NO WAIT HEAR ME OUT
They were both Gryffindors and besties and perhaps lovers, but the rise of the Dark Lord, Johann Schmidt, resulted in a man they’d considered a friend—the tiny, quivery-nosed, watery-eyed Arnim Zola—betraying them and making it look like Bucky had killed the people that HYDRA (Schmidt’s cult of Death Eaters) had, including their other best friend, Peggy Carter. Steve, Bucky, Peggy and Arnim had been like the Marauders, a group of four friends whose loyalty to each other was unquestionable, until, of course, Arnim turned on them, killed Peggy, framed Bucky and left Steve to pick up the pieces.
Steve always believed in Bucky’s innocence, always, even if no one else did, and he tried everything he could to free Bucky from Azkaban, from the place that would destroy him and take all his good memories, leaving him trapped in an eternal winter of the soul.
But Steve never succeeded, because no matter how many times he tried to revive Bucky’s case and present fresh evidence, the Wizengamot refused to consider it, because they (and the Minister of Magic, Alexander Pierce) refused to admit that the Dark Lord had returned under the new moniker of the Red Skull, refused to admit that he even existed, and it suited their agenda so much better to have Bucky pay for the crimes of a man they couldn’t let the public find out about. Arnim had conveniently disappeared, presumably to devote himself to the service of the Red Skull.
Of course, part of the reason Steve never succeeded in proving Bucky’s innocence was because the Minister of Magic was under HYDRA’s command, all along, portrayed as golden and virtuous by the sycophantic Daily Prophet, with any noise of dissent from the Quibbler being either ridiculed or silenced.
In the meantime, Steve, desperate to become an Auror so that he could continue investigating Bucky’s case on the sly, volunteered himself as the subject of an experimental version of Polyjuice dreamt up by Dr. Erskine, the famous wizard who’d won the prestigious McGonagall Prize for Transfiguration. This version of Polyjuice did not turn one body into another, but rather strengthened and augmented the original body permanently, on a molecular and genetic level. Steve’s pre-Polyjuice body had been too weak for him to pass the Auror exams, but with his improved physique, he managed to graduate at the top of the Auror training program, making friends with the fearsome witch, Natasha Romanoff, and being chosen to join the Defense Against the Dark Arts team led by the notoriously iron-fisted Nick Fury.
As it turned out, Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff and all the Aurors in Fury’s hand-picked DADA team were part of a secretive organization called the Avengers, who had sworn to defeat the Red Skull and to conceal their true mission from Alexander Pierce, so that he would not suspect that his own Ministry’s Aurors were in fact working against HYDRA, against him.
When Steve was deemed worthy of joining the Avengers, he did, clashing egos with the Arithmantic genius and Pureblood aristocrat, Tony Stark, and establishing a bond of teamwork and friendship with the rest of the squad: the Potions master and werewolf, Bruce Banner, the famed archer and curse-breaker, Clint Barton, the fearless pilot of a Hippogriff named Falcon, Sam Wilson, and the intimidating half-giant, Thor. Natasha was a double agent deeply embedded in the HYDRA movement, feeding them false information whenever possible and spying on them for valuable intelligence that allowed Fury’s team to pick off Death Eaters one by one. (She’d been a Dark witch, once, and had since dedicated herself to atoning for her actions, determined to clear what she called the “red” in her ledger. Only Clint seemed to know about what she’d apparently done in Budapest.) Meanwhile, a pair of Unspeakables known as Phil Coulson and Maria Hill secretly assisted the Avengers, sharing intel of their own.
Just when Steve was close to finding evidence so convincing that it would force the Wizengamot to make a fair ruling, the Dark Lord somehow gained control of the Dementors guarding Azkaban and captured the prisoners, including Bucky, who was no longer Bucky but a nameless, broken human being. He could remember nothing from his past, least of all the love he had once felt for Steven Rogers, because that was the thing that had made him happiest of all, and the Dementors had stolen every last bit of his happiness.
Since the breakout of Azkaban was too notable and visible an event for Minister Pierce to lie about it convincingly, the Ministry grudgingly admitted the truth, or part of the truth—that there seemed to be a hostile and incredibly powerful wizard out to hurt people and subvert the law. They still didn’t use the terms “Dark Lord” or “Red Skull,” however, because Pierce had issued a blanket hush order to keep those names under wraps. It proved largely futile when HYDRA began attacking the homes of innocent civilians of Muggle descent, killing them and casting the mark of the Red Skull above their homes—soon, people knew about the existence of the Red Skull, even if the Ministry didn’t want them to know about it.
This was when Nick Fury’s team of Aurors could at last take visible, official action, emboldened by public sentiment that demanded some sort of retribution against the criminal who’d razed Azkaban and civilian homes to the ground. The Avengers moved with the swiftness of urgency, declaring all-out war against HYDRA, and it was in the midst of that chaos that Steve found himself fighting a mysterious wizard in dark armor, a wizard whose silhouette seemed strangely familiar…
When Steve eventually saw that man’s face once the Death Eater mask was ripped off of it, he nearly fell to his knees in shock, because that was—
“Bucky,” Steve said, his voice shaking, his head spinning, because he’d thought Bucky was dead—
“Who the hell is Bucky?” said the man, and Steve’s heart broke. Of course Bucky wouldn’t remember him, couldn’t remember him, not after everything he’d been through.
Steve couldn’t bring himself to hurt Bucky, not now that he knew who his armored opponent was, but thankfully, their battle ended without either of them getting injured beyond repair. Steve’s magically enhanced body had begun healing itself, anyway.
In the end, the Avengers killed Schmidt, defeated HYDRA and exposed Pierce as its operative. Pierce had put Arnim in charge of casting Imperius curses on the already mind-wiped prisoners of Azkaban and converting them into obedient soldiers of HYDRA, thus vastly increasing the number of HYDRA’s boots on the ground, and once that was revealed, Arnim was brought to justice, too. The prisoners were entered into a special rehabilitation program to erase the effects of the Imperius upon them, before being returned to a rebuilt Azkaban, with the exception of Bucky, who was finally proven innocent. He was released into the custody of the newly reformed Ministry, of which Fury was the Minister of Magic, and of which Steve was the new Captain of the Aurors (and, unofficially, of the Avengers). HYDRA and its followers were sentenced to Dementor’s Kisses by the Wizengamot, which was scrambling to appear efficient, effective and anti-HYDRA in the aftermath of the war. The same judges who’d condemned Bucky now issued him with an official apology… but what good was an apology to a man already gone?
With the aid of the psychiatric ward at St. Mungo’s Hospital, and intensive counseling coupled with memory magic that acted as a sort of reverse Obliviate, Bucky slowly regained his sense of self. The Healers mended Bucky’s torn and fragmented mind with Assistive Legilimency and Healing Pensieves, taking Bucky back through his reconstructed memories and helping him come to terms with the horrible deeds he’d committed under HYDRA’s control, against his own will.
Steve stayed with Bucky through it all, because he’d promised to be there for Bucky ’til the end of the line. Bucky looked at him one day and said in a wondering tone, “Steve…? Didn’t you used to be smaller?” And Steve almost wept, because his friend was back, Bucky was back, and when he embraced Bucky, he promised himself to never let go again.
Some of those who witnessed that embrace at St. Mungo’s said that they “embraced like brothers,” but others thought they embraced like long-lost lovers. Perhaps the truth was a strange combination of the two.
In any case, Steve took a mostly rehabilitated Bucky back home, to Steve’s humble apartment near the Ministry that was all he could afford on his Auror’s salary, but it was just the right size for the two of them, a warm and intimate place in which Bucky could continue recuperating, under Steve’s watchful eyes and loving hands.
One year later, Bucky joined the Auror program, alongside the Avengers.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Edit: I’ve decided to write this as a proper story. I’ll post it on my blog when it’s done!