Continuing Tales

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 24 of 27

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Heart Over Mind

In the end, it wasn't prayer that helped Hermione reach her decision as much as it was a desire to enjoy a peaceful Christmas after the turmoil she'd endured in the months leading up to it. It was the first Christmas since Voldemort's defeat and the utter chaotic euphoria that the Wizarding World -- Weasley clan included -- had brought to it was dazzling, a whirlwind of cheer and good feeling and celebrations that Hermione didn't want to ruin for her friends by unburdening her secrets on them.

This was the reason she gave herself for choosing to wait until after the holidays to confess to Harry and Ron about Snape, although she couldn't help but think that part of it was her own apprehension at the thought of what her friends' reactions would be. But not even self-doubt of her own bravery could sway her in the opposite direction and Hermione firmly pushed the matter of revelation out of her mind and concentrated on enjoying the holiday with her friends and family and Snape -- though not all at the same time.

That was another realization she'd come to and Snape was only too happy to remind her that his presence at the Weasley gathering would not be a good idea. And as much as she would've liked him to be there, she agreed with him. Instead, they'd made plans to see one another sometime late on Christmas Day, though she'd felt guilty about putting her family and friends first.

"I haven't actually celebrated Christmas in any manner in years," he'd told her in irritation as they spoke via the Floo a few nights before the eve in question. "Most likely, I wouldn't live up to whatever ghastly idea you have of proper Christmas spirit."

"Oh, I think I know better than to expect much," she'd returned dryly, although she'd surmised his point. "Very well. As long as you don't feel like I'm short-changing you."

There'd been a pause and Hermione had desperately wished that she could see his face more plainly in the magical flames. "I doubt I'll ever think that, Hermione," he'd finally said quietly before ending the conversation.

So the day of Christmas Eve dawned and Hermione found herself frowning down at the red-and-gold-colored box innocently sitting on her bed, untouched. It had arrived that morning, postmarked from France and undoubtedly from her aunt Sophia. The box had some designer's label on it so Hermione knew it was clothing but given her aunt's wicked sense of humor, she was a bit fearful of what it might contain, especially since Sophia had given her racy lingerie even before she'd thought her niece might have a man in her life. Considering she vaguely knew that there a dark and dangerous wizard in the picture, Hermione wasn't sure she wanted to know what her dear aunt thought was a proper gift.

Deciding to leave the box until Christmas morning, Hermione turned away from it and busily began sorting through her clothes for something festive to wear with her robes to the Weasley bash. Ginny had kept her apprised of the party preparations and what had started as a family gathering had grown into such a production that she wondered if everyone she'd ever known had plans to stop the Burrow over the course of the evening. In fact, Ginny had also let her know that as an honorary Weasley, Molly expected her to arrive several hours early and help with any last-minute details that needed doing. Of course, Hermione had wondered how much of the message was more Ginny's hope for help and less Molly's order.

The young witch was in her bedroom, still engaged with the inevitable struggle with her hair, when she heard her father calling for her from downstairs.

"What, Dad?" she called, standing at the top of the staircase and peering down toward the foyer. It was something she'd never have done had her mother been around but Carolina had went out to finish up some shopping and so her daughter was free to lapse into a few lazy and ill-behaved habits that her father tolerated with fond indulgence.

"There's someone here to see you!" his voice floated back up the stairs and she guessed that since she couldn't see him in the foyer, she'd shown the guest into the study.

"I'll be right down," she called back, quickly dashing into her room to shed her wizarding robes. It was probably old Mrs. Gianni, one of the members of their church who always visited and brought gifts on Christmas Eve. While she and her mother adored the old woman, Will Granger has always felt uncomfortable in her presence since she was forever trying to persuade him to attend church with his wife and daughter.

A few minutes later, Hermione hurried down the stairs dressed in the skirt and blouse she'd been wearing under her robes, her hair still in a tangled, flyaway mess. She was already apologizing to Mrs. Gianni for her flustered appearance as she stepped into the room and her words came to abrupt halt when she saw who was actually awkwardly waiting for her in her father's study.

Despite their long years of friendship, rarely did Hermione have her best friends standing in the middle of her thoroughly Muggle home. Almost the entirety of their time together took place in some Wizarding locale -- Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, the Burrow -- so Hermione couldn't help the sense of incongruity that swept over her at seeing Harry and Ron waiting for her to come down the stairs.

"What are you two doing here?" she asked, clearly confused. "I'm not supposed to be at the Burrow for another hour!"

"We know," Harry said, lifting his eyes from where they'd been tracing random patterns on the carpet. He glanced quickly at Ron and then back to her. "We, uh, wanted to talk to you about something. Before you came."

"Really?" she asked, still confused, watching them closely. Her friends were definitely behaving strangely -- eyes downcast, fidgeting where they stood, hands shoved in their pockets along with their wands. She couldn't fathom what had them acting so oddly that would bring them to her door on Christmas Eve.

"Yes, really," Harry told her, his eyes still skating over her.

"So...? What it is?"

Harry glanced guiltily toward her father who was still standing at the study door, leaning against the doorjamb as he watched the scene unfold. "We were hoping we could talk to you...privately."

Hermione didn't have a chance to say anything before her father was speaking. "I need to go pick up some things, anyway," he told them, understandingly. "I'll be back in about an hour?"

When his daughter nodded her gratitude, he patted her on the arm, adding, "Don't forget that your mother will be home any minute now," before he tactfully retreated, leaving his daughter and her friends in peace.

Hermione didn't speak again until the door slammed shut behind Will as he exited the house. With the sound still ringing in the quiet, she spun around to face her friends. "So, now tell me -- what's wrong? I can tell something is or else you wouldn't be here."

It wasn't only their presence and their awkwardness that told her something was amiss. Harry was even more ashen than he usually was and Ron's ears were bright red even though his face had lost most of its color, like he'd had a terrible shock.

When neither of them seem inclined to answer her, Hermione crossed her arms and sighed dramatically. "I'm going to assume that nothing really terrible has happened because keeping me in suspense in such a case as that would be unbearably cruel and thoughtless of the two of you."

"We need to talk to you about something," Harry explained, stepping up and finally looking at her.

"You've already said that," she pointed out, impatient with her friends' theatrics. "Get to the point, please. I still have things to do before I can leave for the Burrow."

"We, uh, heard something today...something that we need to ask you about..." Harry's progress was slow but he was gaining momentum as he spoke. He'd also crossed his arms so that his position mirrored Hermione's. Ron stood a little behind him and to his side, back against the entertainment center and uncharacteristically silent. "We need to know if it's the truth or not. If we heard wrong or..."

Hermione could feel guilt flash across her face as her mind began to spiral toward the only thing she think of that Harry might have overheard. She was suddenly feeling very hot and stifled as her heartbeat thundered in her ears but she willed herself calm, praying that she'd jumped to the wrong conclusion and that there were other secrets, more innocent ones, that she might be keeping from her friends. "What did you hear?" she managed to ask but her voice was threatening to break on any word longer than one syllable.

Harry glanced imploringly toward Ron but his friend offered no help, still silent and tight-lipped and disapproving, something terribly hurt brimming in his eyes.

The dark-haired boy swallowed and plowed on bravely, explaining, "We were helping get ready for tonight and we got back to the Burrow early...before Mrs. Weasley was expecting us. She was talking to Mr. Weasley and she said..."

"What, Harry?" Hermione questioned softly, fear creeping into her voice. Harry must've discerned it because his eyes shot up to meet hers, widening just a little.

"She said that she didn't know how long you could keep it a secret that you were involved with Snape but she was glad it seemed that you'd decided to wait until after the holidays to tell everyone," Harry finished, his voice strong but incredulous as he spilled the rest, his eyes never leaving Hermione's.

"She said that you were involved. With Snape," he repeated, as if to stress the importance of those particular facts. "Romantically."

"I heard you the first time," she snapped unconvincingly, only a token waspishness.

"At first, I thought she had to be mad," Harry continued, still gaining strength and animation. "I mean -- you, involved with Snape? I'd never heard a nuttier thing -- but then we ran into Ginny and...she told us to ask you and that's all she said. So, we're here. Asking."

"What do you want me to say?" Hermione asked, focused on Harry and the emotions rising in his eyes, the twitchiness in his body that reminded her of the way he readied for Quidditch matches or duels with the Dark Lord. He'd dropped his arms from across his chest and one hand was clenched into a fist.

"Is it true?" Ron's voice was a taut as his frame as he spoke for the first time, startling both Harry and Hermione as he entered the conversation. He sounded gravelly and rough, like he was barely managing to hold back some strong emotion. That tide of feeling in his eyes hit Hermione with such force that it left her stricken and made Harry step uncertainly toward her, as if he was no longer sure if he needed to be her confronter or her comforter. "Is what Mum said the truth? That you're...with Snape...and..."

Hermione drew upon that famed courage she was supposed to possess and held her head high even as she answered, even as she regretted that she wouldn't get the Christmas she'd hoped for by postponing this exact conversation. "Yes, Ron. It is. It's -- true. Se--Snape and I are---"

Ron jerked his hand up in a stopping motion that was so abrupt and unexpected that Hermione obeyed him. "I don't want to hear it," he stated, voice teetering on a growl. His eyes were still wet with pain and hurt but she could see anger lurking, waiting for its chance.

Harry didn't seemed so inclined. "But why?" he blurted out, his blatant bewilderment overpowering whatever else he might have been feeling.

"Why did I keep it a secret? Or why him?" Hermione snapped back, her ire no longer faked. She was angry, both at them and at herself. She'd thought herself prepared for this moment after the conversations she'd had with Craig who'd also been so very disapproving. But, at that moment, she realized that she'd been hoping that she was wrong and that somehow it wouldn't come to this -- to harsh words and anger and incredulity and blame and guilt and demands and explanations.

It had been a foolish and naive hope on her part and now she was paying the price for her foolhardy optimism.

"It's obvious why you kept it a secret," Ron shot back harshly, his pallor growing until he looked a sickly green with bitter reaction.

"Why him?" Harry asked, choosing the second option, still disbelieving but curbing his other emotions, trying to keep his voice level as he spoke. His green eyes, however, were bright with reaction, intense and questioning as they watched her face.

"I don't know, Harry," she sighed, exasperated. She refused to rely on the histrionic "Because I love him!" so popular in tawdry fiction even though its sentiment rang true. "Why do we care about anyone? It just is and I -- do. I care."

"It doesn't make any sense!" Harry exclaimed. "It''s...Snape!"

"I know that, Harry!" Hermione retorted. "You don't think this has been difficult for me to deal with, too? Ever since Seventh Year, I've been dealing with this, I've---"

"Seventh Year?" Ron gasped, looking even more horrified than he had a moment earlier.

"Yes, Seventh Year, Ron," she told him, cuttingly. "Or don't you remember? The hayam?"

Harry's green eyes widened again, until they were cartoonishly owlish behind the rim of his glasses. "Are you saying that...?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying," she told him, glowering at the pair of them. "I've known for that long that I feel this way, that for him and I've spent years dreading this exact conversation with you two!"

"Well, you've certainly put it off long enough," Ron interjected meanly. "You let my mum do your dirty work."

"I was going to tell you," she said in her defense. "But I wanted to wait until after Christmas."

"So at least you and Mum agree on that," he sniped.

Hermione ignored him, turning back to Harry who was still looking at her with such an expression of disbelief that it was as if she were speaking Greek to him instead of English. "So I guess...since Mrs. Weasley said you were involved...that he...that Snape...he feels...?"

"The same," she finished for him, quietly, unable to keep the warmth out of her voice as she thought about the one incredible fact she'd never dreamed possible. "For so long, I thought there was no chance, that I'd just have with it. But we stayed in touch and then..."

"I really don't want to hear this," Ron told her.

"Then what do you want to hear from me, Ron?" Hermione burst out, bordering on a shrillness that she despised but that Ron always brought out in her. "You're the one who came asking questions!"

"I wanted you to say that Mum was completely wrong about it!" he admitted, rather loudly -- so loudly that Harry winced at his volume.

"Well, I'm sorry but she wasn't and I'm not!"

"You should be sorry!" Ron told her, advancing toward her. She stood her ground and so did Harry, watching his friend warily as if he were ready to step in if need be. But Ron didn't come within reach of her, only moving closer but a few steps, color suddenly suffusing his face such a shade of red that Hermione dimly worried about his blood pressure. "You knew it would all come out eventually. How did you expect us to react? Did you think we would just be understanding of this insanity? That we'd give you our approval?" he scoffed harshly, the anger finally pouring out of him.

Hermione drew herself up again, tilting her head haughtily as she'd seen her nonna do so many times, looking down her nose at Ron as she suppressed her concern, her regret, her sadness and let her anger take rein. "I expected you to understand that this is my life and I'll do whatever I bloody well please, Ron Weasley! I don't need your damn approval to do anything, ever, and if you had an inkling in that dim head of yours what friendship was, you'd understand that!"

Ron recoiled from her angry words, still furious himself, breathing harshly as they stared at one another. Harry was now an uneasy spectator, glancing between the two of them as he waited for the next outburst.

The sound of a car rumbling into the driveway drew Hermione's attention to the study's window. "It's my mother," she announced, her voice quiet and strange-sounding after her last exclamation. "I don't want to talk about this around her."

"I don't think I have anything else to say," Ron growled before Apparating out of her house with a resounding crack.

Harry gave her an inscrutable look and mumbled a tepid farewell before he was gone, too, leaving Hermione to stand alone in the silence, the terrible echo of their words ringing in her ears.

Carolina Granger had barely set foot into the house before her daughter had made up some excuse about needing to leave early and had disappeared along with them.

Just as he'd told Hermione, Snape treated Christmas Eve as he would've any night that he spent at Hogwarts during the school year. He'd eaten his meal in the Great Hall, lording over the few children who'd remained at the castle over the holidays and then he'd retired to his chambers, stacks of papers to mark and several parchments' worth of professional correspondence to return. The only concession that he'd made to the holiday was that no fire was lit in his personal laboratory; since he expected to have to endure holiday visits from the Headmaster and from Professor McGonagall on Christmas Eve and then both of them as well as Hermione on Christmas day, he saw no reason to start a project that would likely be ruined by -- mostly unwanted -- company.

He was just sitting down to answer the first of the correspondence when there was a knock at his chamber door. He glared at the door as if it were its fault that someone was knocking and he heavily rose to his feet, mentally preparing himself for Albus's traditional "You need to be more cheerful, it's Christmas, Severus" speech as he jerked the door open.

He'd expected to see Albus Dumbledore standing just outside his chambers.

He hadn't expected that his visitor would be a very pale and shaken Hermione Granger.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, more out of surprise than harshness. It was lucky, he supposed, that Hermione had rarely reacted to his acerbic tone.

"I was wondering if I could come in?" she asked neutrally, something about her eyes suggesting distraction -- or furtiveness. Snape frowned.

"Of course," he nodded, stepping back to let her enter his chambers. He closed the serpentine door behind her and watched narrowly as she loitered in the center of the sitting room, arms crossed and hugged close to her. "Now will you tell me what you're doing here?"

Hermione turned to look at him and he could see that she was troubled, much too serious and somber compared to the cheerful young woman he'd seen through the Floo fire only two days before.

"I...ah...needed to get out of the house," she confessed softly. "I needed place."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I thought you had a party to attend at the Weasleys' this evening."

She exhaled, a quiet sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. "I did but I don't think they'll be thrilled with me if I show up."

"I think they'll be less than thrilled if you don't," he countered. "I doubt Potter or the Weasleys will consider the night complete without you there." He snorted. "And Potter and you friend Weasley haven't been able to do anything more complicated than feed themselves in the last decade or so without you there to hold their hands."

"Not after what happened just a little bit ago." Hermione sighed again and dropped down into the extra chair that was wedged between the fireplace and the writing desk -- the chair she'd been claiming as 'hers' over the past several visits.

She gave him a look that spoke of the dread and shock and sadness he'd seen in her posture. "Harry and Ron...they know -- about us, I mean. And we just had a lovely little chat about it, too," she added dryly, a touch of grim humor in her voice.

"Ah." Suddenly, everything about the scene made perfect sense to him. "And I'm assuming it wasn't your idea for them to know."

Hermione snorted. "Ah, no. At least, not tonight. I'd decided to hold off until after Christmas. They found out through Mrs. Weasley."

Snape scowled. "I was wondering how long she'd be able to keep her mouth shut. I see I gave her too much credit."

She waved a dismissive hand. "It wasn't her fault, really," she explained. "They overheard her talking with Mr. Weasley." Hermione leaned back in the chair, flicking her eyes up to catch Snape's. "I really wanted this to be a pleasant Christmas."

"I know," he said quietly. He laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, his fingers just brushing against the skin bared at gathered neckline of her blouse. "I am sorry."

Hermione settled back against the chair more comfortably, closing her eyes and taking another deep breath. Snape recognized it as one of her many coping tactics, taking time to let her mind process and start to make decisions. "So am I," she told him as she opened her eyes to look up at him. "But it can't be helped now. It does mean that my plans have changed a bit, though."


"Well, I'm definitely not going to the Weasleys' tonight," she explained resolutely, sensibly. "I'm certain there'd be a scene and, wouldn't be a very good idea tonight."

"I agree," Snape admitted, letting his hand linger a moment longer before he withdrew it.

"And I can't go home because then I'd have to explain to my mother why I'm not at the Weasleys," she added. Hermione gave him a hopeful look. "I was thinking that maybe..."

"Maybe what?" he echoed, faintly teasing. "Maybe you could stay here?"

"That was the plan, yes," she murmured, smiling a little at his tone. "If you don't mind, of course."

"I already warned you that I'm not one for holiday spirit or festivity."

"I'm not really all that festive myself tonight," Hermione laughed. "I'm more in the market for a place to lay low."

"And you want to do it here?"

"No better place to hide than a dungeon," she explained. "Especially one with you in it. No offense, of course." There was a lightness in her eyes that softened her words.

"I suppose I can find something for you to do so you won't bother me too much," he told her mock-seriously, turning away from the blinding gratitude on her face. He couldn't help but feel out of his depth when he was reminded of how much that meant to him -- her happiness, her gratitude. Snape busied himself with skirting around her and the fireplace, reclaiming the seat behind his cluttered desk.

"How nice of you," she retorted, using her own brand of mild sarcasm to cover up the extent of her relief. "It's never a visit with you if I don't have to work."

"I always warned you that your officiousness would lead you to bad ends," he replied, half-distracted as he was rummaging through the stacks of parchments. He heard her smother a chuckle and added, "I should be able to trust you with the marking of some Second Year examinations, now shouldn't I?"

"I should be able to manage them," she promised him, drawing her legs under her and settling into her chair more comfortably. "Now, hand them over, Professor, before I change my mind about helping you."

Papers were shuffled, quills and ink handed out; it only took a few minutes before they were both settled and quietly distracted by their work. Snape had spared a moment of disconcertion at the way Hermione precariously perched her bottle of ink on the arm of the chair in a way that spoke of an imminent spillage but she'd assured him that she had years of practice with just such arrangements. He'd acquiesced but couldn't help but send apprehensive looks the bottle's way whenever he glanced up from his work.

Snape found it novel the easy way that they fell into these kinds of moments, even more so since Halloween. He noticed how easily he became used to her steady presence in his chambers, the way he was beginning to rely on it, was heartened by the mere fact that she was near. He'd fought against becoming used to it, though he'd failed spectacularly; he was already dreading the first of the year when she'd once again be thousands of miles away and letters would be their only form of communication. While Snape had missed her in the traditional sense during some of their earlier separations, he'd never quite become accustomed to her companionship before. He knew that it would make the inevitable even more difficult.

Hermione laughed quietly, breaking the comfortable silence. Snape glanced up at her inquisitively.

"What are you teaching these children, Severus?" she asked slyly, still amused by whatever one of the students had written. "Some of them have the most creative ideas about potions-making."

Snape snorted. "Any such 'creative' idea is no fault of mine," he told her. "More of the fault of lazy study habits and their inability to show sufficient effort at anything not related to Quidditch or practical jokes."

That sparked Hermione to mount an enthusiastic defense of both Quidditch and practical jokes, even though Snape knew that she had little love for either. The conversation flowed from there, moving from subject to subject as the tide of thought took them. Snape could see that Hermione was finally starting to put whatever unpleasant things her friends had said behind her as she grew more and more animated, losing the shades of sadness that had hinted about her for the first part of the evening.

As they conversed, Snape was again struck by their rapport, the ease between them; he had rarely found himself in 'easy' relationships in the past and the fact it was so when it came to Hermione was surprising. It was frightening how they seemed to fit together, how easy he found it to talk to her, to read the expressions that danced across her face -- to understand her. And he could tell that she could do the same when it came to him -- something else that was a bit frightening.

"Have you received any Christmas presents yet?" she asked later in the evening. The papers were put away and they were both seated by the fire, a tea service spread out between them.

"The House Elves have been instructed to hold all such packages until Christmas morning," he told her. "While I could've arranged differently, I chose not to."

"So there's nothing I can do to entice you to indulge in a little holiday spirit, then, hmm?" she asked. "From what I've seen, gifts are the fastest way to make one's self feel merry."

"Not unless you have something -- literally -- up your sleeve," he replied firmly.

"Sorry but no," Hermione apologized, lifting her arms to show that her sleeves were indeed empty. "I do have something for you, it's just back at my house. I was planning to bring it tomorrow."

"Then that can be one part of your plans that needn't change," Snape said, taking a drink of his tea.

"Speaking of Christmas gifts," she began slyly. "Any chance I can get the story out of you about your Idol of Mnemosyne?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "No."

Hermione shrugged. "Ah, well. I guess it's more intriguing as a mystery, anyway."

Snape set down his teacup. "If you're so interested in clearing up mysteries, how about we discuss that charming bracelet you wear so often?"

She held up her wrist again, showing up the gold bracelet that McGonagall had given her for Christmas the year before. "You mean this? It was a gift."

"That answer begs the question from who," he pointed out.

Hermione mirrored his raised-eyebrow expression. "Is that jealousy I detect?"

"Of course not," Snape replied quickly. "I was merely...interested in the bracelet's origin."

"I see," she said, trying not to grin. "Well, in the interests of your interest, it was a gift from Professor McGonagall. It's a bit of a private joke about my Animagus training."

"And your form?" Snape guessed.

"That, too."

Snape had a wicked look in his eyes. "Are you ever going to let anyone other than Professor McGonagall see you in your Animagus form?"

"And Manuelito," she added.

"Who is usually a small, fanged werewolf at the time," he reminded her.

"True," she conceded, grinning. "And the answer is no. At least, not any time soon."

"It appears as if we all have secrets then," he told her smugly.

"Ah ha ha, how clever you are," she grumbled dryly, though not at all offended. "I can take NO for an answer, you know."

"You can?"

Hermione rolled her eyes good-naturedly and reached for another biscuit.

Satisfied that the question of his past was put aside for the moment, Snape glanced at the clock and dared to bring the conversation around to events of the evening. "What time is your mother expecting you back?"

A little of the good humor faded from her face. "Midnight. In time for Mass." She sighed and set aside the biscuit, untouched. "I think it's time I start thinking about how I'm going to break the news to my parents." She regarded him quietly for a moment. "I'd like you to meet them. Eventually. But I definitely need to tell them soon."

"Or else the curse of Molly Weasley may strike with them as well?"

"Partly," she admitted. "But also because...I feel deceptive, not telling them. We've always had an open relationship and I know they won't be happy that I've kept quiet about it at all."

"Lucky that your father's a Muggle," Snape observed dryly. "I won't have to worry about an unexpected visit, at least."

Hermione laughed, shaking her head. "Severus, the last person you have to worry about is my father. He's a very calm, rational sort. He'll accept it rather easily, I think. In my family, it's my mother you have to worry about."

"Is she all that bad?" he inquired mildly.

"Where do you think I get it from?" she returned. "And I have my father's blood and calming influence to balance it out."

"Heaven, help me, then," he declared, hiding his own smile behind his teacup as Hermione took the cue to act suitably affronted.

Just as she'd finished with her teasing -- "Should I take your reaction as an indication of how you really feel about me?" -- they were interrupted by a rather long and rather loud knock at Snape's chamber door.

Hermione started, surprised. "Were you expecting someone else?"

"I wasn't expecting you," he reminded her as he stood. Instead of opening the door to let the unknown person into his rooms, Snape cracked the door and stepped out into the hall, pulling the door shut behind him.

He was surprised to find Dumbledore outside, dressed in sickeningly festive robes of green and red and gold. "Is something wrong?" he asked without preamble.

"Not at all," the headmaster assured him. "I'm was actually just wondering if you'd seen Miss Granger this evening? These two young men are looking for her and have reason to believe that she might be here."

Snape looked in the direction that Dumbledore had indicated and noticed Potter and Weasley standing a little further down the hall, watching him warily. At Dumbledore's insistence, they moved closer, both of them still eyeing Snape with the kind disgusted fascination people usually reserved for the more gruesome specimen jars he sometimes kept in his office.

"Potter," he sneered in greeting. "Weasley."

They just stared at him, tight-jawed and defiant, much the same way they'd faced him across the classroom during their years as his pupils. Potter's feelings were writ visibly across his face, shouting his confusion, his unease, his guilt. Weasley was a little less easy to read but his awkwardness was apparent and his skin ashen except for irregular blotches of color blotting his face.

"Is Hermione here?" Potter managed to choke out.

A cutting reply was on the edge of Snape's tongue but Dumbledore must have sensed it because he shot his subordinate a quelling look. "One of the House Elves informed us that you had company, Severus," he revealed.

"Wait here," he ordered the trio before ducking back into his chambers. Hermione looked up from her tea, plainly curious. "Potter and Weasley are outside with the headmaster," he told her. "Looking for you."

"They are?" she echoed, visibly alarmed.

Snape nodded. "We can send them away if you don't want to deal with them tonight."

"No, I'll...see what they want," she said and rose to her feet, crossing to where he stood by the closed door. Snape nodded again and ushered her out into the hall, a light hand resting on her back, both for support and for guidance. She was suddenly looking a little peaked herself and he felt some very irrational but very welcome anger surge up in him, directed toward the idiots she called friends.

Once in the suddenly-crowded hallway, Hermione immediately turned her attention to her friends. "What do you want?" she asked them, only a hint of sharpness to her voice.

Snape watched Potter's eyes bounced from Hermione back to where he stood behind her, hand still resting lightly on her back, so close that they were almost touching. The way Potter's eyes narrowed, he could tell the boy thought he was doing it simply to irk him but he wasn't, although the fact that it obviously angered him and Weasley left him in no hurry to move away from her.

"We, uh, wanted to talk to you," Potter began tentatively.

"I thought we did enough of that earlier today."

"And we wanted to apologize," he plowed on, staring at his shoes as if he couldn't bear to make eye contact with his friend. "We didn't...we shouldn't have...we're sorry about earlier, Hermione."

Hermione arched an eyebrow and looked between him and Weasley. "Oh, really?"

"Yes, we are!" Weasley burst out, his ears turning red. He, too, couldn't quite manage to look his friend in the face. "We, ah...we told Mum what happened. She wanted to know why you didn't show up at the Burrow like you were supposed to."

"She basically told us not to come back if we didn't find you and apologize and bring you back with us," Potter admitted, embarrassed. "She had some, um, choice words about how badly we treated you."

It was surprising to Snape that Molly Weasley of all people would condemn the Boy Who Lived and his faithful sidekick for disapproving of Snape but he was willing to believe that perhaps the witch had more feeling for Hermione than he'd originally thought.

"They were quite besides themselves with worry when I stumbled upon them," Dumbledore added, entering the conversation. "Apparently, they'd looked everywhere for you."

"Including Ireland," Weasley admitted sheepishly. "Thought maybe you'd went to visit that daft American friend of yours. Or that Craig bloke."

Hermione frowned a little but her expression was unreadable. "I wouldn't have gone to Craig. He reacted almost as badly to the news as you did."

Potter sent another uncomfortable glance toward Snape before daring to focus on Hermione. "Look, Hermione...just...give us a chance, alright? Just...come to the party tonight and have Christmas with us. We can hold off everything else until after the holidays, like you planned originally."

"And after?" she asked. "What happens then? You put up with me tonight to make Mrs. Weasley happy and tomorrow, it's back to the way it was this afternoon?"

"No!" they both said in unison.

Weasley was the one who continued. "Listen...I'm not saying I'm any more thrilled about all this" -- he waved a hand toward Hermione and Snape -- "than I was this afternoon but...I'm always gonna be your friend, Hermione. But I didn't act like it this afternoon and...well..." he trailed off, embarrassed.

An awkward silence fell over them until Snape eventually addressed Hermione quietly. "It seems your plans were simply delayed, not canceled." When she looked at him confusedly, he clarified. "You can have your pleasant Christmas after all."

"I don't know..."

"I think it would be good of you to give these boys a chance to make their mistakes up to you, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said gently. "And I know that there are several other people at the Burrow who want to see you. Molly. Miss Weasley. Remus, among others."

Hermione turned away from her audience -- Potter, Weasley, Dumbledore -- to face Snape, looking up at him with concerned dark eyes. "What do you think?"

He could read what she was really asking in her eyes, questions about them and her friends, about the future. Despite the onlookers, Snape didn't hesitate to gently grasp her arms reassuringly, to answer her. "I think you should go and give the idiots a chance. Even if they don't deserve it."

There was a squawk of indignation -- probably Weasley, Snape decided -- but it was quickly muffled. Hermione rolled her eyes in fond exasperation and smiled tenuously. "Are you sure? After I showed up and interrupted your evening, I hate to just leave again..."

"It's fine, Hermione." he assured him, also fond and exasperated.

Her smile strengthened and he was almost dazzled by the warmth in it. "I feel like I'm always short-changing you," she murmured.

"Go," he commanded softly, tightening his fingers against her skin briefly before releasing her, stepping back.

Potter and Weasley were ill at ease, torn once again between fascination and revulsion; Dumbledore was bright and cheerful and twinkling; and Hermione was pink-cheeked and bright-eyed as she stepped away from him. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"As planned," he added, his own face still stern in ways that she knew to ignore.

"Goodnight, Severus," Dumbledore said, twinkling at him. Then he turned to the trio who stood together in awkward, embarrassed silence.

"Come now, Miss Granger, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley," he announced, sweeping them along the hall with outstretched arms and his softly persuasive one-sided conversation. "The night is no longer young and we still have a great deal of celebrating to do. Molly has promised me that she'll have all manner of good things to eat waiting on us and I, for once, can't wait to see what Arthur's new Muggle contraption does. He swears that it's something along the same lines as those batteries he's so fond of, but..."

Snape watched as they disappeared down the long corridor, the sounds of Dumbledore's voice fading away as they moved toward the stairs that would lead them from the dungeons. The last thing he saw was Potter laying a tentative hand on Hermione's arm to help guide her through the dimly lit corridor.

Nodding to himself, he disappeared back into his chambers, shutting the serpentine door against the sudden silence.

The night was bright and crisp when Hermione finally made it to the front of her mother's church after the midnight services. She'd missed it due to her late arrival at the Burrow and the delay it had caused in some of the gift-exchanging festivities but she'd slipped away in time to meet her mother at the church door, Carolina one of the last of the crowd to exit into the biting air of the early Christmas morning.

"I was wondering when you were going to show," her mother said in greeting when she saw her daughter shivering outside of the church, her robes thrown over her arm to disguise them from Muggle passers-by.

"I'm sorry. Things ran a bit late," Hermione told her sincerely.

Carolina gave her a strange look but it quickly softened. "It's fine, Hermione. I understand." She thrust something dark and bulky at her daughter which Hermione took, only to realize that it was her Muggle coat. "I figured you'd need it here," Carolina explained hastily, relieving her of her wizarding robes so that she could shrug into her coat.

Hermione sighed appreciatively. "Thanks, Mama," she told her, smiling.

"Do you want to go in before we leave?" Carolina asked, pointing to the church.

Her daughter shook her head. "I was just here a few days ago. I'll stop by tomorrow before I go to Hogwarts."

Carolina nodded. "Well, then let's get home. Your father's waiting and he's probably shaking his presents apart trying to figure out what they are."

Hermione nodded and fell in step with her mother as they walked the familiar path from their church to their home. The mention of Hogwarts had reminded Hermione of Snape and of the confession that loomed ahead of her. Now that Harry and Ron knew -- along with Mrs. Weasley, Ginny and a handful of others -- she knew she couldn't put off telling her parents any longer.

"Mum..." she began uncertainly, ending the meditative silence.

Carolina glanced over at her. "Yes?"

She sighed. "Remember what we were talking about the other day? About how I might have something to tell you, something you might not like?"

She nodded. "I remember."

Hermione's feet stilled as she braced her courage. "I think...I think it's time I told you."

Carolina slowed as well, turning back to look at her serious-faced daughter. She stepped closer to her daughter and slung an arm over her shoulder, pulling her along. "I think," Carolina began, "that'll keep a few days longer. I think you've had enough emotional upheavals for the day. Don't you?"

"How did you...? She was surprised and she glanced at her mother, begging for answers.

Carolina's eyes were warm and soft, echoes of nonna Rosalia in her gentle expression. "Do you think I really couldn't tell you were upset when you left this afternoon?" she chided. "I could. And I can tell now that you feel better."

She squeezed Hermione's shoulders where her arm still lay around them in an affectionate one-armed hug. "It's Christmas, cara. No need to bare your soul tonight. happy and remember that that's all I ever want for you. Capice?"

"Bene," she laughingly agreed. "It can wait."

"Yes, it can," Carolina declared. "Happy Christmas, Hermione."

"Happy Christmas, Mama," Hermione returned, looking up at the sky from her mother's glowing face. She threaded her arm around her mother, mimicking Carolina's hold on her.

"Happy Christmas."

Heart Over Mind

A Harry Potter Story
by Regann

Part 24 of 27

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