Accustomed to her face
"I asked Dumbledore," Ginny said as soon as she and Hermione had sat down on her sofa. "Snape's fine."
Hermione felt relieved. "I'm glad to hear it. Do you know if they've found out yet who poisoned him?"
"No, they haven't," Ginny replied. "Dumbledore was kind of reluctant to tell me anything. You know how he can be, at first he was all twinkly eyes and friendly, but when I asked him about Snape he got really taciturn. But he admitted that they hadn't found the guy yet – or the woman." She hesitated for a moment and finally went on. "He asked me how you were."
Hermione gave her a slightly forced smile. "Well, what did you tell him?"
Ginny shrugged her shoulders, observing Hermione attentively. "I said you're not happy but coping. I hope that was okay?"
"Of course. I'm all right, you know."
"Yes", Ginny replied, not seeming wholly convinced. "Anyway," she quickly added, "today I also learned that someone sent an unknown anti-werewolf-potion to St Mungo's. A potion which is supposed to prevent any form of transformation when taken regularly, if not to remedy the werewolf-bite completely."
"Indeed!" Hermione felt suddenly excited. "That was fast. He must have worked night and day… So what do they think?"
"They're still testing it, but what I heard was rather positive. You can be proud of yourself."
"Oh, I am", Hermione said. I just wished I could have shared this with him.
"She enquired after you." Dumbledore stated as soon as Snape had sat down at his desk.
"Who?" Snape asked without looking up from his notes although he knew the answer.
"Miss Granger. She sent Miss Weasley to ask my portrait in the Ministry how you are."
Reluctantly Snape turned to face Dumbledore. "And, what did you tell her?"
"That you are fine. Although that isn't true."
Snape gave a short, joyless laughter. "Well, that's hardly surprising. After all someone is after me and we still don't know who it is."
Dumbledore just looked at him, his eyes full of infuriating understanding. "I asked her in return how Miss Granger is," he finally went on.
"Indeed… And, how is she?"
"Not too well, it seems."
Snape hesitated for a second, then said "I'm sorry to hear it," in a noncommittal tone. "But I'm afraid that can't be helped. Did you hear anything about the potion?"
Dumbledore grinned. "Ah, well, that was the talk of the Ministry. They have been running some tests at St Mungo's and it seems they are rather impressed. Well done, Severus, you can be proud of yourself."
Snape inclined his head a little. "Thank you. It has been much work."
"I noticed that," Dumbledore said. "Especially over the last weeks. You shouldn't have worked yourself like that, not after you had to suffer from the Memorate Potion. You can't have got much sleep."
"I was busy," Snape replied, feeling rather uncomfortable under the elder man's steady gaze. "And you know that I'm not finished yet. The potion prevents transformation but it isn't able to cure werewolves completely. There is still much work to do." Dumbledore was right, he had worked day and night. To finish the potion, of course. If as a result he had also been too preoccupied and too tired to think much about Hermione, then that had been a welcome relief, hadn't it?
But it hasn't worked, has it? The traitorous voice whispered in his head. You are thinking of her all the time. October had arrived, and with it the familiar memories of Lily. But Snape had found to his surprise and dismay that they were overlaid with memories of Hermione. Which wasn't an improvement. As soon as he didn't concentrate on his work, he saw the look in her eyes when he had pushed her away. So full of bewilderment and pain… And in his few hours of sleep he was haunted by dreams of her. Quite innocent dreams, really. Her face when she was smiling at him. Her eyes alight with enthusiasm over some scientific problem. The warmth of her bare skin under his hand when they had been dancing. The touch of her lips…
Snape drew in his breath and shook his head in irritation. It was hard enough to deal with guilt over one woman, two were just too much. But try as he may he couldn't get rid of the memories. Especially now when you've sent the potion to St Mungo's, the voice whispered. She should have been there. She worked so hard to help you, she should have had some part in the glory. Be honest. You wanted her to be there so you could share your triumph with her. Your happiness. You try not to think of her and yet just yesterday you took out her picture to look at it. Why haven't you destroyed it? You miss her, Severus. And no amount of work and weariness will change that.
Dumbledore was still looking at him searchingly and Snape felt annoyed. "Any success with the persons from my list?" he asked in a clipped tone.
The elder wizard shook his head. "I checked all of them. They're either definitely dead, or still in Azkaban. Apart from Lucius, of course. I've made some inquiries about him, but so far haven't got any incriminating results. And Gerold is still on the run."
Snape made a throwaway gesture with his hand, got up from his chair and started pacing up and down the room. "We're not getting anywhere," he replied, his voice tense with frustration.
"You're right, but I'm afraid there's nothing else we can do right now. You know this could take years if your enemy doesn't decide to make a new attempt at your life and thereby reveals himself somehow."
"I know," Snape replied curtly.
"So what about Miss Granger?"
"What?" Snape stopped pacing and glowered at Dumbledore's picture, feeling highly irritated. "What about her?"
"You really don't want to talk to her until you've found whoever poisoned you, even if it might take years?"
"I thought we've been through that. It's necessary for her and my own safety."
"But even if we find whoever did this to you, you know that there are other people out there who have some grudge against you."
"So according to your logic," Dumbledore went on mercilessly, "you could never associate with her again, because it'd always put her – and you – in danger. Am I right?"
Snape met Dumbledore's hard stare unflinchingly. For once he couldn't read the emotions in the bright blue eyes. "Yes," he replied flatly. "I never should have got involved with her. It was an imprudent weakness."
"I see," Dumbledore said slowly. "What a shame. And you really think that's the right decision?"
"Listen," Snape replied in irritation, "why can't you just leave that alone? Do you have nothing else to meddle with?"
Dumbledore regarded him silently for a few seconds, then nodded. Suddenly he looked very sad. "If that is your wish, my boy. I just had hoped that…"
"What?" Snape cut in, his rising voice betraying his anger. "What did you hope, Dumbledore? That she'd fall in love with me, rescue me from the ghosts of my past and we'd live happily ever after?"
Dumbledore met his burning gaze with the benign smile that so infuriated Snape. "Something along that line, yes."
Snape laughed aloud, but it was a bitter laugh. "You're living in a romantic dream world. Tell me, how could she ever be anything but repulsed by me, a former Death Eater who terrorized her and her friends as children."
Dumbledore shook his head. "It's you who is blind, Severus," he said quietly. "She respects you. Why else should she have worked with you? And she regards you as her friend; that much was clear when she took care of you."
Snape felt a strange ache in his chest but tried to ignore it by concentrating on his anger for Dumbledore. "She might have had some respect and friendly feelings for me. But if you think that means that she loved me then you know nothing about love."
Suddenly Dumbledore's face changed subtly, looking sharp and painful. But his voice betrayed nothing as he replied, "Trust me, Severus, I know enough about love."
They stared at each other in silence for what to Snape seemed like a long time. "There is no use in discussing this," he finally stated in a flat voice. "Whatever feelings Hermione might have had for me, they are certainly changed now. I would ask you to leave it at that."
Dumbledore inclined his head a little. "If you wish, Severus."
Snape turned and sat down at his desk, feeling the accusatory stare of Dumbledore on his back and the strange ache in his chest.
"Hello luv," Mary greeted Hermione cheerfully when she returned from London after her talk with Ginny. Then the porter gave her a second look. "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you look troubled. Is everything all right?"
Hermione winced. After what Ginny had told her of her conversation with Dumbledore, her thoughts had again been focused on Snape and on what had happened. And the dreary weather had done nothing to alleviate her bleak thoughts. She shrugged her shoulders. "It's nothing, really."
Mary gave her a critical look. "Fine. But if you need someone to talk to, just come and have a cup of tea with me, will you?"
Hermione smiled gratefully. "Thanks, I will." Over the last weeks Mary had become a good friend and more than once Hermione had found herself sitting with her in her small porter's lodge, sipping tea and telling her about her troubles. In a rather guarded fashion, of course, but nevertheless it was nice to have someone else to talk to apart from Ginny. And the elder woman had always good advice and radiated a wry humour and calmness which was soothing to Hermione.
"You know," Mary went on, "I think you should take a holiday. You've been working so hard lately and it's the best way to take your thoughts off unpleasant things. You should go somewhere warm and sunny, to get away from this terrible weather and to get your head clear."
Hermione was about to decline politely, but then hesitated. Mary was right, she really could do with a change of place. "You know what, I think that's a good idea," she said. "I'll think about it."
Hermione went up to her room and after a few minutes of debating with herself and after checking her calendar she switched on the computer. It wasn't a bad idea at all, she hadn't had a real holiday for ages and it would be good for her to get away and to have something to distract her from her thoughts about Snape.
Rome would be nice, Hermione thought as she was looking at travel websites. Or Madrid or Istanbul. Somewhere where the weather isn't as dreary, somewhere interesting and different. And so, after about an hour of research, she booked a four days trip to Rome for early December.