AN: I am sure those of you who have read (and followed) some of my other stories at this point are wondering why on earth I'm starting yet *another* story that has absolutely nothing to do with my others. So am I. But sometimes I find it easier to switch venues from time to time when I get stuck, and let's face it, I get seriously stuck with the Vampire Prince fairly often (sorry about that!). Anyway, I am working on it, promise, but for now, here's something new to possibly catch your attention while I attempt to make something happen with a different plot. As always, thanks for reading!
Hermione nervously watched the clock in the living room tick from one second to the next from her seat at the kitchen table. Dinner was awaiting only a few final touches, one of them being her husband's presence, but the meal that was sitting on the stove was possibly the farthest thing from her mind at that moment. A magazine was propped up in her lap; to the casual observer it would seem as if she was simply flipping through catalogues and magazines to pass the time until she could greet her husband at the door and remove dinner from the oven. Her legs were crossed at the knee, right over left, her right foot bouncing a slow, casual rhythm. For all intents and purposes she was relaxed and calm, and engrossed in her magazine.
In actuality, Hermione hadn't turned the page in at least five minutes, her eyes hadn't left the clock in at least seven, and, as usual, she was anything but calm and relaxed. The source of her anxiety wasn't due home for another five minutes (in the best (or worst) case scenario) but the fact that she had time to spare before Ron got home didn't seem to have much of an impact on her anxiety levels, nor on what she did with her free time.
Ron and Hermione had been married for four years (one short year and three long ones, if you asked Hermione, not that she ever would have said it out loud) and dated for two once the war with Voldemort was over. Even after six years, and a previous seven of friendship in their school days, Hermione was still surprised to find herself in the sort of situation that she found herself in. She hated her marriage, and she hated her husband. Worse than the hate, she was afraid of her husband, and for good reason. Sometimes she had no reason to worry, no reason to be afraid, but sometimes she did have reason. It was those sometimes that she did have reason that made her always worried and afraid.
Each morning Ron went to work and Hermione breathed a small sigh of relief, and then started her own work. What she did with her day while Ron was gone was nothing like the life she had wanted to be leading at this point in her life, and it wasn't even similar to the life she had led during her and Ron's year of newly wed bliss. Hermione had gone straight from the end of the war into a job at the Ministry of Magic, but she had given up her desk job at the end of their one short year of marriage. People occasionally asked Ron if he minded that Hermione had given up her career to play housewife, leaving him to be the only responsible adult in the household; Ron always told them that the responsibility was tough but that he supported his wife in everything she decided to do. Ron was the reason Hermione had quit in the first place.
Working for the Ministry and keeping house weren't too terribly different once you figured out the ropes (or so Hermione told herself). Keeping things clean to Ron's pristine standards wasn't too different from keeping her desk tidy and organized (the difference being that she would have never used a drop of bleach to clean her desk, let alone the massive amounts that it took to keep the house spotless) and she still got to enjoy the relaxation of allowing her mind to drift as she lost herself in the menial work (though filing and filling out paperwork was much more relaxing than scrubbing the kitchen floor). She watched T.V. sometimes when Ron was gone too, but only daytime programs and what was shown as re-runs.
Ron didn't approve of T.V., at least not when she was sitting in front of it, thinking it as entirely too muggle for a Wizarding home, which is why she chose to stick to catalogs, magazines, and books after dinner was ready and before Ron got home. Heaven forbid Ron come home and find her on the couch with the remote in her hand. Sometimes, even a book was risky; Ron no longer wanted the bookworm that she had been in school. Ron liked his wife to be productive, well read (which she was by the time she had graduated Hogwarts) but not political, and without a real opinion about most things. Ron didn't care if she had an opinion about last fall's jacket styles in comparison to those of this fall, or if she was totally riveted by the garbage that Rita Skeeter chose to call journalism; he did cared if she supported a woman running for Minister of Magic (such thoughts were un-lady-like, and only for butch lesbian feminists without a good man in their lives. Clearly (according to Ron), Hermione was none of the above, so why worry her pretty little head?). Besides, Ron was opinionated enough for the both of them.
Ron liked his house, and his wife, looking like a perfect postcard from the 1950's, with the surfaces spotless and shining like they belonged in an infomercial, and he wanted a woman like his mother, who cared for nothing outside her own kitchen. Just the thought of Ron's standards for cleanliness made her eyes slide away from the clock for the first time in nine minutes, in favor of the kitchen counters, but she stopped herself before her eyes could get there. Better that her eyes were glued to the clock then for her to catch sight of the kitchen counters. Invariably there would be something that needed cleaning before Ron got home, and as her luck would have it, Ron would walk in to find her cleaning. That prompted one of two responses: either Ron got angry that his wife was always working and working like a house-elf, and called her a perfectionist, or Ron got sad and demanded to know if she thought that he was the type of husband who made his wife do nothing but clean. Usually the second option ended up turning into the first. Neither were fun if you were Hermione.
Ron liked keeping up appearances. The two of them occasionally went to parties where Hermione was so close to the life she had lived before that she could practically taste it, where Hermione was allowed to have an opinion about things, was allowed to argue with friends, and where she was able to break nearly every rule that she lived her day to day life by. Ron's rules. Every once in a while he had to sit there and let her do whatever she wanted, as long as no one seemed offended by her behavior. No one ever did.
As usual, the only warning that she got was the loud crack that accompanied apparation as Ron appeared in the foyer. The magazine was easily tossed towards the middle of the table and after a quick look at one of the gently bubbling pots on the stove she turned and hurried into the front room where her husband would be waiting for her.
"What's for dinner?" he asked rudely as soon as she came into view from around the corner.
"Ronald!" she admonished. "Don't be rude," she added, reaching up to pull him into a kiss.
He took a step back to avoid her grasp and narrowed his eyes at her. "What was that?" he asked slowly, ears turning red with anger.
"I said 'don't be rude'," she supplied for him, heart racing as his entire face flushed. It seemed that he was in one of those moods today.
"What on earth would have given you the impression that I was rude?" he asked with a dangerous rumble in his tone.
Temper flaring, a sure sign that she was frazzled, she crossed her arms across her chest and leveled a glare of her own at him. "Usually people greet their spouses happily when they come home from work, Ronald. Civilized people don't put dinner before their wives."
An instant later she was on the ground, holding a hand to her cheek. She could almost see the red handprint that would be there. From experience she knew to stay down, knowing that soon he would have left the room for their bedroom to loosen his tie and discard his robes for the evening. It was only then, when she was sure that he was out of the room, that she allowed herself to stand and make her way to the kitchen, hand still on her stinging cheek.
Idly, she wondered how it was possible that she had never grown used to being struck across the face. It certainly happened often enough that she should have been by now, if such a thing were possible, but it appeared as if she was going to have to feel the full brunt of every slap that Ron gave her with no sign of dulling the pain. It was this thought, oddly enough, wondered for the first time in three long years, that truly alerted her to the danger that she was in at the moment. Not from Ron, necessarily, because he was still in the bedroom changing out of his work robes, but from the terrible lifestyle that she lived because she was with him. She'd had standards, and brains, and enough foolhardy Gryffingdor courage to know that she, by all accounts, really shouldn't have even found herself in a position like this. Especially not a position like this that had been the only constant in her life for the past three years. Where were the standards for her life and happiness that she had set for herself back before things got bad? She had a feeling the answer was that they had been slapped, punched, and kicked right out of her, bit by bit, every time Ron had laid a hand on her until there was no longer anything left to be beaten out. Not that it stopped him. She was a broken animal now, she realized with disdain.
Part of her, the beaten and broken part, screamed at her to stop her thoughts in their tracks, because surely such traitorous thoughts would lead to trouble, and were punishable by more of the very behavior that they were so open in their disdain for. The other part, however, was the loudest, and it was also the most dangerous. It was that part of her that remembered how she and Harry and Ron had come to even be friends, the day when Ron had insulted her so terribly she had cried through dinner in one of the girls restrooms until they had to save her from a troll on the loose. Years later, they had looked back at the incident as a bonding experience, another adventure amongst their many others, but the part of her that was yelling loud enough to drown out the caution born of many hard-learned lessons was reminding her that if it weren't for Ronald Bloody Weasley she wouldn't have even been in the bloody bathroom in the first place. His callousness had nearly gotten her killed, and just because Harry had been enough of a gentleman to realize his friend's mistake didn't mean that she should have rewarded the idiot for his bravery as if he hadn't owed it to her to make the effort in the first place. If it were up to Ron Weasley, that part of her brain said, the young version or the older one, she would be dead by now. Perhaps it was that trait that he was trying to beat out of her, and not just her spirit. Perhaps that was why they continued when her spirit had long ago fled.
It was back now, though, she knew, and tattered and battered and bloody and bruised as it was, it wasn't going to just slink away and hide this time. It called for action. It called for her to suck up her pride and admit to others that she was in trouble and needed help, and to have the bravery to show them that they had been blind and easily led when they had probably seen the signs and allowed themselves to think the safer option, rather than the true one. And it called for her to summon her courage to move forward with her life, leaving everything behind her, and start over totally new, where Ron couldn't touch her. Whether that meant fleeing the country and living under a false name, or simply outing him to all of their friends and fleeing to them for their aid in protecting herself from further harm, she couldn't be sure right that instant, but she could be sure that either way, it was now inevitable. Ron had never truly been able to stand a chance against her when she put her mind to something, and in this case, there was nothing she had ever been more determined to succeed in. Even Ronald Bloody Weasley couldn't hope to compete with that.
It was more luck than any real skill or manipulation on her part that saved her from any more abuse that night once Ron came back into the kitchen. Hermione's mind was too focused on the very beginnings of the plan that had just come to life in the back of her mind, and her distraction allowed her the ability to hear Ron's comments without experiencing the reaction that she would have normally had to quell and Ron was too occupied with himself to notice that his usually fiery wife, though she tried hard to hide it, was more subdued than usual. Her thoughts lingered on the tantalizing idea of her impending freedom (or escape attempt, as she forced herself to refer to it, knowing that nothing was certain, and it was possible that all of her efforts would come to naught) for the duration of dinner, all through the time she spent in the evening cleaning the kitchen and doing the washing up, and the time that it took for them to get ready for bed. The lights snapped off at Ron's barked command, wand twirling in his long fingers before disappearing under his pillow, and soon her husband's raucous snores filled the bedroom. It mattered not to Hermione, though she would have been somewhat irritated on any other night, but Hermione had laid down with no real intention of going to sleep that night, her brain was working too furiously for that. Instead she waited to make sure that her husband was fully asleep, knowing that once Ron was asleep he was, for the most part, dead to the world, and then wriggled her way out from under his arm, draped oppressively and possessively across her waist, and headed for the kitchen.
The area was so clean that it sparkled brightly when she flipped the light switch, blinding her for the moment that it took for her eyes to adjust to the sudden influx of light. Whereas Ron used the common household spells for normal actions like turning on a light, Hermione was forced to do everything the muggle way. She had cursed him many times for it, but it was an easy enough adjustment thanks to her upbringing. Truth be told, even if she still had possession of her wand, it was likely that she would have still used the switches, since they were there, instead of using her wand. She had, after all, managed without magic for nearly twelve full years of her life, and turning on a light the muggle way wouldn't kill her. However, the habitual motion brought with it a tide of questions and problems that were unusual, and as she moved towards the kettle to set some water to boil, she allowed her mind the ability that she hadn't been able to grant it that entire evening and let her thoughts dwell freely and without reservation on planning.
The most obvious issue was that she was wandless. It would be possible enough for her to escape using muggle means, after all Ron had given her free run to go shopping in town when she needed to and had never seemed to fear that she would simply step onto a bus and disappear. Despite his lack of concern, she still considered it, briefly, no less than five times a year, each time arriving at the same conclusion that he had. Ron, as an Auror, had more than enough resources available to him to track her down, even if she kept strictly to muggle places and did only muggle things, and she had never dared make the attempt anyway because she knew that if she was caught, which she was almost certain that she would be, there would be hell to pay for her actions when he finally dragged her back home. With a wand, it was possible for her to defend herself and keep from being captured, but without one, she was next to useless when it came to defending herself. Very few muggle methods were useful against magic (which was why Voldemort had found them all too easy targets), and Hermione, though fully reared in a muggle environment, had been so immersed in the magical world that she had never bothered with finding an alternate means of protecting herself. The introduction of magic into her life had come at a crucial, and crippling, time in her life; she had just been at the age when needing to be able to defend herself to some extent was important, and magic had easily provided the means she had sought. It had never truly crossed her mind that without her wand she was helpless.
With muggle means thus eliminated, that left only magical ones at her disposal. Wandless, however, she wouldn't have been able to get near any potions or charmed objects that would be useful; Ron had made the excuse that they both wanted to live in a quiet little muggle town, out of the hustle and bustle of both worlds so that they could live as much of a relaxing life as possible, and have a large muggle presence in their home so that Hermione could stay true to her heritage, but the only thing such an action had done was make it nearly impossible for her to get anywhere magical before Ron noticed that she was missing. Ron had also taken plenty of precautions with making sure that she couldn't access her wand, despite how much freedom she was given during the hours that he was away at work. She knew exactly where it was kept; he had hardly made an effort to hide the location from her, but he had charmed it specifically so that it would take his wand, or some fancy, complicated and strenuous spellwork to make the case open And without a wand, that meant that the second option was closed to her, while the first was nearly impossible. Ron, whether from fear that she would make an effort to take his wand from him or from habit learned in his training, never let his wand out of his sight, and never left her with an opportunity to get anywhere near it. Even now, dead asleep, it might as well have been locked in a vault at Gringotts, since there was no way for her to get under his pillow without waking him unless she used a levitation spell. And if she'd had the ability to levitate him off his pillow, she wouldn't have been needing his wand anyway.
Sighing at the large tangle she found herself in, she forced her thoughts once more to her surroundings, realizing with some shock that she had retrieved both cup and saucer from the cupboard and had just finished stirring in both sugar and cream into the tea that she had been making. The cup barely rattled on the saucer at all as she pushed herself away from the counter and moved across the room to sit at her usual spot at the kitchen table, her mind losing it's focus on reality the instant she sat down.
There was no way for her to get her hands on another wand, nor on Ron's, without some sort of help. Thinking about it, she wondered what things she did have at her disposal that could be useful. Guns, knives, or a weapon of any kind were totally out of the question; she didn't know how to use them properly, and it was entirely possible that she would end up hurting herself more than she was hurting him. Either that, or she would end up doing something more drastic than intended due to her inexperience. She had some, limited, access to herbs and potions ingredients thanks to the contents of Molly Weasley's garden, but it likely wasn't going to be enough to make anything incredibly useful. They did, with some regularity, go to the Burrow for family gatherings and there, like at Ministry galas and other events, Ron was forced to relax his watch on her somewhat. She was allowed her wand, knowing that if she ran he would notice, and was allowed somewhat free run of the house and yard, though the high number of people gathered there made it nearly impossible for her to be alone, or unwatched, at any given time. It wasn't likely, even if Molly's garden had anything useful in it, that she would be able to get to it without someone noticing anything. Once again, the evidence pointed her, logically, towards muggle means.
What she wanted, of course, was a stunning spell, or a dreamless sleep potion: something that would knock Ron out for long enough that she could be long gone by the time he figured it out, and something that would incapacitate him without having to worry that he would suddenly free himself and ruin everything. Outside of using a taser on him, she knew muggles didn't have anything that would drop him unconscious in an instant. The best she would be able to do then, was something that would ensure that once he was out, that he would stay out, and unfortunately she'd have to deal with the stress and possible variances and deviations from the plan that such imperfections would cause. Muggles hadn't invented anything as foolproof as a dreamless sleep draught, but they had invented sleeping pills, and if she could get Ron to take enough to put a baby elephant to sleep (and not kill him in the process) she thought that the effect would be, essentially, the same. If she was lucky, he'd pass out so that his wand wasn't so squarely underneath him, so she wouldn't even have to move him out of the way.
The method decided on, she moved past that to formulating the plan that would actually take her from the house, and her husband, for good, and with her wand. It would be an easy enough thing to slip the pills, finely crushed, into his food, and easy enough to avoid eating whatever she put it in. Ron hadn't ever outgrown his teenaged eating habits and so still ate like a human vacuum cleaner, which meant that they quite often didn't eat quite the same meal, and he wouldn't notice the absence of something on her plate so long as it didn't look any less full than usual, or so she hoped. And once the pills took effect, all she would have to do would be to get his wand, use it to stupefy him, just in case, and then charm her way through the wards that held her own wand captive. Packing, if she did some amount of preparation beforehand, would be easy enough to do quickly the muggle way, but she was also able to pack her things magically, in case she was worried about it. Once that was handled, really, there wasn't anything else to keep her in the house, and she would be free to leave to... wherever it was that she ended up going to.
Over the years she had given some thought to where she would go if she had ever managed to escape, but her musings on the topic had left her as inconclusive an answer as her previous musings on her escape method. The truth was, anyone she would have considered as someone that she could go to for help had probably already been around her for long enough that they should have recognized the signs already, and hadn't. With that being the case, how likely were they to believe her word for it when they hadn't seen anything (or if they had, they'd ignored anything) that proved otherwise? Harry and Ginny were happily married, and were around her and Ron as much as anyone, and had known them for the longest. Truth be told, it still stung a bit that Harry, her first magical friend, hadn't even noticed anything out of the ordinary when she suddenly revamped her entire life and gave up all her previous ambitions. The same could go for Ginny, who had been her closest girl friend throughout her Hogwarts years. None of her other friends, those from Gryffindor or those from without, were close enough that she felt able to drag them into the situation. Worse, she wasn't sure that they knew her well enough to know how serious the issue was, and act accordingly. She could see herself going to someone, Neville perhaps, and having them try to insist on some sort of mediation. Mediation was past being something that would actually work with their relationship. Another option was any one of the Weasley brothers, or even Molly and Arthur themselves, but she didn't want to involve the family and divide them any more than necessary. She doubted that if confronted with the issue that Molly would accept it fully, and Arthur would be hobbled in his ability to do anything by his wife's actions. The twins, she had no doubt, would gladly pummel Ron to a pulp if she asked, but she didn't want to think what that would do to the family. There would be no neutral sides chosen if that happened, and while she didn't think that Ron deserved the high regard he held with his family given his actions, she didn't want to destroy both him and the family by pointing that out.
In a fit of something, slight hysteria probably, she realized exactly how many of her thoughts began with "what she needed" or "what she wanted". At that particular moment of realization, she wanted nothing more than the Room of Requirement so that she wouldn't have to torture herself by going over the same facts and figures that she'd been through countless times already in the years previous. There was, she knew, a reason she had yet to even attempt escape. Not only could the room, if it had been a tool that was available for her to work with, provide her with a place to be safe from Ron, but no doubt she could have gotten it to give her a better way to knock him out of the picture than muggle sleep aids. Sadly, the Room of Requirement would do her no good, securely locked within the Highland fortress that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, so far beyond her magical and muggle reach that it was almost of more harm than help to be thinking of it. There was no use in dwelling on all of the opportunities and possibilities that were no longer in her grasp, that she had watched slip through her fingers.
It was this thinking of the room, though, that made her realize that there was only one place in the world she could be safe. Ron's power was widespread enough, working for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, that he would be able to track her even if she left the country. A carefully worded tale about a missing wife, kidnapped perhaps, and it was entirely possible that the D.M.L.E. would be able to get some intelligence passed to them from other countries and before long she'd be "rescued" and back at square one. Nowhere, save for one place, was outside of the Ministry's sphere of influence, if they correct story was told, she realized. That one place was all the more perfect a hiding place because of how well it appeared to be within her husband's reach, and within the reach of the Ministry, but they didn't call Hogwarts one of the safest places in the world for nothing. Dumbledore, and countless Headmasters and Headmistresses before him, had very carefully set Hogwarts apart from the Ministry. It was, geographically, within their territory. They had appointed a Board of Governors to oversee the curriculum, leadership, and funding of the fabled institution, and in doing so exert some control over the way it was run, but Hogwarts and the Ministry were constantly finding themselves at odds, and Hogwarts, always to the Ministry's surprise and dismay, was able to stand alone far better than the Ministry could have predicted. Hogwarts had never needed the Ministry, per say, but chose to, for the most part, maintain the illusion that they were in alliance.
Dumbledore, of course, was no longer Headmaster, and hadn't been since their sixth year at Hogwarts, but Hermione knew his successor better than most, or so she thought. Regardless of how true that statement was, though, she was absolutely certain that she knew Minerva McGonagall much better than Ron Weasley could even hope to claim. The older woman had been her mentor all throughout her Hogwarts years, and as she grew older their extra-curricular discussions had started revolving less and less around the more obscure and complicated aspects of the professor's chosen discipline and had turned more and more towards the topics that were generally covered with a friend. She doubted that Ron had really seen anything of their former Head of House aside from her love of quidditch, and her penchant for rewarding his stupidity with the occasional detention. However, Hermione knew better. She knew, as most of Hogwarts did, that the woman was imposing, regal, calm, confident, strict, though fair, and a master at her craft. She also knew the woman rarely smiled, but that even the tiniest smile of hers could convey a multitude of meanings all at once. She knew that Minerva was always willing to lend a helping hand to one of her students if they asked for it, and even sometimes when they did not, and that she, for all her strictness, was a gentle and patient teacher. She knew of the woman's fondness for chess and ginger newts, her fierce love for those students placed in her care, not necessarily only those in Gryffindor, and her inability to maintain a strictly professional outlook when faced with a quidditch match in which Gryffindor was playing. She knew that Minerva, like Dumbledore, stood up for what was right, and protected those in harm's way to the best of her abilities. Most importantly, however, Hermione knew, with unnerving certainty, that if she showed up at the castle gates, no matter if school was in session or not, Minerva would welcome her in with a warm smile, a cup of tea, some ginger newts, and would do everything in her power to protect Hermione from her troubles.
It was to Hogwarts, then, that she had to go. The thought came as a surprising relief, one that she didn't think came solely from having the entire plan hammered out and being (mostly) satisfied that it would work. Perhaps, more than she had realized, Hogwarts had always been home for her. It would make her escape even better now that she would be ending up there.
Plan as solid as it was going to get, her mind finally at peace for the first time since Ron had walked through that door earlier, Hermione finished the last of her tea and took both cup and saucer to the sink, placing them with a soft clink on the counter before heading to bed. Soon, cleaning the kitchen to an immaculate cleanliness level wasn't going to be her problem; she might as well get used to it now.
AN: As always with my stories, I have no idea when I will be updating, but let's hope for soon! This will be, in case you didn't catch it, a multi-chapter fic.