Disclaimer: I'm only writing this once, as I obviously don't own anything mentioned in here. Even the idea belongs to someone else. sigh
A/N This is my first challenge response fic, and only my second fic of this pairing, so please tell me what you think and how I can improve. I've tried to keep as true to the characters as possible, so I hope that part's okay. As to the grammar… well, I'm sorry for any typos there are. I don't have a beta for this fic (my betas for other pairings don't like HG/SS! Blasphemers!) and I can't catch all of them, no matter how hard I try. The challenge is the 'Cold Shoulder' challenge, and it's posted on WIKTT… and that's about it. R/R!
Edit: I've made a couple of minor changes, including Hermione's middle name, which is Jane. Thanks to Emma, for pointing it out to me.
Hermione Granger had never seen Albus Dumbledore look so serious. That fact was beginning to worry her, because she had an appointment in his office in ten minutes time, for a reason that was completely unknown to her. She hadn't broken any rules that she knew of so far this year. In fact, Hermione's final year at Hogwarts was proceeding rather well. She was Head Girl, and had done a great deal of work with Draco Malfoy who had, surprisingly enough, been selected for Head Boy. Inter-house co-operation had never been this smooth between the Gryffindors and the Slytherins. Draco Malfoy was actually being polite. And, to top everything off, Hermione had just finished two separate projects that would, most probably, put her in the history books. They would also almost definitely make her extremely wealthy.
The first was a charm that she had constructed to block out Dementors' emotional draining completely for up to an hour. While prisoners would not be able to make use of this (because they did not have wands), it would make prison inspections much easier and would have considerable effect in fighting off Dementors recruited and sent into battle by Voldemort.
The second was a combination potion-charm. The would-be caster's wand had to be bathed in a solution of Hermione's invention for exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds while the owner of the wand recited an incantation. Once that was done, Hermione's potion-charm would be simply activated any time the wand's owner said 'asparagus' with the wand in a casting position. The charm, called the Essence charm, revealed each and every spell that had affected an object or person, and who had cast each spell.
Ron tapped Hermione on the shoulder, bringing her out of her thoughts. "Your meeting's in five minutes, you know. Dumbledore's gone already." Hermione glanced up at the high table. Dumbledore's seat was empty. So was Snape's.
"Thanks, Ron," she said gratefully. "See you in a bit."
Ron and Harry waved goodbye and then turned back to whatever conversation they had been having before Ron had reminded Hermione to leave. She smiled wryly, and then walked briskly to Dumbledore's office. As Head Girl, she already knew the password, and was able to make it there on time.
Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, looking even more sombre than he had when he was in the Great Hall. Snape was sitting in one of the armchairs facing the desk. His back was rigid, and his jaw was clenched. He made no response to Hermione's soft "Good morning, professors."
The headmaster smiled tiredly at her greeting. "Good morning, Miss Granger. Sit, please." She sat down, becoming even more worried. "The news I have for you, Miss Granger, is not good news. I'm afraid I won't beat around the bush here. The work you've done recently in the invention of your charms is very good. So good, in fact, that Voldemort has heard of them and wants to know the secret of your Essence charm. Of course, you've patented it."
Hermione swallowed. Dumbledore had not finished. "With the magical patent, Voldemort cannot look up your potion-charm in the archives. There is no other copy, and you are the only person with the power and knowledge to give access to your Essence charm to Voldemort."
Hermione thought about this for only a second before she said, "So he's after me."
"I'm afraid that's the case."
This didn't worry Hermione as much as it probably should have. "Sir, he's already after me. I'm one of Harry's best friends."
"You've become as important as Potter in Voldemort's eyes, now," Snape informed her coolly. "I assume the wonder-boy has told you all about my role."
"I know you used to spy for Voldemort, sir," she said carefully, suppressing her irritation at his name for Harry.
"I still do… or did, until last night. I told Voldemort I would bring you to him under Imperius today," he informed her. "It will become evident by this evening that I have not done so, and our lives will be in even greater peril."
"You're both wanted by Voldemort," Dumbledore cut in gently. "And Professor Snape believes that Voldemort's willing to risk everything in order to capture you and your secret. With the Essence charm, Voldemort will potentially be able to see through invisibility cloaks, and recognise all of the few spies we have planted with him; in short, he will become very close to unstoppable."
"He's going to attack Hogwarts?" Hermione asked, in a voice that was calm and level. She wasn't quite sure where the voice came from. Her world had just been turned upside-down. There was nowhere safer than Hogwarts.
"Hermione, it's possible. Very possible." The headmaster's eyes were full of concern and worry. "The risk of having you and Professor Snape stay here is far too great. I have decided that it will be safest to remove the two of you from the school."
"You're… expelling me?" Hermione's voice certainly reflected her feelings now. It was high, loud, and disbelieving. She was in shock. "But…"
"No, I'm not expelling you," Dumbledore reassured her quickly. "Just moving you temporarily."
"What the headmaster is trying to say," Snape said coldly, his voice full of displeasure, "is that he intends to move both of us to a two-bedroomed house in the middle of nowhere, have each of us cast the Fidelius on the other, and then keep us there until Voldemort's defeat or your graduation."
The headmaster rolled his eyes. "That is what I had in mind," he admitted. "Although I had originally planned on phrasing my intentions differently. How do you feel about it, Hermione?"
What a stupid question, she thought. "It's… fine, professor," she lied, smiling weakly.
"Good, good." His smile looked more genuine now. "In that case, why don't you two run along and pack your trunks? Be back here at eleven, please." Snape scowled at Dumbledore as Hermione scowled at her feet. They both rose, and Snape swept through the door ahead of Hermione. She rolled her eyes and glared at the hem of his robes. Damn it all.
"Five points from Gryffindor," Snape said without even turning around. "Disrespect." With that, he disappeared down a stairway that led to the dungeons. She swore aloud this time, and then continued on her way to Gryffindor tower. She had two hours to pack, explain, and say goodbye. Hermione was beginning to hold Snape's view of the headmaster. Damn him.
By the time Hermione reached Gryffindor Tower, she realised just how short time was. Thankful that she had her own room (as Head Girl, it was one of the privileges) so that she need not explain her actions to inquisitive roommates, Hermione began packing her things. Clothes went right at the bottom, textbooks and other books on top, then quills and parchment, and then odds and ends. It only took an hour.
She shrunk her trunk and put it into her purse along with her money. Now it was time to face the boys. Taking a last look around her now-bare room, she left, resetting the password to "rosemary" as was custom when a Head Girl left permanently. Somehow, Hermione didn't think she would be coming back to Hogwarts as Head Girl, if she returned at all.
At the bottom of the staircase, Harry and Ron were playing chess. At least, they were playing chess while they waited for Hermione to emerge and tell them what the meeting had been about, because the second she appeared they immediately packed up the set, ignoring the complaints of the pieces.
"What was it?" Ron asked. "What did Dumbledore say?"
"Hermione, are you okay?" was Harry's more thought-out response. No doubt he'd noticed how pale she was. "What's wrong?"
Hermione sat down facing the boys. "You know those charms I invented?" she asked.
"Yeah." Ron pulled a face. "Put the rest of us to shame with our inflection variations."
"What I'm trying to say," Hermione continued, "is that Dumbledore wanted to talk about them. Apparently, Voldemort wants the secret of the Essence Charm."
"He can't get that from the ministry," Ron said promptly. "You've got the patent, right? You can only give it to people you want to."
"Yes," Hermione said wryly. "So Voldemort's after me."
"Shit," Harry said softly. "Well, he's after me too, and Dumbledore's not done anything really except make me stay with the Durselys or here."
"Harry," Hermione said gently, "If Voldemort were to attack Hogwarts and kidnap and kill you, he'd have won a battle. He could still lose the war, even without our biggest rallying point; sorry to speak bluntly. But if he gets my charm, he can see everything. All our defence spells, all of our spies, he will be able to see everything. Dumbledore thinks he might risk an attack on Hogwarts for that."
Ron's face had turned white. "So what will you do?" he asked shakily.
"He wants to send me away to someplace safe, and put the Fidelius charm on me."
"Like my parents," Harry said softly. "Only they were betrayed. I guess Dumbledore's going to be your secret keeper?"
"I wish," Hermione said mournfully. "There's more still." She sighed. "Voldemort asked Snape to kidnap me… Snape really is a double agent, like we guessed. Well, he was one. He told Voldemort he was going to kidnap me today, but he's obviously not going to do that. By sunset Voldemort will be after Snape too. So Dumbledore decided that Professor Snape and I can go into hiding together and put the Fidelius on one another."
"Hermione!" Harry exclaimed, aghast. "But… that means…"
"That nobody except Snape will be able to contact me, and I'm the only person able to contact Snape. We'll be completely alone together."
"Shit," Ron said, echoing Harry's previous comment.
"That just about sums it up," she said ruefully.
"So when are they sending you away?" Harry asked after a moment. "You have a couple of days, right?"
"I wish. I'm leaving in an hour." Once Hermione had said that, the magnitude of what was happening hit her. She was going into hiding from the most powerful dark wizard in the wizarding world in centuries with her least favourite professor. She would have to completely leave her parents and her friends. She burst into tears.
Even after six years of being best friends with Hermione Granger, a Girl, Harry and Ron were still not very good at comforting crying females. They did the best they could, but as soon as Hermione's crying stopped, their farewells ended up bringing on a fresh wave of tears. This time, they weren't only Hermione's, as the soon to be former Head Girl said goodbye to all of Gryffindor tower. Harry and Ron were the only two who knew the full story; the others had been told that Dumbledore would explain her sudden departure at breakfast the next day, and that she didn't know how long she would be gone for. Serves him right, Hermione thought. If he's making me uproot my entire life and live with Snape, of all people, then he can bloody well make up a cover story for me. Then it was time to leave the tower for Dumbledore's office. With a last hug for Harry and Ron, Hermione left.
Snape was, again, already there when Hermione arrived promptly on time. Dumbledore was not there, and so the two waited in silence for the headmaster's arrival. Dumbledore arrived at ten past eleven, breaking the uncomfortable silence between Hermione and Snape.
"I apologise for being slightly late. Now, if you both have your trunks, I believe it is time to leave."
Wordlessly, they all gripped the slightly worn cushion that Dumbledore held in his hands; it was a portkey. Within seconds, they had arrived.
They found themselves in a small but cosy sitting room with one sofa and two armchairs beside a fireplace. The only other things in the room were a big bookshelf overflowing with books, and a coffee table. Eyeing the bookshelf, Hermione's first thought was that maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Then Snape's voice reminded her just how bad it would be. "I assume you want me to ward this house after you've left, Albus?"
"Of course. Incidentally, once you've put one another under the Fidelius I won't know who you are. That is, I won't be able to associate your names with this house in my mind. So you shall become a reclusive ex-professor of a small private school wanting to home school your dead wife's niece, whose parents have also died, leaving you her sole guardian, Severus. Thus we will be able to keep in correspondence over Hermione's schooling, and she will be able to take her NEWTs as planned."
"Why, is all this necessary Albus?" Snape asked tiredly. "Can she not be my daughter?" he said, with obvious distaste. Hermione was slightly offended.
"Because, Severus, you don't show any affection whatsoever to Miss Granger, and putting on a show of such love would very possibly be outside of your capabilities, even with your practise at playing roles. Secondly, you're still young, thirty-eight, and Hermione is nearly nineteen. Although it's possible, such a small age difference is unlikely, even in the muggle world."
"Headmaster?" Hermione asked, confused again. Today was beginning to feel surreal. "My eighteenth birthday was two months ago."
"Yes, but you added eight months, twenty-seven days, and three hours to your age through your use of the time-turner in your third and sixth years."
"Oh." How nice of him to have told her before now, she thought grumpily.
"Very well, headmaster," Snape said through gritted teeth. "I shall become her guardian."
"Good, good. This is how the Fidelius works, Hermione. After you've performed the charm, so long as Professor Snape never speaks or writes down your full name in the presence of another person, nobody will be able to find where you live or even to recognise you if you are seen in the street. The exact same goes for Professor Snape. You may speak one another's first name, or even last name, but as soon as you say the other's full name, including middle names, and one person overhears you, the Fidelius is off and you are immediately susceptible to Voldemort. Do you understand, Hermione?"
How stupid does he think I am? Hermione thought irritably. Outwardly calm, she replied, "Yes, sir."
"Good, good. In that case, I shall leave now. Severus, write a letter in a day or so saying that you would like a correspondence course for your niece. She's studied in America for six years and now wants to take NEWTs… she's exceptionally gifted and ought not to be at all behind. I think that is all. Unless Voldemort is defeated before Hermione's graduation day, do not undo the Fidelius charms on yourselves until her graduation. If you have a problem, only Severus is to be released."
"Yes, professor," Hermione said softly, suppressing the urge to roll her eyes. Snape didn't suppress a similar urge.
"Very well, then." Suddenly, the old man's eyes turned sad. "I shall bid you goodbye, then," he said heavily. He hugged Snape, who just stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do with his arms. Then it was Hermione's turn. She embraced her headmaster, too, and wondered that someone so physically frail could be so important. Then, with misty eyes on the parts of Hermione and Dumbledore, the headmaster took hold of the portkey once more and disappeared.
"Let us get this over with," Snape said after a moment's silence. "Fidelio Hermione Jane Granger," he said softly. There was a moment in which the world seemed to be tilting, spinning, and then all righted itself. "Was that it?" Hermione asked.
"For you. Now, you need to perform the charm on me. My name is Severus Alexander Snape."
"Right," she said shakily. Then, tightening her resolve, she pointed her wand at her professor and said, "Fidelio Severus Alexander Snape."
He looked mildly disorientated for a moment, before nodding abruptly.
"Very well." He stalked out of the kitchen, presumably to ward the house, leaving Hermione alone in a strange new place with a pile of baggage. She sniffed once, swallowed, and then sniffed again, blinking away tears. She'd be damned if she was going to cry with Snape in the next room. Picking up her trunk, Hermione made her way to the door leading out of the living room. Her future had never looked so bleak.