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The Interlude

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An exhausted Rhodey, still wearing his suit with only the helmet retracted and the weapon detached, found that he desperately needed a drink after he investigated the horrific scene of bloodshed that had been left behind after the destruction of an entire organized crime cell in London.  He sighed at the thought that he would have to tell Nat that it seemed to be Barton’s work again as he stumbled into the first pub that he could find in the middle of the city.  He must have been even more tired than he thought because, for just a moment, the place actually seemed to flicker on the edges of his peripheral vision before it solidified completely in front of him.  However, Rhodey just shrugged off the odd occurrence as the effects of too much work and stress…and he entered the establishment anyway. 

It was a shabby, old-fashioned looking place, and an unsettling collective silence fell when he entered the building.  All eyes turned towards him for just a few seconds before the disassociation and disinterest, that had been so commonplace since the Snap, set back in and the patrons went directly from slight interest in the man in the metal suit to ignoring his presence completely.  Instead, everything seemed to start back up again: a stray owl or two swooped down from the vaulted ceiling, pints slid down the bar by themselves, and the portraits on the wall began to move. 

Rhodey blinked in disbelief…What?

The shock must have been evident on his face because a lively-haired woman, who seemed to be just a decade or so younger than him, sighed in mild annoyance and waved him over to the nearby table where she sat by herself.  “The anti-Muggle wards on this place, like everything else around here, must be deteriorating.  I’ll put a team on that tomorrow.” The woman sighed again.  “In the meantime, though, I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that you are not from around here, hrm?”  Her tone was professional and polite, but he could recognize the same obvious distant weariness in her eyes that had become so common since half the world’s population had suddenly turned to dust right in front of the other half.

“You could…um…say that,” Rhodey replied hesitantly as he continued to look around the pub in wonder.  "I’m sorry about wandering in uninvited.  What is this place, though? It's amazing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she reassured him and her lips briefly quirked upwards as she waved off his apology.  “In fact, even with failing wards, you could not have found the Leaky without there being a very good reason for you to do so.  Therefore, why don’t you join me?” She invited him with a gesture to take the empty chair in front of her.  “You look like a man who could use a drink – especially since I take it that you came from that mess outside.  I had the Aurors look into it, of course.  However, all evidence points to it being Muggle on Muggle violence, so we are just going to stay out of it.  Even though I hate that it came to that extreme resolution, in reality, it is just one less problem that I have to deal with right now.”

Even though Rhodey did not really understand most of what she said, he knew that she was referring to the scene of carnage that he just escaped, and nodded accordingly.  Plus, the need for a drink, which had only increased after the strangeness of the last few minutes, was the reason why he had stopped there in the first place.  Consequently, he sank gratefully down into the chair opposite the woman as his suit folded up automatically to repackage itself neatly into the small container on his back. 

Thank you for the upgrade, Tony! he thought fervently.  Meanwhile, he noticed that although the woman’s eyes followed the suit’s movements with interest, she did not remark upon the unusual sight.  That in itself was very telling, but before he could ask her about it, suddenly both a shot and a pint glass appeared in front of him.  However, nobody had come to their table and his hostess had not left to visit the bar.  That could only mean… 

“Magic?” he murmured…and he looked up sharply at the woman in front of him with interest even as remembered how the apparent leader of the Magicals in New York…maybe even of the whole US…had approached the remaining Avengers right after the Snap and demanded information about what could have happened to instantly destroy half of the world’s population without a trace.  Unfortunately, instead of also offering his considerable assistance after he learned what he could, he and the rest of the Magicals had apparently retreated back into their closed communities and had not been heard from again.

The woman across from him nodded in affirmation, but did not immediately explain.  Instead, she pointed at the drinks on the table.  “The shot is authentic Scottish Firewhiskey.  It will burn like Hell going down, but it will also take the immediate edge off.  Afterwards, sip the pint slowly.  The contents will help and everything, including your exhaustion, will seem a bit more…bearable…for a little while.  Don’t worry, though, it is completely safe…non-addictive…and you won’t even get drunk in the process.  My friend George is really quite the talented potioneer, even better than me, and he has been tweaking his personal Invigorating Potion and Calming Draught recipe combination ever since the…well…we call it the Incident here.  That’s such an innocent sounding word for such an insidious event, though, don’t you think?”  She paused to shake her head sadly for a moment before she continued.  “At any rate, the result will last for several hours and you will sleep well tonight, also.  Unfortunately, however, it is only a temporary sort of relief because you will find that our particular collective nightmare will still be the reality of things when you wake up in the morning.”

Rhodey nodded with understanding.  A nightmare that you just cannot wake up from was as good a way as any to describe life ever since the Snap.  Even five years later, the world was still in mourning…and a constant barrage of emergencies and disasters, both natural and created, was the outcome.  However, as he lifted the smaller of the two glasses, he looked up into the woman’s golden brown eyes that had obviously seen too much and he noted that, even with the sorrow reflected there, they were quite attractive.  With that realization, he smiled tentatively at her and even received a small curve of the lips in return as he downed the shot in one gulp.  The unfamiliar burn of the alcohol coursed its way down his throat and left him gasping.  However, she was correct.  As the uncomfortable feeling faded away, he did feel a bit better.  Therefore, he grabbed the handle of the pint and took a small sip of it as well.  The ale-like liquid inside had a strong, almost earthy, flavor but it was smooth and he found that he liked it – so he took another sip.  As he set his glass down, he realized with amazement that he could actually feel his stress levels dropping.  Then he noticed for the first time that his companion was nursing an identical drink, as well.

She nodded again as she realized what he had seen.  “Yeah, I allow myself one respite a week…just one night off from the massive responsibility that I somehow inherited by association when Kingsley and Harry and almost everyone else that I cared about disappeared in a cloud of dust during the Incident.  Tonight, though, for the sake of my own sanity, I left Percy in charge for a while so I could take a small break.  He and George are the only two Weasleys left, you know…out of nine…and there are so few of the others still here that I can trust completely.”  The bitterness in her tone was obvious, and she took another sip of her drink before she continued.  “However, I’m sure that you understand what I mean by crushing responsibility.  You’re an Avenger, aren’t you?”  she asked the question in a softer tone as she looked with significance at his suit pack.

“I’ve been meaning to touch base with all of you,” she explained after his nod of verification. “However, the American President is simply an impossible man to work with – especially since he seems to believe that everyone should work for him and do his bidding, instead.  I just don’t have the time or the energy to deal with him.  Therefore, I have left the liaison duties up to my counterpart at MACUSA…whoever that poor sap is this week.  Their turnover rate is unbelievable over there because they just can’t work with your leader, either – even with magic.”  She paused to shake her head.  “At any rate, I have enough metaphorical and, sometimes quite literal, fires of my own to put out here in the UK without dealing with the mess in the States, too.  I mean absolutely no offense to your fellow Americans, though.  I know that they are too busy dealing with their own pain to worry about what that buffoon in the White House is doing.  At least our Prime Minister here has enough sense to listen to me and stay out of our way when something important needs to be done…unlike that inefficient crowing peacock over there in your country…who obviously used the Incident simply as an excuse to stay in a position of power that he probably never should have been granted in the first place.”

After her passionate rant, the woman took another sip of her drink and suddenly seemed to realize all she had said.  She looked up at Rhodey a bit sheepishly as she apologized.  “I’m sorry about all of that.  I guess George’s elixir worked a little too well for me tonight.  Normally, I would not take out my troubles on a perfect stranger – or be so opinionated with him either.  I’m Hermione, by the way, Hermione Granger.”  She held her hand out across the table to shake.  “I’m really sorry, but as I explained, I have purposely not been following the American media for a while, simply because it infuriates me too much.  Therefore, I am afraid that I don’t really know your name or recognize your alter-ego, either.”  She nodded again towards his suit.  “I’m sure you know that your suit looks very much like Iron Man’s, though – despite being not quite as colorful as his.  Nevertheless, it’s very impressive.”

Rhodey took the offered hand in his own.  His drink had already worked wonders for him, as well, and he felt surprisingly good as he spoke to her honestly.  “No offense taken, about anything, Hermione.  That’s a lovely name by the way.”  His compliment was rewarded by another small smile from the woman.  “At any rate, your views about our political leader are by no means in the minority…especially with the Avengers…but it’s probably best to save that discussion for another time.”  Hermione nodded her agreement – especially since she did not want to spend her only night off discussing unpleasant topics.  She did more than enough of that every day anyway.  Consequently, she listened attentively as he continued the introduction.  “I’m James Rhodes, but my friends – including the creator of the Iron Man technology - all call me Rhodey.  When I wear this,” he paused to point towards the suit container on his back, “I’m War Machine.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Rhodes aka War Machine.” Hermione replied with another soft smile that made the man realize that her eyes were not her only attractive feature.  Her mouth also had a lovely shape, as well.  Plus, he really liked the way his name sounded in her soft accent.  His pleasant musings on the subject were interrupted, however, when she asked with sudden understanding, “Oh, did Mr. Stark design your War Machine suit, as well?  That would explain the similarities.” 

She is as smart as she is attractive! thought Rhodey with interest…and he was suddenly very glad that something had directed him to the strange little pub in the first place.  “Yeah, he did,” he admitted. “We have been friends for a really long time.  Do you know him?”

“Not personally,” she clarified, “just by reputation, mostly.  Is he still…I mean, I’m sorry for having to ask, but I don’t remember seeing his name…on the list…” her voice trailed off, but Rhodey knew what she was trying to say.

“Tony’s still around.  He was off-planet trying to hunt down the one responsible...when the Snapthe Incident…happened.  However, by some strange luck, he did not vanish, and so with some help, he was eventually able to make his way back to Earth.  He had been injured in the fight, however, and was close to death by the time he made it home.  Therefore, he decided to retire with his family to heal.  I can’t say that I blame him…or that I would not have done the same in his position.  However, I don’t have anybody of my own…besides what’s left of the Avengers…and they needed me – even if I was only second-string backup before…so here I am.”

Hermione looked at him thoughtfully.  “If there is anything I understand, Mr. Rhodes, it is being alone and having a sense of duty.  I didn’t have many people in my life before, but now…” she paused to spread her hands out in a hopeless gesture before she placed them back on the table.  “Almost nobody of mine is left now…except for a few of my colleagues, of course.  It definitely would have been easier to leave…and hide away from what’s left of the world.  However, my people and my country needed me to step back up and do the right thing again…and so here I am, as well.”  Rhodey noticed that the ultimate weariness in her tone was back…as he wondered about the meaning of the again and what else the woman had been through besides the aftermath of the Snap.  He was suddenly seized with an urge to comfort her, so he reached over to take one of her hands in his own in a show of solidarity.  He was consequently rewarded when a small smile crossed her face…and this time not only did it stay, but it even made it all the way up to her eyes.

“It seems as if we have a lot in common, Rhodey.”  Her smile brightened again, just for him, and he squeezed her hand one more time in a pleased gesture that she had used his familiar nickname.  “I need to know something, though.  This help you mentioned, is it still out there?” she asked with the serious interest of a true leader who had heard of something that could potentially aid her people in their struggles.

Rhodey nodded as he recognized the rationale behind the question.  “As I understand it, what happened on Earth also happened everywhere else, as well.  However, as Danvers explained to us, many other places don’t have people…like us…” he paused to gesture between them with his free hand, “…to help them to deal with all of the unexpected repercussions.  Therefore, she is their only hope and so she has been back to Earth only once or twice since she rescued Tony.”

Hermione’s disappointment showed on her face, but it was also clear that she understood the situation since she nodded.  “We will leave her to it, then…and I wish her the best of luck…even though Merlin knows that we still need all the help that we can get here, too.”  She sighed again, but was comforted by another gentle hand squeeze from Rhodey.

She returned the gesture with one of her own as another thought occurred to her.  “What kind of partnership do the Avengers now have with MACUSA, Rhodey?  How is that lot assisting you and your team over there?” she asked.

A puzzled look crossed Rhodey’s face, but before he could answer, the blonde from behind the bar came over to the table with what looked like a scroll in her hand.  The woman cast a curious glance at Rhodey and at the still-clasped hands on the table before she looked up at Hermione.

“Excuse me, Minister Granger," she politely interrupted, "but an owl just arrived for you.”

Hermione reached up to take the message with her free hand – even as she gently scolded the woman who handed it to her.   “Hannah, I’ve told you before.  There is no need for that Minister nonsense here.  I’m still Hermione.  You’ve known me since we were eleven and at Hogwarts together.  Plus, Neville was one of my dearest friends.  We are all in this together, remember?”  Hermione gently withdrew her other hand back from Rhodey’s in order to give the woman’s a quick comforting squeeze when her eyes automatically misted over at the mention of her husband who had also vanished during the Incident.  “Now, did the owl stay for a reply?” Hermione continued and Hannah shook her head in the negative.  “Good,” Hermione sighed with obvious relief.  “If we are lucky, that means there is not another emergency that needs to be handled right at this moment...and the world will not fall completely apart tonight.”

“We can only hope,” Hannah answered as soon as she had regained enough control over herself to take her leave while Hermione read the message.  Meanwhile, Rhodey mused about what he had just heard.  The woman had called Hermione, “Minister Granger.”  What was she the Minister of?  Magic?  Was she in charge of all of the Magicals here in the UK like that rude guy back in New York was in charge there?  Suddenly, everything she had said made so much more sense to him.  He recalled that she had said that even the Prime Minister listened to her…and it was also obvious why she was so irritated with the American President and his circus-style politics.  At any rate, Rhodey had been in the military for far too long not to have an innate respect for competent authority…and he had known for even longer than that…probably since puberty, in fact…of his fondness for strong take-charge women.  Therefore, at the ensuing revelation, his look turned even more admiring…and with a bigger touch of awe…for the woman who had already intrigued him to begin with.   Consequently, by the time she had finished reading her missive and looked back up at him again, she saw the increasingly warm look in his dark brown eyes and it brought an automatic smile to her face…even before he asked if everything was alright. 

“Yes, for once the news is good.  It seems as if Percy has managed to put out enough small fires that I won’t have to go back to the office like I usually do.  For the first time since this mess began, I might actually get to enjoy my night off.” She paused as she gave Rhodey a long thoughtful look.  “I certainly would not mind some good company, either.  However, it just occurred to me that I don’t know if you are still on the clock or not.  Do you have anywhere else that you need to be…or would you like to join me for dinner?  We could continue that conversation from earlier…and maybe…” she paused and a bit of a flush spread over her cheekbones before she continued in a hopeful tone, “see where things go from there?”  Even with the slight touch of embarrassment, however, Hermione maintained eye contact with the man and her beautiful smile stretched further than it had before.  After all, it had been such a long time since she had met anyone, much less an interesting and handsome man like Rhodey, who really understood what her hectic and draining life had been like since the Incident.

For his part, at both the very attractive sight of her wide smile and the implication of her invitation, Rhodey felt a now-uncharacteristic rush of excitement which caused him to grin widely for the first time in what felt like forever.  “No, I don’t have to rush off.  The situation that I was sent to handle had already been…um…dealt with…as you noticed.”  He paused as he thought about Clint again and the direction his life had taken since he had lost his family in the Snap.  He shook his head, though, to try and clear that particular morose thought before he continued. 

“My suit is wonderful piece of technology, but I certainly don’t want to try and fly across the entire ocean in it.  That means that I am probably stuck here until tomorrow at the very least or whenever I can hitch a ride back on a RAF or a UN flight.”  He grimaced at the idea of having to make the arrangements.  That look, however, turned immediately into another smile instead when he met her eyes again.  “Therefore, dinner would be great.  As for the rest…” he could already feel himself stir with extreme interest at just the thought of the possibilities - especially since he could not remember ever meeting someone like Hermione - someone who completely understood what he was going through.  However, as exciting as the thought was that she might be interested in him, as well, his honorable nature demanded that she know the truth.  “I want you to know that I would be satisfied with just the pleasure of your company.  Nothing else is required.”

“Oh, that was a very good answer, Rhodey!” Hermione murmured with pleasure at the intriguing man’s comment and she continued to smile at him until the meaning of his other explanation hit her with full force.  “Wait a minute…what do you mean that you have to catch a ride with the RAF or the UN?  Doesn’t MACUSA provide you with magical transportation?  International Floo, long-distance portkey, or even multi-step apparation would be much easier than trying to arrange anything with the military – especially on short notice.”  The smile fell from her face completely as she suddenly realized the apparent truth of the situation.  “Oh, sweet Merlin!  Those pricks at MACUSA aren’t providing you with any assistance at all, are they?  They have a group of superheros on their doorstep who are working their arses off in the time of the greatest need our world has ever seen – despite their greatly diminished numbers - and instead of helping them, they go and stick their bloody heads in the sand.  Typical Old-Guard Pureblood politics!  Who else do they expect will help?  Even the handful of sorcerers that are left are too busy trying to keep the multiverse from collapsing around us to do anything else.  Well then!  We shall certainly take care of that little situation right now!  Come on.  Let’s get to a private floo.  I need to make a call!” 

During her angry tirade, Rhodey could not help but to notice that the woman had somehow evolved from quite attractive in his mind all the way into extremely beautiful in the midst of her righteous anger.  In fact, her lively hair practically sparked and crackled with the force of her power and ire.  If he had not realized before that she was magical, there would be no doubt of it now.  In fact, he had never seen anything so mesmerizing in his entire life.  Consequently, even though he had no idea what a floo was, he was eager to stay in her company and did exactly what she asked as she threw some kind of heavy coins down on the table to pay for their drinks.  She then sent a quick goodbye wave to Hannah before she gestured for him to join her in the empty courtyard behind the pub.  There she grabbed him and, with just a curt explanation to “hold on tight,” magically transported them both away from what the overhead swinging sign proclaimed was The Leaky Cauldron.

~~~~~

When Rhodey recovered from his virgin “feeling like he was being sucked through a giant tube” experience with magical travel, the first thing he noticed was that he was standing in the middle of a tastefully decorated living room where the predominant features were the large fireplace, as well as the wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling bookcases.  Damn!  That’s a lot of books! he thought with another flash of admiration for the woman who had obviously brought him to her personal home.  He also noticed that Hermione’s hair still sparked dangerously – even while she strode purposely to the fireplace and threw in a pinch of the powder from the container on the mantle.  When she stuck her head into the resulting green flames, though, that action thoroughly alarmed him at first.  He even automatically moved towards her to pull her out before he suddenly realized that it must have been a magic thing – especially since she was not harmed at all by the experience. 

The most important thing he realized, however, was that he never wanted to get on Hermione Granger’s bad side.  That particular thought was prompted by what he heard as she calmly told off the President of MACUSA for at least ten minutes straight while Rhodey took a seat on the nearby sofa and just watched the impressive display that occurred in front of him.  She never raised her voice, but even the non-magical man could see the waves of power that emanated from her…and somehow that passive display of might just made her seem even scarier than if she had yelled or thrown out curses, instead. 

The conversation was finally over when she informed the man on the other end of what could only be deemed a “fire call” that his loss was her gain and that she was now the official Magical liaison for the Avengers until she could personally select someone that she deemed trustworthy enough for the position…which certainly would not be him.  Then, as the man began to sputter in outrage that she had usurped the position that he had chosen to ignore, she suddenly doused the flames in which Rhodey interpreted as a “hanging up on him” type of gesture.  When she finally turned those golden-brown eyes back on him, however, Rhodey felt himself stir again and realized that he had found her whole take-charge attitude to be quite the turn-on.  He just gulped at the realization, however, and hoped that she did not notice his predicament since it was probably not the best time for such ideas.

“I’m so sorry about that,” she said apologetically as she came over to sit next to him on the sofa, “but it obviously had to be done.  Since that ugly business is now out of the way, though, do you need to check in or contact anyone?  I realize that I yanked you away from the Leaky without really asking first.”  Now that the anger was out of her system, she was perfectly calm as she spoke and her hair had even settled down to a point where it was only slightly frizzy with power, but it no longer sparked.  Nevertheless, he still found her to be incredibly attractive - a point that his normally disciplined body was still trying to trick him into betraying to her.  In fact, he found that he wanted nothing more at that moment than to grab her and kiss her.  When he finally managed to grind out a denial for the need to get in touch with anyone, though, she favored him with wide smile that did nothing to help his potentially embarrassing situation. 

“Good,” she repeated and her eyes lightened at the thought that they were both free for the time being.  “It might be best if I personally take you back home tomorrow, then…if that is alright with you.  Percy can remain in charge for a couple of days and I will arrange for an emergency portkey in the morning to take us to New York.  The Avengers are still based there, aren’t they?”  At his nod, she resumed her explanation.  “I would not mind meeting the others then, either– if that can be arranged - in order to see what kind of joint ventures that we can set up.  Once I get a basic idea of your group’s needs then I can figure out the right witches and wizards to recruit for help.  In fact, despite the current poor leadership at MACUSA, I personally know many very talented Magicals in the States…and around the rest of the world…who will be more than willing to assist you and the rest of the Avengers and to ease your burdens a bit until we can find a more permanent solution to keep the world from crashing down around our collective ears.” 

She nodded with finality just as Rhodey realized that Nat and the others were going to love this woman.  It was now obvious to him why she was the leader of her people…and he finally allowed himself to feel the small blossom of optimism that perhaps the Magicals could really help them to make a difference after all.  It would not bring everyone back…he knew that was impossible…but it was a start on the path to a more normal existence.  Her offer was really a beacon of hope in the darkness. 

Rhodey soon realized that there was a much more personal offer on the table, as well, when Hermione changed the subject without saying a word.  She simply leaned in close to place one hand on his chest as she pressed her lips against his in a tentative invitation.  Her gentle touch shot straight to his core…and it was all the encouragement that he needed to give up his careful control and give in to that attraction that he had felt the whole evening.  Consequently, he pulled her close and responded to her unspoken question with an eagerness that surprised…and excited..them both.  When they finally had to separate to breathe, Hermione looked at him with both humor and desire in her eyes.

“I know that I mentioned dinner…but would it be alright with you if we just skipped ahead to dessert?” she asked, still a bit breathless by his attentions, and Rhodey realized that he had absolutely no desire to argue with such a request.  In fact, he showed that he was in complete agreement with her suggestion when he pulled her back into his arms where they both finally allowed themselves to temporarily dump the weight of their worldly responsibilities, as well as all of the feelings of pain and loss from the last five years, onto the floor along with their hastily removed clothing.  They then proceeded to forget their troubles for a while as they instead explored the kind of intensely enjoyable physical connection that neither of them had been able to experience in a very long time.


When Rhodey woke the next morning, his first thought, as he stretched luxuriously, was that he had just experienced his best night’s sleep since the Snap.  His very next thought, however, was of the main reason for his restful slumber.  In fact, the memory of all of the pleasurable activities of the night before…both on her sofa and in her bed…assaulted his senses.  He could not help but to grin as he reached for the woman responsible for his currently relaxed state - even as he fervently hoped that she had benefited from the experience as much as he had.  In fact, he felt himself stir with interest again as he remembered the small sounds of pleasure that she had made both beneath him…and above him, as well...before they had finally fallen into an exhausted slumber.

However, he soon realized, much to his disappointment, that Hermione was not there…and he was alone in the bed.  His grin faded immediately, and as the feeling of loss started to creep over him, he slowly sat up and dragged his hand across his head.  He absentmindedly noted that he needed a haircut - even while his main consciousness was consumed with the thought that what had happened the previous night had probably been just a one off event – a simple night of comfort sex between two lonely adults to distract themselves from the harsh realities of their bleak world.  Despite his immediate feeling of regret at the idea, he had to acknowledge that it was a logical stance to take – especially when the distances involved in their living arrangements, and the overwhelming responsibilities that they both had to keep the world and its people safe, were considered. 

Nevertheless, Rhodey had never been like Tony.  Even during his lonely years of foreign military assignments and long deployments, he had never sought out women just for the sake of casual sex.  He had too much respect for them than that, as well as an old-fashioned ingrained belief in honor and commitment.  Therefore, he just could not help but to mourn a little for what might have been.  Perhaps they could still be friends, though, and keep in touch.  He would like that…even if he could not help but to feel that the two of them could have had so much more together if their current circumstances had been different.   

In the midst of his bittersweet musing, however, he noticed that his clothes, which looked like they had been cleaned and pressed (By magic? he could not help but to wonder), lay across the chair next to him…along with his War Machine suit pack.  He climbed out of bed to pick the clothing up, even though he temporarily left the suit where it was.  As he headed for the door that he remembered led to the ensuite bathroom, he could not help but to smile when he noticed that, despite (or maybe even because of) his vigorous activities of the previous night, all of the usual little morning aches and pains that he had gained over the last few years - especially after his accident - were conspicuously absent.  Then, when he saw the clean towels that had been left out for him in an obvious invitation to make himself at home enough to shower, his smile grew even wider at the woman’s thoughtfulness - despite what could have been a potentially awkward situation for them both.

After he showered, dressed, and picked up the suit pack…just in case...he followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen.  There he stopped in his tracks with surprise to see Hermione talking to what looked like a translucent glowing weasel or ferret – or something of that nature.  Just a moment later, however, the conversation seemed to be over and the animal…whatever the hell it was…turned and sort of ran through the air across the room and disappeared into the far wall.  Only then did Hermione turn to see Rhodey as he looked back and forth with obvious confusion between her and the place where the creature had gone.

“Good morning,” she greeted him with a small smile and gestured for him to come and sit down at the counter while she placed a small tray that contained toast and coffee in front of him. His stomach perked up at the smell.  Something else perked up against his will, as well, when Rhodey noticed that Hermione’s damp hair meant she must have showered, too, even though he had not heard her.  Either he had slept more heavily than normal or she had used some kind of silencing spell to keep from waking him – or perhaps both scenarios were true.  At any rate, she had pulled all of her lively hair into a simple updo that left her long slender neck bare.   The sight reminded Rhodey of all of the creamy skin that he had thoroughly explored with both touch and taste the night before…and he was suddenly grateful that the counter separated them and hid the evidence of his questionable reverie.

“I thought that you might need some caffeine,” she explained in a seemingly normal tone, but a bit of a blush betrayed the fact that her train of thoughts might have been running along the same track as his.  “I didn’t know exactly what you would like, but I thought that you seemed to be the kind of man who would enjoy strong dark coffee.  I do have milk and sugar, though – as well as tea - if you would prefer that.” 

“Thank you,” he murmured as he picked up the mug, “but black coffee is fine.”  He did not know what else to say, so he just followed her lead - especially since she was obviously trying to keep the mood light and casual.  Apparently, that meant that she had come to the same realizations that he had that morning and was purposely trying to avoid the usual morning-after awkwardness of their situation.  Therefore, he tried to help move past the moment, as well - even though the memories of the night before made it difficult since they kept playing on rewind in his mind.  “Can I ask what the hell that thing was?”  He gestured towards the wall, partially as a distraction, but also to relieve his rampant curiosity.

“Oh!” she looked surprised at his choice of question for a moment before she answered.  “That was Percy’s patronus.  You can think of it as a sort of spirit animal, if you like.  In reality, though, it’s a sophisticated bit of magic that can be used to deliver messages…among other things.  However, it requires a very happy memory to summon, so as you can imagine not many people can conjure them anymore – even the ones who could easily do so before.  Percy’s wife, Audrey, recently had a baby, though.  Therefore, now that he has little Molly, who is an absolute joy, it is a bit easier for him.”  As she explained, she pushed the toast towards him and waited until he had bitten into a slice before she ventured on to explain that she had made all of the necessary arrangements and that their portkey transportation for New York would be ready by the time that they were.  Rhodey gave a little start at that information since, after the incredibly distracting direction their night had taken, he had almost forgotten that she was coming back to the US with him.

Hermione saw his surprised look and returned it with a little half-smile before she took a deep breath and unexpectedly addressed the giant elephant in the room.  “Listen…about last night,” she started to say, and the pink flush returned to her face and neck in full force.

Rhodey just gulped, and almost choked on his toast, before he shook his head at her.  “You don’t need to explain,” he said quickly – even as he could not help but to notice how attractive that color was against her light skin.

“I know that, but I also don’t want to pretend that nothing happened, either.  That just wouldn’t be fair to either of us.  I just wanted to let you know, though, that I don’t normally do that…spend the night with someone who is practically a stranger, I mean.”  She paused for just a second, before she forged on. “However, it was really quite nice…and I don’t regret it…not at all.”

Rhodey could not help but to appreciate her frankness, and he decided to return the favor.  “Neither do I,” he answered.  “Go home with strangers, that is,” he clarified,  “or regret what happened last night.  I mean, how could I?  It was fantastic!”  He did not even try to stop the grin that popped back up on his face then. 

His obviously sincere answer brought a smile to her face, as well, and she relaxed.  “I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to take you out for dinner, though.”

“I’m not!” he replied honestly.  With that remark, her smile turned into a fully-fledged laugh.

“Good!  I’m not, either…I was just trying to be polite.”  

He responded with a laugh of his own, and reached over to take her hand.  His tone sobered a bit, though, as he remarked wistfully, “I wish we had met before…” 

“I feel the same way,” she answered…and her tone matched his somber one.  “It really was a wonderful interlude…but duty calls for us both again…as usual.” She paused to sigh.  “I have a feeling that things are probably going to be even more hectic in New York than they are here – especially since your group is obviously shorthanded and I will only be there for two days...and even that might be too long for me to be away from England.  Therefore, I don’t know if we will have the chance to spend much time together after this morning.”

Since he knew that her assumption was probably correct, he did the only thing that he could do at that moment.  He stood up and crossed over to the other side of the counter in order to embrace her.  Then Hermione tilted her head up to meet his eyes…and he found that he just could not resist the urge to lean down slightly to kiss her again.  The kiss, which started out as relatively chaste, quickly increased in intensity, however, until they had to break apart just far enough to breathe.  The persistent reaction that he had been trying to conceal all morning simply became impossible to ignore at that point, though.

When Hermione noticed the obvious evidence of his interest as it pushed insistently against her lower abdomen, she just smiled.  “You know,” she mused softly with her lips close to his, “we actually still have about an hour or so left before our portkey activates.”

Rhodey caught her implication at once and nodded with enthusiasm for the idea.  “I think I know of a good way to pass that time,” he assured her as he captured her lips with his own again.  Then, since neither of them knew what the future would hold, they proceeded to make the most of their remaining time together.