Chapter 2 : Hermione: The Summit Room
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Flash photographers, reporters and even members of the wizarding public surrounded us, shouting our names and craving our attention.
“Mr Potter, what happened?”
“Do the Ministry have any word on the death of Draco Malfoy?”
“Was it really suicide?”
“Mr Potter, any comments?”
“Were there any vital witnesses at the scene?”
“Is assassination a possibility, Sir?”
“Will the search for Mr Weasley’s murderer cease?”
“Miss Granger! What do you know?”
“Miss Granger, over here!”
Harry cradled his arm around me protectively as we pushed our way down the street. How clever of us to use muggle transportation just in case the media followed us via any other magical route. We were wrong. As soon as we got off the train in London, we were swarmed with witches and wizards with notepads and brains full of typical questions. They had no discretion, completely disregarding the muggles who stared inquisitively at us as we came towards our destination. I just wanted to scream at them, to tell them to go away and leave us alone, but I knew it would never be possible. This was the biggest story since Harry defeated Voldemort. Somehow I knew that Ron’s death had triggered off a chain of events which would be hell for me and the media did not fail to disappoint. So many people had concocted their own versions of events, trying to sell their views to the Prophet and other leading newspapers in the hope of making a few galleons…it was disgusting. Still, the truth - whatever that was - was yet to emerge…hence, the conference Harry and I were about to have with the Minister For Magic.
Due to the vultures who called themselves photographers, Harry and I were running late and we had to do just that. To escape from the paparazzi, we scampered off hand in hand; no doubt they were scuttling behind us equally as fast. After wrenching open the red telephone box door, we dialled the necessary keys and received our badges. Today, we were in the Ministry of Magic as visitors, not as trainees for the Magical Law Enforcement. While we pinned our badges to our chests, the phone box began to descend and with it, took away the view of blinding flashing bulbs.
But it didn’t end there. All of the eyes were trained on us once we stepped out and made our way to the elevators. My eye caught a glimpse of the paper’s morning edition written by Padma. No matter how kind and sensitive the headline seemed, I couldn’t help but wish she had not been assigned this case as her first front page story. It was not horrific or malicious in any way, it just held an element of familiarity. This was quite possibly the reason she got the story, so I refrained from condemning her just because she was getting her job done.
With my eyes trained to the ground, Harry still being my safety net, I had not noticed where Bill Weasley had appeared from, but somehow, the three of us were alone in the lift, heading to the Minister’s office.
No one spoke for a while. The sound of our breathing was nauseating. Especially when two people in my life had ceased doing so in the past year…just last night…
“How are you holding up?” Bill uttered to me.
I would have said I was fine, but that was an blatant lie. I hurt - I hurt all over.
“I’m not,” I croaked, still under Harry’s arm.
“I totally understand,” Bill stated. “We nearly had the bastard.” He shook his head sadly. “So close. I would have preferred that he rotted in Azkaban. He got it easy dropping from that roof.”
Closing my eyes, I took a second to compose myself, to stop myself from raging at him. No one could have understood what I had been through. No one could have understood that last night was not meant to turn out the way it did.
The friendly female voice and a light ping gave me the cue to leave the lift. We stepped out and followed the corridor to the Minister’s Office.
Just as Bill leaned forward to knock, the door was wrenched open by the Minister, Kingsley Shacklebolt.
“Good morning, Minister,” Bill greeted, trying to smile to lighten the mood.
“Good morning,” he said to his guests. “The meeting will be held in the larger summit room. It’s just down the hall.” He also attempted a smile, but it seemed to transform into a grimace once his eyes passed over my sullen face.
“I thought it was going to be a private meeting,” Harry queried.
The Minister sighed. “Things change.”
We shuffled down the corridor after him and entered the third door on the left. The room was candlelit and I barely saw the outline of three other people sat at the unnecessarily large table - there had to be at least thirty chairs around it.
Harry and I sat closest to the door, while the Minister took to the top of the table, while the three others were sat together in the middle. I recognised one to be Gowain Robards, the Head of the Auror Office and Harry’s superior. Alastor Gumboil, sat just left of him; he was the Hit Wizard who accepted me on his very highly skilled team. The other was my dear friend and associate Evelyn Puckle, another Hit Wizard - or Hit Witch - to avoid the highly suppressive male term - who also served as a great agony aunt for me during my times of need. She and I shared secrets that I had not even put myself through telling Ginny, although I vow to one day.
The Minister cleared his throat after introducing the three other members.
Then the slaughter began.
“Last night, Mr Draco Malfoy died during the Annual European Wizarding Ministerial Dinner Party in Italy. I have just arrived from there myself after liaising with the Italian Minister For Magic. I can see you four arrived safely.” He motioned towards myself and the other three members. Harry had organised my arrival as soon as he had found out and I arrived at Grimmauld place early this morning via the floo network.
He continued. “I have learnt from Mr Gumboil here that you, Miss Granger, were following a lead at the time of the death?”
“Yes, Minister,” I muttered.
“Would you care to explain?”
My throat suddenly felt like a jackhammer had been lain across it. After a sip of water, I began. “As you had already organised Minister, Miss Puckle, Mr Robards, yourself and other ministry members were already attending the Party. Mr Gumboil and I had taken up in the hotel room finalising our next move in the chase -”
“Until you left,” Alastor exclaimed. I had not noticed the moment when he had turned into a rotten twelve year old.
“You left?” the Minister questioned.
I nodded. “To follow my lead.”
“And yet we still don’t know from whom or where you received this,” Gowain muttered heartily, tapping his stodgy fingers on the rough oak table.
“Cut her some slack, will you, Robards?” Evie defended. She was just a few years older than I was and her voice was enough to avert the direction of the conversation.
Kingsley scratched his head. “The public have become quite tense in terms of my enigmatic approach to this case and herein lies the problem: they want answers.”
“I don’t think he did it,” I voiced for the first time to my superiors.
“What?” Harry almost shouted. “When did you decide this?”
I turned to the others. The looks on their faces showed different reactions. The Minister was outright confused and held his head as if this load of information were weighing it down. Robards, on the other hand, looked as if he were about to combust. Similarly, Gumboil’s face was a plum colour. And, Evie…she looked at me knowingly, as if she realised this before.
My forehead and palms were getting damp.
“I just…things just don’t add up. Like he said in the trial, he was in the house. Well, he was on the Weasley property…on the land -”
“As addressed before,” Gumboil began, “this is not for us to decide. Our job was to bring Mr Malfoy in and you were happy to oblige and even help to lead the investigation!”
“Yes, but, now I think he was innocent.”
“We are not judging him, Miss Granger. Our job was to bring him back to Azkaban. After all, he did escape from prison…although we don’t know how, this in itself is still a criminal offence.”
“I think what she means is that even if you did get him, he’d be treated as if he were guilty,” Harry tried in my defence.
“He is guilty! The courts found him guilty!” Gumboil exclaimed.
“So, why the re-trial?!” I shouted.
“That’s mere hearsay, Miss Granger.”
“Whatever. You and I both know that trial was biased.”
“The point is, it is not for us to judge him. We are not here to decide his guilt or innocence. You should have brought him in!”
“We’re also not here to decide Hermione’s guilt or innocence,” Harry retorted. “We’re here to decide the next course of action.”
“Harry’s right,” the Minister commended. “All of you are at fault here, one way or another no matter how much you try to blame this on Miss Granger, Mr Gumboil.”
Alastor sneered lightly.
Evie raised her hand to just above her shoulder and Kingsley nodded at her. “I have an idea. We need to find the evidence, right? Mr Malfoy knew something we didn’t know, the murderer maybe, and chose to withhold that information in the trial. Since he didn’t survive for the retrial -” Gumboil was seething at this point “ - we need to find some way of getting the evidence. And I think I know how. We send her back.”
My heart pounded against my ribs loudly. “Excuse me?”
“I think we should send Hermione back in time to get the evidence from him. I know time turners can’t go back that far but I think, if we do it just at the right time… ”
“I approve,” the Minister said. “However, I think Miss Granger should use the Advanced Time Turner. This way, she will actually assume her former self without there being two of her and without exposure and the risk of madness.”
“I don’t think I can do this,” I expressed.
Gowain clapped his hands together. “Well, seeing as you are so adamant of his innocence, it only makes sense that you go back and get the evidence. You must record it in some way or another Miss Granger, mind you.”
“I can’t…” I could hear my heartbeat in my ears, drowning out all of the other voices.
“But to what time do we send her back?” Alastor asked. “To what moment?”
Harry spoke up while he softly rubbed my back. “We should send her back while he was in Azkaban. Before he went on the run. That makes sense.”
“Hermione?” I think it was Evie who called my name.
Fluttering my eyelids a few times, I focused on the flickering firelight in the distance. “Yes?”
“What do you say?” she asked me.
“I…I don’t know.”
“I don’t think that you have a choice, Miss Granger. This is the most feasible way to do it. This way the future will be changed so that Mr Malfoy’s name can either be cleared or kept the way it stands. If you succeed, you will find the truth behind Mr Weasley’s death. However, if you fail…I’m afraid you will have to be dismissed from the Ministry.”
“What? I…I didn’t do anything wrong!” I pleaded.
“I know,” the Minister said sorrowfully. “The point is, the public know that you fore-fronted this search sure that you would succeed. It would be hypocritical of me to keep you on contrary to what the public would want.”
“And how do you know what the public want? You barely know them,” I retorted angrily. Harry gave me an uneasy glare. I knew that shouting at the Minister for Magic would not help my case, so I forced out an apology. “I’m sorry, Sir.”
He nodded. “I trust you understand, Miss Granger. We will send you back to the first of January 2001, the day Mr Malfoy enters Azkaban so that you can isolate that piece of evidence. But remember, you must not drastically change anything. You must go about your day the way you would have, just visit the prison - as many times as it takes.”
“Yes Minister.” My head stayed low.
“Mr Potter?” the Minister asked. “Would you be able to bring Miss Granger back here tomorrow at four am so that she can begin?”
“Yes Sir.” He held my hand and helped me out of my chair. “Let’s go.”
“You can do it, Hermione,” Evie whispered to me, smiling.
I left the room feeling sick to my stomach. Going back in time would mean that I would have all of my knowledge. I would know the exact time that Draco Malfoy would die and there was nothing I could do about it. Yet there was something in Evie’s smile which changed my view on that immediately.
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