Chapter 2 : Hermione's Hideaway
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Morning of 19th August 2005, 14A Forsythe Square.
The rain battered the windows of the study, obscuring Hermione’s view of the outside world. She’d found that on a clear day - if she swivelled her chair to the right spot, with her head tilted at precisely the right angle- she could see the London Eye from her desk. However, on that stormy August morning there was little chance that she’d even be able to see the other side of the street. The apartment in which she sat was spacious and modern, converted from the ground floor of a large Victorian house. The only original feature that remained was the huge working fireplace in the living room, a feature that had been a large part of the flat’s appeal. The estate agent hadn’t understood why she and Ron had been so insistent that the landlord not seal it up before they moved in,
‘It leaks when it rains, you see, and you’ll find that birds nest in the chimney. And I shouldn’t think that the landlord will ever pay to have it swept’.
If Hermione had explained that they needed the fireplace for their morning commute, she felt sure that the estate agent would have called up the landlord and told him that unfortunately, that lovely young couple were clearly nuts and he couldn’t recommend that they be taken on as tenants. So, she’d simply smiled, thanked the baffled man for his advice, and asked him when they could sign the contract.
The first room that Hermione had furnished was the study; it was a very small room at the front of the house, but she enjoyed the cosiness of being surrounded by her books and the pictures of her friends and family she’d hung on the walls. She’d borrowed a large desk from her father, who’d retired from his dentistry practice a few years previously. The desk took up most of the room, but Hermione didn’t mind; she remembered sitting underneath it as a child and reading a book whilst waiting for her parents to finish work, she could see where she’d scored her name into one of the wooden legs with a compass, she could trace her finger around and around the mug stain worn into the wood by years of her father’s coffee habit. On that rainy August morning the desk was littered with reams of parchment and dusty books covered in an ancient and blotted script. Three mugs of cold tea sat discarded amongst the papers, one mug also containing a broken quill that had seemingly been used as a teaspoon.
Sitting amidst the abandoned drifts of paper, Hermione Granger took off her spectacles and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Reading glasses, she thought with a sigh, and I’m only twenty-five. Too many nights spent reading by wandlight under the blankets, she supposed. Pushing back her chair, she slipped off her shoes; Hermione always dressed for the office when working from home, insisting that it put her in the right frame of mind. She walked to the window and watched the rain hammer the glass, wondering if she’d ever finish the draft proposal that she’d been working on all morning. A soft shuffling noise made her look towards the door and she smiled as a large, shabby ball of ginger fur padded into the room.
‘Crookshanks!’ Hermione cooed, scooping the geriatric cat into her arms. At some point, he’d lost his right eye in a fight with a bowtruckle, and a long scar had contorted his mouth into a permanent smirk. Crookshanks leered at his loving owner, and nudged her shoulder with his nose. ‘You’re right; it’s time to take a break. Let’s see what we can find in the kitchen, shall we?’
Hermione carried Crookshanks across the hall and into the kitchen; the old cat growled his thanks as she set a bowl of salmon down in front of him and stroked his threadbare ears. As Hermione made herself yet another cup of tea – this time promising herself that she would sit down and drink it- she found herself looking at a photo she’d stuck to the fridge. Ron didn’t see the point of having photos of themselves up in the flat; they saw each other every day anyway. But the photograph was one of Hermione’s favourites; taken at their friend Harry’s wedding two years previously, Hermione was laughing raucously at something Ron had just said- she couldn’t remember what – and he was grinning, pleased with himself. The figures in the photo were moving, and every now and then Ron would put his arm around his girlfriend’s waist and kiss her on the cheek, showing off for the camera.
As she carried her cup of tea through to the living room, Crookshanks tottering behind her, Hermione wondered if she and Ron would ever get married. She supposed that she’d probably have to propose to Ron eventually, rather than the other way around. Although, she thought wistfully as she settled onto the sofa, it would be nice if he took the initiative for once and did it first. Not that Ron wasn’t romantic; he just wasn’t a flowers and diamonds kind of man. He might be relied upon to bring home the odd box of Honeydukes chocolates, but he would have ‘tested’ most of them first and it was just lucky that Hermione liked the orange and coffee flavoured ones he usually left. No, Ron certainly wasn’t a traditionalist when it came to romance. But, thought Hermione happily, the little things always show that he cares; trying to cook her favourite breakfast without using magic (a great gesture, as he was still somewhat afraid of the electric toaster) or asking her to read out loud to him when they lay in bed – even if she was reading Jane Austen. He even listened to her lectures on House-Elf Equality at dinnertime, and tried very hard to appear fascinated.
‘You can keep your Romeos and Casanovas’, murmured Hermione, ‘I’ve got Ron Weasley, and I love him.’ Crookshanks looked up at her quizzically, then curled up in a ball and went back to sleep.
Hermione got to her feet, yawned, and returned to the kitchen. She placed the empty mug into the sink alongside several plates and a pile of cutlery. Drawing a wand from her pocket, she pointed it at the sink, said, ‘Aguamenti,’ and watched with satisfaction as a jet of clear water burst from her wand and filled the sink. Flicking her wand again, she muttered, ‘Saponem’, and the water churned, creating foamy bubbles. The water continued to bubble and stir as Hermione returned to her study. Casting a wearied eye over the mess of papers and quills, she decided to organise the files in the hope that she’d get some idea of how to continue her research. She shuffled half-heartedly through a sheaf of parchments, but quickly found herself slumped in her chair again, her head in her hands. Hermione was frustrated; she’d never let her work overwhelm her like this before. I must be coming down with something nasty, she thought, rubbing her temples.
Hermione usually enjoyed her work at the Ministry. After leaving school, she and her friend Luna had worked together on an awareness campaign on behalf of some of the ‘less-acknowledged magical folk within our community’. They’d run S.P.E.W together for over two years when Hermione was approached at a particularly successful fundraising event by a tiny grey-haired witch. The woman had shaken her hand enthusiastically and introduced herself as ‘Esther Hipp, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures’.
It transpired that Madam Hipp had been following her career keenly after a letter of recommendation from an old friend had arrived at the Ministry, even before Hermione’s graduation from Hogwarts. Hermione’s passion and intellect were just what the stuffy old suits at the Ministry needed, Minerva had assured her. This appealed greatly to Esther, whose own ambitions had often been thwarted by bureaucracy and a lack of enthusiasm amongst her colleagues. This young woman sounded exactly like the breath of fresh air the Department needed; someone with brains and a little bit of attitude.
The first that Hermione ever heard of Madam Hipp was when she and Luna received a neatly written request for a subscription to the monthly S.P.E.W newsletter. Over time, the requests from other witches and wizards came rolling increasingly in, until they were sending out so many copies every month that they’d had to employ two people to write and develop the newsletter, whilst they’d outsourced the dispatch to ‘Mercury’s Mailers’, a company with a vast fleet of owls. Eventually, Hermione and Luna had been invited to speak at an international conference for Charities of the Magical Community, and had just embarked on a series of fund-raising events when Luna announced that it was time for her to move on. She’d always supported Hermione wholeheartedly in their venture, but her true vocation was anthropology; she wanted to travel the world and discover unknown creatures, and learn all that she could about them. Hermione had been worried about continuing S.P.E.W alone, but Ron had been so encouraging that she’d just talked herself into the idea when she was approached by Madam Hipp.
When the little witch had, eyes flashing with excitement, offered her a job as ‘a special advisor on Equality for Magical Creatures’, Hermione knew that she couldn’t turn the opportunity down. She’d considered dissolving S.P.E.W – a turn of phrase that had Ron snorting with laughter – but Tabitha Bakewell, the witch she’d employed to edit the newsletter, had solemnly insisted that she would ‘take on the mantle of responsibility, and inject S.P.E.W into every corner of the wizarding world’.
Hermione had now worked at the Ministry for three years, and had enjoyed it immensely. Already, new laws had been put in place due to the work she had done with Madam Hipp; such as the law that meant that house-elves could be named by their parents, rather than their ‘master’ family. Regrettably, and despite Hermione’s repeated attempts at explaining this new freedom, many house-elves had been so grateful that some human witch was fighting their corner that there were now many baby house-elves named ‘Hermione’ – or at least, some variation on the name; ‘Moany’ and ‘Ninny’ being unfortunately most prevalent. Hermione found this very embarrassing; Ron and Harry found it hilarious.
Hermione allowed herself a small smile at the memory of Harry trying to make her believe that he’d be naming his first child ‘Moany Potter’. She was looking forward to seeing Harry and Ginny at The Burrow that afternoon. In fact, she always enjoyed visiting Ron’s family home; she loved the laughter, the mess and the mayhem of the Weasley household. At first Hermione, who had received a very loving but very quiet and well-organised upbringing, had been irritated by what she perceived as the Weasley’s complete lack of organisation. But she’d eventually realised that the Weasleys always got things done; they just did it in their own way, and in their own time. Speaking of which, she thought, picking up a quill, I’d better get on with work.
Hermione continued writing and re-writing for a few hours, getting up from her desk only twice, once to let Crookshanks out (although he quickly realised it was raining and didn’t get further than the doorstep before turning home), and once to flick her wand at the pile of newly dried crockery sitting next to the sink. The cupboard doors sprang open, and mugs and plates floated into their rightful places in single file. Satisfied, Hermione went back to her desk. Eventually, at two in the afternoon, she heard the front door open and slam shut.
‘’Miney? ‘Oo ‘ome?’
Hermione got up from behind the desk and went out into the hallway. A tall, skinny young man was struggling out of a soaking jacket, his red hair dripping rainwater down his freckled face. Between his teeth he held a few soggy envelopes and what looked like a postcard.
‘You look like a post owl,’ said Hermione, raising an eyebrow.
‘Am a ‘ost owl!,’ Ron grinned as he dropped the post into Hermione’s outstretched hand. He stepped in front of the long hallway mirror and dropped a sodden rucksack on the floor, from which he pulled out a battered wand. Pointing it at himself, he muttered a couple of words and hot air blasted from the wand, and he watched with satisfaction as he was simultaneously warmed and dried.
Hermione was going through the post, which consisted of a postcard from Gettsyburg – her parents were celebrating their retirement with a tour of American Civil War battlefields, a letter from Luna which detailed her recent discovery of a flock of Fan-Tailed Fwoopers, and an important looking envelope sealed with a large blob of green wax, imprinted with an official-looking emblem.
Soon after moving into the London flat, Hermione had decided it might be better to have their post delivered to Ron’s office at the Ministry, as they lived in an area highly populated by muggles; once, in the first week of their tenancy, their post was erroneously delivered to the elderly man from the first floor flat above them. Mr Stuckey had been rather unhappy that his new neighbours were ‘youngsters’, worrying that he and his pet poodle would be disturbed by ‘raves and all-night shindigs’. However, Hermione had soon visited him armed with a tin of Mrs Weasley’s best shortbread biscuits and it seemed for a while that Mr Stuckey was on his way to accepting or even liking his new neighbours. The peace was shattered a few short days later, when a large barn owl swooped through Mr Stuckey’s kitchen window and dropped a roll of parchment addressed to one ‘Ronald B. Weasley’ into Winnifred’s water bowl. A firmly worded letter to the mail company and a large fruitcake on Mr Stuckey’s doormat had resolved the issue, but Ron couldn’t help noticing that the old man’s windows had remained firmly closed ever since, even in the summer.
Hermione folded up the last of the letters and looked down at Ron, who was now completely dry and sitting on the floor, Crookshanks in his lap. He was pointing his wand at the old cat, who was purring contentedly and basking in the warm air jetting from Ron’s wand.
‘Honestly Ron, you’re so soppy,’ Hermione laughed, kneeling down next to them, ‘You used to hate Crookshanks, remember?’
‘Shh,’ Ron said in mock horror, as he covered the cats tattered ears, ‘He understands you!’ As if to prove Ron’s point, Crookshanks looked up at him with his strange grin and nudged the end of the wand. ‘Anyway,’ Ron continued, blasting more air from his wand, ‘He’s an old man now, he deserves a bit of fuss, don’t you Crooky-wooky?’. The cat’s eyes narrowed at this and, stretching, he slouched off Ron’s lap and slunk away into the kitchen.
Dusting the ginger cat hairs from his clothes, Ron stood up and pulled Hermione to her feet. She leaned into his tall frame and he hugged her tightly.
‘Good day?’ she asked, her voice muffled.
‘Not bad,’ replied Ron, releasing Hermione from his grip and following her into the kitchen. He perched on a counter top as she filled the kettle and retrieved two mugs from the cupboard. ‘We managed two arrests in that Quidditch match-fixing scheme; it’ll all be in The Prophet tomorrow.’
‘That’s brilliant, well done Ron!’ said Hermione, giving him a quick kiss before adding, ‘I suppose Bruno Shoeless must be feeling pretty nervous right now. Imagine being head of Sports and Games and having no idea that players were taking bribes at such a high level; he must have known about it. He’ll be asked some big questions soon enough, I’m sure.’
‘Well,’ said Ron, getting up to pour two cups of tea, ‘I imagine so. I’ve just arrested his son.’
Hermione looked shocked, and started to ask questions, but Ron shrugged them off.
‘Can we just leave it for now? I’m sorry, I just want to enjoy this weekend with you and the family, and deal with Shoeless and the rest of them on Monday.’
Hermione bristled, but knew that Ron was right; she herself was guilty of worrying about work all weekend. In fact, this was probably why she was feeling so run-down. Ron seemed to notice that Hermione still wasn’t feeling quite right, and passed her a steaming mug of tea.
‘Are you feeling any better? Madam Hipp was asking after you, and mum sent her patronus to say that if you’re really not feeling great then you don’t need to come to The Burrow today; George and Angelina will understand,’ he said.
Hermione shook her head, ‘No, no; I’m just a bit tired. I’ve been exchanging owls with Prague for weeks now, trying to work out this ban on the shipping of golems as goods. The minister just keeps replying in Czech, and I have to get his letters translated before I can even start to argue my case!’ Ron nodded sympathetically, but Hermione continued, eyes ablaze, ‘It’s just slavery, Ron! These poor creatures, just because they’re made of clay, are packed in boxes and shipped around the world, with nothing to do but stare at the inside of a crate for weeks! But Mr Chamtivy insists that as they are initially man-made, golems are goods, not beings!’
Ron tried to look like he understood what Hermione was talking about, but had long since learned that to try and engage in a discussion of Hermione’s work was to enter a conversational minefield, so he instead took a long slurp of his tea. Hermione, however, was clearly not on her usual form as instead of storming into her office to get some old dusty book to prove her point, she instead leaned against the fridge and sipped her tea. Ron looked at the clock above the cooker and remarked that it was nearly time to leave. Hermione said that she was going to get changed out of her work clothes, and disappeared into their bedroom. She emerged a few minutes later in a flowery summer dress, with her flowing brown hair tamed by a dozen bobby pins and a dollop of Mousse de Medusa, a gift from Ginny who also had somewhat untameable hair.
Ron gave out a low whistle, still surprised after all these years at the mousy old school-friend who had turned out to be not only completely gorgeous, but also unfathomably willing to be his girlfriend. She chuckled, and gave him a twirl.
‘Do I look alright?’ Hermione asked.
‘‘Alright?’’ repeated Ron, turning slightly pink, ‘You look brilliant. But it’s pouring with rain, you’ll get soaked!’
‘It’s not raining in Devon, Ron,’ replied Hermione, rolling her eyes.
‘Oh, right. Of course. Let’s go. I’ve left a note on the fridge for Mr Stuckey, he promised to feed Crookshanks for us as long as I could vouch for little Winnifred’s safety,’ Ron grimaced, ‘After last time.’
‘That wasn’t Crooky’s fault!’ complained Hermione, as she and Ron made their way to the living room. She lifted her wand and pointed it at the fireplace, which filled with orange flame. Ron lifted a small glass bottle from the mantelpiece and shook a handful of silver powder into the palm of his hand. He threw it into the flames, which instantly turned an emerald green.
‘Be that as it may, I think Mr Stuckey preferred his poodle with two ears,’ Ron murmured, before saying in a loud, clear voice, ‘The Burrow!’.
Ron and Hermione held hands, and stepped into the flames together.
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