For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Friday, August 2, 2002
Hermione rolled from her side to her back, looking for a comfortable position. Reaching her arm up, she punched her pillow, trying to shape it to suit her. Crookshanks, disturbed from his rest, meowed his annoyance and leapt to the floor. She’d been tossing and turning since ten o’clock, when she had retired to bed, fresh from her encounter with the Headmaster. He had been so odd today—almost droll at times—almost flirtatious at others. What on earth did it mean? How was she supposed to interpret Snape’s behaviour? Good heavens, Voldemort had been a gifted Legilimens, and he had never figured Snape out. How was she supposed to do it?
The guests would begin arriving in the morning, expecting to immerse themselves in a Regency world. Hermione had spent the last year immersing herself first, to be prepared for this day—but had she done it well enough? Had she succeeded in teaching the house-elves how to address the guests and how to behave? Would her helpers do their parts to create the illusion of Regency times?
She rolled again to her right side, staring with unseeing eyes at the wall within reach of her fingers. Ron had been with her through all of it. He’d been by her side when she’d researched, when she’d written her proposal, when she’d taken meeting after meeting with the wizarding shopkeepers and business owners she hoped to lure into sponsoring the event—but the more time that had passed, the more impatient with it all Ron had become. What did that say about their partnership over the long run? What kind of partner—husband, her mind whispered—would he make for a woman of her ambitions? She had been delighted to be promoted to the position of Senior Assistant to the Minister for Special Projects; she had been thrilled to head up the committee to find a solution to the Hogwarts budget problem. However, she would not be content to stay in that position. There were many, many subjects that interested her, and she wanted to explore them all, until she found what best suited her.
She really wasn’t interested in getting married and starting a large family. She had nothing against marriage—her parents had been happily married for going on thirty years, hadn’t they?—and she had no objection to a child or two, in several years, when she’d had time to find her best place in the working wizarding world, where she could do the most good. But Ron wanted to start having babies as soon as they were married, and he was genuinely horrified at the notion of using any sort of birth control—no one in his family did, he said. It was, after all, a blessing to have a large family—he said that, too—and she wasn’t sure she agreed with that. What was the good of having more children than you could provide for? Didn’t Ron remember how unhappy he had been with all the hand-me-downs he had endured in his life?
All of those topics had been discussed between them until they were utterly exasperated with each other, but his recent behaviour was what was concerning her most now. He had grown to hate everything about Regency Week, and his negativity was dragging her spirits down—he was, in effect, spoiling it for her, when she had put all her might into making it a successful event—and a fun one.
It’s abominably selfish of him, the unwelcome voice in her mind told her.
She flopped to the other side. She didn’t want to think that of him. It was too painful—too final—because Hermione knew she could never bear to live her life with a selfish man.
When the pounding began, she had actually begun to doze, and the loud noise startled her into wakefulness, her heart pounding as hard as the banging on her door.
She sat bolt upright in bed. It was Ron.
‘’Ermy-knee! Wake up! I gotta talk to you,’ he shouted before beginning to pound his fist against her door again.
‘Honestly!’ she said aloud, standing up and pulling on her woolly pink dressing gown over the old red Arsenal FC tee-shirt she wore to sleep. ‘I’m coming!’ she cried.
Ron did not cease calling her name or pounding on her door until she unlocked and opened it, her teeth clenched so hard her jaw hurt.
‘Hey,’ he said, managing to focus his eyes on her face. He petted her head with one hand and grasped her waist with the other, as if he thought to pull her into an embrace.
Hermione jerked away from him. ‘What do you want?’
He frowned. ‘I want to see you—I bloody well haven’t done in days and days—yeah, and I want to talk to you, too.’
She crossed her arms over her chest. ‘It would appear you are too drunk to be up for either.’
He grinned at her, an expression meant to be engaging. ‘I can manage, I think.’
Hermione placed a hand in the middle of his chest to forestall another attempt to enter her room.
‘Go to bed, Ronald,’ she said firmly. ‘I’m tired and need to sleep—and you need to sleep, too. We need to up and in costume by seven o’clock in the morning, when the first guests are arriving for early registration. All you have to do is consult your personalised schedule and plan accordingly.’
She tried to close her door, but he placed his foot squarely in its path. ‘Yeah, I need to talk to you about that.’ A frown touched his freckled face, as if he were thinking very hard about what he wished to say.
‘Well?’ Hermione prodded him. ‘Get on with it, whatever it is.’
He sighed heavily, expelling the odours of whisky and filthy cigars, as he always did on Poker Night. She recoiled in disgust.
‘Ronald, you reek! Just go away!’ She kicked at his leg to dislodge his foot from the doorsill, but he was unmovable.
Disregarding both her words and her actions, he said, ‘I don’t have my schedule, babe. I … lost it.’
Hermione closed her eyes to count to ten. She was so angry she was having trouble taking a deep breath, which she tried to do to keep from shouting at the top of her voice.
‘Go to where you saw it last and try Accio,’ she said when she could trust herself to speak. ‘If you can’t find it, you’ll have to wait until I have time to make another for you.’
Ron scowled at her as if she were being obtuse. ‘I didn’t misplace the damn thing,’ he informed her. ‘I bloody well lost it, ’Mione.’
She stomped her foot. ‘You’re not making a particle of sense, Ronald!’
‘To Snape!’ he shouted over her. ‘I lost it to Snape in the card game!’
Hermione felt as if her head were going to explode from sheer exasperation. ‘The more you talk the less sense you make, Ronald. Now GO TO BED!’
He grasped her upper arms and lifted her up to his eye level. ‘Why won’t you listen for once?’ he shouted. ‘I wagered the schedule on a hand of poker, and Snape won it off me.’
Hermione managed to get one hand up inside the sleeve of his Chudley Cannons tee-shirt. She grasped skin on the tender underside of his arm and pinched with all her might. Ron immediately dropped her.
‘Bloody fucking hell!’ he screeched.
With full control of her arms restored, she withdrew her wand and levelled it at him. She couldn’t remember being this angry since the night she had delivered Umbridge to the centaurs. When she spoke again, her voice was sharp and low, her breaths coming in panting gasps.
‘Are you standing there telling me that you wagered your place as my escort in a card game and you lost?’
He swallowed and nodded mutely, his blue eyes darting between her face and her wand. ‘Don’t be angry,’ he pleaded. ‘Snape made me do it.’
She laughed, a harsh, bitter sound. ‘Oh, of course he did, Ronald. Snape would like nothing better than to squire me around for a week of Regency fun.’
‘I didn’t mean to do it, babe, I swear. It was … it was an accident!’ He opened his arms and took a step towards her. ‘I’ll talk to him in the morning and take it back from him, I promise you. Let’s kiss and make up!’
The notion of kissing him now—ever again, her inner voice whispered—was nauseating in the extreme. She had thought that once the fun of Regency Week began, she and Ron would make it back to how they’d been before—back to the days when she still thrilled to be seen with him, her tall, good looking boyfriend, the champion Quidditch Keeper, sought after by girls far prettier than she was—but in that moment she knew that such a thing was not in the cards for them.
Holding his gaze, she deliberately withdrew the old, battered Celtic cross ring from her left hand—the cheap ring he had given her two years before to ‘hold a place for a diamond’ when he could afford one—and she extended it to him.
‘I think we’d be happier apart,’ she said quietly.
Ron looked as if he’d taken a Bludger to the belly. His eyes bugged out and his mouth hung open—not his best look. Hermione stepped closer to him, offering the ring.
‘Take it, Ronald, and go to bed. I’m finished with you.’
Ron stood still for a moment longer, his mouth slowly closing, even as his ears became pink, then red. His hand shot out, knocking her arm away from him, sending the ring clattering to the stone floor. ‘Don’t behave like a stupid bint!’ he shouted.
Suddenly, Hermione’s temper blew, like a star going supernova, and a spell flew from her wand, white light that hit his arm.
‘Don’t you dare call me names!’ she screamed. ‘Get out of my room before I call a troll to make you go!’
At the first sound of Hermione’s screeching voice, Crookshanks shot out from under the bed as if he’d been propelled out of a cannon, darting betwixt Ron’s legs and out of the room.
Ron rubbed the sore spot on his shoulder where her Stinging Hex had hit him. ‘You’re just like Snape,’ he spat at her. ‘You two were made for each other! I hope you enjoy the ugly git!’
He scuttled backwards, as if afraid to turn his back to her, and Hermione bent to retrieve the ring and run after him. ‘Don’t forget this!’ she shouted, and she threw it at him, happy when it hit his cheek and bounced to clang off the wall behind him. ‘GO AWAY!’
He made a rude gesture. ‘I should have dumped you months ago! You’ve not been a proper girlfriend since you started hanging around here all the time working on your precious Regency Week! You won’t even snog me, much less shag me—and you were never any good at it!’
Hermione felt her reason slip its leash. ‘Oppugno!’ she shrieked.
But Ron was far too familiar with that spell to stick around. Turning so quickly that he stumbled, far too inebriated to be sure on his feet, he lurched down the corridor toward his room, his gait somewhere between a run and a stagger, his arms waving wildly to ward off his attackers. The hail of fat yellow birds pursued him madly, clawing and pecking every inch of exposed flesh they could reach. He looked so ridiculous that Hermione laughed out loud, a bitter, malicious sound. She watched until Ron’s door slammed closed.
Hermione glanced about for her cat. The corridor was not a long one. There were three rooms situated along the corridor, which dead-ended at the wall at the end; Hermione’s was the third room. She walked down the length of the passageway to a larger corridor, but she did not see Crookshanks. The wall braziers cast weird shadows on the walls as she passed, but she was not in a fanciful mood, and the odd shapes did not alarm her.
She made the kissing noise she used to summon him to mealtimes. ‘Crookshanks!’ she called softly, suddenly concerned for the inhabitants of the neighbouring rooms as she hadn’t been when rowing with Ron. ‘Come, Crooks!’
But the flat face of her great orange tomcat did not appear out of the gloom. She paced then to the dead end of the passage, but all she found was a door, ajar. That door had never been open before—in fact, she had thought it was only a wall—so she felt sure no one slept in there—but what if she were wrong and walked into someone’s bedroom? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing?
‘Crooks?’ she called outside the slightly open door, which was open just enough to allow for the passage of a bushy cat. But Crookshanks did not come.
Giving up, she turned aside to her room. She ought to get in bed again and sleep, if she could manage it. She had no desire to startle paying guests with her haggard appearance in the morning. She considered leaving her door open a crack so Crooks could get in when he came back, but what if Ron decided he had more to say and came back? She didn’t want him getting in. So she set the latch firmly, then locked and warded it for good measure.
It wasn’t until she was under the covers again, in the anonymous dark, that she allowed herself to cry.
The Headmaster sat in his favourite armchair, returning the yellow-eyed stare of the fantastically ugly cat that sat, alert and tail flicking, in the matching armchair directly across from him.
‘Don’t look at me,’ he said to the cat, taking another sip of the medicinal brandy in his glass. ‘I didn’t invite you in here—I only wanted to listen to the show. Pity it was over so quickly, but he’s no match for her, you know.’
The orange cat stretched out on the chair as if it were granting a great concession, its eyes never leaving the Headmaster’s face.
‘That’s right,’ the Headmaster agreed, languidly crossing one long leg over the other beneath his dressing gown. ‘Keep me under your eye, and I can do you no harm.’
The room in which he sat with his visitor was a large one, even by Hogwarts standards, for it was the Headmaster’s bed chamber. Adjoining the Headmaster’s office, it was part of the suite of rooms given over to the use of the school’s Head. Schoolteachers—even Headmasters—did not make great quantities of gold in their jobs, and the Board of Governors was careful to compensate the teachers in other ways—ones which cost them no money. The Headmaster’s bedchamber was entered from a door in the office. Upon entering, one was struck by the magnificence of the massive four-poster bed, which was situated on a raised dais in the middle of the room. The posters were carved into the likenesses of the mascots of the four Houses, and the wooden railing connecting the four carvings was hung with heavy flowing fabric. In Dumbledore’s day the fabric had been crimson, but Severus had chosen instead a darker shade, the colour of the midnight sky, deepest blue. Doors to the left led to his dressing room and his bathroom, so opulent as to make the prefect’s bathroom look pedestrian. To the right was his sitting area, chairs and a sofa arranged about the hearth, all upholstered in rather aged chintz: a pale yellow background covered with poppies. It was hideous, but serviceable, and Severus was loath to replace it.
On the wall with the hearth was a door which led into a little-used corridor near the teachers’ rooms. The door was never used—indeed, Dumbledore had placed an ornate drinks trolley there, as if it were part of the wall—but Severus preferred to keep the trolley nearer to hand. That wall was also one in common with the guest room assigned to the Granger girl. He had had nothing to do with the room assignments; and Granger certainly did not know the location of the Headmaster’s rooms.
He had been sitting in his chair, enjoying a bedtime sip of brandy when he had heard raised voices. Ah, Weasley was explaining himself to his girlfriend—what better entertainment could one hope for? He had crept to the door and cracked it open, the better to listen. He hadn’t counted on the girl’s mangy familiar streaking into his room as if pursued by the Hounds of Hell. By then, the combatants had been in the corridor shrieking at one another, and he dared not move to close the door. He’d had an uncomfortable, unbreathing moment when the girl had stood outside his bedroom door cooing for the return of her flat-faced feline familiar, but to his immense relief, Granger had given it up and gone to bed, like a sensible woman.
He smirked. Wouldn’t she have been mortified to walk in on him in his dressing gown? He preferred to sleep in his underclothes in summer, a vest and boxers, so she would have been treated to the sight of him with bare legs and feet—she would have been greatly nonplussed, he thought. Of course, he could have discussed his possession of Weasley’s personalised schedule with her—wait, she would have been in her nightclothes as well, would she not? Perhaps a filmy black negligee, feathered mules upon her manicured feet … or a frilly pink babydoll nightie, her smooth legs and feet bare … with her curvy figure, she’d be a treat in lingerie …
He indulged himself with these entertaining thoughts until his brandy was gone, then he stood.
‘It’s time for you to go,’ he informed the cat.
The creature, which had gone to sleep, opened its lantern eyes and blinked, its only response.
‘Shoo,’ Severus said. ‘I’m going to close this door, and I won’t have you waking me to get out.’
The feline closed its eyes again, as if Severus were speaking to someone else.
‘Stubborn cat,’ he said, crossing to the door. ‘If you disturb my sleep I’ll …’
But the cat lowered its round head to its paws, purring so loudly Severus could hear it from where he stood.
Unfortunately, he could also hear the soft sobs coming from the next room. He stood at the door, his posture curving in until his forehead pressed against the stone lintel, and he stared helplessly at the floor, enduring the girl’s tears until nothing came from her room but silence. He straightened up, his thoughts far away, and as he moved, he saw a flash of metal.
Opening the door fully, he stepped into the corridor and picked up the cheap, tarnished ring the girl had flung at her dismissed swain. Striding back into his bedchamber, he walked to the tall chest where he placed the contents of his pockets when he undressed at the end of the day. Lying in the center of it was a parchment covered in calligraphy, and upon the parchment there was a ladies’ handkerchief. He placed the ring upon the square of the linen and closed his eyes.
What the hell was he thinking? Did he even know what he was doing? He slammed the door on the questioner in his mind, his lips twisting in a derisive snarl.
‘Bugger,’ he swore and stomped off to bed.
A/N: You may see the ring Hermione threw at Ron here: