After racing through the streets of London on the stolen motorbike and leaving the chaos at Hyde Park behind, Hermione and her mysterious saviour found themselves in an old, unoccupied warehouse on the outskirts of the city. As far as places of refuge went, it wasn't very original, but it was better than being hunted down out in the open.
Despite being seemingly abandoned, the warehouse itself was enormous, if a bit...rundown, with an equally spacious parking space in front. Surrounding the area were wired security gates that hung on its hinges. Whatever the property had been used for, Hermione surmised that large trucks were the vehicles that frequently saw the place.
Hermione stood by the window, peeking out into the entrance of the premises, anxious of having been followed. She didn't know who those men were and what they wanted, but she knew it was in her best interest to stay as far away from them as possible.
And speaking of dangerous…
Hermione turned back to her mysterious saviour, watching as he fiddled with the motorbike he'd quite literally snatched from right under their attacker's arse with undisguised curiosity. He had come out of nowhere, and for whatever reason, he’d saved her from those…thugs? Mercenaries? Assassins?
Hermione had absolutely no idea what was going on and why, but she had a feeling her mysterious man knew; she’d just have to ask him.
Or read his mind, she added as an afterthought, but she hated using Legilimens unless absolutely necessary. She retained a strict rule on the use of Legilimens , and it was only usually reserved for rampaging or uncommunicative beasts out on the field. Hermione had no idea if she could trust him, but if he’d brought her this far without hurting her, she was at least assured enough in the knowledge that he wouldn’t attack her unprovoked.
Taking a deep breath, she ran her thumb along the familiar carvings of her wand handle, drawing comfort from its presence. If worse came to worst, she could always Apparate immediately out of there and into the safety of her little house in Grays, leaving all this madness behind. She’d been reluctant to use her magic out in the open, particularly when this world’s government seemed to be hyper vigilant about such anomalies, but here, in the privacy of a secluded building, she could make her escape without much trouble.
But first she needed answers.
Coming to a decision, Hermione took two steps towards the man cautiously, her wand held loosely at her side, at the ready.
“What are you doing?” she ended up asking first.
The stranger glanced up at her, his eyes shadowed under the hat he was still wearing, his gloved hands preoccupied with the pair of pliers he held. The outer layers of the motorbike’s engine had been stripped away, revealing a mess of electrical wiring that Hermione couldn’t even begin to make sense of. “Disabling the tracker,” he responded, his voice calm and gravelly, “They know we're here; we won't be able to stay here long.”
“For how long?”
He shrugged, not even looking up from his work. “An hour, two. Probably less.”
Hermione licked her dry lips and pressed for more, taking another step closer. “And who exactly are…‘they’?”
At this question, the man paused and looked at her with eyes that seemed to pierce her soul, even from under the shadows cast by the brim of his hat. “They're called HYDRA.”
But Hermione already knew who they were. Or at least, she’d read about them from the history books she’d studied when she’d arrived in this world.
HYDRA was… Her brows furrowed in thought. “An authoritarian paramilitary terrorist organisation whose primary goal was world conquest and domination. The group was founded shortly after the rise of Nazism in Germany and was originally the scientific branch of the Nazi Schutzstaffel.” She started to pace, her mind latching on and whirring to compile this new piece of information, completely missing the bewildered look the stranger was giving her as her monologue continued. “During World War II, they separated from the Nazis with the goal of conquering the world on their own, but were ultimately defeated by Captain America and the Howling Commandos in 1945. They were assumed to have disbanded after the war, but...” She shook her head. “What could an organisation like HYDRA want with me?”
Hermione turned expectantly to her silent companion, who had by now completely stopped what he was doing to stare at her like a wary wild animal, as if her rapid-fire regurgitation of information was something that would somehow eat him, and waited, silently prompting him for an answer.
Soundlessly, the man picked up a screw driver from the floor beside him and returned his gaze to the motorbike in a slow deliberate way that made Hermione think that he was stalling. Finally, he spoke, voice low and modulated. “It’s because you're a Gifted.”
Hermione goggled at him. “I'm a what? ”
“Gifted.” He turned to her, rested his right wrist on his bent knee, screwdriver dangling from his fingers, and waved vaguely at her general form. “That's why you can disappear and reappear in the alley close to the British Museum, right?”
The silence that followed his nonchalant question was deafening.
“You've been following me?! ” The last words to her question ended in an incredulous shriek, anger colouring her words. Whether it was directed at herself or at her apparent stalker, she didn't know.
The man suddenly stood, her aggression seeming to trigger his own defenses. He stalked towards her with an intimidating grace of a predator, stopping only inches away and towered over her. “HYDRA has had you under surveillance for weeks; I’m trying to protect you.”
“ By stalking me? ” Hermione retorted acerbically, unable to believe what she was hearing. She knew it was unfair to lash out at the bloke – he did, after all, save her, but she could not believe she'd been so careless!
Had two years in the relative normalcy of her life in this universe made her so complacent? How did HYDRA even find out? She'd always made sure to only use magic in the privacy of her home or Apparate in secluded areas, away from cameras and those bloody mobile phones.
“Listen,” the man responded in a low, grave tone, eyes so dark and blue, narrowed and fierce. “HYDRA, for whatever reason, wants you and your abilities. They've been searching for you for over a year now and they will stop at nothing to get you.”
Blindsided by this revelation, Hermione's fury evaporated as his words registered, only to be replaced by a gnawing dread that ate away at her insides.
Over a year? They'd known about her for that long?
What did they know?
As question after question crashed around her thoughts, she could only voice out one immediate thing.
“How do you know all of this?” Hermione asked softly, meeting his fierce gaze and tried to search for answers. “Who are you? Why are you helping me?”
She saw his jaw clench minutely and she knew she'd asked the right questions.
“I've seen what HYDRA can do up close,” he murmured darkly. “I wouldn't wish it on anyone.”
And then he turned away, out of Hermione's space and taking the intensity of his presence with him. His long strides took him back to where the motorbike stood forgotten, his back to her, tense.
Hermione blew out the breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding, unable to wrap her head around what she'd just heard.
A terrorist organisation was looking for her because they thought she was a Gifted . Lovely . Because having another group of megalomaniacs on her tail was yet another thing she needed on top of being interdimensionally stranded.
Frazzled, Hermione ran a hand through her hair, which must now be quite the bushy sight, and tried to calm down. She needed a plan. She didn't know much about HYDRA other than what the history books of this world had said, but judging by their persistent pursuit of her, she doubted they'd give up on trying to capture her any time soon.
She'd have to run. Again.
Hermione stifled a groan, but before she could voice out any of her frustrations, a loud crash outside echoed throughout the warehouse premises and the ground rumbled like rolling thunder. She turned to the window where her companion had practically leapt to with amazing speed and she caught the grim set of his jaw.
“They're here,” he announced grimly.
Hermione rushed to his side to peek outside just as three black armoured vehicles crashed through the inner gates, flattening them to the gravel ground and skidded to a halt in the middle of the parking area. Scores of men in assault gear, armed to the teeth, jumped out with military precision.
Hermione paled at the sight of them. “ Bloody hell! I thought you said it would take them an hour!”
The man didn't bother with an answer as he stalked away, and Hermione turned to see him hefting the wicked looking gun he'd been using, loading it with ammunition and, she assumed, checking its general condition.
There was no way they could fight their way out of this, no matter how skilled her rescuer appeared to be and Hermione was not about to test her magical shields against high-powered bullets and bloody lasers when she had no idea they would even hold.
No, they needed to get out of here.
Coming to a quick decision, Hermione glanced back at the swarm of black ops now swarming their building before looking back at the man who looked far too calm and ready to fight his way through a veritable army. He met her stare and nodded.
“We need to —” he started, but Hermione cut him off with a pertinent question of her own.
“Can I trust you?” she asked as she hedged closer.
His jaw clamped shut with an audible click and a grim shadow cast over his face. “No. Probably not.”
Outside, a loud banging at the door began, shaking the foundations and raining debris of concrete around them on all sides.
Hermione took a sharp breath and stepped hurriedly towards him. She reached out and grabbed onto one of his thick arms with both of her hands.
There was nothing for it.
“I promise I won't let go.”
The confused look he gave her was the last thing she saw before she took a step and they disappeared in a swirl of wind and a pop.
They landed with a pop in a quaint living room, the silence that greeted them a stark contrast to the burgeoning chaos they had left behind. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, the tension she felt bleeding out of her body at finally being in relative safety.
They were safe.
Turning to check on her Side-Along passenger, who had somehow impressively remained upright, despite looking a tad disorientated, Hermione stepped back and dropped her hands to her sides. “Are you all right?”
He blinked down at her before letting his gaze roam appraisingly, clearly assessing their new environment. “Should have done this earlier,” he shook his head. “Where are we?”
“My home,” she responded as she swept a hang to encompass her living space. “We should be safe here for the time being.”
The look he gave her told her he wasn’t impressed by this, and Hermione bristled. “HYDRA knows where you live. We can’t stay here,” he said as he stalked cautiously to the windows that looked out into the street, making sure to keep his form away from clear view, his gun still in his arms.
“They won’t be able to get in or see us.” Hermione insisted. “My wards should be able to hold them off for a while. At least for the next few hours.”
Ignoring the curious look her mysterious guest shot her, Hermione turned to make her way upstairs to her room before she hesitated. There was a part of her that just wanted to run, leave this man to his own devices and go underground, but it wasn’t in her nature to abandon people. Especially not ones who’d clearly gone out of their way to help her. Whether she wanted it or not, she was stuck with him now. Limiting herself because she feared discovery was moot at this point.
Thank Merlin there was no Ministry of Magic to arrest her!
“What’s your name?”
The question seemed to have caught him off-guard as his head snapped towards her from his spot by the windows. “What?”
“Your name?” Hermione clarified, a little uncertain. She shifted where she stood, suddenly feeling awkward under his disbelieving stare. She caught herself from fidgeting with her hands, and held them behind her instead. “I…I realised we never got to properly introduce ourselves. I’m… I’m Hermione,” though she had a feeling he already knew that.
There was a pregnant pause before he nodded slowly, a miniscule bob of his head. There was a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes for a brief second before he answered. “My name is…James.”
“Nice to meet you, James.” Hermione responded hesitantly in turn. Then she cleared her throat and gestured to her ivory coloured sofa with its velvet cream and tawny cushions. “Please make yourself at home while I pack my things; I shouldn’t take long.”
She pointed to the door on her right that led to the kitchen and dining room. “There’s a toilet right by the kitchen, on the door to the left.” Another pause. “Would you like some tea? Coffee, perhaps? I'll have Winky prepare the refreshments for you. Just…erm, don't panic.” she warned before she called out, “Winky!”
Before James had a chance to utter a single word, a confused furrow on his brows, a loud, hollow pop echoed around the room and Winky appeared before Hermione in a thin puff of smoke, bat-like ears flopping happily in welcome.
“Missy Granger! You is back!” she exclaimed.
James flinched in surprise, instinctively crouching defensively, eyes wide with alarm. He aimed his gun at Winky, his shoulders hunched and ready for a fight.
“Don’t shoot!” Hermione shouted, rushing to get between her friend and her alarmed guest. “She’s a friend!”
“ What the hell is that thing? ” James ground out, his voice rising to a level higher than a cool cucumber for the first time since this whole affair began, his gaze pinned on the equally spooked house-elf now hiding behind Hermione.
Winky squeaked. “We has a guest!” She peeked out from behind Hermione’s thighs with enormous brown eyes shining with wonder and undisguised curiosity. “He is a muggle” she whispered loudly.
James looked back at the house-elf, equally fascinated.
“James,” Hermione began carefully, extending a placating hand and bending down slightly to show him that Winky wasn't dangerous. “Put down the gun; she's not gonna hurt you. This is Winky; she's a house-elf and my assistant.”
Winky seemed to puff up at this, delighted by her new title.
Hermione cast the house-elf a sideways glance, tilting her head at James. “Winky, this is James. He saved me from some very bad men.”
“ Bad wizards ?” Winky gasped, ears dropping back in fear.
“Wizards?” James echoed, perturbed, his gun still raised.
“ No , not wizards,” Hermione stressed, trying to gain control of the situation.
Just then, something small and green, and shaped like a long piece of vegetation with multiple long branches detached itself from where it had hung on Winky's pink and white (and clean) lace frock. Chirping softly, the bowtruckle stretched, the single leaf on its head quivering. It climbed onto the house-elf's frail shoulders and extended its twig-like fingers. It grabbed onto a lock of springy brown hair dangling over Hermione's shoulder and swung itself on it like a piece of rope, before landing smoothly on Hermione's outstretched palm.
A bubble of laughter erupted from Hermione's lips, amused at its antics.
“And this is Sprig.” Hermione held out her hand to James so he could see the small tree guardian better. Sprig did a grandiose bow, emitting a proud yet tiny cheep .
James stared at Sprig as if she'd just presented him with a severed head. He took a wary step back, knuckles white as they gripped his gun.
“What the hell are you?”
There was an awkward pause as Hermione shifted to her full height. Perhaps this was a bit much for a muggle?
Depositing Sprig onto her shoulder, who then proceeded to climb up her voluminous hair, Hermione tucked a loose lock behind her ear and gave him a sheepish smile. “Well, Sprig is a bowtruckle. Winky,” she nodded to the miniature house-elf, who took her cue and bowed deeply, ears nearly touching the floor, “is a house elf. And I,” she raised the wand she held in her right hand, twirling it between her fingers, “am a witch.”
There was another bout of deafening silence as James seemed to be beyond words at the moment. His bewilderment was plain as day but, as he slowly lowered his weapon, at least he didn't seem inclined to shoot anyone anymore.
All things considered, James seemed to be taking it rather well.
Vaguely, Hermione wondered when it would be a good time to introduce him to her firebird. She hoped it wouldn't be the last straw on the camel's back…
When Hermione was sure James was sufficiently calm enough to put his gun away, she left him in Winky's capable hands. She made her way to her room upstairs and took out the small, beige satchel she’d used on field missions. It was charmed with an Undetectable Extension Charm, so it should be able hold everything she needed in this world, on top of the things she’d carried with her before being transported.
She needed to pack her things and fast.
Despite her words of assurance to James, Hermione's intent wards had been picking up on some distasteful characters loitering right on her street for the last several minutes. And while she didn't think they'd make it through her wards on their own without frying their own skin off, the more desperate they became, the more things could get drastic and Hermione wasn't sure she wanted to be around to see that.
With a flourishing twirl of her wand, Hermione sent the things she’d deemed necessary into her satchel – clothes, bags, shoes and the few things she'd managed to collect over the years, disappearing into the abyss inside. She did the same in her adjoining suite, which she used as her study, summoning all the books she'd collected from this world, ranging from history to physics, astronomy and chemistry.
For the last two years, Hermione had been living under the radar as a muggle and learning everything she could about this world, contrasting and comparing its differences and likeness. The most obvious difference was how infinitely more technologically advanced this world was. They were surrounded by technology everywhere and people used it for everything. Assimilating their type of magic to their new environs had been quite a challenge, but she and Winky had learned to adapt.
The more subtle difference lay between the pages of a book, any book. The differences were in the words. Some works from known authors known even in her universe were slightly altered, scientific discoveries were worlds away from what hers were capable of, even events in history happened quite differently here from what she remembered of her world’s history. There was certainly no Captain America in her time.
It had all fascinated and alarmed Hermione, but it had also given her hope. If this world was capable of understanding far more about the laws of physics than her world, then she should have the resources she’d need to figure out a way to transport herself back into her own dimension.
Running with that theory, Hermione had relearned us much of muggle sciences and physics as could until she ran into Dr. Jane Foster’s work on The Convergence, an astrophysical event that only occurred every five thousand years when the Nine Realms of this universe aligned and mirror portals opened between them. It was the closest phenomenon she could find that could explain her interdimensional displacement and Hermione had dedicated her time to learning everything about the Convergence, right under the foremost expert on the subject since.
Then Hermione sighed, dejected at now having to leave such a valuable position behind. As one of Dr. Foster’s assistants, she had access to all the new data and information they had on the Convergence that were not yet released to the public. But with HYDRA on her tail, there was no way she would be able to return and knowingly endanger her colleagues.
What was worse was that she’d forgotten the tote bag she had with her earlier that day containing Dr. Foster’s scientific studies and some of her own notes on the phenomenon from a magical stand point at the warehouse. Even with Hermione’s eidetic memory, there had still been quite a few information she’d yet to cover thoroughly. Dr. Foster was going to be quite cross with her and probably fine her exponentially for loss and damages.
Hermione winced at the thought of disappointing such a respectable woman. Perhaps she could ask Winky to look for her bag, but then discarded the idea as soon as she thought of it. She would never knowingly send a friend out into a dangerous situation.
After Vanishing some towels and toiletries from the bathroom to her satchel, Hermione allowed herself yet another sigh as she trudged back down the stairs. She’d figure it out later. First, they needed to go to ground and figure out how in Merlin’s saggy balls HYDRA found out about her ‘abilities’. She’d been so careful!
Hermione reached the bottom of the stairs, effectively irritated by the situation now, but stopped short at the sight of James sitting stiffly at one end of the sofa, looking positively disconcerted as a Winky handed him a steaming mug of coffee. To his credit, he took the mug graciously from the excited house-elf, but did not neglect to glance warily into the cup, looking like he’d just been handed poison.
Hermione smothered down a giggle, amused at how out of place a man of his size and rugged disposition looked in her decidedly feminine living room, with its white and blue walls, yellow chiffon curtains and cream-coloured upholstery. Finally, she decided to ease his discomfiture as she made her way towards the other occupants of the room. “It’s not, you know.”
James turned his attention to her as she took a seat on the one of the two armchairs that faced the sofa, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Not what?”
“Poisoned.” Hermione smirked.
James ducked his head, and if she hadn’t been looking, she wouldn’t have caught the sheepish grimace on his face. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s all right.” Hermione shook her head with a laugh. She tilted her head towards Winky, who was busying herself with the pastries on the tea tray, while Sprig tried to lift a cupcake off its plate. “I know it’s a lot to take in all at once.”
“Uh...maybe a little,” James responded as a cup of tea levitated its way towards Hermione and James followed its ascent with the same perturbed look on his face. He shook his head in disbelief as she accepted the cup from mid-air. “I’ve seen my fair share of bizarre, but this is…”
“Too much?” she suggested helpfully.
James inclined his head in agreement as he looked down at his coffee, staring hard at the dark liquid that reflected his countenance.
“You better start getting used to it,” Hermione warned with a sympathetic wince. “You’re about to see more.” Before James could respond to her ambiguous statement, Hermione turned to Winky as she stood, placing her teacup on the coffee table. “Winky, could you pack up the rest of the house? I’ve got all I need in my satchel.” Hermione indicated the satchel slung over her shoulder a solid pat.
Winky nodded but there was curiosity brimming in her eyes. “We is leaving, Missy Granger?”
“Yes, unfortunately.” Hermione nodded as she reached out and extended her palm to Sprig, who jumped on without hesitation. She placed him on her shoulder where he proceeded to sit contentedly, clutching on to the strands of her hair for balance before she walked over to the fireplace mantel, beside which stood a gilded bird stand.
From the top of the mantle, Hermione retrieved a small red lacquer box inlaid with golden runes and sigils. She slipped the box carefully into her satchel. “There are bad men after us.” She sent James a meaningful glance. “And they’re right outside now as we speak. I can feel them edging around my wards.”
James cursed, bounding up to look out the window so fast before Hermione could stop him.
“They can’t get in, as I mentioned. My wards are picking up on their intent and are preventing them from approaching.”
“Yeah, well, can your ‘wards’ hold off a missile?” James called back, eyes fixed outside as he peered down the street.
Hermione took a moment to absorb that information.
“ Bloody hell! What do you mean a missile?!” she exclaimed. Then she was rushing to his side to see that, true enough, there were, indeed, several men carrying loaded rocket launchers down the streets of suburban London.
Hermione paled. No , she definitely did not think her wards would be able to hold off an assault from a missile.
Winky, for her part, didn’t need further urging to do what she'd been asked, and with a snap of her fingers, a brown leather suitcase appeared out of thin air on the carpeted floor before her. Another snap and a whirlwind of things flew through the air in quick succession and into the suitcase until the house was as bare as it had been when they had first moved in. The suitcase snapped shut with a sharp click just before a loud whistling ripped through the air.
The house shook in its foundations as the missile crashed against Hermione's wards. It took the brunt of the missile's impact, but Hermione could already feel it fraying. It wasn't, after all, made to withstand that much shock. She definitely hadn't anticipated being bombarded by a literal flying projectile of destruction!
“ We have to get out of here! ” James shouted over as another missile collided into her wards.
The house trembled, the furniture turning over and crashing to the floor. Hermione felt her wards flicker one, twice, before coming down completely.
One more rocket and the house was going to cave in on them.
Not even a second later, another whistle echoed around them. James took her hand and drove them under the upturned sofa just as the missile crashed right through the roof, debris falling all around them.
The house was quite literally crashing around their ears!
“ Winky, go! ” Hermione commanded as she gripped James' hand firmly in her own and Apparated them both to the first place she could think of.