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Chapter Six: The Bookworm's Dilemma

It had not been a good week for Hermione Weasley.  On Tuesday she had awoken to the sounds of a terrified four-year-old crying over the fact that she'd suddenly turned green (begrudgingly, she admitted to herself that the week had not been all bad – Tuesday night had been quite fun. Also, Wednesday morning). Wednesday had seen her cause the savior of the Wizarding world to become violently ill, and so far on Thursday and Friday her nascent campaign for werewolf equality had fallen on deaf ears.
“Mrs. Weasley, I can understand why you'd be upset, given your... unique history with these creatures. Th-” Hermione could not keep herself from interrupting.

“They're not creatures Mr. McNair, they're beings. Human beings at that. You'd think that the head of the Werewolf Support Services would understand the distinction,” she replied scathingly. McNair scoffed and made a flippant gesture with his spindly hands. Hermione's loathing, which she had not believed could accumulate any further, tripled. She'd come here to the Ministry trying to find an ally in the offices of the Werewolf Support Services, but so far, she'd found nothing but the too gangly, too contemptuous, too repugnant Emerson McNair.

“If you'd let me finish, I wa-” Hermione once again opened her mouth to protest, but McNair was too quick for her. “LET ME FINISH!” he nearly shouted. Hermione folded her arms haughtily over her chest, but sat back in her chair and said nothing. McNair puffed out his own chest almost imperceptibly, but Hermione, veteran of countless arguments, noticed immediately. He was getting overconfident, and was bound to make a mistake soon.

“These beings,” he fairly spat the word, but Hermione felt a surge of pride at the minor victory, “are highly dangerous crea-” Hermione's brow furrowed, and McNair quickly backtracked. His shoulders slumped slightly, and it looked as if he was beginning to realize that he was not doing quite so well as he'd thought. “Dangerous i-individuals, and you've just been lucky in your dealings with them to this point.” He flinched noticeably at Hermione's well-timed sharp intake of breath, but she still sat silent.

“Yes, well... as I was saying,” he stammered, coming unglued, “I'll grant that Remus Lupin wasn't half bad, bu-” Hermione, unable to stop herself, flew out of the chair, and jabbed a finger into McNair's bony chest.

“Remus Lupin was ten times the man you are,” she whispered, her voice terrifyingly quiet. She had had just about enough of this idiot, and judging by the way McNair's Adam's apple was bounding about, so had he. Hermione was therefore very surprised when he pressed on.

“Yes... and n-now you're getting a diluted view of L-Lycanthropy in the persons of B-Bill Weasley and T-Ted Lupin... OUCH!” Hermione's finger had jabbed even harder into McNair's chest at the mention of Teddy, and she was not intent on removing it. But as much as she wanted to hex, hit, or otherwise harm Emerson McNair, she knew that she mustn't or it would be another bridge burned this week. And already, her ways forward were growing woefully small in number. Slowly, hoping to inflict as much pain as possible and assuage her rage, she withdrew her finger. McNair followed it with his eyes all the way back to her side.

“Terribly sorry,” Hermione lied, sitting back down. McNair glared at her and rubbed his chest, but did not speak. “Well then,” Hermione began, glancing around the completely barren room, “how exactly do you support werewolves Mr. McNair? I've read that this office is a place where our Lycanthropic brethren can come should they ever feel they need assistance getting back on their feet. I can see it's quite empty at the moment, seeing as all the werewolves are in Azkaban.” Hermione chided herself for being unable to keep the inflection out of her voice as she spoke the name of the prison.

“I'm sorry Mrs. Weasley, I must have misheard you.” A smile played on the corners of McNair's thin lips, and he drummed his fingers together in front of him in amusement. “I could have sworn that you asked how this office helps werewolves.” Hermione pressed her lips together and frowned.

“That is what I-”

“And whatever gave you that notion?” McNair laughed, each wheeze clattering his bony body more than the one before. It took several seconds for him to regain control, and all the while a pit of deep apprehension grew larger in Hermione's abdomen, burning away at both her stomach lining and at her hopes for support. “We were re-commissioned by the Minister a fortnight ago. Now we offer support to the Werewolf Capture Unit, and anyone else who might need support in the attempt to eradicate these beings.” This time, Hermione's intake of breath was not so well timed, and in fact sounded suspiciously like a gasp.

“But surely you can't mean! But the Werewolf charter of 1807! It's all in 'Fantastic Beasts and Were to Find Them'!” Hermione grasped at every straw she could wrap her mind around, but she had not been prepared for this newest twist.

“Fantastic Beasts?” McNair smirked, and Hermione kicked herself. “You need to get your head out of those books, Weasley – out of history – and into the present. But no... you've got your nose either stuck in some book that no one's heard of and no one cares about, or you've got it stuck in other people's business.” McNair's rasping laugh once again filled every corner of the empty room, and Hermione had to get away from it, away from her failure.

She sprang from her chair, head hung low, and moved rapidly to the door, tears swimming in her eyes. “What? No snappy comeback? I was enjoying this!” McNair called after her. Hermione stopped dead in her tracks, turned around, and fixed her adversary with her most withering look - one she had refused to use even on Ron's most doltish of days.

“It must be tough for you McNair,” she hissed, “what with your father being locked up in a minuscule cell with these- these 'monsters'... I'd have thought you'd be the last person to want werewolves in Azkaban.” Emerson's face paled considerably, and the effect was such that Hermione would have sworn she was looking at a skeleton. He raised a trembling finger, and pointed it at the door.

“You misunderstand me, Weasley. I don't want werewolves locked up in Azkaban at all. I want them put down like the dogs they are.” This time there was no mistaking Hermione's gasp. She suddenly felt very faint, and her knees buckled. She quickly threw out a hand to catch herself, and it managed to grab hold of the door's frame, keeping her upright.

The two glared at each other for a long moment while Hermione gathered herself, and then she turned and walked as quickly as she could down the corridor of level four towards the lifts at the end. The fake windows on either side of the hall shone cheerily down on her as she walked, but it did nothing to improve her spirits. Even a brief glimpse of Umbridge, trying to shoo the painted centaurs away from her cowering cats, through the door of the Centaur Liaison Office could not cheer her. No, there was only one thing for this, she needed Ron.

Fortunately, she was able to slide into a lift just as the doors were closing. She kept her head bowed, and prayed that no one would be able to see the tears that were streaming down her face.

“Hermione, is that you?” asked a familiar female voice from behind her. She didn't look up, she didn't speak. She couldn't trust her voice not to betray her. “Hermione?” But the voice pressed no further, and the only other sounds in the crowded lift were the rustles of interdepartmental memos and the shuffling of feet.

“Level Three, Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes including the offices of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad and the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee,” informed the disembodied female voice so prevalent inside the ministry, as the lift glided smoothly to a halt only moments after it had started its ascent. Hermione felt herself jostled from behind, and several people exited the elevator. She chanced a look up at the backs of those who had gotten off, and realized that Penelope Clearwater, owner of the voice she had recognized earlier, was among them.

With a sigh of relief, Hermione let down her guard slightly and leaned up against the wall of the lift for support. Had it been this difficult before? She certainly couldn't recall ever being so thoroughly humiliated while arguing for House-elf rights, but perhaps she was just looking back at her experiences now and using the rose colored glasses that come with success of that magnitude. She shook her head slowly, and lost herself in thought. When the elevator stopped a second time, she remained where she was standing, not paying any attention to the egress of the majority of the lifts passengers.

She was still deep in thought when the lift stopped for a third time.

“Hermione! What a pleasant sur- wait, what's wrong?” Percy Weasley was standing in front of the opened doors to the lift, and looking at her with concern. “Are the children all right? Ron?” Hermione sighed once more, and pushed herself up off the wall of the lift, which was now empty.

“They're all doing all right. Bit of Dragon pox, but nothing serious.”

“But why are you crying?” asked Percy kindly. He bent over and held a handkerchief under Hermione's face. She took it, and looked up at him.

“Thanks,” she said as she used the purple square of cloth - she noted that it was embroidered with Percy's initials – to temporarily dry her tears. Already she could feel new ones forming to take their place. “I really just need to go see Ron, though. I missed his floor.” She attempted to chuckle, but it was mingled with a sob, and she had to quickly use the handkerchief again. Percy put a kind hand on her shoulder.

“Why don't you come into my office and sit down? I'll run and get Ron, and then the two of you can talk. You'll have more privacy there than you would have in the Auror offices. Besides, I have urgent business with Dawlish. Very important stuff, top secret too, you know.” Even now, in this state, Hermione couldn't help but think that nothing John Dawlish knew was ever top secret. But still, Percy's offer was very tempting.

“Thank you Percy, I really appreciate it. I'm not putting you out, am I?”

“Oh, not at all! 'Anything for family' I always say!” He led Hermione into his office and sat her down in a comfortable chair near the bookcases that held his life's work. Hermione was certain that if she looked hard enough, she'd find his report on cauldron-bottom thicknesses.

“Thanks again, Perce,” she said after being seated. She held out the handkerchief for him to take back, but he simply gestured for her to keep it, and hurried out of the room with a reassuring look back over his shoulder.  While waiting for Ron to arrive, she scanned the family photographs that were placed haphazardly in amongst the files on the bookshelves.  Her eyes lingered longest on those from her own wedding.

But her wait was not a long one. Within a minute, she could hear Ron running pell-mell out of the lift and down the corridor, and she smiled slightly. “Hermione!” he cried, once he was in Percy's office. He glanced around the room trying to find her, and when their eyes met, she burst into tears yet again. Ron was across the room in two strides, and before she knew what was happening, Hermione found that she had been lifted up and was being hugged tightly. The strong embrace helped to calm her down even more than she had anticipated it would. “What's wrong?” Ron whispered. “Percy said it wasn't the kids.”

“No, they're with your Mum for the day. I just- I can't do this anymore.” She felt Ron's face turn very cold, and she could tell that all the blood had drained from his face.

“D-Do what?” he stammered. Hermione instantly regretted her choice of words.

“Oh no, not that! You're absolutely wonderful Ron! I love you with all my heart, and nothing will ever ever change that. I mean werewolf rights. I'm not making any headway at all. It's like I'm... It's like I'm suddenly obtuse.” Ron laughed, and Hermione felt the bursts of hot breath wash over the top of her head as though a disillusionment charm had just been lifted.

“Well, I don't know what obtuse means, but I assure you that you're not it.”

“It means that- oh, never mind.” Hermione had given up on trying to increase Ron's vocabulary ages ago. It seemed destined never to progress beyond 'git,' 'blimey,' and 'arse.' “The situation is worse than I thought, and nobody is taking me seriously. They all think I'm absolutely stark raving mad for thinking that werewolves are people too, and deserve to be treated as such.” Ron loosened his grip around Hermione's back, and his strong hands placed her back into the chair she had been sitting in. He dropped onto his knees beside her, and looked her in the eyes.

“You'll get there. You always do Hermione. You have to remember how long it took S.P.E.W. to get off the ground. Remember how long it took for you to get through to me? But you got me. You. Got. Me.” Hermione couldn't help but smile as she gazed into the fierce eyes of her husband. He always knew just the right thing to say. Except, of course, for when he said completely the wrong thing.

“I don't know if I can face an uphill battle like that again,” she said with a smirk. Ron smiled as well.

“There's the girl I know and love. Come on... let's go grab a bite to eat, and we can talk about a new plan of attack. I have a few ideas for how to make people see sense. Why don't I talk to some of the werewolves next time I pull guard duty. Maybe get a few personal stories to put a human face on what you're trying to accomplish.” Hermione's smile widened until she was positively beaming.

“You'd do that for me? It's a brilliant idea!”

“I haven't yet found the thing that I won't do for you,” said Ron quietly. He offered Hermione his hand, and she took it tenderly. With a surprisingly gently tug, Ron had Hermione back on her feet.

A/N: Thank you all so very much for your continued support... I hope it will continue, even after this chapter :)  The conversation between Hermione and McNair stretched for far longer than it was originally intended to, but I kind of grew attached to the whole thing and just decided to roll with it.  It really does give you a better idea of just what's going on in the Wizarding world at large.

Plus, we get Umbridge, Penelope, McNair (and the rest of the Death Eaters as a consequence), a mention of Teddy and Bill, Percy, and Dawlish, all in one relatively short chapter.

I see Penny working in the Muggle-Worthy Excuse offices.  Being a Muggle-born, I think she'd be well schooled in the sort of things that Muggles would be willing to believe.  And her last name is still Clearwater for a reason.  We can't all marry our high school sweethearts.

This chapter ends only halfway through what it is I wanted it to get through.  But I LOVE the last line.  I wrote it without even thinking about it, and was getting all ready to move onto the next sentence when I went back to read the last paragraph, and bam... it hit me just what I'd actually written.

If you don't find this particular chapter to your liking, I assure you that the next one will be back to something closer to approximating the first five chapters.

Also, just a quick note to let you know that the fic passed 10,000 views this past week.  Truly amazing and very humbling.  Thanks.

Thank you for taking the time to read all of these random ramblings, and I truly hope you enjoyed the chapter!

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