Written for Marvelously Magical Fanfiction's SummerFling Exchange 2018 for MagdaTheMagpie.
Prompt: Characters A and B get their bags mixed up at the airport, hotel lobby or by bumping into each other. When they go through it to find out the identity of who has their bag, they are very surprised by the contents.
Pairing(s): Tony/Hermione OR Natasha/Neville OR Thor/Luna
Suggested Kinks: Stalking, spying
Squicks: Love at first sight
Additional Notes: Humour and banter as a way to flirt is always welcome.
Natasha stretched her neck as she walked down the corridor to debark the plane. She was stiff from sitting in the cramped aeroplane for the seven-hour flight from Kazakhstan where she and Steve had been staying in one of her safe houses and she was still pissed at Steve for making her do it. They still had the Quinjet that he and Barnes had flown to Siberia in and the Wakandan Princess had disabled the tracking features to block Tony and the governments of the world from locating them yet he still insisted they work as under-the-radar as possible.
She almost regretted teaching him the little she had about spying and being on the run. Almost.
At the baggage claim, she spotted her generic red suitcase. Again, Princess Shuri had been very helpful with the Wakandan tech. The case was lined with vibranium in a way to hide what was inside, which, aside from two changes of clothes, were fancy new gadgets and vibranium weapons that Natasha was itching to play with. She picked up the suitcase and hauled it over the lip of the carousel; it came up quickly and she almost stumbled. It still awed her that vibranium could be that light.
She pulled a pair of sunglasses from her carry-on purse and left the airport, ready to get on with the mission. It didn't take her long to wipe away some of the dust on the door of her safe house, a tiny little concrete room hidden at the end of one of the abandoned Underground lines. She made a few checks to make sure nothing had been disturbed and then she set her case down on the dusty mattress in the corner of the room. She unzipped it, flipped the top back, and then stopped, dumbfounded.
This wasn't her new weapons and tech.
She didn't have an explanation for what she was looking at. The suitcase was deeper than it looked, by almost a meter, and tucked into pockets along the sides were plants. Tucked into another pocket in the front were several changes of men's clothes. She closed the top and looked for the tag. There wasn't one but there was a little silver plate with an etched name attached to the top.
Natasha swore in Russian and then reopened the suitcase. She needed to learn all she could about the owner of this case because it was likely that he'd picked up hers and she needed her case back. The clothes were clean like they'd been washed—she sniffed at a sweater sleeve—dry cleaned before being folded and put in the case. Was he returning to Britain or visiting? As she dug through the pile of clothes, she felt something tentatively touch her. One of the plants' tendrils had reached out and wrapped itself around her wrist. She pulled back and the plant let go.
"What the hell?"
She was more cautious as she poked about the clothes, making sure the plant didn't try anything else. In a pocket of the trousers, she found a ripped piece of paper from a Russian hotel chain. So it was likely that her mark was returning to Britain. It was a to-do list written in a looping scrawl. The texture of the lines suggested a writing implement that wasn't a ball-point pen.
stop by the Leaky Cauldron to see Hannah
go to F&B for book recommended – The Good Gardens Updated! Guide 2015
Russian Flitterbloom – water every 5 days, depending on dryness of soil, partial sun
Niffler's Fancy – water once a week, shade
Lady's Mantle – water every four days, avoid leaves' teeth, shade
Natasha sighed and checked her watch. She had time to visit an internet cafe and search for the only clue she'd found: The Leaky Cauldron. At the cafe, she didn't find anything from a simple search. She tried a few other less publically available websites and still, nothing came up. "What the hell is a leaky cauldron anyway?" she muttered out of frustration.
A teenager two terminals over looked up at her whisper and smiled. "You're looking for the Leaky? It's a pub on Charing Cross Road, right next to Foyles."
"Thanks," Natasha said. She typed in the name the teenager gave her and found Foyles, a bookstore with a jazz cafe. She checked the time again. She wouldn't be able to go until she took care of the reason she was in London to begin with.
Everything went smoothly and although she wished she had the Wakandan tech, she didn't really need it. After making sure she hadn't been followed, she took the subway to the Charing Cross stop and walked to the bookstore. She looked around for the pub entrance and didn't see it at all. She walked past the store again. She even crossed the street and stood there staring at the front of the warehouse-esque bookstore and studied the facade. There had to be a sign or a door she missed unless the teenager from the cafe was wrong. Finally, she walked from one side of the bookstore facade to the other, moving slowly and scrutinizing everything.
When she finally saw the decrepit sign and dark door she wondered how she'd missed it, it was right there. She yawned as she opened the door and walked in, taking in the details of the pub room as she did. It was relatively empty despite the evening hour but that could be attributed to the difficulty in finding the door. Two patrons, indiscriminate gender wearing vibrant purple cloaks with the hoods covering their faces, were in a booth on the left eating from pewter coloured bowls. A third patron—male, brunet and bearded, probably tall, wearing tweed trousers and a brown leather jacket—was sitting at the bar. He was chatting with the bartender, a blonde woman with a soft curve to her jaw.
Natasha found a seat in a booth on the right side of the pub and glanced around for a menu. She found one and picked it up, holding it up as she let her arms rest in front of her on the rough, buckled wood of her chosen table. She glanced over the menu to watch the patron and the bartender, listening intently to their quiet conversation.
"I don't know what to do, Hannah," the man said, running his left hand through his hair. There was dirt under his fingernails. He reached out to fiddle with the beer bottle in front of him. Most likely left-handed. From the clues she'd gathered so far, this looked like her mark. "It looks like my suitcase but there wasn't a tag. I thought mine just fell off, you know, but the things inside..." he shook his head and Natasha got a glimpse of crows feet at his eyes. Mid-to-late thirties in age. "I didn't think you could carry things like that on an aeroplane. I mean, there was at least one wicked looking knife, some wire, and an odd bracelet with what looked like stylized ancient runes but I couldn't make heads or tails of it. I contacted the airline and they said no baggage from the flight was left behind. So someone out there has my case and I've got theirs."
Hannah bent down and retrieved another bottle, setting it on the bartop next to the one in front of him. She took his old one and tossed it behind her. There was a rattling clink as it landed in a bin with other bottles.
He nodded and sighed, picking up the new bottle with both hands to fiddle with the label. "What are they going to do to my plants? Will they water them? I need to get them back, they need transplanting soon and I wanted to get some clippings from the Fitterbloom for the greenhouses before—"
"I don't know what to tell you, Neville," Hannah said, interrupting his worried rambling, "Have you thought about taking those weapons to the Aurors? I mean, whoever was bringing them probably had nefarious plans, right?"
He shrugged. "They could be a collector, I guess?"
Natasha shifted and leaned back, setting the menu off to the side and looked around. She watched them in her periphery.
"Tell me, were their clothes inside?" Hannah asked. Neville nodded. "Male or female?"
"I, umm," he mumbled and the tips of his ears turned pink. Natasha felt her lips quirk a little at this man blushing about digging through her clothes. It was cute. "It's a... a woman."
Hannah laughed. "What did she have in the case that made you blush? Gee, you'd think she had fluffy handcuffs in there or something." Natasha did, in fact, have handcuffs in there but they weren't the fluffy type. "Why don't you go home and relax. Your name was on your case. Maybe she'll contact you."
He sighed. "Maybe," he said, sounding unsure. "Thanks for listening to me. How much for the Butterbeer?"
"When have I ever made you pay?" Hannah said, rolling her eyes at him.
"When I got pissed at Harry's bachelor party, I think."
"Oi," she said then gestured towards the back, "off with you." He stood and tipped back his drink, chugging down the last of it. He set the bottle on the counter and Hannah rolled her eyes again. "See you, Neville."
"Bye, Hannah." He turned and headed in the direction Hannah had gestured. Probably a back door.
Natasha stood and headed in the same direction, glancing around like she was looking for a restroom. She saw a simple dark wood door closing as she got close to the bar.
"Hey, I saw you walk in and sit down but we don't really have waitstaff here," Hannah said to her. Natasha didn't let her frustration at losing her mark show on her face when she turned to the blonde. "What would you like?"
"Butterbeer is fine," Nat answered. Her stomach growled a little and she added, "And dinner might be nice."
Hannah smiled, pointed out the toilet door for her, and set about serving up a bowl of stew. When Nat returned to her safe house and stretched out on her dusty mattress, she felt warm and well-fed. What the Leaky Cauldron lacked in atmosphere it made up for with good food.
In the morning, Nat bought a burner phone and called Steve to let him know that the mission was complete but she was staying for a few extra days. He asked but she didn't share. She didn't want him to worry or to give her that disappointed noise he sometimes made. She didn't doubt she would be able to get her case back; she just needed another opportunity.
So she went back to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, claiming that the meal the night before was delicious and she wanted to see what other magic the cook whipped up. Hannah had looked at her oddly for a moment but smiled and thanked her. Apparently, she was the cook, the barkeep, and the owner all-in-one.
The following day, Hermione staked out the pub entrance by spending most of her day at the shops nearby, surveilling the area in case tall, bearded, and handsome came by again. A few people came and went through the pub door—now that Natasha had visited she didn't have any trouble finding it.
She found a costume shop and bought a black velvet cloak with a red lining. She would've preferred to find one in a practical wool and less obviously meant as a costume but she couldn't deny that the red and black called to her. She returned to the Leaky Cauldron with the hood of her new cloak up and asked for whisky instead of the strange butterscotch and vanilla flavoured thing they called Butterbeer. More people came and went and Nat attributed that to the fact that it was Friday night but unlike other pubs, there were no TVs and spectators getting drunk. Neville did not stop in to visit with his friend Hannah again. Perhaps she had misjudged how close they were. She finally got to slip past the dark back door when Hannah was busy with another customer only to find herself stumped and confused. It was an empty patio, bordered on both sides by the brick of the buildings beside it and on the back with a high wall. Where the hell had Neville disappeared to that first night, then? He hadn't come back through the pub while she'd been there.
On Saturday, dressed normally again, Nat stopped by for another Butterbeer and could have crowed with excitement when she recognised Neville sitting the bar chatting with Hannah. She approached Hannah, ordered her drink and then found a booth where she could keep an eye on him again. They spoke too quietly in the more crowded pub and Nat couldn't catch their words this time. Neville stood and smiled at Hannah. He grabbed his wool coat and pulled it on over his leather jacket then turned and headed for the main entrance rather than the back door. Nat waited less time than she should have before leaving her drink and some money on the table and following him.
She caught sight of him a half a building ahead of her and she kept that distance between them as she followed. He walked for about ten minutes, determined steps like he had somewhere to go but not like he was in a hurry. He glanced around at one point and then ducked into an alley between two narrow derelict buildings. Nat rushed forward, intent to catch up with the elusive man, but when she stepped into the dimly lit alley she was disappointed. Alone. Where the hell had he gone?
She walked further in, looking for any secret doors hidden in the bricks. She heard a soft pop behind her. She turned, using her periphery to warn her that someone was there and used the momentum to bring her leg up and around, kicking the man who'd come up behind her in the face.
It was tall, bearded, and handsome.
Her kick had knocked him back and onto the ground and he sat there pressing a hand against his jaw as he stared up at her stunned.
"What are you?" Natasha couldn't help but ask.
He gave a startled little huff of a laugh before answering, "I'm a professor. Should I even ask what you are?" He shook his head. "Ouch. I take it you're the woman who has my suitcase?" He stood, working his jaw open and closed to test how bad she'd clocked him. He dusted himself off, wiping his hands on his trousers, and offered his hand to her. "Neville Longbottom, but I have a feeling you knew that." The smile he gave her was sweet and a little crooked and it completely confused her.
She looked down at his hand warily and then returned her gaze to his face when she took it to return the handshake. "Natalie Rogers." It was the name on her current passport and she'd got a little warm, fuzzy feeling when she'd picked it because Steve had blushed.
"As I don't think our bag swapping was intentional and I doubt you'd introduce yourself to someone you're going to kill, do you want to take a walk with me?" Neville asked. "I mean, next to me instead of following two dozen feet behind?"
"Shows what you know," she muttered, offering her usual little quirk of a smile at him. "Yes, I'll walk with you." She still didn't trust him, especially considering she didn't know how he'd got the drop on her, but there was something intriguing about this whole thing. They stepped out onto the sidewalk and he directed them back the way they'd come towards the pub.
"So... Natalie, is it possible for you to tell me what you're doing in London? Are you on... vacation?"
She snorted in amusement before she could stop herself. "Hardly. But tracking you down has definitely been the frustrating highlight of my trip."
He laughed easily and tucked his hands into the pockets of his coat. "I take it you're not a collector of unusual artefacts then?"
"No," she answered and decided if he was going to ask questions then so was she. "What are you a professor of?"
"Herbology. Have you water my plants while they've been in your care?"
"I didn't know which was which," she answered honestly, "but I did spritz them a little." The red-orange brick of Foyles was in view and Nat wasn't sure if they were going to part ways at the pub after making plans to meet to swap suitcases. She found herself hoping that they'd continue speaking for just a little bit. "How is your suitcase bigger on the inside? Are you a Time Lord? An alien? You don't look like any alien I've seen."
"Seen a lot of aliens, have you?"
"In my line of work, actually, yes."
He chuckled and nodded, seeming at ease with her. Nat didn't know what to do with him. Even Steve had taken months before he seemed at ease around her once he knew the type of work she did. Who was this strange man?
"The thing about my case is... well, it's a secret," he answered after a moment, pulling the door open to the Leaky Cauldron and gesturing for her to enter before him, "I'm sure you know all about having those, right?"