Continuing Tales

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 15 of 27

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Heart Over Mind

Before that surprising night, it had been almost twenty years since Severus Snape had last attended the Hogsmeade Litha festival. That fact awoke the specter of faded memories to his mind as he unconsciously recalled those past nights spent in midst the same crowds and jarring music. He'd hated it then, as well, but there had been little that Severus would not have done for his mother.

For love of his mother, Snape had endured all of the old festivals of the Wheel of the Year, prodigiously going with her to every one of them which fell during his holidays from school. The night of the Solstice, though, had always been Euphemia's most favorite. He remembered once that his mother had remarked off-handedly that great deal of important events in her life had roots in Solstice: her birthday fell close to it; she'd met his father on one, then married him on another; and, when she'd said that it would forever be her favorite day because she spent it with him every year, the sixteen-year-old had went red in a decidedly unattractive fashion. But Euphemia Snape had simply laughed her quiet, tinkling laugh and hugged her highly embarrassed son and he'd forgiven her for the fact that they been spotted by the Potter family and their mangy, homeless mongrel who had taken the occasion to sneer at Snape and had spent the next semester ridiculing him for it simply because she'd been so happy in that moment.

Euphemia Lovell Snape had had few happy moments in her life, her son knew, even if she liked to pretend otherwise.

Now, twenty-some years after that particular Solstice, Snape hovered near the refreshments table which blocked the entrance to Madam Puddifoot's with a wine glass in hand, looking menacing, displeased and thoroughly unapproachable. Much to his actual displeasure, none of these conditions had stopped three different witches from asking him to join in the ridiculous dancing which was being done around the third Hogsmeade bonfire, the cacophony of violins, lyres and lutes more pronounced there than anywhere else in the town. Upon the first request, he'd politely refused and on the second, his response had been more irritated but still within the bounds of civility.

When the third woman would not take the first two polite replies to her query as his final answer, he'd growled at her before marching off to help himself to another glass of wine. Using the shadows of the eaves as camouflage, he'd remained by the table with the plentiful supply of wine at hand to wait for Hermione's imminent return.

It was only the intermittent annoyed thought of Hermione that interspersed his uncomfortable recollection of his mother and he was sorely wishing that she would hurry her return. Those very memories of what this blasted festival had once been for him were the sole reason he'd never come to another one after...

He refused to analyze the fact that a declaration to which he'd remained true for almost twenty years had been forgotten in the face of Hermione Granger. He also refused to contemplate what it revealed about how he felt for her and how important she'd become to him.

Wine, he'd learned, was extremely useful in smudging questions of import from one's mind.

Snape was finishing his third -- or fourth? -- glass of wine in the last half-hour when he heard a shaking, crinkled voice bellow resoundly in his ears, "Why if it isn't Effie's little boy!"

Even as he cringed at the sound of the voice, Snape was furiously protesting every word of the greeting, seeing as how he was certainly no one's "little boy" at his advanced age, let alone should his mother be so disrespected as to be referred to as "Effie" when graced with the elegant "Euphemia" for a personal name. Yet what he silently protested most about the whole exclamation was its very utterance, most specifically the woman who had uttered it.

He flicked his eyes toward the direction from which the voice came and he sighed in when they came to rest on a short, squat old woman who he remembered vividly from solstices past. "Madam," he returned coolly, downing the last of his wine and reaching for another.

The old, apple-faced witch grinned at him, clucking her tongue at him in feigned disapproval. "Now, is that anyway to greet your Grandma Ljalja?"

Snape snorted, though the frown softened. "You are no more my grandmother than you are honest, you old swindler."

"Grandma" Ljalja chuckled. "You had no trouble calling me that when you was but a child. I can barely believe that my little Severus is such a grown man. Last I saw of you, you were a scrawny boy of about seventeen, all knees and elbows. You've changed."

While Grandma Ljalja thought that Snape had changed in the twenty years since she'd last seen him, Snape felt the exact opposite about her. She was the same as he remembered from his childhood: round apple-face creased with wrinkles and darkened by the sun to resembled tanned leather framed by short, wispy white hair peeking out from beneath her garish headscarf, a monstrous clash of colors which only matched her equally garish robes. There were the same overly large hoop earrings and the same dozens of beaded necklaces and even the same little pouches hanging from the same woven sash. Nor had her eyes changed -- clear, gray and shrewd eyes which betrayed none of her advanced age.

"You've not," he replied honestly.

"Ah, now, what a nice boy," she teased. "'Course, I could expect nothing else from a boy raised by dear little Effie."

"Euphemia," he corrected, raising an eyebrow.

"Look here, I knew your mum, years and years before you were thought of," she informed him. "And her name was Effie -- Euphemia was a horrible thing to pin on such a wisp of a girl and Effie suited her nicely. It means "star" in my native tongue."

"Your native tongue is English, Madam," he reminded her archly. "Perhaps you've forgotten that I've known you for as long as I can remember and I know your game well, woman. Save your time and keep your tricks to yourself."

The ancient witch laughed again, a raspy chuckle. "Always such an impertinent little brat, Severus. That hasn't changed, I see. Nor has that nose, now that I think on it. I had hoped you wouldn't cursed that man's ugly beak." Snape made no reply to her aspersions about his nose but he glared down at her from across its impressive length which only caused her grin to grow. "I didn't think I'd ever see you 'round here again, ye know. So many years and not one of you Lovells around. Didn't seem right. And, now -- here ye are. What's the special occasion?"

Snape shifted his weight on his feet, glancing absently down into his wine glass. "I agreed to accompany someone to the festival. It would have been unwise for her to attend alone."

"Her? Accompany, eh? Just some fancy words to say that you've got yourself a lady," she cackled, slapping him on the back with surprising force for someone as old and feeble as she looked. "About time, too. Not like you're getting much younger and you've never been much a looker, though your mind's keen enough. And you've got a nice pedigree, with Effie Lovell as your mom and at least those horrible Snapes were pureblood ---"

"Please, no more flattery, Madam," he deadpanned, swirling the wine in his glass. "I may blush if you continue."

Ljalja was unabashed. "She must be some kind of saint -- or a simpleton, more like -- to put up with your attitude, sirrah. Sarcasm is not an attractive quality and you've already enough working against you."

"Don't you have a stall to mind? Customers to cheat? How about a mysterious magic stone to peddle?"

"I've never cheated anyone in my life," she sniffed indignantly, though her sharp gray eyes were laughing. Snape realized that he'd never seen anything but mirth in them for as long as he could remember.

He gave her look which clearly stated he disagreed.

"But I do have a stall to mind," she admitted. "Just couldn't keep myself from coming over here to see you. This is my last year on the circuit. After the harvest, I'm giving up the road and no more peddling for me."

Snape was genuinely surprised by that news; Madam Ljalja had been traveling as a peddler since his grandmother Lovell had been a young woman. "I never believed it possible," he told her.

She ruefully rubbed a hand -- glittering with rings -- against the curve of her back. "I'm getting old, little Severus," she confessed. "Starting to feel weather in my bones the wrong way. I've been saving up and I've got enough to buy that old cottage on the old estate. Your cousin is letting me have it for a song and I'm going to hunker out me old age there. Peace and quiet and comfort for the rest of my days."

"You'll never last more than a season," he predicted, giving her a reluctant half-grin that reminded the old witch of the boy she'd once known. "It'll be much too boring for you."

She smiled fondly at him, real affection in her gray eyes. "I think you're right."

Snape was about to reply when something caught his eye in the crowd, a face which seemed to stand out among denizens which surrounded it. He realized quickly that it was Hermione, obviously searching for him and looking a little uncertain. Snape noticed immediately the change in hairstyle and the white crown of clover surrounded by her tumbling, impossible hair, and he recalled with sudden clarity the two times that night he'd been struck by how pleasant a picture she made: first had been as she sat on the steps waiting for their mistletoe excursion and the second had come when he'd waited for her in the shadows of the front entrance and he'd caught sight of her speeding down toward him in that enticing dress.

As if she could sense his dark eyes watching her intently, Hermione swerved her head toward him, hair flying and slinky dress slithering with her. Her eyes -- dark brown, he noticed, but bright -- locked with his and she smiled.

For the third time in the same long day, Snape was made aware achingly aware of the fact that he found her beautiful.

It was harpy-like cackle ringing in his ears that broke the moment and yanked his attention away from Hermione as she pushed through the crowds and back to the squat old witch at his side. "Ah, I see what caught your attention," Ljalja was chuckling, watching Hermione with sharp eyes. "Your young lady cometh. Looks feisty, she does. I bet she gives you a run for your money, that one."

"I think you've formed the wrong impression about myself and Miss Granger," Snape protested, disbelieving that anyone -- even kooky old Grandma Ljalja -- would mistake his relationship with Hermione Granger as something different than what it was.

But what was it, anyway?

"No, no, I know when I'm not welcome," the Madam smiled. "You two have a nice time. And if you decide to buy your young lady something pretty, bring her my stall!"

Snape abandoned his protest about his relationship with Hermione in favor of giving Ljalja that wry, sarcastic look he usually reserved for students. "I haven't been stupid enough to buy anything you're peddling since I was ten years old."

The old woman gave another cheeky grin before she bustled into the crowds, disappearing in the mix of people who all stood heads and shoulders higher than she. And, as he lost sight of her, Snape reluctantly admitted to himself that he was fond of the old peddler woman who had been so much like a mother to Euphemia so many years ago.

"Who was that?"

Hermione now stood at her side, watching him watch the old witch jumble around in the crowds. He glanced over at her as she helped herself to another glass of wine. "It was an old acquaintance of the family," he answered, looking down at his own glass and wondering how many he'd had. "Haven't seen her in years."

"Oh," was Hermione's uncustomarily quiet response and Snape was surprised when she asked no more questions but simply sipped at the wine, eyes affixed on some far-off point across the lane. Looking more closely, he noticed that her expression was almost somber and the lines of her face were stern; even her body language spoke of something wrong, her arms crossed her tightly over her body.

Snape wondered blackly if that damned Hartford had done something to ruin her evening. Instead of asking that particular question, he settled for, "Is anything amiss, Miss Granger?"

"No," she answered after a heavy moment, as if she were choosing her words carefully. Her eyes flickered over his face. "It's just that...let's just say that I've come to a rather startling conclusion and it's given me some things to think about."

He saw the sliver of shadow in her eyes and took his time responding as he contemplated it. "It's much easier to think back at the nice, silent castle," he pointed out wryly, earning the soft laughter he'd expected from such a comment.

"Nice try, you," she smiled, a little less shadowed. "But...I know what I plan to do about it." Hermione's spine straightened fractionally and she lifted her head determinedly as her eyes flickered over him once more. "I think."

"And what is your plan of action, if I may ask?" Snape wanted to know, crossing his arms over his chest.

There was something mysterious about the smile she gave him. "I'm sure you've heard, "gather ye rosebuds while ye may," haven't you?" At his nod, she continued. "Well, that's basically the plan."

He arched an eyebrow at that, peering down at her. "You do know that that poem was written to entice virgins to become otherwise, do you not?"

Her smile broadened. "I know, and that Robert Herrick was a charmer. In my case, however, I plan to take his advice a little more figuratively than that."

But for all of her posturing, Snape could still discern some anxiety in her shoulders, something wound tightly without any discernible cause. Determined to aid her in moving past whatever had diminished the evening about which she'd been so merrily excited, Snape lightly wrapped his fine-boned fingers around her arm. "Come along, Miss Granger. There's someone that I'd like you to meet."

For a moment Snape doubted the wisdom of introducing Hermione to Ljalja when the older witch entertained such delusion about his connection with his former student, but he realized that the peddler woman had a gift for blarney and an engaging personality he thought Hermione would find interesting. And, despite his slurs on her wares, Ljalja stocked all manner of interesting and unusual trinkets, guaranteed to capture the attention of someone as inquisitive as Hogwart's most knowing know-it-all.

Hermione quickly acquiesced, ravenously curious as to who Snape could want introduce her. She was once again being jostled through the crowds but this time, as if still smarting from the last accident, Snape was being peculiarly protective as he navigated the crowds, tugging her across the lane and down past a number of stalls before they stopped at a small wooden cart stacked high with trinkets and baubles of all sorts: scarves, necklaces, bracelets, all manner of jewelry as well as small bottles of bright liquids, satin purses and loose gemstones which looked as if they'd been tumbled smooth. She was itching to rifle through a pile of interesting-looking quartzes when a round, leathery face appeared from behind a stack of handkerchiefs. "Why, hello there, young lady," she began amiably until her squinting eyes noticed Snape standing at Hermione's side. "Ah, if it isn't little Severus! So we meet again."

Hermione couldn't stop herself from whipping around to look at Snape, wondering exactly how he'd react to being called "little Severus." Much to her surprise, he merely rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed.

"Little Severus?" she couldn't help but repeat disbelievingly.

"I thought you'd enjoy that," he said dryly. When Ljalja chuckled, he pinned her with a dark look. "Mind yourself, Madam," he cautioned her. "Impertinence is not an attractive quality and you have so few."

"Of course, Professor," Ljalja nodded mock-seriously, causing Hermione to laugh as well by the exaggerated wiggle of her white eyebrows. "Now, why don't you start showing some respect for your elders and introduce me to your pretty young lady here." Hermione bravely tried not to blush at the old witch's insinuation.

"Madam, this is Hermione Granger, a former student of mine," Snape said by way of introduction. "Miss Granger, this is Madam Ljalja, an old friend of my mother and my grandmother."

"It's very nice to meet you, too, Miss Hermione," Ljalja answered to Hermione's politely formal salutation. "It's nice to see Severus with a nice young lady, too. Though one has to wonder about that school if..."

"Ljalja..." Snape growled.

"Anyway...see something you like, dear?" Ljalja made a wide, sweeping motion toward her cart. "Best magical talismans and amplifiers to be found anywhere in Hogsmeade and probably all of Scotland, for that matter."

Snape coughed beside Hermione and while it sounded suspiciously like "fraud," Hermione ignored his and the peddler's flinty-eyed staring contest, briefly wondering if the old witch had been the one to teach the look to him. Instead, she rifled through the items which Ljalja offered for sale, fascinated by the minute detail of the embroidery on the beaded purses as well as the way the light from a nearby torch flashed across the smooth surface of the stones. That flashing quality of the light-play pulled her eyes up to the row of necklaces wrapped around a wooden dowel, a line of crystal and metal pendants on silken black cords. Hermione examined each of the stone pedants, the lot in a variety of different sizes and shapes and settings. As her fingers ghosted over stone she mentally rattled off their magical properties ...Garnet, to banish fears; Tiger's eye, stability and strength; Peridot, banishes fear from the heart ...

But the pendant which most caught her attention near the end of the line, wedged between a rope of baroque moonstones and a round hematite talisman. It was a large smooth amethyst, oval and cabochon in cut, set into a twisted silver backing. The stone was not like the vivid violet of the amethysts in her mother's earrings but a light, more opaque variety, a lavender marbled with veins of white.

"The amethyst caught your eye, deary?" Madam Ljalja noticed, breaking away from her silent communication with Snape. "It's a grand piece -- you've got good taste. The amethyst is not only a lovely jewel but it's a powerfully magical one as well. Protects against evil, aids healing, calms the mind and strengthens the intuition."

"It is lovely," Hermione agreed, running a running over the stone's smooth cabochon surface. Snape remained silent, though Hermione felt him shift closer to her in order to look at stone over her shoulder. It made her glad for the cart in front of her because his mere proximity was enough to make her weak in the knees.

"I'll give you a good price," Ljalja stated, crinkly old face creased in a grin. "You being Severus's...friend and all."

"I'm sorry," Hermione told her embarrassedly. "It's just that...I don't have any money. Well, I have money," she hastily rephrased when she glanced back and saw the perplexed expression of Snape's face. "I just didn't think to bring any with me tonight. I didn't think I'd need it."

The old apple-round face smoothed in sympathy. "Oy, that's a shame," Ljalja said. "I haven't seen a young lady whom the amethyst would suit more than yourself, Miss Hermione. Not to mention that I was going to knock off a galleon or two for you."

"Thank you, anyway," the young witch said sincerely, reluctantly releasing the pendant.

"How much, Madam?" Snape suddenly inquired, tone as dark and mysterious as always.

Both women looked at him with surprise: Hermione's mouth made a little "O" while Ljalja looked again to be on the verge of a maddening chuckle.

Snape glared at both of them cuttingly. "Well?" he asked Ljalja impatiently.

She was smiling again, broadly so that she resembled a jack o' lantern. "For you, Severus? A mere pittance."

"What are you doing?" Hermione asked him sharply.

"I am purchasing this gewgaw with which you seem so taken," he informed her brusquely, opening the small leather pouch on his belt and retrieving a handful of coins. "I should have thought it obvious."

"But really I..." Hermione trailed off, uncertain of what to say. She could think of little reason to protest when she was uncertain of why he was even purchasing it.

She watched, surprised and silent, as he dropped the coins in the old woman's hands. Then she watched as Ljalja hurriedly plucked the necklace from the line of wares, dangling it by its ribbon cord for Snape to take. His pale fingers closed around the amethyst and he pulled it away from the old woman's grip. He examined the stone closely for a moment before he extended his hand toward Hermione, pendant nestled in his palm.


Hermione looked at him blankly.

"It's customary for a young lady to thank a man when he buys her a gift," Ljalja added helpfully, leaning conspiratorially over the mounds of trinkets stacked on her stall.

Hermione watched Snape's impassive face intently. "You actually bought it for me?"

"I see no one else here enamored of it," he snapped, still holding out the pendant for her to take.

She stared at him for a long moment, something firing deep in her eyes before she slowly lifted her hand as if to take the proffered trinket but she only managed to rest her hand atop his, amethyst trapped between. "I...I mean...thank..."

Snape suddenly felt himself as inarticulate as she with the feeling of her hand resting lightly against his. It was as if he were burning at the point at which they touched.

"Oh, you've made her speechless, Severus!" Ljalja chuckled delightedly, still leaning over her stall, breaking into the tense moment and dissipating the built-up emotions. "Just help her on with it and spare the girl."

Hermione smiled wanly at him as she pulled her hand away from his. As per Ljalja's booming suggestions, the young witch turned around so that Snape was presented with a clear view of her back and neck, Hermione's hands having lifted away any loose hair. His able fingers were adept as they settled the pendant against the hollow of her throat, then gently tugging the ribbon around her neck to secure it. His fingers brushed over her skin and she shivered, all too aware of the sensation of him touching her skin, standing so close that she could feel the heat from his body against hers.

His hands moved from her nape to the curve of her shoulders, signaling her to lower her arms, an action which brought a cloud of hair tumbling down her shoulders. His hands remained planted against her bare skin and his nose brushed against the tousled strands as he moved closer to murmur, "Does it feel secure?" in her ear.

Hermione nodded, breath more rapid than the occasion called for, as Snape cleared his throat and stepped away from her, answering Ljalja's comments in his smooth, deep voice. The young witch was relieved that Ljalja asked her nothing; her mind was still reeling from the sheer memory of Snape's hands on her bare shoulders and that fact both frightened and intrigued her with the same nagging question: if something so causal would do this to her, what would it be like if he were to kiss her?

By the time that Hermione had collected herself to the point of complete comprehension, Snape was bidding farewell to Madam Ljalja who was still leaned over her cart as she waved them goodbye, shouting out orders for Snape to owl her and for Hermione to do the same since she was Severus's friend.

Grateful to be articulate again, Hermione touched a finger to the heavy amethyst laying against her throat. "Thank you..." she told him sincerely, pleased with her ability to do so. In fact, she was feeling so much herself that she couldn't help but add, "...little Severus."

To her surprise, Snape's response was a very quiet chuckle as he took her arm. "Mention that to anyone, Miss Granger," he warned smoothly, "And you'll only live long enough to regret it. Understood?"

"Yes, sir," she demurred playfully.

"Good," he nodded. "And you're welcome. Consider it a token of my appreciation for your aid tonight. You really are more intelligent than a house-elf."

Despite the momentary shakiness brought on by her realization, Hermione's evening was shaping up quite nicely -- she was at the Midsummer festival, with Snape; she'd met Victoria, chatted with Wyatt and Snape had bought her jewelry. Considering her original plans for the evening, Hermione decided that she felt a great deal like some wizarding variant of Cinderella, only without the midnight curfew and the special slippers.

"Have you finally settled your earlier dilemma?" Snape asked a little later as they slowly strolled back toward the bonfire where most of the dancers had congregated.

"I've already told you that I'd made up my mind already and it was settled," Hermione replied, frowning slightly in puzzlement.

"But it seemed as if that settlement was weighing rather heavily. It no longer seems so to be so," he pointed out dryly, almost bored.

"Perhaps," she conceded. "The decision is still the same, though. Just had to let it sink in."

Yes, she added mentally. She could do it -- live with it, just as she'd promised the headmaster she do, so long ago. Even if she now knew with all her heart and mind that it was love...and she'd simply learn to live with what she had of him, from moments like these.

"Have you any more attractions to see tonight?" Snape asked her next, gesturing toward the twirling figures of the dancers.

"I don't believe so," Hermione answered. "I've seen the fire-jumpers and the dancers. And -- thanks to you -- the venders."

"You mean, charlatans," Snape amended, his point emphasized as they passed a rotund young lady dressed in green robes dotted with white cat fur who was squabbling with a swarthy turbaned peddler about the price of Perseus of Persia's Wand Crème, a cream which the turbaned fellow said increased the efficiency of transfiguration spells when used twice monthly.

"And I've eaten the traditional foods, got the flowers in my hair--" she paused to touch the crown of cloves -- "I believe that's everything. Even the wine."

"Miss Granger, I've come to think that you have a rather over-inflated perception of the importance of tradition," remarked Snape as they stopped near his earlier hiding spot. He flicked the long dark hair from his eyes as he reached over another glass of wine.

"Tradition is important," Hermione told him. "I thought all of the wizarding world felt that way."

"And have you developed this attitude because you think it's an appropriate one for a witch to have?" Snape asked of her, eyes dark with seriousness.

Hermione, taken aback, thought a moment before answering. "No," she said slowly. "Tradition is important for us -- I mean, Muggles -- I mean...for my family, some traditions are important. This isn't the same kind of important. I just wanted to do everything I could here because it's new and different, not because..."

"...because you feel as if you need to," he answered for her. At her nod of agreement, he expelled the breath he'd been holding. "I sometimes have wondered if your over-exuberance was caused by such an impression. To prove yourself worthy of your place in this society."

Hermione, noticing the grave expression on his face, found it more amusing than she should have. She blamed the wine. "Don't worry, Professor," she laughed. "The likes of Malfoy have not driven me into doubting my own self-worth. Maybe in the beginning there was a bit of that, but I've outgrown it."

Snape made no reply to her comment, but his dark eyes swept the dancing crowds. "If you'd like to indulge in all of the traditional Midsummer practices, then you mustn't forget the one of the most important."

"Which is?" she asked him innocently, hiding her grin behind her glass as she remembered Wyatt's missive on the importance of snogging to the Midsummer festivities.

"Dancing," Snape motioned toward the dancers once again. "Most people do dance at least once on Midsummer."

"That's one thing, then," she decided. "I've got to find someone to dance with me."

"A task which shouldn't prove difficult if one doesn't mind imbeciles, drunkards or libertines as partners," he observed sarcastically.

"A valid point," Hermione said, crossing her arms and tilting her head as if in deep thought. She looked at him slyly out of the corner of her eye. "Of course, you could always dance with me."

Snape, looking horrified by the thought, gave her a disgusted look, one that she hadn't seen since she'd graduated. "Miss Granger, I believe that you have finally lost all control of your mental faculties."

"Hermione," she said suddenly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"My name. It's Hermione," she told him stubbornly. "Do you think you could manage to call me by it?"

"I really don't --"

"Just for tonight," she mitigated. "For the next few hours, can I please not be called "Miss Granger?" It brings up bad memories about a certain teacher who used to torment me."

The unhappy twist of his mouth told her that she'd won. "Do not think that this gives you any right to take the same liberties of familiarity with me."

"Of course not, Professor," she rolled her eyes. "Heaven forbid someone get familiar with you."

"As you say...Hermione," he deadpanned, his voice doing things to her name which she decided had to be illegal.

"I still have the problem of a dance partner," Hermione reminded him. "Would it kill you to take a turn with me?"

"In a word, yes," Snape replied, finishing his latest glass of wine before he locked his eyes with hers.

She glared at him but raised her chin stubbornly. "If that's the way you feel, then please excuse me while I find a partner."

Snape watched in rising alarm as Hermione strode away from him in that slinky dress, eyes focused on someone indiscernible. It was not until she reached a lone man standing across the street that he realized the identity of her chosen victim. Snape continued to watch -- inexplicably angry -- as she smiled at the stranger and began to talk, one hand fluttering toward the dancers as she spoke. He must have agreed with her dance request because a moment later the stranger had taken her by the arm and led her to the crowd of dancers where he swept her up in his arms as they joined the lively dance.

His hand wrapped too-tightly around the stem of his wine glass, Snape observed the disgustingly charming scene Hermione made as she danced, laughing merrily as her partner turned her, his hands resting on her back. While his outward appearance made no change as always controlled and silent, tension brought on by a twisting wrench in his gut pounded in time of the music in the space behind his eyes and he felt some uncontrollable fury threatened to spill out of him in a far from dignified manner. Even as he felt it, Snape couldn't quite understand his wrathful state. It wasn't as if there were any reason for him to feel the simple fact that Hermione looked to be having a wonderful time dancing with some stranger.

He reasoned that it was simply his fatigue come upon him that made him so minutely irate and that his annoyance had chosen to direct itself at her because she was the reason that he was present at this forsaken festival which dredged up old memories and unfamiliar emotions when he should have been back at Hogwarts asleep hours before.

When he saw the stranger's hand clench a little too tightly and lips come a little too closely to hers, something snapped.

Amid the dancers, Hermione could see little of Snape and, although she peaked around for him occasionally, she was happily occupied with the task of not letting her partner step on her feet or she on his. They'd had a few rough patches and her partner was currently holding onto her tightly as the dancers around them collided and jolted them with little concern.

"This is getting dangerous," she laughed as someone bumped them again.

"No worries, love," he assured her, leaning low to whisper so that he'd be heard over the music. "We'll make it through yet." He seemed a nice young man -- he'd come with a group of friends and he, the perpetual wallflower of the group, had been flattered when she'd accosted him to dance with her.

The first lively reel was dwindling into a second one when his face suddenly went pale and he looked absolutely terrified. Swallowing, he asked, "You don't have an angry father or a jealous lover 'round with you, do you?"

"No," she asked, confused. "Why?"

He didn't have a chance to answer before she was seized from behind by a iron grip on her arm and spun around so that she could see the seething figure whose furious expression made her heart stop cold in her chest.

"Come along, Miss Granger," Snape told her chillingly, his hold on her arm almost painful. "I think you've had your dance."

As much as she wanted to protest his making a scene, Hermione realized that no one except her partner noticed as she was dragged away, Snape cutting through the dancers with a maddening grace while pulling her not only away from the crowds but away from the bonfire and the buildings, out into the darkened shield of one of the nearby shops. Once they were out of sight, he released her and, by that time, her own temper had had time to quicken.

"Just what exactly was that?" she ground out, her emotions a strange mixture of anger, confusion and a spice of hope as she recognized the harsh expression on his face as the one he'd had when he'd asked her of Craig, that black look the one she'd labeled "almost-like-jealousy."

"It should be obvious," he sneered in return, arms crossed across his chest and his eyes like daggers. "The sole reason that I wasted my evening by coming to play chaperone was to keep you out of situations exactly like those."

"We were dancing," she argued.

"He was centimeters away from complete impropiety," he declared, expression still blackly furious. "Had that not been the case, I would have never dared to interrupt your dance."

"Well, if you'd danced with me, we'd avoided this whole situation," she snapped irritably. "No one would question your propriety in such matters."

Two years' worth of frustration was evident in her tone, so much so that Snape was startled by it. He was also uncertain as to how to reply to her sudden vehemence. They stood silently for a moment, their faces shadowed by the relative darkness of empty shops on whose other side the Midusmmer festival filled the air with light and sound.

"I still didn't have my dance," Hermione finally muttered, one arm crossed over her body while her eyes remained glued to the toes of her sandals.

"I thought that that was what you and that boy were doing when I interrupted," Snape questioned coldly.

"We were trying. A few minutes of stumbling around before a priggish former instructor hauls me away is not what I consider a proper dance. And I dare not look for another partner; you'd probably try and curse him for looking at me sideways."

"No reason for melodrama, Miss Granger," Snape said scathingly. "I left your obnoxious little partner quite intact."

"Hmph." Hermione tossed her head to shake some of the loose tendrils away from her face. After another stretch of tense silence, Hermione spoke softly. "You could always dance with me and save me any more trouble."

Snape snorted unamusedly, glaring at her through the darkness. "Haven't we had this discussion once before?"

Hermione returned the glare with equal force. "What's the problem? Can't dance? Well, I can and it's simple. Shy? We'll stay here and no one will see you."

"I am most emphatically not shy, Miss Granger," he answered icily.

"Remember, it's Hermione," she reminded him, a grin threatening to appear on her lips. "So, if you aren't shy, is it that you can't dance? I scarely can believe that."

The glower was so much more effective when coupled with the swirling black robes, she decided as she watched him. It'd come to the point where it had little effect on her. That thought alone brought the smile into full, teasing force. "Come now, Professor, it'll be our secret. I'll never tell anyone that I ever saw you dance. Just like I'll never tell anyone about Madam Ljalja's quaint little pet name for you."

The music filtering from around the closed shops suddenly changed. Instead of the lively jig-like music which had been filling the air all night, the enchanted instruments changed to a slow, melodic tune, lovely but haunting and dreamy. The change in the music seemed to be felt in the air and Hermione noticed with trepidation that she'd moved much closer to Snape as she'd teased him, so close that now she could easily reach out and touch him. He seemed to be similarly aware as his dark eyes flickered between her face and where his pale hands lay against his folded arms. Deciding to make use of her purported bravery, Hermione took one more step toward him, leaving only a hair's breadth between them.

"It's very simple," she said softly, whispering into the air. Despite the softness of her voice, she had little doubt that Snape could hear her words as his eyes followed the slow movements of her hands. She gently pried his arms out of their crossed position, taking hold of him by the hands, surprised that she met little resistance. "Just put one hand here," she instructed, guiding one of his hands to her waist. "And the other---"

"I have a suitable grasp of the basic mechanics," Snape interrupted, his voice as soft and low as hers as he slid one arm around her waist and clasped her hand with his free one.

"See?" Hermione smiled up at him, searching his inexpressive eyes with hers. "Much more tolerable than being called "little Severus," isn't it?"

He grunted in amusement. "There are a very few things which are not."

The music remained soft and enchanting and unbearably sad as they stood there, not moving with the music but neither moving away from the strange intimacy of the moment. With the same sort of desperate seriousness she had, Snape searched Hermione's face, his eyes finally meeting hers.

"You are much more persuasive than you have right to be," he murmured very near her ear, his head bent so that his nose brushed along her cheek.

"Don't blame me, Professor," Hermione told him, allowing her head to rest against him. "Blame the wine."

"Because you drank it?" he wanted to know, his voice muffled by against her skin.

"No, because you did," she smiled, reveling in the soft rumble of laughter the comment won from her.

Even as the moment stretched longer with the length of the music, Hermione knew that it would soon be over and whatever spell that had fallen over Snape would lift. But, for those moments, she decided to savor it for as long as possible, tucking each detail into her heart for safe-keeping.

While it wasn't quite the dance she'd wanted, Hermione was pleased nonetheless.


Pale morning light was peeking over the eastern horizon by the time that Hermione and Snape began their slow trek back toward the looming Hogwarts castle. Dawn had come and the revelry of Midsummer had come to an end, the crowds of people dwindling to only a handful as all the visitors made their ways home while the locals began the laborious but necessary task of returning the Hogsmeade streets to their former, more ordinary states.

Tired, happy and both ready and unwilling for the night to end, Hermione trudged up the hills toward the quiet school complex, Snape at his most patient as he accommodated her slow pace, though she suspected that he was fatigued himself. The lovely wreath had long since been pulled from her tangled hair and she held it loosely in one hand as she walked, the other rising occasionally to touch the heavy amethyst at her throat. She steadfastly ignored the fact that neither of her dress's thin straps remained in their proper position and, after a night of fighting with them, she decided to admit defeat gracefully.

The pace was unhurried and silence hung about them, the pair of them radiating tiredness and an unusual sort of awkwardness which Hermione had never associated with Snape. Still, the kind of awkwardness was familiar-feeling to Hermione, as if it were a particularly difficult Italian phrase which she'd heard before but whose meaning she'd forgotten meaning. Finally, that first uncertain afternoon when Craig had appeared unexpectedly and asked her for a proper date came into her mind.

Hermione smiled sleepily when she realized how much the long walk home had come to feel like the inevitable end of a first date. There was a difference though, she recognized. It reminded her of the summer after her first year at Hogwarts when her aunt had come to visit and Hermione had learned to love the lilting beauty of spoken Italian. While Sophia had breezed around the house, breathlessly speaking in Italian for no reason other than to hear it roll from her tongue, Carolina had always restricted use of her mother-tongue to times when she was infuriated, a fact which had caused Hermione to associate Italian with her mother's wrath. But with Sophia around, the same language had become to be something much more beautiful.

There was no pang or twinge buried in the awkwardness for Hermione when she was with Snape as there had been with Craig; there was only a warmth and flutter of excitement when she felt Snape's reassuring presence at her side, or when his fingers laced over her skin to keep her from stumbling, something which had happened several times on the return trip.

As the castle lightened with the sun's rise and sharpened with their approaching nearness, Hermione glanced over at Snape as she tried to think of something to say before he disappeared into the labyrinthe corridors of the dungeon without giving her a chance to express what Midsummer had meant to her. However, short of blurting out exactly how much she cared for him, Hermione was finding herself at a loss for words.

"What a night that was," she decided upon lamely, grinning to convey that she understood the inanity of her own comment.

"Yes," he agreed, the slanted twist of his mouth illustrating his amusement at her weak attempt to dispel the awkward silence. "Long, tedious, interminable --"

"Always so disagreeable," she mildly chastised, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked around him to see sunlight paint yellow streaks in the rose-tinged sky.

"I believe you meant truthful," Snape corrected as they found themselves on the front steps of the castle, the same place where they'd met twice that night. "I bid you goodnight -- or, rather, good morning, Miss Granger."

Despite the obvious parting of the words, Snape seemed reluctant to actually step through the great oak doors, and Hermione took his second of loitering to her advantage. "It was brilliant," she said, pausing before she continued. "Thank you," she told him sincerely, and Snape could not help but notice a strange glitter to her brown eyes, though he likened to blame it on the trick of the growing light. "For going, I mean. For choosing to stay with me...for this," she finished as she touched a finger to the pendant.

"If I said the pleasure were mine, I'd be lying," he told her gruffly, fighting against the strange flood of warmth filling his chest.

"And we could never have that, of course," Hermione rolled her eyes, giving him a moment's reprieve from the mysterious quality of her eyes upon him. Snape was surprised to find that he missed it more than he was relieved by it.

"Of course," he echoed, nodding.

Hermione smiled at him, eyes still glittering and dreamy with sleepiness. "Well, I had a wonderful time."

"And that was all the mattered, after all," he returned with faint sarcasm, his own slanted expression growing more amused.

"Is that so?" Hermione feigned surprise, the unconscious movement of her head causing her hair to slither over one shoulder. A stray piece of white clover -- from the circlet, he assumed -- teased at him from where it hung in the disarrayed locks. "What was that bit with the dancing about, then?"

"You are relentless," he accused, the smooth dark tone of his voice edged with humor as he gave into temptation and reached up to pull the petal from her hair. His capable fingers betrayed him, however, and they bypassed the white speck in favor of carding through the mass of wild, frizzy hair.

Hermione smiled shakily, breath swallow and knees weak at the feel of his fingers combing through her hair as he shifted closer to her. "It's part of my charm," she answered softly, eyes searching his face, fascinated by the look of grave concentration as he studied the tendrils of hair wrapped around his fingers.

"One can only presume..." he teased, arching an eyebrow as if to infuse the comment with more heat as he dragged his eyes from his hand as he untangled it, tucking the hair behind her ear. His black eyes trailed over her face and his sharp gaze met hers.

Hermione had never thought of a look as something tangible before that moment, but she swore she could feel the aftershocks of their eyes' connection reverberate through her, trilling down her spine in a tingle. Somehow, without breaking that connection between their irises, she managed to discern the sunlight-smudged edges of his face, of the brows and the hawk nose and the thin lips. There was the utmost gravity in his expression, not harsh or cruel but neither soft in its character, but studiously pensive and -- perhaps -- there lingered a trace of awe in the eased lines around the mouth.

His hand, which she'd forgotten while in the thrall of his expression, did not remove itself from her person once the fingers had smoothed the hair away from her face. Instead, the whole palm flattened and molded around the curve of her jawline, leisurely tracing over the soft skin until the pad of his thumb flicked across the swell of her bottom lip.

Snape, still looking intensely pensive, leaned forward ever so slightly and Hermione -- though in a state so overwhelmed that she no longer knew night from day -- knew with absolute, maddening certainty that he was about to kiss her.

Wondering if she would survive the experience but willing to die in the attempt, Hermione's eyes fluttered shut and she shifted closer, bringing them so close that she could feel the movement of his body as he breathed, the roughness of his tunic sliding against the softness of her dress and the weight of his body press even more near.

She felt his hand slide again so that it was buried in the hair at her nape, gently realigning her face to his, tilting it upwards to meet his as he drew closer, closer until ---

"Hermione? Severus?"

The exclamation seemed unwillingly wrung from that familiar voice -- kind, hoarse and very unwelcome -- as if he had been wanting to remain silent unable to do so. Hermione felt the world jar around her as she jumped in surprise, Snape quickly withdrawing to a safer position an arm's length away from her before he turned to glare balefully at the shocked intruder.

Hermione was too dazed for a moment to do anything more than stare at the new arrival before she called out, "Remus?"

Obviously confused and wary, Remus Lupin once again began to approach the pair, his robes disheveled and dusty, both indications that he had traveled a great distance to find himself with them that morning. His face was open and pleasant, but there was no denying the appraising sharpness to his eyes.

"Lupin," Snape acknowledged with a jerked nod of his head.

"What are you doing here?" Hermione had the presence to ask without allowing any of her tumultuous emotions to color her words with accusation or ire.

"I've come to make a report to Dumbledore," he explained, brushing at his dusty robes as he stopped, releasing the leather bag he carried at his side so that it thumped against the stone steps. "Arrived a bit earlier than expected, actually. I must admit to wondering why you two are...awake...this early. It's what? Just after four in the morning, I'd wager."

"We've just returned from the Midsummer festival in Hogsmeade," she answered, half-lifting the wreath as if to prove her statement.

If Remus had sounded surprised in his first exclamation, the shocked rise of his eyebrows was doubly so. "Really?" he asked rhetorically. "Have you?" He looked heavily at Snape, as if the surprise was directed at him more than Hermione.

"Good night, Miss Granger. Lupin. If you'll excuse me..." Snape gave them no chance for comment before he turned swiftly on heel and stalked away from them, the sight of him disappearing behind the great oak doors making something cold grip at Hermione's heart.

She stared at the door after it had closed as if she couldn't quite believe the sudden turn of events from one extreme to another in the span of a handful of minutes.

"Hermione?" Remus's voice was still kind and hoarse, but no longer unwelcome as its unwavering sympathy washed over her and soothed the feeling of emptiness. She looked at him with her uncertain eyes glittering with brimming emotions.

He grabbed his bag and placed a gentle hand on her arm. "Let's go inside, shall we? I think I need some rest before I meet with the headmaster and you look as if you need a bit of that yourself."

She nodded dumbly and allowed him to pull her into the silent stone hall of the castle without a sound of protest, her heart still contracting painfully in her chest while her mind tried to sort through the events of the long, wondrous, unbelievable adventure that had been Midsummer.

Hermione knew she needed to think, needed to understand, needed to analyze and postulate over what had and had not and might be. Even in a matter as illogical as love, Hermione craved to add logic to it.

But, she admitted to herself as she collapsed on her bed, still in her glorious dress, what she needed most desperately at that moment was sleep.

Giving in to the physical fatigue from which her mind did not suffer, Hermione did just that, one hand still clutched around the white and green foliage of her clover circlet.

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 15 of 27

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