After that night, weeks passed without so much as an owl. If it weren't for the Pensieve at the back of her wardrobe and the vials in the bottom of her trunk, Hermione might have believed it no more than a dream. She hadn't realised until his owl stopped coming just how much she looked forward to its visits.
At first, she wondered if she had overstepped her bounds and made him reconsider. Then, she worried that he'd been left broken at Voldemort's hands. When Shacklebolt reported he'd been seen she didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry.
Ron and Harry insisted on going. Hermione rolled her eyes and let them go. If Severus had been seen in Blackpool, home of amusement parks, bingo halls, cheap bed and breakfasts and pensioners by the busload, then it had been specifically to have a laugh at the Aurors and Order members having to stay there while they tried to find him.
His owl arrived the same day.
"Noon today would be capital, but tomorrow will do.
Your special correspondent."
It was just after ten, but Hermione couldn't wait. Tossing powder into the fireplace, she demanded passage to The Last Drop.
She spotted the young man as soon as she stepped from the hearth into the wizarding section of Edinburgh's equivalent to The Leaky Cauldron.
Under his disguise, Severus looked half-exasperated and half-amused when she asked about Blackpool. "I assure you, I would sooner sojourn in Purgatory, but I can think of someone who might find it amusing to be seen there."
"You let people use your hair and... things?" Hermione wrinkled her nose.
"I hardly had time to clear out my quarters," he reminded her.
"But why would anyone at Hogwarts do that?"
Severus's lips twitched his amusement. "Why indeed?"
He guided her into the Muggle city, finding temporary refuge in a narrow close when the time approached for his disguise to fade. Half-way down a street that connected the Royal Mile to Waverley Station he led her into a small Mexican restaurant.
He bristled when she seemed surprised. "Our solicitors' appointment isn't for over an hour. I assume you do eat?" His gaze raked her slender frame. "Or maybe not..."
"Heyyy! Pot. Kettle. Black," Hermione retorted. "I just thought your tastes would be more traditional."
"After sixteen years at Hogwarts, I'll eat anything that isn't meat and two veg."
Hermione twisted the stem of her margarita glass. A pitcher had seemed like a good idea, but either she had drunk more than her fair share or the cocktail was more potent than she'd thought. "I— I was getting worried when I didn't hear from you. I thought maybe you'd been... punished."
His gaze met hers in an instant, staring deep as if he would read her very soul, though she felt no tell-tale signs of Legilimency. He seemed to deliberate deeply before he replied. "I was indisposed for a time and after that I needed Prometheus for other things."
"Prometheus?" The question tumbled from her alcohol-loosened lips before she could stop it.
"My owl," Snape answered in a near-sneer.
Hermione could have guessed that much. Instead, she wondered how tormented a man would have to feel in order to identify with that character. Prometheus, the Titan who had stolen fire from the gods and who for eons was chained to a rock where each day eagles ate his liver, only for it to heal overnight and the punishment to begin afresh with the sunrise. "Hercules rescued Prometheus," she whispered.
Snape snorted. "I do not expect to be so fortunate."
Hermione thought he would revert to his customary professorial disdain after her Gryffindorish comment and she braced herself for the metaphorical chill.
His hair hung forward, obscuring his face, as he stabbed at his cheesecake with unmerited venom before lifting a forkful to his mouth. The silence stretched as he savoured his dessert. "Perhaps," he offered in a voice that couldn't possibly be husky from nervousness, "if I set the wards on my new home to allow you free admittance, it might spare you from such concern in the future."
Hermione quashed the warmth that welled inside her. "It might."
"That was not an invitation for you to come and go as you please," Severus protested, but he placed a Stasis Charm over the cauldron where he'd been working.
"No, it was an admission that you were probably lying on a floor somewhere for days before you recovered enough to see to your injuries," Hermione countered, "so, if you don't like me turning up every two or three days, that's your problem not mine. You don't want me to show up on your doorstep, then write."
Severus muttered something under his breath that might have been, "Owls can be intercepted."
Severus cast furtive glances at his companion as they returned home, wondering how things had come to this. It would have been the gentlemanly thing for him to extend his arm to the girl, especially on the steep streets, but the witch hadn't even waited for him to offer. She'd invaded his home, threatened to strip him herself if he didn't change into Muggle finery, and insisted he needed fresh air and could accompany her into town. She'd bought sandwiches and chatted at him incessantly as they ate them in the park.
The flat seemed too quiet when she left.
"No." The refusal came out of nowhere, flat in tone rather than harsh, but immovable.
"Hello to you too. I haven't—"
"Even tried to drag me outside for my own good? The world does not revolve around you, Miss—"
He inhaled deeply. "I am brewing Wolfsbane. The process demands great care and concentration. I cannot go gallivanting around simply for your entertainment."
Hermione's eyes took on a fervid gleam, but she made sure to keep her voice respectful. "Teach me... please."
"Use the smallest cauldron," he instructed brusquely. "Single dose. The ingredients are too expensive to waste."