She caught sight of them sitting on the bonnet of what Mary had jokingly called his mid-life-crisis car. A broken little family with a gaping hole ripped in its side. John didn't look up until she was standing right in front of him, arms held open for Dean. The little boy allowed himself to be picked up and tucked his head into her shoulder. He was shivering, whether from shock or cold she couldn't tell, so she wrapped her jacket around him regardless. She'd never known the exuberant child to be so quiet.
"John?" She whispered.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, his voice empty.
"Mary..." She choked slightly on the name, but Hermione had known too much grief to let it cripple her completely. "She had me down as the boys emergency contact. The police called me." Hermione rubbed Dean's back feeling silent tears soak into her shoulders. "You're coming to stay with me, okay?"
"We can't." John swallowed. "They want to talk to us."
Hermione made a noise between pain and irritation.
"The police," She informed him, "Do not want to interrogate a baby and a little boy." She held out her free hand. "Give me Sam, John."
He shrank back, clutching Sam to his chest.
"Why?" She cried. "It's late, near freezing, just started raining and their home is burning down behind them. Sam needs to sleep, if he catches a cold it could be serious, Dean is in shock. For pities sake John, you're a mess yourself." She waved her free hand around them to encompass the chaos. "Let me take care of the boys. I'm their godmother, looking after them is what I'm supposed to do. So just let me do my job." She pleaded.
"How do I know I can trust you?" he demanded.
"What?" Hermione paused and looked into his eyes. She flinched at the pain and horror she found there. She hadn't seen someone look like that since the war. "Because Mary did." She told him simply.
John winced at her name, but handed Sam over. She cradled the baby against her other shoulder, grateful that they were both still so small.
"I'm going to get one of the officers to take us home. I'll give them my address and ask them to drop you off there. Okay?" She smiled at him, somewhat tearfully. "We'll work this out."
The ride home was as uneventful as could be expected. Dean remained tucked close to her side, still shivering, whilst Sam slept against her shoulder, occasionally sniffling. Mary had often said Sam could sleep through the Apocalypse. A fresh wave a grief washed over her and she hugged the boys a bit closer. She couldn't believe that Mary was actually gone. It just didn't seem possible.
She got Dean settled on the sofa and carried Sam into her bedroom, tucking him under the covers and surrounding him with pillows so he couldn't roll out. She'd had to change him out of his pyjamas which were soaked and covered in ash, but she wrapped him in a blanket, leaving his thankfully dry nappy on.
She made a quick fire call to Molly, who was in the kitchen of the Burrow making breakfast. Five minuets later she had an armful of Ron's old clothes which should fit the boys, several plates full of food and a bundle of blankets. They were thread bare and worn but at the moment they were all the Winchesters had. She thanked Molly profusely and closed the Floo connection, sending her Library into darkness. Activating the charms which hid her more magical items, she tucked her wand in her pocket and headed for the sitting room.
"Dean?" She called, sitting down next to the little boy. "Dean, sweetheart..." He blinked slightly and turned to look at her, green eyes wide and glassy. She held out a pair of pyjamas which were bright orange and had almost certainly came from Ron's love of the Chudley Cannons. "Can you get changed into these for me?"
Dean nodded and she led him to the bathroom, before she sank into a heap on the ground. Several minuets later he re-emerged and Hermione wiped the tears off her face and sat up from the floor, so she was at eye level with him.
"Where's Daddy?" He asked, incredibly quiet.
Hermione brushed some of the ash out of his hair, smiling sadly.
"He's talking to the police. Do you want to wait up for him?"
Dean nodded and Hermione wrapped a blanket around him. She left him on the sofa again and went to make some hot chocolate for them both. But the time she'd returned, he'd slumped sideways, exhausted. She picked him up and set him in her bed next to Sam.
"Night boys." She whispered, covering them with the duvet.
John didn't get there until almost three in the morning. Hermione wrapped a towel over his shoulders and made a pot of tea, because in truth she didn't know what else she could do. The man had just lost his wife, for Merlin's sake.
"We can't stay here." John said.
"Why not?" She asked carefully. She and John had never been close, in fact he had frequently voiced his opinion that Mary's friendship with a woman almost ten years younger than her was rather strange.
"I need to go after whatever son of a bitch killed my wife." He rasped, smoke inhalation and grief making his voice hoarse.
Hermione swallowed, not liking the look in his eyes, "I thought it was just a fire."
John got to his feet, pacing around the tiny kitchen.
"A fire wouldn't pin Mary to the ceiling or stab her through the stomach." He growled.
"Pin her...ceiling? John, are you being serious?" Hermione eyed him warily, one hand on the wand in her pocket.
"Look I don't expect you to believe me..."
"John..." Hermione placated. "You need some rest. It's been a long night. You can sleep on the sofa, the boys took the bed. I'll be in the Library." She pushed him towards the living room gently. "Maybe you'll think differently in the morning."
Hermione came downstairs holding a curious and somewhat confused Sam, to find John sitting on the sofa surrounded by tomes. Aitkin's Advanced Demonology, Mythical Beasts of America...almost every muggle book Hermione had on magical creatures was scattered around him, several of her rare copies left upside down or piled in heaps.
At least the charms held. She thought to herself.
"John...?" She asked cautiously. Sam tugged on one of her curls, seemingly fascinated. She'd have to find him something to eat soon. "What's going on?"
"I found it!" Hermione swallowed, staring at him as he got to his feet. "The thing that got Mary. I just..." He dragged his hands through his hair, looking like a man possessed. "I couldn't stop thinking that what did this wasn't human and then you had all these books and..." He frowned at her suspiciously. "Why do you have all these books?"
Hermione froze, before her usual lie tripped to the front of her mind.
"I'm an Anthropology student." She murmured. "It's part of my course work."
He accepted it instantly and she relaxed slightly.
"Right. Well, I think this stuff is real. I mean, look at this!"
He shoved the demonology under her nose, finger tapping at the section about demonic traits.
"Telekinesis, possession." Hermione hugged Sam tighter to her as the man's movements became even more frantic. "Don't you think it's possible that something like this could have hurt Mary?"
Hermione drew in a shuddering breath.
"John, these things aren't real..."
He stilled and a sneer twisted his face.
"Oh really. What's this then?"
Hermione swallowed as she took in the bound sheaf of papers, hanging from his fingers.
"My dissertation." She whispered.
"Yeah. And what's it called? "The effect of the supernatural on modern America and those who oppose it.""
She shuddered and took a step away from him, one hand reaching for her wand.
"John, none of that's real. It's written from a purely..."
"Oh don't give me that bullcrap!" He yelled. Sam wailed and Hermione shushed him, bouncing on her toes like she'd seen Mary do. The baby subsided into snuffles and she turned back to his father in time for him to start quoting. "Page six, "Although I have never come into contact with the hunters their success rate alone is something to be applauded. That the number of lives saved through their actions is in the hundreds, should be enough for them to be given special leeway in the eyes of the Ministry." This stuff is real and you know it."
"Fine!" She snapped, losing her temper. "It's real. I was researching this and came across the legends which made too much sense and the accounts that were too reliable to completely dismiss."
"And these hunters?" he demanded.
"Yes. They exist. They go out there and they hunt these things."
John nodded slowly, seeming to come to a realisation.
"Something like this killed Mary. She was pinned to the ceiling."
Hermione sighed and sat down in one of her armchairs, settling Sam in her lap. He reached out to his father who ignored him, too busy flicking through another of her books.
"Okay." She ordered. "Tell me what happened, John."
"I heard her screaming..." His voice wavered slightly. "And I went up to Sammy's nursery. There was no one there but Sammy. All the windows were locked and the door was shut before I got there...And then I saw the..." He swallowed. "The blood. Dripping onto Sam's cot and I looked up and..."
"You don't believe me, do you?"
She looked at him, one arm holding Sam in place when he attempted to roll away.
"Oh no. I believe you." Hermione sighed deeply. "Trust me that's not the strangest thing I've ever come across. How did the fire start then? What did it look like? Normal camp fire or something else?"
John began to pace.
"It was yellow. It didn't start until I saw her." He swallowed. "It moved so quickly. I only just got the boys out in time."
Considering that...it did seem possible. She grimaced.
"I think you may have been onto something with your idea about a demon. Maybe." She shoved her hair back over her shoulders and away from Sam's grasping fingers. "Or at least something...unusual. It's too many coincidences for it to be something else."
"Well, who do you know that can tell us for sure? You mentioned the Auror Corps and some Ministry."
Hermione froze, realising too late that her dissertation was written from a magical perspective.
"They're like special forces. Back in England. They can't...or at least, they won't, help us out here. A hunter might, but I don't know where to find one. They travel around from what I've found out about them. Rarely stay in one place."
"But what about you?"
She almost knocked Sam from her lap, she was so startled.
"You know about this stuff. You must know how to track it down, kill it?"
Hermione gaped at him.
"I'm a scholar, John. Just because I know what these things are does not mean I know how to kill them or that I want to."
"How do I kill it?" He repeated, towering over her.
Hermione felt like screaming, she'd forgotten how damn stubborn John could be. How many times had Mary complained of the same thing?
"John, you cannot just go gallivanting off on some revenge trip. I've got two boys here who need their father. One of whom is six months old!"
"I'll take them with me. We've got the Impala still. Money in the bank. My gun. Sam sleeps most of the time anyway and..."
Hermione stared at him.
"You're insane." She realised. "Completely insane. This is the grief talking. You have no idea how to fight these things, no way of knowing where it's going to strike next. You could get seriously hurt or killed even!"
He wasn't listening, rambling on as though she hadn't spoken.
"It has to have done this before. I just need to look for similar cases, police reports. I can find it." He told her, almost excitedly.
"John, that's not the point. You've got no training, no experience and you want to drag two little boys with you? You would be gone for who knows how long, dragging them through Merlin knows what. They are children, John. They need regular meals and a home and toys and to be spoiled, especially after what just happened to them. Dean was terrified last night. Sam probably won't remember it of course, which is a blessing. Do you really want to raise them on some sort of revenge trip?"
"What else am I supposed to do with them?" He argued. "I've got no family, Mary lost touch with hers. I can't just dump them on strangers."
"They are your sons, John." She snapped, prompting Sam to start crying again. "You shouldn't be considering dumping them on anyone. They're all you've got left. And you've got me!" She yelled, trying and failing, to keep her voice at a regular level.
Hermione snarled at him and concentrated on getting Sam to stop crying before he woke his brother. She got to her feet, pacing to sooth the baby.
"John Winchester, you were there the day Mary had those boys christened." She hissed. "I made those vows in front of you, no matter how stupid you thought they were. Sam and Dean are as much my responsibility as yours. If you think I'll let you do this..." She sighed and stared down at the coffee table again, knowing a lost cause when she saw one. "If you are set on this...and I don't mean tomorrow, I mean after the funeral...then there are things we need to sort out."
"Like guardianship." Hermione's eyes flashed dangerously. "I am going to need the legal clout to look after these boys. What if something happens to you? The first thing social services will do is take them away from here. I may never be able to get them back. Do you want that?"
John scowled at her.
"Good. There are other matters. We'll have to change their names..."
She almost cursed at him.
"Don't be an idiot. Finding two boys when you know their surnames isn't exactly hard."
"No." He shook his head. "No way."
Hermione visibly ground her teeth.
"Fine. I'm going to have to move. That thing knew where you were. I don't like the idea of staying in a town it's familiar with."
"How do I even know you can handle this? You're what, twenty three? What the hell do you know about protecting children?"
Hermione straightened her spine and gave him look he'd been given by seasoned veterans in the Marines.
"I have been through more than you can imagine. I owe Mary so much for getting me through that. And I will do everything in my power to keep her children safe. Do you understand me?"
John nodded, clenching his fists.
"Where do we start then?"
"There's a physic in town. Goes by the name of Missouri Mosley." According to the local wizards the woman was so good, she'd had to be obliviated at least three times. "If you really want to start somewhere, start with her."
A hand slammed down onto the lid of one of the boxes she was packing.
"Honey, we need to talk."
Hermione looked up.
"Missouri Mosely, I presume?"
Hermione led the woman over to the sofa.
"You sent John Winchester to see me. His wife is dead and now some witchling is gonna look after his kids...don't you look at me like that. Those mindwipes didn't take as well as they thought." Missouri gave her a long look, filled with trepidation and sadness. "You got a long hard road coming to ya. You know that?"
"I figured I might. You told him what he needed to hear?"
"You're a smart one, ain't cha? Yeah, I told him. Man in that kinda mood wasn't going to listen to sense nor reason. Went to have a look at that house. Whatever it was that went after that poor woman, it was evil." She hissed the word. "You know evil. You've seen it. It's written all over you. You gonna do what you can to keep these boys safe?"
Hermione nodded slowly.
"Whatever it takes." She whispered.
I own nothing.
I should say that timelines should really be thrown at the window in regards to this fic.
Updating should be fairly quick. I've gotten most of it written all ready.
So let me know what you think!