A/N I really don't mean to go so long between updates :/ I pretty well have this story mapped out so it's never going to be abandoned, but between real life and my other works it just might be a while between updates sometimes.

Chapter 15

Tony was tinkering around his lab, just making minor repairs on Sunday evening when he heard the elevator doors open down the hall. Pepper had gone home for the night and he'd banned Hermione from working until tomorrow so he was surprised to hear noise on this level.

"Mr. Stark, Colonel Rhodes is here to see you," Jarvis announced.

"Thank you, Jarvis," Tony said distractedly as he put the wrench he was holding down and turned toward the entrance just as Rhodey walked through the doors. He stood up, wiped his hands on his jeans, and moved to greet his friend.

"Rhodey, what are you doing here?" he asked perplexed. While it wasn't unusual for him to see his friend, it was unusual for James to show up unannounced. Well, it was unusual for him to show up unannounced when Tony wasn't causing trouble and he hadn't thought he was mixed up in anything dangerous or top secret right now.

"I came to talk about your Ms. Granger," he said as tucked his hands into his pockets and leaned against a nearby tabletop that was strewn with bits and pieces of gadgets and Tony's Ironman suit.

Tony cocked his head and said, "Not that I'm not happy to see you, but wouldn't a phone call have sufficed?"

James hummed, "Normally you'd be right, but what information I have gotten back about your new employee is frankly strange and confusing. Besides you are correct that all our phone calls can be recorded, and this didn't sound like something you wanted the government or military aware of."

Tony crossed his arms and raised a brow. "And is it something they would be interested in if they knew?"

James shrugged non-committedly. "Potentially. Provided the few things I've managed to pull together aren't some sort of bizarre mistake in her paperwork. I still haven't heard back from one of my connections yet and it's possible that he would have some information that could clear up the situation."

"Alright, what did you manage to find?" Tony asked rubbing his hands together.

"Well, the first thing I did was get access to her personnel file. It has a little more information than her online database profile, but not much. Strangely, it seems that the British military awarded Lieutenant Granger her service time and her rank retroactively."

"I didn't think they did stuff like that," Tony interjected.

"They don't," Rhodey answered swiftly, before continuing. "The other strange thing is that her file lists her birthdate and age, but the two numbers don't match up. According to her birth year, she should be nineteen and turning twenty in a month or so, but her age is listed as twenty-one."

He held up a hand to stop the barrage of questions he could tell Tony was about to ask. "Wait a second. Let me tell you the other weird thing."

At Tony's impatient nod, James dropped his hand and continued speaking, "Any further details about Ms. Granger were under some serious secrecy. I had to call in a personal favor from someone in the top General's office to even get anything else about her, no one below that could tell me anything else."

Tony was silent for a minute while his mind rushed through the information that James had told him. "Is it possible her age was just a clerical mistake?" he asked.

James leaned forward in his seat as he explained to Tony, "Well, you see I thought that at first too, but it's written down multiple times and with the way her file is protected I'm not convinced that it is a mistake."

Tony frowned. "I don't know what to make of that. Is she someone's experiment? A clone? Time traveler? All those theories sound pretty outrageous, especially because she seems to have been listed as a civilian until they granted Hermione her rank," Tony theorized wildly while he began pacing the length of his lab. Oh, he had way too many questions filling his head now. Maybe one of these days while she was distracted he could ask her age and see which answer she gave.

"Yeah, it beats me. I have no idea what it means or if it really could just be an error," James said with a grim shrug.

Tony stopped pacing to ask, "When you spoke with someone in the General's office, did they tell you what she did to earn her rank? Hermione has never said anything except that her mission went wrong."

"The gist of it, but no details. According to my acquaintance, Ms. Granger and two of her friends were responsible for taking down an extremely dangerous domestic terrorist and several of his most deadly followers last May," James answered with a deep scowl etched on his face as he watched his friend's reaction.

Tony frowned skeptically thinking of his waifish assistant whose features lit up while discussing theoretical physics and chemistry. "Did they say how she did that? Like did she provide valuable information or something?"

"No, I got the sense that she and her friends either captured or killed the terrorists themselves," he responded.

Tony threw up his hands as he asked, "But how? And why would that be so classified anyway? Not that it isn't remarkable that they took down a terrorist, but what was so special about it that the information has the highest classification? It's unusual for sure, but not top-secret material."

"I asked that same question, but I was told that was classified," Rhodes answered grimly.

"This makes no sense and worst of all, I can't ask her either or she'll know I've been snooping," Tony grumbled. Nothing about his little assistant made much sense. Unless she was a hell of a marksman he didn't understand how she had taken out a terrorist organization. She was certainly too scrawny to have fought her way through one.

Rhodey leaned back in his seat and furrowed his brow at his friend while he asked, "When has that ever stopped you before?"

Tony glanced from side to side guiltily, "I can't ask, because I fucked up her first day here with my stupid mouth by being extraordinarily insensitive. Like a huge bouquet of flowers to a woman I'd only met that day kind of fucked up."

James burst into loud laughter breaking the weird tension in the room. That was exactly like Tony Stark. God, he could just see him putting his foot in his mouth like that.

"It's not funny. Pepper will kill me if she quits. She adores Hermione. They've become fast friends over the past few weeks and I've never been dragged to so many meetings in a row in my entire life. I have no idea how she's tricked me into them either, she just does and suddenly I find myself sitting down and surrounded by board members," he whined pitifully, sinking back into his workshop chair.

James was laughing so hard he could barely breathe through it. A girl half his age was dragging around Tony Stark, arrogant ass that he could be, and he seemed positively bewildered by it. Sure, she had an impressive, if not, mysterious resume, but Stark had the Ironman suit and a decade or more of avoiding responsibility under his belt.

"Good lord, I wanted to meet her to observe whether she was dangerous or not, but now, I may just need to meet her to discover how she accomplishes the impossible," Rhodes said, wiping at the tears of laughter that had gathered at the corner of his eyes.

Tony waved his hand dismissively. "Kitten isn't dangerous."

"She somehow took down a terrorist," James reminded him.

"Okay, she's not dangerous to me then," Tony answered firmly.

"How could you know that?" Rhodes asked seriously.

Tony opened his mouth before pressing his lips together tightly. "I just do," he said completely flummoxed by the faith he had in his tiny assistant.

Rhodes gave his friend a somber look. "You can't know that, Tony."

"I think that I do know that," he answered slowly, but in a sure tone of voice. He didn't know how to explain it, but Hermione was just good. It hadn't taken him long to notice at all. He wasn't sure he could point to something definable; he just knew it like he knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west.

At Rhodey's incredulous look, he sighed, "Look, if you don't believe me drop by either later this week or early next week. I gave Hermione this weekend off and I'd like to give her some more time to settle in, but she's a bit of a workaholic so whatever day you drop by she's sure to be in. I'll introduce you and then you can see for yourself that she's not a threat to me."

Rhodey nodded firmly. "I'll be sure to do that and if I hear from my other contact before then I'll let you know, but I should be getting back home now."

"Thanks for the information, Rhodes and I'll be expecting you in a few days," Tony replied with a wave as his friend strode out the door with his military straight posture and precise steps.

"Kitten!" Tony called out as he invaded Hermione's office on Monday morning a week after Rhodey had originally come to bring his concerns about his assistant to him. Rhodey hadn't been able to shed any more light on her background since then and therefore continued to remain suspicious of the young woman.

"Oh good, I wanted to talk to you this morning too, Tony," she said while she finished writing a sentence in her notebook. There were several physics, chemistry, and engineering books strewn around her open to different pages as well as a multitude of office organizational supplies.

"What about?" he asked, puzzled because he was certain that he hadn't forgotten anything recently, at least not since Hermione had been in charge of his schedule.

She hummed lightly while she looked around and under her study materials for something on her desk. "I've finally got the hang of your scheduling. I have a color-coded schedule for the rest of the month for you. If you leave it somewhere I can access it then I will fill in unexpected things as they come up. Jarvis also promised to load it into your digital calendar if you left it where he could periodically scan for changes," she said as she finally found the schedule tucked into the back of her planner.

Unfamiliar laughter sounded from the door. Hermione's head snapped up sharply and she froze as she assessed the situation. Her heart was pounding heavily in her chest as she looked past Tony's gob-smacked expression to see another man who was laughing wholeheartedly in the doorway at her and Tony.

Once she registered that this man wasn't likely to be a threat to either her or her boss, she flushed lightly in embarrassment. Tony hadn't ever brought anyone else up to these levels since she started here and there were no other offices that were occupied, so she hadn't expected to see or hear anyone else except for Tony. She took a closer look at the other man. He was taller than Tony with a ramrod-straight posture. He had dark eyes and hair as well to go with his dark complexion. He looked rather like one of the photos from the packet SHIELD had originally given her of Tony's known associates, but she wasn't sure yet, since the photo they had given her seemed rather outdated in comparison to the man standing in her office.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize Mr. Stark had brought up a guest. I'm Hermione Granger," she said, holding her hand out to shake after he'd gotten his laughter under control and hoping that the fine tremor in her hands wouldn't be noticed.

As he shook her hand firmly, he said with a grin, "I'm James Rhodes. Tony's friend. He mentioned he was making it to more of his meetings lately, is that how you're getting him to go- with color-coded schedules?"

"Nice to meet you Mr. Rhodes and it's been synced calendars, color-coded schedules, and a lot of physically dragging him out of the lab. I'm afraid he's just not capable of organization on his own," she said rolling her eyes and grinning back playfully.

He chuckled. "I'm not surprised by that and just James is fine."

"Call me Hermione then," she answered.

"I'm glad you two seem to be getting along but if you two are done having a laugh at my expense that would be great," Tony grumbled good-naturedly.

Hermione fought a grin as she chirped, "Sure thing, Mr. Stark."

"Rhodey's a friend of mine, you don't have to be formal in front of him. He's not here on official business anyway. Actually, short of being in front of the heads of state, don't call me Mr. Stark at all, kid," he said with a mock shiver at the thought of formality.

"Message received," she grimaced at the diminutive.

"Anyway, I came to drop these off," he said handing her some forms before continuing, "It seems you forgot to fill out the emergency contact and next of kin information, and HR sent them back to me."

Hermione took the pages back with a frown. "How strange," she murmured.

She had put a modified notice-me-not charm on the paperwork in order to avoid filling out the next of kin information since her parents still didn't remember her and she hadn't known how Harry had taken her disappearance at that point. She could still feel her spell intact on the parchment. It was a little frazzled at the edges, but it definitely should have held well enough for muggles unless someone was actively trying to look deeply into the information. "I'll fill this out and have it in by later this afternoon or in the morning," she told Tony.

"That's fine. There's no immediate rush. HR just needs the information to put it in the system," he shrugged nonchalantly. Truthfully, HR hadn't even noticed that the data was missing. He was interested to know why when he had asked the worker who had entered the information in the system a few weeks ago, she had been absolutely sure that all the information had been inputted until he physically showed her otherwise. The worker had eventually shrugged it off as an error, but Tony had thought her initial conviction strange.

"Was that all for now? Or did you need anything else?" Hermione asked from her seated position at her desk.

Tony shook his head. "No, that's it for now. We'll leave you to it but come to the lab before you leave today, and I'll show you what I've been tinkering with to fix the corrosion problem we've been having at the connections you pointed out last Thursday."

Her eyes lit up and she leaned forward excitedly as she responded, "Oh, have you solved it? I'll be there around four or four thirty as soon as I finish up. Before you go, there is a gala being held to raise funds for a new ward at the hospital in three weeks on that Saturday evening. Do you want me to confirm your and Pepper's attendance?"

"Double check with Pepper about the gala, but otherwise yes," he answered with a casual wave of his hand.

"Excellent. It was nice to meet you, James. Tony, as of this moment you have a clear day to tinker in the lab. There's no meetings or scheduled events until tomorrow," she informed him as she pressed the color-coded schedule she had made into his hands and ushered him and his friend out the door.

"See you later Kitten!" Tony called out as he made a beeline to his lab, schedule clutched in his hand and Rhodey following behind him. He was confident based on his friend's behavior that the interaction with Hermione had soothed at least some of Rhodey's suspicions.

Hermione plopped down behind her desk and considered pulling out her wand from the hidden pocket she had sewn into her pants to test the spell on her forms, but ultimately decided against it in case she was in view of a camera, or she short-circuited something in her office again.

She nibbled at her bottom lip. She didn't really have any good options to fill in the blanks on her forms. She wrote down Harry's information as her next of kin using the Burrow as his address for now. When she wrote him this evening, she would ask for his new phone number to list and update the information with HR later. For emergency contacts, she listed Harry again and hesitantly wrote down Steve's information.

Steve was the closest friend she had in America and she trusted him well enough until she could update the information with someone more familiar to her. After all most of her old friends didn't know she was in America and even if they did know, her wizarding friends weren't likely going to know what to do around muggles in an emergency. Better that her contacts be Harry, who knew how to operate in the muggle world, and Steve, who was at least close by and could get to her in a hurry if there was a problem.

She sniffled and blinked back tears as she stared at the spaces where the names of her friends were listed rather than her parents' names. It was these little everyday things that gutted her and reminded her of how she had effectively orphaned herself potentially permanently. As soon as it was safe, she promised herself she would make a real effort to find them and attempt to restore their memories so she could list them as her next of kin instead. She wondered if they would be proud of her for taking a job in the muggle world or if they would think it was a waste of all those years of magical schooling.