Hermione Granger awoke grumpily on the cold, rainy Valentine's Day of her sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the sound of Lavender Brown squealing from her bed nearby. "Look! Parvati! Hermione!" She was fairly dancing around the room, clutching a bright red envelope.
Not a Howler, is it? Hermione thought muzzily. Have you gone so witchy these past years, Granger, that you don't even recognize a bloody valentine? Maybe not; she had never gotten one, after all, Muggle or magical. A Prefect, with Head Girl position grasped with ease for the coming fall, top of the class academically, not ever deigning to hear the resentful mutters of "That little cow Granger broke the curve again!" She had gotten more than used to it in six years at Hogwarts.
Lavender opened the bright red envelope, and it immediately began singing in a tinny voice:
What do you see?
Fame, fortune, or
Perhaps you and me?
Be mine, sweet Lavender,
Let fate not keep us asunder
I promise you merely this:
I shall never love another.
My undying love always; Your Secret Admirer
"Faintly creepy, isn't it?" Hermione frowned. "I mean, that last verse makes him sound like he's practically stalking you." Not to mention the verse was terrible. Byron is rolling in his grave. It sounded like something those goons Crabbe or Goyle would come up with, losing many brain cells along the way to the mental exertion.
Lavender dreamily placed the envelope on her bedside table, giving a sigh and swooning dramatically onto her bed. She's been learning too much about dramatics from that airy-fairy Trelawny. "He even knew how much I love Divination!" she gushed. "'Look to the future', he said!" Then she realized what Hermione had said, and gave her an annoyed look telling Hermione to bugger off and get off her personal silver-lined cloud. "Hermione, really. I don't think you'd know a jot about romance unless it was on the test syllabus," she sniffed.
Hermione shut her mouth into a tight, thin line, trying not to make a snappish reply. Her mood was worsened when Parvati's owl Perseus swooped in, dropping a beautiful, perfect long-stemmed red rose on his owner's lap, and lighting gracefully upon her knee. Parvati simply grinned, giving Perseus a fond pat and getting misty-eyed over the flower.
She got dressed quickly and grabbed her schoolbooks, storming towards the Great Hall for a breakfast she really didn't feel like. She slid into her seat beside Harry and Ron, ready to scream when as usual, owls were dropping valentines into Harry's lap (and her cereal) in a steady stream. She should have gotten used to his celebrity by now as well as hero-worship it garnered him, but she was in a foul mood this morning. Harry, for his part, was turning as pink as the colored, heart-shaped pancakes sitting in the middle of the Gryffindor table. She chewed her food and swallowed, attacking her cereal viciously, eager for classes to start so she could get away from all this lunacy.
Severus Snape sat glumly at the staff table at breakfast, itching to grasp his wand and cast a Laryngius Charm over the entire hall to shut up the chirping of snotty-nosed brats reading sappy, purple-prosed valentines aloud to each other in delight. Perhaps the Despondus Potion in their pumpkin juice, he thought with glee. Two drops and there would be none of this foolishness for him to suffer through.
Professor Vector grinned and gave him a wink, giggling as Professor Sinistra made some joke or another to her. "Aren't we festive! So are you wearing your boxer shorts with the little red hearts today, Severus?" she teased. "Don't you ever tire of black?"
He tired of these efforts to draw him out of his silence. None of them understood that sometimes, he wanted to be brooding, silent, not chirping cheerfully! "If I had come to breakfast," he said shortly, eating a waffle and ignoring its heart shape, "in bright red robes, Mellisande, I would have begged you to be merciful and kill me. I would have to be under Imperio or some such foolish--" he clamped his mouth shut, seeing their horrified expressions at his mentioning one of the Unforgivable Curses.
Damn it, Severus, he thought wearily. "Ex-Death Eater" does not make for a good resume enhancer, nor does it produce good social conversation. They may have made light of Imperio in Voldemort's (he refused to think of him as Lord Voldemort) ranks, but it was a taboo subject in the forces of the Light. Here is Light; they are Dark. I have been both, so does that make me a shade of grey? he thought archly. Well: drab, colorless, a shadow. Perfectly fitting.
He stared bleakly out at the happy students. From the first one to ask him for a love potion, he'd deduct a hundred house points, he swore. Students knew better than to annoy him on Valentine's; he was even harsh upon Slytherin upon this date. He heard Dumbledore ask Madame Pomfrey if she had her stocks of Unrequited Love Potion ready to take away the heartbreak of those suffering from that ailment this day. Snape had brewed the stuff himself, of course: a pinkish concoction, smelling sweetly of apple. Save some from their own hormones that way, he thought sourly. Pomfrey had best have stocks of Contraceptus Potion in the ready as well. One I never needed.
He eyed Dumbledore's décor of the day. Red and pink everywhere: a shudder worked its way down his spine. Red--Gryffindor red: their colors of red and gold were as bold and flashy as Gryffindors themselves; how he preferred the understated dignity of Slytherin silver and green! He shuddered again to think of Voldemort's glowing red eyes, like some daemon from the depths of Hell itself, or a creature of nightmares. Red had never had good association for him: the house color of his tormentors, the lifeblood of his victims as a Death Eater, his former master's cruel gaze, the burning red of the Dark Mark forever staining his forearm and his soul…
Was it any wonder he preferred black, to match the heart of darkness within him? He knew he was not liked, admired, or spoken of with anything but contempt for "that greasy-haired git." No woman ever had loved him, and none ever could. He truly had no friends: only those who would use him, so it had been back to his own Hogwarts days with his crowd. Avery, Lestrange, Wilkes…Dumbledore perhaps liked him, but even the old, kindly Headmaster had his uses for Snape. He had risked his life as a double agent, chasing redemption he knew he could truly never earn. Locked in a Hell of his own making, and unable to let himself free.
It was all very far from this stupid holiday that gave the false dream that one could be dear to someone, cherished, loved. He curled his lip in a self-deprecating sneer, tossing back his pumpkin juice and excusing himself. Nobody noticed the man of the shadows slip away from the merriment: they hardly ever did. For if they had, it would only be pity they would have for such a poor emotionally crippled creature, and pity was the last thing on Earth that Severus Snape wanted, or ever thought he deserved.
One of Hogwarts' Great Horned Owls swooped overhead, dropping a scroll upon the pile of Harry's valentines. It settled on Hermione's shoulder, nibbling her ear, until she gave it a bit of pancake. It then happily flew off, hooting. Ron snatched it up, ready to read it aloud and tease his friend, secretly pleased that he had gotten three this morning. Not on Harry's scale, but respectable indeed. It was with surprise that he noticed Hermione's name written on the scroll. "Mione, for you," he announced, handing it over. She looked shocked. Ron gave Harry a quick gaze asking, Did you send it? It would be like Harry to do that out of kindness and send it anonymously, since they both knew Hermione had never gotten a valentine. Harry looked equally puzzled.
Hermione slit the seal on the scroll, hands trembling. No, it had to be her letter to the wizarding Lothlorien University with information on applying in the fall. Nobody would send her…but written in a careless, spidery hand, in peacock blue ink, was indeed a valentine, or rather, a love note.
Shall I admit you have captivated my heart?
Please, meet me in the Astronomy Tower at noon.
I'd like to get to know you better.
Signed, An Admirer From Afar
Hermione smiled. No flowery prose: nothing turgidly maudlin. This was her sort of fellow. The blue ink, and "from afar"…could it have been from a Ravenclaw perhaps? Well, they, if anyone, would admire her mind. She tucked the letter in her schoolbag, smiling to herself. She'd meet this person, indeed.
Little did she notice Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy smirking at the Slytherin table as they saw the Head Girl blush and smile, stars in her eyes.
At noon, Hermione clambered up the stairs to the Astronomy Tower excitedly. She knew that people usually came here for romantic privacy: she blushed at the thought. Would he want that at the first meeting? Part of her was taken aback, part of her thrilled. She opened the trapdoor at the head of the staircase, peeking into the tower. "Hallo?" she called quietly.
She climbed into the small stone room. There was nobody else there, but she settled herself down excitedly to wait. She had no class until three, so she could wait. Impatiently she began looking at her watch. Her heart started to plummet to her oxfords, as it became half past, and then quarter till. At one, an owl flew in the window, shaking snow off its wings. She recognized Draco Malfoy's eagle owl. The bird dropped a piece of parchment in her hands, gave her a haughty look positively reeking of its master, and swooped off. She unfolded the paper, almost afraid to read. What could Malfoy have to say? It was green ink this time, but the same handwriting, she recognized with a shock.
You didn't think anybody would honestly mean it, did you?
You'd bore anyone to death, not captivate him.
Happy Valentine's, ta.
Stupid. She had been so stupid to believe like a foolish little girl that the prince of her dreams could be out there to sweep her off her feet. All that was there were cruel bastards who enjoyed mocking her or "didn't like her like that". A hot, bitter tear trickled down her cheek, falling onto the moss-green ink and smearing it. Slowly she descended from the tower: numbly. She had Potions. Yes…her academics were the one thing she could always be certain of.
Snape shuddered as he passed Minerva McGonagall on the way to the dungeons, she teasingly calling, "Don't be in such a hurry, Severus! Are you off to see your ladylove that your feet are on fire, Lover-Boy? We still have next month's Gryffindor/Slytherin match to discuss!"
He slammed the door behind him, stalking to his desk and turning just in time to see Pansy Parkinson sashaying in, that young lady in red robes that made her look like a scarlet harlot, quite frankly. She gave Malfoy cow-eyes and grinned. "Miss Parkinson, take your seat," he said crisply. "There will be none of this Valentine's Day foolishness in this class." He turned to the chalkboard, listing the day's potion and its ingredients. He heard a stifled cry of outrage as he was writing "Gryffon Tongue", and turned, immediately zeroing in on the offender. "Mister Potter, would you care to share with the class?" he said in the tone of silken malevolence he had perfected over the years.
He stalked back to Potter's seat and grabbed the note he clutched before he could hide it. "So you have a secret admirer, Miss Granger. Congratulations." He stopped: suddenly recognizing Draco Malfoy's handwriting. God, how many times had he labored through that careless scrawl in equally careless reports? "Oh, so Mister Malfoy had taken a liking to you?"
"You--" she looked at him, brown eyes full of malice, hating his ugly looks, his bitter nature. "Hateful old bat!" she spat, getting to her feet, and nearly running for the door.
He grabbed another note she had dropped, before Potter or Weasley could. He read it, trying to keep his composure. "Twenty points from Slytherin, Mister Malfoy," he said sharply. Was this school nurturing a new Sirius Black, who would take the risk of killing someone as part of a joke? Malfoy was headed well down that road.
"Sir!" Draco protested angrily. Harry was equally shocked. He knew Valentine's Day was open season for Snape on any house, but twenty in one go from Slytherin? Snape must really be in a rotten mood this year.
"I said none of this Valentine's foolishness in my class, and that includes passing love notes to Miss Granger! Shall we make it thirty?" One of the Gryffindors made a crack about Malfoy, and Miss Granger, for which he happily took ten points. The Slytherins looked shocked at the very idea of Malfoy liking Granger. Considering Parkinson was practically surgically attached to Malfoy, it was no wonder they were dubious. Potter's outcry must have been at the very thought. But he spared Miss Granger the humiliation of exposing the prank Malfoy had pulled on her. God knew he knew the sting of it. He had fallen for the same bloody exact thing his sixth year, and been cut to the quick to hear Sirius Black laughing about it later in the corridors. He had hexed Black before he hardly knew what he was doing, furthering his reputation as a nasty bastard not to be crossed.
It was probably the first time he had ever sympathized with Hermione Granger. He had always seen her as Potter's adoring fan, but he recognized in her, as he thought about it, the same alienation resulting from intellectual brilliance. She was probably crying to Minerva McGonagall about Slytherins, including himself, right now. He sighed and turned back to the lesson. He would apologize (how he ground his teeth at the thought) afterwards. He may have been a nasty, dark-hearted bastard, but there was the faintest twinge at her experiencing the same thing he had. He kept the notes and stalked back to the front of the room, disgusted for going soft.
Hermione huddled beside the suit of armor in one of Hogwarts' many corridors, snuffling into the sleeve of her robe. She wouldn't let them have the satisfaction of seeing how much it had hurt. By tomorrow, she'd be able to cover up the hurt of it. Perhaps even by dinner.
There came a quiet, tentative voice, echoing through the ancient hallway. "Miss Granger?"
She made a muffled reply before she realized the owner of that silky voice she had heard ringing with contempt for six years. It was too late now. He was upon her. "Are you all right?"
"Why Professor Snape, I didn't know you cared," she lashed out. He sighed and crouched down in front of her.
"I came to offer you my apologies."
She stared at him, stupefied. She expected points off or detention for insulting him and running from his class, but not this. "An apology?"
"Yes, Miss Granger. An apology: whereby a party that has caused offense admits to it and pleads that the aggrieved shall see fit to forgive." The same biting wit she was used to; that relieved her a bit. The thought of him being suddenly all cooing and soft would have quite frankly made her flesh crawl.
"What for?" she asked suspiciously.
"My response to your…note. I did not see the second one until afterwards."
"Of course, you didn't do anything about it," she snapped. "Malfoy has you wrapped around his little finger!"
"How I treat my students is my business," he said coldly. "Now, I'd advise you to not question me, else you'll lose for Gryffindor what Malfoy lost for Slytherin in points. I took twenty points for passing love-notes in class."
"Damned wretched holiday," she muttered, realizing he hadn't revealed the truth and a surge of gratitude going through her.
"Quite. Now, listen closely, for I will only say this once, Miss Granger. I will also deny I ever said it. You are worth much, much more than those lace-trimmed fripperies and candy hearts would have you believe." He said it before he hardly realized it. "Now, will you please get up?"
She looked at him uncertainly, hardly daring to believe what he had just said. "Why did you say that?" She got to her feet, knees water-weak and unsteady. "Why?"Is my professor coming on to me? She stifled the hysteria rising within her at the sheer ridiculous nature of the thought.
He smiled wryly. "Is it so unbelievable that I can discern a woman of value? Yes, of course it is." She looked at him: dark hair hanging lank to his shoulders, sallow skin, and black eyes. Not handsome, but cleaned up, he'd probably be quite distinguished. Was it possible that there was more to him than the heartless bastard she had always thought? Unconsciously she reached out a hand and touched his, the hand of the only man who had ever said she was of value as a woman. He flinched as if burned, and the eyes changed to that of a hunted animal. "Good evening, Miss Granger," he said quietly, and turned to go, black robes billowing around him as he strode down the corridor.
"Good night, Professor," she murmured, watching him, smiling a little, playing his words over in her head. You are worth much, much more than those lace-trimmed fripperies and candy hearts would have you believe…is it so unbelievable that I can discern a woman of value? She headed for the Gryffindor dormitory; unable to understand precisely why he had done what he had, but knowing she would work to find out.