Disclaimer:  Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR.  I'll give you a moment to recover from the shock.  This is a stand-alone pre-romance and is dedicated to CT…my old friend…my new friend.

Down a Different Corridor

"Is it painful?" Hermione asked with worry etched on her face.

Harry shook his head.  "It's not like that, Hermione.  I can't even really explain it…it's like you're trying desperately to hide something and you just can't.  I couldn't do it for the longest time and I honestly thought Snape would skin me alive after…"

"After what?"

Harry looked down for a moment and shuffled his feet awkwardly.

"You saw something you shouldn't have, didn't you?" Hermione murmured.

"It wasn't like that!" Harry looked up at her again, his face somewhat pale.  "He had placed a Pensieve in the room and he had to go.  Malfoy had said something about…I don't know exactly.  And then I was left alone…"

"And you were curious to see what he was hiding, Harry?" Hermione raised her eyebrows in disbelief.  "You invaded his privacy…I'm surprised he didn't try to expel you for that."

"I nearly lost my head instead…he began throwing things…I heard breaking glass."

Hermione sighed.  "Do you really blame him?  We all have secrets.  Would you want anyone to know everything that went on in your mind?"

"Well, he saw an awful lot," Harry huffed in anger.

"That was the entire point of taking Occlumency lessons…so that no one could do that to you again.  Better Snape than Voldemort."

"I guess," Harry's shoulder slumped in defeat.  "So, when do your lessons start?"

"In about 15 minutes.  I'd best be going…Snape is not the most patient of professors," Hermione grinned nervously.

Harry merely snorted in disgust…his opinion of the Potions Master not having changed at all since that day two years earlier…

"Well, just be on your guard.  After Neville's success in Potions, Snape is itching for a reason to deduct points from Gryffindor," Harry sat down on one of the comfortably squashy armchairs near the fire and pulled out his Divination homework.  "Now, once I am Minister of Magic, how many dozens of children should I have?"

Hermione giggled at how he dramatically positioned his quill, as if writing a decree for Wizard-Muggle cooperation.

"At least two dozen, Harry," she smiled.  "But you'd best warn Ginny that she will be rather busy for the next forty years or so."

Harry blushed deep carnelian as Hermione left the Common Room to make her way down to the abandoned classroom where she knew Professor Snape would be waiting.

She only hoped that she could keep her wits about her.

Quickly arriving at the door to the classroom, she looked around for any sign of Professor Snape.  She was a few minutes early but surely it would be all right to go into the classroom.  Standing in the empty corridor felt a little odd even though, as Head Girl, she did not have to justify her presence in this particular part of the school.

As if in answer to her question, the door opened of its own accord and she quickly stepped inside.

"Miss Granger?" Professor Snape's voice sounded from the front of the classroom.

"Yes, Professor?"

"Please move the desks to the perimeter of the room so that we have enough room for tonight's lesson.  If Potter's performance was any indication, we may need to move this outside," he sneered as he put away what undoubtedly was a Pensieve.

Hermione turned her back to him so he could not see the anger on her face.  She was not always good at holding back her emotions and she knew that would only get her into trouble tonight.

"Just relax," she thought to herself as she charmed the desks and chairs to obediently line the walls of the classroom.

Once done, she turned and watched as Professor Snape walked and stood at the centre of the classroom.  He took out his wand and pointed to a spot a few meters away from him.  She quickly walked towards the spot and waited nervously for his instructions.

"Just relax…remember what Harry said.  Don't panic.  Snape won't try to hurt me…much," she thought to herself as she met his stern gaze with only a little trepidation.

"You have been practicing, Miss Granger?" He asked.

"Yes…every night, just as you instructed," she replied, more confident now.

"We will soon see if you speak the truth.  Let us begin.  Prepare yourself, Miss Granger, this will probably not be the most pleasant of experiences," he said, sarcasm adding a murky tone to his voice.

Hermione glared at him as he smirked.  Raising his wand over his head, he cried out "Legilimens."

Hermione was ready.  She tried a blocking spell but felt that crumble almost immediately.  She then cast a shielding spell and that met the same fate as the first…the office began to swim before her eyes.  She tried to raise her wand but couldn't…wanted to fight back but suddenly found herself powerless…and a scene came into focus…

She could see the children in her primary class teasing her, calling her a teacher's pet and a know-it-all.  She could feel the tears in her eyes when she told her mother that she didn't want to ever read another book…

"Enough!"

Hermione was surprised to find herself on the ground, crying.  She quickly wiped away the remaining tears and stood up to face Professor Snape, wand out.

"You recover quickly…I will grant you that, Miss Granger.  You must try harder.  My skills are insignificant in comparison to the Dark Lord's.  You must focus.  You must concentrate.  Otherwise you will be dead."

She shivered slightly but her hand did not waver.

"I'm ready," she said quietly.

He cast the spell again and Hermione counter-attacked with a freezing spell.  For a while it worked and she began to see images of Harry's first Potions class…and Snape's thoughts on seeing The-Boy-That-Lived in his classroom…

He must be protected at all costs.  If Voldemort manages to acquire the Philosopher's Stone, we are all lost.  Quirrel.  It must be Quirrel.  I have to protect Potter.  I promised I would.  Blast that boy…does he know nothing except his own name?  This will be a very long year…

The scene blurred and shifted.  Her head began to ache.  She could see when she had been turned into a cat thanks to the botched Polyjuice Potion…she tried to hide the memory but it refused to listen to her pleas…

Madam Pomfrey had not asked any questions but Hermione still  felt horribly guilty about the whole thing.  She flicked her tail back and forth…her whiskers twitching when the medi-witch brought her a potion to drink…it tasted awful…like Troll bogies…

And, just as suddenly as the scene was there, it vanished.  Hermione looked up and saw Professor Snape looking down at her in astonishment.  She was on her knees with her wand firmly gripped in both hands.

She knew she had invaded his thoughts.  That could not be good.

"You show greater promise that your friend, Potter.  However, your efforts are not adequate.  I am still able to break down your defences far too easily and witness whatever events in your past that I like," he said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.

"I'm sorry we suspected you, Professor," Hermione replied. 

He looked at her in surprise.  "I do not blame you, Miss Granger.  My prior associations would naturally lead you to believe what you did."

"We don't believe it any longer."

"Yes, I realize that.  However, that incident with the Polyjuice Potion is most intriguing.  I had wondered why Poppy asked me for hairball tonic.  I certainly didn't think it was for Mrs. Norris."

Hermione smiled nervously.  He did not smile back, although his expression seemed somewhat less severe.

"Now, to the business at hand.  Arm yourself, Miss Granger, and we shall see if you have learned anything," he said in a cold voice.

Hermione stood up quickly and held her wand out.  She thought of another blocking spell that might work.

Professor Snape cast the spell and she cast an ambiguity charm that succeeded in weakening the spell enough so that she could maintain control over her thoughts.  She saw the Mirror of Erised…

He hated this thing.  He hated to be the one responsible for returning it to Gringotts.  He had finally been able to bring it to the special vault, deep in the catacombs of the goblin-run bank, when he stumbled over a loose stone and found himself face to face with the mirror.  For a moment, he lay there as if petrified…his nose merely inches from the glassy surface of the mirror.  At first, he only saw his frightened reflection…but then…the figure of a woman appeared…nebulous…but Hermione thought she could almost…

She felt a sudden wrenching sensation that was very painful and took her breath away.  It was the beginning of seventh year…and she immediately panicked…

The Headmaster had looked at her with such sorrow.  Her parents were dead.  Murdered.  Death Eaters had been looking for her and, not finding her at home, killed her parents instead.  She couldn't cry.  She wouldn't cry.  She would not be weak…

The spell lifted and Hermione was curled in a fetal position on the floor, crying uncontrollably.

"Miss Granger."

For several minutes, she could not answer.  Months of repressing her grief now exacted a heavy toll and she continued sobbing hysterically, not caring if he took all the points Gryffindor had managed to accumulate throughout the school year.

"Miss Granger…I must apologize…I didn't mean…" hands touched her shoulders but she pulled away from them.

"Miss Granger…you must get up."  Hermione felt his hands on her shoulders again.  This time she allowed him to guide her to a seated position but she could not stop crying.  She felt him press a handkerchief into her hand and she began to cry even harder.

"It was wrong of me to explore a memory that has wounded you so deeply."

She heard him murmur a spell and was startled to find a glass of cold water by her lips.

"Drink this…it is only water," he said as he tilted the glass to let her drink.  She nearly choked as she hiccoughed and sputtered but the cool liquid eased the pain in her throat and she found she could breathe a little easier.

"I…I am so weak.  I should not have tried this so soon," she whispered in defeat, waiting for the scornful words that were sure to come from the Potions Master.

"For your first time, you have done remarkably well, Miss Granger.  You were able to think on your feet and try different spells in an effort to repel me.  This, in itself, is better than what I usually encounter with the other dunderheads I teach."

Hermione wiped her eyes and looked at Professor Snape in amazement.

"10 points to Gryffindor, Miss Granger," he stated.  "If only for proving yourself not to be a dunderhead."

She smiled weakly at him.  "I wish you hadn't seen that, Professor."

He sighed.  "We all have secrets, Miss Granger.  Learning to protect these secrets from those with whom you are not prepared to share them is important, particularly if you wish to take a prominent role within the Order," he replied.

"I do," she affirmed.

"Then I will see you again next week at the same time," he stood up and offered his hand to assist her.

"Professor?"

"Yes, Miss Granger," he replied as he returned the desks and chairs to their original position.

"She is very lovely…the woman in the mirror."

For a moment, Professor Snape looked at her intently.  She could see fear, anger and something unidentifiable in his eyes.  

"Did you see her?" He asked.

"No," she admitted.  "Only a vague outline…but I felt your feelings.  You care for her deeply."

"I will see you next week, Miss Granger," he said as he returned to the cupboard in which he had placed his Pensieve.

Hermione took this as her invitation to leave.  She scurried through the corridors and quickly found herself in her own bed, listening to the quiet breathing of her dorm-mates.

She had survived her first lesson and had succeeded in hiding her dreams from him…dreams of a long corridor and a man who waited for her in a classroom.  A man who watched her from behind a large book…a partner…in work and life…someone who loved her but she did not know who he was…his features hidden by shadows and distorted by light…if only she could get close enough to know who he was…

*        *        *        *        *        *

In the abandoned classroom, Professor Snape was still sitting on one of the desks, staring at the still-open door with a thoughtful expression.   He turned to look at the Pensieve, on the desk next to him, with its memories swirling like liquid glass.  Hesitantly, he used his wand to select the strand he had just added and watched as it took shape…a young woman with bushy hair, inquisitive eyes and a very Gryffindor heart…the woman from the mirror…

"Yes, Hermione, she is very lovely indeed," he murmured.  "And I care for her more than I ever dare tell."

Quietly, he returned the memories to their rightful place and, picking up the Pensieve, left the classroom.

"I shall have to be more careful next time," he thought to himself.

A/N:  While I realize Hermione did not actually ever see the Mirror of Erised, I am reasonably certain she read about it somewhere.