I have neglected some of the stories I have been excited about for far too long (thank you grad school). Starting Building Blocks
has really shaken me out of my stupor and I’m excited to try to add chapters to these stories who have deserved much more attention than I have given them. I hope you all give them as chance again too- thank you as always for reading. Disclaimer:
I do not own the intellectual property related to either Buffy/Angel or Harry Potter. Timeline:
Buffy is post-Chosen,
Angel post-Not Fade Away
, Harry Potter is post-Order of the Phoenix
. Character Death Notices:
This is a fairly dark fic. There will be character deaths. Chapter Two
Hermione should have been paying attention to where her rescuer, Xander was taking her, but she was pretty sure she had cracked ribs and a concussion from the attack. She knew she was going into shock. Her hands were cold and she felt very, very tired. Xander’s voice was a quiet, insistent hum as he helped her down the alley and to a still-running truck that had seen better days. She knew she should be able to make out his words, but the voice seemed too far away from her.
Her head spun further when he lifted her up into the cab but she managed not to puke, taking a slow breath or two and ignoring his worried, angry face. He closed the passenger door gently and she leaned forward, her forehead resting on cold glass as Xander got behind the wheel and began to drive. Cleveland’s lights were too bright this night, and Hermione closed her eyes to ward off the nausea and pounding headache that buffeted her.
Xander kept an eye on his unexpected passenger as he carefully and slowly drove through a maze of streets to get back to the house he kept in Cleveland. He was pretty sure she was if not asleep, definitely shocky from the attack. Traffic was light at this time of the evening and Xander reached over and carefully monitored her steady heartbeat with warm fingers on her too thin wrist.
It wasn’t the best circumstances, since she probably had a concussion, but it was all he could do until he got her home. The hospitals only operated during the best of times and although the city lights were on tonight he had read in the paper that they were starting rollbacks on power again, an energy conservation practice that left most of the city in the dark for weeks at a time. It was likely the hospitals were only seeing worst case walk-ins in preparation and Helen, for her probably injuries, wasn’t likely to die in the ER from anything but old age. As long as her heartbeat held steady, well Xander had patched up too many Slayers from far worse.
It was second nature at this point to loop around the neighboring neighborhoods four or five times, turning his drive home from a two mile trip to almost fifteen, in an effort to not be traced back to his house. Xander had been at his place in Cleveland for almost a year and he liked the setup enough he was loathe to lose it to carelessness.
There wasn’t much to like in the world these days…
Europe, what there was left of it, was mostly empty husks and military check points. Although dark wizards ruled the world, their hired thugs did much of the work. After all, a night stick broke bones just as well as a spell. Most of North America mirrored the destruction of Europe, but on a less grand scale. The urban centers consisted of survivors trying their best to go about their ordinary lives… Working as construction workers, or waitresses. The wizarding community in the U.S. and Canada had always been relatively small and while there were pockets of wizarding resistance fighters, especially in the Northwest, the majority of North America had heeled to Voldemort and Harry Potter’s command in short order and with much less bloodshed than Europe. The cities were controlled through a combination of martial law and dark wizardry, and those who could had long fled to the country, vying for safety and security in suburban pockets of farmlands.
Xander wasn’t under any illusions concerning how long the situation was likely to remain stable. The magic-made virus released in Africa meant that most of that continent was done for, and Asia, if Japan and South Korea didn’t begin to negotiate, was likely next. The Dark Forces, although very much in-charge of the new world order, were still organizing things to their likeness. It wouldn’t be more than another year or two before things began to escalate again. Before bodies were stacked like firewood on the sidewalks and men in black hoods flew overhead again.
Weary with the thought Xander let go of Helen’s wrist so he could parallel park on the street in front of the shabby two story house he rented. This part of Cleveland had been upper middle class three years ago, but that didn’t mean much nowadays. He could have squatted, rent free, in one of the neighboring houses, but Xander liked having amenities like running water and, occasionally, even electricity, so he paid his landlord a small amount in cash and supplies each month to legally live in his house.
Even as dead weight Helen didn’t weigh much. Xander was careful not to jostle her too much as he carried her up the steps to the house. She definitely wasn’t sleeping, at least not soundly, and her lips moved with the names of those she had lost, murmuring them over and over. It was a shame he couldn’t use any of the good wards without drawing attention, because juggling a semi-conscious woman and a sticky lock was surprisingly difficult, but he finally managed without dropping anything.
He didn’t both reaching for the lights; he knew his house well enough to take the stairs up to the second floor and into the spare bedroom off from the main. The bed in the main bedroom was more comfortable but definitively filled with masculine things. The spare bedroom was Dawn’s when she managed to make it home and it reflected the haphazard charm of the girl who had decorated it. Everything was shabby and definitively second hand, but the quilt on the bed had hand-embroidered flowers and a denim patch to cover a well-worn hole in the fabric in the shape of a butterfly. There were chipped vases on the shelves, filled with carefully dried flowers. If Helen was persistent enough to look through the battered trunk at the end of the bed there might be questions about the nature of the weapons Dawn kept, after all it was well known that the Dark Lords were interested in capturing vampire hunters, but Xander was fairly confident it wouldn’t come up.
Especially if he didn’t take care of her soon.
Hermione woke, woozy and disoriented, to… rain? She tried to move and moaned, her ribs shattering with lightning pain as her head ached. Strong hands held her propped up against a slick wall and she flinched when she realized that she was mostly unclothed.
“Easy… easy Helen. You’re going to be ok but it’s time to wake up now.”
She blinked and tried desperately to focus on the person who held her but her mouth wouldn’t form the words to ask. She heard a sigh and then there was the creak of a faucet being turned off and the water stopped. It took her a long moment to place the man crouched before her in work clothes and an eye patch but memories from the alley way came back slowly and she moaned again.
Xander gave her a sympathetic smile and reach right outside the shower where he had her mostly propped up to procure a worn but large towel. He helped her wrap it around her shoulders and she flushed, realizing that while she was wearing her bra and knickers that a stranger had probably undressed her. “Sorry, he murmured as he briskly rubbed her shoulders, “you were a bit shocky and I’m pretty sure you have a concussion. I thought it best to warm you up and wake you up as soon as I could.”
Hermione grimaced as she tried to rise and gasped as her ribs protested.
“Also,” he added dryly, “you seem to have fractured a rib or two. Take a moment… can you breathe easily?”
Hermione, despite her initial feelings of unease at waking up mostly naked in a stranger’s shower, took a moment to take slow, deep breaths. If the ribs had punctured anything she wouldn’t be able to. “I think,” she gasped, “I’m relatively okay.” Breathing hurt, but her lugs could fill reliably. Which truly was a blessing. Without magic and reliable access to muggle medicine, things could have gotten very dicey.
She was lucky enough Xander had stopped to help her. Not many would in the world Harry had helped to create.
“Lean on me to get up. We don’t want to wrap the ribs, that won’t help you breathe, but don’t try to stress it either.” Xander held the towel around her shoulder as she tried to stand. It took an embarrassing amount of effort but the shaggy haired man didn’t comment, content to let her move at her own pace.
He led her out of the small bathroom and down a narrow hallway. Hermione leaned heavily on her rescuer but also kept a firm hand on the wall. Her feet felt heavy and unresponsive and she almost tripped more than once. She might have been alarmed when he led her into a bedroom but it was bright and cheery and obviously well loved. A much mended threadbare quilt covered the bed and there were cheerful girlish touches everywhere. A set of flannel pajamas were folded on the bed and Xander unselfconsciously led her there and sat her down.
“I couldn’t find anything warm for you to wear without buttons, but I undid the first two or three so you could pull it on yourself without me helping. The pants should fit. Dawn is taller than you, but you’re otherwise about the same size.” He tilted his head to one side and gave Hermione an impersonal once over as she blinked up at him, wrapped in a towel with dark hair starting to curl slightly as it dripped and dried. “Also, you work at a diner, shouldn’t be able to eat a sandwich now and again?”
That startled a surprised laugh from her, which ended abruptly in a renewed grimace of pain. She was
too thin. Anxiety and stress kept her rail thin and had for years. It was probably one of the reasons she could walk past someone who knew her for years and not be recognized.
That and the haunted look in her eyes.
Her rescuer flashed her a quick smile, bright white teeth against even lips, before he shook his head. “All right, get changed and I’ll wait outside. Call if you need me.”
Hermione waited until Xander slipped out to stop, take a few long moments, and try to center herself. She hadn’t felt this disoriented in years, since she had first made it stateside, after nearly nine months on the run with Harry and Voldemort nipping at her heels. Since Luna…
She shuddered, veering away from that line of thought. She had learned long ago that there was a time and place for remembering, and the bigger loser you were in a war the less time you had to mourn. To see Luna’s face as… Blonde hair singed, blood running down her face, Luna had helped block Hermione’s escape as the Death Eaters closed in. She had faced the war with more optimism than the rest of them once Harry had turned. Found reservoirs of strength that so many of the Resistance had lacked. Enough strength anyway to stand firm in the face of impending death, to look The Boy Who Lived in the eye before he raised his wand and…
Her nails digging into her palm distracted her enough to break the memory cycle but she was shaking by the time she could mentally pull away. She hadn’t thought of Luna in months, with good reason, and before she could quite stop herself the implication of the current wanted sign hit her with full force. Oh George…
The only way for George Weasley to be taken off the poster was if he was dead or captured. Hermione hoped for his sake, for all of their sakes, that he was dead. It was far, far kinder than if he had been captured. Than if he was currently being tortured for information he didn’t have to give. Tortured for fun. Tortured to death like Ron…
Hermione gasped and realized with some surprise that her face was wet with tears and that she had to have been in the bedroom with Xander waiting outside for quite some time.
“Pull it together, Granger,” she whispered fiercely as she used the towel to carefully dry her bra and knickers as much as possible. She was feeling vulnerable enough that wearing them damp under borrowed clothing sounded infinitely more appealing than literally having nothing on under the flannel pajamas Xander had provided.
She moved slowly, grimly, as she fought a wave of dizziness and managed to pull the pajama pants on. Although her ribs and head were in the worst shape from the attack she could see the bruising begin to form on her abdomen and arms. There wasn’t a full length mirror in the bedroom, but given how she was feeling that was probably for the best.
She started on the shirt but her ribs weren’t cooperating and her hands felt heavy. And she was tired. Tired
. So damned tired.
When Xander knocked a few minutes later she was on the floor, back against the bed with the flannel shirt in her lap. “Helen? Helen- are you all right?”
Hermione could hear the worry in the voice and wondered if she should be worried as well. It seemed silly that three years of grinding deprivation had done what nearly seven years of fighting had not but she literally didn’t have the strength to care. To stand up. To put a damn shirt on, let alone go back out there and face the next day.
Xander knocked again and again. “Helen, I’m coming in, ok?”
She looked up at the older man as he came in the room to check on her. And while there wasn’t pity on his face there was a measure of understanding that she found heartbreaking because how, how
could a one-eyed construction worker from Cleveland, Ohio understand what it was to feel such hopelessness. So utterly alone.
She should have felt shameful, or shy, or even nervous, to be so far out of her element, beaten and bruised and broken in a house she didn’t know with a stranger she had never met before today. But Xander very carefully didn’t acknowledge her unclothed state as he pried the flannel top from her hands and carefully put it on for her, working each arm through the arm holes and carefully buttoning the top three buttons. Very carefully held out his hand, sensing perhaps that the wounds she bore were deeper than the ones she had suffered just this after. Hermione met his somber gaze for a shade too long and, with a wistful smile, took his hand.