Pouring over her books, Hermione cringed from time to time. Ever since lunch, she had had a dull pain in her stomach. Probably something wrong with the food in the cafeteria. She only hoped she wouldn't get ill, it would be highly frustrating to miss the meeting with Snape.
When she finally finished working and went to bed she hardly found any sleep. This was partly because of her excitement, but even more because of the strange pain which just didn't want to go away. In the morning it was even worse. Her train would leave at noon, but if she didn't feel better soon Hermione knew that there would be no use going. When she got down to get her mail, Sam, the elderly porter of her college, shot her a worried glance.
"Are you all right?" he asked. "You look a bit squeamish."
Hermione winced. "I'm not feeling too well. I suppose I should go and see a doctor."
"Do that, you are as white as a sheet."
Getting on her bike and cycling to the nearest NHS Health Centre proved nearly too much for Hermione. Luckily it wasn't far and she didn't have to wait long. The doctor asked her where it hurt and applied pressure to her stomach. When she gasped in pain, he pronounced that it probably was appendicitis. Then he called an ambulance to get her to her bad luck, Hermione didn't know if she was feeling sorrier because of the pain or because that meant that she definitely wouldn't be able to meet Snape. Before the ambulance arrived she only had time to call Thomas and ask him to get a few things out of her room for her. And to phone the hotel in Stratford.
Snape was waiting. He had told the Granger girl that he'd meet her at the ticket booth at three p.m. It was now ten minutes past three, and she hadn't shown up yet.
Snape furrowed his brow in irritation. He didn't like to be kept waiting. After another ten minutes had passed, he started pacing up and down. What was she thinking letting him wait like this? It was unlike her to be late. Perhaps she had missed her train?
When she still hadn't shown up ten minutes later, Snape bought tickets and left. Perhaps she had phoned the hotel, but when he arrived there, no message was waiting for him.
Snape left again and walked through the streets, feeling increasingly irritable. And what bothered him most was not the fact that she hadn't shown up, but that he was annoyed by it. It seemed that somehow over the last year of correspondence he had started to...look forward to meeting her again. How could he become so dependent on her – a former student he hadn't even liked? Snape shook his head in irritation. It was his isolated life, probably. When you took into account that she was the only one he had to talk to apart from dead Dumbledore and his house-elf, it wasn't that surprising anymore... Moreover, she was part of his work now. There were things he wanted to discuss with her, things that were too complex to put in a letter.
When Snape returned to the hotel shortly before the beginning of the play, the concierge told him that there was a message for him. Unfortunately Ms Granger wouldn't be able to come this weekend.
Snape furrowed his brow. "Is that all?" he asked rather irritably, making the man wince. "Didn't she say why she can't come?"
"It was a man who called, and I'm sorry but he didn't give any reason."
Snape glowered at the concierge for a few seconds, then turned and hurried to his room. So she hadn't even called herself, but a man. A friend? A boyfriend? It was to be expected, of course. She wasn't a little girl anymore. How old was she now? 24? Probably even older since she had used the time turner in her third year. And she was not that bad looking. She'd never be a beauty like Lily, but she had a certain captivating vivacity. A radiance when she got enthusiastic about something. He had noticed it when they had spoken about his work. Her eyes had sparkled with intelligence and enthusiasm. No wonder that that should attract someone at a place like Cambridge.
Snape tried to put the girl out of his mind for the rest of the evening and the following day, but she kept stealing back. He was wondering why she hadn't come, and why she hadn't called the hotel herself. Yes, that was it, of course. Him not knowing what had happened and feeling irritated because of it. It wasn't as if he felt that something was...missing. Certainly not. He had been to Stratford on his own for many years, and it had always been rewarding. He certainly didn't need the former Gryffindor know-it-all to make it worthwhile!
Now it would be another year until he'd meet her again. Somehow that seemed like a rather long time. They would have to get back to writing letters again... He would have to send her an owl soon, to find out what had happened.
When he got home on Sunday, Snape was glad to find that Dumbledore wasn't in his picture. He was certain to be intrigued by Miss Granger's failure to turn up, and Snape wasn't keen on discussing it. Snape sat down at his desk and reached for a piece of parchment, but it took a few minutes before he actually started to write.
I hope you are well. You did not miss much, the staging of Julius Caesar was abysmal and A Midsummer Night's Dream hardly better – but what can you expect from such a silly play.
When he had finished this he stopped, his quill poised above the parchment. After a few moments, however, he only added
then folded the letter and went to fetch his owl.
Hermione left the hospital on Monday afternoon. The operation had gone without complications and she felt well if a bit faint.
Thomas brought her home. Shortly after entering her room, she suddenly saw a great bird flying towards her window. Alcuin. Hoping fervently that the owl was clever enough not to knock at her window while Thomas was still with her, she tried to get him out of her room as quickly as possible. Luckily he was easily convinced that she needed rest and left soon.
Meanwhile, the owl had stayed out of the way, but reappeared as soon as Thomas had left, rapping against the window impatiently.
"I'm coming, I'm coming", Hermione murmured while she went to let him in. She didn't know when Snape had sent the owl and since when he had been waiting for her. To placate the owl, Hermione gave him a biscuit to nibble, then opened the letter. It was rather short, but what else could she hope for.
As soon as she had woken up from anaesthesia, Hermione had worried about Snape. She had fretted that she had missed the meeting, had hoped that he had got her message and wondered if now she'd have to wait another year. And then she had decided to propose something to him.
Hermione sat down at her desk and took a piece of paper. On it she wrote
Thank you for your question, the operation went well. I am very sorry that I missed our meeting – there is so much I'd like to discuss with you and it's hard to put it all in a letter.
Might I therefore propose another meeting, if that is convenient for you? Perhaps in London?
Alcuin seemed less than eager to get a new job so soon, but Hermione placated him with another biscuit and finally he set off. And Hermione was left to wait, wondering if with this proposition she had pushed their fragile relationship too far.
When Snape read Hermione's letter he furrowed his brow. An operation? That sounded serious. The concierge had said nothing about that. And she wanted to meet him... He put down the letter and looked out of the window.
She was right, of course. To communicate by letter was annoyingly slow and complicated. Just like her he didn't want to wait until next January to discuss his work. But if he gave in now, if he agreed to meet her, he'd open a door which could hardly be closed again. To see her once per year in Stratford was bearable – after all, they both went there for the plays, to meet each other had been a coincidence. But if he agreed to see her in London it would be for no other purpose than to talk to her. And who knew if she wouldn't want to repeat this. The girl was so eager to help that she'd probably want to meet more often.
He didn't think he was ready for this. He liked his solitude, the fact that nobody knew for sure that he was still alive, the certainty that, finally after all these years, there was nobody who had claims on him. At last he was free.
Unbidden a memory came into his mind. Him and Lily sitting at the edge of the lake late on an autumn day in their fourth year. She had been worried for him because of his lack of friends. He had tried to make light of her worries, telling her, his heart beating fast, that she was all the friends he needed. And she had looked at him with a tiny smile, her face still worried, and said, "Sev, I'm flattered, but it really pains me to see how isolated you are. You should try to…to open up to people. You always look so forbidding, no wonder they think you strange or are afraid of you."
He snorted. "They are afraid of me?"
"Oh yes, you have quite a reputation." She trailed off but held his gaze, looking very serious now. "Sev, I know you're not like that. You can be a great friend. And I know you think it's a risk not worth taking, but where would we be if we never took any risks." Suddenly she grinned mischievously, "I don't want you to end up a pathetic old loner."
Snape shook his head. "I won't as long as you're still my friend," he said very quietly. She started to speak but he quickly added, "all right, I'll try to be a bit more sociable. There, are you satisfied?"
She gave him her dazzling smile which made him feel very warm inside, and nodded. "I am, Sev."
It hadn't really worked out the way Lily hoped, though, Snape thought as he was staring out of the window. He had opened up to other people, but as it turned out it had been the wrong people and his friendship with them had eventually cost him Lily. His mouth twisted into a bitter smile. How ironic. And now he had become an old loner after all. Perhaps even pathetic. What would Lily say if she saw him like this?
The thought was painful, like scratching a wound that should be left alone. But Snape could imagine very well what Lily would think about him. She'd probably look at him with her mocking smile and say, "Severus, Severus, so finally you've found yourself a friend. One whom you didn't manage to frighten away even though you certainly tried it. And it's Hermione Granger, who by many was considered the cleverest witch of her age, even though you never acknowledged it. Someone who can appreciate your intelligence and work….who can perhaps even understand what you did…"
Snape closed his eyes. The Granger girl didn't know half of what he had done, otherwise she'd probably run away as fast as possible.
"But she isn't a girl anymore," he heard Lily's soft, mocking voice. "You must have noticed. She is older than I was when I died…"
Snape clenched his fingers, trying to get the voice out of his head. But Lily was not shaken off so lightly.
"And it is thanks to you that she's still alive. You held her back, otherwise she'd now probably be as dead as I am. As Harry and Ron are…" Snape clenched his fingers even more and turned abruptly away from the window, pacing up and down his study instead. "Let her help you, Sev," the voice still whispered in his head. "She is a clever girl, she'll see behind your mask and appreciate you – perhaps even like you. As I did. And she might need you. You saved her, you have an obligation to her. And who knows, perhaps you might need her, too. You know I don't want you to be alone."
Finally the voice stopped but Snape was still pacing up and down the room. That's what you get from waking the ghosts of the past, he thought ruefully. Eventually he stopped in front of a window and looked out into the dark winter night. Nearly an hour passed, then he went to his desk, took a piece of parchment and wrote
I will meet you on February 15th at 1.30 pm in London in front of the Cabinet War Rooms.