Chapter beta: Dani
Chapter translator: Aivy
It was time for battle.
I had to bury zombies and put them six feet under forever. I chuckled merrily. Oh goddess, if Severus, Lucius, and, especially, Draco knew that I was into necromancy, I would give them a heart attack of a special kind. It was a very bizarre field of magic, very borderline and really disgusting. But well, it served my purposes, so it was good enough for me.
Draco had just set out with Harry to get the latter his second wand and I trusted Draco to accomplish this task perfectly. He wouldn't kill Harry, however much he might annoy him, that he had sworn to me. Quarrel with him, yes, but no killing. That was something for a start and left me hoping.
After the drama with Narcissa and our physical fight I was so happy that things went so well with Draco and he had taken the purchase off my hands. Draco and I had enjoyed the weekend and talked a lot. He had gotten a closer look at my childhood and Harry's too. Although he didn't say or show it, I got the feeling that he wasn't happy that Harry had had such a messed up and unpleasant childhood. He really didn't like it and I thought he felt something like a burgeoning pity for a little helpless boy who had had very little luck in his life so far. I gave Draco credit for this far-sightedness. For the first time, he tried to see behind Harry's mask and realized that there wasn't much splendour to be found!
However, I didn't have much hope that a wonderful, new and blooming friendship would develop between the two young men, both were too much alpha males for that. But only time would tell; I was already satisfied with mutual acceptance.
Harry was the hero, but had not enjoyed a privileged life. Draco was a completely different man: he was not a hero, but had indulged in luxury throughout his life and even if the two men didn't show it, he had received protection but also warmth and affection. Harry hadn't. And now Draco had got an approximate idea of what Harry had suffered and missed all these years.
He was also astonished about my past, but here, too, he showed himself to be reasonable, that he could imagine that normal, non-magical people could have no understanding for the unnatural. How could they? Magic was unimaginable for a normal person, a Muggle!
These days, Severus had been kept busy by the Order, thanks to Harry's disappearance without a trace. It was too wonderful to see them running around like blind chickens, looking in vain for Harry. It was hilarious and had caused one or two fits of laughter from Draco and me.
Lucius' time, on the other hand, had been occupied by the Dark Lord all weekend and Narcissa was not allowed to leave her rooms. She was a real prisoner of the house and spent her desolate existence in her suite. The stupid cow, though, didn't deserve anything else and she had come off well for now because Lucius hadn't had time for her yet. Apparently, he was planning on changing tunes with her, although I couldn't imagine what that would look like. He and his wife had appeared very cool and distant to me.
Draco had taken the time to show me his favourite places of the estate and also one or two beautiful rooms in this huge, stately house. These hadn't been all the rooms that could be seen; it was just too big, too nested and too confusing. I kept being amazed at the sheer size of the Manor.
We remained true to our routine and kept up our training. It had been nice to fight with Draco and I was really happy that we were so equally matched. It had been exhausting, but unfortunately much too short because Draco, too, had to leave me for his important, urgent meetings and appointments.
Yes, my men were just too busy and I would have loved to go to the cottage, but also I could not move as freely as I wanted. In addition, I couldn’t and wouldn’t dare to endanger Harry.
So I withdrew to the gigantic library with its numerous books to pass the time. An adequate alternative, in my opinion. I continued to work on my spell and happily searched for the elaborate sign that Dumbledore seemed so dedicated to. In a daring approach, I also tried to uncover the secret that might have led to the Dark Lord surviving when Harry was a baby.
I made the first tentative attempts to find out about the Dark Lord's family tree, which in itself was easy, as the Dark Lord saw himself as the heir of Slytherin, so I had a point of reference. Additionally, I knew the Dark Lord's real name thanks to Harry's second year encounter with Tom Marvolo Riddle's diary. Thus, I knew when he had attended school, so it was relatively easy to find out his age and then all that was left was to search, search, and search again.
I already had a clue. As I had mentioned, he was the last living descendant of Salazar Slytherin. Now I just had to search Slytherin's lineage to find a Riddle. Have fun, I could only wish myself sarcastically. But I had the time and so I started the grueling research work.
And even if I didn't find a Riddle, I found out that the Slytherin bloodline merged into the Gaunts, an interesting development. Thus, time flew by for me as well. Monday would inevitably come, whether I wanted it to arrive or not, even if I tended to ‘not’. The prospect of dealing with the Inferi once again was not my preferred option, not because I suddenly discovered my conscience or morality, no, it was more the fact of dealing with my parents again, which was hard on my stomach. To put it nicely, it was annoying. I had finished with them, they were as safe as possible. I had done everything I could to help them, but now I wanted to forget them or, at least, as well as I could.
They were no longer part of my family! I had a new one that needed all my attention and I had Harry!
Ultimately, even I was just someone who had to bow to the facts and so today I had to play the grieving daughter; the young survivor, overwhelmed by her loss, who had lost her parents far too soon.
Ugh, showing feelings in all their diversity and sharing them with others wasn't my thing at all, but an actress like me was supposed to master the whole range and so, much to my displeasure, I would bite the bullet and deliver a unique show.
Draco had finally set off to pick up Harry and I checked my mourning outfit in the mirror for the last time. The tight-cut, figure-hugging black costume consisting of a narrow-cut pin skirt with a walking slit that ended just above the knee and the short, waisted blazer with short puff sleeves and a wide belt under which I wore a corsage was just right for the sad occasion, but airy enough for the summer and the prevailing temperatures. I combined it with medium-high heels and put my hair up into an elegant updo. I looked dressed just right: very classy, very smart.
I looked at my controlled looking appearance skeptically in the floor-deep mirror, which stood in the bedroom and moved my hands down my sides, nodded contentedly to myself, took another deep breath, and then turned away decisively.
The show could begin.
I flitted into the dressing room, stepped purposefully in front of Draco's suits, pulled them aside and looked at a bare, plain wooden wall, but I was not deceived by that. I swiped my wand with a murmured "Dissendium" and, a second later, a panel silently moved to the side and released the secret passage behind it, which would take me away from here unseen. It was an advantage to live in such an old building; there were many possibilities to get from A to B.
A contented smile plucked at the corners of my mouth as I stared into the darkness before fearlessly going into the dark, narrow hallway by the light of my Lumos. I performed one or two spells to check if any traps waited along the long way that led me down parallel to the rooms and, as expected, the wards that had been put up here as obstacles were magnificent. On top of that, I had to overcome one or two barriers or barred doors. As I had said in the past, I was born for something like this, no matter if I broke in or out and so I purposefully reached the exit.
It was like this: all you had to do was track down and find the warding spell, then identify it and put yourself inside it mentally so you understood its structure. This way, you could break any ward. Everything was crackable. Well, it wasn't that simple, but with a different attitude I wouldn't be able to be such a passionate thief as I was. I had to admit to myself that with every new break-in I found it harder not to do it more often. It was as if I had found a vocation and it was very satisfying for me to continue to advance unhindered.
Many curses, some of them very old, lay on the exit. As it seemed, every Malfoy had been allowed to add their own over time, though to my astonishment I was really quick and efficient, not destroying the curses, just bypassing them. That was until I stumbled across an especially vicious curse that positively radiated the name 'Snape'.
Pride comes before the fall, I thought, and was exceedingly angry about it, biting my lip. This spell was not easy to break, to destroy or even to turn against itself. Damn it! Now I had to decide: should I or should I not? I was getting under pressure because I was bloody well running out of time.
This complex curse, polished down to the smallest detail, I wouldn't break in a hurry. Well, crap! That was a self-creation of this impossible, bat-like, male entity who was, right now, getting dangerously, annoyingly on my nerves. It was brilliant and ingenious. Why did the last curse have to be such an infuriating, difficult, highly complicated affair and so incredibly exhausting and labor-intensive?
Yes, of course, with brute force and no sensitivity whatsoever, I could break it, but not in the next few minutes. Why did Sn... Severus have to be such an extraordinary, highly gifted wizard who could compete with my genius? That was too annoying! I uttered a very frustrated sound.
Okay, I concentrated while the sweat pooled on my forehead. I managed to dissolve it and penetrate it to such an extent that it wouldn't be able to stop me and with a shield I would get through without getting hurt. Alas, I was sure he would know that I had come through here and if he knew, Lucius knew and then I would have trouble on my hands.
Yes exactly, I would get in trouble because I had left without asking for permission and without a chaperone. It was such an annoying, damn, arrr... However, that wouldn't stop me, I would deal with that later. So I continued to work even faster before I surrendered, worn down, because I had to give up and look reality in the ugly face. I would not be able to break this curse completely. I could make it if I had time that I didn't have. I couldn't arrive late to the funeral of my own parents. That would not throw a favourable light on me and I could not afford that and so the decision to be made was relatively easy.
Okay, then I would be punished. Fuck it. I'd take it and bear it, like I always did.
Therefore, I walked stoically through the spell surrounded by a protective structure, which I had cast on myself, hoping that that would suffice. It immediately felt as if I was stepping through a kind of solid, freezing-cold wall of water. It was really hard to walk through it; I shivered reluctantly. That didn't feel nice. It was as if the cold, invisible water was gliding over me and wetting my skin with an icy coldness that penetrated my bones and made my teeth chatter. I was sure that if I hadn't softened the curse a little and hadn't protected myself, I wouldn't have been able to get through it so easily, but I had, allowing me to leave this barrier behind relatively undamaged. I still felt strangely tainted, but I didn't stop to linger on it. Now I quickly moved on and removed the entrance to the secret passage. It was a hollow, ancient tree, through the trunk of which I came out in the middle of the magical forest adjoining the Malfoys' property. I could not pay any attention to the beauty of the forest because time was pressing.
Phew, so entering the property unseen would probably not be possible for any stranger and breaking out was apparently not possible either, unnoticed at least... I was just getting colossally angry about the fact. Hopefully, they weren't too upset. I grimaced and apparted quickly because I expected them to show up right away to check what was happening here.
From now on I would be hunted, would be prey!
I saw to it that I got away quickly and materialized in a side street near the cemetery where my 'parents' would be laid to rest and then I wrapped my arms around me so that I would get warm inside. I was chilled despite the summer temperatures.
The Brompton Cemetery, near the Earl's Court in Chelsea, was a cemetery built around 1840 in the middle of the city and was today only used for occasional burials, as the site was used more and more as a park. It radiated its very own charm with the old gravestones and the wild grass everywhere and here the Granger family would find their last rest.
Why were Mr and Mrs Granger buried in such a difficult-to-access cemetery?
Well, the townhouse in Chelsea came from the family of my mother and they had afforded themselves a family grave decades ago on just this cemetery and thus the family Granger came into the rare pleasure that once again a funeral was held on this old venerable place. I was curious. When such an event was celebrated here, it was often mentioned in the newspapers, because it happened so seldom and so the Order might realize that I was now a pitiful orphan!
Or maybe not, if they didn't care what happened to others.
I brushed my hands once again over my narrow waist and, at that moment, I suddenly felt myself being watched. My skin crawled with goose bumps and I felt as if I was no longer alone. I quickly turned around suspiciously and peered into the dark alley, while listening with my head crooked. I was on my guard. But no, I heard nothing, there was nothing and so I deliberately shook my head, trying to shake the bad feeling off with it and blinked wildly, trying to keep my concentration. There was nothing, absolutely nothing.
But now I needed a sad thought, a very sad one.
I pinched my tickly nose slightly and was satisfied when I felt the tears coming slowly but surely. Hey they were necessary to make a good spectacle. The problem was only that when I thought of the bodies in the coffin I was more likely to laugh rather than to shed the desired and appropriate tears. However, this sentimentalism was part and parcel of the perfect show and hence, for a test run, I sobbed in anguish. No, oh goddess, that sounded too theatrical. So one more time, a little deeper, more discreet, yes, much better. Happily, I pulled out a black handkerchief made of fabric with a lace border and dabbed it around my now-reddened eyes, as I hoped, and sniffed deeply and muttered:
"The spectacle may begin. Show them, Hermione!" Thus, I breathed a sigh of contentment and strove purposefully towards the area surrounded by a black iron fence and walked along the gravel driveway towards my destination.
End of Hermione's POV
"What was that?" Lucius, standing invisible next to me asked indignantly but quietly into the dirty alley that was now deserted except for us.
Well, I would like to know that, too. I had been in the library with Lucius earlier and we had discussed how to deal with the current tricky circumstances, as it was worrying that Potter was wandering around out there.
Not even Lucius wanted Potter to fall into the hands of the Death Eaters. No, that would not suit him at all, I thought cynically. Alas, Lucius was never predictable in this respect. What exactly he was planning, how and why, remained in the dark.
If I thought back to how he had put value on the fact that nothing happened to this idiot of Potter in the Ministry, I got quite a conclusive picture. What had been his orders when he let the Death Eaters loose on the children? "No Avada," with the succinct remark that the Lord deserved the honour of killing Potter!
True for Potter, but not for the others! And yet he had done it and it was wonderful to see how generously Lucius always interpreted the rules! It would not have pleased our power-hungry beau under any circumstances if the greatest adversary against the Dark Lord, beside Dumbledore, had fallen so early in the beginning war.
Oh no, that wouldn't have suited him at all. Only Merlin knew what Lucius was planning again, though when the Lord had returned, Lucius had not been that happy. No wonder, he had had power over everything for the last fourteen years. After all, the Death Eaters had continued to exist, and he, as the living Right Hand and representative of the Dark Lord, had more or less tightly maintained the ranks among those who were still free and not in Azkaban.
He had renounced actions and only built up his business empire, but still housed the Death Eaters spread all over the country and since then held the reins sovereignly as the puppeteer that he was.
As a result, Lucius was no longer accustomed to having his master in front of him and always being accountable to him. That was not at all to Lucius's liking and as I thought he was right; it annoyed me as well. Especially since Potter seemed to have something about him that the Dark Lord could not match in power!
How else could it be explained that year after year the boy escaped the Dark Lord's clutches relatively unscathed?
Oh, yes, I saw it just like Lucius did. Potter was arguably not without magical strength and power and fate seemed to have its plans for him, too. It would be interesting to see how this would develop. Why would we want the Dark Lord to have it too easy with anything, Potter included? Where would be the fun in that?
Yes, we were indeed an unfathomable family and that was the way it should stay.
In the middle of our thoughts, the warding spell I had created and polished long beforehand all of a sudden sounded the alarm. Both Lucius' head and my own immediately went up. What the hell was happening there?
We looked at each other in surprise. This sound meant that someone was trying to leave the property! If a stranger had tried to invade from outside, a loud gong would have sounded on the property and immediately other defensive measures we had put in place would have been automatically set in motion. Please, we lived in dangerous times and the Malfoys, like the Prince family, had always been very neurotically inclined people who loved to protect their possessions with all means at their disposal. So Prince House was as well secured as Malfoy Manor. My father's Muggle house in Spinner's End was my junk room, which I also protected, but which lacked the centuries-old protection of former family members.
All in all, I had to say that our estates were well protected from enemies.
We looked at each other with mutual understanding.
"The Beast," I snarled angrily.
"Do you really think she would dare to disobey my order?" Lucius sounded very surprised at this snub and I rolled my eyes over his snobbery.
"I would be surprised if she would stick to it," I confessed resignedly and now Lucius gasped furiously when he realized that he had once again underestimated her. Immediately, as if on command, we both closed our eyes and felt the spells and curses that we had built up and that now, through our connection to the estate, were telling us what was going on, how and where.
"She takes the path to the forest. How does she know about it?" Lucius asked in consternation and pressed his lips together into a narrow line.
"Draco?" I offered quite succinctly, but he shook his head thereupon.
"No, I have not shown him this way yet," Lucius said.
"Then she surprises us again that she knows more about the Manor than your son. You must finally take my warnings seriously," I hissed resentfully and rushed away with Lucius following closely on my heels.
We ran towards a wall that I made disappear by waving my hand, and since this was a branch-off access to the secret passage the bitch had just used, we were so close to her heels that she couldn't even imagine in a dream. This girl was so unspeakably stupid, because not only his, but also my hunting instinct had been awakened here immediately!
"I do not understand... I mean, she should never have come this far! All spells are still there and were not broken... only manipulated," Lucius exclaimed, surprised about her dexterity and even I was amazed as this was a show of high skill. Meanwhile, we hurried along the dark passage.
"Well, did I not tell you yet that she is slightly kleptomaniac?" I said very cynically. "She has practice in removing obstacles of this kind," I grumbled gloomily, remembering her misdeeds.
"No, my dear Severus, you must have forgotten to mention that in your long litanies," he retorted very sarcastically and snorted in a not very Malfoy-like manner.
"Oh, so I forgot to mention that. How sorry I am," I wasn't really sorry when I rolled my eyes for a moment "She stole from me in her second year of school, invading my storage room," I admitted quite brusquely and he almost stopped next to me at this unexpected news.
"Come again?" he asked in consternation "... Do you not always protect it heavily?" He sounded a little breathless when talking while walking, as we did not stop to hold our conversation.
"Well, apparently not good enough for her! She actually broke all curses except one, but that one was forgivable. I could hardly believe it myself. All on her own, at twelve or thirteen... Alas, she seems to have a true gift for it," I explained. Thereby, it might have shown through that I was impressed, completely against my will.
"You shock me. A kleptomaniac! Who would have thought that? ... But no, she is the one that shocks me! To manipulate all these warding spells and break some... Damn, that should have taken much longer. We have to improve that," he concluded as he looked around, commanding as usual. "Where does she want to go? Do you think she wants to go to Potter? ... Or to run away completely?" Sounding carefully controlled in the end, he involved me in his deliberations and I have to say, I agreed with everything he just put into words.
"I have no idea, but here," I pointed out, an abysmally evil smile on my face and when I turned to look at Lucius, I was assured that he also knew what it meant, because his storm-grey eyes gleamed demonically.
"How good that we developed this last spell together," Lucius said dryly with joyful glee in his tone and I also grinned nastily.
"Yes, it was truly ingenious," I had to agree with the arrogance that spoke out of him.
The curse was a collaborative masterpiece that we had developed in our youth, when we had passionately devoted ourselves to magic. It had been great fun to create this brilliant curse that would now help us hunt her down.
"The minx truly is even better than I thought, Lucius," I confessed disgruntledly, "... being in a hurry, she didn't manage to break it completely, but she succeeded in lifting it far enough that it would no longer harm her and had to let her through, a tremendous achievement," I had to admit, unfortunately, somewhat impressed.
"I know that, Severus, I do not need you for this analysis," he hissed furiously.
"Do not take your exquisite temper out on me," I reprimanded coldly as we hurried on.
"Come on," Lucius shouted. It was as if he could sniff her out.
He painted a sign in the air and so we could quickly pass this obstacle without happening to us what she had fortunately not been able to circumvent. Otherwise, we would have had to look for the needle in the haystack, but so malicious anticipation arose inside me.
When we came out of the hollow tree trunk we could still see her, a black blob, apparating away from us. She did not notice us because she stood with her back to us. This was a circumstance that was very good, because we both wanted to know what she was up to. We did not want to catch her prematurely. Now that she could no longer escape from us, we had time. The question was: what had made her leave the house even at the risk of getting punished?
She knew what Lucius could do to her and was still willing to take this risk. Why? What kind of secrets did she have this time around?
Lucius was truly not to be underestimated. Even though he was gallant and charming towards her, he was one of the most dangerous and unscrupulous men I knew. Compassion was a foreign word to him and when he tortured, he did so with cool passion. He expected absolute obedience and she did not show it just now, which was very stupid.
She must have known when she went through the magical water wall that this would set off an alarm and we would know immediately that she had fled. Although that had certainly not been part of her original plan, she must have decided to take the risk as she seemed to have something to do that could not be postponed.
I was excited, very much so, and Lucius was, too, apparently. I noticed the hunting instinct shining in his eyes, for it had gripped him. The prey tried to break out of its cage. She had started to flee and her hunter was hot on her heels.
Yes, that spoke to him. I saw how he magically tied his hair back in anticipation, looking with a determined expression at the spot from which she had just disappeared. The precarious situation did not leave me cold either.
"Hurry up! We will follow her, invisibly. First, I want to know what she is up to! She will not expect the invisible waterfall to continue to stick to her. That it is a signature that we can follow. I want to know what she thought she could not tell us and why she was willing to draw my... our anger on herself," he determined confidently as usual. Then he gritted his teeth. "Does everyone here think that they can defy my orders and wishes at any time and without consequences? Damn it, I will change my tune! First Narcissa, now she...! They will learn what it means to disobey me," he said his threat chilled and painstakingly controlled but inside him it seemed to seethe, as accentuated as he spoke.
"Of course, Lucius, always happy to serve. I am also very curious as to what the minx is planning now," I replied seriously and already I, like Lucius, became invisible and a moment later, after we had tracked down the signature, we silently apparted after her into a dirty side street and then we watched her standing there in front of us.
She was in the middle of the same alley and was running her hands down her sides, which immediately drew my attention to her slender waist, which was further accentuated by a wide belt. She wore a chic, elegant black costume with puffy sleeves and looked very striking with her pinned up hair. We watched her now squinting her eyes together and staring attentively in our direction, as if she had sensed or heard something. She crooked her head, listening, and remained still for the moment.
Lucius and I froze in place and stood, motionless and silent. We understood each other blindly and so we acted like the well-attuned team that we were.
Confused, I frowned and my eyebrows reached undreamt-of heights as I watched her behaviour for, suddenly, she shrugged her shoulders, probably wanting to shake off the feeling of being watched, pinched her nose tip and started blinking her eyes wildly. After that, she sobbed loudly, then groaned heartrendingly and began to sniff.
What was that all about?
She played the crying, sobbing girl, that was obvious. But why? All this behaviour on her part was incomprehensible to me. What was this charade about?
What an actress! She got herself into shape. Apparently, it was time for tears, which she was producing with some difficulty. That was high art taking place just before our disbelieving eyes. She sounded very sad and tortured when she began to cry before nodding contentedly. Now she pulled out a matching black lace handkerchief and carefully dabbed it over her reddened eyes. I was still fascinated by this spectacle when we heard her talking to herself:
"The spectacle may begin. Show them, Hermione!"
Purposefully, she stalked on her high-heeled shoes towards the fenced-in area, strolled along the gravel driveway, leaving us behind in this alleyway. I heard Lucius rustling next to me, who had certainly observed the whole thing skeptically as well.
"What was that?" His indignant voice blew over to me, although I could not see him.
"You see me just as speechless," I said, showing my astonishment at this performance and shrugged my shoulders invisibly for him.
"Come on, I want to know more about that," Lucius ordered bossily, already following her.
You are not alone, was the only thing I could think and so we went after her. We watched her enter a Muggle cemetery that seemed to be quite old, with many stately gravestones that artistically enhanced the landscape.
"What does she want here?" Lucius asked loudly, once again voicing my thoughts. The gravel under our shoes would have crunched if we had not protected ourselves against it with magic.
We walked quietly behind her and then we saw on a part further back how she hurriedly approached a group of people, all dressed in black and gathered around an open grave.
"I do know him," breathed Lucius quietly as a handsome man hurried towards Hermione and stretched his hands towards her in a gesture of sympathy. He greeted her politely, but also measured her with interested looks, while keeping her hands caringly in his.
"Speak already! Who is that? ... A little older than you, is he not?" I wanted to know exactly, since he was unknown to me.
"He? He is a Mudblood lawyer. Wait... Thomas... Yes, exactly Mr. Thomas; works closely with Gringotts, because he knows both worlds. He is good. I've met him from time to time in the Muggle world. He understands his trade," Lucius told the facts soberly.
Aha, a lawyer, then. I did not like at all how close he bent to Hermione, holding a whispered conversation with her, and Lucius next to me seemed to find it much too close, too. He had brown hair and a handsome appearance and now gallantly offered Hermione his arm and led her to a priest dressed in a cassock.
She dabbed her eyes again and again dramatically with the cloth and offered a very suffering picture. Many of the waiting people looked at her and her slender figure. She seemed to be the main character of this event, to whom all the attention belonged. But especially two men in tight suits in dark blue and brown, who kept very much in the background, seemed to follow every movement of her with eagle eyes. But she seemed to be doing well, for no one doubted her and her sorrow. If we had not witnessed the preparatory scene in the alley, I would have believed her act. She seemed very emotional and grieving through and through.
I could already imagine who was going to be buried here today: her parents! Had she really done it? No, probably not, I thought to myself, but then whose burial was it? Or maybe she did? I mean, by now, I believed the bitch to be capable of anything!
"She is really good. - Do you see that? She is convincing. - Who will be buried there? - She seems to be the central character of the event," Lucius commented again and again, but I remained silent.
"If this Thomas does not soon distance himself from her, he will find himself in my torture cellar," was his most current comment. Lucius had difficulty controlling himself.
After he had ascertained that she had not attempted to run away from the Manor, but was only keeping an appointment, he seemed to have regained his customary iron discipline. Although I did not like to admit it, it was the same for me. I had calmed down after realizing that she once again had one of her appointments and no Potter or anything else was driving her away from us.
The funeral service seemed to begin and we approached the mourners. Even though I could not see Lucius, I knew exactly how and where he was. We knew each other so well, had already experienced so many adventures and more-than-nasty situations together that we formed a perfectly attuned team. We understood each other blindly. When we listened to the words of the clergyman, who said farewell to Mr and Mrs Granger, I felt vindicated.
We were now very close, seeing and hearing everything firsthand. We noticed how Thomas consoled a sobbing Hermione. She did not exaggerate, found exactly the middle way between aggrieved and infinitely sad, while still being very controlled and disciplined enough not to turn into a hysterical bundle of helplessness.
She let the audience participate in her inner conflict and captivated them all, making them think she was grieving deeply for the loss of her parents as the two dark coffins were now slowly lowered into the dark depths of the hole. There they received the last blessing, in which the priest made a cross over the grave and Hermione whimpered that it could have ripped one's heart apart.
What an actress! I denied myself a contemptible snort.
I wagered that Lucius next to me had the same thought. As she stood there in her fancy outfit and dabbed her red eyes, he had to realize what a calculating minx she was. The only trouble was, I knew it and still could not help finding her attractive like no other. She offered everything that was interesting and alluring.
Many of the men, despite their grief, gave her some appraising looks that we did not like at all. One did not look at a woman from our house like that, period. I could almost grasp and feel Lucius' bad, murderous mood with my hands when he registered the glances.
Finally, the funeral was over and the condolence began. She showed an incredible, delicate frailty that had to invoke the protector in every man and so we heard everything that was spoken and waited.
"Your parents were such good and kind employers."
"We will miss them. They were still so young..."
"What a tragic accident."
"You poor thing. If you need help..."
She accepted the condolences with a certain elegance.
A middle-aged man was one of the last to approach Hermione and studied her intensively.
"Hermione, dear, now you are all alone... that would have broken the heart of your parents! You know that you are always welcome in my house. Your father would have wanted his best friend to take care of his only daughter," he insisted anxiously and looked slightly grey in his face.
"Thank you, Marcus. Where are Helen and David?" she asked in a brittle voice.
"Oh, they've been on an Asian trip since the beginning of the holidays, unfortunately... I'm supposed to convey their condolences... I can understand if you don't want to go to your house. You can come to mine instead," it came very slimily from the guy and I felt Lucius tense up. I, too, could not prevent that I straightened up more. He hit on the grieving daughter at a funeral; could you believe that?
"Marcus, I thank you for your generous offer. It... Thanks, but I have to deal with the loss first, you know..." she turned and I registered to my own amusement how contempt flashed in her brown eyes, because she had very well realized that his offer was not as innocent as it sounded. "I seek solitude... It means a lot to me that you are here today. Thank you." She now leaned forward and breathed two kisses on the man's cheeks.
Immediately, out of instinct, I grabbed Lucius' arm. Even if I didn't see him, I had known he was beside me and so I kept him under control. I felt his muscles tense under his frock when she said goodbye to the man so familiarly. In my eyes, she had handled him cleverly. She briefly turned to the priest to thank him for the ceremony and then turned to Thomas.
"Well, Mr. Thomas... Thank you for your efforts. You have organized all this wonderfully! My parents would have... No, they would not have wished that. What nonsense am I telling you?! Please, excuse me," she sobbed dramatically and turned away. Besides Thomas, the two men observing from a distance were the only ones left to witness it, but they probably also heard everything because they looked like they were listening very intently.
"But, Miss Granger, that's what I'm here for. You don't have to burden yourself with such things; Mr. Rangok has given me very precise instructions here," the lawyer said, which made her pause.
"Oh, what would I do without this great go... little man," she looked up, visibly collected. Apparently, she suspected that they were still being overheard.
"I know it's unusual, and actually an overt impertinence, but the gentleman from Dover would like to talk to you again. I tried to reschedule, but Mr. Rangok thought you might be okay with it and I didn't want to contradict him," he whispered close to her and she nodded to the two men after an appraising look.
"You were right to do so, because it's true! I want to talk to the gentlemen now and get this over with," she declared resolutely and squared her shoulders now. She walked towards the two gentlemen and opened her arms.
"Inspector... Erwin? How...? No, I can't say I'm happy to see you again because I have to think about that night again," she addressed them and made an emotional pause, moaning quietly. "Please, what can I do for you?" She skilfully approached the policeman, openly confessing that it hurt her to see him; her voice had clearly stated that. She only gave the other man a quick, very fleeting nod.
"Miss Granger, I am... sincerely sorry to bother you at this moment, but you are hard to reach and your lawyer said you would prefer to get this over with as soon as possible," the bald gentleman in the dark blue suit said insistently.
She just nodded again, apparently didn't want to talk too much and just looked at him encouragingly as Thomas stepped next to her.
"As you know, the ongoing investigations into the accidental death of your parents are almost complete. We only learned that you had claimed your parents' life insurance through your lawyer, which included an unusually large sum, and we felt compelled to investigate," the man explained in an authoritarian, businesslike voice, quite the policeman on the trail of a crime and I frowned. She wanted the life insurance? Why?
"Do I understand you correctly, Inspector?" Her voice suddenly clinked very coldly. "You suspect me of having something to do with my parents' accident? Why? Because I was so free to ask my lawyer to initiate all appropriate steps without knowing exactly what all the steps are...? As this is the first time in my life that I have been in such a situation?"
"Then it wasn't you?" the other man questioned doubtfully.
"Of course not" In the current situation, I don't feel able to deal with money at all! I didn't even know that there was or is a life insurance policy... But let's ask him: "Mr. Thomas, did I give explicit instructions or just general ones?"
"General, Miss Granger," her lawyer replied soberly.
"That doesn't mean anything, Miss Granger,' it came from the older man, weighing it up, while the younger one turned away uncomfortably. He didn't seem to like the surroundings.
"Well then," she concluded and dabbed her eyes again, "...if you're suggesting that I knew I could be entitled to such money, you know, if you've been thorough, that unfortunately this isn't the first time in my family's history... that something bad happened. But you can assume that I would rather have my grandma and aunt around, just like my parents. Maybe that's why the sums were set so high?
"I'm not interested in the times when all this was supposed to have happened, but I think you can easily find out," she spoke quite brashly and waved her hand disinterestedly. "Whatever... I don't like being alone. Or do you want to accuse me of a plane crash years ago? I would like to point out that I was still a child back then," she said very cynically. She made the much older man look pretty foolish.
" You are still one today," Thomas growled quite aggressively at the policemen and she gave him a rather unfriendly look. She didn't seem to like this statement at all.
"No, it wasn't like that, ... ?" the policeman said not very confidently and scratched his bald head.
"You don't want to tell me that you came all the way from Dover for this? Do you want to insult me? I thought you had found something that could explain my parents' accident! How I can better understand their... How I can better understand how this happened," she turned the tables and underlined her concern with her husky voice. Her eyes bathed in heavily suppressed tears, so that the men exchanged embarrassed looks.
"I can understand that, Miss Granger. But you have to comprehend, a sum of two million per person is unusual," the man tried again and she made a louder sound of distress as she pressed the crumpled cloth to her chest.
"What do you want me to say? I don't understand you! I have no idea, I... don't know anything about that! If anyone, my father did this... and maybe, he arranged these sums with the insurance company after he went through the tragedy with Grandma... and Rose? You know, I am not going to make any further assumptions here. These are things that I cannot and will not answer for you." She shook her head firmly. "If this is all, I would like to withdraw. As you can see I am somewhat under the weather," she excused herself and wanted to turn away rudely when the inspector once again spoke up and raised an admonitory finger.
"Miss Granger, there is still -" He didn't get any further because the little fury with angrily flashing eyes turned to him.
"Inspector Erwin, should you once again approach me without evidence with your groundless and insulting insinuations and harass me like this, I will be forced to file a complaint. Just because I'm alone doesn't mean I have to put up with everything! I, too, have rights and if you want anything else from me, please contact Mr. Thomas. Save your breath. I won't talk to you again until you summon me. This is too stupid for me! And that at my parents' grave," she wailed, leaving behind three surprised men. They looked more than shocked after the small, petite person who was hurrying away furious but also deeply emotional and dramaturgically crying into her handkerchief.
"Well, I sincerely doubt that was necessary, gentlemen," Thomas rebuked the policemen with a reprimanding voice and looked at them disapprovingly. "And I must ask you to respect Miss Granger's wish. Should you wish to speak to her again, please contact me with a court summons to do so. Otherwise, I must ask you to bring the matter to a conclusion quickly so that Miss Granger can fully conclude with this overwhelming and grave loss," Mr. Thomas declared rigorously in cold tone.
"Of course. It was just a feeling that she might have something to say to us. She seems to be grieving seriously, yet she is calm and her outbreak..." the inspector pondered thoughtfully when the young policeman spoke up.
"Come on, Inspector! The detective will be waiting for us and I don't think we should disturb Miss Granger in her pain. Mr. Thomas, tell the lady our condolences... You'll excuse us." We saw the bald guy look surprised, but then give in and follow his young colleague.
As it looked, they really had no evidence. But with such a stubborn person as the minx, they would never find out anything and she had deprived the policemen of any basis for further investigation. She knew her rights too well.
So Lucius and I stood there while we looked into the grave where the two coffins had found their last rest.
"Interesting. Where to now?" Lucius' disembodied voice asked blithely, adding in a threatening whisper: "She will not escape me!”
"Us, Lucius! She will not escape us," I breathed back quietly but no less dangerously.