Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to J.K. Rowling.

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Prompt: 025. Strangers

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Edit: Which goes to prove that I should triple check before I post things. Many thanks to my wonderful, wonderful beta: Gizmobunny!

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A Chance Meeting

She walked quickly down the streets, disregarding how the end of her cloak was being soaked by the puddles of water. Holding her precious books closer to her body, she kept her head lowered to prevent the rain from splattering onto her face, occasionally glancing ahead to make sure she was walking in the right direction.

It was a couple of weeks before school started, and she had managed to convince her parents to bring her to Diagon Alley. Frankly speaking, she would have been more than comfortable to come here alone, but she doubted they would have allowed her, even though she was nearly of age in the wizarding world. They were, in her opinion, a bit too overprotective, and even more so after she started attending Hogwarts. Perhaps they hoped to make up for the time she was not at home.

Suddenly, a flash of lightning lit the cloud-filled skies, and the light drizzle turned into a storm,. She broke into a run, determined to get to her destination before she got thoroughly drenched by the rain. She elicited a groan when she neared the old bookshop a small distance away from Knockturn Alley. It was quite clear, even from where she was, that the store was not open.

Slightly dejected, she stopped at the porch of a store and waited for the rain to stop. The street itself was void of other shoppers, although she caught sight of some people leering at her from down Knockturn Alley, as if they knew what she was. After all, it was known that there many dark wizards there, and she had not heard of many of them being exactly fond of Muggle-borns.

The sound of water sloshing caught her attention, and she tilted her head to find what other person was trapped in the rain. She continued watching as he quickly ran down the street. She did not miss the small frown that appeared on his face when he realized that the old bookshop was closed, and moments later, he stood under the same roof that sheltered her.

In that brief moment when he lifted his head to give her a small nod and smile, she felt her heart skip a beat. Not that she had not seen handsome blokes before. Two of her best friends, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, were known to be extremely good-looking young men. However, this stranger had to be the most gorgeous man she had ever seen in her life.

His dark eyes whispered forbidden secrets and vaults of knowledge, captivating her in spite of herself. His jet-black hair was matted down due to the rain, and a few locks of it which had stuck to his face were now pushed behind his ears. His high cheekbones accentuated his straight nose and firm chin and gave him the look of nobility. She was quite sure that the paleness of his skin would have looked sickly on others, but certainly not on him. He was tall, very tall, maybe even taller than Ron. However, he seemed a lot more comfortable with his height than Ron was, which in turn enhanced his air of confidence.

She did not realize that she was staring until he looked towards her. A furious blush colored her cheeks rouge, and she averted her eyes. However, his image was already deeply imprinted in her mind.

The rain continued to fall, not decreasing in strength, and they did not speak; both of them kept their eyes on the bookstore, as if the door would open if they stared for a long enough period of time.

"How strange." His voice startled her.

"Pardon?" she asked, whipping her head around to face him.

He turned his face slightly and gazed at her. "The store should be open at this time."

She nodded, wondering where the store owner had gone. "I suppose ... something must have hindered him."

"Possibly," he murmured, his eyes flicking towards the store once more. A small smile played at the corner of his lips. "Not too many would find this store interesting."

She gave out a short laugh, her parents warning about speaking to strangers ringing loud and clear in her mind. Shaking her head gently, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and pushed her parents' voice to the back of her mind.

"Well ... Flourish and Blotts do have the newest editions of books, but they mostly edit out things from earlier editions."

"What the Ministry deems inappropriate, you mean," he stated, a mischievous glint flashing through his eyes.

"Erm ... well ... yes," she replied, her cheeks reddening again.

It would not do well for people to know what she was researching, but she doubted that the knowledge she was searching for could be found in "appropriate" texts. The Ministry of Magic would do no less than burn the store to the grounds if they knew what was being sold in there. There must be some kind of magic, dark magic, preventing the store from being seen by Ministry officials. Hermione had seen some folks walk past the store without so much as looking at it, as if the bookshop did not exist at all.

Momentarily, she wondered why this handsome young man was doing here, but before she could continue down that train of thought, a flicker of light broke her concentration. She lifted her head and found that the "closed" sign on the door had been changed to "open."

The stranger shared a smile with her before they both hurried into the store.

Panting, she pulled out her wand and cast a drying spell over herself. She quickly glanced around and found no sign of the storekeeper. With a shrug, she gave the stranger a small smile and headed towards the shelves to look through the books.

The store itself was not exactly small, but due to the volume of tomes that it stocked, there was minimal maneuvering space between the rows. Therefore, she was not at all surprised when the handsome young man stood in front of her again while she was dawdling at the third row of books. What disconcerted her more was the distance between the two of them.

If possible, he appeared even more handsome to her up close.

"Sorry," he said softly, his lips slightly curved upwards. He held up the book in his hands to explain why he ended up mere centimeters away from her.

She did not answer, and he did not make any motions to move away from her. She should be frightened. The attraction she felt towards this man itself should make her scared. She knew absolutely nothing about this man in front of her, but she knew that she would not object if he leaned in and kissed her at this moment.

And she almost wished that he would.

The sound of glass shattering broke her trance. She turned around and found the old shopkeeper, alarmed and shaking, with a pile of broken glass near his feet.

"My - my Lord," he whispered before he knelt down and cowered on the floor. "I did - did not know - you would - would be here - or - or - "

The man's words sank into her mind slowly, much too slowly, and she became frigid when she realized whom he was addressing. Fear seized her heart, and her hands and feet turned to ice. Within seconds, she was shaking nearly as badly as the old man on the floor.

Her mind promptly went into overdrive, and she felt numb. Adrenaline rushed through her, preparing her for the fight or flight situation she saw coming.

They had to be kidding her. This must be some kind of sick joke that someone, probably Fred and George, had decided to play.

There was no way in hell this was happening.

"No matter," the stranger behind her replied. The coldness and undeniable hint of cruelty in his voice made it nearly unrecognizable to Hermione, for it was so different from the way he had spoken to her. "Although it appears that Miss Granger now knows who I am."

With a flick of his wand, an ear-piercing scream filled the room, and she stared in horror as the old man rolled around on the floor in pain, regardless of the broken glass stabbing into his body.

She did not dare to turn her body throughout the storekeeper's torture, afraid of what awaited her. She wanted to pinch herself, hoping that this was simply a nightmare. She bit into the inside of her cheek, trying to stop herself from breaking down.

Out of all people in the world, she had to run into him.

When Lord Voldemort finally lifted the curse, she took a deep breath, bracing herself for the hex that might be thrown her way. Instead, he placed a hand on the back of her head and turned her so that she was facing him, his grip surprisingly gentle. Courage swooshed out of her, for she knew that it would be fruitless trying to duel him; he had killed so many who were much stronger than her.

"I regret that our ... meeting had to be interrupted in such a way," he spoke to her with mock friendliness, sarcasm dripping from his words. "However, it appears that I have learned all I needed to learn about the ... famous brains behind the Golden Trio."

He released her, and with another wave of his wand, books flew out from the shelves, landing neatly in a pile at her feet. She stared at The History of Horcruxes at the top, and she felt a sinking feeling at the pit of her stomach.

She had not even felt it when he used Legilimency on her.

He walked forward, his dark eyes roving through the room until they alighted upon another book.

"Ah."

His sneer melted into an almost youth-like amused enthusiasm, nearly breaking down the formidable air surrounding him. With another flick of his wand, Mazes, Poisons, and Traps: Ways to Baffle the Enemies flew over and landed on top of The History of Horcruxes.

"Study well, little lioness," he chuckled. "I shall await the day when you encounter one of my Horcruxes."

With an impossibly quick and fluid motion, he was standing right in front of her, towering over her petite figure. A single finger touched her chin, forcing it upwards to meet his eyes.

"Or when we meet again."

High, cold laughter which contrasted greatly with his charming looks filled the room as he stepped backwards and turned on the spot.

She kept her eyes on where he had been just seconds ago, still unable to speak. The shopkeeper scrambled into a room at the back of the store. With a loud bang, he slammed the door, leaving Hermione by herself.

After a few minutes, she crumpled to the ground, looking at the pile of books about the Dark Arts. They sat there, seemingly innocent, taunting her to take a peek in them.

Luring her in, exactly like what he had done.

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