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Chapter 7 : Organisations
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"So you're not going to get goblins," Hermione said with a sigh as she slumped into her chair in the pokey office, slinging her jacket over the back and depositing the large stack of papers upon her desk. They contained all manner of scribbles, Post-It notes (a source of perpetual confusion to many wizards), and references which would now, she realised glumly, all need to be binned on the grounds of being useless.
"That was just one goblin organisation," Trevelyan said with mild confusion, taking the seat opposite her. "I know it went badly -"
"It was abysmal. They'll never work not knowing what the job is." Hermione took a deep breath, uncertain of how her next words would be received. "And Burke's manner didn't help."
Trevelyan waved a hand a little dismissively. "It's what he's like."
"Lovely, I'm sure, but if he's going to take part in business arrangements he might want to curb his basic instincts," she said a bit tartly.
All in all, the meeting with the Goblin Guild of Craftsmen had been an unmitigated disaster. The goblins had been suspicious from the start, and that had been made only worse when Burke had brusquely told them they couldn't know what the relic they were to work on would be. He'd been even more tactless when the goblins had balked at this, offering no compromise or even apologies for what they perceived to be a waste of their time.
"He gets results," Trevelyan said, sounding like he wasn't entirely comfortable having to defend his workmate, "and the GGC weren't going to go along with it anyway. Not with the terms we offered, and the key points were unnegotiable."
She had to concede that point, though she did so with a mild scowl and a shove of her papers to the other side of the desk. "House Elves, then," she said, sounding about as brusque as Burke.
The other Unspeakable had gone back to the Department of Mysteries, swanning in at the eleventh hour to read the briefing sheet from Trevelyan at the meeting, bungling it - in her opinion - and then just storming off. Trevelyan insisted he was very busy, but if that was the case, Hermione wasn't sure why he'd been posted to handle the negotiations in the first place, when she was quite confident the two of them could do it.
Still, it meant she didn't have to deal with him after the fact. So Trevelyan got the brunt of her ire.
"There are still other goblin groups," he said with an expression of confusion.
"We weren't even close with the GGC. No other group will go near us. They'll hear what happened and go to ground. Besides, you knew it was a long shot with goblins." She picked up her stack of papers listing the various House Elf Work Unions, which were their best bet for gathering the necessary expertise.
Trevelyan eyed the pile dubiously. "That's an awful lot of papers," he said with suspicion.
"There are an awful lot of House Elf unions," Hermione explained with a sigh. "And they specialise in all sorts of different things, with different goals, and different politics."
He raised an eyebrow. "House Elves have politics?"
"Of course they do!" She passed him a sheet, which he eyed, unconvinced. "The HEWU are in favour of absolutely independent House Elf work, with their own set of rights. The RFE don't want to change the infrastructure, but want better rights and pay - more centrist. The Elven Freedom group don't even want to work for wizards. They're a bit extreme." She scratched behind an ear.
"Didn't you give them the funding to set up?" Trevelyan asked with a ghost of a smile.
She peered at him suspiciously. "How did you know that?"
"We have a file," Trevelyan said casually, turning the page over. Then he paused, and looked up. "Of your career. Professional profile. We needed to know exactly how good you were at talking to Beings," he explained in a hurried, defensive babble.
Despite herself, Hermione had to suppress a smile at his brief panic. "Yes. I helped the EF set up. Then they went a bit over the edge. They still talk to us, which is better than the arch-conservative house elves do. They're so conservative that the idea of organising to oppose change is too radical."
Trevelyan snorted, then threw the paper down on the table and stood. "There's obviously a lot of work to be done on House Elves," he began, pulling his long robe coat over his shoulders.
She stared at him. "So you're... leaving?" She was confused more than outraged; for the last few nights they'd been staying in the office as long as it took to get the preparations for the next day's meeting done. For him to bail would be uncharacteristic, even if they didn't yet have an appointment and thus weren't working to a deadline - and, she realised, she'd much rather be here getting work done than at her flat. Alone.
Then again, the idea of getting work done on her own wasn't too thrilling either.
"I'll be back. Give me ten minutes," he said, apparently unaware of just how mysterious he was being before he walked out.
Hermione stared at the door once it was closed behind him for several long seconds, eyes narrowing. "You," she muttered, barely above her breath, "are a very strange man."
She didn't let herself dwell on that thought for much longer, leaning over the desk and getting back to work. The time before he got back could be used giving a clearer breakdown of the profiles of the different House Elf unions, work which he couldn't really help with at this point anyway. Then together they could begin to consider their angles of attack on each group, and determine which would be best to start with - and best to start with didn't necessarily mean easiest to win over, because talking to one group could affect politics with the other...
She was stuck, thus, in her continuous scribbling, and completely oblivious to the sights and sounds of the outside world until she became dimly aware of a new smell. It was warm, it had hints of spices, and it abruptly made her stomach growl with a hunger she'd lost track of over the day.
She looked up to first see a large white plastic bag on the desk, and then Trevelyan standing before his chair with a smug smirk. Then her attention hungrily turned back to the bag. "Is that Chinese takeout?"
His smirk broadened to a genuinely pleased grin. "You bet. I hope you like chow mein - it's beef, I figured you'd like that. And there's some free prawn crackers, and I got some seaweed -"
He stopped as her hand shot out to snatch at the bag, rummaging around to grab the promised spoils with a hungry light on her eye. She brandished a tub of noodles triumphantly, passed one to him with a disinterested grunt of "Rice," then began to devour the tub of seaweed. She hadn't eaten since lunchtime, a lofty seven hours ago, but nevertheless she would have been horrified had she realised her eating manners at that point were reminiscent of Ron’s.
"You were hungry," Trevelyan said with a chuckle, sitting down and passing across some chopsticks.
Hermione swallowed a mouthful, now feeling heat rise to her face as she realised just how indecorous her behaviour had been in front of someone she barely knew.
But knows you well enough to guess what food you'd like.
"I didn't know there was a takeout near here. I just try to cook at home, normally," she said, as if this was an explanation - then she peered at him suspiciously. "I didn't think many wizards working in the Ministry would know how to go and order a Chinese."
Trevelyan gave an enigmatic smirk, artfully eating rice with his chopsticks - a feat she had never been capable of. "I'm not most wizards."
"Chinese food always reminds me," she continued in an absent ramble fuelled by hunger, surprise, and rising nostalgia, "of Fridays when I was little, before I went to Hogwarts, I mean. My mum always had a book club those nights, so it was just my dad and I, and he'd get takeout, and I'd have to promise to not tell mum. Of course, she knew." She shook her head as if to clear it of the distant memories, then again remembered she was giving someone she barely knew obscure facts about her past.
"It's never quite the same over here," Trevelyan said, sounding nostalgic himself. "In Hong Kong it always tasted that little bit better."
Hermione watched him artfully move the chopsticks, raising an eyebrow. "You lived out there?" Then she paused, her sharp brain picking up the pieces, and she straightened. "Your father wasn't Ambassador Duncan Trevelyan, was he?"
Trevelyan's smile twisted. "Guilty as charged," he said. "I grew up mostly in the east. Private tutors. Then my father worked in Romania for a bit and I studied at Durmstrang for my qualifications before figuring it would be time to come back to merry old England."
The seaweed was gone. Damn. Hermione tried to keep her movements a bit slower as she reached for the noodles. "I thought it was odd I'd never met you at school. I thought I'd remember."
Slight colour rose to her cheeks as the words made implications she hadn't intended, but if Trevelyan noticed, he had the good grace to pretend not to. "No, I was never at Hogwarts," he said with a shake of the head. "Perhaps it's just that which means I don't understand all the fuss about the new Head selection. I mean, it's just someone to run a school, you'd think it would be the Minister of Magic they were going for."
Hermione rolled her eyes, not without agreement. "It's because of Professor Dumbledore," she said with a sigh, digging into her noodles. "Because he was so influential, and because Professor McGonagall played such a pivotal role in the reconstruction after the war, they think that being the Headmaster of Hogwarts will automatically come with prestige. They don't seem to realise both of their predecessors were – are - important because of who they were, not because of their jobs."
Trevelyan gave a small snort. "And out of Sprague and Konstantin? The lesser of two losers?"
Hermione's smile was tight, but not unamused. "Konstantin seems competent," she said, voice suggesting such a concession was made begrudgingly. "But I don't trust him. Not with his history."
"It's very strange," Trevelyan agreed. "He was quite adamantly against the dark arts when I was at Durmstrang. A lynchpin of stopping eastern youths from flocking to Britain, or so it seemed. Now these rumours and reports coming out of having cooperated with them..." He shook his head, but his expression was one hinting at disappointment rather than disagreement. "It's hard to know what to think."
"I think they're jumping the gun a bit," Hermione said. "Professor McGonagall's not gone yet and hasn't even expressed a desire to retire soon. It's the Board of Governors who began shopping around. And they were right to do so, the current candidates just highlight how long and involved the process is going to be to find someone even half-competent, but the press have picked it up and made a joke out of it."
Trevelyan leaned back on his chair, tipping it onto its back legs in a way which almost made her wince. "You know," he began, gesturing with chopsticks and yet still not spilling rice, much to her jealousy, "I don't know why all these bureaucrats came out wanting the job. It's the role of an educator, isn't it?"
"Not according to Sprague in the last press conference," Hermione muttered, stabbing venomously at her noodles. "He just has to be an administrator. Apparently knowing anything about a classroom isn't useful for a headteacher."
He chewed thoughtfully on the rice. "I suppose you have the chance to be massively influential upon the next generation," he said, sounding like he was thinking aloud more than anything else. "After all, working in the Ministry, I've noticed a huge difference between wizards who were taught in the Dumbledore years and in the Dippet years."
Hermione straightened up. "Dippet stopped being headmaster forty years ago," she pointed out. "Age would be a factor, I'd imagine."
"And make a world of difference in the mindset between a sixty year-old and a seventy year-old?" Trevelyan challenged. There was a sudden spark in his eye as he looked at her, and he wore a lopsided smile - like he was going to meet her head-on with this issue, and enjoy it. "Because you see that. And when you look at the people who believed Dumbledore at the beginning of the Second War? They were people who’d been taught by him. People who didn’t? They’d gone to Hogwarts when Dippet was head. Mostly.”
She blinked. "I never thought about that," Hermione confessed. But she was not to be out-done by a statement that sweeping. "I suppose you're going to argue there's a difference with the recent graduates from Hogwarts who were taught primarily under McGonagall."
"Well, there is." Trevelyan made the statement in such a matter-of-fact manner that it took her by surprise. "The recent graduates are all rather more inclined towards pragmatism than those of the more idealistic Dumbledore era."
"It was the people made by the ‘idealistic’ Dumbledore era who defeated Voldemort,” Hermione said a little tartly.
He set his food down and raised his hands in an apologetic manner. "Of course it did. Under no circumstances was I suggesting this to be a bad thing." Trevelyan spoke quietly and met her gaze, his bright blue eyes holding a ring of sincerity. "I just don't think the majority of British wizards realise how much Hogwarts - and consequently, its master - impacts upon your thinking."
Hermione softened a little, and silently reminded herself she wasn't dealing with some anti-House Elf legislator - but a friend in a casual discussion. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a debate which wasn't professional and ended in raised voices, or wasn't personal, and ended in raised voices, and tears, and storming off, and slammed doors...
"'Your thinking'?" she echoed, latching on to that phrase of his so she didn't have to think about where her mind was trying to go next.
Trevelyan smiled lopsidedly. "I was born here. I've worked here for five years. But it's amazing how little I feel like a British wizard, sometimes, for not having gone to Hogwarts. You know how many people my age don't know how to deal with me because they don't know what House I was in? It's insane, the extent to which some decision made when you were eleven still affects people even out of school."
"I suppose that's true," Hermione conceded. "And by that note, any headmaster of Hogwarts who has a chance to be in the job for twenty years can... change the face of the country. It makes you wonder how far that'll mean people will go to get the job." She suppressed a shiver; at this time of night, Brucie was out of the office, and the fire in the main pen would probably be dying into a few embers.
She still needed to talk to Brucie about his absence the other day. The House Elf had slunk in the next morning, sheepish and abashed, and claimed sickness to Julius, who hadn't pressed the matter. Sometimes, those at the Office of House-Elf Relocation could err a little too far on the side of caution for those they championed. But it was unlike Brucie to have not called in that he would be recovering at home.
He'd also been a little skittish in the office ever since, especially around new people. He was adapting to Trevelyan's near-constant presence over the last few days, but had squeaked and hidden under a desk when Burke had tromped in that morning.
Unfortunately, uncovering the source of one little House Elf's discomfort was not as high on her priority list as getting this job done for the Department of Mysteries. Partly because, despite herself, despite Burke... she was enjoying herself.
"We should get back to the meetings," she said with a sigh at last, and only then did she realise that Trevelyan had just been looking at her upon her last comment, eyes quietly evaluating. She looked down sharply, remembering how intensely he had surveyed her small office when she'd first arrived, and not sure she was comfortable with that same assessing gaze turned on her. She wasn't sure what he'd see.
Or what she wanted him to see.
"Yes," Trevelyan said, but spoke quietly, and took a moment before he pulled his chair up to the desk. "House Elf unions, then."
They didn't get any further than that, as the small flap in her door suddenly flipped open to allow in a paper airplane. Usually these just soared casually from office to office, but this had been folded in a design meant for speed, and zipped across the room to land abruptly on her desk.
Hermione started a little, then saved it from landing in Trevelyan's soy sauce and unfolded it. It was still an envelope, looked as if it had come from outside the Ministry by owl, and she knew the handwriting.
But her gut twisted as she saw Ginny's script in a spidery scrawl, rather than the usual practiced hand, and she tore the paper apart quickly to get at the letter.
Trevelyan watched her as she read, and the twist in her gut which increased had to coincide with something showing on her face, because he was on his feet and next to her in seconds.
She, too, sprang upwards, but her head swam at the sudden movement. She could feel the colour draining from her face, and the world swam briefly in front of her eyes, before she felt his firm grip steadying her.
"Woah, take a second, hold on. You look awful; what's wrong?" Concern rang through his voice, but it also sounded like he wasn't going to let her run off - though if he hadn't been in the way, she would have done, even with how sluggish her limbs felt.
"Letter from my friend Ginny," she stumbled, the hand holding the letter shaking. Damn it, why did this have to happen? It was just because she was tired, and had only just got food in her after a long day. She had faced off against Death Eaters, resisted torture at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. Had she just gone soft over the last three years, or was there some other reason her wits were betraying her?
You thought it was over. You thought the days of terror were over.
Turns out, they're not.
"She was out... she got back to the house, Harry was attacked, looks like it was the Remnant, he's in Saint Mungo's, she's on her way, don't know how bad he is..."
Trevelyan didn't stop to ask questions - it didn't take research papers on her career to know to whom she was referring, even if they'd just met; he'd read her interview at the very least. But he did keep his grip on her arm firm, now supportive rather than stopping her from moving.
"Then you've got to go," he said in a low tone of agreement. "But I'm not letting you apparate or Floo on your own; you'll splinch yourself or end up God knows where." He grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair, slipping it around her shoulders. She'd have probably forgotten that if he hadn't been there.
Then he picked up his own, slipped it on, and opened up the office door. "Let's go, then. Saint Mungo's."
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