For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Thursday, August 1, 2002
Hermione took another bite of cereal and frowned over her to-do list. Should she draft Ron to help her make the personalised schedules? Or should she pack him off to Malfoy Manor to perform the final count of thoroughbreds available for the hunt? He detested what he called ‘fussy work’, which he might feel the schedule-making to be, but he was also unpredictable in his reaction to all things Malfoy. What must it be like to have a biddable boyfriend? Someone who supported one in all endeavours and accepted instructions without argument? She sighed and abandoned her list for more coffee.
Penny looked up from her clipboard. ‘What is it?’
It was the final day before the guests who had enrolled for early registration would begin to arrive for Regency Week. Hermione and her team of volunteers were in residence at Hogwarts and hard at work on all the last minute details. She and Penny were having breakfast together in the Great Hall with the teachers before tackling a very busy day.
Hermione gestured at her list. ‘Oh, I’m just trying to decide what to give Harry and Ron to do today. Are all your assignments made?’
Penny’s cheeks turned a bit pink, making her even prettier than usual. Hermione wished the same were true for her, but when she was embarrassed, she simply looked like a tomato with bushy hair.
‘I have a meeting this morning with the Headmaster, to keep him up on our progress, you know,’ Penny said, sounding a bit breathless.
Hermione nodded, being careful to look very serious. Penny’s sudden, inexplicable crush on Severus Snape had occurred only after Wizarding Hello had published a retrospective of the Headmaster’s life the previous summer. The Headmaster had not commented for the article, and Hermione had thought that some of the reported affiliations and romances were doubtful in the extreme, but there was no question but that the pictorial spread had been impressive—and influential. In particular was the candid shot of him taken by Dennis Creevey when the Wizengamot had rubber-stamped the Minister of Magic’s recommendation that Severus Snape be cleared of all wrong-doing by the War Crimes Tribunal. Snape’s broad, triumphant smile as he turned to shake hands with Harry Potter had transformed him into a different sort of man from the dour Potions master everyone remembered. But even more telling was another photograph of him, obviously taken when he was unaware of being watched. It showed him with his face to the wind, hair blowing back, gazing into the distance as if into a limitless future. Somehow, when looking at that picture, one tended not to notice the oversize hooked nose, but the blazing eyes, determined mouth, and strong, angular jaw all drew the eye. The article and photographs had captured the public’s imagination and changed popular perception of him, even amongst some of his former students.
‘And the other things on my list, of course,’ Penny hastened to add, indicating the parchment beside her plate. She ticked each item off with her quill as she read them out, the self-conscious blush slowly ebbing from her face. ‘Cho and Padma have charge of the music room, sheet music, and instruments. Lavender, Parvati, and Pansy will do the final count on the costumes and mark them off against the guest list.’
Hermione pressed her lips together, determined not to make a rude remark about Pansy Parkinson. It seemed hypocritical for Parkinson to be so determined to help raise money for Hogwarts when she had been willing to run away when the school was under attack from Voldemort—she’d even suggested handing Harry over to appease the Death Eaters!—but as an adult, she had been very active in charity work, so she had established a reputation as a doer of good works. Besides, her father, Fortescue, was on the Board of Governors; there’d been no real question of excluding her.
As if in answer to her name, Pansy hurried up to them, annoyance sitting quite comfortably on her rather hard face.
‘Now what?’ Hermione blurted, earning a particularly malevolent glare from Pansy.
‘It’s Blaise Zabini,’ she said, speaking pointedly to Penny. ‘He just owled a cancellation. And he ordered a full set of costumes! Even a bespoke riding coat for the hunt!’
Penny stood, abandoning her breakfast. ‘Well, he’s not cancelled early enough to get his deposit back,’ she said practically. ‘But it’s a real shame, because I’ve seen the things Madam Malkin made for him. Let’s see if we can change his mind, Pansy. You’re his friend, aren’t you?’
The two girls left, their heads together as they discussed how to put Zabini’s bespoke costumes to best use. Hermione watched them go, unaware of Harry’s arrival.
‘Are you all right?’ Harry asked, slipping into the seat Penny had vacated. ‘You look as if you might have another headache.’
Hermione turned to him with half a smile. Trust Harry to notice how she was feeling without having to be told!
‘Nothing wrong with me that enough caffeine won’t mend,’ she promised him.
He served himself from the warming platter, selecting eggs and several fat sausages. Busying himself with spreading jam on his toast, he asked, ‘What’s on for me today?’
Hermione displayed her list to him. ‘Everything is assigned but these two tasks at the top. I’ve been trying to decide where to use Ron today, and you’ll take the other job, by default.’
Harry rolled his eyes towards the ceiling of the Great Hall, where fluffy white clouds scudded across a sky of faultless blue. ‘Never mind me—I like being at the bottom of everyone’s list.’
His words were spoken with a gleam in his eye, but Hermione defended herself anyway. ‘As if you’re at the bottom of anyone’s list! And you know how difficult Ron can be—I want to give him something to do where I can get a full day’s work from him.’ She looked toward the door. ‘Where is he, anyway?’
Harry shrugged, keeping his eyes on his plate, and Hermione recognised his evasive techniques which, in truth, were about as sophisticated now as they’d been when he was eleven years old.
‘Out late down the pub?’ she suggested.
‘A bit,’ he said noncommittally.
She would have to settle for that, she supposed.
Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and George Weasley approached en masse. ‘We’re growing the shrubbery for the maze today, right?’ George asked, nicking a piece of toast from Hermione’s plate.
Hermione slapped his hand. ‘Get your own breakfast!’ she objected, but George only laughed.
‘I’ve been using Nargle magic,’ Luna confided serenely. ‘I’ve taught the spell to George and Neville—it’s working a treat. Nargle enchantments are perfect to encourage rabid plant proliferation.’
Neville bent down, pretending to tie his shoelace. ‘We’re not using her spell,’ he whispered. ‘But we’ll have the job done by sundown—no worries, Hermione. The hedges were grown here for the Triwizard Tournament. We just have to remind them of that and encourage them to grow again.’
Hermione smiled her thanks, and her three friends took seats at the table to enjoy their breakfasts.
Then Professor Mortelle walked in, her vibrant red hair perfectly groomed, her carriage confident and purposeful. She was of average height, buxom and curvaceous, with eyes the colour of sapphires. She wore peacock blue robes over a golden brown sheathe dress, the whole tied together by the iridescent scarf she wore, a shimmering confection of blues, greens, golds and browns, like the tail feathers of a peacock. On her feet were stiletto heels that matched the robes perfectly.
Hermione sighed enviously. ‘That woman has the most gorgeous shoes I’ve ever seen. She must spend every Knut she makes on her wardrobe.’
‘Not exactly a black-robes sort of teacher,’ Harry agreed. ‘Do you know her at all?’
‘I’ve spent some time around her. She’s a bit intimidating at first, but she has a truly wicked tongue—she’ll have you laughing, even when you know you oughtn’t. I think she may be the cleverest witch I’ve ever met.’
Harry snorted. ‘You’re the cleverest witch—everyone says so.’
Hermione pursed her lips for a moment. ‘I’ve thought about that,’ she admitted. ‘The truth is, Lupin said I was the cleverest witch of my age—but Professor Mortelle is closer to your parents’ generation. Besides, she was educated at Durmstrang—Remus probably didn’t know her.’ She grinned at a sudden thought and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘I think Lucius Malfoy fancies her—it’s rather sweet, really.’
Harry made a flapping motion with one hand, as if to indicate his distaste for the subject matter. Hermione subsided, and they continued to eat in silence for a space of time until Harry spoke again, his manner hesitant.
‘Hermione, have you … talked to Ginny?’
Hermione cocked her head for a moment, considering, and then she decided to be direct. ‘You know why she isn’t coming for Regency Week, Harry.’
He gave her a pained look. ‘But how am I going to keep them off me?’
She set her cup in its saucer and met his eyes with grave deliberation. ‘Tell the truth,’ she said quietly. ‘Tell the truth, and you’ll have an entirely different sort of problem—but one you might like better.’ She smiled at him lovingly and patted his cheek.
A sneering voice spoke from above them. ‘Affecting, but at the breakfast table, Granger? Before I’ve eaten? Have some consideration for my digestion.’
Hermione and Harry looked guiltily over their shoulders, much as they might’ve done in Potions class, caught whispering when they ought to have been brewing. Headmaster Snape sneered down at them, but Hermione thought the attitude didn’t quite reach his eyes.
She’d been thinking that a lot, lately.
‘Morning, Severus,’ Harry said with a grin. ‘And leave Hermione alone—she isn’t used to your sense of humour like I am.’
Snape inclined his head, causing his hair to swing forward, hiding his face. ‘Good morning, Regency Project Committee Chairwoman,’ he said, but without being able to see his expression, Hermione couldn’t tell if he was having her on.
‘It’s chairperson,’ she huffed, turning back to her soggy cereal.
‘Know it all.’
She whirled, a retort on her lips, but the Headmaster had moved on, strolling down to take a seat beside Professor Mortelle. Had he really murmured that hated epithet, or had it been her imagination?
‘He’s impossible,’ she muttered, taking up her quill and drawing an unnecessary line beneath the word ‘side-saddle’, the tip of her quill breaking through the parchment and leaving a spreading ink stain on the tablecloth.
‘As long as you react to him that way, he’s going to keep on,’ Harry told her, clearly amused. ‘Severus is always going to provoke you, if you let him—it’s one of his little pleasures—he says teachers don’t have many. But if you just move past it when he’s like that—if you don’t react to it—after a while, he’ll stop … mostly.’
Hermione snorted. ‘He still treats you as if you’re not quite bright,’ she pointed out, ‘and you’re his greatest advocate.’ She looked down the table, noting the half-smile on Snape’s lips as he listened to something Professor Mortelle was saying. ‘That newspaper photograph of you outside his St Mungo’s room—the one with the He’s the Bravest Man I Ever Knew headline—was the making of him.’
Harry gave her a very serious look, suddenly the fully qualified Auror, rather than an awkward schoolboy. ‘I don’t believe that,’ he said. ‘He made himself what he is by the life he lived. He couldn’t keep up the pretence of being a graceless git forever. His true colours were bound to show. He was always going to be found out eventually, regardless of anything I said or did.’
Hermione stood up, giving his hair a fond tousle. ‘Keep telling yourself that,’ she said, gathering up her things. ‘So I can count on you to go to Malfoy Manor and get a final count on the horses and equipment?’ She detached the appropriate sheet and slid it across the table to him. ‘Record exact numbers, Harry—this is important.’
He gave her a cocky salute. ‘Orders received, Boss!’
Hermione gave him a withering glance and stalked out into the Entrance hall. She still had planning to finish, but there was no reason why she couldn’t do it outside, in the fresh air.
She was sitting beneath her favourite lakeside tree, copying out Ron’s to-do list for the day, when Draco Malfoy found her. Hermione and Draco had become friends—confidantes, even—after the war, but Draco tended to gad about too much for Hermione to see him very often.
‘Severus said you’d be down here,’ Draco said, conjuring a rug and placing it beside Hermione before sitting.
‘Snape doesn’t keep up with my comings and goings,’ she snapped, unaccountably irritated.
Draco gave her a sidelong look. ‘Could’ve fooled me,’ he said, laughter hovering on the edge of his tone. ‘Who got up your nose already today?’
Hermione slammed her planner closed and slapped it on top of her clipboard. ‘No one! But what are you doing here, Draco?’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m a paying customer, Granger—mind your manners.’
She exhaled her annoyance and tried for some composure. ‘I know you’re signed up, but even early registration doesn’t begin before tomorrow, so why are you here?’
Draco lolled back on one elbow, careful to remain on the rug, as if worried about getting grass stains on his immaculate, tight-fitting white jeans or the ice blue shirt he wore above them. ‘I must’ve mistaken the date,’ he said, his grey eyes sliding away from hers, as if unwilling to make contact. ‘Where are your boyfriends?’ he asked.
‘Ron is sleeping late, and Harry is on assignment,’ she informed him. ‘But don’t think you can hang about here, getting in the way—we have loads of work to do today.’
Draco laughed out loud. ‘No doubt lounging about by the lake is on that massive to-do list of yours.’
‘What’s it to you, Ferret?’
Hermione glanced back to see Harry standing at the top of the slope, looking belligerent. Draco, on the other hand, changed as if a switch had been flipped. The laughter disappeared from his face, and he was his old, insolent self.
‘The Scar-Head speaks,’ he drawled, sounding bored.
‘Why don’t you answer her question?’ Harry said aggressively. ‘What are you doing here?’
Malfoy sat up straight, his rigid back to Harry. ‘If you want to talk to me, come down here,’ Draco said. ‘I have no intention of straining my neck to carry on a conversation with you.’
Harry walked downslope until he was planted between Hermione and Draco. Hermione gave his jeans leg a tug. ‘Leave him alone, Harry. He’s not bothering me.’
Draco leant forward, addressing Hermione around Harry’s legs. ‘I was in France, visiting Mother,’ he said. ‘That’s where she lives since the divorce, you know. Her sister was there—a woman called Andromeda Tonks—and she had an ankle-biter with her.’ He stood suddenly, his grey eyes on level with Harry’s green ones. ‘Some little changeling with blue hair, called Teddy.’
Harry’s fists clenched, and Hermione scrambled up hurriedly, placing a placating hand on his arm. ‘Malfoy’s just winding you up,’ she said to him.
Harry took a step forward, his nose inches from Draco’s, just as if Hermione were not clutching his arm and giving it admonitory tugs. ‘That’s my godson you’re talking about,’ Harry snarled. ‘And he’s not a changeling, Malfoy—he’s a Metamorphmagus, just like his mum, your cousin was—as anyone but an idiot could have worked out for himself.’
‘But the idiots of the world have you on their side, Potter—so there’s nothing to worry about there.’ And Draco stepped away, turning his back to them, fussing with the cuffs of his long-sleeved shirt.
‘Harry, you’re supposed to be at Malfoy Manor,’ Hermione reminded him, stepping into the space Draco had vacated.
‘I went up to brush my teeth and saw Ron—told him you were looking for him. He said he’ll find you directly after breakfast.’ But all the time Harry was talking to her, he never looked away from Malfoy’s back.
Draco pivoted. ‘You are going to the Manor, Scar-Head?’ His grey eyes travelled from Harry’s messy hair to his well-worn trainers and back again, a sneer on his lips.
Harry jerked his arm from Hermione’s grasp. ‘Fuck you, Ferret,’ he said, and he headed furiously up the slope.
Hermione shook her head. ‘Well, I hope you’re happy, Malfoy,’ she said. ‘You’ve only been here for fifteen minutes, and there’s already trouble.’
Draco gave her a glittering smile. ‘Don’t worry your bushy little head about it,’ he said. ‘Obviously, The Boy Who Whinged needs a guide about the Manor stables—it’s not as if he’s ever been there before, after all.’
He Vanished the rug and walked away with a smirk.
‘Draco, you should leave him alone when he’s in a mood like this,’ she called after him, but Malfoy gave her negligent wave and continued on his way without looking back at her.
‘You’d better not get in his way!’ she cried at his diminishing back, but Draco gave no sign he had heard her. With a huff of frustration, she went in search of Ron, his to-do list for the day in her hand. If she got an early start on making the personalised schedules, she could always go to the Manor later, in case Harry didn’t get the job done …