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For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble by Subversa [Reviews - 10]

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For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble

Chapter 5

Thursday, August 1, 2002
Night—the Poker Game

Severus trod up the staircases from the ground floor staffroom, sternly pushing the memory of his interaction with Hermione Granger from his mind. Instead, he forced himself to think about the ordeal ahead of him: Poker Night.

Not all Severus’ skill at repelling other people—skill which was prodigious by anyone’s standards—had sufficed to convince Lily’s son that Severus did not desire his admiration or friendship. And despite Potter’s annoying perseverance, years of the habit of loathing the boy had not been dissolved overnight; their association had developed slowly. Severus’ natural embarrassment at having his personal history aired to everyone present at the Battle of Hogwarts had been the first point of contention between them.

‘You might have kept your mouth shut, stupid boy.’

Unblinking green eyes had refused to cringe from his anger. ‘I watched you die, Severus—it’s not as if I was expecting you to survive and care what I did with your memories.’

So Severus had been exposed to the world for the lovesick fool he’d always been, only to find that the world aggrandised him for it. And somehow, the revelation of his great secret had allowed him, at last, to let go of the memory of his first friend and only love. Vindication from the Wizengamot, receiving the Order of Merlin he had always craved, and having his re-appointment as the Headmaster of Hogwarts confirmed by the Board of Governors had been all of the same piece, in his mind. The feckless dreams of an angry young man had become the realities of life for the honoured, respected man in his prime. Allowing Potter to befriend him had seemed a small price to pay, particularly as the boy had come at him straight on, with no subterfuge or evasion.

‘I was wrong about you, sir. I don’t deserve it, but I hope you can forgive me. I think my mother would want us to be friends.’

That had properly scuppered him and his plans to shut the boy out. Potter was, of course, right about that: Lily would have wanted them to be friends. Severus’ decision to permit the boy to know him had been his last act of devotion to her. The goddess of his dreams had been an invention of his tortured regret. The real, imperfect Lily Evans had been a far more interesting and complex person, and by taking the hand of her son in friendship, he had finally allowed her to assume her proper place in his life … as a memory of his past.

When he ascended the spiral stone staircase to his office, he saw the Headmaster’s desk had been levitated out of the way, and a large, round wooden table put in its place beneath Dumbledore’s portrait. Before his indoctrination in the mysteries of Order Poker Night, Severus had never known that a portrait could play cards—what sort of sense did that make?—but at the one poker night he had attended at Grimmauld Place, he had seen the dealt cards fly into the portrait. And in the next moment, the old man had held the cards beneath his crooked nose, blue eyes intent upon his hand.

‘What bloody good does it do him to win?’ Severus had demanded of Arthur Weasley, whose love of Muggle card games had been the genesis of these silly gatherings. ‘What use has a portrait for gold?’

Arthur had grinned around the large Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth as he shuffled the card deck. ‘We always throw chocolate cauldrons into the pot—the brandy-filled ones. The old gentleman does love his sweets, you know, and the liquor in the candy is enough to make him a bit tipsy. Any gold he wins is donated to the charity of his choice.’ Lowering his voice he had added, ‘It makes him feel a part of things, doesn’t it? Half the time he falls asleep in the middle of the game, and we just deal him out.’

Now Dumbledore’s portrait greeted Severus’ entrance with urbane affability, as if it were still his office, and Severus were the visitor.

‘Good evening, Severus,’ the old wizard enthused. ‘I see you’re standing in for our friend Arthur tonight. Harry, here, has been telling me about Regency Week!’

Severus slanted a sardonic glance at Potter, who grinned at him, unabashed. Longbottom sat to Potter’s right, and the two Weasleys sat to his left. And Severus noted with irritation that the seat directly beneath the portrait had been left vacant for him.

I’ve been telling you about Regency Week for almost a year,’ he pointed out acidly, sweeping across the room to occupy his inevitable place. ‘And if you kibitz tonight, I’ll put you in the dungeons for a month!’

Dumbledore chuckled good-naturedly. ‘And rightly so, my boy—rightly so!’

Decanters of brandy and Firewhisky occupied the drinks tray, set upon a wheeled trolley within Severus’ reach. The smoking highball glasses before each of the young wizards informed Severus what their chosen poison was—and from the tenor of their conversation and the volume of their voices, it was obvious that they had used up the time when he had been assuring himself of Miss Granger’s welfare in drinking generous draughts of Firewhisky.

Good. That would improve his chances. They had roped him into participating in this farce, and they would soon learn their error. No Slytherin entered into a game without using every advantage at his disposal to assure his victory.

Bloody pot-valiant Gryffindors.

‘All right, you losers!’ Ronald Weasley said, taking up the deck Potter had just shuffled. ‘I’m ready to pick your pockets!’

Longbottom managed a rather creditable sneer—Severus was impressed.

‘Shut it, Ron!’ Longbottom called merrily, taking a manly gulp of Firewhisky. ‘Damned if I’ll let you win all my gold tonight!’

The youngest Weasley boy, renowned for his chess-playing prowess, had also become famous for winning the biggest pots in the poker games. Severus had heard Arthur say the boy actually supplemented his income regularly from his winnings.

‘You shut it, Neville!’ Ronald replied, dealing a card onto the surface before George and continuing around the table, his smartly delivered offerings disappearing into the pigment of Dumbledore’s portrait before materialising in the old man’s gnarled hands. ‘Dealer calls five card draw, deuces wild. Ante up!’

Severus removed his purse from his pocket, selecting the Galleons from within and stacking them before him, much as the others had done. He watched as Potter did the same, digging into his jeans pocket—but not withdrawing his hand until he had carefully counted the pieces of gold already placed on the table by Longbottom and Ronald. Of course. It was well known that George Weasley made a bundle of gold from his joke shop, and the pile of Galleons before him reflected that. But Longbottom and Ronald were relatively low-paid workers in their positions, one as an apprentice with an Herbologist, the other as an Auror. Potter had the wealth inherited from his family—the Potters had always been well-to-do—and already he served as the assistant Head of the Magical Law Enforcement office at the Ministry. The boy would not wish to put more money on the table than his friends could produce.

When five Galleons had been tossed, clanging, into the middle of the table, along with two foil-wrapped chocolates, they were ready to begin.

‘Care for a cigar, Headmaster?’ George inquired.

Accepting the fragrant cigar and permitting the younger man to light it for him, Severus studied his benefactor. George was decked out in a ridiculous hat, soft and puffy like a chef’s toque and as tall as a top hat, its painfully colourful surface decorated with clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, all red and black on a garishly chequered green and white background.

Blinking his eyes against the onslaught of tastelessness, Severus settled down to play in earnest.

For the first hour, luck at the table seemed pretty well divided. Only Potter failed to win a hand, and in fact, he folded rather frequently, which gave him ample time to drink whilst the others bet and raised one another. When Herpie arrived with a plate of sandwiches and an offer of tea (which no one, save Severus, accepted), Potter was three sheets to the wind, and Ronald, ever the competitor, kept pace with him, glass for glass.

As for Dumbledore, he slumbered peacefully in his frame, his contribution occasional soft snores.

In the second hour, George Weasley dealt a game with the ridiculous name of Texas Hold ’em, and Severus found he liked the format quite well. The younger wizards were becoming ever more intoxicated, and Severus found them quite easy to read—save for Ronald. Say what you might about Ronald Weasley, he had a superb poker face.

Severus dealt a hand, choosing Texas Hold ’em. He dealt each player two cards, and after the small blind and the big blind, each player had contributed five Galleons to the pot. The flop revealed the three community cards: the six of diamonds, the jack of clubs, and the queen of hearts. Severus consulted his cards again: the two of clubs and the six of hearts. Interesting. Already, he had two of a kind.

Longbottom tossed a Galleon into the pot and looked to Ronald, who picked up a coin and pushed it forward without looking at his gold. ‘I’ll see your one and raise two more,’ he said, flicking the other two Galleons into the pile.

The others matched his wager with no one raising, and Severus dealt the turn—the six of spades. Longbottom laughed nervously, expressing his excitement for the pair now showing in the community cards. Severus enjoyed an inward smirk. He now held three of kind. If his luck were holding, he could win this pot and take all of Longbottom’s and Ronald’s gold. Potter and George had larger piles of gold from their wins, but surely taking out two of the players would shorten the game.

Longbottom, his face flushed, added five Galleons to the pot. Ronald matched the five and added three more. Potter carelessly tossed his eight Galleons into the pile, mumbling, ‘Call.’ George and Severus called as well, but Longbottom waffled for a moment before adding three of his last five Galleons to the pot.

Severus dealt the river, placing the card meticulously along the four community cards already showing, and the table as a whole drew breath.

It was the six of clubs.

Severus felt a rush of exhilaration. He had four of a kind! The only hands that would beat him were a straight flush or a royal flush; both hands were impossible with the community cards. The pot was his; he had only to lure the others into piling up the gold.

He reached for his teacup, allowing his fingers to tremble before grasping the handle. After sipping, he rubbed his fingertips over his thin lips.

Longbottom looked at his last two Galleons, as if knowing he would never be able to keep pace with the last wager. ‘Check,’ he said, his head bowed over his cards, careful not to make eye contact with the others.

Potter grinned around the group. ‘Three of a kind on the table!’ he said excitedly. ‘Let’s keep it interesting!’ He pushed ten Galleons into the pot.

‘I fold,’ Longbottom said miserably, dropping his cards face down on the table. ‘My luck’s run out.’ He took up his glass and drained it.

Ronald cast a measuring eye over his gold. Ten Galleons would take a large bite out of his gambling capital. But Severus knew that with three of a kind in the community pot, it would be hard for a true card player to stand down. With an almost careless movement, the youngest Weasley brother pushed his gold into the center of the table. ‘Call,’ he said.

George added his ten gold pieces, and Severus swallowed nervously. Belatedly, he assumed a superior sneer. ‘I’ll call your ten and raise you five.’ He added fifteen Galleons to the pot.

Potter laughed and matched the wager. ‘This is great,’ he said, tilting his head back to gaze with inebriated absorption at the gilded ceiling.

But neither Weasley was smiling. Tension was thick as Ronald and George added the required gold to the pot.

Potter laid his cards down. ‘Three of a kind and queen high,’ he said.

Ronald showed his hand. ‘I’ve got that beat—three of a kind, ace-king high.’

George swore and threw his cards down. ‘I’ve only got ten high.’

Ronald crowed and reached for the pot, but Severus said, ‘That’s mine, Weasley.’

Ronald looked mutinous. ‘Do you have a full house?’ he demanded angrily.

Severus revealed his cards. ‘Nothing so mundane,’ he said, beginning to sweep the pot toward him. ‘Four of a kind.’

Potter chortled aloud in the Headmaster’s general direction. ‘Good one, Severus!’ he said, as gleeful as if he’d won.

Ronald reached for his wand and started up with such anger he spilt his drink and the wand spit forth red sparks setting his cards on fire.

‘Oi, Ron!’ his brother cried, taking off his lucky poker hat and beating at the blaze until it extinguished. ‘Grow up, would you?’

The younger brother’s ears flamed to match his head. ‘You saw him over there, looking all nervous and rubbing his mouth!’

Potter shook his head, as if doing so might make him less intoxicated. When that failed, he touched Ronald’s arm, speaking with the slurred, serious tones of a concerned drunk. ‘He bluffed you, mate. How many times have you done that to the rest of us?’

Severus arranged the Galleons he had won in a row of neat stacks, letting the hostilities flow around him like flood waters about a boulder. Had tensions run this high in his previous Poker Night experience? He did not remember it so. Perhaps Ronald had simply suffered enough disappointments in love this week to make this defeat at cards harder to swallow. Mustn’t smirk about that, either, he reminded himself.

George picked up the charred remains of Ronald’s cards with a moue of distaste. ‘I suppose these can be salvaged,’ he said, taking out his wand. ‘Unless someone has another deck of cards?’

Severus spoke up silkily. ‘We could bring the evening to an end, if you like.’ He knew there was little chance of them taking his suggestion, but there was no harm in making it.

Ronald laughed harshly. ‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’

George puzzled over the remnant of charred, wet playing card. ‘I’m not sure this can be set right.’

‘Hermione could do it,’ his brother averred. ‘I could ask her to come …’

‘Oh, that shouldn’t be necessary, Mr Weasley,’ Dumbledore said, and Severus turned to see the old man wakeful—alert, even—his blue eyes bright behind his half-moon spectacles. ‘Severus, you’ll find a deck of cards at the back of the bottom desk drawer.’

Severus gave a shake of his head. ‘There are no playing cards in my desk, I assure you.’

Dumbledore seemed amused. ‘Do you flatter yourself that you know all the secrets of the Headmaster’s office?’ He gestured towards the desk. ‘They’re quite ancient, but I’m sure you’ll find them serviceable.’

Severus rose purposefully. ‘Anything to move this … evening along,’ he said, clearly hearing the word farce in his mind. He moved to his desk and took hold of the handle of the bottom drawer. He was intimately acquainted with every nook and cranny of his workspace, but he would humour the portrait, or he would have no more peace that night.

The drawer opened easily at his touch and still contained the items he expected: the box for petty cash, his personal stash of liquorice whips, extra quills, parchment and ink—but no playing cards, ancient or otherwise.

‘At the back, Severus,’ Dumbledore’s portrait chided. ‘There’s a compartment at the back—I’m surprised you’ve never noticed it before.’

Severus glared daggers at the animate collection of oil smears upon canvas, only to be met by Dumbledore’s most angelic smile. ‘Perhaps a Revealing Spell would be of help?’ the portrait offered.

Declining to reply as the old goat deserved, Severus probed the back surface of the drawer with impatient fingers, sensed the hidden cavity, as he was now looking for it, and easily Vanished the partition. As promised, there was a parcel wrapped in rather brittle parchment secreted in the small space.

Why on earth had the devious old bastard hidden a deck of cards behind a magically protected barrier? Dumbledore had never done anything that Severus was aware of without an eye out to some future scheme.

As if reading his thoughts, the portrait offered an explanation. ‘Those were given to me in my youth by an old warlock who had once served in the court of Napoléon Bonaparte,’ he related chattily. ‘They were a relic of his family—sixteenth century playing cards.’

Severus began to open the covering and the parchment disintegrated in his hands, revealing a black velvet drawstring bag. He opened the bag and withdrew the playing cards. They were slightly smaller than modern decks, on heavy stock paper which had aged to a shade of ivory. The backs of the cards were blank, but the face cards were colourfully rendered in reds, blues, and golds. The non-face cards bore simply two hearts or four diamonds—the requisite number of the symbols of each suit—with no numerals in evidence.

‘These will do,’ he said decisively, returning to the table.

But he was sitting alone. Longbottom was up, peering curiously at the aloe vera plant Severus kept on the window sill, a habit from his days as a Potions master, when burns were not an uncommon occurrence in his classroom. The Weasley brothers were in low-voiced conversation across the room, and Potter had disappeared.

‘Are we, in fact, finished for the evening?’ he inquired.

‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Snape,’ Ronald said, obviously still smarting from his loss. ‘Harry’s gone to the loo.’

Severus did not respond—why dignify the rudeness?—but waited with what patience he could muster for the pigeons to return to the table to be plucked.

Longbottom wandered back to his seat and poked morosely at what was left of his gold. ‘I ought to just go to bed,’ he said. ‘I’ll be able to survive only one round of betting!’

George broke off his conversation and took up the decanter, leaning across the table to refill Longbottom’s Firewhisky. ‘But you want us to have your gold, Neville,’ he said. ‘Drink up and lose like a man.’

Longbottom began to giggle like a girl, prompting George to join him, and Dumbledore’s portrait tittered, but Ronald did not. He was far too busy eyeing the pile of Severus’ winnings, resentment rolling off him in waves. Potter provided a distraction by returning from the loo, his air of amiable inebriation displaced by an expression of discomfort.

‘I should’ve made Malfoy play cards,’ he said. ‘He wanted to come, but he thought we didn’t want him.’

George snorted. ‘Malfoy was right. We don’t want him.’

Potter stood straighter and rubbed one hand over his tousled hair, as if to tidy it. ‘He’s got as much right to play cards here as we do. I’m going to find him and make him play poker.’

Longbottom shook his head. ‘I dunno, Harry. I don’t think anyone can make Draco do anything he doesn’t want to do.’

Potter’s brow darkened. ‘I could,’ he said decisively.

Ronald grabbed Potter’s arm before he could turn away. ‘No, Harry. It’s too late. You can make him play next time.’ Ronald frog marched Potter to the table. ‘Let’s win our gold back from Snape.’

Severus smiled thinly. ‘Yes, let us finish this up, shall we?’

He shuffled the old cards, which were strangely stiff, far less pliable than the slick decks he was accustomed to handling. The younger wizards resumed their places and added their gold pieces to the one Severus had already pushed into the middle of the table for the ante.

‘Dealer calls five card draw,’ he said, falling back on the first poker game he had learnt to play at his father’s knee.

George nodded, the ridiculous hat swaying atop his fiery head. ‘Deuces wild?’ he inquired, all business now. ‘One-eyed jacks?’

Severus curled his lip. ‘Certainly not. Nothing is wild. You are dependent upon Lady Luck—and your obvious skill, of course.’ His sneer gave a clear indication of his opinion of the skill in question.

Chatter ceased as Severus began to deal out the cards.

‘You may deal me out of this hand,’ Dumbledore said. ‘But perhaps someone would oblige me with a chocolate?’

George tossed a sweetie into the portrait, and the players picked up their cards, brows furrowed with concentration.

‘There’s no numbers on ’em,’ Potter said, holding one of the cards at arm’s length.

‘Just count the spots, mate,’ Ronald advised.

Potter squinched his eyes up. ‘That’s easy for you to say. They keep moving,’ he complained.

Then they fell silent as they examined their cards. Severus waited a beat, watching the faces of his competitors. Longbottom and Potter both looked pleased, but the Weasleys were much better at masking their expressions. Surely Longbottom, with only one Galleon left to wager, would be out after this hand. But the one Severus wanted to defeat was Ronald, though he could not precisely define to himself why that was so. There were many annoying people in the world, to be sure, but Ronald Weasley had made it his business to irritate and upset Hermione Granger ever since the two had set foot in Hogwarts, seven days before. Their personal problems were just that, and Severus had no interest in their ‘relationship’—indeed, the very word was nauseatingly maudlin—but he needed Granger in functional shape to bring off this outlandish Regency Week, and Ronald jeopardised her state of mind. Severus couldn’t fling the boy from the castle, as badly as he was tempted to do so, but he could punish the whelp by depriving him of the extra gold he was used to winning at Poker Night each month. With that accomplished, the ordeal of Regency Week would commence on the morrow, and when it was done, all of them could clear off, leaving him in peace.

He picked up his cards one by one, as was his wont, arranging them in his hand by suit, in descending order.

The king of hearts.

The ten of hearts.

The ace of hearts.

The jack of hearts.

Old protective habits die hard, even when one is not in imminent physical danger. Occluding with all his might, as if the Dark Lord were looming over him, ready to peruse his thoughts, Severus reached for his fifth card. If it were a queen, he would have a straight. If it were a heart, he would have a flush. If it were the queen of hearts … such a thing would never happen to me, I am Severus Snape, and the universe has rules about the sorts of hands I am dealt … well, if it were the queen of hearts, he would have not just a straight flush, but a royal straight flush, the highest hand one could achieve in poker. He took up the last card.

The two of clubs.

Longbottom threw in his last Galleon. ‘I’ll bet one,’ he said with a grin, as if he had already resigned himself to his coming defeat.

Potter tossed in a Galleon, too nice a fellow to be the one to bring Longbottom’s evening of card playing to an end. Ronald had no such compunction. ‘I’ll see your one and raise you two,’ he said with cool confidence.

‘I’m out,’ Longbottom declared, throwing his cards face down. ‘Good luck, everyone.’

George, Severus, and Potter added their three Galleons to the pot.

Severus looked inquiringly to Potter.

‘I’ll take three cards,’ the boy responded.

Weasley tossed in two cards, and Severus dealt replacements. George asked for three cards.

‘Dealer takes one,’ he said, adding his two of clubs face down to the pile of discards.

Both Weasleys looked at him sharply; it was fairly rare for someone to request only one card in a hand of five card draw. It generally indicated quite a good hand—unless, of course, one were bluffing.

Potter looked at his cards and pushed gold to the pot. ‘Two Galleons,’ he said.

Ronald swept his remaining gold into the pot, and his voice was steady, his words scarcely slurred despite his heavy drinking as he said, ‘I’ll see your two and raise you twenty.’

George whistled, and Severus met Ronald’s eyes. Ronald returned his measuring look coolly, as Dumbledore’s portrait said, ‘Oh, this is exciting!’

But Severus scarcely heard him, for he had taken up his card.

The queen of hearts.

With his Occlumency shields in place, as if readying for a solitary audience with the Dark Lord, his face was an unreadable mask—such facility with Occlumency had been his greatest strength as spy for the Order of the Phoenix—but his inner voice was babbling incoherently in his mind.

He held a royal straight flush, not only the best hand he had ever been dealt, but the best he had ever seen in any poker game he had played or observed.

Tobias Snape had been a violent, uneducated ne’er-do-well, whose only contribution to his son’s education had been an encyclopaedic knowledge of card games. When Severus’ mum had been at work, and it had been Tobias’ responsibility to watch him, his old dad had dragged him about to seedy, smoke-filled pubs and gambling dens. There, Severus had watched Tobias lose the housekeeping money over tables of stained green baize covered in poker chips and overhung with desperation, misery, and cigarette smoke.

Severus raised his eyes again to find Ronald still fixated upon his face, the boy’s blue eyes calculating.

Potter tossed his cards onto the table. ‘Too rich for my blood,’ he said, and rose with slight unsteadiness to his feet. ‘Need the loo,’ he added, weaving away in the general direction of the bathroom.

George tugged his lucky poker hat lower on his forehead. ‘I’ll see you,’ he said, pushing his remaining fifteen Galleons into the centre of the table, then scribbling an IOU on the notepad provided for that purpose and adding it to the pile.

Severus decided to make an end of it. He took up his wand and wafted all of his gold, well over one hundred Galleons, into the pot. ‘See you, gentlemen, and raise you one hundred.’

George turned to him incredulously. ‘Are you mad?’ he demanded. ‘One hundred is the house limit for these poker games! No one ever bets that much.’

Severus replaced his wand, raising one eyebrow but holding his tongue. George could certainly afford to gamble that high, but did he have that good a hand? At the very least, Ronald would be flat broke and unable to continue.

Ronald’s face had gone white beneath his multitudinous freckles, and there was an ugly twist to his mouth. ‘Let him do it,’ he spat. ‘What difference does it make? He’s cleaned us all out. And I could have beaten him on this hand!’ He waved his cards furiously.

Severus glanced pointedly at the clock above the mantelpiece, which showed the time was now past midnight. ‘How else am I to bring this tedious business to an end?’ he asked, injecting his tone with boredom. He allowed his frostiest smile to touch his lips. ‘If you’re so sure of your hand, you could, of course, write an IOU.’

George snorted. ‘If he has five Galleons in his Gringott’s vault, I’ll eat this hat.’ He dragged the item in question from his head and threw it into the pile.

Severus slanted a glance at George. ‘As much as I would enjoy seeing that, Mr Weasley, somehow I don’t think you’ll be asked to honour your promise.’

Ronald surged to his feet, shoving his hand into his pocket as if he thought to find an extra hundred gold pieces hiding there. Instead, he drew out a slightly crumpled parchment, covered in elegant calligraphic script.

Longbottom, who had been following the interactions with the slightly blurred attention of a man whose sodden brain could barely focus, said, ‘What’s that, Ron?’

Ronald threw it from him in disgust. ‘It’s my bloody personalised schedule—it shows every fucking minute of the day I’m to spend as Hermione’s escort—she’s got every damn thing on there but when to fart and how long to piss.’

Severus watched the piece of ivory vellum float through the air, wafting gently, as if air currents were blowing through the Headmaster’s office for the express purpose of making its journey more interesting. As it descended, he had a flash of a vision, of Granger happy, in good spirits, putting all of her energies into making a success of their fundraising venture—Granger, with an ironclad excuse not to have to put up with Ronald’s exasperating whinging—Granger in his hands, rather than those of her inept boyfriend. And as the schedule ended its journey atop George’s lucky poker hat, elevated by the mound of gold beneath, Severus knew what he must do.

‘Very well, gentlemen,’ he said smoothly. ‘I accept your wagers.’

The silence remained unbroken for a long moment, during which elation battled with suspicion on Ronald’s face. Look at the fool! He was desperate to win the pile of gold, but he was mistrustful of Severus’ motives.

The boy was definitely not as stupid as he looked.

Then the sound of the flushing toilet reached them, and the moment of silence was broken.

‘Oh, well done, Severus,’ portrait Dumbledore enthused. ‘Very generous of you, I must say.’

Severus turned a withering glare upon the old man, and he threw a chocolate cauldron into the portrait with rather more force than was strictly necessary. ‘Stop your mouth with that,’ he said. ‘Next time, they’ll be laced with Dreamless Sleep rather than brandy!’

Dumbledore peeled the foil from his treat and twinkled engagingly. ‘Just so, Headmaster Snape.’

Potter fell into his seat. ‘So, who won?’ he asked. ‘Are we finished?’ He yawned widely. ‘I’m shattered.’

Longbottom leant close to him. ‘Snape just bet about a hundred and twenty five Galleons,’ he whispered, as if the information were a secret. ‘And George wagered his lucky hat, and Ron threw in his Regency Week schedule.’

Potter gave his head a shake. ‘That’s stupid,’ he said. ‘Severus won’t accept those as bets.’ He turned a stern glare on Ronald, the effect of which was somewhat diminished by his slurred words as he chastised his best mate. ‘If Hermione finds out you even pretended to bet her in a poker game, she’ll have your balls.’

Ronald hunched a shoulder at Potter, scowling. ‘She won’t know if you don’t blab it to her—and you’d better keep quiet too, Neville.’

Longbottom held up his hands peaceably, but George only laughed when his brother’s fierce gaze fell upon him. ‘Go ahead, ickle Won-Won—threaten me.’

‘Fuck you, George,’ Ronald muttered.

Severus grew bored with the bickering—he was quite ready for the louts to be gone from his office.

‘I’ve accepted your wagers,’ he said, his tone one of reprimand. ‘You must show your cards, now.’ He looked down his nose at Ronald. ‘That’s the way the adults play the game, you know.’

Potter’s exclamation of disbelief was but noise to be disregarded; all that mattered was the turn of the cards.

‘I’ve got two pair,’ George said. ‘Sixes and nines.’ He grinned lewdly. ‘Sixty-nines! Get it?’

Longbottom giggled again, but Severus had eyes only for Ronald. The younger wizard raised his chin. Severus could see the boy wished to be supremely confident—sure of the superiority of his hand—but Severus had already bluffed him once, and he was struggling with his poker face.

‘I can beat that,’ he said, and he laid out his cards: the two and three of hearts, the four and five of clubs, and the six of spades. ‘I’ve got a straight. Beat that, Snape.’

‘Certainly,’ Severus said, and he laid out his perfect royal straight flush, the red of the hearts bright against the ivory card stock.

‘Blimey,’ George breathed.

Ronald shot to his feet, his chair falling over. ‘No one gets a hand like that! You cheated!’

Potter stood and wrapped a hand about Ronald’s arm. ‘Don’t be thick, Ron.’

George performed the same office on the other side. ‘You’re making a bigger twat of yourself than usual,’ he informed his younger brother. ‘Apologise or I’ll kick your arse for you.’

Dumbledore’s portrait spoke up, and it was a bit amusing to Severus to see how much authority oil-on-canvas could wield. ‘No one cheated, Mr Weasley. A word of apology, and the matter is forgotten.’

Ronald threw off his captors, sending Potter staggering back into Longbottom’s lap and George into his recently vacated chair. Ronald reached across the table. ‘You can have no possible use for this,’ he said, but when his fingers touched the parchment, he jerked back with a shouted expletive. ‘You burned me!’

Severus plucked the parchment up, tucking it into the inner pocket with Miss Granger’s handkerchief. Then he took the hat as well, thrusting it into the portrait, where Dumbledore accepted it and promptly replaced his wizard’s hat with it.

‘A mere Stinging Hex,’ Severus scoffed to Ronald. ‘And no apology is necessary, for me, Mr Weasley—I cannot, however, answer for your girlfriend.’

‘Fuck you, Snape!’ the boy cried, beyond himself with outrage.

‘Well, you’ve done a capital job of it on yourself,’ he observed dryly.

Ronald turned and flung out of the room, and Severus was shaking his head in amusement as he scooped the gold from the table into the petty cashbox from his desk drawer.

‘G’night, Severus,’ Potter said from the doorway, the only one of his guests to speak to him before leaving the room.

Severus strode across to him. ‘Go to bed,’ he advised. ‘You look like hell. Do you still have the Hangover Cure I gave you?’

Potter grinned. ‘I don’t leave home without it.’

Severus jerked his head impatiently toward the door, and the boy gave him an ironic salute before heading down the stairs.

When Severus was finally alone in his office, he looked across at Dumbledore. ‘Well, that went well,’ he said.

The old man, looking utterly absurd in the preposterous poker hat, grinned at him like a child with his first Chocolate Frog. ‘You have no idea how well, Severus.’

A/N: For those not acquainted with poker hands and how they’re ranked, you may see the list here, as well as a picture of George’s lucky hat:

For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble by Subversa [Reviews - 10]

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