Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all associated characters belong to Ms. J.K. Rowling. San Francisco belongs to the liberals. I receive no compensation for writing this fic except the pleasure of creative expression. And hopefully, a few reviews!
A/N (as of 12/2007): My latest Christmas gift to my Fanfiction BFF Alex25. This is a Hermione Granger / Severus Snape story. Hermione is an adult in her mid-twenties – in other words, she is of age to become romantically entangled with an older man ;o) And while SS/HG is not my OTP, it can definitely be fun to write once in a while for an appreciative audience such as Alex. I believe this fic will be 2 – 3 chapters long. It was meant to be completed by Christmas, but a very nasty dislocation-triple-fracture of my leg two weeks ago, which required surgery and metal plates inserted and a hospital stay and all manner of craziness, set things back a bit. (I'll gladly accept any well wishes you'd like to send me in reviews!) And so what we have here is only the first chapter, which is mostly back-story. Never fear, there will be a romance at some point, it's not just purely Hermione feeling sorry for herself the whole story through. The title, and the inspiration for the story come from the song "City" by the talented Sara Bareilles. The rating currently stands at Teen due to some language and mature themes. Oh, and this fic complies with canon all the way through the end of book 6, but it is not Deathly Hallows compliant. (Well duh, it features Snape.) I think that covers everything! Happy Holidays and happy reading.
A/N (as of 10/2011): So this was intended to be holiday gift for my pal Alex. Holidays 2010? No. Holidays 2009? No. Holidays 2008? Uh... no. God help me, this was supposed to be a holiday gift to a dear friend of mine at the end of 2007. Two Thousand Fricken Unbelievable SEVEN! Gosh. Did RL ever kick my ass down to the corner store and back again on this one. But guess what? NOT ABANDONED! No, I'm happy to say that here at the end of 2011 I came back and FINISHED IT! It's 5 chapters plus an epilogue, and will all be posted shortly. So, enjoy.
Here in these deep city lights
Girl could get lost tonight
I'm finding every reason to be gone
Nothing here to hold on to
Could I hold you?
From the song "City" by Sara Bareilles
DEEP CITY LIGHTS
It had been a mistake to come here. Her head was swimming.
There was too much light.
There was a surplus of sound as well, and of scent too – or there had been, as she'd drifted aimlessly through Chinatown not an hour ago. And it was cold; not as cold as Christmas at Hogwarts, perhaps, where the castle grounds would even now be awash in deep, soft drifts of snow, but she had lost the feeling in her fingers and her nose a while back.
Somewhere in Chinatown, maybe.
Or maybe even before that. A couple of hours ago? After her early dinner at the Embarcadero Center? She really ought to have been keeping track of these things.
She really ought to have been wearing gloves and a scarf.
But it wasn't any of those things – the sounds or smells of a late December evening in San Francisco – nor even the bite of frost on her extremities, that overwhelmed her.
It was all the light.
She felt like she was drowning in it.
She'd been in the wizarding world too long, she supposed. Light was more subtle there, in the hamlets and villages that made up much of the wizarding community of Great Britain. Teaching at Hogwarts these past two years, she had become thoroughly accustomed to wand-light, torch-light, sconce-light.
Light that illuminated softly; gently; warmly.
The electric and fluorescent city lights that now surrounded her seemed as cold as the weather.
Yes, it had been a mistake to come here. Not that San Francisco was an innately unpleasant city; to the contrary, it was lovely; or at least, she could appreciate that it would be lovely, if she could somehow stop herself from getting lost in all the light. But being here wasn't helping her in the way she'd hoped it would.
It wasn't helping her to forget.
This holiday she'd taken to a city halfway around the world from her home, which she'd embarked upon spur-of-the-moment and completely alone, was supposed to have helped her forget, for a little while at least, that at the tender age of twenty-four she was both an orphan and a divorcee.
It wasn't working.
She had learned a bitter truth on this little international foray; that no matter where she went, there she was.
She was still Hermione, daughter of the late John and Ellen Granger, killed a year ago in that most quintessentially Muggle of all senseless tragedies, an automobile accident. She was still Hermione, the ex-wife of Ron Weasley, her childhood friend and sweetheart who was even now in the midst of planning a Valentine's Day wedding to the Australian Quidditch player he'd apparently fallen in love with while on tour with the Cannons six months ago.
He'd still been Hermione's husband six months ago.
He'd come home from that trip, taken her by both her hands, and told her that he would always cherish her as a friend… but didn't they both deserve better than what they'd settled for? Didn't they both deserve true happiness?
She had been caught completely off-guard. Married to Ron and teaching at Hogwarts, she had thought she'd attained true happiness.
Apparently, in Ron's worldview, at least, she'd been mistaken.
She had been dumbfounded.
Even now, months later and with the divorce newly finalized, she was dumbfounded still.
And so here she was, on the other side of the planet, in a city she'd chosen virtually at random, alone for Christmas, trying to forget… and failing miserably.
Because she was still herself. Hermione the orphaned. Hermione the divorced.
Hermione the abandoned.
Drowning in light.
She didn't have to be alone this Christmas, of course. She'd had several offers of places to go. McGonagall had urged her to stay at Hogwarts over the Christmas holidays, and she'd had personal invitations from Harry and Ginny Potter, and even from Molly and Arthur Weasley, seconded by nearly all the Weasley siblings, who had unanimously declared themselves appalled by Ron's behavior and vowed never to accept anyone but Hermione into the family as Ron's wife.
She'd been touched by all of the offers, but she hadn't been able to bring herself to accept any of them. It was the pity that she suspected – no, not suspected, knew – lay just beneath the surface, motivating the kind words and invitations, that had sent her running as fast and as far as she could in the other direction. She couldn't stand the thought of being pitied.
She would not be anyone's Christmas charity case.
A group of half a dozen schoolgirls wearing the crisp white blouses, wine-colored sweaters and grey, pleated skirts of some elite Muggle academy jostled boisterously past her, jolting her from her reverie. They were properly gloved and scarved, she noted distantly, their overlong, slightly awkward adolescent legs protected from the cold by thick grey leggings a shade lighter in color than their skirts. Judging by the multitude of colorful bags swinging merrily from the girls' gloved hands, they were out for some after-school Christmas shopping.
Glancing around, Hermione realized that she had indeed wandered into the heart of the downtown shopping district. Union Square was unfolding in front of her, hemmed in on all sides by the city's glitziest department stores, hotels, boutiques, and theatres, all of which were done up to the nines for the holidays. And the centerpiece of it all; the pinnacle, so to speak, of the vast quantities of carefully manufactured Muggle Christmas cheer that surrounded her, was the giant holiday tree situated in the very center of the square; an eighty-foot cone of sheer, brilliant light.
It was dizzying. In fact, the vertigo she got when tipping back her head to take it all in was very nearly nauseating. Logically she knew that the tree was actually probably quite beautiful, just as logically she knew the same could be said of the city as a whole.
She just couldn't bring herself to appreciate it at the moment.
In fact, she turned and virtually fled in the opposite direction.
It was a different sort of light that brought her up short some twenty minutes later.
It had been twenty minutes of hard walking in the frosty air, paying very little attention to where her feet were taking her. She was breathing heavily when she came to a sudden halt, blinking around at her surroundings like a sleepwalker coming out of a dream to find herself in desperately unfamiliar, and unwelcoming, surroundings.
Her trancelike, unseeing flight from the vibrant heart of the city had landed her in an entirely different, and decidedly less tourist-friendly, sort of district. She had, in fact, fetched up in the middle of San Francisco's seamy underbelly, known to the locals as the Tenderloin.
By now half-frozen, staring around dazedly at the plethora of strip clubs, seedy bars, adult bookstores, and massage parlors that surrounded her, her hand dipped toward her coat pocket almost of its own volition. She needed to assess the contents of her wallet for ready cash, and then hail a cab back to her hotel, post haste.
She reached into the pocket and closed her hand around – nothing.
Oh, no. God, please. Nononono!
She tried the other pocket, then her slacks – front, back, left, right – in mounting desperation. Nothing. There was nothing in any of them. The wallet containing all of her money, her Muggle credit cards and identification, her hotel keycard, her passport – all of it, was gone. Gone.
Sweet Merlin, what was she going to do? She couldn't even use her wand to get herself out of this mess. Feeling mildly disenchanted with the whole wizarding world after the Quidditch-related collapse of her marriage, she'd left it at home, deciding to make a go of this holiday as a Muggle, pure and simple. Muggle transportation, accommodations, activities; the whole nine yards. After all, she'd been raised as a Muggle by her parents; all the holidays she'd ever taken with them had been the Muggle sort. This was to have been almost a… tribute to them, of sorts. And anyway… how hard could it be to do on her own?
Well, she was finding that out, in spades. She was every bit as much of a disaster as a Muggle as she had been as a witch. As Ron's witch.
Hopeless, she was hopeless. At the moment she barely felt as if she belonged to the wizarding world, and she clearly couldn't hack it as a Muggle. She didn't belong anywhere. She was lost.
Suddenly, frantically, powerfully enough to bring tears to her eyes, she wished for Ron to appear; just appear and take her home. She ducked her head and blinked hard against those traitorous, weak tears. Her gaze lit upon the ring on her left hand; her wedding ring in its customary place on her third finger. She'd never quite been able to take the thing off, even though Ron's had already vanished by the time he'd returned from that fateful Quidditch tour. Removing her wedding ring seemed like the final admission of defeat. The final evidence that she had been a complete failure as a wife.
Hermione Granger, supposedly the brightest witch of her time, who never failed at anything, had failed at this.
She couldn't bring herself to face it, not yet. That was why the ring had stayed on.
It was a golden blur now, the one-carat diamond in the center appearing to double, then triple, as she blinked. "Damn it," she whispered fiercely, raising the offending hand and swiping it savagely across her eyes, "I won't. I won't!" She hadn't cried yet, not even once, over her ruined marriage. She wasn't going to start now.
Though with the floodgates this perilously close to being opened at last, that seemed easier said than done.
It was probably fortunate then, that at that moment her thoughts were interrupted by a voice.
"Hey… hey, lady… could you help us out?"
The voice was nearly at her elbow. Hermione jerked her head up and looked around – then down.
In a different universe, they could have been Hogwarts students – that's how young they were. Maybe eighteen… maybe. The couple was huddled on the sidewalk in the quasi-shelter of a shop doorway, leaning into one another for warmth; they were even more inadequately dressed for the weather than Hermione herself. The boy – it had been he who had spoken – was wearing only a tee-shirt over his faded jeans; the overlarge flannel shirt that was draped about the girl's thin form had originally been his, it seemed. Then she realized something else, something that took her even more by surprise; the girl was clutching a baby to her chest.
Both the teenagers stared back at her warily, but they seemed to find no judgment or condescension in her face, because the boy spoke up again.
"We just got here today. We used all our money on the bus tickets. Her parents threw her out because she wouldn't give our kid away. I couldn't let her go alone. I'm gonna look for work in the morning, but… she needs a blanket like now. The kid, I mean. My daughter. Anything – " he swallowed and Hermione could tell that he was, in a very literal sense, swallowing his pride – "anything would help."
"I… I'm so sorry," she stammered. "I've lost my wallet; I've nothing. I'm sorry; I truly am." She turned away.
"Of course you are," the girl said behind her in a tone of weary sarcasm that caught at Hermione's heart. She had stood there and listened to their plight with a sympathetic expression on her face. Of course they had expected, after all that, that she would make at least some token effort to help them. The girl's apathetic rejoinder was in fact her last line of defense against a feeling of disappointment so profound, so helpless, that it threatened to engulf her.
Hermione understood. She had become well acquainted with that feeling in the days and weeks since her marriage had ended.
Abruptly, she turned back.
The boy tensed immediately. He had misunderstood her intention and was now coiled like a spring, his expression suddenly hostile, ready to jump to his feet in defense of his girlfriend and child.
"You're right," Hermione said, amazing them both. She shrugged one arm out of her coat, then the other. "You're absolutely right. I haven't any money on me, but I can still help a little. Here –" she held the coat out to the boy – "take it."
He hesitated, shocked into immobility.
"Please," Hermione said. "It will do for a baby blanket, until you get something better. And actually – " as the boy reached out and took the coat from her, her eye caught the stone on her wedding ring again, glittering fitfully in the neon light from Big Al's adult bookstore across the street – "actually, here, I want you to have this also."
And quickly, before she could change her mind, she yanked the ring off her finger and held it out too.
Ron wasn't coming to take her home, after all. She could spend the rest of her life waiting for it, wishing for it – it wasn't going to happen. Ron was in Australia planning a wedding to a woman Hermione had never met, nor wished to. He had no knowledge whatsoever of where Hermione was, and probably wouldn't have cared had he known.
He was never coming back. Not to her.
And so, to her, the ring was pointless. To this desperate young couple, though, it would be worth a modest fortune. Even at one of the many nearby pawn shops, sleazy establishments that would buy the ring for only a fraction of its true worth, it ought to fetch them a few hundred dollars. And if they were wise and took it to a more reputable establishment over in the higher-end shopping district… it could go a long way toward changing their circumstances.
She was done with it. Let something positive come out of her ruined marriage, even if not for herself.
The two teens were looking at her as if she were absolutely insane.
"No, really," she said. "It doesn't mean anything to me anymore. I want you to have it. Just… make something good out of it, all right?"
Her voice broke on the last word. Tears were imminent again, she realized. She hoped that one of them would take the ring from her soon, before she broke down completely right here on the street corner in front of them.
The girl took it at last. "Are you – " she stammered, "do you really… um, I mean… thank you."
"Jesus lady, thank you," the boy echoed in an awed voice. And then a heartbeat later, impulsively, "hey, what's your name?"
"Hermione," she said. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, it's just…" he suddenly looked almost bashful. "The kid, you see, we haven't named her yet. Can't agree on anything we both like. Um… so what's your, uh, middle name?"
"Jane," she said, suddenly not sure whether to laugh or cry. The boy looked relieved, and shot a questioning glance at his girlfriend, who nodded.
"Janey it is," he grinned.
Hermione simply nodded back at them – to have spoken aloud at this point was too dangerous to her incredibly fragile self-control – and spun on her heel, and fled.
She was walking aimlessly now; completely without direction. She had to get a hold of herself. She had to figure out what to do.
She knew where her hotel was, in theory, anyway; she was staying right down by the water, by Fisherman's Wharf.
She had no idea, however, how to get from here to there; she had only the vaguest notion of where here was, having paid no attention at all during her walk from Union Square.
Union Square. Why, oh why hadn't she gone into one of the shops there to buy gloves and a scarf? She'd even thought about it, but she hadn't bothered. If she'd only tried to purchase something she would have realized about her wallet sooner, and in a much friendlier part of town.
She had no idea how to find her hotel on foot from where she was, and she could hardly hail a cab and simply say, "Take me to the Holiday Inn at Fisherman's Wharf," with no means of paying for the service. At least at Union Square she could have approached someone with her predicament and asked for… well, for some kind of help. Who was she supposed to approach here? The strip club barkers? The drug dealers? The prostitutes? The junkies?
All right. Get a grip, Hermione. I just need to find a –
"Hey! Hey sweetheart, wait up!"
Oh God, what now? Nothing good, she was sure. She did not turn to greet whomever it was that had addressed her; she didn't even slow down. To the contrary, she quickened her pace, but even so, the man fell into step beside her.
He was decidedly not the sort of man, a quick, sidelong glance revealed, that she wanted any kind of attention from.
Of course, his casual use of the term 'sweetheart' when addressing her could have told her that much. Merlin, she just couldn't catch a break.
"Hey," he said again, "what's your hurry, darlin? Hold up a minute – " and he caught her by the arm.
Hermione finally stopped walking and spun to face him fully, yanking her arm violently out of his grasp. "Do not touch me," she snapped, sounding forceful and angry, but feeling only vulnerable and scared.
"Whoa!" The man threw up both his hands in a 'don't shoot' type of gesture. "I was only wonderin' if you could spare anything to help me out."
Hermione's mouth practically fell open. "Do I look like I can spare anything?" she demanded incredulously. "I've lost my wallet and I don't even have a coat. I've nothing for you, so leave me alone." She turned to recommence walking.
But her unwelcome tagalong was not to be dissuaded so easily.
"Hey!" Now he sounded pissed off in his own right. He grabbed her arm again, hard this time, and yanked her around to face him once more. His malicious face was only inches from hers, his rank breath washing over her. "It just so happens, sweetheart, that I don't believe you. I saw what you done for them kids; I watched the whole thing. You started out telling them you didn't have nothin' either. Then you turned around and gave 'em all sorts 'a goodies. So why in the hell should I believe you when you say the same thing to me, huh?" He gave her a sharp little shake. "I don't think there's any question you're hiding more… treats on you somewhere – " his eyes and tone had turned distinctly lewd – "coat or no coat, and if you ain't willin' to share nice, then I guess I might just have to find 'em for myself."
He gave her a sudden, hard tug, forceful enough to make her lose her balance and stumble toward him. Horrified, she saw that right behind him there opened a narrow, and very dark, alley between two buildings. That's what he was pulling her toward.
No no, Merlin, no, she couldn't let him get her in there. She dug in her heels and looked around wildly. There were people everywhere, but they were all too wrapped up in their own misery to take any notice of her distress. If he got her into that alleyway, there would be no rescue. She sucked in a deep breath to scream but he slammed a hand over her mouth, hard enough to make her taste blood.
"Mmmph!" Desperation lent her strength as she pulled back against him harder now, struggling frantically. He was ginning like a maniac, apparently not the least bit concerned; despite her struggles, she was losing ground.
And then –
"Hey, asshole! You fucking piece of shit, you let her go!"
Hermione's eyes flew to the source of the furious voice; it was the teenage boy, approaching at a run. "I see you, motherfucker!" he shouted at Hermione's attacker. "Get your fucking hands off her, NOW!"
Hermione's assailant froze. Pulling a woman into an alley was one thing; taking on an enraged teenage boy in the prime of his youth and strength was apparently a rather less appealing notion. His moment of distraction and indecisiveness was all Hermione needed.
She yanked herself backward, two, three steps toward the curb – but the man, apparently still not wholly resigned to losing his quarry, came with her, still holding her by the arm.
Hermione cared about nothing anymore except extracting herself from the clutches of this filthy, evil man. Her other hand was free and she brought it up and slapped him hard across the face. Shocked, he let her go. The boy was almost upon them.
"Get – away – from – ME!" Hermione shouted furiously at her erstwhile attacker, and with both hands now, shoved him away, hard. However, newly incensed by the slap, he responded in kind, shoving her right back – and Hermione had the disadvantage of having the curb directly behind her.
She tripped over it and lost her balance, stumbling one, two, three steps backward out into the street, wind-milling her arms in a frantic bid to keep her balance. In the end she managed, but had no sooner allowed a sense of relief to sweep over her, than things went terribly, terribly wrong.
The boy had skidded to a halt and was shouting at her, rooted to the spot, an expression of utter horror in his eyes, but she couldn't for the life of her make out what it was that he was trying to say. The reason she couldn't make it out was the noise – the deafening noise – of a horn blaring, practically in her ear.
Then the sound faded. And everything slowed down.
Suddenly, all she was aware of was the beat of her own heart.
Even the man who had accosted her appeared paralyzed with horrified incredulity, staring at her openmouthed.
There was a sudden, terrible, approaching light.
She was caught up in it completely, paralyzed herself.
It seemed to take an hour just to turn toward that menacing glare.
And what she saw made her wish she hadn't bothered.
Each headlight was larger and higher than her head, and approaching her at breathtaking speed. She heard the horn blaring. She heard the brakes squealing. She heard the onlookers screaming. The MUNI bus couldn't have been more than fifteen feet away from her.
It was not going to stop in time.
Those headlights were engulfing her.
Oh God, it had been a mistake to come here.
She had just time to think, so you do see light, followed by, Harry's going to blame himself for this, I just know it – and then there was the impact, throwing her violently sideways – and then everything went black.