Alpha'd by Travelilah! Thank you so much for your help and words of encouragement!
Hermione was sitting up straight in her assigned chair listening and offering her opinion as often as she was allowed. With close to six hundred delegates—two hundred of which were leaders of their respective governments, four hundred belonged to selected or elected seats in the International Confederation of Wizards—in the large auditorium and with everyone's need to speak, Hermione's chances were few but her stance was known.
Repeal the 1692 Statute of Secrecy.
Exposure was imminent, what with mobile phones and surveillance cameras everywhere and if wizards were forced out, it was possible things would get ugly before they could get ahead of it. They needed to come to light with grace and dignity, not be forced out. That would help ensure that Muggle governments didn't outright attack them. As much as Hermione loved the Wizarding World and her place in it, her parents were Muggle and she would have a difficult time remaining neutral if the world went to war over exposure.
Plus, with the Battle of New York fought by enhanced individuals like Captain America and creatures like the Hulk, the time was ripe for coming clean. If everything she'd read about the battle were true, there were god-like beings from other worlds as well as aliens. What was one more thing for Muggles to accept? Yet it was almost a year out from the battle and their window of riding the coattails of others' exposure and limiting their own backlash was closing.
It seemed, however, that after almost ten months of debating and deliberation, the International Confederation of Wizards might finally be coming to a conclusion. Hermione listened as the Supreme Mugwump, an African wizard by the name of Babajide Akingbade, closed the floor for discussion. "We've spent almost a year in discourse regarding the repeal of the Statue of Secrecy. We've heard impassioned stories from every country. With the rise in Muggle-borns, the increased visibility with technology, and the exposure and relatively small amount of fear and backlash regarding othered cultures, it seems we have finally come to an agreement. The Dissolution of the Statue of Secrecy will commence now. Seeing as the President of the United States is typically considered the most powerful person in the world, we've come to the decision that they shall be our first point of contact. In honour of the connection then, I nominate President Reeves of MaCUSA the position of speaking with their non-magical president."
Reeves stood up tall, fingers pressing out the creases of the navy blue suit she wore. Her blonde hair was cropped short around her head and it didn't move when she lifted her chin to speak. "I appreciate the nomination but I'm going to have to respectfully decline. Unlike some," she looked around and let her gaze pin Hermione and several other heads of state before returning to a neutral place near the Mugwump, "MaCUSA Presidents don't usually have contact with their no-maj counterparts, I feel like I don't have the proper rapport to give this vaulted position the nuance it deserves." She sat back down.
"Fair enough," Akingbade said from where he stood near the base of the tiered, circular seating, "Then shall we nominate those of us who do have connections within their respective non-magical governments? I believe that narrows the pool to twenty or so representatives?" He made a gesture with his hand, flipping his palm up and raising his fingertips. The twenty or so delegates stood, Hermione included. Akingbade sat back down and pointed to the wizard on the opposite side of the room from Hermione.
Each of the twenty representatives was allowed to speak to politely decline or give a short reason why they would be the best fit for the position. Most of them declined. If they did, they sat down. By the time it was Hermione's turn to speak, only three other people were standing, all rather pompous wizards from countries with authoritarian governments, all with open secrets that they didn't have problems manipulating their non-magical counterparts.
When everyone's gaze turned to Hermione, she smiled. "I would be honoured to be considered for the position of leading the Dissolution of the Statute of Secrecy. I'm on good terms with our non-magical prime minister. I'm also a Muggle-born who hasn't shunned her non-magical relatives and connections. If I were to be selected I would be capable of coordinating with the British and American non-magical governments to gain the positive attention of the world's peoples leading up to the reveal. This sort of position will also most likely result in an increase in attention from the non-magical press, which I feel I'm uniquely qualified to handle as I've been a prominent figure in the British magical press since I was a teenager." She left the allusion to her time in Voldemort's War unsaid.
Most of the members of the ICW knew of the war but had intentionally kept out of it, to the point that in Britain it was called the Second Wizarding War whereas internationally it was only thought of as a small British dispute. Many of the members didn't think Voldemort had touched the world outside of Britain except when Hermione had mentioned his name once almost everyone had still shuddered in fear despite the man being dead for fifteen years. They didn't like to acknowledge that his name still held the power it did.
All around them, wizards were whispering and it sounded positive. The three other leaders who'd already spoken had similar looks of frustration. It was obvious from their glares that they weren't thrilled that Hermione had all but volunteered. Did they expect someone like her to stand back and watch them threaten all the non-magical governments of the world?
Akingbade gestured for the four of them to sit and they complied. "Well, I believe we'll take a vote on the four volunteers." He asked the formal questions and he and his assistant tallied up the counts even though the yeses in Hermione's favour were overwhelming. "It looks like the position to lead the Dissolution of the Statute of Secrecy by speaking with the non-magical President of the United States falls to British Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger. Congratulations Minister Granger, I have every faith in your ability to lead the Wizarding World at large into this new age." He glanced around, checking to see if there was anyone with other pressing matters. He must not have as he stood again and called the session to a close.
The immediate noise after always took Hermione by surprise. If she hadn't noticed Percy leaning close to pat her on the shoulder in congratulations she would have jerked. As it was, she forced herself to take deep breaths until the ball of tension in her stomach started to fade. Hermione gathered her belongings and turned to Percy who was pulling out a thin, wooden back scratcher that his wife, Audrey, had given him as a gag gift. He'd made it into a re-usable Portkey. "Did you need anything else, Hermione? Susan?" he asked before he offered the stick to them.
Hermione shook her head and glanced to her left to look at Susan Bones, the most recent nominated British seat at the ICW. "No, I'm good," Susan said, "Unless you want to speak with Krum? He's making eyes at you again from the fifth row."
Hermione looked back over her shoulder to see Viktor looking in her direction. He smiled widely when he saw her looking and waved. He gestured a few quick words with his hands in British Sign Language. One of his children had been born deaf and Viktor had still wanted his son to be multilingual so they'd learned BSL. "Oh," Hermione said, responding in kind to him before turning back around to answer Susan. "He just wanted to let me know that Sofia loved her birthday present and he'd write me soon. And for the record, he was not making eyes at me."
Susan gave her a disbelieving look followed by a grin. "Yeah, yeah, sure."
"Just because we went to the Yule Ball decades ago and we're divorced now, does not mean we're going to hook up. We're just good friends. His children call me Aunt Hermione."
"We just don't like seeing you alone. You and Ron divorced ten years ago."
Hermione sighed. "I know."
"Are we ready, then?" Percy asked. He'd seen the painful fallout that both Hermione and Ron went through with the divorce and he knew to step around the landmine that it was. "I'm sure we need to gather a list of people to tell, detail your plan on speaking with the American President, draw up your travel itinerary, connect with Harry for a protective entourage—"
"Percy?" she interrupted him.
"Hmm?" he asked, blinking behind his wire-rimmed frames.
"We can work on it tomorrow. I plan on taking the rest of the day off to relax and think. Maybe enjoy a bubble bath and a glass of wine."
"Oh, yes. Good idea. We can start on it all tomorrow."
Hermione patted him on the arm and smiled at him when he ducked his head. As they'd grown older, they'd learned that they worked well together except they tended to be workaholics. They'd made a promise to one another to slow down and keep each other in check. She reached out and grabbed the Portkey back scratcher. "Let's go home, shall we?" she asked them. Percy nodded, waited for Susan to grab the Portkey, and then activated it.
* . * . *
Hermione stretched her aching back as she slowly made her way through the disembarking procedures. She'd had the good intention of being seen by the non-magical population as she came to the United States for an extremely classified meeting with the President. She'd forgotten the frustration of long air flights, unfortunately. She'd at least dressed down for comfort. When she rounded the corner and turned towards the baggage claim, she saw a man in a sharp black suit with her suitcase at his feet and a sign in his hand with her name on it.
"Shit," she murmured to herself. She hadn't thought about the security detail she'd been promised when she'd spoken with the Prime Minister. She should have dressed at least a bit more professionally. Too late now. She approached him and offered him a smile. "I'm Minister Granger."
"Agent Briggs, ma'am. I'm here to drive you to your hotel," he said, bending down to pick up her suitcase and beckoning her to follow him. He dropped the sign with her name on it into a rubbish bin as they passed one.
"You're also my protection detail, aren't you?"
"No, ma'am. I mean, yes... well, I'm Secret Service, so yes I do protection detail but you ranked someone higher than me. He's at the car." The car turned out to be a black limo with dark tinted windows. The door opened and a very tall, handsome man with shoulder-length dark brown hair stepped out of the back. He was dressed in long-sleeved black tactical gear with a black glove on his left hand but not on his right. He didn't look at them at first, rather his eyes seemed to scan the surroundings for threats. He was broad at the shoulders and exuded an air of power and danger. Hermione could have swooned; he was fit and she wasn't a spinster yet.
"Sergeant Barnes will be your protection detail during your time here in the States," Agent Briggs said, beginning to introduce them.
"Sergeant?" she asked, turning to look at Agent Briggs. She would have thought Agent Briggs would out-rank a non-commissioned officer.
The Secret Service agent ducked his head as if he was embarrassed for her for having to explain. "He's an Avenger, ma'am."
"Oh," she said, feeling ridiculously inarticulate. Barnes's gaze finally settled on her and she felt very small with his attention focused on her. She couldn't place this particular Avenger in her mental roster of the brave men and women who had fought in the Battle of New York but she could be respectful. She smiled at him despite the tension gathering in her shoulders. "How do you do, Sergeant Barnes?"
He nodded and his lips twitched up at the corners, the slightest little smirk at her. His attention turned to Agent Briggs. "We moving out?"
Agent Briggs nodded and answered in the affirmative before moving around to the boot and opening it with a key. He put her suitcase inside, closed the boot, and walked to the front of the limo to drive it. Sergeant Barnes stepped to the side and put his hand on the door, bringing his gaze back to her. Hermione got the unspoken message and slipped inside, sliding over so he could rejoin her in the back of the car. She'd never ridden in a limo before and the spacious, leather interior felt over-the-top compared to the simple car interiors to which she was accustomed.
Sergeant Barnes shut the door behind him as he got in. He didn't look at her or attempt to start a conversation with her, instead, his attention was outside the car on the other vehicles around them.
Hermione assumed the awkwardness in the air was all her own and glanced down at her pink blouse, jeans, and trainers. At least she didn't have food stains from the in-flight meal. The ride was smooth but soon enough Hermione noticed that they'd stopped moving for a bit too long. A glance at Sergeant Barnes didn't glean Hermione anything. He didn't look anxious or worried, just bored. It seemed like they were stuck in heavy traffic.
"How far is the hotel from where we are?" She asked, surprising herself.
Barnes blinked once before looking at her. He didn't move his head when he did it, just his eyes. The move unnerved her for some reason. "Eight blocks."
She shook her head. "I don't understand blocks. We don't have them in Britain. Give it to me in miles, or kilometres or time spent walking."
His little grin was back. "About a mile, klick and a half, twenty minutes."
Some of Hermione's awkward tension seeped out at his answer. He was teasing her. "Do you think we can talk Agent Briggs into dropping off my suitcase and you and I walking? I'm tired of sitting and would like some fresh air."
He tipped his head to look at her as if he didn't expect her to say something like that. "The limo's bulletproof."
"And if you're worried about drawing attention, wouldn't the limo be more conspicuous than a woman in jeans and trainers?" she asked back. Her gaze slipped down to his chest and then back to his face. "Though tactical gear would probably draw attention, too, I suppose."
"Not as much as you'd think," he said and then flipped open a compartment near him. Inside she could see rolled fabric and a handgun. He pulled out the burgundy fabric and unrolled it. A long-sleeved shirt. He started unfastening the tactical shirt without another word and Hermione quickly turned her head to give him privacy. She could still hear the rustle of the clothing and there was something else her ears were picking up. A mechanical whir that didn't seem like it was related to car noise. The compartment flipped up and she heard him press something to address the driver. "Briggs, the Minister would like to ask you something."
She turned back to see that he was dressed in the red long-sleeved shirt; it emphasised his broad shoulders and chest and Hermione's breath might have hitched before she blinked and spoke to Agent Briggs. He seemed hesitant but she reassured him. "We're just two people walking the pavement. Nothing unusual or attention-grabbing. We'll be at the hotel before you, I expect."
He heaved a put-upon sigh before agreeing. Sergeant Barnes opened the door and stepped out first; he paused and after a quick look around offered his hand to her. She let him help her out of the car and then directed her to the pavement where he insisted on walking between her and the traffic.
"Tell me something about yourself, Sergeant," she said. He let her set the pace but she followed his body language to know which way to go.
"My name's Bucky," he answered, less stiffly than she would have expected.
"I know." He glanced at her and that teasing smirk was back.
"Are you always this difficult to have a conversation with?" she asked, though she couldn't help the smile that graced her lips.
"Nah, I used to be charming," he slowed as they came to the first cross street to wait for the signal that they could cross, "or so Steve tells me."
Hermione's eyes narrowed as she took in that comment. "Steve Rogers?" she asked.
He nodded once as he glanced around. Checking for moving cars or threats or both. He gestured with his hand to start across the street and she followed his instruction. They were quiet as they crested the kerb and started down the next section of pavement.
She couldn't figure him out. Who was Sergeant Bucky Barnes and why did the connection to Steve Rogers trigger something in her mind. Who was this man and why was he an Avenger? Then suddenly the name rang a bell. When she'd first read about Captain Steve Rogers, after the alien battle in New York, she'd read about his history as an officer in World War II. Sergeant Bucky Barnes was his best friend. She stopped walking once it clicked. He was two steps ahead when he also froze where he stood and turned to her.
"Something wrong?" he asked, looking her up and down like she might have suddenly sustained some life-threatening injury without his knowledge. She couldn't really find words that would get her answers without the questions being rude. The word 'how' was stuck on her tongue but before she could either force it out or away he nodded. "You do know who I am."
She couldn't do much more than nod. Her mouth seemed to function again except the only thing that came out was, "How?"
He started to speak but then took a deep breath instead. He stepped closer and spoke quieter. "Have you heard of the Winter Soldier?"
She had heard of the Winter Soldier. Earlier in the year, every news station in the world had gone on for days about the Soldier and the internal corruption of the United States' private intelligence and espionage agency and the subsequent destruction of its headquarters. Almost five dozen people had been killed and over a hundred more had been identified as HYDRA agents. She'd even read some of the files that had been dumped onto the internet. She blinked. "That was you?"
He nodded once again and shifted his right hand over his left wrist, pushing back the sleeve to show off the metal there. She took in the detail as he pulled his sleeve back down but her gaze moved up his left arm to his shoulder then glanced at the other side. He was surprisingly symmetrical. She'd been around war amputees before, her mind thought of Alastor Moody and his wooden leg, for having the limb replaced in the forties it was surprisingly advanced. She almost wished she'd looked when he'd changed shirts both because she couldn't help but be attracted to him and also from scientific curiosity. She wondered how the metal arm worked and if HYDRA had had some wizards working with the advanced tech they were known for exploring.
She blinked and realised she'd been staring; she felt her face suffuse with heat when she glanced back at him. There was a smile there, almost flirty like he knew what he looked like and where her thoughts had been.
"I apologise for—" she started but he stopped her.
"Don't worry about it. Though, now that it's more accepted, Steve and I..."
She blinked again as she caught the implication. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm not normally this—"
He grinned and turned, picking up her arm and slipping it between his elbow and body, escorting her like a date. It allowed him to be close to her so their conversation could be quiet. "It's been a while since I've been looked at like that, truth be told, so don't apologise. What do you want to talk about? You remind me of Peggy, you know, something about an English dame in charge, I suppose. That and the posh accent."
She laughed and felt the last of the tension between them fade. She supposed that if she was going to have an Avenger-protection detail then it might be prudent to befriend the man.