It was a far cry from the future she had imagined for herself: working for the Ministry of Magic, reforming prejudiced laws and a backward society. At twenty-two Hermione Granger found herself far from home with no way back, living in a world whose magic and ways were as alien to her as her magic and ways were to them.
Oh, she could go back…if she grovelled, admitted she was wrong and they were right, if she bowed her head, ignored her conscience, and did as she was told. But Hermione was not that sort of witch. She had principles, firm beliefs in right and wrong, doing what was right more than what was easy. So she had found herself being pushed out of the Ministry machine, out of the right influential circles. As one of the heroines of the Second Voldemort War she had expected more, hoped for real change. But it had not come. Life returned to status quo, the purebloods and bigots wriggled into positions of influence, the side of Light (as it were) was unwilling to upset the tentative peace. Even Harry!
Hermione had tried but she could clearly foresee the outcomes of any activism attempts. Without a real grassroots movement, and more people willing to take a stand, it would be doomed to fail. So she did what no one would ever expect of the Gryffindor witch: she vanished into the Muggle world. Three years after graduating from Hogwarts, and four years after Voldemort was defeated, she resigned from her position as a Ministry archivist, packed her belongings and walked away without informing anyone. By the time her old friends realised Hermione Granger was missing and went looking, there was no trace of her to be found in Britain.
"You've got mail."
Hermione picked up her mug of coffee and wandered over to the dining table she used as a research station. It was the largest hard writing surface in the one bedroom flat with its tiny kitchen and tinier shower-only bathroom. She put her mug down carefully and pulled up her e-mail on the laptop. It had been an expensive indulgence when she had first arrived in Muggle America, and a basic necessity when she discovered how to make a living and help people with something she was good at: research.
She scanned the newest message. It was a basic request for how-to-kill from a hunter on her client list. A small furrow creased her brow as she read the description and the basics of the case and witness statements. She remembered reading something similar…She pushed her chair back and walked towards an old-fashioned steamer trunk set flush against the living room wall. A controlled surge of magic and a bit of blood from a pinprick allowed her to unlock and lift the lid.
The trunk was her personal creation, an extension of the beaded evening purse she had used during the Horcrux Hunt. She had gotten the idea from Mad-Eye Moody's trunk. Oh, she could have bought something similar from a wizarding luggage store but Hermione had chosen to enchant and spell the trunk herself, to bind it to her magic and lineage. If she ever had children this trunk and its contents would be part of her magical legacy to them: a magical library nearly unrivalled in its depth and scope.
Once Hermione had decided to leave Wizarding Britain she had set about copying all the books to which she had access. Buying books would have been too expensive and noticeable so she had decided to duplicate them magically. Temporarily lifting the copyright and protection charms was child's play to Hermione, an amateur spellcrafter who enjoyed unravelling spells and creating subtle protections. The trunk contained eighty-five to ninety percent of Hogwarts Restricted Section (Minerva McGonagall was quite sentimental and trusting of a Gryffindor alumna), the general section of the Ministry Archives, and all the books and records she'd had access to while working for the Ministry as an archivist. The only records she'd been unable to copy were those belonging to the Department of Mysteries and private pureblood libraries. But Hermione was certain she had a big chunk of the magical knowledge currently being hoarded and stifled by the Magical Traditionalists of Britain. Although normally Hermione would have fiercely protected authorial copyright, both as an archivist and from her own personal sense of ethics, this knowledge was being illegally kept from those who needed it and had a right to it. The evils of censorship far outweighed the evils of copyright violation. Sometimes the ends really did justify the means.
Hermione could confidently boast that she had one of the best magical libraries in America, though that was an easy claim to make in such a young country. America did not have a central Ministry of Magic like the Old World countries. Its magical enclaves were limited to large cities, and some regions, and the local magicals ignored whatever happened outside their borders. In Hermione's view it was a short-sighted attitude, because trouble brewing a few counties away could easily migrate into your backyard. She had been very surprised to find out most of the dangerous magical creatures outside enclaves were not policed or controlled by magicals. She clearly remembered the night she had met one of her contacts at a local wizarding bar and found this out.
"Oh yes, I'm quite serious," Mark Carter had said. "That's who's responsible for polishing off Dark Magical creatures outside the enclaves: not magicals but Muggles, using Muggle means and traditional lore."
"Hasn't anyone tried to help these Muggles?" she wanted to know.
Mark frowned slightly. "Demon hunters aren't exactly the most trusting souls. Hell, they don't even trust each other that much!" Mark sipped his warming butterbeer.
Hermione was torn between disgust and horror. "So no one has even tried?"
"I believe the last time a witch or wizard teamed up with a Muggle demon hunter was in the 1800s. His name was Wyatt Earp."
"What about more recently?"
"Modern Muggle demon hunters distrust magic. They often have to fight Muggles who've made deals with demons and other creatures for magic. The females call themselves witches."
Hermione sagged back into the cushions of their private booth. "Oh Merlin!"
"Oh Merlin is right," Mark agreed smartly. "If you were to go up to a Hunter and say that you're a witch and you want to help he'd probably put a bullet in your head. And the sad truth is they're right to be fearful and cautious. Demons specialize in lies and illusions."
Hermione considered the situation. She needed to know more. "Is there any particular way I can make contact with them?"
Mark looked frightened at the very idea. "I'd avoid meeting them in person. Telephone or e-mail is best."
Hermione was not put off by his bald-faced fear. "Do you know how I could try to get in touch with one?"
Surprisingly Mark developed a backbone. "I'm not going to help you get shot! If you want to find a hunter you can do it yourself."
Hermione had never managed to get a demon hunter contact from Mark but it had not deterred her. Deciding a direct approach would only get guns fired in her direction, she took an indirect stance and set up a 'watering hole' for her targets: an online research and translation service specializing in obscure languages, ancient dialects, mythology, folklore and the occult.
Translating pages scanned from Muggle books was no hardship for Hermione who had learnt a whole class of translation and decoding spells while training to be an Archivist. (If a Russian or Swedish volume needed to be added to the Archives, Hermione had to know exactly what the volume contained and be able to provide a transcribed copy in English for those less skilled in translating spells.) At first her services were primarily used by scholars and graduate students seeking a second opinion on a translation or someone who could understand an obscure dialect. And then she met junkyard-dog online.
He had been searching for lore on dryads, magical creatures that rarely showed themselves to Muggles and were generally not dangerous. She had provided him with the most generic 'common' information she had. But he had come back asking for more, tales where dryads were killers. His request set off alarm bells. Dryads were gentle beings provided they had not been tainted by Dark Magic. Tainted dryads were almost indestructible because they used lethal measures and magic to protect their home tree. Locating and destroying the home tree was never easy. Luckily she had the necessary information in an advanced DADA volume. Junkyard-dog had sputtered and retreated at her blunt request for clarification on the region where the tainted dryads were killing. Twenty hours later he (Hermione was presuming he was male) had come back and grudgingly given her the details. Hermione had narrowed down the possible species, found some methods a Muggle could use to identify the tree, and e-mailed it. Five hours later she had received an e-mail thanking her for the helpful tips and confirming the dryad trees had been cut down, burned and 'purified'.
Two days later the on-line requests for creature/magic lore started trickling in. One or two e-mails a week turned to five a day on average. Most were simple easily-fulfilled requests for Hermione: a name, weaknesses/traits, possible lairs/tracking methods, how to trap/kill/banish. After her experiences at Hogwarts one of the first spells Hermione had created was a cataloguer that magically created an index of any book and added the data to a special Master Index volume. Whenever she needed to research a particular topic the Master Index could be magically filtered to list only references to what Hermione was looking for, like an internet search engine. Hermione still had to locate and read the actual books to check if the information was relevant, but it was much better than going through a whole pile of books to find that only one had what she was looking for.
Under the guidance of junkyard-dog Hermione logged into certain chat-rooms and received access to certain websites. She became well-known in the demon hunter cyber-community. Junkyard-dog was the first to call her KIA-bookwyrm. She had been offended (she was most certainly not killed in action) until he'd explained that KIA was short for know-it-all. It reminded her of Severus Snape; his unkind appellation that had turned into a badge of honour. Everyone in Hogwarts knew Hermione Granger was the one you went to for information. Harry had called her Know-It-All in a gentle teasing manner. Hermione was proud to be a bookworm and a know-it-all. It was reassuring that people in this new world christened her with that cyber handle, with the names that had been hers when she was a child and teenager. She was far from her homeland but the core of her remained unchanged.
She had not planned it but she soon found herself caught up in something she had never imagined possible when she was a Hogwarts student: helping Muggles fight demons and other Dark Magical creatures. It was dangerous, wearying, and thrilling. Hermione had always been the worrier, the one who fretted whether things would go wrong, the one who planned for the worst and hoped for the best. Now she was free from most of those fears thanks to the anonymity of e-mail and cyberspace.
Now, she removed the thick oversized volume containing the Master Index from her trunk and cast a wandless spell to refine its contents. She opened the leather-bound tome and ran her finger down the list of titles. Two in particular stood out. She removed them from her trunk, carried them back to her dining table and sat down in the old-fashioned stuffed armchair she had transfigured from a cheap hard-pine chair and some ragged blankets. Hermione was not fond of uncomfortable seats especially when she was doing extended research or reading.
Forty minutes later she had the information requested. It took fifteen minutes to scan the necessary pages and compose an e-mail summarizing the facts. She sent it off, then glanced at the clock. It was almost time for dinner but she didn't feel like cooking anything.
Oh well, that's what microwave dinners were for…after a hot shower.
Bobby Singer was worried. It was a familiar feeling but one he didn't like. John's boys were going to drive him insane with their hijinks! He was used to boys being silly headstrong idjits but this latest stunt took the cake. Bargaining with a crossroads demon? Crazy stupid fools!
He closed the book he was reading and set it aside. It was the last possible source of information in his library and it had just dried up. He'd already tapped his more trusted sources, all but one. This was personal and he wasn't quite sure if he was ready to bring KIA-bookwyrm into his personal life. He already had enough trouble with his current circle of hunter-friends and demon-lore sources.
Bookwyrm was an academic. Bobby could tell that quite clearly. He wasn't sure what had driven her (he was certain bookwyrm was a lady) to reach out to hunters and sometimes he wondered if she was a trap – a honeypot user – like Bela Talbot. Then just as quickly Bobby would discard the thought. Bookwyrm had never asked for personal details, or even pressed for a name. Bobby was certain she lived in the Chicago area but he hadn't bothered trying to find out more. He didn't want to know more: her name, what she looked like, how old she was, if she had lost loved ones to demons, if she'd stumbled into the supernatural as an adult or a child. He didn't want to know. He didn't want to worry about another human being. He already had more than enough on his plate with Dean and Sam.
But even as Bobby had tried to keep his distance he had failed. Bookwyrm did not push for personal information but she had no hesitation about sending him articles and lore that turned into real leads. He never asked her why she bothered. Hunting and saving folks got in the blood. It was hard to pretend otherwise once you knew the truth.
He opened his e-mail and began composing a message to bookwyrm, asking for information on crossroads demons and deals.
"You've got mail."
Hermione put down the Arithmancy journal she had picked up in Windy Crescent, the main magical shopping district for the Chicago enclave and walked over to pull up the message. A smile curved her lips when she saw the sender – junkyard-dog – but it faded when she read the contents. Crossroads demon deals. Junkyard-dog was straying into very dangerous territory. Even Dark Lords avoided making demon deals. They always turned sour for the mortal, magical or not.
She hurried over to her trunk library and pulled out all the volumes she had on crossroads demons. Most of the facts were magical, designed to be used by and help magicals, almost nothing that could be used by a Muggle. Chewing on her lower lip she sent off an e-mail with her slim findings, the scans carefully manipulated to hide their magical origins.
She prayed that would be the end of it. But of course it wasn't.
Five hours later she received another e-mail asking for clarifications. It took her more time to compose a reply since most of her references were magical and meant to be used by witches or wizards. She wasn't too happy with the results but she sent it off. There were always deadlines involved when it came to such demons.
Feeling the need to get out of the house she thrust her feet into sneakers and pulled on a windbreaker before arming her wards and locking her front door behind her. She could pick up something to eat after watching whatever was playing in the closest theatre. Hermione was usually comfortable being alone but right now she wanted to be around people.
Four hours later she returned to her tiny apartment feeling much better after the mindless chick-flick and dinner in her favourite Thai restaurant. She frowned faintly as she opened the door. Her cell phone was ringing. She had been in such a hurry to get out she had forgotten to pick it up before she left. The ringing stopped before she could get to it. She flipped it open and blinked, taken aback by the number of voice messages and unread texts it showed. Deftly she began going through them. A few were from PhDs and Masters students seeking a second opinion on this or that document or theory. Most were from a Bobby Singer. The last one made her stomach twist into knots and churn wildly.
"Hi, you probably don't know me, we met online…junkyard-dog?" The loud sound of something breaking in the background. "Oh what the hell! Keep it down you idjits!" The man's voice softened perceptibly. "I need your help, bookwyrm. A Hunter I know made a deal with a crossroads demon. He was desperate to save his brother. The brother is still living – not because of anything the demon did, but the demon's holding onto the bargain and is still after his soul. I've exhausted my resources. I need help. I'm sending an e-mail with all the info I've got. If things are as bad as I suspect I'm asking you…no, I'm begging you…pack up any relevant books you've got and come to South Dakota. My name is Bobby Singer and I own Singer Salvage Yard in Sioux Falls. Get back to me as soon as you can. My number is in the e-mail. *Beep*"
There was a click and the automated female voice of the message service reciting options. Numbly Hermione pressed the key to save the message. She had not exactly hidden her identity online. Most of the hunters using the chat-rooms only knew her by her handle but junkyard-dog had first contacted her through her legitimate online translation services. Her website had her business e-mail, cell phone number, a 1-800 fax number through eFax, and a P.O. box in Minneapolis for those who did not trust e-mail or fax. Junkyard-dog was the one who'd told her to use a different e-mail account and cyber-handle for her business with hunters looking for information. Hunters had always contacted her by e-mail, by anonymous forum, in chat-rooms, or on the rare occasion over the phone. Never in person. Even junkyard-dog – or Bobby Singer, as she supposed she could now call him – had until now preferred to communicate through e-mail or chat-rooms.
Hermione had seen the sense in being anonymous. She had not wanted trouble coming after her. She liked helping hunters, but even better she liked helping from behind the scenes. She'd run around in the frontlines helping Harry, like Batgirl, but being Oracle was more her thing, information the name of her game. She had always told Harry he had a "saving people thing" – she'd never expected it to rub off on her.
But now her carefully constructed wall of distance was cracked and crumbling. If she agreed to Bobby Singer's request she would be sucked back into the front lines. She couldn't help just once and then go back to her quiet safe life. If she couldn't find any hunters that she trusted and who were willing to work with her, she'd probably hunt on her own.
Hermione did not need long to consider her options. Less than fifteen seconds later her books were flying across the room, shrinking and packing themselves into her trunk. She hurried into her bedroom to pack her clothes and belongings into her bottomless backpack. She had no idea how long this would take and if junkyard – no, Bobby – was panicked enough to ask for her personal help it was probably going to be very, very messy.
Ten minutes later she left her flat with her backpack on her back, her laptop and references in a carry-on tote, her trunk on a folding luggage cart. She locked the flat door and took the lift down. Just before exiting the lobby she dropped an envelope containing the keys and a brief note into the superintendent's mailbox. Her rent was paid to the end of the month but she wasn't too concerned about getting a refund.
She purchased a one-way ticket to Sioux Falls at the bus station, then made her way out, dragging her trunk behind her. It would have been quicker to purchase a portkey from one of the enclaves but Hermione needed a little time to research and determine exactly what she was going to tell Bobby Singer about her 'sources'. She found a coffee shop across the street that had Wi-Fi service and purchased an extra large chai latte before opening her laptop and booting it up. She needed to download and review the information from Bobby Singer. Her bus would be leaving in three hours, which should give her enough time. She made a mental note to call Bobby Singer and let him know her estimated arrival time. With any luck she'd have something for him when she arrived in Sioux Falls.