Fire. It had to be fire. Hermione closed Madea's Textbook with a snap, clutching it tightly to her chest.

It was her third day spent in Zauberschule's bibliothek, and Hermione was feeling defeated in her search for dark magic eradication. Not only fire, she mused grimly, but magical fire. The text provided only small segments on flesh-derived curses, the like of which were archaic with few chances for study. The book, which Hermione realized self-updated itself, revealed that flesh-derived dark curses were among the rarest to encounter and the most difficult to break. The most recent instance of a flesh-derived curse was that of one Harry James Potter (1980 – 1997), who died of the killing curse without ever successfully removing the mark.

As she read, Hermione made a list of outcomes and conclusions based on the few case studies throughout history:

Killing the spell-caster almost always resulted in the spontaneous demise of the marked victim.

Of the six cases where victims used fire to eradicate the magic, four were successful with magical fire, one failed because of the use of Muggle fire, and one died in the process.

Of the eleven cases where victims had tried severing the marked appendage, two were successful, seven died in the process, and two had unknown outcomes.

Of the one case where the spell-caster voluntarily reversed the spell, the victim was released successfully.

So it had to be fire. Magical fire, she repeated dazedly to herself in affirmation. There was a two in three chance that she could be free, statistically. Which was better than her current prognosis.

The thought made her stomach churn, and she re-read her list again, rubbing her left forearm with thoughtful trepidation. The stag was large, covering the majority of the anterior surface of the arm. It would be a large burn. Hermione tried to keep her thought process logical, but it was hard to keep the frenzied panic at bay as she contemplated setting her own arm on fire.

And how exactly would she get magical fire? She would need to steal someone's wand, somehow. She had never wielded another's wand and wondered if it would work well enough. If it could cast flames hot enough. Feeling nauseous, Hermione stood abruptly from her seat, taking deep breaths. She needed a break from this.

Hermione carefully replaced Madea within the sperrgebiet and wandered the rest of the library. Her head hurt and she needed a distraction. She approached the pedestal in the center of the room and removed Zauberschule: das Geschichte from its glass encasement. She plopped down at one of the oak tables and flipped the book open. She watched, fascinated as the words began to translate themselves,

Zauberschule was founded on the fall equinox of 551 A.D. by two wizards, Adalrick and Adalwolfe Gottschald. The brothers established this esteemed first school of wizardry with the intent of training qualified and well-established youngsters in the pursuit of wizarding proficiency and excellence.

Hermione read on, flipping through the pages slowly. Unable to focus, her vision started to blur and here eyelids drooped closed. Involuntarily, she drifted off to sleep, her head resting gently on the book pages.

She was dreaming of Draco again, trapped by the Devil's snare as he looked on, bored. She tried futilely to cast the Bluebell flames, only for the plant to turn again into snaking grapevines. They wrapped around her like a python, squeezing relentlessly. Draco stood watching, twirling his wand in a hypnotic rhythm.

"Help me!" Hermione pleaded to him, shouting. The vines tightened and she could feel her ribs creaking with the effort to remain unbroken. Draco stared at her as she suffered, his grey eyes boring into hers.

"I am trying to help you," he snapped vehemently. Hermione flailed under the greenery. "Oh, for Salazar's sake," hissed Malfoy, "Vinis inflamari!" The grapevine erupted in flame and Hermione screamed.

Hermione jerked awake, heart pounding. She wiped the small amount of drool from her mouth and licked her dry lips. Merlin, she must stop having these dreams, she thought irritably. Every night without fail she dreamed of Draco in some capacity, and it was truly annoying. She rubbed her eyes and tried to refocus on the book.

I am trying to help you. Draco's voice echoed in her head. Like a stone in my shoe, snorted Hermione to herself. Honestly, who tries to help you by letting a plant suffocate you and then barbeque you to a crisp?

Hermione stopped herself, thoughtful. Burned with fire – magical fire. Her mind took off in a flurry of thoughts. These dreams started after her encounter with Draco. After he invaded her mind. Had he done something to her? Left something in behind in her mind. If so, what? And what did it mean? He was showing her how to alter the spell for magical fire – did this mean he knew it would break her curse? Was he…trying to help her?

Or you have gone completely mad, Hermione chastised herself. Let's not forget the plant asphyxiation. What could he want you to know from homicidal grapevines? Distastefully, Hermione pictured Draco twirling his stupid wand as she was slowly being killed by the malicious greenery.


Grapevine? She thought. Word associations took over her thought process. Vines. Vine wood. Oh, God, she thought, as it finally clicked. She didn't have to risk her life trying to steal anyone's wand, she realized, her heart racing.

She just had to make one.

Hermione stood abruptly, the backs of her knees smacking into the bench beneath her. What else had he tried to tell her? She thought hard, trying to recall her dreams.

The winter solstice is on the twenty-first of December. The twenty-first of December, thought Hermione. That's two and a half months away. She walked determinedly down a shelving aisle, scanning the spines for a title she'd eyed earlier. Ah, there is was. Garvey's Magical Almanac. A slim book, it held the important statistical data on astronomic and meteorological magical dates. She opened it and flipped through its pages.

Winter Solstice, she read once she found the entry, is historically the "day the sun stands still." It represents the shortest day of the year. Like summer solstice, winter solstice is often celebrated by traditional wizarding families and is regarded as a time of intense magical potency. Many magical folk feel their powers strengthen around the winter solstice, a sign of good fortune for the upcoming year. Most famously, winter solstice is known by wandmaker Mykew Gregorovitch, who exclusively furbished his wands during the night of the winter solstice. The upcoming winter solstice is scheduled for December 21 of this year.

Okay Draco, Hermione thought reverently, I hear you.

"Ye know ye can check a book out'a library, love." Scabior's sardonic voice made Hermione jump, violently pulled from her reverie. The Snatcher chuckled.

"Scabior," Hermione breathed, adrenaline making her chest tight. "I- I was just – I was-" she glanced around apprehensively, anxious at being caught.

"Shh, calm down love," soothed Scabior with a smile. "I'm not angry. I know ye love your blessed books." He eyed the texts with some degree of distaste and amusement, sauntering towards her. "I meant that I miss seeing ye by my side." He slung an arm over her shoulder.

"What're ye readin' today?" He gently pried the text from Hermione's hand, eyebrows lifting in mild surprise at the title.

"Garvey's Almanac?" he questioned. "Ye've got interesting tastes, love."

"I was just looking something up," Hermione said defensively, thinking fast. "I was reading the history of Zauberschule this morning, which said that the school was founded on the fall equinox in 551. I was checking to see if we would be here for the equinox this year – sometimes magical things happen on a building's founding date, you know. There is one palace in China that shoots off fireworks all on its own every year on the day it was founded and there is another case in the Philippines—" she cut herself off, realizing that in her nervousness she was babbling. Scabior was watching her with a half-grin on his face, and she blushed.

"Well, in any case, we've missed it," muttered Hermione lamely. She wrung her hands uneasily, still shaken by his impromptu interruption of her mutiny.

"So we 'ave," agreed Scabior. He pulled Hermione closer to his chest. "Ye know, you don't haf t'be so frightened of me, all the time," he murmured, stroking her cheek. Hermione resisted the urge to pull away. "Although, it does make for a pretty sight," Scabior finished breathily. His hand trailed down her back suggestively, and his hips ground into hers. "And I do so love t'hear that voice of yours that's come back."

Hermione tensed, interpreting his advances, and glanced nervously at the open library door.

"No one will find us 'ere, pet," Scabior whispered huskily, his hands roaming freely over her body. "Not really the bookish type, this lot," he joked. Hermione didn't share his amusement.

"Please, can we just close the door?" asked Hermione. The last thing she wanted was to be completely on public display with Scabior. The Snatcher sighed.

"If it will make ye happy, pet, anything." He withdrew his wand, and with a flick of his wrist the heavy doors banged shut.

"Colloportus," he added for good measure, turning back to Hermione. "Better?"

Hermione nodded fractionally, hating him for making her approve of this. She stayed still as his hands returned to their ministrations, unfastening the buttons on her plaid shirt until her breasts were exposed. Scabior uplifted her chin until she met his eyes.

"'Ow 'bout a little more participation, pet," he suggested, taking her hands and placing them on his chest.

"No," answered Hermione flatly, withdrawing. Absolutely not.

"Hmm," murmured Scabior silkily, "How 'bout, if you want to continue t'spend your days down here wif yer books instead of up above wif me, you'll reconsider." Hermione glared stonily at him.

"You wouldn't," she retorted fruitlessly.

"Oh pet," Scabior whispered throatily, "You know me better than that, don't ye?" And he replaced her hands with a satisfied smirk.

"Fine," Hermione hissed, and she started to work on the zipper of his jacket.

"An' go slow pet," encouraged Scabior with pleasure. She finished removing his shirt as he used one hand to massage her head and the other to rub at his erection. He groaned when she tugged at his belt buckle, pulling down his trousers. His grip tightened on her hair as she finished, and he used his leverage to guide her forcibly to her knees.

"Yesss," he hissed as she took him in her mouth, "That's my good little pet," he ground out, flexing his hips towards her face and making her gag. "Touch me," he commanded.

Hermione worked efficiently, trying to get him to finish as quickly as possible. When she felt him stiffen and his movements become jerky, he pulled out and forced her to her feet. A guttural Evanesco removed the rest of her clothing and he pushed her up against the bookshelf, grabbing her hips from behind. Hermione cried out as he entered her, digging her nails into the woodwork of the shelves and closing her eyes as he gyrated frantically to his climax.

He was breathing hard, warm breath causing cool condensation on her shoulder.

"Good girl," he breathed in approval, withdrawing. The familiar cleansing charm banished the stickiness from between Hermione's thighs. She turned around, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Yer beautiful lookin' like that, love," Scabior complimented her submission. Hermione clenched her teeth in anger and wrapped her arms around herself, chilly now in the cool basement.

"I need clothes," she said of her banished shirt and pants.

"Hmm," came Scabior's dubious response. He held out his shirt and jacket to her, which she accepted with distaste.

"Aw c'mon pet, they look good on ye," said a bare-chested Scabior. Hermione was positively swimming in fabric, but still felt indecently covered and wrapped the jacket tighter around her body.

She received more than a few cat-calls from the other Snatchers on her way to her room, but she caught the look of disapproval from the Bard in Scabior's direction and wondered at this sometimes-ally.

Once she had dressed herself properly, Hermione left the castle and visited the thestral, which careened down from the sky in a lazy spiral to meet her. He landed with a whoosh of air that sent her hair flying over her shoulder. She smiled reflexively, and he butted his head against her chest, nuzzling her shirt and snuffling lightly. He gave a derisive snort when he picked up what Hermione guessed was Scabior's scent on her, and shook his head in disapproval.

"Me too," she agreed with him. Calming the beast, Hermione stroked his mane thoughtfully and contemplated her escape plan again. She fingered the soft black hair as she thought.

Phase one, figure out how to make a wand. She'd need books for that, and she wasn't sure how much longer they'd remain at Zauberschule. She would need to hit the library as soon as possible.

Phase two, use the wand to magically free herself from Scabior's curse.

And phase three, escape.

Hermione gulped. Three dauntingly impossible tasks. A hundred ways to fail. She buried her face in the thestral's mane, overwhelmed with the prospect. Her legs were shaky but she forced herself to take deep, slow breaths until she felt under control. She could do this. She was nothing if not a Gryffindor lioness, and she gathered her bravery and courage.

"Can you keep a secret?" she whispered to the dark creature. The thestral's ears pricked in interest, and he gave a hoarse whicker of affirmation. "We're going to escape," Hermione breathed into its ear.

Hermione spent the remainder of the afternoon in the library. There were scant few books on wandlore here, but then again this wasn't a typical study topic for secondary school students. From what Hermione could tell, the actual art of wand-making was somewhat of a hazy field. Articles by Gregorovitch revealed that he chanted a complex Latin passage at midnight of the winter solstice, more of a prayer than a spell, over hundreds of individual wands. He infused a single drop of blood to the wandtip of each wand during the strange ceremony. Hermione shivered to think that Ollivander's blood might have also been on her wand, and wondered if that's why the old waif of a wizard looked so chronically pale. To Hermione's dismay, Gregorovitch's wand-making practices yielded only about a forty percent success rate, according to self-report.

The easiest part would be finding the wand base. There were many kinds of wood available to use for a wand base – oak, willow, cherry – the list was endless. Hermione decided she ought to find vine for her wand, since that was the base of her first wand. According to text, any plant vine would do for vine wood, but the caveat was braiding the vine together and allowing adequate drying time – about a month - before attempting to use it as workable wand wood. She would aim for ten and three-quarters inches, to have the best chance of recreating something that would respond to her magical power. She should fashion several wands to try, she reasoned. One of them had to work.

The core was the biggest problem. Her last wand used dragon heartstring, which was an impossibility. Other viable options – Veela hair, phoenix feather, troll whisker – were equally unlikely. She closed another book in disgust, feeling dejected with her research. She didn't have any of those things. She re-shelved the book with a shove of frustration, and immediately apologized to the text for its mistreatment.

She was missing something. She ran a hand through her hair and chewed her lip in consternation. Newt Scamander used shell as his wand core, but she was nowhere near the ocean and was dubious about replacing a dragon heartstring with an inert mineral-like substance. It might be her best option though. Maybe Zauberschule hosted a collection of such things, but Hermione thought this was unlikely; the Snatchers had more or less reported that the only things of value left in the ruins here were the books she'd found.

She abandoned the library in favor of dinner, which Andersson had once again procured with Jorgen. She was getting tired of wild sheep, but she didn't dare say so; she didn't want to give any encouragement for the Snatchers to leave. Not when she had so many books left to read.

Hermione had trouble falling asleep that night, and found her dreams plagued predictably by nightmares of Malfoy.

It wasn't a pretty sight. Her front teeth were growing at an alarming rate; she was looking more and more like a beaver as they elongated, past her bottom lip, towards her chin – panic-stricken, she felt them, and let out a terrified cry.

Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle snorted with laughter as Hermione covered her teeth in horror. Tears pricked her eyes.

"The look suits you Granger," sneered Malfoy, "Like a true magical beast that you Muggle-borns are. What a good story this will make!"

Hermione looked up at him in humiliation. She blinked when the sunlight caught the metal pendant he wore around his neck. He fiddled with charm, throwing light in all directions, almost blinding her. Squinting her eyes, she could just make out the shape of the ornament – a triangle, bisected through the middle, with a circle encompassed in its center.

"Miss. Granger, Mr. Potter," a harsh voice behind her made her turn. The looming figure of Severus Snape came upon them. "Ten points from Gryffindor for holding up your classmates before class."

Hermione startled awake, touching her mouth and sighing with relief to find that her teeth were normally sized. Calming herself, she glanced over to see Scabior soundly asleep and snoring lightly. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to re-imagine the dream. What are you showing me this time? She thought. The pendant sparkled in her mind's eye. Where had she seen that before?

She rolled out of bed and withdrew a piece of precious paper and pen from her pack. Working quickly and quietly, Hermione sketched the pendant and frowned. A circle within a bisected equilateral triangle. It was so familiar, she thought in frustration. Like a picture from a fairy tale.

What a good story this will make! Draco echoed.

A story, thought Hermione. Of course. Standing abruptly and ignoring the tiny black spots in her vision that the movement generated, Hermione slipped out of her room and made her way directly to the basement. The torches flared to life as she entered the bibliothek, lighting her way. As if they knew what she was looking for, the flames created path to the furthest bookshelf on the right. Her eyes skimmed the texts hungrily, anxious with hope that the book she needed was here.

There. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. She flipped through the contents, searching fervently for the story she needed.

The Tale of the Brothers Three. She turned hurriedly to page 57, crimping a page in her haste. Her breath caught as she read

...and so Death fashioned an unbeatable wand for the eldest brother. Death made the wand of elder wood with a core of hair from the tail of a thestral, a tricky substance that only wizards who had mastered death could control.

And there it was, Hermione breathed. She had her magical creature, after all.

Hermione shut the book slowly, letting the pages flutter to a close. Her grip on the tome turned her knuckles white. She had what she needed for phase one. She breathed forcefully through her nose to calm her nerves. Standing to replace the book, Hermione's eyes caught the back cover of the text, and she froze in surprise. There, inscribed in black ink, was a drawing of the Bard she knew so well. Beedle's familiar face stared up at her. His sketched beard was much more than the blonde stubble he currently sported, but there was no mistaking the birthmark beneath his eye, the shape of his lips, the angle of his nose. The sketch winked at her.

It's not possible, thought Hermione dizzily. Beedle the Bard lived in the fifteen-hundreds, for Merlin's sake! The Bard in Scabior's troupe couldn't be the same.

"I was wonderin' when you'd figure me out." The deep voice behind her startled Hermione, and she staggered backwards with a yelp. The Bard was leaning casually against the doorjamb of the bibliothek, effectively blocking her escape. He folded his arms and appraised her approvingly. Hermione clutched the book to her chest like a shield.

"You – this can't be you!" Hermione cried, voice shaky with adrenaline. The Bard inspected his fingernails interestedly.

"And yet," he commented with a shrug, "It is."

"It's not possible," breathed Hermione in denial. "Beedle the Bard died in 1587."

"You know, Nicolas Flamel wasn't th'only wizard to possess a Philospher's Stone," Beedle answered casually, "He was maybe just th'only one dumb enough to have be so public about it."

Hermione was stunned and stared at the Bard silently as she processed.

"Wha' I can't figure out is why you came to find my book now of all times," mused the Bard. "I'll admit it was a tad unexpected. What could have sparked this little midnight adventure?" His eyes glinted at her.

"What do you want from me?" asked Hermione pointedly, changing the subject. The Bard rolled his eyes.

"Nothing, my dear," he replied airily. "Nothing you can give me, anyway."

"Then what are you doing here? Why are you with the Snatchers anyway?"

The Bard gave an irritated sigh of impatience. "That, my dear is a terribly long story."

"We have two hours until sun-up," Hermione countered, sitting at one of the long study desks. "Who else knows about you?"

"Just you," replied the Bard amicably, "Though I had to Obliviate Scabior once. So it's just you. And I would like to keep it that way, if ye don't mind." He took a seat opposite her, clasping his hands together pensively.

"If you tell me why you're here," Hermione returned. Her voice was strong but she still felt shaken by the presence of the ancient wizard before her. The Bard gave her a thin smile.

"Quite simply, my Philosopher's stone has been stolen, and I am intending to get it back."

"I don't have it," Hermione protested.

"No," agreed the Bard levelly, "You're not a pretentious blonde-haired prick of a Pureblood."

"Wh - wait – Draco has your stone?" Hermione gasped in surprise. The Bard crossed his arms in annoyance.

"Yea, tha's the bugger," he replied, "That reptile stole my stone and made me swear t'keep ye alive, on pain o' death."

Hermione held her head in her hands. "I need an aspirin," she groaned under her breath. What else was Draco up to? She wondered. The Bard chuckled without humor.

"So your turn lass," he rounded on her, "Why should ye be looking through my biddy ol' book in th'middle o' th'night?"

Hermione stayed silent, lips pressed into a thin line. No matter what he said, she wouldn't trust him. She couldn't. This was her only chance to escape. She could take no risks.

"Yer plannin' something," hazarded the Bard, earning him a flick of her eyes in distress. "All right, easy," said Beedle, leaning away, "Don't tell me then."

There was a pregnant pause as neither one of them spoke. Hermione kept her eyes trained on the table, resolutely determined to not give anything away. Finally the Bard sighed, breaking the silence.

"You know, it is one thing to write fictitiously about fantastical journeys and harrowing adventures," he remarked. Hermione watched as he stood from his seat. "It is quite another to watch the real heroine fight t'survive through it all," he finished quietly. There was a note of sorrow etched in his voice.

"Ye will survive this, Hermione," said the Bard, turning to leave her, "And ye will find yer escape, whatever yer plans may be." He rested a hand on the doorjamb, pausing on his way out.

"I'd bet my life on it."