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Chapter 11 : Tears at Bathtime
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Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Ministry of Magic.
Hermione looked around at the Ministry representatives gazing expectantly up at her from around the large mahogany table of the meeting room. She had arranged this meeting weeks previously, and had been researching, compiling and rehearsing her argument in between bouts of vomiting, sleeping, and reading pregnancy books ever since. In short, despite being thoroughly prepared, she wasn't sure that she'd get through her presentation without slumping into the lap of some colleague or other, sound asleep. Bleary eyes watering, Hermione tapped her wand lightly on the desk and pieces of neatly-printed parchment slid towards each of the representatives.
'Bored already, Miss Granger?' sneered Eric Thornhill, a rather greasy man who worked beneath Percy Weasley at the Department of International Magical Cooperation, and had just spotted Hermione suppressing a yawn. 'That doesn't bode well for your presentation, does it?'
He looked around at the gathered officials, pleased with his joke, and received one or two indifferent smiles. Hermione ignored him; Eric had had it out for her ever since she'd spurned his sloppy advances at a New Years Eve party last year. Clearing her throat, Hermione pointed her wand at the large blackboard behind her, and chalky letters formed instantly, spelling out 'Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures'.
'I'd like to start this presentation by thanking you all for agreeing to be here,' Hermione said brightly. 'This may not be the most pressing issue on the agenda of the Ministry right now... It may not change the law, or impact upon international relations... But it is an important issue, one that I believe to be one of the most basic stepping stones in creating an inclusive and ultimately stronger magical community here in Britain.'
A few of the gathered witches and wizards sat up a little straighter in their seats and appeared to be listening intently.
'My proposal,' Hermione continued, 'is a simple one. We at the Ministry can't live by the rule of 'do as I say, not as I do.' We cannot write laws and negotiate agreements on equality and diversity without practicing it here, in the very place that the Wizengamot presides. I hope you would all agree with this statement?'
Most of the representatives nodded their assent. Eric Thornhill, who had been picking his fingernails in disinterest, snorted.
'You're not going to suggest we elect a house-elf Minister once Shacklebolt retires?' he asked derisively. 'Or start wearing pillowcases to work?'
'Of course not,' Hermione said dismissively. 'Although there's no reason why a house-elf shouldn't be considered...' She stopped herself quickly from thinking aloud, knowing that the subject of a multispecies government was a little too progressive for this particular meeting. 'No, my suggestion is much more simple.'
She stepped towards the blackboard and rapped it with her wand. The name of the department disappeared, a small cloud of chalk dust rising from the board, as new words formed in its place.
'Department for Interspecies Cooperation and Education,' Hermione read aloud. 'A new name for a changing department; one that better reflects the values of the work we do here.'
'And it can be shortened to 'D.I.C.E', which I thought was rather jolly,' added Madam Hipp, with a gleeful glance towards Hermione, who knew she'd certainly come a long way since thinking up the title for S.P.E.W.
'But the Department's always been the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, my dear,' said an elderly wizard, who looked rather bemused. 'Since 1724, when Minister Simpkin Wiggs took pity on the plight of the werewolf and decided it would be best to know exactly where all of them were... For their protection, of course... He introduced the Tracing of Potentially Harmful Creatures Act under this department's title. It's part of the Ministry's heritage!'
'Whilst I agree that heritage is important, Mr Ferriway, that particular Act was finally abolished three years ago,' said Hermione carefully.
'It was?' asked Ferriway in surprise. 'But... How can we control the werewolf population without it?'
'We can't,' replied Eric darkly. 'But certain youthful members of the department decided that they knew better than the many hundreds of wizards who came before them.'
Hermione glanced down at her notes again, biting her tongue. She could easily reel off the names of the many werewolves the Lupin Programme had helped in the last three years, but this was not the moment. You had to pick your battles at the Ministry, Hermione told herself. It had taken her a while to realise that she couldn't fix everything at once... And even longer to realise that not everybody wanted things to change. But she'd made a difference, she knew. The baby house-elves born to freedom, the werewolves with easy access to Wolfsbane Potion... Hermione was aware of her growing reputation as a Hagrid-like figure, caring for creatures that others thought were beyond human interaction, but she wore it quite proudly. She knew where to draw the line, would never do anything to endanger the community that was so hard-won in the War, but the cartoon of herself cuddling up to a manticore that had appeared in the Daily Prophet was now happily framed above her desk at work, a birthday present from Ron.
'Whilst I'm delighted that you'd consider my colleagues and I 'youthful', Mr Thornhill,' said Madam Hipp from across the table, winking slightly at Hermione, 'I'd like to hear the rest of what Miss Granger has to say.'
Hermione nodded. 'As I was saying, although heritage is of course important, it is equally imperative that we look forward to the shaping of the future of the magical community. So much has changed since the war, and I know it hasn't all been easy... But some things are so simple and beneficial that it would be almost negligent to bypass them for the sake of the past.'
Ferriway's wispy white eyebrows were furrowed in thought as she spoke, and a few of the officials were even nodding in agreement.
'I feel that the current name of the department belongs to the 'us' and 'them' wizarding community of the past. It implies that magical humans take precedence over other species in our world, that they are ours to control and regulate. But this isn't and shouldn't be the case. Humans were not the only beings who fought in the war...'
'Damn right they weren't,' interrupted Eric Thornhill again, earning a rare frown from Madam Hipp and even a harrumph of quiet disapproval from old Ferriway. Thornhill had the gall to glare back at them. 'What? Does nobody else remember the Dementors? The giants? The werewolves? Miss Granger, I believe your own boyfriend's brother was mauled by a werewolf during battle...'
'And tended to by another lycanthrope!' replied Hermione evenly, feeling her hands shake. 'Remus Lupin gave his life for us. Centaurs came to our aid... house-elves, goblins, giants -'
'Ah, yes, good old Hagrid,' Eric smirked, and Hermione felt something snap.
'Hagrid is more of a man than you'll ever be, Thornhill,' she said, throwing her parchment down angrily. 'And if you're so keen to toss Bill Weasley's name around, I'd like to remind you that another of his brothers is your boss.'
'Enough, Miss Granger,' came a voice from the end of the table. A stern-faced woman with a tight bun of black hair stood up and pointedly shuffled her notes. Hermione bit her lip as she nodded her recognition to one of Shacklebolt's chief advisors, Gilda Spears. 'As we can all see, there are still strongly divided opinions on the matter of the plausibility of a truly cohesive multispecies society. However, your suggestion appears to me to be reasonable and sound. I will be glad to take it through official channels to the Minister, and hope that our valued colleagues assembled here today will take the time to read through your report. I trust that you will, should it be accepted, be personally responsible for the entire project?'
Hermione glanced at Madam Hipp, who gave an almost imperceptible nod.
'Actually,' Hermione said nervously, trying to look directly at Gilda and ignore the curious looks of her colleagues, 'I'll be sharing leadership of this project with the Head of Department.'
'With you, Esther?' Gilda asked, her pointed eyebrows raising in surprise. 'Isn't project management usually entrusted to your senior staff? Are there some complicated issues you have not mentioned?'
Madam Hipp smiled. 'Not at all. And it goes without saying that I trust Hermione implicitly; she could practically run the Department herself in her sleep. She certainly makes my job easier!'
There was an appreciative chuckle around the table, and Hermione blushed slightly.
'The fact is, this is an important project; one in which I believe most strongly. It is for exactly this sort of clear-sightedness and strength of purpose that I hired Miss Granger, for this entire project was her brainchild...' Madam Hipp trailed off and looked at Hermione expectantly. Hermione took her cue.
'And, the thing is, I'll be unable to see the whole thing through by myself...'
Eric muttered something that sounded a little like 'typical,' and Hermione glowered. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Yes, her life had taken an unexpected turn. And yes, perhaps she had thought it a shame that Ginny's career had been cut short so quickly by motherhood... But now that she was in the same position, Hermione had realised that being pregnant didn't mean that she was any less ambitious or capable. She drew herself up and gave the most winning smile that she could muster.
'...I'll be taking some time off from work, starting at the beginning of April,' she continued. 'As my baby is due on the twentieth.'
There was a momentary silence, during which Hermione could actually hear her own heartbeat, before Gilda's sharp face seemed somehow to soften as she glanced down at Hermione's tummy.
'You're pregnant? Well, how wonderful! Congratulations!'
The room seemed to take the lead from Gilda, whose smile was a rare sight. There was a smattering of applause, and a few people came forward to shake Hermione's hand. Old Ferriway shuffled to the front of the room and produced a small bouquet of flowers from the end of his wand.
'Congratulations, my dear,' he said as he gave her a whiskery kiss on the cheek.
'So, is Weasley going to make an honest woman of you?' Eric asked loudly from his seat, a sour look on his face.
Ferriway looked around in confusion. 'She's not married?' he whispered audibly to the clerk next to him. 'Is that usual?'
'Mr Thornhill,' Hermione said sharply, colour rising in her cheeks. 'Would you like me to list the ways in which that comment is misogynistic, archaic and inappropriate, or would you like to puzzle it out for yourself? Either option might take all day."
Eric smirked, but on looking around for support from his colleagues and finding only stony faces, including a stern glare from Gilda, his smile faded and he murmured something that might have been an apology. Hermione, feeling horrifyingly close to tears, shoved a stray tendril of hair back into her ponytail and pursed her lips.
'Now,' she continued. 'If you'll excuse me, I have another meeting to attend. I do hope you'll all give my proposal some thought. Thank you Mr Ferriway, Ms Spears... All of you.'
Hermione gathered her papers into her arms and hurried from the meeting room, intending to file them quickly before hiding in the ladies lavatories for a while, until the tears had subsided. It was hard for Hermione, usually ruled by logic and reason, to accept that her hormones and emotions were quite out of her control, but it was a truth that she'd had to acknowledge as she'd increasingly found herself weeping over everything; just last week, she'd had to hurry into Madam Hipp's office to hide the tears prompted by being unable to locate a stapler. It was only after her manager had made her a cup of rather grim herbal tea and given her a bony hug that Hermione had remembered that she was, in fact, a witch, and used a modified Sticking Charm instead.
14a, Forsythe Square
Ron stepped out of the fireplace and sighed contentedly, glad to be home. It had been a long day; a pair of witches in Norfolk had almost hexed each other to death over a married man, both landing themselves in St Mungo's. Ron and Harry had been sent to track down and inform the families, then get them to the hospital before their daughters' conditions worsened. Then, they'd carefully catalogued the scene of the duel and ensured that no Muggles had borne witness to it all. Tomorrow they'd join the search for the man in question; both women appeared to have been recently Imperiused. Ron really, really hated having to deal with parents in such cases. The way their lives fell apart in front of him hit a little too close to home, and it was all he could do to drive from his mind the memory of his parents faces as they held Fred's body. Harry knew how tough it was for him, but was good enough not to say anything; instead he'd suggested a few laps around the training field on their brooms before going home for the night. It had helped. The sensation of cold air on his face as he'd streaked after Harry, laughing as he grabbed for the hem of his best friend's cloak, had driven the heavy feeling from his chest.
Now, Ron reached down and let Crookshanks butt his old scarred head against his hand.
'Alright, Furball? Accio treats!' A small box of cat treats whizzed into the room and Ron caught it in mid-air, opened it and dropped a handful of the little biscuits at Crookshanks paws. 'Don't tell Hermione, okay?'
Leaving Crookshanks happily devouring the treats, Ron walked into Hermione's study and dropped a couple of envelopes on her desk. One of them was addressed in a heavy, gothic hand and Ron guessed that it was yet another letter regarding Hermione's struggles with the golem trade in Europe. He carefully shuffled it to the bottom of the pile, knowing that the Czech Minister's letters generally caused Hermione to start writing furious replies, which she would continually discard until she had a headache.
Ron crossed to the kitchen, stretched on tiptoes, and pulled down a packet of biscuits from atop one of the cabinets. When he thought about it, he felt pretty guilty about hiding his stash of chocolate from Hermione, but something had needed to be done. She'd never had much of a sweet tooth, until one day a few weeks previously when she'd asked for a nibble of his Chocolate Frog. Since then, it was like some sort of switch had gone off in her head, and no Fizzing Whizbees, chocolate, or biscuits were safe. Her ability to share had somehow diminished overnight, too, and Ron had become desperate. So, Harry had started smuggling the odd packet of biscuits or Chocolate Frogs out of Ginny's reach and into Ron's satchel, and his daily invasion of the secret stash had become part of Ron's end-of-day ritual.
He had just settled himself on the sofa with a handful of custard creams as he started to flip through the Daily Prophet. Despite himself, he'd found himself enjoying Dean Thomas's football articles, and was pretty sure he'd begun to get a grasp on the point of a game where nobody flew or wielded a club. As Ron skimmed through the pages before the Sports section, his eye was drawn to a particular name in the Announcements. Nearly choking on his biscuit, Ron sat up and stared with interest at the small article, wedged between announcements of the births of "Lynskey, Beulah" and "Northwood, Midas":
'Why does money always have to get a mention?' Ron wondered aloud. Was he meant to give some money to the hospital when Hermione have birth? Or was that just something Malfoy had done to make sure his wife got the best room, with the added bonus of a mention of his apparent generosity in the newspaper?
Ron was just contemplating, with a little pleasure, the thought of Draco Malfoy having to change a nappy, when the fireplace suddenly roared with green flame and Hermione spun into view. Crookshanks leapt from his spot next to Ron and began to purr happily at her feet, but she gave him only the faintest of pats before heading to the hallway to remove her coat. Brushing the biscuit crumbs swiftly from his jumper, Ron got to his feet and followed her.
'Hermione? Are you alright?'
'Yes, yes, I'm fine. Just a little tired,' She said, turning to look at him, smiling unconvincingly. Her eyes appeared quite red, and her cheeks were pale. Ron hesitated, considering letting her know about the chocolate stash, but then changed his mind.
'Look, this might cheer you up,' he said, showing her the birth announcement.
Hermione read it quickly, and laughed.
'Scorpius? The poor child. If we have a boy, we're calling him Bob, or Frank, or something similarly normal.'
'He'd stand out at Hogwarts though, next to Scorpius, Midas and Beulah,' said Ron, shaking his head. He shook the Prophet again, as he followed Hermione into the kitchen and switched on the kettle. 'D'you reckon her father had to march Malfoy down the aisle at wandpoint? Boy, am I glad your dad's a Muggle, eh?'
Hermione turned suddenly and glowered at Ron. Her pale cheeks seemed to suddenly flush with colour.
'For your information, Ronald, Muggles have a similar saying, except it's at gunpoint. Good for Malfoy, I say. At least he's made an honest woman of her...'
''An honest woman'? Hermione, what's up with you?' Ron tried to out his arms around Hermione, but she shook him off. 'I was joking...'
'Just leave me alone, Ron. I'm going to have a bath. I'll be fine in an hour.'
Ron watched in utter bewilderment as Hermione stormed away and slammed the bathroom door. Crookshanks looked up at him questioningly.
'Don't ask me, buddy. I never understood her, but now that she's pregnant, she's just getting weirder,' Ron said quietly, as he turned her words over in his mind.
The idea of marriage had come up every now and then over the years, but Ron had wanted to wait until he'd got some money piled up in Gringotts, until he could really take care of Hermione in the way she deserved. Of course, he couldn't say that to her, as she'd accuse him of old-fashioned thinking, but it was just how Ron had been brought up. No matter how strong and capable a woman was, her husband had a responsibility to make sure that he could take care of her. He'd seen how hard his father had worked over the years to keep a roof over his mother's head, and food on their children's plates. Ron would do the same for Hermione, but he wouldn't mind it being a little easier... Waiting a little longer. It was possible though, he had to concede, that the imminent arrival of a baby might have accelerated the process somewhat. But was that really what Hermione was upset about? Not being married? She'd never really cared about that sort of thing before, had thought Harry and Ginny were rushing things when they'd got married...
It dawned on Ron that he'd just thought of a solution. Harry... How had Harry known that it was the right time to propose? How had he known that Ginny would say yes? He had to talk to Harry. Throwing his coat on, he hurried to the bathroom door and knocked lightly. There was no answer.
'Erm... Hermione?' Ron called through the door. 'I'm just popping out for a bit. Can I get you anything?'
There was a heavy sigh from behind the door.
'There's no bubble bath left,' said Hermione, and Ron could hear her voice wavering on the edge of tears.
'Right, bubble bath. Check.'
'All I want is a nice bath in something that smells like lavender,' Hermione continued. 'And I can't even... I mean... I'm not asking much...'
Ron heard her sigh again, a long, drawn-out exhalation that shuddered tellingly. He pushed open the door to find Hermione, arms wrapped around herself, crying on the tiled bathroom floor. Ron dropped instantly to his knees in front of her and pulled her gently into his arms.
'I'm sorry if I upset you, Hermione...' he said tentatively.
Hermione gave a small sob and wrapped her arms around Ron.
'Its not you,' she murmured. 'I'm just so emotional nowadays.'
'It'll be okay...'
She started laughing into his shoulder. 'I can't believe I'm crying about bubblebath.'
Ron laughed too, and carefully helped her to her feet.
'Well, I can at least do something about that,' he said, as she dabbed at her red eyes with tissue paper. Ron drew out his wand and pointed it at the hot water running into the bath. 'Luxurius.'
A jet of fragranced bubbles streamed from his wand and mingled with the rising water. Hermione smiled at him, her lip wobbling once again. 'Oh Ron...'
'I'm sorry it smells like roses... I can't do lavender, it's just how my mum taught me.'
Hermione wrapped her arms around Ron and hugged him tightly, the last of her tears staining his shirt.
'I love roses,' she murmured. 'Thank you.'
Ron smiled down at her and kissed her on the forehead.
'Anything for you. Now, release me... I'll go and buy some dinner. How does Chinese sound?'
Hermione untied her dressing gown and stepped carefully into the bath.
'Absolutely perfect,' she sighed, lowering herself into the foamy bubbles.
Ron hesitated in the doorway, much preferring to stay right where he was than to head out in search of spring rolls, but at that moment he had an even more pressing matter on his mind... Closing his eyes, he envisioned the house at Harper's Hill, saw the crooked oak tree and James's toys littering the lawn, and turned once on the spot, arriving at Oaklene Cottage a moment later.
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