During the next minutes, their conversation was rather strained. There was a cautious, tense expression on the girl's face reminiscent of the way she had looked at him when she had been his pupil. Not quite as bad, though. Suddenly Snape became aware of how accustomed he had grown to her frank behaviour, her fearless small quarrels with him. He…missed it. Snape watched her scribbling some mathematical calculations on a piece of paper, completely lost in her work. A small smile tucked at his mouth. She had thought of the books first, of course. Not of her arm, but of rescuing the books. How typical.
The atmosphere remained strained for a while, but eventually the two got so engrossed in discussing the anti-werewolf-potion that it was as if nothing had happened. Outside the sun was sinking and its low rays were falling in beams through the windows, enveloping the girl. Her untameable hair, which she had originally wound in a tight bun at the nape of her neck, had got more and more lose, and now there was a halo of thin, wispy hairs surrounding her face, shining copper in the sunlight. Several times Snape caught himself staring at the way the sun struck those fiery reflexes, strangely fascinated by it. Luckily the girl never noticed him looking at her.
When nearby Big Ben struck six o'clock, Snape cleared his throat. "How much time do you have?"
"My train leaves at quarter to nine. Why?"
"How about dinner? We can eat here, if you like."
She looked torn. "Now you mention it, I'm actually quite hungry. But there's still so much I'd like to discuss."
She fell silent and Snape's thoughts were racing. She was right, there were lots of things they hadn't talked about yet. "We could meet another time," he heard himself say, certainly as surprised as she was. "Perhaps next month?"
Her face brightened and her eyes sparkled with an enthusiasm that touched him in a strange way. "That would be great. I'll have to check my appointments, but I'm sure there'd be time for it. Should we meet here again?"
Snape, still puzzled by the fact that he had invited the girl to another meeting, only nodded. They worked for one more hour, then Hermione packed her books and Snape shrunk them again. He also performed the cooling spell once more.
They left the room and went through several others to the dining room. There were only three elderly men sitting there, deep in conversation. They looked up when they entered and shot the girl a surprised glance before they turned back to their conversation. Snape led her to a table at the far end of the room, then they ordered and waited for the food to arrive. The easy atmosphere had vanished again. The girl looked nervous and Snape was wondering what on earth they should talk about now. Perhaps he should continue discussing work? Instead he tried some small talk. "How is Miss Weasley?"
The girl looked at him in surprise. "Very well, as far as I know. I talked to her just last week and she told me that she was going to spend a few days with Teddy Lupin, you know, Remus's son..." her voice trailed off and she looked at Snape a bit uneasy, obviously uncertain how he'd react to this topic.
"I see," he said, his voice noncommittal. "I thought he was living with his grandmother?"
"Oh, he is usually, but she's close friends with the Weasleys and Teddy knows them very well. Andromeda went to visit some friends in the USA and asked Arthur and Molly to look after him."
There was silence for a few moments, then suddenly the girl asked, "I wonder...what was Remus like as a child?"
Snape raised his eyebrow in surprise. "Remus? Well, he was the...least unpleasant of the bunch." He tried to control his voice, but there was a definite snarl in it and he saw resentment build up in the girl's eyes. With great effort he fought down the mixture of humiliation, anger and pain that always welled up in him when he thought about this part of his youth. "He was intelligent," he conceded after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, his voice level now. The girl relaxed visibly. "Rather shy, and very lonely at first, I suppose. Before he found his friends... He tried to check Potter's and Black's worst excesses, but I'm afraid he wasn't very successful." He shot the girl a questioning look. "Why are you asking?"
"Oh, I was just wondering."
"You liked him, didn't you?" he said, surprised at his own question.
"Yes, I did." There was a sudden expression of sadness in her brown eyes. They were large and very articulate, so unable to hide her feelings. "He was a good man. And a good teacher."
"Much better than I was, I'm sure," Snape replied without thinking, his disdainful voice not quite masking his bitterness.
Her eyes widened in shock. "I, I didn't mean that."
"No, but you thought it."
Her face was tense but she met his gaze unflinchingly. "No, I didn't think that," she said very quietly. "I never compared you to him. And you can hardly be surprised that I call him a good DADA teacher, after all I had only had Quirrell and Lockhard before him."
Snape snorted. "You're right, that's hardly a competition." He looked away for a few seconds, angry that he had voiced his thoughts, but when he turned back he found the girl still observing him.
"I never doubted your qualifications, your knowledge and intelligence," she said very seriously.
"But you found my didactic skills somewhat lacking?" he asked in a mocking tone.
A tentative smile flitted across her face. "They were rather...ideosyncratic."
Snape chuckled. The sound seemed to surprise her, but she caught herself quickly. "Professor," she said hesitantly, "there is something I'd like to ask you. You don't have to answer, if you don't want to."
Snape felt a dark feeling of foreboding. "Well, go on and ask, then."
The girl looked at him nervously. "The way you treated us...Gryffindors...and Harry, Ron and me. Was it part of your cover?" There was a very vulnerable expression in her eyes, an urgent need to know the truth.
His breath caught for a second. He hadn't expected this. She basically asked if he had really been an evil bastard – or if it had just been pretence. She gave him the possibility to explain his treatment of her and her friends as part of his cover. The possibility to clear himself of her bad opinion. If he lied. Snape hesitated. Whatever he'd answer, it'd define what she'd think about him. It struck him that for some strange reason, this mattered. How had that happened? But though he found that he didn't want her to think bad of him, he wouldn't lie. "Some of it was," he said, trying very hard not to betray any emotion.
She held his gaze in silence for a few seconds, then nodded. "Thank you," she said.
"Miss Granger," he added, unable to stop himself. "I never wanted to be a teacher. I never particularly liked it – and I'm sure most of my pupils would have preferred me to chose another career. I have no illusions about that. But Dumbledore thought it necessary for me to stay at Hogwarts, and so I did. That doesn't excuse anything – and I'm not saying that I want to excuse my way of teaching in the first place. But it might explain some of my behaviour."
She nodded slowly. There were still questions in her eyes, and Snape knew that he had hardly answered them – she still didn't know if he had genuinely despised her and taken pleasure in putting her and her friends down, as it had always seemed – but she had obviously realized that that was as far as he was willing to go. They both stayed silent, but before the silence could become too uncomfortable their food arrived.
"Professor, might I ask you another question?" the girl asked tentatively after a while. Snape looked up from his food, wondering uncomfortably what she'd want to know now, but nodded nevertheless.
"It was you who sent us the sword of Gryffindor, wasn't it?"
Snape relaxed. This question was harmless enough, even though it showed that the girl was still wondering why he had helped them if he had loathed them so much. "Yes," he replied.
"How did you know where we were?" she asked, her brow furrowed. "I've been wondering about this for years."
"Phineas Nigellus heard you talking about your location when you opened your bag. He reported it to Dumbledore and he told me to take the sword to you."
"And of course you couldn't show yourself to us," the girl nodded, her eyes bright because now something she had wondered about made sense. "So you sent your Patronus to get Harry?"
"Yes." For an uncomfortable moment Snape was wondering if the girl knew about Lily's Patronus. But it was highly unlikely, and even if, she'd never make the connection. It was just too unbelievable.
"But why all the stuff with the lake?" she wondered. "Ron and Harry nearly froze to death."
"It was Dumbledore's wish," Snape said with a shrug. "He emphasized that the sword must be taken under conditions of need and valour."
She gave him a crooked smile. "He had it all planned, hadn't he?"
"Oh yes," Snape said with a light snort. "But Dumbledore made very sure that no one knew all his plans." Even after all those years this lack of trust still hurt.
The girl – no, he should stop seeing her as the student she wasn't anymore – the young woman who sat across from him was watching him carefully. "You know, sometimes I wonder how much of what happened was planned by him," she said slowly.
"You mean if Dumbledore had a great master plan right from the start? I've been wondering about this myself. But you becoming friends with Potter and Weasley wasn't, if that's what you mean."
"I'm glad you say that," she replied. "I definitely hope so. I don't like the thought that everything was somehow orchestrated by Dumbledore... But sometimes I wonder if I was ever more than a pawn in his great plan."
She looked very vulnerable and Snape felt a strange kind of ache and understanding. "Dumbledore regrets the death of Potter and Weasley very much," he said, glad to find his voice as dispassionate as ever.
"Oh, I know that," she replied. "And I know he had to do what he had to do, otherwise Voldemort wouldn't be dead now." She looked down on her plate, apparently engrossed in her food. "Harry never believed that he was just a part of Dumbledore's great plan," she went on quietly. "He believed that he really loved him, that he was something of the loving grandfather he never had. Right until the end. Then of course he knew otherwise."
"Dumbledore did love him," Snape found himself say. And with a jolt he realized that what he was feeling was jealousy. Jealousy for the love and trust Dumbledore had always given the boy. How pathetic, he thought. And yet. What would have happened if Dumbledore had taken care of me like that when I was a boy? Wouldn't that have kept me away from Voldemort's influence? The thoughts and their implications made his head spin. Suddenly he realized that she was looking at him with a slightly puzzled but attentive expression and he quickly rearranged his face in the dispassionate mask that had served him so well over all those years. So well that sometimes he was wondering what his real face was like. "He did love him," Snape went on. "And I'm sure Dumbledore suffers because of all the pain he put him through. But sacrifices had to be made."
She held his gaze, her eyes wide with pain and understanding. "I know," she finally said and turned towards her food again. They ate mostly in silence, but it was not uncomfortable. When they had nearly finished she suddenly said, "Professor...I think I once wrote you about a friend of mine, John, a great fan of Shakespeare."
"I think you did," Snape replied, glancing up from his plate and finding her looking at him with a nervous expression.
"Well, he's finished his studies and is now working at the RSC."
"They are staging a new production of Anthony and Cleopatra which will premier in July in Stratford," she went on. "And he said that I could come to the premiere if I liked. And that I could bring a friend. So I thought, well, perhaps you'd be interested... Of course we could work there as well..."
Snape was surprised. This was not a request to come and meet her to discuss work. This was...what was it? An invitation to spend time with her as a friend? And she had asked him, and not her boyfriend. He suddenly realized that she was still looking at him rather nervously. "I…suppose I could come," he said.
Her eyes lit up for a second and she smiled in relief. "Great, I'm sure it'll be a good staging."
"I certainly hope so," he said, his sarcastic tone masking the confusion in which her invitation had left him.