Actions

Work Header

A Fondness for Tornadoes

Chapter Text

Rabbit had always felt that nothing could ever really replace a good, old-fashioned, dependable map – especially when it came to storm chasing.  However, even though he himself had not really changed much over the years…except for the fact that his hair was a little less floppy and a little more gray than it used to be…the world certainly had.  Technological advances had become increasingly available to the common man – especially given that everyone now carried a cell phone with all that computing power right at their fingertips. 

Rabbit agreed for the most part that technology was a wonderful and convenient thing, but he was also aware that it was prone to inconsistencies and glitches – especially when it came to something as precise as geography and map reading.  He happily admitted that GPS generally did make life easier, and he used it whenever he could.  However, he still also made it his mission to find all of the weaknesses and limitations of the current GPS systems…of which there were many.

~~~~~

In the off-season, Jo and Bill normally stayed in the lab with their data and research, while the rest of the team resumed their normal lives.  For Rabbit, that meant working with Sanders at their land surveying company.  It was not nearly as exciting as storm chasing, of course.  Nevertheless, it kept the bills paid and he still got to work with his maps on a daily basis.

However, besides that, Rabbit was unattached and without a family of his own - except for his elderly mother whom he really only saw on major holidays because she had decided to trade in tornadoes for hurricanes when she relocated down to Florida to take advantage of the year-round warm temperatures and almost-constant sunshine there.  Consequently, he was able to spend most of his free time out in the field exploring the rural countryside firsthand in order to find all of the obscure little side roads and farm lanes that the commercial GPS systems just did not pinpoint with any real accuracy.  Knowledge of these out-of-the-way places sometimes came in handy during storm season, as well, when having a clear passage could literally mean the difference between life and death for the team while out on a chase.

It was on one such solitary excursion that Rabbit’s life was changed forever.  Up to that point, he thought the day that the team had lived through the monstrous F5 tornado and finally got Dorothy to fly was the most exciting day of his life.  He soon found out, though, just how wrong of an assumption that was.


It all started when he found himself on a small dirt road that dead-ended right into a fallow field.  That was not the unusual part, though.  In fact, such little disappointments often happened when mapping out unknown territory.  No, the really strange part of the situation was the very small, but extremely fast, pure white funnel cloud that just appeared out of the clear blue sky suddenly and without any warning at all.  Besides the fact that it was not tornado season, Rabbit had never seen anything like it.  It did not seem to follow any of the meteorological rules that he had come to learn over his years as a chaser.  Consequently, before he knew it, he was out of his truck and filming the unexpected phenomenon with his phone in order to share the amazing event with the rest of the team later. 

In fact, he was so immersed in the occurrence that he was completely unaware that the mysterious circulation was headed straight for him…until it was too late.  Its speed was so incredible that he did not have time to take cover…or even to move at all…before it slammed straight into him and knocked him to the ground.  He only had a moment to marvel that he did not seem to be dead before the strange funnel cloud came to a complete standstill in front of him…until it disappeared completely.  In its wake, however, it left behind a very pretty woman with lots of lively hair and a concerned look upon her face.

“Oh!  I am so sorry about that,” she apologized emphatically in what Rabbit noted to be, despite his shock and awkwardly sprawled position on the ground, a lovely British accent.  His bewilderment, however, only continued as she gave him a hand up out of the dirt. 

“You must be Bob. It’s so nice to meet you.” The mysterious woman reached up to his shoulders to brush off some of the dust from his fall as she continued to chatter on in an amiable fashion despite his silence.  “I’m afraid that I lost a little bit of control there at the end.  Elemental magic is still pretty new to me, though, and it is a lot harder to master than I originally thought it would be – especially the landings!  To be honest, though, I’m surprised that it has not been a lot worse.  In fact, when I first decided to expand my magical repertoire, I was really shocked to discover that I have an affinity for air magic, of all things.  It is really very ironic given how much I have always hated to fly.  I don’t even own a broom.  In reality, I always thought that I would be more connected to earth magic than anything else.  I guess that just goes to show that even I don’t know everything.  Please don’t tell Harry and Ron that, of course – especially since I’ve spent all of these years training them otherwise.”

She paused to laugh cheerfully at the thought until she finally realized that the man in front of her had still not said a word.  She looked at him closer and noted his stock-still position and the glazed look in his eyes.  Then she looked past him and her gaze fell upon his dusty old truck, as well.  Her look grew even more serious at that point as her eyes swept across the rural Oklahoma landscape that surrounded them.

“Where did I land?” she asked quietly and all of the previous joviality from her visage and tone had disappeared completely.  “I’m not at the MACUSA elemental practice fields, am I?  I’m also guessing that you’re not Bob, the field supervisor, either.”

Rabbit had no idea what the tornado lady was talking about.  In fact, he was not positive that he was even really awake and conscious at the moment.  After all, she seemed to be performing magic, so it was a perfectly reasonable assumption that the whole situation could simply be a dream.  He could have fallen asleep in his truck on one of those quiet back roads when he had taken a break from his exploring.  It certainly would not have been the first time it had happened.  However, despite that, something told him that it was all true.  He really had just witnessed something incredible, and the woman in front of him was real.  He was even able to calmly acknowledge that she must be a witch of some sort. 

After all, didn’t they have all of those mystic stone circles over in England?  Somebody had to use them, right?  he thought with the part of his brain that was still able to rationalize.  It was the same part that always told him to put his faith into maps.  Therefore, he knew that it could be trusted.  Nevertheless, despite his calm reasoning, he also knew that he could not depend on his voice to not crack or squeak if he spoke out loud, not yet…perhaps not ever again after this kind of surprise.  Therefore, he simply shook his head in denial, instead.

“Oh, bugger!” the woman murmured as he confirmed her suspicions that she had just accosted a non-magical person, albeit by accident.  She looked at him nervously for just a moment, but then relaxed.  After all, MACUSA was now a lot more flexible when it came to the Statute of Secrecy than they used to be - definitely more so than the Ministry of Magic anyway – especially when there were extenuating circumstances.  Therefore, it was quite probable that they would both make it out of this encounter without any negative consequences whatsoever - especially if the man remained in his current calm state. In fact, she was already able to see the humorous aspect of the situation.  Consequently, when she looked up and caught his eye, she began to grin mischievously and was even able to make a joke about it. 

“I guess that I must have gotten all turned around and blown off course, then!”

Despite the insanity of the current situation, Rabbit found that his shocked paralysis had finally been broken and he just could not stop the bark of laughter that escaped from him at such a ridiculous pun.  Tornado Lady was actually quite funny.  That revelation…and her light answering laugh in return…relaxed him enough that he was finally able to completely return to his senses and find his voice again.  To his extreme gratitude, it even sounded relatively normal.

“I’m not sure what this ma-cu-sa place is that you are looking for,” he said slowly as he tried to pronounce the strange word correctly, “but my name does happen to be Bob.  Well, Robert really…but my mom calls me Bob.  All of my friends, however, call me Rabbit.”

“Rabbit?” the woman asked and her lips automatically twitched upwards of their own accord. “Well, it’s very nice to meet you.  My name is Hermione…but my friends call me ‘Mione.  I have always hated it, but I can see now that it could have been much worse.  In fact, I concede that you win this round of the ‘strange nicknames’ game.”  Her light teasing tone actually made the man relax even further…despite the fact that she was apparently a witch whom he had seen arrive by way of a freaking tornado of all damn things.  He even found that he could focus on other things besides that…such as how friendly the woman seemed to be…and how attractive she was, too.

“I must say that you are taking all of this rather well,” she continued and Rabbit was pleased to hear how impressed she sounded.  “Do you know any witches or wizards, by chance?” 

There are more of them!  Rabbit thought as he shook his head in the negative again.  However, he did not find that knowledge as surprising as he could have.  In fact, he suddenly thought about Jo’s sweet Aunt Meg - specifically how youthful she always looked, despite her advancing age, and how she always had enough food ready to feed an army whenever the team showed up – no matter how unexpected their visit was.  There was also the issue of how she had been pulled from her destroyed house with only a few bumps and bruises to account for the ordeal.  Then Rabbit thought about how quickly her house had been rebuilt after the entire town of Wakita had practically been destroyed.  Meg had insisted that the damage had not been as bad as everyone had thought - even though he had seen the house collapse in on itself with his own two eyes.  Jo had just shrugged off everyone’s questions, however, and told them that her aunt had a really great contractor. 

Jo knows the truth! Rabbit realized with a start.  He looked up at the woman in front of him and his eyes were wide from the force of the revelation.

“Well, it’s obvious that you must be used to taking unexpected developments in stride,” Hermione commented as she correctly guessed the subject of his thoughts.  “However, might I suggest that you just come right on out and ask them directly.  Our people do have rules about these kinds of things and they are not allowed to tell you the truth – unless it is obvious that you already know it.” When Rabbit looked confused at the irony of her statement, she threw her hands up in the air in an exasperated gesture and laughed.   “I know, I know…I said there were rules, but I didn’t say that they made a lot of sense, did I?”  She paused to smile at him and he found that he had automatically returned the expression despite the fact that he was still reeling from his newfound knowledge.

“At any rate, I’m guessing that you still might be curious about…well…what happened here?” Hermione asked as she waved her hand behind her towards the place where her extremely unique form of transportation had dissipated right in front of his eyes.

“That would be an understatement,” he answered honestly…and, now that he knew, he found that he was really looking forward to learning all that he could about the situation before he talked to Jo and Meg.

Hermione just stood there and looked at him for a long moment until she suddenly seemed to come to a decision and smiled at him again.  “Well, I guess I do owe you for hitting you with a runaway tornado.   Do you know of anywhere that we can get a cuppa around here, though?  Harnessing whirlwind energy can take a lot out of a witch.”

“A cup-pa?” Rabbit asked uncertainly as his confusion returned in full force even as he realized that she had just confirmed out loud, without any doublespeak at all, that she was indeed a magic user. 

I guess that she could finally tell me plainly because we fulfilled the letter of the law…if not the spirit, he surmised.

“Cuppa: A cup of tea…or possibly coffee, if tea is unavailable,” Hermione clarified and grinned again at the fact that such a common British term had tripped up the man…while, ironically, the knowledge that she used magic and could travel by tornado had apparently taken very little effort on his part to process.

“Oh!” Rabbit, on the other hand, was a bit embarrassed because the answer to his question seemed so obvious in hindsight, so he rushed to answer her query.  In his head, he pulled up a mental map of the area. “Yeah, there’s a diner in the next town, about ten minutes away…to the East...once we get back to the main road, that is.”  He looked at the intriguing woman again and suddenly noticed how exhausted she appeared.  “Would…would you like for me to give you a ride…or will you…?” he paused to make a swirling motion with his hand.

Hermione laughed tiredly.  “No more tornadoes for me today, I’m afraid.  It seems that I’ve drained all of my elemental energy for now.  I am still learning, after all…and it is just a hobby at the moment so I don’t have a lot of stamina built up for it, yet.  In fact, I don’t think that apparation is a good idea right now, either.  That’s sort of like magical teleportation, by the way.”  She answered his unspoken question before he even had a chance to ask it.  When he quickly nodded in a bemused sort of understanding, she continued.  “Therefore, I guess that I am grounded for the time being and will just have to do things the muggle way for now.” 

“Muggle?” was Rabbit’s next obvious question, but Hermione just laughed.

“Non-magical,” she explained and he nodded again.  That certainly made sense in context.

“Then I’ll be happy to give you a ride,” he answered.  He was not even surprised to realize that it was the truth.  He found that he wanted nothing more than to learn as much as he could about the fascinating woman in front of him.  “In fact, it would be my pleasure…and my treat at the diner, as well.”

Hermione smiled at him warmly and the look just reinforced his decision – especially since it seemed to stir something inside of him that he had not felt in a long time.  Consequently, he was a little surprised…and quite disappointed, as well…when her look suddenly turned quite chilly before she spoke in a no-nonsense tone of voice. “I’m not in the habit of accepting rides from perfect strangers, though, so I should warn you.  I may be tired, but I am far from powerless.  I am still perfectly able to defend myself…if needs must.”  

Rabbit wondered what she meant for just a second.  Why would she have to defend herself here?  Then realization hit him like a ton of bricks!  “Oh no!  I would never even think about…” he sputtered, and his disappointment quickly turned to horror at the very thought that she would be worried about something like that – especially from him.

“Good!” Her warm smile was back.  “I didn’t really think so.  You honestly do seem like a nice bloke…but I just wanted to make sure.  A girl just can’t be too careful, you know.  Now, let me clean you up.  You are still a bit dusty from your fall.”  Then, as if they had not just had that disturbing discussion, she pulled out what Rabbit could only guess was her magic wand, and with one murmured word, had him and his clothes even cleaner than they had been when he left his house that morning. 

That explains so much! he marveled as he again thought about how wonderfully efficient Aunt Meg was – especially when it came to cleaning up the tornado-like mess that the team was forced to leave behind practically every time they visited her. Invariably, the storm chasers always found that they had to leave the comfort of her hospitality...and her delicious food...to hit the road again with only a moment's notice.  Somehow, though, the place would be spotless again within just a few minutes, as Rabbit had noted on one previous visit, when he had to return immediately after his apparent departure in order to reclaim a forgotten jacket.

Chapter Text

The ride to the diner was a little awkward at first as both occupants of the truck were lost in their own thoughts.  Rabbit was still amazed by the secret he had just learned about his close friends.  However, it was thoughts of the fascinating woman in the seat next to him that mostly filled his mind…along with the worry that also gnawed at him about why she would even think about warning him against something so horrible when he offered her a ride.  He sincerely hoped that she had never had any personal experience of that sort.  In fact, his fists clenched the steering wheel tightly at the thought.  He was not really a fighter, but he knew he would gladly kick the ass of any man who would treat a woman in such a way.

For her part, Hermione wondered about the man next to her as she realized that she quite liked him.  He seemed quiet, thoughtful, and intelligent.  Yet, he was obviously still able to roll with life’s unexpected developments, and she was extremely pleased with his response to both their strange situation…and to her warning.  Unfortunately, some wizards she knew in England still thought that they were entitled to whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it…and they had learned the hard way that she would not put up with such a sexist and dangerous attitude.  After all, she knew some very nasty and defiguring…but somehow still completely legal…hexes. 

Fortunately, Rabbit obviously was not one of those men.  Not only that, but he was quite attractive, as well.  She really liked his adorably floppy hair, his slightly crooked smile, and his kind, bright eyes.  In fact, she realized that she would not mind getting to know him better, so she turned towards him and asked him about his profession.  She was sure it must have something to do with the multitude of maps that were spread across the dashboard of his truck…and piled up between them on the seat, as well.  At her innocuous question, Rabbit shook off his serious thoughts and turned to smile at her, instead. At that look, Hermione felt a little flutter of interest low in her belly that surprised her - simply because it had been so long since she had such a reaction to a bloke.

“Nothing as exciting as being a magical tornado, I’m sure,” he answered and his smile grew even wider when she regained control of herself and laughed at such a description.  “In fact, I just own a small town land survey company with a friend.  We map out things like property lines and boundaries when people want to buy, sell, or divide up their real estate.”

Hermione looked around again at all the maps that surrounded her.  “So, you’re a cartographer?” she asked.

“In a way…these are all really more for my sideline, though.”

“And what’s that?”

“I’m the navigator for a meteorological research team during tornado season.”

She looked at him questioningly. 

“In other words, we’re storm chasers.”  Rabbit replied with a shrug.  “What can I say? I’ve always had a fondness for tornadoes.” 

He glanced her way, and their eyes met for a second.  This time the smile they shared was a little more self-conscious before he had to return his attention to the road in front of them. However, they both felt something pass between them in that brief moment…and they found that they liked it.

“Tell me about magic,” Rabbit requested in order to distract himself from the feeling…as pleasant as it was.  After all, he had just met the woman.  Not only that, but he had to be mistaken about what her look had meant.  There was no way that someone as intriguing as Hermione would ever be interested in a boring guy like him.  In fact, he could count the number of relationships that he had experienced on one hand…and they had all been few, far between, and of very limited duration. He had grown accustomed to his perpetually single status, however, and had simply adjusted his life accordingly.  He filled any relationship void that he might have felt otherwise with maps, storms, and his close platonic friendships within the team. 

However, at the moment, for the first time in a long time, he wished that he was more interesting.  He wanted to be the kind of man who would be able to catch the attention of his intriguing passenger.  That feeling grew even stronger as she proceeded to tell him about the side of the world that he had never suspected actually existed outside of fairytales…until now.

By the time that they had reached the diner, Hermione had already told him all about the surprise infusion of magic into her ordinary childhood with her dentist parents and her introduction to the magical boarding school in Scotland.  Rabbit was fascinated by the idea that an ordinary life could suddenly become so extraordinary…and he wondered if the same thing had happened to Aunt Meg, as well.  He could not wait to ask her.

However, all of that was nothing compared to the stories Hermione told him after they had found a quiet corner in the diner in which to sit and talk without being overheard.  A discreet wave of her wand and another whispered word further protected their privacy.  Therefore, over the “cuppa” that she had finally been able to order and which she sipped with obvious enjoyment between stories, the witch summarized the accounts of the crazy and dangerous adventures that she had shared with her best friends through the years. 

When the narratives grew even more complicated and convoluted as they led up to an obviously looming, yet still undisclosed, climax, Rabbit convinced her to continue them over dinner - to which he had also insisted on treating her.  It was not until dessert, though, that she told him about the blood war she had fought as a mere teenager.  It was at that point that his hand found hers across the table…and there it stayed as she took comfort from the gentle warmth of the contact. 

“I’ve never told anybody all of that,” she admitted afterwards as she squeezed his hand gently in gratitude.  “Not even Harry...or Ron – and I dated him forever…know as much about me as you do now.”  She paused as she processed the truth of that statement.

“I’m sorry that I burdened you with all of that, though.  You are just so kind…and too good of a listener…and it’s been a while since I have felt able to talk about some of it.”  She squeezed Rabbit’s hand again and a thrill shot through his body at the contact which he had originally given to simply show his support.  The continuation of which, however, had started to give him other ideas.  Nevertheless, he was distracted from those kind of thoughts when she continued. 

“Enough about me, however.  Now it is your turn.  I want to know more about this storm chasing passion of yours – especially if it helps to stop me from getting chased in the future whenever I am twisting around in your territory.”  She winked at him playfully to show that she was just joking, but he could tell that she felt uncomfortable and really wanted to steer the subject away from herself.  Therefore, he did exactly as she asked.  He did not let go of her hand, though…nor did she seem to mind the continued contact, either.

~~~~~

Rabbit had listened to Hermione’s story with alternating feelings of awe and horror - even though it was clear from the occasional awkward pause that she had censored quite a bit of what she had told him.  That was to be expected, though, after all he was still technically a stranger to her.  Nevertheless, he was pleased and honored that she had chosen to share as much as she had with him – even though some of it had obviously been painful for her to remember.  Therefore, he launched into his own, although much less exciting, narrative with the same honesty. 

He told her all about being a bookish nerd and a bit of a loner while growing up – with the exception of his best-friend-since-childhood, Sanders.  He was the one who had given Rabbit his animalistic nickname in the first place.  Rabbit had retaliated by calling him by his last name only and somehow both names had stuck throughout the years.  He explained how he met their meteorologist friends, Jo and Bill, at the university where she taught when he had worked on a survey project there prior to a planned expansion.  Once they had seen his maps, however, they struck up a conversation with him about the difficulty of maintaining accurate navigation while out in the field and then invited him along for a chase.  The rest was history.

“I was so scared the first time I went out with them that I was afraid that I would actually wet my pants…but it was also the most exciting thing that I had ever done.” Rabbit told Hermione, and she was amazed by the positive energy that he exuded when he spoke about his favorite hobbies.  Gone was the quiet timidity that he had shown from the beginning as it was replaced with enthusiasm for the subject at hand.  He even occasionally let go of her hand to animatedly wave his own around as he spoke, only to grab for hers again and squeeze it excitedly during parts of his tale.  Hermione found that she could not help but to admire such passion.  The feeling of her hand in his was quite nice, too.

Unaware of Hermione’s admiring thoughts, Rabbit continued his story.  “It was only afterwards, that I realized that I had actually had a lot of fun,” he explained.  “At the same time, it was also thrilling to know that I was uniquely qualified to provide such a valuable service.  That was a first for me.  Plus, the adrenaline rush and team camaraderie also provided a sense of challenge and belonging that I did not quite realize that I had been missing in my life until then.  I immediately became hooked!”  He paused to smile at the memory before he continued.

“In fact, after that first season, I even convinced Sanders to come out and join us.  We rearranged our company’s work schedule so that all of our big jobs would fall into the off-season and give us the time we needed to chase.  It all worked out beautifully!  He drove while I navigated…and he even bought a crappy little camper for the back of his truck so the team could have a place to change clothes or rest when we were all out in the field.  Unfortunately, it was destroyed, as were three other team vehicles, during what we all now call ‘The Ultimate Chase.’  However, it all turned out okay because we soon got much better transportation and equipment with the increased grant money that poured in after that particular success.”

At that point, Rabbit realized just how much he had been talking and his voice trailed off with uncertainty.  However, when Hermione squeezed his hand and leaned forward across the table with the request for him to not leave her in suspense and to tell her all about the “The Ultimate Chase,” his heart actually felt like it skipped a beat.  No woman had ever really been interested in his stories before.  Yet, the most intriguing woman he had ever met in his life actually seemed to be!  He could scarcely believe his luck.  Therefore, before she changed her mind or realized just how boring he really was and decided to leave, he asked for the waitress to refill their mugs.  Then, he launched right back into the story of that fateful 24 hour period as Hermione sipped her fresh tea gratefully and intently listened to the rest of his tale.

~~~~~

An indeterminate amount of time later, their waitress started to sigh dramatically.  Until that moment, neither Hermione nor Rabbit had realized how long they had been in the diner or how late it had become.  They had been so immersed in their conversation and each other that nothing else had registered.  They took the hint graciously, though, and Rabbit settled their bill and left a generous tip, as well – even though he had to finally let go of Hermione’s hand in order to do so.  He knew the waitress had earned it, however.  After all, she had poured out quite of bit of coffee and tea for them over the previous couple of hours! 

Chapter Text

As they made their way back out to his truck, Rabbit wanted to take Hermione’s hand again.  Nevertheless, he found that he was content to leave it where it was when she placed it into the crook of his elbow, instead.  It had been a long time since there had been a girl on his arm, and Rabbit could not help but to notice how right it felt that it was Hermione there now...and he wondered exactly what that meant.  He also noticed how much more rested and refreshed the attractive witch currently looked as she walked beside him.  Unfortunately, he knew that probably meant that she would be ready to leave and get back to either New York or London all too soon. 

Due to their extended discussions, he now knew that she worked as a liaison between the two magical governments.  That meant that she split her time equally between both cities.  In fact, the only reason that she was in Oklahoma at all was because of all of the wide open spaces that were necessary in order to practice her newest endeavor: elemental magic.  Luckily for him, though, during this particular trip, she had decided to work on tornado harnessing.  Otherwise, he probably never would have noticed or had the chance to meet her.  That would have been such a tragedy!

Rabbit did not even realize that he had spoken those last words aloud, however, not until they reached the truck and she leaned her back against it to face him before she asked the question.

“What would have been so tragic?”

Rabbit was grateful for the encroaching darkness at that point because it helped to hide the blush that he could feel rush to his face.  Yet, he still seized onto as much of that storm chaser courage that he could muster – and he told her the truth, anyway.  His heart started to do those crazy flips again when she smiled brightly at his declaration and told him that she felt the same way. 

“I’m glad that I met you, too,” she replied earnestly.  “It was a bit of good luck, also, because when I left lazy Max in bed this morning in New York, I had no idea that I was going to end up on the other side of the country today.  I just decided at the last minute that I needed some exercise and practice.  Therefore, I got my wind on, so to speak…and then I accidentally ran over this really good-looking tornado-chasing cartographer bloke…and here we are!”

“Here we are!” Rabbit murmured in reply, thrilled by the implication that she thought he was “really good-looking.”  Him!  Is she flirting?  Did she even realized what she said? Did she mean it?  he wondered as the meaning of the rest of her statement finally hit him.  Wait a minute!  Did she say “Max?” Who is he and why did she leave him in bed? 

 The feelings of hope that had just started to bloom within him departed abruptly when he realized that he had never actually asked her if she had a significant other in her life.  Of course, he should have known better.  A woman as attractive, smart, and fascinating as Hermione had probably never been single a day in her adult life.

Hermione did not seem to notice his consternation, though, as she continued to explain.  “In fact, Max is probably waiting for his dinner as we speak.  He is not the most patient of kneazles – especially when it comes to food.”

What kind of man could not cook his own dinner?   In fact, why is he not preparing Hermione’s if she has been out all day.  Isn’t that what being in a relationship is all about?  Being considerate and taking care of each other?  That was what Rabbit really wanted to ask.  However, he did not want to offend Hermione and so he kept his question simple as he tried to keep his voice calm and even in the process.

“Kneazle?” he asked, instead - especially since he thought that it was probably just another unfamiliar British term that meant some amazing career like doctor, lawyer, or CEO.  After all, any guy who was with Hermione was probably very impressive, too.

Unaware of is misguided thoughts, Hermione clarified.  “Kneazles are the most intelligent of all the magical cat breeds, and Max is my familiar.  Most witches and wizards find that having a close relationship to a magical creature helps us to anchor our own magic.  My first familiar, dear sweet Crookshanks, finally succumbed to extreme old age…and I struggled for a while afterwards.  Therefore, Harry and Ginny gave Max to me as a gift right before I moved to New York in order to help me keep my magic grounded -  especially since I was in a new place and surrounded by new people.  It worked, too!  Max really has helped me a lot…and he has also kept me from getting too lonely or homesick…even though it’s usually just the two of us in the flat…um…I mean apartment.”

A rush of pure relief flooded through Rabbit at the explanation.  She wasn’t talking about a man.  Max is a cat!  She left her cat in bed this morning.  There’s nobody else.  Oh, thank goodness for that! 

The revelation made Rabbit want to cheer, but he reigned in his reaction.  He did not want Hermione to think that he was crazy, after all.  Then, since that immediate worry was out of the way, Rabbit’s relieved mind was suddenly free to wonder if Aunt Meg’s dog was a magical breed, as well – even though he looked like an ordinary golden retriever.  However, if Rabbit had learned anything during this surprising day, it was that looks could be deceiving.  When he thought about it, though, Moose had been around as long as Rabbit could remember, he was obviously very intelligent for an animal, and he even helped Jo and Bill find Meg and get her out of the house before it collapsed.  Therefore, Rabbit added the question of familiars to the mental list that he had already started to compile until the time that he could meet with certain members of the team again for answers.

Hermione brought him out of his reverie, though, when she asked him curiously. “Do you have any pets?”

Rabbit shook his head in the negative.  “Not really…just some aquarium fish since they basically take care of themselves…especially since I have them on an automatic feeder.  I feel that I’m really away from home and out in the field too much to be a responsible pet owner for anything else.  Therefore, it’s been just me and the fish since I bought my childhood home from Mom a couple of years ago when she moved to Florida with Aunt Betty.  Before that, Sanders and I shared a place.  He’s actually married now, though.  He even has a kid!”   

Hermione could not help but to smile at the fact that Rabbit had just subtly let her know that he was single and lived alone.  Whether he had slipped the information into the conversation on purpose, or not, was still to be determined.  However, Hermione had the feeling that it had been an accidental revelation…just like hers had been…she now realized.  Still, it was good news, all the same…and she smiled again as she nodded in understanding.  

“I know what you mean,” she told him honestly.  "All of my childhood friends are married and most of them have children now, as well.  As a result, I’m even a godmother!  However, I feel the same way as you do…about being too busy, I mean.  Therefore, Max is it - for right now, at least.  Fortunately, magical kneazles really can take care of themselves, if necessary.  Even though Max is quite lazy, he won’t starve.  He doesn’t even need to hunt if he doesn’t want to because he knows where the food is located and how to help himself.  He will still try to make me feel guilty about missing his meal time, though.  Knowing him, he will probably pay me back by pretending to be a normal cat and throwing up in my shoes.”  She sighed at the thought. 

Rabbit laughed.  It really was quite amusing, but he knew that some of his mirth also stemmed from the happy thought that she had just indisputably announced that she was single and unattached.  Did she do that on purpose?  he wondered.  When she smiled at him again, he decided that it did not matter.  He was just glad to know. 

Hermione resumed their conversation.  “Speaking of being busy, you told me that you were out in the field today to work on your maps.  Did you roam very far from home or do you live nearby?”  

“Come over here and I will show you,” Rabbit answered congenially with a cheerful little wink as he reached into the truck’s cab to pull out one of his trusty maps.  He then proceeded to unroll it over the engine hood.  Fortunately, they had parked under a light and could easily see all of the red and blue lines that crisscrossed it.  Rabbit pointed to a spot towards the bottom of the map.

“We are here,” he explained and then smiled at her as he reached for her hand again in order to use her finger to mark the spot.  When she returned the warm look, his breath hitched a little as he realized just how near they were standing to each other and how close their faces were.  However, just as he thought about how it would feel to lean in and kiss her, a loud car alarm nearby startled them both into an unexpected reaction. 

~~~~~

Rabbit’s first thought was that it was a tornado siren.  While his experienced eyes searched the immediate area for both the telltale funnel cloud and for a place to get Hermione to safety, he also instinctively moved so that her body would be shielded between the truck and his own.  However, Hermione did not realize exactly what he had done at first because she was also already in a protective stance with her wand out.  It was pointed towards the strident sound as she readied herself to throw a protective shield over them both. However, after just a moment, they realized at the same time that the noise was not dangerous…just really annoying.  When it finally stopped, the two people turned back towards each other with almost identical sheepish looks on their faces. 

“Sometimes old habits die hard,” was all that Hermione had to say to make Rabbit remember that she had actually fought in a war.  At that moment, he was filled with sorrow that she had gone through something so terrible…and that it obviously still affected her years later.  At the same time, though, his heart also warmed when she smiled gratefully at him as she finally recognized the protective position in which he had placed her. 

“Thank you,” she said and she leaned up slightly to kiss him on the cheek.  “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that someone is willing to take care of me for a change.” 

At that moment, their eyes met.  Then, on the craziest day of his life…seconded only by the events of the “The Ultimate Chase”…somehow Rabbit already knew that he wanted to be the one who would always take care of her - regardless of how little time he had actually known her.  He knew that it was completely insane to feel that way so soon, but that did not make it any less real.  As he reached up and touched the tingling spot that she had kissed, he could only hope that he would be able to figure out exactly how to convince her of that before she went back to the magical world and he never saw her again.  That unhappy thought made his insides churn - just like they always did when he surveyed the aftermath of a particularly destructive storm...one that he knew had taken lives.

For her part, Hermione flushed when she realized what she had said and done.  She hastily turned back towards the abandoned map to hide her embarrassment at her impetuous behavior, but she was convinced that Rabbit would still be able to hear her heart as it pounded in her chest.  Even though she was not inexperienced by any means (Ron may have been her first, but he had not been her last), she was not used to feeling such an intense connection to someone - especially not on the same day they met!  In fact, it usually took her a lot more time to warm up to someone enough to tell them him about her past.  Unfortunately, however, all of the men whom she thought had the potential to eventually become more had been too impatient to wait and had either pushed the issue too soon or had given up on her entirely. 

She knew instinctively that Rabbit was different, though, and it was not just because he was a Muggle.  She really liked the dichotomy of the mild-mannered mapmaker who chased tornadoes for fun!  Before she could decide what to do about it, though, he stepped up beside her.  

Even though he felt far from calm, Rabbit had decided that it would be best to play it cool - just as if they had never been interrupted.  Consequently, he gently took her hand again so that she could point at their current location on the map.  Then he took his own finger and traced a route up towards the North before he stopped.  “My house is right about here,” he explained and Hermione noticed that the distance between their two fingers was quite substantial.  Therefore, she was not surprised when Rabbit told her that the drive would probably take a little over an hour.

He looked at her curiously, however, as he carefully rolled the map back up and placed it in the same exact spot from which he had retrieved it.  “What about you, though?” he asked.   “How long will it take you to get home with your app…apple…um…‘magical teleportation’ skills?”

Hermione was pleased that he remembered something that she had only mentioned once, even if he could not remember how to pronounce it.  She giggled at his attempt, though, and looked fondly at the man in front of her before she answered.  “Well, I hate to boast,” she purposely drawled her words out for effect. “However, I could be back home in New York, lounging on the sofa with my shoes kicked off and a good book in my hands, before you could even get into your truck all of the way and shut the door.  Getting to London would take a little longer since international apparation is always a bit more difficult and requires a lot more concentration.  However, I would still be in my flat there, and already in the shower, before you even had the chance to turn the key in your ignition and put it into gear.”

“Show off,” Rabbit muttered good-naturedly, and he could not help but to smile, even though the thought of Hermione in the shower attempted to cause a response in his body that would also require a shower of his own…albeit a cold one.  He shook his head to try and force some of those questionable thoughts and feelings away.

Hermione grinned mischievously...almost as if she knew about what he had been thinking. “It’s such a shame that I have never been to your house before,” she continued in a slightly teasing voice, “or I could take you there before you could even say ‘truck’ - much less actually get into it.  Unfortunately, though, I have to see a place first before I can apparate directly there.”  She paused for a moment while she firmly gathered her Gryffindor courage around her enough to continue and actually suggest aloud what was on her mind. 

“Therefore, maybe…maybe I should just ride with you so you won’t have to go all of the way by yourself…and then I can just apparate home from your house…after I have seen it first, of course.  That way, I will be able to pop back in again for a visit…sometime.” 

The inflection on the last word made it sound more like a question than a statement, so Rabbit rushed to reassure her that she would be welcome anytime.  After all, he felt like cheering inside!  He loved her suggestion because it meant he would have at least another hour of her company tonight…plus, she had admitted that she wanted to see where he lived…and she had expressed an interest in seeing him again.  He was beyond thrilled with the idea!

“I would really like that,” he said thickly in an effect to not to give his excitement away, “all of it.”

“Me too!” she answered with another bright smile and Rabbit somehow knew that she had not been fooled…not even for a moment…at his efforts at playing it cool.  Nevertheless, he was happy enough that he could not bring himself to care.

 

Chapter Text

The ride back to Rabbit’s home was pleasant as the two occupants of the truck talked about anything and everything.  Rabbit even mentioned his suspicions about Aunt Meg and Hermione agreed that it seemed quite plausible that she could also be a witch.

“In fact, she sounds like a delightful person. I would love to meet her sometime,” she added and Rabbit took the opportunity to jump on the innocent request just like a hungry fox would do to his namesake.

“Of course!  We could make a special trip out there just for that purpose, if you would like.  Even if I’m wrong and she doesn’t have magic, Meg is still a creative and talented person and she loves to meet interesting people, as well.”  He paused uncertainly for just a moment before he asked her the really important question.  “But…the storm season will start in just a few weeks, you know.  Since we get tired of looking at each other all of the time, everyone on the team will be thrilled to see a new face.  Also, if the path takes us near Wakita, we always go to see Meg, too.  Therefore…would you like to go out with us on a chase sometime?” 

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, but before she even had a chance to say anything, Rabbit launched right into his pitch to persuade her.  The team, and its work was very important to him…and for some reason that he just could not articulate - not even to himself - he desperately wanted her to agree…to become a part of it, too, if at all possible.  “You’ll get to meet crazy people, drink bad coffee, listen to even worse music, make fun of Dusty’s clothes, watch Jo and Bill bicker like the old married couple that they are…and most importantly, you can hold the maps for me while I work my genius.”  Despite the urgency he still felt, Rabbit paused to wink at her to show that he was mostly joking. 

He need not have worried, however, because Hermione responded with a delighted peal of laughter.  “How could I resist such an appealing invitation?” she replied with obvious amusement. “It’s a date!”

“Yes!” Rabbit pumped his fist with excitement…and relief…at her easy acceptance of his suggestion.  His passenger just laughed again at the action…right as the fuel gauge chimed in order to notify him that his tank was low.

He glanced towards Hermione.  “Do you mind if we stop to fill up?” he asked.  “This truck tends to use up a lot of gas when I’m out in the field – especially since I normally end up on all of the long and bumpy dirt roads.  In fact, I really need to buy a diesel one next time, but…”  He shrugged as he pulled up a mental map.  “At any rate, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a station right up ahead on the left in a couple of miles…and it is the only one on this particular stretch of road before we reach my house.”

Hermione shrugged her acquiescence.  “I don’t mind stopping for petrol – especially if the alternative is that we will end up stranded in the middle of nowhere.”

Rabbit looked sheepish.  “It has happened before,” he admitted, “and I’m in the ‘middle of nowhere' a lot!  That’s why I now try to stop whenever I noticed that the tank is getting low…or as soon as the fuel light comes on.”

Hermione lightly giggled at his obvious discomfiture before she reassured him.  “It’s fine, really.  Go ahead and stop.  However, you are with a witch tonight, so the worst thing that would happen, otherwise, is that you would have to side-apparate home with me to New York…simply because I still haven’t seen where you live…and then Max would throw up in your shoes, instead of mine!”

Rabbit just had to smile at her easy hypothetical solution, even though he also experienced a sudden visceral reaction at the same time to the thought of the witch taking him home for the night.  As much as he liked the idea, however, he again forced the inappropriate thought out of his mind.  He already knew that Hermione was so much more important than that.  Consequently, for his own comfort, he immediately changed the subject back to their previous conversation, instead.  

“I’m really glad that you agreed to come out with the team,” he told her sincerely.  “Plus, now that I think about it, you might be able to offer a unique perspective on the work we do…especially since you have actually been a twister yourself.”

Hermione thought about his last point and smiled mischievously.  “Oh! I see!” she replied playfully.  “You only want me for my tornado skills.”

Rabbit froze at her words, since he knew without a doubt that he wanted her for many more reasons than just that and he tried to figure out how to explain without sounding pathetic and desperate.  However, his brain caught up to his mouth, right as he opened it, and he finally realized that she had been joking.  Therefore, he answered her in kind.

“How did you figure out my dastardly plan so quickly?”  Her only answer was another delightful laugh as the truck pulled off of the dark road and under the brightly lit canopy of the gas station. 

When Rabbit excused himself, and slid out of the vehicle to pump the gas, Hermione watched him go with a feeling of pleased satisfaction.  She had thoroughly enjoyed his company throughout the evening and was in no hurry for it to end.  Therefore, since the gas tank turned out to be on the passenger side of the truck, she also rolled down her window so that they could continue their conversation.  Rabbit pushed a few buttons on the pump, inserted the nozzle into the tank, and pushed down the automatic handle clip.  Then, he casually leaned against the side of the vehicle while the gas pumped itself. 

While they talked, Hermione found herself admiring his casual good looks and easy smile again…and she realized that Rabbit really was the nicest bloke, magical or muggle, that she had met in quite a while. Her heart beat just a little faster when she thought about the fact that they had already technically had their first date…and she had already agreed to meet his friends…not to mention the fact that they were on the way to his house right then.  She realized that things were moving quite quickly for someone she had just met…but she also realized that she just did not care.  After all, what did she have to lose?  Knowing somebody for years before dating was no guarantee of happiness, either.  Her time with Ron was indisputable proof of that!  In fact, she counted it as very lucky that they had managed to escape that disaster with their friendship still intact, at all.

She was distracted from her musing, though, when the gas pump clicked off as a signal that the tank was full.  As Rabbit put the nozzle back away and closed the tank, he unconsciously continued to show his thoughtfulness.  “Would you like a drink or a snack or something?” he asked. “The pump wouldn’t take my card, so I have to go inside to pay, anyway.  Fortunately, they know me…and my truck…here, so they don’t make me prepay.”  He waved at the pretty female attendant in the window…and Hermione was surprised to feel a sharp jab of jealousy when the woman waved back enthusiastically.  Nevertheless, she simply took the unexpected feeling as further proof of her growing attachment to her current companion.

“Maybe just a bottle of water?” she requested as she realized that he was still waiting for her answer.

The very attractive grin of acknowledgement that Rabbit threw her way made her heart rate speed up again…as did his cheerfully promised, “Be right back!’

Hermione could not help but to smile at the subject of her obvious interest…as well as at the surprising knowledge that she was actually infatuated in the first place…before Rabbit turned to walked briskly off to the station’s main building while he whistled a jaunty tune.  She continued to smile as she rolled her window back up and pulled out her mobile to check the messages that she had neglected all evening. 

However, just a moment later, an unexpected knock on her window caused her head to pop up again with a smile already on her lips.  It took her only a second to realize that it was not Rabbit back again – as she had expected - but a complete stranger, instead.   Consequently, her vigilant mind caused her hand to detour and reassuringly graze the wand that was located up her sleeve before she actually went to roll the window back down again to find out what the unknown man wanted.

~~~~~

Inside the store, Rabbit grabbed a couple bottles of water from the cooler on his way to the register.  The attendant greeted him by name with a big smile and Rabbit got the impression that she was actually flirting with him.  He was flattered…and if it had happened before tonight, maybe it would have made a bigger impression on him.  However, there was no way he could even think about another woman when he knew that Hermione was waiting outside for him.  In fact, just the thought of her made him eager to complete the transaction and get back to where she was. 

The woman behind the register scowled when she failed to get the response she wanted from her customer.  She had never really flirted with him before – even though he was a regular and she saw him in the store or at the pumps frequently.  However, it was a slow night.  She was bored and he was cute.  Therefore, she tried again by leaning forward to give him a better look at her ample cleavage.  When he did not even glance down at it, though, she huffed.  The pump bell chimed at the moment, however, and distracted her as it signaled that another customer had pulled up. 

“Isn’t that your friend?” she asked.  The new arrival was visible from the window at the same time that it also hid his truck from their view. “I know that a bunch of you stop here together, sometimes.”

That caught his attention and Rabbit looked up and out the window.  Oh, no! was his first thought as he recognized the distinctive looking van immediately.  It was better than the old Barn Burner Bus, but still had a very particular style that belonged to only one person.  Of all the people on the team for Hermione to meet first, though, it had to be Dusty!  Not that he did not love his unorthodox friend, but he sometimes left a less-than-stellar impression on those who did not know him well.  Just look at what happened with Melissa, when Bill had brought his then-fiance to the chase.  They had broken up and the team had never seen her again.  Not that it had mainly been Dusty’s fault, of course, but still…they had left her alone with him for quite a while before the shit hit the fan – so to speak. 

With that thought in mind, Rabbit hurriedly finished paying and rushed out the door after he tossed an absentminded farewell over his shoulder to the disgruntled clerk.  Sure enough, just as he rounded the corner of the van, he saw the perpetually mismatched man leaned up against the passenger side of the truck as he spoke to Hermione through the rolled down window.  He could also hear their conversation…and Dusty was obviously in the middle of a story.

“So then he said, ‘Rabbit is good.  Rabbit is wise.”  The newcomer told Hermione and she laughed heartily. Rabbit groaned in embarrassment and Dusty spun around at the sound.

“Hey man!” he enthused.  “I thought I recognized your truck…and then when I saw all of the maps, I knew it had to be you!  However, I was not expecting such a pretty lady to be keeping you company!  Where have you been hiding this gorgeous little English rose?”

“We…uh…just met today,” Rabbit admitted reluctantly.  He did not know how to also explain that he had managed to fall completely head over heels for the woman in such a short amount of time.

However, Dusty was not as dim as his fashion sense might suggest.  He looked back and forth between the man and woman in front of him and smiled.  “Just met, huh?  And you are heading back towards your house, I see.”  Rabbit did not know how to answer the obvious insinuation, but luckily Hermione did.   

“What can I say?”  Hermione smiled sweetly as she echoed Rabbit’s sentiment from earlier.  “I have a fondness for tornadoes.” Her eyes met his.  Then her smile widened even more when she added, “and I’m finding out that their chasers aren’t so bad, either.”

“Woohoo!  That’s what I’m talking about!”  Dusty exclaimed as he slapped Rabbit on the back enthusiastically.  “This one’s a keeper, for sure!  Have you invited her to join us out on the road, yet?”  

“He has…and I will definitely see you there.  Until then, though, it was nice to meet you, Dusty.”  She offered her hand through the window for him to shake, but he seized it and kissed the back of it, instead.  As he moved off to go get his own gas, he flashed a double thumbs up at Rabbit and silently mouthed Keeper! again.  Rabbit just shook his head at his friend’s antics, however, as he crossed to the driver’s side of the truck and climbed back into the cab.

“I’m sorry about that,” he apologized immediately, as he handed Hermione her bottle of water.  He savored the feeling as her hand brushed his when she reached for it.

“Don’t be,” she reassured him.  “I like him.  He is quite entertaining.  In fact, he reminds me a bit of a good friend of mine…Luna.  She is a little out there, too…and also occasionally has a questionable sense of fashion.  She’s brilliant in her own way, though, and I adore her.  Are all of your meteorological friends like him, though?”

Rabbit was thrilled that Hermione had not been put off by Dusty’s idiosyncrasies so he answered her question honestly.  “Nobody is like Dusty!” he emphasized.  They both laughed as Rabbit started up the truck again and with just one final wave to his quirky friend, they found themselves back on the road again.