If the choice were mine to make

Stratford again

"Happy birthday Severus."
Snape, who had just entered his study, threw the painted Dumbledore a less than thrilled look and mumbled something noncommittal. The former headmaster seemed however not the least impressed by this and kept on grinning at him. "You know I'd have given you something, but, alas, in my state..." he shrugged his shoulders apologetically.

"Don't worry," Snape said caustically, "you know I don't care for presents."

Dumbledore looked at him shrewdly. "Indeed. So it's a good thing you never got any all those years?"

Snape threw him an angry look but didn't say anything. Instead, he sat down on his desk and started reading in a large book, pointedly ignoring the portrait.

"I'm sorry, Severus," Dumbledore said after a few minutes of silence, his tone now serious. "You know I think it's not good that you have been alone all this time."

"And you know I like my solitude," Snape replied without looking up.

Dumbledore sighed dramatically. "Are you going to Stratford this weekend?" He asked after a while.

"I'm not sure yet."

The former headmaster raised an eyebrow. "And why is that? You always go the weekend after your birthday."

"Which doesn't mean that I'll have to go every single year."

Dumbledore eyed Snape, who was still bent over his book, critically. "I hope you're not refraining from going because you're afraid to meet Miss Granger there," he finally said.

Snape's head jerked up. "That's ridiculous," he snorted, turning at last to face Dumbledore. "Why should I be afraid of meeting her? And why should she be there in the first place? I'm afraid death has muddled your brain."

"Perhaps it has," Dumbledore said, a faint smile on his face. "But if she should be there, please give her my greetings. And my best wishes."

Snape glowered at him in annoyance. "I already told you that I probably won't go."

"Of course, Severus," Dumbledore said, smiling at him benignly. Snape stared at him for a few moments, feeling slightly uncomfortable, then turned back to his book and tried to ignore the grin that he was sure was still fixed on the elder man's face.

A few days later Snape was walking through the streets of Stratford, trying to get rid of the feeling that Dumbledore had manipulated him into coming there. Of course the thought that he had wanted to avoid Stratford because of the Granger girl was ridiculous, but still the fact that Dumbledore had voiced that suspicion had nagged at him. And had perhaps been the reason why, after much deliberation, he had finally decided to come.

He couldn't deny that over the last year the girl had been on his mind from time to time. More often, actually, than he cared to admit. For some strange reason their few conversations had come back to him time and again. It was however highly unlikely that he'd ever see her again – he certainly wasn't keen on more soul searching conversations. Snape shook his head in irritation. There was a time I thought I was finally rid of that annoying know-it-all, he thought exasperatedly.

As always, he first went to the theatre to buy his tickets. He entered the building, got a leaflet with the RSC's programme, and, studying it, walked towards the ticket booth. As he turned a corner he nearly bumped into someone. Snape muttered an excuse without really looking up and wanted to hurry on, but a cheerful "Hello Professor" stopped him in his track. And there she was, the Granger girl, smiling at him as if their meeting were nothing unusual. She looked better than the last time he had seen her, less weary and sad. And she had let her hair grow again.

"Miss Granger," he snarled, "what a coincidence."

Her smile lessened and her mouth tightened. "Yes, it is, isn't it?" she said, meeting his cold gaze unflinchingly. "Are you going to watch Coriolanus tonight?"

"Why else would I be here?"

"Of course." She gave him a forced smile. "Well, I'll see you then."

Snape felt highly irritated at this uncalled for familiarity. "I don't think so," he replied rather coldly.

Her smile froze but she still met his eyes, thrusting out her chin as she had always done when he had put her down in class. "As you wish," she said, her voice a bit strained. "Have a nice stay, Professor." And with that she went past him towards the exit.

Shaking his head in irritation, Snape went to the ticket booth. He felt slightly uncomfortable about the meeting, and that annoyed him even more. Why should he feel bad about the way he had talked to her? Was he getting soft? After all he had treated her in a similar way for so many years without it troubling him the least.

But she had come to Stratford. Was this a coincidence? And if not, why had she come? Was it because she had thought she'd meet him again? What did she want from him? That she might be expecting something was a rather unpleasant thought indeed, and for a few seconds he even considered skipping this night's play, but then he thought that he'd certainly not be detained from it for fear of meeting a former student. After all it was highly unlikely that she'd continue bothering him now.

Hermione left the theatre fuming with anger, less at Snape, who had really only acted as she should have expected, but at herself for having some wild and unrealistic notions that suddenly the both of them could – well, what exactly had she hoped for? That they could talk like normal people? That they could be friends?

The last thought was so incongruous that Hermione snorted and shook her head. What an idea. She certainly didn't want to be friends with Snape! But nevertheless, she had hoped for something, and his behaviour towards her had made it very clear that she had hoped in vain. Well, she had got the hint, she'd stay clear of him the next two days or ignore him if they met.

It was still only early afternoon and thus several hours until the play would start. This time the weather was definitely better than the year before, and Hermione spent some hours wandering through the streets of Stratford, walking into shops from time to time to get warm again.

The play would begin at quarter past seven and so finally Hermione started to look for a place where she could have something to eat. After a while she spotted a small Italian restaurant which looked nice and not too pricey. When she entered, however, she realized that obviously she wasn't the only one who wanted to eat something. The place was crowded. After looking around for a while without spotting a free table, Hermione turned to leave, but suddenly caught someone staring at her from a small table in a dark corner next to the entrance. Snape. She looked away immediately and made for the door, but she had to get past him and when she had nearly reached the exit she heard him say "Miss Granger."

Hermione stopped and turned towards him, looking at him guardedly. He wasn't glowering at her, which was a definite improvement, but looked only a bit bored.

"If you're looking for a place to eat, you can sit at this table," he said in a dispassionate voice.

Hermione's eyes widened in surprise but she still stood rooted to the spot. Snape's face was absolutely unreadable. But this was what she wanted, wasn't it? This was why she had come to Stratford. And so, after a few seconds of indecision, she said "Thank you," and sat down opposite of him.

He was eating what looked like Saltimbocca and drinking red wine. Hermione ordered Lasagne and water. She had a low tolerance for alcohol and would need all her wits for this.

Snape hadn't said anything since she had sat down, and Hermione was wondering if he had meant them to sit there eating in silence, or if they were supposed to talk. The silence was weighing on her and she didn't know where to look – since she had already ordered she could hardly still stare into her menu. Snape however seemed unperturbed, he just looked down on his plate and ate without taking heed of her in any way.

After about ten minutes Hermione had enough of this. "Ginny Weasley sends her greetings," she said a bit hesitantly. Snape stopped eating and looked up, his face unreadable. "And…she wanted to thank you. For all that you did during that year…"

A bitter smile tucked at his mouth for a second, then his face got dispassionate again. "Indeed. And how did she know you'd meet me again?" he said in a mocking voice.

Hermione felt herself blush and tried very hard to fight it. "She didn't, she just told me that if ever I should see you again, I should tell you."

"I see." Snape held her eyes for a few uncomfortable moments, than went back to eating his food. Some minutes passed in silence, then suddenly he said without looking up, "Dumbledore sends his greetings, too."

"You have a picture of him?" Hermione was surprised. She hadn't taken Snape, of all people, for the sentimental type. But they had been close, hadn't they? At least as close as anyone might ever get to the forbidding Potions master.

"I do."

"So how did Dumbledore know you'd see me again?" Hermione asked, a hint of mischievousness in her voice.

Snape looked up and for a second Hermione thought she saw an amused glimmer in his eyes. "The same as with you, Miss Granger. Just in case I should ever see you again."

Silence descended once more. A few minutes later Snape had finished his meal and now there was nothing for them but to either stare at each other or to avoid their eyes. Hermione felt extremely uncomfortable and hoped that her food would arrive soon or that he'd leave. But for some reason he didn't seem in a hurry. His glass of wine was still half full and he only took small sips from time to time. Was he perhaps enjoying her unease?

"So what are you doing now you're no longer teaching?" Hermione finally asked, no longer able to bear the silence.

"I'm enjoying life without students," Snape replied rather sardonically.

Hermione thought that his students probably enjoyed life without him even more, but certainly would never voice this. Snape however must have read it on her face, because his mouth twitched and his eyes glittered. "And yes, I'm aware that the students are not too sorry about that, either."

Again Hermione felt herself blush. Get a grip, she thought in annoyance, you can't have him playing with you like that. She straightened up and said, "At least the Gryffindors. I'm sure the Slytherins miss you."

If Snape was surprised he didn't show it. "Slytherins are much too calculating for such sentimental feelings," he said dismissively.

"Do you really think so?"

Snape didn't say anything but held her gaze for a few moments. "And you are studying Mathematics?" He suddenly asked.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at this obvious change of topic. "Yes. Dumbledore told you?"

Snape nodded. "Why Mathematics?"

Hermione could have told him what she told everybody. That it was fascinating, that she loved the logic and all that stuff. But although that was true, it was not the whole truth. And looking into his dark eyes, she knew that if their conversations the year before had meant anything, and if this should mean anything, she must tell him the truth. "Because it's safe," she said finally.

His eyes widened for a second. "I see," he replied quietly.

Hermione looked down on the table, then up again. "I mean it's interesting, too. I like it a lot. But when I chose it, I chose it because it was like a safe world apart from real life. A…a system without any…feelings. Or personal relationships. When you do Mathematics you just have to apply logic, and rules. When you encounter problems, you think about them, without any emotions, and then you solve them and everything is all right."

Before Snape could say anything, the waiter arrived with her Lasagne and Hermione now had a perfect excuse to stare down on her food.

After a few minutes she heard Snape murmur something under his breath, and when she looked up in surprise she realized that he had cast the Muffliato spell. "I'm working on a refinement of the Wolfsbane Potion," he said.

Hermione felt excitement built up in her. Excitement at what he had said, and at the fact that he had told her at all. "So that those affected won't have to transform at all?" she asked eagerly.

"Yes, for a start. And eventually to cure them completely."

Hermione didn't hide her excitement. "You think that's possible?"

"I don't know," he replied. "But I have enough time to find out."

Hermione looked at him intently, trying to read anything in his dispassionate face, but failing. "Remus would have been so glad," she finally said.

Snape snorted. "I'm not doing this for Lupin," he snarled.

"Of course not," Hermione replied. "I'm sure you're only doing it for the intellectual challenge."

Snape shot her a mistrustful look but she just smiled at him. "But still, it's a good thing to do. Tell me about it," Hermione went on eagerly.

Snape's face suddenly assumed the arrogant, mocking expression she knew so well from her school days. "I don't think so."

Hermione felt highly annoyed. "You don't think I'd understand what you're doing?"

"I think you're hardly qualified, yes."

Resentment welled up in Hermione and she gave Snape what she hoped was a rather cold stare. "Try me," she said, her voice hard and determined.

Snape's mouth curled into a derogatory smile but he didn't say anything.

Suddenly all the humiliations Hermione had endured throughout her Potions lessons came back to her. "I may not be a Potions master," she said, irritation suffusing her voice, "but you know very well that I was the best student in my year. I got top marks in my Potions N.E.W.T.s. I'm pretty sure I can follow what you'd tell me."

"Indeed," he said, his drawling tone annoying her even more. "It certainly seems that you're not suffering from lack of self-esteem."

Anger flared up in her. "You know that I'm right," she said, trying to keep her emotions under control. "You might not want to admit it, but you know it. Good God, I...I solved the riddle you devised to guard the Philosopher's Stone in my first year!"

Snape raised an eyebrow but didn't seem to be impressed. "That was only logic."

"Yes," she said, trying to control her temper. "And it was brilliant. You knew that many wizards would have failed when confronted with such a test."

For a second he seemed pleased about her compliment, but then his noncommittal expression was back in place.

"And I brewed Polyjuice Potion in my second year," Hermione added.

Snape's eyes widened for a second. "So it was you who raided my supplies," he said, leaning forward a little. "Interesting. You used it to get access to the Slytherins?"

Hermione nodded. "We wanted to find out if Draco was Slytherin's Heir."

Snape's mouth twitched in an unpleasant way. "But if I remember correctly you ended up in the hospital wing with a...furry problem?"

"Wrong hair," Hermione said in a clipped tone. She kept staring into his eyes, not willing to cave in.

"Was that the only occasion you stole from me?" he asked, his voice now slightly menacing.

"Yes." Hermione hesitated a second, then decided that, what the heck, she could as well come clear now. "But I set fire on you in my first year. During that Quidditch match. I'm sorry."

"That was you as well? But pray, Miss Granger, why ever did you do that?"

Hermione was uncertain if the impenetrable mask of his face hid fury or amusement. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "I saw you murmuring under your breath, and Harry threatened to fall off his broom..."

"And so you thought that I tried to kill him?" Snape said sardonically. "Well, well. Any other crimes against me you want to confess?"

Hermione shook her head, glad that he had taken it so well. "No, that's all. Now are you going to tell me about your work?"

Snape scrutinized her with his piercing eyes, but Hermione didn't flinch. Minutes passed in silence and she wondered what she should do now.

"Very well," he suddenly said, his face still dispassionate. "You know about the propensities of Wolfsbane Potion?"

Hermione nodded. "It doesn't cure lycanthropy, but relieves its symptoms. If the affected person drinks the potion at full moon and once a day in the week leading up to it, he or she will transform only into a normal wolf and retain control over their actions."

"You still sound as if you've swallowed the text book," Snape said sardonically. "But you're right. What the potion actually does is to prevent the body of the affected person from creating certain hormones which are responsible for the transformation into a werewolf. It can't prevent the creation of hormones which turn them into a wolf, though. Now, what I try to do is…"

During the next ten minutes Snape told her in broad outlines what he had done and what his further plans were. Hermione listened without saying anything, although several questions were burning on her tongue. She knew that it would irritate him if she interrupted him. When he finally stopped talking she asked a few questions. As always, he didn't betray any surprise, but Hermione was pretty sure that he hadn't expected so much insight. Smiling inwardly, she began discussing his work with him.

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