“I think you're seriously repressed. You need to get laid.”
Hermione Granger looked up from the stack of research papers she was buried deep under and winced as Darcy dragged a seat from a table nearby closer. She cast apologetic glances at the people around them, seeing as Darcy seemed unaffected by the reproachful stares she garnered from the other patrons of the cafe; nor by the interested looks some men were now shooting their way.
Honestly, the woman knew no shame and it showed.
Hermione sighed, reluctantly setting her reading material down to face the interloper helping herself to a plate of toast and raspberry jam. In the short time she'd known Darcy Lewis, Hermione had been quick to realise that nothing short of casting a silencing charm stopped her colleague from commenting on everything she came across.
“Hullo to you, too, Darcy. Fancy getting any louder? I don't believe the blokes up in Scotland could quite hear you.”
The dry comment, however, slid off Darcy like ducks did on water.
“I mean, I know you're one of our new assistants and everything, and I know that Jane absolutely loves you, but don't you ever do anything besides read?” Darcy complained as she bit into the toast. “I've literally never seen you do anything else outside of lab work.”
Hermione shrugged and took a sip of her tea, wincing when she found that it had cooled. “I'm just reading up on Dr. Foster's latest findings on the activities after the Convergence,” she said. “I have to stay on top of things if I'm to be of any help, after all.”
Darcy tutted with a roll of her eyes. “You don't need to know everything that's going on to be good at your job; I mean look at me!” She picked up the teapot and waved exaggeratedly at the server across the room, nodding and mouthing for another pot before she turned back to Hermione. “Look, I'm just saying you need to live a little, have some fun, find a man, go have a quick, what do you Brits call it – a shag !”
An old couple at the table next to them shot them aghast looks. Hermione rubbed at her temples while also trying to cover her face with that same hand, feeling the stirrings of embarrassment start to crawl up her cheeks. Was it just because Darcy was American that she was so loud and so unaware? No, probably not. It was just because she was Darcy.
“Not everyone of us has their own intern who can flick their bean off anytime in the back room, Darcy,” she muttered.
“And that's why you should find one, too!” Darcy made a show of surveying the room and called to a cute blond-haired bloke sitting with a large mug of coffee two tables down. “Hey, you! You're cute, hi! Would you mind showing my friend here a good time?”
The young man looked slightly surprised at being spoken to, but whatever response he might have given was interrupted by a fuming Hermione.
“ Darcy! ” she hissed, grabbing at the American woman's forearm and leaning forward. “What are you doing here? I'm not supposed to be at the lab until tomorrow morning. It's my day off.”
“ Exactly! It's your day off but you're here...reading about work!” Darcy gestured at the mountainous pile of papers beside her. “Ever heard of work-life balance, Hermione?”
Hermione took a deep breath and exhaled slowly as she leaned back into her seat. “Apparently, I haven't.”
The server came to their table to set another pot of tea for them and Hermione took the time to regard her colleague at the University of London with more graciousness than she cared for at the moment. She knew what Darcy was trying to say in her own obnoxious way. If anything, considering they'd only known each other for less than a year now, the fact that Darcy cared enough to go out of her way to point out Hermione's not-quite-uncommon research spirals to her was a testament to how observant and thoughtful Darcy could be.
International cooperation was not something Hermione had done often while working for the Ministry of Magic, but she had to admit that working with Dr. Jane Foster, Darcy and several international intellectuals in astrophysics was an eye-opening experience. Darcy, in particular, had welcomed her with open arms, and ever since she had arrived into this strange world without magic roughly two years ago, lost, confused and scared out of her mind, Darcy's friendly face had always been a welcome sight, even when she was at her most trying.
Most days, Hermione appreciated her friend's efforts, even if it was to embarrass her rather thoroughly at her favourite café. After all, there was no one else in this world who would do so for her otherwise. Not when there were no Harry and Ron here.
Swallowing down the bout of emotions that always came with her thoughts of home, Hermione pushed the plate of toast to Darcy's side of the table. Darcy helped herself to some tea, dumping copious amounts of sugar and milk into it.
Hermione grimaced at the unsystematic ruination of good tea.
“What?” Darcy asked defensively. “Your British tea is the blandest thing I've ever tasted, and you all just chug it down like water!”
“And that, Darcy, is the reason why the British don't like you Americans,” Hermione commented lightly before catching a passing server's eye and gesturing for the bill. She was obviously not going to get anything done today, not if Darcy had anything to say about it.
“Oh, you mean it's not because our forefathers kicked your redcoat butts centuries ago?”
The ensuing day spent with Darcy went about as well as could be expected when one was dealing with an outspoken yet fairly oblivious individual. Hermione found her to be equal parts amusing and exasperating at the same time, but as they walked at a sedate pace through Hyde Park together, discussing the shocking incident in Sokovia and the legion of evil robots that had overrun the country mere months ago, Hermione decided that Darcy was, in fact, not at all bad company, despite her earlier misgivings.
When Hermione had been sent out to the Forbidden Forest for field work with the new intern Reuben Smith to investigate the unexplained disappearances of a pair of centaurs, the last thing she had expected was to be transported into another universe entirely, much less into one where not only did her type of magic did not exist, but one that instead had Norse gods, alien invasions and high-tech evil super-intelligent robots.
If she hadn't seen the devastation in Sokovia in the telly, Hermione wouldn't have believed it. For all that she was an actual witch, the things she'd seen and read in this universe seemed far more fantastical than anything she'd experienced.
“Lucky we have the Avengers around, right?” Darcy was saying, “or else we'd have all gone ka-blewy!”
Ah, yes, the Avengers. This Earth's mightiest superheroes. Actual enhanced individuals who used their unique abilities to protect the world from the threat of external destruction.
Hermione wondered how Harry would have reacted to hearing such people existed. Ron for sure would have thought it all bonkers. She stifled a giggle at the thought of the redhead's flabbergasted face as Darcy continued.
“It's too bad Jane broke up with Thor, or we could have asked what really happened down there.”
“Dr. Foster and the god of thunder broke up?” Hermione asked, actually curious, despite herself. As one of the newer assistants to join Dr. Foster's team, she and Dr. Foster had a relatively professional relationship and so wasn't privy to all the happenings of her private life.
“Oh, wait.” Darcy paused mid-stride, looking sheepish. “Was I allowed to tell you that? I... probably shouldn't have told you that.”
“It's all right, Darcy,” Hermione said placatingly with a sideways smile. “I'll hardly go and tell anyone. With how famous Dr. Foster is, I'm sure it's bound to be public soon enough.”
Besides, she abhorred celebrity gossip, especially as someone who had taken the brunt of all that vitriol before.
“You're probably right.” Darcy responded with a sigh. “You'd have liked Thor, though. He's all muscully and kind of a beef-head.”
Hermione wrinkled her nose at that. With that kind of description, she highly doubted it.
Their discussion soon veered towards the other Avengers, from Captain America – all star spangled and blue – to the Hulk – pretty big, angry and green – and Tony Stark – multimillionaire, engineering genius. Hermione was of the opinion that having superheroes to protect the world was incredible, but she sympathised with how burdened they must have felt whenever the fate of the world rested only on their shoulders. It had certainly felt that way for her during the Second Wizarding War.
As they reached the end of Hyde Park, Darcy and Hermione went their separate ways home. Darcy loped off to find the bus stop with a wave and a reminder to relax and find someone to shag.
“Remember, your lady parts need attention, too!” Darcy reminded as a parting shot.
Hermione shook her head before turning back into the park, looking for a quiet place among a grove of trees to Apparate home, away from any CCTV cameras; those bloody things were everywhere! As she headed for her usual spot for Apparation hidden between the trees, a sudden cold wash of dread she hadn't felt in a long, long time trickled down her spine. She was being watched, stalked.
Hermione paused for a beat, momentarily confused. It had been years since she'd fought in the war, and Moody would be disappointed to learn that she was not as constantly vigilant, but a human's primal instincts of self-preservation were rarely wrong. The question was...who were they?
Death Eaters? No, there were no magical people in this world besides herself, of that she was sure. Muggers, then?
Hermione kept her right hand loose at her side, the other hitching the tote bag containing Dr. Foster's research up her shoulder, as she contemplated on what to do. Her wand was strapped in a disillusioned holster at her right arm; it would be easy enough to whip it out and stun them.
The question was their number. How many would they be? She knew that thieves often worked in groups of mostly two. Would it be safe to assume she was only dealing with a pair of unsavoury youngsters?
When she reached the cover of the trees, Hermione found one of them waiting for her dressed all in black. And a rather sinister looking gun clutched in his hand.
Hermione stepped back, unable to stop herself from gawking. She'd never seen a gun up close before, and they looked far more intimidating than they did on the telly.
A crunch of footsteps behind her told her of the arrival of a second...a third.
...and a fourth.
Hermione looked over her shoulder, finding herself surrounded by four armed men in full-body dark tactical gear. Hermione’s mind raced, icy tendrils of trepidation shooting down her spine.
These men were not normal street thugs. They looked far too professional. It was in the way they stalked out of the shadows with barely a sound, in the way they held their stance. They moved in on her with an organised efficiency that spoke of years of training.
They looked like killers .
Would a spell beat a speeding bullet?
Not at this distance.
Making a quick decision, Hermione made to bolt in the other direction and push past one of the men behind her, hand poised to retrieve her wand.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Miss Granger,” the big burly man in front of her warned gruffly, as he side-stepped to block her path, his gun raised ominously. “Come quietly and we won’t hurt you.”
“Who are you?” There was a slight tremor in her voice, belying the fear and confusion she felt, and Hermione inwardly cursed at allowing herself to look affected. She’d faced Death Eaters before, dammit! “What do you want?”
“No one you should know about. At least not yet.” Her would-be kidnapper nodded at his companions, two of which moved forward to grab her arms.
“I don’t make it a habit of running off with strangers,” Hermione responded tartly as she ripped her right arm from one of the brutes. The other grabbed her by her left shoulder, forcing her to stay in place.
With adrenaline pumping through her veins, Hermione bent low and grabbed the leg of the kidnapper behind her, pulled the appendage up between her bent knees and threw her entire weight back against his chest, sending both of them crashing hard on the ground, her assailant taking the brunt of it. Quickly rolling off the ground, Hermione found another one already on her before she could even feel the satisfaction of bringing a man twice her size to the ground, roughly seizing her by her left forearms and tried hauling her from the ground.
With barely any time to gasp in pain at his manhandling, she flicked her right wrist, freeing her wand from her holster, but before she could cast a silent Stunner on him, her assailant let out a wet gurgle. Hermione's eyes widened when she saw blood drip from his mouth and he fell to his knees, releasing her from his death grip, his eyes just as surprised as hers.
Her attacker toppled to the ground with a dull thud.
There was another loud and wet squelch and the man Hermione had toppled over dropped back to the ground with a dull thud.
Openly gawking at the morbid scene before her now, Hermione was momentarily struck speechless at the sight of another man in a black leather jacket and a dark blue baseball cap, emerging from the shadows, smoothly maneuvering an enormous gun as he walked methodically towards them, his aim clearly directed at her attackers.
Both of her remaining assailants dodged the bullets flying towards them, rolling to the ground and then rushing at him in a double assault. The newcomer expertly blocked and parried their punches, returning every punch dealt his way, and then some.
Coming back to her senses, Hermione turned and made to run, leaving the squabbling men behind, but she hesitated, indecision warring inside her. Should she help him? Could she trust him?
Meanwhile, the struggle between the three combatants continued, and even outnumbered, the newcomer held his own until the big guy from before managed to get him in a chokehold. Then he nodded in her direction to his partner.
“Get her,” he grunted.
The other attacker nodded and rushed towards her.
Out of options, Hermione instinctively ran the other way at full speed. She needed distance, away from onlookers, away from any eyes that might see her do magic. Gripping her wand firmly in her hand, she ran further into the trees instead of out into the open park. Once she was at a good distance, she’d stun the oaf so hard he would not wake for a week!
Close behind her, her pursuer dogged her heels like a bloodhound. He was gaining in on her fast, and Hermione cursed at her abominable stamina, her lungs already winded and hurting. Unable to run anymore, she darted behind a tree, feeling the wind rush against her arm, his hand just mere inches away as he tried to grab at her.
Hermione immediately circled back around the trunk and caught the man with the most powerful Stunner she could muster squarely at his back. “ Stupefy Duo! ”
The brute dropped like a ton of bricks, knocked out cold.
Winded and suddenly weak from all the adrenaline, Hermione slid to the ground in relief, sweaty and panting. She hadn’t felt this winded since the Second Wizarding War. Peace, age and comfort had definitely not done her athleticism (what little she had of it already) any favours.
Before she could gather herself enough to ask the necessary questions and piece anything together, however, the sound of approaching footsteps had her scrambling to her feet and clutching at her wand in a death grip. The man in a baseball hat walked purposely towards her, his enormous gun slung across his back, his eyes shadowed beneath the brim of his hat.
Hermione stepped back, wary and unsure of what to make of him, but he was undeterred by her uncertainty of him and he pressed on, until he grabbed her by her arm and pulled her along without so much as a by your leave.
“Hey! Let—” Hermione resisted, digging her heels into the ground, her wand at the ready.
“Run.” The man hissed abruptly as he turned back to her, his voice low and hoarse like he hadn’t spoken in a long time. His eyes bore into hers with an intensity that took her breath away. “More of them are coming.”
True to his words, the sounds of thundering footsteps rumbled behind them. Hermione turned and gaped at the half a dozen armed men barrelling towards them like a herd of angry hippogriffs.
“Come on!” The man pulled her along, urging her forward with a firm grip on her arm.
Hermione didn’t need to be told twice. Her lungs protested further exertion, but she pushed through her fatigue and ran with the stranger helping her as he practically dragged her along behind him so she could keep up with his longer strides.
“Who are those men?!” she practically shrieked as they stumbled out of the trees and out into the open. They raced through the park, dodging the people milling about and enjoying their evening stroll as they tried to lose their pursuers, who had no qualms about pushing people out of their way and leaving a trail of wreckage and bruised passersby behind.
“People you don’t want getting their hands on you,” was the stranger’s curt response.
And then the shooting started. And the revving motorbikes.
Hermione’s heart dropped.
Shrieks of panic broke out as the crowd in the park spread and dispersed. It was absolute chaos.
Bloody hell! she thought, aghast, flinching every time a bullet flew too close and hit its mark at her feet, making debris of sand, grass or pavement fly at the force of its impact. She could hear the motorbike engines gaining on them, faster and faster, until she practically saw them flying past her from the corner of her eyes.
A split second later, two motorbikes veered around and came into view in front of them, effectively cutting their escape route off. And then they were rushing towards them. At full speed.
Hermione nearly ground to a halt, if it weren’t for the strange man’s relentless grip on her arm. At the sight of their pursuers in front of them, he had brought them to a slower pace, but even when they were clearly out-maneuvered and outgunned, the stranger never broke his stride and pulled her along forward...right toward the oncoming motorbikes! There was nothing she could do but stumble along behind him, his hold on her too firm, her panic rising as the bikes drew closer and closer.
They were insane!
He was insane!
“Stay back!” he warned her as he finally let her go.
Before Hermione could find her words — to protest or otherwise, she wasn’t sure — he swung the gun he’d slung over his shoulder smoothly in front of him and with methodical precision, shot once, twice at the driver of the bike coming at their left.
Both shots hit their mark and the driver was sent flying off his bike and crashing into the ground, most likely unconscious...or dead.
Not even a second later, the remaining motorbike drew close enough for the stranger to actually reach over the driver and grabbed him by his shirt, where he physically hauled the man off his seat and sent him literally vaulting him through the air like an unwanted piece of rubbish...which in Hermione’s opinion, he was.
Free of its rider, the stranger caught the motorbike mid-run and swung himself onto it in one swift motion that was almost graceful.
The stranger, seemingly still as cool as a cucumber — he still even had his stupid hat on! — drove over and stopped right in front of her. “Get on!” he ordered.
Hermione gave him a look like he was insane. “That thing is a death trap.”
The man gave her a faint wry smile and nodded towards the rest of their pursuers running on foot just mere metres away from them. He revved up his engine. “You’ve got death waiting for you right here, doll.”