"Don't worry, it's from me."
"How did it get here?" Snape growled, less than thrilled that Dumbledore was now somehow sending boxes to his house.
"I had it in Hogwarts and sent your house-elf to get it," the former headmaster replied, absolutely unfazed by Snape's glowering stare. "I want you to give it to Miss Granger."
"Why? What's in it?"
"Look for yourself."
Snape went forwards and opened the lid cautiously. "You shouldn't give that to her," he said, staring down into the box. "She won't want it. And it's too valuable, it should stay in our world."
When he looked up he saw that Dumbledore was shaking his head. "No, she is the one who has the best claim to this."
Snape looked at him in silence for a few moments. "You intend something with this," he finally said, his voice full of suspicion. "Why can't you leave the girl alone?"
Dumbledore just smiled a little sadly. "I assure you Severus that I don't have any ulterior motives with this. What Hermione does with it is entirely up to her. And I will leave her…alone…as much as I can. You must believe me that I feel for her as much as you do."
Snape snorted. "I don't have any feelings for the girl, I just think she has suffered enough."
"Indeed, Severus," Dumbledore said with his infuriating smile and Snape thought it better just to close the lid again and leave.
An hour before Snape was to meet Hermione he was walking along the river Avon. The weather was brilliant, warm and sunny, but his thoughts were dark. Before he had left his house he had wondered if he should disguise himself in some way. He wasn't afraid of Gerold Wilson, but should he tempt fate by presenting himself in public without any precautions? Finally he had decided against it. He had lived with deception and masks and secrecy far too long, and it was highly unlikely that anyone would recognize him.
The truth was that the thoughts about Gerold and Arminius and Flora had worried him during the last days. Worried him more than he wanted to admit to Dumbledore. He had always known that his past might catch up with him eventually, but until now it had only been a hypothetical possibility. He didn't think it very likely that Gerold would ever find him. But if he did, what should he do? Kill him to save his own life? Gerold certainly had a good reason to hate him, and Snape had seen and done far too much killing to wish for more. Suddenly he felt the familiar choking feeling of guilt and shame and pain that always accompanied his memories of what he had done as a spy. For the last years he had been able to keep it and the dark memories at bay. At least most of the time. But now those memories suddenly filled his mind again and during the last nights his sleep had been troubled by nightmares.
Suddenly Snape slowed down, his steps arrested by the sight of a familiar figure sitting on a bench further along his path.
She was staring out over the river, apparently lost in thoughts. There really wasn't a reason why he shouldn't approach her and so, after a moment's pause, he did, but she didn't notice him. She seemed oblivious to everything around her, and when Snape came closer he thought that she looked troubled and tired. It was only when he was hardly eight feet away that she turned towards him and recognized him. Immediately her face lit up with a smile.
Snape felt a sudden, unexpected stab. That smile. It was genuinely happy, as if she was glad to see him. Only one other person had ever given him such a radiant smile… He suddenly realized that Hermione had said something. She looked up at him with a questioning expression on her face, then said, "I just asked if you'd like to sit down." Pushing away the rush of strange thoughts and feelings her smile had produced, he gave a short nod and sat down next to her.
"So how are you, Professor?" Hermione asked. Snape's sudden appearance had caught her off guard. But in fact she was glad to be snatched out of her bleak thoughts. The last days had been less than pleasant and she ached with the loss of Thomas. Snape's behaviour, however, was a bit odd, he seemed preoccupied and rather distanced, and with a pang she wondered if he, just like Thomas, was somehow angry with her.
"I think it's no longer appropriate for you to call me Professor," he suddenly said, catching her completely by surprise. "After all I neither work at Hogwarts any longer nor am I your teacher."
"That's true," she replied, not sure where this was going. "But what should I call you instead?"
"What about Severus?"
A surprised smile lit up Hermione's face. "Very well. But only if you call me Hermione."
Snape nodded and he looked at her with an expression in his eyes she couldn't read. "Shall we go for dinner and toast to that?"
"With pleasure." Hermione felt uplifted. At least he didn't push her back. "By the way, I have brought you a few interesting things," she added, pointing to her bag which was obviously filled with books.
They went to the Italian restaurant they had dined in before, ate and talked until 6 o'clock, then returned to the hotel to change. This time, Hermione had decided that she wouldn't stay at the youth hostel but treat herself to a real hotel room, and when she had asked Snape he had recommended the hotel he was staying in.
John had told her that this premiere would be quite an event. Several celebrities were expected and she shouldn't have any qualms about dressing up. So Hermione had taken her most elegant dress with her, black and shiny, asymmetrically cut so it only covered her left shoulder, ankle length but with a long cut along her right leg. Now she was standing in front of the mirror, trying to put up her untamable hair in a loose elegant knot using hairpins topped with single large fake pearls. When she had finished, she stared into the mirror for several moments. An unfamiliar, very elegant young woman was looking back at her.
Gazing at her reflection she suddenly wondered what Snape would think about her. Stop it, she thought in exasperation, you're not trying to impress him – or are you? It was strange to call him Severus, but not as strange as she had thought it would be. It had been over two years now since she had met him, and during that time her perception of him had changed from the cruel potions bat to a much more complex figure, puzzling and fascinating… Stop it! Hermione thought once again, and her reflection broke into an embarrassed smile. He's not interested in you in that way – and neither are you in him! She shook her head in exasperation, then gave her reflection a last appraising look and left her room.
If Hermione had expected Snape to show any signs of being impressed by her altered appearance, she was thoroughly disappointed. She arrived down at the hotel lobby a few minutes before him, and when he suddenly appeared at her side he only said "You are very elegant today" in a level voice and offered her his arm. He himself looked quite well, too, wearing a classically cut suit and shirt in what looked like black silk.
The staging of Anthony and Cleopatra was rather modern, but Hermione liked it. Afterwards they went to the restaurant where the premier party would take place and where a growing crowd of actors and people from the audience was already gathering. After standing around for a few minutes, feeling slightly out of place, Hermione finally spotted John who went towards them with a large grin on his face.
"Hermione!" he said, hugging and kissing her on the cheeks. "It's great that you have come. And you must be the famous teacher," he said to Snape.
"Famous or infamous?" Snape replied rather dryly.
"Both, I'd say," John parried. "How did you like the play?"
"It was rather modern."
"Hermione already said that you don't like modern stagings."
"Did she indeed? Well, it was an interesting experience."
John gave him an open smile. "I suppose that's as good as it gets. Come, I'll show you to our table."
Hermione, who had felt rather nervous about John meeting Snape, heaved an internal sigh of relief. This was not going too bad. John led them to a table were some friends of his were already sitting and they ordered drinks. When all the guests had settled down there were a few speeches and then the buffet was declared open. Snape said he didn't want to eat anything, but John and Hermione went to get some food.
"He is interesting," John said to her as they were standing in line. "Quite fit, actually."
Hermione laughed out in surprise. "Don't tell me you're hitting on him."
John grinned. "You have to admit he has a great body for a man his age. How old is he?"
Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Mid 40s I guess. But it certainly never occurred to me that you might be interested in him." She shook her head, stifling a giggle.
"He's not attractive in the conventional sense, but he has an interesting face. And those dark eyes – very fascinating. But I imagine he can look quite fierce and intimidating."
"You have no idea."
It was slightly unsettling to think of Snape as somewhat attractive. And yet, was it so strange? Hermione didn't think him ugly. She had, as a child, but now she knew him better – and his hair was definitely less greasy – she would admit that there was a certain something – a rather dark and severe something, but nevertheless... And he moved with a careless grace that she had noticed even as a student. But after her dream it felt disconcerting and dangerous to think of him as a man in whom she might be interested in that way.
"So how are things?" John's question shook her out of her reveries. She grimaced and said in a low voice, "not great, actually. Tom split up with me two days ago."
John's looked stricken. "Really? What a shame." He glanced around and dropped his voice so the people queuing with them at the buffet wouldn't hear him. "How are you taking it?"
Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "I'm ok. I don't feel great, obviously, but it's all right."
John regarded her with a worried expression. "Well, you know if I can help you in any way you just have to tell me."
"Thanks. Actually being here is the best distraction right now."
His face brightened up a bit. "Definitely. I'll help you fix your mind on other things. There will be dancing later on, how about it?"
"Great, I could do with some cheering up."
When they finally returned to the table, balancing their laden plates, Hermione had to suppress a broad grin when she thought of John's admiration for Snape. He seemed to have kept to himself, not taking part in the conversations around him, and Hermione felt a quick stab of bad consciousness for leaving him alone like this. But then she argued that he was certainly old enough to look after himself. John must have thought something along the same lines because as soon as they had sat down he drew Snape into a conversation about the play and Shakespeare in general. Hermione was glad to find that Snape was hardly snapeish but – at least for his standards – positively nice.
John, who obviously thought that the best medicine for lovesickness was alcohol, kept her wine glass filled and Hermione felt her spirits rise. She wasn't accustomed to much alcohol, but at the moment the slight exhilaration it created felt quite nice.
Shortly after they had finished eating, music began to play and a few couples started dancing. When after a while there was some salsa music, John's eyes lit up, he threw Hermione a meaningful look and said, "what about a dance, Hermione? It'll cheer you up."
Hermione saw that Snape threw her a questioning glance at that comment but she didn't react to it. Instead she hesitated for a second, unsure if she should just leave him like that, but then Snape said, "oh, don't worry about me," and after a searching look at him she got up and followed John to the other dancers.
It was nice to dance again, especially with John whose moves she knew by heart and who deftly led her across the dance floor. All she had to do was to give in to the music. It felt great just to move with it, not to think about what had happened or to worry about the future any more. John was right, she thought, flashing him a great smile, this is just the thing to do.
Snape's eyes followed Hermione when she left the table. He watched them start dancing and after a few minutes he had to admit to himself that he was surprised. She danced well. Very well, in fact. Her movements were graceful and natural, not forced and exaggerated as it was so often the case with the Latin dances. She had an unconscious elegance and – he would never have thought that he'd ever use that word for Hermione Granger – sensuality. It was…fascinating. And a bit disconcerting. In fact it added to a feeling of disturbance that he had had earlier on, when he had spotted her in the hotel lobby. He didn't quite know why, but seeing her in that dress and with that hairstyle had strangely unsettled him. It made her look more grown-up, and while he of course had realized long ago that she was no longer the little girl he remembered from Hogwarts, and while he had more or less accepted her as some kind of equal, it was only then, when he had seen her in that dress, that he had fully realized that she was a grown woman. An attractive woman. And that only added to the feeling of confusion that her sudden smile of recognition had somehow evoked in him earlier. Of course he would never show her any of these thoughts, and he was pretty sure that his face had betrayed nothing when he had joined her in the lobby. But it was disconcerting, nevertheless.
He was not the only one who had noticed her dancing, he realized when he saw that the eyes of several others were fixed on her and her partner who was a very good dancer as well.
Krum had been the first to realize it, Snape suddenly thought. The first who not only saw her as a frightfully intelligent, slightly bossy girl, but also as the attractive woman she would become. He himself had hardly recognized her at the Yule Ball. A small smile played around his mouth as he remembered how shaken his Slytherins had been when their hero had not only shown up with a Mudblood, but when the despised Granger had looked quite stunning.
She and her friend danced two more dances, then they separated and John started dancing with a strange woman while Granger made back for their table. No, it was Hermione now, Snape reminded himself. He didn't quite know why he had suggested she call him Severus. It had been a spontaneous intuition which just seemed right at the moment, after all they had been working together for some time now.
When she arrived at the table, her cheeks flushed from the dance and her eyes shining brightly, she didn't sit down but looked at him with a challenging expression.
"Severus, would you dance with me?"
Snape felt alarmed and at the same moment also angry with himself for this reaction. "I don't dance," he replied rather firmly.
Hermione inclined her head a little. "But I know you do. I saw you dancing with Professor McGonagall at the Yule Ball."
"That was only because she forced me to," he growled.
"Come on, you'll like it," the young woman said, obviously not willing to let go. From the corners of his eyes Snape saw a few men edging closer, obviously more than willing to dance with Hermione if he didn't want to.
"Very well," he said, surprised at the words that came out of his mouth, "I'll dance with you, but I can't do the Latin stuff."
A broad smile lit up Hermione's face. "Great. And don't worry, listen, they're playing a foxtrot at the moment.
They were indeed and there was nothing left for Snape but to get up and follow her to the dancing floor. John whirled past with his new partner, and when he spotted them Snape thought he saw a rather knowing grin which he didn't like at all.
Snape hadn't danced for ages, and it took him a while to get back into it, but then it was not too bad. As he had already observed, Hermione was a very good dancer, and there was enough room on the dance floor so they didn't have to worry about the other couples all the time.
When after a while he turned his head to look at her, he found her smiling at him, her eyes shining with pleasure. Again Snape felt a strange jolt and looked away immediately. Suddenly he was very aware of how close she was, of the fresh smell of her perfume and her bare back beneath his left hand. Get yourself together, he thought angrily, what's going on with you? You're behaving like a nervous teenager.
When he looked at her again, he had put on the dispassionate mask that had served him so well during his work as a spy. She however seemed not impressed, but was still smiling, mischievous laughter dancing in her eyes.
"You like it," she said in a teasing tone, "admit it."
"It is more pleasant than it was with McGonagall."
Hermione laughed out loud. "Well, I suppose that's a compliment." She held his eyes until Snape broke the contact, ostensibly looking away to lead her to the other end of the floor. Somehow he found it disconcerting to look into her eyes too long. And this realization again was rather worrying.
Snape left her as soon as they started playing a rumba and returned to their table. Hermione looked after him until she suddenly noticed that a rather nervous looking young man was standing in front of her who was obviously asking her for another dance.
She didn't know if it was because of the dancing, the alcohol, John's comments or the fact that she had just been dumped by her boyfriend, but somehow she had felt strangely excited dancing with Snape. And she had enjoyed teasing him. Get yourself together, she thought exasperatedly, I will not start flirting with Snape! Certainly not!
While dancing with her new partner, she thought more than once that Snape was watching her, but every time she looked in his direction he was looking elsewhere. When she finally returned to their table she found him deep in conversation with John. As soon as she sat down, John passed her a glass full of cool white wine. Hermione eyed it for a second, knowing that she couldn't take much more alcohol, but then took it nevertheless. She was here to amuse herself, after all. To forget about Thomas. And John would see that no harm came to her.