"How the hell did you get on my ship?" Mal demanded of the woman he was pointing his pistol at.
"I'm a witch," she replied.
"We've already got a witch, now how the hell did you get on my ship?"
"I Apparated here."
"I don't need to know about your intimate habits, and even Jayne goes to his bunk to Apparate. How the hell did you get on my ship?"
"I'm a witch, I Apparated here," she said slowly and clearly, like she was trying to explain something to someone who did not speak English.
"You said that already. I'll admit that it seems like a waste to put a bullet in a chest like yours, but I'm about 2 seconds away from doing it. Now, how the hell..."
Mal's gun flew into the woman's hand.
"...did you do that? That was shiny!" Mal was so impressed that he wasn't even scared. Besides, he was used to being held at gunpoint by women. This one wasn't even pointing it at him in any case, but he did have a wary eye on the stick in her hand.
"That means good. Leaving aside how the hell you got on my ship, where the hell did you come from?"
"Earth, England, but I suspect that a more pertinent question would be 'when' did I come from," she told him.
"Okay, I'm lost, here," Mal said.
"So am I, I devoutly hope," she replied. "I'll do my best to explain, and I promise that I mean you no harm. If I give your gun back to you, do you promise not to shoot me until I tell you my story? It's rather complicated, and it might seem like a fantasy tale to you."
"Lady, I live on a space ship," he told her.
"Fair point. Do we have a deal?"
"She's a witch," River declared from the railing above.
"That seems to be established," Mal said. "That's River, by the way, she's our resident witch."
"She's not like me, she's a traditional one, brooms, cauldrons, wands, all of that. And she's telling the truth, she means no harm. She is out of time, though," River explained.
"Huh? Is she sick? Jayne! Don't shoot the lady yet!"
"Jayne's asleep, I meant that she is not from this time, she's from our past. She's also hungry and exhausted."
"Are you a Legilimens?"
"I'm a reader, among other things. You can relax, captain, she'll be a good crew member, I can tell," River promised.
"Crew? I don't even know her name."
"I apologize, captain, I should have introduced myself, but I was a bit distracted by your gun. Oh, have it back..." The gun appeared securely in its holster.
"Thanks. I'm Malcolm Reynolds, captain of Serenity, and you are?"
"Hermione Granger, pleased to meet you."
"Maybe I'll feel the same, once you explain all this to me," Mal said.
"I'll be happy to, but may we sit down? I really am rather tired, truth to tell. I've been running from what I assume are the authorities for some time," Hermione told him.
"Uniforms? Look like they got a stick up their butt? Carry these funny-looking guns that fire electric doughnuts?"
"Lady, you just earned yourself a meal. I purely love it when somebody twists the Alliance's tail," Mal said with a smile.
Hermione thought it was quite a nice smile, and she relaxed a little.
"We don't eat too fancy as a rule, I have to warn you. We picked up a job on that planet we just left, but until we get paid it's just protein paste in all the colors of the rainbow. River, show our guest to the galley."
"Follow me, Hermione."
Hermione followed her.
"Just sit, I'll bring you some food," River told her.
"Do you know what year it is? I have to say that I never expected to meet anyone from Earth-that-was," River asked as she rummaged in the galley.
"Not exactly. Nor even where I am, really. I was pretty upset when I made the jump."
"It's 2520. People on earth fled to the stars centuries ago."
"I suppose I left early and arrived late, then. I hope your captain isn't too angry with me. I was tired and desperate, and I'd been watching the people on your ship. You seemed like a big family to me, much friendlier than the other ship's companies I saw. Then those people were close to finding me, and I Apparated onto your ship. Apparition is -"
"I know what Apparition is, I saw it in your head. You're pretty smart. Not as smart as I am, but smarter than Simon, my brother. He's a doctor," River said. "Here's some food. It's best not to think about it. It's nutritious, but it doesn't taste all that good."
"Do you have a list of what nutrients are in it?" Hermione asked.
Hermione studied the information, chewed her bottom lip for a moment, and then cast a spell.
"What did you do?" River asked. For once, she was surprised.
"I transfigured it into something a bit more palatable. I can't create roast chicken from nothing, but all the ingredients were there. Same for the potatos and peas. Would you like some?"
"Right, now you've got some nutro-paste, let's tal- what's that smell?" Mal asked as he entered the room.
"Roast chicken, peas, and potatoes," River answered. "Hermione transfigured the paste."
"Can you do that again?" Mal asked.
"Of course. Using this paste as a base, I can create any food you care to name," she assured him.
"Lady, you are my new best friend. I want a steak and rice pilaf. Questions can wait. After we eat I'll show you to your quarters. You can have Inara's shuttle; it's fixed up nice. Welcome aboard Serenity, Hermione Granger."
"How come the newbie gets the shuttle, Mal?" Jayne asked.
"You'll find out at dinner. Let's get back to checking the mule and the weapons, we don't want anything to go wrong on this job."
"Somethin' always goes wrong on our jobs."
"Usually, yeah. All the more reason to be careful. These supplies are important to those colonists, we need to be sure they get there intact."
"And we need to get paid," Jayne added.
"That too. You just be sure Vera is ready, right?"
"Vera's always ready. Is she pretty?" Jayne asked.
"I appreciate a fine weapon as much as anybody, Jayne, but I try not to get emotionally involved with them."
"I meant the new crew. Is she pretty?"
"She is, and she's a witch," Mal told him.
"Is she crazy like River is?"
"Too soon to tell. Hell, Jayne, we're all a little crazy on this boat, aren't we?"
"Roger that. Hand me that wrench..."
"Dibs," said Jayne at dinner when Hermione handed him his prime rib with grilled vegetables. "She's mine. I don't mind her fixin' meals for you guys, but I claim her. She's mine. Don't worry, Hermione, we'll get along just fine."
"Not if you think you can just claim me, we won't," Hermione countered. "I'm happy to make the food better for us all, but I belong to myself and no one else. You're a pretty man, but if you don't respect my rights as a person, we're going to have a problem."
"She could turn you into a pot roast, Jayne," River assured him.
"Sorry," Jayne said hastily, " I just meant to warn off these other swingin' dicks. Just give me a chance, okay?"
"Colourfully put, but I understand. Serenity got me out of a tight spot, and I appreciate it, and I'm glad to be of help, but it's by no means certain that I'll stay here."
"Why would you leave Serenity?" Kaylee asked. "She's the best ship in the whole 'verse."
"I don't even know what you do, really," Hermione explained.
"We're criminals," River said, "mostly smugglers, but occasionally we're thieves."
"Oh," Hermione said softly, "well, then I'm afraid I'll have to -"
"Just a minute," Mal interrupted. "According to the Alliance, we're criminals, that's true. But you've already seen how reasonable they ain't. The cargo we're carrying, okay, smuggling, is medical supplies. The Alliance won't let suppliers sell to the outer planets because they refuse to accept Alliance rule. These people are dying, and all they want is to be left alone to lead their own lives. And yes, on occasion we steal from the Alliance, both for our benefit and to help out folk on the frontier. We ain't without sin, but we have our standards and principles."
"Still... " Hermione muttered.
"Do me this one favor," Mal asked, "let us enjoy this special dinner you fixed for us, and leave the questions for after. River, after dinner you can fill her in on Miranda, okay?"
"Sure," River agreed.
"Who's Miranda?" Hermione asked.
"Miranda is a planet, and there used to be people on it. But that can wait 'till after dinner, we wouldn't want this to get cold," Mal said.
"It won't get cold, I used a warming charm on it."
"I still claim first shot with her," Jayne declared as he cut into his prime rib.
"The Alliance really did that?" Hermione asked after River had told her the tale of Miranda.
"They did. They meddle, they manipulate, they want to control everything and everyone. Mal fought them. Zoe fought them too; she was with us until the reavers killed her husband and she lost her taste for the fight. You would have liked her. She is a strong woman like we are. Maybe stronger, in some ways."
"This is a lot to take in. It seems that humanity has learned little in five centuries," Hermione said slowly.
"Most people don't learn, that's true. They just believe that everyone should think like they do, and that if someone disagrees they need to be 'helped'. It's depressing. How did you get here? Can you tell me?"
"I suppose the statute of secrecy no longer applies, and anyway you all know what I am. I worked for the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Mysteries. Our mandate was to explore the deepest secrets of existence. I specialized in time and space."
"They're the same thing," River told her. Hermione stared.
"I was starting to reach the same conclusion, but it just didn't seem possible," Hermione said.
"Everything is possible, somewhere. There are infinite universes and infinite possibilities."
"Perhaps. In any case, my colleagues soundly ridiculed my theories."
"Is that why you left?" River asked.
"Partially, but the biggest reason was that people refused to learn, to grow, and people kept insisting that I live my life according to their expectations of me. We fought a brutal war for equality and fairness, and after we 'won', those in power immediately set about securing their own privilege above all else. My friends could never accept that I did not want to marry my boyfriend, or anyone, for that matter. My boyfriend was sweet, and brave, but dumb as a sack of hammers and he expected me to stay home and pop out babies like his mum did. No bloody thank you."
"You would make a good mother. I can tell," River told her.
"Thank you, I like to think so, but it would have to be on my terms and in my own time. In any case, my research had led to a portal that could span both time and space, perhaps because they are the same thing. I got really fed up with people and their expectations of me, and it seemed to me that nobody could find me thousands of light years away and well into the future, so one day I just said to hell with it and took my best guess. I ended up on the planet I found you on, roughly five hundred years in the future. I was shooting for about two hundred, but I was pissed off."
"Two hundred wouldn't have worked. That planet had not been terraformed yet. The atmosphere was nearly pure chlorine. You're smarter than you think you are, and a little clairvoyant."
Hermione looked a bit shocked, then pleased.
"Thank you, River."
Would you like to have sex with me?"
"It's just sex. You're pretty, and you're smart. I can tell that you don't really want to bond with me forever, but you seem intrigued, and your pupils do dilate when you look at me. Not as much as when you look at Mal, but we're alone here just now and everybody will think I'm just explaining things to you. Inara showed me some sexual techniques, and Kaylee and I have sex on occasion. She also has sex with Simon. I don't have sex with Simon, nor any man, and right now I really want to have sex with you. And after all, it's been five hundred years since you had sex. So will you?"
"Leave it to me," River said as she slid her fingers into Hermione's abundant hair.
"Ohgod…" gasped Hermione.
The next few days saw Hermione settling in fairly well, and the improvement in the food made her a favorite with everyone and resulted in a real morale boost for the whole crew.
Hermione had grown to see the essential kindness of all of them, even Jayne, although his attempts at flirting made Ron look smooth. But he was a lot better looking than Ron. Simon reminded her a little of Harry, and Kaylee had welcomed her like an excited little kid when Hermione demonstrated the "Reparo" spell, though not quite as personally as River had done.
Hermione was still trying to come to grips with that interlude, and was close to concluding that she had simply been overwhelmed by River's intellect and a general need for human contact.
That's what she told herself. Often. She dared to hope that things might actually work out for her on Serenity, and she spent a lot of time gazing out at the quiet endlessness of space.
She decided that Malcolm Reynolds was a genuinely decent man, and found herself inclined to trust him. Not that she had many options at the moment. Still, it was good to see her initial opinion of the crew of Serenity confirmed, and she began to relax a little.
Ship's cook had not ever been on her list of possible occupations, but she enjoyed it, and her efforts were truly appreciated for once and that made her feel good.
There was just the little matter of the way the crew made a living...
"Mal told me to come see you," Hermione said upon entering the sick bay.
"Yes, you'll need the standard immunizations for the planet we're headed for. There is a native virus there that's pretty nasty. Also, if you don't mind I'd like to give you a quick checkup. Do you have any medical conditions I should know about?"
"No. I've always been quite healthy. River told me that you were a very successful doctor, but you gave it up to rescue her. She wouldn't tell me from what, though. Should I undress?"
"Only if you want to. The scanner is not affected by clothing," Simon said.
"I thought you were supposed to be smart," Jayne commented. "Why'd you tell her that?"
"Get out, Jayne."
"Might as well, seein' as how she ain't gonna get nekkid."
"I'm goin'. I'll see you later Hermione." Jayne left.
"Jayne lacks subtlety," Simon explained, "also principles and table manners. But he's handy in a fight."
"Why did you decide to stay on Serenity?"
"Let me tell you what the Alliance did to my sister..." Simon explained in complete detail the abuse that had been visited on River at the hands of the Alliance.
"That's the most horrifying thing I've ever heard of, and I saw my share of horrors in our war. People don't seem to have evolved much in five hundred years. River told me that most people still don't believe that magic exists. I wonder if there are any others of my kind surviving?"
"If there are any, they are well hidden. The Alliance would love to have people with powers like yours. Of course, they might try and 'improve' you," Simon told her. "You're in perfect health, especially for your age, Hermione. Your teeth are exceptional."
"Cheeky youngster. I'm not sure how I feel about being so much older than my doctor. I can understand why you would oppose the Alliance, but why Serenity? Surely you could find someplace safe to settle, now that they aren't hunting you."
"I can't trust that they wouldn't kill us just to make a point, but the biggest reason is that River really loves it here. She feels safe, and flying the ship lets her be in control. that's important to her."
Hermione nodded, she recalled the helpless feeling she had had when Bellatrix tortured her, and well understood how River would need to feel in control. She'd certainly controlled Hermione.
"But aren't you bothered by the, well, by the crimes? River told me that you sometimes steal things, not just smuggle them, and people get killed sometimes. Doesn't that bother you?"
"Here on the edge, morality is kind of a gray area. We've killed, yes, but we've never murdered. We all risked our lives to get out the word on Miranda, our pilot, Wash, Zoe's husband, was killed doing that. The captain has principles and a code of honor. We trust him. We're more than crew, we're family. Take this job, for instance, delivering these medical supplies. People might try and steal them, and they will be willing to kill us to do it. We have to be willing to kill them if they try to. I'm here to treat the wounded. I'm a miserable shot, so I usually stay with the ship. But yes, sometimes it bothers me. Less all the time, I'm afraid."
"I know River is the pilot now, I guess she stays with the ship too, right?"
"Oh no. River always goes out on jobs," Simon told her.
"But - she's tiny, how can she - what's so funny?" Simon had burst out laughing.
"River is the deadliest being in the 'verse."
"You'd best believe that!" Jayne said from the doorway.
"I thought you'd gone, since I wasn't going to take my clothes off?" Hermione said.
"Hope springs eternal. But the little crazy person can take care of herself, right enough. Beat the snot out of me more'n once, much as I hate to admit it. And the doc here is right, we're family. Simon and River even forgave me for trying to sell them to the Alliance. We take care of each other. I reckon there's worse places to be than Serenity."
Jayne turned and walked away.
"He tried to sell you to the Alliance?"
"Jayne is a complicated man, in his simple way."
"I begin to realize that. Oh, once this job is done, if I decide to stay, we should talk about healing potions. There are several that would be of use, if we can find the ingredients. Especially the blood-replenishing one, and there are spells I can use to heal broken bones and cuts and bruises."
"That does sound interesting, oh, Captain Reynolds wants to see you before we land. You'll find him in the cargo bay."
Hermione was also learning to tell the difference between Mal and Captain Reynolds.
"You wanted to see me, Captain?"
"Yes. I think it would be best if you stayed on the ship until the job is done. The word is that some folk are going to try and hijack our shipment, and things are apt to get ugly and more'n a little dangerous," he told her.
"I do have some battle experience," Hermione told him.
"That may be, but you haven't been amongst us long enough to learn how we do things. Besides, I can always get another gun hand if I need one, but I can't get anybody else to make that paste taste good," he said with a smile.
"Is that all I am around here? A flavor enhancer?"
"Maybe not; but whatever else you might be will have to wait 'till after this job. I know you have misgivings about what we do. I can't have anyone along that I don't know won't shy away from what has to be done."
"I have spells that I can use so that we wouldn't have to kill anyone," Hermione told him.
"That maybe would come in handy sometime, but the thing is, someone who tries to kill you once is likely to try it again, if they're still alive to do it. All anybody has to do to stay perfectly healthy around us is to leave us be, but anybody tries to kill me or mine is going to die if I can make it happen. If you can't handle that bit of truth, Serenity might not be the place for you."
"That's a rather harsh outlook on life, Captain," Hermione replied.
"It's a harsh 'verse. We help out those in need any time we can, but we have to be alive to do it. Stay on the ship until the job is done."
It didn't take long for Hermione to see the truth in what Captain Reynolds had said. The mule was attacked before it was 20 meters from Serenity. Hermione stood in the open hatch, unable to move as Mal, River, and Jayne fought back. This type of fighting was new to her. It was louder, and bloodier, and her amazement warred with her horror at what she was seeing.
She was so distracted that she did not notice the man sneaking up on Serenity until she felt an arm around her throat. There was a lull in the fighting, and the man holding her fired a shot that got everyone's attention.
"Stand down and surrender the goods or I kill her!" he screamed. Captain Reynolds walked slowly towards them, his hands in the air.
"Let her go, we can talk," Mal said.
"No talk! The goods or she d-"
Hermione barely saw Mal's hand move before she heard the shot and her captor dropped in his tracks.
"You okay?" Mal asked Hermione.
"There may be more. Get on the ship and close the hatch."
"Did you have to kill him?"
"No. I could have let him kill you and the rest of us, but I didn't like the thought of that overmuch. This planet isn't the best place for you to leave us, but after we finish up here I'll take you to someplace that's maybe better. Dunno how you're gonna make a livin', but you're smart, and you've got that magic stuff, so you should make do. Is that what you want?"
"No. Now that I see how things are, it's time to pick a side, and I've picked mine. Let's get these supplies to the colonists." Hermione levitated the corpse off Serenity, dumped it unceremoniously, and then vanished the blood. "Come on, I won't hold you back." Hermione trotted to the mule and climbed in beside River.
"Welcome aboard," River said with a smile.
"I'm not too sure about this," Mal said from the back.
"You will be. Ready when you are, River," Hermione said, and the mule moved off.
"What's that funny kind of shimmer around us?" Jayne asked.
"Disillusionment and shield spells. All we'll look like to anyone else is a bit of heat haze, and if someone shoots at us the shield will stop it, at least for a while. That should give us time to defend ourselves. Oh, and thank you, Captain Reynolds, for what you did back there."
"Remember, I get first try with her," Jayne mouthed to Mal.
"May the best man win," Mal replied in kind.
Mal found himself growing fonder of Hermione as he looked through the shimmering shield.
"You know, having Hermione with us almost makes stealing too easy," Jayne mused over dinner. "They can't see us comin', they can't remember what we look like, hell, they can't even remember gettin' robbed! I say we go for a big score, a bank, set ourselves up for life."
Hermione stiffened, but made no reply.
"We ain't bank robbers," Mal said plainly, "ordinary folk got their money in banks. We can't go hurtin' them, even if they are dumb enough to fall for the Alliance's line of crap. Besides, there's no way she'd go along with that, right, witch?" He smiled at her.
"Correct, I'm happy to help in a good cause, but-"
"Eatin' regular is a good cause," Jayne broke in.
"And we do," Kaylee told him. "Hermione saves us a ton of credits by turning that cheap paste into real food. Don't tell me you're back to complaining about the food, Jayne?"
"Huh? No! I just - I mean - I guess I got carried away is all. But you gotta admit that the idea is temptin'..."
"To say nothing of the help she's given us in the med bay," Simon said.
"You just blew whatever tiny chance you might have had with her, Jayne," River told him.
"It don't matter anyhow," Mal summed up, "we've already got another job lined up. Goin' back to the crappy town where you're a hero, Jayne. There's a family there that's completed their contract, and Higgins won't let 'em leave. This one could get ugly."
"They all get ugly. Well, at least I can get laid there," Jayne said, "Rachel will be glad to see me."
"You were very brave back there, Jayne," Hermione said as she helped him drink the healing potion. "That family owes you their lives." Jayne looked embarrassed.
"I kind of owed them people one," he muttered. Then he brightened visibly. "Say, now that you know what a big damn hero I am, what say you and me get together?"
"It's tempting, like I said long ago, you're a pretty man, Jayne Cobb. But after seeing you go upstairs with Rachel, and then seeing her after - well, I can tell you're just too much man for me." Jayne's face fell. "Besides," Hermione continued, "Rachel would be so disappointed."
"How's she gonna know? It ain't likely we'll ever go back to Canton after this dustup."
"Perhaps not, but I sort of thought you two made a good couple, and I also thought she might want to get away from there, and she's right outside the door. Mal said she could come with us. You don't have to pair with her, of course, and she doesn't expect anything, but like I said, I saw you two together..."
"That was very nice of you, Hermione," River told her as they worked on dinner. "The way you let Jayne down gently like that, and bringing them together. Jayne has a good heart, he just hides from it because he's afraid of getting hurt."
"That's sort of what I thought, yes," Hermione agreed.
"And of course he never had a chance with you, because you want Mal."
"What? Don't be ridiculous!"
"I can read your thoughts, Hermione. Also your body language, and your emotions are like a shout to me. He feels the same way about you. There's no need for you to confine your desire to masturbating while you think about him any longer, unless you just want to. But you'll have to make the first move, because he never will."
"I have never mas-" River rolled her eyes.
"Please. Do what you like, but you can't lie to me, no one can. Why would you keep lying to yourself? You want him, he wants you, it's simple, but you'll have to make it really plain to him."
"Captain Reynolds - Mal?" Hermione called out after rapping on the door to his quarters.
"It's open," he answered, and she entered the room. "What's up?"
"Well, it's sort of about River..."
"She can be hard to figure, I admit that, but she's not replaceable," Mal said.
"Oh! No! Nothing like that! I love River, she has the finest mind I've ever known, it's just that..." Hermione turned red.
"Spit it out, whatever it is won't be the oddest thing I've ever heard."
"Well," Hermione swallowed, "River seems to think that you and I have - feelings - for each other."
Mal turned red.
"What sort of feelings?"
"Well - affectionate - sexual - sort of feelings..." she mumbled.
"Oh. Have I done anything out of line, 'cause -"
"No! Nothing, it's just that - oh, screw it. I'm attracted to you, Mal. Very. If by any chance you feel the same way then I think it's high time we do something about it, don't you?"
"Stop me if you want to," Hermione said as she began unbuttoning her dress, "if you don't want me, just say so, no hard feelings."
She continued on the buttons.
Mal became aware that there was nothing beneath that dress but Hermione, and he shifted in his chair. Hermione saw that, and she smiled as her dress hit the floor.
"Yes. River advised me to make my intentions clear. I'm standing naked in front of you, in your quarters. I've told you that I want you, my nipples are erect, my labia are engorged, and I'm getting wetter by the minute. But pretty soon I'm going to feel really silly on top of being horny, so if you don't want to have sex with me just tell me so and I'll Apparate to my shuttle and masturbate after I Obliviate you."
"- and articulate..."
Alone in her room, River's eyes closed as the feelings washed over her. She smiled.