For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Thursday, August 1, 2002
The Headmaster made a good meal of the house-elves’ offerings that night at dinner. Of more interest to him was watching the collected Regency Week workers present, and from his place at the head of the High Table, he observed their interactions with all the shrewdness he had employed in his years as Dumbledore’s man, if not with the same level of urgency. Miss Granger was seated at mid-table, with Potter on one side and Weasley on the other, much as they had been during the times when they and their doings had deprived him of sleep, which had been far too often for health or comfort. Longbottom sat to Potter’s left and George Weasley to his brother’s right. Across from them ranged the Lovegood girl, Cho Chang, Lavender Brown, and the Patil sisters. Nearer to hand were Lucius and Leticia on Severus’ right and Draco and Pansy on his left. Penelope Clearwater, whose wide-eyed pursuit of him he found quite unnerving, sat beside Leticia, trying desperately to find a foothold in what she perceived to be the Headmaster’s ‘Inner Circle’—at least, that is what he had read as her intention when he had unscrupulously peeked into her mind that morning at his daily ‘progress report’ meeting.
Minerva McGonagall sat at the foot of the table, the other professors who had elected to remain for the summer—in spite of the threat of Regency Week—seated about her. Slughorn in particular was enjoying the wine, hedonist that he was. The mood was vaguely celebratory, no doubt helped along by the champagne Severus had permitted to be disgorged from the Headmaster’s stores, and some at the table were already a bit the worse for drink. But Hermione Granger had not touched the wine poured into her glass, save to raise it when the toasts were made: once in praise of the work completed and again in hope for the success of the Regency Week.
Miss Granger had been showing signs of waning patience throughout dinner, her expression stormier with each glass Weasley drank and each increase in the volume of his unsolicited observations and opinions. Having closely observed her, Severus was convinced the girl was less than happy. The nagging question of why he ought to care, he was unwilling to consider, and he shied away from it like a ferret from a Hippogriff.
The younger Weasley, having partaken of more wine than food, was loud and obnoxious, but it was nothing Severus hadn’t seen from the boy before.
‘… such a weird idea,’ Ronald Weasley proclaimed to his brother, who watched him with a resigned expression. ‘Why would anyone pay to dress up in those stupid clothes? To spend a week acting like a bunch of Regency wankers? What, drinking and gambling and dancing the bloody minuet?’
Miss Granger pushed back her chair and swept along the dais to the side entrance, her gaze straight ahead, her lips pressed together in an angry line. Even so, her exit was capped by the nearly silent closing of the door, rather than the slam Severus might have expected of the Hermione Granger he had known when she was his student. The girl had obviously gained some self-control in the years since he had taught her … perhaps even some subtlety.
The idea was vaguely disturbing.
‘Well done, Ron,’ his brother said snidely. ‘Hermione’s not speaking to you now, so you don’t have to sneak away for Poker Night.’
It seemed to the Headmaster as if the former twin engaged in his bantering still expecting to have his sentences finished and his sentiments echoed by the brother now four years gone.
The younger sibling scowled down into his goblet. ‘She’s been obsessed with this thing for a year!’ he said defensively. ‘Do you know how much of it I’ve had to listen to? She hasn’t been able to think about anything else.’
Lavender Brown tittered shrilly. ‘I knew they wouldn’t make it,’ she said to no one in particular, giving Weasley a rather malicious look from beneath her lashes.
Longbottom hurried into speech, as if in hopes that if he did so, no one would notice the Brown girl’s hateful comment.
‘Yeah, it is the fourth Tuesday of the month. And I feel lucky tonight, after growing two acres of eight-foot tall hedges in less than a week!’
Longbottom grinned at the young women sitting across the table from him, then stood to receive the ironic congratulations of George Weasley, who had been his chief lieutenant in the project. George clapped Longbottom on the shoulder and looked over his shoulder at Potter.
‘Where can we … retire to prepare for Poker Night?’ he asked.
The Headmaster smirked. Although he had managed to avoid most of the invitations Potter sent to the monthly card game, his one experience had taught him that the young war veterans considered drunkenness as a necessary adjunct for wagering hard-earned gold against one another in their so-called Poker Night depredations.
Potter looked down the table to Severus. ‘Professor Dumbledore’s portrait always joins us at Grimmauld Place,’ he said. ‘Where are his portraits in the castle?’
Severus did not let his inner sigh escape his lips. ‘We had best retire to my office,’ he said. Glancing down the table, he included Longbottom and the Weasleys in his next words. ‘Go with Potter. He knows the password.’ Damned if he was going to give it out in front of all these people!
Pansy Parkinson spoke up, her tone accusatory. ‘I suppose it’s just Gryffindors invited to the card game.’
Potter laughed as he passed behind Severus’ chair. ‘Wait, I’m going to stay here if you’re going to call Severus a Gryffindor again.’
‘Oh, they’ll let their betters into the game as long as there are enough Galleons involved,’ Draco said. ‘It’s females they don’t want, love.’
Penelope Clearwater stood then, her soft voice raised merrily, forced though it sounded. ‘Oh, as if we want to be around for all the drinking and gambling! We women have our own plans tonight!’ She called down to the group still seated across from Ronald Weasley. ‘Isn’t that right, girls? Cocktails in the blue parlour?’
‘We’re all set up there,’ Miss Chang replied. ‘Herpie promised to bring a bucket of ice at nine o’clock sharp.’ She nudged one of the Patil girls, presumably the one who had been in Ravenclaw, Chang’s own House. ‘Padma brews up a fabulous Gooseberry martini.’
Severus could not but be aware of Draco’s grey-eyed stare, directed over his head—probably at Potter. ‘I think I’d like a martini,’ Draco said. ‘You ought to join the girls, Scar Head.’
Severus resisted the urge to look over his shoulder to see Potter’s face.
‘You’d be … welcome to play cards, Ferret.’
The boy’s voice sounded so tight it was surprising he had managed to force it from his throat—but one had to had it hand it to Potter, whose kindness to misfits had been something of legend in his student days—as little as he might want Draco at his card game, he couldn’t bring himself to repulse his old school enemy.
Draco sneered. ‘I’d rather clean toilets.’
Potter snorted. ‘I’ll tell Hermione—she’ll be happy to give the house-elves the night off.’
Draco looked sulky, but Pansy placed her hand over his, and he kept his mouth shut. Lucius caught Severus’ eye, and he knew it was time to scatter the party before a full scale battle broke out.
‘The card game will begin at nine o’clock as well,’ he declared, rising to his feet. ‘Ladies and colleagues, I’ll bid you adieu.’ He nodded pleasantly to the former students clustered at mid-table and exchanged a speaking look with Minerva, who invited her co-workers to join her in her quarters for a glass of sherry.
Leticia Mortelle stood. ‘I believe I’ll join Professor McGonagall and make an early night of it.’
Lucius stood as well, grey eyes looking almost directly into brilliant blue. Severus glanced at Leticia’s feet, ensconced in black leather pumps with gold gilt serpents twining up the extremely tall heels. She was the only human being he knew whose quantity and quality of footwear exceeded Lucius’.
‘I had hoped you might walk with me in Mr Longbottom’s newly grown shrubbery,’ Lucius said, taking Leticia’s hand.
Severus noted with fascination the ease with which his colleague disentangled herself, a vibrant smile the consolation his friend received. ‘I’m afraid I’m not dressed for it,’ she said pleasantly. ‘Perhaps another time.’
Lucius inclined his head, accepting this gentle rebuff with equanimity. ‘Clearly, then, I may claim your company when Miss Granger declares it to be an outdoor amusement day.’
Leticia’s carefully accented brows arched. ‘That is rather sly of you,’ she said, and it was clear that coming from her, this was a high compliment.
Lucius bowed his head to her, and remained in that posture until she walked away from him, her heels clicking on the floor. The he addressed his son.
‘Draco, I’ll see you at home later?’
Draco shook his head. ‘The house-elves have prepared my room here already, Father. I am at the castle for the duration.’
Severus slipped out the side door as the others made their plans for the evening to come. Miss Granger’s exit rankled with him. Although Draco and Potter’s sniping, Weasley’s drunkenness, and Miss Brown’s maliciousness had been unpleasant, it was Granger’s unhappiness that remained with him. Before he had to be present for Poker Night, there was ample time to find her and … do his duty. Clearly, the welfare of the director of the coming festivities was of paramount importance.
He found her in the staffroom, standing beside the armchair he had occupied that afternoon, when he had been pretending to read a magazine whilst she and Ronald had quarrelled. She was holding the same magazine in her hands, now. He recognised his danger.
Her head swivelled upon his entrance, her keen eyes piercing him with their percipience. She had made an effort to dress for dinner, wearing a frock she might have chosen to wear out to an upscale Muggle restaurant, its clinging fabric and short skirt showcasing her physical charms quite nicely—and it was black, his favourite colour.
‘You were never reading this,’ she said accusingly, thrusting the magazine towards him as if it were a weapon he ought to fear. ‘Witch Weekly?’
He accepted the periodical from her hand, taking care to keep his expression blank. It would never do for her to catch him out eyeing her up. Not meeting her gaze, he stared instead at the ridiculous magazine cover, which featured a smiling Potter from the waist up, with head-shot photographs of Weasley, Longbottom, and Severus in ovals about the edge of the page.
‘But it’s the Most Charming Smile Award issue,’ he pointed out reasonably. ‘Surely you don’t imagine I fail to monitor my progress again Potter.’
Granger snatched the magazine out of his hands. ‘I’ve had enough mockery for one night,’ she snapped, pivoting to throw the magazine onto the table top.
Severus studied her bowed head and slumped shoulders, wondering why he had the impulse to touch the potion-straightened brown waves of her hair. Could he do it without her knowing?
Giving himself an angry shake, he directed his attention instead to the problem at hand. The objective was to simultaneously encourage and amuse her, a combination of influences which, in his experience, seldom led to much introspection on the part of the recipient. In fact, he frequently achieved his ends without tipping off the recipient to his manipulations.
‘Tell me, Miss Granger, what caused you to choose “Regency Week” as your primary fundraising project?’
She straightened herself, chin rising and shoulders straightening, before she turned to face him.
Good girl, he thought approvingly.
Just for good measure, her chin rose another fraction before she spoke. ‘I researched,’ she said, as if that were a full and reasonable explanation.
‘I read your research,’ he reminded her. ‘There were other options available to you—options which might have proved less … objectionable to some of your associates.’ He managed a small, ironic smile. ‘One of my personal favourites was the “Hotel Ocean Cruise”. I think you would have made an exceptional “Cruise Director”.’
The hoped-for answering smile did not appear. In fact, she stomped one small, high-heeled foot. He hadn’t noticed her footwear before; the heels were particularly flattering to her calves …
‘Stop making fun of me! And really stop looking at my legs!’
He raised bland eyes to her face. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, Granger,’ he said. ‘It’s just that I haven’t seen an adult woman stomp her foot in … well, let’s say that the witch of my acquaintance who was fond of that sort of thing met with an unfortunate accident at the end of Molly Weasley’s wand.’
The girl had the grace to blush, much to his relief. He was going to have to make more of an effort not to … notice her.
‘All right,’ she said, graciously exempting him from the disdain reserved for wizards who dared to admire her charms. ‘The reason why I chose the Regency Week out of all the possibilities is that I believed the castle would lend itself most easily to that theme.’ Her attention then drifted to the back of the armchair, and she became unaccountably fascinated with the seam where the fabric met, her fingers tracing along it with careful attention. ‘Besides,’ she added, addressing her busy fingers, ‘I am a fan of the literature of the era.’
Severus found himself drawn into her captivation with the cushion upholstery, watching her stroke and probe the ridge of flowered material. ‘Do you mean to say that this entire enterprise is the result of your reading preferences?’
She snatched her hand back, abandoning her exploration of the textures of the fabric. ‘Of course not!’ she objected hotly. ‘Interest in the works of Jane Austen is at a modern-time high! Muggles are making more films and television programmes based on her books than at any other time. Even men are not proof against interest in the time period, thanks to the extensive materials available concerning Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte.’
He looked into her face, noting that she no longer appeared dejected; she was far too engrossed in defending her project. ‘I see,’ he murmured, trying to seem as if he had been properly chastised. ‘Now I understand.’
Her eyes, the brown of warm honey, narrowed suspiciously. ‘You’re still mocking me,’ she declared.
The impulse to convince her otherwise fluttered against his consciousness, and he pushed it away. What a pointless waste of time that would be.
‘I believe the young witches are congregating in the room designated as the “blue parlour”,’ he informed her, smoothly changing the subject. ‘If you prefer, Professors McGonagall and Mortelle are congregating with some of the other teachers in McGonagall’s rooms.’
She allowed herself to be distracted. ‘And which of those two groups will you join?’ she asked.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Neither. You see, I am hosting the monthly poker game in my office.’
Her jaw dropped, her eyes suddenly alight with mirth. ‘You’re not!’
He closed his eyes for a moment, permitting her to see his chagrin, knowing it would amuse her and lighten her spirits, which was the end result he had set out to achieve.
‘I am,’ he said, and then he opened his eyes with a pained expression. ‘And furthermore, if you had an ounce of decency, you’d send me off with kindness rather than mockery.’ He injected injury into the final word, and he could see her delight as he turned her accusation back upon her.
She laughed aloud and produced a folded scrap of linen from a hidden pocket at her hip, offering it to him with a little curtsey. ‘Please, kind sir,’ she said, her lowered eyes and courteous words pure Regency. ‘Take my handkerchief as a good luck token, with my goodwill.’
As he accepted the handkerchief, his fingers touched hers, and he knew an impulse to grasp her wrist and hold it captive. As if in response to his thoughts, she peeked at him from beneath her lashes.
‘I hope you clean them out,’ she said, sotto voce, and obviously much cheered, she sailed out of the staffroom, a gleeful smile upon her face.
Severus wafted the embroidered, lightly scented good luck token beneath his substantial nose, deeply breathing of her perfume. Then he tucked the dainty scrap of fabric into an inner pocket, his attention wholly absorbed by the strange tingling sensation in the fingers she had brushed. Although he had resisted the temptation to grasp her wrist, it still seemed as if he could feel the delicate bones of her wrist clasped in his hand, and the sensation as real to him as the handkerchief safely resting against his heart.
‘Folly,’ he muttered to himself, and he turned on his heel to keep his appointment for Poker Night.
A/N: You may view Hermione’s little black dress here: