Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I do not seek to make profit off this work. Harry Potter and its characters belong to JKR and I am happy for her to have that title. I do not own Supernatural or its characters, Kripke does.

The first time they met, she was thirteen and absolutely crushed. This was such a travesty of justice. Buckbeak wasn't any of those things Malfoy's horrible, horrible— She clapped a hand over her mouth to catch her sob. She tried to tell herself she still had time, the execution wasn't scheduled until hours later, but, bugger that, she knew Minister Fudge had his mind set already. It was so unfair.

That was the gist of the pain in her heart. Executing Buckbeak because Malfoy couldn't follow simple directions, because Malfoy rung up his dad—it was all so terribly unfair. This was the Wizarding world. They were supposed to be aboveinconsequential things like bribery and, and stupid pure-blood status. But apparently that meant as much as its counterparts did in the Muggle world. It was like seeing her lovely chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream cone turn out to be hollow on the inside. A first edition turning out to be a fraud.

Her foot met something small and hard and she went sliding backward. She shrieked and threw herself to the side, into something that was large and hard but too small and alive to be the wall. Hands grabbed her shoulders and pushed her away.

"I'm so sorry!" Hermione stuttered, backing away quickly. She looked down and saw that the floor around him was covered in sweets. He must have dropped them right before she got there, and she had been too busy crying like some babyto notice.

"Don't worry about them," the wizard said when she bent down to pick them up. He caught sight of her face and raised his eyebrows to match hers—he didn'twant them to be picked up? He just wanted to litter the ground with them? Why was Mary the Second blushing in her portrait behind him?

"Jilted in love, are you? Pining after some fella who won't look at you twice?"

"No," she said. Her melancholia eased some as she studied him. He didn't look like any of the professors she'd seen in the corridors or the Great Hall. He held a Quibbler under the arm not holding the bag of sweets. His face was made of jaw and chin. The rest of his face seemed vastly uninteresting compared to it. She was sure she would remember him—she knew all the professors, at least by face, mostly because she was in their classes, and his was a memorable one. Mary the Second excused herself silently and slipped out of her portrait. "Are you a—"

"A girl then? When you're older, that's going to be totallyhot. Woo. Haven't had that trouble myself, you understand. I can give ya a few pointers—"

"Not a girl, either," Hermione said and wiped under her eyes. No, he definitely wasn't a professor. "Are you part of the Minster's train?"

"The Minister?" He raised his eyebrows, turned his lips down. "Yeah, you know, I ampart of the Minister's party. I'm here doing Minister-y things. Is that why you're crying? The man keeping you down?"

His incessant questions—and rather odd ones at that—about the source of her tears had dried them all up. Now, at his jaunty tone and admittance of being part of the execution party—like it was some kind of celebration—her jaw burned with the effort of holding back all the hateful, unpatriotic things she wanted to say to him at loud volume.

Then she wondered why she was holding them back. The Minister obviously cared for only a small percentage of the population that excluded her by birthright. He wasn't a Minister to follow, or respect, or hold her tongue to. Her father taught her to spot incompetence when they watched the telly as he often had things to say about certain politicians and the Minister had it in spades. She had no loyalty for an inept leader.

"I would think," she started, in the tightest voice she could manage, "you would be too busy perverting justice to go around eating sweeties. Killing innocent creatures, accepting the status quo, etcetera." She stretched her lips into a grimace of a smile. "I'll leave you to enjoy it, then."

She gave him a look that conveyed her deepest loathing of his choice of profession, turned smartly on her heel, and stomped away with her nose up.

She got three stomps away when his elbow brushed her shoulder and he held out a pink sweet under her nose.

"You're not really going to accuse me of perverting justice and then leave, are you?" he asked her. "You should have stolen some candy, too. Maybe kicked me in the shin or throw a flaming bag of—"

"I would never steal candy, or do any of those other things. As a Ministry employee, I understand why you would approve of physical violence, but I don't. Beyond temporarily feelings of satisfaction, it doesn't solve anything." She knew that firsthand. Or first smack. She felt guilty and disappointed at herself now, for descending to such a level because of Malfoy.

"Take out the last part and that was almost good. Sounds like you've put the smackdown on people yourself," he said, and he raised his eyebrows at her. She had seen other people raise their eyebrows—Ron particularly loved to do it, she thought mainly to prove he knew how—but this wizard's facial expressions, even the ordinary ones, were in a league of their own. His whole face got into it, one expression changing all the lines on his face. His face had style.

Not that she would admit that. Ever. He didn't deserve to have such an interesting face as an employee of a fascist, intolerance-churning machine like the Ministry of Magic.

Her chin rose a little higher.

"I'm not going to take your candy. Please remove it from under my nose."

He flicked his wrist. Hermione's jaw dropped a little when the sweet went flying from his hand in front of her face, over his head, to his other hand, held far out on his other side. She hadn't sensed any magic at all.

A dimple showed in his cheek as he looked down at her. Hermione rapidly became interested in the unique colour of the stones in the wall. Well. It wasn't even that good of a trick, really. And it meant that the Ministry employed show-offs, which only made her ambition to turn the Ministry on its ear grow stronger. When shewas Minister, she wouldn't hire people like—

Whatever this wizard's name was. She wasn't going to stoop to asking. He hadn't asked hername, after all, before he started bothering her.

"So what's the big bad Ministry done that's got you all twisted up?" he asked as they entered the Entrance Hall. "Don't tell me: they committed some absolutely foul act of hypocrisy and made it illegal to wear knee socks." He inclined his head toward hers.

"Why would banning knee socks be hypocrisy—oh. Ew." She had the worst image of Arthur Weasley wearing blue knee socks under his black Ministry robes. "No, they didn't do that. And you should know already. Buckbeak. The hippogriff being unjustly executed today?" She narrowed her eyes when he just shrugged and popped the candy into his mouth. The Minister was cleverer than she thought. He probably knew his employees would make a fuss if they knew they were here to witness a gross execution of an innocent creature like Buckbeak, practically sanctioned murder.

"Hell-o, there's the Minister there," he exclaimed, and grinned at Hermione. His grin made her think of scaly creatures hiding under dark bodies of water. "I'll just go find out myself, then. See you later, Hermione of the knee socks." With a wink and an extreme amount of speed, he was coming up behind Minister Fudge's right shoulder as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Professor Dumbledore, walking behind the Minister's companion, did a double take when he saw the wizard, and then chuckled and readjusted his beard.

"I – ah –" She stared after the four as they walked into the Great Hall.

How had he known her name?

Later, when she was crouching in the forest with Harry, her skin itching as she thought and thought about what they would do when Professor Lupin transformed and bounded into the woods as a werewolf, thought so hard she was surprised her head didn't give off heat waves, she saw a flash of silver in the moonlight and looked up to see the wizard from earlier lower his hand, his face a blur from across the lake, and disappear.

"He wasn't waving at me," Hermione told herself firmly, because to think otherwise was ludicrous.

"What?" Harry asked.

"Nothing," Hermione said. She glanced to where she'd seen the wizard disappear and a thought buzzed near the forefront of her mind like Crookshanks's meows growing louder when he wanted to be fed. She frowned, but her head was too focused on the problem of a werewolf without Wolfsbane to switch subjects properly.

When she woke up in the hospital wing the next morning, her eyes opened and her first thought was: no one can Apparate or Disapparate on school grounds.

The next time she met him she was less prepared, which left her off kilter for the entire conversation and gave her a reason to hate Rita Skeeter more than she already did. He showed up in her back garden, among the new herb garden she finally had permission from her mum to plant. She jumped, firstly, because she hadn't expected anyone to show up in her back garden for at least another week when Mr. Weasley would come to collect her and, secondly, because Rita Skeeter had only just Disapparated. Hermione had told her what was what; the nasty reporter had booked it as soon as they were finished.

Hermione looked up, and up, and up, until she saw his face.

No one could ever forget a distinctive face such as his, though the last time he had been on her mind she had been crying—jilted in love.

He flapped a copy of Witch Weeklyat her. "Looks like you got that love life all solved," he said, echoing her thoughts. Hermione recognized the issue. She coloured and stood up, wiping dirt off her knees. His eyes lit up. "Honey, I don't think those are ever coming back in style."

"Argyle is timeless," she snapped. She snatched the magazine out of his hand. "And this is utter rubbish. Why are you even reading it anyway? Wait—why are you even here?"

"Argyle knee socks? I don't think so," he told her with a snort.

"If you don't tell me why you're here I can cite self-defense when the Aurors come to see why I've performed ten of the vilest hexes I know on you," she said. She put her hand on her hip and pointed the magazine at him like a wand with her other hand. "And your name. I want your name."

When he stepped out of her thyme, she saw his pink fluffy slippers. A laugh was unwillingly dragged out of her. He said she was a fashion disaster.

He wagged his finger under her nose as he passed. "Timeless," he said. He looked around the garden and shrugged before heading for the large tree in the corner of the lot. She followed at his pink fluffy heels. She was serious(and curious.) He turned when he was under the shade—she had to jump back to avoid his elbow in her ribs—and with a snap, there were two pink vinyl lawnchairs by the tree trunk with a table in between covered in hurricane glasses containing—she was sure—alcoholic beverages and too many umbrellas.

"This is better," he sighed and sat, crossing his legs, his fuzzy slipper hanging on by his toes. He raised his eyebrows-mouth-face at her. "You going to take a picture or you gonna sit?"

"I'm not drinking any of those," she told him, her tone brooking no argument.

"You are just the biggestwet blanket, aren't you? I bet you could stop fires with just a look."

She kind of thought that would be rather neat, but didn't say anything to that effect. He didn't mean it in the neat way; he meant it in the Ron way. She pressed her lips together and glared at his stupid tacky slippers.

"They're not timeless," she muttered. She threw herself down beside him, folding her arms across her chest.

"Here," he said, and she had to either catch the drink or let it spill in her lap. He waved his hand at her as he sat back. "Live a little. It's a milkshake."

Hermione, intrigued despite herself—was he or wasn't he telling the truth?—took a tentative drink. Besides being the thickest milkshake she'd ever had in her life—not that she'd had many, with health-conscious parents such as hers—and being bar none the bestthing she had ever tasted, it didn't taste alcoholic.

She didn't know if she would have cared if it were, really. It was thick, it was vanilla, and each drink tasted like the beans had just been smashed up.

"Thank you," she said, fiddling with the yellow umbrella it was garnished with. "It's good—really good."

"Eh, bet they're not as good as all of these boyfriends nipping at your heels," he said. "You know, two hundred years ago you would have been the height of fashion, knee socks notwithstanding. That C of E, they pretend they're all buttoned up, but they forget I saw the great red knickers debate."

"You're making that up," she said, rolling her eyes.

"Well, maybe they would have liked the knee socks too. Let me tell you about kinky—"

Withering did not describe the glare she gave him over the tiny yellow umbrella. Her knee socks were not kinky.

The grass shifted in the wind. Hermione let her eyes close halfway, luxuriated in the few moments silence, the breeze against her face, sticky sweetness clinging to the back of her throat. Mm.

"You accept drinks from every stranger who just shows up in your thyme?"

Hermione opened her eyes. She stayed quiet, her mouth twisting as she thought. Harry wouldn't approve, Ron certainlywouldn't. Professor Moody—was a fraud, a fake, and Cedric was dead at Peter Pettigrew's hand. You-Know-Who was finally, completely, back.

"No, I don't," she said in the end. She took another sip of the milkshake. "But you could have chosen a better target than me if you were a Death Eater. I could name several that could cause extreme harm and menace if they were Polyjuiced or put under Imperio. I'm just"—she waved the magazine vaguely—"Hermione Granger, the tart. No one would even notice you if you were pretending to be me unless you unexpectedly became pretty at a ball. Do you know how long it took for anyone to notice my shrunken teeth?"

"Careful or I'll start to think you're bitter."

"Actually, they'd probably think you were a big improvement over me," she said, then huffed in irritation at herself. "You probably would be."

"C'mon now, you can't be all bad. You've got the smarts, somewhere under that proper exterior is a sense of humour, and—two words—argyle knee socks. Why wouldn't all these boys fall at your feet?"

"Three words," she corrected him. She saw him shrug out of the corner of her eye, his slipper a pink blur as he bounced his foot. She sipped at her milkshake. Swallowed. Got up her courage. "You're not a wizard, are you?"

His foot stopped bouncing. He clicked his tongue. Hermione didn't look straight at him, but she could see his lips curl up in a smile. "Your eyesight must be going bad, Hermione," he said. "Didn't you see me just conjure all this out of thin air? Kind of wizardly, wouldn't you think?"

That's exactly why you aren't, Hermione thought. "It's against the laws of magic—wizard magic—to transfigure, conjure, or otherwise create food with magic. And that night. You disappeared by the lake. The Founders made it impossible to Apparate and Disapparate on Hogwarts's grounds. Thus, you didn't Apparate, but you did transport yourself. I thought, briefly, of house elf magic, except human/house elf breeding was found highly improbable in the eighties."

"You mean those wrinkly green things?" He barked out a short laugh. "You thought I was one of those?"

"House elves have amazingpowers," she answered stiffly. "You should be proud that I considered you were part house elf, however briefly."

"Sure, sweetie," he said, but he didn't pursue it. She relaxed infinitesimally, or as much as she could with her nerves stretched to the top of the tree. He still had not answered her question. She watched him slurp up the last of his one milkshake—ridiculous, he was a grown man—and then choose between the other coloured concoctions on the table. He chose strawberry, plucking it up like a heron on a beach. "How about this," he said, licking off his pink mustache. "You forget you asked that, sign my Witch Weekly, and I will… well, I'll forget you asked that. You can call me Gabriel."

Her first instinct was to say no, tell him on no plane of existence would she agree to that—but then Ron's face showed in her mind, Harry's, how easily they had turned against each other, how easily they had turned against her in third year, how the whole school had laughed when she was being humiliated daily in a public forum, how Mrs. Weasley had believed that horrible, foul beetle, how every day felt like a constant battle. She remembered that and held her tongue.

"Forever?" she asked.

"Until you get out of knee socks, at least."

"Okay," she said slowly. She could blame it on the milkshake later, she was certain. "Do you have a quill?"

"Make sure to make it out to Your Number One Fan. Hey, you think you can get your loverboys to sign— Worth a shot."

More odd conversations later, the next time she saw him, she gave him a good, long stare as the last of the water drained out of the tub.

"What?" he said, and proceeded to turn to the mirror, raising his eyebrows, sticking out his lower lip and generally acting like she supposed Parkinson did when she saw a shiny surface. Or like someone experiencing simultaneous seizures. Most days she didn't see the difference.

"You didn't happen to be…"

"You think I should get highlights?" he asked her, squinching his face as he brushed a hand through his hair.

Hermione realized this was the only out she was going to get. She put the chance of Gabriel literally being as perverted as his conversations usually made him out as out of her mind, and focused on combing out the tangles in her hair. She snorted when she caught Gabriel giving himself a smoldering look.

"You should trybeing this good looking on an hourly basis," he told her haughtily. "Highlights: yes or no?"

"I vote no," she said. "And I think after tonight's disaster I'm more than happy to leave that up to you." She hadn't been planning on the Slug Club Party with Cormac to be anything other than something to suffer through, maybe have a few decent conversations with some of Professor Slughorn's former students. She hadn't counted on Cormac, though, or his severe case of Let's Grab Granger's Tits. It had gone pear shaped half an hour in.

"Oh yeah?"

"I've decided to put off dating and marriage until I'm secure in my career and my portfolio yields residuals that match my wage."

"That bad, huh," he said. He pushed out his lips like some kind of fresh water sea bass. Hermione was not amused (yes, she kind of was.) "I told you you should have taken me. I'm always a sure thing."

"I haven't seen you since the summer," she pointed out.

"Well, I would've told you, anyway."

"After tonight, I'm considering breeding kneazles," Hermione said. "Enough about me. What about you? What are youdoing when you're not randomly popping up in my life?"

"Causing trouble, righting wrongs, collecting sacrifices. Add a pickup truck and I could be a country song."

The other times he answered that way, she wasn't certain whether he was having her on or not. She still wasn't sure.

She's not sure what she would feel if it turned out to be true. Gabriel was far from a permanent fixture in her life, but the way their short conversations during the years impacted her, he might as well be. It was his fault she had taken Cormac to the Christmas Party. It was his fault she was a little lenient when she was on patrols and caught Fred-and-George wannabes leaving pranks for Mr. Filch, if a little lenient meant taking five points instead of ten. A lot of things were his fault, including her dissatisfaction with Harry this year, with Dumbledore, with waiting for stupid Ron to man up and kiss her.

It was his fault she was wondering if this huge war with Voldemort was just a gang war.

"Oh come here, you narcissistic prat." She put her comb down and spun Gabriel until he was facing her.

She pushed his shoulders and he sat down on the counter with an impressed, "Oh, yeah, talk dirty to me."

"You are a pervert," she told him seriously. She brushed his hair flat, parted it, and took out the scissors from her personal hygiene kit. "Honestly. Your hair is almost as bad as Harry's is. At least he has the excuse that his just won't be cut—yourswill, I presume?"

He narrowed sharp eyes at her. "What are you planning, Hermione dear?"

"A trim," she said. "I'm tired of you looking like a ruffian, even if you are. You can try to guess what I got you for Christmas as I work."

He caught her wrist as she raised the scissors. For a moment, worry hit her—was a trim too much? Was he going to reject it? Would it be awkward between them forever now? Would he even come back?—and then she saw his face. Confusion and worry, though confusion was the biggest part.

"You got me a Christmas gift? Why?"

She twitched her wrist out of his grip and proceeded to snip at the end of his hair at an upwards angle like Witch Weeklyrecommended for the witch cutting her own bangs. "Because, though I have only seen you a total of six times in my life, you are still a fixture, even if you are annoyingly insistent about not telling me what kind of magical creature you are. And you did give me good advice about Ron—if only Ron had followed those same rules."

"I gave you advice?" he asked. She chanced a glance at his face and saw that the confusion had left his face to be replaced by consideration.

"Well, you said I should maximize my assets—"

Hermione had to move the scissors back as Gabriel started choking. She glared at him.

"And though I didn't do it how you meant—I repeat: pervert—I did manage to show the best parts of my personality when he was around. Like my loyalty, my superior intellect, my reasoning skills, and I even managed to be 'fun' three times." She pulled her shoulders out of their slump and clenched her jaw. "It was going well, too, until he found out I kissed Viktor. Apparently, I'm too loose, yet he can go around and let Lavender Brown try to suffocate him with her face. Bloody double standard," she added with a vicious snip. "I hope you don't treat yourgirlfriend like this."

"Not like I would admit to anything with implements of Gabriel doom in your hand, would I?" She shrugged. She couldn't testify to his intelligence or lack thereof. She had to move the scissors again as he pulled away from her to turn his head and look her in the eye. "Six times, really?"

"Third year, summer after fourth year, twice during Umbridge's reign, and at the end of summer. This is the sixth time. What? I have an impeccable memory."

"Captured by centaurs," he said, caressing the words lovingly. She shook her head, turning him by his chin so she could continue cutting his hair. "I'm going to have to remember that one."

"She does," Hermione said, and Gabriel laughed. This time, she felt she earned the impressed eyebrow wag he sent her way.

The next morning she was eating breakfast, going over the Daily Prophet, and thinking over Gabriel's newest gem of advice ("Vanilla before chocolate, always. Once you have chocolate, you can't go back to vanilla, at least not the same sitting. Hour or two later, sure, but until then you're ruined for the subtle tastes of vanilla. Banana, too. Though if you have banana split? You're solid.") She had decided to go about life as normal, ignoring Ron but not aggravating his temper or jealousy. He could have his chocolate. His taste buds were ruined for her subtle and refined taste. Until Lavender was entirely out of his system, she wouldn't be available to him. Of course, she would still show him exactlywhat he was missing by cavorting with chocolate.

She had left her dormitory sans knee socks.

"Dumbledore told me to ask you not to invite your friends into the prefect's bath," Harry said as he slid onto the bench next to her. His confusion was magnified two-fold in his glasses. Hermione's gaze darted up to the head table. She pretended she didn't see the goblet lifted in her direction. How did he know everything? Did he know who Gabriel was? Whathe was? Would he tell her? Was Gabriel only her 'friend' because it was a handy way to get into the castle to see the Headmaster? Was she one of the Order's beards?

Harry cleared his throat, bringing her attention back onto him. "You didn't – you know. With Cormac?"

She stared blankly at Harry, letting her cereal drop from her spoon. Then she realiz— "Yuck, Harry," she said. She made a face at her cereal and her spoon clattered to her bowl before she pushed it away. "No way on Earth." She shuddered at the memory of Cormac assaulting her with his face under the mistletoe. "No."

"Oh. Good." Harry began filling his plate. Hermione's stomach roiled in protest of being near food when she was so sick. Thanks, Harry.Prat. Harry paused with the milk jug in the air. "So who…" He blinked at her like he hadn't heard the same sexual education lecture Professor McGonagall had given them at the beginning of the year—as if he was as innocent and pure as his Patronus.

"I do have other friends than you and Ron," Hermione informed him. Like anyone but Dumbledore would believe she was friends with an older man who popped in and out of her life to listen to her woes and get his hair trimmed. "I don't need to tell you everything," she finished quietly. Gabriel was hers, hers.

"Um, okay. Sorry."

The calendar centered on holy days for the gods—days different worshippers had sacrificed for them—separated by season. On the inside were the words:

To bring a shred of order to your year.

Your friend,

Christmas morning she found Gabriel's present gone and a jar of cherries on her nightstand.

"You know, now that they're gone, I'm kinda missing those knee socks," he said. She could hear the leer in his voice. "Come on, baby, show me some of that argyle action." She could hear his bare feet slapping on the hardwood, his mouth slurping at something sugary and unhealthy, probably.

"That's not funny," she muttered into the sofa cushion.

"To each," Gabriel said. She yelped and practically flew off the sofa when he sat on her knees.

"Ow, Gabriel!" She glared, and then slumped on the matching sofa, pressing her face into the cushion. He could have that stupid sofa. This one was better any— "Bloody – will you stoptrying to irritate me into cheering up! If I want to be narked I'll jolly well be narked!"

"You Brits and your love sonnets," Gabriel said, sprawling across the cushions. "And, honey, I'm just trying to feel you up. Seriously, look at how short those shorts are. A malnourished, homeless kid is currently running around London looking for her shorts. So when're you leaving?"

Hermione sat down, tugging at her shorts. They weren't that short. He made it seem like she should be in some, some naughtyfilm or something, and she certainly shouldn't. She glanced at the door her parents had walked out of only an hour ago. In the front window, behind the gauzy curtains her grandmother had made her parents as a wedding present, she could see the empty driveway. She pulled at her shorts again.

"As soon as I'm finished packing tomorrow," she said. "I'll Apparate to the Weasleys. Ron's not sure whether the Floo's safe. Umbridge, you know."

"And then?" he prompted, sticking his finger back in the jar of caramel. Pleasant.

"I don't know. I guess it comes down to when Voldemort shows his hand, but I doubt we'll be returning to Hogwarts. Harry said—"

Gabriel chuckled. He released the end of his finger with a sucking pop. "Communications problem. They happen. What I meant was: when are you leaving the country?"

"I'm not," she said. "I'm staying." Gabriel lowered the caramel. Hermione felt the urge to fidget deep in her marrow. She successfully caught it, caged it. "I'm meant to help bring him down."

"You're meantto be sunning yourself on some beach and giving me a backrub as I scare off all the buff but ultimately useless guys who try to get under your leopard print bikini," he told her. "What do you think I've been grooming you for? Not some… dirty war with two buff but ultimately useless boys. The shorts are a nice start, though."

"I would never wear leopard print," she told him. "This war is being fought over people like me. Muggleborns. House elves. Centaurs. Hagrid. The Weasleys. If you find me sunning on a beach after knowing that, then it's not me. I could never."

She realized they had never talked about the war, her blood status, the prejudice she faced every day at Hogwarts. She'd assumed he knew—most of the time she forgot he wasn'ta Ministry employee like he let her believe he was in third year. She had never considered he might not know that this war, for her, was personal.

She thought he had anyway. Harry Potter washer best friend and he knew who Harry Potter was destined to be.

The caramel disappeared without a shimmer or movement. Gabriel sat up, inch by inch, each movement precise and like a great jungle cat stretching before beginning the night's hunt. His face was all cheekbones, sharp circles under his eyes, pointed chin. He looked like a mask she could take off.

"War is just a pretty way of saying dead. It's dying in some mud hole or a parking lot of some shitty gas station. It's not noble, it's not full of grace, there's nothingepic about it. You're just dead, babe, and no one's gonna care when you are."

"Then I'll go into it with my eyes open," she said stubbornly. She wasn't deluding herself. She knew the probability of dying was high. She was going against wizards like Lucius Malfoy, with skilled duelists like Bellatrix Lestrange, against hatred like Severus Snape's. Against the most powerful wizard in the world since Dumbledore died, an immortal, powerful wizard at that. The traps around his Horcruxes would be dangerous, deadly—even finding all the Horcruxes didn't mean they could destroy them.

She knew this, but remembering it sent her stomach to her throat and her throat to her stomach. She didn't like remembering it.

The sunlight reached his face and was rebuffed. "That was some memory charm you put on your parents."

"Yes." She looked down. "Yes, it was."

"I'm not a rush in and save the day hero," Gabriel said.

"I won't ask you to be."

She listened to the ticking clock above the fireplace, old Mrs. Gretchen's dog barking next door, the whir-whir-whir of her mother's home computer in the corner. She stared at her hands and threw it all away.

"Well." He stood up, long, long legs encased in tight blue jeans. She could see his fists at his sides. His voice was quite empty. "I'll send you a copy of the eulogy I plan on giving."

She said, "Keep it G-rated, please," to the empty room.

She went over and turned off the computer.

"Now I know why you were so eager to go running off with them," Gabriel said from behind her. He clapped her hand over her mouth before her shriek could get far. The water churned around them in echoes of Hermione's splashing before settling back into its deep calm. Hermione's breath came out hard and fast against Gabriel's hand. Slowly, he pulled it away. Hermione was on the opposite side of the pond within seconds, outside her bubble of warm water. Keeping her chest firmly in the water, she took her wand out from behind her ear—she'd been lucky it hadn't taken off the side of her face when Gabriel surprised her like that—and cast another warming charm on the water. It was March. Of course she focused on that first.

"—mione?" she heard. "You okay?"

"Fine!" she called back to Harry. "Thought I saw a snake!"

Gabriel snorted at that, for whatever reason. She was more than glad she could see the edge of a tee-shirt peeking out of the water. Merlin. She was nakedand Gabriel had slathered himself against her back like jam on bread! She swallowed, found that wasn't enough, and swallowed again.

"What," she began in her frostiest tone, "are you doing?"

"I was ogling your knickers," he said, adopting his British accent. He nodded to the line of underthings she'd strung between two trees to dry as she bathed. No need for a charm now; her blush was more than enough to keep her warm. "Then"—his face formed a v of lechery—"I realized that if they were there, you were here. Without them."

"I'm glad you have a modicum of deductive reasoning skills," she snapped. "Now get out! This is nota joint bathing venture, and I'm quite sure you have proper facilities and you're not in need of this cold, muddy pool."

"You don't think I'm just a taddir—"

"I will hex you into tiny Gabriel pieces."

He gave her a wounded, kicked puppy look he really shouldn't be as good at since, all things considered, it was Gabriel. "Touch-y. Be better if you touched me, course, but what's a guy to do when's he up against a wall that freakin' high? Not to mention how cold—"

"I can still hear you," she said, voice turning shrill.

"—the water is," he finished in sing-song as he finally exited the pond. She made a face at his back, schooling it when he turned back around, shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots dry. She bit her tongue. As always, he dressed to match the scenery.

She folded her arms over her chest, glancing down to be certain nothing too risqué was being revealed. She glanced from her cleanest jeans to Gabriel standing next to them. "Could you please turn around?"

"I'm going to peek," he muttered and turned around.

She counted on that, actually. She wouldn't trust him to say he wouldn't. As long as he only peeked and she was very, very fast. Hermione bee-lined it to the line, snatched a bra and knickers off, and then fairly flew to her jeans and heavy coat. Merlin's saggy beard, it was cold! Her teeth were chattering by the time she, stumbling, pulled her jeans over her hips. Her wet hair meeting the cold air and the dampness clinging to her jeans to her was doing nothing for her state of being.

Gabriel turned his head until she was staring at his profile before she pulled her jumper over her head. "How do you feel—scale of one to ten—about running away with me?"

"Tiny l-l-little pieces, Gabriel," she said breathlessly.

He shrugged and spoke to the yellow polka dot knickers next to his left ear. "She wants me."

She cast a warming charm and then a drying one, swearing at herself under her breath for letting Gabriel's presence disorient herself enough to make her forget it went drying charm thenwarming charm. Great. Now her hair looked like she had met a porcupine and a bulldozer and lost in round four.

"What the—good camouflage, Hermione. No one will everspot you here with that."

"Oh, shut it," she said. "It took me coming out from the wards for you to find me."

"Nah." He flicked the strap on her second favourite bra—Alice blue, part of a set her mum had given her for her last birthday—and leaned against the tree. "I have a special Hermione-dar. How was the Forest of Dean?"

Well, that solved any lingering doubts she had about his Death Eater status. She waited a moment. With surprise and the slightest touch of horror, she realized she had no doubts to clear up.

"Cold," she said. "Lonely, since Harry was pissed off at me and Ron left."

"You rethink the beach plan?" he asked, folding his arms. She shook her head. He released a gusty sigh. "Figures you'd want to stay holed up in a one-person tent with those two." He looked like a proud parent come graduation.

"It's bigger on the inside."

"That's just advertising, baby," he said, and he raised one eyebrow in his get it, get it, do you get itway.

That didn't even make any sense! Just advertising—what a load of— "That is nowhere near what is happening," Hermione informed him tightly.

"Before you say anything else, let me say this: don't spoil allmy fantasies. Speaking of, I have this other one: whip cream, vanilla ice cream, and this sparkly swimsuit thing—"

"Please don't talk about food," she groaned, "or I'm liable to take a chunk out of your arm in my first act of cannibalism."

"Now that's sexy," Gabriel said, but he sounded disgusted. "Come on. I'll take you to a restaurant or something."

"No," she said. "We're planning on going to a grocery store later tonight. I just keep procrastinating because I absolutely hatehaving to leave money on a shelf. It's too much like stealing."

After a second of staring hard at her left cheek, he nodded shortly. He shifted, got more comfortable against the tree. Hermione sat on a stump to pull on her thick woolen socks and boots. She felt his attention, couldn't stop remembering the disappointment in his eyes when she said she wouldn't be escaping the war like a good little girl. Forgotten ire ignited in her chest. She could do it, she had, and she was still alive. One Horcrux was gone, they had solid leads in Voldemort's past where the others could be, and they weren't fighting anymore. They were goodand alive and Gabriel's dire warnings hadn't yet reared their head.

She wasn't going to be childish enough to bring it up, though. Once Voldemort was dead she would ask for a retraction.

Her hands shook as she laced up her boots. She blamed it on residual cold, not the fact that Gabriel had shown up despite his last visit from—wherever he was when he wasn't with her—had ended in a fairly decisive way.

Best not to bring attention to it.

"So how is the outside world?" she asked. "I'm as hungry for that as I am some vanilla ice cream myself." She tried on a smile. It fit surprisingly well.

"It's going," Gabriel said. He shook a leaf off his boot. "There's some kids the whole fam's watching."

Fam… family? She kept her mouth shut. "As in creepy pervert, just for fun, or Harry Potter watch?" she asked. She didn't question the fit of her grin this time when his lips quirked. "Listen to you too much and I learn nuances. How about that?"

"May just teach you something yet," he murmured. His face was smiling while his lips stayed still. Hermione swore quietly when she heard two pairs of feet tramping toward them. Had they neverheard of stealth? (On second thought, she was glad they hadn't.)

"Our time is up, my fair maiden," Gabriel said. With one hand, he bid adieu in a complicated half bow, with the other he showed her the pair of yellow polka dot knickers he'd stuffed in his pocket.

"Blast it!" she shouted when she jumped forward… to empty air. "You stupid, stupid—thing!"

Obviously, becoming his acquaintance had improved her vocabulary exactly none. Except now her inner voice sounded like him.


"Uh, Hermione?" Harry ventured.

Hermione spun around, caught Harry's blush and determined stare and Ron's red cheeks and intense concentration on her right foot. Her eyes flickered to her line of knickers and bras. Oops.

Wait. That wasn't her fault. They could have been stomping toward her when she was naked. Nude. Starkers. Forty other synonyms.

"We heard you talking," Harry said when he saw her expression change into mutinous.

Hermione deflated. "Oh. Um." She grinned in a way that hurt the top of her cheeks. "Drying charm then warming charm. I always forget." She shook her head at herself and listened to them trump back to the tent, faces flaming, while inside she swore vengeance. Or swore that she wouldtransfigure him into a toad for a few minutes at least. Come back or not, she wasn't willing to let the nicking of her favourite pair of knickers go. She would have some things to tell him in a loud voice when she saw him next about being a creepy pervert.

"You will rue the day," she growled at the knickers left.

Then she realized what she was doing—swearing vengeance on her striped knickers—and firmly got hold of herself.

She was wrong, she was wrong, oh Merlin, don't let her give her to Greyback, oh Merlin, don't let him come, no, no, don't let him come, it's not real, it's a fake, please don't let him come, not Greyback, no, not Greyback, oh pleasepleaseplease.

It was like Bellatrix had sapped out all her energy, all that tremendous will she counted on to get her up every morning. It had disappeared without a goodbye.

Hermione barely remembered Fleur and Bill's, Polyjuice, Gringotts. There was the sharp taste of flying and then she woke up in Gryffindor tower, sandwiched between Ginny and Alicia Spinnet in Hermione's previous bed. She inhaled Alicia's spicy hair gel and sweat smell, felt Ginny's arm and leg wrapping around her like a monkey. She wriggled. It was far too hot to stay in between them. Somehow she managed to slip out from under Ginny's noodle limbs that shifted every time she shifted, Hermione sliding down the bed like some slippery eel. Alicia murmured something that she thought may have been good job, mate, but Hermione wouldn't wager on it.

Dennis Creevey told her Harry and Ron were still sleeping—let them—but there were sandwiches. She had one and listened to Dennis regale her with Colin's Hercules-esque feats during the battle and before. She listened, responded, and quietly agreed that Colin was one of the best Gryffindors she met.

Rather, she remembered how he usually fell into his coffee every morning and blinked a lot during Dumbledore's Army meetings as if he were a human stop-motion camera.

Her throat was sore by the time she left the common room, nibbling on a second sandwich, carrying a third in her pocket. She made the long way downstairs, not rushing the staircases that seemed to want to mourn when they touched each level. They probably did. The castle was rubble. It would take a lot of work to get it back to its former glory. She let her mind wander down that track—Professor Flitwick was going to teach them Construction Spells this year, he probably would be able to speed up the rebuilding quite a bit—and when her foot touched the floor of the Entrance Hall, she didn't realize it, or who was walking toward her, until they reached her.

"Hermione, dear," Mrs. Weasley said. Her smile trembled across her face. "Oh, dear, you should still be in bed. Where is Ron - Harry?"

"They're not up yet, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione told her. "But Kreacher brought up some sandwiches for when they do." She showed her the one in her pocket as proof.

"Good, that's good," she said, and began ushering Hermione toward the Great Hall. Hermione followed without protesting. The bodies had been transported elsewhere while she was asleep—she felt a sharp pang; she would have liked to see Fred again—and the injured, presumably, to St. Mungo's. She made a note to request to see Lavender as soon as the Healers reported her stable.

She realized she had missed half of what Mrs. Weasley was saying.

"—you'll be wanting to know when the school will reopen, I'm certain"—another of those trembling grins—"I spoke to Minerva and she's already receiving letters from the N.E.W.T. committee that they're willing to hold open examinations in a month or so, which would be so good for you three, if you want to get settled into a new career by next year. I remember you saying something about becoming a Mediwitch? Good profession, always in demand. Oh, especially now, especially now."

Something had broken in Mrs. Weasley. Hermione could see that as if she'd scribbled it on her hand as a reminder. Mrs. W broke, she would have written. Beware.

"Or maybe you, Ron and Harry would like to take a year off before choosing between careers, hm? I can't say I would blame you. All you've gone through this year. Harry and Ron would get a lot of pleasure out of lazing about for a while, maybe Ron could tryout for one of those professional Quidditch teams. Terribly dangerous, though—oh, but look at me, you've been through a battle and I'm going on about Quidditch being dangerous!"

"There are studies," Hermione began.

"And you, dear, could do with some TLC yourself. Some travel? Oh, that sounds exciting, doesn't it? Get out there, mingle with people your age—terribly exciting. I remember Arthur and I went to Rome on our honeymoon. Some of the most beautiful people in the world."

"I don't know, Mrs. Weasley," she cut in, and tried to make her voice as decisive as her mind felt. "I really don't. I'm sorry."

Mrs. Weasley's face turned ashen, just a little, but enough shades difference that Hermione felt the two sandwiches rebel in her stomach. She understood then—Mrs. Weasley just wanted someone to mother, since grief had taken her over. And Hermione had gone and put her foot in it.

Mrs. Weasley looked over her head. "Look, there's Minerva. Maybe she'll have something to tell you about when the school will reopen. Scoot now. Go on, scoot!" The sight of that grin made her ill. She tried to think of something to say that would make it go away—besides throwing herself on her mercy—when she turned in some unconscious signal for help and caught sight of Professor McGonagall walking toward them.

Professor McGonagall and welcome company.

Hermione said something to Mrs. Weasley—she never remembered what—and how she got from the bench to in front of Gabriel, she didn't know.

"Hi," she said, breathless, feeling wings in her chest and in her mind. "Hi."

"So you do know him, Miss Granger?" Professor McGonagall put in before Gabriel could respond. "Albus said, but you can never be sure with—"

"Gentlemen of leisure," Gabriel said in a voice so smooth she could have spooned it into her mouth. Professor McGonagall's frown said she disapproved of spoons in general and would rather grow a beard and eat it before she spooned his voice anywhere besides the lake.

"Yes, Professor," Hermione said before Gabriel could say more and make Professor McGonagall transfigure him into a fish out of water. She'd seen her do it during the melee. "I've known him since third year." She lowered her voice. "And if someone could tell Mr. Weasley that Mrs. Weasley needs him, I think she would appreciate it." Hermione turned with Professor McGonagall to look at Mrs. Weasley.

"Yes," Professor McGonagall said slowly. "You're right. I will leave you two…" She eyed Gabriel with distaste. "I will only be a shout away, Hermione." With a quick clip, she powered away.

Hermione turned to Gabriel.

He put a hand over her open mouth. "Are you wearing knee socks under those pants?"

"Oohnda— ahem. Under my jeans, yes - pants—"

"Then you're not ready," Gabriel pronounced. "Remember our deal: not until you're out of knee socks and I get all the vanilla ice-cream whip cream sparkly bikini'd Hermiones as I want."

"That was notour original contract," Hermione said. "You wanted my signature—"

"—to your soul—"

"—and for me to wait. I recall no sparkly bikinis, and if you insist, I will be forced to declare a breach of contract. I couldjust go over and ask the Professor. I'm sure she would be glad to tell me."

"This is what you—no, wait—I get for you not reading the fine print." He flashed a grin as mischievous as Fred-and-George and all their wannabes. "So you coming or what? Only I got a role of damsel in distress to cast and I'm thinking knee socks, plaid skirt, snotty attitude. High school guys dig that, right?" Like a bird, worry landed on his face—his eyebrows, his mouth, the lines on his cheeks—and then flitted away after a second's rest. His whole face got into it. It had style. "Oh, right, allguys like that. You might have to dumb it down for this one, though, if you know what I mean. Not the fastest hamster on the wheel."

"Gabriel," Hermione said, and kept her voice low, calm, approaching foreign territories, "I would like to discuss payment and drawing up a new contract before we get into specifics."

He pulled out his sea bass lips. She shook her head. Charm had left that look long ago. He dropped it after he saw that, pouted for .017 seconds, then twisted-moved-turned and had her walking toward the doors, arm over her shoulders leading her. She figured he wanted her as far away from Professor McGonagall as he could get her.

"I knew I liked you for a reason."