Chapter 4: Of Old Scars and New Missions

Oh Jean! What are you doing here?” A voice cried and Hermione Granger looked up at its direction. She was deeply immersed in an old book about Poisoning Curses and had hardly noticed that someone has already entered her dungeon office. Looking up, it took her some time to focus her vision at the friendly smiling face of a blond and blue-eyed witch.

“Claudia! When did you come?” She asked, surprised. Claudia Beauchene was one of the Junior Curse Breakers at Gringotts and worked under Hermione as an intern. She was fresh out of Beauxbatons and like Hermione was determined to prove herself in the testosterone rich profession.

“You look awful, Jean.” Claudia said instead, noticing Hermione. “Are you alright?”

Hermione cringed at her question. Of course she was not alright. How could she be? But certainly she was not going to admit it to Claudia, who surely would make a horrible fuss about it among her colleagues.

“I am fine, Claudia, thank you.” She replied firmly.

Claudia shook her head in evident annoyance. “No, you are not fine, Jean.” she protested firmly. Grabbing Hermione’s arm, who gasped, and pulling her out of her chair behind the desk, she brought to her to the bathroom mirror.

“Look at you, Jean! Is this what you call alright?” Claudia pointed at Hermione’s reflection in the mirror. “Eyes sunken and red, face puffy and pale, messy hair. Is that what you call fine?” She demanded bossily.

Hermione did not know what to answer. The truth was evident in her feature; she was not alright, in fact, far from it. But admitting it to Claudia meant having to answer another twenty questions about the reason behind it. So she chose a safe path.

“I am just tired, Claudia dear, don’t worry about me.” She forced a weary smile and said. “I think I need a vacation badly.” In reality Hermione had been giving the idea a good thought lately. Adrian was also insisting the same.

“Excellent idea!” Claudia exclaimed, her worry for Hermione forgotten, “Where do you plan to go?” She inquired excitedly.

Hermione made her way back to her table with Claudia in tow, “I don’t know.” she admitted with a shrug.

“How about Belgium?” Claudia offered, her blue eyes round. She was positively beaming now but Hermione cut in her thought.

“Claudia, dear, no more gossiping during office hour. Okay?” She said albeit sternly and Claudia pouted her lips, complaining.

“Okay” She said, “But do you know that it’s lunch time?”

It was only then that Hermione realized why Claudia had come. The two ladies preferred to take their lunch in the Staff Room where cooked food was served for humans. Gringotts goblins usually took their raw lunch in the dungeon dining hall.

“I am sorry dear, but I don’t have time for lunch.” Hermione shook her head. “I must finish this one vault before Saturday and there still is plenty to do. I must go now.” She left her seat clutching the book about Poisoning Curses.

Claudia grimaced, “That’s not fair, Jean. You know I don’t like eating alone.” She complained as she followed Hermione out.

Hermione reached her door and opened it, “I promise to make it up next time.” She consoled her. “Au revoir.” she said and left her office, locking it firmly.

“Au revoir” Claudia said, waving her hand and looking sullen.

In truth Hermione was hungry and wanted to have her lunch badly. But going in that particular vault on full stomach would make her sick. Instead she called a service Goblin and asked him to take her to the vault she was working on currently.

•••••

Five days ago:

Hermione was examining a curious looking casket in her laboratory and wondering how to make up with her son. Adrian had seemed particularly cross that morning, complaining heavily that his ‘Mama’ never took him out on holidays. At eleven o clock, she received a note from her boss requesting her presence at his office. Making a mental note to take Adrian out for dinner that night Hermione left her office and after a short walk through carefully concealed goblin-made passages, reached her boss’s office.

She knocked before entering and found her boss with another unknown and pompous looking goblin.

“Bonjour, Geccemp.” Hermione greeted her goblin boss.

“Bonjour, Curse Breaker Jean.” Her boss, an elderly but cheery looking goblin by the name of Geccemp, replied brightly and motioned Hermione to sit.

“Is there any way I can help you? She asked him once settled down.

“Yes, Jean.” Geccemp replied pleasantly, “I would like you to meet,” he motioned at the pompous Goblin, “…Goblin Gobtok from Gringotts Britain. And Gobtok,” Geccemp motioned to Hermione next, “…please meet, Chief Curse Breaker Jean Granger.”

Hermione gave Gobtok the goblin a small smile and a tiny nod of acknowledgement. Gobtok however gave her a curious look. “A woman Curse Breaker?” he asked, positively shocked.

Had this encounter been four years ago, when Hermione had just started her job at Gringotts, she would have frowned at such sexist comment. But now-a-days she enjoyed the look of surprise on her client’s face when they found out that a woman Curse Breaker was doing better job than their male counterparts.

Geccemp chose to completely ignore Gobtok’s comment. “Now, Jean. Gobtok was sent by Gringotts Britain to us with an important job.” He said with a tone of serious business, “One of their very old and respected clients is reopening their family vault in Gringotts France after almost eighty years and he has brought us their keys.” Geccemp announced proudly. “I would like you to handle the curse breaking of that particular vault personally.”

Hermione was pleased and felt grateful to her boss. Geccemp, unlike other members of Goblin community, was friendly towards Humans and never missed an opportunity to complement their good works.

“It will be my honour, Sir.” She replied, smiling. She has never addressed any other Goblin as ‘Sir’, a title she reserved only for those whom she truly respected and Geccemp definitely was one of the very few on her list.

“See, Gobtok? There is nothing to worry about.” Geccemp said cheerfully, “Leave the keys and rest assured that they have been laid on the most capable of hands.”

If Gobtok was assured he showed no outward signs. He simply reached inside his rich black robes and took out an elegant looking box which he placed on the table before them.

Hermione eyed the box cautiously. It was a rectangular silver box about the size of a small book with an ornate emerald encrusted ‘M’ engraved on the lid.

“What is the name of the family, may I ask?” She was slightly frowning at the box now.

Gobtok cleared his throat audibly. “They are one of the very old and prestigious Pureblood Wizarding families in Britain.” his voice was deep, cold but proud, “They are called the Malfoys.”

Hermione froze in her seat. “The Malfoys?” she repeated slowly, not believing her ears.

Gobtok chuckled in cold and sadistic pleasure. “Yes, Curse Breaker Jean, the Malfoys. I hope your legendary skills will meet enough challenges when you explore their reopened vault.” he raised an ugly eyebrow.

Hermione did not know which one to respond to: the news that the Malfoys were reopening their vault in France or the carefully honeyed tone of Gobtok, challenging her skills in Curse Breaking. She decided to respond to the main problem at hand and looked up at Gobtok, her chin lifted defiantly.

“I never boast on my abilities, Goblin Gobtok.” Hermione eyed him carefully, “But I find it highly amusing when someone with almost no knowledge about me, such as yourself, makes a fool of himself by commenting on my work before actually seeing it.” She replied with an air of confidence.

Gobtok took her blow silently and pursed his lips. “Very well.” He said after a moment and stood up to leave. “Chief Goblin Geccemp.” He bowed at Geccemp, “Curse Breaker Jean.” He looked at Hermione but didn’t bow, “I ask your permission to leave. My job here is done.” he said with an air of self importance.

Hermione nodded coolly and watched as Geccemp accompanied Gobtok to his office door and when the latter left, closed it with a snap.

“Never mind his words, Jean. He’s a bit snobbish.” He said, settling down behind his desk.

“Not at all, sir.” Hermione commented, though not very honestly. In reality Gobtok has wounded her pride and she wanted nothing more than to prove him wrong.

“Sir, I have always considered you above the ordinary goblins and their prejudices with us. You know how much I respect you.” Hermione focused on her boss next, “I think…” she paused, “…you are only one who will understand me if I ask you for something.”

“What is this Jean?” Geccemp looked appalled, “You know I don’t like formality. Ask away, whatever you want to.” He said generously.

Hermione took a deep calming breath. “Sir, I will work on the Malfoy vault only under one condition. You will not disclose my name, identity or any other information regarding me to them. I don’t wish them to know that I work here.”

Geccemp’s features hardened as if he had sensed the storm that was waging inside Hermione. “Do you know the Malfoys?” he asked, his narrow eyes narrowed to slits. To Hermione, this meant he was concerned.

Hermione closed her eyes and opened them, remaining silent. That simple gesture was enough for Geccemp to understand what her answer might be. He eyed Hermione’s tense form gravely for a moment and said, “Very well Jean, they will know nothing about you, I give you my word.” He said and Hermione nodded, “But can I ask the reason behind such secrecy?”

Hermione shook her head. “No, sir. I am afraid I can’t tell yout. Just be contented with the knowledge that we had a past encounter with disastrous outcome and I wish to see them no more.” Hermione’s eyes now fixed at the box with the ‘M’ engraved on the lid. “Sorry sir but I have a cursed casket in my laboratory which needs immediate attention. Can I be excused?” She stood up from her seat.

Geccemp nodded. “Yes. Of course! But Jean, before you leave I should inform you that the Malfoys are expected to visit their vault on next Saturday which gives you roughly a week. You should get started on that vault as soon as possible.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes sir. I’ll start working on it from tomorrow morning. And…” She motioned him to the silver ornate box. “…I think it’ll be better if you could keep the keys to their vault. I don’t wish to touch them unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Geccemp blinked once, conveying that he would be keeping the keys and Hermione left for the door. She was almost there when Geccemp called her.

“Jean?”

Hermione turned and saw her boss giving her a curious look, “Yes, sir?” She asked.

“Thank you.” He said simply, “Thank you for saving my face in front of Gobtok. I’ll keep that in mind.” Geccemp gave her a genuine smile.

Hermione gave a small smile and left the office.

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