It took Hermione weeks to be able to pass him in the halls without blushing, but after that she made rapid progress. First she talked about him again in what she calculated to be a normal way. Then she began volunteering in Potions (though she made sure her contributions stopped short of insufferable). Finally, she made herself look him in the eye whenever the occasion arose, although technically she shouldn't have tried because no other student dared look him in the eye, and her unacknowledged goal was to be, at least in this respect, like every other student.
But that last, unnecessary challenge felt important to Hermione. She had nothing more to hide from him, so why dissemble? And knowing that Snape had apparently chosen not to make public the humiliating contents of her mind gave her the courage not to blink.
She was walking down one of the better-known staircases, a well-worn spiral, on a gorgeous morning in June when around the curve of the staircase appeared a familiar greasy head. As he climbed into view, she could see a thick roll of parchment in his hand.
"Hello, Professor," said Hermione. Her heart still accelerated and her hands still sweated, but there was nothing, short of a potion, that she could do about it.
"Miss Granger," he said. "I am supposed to ask you if you would like a copy of your Potions N.E.W.T."
"A copy? But I thought that a student could receive his or her original test paper—"
"Upon written request to the Authority of Magical Testing, yes." He almost smiled; at least, his voice was less forbidding than usual. "However, in your case the authority would like to keep the original, as it's the best paper they've seen in a century."
She decided it would be inappropriate to jump up and down for joy, and instead said, "In that case I would like a copy."
He did not congratulate her or ask her, as her other professors had, about her post-Hogwarts plans. Instead, after handing her the scroll, he said, "I didn't think you were capable of it. Once again you prove me wrong."
"You didn't think I was capable of the best Potions N.E.W.T. in a century?" she almost said, before she realized what he was talking about.
Luckily he seemed not to expect an answer; he turned and walked back down the staircase, the way he had come. (That, incidentally, was the last time she ever saw Severus Snape, except once long afterward, and then she didn't recognize him.)
Hermione continued to stand there, turning the sealed scroll over and over with a bemused expression on her face. She seemed prepared to stand there until the staircase crumbled beneath her, but after a while Harry came pelting down the stairs, the Marauder's Map fluttering in his hands.
"Hey, Hermione." He took in her expression and the scroll. "That what Snape wanted with you?"
Hermione blinked and looked up at him. "What?"
Harry tapped the map. "Snape came to give you that scroll?"
"Yes." But Hermione said nothing about its contents; they seemed to have nothing to do with what had just happened.
"He must not know what to do with himself when there's no students to torment. He could've just sent a house-elf with it and spared you his evil presence."
"Yes, I suppose he could have," Hermione said, inspecting the outside of the scroll.
"But I forgot, Hermione, you don't hate him like we do."
"No," she said, "I can't say I hate him."
A/N: It seems I need to explain myself. Please do not think that I've been making you wait for an update out of the sheer sadistic joy of it. I have been struggling with the decisions to write and post this chapter. I'll tell you why, and then you can decide if my reasons are good or not. I originally intended to end this story with chapter 11, because I enjoy speculating about what happens to characters after the story ends, and I forget that not everyone does. Also, because of what I suspected would happen next, I knew that any continuation would necessarily be different in tone and content, and I didn't think I could tell it to you in an appropriately snarky way. (I still don't.) I've done the best I could to make this chapter match the rest, but aside from the difference in content, I wrote most of this story in June 2004 (it underwent major revisions in December, just before I posted it), and much has happened since then, mainly my transition to the real world. I left the ending intact until the recent flood of reviews convinced me to continue, if only because in the world of fanfic, the majority is always right. I am astonished and grateful that you apparently like the story enough to request more. I'm fond of it myself, but as I said, not everyone shares my taste. So thank you for your patience, and if this isn't how you wanted it to end, I apologize (and give you permission to imagine it however you like), but I feel obligated to write fiction according to the way I perceive things to be, rather than the way I want them to be.