"Get off me!" Hermione Granger screamed hysterically as she attempted to kick the man that was warranting such abuse in the face.
The large, somewhat dirty man was holding onto her foot, trying to obtain his grimy stolen wand from her equally grubby hand without hurting her. Finally succeeding in his undertaking, he wretched the wand out of her hand. The act was punctuated by Hermione's final particularly piercing shriek.
She continued to blindly sob, still trying to thoroughly injure him with her nails and legs. He struggled to aim his wand towards her chest without inflicting damage on his wand, himself, and her any further but her flailing limbs were making a mockery of the task.
"St... Stup... Stop struggling!" He bellowed frantically. "...S-stupefy! Stupefy!"
Hermione went limp; her head lolling back unto the cold hard ground. The man's own head slumped briefly as he let out a shaky sigh of relief and climbed off her. Shaking his head in disbelief, he stared at the girl. Again excluding a sigh, he murmured, "Merlin."
He wiped the nervous sweat off the back of his neck, and tried to subdue the wild excitement that was his thumping heart as he turned towards the direction of approaching footfalls. He waited, and promptly seven seconds had passed when two simarly built men raced into the cramped clearing with their own wands drawn.
Both of the two men slowly took in the scene, the fatter of the two grinning abruptly before exuberantly shouting, "Finally! Ye got 'er! Imagine chasing a wee girl for three miles straight like that!" The talking man paused briefly for a breath as the other man sank to the ground besides the girl. Upon catching it, he continued to hastily plow onward, "I can't believe she snatched yer wand, Cannon! Wouldn't 'ave stole my wand, that's fur bloody sure!"
O'Henry, the man who had sunk to the ground seconds before, doubted this. "Are you kiddin' me, Rawlish? Yer so thick that yer practically a squib!" He snorted.
Rawlish looked extremely offended, exclaiming, "Well, at least I don't 'ave Muggle heritage, yeh half-breed!"
Cannon rolled his eyes, sitting on an abandoned tree stump. He was used to the random insults they seemed to fling at each other daily.
O'Henry glared. "Oh, good Merlin, will you shut yer bloody mouth already, Rawlish? You know I don't have any filthy Muggle..." O'Henry trailed off, looking suddenly captivated by Hermione's face. "Oh! Dear sweet Merlin and all that is holy, is that... it can't possibly be!"
O'Henry crawled over and knelt besides Hermione, examining her face carefully.
Rawlish glowered at O'Henry, impatiently exclaiming, "Well, what is it then!"
"It's… well, bless my soul, I saw 'er at the Triwizard Cup, and I'd recognize 'er anywhere, I reckon. It's Hermione Granger, one of 'arry Potter's best fri -"
"I know who Hermione Granger is, boy!" Rawlish interrupted rudely, growling as he kneeled beside the two. "Are yer sure it's her? The word is that she's been on the run for close ter ten months!"
"Since the fall of 'arry Potter himself!" O'Henry whispered, looking at the soiled girl in awe.
Fortunately for both Cannon and the general conservation of the world neither O'Henry nor Rawlish noticed how wide in alarm Cannon's eyes were at their observations.
"Do yer know how much she'll be worth!" Rawlish bellowed. "We're gunna be rich!"
O'Henry's eyes glowed with a newfound greed. "Very rich!"
"We should secure her immediately, then!" said Cannon, trying to steady his shaking voice.
"Yes, yes... good idea, Cannon, good idea! We can't 'ave any chance of 'er somehow slipping away. Heard Granger is a tricky, smart little bugger! Once we take 'er back ter the holding bay with the others, we can put 'er in the auction tomorrow…" Rawlish muttered, trying to calculate his earn of the profit. "Do yah know 'ow old she is, O'Henry?"
"About… eighteen, I'd say."
"Perfect!" Rawlish smiled contentedly, rocking back on his ankles. He squinted at the grey sky and then Hermione, murmuring, "I reckon once all the dirt is scrubbed off, she'll be a pretty one. We might be able to get even more than we bargained for from some nice, young pureblood man out there. Maybe even Draco Malfoy himself! I heard he hated her. He'd probably like to have a bit of fun with 'er!"
"I'll Apparate 'er back ter the warehouse, then, and you two can go get some sleep." Cannon responded, casually, as he wiped his face off with the back of his hand.
"Well..." Rawlish trailed off, standing up and walking towards him, seemingly in thought. Cannon could feel every muscle in his back coiling tightly in that brief pause that lasted only seconds.
"Alright, then. The wife wants me home early anyway, somethin' about me takin' her out to supper. But anyway, I knows I can trust yer," Rawlish replied confidently, slapping Cannon on the back as he stood. "You've been with me and O'Henry nearly six months and yer my best man. I have faith in yer!"
O'Henry regarded Cannon suspiciously for a moment, before finally nodding grudgingly. "I wouldn't mind leavin' early if yer up for it, Cannon... didn't want ter mention anything, but I reckon you'll make a fine third partner in this business someday. Especially when our Dark Lord lets us start collectin' the Muggles!"
Cannon smiled uneasily.
"Are ye sure yah can handle 'er though, Cannon? She's such a large, mighty thing!" Rawlish and O'Henry burst into chortles before Rawlish added, "And don't be sampling the product before it gets sold, if yer know what I mean!"
The two men both Apparated out of the clearing without another word, eager to avoid more work.
Staring at the spot they had apparated from in open revulsion for a few seconds, Cannon shuddered in horror. He shook his head curtly, dropping down beside the unconscious girl.
"Those men are such pigs. Imagine. Don't actually. As if I could ever," Cannon whispered, trailing off. His plebian accent was curiously absent. "I didn't think they would realize who you are. It would have been so much easier that way. I'll have to move, now, and get a new name. Again." He sighed, glancing at his watch, "But at least I won't ever have to do this again. I wish I could take you with me. But the prophecy." He poked her shoulder gently, watching her face contort for a second before it once again smoothed. "Odd to think that one as small and fragile as you is the key to everything. But it's fitting in a way too, I suppose." He smiled softly before grabbing the key chain that he had conveniently transfigured into an untraceable portkey the day before.
Hurriedly glancing at his watch once more, he pulled Hermione into a rough hug. "Only five second… three… one."
A faint wind swirled throughout the forest, shaking up all the leaves and debris. A man with a faintly ginger beard and a girl with dirty chocolate curls disappeared from England for the moment.
"Lumière," the man named Cannon whispered into the darkness.
Adjusting the girl that was thrown over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, his eyes combed the country side for unwelcome watchers. Seeing none, he let out a breath of relief. No one was following them.
The elaborate gates in front of him swung forward, allowing him entrance to the French castle. He slipped through the opening, overtly conscious of the crunching echo of gravel as he did. As soon as he was inside the property, the gates whooshed close so quickly that he was sure anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the middle would have been crushed instantly. Shivering at the thought, he walked towards a side door to the castle, seated near a bush. Cannon paused briefly as he came upon the door, looking over his shoulder one last time. He wanted to be sure. He couldn't bring danger here.
His hand was dangling mid air to knock when the door swung open rather violently.
"Get in," a dainty French-accented voice ordered. The owner of the voice was somewhere inside the eerie darkness of the castle. He would recognize the voice anywhere. Cannon obliged, his dirty shoes clicking on the marble of what he knew to be a pristine foyer. The door slammed closed as harshly as it had opened, leaving everything enclosed in blackness.
"Is it really her?" the voice asked, uncertain.
"Yes," Cannon replied, smiling slightly. His eyes adjusting, and he saw a woman standing next to him. "After ten months of searching, I've finally found her."
The woman chuckled, and his smile turned into a cautious frown. So much had changed for her, and she wasn't the woman he once knew. Cannon sighed, and said, "But before I entrust her to you, I must have your immediate assurance that she will not be harmed. I've explained partially what awaits us if she is hurt or praytail... killed, and -"
"If this wasn't still my cause, you know that I could have killed you and the girl the moment you walked through my door," the woman interrupted. "I could have set you up, had men here. I've had to do things in this war that have repulsed me - that have changed who I am as a person. But this is still my cause, and I still believe it is one worth fighting for."
"Yes," Cannon said, pausing. "I'm sorry if I offended you. But she is family to me, and I have so little left these days. She holds a special place inside my heart."
"I swear that the girl will not come into great harm in my care," the woman said flatly. "But I will have to be harsh to her to convince them. I will have to do more unspeakable things to make everyone believe it's real. Do you think I should tell her?"
"I don't know," Cannon said. "Not at first? But eventually, she needs to know. She needs to grow stronger here first, she's so weak. She's fading away. Please feed her more."
The woman nodded. "I have one more question."
"Ask," Cannon said, cradling Hermione in his arms.
"What am I supposed to say to explain to them? If I hide her, I'm risking my life," the woman said.
"You don't have to hide her, Delacour, you just need to take care of her. Tell them I've gone rogue and stolen Hermione, and sold her to you. They won't be able to appeal that. Plus, you're high-profile. You can do what you want. But I've seen what they do to their slaves, and if I ever found out that you were doing that to her..." he paused, not bothering to finish his threat.
"Careful, man," the woman hissed. She pulled her wand out of her robes, and held it. "I do not take kindly to threats when I'm doing an old friend huge favors."
"It's just imperative that she be kept safe," Cannon said. "She is our only hope and should she... die then he will never be stopped."
"Very well. Give her to me," she said.
"Swear," Cannon whispered, cradling Hermione near his heart. "Swear on your life that you will not harm her and will not allow her to be harmed, and I will trust you."
"I swear on my life I will attempt to keep her from harm," she repeated. A light sealed between them.
"Good," Cannon paused, pressing a chaste kiss to the girl's forehead. "I know what you are, Delacour, and you're not a lost cause. I also know that you can protect her and let her thrive. Hermione is stubborn but she will prevail if given the right circumstances. You have to help her. It's in the prophecy that only you can. The hope of our world rests on your shoulders. Wear it well," he said, carefully exchanging the girl in his arms.
"I intend to," the woman replied, taking her.
"If the heel of July shall fall, then chaos shall stumble back onto Earth once again," Cannon whispered. "Harry has failed but she doesn't have to. Guard her well, and the reward might be all that richer for you. My presence endangers you both so I'll take my leave now. I don't know if I'll be able to reach out again... just keep her safe."
A loud crack filled the air, and bright purple light illuminated the small foyer.
If anyone had been standing in that particular foyer, excluding the two women that were, at that particular time in that particular city in France, then they would have seen poorly concealed fear written all over Fleur Delacour's face. Clutching the girl closer to her chest, the conscious woman whispered, "I set wards so that no human could Disapparate out of this house."
The girl that would surpass Harry Potter's greatness tenfold stirred in her arms, whimpering from a bad dream.