Figment of the Imagination
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Story idea from Sherrilyn Kenyon's "What Dreams May Come" anthology book.
Summary: AU. Hermione Granger's life sucks: she was recently dumped, made redundant, and can't pay her rent. Unable to sleep, Hermione tries to read a romance novel given to her for a past birthday – and wakes up with the hero in her bed. Is he real or just her imagination looking for a hero to rescue her?
Note: No, I actually didn't intend for this to be ala Thursday Next, despite my love for Jasper Fforde's novels (and I met him in October! He was really, really nice, even though it was midnight and I'm sure he just wanted to go to his hotel room and sleep after signing hundreds of books).
The first thing Hermione noticed when she slowly eased into consciousness was that there was a heavy arm draped across her waist. Fairly certain that she had gone to bed alone – and that Bismarck hated anything that was cotton, like her bed sheets – Hermione deduced that she was still dreaming.
She deduced that she was still dreaming when she opened her eyes and even when she pinched her arm and felt pain.
When her alarm went off, Hermione decided that, although she was dreaming, she ought to get up and do her usual routine. Then, sighing, Hermione slipped out from under the arm and tugged her camisole down from where it had ridden up during the night. She ignored the way her king-sized bed sheets spilled over the edges of her small double bed and onto the floor.
As she turned to look under her bed for Bismarck, she caught sight of the owner of the arm. She sucked in a breath, involuntarily.
Lordy, oh Lordy, he's fine, Hermione thought, almost dreamily, as her eyes inched up each piece of tantalizing bronze skin that was revealed to her. She started at a large, tanned hand with a few barely-healed cuts that criss-crossed over his knuckles, inching her way up a toned and deliciously thick and relaxed arm; that arm attached to broad, strong shoulders.
Hermione wanted to lick the collarbone that was barely revealed by her bed sheet.
The Man's face – and that was Man with a capital M because he was a manly man – was strong and chiselled, with a blunt chin and long, narrow nose. His cheeks were covered with a five o'clock shadow, giving the impression of hollow cheeks. He didn't have fine or defined cheekbones like Harry, nor did he have the thin lips of her best friend. This man had kissable lips. A sinfully pouty lower lip and a slight, curling upper lip that settled into a half-smile even when he slept. His hair was on the shorter side, but still enough to grab in the throes of mad, dangerously passionate, reach-for-the-stars, sex…
"God, I'm desperate. I need to get laid," she muttered lowly, almost unthinkingly. She then bit her lip as the fine specimen of manliness shifted on her mattress, hoping he hadn't heard her.
But, like in everything else, Hermione had no luck when it came to men.
Two hooded, sleepy eyes slowly opened, revealing tawny, honey-coloured orbs.
Hermione gasped and quickly stepped back, her feet tangling with the sheet that had spilled on the floor earlier. She squeaked loudly and flailed her arms in a wild windmill, and landed hard on her back, staring up at the ceiling.
I hate my life, she wailed in her mind. And life hates me.
So, feeling more than a little sad, Hermione laced her fingers together and lay them on her stomach, focusing on a water spot on her ceiling.
"Oh, nobody knows the troubles I've seen," she warbled under her breath, and was going to continue, had she not been interrupted.
"Er," a decidedly masculine voice began, and that delicious-looking man she had ogled earlier was standing over her, his face close to hers, eyes concerned. "Are yeh alright, lass?"
He's Scottish! A giddy part of Hermione spoke up. Scottish! Ask him what's under his kilt, Hermione. Askaskaskaskask!!!
Oh, piss off, Hermione thought angrily, pushing the tantalizing thought of what was under his kilt away.
A warm, calloused hand reached out and closed around her upper arm, and with a gentle yank, Hermione was up on her feet, nearly pulled flush against a warm, bronze, naked chest. Her fingers involuntarily curled into fists as she stared straight ahead of her, her eyes locked on the man's collarbone.
"Yeh alright?" the man asked again, and Hermione was transfixed by his Adam's apple.
He gently shook her and Hermione gave a startled, quick intake of air; her eyes jumped up to meet his. Toffee brown locked onto chocolate and Hermione wondered if she was hungry, comparing this strange man's eye colour to her weakness of Godiva chocolate truffles.
"I'm okay," Hermione heard herself say, in an almost out-of-body moment. She stepped back, careful of the sheets and bent to pick them up and place them back on her bed. When she turned around, she realized that he had been staring at her – her rear? – and had quickly looked up at the ceiling when she noticed him looking.
Hermione blinked in surprise, and shook her head. No way, she thought. I'm dreaming. Seriously. This can't be happening – an über hot Scotsman fell asleep in my bed, and is standing in my room, wearing nothing but a black-blue-grey kilt, sporran, and leather boots. I'm dreaming.
"So," Hermione began, looking at the man from the ends of his boots to the top of his closely cropped hair, "How the fuck did you get into my flat? Better yet, how the fuck did you get into my bed?"
The man's eyes widened and his jaw dropped slightly as Hermione's words became more forceful, and he sent a slightly fearful glance at the bed before darting his eyes around her room in half wonder, half panic.
"Milady," the man began in a deep burr that had parts of Hermione's body responding, "really – uh, I doona know exactly how I got here – I mean, I went to sleep in my own bed, and uh –"
"You doona know?" mimicked Hermione, stepping forward and jabbing her finger into the man's rock-hard pectorals. "Maybe you just got drunk and took the wrong Floo gate home, huh? Or maybe you thought, 'oh, there's Hermione Granger's flat, I bet I can get into her knickers!' Or, oh, oh, what about a drunken apparition attempt?"
"Floo? Apparation?" the man looked confused. "I doona know what yeh talking about."
Hermione frowned. With a slight pause, she asked suspiciously, "Just who are you?"
The man straightened and rose to his full height before making a gallant bow. He glanced up at Hermione with a slight grin and stated, "I'm Laird Oliver Wood, milady. And who might yeh be?"
Oliver Wood? Why is that name familiar? Wondered Hermione. "Hermione Granger," she replied instead, falling into the comfort of a polite, meaningless conversation starter.
"Lady Hermione," purred Oliver, taking her right hand and kissing the back of it. Hermione hastily snatched it away, anger pouring through her veins.
"What's that all about?" she demanded, angling her body defensively.
Oliver looked startled. "I was just greeting yeh!"
"You don't greet people like that! You shake hands or nod or something!"
"That's not polite!" he replied back, his voice gaining in volume, matching hers in tandem.
Hermione knew her cheeks were red and his cheeks were flushed – whether in embarrassment about their situation and what he remember or what, Hermione didn't know – but there was one thing for sure: Hermione knew this man, somehow, but couldn't put her finger on it. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing in my home anyway? Seriously, you'd better give me a good reason before I call the Aurors! I have connections, you know!"
Oliver looked scandalized, his brogue deepening in anger. "I told yeh, I just went to bed in my castle after I spoke with Colin. I didn't go anywhere, I didn't see anything, I didn't do anything! Now, I've had a pretty bad week myself, lass, an' doona think that you can just get away with shouting at me like yeh know me!"
"Castle?" asked Hermione, taken aback.
"Yes, castle," confirmed Oliver, sounding petulant and crossing his arms across his chest. The action drew Hermione's eyes toward his chest and she found herself drooling for a moment or two before narrowing her eyes in thought.
Castle. Laird. Oliver Wood.
A horn blared below on the busy London street that Hermione's building was located on, and on the floor above her, a radio was turned on while across, her neighbour began to run water in their bathroom. Silence stretched between the two in Hermione's bedroom, staring at each other from several paces.
Oh Jiminy Crickets, Hermione finally thought, sourly. My romance novel. That's it: it's confirmed. I'm insane. I'm having a conversation with a fictional character from a romance novel.
"You don't exist," Hermione finally managed to say, after several moments of quiet between the two.
"You don't exist, you can't exist," Hermione continued, as if Oliver hadn't spoken, her tone half-incredulous and half-firm. "You're nothing but a character in the novel I was reading. It's impossible for you to have jumped from the book into real life."
Oliver opened his mouth to say something, but a loud buzzing sounded from Hermione's foyer, making her dart out of the bedroom. Oliver, on the other hand, groped at his left side for his sword, only to realize that it wasn't there. He cursed, fumbling around his waist for some sort of weapon, and finally gave up with an exasperated huff.
He left the bedroom, following Hermione's steps and turned a corner to see her facing off to a short, portly man with thin hair. He had an unpleasant sneer on his face, and was arguing with her, his tone clipped and precise.
Curiously, he leaned his shoulder against a decorative column and faced the door and the man, listening to the conversation.
"I can't believe this!"
The man sneered. "Believe it, Ms. Granger, but your rent is overdue… again. And this time I'm only giving you three days to get it to me before I decide to kick you out of this flat!"
"I've never missed a payment by more than a week and the first time I do, you give me the third degree? What's up with that?" Hermione asked, looking as though she wanted to snatch her hair in a tight grip and yank. Tears gathered in her eyes. "Can't you just give me another chance?"
He tone turned to begging, and Oliver frowned. Although he had just met the girl, her strong use of the English language made him sure that she was a strong, independent woman and seeing her break down in front of a leech of a man – who, Oliver noted darkly, was staring at her ample breasts – bothered him more than he could say.
"I've said it before when you missed your last payment, and I'll say it again: NO!" the landlord continued. With a sneer on his face, he glanced around Hermione's brightly lit flat. When his eyes found Oliver's, the Laird straightened and immediately, subconsciously, took up an imposing posture. He spread his legs slightly, shoulder width apart, and rested a hand casually on his hip where he'd normally place his sword scabbard.
The landlord looked frightened for a moment, but then glanced back at Hermione. Oliver immediately saw what he saw: Hermione's dishevelled appearance and his lack of clothing.
"And Ms. Granger," the landlord continued, nastily, "Might I remind you that there is no subletting allowed in this building? You should remember that next time you bring home a male companion… the people in this building are respectable members of society, Ms. Granger, and we won't have anything… degrade the quality of the tenants."
Without giving Hermione a chance to reply, the man slammed the door shut behind him, leaving Hermione staring at the closed wooden door in horror and mortification.
Her cheeks began to flood with a rosy hue, and Oliver warily took a step back. That didn't look good…
"You!" Hermione snarled, turning and taking three quick steps towards him. Oliver hastily took two steps back, into the hallway. "You! You're going to make me lose my flat! I'll be homeless! Is that what you want? Are you some sort of demon sent to turn me mad? Are you here to ruin my life? Because let me tell you, you're about three weeks overdue – my life already sucks without you in it!"
Oliver held up his hands, pleadingly, allowing her to rage at him. "I'm verra sorry about yeh losing yehr home, Lady Hermione, but I am not here to ruin yehr life!"
The tears that threatened to spill over finally did. Two streaked down her rosy cheeks, and Oliver resisted the urge to reach up and wipe them away. What was wrong with him? He had just met the girl, and worse yet, woke up in her bed! Without any idea as to how.
Instead of replying to his apology, Hermione turned around and walked into her tiny kitchen, going straight for the fridge and pulling out food. She was on autopilot, doing her morning routine as though the delectable specimen of Scotland's finest romance novels wasn't standing in her hallway, looking confused.
She did her best to ignore him when he slowly made his way out of the narrow hallway, crossing her combined living/dining area. His footsteps were quiet and eerily tentative as he glanced around, taking in her beach landscape pictures, her telly and movie collection, and the large, corner fireplace that seemed out of character for her decidedly modern living quarters.
Hermione hid a smile as she saw Oliver jump in fright, his fingers uselessly grabbing at nothing – he was obviously trained to prepare himself against scares, and suddenly frowning, Hermione wondered if he was involved in the war against Voldemort like she had been years ago. She too had nervous reactions to certain noises or places, to that day.
Oliver looked down at the ugly bird that was staring up at him. It was fairly large, reaching up to his knees, and possibly mid-thigh on Hermione, covered in grey feathers that it ruffled in agitation and confusion. A tuff of greenish-grey feathers, nearly six in total, stuck straight up in the air from its rear. A tuff of unruly feathers stuck straight up like a cowlick on its head and it had a hooked beak.
"Dear Lord, what is that?" asked Oliver, blinking down on the creature. He glanced up and felt his heart stop – Hermione had a stick in her right hand and was waving it around at the eggs, bacon and toast she had out on the countertop.
Hermione glanced over her shoulder at him, and frowned at his expression. "What?" she groaned, "Oh, don't tell me you're a Muggle!"
"Yeh're magical!" he yelped, instead, his eyes wide and the colour leaving his face quickly. He glanced around at the open, thin, gauzy curtains that covered her windows and quickly stepped up behind her, shielding her body and wand from view.
"What are you doing?" frost could have formed on her lips at her tone.
Oliver's eyes darted around, frantically. "Aren't yeh worried about being prosecuted?" his voice was low, taunt with fight as he watched the windows for spies.
Was she daft? He wondered, looking down at the petite woman nestled against his front. She had tossed her hair over her shoulder as she glared up at him, the angle made awkward because of their spooning position. Aye, she's daft, grimly thought Oliver as she tensed her hand on her wand, opening her mouth.
Oh, no you don't, lass, he thought, leaning down and capturing her lips with his, stopping whatever spell she was going to say to turn into a breathy sigh.
Desire ignited low in his belly, warming him in the cool morning. Despite the fact that they didn't know each other, and that he somehow woke up in her bed, she was kissing him back. Her lips moved sensually across his, almost like butterfly wings and if he wasn't a trained warrior, Oliver was sure the phrase 'his knees were like jelly' would've been appropriate.
There was a strange whooshing noise from behind him, as well as a crackling that he associated with fire in the hearth in his castle – which was strange, because the fireplace wasn't lit when he walked by it…
"'Mione, are you ready – HOLY SHIT!"
Oliver broke apart from Hermione, stepping back and turning on his heel, placing himself between Hermione and the two people standing in her living room, in front of the fireplace.
The man was lean, and on the tall side, with a shock of jet-black, spiky hair, and vibrant green eyes. He wore very nice clothes, obviously tailor-made, and held himself with quiet confidence. The woman, on the other hand, had straight, chin-length black hair and wide brown eyes. She was the one who spoke, her mouth still gapping as she looked back from Hermione and Oliver.
Then, her mouth shut with a snap and a feline smirk settled on her lips. "Hermione!" she purred, letting her eyes linger as she looked Oliver up and down, who tensed under the observation, "sweetie, you must have been busy last night after we left! Are you tired?"
A glance over his shoulder sent Oliver scurrying away from the kitchen and out of Hermione's direct line of sight. He recognized that expression easily enough.
"PISS OFF, PANSY!" the words erupted from Hermione's lips, and as if she couldn't stop, a barrage of insults, swear words, and several inventive ways to go to hell poured from her mouth.
"I am so sick and tired of everything – I just want to be in my little corner of the world, left alone and to be happy, but noooo I can't have that because I have no luck! And do you know why that is, Pansy? Huh? Huh?! It because luck hates me! Luck designed to give me bushy hair and buck teeth and smarts but not looks and luck decided it would be fun to see how many times I could escape death before my time ran out! And now I'm ready to lose my flat, I've got a crazy fictional character in my flat without any explanation of how he showed up here, and all you want to talk about is my sex life – or, rather, I should say, my lack of sex life! Are you done? Pansy? WHAT ARE YOU SMIRKING AT???"
Pansy held her hands up in an apparent plea for clemency, while Harry gapped and looked back and forth between his best girl friend and the half-naked Scotsman. "'Mione?" he implored. "Could you please tell me what is going on?"
Hermione grumbled a bit under her breath and crossed her arms, frowning petulantly. "Don't wanna."
Pansy and Harry stared at the witch.
Harry cleared his throat. "I'm sorry… but I could have sworn that you just said that you don't want to tell us what happened. Now, normally, 'Mione… you're a jabber mouth. So… what's up?"
Obviously feeling discontented, as Harry kept glancing at the kilt-laden Scotsman, Hermione gave a long, suffering sigh and uncrossed her arms. "Fine. I'll tell."
Pansy arched a single eyebrow in response, waiting for the answers, which she was sure was going to be a good one.
"Harry. Pansy." Hermione began, taking a deep breath. "Somehow he"—she pointed an accusatory finger at Oliver —"was in my bed with me and I went to bed alone. And he didn't Floo. Or apparate. Or anything. He was just there."
There was silence for some time. Pansy looked as though she might have said something, but a quick glance at her fiancé's serious face made her fall silent. She was one of the few girlfriends that knew and appreciated Harry's relationship with his best girl friend. Slowly, Pansy watched as Harry's face turned to stone and a fury began to build within the jade eyes.
Harry's face turned to Oliver, to whom he hissed out, "Explain. Now." The words oozed with dark undertones and promised pain.
A bewildered Oliver looked up from where he stood in the hallway, almost shivering under Harry's fierce gaze. Honesty is the best policy, he thought, with a mental shrug, and stepped forward, drawing everyone's attention to him.
"I am Laird Oliver Wood," he introduced himself, unconsciously taking a warrior's stance. At the blank looks he received, he continued, "Of Hyde? Scotia?" When no one made a move to show they understood, he sighed and his shoulders dropped.
"You're Scottish?" asked Pansy, half in shock as she stated the very obvious. "Do they still have nobility there?"
"Pansy!" gapped Hermione. "Of course they do!" Hermione then nodded at the kilt-clad Oliver. "But he's magical."
"They don't have magical nobility?" Pansy asked, rolling her eyes as she amended her earlier question.
"No," replied Hermione, crossing her arms. She turned on her heel and went back to the kitchen counter, and added two more eggs to the two she had out. "I'm guessing you're staying for breakfast?"
Harry nodded, absently, as he stared at Oliver, who stared back, utterly confused. Why aren't Hermione's friends worried about her use of magic? Are they magical too?
"You're not from around here, are you?"
Oliver startled, jostled out of his thoughts. He glanced at Harry who was now looking at him with a peculiar expression on his face that showed Oliver that Harry thought him the most intriguing thing he had come upon since toast.
"Of course he's not," sniped Hermione, setting two plates on her kitchen table. When Oliver didn't move closer, she marched up to him, wrapped a hand around his bicep – which didn't even close – and dragged the Scotsman to the table where she pushed him into a seat.
"Then where is he from?" asked Pansy, pausing before shovelling a forkful of scrambled eggs delicately into her mouth.
Hermione huffed, didn't excuse herself, and stomped into her bedroom. Pansy and Harry shared a confused look, but when Hermione emerged, she held something in her hands. As soon as she sat back in her seat at the table, she tossed the book onto the wooden top.
Pansy picked it up and read the cover. "Highlands in the Spring. Three tales of passion, intrigue, and danger. Sinister Sorcerers, wanton witches, and wily wizards. Explore the Scottish Highlands through the lives of Lady Katharine in Thistles and Tartan; Jamie Douglas in Never Tease a Scot in a Kilt; and Laird Oliver Wood in A Week in Love." Pansy flipped back to the front cover that displayed a buxom, scantily-clad redhead in the arms of a meaty, long-haired half-naked warlord. "Merlin, Hermione, where'd you get this book? McGonagall's private stash?"
Harry, who had been taking a sip of his coffee, promptly spat it back into the mug. Pansy shot him a disgusted look, but then continued. "The redhead looks like Ginny." She paused. "If she actually had breasts, that is."
"Pans!" gasped Harry, turning red in the face as he tried to avoid looking at anyone at the table. "Can you please stop?"
"Sorry, sweetie," cooed Pansy, in what she hoped was a sufficient apology, and then shrugged at Hermione. "No, seriously. I never thought I'd see you with a romance novel. Where'd you get it?"
Hermione grit her teeth. "Can we get back to the problem at hand, please?"
"No. Where'd you get it? Then we can. No wonder you haven't got a boyfriend, you've got a written world as a sex life. That's so not healthy, 'Mione," teased Pansy, but Hermione was in no mood.
"My mother gave it to me, Pansy. Now, drop it."
Instantly, the good, teasing cheer of the room disappeared and a thick tension replaced it. Oliver frowned. Something was definitely going on between the three at the table; the two who knew Hermione, her friends, were instantly silent.
Harry cleared his throat. "So, Laird Oliver Wood." Emerald eyes met Oliver's toffee-coloured ones. "You're… a character from a romance novel?"
Fighting to keep the blush off his face, Oliver coolly replied, "Apparently," despite having no idea what a romance novel was. Possibly something naughty, with the way the black-haired girl, Pansy, was going on and on about sex. Or lack thereof, when it came to Hermione, thought Oliver. He covertly glanced at the bushy-haired woman beside him.
Hermione leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table, and let her head fall into her waiting hands. "Pansy!"
"Right! Sorry!" Although she didn't look it, Pansy did give a proper, kind smile to Hermione. She then turned to Oliver and asked, "So… if you're a fictional character, do you have memories of your childhood? Do you grow older? Did you grow up? Do you remember growing up? Does time pass in your world?"
Oliver looked affronted with each question. His dark brows were drawn into a 'V' and his lips were drawn into a tight, straight line. "In order: yes; yes; obviously; yes, I do; and yes, it does." He sighed. "Just because yeh think I am some sort of… character in a text does not mean that I am any less real than yeh are. To me, I could be in another world where yeh do not exist, so… I find this all very hard to believe, if yeh excuse me."
Harry looked confused, but Pansy nodded, satisfied and Hermione groaned, covering her eyes completely with her hands and shaking her head back and forth in despair.
"Since Oliver Wood here has no way of returning home – until, at least, we learn how he got here in the first place – I suggest he acclimatises to this place. Hermione is the smartest witch our age and I'm sure she could figure it out," said Pansy, with a thrust of her chin towards her female friend. She then reached over the table and took Harry's hand, smiling at her fiancé. "Harry has the contacts that Hermione can glean for information and they can help too. Between who we know and what we know, I'm sure by weeks' end we can get Ollie here home."
Oliver's look of affront deepened at the nickname, but Hermione thought it was more of a pout, the way his lips pursed in slightly disgust and from being treated as a problem to be solved instead of a person.
Hermione decided to fix that. "If, of course, that's okay?" she asked to the Scot, softly.
Crapezoids. Those delich eyes are now on you, girl. Smart move, smarty-pants. Hermione mentally cringed under the light, amberish eyes.
Oliver nodded, and Hermione smiled at him.
"Great!" chirped Pansy, springing up from her seat. "If that's settled, then Harry and I can leave and you can get started, 'Mione…"
"Excuse me?" all of a sudden, Hermione's anger rushed back into her body, causing her to shake, as she too pushed her chair back and stood, facing Pansy. "As if I don't have enough on my plate, Pansy! Tell me: who is trying to modify Remus's Wolfsbane potion? Who is working on Harry and Ron's mystery potion from their last raid? Who is doing that freelance journal article due in three weeks for Alchemy Monthly? And you want me to do this on my own? I don't think so!"
At Harry's soft, inquiring voice, Hermione sighed and fell limply to her chair. "Harry?"
"What's wrong, Hermione?"
When Hermione refused to answer the question, for several minutes, Oliver decided to intervene with a quiet clearing of his throat. When Harry's eyes turned to the romance novel protagonist, Oliver said, "Her, uh, landlord arrived earlier and, um, threatened to remove her from her home." A tinge of incredulity and anger finished his sentence.
Harry's gaze slowly travelled down from Oliver's face to his leather-encased feet, and nodded to himself; he then turned back to Hermione, and taking her hands in his, stated firmly, "I'll take care of it, Hermione. I want you and Pans to do me a favour."
"Does it involve chocolate?" asked Pansy, eagerly.
The side-look that Harry shot her was steamy and Hermione mentally rolled her eyes. I swear, these two are almost worse than Ron and Luna.
"No… it involves the two of you taking Oliver to Diagon Alley and getting him some new clothes. If he's going to be here awhile, he'd best fit in so we can travel to and from the Ministry or the London Library, for example." Harry smiled at Hermione and patted her hands.
"Don't worry, Hermione," began Harry, as Hermione's stomach dropped at the words. "Everything is going to be alright."
Hermione's eyes shifted from Harry's earnest expression, to Pansy – who was eager to begin shopping and spending Harry's endless supply of Galleons – to Oliver, who opened his mouth…
"Just what, in the name of all things holy, is Diagon Alley?"
PS: Huge, huge huge thank you's to everyone who reviewed! You've all been fab while I've finished with final essays and exams... one more to go on Wednesday and then the Keith Urban concert Thursday... (oh, and Christmas shopping which I haven't begun... whoops!) But big thanks go to atruwriter – you're an inspiration, sweetheart... seriously! You make me want to be a better writer. – Kneazle, Dec.9.07