Disclaimer: I own nothing of Harry Potter or Supernatural.

A/N: For those of you who follow my HP/Stargate crossover I hopefully will being posting again soon, this plot bunny grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go until it had been written. I'm not sure if I'm going to post more to this story or not, I do have ideas about the direction the story would take, but I'm not familiar enough with Supernatural at this point to know how to continue with more.

Don't blink. You can't blink. Blinking would be bad.

Don't turn away. You can't turn away.

Don't give into sleep, sleep isn't important.

Sleep is something you can't have, something that you don't deserve. If you go to sleep you won't be there. You have to be there, be there for him.

He needs you.

He needs you to fix this, solve the problem, come up with the bloody answer. It's your job to have the answer. You're the damn brain, the smart one, the only thing you are good at and you still screwed it up.

Think. Think. You have to think.

Don't fall asleep. You can't fall asleep.

Keep your eyes open.

Think.

Up and down.

Up and down.

In and out.

Up and down.

Inhale and exhale, nothing to it.

Just up and down. Up and down.

U-

There was an unnatural quiet in the night as the movement she had been so focused on… ceased. Frozen in place she kept her eyes riveted to the bundled mass before her, willing it into action once again.

He wasn't moving.

No sound. No breathing. She checked, no heartbeat.

Shoving her way out of the tent Hermione staggered forward only to drop to the icy ground as her legs gave way.

He couldn't-

No. No.

She screamed, and screamed, and screamed. It didn't matter if someone took notice, nothing mattered anymore.

Her fist met the frozen ground. No. No bloody way. Another fist connected slicing open knuckles. This couldn't be happening. It bloody couldn't. No. He had to, had to live. Hands kept impacting.

The snow turned red.

It was her fault. She hadn't noticed in time, hadn't been smart enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Never enough.

They needed him. She needed him. He couldn't leave her.

She wouldn't let him.

***********************************************8

She was stirring the coals in the fire-pit when the moaning caught her attention.

Rushing over to the sole occupant in the cot Hermione shook her sleeping companion, trying to dislodge him from whatever night terror had caught him, excitement gripping her heart. "Harry, it's all right, you're all right! Harry, it's okay, wake up, wake up!"

His eyes shot open and she was met with a familiar pair of startling emerald green eyes. Eyes she thought she might never get to see again.

It had been so long.

"Harry," Hermione whispered carefully holding onto her composure, refusing to cry. "Do you feel all right?"

She watched as he turned his head, taking in the room before answering. "Yes." It was obviously a lie, but she didn't care. He was here. Fighting the urge to fidget as the silence stretched between them she took the time to examine her patient. He was still flushed, but the fever was gone and she could already see the sweat starting to dry on his skin. He turned confused eyes onto her. "We got away."

"Yes," she confirmed and began to babble as her nerves took over. "I had to use a Hover Charm to get you into your bunk. I couldn't lift you. You've been... Well, you haven't been quite... You've been ill," she finished. "Quite ill."

Harry furrowed his brow. "How long ago did we leave?"

A lifetime ago. A week or two ago, time had lost its meaning in her quest.

"It's nearly morning." She kept her answer deliberately vague. They had left Godric's Hollow sometime after midnight the start of Christmas Day; he didn't need to know how much time had really passed.

"And I've been... what, unconscious?" he said in distaste.

"Not exactly," said Hermione uncomfortably. "You've been shouting and moaning and... things." And those things would forever stay with her; while Harry would never remember what had happened Hermione didn't have that luxury. Not wanting to be questioned she just kept talking determined that the silence wouldn't descend over them again. "I couldn't get the Horcrux off you. It was stuck, stuck to your chest. You've got a mark; I'm sorry, I had to use a Severing Charm to get it away. The snake hit you too, but I've cleaned the wound and put some dittany on it..."

Why was it so hard for her to talk normally, pretend that everything was all right like he needed? She shut up.

He pulled away the sweaty T-shirt he was wearing and looked down at her words. She knew what he saw, a scarlet oval over his heart where the locket had burned him, various cuts stitched together and half healed puncture marks already starting to heal on his otherwise unblemished forearm.

"Where've you put the Horcrux?" Obviously it was back to business as usual again. It was what she expected, Harry unwilling to talk about whatever feelings were raised by the presence of more scars.

"In my bag. I think we should keep it off for a while." Her voice sounded small to her ears.

He changed the subject. "We shouldn't have gone to Godric's Hollow. It's my fault." Yes, no, yes, why couldn't he have just listened to her? He never listened to her anymore. "It's all my fault. Hermione, I'm sorry." Again the expected guilt trip Hermione had been foreseeing from him.

She forced herself to steady her voice. "It's not your fault." Her own guilt ate at her; she should have tried harder to stop him. It was her fault she hadn't been able to talk him out of it. "I wanted to go too; I really thought Dumbledore might have left the sword there for you." Hermione tried not to choke on the words.

"Yeah, well... we got that wrong, didn't we?" He was trying to be humorous, but it fell flat.

So wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

She forced herself to ask about the snake, the thing that would forever be at the top of her hit-list. "What happened, Harry? What happened when she took you upstairs? Was the snake hiding somewhere? Did it just come out and kill her and attack you?"

He told her the truth about Bathilda.

She tried to have him go back to sleep.

Harry snorted at her. "You're the one who needs sleep. No offense, but you look terrible." She knew that. "I'm fine. I'll keep watch for a while. Where's my wand?"

She did not answer, she merely looked at him. The words choked her.

"Where's my wand, Hermione?"

She bit her lip, and tears swam in her eyes. This couldn't be happening. "Harry..."

His voice held an edge at her continued silence. "Where's my wand?"

She reached down beside the bed and held it out to him.

The holly and phoenix wand was nearly severed in two. One fragile strand of phoenix feather kept both pieces hanging together. The wood had splintered apart completely. Harry took it into his hands as though it was a living thing that had suffered a terrible injury. She could see the panic and fear in his eyes for one unguarded moment before they shut down.

He held out the wand to Hermione.

"Mend it. Please." Despite the please, she knew it was a command.

"Harry, I don't think, when it's broken like this," she hedged.

"Please, Hermione, try!" He was frantic.

With a feeling of dread she took the wand and ran hers along its length. "R-Reparo."

The dangling half of the wand resealed itself and Harry held it up.

"Lumos!"

The wand sparked feebly, then went out. He pointed it at Hermione.

"Expelliarmus!"

Hermione's wand gave a little jerk, but did not leave her hand. She tried not to feel offended. The feeble attempt at magic being too much for Harry's wand, it split in two again. He stared at it, aghast, and Hermione felt a deep burning shame. She had known that he wouldn't take the knowledge well.

"Harry," Hermione whispered so quietly she wasn't sure he heard her. "I'm so, so sorry. I think it was me. As we were leaving, you know, the snake was coming for us, and so I cast a Blasting Curse, and it rebounded everywhere, and it must have, must have been hit."

"It was an accident," said Harry mechanically, but there was an unnatural calmness behind his words that had her flinching back. "We'll… we'll find a way to repair it."

"Harry, I don't think we're going to be able to," said Hermione, the tears she held in now trickling down her face. He wouldn't even look at her. "Remember... remember Ron? When he broke his wand, crashing the car? It was never the same again, he had to get a new one."

"Well," he said, in a falsely matter-of-fact voice, "well, I'll just borrow yours for now, then. While I keep watch."

She couldn't find it in her to even react to the enormity of his request, that he would take her wand.

Her face glazed with tears, Hermione handed over her wand, and he left her sitting beside his bed, his desire plain: that he wanted nothing more than to get away from her, leaving her alone in the once again too silent tent.

He started trembling again.

Hermione gripped his hand tighter as she was pulled from the edge of sleep by his movements. Picking her head up off the corner of the cot she saw his face twist in agony as another episode began.

Jumping to her feet Hermione ripped the heavy blankets away and grabbed a potion off the end-table. With a wave of her wand his mouth was compelled to open and she dumped the contents in and massaged his throat until it was swallowed. One diagnosis charm after another had her grabbing more potions to administer.

He arched off the cot, a limb knocking her back to stumble into the end-table, dislodging the potions. She ignored the bruise, intent on saving the vials, but wasn't fast enough to save them all, several crashing to the floor.

A moan turned into a full-on scream as the figure continued to thrash.

She struggled to hold him down, but was ultimately powerless to prevent the stiches from tearing or the sting as his arm made contact with her face once, twice, three times, again and again, the bandage stump causing its own damage as it hit her where it could.

Helplessly she watched as more and more blood seeped through the bandages despite her efforts.

She slammed into the ground with a jarring thud forcing the air from her lungs. Struggling to catch her breath a wheezing gurgle escaped her lips as Hermione finally managed to roll onto her side only to find herself staring at her best-friend's mangled body.

Blood. There was so much blood.

His arm barely looked like it was even still attached. Oh, Merlin the blood.

Panic set in as she crawled over to Harry applying pressure with one hand while trying to find his pulse with another.

One beat, then another.

He was still alive.

Not thinking about anything but the next step to complete, she summoned the dittany. So much blood and it keep spurting out refusing to stay in. Skin refused to knit itself together and with a detachment to the situation at hand settling in she cast one healing spell after another with no effect.

Magic failed her so she just moved onto Muggle methods without pause. Not thinking, just reacting. A sharp jerk freed his belt and she set up a tourniquet as more spells were tried.

Ripping away the Horcrux she moved onto the other injuries and was once again forced to stick with Muggle medicine. The stiches were crude, but would hold.

Hold in the blood. So much blood.

Blood-Replenishing, Calming Draught, a bezoar down his throat.

With her immediate measures exhausted she stood and began to set up the wards. They had to be safe. Pulling the tent out of her bag a smokeless fire was lit and a cot placed right in front of it. Depositing her patient in the bed she began to cast diagnosis spells.

It was bad.

A Fever-Reducer and a pain relief potion were summoned.

The stats didn't change.

He was stable for now, but for how long?

Despite her close association with Harry over the years Hermione could only ever remember a handful of times she had spoken to the Headmaster and only once was she alone.

It was right before the end of school in her second year.

They were in the hospital wing and she had just been unpetrified after weeks of immobility, and all she wanted to do was leave and find her friends. She was lying in bed as Madame Pomfrey administered one potion after another to help her regain circulation in her limbs and repair the tissue damage since her muscles had atrophied in the time she had been petrified. The other victims had already exited when the Headmaster took a seat by her bed.

There was a familiar twinkle in his eyes as he observed her.

"Miss Granger it is very good to see that you are up and about again."

She smiled. "Thank you, sir."

"I would like to compliment you on a job well done. It is my understanding that neither Mr. Potter nor Mr. Weasley would have been able to discover the location of the Chamber without your help. Twenty points to Gryffindor."

She blushed at the praise. "Sir, what exactly happened?"

"That, my dear, is something I will let the boys in question convey to you themselves."

Silence fell and Dumbledore kept sitting jovially in the chair he had claimed as his own. "Sir, was there something else?"

"Oh, yes, yes, Miss Granger," he said, seeming to come out of a trance. "I just wanted to discuss what you intend to tell your parents about the events of this year… I have found that Muggles do not always understand our own world quite well and was wondering if you had given any thought to how you intend to divulge those details."

Hermione blinked, it hadn't occurred to her what to tell her parents. "No, I haven't. What did the school inform them about what happened to me?"

"Miss Granger, that brings us to the reason we are discussing this matter." His careful wording had her sitting up, knowing it would be important to pay attention. "Hogwarts regretfully has in place guidelines that prevent any obligation the staff may have in informing the parents of a Muggleborn student of a magical attack on that student, unless the result of that act is death." Her mind began to spin at his words; her parents hadn't been told. For months they wouldn't have heard from her at all, what they must think? "It is an outdated law, yes, but it does bind my hands in a case such as this. That is why I wanted to talk to you Miss Granger."

"Of course, sir." Much too shocked to do anything else, but agree.

"You see, I believe we have been presented with an opportunity to make the most of this situation." Her confused look asked for clarification. "Miss Granger, you have been presented with an opportunity to avoid causing some undue concern, in a delicate situation that I worry may be taken the wrong way by parents who do not have a working understanding of the wizarding world. I would not like to see a student as promising as yourself suffer because of unwarranted panic on behalf of her guardians. It would be a great loss to this school if you were compelled to remove yourself from its attendance because your parents believe you to be unsafe."

Hermione could read between the lines.

It turned her stomach to think about it, but she could follow the logic of his thoughts. That her Headmaster was asking her to lie didn't sit well with the witch, even if she did agree that lying was the best choice for this situation. Her parents, particularly her mother couldn't understand, or more likely wouldn't want to.

"It would be, sir."

It was the day Hermione realized Dumbledore was playing a game and she was nothing but one of his pawns. With that realization came the knowledge that it might be best to bide her time unless she wanted to be prematurely removed from the board. After all if Ron Weasley was good for one thing, it was showing her just how violent wizards were at chess.

She paced.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

Think. Think. Think.

He was getting worse.

Light began to crawl into their hideaway as she paged through her tomes searching for a solution. She didn't have the raw ingredients, time or the experience to brew a halfway decent attempt at anti-venom. Especially since Nagini hadn't been considerate enough to leave her a sample of venom in the first place, which would dramatically increase the odds of any attempt she could produce having an effect.

What would work?

There were two choices, both risky and neither very likely to succeed.

She needed anti-venom of some sort; even if it wasn't designed for the right snake it would increase Harry's chances. St. Mungo's had anti-venom, in fact it had an anti-venom that was good enough to help Mr. Weasley get to a point where his own magic could overcome Nagini's bite.

Assuming they had a supply on hand and that Harry had enough time for her to get there and back, it was a dangerous venture for obvious reasons. Hermione wasn't sure she would be able to pull something like that off on her own, without the boys helping her in the infiltration and escape.

The second option was based on her relatively sketchy understanding of the human body and snake toxin.

Anti-venom in the magical world worked different than in the Muggle. The magic identified and marked the venom in the system as unnatural so that the person's own magic could find and destroy it, the concept that a great number of potions worked off of.

The Muggle version was used to break down the venom chemically using antibodies produced from animals. While the simple solution would be to just steal from a Muggle hospital, the fact that Nagini had her own form of magic due to being a horcrux eliminated that option. Her venom was magical and could alter its form to avoid detection, thus a potion was needed to identify the underlying magical signature as being different, unnatural.

In theory if she could just eliminate the majority of the venom in his body and boost his magic it could prevent the venom from magically changing, thus allowing the Muggle variant time to work. She would just need to find Muggle anti-venom to stop the toxin; not the easiest task in a country that only had one poisonous native snake, the adder whose venom wasn't even that harmful to humans.

She only needed to bleed him dry, hope that she could get enough blood back into him, that the hospital had it stocked and that the blood wouldn't be missed. Perform a variation of a ritual she had never before attempted to lend him her magic, which would leave her vulnerable if they were attacked, and cross her fingers and hope that they weren't somehow detected while being outside of her wards.

Both options sucked and time was running out.

One was a death trap, the other a crazy theory with too many variables and what ifs.

A quick calculation later and she began to change into robes; it looked like St. Mungo's would be the safer bet for Harry.

Thank Merlin.

His pulse was thread and weak, but he was still holding on when she got back.

According to the case notes it should take six hours for the body to fully purge the venom.

When six hours passed with no change Hermione's worry, which had been an icy dread, spiked even higher. Something was wrong. His heart rate was dropping and breathing was getting shallower. She read the case notes again and debated the benefits of trying another dose.

At the eight hour mark he started seizing.

She felt like ripping her hair out in frustration. The anti-venom had not worked, it should have worked. It had worked for Mr. Weasley and considering Harry had more raw magical power than the average wizard it should have worked faster.

She couldn't wait any longer. It had to be done.

The severing charm was quick. The smell of burnt flesh invaded her nostrils as she cauterized the wound. Hermione bit back the urge to vomit.

More time ticked by with no improvement or decline. She paced, not allowing herself to mull over the fact that her efforts at a preservation charm were probably going to be a useless waste of magic for the detached limb.

She was missing something. It should have worked. Why didn't it work? Something else was going on and if she didn't find it Harry would-

There was a deeper problem she needed to figure out, another variable that was remaining stubbornly hidden.

Hidden… hidden…

The sheets were ripped away and the cloths followed.

Where was it? Where was it?

There.

It was small, a little cut across the shoulder-blade that when she prodded it wept black blood and released a noxious odor. A graze from a curse of some sort, black webbing already beginning to emanate from its jagged edges, slowly leaking across the skin of his shoulder-blade.

Voldemort had found another way to kill his enemy.

********************************************8

Her stride was brisk and sure as she swept through the corridors of the hospital. She needed to move fast before the polyjuice could wear off or the healer whose hair she borrowed was found.

It had not been hard to get into St. Mungo's Hospital, a few minor hexes and her identity was successfully hidden. The trick was to look serious enough to warrant her presence in the emergency wing, but without being too noticeable.

Stunning the healer sent to treat her and procuring a few hairs was easy enough and so was a quick change of robes, but it was all in the timing. The whole risky plan hinged on timing. Not familiar with the layout she made her way down one hall casually scanning the signs without being noticed. She passed the administration offices when the medical histories room finally made its presence known.

She wasn't expecting the familiar gleam in the director's eye as she passed him in the hall and kept moving towards her goal.

She tried to act normal as she was signed into the records room, but he followed her in. Before she could react he had her pinned against the shelves. Her skirt was pushed up and her underwear ripped away before she even registered the movements.

"I like this choice of location, more room than the broom closet, my dear." Her mouth was covered by his, leaving her no chance to speak, even if she could think of a reply. Hands grabbed at her rear pinning her between his body and the wall throwing her off-balance. "You're a clever little minx, I knew you would see the advantages of giving in eventually."

His whispered words finally giving her the chance to see her assailant's face up-close, which had her catching her breath in terror as she was able to recognize his identity, Rabastan Lestrange, Bellatrix's brother-in-law. Completely caught off guard, she froze at the sight of the Death Eater who was leering at her. Her immobility cost her, as any chance of escape disappeared as a rough hand fumbled between their bodies and she realized what was going on.

She tensed and tasted blood as she bit her lip to keep from crying out, clawing at the shoulders holding her up with each wave of pain, forced to wrap her legs around his waist to prevent further injury as each thrust slammed her against the wall.

*****************************************8

"Accio Horcrux books! Accio Horcrux research! Accio information on Tom Marvolo Riddle! Accio Albus Dumbledore's notes!"

Hermione stepped out of the way as books, papers, glass vials and notebooks flew through the window to land on her bed. She wasn't done though, unlike Harry she could see the bigger picture and knew that Dumbledore hadn't told them nearly everything he could have.

He was dead now and she wasn't going to just play by his rules like she had been forced to over the past six years.

"Accio research on Harry James Potter! Accio research on James Potter! Accio research on Lilly Potter! Accio research on Lilly Evans! Accio Blood magic books! Accio Black family books! Accio notes on Hermione Jean Granger! Accio notes on Ronald Billius Weasley!"

More parchment, tomes and magical devices came at her summons, further inciting her on.

"Accio notes on Voldemort! Accio notes on the Order of the Phoenix! Accio notes on Severus Snape! Accio Albus Dumbledore's will! Accio Albus Dumbledore's personal journal! Accio Albus Dumbledore's family texts! Accio Albus Dumbledore's school books! Accio Albus Dumbledore's private research!"

Her wrist began to ache with every swish and flick, but she didn't stop, changing her wording as she went to get around any loopholes that might have been exploited.

"Accio property Albus Dumbledore was keeping in trust for others! Accio anything Albus Dumbledore touched in the past 48 hours! Accio Albus Dumbledore's private potions! Accio message to Hermione Jean Granger! Accio…"

Desperation set in.

Whatever spell Voldemort had thrown at Harry she hadn't been able to identify it. She had scanned every text she had pilfered from Grimmauld Place, but it wasn't listed anywhere. Probably something the Dark Lord had cooked up himself.

She tried another dose of anti-venom, but it was still not working.

She wouldn't let this happen, couldn't let this happen.

She kept searching, Dumbledore's notes, and the Black Family Dark Arts texts. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Her beaded-bag was torn apart, the contents strewn about the tent.

She didn't eat, couldn't eat. No time to eat. No time to sleep, sleep was bad. The words blurred as she forced her eyes to stay focused on the words before her. She would find it, she would solve this.

**********************************8

They thought she didn't know.

She did.

She could see the lightness in both their faces each time they came back from what they called forging, a couple mushrooms that were inedible and some leaves to make at best a weak tea all their efforts ever produced, causing her to continue to go out alone to comb the countryside for anything they could eat. So that they could survive, just stay on this side of starvation a little longer.

The laughter lines that they were not as good as they believed in hiding from her.

Anger burnt in her gut at the sight.

It wasn't fair. She tried so hard, gave so much, perhaps too much and this was the thanks she got. Her two friends running off at any chance they got to avoid her odious presence.

How could Harry just expect her to forgive and forget?

Ronald wasn't there, he had abandoned them, abandoned her. Left her alone to try to keep everything together as the world fell apart around her. If he had just been there maybe what happened wouldn't have happened, maybe she wouldn't have had to resort to what she had, maybe she wouldn't have-

And those looks Harry kept sending her when he didn't think she was looking.

Those flashes of anger and annoyance, that she was making things difficult by not just accepting Ron's presence. That she didn't have the right to be upset and she knew he was still blaming her for his wand.

The bloody wand.

No thanks for saving his life, just sullenness over a broken wand. At least Ron had brought a spare one back with him or she was sure Harry would have probably deemed it best he take possession of her wand at all times when she wasn't in immediate need of it to set up the wards.

Watching as they walked off again she wondered if this really wasn't for the best. When her time came it would be best if no one cared enough to mourn.

She kept her legs steady; it wouldn't do any good to falter, even when the only thing she wanted to do was sink to the floor, curl up and cry. Left alone she didn't let herself dwell on the smug look Rabastan had left her with as he exited the room.

Turning back to the shelves, a quick search revealed the case file she needed. Slipping back into the hall her steps led her to where the potions cabinet was, then the lobby.

The whole mission hadn't taken more than forty-nine minutes.

If there was one benefit to being Hermione Granger it was that she never forgot anything, ever.

As she stared at her friend's rapidly cooling body a detachment settled in. A recollection of the last time she had the chance to observe a dead body up close came to mind.

Her grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack one night many years ago, little Hermione being the one to find him the next morning. She remembered staring into the wide-open, unfocused eyes of the body and the smell of urine soaking into the mattress as the early morning light shown through the window. She hadn't witnessed him pass on, had never seen the thestrals, but she was no stranger to death.

As her mind lingered over the memory of finding her grandfather's corpus, another took its place.

A memory of when her grandfather was still alive and of the old stories he used to tell.

An old journal filled with hand-drawn pictures of creatures from her nightmares, filled with detailed instructions on how to fend off and destroy them all. An old journal her mother refused to let her look at, which her mother burnt before her grandfather had barely been in the ground a whole day.

But Hermione Granger never forgot.

Never forgot her mother always kept a line of salt across all the thresholds of their house.

Never forgot the spooky stories her grandfather told her at bedtime.

Never forgot the early lessons he gave her in Latin despite being raised in the Church of England.

Hermione Granger never forgot and as her eyes caught the glint of the gold edging of the book sitting innocently on the side table, an idea began to form.

Whatever endgame the Headmaster had by giving her a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard was irrelevant now.

Harry was dead, but like the characters in the book she knew of a possible way to cheat death. Her own childhood fairytale told her how, but just like the brothers there would be a price to pay in the end.

*************************************8

Something wasn't right.

"Harry, stop."

"What's wrong?"

They had only just reached the grave of the unknown Abbott and the dread that had filled her since they arrived in Godric's Hollow increased threefold at the sight before her. "There's someone there. Someone watching us. I can tell. There, over by the bushes."

They stood quite still, holding on to each other, gazing at the dense black boundary of the graveyard. "Are you sure?"

"I saw something move. I could have sworn I did..."

She broke from him to free her wand arm as every instinct she had screamed at her to grab onto Harry and get them out of there.

"We look like Muggles," Harry pointed out, not seeming to be taking her warning seriously.

"Muggles who've just been laying flowers on your parents' grave? Harry, I'm sure there's someone over there!"

"It's a cat," said Harry, after a second or two, "or a bird. If it was a Death Eater we'd be dead by now. But let's get out of here, and we can put the Cloak back on."

She was hardly reassured as they both glanced around repeatedly as they made their way out of the graveyard. Determined to get this over with she pulled him down the dark street leading out of the village in the opposite direction from which they had entered it. "Let's go this way." Casting her eyes about for any clue she asked, "How are we going to find Bathilda's house?" She shivered a little and kept glancing back over her shoulder when there was no response. "Harry? What do you think? Harry?"

She tugged at his arm, but Harry was not paying attention. Instead he was staring at a dark mass that stood at the very end of the row of houses. The next moment he sped up, dragging Hermione along with him, causing her to slip on the ice a little.

"Harry…¨

It was his house. The one he was born in and the one which he had lost his parents in. Her heart clenched at the pain she saw in his face and grabbed his hand to offer some comfort.

The moment was broken by a heavily muffled figure hobbling up the lane toward them, silhouetted by the bright lights in the distant square. She was moving slowly, so slowly; her stoop, her stoutness, her shuffling gait all gave an impression of extreme age. At last she came to a halt a few yards from them and simply stood there in the middle of the frozen road facing them.

She raised a gloved hand and beckoned.

Hermione moved closer to him under the Cloak, her arm pressed against his. How in Merlin's name did she know they were there? How could she see beneath the Cloak? This wasn't right, they should leave now. Right now.

Finally Harry spoke, startling her so badly in the silence that Hermione jumped. "Are you Bathilda?"

"Harry, I'm not sure about this," breathed Hermione, but she was ignored as her friend stepped out into the open from under the protective cover of the Cloak.

Standing at the center of the deserted stretch of roads Hermione didn't waste any time.

Positioning herself at the exact center of the crossroads, a well-placed Blasting hex took care of a good portion of the icy ground and she used a shovel after that to remove the loosened dirt. The hole was waist deep when she could no longer feel her hands. Withdrawing a box she placed inside the only photo she had been able to locate in the tent, one Collin Creevy had snapped of her sitting on the stands during a Quidditch practice last year that she had found tucked between the pages of her copy of Hogwarts, A History.

The box rattled as she set it down, already filled with the other elements that were needed – graveyard dirt and a single bone from a black cat still coated in fresh, sticky blood. Pulling herself out of the hole she began to move the dirt back in place, sweat trickled down her back despite the freezing temperature as she worked.

With one final pat Hermione stepped back and dropped the shovel to wait.

Time ticked by.

What if it didn't work? What if nothing happened? This was crazy, she was crazy. It had to work. It couldn't end like this. Where was it? Why wasn't it working? She remembered everything right. Bloody work already.

Struggling not to give into her anxiety, she clenched her hands into fists and waited. Concentrating on her breathing, Hermione slowly began to feel some of the tension leave her as she focused on remaining patient.

Something finally changed.

The wind stopped.

Hermione could feel that she was no longer alone and slowly turned. Standing close enough to touch was a man only slightly taller than her, about mid-forties dressed in a black coat that reached his knees, an equally black dress shirt and slacks, with a steel-grey tie.

She was barely able to fight down the panic at having him so close when the moon shifted just enough to allow her to see the red glint in his eyes which slowly faded, flooding her with a new apprehension. She had her wand in hand before she even knew it, but managed to stop herself before she did anything rash.

"My apologies about the delay, love." He slowly started circling her. "I had to arrange a few things to make sure that no one else caught wind of this."

"W-what do you mean?"

"It means that I had to make sure the other players didn't find out about you just yet. Azazel was easy, he likes the States, but the boss-lady – she's one tough bitch to work around."

She stayed silent afraid to interrupt his monologue, turning in place to keep him in her line of sight at all times, cataloging everything he said for future reference. He didn't appear to be bothered by her non-response and just kept talking.

"Had to stop to do a little clean-up since you didn't add the extras…" He trailed off and just stared, like he was lost in thought. "Never thought I'd see the day that one of your kind would make it here." His eyes deliberately racked over her then, his voice dropping to a rather seductive degree that caused her knees to feel a little weak even as icy fear gripped her. She took a slight step back unnerved by the first sign that the stories she remembered were true, about the allure of this particular type of demon despite his ordinary looks. "And what a fine example you are."

Hermione bristled, and summoning all of her Gryffindor bravery spoke. "You know why I'm here."

He stopped circling at her pronouncement and clapped his hands together mockingly. "To make a deal." He stepped closer, deliberately invading her personal space.

She refused to retreat again and took her own step forward.

"I want you to bring him back. You give Harry his life back and you get it. That's the deal, Harry's life and in ten years you can drag my soul to hell."

"No."

"W-what?!" she asked, stunned. "But that's the deal, you give me what I want and in ten years you get my soul."

A smirk settled on his face. "That's the normal package deal. Yes, but love, you are far from normal and saving your little friend isn't in my purview."

"Nine."

"Nope, can't do."

"Eight."

"Still can't do." He started to circle her again and this time she didn't bother to turn with him as she struggled to think. "Mr. Potter is important, the tipping point on whether you win this little war of yours. That is more than just one life on the line Miss Granger."

"Five years."

He stopped in front of her again. "I couldn't bring your friend back even if you handed over the goods right now."

She let her mind reel at his words. "Then why are you still here?"

He cocked an eyebrow. "Good question. Why am I?"

Think. Think. Why hadn't he left yet if he couldn't make a deal. There was something he wasn't saying. Think. He couldn't bring Harry back to life, then who could?

It hit her.

She could do it.

She knew what went wrong, knew how to prevent it, knew what she missed. She just needed a second chance, a reset.

"Then send me back to right before the attack. Send me back so that I can save him."

He brought a hand up under her chin and tilted her head back, letting the moonlight fully fall across her face. She held very still and let him. "You are quite extraordinary, aren't you?" He seemed lost for a moment, fascinated by whatever he saw. He leaned in, tickling her ear with his breath and whispered, "Still can't do."

"You can't send me back."

"I can't send you back, not before the attack, not after. There are rules, Miss Granger, that even I have to follow. You were once told awful things can happen to those who mess with time. If Mr. Potter doesn't die at the point he does you wouldn't be here."

Not deterred. "Then what can you do?"

He continued his ministration, his thumb running across her check, ghosting over her neck, playing over her clavicle, causing Hermione to fight with every fiber of her being to stay still. To not show him how much his touch disturbed her, how much focus it took just to pay attention to the conversation. "Instead… I can get your friend to hop forward a bit, the moment you Apparated from Godric's Hollow to now. Prevent him from succumbing to the effects of the venom and curse wounds; even leave you readily prepared with the nifty potions to do so. As far as your memories and experiences go, nothing will change, you will remember exactly what happened, but instead of the real Mr. Potter I produce a carbon-copy to be a place-setter for the timeline. As long as the price is right."

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, afraid to ask. "What price?"

The demon stepped back and chuckled. "Not what you are thinking. I know that you are not too endeared to the male species at the moment, and that just isn't my idea of a good time." He lifted her hand and brought it to his lips, holding her captive with his eyes. "It's so much more pleasurable when both parties are willing. When you allow yourself to give into temptation, to give into your body's dark urges no matter how much they may drive you mad. To feel yourself fall, knowing that you no longer care where the blood on the sheets comes from, or how many kills the hands pleasuring you have wrought."

She pulled back as heat flooded through her skin, in embarrassment, in shame.

He snapped his fingers causing two chairs and a desk to appear. "Let's get to work, love."

It was hard to open her eyes, so hard.

Her whole body ached and she was so tired. She just wanted to lie there for a moment and let the world drift away. Let everything float away.

The sound of the door creaking open had Hermione instantly on edge and her eyes flew open, grasping for a wand.

"It'z alright 'ermione. You are safe 'ere. You are safe." Fleur set down a tray of food on the bedside table and rushed to her side to give her a hug. "Come, I 'ave brought soup and we need to change your bandages."

She was in Shell Cottage. She was safe. They didn't have her anymore. It was over. It took a moment for the tears to stop.

Hermione let the older woman fuss over her, too weak to even attempt to protest.

"Thingz are looking better. 'ow are you feeling?"

"A little better."

"That iz good. You should rest zome more."

Almost against her will her eyes drifted shut.

Hermione didn't know how long she slept, but the room was dark when she opened her eyes again as a pain shot through her belly. She curled up and whimpered as another cramp hit. A pressure was building in her abdomen, followed by a gushing warm wetness.

Ripping the sheets away Hermione was struck by the sight of blood. Hauling herself out of the bed she began to stumble toward the door, barely making it across the hall to the bathroom. Crawling into the shower she turned on the spray and let herself sink to the floor.

There had been no signs, but she could figure out what happened.

The amount of blood.

The incident with Rabastan.

There was only one explanation.

She wouldn't cry, didn't feel sorry. Only a hollow emptiness. She just needed to let it happen, let her body complete what it had started.

Fleur found her shivering in the now cold spray, long after the water had run clear. Helped her get out of the wet nightgown and changed the sheets.

She didn't ask what happened and Hermione didn't offer, instead offering silent comfort as she cried herself to sleep.

Hermione found the description in the last book.

Mauvais Malediction Fatigue Musculaire.

Roughly translated as the Muscle-Fatigue curse. When it was used on the human body, the muscles affected would be put under incredible strain, mimicking the effects of intense exercise. The curse would keep affecting the muscles until such a time they torn apart under the strain. All the while the body would be forced into producing such high levels of lactic acid that the body's natural pH would be lowered and push the body into a state of acidosis.

Harry had barely been hit, but enough time would have passed for his body to become acidic, causing the anti-venom not to work.

The counter was simple, two quick flicks a Finir and it was done.

Desperately Hermione poured the last of the potion down Harry's throat, trying not to stare at the putrefying flesh and to ignore the smell of decay in the room.

She found the solution, now all Harry had to do was hold on just a little longer in order for it to work.

Gripping the cold clammy hand, Hermione begun to pray.

After the chairs had appeared and they took their respective seats, the demon leaned back to once again study her. "You really are just bursting with potential, aren't you? So many possibilities, I'm finding it hard to choose just one."

Annoyance flashed through her, she didn't want to be toyed with. "The deal," she reminded him.

He steeped his fingers and the smirk made reappearance. "Ah, yes. The Deal."

He didn't say anything more and Hermione couldn't take the silence. "Yes, the deal. What do you want?" She knew she was playing into his hands, but the past week or more, however long it had been since they had escaped Godric's Hollow, had really pushed her beyond the edge.

That damn smirk got even wider. "I want a lot of things Miss Granger. What I want from you… well you seem to have sparked my creative side."

"Can we stop the flattery and just get to it," she said, her temper getting the best of her, with the continued word play.

"Tisk, tisk, so impatient. If I was any other man I would think you didn't find my company enjoyable." She opened her mouth, but he cut her off before the retort escaped. "Mr. Potter isn't getting any deader. Right now you have all the time in the world, so sit back and enjoy yourself a bit. I want to have a chat."

A bottle of scotch and two tumblers appeared on the table.

Hermione wasn't a big drinker, had really only tasted firewhiskey a couple times and sipped the occasional glass of wine at the few weddings she had been to. Despite all that her hand itched to reach out and knock back a couple shots of the clearly expensive alcohol, but she resisted knowing that it would be too risky not to have all of her mental faculties available for this talk.

Overlooking her refusal he poured himself a glass, once again relaxing into his chair. The thought that they must make for quite the sight crossed her mind, before she disregarded the thought, this wasn't a laughing matter.

"You have exceeded expectations, in fact been outstanding in your role as a pawn. Besides the latest debacle, a completely unblemished record. Quite impressive for someone working with less than half of the deck." His tone was mocking.

Hermione gripped the fabric of the chair and breathed through her nose. It was time to stop reacting emotionally and once again use her brain. She could do this, she just needed to calm down and play his game. "The Headmaster had his reasons," she said feeling that she should at least show some loyalty, even if she didn't believe her own words.

"Your Head-manipulator, like every other chess player, only ever saw in black and white. He was a senile old fool who put stock into the whole destiny hoopla. Deluding himself, like the child he pretended to be, that it all had to boil down to a grandiose battle of good versus evil. Stop being the naïve little girl you play so well at pretending to be, we both know that isn't the real Hermione Granger." The words stung, but she refused to lower herself in his eyes by disagreeing. Demons she remembered liked to twist the truth, and really was it any worse than what Hermione had thought over the years. "How it must rankle that you were really never given the chance not to become involved in this war, that you were going to be a target no matter what, and that because you didn't grow up in the wizarding world you had no choice but to flounder about as prey to anyone looking for an easy mark."

"Your point."

"What does that say about you? You sold yourself to the first person who offered any sign of offering you protection, despite the callousness they have displayed to you since, maintained loyalty to a petty boy prone to temper-tantrums and self-flagellation. Allowed yourself to be led around on a mission that shows a display of stupidity at the deepest form or that you're a masochist at heart all because that same boy had the moronic sense to get himself shackled to a school principal that decided to play at being a general."

She didn't flinch at the harshness of his words, but didn't disagree, willing to overlook the slight at Harry's abilities. "I survived."

His laugh was a harsh bark. "So does a prostitute."

"Is that supposed to upset me?" She leaned forward in her chair to make her point. "I have faults. I'm not a leader, I don't inspire others to action; I'm not even listened to half the time even though I'm usually the smartest person in the room. If I have to work under someone to get anything done at least it's one of my own choosing."

"And there we have it, the makings of the prefect pawn," he ridiculed.

"Is that what you want then, a pawn?" Hermione asked.

"No, what I want is an ace in the hole." His voice was cutting. "You're not a pawn Miss Granger. You never have been, even though you've played your part well. You're a wolf in sheep's clothing, keeping your head down and trying not to attract the notice of the major players who are too distracted with trying to capture or protect the king, waiting for the board to be left open, hoping that they won't realize you're in fact the queen."

She felt her unease increase at his words, his assessment hitting too close for comfort. "Why me?"

"Do you know how exceedingly rare it is to find someone who is competent at getting their job done? You have shown, above all else, a willingness to do anything to accomplish your mission. That is, after all, what brought you here. I'm a businessman beyond all else, Miss Granger and you are a very good investment. What I want…" He parroted her earlier question back at her. "I want is that brain of yours. I want you to work for me."

She didn't know what to say for a second as dread filled her gut. "Doing what exactly?"

"Oh, a little of this, a little of that." His flippant response caused Hermione to grip the seat of the chair to stop herself from displaying just how much the idea scared her. "There is going to be a change in management soon and I'd like to be prepared. So here's the Deal. I take your friend from his timeline to the present, leave you fully stocked and ready to save your Mr. Potter's life, I'll even let you see this little war of yours play out. Then you leave. You'll get the full package, ten years, but those years you will be reporting to me. For ten years you'll follow my orders without fail. If even one assignment is not completed, the deal is null and void. Mr. Potter and everything he does from this point on, everyone he saves, defeats, anything that he is responsible for will be raised to the ground in bale fire."

She couldn't say anything, her brain processing everything that had just been laid out, every implication. Afraid to leave it at that Hermione quickly voiced an amendment. "I want to be able to choose my assignments, and don't send me in blind. My results depend on having access to the information I need and the skills to get the job done."

He smirked. "I can agree to giving you the training and info you'll need, but not to cache blanche. Since we're negotiating let's also make one thing clear: you do something stupid, like try to get yourself killed early, the deal is off."

"I'm in a war. Undesirable Number Two, last I checked that's not something that promotes a long-term life," she fired back upset at the loss of that particular loophole.

"Don't trifle with me little girl. The only advantage you have right now is that you are very efficient at what you do, and what you do is not stumble about like an idiot with a death wish. The moment you fail at that is the moment I wash my hands of you."

Hermione glared but dropped the point before she pissed off the demon further and lost any chance to bargain. Her mind raced. "I'll need some time after the conclusion of the war to make arrangements to leave. If I just up and disappear people will look for me and the last thing I need is to have the Order blubbering around messing up things."

He nodded his head at her assessment. "You'll get two weeks."

"And they are protected." She held her breath as he took a sip of scotch; she needed to be sure that her friends would be safe when she left. The fact that her assignments were so vague could mean anything. "I'll be your faithful servant, do anything you want me to, but I will not touch my friends or allow them to be touched. No ordering me to kill Harry after I save his life, no arranging for me to steal the first Weasley grandchild to be possessed from birth, no resurrecting Salazar Slytherin, no exposing the magical world to Muggles. The wizarding world is protected."

The silence was chilling, final. "Let's write up the contract then."

A whoosh of air escaped her lungs at the concession, and once again alarm set in as Hermione wondered if it was good or bad that he had agreed so readily.

She didn't know how long they sat there arguing the points, how long it took to write up the contract or discuss the semantics of bringing Harry forward and not disrupting the timeline. By the time it came to seal the deal Hermione could barely hold off the headache that had been building, a combination of the last several days' actions, the mental challenge of trying to keep up with the demon and the horror at what she was about to do.

Standing, he had both chairs disappear. "I can see this is the start of a beautiful partnership."

"Where do I find you when this is all done?"

"Get to the States and call me at my office. The contact information will be in your employment package provided with your Potter survival pack," he said stepping into her personal space once again. "Now all that is left is to seal the deal."

With that said, the demon reached forward to snake an arm around her waist, pulling Hermione slightly off balance and into his chest as he wrapped the other around her shoulder to tilt her head back, trapping her in his embrace before he leaned in and sealed their deal with a searing kiss.

Ever since she had stepped foot back into Gryffindor Tower for the first time in nearly a year Hermione had been on edge.

The anxiety that had settled over her once the initial elation at Voldemort's defeat had faded had only increased as night fell and the castle quieted. She couldn't even guess at how many hours she had been awake at this point: the afternoon Gringotts break-in, followed by the Battle the previous night, followed by the chaos of celebratory/cleanup that had transpired from the time the sun went up to when it had set.

Yet sleep wouldn't come.

Hermione couldn't seem to shut her brain off, couldn't seem to get ahold of her emotions either. Alternating between jumping for joy, putting her fist through a wall, grabbing the nearest member of the male species and shagging them senseless, crying into her mattress, or just screaming like a crazy person until they decided to haul her off to an St. Mungo's to share a room with the Longbottoms.

Vibrating with tension she finally leapt up with nervous energy and stalked out of the Tower.

She stormed through the halls, vaguely aware that she probably resembled the former and so far unlamented - that is until Harry could find the time to go babble to the press - Headmaster Snape.

Arriving at her destination she spit out the password and watched as the gargoyle leapt aside seemingly in a panic to avoid her ire and thundered up the steps. Throwing open the door she ignored the crash as it hit the wall, barely remembering to raise a privacy spell before starting in on the portrait.

"You bloody tosser! You sorry excuse for a wizard! How dare you! You had no right, no bleeding right! He trusted you, you utter bastard!"

The painting in question merely blinked, a slightly non-puzzled look on his face at the sight of her rage, which only served to fuel her already violent temper further.

"You stupidly moronic fool! Do you have any idea what you have done? What your inability to see beyond your school-boy fantasies almost cost? This was never about defeating fucking Voldemort, but about you and fulfilling your bloody obsession! You sick son of a bitch!"

She could feel her hair begin to crackle as her control on her magic slipped. The other portraits were sensible enough to overcome their initial shock and begin to flee.

Dumbledore merely appeared saddened. "Miss Granger I-"

Whatever he was about to say was lost as she exploded. "Harry died! He died a senseless death in a pathetic tent in the middle of nowhere, looking for answers in the wrong places because you refused to share your oh-so-precious secrets before you had yourself killed at a time which was convenient for you, but not the bloody rest of us!"

Her words finally seemed to provoke the response she was searching for, and her tone turned derisive at the fact that the Great-Unflappable Dumbledore appeared to be confused. It didn't matter to her that it was a portrait and only an impression of the man who had her in such a state, she had been waiting to see that look on his face for far too long.

"Yes, he died and no, I'm not talking about that martyrdom you arranged for him. He died, plain and simple from blood poisoning after walking into a trap, despite repeated warnings to the contrary. He died not even knowing what the Hallows were, no Master of Death, no comeback, he died!"

Her words met with silence before the portrait finally found his voice. "What are you saying Miss Granger?"

"Your plan failed, you miscalculated; you were fucking wrong!" she shrieked into the stunned face before her.

The former Headmaster shook his head in denial; it was obvious that he didn't believe her. "Miss Granger I know you are upset with me, but Harry is-"

"Harry is fine now, no thanks to you," she cut him off and smirked. "No need to worry. I fixed it."

It took a few seconds for the donning horror to begin to show on his face as he finally seemed to realize she was being serious. "What did you do?" he whispered.

"What you always wanted me to do - my job, remember? Keep the Boy-Wonder alive, right? Fix your bloody mess. Or was I only supposed to slow him down? That's it, isn't it. My job was to prattle nonsense because I don't have the mental facilities necessary to believe a fucking fairytale!" Her blood boiled at the thought, another thing she had discovered that Harry had been keeping from her. "You're just as bad as Voldemort and his band of bloody followers not willing to see beyond the fact I'm a mudblood! That because I didn't grow up in the wizarding world and despite my intelligence I would always be lacking! You didn't think I would realize what the final horcrux was, didn't think I'd see that letting Harry get himself killed was for the best, didn't think I could possibly know more than the Great-Bloody-Dumbledore!"

Distressed, the portrait tried to explain, "Harry's sacrifice was a necessity. I was trying to protect all three of you from that painful truth for as long as possible. You have to believe that if there had been any other way I would have strived to spare Harry the pain of making that choice. The act of making a horcrux is some of the darkest magic our world has, some of the most powerful, the only way to destroy one when it is housed in another living creature is to-"

"Have an Avada cast at it." Hermione actually rolled her eyes. "And it never once occurred to you to try and remove the portion of Voldemort's soul to another object or, I don't know, cut the bloody scar out of his forehead. Even if you were convinced Harry had to die, it could have been done in a controlled setting with potions, drugs and Muggle CPR to bring him back. Instead you led us on a wild-goose chase so that Harry could possibly become the supposed Master of Death, an untried position with untested magical artifacts. Like I said, you're a bloody fool who was blinded by your obsession, never exploring any other options but the one that fulfilled your bloody fantasy!" she scoffed. "You never even attempted to research horcruxes beyond ways to destroy them since they're dark magic and as such evil in your eyes."

Hermione knew this from the notes she had procured from Dumbledore's office at the end of sixth-year.

For a man so infatuated by the idea that the greater good will triumph over all, she had found it ridiculous that he hadn't done much research into the nature of soul magic and the effects love would have on it. If creating a horcrux was some of the darkest magic in the world, made with evil, twisted intentions and bathed in blood, it stood to reason love and pure intentions, creating life, or the act of giving life could destroy a horcrux. Obviously Hermione hadn't had the opportunity to research her thoughts, but Dumbledore had years to put the pieces together.

She was sure if Harry could have just destroyed the horcrux in him by losing his virginity in a ritual circle or, Hell, getting a girl knocked up, he would have much preferred the bloody option.

"Miss Granger, you are one of the brightest students this school has seen, but I'm afraid that some things should not be meddled with, dark magic being one of them," the figure in the frame warned. "You can't fight fire with fire. There is evil in this world that will taint you if you let it."

Hermione barely held back from hexing the portrait at his condescending words. "You don't get to lecture to me about evil! You don't know what the fuck you are talking about! Dark magic is a tool just like any other; it is the intent behind the spell that makes it evil. Spells don't kill people; people kill people. Dark magic by itself does not necessarily have to be harmful; if it wasn't for dark magic Harry, hell all of us would probably be dead now."

The earlier expression of horror had now turned to one of full blown fear. "What did you do? What did you do, you foolish girl?"

A bitter, resentful chuckle escaped her. It was easy to see where his thoughts had led. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Harry's soul is one hundred percent intact."

"And yours Miss Granger?" he asked, his tone angrier than she had ever heard.

"Mine is not up for discussion," she shot him down, not the least bit frightened of the portrait's fury; nothing he could say or do would change anything. "Suffice it to say, no horcrux was made. It wouldn't have worked anyways, Harry died, not almost died, a horcrux would have had to have been made before the fact." Her temper snapped at the reminder. "Pay attention!"

"Then how is it Harry is not dead?"

"Harry isn't dead because I found a loophole to exploit. You aren't the only one who knows how to fucking cheat death, and you want to know the best part? It has nothing to do with being a witch or wizard, the knowledge has everything to do with the fact that I'm Muggleborn, grew up in the Muggle world, with a Muggle education, and a Muggle fairytale." She began laughing in a slightly unhinged way she didn't even try to correct; she was, after all, pretty damn entitled.

"In the end you failed, Albus-of-the-ludicrously-too-many-middle-names-Dum bledore. You failed to save the wizarding world, you failed to save Harry, you failed! You lost and I had to step in and save it all. You lost because you wanted to believe in a prophecy and destiny instead of stepping up to the plate and ending this all years ago. The only bloody wizard Voldemort ever feared, what a joke! You're a hypocrite who was afraid of making the big sacrifice despite all your talk of the next great adventure, a failure of an educator who let politics and incompetence run the school, and really nothing, but a prejudicial pureblood at heart!"

Her rant was cutoff as she gasped for breath. With one last glare at the man Hermione turned on her heal. Nothing had been accomplished, and she was just as upset as she had been when she had left the dorm, but couldn't resist one last parting shot.

"Fuck you!"

Bright sunlight filled the room casting a cheerful air over the small family of three eating breakfast.

Hermione took a sip of her orange juice with one hand as the other held up the book she was reading, her father following her example had a cup of coffee at his lips and the morning paper in the other. Her mother soon joined them at the table setting down the plates piled with eggs, toast and sausage. Both father and daughter knew it was time to set aside their reading to dig in.

"What are your plans today, pumpkin?" her dad asked.

"I'm almost finished with my last book, daddy. Once I'm done I plan to take them all back to the library. Miss Penny told me she had some fascinating new editions arriving today and I wanted to take a look before they were placed into rotation," Hermione said very pleased with the idea. Her parents had only just started to let her stay at home by herself this summer when they left for work during the day.

Her dad sent her a fond smile. "That's good, but try to be back by three. I have a short day and was thinking it would be fun if we could go over to the pool this afternoon before it got too late."

"Sure, daddy."

Her mother spoke up directing her words toward her dad. "Don't forget to bring your swimming glasses this time. You have a lot scheduled for tomorrow and I don't want you complaining that you can't see well enough to finish a root-cannel."

"Really honey, when was the last time I did something so irresponsible?" her father teased. Her only response was a raised eyebrow. "Recently," he clarified, but the pointed look remained. "You wound me, dear. Fine, I'll bring the things."

"And don't forget to stop at the grocer to pick up my roast if you want to have any dinner," she reminded. "If I have to deal with those awful Carmichael kids this afternoon the least you can do is a little shopping."

Hermione watched her dad grimace at the mention of the Carmichaels, but quickly cover the reaction to convey sympathy for his spouse. "Of course, dear."

Once breakfast was over Hermione went about the day she had planned, arriving back home promptly at three to go swimming. She and her father had a fun time at the pool before they picked up the aforementioned roast on the way back to the house.

Not long after they got home they were besieged by an owl of all things.

"What on Earth is that?" her father asked waving his arms about in an attempt to shoo the bird away. "Get! Go! Scoot!"

The owl ignored him and hopped up onto a bookcase.

"Shoo! You bloody bird. Go!"

"Oh daddy, don't hurt it!" Hermione cried as a swing from a broom caused the bird to take a panicked flight and dive right at her. Throwing up her arms Hermione was startled to find a letter addressed to herself fall at her feet. "Dad, look at this."

"What is it, pumpkin?" he asked still distracted by the presence of the owl perched atop another bookcase.

Picking up the envelope, she waved it in front of his face to get his attention. "This. It's a letter, the owl dropped it."

Confused, he grabbed the letter from her hand. "What do you mean, a letter? How can there be a letter? Birds just don't go around carrying letters."

"I know daddy, but this one did. It brought me a letter," explained Hermione excitedly as she watched her dad tear open the envelope and begin to read the contents.

As she watched his face took on a look of disbelief. "What… the… He-" he cut himself off as he seemed to recall her presence in the room.

Impatience had her jumping up and down trying to catch a glimpse what was written. "What is it, daddy?"

"It seems… Well it seems that you have been sent an acceptance letter for a Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," her father replied with confusion.

"What? Witchcraft? Daddy is this a joke?" Hermione asked.

Her father's only reply was a furrowed brow. "I'm not sure, pumpkin. It's a lot of work for a prank, although I can't imagine that magic could possibly ex-" He once again cut himself off to Hermione's bewilderment and stood staring, lost in thought. "He did have those stories…"

"Daddy, what are you talking about?"

His smile seemed strained. "I think it would be best if we waited for your mother to get home to talk about this."

"But daddy you don't really believe that magic could exist, could it? I mean, wouldn't I known that if I could do magic? I haven't done anything magical, have I?" It was only after the words were out of her mouth that memories of having a book leap off the shelf into her hands and having a bully at school's hair turn pink entered her mind.

"They say that a magical liaison will arrive tomorrow to tell us more," he said, not answering her question. "Why don't we order some pizza instead of waiting for mom to get back to cook the roast, huh? You can eat in your room while we talk, that sound good?"

Hermione wasn't given the opportunity to object as her dad grabbed the phone to place an order.

After the pizza arrived and she was served Hermione was sent off to bed while her dad waited up to talk to her mother. That night sleep didn't come easily as the voices drifting up from downstairs kept her awake long past her bedtime.

"…my father was a nutcase. Why are you bringing up those ridiculous stories of his?…"

"…you don't believe yet… in college you had some eccentric habits… you still put damn salt on ever doorway in the house…"

"…I don't know what I saw. I was a kid and kids image things…"

"…The teddy-bear when she was three and the book when she was five…"

"…imagining things. My daughter is perfectly…"

"…they're sending someone tomorrow, and sticking your head in the sand is not going to help in this case…"

"Good, you're here."

He didn't turn around from whatever had him occupied and Hermione wasn't surprised that he knew she had arrived. She only had the one brief encounter with the demon, but it had left her with the impression that he wouldn't tolerate being interrupted, so Hermione stood patiently in the doorway of the private study prepared to wait.

"Come over here." He issued the summons without turning around and Hermione strode forward, the clicking of her heels echoing loudly in the room.

As she rounded the desk Hermione finally saw what held his interest. A man, or something that looked like a man, was pinned to the floor with blades run through both hands and feet, held spread-eagle across the wood marked with an elaborately draw circle that she didn't recognize.

"Miss Granger, meet Mr. Cole, Mr. Cole meet Miss Granger. It seems Mr. Cole here has chosen not to honor the rules. It appears he has taken it upon himself to not enter into any new deals lately and instead he has been killing off the clientele before a contract has been agreed upon."

"We still got their souls," spat Mr. Cole. "I didn't off anyone who wasn't already on their way to the pits, so what does it matter? Why…" A ragged cough escaped his lips, a spray of blood accompanying it. "Wait?"

The demon shook his head, ignoring the prone figure, choosing to address her instead. "The first rule of business is supply and demand. Use that brain of yours Miss Granger, what do you think would happen if word got out that we could no longer supply a service that is in demand?"

"You would no longer have any clients," Hermione promptly replied, still maintaining a cautious eye on her new employer.

"Exactly." He stepped toward her, taking the time to examine her appearance now that he was finally looking at her, lingering on curves, which were very prominently on display in the low-cut professional attire he had sent her to wear. "All those delightful souls that would normally end up at the pearly gates would be out of our reach. All those desperate humans who come to us for a scrap of hope, their hearts burning with desire… gone. All because a moron with control issues is not doing his fucking job!"

"Fuck you Crowley!" yelled what she now was certain was another demon on the floor.

Her employer, the demon she now knew was named Crowley, briefly glanced at Mr. Cole before turning his focus back on her.

"I, however, have chosen to see the best of this unfortunate situation. I promised to teach you what you need to know to complete your tasks, so Miss Granger meet your first lesson in demon anatomy…" He waved his hand with a flourish at the figure before suddenly disappearing only to reappear behind her. Pressed against her back he leaned in and whispered into Hermione's ear, "The secret, love, is to keep the body alive for as long as possible otherwise the nerve endings begin to deteriorate after the host's death… After that your pain fact just goes downhill and you'll lose your edge." He brought a hand up to caress her side. "Where's the fun in that?"

Staring at the trapped demon Hermione didn't say anything.

This was it.

The barest fraction of a second passed before she moved, very aware of the presence of the demon at her back, and not thinking about her actions she began unbuttoning her jacket.

She could do this, it was a demon, the human body didn't matter it was just a vessel. She was freeing it. It was a demon.

A demon.

She set her jacket on the desk before stepping forward while rolling up the sleeves of the new blouse.

Afterwards Crowley thought it best to arrange an expense account for her to draw upon. After all it was only logical if he expected a certain level of professional demeanor from her at all times she would need the resources to maintain those expectations. It was a necessity he would have to live with since no matter what dry cleaner or spell she used, Hermione found that blood simply refused to come out of silk.

Just because she knew what to do didn't make the task any easier.

Stop the blood, so much blood. She had forgotten how much there actually was, how red against the ice it was.

Reverse the Mauvais Malediction Fatigue Musculaire.

Apply the anti-venom. Pour one potion followed by another down Harry's throat. Cast one spell then another, always in a constant panic, fearing that she would be forced to lose him again. That she would have to choose again, be forced to remove the appendage again if she wasn't quick enough to stop the corruption from taking hold.

She still had to wait and monitor.

Still had to stop him from thrashing in his sleep lest he re-opened his wounds.

Still had to change bandages and watch for infection.

It all came back to a race against the clock. Thankfully the survival pack had it all. Everything necessary to save his life, save him from one complication after another that seemed to keep cropping up, constantly keeping him just on the brink before she was able to pull him back. Hermione watched as skin knit back together, as potions she had only read of repaired and regrew the destroyed muscle and tissue.

The stasis charm eventually broke, leaving Harry screaming as bones were knitted together and nerves restored much too fast, breaking every rulebook about patient care she knew. Hermione didn't have the time to be gentle or worry over things like side effects and the illegal pain potions she applied. That she could mix them regardless of the consequences, the discomforts. It meant that she wasn't just flying blind.

The screaming meant that he was still alive, that he would survive.

He had to survive.

She watched and waited, barely holding it together, trying not to break. She couldn't fail him again, he had to make it.

She wouldn't fail.

Hermione could barely hear the cackling laughter over her frantic gasps for breath as oxygen that she had been denied was once again restored into her as the pain stopped. Oh, Merlin it hurt.

"Crucio!"

She knew that the witch was saying something, but Hermione couldn't make out what. Her focus shattered by the pain surging through her body with each casting of that blasted curse.

"Where did you get the sword you filthy little mudblood? Crucio!"

The metallic taste of blood was too much, forcing Hermione to choke in-between screams as the tongue she had nearly bit in half continued to gush blood.

"Tell me! Crucio!"

Blackness threatened as the edges of her vision began to blur. The pain was bad, so bad. It had to stop, please make it stop. No. No. Please, no. Make it stop.

Bellatrix gave her no time to even attempt an answer. To tell the truth or lie, Hermione was beyond thinking as the curse was once again cast.

Her skin felt like it was being flayed from her body in long ragged strips. Her blood was boiling and the pressure in her head kept increasing more and more. Something was crawling through her veins, little things, big things, sharp, pointy things. The sensation had Hermione feebly clawing at her limbs. Stop. Stop, it had to stop.

The damage she was inflicting on herself hardly a concern as her nervous system was too busy shredding apart for a signal to be sent to her hands to complete the action.

Oxygen was becoming harder to get as Hermione's continued screaming prevented her from drawing in enough to keep away unconsciousness. Bellatrix however proved her utter mastery of the spell by stopping right before Hermione slipped away.

Tired, she was so tired. It hurt. Why couldn't it just stop?

There was a ringing in her ears and despite her best efforts whatever was said by the fuming witch Hermione couldn't seem to make out. Hermione could only stare blankly at the witch screeching in her face, her unfocused gaze traveling beyond the enraged woman to the figure leaning just over her tormentor's shoulder.

The demon was dressed in the same outfit she had last seen him in, the expensive black suit and impeccable silver tie, drawing her eye.

"I'm disappointed Miss Granger. I thought you had the good sense to not be an utter failure."

He couldn't be real, he couldn't.

Her thoughts proved to be true when Bellatrix didn't react to the interruption, instead continued to interrogate her with another round of the Cruciatus Curse. Hermione ignored the witch as the figment of her imagination mocked her further. "I guess you really are just a pathetic mudblood when it comes down to it."

No.

"Look at you. You barely even managed to survive a month without once again screwing up. Mr. Potter is about to meet his untimely end despite your little sacrifice and this time Mr. Weasley will be joining him."

No.

"You really are pitiful. It's laughable that you thought you were smart enough, powerful enough to actually matter. That your actions made one iota of a difference. I'm so going to enjoy watching you scream like this for eternity. You're mine now, Miss Granger, mine… and there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing."

She wouldn't listen, couldn't listen. He was wrong. She wouldn't fail.

With renewed vigor Hermione fought back. She wouldn't let them stop her, wouldn't let Bellatrix drive her into insanity. She wouldn't break.

It wouldn't be for nothing.

The stacks around here she had found were never well lit.

As Hermione strode through the aisles of the Hogwarts library a familiar peacefulness settled over her. Ever since she was little she had loved the smell of old books, loved getting lost in the musty old forgotten corners of whatever library was available without a care in the world.

Nowadays Hermione didn't have that luxury.

Sometimes it felt like being at Hogwarts was a double-edged sword, where one wrong move would inevitably leave her cut and bleeding on the floor. This year had been nothing more than one problem after another. Harry's forced entry into the Tournament had unsettled Hermione deeply, leaving her struggling to find a way to help her friend while her world was tipped on its side.

It was obvious to her what was happening, the signs had been there since she had entered the wizarding world. Voldemort was about to re-enter the scene and no matter what happened she was already a target.

Absently running her hand along the spines Hermione focused on the feel of the books, their texture, their weight, the knowledge they contained. They were her weapons, her lifeline and Hermione had more and more found herself seeking their solace as of late.

Hermione was pulled from her pensive mood by someone calling her in a whispered shout and by a hand which jostled her shoulder. Whirling around she found herself face to face with Victor, still lost in thought she barely acknowledged his brief greeting when he leaned in and kissed her.

Completely caught off guard she tensed as a tongue slipped into her mouth. Her mind was racing cataloguing the new sensations, and feeling awkward Hermione struggled to relax and try to respond as Victor wrapped his arms around her; unsure of what to do, finally deciding to strive to mimic his actions.

She waited, but it didn't get better.

She thought there would be more to it.

No surge of passion began to cloud her head or even a feeling of butterflies in her stomach made themselves known. Disappointed in the lack of emotions that she was experiencing Hermione opened her eyes, still trapped in the highly uncomfortable snog, wondering how to end this awkward moment without making an embarrassment of herself or ending up hurting Victor's feelings.

She gently pulled away trying to signal that the moment was over and smiled to soften any doubts the boy might have, only to have Victor return the gesture before leaning in to continue. Once again caught Hermione tried to think of another strategy. Inspiration struck when the sounds of whispering a few aisles down and the shuffling of papers at a desk not too far away drifted over. Once again pulling back she made a gesture to listen and waited, hoping that Victor would realize their public position like she had soon and become his usual shy self.

He smiled before leaning in for one more thankfully very brief kiss before Hermione was able to bring it to an end, making some excuse to get away. She needed some time alone, some time to analyze how she felt about the experience of receiving her very first kiss.

She also wanted to run a toothbrush over her teeth to see if it would get rid of the strange taste she had in her mouth.

There was a noticeable drop in conversation as she stepped into the room before she was recognized and it mostly resumed as she strode across the room to slide onto one of the empty barstools. Hermione didn't even have to order before a shot of water and a bottle of what she had found the Americans considered beer slid her way.

The last few holdovers relaxed as she knocked back the water without complaint.

"The boss-lady isn't going to be very pleased to see you back here, sunshine," said Ash as he leaned over the counter and drooped his voice so they weren't overheard.

Hermione snorted into her drink. "Yeah, think?"

Before she even had a chance to get comfortable in the familiar surroundings a loud bang sounded as a crate landed on the floor. "What the hell are you doing back here?"

Hermione didn't bother to turn. "It's very touching to see that I was missed, Ellen."

The older woman overlooked the blatant sarcasm and responded with a disdainful look as she stepped out of the back room. "I think I made it perfectly clear last time that I didn't want you showing your face anywhere around here."

Holding her ground, refusing to acknowledge the woman, Hermione sipped her drink as the atmosphere of the bar once again quieted as the attention of the patrons turned their way. Despite her reputation amongst the hunter community Hermione knew no one would raise a single objection if Ellen choose to kick her out of the bar. The Roadhouse was not her territory and Ellen was a well-respected figure. Hermione would need to tread very carefully if she didn't want anyone to take offense on behalf of the woman and decide it was best to escort her out of the local terrain.

She had business that needed taking care of for Crowley that required her continued presence in the area and Hermione knew the consequences of not getting the job done.

That being said Hermione didn't plan on just rolling over and taking it. She finally acknowledged Ellen by turning her body toward the woman, leaning across the bar and meeting her blistering glare with a grin. "You did, but you apparently lost something, and being the very accommodating person I am I thought you might want it back."

Ellen's face turned red as her mocking words brought realization. "Where the hell is she, bitch?"

Hermione threw a set of keys at her. "Jo is in the trunk," and smirked. "Seems she wasn't really inclined to come back home to mummy. Jeez, I wonder why?"

"Cut the crap Granger. What gives you the fucking right to show up in my home-"

"This is a goddamn business, Ellen," Hermione snapped as her temper flared, unwilling to let Ellen treat her like crap. "I can-"

"-her head full of nonsense and think-"

"-make her own-"

"-lead her to her death like her daddy-"

"-bury your head in a hole and think for one minute she won't-"

"-she's still a teenager and you waltz in here! What kind of-"

Thankfully Ash had the bright idea to retrieve the irate wanna-be hunter at some point as the two were too distracted yelling over each other to notice. It was a good move considering Hermione was about two seconds away from drawing a weapon, and knew that her combatant was just behind her when Jo's arrival distracted Ellen just long enough for Hermione to make an exit.

With a sigh Hermione climbed back into her car and pulled out onto the road. Crowley would want a report on the latest hunter chatter and she now needed to find a new point of operation if she had a hope of continuing her surveillance. Unfortunately the Roadhouse wasn't going to be an option anymore with Ellen's obvious distain barring her entry for the foreseeable future.

It was regrettable that the woman felt threatened by her presence and the unwitting influence Hermione held over the rebellious teen that saw her as a role model. Hermione had proven herself to the regulars that she was quite a capable hunter, and Ellen, who was desperate to keep her daughter sheltered, hated it. It was hard to tell the young girl she couldn't go hunting when a woman not that much older than her was doing just that.

At twenty-three years of age Hermione was living a life Jo could only dream of and when Ellen found Hermione helping the girl with, of all things, her schoolwork at the bar enough was enough. She was a danger to the mother-daughter bond the two shared, an interloper who was threatening to destroy her family, and how dare she come here in the first place bringing trouble.

The concerns weren't without merit; after all Cowley's second assignment for her in the area was to foster the talent of the young Jo, for whatever purpose she did not know and was told not to ask.

It was just one more move on the chessboard in Crowley's game, only this time Hermione didn't know who was sitting on the other side of the board.

"It's your turn, 'Mione." Ron handed her the fang and cup before taking a step back leaving her plenty of room to smash the thing.

Hermione was uncertain that it was a good idea, that she was the one that should destroy the horcrux. Since they had grabbed Helga's cup from Gringotts the thing had been causing her increasing concern and knowing what Ron had gone through when he destroyed the locket, she wasn't sure she wanted to risk it. Stealing herself and summoning her Gryffindor bravery she set the golden cup on the stone floor of the deserted chamber, paused for a moment to assess the best angle before raising her hand with the fang poised to strike. Before any more doubts began to form she struck.

Time seemed to slow as her arm sped toward the artifact, slowing and slowing the closer she came to making contact.

"You know we really are very much alike, Miss Granger."

The vestige of a young man in his early twenties stood before her, black hair and eyes that drew her in, capturing her in their depths. It wasn't hard to figure out who it was.

"Such power, in such a small, fragile, breakable shell. We could do great things together. Such great things, push beyond the constraints of those who would shackle us with their petty fears of what is light and what is dark. When we know the truth of it, don't we Miss Granger, that when it comes down to it, it's all about power. Power and those who have it and those that don't."

She wouldn't listen to it, couldn't. The horcrux was just trying to manipulate her, play on her weaknesses like it had with Ron, trying to stay her hand. "Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!"

"I could help. I could show you how to get out of the deal… to be free of it."

"Liar," Hermione inadvertently responded despite her attempt to ignore the apparition.

"You just don't want to believe it's possible, that I know all about your little secret. That I could help. That I see who you really are, the strong capable witch who is constantly being held back by her friends and society, who is capable of so much more. We could be great together, Hermione Granger… so great."

His whispers were enticing, but Hermione ignored them, ignored the lies, they had to be lies, Riddle didn't know, couldn't know. A horrible shriek was released as she finally found her mark, a cloud of black smoke escaping, wrapping around her as it slowly disappeared.

"I think there will come a time when you regret this Hermione."

The light of the projector was blinding, but Hermione had become used to the workings of Muggle technology over the years, easily keeping her eyes averted off to the side of the room as she continued the presentation. She clicked to the next slide of the power point, displaying an aerial view of North America, another click had a plethora of dots of different colors appear across the screen. Power point being one of the more useful inventions the meticulously organized witch had come across.

"I've tracked the letters that Colt sent Sarah Ann during his time in Richmond before the war broke out. According to them he encountered an old friend of theirs, which he did not name, but alluded to a previous meeting both had with him in the winter of '33."

Hermione clicked the remote to the next page which displayed an old black and white photo. "The description implies Hiram Powers was the one encountered by Samuel. Both siblings had previously met the man in Cincinnati when they were visiting John Colt during Samuel's time as a traveling 'medicine man.' He is also the man who most likely introduced the pair to the supernatural which, as you know, widely influenced the sibling's actions throughout the rest of their lives."

"The sculptor."

"Exactly." A click brought up the art in question. "Not much is known about the elusive hunter or what brought him to the South at this time. Newspaper reports in the nearby areas reveal a string of mysterious deaths, which suddenly stopped not too long after his arrival. Whatever the circumstances Powers met up with his old friend at this time, it is also," Hermione clicked to the next picture, "the last time Samuel Colt is pictured with his signature weapon."

Crowley leaned forward in his chair across the conference table at her words. "You think they made an exchange."

Hermione nodded. "Yes, despite his reputation of playing both sides of any conflict he could Samuel Colt had several reasons to dislike the Southern cause, many of his competitors were from the area and above all Colt was fiercely completive in his enterprises. Also despite all the rumors of his intensions of opening another plant in the area, none of the supposed locations where particularly suited to supporting such an industry." Click. "More interesting is the fact that two of the locations ended up being areas where several occult items have been recovered over the past century. With these new findings I'm asking for permission to shift the focus of the investigation to Powers."

Crowley was silent as she paused to take in his reaction to her conclusions.

He smirked. "Efficient as always Miss Granger. I'll send you what files I can find on Powers."

It was a sick joke.

It had to be.

Hermione was finding it harder to breathe as the world began to tilt. A hand shot out seeking something to stop it all and seized the first thing it made contact with. Clinging to Ron's shirt to stay upright Hermione could only stare.

This couldn't be happening, it couldn't.

He couldn't be dead. He couldn't. No. No. No.

Hagrid couldn't be there, he wasn't holding anything. She couldn't see a familiar pale hand dangling from the man's large embrace.

He wasn't dead.

He wasn't.

Feet pounding she was running.

Running for her life. Always running, running to stay ahead of them, to get away for just a little longer.

Running from a werewolf… from Death Eaters… from the cops… from hunters… from vengeful spirits… from FBI… from demons and shape-shifters, inferi and more demons…

Running from her past.

Running from life.

Trying to keep one step ahead, keep from being caught for just a bit longer. Knowing that inevitably it didn't matter, death was coming for her and it would find her soon.

It had been years since she stepped foot back in England and even longer since she had found herself in this secluded little corner of the country.

Always making sure to keep herself informed Hermione knew where to find them.

Disillusioned and, to take it one step even further, in disguise, just to be safe, Hermione stood at the edge of the property. Her vigil proved fruitful not long after as childish giggling drew nearer. As she watched two boys ran around the side of the house from the direction of the backyard in the middle of a very intense snowball fight, the taller boy managing to shove snow down the other's shirt only to be in tackled in turn. The front door was opened just then, casting a warm glow of light across the snow in the fading daylight.

"Kids come back inside, I won't have you catching your death out there with no coats on."

"But Ma, nana told us we were in the way," whined the smaller boy.

The fiery red-head Ginny Potter nee Weasley stood just outside of the front door to the Burrow with another child propped on her hip. "James, Teddy get inside now before I tell grandma that you won't be having dessert after the meal. You know she meant that she wanted you two to get washed up, not go gallivanting off in this weather."

Hermione stood perfectly poised, unwilling to draw the attention of the woman as she ushered the kids inside.

Very carefully Hermione put her mind to use as she worked on the wards at the edge of the property just enough to allow her to slip through and move her observation point to one of the Burrow's windows. Despite the peaceful times she knew she had to act with the upmost caution if she didn't want to draw the notice of the war veterans inside.

As she watched the whole of the Weasley clan with their respective spouses and children piled into the seats around the expanded table for a traditional Christmas dinner. Plates laden with food covered every surface bringing with it memories of the past.

It was a picture perfect moment.

Harry was laughing as he bounced a little boy on his knee. Ginny was smoothing the messy hair of another. George was laughing as Angelina whispered something in his ear. Fleur was fussing about like a carbon copy of Molly as she kept several of the little ones from pouring gravy over each other. Bill, Arthur and Percy were deep in conversation which was cut short as fireworks busted out of the mashed potatoes.

She knew their names and ages, but no more. It was enough to know that they existed, that they were alive and safe.

Hermione didn't allow herself the time to linger, to get caught up in the 'what ifs' and melancholy thoughts that would inevitably result if she stayed much longer. She still had work to complete and only days until the final deadline.

She couldn't mess up now.

Walking away she made sure to remove the footsteps left in the snow. Leaving just like she had arrived with no sign that she was there.

The gentle sound of snowfall marking the last Christmas Hermione would ever see.

"Was it worth it, love?"

Hermione didn't answer, swirling the glass of scotch. "Yes," she finally answered before lifting the tumbler to her lips. "It was worth it."

Crowley, with his own glass in hand, sat across from her in the richly adorned study. "No regrets?"

A sad smile pulled at the corner of her mouth before her dark humor took over. "I think I would have chosen not to invest in those hedge funds back before the market bottomed out."

He chuckled at the joke.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes before more somber thoughts invaded her mind. "Beyond wishing that we never met… I have no regrets."

"You wound me Hermione. Really, I thought you enjoyed all of our times together over the years. The disposal of those idiotic Haddock's, the trip to Istanbul, that infestation of zombies… I would think at least one of them would make your list. To think that you were only using me, I think I'm genuinely hurt, here," mocked the demon, resting a hand over his heart. "I'm going to miss that delightful humor of yours, really."

Hermione did role her eyes then. "You're just going to miss having someone competent around."

"Once again underestimating yourself Miss Granger. Truthfully, I'm really going to miss those little numbers you've been sporting the last few years," he said eyeing her exposed legs in the short A-line dress she had doffed for the evening.

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

He set down his glass and appeared behind her. Hermione didn't move, more than used to Crowley's habits over the years. His breath ghosting across the back of her neck as he leaned in. "Dance with me." It wasn't a request.

Classic Glenn Miller began to play as he led her around the room in moves familiar to both of them. A hand brushing the wild curls out of the way, which had escaped the sophisticated up-do she had chosen. "I am going to miss these moments. It almost makes me want to reconsider the whole thing."

Hermione looked into his eyes. "But you're not going to. You know, you're really not that bad some of the time, Crowley. You've been honest with me all this time… Thank you."

She leaned in and gave the demon a peck on the cheek.

"I think it's a really great idea."

"I don't know, Harry." Hermione couldn't meet his eyes as she said the words, not wanting to see the disappointment in his face. "I just don't."

"Come on Hermione, you said it yourself, we're running around in circles. We need to do this," Harry begged.

"He'll be expecting it. You have to know that, we'll be walking right into his trap." She gripped desperately the hands of the man she knew was still so much the little boy she had first met all those years ago. "Listen to me Harry, nothing good will come out of making a trip to Godric's Hollow, nothing."

"Hermione I have to go and if you won't come I'll go by myself." The determination in his voice already told Hermione that she had lost the battle. "It's something I have to do. I have to see them, you haven't lost your parents, you don't know what it's like, not knowing. I-I have to see them."

The emotional low blow finally did it and had Hermione nodding in agreement.

She didn't need to ask to be left alone. As the time grew closer Crowley left her to her own devices so that she could watch the sun set for the last time before walking off into the woods that bordered the property.

The moon wasn't full, but close enough that she could make out a small game trail to follow.

Hermione heard them long before she saw them.

She didn't scream, or cry, or beg. Just waited as the Hellhounds drew closer.

She was done running.

Crowley couldn't help but be drawn back time and again.

The valley was in a secluded little corner of one of the Dakotas, far off the beaten path and practically impossible to find unless you knew what to look for like she had been.

It was where he had decided to bury what was left of her. For as many years that he had been alive it still amazed him that the stubborn witch had become such an important part of his life in such a short amount of time. The constant reminders of her were everywhere, in the progress he had made in the search for the entire legacy of Samuel Colt, to his new methods of tracking suspicious subordinates.

The thought of making a trip down to the pits had crossed his mind, but was never really seriously considered. Events were in motion right now with the Winchesters, Lilith, the angels and Lucifer. It wouldn't do his plans any good to show his hand too soon.

It was too bad; Hermione Granger would just have to bide her time on the sidelines.