The tracking charm Hermione planted on Steve activated immediately after she'd disapparated from the street swarming with Hydra-SHIELD agents. She safely watched as Sam, Natasha and Steve were restrained before being loaded into the back of a military looking Humvee. Thankfully, between Laura and Natasha, Hermione not only knew how to drive, boost a muggle car, and follow a mark the muggle way without getting caught. She still needed to inquire if Clint knew his wife could successfully boost a car. Regardless, the knowledge enabled her to follow the Hydra caravan after they pulled away from the arrest scene.
About twenty minutes into the drive, Hermione's wand rapidly began spinning in the passenger seat until it pointed away from the direction the SHIELD caravan was headed. Noticing it, Hermione smiled.
Despite the knowledge that at least Steve had managed to escape from custody didn't deter Hermione from her path. While watching her friends surrounded by Hydra agents, it was Steve's face that haunted her. She'd seen the expression on his face before on Harry after they'd learned Ron chose to betray them to Voldemort. It was the realization that a childhood friend chose to stand against you and align with your enemies. In addition to having that expression reflected on her own face, it also broke her and Harry.
Seeing that expression on Steve's face confirmed that the Winter Soldier was from his past. Combined with the mental onslaught she'd endured from the man seconds before the car accident that day, Hermione knew she needed to investigate further. That mission coincided with ensuring Sam and Natasha also escaped Hydra as well. So, she continued onward, following the corrupt officials until they finally pulled off the main roads, where she took the advantage of ditching the "borrowed" car and disillusioning herself.
"Three graves, start digging," the agent in command ordered before joining several agents at the rear of the vehicle they'd loaded Natasha, Sam and Steve in. Hermione stood, hidden behind them, holding her breath as they slowly opened the doors. Unlike the agents who immediately started swearing, a smug smirk blossomed on her face when she saw the vehicle's interior was empty.
Subsequently, Hermione rapidly stunned the corrupt agents until the only one standing was their leader. The man frantically waved his sidearm around looking for the source of their attacker. Rolling her eyes, Hermione vanished his firearm before grabbing him and disapparating. The two landed roughly in a dank sewer Natasha had once conducted a "training' with her in. Due to the lack of warning, Hermione wasn't surprised to see the man she'd kidnapped was dry heaving after they arrived.
"What the….how did you do that?" he demanded, mistakenly glaring up at her, which allowed Hermione to seamlessly slip into his mind with a whispered legilimas."
Hermione had become obsessed with mind magics after Dumbledore insisted Harry learn how to protect his mind. While Harry's tutoring sessions with Professor Snape proved abysmal, Hermione mail ordered dozens of books on the subject and then forced Harry to regurgitate each lesson he had with the sour professor. The combination allowed her to make significant headway in the art. Eventually, the Order began using her to interrogate the Death Eaters they captured, which perfected her skills.
It was the mindscapes that fascinated her. Each person's mind was unique and changed as the individual developed. Luna's reminded Hermione of Lewis Carroll's concept of "everything is nonsense" from his Alice in Wonderland book. Harry's mind, on the other hand, was foundationally based in emotion, which is another reason he struggled with the branch of magic. All of his thoughts were categorized based upon the emotion tied to them. It certainly made it difficult to read his mind, which provided a natural defense.
The Hydra agent's mind reminded her of smog covering the landscape. His thoughts were prominent, but smothered in different emotions. All of the ones on the surface of the man's mind were directly connected to losing Captain America and then getting snatched by a woman.
"Sexist," Hermione muttered as she focused on the nearest thought, which was a memory of Steve embarrassing the Agent…Rumlow in an elevator in front of his subordinates. Tugging on it, the memory led her to dozens connected to Hydra and SHIELD. Each thought she followed led her closer to her quarry, until she found one drenched in terror. All it said was "The Asset."
Unravelling this thought strand proved to be exactly what Hermione was looking for; complete with descriptions of the Winter Soldier, dozens of dates, and addresses. Seizing on the thread for addresses led her to a few dozen safehouses, which she examined. Once she found the only one in the vicinity, Hermione withdrew from Agent Rumlow's mind.
She stared down at him unimpressed as he vomited from the less than smooth transition.
"What did you do to me?!"
"Surely, Hydra's prepared their minions with mental defenses considering their obsession with mind games," Hermione mocked. "Honestly, it's pitiful that you couldn't even detect me rifling through her precious secrets. No wonder erasing the mind of your comrade was so simple."
"Your pathetic attempt to intimidate me won't work," Rumlow growled. "I've gone into the field with Rogers and he's' incapable of setting aside his precious morals to do what's necessary. You really think his kid will frighten me?"
Hermione smiled coldly down at Rumlow, " You forget that Rogers didn't raise me, and that Hydra doesn't have anything on me other than a DNA test. Now since I've taken what I need, enjoy finding your way topside."
She disapparated before Rumlow could react. Despite her confidence that the Hydra agent would be stuck in the Washington D.C. sewers for a significant amount of time, Hermione didn't waste the head start she had taken. Hailing a cab, she gave the driver the address she'd stolen from Rumlow's mind and was dropped off in a nondescript neighborhood. Later, Hermione would blame her exhaustion from the day's events on why she allowed her guard to drop when she approached the safe house.
Upon entering, the witch was lifted off her feet when a hand wrapped around her throat and slammed her body against the nearest wall. Slightly dazed, Hermione's wide eyes met the Winter Soldier's and almost unconsciously she slipped into his mind. Unlike Rumlow's mindscape, this one was a spacious ballroom and perfectly centered was an ornate cage containing a man wearing an American Military World War two uniform.
Surrounding the cage and dispersed throughout the mindscape were thousands of memories. Each took on the form of words and were drenched in a variety of color, which Hermione wasn't sure of the meaning. One memory in particular was significantly worn down; faded and broken which of course caught Hermione's attention. Approaching it Hermione froze when she heard the soldier speak.
"I will kill you if you touch it," he snarled. His voice didn't have a hint of Russian unlike his physical counterpart possessed. She ignored him, and reached out ot the memory.
"…to the end of the line," echoed throughout the mindscape in the same voice of the entrapped soldier. Frowning, Hermione reached out to the memory with her magic and began revitalizing it.
"What are you doing?!"
"This memory is undermining Hydra's attempts to usurp your mind," Hermione answered without changing her focus from the memory in front of her.
"I'm strengthening it," she explained after realizing the man was trying to forcibly break out of his prison.
Looking up at him, Hermione walked closer to the cage which enabled her to notice his name and rank before she answered.
"I've had my free will taken from me before," Hermione explained. "I've been tortured, mentally and physically by my enemies, watched my friends die painfully both meaningless deaths and to save me."
"You're a solider."
"Unfortunately," Hermione said shaking her head. "Sargent Barnes, no one should have their autonomy taken from them. Besides Hydra severely pissed me off after targeting my goddaughter."
"I'm James," he said. "Friends call me Bucky."
"Hermione Potter," she answered with a smile before her focus shifted to the cage entrapping him. Reaching out once again with her magic, she frowned when it returned the results of the diagnostic to her.
"Hydra didn't' create this cage," Hermione told him. "In fact, it's preventing them from erasing your psyche entirely."
"Can you free me?"
"No," Hermione answered, "and considering the amount of damage that dissolving the cage would inflict upon your mind, even if I was at my full strength, I wouldn't try it."
"What do you mean you're not at full strength?" Bucky demanded angrily.
"Well currently my physical body has its oxygen being cut off, and then earlier today I was in a severe car accident. Oh, and let's not forget to mention the sociopathic organization that has been hunting me down. More importantly, this cage was built by you."
"You think I honestly want to be trapped?!"
"No," Hermione answered. "I think you've forgotten the reason it was created originally and have resigned yourself to being locked up."
Turning over her shoulder thoughtfully, Hermione examined the memory she'd revitalized, "Although I do wonder…."
Turning back towards the memory fully, Hermione started manipulating it until she'd successfully shoved it into the cage with Bucky. Both humans watched as the cage expanded to accommodate the two.
"That will prevent Hydra from destroying that particular memory. It'll be safe until you decide you're ready to leave your cocoon. "
Suddenly, Hermione lost her balance and only managed to steady herself using the cage.
"That's not good."
"This might leave you with an intense headache. I'm sorry," Hermione managed to say before her magic ripped her from Bucky's mind while simultaneously blasting his physical body across the safe house. She landed painfully on the floor, desperately trying to reorient herself while regaining her breath. It took her four attempts before she managed to stand up and disapparated.
Nearly half a day later, Hermione woke up in Sam's apartment. Frantically, she performed another location ritual to find out where Steve was at, which led her to the edge of the Potomac. The airship proceeding to crash into the body of water was jarring enough, but seeing Bucky towing Steve's body to shore was even more surprising.
Once the Winter Soldier emerged from the water, he dropped Steve's collar to stare at her. Silently, Hermione reached her hand out and waited. Several moments later, without a word Bucky grasped her hand.