"Have a first day of school, honey," Gabriel said. So much smarm rolled off him, she was surprised it didn't weigh the car down.
"Thanks, Dad," she said, rolling her eyes as she got out and slammed the door. She pulled her rucksack up onto her shoulder, made a face at Gabriel, and mentally girded herself for the experience about to come. High school. American high school. Acting when she couldn't tell a lie without turning red.
Thinking about the entire situation made her sweat. Why Gabriel couldn't come with her, she didn't know. She could do it if Gabriel were pretending to be some high school student, too. He'd just said the boys—Dean and Sam Winchester—had good spidey-sense. Hermione had looked it up. It wasn't a word.
Gabriel honked once—she jumped—and pulled away from the curb. Hermione tried not to let fear touch her as she looked up at the school—she was a war hero, she had been in a celebration, she had medals—but felt her breakfast roiling in preparation of being expelled.
"Dude, is that your car?" someone said as she heard a squeal of tires. Gabriel, she imagined.
"My, er, father's," Hermione said, turning. Even thinking of Gabriel as a parental figure made goosebumps rise on her skin.
The boy—and didn't he just happen to be who Gabriel wanted her to meet—whistled. "It's nice," he said, looking after it. It was blue and shiny and had a milkshake maker on the passenger side. That was all she knew about the car. She'd lost touch with what was new and old in the automobile world—not that she ever had that touch to begin with. She thought milkshake makers in glove boxes were obsolete, or only seen on bad Muggle films (so Gabriel having one was unsurprising.)
"Tell him that," Hermione said absently. She was supposed to find and talk to the other brother, the younger, Sam. This one—Dean—was her age, thus out of school.
As would I if I had any sense at all, she thought.
Someone said something to her, but Hermione didn't stop, didn't turn around. She had to get into the school before all her courage left her.
Classes passed excruciatingly slow while the times in the halls before they were summoned back to classes by the bell went by in a blink. The exact opposite of Hogwarts. Everything had passed in normal time there. It could have to do with the correspondence courses her parents insisted she take—Muggle lessons to match her magic lessons—every year. She'd got into university work during seventh year. She'd worked on it often when it was her turn to keep watch and then while reconnecting with her parents while she took the N.E.W.T.s. She had enough knowledge that none of the schoolwork challenged her, and that made school boring rather than exciting.
Sometimes, she could hate her impeccable memory.
Adventure struck after last lunch. She caught sight of Sam Winchester while he was in the lunch line and she didn't let him out of her sight. She ate with other seniors in her last class, wondered why Gabriel said knee socks would always be out of fashion—everyone here complimented her on them, especially the men (ha! she thought toward him.)—and managed to throw away her trash and get to the door just as Sam did. She let the crowd pull her back and forth and eventually she was walking beside Sam Winchester on the way back to class.
Before the torrent could pull her away again—the migrating patterns of teenage high school students would be one fantastic paper—she cast a Tripping Jinx.
"Oh!" she cried out, and grabbed the back of his rucksack to keep his feet on the floor. The books in his hands, however, went flying.
"I'm so sorry," she hurried on. "I didn't mean to- I don't know what happened." She didn't have to fake her distress. Part of her was screaming that the American Aurors would be here any second. She hastily helped him pick up his books, grateful that the other students at least went around and didn't kick them away, as often had happened to her in Hogwarts. That may have had something to do with Sam being exceptionally tall for a junior. If she helped pick up his books that lessened the fact that she had used magic on a Muggle, right?
She hated Gabriel.
"Look, it's all right," Sam said as she came back with part of his folder and science book. He smiled as she handed them back, juggled them with the other books in his hands. "See? No harm done."
She peered at him warily. He seemed truthful, not as if he blamed her at all. Which he wouldn't, because he didn't know.
"Still," she insisted, shifting to avoid a tuba player. "I'm sorry. This school has me backwards."
"You're new here, too? Cool." How was that cool? "Me too. Just this year."
"Today," she said, since that seemed to be what he wanted. She was rather lost. Was she supposed to be chilly? It was October, but North Carolina was close to the equator. Also, she was English and had grown up in a castle in Scotland. There were reasons they slept in four-posters.
"You look a little lost," Sam said, smiling in a way that made her want to smile back. She did. "Come on. I'll walk you to your next class."
"Heya, Sammy," Dean said, craning his head to see the slightest pit of panty as the skirt attached to the legs—attached to the knee socks—got into the classic Ford Falcon. Oh, baby. "Who's the hot British chick?"
"Hermione Granger," Sam told him. "She's new."
"Weird," Dean said without heat, putting the Impala in drive. He managed to get the spot behind the Falcon in the exit line. He put it into neutral. It would be a while before the buses all got out of the way. Just gave him time to drool over that car. Shit, it was nice.
"Shakespeare," Sam said. Dean glanced away to see him staring at him expectantly. "You know, A Winter's Tale? Hermione's the one who got turned into a statue?"
"This one definitely isn't a statue," Dean said. He gave a low whistle and Sam punched him in the shoulder. Ow. Baby brother was growing up. "You got any classes with her?"
"All my AP ones tomorrow," he said. "I looked at her schedule and she's only in AP."
"Hot smart chick with knee socks. Trifecta of hot."
"Get this, she's smart and everything, but I don't think she could read a map. I mean, she looked pretty lost after she helped me after she accidentally tripped me, even though there's a map in every hallway. I ended up having to show her where it was."
"So you walked her to class," Dean summed up, laughter in his voice. God, Sam could be dumb.
"Well, yeah, but—"
"—and she was so sorry and thank you ever so much and just so confused at this huge, new school."
Sam furrowed his eyebrows at the car ahead. "Is that bad?"
"No! It's good, real good." Dean pulled up one spot as the line started to move. "She totally likes you. She's just sneaky at it."
"I wondered how she tripped me," Sam said. "She was, like, one step behind me." He paused, drummed his fingers on the door. Dean waited, checking out the walkers who passed too close to the car on their way out. "You really think so?"
"It's either that or she's a ninja. Sense anything ninja-y about her?"
"She was in knee socks, Dean. What do you think I sensed?"
"I don't think you should leer at me like that if you're supposed to be my father."
"Unless I'm your stepfather?"
"Yuck, Gabriel," she said, shuddering. Why was she letting him drag her around the country, gathering information on two boys for him, and confounding her morals for him? Because she wanted to find out what kind of magical creature he was that let him stay as young as he was when she met him in third year, know Professor Dumbledore, and have Professor McGonagall afraid for her safety with him. Also, there were free milkshakes and non-life endangering adventure.
Right. No reason at all.
"You know, I think I made new friends today," Hermione said. "Everyone was quite nice. I thought high school—well, all schools—had a caste system."
"You thought they were gonna slot you in with all the nerds, throw pigs blood on you and cackle?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "Though I would have had quite a lot to say about the pigs blood."
"It's probably cause you're so nice," Gabriel said, his lips twitching as he glanced at her knees.
"What is it? Why are you laughing?"
"I'm just wondering which lucky boy I'm going to get to scare away from asking you to prom."
"Oh, shut it. As soon as you get… whatever it is you want to know about those boys, we're leaving." She frowned when he didn't say anything. "Aren't we?"
"Well…" he drawled.
This was becoming vastly un-adventurous. "What is it?"
"It's not like I know what I'm looking for," Gabriel said. "Or that I'm looking for anything, really."
"So… wait. You sent me here, made me transform myself into a student—"
"Not that that took much effort—"
"—so you could what? Get to know them? What is so interesting about them?"
"Maybe I just like seeing you in knee socks again," Gabriel said. He gave her his big eyes, the I am just so silly and mischievous I don't mean anything by it, really, Hermione eyes.
"Do you know how many job offers I received? Twenty-four. I could be in Transylvania right now, an apprentice to the Potions Master making leaps and bounds toward the cure for lycanthropy. Instead I am here. With you. A almost twenty year old senior. It would be nice to have a reason for it other than the vanilla milkshakes."
"The milkshakes are pretty good. Oh, fine. What if I said your presence around Sam could be, hmm, beneficial? That you could be Switzerland between Russia and America."
"You're not Russia, are you?"
"Not America either."
"Which country are you?"
"Could I be Zimbabwe? I love Zimbabwe."
"You're not in it at all is what you're saying."
"Not in the least."
"Yet, I am here. Switzerland is here because of Zimbabwe."
"Say that again, but slower."
"What country are they?"
"None. They're the nuclear bombs."
"Bombs aren't evil. Bombs are flammable ingredients stuck together. Someone's gotta hold the match to them."
"Russia and America."
She rubbed her forehead. It was disturbing how she had understood all of that. If Harry or Ron had tried to have that conversation with her, she would have had to have them spell it out slowly, maybe write it down. Because most of the time they acted like logical human beings. Most of the time Gabriel didn't. That made the difference. Like Alice and Wonderland. She understood it because she wondered the same things. Just like Hermione understood that conversation even though it had no basis in correct history at all because she knew Gabriel existed beyond history, and when he did exist he made history.
"When are they destined to go off? Because I know destiny has to have a hand here somewhere. They usually do, for children," she added sourly.
"For a while yet," Gabriel said. "You'll have all the time you need to find a cure for the wolves before someone ignites those fuckers."
"Okay," she said slowly, "but I'm staying Switzerland."
"Good," Gabriel said. "You give good Swiss."
"So I heard you're an Ice Queen," Sam said as he sat down beside her. She made a noise of disgust.
"I don't understand this going out business. He wanted to go out, but not go anywhere. Does no one else see how illogical this is? I don't think he was even old enough to drive."
Sam covered his mouth, coughing. He waved off her offer of a cough drop and she threw it back in her bag and returned to glaring at her lunch. At least it had an apple, was all she could say about it. Never, ever would she let Gabriel pack her lunch and not look in it before they left the house. She always promised herself that, and yet it still happened every morning.
"He was asking you to be his girlfriend," Sam explained to her, keeping his hand balled up in front of his mouth, in case he started coughing again, she guessed. "That's what going out means here."
"That's ridiculous," she said stiffly. "I met him two seconds before he asked."
"Well, he was a freshman," Sam said.
"That explains it?"
He shrugged. "Basically a canary."
"Now that I get," she exclaimed. "Why isn't there a handbook to this? My last school was normal compared to this and we had to wear silly hats on important days. Why would a boy want to date a girl he met two seconds before? Is this an American thing?"
"No, I think that's an everywhere thing," Sam said. "But, hey, you don't have to worry about it happening again after what you did to Beeker. At least until all the guys forget about it. I give it two weeks."
"He was being illogical. I had to correct him."
"Not fighting you there," Sam said, before coughing again.
"So I am going out tonight," Hermione said. "But not with a boyfriend. I am going out on the town tonight."
"I understand you," Sam said with a chuckle.
"I'm just making sure. Anyway. I am asking if you will go out on the town tonight with me. It's not a date, either. Just a friendly outing."
"You didn't have a lot of friends at your old school, did you?"
"Actually," she said, then paused when she bit into her ice cream sandwich and swallowed, "I had quite a few. They just acted normal." She thought of Ron and Harry, already in the Auror program. She thought of the letters asking what exactly she was doing that she couldn't exactly answer truthfully.
"So what are we doing out on the town tonight?" Sam asked. Hermione came out of her thoughts. She straightened and saw that Sam had switched his fries for her caramel popcorn. They weren't any healthier, but she would take it.
"Well, I'm writing a paper that I'm thinking of submitting to a journal on the migrating habits of teenagers," she explained.
"That's a little weird," Sam said uncertainly.
"That was a joke," Hermione lied. She cleared her throat. "I'm rather interested in the migrating habits of teenagers when they go to that go-kart place off Calmity Road."
"Really?" Sam sounded a little more interested.
Hermione took a drink of her milk, grimaced at the taste combined with chocolate wafer. "Yes, really. So would you like to be my control group?"
"That'd be cool," he said. Hermione translated cool into neat, nodded, and smiled at him.
"I'll pick you up at seven, if that's good?"
What was so interesting about go-karts, she didn't know, but she would find out tonight. Gabriel had been insistent on not going to any places that might say date to Sam. That ruled out all restaurants, the cinema, any parks, and seventy percent of the town. It even included homework, for some reason. In addition, Gabriel said that, as her stepfather, he had to veto her spending any time with Sam and Dean in a motel room.
Not that she had met Dean yet. She liked Sam, though. She didn't know what would be so bad about his brother, besides the dreadful life choice to hang around Trisha Adams, another senior.
Or maybe it was because they were boys?
Sometimes she had the feeling Gabriel was the collie nipping at her heels, herding her toward some unknown but sinister location. Except Gabriel was the collie and the future destination and probably the wool on her back, too.
She arrived at room 451 at exactly 6:58. Before she could raise her hand to knock, the door opened and she looked up into—not Sam or Dean's face. This man—yes, man—was older and built like a steel door in an underground bunker, and had the welcoming smile of one.
"Um," she said, intelligently.
"You must be Hermione," he said. "I'm John. Sam's dad."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Winchester," she said, and her eyes flicked over his head where she could see Sam hovering. He looked anxious. She wondered what had happened, if it was her. Had they found out she was Switzerland? Was this the spidey-sense in action?
"Come on in," John said, stepping back. Hermione stepped in and he closed the door behind her. The motel room was neat, to her eternal surprise, for three men. There seemed to be an overabundance of duffel bags, but Hermione couldn't blame them for over packing. She had the habit herself. Dean was sitting against the headboard of one of the two beds, intent upon a magazine. John went to the tiny fridge in the corner. "You want something to drink, Hermione?"
Sam made a noise. Hermione glanced at him, but he just stared at John, lips pressed together.
"Sure, Mr. Winchester," she said. "I hope you had a good business trip? Sam told me you sell aeroplane equipment. Do you do any international work?"
"You know, I do," John said and poured out a glass of water from a jug. He had a smile like Gabriel's fourth smile, the one that sent chills down her spine. He handed the glass to her. "From Britain, huh?"
Hermione could practically taste the tension in the air. Sam looked angry, Dean looked—well, he looked as resigned to his fate as the chair being held over someone's head. John Winchester, to take a phrase out of Gabriel's book, scared the beejesus out of her.
"Yes, sir," she said. She took a sip of the water, to be polite. She wondered what kind of poison it held, or if she had just happened to walk into some family trouble. She wondered how fast it would take to get her wand out of its strap under her jeans leg. Too long. It tasted like water to her.
John eyed her with incredulity. Hermione, not knowing what was expected of her, took another drink of water, looking at the gaudy orange print on the wall.
"So where are you two lovebirds going tonight?" John asked, sitting down across from Sam. Something in the air shivered and let go. Yep. The water. Either poison or some kind of tracking device.
Sam made a low, embarrassed noise. As a constant companion to Gabriel in restaurants, Hermione felt for him. "Dad, I told you, it's not a date."
"Sam's right. But we're going to the go-kart place off Calmity. It has that strange little spire on top," she said. "Do you want my, er, father's number?"
He nodded. "You have your license?"
"Yes," she said, after a pause where she had to think of all the things she didn't want him to see in her wallet, including the card that stated she had the United States' approval to practice magic in their country. She wrote down Gabriel's number, or at least what she hoped was his number. She hoped that number he put on the refrigerator hadn't been another joke, like the number for a pizza place she should use when he was 'out of town' that turned out to be a crime scene clean-up business.
"You know," she said, trying to capture some of Gabriel's blasé in her voice, "I think you could give my, er, father some tips on forbidding presence. I had this conversation in reverse only half an hour ago."
"Really," John said. Hermione sensed the amusement in his voice was the normal kind, not the I have a knife hidden behind my back do you want to see it? kind. What was this family?
"I think your father wants to stick little push pins in my eyes," Hermione told Sam as soon as they were in Gabriel's car, doors locked windows shut. That was mainly for her comfort, though, and only partially because Mr. Winchester could make be safe sound like a threat.
"I didn't know he would get back today," Sam explained, sitting low in the seat. "I'm sorry about that. He's a little…"
"Terrifying? Also, what was in that water? I had the feeling everyone was waiting for me to explode. You weren't, were you? Was it a tracking device? Will I die in five point eight hours?"
At that Sam laughed. "No," he said, the laughter turning uncomfortable. "I think he was waiting for a compliment. He takes water really serious. Like, imports it."
"It tasted good, I guess," Hermione said, staring at the door to 451, wondering if Mr. Winchester was staring back. She shuddered and put the car in reverse. "Okay. Next time, you're going to wait for me outside."
"Yeah," Sam said, but didn't sound enthusiastic.
Sam perked up exponentially when they got to Ted's Karts. Hermione felt the chill Mr. Winchester had injected into her spine drop off as soon as Sam thumped the helmet down on her head. She more than approved of recreational sports that required helmets and staying on the ground. There were quite a number of people out on the track already and around it—some she recognized, including Trisha Adams.
"Isn't that your brother's girlfriend?" Hermione asked, pointing her out by the concession stand.
"Yeah," Sam said with a laugh. "Don't worry. He won't care. Come on."
When Hermione got into her own go-kart, she was unprepared for the competitive spirit that took her over. She was going to win this. Sam narrowed his eyes at her from the neighbouring kart. Hermione ignored him, tightened her fingers on the wheel, and stared at the white and black flag.
They tied at second (Hermione came in an inch after Sam, though she would never admit it.) Neither of them was prepared for Gabriel to be on the other side of Hermione.
"Hey, isn't that your dad?" Sam asked as Gabriel whooped and shouted. From… somewhere came three women dressed in unfortunate clothing for October to surround him and murmur praise in his ear. Hermione pulled off her helmet and, no, the view did not improve.
"No, I don't recognize him at all," Hermione said. "Look, they have pizza. Let's go get some. Quickly."
Sam looked over his shoulder as he let her drag him away. He gulped, paled, and a second later he was pulling her. Merlin. Gabriel. She would do something vile to him.
"He's my stepfather," Hermione said when they were in line behind Cory Whitten, fellow senior. "Is there such a thing as a distant stepfather? Because that's him."
"I don't think it matters to him," Sam said.
"Just don't look at him and he'll get distracted. He has the memory of a goldfish."
"It's a good thing this isn't a date," Sam said. "Or else we'd both end it right here."
Hermione laughed. "It would go the way of the canary."
"But it would be something to tell our children."
"A cautionary tale?" she enquired, and their conversation was suspended as they ordered. Hermione ignored Gabriel's presence much like the ant ignoring the magnifying glass, and sipped her extra large cola.
Once they got their slices, they mutually agreed to eat them at the picnic tables at the side of the building, even though it was dark and the streetlamp over it out. They sat across from one another, enough light from the setting sun to see each other by, and steered clear of any conversation about their respective fathers.
"It's always been Stanford for me," Sam said. He snorted over his box of fries. "Anywhere that'd take me, I guess."
"Universities are going to be begging you to go there," Hermione told him.
"Have you started on your applications?" he asked her, shrugging off her attention. She let him, sat back. Looked at the gravel underneath the table over.
"No," she said, narrowing her eyes. "I'm already taking some correspondence classes. But actually go live in a dormitory? No. I like where I am now, I suppose, even though I never thought I'd be there. Sorry. I'm babbling. What is that in the gravel?"
Sam turned to look, frowned. Hermione stood and pulled out her keys, isolating the penlight and turning it toward the ground. "It looks like something's been… dragged?" Something big and heavy enough to leave indentions in the gravel. The light wasn't strong enough to show her where the track went. She took a step forward, ready to follow it, when Sam put his hand on her arm. She looked down at it and then up at his face.
"Don't," he said. "Why don't you go get an adult?"
"I think it's just trash, but if it's a monster, I'm sure we can outrun it," Hermione said. She paused. "Mostly sure. Come on."
She started forward, her penlight in the lead. She heard Sam muttering under his breath. "What monster would be behind Ted's Karts?"
"Quite," she answered, though the further they got from the front of the building the less light there was. The trees began blocking the sun, the streetlamp from the front didn't reach back here, and her penlight was about as useful as using a jump rope to climb Mount Everest. She swallowed. The air seemed cooler, the dark darker, the silence filled with more silence.
"I don't like this," Hermione said.
"You should go back," Sam told her. But he kept going, so she did. He was an unarmed Muggle and she was a decorated war hero. She had ridden on the back of a dragon, for goodness sakes. She wasn't going to let him go alone.
She thought about her wand—but what if it was nothing? Sam would wonder about the stick she strapped to her ankle, certainly.
"It's going into the woods," Sam said. She could see the white of his jacket as he pointed.
"We're not going back there," Hermione said, with finality. "Let's both go get an adult."
He hesitated. Hermione wrapped her hand around his elbow and pulled. He didn't budge, but neither did she.
"Please don't be a hero," she said, and dug her fingers into a nerve she'd often used with Ron.
"Okay, but let's hurry," Sam said, beginning to back away, then turning and jogging back toward the front. Hermione went slightly slower, sweeping the ground with the penlight. Besides the track, there was nothing. No blood. Relief tasted like the garlic from the pizza. Hermione quickly deposited their trash in the trashcan while Sam hovered anxiously, and then they went back inside. Hermione looked around for Gabriel while Sam went to find the manager, but he had left sometime while they were outside. Blast him.
When Sam came back, they said, "I think we should go," at the same time. She grinned at him. "Okay."
Hermione dropped him off ten minutes later, waving to Mr. Winchester when he opened the door. Home next. She turned left, going out of the center of town and into the outskirts where the only neighbours were deer and the occasional jaguar. No one seeing any owls flying there thought it odd, and the occasional explosions from wherever Gabriel was were politely ignored.
"Gabriel?" she called as soon as she shut the kitchen door. She stopped, listened for moans from upstairs, but heard nothing. She decided to save it until she had her coat off and her wand out anyway. There was always the chance (her mind had more scars than a Weasley from the things she'd walked in on.)
"You think the turret's too much?" Gabriel asked. He shook the cheese whiz while pursing his lips in contemplation at the cheese castle. Hermione could see a raptor guarding the drawbridge; though not traditionally a guardsman it looked quite ready to protect the dairy inhabitants of the castle.
"I like the flag," she said. "Oh, it waves. That's… mildly disturbing."
Gabriel smiled at it like a dad over a crib. "Yes. It is. How was your date?"
"It went – it wasn't a date. You made sure it wasn't. However, as an outing between friends, it was quite nice, until this creepy pervert showed up and ruined everything, and then there was the drag marks outside. I think something's living in the woods behind Ted's Kart."
"Couple miles back, actually," Gabriel said. "In this little gully I found. Little Hobbit world. Well, if the Hobbits were actually miniature Vikings with a horrible eczema problem. By that I mean, none." He made a face as if he'd swallowed a horse tranquilizer without water. "Stuff of nightmares, that."
"Um." Hermione stared at his left shoulder, covered in shiny leopard print, as she tried to make her brain go in straight patterns again. "May I ask why…?"
"Let's just call them your modern day elephant men," Gabriel said. "Don't worry, sweetie, John Winchester's attention will be occupied for a while."
"What ever are you talking about?"
He squirted a stream of cheese into his mouth, making a face as he chomped on it. "John Winchester's a hunter. And not the hillbilly, let's crush beer cans against my head kind of hunter. He goes for bigger meat than Bambi."
"Humans? No." She stared hard at him. "Elephant men? But you said they were tiny. Oh. Monsters. I thought Sam seemed a little too calm when we started following that trail."
Gabriel's eyes travelled down her body. Hermione, inexplicably, thought he was checking her over instead of out. For once.
"I didn't follow it into the trees," she said before he could tell her to turn around. "I didn't want to get out my wand in front of Sam."
"Don't," Gabriel said. "Or he'll shoot you."
"That's something you should have told me at the beginning. Did that elephant man take someone?" It was out of her mouth before she could stop it. She wouldn't have stopped it.
The skin at Gabriel's eyes stretched while his lips thinned. "Do you really want to know?" he asked lowly.
Hermione bit her lip. Let it go. "Yes. Yes, I do want to know."
"Glad to see your trust in me," Gabriel said, showing more teeth than necessary.
"I trust you with me," Hermione said. "I wouldn't be here otherwise, and I definitely wouldn't be playing Switzerland for you. Besides, I had Dumbledore's rather ambiguous approval, but that doesn't count as much after how utterly he – But to know you're strong enough to actually create some… golem, is that what it is?"
His smirk was too satisfied.
"I see," she said. She sat down on the coffee table across from him. She stared at his pink slippers. Bunnies this time, with dead little eyes. He was an entirely different species. He was – he was immortal, or the most powerful wizard that had ever walked the Earth. Why did she expect him to have human expressions, morals? Hadn't she known all this already? Merlin, her head hurt. "This isn't in the contract," she said, her throat tight.
He shrugged. She examined it, tried comparing it to his other shrugs through the years. Did it look different at all? Did he even comprehend how wrong—
The worse thing was that she couldn't tell.
Gabriel's sharp eyes watched her shoulders slump. She looked away, shook her head as she stood up.
"God, you are the biggest wet blanket," he said. He rolled his eyes and stood up. "They'll have a few scratches, some altered memories, nothing serious. God."
"You checked me over," Hermione said, insistent and loathing the fact that she had to be, that she couldn't just let it go. "When I said I followed that trail you checked me over. If you're not lying, then you don't think you have perfect control over whatever you made."
"I have perfect control," Gabriel snapped.
"Then why were you worried I was injured?"
His lips compressed again. Though he was only a few inches taller than she was now, it seemed like kilometers. His eyes pinned her like an eagle, like a mountain. "Maybe," he said quietly, "I wanted to know this. How far you'll let me get off the leash."
She whipped around and stomped toward the door. Got to it and whipped around again, pointing her finger at him. She couldn't hold her hand steady she was so angry. "Face it, Gabriel, I don't know you. At all. I know you like sugar and women and showing up when I'm missing you. But do I know your morals, your innermost thoughts? You're powerful, Gabriel. Do you know how many powerful men—no, they did rule my life. I trusted one of them so much I would have died for his stupid obsession with circumventing Death. I allowed him to treat me, me, like a pawn, someone to slow Harry Potter down, because 'of course the Hallows are a fairy tale, Harry!' I'm not going to support sacrifice ever again. That's how far the leash goes, if you want to put it that way. I prefer: that's how far I go."
"Oh, come on," he said, his face twisting. "You knew all along you were a pawn. You're too smart to not know exactly what you are."
"I'm not that intelligent, then. I only knew that I was fighting for my right to live," she spat. "I knew I was fighting for my best friend. Not to be led around by my stupid nose."
"Everyone's a pawn for the powerful," Gabriel told her, and turned away. "You better get used to it."
"I'm not," she said. "Ever again."
She told her feet to move. Couldn't. Took one step back and went forward. Because they went round and round and still she didn't know why he was mad, or even why she was yelling at him. And he was wearing that stupid leopard print robe and she kind of wanted to make fun of him for it, but not in a mean way, but that required them—her to just let it go.
She clenched her jaw. Why was she only capable of letting go of the things she wanted to keep? Why was this the only option that looked remotely appealing, the one that broke every moral she ever believed in into bite sized pieces?
"Why did you create a monster for John Winchester to hunt?"
He looked over his shoulder. The silk leopard print shimmered as he moved back toward his castle of cheese-whiz. "He'll stay longer. When he catches that, I'll do it again and make it craftier. I didn't think you'd like following them all over Earth. Besides, they would've spotted you."
"You might want to start writing our secret plan in code," Hermione told him. "I think John planted a listening device inside me."
"You missing ten minutes or something?"
"I drank something he gave me and they waited for me to explode."
"Yet here you are."
"Yes. Here I am." She opened her mouth, shut it. "I know you're using me. I was never unaware of that fact," she said quietly. "But you're still Zimbabwe, right? Not Russia or America?"
"Too cold, too much… country music."
"I'll stay Swiss," she said. "But I'm not a pawn to sacrifice, or someone you need to find a sacrifice to replace. Sacrifices in general—unless they're just there to get pie in the face, not blood. I want that in the contract."
"The only sacrifice you'll be is mine," Gabriel said. The leer was back in his voice. "Now go put on something more comfortable and come sit on your daddy's lap."
"Don't bring my dad into this," she snapped without real heat. He laughed as she left the room.
"Could you come pick me up?"
Hermione paused in the act of buttoning her shirt.
"Is your dad there?" she asked into the phone. "Not that it has any bearing on the matter."
"Sure," Sam drawled. "No, he's not here. And we only just found out that someone put sugar in Dean's gas tank."
"Is sugar bad on gas tanks?" she asked.
"The tank'll have to be dumped out, but it's easy work. Just not quick."
"Think it was Trisha? She looked supremely pleased with herself last night, for a girl who confuses equations with the equator."
"You know Dean. Actually, you don't. Which is enough." She heard someone talking in the background.
"He dates only the top."
"Yeah, but what's always floating at the top?"
She snorted. "Okay. I'll ask my—"
"Shut it, you. I'm just very uncomfortable telling people he's my father. Can you blame me?"
"I don't know, I saw his harem—"
"—harem?" She heard clearly.
"Everyone wants to know about the harem," she complained as she walked down the stairs. She saw the note on the fridge, could read it from across the room. "Okay. He's busy, probably with them, so I'll be there in… thirteen minutes. Does Dean need to be dropped off anywhere? We have time before school."
She got off the phone, put it on the charger, tore the piece of paper off the fridge, and shredded it in the blender.
That wasn't even anatomically possible.