A/N: This chapter is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman's memory (1976-2020). He was respected and loved and will be missed. Wakanda Forever, my Black Panther.
I know some of you are anxious for Hermione to return to the Avenger world and for her relationship with Bucky to start. Be patient. Her coming to the magical world and dealing with the problems there was always party of my plan when hashing out the plot. This story is not a romance and can barely be called a slow-burn, and I hope you, my dear readers, will still read. Even when it seems thing are taking too long for some WinterWitch action. WinterWitch is the endgame, not the point. For the most part, the reviews I have gotten have been understanding of this. The reviewers are genuinely curious about Hermione's dealings with the magical world and journeying through her redemptive arch instead of huffing and puffing about the lack of sexy times between she and Bucky.
And who is The Mentor exactly? We won't find out this chapter, unfortunately. But there's no harm in wondering if it's an original character of my own or if the character belongs to Rowling.
Stay healthy, you guys. I'm lucky to be doing okay myself. Enjoy the story! Read and comment!
Chapter 38: Swimming in Circles
They swim laps. She and Nott race each other, and she wins. They compete on who can hold their breath the longest underwater, and she wins. He tries so hard to beat her, Hermione's sure he'll cramp soon.
Coming to a stop after their umpteenth lap, she waits for him to catch up. He surfaces, whipping his hair out of his eyes, gasping for breath. "I don't know what those fucking Muggles did to you, but it's unnatural."
"Those cigarettes aren't doing you any favors."
"Not as much as you."
He pushes closer to her. "You and me, krav maga. Now."
She twirls out of his range. "Not in the pool."
"You don't want to spar with me. You're so tired, and you'll just get hurt."
"Then dueling. Magical dueling. Has Severus at least taught you how to defend yourself? Our wands and words are our weapons? It's not common for our opponents to be within punching distance. Even less common for a witch or a wizard to resort in such tactics unless they're in a profession that requires it."
She swims to the ladder, climbing up and wringing the excess water out of her curls. Her back is to him, and she hears him paddle closer.
"All thing aside, Granger, your arse is fantastic."
Hermione cranes her neck and looks down, tucking her pointer fingers beneath the material of her swim bottoms to release the wet suction. "I know."
He starts up the ladder. "You could return the favor and say something complimentary about my person."
When he gets to chest level, she puts her hand on his head. "Your dick isn't that small." She pushes with a reasonable amount of strength. He flails backwards into the water, and she walks off, smiling to herself.
It's the little things.
Given he's still in the water, she's got a head start, but he's fast enough. He's on her tail real quick. She takes off running and gets to the stairs. When she's at the middle step, he's there at the top, completely dry and leaning against the newel.
"Being the master of this house, I get to Apparate wherever I want."
Hermione takes a backwards step down, goes to turn, hears a pop, and there's Nott. His wand in hand, he casts some sort of spell on her. Whatever he cast on her, she doesn't feel all that different. She touches her face to make sure he didn't mess her up there. Nope. All in all, she feels okay.
But why does she feel more comfortable on her tiptoes.
"What'd you do?" she asks.
He scoops her into his arms like she weighs nothing, bridal style and starts up the stairs.
"You're fine," he vaguely replies. They get to the outlook and he asks a great question. "Have you gone over cushioning charms in your lessons?"
He pivots towards the railing of the outlook, announces, "Finite Incantatem" and tosses her over it.
No, she is yet to be well-versed in the cushioning charm.
As the marble flooring closes in, all she can think is stop, stop, stop! Her hands come up to cover her face, and then her body hits a barrier made of nothing. She removes her hands and opens her eyes. The floor is inches from her nose. A breath of relief escapes her.
And then she hits the floor.
It's surprising but barely knocks the wind out of her. She gets on all fours and tosses her head back to glare up at the lookout. Nott purses his lips and raises a brow.
"Impressive," he remarks. "Arresto momentum will do you. Not a default cushioning spell, but it helps in a pinch."
Narrowing her eyes, Hermione shifts into a crouching position and leaps upwards with all her strength. Her hands grip the landing's edge which she uses as leverage to somersault over the railing and land on her feet. In a matter of moments, Nott's wand is tossed way over the lookout, and he's now hunched over the handrail, arm behind his back. He's not as flexible as her. She could break his arm and dislocate his shoulder in one swift jerk if she wanted.
"Should we see how well you do being thrown over?" she asks sweetly.
He tries to get out of her hold, but she's got him locked. Soon enough, he relaxes in her grip. "We could just fuck again."
"I'll pass." She kicks his feet out from under him and tips his upper body. He flails towards the main floor, and she casts an arresto momentum at him when he's inches from the ground.
Back in her room, she's at her desk, scribbling in her stationary and going through her mail. Messages to Soo-jin who's in Oslo for the rest the rest of the week. A couple of poems from Draco. One fairly sweet and romantic, the other erotic and filthy. They remind her Valentine's Day is approaching, and she wonders if the poems are original work. Folding them up, she hides them underneath her sink, the only place these days she has true privacy.
Returning to her bedroom, there's Nott at her desk, unabashedly going through her stationary. All the parchment is blank. To the naked eye, he can't see anything.
"Who do you write to?"
He chuckles. "Starting early, I see."
"I got nothing last year. I got ten or so months to persuade myself off the naughty list."
Christmas was interesting. It had been her first Christmas experience since she was a little girl. With Isabella here, Nott ordered the elves to go all out on decorations. There'd been a gigantic Fraser fir in the Main Hall, weighed down carefully by expensive, glass baubles and ornaments. Topped with a dainty glass, spindly tree-topper. Beneath the tree were perfectly wrapped presents—at least twenty—all addressed to Isabella.
Secretly, one was from Hermione.
Truthfully, Hermione did received two presents. One from Harry and the other from Soo-jin. The one from Harry was a decent stash of chocolate candies that Hermione plowed through in a few days. The one from Soo-jin had been Hermione's first assignment, Delores Umbridge. She'd soon be catering to the woman as a mediwitch, and her assignment was to ultimately kill her.
There'd even been a Christmas dinner in the dining hall. Severus came as did Harry, though, he didn't stay long and neither did Hermione. He dragged she and Isabella to The Burrow where they'd have a second helping of roasted turkey, potatoes and parsnips, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. They didn't have dessert at Nott's, so Hermione gladly dove into the boozy trifle and a non-traditional, fudgy chocolate Yule Log.
Christmas at The Burrow had been homier, Hermione supposes. Loads of people in a cramped space. Kids running around and broken toys everywhere. Most of the adults were drunk. There'd even been an argument over the dinner table because Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan confessed to Ronald Weasley, they'd married in secret at Thomas' Anglican home church, officiated by his stepdad. And Ronald, bless his tipsy soul, expressed his congratulations loudly. Not everyone was in favor of the union. Things became heated, even when the meal ended. Feeling edgy, hammered, and not one to think things through, Harry grabbed her by the shoulders and planted a wet kiss on her lips underneath one of the mistletoes. The act caught everyone's attention, and the fight ended.
"I'm hungry," announces Hermione to Nott. Remembering the Christmas spread jumpstarted her appetite. "Race you to the kitchens?"
He manages to slap her ass before she's dust in the wind. Still...he beats her to the kitchen because he's a cheat.
Late nights and early mornings, homework, independent brewing, and taking Isabella to dance has caught up to Hermione. Today's Saturday, and it's her first Saturday she doesn't have to do mediwitch training, take Isabella to dance and get close to Sofia Devant, or sit for Remus Lupin's lessons. Pressed deep into the cushion of her bed and buried beneath sheets and blankets is her tired self. On the other side of the bed is Nott, who has taken up residence in her bed since they had sex.
This is not something she's encourage but just kind of, sort of happened.
She doesn't really like it. He's encroaching in her space, and she's had trouble sneaking away under her bathroom sink because of it. All week Draco has been sending her love letters and messages and even a couple of gifts via owl—chocolates and perfume. Last night was a business card of a Parisian boutique called Pascal's and an invitation to St. Mungo's Charity Ball.
Why must he like her?
Why can't he just take his kid and run?
However, at his moment, Hermione's not worried. She's not worried about Draco, Nott, or even Soo-jin. The Mentor's identity doesn't have her in knots.
And it's not going well, honestly.
Tonks escaped. HYDRA found her. They've sent the asset. He's here now and has made quick work of strangling Nott.
She can't move. Her body weighs heavy on the bed. All she can do is watch his shadow approach from her open window to her bedside. His metal hand catches the light from her candle on the bedside table. She tries to scream for help, but it's quieter than a whisper.
"I'm sorry," she tries to say. As if something so absurdly small and petulant could save her. Her legs twist in the sheets, and she attempts to shy away from the inevitable.
"You should've killed me, doll. I'm stuck deep inside and can't get out. When are you going to come and set me free, darlin'." He speaks to her in Transatlantic American English. When he comes into full view of the candle's glow, he's not how she remembers him. He's in black and white, like from an old movie. His hair is clean, short, and parted. His clothes are that of an old-fashioned U.S. army uniform.
Metallic fingers brush her throat, and she swallows. "I'm sorry, James."
"I wish I could say the same." Those vibranium fingers wrap around her throat, and she falls into a deep, dark abyss where she hears a faint echo of someone shouting hysterically.
Hermione jerks awake, groggy, hands defensively covering her face. Peeling one eye open, she sees Harry at the foot of the bed.
"What's happening? What's going on? Did someone die?"
Harry shoots her a perplexed expression, his wand coming up to point at Nott who also seems to be in the same boat as she. Lethargic, tired, and wondering just why.
"Did you come through the window, mate?" asks Nott. "Do you do that often?"
"Who's James?" Harry hisses.
"You wouldn't know him." Hermione forlornly looks at the empty bottle of Sleeping Draught-she had to take the whole bottle to sleep-on her bedside table and then picks up her mediwitch watch. It's barely six. Good God, someone better be dead, or she's going to kill Harry.
"Yeah, who is James?" asks Nott. He doesn't grab his timepiece but his cigarette case.
She elbows him. "No smoking in the bed."
"Not in bed."
He sticks a cigarette between his lips. "Bloody hell. Mate, can you believe, her?" He looks to Harry but points at her.
"No! Just no! What the fuck, Theo? What the actual fuck? You just couldn't help yourself, could you? And I worried about this very thing. Didn't matter she's a Muggle-Born, and you're particular. You just had to give in, didn't you? I told you. I told you she's off-limits."
"Harry," Hermione tries, rubbing a hand down her face.
"And you. I would expect better from a professionally trained Russian spy."
She rolls her blood-shot eyes. "Consider me more of a Kim Philby. Professional, sure, but rotten to the core."
He gasps. "Born English and defected to the Commies." He whispers reverently under his breath, "Evil."
"Who are you two blabbering on about?" Nott mumbles through his unlit cigarette.
"This." Harry waves his hands, gesturing to them violently. "Is done. Or I'm telling Ron."
"What's he going to do? Run and cry to his mummy his chessboard pieces aren't playing fair?"
"You're hardly an asset to the Order, Nott, since you don't want to play and Soo-jin's excellent at hiding things. He could very well disallow you to the meetings all-together, and I can pass along heavily redacted information. How about that, huh?"
Nott snorts. "Like you even know shit, Mr. I Humbly Step Aside For My Weasley Wanker. You're practically an intern, Potter. Going around and getting the uppers their coffee and tea."
Harry doesn't fall for the bait. "I make a mean cup of Earl Gray, and you'd be surprised what a curious intern can overhear."
"Curious, my arse. Nosy as fuck is what you are, Potter, and what you've always been."
Throwing the bed covers off him, Nott climbs out of bed. Neither he or Hermione are naked and are respectively dressed in night-ware. The man pads over to the sitting chair in the corner and lights up his cigarette.
"I assume you had something to tell me, Harry." She also gets out of bed and stretches her aches and pops her joints.
"Yeah, maybe later," he mutters, glaring at Nott. "But while I'm here, Nott, you hear about Umbridge? Apparently, she's dead."
"Happens to the best of us, I'm telling you." He cups his head and leaning back against the headrest.
Apparently Nosy-Intern-Harry doesn't know all the things going on. Umbridge died weeks ago with Weasley's blessing.
Harry raises his fist. "A shame she couldn't take this fucking scar with her."
"What scar?" asks Hermione.
"Oh, I hide it," Harry says, vague and sort of quiet. "She had these quills at Hogwarts that would scar the writer when doing lines. I have 'I must not tell lies' on the back of my hand."
She goes to him, taking his fist and examining that, true to his words, he does have the scar.
"Does it hurt?" she asks.
"Er…sometime it itches or tingles."
Frowning, she brings his hand to her lips, kissing the mark. Her guilt lessens over killing that woman.
"Feel better?" she asks from beneath her lashes.
"You're a bad, bad woman."
She smiles sweetly and bats her eyes. "Anywhere else hurt?"
"Well, um…" Harry pushes up his fringe revealing his lightening bolt scar. Hermione cups his head and lowers it, smooching him on the forehead.
"Go find your own witch to baby you, Potter." Nott is now behind Hermione. He wraps his arms around her waist and picks her up, moving her away from Harry.
"He could he at least stay for breakfast," she suggests.
"He can go have breakfast with his own lady-friend."
"Well…" Harry rubs the back of his neck, anxiety etched into the lines of his forehead. "It's not really anything—"
"There's no hiding those love-bites on your neck when you show up to work late and in rumpled robes. Not to mention the scratches on your back I saw that time in the locker room." He looks down at Hermione. She's still in his arms. "He hasn't told you, darling?"
Her stomach quakes in distaste from his mock endearment. He doesn't mean it, and she wouldn't be his darling even if he did. They're barely fuck-buddies and can't continue. She'll be called to Draco's bed soon enough.
And like that, one of Draco's owl swoops into her room and drops an envelope on her desk.
"Beatrice?" Nott frowns. "What's Draco sending you a letter for at this hour?"
"Getting a head start on work, I'm sure. He's arranging me to train under another mediwitch. I've finished my midwifery hours. I'm sure it's information on my next subject." She removes herself from Nott and goes to the vanity, tying up her hair. "I'm going to go for a run. You two can join me. It'd do you both good to get something besides tobacco in your lungs.
Harry's shorter, but he's a better runner than Nott given he smokes a pack a day instead of three. It's not long before he finds Hermione in a secluded corner of the maze where she finishes her workout. The earth is soft. This year's February has left Wiltshire cold and wet as opposed to snowy and frozen. Muddy streaks down her arms and speckled spatters on her face.
She regards Harry, unimpressed, on her hundredth burpee. He stumbles into her bubble, stooping over to rest his hands on his legs.
"I'm in…" He gasps for breath. "Trouble. Like, really bad, fucked-up trouble."
Then he promptly vomits. Once he finishes, he kind of grins. "Theo tossed it first." He gestures over his shoulders. "He's back there somewhere dying a well-deserved death, I imagine. Bloody hell." He wobbles back to a standing position and pats his chest. "I really got to stop smoking. Jesus, I'm going to die. How'd you quit?"
"I'm not addicted. The serum HYDRA injected me with kicks vices. The only thing I really ever crave is calories and sex sometimes. I'll smoke every now and then when it's offered or after a good fuck. Other than that…" She shrugs and goes into a series of jump-lunges. "But my ex-girlfriend wasn't so lucky. She had to suck it up and realize that running from the enemy wasn't going to happen when coughing up a bloody lung.
"So tell me, Harry." She stops her lunges and begins stretching, planting her hands into the squishy ground to perform downward dog. "What kind of troubles have you gotten yourself into?"
"I…got a girl…pregnant," he reveals. Very slow and shameful.
Hermione lifts her head to look at him and sighs, lifting a leg straight into the air while holding onto her opposite one. "I know."
"Snape told you."
"He…alluded to it." Back to downward dog and repeat with the opposite leg. Stretch those hamstrings.
"What should I do?"
"You've done enough, haven't you?"
"I could go on how you shouldn't have even responded to her outreach, but we are far passed what an incredibly dangerous position you put her in. What's done is done. She refuses to terminate. In time, Ron will arrange for her to be moved to a safe location, and she'll give birth there." Rising onto both feet, she slides into a deep warrior position. "You will not know where she'll be going and likely won't see her until this whole thing is over."
"Should I do the right thing and marry her?"
Hermione doesn't move from her pose, though she quirk an eyebrow at him.
"At least before she goes? It'd be the right thing, wouldn't it?"
"Harry, Harry, Harry." She does the other side. "You ran into a marriage once before and as splendid as that seemed to turn out, I really think you should chill."
"That's not how things are done here. A man get's a lady in trouble, he does the decent thing."
"Do you love her?" She oozes down the ground, presses a knee into the ground and lifts her foot. She curves her back and head towards it. Her opposite leg is bent, and the Eka Pada Rajakapotasana II is just the best, isn't it?
"I still love Ginny."
"I didn't ask if you did. I asked if you loved Pansy."
He grabs his ankle from behind, attempting to stretch his quad muscle. "God, how are you doing that?"
"I don't know, okay? I don't know how I feel about her. I guess I like her sometimes, but she can be a real bitch, too. She's said awful things about you. Called you the M-word once, but that was a while ago. I told her I'd stop seeing her if she kept saying that."
This conversation warrants a Bhairavasana pose, and she slithers herself into it.
"Oh, my God, what is wrong with you?" hisses Harry.
"How do you feel about having a baby with a woman who will teach her kid to say Mudblood and everything that goes along with it?"
He lets out a frustrated grunt. "I'll…teach her to be good. Shit, I don't know. I really don't, but maybe it could work—"
"She's thirty years old, Harry. If she's not good now, she won't ever be."
"You're becoming good."
"No, Harry. I'm not. You've developed a sweet little gift of seeing good in people who don't deserve it, and that's what got you into this mess. You should be more careful who you give second chances to."
"I used to be like that as a kid. I can't think like that anymore," says Harry, after a while. She can tell her words struck him deep. "Not now. Not when the people who could use second chances are being murdered for a crime of being raised wrong. We need them as allies if anything, and I can work with Pansy. I will. It's not too late. She let me touch her. A filthy Half-Blood and all that."
The corners of her mouths tick. "You're the Chosen One, Harry, sporting a cute ass and pretty eyes. I bet you even played Elton John on her adorable little radio and asked her to dance. She would've been a fool not to blow you right then and there."
A deep blush reddens his cheeks. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his trackpants. Before he can say anything else, Nott circles over them on his broom.
"There you two are." He lowers himself closer to them. "Get on, Granger. Potter, you can see yourself to the house. Breakfast in ten."
He lands, and she swings her leg over the shaft. They rise over the maze and once out of earshot, Nott asks about Potter.
"What's he doing invading our morning so early, huh?"
"Girl troubles. You were right."
"He tell you who he's seeing?"
"I tried to get it out of him. I guess I could invade his mind—"
"Nah, leave him be. It's not that important. Good for him in finding a lady. With any luck, this one isn't married to my best friend and dies because she is."
Hermione spends the rest of her morning studying for her upcoming mediwitch exams. In the afternoon, Isabella wants to dance. Hermione breaks out an ancient Victrola from one of the storage cupboards in the room and charms it to self-crank music. Hitting the west wall with a spell gives them a mirror, over all giving their space a more studio like feel.
For the following ninety minutes, Hermione does all she can to get Isabella to manage a perfect pas de chat. She reminds herself a few times that the girl is only five, mute, and they are not in the Red Room.
"We're done for the day. You've improved," she lies. Maybe they ought to go back to basics. Next time, she'll focus on Isabella's turnout.
The girl signs to her, asking her to dance.
"You want me to dance?" Hermione complies by performing a goofy, square-dance-esque heel-kick, ass-shake that would've gotten her back whipped and ears boxed in the Red Room.
The kid shakes her head, signing she wanted Hermione to dance for real and on pointe.
Hermione reflects on the satin barely-used pink pointe shoes she left back in hers and Nat's apartment.
"I don't have pointe shoes."
Magic, Isabella signs. Her eyes roll, and she sassily cants her hip.
"Not today, all right?" Hermione kneels. "Why don't you nap and when you wake up, we'll go horseback riding. We'll take Sarsaparilla. It'll be our little secret. We don't have to tell Soo-jin."
Regardless of what Soo-jin thinks, Hermione can ride a horse. She just doesn't particularly like horses, but Isabella loves them, and Hermione's certain she talks to them when no one is around. Being with them is therapy for her, so Hermione lifts the child onto the saddle and then climbs up behind her. Both of their hands are on the reigns, and Isabella kicks her tiny boots into the sides of Sarsaparilla.
Ten minutes into their trotting, an owl swoops over them and drops a letter on Hermione's head. Handing the reigns completely over to the kid, she tears it open and reads it's from both Snape and Weasley. Hermione checks her watch and then pats Isabella's arm gently.
"A few more minutes and then we have to call it a day."
Per instructions, Hermione goes for a more semi-formal look. She checks herself in her vanity, pursing her lips. She hasn't worn her hair or makeup like this in a long time. Her curls are up in formidable braid that's twisted and gathered at the base of her skull. Eyeliner a thick-flick style, shimmering eye shadow, freckles hidden beneath a layer of foundation, and a pink blush with a golden finish. Her lips are a deep berry-jam shade.
Tightening her bathrobe, she goes to her armoire and gets out the dress she wore for Ginny's wake and for the Weasley Christmas dinner. It's a blank canvas and easy to alter. Rubbing her fingertips together, she then touches the material and watches the maroon bleed away into a black. The skirt of it shortens a couple inches, and the sleeves lengthen. White, lacy embroidery circles around the cuffs and then on the high collar.
It's simple, fashionable, and very Catholic. Somehow Snape is taking her to Spain tonight without there being a disturbance in Soo-jin's force.
Shirking her robe, she slips on her underwear, bra, and sheer, black fishnets. Around her thigh, she buckles on her wand and holster. It's only perfect Nott waltzes in unannounced right then. He stumbles at the sight of her, and Hermione pays him no mind. Grabbing the dress and slipping into it. She turns her back to him.
"Zip me up?"
"Where are you bloody going looking like that?"
"I imagine wherever it is, I will hate it," she supplies. She looks over her shoulder, her expression mirthless.
He comes up behind her, snapping the strap of her bra before obliging her. He sniffs her hair and neck.
Ah, that's the Passion's Potion. A gift from Draco Malfoy.
"Where'd you get that perfume?"
"That's Passion's Potion no. Eight. A hundred galleons an ounce. I think it does, Granger."
"It was a gift."
"I've gained many admirers as a mediwtich." Returning to her armoire, she takes out her black winter cloak.
"Draco gave it to you, didn't he?"
"I'll be back, like, tomorrow."
"Have you slept with him?"
"No," she hastily replies, not bothering to lie.
"Is that who you're going to see?"
"No." She pins him with an exasperated look
"How do I know you aren't lying?"
"Go hang out with him tonight. I won't be there."
"Who are you fucking then?"
"I don't have time for anyone else. I hardly have time for you." She pulls on the clock. "One of my masters has called. I have to go."
In the quaint greenhouse behind Snape's home that no one but a magical eye can see, Hermione waits for him to join her.
Snape's illegally growing a large amount of hemlock and a concerning patch of bursting mushrooms enclosed in a plexiglass encasing. A few feet away from them are the ugly adolescent mandrakes. Three of them. She'll call them Sleeping, Snoring, and Scratching.
"Show me your arm."
Hermione turns around to see Snape by the entrance.
"We can't allow Soo-jin to know you left the country. I'm going to prevent that.."
Walking to him, she rucks up the sleeve of her cloak and dress. He waves his wand over her brand. Seven months since he was able to remove half of it. Sill, he's unable to remove the rest without harming her.
The mark becomes painfully cold. The veins in her hand and arm seem to freeze. Her joints lock, and her Bloodless sigil appears. Snape blinks at it, his brow furrowed.
"That's what it looks like," he whispers
"I drew a picture of it and sent it to Ron. I figured he would've shown it to you."
"He mentioned you said it was a karambit or maybe a crescent moon." He frames the sigil with two thumbs. "This is something else entirely."
"Forgive me. HYDRA nor the KGB forced me to study every single symbol out there in the world. And for all I know, this is some ancient rune. There are millions-"
"I'm not a scholar in runes or symbols, but I might have a hunch on where this is from. It could lead us to The Mentor's identity. It means something to him." The spell's side effects subside as does her Bloodless mark. "But first things first."
He pulls from his pocket a figurine of a white lamb.
"A portkey," she says, grimacing. She places her hand over Snape's. In seconds, they're in Wizarding Seville.
To be Continued...