"What the hell is going on here?"
Dean's outburst broke the staring contest between Hermione and Castiel. Hermione was, in Sam's somewhat biased eyes, strange. Her features suggested an age somewhere between Sam and Dean's own, but it was a furtive suggestion as though something had aged her beyond her years. Dark brown eyes watched them warily, her legs were tensed to run and although she looked relieved to see Castiel, her stance was one twitch away from defensive. She looked as though she hadn't slept in months and her face was angled with sharp cheekbones that spoke of malnourishment and stress that both brothers knew all too well. Hermione focused her attention on them and her lip curled.
"Sam and Dean?"
They nodded reluctantly, well aware of the weight their names now carried, their guns still held by their sides. Her eyes became accusing but for once she wasn't glaring at them. Castiel sighed heavily, opening his mouth to speak, but she cut across him.
"No." Hermione swore, stepping back. The low hanging branches brushed against her face but she seemed not to care. "I came here to see if you were real. To get better. I didn't come here to become embroiled in some war." She turned on her heel and stalked off.
"People will die." Castiel called, and his words carried the strength of the garrison behind them, forcing her to freeze.
"People always die." She returned angrily, but Dean caught the slight shaking in her hands which showed the angel's words had hit their intended target. "It's what people do."
"But those peoples deaths will not be on your shoulders."
Sam stared aghast at the angel. Neither of them had seen him this callous in months. He'd been getting better, becoming more human...
Hermione turned back to them and both Winchesters took a step back as self preservation kicked in.
"Don't you dare!" She hissed, eyes sparking with fire. "Don't you dare lecture me. Do you know the weight on my shoulders? I've lost friends...family. You know the sacrifices I made, Castiel and I have a nation trying to rebuild itself around me. I am not adding to my problems! Not now!"
Castiel didn't step back or look away.
"The end of the world is coming." He intoned. "Lilith is breaking the sixty six seals and she is almost finished. Without you the Apocalypse will happen and the Winchesters will fail."
Sam and Dean gaped at him.
"And you're telling us this now!" Sam yelped. Castiel didn't respond, just stared accusingly at Hermione.
"Now I know how Harry felt." Hermione snarled and stepped back. "You said you needed a daughter of the earth. There are thousands of us, millions. Why, out of them all, does it have to be me?"
"I ask myself the same thing everyday." Dean mumbled. "Listen, Cas. If she doesn't want to help then you can't make her. It's her choice."
"Did you?" Hermione asked suddenly, staring across the clearing at the brothers.
"Did you get a choice?"
Sam and Dean glanced at each other frowning.
"Then I haven't got a choice." She snapped. "So why me, Castiel?"
The angel's eyes narrowed, which was as close as he got to actually scowling.
"Because it has to be you, just as it has to be Dean. The Righteous Man and the Brightest Witch. It has always, and will always, be you."
Dean recoiled as though stung and both hunters had their guns up. Hermione's wand was raised a fraction of a second later.
"She's a witch!"
Hermione glanced from them to the angel, spun on the spot and vanished, the crack from Dean's bullet echoing after her. There was an agonised scream from somewhere ahead of them and Castiel grabbed their shoulders.
A second later they stumbled into a dense thicket of trees.
Hermione was slumped on the ground, blood pooling from her shoulder. She raised her wand as Castiel started towards her.
"Stay away from me." She gasped, but her voice lacked the strength to hold much vehemence .
"I can heal it." He promised.
"So he can shoot me again?" Slowly she pulled herself to her feet, wand aimed at her shoulder. A casual flick and the bent and bloody remains of the bullet flew from the tattered remains of her shirt, taking a bloody hunk of flesh with it. She gasped and almost toppled over, but Sam leapt forward and grabbed her elbow, hauling her up again.
"Sam..." Dean barked and he could hear the accusation.
"Do you really think an angel would want us to team up with someone who sold their soul?" Sam snapped and turned his back on his brother, lowering his voice. "I'm really sorry about this, but if you just let Cas..."
"NO!" She jerked back, grabbing a branch for support. Castiel had evidently had enough, because he appeared directly in front of her and pressed two fingers to her forehead, simultaneously healing the bullet wound and sending her to sleep in Sam's arms.
They watched her sleep off the angel mojo in the motel room. Sam was certain that it was probably rather creepy, especially when taken out of context, but they wanted to make sure she didn't vanish again when they weren't looking. Her stick, or wand as Castiel had called it, was sitting on the bedside table of their motel room by her head. Both Winchesters knew what it was like to wake up in a strange place with no weapon.
"Why did you shoot her?" Sam asked at last.
"Reflex." His brother muttered. It wasn't much of a defence, but in their case it worked. "I heard witch and..."
"Bang." Sam whispered.
"And you're sure she's not evil?" Dean repeated.
Castiel sighed. The angel had spent the last ten minutes explaining the differences between sorceresses and witches, and although it sounded completely ridiculous that an entire population had managed to avoid the hunters radar, it wasn't impossible. After all, none of them had believed in angels until Castiel had dragged Dean back from hell.
Some people awake slowly. Some people have that luxury. Hermione woke up in the same way that Sam and Dean did. Suddenly, with hands grasping for absent weapons.
"Whoah." Sam held his palms out flat, trying to sooth her. "It's okay."
She snatched her wand up and backed away, sitting so she was crouched against the headboard.
The Winchesters stared at the woman, who lifted her chin and glared straight back. Her free hand fluttered to her shoulder, pressing against the blood soaked fabric.
"Thank you." She murmured, staring accusingly at Dean who was leaning against the wall. Sam, who'd been sitting on the foot of the bed, smiled reassuringly. She didn't return it.
"I will leave you to get acquainted. Please do not kill each other."
He vanished without another word and Dean swore, kicking out at the nearest chair in his anger.
"I'm sorry about him." Sam apologised.
Hermione arched her eyebrow.
"Dean or Castiel?" She replied quietly.
"Er...both, I guess."
Hermione drew her knees up and rested her chin on them, eyeing them curiously.
"As it appears my opinion no longer counts for anything..." She said softly and both brothers winced. "Perhaps you should tell me what we're up against."
"You're staying?" Dean spluttered. "I mean I..."
"I don't seem to have much choice in the matter, do I?" She asked bitterly, cutting across him. "Besides I'm hardly the type to allow innocent people to be hurt when I could do something to help."
Dean sighed and nodded, evidently finding common ground.
"Basically, it's us and the angels against Hell."
"Demons?" She asked sharply and Sam could see a glimmer of interest in her eyes.
"Yeah." Dean scowled. "You got a problem with that?"
"Have you got a problem with witches?" She countered.
"Anyway," Sam broke across his brother, unwilling to see bullets flying again. "Hell, or Lilith, I suppose, is trying to break the sixty six seals to free Lucifer from the cage."
Hermione chewed her lip thoughtfully.
"I shall assume that the Morning Star walking free would be a bad thing."
"Extremely." Sam pushed his hair back, ignoring his fuming brother.
"How many seals are left?" She asked and behind her eyes Sam could see a mind like his, filing away facts.
"We don't know. She only has to break sixty six of hundreds and no one will tell us which ones she might try for."
Hermione's nose twitched in irritation and she pushed her hair back so it was out of her eyes, pulling a stray twig from the curls.
"That's unhelpful." she said at last.
Sam nodded glumly as his brother spoke up suddenly.
"You're taking this very calmly." He challenged.
Hermione shrugged, eyes fixed on a point on the wall, avoiding even looking at Dean.
"Aside from the partial concern that my hallucinations have started up again...this isn't the most insane thing I've ever heard of. What's your end goal here?"
"To stop the Apocalypse." Dean stated as though she was an idiot.
Hermione's eyes sharpened, evidently picking up on the undercurrents in Dean's voice.
"Sorry. I shall reiterate for those of a lower IQ. How do you intend to stop Lilith?"
The brothers glances at each other.
"We're gonna kill her." Sam told her slowly.
"Wonderful." Hermione rubbed her forehead. "Why you two? What makes you so special that you can do what angels can't?"
"Should I be insulted, or what?" Dean whispered to Sam. Sam just rolled his eyes.
"Honestly, we don't know. We're just trying to do damage control down here, as well as tracking demons, hunting monsters. We don't even know Cas that well, he just pops in when Heaven wants us to do something."
"Like meet me." Hermione murmured. Her brown eyes jumped to Dean. "Are you going to shoot me again?"
"Are you going to try and kill me?" Dean demanded.
She gave a humourless laugh and relaxed, stretching her denim clad legs out on the bed.
"How do you know Cas?"
She frowned, evidently still very wary of them. No matter what assurances they might pretend to give her, they radiated dangerous. But then again, on some level, so did she.
"Castiel?" She shrugged delicately. "He came looking for me. He told me I would be able to help you with something. That was in April, I think."
"And you thought you were hallucinating?" Sam asked, thinking back to their earlier conversation.
"I had my reasons." She murmured darkly.
"And...how old are you?" Dean asked sceptically, eyeing her smaller form with disdain. Sam sighed. His brother was an excellent hunter, but people were really more Sam's area of expertise. All Dean would see when he looked at her was a skinny girl, not a fighter.
"Twenty. I think." She murmured, cocking her head to one side. Her movement exposed a scar on her neck that looked like someone had held a knife to her throat.
"Don't you know?" Sam got to his feet, beginning to pace as the unusual and unfinished answers made his head swirl. He hadn't seen Ruby in days and this...was testing his patience.
She winced, mistaking his frustration for anger.
"Time travel is a messy business." she offered as an explanation. "I lived one year twice."
"Great. Because like we said, we are at war with hell and, no offence sweetheart, but you don't look like you know a damn thing that could help us."
Her eyes flashed darkly and she leapt off the bed so she was standing toe to toe with Dean, glaring up at him.
"Believe me, you two dunderheads don't know the first thing about war." She snapped scornfully. Sam paused, taken aback.
"And you do?" Dean blustered, evidently angry. "You're a kid."
"And how old were you when you started in this life?" She demanded coldly. "Because Castiel told me all about you, and no matter how much pain I'm in, I never forget a story."
"That's not..." Dean glowered. "I'm trying to give you a way out here, dammit. I'm talking about open combat, not some game. We've lost too many people to play babysitter to some school girl."
"Hermione has been a soldier since she was eleven."
Everyone flinched as the angel flashed back into the room. Castiel glared at Dean. "I asked her to join us because it was foretold."
"Not this again." Dean groaned.
Hermione turned calculating eyes on the angel.
"I have to ask though. What exactly is it you believe I can help you with? Because these two seem to be managing fine on their own and they evidently don't want me here."
"The Apocalypse." Castiel told her seriously.
Hermione drew in a deep breath and seemed to compose her self.
"And more specifically...?" She asked through gritted teeth.
The angel had the grace to look slightly sheepish.
"We're uh...the prophecy has never been very clear."
"Please tell me you know!" She demanded, throwing her hands in the air, hair sparking in her anger.
The angel looked frustrated, tugging on the ends of his trench coat.
"No one is entirely sure what it is, that only you can help with."
"So you just want me to hang around until something in my skill set turns up?" Hermione snarled.
They all stared at the angel.
"I take it back." She breathed at last, "This is the most utterly insane I've ever heard."
"Why am I here, Castiel?"
"No, really..." She stopped him before he could repeat his stock answers. "Why am I here?"
They were sitting outside on a bench. The brothers were taking time to talk things over and judging from the shouting, things weren't going very well.
"I am following orders." He said at last, with that voice that sounded far too deep for his vessel to manage. "Lately my path has seemed...unclear. We have been losing this war and I took drastic steps...I... I brought you here, Hermione, because I was ordered to."
"By God?" She asked, somewhat scornfully.
The Angel shrugged.
"God's will is beyond our comprehension."
"I'm not asking about God's will." She reprimanded softly. "I'm asking about you. Because the way things stand, everything you've told me, you've got angels on the wrong side, you've got demons fighting the good fight, which I still don't rightly believe, by the way." Castiel expression changed slightly.
"Why did you bring me here?"
"The Righteous Man will stop the Apocalypse, but Dean Winchester still needs to be saved."
She gave a bitter sigh.
"So I'm hero chasing again, brilliant."
The motel room door swung open with a crash and in the second Hermione took to look over her shoulder, the angel vanished. Dean grimaced at her.
"I hate it when he does that. C'mon, we need to talk."
"How about a test run?" Sam said at last.
Hermione and Dean took a break from glaring at each other, to glare at him. Sam almost faltered under the brown and green stares.
"A test run. Look..." He passed over the paper, tapping the relevant section with a pen.
"Several dead...freak accidents...All similar situations..."
"All died in the same building." Sam finished. "I'm thinking it's worth checking out, at least. We take Hermione along and see how she handles it."
Hermione's eyes narrowed at him.
Dean nodded slowly, a small smirk crossing his face.
"Yeah, all right. It's what, two towns over? We can be there this afternoon."
And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the start of the story I've been promising you for weeks.
It's going to be a long fic, probably much longer than all my other Supernatural/Potter fics.
So I hope you're willing to bare with me. I'll try and get this done before I start college.
We're unbeta'd, so any glaring mistakes, feel free to point them out.
Let me know what you think.