Chapter 14 : Chapter 14
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Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall sat together on a small sofa in his office at the Ministry of Magic. On a chair in the centre of the room sat Rita Skeeter, reinstated as a reporter for the Daily Prophet, although with a diminished reputation. Rita got her Quick Quotes quill and notepad from her bag.
“Right Minister, if you are ready, can you tell me the reason for this meeting?”
“Yes Miss Skeeter. We asked for a reporter from the Prophet to publish two important announcements.” The quill started to race over the paper.
“We asked for their best reporter, but for some reason they sent you.” said Professor McGonagall testily.
“Can I quote you Professor?” said Rita with barely disguised spite.
“Of course you can use it as a quote; I could even suggest what you do with it if you like.”
“Ladies please,” said Kingsley “let’s remember why we are here. We wish to announce that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will re-open on the first of September. Professor McGonagall is to be the new Headmistress. There will be a ceremony of re-dedication the day before for which invitations will be sent out in due course. The Ministry wishes to emphasise the importance it places on the education of our young witches and wizards.” he paused to allow questions from Rita Skeeter. She thought for a moment and said,
“Are there any new staff appointments Professor?”
“All of the teachers have agreed to return, so the only post left to fill is for Defence Against the Dark Arts. We still have some interviews to conduct so for now the names will remain confidential.”
“So DADA will still be taught at Hogwarts, is that wise?”
“Voldemort may be dead but the Dark Arts still exist Miss Skeeter; it would be foolish to ignore them entirely.”
“You said that all the staff had agreed to return, does that include the ignorant half giant Hagrid?” Skeeter smiled inwardly when she saw McGonagall’s expression.
“Well, ignorance is certainly something you should know about; being so generously endowed with it yourself, but yes, Hagrid is returning to Hogwarts. You can put that quote in your paper as well, but I don’t suppose you will.” said Professor McGonagall icily. Kingsley Shacklebolt interrupted again.
“We’re straying from the point again; please desist from personal comments Professor.”
“My apologies Minister, I’ll try to restrain myself.” Rita Skeeter shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
“You said there were two announcements Minister. The second is?”
“We also wish to announce the formation of a new seat of Higher Magical Education. The new institution will be known as the Albus Dumbledore University. There will be no higher education in the Dark Arts, which is being restricted to those training to be Aurors. The students qualifying for entrance to the University will be in the top five per cent of NEWT level students, or their equivalents from other countries. Enrolments will begin at the end of the next school year.”
“Why from other countries Minister?”
“There would be insufficient numbers from our indigenous population to make this scheme feasible. In the first year we hope to enrol up to one hundred students with about half coming from this country.” McGonagall could not resist another jibe.
“That means that half will come from abroad Miss Skeeter. In case you were wondering.”
“Thank you Professor, now my article will be really accurate.”
“That will be a first.” responded McGonagall. Kingsley knew he had to end this soon as Skeeter again squirmed in her seat.
“We have consulted with the Minister’s of other countries, who have asked their people. The response has been very positive…” he paused “…any more questions Miss Skeeter?”
“I think that with a little research, I have enough. Thank you Minister.”
Hermione and Ginny had decided to squeeze in one more shopping trip. Trips to Basingstoke were something they now indulged in periodically. Hermione would visit her parents and then they would shop. They had even persuaded Harry and Ron to accompany them once. The boys said that they had enjoyed the experience whilst secretly vowing ‘Never again!’ This was a trip the girls might have preferred to miss had they known what was coming.
They were walking around the main street and had just passed a newsagents shop. Outside the shop was a display of newspapers, a few steps beyond the display Ginny slowed to a stop and went back. Hermione didn’t notice her and kept on walking. Ginny stared at a photo on the front of the local paper. She knew that face she thought, it was Robbie, the boy Hermione had dated. She called her back and as she waited she saw the title of the article. She spoke again as Hermione joined her. “It’s OK, my mistake.” But she was too late, Hermione had seen the picture.
“That’s Robbie,” she said, “why is he in the paper?” She stopped dead as she too read the story under the title ‘Local marine killed in action.’ She stood stunned with her hand over her mouth, she started shaking as tears started to well into her eyes. Ginny put her arms around Hermione’s shoulders and said gently,
“Come on, let’s go and get a coffee.”
“B… buy the paper please.” said Hermione. As Ginny did so, the shopkeeper saw Hermione crying.
“Is your friend alright?” he asked. Ginny pointed at the photo of Robbie.
“She went to school with him. They were close at one time, but it didn’t work out.”
“She should go to Wootton Bassett next Thursday.”
“Why?” said Ginny, the newsagent gave her a puzzled look as though surprised that Ginny didn’t know what she was talking about.
“They’ll be bringing him home then. The cortege always stops in the town, usually around mid-afternoon.” A short time later in a coffee shop, they perused the article in silence.
“He was a brave guy, Hermione. He was trying to save a wounded mate, that’s courage.”
“I hope he didn’t die hating me Ginny. I don’t think I could bear that.”
“I’m sure he didn’t Hermione, from what you’ve told me he seemed to be a good sort.” Ginny turned some pages and quickly read another article that caught her eye that confirmed in more detail what she had been told by the newsagent. She did not mention it to Hermione, she would tell her later, but filed the details in her head.
Harry and Ron were out when the two girls arrived home. Hermione went straight to her room. A short while later when Harry and Ron arrived, Ginny asked to speak to Ron privately. She and Ron went to his room. He sat on his bed, Ginny got a chair and sat directly in front of him.
“What’s the matter Ginny, why all the mystery? Hermione hasn’t gone missing again has she?”
“No Ron, she’s in her room. She is very upset so I thought I’d explain why.”
“Go on then,” he said not knowing whether to be intrigued or worried, “what is she upset about?”
“Bear with me Ron, it’s a… delicate matter.” she took a deep breath and began. “It goes back to the time when she ran away to her parents house. Has she told you anything about the old school friend that she met. His name for instance?”
“That was about all she told me. He is a soldier called Robbie, isn’t he?”
“That’s right, well when we were shopping today we saw a local newspaper and Robbie was on the front page. He is dead Ron.”
“Yes. That’s why Hermione is upset. Apparently he was killed in a battle somewhere, trying to rescue a wounded mate. It’s been quite a shock for her.”
“Oh my God,” he said slowly “I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been awful for her. Thanks for telling me, Gin. I’ll be gentle when I see her.” Ginny could see he was sincere as she continued,
“That’s good Ron, but there’s more… I can tell you that you came very close to losing her to Robbie; I know she cared a lot for him. So it would be understandable that you wouldn’t give a damn. She won’t be able to go to his funeral, but there is a way she can say goodbye. Do you understand?”
“No. How can she do that if she can’t go to the funeral?” Ginny then explained the procedure that took place in Wootton Bassett when the bodies of fallen soldiers came home. “You think she’ll want to go there then?”
“In my opinion she absolutely has to, I think it will help her to finally put it all behind her. Would you mind if she went?” Ron thought for a moment,
“I suppose not. As I said, I’ll be sympathetic. I don’t like her being upset, so if it’s going to help her to get over it, I won’t stop her. Tell you what Ginny, I’ll go and speak to her now. I’ll tell her it’s okay and that she should go.” Ginny nodded her approval,
“Good Ron, but be gentle okay. I’ll come with you just for a couple of minutes; I want to be sure she’s alright.”
Ron tapped softly on the door to Percy’s old room. He opened it and looked around the door. Hermione was sitting cross-legged on the bed, twisting a handkerchief in her fingers. “Can I come in, Hermione?” she nodded her assent and Ginny followed him through into the room. He sat beside her, “Ginny told me about… Robbie. I’m so, so sorry Hermione.”
“Why are you sorry, Ron? You didn’t know him, you didn’t hurt him.”
“I’m sorry he’s dead. I’m sorry because it’s making you hurt and I don’t think I can do anything to stop it hurting you.” Ginny approached holding the newspaper,
“Read this Hermione, I’ll leave you and Ron to talk.” She indicated the article she had seen earlier, and left the room. Hermione read the article,
“I don’t understand, Ron, what has this to do with me?”
“I… we… I mean Ginny and I, think you should go. I think it will help you with, oh, what do muggles call it… closure. Go and say the best goodbye you can.”
“I don’t know, Ron. Do you really think it will help?”
“Hermione; let me ask you a question, well two questions really. First, while you were erm, seeing him, did you and he… y’know..?”
“No, Ron, we did not.”
“If Ginny hadn’t convinced you to come back, instead of going on the date you were getting ready for, would you have… slept with him?” He could almost see her brain working, she was softly chewing her bottom lip, always a sign that she was concentrating hard.
“I’m sorry Ron, but if I’m honest, I have to say yes, I probably would have. I’m so sorry.” she saw the pain appear in his eyes.
“You… you don’t have to be sorry for being truthful, Hermione. You obviously cared for him, that’s why you have to go. Say goodbye in your own way and then take the memories and lock them away in a little corner of your heart. And… and leave the rest clear for me, okay.”
“Okay Ron, I’ll go.” She took his hand, “Ron, you know I love you, don’t you. I mean, you do believe me, don’t you.” His hesitation made her uncomfortable. He held eye contact with her, a brief kiss,
“Yes, Hermione, I do. I just wish you hadn’t felt the need to ask me that. I’ll leave you alone for a while, you have a good cry. I think you need it.” In the doorway he looked back at her. “Don’t forget that I love you too, Hermione, and I really am sorry about Robbie.” Before he could leave she spoke again.
“Ron, would you come with me?” He thought for a moment.
“No Hermione. I think this is something you have to do alone. I can’t go with you. I’m sorry.” He left her alone. As he had advised, she had a good cry.
The next day there was a definite tension in the air between Hermione and Ron. Harry and Ginny had commented on it between themselves, but had decided that it was none of their business. After lunch Harry had read in the paper of the circumstances of Robbie’s death. “Y’know there’s this muggle saying, it goes something like ‘the most love a man can show…” Hermione interrupted.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. It’s from the Bible I think. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it.”
“That’s the one,” said Harry, “Robbie must have been quite a guy.”
“I’m sure he was.” Snapped Ron, hurriedly leaving the room. At a slower pace a weeping Hermione followed him. Ginny had looked at Harry in disgust.
“Sometimes my love, you can be such a huge prat.” Harry, suitably chastened and contrite, made no reply.
So it was that five miserable days later Hermione left the Burrow again. She did not go to Basingstoke but to the small town of Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire. About the middle of the afternoon people started to gather along the main street, lining the road two or three deep. Hermione stood close to a set of traffic lights. Men carrying flags and wearing various military berets lined off to her left.
She waited about half an hour when the flag bearers came to attention and placed their standards in the pouch on the special belts they wore. Looking to her left, she could see a middle-aged couple, dressed in black. The man’s arm was around his wife’s shoulders and she was sobbing grievously into a white handkerchief. They had to be Robbie’s parents she thought. Hermione looked again to her right as the standards were lowered to the ground. Many of the men saluted and the hearse came slowly into view.
She choked and reached for her own hankie as she saw the flag draped coffin in the rear of the hearse. She could not believe that the Robbie she had laughed with and kissed passionately not all that long ago was inside. When the vehicle came level with her, she saw in the corner of the side window a small white card with a simple inscription:
Corporal Robert MacDonald MC
The vehicle came to a halt. Mr. & Mrs. MacDonald came forward, stood close to the hearse and placed flowers on the roof. A bugler played the Last Post. Hermione watched all this, her heart breaking for Robbie and for his poor parents. She stared at the coffin, then with tears flowing and eyes closed, took a step forward and placed her hand on the window. ‘Goodbye Robbie’ she thought, ‘I think that, for a short time at least, perhaps I did love you. I’m so sorry, please forgive me.’ She had a strange sensation in her head, as if Robbie was replying and she knew that he didn’t hate her. It’s okay Hermione; move on, the voice seemed to say. The cortege moved off at a slow speed, and with it went all the distress she had been feeling and a kind of calmness flooded her heart. Hermione would never know why, but she approached Mr. & Mrs. MacDonald and started to speak,
“Mr. & Mrs. MacDonald I am so very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you Miss. Did you know Robbie then?” said Robbie’s Dad.
“We were in the same class at Junior School.”
“Junior School! That was a long time ago.” Mrs. MacDonald said.
“Yes it was, but we met again briefly not so long ago.” Mr. MacDonald looked at her with a quizzical expression on his face,
“Is your name Hermione?” he asked.
“Yes it is, how did…” Hermione was perplexed.
“He told us he’d met you, and something about his first kiss, and something called er… Nargles was it?” Hermione smiled a brief smile, he’d finally got it right.
“Yes it was. It’s a boarding school joke.”
“Well thank you for coming Hermione, have you come far?
“From Devon, I know it’s a long way but I really wanted to. I was visiting my parents in Basingstoke last week when I heard about Robbie. Anyway, I’ll leave you now, and again I’m so sorry."
“Goodbye Hermione. Thank you for coming today.”
When she got back to the Burrow she excused herself to the others and went directly to her room. Once again Ron knocked and entered. Hermione stood before him.
“Thank you for making me go today, Ron.”
“Do you think it helped you, Hermione?”
“Absolutely Ron. I feel loads better about the whole thing. I’m over it, Ron, I really am. My only fear now is about us, I mean what I have done to us. Can you forgive me Ron?”
“You don’t need my forgiveness, ‘Ne.” He opened his arms. “You need a hug and a kiss.” She agreed enthusiastically. In a passionate embrace she managed to whisper,
“I need more than a hug and a kiss. Will you come and see me tonight?”
“I will.” He whispered back. “Shall I bring my wand?”
“Not the wooden one.” She said, stifling a giggle.
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