A/N: I'm going to try to stick as CLOSE to canon as I possibly can with this fic from this point onward, but in order to keep Scabior in the actual story, things are going to have to go AU here and there, and I hope that doesn't put anyone off. And speaking of canon ... well, there really is no canon backstory for Scabior, so I've been working on one for him, for the purposes of this fic. There will be little bits and pieces of it revealed from this chapter forward, so if something confuses you now, good. It's supposed to. Don't worry, everything WILL make sense in the end. Thank you all, again, for reading, and for all the wonderful feedback.

Disclaimer: Not mine, not making money, don't sue, etc.

I.

She ran, faster than she had ever run before, until she felt the ripple of the magical wards around her, until she knew she was well within the confines of the camp. It was only then that she stopped, panting and out of breath, one hand on a nearby tree, as she doubled over with a pain in her side.

She let out a choked sob, her other hand going to her mouth to muffle the sound, as she desperately tried to piece together what had just happened.

She never should have left the camp. And had it been ordinary circumstances, she never would have even entertained the possibility. But everything about this place had felt oppressive to her in the moment. Everywhere she looked, every noise she heard, it had all just reminded her of Ron, and those feelings had only been amplified by the locket around her neck, and she'd not been able to take it any longer.

Drawing a shaky breath, her hand went to the chain around her neck, where the locket still hung. It felt heavy, like a weight on her. It set her teeth on edge, the way it seemed to be buzzing in her head. It had only stopped when …

She shook her head vehemently then, willing herself not to think about it. But the logical part of her brain knew that she would have to deal with it sooner or later. And sooner was better. After all, she could still taste him. If she were to lick her lips, he would still be there.

She had been petrified at first, watching him draw ever nearer to her, his movements graceful and calculated, like a cat stalking its prey. Had she been possessed of all her wits, she would have realized that stupefy would have been a much better spell to use at the time. But she'd been afraid, and befuddled, and all she'd managed was a weak leg-locker curse.

What surprised her most about the whole ordeal was not that he kissed her … though, of course, she hadn't seen that coming at all … but that even when he'd had her, beneath him, pinned to the ground, immobile … even though there had been a moment of fear … in the end, she hadn't felt threatened. Not at all.

He had tasted like ashes; like ashes and firewhiskey and something else, something she knew nothing about. He wasn't the first person who had ever kissed her, no that honour belonged to Viktor Krum. And he had been sweet and earnest, if a little sloppy, but he'd been as clumsy at it as he was at everything else besides flying.

But this man, this Snatcher. There had been nothing clumsy about the way he kissed her. Nothing sweet about it either. He had kissed her like a man possessed; like he was dying of thirst, and she was his water. There'd been a moment, as his lips assailed hers, a brief moment when the buzzing in her head had stopped, when the weight of the locket had disappeared, when she couldn't remember why she was in the middle of the forest in the first place. A moment in which the whole world had just fallen away and she had actually sighed with the relief of it all. She remembered it so clearly now. He had deepened the kiss then, his tongue sliding past her lips, and instead of fighting it any longer, she had given herself over to that moment - that beautiful, blissful respite from it all. Her hands had moved, of their own accord, to his shoulders, and she had followed his lead, albeit tentatively, and kissed him back. Closing her eyes, she ran her fingertips over her slightly bruised lips.

It had only lasted a moment, but it was a moment wherein she didn't have to be Hermione, brightest witch of her age. A moment wherein she didn't have to be anyone at all. And after these past few weeks, maybe … maybe a moment like that was just what she needed to keep herself sane.

Perhaps she ought to feel horrified, or mortified, or something other than what she was feeling right now. Maybe those feelings would come in time. For now, though, all she felt was relief, and a strange sense of peace of mind, which was oddly misplaced, considering what had just happened.

She wasn't an idiot. She was quite aware that things might have gone very differently out there, that she mightn't even be standing here now. But there were other things she was aware of, too.

She wasn't worldly or sophisticated, but she'd read a lot, and she'd heard the other girls in her dorm talking, and she was clever enough to deduce things for herself. And of this she was certain: He had wanted her. And he could have easily taken her, had he been of a mind to. But he hadn't. Instead, he had let her go. Not only that … he had broken away from the kiss first. He had told her to run, and there had been urgency in his voice.

So she had run, and she knew that she and Harry needed to leave this place, and soon. As much as she would've liked to stay here, in the hopes that Ron might change his mind, and come back to them, she knew that was foolish and reckless. Ron had made his choice, when he'd walked out of that tent. He'd made his choice when he ignored her calling after him.

And now she had to make hers.

After taking a few more steadying breaths, she started to head toward the tent, but the crunch of leaves behind her gave her pause. She didn't turn around, she couldn't. She knew she was well within the boundaries of the magical wards, but she held her breath all the same.

"I know you're here." His voice was low. He took a deep breath, and she knew it was once again her scent that he was breathing. "The magic, I feel that too. I know you lied, before, and I don't blame you any for that. But whatever it is you're doing, don't do it here."

She turned around then, and slowly reached her hand out to touch the ward. It rippled, and she knew he saw it. She took a deep breath and pulled out her wand, then crossed the barrier to stand before him. "Why would you come here, just to tell me that?" she asked, keeping her voice low so that Harry wouldn't overhear.

His lips twitched slightly when she appeared in front of him. He reached out with one hand, and gently threaded his fingers through her hair. He didn't say anything for a long moment; he just looked at her, rubbing a lock of her hair between his thumb and forefinger, his expression unreadable. Finally he spoke, but Hermione wasn't sure that he was talking to her at all. "You remind me of something."

Her brow furrowed. There was such longing in his voice … she was instantly reminded of the first night she had seen him. And again she wondered - what had happened to this man, to bring him to a life such as this? She shouldn't care, it shouldn't matter, but she wanted to know. "What's that?" she asked, her voice coming out much smaller than she had anticipated.

The sound of her voice seemed to snap him out of whatever daydream he might've been having, for he immediately took his hand away from her hair, and his eyes - grey, she noticed now, like the sky after a storm - snapped almost angrily.

"Something that's long gone," he spat. "Like you oughta be by now. Don't you have a lick of common sense in that head of yours?"

She blinked, slightly taken aback. She opened her mouth to retort, but he placed one finger to her lips, shushing her. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "I don't want to have to hurt you." His voice held the same urgency that it had earlier, when he had told her to run.

She understood then, at least, she thought she did, and she nodded, looking up at him with wide eyes. His face was very near hers now, their noses almost touching, and she was trying hard to keep her breathing in check. Their eyes met, and neither of them looked away for what seemed like a very long time, but in reality, was probably only seconds.

Shaking his head then, he uttered a low sound, almost guttural, and shoved her back. She stumbled a bit and nearly tripped back to the other side of the barrier. She watched him, from her vantage point, knowing he could no longer see her or reach her. He turned and walked away immediately, not sparing a glance back, and she noted that his hands were balled into fists at his sides. Something had upset him, and it bothered her that she was so concerned. She didn't even know the man, but she had to fight off the urge to run after him.

Fortunately - or perhaps unfortunately, she wasn't quite sure yet - Harry came out of the tent then, looking mildly confused. "Hermione? I thought I heard voices."

She shook her head at him. "It's just me," she said weakly. "I was … reading aloud, to pass the time." She motioned toward the Tales of Beedle the Bard that was lying on the ground not too far away. She had been trying to read it earlier, that wasn't a total lie.

He continued to look at her strangely, but finally accepted what she said. "Well, I'm awake now," he said. "You might as well get some sleep."

She cast her eyes toward the sky, which she knew would start to lighten in just a few hours time. "Actually, we should leave soon," she said, and he looked at her quizzically.

"Don't you think, after the past few days, it might be good to rest a bit, regroup?"

Hermione shook her head. "It's not smart to stay in one place for too long," she said, "and we've already been here for three days."

Harry opened his mouth to say something further, and Hermione knew he was going to mention Ron, but she pushed past him and made her way to the tent before he could. She didn't want to talk about Ron right now, she couldn't. It was all too soon.

And she certainly didn't want to answer any questions about why she was in such a sudden hurry to be gone. She couldn't exactly tell Harry that she was going on the word of a man whose name she didn't know, who happened to be a Snatcher, who also happened to have snogged her nearly senseless only a few hours ago.

Oh, yeah, Harry would take all that news wonderfully.

She set to packing up their things, and wouldn't hear another word of protest from Harry on the subject. Harry wisely kept his mouth shut, and helped her gather the rest of their things.

Before they left the area, Hermione unwound the scarf from around her neck, and tied it around one of the trees that had been on the perimeter of their campsite.

"For Ron, then?" Harry asked, his voice quiet.

Hermione blinked a little, and then nodded. "So he'll know we've moved on," she said simply. It wasn't completely untrue, and it was much easier to put it that way, than it would be to explain the rest.

She wasn't entirely sure she had left it there for Ron at all.

II.

Late the next afternoon, he went back to the place where he had spoken to her the night before. Instead of finding her, he'd found the scarf. He wasn't sure whether he was disappointed that she was no longer there, or pleased that she had listened to him.

And she had listened to him, hadn't she? To say he was surprised would be putting it mildly. But then he remembered the look of concern in her dark eyes the previous night and wondered on what it would be like to have a person in this world that actually cared that you were alive.

He ran the scarf through his fingers almost reverently as he untied it from around the old tree. It was hers, all pink and soft, and she had left it here for him to find, he was sure of it. Her perfume still clung to it, and he could feel himself growing hard as he breathed in the scent, thinking about the way this very scarf had been draped about her long, graceful neck the previous evening. He remembered perfectly the way her mouth had tasted. The way she had kissed him back. She'd been shy about it, but that had only made it sweeter to him. Something told him that she didn't kiss just anybody, and he got a bit of smug male satisfaction out of thinking he was one of a very few.

He couldn't remember the last time he had wanted anything at all, but oh, he wanted her. And he could've had her, last night, he was sure of it. He could have taken her, made her his, and maybe it would have released him from this maddening fixation he had on her.

But he hadn't been lying when he'd told her that he didn't want to hurt her. She did remind him of something; something from a different lifetime. Something that he couldn't dwell on now, not if he wanted to stay sane.

She had done what he'd asked, and that should've been the end of it. She was gone, and he needs never to see her again. That had been the point, after all, of his visit to her.

But instead of making things easier for him, as he had hoped, it had done the exact opposite. He wanted to know everything about her. What her name was, where she was from - had she gone to Hogwarts? - who her friends were. If she had a lover. He thought that she must, she was such a clever, pretty thing, but the thought of another man touching her sent a flash of anger through him, and his hand tightened around the scarf violently.

He heard the sounds of his fellow Snatchers heading his way then, and he quickly stuffed the scarf into his pocket. He didn't want to deal with the others and their inane questions right now, and he certainly wasn't about to let Greyback anywhere near anything of hers. He'd kill the bastard first.

Once they caught him up, he told them to head back to the Ministry to give their reports to the Minister. They were bloody well done here; they could finally leave this blasted forest to rot.

He took a deep breath as they set off for the Ministry, feeling oddly at peace with the fact that for now, he knew he had done all he could to keep her safe. And because of her scarf, he knew he would find her again soon.

A witch as intelligent as she was surely knew all about tracking spells; how you needed something belonging to the person you sought in order for them to work.

Why else would she leave that behind, if she didn't want to be found?

Challenge accepted, love.