CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Summary: When Hermione's contract with SHIELD is sold to Stark Industries and she's traded like she's prized cattle, she is far from pleased. But then, she meets the notorious man for herself and she finds herself thinking that perhaps, it wasn't all that bad a trade.

Disclaimer: All original characters and canon events belong to J.K. Rowling and Marvel. Non-canon events and characters are my own. I am not making any profit from posting this fanfic. Characters are likely to be OOC. This takes place after Iron Man 2, and I will be taking liberties with the timeline/ canon events. Rated for language, violence and sexual content.

AN

Are we ready for a look into Tony's mind? We've had a little peek into Hermione's in previous chapters, so I think it's Tony's turn. And honestly, this is the part I struggled the most with.

Q&A

Ash – Ron's kids Hugo and Rose have different mothers, but they're probably not going to make an appearance, likely just mentions. Laura is Ron's newest girlfriend (though probably not for long) and has not yet been introduced to the family (and probably won't be).

DragonWolf25 – Sometimes it's intentional in regards to speech patterns and dialect, and sometimes it's a missed mistake during editing. Most of the time, it's easy to see if it was intentional or not, especially with the speech. I always go back and do a proper edit once the fic's finished, but it's my least favourite part of writing.

Jennieb89 – I don't have an update schedule. I do aim for every 1-2 weeks but sometimes it takes me longer, and with so many other stories on the go, I don't know which chapter will be next written and for which story. I do try to keep it fair knowing that everyone has their favourites, but ultimately, it boils down to the co-operation of the muse and my motivation to do it. It's the hardest when I've been away from a story for more than a few months and I have to fight to get back into it again. This one though, I have no issues with and I'm taking advantage of it.


Page count: 19


They were due to leave soon and Tony knew they both had a couple of items that needed to be packed away before they left for the airport, but he couldn't bring himself to disturb her. Not when she was clearly comfortable being where she was, not when she looked so peaceful and young, not when he didn't want to let her go, always enjoying it when she snuggled against him.

After the arrival of room service, they'd both taken a seat at the dining table and ate the ordered food, something that may have not been on the menu but Tony wished to see if they'd make it anyway, and of course, still wishing to get on his good side, they had without complaint.

Once they'd finished with their lunch they'd moved to the couch, Tony switching on the TV and searching the channels available, settling on a random TV programme he'd never heard of or seen before. He'd only turned the TV on to offer a distraction, a little background noise. Within half an hour, Hermione was curled into his side, her feet tucked beneath her, her arms folded around her torso and her cheek pressed against chest, her eyes closed as soft breaths left her slightly parted lips.

He didn't blame her for having fallen asleep. For one, daytime TV was completely boring and two, she'd been emotionally drained in as little as thirty minutes with the incident of her ex-boyfriend and so-called best friend showing up unannounced.

Tony had been completely serious about dropping Potter from the rooftop and he absolutely wouldn't have minded chasing after the red-head and blasting him with his repulsor until he'd gone through a window or collided with a wall. They were both assholes, one more than the other, but part of him was curious to see how Potter would gain Hermione's trust once more after his favouring of someone else for over a decade.

Part of him wanted Potter to fail, too. Irrationally, and if he was honest with himself, part of him was a little worried that should the raven-haired man succeed, Hermione would no longer consider him her best friend and that she'd be easily convinced to move back to London. He didn't want to lose her or her friendship. She was important to him, incredibly so. In such a short amount of time, she'd burrowed her way into his life. Well, it was partially his fault, he conceded. He'd gotten his hands on her personnel file and been too curious and stubborn to let it go and he'd made it a point to get her under his employment, regardless of the fact he didn't have the foggiest what it was that she did for SHIELD. Being brought into his life was his doing, but he hadn't expected her to entwine herself so effortlessly into his private, persona life.

He hadn't expected her to show up with cheeseburgers, board games, (and he was positive she always cheated at poker, how else did she beat him at almost every hand?) her home-cooked meals and baking filling his stomach until he was certain he was going to burst, and her damn cat, too. The same damn cat that had wormed her way into his heart and refused to release her hold on him. The same damn cat he was certain wasn't actually a cat at all. He hated cats, always had, and he willingly let the little white fluff-ball bully him for the food on his plate or in his hand, wander the Tower sporting a bandana that bore his name, and sleep wherever she wished, even if it was on his highly expensive, custom made, one of a kind couch.

Hermione, despite having mysterious secrets he was dying for her to hurry up and share with him, was like an open book. He'd gotten to know her so well, being in such close quarters both with work and living arrangements, that with a single glance in her direction he knew her mood. When entering her lab to check up on her or bring her food, (if she'd forgotten to eat that day and it was his turn to remind them both) he'd always take a moment to observe her closely before he made his presence known, identifying her mood so he knew how best to behave, and how he might improve her day should she be upset or be having a bad day.

Frustration was given away by the wildness of her hair, larger and bushier than usual. Irritation was shown by the way she tapped a pen against a desk, her chin, her palm or her thigh. Loss and confusion were identifiable in the way she sat or stood with her shoulders slumped, her mouth tugging down at the corners, her gaze locked on the floor or desk surface. Excitement and joy could be seen in the way she flittered about her lab like an animated bee, never stopping for more than a second or two, or the way her eyes were bright, wide and open, her teeth sinking into her lower lip to fight off a smile whilst she worked at one of the cauldrons or her hand flew across a sheet of paper, jotting down notes and results.

And when she turned those eyes on him, her smile lighting up the room in her excitement to share with him the progress she was making, even if she didn't give any specific details, he always felt lighter. Less tired, annoyed, burdened, whatever mood he was in that day or if his own projects were proving to be tricky, her radiance was a balm to soothe him. It was contagious.

She was calming, he'd come to realise. Even when she was in a bit of a mood herself, when she sprawled on the couch, clearly unhappy with something that had happened in the news, with the way she disagreed with the ending of a movie, TV programme or whatever book she was reading. It didn't matter if she was angry, upset, annoyed, happy; there was always a calming, comforting presence that accompanied her. And she was never alone, Sally either being draped over his lap and demanding attention, or quietly snoozing between them. They were a package deal; one couldn't be had without the other.

Their relationship was odd. He knew it was. It was neither friendship nor romantic, but somewhere in the middle. And as the days passed, as he found himself looking forward to seeing her after a day hidden away in his lab or after returning from business trips he couldn't put off any longer than he already had, he found himself wishing that their relationship tilted more in favour of the latter.

But he had to ask himself. Was he ready for that? Was he ready to be in a relationship?

He and Pepper had broken up months ago, long before Hermione had arrived in his life, and it hadn't been that long of a relationship either, five months at most. But if he were honest, they should've never crossed that line. He and Pepper weren't a good match; she never understood his need to be Iron Man, the only time they spoke was when she was nagging him to answer her emails and calls, or chewing him out for cancelling a meeting or turning down a business deal she believed would do wonders for the company. He'd made her CEO regardless of their relationship because she worked hard, she could handle herself and take control of a testosterone-filled boardroom effortlessly and she knew what she was doing.

But she hadn't just been managing and running the company for him, (even if he was still the boss, more or less, just in the background and content to let her get on with it unless she wished to do something he disagreed with and then he put his foot down) she'd been trying to run his life for him. And after being deceived for so long by someone he thought he could trust, after being captured and tortured and held prisoner, told what to do and when to do it, he hadn't wanted to give up control. She'd been unknowingly suffocating him, or at least, he hoped she'd been doing it unknowingly. She was always telling him where to go and what to do, what to eat and not eat, what to wear, telling him not to drink and that he should give up being Iron Man because it was too dangerous. Pepper liked control and Tony didn't like being controlled. They were mismatched, always had been. Their breakup, despite taking Pepper by surprise, had been amicable and from what he'd heard on the grapevine, she was dating again. Pepper needed a man that was content to be the submissive one in the relationship, and Tony was far from it.

And Hermione? In some ways he could admit that she was like Pepper; they were both bad-ass women that worked hard and achieved high in fields dominated by men and neither cared for others' opinions nor let anyone get to them. They were both strong-willed and stubborn, both clever in different ways. Pepper had a head for business and a keen eye for detail, Hermione was just all-around smart with her numerous Masters and medical licence. And not only that, but there was a type of wisdom that came with Hermione, the type that led tale to the fact that she'd seen terror and horror. That she'd faced the monsters of the world just as he had.

Both were beautiful. Pepper with her red hair always perfectly styled, her makeup minimal but effective, her tall, slim frame always smartly and appropriately dressed in business attire and expensive heels, with costly perfume coating her wrists and neck. She was nearing her fortieth birthday and whilst she did have the lines around her mouth, and crow's feet by her pear-green eyes, there were no other indications of her true age. Her nose was straight, her skin blemish-free and her jawline defined.

Hermione was the opposite. There was a soft, natural beauty that surrounded her, one that was easy to overlook. She was the girl next door type...Until she slipped into a dress, Tony corrected himself. When she dressed to the nines she was an absolute stunner, drawing all eyes to her without realising she was doing so. Tony had seen her in all manner of dress whether it be the jeans and t-shirts she favoured, her lab coat and goggles that were adorably too big for her but she never bothered to purchase a smaller size, the ugliest cardigan or sweater he'd ever seen or pyjamas that were threadbare and ready to be thrown away. She hardly ever makeup, believing it to be bad for the skin and she didn't wish to waste time applying mascara or concealer when she could be using those extra minutes in her lab.

Her hair was wild and hard to tame, more often than not tied back from her face in a ponytail, messy bun or if it were a bad day, just left to its own devices hanging down her back and spilling over her shoulders, not wishing to make it worse by brushing it. The mahogany colouring when caught by rays of sunlight tinted red and purple, the curls looking smooth and soft despite the unruliness of it all. Her eyes were doe-like, pools of molten chocolate, bright when excited or happy, narrowed when annoyed at him, dull when she was upset. Her little button nose twitched when she wished to laugh at him but fought it off, not wishing to give him the satisfaction, especially if he was subtly insulting someone or he'd said something she didn't agree with. Her teeth sunk into her pink plump bottom lip when she was lost in thought, reading or trying to stop herself from arguing with him no matter how much he baited her. He knew her ivory skin wasn't as perfect as it first appeared, having seen the scars that she usually hid with her clothing, and there was a story behind those scars, he knew and he intended to find out.

But the differences between the two women weren't just physical but behavioural, also. There was a fine line, but Hermione knew when and when not to cross it, Pepper hadn't. She did tell him what to eat and what not eat, but it was mostly advice, making fun of his less than healthy diet (which she shared, he might add), and as a doctor, he knew she was worried about his cholesterol given the amount of red meat he ate. He suspected it was why her home-cooked meals were always healthy, to help balance out all the takeout and junk food they ate. She did tell him when to eat, but he did the same to her. If he missed a meal, it was Hermione that brought the food or dragged him away from his workstation long enough to keep him hydrated and functioning, and if she missed a meal, it was him that did the same.

They were both alike in the way they got caught up and deeply invested in their work so much so that they were oblivious to the things around them, that they forgot to sleep and they missed meals. When they did get like that, as there were days when neither of them remembered, Jarvis always stepped in and brought them back to reality and each other. Hermione was less controlling and nagging and more... Reminding. She pushed, she nudged, but she stopped before it was too much. It was almost as if she knew his boundaries without him having to tell her, and that was another thing. She understood him. More than anyone ever had.

Pepper had discouraged his Iron Man alter ego out of fear of injury and danger, out of fear it might affect the company's image and profits, and whilst he wasn't entirely certain on Hermione's opinion regarding the matter, she was always asking curious questions about the mechanics and mechanisms of his suit and he always enjoyed discussing it with her into the early hours of the morning until she fell asleep on the couch.

Hermione wasn't one for going out, hitting the town or dancing the night away, he'd come to learn. She preferred to stay in, watch crappy movies on TV, destroy him at every card game he knew and board game she owned, (and there were a lot!) and with the occasional glass of wine, it wasn't often she drank alcohol. In fact, being in London was the most he'd seen her drink but that was understandable given the week she'd had.

Pepper was the opposite. She enjoyed shaking off her CEO image and going out to a club for a night of drinking and dancing with her friends, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, Tony encouraged it, believing the red-head deserved the opportunity to let her hair down and have a little fun.

He knew he had a drinking and sex problem, something that had gotten better since he'd started a relationship with Pepper, for the latter at least, and he didn't drink as often as he used to, or as badly, he corrected himself. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been drunk. Since before Hermione arrived in his life? Yes, he'd been tipsy, they both had, but they'd never gotten to the point where they woke with hangovers and couldn't remember the happenings of the night before.

He was getting older, he hated to admit. He would be turning forty-one in the coming month of May. He was getting too old to be out partying all night, to be making his way through the young, pretty women of New York, to not be focusing on his future. Financially, he was set for life, but what would happen to the money, to his company and to his legacy if he had no one to pass it on to? If he had no one to share it with?

He'd been thinking about it since his breakup with Pepper, realising that unless he committed himself to someone, unless he changed his bad habits and ways, he would die alone and he'd never have a family. He'd never thought of having kids, he'd always just assumed that one day it would happen, that it would be expected of him, and here he was, a forty-year-old single man with no kids or wife, not even kids that hated him, or a wife that was demanding a divorce and taking half of his assets.

He didn't want to be alone anymore; he was growing, warming to the idea of one day having a little genius kid running around, taking apart a toaster and remodelling it into some kind of heat-ray weapon. Or a teenager that flunked all of their classes because they were boring and unchallenging of their brilliant mind, and instead spent their time designing new technology that would better the world. He didn't care if it was a boy or a girl. He didn't care if the kid looked like him or their mother. He didn't even care if the kid grew to hate him just as he had his own father. He just wanted someone to carry on the legacy. He just wanted to create something good, opposed to the all the bad he'd done in his life.

He was getting older, he conducted dangerous experiments and risked his life every time he put on the Iron Man suit, no matter if he were tracking down terrorists that had gotten their hands on his old weaponry systems or if he was flying across the world to aid with a natural disaster. Each day that went by was a day lost of his life span.

Looking down at Hermione, her expression peaceful, her hair falling into her face and being disturbed by the breath that fell past her parted lips, he felt his stomach give a little flip and warmth settling inside his chest.

She was quite the woman. The type of woman a man such as himself could only dream of marrying. The type of woman that could handle his chaotic mess of a life. The type of woman that would love and adore any child, born from her or not. He'd seen it. He'd seen the way she interacted with her Godson, seen the way she'd looked at him as if he were one of the most important things in her life. She loved the kid like he was her own. And he knew she felt the same for the others, whether they were her Godchildren or her nieces and nephews, none of them of her blood.

Hermione was the type of woman to love and support, to encourage and bolster, and whilst she had the potential to nag and frustrate and annoy, and she did sometimes, too, he liked it. He liked the fire he saw burning inside her. He'd gotten a glimpse of her temper and whilst she'd been frightening, it was almost as if she'd come to life with the way her hair poofed up and her eyes darkened with anger but brightened with fire. That temper could and would fuel many arguments, but he was sure the passion would fuel the makeup and love.

Love? He paused, his brows drawing together. Could he love her? Did he love her? He thought. Well, that was easy. She was the type of woman anyone would be lucky to have. But should he love her? His life was a chaotic, dangerous mess and she'd obviously been through so much in her life, was it right that he ask her to deal with his shit, too? Was it selfish of him?

He'd seen it. No matter what she'd said to Weasley and Potter, or what she'd said when she'd come to him crying, he'd seen right through her. She was just as lonely as he was. She wanted a family, she wanted a partner and she wanted a home. She was still young enough to have that; she was only thirty-two, looking to be no older than her twenties, early-twenties when she was sleeping. She still had time to find someone and when the condo was built and she moved out...

No, he didn't want to think of that, he gave his head a shake. He liked having her at the Tower. He liked it when she dragged him away from his work and placed a meal before, home-cooked or takeout, he wasn't fussy but he would admit he was leaning more in favour of her home-cooked meals as the days passed. He liked it when they argued over board and card games, over what they would be having for dinner, over whose turn it was to pick the movie they were to watch. He liked when she'd get comfortable on the couch, a cushion beneath her head, a blanket draped over her and her feet in his lap whilst she read her book and his eyes were locked on the tablet held in his hand, trying to work out an issue he was struggling to solve.

He liked it when she fell asleep, cuddled against his side, when she threatened to prank him worse than the time she turned him blue because he was annoying her. He liked that the Tower wasn't empty. He liked that it always smelt like freshly baked cookies. Even when they were silent, there was still the sound of her breathing, of the pages in her book turning, of Sally snoring so loudly she startled herself awake with a yowl and he and Hermione would burst into laughter.

She was a good, kind person inside and out. She was reliable, dependable, trustworthy. And he did trust her, with his life. She was a workaholic, just as he was, but since he'd barred her from her lab on weekends, she was learning to relax, to be a little less serious. He knew she was comfortable around him, she wore what she wanted no matter how unflattering or ugly the clothing, she ate what she wanted and when she wanted, she didn't care for her appearance but she was always clean and presentable. She wasn't afraid to argue with him no matter the topic, she wasn't afraid to throw cushions at him when he wouldn't leave her alone, or to throw books his way and calling him an 'uncultured swine' because he insulted a classic piece of literature by calling it 'mind-numbingly boring' and 'a good waste of paper' so he might get a rise out of her.

She'd even thrown an orange at his head, demanding that he eat more fruit and think of his cholesterol. Thankfully, it'd been a nice ripe orange and she'd been far enough away that when it collided with the back of his head (him refusing to acknowledge her, knowing how mad it made her and he did enjoy provoking her, and if he had lifted his head, he'd have been able to catch it) it hadn't hurt all the much. He'd made a visit to her lab and thrown a banana at her in retaliation, inquiring about her frustration. His choice of fruit allowed her to read between the lines and after offering up his services as a solution, he'd ran for his life. Faster than he ever had before.

She'd been on the warpath that day, he'd hidden away for hours at Happy's apartment (his bodyguard thoroughly entertained by the notion he was literately hiding for his continued survival whilst he refused to share the peanut butter cookies Hermione had baked for him in the process) and he'd been wary of returning to the Tower. When he did, he arrived with a cheesecake and red velvet cake as a peace offering. She'd narrowed her eyes, pointed her finger threateningly, slapped his arm with the back of her hand and took both offerings, turning her back to him and stalking to the kitchen to retrieve a fork.

She'd assumed he'd been joking. At the time, so had he. But it wasn't until their arrival in London that he truly understood part of him had meant it.

It was in London that he realised his growing feelings for her. It was in London that he realised he wanted her as more than a friend.

But Hermione deserved the best. She deserved a relationship. Someone to love her, to care for her, to comfort her and fight off the tears and sadness. To contribute to her happiness, to help her see herself for how beautiful she was, to be less self-deprecating, but being British, he supposed that was a lost cause. Brits were known for such traits.

He knew she wanted a family, whether she admitted it or not. He knew he didn't want to be alone and that he was getting older, his time was running out. Could he be what she wanted? Could she be what he needed?

He hoped so.

~000~000~000~

Hearing the ding of the elevator and slow, measured footsteps, Tony was slow to rouse himself awake and lift his head from resting atop Hermione's. He believed it to be Happy, the man finally finished playing tourist and that meant they could be on the road within the hour and on their way to the airport. As much as Tony had enjoyed his time with Hermione in London, for the most part uninterrupted, he wanted to get back to the Tower and in his lab as much as she did.

As the footsteps grew louder and closer, he noted there was something off about the sound. They weren't as heavy for a man of Happy's size.

Reluctantly, Tony let his eyes open, it taking all but a second for the grogginess to fade as his eyes narrowed on the man stood in-between the hall and lounge, his own eyes wide and mouth parted in surprise. Despite Tony's surprise with his appearance, he was careful to remain still, not wishing to jolt or wake Hermione.

"What are you doing here?" He asked, his voice was quiet but that didn't take from the clear unfriendly tone he'd pushed into it.

The raven-haired man shifted on his feet, closed his mouth and cleared his throat.

"I could ask you the same thing," he replied defensively, folding his arms over his chest. "You should've left hours ago."

"She lied about our departure time. She didn't want to talk to you."

He saw his expression falter before he gave his head a shake.

"Yeah, I got that," he sighed sadly.

"What are you doing here?" Tony repeated.

"Just..." He paused, his eyes scanning his surroundings carefully, "Checking things over."

"For?" He prompted, arching an eyebrow.

"In case Ron left something unfriendly behind," he offered guiltily. "It wouldn't be the first time. Hermione's usually wise to it, but I didn't want to risk a staff member or another guest finding a nasty surprise or walking into a trap."

"Has he?" Tony's brow furrowed, his gaze darting down to Hermione's sleeping face in concern.

"Two, I've dismantled them," Potter confirmed. "I'm not sensing anything else."

Tony felt his mouth twitch into a sneer. He should've blasted the bastard. Maybe he still could. Now that Weasley had been seen, he could have Jarvis hack into the hotel security cameras, find an angle that allowed for perfect facial recognition and have Jarvis track Weasley's movements since leaving. It might lead him straight to him. It might not. It was worth a try, he decided, and he made a mental note to ask Jarvis before they left.

"Then you can leave. We should be leaving within the hour," said Tony. Potter gave him a disbelieving glance. "No, I'm not lying this time."

Hermione made a noise in her sleep and shifted slightly, snuggling closer to him, not that it was possible mind. He stilled, not wishing to rouse her from sleep and he relaxed when she calmed.

"Are you sleeping with her?"

"Excuse me?!" Tony snapped, holding in a wince when it came out louder than he'd wished it to, luckily Hermione didn't move.

"Are you sleeping with her?" Potter repeated calmly, his expression carefully blank.

"That is none of your business or concern, as Poppins has pointed out before. But, no, I am not sleeping with her. Now, get out."

Potter was apparently stupid, for he did not budge.

"Do you want to?"

"That's none of your business."

"I'll take that as a yes."

"You're skating on thin ice, Potter," Tony warned, his tone dangerously low. "Do not test my patience, I don't care who you are, I won't hesitate to teach you some manners. Stop prying into her life and leave before you wake her. I don't want her disturbed."

Potter tilted his head, carefully examining their positioning, noting that they were both comfortable around each other, nothing that this obviously wasn't the first time they'd fallen asleep on a couch, snuggled together. His eyes moved lower, widening slightly when they landed on the white fluff-ball partially draped over his lap, sleeping contently.

"Sally," he spoke in little above a whisper. "She likes you?" A slight squeak broke through.

Despite his annoyance that the man wouldn't leave, despite the fact he was losing his patience and he was close to getting up from the couch and physically launching him out of the window, which would wake Hermione and that was something he didn't wish to do when she was so peaceful, he felt his mouth twitch into a smug smirk. The cat didn't like anyone but Hermione and him.

"Loves me, Potter," he corrected. "Now, get out."

Potter nodded slowly and turned his back to leave but he paused, peering at him over his shoulder.

"Don't hurt her."

"Like you give a fuck," Tony scoffed. "You watched for years as he ex emotionally and mentally abused her, badgered her into marrying him when she wasn't ready, as he betrayed her in every way possible. Why the fuck do you suddenly care now, hmmm? Why is it okay for you to warn a stranger off but not your friend?" Tony saw him flinch. "You have no right to pretend to be her protector. She's already got one. Me. Now, fuck off."

He saw the way his expression hardened, his face fell in sadness and then he sighed in defeat.

"Yeah, you're right, I did that," Potter agreed quietly. "I should've been there for her, and she doesn't need me to protect her, not when she's obviously got you, no matter your relationship. I will make it up to her. Just, keep an eye on her for me? Please? I might not have treated her as she deserved, I might've been a prat, but she's my sister and I love her, even if I didn't show it."

"I'm not gonna let anyone hurt her, especially you."

"That's fair," Potter nodded. "I understand that you don't like me..."

"Understatement of the year," Tony interrupted. "I've met politicians and terrorists I've hated less than you."

Potter shot him an annoyed glance, both for his comment and his interrupting him.

"Hermione's a carer, a mother hen, always has been, ever since I've known her, really. She takes care of everyone around her and she forgets to take care of herself. Just keep an eye on her. Her kindness and good heart have gotten her into a lot of trouble in the past," Potter revealed, his mouth twitching fondly. "Just make sure no one takes advantage of that because sometimes, she can't see when something or someone's bad for her."

And with that, Potter took his leave after a final glance to Hermione's sleeping face. Tony remained silent for several moments, listening for both Potter leaving and for a change in Hermione's breathing, wondering if she was truly sleeping or if she'd been pretending as she didn't wish to deal with Potter again, and Tony wouldn't blame her. But as the minutes ticked away and there was no change, he concluded she hadn't been woken and Tony wasn't certain how given that the conversation hadn't been all the quiet no matter his attempts. Perhaps she truly was exhausted.

When his phone vibrated on the coffee table, Tony carefully leaned forward and plucked it from the surface, his eyes scanning the message on the screen before he quickly shot off a reply. Once done, he looked down to Hermione once more, he regretfully woke her, Hermione making a sleepy noise of protest before her eyes slowly fluttered open, her eyelashes brushing her high cheekbones as she blinked away the grogginess and she offered a sleepy smile as she peered up at him.

Tony decided he could get very used to that smile.

"What is it?"She said through a yawn that she muffled with her hand.

"Happy should be here within fifteen minutes, we can load the car up and be on our way within the hour."

She sighed, stretching her arms out before her and then she slumped against him, making no move to get up. "We're going to McDonald's, aren't we?" She said knowingly.

"Obviously, I haven't had a cheeseburger since we arrived. I'm going through withdrawals."

"But that means we've got to drive past the airport and then double back on ourselves. Honestly, why don't you just have Jarvis pull up the branch number, phone and place an order and have someone deliver it to the airport? They're not going to say no, are they? What with it being you and all. It'll save us the time."

"I never thought of that," he admitted. "Why didn't I think of that?" His brow furrowed and lips pursed.

She rolled her eyes. "Because it was simple?" She offered.

"The food'll be cold."

"Maybe," she shrugged, "They'll likely wrap it up in one of those heat insulated bags delivery drivers have. And even if it is cold, I've seen you eat cheeseburgers hours after you've ordered them and there's a microwave on the jet if you wish to warm it up. If you have an issue with calling the branch, I'll see about calling the nearest taxi rink and bribe them to pick up the order and bring it to the airport. If the taxi has heated seats, even better. They can whack up the heating and keep the food warm."

"Honestly," he rolled his eyes.

"What? I want to get home as soon as possible, and going to McDonald's put an hour delay on our journey before we even get on the jet," she argued.

Tony felt his expression soften. He couldn't lie, he always enjoyed it when she referred to the Tower as her 'home'.

"Fine, we'll do that," he acquiesced. "You best make sure you've got everything packed away, we haven't got long."

"I'll go do that now."

~000~000~000~

"I've a question," said Hermione.

After arriving at the airport to find Tony's cheeseburgers waiting for him, payment and a generous tip had been given to the surprised taxi driver who'd barely stuttered out a request that Tony take a photo with him. Never one to miss a photo op, he'd agreed without a thought, having Hermione snapping several photos on the twenty-something driver's flip phone before he took his leave and they boarded the jet.

Tony had multitasked calming Hermione down, annoying her to distraction and eating his cheeseburgers during the jet's takeoff. Once Sally had been released from her carrier and she made herself comfortable on the couch, Hermione, still feeling worn out had gone to the bedroom, kicked off her shoes and made herself comfortable, but sleep wouldn't claim her.

A little over halfway through their flight, Tony had joined her, citing that he was bored out of his mind and he switched on the TV opposite the bed, selected a random movie and made himself comfortable beside her. Sally had soon joined them, the feline being asleep on the foot of the bed, sprawled out with her front and back legs stretched so wide they almost reached either side of the bed's edge.

"Hmm?" Tony hummed distractedly, his eyes on the tablet held in his hand.

"Earlier today, you said muggles were called such because they didn't have 'magic'," she reminded. "Why did you choose that word, in particular?"

"Seemed fitting," Tony shrugged. "It's boring when you refer to it as 'abilities', even if that's what it is. Magic sounds a lot cooler, and it rolls off the tongue easier."

Hermione hummed thoughtfully in response, the movie that was playing long since forgotten by both of them. It was just background noise.

"And do you believe in magic? Do you think it's real?"

"'Course not," Tony snorted. "There's no such thing."

Hermione felt her mouth twitch. "You're in for a surprise," she remarked. "There are plenty of things hidden in the universe that aren't thought to exist or be real, when in fact they are and they do."

"Meaning?" Tony prompted, setting the tablet beside him on the mattress and then turning to look at her.

Whilst she was laid flat on her back with her hands folded on her stomach, her knees bent and feet on the bed, Tony sat with his back propped up by pillows, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles.

"Exactly that."

"Is there something you wish to tell me?" He arched an eyebrow.

"Not yet, you're not ready."

"I am," he protested.

"You're not," she promised with a slight shrug.

Tony rolled his eyes. "I've got a few questions for you."

"Don't you always?" She looked to him amused.

"What's a galleon? Weasley called you a 'galleon digger'? It's quite obviously an insult, and one I assume is similar to a gold digger."

"Then you would be correct. My people have our own monetary system and currency. Where you have dollars, dimes and quarters, and Britain has pounds and pence, we have galleons, sickles and knuts."

"What's the exchange? The equivalent?" He asked curiously.

"US or UK?"

"Either, both," he shrugged.

"Well, there are 17 sickles in a galleon, and 29 knuts in a sickle. The last time I checked, 1 galleon was equivalent to $4.81 or just over £3.00."

"And is this used universally throughout your community?"

"France has their own currency known as benzants and the US has dragots and sprinks, however, all countries, continents and cities will accept galleons, sickles and knuts as it is the most universally used currency, which means there's never any need for a currency exchange before travelling which is a plus, and, we don't have to learn how to correctly use a different currency."

"That's interesting," he mused. "And what's an Auror badge? Potter said Weasley would lose his."

"An Auror works in law enforcement, police officers."

"You're telling me that asshole's a cop?" Tony questioned in disbelief.

"Certainly am," she nodded. "Not a very good one from what I've been hearing, either. He keeps going the way he is, and he'll be kicked out of the Auror Corps, if not for his behaviour then for his drinking. He's dangerously close to tipping into alcoholism territory. I'd offer help if he wasn't such an arsehole and I didn't think he'd throw it back in my face."

"You should've let me go after him," Tony grumbled, thinking on what Potter had said about the bastard booby-trapping the penthouse.

He was warring with whether he should tell Hermione or not, but if he admitted that Potter had shown up she'd want to know what'd happened and he wasn't certain he was ready to reveal the details yet. And if he did tell her, he assumed she'd be upset and he didn't like seeing her unhappy, it was best to just leave it for the time being.

"Wouldn't be good for publicity."

Tony snorted; she wasn't bothered about the harm it would cause Weasley, just the way it might affect his public image. That was his girl, he thought proudly.

"I'm Iron Man, everyone loves me."

"Fury hates you," she deadpanned.

"Doesn't count."

"So does most of New York's politicians, I remember reading about a very public court debate regarding your suit and the dangers it posed for others trying to replicate your technology."

"Doesn't count."

"I'm pretty sure terrorists hate you, too."

"Terrorists hate everyone. That's why they're terrorists."

"And weren't you banned from the Flower Drum? And that's why we had to find another Chinese restaurant to order from."

"I'm really beginning to dislike you," Tony scowled.

She smiled up at him. "Tough luck, I'm your roommate, you're stuck with me."

That wasn't such a bad thing, thought Tony.

"What's Azkaban?"

"You're like a damn sponge," Hermione remarked, bring note to the fact that Tony had obviously heard their conversations but he'd also seemed to have memorised it and was picking out keywords that didn't fit into the world he knew.

"Genius," he pointed to himself.

"Azkaban is a prison. A heavily guarded fortress on an island in the centre of the North Sea, where our community's most terrifying convicts are carted off to, usually for life sentences."

"I've flown over the North Sea before and never seen anything."

"Hidden from muggles," she offered with a shrug. "Something similar to the ring I've been giving you only it's much more advanced."

"Final question for the day," Tony began and Hermione snorted, not believing him. "What's it? You kept telling Weasley not to draw it?"

Tony observed her expression carefully; the way her nose crinkled, her forehead creased and her teeth sunk into her bottom lip, obviously deciding on her answer and choosing her words carefully. Had he gotten too close for comfort? Whatever 'it' was, would it reveal all of Hermione's secrets and would everything finally make sense?

"It's a... Conductor."

"Conductor?" Tony arched an eyebrow.

"Yes, you know, something to help with the flow of power? But not only that, it aids with control."

"Of?" He prompted.

"Our abilities. You see, our abilities can be used without the need for words, since most of the time there's an... Activation code. And they can be used without our... Conductors, but it's incredibly difficult and requires great focus, power and continuous practice and exercise, especially if doing both at the same time. Children have outbursts, our abilities being effected by our emotions but once they turn eleven, they head off to Hogwarts to learn to control them, as I'm sure you've figured out already. Hogwarts is a school for people like me, with abilities and that's why you've never heard of it, and it's why you'll never be able to see or find it. It's protected and hidden from muggles. Children are given their... Conductors, just before they start school, and that stops the outbursts and controls their abilities."

"Do you have one? A conductor?"

"Yes, I always have it with me. It's an unwritten rule that we carry it with us at all times, without out, we're pretty much defenceless unless we know how to use our abilities without it."

"Can I see it?"

"No. It's hidden in a place I generally don't tend to show the public."

Tony's eyes flashed, his mouth twitching into a smirk as he shifted onto his side to face her, his arm settling on the pillows as he propped his head up with the palm of his hand.

"Can I see it?" He repeated.

"No. You most certainly cannot," she rolled her eyes, distractedly hitting him in the stomach with the back of her hand, definitely not noticing the hard muscle beneath his t-shirt. Well, at least that's what she told herself.

"Spoilsport," he pouted. "You're always ruining my fun."

"I don't know what you mean, I'm the life of the party," she protested. Tony arched an eyebrow. "You've never seen me drunk. In my twenties, when I broke up with Ron, admittedly I did find myself drinking more than I usually would and Ginny and Fleur would come out with me. Well, Gin's a bad influence and she'd get me drunk and when I woke the next day, somehow having found myself on George's couch or in bed with Ginny, Harry having been kicked out for the night, she was never shy on revealing the details on what I'd been up to."

"Oh?" He tipped his head curiously.

"Hmm, some of it I can't tell you without revealing too much, but... Storming the DJ booth and demanding they play a specific song and not leaving until they do, ordering a round of drinks for everyone in the bar, stealing a guy's shirt and refusing to give it back, and no night is complete without a bit of table dancing and a bruised coccyx from falling off the table."

Tony found himself staring in complete surprise and seeing his reaction, Hermione couldn't help the snigger that morphed into laughter, her eyes on the verge of watering.

"Dr. Granger!" Tony mock-scolded. "My, my, you are full of surprises, aren't you? I never took you as the table dancing type and that is definitely something I'd pay to see."

"There's a lot you don't know about me," she shrugged. "And unfortunately for you, my table dancing days are over. It only lasted a few weeks before I pulled myself together, I couldn't be done with the hangovers."

"Party pooper," he complained and she childishly stuck her tongue out. "So, you said some people don't need this conductor, and, activation code, was it? Are you one of those?"

"Sometimes, depends on the... ability," she paused, almost having revealed a little too much by naming it a spell or charm, and she saw Tony eye her curiously, obviously noticing her near slip up. "As I said, doing it non-verbally and without a conductor is easier when done separately, but when doing both, it's quite difficult but depending on my intentions, it requires little effort these days given how long I've been practising."

"I want to say that surprises me, but it doesn't."

"You're accomplished in your world, I'm accomplished in mine."

"Final question?"

"I thought that was your final question," she reminded.

"Changed my mind. Owls? What's the deal with the owl thing?"

"You might find this one a little weird, but, as a way of communication in my community, we write letters and owls are trained as messengers."

"Nah, nope, no way," he shook his head. "Don't believe you, there's not a chance in Hell you're telling the truth. Mind reading? Sure, you've proven that. Ghosts? What the hell, I've seen and heard stranger shit, and you swore on your Godkids' lives, so, yeah, awesome, they're real. But owls-turned-mail men? Think again, Granger, 'cause you can't fool this genius."

She rolled her eyes. "I'm being completely serious. Owls are not wild animals but are often trained and kept as... Pets, and messengers. Owls are incredibly clever; they can find anyone. All we do is write a letter, tie it to the owl and give the name of the recipient and off it goes."

"You banged your head on the car window during the drive, didn't you? I'll have Jarvis arrange for a doctor to meet us on the landing strip so they might check you over for concussion."

Hermione slapped his hand away as he made to reach for the earpiece on the bedside table so he might have Jarvis do exactly as he'd said.

"No, I haven't bumped my head," she gave him a none too pleased glance. "I swear on the existence of Jaffa cakes."

Tony gasped in horror. "How dare you put my favourite snack at risk?!. What's next? Flushing my Cheddars down the toilet? Throwing my Aero out the door? Spitting in my Vimto?"

"Don't be so dramatic," she rolled her eyes.

"Dramatic! How would you like it if I defiled your Hob Cob things?"

"Hob Knobs," she corrected.

He sniggered, "I know, I just wanted you to say it."

"Idiot," she grumbled under her breath. "And if you go anywhere near my Hob Knobs..." Tony sniggered once more. "I'll lick each and every one of the Jaffa cakes."

"Who's being childish now?"

A knock on the door sounded and they both turned towards it, it being pushed opened further to reveal Happy stood in the doorway.

"Yes?" Tony questioned.

"Nothing, Sir," Happy responded, "I just thought it best to intervene before things get out of hand," he explained, fighting off a smile. "Captain Hillard is adamant he could hear you in the cockpit."

"You're my bodyguard, you're paid to protect me," Tony pointed out.

"Sorry, Sir, but not from her," he nodded towards Hermione. "She terrifies me and I don't wish to lose my cookie privileges."

Hermione smiled smugly and Tony's eyes darted between them.

"That's fair," Tony begrudgingly agreed.

Once, Tony had wound Hermione up to the point where she flat out refused to bake him brownies and after three days of being brownie-free, he'd felt like crying and all but begged on his knees that she stop punishing him.

~000~000~000~

Almost an hour later, Happy knocked on the door once more, and not receiving a response, he knocked again before slowly pushing the door open and peering inside.

His eyes were immediately drawn to the bed, not only because it was the dominant feature in the room, but because in the centre of it lay Hermione and Tony, both soundly sleeping. Now, that wasn't something to get all excited or surprised about, rather, it was how they were sleeping.

Tony lay on his back, one arm pillowed behind his head whilst the other had settled over Hermione's waist, holding her close to him whilst her cheek lay pressed to his chest, the glow of his arc-reactor shining through his t-shirt illuminating her peaceful, sleeping face. Her arm was thrown over Tony's stomach, her leg hooked over his knee and her hair all but suffocating him as he had his face turned towards her.

Happy blinked slowly, unsure that he was seeing what he was seeing or if it was just a figment of his imagination. It wasn't, it was real. Happy tilted his head a little, his eyes carefully examining the sleeping face of his boss.

Being employed by Tony for almost a decade, it was understandable that Happy had seen him in every way and state imaginable. But since his capture and the beginning of his alter ego Iron Man, Tony Stark suffered from nightmares, and it was one of the reasons the man avoided sleep and lived off caffeine, aside from the fact he was easily caught up in his projects, as well. If he didn't sleep then he didn't have to face his dreams. Happy had seen the effects the nightmares had on Tony; he'd seen the restlessness, the mood swings, the drinking... But he'd never seen him appear to be so peaceful.

Looking to Tony, his eyes were closed with nary a sign of movement beneath his eyelids, his forehead was smooth and free of creases, his lip didn't twitch or curve into a grimace, his breathing was slow and even and his body relaxed and calm.

He'd noticed a change in Tony since the arrival of Hermione. Being around them as often as he was, he'd seen how close the two had grown, he was witness to their friendship, to their admittedly amusing arguments and bickering, to their taking care of one another whether they realised they were doing it or not. He was witness to how they seemed to gravitate to one another when in the same room, he was witness to how protective Tony had become over Hermione.

And from someone on the outside, someone who saw them together frequently, he could see the subtle changes in their relationship. He could see the direction they were heading in. As much as he liked Pepper Potts, he hadn't liked her with Tony. They were better off as friends, if they could call their relationship that. With their relationship there always seemed to be downfalls, but Tony and Hermione?

Well, since entering his life, Tony couldn't appear to be any happier.

Not wishing to disturb them, and really, there was no point in discussing what he had to share with his boss if he was sleeping, Happy slowly backed out of the room, wincing when his foot caught on the door.

"What is it?" Tony grumbled sleepily.

Happy lifted his wide gaze back to the bed, seeing his boss' eyes slowly peel open, completely unbothered by the fact that Happy had caught him and Hermione in such an intimate position, and clearly not making a move to fully wake or draw away from her.

Happy cleared his throat and adjusted his posture, standing tall.

"Sir, Captain Hillard wishes to inform you that there is to be a delay to arrival."

"Why?"

"He has been informed that an aircraft is having issues with their communications. Although there appears to be no problems with the craft itself, we are set to enter the same flight space. As a precaution and to prevent a potential collision, not that one is to be expected, he has been instructed to alter his flight plan."

"Delay?"

"Possibly ninety minutes, Sir."

"Okay," was the only reply he gave, his eyes closing sleepily and his nose burying in Hermione's wild hair.

"Would you like me to wake you before arrival, Sir?"

Tony hummed in response and Happy nodded once before backing out of the room and shutting the door over, being sure to leave it open a crack should the little white fluff-ball that was Hermione's cat wish to leave.

As he turned and headed back to his seat, Happy couldn't fight off the smile.

Tony and Hermione?

Happy wholeheartedly approved.