For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Saturday, August 3, 2002
The Rest of the Day
Arthur Weasley sat down heavily on the chair beside his Molly, wiping his face with his handkerchief. ‘I think we’re coming right along!’ he said, giving her plump hand a squeeze.
But Molly was staring across the room. ‘Look at Hermione, dancing with the Headmaster,’ she said. ‘Why isn’t she dancing with Ron? And why didn’t they sit together at dinner last night? Or at breakfast this morning?’ She twisted about in her chair, looking in the other direction, and Arthur gave a bit of a sigh. His witch had ever been a wilful woman, but ah, what a woman!
If he could only get her attention away from their children for any length of time …
‘And there’s Ron, dancing with that Lavender Brown,’ she continued in an urgent undertone. ‘He isn’t even asking Hermione!’
Minerva McGonagall, who was instructing the dance class, clapped her hands and dismissed the guests, telling them all how well they’d done at learning the quadrille and urging them to return on the morrow. Arthur smiled at his wife.
‘Now we have an hour before lunch, while the youngsters go to a riding lesson,’ he enthused, consulting his personalised schedule. ‘What would you like to do? A sit down in the drawing room to chat, perhaps? Or back up to the room for a bit of a kip?’
Molly stood and shook the creases from her lovely Regency gown. How well the periwinkle blue looked with her hair and her skin. Had any wizard ever been so lucky in his wife? But she was muttering to herself, as if shaking out her skirt was preparation for heading off on some mission or other.
‘… there’s George, I’ll just pop over and see if he’s talked to Ron or Hermione about—’
Arthur stood and took her hand, pulling it resolutely through his arm. ‘A walk in the maze it is, then!’ he declared, smiling at Molly.
She bit her lip. ‘But don’t you think we should find out—’
He shook his head, beginning to walk with her. ‘I think we should let the children work through their own problems, love. This is our romantic holiday, remember telling me that?’
A tiny smile touched her lips. ‘How else was I going to get you to agree to come?’ she asked playfully.
Arthur heaved an internal sigh of relief. She wasn’t going to make him get severe about it, then. ‘That’s a fair question,’ he agreed. ‘You might have said—’ he looked to see if anyone was listening to them before bending his head to whisper in her ear, ‘“Come to Regency Week and I’ll spend an hour a day in bed with you!”’
She burst into gales of laughter, and his hand tightened upon hers. Never had there been a finer woman! If she was worried about Ron, he’d have a word with the boy. Anything to set his Molly’s mind to rest.
Draco placed his hands on his hips, in direct imitation of Hermione’s posture, and raised his eyebrows as high as they would go.
‘Those are your choices, missy. I can give you a leg up, or you can use the mounting block in the stable yard.’
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest, always keeping one eye on the small chestnut mare. ‘I don’t see why I can’t Levitate myself up,’ she argued.
‘And I thought you wanted the authentic Regency experience!’ Draco mocked.
Hermione darted a glance in each direction. It wouldn’t do for … anyone to see her being skittish and awkward about this riding business. She’d bespoke a riding dress, which had been fashioned from one belonging to the Princess Charlotte, and it was very smart, a dark blue velvet with military-type epaulettes and a fabulously full skirt. And she’d been building up her courage about it for months now!
‘Don’t worry—riding a thoroughbred isn’t the same as flying on a Thestral—Firefly will take good care of you.’ He stroked the horse’s mane. ‘She was my mother’s, and there’s not a finer mount in the stable. I chose her for you especially.’
Hermione gasped and grasped his arm. ‘Draco—how is it that such a prat can be so thoughtful?’
He shook his head and bent, cupping his hands. ‘A lapse on my part, I admit. Now, step up and shut up, silly,’ he commanded, ‘and I’ll help you arrange that skirt on the side-saddle.’
Severus stood beside Lucius in the main tack room, his attention riveted by the passage taking place betwixt Draco and Miss Granger. He couldn’t say he cared for her appearance in the heavy riding habit. It covered every inch of her—why, she even wore a white shirt and a cravat with it, much like a man’s!—and the hat was not feminine at all, save for the frivolous plume of feathers protruding from it. But he very much wanted her ahorse—wanted to ride beside her through the fields. He couldn’t have said why this was so—but there were many impulses he was having lately which he could not explain—and all of them seemed to stem from his association with her.
‘Good job, Draco,’ Lucius said aloud, and Severus saw Draco toss the girl into the saddle. He showed her how to hold her reins and began to lead the horse through the stable, toward the sunlit courtyard where the riders were gathering for their lesson.
Severus hung the beaver hat he’d been carrying on a wall peg and strode through the door.
Lucius plucked it up and strolled after him. ‘You’re supposed to wear the hat, old boy,’ he said, smiling.
Severus swung up into the saddle of his black Arabian stallion, and Apollyon danced beneath him, eager to be away. ‘I don’t wear hats,’ he said. ‘Leticia misplaced hers—see if she wants it.’
‘But what are you going to do in a beginner’s riding lesson?’ Lucius demanded, amused.
Severus looked down his nose at his laughing friend. ‘I shall pick up some pointers, of course,’ he replied, and allowed Apollyon to make his way towards the sunlight.
Lucius stared for a speculative moment at the smart Regency era top hat in his hands, then turned and spent an equal span of time watching Leticia as she waited along the wide stable corridor before the stall of her horse, wherein the stable-elf was performing saddling duties. Lucius had meant for Leticia to ride Firefly, Narcissa’s mare, but Draco had repudiated the suggestion.
The two had shared a bottle of claret the night before and finalised the list, pairing riders with available horses. ‘Professor Mortelle wouldn’t appreciate Firefly as Granger will,’ Draco had objected. ‘She’s far too fiery herself; she would probably over-excite the horse.’
Lucius had sneered. ‘Your mother would be horrified at the notion of the Granger girl aboard her mare.’
Draco had met his eye, grey to grey and unsmiling. ‘Mother doesn’t live here anymore, Father—and she did not enjoy riding as we do—she has no more love for Firefly than she did for any of the servants.’ He’d turned his attention back to the study of the list. ‘I love Mother with all my heart, but she is not a warm person. She does not miss the Manor; she much prefers living quietly with—’
Lucius had thrown up a hand as if to ward off a blow. ‘Don’t mention that woman’s name to me!’
And Draco had continued to discuss the mount assignments as if the reference to Narcissa and her Sapphic companion had never surfaced.
‘Professor Mortelle will be well-matched with Gadabout,’ Draco had said firmly.
Lucius had filled each of their glasses again, a frown between his brows. ‘Gadabout is my second-best hunter—not what I would call a quiet ride. He is not a ladies’ mount.’
And Draco had laughed, the first sound of unmitigated enjoyment Lucius had heard from him in recent memory. ‘Then he’ll suit Professor Mortelle right down to the ground! Have you seen her ride, Father?’
Now the red-haired witch stood before Gadabout’s stall in a severe Regency-style riding dress of bottle green velvet, her hair rolled simply into an elegant chignon, her head bare. But it was the implement in her hand that arrested Lucius, pinning him on the spot, his eyes riveted upon the black leather riding crop, his heart beating harder, as if he’d been exerting himself.
She handled it nonchalantly, as if it were an everyday part of her ensemble, but its place in her tightly gloved hands filled his mind unbidden with images best left to private venues rather than well populated areas.
As if feeling his eyes upon her, Leticia turned her head until their eyes locked, and in an instant, it seemed as if she knew his mind exactly. Her brows arched over her brilliant blue eyes, and slowly her lips curved. Lucius was driven to approach her, knowing his reaction was all too evident, that he would do better to turn away from her, to hide his sudden, violent desire to be alone with her—to kneel at her feet and adore her—but he was helpless to conceal his emergent need.
He walked willingly into the ken of a woman he now recognised as a skilled temptress.
He stopped very near to her, surely too close for social propriety, but such considerations seemed quite unimportant in that moment. Though she stood six inches shorter than he did, he had the distinct impression of looking up at her, and the almost imperceptible nod of her head showed that she recognised his state of inchoate craving.
‘Well, Lucius?’ she asked.
Her tone was one of almost unbearable intimacy, and naked in his unaccustomed—thought not precisely unwelcomed—vulnerability, he spoke the first words that came to his mind.
‘The crop suits you.’
The incipient curve of her luscious mouth completed now the full smile, and almost as a physical event he felt her acceptance of his veneration.
‘So it does.’
At the other shadowy end of the building, Harry stood in an open stall door, staring at the saddled horse there with some trepidation. The stable-elf had put the saddle and bridle on the horse and looped the reins about a metal circlet apparently placed for that purpose.
‘Does sir need help mounting?’ the elf had inquired.
‘No, thanks,’ Harry had replied, sending the little groom about his business.
Now Harry looked into the incurious eyes of the horse and swallowed. At least it had no talons on its front legs, though it was a nice shade of grey, just as Buckbeak the Hippogriff was. Hoping that no one else was around to see how awkward The Boy Who Lived was with a thoroughbred, Harry kept his eyes locked with those of the beast and bowed, just as Hagrid had taught him.
‘Potter, what the hell are you doing?’
Harry cringed inside at the Ferret’s incredulous tone, but he was a disciplined fighter; he knew if he looked away before the horse returned his bow, it could well be the last thing he ever did. Once Harry Potter learned how to conduct an encounter with a magical beast, he did not forget the lesson.
‘I’m asking permission to touch him, Malfoy. What does it look like I’m doing?’
Still, the horse returned his stare with rather bored interest, as if it thought Harry were amusing enough but wondered when the real entertainment would begin. In truth, the horse didn’t seem nearly as dangerous as Buckbeak was.
‘I see,’ Malfoy murmured, and then he was moving forward to pet the horse’s neck, breaking Harry’s eye contact with the beast.
Harry straightened up, annoyed. ‘Now I’m going to have to start over—I’m going to be late for the lesson, and Hermione is going to be unhappy with me. Thanks loads, Malfoy!’
Malfoy looked at him, and although Harry thought the other wizard seemed amused, he wasn’t laughing out loud. Harry supposed he ought to be thankful for small things where Malfoy was concerned.
‘Look, Potter, I suppose those Muggles who raised you didn’t have horses,’ Malfoy began.
‘My Aunt Petunia wouldn’t have allowed a little pet in the house, much less a great dirty thing like that,’ Harry replied before he could stop himself.
The horse snorted, and Harry felt compelled to say, ‘No offence meant.’
Draco grinned outright. ‘Horses aren’t like Hippogriffs,’ he said. ‘They’re tame. You don’t have to bow or ask their permission to touch them.’
Harry crossed his arms over his chest, feeling a bit ridiculous. Malfoy was going to have a field day telling this story to his mates. ‘Well what do you do with them?’ he demanded impatiently.
‘Do this,’ Draco said, and pulling a sugar cube from his pocket, he fed it to the horse on the flat of his hand. The horse accepted the treat, its lips moving over Malfoy’s palm until it found the tiny lump of sugar. Malfoy then offered a cube to Harry. ‘Go ahead,’ he encouraged. ‘Duds is friendly.’
Harry took a step forward with the sugar on his hand as Malfoy had done.
‘Be good to Harry, boy,’ Malfoy said to the horse, stroking its dark grey mane. ‘You’re going to like him. You’ll see.’
The warmth of the horse’s breath and its rubbery lips on his hand felt strange, but not unpleasant. When Malfoy motioned for him to do so, Harry put his free hand on the horse’s neck and petted him.
‘Did you call him Duds?’ he asked Malfoy, turning his head to look at him. There was no way Malfoy knew the name of his cousin Dudley, but the coincidence was pretty funny.
Malfoy was very still for a moment, looking back at Harry; then he stepped away and began to fuss with the stirrups on the saddle. ‘Yeah, he has some fancy name like Evening Attire, but I call him Duds—means the same thing, only shorter.’ He completed the adjustment of the stirrup leather and took another step back, indicating the horse’s feet.
Harry glanced down and saw the black hooves, above which were dark grey fetlocks, followed by white stockings.
‘See? Looks like he’s wearing spats,’ Malfoy said. Then he bent and laced his fingers. ‘Grab the pommel of the saddle and put your boot here—I’ll give you a leg up.’
Harry didn’t like to allow Malfoy to help him, but what else could he do? People were waiting, and Harry had no idea what he was doing with the horse.
When he was in the saddle, Malfoy gave him some pointers about how to position his feet in the stirrups and how to hold his reins. ‘You’ll do,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you out there.’
Malfoy led Duds out of the stall and released the bridle. Harry looked back over his shoulder as he rode off.
‘Thanks,’ he said gruffly.
Malfoy smiled, which made Harry’s stomach feel as if he’d missed a step going downstairs. Why did the wanker have to be so good looking?
‘You owe me, Potter!’ he said, then turned to find his own horse.
Hermione sat awkwardly on top of Firefly, wondering how on earth Regency ladies had managed to ride horses for pleasure, much less to ride them over jumps, in this position! Her left foot was securely in the stirrup, and her right leg was resting on the leaping horn, but she felt completely inept, particularly after an hour in the riding ring with the riding master, a Squib by the name of Horologium Black. There were plenty of others in the beginners group with her who were every bit as bad at riding as she was, but she hated being amongst their number. Draco was in the next ring with the intermediate riders, and Professor Mortelle worked with the advanced riders in the meadow set up with the different types of jumps.
‘Are you comfortable? May I assist you in some way?’
She looked over to see the Headmaster on his coal black horse. The man wore all black as well, save for the white shirt; even his cravat was black. Unlike the other men, he wore no hat upon his raven’s wing hair, which was tied back, a look she had not seen on him before. It made him seem different to her—exotic, somehow—and the sight of him on the sleek, beautiful horse made her feel very odd. If she hadn’t known better, she would have identified the feeling as … arousal, but that was impossible. This was Snape, after all. Most likely, it was just some sort of soreness from the unaccustomed activity of riding. It would pass. But coming as it did on top of her confusion with him on the first floor landing that morning, she was particularly discomposed and found it hard to meet his eye.
‘Thank you, sir, but I am fine,’ she said. ‘We are now just on our way back to the stables.’
He urged his horse to move alongside hers. ‘Then I will bear you company.’
Hermione was acutely aware of him, sitting his horse and looking like a dashing Regency gentleman—if a bit of a rakish one. If he weren’t in costume, you wouldn’t be so confused she assured herself, but she didn’t know if it were really true.
‘That’s a beautiful horse,’ she said to him. ‘Do you ride him often? You seem almost to move as one creature.’
‘This is Apollyon,’ he informed her. ‘He is mine—a gift from the Malfoy family when the war was done. I ride him as often as I can, which is not always as often as I would like.’
Hermione wanted to ask why the Malfoys had felt compelled to give him such a gift—a horse of that quality would surely cost several thousand Galleons—but she had no desire to offend him, so she resisted. Instead she said, ‘You ride very well.’
He slanted a look down at her, his dark eyes sardonic. ‘As if you could tell a good rider from a mediocre one, after one riding lesson?’
She laughed. ‘Well, you look good to me!’
She flushed when the words were out of her mouth—how might he take them?—but his attention was swiftly distracted from her.
‘Severus!’ Lucius Malfoy called, sitting astride his large white horse. ‘We’re going to have a gallop across the hunt course—will you come?’
Professor Mortelle reined up beside Mr Malfoy, looking cool and elegant atop a bay horse of the same size and fiery temperament as Mr Malfoy’s mount. The Headmaster looked at Hermione. ‘I must leave you now,’ he said. ‘I will join you again at lunch.’
‘Have fun!’ Hermione urged, and with a certain feeling of disappointment, she watched him canter off to join his friends, and the three of them set off riding three abreast, their horses leaving the ground and taking the first fence as if they had been synchronised in some way.
Hermione was conscious of a stab of envy—how she would have liked to make a fourth in that riding party!—but even with Professor Mortelle’s spell to help her keep her seat on Firefly, she would not be ready for jumping for quite some time. It was disheartening.
Turning her horse towards the stable, she rode to join the crowd of guests who were being assisted to dismount. Ron, Fin, and Viktor were standing along the fence line, joking with one another and flirting with all the girls. Parkinson, Parvati, Padma, and Penny were with them, as was Lavender, and they were a merry group. But when Viktor spied Hermione, he strode past the grooms assisting people to dismount and reached up to grasp Hermione’s waist.
‘Come down,’ he urged her with his most winning smile. ‘I will help you.’
Hermione wanted to be off the horse, so she allowed Viktor to assist her down. It was odd to be on her feet again, and her legs were rather wooden, but it wasn’t until she took her first step that she knew how sore she was. She leaned on Viktor’s arm, and Penny came to her with a sympathetic exclamation.
‘Are you terribly sore?’ she asked solicitously. ‘You’ll see in your bathroom a small brown bottle of Savoir Smith’s Sore Muscle Reliever—the Headmaster told me about it. Pour some in your bath water, and it will help with the discomfort.’
Fin came up to reclaim Penny’s attention, and Viktor took the opportunity to slip an arm about Hermione’s shoulders. ‘I would be happy to massage your sore parts,’ he murmured into her ear.
And in the distance, the three horses, black, white, and brown, rose as one and cleared another fence. Hermione scarcely heard what was being said to her.
Hermione smiled up into Viktor’s face. ‘Thank you,’ she said, having no clue to what she might be responding. ‘I must hurry back to the castle, now—lunch will be served soon, you know!’
And stepping away from him, she turned on the spot and Disapparated.
She checked in the kitchens to be sure Mrs Parkinson’s special lunch had been prepared as instructed, then she hurried to her room—but Ron was there before her, blocking her way in.
‘Where’s Krum?’ he said, his voice low and throbbing with anger. ‘Didn’t he come along to “massage your sore spots”?’
Her anger flared immediately. ‘If he was going to massage my sore spots, what business would it be of yours?’
He grasped her upper arm. ‘You’re my girlfriend—have you forgotten that?’
She wrenched away from him. ‘With all the flirting you’re doing? What’s supposed to help me remember?’
He reached for her again, but she drew her wand. ‘Go away! I have to get ready for lunch! I don’t have time for this!’
Ron threw his hands up, his face flushed with rage. ‘Nothing new about that! You haven’t had time for me in months! But you have plenty of time for everyone else—Krum and even Snape! What’s wrong with you?’
Hermione was far too angry to speak to him. She pushed past him into her room and warded the door behind her.
She was not there to see Ron’s precipitous flight down the corridor, at the end of which he found his sober-faced father.
Arthur put an arm about his son’s shoulders. ‘Come for a walk with me, Ron. I think it’s time we had a talk.’
Savoir Smith’s Sore Muscle Reliever was like a miracle cure for her saddle soreness, and Hermione was able to manage the rest of her day with no muscle discomfort. The afternoon hours offered many different amusements to the guests, and Hermione was free to consult her clipboard and follow up on every detail, confident that her helpers would look after things.
When she appeared at dinner that night, she was in good spirits. Everything was in train to go off the next day without incident, when the remainder of the guests would arrive. She sat amongst the ladies in the drawing room after dinner, enjoying their chatter about all the things they had done that day. With this small group, the project was succeeding very well; if she could manage to deliver the same experience to the larger group, she would be quite satisfied.
Knowing that she would need to be up and on top of everything soon after dawn the next morning, she slipped away early to seek her bed, pleased with how the day had played out.
Severus saw Miss Granger as she withdrew for the evening, and he approved her choice. Sunday would be a trying day, and he needed her fresh and competent. His satisfaction lasted for a mere fraction of a moment, however, because he next saw Ronald Weasley leave his group of boisterous friends and follow the girl.
Speaking to no one, Severus exited the drawing room, stepped into a hidden cupboard, and Floo’d to his bedroom. He stalked to the far wall, opened the door there, and turned to his favourite armchair, only to find a ginger cushion occupying it.
‘How do you continue to get into this room?’ he demanded of the flat-faced creature.
The orange tomcat blinked complaisant yellow eyes at him, but did not move from his chair. At least this time he was prepared for the Crookshanks visitation. From the top of the highboy, he retrieved a tin of cat biscuits and dropped one on the rug. The uninvited visitor flowed out of the chair onto the floor to investigate.
‘Thank you,’ Severus said, and stepping over the cat and its treat, he assumed his seat, prepared to wait for the arrival of Miss Granger and her swain.
He had not long to wait. He heard the light step of Hermione Granger and the closing of her bedroom door, very quickly followed by the much heavier tread of Ronald Weasley and the knocking of fist against wood.
‘What do you want?’
She sounded irritated—excellent.
‘I want to talk to you. Let me in, Hermione.’
Presumptuous whelp. Why should she let him in?
‘Go away, Ronald. I have a tonne of things to do tomorrow, and I’m going to bed now.’
Good girl. Stick to your guns.
‘I don’t want to fight anymore, love. I ought not to have wagered the stupid schedule. There. I’m sorry.’
Good God, surely the girl wouldn’t fall for that smarmy tone of voice!
‘Stupid schedule? Stupid?’
Ah, she didn’t like that. Better go to bed, Weasley.
Severus Summoned the drinks trolley and poured a tot of brandy.
‘It’s just a piece of parchment, Hermione!’
Digging in deeper, Weasley?
‘That’s been your attitude all along! You never cared about Regency Week!’
Her tone was escalating to screeching range—they had best end it quickly.
‘I cared about you! I wanted to spend time with you! I wanted your attention for myself once in a while!’
Severus shook his head. Weasley had no clue how to go about pleading his case; that was clear.
‘If you cared about me, you’d care about what’s important to me!’
Severus took a mouthful of brandy and pondered that statement—it was true enough, to a point.
‘I want to be important to you, not play second fiddle to your bloody projects all the time!’
Ah, had that truly been the way of things? Severus could feel a certain degree of sympathy for the boy, in that case—still, Weasley plainly had no idea of the best way to handle a woman.
‘You were important to me, you idiot! I wanted you to be with me for this week—what could be more romantic than a week in Regency times?’
Tears were in her voice now—couldn’t the whelp hear them?
‘Romantic! What’s romantic about watching you run around seeing to things for a solid week? When have you once sat down to simply enjoy what you’ve done?’
Severus paused in the act of bringing his glass to his lips. When had Granger ever relaxed enough to appreciate her achievement? Obviously, the experience was important to her, above and beyond its benefit to Hogwarts.
Instead of an answer from the girl, the door slammed closed, followed by the expected pounding and shouting, but it was not opened again. Severus waited to hear Weasley’s door open, but it did not—the boy had gone downstairs then, to find some solace for his lacerated self-esteem amongst the gathering of single young witches there.
The stone shell of the castle’s impregnable walls had been built a millennium ago, but many of its interior walls had been created in later years, when the need for more dormitory rooms and classrooms had become evident. Some of the walls, then, had been fashioned of planks of wood, decorated with moulding at top and bottom, perhaps, but were not as dense as the stone of its floors and exterior walls.
It was through this less than impenetrable barrier that Severus heard the girl’s sobs of misery. His eyes closed, his head falling forward slightly, as if from a heavy burden upon his shoulders. She was a terrible girlfriend, to hear Weasley tell his side of it, but she was an efficient, ruthless project manager. She might have … challenges on the interpersonal front, but she was still very young, with her head full of Regency fantasies. She did not deserve to be so unhappy. A proper man could show her how to apply that indomitable spirit equally to her work and her loving—Weasley was simply too green himself to see what needed to be done.
His eyes opened at the sound of a movement, and the girl’s familiar leapt onto the armchair opposite his and began to clean himself.
‘Why do you not go to your mistress’ room to comfort her?’ Severus demanded of the feline.
Crookshanks looked up from his cleaning activities with a flat, yellow stare, almost as if he were posing the very same question to Severus.
A/N: You may see a Regency ladies riding habit here: