AN: Just to make things clear early on, italics is in the past, and normal (?) is in the present.
She crossed her legs, moving to open a small book.
"Are you crying?"
Hermione looked up, her eyes puffed and bloodshot.
"Yes, I'm crying. The fuck you asking for?"
She hiccupped. The old man recoiled. "No need to be so rude about it-"
"And absolutely no need to meddle with other people's businesses." She opened her book. "Good day."
The man and his wife moved to the next train compartment, exchanging strange looks. Hermione removed the paper bookmark and placed it to her left, sniffing.
A middle aged woman, across from where Hermione was sitting, frowned. "Do you need a handkerchief, dear?"
Hermione looked at the woman, puckered her brow, and promptly burst into loud, wet tears. "Oh, God, please." She wiped her eyes with shaking hands. Then: "This is the most awful handkerchief I have ever used- when did you last wash this? If at all?"
The woman tutted unsympathetically and snatched the handkerchief back.
"Oh god, I'm going to throw up. Watch my seat," she whispered loudly, to no one in particular. She hurried off to the nearest bin.
Within a few minutes, she'd returned, taking her ragged hat off and throwing it next to her. Her face was damp. The train lurched, then began moving- Hermione squealed.
"Should the train be moving this fast?!"
She was ignored by the general populace of the train, except for the woman sitting across from her, rolling her eyes.
"Oh piss off, Miss Lousy Handkerchief."
The woman gasped and angrily stood up, moving to sit in a different compartment.
Hermione looked around, puzzled. Why is there two of everything?
Her throat burned. Her eyes burned. Her fingertips burned—she took another swig from the flask labelled R.W. and blinked until her eyesight was less blurry.
She wiped her hands on her apron, which wasn't of any use. She flicked her dampened hands in the air one more time and sighed.
She stared at the broken bottom of her boiling flask, and ignored the apologies of her partner, who was on the floor, crying at her feet.
She couldn't do this. She couldn't.
She had to.
"Leave," she snapped, her voice low and dangerous, the opposite of what she was feeling. "Leave, now."
They scrambled, reaching for their old, heavy block-like phone, and crawled out the door, their sobs echoing in the lab.
When the door slammed shut, her hands started to shake, and she felt tears running down her cheeks and sliding beneath the front of her hazmat suit—
By tomorrow morning, her partner would be six feet under.
She wouldn't have a say about it.
Hermione turned to the twelfth page, her eyesight blurry and the majority of the words she read escaping her actual notice.
A regular, paced clap of footsteps on the floor caught her attention- namely, they clanked and banged against the walls of her head and made her want to scream, but she tried to stay silent.
"Are you trying to cause a fucking earthquake? It's fucking working, isn't it?"
The man looked at her, and she scowled further when he didn't answer.
"Bloody- will you just sit down, already?"
He stood tall- tall enough to make Hermione lift her chin up to look at him, enough to make her head rotate in itself and spin in endless, infinite circles- the train was moving fast and the regular rocking of the compartment as it raced across the tracks made her want to throw up again.
He sat down in front of her, adjusting his sunglasses beneath his upturned collar and twisting his hat to cover his face.
She resumed reading her book, but in her drunken stupor, she kept her glaringly obvious suspicious eyes on him.
She stared at the gallon of pseudoephedrine in her hands, swallowing. The ring on her right hand distracted her.
"Where did you find this?"
Her new partner grinned, his chest puffing out.
"I have my sources."
She rolled her eyes, and it felt forced. She couldn't care less.
"Well we can't fucking use the Nagai method if we don't have any bloody red phosphorus, can we?"
The smile on his face stiffened on his face and disappeared.
"Oh. I thought I bought some yesterday."
She slammed the bottle on her work desk, then, losing her patience. "Cut your bullshit. You screwed up and wasted our only money on this- this low grade shit we can't even use because you're an idiot."
His eyes widened as he saw her fists clench.
"Leave. Get the fuck out. Get the fuck out or I swear to god-"
"Alright, alright, calm the fuck down-"
She threw the remains of that one broken boiling flask in his direction, not wanting to hurt him, but knowing that this was the only way he'd leave. The flask shattered on the floor, sending shards flying in a circle around it.
"Holy shit, you're fucking crazy! Holy shit, why the fuck would they put you in charge of the-"
Her eyes widened and instantly narrowed in anger.
"Fuck you, you smarmy shitehole, get the bloody fuck out of my lab-"
For the second time in three days, the door of her lab slammed shut, and for the second time, she sat down and cried.
She didn't want to do this. She couldn't.
The cylindrical flask rolled away from her when she fell asleep, and when the man in front of her picked it up, she nearly screeched.
"What the fuck, you git, privacy and respect of other people's properties, if you will-"
He spoke for the first time, then: "If you don't have any respect for your own properties, as you so call them, letting them roll away in a train- why should I?"
His voice was rough, raw, as if his throat was sore and his nose blocked- for a second, it reminded Hermione of someone she knew.
Her anger suddenly faded into sorrow, sadness, and she felt her back stiffen and her eyes clog up with tears.
"Just…" she started, her voice low and cracked, "just give me the damned flask."
His eyes lingered on the initials at the bottom. He ran a gloved hand over it, briefly tracing the R.W. initials. He handed it back. Hermione said nothing, but stared intently at his hands.
For the first time in two weeks, she produced a batch. Her partner looked at it, a contemplative look on his face.
"It's not bad," he started, but was instantly interrupted.
"It's terrible," she replied, inspecting it. It was foggy and made her uncomfortable.
"It's not," he said, reaching into his pocket- when he extracted a small item and she realized what it is, she stopped him.
"Since when do we smoke our own fucking stash?" she asked, her face strangely passive- this was the first partner who was semi-adequate, and she was unsure if she could get another one for a long time. "We talked about this. This isn't for us. We didn't pay for this."
He frowned, putting it back in his pocket. "Yeah. Whatever."
When he shrugged, she nearly screamed. "Whatever? Do you realize what this is?"
"A horrible, cloudy batch of-"
"So you admit that it's bad."
"So you admit that you're horrible at this."
"What- no I don't!"
"I didn't have any fucking trouble working with other people, did I? And then you showed up."
He swallowed, obviously holding back his anger. Hermione felt as if this should please her, but it didn't. It pissed her off.
"This isn't for us," she said, then, taking off her gloves. Her ring had dulled, and she mourned its worn off golden colour. "People need this. It's not for us."
He nodded, taking off his gloves as well. The remains of the boiling flask were still on the floor. "Right. Yeah."
She wanted to slap him.
Her eyes narrowed at the page when he talked.
"You've been on the same page since I got here. Are you sure you're alright?"
She looked up, surprised, and shut her book.
"Are you sure you weren't raised in a barn?"
He laughed, his voice croaky and tired. Hermione briefly wondered why.
"I'm not trying to provoke you. I'm concerned."
She scratched her head and intoned, sarcastically, "Of course. Of course, right? Some girl gets on a train a little tipsy and everyone is suddenly concerned."
"You're drunk," he replied.
He ignored her. "You're drunk while light's out- that's the only reason I'm concerned."
She raised her eyebrows. "You normally worry about strangers on the train?"
He shrugged, looking around- Hermione couldn't see his face, couldn't tell what his expression was. "Don't have anything better to do."
She stared at him for a few seconds, her eyes glued to his opaque sunglasses, and then looked away, her eyes widened in revulsion. "Brilliant. Fucking brilliant."
The man ignored her, leaning his head back on the chair.
Hermione watched his Adam's apple bob up and down.
How odd. His neck looked familiar.
She walked into the office, and watched as its lovely maroon velvet curtains were torn down and replaced with thick, black paper that blocked out the sunlight.
"Grindelwald," she said, her head bowed and her voice uncertain- her hands shook in anxiety as she desperately resisted shoving them in her pockets.
He didn't reply, then, his chair still faced away from her- she hadn't seen him in three months. She was happy she hadn't.
"Are you alright, poppy?" he said, his voice ringing clear in the room- it was confident, sure, and it made Hermione all the more nervous.
She hesitated. "I'm- yes. Yes, I'm alright."
He hadn't turned around, still. "Tell me what this is."
A guard came near her, tall and wide and frightening, and handed her a small, clear plastic bag- inside was a small sample of her last batch.
She looked at it, gulping. "Meth."
He laughed, cackled, even, and his head poked out from behind the chair. "Speed, darling. Amps, dex, meth. Do you know how many people out there can cook this?"
Clearing her throat, she answered. "Lots."
A fist slammed on something solid, and she instantly recognized the beginning of one of his rage fits. "Then why the fuck did I hire you?"
It shocked her, and for a few seconds, she said nothing. Then, "Because I'm the best."
"Because you're the best," he repeated, his voice strange and distant- "the best. But you're not really at your best, at the moment, are you, poppy?"
She shook her head, then remembered he couldn't see her. "No. I'm not."
It was silent for a few seconds before the guard moved up again and took the sample from her hands. She licked her dry lips.
"Leave," he spoke suddenly, making Hermione jump. "Leave and I'll find you a better partner. One that won't muck up."
She scrambled outside the door, wanting nothing but to get out- when she did, she wanted to cry.
He would get her another partner.
She would have to cook more.
She couldn't do this.
She had to.
He hadn't spoken another word, since, and Hermione had finally moved on to the next page. Her head seemed to be teetering on the edge between blissfully but angrily drunk and bloody fucking hell my head.
The train, jolted, suddenly, and the passengers momentarily jumped in their seats- Hermione's book made a brief clonk sound.
The man's head abruptly turned to her, surprised.
Clearing her throat, Hermione stashed the book behind her, nestled between her heavy jacket and the seat. She reached under her seat, clumsily fumbling around, before finding a small bag. She brought it out and reached in, fetching a small bag of rationed chips.
"Want some?" she asked, opening the bag and presenting it with unstable hands to the man in front of her. He stared at her, passively, before slowly shaking his head.
"Your fucking- hic!- loss," she said, shrugging. Stuffing a handful of chips in her mouth, Hermione looked outside the window across from her.
"I don't understand," she huffed, sitting on the old, broken chair. "I'm doing everything right but it's just not working out."
Luna Lovegood moved to sit next to her, and though the exhaustion was clear on her face, she maintained an attitude of dreamy carefreeness.
"It's alright," said Luna, her calm voice misplaced in the lifeless atmosphere. "It'll work out."
"No, it won't," she replied, shrugging. "It hasn't so far." She looked up, her face clouded. "All the partners I've had so far were awful and I honestly-"
She paused. Luna's face had darkened, though not unkindly.
"Luna." She cleared her throat. "Luna, I'm sorry, but you know I can't ask you to-"
"It's alright. I know Harry wouldn't be happy, too."
She swallowed the lump in her throat and stood up. "Alright. Call the new one in. We need to get started again."
Luna nodded, hopping off the chair.
The old, broken chair creaked as she spun on it.
Hermione had fallen asleep. She sometimes made strange noises, but the man across from her ignored it. At some point, her flask rolled away again, but the man ignored it.
She snored, loudly, and abruptly woke herself up- she shot forwards, panicked, her hair forming a frizzy halo around her head. Her hand shot to her thigh, as if looking for something, and stilled.
She stopped breathing.
The man across from her noted her movement, looking at her hand. When she saw him, Hermione quickly withdrew her arm, tucking it under the volumes of her cheap, plastic-y jacket.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Hermione looked at her nails. "When's the next stop? Can you tell me when we get to it, please?"
The man nodded, distracted, his gaze still trained on the spot on her leg she'd reflexively reached for.
She felt caught out- she daren't tell him to look away.
Hermione closed her eyes, but couldn't sleep, feeling the scrutiny of the man in front of her burning through her skin.
He fit a cigarette in his mouth, as she carefully observed the wide bottomed conical flask.
"This one- this one might turn out better, I hope-"
She turned to him, and just as he brought out a lighter from his pocket, she screamed.
"What- what are you doing?"
He shrugged, looking at her oddly. "Burning one- what does it look like?"
She closed her eyes, squeezed them shut, swallowed. "Tell me. Tell me why you should not be smoking a cigarette right now."
He narrowed his eyes, and she resented how he didn't take her seriously. "I don't know."
She lost it. "We just finished the last of our mercury amalgam reaction and you're wondering why you shouldn't use a fucking lighter in the lab?"
He shook his head, exasperated. "I don't fucking get it-"
"We have a residue of badly contained hydrogen fucking gas and you're wondering why you can't 'smoke one up'?!"
He rubbed his temples with his two index fingers. "It's not even that much-"
"You know what?" She slammed her fist on the work desk, taking her gasmask off. He'd taken it off as soon as he could. "If you want to be the second partner of mine that dies in an explosion, go ahead. Just don't fucking do it around me."
Scoffing, he threw the cigarette on the floor, angry. "You're such a fucking bitch."
She narrowed her eyes. "For not wanting to die, yeah?"
He threw his gloves off, stepping on them irately. "You're a bossy little bitch, you know that? That's why no one wants to cook with you. You're a bloody control freak-!"
"Get the fuck out, you idiotic git of a man-"
"I'm fucking leaving, you utter cunt-"
The door slammed shut, and she shouted incoherently at it, fuming.
She did not sit down.
She did not cry.
Instead, she reached for her black, block-like, eleven year old phone, and dialled three numbers.
She waited until a beep sounded, then-
"Send me Luna." She coughed, her voice coming out shaky and miserable. "Just send me Luna."
She shut her phone and threw it across the desk, watching as it landed loudly a few inches left to her new boiling flask.
She had to ask Luna to be her partner. She feared for Luna's safety.
Grindelwald didn't stand by any mistakes.
She had to.
Her head started to hurt- her vision had improved and her comprehension of her surroundings developed gradually, but she still did not talk to the man in front of her.
He now held the flask in his gloved hands, staring outside the window.
The train slowed as it pulled up into a station. A few dozen passengers exited, but only a handful of people climbed in. It all took a minute, and the train shortly started moving again.
Hermione stared at the flask.
When he noticed her, he brought it up to eye level, and his eyes lingered on the initials- she saw an inch of his face, bruised and battered, and her heart stopped.
He couldn't, he couldn't possibly-
"R.W.," he said, his voice barely loud enough for her to hear. "Are these your initials?"
Hermione swallowed. She felt like she was supposed to lie, like they were treading dangerous grounds and that she was supposed to hide, to fight, to stab and run away-
"No," she said, finally. "No they're not."
He nodded, as if that had been the answer he expected. He nodded to her hand, then, the hand that had reflexively reached for her thigh earlier. "And I suppose that has something to do with the owner of these initials."
Her heart slowed down.
A little band of skin on her ring finger had been discoloured, as if something had covered it while the rest of her skin had tanned. She covered that hand, quickly, as if ashamed, and tore her eyes from the man.
She said nothing at first, then:
"Rather nosy for a stranger on a train, aren't we?"
He looked taken aback, as if he hadn't expected her to object. Then, he leaned his head back, as if staring down his nose at her. He had sunglasses on, and she still couldn't really see his face. "Strangers on a train, indeed. I don't know you, you don't know me. Who am I going to tell?"
Hermione looked at his indistinct face for a few seconds longer, then looked away. She was too drunk to see properly. His strange, croaky voice annoyed her. The little red book behind her pressed on her lower back. She stared at her ring finger and ignored him.
Her phone rang, and she answered.
"Hey, 'Mione, I heard you're getting Luna to partner up with you-"
She swallowed. Harry was currently in the tunnels, where signal was hard to find, so their conversations had to be brief and to the point. "I had no choice. I had no choice, Harry, I've gone through half a dozen people and-"
The voice on the other side of the phone sighed, sounding weary. "Are you sure you couldn't find anyone else?"
She didn't answer, and he made a low, noncommittal noise.
Luna walked into the lab, and quickly moved to change her clothes.
The blocky, old phone started to heat up, and the voice on the other side sighed again. "Good luck."
She held her breath for a few seconds then nodded to herself. "Yeah. Yeah, thank you."
As soon as she hanged up, the phone rang again. She held the warm device to her ear.
"I found one. He's coming your way now."
Luna walked into the room, but when she saw her on the chair, in half shock, half relief, she seemed to understand.
"Guess it's not meant to be again." Luna removed her apron and placed it on the handle of the door. Her left eye, pale blue and unseeing, had a dull shine in the white fluorescent lights. "I'll see you later."
The door slammed shut.
She sat still.
She had never been so relieved in her life.
"What's wrong with your voice?"
He looked up, surprised- the question caught him like a deer in the headlights.
Hermione shrugged, leaning backwards. Her book poked at her back. "Your voice. It's all rough."
He cleared his throat, and seemed to collect himself- Hermione momentarily felt jealous at how quickly and naturally he managed it. "Bit of a cold."
Laughing, Hermione leaned forwards. "Better get rid of it soon. It's only September, but we know how cold it gets up North by the end of the month."
He eyed his wristwatch, as much as Hermione could tell from behind his opaque shades, and looked away.
His hand was now clutched firmly around the flask, and she swallowed a lump in her throat.
Grindelwald was all laughs and smiles as he walked in her laboratory.
"Poppy," he said, as happiness seemingly burst out of his chest, in complete contrast to the drab, grey surroundings.
She bowed her head slightly and avoided eye contact.
"Here's the man I've- we've been looking for." He looked outside the door, and firmly gestured someone in.
She didn't look up as he made the introductions. A few minutes passed- she never shook hands, never welcomed him, never even bothered taking off her respirator.
When Grindelwald left, she quickly turned to her work desk, shuffling apart the formula notes Luna had left for her.
The man stood behind her, and his presence was eerie- she turned suddenly to face him.
He was tall, and despite almost the entire population of their country starving, he looked healthy.
She narrowed her eyes at him.
"I didn't catch your name, sorry," she said, not apologetically.
He narrowed his eyes, too, in a strange, calculating fashion.
"Tom Riddle," he said, finally, as if he'd eventually found the stare-off dull. "My name's Tom Riddle."
She nodded and gestured towards the apron Luna had left.
They had been speeding through large, green fields and great trees would often batter their heavy branches against the windows as the train disrupted their habitats- though Hermione's eyes were closed, she could not sleep, as she felt every single bump of the train on the track jolt the insides of her skull.
The small amount of liquid left inside the flask sloshed around with the movement, interrupting the general quiet.
Hermione realized then that it must have been an hour since he'd taken it- he still held it in a sturdy grip, and when she looked over, his knuckles whitened.
"I want my flask back," she said, as her throat burned and her limbs felt detached, unearthly.
He didn't reply, yet his hand tightened around the flask. A few moments later, his other hand covered it.
Her fingers shook, and she didn't know whether it was anger or fear, and just when she was about to reply-
The train slowed, slowed, slowed and pulled into a stop.
Hermione looked outside. They were still overlooking vast fields of green, and nearby she could spot a small, dense forest. There was no station in sight.
She closed her eyes and sighed.
"Maintain the temperature at-"
"I know," he said, quietly, as his fingers turned the dial upwards. He was bent over the work station, and she stood next to him, her hair barely contained behind her respirator.
"Alright, good. Now, we have to wait for a bit so we might as well-"
She stopped when he raised his opened palm at her, asking her to be quiet. She scoffed.
"I'm sorry, are you silencing me? Are you aware of how rude it is to do tha-"
She stopped again when he frustratedly covered his eyes with his gloved hand, the palm previously pointed at her clenching into a fist.
She didn't speak again, choosing to glare at him instead.
"Granger," he said, his eyes still covered and his fist still clenched, "is this normal?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Is what normal?"
"Your attitude. And assumption that I don't know what I'm doing."
She opened her mouth, then closed it again.
"Because I think I've made it rather clear that I have experience in this area. More so than you."
Her eyes widened. She nearly protested, but realized that even if he was wrong, he was doing well so far and she kind of needed him around.
"And until this… temporary… agreement comes to an end, it would be best not to get on my bad side."
She placed her hands on her hips and furrowed her eyebrows, exasperated. "And best you not get on mine."
He blinked several times before turning back to her desk, and she realized that he had not expected her to reply.
She scrunched up her eyes then opened them wide, considering the pros and cons of lecturing him on the correct professional relationship between lab partners.
When a moment passed, she realized she wouldn't do that when he was within such close proximity to so many explosive products.
"Why did we stop?" she asked, turning around- other nearby passengers looked just as confused and alarmed, and her heart started pounding. This wasn't meant to happen. In contrast, the man in front of her looked much more composed.
"Pardon- do you have any idea why we've stopped?" Though she still felt odd with the apparent dedication he'd put into holding her flask from her, she found no one else to ask.
"If you don't know, why would I?"
She exhaled impatiently.
"Fair enough," she muttered, and stood up on unstable legs then promptly marched to the door partitioning the two compartments of the train, grabbing the book and placing it in a pocket inside her jacket.
As she neared the metal door, something in her mind told her not to, to stay back, to hold it together until an official came to explain-
The train conductor approached, looking nervous and hurried, and Hermione called out to him, and when he looked at her he flinched and stopped-
Suddenly, a figure stepped out, dressed in black, as tall as the door and it swung its arm and it struck the conductor's temple, then when he staggered the figure struck him again on the back of his head. The conductor fell to the floor, his arms splayed wide, his eyes wide and blurry-
The figure turned to her.
She stopped breathing.
AN: yoooo what even is happening? Here's a bit of a summary: past Hermione's cooking meth for Grindelwald, present Hermione's drunk on a train with... a mysterious man? Big exclamation marks!
I'm not sure if the same past/present format will be maintained throughout, but it probably will be until just enough context is given, then, pals, we remain in the present. Because that's where we all live! I guess!