As Hermione sat on the cold, muddy ground beside Ronald's tomb, having wept herself into an exhausted state, she numbly reflected on how it had been merely a few hours since it happened. Since she snapped. Since everything in one crystal moment became clear. What I must do...
Take the children, leave London, leave the Ministry, simplify things... simplify my life... get away from him, it, this whole treacherous, mindless, corrupt world!
Only three hours ago, she had been in the Ministry of Magic, going through the motions of what her life had become. The cold mausoleum walls of the Ministry bore down on Interrogator Hermione Weasley. In one split second, it all had become utterly overwhelming.
Breaking into a cold sweat, she had fled the adjourned Wizengamot proceedings to seek shelter in her office chambre, but had halted outside the dungeon courtroom in the dimly lit corridor, leaning against the cool marble tiles to collect herself. She felt the oppressive, stagnant air crushing down on her and gulped for oxygen.
She wanted to scream out loud, so vexed and frustrated by the hypocrisy of what had just occurred. Wanting to kick something, she irrationally reprimanded herself. Why? Why did I listen to everybody? I wasn't ready for this-I wasn't ready to come back so soon!
With the advice and support of Harry and Ginny, as well as all of the Weasley family, she had returned to work shortly after Ron's death. For a while it had seemed to be a healthy distraction, an expedient way to help the healing process of her grieving, and so Hermione had thrown herself into her new position as an Interrogator with all of its challenges and seemingly absorbing intrigue.
But little by little, the novelty wore off as deeper and deeper the horror and pain of the murder of her children's father-her childhood mate, partner for life, and lover-sunk further in... lost forever; unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried to cover this suffering, the unbearable truth could not be ignored.
The cruel reality of it was an indescribable, frightening void, gaping out and surrounding her in the middle of the night whenever she awoke and reached out for her deceased beloved-searching for the missing presence in her life. In the middle of the day, when she had an impulse to visit him at Auror Headquarters, Hermione froze on the spot, confused, and was forced to accept again and again that Ronald was not there... forever gone... Particularly bitter were the frequent habitual thoughts which included Ron in daily plans; thus again, the sharp stabbing pain of reality cut through the fleeting illusions that he was still alive and would be walking through the doorway at any given moment.
In her grief-stricken mindset, she was left with only one choice: weekly visits to his grave to share with him what he could not corporeally witness. But he can in spirit! We can spiritually commune!
And so, Hermione had faithfully visited and shared her and the children's lives with Ronald; she convinced herself that she was actually gaining and sustaining a nourishing strength from this vigilance and devotion. But recently, shove it to the side as she might, the anticipation and meaning of the visits had begun to consume her waking and non-waking moments. She had become more and more distracted, despondent, and frustratingly bored by all that she had previously worked so hard to attain within the Ministry. Her life's work - the blood, sweat and tears that not only she but also all who'd sacrificed in common pursuit for true justice - had come under danger.
It had been a long and windy road from when Hermione had first found employment with the Ministry of Magic as an advocate for the better treatment of house-elves, working with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, to being promoted into the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Finally, at long last, cases from overdue indictments were put into action; her life's work had reached it's culmination and fruition, finally set into motion.
Which was why, especially now, even through personal angst from her devastating loss in her personal life, she pushed herself to carry on. She had finally achieved a high position in the Magical Law Enforcement department, alongside other members of the Wizengamot panel encharged with interrogation of accused individuals. However, the case she had just acted as the main prosecutor and interrogator for, the court procedure and pronounced adjourned judgement on the case, left her swallowing back the bile rising in her throat.
It was all suffocating her.
Hermione patted her forehead, where beads of perspiration formed, and tried to calm her temper, which was surging as thoughts of the events of the past hour repeated themselves.
Corruption! The entire court procedure... There's something wrong with the Special Advisor Doge-how could he have sided in Malfoy's favour, for a prolonged adjournment? The statements, evidence and witnesses were irrefutable; and yet, that vile, slippery toff has managed to infiltrate, to foil the system yet again!
Infuriated, Hermione huffed and launched herself from leaning on the wall to return to her office. Fuming at the suspicion of wrongdoing going on, underminding everyone's years and years of hard efforts, she blindly ran straight into her dreaded nemesis: Lucius Malfoy.
The notoriously clever, exclusive wizard solicitor, Lester Qualmsick, accompanied the Malfoy patriarch. Qualmsick, upon seeing who it was that had bumped into his client, swiftly made a polite excuse and motioned for Lucius to ignore the Wizengamot Interrogator and continue onward with him. "Lucius, let's be on our way, shall we-"
Smelling blood, Malfoy raised a hand to quiet him. "On the contrary, Qualmsick, if chief Interrogator..." Lucius paused, his grimace deepening as he looked Hermione over from head to toe in suppressed disgust, "Weasley has anything further to say to me in person," he leered at her, "I'm all ears."
Hermione bit her tongue; she would not allow herself to be goaded by him to respond, but at the same time, she was not immune-on the contrary, she was even more livid. His trademark arrogant sneer spurred it on. Moreover, the frustration she felt percolated almost uncontrollably upon being within arms reach of the loathsome defendant.
She could feel his vitriolic energy, volatile and dangerous-no court of law could nor would ever change Malfoy's indoctrinated, hardcore hatred. Hatred of all things different from him, but I will not fuel his mentality. I'll not empower him with further attention. Everything I had to say about him, I have said it. In a court of law. I will not lower myself to his level.
Bracing herself, Hermione resolved not to respond to any provocation he may throw at her. She would not stoop so low. She was going to hold her tongue and walk away with dignity. She reminded herself, Go to your office, check for any further messages, leave, and go to Ronald. Focus, Hermione, focus!
It was the springtime equinox, and today was the day she'd promised herself to clean her husband's grave.
So, she mustered up her nerves and gave Lucius an equally cool stare and proceeded to pass him by without comment.
Malfoy's jaw muscle's clenched in throbbing tension; he would provoke a response out of the Mudblood one way or another.
"Nothing?" He taunted her cloyingly, "Not even a congratulations?"
Hermione froze. Congratulations for what?
Sensing the witch's façade would burst if he'd just prick her in the right way, Lucius took a step towards the repressed widow. "Pity. I'd thought you'd at least be capable of that..." Mudblood.
Hermione didn't need to hear the word to know what the blond pureblood wizard was thinking-the hateful sneer on his face said it all. She instinctively went to her neutral zone. She went numb. She could only blink at him.
It had been a horridly difficult case, seemingly in vain, prosecuting Lucius Malfoy. She had waited for years for this case to be brought forth for trial, and then only to be adjourned, thwarted by the clever Qualmsick pulling out his last line of defence with a wild card: the matter of a statute of limitation on all affidavits and litigation concerning those against his client, Lucius Malfoy. It was claimed that time had run out regarding the longstanding recriminations on the abuse of house-elves and other magical creatures, as well as the long list of war crimes supposedly done against wizards and witches by Malfoy during Voldemort's last reign ending in the Second Wizarding War.
However, due to there not being any precursors for many of these first time indictments, the nature of these proceedings led to the court adjourning, to be reconvened at an indefinite later date.
"You must feel so unsatisfied. The feeling of failure, futility must be... inexpressible for you," continued Malfoy, his cold, grey eyes giving way to the slightest glint of malice underlying his words. "A kind of inexpressible grief."
Hermione gave a fleeting glance to Malfoy's solicitor Qualmsick, who averted his eyes, and she motioned to pass by Lucius as she replied, "No comment."
Mockingly, he called out, "Well, well, if the Muggle founder and defender of SPEW herself cares not for a thorough requital for me-a justly deserved penalty, what is one to think? Interrogator Weasley, wasn't that pound of flesh you pleaded so pitifully for in vain? Hmm? Justice for the weak, the defenseless, the protection of lesser magical beings?" Menacingly, he stepped closer to her. "House-elves, Muggle-borns and other inferior creatures of the like have no equal place in true Wizarding society." Lucius' jaw muscles clenched in suppressed tension. "I may yet be forced to pay some measly Galleons for your otiose and offensive meddlesome attempts to seek retribution, but let me state for the record to you personally: I have no regrets. Nor will I ever have." He repeated harshly, "Ever."
Breathing deeply to still her nerves, Hermione lifted her head slightly and responded, "Your objections have been duly noted, Mr Malfoy, both now and in the court room. Perhaps your solicitor should remind you to watch your tongue whilst in my presence. I am an officer of the court, no matter of your particular personal opinion about me. Now, if you'll excuse me." She motioned for him to move aside, which he did not do.
Brown eyes met his challenging cold, grey ones. I will not be unnerved by you, Lucius Malfoy!
They stared each other down for several seconds.
Then, Lucius seemingly gave in and calculatingly said, "I'm not totally unfeeling to your unmercenary causes and distress, Ms Weasley. On a personal note-"
Hermione couldn't control herself and flinched.
"I must take this opportunity to offer my condolences to you."
This was what she had least expected to hear from Lucius Malfoy, of all people, and the shock of it caught her off guard; she could not help but lower her shields a tad and softly reply, "Thank you, Mr Malfoy."
But this was just what Lucius wished for, her vulnerable spot: her dead husband. Grey eyes glinting with malice, he took a step into her and spoke, barely audible, "You can't begin to imagine what it means to me knowing that there is... one less Weasley in the world... one less Weasley to despatch..."
The sound of a hand slapping a face thudded dully in the dim corridors, absorbed instantly by the merciless black walls.
It wasn't the attack on his person that made Lucius Malfoy's eyes grow wide-he'd rather liked that little surprise, having intended to cause some response from the dirty little Mudblood-but the words accompanying the provoked act, registering slowly in his ears, made his blood boil.
"You, filth," whispered Hermione fiercely, looking straight into the pureblood supremacist's icy grey eyes. "You utter, utter load of filth!"