AUTHOR'S NOTES:

1) AU SETTING

2) Inspired by Kittenshift17's Halloween Prompts, Day 23 (any similarities in premise between her new fic Witch Hunting and Foxglove & Wolfsbane are due to said prompt, have been addressed privately, and this story is being written with her encouragement).

3) * Orias Mulciber (who appears in a number of my other DE fics) is my take on the canon character of Mulciber.

4) Though Fenrir Greyback is listed among the fancasts, whether or not he will make an appearance in this story is yet to be determined.


FANCAST:

Brock O'Hurn as *Orias Mulciber; Chris Hemsworth as Thorfinn Rowle; Michiel Huisman as Antonin Dolohov; Jason Momoa as Fenrir Greyback


Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, or any affiliated characters, and make no profit from this story.


Chapter One

Hermione frowned at the missive in her hands, her eyes drifting closed as she shook her head. This was it.

They'd be coming for her.

Crumbling the parchment between her hands, she turned and started for the kitchen to retrieve nibbles for the owl who'd delivered her final grade from the finishing school. It wasn't the bird's fault the bit of seemingly good news it'd just delivered her carried such a weight.

"You brought this on yourself, Hermione, you stupid girl," she said in a whisper as she stepped through the door and continued to the pantry cupboard.

There was nothing to be done for it—she'd read about the ways of the Wizarding World. She knew what became of the Muggle-born witch declared Brightest of the Age. And yet, she couldn't stifle her unbearable perfectionism. Her constant need to answer correctly, to answer the fastest, to have the answer—and if she didn't, to know what to do to buy herself time to find it—had been her downfall.

And she knew! She remembered clearly thinking, If I fail just one test. That turned into, Maybe if I can bring myself to just answer one question wrong. Which, of course, devolved further, still, when she found herself driven to prove that she knew all the answers, again. Perhaps if she wasn't the first to hand in her exam scrolls.

Until the professor overseeing the final exam had noticed that she wasn't writing, but doodling at the corners of the page in an effort to look like she was still working away.

So many other girls at Beauxbatons wanted to claim the so-called honor such high marks would bring. "Barbaric," the witch muttered with a sigh as she scooped out a few bits of jerky from the jar she kept especially for the feathery messengers and returned to the parlor. The wonderfully obedient creature was waiting patiently for her—or, more precisely, for its reward.

Yet, as she neared it, the bird spooked and out into the brisk night air it fled.

Hermione's shoulders slumped and she darted her gaze about the open window. Only half a heartbeat passed before she realized that she'd done nothing to alarm the owl. If it had fled so—

As she spun to face the intruder, everything went dark.


She became aware of an inconsistent buzzing in her ears, first.

Giving herself a small, subtle shake, she tried to open her eyes, but a soft weight pressed against her eyelids. God, she was blindfolded! She already knew trying to move would not work—not yet, not until they let her. Her wrists were pinned together before her by way of a sticking charm, as were her feet to the ground.

Swallowing hard, she turned her head, trying to listen for the buzzing. At that motion, the sounds ceased, and she realized what they must be. Conversation.

Obviously, her signal that she was conscious—clearly after having been rendered otherwise by a charm—had silenced them. She tried not to let the sudden quiet send a chill up her spine, but the very air around her felt like it was holding its breath.

She flinched back a bit at the sound of footfalls drawing close to her.

"Shh, shh, you're safe."

Though she didn't quite believe the soothing voice cooing to her, she stilled. She thought she could feel the beat of her heart rattling her rib cage as another footfall sounded, and then she became distinctly aware of someone standing before her.

A gentle finger slipped beneath the blindfold and slid it up, pulling the silken band off over the top of her head. Immediately she winced against the wash of intermittent illumination dancing against the backs of her closed eyelids. Firelight. She supposed that made sense.

"It's all right, my dear. You can open your eyes."

"Dispel the sticking charms, first," she said, her voice level, perfectly calm despite the nervous churning in the pit of her stomach. Yes, yes, the wizards who participated in this so-called event were selected by Magic, itself, but that didn't guarantee they wouldn't be utter toads.

When her demand was met with hesitation, she added on, "It's hardly as though I've got anywhere else to go. I know what becomes of witches who try to escape the Foxhunt." Shunned they were—no longer welcome in the Wizarding world, they lived on the outskirts of Muggle society, like the crone-hags in old fairy stories.

"Of course you would know, wouldn't you? You are certainly the prize Beauxbatons promised you to be."

The sticking charm fell away, then, but she was still reluctant. Biting hard into the inside of her lower lip, Hermione opened her eyes. She just barely kept a gasp from tearing out of her. Four tall, cloaked figures stood before her, their faces covered by ornate silver masks.

Death Eaters.

Sacred Twenty-Eight wizards? This certainly was rare . . . . For all of her pursuers to hail from the oldest, noblest of the pure-blood lines was unprecedented in recent history. Typically, one or two might be purest-of-the-pure, from her research into the Foxhunts, but all four?

Brow furrowing, she looked to each of them, in turn, amid the circle of standing torches. "I don't understand."

"Perhaps we should remove our masks," one of them said. "This is an unusual circumstance, the Fox does deserve to know her Hunters."

The two tallest went first, revealing breathtaking blue eyes on each of them. She knew they were of separate lineages—they had to be, the Magic did not allow members of the same family to participate in the same Foxhunt—but they could pass for brothers. Each had long, tumbling dark-gold hair, strong Nordic features and beards gracing their chiseled jawlines.

It took everything in her not to let her eyes widen or her jaw drop as she looked them over. Her features carefully schooled, she turned her attention on the other two, pretending her pulse hadn't quickened as she'd met the eyes of both of those near-Vikings before looking away.

The blond wizards were both mountainous figures, and she could see it from the corner of her eye as the taller of the two leaned toward the other and murmured something to him. She couldn't quite hear what he said, but she could swear she read the movement of his lips. We made her blush with a look. Interesting.

She pretended not to have caught that. For some reason, she was certain it would only cause her to blush more furiously, and she'd not even been aware she was blushing before that.

The other two wizards followed suit, removing their masks. The first was a man with lush, wavy dark hair and intense eyes such a deep brown, they were nearly black. And the final one—the only one not sporting facial hair, in fact—had a head of sleek, silvery-blond hair and icy grey eyes.

This last one, she recognized.

"Lucius Malfoy?"

With the tiniest hint of a grin curving one side of his mouth, he bowed his head. "You're one of the girls Narcissa taught before she passed, hmm?"

Her brows pinching together, Hermione nodded. She'd loved Professor Narcissa Malfoy's lessons—the witch was stern, and took no guff, a bit like Professor McGonagall, but more uptight. That she expected the very best from her students in even the smallest thing was how the girl imagined she might be if she ever became a teacher.

When Narcissa had contracted Dragon Pox, Hermione felt a bit of a void, knowing the poor woman would not have long. But she'd kept teaching up 'til she absolutely could not, anymore.

"I am sorry for you loss, Sir."

His almost-smiling expression warmed a little, but not much. "Such condolences are unnecessary, it has been a few years. Clearly the Magic has decided it time I consider remarrying, or I would not be here."

She nodded, giving him a once-over. He certainly was fit for his age. His skin was smooth, and he barely looked as though he had the beginnings of crows feet; it was jarring to consider he was a widower, or that he had a son her age.

Honestly, she hated to be superficial about the matter—after all, whoever caught her would claim her for life, that was a weighty thing, indeed—but she could not help that for a moment she really appreciated the way the Foxhunt's Magic worked. All four were quite something to look at.

But that was enough of the pleasantries. She knew this was not going to be a happy, shiny experience. She hadn't looked to the area beyond her suitors standing with her in the ring of torchlight for precisely that reason.

"Hermione Granger," Lucius Malfoy said, and she knew he'd been the one speaking to her while she'd been blindfolded. "Welcome to the Foxhunt. As our quarry, you wear an amulet that will signal each of us when you have been captured and the Hunt comes to a close."

Her brows shooting up, she patted a hand against her throat. Sure enough, she found herself fitted with a choker, a smooth stone set into intricately-molded gold . . . or perhaps it was silver.

"Hunters, present yourselves to our Fox."

The taller of the two Vikings stepped forward. Though he lowered in a sweeping bow, he kept his face tilted up, those vibrant blue eyes of his fixed on hers. "Orias of House Mulciber."

She nodded in acknowledgement, swallowing hard as he straightened to his full—markedly impressive—height and stepped back. His voice was a gorgeous deep timbre that she was rather sure she could stand to hear more of.

The other Viking stepped up, next. His bow was not as sweeping, something in the movement made her think he might be expecting her to run up and kick him in the shins. Despite the guarded gesture, she detected a note of humor in his voice as he said, "Thorfinn of House Rowle."

He must be the sort who was always at least a little amused at everything, she thought. She nodded to him.

The dark-haired one followed. He did not bow—not until Lucius not-so-subtly jabbed an elbow into his ribs. One brow arching, he lowered for the briefest moment. "Antonin of House Dolohov."

Her posture stiffened a little at his family name. Dolohov was not a Sacred Twenty-Eight family, so how, then, was this man a Death Eater?

"Oh, I think she's on to you," the giant of a wizard—Orias—said, to Thorfinn's barely shielded snickering.

Antonin sneered at that. She was a bloody Muggle-born, who was she to question his right to stand among his fellow Death Eaters? But he might be the one to catch her, and he could not have this off to such a rough start.

"My mother is of House Shafiq."

That was a name she recognized from her research. Only when this Antonin visibly settled his irritation with the matter, did she nod in acknowledgement of him.

"And of course, you know I am Lucius of House Malfoy," the silver-haired man said with a bow that was just as sweeping as Orias' had been.

Remembering there was something she'd wanted to ask before she was sent off, she quickly nodded and waited for him to back up into line with the other three. As Lucius opened his mouth to move the event along, she held up a hand.

"I must know, why is this Foxhunt special?" Inhaling deep and holding it a moment, she let the breath out slow before elaborating. "How is it that my Hunters are all Death Eaters?"

Lucius nodded—of course if her reputation held, he should have expected her to ask. "You are the Brightest Witch of the Age."

Her shoulders slumped, feeling underwhelmed with his response. "No. Every Fox is the Muggle-born who proves herself brightest of her . . . . Wait." Her brow furrowed as she played his exact words over in her head. She could just feel Lucius' brows slowly climbing his forehead as he, indeed, waited for her to comprehend the situation. "You didn't say Muggle-born."

"No, I did not." Again, he nodded. "You are the Brightest Witch of this Age."

Hermione's chestnut eyes widened as that sank in. The brightest witch among both Muggle-borns and pure-bloods? That explained the rarity of this, she was sure. That was probably why the last time this had happened had not been in recent history.

"Now, I'm afraid we have delayed long enough. You have a one hour head start. As you evade your Hunters, so too, must your prove your wit and tenacity by evading the creatures who reside within these woods."

Forcing a gulp down her throat, she nodded. That was something she'd deliberately avoided thinking about—the creatures in these woods. It wouldn't matter which of these wizards found her first, if a werewolf happened upon her sooner.

She bit hard into her bottom lip as she looked out into the Dark Forest. And her, without her wand. The final step in proving she was worthy of the honor of comingling her blood with that of a noble House.

Lucius leaned close, his face nearly in hers as he said the words that would start the Hunt. "And so the Fox runs."

Turning on her heel, Hermione wasted no time bolting into the tree line.