The Mirror Crack'd

Part 9

This was his last visit to St. Mungo's. He was returning a selection of books and equipment that Healer Granger had thrust upon him over the course of their working relationship.

When he got there, however, it was with no small amount of surprise that he noticed there were no candles lit in her office—that it was shrouded in darkness. Briggs noticed the direction of his stare and sucked in a breath.

'Healer Granger's taking a few days' leave,' the apothecary commented. 'We all thought it best, really. She hasn't seemed herself lately.' His voice lowered conspiratorially. 'Word has it she apparently she lost her temper with the directors. We haven't seen her since.'

Severus fought not to display any sign that he was bothered by this. Instead, he simply raised his eyebrows as if to say, 'What the deuce is it to me?'

'Her office is open, if you want to leave the books on her desk.'

He went in and set the books down. Looking around the deserted office, he thought of Briggs' words and wondered if she'd been forced to take leave. Was taking on Skele-Gro really such a problem? No, something else clearly had to be bothering her. He didn't like her recent behaviour with him. He didn't like her detachment; her unsettling air of preoccupation; her choice of conversation. He was afraid as to what it all might add up to.

He looked out, beyond, and saw that Briggs had gone to attend to his duties. Turning back to Healer Granger's desk and, though it was an undeniable breach of privacy, he began scanning the contents of it, hoping to find a clue as to her trouble. His hand hesitated before turning to the drawers, but he opened them one by one, only glancing into them briefly. There was nothing of interest until he reached the bottom drawer. When he pulled it open there commenced a loud rattling noise, and he looked downwards, mouth opening in surprise when he saw the tiny pieces of smashed mirror scattered within the drawer. He touched them lightly with his fingers, knowing instinctively that they were not the pieces of any ordinary mirror. He might very well be surprised, but events were making unsettling sense.

He shoved the drawer shut and marched straight out, Apparating as soon as he could to her house and knocking on her door. There was no reply. He couldn't say precisely what led him to his next move, but before he could determine his line of reasoning, he was standing in front of the gates to Hogwarts. Then he was taking the steps two at a time, up the Grand Staircase, up to the third floor. And then he was looking down at the trapdoor, the foreboding that had been lurking within him for some time pushing through his body to leave him tingling expectantly.

He finally allowed himself to speculate what he had striven to avoid—that she might be in the same trouble he'd once been in. Not stopping to dwell on the potential frailties of his theory—the real possibility he'd conjured this all in his head—he opened the trapdoor and lowered himself downwards. As silently and as quickly as he could, he passed through the each of the chambers, keeping his mind from hurtling towards unfounded conclusions, until he reached the final, cavernous room. A significant part of him hoped this would prove to be a fool's errand, but standing where his wall of flames had once burned, his breathing faltered as he stared down at the sight of Hermione Granger, Healer Granger, sitting cross-legged in front of a half-restoredMirror of Erised.

He stared incomprehensibly at the mended glass, still missing large fragments—the pieces he'd once disposed of. He stared unseeingly at the back of her head as she thumbed through a book in her lap.

'Show me my heart's desire,' she muttered to herself. 'We don't want his. Not red hair. Not green eyes. Ah...'

He watched in a daze as she raised her wand and started mumbling quietly in Latin.

'What... What on earth are you doing?' he asked in soft surprise, fearing what might happen if her spell, whatever spell it was, succeeded.

She yelped immediately and shot to her feet, spinning around with her wand outstretched. 'What are you doing here?' she stammered, flushing brick red.

He crossed right over to her. 'What are you doing with this mirror?' he asked more forcefully this time, half wanting to grab her arm and fling her out of the way.

Unable to prevent himself from doing so, he looked into the mirror. His stomach clenched at what he saw.

'What do you see in the mirror, Severus?' she rasped weakly, closing her eyes. 'Tell me.' Her breath was coming in laboured movements, and then, resignedly, she was slowly turning her face back to the glass.

He didn't need to force himself to return his eyes to the mirror, the patchy surface of it, but he swallowed down the trepidation that stung sharply in his throat.

'I see me,' he began unsteadily. 'And I see you...'

She seemed to deflate next to him; droop like a wilted flower.

He saw them both, it was true. But not as they were, standing there together. He didn't need to point that out to her, he felt.

'I thought you might,' she whispered. 'I'd hoped to see it for myself.'

He looked, almost in horror, at the effort she'd made to repair the mirror to its original state. And the book, he knew, would contain some enchantment she thought might assist her in re-establishing the mirror's true purpose. And all to see her heart's desire... What he could see, but she could not.

He didn't ask what she saw in the mirror. The terrible reality was falling into place around him. Red hair and green eyes, she'd said to herself. Still her, then. Still Lily.

He looked to his side, watching in involuntary fascination as she looked down at a lock of her brown, frizzy hair and then to the mirror. She pulled a curl taut, so that it was straight, and there was a dissatisfied frown on her face.

'What are doing?' he spat roughly, wanting to take her chin and turn it from the mirror, whilst trying to grasp what it meant that seeing the reflection of Lily Potter would cause her so much pain.

She sank to the floor suddenly and crossed her legs, bowing her head. She chuckled and shook her head. 'You must think I'm a right nutter.'

Severus glanced at the mirror and years of mental anguish flashed before him. 'Hardly that,' he murmured pensively, deciding also to sit down and keep his eyes from the scene unfolding in the mirror.

And it was she who had conjured his image in the mirror as, deep down, he had already come to realise.

There was a feeling of stunned amazement he hadn't felt in a long time, if, indeed, he had ever. He wasn't flattered. He wasn't overjoyed. He wasn't grateful. He wasn't even uncomfortable. He was crushed with an overwhelming dismay that he had, however inadvertently, caused her hurt. She'd seen Lily in the mirror, and as much as he had hated himself over the years for his continued preoccupation with her, he felt that hate suddenly intensify within him, to the point where he thought he felt physical pain.

'I'm sorry...' he let out in a dazed breath.

He'd been sorry, in more ways than one, many times in his life to know the truth of it when it hit him. And it had done so now; very squarely in the chest, it seemed. He'd never considered, never allowed in his wildest imagination, that it would be her... And yet, the truth of it hadn't been too far away, if he'd chosen to look properly.

She didn't look at him, but cleared her throat and said, 'Not your fault; it was mine for getting so wrapped up... You didn't force me to have feelings for you. And I suppose I've always been a bit intrigued by the mirror. I'd never seen it before, and I wondered—was tempted by the idea of it giving me clarity when I realised I needed it. When I was working with Poppy, I snuck down here, only to find it was in smithereens. I was disappointed; I took a piece away with me and I don't know why I did.'

Severus watched her look at her hands, thinking on how familiar this tale was.

'Bit of a shock, I grant you, when I looked into it one day to check my hair, only to find Lily Potter had hi-jacked my reflection.' An ironic smiled curved around her mouth. 'I couldn't help but be fascinated, despite the reality of the situation, that you still felt so strongly for her... And I was sure the reason I could see her was to do with you. Who else could it be?'

He clenched his hands into fists, thinking about all the times he had seen his alter-ego in the mirror, while she, somewhere, had been looking at Lily.

Her voice became faraway. 'But the more I thought on it, the more I began to feel as if she was something for me to strive towards—wondering if it had got so bad that my deepest desire, actually, was to... be her. Be like her. Look like...'

She broke off awkwardly, and he was glad. It disturbed him to imagine how she had become to be haunted as he. He felt anger with himself. Frustrated that he still hadn't managed to move on. He knew what it was to see the person you... cared about have eyes only for another. He knew how the inadequacy felt; how the injustice pricked at you irritably; and how the discontent gnawed away. He hated that he could have inspired those feelings

Her eyes lifted to the mirror again and his anger surged through him potently.

'Stop thinking about her!' he snapped suddenly, causing her to jump.

Embarrassed, she wiped her hands on her robes and struggled to her feet. 'Sorry; should have known I wasn't worthy enough to even—'

Hardly knowing what he was doing, he was on his feet, taking several swift steps forward to block her path to the stairs. And when she made to force her way past, he clasped her arm. He felt it tremble beneath his hand again; not from fright, but from something else entirely, and he knew precisely what it was this time. Whatever he wanted to say dissolved on his tongue when he saw her eyes shone with sadness.

'I don't spend my thinking about her,' she muttered stubbornly. 'I spend my time thinking about you.' She heaved a great sigh. 'And maybe you thinking about her,' she added deprecatingly.

He should let her go, he knew. But he felt overwhelmed; fascinated by the depth of her feeling. This was another new side to her. Her face was turned downwards, and he was quite sure he was poised on the edge of some unknown precipice he wanted no other choice but to step off. He touched her chin and there was that flinch again. He probably had never done anything so brash as he did so now, when he kissed her.

It didn't last very long. She reared back, blushing bright red. 'Don't.'

He heard her, but ignored her, wanting only to recapture that peculiar tingling feeling he'd just experienced. However, she shook her head forcefully and he let his hand fall back to his side reluctantly.

Next thing he knew, she was snatching it back in hers, whilst a lone tear fell down her cheek. It should have been foreboding enough for him, but he chose to ignore it, fascinated, again, by the depth of her emotion. She dropped his hand again and swiped at her face, looking angry with herself.

A sense of what he was doing and the wrongness of it was beginning permeate through his single-minded focus on her nearness, and he thought he should retreat. He was prepared to do just that. She was upset; it seemed even to him that he could be taking advantage. And maybe she read that resolve in his face, for something spurred her into throwing her arms about him with a small whimper and kissing him so hard he might have winced, were it not for the fact that he didn't care how hard she hurt him as long as she stayed right where she was.

She was evidently stronger than he was. He pulled away when he thought his lungs were going to burst, but she hurried backwards, breathing heavily.

'No,' she gasped harshly. 'You want a palliative for... her and I won't be one.'

She looked almost relieved at her declaration; surprised, but pleased, with the strength of a resolve she, perhaps, had feared might not be available to her. This was to be the difference between them, he noted. He felt she would be able to face the truth and walk away and move on in the way he had never been able to do so. He would have been pathetic enough to take whatever scraps he could get.

A person could say he was acting to assuage his own guilt. They could say he was naïve enough to think this a good idea—to give her the attention he'd never received in his own misery all those years ago. They could think him disgustingly and stupidly patronising, he thought.

And yet, he couldn't kid himself. In amongst his much confused and conflicting feelings, he knew he did care about her in a way that was real. It was real because he could feel it when he looked at her. It was real because he felt faintly sick when he contemplated how she thought he could use her in such a way.

She did not yet know the proper truth.

'I don't want a palliative. I don't even need a cure.'

Her mouth turned downwards in disagreement, eyes on the floor, but he liked that she no longer looked sure of herself.

'I once said that I didn't care,' he began awkwardly. 'Made out there was no room left in me, but that's not strictly true—'

She shook her head, finally looking at him. 'Please don't feel you have to say these things. It's fine; I'll be fine. I know where I stand; I always did,' she stated without bitterness. 'I know where you stand. This was just the last vestiges of... folly, let us say. Please let us forget about it.'

'No.'

'I'm a big girl, you know. Can't really blame you if you wish I was... someone else...' She broke off, a look of significant consternation on her face. 'You don't have to apologise.'

He felt a sickly stab of indignation. What kind of a man did she think he was? 'You're wrong,' he pressed. 'I don't look at you and wish... Imagine that you are... her. You've become...' he groped around for the right word, 'special—'

To his surprise, she groaned loudly and put a hand over her face. 'Oh Merlin,' she exclaimed, shaking her head dismally. 'I expect that sort of trite crap off most men, but not off you.'

His offence now increased tenfold and he stared at her, embarrassed. His silence seemed to throw her and she uncovered her eyes to fold her arms across her stomach in that defensive gesture again.

'Severus...' she whispered pointedly, 'she's standing right behind me.'

Unbidden, he felt his blood chill as he looked past her into the mirror, but it was empty to him. It would always be empty to him. He took out his wand, stepping past her and flinging the hardest spell he could think of at the mirror. The jet of light hit the glass and propelled the mirror backwards at speed. He felt only satisfaction at the clattering and splintering noise that reverberated around the chamber as the mirror crashed to the floor. He sent another jinx at the glass for good measure. And another. And another.

Hermione yelped in astonishment. 'What are you doing?' she cried.

'What I should have done the first time I smashed the mirror,' he murmured raggedly, looking with triumph at the now useless, tiny splinters of the Mirror of Erised. The only thing he ever wanted to see in any mirror ever again was his own reflection. Nothing more.

She moved to inspect the mess more closely and he took umbrage at her dumbstruck expression.

'Don't tell me you wanted to preserve it? After all the misery it caused? After the centuries of misery it caused?'

'Well...' she stuttered uncertainly, 'I'm just not sure that—'

'It's a mirror. It shouldn't have a hold over anyone, but it's had one over me for too long. And you; you've allowed it to plague you as well.'

She looked from the mess to him, shrugging her shoulders sadly. 'But it showed us the truth...' she offered softly.

Those simple words focused his mind. The truth was it? 'Tell me, what was Lily doing when you saw her in the mirror? How was she?'

She blanched at his line of questioning. 'She was just... there...'

He approached her determinedly. 'So what is there to say the reason she is there is because I am still in love with her?' It made his blood curdle to talk about himself in this manner, but he couldn't see any other way. 'She might be there because I wish for her approval, or for her forgiveness, or for her... pride... Or because I wish I could have saved her that night...'

'Are you saying you aren't in love with her, then?'

He tried to pretend he hadn't heard the pang of doubt in her voice. 'The only person who can tell you why she was in the Mirror of Erised is me. I am saying that yes, I am not in love with her in that way anymore.'

He'd never said that out loud and, for a brief moment, he feared there would be a flare of indignation in his chest, revealing to himself that his words were wrong. Or he would be struck down for uttering something that seemed so blasphemously a lie. But there was nothing, of course, because it wasn't a lie. He saw that she remained unmoved, however, and he clenched his jaw, feeling a wave of irritation over the fact he clearly wasn't getting his point across.

'You're not willing to consider the possibility that my feelings could change?'

'In theory, it's possible,' she commented with a nod. 'But the reality of a twenty-five year or more precedence tells me something else.'

Sighing, he turned away and kicked some of the glass that had scattered across the floor. He rubbed a hand over his face. It wasn't as though he could dispute her logic. And it wasn't as though he couldn't understand it as a basis for reservation, but the need to justify himself rose so swiftly in him that it took him a couple of moments to form his thoughts into words.

'Isn't it any wonder it lasted that long?' he asked finally. 'When was I supposed to let it go? When I inadvertently caused her death? When I threw in my lot with Dumbledore and had to find the inspiration to bide my time indefinitely? Or maybe I should have let go of her when I had to face her son day in, day out? What have I had in my life to replace her? There was nothing preventing me from living in the past. Doesn't mean I wanted to, though. Tell me... You tell me what I should have done differently.'

She looked away uncomfortably. 'I don't know...' she admitted quietly.

So she didn't know any better than him. Maybe it was his own fault for letting himself get so entangled in the past, but it did not preclude that he might not finally be able to let it go. That's what he'd been striving for in recent years. Didn't that say a lot in itself?

'I've been trying...' he began, but cut himself off. Maybe she would say he hadn't tried hard enough. Maybe she would say he'd been deluding himself into thinking he wanted to let go, only because he thought he should. He decided, then, to push aside his pride and be rather more forthright. 'Could you trust me when I say that when I look at you, I have no thought for her?'

She looked downwards, unable to meet his eyes, and he felt a pang of hurt. It seemed to be an impasse between them, because he could not think of anything more to say. Could not think of anything more to do. The irony she didn't realise, of course, was that he would not go home and think of Lily; he would go home and be unable to think of anything but her. He sighed, knowing he was defeated.

'Maybe it's just gratitude,' she ventured softly. 'You've never seemed to have much interest in me at all. And now you're renouncing a near life-long devotion to proclaim allegiance to me?' She laughed quietly.

'Haven't you listened to a word I've said?' he hissed. 'I've been waiting years for a...'

He paused; at a loss. He took a look at her and she was completely still; what she was thinking about, he could not guess. Her gaze was directed at the mess of the mirror and he followed it to the glittering pile of broken glass. Deep resentment bubbled in his stomach and he scowled, longing to take a hand, scoop up the glass and throw it impotently.

'You will only accept magical proof, will you?' he found himself spitting out angrily. 'I've destroyed the mirror. As an alternative then, perhaps you'd like to accept my feelings only when my Patronus has changed?'

Her eyes snapped up and widened as he conjured his Patronus; the silver doe leapt sprightly into being.

'Oh, well, that must mean I'm still obsessed with her, doesn't it? That I can't look at another woman without seeing her!'

She watched the doe for some time, before uttering a quiet 'No.'

'And why's that?'

'Because... my Patronus hasn't changed.'

'There's still always good old-fashioned Legilimency. Do you want to take a look inside my mind and determine for yourself whether my feelings for you are real? Perhaps we could make it a regular thing? Once a month, we can check the integrity of each other's thoughts and desires. Makes you wonder how the hell Muggles ever sustain relationships, doesn't it?'

His sudden turn into flippancy she appeared not to appreciate. Still, he sensed she understood the point well enough, but she continued to say nothing. He took a step towards her. 'Veritaserum...?' he suggested tiredly, feeling he was treading too close to desperation for it to be borne.

She shook her head silently.

'Or you could just...' He clasped her wrist and brought her hand to touch his chest where his heart pounded against his ribs. He felt embarrassed then and stepped away, surprised by the depth of his conviction.

'No... I agree,' she said eventually, nodding. 'It's no way to function—using Magical means to provide evidence of feeling. It's no use being in a relationship without faith or trust.'

He steeled himself for one last try. 'I know that I can love her differently. She was my friend and I bear some responsibility for her death. That is something I shall never renounce. If you will always doubt me...'

He waited with bated breath, afraid to anticipate what her next words might be. He felt some of the tension drain from him when he detected in her eyes that her resolve was pliable, and the challenge to bend it in the right direction suddenly thrilled him. It was increasing confidence that inspired this thrill; confidence in knowing his own feelings and the realisation that this was one worthy cause he'd be well off pursuing.

He stepped right up to her and she stiffened, her arms immediately coming up to fold across her body; a gesture full of defiance. He almost felt like mimicking her posture, but teasing her at this juncture, he felt, would do him no good.

'You saw Lily in the mirror, but everything else you created up here.' He pointed a hand to her head, appraising her pensively. 'Like I have done, far too often over the years.'

She exhaled lengthily, turning to look at the mass of glass on the floor.

'How could you be a palliative?' He raised his eyebrows in challenge when she glanced his way. 'How could you be second-best to something that never existed?' Despite her stance, she let him lean in close to her as he continued. 'I never had such conversations with her as I have with you. Never had such shared experience. Never held her. Never kissed her...'

Their lips touched briefly and he watched her to gauge her reaction. Her eyes bored into his and they were oddly gentle as her hands grasped his face and she whispered, 'But how many times did you imagine it, Severus?'

He was immobilised for several moments, and any confidence that had burst within him dissipated. When he regained his presence of mind, he stepped backwards. She could not see beyond Lily's shadow, that much was clear. She could not trust him, after all. He thought he'd understood how she must feel, but clearly, he had no idea. He'd always considered it was for people like him to be filled with crippling self-doubt; people who wouldn't know self-esteem if it hit them in the face. Not a bright young thing like her.

'Your resolve does you credit,' he mused thoughtfully. 'But where has your faith in yourself gone? You let her trample all over it without resistance. It is this inconsistency that I regret most and understand least. What happened to confident, determined Healer Granger who decided she could convince a board of sceptics to take me on? The woman who decided she could be the youngest Healer to ever run her own department?'

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and looked mournfully at the floor, saying nothing. Thinking there was precious little left to say, he turned on his heel to step up the stairs. When he'd moved through the archway, he heard her footsteps sounding loudly behind him. He hesitated, wondering at her haste, but she did not stop, only tugged at his sleeve for him to continue onwards.

It was only when the trapdoor came into sight that she slowed and released him. Her shoulders relaxed with a sigh, no doubt grateful to be out of that chamber. Neither of them made any move to open the trapdoor, however. She stood there indecisively, watching him, and he waited for her to stir into life. When she finally did, she appeared to struggle for a moment to set on the right words.

'Healer Granger was undone by a depth of feeling she hadn't felt before,' she said, her mouth quirking a little self-consciously.

He said nothing, able to tell she wasn't finished articulating her contemplations.

'In the past, I have enjoyed flattering myself that I know you. And if it's true, I should know not to dismiss sentiment when it comes from you ...' She eyed him with uncertainty. 'I'm not sure I want to be strong, because I fear, in this case, it might prove to be a synonym for stupid.'

It wasn't exactly the firm response he would have liked. Yet, he understood it. He knew better than anyone that worries and doubts and feelings cannot just be turned off and forgotten about.

'Perhaps it might help if we... start off at scratch?' she suggested tentatively. 'I'd like to try that.'

Only a fool, he was sure, would turn his nose up at the chance she proposed. A chance to prove to her, and also to himself, that he was capable of moving on. And there would be no interference from any quarter this time. It would just be himself and he would ensure it would be enough.

Without waiting for a reply, she turned away to flick her hair back from her face, smoothed down the front of her robes with her palms, and blew out a long breath as she faced him once more, looking the epitome of business-like.

'Hermione Granger,' she stated boldly, holding out her hand. 'Lovely to meet you.'

He stared at her hand, somewhat amused by her antics, before looking up and becoming gratified to see a reciprocal trace of amusement in her expectant countenance.

'Severus Snape,' he replied, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips. 'A pleasure.'

She smiled, tentatively at first, but it grew in strength. 'Good... Very good,' she murmured, as if confirming to herself she was doing the right thing. He knew she was, and eventually, she would not doubt it, either.

They both breathed out in relief as they moved up through the trapdoor and shut it fast behind them.

As they walked through the castle, to the Entrance Hall and beyond, he glanced at her several times, unsure of what to say while all that talk from in the chamber echoed around his head. He did not want to dwell on it, however, and he wanted to ensure she did not, either. He thought it high time they both regained some equilibrium.

'Now, then,' he murmured. 'What's this I hear about you being forced to take leave from work?'

She shot him a scandalised expression. 'I wasn't forced!' She groaned loudly. 'That's the rumour going round the office, is it? Bloody great!'

She grumbled under her breath about how Brigg's could look out when she returned and how she would prove to them all that she wasn't, actually, losing the plot.

When, later, he took his shard of the Mirror of Erised and stamped his foot on it, he was sure, for once, that he wasn't losing the plot, either. Healer Granger, Hermione, smiled as she Banished the fragments into nothingness. The small action resonated within him as though he were being released from a stronghold, admittedly, of his own making, and where she, not Lily, might help him finally fulfil a potential he'd once, many years ago, secretly always imagined himself as having.


FIN

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed it. Apologies for the delay on my other stories. I hope to update them soon.