"You're finding Mathematics not stimulating enough?" he asked one night not long after she had returned from Stratford. He had come to pick her up for the cinema and was leafing through a book on Genetics.
Hermione had debated if she should lie to him about Snape and tell him something about an interdisciplinary university project, but had decided not to. She had already told him more than enough lies and would try to keep them to a necessary minimum.
"I'm helping a former Chemistry teacher of mine," she replied, tying up her shoes and trying to look unconcerned. "He's doing a project on cell mutation as a result of certain environmental poisons."
Thomas furrowed his brows. "But how are you helping him?"
"I was quite good in Chemistry", Hermione said, reaching for her jacket. "And he's utterly at a loss with a computer. I'm programming a database for him, stuff like that."
"Sounds like lots of work beside your studies." Thomas gave her a searching look. "Where you close at school?" He grinned. "Did you have a crush on him?"
Hermione laughed out loud. "Definitely not. I didn't even like him." She immediately regretted saying this. It would make Thomas only more suspicions.
He looked a bit puzzled. "I can hardly believe that, you love teachers. And they adore you."
"I love good teachers," Hermione corrected him. "And I'm sorry to say he wasn't a very good one. Not concerning his qualifications, he could have taught at university. But his didactic methods were a catastrophe. And for some strange reason, he really hated Harry, and Ron and I got caught up in this. He could be terribly mean."
"But how do you come to help him then?" Thomas asked bewildered.
"Well," Hermione said carefully, "I learned later on that there had been terrible incidents in his past which partly explained his behaviour. I'm sorry," she added, sawing the question on Thomas's face. "I can't tell you, it's rather private."
Thomas didn't seem happy about this, and Hermione went on quickly. "I met him in Stratford. By coincidence. And somehow we started talking and got along surprisingly well. And then he told me about this project of his. And it sounded interesting, so I asked if I could help. Are we going to the cinema now?"
"Sure. Let's go." But Thomas still didn't look wholly convinced and from time to time during the following months he would ask questions which showed Hermione that he was surprised by how much effort she put into her work for Snape. Hermione was worried, but she shrugged it off, trying to resolve his suspicions as well as she could. She liked Thomas a lot, sometimes even thought that she loved him. But her work for Snape was important, not only for herself but perhaps for the whole wizarding world. She wouldn't give that up just because he wasn't happy about it.
May arrived, and with it the anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. Hermione knew that most of the wizarding world was rejoicing at that date – it had become a public holiday, no less. But while part of her was certainly glad for the defeat of Voldemort, this had always been overshadowed by far by the pain at the loss of her friends.
Work was helpful, of course, and Hermione was glad for the new challenge that Snape's project presented to her. It kept her mind away from what had happened. But the thoughts and memories she was able to hold at bay during the day came back at night, haunting her in her dreams. And while Hermione feared those dreams, part of her also craved them, for in them she saw Ron and Harry again.
The first two years after their death, she had tried to spend the day alone, far away from anyone who knew what had happened. The muggles were blissfully unaware of the significance of the date and Hermione had hoped that this would ease her pain. But it hadn't, instead the fact that life just went on as usual and that spring was in full swing with life erupting all around her had always seemed like a perverse mockery to her. For the last two years then Hermione had started to spent part of the day with Ginny, and that was what she'd do this time, too. They would sit together and talk, not only about the Battle, but, more importantly, about the good times. About the experiences they had shared, the fun they had had and about Ron's and Harry's little quirks. And they would not only talk about Ron and Harry, but about all those who had died, about Fred, Lupin, Tonks, Sirius, and all the others. They would laugh together and cry together, and although it was always painful it was also cathartic. Hermione was glad that she didn't have to grieve alone anymore.
Spring turned into summer, summer turned into autumn and Snape made good progresses with his research. He couldn't help admitting to himself that these successes were in parts due to Hermione's suggestions and their discussion of his work. More than once when he was working in his laboratory he caught himself wishing that she were there, that he could talk to her directly, show her how his experiments developed. That was a stupid and ridiculous wish, of course. He was very happy, indeed, that the world left him alone. It would be horrible to have her there with him, wouldn't it? He was certain that it was only due to the sometimes infuriating fussiness of communication by letter that he felt this ridiculous wish for her company. Anyway, he would see her in January in Stratford. Two days in the presence of the over-enthusiastic know-it-all was just as much as he could take for a year.
After a warm September came an uncommonly cool October and Snape felt his spirits sink. It was that time of year again. In October, Lily had died, and even after all those years he still became increasingly depressed every time the date drew closer. He wanted to remember Lily – how could he ever want to forget her? But every year he was anew staggered by how much it still hurt. How much he still missed her.
For many years he had been a nervous wreck during October. It had got a bit better over the years, though, especially since Voldemort had died. Even though the death of her son had put new weight on his already much burdened mind. But he shuddered to remember those first years right after her death. More than once he had been close to killing himself, being kept from it only by Dumbledore's insistence that he was still needed, and by his own feeling of guilt and shame. To kill himself would have been cowardice. No, he must face what he had done, every year and every day, and atone for it.
Over the years he had tried various ways to deal with the anniversary. Oh yes, he had tried everything. Denial and repression. Alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Head-on confrontation, hoping that facing the terror and sorrow would somehow heal him. Nothing had really worked, of course. Finally, however, he had found a certain routine to get him through this day, a mixture of all these measures.
It was pathetic, really. That was another way of dealing with the pain, to employ cynicism. Sometimes he would reason with himself, arguing that he should finally get over it. After all, he wasn't a lovesick teenager anymore. And he couldn't change the past. What had happened had happened. But while cynicism had turned out to be so serviceable in all the other areas of his life, here it failed. Even now, after so many years, he'd still give everything to change the past.
There had been a night about twenty years ago, only a few days before the anniversary, when had been prowling the corridors of the castle, not being able to sleep for fear that he'd hear her scream in his dreams. Somehow he had happened upon a door he had never noticed before, the door to a room which had turned out to be completely empty apart from a large mirror.
When Snape had stepped in front of it his heart had nearly stopped. Lily. There she was, smiling and waving at him. He cried out her name and rushed towards her, but there was only the smooth and cold surface of the mirror. Snape didn't know what magic it was, but there she was, smiling at him, moving her mouth in silence as if she were talking to him. But try as he might, there was no way of getting to her. After a while a new picture emerged. Lily was still there, but she wasn't alone anymore. There was a man with her, and with a jolt Snape realized that the man was himself. But a Snape who was profoundly different. He looked…happy. He smiled. And Lily put an arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder. Snape felt a great lump in his throat and an unbearable feeling of longing. He spent the whole night in the room, his eyes riveted on the mirror and on the scenes it presented to him. Scenes which showed him Lily, or Lily and himself, alive, together and happy. He knew that it was not real, of course. But it didn't matter at all.
In the morning he reluctantly left the room to go and attend to his courses. But as soon as it got dark outside, he returned. Snape came every night for more than three weeks. He grew deadly tired, but there was no quenching the hunger for the pictures the mirror showed him. The life he would never have and the women he had loved and that had died because of him.
His colleagues became more and more worried about him but Snape ignored them. His life during the day seemed more and more unreal and irrelevant to him. The nights were all that mattered.
Until one night a visitor disturbed his vigil.
"So this is how you spend your nights."
Reluctantly Snape tore his eyes away from the mirror. He felt like waking from a dream. Dumbledore was standing right next to him. He had never heard him coming.
"And if I do, what does it matter to you?" He replied, scrambling to his feet.
"Oh Severus," Dumbledore said in a surprisingly sad voice. "You have undoubtedly noticed that the Mirror of Erised shows you your deepest wishes. Nothing more, nothing less. But you must also have noticed its dangers."
"I'm not stupid," Snape growled, meeting Dumbledore's benign eyes with a fierce glance. "But what if I prefer that fake life to my real one?"
"You will die, eventually," Dumbledore replied evenly. "Your real life will mean less and less to you, all that matters will be the mirror and what if shows you. You'll waste away in front of it."
Snape gave a strangled laugh. "And that would be terrible, wouldn't it?"
Dumbledore opened his mouth to say something, but Snape cut him off. "I know, I know. I'm important for the cause. The Dark Lord might return one day and then you'll need me." His voice was bitter and he met the elder wizard's gaze defiantly. Their eyes locked and there was silence for what seemed like ages. "I will leave the mirror alone", Snape finally said. "After tonight."
Dumbledore nodded. "I am glad. I will have it removed tomorrow."
"You don't trust me?" Snape snarled.
Dumbledore gave him a sad smile, and Snape saw deep sorrow in his bright eyes. "Oh, I trust you. Completely. But I know the mirror. I know it very well. Believe me, it will be better if I remove it."
Snape spent the rest of the night in front of the mirror, drinking in the images it showed him. During the next days he was tormented by its loss, even if deep down part of him was grateful to Dumbledore. And even now, years later, he wished from time to time he knew where the mirror was.
It was the day of her death. Snape had worked hard all night long and in the morning he had written his monthly letter to Hermione. It wasn't a coincidence, he had to admit that to himself. He needed something to keep his mind occupied.
Her answer arrived in the late afternoon and Snape felt grateful, more grateful than he cared to admit. This would keep him busy for the rest of the day.
He skimmed over the pages and got stuck at the postscript: "Ginny Weasley sends her greetings." Snape felt a brief stirring of…gratefulness. How strange. But somehow he was touched by the fact that the Weasley girl had thought about him. He certainly had had a hard time keeping her safe, with the Carrows in Hogwarts and the children trying to defy him out of their misguided feelings of loyalty to Dumbledore. More than once in that year he had thought that she and the Longbottom boy suspected that he was not all bad. That was dangerous, of course, dangerous for them and for him. But it had been a…comforting thought nevertheless.
And the Granger girl. Suddenly a thought struck him. Why was she doing all of that? Why was she investing so much time and effort in helping him, communicating with him? It could hardly be because of him, he wasn't that deluded. She didn't even like him, he had made sure of that when he had been her teacher. And yet, their relationship had changed profoundly ever since their first meeting, hadn't it? Still, the reason for her helping him was most likely gratitude because he had saved her life. Or a feeling of guilt, because she had survived while so many had died. Or perhaps she did it for Lupin. Snape's mouth curled into an unpleasant snarl. They all had liked Lupin so much, not knowing what he was. Apart from her, of course. She had been clever enough to realize it soon enough. And yet she had still liked him. Worshipped him, even... It was not that he envied Lupin his popularity with the students, of course not, the thought was preposterous – and yet… Snape shook his head in exasperation. Was he jealous of Lupin, of all people? Why not, a traitorous voice whispered in his head. He was an outsider just like you. But he found friends. Good friends. In the end he even found a woman he loved, and who loved him in return. He had a family. He died a happy man. And now look at you.
But Snape had long ago learned to ignore such feelings. And so he took up Hermione's notes and went to the laboratory, to keep his mind from brooding over useless thoughts.