It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.
― Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
Ron Weasley was a good Auror. In many ways he was a better auror than Harry Potter, though he'd mostly broken the habit of comparing himself to his best friend. For one, Ron was a far more natural fit with other members of the force, many of whom were a bit awed to have The Boy Who Lived Twice in their ranks. But that wasn't why he was a better Auror. Harry had fits of intuition, often based on character judgments, that others couldn't follow, and which weren't always accurate. But Ron approached cases strategically. He was a good team player, and, although Harry was a far better natural duellist, Ron had worked hard since he'd left school to improve his repertoire of spells. Ron Weasley was a good Auror, and so when his girlfriend disappeared and then reappeared much changed, he started paying attention.
Hermione Granger or Dearborn or Granger Dearborn or whatever she was calling herself now had been back for a several months, and Ron couldn't understand why Harry and even the rest of his family didn't seem to be at least slightly suspicious. She was always away, always dressed like an old fashioned pure-blood. Well, he didn't know much about clothes, but the Hermione he'd known had liked wearing jeans and this one swanned around clothed like a Malfoy. He didn't see her much but when he did she was vague about her plans and movements. He didn't even know where she lived, barring that ridiculous castle, or what she did. Sometimes she was in the Ministry, but no one seemed to know why. Sometimes Harry saw her, but he didn't have much to say either.
It seemed like nonsense to him.
What didn't seem like nonsense was all this hinting about Tom Riddle. He wasn't stupid: he'd picked up on what the old Malfoy woman was trying to say in the courtroom. And she'd named that bloody school that everyone thought made her a saint after him too. Of course he had noticed. He had a vested interest in anything like that when it came to Hermione – or he had had at least. Noticing her was a hard habit to break. And, of course, Ron was good at his job.
It wasn't like that now. She wasn't someone he could imagine wanting to snog these days. Her years showed in her eyes, a gulf between them he had no desire to breach.
It had hurt for a while. Sometimes it still did. But the point was, he wasn't suspicious because he was bitter like Percy had said he was when Ron asked him what Hermione was doing at the Ministry, always shut up with important officials or archivists or even Unspeakables. He was suspicious because she'd dazzled Harry and if she'd bothered to do that she must be hiding something big.
If no one else was going to do anything about it, Ron had decided he would be the one to keep an eye on her.
Annoyingly, however, she was almost impossible to track. For one thing she was hardly ever in the country and for another she apparated in and out of the Ministry – something that was supposed to be impossible and didn't seem to be illegal solely on the basis no one had thought it worth the bother to draft a law banning something no one could do.
Then, after several frustrating weeks of trying to track her, she came to him.
He was at work, picking up a cup of tea in the cafeteria, charming the socks off the old squib who ran it, when Hermione's voice, familiar and unfamiliar all together, made him jump. "That tea is awful, why don't you let me take you out? We could have an early lunch."
"I like Doreen's tea," he protested, but found himself setting the cup down undrunk anyway and following his ex-girlfriend out of the room.
When they reached a quiet corner she reached out her arm.
"Shall we go the quick way?"
There was no harm in it, he supposed, though he'd like to know how she did it, so he took her arm and let her bear him off to wherever it was that made better tea than poor old Doreen.
Almost without knowing how it had all happened, he found himself settled in a cosy bakery in Muggle London.
"So," Hermione said, "how are you?"
This startled him for some reason. He had assumed they were going to have some kind of Discussion.
"Er fine. Thanks. Work's going well. You?"
"It's been an… adjustment. For the past half a century I've had this end date in my mind, this moment up to which I knew the general sequence of events and now," she shrugged, "I'm no wiser than anyone else."
"Aren't you?" he asked curiously. "It seems like you've got some big plan in motion."
The tea was delicious and came with sandwiches, which were tasty although they all had the crusts cut off. Weird. Maybe it was a Muggle thing.
"Well, that's true," she agreed warmly. "I do have big plans that are just coming into place. I promised Albus that if he took care of the war, I would take care of all the mending afterwards. But plans are different from knowing the future."
That made a funny sort of sense. "Like in chess, you can plan your moves but you can't always predict the game," he offered.
"Precisely. And that's actually why I wanted to talk to you. You're a very good strategist, you always have been. I'm not sure people really understand why integrating Muggle-born children earlier is so important yet. I was hoping you could think about how we might be able to work on that without coming in too strong. If it was up to me, you know, I'd just tell everyone they were wrong but I know that's not the best way. And it is so important. Imagine if Harry hadn't had eleven years stuck with those terrible people thinking he was a freak. I have research that shows how many children die every year because of their magic, some because they can't control it and some because the families kill them."
"That's terrible. But I don't think you'll change people's minds easily – they just believe what they've always known don't they? You've just got to be patient."
"I expect you're right. The school will be opening in September and I'm handing it all over to a team of people I can really trust. Your mother and Narcissa Malfoy have already agreed to work together, which is amazing, and I have some other good people, but I want the children to have fun. And that, I hope, is where you come in. Would you consider being a board member?"
"Me?" Ron was astounded. This was not the direction he'd expected his morning or this discussion to take. "Like Malfoy's dad was at Hogwarts?"
"Yes, exactly! Although I don't think Lucius always had the school's best interests at heart and I know you will. I think you'll be a very key part of making the children feel loved and welcome wherever they come from, just like you did for Harry. Schools can get so caught up on education and of course that's important but children really need more than that to thrive. I've arranged some tours of some of the best Muggle schools for you with the Headmaster, so you can get some ideas."
"I dunno Hermione, it sounds great but I'm really busy at work…"
"It's just a board membership! Once we're up and running it'll just mean a meeting and a nice dinner once a month and of course there is a small salary."
"Alright I'll think about it. But I really need to get back now."
"The school's administrative wizard will send you all the details." She said leaving a pile of those weird paper notes on the table as she stood up. "I'm not going to be around for a few weeks now, but you can always owl me."
"Where are you off to?" he asked casually. "Anywhere nice?"
She laughed and looked up at him with the most radiant smile he'd ever seen her wear.
"Oh it is somewhere wonderful. I'll show you when it's finished. I'm very excited!"
"Alright," he said, searching her face for signs of deceit, before adding casually, "Any big plans we should be worried about?"
"I don't think so, but plans can go wrong after all."
MINISTRY OF MAGIC TO OVERHAUL ANCIENT LAWS
The Ministry of Magic has announced it will be carrying out a series of reforms, beginning with what the Senior Spokeswizard for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has called "A long overdue rework of our entire legal system."
When pushed by The Daily Prophet's reporter, Spokeswizard Raffles said the reforms were intended to tackle discriminatory laws that favour Pure-bloods.
The head of the Department's consulting team of Magilawyers Arcadia Winterhew told us, "There's so much to do, we couldn't believe some of the old writs that have never been overturned. Some of the stuff that's still legal is ridiculous."
A representative for the New Guild of Magvocates says, "This is something we've been pushing for years: many of our clients never had a proper trial."
But a source within the Ministry says it's strange the Ministry is taking action now, and pouring what they say are resources it doesn't have into looking at ancient laws everyone ignores on a practical basis.
The DMLE says the project is expected to take years.
Ginny Weasley wasn't the jealous type. Even if she had been, she was too wrapped up in her first year playing professionally to really worry about whether Harry Potter was falling in love with his best friend or not. Still, she didn't think he was. She knew what Harry was like when he was getting moony over someone (better than anyone: she'd both watched and experienced it first hand) and this was different.
So she laughed at Ron when he tentatively hinted that might be why they were spending so much time together. Ron had never really got Harry and Hermione. Harry might have been a bit dazzled by the change in her but they would never be like that.
Besides, Hermione was clearly decades older than him now, even if she'd managed to hide any physical signs of it. She'd hardly be interested.
But even though Ginny wasn't jealous like that didn't mean she wasn't jealous at all.
Harry was keeping something from her. Something that meant a lot to him. She didn't notice for a while, too busy with the Harpies to pay attention to his absent evenings.
But she did notice when he started hiding from her in his own house. Ginny suspected it was something to do with Hermione, and whatever strange things she'd been up to that had had Molly Weasley treating her with relative deference for about a week, but she wasn't sure and asking would make her look mad.
So she waited. It was a long wait, and then, at last, he shared it with her.
"So Hermione gave me memories of my parents," he told Ginny one Sunday morning in late summer while they were still lying tangled together in the aftermath.
"Of your parents?" she asked, rolling over. That was not what she had thought, in all the times she'd racked her brains for something.
"Yeah," Harry said, gazing up at the ceiling. "I've been spacing them out. They're just, you know… like she went to the pub with them a few times before Mum got pregnant and then she met me a couple of weeks after I was born, before they went into hiding. They were sort of friends. No one's ever showed me memories of them before. It's been… I've spent a bit too much time looking at them."
"That was very thoughtful of her," Ginny said carefully.
"It's weird isn't it, how much she's still Hermione even after everything she's been through. And then sometimes, she's not."
Ginny laid her head back down on his chest, staring at the way the light filtered in past the velvet curtain. She'd grown fond of Grimmauld Place now it had been renovated, though she wasn't quite ready to move in.
"It's nearly a year since her birthday isn't it. We should do something this year."
"She said she's going to have a party in Wales at that castle to celebrate her school opening. Did Ron tell you he's on the board?"
"No! Honestly he never tells me anything, I'm only his sister."
Harry's huff of a laugh ruffled her hair.
"Yeah, she had tea with him a couple of months ago and asked him, said she needed someone who'd make sure all the children were welcomed and had fun. He was quite pleased I think."
Ginny bet he was.
HOUSE ELVES 'TERRIFIED' BY CHANGED STATUS
The Daily Prophet can reveal many house elves are feeling cut loose by the controversial change to their status that came in last month. One elderly elf said she felt she'd been torn away from her family.
Dibbles used to belong to the Sedgwicks. But she says they couldn't afford to pay her the Ministry-mandated wage (3 Sickles a week) and now she's living in the Home for Disconnected Elves in Dorset, an institution run by SPEW, a charity that lobbied for the legal change.
"I just want to go home," Dibbles tells the Prophet. "I's too old to learn to read and such and a few beatings is better than not being belonging to my family. They was all I knew!"
She showed us her new lodgings, clearly made uncomfortable by having her own small room and, she says, her first actual bed. House-elves are rare, but they have been a traditional part of wizarding households for centuries.
"They want to work," says Elliam Spillings, from the Association for the Conservation of Wizarding Customs. "They like it – why would we stop them?"
In a statement, the Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare says, "Our society is co-founded by an elf named Buttons. House-elves were once known as brownies. As a species they are naturally inclined to household tasks. However, wizards have taken advantage of their need to be bonded to a person or place in order to thrive and have enslaved them. Many are systematically abused. Our society does not want to stop hard-working elves going about their business, but to ensure that they are doing so safely and of their own free will. We are working to find new places for all the elves who've come to the Home since the new law, and will continue our work educating elves in the hopes they can advocate for themselves to work with us to create a fairer future.”
Ginny looked up from the newspaper as Hermione slid into the chair opposite.
"Sorry I'm late," the other woman said in a way that implied she was sorry for keeping Ginny waiting, but wasn't going to proffer any explanation.
They looked at each other over the café table. It had been Hermione's idea to meet in the Muggle town near to the Harpies' training ground. I've been such a bad friend, she'd written in a short note. Let me take you out for lunch. Any day next week, I'll come to you.
It had been almost a year since that strange birthday, the day Hermione had vanished and returned entirely changed, like an earthquake had razed her and she'd been rebuilt in an afternoon. Imagining the why of it was almost impossible, it hurt her mind to even contemplate the decades that had passed for her in what had been mere hours of her missing for them.
But, Hermione had been her one of her best friends and she'd lost her in less than a day. They had met up occasionally, of course, over the last year but it hadn't been the same, and Ginny thought it probably never would be. Now, though, she supposed the brunette had something on her mind she wanted to share.
So, Ginny waited.
"Interesting article today," Hermione murmured, nodding at the newspaper Ginny had lain on the table. "Ah, just another pot of tea, please," she added to the waitress.
"Your influence reaches very far nowadays," Ginny acknowledged. "So many changes."
"I have had a very long time to think about it all," the other woman said. Hermione did not look smug, as she might, or concerned at the criticism and opposition that were inevitable. She looked, Ginny though, as though she were carrying a great weight on her shoulders.
They sat quietly for a moment, as the waitress plonked a pot of tea down. The teapot was brown. Its spout was chipped; some spilled onto the table.
"It's so strange isn't it?" Hermione said musingly. "We were so close and now I suppose I'm old enough to be your grandmother and it's changed everything."
"Why don't you," Ginny said, pouring a cup of tea for Hermione, "tell me about Tom Riddle."
That surprised her, she could tell. She was so cool and composed but there was no missing the flit of emotion across that weary, wary, unlined face.
Hermione looked how Ginny thought gods would look if they still existed. She was dressed in a simple (but probably devastatingly-expensive) burgundy jumper and jeans to ward off the unseasonable chill of the August day. Her face was ancient and young, like she had seen the world made but it had only happened yesterday.
She looked terribly young, just for a moment. Then her face took on the sad, tired, resigned bearing she often wore when people weren't paying attention.
"I loved him," Hermione said, shockingly, atrociously. It rang out between them like a bell, like a knife.
Ginny had feared something like this since the court case, the teasing way Lucius Malfoy's mother had said Tom Riddle might know. The night Hermione had announced her school, named it Riddle House, had filled her head with all sorts of mad possibilities. But this was far worse than she'd feared.
"I knew what he was, what he would become, and I loved him anyway. I loved him as I had never loved anyone before and have never loved anyone since. Is that what you wanted to know, Ginny?"
Ginny's eyes blurred with tears of betrayal. She felt sick.
"How could you?" she gasped. She wanted to get up and leave. She thought about it, just marching out, leaving all the years shattered on the café floor. Breaking ties as quickly as Hermione had vanished. But Harry – Harry knew. She could sense it, a puzzle piece sliding into place. Harry knew and he still loved this woman. She stayed.
"I think you know as well as anyone else I've ever met that we can't control who we love."
"I was eleven."
"And he was the only person I couldn't hurt."
"That's hardly a viable excuse for falling for the most evil wizard in history."
"He wasn't, then, though. And I – stupidly – hoped I would be enough to change him. Obviously, I was not. Everything you want to scream at me I have already said to myself, over and over again for decades so you might as well save your breath. In some cruel and awful trick of fate, I was cast out of my own time, alone and burdened with the knowledge of everything that was to come and the only man to ever really hold my interest… was him. The only person who could make all of it go away."
Hermione broke off, her voice hoarse with emotion. Quite a lot of it was rage, Ginny thought.
"Oh, I could tell you how Dumbledore pushed us together, and I could tell you how Tom wore me down but that's the crux of it. He is the only one who has ever measured up."
Ginny broke eye contact, and stared down into her cup. A few stray leaves had clumped in the bottom. She still felt sick with disgust, but now she felt sorry for Hermione, too, and the paradox confused her.
"You haven't been to The Burrow in ages." The change in subject was more question than accusation, a lifeline for them both.
"I know," Hermione replied, her tone gentle. "I am sorry. I find it difficult to… be around people I have not known for so long who still see me as a girl. Your parents knew me as their son's friend, then girlfriend, and separately as a senior member of the Order. Resolving the versions of me is confusing for us all."
"That inheritance," Ginny said suddenly, "a few months ago, from Great Aunt Muriel -"
"Don't," Hermione interrupted.
Ginny thought about knowing if the surprise windfall - no fortune but enough to make her parents far more comfortable - had actually come from Hermione. She held her tongue. It was better not to.
What a contradiction this woman was: old and young, as driven by ambition as she was by social justice. She had always been like that, but it was amplified now, as though the other woman no longer felt she had to apologise for her own complexities. Hermione was as honourable as she was ruthless and perhaps Ginny could understand why she had fallen for Tom Riddle. She herself remembered his charm, though she rarely thought of it now.
"What is your grand plan here?"
Hermione poured them both some more tea and held out a plate of shortcake that had mysteriously appeared. Ginny did not think the waitress had brought it.
"A better world," she pronounced without any apparent self-consciousness.
The ambition was staggering; it was what everyone professed to want but few ever actually did anything about it. Yet, Ginny had kept a close eye on the newspapers lately and she could see the hallmarks of her friend's influence in a whole realm of spheres. Grand, mad, and impossible - or perhaps not.
"Does your better world look like something we all fought for?"
"You always were a clever one. I think so. I haven't lost my values, Ginny, despite who I have allowed into my bed. I've... refined them. I see the world more clearly now. But I think I am striving towards something we can all believe in."
"Then why all this… pantomime. The robes, the name, all the bloody secrecy! Ron says you swan around like a Malfoy and I can't disagree."
"The robes are a signal to the older generation, and the name too. They imply I am one of them. Not the people we actually fought against - they don't really matter any more. The people I'm worried about are the ones who didn't, the ones who still occupy powerful positions, who have certain sympathies. The gatekeepers to power who stood back and allowed atrocity without dirtying their own hands. The robes make them think I am not a threat to them, because I am one of them. I am wielding my influence quietly because I look like a young woman fresh out of school. Because I don't want to be a politician. Because it's faster and means I don't have to defend it. Because I don't want people to notice that I am carrying out a mass reform agenda. It is much less scary, you see, if it's seen as organic. Some things are traced to me - you'll find one in tomorrow's paper - but I have a long list and I'm impatient to get all those balls rolling."
She tossed her long dark hair over her shoulder, turning from earnest to haughty in a flash.
"And the name? I've been Dearborn longer than Granger. I was adopted with an ancient ritual. I am a Dearborn. Why shouldn't I use the name? Why would I deny my father?"
"I don't really know you anymore, do I?"
"Not… all of me, no. But, I would like it, if you wanted to. We were always so close. And - when I was in the other Hogwarts - I missed you so much on those grey days. When I had nightmares. I didn't have anyone I could turn to about all of that."
WAND-BAN DAMAGING OUR CHILDREN?
The Senior Governor of Wizarding Britain's first preparatory school, Hermione Granger Dearborn, says preventing children doing magic before the age of eleven causes excessive outbursts of uncontrolled magic, and is harmful to their development.
"We've done an extremely comprehensive study of thousands of children in fourteen different countries over a forty year period. It's the first of its kind in the world and what that shows is that children who are taught certain magics at a younger age are both less likely to have these outbursts, which can be extremely dangerous, and are also actually highly likely to be more powerful casters later on," said Alfred Mikhail Kompte, the leader of the team of adepts from the New Avalon Institute, which was founded by Granger Dearborn and has been carrying out the research.
"We have sent our findings to Ministries all over the world but they're extraordinarily unwilling to listen so we have decided to publish the report and let the public make up their own minds," Granger Dearborn told The Prophet on Sunday.
The philanthropist explained how she and a few others had raised funding to set up and train a team to look into research cited by the Ministry when the ban came in, in 1945.
"We had to have them trained in Muggle laboratories so we've been funding scholarships for interested young wizards and witches from all over the world to go and study Muggle sciences for years. They've really progressed, so we kept doing it and gradually built up such a strong team I brought them all under one roof in the New Avalon Institute in California. For something like this the more data the better and our methods and critical analysis have also improved over the years. But we've been seeing the same trends over and over again, in every group, in every country: not using our magic will hurt us."
When contacted for comment the Senior Minister for Wand Regulations said, "Didn't we settle this years ago? I don't have time for this."
An extract from the report and analysis from an independent researcher can be found from page 33.
"How clever she is," Ginny muttered to Ron and handing him the paper. They were at The Burrow, helping Mrs Weasley set up for Sunday lunch. Charlie and his boyfriend were visiting from Romania, and so they'd all been summoned home.
"I know," he said through a mouthful of mid-morning toast. "I suggested she went public, actually. Had a look at all the research and stuff and we thought we'd better make sure all the kids learn to control themselves you know."
He was on her board, Ginny remembered. Clever indeed.
"It's actually mental how many Muggle-borns have these big outbursts – and get killed or hurt for it. That's really why she's set up the school. It's been a hell of a thing getting round to finding them all and persuading their parents they'll still have a decent education. Luckily we've got the Knight Bus team to set up a fleet for us to go and pick them up and take them home so that took some of the stress out. Amazing how they get around at all, the Muggles."
"How many students are starting next week?"
"Crikey about five hundred," Ron ginned. "Mad isn't it? Stroke of genius getting Narcissa involved, see, because she's got loads of the old pure-blood families on board. Now their snotty little brats will mix with ordinary kids from a younger age. They've got all these activities that'll bring them all together, see, sports and drama and music and stuff. They have to do magical ethics, reading and writing, maths, all sorts. Latin and Greek. History. I swear the school clock slows down time to fit it all in you know."
"You sound excited about it," Ginny said, quite surprised.
"Well, it's something new isn't it? I like kids anyway, and now it's all up and running it won't be much extra work. They do a good table for us governors," he added, patting his stomach which showed no signs of his enormous appetite yet. Then, with a smug wink, "The Head of Muggle Relations is very pretty as well."
She couldn't help but laugh: Hermione had brought Ron on side with a series of genius master-strokes and put him to good use as well. He would be wonderful with the school, which gave him a sense of something important beyond his job, and if he was moving on so much the better.
She had clearly learned a few tricks from her time with Riddle, or perhaps Dumbledore, but so long as they were for the benefit of society Ginny supposed she might as well get on with it. Her ability to orchestrate and implement things was unsettling but it was probably better than trusting the Ministry to do it.
"They're here!" Molly called, "Oh my goodness, and I'm hardly ready! Oh is he handsome, can you see him?"