For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Friday, August 2, 2002
Hermione gave herself an hour to dress for dinner, because her evening hairstyle was a bit more complicated than the one she had adopted for daywear. She divided her hair at the back of her head by parting the top section from the bottom. The top back segment she divided into three sections, braiding each into a careful plait. With the plaits pinned out of her way, she combed the bottom back section up and wound it into a bun. The braids were then shaped into semi-circles above and to each side of the bun and pinned into place, with the bun rather like the center of a large flower and the braids like three petals. With the remaining sections at the front, she patiently created corkscrew curls on either side of her face.
As she worked, she thought about the evening to come. There were no elaborate plans for the guests’ entertainment tonight. After dinner, they would play parlour games, and Hermione would lead the ladies upstairs to bed no later than half ten. No one was required to seek their beds early, of course; they were all adults and could choose their own bedtimes. But tomorrow they would commence with lessons in dancing and riding, both of which required some physical energy, and she didn’t want her guests too tired to enjoy their time with the dancing and riding masters.
Satisfied with her hair, she chose a dress from her wardrobe and slipped it on. Pausing before her mirror to assess the full effect of her garments, her hand rose nervously to her chest. How in the world had the women been comfortable with such revealing necklines? Perhaps for the more flat-chested ones the fashion had not been quite so daunting, but for a girl with a real bosom, it was very revealing.
‘Don’t fret, dearie!’ the mirror encouraged. ‘You look a treat!’
‘It’s easy for you to say,’ Hermione replied waspishly. ‘It’s not your chest on display for the world to see!’
She twitched the fabric, worried that the narrow skirt showed rather too much of her hips and bum—why couldn’t the Regency dresses have had more skirt to disguise one’s disadvantages?
‘No,’ the mirror declared without being asked, ‘it doesn’t make your bum look too big!’
Not staying to hear further mirror wisdom, she hung her reticule about her wrist and left her room.
The guests were gathered in the main drawing room on the ground floor, aperitifs in hand. Miss Granger had insisted that they have ratafia, madeira, and sherry on hand, but Severus had stepped in and firmly insisted upon modern drinks being available, as well, for the paying guests.
‘The more they drink, the happier they’ll be,’ he had informed her, and the girl had acceded to the strength of his argument.
The Headmaster stood at the back of the room, one elbow propped on the mantelpiece, his hands free of drink. At his side was Lucius, and they were trading laconic, acidic comments about the milling throng in their odd costumes.
‘Don’t they realise that the clothes do not make the man?’ Lucius complained, his critical eye upon Fortescue Parkinson, who incessantly tugged at his cravat and fidgeted with the two inches of waistcoat that showed below the high-cut front of his coat. ‘A man dresses, assures himself of his perfection, and he leaves his room, never to give another thought to his raiment.’
Severus gave him a sidelong sardonic sneer. ‘Is that why I so frequently catch you out admiring yourself in the mirror?’
Lucius glared at him. ‘There is a vast difference between admiring one’s appearance and fidgeting about with it,’ he informed his friend. Taking one step back, he surveyed Severus closely. ‘I must say that this style of dressing suits you.’
Severus did not agree aloud; he never actually spoke of his appearance. But he did not disagree with Lucius’ observation. The fashions of the time of history dominated by Napoleon Bonaparte looked well on a tall, slender figure, and he was not displeased by his reflection in the mirror, though he never bothered with the bit above his neck cloth, save to make sure he was cleanly shaven and combed.
To change the topic, he nodded toward the knot of teachers seated near the window, where the early evening sunlight spilled through the long French doors. ‘Professor Mortelle looks well this evening.’
Lucius willingly turned his attention to the copper haired witch. ‘She’s simply amazing,’ he said quietly.
Severus’ eyebrows arched in surprise. ‘What, no bombastic declarations?’ he goaded. ‘Don’t you feel well?’
‘I am very well indeed.’ Lucius continued to gaze at Professor Mortelle, his expression inscrutable.
‘This is a change!’ Severus said. ‘Have you given up the quest? After all, the lady still shows no sign of returning your … regard.’
Lucius turned gleaming grey eyes to him. ‘But you weren’t with us today in the maze, were you?’ he said with a hint of boasting.
Severus chuckled. ‘You pressed yourself upon the lady in the shrubbery? It sounds like a comedy of manners! A scandal, in fact!’
Lucius frowned at him. ‘For a man whose subtlety earned him an Order of Merlin, your understanding of the delicacy of wooing is surprisingly lacking, Severus. One employs persistent pressure, to be sure, but it is a force of admiration and approval, not sordid lechery.’ He pondered for a moment before adding thoughtfully, ‘One works one’s way up slowly from the verbal love-making to the physical … very slowly, indeed, with a certain sort of lady.’
Severus felt the scowl forming on his face and fought to dispel it; his role in Regency Week was that of affable host, and well he knew how people were put off by him in his blacker moods. Nevertheless, Lucius’ sudden assumption of elder-brother manners—what presumption!—was most unwelcome, and Severus needed to make sure the other man knew his error.
‘Please, keep your sex life to yourself,’ he said icily.
Lucius looked shocked. ‘This isn’t about something so … so base. I am pursuing the lady in earnest!’
But Severus was not attending to him. Hermione Granger had entered the room and stood for a moment on the threshold, surveying the guests. The soft salmon pink of her silk dress was flattering; the colour seemed to warm her eyes and complement the faintly burnished threads of chestnut in her hair. The low square neckline—look at the face, not at the breasts! he chastised himself—was trimmed with metallic gold braid, as was the hem, and about the empire waist was a matching gold corded tie. She completed her toilette with flat gold slippers, a pearl necklet about her throat, and evening gloves. She was, in the parlance of the time, complete to a shade, and he was unable to take his eyes from her.
Then Lucius moved past him, walking to Miss Granger with a smile upon his lips, as if he were the host—as if he were her escort—and Severus experienced a flash of something that felt perilously like jealousy, an emotion with which he was far too intimate.
Before he knew what he was about, he was stepping between them, taking Miss Granger’s hand from Lucius’ grasp and lying over his shoulder, ‘I believe Leticia is trying to gain your attention.’
Miss Granger laughed, seemingly a touch flustered by the rush of male attention. ‘Good evening,’ she said, smiling up into Severus’ eyes.
He felt his lips curve in answer. He took her hand and led her towards the hearth. ‘Might I bring you sherry?’
She thanked him, but instead of walking away from her—yes, Lucius was behind Leticia’s chair now, taking part in her conversation with Minerva McGonagall, but why leave his prize unattended?—Severus motioned a house-elf near and took two glasses of sherry from its serving tray. He offered one to Hermione, then touched his glass to hers.
‘For Hogwarts,’ he said by way of a toast.
She smiled, seemingly pleased with him. ‘For Hogwarts!’ she agreed, and they drank.
Harry gave up on making his hair behave and hurried out of his room. He was later than he’d meant to be, and Hermione would be none too pleased with him for keeping the guests waiting. It was only because he, Malfoy, and a few of the betting men had stayed behind to continue with the badminton playing when the others had gone indoors to dress for dinner.
He stopped on the first floor landing and looked around, seeing Ron lurking in the shadows.
‘Where’ve you been all day?’ Harry demanded.
Ron came into the light, and Harry saw that he was dressed in his Regency garb.
‘I’ve been around,’ Ron said vaguely.
Harry shook his head. ‘Why don’t you just grovel and get it over with? It’s what you usually do.’
Ron’s jaw clenched. ‘She’s paid me no attention for a year. She’s been a terrible girlfriend. I won’t say sorry unless she does.’
But Harry was still shaking his head. ‘You bet her in a card game, mate. That wouldn’t have been a good idea even if you’d won the hand. She would’ve always been angry with you for it. Losing her just makes it worse.’
If possible, Ron looked even more stubborn. ‘I didn’t bet her,’ he argued. ‘I wagered the schedule, not her.’
Harry frowned at him, trying to follow his reasoning. ‘Look, Ron, you don’t treat your fiancée like that—like she doesn’t matter to you.’
Ron looked down. ‘We aren’t engaged, exactly,’ he muttered to his feet.
Harry felt confused. ‘But you gave her that ring—and I could’ve sworn you said you were engaged …’
Ron’s head came up. ‘We have an understanding!’ he blurted.
Harry turned aside in disgust. ‘Yeah, mate. Well, come on down to dinner. She’s going to be furious if we’re really late, you know.’
Harry paused. ‘Now what?’
‘I need someone to sit with at dinner. I’m not going to be without a partner if she has one.’ He looked hopeful for a moment. ‘Unless Snape is ignoring her, and she’s all alone?’
Harry gave him a pitying look. ‘Severus is a decent bloke,’ he said. ‘You’ve never understood that about him. No, he isn’t ignoring her. I’ve seen him with her everywhere today.’
Harry continued down the staircase, not caring now if Ron came along or not. But Ron followed, still talking.
‘Will you go in and find someone who’ll sit with me?’
‘Luna!’ Ron said. ‘Parvati. Lavender. I don’t care, as long as it’s a female.’
Harry reached the ground floor, Ron upon his heels, and they headed for the main drawing room. ‘All right, but after this, you get your own dates!’ Harry shot over his shoulder.
The clock was chiming the half-hour when he entered the room, which meant they’d all be going in to eat any moment. Harry smiled and nodded to the people who greeted him, threading his way through the guests until he came to the group of helpers, who stood together listening to George as he told one of his funnier stories. Harry wasn’t distracted by it; he’d heard the punch line before. Lavender Brown stood slightly separated from the others, poking in her cloth handbag, looking for something.
Harry touched her shoulder, and she looked up. ‘Hi, Harry!’ she said cheerfully.
‘Listen, Lavender—Ron wants to know if you’ll sit with him at dinner.’
Lavender looked as if someone had told her she’d won a prize. ‘Is he fighting with Hermione?’ she asked.
‘It’s complicated,’ Harry said uncomfortably. ‘You could ask him. He just wanted to know if you’d go into dinner with him and sit beside him, that’s all.’
Lavender narrowed her eyes suspiciously, and Harry was already considering whom he’d approach about it next when he received assistance from an unexpected quarter.
‘Oh, throw the boy a bone, Lav,’ Malfoy said, slipping away from the helpers to stand beside Harry. ‘Give the Weasel a treat.’
Lavender giggled, as if Malfoy had paid her a compliment—which Harry supposed was true, in a way.
‘Draco,’ she said, touching the silly arrangement of feathers she wore in her hair. ‘I guess I could do it …’
Malfoy took Lavender’s hand and pulled it through his arm. ‘That’s right—as a favour to Harry,’ he encouraged, leading her through the crowd. Harry followed in their wake, and the Ferret glanced back at him. ‘I suppose the Weasel is in the Entrance Hall?’ he asked.
Harry nodded and grinned at him, masking his confusion. Why would Malfoy intercede to help him out? Who knew what went on in that Slytherin soul? Well, Harry had to admit, when he was playing sports—or helping out in an awkward social situation—the Ferret had his uses.
Hermione sat in a chair near the door, her eyes drawn frequently to the clock upon the mantelpiece. Dinner had gone well, with the guests enjoying the food—a mix of old-time fare and modern—and particularly the wine. The ladies had withdrawn at the end, to amuse themselves in the drawing room while the gentlemen enjoyed port and cigars. Padma Patil had surprised them by showing herself to be adept at playing the piano, and she played a soothing sonata for them. Parvati had produced several samples of needle work and shown them around the group to stir up interest for her sewing classes, whilst Penny had done the same with her drawings. Parkinson had drifted into a corner with Lavender, where the two chatted animatedly.
Hermione tried not to stare at Lavender, but it was hard not to. When Ron had waltzed into dinner with Lavender Brown on his arm, Hermione had been stricken mute with fury. Her so-called boyfriend had hidden himself from her all day long—probably too ashamed of himself to show his face!—and when he had finally shown up, it had been with Lavender! Hermione could not but be aware that Molly and Arthur Weasley were casting very worried looks her way, and to make matters worse, Ron had never looked at Hermione once through the entire meal. She had simply no idea what to make of his behaviour. He didn’t seem the least bit sorry for anything he had said or done. Didn’t he care about her?
Snape had behaved rather oddly at dinner, as well. From his place at the head of the table, he had been careful to make sure Hermione’s glass was always filled, had offered her the first choice of every dish, and had included her in every conversation he initiated with those sitting near them. In fact, he had kept her so busy that she’d had no real time to think about Ron and his behaviour until she’d left the table.
Now, she just wanted the night to be over. The day had gone well, with no disasters, and the guests seemed in a mood to be pleased with everything, which augured well for the success of Regency Week. But Hermione was exhausted from the strain of seeing after everyone’s welfare, and she was quite ready for her bed. Her unhappiness about Ron simply added to her weariness; she suspected that she was going to cry when she was alone and wanted to get it over with.
The gentlemen came in from their port and cigars, and the ladies received them gladly. Ron stalked past Hermione, looking better than he had any right to in his Regency costume, and immediately began to talk and laugh with Lavender. Hermione felt a stab of jealousy. It wasn’t the first time Ron had acted this way—he’d had a fling with Lavender whilst they were still at school, after all—but it seemed terribly unfair to her that he would do it now, when she needed to devote all her attention to making the fundraising project a success.
The Headmaster stopped at her side, his black eyes searching. ‘All went well,’ he assured her before she could ask.
‘In here, as well,’ she said. ‘Many of the ladies are sincerely interested in the pastimes of the day, such as drawing and needlework. I think they will very much enjoy the classes we have arranged for them.’
He nodded. ‘You thought of everything, in fact,’ he assured her. ‘I hope you won’t mind my saying so, but you seem quite tired. Must you remain for the parlour games? Could not Miss Clearwater do the necessary, so that you could go to your room and rest?’
Hermione was touched. Who would have ever believed that Snape could be such an attentive escort? She glanced at the clock, seeing that it was nearly nine o’clock. Surely she could withstand ninety minutes more of socialising.
‘Thank you for your concern, sir, but I will be fine,’ she promised. ‘I believe I can manage on my own—it’s only table games, not anything tiring or difficult.’
There was a clattering from the Entrance Hall, and Hermione rose from her chair.
‘Are we expecting anyone?’ the Headmaster inquired.
‘Yes, we had two more scheduled to arrive this morning, but they never came,’ Hermione explained before hurrying down the short corridor to the Entrance Hall.
Two house-elves were carrying in baggage, and a fair-haired young man was looking about the space with an awed expression. Hermione recognised him at once. ‘Finbar Quigley!’ she said, coming forward and dropping a proper curtsey, which seemed to confuse him. ‘Welcome to Regency Week!’
Quigley, who played Beater on the Irish National Quidditch team, was also a player for the Ballycastle Bats. Hermione had been surprised when he’d written to sign up for the week, but Harry and Ron had been quite excited about it. She recognised him from his photograph in the newspaper—and also, she had to admit, because she’d been expecting him.
‘Erm, thanks,’ he said awkwardly.
She smiled her friendliest smile. ‘I’m Hermione Granger,’ she explained.
He eyed her with appreciation, and she felt her cheeks reddening. Damn this low-cut gown!
‘Oh, so you’re Hermione,’ Finbar said with a winning smile. ‘That explains a lot.’
Hermione didn’t know what to say to that. What on earth could he mean by it? And wasn’t he supposed to have someone with him?
‘Did your friend come with you?’ she asked, glancing to the massive wooden door, which was still open to the night air, a house-elf holding it ajar, frozen in a deep bow of greeting.
She heard his voice before she saw him coming through the door, an expensive-looking broomstick in his hand. Viktor Krum thrust this into the hands of a hovering house-elf and advanced precipitately upon Hermione, catching her up into his arms and giving her a kiss upon each cheek.
‘Greetings!’ he cried, his frequently sullen face animated with pleasure.
Hermione struggled. ‘Viktor, put me down!’
He did so, grinning down at her unrepentantly. ‘You are surprised to see me, yes?’ he demanded.
Hermione straightened her dress, making a note to herself that evening gowns with low necklines were not good for sudden violent movements. The period undergarments, somewhat less restrictive than modern day ones, did not fill her with the same confidence regarding their ability to keep her breasts appropriately under cover.
‘Yes,’ she answered belatedly, ‘yes, very surprised. So you’re Finbar’s companion?’
Viktor nodded, turning to his friend. ‘I am signed now to play Quidditch with the Bats this season,’ he explained to Hermione, his arm about Finbar’s shoulders. ‘It is our holiday, and when we saw your advert, we thought we would come here.’
Hermione nodded, wondering how on earth she was going to keep two professional Quidditch players entertained for ten days.
Viktor slapped Finbar on the back. ‘Didn’t I tell you she is beautiful?’ he demanded loudly.
The Headmaster stepped into the light, and Hermione realised he had followed her from the drawing room and had been standing in the shadows this whole time. The expression on his face was perfectly polite, but she thought the courtesy failed to reach his eyes. Indeed, when he spoke, his tone was almost biting.
‘Welcome back to Hogwarts, Mr Krum,’ he said, and Hermione felt a flush of real pleasure when Snape executed a very proper Regency bow.
Viktor seemed not at all taken aback, for he answered with a click of his heels and a bow of his own. ‘You are Professor Snape!’ the Bulgarian declared, and he pulled his teammate up for an introduction.
‘Fin, this is Severus Snape, the war hero. I knew him when I was here for the Triwizard Tournament!’
Hermione watched as the three men exchanged greetings, indicating with hand gestures for the house-elves to carry the baggage upstairs. When the men reached a pause in their conversation, she spoke to them.
‘The guests are playing games in the drawing room, and then we’ll have tea before bed,’ she explained. ‘Would you care to join us, or would you prefer to go to your rooms?’
Fin gestured to the Headmaster’s Regency clothing. ‘But we’re not in costume,’ he said.
‘It is of no matter,’ the Headmaster said woodenly, and Hermione added her encouragement.
‘Truly, we would be very happy to have you join us.’
Another figure emerged from the corridor, and Hermione saw it was Harry. He came forward with real pleasure, his hand outstretched. ‘I thought I heard your voice!’ he said, advancing towards Krum.
Further introductions followed, and the two newcomers were carried off to the drawing room triumphantly by the Boy Who Lived.
When they were alone again in the Entrance Hall, the Headmaster gave Hermione another searching look. ‘Will you go up to rest now?’ he asked. ‘I will convey your instructions to Miss Clearwater and say what is necessary to the guests.’
Hermione shook her head. Somehow, the arrival of her two missing guests had dispelled her earlier melancholy mood. Why should she care now about Lavender preening herself over Ron’s attentions if Hermione could have Viktor Krum at her side? That would be enough to really annoy Ron!
‘I’m not at all tired,’ she assured the Headmaster with a distracted smile, and with her thoughts pleasurably full of revenge, she followed the young wizards back to the drawing room.
Severus remained where she left him for a full minute, no sign of his inner turmoil evident save for the slow clenching and unclenching of one fist. Krum was an ill-favoured creature, sallow of skin, with a hooked nose and a strange, duck-footed walk—but he was a famous athlete, and women behaved oddly around such men. And Granger had experienced a miraculous return of vitality upon the arrival of these latecomers.
With an expression of grim determination about his eyes, Severus stalked back to the drawing room, intent on his primary objective: to protect Hermione Granger from the distraction of the attentions of another man.