Finally, the last chapter. It's a bit long at 10K words - and hurried at times - but I really wanted this story done.
"Nice place you've got here, Alonzo." Hermione was at Alonzo's spacious two bedroom apartment in Milan. She could see the San Siro stadium in the distance from the window, home to two of the greatest football teams on the continent. Her father would have killed to be here.
It had been a strange week since her escape from Hospital. The mission to borrow (sans checking out) the carnivorous scroll from the library in Alexandria had gone well, though Terry had suffered a broken arm when his hummingbird animagus form had gotten hit by a closing door. He'd been moaning about the anxieties of being a very small animal ever since. Tatyana had stuffed a Piglet plush toy in his mouth when she visited him in hospital.
Then had come the news that Alonzo was resigning his position as a Dagger to look after his newly orphaned baby niece. Everyone had been shocked, and Daniel had been seen trying to convince Alonzo otherwise for two hours in his office. But Alonzo was determined. He loved his job, he enjoyed the adrenalin rushes that came with their missions, but he loved his niece more. He owed it to his dead sister to not leave her child without any living relative. He could not just throw himself into danger any more, not when he had someone to live for.
It was that phrase - someone to live for - that had been bouncing around in Hermione's mind ever since. Judging by the subdued and meditatory attitudes of the Tees recently, she was not the only one affected.
What most Daggers held in common was the fact that they were fundamentally alone in life. No-one to live for. Their teammates were the closest thing they had to family.
Alonzo was to be Obliviated of all his memories of his missions. He would remember his teammates, but not what they had done together.
He would not remember that time when Tatyana had taken a curse for him during a skirmish in Abuja while he was shoving potions down a semi-conscious Daniel's throat.
He would not remember that time when he had protected Hermione from falling debris in Saskatoon.
He would not remember that time when Daniel had dressed up in gypsy costume and used him as a dancing bear in the streets of Berlin.
He would not remember that time when he had had to kiss Terry to convince border guards in Bangkok that they were really a pair of poofs on honeymoon.
He would not remember that time when Hermione had cried into his chest thinking about two betrayed boys in Afghanistan.
It all led Hermione to think. Was she capable of leaving the Daggers? She had several magical thingamajigs in her, implanted in her during that series of post-Azkaban operations. They were now part of her body, and irremovable. She was sure one of them was a tracking device. And that another was an experimental anti-Obliviation charm, judging by that Abuja mission when a very competent Kano mage had erased the team's memory of a sensitive discovery. She had been the only one unaffected.
If Elsa Jones ever decided to leave the Daggers, would she be permitted to remain alive? She knew too much. If they couldn't Obliviate her, would they kill her? It would be on the sly, of course. They'd slip an undetectable poison in some Fanta she bought at a cinema or something. She would live a half-life, always looking over her shoulder, always on the run because she couldn't be trusted to keep her mouth shut.
A squawling sound broke her from her reverie. Alonzo was walking down the stairs holding an infant in his arms. A year old, Hermione judged. Or less.
"Elsa, this is my niece Steffi," he said as he placed her down on the carpeted floor.
Hermione got on her knees, encouraging the girl to crawl to her. "Come on, Steffi! Come here! Viens ici, ma cherie!"
Steffi was a fast crawler. She was full of energy, and it was not surprising to Alonzo when she suddenly fell asleep about an hour later.
"She does that," he explained to Hermione as he placed her in a crib in the living room. "She only has two speeds - zero and extra-fast. Maria - my house elf nanny - is amazing."
Hermione didn't bother asking if Maria was paid. This was Italy, where House Elves were treated with respect, not enslaved like they were in the backwaters of Britain.
"I make a good mocha," said Alonzo. "Want one? And yes, I'll put in extra dark chocolate."
"That would be nice," replied Hermione as she settled herself on a bar stool to watch the Healer.
"You don't have to look so down," he said as he measured out the beans. "You can still visit me. Just because I won't remember the details does not mean I won't forget that you lot are my friends. Assuming you want to visit me, of course."
"I'll be sure to visit Steffi. She's a cutie. If her uncle happens to be around at the same time, well..." She sighed theatrically. "Then I suppose I'll be forced to say a few words to him too."
He chuckled. "As Terry would say, babies are good chick magnets."
Hermione smiled. "And you, of course, are the living embodiment of Terry D'Acosta's myriad pronouncements."
"Of course," smirked Alonzo.
"Looking forward to settling down, then? Finding a hot young wife, playing rugby more often, working at the hospital, not having to worry about your head getting blown off every third day?"
Alonzo placed a cup of mocha in front of her and sat on a bar stool opposite her.
"I am looking forward to playing more rugby," he said immediately. "I don't know if I'm going to miss treating battle wounds."
"You could always join Medecins Sans Frontiers or the International Red Cross like that," suggested Hermione. "Though that might defeat the purpose." She glanced at Steffi. "How long will she sleep for?"
"Two hours," he replied. "Then she'll wake up and try to run around for a bit, then collapse, then I'll take her to bed, read her a bedtime story, and wait for her to fall asleep. Very boring, I'm sure."
Hermione looked at the sleeping child again. "I wanted kids once, you know. Potter's. I dreamt of little boys running around with their father's messy hair and my eyes. I dreamt of a little girl who I could encourage to be as smart as she could be, and still have friends. I would teach them spells. Their father would teach them how to fly. But he never looked at me that way. I was forever the sister, or the research whore." She sighed. "Don't worry, I'm not pining for Potter or anything. Just for the dreams that a naive teenager once had. What did you dream of when you were fifteen?"
"To protect my sister," said Alonzo slowly. "And I failed."
It was around that time, her arms around her friend, trying to comfort him, trying to tell him that he was not responsible for the death of his sister, hugging him harder, wondering why she was so affected by the way he smelt ... that she realized that things could not go on the way they were. It was time to get her backup plans in motion.
Fleur's cottage was surprising to most people who entered. For a start, it actually looked like people lived there. Magazines were scattered everywhere, on fashion, archeology, Curse Breaking, Quidditch. Muggle magazines too, the New Yorker and National Geographic being prime among them. The walls were covered with souveniers from all over the world - tapestries, tribal masks, batik, necklaces, staffs, shields...
"You've really done well with this place." Luna's comments were genuine, and Fleur beamed. "I bet Hermione would love to see it as well."
Fleur's eyes widened. Then they narrowed as she looked at Luna, who remained blissfully and calculatedly oblivious.
"Hermione?" bit out Fleur. "As in Hermione Granger?"
"Of course," said Luna, peering closely at a picture of a couple of snorkacks entitled 'Okapi Mother and Foal'. "She is a very curious woman, you know. Insatiable, really. Loyal, too."
To her credit, Fleur recovered quickly. She fingered her wand, ready to act if this woman was not really Luna. "What are you talking about?" asked Fleur. "She killed Bill's sister!"
"Did you know there are fifteen different kinds of Polyjuice?" countered Luna. "Did you know," she said, now peering at a necklace of painted sea shells, "that some of them can last for a week? You'd have to use Basilisk skin instead of boomslang skin, so it's not a very useful recipe. I wonder if Hermione knows about it at Baret. She looks very different now."
"Who are you?" demanded Fleur. This time, there was no attempt to be subtle. Her wand was a foot away from Luna's nose.
Luna reached up her hand so it was touching Fleur's wand. "I swear on my magic that I am Luna Marie Lovegood. Lumos!"
Fleur's wand glowed. The Frenchwoman looked at it, wondering if the oath Luna had just taken was valid.
"I could repeat it with my own wand if you like," offered Luna. "Where did you get this necklace from?"
"Just sit down, Luna," muttered Fleur. "It's from Sri Lanka, from the Koggala beach. You want it?"
"No thank you," replied Luna serenely. "Nargles will get in the sea shells if someone wears it. Not that that is a bad thing. If they are Asian Nargles, they can help you breathe underwater."
Fleur raised an eyebrow. "I would like to see that." She walked to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of apples, returned to the living room, threw one to Luna, and bit into her own. "Alright, you win. Hermione Granger is alive and works for Baret. You tell me what you know, I'll tell you what I know."
Luna considered her opponent, determining how to proceed. "Have you seen her?" she asked. When Fleur shook her head, Luna took out a photograph she had made from her Pensieve memories.
"This is when I saw her in Dublin," said Luna. "She was not wearing a glamour, but you can see that her nose and chin look different. Her hair is much shorter." As Fleur examined the photograph, the British witch continued. "I do not know what she does at Baret, but it is security related. Probably Curse Breaking, given her qualifications. She was at Gabrielle's wedding."
"Oui, this is what she looks like now. The hair suits her, she really could not manage it before." Fleur took another bite of her apple.
"I thought you said you had not seen her," Luna pointed out curiously.
"I saw a memory of her," replied Fleur. "In the memory, she swore on her magic that she had not murdered Ginevra."
Luna blinked, surprised. "Do you still have the memory?"
Fleur shook her head. "No, though perhaps we can get it through Gilles. I can give you a memory of the memory, but you know the problems with that."
Luna nodded. Such a meta-memory would be horribly fuzzy. She decided to offer the last bit of information she had, out of fairness to their agreement. "Hermione is a lioness animagus."
Fleur acknowledged the dribble-dribble of the information exchange. "Her name is Elsa Jones, and she does do Curse Breaking for Baret."
"Elsa?" Luna began to giggle. "You're joking! Good one, Hermione!" Her giggles had now graduated to full blown hysterical laughter.
Fleur looked puzzled, and - once she had recovered somewhat - Luna began to explain the story of Friederike Gessner.
Richard Cheni had had a very good day. He had finally got that promotion, and now he could stop going out with that naive bookworm. He had only gone out with her so that he could take credit for her work. It was her own fault for being too stupid a lovesick fool to believe him as he brought her flowers and chocolate and even - oh, the pain! - went out with her in public. How dare she believe that someone as handsome as him would go out with someone as homely as her! No, she was a fool, he was not, and he got promoted. End of.
Now he could concentrate on real women again. Such as that fine young redhead at the bar there. Yes, she was definitely giving him a look. Ouch, that was a sudden headache. He thought back to the events of the day again. Ah, the headache had ended. How unusual. Well, he could go talk to her now.
She seemed very pleased to see him. Within two minutes, they had left the club and were passing by an alleyway. Smiling seductively, she drew him there.
Then all he knew was pain. Then blackness.
Another early morning in the cafeteria. Daniel was going through his morning briefings when Hermione joined him. He motioned to her to sit down. She did so, without taking her robes off, which was unusual.
"You alright?" he asked.
Hermione shook her head. "I need help, boss." She looked oddly depressed, down, resigned.
"Sure. What's the problem?"
She took a letter out of her pocked and tossed it on the table. Daniel reached out to it before pausing. She nodded. He picked it up and read it in ten seconds.
"I see," he mused. "Gabrielle Baret wishes to meet you."
"I don't bloody want to meet her!"
"Then write a polite letter back, telling her you do not wish to do so. Make something up if you must. She'll take a hint."
"No, she won't," replied Hermione. "You've been dealing with reasonable Amazons like Tati and I for too long. The closest she'll ever get to Amazon is ordering lipstick online. She's a fucking spoilt brat, a gorram Barbie, and won't take no for an answer. She'll keep asking and asking, she'll get her pet husband to threaten me with my job if I don't comply to her demands on high."
Daniel was mildly surprised by her vehemence.
"I would like to think better of Gilles," said Daniel ambiguously before getting to the heard of the matter. "Elsa. What is your underlying fear?"
Elsa blinked. She sipped her coffee, she tried to think, she tried to admit, she failed.
"May I put words in your mouth?" asked Daniel. Hermione waved him to continue. "Do you not want to communicate in any way with anyone from your old life?"
Hermione considered this, then nodded.
"I see," said Daniel. "What if they want to apologize to you? Would this give you any sense of closure?"
"I don't want closure," stated Hermione decidedly. "I want the anger. I want the hate. I want the adrenalin. I want them to fucking stew in their fucking guilt for the rest of their fucking lives." She picked up Gabrielle's letter and spat on it. "I just want you to know that if Barbie Baret here pushes me one more gorram time, I'm quitting the company."
Daniel flinched. He was still recovering from the shock of Alonzo's resignation. "Would it come to that?" he asked softly, seriously.
Hermione sighed. "Yeah, it would. I've already got a letter all written out, and am really frazzled right now."
A scrawny runt of a girl stood at the edge of the playground. Her hair was dirty and she smelled. That was why she was alone, why she was teased. 'Smelly Sarah', they called her - and that was one of the more polite names. A group of bigger girls approached, and she tried to hide the book she was reading. They pushed her to the ground. By the time she was left alone, her book was much the worse for wear, with several pages ripped out. She tearfully collected them, knowing that the librarian would never let her borrow one again.
The watcher sighed, and invaded the girl's mind.
Sarah didn't know who her father was.
Sarah's mother was an illegal immigrant who loved her, but had to work three cleaning jobs and couldn't look after her daughter herself. She left Sarah in the capable hands of her church-going boyfriend.
Sarah was touched. A lot. By those hands.
The watcher withdrew from her mind. The boyfriend, whose address she now knew, would not be touching much of anything after ... oh, an hour should do it.
The watcher pointed her hand at the book. 'Reparo.'
Sarah's eyes widened, backing away from the book as the pages leaped back into it. She looked around, terrified, but there was no-one there. After a couple of minutes, she had enough courage to touch the book. Another minute before she opened it.
The book's pages were fine. As good as new. They even had a crisp new hundred euro note in them.
And a postcard with a lioness.
Eighty years later, Sarah would be buried with that postcard, having lived a surprisingly good life. She had loved, she had been loved, she had had a career, she had helped others, she had been helped... she had lived.
"So she's innocent?" asked Harry for the fifth time.
Luna nodded. Her face was serious, no trace of Loony behaviour anywhere. She usually dropped that mask when she was alone with him.
"Damn," he said, putting his face in his hands. "Potter, you fucking bastard."
And, for the first time since he was seven years old, Harry Potter began to sob.
"No!" huffed Gabrielle. "This is unacceptable. Granger must come home, to her friends. Harry needs to be forgiven."
"Yes dear," said Gilles. Pleasing his wife was a higher priority than the blabberings of some Baret employee, even a Dagger. Besides, the Granger girl owed the Baret family her life. The psychological healing of closure helped everyone, no matter how much they didn't want it. "I'll tell Philippe."
Philippe Santos was not in a good mood. First, that new Baret wife was on a crusade to ruin the life of one of his favourite Daggers. He had seen his niece's memories of Hermione in Azkaban; he had some idea of what she'd been through. And Gilles Baret was following her beck and call, like any new and spineless husband. He had not been surprised when Hermione had turned in her resignation. And now a bunch of Baret executives and experts was busy discussing how to deal with it. The meeting was rapidly devolving into politics and egos, which was hardly surprising.
The standard procedure was to agree, organize some farewell event, Obliviate her of all mission knowledge, and release her to the wild so that she could enjoy the fruits of her labour for the past few years.
Unfortunately, owing to one of the devices they had implanted in her, Elsa could not be Obliviated.
Solution One: Remove said device.
Problem: Like many of the other devices, this was experimental, and Hermione was a test bed for it. (Ninety percent of the devices they had implanted in her had failed to work.) It had also been placed in some other 'volunteers'. The last two times they had tried to remove such a device, the host's brain had putzed out and died.
Solution Two: Have Elsa swear on her magic that she would not tell anyone of her missions.
Problem: As the whole Elsa/Hermione saga proved in the first place, oaths could be gotten around.
Solution Three: Tell Elsa that she could never stop working at Baret.
Problem: Hermione did not have a track history of following rules when she felt there were 'higher rules' in operation. And her Elsa persona was a lot more individualistic.
Solution Four: Kill Elsa.
Problem: As far as some members of this meeting were concerned, there was no problem with this solution.
Richard Cheni had not had a very good day. After a horrible night - had he really been screaming? - he had found himself telling everyone how he had stolen the work of that horrid homely workmate of his. It was as if he had been fast-penta-ed - struck with a truth serum all day.
Witch! The bookworm must be a witch! She'd put a spell on him. How dare she take the credit for her own work? (And how dare she shrink his penis to three inches?)
It was immoral, promoting people who weren't beautiful, who didn't have the drive to get ahead. Nice people were meant to finish last.
He'd been fired. His career was finished.
He was going to kill her.
Damnit! Kittens again! Why was he thinking of kittens! Every time he thought of any violent thoughts, he thought of kittens! Adorable little fluffy white and black kittens playing with fucking yarn!
Yarn. Needles. He was going to stick needles in that bitch.
He screamed as his mind was filled with ten thousands yowling kittens.
Richard Cheni did not for a moment think that his life had been targeted by a real witch, who had nothing to do with the former colleague he had swindled. Nor did he realize just how soon it would be before his life and soul was sucked from him.
The four-person dagger team was quiet as they entered the room with the book. Alonzo had retired, and the group dynamic had not yet recovered. There was a Healer with them - all teams had to have one on a mission. Her name was Akela, and she was a no-nonsense Lycan. She didn't speak much either, though she did smile more often than Alonzo did. Pleasant enough.
Though Hermione did wonder if it was traditional for Dagger Delta to always have a Healer who could rip you apart if they wanted. The Healer for Dagger Alpha was a four foot eight yoga-loving sprite who could fit in a large backpack.
The mission was simple - to investigate the Dark scroll they had brought back. She looked at the volunteers they had retrieved from Philippe's stores. They were a couple of transfigured plastic figurines. One was a male serial rapist, while the other was a female who had been a pivotal part of a child slavery network in Benin. Hermione had no ethical qualms about using them as human guinea pigs.
Daniel nodded at her, and she un-transfigured the rapist. Terry stunned him at once, and Tatyana joined him in placing a number of sensors and tracking devices on the man.
"Is he already castrated?" asked Akela.
Hermione looked at the notes she had received with the prisoners. "Yes," she replied, quickly running through her head whether that should make any difference to the experiments. "All three bits were surgically removed three years ago."
Akela looked at him in disgust. "Good." She looked like she would have been quite happy to do the job with her bare hands if the answer had been otherwise. "If those librarians are alive in that book, I don't want to be throwing additional dangers at them."
"Is he ready for his trip?" asked Daniel.
"Yeah," said Terry, Enervating the prisoner and giving him some water. "How long do we wait before we send Bob in?"
"Two minutes," said Akela reflexively. "Over to you, Elsa."
Elsa raised her right arm at the prisoner that Terry had dubbed 'Bob'. "Imperio Hypnosa," she intoned. "You will begin reading the book. If the book sucks you into another dimension, you will keep talking softly about what you see. You will explore. If you hear my voice in your head, you will obey. You will return to your entry point to that dimension in one hour."
"Should be good," said Akela, looking at her watch. "Send the prickless prick in."
Hermione let Bob off the curse, and he yelled and screamed inanities for about ten seconds before the orders kicked in. He walked over to the scroll and began reading the book.
Half an hour later, he was still reading it. Akela monitored him carefully, with several diagnostic charms and readings. Hermione was monitoring a set of readings as well. The others had their own sensors to monitor too.
"There's a change in the scroll," said Tatyana suddenly.
Hermione stood to look over her shoulder. "It's consistent with a portal opening," she replied. "Everyone, get comfy with your weapons in case something comes through. Not that it should." She stood down to watch her readings. "Bob's Zenfalt levels are fluctuating at three degrees half width."
It wasn't long before Akela and Hermione were exchanging a lot of jargon that even Daniel had trouble following. He was able, however, to convey to the Tees that the prisoner - who by now was halfway through the portal - was physically unaffected for the most part, but magically was in great flux.
"Why is it taking so long though?" muttered Terry. "I thought you could get through a Portal pretty quickly!"
"Beats me," whispered Tatyana. "Maybe they'll try pushing the next one through."
Ten minutes later, the first prisoner was entirely through the portal.
"Well?" asked Daniel as the two witches frantically monitored their equipment. "Is the sod alive? Where's the camera?"
"Physically, he's fine," said Akela. "Wait, let get the visual sensors on. There."
They all turned to look at the plasma screen where they could now see what 'Bob' could see. It wasn't what they had expected.
Bob was in the middle of a bustling city market. Vendors were hawking foodstuffs and trinkets, youngsters were running around... and the locals were looking at Bob with great curiosity and much bewilderment.
"They're fucking orcs!" exclaimed Terry.
"That's where I've seen them before!" exclaimed Hermione in agreement. "From the drawings Tolkien made!"
Tatyana was too surprised to say anything. Akela was busy observing the orc children.
"Just because they look like orcs doesn't mean they are," Daniel pointed out. "Orcs are just the nearest creatures in appearance to these ugly critters. Have Bob try talk to them. Perhaps that fishmonger."
"Before they eat him," added Tatyana, who had rediscovered her tongue. "They're starting to look at him like he's made of groceries."
Hermione gave the order to Bob to walk over to the fishmongers. He did so, but his attempts to communicate were unsuccessful. That was despite the translation charms he'd been outfitted with and the surprising interest of the 'orc' behind the counter in communication.
"I don't know this language," said Tatyana, who spoke six languages naturally. "Elsa?"
"I can't even work out the family of languages," replied Hermione.
"Have you seen how loving they are with their children?" asked Akela. Sure enough, the miniature Orcs, who looked like odd human children with bizarre ridges on their heads, seemed to be having a grand time running around the market. Their parents - both mothers and fathers - were quite proud and affectionate with them.
Then the camera went all funny and rolled a lot before coming to a halt. They could see Bob's body next to the fishmongers, blood gushing from its neck.
"What happened?" asked Terry, though he could guess.
"Bob lost his head," sighed Daniel, who sat down on the sofa with a huge ker-plomp.
"I guess the two librarians aren't alive now," said Tatyana. "This seems to be good place to lose one's head."
"Notice how nobody seems surprised?" asked Hermione, her eyes still glued to the plasma screen. "Look, those guys at the fishmongers are wearing uniforms. They've got swords - those look like scimitars - out. They're examining the blood - they seem surprised. Maybe their blood isn't red? What are the atmospheric readings on this place?"
Akela peered over her sensors. "I can't tell," she said. "These aren't ones I'm used to. Daniel?"
"Hmm," said Daniel as he walked over. "I've not seen these kinds of atmo analyzers for ten years. Supplies must really be running low if they gave you these critters. Anyway, it's an atmosphere similar to earth, but there's a lot less methane and carbon dioxide."
"What was the atmosphere like five thousand years ago?" asked Tatyana. "That's when the cartoons say Middle Earth was."
"This isn't Middle Earth," muttered Daniel, but he checked a few things on his console. "Although - this is interesting - the atmospheric breakdown is consistent with five to ten thousand years ago. Less methane, much less carbon dioxide."
There was silence as they contemplated this. In the magical world, it was well known that Tolkien was a half-goblin who wore glamours all the time - one for when he was among Muggles, one for wizards, one for goblins. He was a historian, not a fiction writer. What was in question was how he got so much information - that he had played around too often with a Time Turner was a popular theory.
"They're dragging the body away now," said Hermione. "And - fuck! - they've put the head in a fucking sack! How dare they? Do they know how bad reception is from the inside of a burlap bag?" She looked around to see the amused glances of the others. "Whatever."
"You alright, Elsa?" asked Tatyana quietly when Hermione came over.
"I'm good," muttered Hermione. "Just seen too many things today, that's all." That wasn't strictly true - too many things had happened to her in the past week. Her interactions with that Cheni bastard and the poor Sarah girl had affected her in different ways. Sarah's mother's boyfriend was now pushing daisies, and Cheni - now equipped with a fancy new watch - was on borrowed time. Dishing out justice was all very well, but playing god was never recommended for the psyche.
Batman must be bloody glad he doesn't exist, mused Hermione. She had a sudden image of Hera at a stall marked 'Psychiatric help - five drachma' on the slopes of Mount Olympus, and barely managed to avoid giggling. Oh, she was so off today. Well, she was only operating on twenty percent.
"How about we dress the next prisoner as an Orc and send her in?" suggested Terry.
"Good idea," said Daniel, who could see Hermione nodding. "But we need more time to look at all the other data the sensors sent back."
There was general agreement to this. Tatyana went to take care of the scroll, whispering sweet nothings to it in Russian and covering it with a hefty black cloth.
Hermione looked at the second letter. Oh, she had to meet the Weasels and Potter, did she?
Then she had a nasty little idea. She'd tell dear old Mrs Baret that sure, she would. As long as certain conditions were met.
And then she sent off her resignation, effective in two weeks. After all, her plans were all but complete.
Hermione sat on the edge of the pier, dangling her legs over the side. She wondered what the gulls she was feeding would react if she suddenly turned into a lioness and leaped out at them. Most birds were poor learners; how long would it take before they ever got this close to a human again?
The heavy, steady footsteps indicated that it was Alonzo. Finally.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. The babysitter was late. May I join you?"
"Sure," she replied, having been expecting him for the last ten minutes.
He lowered his body to mirror hers, and she handed him the bag of breadcrumbs. He blinked at them, in the manner of one contemplating the potential snackiness of a new and untried snack, before resignedly flinging a handful at the gulls. Neither spoke for several minutes.
"When I was a kid," said Hermione suddenly, "there was a film which had a bit with a poor old woman who sold bags of breadcrumbs. She sang a song 'Feed the birds, tuppence a bag'. My mother used to sing it to me to put me to sleep. I wasn't very good at being put to sleep, especially when I discovered how much you could read with a torch under your pillow."
Alonzo picked out a single breadcrumb and flicked it at the gulls.
"We miss you at work," said Hermione. Her last throw of breadcrumbs could almost be called violent.
"Sorry," he replied. "Thanks for the compliment. I don't suppose you can tell me what kind of work I did."
Hermione smirked. "You were a Healer, of course."
"Did I ever get to see you naked?" he smirked back.
"Course you did. Many times."
"Ah. Er - did we - er?"
"In a purely professional capacity."
"I'm a bit of a klutz at work. All of us are, really. Always getting knocked about and all that. We must suffer from some sort of collective vestibulary disorder."
"Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me everything?"
Hermione beamed at him. "Would this face lie to you?" She even batted her eyelashes theatrically.
Alonzo snorted. "Lucifer was the most beautiful of angels." Silence. "How was your day today?"
"Same old, same old. Saw a girl in the park. Her mother's boyfriend is abusive. I needed a sacrifice for a Satanic ritual. So I killed him. I'm happy. The girl is happy. Satan is happy. Gaia is happy."
Alonzo turned to look at her. His dimunitive friend, who didn't look capable of paddling a misbehaving puppy, had a poker face on. "Domestic violence is a tricky thing," he commented at long last. "Too many battered women allow their partners to abuse them. I confess to never having understood the syndrome. But I am a man."
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know if the mother is happy. I didn't ask her opinion."
Alonzo mentally crossed Elsa Jones off his list of people to play poker with. "Let us suppose that you, hypothetically -"
"Hypothetically?" queried Hermione, deciding to lie down with her head in his lap. "What, you can't believe lil' ol' me could do the whole human sacrifice thing?"
Alonzo considered how to backpedal. From what he remembered of his old friend, accusing her of incapability in something was a recipe for experimenting with new Hexes from the wrong side of the wand. Especially if there was a possible gender bias involved.
"I don't believe you believe in Satan," he finally said. "You're too sensible for that. Aren't you atheist?"
"Atheist? Moi? Hell, no. I believe in all the Egyptian deities."
"So you were talking about Set, not Satan?"
"He is referred to as Setan in some ancient Egyptian scrolls," pointed out Hermione. "Moses was Egyptian-raised, remember? When he was writing the Pentateuch, he stole his name when he needed an adversary to counteract that Yahweh god creature he invented."
Alonzo was intrigued, though he was still not sure if Elsa was speaking tongue-in-cheek. "So you don't believe in all the modern religions?"
"No patriarchal society could have a true religion," explained Hermione. "The mother goddess wouldn't have it. Abraham was a delusional Squib, a very weak wizard at best. He just happened to be a good con man with some lucky breaks. And Moses wrote about him very flatteringly."
"Weren't the Egyptians patriarchal?" asked Alonzo. He was having a pleasant time stroking Hermione's hair as it lay in his lap.
"Not until about 1500 B.C.," replied Hermione. "Before 3000 B.C., Egyptian society was matriarchal. Then invaders started coming in from the North, with their male dominated cultures. It's when Osiris turned up. Between those fifteen centuries, Egyptian society changed - for the worse, of course."
"So you believe in some Egyptian gods, but not Osiris?"
"I confess to not having a definite opinion on the bloke," she answered with a pout.
"If Osiris didn't have a penis, would you be more inclined to believe in him?"
"You're going to accuse me of loathing men next, aren't you?"
"See? You just accused me of it! I must have Seer blood. My Inner Eye is truly magnificent."
"You're avoiding the question."
"Men are alright, I suppose. As long as you know your place."
"Which is?" asked Alonzo, amused.
"Not on top," grinned Hermione.
Philippe Santos' face was stony as he signed an execution order for Elsa Jones. Gabrielle and Gilles Baret were not his favourite people at the moment.
The second prisoner was a lot more vocal in expressing her discontent with the status quo. She was shackled but not Petrified; Tatyana was busy making her look like an Orc (as they were calling the creatures), with frequent references to the visuals Bob had collected before he lost his head.
"You want me to go into a world full of monsters?" she demanded.
"From what I understand," said Daniel, not even bothering to look at the witch, "you sold thousands into slavery. Including selling your own daughters into prostitution when they were ten. You are a monster, so you should feel right at home."
She continued to swear colourfully in a mixture of French and Yoruba. Hermione had the sense that Terry was barely refraining from taking notes. But the woman was getting on her nerves, so Hermione silenced her.
"Hey!" yelled Terry. "She was about to tell me what I could do to a goat!"
"I'm sure you can get your mutton recipes from the internet, Terry," muttered Hermione. "Oooh, nice work, Tati."
Tatyana had just finished her final touches on the 'Orc'.
"Impressive," commented Terry, looking admiringly at the shackled slave trader. "Those sharpened teeth are an illusion, right?"
"You definitely brought out her inner monster," said Daniel. "Exquisite costuming, Tatyana."
"She doesn't smell," said Akela without looking up.
"Fuck!" said Tatyana in agreement.
"Excellent point, Akela. Do you know what she should smell like?" asked Daniel.
"Course I do, boss. I attached a nasal sensor to Bob yesterday," replied Akela, handing over some readings to Tatyana, who snatched them and began reading intently. "Dunno how you humans claim to have six senses when you only ever use five."
Nobody argued with that. The human sense of smell was a running joke amongst enhanced species.
The second prisoner had sent back lots of useful information before they retrieved her - in one piece and alive. The portal had opened up in a different place, with no marketplaces in sight. She had ended up in the middle of a forest, and the plant life had tallied well with Tolkien's descriptions. Daniel had grudgingly admitted that perhaps this was Middle Earth, but that they should kiss goodbye to any dreams of seeing Aragorn or Arwen.
"Why not the Elves then?" asked Terry. "They're immortal, right? Surely Elrond must be around here somewhere."
As Hermione watched Daniel chew Terry out, she continued to feel down in the dumps. This place, wherever it was, was fascinating. And now she was about to leave Baret. Was it worth it? How difficult would it be to see her former friends again? She could accept their worthless apologies, and then disappear from their lives again. Missions like this - wasn't this why she joined Baret?
She had not joined Baret to explore strange new worlds. (Baret was not Starfleet, she reminded herself.)
She had joined Baret to escape her past. (And to not be bored, but she could find interesting things to do by herself now. She wasn't the shy wallflower that Hermione Granger had been.)
And she was going to damn well escape it. And escape Baret when they tried to kill her.
"Suit up, Elsa. We're going in."
Ah. So Daniel would be her executioner. She sighed, and began plotting how to protect him. From the guilt he would feel when he killed her.
I am not very good at writing letters. This is the fortieth or fiftieth time I've tried to write this. I'm sorry. I'm just so sorry. If there's anything I can do, let me know.
I would like to say a lot more, but I don't know how to.
I didn't mean to cast Aduro. Really, I didn't. I didn't know what it did. I remembered seeing a list of curses once, in alphabetical order. Aduro was at the top. If I had known what it did... okay, maybe I would have cast it anyway. I'm just so sorry, I was so angry, so confused.
I was a fool. I am a fool. I have always been a fool.
The letter, like a dozen previous ones, met a fiery ending before Hermione read it. It was an astonishing coincidence really, the way letters from her old life met such ignominious deaths before they got to her. One might almost think that a single person - such as the intended reader - didn't want the intended reader to read them.
Hermione didn't like burning books, but individual bits of papyrus were another story entirely.
Hermione and Daniel sat around a campfire in the Other World a.k.a. That-Place-Daniel-Katic-Refuses-To-Admit-Is-Middle-Earth. They had been exploring all day, sending back reports every hour. They both wore Orcish glamours.
They had spoken of many things, except the one most pertinent to both of them. Finally, however, Daniel brought it up.
"Elsa, you do know I'm supposed to kill you."
Hermione shrugged, not denying it. Her full-tongue goodbye kisses to both Terry and Tati before she got into the portal said it all.
"Can you reconsider?" begged Daniel. "Talk to the damned Potter and his Weasley horde. I've told you I'll come with you. Hell, we'll all come with you, to give you support. We'll hex them all so badly they won't be able to find their eyeballs. Elsa! You love this job." He fell silent again, realizing that he'd said all he could. "Please," he added.
They watched the fire crackling for another twenty minutes. Hermione checked her portable monitoring equipment - she was running a half dozen of sensor-equipped crows in circles of increasing radius centered around the campsite - while Daniel made another report home.
"We better put the fire out," said Hermione. "I'm picking up a party of five human-sized individuals three miles from us to the East."
Daniel nodded, and began killing the flames manually. They wanted to limit the amount of fire to use.
"The whole Gabrielle-Potter thing is just part of it," explained Hermione finally. "I hadn't realized just how much of a slave to Baret I am. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for all the surgery, for the job. But I don't have the right to leave, just because they made a mistake with one of the devices? I fought against Voldemort for years, losing my parents in the process, so that I wouldn't be a slave in his new world order. And now what am I? A slave. A highly-paid slave, yes, but I want to be more than a gladiator."
Daniel nodded in understanding. "Have you considered the option of staying in this dimension?"
Hermione nodded. "Sure. I wouldn't, though. I like our world."
"Let me get this straight here," said Daniel, scratching his head. "You know I'm supposed to kill you. You want to remain alive, because you like our world. Why don't you kill me before I kill you?"
"Would you let me?" asked Hermione. "Let me kill you?" She appeared to be genuinely curious.
Daniel considered this. "I'm an assassin, Elsa. I'm not sure my reflexes would allow it." He kicked a half-burnt tree branch. "Dammit, girl, what have you got up your sleeve?"
Hermione grinned at him before checking her equipment again. "That party is two miles away now. We better get out of here." She shut her eyes. She had lied about how far the Orcs where. She'd managed to invade their minds finally, though linguistic difficulties prevented her from giving them exact orders. She had managed to get them far more angry at her than at Daniel... if everything went to plan, he would be the only one leaving alive.
"She's not coming back, is she?"
Terry ignored Tatyana's softly spoken words and busied himself with some new charms he was working on. He had known that Elsa had handed in her resignation, thanks to the interference of that Gabrielle barbie. The goodbye snog from his favourite female buddy had been better than anything he'd ever expected, but had scared the shit out of him.
Tatyana, seeing that he wasn't going to respond, returned to alternately doing katas and taking her aggression out on a well-pummelled punching bag hanging in a corner of their large working area. Every five minutes she returned to have a look at the readings sent back by the sensors worn by the two explorers of The-Place-That-Was-Middle-Earth-No-Matter-How-Long-Daniel-Katic-Denied-It.
Akela had gone to bed, though not home. Like any other Lycan who had accepted their dual self, her animagus form was a wolf. She was curled up underneath her desk in lupine form.
Half an hour passed. It was two in the morning now, and Terry was feeling sleepy. He'd been hoping to work himself to exhaustion and fall asleep on the carpet.
Later he would swear that he was at Tatyana's side before he actually woke up. By the time he had moved past mere grogginess, he could see Akela and Tatyana frantically checking instruments.
"What's the matter?" he yelled at the Russian. She didn't answer him, so he grabbed her shoulders to get some answers. A second later he was going over her shoulders and hitting the ground hard. Wincing in pain, he reminded himself that there was a reason, other than her sexual orientation, why he had never tried to date the judoka.
Tatyana didn't seem to have noticed her reflexive actions. "Elsa's hurt!" she cried.
Ignoring his back pains - despite all the carpeting, he had landed badly - he staggered to see what she was looking at. He didn't understand the details, but even he could see that Elsa's vital signs were near death.
"Daniel?" he asked.
"Katic is fine," pronounced Akela. "They are in close physical contact. I assume that means he's bringing her back."
"Can we go help?"
"You know we can't," replied the werewolf. "If you went through the portal now, there's no telling where you'd end up. It's all up to Katic now."
Ten minutes later, Akela reported that Elsa Jones' vital signs were zero. Hermione Granger was finally dead.
Twenty minutes later, Hermione's arrow-strewn corpse was pushed through the portal. There was also a javelin sticking through her chest. Daniel staggered through the portal soon afterwards, with several arrows in him. Unlike Hermione's, his were mostly in his non-fatal areas.
Richard Cheni had been feeling weak for a couple of days now. Finally, he collapsed, and his flesh seemed to melt off him. He would never awaken.
There was a watch on his bony wrist. A dark mist rose from it and coalesced into the shape of a young woman with long bushy brown hair. She looked at her new body with interest before glancing at the skeleton that she had used to power her Horcrux.
"Know-it-alls stand up for each other," she said to the bones, wondering how the woman who had been tricked by Cheni was now doing. Hopefully she was successful. She resisted the temptation to spit on him, since saliva was evidence.
"Accio cornflakes bowl," she said as she pointed to a cereal box with her right hand. Nothing happened. "Bugger. Looks like I'll have to get used to using an external wand again."
She walked over to the late Cheni's bathroom and stepped on the edge of the grimy bathtub. She reached out for the top of the medicine cabinet, to find the wand she had hidden above it when she had followed him home a week earlier.
Now armed and feeling euphoric with her resurrection, Hermione Granger returned to the living room to banish the skeleton and any other evidence.
The funeral of Elsa Jones was well attended. At least, it was until Gabrielle's insistence for the Weasleys and Potters to attend caused Hermione's Dagger team to boycott it. While Gilles Baret furiously yelled at Daniel to 'stop embarassing the family', the other Dagger teams asked his team mates what the deal was. At which point, the whole story of Elsa's Granger past was explained. After all, Hermione was dead - what did secrecy matter?
At which point, a very angry Themba Motwane called for a boycott of the event by all the Dagger teams. There was little resistance, and the Daggers promptly organized their own memorial service for Elsa in a pub in Glasgow. They were joined soon enough by various Arithmancers and librarians.
The official funeral went on as planned, though the fact that hardly any Baret employees attended was not met with good humour by Gabrielle and, by extension, Gilles. It wasn't a complete boycott, after all. Tatyana ensured that a handful of employees attended, to loudly explain to each other why the boycott had happened at all. It was quite humiliating for the Weasleys and Potters to arrive and then overhear how poorly they were viewed by Hermione's new friends. Harry in particular was viewed with contempt, with various Baretees openly pointing to him and whispering what a pathetic friend he was. Luna hadn't been happy - especially since she felt there was something off about the whole thing.
Fortunately, Gilles was kept in line by his older brother Pierre. Philippe had explained to him the Dagger side of the politics involved, and he had been furious that his new sister-in-law had caused the loss of three Daggers.
For only Terry remained in Baret employment after the funeral. Daniel had decided that Elsa was the last of his soldiers that he was going to have die in his arms (as had been the case), and had handed in his resignation. He was a spry sixty, very experienced, and a huge loss for Baret. Tatyana was completely pissed by the whole situation and decided to take up a long-standing offer from an old girlfriend to become a stuntwoman in Hollywood.
Luna Potter wasn't particularly surprised when she received an invitation to meet at that Irish pub in Dublin. She was six months pregnant now, so the bartender wasn't surprised when she just got some mineral water. She looked around the pub, and was surprised when she saw a woman who looked exactly like Hermione Granger but whose Aura did not match Hermione's in the least. The woman motioned her over.
"Sit down, Luna," said Hermione.
"Who are you?" asked Luna, suspicious. "You're not Hermione!"
Hermione cocked her head and looked at the blonde. There was a deep philosophical question here - was she Hermione? She had Hermione's memories, and eighty percent of her soul. Her body was a clone of the original Hermione's. Her Aura was different, thanks to being a resurrected Horcrux.
"It's not my problem what you believe, Potter," replied Hermione. "But let me offer you some ... proof, if you will. Hermione - Elsa - did write to you before she died, giving a clear condition for my forgiving him."
Luna looked wary.
"It was quite a simple condition, really," continued Hermione, idly examining her polished-but-unpainted fingernails. "The head of Ronald Weasley on a stick."
"I don't know who you are," said Luna, getting up in a huff. "Hermione never made any such demands, and I won't have you insulting her memory!" This was a lie on Luna's part, but she still wasn't sure who this witch was. For all she knew, it was some crazy plot by some Skeeter wannabe.
"Your mother died while making Canard's Seventh Potion," said Hermione calmly. This was something Luna had only ever told Harry and Hermione, with wand oaths from both of them to keep it a secret. The Potion was a very dark potion, and Luna didn't want anything to taint the official memory of her mother.
Luna's legs turned to jelly and she plopped down. "Hermione? What the fucking nargles happened to you?"
"I died," replied Hermione.
Luna's face turned ashen as she realized just what Hermione was.
"And I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me," added the brunette, glad for the Muffliato around them.
"You did a Tom?" asked Luna, avoiding the H-word. "How could you?"
"You and Gabrielle set of a sequence of events that led to my having to die," replied Hermione, playing the guilt card rather unfairly. Luna's deductions had not played any role in the events of the past six months. But Luna didn't know that. "I also realized that as long as there were people around who could recognize my Aura, I would never be safe. Creating a Horcrux took care of that little problem."
"I'm really sorry for all the trouble I caused," said Luna penitently. "I won't tell anyone about this meeting."
Hermione waved her apology aside magnanimously. "I sense there's a but coming along."
Luna wondered if she should say what she wanted to say. "I do have lots of questions," she admitted. "And I will get to them, if you permit me. But now this - why did you want to meet me? How could you trust me not to do what I did before?"
Hermione put down the Irish coffee she was nursing. "Simple. You're one of the few people I trust, and the only person from my old life. You were out of the country when Ginny was put down and I was thrown in jail, and I'm pretty confident you would have stood up for me or at least forced Harry to make sure I got a fair trial. You also happen to be the only person other than myself that I would trust with my first friend."
Luna said nothing for a minute, though she did wipe away a couple of tears. "Thank you, Hermione. That means a lot to me. The last bit especially." This was true. Luna often wondered if she was a poor second place to Hermione in Harry's psyche. "You still care about Harry, then?"
Hermione looked at her as if she was mad. "Care about Potter? Of course I do. I care about him so much, I want him to hurt and wallow in guilt until the day he dies." She shook out her hair and tied it into a tight ponytail while Luna winced. "So. Tell me. What did you do with the letter I sent to Gabrielle saying that I would be happy to meet you lot if I received Ron's head on a stick? I also sent the memory of Ron breaking my bones in Azkaban - did Potter see that?"
Luna shook her head. "In his current mental state, he would kill Ron. And that would put all the Weasleys against him. We don't need that."
"Hunh," replied Hermione, wondering if she should tell Luna that at that moment, Harry was receiving a second copy of the letter and the memory, as a 'posthumous' delivery from her bank. She decided not to. "I honestly don't see the problem. He's just a Weasley. It's not like there's any shortage of them."
"But Hermione, why so extreme? Why not just ask Harry to break every bone in Ron's body? Why kill him?"
Hermione looked at Luna pityingly. "You seem to be under the impression that I'm the same goody-two-shoes that I was at Pigwarts, Luna. I'm not a good person any more, thanks to you Brits." She motioned to the bartender to send over a Guiness. "I completely agree that my request punishes Weasley more than the crime normally deserves. But, you see, Weasley is a symbol, a reminder of the number of times your husband chose Weasley's side over mine. Do you know how many times Potter ever openly supported me against Weasley? Once. Out of, I don't know, I stopped counting after thirty. That's not friendship." She spread her arms in 'innocent' explanation. "If he is willing to kill his old friend - which he was willing to do to me - then I'll be more than happy to talk to him. Really talk."
Luna stared at her in disbelief. "Ron's got a kid!"
"Really?" drawled Hermione. "Who did he rape?"
"Hermione, that's excessive, even for this - " She waved her hands. "- new you. He is happily married to Lavender Brown."
"Really? My sources tell me he was busy screwing Nicole Hanstead in the Celtic Broomstic last week. Oh, here's my Guinness. Thanks, Chris!" Hermione gave the pub server a fifty euro tip, which was quite excessive and ensured that he wouldn't remember her presence there. "Don't worry about Lavender. I already sent her the photographs. She should be getting them... about two hours ago. The Daily Prophet got them as well, but I'm sure they won't be writing anything about it. After all, it's true and they've got solid evidence."
Luna pressed her hands to her head. All these surprises weren't good for the baby. But she didn't think she'd ever be seeing Hermione after this.
"Anything else I should know about?" asked the blonde-with-a-developing-migraine. "Is my husband screwing Sandy or something?"
"Who's Sandy?" asked Hermione, genuinely confused.
Hermione giggled. "Nice one. No, Harry is completely loyal to you. You're pureblood, you see."
Luna's forehead narrowed. "Surely you're not suggesting that Harry didn't trust you because you were Muggleborn?"
Hermione sniggered. "It's fun to get a rise out of someone with your level of unflappability. Seriously though, had I been Pureblood, I would have had family in the wizarding world, who would have been able to protect me. I would have had fewer enemies. Which brings up a different point. If I didn't kill Ginevra - which I probably should have done in retrospect, seeing as it saved Harry from the horrific fate of being married to the rabid fangirl - who did?"
Luna was glad to have a point of agreement again. "I've been trying to find that out too. All I can guess is that they weren't after Ginny. They were after you. They wanted you out of the picture."
"Yes, I figured that out, thank you very much. But why go to the trouble of framing me? Why not AK my fat arse?"
"Your arse was never fat."
"Thank you, but please desist from nitpicking my grand pronounce--- " Hermione halted in mid-sentence as she saw the latest entrant to the pub. "Prongs... " She regained her composure quickly. "I've often wondered how a stag could go running at night with a werewolf. Isn't it against all laws of self-preservation?"
Harry's Patronus cantered over to the two witches, somewhat dim after its light-speed trip across the Irish Sea. "Luna!" said Harry's voice. "You need to see this! I got a parcel from Hermione's will - and - and - I'm going to kill Ron!"
Luna looked up, horror-stricken. "You didn't! It's not like he can deliver Ron's head to you any more!"
"I do hope he enjoys the memories," rinned Hermione. "You didn't think I'd not have a second copy, did I? Tell you what. If he does kill Ron, I'll give you permission to tell him I'm alive. But you can only tell him afterwards."
Luna was already standing up and preparing to Apparate to the Dublin Portkey Station. "And if I tell him anyway?"
"Then I will kill you and your spawn," replied Hermione very seriously. "Harry will probably hunt me down and kill me, but imagine all the suffering he'll go through in the meantime. You don't want that. Even I don't want that. All I want is to disappear into the sunset, and never have to worry about you bastards again. Do you fucking understand me?"
Luna gulped, and nodded. "Hermione?" she said tentatively. "One more thing. Harry and I were talking about our girl - " She pointed to her belly. " - our girl's name. He wants to name her after you. Would you be okay with that?"
Hermione gave her an unreadable look. "You can name her after any Shakespearean character you choose. Except Katherina - unless you want your daughter to believe that the most useful thing she can do is have her spirit broken. I don't recommend Ophelia either, lovesick little anorexic twit."
Luna nodded and vanished with a sharp crack. Then she reappeared with another crack. "How will I find you?"
"Put a note on your webpage when you need me. Now scat."
"Ask any Mudblood," said Hermione with an airy wave of her hand.
Luna thought to protest, but decided against it. Hermione was, after all, lacking some soul, and was possibly on the road to madness. There was another sharp crack.
Hermione finished off her drink, and Apparated out.
It had been six months since Alonzo Chabal moved to Buenos Aires. He needed a change in this new life, especially given the way his previous life had fallen apart. Elsa Jones - Hermione Granger - a woman he still had feelings for - had been killed. Just when he thought she might have been having just a wee bit of feeling for him. Two of his other former team-mates had resigned and left the continent - Tatyana for Hollywood, Daniel to raise racing hippogriffs on his new sprawling estate in Morocco.
Besides, they played good rugby in Argentina.. even if football was the national religion.
There was a knock at the door. Must be the milkman, he thought. He was about to get up to answer it when Steffi, now eighteen months, squealed and raced to the door. She really was quick, he thought proudly.
"Hello!" greeted Steffi enthusiastically to the familiar-looking brunette visitor. (Steffi greeted every visitor enthusiastically.)
"Hello Steffi," said the woman, getting on her knees to greet Steffi eye-to-eye. "Remember me?" She looked up. "Hello Alonzo. Long time."
"Elsa?" spluttered Alonzo, almost dropping his cup of cocoa. He recognized Hermione from what she looked like before the surgery that turned her into Elsa Jones. "You're dead!"
Steffi pouted. The grown-ups were talking to each other now and ignoring her.
"You've really grown, Steffi darling," said Hermione, who had noticed the pout. "You're practically a lady now!"
Steffi decided to lead Hermione into the house. Alonzo continued to stare dumbly at her. Not very security-conscious, really.
"You're dead!" repeated Alonzo.
"Rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated," said Hermione pleasantly. "Got a room to rent? Ouch! Watch it! Watch the hugs! I can't breathe, you lubbock!"
"You talk too much," he said, crushing his lips to hers. She didn't seem averse to it, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer.
Steffi decided that grown-up behaviour was very odd and went to the kitchen to find some chocolate.
All was well.
A/N: Finally, I'm done with this story. It's a relief to be done telling it. Thanks for reading, a review would be nice.
As planned from the start, Hermione used her intense study of Horcruxes while hunting down Voldemort to get away from her new masters. I did overuse Gabrielle as a villain, I admit, and I'm not entirely pleased about that.
To clarify, Hermione used Sarah's abuser (her mother's boyfriend) to make the Horcrux - a watch - and Richard Cheni (the anti-bookworm alpha male) to resurrect Hermione once she was dead.
Inter Milan and A.C. Milan share the San Siro stadium. By the time you read this, they may not be sharing the stadium any more.
Piglet is a character in A.'s Winnie The Pooh series. In case you have the brains of a heronista and are unable to guess, he is a small non-adult pig.
"Piglet", said Rabbit, taking out a pencil, and licking the end of it, "you haven't any pluck."
"It is hard to be brave," said Piglet, sniffling slightly, "when you're only a Very Small Animal."
Friederike Gessner is better known as naturalist Joy Adamson, who wrote the story 'Born Free' of how she and her husband returned her lioness Elsa to the wild. When Baret gave Hermione the identity Elsa Jones, they already knew that her Animagus form was a lioness.
Fast-penta is a truth serum used in the Vorkosigan world of Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles Vorkosigan is one of the few male protagonists I can stand.
The six senses for wizards and witches are Sight, Hearing, Smell, Taste, Touch, Magic. There are other senses like Aura Seeing that not all mages have. Some would add other senses like balance to this list, but I was being traditional.
There is still human slavery in Benin, though it is not as much as compared with other countries such as Niger, Mauritania, and the Sudan. Mentioning the need to end human slavery was one of the few things Dubya said that ever made sense. Pity he said it at such an inopportune moment.
Head on a stick - a reference to William Golding's Lord of the Flies.
Gladiators in ancient Rome were slaves. Some of the most successful ones were rich, and chose to remain slaves so as to not have to pay taxes. (Apparently, hiring overpaid accountants or moving your sestertii offshore was not the done thing those days.) Presumably the vast majority of gladiators were not thrilled about their enslaved status, however. Just ask Spartacus the next time you see him.
Katherina is the 'shrew' in Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew, one of the most appallingly misogynistic plays ever written.
Ophelia is the unimpressive chit who is in love with the idea of loving Hamlet.
The Rumours Of My Death quote is from Samuel Clemens.
Steffi is named after one of my favourite tennis players, now married to some half-Persian bald guy who knows how to wield a racket. (Yes, I like Andre too. And Persians.)
Madiba - a word that Themba Motwane used in the previous chapter - is the nickname of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.
There were a number of decisions I took while writing this fic about the plot and characters.
My intent in this fic was to show what would happen to Hermione if she was pushed far enough to drop some of the morals she was brought up with. Hermione has always been ruthless, as Marietta Edgecombe, Dolores Umbitch, and Rita Skeeter would all agree. What if that ruthless streak was stretched by the pain she suffered? What if she really became 'scary' in addition to being 'brilliant'? Some people emerge from betrayal with a forgiving attitude, like Nelson Mandela. Some emerge with their spirit broken. Hermione's spirit is clearly alive, and she is no Madiba.
As for the three murders carried out by Hermione in this chapter - I felt all of them were worth punishing. Especially the crime of seducing a bookworm to steal her credit. That was worth death, and if you don't agree (yo Clell!), tough cookies, mate.
I also wrote this with the belief that Hermione was wrong about not wanting closure with Harry. Ideally, she would have reconciled with Harry - reconciliation with the Weasleys was and is of little relevance in comparison.
People have accused me of making Hermione a Mary Sue. I see where they are coming from, but really, I give Hermione far more weaknesses than most superHarry authors give their Harry.
People have accused me of destroying Hermione's character. I think they should read a few fanfics first to see the possibilities that Hermione offers - Kayly Silverstorm's When A Lioness Roars is a great example, as well as Blacklotus' Dangerous - the latter being one of the few good fics on GrangerEnchanted. And of course, Abyss and Ascension - an incredible and painful saga where Hermione is brutally tortured and raped at the hands of the Death Eaters and then years later returns to be the personal physician to Voldemort.
My point - I cannot be blamed for my reviewers' inadequacies in exploring fanfiction.
People have accused me of being bitter. Well, duh! Tell me something I don't know.
The biggest defect in this fic is the Hermione/Alonzo bits. I don't think they were very convincing, particularly at the end. I needed to be a lot mellower to write that properly.
Hermione does turn her back on other British Muggleborns in this fic, despite their belief in her. If there was a sequel, that would be tackled. However, it would be tackled from the point of view of helping and encouraging Mudbloods to leave Britain (as in my Mudbrains fic) in the hope that that will speed up the self-destruction of British Magical society.