ALLERFORD, SOMERSET, ENGLAND
“Name’s Christie, Christie Barclay.” He stuck out one weathered but large hand and Hermione hesitantly shook it with her own, wishing fervently that she wasn’t so dirty.
She bit her tongue, but squared her shoulders harder. She had a strong gut feeling that Christie could be trusted. The earnest honesty in his eyes reminded her an awful lot of Harry when he was young. “Her-Hermione Granger.”
Christie’s eyebrows rose even higher at that and he tilted his olive-green fisherman’s hat back, tipping it up at a rakish angle. He absently pulled on his medium-length grey beard and stared at her. “Well. Shakers,* lassie. Ye ‘ave been innae pickle.”
Hermione bit her bottom lip and nodded.
Without further ado, and causing Hermione to squeak in fright despite her intuition about Christie, he strode over to another large, knee-high boulder nearby and sat down abruptly.
His wide mouth spread in a mischievous grin. “Relax yer geggie,* lass, I’m nah aboat tae eat ye.”
Hermione turned her head, hiding a small smile. She sat down in front of the other large boulder nearby and leaned back against the rock, stretching her legs in front of her comfortably. She asked, “Are you Scottish, then, sir?”
“Sir?” Christie slapped his knee and chuckled good-naturedly. “Nae, nae. Jus’ call meh Christie. Full name’s Christopher, but it’s too fancy fer t’ likes o’ meh. I’m from nar all o’er, guess ye coul’ say. I was born in Ireland, spent me youth tere. Joined the Naval Service underage; ah, aboat sixteen I was.” His accent seemed to get thicker the longer he talked, Hermione mused. He pronounced ‘about’ like ‘a boat’ and spoke in quick rhythm. Christie continued, “I’ve seen ev’ry shore from here tae...wellll, about tae the ‘articas.”
Curiosity washed over Hermione and it was such a forgotten feeling that for several seconds, her mind reeled. The deadened feeling in her chest started to thaw the tiniest bit as she listened to Christie talk, occasionally interjecting quiet questions and comments.
Christie pulled out three sandwiches from his shoulder bag and handed her two of them, then he ate a few huge bites of the other here and there while he talked. Hermione chewed slowly, savoring the tenderness and richness of the simple but delicious corned beef on somewhat stale bread, and as her stomach strained and stretched and felt full for the first time in three years, she didn’t even notice the slow, steady stream of tears running down her face.
“T’ ports o’ Sout’ Africa, now, tha’s sometin’ tae see. The people and the goods they was sellin’ annn’ a’ cartin’....”
Hermione leaned her head back against the rock as she listened, her eyes growing heavier and heavier with each passing second. The horror from the night before was still there, but she felt like she was sitting in a small pool of light surrounded by the blackest darkness. The glow was warm and it was sufficient. Her breathing deepened and she drifted off. She lay with the last half of her second sandwich cradled protectively in her two hands.
“Walllll, I bored her plain tae sleep.” Christie chuckled and stood up and stretched. His cheery sea green eyes settled on Hermione’s weary face for several seconds and then he shook his head sadly. He walked quietly to the trees nearby and set about searching for decent firewood. It was going to be dark soon and the chill in the air was becoming more pronounced. He made quick work of gathering up a huge armful of medium-sized sticks.
The sharp caw of a nearby crow brought Christie’s eyes up and he looked around until he found three in a tree about a hundred feet away. Nasty buggers, crows. He despised them. He itched to set the wood down and pull his rifle up and give them a parting shot, but with a grumble, he let them be. “It’s yore lucky day, biddies, tha’s all. Ye stay away fro’ me garden, ye hear meh, ye feather-brain’d menaces?”
The crows began cawing at each other—or at him. Likely laughing at him. Christie turned his back on them and headed back to the cave, muttering under his breath.
The poor wee lass was still sleeping. Christie entered the mouth of the cave and settled the sticks in a careful pile and then went back outside to gather up a bit of dry grass to help get the fire going sooner. There was plenty of tall grass nearby, and in less than a minute, he was back in the cave, prepping the makeshift fire pit. He rummaged in his shoulder bag until he found his lighter and one of his notepads, and quickly flipped through the bird-watching journal, ripping out a blank page at the end. Twisting the page, he set the end on fire, lowered it to the dry grass, and sat back with satisfaction as the flame crinkled through the dry grass and quickly turned into a small but hearty blaze.
With an unnoticed creak in his bones, Christie leaped to his feet effortlessly and headed back to the lass. She had turned and was huddled up against the rock, her head lying over on her arm, which was reaching over the top of the boulder. It was enough to make his neck crick. Hesitating for a second, for he didn’t want to scare the poor girl out of her wits, he finally cleared his throat once, and then a second time, louder.
“Girlie? Ye can go on in and lie down now.” Several seconds passed and the lass made no indication that she heard him. With a shrug, Christie approached her still form and leaned over and carefully situated her in his arms so that he could pick her up. He stood straight up quickly with some surprise. Why, she didn’t weigh more than a scrawny tomcat!
With the feather-light girl in his arms, Christie backpedaled to the cave and quickly settled her near the back wall, near the fire. He shuffled through his shoulder bag again and pulled out an old flannel shirt. Lifting her head gently, he slipped the folded shirt under her cheek, the closest thing to a pillow he could manage at the moment. He retreated to the mouth of the cave and cleared away several small pebbles before easing down on the ground and lying on his back. He turned up the collar of his jacket and positioned one arm behind his head and stared up at the edge of the roof of the cave and the darkening sky. The soft snoring a short distance away brought a gentle smile to his weathered face.
Dawn found Christie sitting on the large rock out front, skinning a rabbit and whistling cheerfully. He didn’t raise his eyes from his handiwork as a bemused Hermione slowly stumbled out of the cave, stretching languorously and rolling her shoulders. She stopped when she got to the rock and looked at him, hesitance in her gaze. “Thank you,” Hermione finally whispered, handing his flannel shirt/pillow back.
Christie grunted in acknowledgment and went back to whistling. Hermione couldn’t help the small smile that lit up her face and she sat down on the other side of the rock. She noted another rabbit at his feet and offered to skin it for him.
“Thank ye, lassie, but tha’s alrigh’. I don’ mind skinnin’ it ‘fore I head home.”
Hermione nodded, a wave of sadness washing over her. She dusted off her hands and was about to get up to get some water when Christie spoke again.
“I got a proposition for ye, lass. If’n ye are in’eristid.”
“In’eristid?” Hermione chuckled into her hand. “You sound like an old…an old—”
“Annnn ol’ what, exactly, lassie?” Christie interjected sharply, in a playful tone.
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek and shook her head ruefully. “A cowboy,” she admitted. “Don’t tell me. You spent a few years herding cattle?”
Christie stood up and set the skinned rabbit on the rock where he had been sitting. He hiked up his trousers self-importantly and spit on the ground nearby for good measure. “Yessiree, girlie. Ye’re gawkin’ atta two-year cowpokin’ veteran.” He crossed his arms affectedly, his eyes daring her to laugh again. “Aye. ’sides. I love a good western.”
Christie shuffled his feet. “Och, ye gonae listen o’ not?”
Christie’s right eyebrow rose, and he grinned cheekily at her.
He was like a little leprechaun, Hermione mused, with his medium build and sprightly, cheeky manner. She forced back tears, thinking how much the twins would have liked him. Or would have been like him sixty years from now, if only.…
“I coul’ use some help aroun’ the house. That is, walllll…I can’t exactily cook. Sure am sick o’ sandwiches. I don’t much like cleanin’ either. In short, lassie, I’d—walll, I woul’ offer ye room an’ board. If’n ye are willin’ tae work.”
Hermione’s eyes welled up and she looked down at her empty, chafed hands, trying to stifle the rise of emotion. Her head bobbed once in affirmation, her throat too swollen with the threat of oncoming tears to speak.
Christie cleared his throat. “Well.” He grunted and patted her roughly but kindly on the shoulder. “I’ll just...I’ll get yer things together.” He retreated quietly to the inside of the cave to gather everything up, giving her a much-needed minute to herself.
That night, Christie uttered a low, hearty chuckle, slapping his knee in the process. “Imagine meh a sneakin’ intae me own house! We gottae do this more often!”
Hermione turned to stare at Christie in the light of the half moon. “What?” She was shaking like a leaf and she felt absurd, hiding behind the tree-line with Christie in tow, waiting for all of the lights in the nearby houses to go out. Christie had admitted that his neighbors were the ‘moochiest bunch o’ high-neck nosies he’d ever laid eyes on.’ Hermione had almost lost her gall right then and there.
Christie started shaking with laughter, his shoulders just trembling with the chortles. His eyes were bonnie and bright as he peeked his bearded chin around the knotted tree, watching as old Mr. Tupper’s upstairs light went out at last. “Now whose the ol’ nosey?” he said to himself, laughing and shaking even harder.
Hermione’s spine straightened and she admonished him, feeling very annoyed and tender at the same time with the thought that dear old Christie would have got on very well with Harry and Ron and the twins at Hogwarts indeed. “Hush!” Her eyes were swelling with emotion and fear and she sounded harsher than she had intended, but Christie didn’t even act like he heard her. In fact, he was getting louder by the second. Hermione rubbed her eyes and asked sharply, “Do you want to be found out, is that it?”
The only light remaining now was the half moon overhead and the bright stars in the sky. Hermione still felt nervous, even if everyone was in bed, if not asleep, so she was inclined to wait another half-hour at least. But Christie suddenly took off towards his gate, his rifle swinging on its strap against his back.
“Mr. Barclay!” Hermione hissed, then uttered a foul word. “Wait!”
Hermione followed him as quickly and quietly as she could, muttering under her breath with each frenzied step. When she reached his front door, he whisked it open and pulled her inside, laughing still.
Hermione stood in the darkened doorway, the door shut behind her, and started dusting herself off, at a loss for words. Finally, his chuckling started to give way and Hermione gave him her sternest look. “You’re mad!” she exclaimed in a harsh whisper.
Christie spun her around, dancing a quick-stepping jig and then released her, pleased at her wildly taken aback expression. “Isn’ i’ a jolly spree? Why, I feel like me’ ol’ self agin! A sprightly firey-cracker, I am!”
Hermione shook her head, but a small smile peeked out. “Oh dear. What have I gotten myself into?”
Christie grinned and then ambled down the darkened hallway and turned around after a few steps and brought his fingers to his lips, silently admonishing her to be quiet. Hermione huffed and rolled her eyes, but followed him to the kitchen.
Christie had drawn the shades over the window and pulled the curtains together and turned the light on. He quickly set about making tea and exclaimed over his shoulder that she should make herself at home again, emphasis on the again, and find a bite to eat. He chortled to himself, and after the tea was brewing, had a second thought, and asked if Hermione would like some coffee.
“Thank you, but no, tea sounds perfectly delightful, to be honest.” Hermione chewed on her thumbnail for a second as she wondered what to make to eat. Such a prospect hadn’t been in front of her in so long. “You said you were sick of sandwiches, is that right, Christie?” At his fervent nod, Hermione smiled and said, “How about a quick but traditional English breakfast? It wouldn’t take me long to put it together.”
“Now you’re talkin’!” Christie smiled and swept his arm forward towards the stove. “Hop to i’, lassie. I’ve go’ plenty o’ Heinz beans, mealy pudding*, back bacon, bangers*, and eggs. In fac’, I do happen t’ have a tomato or two. Ham as well. Is tha’ too much?” Suddenly he looked like he was asking for the moon, and Hermione smiled at him.
“Not at all.” Her stomach nearly fainted at the thought of ham. “I’m sorry I can only do toast or fried bread for right now. I never paid a whole lot of attention to what was going on in the kitchen and my mom—she….” It hurt to talk about her parents, but Hermione took a deep breath and ploughed on. “Well, she wasn’t the most creative cook, but…well, anyhow, I am determined to learn it all.”
“’course ye will, lass.”
Hermione hesitantly began moving around the kitchen. So much of it was awkward at first, but it wasn’t long before she had three cast iron skillets going with respective meats frying and was searching through the pantry for anything to complement their hearty fry up. The pantry was a large room off of the north side of the kitchen and she found herself thankful that she hadn’t found it before. If she had only taken from the dusty back shelves in here, she would never have found herself in the situation she was in now. With a friend. It was a lot to wrap her mind around.
Most of the house was in working order and Christie was obviously not a slob, a fact Hermione was thankful for. But the shelves in the pantry were disorderly, dusty, and she knew that she could do some much-needed cleaning in there right away. There was a large deep freezer in the back corner, as well as an old and rusty refrigerator that held, Hermione was thrilled to see, a wide selection from his garden and the produce department of his local grocery.
Hermione held open the door with her hip as she peered through the items. She found a bundle of white button mushrooms and then selected two medium-sized ripe tomatoes. She brought them out and into the kitchen, closing the pantry door softly behind her. Christie was at the table, drinking tea and sifting through a large open book and notebook quietly. Hermione raised her eyebrows, but didn’t comment. She hurried over to the skillets and flipped the back bacon in one skillet and the ham and mealy pudding in another and then turned the sausage links a bit. The meat would be ready quickly, so Hermione added a handful of the mushrooms to the skillet with bacon frying in it and happily listened to the pop and sizzle. The bacon finished, she set all of it on a small, folded paper towel and then cut the two tomatoes in half and set the halves in the hot bacon grease. After the mushrooms were finished, Hermione planned to drain off half of the grease and then make fried bread, which Christie had requested. Hermione didn’t like it as much as toast, but she had long since given up being picky about anything, food least of all.
She had learned more about cooking from Mrs. Weasley than her mom, Hermione admitted to herself, though it was much different doing it the Muggle way than with magic.
She was mentally making a list of things that she would like to learn how to cook that she thought that Christie would really like. Homemade chili, stews, and soups were at the top of the list. She imagined she’d get a toothy cowboy grin if she mentioned chili.
The process of frying everything up didn’t take too long and soon Hermione was setting the table. Her curiosity was peaked when she saw that Christie was leafing through a book about local birds and making small notations in the margins, as well as in his notebook. She set a small jar of marmalade between their plates and began laying out a few potholders to go underneath the two plates piled high with their feast. Hermione had always been a little strict about her diet before…before everything. But there was no denying—a fry up had never looked so good.
Christie shut his book, laid his notebook carefully on top, and cleared his throat. He pulled his plate closer to him eagerly and gave her a warm smile and a mischievous wink. Closing his eyes as she reached for a piece of ham, Christie said clearly into the stunned silence, “Thank thee, Lord, for t’ bounty Ye have se’ b’fore us. Thank thee for t’ blessin’ o’ friendship. Please watch o’r us an’ keep us ou’ o’ too much trouble.” He cleared his throat. “Amen.”
Hermione’s eyes were huge and Christie pretended not to notice the plain shock on her face as he grinned cheekily, filled up his plate, and tucked in.
Hermione swept the bathroom with her eyes and was a little unsure where to begin. Her gaze crashed to a halt when she saw her reflection clearly for the first time. Unconsciously, she moved forward until she was almost nose-to-nose with the full-length mirror and her eyes smarted at what the unforgiving glass revealed.
She wasn’t sure, honestly, if her own mother would have been able to recognize the old Hermione underneath the wild exterior. Her hair was worse than she had thought. It was all rat tails and tangles and dust. Dirt and broken leaves were interspersed everywhere. Christie was too kind, Hermione realized for the umpteenth time, in shock. How many people left on this earth would not have mentioned the state of her hair while she was cooking their dinner? Her clothes were not so bad, since she hadn’t been wearing them very long, but they hung off of her more than she had ever realized. She was nothing more than skin and bones. She had scratches and scars all over her skin, skin that was a deep light brown and almost leathery in appearance. Her cheeks were red and chapped. Her eyes…. They were much darker than before, the whites bloodshot and yellow-tinged, and she had prominent dark circles underneath them.
She told herself sternly that it was nothing but a veneer. That appearance didn’t matter in the least. She turned away with a sob anyway.
It took Hermione a few minutes to catch her breath and calm down enough to start rifling through the drawers for a pair of scissors. She had asked Christie if he had a sturdy pair and he had kindly said that they should be in the top right drawer, perhaps towards the back. She found them and pulled the large, black scissors out, the dull metal heavy in her hand. Wrenching her eyes tight, Hermione tried to stretch her hair out, but most of it was so stiff, it wouldn’t move. At a loss, Hermione opened her eyes and bit her lip. She brought the scissors next to her scalp, wedged the scissors in, and began cutting awkwardly.
Hermione cried silently, hiccuping occasionally, and continued until most of her hair was lying in a chaotic pile at her feet. Looking in the mirror, all she could think was that she looked like a plucked chicken. Crying and mumbling incoherently now, Hermione got down on her hands and knees and gathered up an armful of her hair and then reached the short distance to the small trash can, stuffing the dirty mass in and then repeating the process until most of the mess was off the floor. Hermione laid the toilet seat down and crawled up, sat down and placed her head in her hands. She felt so much, it was hard to sort out what her feelings really were. But soon, an emerging sense of hope bubbled up; she could and she would find herself again--somehow, she had reached a new stage in her life. After a minute or two, she collected herself together and stood up. She approached the shower and turned on the water, making sure it would be quite hot. She didn’t look in the mirror as she undressed, much too weak to see the scars right now, leaving that task for another day. She still trembled when she climbed into the shower, but she immediately groaned in relief and shock at the strong spray. Gratitude overwhelmed her and she had to prop herself up against the shower wall, the hot water scalding her, as she leaned her face down into her shaking hands and cried some more. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
Hermione felt like a brand-new person by the time she toweled off, brushed her teeth for five minutes straight with a spare toothbrush, and dressed in a pair of pajamas and thick socks.
Christie had been married for a short time, he’d told her, and he still had many of his dear Laura’s clothes in a chest in one of the spare bedrooms. He had given Hermione the room and told her to use everything, not to feel hesitant at all. ‘She’d a wan’ed ye to have them, sure enough, an’ I’m tha’ glad now I never go’ rid o’ th’ lot,’ he’d said, pulling her towards the open chest and laying a few practical things out on the edge of the chest’s sides. He’d quickly ‘left her tae i’,’ and Hermione had run her fingers over the smooth dresses and slacks, overwhelmed. Everything was decidedly soft and feminine, old-fashioned, with edges of yellowed lace on some and small pearl buttons on the rest. Christie had insisted that she alter what she could to suit her, though Hermione wouldn’t feel right doing so.
She had found a pair of lavender pajamas near the bottom of the chest. The top was long-sleeved and buttoned down the front, and the material was thick and soft, a flannel fleece, and felt like it would be exceptionally comfortable.
These were the pajamas she now wore, and Hermione fingered the edge of a sleeve gently as she studied the mirror for the second time. Her very short hair was curling softly against her scalp. While it looked so wrong, it was a vast improvement, and she knew she would grow used to it in time. Biting her lip and smiling gently in the mirror, Hermione turned and unlocked the door and headed down the hall to her bedroom. Her bedroom. She tried not to laugh hysterically—it was almost too much to take in. What a turn her life had taken! She silently said thank you again, so grateful. She left the light off as she went in, exhaustion wearing on her bones, and slowly pulled back the layered quilts and coverlet. Her hand sunk into the soft mattress before she climbed in and her breath hitched. She eased her tired body onto the mattress and pulled the blankets up to her chin. Her whole body almost hurt from the relief it felt. She gently stretched, popping her toes and her kneecaps and her back, and then lay limp under the heavenly radiating warmth of the quilts. Silent tears spilled down her cheeks, but she was too tired to wipe them away. Her eyes closed of their own accord, heavy with drowsiness, and she drifted off.
Hermione stretched carefully. She often suffered from leg cramps. Malnutrition played a big part, and her body had been pushed to its limits more and more every day. If she ever felt cramps coming on, she would desperately try to relax her body and not move, in hopes that the cramp would be dissuaded. It was hard for your body to relax when it was filling with dread at the same time. Leg cramps were for her an exhaustive torture. They were a cruel shadow of the pain she had endured during the Cruciatus Curse, and always, always, left her wilted and sore for several days. These days were hell, coupled with fierce memories she’d really much rather leave repressed.
But her body stretched a bit and a bit more until Hermione realized, she actually did feel relaxed. She opened her eyes slowly and as the bedroom around her came into focus, she squeaked and promptly fell off of the twin-sized mattress. A wild mess she was, tangled in sheets and heavy quilts, staring around in wide-eyed fear, her heart protesting painfully in her chest.
As the familiarity of the bedroom and memories of the past few days sunk back in, Hermione leaned back against the bed frame, her hand over her chest, trying to slow her breathing. When she had finally calmed down enough, she stood up, untangling herself from the many blankets. She quickly set about remaking the bed, her cheeks warm with embarrassment.
Hermione could see sunlight trying to peek through the edges of the heavy curtains and she headed towards the door and rushed into the bathroom. Her limbs were a little lethargic and weak, but otherwise, she felt wonderful.
When she ambled into the kitchen a few minutes later, she found Christie on a stool munching on toast, his feet crossed at his ankles on the stool next to him, perusing a laptop perched on the edge of the bar.
“Wallll, hello there, lassie. I about gave ye up for dead, I did. How are ye feelin’?”
Hermione rubbed the back of her neck and stretched her arms once more, exhilarated at how well she felt. She smiled at him. “Great. I feel wonderful. How long did I sleep?”
Christie chuckled. “Aye. Hmm, wallll, now, aboat three days. If’n ye don’ mind me sayin’ so, ye needed i’.”
Hermione stared out the window, aghast. “Three days?”
“How on earth—”
Christie waved his hand dismissively in the air before him and turned the computer screen towards her where she could see what he was reading. “Never mind tha’, ye needed i’, tha’s for certain. Now, how’d ye like t’ see wha’s really goin’ on?”
Hermione sat down on the stool next to him after he lowered his feet and her eyebrows drew together in confusion. “Whatever do you mean, Christie?”
Christie leaned forward and grinned, his eyes intense. “I’m talkin’ about a lit’l thing called…Th’ Muggle Resistance.”
A/N: I have the best betas in the world, thank you guys so much! Devilish Motives and Davros Fan, I really appreciate y’all. And thank you guys for reading! I’m going to shift gears a little bit in the next chapter, but it’s one of my favorites!
*mealy pudding: similar to blood pudding or blood sausage, but fatty and without blood. Actually, isn’t always a sausage, but in this particular case, it was. Usually has oatmeal, onions, spices, etc. in it.
*bangers: sausage links
*shakers: I think this is Irish slang, like an exclamation. I remember reading it in a novel set in Ireland at some point, but I couldn’t find confirmation online. If anyone can confirm or deny this, please do so; I’d really appreciate it.
*geggie: Scottish slang for mouth.