He still didn't know what had made him call her to his table, much less why he had told her about his research. Probably her unexpected honesty about the reason why she was studying Mathematics had affected him. Was he getting soft now? Be that as it may, he had to admit that he hadn't had such a stimulating conversation for a long time. Moreover, it gave him a strange kind of pleasure to tease her, to see anger flare up in her eyes, to observe how she was trying hard to suppress it while at the same time glaring at him in defiance or trying to look unconcerned. She was right, she had been the best student in her year, perhaps even the best student he had ever had. Although of course he would never tell her that. Granted, she was no Potions master, but she remembered an astonishing amount after nearly five years without any Potions, and the questions she asked and suggestions she made were quite relevant.
Now she was brimming with the excitement he remembered so well from her schooldays, and Snape marvelled that she had obviously forgotten how strained their relationship had always been. She was talking all the way to the theatre and only reluctantly left him to go to her seat.
In the interval it took her only a few minutes to spot him and again shower him with questions and ideas that she had had during the play. But the most extraordinary thing, Snape thought when he sat down again for the second part, was that he didn't mind it. He wasn't annoyed. Perhaps he even…enjoyed it?
It was a surprise, and yet when he thought about it it really wasn't. After all he usually had only Dumbledore and his house-elf to talk to, so it was understandable that he'd enjoy a conversation about his work with someone who could understand and appreciate what he was doing.
They left the theatre together and the girl accompanied him to his hotel, obviously very reluctant to say good-bye. As they stood in front of the hotel entrance, she suddenly looked self-conscious again.
"Could we meet again tomorrow?" she asked. "I have a few ideas I have to think about, but I'm sure I can tell you more tomorrow."
Snape didn't want to let this get out of hand, but she was right, she had had a few good suggestions and it would be illogical to miss this chance of scientific exchange. "Meet me tomorrow at 12 in the restaurant where we ate dinner," he said in a non-committal voice.
Her apprehensive face broke into a wide smile. "I will. Good night, Professor."
"Good night, Miss Granger."
When Hermione arrived at the youth hostel she felt as if waking from a very strange dream. Had she really had a lively scientific conversation with Snape? A conversation in which she hadn't felt humiliated or threatened?
She hardly slept that night, her mind too full of their conversation and the idea of finding a cure for lycanthropy. Since she didn't have access to a scientific library in Stratford, in the morning Hermione spent several pounds at the youth hostel's computers to get access to the internet. And yet when noon came she was painfully aware of the fact that she could present Snape hardly more than some vague ideas.
When they met for lunch Hermione was a bit weary at first, not sure if his behaviour the night before had been for real. But as Snape made no attempts to humiliate her and snarled only from time to time, she soon shed her caution and began treating him just as she treated anyone with whom she had a lively discussion. From time to time the strangeness of the situation hit her. And she was surprised not only by her behaviour, but even more by his. Snape could still be biting, but on the whole he treated her like a human being.
In the evening, they watched another play at the theatre, and afterwards went to a restaurant to continue talking. It was with extreme reluctance that Hermione finally made to say good-bye. She had to catch an early train the next day. Suddenly feeling rather self-conscious again, she asked, "Is there any way in which I could stay in touch?...To know how your work is going?"
Snape gave her an inscrutable look and for a moment she worried that she'd asked too much.
"I could send an owl. Once a month. To keep you informed," he finally said.
Hermione smiled at him. This was probably as much as she could get from him. "I'm looking forward to it."
During the following days, Hermione waited impatiently for Snape's owl. But it wasn't before a Sunday morning at the end of January that she was woken by a beautiful barn owl knocking at her window.
The owl had a large envelope tied to its leg and glanced at Hermione expectantly. Luckily Hermione had provided a package of biscuits for this occasion and she quickly broke one in two and gave the first half to the bird. Feeling strangely excited, she opened the letter.
My owl will wait for your reply, so I'd ask you (also for your own sake – I gather that even in Cambridge an owl as a pet would raise some eyebrows) not to take too long. I tried some of the ideas we discussed and got the following results...
There followed three tightly written pages in which he described his work and the results, and at the end a simple
Wide awake now, Hermione changed into her clothes and sat down to comment on Snape's results and to make her own suggestions. Two hours later she was finished and tied a rather thick envelope to the owl's leg. She gave it a few more biscuits to placate it until it finally hooted softly and flew out of the window.
Hermione closed the window to keep out the cool winter air, but looked after the bird for a few minutes. It had been the first time that she'd used an owl again ever since she had left the wizarding world.
And now she'd have to wait for another month and for Snape's willingness to continue this...conversation. Hermione sighed. Communicating like this was frustratingly slow and complicated, but she was glad that there was some kind of conversation at all. She would have to play this according to Snape's rules and it was very unlikely that he'd change them.
Snape couldn't quite prevent his mouth from curling into a small smile when he heard a knocking on his window and saw his owl, burdened with a large envelope. He quickly let the bird in. While he unfastened the letter, the owl clicked his beak disapprovingly.
"Sh, Alcuin," Snape said soothingly. "I'm sorry you had so much to carry but I'm afraid you better get used to it – Miss Granger is not someone who is stingy with words."
"You got a letter from Hermione?"
Snape closed his eyes and cursed silently. He didn't turn but kept on tending to his owl. "Indeed," he said in a noncommittal voice. "I told her about my work on the anti-werewolf-potion, and she was eager to help. As always."
He had finished with his owl and turned reluctantly to face Dumbledore's portrait which looked at him with a rather shrewd expression.
"And you accepted her help?" Dumbledore raised an eyebrow.
"She may be annoying but I have to admit she has some interesting ideas. It would be illogical to ignore her just because she's an insufferable know-it-all."
"Do you still think she is?"
Snape snorted. "Perhaps it's got a bit better."
"You know, in a way she always reminded me of you."
"What?" Snape laughed out in disbelief. But Dumbledore wasn't daunted.
"Muggle born but so eager to be part of our world. So intelligent and ressourceful. So loyal. And so anxious to please…"
Snape shot him an angry glance. "Apart from our intelligence there is no resemblance whatsoever between Miss Granger and myself."
Dumbledore just shrugged his shoulders. "If you think so, Severus. But you'll continue communicating with her?"
Snape hesitated. "As long as I'm working on the potion, and as long as I think her contributions are useful."
"Very well. Then please send my greetings to Miss Granger."
Over the following months Hermione found that she eagerly waited for every new letter from Snape. It wasn't as if her studies didn't occupy or satisfy her intellectually, far from it. But working on a cure for lycanthropy was something that really mattered, something that would make the world a bit better.
And although Snape's letters were always impersonal and he was sometimes rather disparaging about her suggestions, at least he still wrote to her. Moreover, she had to admit that his letters, dry as they were, made for fascinating reading. His ideas where sometimes quite brilliant. Hermione got her old Potions books from her parents' to brush up on her knowledge so she wouldn't embarrass herself in front of him. She also started reading medical books on a wide range of topics like genetics, endocrinology and virology.
One day in April she had just finished her letter to Snape when, on a whim, she scribbled a quick P.S.:
By the way, Professor. They are playing A Midsummer Night's Dream in January. Are you planning to come to Stratford?
That was the first time that Hermione had mentioned something which didn't touch in some way on the anti-werewolf-potion and she wasn't sure how he'd react. Perhaps he'd find it importunate of her? After all it implied that they might meet there. Well, she'd just have to wait and see.
When Snape wrote his reply, he lingered over the end of the letter. He had been surprised by her question, not sure if he should answer it. If he did, it'd mean that he'd venture out of the secure discussion of his work, out into the murky reaches of more personal conversation. The real question was, did he want that? He hesitated for a few moments, then wrote
Regarding your question about A Midsummer Night's Dream: I have always found Shakespeare's so-called comedies a sad lapse in that great poet's work. Absurd, ludicrous and often far from funny. And, as you should know, his depiction of the fairy world is hardly correct. These plays are endurable for Shakespeare's language alone, if barely so. That said, I don't know yet for certain if I'll subject myself to that play. If you imply however that we could use the time to discuss my research, I might be willing to expose myself to the experience.
Hermione couldn't help smiling when she got that letter. Of course he'd claim not to enjoy the comedies! At the end of her next letter she wrote:
You are rather harsh on the comedies. While I grant you that some of the passages in them seem hardly funny to us today, even coarse sometimes, wouldn't you agree that there are some great and intelligent comic scenes? What about Beatrice and Benedick, for example? And a good friend of mine, a student of English, could give you whole lectures on the intellectual complexities of the comedies (even though I'd agree with you that most of the tragedies and histories are more interesting). And what about the works they inspired in return, what about Mendelssohn Bartholdy's music for example?
I am however grateful to know that even in spite of your dislike you'd subject yourself to sitting through A Midsummer Night's Dream if that might be coupled with a discussion of your work. So the second weekend in January it is?
And so started something like a personal conversation in the postscripts of their letters. They never discussed anything but literature and music, but although there were differences of opinions, both of them were surprised to find in the other someone to share their interests to an astonishing degree.