Author's note: Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed!
"What were you thinking? Snape! As in our greasy git of a Potions master through most of school? As in the man who murdered Dumbledore because Dumbledore'd "made" him do it? As in one of the only people who apparently saw Harry die? You know what I think of that--"
"Ron," Hermione said sharply. "Stop being horrible. Severus Snape did heroic things during the War and it clearly cost him--"
"What, because he vanished for fifteen years?" Ron Weasley snorted derisively. "I never trusted him--not after Dumbledore."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "You know what really happened. And he didn't kill Harry. I wish you'd stop insinuating that."
Drawing a deep breath, Ron said. "All right. I'm sorry. Whatever I think of Snape…well, you can do what you want."
"But I gather you think it's a bad idea."
"It's just that you're going out to dinner with him. It looks a little…"
"I can go out with a man and not be attracted to him, you know."
"But you never go out! That's why it looks so odd!"
Glancing at the clock, Hermione said, "Well, thank you for your faintly hysterical advice, Ron, but I have to go."
He looked like he wanted to say more, but just half-heartedly responded, "All right. Have a good time, then. And make sure you let me know if anything…happens." He said good-bye and she, rolling her eyes, doused the green Floo flame. Even though she thought Ron had overreacted, he probably was right. What had she been thinking?
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one looked at it), she was due downstairs in the lobby in five minutes.
Snape was already there when she arrived, standing in front of the fountain in the center of the room. It had been refashioned in Albus Dumbledore's likeness after the War. For a second, Hermione felt her throat tighten. While the night when Harry died had been terrible, somehow Dumbledore's death had been worse. She remembered feeling like such a little girl. As though she had stayed up past her bedtime and something awful had happened but she couldn't quite grasp what it was. And then she had to grow up, and Dumbledore's death had come to symbolize the death of her childhood and innocence.
She took a deep breath and approached Snape. To her surprise, he was staring at the fountain with his arms crossed over his chest and a bored expression on his face. In fact, it almost looked like his mouth was twisted in a faint sneer.
What had made her do this, again?
He noticed her by the time she'd reached him and inclined his head slightly in greeting. "How was your day?"
Hermione had to smile. Somehow it didn't seem like something Snape would have said. "Lovely," she replied. "Yours?"
"Dull." With an unreadable expression on his face, he asked her, "You didn't have anything to do with this fountain, did you?" When she shook her head, his face darkened. "Good. I've never seen such a travesty."
"As if you would care if I had had something to do with it. Even if it is a…travesty." Personally, she'd always liked it.
At that, he glanced at her. "I don't know what makes you say that. I wouldn't be conversing with you if I found you as vapid and banal as that."
She shrugged and instead of responding, said, "I thought we could go to a pub I like, about five blocks from here? It's quiet."
"I no longer have any conception of where one might eat in this city. Anywhere you'd like would be fine."
They started off and walked in silence for awhile until Hermione said, "I'm surprised you remember me at all."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Well, I…" She felt herself flush. Ridiculous. He was her old Potions professor, for god's sake! "I was just a bookish, mousy girl."
"You were a know-it-all whom I was cruel to on a number of occasions. And surely you haven't forgotten you were friends with Harry Potter."
"Well. Of course I remember you, Hermione." Snape met her eyes and an odd look flickered across his face. She wondered what it meant.
Within several minutes they'd reached the pub and been seated in a booth near the back. Snape studied her for a few moments before saying, "Tell me about yourself. Something…normal. I've heard precious little that meets that description for quite awhile."
She absently tucked her hair behind her ears. "There's…really not much to tell. I have a house near Oxford, I come to work, I feed my cat…very normal. Boring, in fact."
Snape swirled his drink. "Based on that, then, I was correct in presuming it's still Miss Granger?" His face was carefully blank.
"Just Crookshanks and I." She cleared her throat awkwardly. "It's worked out pretty well."
"Oh, yes. It sounds charming."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't know why you're being sarcastic. You're not married."
"What makes you so sure?"
"You told me you wanted to hear about normalcy."
Snape smiled slightly. "Fair enough." Their food was set down then and he dug in. Between mouthfuls, he inquired, "This line of questioning isn't making you uncomfortable, is it? I haven't had much use for social niceties as of late."
Hermione shook her head quickly. "No, not at all."
Raising an eyebrow at her, he remarked, "No need to lie. I certainly couldn't care less if you tell me I'm socially inept and off-putting."
"Honestly, no." Hermione took a bite of her shepherd's pie and chewed slowly before saying, "You know, I was actually advised against doing this tonight. Having dinner with you, I mean."
Snape smirked. "Yes, I'm sure most people would advise against involving yourself with me. I can't blame them."
"Well, I like to make decisions for myself."
"An admirable quality."
The rest of the meal went by in light conversation and after a couple hours had passed, Hermione glanced at her watch with a start. "Oh--I'd better get home. I'm sure you've got things to do, too; I'm sorry to have kept you." She got to her feet and glanced down at Snape, who was looking at her with that same faintly amused expression on his face.
"No apology necessary. If I'd had something better to do, I wouldn't have come here tonight." He led the way out of the pub and the two of them stood on the street facing each other.
An awkward silence sprang up--at least, Hermione felt awkward. While they'd been inside she'd been able to put aside all of her old prejudices about Snape and just speak to him as if he were a normal person. But now…now she remembered that he wasn't a normal person. Anything but.
Snape seemed to notice her sudden discomfort. "Do you find me a tad sinister in the dark of the night?"
For a second, she hesitated, chewing on her lip anxiously. Then she replied truthfully, "It's not that. It's just…everything I know about you. You've never been an easy person to get along with, to say the least."
"I'm still not." He looked down his hooked nose at her. "Do you wish now that you'd listened to your friends and not come tonight?"
"No." She sighed, but then gave him a small smile. "I did say that I like to make my own decisions."
"You're reserving judgment on me, then?" Snape snorted. "How very kind of you."
Hermione ducked her head so that her hair fell over her face slightly. Hopefully it would obscure the nervousness she was feeling over her next words. "I thought I'd reserve judgment until I spend a little more time with you. If…if you'll be around for awhile."
A surprised look flashed across his face and Hermione couldn't help feeling a little smug. He'd been so unruffled so far; she was glad she'd said something he hadn't been expecting. Carefully, Snape replied, "I'd like to see you again, if that's what you're asking."
She couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Yes, it is."
"Since we're done skirting around that issue, might I suggest another dinner this Friday?"
"That sounds nice."
Inclining his head at her, Snape said, "Until then." With that, he Disapparated, leaving Hermione standing alone on the corner.