Stockholm Syndrome

Summary: Hermione/Loki. When Loki is finally captured by the Avengers, the Ministry is asked to get involved to ensure he remains captured, and Hermione happens to be the witch they send to do the job.

Author's Note: So, this is probably a really overdone idea for this crackship, but I wanted to get my foot in the door with them and at least try writing them. Writing Hermione is old hat for me at this point, but Loki is something new. I'm also not super-familiar with the Avengers universe, so bear with me on a few details. OH, and, I've fudged the timeline a bit — just by a few years. Please review and tell me your thoughts!

Disclaimer: Neither the HP nor the Marvel universes belong to me.

"You can't possibly be serious, Hermione," Ron said desperately, ducking around the corner as he followed Hermione on her warpath through their flat. "It's Norway — can't the Norwegian Ministry deal with this?"

"For the last time, Ronald, it's not about dealing with it! This is a rare opportunity for me!" Hermione paused in front of the bed, stuffing clothes at random into her beaded bag, which was already overflowing with books and extra quills, bottles of ink, and rolls of parchment. Ron's eyes were looking suspiciously wet and his ears and neck were flushed, and Hermione felt her resolve weakening. With a sigh, she dropped her little beaded bag on the floor where it made a disproportionately loud thud before throwing her arms round her fiancee. "It won't be forever — probably no more than a week!"

Reluctantly Ron's arms wrapped round her and he pulled her close. Hermione buried her face in his chest, breathing in his scent and relishing the contact. "I'll be back before you know it. I bet you'll even enjoy having the flat to yourself!" she reasoned, pulling away and offering him an encouraging smile. Ron was scowling.

"Face it: you want to go, and you don't give a rat's arse about how I feel," he grumbled, turning away and sulking. Hermione rolled her eyes but resumed packing nonetheless.

"It isn't like that, Ron. I love you, but I need to have my life too," she said briskly, stuffing an extra jumper into the beaded bag. Squinting, she tugged at the clasp — she had redone the Undetectable Extension charm recently, but it still wasn't enough room. Oh well. It would have to do for now — if she didn't hurry up, she was going to be late.

"Whatever. Just go."

Hermione planted a kiss on Ron's cheek, ignoring his sulkiness. Ron tended to get like this; it just was how he was and always had been, and by now she knew enough to ignore it til it passed. Hopefully by the time she returned, he would be over it.

With a last declaration of love for Ron, Hermione stepped into the fireplace and Floo'd to the Ministry. She was going against the tide; it was Friday evening and employees were swarming out in droves. Hermione had to fight her way to the elevator, and by the time she reached Kingsley's office, she was feeling quite hassled. Still, nothing could put a damper on her excitement.

Kingsley, knowing how much Hermione missed research and scholarly work, had alerted her to an Arithmancy retreat happening in Norway with some of the greatest researchers of the time. It was meant to be kept secret, and Hermione was getting an entire week off from her job as an Unspeakable to participate. Oddly, Kingsley had insisted that she stop by his office first before leaving — and also had insisted that she bring all of her things that she was planning to take on the retreat. Suspicious but excited, Hermione knocked on the door to Kingsley's office and bounced on her toes as she waited.

"Come in, Hermione," called Kingsley in his slow, deep voice. Bursting with excitement, Hermione turned the knob.

On the other side, Kingsley was standing by his desk, fiddling with a photograph. When she entered, he shut and locked the door with a sharp wave of his wand. "I can always rely on you to be punctual," he quipped, sounding relieved, and Hermione balked.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not going on that retreat...?" Hermione sighed, slumping slightly. Kingsley shot her a smile.

"I was wondering when you were going to realize it. Come on — you're doing something better," he insisted, gesturing towards the roaring fire. Hermione scowled. She could hardly believe that anything could be more interesting to her right now than the Arithmancy retreat, but still, her curiosity was piqued. Reluctantly, she went to the fire and accepted the handful of Floo powder that Kingsley gave her.

"Where are we going?"

"The Prime Minister's office," Kingsley replied, and his smile melted away to be replaced by a weariness that Hermione had not expected. What in Merlin's name is going on? she wondered. Steeling herself, Hermione tucked her beaded bag in her coat pocket, and stepped into the enormous grand fireplace.

"P-prime Minister's office," she stammered, still in disbelief, and then her ears were filled with the roaring, rushing sound of Floo powder travel. She sped away from Kingsley's office and passed by no other fireplaces before tumbling out of the Prime Minister of Britain's fireplace, choking and coughing on soot. Her eyes tearing from the journey, Hermione fell out of the fireplace and onto the rug, and was nearly squashed by Kingsley who arrived a second later.

When she had righted herself, she saw she was in an immense office, with a large mahogany desk and framed paintings covering the walls. But more importantly, the office had several men and one woman standing inside, regarding her with varying degrees of shock.

"I told you they'd come by fireplace," said the Prime Minister of Britain excitedly to a ridiculous-looking blonde man who was as muscled as an action figure and wearing a red cape, of all things. Was it Halloween and no one had told her? Standing next to him was a man in rumpled grey pajamas and another man in a tight red and blue spandex suit with neatly combed hair.

"Prime Minister," greeted Kingsley smoothly as he brushed off his robes and reached forward to shake the Prime Minister's hand. The Prime Minister eagerly shook it, though all eyes were still on Hermione.

"Good to see you, Kingsley," he said enthusiastically, "and is this Dr. Granger?"

"Miss Granger is fine, though you may as well call me Hermione," she interrupted, reaching out to shake the Prime Minister's hand, her cheeks flushing with all of the unwarranted attention to her. She shot a questioning look at Kingsley, who proceeded to smile.

"I must confess that for security reasons, Miss Granger is still in the dark as to why she is here," he said sheepishly, earning nervous laughter from the others. "Hermione, we've brought you here because the Muggles are in a bit of trouble with a particular Norse god."

Hermione's jaw went slack as she wondered if this was all an elaborate joke, or if Kingsley had completely lost his mind. She had heard about what had happened in America and Germany, of course, but she had pinned it down to one of their own — some Wizard masquerading as a mythological Norse god for attention.

"She's taking it remarkably well," commented a handsome middle-aged man who was sporting ripped denims, trendy trainers, and looking ridiculous by wearing tinted sunglasses indoors — though comparably he looked quite normal, when the others were brought into consideration.

"N-norse god?" she asked weakly. She rounded on Kingsley. "Why couldn't you have explained this in your office?"

"Top security," Kingsley began, though the man in the spandex blue and red suit stepped forward now, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder and smiling kindly at her.

"We want you to help us hold Thor's brother captive," he explained in a soothing, sweet voice, his green eyes twinkling. Hermione looked around. Everyone was quite carefully studying her face.

"You've all gone mental," she muttered, massaging her temples, suddenly missing Ron. "Absolutely, completely mental."

After she had been brewed a cup of very strong tea, Hermione was taken by helicopter to a secure, remote location, though the people who had looked as though they were in Halloween costumes had not accompanied her. As Kingsley and the others had explained, Thor's brother Loki (the God of Mischief) had been found and captured, though the Muggles were fearful that Loki was not actually imprisoned and was merely biding his time.

As it turned out, her job was to test what sort of magic Loki possessed, and whether Wizarding kinds of magic could effectively imprison him. Apparently he had been banished forever from Asgard (whatever the bloody hell that was) and without some permanent imprisonment placed upon him, he would remain a threat to the earth. The Prime Minister had contacted Kingsley, begging for help, and apparently, Kingsley had thought her the only person for the job. While that sort of notoriety was flattering, Hermione now sensed that she had gone into apoplectic shock. She stared in a daze at the floor of the helicopter, barely aware of the jerky ride and the incredible din.

It was all just so much to take in. She could hardly believe any of it, and she didn't even know where to begin in terms of breaking down the whole thing into manageable pieces. It was all fantasy, in the literal sense of the word, and she could not quite divorce herself from everything she had lived her life believing in. It was like being ten years old again and finding out that not only was there magic, but she possessed it. It would take some adjusting to, but this time, she was twenty-seven instead of ten, with her beliefs about the world firmly entrenched in place.

Loki was being held captive in a facility in Iceland, and many hours later, they finally landed at the top of an enormous compound that was all lit up and buzzing with activity, though it was the dead of night. Hermione was to stay at this compound with the other researchers for as long as it took her to find out all she could about Loki and his magic.

She knew that the sense of challenge would soon hit her and she'd not be able to tear her mind from this puzzle, but for now, she only felt confusion and fear.

"We'll escort you to meet him. He can be a little...cagey..." Agent Hill was saying as she led Hermione along a pristine, sterile hallway. Hermione wanted to explain that she had faced down far worse than this — she still could not quite bring herself to believe that this Loki was more powerful and terrible than Voldemort — but Agent Hill was a Muggle. She was a rather informed Muggle, of course, but a Muggle nonetheless.

"...Thank you," Hermione finally managed to say, hastening to catch up with Agent Hill's leggy strides. They came to a number of hydraulic-operated doors that involved all sorts of identification: finger print scans, retina scans, badge scans... the list went on, and it was exhausting. It was now one o'clock in the morning; Hermione hadn't actually slept in days, as she had assumed she'd be going on a retreat to bloody Norway, and on top of that, she still knew nothing about Loki.

However, luckily or not, the lighting was such that it was easy to forget it was so late at night. Here in the compound, time was irrelevant and yet of the essence. The soldiers and scientists at this compound cared for time only in its purest sense; they did not concern themselves with the time of day. Hermione looked at her surroundings with awe, as Agent Hill led her deeper and deeper to the centre of the compound. The walls had no windows; they could have been fifty feet underground or in an airplane and Hermione would not have known the difference. What a dismal place to work, she mused. Of course, it meant there were absolutely no distractions, but Hermione always found herself getting quite depressed when she had not had her dose of fresh air and sunshine.

"Here it is," declared Agent Hill, placing an elegant hand to a gel pad on the door. A cool female voice bid them entry, and as Agent Hill removed her hand, the titanium doors slid aside with a hiss, revealing a pitch black room. Just as the doors slid shut behind them, the room burst into blaring light; hydrogen lights were everywhere and the sudden change hurt Hermione's eyes. At the very centre of the circular room was a buzzing, humming cylinder that looked the way Hermione had always envisioned light particles, only large enough for her to see individually. "Wake up, Loki sir," said Hill loudly, kicking a switch unceremoniously.

The buzzing enlarged light particles vanished, revealing what looked to be a glass case, lit from above harshly. Hermione watched carefully as a man's hunched silhouette buzzed into clarity; Agent Hill's posture visibly tensed. Curious, Hermione stepped closer, studying the prisoner in the glass-like cage.

He was sitting on the floor, his back to them, head bent. From here, she could see he was wearing plain black and dark evergreen clothes that did not look like Muggles had made them, somehow; he was clearly quite tall and slim, with svelte shoulders. His hair was black and pushed back, away from his face.

"This is Loki?" Hermione murmured, looking to Agent Hill, whose blue eyes were riveted in fear and...something else? the man in the cage. "Excuse me — Loki?" She stepped closer again, waiting with bated breath for the prisoner to make a move. He did nothing.

"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," cautioned Hill. Hermione ignored her, her interest piqued. She went up to the cell and, barely hesitating, tapped on the glass.

"What's it like in there?" she queried, raising her voice slightly even as it occurred to her that Loki might very well not speak English — or speak at all, for that matter. What if he tries to attack me? As her heart pounded in response to that uncomfortable notion, Hermione reached into her pocket, brandishing her wand.

"Oh, those don't work on me," came a smooth, cultured voice. Hermione's eyes widened as she watched the man stand, his back still turned to her, rising to his full height. Her instincts were telling her to back away, but instead she stood her ground, waiting patiently for him to turn to face her. What did a Norse god look like, anyway? ...And how had he known about her wand?

"However," he began as he started to turn back to her, "I've not had the pleasure of killing a magical human."

They were facing each other now. He had sharp, angular features and dark, clever, enticing eyes, and lips so thin and pretty they might have belonged to a girl. But instead of bestowing a femininity upon him, they somehow further enhanced his aura of mischief and cleverness. He was pale, and his eyes were shadowed, in sharp contrast to his clever, pretty mouth. "I do wonder how it would feel," he added, quirking a dark eyebrow and cocking his head to the side. He raised his hand to the glass and ran his fingertips along it, in line with her face. Though he was nowhere near her and on the other side of presumably unbreakable glass, Hermione's skin tingled as though she had been touched.

"Not good, I expect," Hermione quipped, sounding far braver than she felt. "Because I'd do quite a bit more damage than what I might guess you're used to."

"Oh?" Loki's lips parted in surprise, his eyebrows arching. He pressed both hands against the glass and leaned forward, so that, if the glass had not been there, they would have been touching. "Why don't you try?"

"He's manipulating you," interrupted Agent Hill loudly. "Dr. Granger, please step away from the cell. You are upsetting our prisoner."

Loki's smooth, pale lips curved into a private grin; it was meant to be shared with her. Thank you, Agent Hill, Hermione thought with an inward eye-roll. Because obviously I got to be where I am now by being a complete moron.

"Sweet dreams... Dr. Granger," he murmured, his voice like silk: diaphanously icy and smooth as glass, yet fluid as water. Hermione shivered involuntarily and, finally, obeyed Agent Hill and turned away. The hiss of the hydraulic-operated doors echoed throughout the long corridor as they walked away, with Agent Hill leading Hermione to her quarters, though Loki's voice echoed in her mind long after the doors had shut behind them.

In spite of everything, Hermione's exhaustion seemed to have vanished the moment Agent Hill shut the door to her quarters behind her, and now she felt like a live wire, buzzing to life and radiating energy.

Her beaded bag sat conspicuously on a sleek desk that sat across from a plain full-sized bed with two pillows and an off white comforter tucked neatly. The room was as sterile as the rest of the compound, and also had no windows. Hermione leaned against the wall to take off her shoes and nearly brained herself when it turned out that particular bit of wall was a hidden door to a closet and said closet opened when she leant on it.

She changed into her pajamas and dressing gown, both of which were flannel tartan in honor of McGonagall, and both of which were also sorely out of place in this futuristic décor, and began unpacking her beaded bag. When she had been packing, she had packed a few books on Norse mythology on a lark — perhaps Kingsley knows me too well, she mused, studying the cover of a rather dusty tome with a depiction of a dark-haired, clever god in a horned helmet. He knew I'd pack everything relevant to Norse mythology if he said I was going to go to Norway... And as it turned out, her Arithmancy texts were the useless ones in this scenario — and the dozen children's books she'd brought bearing tales of Thor, Odin, and presumably Loki were the true gold.

She settled into her bed as well she could with all of her mythology books and began reading, quill poised in hand, on the search for any mention of Loki. Soon she had moved back to the desk and was covering it in rolls of parchment with notes crammed into every inch of space in her tiny, precise handwriting.

Actually, now that she examined it, there was plenty of evidence to suggest other realms, and the very thought of it excited her — other realms, with other kinds of magic, possibly! Why had they not tapped into this incredible resource before?

Oh, right. We didn't have any solid proof of it until recently, she remembered sheepishly. Still, she was overcome with the urge to abandon her research and simply question Loki; she wanted to learn all she could about his magic... But how could she do that without putting herself — and the rest of the world — in grave danger? She was not so foolish as to try and strike up a deal with the God of Mischief, but she was also beginning to wonder if bargaining would be the only means of getting anything useful out of Loki.

…On top of all of this, she couldn't help but wonder what made the so-called Prankster God tick. Why was Loki the way he was now? Listlessly Hermione flipped through her notes, but she had not come to any sort of consensus on Loki's history. I'll just have to ask Thor, then, she mused, though it was incredible, literally, that she had that option at all.

Eventually she fell asleep at her desk around seven in the morning, though as she had no clock nor windows by which to judge time, she had no idea of what time it was.

"Rise and shine, Dr. Granger," came a woman's flat voice over the intercom.

Then, there was a smooth, deep man's voice: "The sleeping beauty is still asleep, Agent Hill. We must not awaken her yet."

"Thor, she is here on a mission — she is not here to sleep!"

"Ah, but if she has managed to sleep on these flat things you call beds, then she has accomplished a mission indeed!"

Hermione blinked blearily and straightened up at her desk before sniggering into her hand, and listened as a hissed argument between Agent Hill and Thor (yes, the Norse god. No, she still could not believe it) occurred, with considerably less hissing on Thor's end. Feeling time to end this, Hermione rose and stumbled to the intercom.

"Good morning, Agent Hill and...Thor..." is that what I'm meant to call him? "I just got up and should be ready soon. Was there to be some sort of team meeting?"

"Good morning, Lady Gr—"

"Yes, at nine hundred hours. That is in thirty minutes — well, twenty-nine," interrupted Agent Hill swiftly. Hermione was glad they couldn't see her, because she was trying very hard to hold back giggles. "I will return in twenty-five minutes to escort you to the conference room."

"Thank you," Hermione replied even as she heard the sound of Agent Hill trying to lead Thor away. Grinning, she hastily got dressed. The good cheer dissipated as she realized that she would be the only Witch at this meeting — though perhaps Thor counted as a non-Muggle as well? At any rate, I can find out from him just how much of this all is true, she thought happily, surveying her pages and pages of notes on Loki's history.

"Our objective is to keep Loki confined here. In Asgard he is too likely to break free and pose a threat — Thor will be kept busy all the time with his job of ruling there; he won't have time to deal with Loki," a man with an eyepatch named Agent Fury was saying. The conference room was packed, and again, Hermione observed an assortment of odd people. There was the man in blue and red spandex — was he some sort of god too? — and several people wearing mostly leather outfits. In her scruffy jumper and jeans, she was — ironically — the most out of place by far. "But we want you, Dr. Granger, to study his tricks and learn the bounds of his powers. His magic is closely related to yours, apparently."

"I will do my best," Hermione replied unsteadily, her cheeks heating at all of the stares now on her.

"Is there anything we can do to make your job easier?" asked a petite brunette in a white lab coat. Hermione pressed her lips together. She felt uncomfortable asking like this, but... She turned to Thor.

"Actually, if I could speak with you and get a better history of Loki's magical habits, I would appreciate it."

Thor beamed.

"Certainly! Anything to help a fair maiden such as yourse—"

"Thor, control yourself," hissed the brunette in the lab coat, rather more venomously than necessary.

"Er — thanks," Hermione said quickly, hoping to divert any further issue.

After the meeting, Hermione and Thor agreed to have lunch in the compound's cafeteria so he could tell her more about Loki. It was a bit odd to so casually walk alongside a man well over six feet tall, wearing a long flowing red cape, but Hermione could guess that it was even weirder for the Muggles than it was for her. At least in the Wizarding world, everyone wore robes, which were closer to Thor's clothing. Hermione watched Thor take three trays, winking at the cafeteria ladies saucily, and then piling each tray high with food — mostly meat. He then proceeded to fill three separate mugs with hot chocolate and nearly bury the mugs in whipped cream.

"Hungry?" Hermione teased, raising her brows. Thor flashed her a grin.

"Always, my lady."

Hermione got her own lunch and sat down at a more remote table with Thor. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied that brunette again in the lab coat, eating by herself and very obviously trying quite hard to not look at Thor.

"Is that your girlfriend, Thor?" she asked while Thor stuffed the better part of a steak into his mouth with his bare hands.

"That is Jane," he said after he had swallowed. "Isn't she beautiful?" Thor waved at her, and the girl, Jane, waved back a bit shyly. Hermione smiled at her, waving as well. She didn't want Jane to think she was trying to steal Thor away, or something similarly ridiculous.

"Anyway, why don't you tell me about Loki's magical habits?" she asked, picking at her sandwich as Thor plowed through a second steak.

"Loki was always my best friend," said Thor happily, now moving on to demolish a slice of apple pie. "We did everything together — we were as close as two brothers could be. But we always knew where we stood in our father's eyes — I was the favored for the throne, of course, but I believe Odin favored Loki for his intelligence and wit. Loki was always playing tricks, and though he was very reserved, he was always the wittiest at any table in Asgard."

"What sort of tricks did he play?"

"Oh, countless tricks. He can make copies of himself and they can do different things — that's always been his most useful trick for his pranks, I believe — and he can disappear and reappear."

"Anything else?"

"I wouldn't know his full repertoire — those are just the ones I've seen him use." A darkness passed over Thor's face now, "But magic is not Loki's only trick, Lady Granger. Loki is very manipulative and persuasive. He can make people believe anything; he can suggest all sorts of things with just a look, just a word or two. That is his real power," Thor warned.

"Then I don't see how he poses a threat —"

"That is the problem, Lady Granger. No one knows just what Loki might do next. He holds his cards quite close to his chest. He has never given away the full extent of his powers. He could probably persuade his way out of the cell." Thor paused now, acquiring a far-off look. "He's been confined for now, but who knows how long that will last. He might know exactly how to break free and is just waiting for a convenient time to do it."

Hermione left the cafeteria feeling a bit on edge about this mission. If no one knew the full extent of Loki's power, then how was she going to find out, if he knew she had been sent to do such a thing?

Legilimency. That was the answer, of course. Hermione stopped in front of her own room, pausing before unlocking the door, her thoughts turbulent. But he must know some sort of that doesn't require eye-contact — because after all, he had known yesterday that she was reaching for her wand.

Her hand hovered over the handle before she pulled it away, glancing around furtively. She would never learn anything from Loki with Agent Hill or anyone around — they were too much of a threat to Loki. She needed time alone with him, that was all. Hermione slipped down the hall, towards the center of the compound. This was her only chance, and she was going to take it.

Loki was seated at the very center of the cell, eyes closed and head tilted upwards, towards the sun. It had been no trouble to get inside — apparently her fingerprints and retina had already been approved and entered into the system — and now she stood in the doorway, watching Loki carefully. With the light shining down from the ceiling of his cell, his profile was cast in high relief.

He was so different from Thor, in appearance and comportment alone. Thor's features were heavy, masculine, and though handsome, almost brutish in their strength. His skin was tan and flushed and his hair flaxen and mussed. His form seemed to take over the room; he was overpoweringly big.

Loki, by contrast, was fair and svelte, though perhaps as tall as Thor, and his features were more refined and elegant. Thor looked like the cheerful and good-natured and brave king; Loki even looked like a villain, albeit a rather compelling and, yes, even a handsome one. The two men were like Gryffindor and Slytherin personified, interestingly.

Hermione mastered herself and stepped inside, listening to the door's soft hiss behind her. Loki did not flinch.

"Have you come here alone, Dr. Granger?" His voice was as soft and smooth as velvet, and just as rich. He spoke quietly, just as before, and it was beckoning: she had to strain to listen. Thor grabbed your attention by shouting; Loki by whispering. "Perhaps you sensed that I do not trust anyone else here and would behave differently around you. ...What a clever girl you are."

Manipulate me with flattery, will you? Two can play that game, Loki.

"I would call that common sense, Loki, though I suppose you must be traumatized to be surrounded by intellect so beneath your own," she said lightly, stepping closer to the cell. Loki's eyes remained closed; his back straight. She watched as his lips twitched; he was fighting a smirk.

I have to lull him into a false sense of security. He has to trust me against his better judgment. Hermione made her way to the cell and sat down on the floor next to it. Loki finally opened his eyes and tilted his head to her. "It must be dull in there," she remarked, running her fingers over the glassy surface. "At least you've got magic to pass the time."

Loki's eyes roved over her, studying her carefully. She noted they were a peculiar cross between blue, green, and grey.

"You must not know what I've done," said Loki finally, his eyes finally meeting hers. He did not look away, and the eye contact was scalding. Hermione waited to feel some sense of him probing her mind, but she couldn't. Was his form of Legilimency undetectable, or had he merely made a good guess yesterday? "You are so unafraid of me."

"I've met worse," she replied, hugging her knees to her chest. "And, in fact, with my best friends, I was the one to bring him down."

Something flashed in Loki's eyes, and a ripple of emotion lit up his features for one moment. There we go, she thought triumphantly. He smiled slightly now, though it never reached his eyes.

"I highly doubt he was worse," he said silkily, turning to face her fully now. "Do you see this cell? Human beings have never encountered a man such as me before. They are terrified. Blind and frenzied as sheep, they trample over each other to confine me, yet their foolish morals prohibit them from simply killing me."

"They never could have confined Voldemort," Hermione said simply with a shrug. She watched Loki draw in a breath sharply; clearly, inwardly he was regrouping. His features turned placid again, and he moved closer, pressing a hand to the glass.

"And you were the one to defeat this Voldemort?" He arched his brows at her, before cocking his head and frowning slightly. "You must be quite powerful. I'm sure my silly tricks are no match for you." He paused again, his stare still so heavy, still so burning. Hermione longed to look away but did not want to, for fear she might give herself away. "I could tell, when you first came in, you know. I could feel it. It must be so frustrating, to live so unfulfilled. Every day, all day, you must be surrounded by such inferior beings; you must watch them struggle to keep up with your intellect. ...What is it like, I wonder, to know you can never find a mate who matches you in power and in intelligence?"

"I have found one, actually," Hermione retorted, though she could feel her cheeks flushing. It was just a tiny lie — Ron was not the brightest bulb on the tree but he certainly had his own kind of intelligence, and he was witty and kind, and brave — well, at least, sometimes. Loki's eyes darkened; Hermione was surprised to find her heart beginning to pound again. There was something in the way he looked at her that felt like an invitation, and she found herself leaning forward and tucking her legs under her.

"Please, Dr. Granger — we both know you're lying. You must be so lonely." He paused, holding his hand to his chest. "I can see it. I can see your sadness, your solitude. After all you've done, you have to settle for something less than you deserve." His eyes narrowed into knowing crescents; his brow furrowed. "Such a waste."

"Well, what about you? Didn't you have any girls you liked in Asgard?" she asked lightly, though her hands were clammy and trembling and her heart was pounding. Arrhythmia didn't run in her family but she was beginning to wonder if perhaps it had skipped a generation.

"No. Like you, I felt I never met my match," he said softly, with a small, carefully crafted sigh. "Though I think, had we met under ...different circumstances... I must confess, I would be thinking of it." He winked now. Hermione made a show of rolling her eyes, before she looked around, studying his cell.

"How does this cell work, anyway? I mean, how does it keep you inside?"

"Human technology — I wouldn't know," said Loki with a shrug. She could see him recalculating; he was trying to find another possible weakness of hers to exploit. Good luck, she thought smugly. Even if he did manage to upset her, she could always leave.

"But if you don't know how it works, how can you leave?" she asked innocently. Loki scoffed, his eyes dancing. He leaned closer.

"Come now, Dr.'re not on my side. You don't want me to break you?"

Hermione shrugged.

"I'm not a normal human, am I? Most wizards and witches despise Muggles — nonmagic humans, I mean. After all, they are inferior, are they not? Who's to say I am not double-crossing them?"

Would Loki take the bait? She tried to look as though she had said something offhand; Loki was still watching her carefully. "Anyway, does it prevent you from doing any magic at all?"

A mischievous, dangerous grin curved Loki's lips; Hermione found herself riveted as she watched him reached behind his back. When he extended his hand, a lush pink flower was sitting in his palm. It was not of a species she had ever seen before, though it reminded her of a lotus.

"Perhaps not," he said softly. Hermione's heart began to pound harder — not because of the flower, but because if he could perform that little bit of magic, then what else could he do?

"Watch what I can do," she said instead of showing any surprise, and she took out her wand and waved it. The flower was consumed by blue fire. Loki gasped and made to drop the fire, but halted when he saw it was not painful to touch. When he looked up again, there was a naked hunger in his eyes, and his fingers closed round the fire as he gazed at her. When he opened his palm again, there lay nothing but smoking remains of the lovely pink flower. "Do you always destroy things?" she blurted out a bit irritably. Loki's lips curved into a grin.

"I wasn't the one who destroyed it, Dr. Granger — you did that. I merely put out your fire."

"But why must you cause all of this trouble here on earth? Is it a plea for attention, because your brother is king of Asgard?"

"Why must you pretend to know about things that you actually don't know a thing about at all?" Loki snarled, casting aside the remains and lunging towards her. Quite suddenly he melted back into a seated position; Hermione glanced behind her to find Agent Hill, Agent Fury, and a number of the other Avengers watching her, silently. Hermione cringed. Merlin's pants, she'd done it now.

"There you are," said Agent Fury, looking thunderous. Hermione rose to her feet, putting her hands on her hips.

"Yes, I'm here — doing what I've been asked to do," she parried, effectively challenging him. "And I'd appreciate not being interrupted."

"Dr. Granger, it is not recommended that you interact with Loki unsupervised — in fact, it is not recommended that anyone interact with him unsupervised," pleaded the man in the rumpled grey pajamas now, pushing at his mussed hair.

"The thing is, Dr. Granger," interrupted Loki, grinning, and Hermione turned to look back at him, "No one knows just what I might do next." He winked at her, and then, quite suddenly, the cell exploded, shards of the special glass flying everywhere, slicing her skin. Hermione screamed and ducked to the ground, grappling for her wand amid the pain, as a blaring alarm began to sound off; the Avengers all withdrew weapons and aimed at Loki.

"Freeze, Loki, or we will shoot," threatened Agent Fury, and inwardly Hermione scoffed. If Loki could break free from that cell, then guns were hardly a threat to him. Loki elegantly stepped out of the cell, standing over her, and Hermione moved to look up at him, glass crunching underneath her and cutting her hands. Silhouetted by the hydrogen lights, he looked more like a malicious god than ever.

"Thank you, so much, Dr. Granger. You've been such help," Loki said with a sigh. He raised his right hand, and a staff materialized into it. "Unfortunately, I've dawdled enough here, and it's time I left—"

"Expelliarmus!" Hermione cried, interrupting him, and the staff was blown out of his hand and clattered to the floor several metres away as Loki was knocked back. Hermione quickly stumbled to her feet and backed away from Loki but never took her eyes from him. "Do not shoot, Agent Fury!" she yelled. Her skin was on fire from being cut and she was shaking with fear, but a certain adrenaline was coursing through her veins. She had forgotten how good it felt to be there in a crisis — she had almost forgotten how good she was at handling them.

Loki was regarding her now, still amused.

"You're a challenge, Dr. Granger, and I like that in a woman," he said silkily. Hermione did not respond as she reflected on which spell to use next, but before she could act, Loki had disappeared and reappeared where his staff had fallen. He threw back his head and laughed.

"Petrifi— agh!" Hermione was thrown backward by the force of a beam of blue light emitted by Loki's staff, and then, overheard, Hermione heard the sound of gun fire and the clinking of shells hitting the floor. Loki laughed as he diverted all of the bullets and strode decisively towards them.

"Sorry, Agent Fury — but this one is mine," he said, and waved his staff. Hermione found herself thrown upwards and into Loki's arms, and though she struggled, she felt the world slipping away from her.

"Reducto!" she cried, breaking free of Loki's grip. His blood splattered on to her but he vanished.

For several moments, there was silence save for the sound of Hermione's labored breathing and the drip drip of her blood, mixed with Loki's, trickling to the floor.

"Dr. Granger, if you had not —"

"Oh, don't give me that bullshit," she snapped, turning to face them now. "He was just waiting for a theatrical moment to leave — you should know by now that he craves attention! If anything, it was your fault for getting everyone together in here so he'd have a maximum audience!"

"She's right, Fury," said the man in the pajamas now. "He could have done that at any time."

Hermione stared down at the floor, where the glass and blood mingled, gleaming wetly in the light. He tried to take me with him, she realized only just now. Her hands trembled and her breath caught in her throat. In the midst of things she hadn't processed it — she had gone into survival mode. As much as it horrified her, she could not help but wonder...had it just been so he would have a hostage, or was there something more to it?

"In any case," she began, hastily banishing those thoughts, "I want to go to Asgard to study your magic," she addressed Thor. "If we're going to capture Loki once and for all, we need a better plan than..." she paused, gesturing at the floor, "...very thick glass."

She would find Loki, she resolved. She would find him, and capture him once and for all.

Hermione was in a daze from everything that had happened, the surge of adrenaline, and the blood loss, and so the next few hours passed in a blur. She was taken to the medical bay and her wounds were treated. By the time she was wheeled back to her room by Agent Hill, it was quite late.

"I just wanted to apologize," said Agent Hill suddenly, as Hermione unlocked her door. "You remained so calm and cool, even when Loki was trying to hold you hostage. I shouldn't have underestimated you."

Hermione smiled.

"You remained quite calm as well — I'll be glad to be working with you. You were wise, yesterday, to be so wary of Loki."

Agent Hill returned the smile and left Hermione at her door. Hermione unlocked the door and shut it behind her, leaning against the door and slumping against it, closing her eyes and feeling overwhelmed. Too many things had happened today; she'd felt too many conflicting emotions. She just wanted to sleep uninterrupted for the night and deal with everything in the morning.

When she opened her eyes, however, she froze.

A pink flower, lush and velvety, lay on her pillow.