Look- an update! Just a bit of world building. We'll have some familiar faces come into play soon. And yes, you'll notice quite a few characters will NOT be coming into to play as well. This is a fairly dark world (not in terms of rating, because I'm not into graphic torture scenes, etc. but in terms of thematic content). There's not real rhyme or reason to who is around or who isn't (I'm not writing in many of my favorite characters). It really is who fit the story best. Disclaimer:
I disclaim ownership of both Buffy and Harry Potter. That is all.
Hermione had always been rubbish at gin rummy. Her parents had been bridge players, but Xander had cheerfully disclaimed even rudimentary knowledge of bridge, leaving them with gin in common. The small kitchen they were camped out in was shabby, like most of the rest of the house, but clean. She had looked longingly at the couch when Xander had helped her down the stairs but she would have been asleep in minutes if they had tried to sit there.
Instead they were perched on awkward metal chairs, playing gin on a table that had seen better days under fluorescent lighting and in borrowed pajamas. Well, Xander still wore a plaid work shirt that was stained with blood that made Hermione queasy to acknowledge. A half-eaten bologna and cheese sandwich sat on a plate next to her and even though she knew Xander would have preferred that she finish it her stomach rolled at the thought of more food. Given her nausea, sensitivity to light and clumsiness she most certainly had a concussion. Which meant more than a few gin rummy games in her immediate, wakeful future.
She peered at Xander over her cards, taking stock of her rescuer once again. Aside from his eye patch he looked like so many other average citizens of Cleveland- a little haggard, a little unshaven, a little downtrodden. Nothing physical to indicate a level of empathy so many lacked nowadays. Nothing to suggest that he would be willing to save a stranger. To risk harm to himself to help, well… her. He must have been at the end of his shift when he had stopped by the diner- his eyes were heavily shadowed with lack of sleep, although he was much more alert than she was.
His eye patch stood out starkly against pale skin and a day’s growth of beard stubbled his face, making him look older than he likely was. In all likelihood he was a few years older than her, perhaps in his mid to late twenties. Not that she didn’t feel older than that most days. Her war wounds ached even in Cleveland’s relatively mild winters and her nightmares would have aged most people decades.
Xander’s hair needed a good cut- it curled at his collar- and Hermione was surprised with a sudden sharp yearning for Rob’s soft, red hair under her hands. Conscious that she was blushing and taking an inordinate amount of time with her cards, she pursed her lips and made a rather disastrous move. Xander gave her a relaxed and unhurried smile, a flash of white teeth, before contemplating his own cards.
It struck her then, the absurdity of her situation… Here she was, Hermione Granger, the daughter of dentists and the “brightest witch of her age,” hiding in America, in Cleveland
from the most powerful dark wizards of her time, one of whom was Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived… her best friend. She had just been rescued by a one-eyed construction worker from a fate which, while certainly less worse than Harry’s prisons, was definitely unpleasant, and she was sitting in her rescuer’s kitchen playing gin rummy in borrowed flannel pajamas. The weirdest part was that it all felt so bloody normal… so absolutely logical
that this was where she would be in her life… living as a Muggle once again.
It had only been three years, but Hermione hadn’t felt like a proper witch in ages. Hadn’t done much besides hide and survive and wait to see what terrors Harry and Voldemort chose to rain down on the world they held enthralled with blood and chaos.
Dwelling too long on Harry made her fingers twitch nervously, reaching for a wand she dare not use, and that nervousness quickly became blind panic when she realized what exactly had been with her bloody clothing. It always came down to blood.
She swallowed and wondered if Xander could see the frantic beat of her heart on the column of her neck, if he could read the worry in the tightening of her fingers.
Being a witch was… dangerous nowadays, even if there wasn’t a bounty on your head. Most of the wizarding world was carefully monitored and used as a potential resource for the Dark Forces. Hiding your wand in the back waistband of your pants was, if not punishable by death, likely to be a fact of interest for the local authorities. And not turning in someone who was trying to escape such notice, well that was punishable by death.
Especially if your blood was impure… non-magical.
Her voice, when she spoke, was strangled, and it hurt to hear the desperation in her voice. “My clothes… I need to see my clothes.”
He frowned at her and the roaring in her ears was overwhelming as her heart rate increased even more. Run… run… run!
“My clothes, I… please Xander.”
Another long moment and he shrugged and moved to a small room that connected to the kitchen. She could hear him rummaging around for a moment before he responded to her frantic request. “They’re still wet. I just took them out of the wash bucket and was going to hang them outside.”
He returned with a folded sodden pile of clothing. Her blouse and pants smelled like cheap soap, but they were clean, and neat, and very obviously without her wand with them. They sat on the table, next to the bologna sandwich, and she could feel the unasked questions in his gaze as she stared but refused to touch the clothing she had frantically asked for.
Refused to acknowledge that this might be her end game.
Without another word, Xander laid her wand down on the table, gaze intent upon her face as she went ashen in response. Hermione’s fingers itched to snatch the precious piece of wood up- 10 3/4” of vine wood, with a dragon heartstring core. When Ollivander had held the slender box up to her, those many years ago, her wand had almost sung a joyous note of magical recognition. Of completion. It had made her
feel complete, and daring, commanding the heart of a dragon with her magic. With her will.
But that was before years staring defiantly in the face of death, her hand wrapped in Ron’s, their hands on Harry’s shoulders. That was before a marriage that ended with her husband taking his last broken breaths on a dungeon floor as Harry stood over him.
Now, it merely made her sad, and afraid. But the wand still knew, knew and wanted her and it quivered without moving at all, in the dim lighting of Xander’s kitchen. Even without magic he had to have felt it, calling to her. Naming her, if not one of the Dark Lords’ Most Wanted then at least a witch.
She stared at Xander, and she hated that her mouth quivered with fear and uncertainty, but she finally, without stopping to think about the potential consequences of claiming her old life, reached out and took her wand back. The wood felt reassuring on her fingers, warm with magic she had left fallow for so long. Xander stared back, single eye dark and inscrutable, mouth pressed in a thin line that didn’t bode well for Hermione’s continued survival. It was one thing to rescue a stranger- to aid and shelter a waitress from a diner. It was another thing entirely to shelter a witch. To help hide her from the rest of the hostile world.
He turned without a word and strode out of the kitchen and up the stairs. She could hear each one creak with his definitive passing, but Hermione felt strangely calm, peaceful, regardless of her rescuer’s intent. It may have been the concussion talking, but her ribs certainly informed her that whatever Xander intended to do with this information that it was entirely out of her control. She was certainly in no shape to brave the streets of Cleveland in flannel pajamas and battered body. Not this night.
She started to rise, feeling the need to pace, but darkness filled her vision and Hermione sat, abruptly, out of breath and disoriented from her concussion. The bologna sandwich had grown warm in the time since Xander had made it and the smell suddenly made her nauseous. She barely made it to the sink before she was sick, heaving up what little of the sandwich she had originally eaten.
The retching motion jostled her ribs, and she cried out as she sank slowly to the kitchen floor, one hand cradling her side as the other wiped tears and snot from her face. Hermione swallowed, mouth dry with that constant ache of fear, that terror that hadn’t left her in years as Xander’s steady footsteps came back down the stairs and into the kitchen.
She stared miserably at his work boots, unwilling to look up and see the condemnation on her face. Witch… witch… witch…
Would that she only faced a trial by Muggles and not her peers. Death by drowning, or being crushed seemed infinitely easier than what Harry would have in-store for her.
The shoes stayed in her vision for another long moment before Xander sighed and rustled around in the kitchen cabinet. The sink’s faucet started and stopped, and she jumped when the older man knelt into her vision. She was ashamed that it still made her wince when gentle, calloused hands brushed her dark curls back. The face that was even with hers was somber, and reflective. Xander looked older in this moment, the shadows of his face long.
He handed her a cup of water, watched as she took a sip to get the taste of sickness out of her mouth, waited until she took another drink and then placed the cup on the floor next to her with exaggerated care. Neither of them deigned to notice the trembling of her hands.
But nothing, nothing
could have prepared Hermione for what he handed her next.
It was wood, like her wand in length but completely alien. Tapered at a point. Worn from repeated use, with ashes ingrained into the grain of the object. Her mouth parted with shock before she could hide the reaction, her usual quick thinking slowed by weariness and pain. But even as she gripped the wooden object in her hands the truth of it didn’t change. Either did Xander’s steady stare.
She held a stake and that, even more so than being a fugitive magic user (albeit not Hermione Granger), was enough to get you killed in Harry and Voldemort’s world.
Xander smiled finally, grimly, and held out a hand to help her up. “Looks like we both have something to hide.”
Xander watched as the broken woman before him grasped the stake and wand to her chest. Her hair had been in a dark bob when he first met her, but it wasn’t straight naturally, because as it dried it had left a riot of curls that made her seem younger than she likely was. One of the idiots who had attacked her had gotten at least one good hit across her cheek. Helen would have a splendid black eye in a few more hours.
Her mouth trembled as he waited with practiced patience, trembled and firmed as she considered his revelation.
It was a dangerous time to be a witch or wizard. The Dark Forces roamed most metropolitan areas, policing unregistered magic. Although many users had gone to ground as Muggles, it was difficult to stay that way. Difficult to give up an upbringing that made most magic natural, essential. Perhaps Helen was Muggle-born. It was almost three years in to Harry Potter and Voldemort’s worldwide occupation and many fewer undocumented witches and wizards remained. All it took was one slip up, one accio
on an unregistered wand for the Dark Forces to descend in a frenzied feeding of chains and death.
It was all about standards after all.
That Helen had chosen to be beaten bloody rather than use her magic said a lot about her strength. It hopefully said a lot about her allegiances as well, because the only thing more dangerous than a witch to be in an already dangerous world was a Vampire Slayer.
Not many of the girls, the Slayerettes, remained. They hadn’t had huge numbers left to begin with, after they lost L.A. to demons. But Slayers frightened the dark regime that ruled them all. They were quick, competent fighters. They were girls used to facing demons and darkness, to taking life with medieval weapons and bloody hands. They were used to facing their own deaths.
It had never made much of a difference to a Slayer- who would kill her. It didn’t matter if a Vampire savaged her, or a demon gutted her, or a Death Eater tortured her to death. She was still dead in an alley, or a graveyard, or a dungeon, and another was called before warm blood cooled on the slick ground.
It mattered how
she lived though. That had to matter, because otherwise Buffy’s sacrifices had meant nothing. Willow’s, Vi’s… all of their deaths could only be reasoned through an expression of hope. Of balance. It HAD to matter, how a Slayer’s days and nights were spent, battling the Forces of Darkness. Loving and laughing and fighting back.
And so their few, their precious few, they fought. They fought and they died and they took more of the Dark Lords’ forces with them than was easy to explain away.
And they were hunted. Pursued like stags in the forest as the Death Eaters bayed in triumph. Hunted through alley ways and grave yards. Hunted through row houses in Cleveland. Hunted to HIS doorstep.
But he had brought Helen here. And he had given her a stake- tangible proof of his traitorous origins. He wasn’t a Slayer, but being part of Summer’s Night was just as damning. More damning than never again using a wand.
She wouldn’t be the first witch or wizard Xander had carefully brought to their ranks. He hoped he had judged her right- that she wouldn’t be the last.
He kneeled in front of her, reached forward and carefully brushed her bruised cheek. Her dark gaze snapped to his and he waited, waited until the terror in her eyes was pushed away. Until she looked like the quietly fierce survivor that she was, eyes bright and unclouded.
“I believe that we can have a better world once again. That we can force the darkness back. That we can be free.”
Helen’s gaze widened marginally, and he knew that he had surprised her with his words. With the earnestness of his message. And most of all, with the stake that she still held.
She took an unsteady breath and nodded slightly. Her words, when they came, were soft but sure. “I believe that too.”
“I know we’ve informally met, but if we’re to discuss more of the future I thought more formal introductions are in order.” Xander flashed her a rueful grin before slowly extending his hand. He had busted his knuckles on one of her attackers, and despite a few hand washings, the cuts had reopened, leaving his knuckles bruised and weeping. “I asked you to call me Xander, but you might know me better from Harry Potter and Voldemort’s Most Wanted posters. I’m Alexander Harris.”
Helen blinked, obviously surprised again, but it gave him heart when her own lips curved into a secretive smile and her demeanor visibly warmed. She shook his hand, bloody knuckles and all. “Well, I asked you to call me Helen, but for the first time in three years I’m going to go by another name. You showed me your Most Wanted… I’ll show you mine. My name is Hermione Granger, and I do believe Harry Potter and Voldemort want me dead more than you.”
This time it was Xander’s turn to be surprised.