For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Thursday, August 1, 2002
Ron Weasley sat dejectedly at a table in the teacher’s staffroom, his large, sometimes clumsy fist wrapped about his wand. His freckled face was scrunched in concentration as he transferred information to Xenophilius Lovegood’s scheduled activities for Regency Week, frequently consulting Hermione’s handwritten list.
‘I can’t believe you’re even letting the old git come,’ Ron muttered, painstakingly moving Wednesday morning, 9 A.M., dancing lessons in the Trophy Room from Hermione’s master list to his parchment, the incantation of her magic copying spell still awkward on his tongue and unfamiliar to his wand. ‘He would’ve handed us over to Death Eaters without batting an eye.’
Hermione did not look up from her task. She had found no easy way to mass produce the individualised schedules, for everyone was signed up for different classes, functions, and events. Yet nearly all the Muggle sources she had consulted had provided their participants with individual ‘dance card’ type documents to help them keep up with when and where they were supposed to be. Of course, the Muggles could just pop all the data into a computer and print schedules out in no time. But her version would be superior, because she was using real parchment and had fashioned her master list with a real quill and genuine India ink! She had made a master list of all possible events and created an enormous stack of parchment sheets with each day’s meals already recorded, because those would be the same for everyone. All they had to do now was add each participant’s name to the top of the parchment and use her copying spell to put down each of their scheduled activities.
The only problem was that Hermione was completing ten schedules for every one that Ron managed, and he had already spoilt three by spilling or splotching ink on them. Even though they had eaten nothing but sandwiches in the staffroom for lunch, it felt as if little progress had been made. She was going to be at this all night, and that meant no sleep for her, because the guests would begin arriving on the morrow!
Ron nudged her foot under the table. ‘Are you listening to me, Hermione?’
She made a real effort, most of the time, to be patient and kind to Ron; he was, after all, her boyfriend. But she was so stressed over the preparations for the event that her patience was at an end.
‘Don’t kick me!’ she snapped crossly.
‘I said, why are you letting old Lovegood come to the party? He would have given Harry up to Voldemort!’
Hermione completed Romilda Vane’s schedule and took a new sheet to begin the card for Finbar Quigley. ‘We’ve had this discussion already, Ronald,’ she replied. ‘You would have done the same thing if your daughter had been taken by the Death Eaters—and Mr Lovegood was already punished, wasn’t he? The Death Eaters put him in Azkaban and kept him there until the end of the war!’
Ron didn’t respond, but his lips compressed, and she knew he was angry. Why did he have such a difficult time forgiving people? By the way he judged others, you would think he was a paragon! Then the staffroom door opened, and Ron twisted round to see who it was, as if he were expecting someone to come in and rescue him.
But it was only the Headmaster.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ Ron said rudely, and Hermione nudged his foot under the table—perhaps a bit harder than she’d meant to. ‘Shit!’ Ron shouted, jerking back from the pain in his shin and spluttering ink all across the page.
‘The name is Snape, Mr Weasley,’ the Headmaster said silkily, and Hermione was distracted from the mess Ron had made of yet another page by the minute quiver at the corner of Snape’s mouth.
‘He wasn’t calling you shit,’ Hermione said, loyally defending her swain.
The Headmaster’s eyebrows arched. ‘Such language, Miss Granger,’ he murmured, slanting a sidelong glance at her.
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek. Was he teasing her? His black eyes seemed to be laughing. Why was he so difficult to read? She opened her mouth to retort, but the Headmaster slipped into an armchair and picked up a magazine from the table littered with reading material abandoned there by other teachers.
‘Don’t mind me—please, carry on with your … project.’ And he opened the periodical and looked down at it, his hair falling forward with the motion. To all appearances, Snape then lost himself in his reading material.
‘Let me have it,’ Hermione said to Ron, reaching out her hand for Mr Lovegood’s schedule.
Ron flung it at her and hunched his shoulders. ‘I’m bloody bored with this,’ he said, looking out the window at the sunshine and the glint of water in the distance. ‘Why can’t we take a break? Walk with me by the lake.’
Hermione continued siphoning the excess ink from the parchment with her wand, ignoring her boyfriend’s pleas. Perhaps if Ron stopped trying to skive off work, Snape would not hear her reprimanding him. She darted another look at the Headmaster, but his face was hidden from her by the curtain of his rather stringy hair.
Ron abandoned the straight backed wooden chair and moved around the worktable to sit beside Hermione. When she didn’t look up from what she was doing, he leant toward her, his lips near her ear. ‘Wouldn’t you like to steal a bit of alone time?’ he said. ‘It’s been … forever since we were able to …’
Hermione jerked her head away from him angrily, supremely conscious of Snape sitting five feet away. Did Ron really want to have this conversation in front of an audience? This audience?
She could feel Ron stiffening beside her as he registered her annoyance. Sitting straight again, the wheedling tone gone from his voice, he said quietly, ‘Where were you last night? I knocked at your door when I got in from Hogsmeade.’
‘Oh?’ she said, her voice high and strained. ‘What time was that, Ronald?’
She felt rather than saw his shrug. ‘Half-two, maybe?’ he said. ‘The pub closed at two.’
‘I was sleeping,’ she replied coldly. Honestly! Did he think a girl wanted a drunken sot in her bed in the wee hours of the morning?
‘I pounded on the door,’ Ron said, persisting. ‘Why didn’t you let me in?’
‘I didn’t hear you,’ she said, completing the clean-up of his messy parchment. ‘Are you going to finish this?’ She offered it back to him, turning to look in his face.
Ron looked obstinate. ‘You should’ve let me in.’
Snape cleared his throat rather loudly, and Hermione flushed with embarrassment. What must he be thinking of them? And Ron’s ears were turning red, never a good sign.
‘What do you want, Snape?’ Ron snarled.
‘I don’t like to interrupt, of course, but I couldn’t help overhearing,’ he said, his expression bland. ‘Mr Weasley, perhaps it would be helpful for you to know that an unused door to the Headmaster’s chambers is situated on the same corridor as Miss Granger’s room.’
‘So?’ Ron said, and he sounded so belligerent it was all Hermione could do not to hex him. What was his problem? All she wanted to do was finish creating the individualised schedules! Why was he trying to start an argument with the Headmaster?
Snape, however, answered in a tone that was descending from bland to bored. ‘So, you were knocking on my door, you twit—not hers.’
The back of Ron’s neck was as red now as his ears. ‘Why is my girlfriend sleeping next to you?’ he demanded.
Hermione was furious. ‘Ronald!’ she said sharply.
But Snape was unmoved. He answered simply, ‘Miss Granger requested rooms for herself and her helpers in the teachers’ wing, so as to leave all the best chambers for paying guests,’ he said, and seeming to lose interest in the conversation, he redirected his attention to the magazine he held.
Hermione was mortified. It was bad enough that Ron was constantly starting rows with her, but to have him do it in front of the Headmaster was going too far.
She stood, moving away from him, and began to tidy her work materials, straightening the completed stack—woefully small!—and gathering the parchment Ron had ruined. She wadded each piece into a tight ball before sending them all to the bin with the flick of her fingers. The hot, angry words on the tip of her tongue she held back, determined not to have it out with Ron for Snape’s edification—and doubtless—his enjoyment.
She was still struggling to think of something neutral to say to him when the staffroom door opened and Draco breezed in, followed by Harry, who looked as angry as a wet hen.
‘Good afternoon, everyone,’ Draco said, walking past the worktable and stopping beside the Headmaster. ‘How are you getting on, Severus?’ He turned slightly to include the trio behind him in the conversation. ‘What have I missed whilst keeping ickle Potter here from being trampled by tame horses?’
Snape snorted audibly at this, but Harry ignored the provocation. Instead, he placed his inventory in Hermione’s hands. ‘There you go,’ he said. ‘I believe there are enough horses to provide mounts for everyone who’s already signed up for the hunt.’
Hermione nodded thoughtfully as she looked over the list of horses, saddles, bridles, and related equipment. ‘Yes, but we need to be ready to provide additional horses if more people sign up for the hunt,’ she said. ‘It’s the most expensive activity we’re offering, so I’ll find a way to accommodate everyone who wants to ride—the money’s for Hogwarts, after all!’
Ron sidled over to Harry. ‘Nice weather for flying today, eh, Harry?’
Hermione rolled her eyes. Truly, Ron was no help at all.
Draco peered over her shoulder. ‘What are you working with, Granger?’ he said, picking up the completed schedule for Dimitar Zongraf. ‘Some sort of copying spell?’
Hermione nodded, a little impressed that Draco had picked up on it so quickly.
Draco collapsed into the seat Ron had vacated and looked up at the trio brightly. ‘I’m good at this,’ he boasted, making shooing motions at Harry and Ron. ‘You two go do something manly and sweaty whilst Granger and I whip these out.’ And without being told what to do, he pulled his wand from his sleeve and began to study the master list.
‘You don’t have to tell me twice,’ Ron said, turning from Hermione without a word of goodbye and striding to the door. He paused there, looking over his shoulder. ‘Are you coming, Harry?’
Harry hesitated for a moment, staring suspiciously at Malfoy. ‘Maybe I should help Hermione,’ he said.
Snape groaned audibly. ‘Run along, Potter. Take Weasley for a turn on the Quidditch pitch, and allow Miss Granger to complete her project. Guests begin arriving in the morning, you know.’
Harry appeared to be torn. ‘If you make sure Malfoy doesn’t annoy her, Severus, I’ll go.’
Snape looked up and bared his teeth at Harry. ‘If you don’t stop annoying me, you’ll be sorry,’ he promised darkly.
Harry laughed then, as if Snape had said something funny, and he walked up to Ron and slapped him on the back. ‘Fancy a bit of flying?’ he said with a grin, and the two left the room.
Hermione looked doubtfully at Draco. ‘Do you really want to do this?’
Draco rolled up his sleeves, fussily. ‘I frequently helped Mother address invitations,’ he said. ‘The process looks quite similar.’
She taught him the spell, and they settled down to work in companionable silence for half an hour. At the end of that time, Hermione had recovered her composure enough to say, ‘Did you and Harry get along?’
Draco shrugged. ‘I suppose so,’ he said. ‘Why?’
Hermione answered with another question. ‘Draco, where’s Blaise?’
Draco completed the schedule for Pansy Parkinson and laid down his wand. ‘I haven’t got a clue,’ he said irritably.
Hermione sighed. ‘Have you fought with him again?’
Draco tossed his head, white-blond hair stirring before falling obediently in place again. ‘I’m finished with him. Could we please not talk about it?’
She placed her hand on his, and he gave it a quick squeeze, then picked up his wand again. The staffroom door opened, and Hermione suppressed a groan. Surely Harry and Ron weren’t back already? But when she lifted her head, she saw Professor Mortelle come in, with Lucius Malfoy following.
‘Good afternoon, all,’ Mr Malfoy said expansively, obviously in high spirits.
Draco’s head came up from his work. ‘Father!’ he said.
The elder Malfoy crossed to Draco, who stood to shake his father’s hand and exchange a brief, one-armed embrace with him. Draco would never achieve his father’s height, but they were so alike in their colouring and bone structure that their relationship was apparent.
‘Draco, have you met Professor Mortelle?’ Mr Malfoy reached a hand to her, and she came to him, a social smile upon her carefully coloured lips. ‘Leticia, this is my son, Draco. Draco, Professor Leticia Mortelle.’
Hermione watched them with amusement. Mr Malfoy seemed unusually jovial, but Mortelle and Draco were each wary of the other, despite the practiced nothings they exchanged, punctiliously polite. Idly, she speculated that the red-haired witch would have been Sorted into Slytherin, had she attended school in the UK. But was she attracted to Lucius Malfoy, as he was to her? Hermione hadn’t been able to determine this from observing them, and she had to admire the older woman’s style. She suspected that Malfoy was as much in the dark as anyone, yet his pursuit was undiminished, even after all these months of apparently no progress.
Professor Mortelle seemed to take keen interest in the making of the schedules, for she took a seat beside Draco, entering into a low-voiced conversation with him. Hermione, however, found her attention staying on Mr Malfoy, who took a seat across from the Headmaster.
‘Why is there no drinks tray in this room?’ Malfoy inquired. ‘It is quite inconvenient!’
Professor Snape tossed his magazine onto the table from which it had come. ‘Because it’s the staffroom, Lucius. The place where teachers come for a cup of tea on their free periods. I have no desire for my teachers to be imbibing spirits during their work days.’ Still, he raised his voice and said, ‘Staffroom!’
A house-elf appeared before him, bowing deeply, addressing its bony knees. ‘How may Herpie serve the Headmaster?’
Mr Malfoy looked startled. ‘Did he say herpes?’ he inquired, his humorous grey eyes meeting those of Professor Mortelle, who had looked up at the question.
Her blue eyes brimming with amusement, Professor Mortelle replied, ‘I think not, Lucius.’
‘A dram of scotch for Mr Malfoy,’ Snape ordered the elf. ‘From the Headmaster’s stash, mind.’
Herpie popped away, and Snape glared at his friend. ‘Do make an effort not to mock the house-elves,’ he said waspishly. ‘Hogwarts does not have an endless supply of them, as the Manor seems to enjoy.’
Mr Malfoy sat straighter, propping his serpent-head walking stick against his armchair. He placed a perfectly manicured hand against his breast. ‘I, mock a house-elf?’ he said in injured accents. ‘Never say so! I completed a full twelve months of Ministry sponsored Diversity Training and Sensitivity Sessions. A year, Severus! If you spread such rumours about me, I’ll be sent back for a refresher.’ He sniffed dramatically. ‘Besides—you might make me cry.’
He shuddered, drawing a snort of laughter from Snape and a giggle from Hermione. She had to admit that Mr Malfoy could be quite droll when he exerted himself—and his manner towards her had changed dramatically since the end of the war, the dissolution of his long marriage to Narcissa Black, and yes, his year of Wizengamot-mandated incarceration at the School for Cultural Diversity. Sometimes she wondered if he only acted the part of the reformed Death Eater, but in these last several months of close work with him on the fundraising projects for the Hogwarts Fund, she had never once caught him out in his old ways.
The house-elf returned with a serving tray of heavy crystal goblets and a rather dusty bottle of Scotch. ‘Does sir require further service?’ Herpie asked squeakily.
The Headmaster demurred, and the elf departed as Mr Malfoy took up the bottle, wiping the dust from it with his own handkerchief. ‘You’ve trained the elves well,’ he said approvingly. ‘Clearing the dust away magically could alter the contents of the bottle.’ Pleasure curved his lips. ‘This is the Macallan Fine and Rare,’ he said, near reverence.
‘Dumbledore received two cases of the ’39 vintage when he defeated Grindelwald,’ Snape said, taking up a goblet and holding it out to be filled.
Malfoy bent forward to do the honours, but for some reason, Hermione could not look away from the Headmaster’s profile. She was caught out at it when he turned his head and looked directly into her eyes.
‘May I … entice you, Miss Granger?’ he inquired silkily, his black eyes enigmatic.
A small burst of air expelled from Hermione as her lips parted in surprise; she was strangely discomfited. In an instant, it seemed as if she and Snape were alone in the room, and his words hung between them like an invitation to something entirely other than sixty-five year old single malt. Her heart did something funny in her chest, her breath quickened, and her hands seemed not her own, tingling with the mad urge to reach out to him.
‘Don’t do it, Granger,’ Draco said gaily, his familiar, if exasperating voice bringing her swiftly back to reality. ‘You’re such a lightweight, a sip of that stuff would put you out for a night and a day!’
With a huge exercise of will, Hermione tore her gaze away from Snape’s, and she groped blindly for her wand. She had to appear undisturbed by that little episode—an aberration of her mind, she was sure, brought on by nothing but an irritation of the nerves, by stress—and continue on as if nothing had happened.
Nothing did happen, she thought stubbornly, but her trembling fingers seemed to say differently.
‘… and Leticia has crafted the most delightful spell!’ Mr Malfoy was saying as Hermione pulled herself out of her own head. She glanced at Professor Mortelle, who was watching her with something perilously close to understanding.
‘The non-riders who come to us for lessons before the hunt will receive more than basic instruction in equitation,’ Malfoy enthused. ‘They will be taught a spell which will keep them in the saddle!’
‘That’s it, Granger!’ Draco chortled. ‘Now you have to participate in the hunt!’
Hermione swallowed. ‘I was always going to be there, Draco,’ she said. ‘But you know I don’t like …’
‘Riding a thoroughbred is nothing like flying on a Thestral,’ Draco scolded. ‘And with a spell that won’t let you fall, you’ll be all set!’
His bright smile was deceptive, because she saw the devilish glint in his grey eyes. ‘You can’t force me to—’ she began, but somehow, the Headmaster was suddenly at her side.
‘Excellent,’ he said, with a slight bow in her direction. ‘Lucius and I shall expect you to make one of our party, Miss Granger, as the head of this entire enterprise must belong with the hunt host and the Headmaster, wouldn’t you agree?’
Hermione looked helplessly from Snape, whose eyes looked every bit as roguish as Draco’s, to Mr Malfoy, who toasted her with his glass of scotch, to Leticia Mortelle. The sly professor smiled at her sweetly and said in her cultured voice, ‘Then it’s settled, Hermione.’
The clock on the mantel chimed the hour. ‘How did it get so late?’ Lucius complained. ‘I do hate to rush through a good glass of Severus’ scotch, particularly since he’s so stingy with it.’ Yet in spite of his words, he swallowed the remainder of the spirit and stood. ‘I must away to the Manor to dress for dinner,’ he informed the room at large. ‘I hope you’ve ordered a particularly fine feast for your tireless Regency Week workers, Headmaster. We’ve earned it, wouldn’t you say?’
Hermione watched as Snape looked Mr Malfoy over, from the top of his silky blond head to the tips of his handmade, Italian leather footwear. ‘Yes, Lucius; I can see you’ve worked your fingers to the bone.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that,’ Professor Mortelle murmured, delivering a coquettish smile. ‘But I, too, must excuse myself. Dressing for dinner is … time-consuming.’
‘Precisely what I was saying, my dear,’ Mr Malfoy said, taking up his cane and offering his arm. ‘Please, let me escort you.’
The two exited the room, and it seemed as if a good deal of the colour and vitality left with them. Hermione turned doggedly back to her stack of incomplete schedules.
‘Don’t be late for dinner, Draco,’ the Headmaster said, and Hermione looked up, to see those dangerous black eyes fixed upon her, in spite of his words. ‘If you’re late, I will have to put myself to the trouble of … coming to fetch you.’
And with an ironic bow to her, Snape turned in a swirl of black and strode to the door.
‘What I would give for his presence,’ Draco said appreciatively.
What I would give for … someone like him, Hermione thought, but what she said was, ‘We’d best hurry, Draco, or neither one of us will be at supper.’
And with renewed energy, Hermione and Draco attacked the task at hand.