Continuing Tales

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 13 of 27

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Heart Over Mind

In the whole of magical Britain, there were few who understood potions as intricately as Severus Snape. To most wizards and witches, the creation of potions was simply the business of tossing a few ingredients together in such a way that its recipe was fulfilled and the desired result was achieved. On par, it rated slightly above many home-witches' cooking styles where stews came into being through a hodgepodge of available materials and with little actual thought into the process other than to hasten its completion.

Severus Snape had always disliked the analogy between potions-making and cookery. To equate the two was to simplify his trade to such a degree that it lost the complexity which had won it the name of "art" centuries earlier. If -- and only under the most dire circumstances -- Snape was forced to concede the similarities between cookery and potions-making, he preferred to liken the latter more to the methodical nature of baking than to the willy-nilly creation of simmering stews and sauces. At least in the realm of baking, a similar sort of process was discernible: the need to follow precisely the steps as outlined by the masters, for only was a master's knowledge of all the assorted nuances capable of creating the precise outline of instruction; a thorough understanding of the subtle interactions and reactions which each separate ingredient brought to the outcome, knowing innately each part's hinting flavors and how it would add to the overall taste; and a standard for excellence that believed that only the best and more pristine ingredients would make for a superior product.

Most witches and wizards rarely took the time to learn about the minute reactions between ingredients which happened on the most fundamental level of potions preparation; they never actually understood that the magic of the potion wasn't simply created from the correct mixtures of parts to form a whole, but that its magic was the culmination of dozens of different threads of magic twisting together under ideal circumstances to create something stronger and more powerful than themselves. And it was this omission which caused them to never fully understand the importance of ingredients in their collection, containment and use.

Severus Snape, however, did.

He understood the importance of proper ingredient management and on a much more intricate level than most apothecaries who sold them or reapers who harvested them. There was a magic in each leaf, twig and berry -- and it was a magic which needed to preserved and contained in order to keep the ingredients at their most potent.

It was this depth of understanding on the magical qualities and nature of potions ingredients which drove Snape to his tasks of herb-gathering on Midsummer Night.

Of the ingredients he used which were grown, Snape relied on a combination of his own limited gardening abilities and the spoils of Professor Sprout and the efforts of her most advanced students. However, there were still some ingredients which could only be found in the wild or whose otherwise mundane magic was strengthened by growing in the fringe of non-magical thickets which skirted around the Hogwarts lake, as if the woods' vicinity to so strong a source of visceral magic as the Forbidden Forest heightened its own.

Seated in his dimly lit office after having left Miss Granger in the outside courtyard, Snape delicately lifted a large curved blade from its chamois wrappings, carefully maneuvering its sharp razor-edge away from his fingers. He inspected its hooked edge critically, the fingers on one hand tracing along its flat planes in search of invisible nicks on the yellowish metal which might mar its smooth surface. Satisfied that none could be found to spoil its pristine state, Snape gently lowered the blade into the protections of the leather, then studied it for a moment, quietly contemplating on which of the numerous spells at his disposal would work most effectively on the pliant material.

With his ebony wand in hand, Snape was in the action of flicking his wand wrist to began a spell when the door of his office creaked open with no warning. Without waiting for the massive door to reveal his visitor, Snape sighed as he laid away his wand. "Good afternoon, Headmaster. Is there something else you required?"

Even as he spoke, Dumbledore appeared, politely closing the door behind him as he stepped into the office. "And a good afternoon to you, as well, Severus," Dumbledore answered, his age-worn face much less troubled beneath his great long beard than it had been hours before when he'd received Snape's report from his latest mission. As always, the information -- as well as the method through which it had been obtained -- left a cloud darkening over the venerable wizard's face, as if only in those moments did the burden of his age, experience and knowledge fully weigh on him.

However, that weight seemed to have vanished; the headmaster appeared to be in his usual, subduely cheerful mood, gliding in his sky-blue robes across the cold floor and seating himself with the unaffected air of someone who'd actually been invited into the room.

Snape rolled his eyes at the subtle sarcasm. "As I said, headmaster, is there something else you require? Otherwise, I have a number of items left on my agenda to complete before nighttide."

"I am aware of your plans tonight," Dumbledore reminded him gently. "They are, in fact, why I have stopped by. It is not I who require anything; however, I do believe you are in need of help for your gathering this evening? I've been informed that you've yet to arrange with the house elves how many of their hands you will need to help you with your tasks."

The dark-haired man had lowered his eyes back to the shimmering blade, still searching its edge for imperfections. "I have no use for house elves this year, Albus -- but thank you for your inquiry."

Dumbledore's eyes rose into the white fringe of his hair. "Oh? You've found a way to do it by yourself, then?"

"I have done no such thing," Snape replied coolly, his attention divided between the conversation and the blade. He flicked his wand with a precise snapping of his wrist, conjuring a small square of cloth which danced in mid-air for an instant before he caught it. He neatly folded the butter-soft swatch before slowly dragging the downy material down the length of the chine. "I have merely arranged for an alternate source of help."


"I have arranged for Miss Granger to aid me this evening. I have no doubt that she'll be able to perform the house elves' task with little problem. It is but a small recompense for having had to deal with her this summer."

"Oh, I see," Dumbledore murmured, his eyes crinkling behind the half-moon spectacles in a way which meant that there was a smile tugging at his mouth underneath the beard. "I didn't realize that you had arranged this with Miss Granger. I wish you'd had mentioned it to me before leaving on I would have never troubled the house elves on the subject, had I known."

"I could not have told you before leaving, as I only arranged for her help earlier this afternoon when I happened upon her," Snape explained, the cloth now moving in small polishing circles.

"Ah, of course. I should have realized that you would have immediately visited your laboratory after our conversation. Miss Granger has spent a great deal of time there this summer. It's little wonder that you saw her."

He shook his head absently. "I did go by the laboratory; however, that was not where I saw Miss Granger. I found her in one of the courtyards, reading."

"Reading?" There was a mischievous edge to the headmaster's voice as he made the innocent inquiry. Had Snape not been preoccupied with the hooked blade, his well-trained ears would have caught it.

"Yes, reading -- an author by the name of Camus. Muggle, of course. Seems to be quite popular with her mother."

"Well, now...I see." The headmaster settled against the chair's stiff back, his eyes sparking behind his spectacles and his face the picture of someone immensely satisfied with himself. "I must say that I'm glad to see that you and Miss Granger are getting on so well. It's nice that the two of you have become friends. "

"I beg your pardon?" Snape's dark head snapped up, the cloth abandoned as he eyed the headmaster in surprise. "I do not recall saying such a thing, at all."

"Yes, but --"

"Just because I have accepted her help in this manner does not mean that I can do more than tolerate her existence. In fact, had I more options of aid than mere house elves, she would not be assisting me this evening. However, she does have more intelligence than the elves, if only just."

"Severus," Dumbledore chided, not having lost his spark -- much to Snape's irritation. "Are you certain that's the only reason? Of course she's more intelligent than a house-elf but...I daresay that I noticed that the two of you have spent a great deal of time together this summer. I had assumed that perhaps there had developed a friendship of some kind between the two of you."

"I find her less annoying than I did when she was a student," he admitted shortly. Snape paused in his reply to tap the cloth with his wand once more to see it transform into a long, rough-grained whetstone. He rose from his chair and grabbed the blade by its rounded end with one hand and the whetstone in the other. Angling the blade, he slid the stone along its sharp edge, the friction creating a satisfyingly grating sound. "However, I do not -- at all -- consider this development grounds for use of the term "friendship." It's ridiculous."

Dumbledore noted the tight lines creasing the young professor's face, the deep-set frown which spoke of some hidden tension. "So, you aren't the least bit fond of her, even after all this time?"

With the lightning reflexes which served him so well in the espionage profession, Snape had the tip of the scythe blade dangerously close to the headmaster's nose. "Albus -- pardon me but I am very...busy trying to prepare for this evening's gathering," he ground out from behind clenched teeth. "If you would be so kind...close the door on your way out." Snape lowered the golden hook into position for the whetstone's application, never once lifting his eyes from the stone which he held steady.

Recognizing the blatant dismissal, Dumbledore quietly left Snape to his business in the dimly lit office, shutting the door softly behind him in his wake. Once out of the professor's presence, the seasoned wizard tried little to stem the -- only slightly smug -- smile which had been threatening to engulf his face since the conversation had began.

Humming softly to himself, Albus left the dungeons, the merry tune on his lips a symbol of the burgeoning hope in his old heart.


For reasons which he were unable to delineate, Snape was unaccustomedly vexed by his enigmatic discussion with the headmaster. While nothing discussed was of import and while irritation with Dumbledore had become a daily occurrence during his tenure at Hogwarts, he could find nothing within the discussion which warranted such a strong reaction. So the headmaster had been trying -- as usual -- to force him into making nice with Granger, no doubt in some misguided Dumbledorian attempt at helping him. Over the years, Snape had learned deftly how to escape unscathed from the headmaster's often lavish "good intentions."

So why did this instance bother him so?

Snape did not know and he had no intention of trying to decipher his superfluous reactions to Dumbledore's questioning -- at least not at that moment in time. If he chose to indulge in that brand of searching self-analysis, the only person who would suffer from the foul mood it'd create in him was Hermione and, his adamant declarations to the contrary, Snape was intelligent enough to admit that he rather enjoyed her company, enjoyed it to the point where he did not want to needlessly offend her.

He enjoyed her company and, in some small way, he cared about her well-being.

As Snape stepped into the rosy light of the late sun with his arms laden with herb-gathering gear, those two sentiments were all that he was willing to admit in connection to how he felt about Hermione Granger. As inadequate as the short declarations might have seemed -- even to himself -- they were the only ones which he could whole-heartedly accept without having a strange uncomfortable feeling sweep over him.

And in his opinion, it was enough.

And then something very strange and very commonplace happened: Snape finally caught notice of Hermione as she sat on the lower steps, obviously waiting for him. He was still several meters away from her and he stopped, almost gutted by a sudden realization.

He thought that she was beautiful.

It was an absurd thought, really. He knew it, even as he thought it. He'd seen Hermione Granger on infinite number of occasions; he'd become extremely familiar with how she appeared, having lain eyes on her almost daily for seven years when she'd paraded her intelligence and goody-goody attitude through his Potions classroom. And yet, Snape could not help but feel as if he'd never truly seen her before that moment. It reminded him of that morning two springs before when he'd found her in the courtyard, only to be struck by a different-ness in her countenance. Now that small difference which had first caught his attention was manifold, magnified until it was indelible.

The logical workings of his mind -- so sharp and quick -- noted the factual elements of the scene: she sat on the gray steps, legs slightly bent as she rested them on the lowest of the stone rungs. She was leaning forward, elbows hovering close to her knees as her hands were busy, fingers combing through the impractical mass of hair which fell loosely around her face and spilling over one shoulder. Its ordinary brown color was lit to a burnished brilliance by the dying light of the Midsummer sun, the tangled mess more like flickering waves than the piles of unmanageable frizz he knew it to be.

And, there was her face -- slightly up-turned, eyes half-closed. Her face -- which he rationally knew to be rather ordinary -- was bathed in that sight-altering rose-lavender glow of setting sun and it was suddenly the loveliest thing he could ever recall seeing, from the rounded shape of her cheeks to the large, dark eyes and shadowed lashes.

She was dressed in blue, a color in which he'd rarely seen her. The blue sleeveless shirt and dark denim shorts were simple and serviceable attire, obviously Muggle in style and manufacture. Her arms and much of her legs were left bare, as well as her toes since she wore strappy leather sandals, also Muggle in origin.

It made no sense to Snape, this strange new idea that Hermione Granger was lovely; he was furiously trying to process it when her eyelids fluttered and she caught sight of him. She untangled one hand from her hair and raised it to motion to him in a wave of greeting.

With that action, the spell was broken and time began to move properly once more. The heartbreaking perfection of the rainbow-hewn sky began once more to ebb into the encroaching cool violet of night, shattering the tableau which had frozen Snape in his tracks. With little more than a stern shake of his head at his own absurdity, he gathered his wits about him, silently mocking himself for such an indulgence of folly as that moment had been.

But he still thought Hermione to be lovely.

As Snape marched over to where she waited, Hermione quickly finished plaiting her hair into a thick, low-lying braid, winding a long satin ribbon around its end to secure it. Once Snape had moved within earshot, she raised an eyebrow in question at the long object which rested against one shoulder.

"A scythe, Professor? Would not that be a more appropriate prop for Halloween?"

"Very droll, Miss Granger. Very droll," he said as he drew near her, the long snath of the edge tool clasped firmly in his hand. In the other, there was a flat, open basket woven from flexible reeds and something Hermione recognized as being made of sackcloth.

She nodded toward the impressive item, her idle hand twisting in the fluttering length of ribbon as she spoke. "What's it for, anyhow?"

"Do not worry yourself, Miss Granger. As it is most certainly not used to cleave wagging tongues from the mouths' of annoying young women, you have nothing to fear from it." He held out the basket and sackcloth. "These are your tools for the evening."

She took them without complaint but kept her eyes glued to the scythe. "No, really. What is the scythe for? that blade made of gold?"

He rolled his eyes. "Miss Granger, we will be collecting plants. How else do you expect to do that if there isn't some kind of harvesting apparatus involved?"

She shrugged, now eyeing the basket and sackcloth in her hands. "I didn't think much on it, actually. So, if the scythe's for cutting, what are these things for?"

"You'll use them to collect the herbs after they've been cut," he sighed, shaking his head. "Really, this isn't a very difficult concept. Perhaps I was mistaken this afternoon when I told the headmaster that you actually were more intelligent than a house-elf."

Hermione gave him a dark look, one which carried a hint of warning in it. She wanted to deliver a stinging reply but he stopped her with an equally quelling glare. "As much as I'm sure that I would have appreciated whatever you were about to say," he drawled sarcastically. "I think it's time we turn our attention to the matter at hand. Don't you?"

She agreed, hastily examining the tools she'd been given. Upon inspection, she realized that the sackcloth item wasn't simply made of sackcloth -- it was a sack or, more correctly, a large sling. It was made to loop over one shoulder and cut across her body diagonally where it hung low against the opposite hip, creating a cache in which she was to carry the harvested plants. It was a rather ingenious design, she admitted, but Hermione remained perplexed by the need for the basket even with it clutched in one hand as she followed Snape away from the school and down toward one of the patchesof trees which dotted the lake's far shore.

"You didn't answer my earlier question," Hermione reminded him, trying to match his long strides. "Is that blade made of gold?"

"It is," he affirmed. "The kind of cutting we'll -- or rather, I'll -- be doing is only to be done with a golden blade. Otherwise, the effectiveness of the plant is lost." He glanced down at her and, as if noticing the harried pace she'd assumed, he slowed. "You must follow my directions exactly on the proper way to harvest or else we'll have wasted our time."

"Don't worry, Professor," she assured him, a bit breathlessly. "If I learned nothing else in seven years' worth of Potions, it was to follow your directions exactly."

"Is that so?" Snape gave her a look which clearly communicated his doubt. He took gentle hold of her elbow, steering her toward a lonely copse of trees illuminated by the last few streaks of light in the western sky. "Somehow, I never came away from classes with that opinion."

Hermione's soft laughter echoed through the quiet air. "I said I learned it, Professor. I never said that I ever actually did as I was taught."

Once the pair moved into the forest, the remaining sunlight was swallowed by the tall trees in the throes of the summer bloom. Like living latticework, the reaching branches of the trees overlapped and interwined to create a seemingly continuous canopy over Hermione's head, the thinner and more tender leaves giving the golden light which passed through them an apple-green tinge. There were just enough tiny spaces in the branches' web to pepper light through the airy wood and Hermione was enchanted by the simple beauty of the small grove, taking a moment to enjoy the scenery even as she dutifully allowed Snape to lead her through the woods, his hand firmly clasped onto her arm.

It was a strange familiarity, she noted to herself. In all their years of acquaintance, Hermione could rarely remember Snape actually laying hands on her; since her seventh year, she could hardly recall more than five instances during which he'd voluntarily touched her. As uncommon as the occurrence was, it was one which Hermione welcomed.

Finally, once they were so deep into the trees that only a dusting of natural light lit their way, Snape stopped before a massive oak tree, one that looked as if it might have been there since the school's foundation. Hermione glanced up into its dense crown-spread appreciatively while Snapewalked around its perimeter, eyeing its spreading branches critically. She twisted the flexible basket in her hands, not entirely certain of what Snape was doing or why he was doing it. She was even less certain of what she was supposed to be doing.

Becoming awkward and uncomfortable in the idle silence, she cleared her throat. "Professor?"

He did not bother to glance at her as he answered. "Yes, Miss Granger?"

"If you'd give me some directions, I'd be glad to follow them," she said, making an open, sweeping gesture with her arms, the basket clutched tightly in one hand. "Or shall I continue standing here, doing nothing?"

"A bit of patience, if you please," Snape replied, casting one more critical eye up into the leaf-covered branches before pointing straight up into them. "Do you know what that is?"

To see the "that" to which he referred, Hermione moved in more closely, standing at his side as she peered up along the oak's trunk. About half-way up the tree's majestic height, she saw a rather odd-looking clump of foliage, yellowish in color with thick, leathery leaves. The cluster hung amid the oak's native leaves, a large fluffy mass of trailing stems which contrasted with the dark bark and deeper green of the natural foliage.

"No," she admitted, still looking up at the cluster as she readjusted the strap of the sling on her shoulder.

"That is mistletoe," Snape explained. "Oak mistletoe, to be precise. It cannot be cultivated by man and it's almost unheard of here in Scotland. has grown here for as long as I can remember."

"Is that what we've come to collect?" Hermione wanted to know.

"Indeed it is," he nodded. "Mistletoe is powerful in protective potions, works wonders in certain restorative draughts, and can be a very effective pain reliever. My stocks have been running low for months now. But tonight is the second best night for cutting mistletoe, only after Midwinter night."

"Hmmm," was Hermione's only reply as she lowered her eyes away from the high-hanging mistletoe. "So when go we begin?"

Snape gave her one of those half-amused, half-mocking slanted looks before reaching out to hand her the scythe. "Hold this, just for a moment. Do not allow the blade to touch anything," he warned.

Tucking her useless basket into her sling, Hermione took hold of the scythe's snath with the freed hand, watching curiously as Snape stepped away and shrugged off his dark robes which were followed quickly by his frock coat. Both items were lain carefully over the low-lying branch of a nearby tree. Now clad only in a pair of dark slacks and a long-sleeved white shirt, Snape rolled his sleeves back to his elbows before flinging an arm out to collect the scythe.

It was mid-way between that simple action when he stopped, suddenly yanking away from her as if he'd been burned. The sudden movement startled Hermione and she instinctively glanced down at his withdrawing hands, wanting to know what had caused such a violent reaction. But before he could get his left arm tucked away satisfactorily, she caught sight of what had bothered him.

The Dark Mark.

With his sleeves pushed up to a manageable position, his forearms were clearly visible, as was the darkly tattooed skull-and-snake symbol which marked one as a Death Eater.

As quickly as she'd looked upon it, Hermione looked away from the mark, her eyes darting up to meet Snape's -- eyes which were as dark and intense as she'd ever seen them. Everything stilled around them, the susurrus of the forest the only noise as they remained frozen, gazes locked together as if some kind of unspoken conversation were taking place between them.

Snape broke the stalemate by reaching across with his right hand to cover the offending mark with the crisp fabric of the shirt sleeve. However, Hermione's hand intercepted his: she tentatively laid her hand on his arm, her fingers brushing against the smooth skin of the tattoo. Where her eyes still met his, they grew flinty.

"I thought you wanted this back," she murmured, pulling her hand away from his arm while offering the scythe to him.

Snape nodded tightly, firmly taking hold of the snath. "Thank you," he told her, his voice unusually rough. He turned sharply and stalked toward the tree in typical Snape-fashion, although Hermione noticed much of the drama was lost without the robes swirling with him.

"I await your instruction, Professor," Hermione reminded him a moment later as she fished across in her empty sling for her basket. "And I am waiting to be told what to do with this thing."

"Over here," he instructed, pointing to a spot very close to where he stood and almost directly beneath where the mistletoe hung high in the oak branches. She complied, still mystified by what he planned for her to do, especially as she now stood so near him that she felt in danger of the blade he planned to use. Uneasy, she shifted her weight awkwardly on the heels of her feet.

"Now, Miss Granger, pay attention," Snape ordered, his voice very soft and very silky -- a deadly combination for Hermione's knees which already unsteady due to their close physical proximity. "I will use this" -- the scythe, of course -- "to cut away at the mistletoe. I'll need you to use that basket" -- apparently, not so worthless as she'd imagined -- "to catch the sprigs before they hit the ground. Once they touch the earth, they are useless. And do not even attempt to use magic on them; it will render them equally useless. Just try to catch them in the basket, then stow them in the sack. Do you understand?"

"Yes, of course. It has to be done the regular way," she answered absently, eyeing apprehensively the distance between the basket in her hands and the mistletoe while wondering in how straight a path the leaves would fall.

"The non-magical way," he corrected. "To some of us, it is not the "regular" way. Quite the opposite, in fact."

"Tut, tut, Professor. Your ethnocentrism is showing," she grinned.

Snape shot her another disapproving look but it was one she'd learned to ignore. "May we begin, Miss Granger? The light is failing fast."

She nodded her assent but opened her mouth to ask how he planned to do the cutting from the ground when his scythe was only as tall as he. She soon received her answer when the dark snath suddenly shot upwards, stretching its length to accommodate height at which the mistletoe clung to the oak. Snape held tightly to the scythe's stemmed grip and the end grip, directing its blade to slice at the hanging mistletoe. He buried the toe of the blade deep into the mass then pulled down on the blade in a precise movement which spoke of his deftness at handling the scythe.

Suddenly, Hermione felt herself being showered by the thick yellowy leaves; she lifted her wide, flat basket to catch as many of the falling leaves as she could but as many fell into her basket as did cling to her braided hair or waft further to the moss-colored ground. When the shower had stopped, her basket was piled high with sprigs and other bits of greenery.

Snape, still balancing the elongated scythe, watched her amusedly as she dumped her basket's contents into her sling and tried to pick the leaves out of her hair. "Have you the hang of it?"

"I think I've got it," she told him laughingly, tugging another bit of leaf from behind her ear. "Just stand under the mistletoe and let it fall over me. It's better than the last time I was under the mistletoe, at least."

"Last time? Do you make a habit of it?"

"It was Christmas at the Burrow and George Weasley spelled a bit of it to follow me around. By the end of the night, I'd been kissed by every male member of the Weasley family -- and some, more than once!"

"I apologize. If I'd realized that you had had such a traumatic experience with mistletoe, I'd have never dreamed of subjecting you to a situation which would remind you of it. I can scarce imagine the damage that's been done to you psyche."

Despite the ease of the task, the gathering moved at a slow, halting pace of cut-catch-cut-catch. Every time Snape slashed at the mistletoe, a cloud of it fell down on Hermione who tried her best to catch as she much as she could. They worked in companionable silence, although Hermione grumbled a few times when Snape seemed to deliberately pull a few more sprigs down on her head while she was busy emptying her basket.

"You did that on purpose," she accused him when she felt a dusting of leaf-bits stick in her hair.

Snape looked smugly condescending. "It's the law of nature, Miss Granger. Leaves fall out of trees. You can no more blame me for it than you can the changing of the seasons."

By this time, the light had long since faded and the forest was shrouded in darkness. So would they have been had Snape had not acted accordingly.

"We should have brought a lantern," Hermione fretted, knocking away a leaf clinging on the hem of her shirt. "I'm not so sure that I want you to be swinging a blade 'round me in pitch darkness."

"Calm yourself, Miss Granger," Snape assured her, almost amused. "I have no intention of hacking you to pieces in the dark."

He pulled his wand from his pocket and -- while impressively holding the scythe with only one hand -- cast a spell. "Scantilla!"

From the end of his wand, dozens of tiny glowing balls shot out, swirling lazily through the air until they were evenly spaced around Hermione, Snape and the tree, emitting enough soft light between their numbers that a halo of golden light surrounded them. It was as if an army of fireflies had gathered to give them light.

"How lovely," Hermione remarked as a few of the firefly-lights danced around her head.

When the next batch of mistletoe fell from the tree, the little lights swirled and zoomed about, as if tittering to themselves about the strange occurrence.

By the time Hermione's sling was full of leaves, a circle of missed mistletoe surrounded her feet and bits of it were still tangled in her hair. Many of the little lights had faded and the overall effect of their luminance had dimmed tremendously.

"That seems to be enough," Snape observed, watching as Hermione tried to stuff a few stray leaves into the bulging sack. "I think it's time we headed back to the castle."

"Sounds fine to me," she agreed, adjusting the sling until its heavier weight was better distributed. "I don't think I carry anymore as it is."

Snape nodded, and tapped the end grip of his scythe against the ground twice in rapid succession. As if obliging an order, the scythe pulled into itself until it had shrunk back to a six-feet height.

"Nice trick," Hermione remarked as Snape once again handed the scythe to her.

Snape pulled on his frock coat and robes, but did not bother to fasten the rows of buttons on his coat. "A simple set of spells placed on the wood during production," he explained breezily as he reclaimed it. "But, yes. It is a nice piece of craftsmanship."

"You didn't happen to make it yourself, did you?" Hermione asked, mischief brightening her voice. "Because I don't think I've ever heard you speak so highly or sound so pleased with anyone's work other than your own."

"No, I did not make it," he grumbled, his arm loosely around her back as he led her through the maze of trees. The little fire-fly lights which had not faded floated along with them, spinning through the air like their insect namesakes. "And if I've never spoken well of someone's work, it was merely because it deserved no such praise."

"Of course, that's the only reason," Hermione challenged playfully. "It has nothing to do with you being stubborn, condescending, spiteful and -- dare I say it? -- pretentious."

"I'm far from pretentious, Miss Granger," he rebuked smoothly. "I simply realize how capable I am and how incapable everyone else is."

"Of course," Hermione rolled her eyes. "It seems that I forgot delusional in that list."

Snape could not help but smirk. "I'll not argue the point with you."

"So, you admit you're delusional."

"No. I only mean to leave you to your own delusion."

"Hmph," Hermione replied indignantly as Snape chuckled at her obvious disapproval.

When they emerged from the clustered trees, the tiny lights disappeared, the last few that had remained with them flying away once the silvery light of the half-moon and stars lit their path. As they followed the line of the lake's shore toward the castle, Hermione noticed the breathtaking effect of the dazzling splash of stars spilling across the dark sky. There seemed to be so many of them here in the wilds of Scotland, but she realized that she'd simply forgotten how much of their light was blocked by the pollution of Muggle illumination sources. Even at Trinity, the university was so interwoven with the Muggle parts of the city that the sky was never as clear as it was at Hogwarts.

And enchanted light sources did not have the same effect on the night sky, as she'd learned in her one year of Muggle Studies. Therefore, the sky around Hogwarts was overflowing with sparkling pinpricks which spread across the blue in dizzying patterns.

Hermione smiled to herself as she appreciated the sky, suddenly reminded of a line from one of Maureen's favorite songs, one of the few lines not completely bungled by her American friend's atrocious singing and habit of spoonering words. "Like a diamond snake in a black sky," she said softly to herself, remembering the line fondly from one of those karaoke nights.

"Poetry? For me? I'm touched, Miss Granger," Snape deadpanned, glancing down at her in mocking amusement. "Extra points for including a serpent motif."

"Hmph," she said again, rolling her eyes. "It's not poetry and most certainly is not for you. Actually, it's a lyric from a song that one of my friends likes to sing." She glanced up at the sky again. "The sky is beautiful tonight, though. That's what reminded me of the line."

"I've never paid much attention," Snape replied, giving a cursory glance toward the glowing skyline. "I see nothing remarkable about the sky. It looks as it always does."

"It's moments like these which make me completely believe that you do not suffer from a literary soul," she shook her head, smiling to herself.

"Thank you," he remarked dryly, the castle's outline becoming sharper as they approached. "Come along, Miss Granger. We'll stow these away near the greenhouses."

Once they'd reached the school grounds, Snape pointed her to a small shed at the very back of the rows of greenhouses, a tiny shack full of gardening equipment. He expertly dissembled the scythe, wrapping the precious blade in a soft cloth and propping the stretchable handle in one of the shack's corners. Hermione disentangled the sling from around her body and handed it over to Snape.

He quickly twisted the straps until the sack was closed, then hung the bundled herbs from one of the hooks which lined one wall.

"That's it?" Hermione asked when everything had been put away. "Nothing else to do?"

"All that's left is proper storage, but it can wait until tomorrow," he explained as he ushered her out of the tiny shed. "Thank you for your help, Miss Granger. I could not have done without you."

"Yes, you could have; you could have used house-elves," she reminded him.

"True. But it was a much more enjoyable experience with you as my assistant," he admitted, only lightly sarcastic as she looked at him in astonishment.

"That was almost a compliment, Professor," she smiled.

"And that was almost graciousness, Miss Granger," he returned sardonically. "You'd do well to learn more of it."

"I'll try to remember," she replied in a similarly dry tone. She shook her head again, still trying to dislodge bits of chopped leaves from her hair as she followed Snape around the castle grounds to the front entrance. Having abandoned a neater way to rid her hair of mistletoe, Hermione caught hold of the braid's end and yanked out the ribbon. She pulled at the braid until the hair became untwined, then shook out her voluminous hair, running her hands through it to free the last few tangles.

It was amid those loosening shakes of her hair that her eyes caught sight of crackling spots of light dotting the darkened landscape of Hogsmeade and its environs. As much as the sky was strewn with silvery stars, the gently swelling fields which spread out below the castle's high perch were speckled with patches of glowing red-gold, presumably from the huge bonfires she'd read about being lit in connection with the holiday. In its own way, the flickering flames amidst the shadowed hills were as fascinating as the starry sky.

"How lovely," Hermione said aloud in an absent exclamation. She'd stopped walking as her eyes roamed over the fires, her vision finally settling on the brightest flickers which were coming from the faint outline of Hogsmeade town proper.

Snape slowed when he noticed that his companion had stilled, turning toward her as he spoke. "I've already been forced to listen to you wax poetic on the beauty of the night sky once tonight," he reminded her.

"I'm not talking about the sky," she told him. When she noticed that he was looking at her, she pointed down the slope toward Hogsmeade. "I'm talking about all the bonfires."

"Well, it is Midsummer," Snape shrugged, eyeing her curiously. "It's traditional to light the fires."

"Oh, yes, I knew that but I'd never seem them before," she explained. "I've never been anyplace magical on Midsummer -- at least, no where that lit fires like that."

"Midsummer is very much an agrarian holiday," he said. "And very ancient. Hogsmeade is probably one of the few places where the fires are still lit by wizards. It isn't a safe thing to do surrounded by Muggles." He stood beside her, also looking down toward the small village. "They'll be at it all night. Drinking, dancing, carousing and keeping the fires lit. A great deal of wizards will come to town for the festival."

"You mean they're having a festival for Midsummer in Hogsmeade tonight?"

"I doubt they'd do it any other night," he quipped.

Excitement danced in her hopeful eyes. "Can anyone attend?"

"Of course, anyone can attend. It's a public festival that's held in the streets of the village," he answered, his expression growing suspicious. "Although I don't see -- and just where do you think you're going?"

Hermione paused, already half-way down the sloping hill before looking back at him over her shoulder. "To Hogsmeade for the Midsummer festival, course. Where else you I be going?"

"You most certainly are not going anywhere of the sort," Snape declared darkly. "You are going back to the castle."

She rolled her eyes as she spun around to face him, wild hair flying around her. "I beg your pardon?"

"I do believe that you heard me quite clearly, Miss Granger," Snape stated. "I said that you are not going to Hogsmeade."

"And just who do you think you are to tell me what I will and will not do?" she challenged.

"As long as you are here at Hogwarts, you will--"

"I am here neither as a student nor as a ward, Professor," she reminded him tartly. "I am here as a guest of the headmaster;s and he made it quite clear that while I am here, my free time is my own. And I choose to spend tonight in Hogsmeade."

"It's too dangerous for you to go gallivanting around in the dark," he objected, taking two large steps forward to close the distance between them. "A young woman, alone...I know you have little, but try to use your common sense for once."

Hermione folded her arms across her chest and regarded him crossly. "I have common sense enough, thank you."

"I want you to listen carefully -- I am going to Hogsmeade. As you are intent on returning to the castle, I bid you goodnight, Professor."

With a toss of her untamed hair, she turned to go but Snape's iron grip on her arm prevented any movement away from him. She gave him another cross look, glaring first at him and then down at his offending hand as if the mere force of her gaze could cause him to release her. Once his arm had clamped down on her, she'd expected another scathing comment about her intelligence or his position of authority; instead, Hermione watched as Snape's dark eyes searched her face more a moment before he closed his eyes and sighed.

"Very well."

"Very well?" Hermione repeated dubiously. "Does that mean that you'll let go of me so that I may go to Hogsmeade?"

"It means that if you refuse to be dissuaded from this idiotic idea, then I have no other recourse but to accompany you," Snape said, the displeasure on his face testament to his distaste of the notion.

"Do you mean to chaperone me?" she asked suspiciously, tugging her arm out of his grip.

"I'm hardly concerned with any foolish adventures in which you care to involve yourself, Miss Granger," he told her. "As long as you are not threatened by death or serious bodily injury, I don't give a damn what you do."

"I didn't know you cared, Professor," she replied in a syrupy too-sweet voice, heavy with wounded sarcasm.

He gave her the one-raised-eyebrow for which he was infamous. "However...despite what the headmaster says about choices and free will, he'd never forgive me if I let you go off by yourself. No, I will suffer the questionable pleasure of the Hogsmeade Midsummer festivities and your company if only to save myself the lecture from Albus."

Hermione watched him sourly as she brushed at the mistletoe still clinging to her clothes. "Do you really believe that there's a good chance for trouble tonight? That...there will be some kind of attack?"

The twist of Snape's lips as he answered was wry, characteristically mocking. "There are things in this world to fear other than Death Eaters. Especially if you're a young woman -- alone, after dark -- in the middle of a revelry whose chief attractions are the consumption of alcohol and the act of setting things on fire. You'll learn soon enough that gentlemen are rare after a few round of pints."

"That is a lesson I learned years ago, I can promise you," she assured him, laughing softly to herself. She nodded her head in the direction of the village. "So, then? Shall we go?"


"But you just said--" she began to protest.

"Neither of us are appropriately dressed," he cut in curtly, surveying her critically from head to toe. "I suggest we take a few minutes to remedy it."

"And what exactly is considered appropriate?" she wanted to know, distrustful of the gleam of amusement she noticed in his eyes.

"In your case, anything that it isn't dirty and covered in leaf bits will do," he answered, looking pointedly at the smudges of dirt on her shirt and shorts. "We'll meet here, as soon as you're ready. And -- don't even think of leaving without me. If you do, I'll have no choice but to track you down and carry you back here myself, bound and gagged if necessary, at which point I will lock you in your room for the remainder of the evening." With that proclamation, he turned sharply on his heel and walked briskly toward the main entrance of the castle.

Hermione, hands planted on hips, shook her head and laughed to herself as she watched his dark outline disappear into the school's interior. "Promises, promises, Professor."

When his faint outline was no longer visible, Hermione followed, wondering exactly what the evening held for her. It would be her first taste of a wizarding holiday all but lost to the Muggle world and one which was certainly not part of the upbringing she'd experienced as the daughter of two highly intellectual dentists.

And, she'd be experiencing it with Snape.

Despite the fact that she was silently cursing him for his arrogance, for his presumption and for his pretentious superior notion that she needed protection from a few pissed merry-makers, her heart couldn't help but skip a beat at the realization that he'd succeeded in insinuating himself into her plans once again. It would be the third time in the same day in which he'd actively sought out her company instead of the reverse.

How easily, she realized, could the heart be given hope.

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 13 of 27

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