Hermione Granger has run out of luck.
And this time, no knowledge she’s memorised; no spell she’s learned; no logical reasoning she’s practised could save her.
She isn’t challenged by potion riddles, secret chambers, or the fabrics of time — all of which seem like child’s play to her now.
For the first time, Hermione Granger is running from fellow human beings who are actively hunting her. Not mythical creature; not bewitched objects — very real wizards and witches made of flesh and bones, bleed the same colour she does, and have decades on her.
Who also know far more than she; hold a plethora more spells; and are driven by prejudice, hatred, and cruelty.
Who want to do to her what they are doing to the Robertses.
And so she does the only thing she can: what she, Harry, and Ron push each other to do when facing impossible odds.
“Keep that big bushy head down, Granger,” sneered Malfoy.
If that bully Draco Malfoy thinks his words would somehow trip them up, he’s learned nothing since they first met on the train. His schadenfreude only works to fuel her steps, her determination to escape strengthened by the look of his face when his parents get caught.
Her legs start to tire, and she thinks about nothing else but putting one foot in front of the other. Regulating her breaths. Avoiding areas with loud bangs. Making sure the boys are with —
Where are the boys?
Oh for Merlin’s sake.
She recognises Ron’s tall figure among those surrounding a few Veela, with Harry pulling at his sleeve. She turns to head in their direction, when someone — or something — yanks her aside.
As she looks up at a masked face, Hermione Granger knows this is it.
Too many close calls now. Malfoy’s told someone.
A few spells whizz past them and she spots a hint of blond from the light — fuck it’s Lucius Malfoy. She knew it; knew the git had tipped off his father. Well, his father sure heard about it this time.
But she would be damned if she gives in just like that. She takes a deep breath before opening her mouth —
— which is promptly covered by a firm hand.
“What in Salazar’s name do you think you’re doing?”
That’s not Lucius Malfoy. It’s low and breathless, but it is definitely the voice of a witch.
She’s jolted out of her shock by the sound of someone approaching them — thinking it’s Harry and Ron, she reaches out, only to be pushed back onto the ground.
“Idiot girl, don’t you know what they’re looking for out there?” The witch whispers harshly, holding her still.
Amidst the quiet, the footfall proves the witch right — the consistent snapping of twigs and crunching of leaves tell her it’s too heavy to be borne by sneakers or made by teenagers.
There’s also the hyena-like laugh of the wizards.
“I know they’re around,” says one of them. “She never goes anywhere without Potter and that blood traitor of a weasel.”
Focus on something. Anything, Hermione.
She starts with the witch’s hand on her knee, feeling the heat that emanates from her palm. And when she hears Lumos from one of the Death Eaters, the weak light reveals manicured nails, intricate patterns of the witch’s wand, and for one second — alert, wide, and striking blue eyes behind that golden mask.
The grip on her knee tightens. She follows the stare and sees a boot a few steps away from her head. Turning her head to face the other direction, she shuts her eyes and thinks about everything but the Robertses. The faint scent of perfume, mixed with perspiration; her ankle that’s starting to throb really hard, she must have sprained it when she fell —
“Bah, let’s look elsewhere. Maybe there’s some fun left with those muggles.”
The witch’s sigh of relief mirrors hers.
She sits up and dusts off the sand from her clothes. Without the distraction, she now feels every bit of the bruise that’s forming on her arm, and the pain that’s shooting up her shin, forcing a gasp from her.
“Where does it hurt?”
Hermione points to the injury on her foot, and her captor waves her wand over it. Instantly, a chill settles, dissipating the burning feeling along her nerves.
“Who are you?” she says, and might as well have been talking to the bush.
The soothing effects of the healing, along with the post-rush of adrenaline, lures her into a lull.
Then she hears her name.
It’s the boys.
“Hermione!” Harry, yells, panting.
“I know she’s here,” Ron says. “This is where we ran into Malfoy. You don’t think he’s —”
“Idiots,” the witch mutters angrily, and Hermione’s nearly got it. The witch is —
“Go before they alert the entire campsite that Hermione Granger is very much lost and wandering around alone.”
— very annoyed by the boys’ lack of sense, it seems.
With the same strength that pulled her in earlier, she’s pushed out of the bushes and right into the arms of her best friends.
“Sorry I got distracted,” Ron says sheepishly. “Where have you been?”
“I was just here, keeping my head down.”
She doesn’t look back.
“But Mrs Weasley,” she begs, trying not to whine, “I need the materials!”
“Oh Hermione, I don’t know,” Molly Weasley frets, waving her wand distractedly at a sack of potatoes. “Everything’s a bit of a mess right now, and after what happened at the World Cup, I don’t think you should be alone, even if it’s Diagon Alley.
“Why don’t you owl them your order and have it sent to Hogwarts? That way they’ll be right there when you arrive.”
Great. Now she’s going to fall behind without the supplementary reading materials, and the next thing she knows, she’s going to fail her exams, be barred from taking the OWLs next year, have her wand snapped in half —
And it’s all her fault.
She thanks Mrs Weasley and heads to the orchard. As the boys — and Ginny — play another round of Quidditch, she flips through The Standard Book of Spells glumly, angry at herself for being distracted by the witch.
And there’s Winky, of course — how dare they treat her that way?
Harry and Ron, eager for an outing, had volunteered to go with her to Flourish and Blotts. She had turned it down immediately, citing all the possible reasons for Harry’s scar to start hurting, and none of them good.
They had left her alone quickly after that.
“Oi Hermione, heard you were looking for a date?” Fred and George plop down, flanking her.
She narrows her eyes at them, her bottom still smarting from their latest experiment. “What do you mean?”
“Heard mum said something about you forgetting your books,” George tuts. “We expected more from the girl who’s in the top of her classes.”
At her indignant look, Fred stands up and bows. “We, the ever helpful, are here at your service. Just let us know when, and mum’s the word.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to —”
“Ah ah, there you go again, occupying your brain with the little things. Mum really gave us her word — we have the pleasure of escorting you on this fine adventure.”
“Are you sure it can’t wait? Maybe I can pick them up for you tomorrow, once I sort out Arthur’s tasks,” Molly says, tightening the scarf on Hermione.
“We’re going to be fine, mum,” Fred says, rolling his eyes. “Dad needs you more.”
“Make sure you’re back by four, and don’t let them persuade you to do any — George! ”
“Sorry, mum!” George rushes them to the chimney, leaving soot all over the carpet — and his mother. “We’ll get more from the shops!”
Mrs Weasley’s instincts are right, at least. She casts a water-repelling charm over her books and new quills to protect them from the rain.
Quality Quidditch Supplies is next. She holds up the list that Ron gave her, hoping the sun will help her decipher his abysmal handwriting.
And sees her.
Or rather, she sees a flash of blond hair before the witch pulls up her hood.
Looking around to ensure she isn’t watched by anyone, she trails behind the witch. Well made boots hit the cobblestones in a steady pace, while Hermione keeps her steps light, avoiding puddles and little streams. She maintains a safe distance between them, glad she decided to become more physically active after that incident.
They finally make a turn — right into Knockturn Alley. She leans on the brickwall of the Leaky Cauldron, trying to recall what Harry had told them of his experience in the alley before, and debating whether it’s worth putting her safety — and Mrs Weasley’s trust — at risk for someone who may not even be her.
Decides it is.
Oh God what is that thing that she nearly bumped into?! And is that glass eye staring at her? It’s no wonder The Weasley children are prohibited from going to this place — Ron would probably make a one-way trip to St. Mungos after encountering one of those giant black spiders.
She tries to look through the windows of the shops that the witch visits, hoping to catch her face. But all she sees are the vile — and yet, oddly fascinating — items. She wonders how long a poisonous candle would take to come into effect, and how…
How is it possible that she managed to lose a witch in one alley.
She rushes past Borgins and Burkes just in time to see the door to The White Wyvern closing.
Waits a respectable amount of time.
Slowly pushes open the heavy wooden door.
It’s a contrast from The Leaky Cauldron: empty, and smells nothing like a place that serves copious amounts of alcohol, fried food, and sober up potions.
In fact, it smells like it has been closed for years.
She’s certain she saw someone come in, however. She climbs up the staircase, ignoring the wobbling banister and awful creaking of the stairs. As soon as she reaches the top, strong fingers grips her arm on the same spot that’s still bruised from the other night.
She cries out in pain and falls. At least she didn’t sprain her ankle this time.
The door latches shut and she blinks, willing her eyes to get used to the dark a little more quickly. Pale sunlight streams through a smudged window, revealing the thick layer of dust that coats everything in the room — a few thin mattresses, junk, and more junk. Rainwater starts to drip from the ceiling, sneaking its way to her shoes.
Her eyes follow the trail of water to the pair of boots, and there she is.
Narcissa Malfoy, arms crossed and leaning back against the door, looking slightly less like there’s a nasty smell under her nose. At least this time she has ample reason to. Nothing about her fits the dark and dingy environment that surrounds them: not her golden head of hair blessed by the sun; her sleek and impeccable robes; or her features, sharp and regal.
“I —” she stutters.
Mrs Malfoy raises her eyebrows and smirks.
“The other night, at the campsite,” she says hotly. “It was you?”
“I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, Miss Granger.”
But — but it can’t be. That wand; those fingers; the blue eyes, coolly fixed on her.
“So you do know who I am!”
“It’s difficult not to,” Mrs Malfoy drawls, “seeing that my son has been ranting about you since his first day at Hogwarts.”
“You — you kept me from harm’s way,” she insists.
“And if I did?”
“I don’t understand.”
“And pray tell,” there’s that bloody smirk again, “what is it that eludes the brilliant mind of Hermione Granger?”
“You —” How is it that whatever Narcissa Malfoy says, even if it seems like a compliment, sounds like an insult?
“Your son had just said you were hunting muggles. He taunted us about it!”
The hint of amusement disappears from the witch’s face. “And I am to be responsible for every word my son says? Everything he does?
“Should I hold your parents responsible for laying your hands on him then?”
She gulps, caught between shame and defiance — Malfoy may not have deserved a physical attack, but he had something coming.
”You know about it?”
“Don’t look so worried, Miss Granger,” Mrs Malfoy says, waving her wand casually. “He was too embarrassed about it to tell anyone but his mother.”
“And you still protected me?”
“There you go again, relegating me to little more than ‘Malfoy’s mum’ . I have bigger concerns than a schoolyard dispute. Speaking of which, if you have nothing useful to say, I need to be on my way.”
“But you hate muggles! What you did to the Robertses!” Regret sets in even before she finishes her sentence, but before she can even think about apologising, she’s looking at the face of Narcissa Malfoy up close.
So close they're sharing breaths.
“Now who’s the prejudiced one?” Narcissa Malfoy’s voice is low still, but there’s no mistaking the fury in it. “We are all the same to you, are we? Maybe I should have left you there, all vulnerable and young for Mulciber and Rosier.”
“I — I’m not as young as you think!”
“Then you won’t mind a few adult facts, hmm? An inebriated group of wizards who thrives on violence and humiliating others, spotting a muggle — and not just some muggle, but the girl who’s helped Potter escape the Dark Lord again and again, brimming with so much magic any one of us can sense it from afar?”
“Oh yes, you do have some idea after all,” Mrs Malfoy coos, “You think you would have ended up like that muggle family? A bit of fun, showing off for each other with some parlour tricks?”
The witch’s tone softens to a whisper, but it does nothing to stop Hermione's trembling. “If they had caught you, Miss Granger, what happened to the Robertses would have been your best case scenario.”
She doesn’t realise she’s stopped breathing until the witch backs off.
“I’m not scared of you,” she retorts, desperate to prove something.
“Are you certain?” Mrs Malfoy turns away, seeming to have lost all interest in their conversation. “False bravado only works so well against big bad muggle haters like me.
“You’re better off honing your self-preservation instincts, such as not following dark witches down Knockturn Alley, yes? Lest you taint your pure self by the evil that flows so freely from all of us.”
She doesn’t hear the door this time. Instead, she’s standing in the middle of Diagon Alley, right beside the Weasley twins.
“Blimey, where did you learn to sneak up on people like that?” Fred asks. “And what’s happened to you? They didn’t run out of the books, did they?”
“No,” she says distractedly. “Just bumped into someone — wasn’t the most pleasant encounter.”
George frowns at that. “Who was it? Do you need us to speak to them?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she reassures them, taking comfort in the protectiveness of the Weasleys. “I probably won’t see them again.”