ATTENTION: I no longer read reviews for this story. Over a year has passed since I last got a notification from this story that didn't make me cringe and sick to my stomach. Lots of people don't like this story for various reasons. Whatever. I don't care. Read it if you want, but if you find anything you don't care for, don't waste your time trying to tell me in reviews. Plenty have tried to "educate" me for various reasons about psychology, what is and what is not sexual assault, etc, and I just simply don't have the energy to argue. This is my hobby and lately it hasn't exactly been fun. So, if you're feeling the urge to tell me all of the ways in which I've screwed something up, go ahead. I don't care. I won't read them. If you want to leave me a nice encouragement, I appreciate the thought, but I will not read them. Or pop over to Tumblr if you want. I can be found there as Canimallow.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I own nothing and can claim nothing from the Harry Potter Universe. All characters still belong to JK Rowling.
Please understand that this story will have some dark elements. This is a story written for Mature audiences only. If you are not an adult, please do not continue.
This story includes the following warnings so please be aware: death, murder, violence, attempted non-con, dubious consent, and sexual situations.
Two hundred and seventy-one days.
Two hundred and seventy-one days of paralyzing, gut-wrenching fear. Constant questioning of every decision she had ever made. Unending trepidation. She couldn't escape when she was asleep. Even her dreams were haunted. When she closed her eyes for even a moment, she was transported back to her beloved school.
Screams echoing around her. The smell of fire and sheer terror pervading her nostrils. All she could see is Harry… her best friend lying dead in the Great Hall. Triumphant cheers and horrified shrieks were all around her. It was almost as if time stood still for hours as she processed what she was seeing in the front of her. Maniacal laughter, the kind she hoped to never hear again, broke the trance. In one swift movement she was wrapped up in a giant hand and moving out of the castle, out of the grounds and into the forest before her mind could register the cacophony of the resuming battle behind her.
One part of her would be eternally grateful for the kindness Hagrid's giant little brother showed her in the midst of the chaos. The rest of her wished he'd left her to fight and die with the rest of her loved ones and comrades. Grawp set her down in the darkest part of the Forbidden Forest before running back into the fray, screaming "Hagger! Hagger!" She knew that Hagrid's instructions to his brother to save her were likely the last he was able to give. She couldn't imagine Hagrid surviving after the battle picked back up. He was too big of a target. Too much of a Dumbledore and Potter man to be allowed to live in the new regime.
Somehow, Hermione Granger had been able to survive on her own for two hundred and seventy-one brutal days. Moments after coming to the realization that she was truly alone and the Battle for Hogwarts was truly lost, she knew she had to get as far away as she could as quickly as she could. She had been a target for the Ministry and the Death Eaters from Day One. She knew she could use the ensuing bedlam to put a great amount of distance between herself and the crumbling of the wizarding world she had known and loved. Thankfully, she had kept hold of her beaded bag during all of the scrambling and dueling. Everything she needed was tucked away in her pocket.
She remembered a picturesque spot in the coastal village of Crackington Haven. Her parents took her there one summer where they spent an idyllic weekend tramping over the countryside and enjoying the beauty of Cornwall. It was the first place she thought of and her heart ached for her parents. They had been out of her life for less than a year, but it already felt like a lifetime had passed. She summoned the strength to set up the necessary wards and enchantments to keep her position secret in a beautiful spot on the high cliffs. Only after the tent was fully assembled and her protections were double and triple checked did she give herself permission to fall apart.
And fall apart she did… spectacularly. She cried for her friends. She cried for her parents. She cried for herself. She cried for the future. She cried out of fear. She cried out of anger. She cried for Harry, sweet, courageous Harry. She cried until her tear ducts burned and nothing further came out. She cried until her body was too exhausted to carry on. She cried herself into a sleep that lasted for days.
When Hermione finally woke up, she wasn't sure what day it was. There wasn't really a way for her to find out without sneaking down into the village to find a newspaper, but she knew that wasn't a good idea. She had already lingered in the same place for far too long. It was dangerous. Hermione packed up the tent and the few belongings she removed from her bag before collapsing into the bunk however many days earlier. With a quick spell she removed all trace of magic still lingering in the air. She focused on another part of the country she once travelled to with her parents and disapparated.
And that is how she, despite all odds against her, managed to survive completely on her own for so long. Every couple of days she moved to another desolate part of her beautiful country and hid. There had been some close calls. One night she could hear a gang of Snatchers just a few yards away. It was encouraging to find out that her protection spells were effective, but that evening huddled in fear at the mouth of her tent was the longest night of her life. Another time she almost came face to face with a couple of Death Eaters walking through a village she had snuck into for food. Thankfully a large group of shoppers crossed her path the right moment and she was able to blend in the crowd. They never saw her.
Avoiding the wizarding world as much as humanly possible meant that Hermione had received very little news of what was happening now that the war was lost. Slipping into the Muggle world, she had been able to pick up on some strange news happening around the country, but nothing had revealed the fates of those closest to her. She had even taken to speaking out loud to Ron in hopes that he would be able to find her with the Deluminator that Dumbledore left him in his will. She desperately hoped that Ron had lost the magical gadget because the alternative was too much for her to bear. She hadn't seen or heard from a friend since the battle. For all she knew everyone in the Order and Dumbledore's Army was dead. She couldn't bear to dwell too much on that possibility.
Hermione found herself shivering inside her tent that cold January evening wishing she was just about anywhere else in the world. She had been able to move about the country without being caught, but she knew it would only be a matter of time before she slipped up again. Maybe leaving the country and heading somewhere warmer was what she needed. As she pulled the blankets on her cot around her tighter to banish as much of the cool Scottish air as she could, she found herself imagining what Australia must be like that time of year. Probably bloody wonderful and warm, she thought. She was regretting setting up camp just outside of the city of Inverness. It was freezing and because of the large population nearby, she was hesitant to use magic to keep warm. What wouldn't she have given at that moment for a friend to share their body warmth with?
She knew she didn't have enough blankets and could very well freeze to death if she stayed put. What a terribly ignoble way to go after all she had already been through. Hermione sat up from the bed and pulled the beaded bag out of her pocket. She pulled out the even smaller bag that contained the entirety of her life savings, much dwindled after almost two years of living rough. It wasn't going to last much longer at this rate, but she knew she needed to splurge a little on herself for a hot meal and a pint or two. Maybe a local would even take pity on her and pick up her tab.
She gathered everything up and began the arduous task of disassembling the tent. With repetition the act had gotten easier, but it was difficult to complete by herself. She had taken Ron and Harry for granted before. How she missed them!
Once the tent was packed up again inside her bag and the bag stowed away again in an inside pocket of her shirt, Hermione began to slowly take down the protections around the camp and cleanse the area of any trace of magical power. That part always made her nervous. She was never more vulnerable than when she was removing the enchantments. It would only take one person being there at the wrong time to muck it all up for her. Thankfully it seemed everyone else was snugged up inside their homes. She was alone.
The walk in to the outskirts of Inverness was not entirely private that evening, but she knew well enough how to keep her head down and how to draw as little attention to herself as possible. It was a skill she learned in school that she had often forgotten as she grew older. She was largely ignored, but to be safe, she wrapped her scarf firmly around her face. Her hair was fastened in a tight braid swinging down the middle of her back. It was her most recognizable feature so she kept it bound to attract less notice.
She was pleased to see a warm, lively pub not far from the edge of town. The lights beckoned to her to get out of the cold. She was grateful there hadn't been any snow yet. Being cold and wet was utterly unbearable. A group of young men were ahead of her at the door. The last held the door open for her with a wink. Any ordinary night and any ordinary girl, she would've joined him as his warm smile invited her to. There was an empty place at the end of the bar near a roaring fireplace. She rushed to it before he had a chance to speak to her.
It wasn't much longer before Hermione had a steaming bowl of delicious soup in front of her and the best tasting pint of dark beer in her hand. She could almost feel her toes again. That was the warmest she had been in days. The crowd of people in the small area ordinarily would've made her feel claustrophobic and the air stuffy, but she relished in the crush. Even if they were all strangers and none of them knew she was on the run for her life, she couldn't get enough of the simple human interaction that she had taken for granted her entire life.
"Looks like you're a bit low on that one. Can I get you another?"
The man from the front door seated himself on the vacant stool next to her only moments after the previous occupant rose. He was charming and she loved his cocky, but sweet grin, but fear ran through Hermione's veins when he addressed her. She didn't want to be noticed. She wanted to fade into the background and be eternally overlooked. Why couldn't he bother the group of girls on the other side of the fireplace who seemed so desperate for his attention?
"No, thank you," she replied as politely as she could. "I was just about to leave actually."
"No, you can't leave so early. The night's just getting started."
Hermione attacked her remaining soup with a relish that even Ron would be proud of. She needed to get out of there as soon as possible, but couldn't afford to leave food behind. This had been the best meal she's had in months. It would be a sin to waste.
"I can't let the prettiest girl in here leave without me at least trying to find out her name," Mr. Charming continued.
Despite her fear, Hermione found herself smiling at the compliment. She hadn't heard a kind word from anyone in months.
"Emma," she lied.
"Pleasure, Emma. My name's Ryan and I will take it as an insult if you don't let me buy you another."
She couldn't argue with him. Making a big scene and running out of the pub like a madwoman would only draw more unwanted attention to her. When the bartender handed her another full glass she began to drink it as fast as she could without seeming rude. Ryan didn't seem to be bothered by her short, one word answers to all his inquiries. He was a gregarious type who didn't really need another to continue a conversation. After several minutes, Hermione was annoyed and wanted to crawl back into her freezing bed alone. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave her alone either.
"I've never seen you around before, Emma," Ryan's voice began to carry. "Do you go to university here?"
Hermione felt a tightening in her stomach. Her companion was quickly turning from Mr. Charming to Mr. Drunkenly Obnoxious. They were generating stares from patrons all over the room.
"Thank you for the drink, Ryan," she said, dropping enough money in front of the bartender to pay for her meal. "But I really must be going."
Ryan caught her around the waist before she could rush past him. He pulled her to him, reminding her a little too much of Cormac McLaggen and sixth year. The stares only increased.
"Please, Ryan, I have to go." Her voice croaked with fear. There were too many people and she was too recognizable. She'd made a grave error coming out into public.
"Stay for just one more," Ryan begged, tightening his grip.
The door to the pub opened and Hermione's eyes went straight over Ryan's shoulder to view the newcomers. Two tall, dangerous looking men began surveying the room as they unwrapped their scarves from around their faces. Hermione gulped, thankful that Ryan stopped her from leaving when she did. Albert Runcorn and Antonin Dolohov were in the same pub. She would never forget either of their faces as long as she lived. Ryan's broad shoulders kept her partially hidden from either of their gazes. It was only a matter of time though. They weren't in for a quick bite and a pint. They were searching for someone.
"Shit, Ryan," Hermione whispered to the young man still holding her in his grasp. "My husband just walked in. He mustn't know I'm here."
Ryan turned around to view the two new patrons. Dolohov and Runcorn were facing away from him and missed his jerk in their direction.
"Which one's your husband?" he asked, mercifully lowering his own voice to a whisper first.
"The one in the black leather coat," she answered. Runcorn was the least objectionable of the two after all. At least ten years younger than the other wizard, he also lacked the insanity so present in Dolohov's eyes after more than a decade locked up in Azkaban with the dementors. If he hadn't always been so keen to imprison or execute her, Hermione might've even admitted that the Muggle-Born Registration Commission wizard was handsome.
"Looks like an asshole."
"Oh, he is! Very jealous too. I must get out of here before he sees me."
Ryan didn't say another word. Just grabbed Hermione to his side and dragged her behind the bar. The bartender gave her a sympathetic look and never said a word about the two of them crouching on the floor under the taps. Jealous spouses must be part and parcel of his chosen profession.
"Excuse me, sirs," the bartender drawled. "Can I get you something?"
Dolohow and Runcorn approached the bar, seemingly unaware they were only inches from Harry Potter's best friend. Dolohov sneered at the man. Runcorn pulled a photograph from the inside of his black leather coat and held it up to the bartender.
"We are looking for this woman," Runcorn announced. "Have you seen her?"
When the man cut his eyes down to the floor where Hermione was hiding for a split second, her fears were confirmed. No doubt in her mind that she was the subject of the photograph in Runcorn's hand.
"She looks familiar," the bartender responded, dropping his eyes back to the clean glass he was drying. "We get lots of young ladies from the university in here."
"Has she been in here recently?"
Hermione held her breath certain that Runcorn could hear her heart beating from her hiding place. She was sure she was going to be discovered at any moment.
"Might've been in here before," the man behind the bar continued. "Hard to say really. Like I said earlier, we get lots of girls from the university in."
"Perhaps you could look a little closer," suggested Dolohov, not even trying to hide the frustration in his voice.
Hermione silently begged the man to keep his eyes down on the glass. She was certain at least one of the wizards on the other side of the bar had some experience with legilimency. All it would take was a few seconds in the unsuspecting Muggle's mind to reveal her position on the floor.
"Is she in some kind of trouble?" he asked keeping his eyes down on the bar top. "You her family?"
"It's imperative that we find her," added Runcorn. "She is in danger. My associate and I are here to make sure she gets home safely."
Hermione almost snorted aloud at the false assurance in Albert Runcorn's statement. All he cared about was getting her in front of a Ministry tribunal at best or Lord Voldemort at worst.
"I'll keep an eye out for her. You have a number I can ring?"
Runcorn handed him a white business card.
"Ring that number if you see anyone come in here who looks like her."
Runcorn and Dolohov made one more sweep around the room scanning each face. Frustrated at not finding what they were looking for, the two wizards stormed outside in a fury. Hermione sighed in relief. She didn't know how they knew she'd been there, but she had never been more thankful for complete strangers. Ryan helped her to her feet and she saw the benevolent bartender rip Runcorn's card in half and then quarters. The pieces fluttered to the floor.
"I think you should get out of here as soon as possible, miss."
The bartender took the money she left for her meal and charitably placed it back in her hand. She could've cried from his generosity and kindness if she still wasn't terrified.
"I don't like the look of your husband," he continued. "Ry, take the lady out the back door. With any luck those men may still be out front."
"Thank you, sir. Thank you very much for your kindness." She did manage a few trickles of tears at that moment.
"Get you somewhere safe, please… and try to be more careful picking out your next husband, my dear."
Ryan led Hermione through the tiny kitchen behind the bar. A door to the alley promised her at least a chance at freedom. She slipped her hand into her pocket, reassuring herself that Bellatrix's horrible wand was still there. Ryan pushed the door open an inch to peer into the alley.
"Looks like they're still around front. I was afraid they would be expecting you to exit the back way."
Ryan's entire demeanor changed from the public room to the kitchen. He didn't even seem like he had been drinking. His eyes scanned the alley for a second time before beckoning her closer.
"Be careful out there," he whispered. "They've managed to place an anti-Apparition ward around Runcorn for about a mile. It's weak, but still effective."
Hermione stared at the young man in disbelief. She couldn't believe how calmly he was informing her that he knew of the danger she was in. How could he have known? Who was he? Ryan smiled at her confusion.
"Hufflepuff," he announced. "I had already left before you started, Hermione."
"How did you…?"
"Let's just say we have friends in common. Friends that care very much for your safety. I'm going back around to the front of the pub to get Runcorn's attention. Count to sixty after I leave. When you get to sixty, run as fast as you can out this door. Keep going left as much as you can. Do not turn around for anything, no matter what you hear. Try to disapparate as soon as you think you've gone a mile."
He took both of her hands in his and gave her a reassuring peck on the cheek. With the handsome smile she remembered from earlier in the evening, he ran out the kitchen door. She slipped the door open to wait the sixty seconds he requested. They were the longest sixty seconds of her life.
"Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty…"
She bolted through the back door and made a sharp left down the alley. At first she thought she made it out unnoticed. There was a commotion in front of the pub that she could hear even as the cold evening wind blew around her ears. She could hear several men and at least one woman shouting but couldn't make out a word they were saying. Keeping Ryan's words in mind, she ran as fast as she could without stopping to dwell on what was happening behind her.
"Someone's in the alley!"
The unmistakable sounds of heavy footfalls sounded behind Hermione. She didn't turn around to see who was coming after her. Every moment mattered and regardless of who was behind her, she knew their legs were longer than hers. It wouldn't take long to catch up to her.
She knew it was Dolohov behind her. His voice had haunted her nightmares since the Department of Mysteries. He had been so close to killing her that day. Her body still bore the scars he inflicted. Her terror spurred her on. She wasn't going to give in and let him take her again.
The alleys and sidewalks were slippery, but miraculously Hermione kept her footing as she ran. She'd never been a strong cross country runner, but it was amazing how a murderous madman behind her could motivate her to keep moving. A second set of running footsteps sounded behind her and she knew that whatever Ryan had tried to do to distract Runcorn failed. She hoped he was all right.
Every time Hermione came upon a left turn she took it in an effort to keep the wizards behind her disoriented. They had been reluctant up to that point to send any curses or jinxes her way, but she knew her luck wouldn't last much longer. Only the presence of ordinary Muggles walking through the city kept them from using magic on her. If they managed to keep up with her long enough for her make it to a less crowded area, she knew she would be in a full body bind before she could bring up a shield to protect herself. She kept running even when she feared she would never be able to breathe again. Her endurance surprised her. She had no idea how she was going to get at least a mile between her and Runcorn at this point. He was too fast and Dolohov was right there with him.
"You can't keep running forever, Granger!" Runcorn screamed at her. She didn't need to be reminded. She was already aware that she would be getting close to the end of her physical limits very soon.
She made another left turn at top speed to pass by a series of identical row houses with the same garden gate. After the third or fourth house, a pair of arms reached out through the garden gate and caught her. A strong hand covered her mouth to prevent her screaming. Whoever held her released their hold for just a moment to tap her head. Instantly a cooling sensation ran down her entire body. Runcorn and Dolohov ran right past her, unable to see her after a powerful concealment charm took hold.
"Where did she go?" Runcorn demanded.
"Maybe she apparated," suggested Dolohov.
"It's not possible! It's not possible. She must be around here somewhere. Split up!"
The strong arms wrapped around Hermione did not release her until the sounds of the two wizards lessened. When they were convinced the men were out of range, the mysterious figure behind her roughly turned Hermione around. In the dark it was hard to see, but after only a moment or two of her eyes adjusting to the darkness, Lucius Malfoy's silvery blond hair glistened in the faint moonlight.
"Good evening, Miss Granger."
His voice was low and dangerous. Hermione's stomach dropped. She tried to run, but his arms were back around her before she made it even a step. With his hand covering her mouth, he leaned down to bring his lips directly to her ear. His breath floating over her neck brought shivers all over her body.
"What is that delightful Muggle saying, Miss Granger?" He continued, his voice a harsh whisper in the darkness. "Ah yes, 'out of the frying pan and into the fire'."