Summary: Hermione meets Bobby Singer and the Winchester brothers. She tries to help and unfortunately things to awry.

AN: AU Season 2 Finale Supernatural. Sam is not fatally injured because Dean arrives in time to stop Jake and dies instead. Sam makes a crossroads deal to save Dean that goes awry.

~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~

~ooO Self-Exile: Hermione 2 Ooo~

Sam Winchester was furious with Bobby Singer.

"You told a complete stranger I made a deal with a crossroads demon?" he shouted at the older man.

Bobby went red and yelled right back. "I did it to get you out of this mess, idjit!"

Both of them were ignoring the short curly-haired brunette dressed in stone-washed blue jeans and a charcoal grey wool jacket over a maroon turtleneck top. She waited and watched as the two men yelled at each other until her patience gave out. She picked a metal pot lid and banged it loudly against the stainless steel sink.

The two hunters stopped shouting and turned in her direction. And cringed at her acid expression.

"Are you done yet?" she asked in cool school-marmish tones.

The younger man glared and pointedly looked away, refusing to answer. The older hunter dropped into one of the dining table chairs and picked up his mug of cooling coffee. Hermione Granger had arrived before either man had had a chance to have breakfast; understandable since both had been awake into the wee hours researching and tracking down every scrap of information they could access.

"Sorry, Miz Granger," Bobby mumbled. "I didn't think you'd get here so quickly."

"I didn't, either. In fact I added a few hours to the scheduled arrival time to allow for delays," she responded evenly.

Bobby nodded. A sensible precaution. "Did you have a look at what I sent you?"

She frowned faintly. "I did. And there is information missing." She raised a hand to cut off their protests. "I'm not expecting you to trust me with all your secrets but I can't help unless I have all the facts," she stressed the last word.

Sam still looked sullen. Bobby resigned himself to being the one to repeat the whole bloody mess and opened his mouth to begin, when she dropped a verbal bombshell.

"First of all before, we proceed any further, I have something to tell you. I am a witch."

Bobby Singer was baffled. She was a witch? "But…you drank the holy water and walked through the devil trap in the foyer," he stammered.

"Well, I'm not the same type as the witches you often encounter. My kind avoids them because we know exactly what demons and Dark Arts can do to your soul. But any solution I come up with will probably have a magical component, so if you have any issues with this tell me now and I will walk away. But I strongly suggest you put aside your prejudices because all my research indicates that demon-deals never end well for the mortal."

Her blunt no-nonsense words stirred some interest in Sam. Bobby could only count his blessings that Dean was still sleeping in. He'd probably have peppered Miss Granger with blessed rock salt at the word 'witch'.

"What do you mean you aren't the same type of witch?" Sam asked.

"The witches you encounter are demon-witches. They make bargains with demons for power and influence. By drinking blood or other fluids from the demon they form a familiar-bond, a slave-bond, with the demon and are able to share some of its lesser powers. This allows them to perform inhuman feats. A wand-witch, like me, is born with her power. She develops it through study and practice, usually through apprenticeship or schooling. And yes, there are entire communities of wand users who avoid demons and Muggles – non-magicals – equally. Now, I can give you a whole lesson in history and politics but I think we are short of time?"

Bobby nodded sharply. "What do you need?"

"Something to eat, to start with. A table for my laptop and books. And I need to examine both Mr Winchesters, to determine exactly what happened." Her expression was unyielding on the last point.

Bobby glanced at Sam who inclined his head in agreement.

Her expression softened perceptibly. "When do you want to get started?"

Sam sighed. "Can I eat first?"

"Of course. I'm famished myself."

~o~

After a very substantial breakfast she set up her work station and arranged books in various piles around her. Then she set about ruthlessly extracting every scrap of information from, and conducting a thorough magical examination of, both Sam and Dean (who complied only under much protest). Dean did not trust her but he'd learnt to keep his mouth shut after she hexed him silent for thirty minutes. Bobby Singer focused on going through his own books and contacts. Whichever of the brothers she wasn't interrogating either watched or assisted as asked. Sam took it on himself to keep her fed – he had plenty of experience with losing track of time and not eating due to being so absorbed in a project. Each time she'd smile absently at him, eat the sandwiches and drink a little tea before turning back to whatever book currently had her focus.

It was fourteen hours later, almost midnight, before she managed to piece together what had happened, develop a hypothesis to explain the events, and come up with a possible solution. All four of them were sitting at the kitchen table and drinking the coffee Sam had just brewed. Hermione looked the worse for wear, fatigued with swollen bleary eyes.

"You said Azazel has a claim on Sam, that he bled into Sam's mouth when he was a baby."

The men's expressions tightened. "Yes," Dean answered curtly.

"That might have saved Sam from being bound to the crossroads deal," she explained. "He couldn't sell his soul since Azazel has a claim on it and did not explicitly agree to the deal. You can't get a first mortgage on something that already has a mortgage. And demons generally aren't interested in having second dibs on anything."

"Then what's happening to Sam?" Dean demanded. "Why's he getting weaker? It's like he's dying!"

Hermione's expression tightened. "He isn't bound to the deal, but that doesn't mean he wasn't completely untouched," she corrected sternly. "The deal works by creating an anchor, a link to the mortal's soul…The link could not be completed because of Azazel's prior claim, but it managed to form a partial tie to his soul. That's why he's weakening…his life force is bleeding out."

Dean's eyes widened. "But you said the crossroads demon didn't complete the link."

"It didn't. Sam is bleeding out into the aether, the spiritual plane." She sipped her coffee and rubbed her eyes wearily. "The sudden outpouring of energy must have attracted the attention of certain Higher Powers. The energy signature that healed Dean is distinctly diametrical to those of demons."

The Winchester brothers gawped. "Wait a sec, you mean…do you mean angels?"

Hermione lifted a single brow. "I am surprised you know the meaning of diametrical."

Dean blushed. "Yeah, well, I want to know about angels." His expression brightened. "Hey, if one of them healed me do you think they'd heal Sam?"

Hermione put her mug down with a soft chink. "I never said they were angels, just diametrically opposite to demons." Under the sceptical looks of three hunters she folded. "Oh all right, it was most likely an angelic being…But that doesn't mean anything!"

Sam was confused. "What do you mean? Wouldn't an angel be a good guy?"

Hermione snorted. "Higher beings consider mortals as ants, as grains of sand. If they saved Dean it's because they have plans to use him later on."

"Use me?" Dean wasn't quite sure he liked the sound of that.

"Yes. Angels only have a use for mortals as prophets, martyrs, or avatars. Everyone else is inconsequential. Expendable."

Bobby's expression turned grim. "Girl's got a point. If this angel healed Dean in a blink, why didn't it do the same for Sam?"

Silence fell as everyone considered the implications of the possible answers.

Dean shook himself like a wet dog. "We'll worry about that later. Can you do anything about this life force bleeding? Stitch it up? Or cauterize it somehow?" he asked Hermione.

Hermione sighed. "It's not as easy as you–"

"I know that!" Dean snapped. "Physical wounds are easy to see and treat, it's the rest…" he trailed off with a weary look.

Hermione chewed on her lower lip, her eyes focused on the contents of her mug.

Bobby gave her a few minutes before prodding her for more information. "Hermione, you said you had a possible solution?"

Her eyes darted around the table, falling on each man, before returning to her mug.

"Hermione?" Bobby's voice was uncharacteristically gentle.

She said nothing, reached out to select a shortbread cookie.

Sam studied the young woman who was clearly avoiding eye contact. He had a feeling her solution was not going to be well received. "Hermione, just tell us. Even if it isn't what we want to hear we can't blame you because we couldn't find anything else. And honestly I'd rather be alive than dead," he added jokingly.

Hermione ignored the sounds of protest and denial from Dean and Bobby. "Promise?" she asked softly.

The younger Winchester reached out to cover her hand with his, squeezing it. "Promise," he confirmed.

Hermione nodded and finished off her shortbread, a resolute expression on her face. "All right. We can ignore the link with Azazel: Sam survived this long, he can wait a few weeks more while I research it. What I'm worried about is the bleed-out. Muggles, non-magicals, have a smaller pool of energy and it replenishes itself much slower than in natural-born witches and wizards."

"Don't you have any spell or potion—" Dean fell silent when Hermione hexed him with a glare.

She turned to Sam. "If you were a magical there are techniques to control the outflow, like developing a valve to stop a leak. Unfortunately they can only be used by magicals. It's like being in a constantly meditative state. I can't cast a spell or charm an amulet to do that, not without a fairly strong magical core fuelling the spells day and night," she explained.

"But you said you had a solution." Bobby was impatient for answers.

Hermione nodded. "My suggestion is to complete the bond." That caused an uproar of protest. She waited for a pause but it didn't come, as Dean began accusing first her then Bobby of ulterior motives. Angered she cast a wide-area Silencio. She ignored their angry glowering looks and took another sip of coffee. "Sam's life force is bleeding out of an incomplete link. The charms to control or limit the outflow can only be fuelled by a being with a magical core. My suggestion is that we find Sam a suitable magical familiar. The bond can easily be anchored with a familiar and the magic from the familiar can fuel the charms to limit the outflow to manageable levels."

She savoured their shell-shocked expressions as she wandlessly and wordlessly lifted the silencing hex.

"Wait a sec," Dean sputtered. "You mean, you want to get Sammy a black cat?"

Hermione glared at him. "It doesn't have to be a cat. Or black," she corrected primly.

Bobby nodded firmly. "That sounds good to me. Where can we get a familiar for Sammy?"

Hermione grinned. "Sioux Falls has a small magical shopping district. If we can't find anything suitable we can portkey to a city with a bigger enclave. And when I say we I mean Sam and myself only!" She fixed the other two with a firm eye. "I don't have time to keep you out of trouble," to Dean, "or do a complete tour of the stores," to Bobby.

Dean's mutinous expression settled at her explanation. "Oh all right."

"And this will have to be tomorrow morning. I'm completely knackered," she admitted as she rose from her chair.

"What time do you want to leave?"

"Nine-thirty at the latest. It shouldn't take too much time to find a suitable creature."

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Hermione was wrong. It took the better part of the morning. Most of the light-oriented creatures in the menageries sensed the demon taint in Sam and shied away. And Hermione was wary of settling for a dark-oriented familiar – there was too much dark magic in this mess already. Finally they found a store selling hybrid Kneazles. A Shadow cat/Kneazle mix took very well to Sam and Hermione pronounced herself satisfied.

Dean had taken one look at the tiny black kitten and laughed until he cried. Socrates, as Sam dubbed his new familiar, did not seem to appreciate being laughed at by an ill-mannered two-legger and promptly clawed Dean. Bobby and Sam watched amused as Hermione set up the ritual circle and runic arrays.

"Familiars are very good at sensing bad intentions," Hermione murmured. "If I'd allowed Crookshanks to do as he wanted when I was in school it would have saved a lot of lives later on."

"Crookshanks?" Sam asked, absently stroking Socrates.

"My cat. He's dead. He was quite old when I got him. He passed away peacefully just before I left Britain. I haven't had the heart to look for a new familiar." Her voice was wistful.

Dean eyed the chalk circles balefully from his spot just inside the door. "Are you sure this is going to work?" He glanced from his brother to Socrates. "I mean, that's an awfully small cat and Sam's an awfully big dude."

"Positive." And Hermione was. "All done." She sat back on her heels and stood up. "Sam doesn't have a magical core to initiate the link with Socrates so I'm going to jump start it." She gestured for Sam to move towards her. "Step into the inner circle," she instructed pointing to the smallest circle, in the centre. It had a diameter of two feet, the middle circle a diameter of three feet, and the outermost one just three inches larger. A series of runes were chalked in a band between the outer two circles.

"What do you want me to do?" Sam asked.

"Just stand there," she ordered. "And hold onto Socrates. Do not cross the line."

Sam obeyed, holding the squirming cat-Kneazle hybrid as she lifted a bowl filled with reddish fluid. She had prepared it ten minutes ago, mixing together various protective herbs and blood from Sam, Socrates and herself. Carefully she used a holly twig to paint the liquid around the smallest inner circle. The moment she closed the circle the red liquid shimmered gold and began to glow softly. Sam held Socrates tighter. He could feel the building power in the room as Hermione chanted first softly then louder in an unknown language. The symbols chalked inside the two outermost circles began to glow, starting with the one at North. Then the one next to it, moving East, then the next, then the next, until finally all the symbols were shimmering. The chant grew louder, Hermione's voice hoarser. Sparks began to rise from the runes, and she used her wand to direct the light and sparks in a spiral around Sam and Socrates. The pressure on him was tangible now. He trembled, trying to keep his stance. There was no room to kneel in the small circle without crossing the glowing line.

Then disaster struck. Socrates bit Sam, Sam yelled and jerked his hand away, and the cat/Kneazle squirmed free, landing lightly on all fours and darting out of the circles before anyone could stop him. Just as the ritual reached its peak.

Hermione cried out and staggered as the now unbalanced energies sought a new anchor and found it. In her. Sam leaped out of the painted circle and managed to catch her before she hit the ground. He ignored Bobby's and Dean's cursing as they chased after Socrates.

"Dang nabbit! We'll have to re-do the whole thing now!" Bobby cursed.

"I don't think so, Bobby." There was a hint of wonder and worry in Sam's voice that made the older hunter stop and look.

"What do you mean, Sammy?"

The youngest Winchester looked up with an awed and slightly embarrassed expression. "The ritual…it's supposed to create a bond, to control the bleed out."

Bobby didn't understand. "Yeah, so?"

"Well, it has. With her."

"Wait…What?"

"What?"

Both Bobby and Dean spoke at once, but Dean was considerably louder. He quit chasing the cat and stomped over to his little brother. "What do you mean 'with her,' Sammy?"

"I think we're bonded. I can hear her. In my head," Sam confessed.

Two pairs of eyes widened in shock before they focused on the unconscious British witch.

Bobby sighed. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it now. Hopefully she'll be able to fix things when she wakes up."

Dean nodded slowly. "Yeah. I'm sure she can. She'd better," he added gloweringly.

Bobby shook his head and ignored him. He was more worried about Sam. The younger Winchester carefully lifted the unconscious young woman, cradling her close…There was something about him, the way he was holding her that set off a niggling feeling in the older hunter. Bobby Singer wasn't quite sure this would be easily or simply resolved.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

Hermione blinked and opened her eyes a crack before squeezing them shut. The dim light set off a throbbing behind her eyeballs. Carefully she set about cataloguing her senses and most recent memories. The ritual to bond Sam and Socrates. The bloody cat jumping out of the circle. The magical backlash. Then she became aware of something else…a concerned warmth in the back of her mind. A sense of urgency drawing closer.

The door opened, framing Sam's broad shoulders and long shaggy hair. The moment their eyes met she could not look away. Her mind spun with flashes of memories, of feelings, of hurts, of joys, of anger, of guilt…everything that shaped Sam Winchester. The bond!

"Yes," he spoke. At her questioning look he confirmed her fears. "The bond."

Hermione panicked. How much did he–

"Pretty much everything. I didn't mean to but it just kept spilling and I couldn't help but See. It took some practice before I managed to set up a rough block. It doesn't stop strong emotions and thoughts, though."

Hermione bit her lip as she pushed herself up into a sitting position, remembering how Harry hadn't been able to keep the Dark Lord out of his mind. Hermione might be a Master Occlumens and years older, but such barriers weren't easily maintained while you were unconscious.

He stepped forward with a hesitant expression. "I'm sorry about this. You were only trying to help me and—"

She raised a hand. "Don't. You didn't plan on this. I didn't either. But now we'll have to find a way to live with it."

That surprised him. "What do you mean? Surely you can undo this."

Hermione shook her head, curls flying wildly. "For magicals, bonds and vows are something that aren't easily broken. Not without losing my magic or killing one – or both – of us. And I don't think you want to die either."

Sam's expression at this news was unreadable. His stance shifted into a clearly guarded pose, arms folded across his chest. "So, what next?" he asked. "Is there anything requiring me to stay close to you?"

Hermione bit her lip. "I don't know," she confessed, squeezing her eyes shut. She couldn't help but feel a small pang of hurt at the rejection. He did not want her. No one wanted her.

He must have read her mind because he stepped forward and sat on the bed next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and drawing her close. "It's nothing like that. Dean and I still have to track down Azazel and it's going to be dangerous and messy."

Hermione was both relieved and irate at his explanation. Relieved for obvious reasons, angry at his insinuation she couldn't take care of herself. Then the angry bubble collapsed. She had been lonely for so long. Ever since the Final Battle. Too many had tried to use her influence and abilities for their own benefit. Potential boyfriends who had vanished when she made it clear she was not going to use her fame to profit. An entire society that was more than happy to lean so heavily on her she nearly broke, a society that expected others to clean up its messes and never pay the costs. While she'd had Harry and Ron she'd pulled through, but after Voldemort was killed it had all fallen apart. Harry had Ginny, and Ron's grief at Fred's death had pulled him away, leaving her behind and alone. They had no use for a bookworm in times of 'peace and prosperity'. Hermione shook herself mentally. At least Sam wasn't blaming her for this. In fact he wasn't expecting her to fight his battles; he was trying to protect her.

Something must have leaked through her Occlumency shields because his grip tightened. "Of course I am! You don't deserve to be a target," his breath caught. "Like Jess."

Hermione turned into him, wrapping both her arms around his torso. "Neither do you!" she insisted fiercely. "I'm not letting you waltz off and face that demon by yourself!"

"Hey! I'm not going to be alone. Dean and Bobby will be with me."

Hermione snorted. "And lots of help they'll be. Azazel knows about them and most likely has planned for them." Her eyes narrowed. "But it doesn't know about me."

"Hermione…" he trailed off warningly.

Hermione ignored him. Serendipity had bonded her to Samuel Winchester just when he was about to confront a truly dangerous enemy. She was no Seer, but if that wasn't a sign she'd eat her pointy black hat.

"Don't bother, Sam. I didn't let Harry run off to hunt down the Horcruxes by himself. I'm not letting you face Azazel without me."

In fact Hermione wasn't certain if she wanted to free them both from the bond; she couldn't deny part of her was happy with the situation. She had been lying to herself all this time…telling herself she preferred the security and distance of research and books. At the core of her being, Hermione Granger was a do-er. And she couldn't think of a better place to do things and save lives than in the heart of the action, standing at the side of a pair of hunters targeted by Evil.

"You're serious about this."

She leaned back to meet his eyes. "As a heart attack." She reached up to push the shaggy bangs out of his eyes. "We'll deal with the bond after Azazel is dead. Until then I'm not letting you cross the road without me," she added firmly.

Sam stared hard at her and saw she was serious. Then he tried to imagine Dean's reaction to this addition – not just a woman but a witch – to their hunts. And he laughed. "If you get Dean to agree, I'm fine with it." And he was. If Hermione Granger could browbeat Dean into compliance she could deal with everything else.

Sam had not expected this fierce unbending soul behind the mild-mannered academic exterior, but now that he could See into her it made perfect sense. Feeling very upbeat about the future Sam began making mental revisions to the Winchesters usual pre-hunt research and preparations. When Dean drove the Impala out of Singer's Salvage Yard for their next hunt to track down Azazel, Sam was certain Hermione would be with them.

~ooOoo~ooOoo~ooOoo~

The End.

~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~oooo~

AN: I have some ideas for outtakes, but it won't be coming anytime soon.

Review, Review, Review