Disclaimer: I own nothing to do with the Harry Potter or Marvel franchises in any way, shape or form.
A/N Hello! I hope this hasn't been too long of a wait for you all!
Warning to new readers - I highly recommend you go back and read Hermione Granger: Agent of SHIELD and Hermione Granger: Avenger before starting this fic, otherwise you are likely to be very confused!
"Yeah, the four seats over there. D'you see them?"
Hermione turned her head in the direction that Steve was pointing and spotted the vacant flip down chairs a few yards away. "I see them."
She let Steve lead the way, his muscular frame easily parting the busy crowd, and Natasha and Clint came after her. They excused themselves as they shuffled past the other spectators on their row before finally getting to their designated seats.
The crowd inside Citi Field stadium started cheering and Hermione looked around in bewildered confusion. Steve started clapping his hands next to her and she swept her eyes along their seats with a frown.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather sit with someone who actually knows about baseball?" she asked him. "I don't think I'm going to be a very good companion."
"Don't look at me," Natasha said, taking her seat with a long sip of her drink. "I'm only here for the food and beer."
Steve shook his head. "Don't worry, Hermione, it's fine."
Clint looked at her, puzzled. "Why'd you come if you don't know anything about the game?"
"Well," Hermione shrugged slightly. "I wouldn't say I don't know anything; I did read a couple of books about baseball this morning." Clint promptly choked on his bite of hotdog and Natasha had to whack him on the back to clear his airways. "But I think it'll all make a bit more sense when I see it," she added hopefully.
Twenty minutes into the game, Hermione was pretty much none-the-wiser about what was going on. She knew the overall aim of the game was to hit the baseball with the bat and run around the markers to score. She also knew the names of the teams: the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, and she could check the score on the big screen, but all the finer points were quite lost on her. However, the atmosphere was enjoyable to be part of and her friends seemed happy so she just let it all wash over her. It wasn't often that she or the others let themselves switch off from work.
It had been two months and two days since the Battle of New York but Hermione had long been able to wean herself off of the dreamless sleep potion that had been necessary immediately after her encounter with Loki. She still had a bad night roughly twice a week; it was much the same after the defeat of Voldemort, but it would be unwise to become too dependent on the potion.
The city itself was slowly recovering too and the hysterical reactions to the whispers of an extra-terrestrial attack had long since been swept away by other global events. The reason that the existence of the Chitauri had been kept to nothing but a supposedly-wild conspiracy theory was due to Harry and the USA's Ministry of Magic-loaned team of hit-wizards.
When Harry had surprised her in Central Park, she'd been more than a little shocked to discover that he and other magical people had been involved in the battle against Loki's forces – and that Steve had been aware of it too! Steve had looked guilty about the deception but Hermione was just relieved that she didn't have to hide a huge part of her secret life from him. Steve had departed from Central Park soon after Harry had shown up, recognising that the two friends had a lot to say to each other.
When they were alone and Hermione had erected a couple of anti-snooping shields, Harry explained how, when Hermione had gone missing after the destruction of Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S, Nick Fury had feared the worst and believed her likely to be under Loki's spell. Fury had contacted Kingsley's office using the emergency procedure they'd put in place when she'd become a part of S.H.I.E.L.D and Kingsley had gone to Harry, filling him in on her true profession. Harry had portkeyed over to the States, ready to intervene if she'd been turned because Fury had known how helpless they'd be to stop her. When she'd escaped, Fury suggested that Harry remain on standby just in case things turned sour. Upon hearing that Loki planned to unleash an alien army on the world, Harry hadn't sat around idly twiddling his thumbs, but had met with the American Ministry of Magic and convinced them to loan out a large proportion of their top hit-wizards to be ready to secretly come to the muggles' aid should the need arise.
Harry and his team had arrived in Midtown within seconds of the portal being opened and it hadn't taken them long to notice Hermione flying around causing chaos. They'd all been expertly disillusioned to stop the muggles from noticing them and set about protecting the inhabitants from the attackers and using their magic to disrupt the television cameras. Harry had waited until Hermione had isolated herself in the diner and set up the anti-disapparition wards to stop her from escaping, (an event she had no recollection of) and amid the cacophony of their duel, Steve had knocked her out with his shield. For the remainder of the battle, Harry and the hit-wizards' priority had been to evacuate the muggles to safety and modify their memories of what they'd seen.
"Your Nick Fury was not happy when he heard we wouldn't do more to combat the aliens," Harry admitted, looking sheepish. "But we had our orders and I knew Loki would be defeated once you were back on the right side."
"Wait, Fury knows about the American hit-wizards?" Hermione asked in alarm. She thought that as far as the Director was aware, magical beings were only residents of the UK.
"Not exactly," Harry said. "He thinks I brought them over from London with me." Hermione let out a breath of relief but Harry looked around the park with a frown. "It's all so complicated."
"It's necessary," Hermione responded firmly. "Fury's never going to fully trust us; it's better he knows as little as possible."
"And Rogers?" Harry asked curiously. "Where does he fit in all of this?"
Hermione tucked her hair behind her ears and wound some of the ends around her finger. "I don't really know," she admitted with a shake of her head. "He's…different," she said eventually. "He caught me out in a lie very early on. I couldn't bring myself to try and deceive him again so it was easier not to tell him anything at all." She caught Harry's eye and saw that he was smiling at her knowingly. "What?" she asked.
"I know that look," he claimed teasingly. "And who it used to be directed at."
Hermione laughed. "No, Harry. Just because I like Steve, it doesn't mean I… like him."
Harry didn't look convinced. "If you say you," he shrugged. "But you're sure we can trust him? He's not going to tell any of your new super-buddies that you're not quite as unique as they thought?"
She mulled this over. "Not unless I give him a reason to doubt my intentions," she replied, "and I think the last few days have shown him morally where I stand, even if he's unsure of a lot of other things about me."
And as far as she knew, Steve hadn't breathed a word about Harry to anyone.
A small part of her had wanted to tell Steve everything about her world when they met for their next history session. He was waiting for her on the steps outside the New York Public Library and was looking at the building with a bemused expression.
"Every other building in Midtown gets wrecked and this one emerges unscathed," he muttered before giving her a questioning glance. "You wouldn't have anything to do with that, would you?"
"I told you, it's my favourite," she replied defensively, crossing her arms across her chest. "I wasn't about to let Loki's hordes destroy it."
"But…how did you find the time?" he asked in awe, as they ascended the steps.
She flashed him a smile. "That's one of the benefits of a being a witch!"
He paused and looked back at her. "A witch?"
Hermione froze, eyes wide. Thirty seconds in his company and she'd already blurted out a mistake! She held up a finger. "Um, let's just get somewhere a bit more private first." She stormed off to their previous study room, furious with herself, and Steve had to jog to catch up after her sudden change of pace. Once the relevant locking and privacy wards had been put in place, Hermione sat abruptly in the chair, Steve sliding into his less aggressively. "A witch is the technical term for someone like me," she explained grumpily, still annoyed with herself.
"Not a sorceress?"
"No. That's something Fury and I decided to use for protection purposes," she explained. If anything, it was to appease the magical folk around the world who might prick their ears up if they heard the muggles were employing a 'witch'.
"So, Fury knows the truth about you too?"
Hermione tilted her head. "In a way," she agreed. "But he doesn't know nearly as much as he'd like."
Steve chewed over these words, nodding slowly. "You're protecting your people. That's why you lied to me the last time we were here." He looked annoyed with himself. "I'm sorry; I shouldn't have gotten on my high horse and passed judgement on you."
"Don't be too hard on yourself," she objected. "You've had a lot to come to terms with in the last couple of weeks."
"Well, that may be true," he admitted, shifting in his seat, "but I want you to know that I don't want you to tell me anything you're not comfortable in sharing. I understand that it's not just your secrets you're holding."
Hermione felt such a rush of gratitude towards him that she could've kissed him – in a purely platonic way, of course. She settled for a friendly squeeze of his hand instead. "Thank you, Steve," she said. "I want to tell you, really I do. Some of it's so extraordinary I can barely believe it myself!" She saw an almost pained expression on his face in response to her words and she bit her lip in deliberation. It couldn't hurt to tell him a few little things, could it? It was only fair if he was going to keep her secret, after all…
She cleared her throat. "Um, you remember that desolate boarding school I told you about?"
"That was true," she admitted cautiously. "It just didn't teach the subjects you probably thought it did."
Steve gaped at her. "You went to a magic school?"
She grinned and nodded.
Ever since that meeting, Hermione had allowed herself to tell Steve one thing about her world whenever she saw him. As they met up two or three times a week, he soon had an assortment of facts to start to make a picture of her life before S.H.I.E.L.D. It was reckless and indulgent, she knew that, but the look in his eyes when she told him about ghosts or moving staircases was extremely addictive.
"How are you enjoying the game?" Steve asked her, halting her musings.
"Oh, um, I'm still a little confused, to be honest," she said, annoyed with herself because it shouldn't be so difficult to understand a game that was played with just one ball at a time!
She grinned mischievously and leaned in close to Steve, missing the nudge and knowing look that Natasha sent Clint.
"We have a sport that's played on flying broomsticks," Hermione whispered lowly to him so the others wouldn't hear.
Steve looked at her with a hint of suspicion and then shook his head, laughing. "How do I know if anything you've ever told me is true?"
"Don't you think you'd be able to tell?" she asked teasingly, their faces still just a couple of inches apart. "You worked it out the last time."
He stared at her for a moment then laughed again. "Wow," he sighed, leaning back in his chair. "Now that's something I'd like to see."
Hermione felt the smile die on her lips. Was she being cruel telling Steve about things he'd never get to experience?
She was prevented from perusing that thought any further when Natasha turned to them both looking uncharacteristically happy. "Hey, I forgot to say, Clint and I have managed the impossible and snagged each of you a blind date."
"What?" Steve asked, looking appalled, while Hermione laughed falsely.
"That's funny," she said, "because I've obviously forgotten the conversation we had where I asked you to interfere with my love life." She then registered exactly what Natasha had said and frowned. "And why is finding us dates an impossible task?"
"Well, without telling people exactly who you are, it's kind of hard to sell a couple of uptight fuddy-duddies," Natasha explained unapologetically.
"If you described us like that, it's amazing you found anyone at all!" Hermione scoffed.
"What should we have said, then?" Natasha asked innocently.
"Surely you could have told them how compassionate and hard-working Hermione is," Steve suggested instantly. "Not to mention her courage and intelligence."
Hermione felt her cheeks warm at his words and Natasha turned to Clint.
"Does Hermione's date know all of that?" she asked him.
"Yep," Barton answered, not taking his eyes away from the game.
"And does Steve's date know he's loyal, brave, kind-hearted and a perfect gentleman?" Hermione enquired.
"She does," Natasha replied evenly. "So, does this mean you're going to go?"
Hermione and Steve shared a look to gauge each other's feelings on the matter before turning back to Natasha. "No," they said in unison.
Steve pulled uncomfortably at the knot of his tie as he entered the front door of the restaurant. He couldn't believe he'd let Agent Romanoff bully him into agreeing to this blind date. The main reason he'd given in was so that she'd hopefully leave him alone after tonight but, knowing how persistent the notorious Black Widow could be, he had his doubts.
Another contributing factor to his compliance was that it was going to be a double date because Hermione would be there too. So, if it was a complete disaster, there was at least someone else present that he could talk to… unless she got too caught up with her date, of course. Unfortunately, judging by the glowing recommendation that Natasha had seen fit to give Steve earlier that day, that was a distinct possibility. The man Barton had set Hermione up with was apparently nothing short of 'perfect' for her. For some reason, Steve found that, despite having not met him, he already heartily disliked this mystery man.
It was a stifling summer evening in New York City and Steve sincerely wished that Romanoff hadn't picked such a fancy restaurant for the occasion. He didn't think he'd felt so out of place for a long time. Sure, he might look the part, but inside he was still the same scrawny kid from Brooklyn who wouldn't back down from a bully, no matter how many punches he'd receive for his troubles.
The maître d' showed Steve to the table as the gentle hum of chatter and clink of cutlery engulfed him. He could see that he was the first to arrive, as he'd expected, and he allowed himself to be ushered into his seat and presented with an elaborate drinks menu.
"Thanks," he muttered, placing the menu straight down on the table in front of him without glancing at it.
As for his own date, Natasha had told him very little except that she knew her through work, and that Steve was 'bound' to like her because everyone did, whether they wanted to or not. However, this failed to convince him; whatever spell his date managed to work on others, he doubted it would work on him because he just wasn't interested. He was too busy with adapting to life in the twenty-first century and starting work with S.H.I.E.L.D. to get caught up in anything romantic. It would be unfair to expect any potential partner to put up with his dangerous and hectic lifestyle when one morning he could be in Hong Kong and the next evening he could be dead. Of course, he hadn't failed to notice that casual relationships were far more frequent and socially acceptable these days but he couldn't quite reconcile himself with the idea of being so intimate with someone he'd just met… No, he was far better off alone.
Something gold glittered in his peripheral vision and he turned.
Hermione was being led towards him and before Steve even realised what he was doing, he was stood up, holding out a chair for her. The maitre d' gave him a confused look and Steve stepped away from the seat feeling embarrassed.
"Oh, Steve, thank goodness you're here," Hermione said nervously as she approached. "I can't believe I even agreed for Natasha to set this up, let alone allow her to get me all dressed up for it! She accosted me a couple of hours ago with an entire rack of dresses and a giant container filled with more beauty products than I've ever seen in my life! Do, do I look all right?" she asked him with worried eyes, doing a little turn on the spot.
"Uh…" She looked far more than 'all right'.
Ever since their first meeting just over a couple of months ago, Steve had gotten to know Hermione far better than he possibly could have imagined. They'd had plenty of quiet study sessions in the library, semi-frequent movie nights at his flat where she'd happily eat her own body weight in pizza (his new favourite food) and they'd gone on other outings too, like their trip to watch the Mets game last week. In all that time, he'd never found himself so stuck for words as he did then.
He'd always considered her to be pretty, even when she'd tried to kill him and was covered in grime and dust after New York. Her mysterious 'Sorceress' aura had its own allure and he quite often found her endearing, even though he was well aware that she could look after herself. He was glad that she felt like she could relax and be herself around him and didn't have to spend two hours getting herself ready before they went anywhere. But from the top of her smoothed and silky hair, past the beautiful, chocolate eyes, delicate lips, bedazzling, gold beaded dress, all the way to the ends of her interminably long, glossy legs he could only see perfection.
"You look stunning," he said hoarsely. Her face lit up into a wide smile and he felt his heart beat in double time for a moment. Then he remembered that she was on a date with someone else and it was like someone had injected ice into his veins. "Your date's one lucky guy."
She laughed brightly. "Thanks," she said, reaching up to straighten his tie and he tried not to flinch at her touch. "And yours is going to be one happy girl; you look even more handsome than you usually do!" Steve tried not to read anything into her words; he was sure that she was just being polite. "Merlin, I'm so nervous, which is ridiculous because I don't even want to be doing this," she gabbled, taking the seat that Steve had pulled out for her. "But this is the first time I've ever done anything like this! I really don't know what to expect. I mean, what do I do if I don't like him? Or what about if I do?!" She rested her head in the palm of her hand and looked up at him anxiously as he sat down too. "This is all so stupid. I'd much rather be at yours watching the next film on your list," she sighed.
Steve completely agreed with her but thought it best not to say that. "We're here now," he reasoned instead. "We might as well make the most of it."
Hermione nodded and then shifted in her seat with a frown. "I told Natasha this dress was too short," she muttered, still squirming. Steve froze, determined not to lower his gaze from her face. "I tried to lengthen it with my wand but she wouldn't let me," Hermione continued, oblivious to his internal struggle. Mercifully, she soon settled down but she fixed him with a concerned look. "Are you all right? You're very quiet tonight."
"I'm fine," he assured her. "Just nervous, like you." And he was nervous – not about meeting the stranger that Romanoff had set him up with, but about how Hermione was making him feel. He used to be perfectly comfortable around her and now he was second guessing every word he said and every little movement of his body. Steve wished he could knock some sense into himself and remember that this was the same Hermione as always. Books, he recalled, she likes books. Talk about books! No, everyone knows that, come on, you can do better.
"Did you see the latest warning from The Mandarin this morning?" Steve asked, because nothing quite reinforced the 'we're just friends' dynamic better than a discussion about a maniacal terrorist.
"Yes," she replied grimly and Steve realised that it was actually a rather stupid question to ask someone in her line of work. "Apparently, Fury's having difficulty in establishing the video's origin, even though he's got his best analysts on it."
"That's too bad," Steve said. "I'd love to put that man exactly where he belongs."
Hermione nodded sombrely and a silence settled over them. Steve cast around desperately for something else to say but nothing was coming to mind.
Hermione leaned forwards with a serious expression on her face. "Steve, I just want you to know, I've been giving it some serious thought and, well…" She paused and he waited with bated-breath to hear what she was going to say. "I still think you're wrong about Gianluca's having better pizza than Maretti's." Her face broke into a grin and Steve laughed in relief.
"Oh, really?" he said, the challenge clear in his voice.
"Yes," she replied and they launched into a seven minute comparison on the merits of the different pizzerias. This swiftly morphed into discussions on his latest music ventures, which films looked any good at the movie theatre and an amusing tale from Hermione about what had happened when she'd attempted to cook at beef stew a couple of nights ago.
Steve had slipped so easily back into his familiar friendly conversational tone with Hermione that it had taken a noisy vibration from her cell phone to remind him of the consternations he'd been having around her a few minutes ago. He took a relieved gulp from the glass of water the waiter had brought them. Yes, this Hermione looked more glamorously attired than normal, but it hadn't prevented his mind from remembering that the woman opposite him was his friend – he now had to come to terms with the self-revelation that he might not want to be just her friend.
"It's from Natasha," Hermione told him, referring to the message on her phone. "My date's not coming – he's been called away." Right, they were on a double date. He'd almost forgotten. Hermione looked up at him with a distinct air of disappointment and bit her lower lip, instantly drawing his attention to it. Yep, definitely more than just friends.
He cleared his throat as she tucked her phone back in her purse and scooted her chair backwards. "You don't have to go," he proposed but she sent him a sceptical look.
"What, and play third wheel to you and 'Miss Perfect'?" she muttered, getting to her feet. "No, it's OK, Steve. I didn't want to be here anyway, remember?"
"Excuse me, Mr Rogers?" a waiter enquired, pausing at their table.
"There's been a call at the bar. I'm afraid the woman who was going to meet with you has been indefinitely detained," the waiter said apologetically. Steve stared at the man for a moment before turning to Hermione with a dubious expression. At the waiter's words, she'd folded her arms across her chest and her lips were pressed firmly together. "I do also bring some positive news," the waiter continued, turning and picking up a tray with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. "Miss Romanoff wants you both to enjoy this."
"Unbelievable," Hermione muttered under her breath, shaking her head.
Steve frowned at their gift as the waiter placed it on their table. He would be having a serious word with Natasha the next time he saw her; he didn't take kindly to being manipulated by others. "What do you think we should do?" he asked.
Hermione huffed and put her hands on her hips. "Well, it would be a shame to waste it, if Natasha's already bought it," she pointed out slowly, and then shot a quick look at the waiter. "She has paid for it, hasn't she?"
The waiter nodded.
Hermione meandered down Madison, arm looped through Steve's, unable to keep a smile off of her face. The evening had turned out very differently than she'd anticipated it would but, at that moment, she had no complaints.
She couldn't believe how easily Natasha had been able to play her! That Black Widow had better watch her back for the next couple of weeks if she wanted to avoid becoming victim to a few embarrassing jinxes.
Hermione and Steve had consumed the champagne and enjoyed a nice dinner, talking about everything and nothing. In many ways, the evening was just like lots of others she'd spent with Steve except for the fancy food and clothes. The alcohol, too, was something out of the ordinary and she was feeling pleasantly lightheaded as Steve escorted her back to the building Tony had decided was going to be re-christened 'Avengers Tower', which was where she was staying for the evening. None of them could ever use the main entrance to the building anymore as it was frequented by rather passionate fans who loitered there in the hopes of seeing one of their heroes. There was, however, a secret entrance round the back that had yet to be discovered by any of these keen individuals.
"Tony says we can each have our own room and it'll be designed in whatever style we want," Hermione said to Steve as they walked into the parking lot underneath Stark Tower. "I'm thinking of requesting a rather garish clash of colours just to see the look on his face!"
Steve chuckled and her heart did a little flutter in her chest, just like it had done every time he'd looked at her that night, because he'd never looked at her like that until a couple of hours ago. She'd tried to convince herself that she was mistaken, that she was caught up in the excitement of the evening or that he was just surprised that she could scrub up OK when Natasha slaved away at her for two hours! But she just had this… feeling, that something had shifted between them and she was both excited and terrified to explore that change.
They paused at the private lift that would take her to the residential part of the building and Hermione removed her arm from the crook of his elbow, instantly missing the lack of contact.
"Thanks for walking me back," she said quietly, suddenly feeling nervous.
"It's fine," he replied. "I needed a bit of fresh air."
She nodded. "So, I guess I'll see you for a couple of movies on Tuesday?"
"As long as we order pizza from Gianluca's," he said with a semi-serious expression and then smiled broadly, making her feel far giddier than the champagne had done. Sometimes she thought Steve was so ludicrously handsome that it almost hurt to look at him. "I'm joking; we can order whatever you want."
Hermione returned his smile warmly and pressed the button to call the elevator. "OK, well… Goodnight, Steve." She took half a step forward and kissed him softly on the cheek, his hand coming to rest on her upper arm. She moved her head back barely two inches and paused, gaze locked on his, waiting to see what he'd do.
Kiss me, she thought desperately, please, kiss me. She could feel his breath on her lips and sense the warmth radiating off his body.
The elevator door opened with a metallic clank.
Hermione blinked and turned away from him, glad that he couldn't see the disappointment on her face as she stepped into the lift.
"Goodnight, Hermione," she heard him say throatily as the doors hissed shut.
"Damn, he should've kissed her," Natasha grumbled, watching through the highest tech binoculars S.H.I.E.L.D. issued, as Hermione stepped forlornly into the elevator. "Men are such idiots."
"Does this mean I can go home now?" Clint asked grouchily from where he was lying in the backseat of the sports car they were hiding in. "I don't even know what I'm doing here."
"You were here so that if we got discovered, I could run away while you kept them occupied," she answered evenly. Steve was still staring at the closed elevator doors until he sighed deeply and began to walk away.
"What difference would that have made," Clint muttered, "they're going to come for you anyway, you know that, right?"
"And you," she reminded him.
"I said one word!" he objected. "Yep. That was it! I don't see how that qualifies as an ass-kicking or painful spell."
"Take it up with them, not me," Natasha answered, observing Rogers walk out of the parking lot, none the wiser to their presence. "OK, we're good to go," she said, shifting herself away from the car window.
"I just don't understand why you actually care about this," Clint said as he climbed into the driver's seat.
"Because it's been getting on my nerves!" she explained heatedly as he started the ignition. "Sure, at first, it was hilarious watching them send the other mooning glances without them even realising what they were doing, but the fun wore off a month ago. The problem is they're both so damn nice and passive when it comes to this sort of thing, they would've been stuck in the same god-awful PG-13 flirty garbage for the rest of their lives – and I'm not so sure I would've been able to stomach it much longer. They just needed a not-so-subtle push to make them face up to what was right in front of their eyes." Clint drove them out into 45th Street and Natasha tried to get more comfortable in her seat. "And... You know, I was bored," she admitted with a shrug.
A/N See? I promised you romance in this new fic, you just probably weren't expecting it first chapter out! Now, I know some of you Hermione/Loki shippers are going to be upset but that's not a pairing I could see happening in this series. If Hermione had met Loki before all the Tesseract stuff then, maybe, but not when she's only known him to be a multiple killer who tried to take over her planet and kill herself and her friends. Sorry!
I think you're going to be getting semi-regular updates from me now because I'm 80% sure I've decided to change where the ending point of this fic is going to be as it was getting too long.
The icon for this story was made by my super-awesome sister and is her take on Hermione wearing a special outfit (more of that at a much later date!).
Anyway, it's good to back! Hope you enjoyed!
Lil Drop of Magic