CHAPTER FOURTEEN


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

Right, I've done quite a bit of research into the timeline of events, and nothing seems to be concrete in regards to specific dates and times, but I have mentioned previously that I'm changing the timeline to suit my needs, so, please remember that in regards to some of the events in this chapter, or that may happen in the future.

Q&A

I'm so glad that you all enjoyed the little trip into Tony's mind and Happy's appearance. I see his relationship with Hermione as more of an older protective brother type of thing, so I thought it important that his approval be needed.

Cassnova5424 – Chickens will do just fine.

Wonderland-fae – Quite possibly. I admit, Sally is modelled after my cat, and she will steal anything that is not bolted down, and we've recently gotten a Labrador puppy, and between them, my life is now hell. I love them both, but my life is hell.


Page count: 17


Tony was beginning to appreciate napping on the couch with the TV playing faintly in the background and Hermione sleeping soundly beside him.

With the delay during the flight and traffic, they had returned to the tower a little after lunchtime and the first thing Hermione did? Dart head first to her lab without a single glance his way, and leaving him behind in the middle of the foyer in Stark Tower.

Rolling his eyes, he'd followed after her at a slower pace, allowing Happy to take care of their luggage whilst he changed into something more comfortable and appropriate for working in his own lab. Being in London had given him a few ideas he wished to expand on.

Before Tony realised it, dinner had passed and with no sign of Hermione or the smell of her cooking in the kitchen, and Tony wouldn't have known that night had fallen if it weren't for Jarvis interrupting him and pulling him from his projects. By the time he stepped away from his workstation, it was approaching nine o'clock and he was starving, his stomach giving a rumble in encouragement that he eat something.

And as he prepared to head down to Hermione's lab to physically drag her away from her work for the night, she stepped out from the lift, looking tired but happy. After agreeing that it was too late for her to cook, an order was placed for takeout and the food arrived sometime later. They ate together on the couch, Hermione telling him that her experiments had remained stable during their absence, and she believed that she would start seeing results in the near future. She still refused to tell him what she was actually doing.

It was nearing midnight, and after falling asleep some time ago, Tony felt himself being pulled from slumber as he tried desperately to cling to it. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful.

He shifted to get more comfortable before he slowly peeled one eye open and then the other, his arm automatically flexing and his gaze being drawn downwards, seeing Hermione tucked into his side as she slept peacefully, her feet tucked beneath her, her cheek to his chest and her arm folded over his stomach whilst his own limb was curled around her waist. Sally was sprawled on the couch to his left, taking up a full cushion despite her small size, and she released a series of purrs with the occasional snore, amusing him.

Feeling as if there was a hole being burned into the back of his head, Tony lifted his head and peered over the back of the couch, sighing at the sight of one Pepper Potts. Dressed impeccably in her business attire, she was approaching him, the scowl fixed on her face and the speed of her steps an indication of her mood.

"Sir, Ms. Potts, is here," Jarvis voiced.

"I can see that, Jarvis," Tony responded dryly. "Next time, warn a guy a little faster. Maybe before they arrive?"

"Yes, Sir."

"What the Hell is wrong with you?" Pepper said in lieu of a greeting. "Stop ignoring my calls, texts and e-mails, I've been trying to get a hold of you for days. I know you're ignorant but was there any need for that? Why did you feel the need to jet off to London and without telling me?"

"It's my jet and it's my life. I can go where I want when I want." Tony rolled his eyes as he looked away from her and then glanced down at Hermione, not having the chance to think of the outcome Pepper seeing her may have before it was too late.

"Not when you have other commitments; I had to cancel five meetings, two guest appearances and a demonstration because you disappeared," she replied, annoyed with his response. "And who is this?" She questioned, Tony hearing the rustling of a newspaper. He didn't need to look to know what she was referring to and he felt his mouth tug into a smile.

"And that's your business because?" He prompted.

"I need to know of anything that may affect your image or impact Stark Industries, so I can do damage control."

"The clue's in the name. Stark Industries. You've no right or reason to pry into my personal life, not anymore. You don't see me tracking your movements or running background checks on every guy you date, when anyone in your life might also impact Start Industries, Miss. CEO," he emphasised.

He knew she planned to respond but she and her footsteps fell silent and when he turned his head, he saw her stunned expression as she stood by the side of the couch, the newspaper gripped in her hand with half of the photo on the front page being visible; the photo of himself and Hermione from the fundraiser.

"Who is that?!" She demanded.

Tony eyed her carefully, looking for signs. He didn't believe her to be jealous, just surprised.

"None of your business," he shrugged, doing his best not to jostle Hermione too much. She really was a heavy sleeper; either that or she was exhausted.

"Jarvis?" She questioned expectantly.

"Dr. Hermione Jean Granger, Ms. Potts," the AI responded.

"Dr. Hermione Granger?" She repeated, arching an eyebrow. Tony sighed.

"Yes, Ms. Potts. Dr. Granger works for Mr. Stark; her private lab is located on the 91st floor."

"I wasn't aware there was a lab on that floor," she remarked, eyeing Tony suspiciously. "What's her purpose?"

"That is classified."

"Classified?" She echoed.

"Yeah, as in, none of your business," Tony interrupted.

She pursed her lips. "She obviously didn't apply for a position with the company through HR," she said.

"She was headhunted, by me."

"Why?" Pepper challenged.

"She's the best in her field."

"And that is?"

"None of your business," he repeated. "I don't need your permission to hire new personnel, it's still my company," he pointed out. "And she is a private hire. I am paying her wage, not the company payroll. You have no say in regards to her employment or the terms of it. She is off-limits. And be quiet, I don't want you waking her. She doesn't sleep enough, as it is."

Pepper folded her arms over her chest, her gaze analysing the sleeping woman closely, seeing the movement of his arm automatically tightening around Hermione's waist protectively.

"Are you sleeping with her?"

"That's none of your business," he responded, his tone colder than before; a warning.

She hummed thoughtfully before her eyes caught the newspaper she was grasping, and after lifting it up to her eye level, her gaze moved between Hermione and the photo, most likely recognising that the woman beside him and the woman in the photo were one in the same. Pepper knew Tony; or at least, she knew him enough to know that he didn't take dates to events and fundraisers; no, he liked to be free to take home whomever he wished. He'd hated attending functions with her.

"She's important to you, isn't she?" She said knowingly.

Tony released a slow, steady breath. "She is," he admitted. "She's my best friend."

Pepper arched a disbelieving eyebrow as she glanced between them once more, seeming thoughtful.

"She's off-limits," Pepper agreed with a nod, "But," she continued, pinning him with a glare when he sighed. "I need you to attend all of your meetings this week, without fail or excuse."

"Fine," he agreed grumpily.

"Good," she straightened her posture. "Is she a threat or cause of concern?"

Tony gave her a look of annoyance. "No, she isn't," he confirmed. "If anything, the work she's doing will most likely benefit us, no matter the accreditations or trademarks. Now go home, it's late; what are you even doing here?"

She shrugged. "I needed to surprise you when you least expected it to prevent you from avoiding me," she explained. "Is that a cat?!" She said suddenly, her voice rising an octave in surprise as she finally caught sight of the white fluff-ball that lay on the cushion beside him, her head propped up against his thigh as she slept.

"Obviously," he rolled his eyes. "She's the Doc's," he responded, running a hand through the soft fur of the feline and receiving no response, only the movement of a stretch before she settled down.

"But you hate cats," she stated.

"Sally's alright," he shrugged one shoulder, "When she's not stealing from my plate or bullying me for my coffee," he grumbled.

"Did something happen to you whilst you were away?" Her brow furrowed in concern. "Spend too much time in that death trap suit? Oxygen deprivation? Concussion?"

"Don't be so dramatic, there's nothing wrong with me."

"I beg to differ."

Tony froze, his eyes lowering in the direction of the mumbled words, seeing movement beneath Hermione's eyelids before they fluttered open, the sleepy glaze soon disappearing as she grew alert, her attention automatically locking on Pepper. Tony felt her body stiffen and he recognised the expression on her face; she was analysing Pepper, deciding whether she was friend or foe. It lasted only a moment or two before he felt her relax and she drew away from him, sitting into an upright position. He missed the heat.

"Sorry, I wasn't aware we were expecting a guest; I'd have made more of an effort to stay awake, otherwise," said Hermione.

"You're British," Pepper noted automatically, looking to Tony with an expression that conveyed amusement and understanding.

"I am," Hermione agreed. "Hermione Granger, nice to meet you," she stood to her feet and offered her hand.

"Pepper Potts," the redhead responded, accepting the handshake and setting the newspaper down on the coffee table.

"Ah, so you're the famous Pepper Potts. I was wondering when we'd finally meet. Tony's told me a lot about you."

"I'm sure he has," Pepper gave Tony an unimpressed glance. "And no doubt all negative."

"Well, he does complain about you a lot," Hermione confessed, "And he often says how annoying you are, but I don't tend to take notice of him. After all, he's the most annoying person I've ever met, so I can't believe everything he says."

"Hey!" Tony protested, scowling at her whilst Pepper's mouth tugged into a smile.

"But he's quite easy to control," she continued, receiving a noise of disagreement from the redhead. "I've found that all you have to do is wave a brownie in front of him and he'll pretty much do anything you ask."

"You bake?" Pepper tipped her head slightly.

"And cook," Hermione nodded, "As often as I can; I'm trying to cut down on junk food and get something more healthy into this one," she gestured to Tony over her shoulder with a jab of her thumb. "He has a diet worse than my Godchildren. But with Happy, he seems to have developed a bit of an unhealthy obsession with my cookies, and although I shouldn't encourage it, he's a sweet man that has to put up with this one," she gestured to Tony once more, "And his ridiculous demands, more so than I do."

"Okay, stop talking about me like I'm not here," Tony interrupted.

Hermione peered over her shoulder at him. "What?" She questioned innocently. "You can be a bit of a diva," she remarked, hearing Pepper's snort.

"I'm not a diva," he protested, rising to his feet to scowl down at her.

"You're only proving my point," she shrugged casually before looking back to Pepper. "Anyway, it's late and I better head to bed and get some actual sleep. It was nice meeting you, and if you ever want something baking, just pop by and I'll whip it up for you."

"This is my home, she can't just come by whenever she feels like it," Tony injected.

Hermione arched an eyebrow as she looked at him. "No? Then why does she have access to your private floor?" She questioned.

"I'm really starting to dislike you," he grumbled.

"That's fine, no more brownies," she shrugged.

"What? No! You can't do that!"

Hermione laughed. "See what I mean?" She asked Pepper. "He'd do anything for a brownie. Anyway, goodnight." She offered a smile before she collected her sleeping feline from the couch and settled her in her arms as she yowled in protest of being woken, and then she headed for her bedroom, down the corridor.

"Goodnight," Pepper parroted. "Hey," she called after her, waiting for Hermione to stop and look back at her. "How long have you worked for Tony?"

"Oh, it feels like forever, but only a few months. I hope to see you again, but I'm sure I will soon," and with that, Hermione disappeared from view.

"Months?" Pepper echoed in surprise. "Where did she go? Does she live here?" Pepper questioned, tearing her gaze from the empty corridor and to Tony, wondering why she'd disappeared down there when the last she knew, there weren't any sleeping quarters other than Tony's room.

"None of your business," Tony folded his arms over his chest.

Pepper mirrored him and turned to face him, locking gazes.

"So that's why you jetted off to London," she remarked. "Because of her."

"No," Tony denied. "She's been cooking me British food for weeks, I felt like trying it from the source. And she was scheduled to visit her family; it was easier to just take the jet. And I spent the time searching for a new office location; I've found two with the potential. I've had Jarvis send you the details."

"You've been putting that off for three years," she blinked in surprise.

Tony shrugged. "Found the motivation to finally do it."

She hummed, not believing him. "You've let her put you on a diet?" She added, knowing how difficult it was to get him to eat anything other than red meat and candy, if he ate at all. Tony went from one extreme to the next; there was no middle ground.

"I'm not on a diet," he denied. "Just eating more home-cooked meals."

Pepper tipped her head thoughtfully. "You seem different," she mused before seeming to shake off her thoughts. "So, are you sleeping with her?" She asked once more, receiving an annoyed glare. "Are you?" She pushed.

"No, I'm not," he admitted.

"Really?" Both eyebrows rose high on her forehead. "She's put you on a diet, you allow her cat on the couch, and you do anything she tells you, and she's not sleeping with you as an incentive?"

"I'd stop whilst you're ahead," Tony warned, "I won't have you implying anything or insulting her. There's not a mean bone in her body; she's a good woman."

Pepper's mouth twitched into something resembling a smirk-smile. "I didn't say she wasn't," she retorted. "I was insulting you," she shrugged, unconcerned. "But what makes her so special that you're a suddenly changed man."

"I'm not."

"You are," she argued confidently. "I don't know what it is exactly, but you're different, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing, either. Is it her? Is she the one?"

"The one?" Tony questioned.

"The one to settle down with," she clarified. "There's no point in lying to me, I know you too well," she pointed out.

"I don't know," he sighed, heavily slumping onto the couch and raking a hand through his hair. "She might be. I don't know… She's… Not you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She bristled.

Tony shrugged. "Our relationship wasn't healthy for either of us, don't deny it. You were, are, a massive pain in my ass, and don't get me wrong, she is too, but… She's just… Not you."

"I'll try not to take offence," she snarked.

"It's late, Pepper, get yourself home."

"You've a meeting at nine o'clock sharp, don't be late and don't you dare cancel on me," she warned before she turned and headed for the lift, only, she paused and turned to face in his direction. "If she makes you happy, then whatever your relationship, I'm happy for you."

Tony released a slow, steady breath.

"And any woman that can make fun of you as easily as she did and can still make you happy has my respect."

~000~000~000~

When the lift door closed, Pepper Potts removed her phone from her blazer pocket and sent a short message to Happy Hogan.

Dr. Hermione Granger? Background check.

Tony might've told her the woman was off-limits, but that didn't mean she couldn't do a little research to ensure that she wasn't a threat to the company or to Tony. Of course, she didn't want Tony to know, and so asking Jarvis to do it wasn't an option. That left Happy, and being Tony's bodyguard, it was his duty to ensure Tony's safety and well-being; whether that be from weapons, physical attacks, or women he 'dated'.

Pepper wasn't surprised when she received a reply before she reached the foyer, no matter the late hour.

Not needed. I approve.

Pepper blinked in surprise. Happy Hogan giving his approval? That was as rare as Tony complying with a full day's schedule of meetings, and without complaint or attempt to weasel his way out of it.

Are you certain? She responded.

Positive. I've witnessed their growing relationship. All feelings are true and mutual on both sides. She's a good woman and she's what he needs.

Well, thought Pepper. She hadn't seen that one coming.

When her phone buzzed, alerting her to another text message, she glanced down at the screen.

Try her peanut butter cookies. They're THE best.

Pepper snorted and slipped her phone back into her pocket, stepping out of the lift and walking through the foyer as she headed for the exit and to the car waiting outside to take her to her apartment.

If Happy approved and Tony was happy, (and she assumed he was; he would never allow anyone to put him on a diet or bring a hated pet into his home otherwise) then Pepper would be happy for him.

~000~000~000~

It was a week after her return to New York when Hermione considered apparating into the building as to avoid being seen, but, should someone wonder how she got into the building without going through the normal means and entrances, it may cause a potential security issue and draw Tony's suspicion.

As a result, she entered the foyer of Stark Tower with her head down and her hood up, her face hidden as she greeted the night-time security team on the front desk, and she headed straight for the lift. Before stepping out, she poked her head out into the room to ensure there was no one around.

She'd barely made it a few paces towards her room before she halted to a stop and winced when she heard Happy's voice calling out to her, evidently being in the kitchen.

"I thought you'd be at home by now," she said, her back facing him and her face still hidden.

"Mr. Stark is on a conference call with Australia; there's a nine hour time difference," he answered. "Why are you sneaking in?"

"I'm not," she denied.

"It looked like sneaking to me," he rebutted.

"Tony's not nearby, is he?"

"He's in his lab on a conference call," he reminded. "Why? Is there something you don't want him to see? And why won't you look at me?"

Hermione sighed. "Okay, if I turn around, promise me you won't get mad, and promise me you won't tell Tony."

"If it is a matter of your health, then I can't promise that."

"Happy, please?" She pleaded. "I don't want Tony to know. If he found out, he'd kill someone."

She could feel his suspicious gaze trained on her back.

"I won't tell him."

"Promise?"

He hesitated for a moment before agreeing, "Promise."

Hermione breathed deeply before slowly turning around and lifting her head, pausing before she lowered her hood.

"Fuck!" She heard Happy breathe out and she winced. She'd never heard him swear before. "What happened?" He demanded, closing the distance between them and glancing down at her in concern and anger.

Yes, she supposed she did look something awful, didn't she? A bust nose and a bruising right eye wasn't something she'd been expecting to return home with either.

"Don't tell Tony," she reminded quickly.

"What happened?" He repeated, giving her a look that dared her to lie to him.

"Well, I went for a walk. I needed a little fresh air after being in my lab all day," she began.

"And?" He prompted when she paused.

"I may have stumbled on a woman being mugged."

"And you got involved?! That's dangerous. You could've been hurt. You were hurt," he scowled down at her.

"I had to help her," she said firmly. "And in any case, I wasn't hurt because of that."

"What? Who did you help now?"

She shifted on her feet nervously.

"No one. After I helped the woman, I walked her to Emma's and waited for her taxi to arrive. She was only nineteen and I didn't want to leave her. When I left Emma's, I crossed paths with a few drunks."

She saw him stiffen and his expression was deadly.

"They got a little too close for comfort, and I don't think they'd have actually tried anything, but I wasn't taking that risk. I can't remember what happened actually, but I hit him and then he hit me, and I ran away and they followed me. I hid behind a dumpster in an alleyway… Don't you dare tell Tony," she threatened.

"I have to; you know this is something he'd want to know about."

"Happy, you're his bodyguard, not mine, and it's your job to protect him, even if that's from himself," she pointed out. "I can see how angry you are; how do you think Tony would react if he knew? He'd kill someone and we both know he has the means and capability to find out who did it and he wouldn't think twice about harming him."

"And how do you expect to keep this from him?" He gestured to her face with an angry wave of his hand.

"I have my ways," was the only response she gave. She couldn't very well tell him about her magic, could she? "I mean it, Happy, don't tell him. Not only will I not forgive you, but I'll never make you cookies again."

His mouth pressed into a thin line.

"And that goes for you, too," she looked up at the ceiling. "I know you're listening, do not tell Tony about this. In fact, forget this entire conversation happened, got it?"

It was silent for a moment before, "Yes, Dr. Granger," sounded.

"Good."

After pinning Happy with a look of warning, she turned on her heel and continued on her journey to her bedroom, only she paused mid-way.

"Happy?"

She felt his eyes watching her, even if he didn't verbally respond.

"You're an ex-boxer, aren't you?"

"Yeah?"

She took a deep breath before twisting to look at him over her shoulder and saying shyly, "Will you teach me self-defence?"

Barely a second passed before he said, "Meet me in the gym in 5 minutes."

"We can't do it here, if Tony finds outs…"

"I will loop the security camera footage," Jarvis interrupted.

"What did I say about listening into other's conversations?" She pursed her lips unhappily.

"You said it was rude, Dr. Granger," he responded.

Hermione sighed. "Well, I suppose you were created by Tony, so it doesn't surprise me that you continue to do it. Thank you, Jarvis." Turning her focus to Happy, she continued with, "Will we have time?"

"Mr. Stark has approximately seventy-five minutes remaining of the meeting, most likely more should he continue to fall asleep and Ms. Potts chastise him."

Hermione's mouth twitched into a small smile.

"Okay, five minutes," she agreed.

~000~000~000~

"Have you been in the gym?"

Hermione froze, pausing in her steps as she made her way to her bedroom.

She and Happy had been in the gym for an hour exactly when she decided to call it a night and return well before Tony was expected to finish his meeting. Happy had been surprised when she arrived looking completely normal and she'd simply said it was the power of a good concealer, when in reality, she'd washed her face free of blood and plastered her eye with Bruise Removal Paste and fitted a Glamour Charm over the top. Tony would be none the wiser.

"I thought you were in a meeting," she responded, avoiding his question as she turned around, seeing him sitting on the couch with his tablet in hand.

"Pepper kicked me out."

"That explains it," she rolled her eyes. She wouldn't be surprised if he annoyed her on purpose, knowing he'd be asked to leave.

"Were you in the gym?" He repeated. "In the time I've known you, you've been nowhere near it."

There was a small swell of panic in her chest before she squashed it down.

"I thought a change was in order," she replied. "It's time I got myself back into shape."

Tony deliberately gave her the once over. "There's nothing wrong with you or your shape."

"Aesthetically, maybe not in your opinion or even mine, I meant physical shape. I've changed my diet so I'm not eating as much rubbish and I do feel better for it, however, I'm tired of being out of breath from simply walking up a flight of stairs."

He snorted. "We have an elevator. The only staircase in the building is that one," he gestured to the one that led to his own bedroom, when he deigned to use it. "And the one that leads to the roof from my lab."

"Not the point. And you should really think about changing that. We're all screwed should there be a technical malfunction or a power cut and the lift no longer works."

"There won't be one," he replied confidently. "My systems are flawless."

"If you say so," she shrugged. "Oh, I almost forgot, I have something for you."

"A present?" He perked up.

"Not quite."

She crossed to the kitchen and reached for her handbag, slipping her hand inside and removing a single item before she crossed over to him, holding it out expectantly.

He glanced at it suspiciously before he set his tablet aside and took it from her, staring down at it in confusion.

"What is it?"

"My birthday present."

His eyes darted up to her and back to his hand before they widened. "The phone!" He cried in realisation. "It's… It's… What did you do to it?!" He demanded, turning it over in his hands and inspecting the damage.

"Well, I was trying to send an email this morning and it just…Poofed."

"Poofed?" He echoed, horrified.

"Yeah," she shrugged. "Poofed. It exploded, right in my face."

"It was bulletproof!"

"Yes, but apparently not explosive proof."

He let out an agonised whine.

"You broke it. I can't believe you broke it! And it's only been a week!"

"I'm surprised it lasted that long, to be honest," she admitted. "I'm actually quite impressed. Anyway, didn't you say you were bored? There's a new project to keep you busy. Good luck, I'm heading to bed."

"Doc, you can't just leave me here like this!" He called after her. "I'm a wounded man!"

"Not as wounded as the phone!" She called back over her shoulder, sniggering when she heard his horrified cry.

Hermione, 1. Stark phone, 0.

~000~000~000~

Weeks continued to pass and days blended into one another, and whilst nothing seemed to change in regards to their routine or schedule, Hermione did notice that Tony was attending more and more of Pepper Potts' scheduled meetings, even if they were mostly done through a conference call, and she could admit that she was curious as to why but she didn't wish to broach the subject and be nosing into his life and personal matters, at the risk of ruining their friendship.

Tony was still unaware of her self-defence lessons with Happy and the reasoning behind it, and she was happy with that fact. In fact, she was starting to find some enjoyment in spending time in the gym, even if she wasn't exercising as she'd led Tony to believe, rather, she'd been introduced to yoga through Pepper Potts.

It was odd, thought Hermione. Happy had just left after one of their training sessions (always scheduled during one of Tony's meetings and with Jarvis helping to keep the secret by looping the security footage) when she was preparing to leave and Pepper Potts unexpectedly walked into the room with a rolled-up yoga mat under her arm.

Hermione could admit that she'd felt a little self-conscious.

There she was, dressed in baggy jogger bottoms and an oversized t-shirt with dirty trainers on her feet, her hair partially up with the rest having fallen free of its restraint, sweating like a pig and her face red. And then Pepper Potts stood before in branded black tight leggings, the matching sports bra and trainers, and her red hair pulled back into a perfect low ponytail.

The woman hadn't looked surprised to see her there, so Hermione hadn't been certain if she'd come to the gym at that specific time or not, knowing she'd be there, especially when Tony was otherwise occupied. After an awkward exchange and Hermione gathering her hoody and readying to take her leave, Pepper had unrolled her yoga mat and seemingly had a second one placed to her left, before she asked Hermione to join her. To Hermione, it hadn't felt like a request, more of an order.

She'd nervously agreed and moved to sit beside the redhead and before she knew it, they were laughing and getting along swimmingly. It took little time for Hermione to realise that the woman reminded her a little of Ginny. After that day, Pepper met Hermione three times a week in the gym, and they met once a week for lunch in the city, always visiting the same spot, a favourite of Pepper's.

It was nice having a friend that wasn't Tony and that was female, and whilst they never shared anything too private considering they just met, Hermione liked that she could talk to someone about the things she didn't feel comfortable talking to Tony about, no matter the severity. Of course, she had noticed that Pepper always managed to bring the conversation back to Tony and their relationship and Hermione was always able to steer the conversation in a different direction and away from the topic. Pepper always gave her a knowing smirk and Hermione always played dumb. It was something of a game they'd developed.

That particular night, she and Pepper had decided on dinner as they'd both been unable to attend lunch, Hermione, due to an unstable experiment and Pepper, a last minute meeting. She'd arrived home later than she'd expected and was a little unnerved when she stepped out of the lift into darkness, the lights only coming on when they detected movement from her. She glanced around, surprised that Tony wasn't waiting up for her (and despite him swearing that he wasn't, she knew he did) and there was no sound or movement coming from his workstation, a concerned frown pulled at her brow.

He hadn't told her he was going out that night.

Shaking it off and reminding herself that he was simply her friend and roommate and that they weren't together or in a relationship and he could do anything he wanted without having to tell her or ask for permission, she slipped off her shoes and coat and treaded barefoot to her bedroom, finding Sally snoozing on her bed.

After undressing and jumping through the shower, she slipped her pyjamas on and climbed into bed, determined to get some sleep.

Unfortunately, knowing Tony wasn't in the building and there being no noise keeping her awake, Hermione couldn't drift off no matter how hard she tried. And no matter how many times she told herself she wasn't worried, she definitely was.

She'd put an alert by the lift some time ago, so when anyone stepped out, she would be notified. The moment her wand buzzed, she was up and out of bed, darting down the corridor and had she had socks on, she'd have gone arse over tit when she halted to a stop.

The sight that met her, she wasn't expecting.

Happy was midway towards Tony's room, half-carrying half-dragging a seemingly unconscious Tony Stark in the same direction.

"What happened? Is he hurt?" She demanded, her voice rising in panic as she darted over to them. Happy paused in his steps and she moved to stand before him, her hands reaching out to lift Tony's lolling head, seeing his unfocused gaze.

She smelt it immediately. He smelt like a brewery.

"Aside from a monstrous hangover in the morning, he'll be fine," Happy replied.

"What happened? Why is he like this?"

She could feel the concern and panic. She'd never seen him like this before. She didn't think she'd seen anyone like that before, not even after the war when everyone was dealing with PTSD or celebrating their victory.

"He's been drinking."

"Yes, Happy. I can smell that, thank you," she said snappily, seeing him flinch. "Why?" She prompted. He hesitated. She narrowed her eyes. "Why?" She repeated.

He hesitated for a moment longer before saying, "It's the anniversary."

"Of?"

"When he was taken prisoner."

Hermione's breath caught momentarily. No, she certainly hadn't been expecting that.

"Yes, that'll do it," she muttered. She'd dealt with the same thing before, only know, she threw herself into her work rather than a bottle. "Well, let's get him to bed and I'll see to him."

"I don't think…"

"I'm a doctor, Happy. I know what I'm doing," she interrupted.

He seemed to be analysing her before he gave in, Hermione moving out of the way and allowing him to make his way up the staircase, which admittedly, did take some time. Hermione took only a second to glance around Tony's room, having never seen it before, and surprisingly, it was quite sparse. It held the same theme as the rest of the penthouse, but it only had a ridiculously large bed that looked out onto the city through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and a bedside cabinet on either side of the bed that sat a lamp each.

Hermione pulled the blanket aside and then moved out of the way, allowing Happy to set Tony on the bed, reaching out to steady him when he swayed and almost tipped forward.

"Thank you, I've got it from here. Let Pepper know that Tony's in no fit state to attend any meetings or obligations he may have tomorrow, and take the day off. He won't be needing you… Honestly, Happy. I know what I'm doing, he's not my first psychologically damaged drunk, I've seen a fair few in my time," she promised, and she was not joking. The War had damaged thousands of people in various ways.

He nodded slowly in begrudging agreement.

"I'll take care of him."

"I know," he responded, giving her a look that she was sure was supposed to mean something but she didn't quite understand "He's in good hands."

With one final glance to both of them, he turned on his heels and took his leave, Hermione hearing his footsteps on the staircase and echoing throughout the silent penthouse until the lift doors sounded.

Sighing, she turned her eyes to Tony, seeing that he was staring up at her but his eyes wandered as he struggled to focus.

"Tony, do you know where you are?"

He blinked in response.

Merlin, it was frightening, she thought, seeing Tony being so hammered that he was actually silent. She'd have to get a Hangover Potion into him somehow, and she'd have to keep an eye on him throughout the night to make sure he didn't choke on his own vomit should he decide he needed to throw up. It looked like she wouldn't be getting any sleep.

"Do you know who I am?" She asked him. She needed to know if he was aware of his surroundings.

His brow furrowed in thought. "Doc Poppins," he responded, and it took Hermione a moment to decipher the words through his slurred response.

"Good," she nodded to herself. "Well, first, you need to sleep this off, so, let's get you ready for bed. Come on, shoes off," she encouraged, kneeling down to remove his shoes and socks and setting them under the bed to prevent him from tripping over them in the morning. Standing to her feet, she reached out, her hands settling on his shoulders. "Blazer, too," she said, helping him to shrug it off his shoulders and pull it over his wrists.

As she turned and moved to hang it up on the edge of the curtain tieback, she heard movement and was quick to return to Tony's side lest he falls over and injures himself.

"Tony!" She cried, automatically covering her eyes with her hands, seeing that Tony was midway through trying to unbutton his shirt after already tugging his trousers off and leaving them in a pile on the floor. A few minutes ago, Happy had to physically drag and carry him up the stairs and now he was capable of undressing himself?

"Very warm," he slurred, sounding a little annoyed and she might have laughed if the circumstances were different.

Taking a breath, she realised there was nothing she could do but prevent him from stripping entirely, and so, she reluctantly lowered her hands, somewhat relieved that he seemed to have decided to leave his undershirt and boxers alone.

"Quickly, get into bed," she made a shooing gesture with her hands, moving closer and helping to steady him when he swayed on his feet.

Tony put up a fight worse than her Godchildren, and when she finally did manage to get him to lay down, he face-planted the mattress with a 'thud' and refused to move from that position. Rolling her eyes and sighing, she forcibly covered him with the blanket and briefly considered using a Sticking Charm to prevent him from kicking it off and to ensure he didn't roll out of bed, but the way in which he laid perfectly still doing a remarkable impression of a corpse had her thinking otherwise. In fact, that reason alone had her reaching out and checking his pulse to ensure he was still alive.

She debated her next move. She knew she wouldn't be able to sleep with Tony being in his current condition, so was she best off conjuring an armchair and staying nearby, or casting a series of Alert Wards and waiting out the night sitting on the couch?

She couldn't decide and she had her decision made for her.

Hearing a noise, she leaned over to better hear him and he unexpectedly rolled over onto his side and reached for her, his hand wrapping around her wrist quite tightly for a man as drunk as he was. He gave a strong tug and she lost her balance, tipping forward and landing awkwardly on the bed.

"Tony, let go," she scowled at him, trying to tug herself free but the best she could do was manoeuvre until she was sitting upright with her legs outstretched.

He looked at her dazedly, oblivious to her attempts of trying to break free of his hold.

"Tony, you have to let me go and go to sleep."

He gave a slow blink and Hermione thought she'd gotten through to him when he released her wrist, however, she was mistaken. He only released her wrist so he might shuffle closer to her and completely taking her by surprise, his arm folded over her waist and he pillowed his head against her stomach, his heavyweight pinning her down.

"Seriously, Tony?" She sighed.

Glancing down at him, his eyes were closed and he burrowed his other arm beneath her, in-between her back and the pillows that propped her up.

She never took him as that type of drunk. If she was honest, she'd have thought he might've been a bit of a mean drunk, when in reality, he was a clingy drunk. Harry was the same, and so was George. The number of times she'd woken up to find a drunken George asleep next to her in her bed was atrocious. Of course, this was before he had kids, and when he'd been dating Angelina, Hermione would find the woman passed out on her couch and on one occasion, in her shower, whilst George stole most of the space in her bed. Hermione wasn't certain how Angelina hadn't felt jealous or deemed their closeness and friendship weird at the time, but she was grateful for it. Because if George had been forced to choose between them, Hermione knew he'd have chosen her, and she never wanted to come in-between his relationships or his chance at happiness. Thankfully, it all worked out for the best and George had a wife that understood him and his bond with her.

Dealing with clingy drunks was something she was accustomed to. And currently, Tony was acting very much like a child that needed comfort, and she supposed, she couldn't refuse him, quite literally; he was too heavy.

She sighed once more and tipped her head back against the large headboard, her hand automatically coming up to brush through his hair in a comforting gesture.

The poor man, she thought. What must he be going through to have resorted to such measures in an attempt to escape, cope or forget the traumatic experience that happened to him? She could relate, somewhat. Whilst their outcomes and experiences were different, they were both captured and held against their will, and they were both permanently scarred. Seeing him as he currently was, she knew that he hadn't yet processed or accepted what happened to him, and she promised herself that she would do everything she could to help him.

She felt movement as his head lifted slightly and he peered up at her through squinted eyes. She supposed he wasn't asleep after all, just ignorant.

"Doc?"

"Hmmm?" She hummed in response, her hand sweeping through his hair and her nails lightly scratching at his scalp. His eyes fluttered closed briefly before they locked on her, his focus suddenly clear as if the drunken haze had lifted.

"Why are you here?"

"Aside from the fact that you refused to let go?" She arched an eyebrow. "You need me, and that means that I'm here, and I will be for as long as you need and want."

He held her gaze a moment longer before he settled down, his head once more being cushioned by her stomach and his eyes closing.

As silence fell and Hermione relaxed into the pillows behind her, she continuously ran her hand through his hair, keeping her hands busy and her mind occupied.

And because it was so quiet, she heard it perfectly.

It was drunkenly muttered, but that didn't matter.

"Love you."