A/N Hey guys! Last chapter! Boo hoo! But fear not, if you read the AN at the bottom, hopefully most of you will be pleased!
Natasha walked confidently down the cobbled street. The tall buildings of the narrow walkway meant that she could mostly travel within the shadows, despite the cloudless Sicilian night above. Erice was the type of town that was both a blessing and a curse to an agent, for there were plenty of escape routes for her but also hiding places for any enemies.
Not that she should be encountering any foes that night. The annual workshop on Molecular Gastronomy was in town, which was about very clever, scientific ways to cook, present and experience food. Her assignment was to sound out the most gifted attendees and try to convince them to turn their talents to working with S.H.I.E.L.D. instead. It wasn't her most exciting detail but she'd gotten to sample a lot of delicious (and strange) food – something she didn't normally get to enjoy. A lot of their current work was really quite pointless but the ability was definitely there, it just needed to be pointed to a more useful purpose and Natasha could be very persuasive.
When she had first received details of the assignment, she'd thought that there'd been a mistake. But when she'd arrived and seen the stunning scenery and beaches, she allowed herself a small smile. Fury knew she didn't take vacations and this was his idea of enforcing one on her. If the Director wanted her to spend most of her time visiting Norman castles, sunning herself on the beach and occasionally chatting to a peculiar chef whilst eating scrambled egg and bacon ice cream, who was she to argue?
The tranquilizer dart in her neck came as somewhat of a surprise.
She was slow to regain consciousness; whatever they had drugged her with was very strong. She could've been out of it for hours or days, she had no real way of being able to tell. Natasha was unable to move her limbs, but whether this was because they were restrained or it was a side effect of the tranquilizer, she couldn't tell. Someone spoke but her mind was too scrambled to tell if it was in one of the languages she spoke.
Someone kicked her in the ribs, making her groan at the pain. If her ribs were that sore while she was still drugged, she hated to think how badly she'd been damaged.
"Cosa vuoi?" she mumbled, asking what they wanted, in Italian. "Perché sono qui?"
"Nous attendons," a male voice replied in French. We are waiting.
"Qu'est-ce que vous attendez?" she asked. What are you waiting for? She tried to open her eyes so she could see her captors, but black spots danced in her vision and she closed them again.
"No es lo que. Quien?" he spoke in Spanish this time (at least Natasha thought it was the same man). Not what. Who?
"¿A quién estamos esperando?" she asked, playing along by changing language again. Who are we waiting for? She doubted that she was going to like the answer.
"Koldun'ya." The harsh tone her native tongue was spoken in wasn't nearly as unsettling as the word itself: Sorceress.
Natasha thought it probably best not to say anything at all. This person (or people, as it was unlikely he was acting alone) already knew far too much about Granger, which severely worried her. It was over six months since Hermione had qualified as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and though Natasha wasn't privy to knowing all the details, she knew the young woman had racked up an impressive number of successful assignments.
It had only taken a few weeks for whisperings of a sorceress to start spreading amongst S.H.I.E.L.D.'s various workers. The fact that barely anyone knew any details about this mysterious agent only fuelled the fire. The name 'Hermione Granger' wasn't heard around S.H.I.E.L.D. except for a chosen few. All of Granger's identity showed her as Saskia Hailsham-Grey, a Level 4 agent who specialised in code breaking.
When she did go out into the big, bad world, Granger took care to take her disguise potion whenever she completed an assignment, picking both men and women in equal amounts. Natasha also knew that Hermione would further alter her appearance so that facial recognition wouldn't be used and therefore endanger the life of an innocent person. Most of this was unnecessary as she would also make herself invisible or difficult to detect anyway. From what Natasha had managed to glean from Coulson (as the man was still in overall charge of Granger and her assignments), Hermione's work involved a lot of intelligence gathering, especially since she and Stark had developed a device that was invisible to the naked eye. But Natasha also knew that she was thrown into operations that had gone sour to rescue agents and assets at the last minute. It was hardly surprising that some sort of criminal organisation had gotten fed up of the 'Sorceress' beating them at the death.
Natasha presumed that she had been abducted in order to lure 'The Sorceress' into a trap. She hoped that the fact they had chosen her to act as bait for Granger was just a coincidence, but given their personal history, she doubted it.
And if Hermione came, what then? Did these people just want her dead? They'd have a pretty hard time carrying that out. Maybe they wanted to turn the agent to fight for their cause? Natasha had always thought Granger was too soft and if these people used physical and emotional torture, she doubted Hermione would hold out. Natasha also recalled what Granger said about her abilities coming from her genes. Would they want to experiment on her, use her DNA as a blue print to create others like her? None of the scenarios that Natasha came up with sounded positive. She just hoped that Granger would stay away…
When Hermione apparated into Natasha's suspected location, something happened that had never occurred during her S.H.I.E.L.D. assignments; the occupants of the room knew she was there despite her invisibility. Within two seconds of her arrival, about fifteen guns were pointing at her exact position, all held by masked mercenaries. She froze, wondering what to do. The fact that these people had obviously been expecting her meant that she must be in the right place for Natasha, but they also knew enough about her to have strategies in place to attempt to neutralise her abilities.
Another masked person, who seemed unarmed, separated themselves from the others and made a sweeping gesture. "Welcome, Sorceress. You honour us with your presence." The voice was female and had a strange accent that Hermione couldn't quite distinguish because it seemed to be influenced by a great many places. "I'm aware that it's not wise to show your trump card early, but I know you have a habit of not sticking around to make a game of it." The woman clicked her fingers and an image appeared on a huge screen that Hermione had assumed was just the back wall of the room. Fear swept through her body at what she saw: a pistol was being held against Natasha's head and a blade positioned against her throat. "If you leave or start using your sorcery on us, my colleagues will not hesitate to dispatch Agent Romanoff."
Hermione didn't doubt that she was telling the truth. She tried to force herself to stay calm despite the perilous situation she and Natasha were in. She assumed that the masks the people wore contained a thermal imaging device because that was the only way she could think of for them to be able to see her. She took off the invisibility cloak and let it fall to the ground, revealing her disillusioned self, but kept her wand out and ready.
"What do you want?" she asked. The voice and body she was using was not her own, but that of a middle-aged woman who worked as a lecturer in Memphis. The Polyjuice Potion would only last for another fifty-five minutes, so unless she managed to escape before then, they would know the identity of the Sorceress.
"We want you."
It was the answer that Hermione was expecting but it didn't stop a chill running down her spine.
"You've got me," she replied. "Now what?" And that was the question Hermione was seriously asking herself. How on earth was she going to find out Natasha's whereabouts from these people without using magic and causing the agent's death? There were a number of devices in her extended pocket that would provide a suitable distraction, but they were just as likely to kill Natasha as one of her spells. There was absolute silence coming from the device in her ear connecting her to Coulson and she could only presume that these people had found a way to jam their communications. This was a shame, as there was bound to be someone at S.H.I.E.L.D. who could send a false video feed to the people with Natasha to free Hermione up to use her magic.
There was one solution, but she was terrified of crossing that moral line. The Imperius Curse was not something to be cast without serious consideration. The problem was she didn't have much time to think about it! It boiled down to using the curse, rescuing Natasha and facing life in Wizarding prison, or risk her own and Natasha's lives and the possibility of magical kind being discovered all around the world. That didn't seem like a difficult choice after all.
"Now, we'll take possession of your wand," the woman said and as she spoke, two of the mercenaries seized her arms. Hermione bit back the Imperius Curse that was on the tip of her tongue. Now was not the time. But nor could she let them have her wand.
Acting quickly, but focusing hard, she wordlessly teleported her own wand out of her hand. It was a spell she had been practicing for a few months just in case a situation like this should arise. Enchantments upon your own wand were very tricky to get right, so she was relieved to keep the magical device away from these people.
"That was a mistake," the woman said coldly. "And Agent Romanoff is the one who is going to pay for it. Take one of her fingers," she ordered, turning to the screen. Hermione saw Natasha's eyes widen as the knife was removed from her neck. A sick feeling pooled in her stomach as the knife man forced her hand to splay on the table, while the other continued to push the gun against her skull. "Make it slow. The Sorceress needs to know what happens when she disobeys."
Hermione realized that it was the perfect time to act and what was better, she wouldn't even have to use an unforgiveable curse. As horrendous as it was, Natasha being tortured was the perfect distraction because it kept the torturers' attention mostly on Romanoff. The mercenaries in the room with Hermione also thought she was less dangerous than before because she had magicked her wand away, but what they didn't know was that she hadn't sent it far – just into her deceptive pocket. The way her arms were being restricted meant that she could inch her fingers into her pocket and the position of the guard's body even prevented her movement from being seen by the others.
Natasha had yet to make a noise as her index finger was slowly sliced away. Hermione knew that Romanoff was a tough cookie but, surely, even she wouldn't be able to bear the pain.
"No, please!" Hermione begged, playing her part to avoid suspicion. "Stop!"
"The lesson must be learned," the woman insisted, turning back to the screen.
Hermione's fingers closed around the wood of her wand and she yanked it free, while wordlessly casting a freezing charm. A blue light swept around the room but the occupants remained still. She glanced anxiously at the screen but saw to her immense relief that Natasha's torturers hadn't noticed.
"No, stop it!" Hermione cried, keeping up appearances, as Natasha screamed for the first time.
Hermione hurried forwards to the woman, tore the mask from her face and wasted no time in performing legillimancy on her. Hermione was assaulted with various images and thoughts that made little sense to her. She pushed the idea of Natasha Romanoff into the woman's mind and hurriedly sifted through until she found where the agent was being held. Quickly, she pulled out of her mind. A last second glance told Hermione that the people hurting Natasha were still unaware that anything was amiss.
An instant later, she apparated behind the man with the gun and hit him with a powerful stunner, before blasting the other across the room. His head hit the wall with a crack then he slumped against the floor. She grabbed Natasha and disapparated them both to a S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house in Istanbul. Romanoff's eyes seemed out of focus and she slumped to the ground, unable to support her own body. Hermione assumed she'd been kept drugged since her abduction a couple of days previously. Hermione looked down at Natasha's mutilated finger and started summoning supplies out of her pocket in response.
"You took your time," Natasha mumbled, as Hermione busied herself with essence of dittany and blood replenishing potions.
"I'm sorry," she replied with a slight smile. "Your finger's going to be okay. Just drink these for me," she instructed, handing over a couple of small bottles.
"Do they taste nice?" Natasha asked.
"Depends on your definition of 'nice'," Hermione answered, getting to her feet. "I've got to go back and take care of a few things. I won't be long, I promise." She disapparated before Natasha could offer an objection and reappeared back where she'd cast the freezing charm.
As soon as Hermione landed, she became aware of an intense heat and she threw up the strongest shield she could to protect herself. Thick, black smoke surrounded her, making it almost impossible to see anything. The soles of her feet were beginning to burn despite the protections she'd conjured. Taking a step to the side, she bumped into something. She took a torch out of her pocket and shone it around. When she saw what she'd nudged, she screamed. One of the mercenaries she'd frozen was still standing in place but his flesh had mostly been blasted and burnt away. Hermione retched at the revolting scene, though she knew that it was probably repeated on all the other occupants of the room too.
Hermione's assumption that the woman had been the head of this organisation, had been quite wrong, for whoever was truly in charge had wasted no time in disposing of the mercenaries before she got a chance to find out any more about them. It was a cold-hearted, merciless act and the worst thing, was that the Sorceress had gotten their attention.
Hermione cleared her throat. "Captain Rogers?" she enquired of the blond man whose back was to her. He turned at his name and smiled at her.
"Agent Granger?" If Hermione didn't know that this man remembered the early 1940s as though they were yesterday, she would think he had dressed in a fashionably retro style, but his high-waisted trousers were not something you'd really find on anyone under the age of seventy.
She nodded and offered a hand, which he shook. "Please, call me Hermione," she suggested.
"Of course, ma'am," he replied instinctively then cringed. Being called 'ma'am' by someone who was technically nearly a hundred years old was a rather odd moment for her. "Ah, Hermione. Sorry."
"It's fine," she replied with an easy smile. "There's no need to stand on protocol, Captain."
"Steve," he corrected.
"Steve," she repeated amiably. "So, where would you like to go? I expect this feels like a very different city after a gap of sixty-six years." They were standing on the corner of 42nd and Lexington, outside the Chrysler Building and just along from Grand Central Station.
"Yeah, you could say that," he agreed, his eyes looking around the people and vehicles passing them by. "But at least you picked somewhere I know for us to meet."
"It's the best-looking skyscraper in New York," she replied with a shrug.
He nodded with a slightly surprised and impressed expression. "Agreed."
"But not my favourite building," she claimed.
"No? Care to enlighten me?" he asked. "Is it something new to me?"
"Let's just say, if you've never heard of it, I'll be making serious judgements about you." He balked at the statement but her laugh seemed to relax him. "Come on, I'll show you. It's not far."
As they walked west along 42nd, it didn't take him long to guess.
"The New York Public Library," he said, looking over at the grand, white building that was just a couple of blocks from where they had started.
"And that tells you pretty much all you need to know about me," Hermione admitted with a self-deprecating grin. "The nickname 'bookworm' has been used on more than one occasion."
Steve laughed. "Now I understand why Fury asked you to help get me up to speed on modern life."
"That might be something to do with it," she agreed with a smile, as they crossed the street to the library. "But also, to a certain extent, I can relate to feeling quite behind with technology."
"I had a rather sheltered life growing up," she explained. "I was educated at a pretty old-fashioned boarding school in the middle of nowhere, so I had a lot to learn when I came over here."
She saw his eyes roam over various electronic devices that the people who passed him were using. "Tell me about it," he muttered.
"Well, the library is actually a pretty good place to start; we'll stick with paper books for now."
He frowned at her. "What else are books made out of?!"
Hermione was impressed with the calm way that Steve was taking in the maelstrom of new information. They had been in the library for a couple of hours, catching up on the important historical events of the first ten years that he'd missed. They'd agreed to take things slowly to give him time to acclimatise and had put his cultural education on the backburner for a while, in favour of upping his use of technology. He'd been impressed by the e-books she'd shown him, which had led to a complicated explanation of the internet and online shopping.
She and Fury had decided that it would be best to avoid any mention of her abilities to Steve. He had been told that he was entirely free to choose what to do with his life now. Hermione was only there to help ease him back into the 21st century and there was no obligation for him to join S.H.I.E.L.D, although she knew that he would be a very valuable ally. But until they joined forces, there was no point in alarming him with her magic – the poor guy had already been through so much.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Miss Hailsham-Grey," a female librarian said, pausing her and Steve's discussion on Rosa Parks. "This room will be closing in fifteen minutes."
Hermione smiled. "Thank you, Alice."
Steve waited until the librarian had left, before giving her a knowing smile. "Hailsham-Grey?"
She shrugged. "Hermione Granger has a lot of secrets and every good agent needs an alias, don't they, Captain?"
"I don't think any of my names were subtle enough to be true aliases."
"Yes, but 'The Star Spangled Man with a Plan' has such a lovely ring to it!" she teased.
"You're funny," he replied dryly.
"Sorry, I've been around Stark too much," she grinned.
He did a double take. "Stark?"
"Yes, Tony Stark. I believe you were acquainted with his father, Howard?" Hermione explained and Steve nodded, the mood dampening somewhat as all the ghosts from his past were brought rushing back to him. "We'll get onto Tony soon enough – the silly prat can't stay out of the limelight for long."
"Is that new building his?" Steve asked, jerking his head towards the window. They couldn't see it from where they sat, but the not-quite-completed Stark Tower was only a couple of blocks away.
Hermione raised an ironic eyebrow. "Was it his name slapped up the top that gave it away?"
Steve grimaced slightly in distaste. "Maybe, but, you two are friends?"
"Er, reluctantly, yes," she answered, unsure of who had initially shown the greater averseness, but she truly did count Tony as a friend. Steve seemed to hear the warmth in her tone but didn't question her further. She reached down and pulled a paper file from her handbag. "Now, I know you've been given very vague details of what happened to your 'Howling Commandos' team and your colleagues at the Strategic Scientific Reserve, but most of the answers to your questions should be in here." She slid the folder across the table to him. The stamped red word of 'Classified' stood out starkly against the pale card. "I thought this was something you would rather look at by yourself," she said softly. Steve stared at it, his jaw clenched.
"Thank you," he replied stiffly.
Hermione shook her head. "No thanks necessary. You saved so many lives."
"We were at war. I did what anyone would have done." Steve wasn't bragging or boasting. He genuinely believed that what he'd done was no great feat. He reminded her so much of Harry at that moment, that her heart ached, and all the hardships of their fight against Voldemort swirled through her mind.
Their eyes met across the table.
"I understand," she whispered, surprising herself by saying it.
He frowned. "You've been at war." It wasn't a question.
Her eyes widened in alarm. "No, no of course not," she denied quickly. "Desolate boarding school education, remember?"
"You're lying," he accused flatly, picking up the folder and rising from his chair.
"I'm not – "
"Save your breath, Agent Granger," he interrupted, looking down on her. "I get that with your job, a lot of what you do is none of my business; it's confidential and that's fine. But don't lie to me – no one's ever lied to me." His tone wasn't cold, but it still left her feeling worse than any scolding by Snape ever had. Yes, she was lying, but she couldn't admit that to him. She already had too many cover stories. She was deceiving so many people. In fact, the only person she wasn't lying to was Kingsley and she didn't even tell him everything that she was doing with S.H.I.E.L.D!
Hermione shrugged her jacket back on and picked up her handbag forlornly, as his footsteps echoed in the corridor. She knew that being an agent was going to be difficult, but she hadn't been prepared for the loneliness she would experience. Her work at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures had been unfulfilling but she hadn't had the pressure of multiple duplicities bearing down on her or the fear of an imminent attack at every moment. She'd had Ron, Harry and her other friends playing a significant role in her life. After their mutual breakup over Christmas, Hermione had barely heard anything from Ron and she'd felt too guilty about all the lies she'd told him to pop round and visit. At first, she'd been worried that her friendship with Harry would be ruined too, but they wrote to each other frequently and he appeared to hold no grudge against her for choosing her career over their mutual best friend. She just wished that she could tell them both the truth.
For once, the beauty of the library's furnishings and architecture were somewhat lost on her, as she made her way out to the twilit skies.
S.H.I.E.L.D. had been unable to determine who had been responsible for Natasha's abduction a couple of months ago, which made Hermione rather anxious. Some of S.H.I.E.L.D's agents had investigated the scene of the explosion after Hermione had left, but there had been next to nothing for them to work with because even the human remains she'd discovered hadn't been left behind. The whole building had been incinerated, as well as the location where Natasha had been kept. Whoever these people were, they were extremely dedicated in keeping their identity a secret. She had no doubt that they would try to reach out to her again and she dreaded to think what lengths they'd go to next time.
But despite the fear, the guilt and the loneliness, she enjoyed being an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. far too much to consider quitting.
Hermione glanced up at Stark Tower and considered popping in to visit Pepper and Tony, seeing as her chat with Captain Rogers had ended on such a bad note. She doubted she'd be a particularly welcome guest when she knew they were so close to getting the building's arc reactor up and running, but maybe she could be of help.
She was just about to dial Pepper's number into her phone when it started ringing, showing Coulson's ID.
"I'm giving you coordinates for the Mojave Desert," he said quickly. "Get yourself over here. Now."
A/N So that's the end of that! Look out soon(ish) for Hermione Granger: Avenger!
A couple of things to note. First, I know it sounds weird, but the annual Molecular Gastronomy convention was a real thing that used to happen in Erice, Sicily. Just thought you might like to know. Second, all translations were done on the internet so please don't get mad at me if they're wrong!
I can't wait for you guys to read the next fic! I promise that I'll put the first chapter up soon so you can follow it, if you want, before the rest goes up.
Thank you all for your support of this story! I really enjoy writing this crossover between Hermione and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you liked it too, please drop me a review :)
Until next time!
Lil Drop of Magic