Hermione's boots fell heavy on the concrete of the sidewalk as she walked. The street was mostly abandoned as the light faded from the sky. A sharp wind cut through the air, making her pull her coat tighter around herself. Winter was well on its way.
A few stray leaves rustled as they blew along the edge of the street, and she hurried her pace. She'd caught the forecast earlier that day and knew the temperature was going to plummet that night, bringing the first ice of the season.
She'd come into town to get a few supplies and check her mail. She'd kept a muggle post office box since moving to the states. The wards around her cabin kept the mail carrier and other muggles from getting too close. It wasn't like she received much mail, using other means to contact her friends, but it was necessary if she was living in the muggle world.
After the war, she tried to find her footing in the wizarding world. Harry had given her a home at Grimmauld Place, but she never felt comfortable there. Everywhere she turned, it felt like she saw the ghosts of those she'd fought alongside. It was with a heavy heart she packed her belongings and left her friends to start anew in a small town across the pond.
She turned down a sidestreet and ducked behind a building. With a quick glance around to ensure she was alone, she apparated back to her cabin. It was nearly dark, and she fumbled with her bags to get the door. Her fingers were so cold they felt like ice, making them stiff. Stepping into her home, she kicked the door shut and shivered at the change in temperature. The warmth felt good against her cold cheeks.
She lugged her bags to the table and began putting away her supplies. Glancing through the kitchen window, she could see the trees bending and twisting in the wind. It was nearly dark. She hurried to put away her things so she could fetch some wood for the stove. The last thing she wanted was to run low in the middle of the night.
With the groceries away, she grabbed some gloves and ducked outside to woodpile. She gathered an armload and lugged it in, turning back around once she placed it by the stove and going back for more. Hermione repeated the task a few more times until a nice stack was built. Tossing her gloves on the table, she loaded the stove, giving the dying fire a little boost with a wave of her wand. The flames grew and danced. Satisfied, she closed it up and sighed, warming her hands over it. She was just about to go gather a few books for some research when her watch grew warm, nearly stinging her arm. Someone had tripped her wards. They had to be close to set off the alarm.
Grabbing her wand, she steadied herself and began approaching the door. Years of fighting a magical war had taught her to remain calm, but she was still worried. Muggles shouldn’t be able to get so close. No one other than her friends knew where to find her, and they wouldn’t show up unannounced. For a brief moment, she felt a prickling of fear, her mind going to memories of white masks and dark robes, but no, the ministry had rounded up the last of the Death Eaters years ago. It wouldn’t make sense for one to be in America. Then who was at her cabin?
Taking a breath, she gripped her wand and opened the door. Harry would have a thing or two to say about her walking out to face an unknown alone, but what he didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him.
Her eyes tried to adjust to the dark as she stepped out, making her blink a few times. There was nothing out there.
The sounds of the trees creaking in the wind made her tighten her hold on her wand. As she stepped back toward the door, she heard a twig snap to her right and spun to face the darkness where the sound had come from. With her wand ready, she crept forward, narrowing her eyes as she studied the shadows. Something large crashed into the bushes, making her jump. She could see the shadow of something, or someone, on the ground, mixed with the branches.
“Hello, who’s there?” She cast a quick lumos as she approached the shadowed figure on the ground. The light was enough to confirm that it was a man. Strangely, the glow from her wand glinted off his hand. It appeared to be metal. Immediately, her mind went to Pettigrew. She adjusted her grip on her wand as she stepped closer. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
The man groaned and began to shift, trying to push himself onto his knees. It was then that Hermione saw the blood on the ground, blood that was coming from him. She was torn as to what to do. The reasonable part of her said she should get away from him, send for help, he could be anyone, but the less rational part, her Gryffindor side, urged her to help him, despite the risk. Heaving a sigh, she set her mind to helping him. She knew it was dangerous, but the years she’d spent watching Ron and Harry run headlong into danger had rubbed off on her.
“You’re injured,” she said, making him lift his head, his stormy gray eyes meeting hers. She shifted her weight between her feet and pursed her lips.
He watched her for a moment before looking away, continuing to push himself up. He got to his feet but leaned heavily to the right, his metal hand pressing against a wound on his side. His gaze found her again. “I was shot.”
Hermione frowned but kept her wand out. “Right, well, that explains the blood.” She nodded. “I suppose it would be prudent to ask if you’re some type of serial killer before I offer my assistance.”
He huffed, shaking his head. “If I wanted you dead, you already would be.”
That did very little to reassure her decision to help him. “I honestly don’t know how to feel about that, but I can’t very well leave you out here bleeding.”
His brow furrowed as his eyes pierced her, searching for something. Even wounded, she knew he was dangerous. There was something almost predatory about him, the array of weapons she could see strapped to him just added to her belief, but there was something else, too. Maybe it was her imagination getting the best of her, but he seemed tired, scared. She didn’t really believe he wanted to hurt her.
“I don’t need any help,” he said, taking a hobbling step forward.
She scoffed, raising a brow. “You look the pillar of health.”
He grunted and took another unsteady step toward her driveway.
Still holding her wand, she put her hands on her hips and stared at his back as he wobbled away. She considered her options. Either let him go, and who knows what could happen to him, or she could make him stay, whether he liked it or not. She stomped her foot in frustration and then marched toward him. “Listen, Mister … what is your name?”
She paused. “Bucky? What kind of name is that?”
He grunted again. “Mine.”
She frowned. “Well, Bucky, I can’t in good conscience let you leave, so you can either come inside on your own, or I’ll just need to make you. Your choice.”
His shoulders shook, and she was fairly certain she heard a choked laugh. She scowled; her hand clenched around her wand. Why couldn’t he see that she was trying to help? This was ridiculous. She didn’t need to be outside in the cold, yelling at an ungrateful stranger.
“You have to count of three to turn around and come inside,” she commanded, then watched as he continued to stumble away. “One … two,” she counted, and he kept walking. "You’re acting like a child."
He shook his head and took another stumbling step, nearly falling to the side.
"Three.” She stomped toward him. “Have it your way.”
He hadn’t made it far, and she quickly caught up to him, coming around and cutting him off. She stopped in his path, crossing her arms over her chest. He lifted his chin and raised a brow. They stared at each other, the only sound the wind whipping through the trees.
“You’re in my way.”
“And you’re going the wrong way.”
He rolled his eyes and shifted his weight. He was still listing to the side. “The road’s this way.”
“And my house is behind you. You’re hurt, and I know a thing or two about treating wounds. If you don't let me help you, then you need a hospital, but something tells me you’re not one to go.”
Bucky’s gaze flitted over her, pausing on her wand before returning to her eyes. “You’re awfully bossy for someone only armed with a stick.”
“Is that a threat?”
He shrugged, then winced at the movement. “Observation. You got a name?”
He huffed a laugh. “And you called my name weird.”
“Excuse me, Hermione sounds educated and refined, unlike Bucky.”
“Well, Hermione, I’m going to be fine, so if you’ll excuse me.” He stumbled to the side, and blood dripped from his fingers. He needed medical attention, maybe more than she could provide.
She shook her head and pointed her wand at his back. She’d had enough. "Stupefy."
Bucky froze mid-step and collapsed to the ground.
Only armed with a stick. Teach him to underestimate her. She stepped over his legs and stood beside him, shaking her head. With a wave of her wand, she levitated his body and floated it along in front of her as she returned to the house.
Once inside, she lowered him to the couch, then stood back, wand hand on her hip and her other rubbing her forehead. What was going to do? She didn’t even want to think what Harry would have to say about this. The blood was a stark reminder that she didn’t have time to waste, though.
Needing to get an idea of what she was dealing with, Hermione lifted his shirt to better assess the wound. She wasn’t a healer by any right, but she had picked up some skills during the war, though this was the first gunshot wound she’d ever seen up close. Leaning over him to get a better angle, Hermione scrunched her brow at what she saw. It wasn’t as grotesque as she thought it would be. The hole was small, blood slowly seeping from it. She needed to see if it went clean through.
Tucking her wand in her back pocket, gathered her nerve to reach a hand beneath him. Wrinkling her nose at the feeling of warm blood on her fingers, she felt around his back. She nearly gagged when her finger slipped into a hole. It felt a little bigger than the entrance wound, but it was still small. At least it was through and through.
Drawing her hand back, she grimaced at the blood on his fingers. Right. Now that she’d seen it, she needed to treat it. She didn’t imagine it was much different than the time Neville skewered his side when he fell from his broom playing quidditch with the boys at the Burrow.
First, she needed to stop the bleeding. With a few accios, she had towels and her trusty beaded bag flying to her. Working quickly, she cleaned the wound, then opened her bag and summoned the small bottle of dittany she always kept with her. Pulling back the towel that she had placed over the bleeding hole, she unstopped the bottle and let a few droplets fall into the wound. It worked quickly, leaving the wound raw but closed. She was about to roll Bucky, so she could do the same to the exit wound when he started to stir. For a moment, she considered stunning him again, but she already felt bad about doing it the first time.
She tucked the dittany back in her bag as he stirred. His face pinched, and a groan slipped from his lips. Hermione frowned as he blinked slowly to awareness, flesh hand fisting the fabric of his shirt. He stirred for a moment before his eyes snapped fully open, and he looked around wildly. Her frown deepened, then his gaze locked on hers, and he seemed to relax, his shoulders dropping.
“You're safe here. You're in my cabin. I brought you inside—treated your wound.”
Bucky blinked a few times. "You chased me down."
"You could barely walk. It was hardly a chase."
He pushed himself to sit on the couch, back against the armrest and legs stretched across the cushions. He studied her face for a few more moments before his gaze flicked to his side. His mouth set in a grim line as he lifted his shirt and looked over the wound. He touched the reddened skin, and his brow wrinkled as he looked back at her quizzically. She wasn’t quite sure what to say, how to explain what she’d done, so she just shrugged a shoulder.
“What happened?” Bucky asked, pulling his shirt back down.
Hermione’s brow furrowed. “You don’t remember being shot?”
He rolled his eyes. “I remember that just fine. I was wondering how I got inside when I clearly recall walking the other way.”
“Yeah, oh,” he said, tilting his head. His eyes flitting over her. “There’s no way you carried me.”
Her wand burned against her from where it rested half out of her pocket. She hadn’t thought her plan this far through. “I’m actually rather fit.”
He barked a laugh. “Yeah, let’s go with that, and how'd you knock me out?” He raised a brow.
“You collapsed. Maybe the pain became too much.”
"Right," he said slowly. He twisted, pulling his legs off the couch, so he was sitting back against the cushions. “I should probably say thank you for helping me, even though you still should’ve let me go, so thanks."
“Well, I wasn't about to let you die, so you’re welcome,” she said with a nod and gathered the used towels and her bag. She paused before turning to step away. “Would you like some tea?”
Bucky frowned, blinking a few times. “I don’t know—I mean, I don’t remember if I like it.”
“Okay.” That wasn’t strange at all. “How about I make you a cup the way I take it, and you see what you think?”
“Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, doll.”
Hermione paused mid-step, turning to face him with raised brows. “Doll?”
He shrugged, head tilting to the side, a small smirk playing on his lips. “Would you rather ma’am?”
She pursed her lips. “You could use my name.”
“Too long. Sounds made up.”
“And Bucky sounds like something I might name a dog.”
He shrugged again. “Whatever you say, sugar.”
She huffed and rolled her eyes, turning to start the tea. When she got to the kitchen, she tossed the armload of towels and her bag on the table. Her wand bumped her hand, and she plucked it from her pocket and tucked it into her boot. She started the kettle and gathered what she needed for tea. As the tea steeped, her mind wandered to Bucky. He was both infuriating and intriguing at the same time. She had so many questions, but it didn’t seem polite to pry.
With two cups of tea in hand, she returned to the living room to find Bucky examining a photo on the mantle. It was of her, Harry, and Ron sitting around the table at the Burrow, celebrating Ginny’s win at the quidditch world cup. A rare moment of lighthearted joy spent amongst friends. Things had been difficult for all of them after the war. They each carried scars—both physical and mental.
The war and the loss that went with it had changed them. Harry became hypervigilant, Ron became a mother hen, and Hermione ran away. It wasn’t her proudest moment, leaving England, but she had hoped putting distance would help her move on with her life. Unfortunately, the nightmares and flashbacks remained. More often than not, she found herself waking in a cold sweat, the memory of Bellatrix cutting into her arm vivid in her mind. No, leaving England had done nothing for the nightmares.
“You looked happy,” Bucky said, glancing up from the photo to meet her gaze. “What happened?”
She sighed. “Way to flatter a girl.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.” He frowned. “It’s just you seem different—lonely.”
She set the cups down on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch. Bucky placed the photo back on the mantle and walked over, sitting beside her. She picked up her cup and motioned to his. “Try it.”
He eyed the cup for a moment before reaching out and taking the mug. He kept his left hand, his metal hand, in his lap. He lifted it to his lips and took a hesitant sip. Hermione watched his face as he seemed to decide what he thought. Lowering the cup, he swiped his tongue over his lips and smiled. “It’s good.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
He took another sip of his tea, and she leaned back into the cushions, watching him. His gaze went to the photo on the mantle then back to her. His head tilted to the side. “They were friends.”
She sighed, grasping her mug in both hands. Her gaze moved to the photo. “Still are, but things changed. I think I lost myself, and I thought running away would help. ”
“Not particularly, no. My problems followed me.”
He nodded. “I know what that’s like.”
Eyeing him, Hermione knew that there wasn't a shred of a lie in that statement. He carried himself like she did, weary, tired, and like he was fleeing something. Battle worn.
Hermione looked down at her cup, rubbing her thumb against the warm ceramic. “You running from something or towards it?” She lifted her chin and glanced at him.
Bucky licked his lips, gaze dropping to this lap. His left hand flexed, and she could hear the faint clicking of mechanical parts coming from his arm. “Both, I think. There are people after me who want me back. They haven’t stopped hunting me.”
She hummed. “And what are you running towards?”
He drew a breath, blowing it out slowly. “I’m not really sure. A face, a name—someone I think I knew from before.”
He lifted his head, looking at the picture on the mantle. “War.” He was quiet for a moment before looking back at her. “I think we were friends.”
She frowned. “You can’t remember.”
It was as much a question as it was a statement.
Bucky shook his head. “The people after me … they did more than make me a weapon. They took my memories—made me forget who I was.”
“You’re not a weapon.”
“No, I’m worse than that.”
Hermione frowned and placed her cup down, leaning forward, propping her elbows on her knees. She turned her head to look at him. “Who told you that?”
His eyes flicked to hers before he looked down, a frown twisting his lips.
Quietly, she asked, “Was it the people you’re running from?”
He rested the cup on his knee and sighed. “I know I’m a monster for the things I’ve done. I don’t need nobody to tell me different.”
She looked at the picture of her smiling friends, thinking about what it must be like to know your friend is out there but not being able to remember them. “This friend of yours, the one you’re looking for, what would he think?”
She heard him sigh. “I wish I knew.”
Hermione nodded, looking down at her hands. “Well, I think if he’s any kind of friend, he won't hold the past against you. Did you want to be a weapon?”
When he didn’t respond, she looked over at him. He was staring down at his metal hand as he made a fist. After a minute, he looked at her, his expression tight. “No, they didn’t give me a choice.”
“Then the way I see it, you’re not what they tried to make you. You’re not some weapon. You’re a person who had their agency stripped away.” She paused, waiting for him to meet her gaze. When he did, she continued. “You’re a victim, Bucky. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He blinked slowly, his face not even twitching as he watched her. After a moment of him not saying anything, she hesitated then rolled up her sleeve, showing off her bare arm. “Would you say that I’m at fault for someone else carving this into me?”
Bucky glanced down, his eyes automatically falling onto the heavy scarring that marred her forearm, the word ‘mudblood’ visible against her pale skin. She knew it was a gamble to show him, but it only seemed fair. He was letting himself be vulnerable. She could do the same.
His eyes narrowed slightly as his gaze moved over the scar. “Are they dead?”
Hermione swallowed thickly, licking her lips. “Yes, but unfortunately, I wasn’t the one to kill her.”
His gaze flicked back to her face. “What does it mean?”
“It’s a slur—means dirty blood,” she said as she tugged her sleeve down. “There was a war. That’s what I’m running away from—from the memories, at least.”
Bucky set his cup down on the table, turning to face her. His brow creased, and lips pulled down as he studied her. “You must have been young.”
She drew a breath, looking down at her cup. “We were all young—children, really. I was only seventeen when I was tortured for the first time. While other girls were dating, I was fighting for my life. It was a dark time.”
“Was it worth it?”
Her hands clenched into fists as she thought of the last battle and of the people who they had lost. “I don’t know if war ever is, but if we didn’t fight, didn’t try, so much worse could have happened.” She paused, looking at him. “Yes, even though people were lost, I think it was necessary to ensure our future.”
He nodded. “You still have nightmares, though.”
Hermione’s brows knit together. “I never said that.”
“Didn’t have to.” He shrugged. “Things like that leave a mark.”
“I suppose they do.” Taking a breath, she sat back against the cushions, staring at the photo of her friends. She wondered what they would think of Bucky. The man was a kindred spirit, worn by life, touched by war. She didn’t need to know his whole story to tell that his battles had marked him just as much as her own had marked her. She wanted to help him, and maybe in doing so, she could help herself.
The silence stretched out between until she turned to look at him, lip pulled between her teeth. It was a crazy idea, what she was about to offer, but it felt right. “You know, you’re safe here. No one would find you if you stayed.”
His gaze flicked up to meet hers, and he blinked a few times. “What?”
Hermione shrugged, trying to keep her voice casual and light. “I’m just saying if you’re tired of running, you could stay. Here. The couch pulls out.”
“Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”
“Because I know what it’s like to be on the run, to be hunted, because I don’t think you’re nearly as scary as you think, and because everyone deserves a friend—especially when they don’t think they do.”
His mouth twitched downward. “You wanna be my friend?”
“If you’ll be mine. Like you said, maybe I’ve been lonely.”
His gaze flitted over her face before settling on her eyes. “Friends,” he tested the word. “Yeah, I think I’d like that, doll.”