December 24, 2011
Hermione apparated into a small clearing in the woods on Clint's family farm. The spot was one she'd been using since regularly visiting the Barton's. This time, however, she landed in the snow, suddenly feeling as though she'd just arrived with Harry in Godric's Hollow. She shoved the unwanted memories away before trudging towards the farmhouse.
Clint and Laura greeted her at the front door, mere seconds before both children collided violently with her legs.
"What did you bring us?"
"Bring you?" Hermione repeated, feigning ignorance. "Merlin's beard, why would I bring such miscreants anything?"
Lila and Cooper's eyes widened in terror, before Lila broke into giggles.
"It's Christmas!" Lila declared. "You said Father Christmas always brings presents!"
"Do I look like Father Christmas?" Hermione asked the little girl seriously.
"Noooooo," Lila said reluctantly before laughing more. "Daddy always brings us presents though, and he's not Father Christmas."
"Then perhaps you should go check under the tree," Hermione whispered dramatically causing the children to scatter towards the living room.
"I still haven't figured out how you managed to do that," he said gesturing towards the other room where the Christmas tree was located. All three adults could hear Lila and Cooper cheering in delight over the presents Hermione had supplied.
"Magic," Hermione said in an impression of her Divination professor. When Clint merely rolled his eyes, she added, "Plus Laura slipped me a house key several weeks ago."
Clint looked at his wife who was grinning at him playfully.
"Not fair. You're not supposed to gang up on me," Clint said laughing at their mischievousness.
"It's not our fault we like each other better than you," Laura answered, dodging Clint's attempt to poke her in the waist. "Come on, let's grab the kids. Dinner's ready."
After dinner, Hermione insisted that Lila and Cooper could choose one gift to open before bed. Cooper's was a video game he'd been raving non-stop about, and Lila chose a long thin package. Opening it up, the little girl found an exact replica of a wand.
"Auntie Mia," Lila said reverently as she stared at it.
"You gave my daughter a stick?" Clint asked bemused. "Are you trying to get her to poke her eye out?"
"Daddy! This is not a stick!" Lila said glaring at him. "This is Minerva McGonagall's wand!"
"Am I supposed to know who that is?" Clint asked teasing Lila.
"She's the fiercest witch to ever live! Even better than Merlin," Lila insisted, much to Hermione's own amusement.
"It's just like hers," Hermione promised the little girl. "Daddy will find out soon that a wand is far more dangerous than a mere stick."
The next morning, the Barton home was filled with laughter as Clint and Laura made breakfast. Hermione was busy teaching Lila "spells" for her new wand, while Conner studied the box his game came in. Despite Lila's delight over learning the wand movements for creating light and the spell to extinguish it, she could not be deterred from presents when Cooper brought them up.
Lila was seated in Hermione's, entirely focused on the large present in front of her. The little girl was so enthralled that she missed her brother enthusiastically greeting a newcomer by the name of Auntie Nat. Hermione was able to see Clint hug the newcomer in her peripheral vision, after the woman set down a bag filled with presents. Seeing that Clint was welcoming the woman in allowed Hermione to relax and focus on Lila's reaction.
The witch had spent weeks creating this present. It was a large model of a Scotland castle, the size of a dollhouse that Hermione once had as a child. She'd used painstaking detail to make it resemble Hogwarts perfectly, even including the grounds and Black Lake. Taking inspiration from the moving staircases, she charmed the model to gradually change which windows were lit. Furthermore, it opened up like a muggle doll house to allow Lila to play in the interior.
"You can keep it in your bedroom, and the castle lights will scare all of the bad dreams away," Hermione said. "To turn it on and off, all you have to say is Lumos and Nox."
"It's just like real magic!" Lila declared before catching sight of her aunt. Bouncing off of Hermione's lap, the witch turned to greet the newest member of the Christmas party, only to freeze as she recognized the ginger.
The guilty look on Clint's face confirmed Hermione's gut instinct when she glanced at him. Clint was with SHIELD. Moving towards the front door while Lila was distracted and showing off the replica of Hogwarts to Natasha, Hermione slipped outside. She managed to make it about ten feet before the cold seeped through her clothing.
"Mia," Clint called from behind her while shutting the door.
"Don't," Hermione said without turning around. The witch forced herself to focus on gaining control of her emotions and leashing her magic. After Harry's death, her control had splintered from her grief and she became prone to having magical outbursts. It was incredibly volatile at times. In fact, it had saved her life from the surrounding Death Eaters who'd been prepared to kill her after Harry fell. Her raw magic had left Ron permanently disfigured.
Here and now, Hermione was struggling to remember her techniques to calm down. Learning that Clint had been working with SHIELD felt too similar to the moment when she'd learned about Ron's choice.
"I've known men willing to sacrifice everything for power. Men who preferred using children as pawns and sending them off to their deaths. I never believed you'd be one of them," Hermione said her voice low.
"SHIELD doesn't know about Laura and the kids," Clint said with a sigh. "I had no idea you were on their radar until Fury handed me the assignment. By then, Laura and the kids already loved you."
"I'm supposed to believe that SHIELD's top interrogator knows about your kids, but the rest of them don't?" Hermione asked spinning around to glare at him.
"Nat's complicated," Clint admitted. "She loves those two though, as much as you do. You're right about her being the best."
"Did you honestly think I wouldn't find out everything about who's hunting me?" Hermione asked scathingly. "SHIELD has done nothing, but harass me for waking up in one of their facilities. At no point have any of your people bothered to explain why I was there to begin with. Do you know how exhausting it is to constantly have to hide?"
Clint looked at Hermione sorrowfully as she continued speaking, "I never lied. I did simply walk out of that damn building. Escaping Coulson was a bit more dramatic, however. Did he ever figure it out?"
"No," Clint answered with a sudden smirk. "He's still pretty miffed about the whole thing. Guy's always been neurotic, but ever since he lost track of you he's been worse."
"Good. He never really stood a chance anyway," Hermione said before suddenly disapparating from the spot. Clint blinked before he started searching for her.
"That's not possible," he muttered as he spun in a circle.
"Well," Laura said from the porch. "At least we know why she doesn't own a car."
"You're supposed to be inside," Clint said suddenly losing focus of Hermione's disappearance.
"Hermione would never harm her family," Laura answered dismissing his concerns as she leaned against the porch railing.
"You knew Nat was coming over," Clint deduced from his wife's lack of explanation. Laura was always relaxed when she was unapologetic.
"She called last night," Laura said. "I've been telling you to talk to both of them for weeks Clint. You chose to ignore the situation. So I did it for you. Mia left her phone. Take it and go apologize."
"Mia's too good at hiding," Clint said with a shake of his head.
"Well it's a good thing you're a super secret spy then isn't it?" Laura asked. "Fair warning, Nat's going to berate you next. Oh let me know how SHIELD's bunks are when you get back to base tonight."
"Until you fix my family."