If the choice were mine to make

Picking up the pieces

Snape quickly went to his living room. He didn't want to face Dumbledore and he fervently hoped that Hermione wouldn't decide to seek him out. Perhaps he should have remained outside? Gone for a walk? But his worry was unnecessary, for about fifteen minutes later Rose appeared and told him that she had taken Hermione to her parents' house.

As soon as Rose had left again, Snape apparated to Hermione's rooms in Cambridge. He had no idea if his maneuver would have the decided effect on his enemy, and anyway he had to make as sure as possible that no harm came to her.

When he had apparated, he immediately closed the curtains so no one could observe him. Then Snape looked around the room. It was full of books, of course. Apart from this there was nothing remarkable about it. Some pictures on the wall above the bed drew his attention. On top was a photograph of Hermione as a young girl, with what must be her parents. She had obviously inherited her mother's wild hair, but her facial resemblance was to her father. And yes, he had similar large front teeth. Snape had nearly forgotten them. Once he had made a cruel comment about them, hadn't he? He had truly hurt her then. It wasn't a pleasant thought, and Snape quickly concentrated on the other pictures. One was a photograph of her, Potter and Weasley in muggle clothes. Probably from their third or fourth year. They looked happy, grinning at the camera rather self-consciously. Happy and so young. Looking at the other pictures, Snape detected the Weasley girl, Longbottom and the Lovegood girl in one of them. There was also one where Hermione stood arm in arm with John, her friend from the RSC. And then a sudden jolt hit Snape as he glanced down to the last picture. It was the photograph she had sent him, the one with him and her dancing. He stared at it for some time, feeling a fierce sadness.

There was no use, no use at all. He had been right to make her leave, right to protect her. And he hadn't come here to wallow in self-pity, but to make sure that no harm would come to her. Quickly Snape started casting a number of protective spells. He couldn't protect her everywhere, but while she was in this room she'd be relatively safe. He also cast some spells which would attach themselves to her the next time she entered this room and give her some protection wherever she went. He intended to do the same with her parents' home as soon as she left.

When he had finished Snape looked around the room attentively. For his last spell he needed something personal from Hermione. It was a very potent charm which would alert him if she was in danger. But he couldn't take something she'd miss, he had to choose something inconspicuous.

His eyes lighted on a shallow bowl on a shelf. It contained the hairpins topped with pearls which she had worn in Stratford. And there were a few hairs still caught in one of them.

Snape took it out and twirled it between his fingers. He could just take the hairs, they'd be more than enough for the spell. But after a while he put the pin in his pocket, gave a last look to the room, and disapparated.

"Is Miss Granger gone?" Dumbledore asked as soon as Snape entered his study.

"Yes," he replied curtly, meeting Dumbledore's concerned eyes only for a second and then walking towards his desk where he started rummaging in his notes.

Snape had returned to his house over an hour ago, but had spent the time in his laboratory, finishing the spells he had put on Hermione's room and looking after the Anti-Werewolf-Potion. The elation he had felt in the morning when he had shown Hermione their breakthrough had vanished, and more then once he caught himself staring straight ahead, his mind not with the potion but with what had happened. Had it really only been a few hours ago that he had worked with her in his laboratory? It seemed like ages now.

Finally Snape had decided that there was no use in endangering the potion with his sloppy work. He needed sleep; then he would be fine again. With a groan he also recalled that any minute Poppy would show up to check on him. Just what he wanted now.

And so he had at last left the laboratory and gone to his study to face Dumbledore. Snape wasn't keen on talking to him, but that was ridiculous, wasn't it? He had only done what he had to do, and there was no reason why he should fear Dumbledore's comments.

"I put a number of protective spells on Hermione and on her room in Cambridge," Snape told the elder wizard. "She should be relatively safe."

Dumbledore remained silent, which surprised Snape, but he didn't look up from his desk.

"I am sorry, Severus." Dumbledore eventually said quietly.

Snape gave a short laugh. "I've done much worse in the past."

"I know, but this is different."

Snape stared down on his notes. It is, isn't it?, he thought for a second, but pushed that thought away immediately. "You needn't be concerned about me," he stated, his voice not betraying any emotions.

Silence again. "Very well," Dumbledore said at last. "I suppose the best thing we can do is to find whoever did this to you as soon as possible."

Snape turned around and faced the former headmaster. "Indeed, that would be the best thing."

"He just kicked you out?" Ginny was staring at Hermione, her eyes wide with surprise and concern. It was a few days after Hermione had left Snape and she had gone down to London to see Ginny. She desperately needed someone to talk to.

Hermione nodded. She had told Ginny everything and her friend looked as confused as she had been.

"This doesn't make sense," Ginny said, shaking her head in bewilderment. "And before that sudden outburst he acted just normal?"

"As normal as you could imagine. He was a bit stiff, with me being in his house and everything." Hermione paused for a second, wondering if she should tell Ginny about Lily, but deciding against it. Even if Snape was a cruel bastard this was just too private. "I've thought about it a lot." She gave Ginny a bitter smile. "Actually I've hardly done anything else for the past days. And there are only three possibilities. Either he truly loathes me. Or he somehow felt threatened by our friendship and by the fact that I had been there when he was under the influence of the Memorate Potion. Or he did it to keep me out of harm's way."

"That would be a rather drastic measure, wouldn't it?" Ginny pointed out. "Very dramatic."

"I know, but I wouldn't put it past him." Hermione grimaced. "But perhaps I'm just trying to find excuses so I don't have to believe that his contempt for me was real."

Ginny reached out and took her hand, pressing it encouragingly. "So you really kissed him in Stratford?" she asked slowly.

Hermione winced. "Seems like it. Unfortunately I still can't remember it clearly. I have the suspicion that Snape put a memory charm on me. It's infuriating, really."

They both were silent for a while until Hermione suddenly shook her head vehemently. "There is no use whining. I've analyzed the situation as well as I can, and that's all I can do. I better get myself together again." She gave a short laugh. "Even the porter at my college is worried. She asked me if I was ill and when I finally told her I had quarreled with a friend she tried to set me up with her brother!"

Ginny grinned. "Perhaps not a bad idea."

Hermione shook her head. "She's in her late fifties, so I declined politely." Her voice got serious again. "Actually there's something I'd like to ask you to do for me."

"Sure, go ahead."

Hermione felt rather self-conscious. "There's a portrait of Dumbledore at the Ministry, isn't there?"

"Yes, right in the entrance hall. He likes to talk to people."

"Could you ask him if Snape is all right? You know, with the Memorate Potion, and with someone obviously after him…"

"Sure," Ginny replied, giving Hermione an understanding look. "It might take some time, though. You know the entrance hall is rather busy and I can hardly discuss Snape in front of other people. But I'll try to ask Dumbledore as soon as I get the chance."

"Thank you." Hermione paused, then went on with a wry smile. "It's pathetic, isn't it? If he really despises me, then good riddance. And if not there's nothing I can do, can I?"

"I'm afraid not. You really like him, don't you?"

"I do," Hermione said simply, feeling a sudden lump in her throat. The two young women stared at each other for a while until Hermione broke the eye contact and looked down on her hands. "But it shouldn't be that hard to learn to live without Severus Snape, should it?"

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