeting as Kingsley had declined to join PLEJ when it had been formed and was not a member. Doge, however, had invited him and asked him to speak.
“I understand that you are here tonight,” started Kingsley, “to discuss the challenge to my position as Minister of Magic and PLEJ’s response to it. I intend to fight this challenge with all the power at my disposal.” Cheers erupted around the table.
Kingsley’s demeanour was fierce, determined. “If I’m going to fight, I am going to fight under my true colours. If you will have me, I mean to join PLEJ and fight alongside you!” Immediately, people leapt to their feet and crowded around him, trying to shake his hand and slap him on the back.”
“Sorry Kingsley,” said Ron with a huge grin, “Nobody seems to want you.” Hermione, who was sitting next to Ron punched him playfully in the shoulder. “Welcome Kingsley,” she added.
Percy who, as party secretary, was chairing the meeting, cleared his throat loudly. “Ahem, let’s return to the agenda, please. First item - reports on the developing situation. The Chair recognises Elphias Doge.”
“Thank you Mr Chairman. I can confirm that the challenge is definitely on. An alliance has been formed between the Traditionalist, Merchant and Guild factions. Names that are being considered as their candidate for Kingsley’s job include Dirgwood, Pringle and Grantham.”
Rufus Lazarre jumped in. “It’s definitely Gr-.”
“Through the Chair, Mr Lazare!”
“My apologies, Mr Percy Weasley.”
“The Chair recognises Rufus Lazarre.”
“As I was saying, it’s definitely Grantham. He has been the instigator and driving force behind the creation of this alliance. A stunning achievement if he can pull it off. I regret to say they have the numbers too. Their combined numbers alone almost get them over the line. You have very few supporters amongst the Pragmatists either, Mr Shacklebolt – well you don’t need me to tell you that. The alliance will pick up more than enough votes to win.”
The elation they felt at Kinsley’s fighting words evaporated. The mood was suddenly gloomy.
“I would like a general discussion on any action we can take.” stated Percy, “The floor is open.”
“The agreement between the Guild and the Merchants has to be a weak point,” observed Hermione. “Their interests are naturally divergent. Any agreement they reach will be a heavy compromise and certainly leave some of their members unhappy. If we can identify them perhaps we can peel off their vote.”
“Excellent suggestion, Hermione,” said Bill. “We need to find out the terms of the agreement. Then we should be able to identify the losers. I’ll see what I can find out through my banking connections.”
“We will need to secure the independent vote. I have a plan for that,” contributed Doge.
The discussion continued for another hour. The mood was more buoyant; they now had a strategy that gave them an outside chance of winning. It was a start.
After the meeting, Hermione approached Kingsley. “Can I have a private word, Kingsley?”
“Of course, Hermione.” They moved to an empty office adjoining the conference room.
“Is this about your decision to join the board of Grantham’s foundation?” Kingsley asked.
Hermione nodded. “I haven’t actually decided yet, though I may have said that to Ron in the heat of the moment. I’d like to know what you think.”
Kingsley stroked his chin. “Just at the moment Hermione, I’d like to kick Grantham’s butt from here to Salem. I can’t say that the idea of one of my favourite people choosing to work with him fills my heart with joy. But, Hermione, that’s just an emotional reaction to the current situation. It’s not how I’ll feel in a couple of months’ time, or even next week.”
Hermione dipped her head and bit her lower lip.
When Hermione looked up again Kingsley looked reassuringly into her eyes. “Win or lose this coming fight, Grantham is destined to be one of the dominant figures in our political life for the next 50 years. So are you Hermione. There will be many times you will need to work together to get worthwhile things done. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t start now.”
“Thank you Kingsley,” Hermione said in a quiet voice full of relief.
“I heard your speech on Saturday night,” continued Kingsley. “It was marvellous. You have every reason to feel passionate about this cause and every right to do something about it. If anyone bad mouths your decision on my account, I’ll set them straight.”
Hermione leapt at Kingsley and gave him a big hug.
Kingsley returned to his office leaving a beaming Hermione behind. It had been a great day, she concluded.
Ron came down to breakfast on Friday morning feeling ready to take on the world. He was seeing Hermione tomorrow and hopefully she was returning home.
He walked into the kitchen and was stopped dead in his tracks. Harry, Ginny, Molly, Arthur and surprisingly Bill were already there. The stricken looks on their faces sent a chill through his heart. “Who died?” he asked.
“I’m sorry Ron,” said Harry in leaden tones. He pointed to the Daily Prophet that was lying on the kitchen table.
With uncertain steps he moved forward. Before he reached the table he began to retch, the blazing headline seared in his mind.
The Boy who Left the ‘Boy who Lived’!
Did Ronald Weasley abandon his two closest friends at their time of greatest peril?