(Here They Walk, in This) Land of Heroes


Summary: When Kingsley sent Hermione and George to the Millennium Tech Summit in Bern to suss out growing Muggle technologies and integrate them with 3W, Hermione thought the biggest challenge would be keeping George in line. Then she met Tony Stark, and everything she knew, changed.

Notes: Set at the beginning of Iron Man 3 (but before the events of the MCU, with the exception of Captain Marvel, which already occurred in 1995 and the entirety of Captain America: the First Avenger minus Steve's iconic Times Square shot). Then reverts to pre-MCU/Before "I am Iron Man". At this point, only the Tesseract has been found by Stark Industries and SHIELD has it for their experiments with Dr. Wendy Lawson and later, Dr. Erik Selvig.

While the federal parliament building is used for the exterior shots of the Tech Summit, I decided to use the Bellevue Palace Hotel for the meeting space, interiors, and rooms. This is mainly because 1) it looks similar to the classic design of the movie set, and 2) I've actually been there, have photographs, and remember the terrace fairly well from my visits to Bern.

PS: Sorry for the trope-y ending.

I: First Impressions

Andrea: Unhappy the land that has no heroes!

Galileo: No. Unhappy the land where heroes are needed.

- scene 12, Life of Galileo (1939) by Bertolt Brecht

Bern, Switzerland. December 25th, 1999:

George gave a long, low whistled as he stepped into the hotel room, taking a further few long steps down the hallway and into the shared sitting room where he dropped his charmed, featherlight bag on the plush red carpet. Hermione, only a step behind him, did the same, her eyes widening as they surveyed the room.

"Shacklebolt must really like us if he's putting us up in a place like this on his own galleons," commented George, gravitating to the balcony and the view overlooking the Aare river and the Bernese mountains.

Hermione hummed her agreement, moving to poke her head into the two adjoining bedrooms, both with king beds and attached bathrooms. "Do you have a room preference?"

Please don't pick this one, she thought as she dumped her carry-on case and her extended beaded bag in the room to the right.

"The larger of the two, if you don't mind, Granger. I want to keep my displays up so I can keep an eye on them."

Alarmed, Hermione turned to look at George, who was now lounging against the doorframe, hands in his pockets. "Keep an eye on them? What did you bring?"

"Oh, nothing dangerous for the Muggles," waved an unconcerned George, glancing back at her. "Some dragon armour, Peruvian Instant Darkness powder… just some new versions of old favourites, that's all."


Now annoyed, George turned to face the curly haired brunette. "Oy, I'm not doing anything to break the Statute of Secrecy, here; I'm dealing with a bunch of prototypes that are Muggle friendly like Shacklebolt asked."

"I'm not accusing you-" Hermione broke off and closed her eyes. Her frustration with George made her take a deep breath. I knew saying "yes" to Kingsley was going to lead to this… "Look. I just want to make sure nothing is going to go off in the middle of the night or bring down the Swiss Reisläufer on us."

"Nothing will," he assured her with a jaunty grin, but it didn't hide the bags under his eyes or the hollow look he sported. "This is just a nice vacation away from the shop and I don't plan on ruining it."

Hermione stood silent for a few, long moments as she peered at him. George stood still under her scrutiny, but then began to fidget and finally, with a loud exhale, turned to face her fully. "Okay, alright; I had to get away, happy now?"

"I had wondered why you were fine with not being at the Burrow on Christmas," said Hermione lightly, moving to one of the couches that faced a TV in the corner, opposite where George stood by the balcony door. She dropped two blue, cloth bags at her feet, one that was handed to her and George when they booked into the room at the front desk.

George sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Too many memories. The first Christmas after - after the war, it didn't register. We didn't celebrate, you know that. But this year? It's… it's hard without - without -"

"I know," said Hermione softly, leaning forward over her knees to peer at George. "Why do you think I also agreed to get out of Britain? It wasn't just because Kingsley asked, you know."

"I still don't know what Shacklebolt thinks we'll accomplish," said George, moving to sit opposite Hermione on a single armchair. He leaned his head back over the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Weariness was etched on his face. "Wizard folk don't need to worry much about Muggles yet, do we?"

"I guess that's what we're going to find out," replied Hermione. "And, of course, Mr. inventor, you might get some awesome ideas of your own to integrate or fool Muggle tech."

George grinned.

She reached down into the cloth bag and pulled out a thick, printed book. The front of the book was also blue, with block text in white reading Millennium Tech Summit, as well as in German below it. She flipped through some pages quickly first, her eyes skimming the text before she idly began to speak.

"There's a welcome dinner and board meet and greet tomorrow in the Salon Royale," she said. "It's hosted by a Dr. Ho Yinsen."

"Dinner? Free food?"

"At conferences, food is always free," grinned Hermione at George over the conference book.

He grinned back. "Well good, because otherwise, this place was going to be too posh for my Gringotts account."

"We'd just charge it to Kingsley anyway," replied Hermione.

"Then we'd better go to town, Granger." George paused. "Anything else interesting that we should look at? After all, we were practically ordered to attend as much as we can, do the meet 'n greet small talk, and dazzle with the Wheezes prototypes."

"And," added Hermione pointedly, "Report back if there is any startling tech that could potentially oust the magical world."

"Shacklebolt's just paranoid after everything the Death Eaters did to London," argued George.

"With good reason. They destroyed an entire bridge! That can't be explained away as a gas leak."

The two were silent, staring at each other. Then, George went, "Well. Anything?"

Hermione sighed, returning to the book and flicking through the pages quickly as she listed off interesting events. "The welcome dinner with Dr. Yinsen; we present on Tuesday in Osswald; umm…" Her eyes darted back and forth. "I can see a few I'm interested in, but you won't care for the geneticists - maybe the engineering stuff? Apparently, there is someone named Justin Hammer doing a presentation on Thursday on with their grenade launcher design… or maybe Tony Stark and his sonic cannon?"

A gleam entered George's eyes. "Sonic cannon?"

Hermione groaned.

Dr. Ho Yinsen was a surgeon, and while normally he would not serve on a board for a technology conference, he had pioneered some kind of tech-integration heart surgery that revolutionized (and made obsolete) pacemakers, with his partner, Dr. Wu.

Hermione found his welcome speech - a basic rundown of his research with Wu, a cardiologist - fascinating, although by the time it was done, she had to poke George, who snorted awake and hastily wiped at the drool at the corner of his mouth.

"'S it over?" he mumbled, bleary eyes looking around while those around them thundered their applause.

"Yes," replied Hermione primly, although there was an upturn to her lips. "It's time for dinner."

"Excellent!" he grinned and cast his eyes toward the back of the room (which they were close to, having arrived nearly late to the welcome), where waiters in black-and-white uniforms and gloves began to approach with artfully arranged plates.

Halfway through the meal, George sighed. "I could get used to this if this is what people do."

"The food is one of the reasons why people attend," agreed one of their tablemates in a knowing tone, with a nod to his head. He had the making of white at his temples in his dark hair, green eyes hidden behind large square frames, and wore the staple conference uniform of a blazer, tie, and nice slacks. "Well, at least one of the reasons why I do." He grinned, and then reached across the table toward them. "Richard Parker, geneticist."

Hermione shook his hand first. "Hermione Granger."

"George Weasley."

Parker's eyes lit up. "Ah, Weasley of 3W? You have quite the abstract for your presentation. I'm interested in your Skiving Snackboxes and the bruise paste - the molecular construction on those items must be extraordinary to interact in such a way with the human body."

George grinned at the man. "Well, I wouldn't want to go around spilling my secrets…"

The other man laughed. "Nor would I expect you to!"

Then the two were speaking, back and forth; George clearly didn't have the scientific background that Parker did, but given that he and Fred had experimented on themselves first meant George was well-versed in the scientific method to explain, in sometimes gross detail, just how the puking pastilles affected the human body.

Hermione found herself turning away, toward the woman next to her instead. Finding her French, they began a conversation in the woman's native language for the majority of the dinner.

After dinner, when everyone began to leave the salon and mingle into smaller groups, Hermione joined George and Richard Parker for drinks at the hotel bar. They found a seat near a cozy corner of dark wood and a display rack of alcoholic bottles in varying colours and shapes, the soft light filtering through them.

George and Parker had hit it off, and Hermione was surprised to learn Richard, whom she pegged as maybe only a few years older than George, was actually in his thirties and had an established career at a government facility.

"It does well enough, I supposed," he was saying as Hermione inquired into the career as he took a long sip of his whiskey. "My bosses allow for free reign as long as we produce sporadic results on assigned projects. So we all have pet projects on the side. I decided to take a crack at the Super Soldier serum, myself; although I doubt I'll ever get anywhere near replicating Dr. Erksine's original - and I think only Dr. Banner has come close, recently." He paused thoughtfully.

George and Hermione shared a concerned glance. "Super Soldier Serum?" she asked.

Parker nodded. "Oh, yes, from the forties? Defected German scientists were working on it to help America during the war. Surely, you've heard of their success in Captain America? Everyone knows about him."

As George went, "Who?", Hermione hedged, "I remember something briefly about that in primary, but-"

"Ah, he probably wasn't as popular to the Brits as he was the Americans," said Parker, with a shrug. "After all, he was called Captain America, and not Captain Britain!"

He finished what was left in his tumbler, his eyes surveying the bar until they landed on someone. "Ah, apologies - there's someone I need to get to know better-" and then he left George and Hermione. Hermione turned in her chair to watch as he sidled up to a brunette with curly hair like Hermione's, and began chatting her up.

"A super soldier serum sounds like something we should be concerned about," muttered George, picking up his own drink, flicking his eyes toward Hermione.

"Agreed," she replied, turning back to face him. "It turns out Kingsley was right about this conference."

"And it's only been day one," agreed George, with a frown. "What else are we going to learn?"

George presented a variety of his Weasley's Wizard Wheezes in a small room that sat only around twenty in total. The room wasn't packed by any stretch, but Richard Parker had apparently talked George up to a few others that he knew, and there was a cluster of similarly-dressed men in slacks and blazers, with only the colour of their button-ups and the shape of their glasses to distinguish them from one another.

Whatever mischief Fred and George had gotten up to during their time at Hogwarts, it did teach them a showman's flair. Hermione watched with a smile on her lips from the side of the room, playing host and victim at the same time, as George walked the front of the tiny conference room, eschewing the two tables at the front for panelists. Instead, he lined up a few bottles and boxes and had Hermione conjure a mannequin earlier that morning to display the dragonscale armour - which was in true Weasley form, neon green.

"-has numerous applications," George was saying, holding out the bruise paste jar and scooping a portion out with two fingers so that everyone could see the white gel. Hermione handed out two open jars to people on either side of the room and winced. She knew what was coming.

"Not just in commercial application, but also for households," finished George, and with a flourish and a grin just shy of devil-may-care, allowed the very same jack-in-the-box that Hermione once played with to erupt from its container, and punch him in the face.

A few in the crowd moaned, but others jeered in good nature.

"Ouch!" commented one audience member, and Hermione glanced to see Richard Parker nudge a fellow in the ribs.

George gingerly touched his left eye, which was already swelling and turning black. "I don't think I've lost my good looks, have I?"

The audience appropriately tittered in amusement.

George used the scoop of bruise paste and rubbed it over the eye and surrounding area, talking all the while on the history of how he and Fred developed the paste - but without mentioning any of its magical properties - and everyone watched in amazement as the swelling disappeared and the blackened area slowly turned purple, then green, and then to a faint yellow tinge that made the bruise look days old instead of minutes.

Murmurs began to grow throughout the crowd, and a few of Parker's associates began to lean forward, while one scientist stuck his hand in the jar and tentatively licked a tiny bit he scooped out.

But George had moved on, pointing out the armour and its features. He and Hermione had carefully planned what they could and could not say regarding the products' ingredients or what 'fabric' the armour was made of, but again, they weren't selling the products. They wanted to see if there were Muggle equivalents, and if not, could they be replicated as such.

Once the presentation was over an hour later, because of Parker, George spent the majority of his time fielding questions from scientists, who all clustered around him, some even shaking his bruise-paste jar in his face.

Hermione however, stood to the side, cleaning up the table and shifting items into a box.

"That was very impressive."

Hermione turned to face the voice, her brows going up when she spotted the tall man in a classic black suit. He looked out of place from the other scientists and Hermione immediately pegged him as less cerebral and more - ah yes, she thought, eyes dropping to his waist. A hidden weapon - military.

"I'm guessing you are interested in the armour?" she asked baldly, turning partially toward the mannequin. One of the last things she was going to pack was the dragonscale armour.

The man raised his eyebrows, a bland expression on his face as he did so. "I didn't say I was."

"You're not a scientist," replied Hermione, eyeing the man. He was almost too unassuming in his dark hair, pale skin, and general height and pleasant demeanour. "You're carrying a concealed weapon. You're forgettable. You're military."

Something flickered in his eyes, but his smile was a bit more pleasant this time around. "Phil Coulson."

"Hermione Granger," replied Hermione, stretching her hand out for a shake. Coulson did so, and Hermione was pleased that it was firm and warm. She was less pleased when something papery slipped into her hand as well. "So. Military?"

"In a manner of speaking," he replied, withdrawing his hand and putting both in the pockets of his trousers. "But you were right; we're interested in the armour."

They both turned and she sighed. "I'd apologise about the colour…"

Coulson grinned. "Is that normal? Being… that flashy?"

"That's the Weasley brand all right," agreed Hermione with a slight moue of disappointment. "I tried to convince George that black would've been better, but…"

"It does its job."

Hermione nodded, one hand on her hip as she cocked it out. "So - with that accent, American government? What is it about the armour that you like? We aren't mass producing or selling these products, anyway - our showcase here is mainly about what we have and looking at potentially partnering up with others-"

"Oh, I know," Coulson replied. "And yes, American. I'm like you; here to look at some of the inventions and check things out. Shopping, so to speak."

"Keeping an eye on things," retorted Hermione, any feeling of goodwill leaching out of her as her eyes narrowed. "Keeping an eye on certain people."

Coulson's mouth twitched. "You're a smart one."

"So I've been told."

They stared at one another.

"Oy, Granger, you alright?" shouted George, breaking their gaze.

Hermione turned with a smile on her face and raised a hand in greeting. George was standing near Richard Parker and a few others. He was looking at her hard, his expression mild, but the way his eyes flicked back and forth between her and Coulson told Hermione that he was wary of the stranger she was with.

"Absolutely!" Hermione called back. "I'm almost done here."

"Great," he said, walking over and looking curiously at the man in the suit at her side. He reached up to scratch at where his ear used to be. "George Weasley."

"The owner and creator," greeted Coulson genially. "Nice to meet you."

"Ready to go, Granger?" George turned away from Coulson after nodding at him. "Parker's invited us to the Stark presentation - he's already got some others saving us seats - so we need to go now if we want to make it in time."

Coulson read the hint. "Oh, don't let me keep you." He nodded at George and then Hermione. "Mr. Weasley, Ms. Granger."

The two watched him turn and leave, standing very still until he exited the room and disappeared with the mingling crowd outside in the hallway of the conference center. George's stiff form began to loosen.

"You okay?" he muttered.

Hermione frowned. "I think we just attracted attention from someone we didn't want to."

"We'll mention it to Shacklebolt?" muttered George.

Hermione nodded and looked down at her hand. Phil Coulson, it read, in a sharp font. Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division was on the back. There was a generic, long phone number beginning with a 1-800 hotline, and a simple email.

"Have you ever heard of them?" she asked, handing the card to George.

He read it and shook his head.

"Yeah, me either," she replied softly. "And I don't think we want to."

Thirty minutes later, George and Hermione was seated near the back of the Salon Royale presentation room - the largest at the hotel - with Richard Parker, two scientists he knew ("Bill's a professor now, can you believe that?" and "NASA employs more than just astronauts, right, Ashland?"). Hermione ended up sitting next to a young woman with thick brown hair who was more immersed in reading the conference program. Hermione left her alone.

Almost immediately upon settling into their seats, the lights dimmed and a member of the board for the Tech Summit walked on stage, introducing Stark Industries and the heir, Tony Stark.

"Have you heard of this Muggle before?" asked George in a whisper as he leaned over to her.

Hermione shook her head. "I think he produces weapons, but that's it. I never really kept up with technology."

George made a noise confirming he heard her but leaned back to his seat. After the introduction, streamers, and confetti filled the stage and music pumped through the speakers. Both Hermione and George nearly clapped their hands over their ears in surprise, but the others seemed to expect it.

Parker laughed. "That's Tony Stark, all right. He's a showman!"

"HELLO SWITZERLAND!" a man shouted as he stumbled across the stage, waving an entire arm in greeting. He wore a flashy suit in blue, shiny material, with a white shirt underneath and square-framed glasses with tinted lenses. His facial hair was neat and trimmed, and other than the pallor to his face, he seemed well put together, but then he laughed at something, tripping a bit over his feet, as he made his way to the board member.

Hermione felt her mouth drop open.

"-am I right or am I right?" the man in question asked, finishing up a tasteless joke. The audience laughed appropriately anyway, a bit uncomfortable.

"That's Tony Stark?" asked George incredulously.

Grimly, next to him, Richard Parker nodded. "Yep, that's the billionaire himself. The man in charge of the largest weapons manufacturing contract for the United States military. Parents died in a car crash in '91, around this time of the year, and he's been drunk or off on some debauched vacation since."

"Is he - is he drunk now?" asked Hermione, horrified as the young man they were speaking about slurred some of the trickier words in his presentation for the sonic cannon Stark Industries was showcasing.

"Oh, completely," the woman on Hermione's other side deadpanned.

Hermione glanced at her.

She grinned. "Maya Hansen, botanist."

"I'd imagine a bit more than that if you're here," replied Hermione, but introduced herself as well. "Hermione Granger."

"Of 3W, I remember," the brunette said. "I was at the back of the room. I was very impressed with your companion's work."

"Don't tell him that; it'll inflate his ego more," retorted Hermione, wheezing a bit as George nudged her in the side. Hermione glanced back at him with an apologetic grin. "C'mon, admit it, you were a terror in school."

"I don't know what you're talking about Granger," sniffed George, affronted, but the grin on his face took away any sting.

"Shhh," hissed the professor friend Parker introduced them to.

"Sorry," Hermione and Maya said together, stifling some grins.

Hermione turned her attention back to the conference presentation, equally disturbed, as she was horrified as Tony Stark continued to mumble his way through the PowerPoint, and then even worse, began to cajole someone off stage to bring on a sonic canon prototype for him to try on stage.

It was a memorable presentation, and not for any good reasons.

Much of the audience seemed to agree, muttering their disappointment as they left. Hermione caught snatches of their complaints as she joined George, Richard Parker, Bill, Ashland, and Maya Hansen in the crowd leaving the ballroom to the open gathering space on the floor below, near a bar.

"-Parents would be so disappointed in him-"

"-Barely able to present at all. What a waste!"

"He's very handsome though, isn't he? Takes after his father-"

"Has the genius of course, but is nowhere near Howard Stark's business acumen-"

"-Joke of a career. Born rich, inherits a multi-billion dollar company and does nothing with it but make weapons-"

Somehow, the group managed to stay together, discussing what they had seen or who they had spoken to over the past few days at the conference. However, Hermione found herself contemplating what she overheard about Tony Stark, and the man she witnessed on stage.

They were not painting a nice picture of the man for her. At least I won't have to speak to him, she thought, preparing herself to turn back to the groups' conversation. In fact, it was unlikely that she'd ever run into Tony Stark at all, given the size of the conference.

She brightened and turned to Bill, asking, "So, Professor Foster, how do you like working in San Francisco?"

New Years' Eve, 1999:

Music thumped loudly through the speakers of the ballroom, spilling over the hotel's PA system and into the bar area. Unlike how it was decorated earlier for the Tech Summit, it was now decked in silver and blue with helium balloons everywhere.

Hermione, dressed in a silvery dress with long sleeves to hide her scars from the war, walked into the large space with George in a fancy suit.

"Where are we supposed to meet Dr. Parker again?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Bar," replied George evenly. "I think he met someone and wanted to introduce us-"

Hermione groaned. "Another person…?"

"That was the job, Granger," grinned George, tugging her arm a little as they descended down a curving staircase to the crowded floor below. "Shacklebolt wanted us to make friends-"

Hermione sighed. "These are not the scientists we've been talking to all week-"

She broke off as a very inebriated man stumbled his way into the two of them on the stairs, alcohol-tinged breath wafting across their faces as he shouted, "Y-two-k, baby!" and handed Hermione and George both two different kinds of white-looking party favours.

George immediately put on cat ears, grinning and shouting back, "Thanks, mate!" while handing Hermione oversized "2000" glasses, with the zeros in the date punched through so one could see with the number perched on their nose.

Hermione glared at George. "I'm not wearing those."

"Yes, you are," he grinned.


"Hermione! George!" Maya bounced up to them, a cocktail in hand with an umbrella and party favour in the other. She had a fuzzy headband on that matched very nice with her splattered dress and gold beaded necklace. She eyed George's cat ears appreciatively. "Nice ears."

"Thanks," he preened. "Have you seen Parker?"

"Took off about twenty minutes about with an OsCorp scientist," replied the botanist, grinning. She pushed back her straight brown hair over her shoulder. "He's only been chatting her up all week."

"Shame," sighed George. Instead, he grinned at Maya. "What do you say, Hansen, think I can get Granger here to wear these glasses?"

Maya took one look at Hermione's stricken face and shook her head. "Not those," she laughed, turning and plucking something from a waiter passing down the stairs. "But maybe she can wear this crown?"

The white crown was a bit more delicate and beaded with silver pieces, matching Hermione's dress. "Better," she sighed, "If I must wear one at all."

"She's a real riot at parties," mock whispered George to Maya, who grinned as she cut a glance at Hermione, who crossed her arms.

"I can tell!"

The three made their way down the stairs, Maya leading them toward a small table in a corner she claimed. They were near the banister that overlooked the rest of the floor, separating it from the dance floor.

"By the way," she said, once George and Hermione had ordered drinks. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

"Oh?" asked George.

Maya nodded. "It's about your ear - or, what happened to it."

Instantly, George stiffened and any good mood he had disappeared. The waiter picked that time to drop off their drinks, placing George's pint in front of him and Hermione's gin and tonic by her.

Hermione warily glanced at George as he picked up the drink and began chugging.

Maya winced. "Sore subject?"

Hermione grimaced. "A bit, yes." She warily looked at the other woman. "Why do you bring it up?"

"My research," explained Maya. "I've been researching and developing a theory that, if I'm right, will allow me to access the area of the brain that governs repair of human tissue and chemically recode our genomes to, essentially, re-grow missing limbs." She nodded at George. "Or, in your case, missing ears."

Hermione blinked in shock and George sputtered into his glass, making a bit dribble down his chin as he lowered it in shock from his mouth. "I-what?"

Maya shrugged. "It's still in the early stages, of course. I'm only working with plants right now, aloe mainly and other genus from the family."

"That's - that's amazing," said Hermione, eyes wide. "We have a friend - well, I have a friend, mostly - who is into herbology. He'd be so interested in what you're doing-"

Maya grinned. "It was my baby at MIT, my grad project. I'm still developing it but once I get the funding and can sequence the genetics out a bit more, I should be able to move to human testing in, oh, about a decade."

George wilted. "Ten years?"

Hermione glanced at him. "These things take time, George. Especially here," she added, stressing without saying 'Muggle.'

"If I can get money to support my work," added Maya, frowning. "I didn't have much luck pitching it here."

"Did I hear 'pitching' and 'money' in the same sentence?"

The three turned. The man before them was a bit on the short side, around George's height but he lacked George's bulkier frame. He wore a nice suit but a ridiculous white party hat tilted at an angle just so to make him look roguish. Behind him lingered a man with slicked back hair, a single piercing in his right ear, and a black suit that was ill-fitting.

Maya recognized the man before George and Hermione did. "Tony Stark!"

"In the flesh," he grinned, although it was a bit smarmy. He leered at Maya, looking her up and down and then nearly purred, "And who might you be?"

"Dr. Maya Hansen," she said, and Tony took her hand, kissing the back of it instead of shaking it when she offered.

Still, he was polite and turned his eyes to Hermione and George after dropping Maya's hand.

George spoke first. "George Weasley."

"Of 3W?" asked Tony, eyeing George with interest now. "I admit I only heard second-hand information about your presentation but your work sounds fascinating."

George's return smile was just shy of being predatory. "In the flesh," he mimicked.

"Touché," replied Tony, grinning. He turned to Hermione. "And you are…?"

"Hermione Granger," supplied the last of the group, promptly holding her hand out, fingers together and pointed down so he had no choice but to shake instead of anything else.

He shook her hand, peering at her from behind his tinted glasses. "Hey, aren't you a bit young to be here…?"

Hermione bristled. "I'm nineteen, not like that matters any-"

"So you're here with a supervisor on some special undergrad trip, got it," the man said, assuming and dismissing her just as quickly. He turned back to Maya. "I'd love to hear more about this project of yours…"

"I was in the middle of explaining it to George and Hermione," began Maya, eyes flickering between the young, curly-haired witch practically vibrating in anger at her side and the billionaire. Opposite her, George hid a grin behind his glass.

"Well, don't let me stop you." Tony smiled, leaning to the side and against the railing, looking completely at ease as he inserted himself into the conversation.

Maya glanced at him but turned back to George and Hermione tentatively. "Like I said - it's a matter of funding -"

"Bzzt! Wrong! I can help you there," interrupted Tony. "Try again."

Hermione blinked and scowled at Tony for a moment, before turning back to Maya, who hesitated and looked around for a moment. Warily, Maya continued when Hermione nodded encouragingly.

"And then there's a tiny problem with the genetic coding that I haven't worked out yet, so I need to get that sorted and replicate the model in a few different plants for stability-"

"Easily done with the most up-to-date lab," broke in Tony. He waved his hand as if casting the words away physically.

Hermione glowered at Tony and George took a long gulp of his drink, only putting it down reluctantly when he realized he drank everything in it. He looked at it mournfully and then lifted his head to flag down a passing waiter, waving his glass in the air just a bit for the man to understand what he meant.

I'm going to need another of these, he thought, biting the inside of his cheek as he glanced between the two women he was with and the newest interloper.

"And once that's done over time," Maya continued slowly, eyeing Tony but he wriggled his eyebrows in response. She looked back at Hermione who was peering at her with studious intent. "I might be able to apply to the WHO and UN - depending on where I am, for permission to begin human testing."

"I know some people," added Tony.

"Oh, my God!" broke in Hermione, stomping her foot and turning to the American. "You can't just railroad over her like that! Do you even hear yourself?"

Tony raised his eyebrows at her. "Um, I think I just did. And yes, of course, I hear myself. Duh."

"There's such a thing called human decency," seethed Hermione. "Maya was in the middle of a conversation with us, by the way, when you rudely interrupted. There was no need to butt in the way you did-"

"I'm not sure if anyone told you, pipsqueak, but the adults were talking." Tony leaned forward over the table, flicking his eyes down at her and then up. "Isn't it past your bedtime?"

"I'm not a child, Mr. Stark-"

"Great defense, real convincing-"

"I am more than fully capable of handling myself against arrogant cockroaches like you-"

"Sticks and stones, sweetheart, sticks and stones-"

Hermione screeched something that went unheard as the song ended over the speakers.

"I think we're getting off to a poor start here," interjected Maya, looking worriedly between the two. "Mr. Stark, thank you for your… points. I was mentioning to George and Hermione that my research might help George-"

"Altruistic, nice," grinned Tony. "I can get behind that."

He leered when he said, 'behind,' and all three knew exactly what he was implying with the way Hermione's face darkened and George muttered, "Oh, boy," under his breath.

Maya blinked. "Wow. Okay. So we're going there…"

"Any time, baby." Then Tony blew on the party favour, making it toot and extend.

The music changed and a new song began playing loudly over the speakers. Yo listen up, here's the story, about a little guy that lives in a blue world -

"You wouldn't know altruistic if it bit you on the arse," bit out Hermione.

"Wanna bet?" Tony retorted.

Hermione shifted to cross her arms, leaning partially toward the man as she spoke. "I do believe you were introduced earlier as Tony Stark, weapons manufacturer. Not philanthropist."

Tony affected a nonchalant air. "Hey, we all gotta make the money somehow-"

"By making and selling weapons?!"

"I'm carrying on a legacy," snapped Tony, peering down at Hermione. "I realize you're too young to understand what a legacy means, Miss English Rose-"

"Don't patronize me, Stark-"

"You don't know me-"

"I know that your weapons may be made for the right reasons, can also just as easily be used to hurt people-"

"My weapons protect Americans! American citizens and soldiers who fight the good fight!" Tony was leaning forward too. "And I betcha they protect British soldiers, too-"

George, watching the two, slipped around Tony until he was at Maya's side. "Do you think they even remember that we're here?" he muttered to her in an aside.

Maya shook her head, eyes wide as they bounced back and forth. "Not a chance."

"So…" George glanced at her. "Wanna show me this plant? Talk me through your research? 3W isn't in the business of expanding or supplying funding, but we do well enough that I could help some… especially if your experiment proves successful…"

Maya grinned, her face lighting up. "I'd like that. I'd like to help you."

The man with slicked-back hair leaned toward Tony. "Half hour till the ball drops."

Tony ignored him. His brown eyes were fixed on Hermione as she spat, "You have a responsibility-"

"I hate that word. I like waving goodbye to it whenever someone brings it up to me-"

"-In case your weapons end up in the wrong hands!" finished Hermione, speaking over Tony.

They really do share some similar personality traits, thought George. Then, turning back to Maya, he shook his head.

"They're going to be at it for the rest of the night," he said, glancing at Hermione fondly as he spoke quietly to Maya. "He doesn't know it, but she's fixated on this now and won't let it go." He turned to the woman at his side. "So, hey, do you wanna…?"

"Hey! Tony Stark?" a man interrupted Tony's stare with Hermione, causing him to glance at the man as he was clapped on the back. The man with the slicked hair glowered and moved to intercept the man. "Great speech, man!"

"I got you, pal," said the slick-haired man, physically hauling the man away from Tony.

Tony blinked, looking around. "I gave a speech? How was it?"

"Edifying," grinned Maya.

Hermione snorted. "Unintelligible."

Tony blinked. "Really?"

Maya glanced back at George who smirked, nodding along as he audibly hummed, "Mmm-hmm."

"Well," grinned Tony, feeling back in control, "That's my favourite kind of presentation: edifying and unintelligible."

"A winning combo," added George. He had a hand at Maya's back and began to escort her around the table and Tony. "Now, if you excuse us-"

The man in question blinked and looked around. "Where are we going?"

"Erm…" George shared a glance with Maya.

Tony caught the look and his face broke into a wide smile as he leaned forward and clapped George on the shoulder. "Uh huh, to town, on each other, I bet. Probably back in her room."

"You're such a pig!"

George closed his eyes. "Annnnnd here we go, again."

The two began to snipe back and forth at each other, while George maneuvered Maya. They began walking away, but Hermione and Tony followed, still completely engrossed in their latest argument.

"-Completely demeaning to women-"

"-You love it-"

"I certainly do not, Mr. Stark!"

"Mr. Stark."

The two trailing behind George and Maya turned at the name, losing the other two in the crowd as the minutes trickled down to midnight. Hermione's eyes lit up at the familiar figure.

"Dr. Yinsen, what a pleasure!" she beamed while Tony looked back and forth. "Your opening keynote on your work with Dr. Wu was quite impressive!"

The bald man smiled gently down at her. "Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it." He looked up at Tony from behind his glasses. "Ho Yinsen, Mr. Stark."

Tony grinned. "Ah, I finally met a man called 'Ho.'"

Hermione elbowed him forcefully and he gasped out a wheeze as she muttered, "Rude."

Yinsen and the man with him chuckled, but it was from bare politeness. "I'd like to introduce you to our guest, Dr. Wu. He's head surgeon at the Laun Yu university hospital in Beijing and a cardiologist specializing in traumatic surgery recovery-"

The Asian man bowed and began speaking in Mandarin, very enthusiastically.

For a moment, Tony looked terrified; not at all like the confident man he had been all evening, and far more sober than he had been all night. Hermione narrowed her eyes as her annoyance turned to curiosity.

"Hey," replied Tony, slowly. "You're a heart doctor…"

Yinsen nodded at Wu's recognition. "I was wondering if we could bother you for a moment of your time to discuss our technology-"

Then sleazy Tony returned, and Hermione watched as he callously dismissed both men by grabbing Hermione around the waist. Being shorter than him, even in heels, Tony was able to tuck his chin on her shoulder and say, "Great meeting you - she's going to need a cardiologist after I…" He then tooted the party favour.

Hermione felt her face flush red and she shrieked, "Tony Stark!" while shoving him off and away from her.

He laughed loudly as he did so, grabbing her hand and pulling her from the two men, tossing, "Bye!" over his shoulder as they walked away.

Behind, Hermione could hear Yinsen sigh and call, "Perhaps another time?" but all she could think about was digging in her heels as Tony led her down the hallway and away from the dance floor. There was a hunted look to him, something cagey, and Hermione began to tug on his arm, trying to get him to stop.

I don't want to get my wand out - not yet at least, she thought. "Hey! Hey, stop! Stark, please!"

Tony startled, realizing he was still pulling the younger and smaller witch behind him. He stopped, dropping her hand as it burned, and bringing his hand up instead to scratch at his facial hair. "Ah, Pipsqueak - you're so tiny I forgot you were there."

Hermione glared, crossing her arms. "Mr. Stark-"

"Tony," the man interrupted.

"I-what?" Hermione stared at him, her arms slowly lowering from their crossed position.

Tony's dark brown eyes met hers for a moment and then skittered away. "Tony. 'Mr. Stark' was my father and I - uh -" he shuddered. "Anyway. If my name is too hard for you to say it, Dr. Stark works, too."

Hermione blinked. "Doctor?"

"Mmhmm," replied Tony, a smirk crawling up his face as he watched Hermione scramble to reconcile the man she had been building in her head to the man who just revealed he had a doctorate.

"In what?"

"Physics, robotics, engineering," Tony waved his hand. "I've got about three, last count - and you know universities, they love giving out honorary doctorates, too -"

"Three?" gasped Hermione, eyes wide.

Tony leaned in until his nose was nearly brushing Hermione's. His voice dropped as he taunted, "Doesn't that just bother you?"

Hermione, eyes wide, felt her breath catch as she stared up at the older man, his dark brown eyes suddenly turning the colour of chocolate. His aftershave - something spicy - wafted over her and her heart suddenly started pounding.

She dry swallowed, shallowly, and then licked her lips nervously. Tony's eyes darted down to them for a moment and then back up as she opened her mouth to speak, her voice coming out a bit more breathless than she anticipated. "Four."

He blinked in reply this time. "What?"

"I'll beat you. I'll have four degrees," she added, feeling more confident as she spoke.

Tony stared at her for a long moment, pulling back until there was a foot between them. Then, suddenly, he threw his head back and laughed, loudly.

"Okay, then," he said, his voice suddenly far more fond than it had been previously. He smiled down at her. "Okay, Pipsqueak. Four."

Unbidden, Hermione felt her own lips stretch into a smile. They were still smiling at each other when a man, slightly stooped, with long, wavy blond hair in a dark khaki blazer and trousers hobbled up to them, leaning heavily on his cane.

"Mr. Stark!" His eyes were wide behind large-frame glasses. "Oh, wow, Tony!"

Annoyance flashed in Tony's eyes as they were pulled from Hermione to look at the man speaking to him. Somehow, Tony found his arm winding across Hermione's back, tucking her neatly into his side.

She squirmed a bit, looking up at him in annoyance, but Tony's attention was on the man while his slick-haired bodyguard hovered behind him.

"A-Aldrich K-Killian," the man stuttered in excitement, as he held out a hand for Tony to shake. Tony looked down at it and then back at the man, who, undaunted, continued, "And you were with George Weasley, from 3W. Hermione Granger, right? I'm a big fan of your work."

"My work?" feigned Tony, blinking. "Who isn't?"

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Me. And I think he means George's work with 3W."

Killian nodded emphatically. "Right! Right, Ms. Granger. I've never heard of 3W before, and my organization tracks research and products like those Mr. Weasley designed and produced. So it's been quite the buzz to learn about 3W without knowing anything about you!"

"That's absolutely wonderful," broke in Tony, impatiently, as he looked between Killian and Hermione. "Stupendous, don't you think, sweetheart? But we have to go. We're going, see?"

Tony began to steer Hermione, tucked at his side, toward the elevators where a bunch of partygoers were congregating, wanting to get to their rooms or the outdoor terraces to see the fireworks display over the Aare river.

"Call me sweetheart again, Stark, and I'll show you stupe-ndous," muttered Hermione, changing the pronunciation of the last word halfway through. Pressed against Tony's side, he felt her fingers twitch.

"That's fine, I'll join you," Killian said, inviting himself.

Tony grimaced, arriving at the back of the group. His bodyguard pushed and shoved at some of the people, ensuring that Tony and Hermione - and himself - were on the next elevator.

Killian grinned and managed to ease his way into the elevator with them. Tony glanced down at Hermione and deadpanned, "Oh, wow, he made it. He made the cut." He glanced at Killian and a hand hovered over the floor buttons. "What floor you going to, pal?"

"Well, now, that is an appropriate question," began Killian, excitedly. The doors to the elevator shut without him giving an answer. "The ground floor, actually, of a proposal I'm putting together myself. It's a privately funded think tank called Advanced Idea Mechanics."

He pointed at his shirt, a white t-shirt underneath his blazer with a company logo of AIM in blue. He also dug his hand into his pocket and produced a small cluster of business cards that he held out to Hermione and Tony.

Confused, and a bit unnerved, Hermione said, "I beg your pardon?"

Tony's hand at Hermione's back twitched, just as he added, "She'll take both." His grin was all teeth at the other man. "One to throw away and one to not call."

Killian was undeterred and began explaining the company. "'Advanced Idea Mechanics' - or "AIM," for short. Do you get it?"

Hermione's interest in the man, and anything he wanted to say, shrunk to zero with the obviousness of his interest and the redundancy of his explanation. Her nose tilted up just the slightest amount. "Yes, I can see that. It's on your shirt."

Tony snorted into Hermione's curls as he turned his head into them.

The elevator pinged, and the bodyguard was letting people off, saying loudly, "Ladies, follow the mullet. Ladies first!"

Hermione glanced at the business cards in her hand and gave a frigidly polite, closed-lipped smile. "Thank you for this. I'll speak with George and we'll call you if we're interested in talking further."

"Oh, wow, oh," grinned Killian, his eyes lighting up. "That would be amazing!"

"I'll bet, buddy," retorted Tony sarcastically, gently pushing Hermione ahead of him as they exited the elevator.

As they passed the threshold, Tony turned, dropping his arm from her waist and placing his hand to block the doors from sliding closed. Hermione turned partially in curiosity to see what he was going to do next, even as his bodyguard resignedly tried ushering her down to a set of double doors: the penthouse suite.

Tony leaned forward. "I'm titillated by the notion of working with you."

Killian seemed to stop breathing as he looked up at a role model of his. "Yeah?"

"Give me some time to get the little woman in bed, and then I'll see you up on the roof in - say - ten minutes?" Tony's voice was sleazy but there was something cold in his eyes that Killian seemed to miss. "Just gonna try and get my beak wet real quick. You know what I'm talking about?"

"I'll see you up there," nodded Killian numerous times, excitedly.

"Damn betcha," replied Tony, that still smarmy smile on his face as he let go of the doors, allowing them to close.

When he turned, Hermione stood with her arms crossed and a displeased look on her face. "Little woman?" she echoed darkly.

"Well, you kind of are," snickered Tony, looking her up and down. "Don't worry, Granger, you'll grow into it."

Hermione sighed, glancing at the elevator display, which was now steadily moving up a few floors to roof access. "Was that necessary?"

"Don't tell me you'd actually encourage him and that behaviour!"

"No," replied Hermione as Tony came up to her side and they began walking again. "Not at all. I didn't like him and something about his eagerness… rubbed me the wrong way."

"Rubbed you wrong, huh?" the industry heir wriggled his eyebrows at her in the most ridiculous way. "Let me make it better, baby."

Hermione snorted. Loudly. "Does that ever actually work?"

"You'd be surprised," the man chuckled, recognizing its failure on the woman. "But then again, Pipsqueak, you're not like the others."

"And how about that one? Does that work, too?"

Tony's cheeks turned the slightest bit pink as he swiped his room card. His bodyguard entered first, glancing around as he turned on lights.

The room was far more spacious compared to her and George's, but there was a similar theme of red carpet, whitewashed walls, and excellent views of the Aare river. However, the penthouse seemed also to have a sitting area, two bedrooms, and a kitchenette area that made the room seem more like a small flat than hotel space.

Tony went straight to a sidecar table and poured himself a generous portion of a golden-brown liquid that Hermione couldn't identify from where she was standing, but she radiated her disapproval loudly. She moved to sit on one of the couches primly, hands clasped in her lap and back straight as she surveyed him.

He could feel her eyes on his back, and he kept it to her as he didn't even savour the alcohol, just let it gulp down his throat as he stared out at the darkness beyond the hotel, toward a more residential part of Bern, toward the museum across the river, eyes slightly hazy and ears muffled.

But Hermione's question pierced through everything. "Doesn't it ever get tiring, putting on that show?"

"Who said it's a show?" snapped Tony, defensive. He still didn't turn, but his hand did tighten around the glass.

"I refuse to believe that a man who has three doctorates, is a genius inventor and skilled, charismatic speaker, is a debauched drunk."

Tony turned, grinning, the pointer finger on the hand around his glass pointed at her. He strode towards her, getting closer with every word. "A-ha! So you do think I'm a genius. And charismatic."

He finished by looming over her, just shy of his shins touching her knees on the couch.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Like this is news to you - the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and Tony Stark is a genius."

"'Course not," the man scoffed, putting the glass down on the coffee table behind him. "But it's nice to be recognized for it."

"Somehow I think your ego would survive not being reminded of it every ten minutes," replied Hermione wryly. It gave her a moment to ogle his backside in the trousers he wore, revealing a nice ass in her face. Her eyes jumped as he faced her again and she struggled to keep the blush off her cheeks.

Nothing to be ashamed of, Granger, she told herself. It was right there… you couldn't not look.

Tony eyed her for a moment and then swiftly placed himself on the couch next to her, close enough so that they legs bumped and brushed against one another. He stretched out an arm along the back of the seat, letting his fingertips trail and gently brush against some of Hermione's curls.

"I don't usually keep judgmental people around me," he said, his voice growing softer as he focused on his hand playing with the ends of her curls. "I don't like people me I'm wrong."

Hermione turned a bit to face him, arching an eyebrow. "I don't believe I ever said you were wrong. I recollect something about being morally reprehensible…"

Tony snorted. "Yeah, like that's any better."

"And yet, here I remain."

"So you are," he said, voice dropping more. He seemed lost in his thoughts.

Hermione leaned forward slightly, looking up at him, even with his face tilted down toward his chest. "Do you ever wonder - maybe think - that it's because you like someone arguing with you? Putting you in your place every once in a while because it's different? It's a challenge compared to everyone else who says 'yes sir' to the great Tony Stark?"

"If I wanted that, I'd just have to dig through my memories and summon my father," grumbled Tony, but there was something cagey in his eyes.

"So you're a runner," sighed Hermione, understanding in her voice. Unbidden, her right hand drifted to the silvery scar left from the cursed knife by her neck even as her eyes darted to her arm, where Bellatrix's slur remained visible, not even hidden by a glamour. "I can understand that."

Tony eyed her skeptically, his voice dark when he spoke. "Can you? My life isn't the same as some light prep school porno where the teachers didn't like you, the girls bullied you, or mommy and daddy went skiing in the Alps and forgot about poor little Hermione Granger at home."

Hermione's nose twitched for a moment and then she struggled to say through trembling lips, trying not to laugh, "Prep school porno?"

Tony's cheeks went a bit pink and he looked away. "So that wasn't my best-"

"I'll say."

His eyes darted back to Hermione's face, which was lit with mirth. Her brown eyes were glittering in the light of the penthouse, and her lips were twitching upward into a smile, but she was trying to hold it back. Something about her face - young, fresh, amused - softened him. "Yeah, laugh it up."

She was polite enough to manage her amusement. "I'm not saying we should have a… a pissing contest regarding whose life was worse, but you don't have a cornerstone on tragedy. And even then… it seems like you're finding ways to alleviate that."

"'Alleviate'," mouthed Tony, shaking his head a bit. "What a nice way of saying drinking and fucking."

Hermione went pink. "Your words; definitely not mine."

"So, what Granger?" asked Tony, leaning back and running a hand through his hair, dislodging the party hat. "You gonna play doctor and fix me?"

His leer seemed to be lacking something.

Hermione shook her head, her curls bouncing as she did so. "How about just being a friend?"

"I don't have friends," said Tony flatly. He went rigid, and his jaw worked as he tensed.

"You can have one," replied Hermione, her tone upbeat as she looked at him. "C'mon Stark, take a chance. What's a little risk without some reward?"

Outside, a whizz and burst of colour and several cracks threatened to break their conversation as the New Year crept on, signalling not just a different year, but a different century and millennia as they entered 2000.

Maybe it was the atmosphere, or Hermione's words, or Tony was drunker than he thought, but the Stark heir shook his head, slowly, and his other hand reached up and wrapped gently around the side of Hermione's neck, sliding his fingers into her hair by the nape of her neck.

"I don't think this was the risk you were talking about," he murmured, "but I've always been the kind to play at high stakes."

And as they were washed by the riotous colours of the exploding fireworks outside of the hotel, over the river, Tony leaned forward and kissed Hermione, and she couldn't tell when the fireworks display ended outside because of the amount that erupted at the feel of his lips pressed against hers.

The bed Hermione woke up in was just as luxurious as hers in her room, but had a difference of there being someone behind her, sharing the king sized bed with an arm wrapped around her middle and muffled snores paired with warm puffs of breath against her neck as her hair moved with each gentle exhale.

Blinking, Hermione took in the darkened room, the warmth of the body behind her, and she gingerly began to slide toward the edge of the bed. The arm around her stomach slowly slid across her bare skin until it dropped onto the mattress.

She was sore and aching in spots she hadn't for a long time, and she moved slowly as she gathered any discarded clothing (and her wand) from where they dropped as the two had not been thinking of organization when they frantically peeled clothing from each other the previous night.

"Usually I'm the one sneaking out," came a hoarse, groggy voice from behind Hermione.

With only her clothes in a bundle, bare-assed, Hermione stiffened. "Erm…"

"Relax, sweetheart," replied Tony, sounds of the bed shifting as he moved onto his back. "No offense meant."

"Oh. Erm. Good?"

There was a pause, and then the man sniggered. "Good?" he mimicked. Then he sighed. "Granger, while your ass is glorious, I think we can have a face-to-face conversation if you need one. Otherwise, I had a great time last night-"

"You remember? Tony, you were sloshed-"

"-but you know I'm not looking for anything more," he finished, talking over her.

Hermione bristled, hastily pulled on her panties and dress over her, forgoing her bra. She turned; glaring at him as he indolently sprawled on the bed, one arm behind his head and slightly propped up on the numerous pillows.

"There she is," he said quietly, but with a hint of mirth and pride. "I hated to think this scared you off, Pipsqueak."

"I don't scare easily," replied Hermione dryly. She closed her eyes, sighed, and then rolled her shoulders. When she opened them, she appeared more centered. "How about I leave without a fight, and the fact that we could call ourselves friends?"

Tony waved a hand negligently. "Sure thing."

Hermione fought the urge to stamp her foot. "Stark," she whined.

He glanced at her and sighed as well, something tugging at him. "Yeah, okay, friends. But don't let it go to your head or go around telling everyone. I don't do… friends." He shuddered.

"Uh huh," replied Hermione, turning and looking for her shoes. She found them and sat on the edge of the bed to put them on.

Tony was silent for a long moment behind her before he asked, "Did this complicate things if I contact Weasley? About some 3W stuff?"

Hermione tossed her hair as she looked at Tony over her shoulder. There was something in her eyes as she asked, "Would it stop you from contacting him if I said yes?"

Tony grimaced. "No - I'd still contact him. But… uh… I might feel… dunno. Weird."

He shuddered. "Ugh." He glared at Hermione. "And you're not to go around telling anyone that."

"Good thing it wouldn't then," smirked Hermione. She finished with her shoes and stood, facing Tony still lying on the bed. He had moved to bring an arm over his eyes, blocking his sight. "I guess this is where I say goodbye."

"Guess so."

When he didn't move, Hermione sighed. Her footsteps were lost in the plush carpet as she went to the side of the bed, where she leaned down.

"You're more than what they see," she breathed into his ear. "I hope one day you have the courage to be that person."

She then kissed his cheek, a lingering touch of her lips to the bristle of his morning shadow, and then left the penthouse suite, quietly shutting the bedroom door behind her and ignoring the eyes of his bodyguard as she did so.

George was already up when Hermione entered their shared room, sitting at the small two-person table near the balcony, drinking coffee and reviewing a thick parchment of notes. He took in her disheveled appearance and knotted hair with raised eyebrows, and whistled, long and low.

"Granger. Good morning," he said, bringing the coffee to his mouth as he raked her from head to toe. "Had a good night?"

"Did you?" she countered, moving straight to her room to shower and change her clothes.

She heard George chuckle. "Best be quick! We're checking out once you're done and had something to eat - we got an owl from Shacklebolt requesting our return to London."

"Sounds good," she threw over her shoulder, shutting the bedroom door behind her.

Hermione quickly showered, washing her hair and lathering her body with the soap the hotel provided (due to its quality compared to her generic ASDA brand purchases). She tried to wash what happened the previous night from her mind, failing to hide the physical reminders with the love nip bruises that lingered around her hips, upper thighs, and collarbone, the red marks from Tony's bristle around her lips. A glamour would take care of most of it, but at that moment, in the shower, she was unable to run from what she had done the previous night.

No matter, she thought, rubbing a bit harder at her hip and wincing as she did so. It's not like we're going to do this again. And if George goes through with meeting Stark later, I don't need to be there.

Her thoughts bolstered her and she quickly dried off, spelling her hair dry and stepping into more casual wear for the return trip to London via Portkey.

George was waiting for her in the shared seating area when she exited her room with her bag, everything packed and ready to go.

He looked her over, nodded once, and then turned to the door. Only, he stopped, turned again and said slowly, "What happened in Switzerland stays in Switzerland?"

Hermione chuckled. "Anything that we could talk about happened in 1999. It's a new year - let's make it a clean start, too."

"Got it," he replied, nodding.

Hours later, when they were back in London and Hermione was heading to her flat after a quick debrief with Kingsley Shacklebolt at the Ministry, Hermione found herself glad that she met Tony Stark, but in the same way that one would a celebrity they knew they'd never see again. She would think fondly, if not exasperatedly, about the man and the arguments they had regarding his weapons manufacturing and moral responsibilities, and blush if she thought about the things he could do with his hands, lips, in the dark of a room.

Three months later, she was preparing to join George in his visit to Stark Industries' headquarters in California, disgruntled that she would have to find a way to explain to Stark that they were about to be tied together in a rather permanent, lifelong way thanks to their activities in Bern.

So much for that goodbye, thought Hermione sourly, looking down at the sonogram picture she held. And so much for 'what happens in Switzerland, stays in Switzerland.'