I’d spoken to Ms. Granger’s secretary to arrange the meeting with her. I’d been a little dubious about the phone number I’d been given to call – I didn’t think wizards and witches had phones – but nonetheless it had connected and I’d spoken to a very kind gentleman on the other end. He’d requested that I would swing by to her office, as it was improbable that she would have time to step away, being as busy as she was. I agreed, because I would do whatever it took to have coffee with one of the most famous literary figures in existence.
I had been given rather odd instructions about heading to a phone box in a rather run down area of London. Not being from the capital it took me a while to find it (I got off one tube stop too early and had to walk further than anticipated), but eventually I found it. Phone boxes stand out these days; there aren’t that many around now that everyone has a mobile phone. I stepped inside and immediately noticed that it was broken. Ms Granger’s secretary (Mr. Helf) had told me that that wouldn’t matter, and all I needed to do was lift the receiver and speak my name and purpose into it. I felt completely daft doing so, wondering if anyone was watching me talking into a broken phone, and nearly dropped the phone with surprise when a smooth voice replied. I gave my details to the disembodied voice, speaking into the phone mouthpiece, despite the fact the voice sounded like they were standing right next to me. I felt distinctly stupid.
The next thing I knew, a small white badge had zoomed out of where the change was normally dispensed, and I took it, looking at the perfectly printed text on the surface:
Muggle Visitor (Permission Granted)
I pinned this to the jacket I was wearing, and wondered what I was supposed to do next. I looked around for a clue, but then the telephone box shuddered, and my eyes widened. It was then I realised, it wasn’t a box at all, it was a lift, heading down deep under the streets of London. It kept going down, and I thought we must be deeper than even the oldest underground trains, and further. It shuddered to a halt about ten seconds later, and I stepped out into the most expansive entrance hall I had ever seen. My mouth fell open. I had never seen anything like it – the closest I could come was the detail of the Royal Albert Hall combined with the vastness of the Colosseum at Rome. I craned my head to look up at the intricately carved ceiling, wondering how they had done it, and then realised it was probably done by some sort of magic that I would never be able to understand.
I came back to myself to someone tugging at my sleeve and I looked down to see a small, bat-eared like creature standing to about my hip.
‘Excuse me, Miss?’ he said, ‘Miss Hume?’
‘Yes, that’s me,’ I replied, still slightly taken aback by his appearance. He was wearing a waistcoat that was several sizes to large, and what appeared to be a heavy gold monocle, attached by a chain to his waistcoat pocket.
‘I’m Mr Helf’ he said, ‘Although I do prefer Hartley in informal settings. Ms. Granger insists that I call myself Mr Helf on the phone.’
‘Well Mr H…artley,’ I said stumbling over the formalities, ‘Nice to meet you!’
Hartley smiled and beckoned for me to follow him. Despite his stride being about half the length of mine he was surprisingly fast. I had to walk quickly just to keep pace. All around us were busy looking people tooing and froing across the great Atrium, some wearing ordinary clothes like me, whilst others were wearing much more magical looking get ups, from long swirling cloaks, to very tall hats with gizmos poking off the side. One woman’s hat had some sort of green flames flickering on the brim, but contrary to being perturbed these in fact seemed to be part of the decoration, or so I surmised when another witch complimented her on them as I passed. We passed a security desk, with a notice pinned to the side about submitting your wand for a search – as someone who had never possessed a wand, I figured that I did not need to stop at the desk. Hartley certainly didn’t stop, other than to wave at the security guard, who’s name badge labelled him as ‘Ern’.
We walked through the rabbit warren of corridors, and went up in a lift, before reaching yet another corridor where the sun was streaming in through the windows. I thought this odd, as I remembered that we were underground. I mentioned as much to Hartley and he explained how the Department for Magical Maintenance provided the weather, usually dependent on their mood. Thankfully, it had been sunny down here for at least a week now. At the end of this corridor was an ornate door, carved in ebony wood, but with no door handle, and a large golden seal of adorned with the Ministry of Magic badge over the door. Apparently this was not necessary as the door swung open inwards as we approached.
‘No, I told him that he was supposed to be going to Tanzania -‘ a female voice came from within another smaller room just to the left as we entered through the door, ‘Thank you Kingsley, I have to go, my guest has just arrived.’
The office we were in was light and bright. I could see the telephone I had rung through to on the desk, with a small label attached to it saying “for non-magical use”. There was also a stack of letters and envelopes on the top, waiting to be sent out. A small, and very delicate looking, machine was whirring away on the desk surface, occasionally omitting a small puff of teal smoke. I wondered what it was doing but couldn’t discern any immediate purpose.
I looked away from the fascinating scene to see Ms. Hermione Granger walking out of what I surmised must be her office, being followed at approximately the distance of a foot, by a silvery lynx. I blinked hard, once, to check I wasn’t seeing things.
‘What would you like me to-‘ the lynx spoke with an unusually deep voice, making my jaw once again, drop open in shock. It had seen me, and was clearly trying to decide whether to keep talking or not.
‘Tell him that he can take his daughter with him, if he’s that concerned about leaving her around Teddy…’ said Hermione, and I could see she was desperately trying to refrain from rolling her eyes. The lynx made a noise of assent, and then disappeared like mist into the thin air.
‘Quite why anyone would see Teddy as a menace to their daughter I’ll have no idea,’ said Hermione more to herself than anyone else, ‘The boy is the most well-mannered I’ve ever met… more like she’s been the one chasing him.’
‘Ms. Granger, this is Miss Hume, she’s here for your two o’clock meeting’ said Hartley.
‘Thank you very much Hartley,’ she said, ‘I’ll be in my office with Miss Hume. Have you had a lunch break yet today?’
‘I took ten minutes earlier’ said Hartley, looking at his feet. Hermione didn’t say anything, merely fixed him with a reproachful look. Clearly this was not the first time she had needed to ask this question.
‘Well, if it makes you feel better, can you go to the canteen and see that they’ve got everything, and get yourself something whilst you’re down there’ said Hermione to the creature.
‘Yes, certainly Ms. Granger!’ said Hartley happily, and trotted off out of the door that we had come through. I watched him go before looking back at the woman who I had come to meet. She didn’t look that much different from her school photos, apart from the few decades that had added lines around her eyes and mouth. It didn’t seem as if the stresses of her job had shown themselves on her face.
She gestured into her office and I followed about a step after her. She motioned for me to take a seat, and picking up her wand off the desk, waved it, which made two cups of steaming coffee appear. I was amazed, and it probably showed on my face. Hermione didn’t let my expression perturb her in any way, instead turning to pick up a memo that a quill had been writing as we walked in. Her eyes scanned over it before she put it back down; the quill hovered expectantly, as if to keep writing, but she flicked her wand again and the quill lay down neatly next to the sheaf of paper, looking for all the world completely normal and still.
My mind was alight with all the questions I wanted to ask her, but was aware that I only had a half an hour slot carved out from her extremely busy day. Being the Minster for Magic didn’t come with a huge amount of free time attached to it. Directly after my appointment I knew her husband was coming with the children to the office, so she would see them before she disappeared abroad for a convention tomorrow. I knew this because Hartley had talked to himself whilst trying to find a space in her diary for me.
What I liked the most about her, however, as we began to chat, was that she seemed as interested in my life as I was in hers – despite the distinct lack of magic in mine. She didn’t agree, saying that just because the magic was less obvious, didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
I told her that I had read the stories of her early life, and wondered if she still saw her friends from Hogwarts as much, now that she was so busy. She replied that she did still see them, but not as often as she would like, as she was away so much. I told her that I’d read the stories of her and her friends’ battles and struggles against Voldemort, and wondered if her world had completely recovered since then.
She made a face crossed between a frown and confusion, considering how she was going to answer the question.
‘Of course it is better than it was,’ she said, ‘But there is still work to be done. Education for example; especially about muggles, squibs, muggleborns and also other magical creatures.’
‘This was one of your key promises when you took office, yes?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘And it is something I am still working very hard on, it takes a long time to change ingrained opinions and ways of thinking. One of things I have done is made mandatory for all families who still keep a house elf to offer them wages and holiday if they wish it.’
‘Have people done it?’ I asked.
‘Mostly; it took a bit of convincing for some of the older pure blood families to follow suit, but with the threat of some fairly hefty fines they seemed to decide it was the right thing to do,’ said Hermione with a small smile, ‘I am also working with muggle liaison groups to raise awareness.’
‘Yes, that was how I made contact,’ I said with a small smile, taking a sip of my coffee. It was a lovely taste, but I couldn’t quite put my finger what the syrup was that was in it. I asked Hermione.
‘Butterbeer,’ she said, ‘Honeydukes have just recently started selling a syrup for coffee, and I find myself quite partial to it.’
‘It’s nice,’ I agreed, wondering if I could procure a bottle before heading home. Having said that, it might be a bit of an odd talking point to have a bottle of butterbeer syrup on my shelf at home – how would I explain where I’d got it? Whilst these muggle liaison groups existed, it was taking time, and not everybody was yet comfortable with the idea that a whole magical world actually existed outside of their own normal consciousness. Hermione agreed, saying that it had been a very delicate process; drip-feeding information to the non-magical public about the existence of witches and wizards, so that they wouldn’t feel threatened. Often this had been in the form of fiction, or film, in order to introduce the idea in a non-threatening manner. I nodded, agreeing that this was a good tactic, and that most people were now at least aware of her world and what it vaguely looked like, due to novels, pictures and films.
It was important the other way around too, so that wizards didn’t feel as if they were superior to muggles, as that has what lead to the violence towards muggles under Voldemort. He had spread the lie that some types of people were better than others, and therefore it was okay to treat them (and in Voldemort’s case murder them) as if they didn’t matter. It seemed like she’d taken on a big job to break the thinking patterns of centuries. I said as much to her and she just shrugged, saying that someone had to at least start it.
I finished my coffee, and placed my cup down on the wooden surface. My eyes glanced over at the blue flames flickering in her fireplace – oddly they weren’t giving off any heat. She saw where my gaze was pointing and explained that that was a main channel of communication for her, and that the flames were blue to mean that she was available to talk to someone via the floo network if need be.
I started to stand up, realising we had been talking for more than our allotted half an hour and I was probably delaying the rest of her day.
‘Hartley will be waiting for you to take you back out,’ she said, ‘You don’t need to worry about the lift; Hartley will be able to take you directly home.’
‘Um, are you sure?’ I asked, ‘I don’t want to put him out’
‘Oh you won’t said’ Hermione with a smile, ‘It’s probably easier for him that way’
I nodded, and held out my hand for her to shake. She took it and drew me into a quick hug.
‘It was very nice to meet you,’ she said, ‘If I ever need to come and have a tour of the muggle world, I will definitely be in touch!’
‘Definitely’ I agreed, looking around the office, wondering if I would be able to remember every detail in the morning, or whether this would all seem like some weird and wonderful dream. Hermione looked at my face as if she were reading my thoughts. It’s okay, she said, it doesn’t matter whether you remember this or not, because none of this is real, but just because it’s not real, doesn’t mean it’s not special. I smiled at her nodding, agreeing, just because something is make believe or imaginary, doesn’t mean that it is not special. It can be very special indeed.
Phew! Okay, so this one was a bit longer than my normal posts – but I hope you enjoyed it and stuck with me to the end. I had to try and decide what I was going to talk to her about, given that the Harry Potter books have passed into our collective cultural memory! If you could have coffee with Hermione what would you ask her? Let me know what you thought in the comments!