Chapter Four

Six Years Earlier

"Are you three insane?" Hermione whispered furiously at the three uniform-clad First Years standing before her. Their lack of sleepwear told her all that she needed to know. One of her hands clutched the armchair next to her harder, "You're sneaking out again, aren't you. After everything –"

Ron interrupted her, grasping his wand tightly at his side as he came to the other boy's defense, "Look Hermione, this has nothing to do with you—"

She blinked, the comment hitting like a slap to the face. "Nothing to do with me? The world doesn't revolve around you, Ronald. Your antics have already lost us the House Cup. Do you want Gryffindor to be even more of a laughing stock than it already is?"

"Stop calling me Ronald," he bit out childishly and Harry stepped forward, shaking off his own caught-in-the-headlights posture, "Hermione, please," he said urgently, "Just go back to bed."

"So you three can wander off and loose us more points?"

"You wouldn't understand—" Ron began again, his ears flushing red in anger.

"I wouldn't understand you breaking the rules again?" Hermione asked, looking harshly at the three of them. "You're right, I don't. Nothing warrants breaking the rules," she said firmly.

Neville spoke up hurriedly, "Hermione, i-it's serious. It's the F-flamel thing I told you about. "

The suspicion that this was about more than just sneaking around again was confirmed, and Hermione's thoughts jumped back to the conversation she'd had with Neville nearly one month earlier.

Ron gave an indignant squawk, turning to their nervous friend, "You told her!?"

Neville looked appropriately guilty, but Hermione interrupted before he could properly melt in shame, "Honestly, Ronald, who do you think told him about Medieval Magic?"

At Ron's blank stare she rolled her eyes, "The book you found Nicolos Flamel in?" She explained in irritation, turning back to Neville.

"Neville," she said sternly, feeling a disappointed sense of betrayal floating around in her gut. The boy in question flushing a bright red and looking down at the ground to avoid her, "you promised you wouldn't do anything foolish. That you would tell a teacher—"

"We tried," he said sheepishly. Harry took charge once more, "We went to McGonagall. She didn't believe us."

She narrowed her eyes in consideration. "About Professor Snape trying to kill you?" I imagine not.

All three shared a glance that told her she was missing something. Harry and Ron had some nonverbal discussion that ended with Harry shaking his head and turning back to her, speaking quickly in urgent whispers. "You know about Flamel, so you know about the Philosopher's stone. It's what's hidden behind Fluffy, that three-headed dog we ran into." Hunching his shoulders forward, Harry stared at her hard, "Voldemort's after it."

Neville and Ron flinched harshly on his two sides as he uttered the name, and Hermione felt her own eyes widen. "V-voldemort," she said slowly, "As in, You-Know-Who?" Her grip on the conversation faltered.

"I'm not making it up, Hermione. I saw him. In the Forbidden Forest, I saw him drinking unicorn's blood. We don't have time to explain it, but Voldemort's working with Snape and they're going after the Philospher's Stone, tonight."

Hermione took a step back, her mind reeling with the new information. This had moved far past the weird theory the duo had been considering before Easter. She glanced over to Neville and he nodded frantically at her, complexion gone a pale white. They actually believed it.

Shaken, she took a moment to center herself, to think this through reasonably.

The Philosopher's Stone that Harry had said was mentioned in the book she'd referred to Neville. The three of them must have decided somehow that the Stone was what Hagrid had been referring to, what the Cerberus –Fluffy?— was guarding in the Third Floor Corridor. Created by Nicolos Flamel, the stone supposedly gave its user everlasting life and turned any material it touched into gold. It was the cornerstone of Alchemical Magic, and fell into superstitious lore as much as it did magical fact. The only empirical evidence that showed it actually existed was the simple fact that Flamel was still alive after all of this time. He remained hidden away, and absent from the Wizarding World for hundreds of years, only keeping in contact with a few people – one of those being Albus Dumbledore, she recalled from archived information. The two had discovered the magical properties of dragon's blood together.

But to hide such an artifact in a school was preposterous. There was no reason for it. Gringott's would be far more logical – but her mind froze again, recalling that the infamous Wizarding bank had been broken into at the beginning of the school year. It had been in one of the first editions of the Daily Prophet that she'd ever read. And if the most secure magical bank in Britain had failed she could see the logic in hiding one of the most potent magical artifacts in the world with a wizard as powerful as the Headmaster.

But even if the school was host to such an artifact, Hermione rebutted critically, You-Know-Who was dead, killed eleven years ago by the boy standing in front of her. Everyone knew that. He couldn't possibly be here, now, at Hogwarts. Harry couldn't have seen him, it wasn't possible!

Still, she'd read in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that the magical properties of unicorns were immensely powerful. She couldn't imagine what drinking their blood would do, but it left her incredibly uneasy. And outside of him making it up completely, whoever Harry had seen wasn't likely to be good. And if it was You-Know-Who— Hermione shook her head sharply.

"No," she said nervously, because the level of this conversation had jumped from House points to revived Dark Lords and that made her beyond uneasy. "I read that You-Know-Who feared one person, and that was Albus Dumbledore." Which would explain why Flamel and Dumbledore would risk hiding the stone in a school full of students, her mind whispered treacherously. If V-voldemort were really the one after it, "He wouldn't dare try to steal anything under the Headmaster's nose—"

"Dumbledore's gone," Harry said, taking another step forward. "He was called away."

Hermione swallowed the rest of her words.

"Hermione," Harry said, "we don't have time to argue about this. He's after the Stone now."

Harry sounded so certain, and Ron only nodded grimly behind him. Even Neville, clumsy, fearful Neville was there, trembling anxiously as he was, but willing to go after a Professor he couldn't even look at in class without shaking, not to mention a dark lord.

This was insane. Harry was talking about a wizard that had the Wizarding world so terrified it had been eleven years and they still couldn't mention him by name. And Harry thought they could stop him? Three First Years wouldn't even give him pause.

Just what did they expect her to do? Let them run to their deaths? Go with them?

"You can't hope to do anything," Hermione said desperately, "We're First Years, Harry. We hardly know magic. And if McGonagall didn't believe you, then surely—"

"It doesn't matter," Harry said firmly, refusing to budge. "I know that Voldemort is after that Stone, and we have to stop him. We're leaving, now, and you can't stop us."

Physically, Harry Potter was tiny, and fairly unimpressive. If Hermione hadn't known better, she'd have guessed the Boy-Who-Lived was eight when they'd first met, not eleven. His spectacles were thin, spindly things that stood out in a pale face and they looked as fragile as he was. The mop of messy dark hair that sat on top of his head hid his famous scar and gave him an overall scruffy appearance. He was quiet, in class and out, and didn't bother making friends outside of Ron and later, Neville. If he wasn't already famous, Harry Potter would have been entirely overlooked entering Hogwarts. His flying skills were impressive, and she'd seen firsthand how he stood up to bullies, like Malfoy – but Harry was surprisingly normal. Nothing like the Boy-Who-Lived that she'd imagined when reading the history books.

At least that's what she had thought, until this moment. He spoke with unshaken resolve, and despite the insanity of the situation, despite the wealth of reasons not to, for a second Hermione believed that he might be able to do it. Stop You-Know-Who. Her mouth went dry.

Harry Potter might just be the bravest boy Hermione had ever met. Or at least the most stupidly stubborn one.

Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart the Sorting Hat had sung, and the truth of what that might mean hit Hermione a little harder. The feeling that she might not belong here was stronger than ever.

"C'mon Ron, Neville. We have to go." Harry called behind him, giving her one more inscrutable stare before moving to leave out of the portrait. The boys followed, Neville glancing back to her nervously, his face a patchwork quilt of shaky emotions.

Hermione watched them go with wide eyes, opening her mouth to speak, but not knowing what she might say. Her feet remained rooted to the ground in a mixture of unsettled emotions. She didn't know what to do. Confusion mixed in with hurt, and Hermione felt undeniably small in that moment as she caught glimpse of a world much larger than her own, and couldn't reconcile it with what was supposed to be.

They were First Years, students, they were supposed to go to classes, listen to teachers, take exams, follow the rules. There weren't supposed to be Dark Lords, or Philosopher's Stones hidden in Third Floor Corridors, or classmates playing roles of hero protagonists in dangerous adventuresthat were so much larger than they were. She wasn't supposed to be left with choices this big, and that knowledge kept her frozen in place even as some part of her screamed to follow them, or yell at them to stop until a Gryffindor Prefect came running.

She didn't know what to do, and for the second time in her life, all of the books that she had read couldn't help her.

Present Day

A lone patrol car sat outside with flashing lights when Hermione left the store, and hardly any of the passerby's on the street gave her or it a second glance. Escaped convicts and manhunts aside, it seemed like just another day in the neighborhood.

Hermione shook her head in a weary exasperation as she walked down the street, holding her bags of groceries in both hands. It had definitely been a memorable day, at least.

She turned into the gate of the tiny, familiar house she'd stopped at the first day her family had moved here. Sliding all of her groceries to one hand, she knocked on the door of the Parker house. It took a few moments, but finally the door opened and May Parker blinked at her in polite curiosity. "Yes? Oh, hello, Hermione," Mrs. Parker said kindly when she saw who it was.

Hermione returned the smile, "Hi, Mrs. Parker. Is Peter home?"

Mrs. Parker blinked, "Peter? I'm afraid he's out right now, I sent him off for some eggs. Did you need him for something?"

Idly wondering where the teenager had run to, if not back home, Hermione shook her head. "Oh no, not really. I just wanted to drop off his wallet, he left it at the store," she said, managing to pull the mentioned item out from one of her bags.

"Oh!" Mrs. Parker said in mild surprise, taking the worn leather wallet from Hermione with a small frown, "He's already been to the store then? That's strange, he hasn't made it back yet."

Was it her place to tell the woman her nephew had gotten caught in a store with a felon and then run off at the first sign of trouble? Hermione considered it as she took a deep breath, probably not, she exhaled. She was debating on whether or not she should tell her own parent about the awkward, somewhat terrifying run-in as it was, it certainly wasn't her business to do the same for Peter Parker.

"He left in a bit of a hurry," she chose her words carefully, "Looking for a phone, I think."

Mrs. Parker accepted it, shaking her head lightly, "He must've left his phone at the library again. That boy would forget his own head if he could," she muttered fondly. She held up the wallet, "Well thank you for bringing this by, dear. Who knows how long he'd have been looking for it later."

"It was no trouble really, you're house was on the way back," Hermione waved her free hand dismissively.

"I just made some tea, why don't you come inside and have a glass," Mrs. Parker offered, stepping back inside the house and gesturing her in.

Hermione hurriedly declined gesturing to her handful of groceries, but the woman tolerated no arguments. "No, no, I insist. As a thank you for dropping this off," May raised the wallet. "You can put what you need in the fridge."

Checking her watch and noting that there was still plenty of time before dinner, Hermione weighed the possibility of declining again and risk insulting the nice woman. Her shoulder dropped in a light submission. "Okay," she said considering. She was a little thirsty, "Tea would be lovely."

"Excellent," Mrs. Parker beamed, gesturing her inside. "Come in, come in!"

As Hermione entered the house, the woman bustled in front of her, "The kitchen's through this way. Just ignore the mess," she waved at the cluttered, but cozy hallway. The house was small, but comfortable in a way that reminded Hermione of home before they'd moved. Old pictures of family and friends framed the walls, loose odds and ends were tucked away in the corners, and the general lived-in sense filled every space.

"Your house is very nice," she said honestly as they entered an equally cramped, yet satisfyingly homey kitchen. May chuckled lightly, as if she suspected Hermione was just being kind. Taking her groceries, the woman turned towards the refrigerator, "That's very kind of you to say."

"I mean it," Hermione said, taking a seat at the table as she looked around the room, taking it all in. "It reminds me of home."

May bustled around, pulling glasses out of a cupboard, "Hmm, I'm going to take a guess and say England?"

Hermione made a noise of agreement, "London," she clarified and offered gratitude when Mrs. Parker returned with two glasses full of tea. The tea was iced, but delicious all the same. Taking a seat herself, Mrs. Parker turned to her, "And how are you and your parents settling in?"

"I can't complain. Classes keep me busy," Hermione said, considering her parents. "And we've got everything mostly unpacked. My dad's still searching retail for some space to open up the practice. They're dentists," she explained further. "But I think they're enjoying it here."

At least, enjoying the fact that they're not getting letters about their daughter being seriously injured and in the Hospital Wing again.

The telly was on in the corner of the room, though it was muted. It was on a news stations, and a large mug shot of Flint Marko covered the screen. She choked a little on her tea when it changed to a reporter standing outside a very familiar storefront talking to a still not impressed Sheryl.

Thank goodness she'd missed that.

"New York seems a long way from home. Why did you move, if you don't mind me asking?" Mrs. Parker asked curiously as she sat down herself, unaware of the television behind her. Hermione's eye twitched involuntarily.

Dark Lords. Violent civil wars. Potential loss of life and limb.

"School," she said instead, with a tight smile. "I'm very serious about my education, and my parents didn't want me to move off on my own quite yet."

Mrs. Parker nodded, eyeing her, "You do look young for college. I had thought you were closer to Peter's age."

She winced, "I graduated early. Technically, I'm still a minor," according to muggle authorities at least. She'd turned seventeen in September so as a witch, she was legally an adult. Not that that mattered much.

They kept talking, and it was. . . surprisingly pleasant once she got past the need to lie with poorly concealed discomfort. Hermione hadn't actually sat down and held a conversation with someone that wasn't one of her parents in ages, and it felt like some invisible tension that had been coiled in her shoulders dissolved with the light discussion.

It wasn't that she tried to be a recluse, because Hermione didn't. Honest. She was just that awkward girl with a background limited to magical Britain and interests that didn't extend past books, academics and a general earnestness for knowledge. That tended to give little in regards to common ground with her peers.

She had learned with an increasing amount of experience that most people didn't take to the heavy stream of dialogue concerning academic timetables and the newest edition to Reviews of Modern Physics.

It wasn't until she caught herself explaining Newtonian Mechanics to her elderly neighbor, who – when looking a good distance back into the conversation – had simply asked how she was enjoying school, that Hermione realized she had taken that inevitable turn into excited techno babble again. Clamping her jaw shut mid-stream, she felt a familiar warmth heat her neck and cheeks. This is why you don't have friends, a dry voice in her head observed wryly, and it only stung a little.

May Parker shifted from leaning on her elbow resting on the table, staring at Hermione in a bemused fascination. Flustered, Hermione began apologizing, "I'm sorry, I tend to get carried away."

"That's quite alright, dear. I'm used to it. Peter used to do the same thing when he got excited." Her happy tone grew distant, more reminiscent as she continued, "Of course, things changed after his Uncle, my Ben passed away. I haven't heard him get excited about school in some time. He's quieter now. "

Feeling as if she was intruding on the moment, Hermione stayed uncomfortably quiet. If his Uncle had passed away, that made May Parker Peter's Aunt. She wondered where his parents were, but was equally aware that the answer was probably just as bleak.

Shaking her head out of the memories, Mrs. Parker leaned over to refill Hermone's glass with another smile, "I'm sorry, dear, that was a bit heavy. What I meant to say, was that it's a comfort to hear again."

A loud thudding sound from upstairs saved Hermione from coming up with a response. They both looked up towards the ceiling, Mrs. Parker pausing from pouring more peach tea into her glass. "Peter, is that you?" she called out.

Hermione had thought the teenager was out, but the shout of a thin voice carried down from the stairwell, "Yeah, Aunt May!"

She frowned in consideration, turning to Mrs. Parker curious. "I'm sorry, did he," she asked hesitantly, point up, "Climb through an upstairs window?" Because she certainly hadn't seen him creep past through the front door.

May shook her head in tired exasperation as she stared up at the ceiling, "He does it all the time. I don't even ask anymore."

Well, that was certainly odd behavior. Maybe it was an American thing.

Footsteps rained down the stairs, and a ruffled Peter Parker hurried into view, with a different shirt on than what he'd been wearing earlier – Hermione noted.

"Sorry I'm late, Aunt May. The store was out of eggs but—" he began in a rush, stopping when he caught sight of her. "Oh, hi! Sorry, I didn't realize we had someone over," he said startled. Hermione could see the cogs in his brain clicking together, and the pink tinge that slowly rose in his cheeks told her that Peter had recognized her from the store. He eyes darted from her, to his aunt, and back to her in a mild panic.

"This is Hermione Granger, Peter," Mrs. Parker introduced from her seat. "She lives right down the road from us."

Hermione cleared her throat, "I was um, dropping off your wallet. You left it on the counter at the store. It's nice to meet you. "

Peter blinked, pushing up his glasses sheepishly, "Right. Thanks for that. I uh, must've forgotten it." And all of your groceries too, Hermione said silently with raised eyebrows. She smiled lightly instead, "No problem. You seemed like you were in a hurry to get somewhere."

Peter coughed, and it quickly turned into a high, uneasy laugh as he scratched the back of his head. "Yeah I uh, left my phone—" His eyes squinted in thought, as he searched for words. Snapping his fingers after a moment, Peter looked back at her with an inordinately pleased expression, "At the library. I left my phone at the library, so I had to run and uh, go get it."

Hermione stared at the horrible delivery, and Peter squirmed.

"So you live around here, huh?" he asked, changing the subject in a rapid denial at her skepticism. "That's cool."

He looked to his Aunt with a weak smile, his expression pleading as if he had no idea how to handle the extra person sitting in the kitchen.

"Yes, in the Magnolia apartments," Hermione said, glancing back at Mrs. Parker who was staring at her nephew strangely. Well, she was glad it wasn't just her who thought the teenager was acting twitchy.

As much as she was enjoying the entirely awkward moment, Hermione cleared her throat, standing up, "Actually, my parents are expecting me. I should probably get back."

"Peter," Aunt May said, taking charge, "Help her with her groceries."

"Oh, no that's really—" Hermione started, but Mrs. Parker wouldn't hear it. Both of them found themselves outside, Peter carrying her bags, and staring at her like a deer caught in the headlights. She sighed, and gestured with her head. "It's this way."

As they walked, she could feel Peter squirming until he finally burst into words, "Look— uh, I'm sorry I took off at the store. Thanks for not telling my Aunt."

She eyed him, and he looked equal parts embarrassed and guilty. Shaking her head, Hermione said, "Don't worry about it. The attendant called the police, and the guy ran off."

"That's good," Peter said, "Still, I uh, should've probably done something." He rubbed the back of his head with a self-deprecating laugh, "I'm a bit of a coward."

Hermione nearly stopped, feeling irrationally angry, "Running doesn't make you a coward, Peter." The words echoed with some burning sentiment that sat poorly in her stomach.

He looked surprised, and she continued because she wanted to make sure the teenager understood and she had seen what guilt drove people to do.

"You're not a police officer, you're not a soldier, Peter. You're a high school student. You were looking out for yourself, and self preservation is hardly a bad thing."

Peter coughed, "I don't think most people would see it that way."

Definitely not Sheryl, but Hermione kept that thought to herself. An angry store attendant was hardly what the teenager needed on his mind right now.

"People tend to think more with their hearts, than their heads. Even if you had stayed, and even if that convict had stormed to the front of the store, you hardly could have done anything, and then you would've been putting yourself at risk."

He was looking at her strangely now, and she felt her own cheeks turn red as she looked away, "It wasn't your responsibility."

"You didn't take off at a run for the door," he observed.

"Bad decision-making on my part," Hermione quipped, and old habits. She was hardly the same as Peter, who seemed to be the average teenaged school nerd. She had more experience in dangerous situations and painful hospital follow-ups than she liked to admit. Running into an on-the-run convict was hardly as terrifying as some of the things she had been through at a far younger age.

And she had calculated the risks, even as she had run to the check-out. The man in the store had obviously just escaped from prison, aside from barreling through anyone that stood directly in his way or grabbing a handy human shield, Marko wouldn't have time to look twice at a person. His priority had been escape. The resident Gryffindor in her had also refused to just abandon a little old lady if she was wrong. But she couldn't expect everyone to be a Gryffindor.

They stopped in front of her complex, and she smiled. "Well, this is it. I can take those from here."

Peter handed her the bags, studying her oddly. Hermione supposed she had given him some things to think about. Good.

"And seriously," she said, staring him in the eye, "Don't worry about today."

"You're a strange girl, Hermione," Peter finally said. "But thanks. I won't."

Weeks later didn't show much progress in the Flint Marko manhunt. Sightings in the first week had followed a strange trail across several state lines that ended in Georgia. To the FBI, NYPD, and news networks all across America, he fell silently off the grid.

So Hermione could say she was honestly surprised when the man burst through a library window on the fourth floor and crashed into an aisle of books three tables down from where she was studying.

It took her a moment to recognize him, as he tumbled forward from the shelving with books and strangely, sand, falling down around him. But when she did, it hit her aplomb.

"You have got to be kidding me," she said flatly, brain still trying to process the sudden influx of data.

Flint Marko was back in New York City, and bursting in to her library. Of course. She was a little confused as to how he got through the fourth story window, but the how showed up a few seconds later in the form of a red and blue spandex covered man who swung in on a cable that he immediately unattached from his wrist.

"Oh, there you are," a surprisingly young male voice came out from under the mask. "Look, I wasn't done talking to you yet."

"You have got to be kidding me." The words escaped from Hermione's mouth once more, and both figures turned to face her. Ignoring the fact that a masked vigilante she had only heard whispers of and a convict who was supposed to be sunbathing in Georgia were standing in front of her, she felt her rage stir to dangerous levels, overcoming her common sense.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? This is a library!" She whispered at them furiously. Because if there was one thing Hermione Granger didn't take kindly to people messing with, it was books.

Spiderman dropped his hands, staring at her with white diamond shaped eyes that covered the front of his mouth. "Uhh—"he started, confusion clear in his voice, but was interrupted when Marko punched him with a flying fist that sent him flying right out the window again with a startled yell.

She blinked because it was literally a flying fist. His arm shooting forward in complete denial of his still body standing meters away. It was broken down, elongating into a stream of visibly tiny particles that defied explanation.

The criminal turned to face her with a smug grin, and her eyes narrowed as his arm retracted back, sprinkling sand across the floor that also slid back towards him as if magnetized. "You look familiar," he said, voice low and gravelly, as he stepped forward. "I know you from somewhere?"

He reached out with a hand that extended forward far past rational lengths towards her. But she was used to things defying explanation, so she hardly hesitated as she ducking, grabbing her backpack from the chair beside her and swinging it upwards and forward in an aggressive countermeasure. The book-filled bag slammed into the extending limb, and it shattered in a spray of particulate matter over her like a poorly transfigured animation that had reached its limits.

Sand, she realized clinically as she studied the granules that showered down around her, his arms, potentially his entire body, were made up of sand.

Even as she reached that conclusion the granulated particles halted their descent, shooting back towards where the arm had previously been in an attempt at reformation. Whatever it was, it was no poorly crafted transfiguration.

And then that Spiderman was shooting forward through the window again. This time feet first in an acrobatic move that slammed Marko back into the aisles of books behind him, which he smashed through quite aggressively. He roared in rage even as parts of him shattered into sand with the impact.

Was it magic? Hermione considered, still clutching her bag as a fall back weapon. She had never seen any like it, if it was.

The sand was swirling chaotically around the room to reform, and she wondered just how stable it was, even as the spandexed Spiderman was slammed into with another wall of sand that was vaguely shaped like a fist. He flew back into the pillar behind him with such force that the concrete structure cracked.

"Get out of my way!" Marko roared as the sand refigured, and he stumbled forward. Spiderman sprung to his feet, ducking quickly under another swing, except there was no way that he could do that. With the force he'd slammed into that pillar his back should be broken, unless that spandex was fortified in some unseen way, or he was—

His arm shot forward, and cable sprung from a hand, sticking to the shelving behind it. He gave it a mighty tug, and it tumbled forward, books and railing crashing into Flint Marko with a heavy crash. Her eye twitched at the casual defamation of the Physic section. Things were still, but just for a second before Marko exploded outwards with an angry below.

"Buddy, you have an anger management problem," Spiderman complained, even as another sand limb shoot forward and he jumped upwards and out of the way. He did a jumping flip to land right in front of her, keeping his eye on the roaring mad man. "Alright, so enclosed spaces. Bad idea," the masked man observed lightly.

She stood up to examine him more critically. He was breathing a little heavier, but other than that –

"You don't seem hurt," She observed, eyes narrowing as she stepped closer and pulled at the material of his suit. He squawked and took a step away, "Hey!"

"Spandex," she identified thoughtfully. So it wasn't a fortified suit after all. And she couldn't readily see anything that those cables shot out from either. Curiouser and curiouser.

Marko was picking himself up out of the wreckage, looking towards them with murder in his eyes. "I'm going to kill you, kid!" he growled.

"Right," Spiderman huffed, "That's my cue."

He shot his arms out, and two of those white cables sprang forward, one of them sticking to Marko's chest and knocking him back a step, the other flying out of the broken window.

"Let's take this outside," he said dryly, and then proceeded to take a running jump out of the building. Marko had a moment to look down at his chest where the strange cable was still attached, coming to a growling realization, "Aw fu—" before the wire pulled taut and he shot out the window in a surprising show of strength by the masked vigilante.

Hermione stared after them with mouth partially opened in shock, but snapped it shut with a click. Looking at the destruction around her, she considered the bizarre fight she'd just been witness too. Her eyes narrowed as some sand stirred in an imaginary wind on the ground near a collapsed bookshelf. Her weekend had just gotten a lot busier.

To be continued.

AN: This was horrible to write. I've had to rewrite each scene like three times already, and I'm still not comfortable. I can't put my finger on it, but I just don't like it. I don't like it at all. But with that said, I promised weekly updates, and for once in my life, I intend to deliver. So take it! And please, tell me if you get the same feeling as me.

So a question that popped up a lot this time was: will there be romance, and if so, will it be of the Peter/Hermione variety? My honest answer is that I'm afraid to dabble in romance. Not just here, but with every single story I write. I don't know what would happen, but my sense of impending doom tells me the world would implode. However, if my eyes don't bleed with what I write, I might try some harmless hinting, see where the chemistry goes. Just don't come into this with expectations outside of what's already in canon, because I just fail at life.

Guest (1): :D Thanks, glad you like it!

Aztec 13: Haha, you have a keen eye! I'm considering at least a cameo role for Murdoch. Keeping it casual, but we'll see where it goes. The X-Men are out of this simply for the sake of my sanity. Another of my stories, Outlet, is working on the Avenger/X Men angle.

Zillakong: It's not Doom, but you're getting warmer. It's a pretty important character. :)

Guest (2)/Whisper: I'm happy you're enjoying it! And thanks, the Hermione here is a little different from how she ended up in the books, so that deserves to be explained.

Guest (3): Yay! Ha ha, right now I'm just focusing on making sure they both turn out well. I haven't worked much with Hermione or Peter, so writing them is still fairly new to me. I'll take another look at it once we get a little further along. I'm glad you like it so far!

You guys are too cool for school. Thanks for every last review, favorite, and alert. Your support means a lot. I am blown away by the charitable things some of you have said.

Comments are always welcome. As a young writer, anything you've got goes a long way for me. And to satisfy my curiosity: Who's your favorite SHIELD agent from the comics, movies, and/or TV show?

See you guys next week! Thanks for reading,

Strictly Something