The funeral was at eleven.
Pansy, out of sheer cowardice, had refused to attend on the grounds that she had a cold and didn’t want to infect everyone else; but Draco and Hermione arrived on her doorstep at ten thirty anyway. She feigned illness for all of ten seconds, before they tartly informed her that she was going even if they had to drag her kicking and screaming all the way, at which point she moodily told them to wait in the entrance hall while she changed her clothes.
She hated funerals; they were just so depressing. And the funeral of Ms Zabini was going to be a thousand times worse because Blaise was one of her closest friends, and she hated seeing him anything other than cruelly smug.
“Don’t you think that he’ll probably need us there to support him?” Draco pointed out on the way to the carriage. “And that you’re being a little selfish?”
Pansy narrowed her eyes at him. “Look, Drake. Just because you’ve got somebody smart standing next to you doesn’t mean I wont kick your ass, buddy. I actually think Blaise would prefer it if we weren’t there; you know how much he hates showing weakness in front of people his age.”
“Fair point, but still.”
“I like your dress, Hermione.” Pansy said, glancing sideways at the other girl’s outfit. She didn’t really have an opinion on it; it flattered Granger but would look hideous on her, but since she and Draco had started dating Pansy had made a point of being nicer to the muggleborn.
Hermione beamed. “Thanks. I like yours better, but I don’t think it would suit me…”
“That’s because you don’t want to look like a hooker.” Draco teased, grinning as Pansy punched his arm and hopped into the carriage. “So how much did my mother tell you? About Ms Zabini’s death, I mean…?”
They closed the doors and sat in silence as the carriage started moving, bobbing along the country lanes invisible to the eyes of muggles. Pansy mused on the question for a while. “Well…” she said eventually. “She seemed to be attempting to be subtle when she told me… but I got the overall feeling that it was pretty nasty, and that the maid who discovered the body is now in St Mungo’s for trauma.”
“That’s not the half of it,” Draco said, exhaling and ruffling his fringe. “I heard that there was barely anything recognisable as Ms Zabini left. Nott said that bits of her corpse had been-”
“Draco!” Hermione interrupted, looking rather ill. “I don’t think you should be talking about Blaise’s mother like that.”
Draco nodded and patted her hand. “You’re probably right. But I did hear that her death wasn’t an accident. Nott said that this time the husband beat her to the punch, and he’s on the loose somewhere running from the Aurors… which is quite worrying, if you think about it…”
Pansy rolled her eyes, but Hermione looked quite alarmed. “But… will there be Aurors at the funeral?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Doubt it.” Draco shrugged. “A lot of the guests will be on the Ministry’s black-list, I doubt they’d appreciate Aurors snooping around. Mother said some of Mrs Zabini’s hired bodyguards wont have left the premises yet, so I don’t think there’s much to worry about.”
The carriage fell into silence again; Draco, oblivious to his girlfriend’s current mental trauma at the thought of a murderer at the funeral, was examining his nails, and Pansy was sat back watching the trees go by through the window.
It had been a year since she’d visited the Zabini manor; when she and Draco had apparated to drag Blaise out with them last summer. It was a vast, isolated building in the middle of a deep forest; whatever it was that Ms Zabini got up to she definitely liked her privacy, and it was rumoured that over twelve husbands had been buried somewhere on the grounds.
It alarmed Pansy that she found this so easy to believe.
The groundskeeper definitely seemed like the type to dispose of a body. Old and grizzly, he lived in a smaller, drafty brick farmhouse a distance from the manor and always seemed to be digging holes around the garden.
She shook the thoughts out of her head, shaking her hair loose of it’s ponytail as she did so.
In retrospect, she felt very selfish for thinking of not going to the funeral. Blaise needed them, and as Draco would be holding hands with Hermione throughout, she would have to provide the solidest support of the day, even if he did pretend he didn’t want it. She knew Blaise better than anyone.
The carriage pulled to a gentle halt outside the manor gates and the door was opened by the gamekeeper, who leered nastily in at them and sent a shudder up Pansy’s spine. Really, was it absolutely necessary for the guy to look like a horror-movie reject all the time??
She stepped down and shivered in the cool morning air. A mist had risen from the river and was travelling eerily across the grounds, leaving the dark grass damp and slippery and entirely undesirable to walk across in six-inch heels. Especially when said heels belonged to your mother, who’d slaughter you if you got so much as a speck of dirt on them.
“Right… come on then.” Draco sighed, taking Hermione’s arm and leading the way down the gravel path. “Ugh… weather’s really taking the piss isn’t it?”
Pansy didn’t say anything, preferring to keep her thoughts on how creepy the manor looked surrounded by thin mist to herself. Draco would just laugh, and probably repeat it to Blaise later on in the hopes of pulling a grin out of him… which would make for awkward moments, to say the least.
“Mr Malfoy, Miss Parkinson, Miss…?” the butler paused, looking at Hermione.
“Granger. Hermione’s here as my guest, Gerard.” Draco said coolly, stepping into the entrance hall. Pansy followed, marvelling at how much colder the air seemed to get as they made their way through the indoors and out back, where the black-clad procession was gathered around an ebony casket.
“See,” Hermione hissed. “If there’s an open casket then her death can’t have been too gory can it?”
Pansy, despite the reprimands of her conscience, nudged Hermione in the ribs and pointed. “It’s not an open casket, Granger. The lid’s sealed shut. Suspicious, don’t you think?”
Draco saved her having to answer by raising a hand. “Blaise is there.” he said. Pansy turned around, her eyes searching for the familiar dark figure of their best friend. He was standing, stony-faced, by a table of drinks that he had completely ignored in favour of an ornate silver hip flask; probably containing something highly alcoholic.
They made their way over, Pansy cursing the damp stone, and exchanged formal handshakes. Blaise didn’t meet anyone’s eyes, keeping his gaze firmly fixed over their shoulders as they patted him on the shoulder and gave him their condolences.
Astoria Greengrass approached them from across the garden, wearing a pair of heels not quite as high as Pansy’s and still managing to stumble in them. Hermione tensed beside Pansy; it was no secret that Astoria was in love with Draco, and this fact had given all of them a lot of trouble at one point.
Draco, however, remained calm and nonchalant with a glass of champagne in his hand. “Astoria.” he said, evenly. “What can I do for you?”
“Just came to say hi.” she beamed. “How’s your summer going? I’ve just got back from India myself, my father got sent over on a job and Daphne and I decided to head out to meet him before he came back. It’s a gorgeous place, you should go sometime.”
Pansy turned back to Blaise, one hand hiding the smile on her face. “How are you holding up?” she whispered.
He didn’t look at her, merely took another long swig from his flask and examined the landscape as though deeply intrigued by it. Pansy nodded, sort-of understanding, and turned back to Draco, Hermione and Astoria, who was now happily ranting about a party she was planning for some time in August.
“Astoria.” Pansy interrupted, feeling the need to rescue them. “This is a funeral. Pipe down a little.”
The blonde blinked. “Oh… yes, I suppose. I’ll talk to you later, Drake!” she said, skipping off.
“That girls needs medication.” Draco muttered, turning back around. “Mione? Will you find my mother and let her know we’re here please? I think she’ll start sending House Elves back and forth from the manor if she doesn’t know…”
Understanding, Hermione nodded, smiled at Blaise, and vanished into the crowds. Draco looked up at the silent boy, his expression changing from the genial smile he had flashed his girlfriend to genuinely apologetic remorse. “So… how’s… how have you been?” he asked quietly.
Blaise was silent for a moment, looking down at the floor. Then he gave a one shouldered shrug and inhaled shakily. “Okay I guess. Aunt Sylvia’s moving in on Sunday, so I wont have to leave the manor or anything…”
“That’s good then.” Pansy said gently. “Er… what’s in the flask, anyway?”
For a second he looked like he was going to grin. “Firewhiskey. This champagne makes me want to throw up.”
“Ha! I told you to get all the guests completely hammered.” Draco chuckled. “I can guarantee it’s the way your mum would want to go… my Uncle Derrick got totally wasted at Pansy’s grandpa’s funeral… remember Pans? He jumped up and started doing the chicken dance halfway through your dad’s speech?”
Pansy laughed. “I remember. Then he hit on my grandma.”
“Oh yeah,” Blaise smiled briefly. “The big guy in the black top-hat? Well Aunt Sylvia arranged everything anyway, she seems to think I’m too overcome by remorse to even dress myself in the morning, never mind sort out my mum’s funeral.”
“Nott sends his condolences.” Draco said, sipping the champagne and pulling a face. “Ugh. He’s really sorry man, but he couldn’t make it. The match is this evening and he’s been in Scotland all week.”
Blaise nodded. “I’ll write to him later. I’ve been… well I haven’t had time to write back to anyone yet.” he said awkwardly. “You know…”
“He wont mind,” Pansy smiled reassuringly, patting him on the arm. “He’s too wired up about today’s match; all we’ve heard for the past four weeks is ‘OH MY GOD IF WE LOSE I’LL DIE!’”
They laughed together for a moment, before falling into an uncomfortable silence and looking around at the witches and wizards congregated in the darkening garden. The summer night was anything but warm, and as the sun set the mist spread further across the grass and threatened to smother the procession.
The overall effect of the white miasma curling around the dark coffin and black-clothed figures was rather disturbing.
“Shall we go inside?” Blaise asked abruptly. Pansy and Draco turned to glance at him; he was staring away from them with an unreadable expression on his face. “I hate it out here… all these people staring at me like I’m some kind of two-headed monster just because my mum’s dead. I’ve already heard Aunt Sylvia’s speech… do you want to go inside?”
The tiny hint of desperation in his voice shocked Pansy. She nodded immediately. “Yeah, lets. It’s bloody freezing out here anyway, and all this fog is freaking me out.”
“Total horror story stuff isn’t it?” Draco agreed as the three of them walked back up the stone path toward the manor. “Hermione! Over here! Blaise, do you mind?”
He shook his head. “No, no.”
Hermione jogged over. “Sorry Draco… your mum started introducing me to all these people and it took a little longer than I thought. She wants to know why it took you over two hours to get here, and also wanted to know if Anna Parkinson knows that Pansy’s wearing her shoes. Where are you going?”
“Indoors.” Pansy replied. “And no, mother doesn’t know.”
“Right. I think the mood needs lightening a little.” Draco said, taking Hermione’s arm again and throwing his other around Pansy’s shoulder. “Blaise has a secret supply of booze hidden somewhere in hid bedroom and I’m pretty sure we can send off Ms Zabini in our own way…”
“Sounds like a plan.” Pansy agreed, linking her arm through Blaise’s. “What do you think, B?”
Blaise nodded his confirmation and offered her his flask. Pansy took it and downed a sip; wincing at how strong the liquid was as it scalded it’s way down her throat. He grinned and took it back.
“Draco, Blaise, Pansy!”
They paused a few feet from the house and turned around. Daphne Greengrass, clad in heels to match Pansy’s and a lot more able to walk in them than her sister, jogged up the path to meet them with a worried look on her face. “Have any of you seen Astoria?”
“She was talking to us about fifteen minutes ago, but not since then.” Draco shrugged. “Why?”
Daphne frowned. “She’s vanished. She went inside to use the bathroom after she’d spoken to you, and I haven’t seen her since. Do you think she could have got lost?”
“No. The bathroom’s just through those doors, and my mother’s butler is in the hall to direct guests to them. Maybe she’s just taking her time?” Blaise offered, looking up at the dark sky. “She’ll probably reappear for the start of the funeral.”
Looking perturbed, Daphne nodded. “Okay. Thanks guys. If you see her, tell her I’m looking for her would you?” she asked, before turning around and heading back into the garden with the intention of asking everyone else.
“Hmm,” Pansy said as they continued into the manor. “Maybe someone finally did us a favor and locked her in an airtight box.”