A/N This takes place a month or two after the final battle in the Harry Potter Universe and sometime between Steve being unfrozen and the Avengers movie in the Marvelverse. And yes, I know the timelines don't match up.
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize, I don't own.
Warning: This story may contain in-depth descriptions of grief and ptsd. Nothing graphic in this chapter, but if there ever is I will put up a separate warning. When I started this story I had no intention of going this detailed into the emotional impact, but as I started writing this I couldn't help but feel I wouldn't be doing justice to the toll trauma takes on children if I glossed over all the awful stuff that happens in canon.
Later that evening Hermione went back to her bare apartment. Soon, if she decided to stay here permanently, she would have to remedy the décor in her home. Having only just settled in, all she had was a bed and an empty dresser in her bedroom and a chair for reading. The walls were bare, there was no food in the refrigerator, and no appliances on the counter. The bed hadn't even been made since she normally fell asleep in her chair after reading. It looked less like someone lived there and more like the last tenant had left odds and ends behind.
Between the blood work and breakfast this morning she felt sick to her stomach and didn't believe that she could stomach any additional food. She sat in her chair; the worn leather was soft underneath her. She put her head in her hands and sighed. She absolutely needed to get some kind of control over either her magic or emotions, preferably both. At the rate she was going she would certainly cause an incident sooner rather later.
Her short-circuiting the door earlier shouldn't have even happened. She had never had such poor control of her magic. It was true if she was actively casting or highly emotional that she had short-circuited things before, but she been around computers before in her parents' dental office and never broke any of those. She, by no means, had ever spent a long time on complicated electrical devices, since they were useless for a witch and a liability on the run, but she knew enough to access the web and work the basic programs.
She had very little idea how to go about controlling her magic or emotions. She assumed it was more of a lifestyle change than an easy solution. She dug around her pocket for her beaded bag and unshrank it with a tap of her wand. She plunged her hand into the bag and dug around the expanded space for her books. She pulled out a dozen or more books with titles like Mind Your Magic, Mental Maladies, and Accidental Magic: A History. These were all books that she had taken on the run. Originally, she had been looking through them for Harry and trying to find out why he previously had a connection to Voldemort. Ultimately, these books hadn't helped them, but she was glad she had them to refer to now.
Hermione conjured a small side table and stacked the books on it spines facing her. She would begin with these and hope that the answer was there otherwise she would have to venture into one of the magical shopping areas and she did not want to be recognized. She wanted anonymity and peace and for no one to know who or where she was. Sooner or later she would let Harry know – probably. She cracked open Accidental Magic: A History and began taking notes.
A few hours later she lifted her head and rolled her shoulders. Her research confirmed that the most likely cause of her adult accidental magic was likely the physical and emotional trauma of the past year. The suggestions for controlling the outbursts were varied and included everything from Occlumency, healthy living, and ingesting Vervain. Hermione snorted at that last suggestion. The only thing Vervain would help with would be to keep Vampires away. It was the wizarding equivalent of sugar pills or snake oil.
Hermione knew that wizards were behind the times in regards to mental health and since the problem was with her mental well-being and not something physically wrong with her magic, she supposed what she actually needed was therapy. However, wizards didn't have psychiatrists and going to a muggle one was entirely out of the question. There was no way she would be able to talk about the necessary details without revealing the existence of magic. She wasn't sure she would want to talk to a wizarding psychiatrist even if they did exist anyway. She felt burned and betrayed by the magical world.
Hermione drew a star next to each of the other suggestions she had found that she thought would help. Underneath the list, she wrote: brew nutritional potions and check muggle self-help books. Hermione stood up and stretched. She had a tentative plan now and would practice clearing her mind from now on before bed. Tomorrow before she came home, she would stop for any supplies and groceries that she needed.
A few days later an agent brought a sealed envelope up to Fury's office. He slit the seal with his finger and dismissed the agent. He had been expecting this package. It contained Ms. Granger's medical evaluation. None of the actual test results were revealed, but it contained a summary and interpretation of the results as reviewed by a doctor.
The further Nick Fury read down the page the more he wanted to bang his head against the desk. He would never actually do that, but the urge was awfully strong. He couldn't understand how he always got suckered into recruiting troubled people. He had defrosted Captain Rogers, stopped Stark from poisoning himself with palladium from his arc reactor, Romanoff had needed extensive deprogramming to break her brainwashing, and now it seemed that he would have to do something with Agent Granger. Why couldn't all of his agents be like Agent Barton? He was easy to manage. He wasn't sure how to even begin with Granger. The doctor SHIELD employed was top quality and not prone to exaggeration. The doctor seemed to express amazement that someone with Granger's level of malnourishment was working. She was deficient in many of her vitamins, anemic, and her weight was frankly disturbing for a fully grown adult. The doctor postulated that she had been on the edge of starving for months.
Good god, he had her training with Agent Romanoff every day, it was a wonder she hadn't passed out yet or even complained. Her malnourishment made it even more suspicious that Romanoff hadn't bruised or broken anything serious on the other woman during their training. He was going to have to change his whole approach. It was one thing to endure training every day when you were healthy, but right now lots of physical training was likely only harming Ms. Granger. He would either have to move up his plans or change them entirely.
He had half a mind to call Granger up here and berate her for withholding something like this and putting herself in danger. However, he had a feeling he was dealing with someone who didn't know when to give up and probably was foolishly underestimating how much damage she was inflicting on herself. No wonder Rogers had liked her from just one meeting. From all the records of Roger's attempts to join the Army when he was a scrawny sickly kid, it appeared they were just alike in stubbornness. Why were the talented ones always the most trouble?
Steve knocked on the Director's door. He had only been in here a handful of times and the last time he had been in trouble for recruiting Hermione. He wasn't eager to be back in Fury's office. He couldn't get a good read on Fury and wasn't sure how much he trusted him. He was shadowy and Steve did not like to operate from the shadows if he could help it. It was too underhanded and didn't sit well with his sense of justice. SHIELD had pulled him from the ice though and currently, they hadn't assigned him anything against morals. They seemed to mostly be keeping him on hold as far as he could tell.
He walked into the office warily glancing around at the minimalist décor. The Director was sitting at his desk signing paperwork and looked up when Steve walked into the room.
"What is it this time Rodgers?" he asked.
Steve squared his shoulders and shifted his weight before answering, "I'd like to view the rest of the intelligence on the Howling Commandos from after I crashed into the ocean and Agent Romanoff said something about Hermione's training?"
"I wasn't aware you were acquainted with Agent Romanoff."
"I wasn't. I met her a couple of mornings ago."
Fury appraised the other man silently. He knew it wasn't healthy for the other man's state of mind to be constantly living in the past. This was at least the dozenth time he had come looking for classified information about the past. He would allow the Captain a couple more weeks of this and then he would intervene if necessary. "Alright, I'll have those documents delivered over to your place by the end of the week."
"Thank you, sir."
Once again he asked himself how he managed to get stuck with all the basket cases? Fury sighed, "Don't mention it."
"And Hermione's training?" Steve asked his face still as serious as before.
The Director folded his hands under his chin and paused. "Romanoff said she might need your assistance training Ms. Granger, but I would like to wait. Ms. Granger's health report just came in and frankly I don't think she is up to training with Captain American and I might have to slow her training down in general."
Her other preliminary tests had proved that she was astoundingly brilliant and he believed that in time she would be adequate at the physical aspects of her job, but right now her health was more important.
"Why did Romanoff think she needed my help anyway? I've never helped train anyone and I'm afraid I would hurt her," Steve asked his lips twitching down into a frown.
Fury hesitated to mention it to Rogers. It wasn't really his business, but he didn't believe Rogers would spread it around; too much sense of justice and honor in him. Not to mention Rogers was the one who brought her to his attention in the first place. "As far as we can guess Granger seems to be someone's experiment. As hard as Romanoff's been training with her she hasn't bruised or broken anything which is frankly a miracle according to her health report. Romanoff thinks your strength could at least motivate her into moving quicker."
Steve's eyes widened and he asked, "Do you think that someone tried to mimic what was done to me?"
"It's possible, but I don't know and Agent Granger seems unlikely to tell us," Director Fury answered.
A flare of inappropriate joy flashed through him. He might not be alone in his experience. Just as quickly the joy diminished, whatever bad thing that had happened to her had likely happened because she was special and he resolved never to bring it up until Hermione told him first. Rogers shifted uncomfortably, "This isn't my place to say, but she mentioned that she lost support during her mission and was without regular food for several months. When you searched her records did any of the details turn up?"
"No, there was almost nothing on her. It wasn't even redacted; it just doesn't exist. That's more information than I managed to get out of her records. It was like she went off the grid as a child and all the information on her parents would be nothing special either except that they appear to have dropped off the face of the earth over a year ago," Fury replied as he ground his teeth.
"How's that possible sir?"
"To be honest, before now, I didn't think it was," he said. "Do me a favor and go retrieve Agent Granger and send her up here."
Hermione let Steve guide her through SHIELD's halls to Fury's office. Natasha had given her a new badge and leave to use her first name. Even though she had begun clearing her mind in the evenings Hermione still didn't trust her magic not to wreak havoc on the electrical equipment so she was letting Steve guide her and swipe her through the doors even if she did perfectly remember the way. She had lived in a magical castle for seven years and no modern muggle building was going to confuse her for very long.
Hermione wasn't sure how long it was going to take to get her outbursts under control. It seemed to have to do with her mental state and she was afraid that had been broken a long time ago. Starting with the Cedric Diggory's death and that cow Umbridge. She had loved rules and authority figures as a child, but the ministry had covered up Diggory's death, denied Sirius Black, an innocent man, a trial and inserted Umbridge into her beloved school. Dumbledore had given her a riddle with impossible clues and given Harry a mission certain to end in his death. Year after year the teachers, the ministry, and the adults had failed her. She didn't care for the rules any longer and distrusted authority figures. Now the pieces of her were scrambling to get back together, but they were all wrong. There were pieces missing, painful gaping holes in her soul and the pieces that were still there were shattered with sharp jagged edges waiting to cut her if she tried to pick them up again.
She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she walked right into Director Fury's office without remembering how she got there. She blinked and focused on her boss. Actually, was he her direct boss? Or was there some middling manager she hadn't been introduced to that was in charge of her. She didn't think the Director directly managed a lot of people.
Unable to stop her curiosity, she asked, "Sir, are you my immediate supervisor or is there someone else I'm supposed to be reporting to?" Too late she noticed Fury's serious countenance.
"We'll get to that in a minute. Ms. Granger of all the foolish things you could be doing why did you decide risking your life to train would be a good idea?"
"What?" she asked confused.
"The report I have from the doctors is illuminating. They have absolutely no idea how you can be so malnourished and still managing to be physically working," his gaze was penetrating as he spoke. She looked completely gobsmacked, so most likely she hadn't realized the extent of her poor health.
She started looking at a loss for words, "I mean I know I'm not at perfect health, but I haven't been struggling too much with training."
Fury suppressed a sigh. It wasn't intentional then; she wasn't trying to literally work herself to death. "How up to date are you on the science of clean energy?"
"I've done some light reading on it," she answered.
"Alright, I'm beginning your assignment with Stark starting now. There's an interview set up for you in two days as an assistant during Stark's new energy venture. We've sent along an excellent resume. Just make yourself likable and you are a shoo-in for the position," said Fury.
Hermione gathered her bearings from the previous direction of the conversation and focused on the conversation at hand. "Is Mr. Stark conducting the interview?"
Fury snorted, "No, Ms. Pepper Potts will be. She manages the company and is in charge of the hiring since last time Tony Stark hired Agent Romanoff almost entirely on looks alone."
"He's a womanizer then. What exactly are you wanting me to find out?" she groaned out.
"I want tabs kept on him. Make sure he doesn't blow up the world by being himself. I want to be able to do damage control if necessary."
Hermione couldn't tell since the Director had an eye patch, but she thought he was rolling his eyes. This assignment was sounding more aggravating by the moment. What had she signed up for? It couldn't be worse than being friends with Harry and trying to keep him out of trouble. Stark didn't have a megalomaniac wizard with daddy issues determined to murder him in cold blood, so theoretically this couldn't be worse than the last year.
"I'll send over the latest research we have on clean energy for you to peruse with your actual manager this evening. He's been out of town for the last twenty-three days, which is why you haven't met him. Now get out of my office Agent Granger and no more physical training until you get it cleared with a doctor," Director Fury said as he turned his attention back to the paperwork scattered on his desk.
Hermione whipped out her wand in response to a sharp knock on her apartment door. She took a deep breath and tried to settle her pounding heart. It was probably just her manager that Director Fury said he would send over with the briefings. She took one more deep breath and tucked her wand back into her sleeve within easy reach and opened the door.
In the hall stood a middle-aged man with a cell phone in hand. He was wearing a black suit and tie with loafers and had downturned warm eyes. "Ms. Granger?"
She blinked slowly at him and nodded. He wasn't what she was expecting from a manager in SHIELD.
He tucked his cell phone back into his pocket. "Would you mind if I came in for a few minutes? I tried to call beforehand, but the call wouldn't go through."
Hermione racked her brain quickly, "How many days have you been out in the field?" Damn Fury for being a tight-lipped bastard.
The other Agent's eyes softened further and he gave her an understanding look as he answered, "Twenty-three days. I just arrived back earlier this afternoon."
"Please come in. I was told to expect you this evening. Although Director Fury didn't give me the privilege of your name," said Hermione as she guided him into her apartment.
He looked surprised at that. He reached out to shake her hand. "I'm Agent Phil Coulson, Operations Section Chief."
"Pleasure to meet you. I'm Hermione Granger as you probably know," she said as she shook his hand firmly.
He grinned at her, "I did know that." Hermione saw him sweep his eyes around her small apartment and only then did she remember to be embarrassed by her lack of furniture. She hadn't gone furniture shopping yet and she didn't have a proper place for both her and her boss to sit and talk.
"Please sit down," she gestured to the only chair. "Can I get you water or tea?"
Phil noted that although she had been in her apartment longer than she had worked for SHIELD she had the bare minimum of furniture and no personal touches whatsoever. From what he could see of her bedroom her sheets were stacked on her bed still in the packaging. He sat down and replied, "No thank you, Ms. Granger. This hopefully won't take that long. We just have a few things to go over."
At a loss, Hermione took the books from her side table only realizing as she held them that the leather-bound books were clearly magical. She paled and made a beeline to her room to set the incriminating books down out of sight. She prayed to Merlin, Circe, Godric Gryffindor, and every muggle god she could think of that he hadn't read the titles of the books. At this rate, she was either going to be found out or declared crazy.
She rushed back into the main room and moved her side table a few feet away across from Agent Coulson and sat on in. She was slightly out of breath by the time she sat down and an embarrassed flush had crept up her neck and into her cheeks. "So sorry about that. It keeps slipping my mind to go furniture shopping."
"It's no problem, Ms. Granger."
She interrupted, "Please call me Hermione."
He let out a half-smile, "Alright, Hermione. Phil is fine for me too." He produced a thick non-descript binder. "There are two main sections. The first is an overview of what we have gathered on the clean energy technology that Stark is utilizing. The second is background information on Tony Stark as well as his known associates."
"Is Pepper Potts included in that list?" she asked.
"Yes she is and if you have any questions about either the people in that folder or on the technology please give me a call and I will help you or put you into contact with someone who can," he said as he withdrew a business card and a pen from his pocket. He scribbled his cell number on the back of the card and handed it to her. "I'm not usually at my desk, so my cell phone is the best way to contact me."
"Thank you. If I have questions, I will contact you," she said and tucked the card into her pocket.
Agent Coulson grimaced and fortified himself, "I also realize you probably don't want to talk about it, but I spoke with Director Fury and he informed me that you were without adequate food for a couple of months. I stopped by the doctor that evaluated your physical and had him draw up a nutrition plan tailored for you."
Hermione didn't know whether to be offended that they had discussed her health without her or grateful for the help. She paged through the plan. It was surprisingly detailed and had obviously taken a lot of time and effort to put together. It looked promising, so Hermione settled on being grateful.
She closed her eyes lost in the past for a few seconds. She reopened her eyes and sighed, "Thank you. I suppose that part of my mission isn't classified anyway. My friends and I lost official support and a few weeks later our hideout was compromised. We spent the next seven months changing camps every couple of days without sufficient food."
"I see. How many of you were there?" he asked concerned.
"Just three of us and for a while only two," she stated.
He replied gently, "I'm sorry did he pass?"
Hermione frowned before she was able to school her features into something more neutral. "No, his cover wasn't blown, so he went home for a couple of months."
Coulson couldn't stop the words from tumbling from his mouth. "What? I thought you said you were friends."
A bitter expression stole across her face and her hands clenched so tight in her lap that her knuckles were white. "We were. Best friends for six years before that and while Harry and I starved in the woods he went back to his childhood home. He came back a few months later full of his mum's Christmas pudding."
She swiped angrily at the tears in her eyes. Phil reached out and caught her hand. He gave it a comforting squeeze and said, "I can see why you don't like to talk about it. Can I do anything else for you?"
She deflated, "No, this nutrition plan should help. Thank you for taking the time to have it drafted."
"No problem. You have my cell number if you need it. After you get hired on at Stark Industries, we will figure out how to communicate your reports to me," he said as he stood up.
She nodded and walked him to her door. "That sounds good. Thank you."
Hermione watched him walk down the hall before she closed the door. She rested her head on the inside of her apartment door and groaned to herself, "Honestly, are you a witch or not? Couldn't have conjured up a spare chair out of sight in your bedroom. Nope had to sit on your side table like a halfwit."
A/N Shout out to my guest reviewer who wrote me a very nice review and asked if Hermione would meet Coulson. I completely forgot about him, but I thought he made a nice addition to this chapter.
*Also, I have no idea what Coulson's official job title is, but if we were following paramilitary command structure in the US he would be something like Operations Section Chief I believe.
This was a little later than I planned on having this out, but it's over a thousand more words than I normally post, so (please) forgive me?
Thank you for reading and reviewing!