Nevertheless, it was quite obvious that he didn't feel comfortable with her around his house, and Hermione was wondering if it was because he didn't want her there at all, or if he was worried for her safety. It was probably both.
They had hardly finished their meal when Rose, who was positively beaming with happiness to see her master well again, came to announce Madam Pomfrey. Hermione said a quick hello and then left the room, leaving Snape and the elder woman staring at each other in a rather tense atmosphere.
"Let me check you first," Poppy finally broke the uncomfortable silence in a businesslike voice. After casting several spells she nodded. "You seem well recovered, if a bit weak." She paused. "You were lucky. Whoever did this didn't want to kill you, but if you hadn't taken the bezoar and if Hermione and Albus hadn't fetched me, this would have been far more unpleasant."
"I know," Snape said dispassionately.
Poppy looked very serious, her face betraying the battle of emotions that was going on inside her. "Merlin, Severus. I can understand why you didn't tell us that you were still on our side. But why ever did you vanish when all was over? We all thought you were dead!"
"You see what happens when people find out I'm still alive," Snape retorted.
Poppy shook her head. "You could have told us. You know we would have kept it secret. Minerva felt so bad about the way we treated you. We all did."
Snape experienced a sudden twinge of regret under her accusatory look. But he shook his head nevertheless. "I am sorry, but I needed to get away." For the first time in my life I was truly free, with no obligations to anyone. I couldn't give that up, he thought but didn't say.
The elder witch stared at him in silence, then shrugged her shoulders. "It's your decision. I haven't told anyone that you are still alive, and if you insist I won't."
Snape nodded. "Thank you. I will tell them, eventually, but please leave the choice of time and place to me."
"So you enjoy your solitude?" she asked, a bit defiantly.
"Life without those dunderheads of students and without constantly risking my life? Let me think, yes, I enjoy it."
"Then why is Miss Granger here?"
Snape's mouth twitched in a sardonic smile. "What do you mean? I thought you asked her to stay and look after me."
The elder witch gave him a penetrating stare. "That's not what I'm talking about."
Snape shrugged his shoulders. "I met her by coincidence a few years ago, and somehow we've stayed in touch. She helps me with my work."
Poppy raised an eyebrow. "I never knew that you thought so much of her while she was still your pupil."
Snape felt irritated. "She was a terrible know-it-all. But she has reformed. And she is very intelligent, I can't deny that."
"And so while everyone thought that you were dead you developed a friendship with one of your former least-favourite pupils?" She still looked at him searchingly.
"I have no idea what you're getting at," Snape retorted in a clipped tone.
"You really don't, do you?" the elder woman said, her voice suddenly soft. "I just want you to be careful, Severus. Miss Granger obviously cares about you. Please try not to hurt her, she has suffered enough."
Snape snorted, feeling rather irritated. "This is ridiculous, I certainly have no intention of hurting her in any way. I know what she's been through."
"I don't think you do," Poppy stated quietly. "Did you know she didn't speak for nearly three weeks after Potter and Weasley had been killed?"
Snape was silent. "No, I didn't," he finally conceded.
"It was as if she were in another world," the elder witch went on. "She just sat there, staring in front of her, without giving any indication that she noticed what was going on around her. Minerva was sick with worry, the more so because we couldn't contact her parents. Did you know that she had modified their memories and sent them away to Australia to keep them out of harms way? She had even erased their memories about her."
"So that's what she did," Snape said slowly. Voldemort had been furious when he couldn't find the Grangers. He had thought at that time that the Order must keep them somewhere safe. But what Hermione had done was much safer – and much more drastic. It must have given her a lot of pain, but it showed a dedication and foresight that Snape had to admire.
"I don't know what finally made her come back," Poppy went on, "but when she did she had changed. She hardly spoke to anyone, apart from Miss Weasley who had suffered perhaps even more, and to Miss Lovegood and Mr Longbottom. She started studying again, with an even greater obsession than she had before. When she did her N.E.W.T.s she achieved the highest marks that anyone had managed since Dumbledore. She could have chosen any career she'd liked. But the day of her graduation she packed her things and left Hogwarts and the wizarding world forever. That's why I want you to be careful with her, Severus."
Snape faced her searching glance. "I still don't know what you're worried about, Poppy," he said, "but I can assure you that I don't have any intentions of doing any harm to Miss Granger."
After a few moments Poppy nodded. "Very well. Now, you seem fine to me, but you should certainly rest for the next few days."
Snape snorted and she sighed in exasperation. "You surely haven't become an easier patient, Severus." A mischievous look crossed her face. "I'll tell Miss Granger to take care that you don't exhaust yourself. Perhaps you'll listen to her."
While Madam Pomfrey was examining Snape, Hermione decided to talk to Dumbledore. She had some ideas how to find out who poisoned Snape and wanted to discuss them with him. But when Hermione went to Snape's study, she found that Dumbledore wasn't in his portrait.
She stood in the doorframe, hesitating. She could have gone to the laboratory, but there was really nothing for her to do there and Snape's study, lined as it was with shelves full of books, was much too intriguing. So Hermione entered and spent several minutes simply looking up and down the shelves, unable to decide which book to pick first and not quite sure if that would be okay for her. Then her eyes came to rest upon a row of seven books on the lowest shelf in a corner of the room. Hermione frowned. She knew this dark red leather binding. And when she took out the first volume her suspicion was proven right. It was a Hogwarts year book.
The year was 1971/72, Snape's and Harry's parents' first year at Hogwarts. Hermione was surprised. From all she could gather she wouldn't have thought that Snape's time at school had been so positive as to make him keep the yearbooks within easy reach. She sat down on the floor next to the shelf, took up the book, and it immediately opened to a page showing some first year Gryffindors, among them Harry's mother Lily Evans. The picture was moving and it was rather disconcerting to see the young girl, whose eyes were so much like Harry's, smiling at her a bit shyly. Hermione started to leaf through the book until she came to the page with Snape's picture. He looked so…young. Thin and a bit scruffy. But the large nose and dark eyes were unmistakable. As was the scowl.
Hermione stared down on the page, and then leafed through the volume again. It was strange; the whole book, including the page with Snape's own picture, looked as if it had never been opened or read before. Apart from the one page with the Gryffindor first years. And Lily Evans.
She took out the next book and found the same there. The volume opened easily onto a page which had a picture of a slightly older Lily on it, but the rest of the pages seemed as if they'd never been looked upon. Frowning, Hermione took out the next year book, and the next, right up until the last one. It was the same with all of them only that, in later volumes, when Lily appeared in more pictures, those too had evidently been looked at.
She stared down on the last photograph of Lily, now looking nearly like the woman Hermione knew from Harry's pictures. Her thoughts were whirling and an idea had formed in her mind, an idea so impossible Hermione could hardly believe it, and yet all the evidence pointed to it.
"So you found out."
Her head jerked up. Snape was standing in the doorframe, looking down on her from across the room.
Hermione scrambled up, feeling caught, her mind spinning. "I… I'm sorry," she stammered, "I didn't want to pry, I just saw these, and I started to leaf through them, and I…"
"And you couldn't fail to notice. Of course you couldn't." His voice was strangely hoarse and he was staring at her with his dark eyes, holding her gaze.
"Harry's mum…Lily…it was all because of her?" Hermione whispered, her mouth finally saying what her jumbled mind still wouldn't admit.
For a second Snape's face showed such intense sadness that Hermione could hardly look at him. "Lily..." his voice seemed transformed as he said the name, warm and gentle and very sad. "Yes, it was because of her."
He still held her eyes, his expression unreadable. But Hermione couldn't stay any longer, she had to get out, away from him, to quieten the turmoil in her head.
"I'm sorry," she said, tearing her eyes away from him and crossing the room, "I…I think I better go now."
Snape stepped away from the doorframe and Hermione left the room, hardly seeing were she went as she hurried through the house. Her feet took her to the room that Rose had given to her and she sank down onto the bed, staring blankly ahead, her head still spinning.
Snape had been in love with Lily Potter.
It seemed impossible, preposterous. But what other explanation was there for the yearbooks? And he had as much as admitted it. It would explain so many other things… What he had said under the influence of the Memorate Potion… His hatred of Harry's father and Harry, who looked just like James… And why he had protected Harry nevertheless… And it must somehow be wound up with the fact that Dumbledore had always trusted him. It even explained why in their third year he had been so eager to give Sirius to the Dementors – after all he had been convinced that Sirius had betrayed Lily…
Snape in love with Harry's mother… Good lord, how shocked Harry would have been!
Laughter broke out of Hermione as she pictured Harry's and Ron's reaction. Laughter she couldn't stop and which turned increasingly hysterical.
Snape loved Harry's mother. He loved her so much he had risked his life for her long after she had died. Suddenly Hermione realized that her laughter had turned into sobs. She quickly put her hand across her mouth, stifling her crying, staring in front of her with eyes that were suddenly filled with tears. There was an odd ache in her chest. What was going on with her? Why was she acting so strangely? And then realization hit her, cutting through the muddle in her mind, forcing her to face it at last, a thought as unbelievable as the one about Lily, but just as true. She loved Snape. She didn't know when or how it had happened, but she was in love with him. And she knew just as well that it was a hopeless love. For how could she ever compete with Lily Evans?