For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Friday, August 2, 2002
Morning and Afternoon
Severus acquitted himself well at breakfast, he felt. Sitting with Miss Granger at the table with Potter and the parental Weasleys, conversation was easy, and at the prompting of the Regency Week workers, Severus was reminded to maintain the conversational style of the time. There was much laughter amongst his tablemates, most of whom were in a holiday mind-set, and that made his job all the easier.
Soon after he was seated, the teachers entered the Great Hall en masse, resplendent in their Regency costumes. Severus resorted to biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing aloud at the spectacle of Flitwick, tricked out like a Dandy, complete with a ridiculous number of fobs and seals about his person. Lucius had managed to include himself amongst their number, and he was very smart in his bespoke gentleman’s raiment, looking quite smug with Leticia upon his arm. Severus hid his smirk behind his teacup as he sipped. He had seen Lucius evince interest in other women since Narcissa had left him, but never with the persistent determination he had shown in his pursuit of Professor Mortelle. She was nothing like Narcissa in appearance, with her fiery hair and brilliant eyes, and there was a fire in her, which Severus had encountered more than once in discussions of Leticia’s curriculum and her teaching style. He preferred Leticia’s fire to Narcissa’s distant, icy disdain for everyone and everything but her immediate family, but he had been surprised to find that Lucius was drawn to her. Narcissa had always been perfectly proper, never a hair out of place, and Leticia possessed those attributes, as well, but there was a dangerous—not to say sinister—edge to Leticia that Narcissa completely lacked. And Lucius appeared to be drawn to that very thing, like the proverbial moth to flame.
Severus almost hoped to see his friend’s wings singed—it would do him a world of good.
Look who’s talking his inner voice goaded.
Lucius and Leticia took the open seats beside Severus, and his old friend promptly inquired after the previous night’s amusements.
‘Did you enjoy your card game?’
Severus slanted a glance at him. ‘Need you ask?’
Lucius did not bother to hide his smirk. ‘Ah, it would have been a sight to behold.’
‘Dumbledore’s portrait certainly seemed to enjoy it,’ Severus allowed.
‘Even so, I’m rather surprised to see you dining amongst your guests,’ Lucius commented, sotto voce.
Severus felt a flash of annoyance. ‘My movements are scarcely your concern,’ he said, and turning to Miss Granger, he addressed an unexceptional comment to her.
At length, she rose from her chair. ‘If everyone has finished their meal, I would like for you to accompany me to Madam Malkin’s rooms. She is the head seamstress here at Hogwarts Manor, and she has prepared some garments for each of you, appropriate for your stay here, in the country.’
The guests rose, a buzz of cheerful conversation rising with them. Severus took the opportunity to stand and speak quietly into Miss Granger’s ear. ‘Shall I come with you to Madam Malkin?’ he inquired.
He noted with an almost satyric pleasure the flush which rose in her cheek, followed by her fingers, which rose to touch the spot at her temple where her hair had stirred in response to his breath. Her eyes flew to his face, her lips parted in surprise, and just as quickly, she averted her gaze.
Impulse propelled him one step closer to her, the action coming before he could form the intention to do so.
‘There’s no need,’ she said quietly.
Her reaction to him stirred the instinct of pursuit on a level beyond conscious thought. Struggling to keep his voice level, he said, ‘Then when and where shall I find you again?’
She moved away from him, greeting the first knot of gathering guests with a smile and directing them to follow the waiting house-elf to Madam Malkin’s rooms. When the last straggler had moved forward to join the departing throng, she looked at him again, although this time her brown eyes fastened upon his neck cloth, failing to make the full distance to his face.
‘There’s no need, sir,’ she repeated firmly, and dropping a tiny curtsy, she turned to follow her charges from the room.
He had scarcely completed his answering bow when his so-called friend’s irritating voice reached his ears.
‘Scorched!’ Lucius chortled, a laughing look goading Severus into throwing his table napkin onto his plate with scarcely controlled violence. ‘But never fear, you’ll make a recover, I’m sure,’ Lucius hastened to add.
‘Bugger off,’ Severus suggested before stalking out of the room.
Hermione waited to one side of the cavernous room given over to Madam Malkin and her workers. The guests were presented with their wardrobes, and each of them was conducted to a fitting room to make sure all was well before being dispatched to their bedchambers with a house-elf in tow to assist with fetching, carrying, and donning the strange garments.
Hermione responded automatically to any remarks addressed to her, but her mind was grappling with a problem.
What was going on with Snape, and how could she make it stop?
It was completely disruptive to her schedule to have the Headmaster lurking about, distracting her from her duties. Having Ron about was one thing; he could be (mostly) trusted to receive and carry out instructions, and thus make himself useful to her. But she couldn’t make use of Headmaster Snape in the same way, and taking away any potential utility, his presence was nothing but a disruption. His presence was … different from Ron’s. His body wasn’t too different; they were both tall and broader and heavier than she, although Snape was, admittedly, more slender than Ron. No, it was more Snape’s voice that disturbed her, for it insinuated itself into her mind, whether she liked it or not, and his manner towards her was totally troublesome for her. He didn’t ignore her and discount what she said as Ron was wont to do; instead, sitting with her at breakfast, he had attended to her comfort as well as her conversation. No, it couldn’t be permitted to continue in this way. Snape would continually distract her from what she ought to be thinking about and doing, and that couldn’t be permitted to happen. She had a job to do, and nothing was more important than doing it well.
She would have to find some way to put him off.
It was a perfect summer’s day, and Lucius felt an almost unseemly jubilation, just being in the sunshine beneath the fluffy white clouds with the delightful Leticia Mortelle upon his arm.
‘Come,’ he had said, planting himself before her as she left the ladies’ sitting room, ‘you know you are promised to me for a walk in the maze.’
She had regarded him coolly from beneath her darkened lashes, with the enigmatic smile which made him want to snatch her up and kiss her, regardless of where they might be when the maddening expression touched her lips. ‘I am quite sure I never made any such promise,’ she had objected.
Undeterred, he had taken her hand and placed it on his arm. ‘You did not naysay me when I suggested it, and that is the same as agreeing,’ he had informed her. ‘And I see that you have already put on your spencer—a charming shade of cerulean, I must say, and it complements your eyes delightfully—so we are quite ready for a stroll about the grounds.’
She had eschewed a bonnet, choosing instead to carry a frivolous little parasol to guard her complexion from the injurious sun, and still her hair shone like burnished copper upon her brow. Her mere presence made him feel as if he were a young man again, younger than she was, even, though he knew he was older by better than a decade. He had ceased to wonder at his feelings and the reasons for them; all that mattered was his capacity still to experience such energizing joie de vivre.
‘Will the Headmaster be joining us?’ Leticia inquired, and Lucius saw Severus bearing down upon them with a determined look upon his face.
‘Oh, I don’t think we’re his objective,’ Lucius replied, glancing towards the lake, where house-elves had assembled a number of lawn games for the guests to choose from. ‘Isn’t that Miss Granger in the pink coat?’
Leticia chuckled. ‘I believe you’re right,’ she said. ‘Miss Granger will be the recipient of the Headmaster’s attention.’
Lucius drew Leticia’s hand more fully through the crook of his elbow, covering her daintily mittened hand with his. ‘Let us go this way, toward the hedges which Mr Longbottom has so cleverly provided for us—I believe we will be quite alone, in the maze.’
And when Leticia raised slightly mocking eyes to his face, he tightened his fingers upon the hand he held. She returned no answering pressure, but she neither reprimanded him nor withdrew her hand, and triumph filled him as he navigated a path far from the milling crowd about the lake.
Harry stood beneath a beech tree at Hermione’s shoulder, a shuttlecock in his hand, which he occasionally tossed up and caught again, doing what he could to stave off boredom. As he had feared, people he didn’t know continued to make attempts to talk to him. He answered them as kindly as he could, but all the attention made him nervous. He would much rather be playing at wizard’s chess with Ron, or flying on the Quidditch pitch, even if Neville had grown a huge maze over the ground there. But Ron was nowhere to be seen—although it seemed he had woken up, because he hadn’t been in his room when Harry had checked back after breakfast—and Hermione had forbidden flying for the duration of Regency Week as being ‘unauthentic’.
‘Don’t be daft!’ he’d retorted. ‘Wizards have been flying on brooms for centuries and centuries!’
But she’d refused to budge, so here he stood, wondering how he was going to get through ten more days of this without losing his mind.
Hermione handed out battledores and a shuttlecock to Arthur Weasley, who was as excited as if they were plugs and fuses.
‘Oh, this is going to be such fun!’ he exclaimed to Molly, who was watching him with fond amusement.
‘Of course it is, love,’ she agreed, and the two of them went off to attempt the Muggle game.
Hermione turned to Harry with a smile. ‘Oh, come on, Harry,’ she chided him. ‘It’s not nearly as bad as camping out for weeks on end with nothing to do but starve, freeze, and take turns wearing a piece of Voldemort’s soul about our necks!’
Harry laughed out loud. ‘Well, when you put it that way, I can’t disagree with you.’
Hermione patted his arm. ‘That’s better,’ she said. ‘Have you seen Ron?’
‘No, but I know he got out of bed, because he isn’t in his room.’
She plucked at the edge of her long pink coat-like thing. ‘I was hard on him when he came to my room last night.’
Harry didn’t know what to say to that, so he kept his mouth shut. Over her shoulder, he saw Severus coming their way, and the Headmaster looked none too happy. ‘Say, Hermione, did you do something to make Severus cross?’
Hermione looked up then, rather like a rabbit confronted by a predator. ‘Why? Is he here?’ She turned nervously, and when she spied Severus, she darted into the nearest group of guests, kindly offering to show Mr Parkinson how to bowl his ball close to the kitty.
Harry tossed the shuttlecock into the air again, and was surprised when a hand shot out to capture it. He turned and saw Malfoy tossing the shuttlecock again.
‘Do you think you can play this game?’ Malfoy asked.
Harry studied the Ferret’s face, looking for some sign that Malfoy was having him on, but the only thing he saw was boredom almost matching his.
‘I’ve played it,’ Harry said. ‘My aunt had a set.’
Malfoy thrust a racquet into Harry’s hands. ‘Come on; let’s show the others how it’s done. Not a one of them seems to be able to work it out.’
Harry accepted the racquet willingly. Even playing badminton would be better than standing around waiting for the house-elves to serve the picnic lunch.
Parkinson was attempting to show her parents how to play at battledore and shuttlecock, without the involvement of the net, but Harry was pleased when Malfoy stepped up to the net strung between two advantageously placed saplings. Malfoy removed his long-tailed coat and waistcoat, apparently meaning to play in his shirtsleeves, and Harry could not help but notice how the warmth of the sun had caused the white shirt to mould itself to Malfoy’s torso, accentuating the muscular definition there. Harry’s mouth went dry, and he swallowed, trying to force himself to look away. What did it matter to him how the Ferret looked without his clothes on?
‘Head’s up, Potter!’ Malfoy called, and the shuttlecock was sailing over the net to him.
Harry returned the shuttle, and they settled into a steady back-and-forth. Guests who had struggled to work out how to play stopped their efforts and stepped up to watch the two young men who could do it properly. Before long, they were taking sides and calling out encouragement. Harry missed a return and good-naturedly informed the spectators that they were a noisy lot.
‘Keep playing, Harry!’ George called merrily. ‘You know how we Regency bloods carry on—we’re going to wager on who’s going to win!’
Neville was roped into assisting George, and before long, all the gentlemen were crowding about them, placing their wagers. Harry and Malfoy continued their game, and when Malfoy missed a return, he grinned at Harry, his white-blond hair plastered to his forehead.
‘I think they like us!’ he said, and it seemed to Harry as if the other man looked him over closely, grey eyes speculative. ‘You could take off your coat, you know—you’re going to spoil it, sweating like that.’
Harry was staring at Malfoy now, as if the Ferret’s inspection of him gave Harry the right to return the assessment, with interest. But he had no intention of taking off his coat—he was neither as lean nor as fit as Malfoy, and he was acutely aware of his shortcomings.
‘Just play!’ he snapped, and another spirited exchange began, the spectators shouting encouragement, even the bowlers turning aside from their sport to watch Harry and Malfoy battle away at badminton.
Hermione watched her pupils wander away, one-by-one, until she stood alone with the bowls ball in her hand.
‘Tell me, Miss Granger—have you included competitions amongst your lawn game activities?’
The voice fell upon her like a coating of fondant on a ripe bit of fruit, but when she turned to him, his expression was far from inviting. She lifted her chin.
‘I have not, Headmaster, but I can see that it was an unfortunate omission. It would appear that our guests quite enjoy a bit of competition.’
He nodded somewhat curtly, turning his attention to the combatants engaged across the net. ‘These two certainly do—always have done—and even a grudge match is an acceptable past-time, if it keeps the … dibs in tune.’
She laughed, delighted to hear such a Regency phrase upon his tongue.
He turned back to her, his coal-dark brows arching above equally black eyes. ‘Have I got that right?’ he demanded.
‘Perfectly!’ she said, unable to prevent herself from smiling at him. ‘If you mean it keeps the money coming in,’ she added.
He nodded once, now ignoring Harry and Draco to look her over. ‘How are you doing?’ he asked.
‘It’s going fairly well, I think,’ she said. ‘It was falling rather flat before Draco and Harry began to play, but they all seem entertained now. And the helpers are going amongst them to show them how to speak and behave with one another.’ She spotted the house-elves approaching, levitating bulging picnic hampers, rugs, and frosty jugs of lemonade before them. ‘I can get the picnic set up, and by the time Harry and Draco are finished, lunch will be ready for us.’
Snape placed a restraining hand upon her elbow, and she looked up at him questioningly.
‘Allow the house-elves to do their jobs,’ he suggested. ‘They know their business, I assure you. Come for a stroll with me, and when we return, we can join the others for a light repast.’
Hermione looked anxiously toward the house-elves, who had begun to spread rugs beneath the shade of the trees and place cushions in strategic spots for comfort. She would be ever so much more at ease directing the house-elves than having an awkward, private conversation with the Headmaster. But how could she refuse him without giving offence?
As he had done that morning, he tucked her hand into his arm and began to walk, and she went with him, feeling helpless to refuse. Peeking at him from beneath her lashes, she saw his hawkish profile, dominated by his hooked nose, beneath which was a mouth that could thin to show displeasure, curve to confuse her with possible amusement, or relax into disarming laughter. She didn’t realise she was staring until he looked down and their gazes locked, hers suddenly embarrassed, his inquisitive.
‘You need have no scruples about accepting my escort, you know,’ he said, beginning to walk along the edge of the lake. ‘My only purpose is to lend you what aid I can and to replace your intended partner, whose interest in this project was … less than keen. It is all for Hogwarts, after all.’
Hermione briefly wondered what Ron would think, seeing her strolling along with the Headmaster. He oughtn’t to be surprised, since he’d practically given her to Snape—but would he be jealous? She almost hoped he would; it would be a balm to her hurt pride to think that Ron was the least little bit put out by Snape’s attentions to her.
Forcing her mind back to the Headmaster’s words, she had to admit she liked what he said. It was in his best interests to make sure that Regency Week was a success, wasn’t it? After all, if the Headmaster ever hoped to secure a pay rise for his teachers—or himself!—he needed for the guests to be satisfied. Hermione was determined to make a success of the project because she believed in it and had devoted a year of her life to meticulous planning and the execution of those plans. In all the world, there was really no one else who had as much at stake in Regency Week as she did, except for Severus Snape.
He was right. He was the logical partner for her during the ten days of the Regency project, and to give him credit, he hadn’t taunted her about her boyfriend’s defection from her side; Snape obviously had no intention of tormenting her about her personal life for the duration of their partnership.
‘Thank you, Headmaster,’ she said, stopping and drawing him to a stop, as well. ‘I appreciate your frankness. I accept your offer.’ She cleared her throat and looked away from him, across the lake. ‘You’re right.’
One of his laughs, the ones that made her forget what she was supposed to be thinking about, brought her attention back to his face. Even his eyes seemed to brighten when he laughed.
‘Could you say that again?’ he asked with mock solemnity. ‘I really haven’t heard that from you as frequently as I ought.’
Hermione laughed out loud. ‘You’re impossible!’ she declared, deciding that she would loosen up and speak to him as she did her contemporaries. He wasn’t her teacher, demanding deference and respect. Rather, he was her partner in bringing the Regency project to a successful completion—for Hogwarts—and as such, it was important for them to be comfortable together. They would be in one another’s company for most of their waking hours, after all.
The Headmaster placed one hand over his heart and inclined his head, allowing his hair to fall forward, a screen for his expression. ‘At last, we begin to understand one another.’