Original Prompt from iqeret: Purely by accident, Hermione finds—and puts on—an enchanted ring. Whatever the consequences (and no tragedy, please!), they require Severus to step in and help sort things out (SS/HG).
Author's Note: Written for the 2014 SSHG-promptfest on Livejournal. The first time I read this prompt, I misread it and was struck by a fit of giggles, for I could not for the life of me figure out why, exactly, Hermione would put on an enchanted wig. Lo and behold, for the idea took hold and I needed to make it fit a ring... I'm sorry, iqeret, for running amuck with your prompt. Thank you to the usual suspects - Toby, IM, and JM, for being my cheerleaders, and to the amazingly talented stgulik for her wonderful beta work!
''Ron, no!'' Hermione hissed, trying to pull her hand back.
''Relax, 'Mione. Just have to ask before term starts – will you marry me?'' He grinned at her, all teeth and freckles and pale blue eyes, a cheap-looking ring hovering just before her finger.
''For the love of – no!''
''Oh, thank Merlin,'' Ron said, just as Molly sobbed into her apron is dismay. Harry cheered around a mouthful of biscuits. Exasperated, Hermione tugged on her hand again.
''Ronald,'' she began warningly, but her red-headed friend just laughed and rose as he pulled her into a hug. ''Um, Ron, you do know I just turned you down, right?''
''Well, yeah.'' He drew back to look at her, blue eyes completely guileless. ''Mum's been ragging on about it — she wants to see all of us kids in domestic bliss, and was convinced you secretly still wanted me. Oh, don't make that face, I was fairly certain you'd say no.''
Hermione spared a glance at Molly, who was being comforted by a rather put-upon Arthur who looked like he'd much rather be fiddling with the dental floss she'd brought. Secretly still wanted Ron? She scoffed. For Merlin's sake, Molly had been the one to put Ron to rights after the screaming row they'd had well over a year ago. Undoing the various creative hexes should really have been a flashing sign telling the motherly woman that they made better friends than lovers. ''Mum'll come around, 'Mione, don't worry.''
''I can't believe you bought a bloody ring,'' she muttered.
''Nah. I filched it off the scrap pile at work.''
''Hey! It's just junk but looked like the right sort of bauble from Mum's distance. You can keep it. You know, to remember me.'' He pressed it into her hand with a grin.
Hermione tried to be angry with him — really, she did — but he was one of her oldest friends and she knew he'd meant well. She sighed and stuck the cheap little ring into her pocket. ''Molly's going to kill you, you know.''
''Nah. You should probably sneak out before Dad calms her down, though. She's been a bit wedding-mad since Perce the prat proposed to Penelope the public relations officer.'' Ron rolled his eyes, telling her just what he thought of his brother's 'sensible and solid' choice. ''She can't get her hands on Charlie from here, leaving me and Harry the brunt of it. I figured your refusal would give her a kick in the arse to drop it. Er, for a little while, at least.''
Ron grinned. ''Definitely.''
She spared a glance at the Weasleys, and Harry made shooing motions with his hands. Definitely time to escape. Giving Ron one last hug and a wave to Harry, Hermione grabbed her bag and headed for the door. She paused just outside of the Burrow to check her hair in the window. She frowned at the stray curl escaping what had not two hours ago been a perfectly manageable, shoulder-length plait and dug around in her pocket for a hairpin. Tonight was to be her first official dinner as the new Transfiguration Professor for years one through five. Even if she had been settling in and lesson-planning in her new classroom at Hogwarts over the summer, she wanted to make a good impression on the staff who didn't stay at the castle year round.
Her fingers found the warm thin metal of her pin, not realising that one finger had slipped just inside of the band of the ring from Ron. It slid into place, tightening. Scowling at her reflection, Hermione wrangled the curl into place, trying unsuccessfully to smooth out the frizz. On the third try she managed to jab her fingers, wishing fervently that she had the hair of almost anyone else she knew. Offhand, Hermione could only think to not want Harry's hair with its habit of never laying flat, Hagrid's hair was worse than hers, and she didn't want Professor Snape's oily hair, either.
Severus now, she reminded herself firmly. They were colleagues now. When she'd asked Hagrid if she should call him Rubeus, the half-giant had laughed through half a mug of tea (better known as tar) before he'd realised she was serious and kindly informed her that he preferred Hagrid.
When she'd asked Prof- Severus -if he minded if she used his given name he'd given her a long look before snidely replying that she'd do what she thought best, but unless she wanted the little imbeciles to think she was another student, perhaps calling him by his title was not the most intelligent decision.
Hermione headed down the Burrow's walk with a faint smile. The school had been mostly empty all summer: the only staff who seemed to leave as little as possible were Irma Pince (who had no other residence, Hermione was certain), Hagrid (of course), Minerva (although she left often to tend to school business), and Severus. The last had grudgingly allowed her to draw him into conversation on a regular basis. She would have thought them friends, but when she'd hesitantly asked, he'd gone quiet for a long moment before telling her simply he had no interest in such a thing.
''Well, we're sort of friends,'' she muttered. He wasn't quite as grumpy as he thought he was — he'd even let her rant in the staff room when she'd ended things with Ron, and he didn't let most people carry on like that. She kicked a pebble idly. If she was honest, she rather liked him. More than liked. She loved to be near him. He smiled sometimes, and it was a lovely thing to see. Usually it was an upturn of his lips, quick to show but slow to fade. Rare was the smile showing any his uneven teeth. But her favorite was when just one corner of his mouth tugged briefly. That smile was one she'd never seen until she'd pinned him alone in the staff room the second time, demanding he stop trying to treat her like a student.
Hermione sighed, returning Ginny's wave as the red-head swooped down towards the Burrow on her new broom.
In love with Severus Snape. Right. Well, that was a bit of a pickle. There was no way he'd be at all interested in a woman he couldn't even view as a friend, let alone one who used to be his student and couldn't contain her hair for more than five damn minutes. No matter how much she wanted him to be.
Reaching the end of the dusty lane, she looked back one last time before pushing her futile wishes out of her head and turning into herself with a sharp pop.
The stone of the parapet dug sharply into his palms but he ignored it, blocking out the unwanted sensation. He was used to dull pain — his neck still throbbed painfully in the cold. It was enough to make him consider actually relocating to the teacher's tower, even if it did mean leaving behind his laboratory. Hell, the wind along the tops of the walls would have been too much if he didn't wear such high collars. And yet, here he stood, staring out past the lake in the general direction of Hogsmeade. The wind was bitter despite the heat of the sun — it had likely been unwise to be wearing unrelieved black, and even less wise for him to be standing out in the sun with his pallid complexion.
With his luck, his nose would burn, revealing his folly to all and sundry.
A lone figure appeared, trudging up the path to the school and his chest tightened. The discomfort was nothing new as he watched Hermione Granger finally returning to the school. His shoulders relaxed somewhat. She was back, and even looked to be in moderately good spirits. Severus debated his chances of her cornering him again in the staff lounge. High.
It appeared that she had only her bag with her, so she hadn't stopped by a bookstore. That meant she would be in the castle within a quarter hour, and in the lounge in a half-hour. Excellent. He sighed, squelching the urge to shade his eyes for a better view.
He hadn't meant to take a fancy to anyone, let alone her.
Yet here he was, trying desperately not to let the past repeat itself. No following her around or trying to change how he presented himself. No settling for simple friendship. He wanted more than that, or at least a chance for it.
Pity she hadn't caught on yet. It was difficult to gauge if she felt anything more for him than a desire for a friend. Perhaps it was best that she hadn't noticed yet. He never had handled rejection well, and he knew he was just pathetic enough to keep pulling her into discussions and the occasional card game to have even a taste of affection.
Severus watched her a moment longer, her messy braid bouncing against the small of her back in the warm summer sun, before turning in a flurry of robes. The wind caught at his clothes, giving it just the right amount of billow, and he strode off to the staff lounge. He had approximately twenty-five minutes to settle in and pretend as if he wasn't waiting for her again.
''What the hell did you do to your hair?'' he barked as she entered the staff room. He was scowling at her head rather fiercely.
Hermione frowned. ''It's a plait.''
''I meant the bloody red, not to mention the need for a trim. I never took you for one to frequent a salon and dally with experimental spells.''
''I didn't!'' Hermione stormed over to his favourite worn leather chair and the polished game table, dumping her books on the rather cozy armchair opposite. She reached up to pull her hair around to show him. ''I washed it, combed it, put it - ...'' She faltered, then said in a very small voice, ''Severus? This … isn't how it looked this morning.''
Her fingers trembled as she pulled on her hair. What had not an hour ago been a frizzy braid that just brushed her shoulders was now a waist-long braid that ended in her own brown hair before fading to curls that looked distinctly like Molly's followed by Arthur's thin muddy-orange. She had a sinking suspicion that the rest of the length contained Ron's hair as well.
Severus levered himself out of his chair, alarmed. ''Did you ingest anything while you were in the presence of Mister Weasley?''
''No, George wasn't there.'' His concern was touching.
''Touch anything you shouldn't have?'' He peered at her hair. She had what appeared to be four different tones of red, the fourth just showing at the roots. Dark red: likely the girl's. Curious. He didn't know of any spell or potion that could produce such results.
''No?'' Hermione blinked rapidly. Severus was close enough to touch her and she could smell whatever cologne he used — it was intoxicating and distracting.
''No?'' He raised an eyebrow, lips pursed. She shook her head, finally noticing the weight of her hair. What was going on? What had happened? ''When did you last see your hair?''
''Before I left, I pinned some back because it was loose. It was normal, I swear!'' Panic tinged her voice and he steered her to his armchair, forcing her to sit. ''Ron proposed, knowing I'd say no. Harry'd already been quietly talking to Arthur — I know he recently bought a ring for Gin, actually. Molly started crying, Ron told me it was a ploy and he knew I'd turn him down. He'd used some junk ring from the shop. I left while Molly was distracted — she's got this delusional notion that Ron and I should get back together, you see, and is apparently rather wedding mad to boot. I fixed my hair, walked to the end of the lane, Apparated to the gates here … then stopped by my room. Maybe Peeves?''
Severus shook his head, lank hair brushing his shoulders. His nose looked oddly large at this angle and he bent over her head, nostrils flared as if he could scent whatever magic had caused it. ''Peeves would have swooped in long ago to brag, I'm afraid. Hold still.''
''Oh.'' Hermione sat stock-still as he drew his wand and began flicking it at her in between muttered spells. The lines on his face deepened as he snarled and cast more vehemently. At one point his wand nearly jabbed her in the nose and she flinched. He stepped back, slipped his wand up his sleeve, and crossed his arms over his chest.
''Congratulations, you've got a mystery curse.''
''At least it's a curse.'' She paused a moment. ''Did you try a Finite?''
Severus looked insulted and ignored her hopeful question. ''What did you partake of at the Weasley residence?''
''Tea — I brewed it myself, actually. I was the first one up for once.'' He was studying her intently and she flushed, trying to recall. ''Ginny was down not long after and we made breakfast for everyone. I showered, packed, went over some last-minute forms for the Ministry and sent them off so I'm all official now. After, I helped Harry and Molly make sandwiches at lunch. I know you don't have a very high opinion of him, but Harry knows how important this is and he wouldn't prank me or hex me with anything, either! And Ron was out back on his broom! Arthur was in the garage and it was just the three of us —''
''Cease your rambling,'' he snapped irritably. He could actually see her hair growing and it was a tad disconcerting how quickly the changes took effect. ''The diatribes are of no use. Details, but be concise.''
Hermione took a deep breath. ''Right. So, lunch. We sat around chatting, well, they talked about Quidditch and I may have tuned them out. Molly made biscuits, I didn't partake. Around tea time, Ron took my hand and proposed. I said no, he laughed, Molly cried, Harry cheered. Ron even let me keep the silly ring. I left after, waved hullo to Madam Rosmerta on my way past Hagrid's. That's it. A very boring, uneventful day.''
''It's turning blonde and brown with a bit of a wave now,'' Severus told her conversationally. One long finger traced his lips: was it his imagination or was she watching it? ''You said Weasley told you to keep the ring and it was from his brother's joke shop. Do you still have it?''
''It's in my pocket, though it may have fallen when I got a hairpin out.'' Hermione arched awkwardly in the chair to access the small pocket. She frowned, feeling nothing but the few Knuts and Sickles she kept on her. ''It's gone!''
As she withdrew her hand, Severus snatched at her wrist and held the appendage up grimly. ''Not gone.'' He withdrew a handkerchief with his spare hand to protect his own fingers and tugged on the ring experimentally. It didn't budge. The wand came next, but whatever compilation of spells had been cast on it had been muddled and mutated into the curse manifesting itself before them. Hermione was quiet as she watched him, concern evident on her pretty features. ''What is it with you bloody Gryffindors and cursed jewelry?''
''Do you think I'll need St. Mungo's?'' she asked softly. Her past experiences involving jewelry with nefarious intent had been a locket that had required a great many mood-adjusting potions along with some very careful Muggle therapy, a necklace that had nearly killed a classmate, and, of course, the bloody ring that had done in Dumbledore.
Severus shook his head, unaware he was still holding her wrist. ''It doesn't seem to be worth admitting you to the hospital quite yet, though we shall need to monitor you closely. I'll have Minerva owl Poppy, see if she can return early to keep a close watch on you.''
Hermione looked uncomfortably up at him. ''I don't want to be a bother …''
''A bother?'' Severus snorted, selecting a second teacup with one elegant hand, filling it to her preferred level and adding two sugars before handing it to her. ''You're suffering from a mysterious curse that I've never seen before and will likely take days if not weeks for me to unravel, yet you do not wish to bother the professional whose job it is to ensure your welfare?''
She flushed and looked away under the pretense of taking a gulp of tea. Hot tea. Hermione spluttered a moment, coughing. She heard him sigh and his handkerchief was thrust in front of her face.
''I do believe one is meant to drink a cup of tea.''
Fingers trembling, she took the proffered cloth and wiped her mouth before dabbing ineffectively at her shirt.
''For the love of Merlin …'' Severus flicked his wand at her, drying her. ''Calm down, Granger.''
''I keep telling you to call me Hermione,'' she told him. He returned her gaze, inscrutable.
''Yes, you do. I'll fetch Minerva.'' Before she could retort or thank him he'd spun on one heel to stalk from the room, robes billowing behind him. She watched him go with a pang.
Always 'Granger', or 'Professor Granger', if he was in front of others and feeling generous. The thought made ice settle in the pit of her stomach. He wouldn't even contemplate letting her be his friend, not really, though she'd thought they were until she'd asked. While his gentleness to her was not unusual anymore, it still made her hope that maybe, just maybe, her feelings could someday be returned.
Feeling petulant, Hermione took cautious sip of her tea. Was it too much to ask that he at least consider friendship with her? They talked for hours. He smiled when she was amusing (intentionally or not). She sniffled, trying to ignore the way her scalp was now prickling, and sighed heavily.
What was she going to do?
Severus consciously slowed his walk to accommodate Minerva's pace, fighting to keep his face impassive. Hermione was under a curse; why couldn't the witch move faster? Hell, he'd even deign to cart her around if she'd use her Animagus form. But no, Minerva strolled through the halls to the staff lounge, an exasperated look on her face. Her meeting could wait until later, in Severus's opinion — one of her staff, her replacement — was in need of assistance.
Hermione was dozing in 'his' armchair. Her hair had seemed to have stopped growing for the moment. All told, the braid (or what was left of it) dangled down off the chair, ending in an untidy heap. Severus frowned. Ginevra and Rosmerta must have longer hair than he had thought. He could barely see his newest coworker's own lovely locks poking from the bottom of the pile.
Minerva's gasp of shock woke Hermione, who flailed in the leather chair before sliding off onto the floor with an audible thump. ''Merlin's beard! What happened!''
''I told you,'' Severus growled, stepping forward to haul the witch off the carpet. ''She's cursed.''
''Piffle.'' His eyebrows shot up and he barely restrained himself from throttling the headmistress. That was all she could say? ''Let me see the ring, dear.'' Hermione held out her hand and Minerva inspected the innocent-looking thing through her glasses before casting several spells at it, but not nearly as many as he had. ''Well, that's not good... I think you're right, Severus. Let me ask Poppy if she can make it back early.''
Minerva left the room with a swish of tartan robes, her lips thinned disapprovingly.
''Severus?'' Hermione was looking up at him, concerned, and he realised he was staring at her in growing horror.
''Yes, I know,'' she snapped impatiently.
He huffed. ''I mean it's bloody growing again.''
''Again?'' Severus winced as the shriek assailed his tender ears and promptly transfigured a mirror from the tea tray. Hermione moaned in dismay at the iron grey showing at her roots. ''It's so fast...''
''Obviously.'' He stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next. Should he leave? Should he be staying here? Why was he always so wrong-footed around women he was interested in?
''Has Irma opened the library today?''
''If not, she is assuredly inside,'' he told her with a sneer, crossing his wool-clad arms over his chest. ''I suppose you are in need of an escort?''
She gave him a tentative smile. ''Is that an offer?''
His heart pounded a moment — damn! What was he supposed to say? How much would he reveal if he acquiesced? He wanted to go with her, but therein lay the problem. Severus was saved having to reply by Hermione gathering up her hair.
''Guess not,'' she muttered, and stalked off down the hall, her hair slowly growing.
Damn it. Severus watched her go with a pang. His lips parted to call out to her, but no sound issued forth despite the words clamoring in his heart. Maybe … maybe he should try to show her how he felt. Just a little.
Chapter Two shall be posted soon!