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Nineteen Eighty One, with a Twist by Serpens
Chapter 5 : Chapter 5: The Thief and Saviour, Part Deux
 
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Chapter 5: The Thief and Saviour, Part Deux

Continuation of Chapter 4: The Thief and Saviour


"I need 'em strong drinks, a double, nay, make 't a triple whiskey!" the old man said, removing a yellow cap and arranging his thin buttocks on the bar stool, "ya've ever seen sumthin' ya ain't believin' yer own eyes?"

The man who was sweeping the steps moved behind the bar and saw the pleading face on Hermione, who was hiding under the beer dispenser. "Hmmm, dunno sir, nothing much happens 'round here... What'd you see?"

Mr Polkiss sighed and hesitated for a minute, "A girl, wee small girl, she'd... Can't say 'ow she'd possibly--"

"Excuse me gents," a new voice called from the door, Hermione couldn't see the man and only heard a small murmur before he commanded the barman and Otis Polkiss to leave with him, "now, come outside with me!"

She peeked over the bar and ducked just in time as both man stepped back into the pub, she crawled back under the wall telephone and ran to the lavatory where she washed herself a little and sat on the closed lid of the water cup, waiting for the police to arrive. Hermione sighed and rubbed her tired eyes, "Well, I've got pictures and that man Barty Roberts is probably still on top of the lorry, or became tiger food... if only Tajy had eaten some energy bars he'd be less dangerous," she kept thinking, before turning her attention to an insisting tapping on the lavatory window.

"Oh my!" she exclaimed noticing the raven, "Kettle, that's the second time today you've found me! And how'd you follow me to Manchester of all places?" Hermione rummaged for some crumbs in her jacket pockets and offered them to her jet black companion.

Yelling and rough banging came from the pub's main area and Kettle flew away, Hermione heard someone shout "Where's the girl?" and the voice she associated with the barman replied never seeing any girl matching that description. A second later the lavatory door burst open and she found herself in front of a uniformed woman police officer, who promptly asked her name and escorted her outside.

"Nay, ain't never seen wee girl 'ere, never before in me life, guv'nor," Mr Polkiss said as Hermione walked by. The barman also failed to identify her, and both man looked quite sincere about their statements.

"The animals!" Hermione explained to the woman who called herself Katherine Law while wrapping her in a warm blanket, "There's a lot of them and a big tiger in that warehouse!"

"It's all been controlled, darling, and--"

"What about the man, Mr Roberts? Was there a middle-aged man and a pearl coloured sedan there as well?"

"Yes, there's a man and a vehicle like you say. The tiger was peaceful and animal rescuers are taking them all to a safe location, now I need you to take a look at that man and tell me if he's the one who kidnapped you. Can you do that for me honey?"

Hermione nodded and walked hand in hand with Mrs Law, who asked her to sit while two other police officers dragged Mr Roberts to her. "No, no, I don't know how those animals escaped, I had them all--" he stopped upon noticing the ten-year-old girl. Hermione saw that Mr Roberts remembered her, unlike Mr Polkiss who clearly had no memory of her.

"Is this the man who kidnapped you?" the police woman asked.

"I know this girl, she visited my furniture and glass workshop yesterday afternoon..." Mr Roberts stated, "Kidnapping? No, no, no I've not seen her ever since!"

"Oh, well, I kinda jumped inside the lorry when I saw them moving the animals and setting fire to the building. So technically he didn't kidnap me?" Hermione said looking at the floor, then she remembered, "But I've got pictures of everything right here!"

Reunited with her family that very same evening, Hermione learnt how by seven Saturday morning a police officer presented himself at her home bearing her wallet, Bernadette panicked and told her parents of her cousin's folly. Fifteen minutes later a Police Commissioner was installed in the Granger's home and a search of the area and of the burnt warehouse had produced her sleeping bag and an old candle holder with her matching fingerprints on it. They feared she had perished inside the building that Bernadette visited the day before, because according to the Fire Brigade it had been ignited around one in the morning and the flames were controlled by four, at which time they found the wallet by the destroyed gate.

It was a quarter past eight when Hermione phoned from the pub in Manchester and managed to dispel any thoughts of her ultimate fate and tell them where she was, before abruptly cutting the communication and leaving her uncles in a state of frenzy. The Greater Manchester Police was immediately contacted and a bulletin regarding Hermione's kidnapping was posted, mobilizing all officers available towards The Corner Steps, where she was ultimately found hiding in the bathroom.

Tajy the Bengal tiger was finally housed in a zoo located in Greater Manchester, along with the dozens of recovered species ranging from South American birds and monkeys to African crocodiles in Manchester and Brighton. Hermione's pictures proved both Mr Polkiss and Mr Roberts' involvement, and pressured the latter to confess and deliver enough information to dismantle a large international network of animal smugglers and drug related trafficking in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Hermione had kept newspaper clippings on the evolution of that investigation, although her name was kept out of the press by her family's request. Uncle Charles being a prominent solicitor had made it very clear that not a single name initial be printed, or else he would see to it that the walls of lawyer bureaucracy break down upon them. By early February the investigations had revealed how they hid endangered species inside imported furniture containers; these containers were never reviewed because the very same port authority officer would always be on duty by the time of arrival.

"But how did the cages fall apart?" she wondered while glancing at the newspaper clippings on the attic wall, before returning to her reading on the creaking rocking chair. Hermione remembered that twenty third of December in Manchester when the animal handlers had discussed how the welds seemed to have evaporated and the padlocks dismantled, thus liberating the diverse fauna. She shrugged and continued with her annotated, Spanish-English double language edition of Don Quijote de la Mancha, laughing at the misfortune that plagued the poor impulsive old man, he would be appreciated if only people were in real danger and his foes had any substance at all.

Her eleventh birthday was coming soon, she had spent another enjoyable summer with Miranda at her bookshop and was ready for another year of solitary schooling, proving the world how worthy she is. "Green-eyes liked me at first sight," she murmured sadly, hoping to see him again, if only once more in her lifetime.

Somehow it was his inspiring memory that pushed her into accepting an invitation by uncle Charles' Charity Foundation bearing her name to visit a small school in Little Whinging, Surrey. She would have to miss classes but this primary school had developed an excellent music program for little children, and Hermione loved the idea of encouraging new talents despite the fact she had never tried to learn to play anything beyond the recorder flute herself. If she could inspire others like the black-haired boy behind the glass had done for her, she would gladly do it.

Little Whinging Primary School was, well it was modest, bordering the description of "a dump" by the looks of it. The building itself was in urgent need of a paint coat and the gardens were unkempt, even the gates themselves were rusty. There seemed to be a fowl odour in the air, Hermione would learn later that day it came from a fishery situated next to the school, one that stocked on not-so-fresh fish after all.

"Welcome, welcome to my school!" greeted a medium built bald man with deep brown eyes wearing a deep blue suit and Hermione looked up at her escorts looking for guidance. Mrs Wright was a family friend and director of the Charity, next to her stood Mr Clark, a musician himself who was organizing a musical contest among all the schools that have received donations and support by the H.J. Granger Foundation and Mr Green, a tall and pale man she didn't recognize and had absolutely no idea what his job was, or why he was there.

Mrs Wright was first to greet the man she addressed as Headmaster Albert Bullion, followed by Mr Green and Mr Clark, who then introduced Hermione to the nervous looking Headmaster and his companions, a young assistant secretary and the History, Music and Mathematics teachers. During the handshakes and greetings, Hermione caught a glimpse of a group of children having fun and playing chase by the main entrance, until one of them threw a soda can at the chased boy, a thin student not older than nine with an unnervingly familiar mop of jet-black hair on top. Hermione tried to point and show the teachers what happened but they were too engrossed in their own conversation to notice her. "It's the same thing everywhere," she contemplated by herself, remembering the time some classmates had thrown chewing gum in her hair, only because she had achieved the best grades in her year, resulting in a very short new haircut for that particular summer.

The adults dragged her to visit the school playground, where Mrs Wright remarked how worn-out all the equipment was. Hermione tried one of the swings and it snapped no sooner than she pushed herself back, falling on the coarse sand. She rubbed her sore bum and glared at the Headmaster from the ground, who in turn was now paler than Mr Green.

"Let's hope you can show us improvements inside, and show us some of the gifted, talented children in Mr Harper's Musical Education Programme, shall we?" Mrs Wright said while helping Hermione up.

"Naturally! Well, ahem, please follow me then," Mr Bullion indicated, while whispering something in the Music teacher's ear.

They walked to the main entrance and Ms Flores, the assistant secretary, left to resume her duties along with all the teachers. They paused for an observation or another, until reaching the Music room where an upright piano dominated the left wall, the teacher's desk stood diagonally in the northwest corner while sheet music stands and stools indicated the positions for strings, brass and percussion players. While Mr Clark reviewed a folder in his hands, he motioned for Mrs Wright to approach and pointed furiously at something in his papers. Hermione heard hurried footsteps and within seconds the Music teacher reappeared in the room, accompanied by a girl her same age.

"This is Annie, she's a talented pianist along with Harry, our other piano student but I couldn't find him..." he trailed off before motioning for the girl named Annie to sit and play something for them. She looked at Hermione, who shrugged and mouthed "sorry" before closing her eyes for a second and then performing a very beautiful rendition of Fr Elise, the popular piece by Beethoven.

"May we have a word with you gentleman, behind closed doors?" Mrs Wright asked, pulling Mr Bullion and Mr Harper to another room across the corridor.

Hermione stood there alone, nervously looking anywhere but at the other girl who stared as if evaluating her, before finally speaking. "Hi, I'm Annie Atkins," she introduced herself.

"Hrmiongrnr," came her hurried and muffled reply.

"Excuse me? I didn't get your name, sorry," Annie politely said.

She sighed and looked straight at the brown-haired girl this time, repeating "Hermione Granger," and extending her hand.

"You're the Hermione Granger? You know, from the Charity Foundation? Wicked!" she bent forward on the piano bench and continued to pelter Hermione with questions while the bell rang indicating classes had resumed.

"No, it's not like that," she answered, "I'm not rich, I definitely do not use this as an excuse to meet cute boys as you said, and I don't really care for the use of my name..."

"I'd think someone like you would be, you know, a stuck-up!" the pianist girl added, "I'm glad to see you're just like me."

Those words put Hermione off-balance for a moment. "Just like her?" she thought, and then wondered if this Annie girl would continue to think the same after spending a few days in Hermione's company. "No, nobody wants to be friends with dorky-mione," she concluded sadly.

Annie was about to say something when she jumped and pushed Hermione with her over the side, knocking several stools and trumpets to the ground. Hermione panicked when the blast of a metallic cabinet hitting the classroom floor combined with her instinctual reaction given past bad experiences took this to be a physical attack. Further bangs and blasts followed as she desperately tried to push her would-be attacker from top of her, until she heard high-pitched screams not belonging to her or to Annie, who was now just as scared as she was.

"D-Dudley?" Hermione heard the girl say. A very fat, blond boy was cowering against the wall pointing at Hermione with a trembling hand, which made his thick arms wobble, and screaming like a little girl while two other boys tried to open the door.

"You could've killed someone, you stupid pig!" Annie yelled, "Why'd you push that cabinet, 'cause it's fun? I'm done running from all of--"

Hermione noticed Annie's sudden interruption and stifled a laugh when she waved a hand in front of the fat boy's face, whole-heartedly agreeing that he looked like a pig; his haircut did make him resemble a biped pig with a blonde-coloured wig on top. Meanwhile, Dudley continued to shake and point at Hermione, mumbling something about "another one" and making her really nervous.

"Annie? Is the pig dangerous?"

"Not right now, I guess..."

"What about those two?" Hermione whispered, indicating the two red-faced boys trying to wrench the door open.

"They only do what Dudley tells them to do, so don't worry..."

"Thanks, you saved me and I t-thought... I thought you were gonna punch me or something," Hermione told her newest acquaintance while staring at the floor.

"I saw the cabinet toppling over you," she answered, "and you'd do the same for me, I'm sure."

Both girls released a tense laugh and startled when the boys finally opened the door, fighting each other for the right to go first. They exited the darkened room to meet Mr Green grilling the Headmaster about the poor conditions of this school, what with jammed doors and loose windows shutters that could hit a student's head upon the slightest windy conditions.

"You three!" the Headmaster commanded, pointing at the large boy named Dudley and his two friends, "Headteacher's office, now!"

Annie took her leave, said goodbye and walked away while Hermione and her entourage left the building using a side entrance. As the aggravated and jittery group led by Mr Bullion exited, they found yet another unpleasant sight in the shattered windows of a classroom. The nervous Headmaster began to concoct some half-witted explanation while Hermione blanched, thinking that perhaps she had some part in this, noticing the unhinged aluminium shutters. She did hear Mr Green say their door was locked and the shutters closed by themselves, same as in the Music room. "It was only the wind, and humidity, doors and windows do not close by themselves," Hermione rationalized.

"Yes, ahem, well... As you can see we-we... Well we're rebuilding a few of the classrooms, you see? Oh, watch out for the broken glass!"

"And having classes inside all the while?" Mrs Wright asked with an ever stronger reproachful tone as more and more problems occurred within this visit.

"Oh, no, these children were... Ahem... Learning about construction sites, that is!" and the school Headmaster added, "Maybe the foundation could, perhaps, help us in this matter?"

One of the many teachers who had greeted them on the gates waved with a toothy smile and the children inside did the same, innocently waving at their Headmaster and some unknown people while they passed by. Hermione sighed and looked up at the tall Music teacher, "By the way, what's that awful smell, Mr Harper?"

"You noticed, huh? It's the fishery next door, they'd sell you a months-old cod for fresh tuna!" he whispered in her ear.

Hermione wrinkled her nose and gagged, stepping up the pace and reaching for the gates as fast as her feet could carry her. Mr Clark and Mrs Wright departed with a promise to return before the planned musical event to be held in London to see that certain anomalies are verified, while Mr Green opened the door of his spacious blue Bentley sedan for her to climb on-board.

Christmas holidays soon arrived to mark one year since her notorious escapade, and uncle Charles was stubbornly braving the cold weather to keep watch over a certain white-framed, round attic window facing east, from where Hermione shouted, for umpteenth time, that she wasn't going to save anyone tonight. "Actually, I am," she said and left her attic wearing a thick jacket, walking downstairs and standing next to her uncle under the stars, "If you're not staying inside, then I'll keep you company out here uncle Charles!"

He looked at her determined eyes and sighed, "All right, let's go inside for some hot chocolate, pumpkin," he said, stretching his arms and then holding the door open for her.

"You might catch a severe cold if you stay out there, I promise I won't go out tonight."

"Aren't you scared, or anxious about today?" uncle Charles asked.

She blew her hot chocolate mug and answered, "No, whatever happened last year was my choice, and it turned out all right, didn't it?"

"You've got so much courage, Hermione," he said with a sad look in his face, "it reminds me of my little brother..."

Hermione sighed and waved goodnight to her uncle, taking a refilled mug with her. "I've got my father's courage," she sing-songed to herself while preparing for bed.

The winter months had claimed her feline friend Jim's life, she found the cat frozen on the steps of the park gazebo where it enjoyed taking sun baths; Jim was buried next to it that same evening. Her other cat John however was lazy and spent the cold days always curled by the pot-belly stove, while Kettle the raven continued to take residence perched on one of the attic beams, going out for food once or twice a day. Hermione couldn't care less for the regurgitated pellets, but the big black bird was a good friend.

School term pulled ahead of that very crude winter to give way to the flowering season, aunt Claire who suffered pollen induced allergies hated spring despite the overwhelming colours and blossoming life, bur Hermine enjoyed the chance to use the school yard more often, at least she could climb the old beech again and read there while avoiding her classmates.

"C'mon Hermy!" yelled her cousin Bernadette, "You're always making a fuss about this... Your name's on the Foundation, get used to it!"

"I won't!" she childishly replied from the top of the stairs. It was the Friday morning of the H.J. Granger organized musical competition, where all of the schools that received donations from her uncle Charle's Charity in that area of the arts and sciences were presenting their best talents. "Besides, I promised I was never going to wear a dress again!"

"Whom did you promise such a stupid thing?" Bernadette asked.

"Myself!" replied Hermione, still sitting on the top step leading to and from her attic.

Needless to say, she answered her aunt Claire's final call and, straightening up her jade green dress, descended the stairs to get in the car and be driven to an auditorium full of strangers ready to remind her of how she lost her parents.

The assembly room the Granger family arrived in was absolute chaos; from violins to trombones, champagne bottles to roasted veal and an impossibly large number of people in an inadequately small area trying to perform different tasks at the same time filled that space from top to bottom. If she stood on her toes, it was a forest of arms, while if she dropped to crawl, the room became a forest of legs!

"Mr Granger!" somebody yelled and was later pushed by a large man carrying a triple stack of crystal wine glasses, "Over here, if you please!" the same woman screamed after resurfacing.

"Lorraine?" uncle Charles asked, taking Bernadette and aunt Claire's hands and leading them across the perilous sea of frantic humans.

Hermione watched them busy themselves with Mrs Wright and turned around to exit and take a stroll through the hedgerow lined pathways. It was still early and the performers, she grinned good-naturedly over applying the term "performer" to children, some probably much younger than herself, were not due to arrive until eleven for the first presentation at a quarter to noon.

A deep cawing drew her attention to the heavens, she blinked and swirled in a circle, shielding her eyes from the sun with her right hand. "There you are, I don't know how you've managed to find me everywhere, Kettle," she said, recognizing the unusually large shiny bird, it's missing left foot toe and familiar beak shape.

"Move along, please, move along!" came a female voice by the front entrance. Hermione approached and saw eager seven to eleven year-old girls and boys exiting a large van, dozens of children! They were so happy and singing along as a chorus, she could only follow them inside and find herself a comfortable armchair to sit and watch their hustle and bustle.

It was half past eleven when aunt Claire came looking for Hermione, she was needed backstage to greet the jurymen that would be evaluating the child musicians. She met a humourless French man who played First Violin in the London Symphony Orchestra, his attempts at a joke were an actual joke themselves. Many introductions and handshakes later, followed by most sincere apologies for her parents' fate, she found herself free to procure the topmost seating in the auditorium, from where Hermione could enjoy the music without interruptions.

A pause was scheduled from one to half past two, for lunch and mingling so that students from different schools could meet and share their experiences, Hermione waited until her new wristwatch beeped two o'clock and left for the main hall, where she was soon blinded by several flashbulbs being triggered at her. She smiled politely and quickly made her way to the tables, selecting a few hors d'oeuvres and choosing a chilled natural juice glass.

Her cousin Bernadette had already made some friends and was laughing with them a few yards away, aunt Claire seemed to be discussing the merits of seriffed fonts over sans serif in small formats with some unfortunate woman, and then she caught uncle Charles' eye, who excused himself from two other elegantly dressed men to stand by her side, albeit an arm's length apart.

"Ready for your speech, pumpkin?"

She shrugged and took another sip from her glass, "Yes, it's only a thank you note, after all..."

"You don't have to--"

"I want to, I'm proud of the opportunities your Charity Foundation can provide all these children," Hermione stated. She was about to say something regarding the afternoon performances when a woman walked straight towards Mrs Wright, demanding to speak with the director of the Charity. Nodding at her uncle to go over there and sort the situation, she picked an appetizing treacle tart serving and left to wait for her turn at the podium, on the elaborate stage.

Spotlights blinded her and prevented seeing anyone seating in the auditorium beyond the first couple of rows, she took her place and, picturing the little boy's face whose bright green eyes would always encourage her in moments like these, cleared her throat and delivered a quick ten-lines address in appreciation of all the Foundation donors' effort and praise for the talented children. She left the stage under rapturous applause, received a smile from her uncles and walked upstairs to reclaim her topmost seating place, where Bernadette in her "gossip mood" soon found her and delivered the news that some cute boy from a primary school in Little Whinging had been seen backstage accusing his teacher of stealing donated funds and instruments, a fact confirmed by an assistant secretary of that very same school.

Hermione returned home both excited and angered that evening, she understood there were bad people in the world, her adventure as an animal saviour was proof of that, but stealing dreams and opportunities from children was simply despicable. She did enjoy the musical performances though, and applauded the girl named Annie Atkins she had met a few months ago. Annie had recognized her as well, and during the award ceremony where she had achieved third place, managed to exchange telephone numbers and asked her to call in the summer. Noticing that Hermione didn't know quite what to do, Annie told her she would like them to be friends, said goodbye and left with her teacher.

"I've made a friend..." Hermione whispered while looking out the window in the back seat of uncle Charles' vehicle, bringing a smile to her lips.

The last week of school brought, unsurprisingly, news of Hermione achieving the best grades in her year again, and the joyful days of summer to come. She was looking forward to happy days spent at The Earmarked Parlour and, if nothing out of the ordinary happened and Annie didn't find her to be "too much of a dork", with a friend her own age.

A week before the end of July, her cousin Bernadette asked aunt Claire to drive her to meet some friends in Surrey, where they would spent the day at the zoo. Hermione knew Claire was afraid of leaving her niece alone in the house, lest there be no house upon her return. She was staying at home because Mrs Morewitt, the bookshop owner, had told Hermione she was closing the shop for a couple of weeks or so, and would be letting her know when she was welcome to visit and help again; she found it strange that Mrs Morewitt had never asked for her phone number, or home address for that matter, but the conversation had moved along and she dismissed the issue.

Therefore, without a bookshop to attend to and Annie travelling abroad until the middle of August, Hermione was brought along for a day at the zoo with Berny and her giggling friends. The weather was stifling, every shadow was a welcome paradise and the ice-cream sellers were having trouble keeping the "ice" a part of their offerings; flavoured melted creamy goo was more like it.

Aunt Claire was leading the group of girls away from the reptile exhibit when shouting and running people went in and out of the area they had just vacated, "What's all that commotion? Please tell me you don't have anything to do with it, Hermione?" aunt Claire asked.

She looked sadly at her feet, before shaking her bushy curls around. She really wished she could control those unbelievably impossible events around her, yet all she could do was rationalize and find even more unbelievable and far-fetched explanations for them. "I'm innocent of everything, aunt Claire," she said, before being pushed with an index finger towards the gardens next to the zoo.

Her cousin Bernadette and her friends sat on a table savouring the ice-cream they had asked for while her aunt and she sat, as far apart as possible, on a nearby bench under the welcome shadow of an ageing tree. Aunt Claire produced her shop's latest best-selling mystery novel from her purse and began to read, twitching slightly with every little sound around her as if expecting her niece to bring the end of mankind with a single breath.

Rummaging through her plastic bag, recycled of course, Hermione found the brochure detailing all different reptiles the zoo had on exhibit, explaining their habits and origin. As her aunt twitched for the fifth time, she sighed and returned the informative reading to the depths of her huge bag, standing up and walking around to appreciate the quite beautiful gardens behind them. She had spotted a marvellous semi-circular flower bed full of bluebells when a sudden movement caught her eye. The flowers seemed to be moving back and forth in a swirling path, unlike anything the wind could ever cause.

The idea of never stepping on a manicured garden, let alone a delicate flower bed, was a strong deterrent to her curiosity, however she then remembered the welcoming sign at the Royal Botanical Gardens asking people to walk on the grass, smell the flowers, hug the trees and talk to the birds. Yes, a little investigation, if taking enough care to pamper the flowers, wouldn't be a transgression of any rule! Determined, Hermione began to crawl and follow the unusual ripple. She followed it along the edge of the flower bed, until deciding to trace a diagonal intercept course.

Deep black, beady eyes met curious, lively brown ones as boa and child met face to face. Hermione instantly recognized it from the booklet on snakes she had jut read, "What's a tropical boa like you doing out here?" she asked, still mere inches from the reptile's bifid tongue. The patterned black, brown and clear beige animal seemed to drop its head in defeat, as if being caught by a human was the end of a dream.

"I know that look," the girl said, her uncontrollable hair falling over her face, "I saw the same hopeless face on a gecko once, and most reptiles in there sported it too."

She could almost recognize a snort coming from the boa, it then appeared to give up and simply coiled around itself, waiting to be picked-up. "You know, the zoo's got enough reptiles, you looked so happy out here and I can most certainly ask Kettle, or John if he ever shows up again, to share his rats with you!" Hermione heaved herself and careful not to squash any flowers, retrieved her large bag from the cobbled pathway. She waited for people to walk away or be focused on something else before swiftly stashing the rather heavy snake inside. Once done, she opened the bag and whispered, "Besides, I'm against animal cruelty, and they'd use those awful hooks and tongs on you."

Hermione did her best to disguise her moving bag of books, the large boa continued to wriggle and slither around trying to find a comfortable position and she was sure Bernadette had already seen the snake's tail popping out while riding back home in aunt Claire's car. Once in the safety of her attic, she let the boa slide out to recognize her new habitat.

"You need a name," she said while observing her newest room-mate, "what about... Blacksnout! I think it's a good and descriptive name."

Kettle eyed the large snake from the safety of his perching beam, he didn't look happy but didn't dive to attack it either, calming Hermione's apprehension that her new reptile friend could cause problems. Her cousin, however, was a different matter. Bernadette kept eyeing Hermione during dinner, making slithering gestures with her arm over the table and mouthing "I wanna see it" when her parents were not looking. She simply shrugged, teasing her incorrigibly nosy cousin but silently making plans to show Blacksnout to her the following morning before breakfast.

Summer appeared to bring comfortable temperatures for Blacksnout, who enjoyed coiling himself around a long wooden curtain pole Hermione had purchased in the local hardware store and installed on the wall, until she uncoiled him for some outdoor time every evening after returning from her usual reading places on top of some roof or tall tree, or from helping in some activity within her uncle Charles' Charity Foundation.

Hermione smiled while remembering how much courage it took for her to lift the phone receiver and make the first call to her new friend Annie Atkins. It had been awkward not knowing how to initiate a conversation, therefore she simply let the girl on the other side of the line speak for a while, congratulated her again for the beautiful piano performances and agreed to meet that very same Saturday.

They were surprised to find many things in common, both enjoyed music of course but they also had an affinity towards wanting to make the world a better place. Annie had told Hermione how she was inspired by a little boy who had once saved her from some bullies and recovered a lunchbox they had stolen from her all by himself; that same boy was scheduled to play for their school but he was brave enough to confront a teacher and expose him as a thief. Hermione was also glad that this girl had no preconceived notions about her, nor did she have to keep appearances or risk being ostracised simply for being friendly with her, since they went to different schools.

She returned to her attic that night after her usual roof roaming and exploring, took one last look at the stars and prepared to go to sleep. Kettle was already settled and she curled in her big king size bed, thinking about how much a little boy had inspired her as well, his black hair and deep, soul-piercing green eyes, and a scar on his forehead he had probably only ever shared with her. No crushing nightmares of death and crumbling walls bothered her that night.

It was no earlier than a quarter to six, according to her digital wristwatch, when an insistent tapping on her attic window awoke her. She mumbled something about Kettle and his unfortunate needs, half-lifted her right eyelid and dragged her feet to open the large round swivelling glass pane. She found it strange that Kettle would shine so brown against the early morning light. "Brown?" she repeated, "You're not Kettle!"

Had she been more attentive, she would have seen Kettle perched above and behind her, shaking its glossy black head. Hermione stood watching the brown bird, it was a barn owl with large yellow eyes and an uncharacteristically combed plumage, whomever it belonged to took very good care of it. She startled when the owl turned, picked a matte coloured item from the windowsill with its beak and flew to her own uncombed, messy morning-hair, bending itself and dangling an envelope made of what she recognized as parchment in front of her face.

"Is that for me?" she asked, and the owl rolled its eyes while she slowly read the upside down address on it, "Hermione J. Granger, The East Wing Attic? What... Who... What?"


~


Notes:
I apologize for the extensive chapter. Nothing much to add, except ravens can live up to fifty years and are omnivorous.


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