For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Tuesday, August 6, 2002
The Chess Match and the Aftermath
Severus shifted in the wooden straight-backed chair and resisted the urge to wipe sweat from his brow. The lightly perfumed handkerchief—her token, given before the poker game, as a hope for his good luck—was in his pocket to remind him of his purpose, not to dry the drops of perspiration at his hairline.
He had done everything he could reasonably do to assure his success: He had consulted the volumes of the great chess masters in the school library. As a gesture of farewell, he had spouted the words of the greatest (in his opinion) of the Romantic poets whilst looking into Hermione Granger’s eyes. Then he had shaken hands with his opponent over the chequered, wooden board and sat down to play his best game.
There was nothing else to be done.
Miss Granger had hated Ronald for wagering his time with her in the poker game—would she despise Severus for participating in this contest? What did a woman know of courage or honour, from a man’s perspective? What did anyone know of such things in this day and age? And even if he had her ear to do so, would Severus try to explain himself?
He had given up explaining himself the day he had taken up Dumbledore’s banner and become a double agent.
‘Your move, Snape.’
Hermione climbed the eight flights of steps to her room, her expression stony, despite the clamouring in her mind. On the second floor landing, she glanced towards the library and saw a small crowd milling excitedly about in the corridor. She would not join them—not in thousand years—not for a million Galleons.
How could they? How could the two men who meant the most to her disrespect her so completely that they would play against one another for her favour, not once, but twice, as if she were some—‘Some Regency novel heroine?’ her mind whispered. ‘No!’ she said aloud. More like something to be objectified by them and their stupid chauvinistic machismo.
Well, they would learn their error! She would show them! She was a strong, independent, twenty-first century witch, not some dependent, powerless woman! Like a Regency-era woman? the voice asked again.
‘It’s not the same thing,’ she argued.
Still, it was a question to consider. Even Jane Austen’s heroines were keenly aware of their lack of choices in life. What was there, really, for a woman in the twenty-first century to long after in the nineteenth? Why did so many women hark back in their dreams to a time when women were, by law and custom, little more than chattel? Perhaps cherished and valued, but powerless, for all that—unless power were granted to them by a man.
Her steps were lagging by the time she reached her room. Crookshanks leapt down from her bed and wound about her ankles when she entered, but aside from giving him a quick scratch about the ears, she paid him no mind. Instead, she sat down at her dressing table and stared into the mirror, trying to sort out her thoughts.
She loved Regency stories and had done since she was a girl—why, she had fallen in love with Mr Darcy when she’d seen Pride and Prejudice on television—she couldn’t have been much above six or seven years old! She loved the clothing, the manners, the courtliness, the bowing and curtseying, and most of all, she loved the strong, good men.
The draw was the romance. It was the romance, pure and simple. She and thousands of women just like her longed for that touch of romance in their lives, and living for a few hours between the covers of a book chock-full of romance gave them the opportunity to possess it. She bit her lip, staring down at her hands. There had been very little of romance in her dealings with Ron. She didn’t doubt his capacity for it, but she thought it very likely that she simply did not inspire that type of behaviour in him—maybe not in any man. Yet the feelings that had stirred in her in the last two days—the attraction to Severus, with such strong overtones of impulsive recklessness—seemed to rouse the same impulses in him, too. Wasn’t that proof that such romance did exist in life? It wasn’t simply the clothes and the activities and the polite words of Regency Week that triggered her feelings! It was Severus Snape, himself, and she would be the world’s biggest fool not to follow that road as far as it led her—at least until Regency Week ended and life resumed its normal, dull rhythm again.
Was Severus wrong to allow Ron a rematch to win back again the schedule that matched hers? Yes, and she would be sure to make her objections clear to him—but would she let it bring an unnecessary, premature end to the adventure she’d been enjoying?
Hell, no! Why should she?
She picked up her comb and began to tidy her ringlets, humming to herself as she had done when the day began, so many hours before. How long did it take for men to play a chess game, anyway? She’d seen Ron and Harry play games that were over almost before they began, because Ron was so much better at …
Realisation dawned, and with it came terror. What if, when Severus lost the game, he thought he had also lost Hermione’s company? What if he planned to be honourable about it, in some stupid, manly display of integrity?
The terrible possibility drove everything else from her mind. If the game was over, she had to find Severus and somehow let him know that she still wanted his escort, no matter how quickly or soundly Ron had defeated him. And if the game wasn’t over, she had to find out how it was going.
Springing from her chair, she hurried off to the library.
Ron stared at the chessboard whilst Snape pondered his next move, but he had a hard time keeping his mind on the game. When he wasn’t completely in control of himself, his thoughts kept on returning to Romilda and her hands on his skin. She seemed to like touching him, a novel experience for him. Romilda wasn’t shy about expressing desire, was she? And she desired him, a fact which she had been making quite clear. How many blokes had a good looking girl show up in their rooms with a bottle of oil and the offer of rubbing it in?
‘Your move, Mr Weasley.’
Ron dragged his mind back to the game. This was important. He had to win this match so he could show Snape … show him …
Almost by rote, he made his move. There were people all over the library, which made him glad he and Snape had chosen the table in the very middle of the library for their game. Most of the spectators were hovering in the stacks, out of respect for the chess players, but some of them were right out in the open, probably hoping they would win their bets. George said it was the hottest betting they’d had all week, including Harry and Draco playing blind-folded badminton.
Unbidden, a sudden memory of Romilda’s perfume came to him. It was musky and flowery, much heavier than the scent Hermione sometimes wore. Because it was unfamiliar, Ron found it exotic … and sexy. She had offered to rub him more—would have had sex with him, right then and there—and he had sent her out of his room. What was the matter with him? What sort of bloke passed up that kind of free pass on no-strings sex?
Ron gave a sigh of disgust. ‘All right. Keep your shirt on!’ He made a quick assessment of the board and moved his bishop, taking one of Snape’s knights. When the prisoner had been bludgeoned into submission, it was Snape’s turn again.
Severus knew there were people lurking about, but he deliberately shut them out of his mind. All that he saw was the chessboard and the pieces, and as he executed the plan he had painstakingly researched in the library, he strained every nerve to concentrate. If he matched his best game against Weasley’s best game, he would be defeated. But if he brought his best game on a day when Weasley was wanting, Severus had a chance.
And he wanted the chance to win. In his mind, it had come to be something much more than a simple game of chess, played for possession of the piece of parchment lying on the table to his left, set an equal distance from each of them. It was about his right to Hermione—to his place at her side—and now that he was in danger of losing that right, there was nothing more precious to him. He knew very well that the piece of parchment had not the magical properties he was giving it—that the girl would decide whom she wished to have as her escort, regardless of who was in possession of the schedule that matched her own—but gaining possession of the parchment had marked the beginning of his time with her, and he was loath to lose it.
The trap he had set out to create was in place, and against all expectations, Weasley had taken the first step into it when he took Severus’ knight.
The group outside the library had the grace to look ashamed of themselves as Hermione walked through them to the door, her chin held high. She saw the opponents when she entered the library, but she had no wish to be seen by them. Easing to her left, she worked her way around the cavernous room, with the assurance of a woman who had spent a large part of her formative years hanging about in this very place. She knew every nook and cranny of the Hogwarts library, and she knew precisely where she wished to be—away from the hoi polloi, and in a position where she could see both Severus’ and Ron’s faces.
When she reached her chosen place, she could see them both very well. Severus was glowering his blackest scowl, as if his disapprobation could cower the game pieces into obeying his will. Ron, on the other hand, looked quite distracted—looked, in fact, much as he had done through most in-depth discussions he had ever participated in with Hermione.
Did that mean he wasn’t paying proper attention to the game? That Severus might actually win?
It doesn’t matter who wins! her inner feminist informed her—and Hermione knew that was true. No matter who won the chess match, only Hermione would decide with whom she chose to keep company. But if Severus won, he’d be more tractable about it … at least, she thought he would.
And pulling her silk shawl more closely about her, she watched and waited.
Ron’s unruly mind continued to plague him with thoughts of Romilda, even as the game ground on. Snape was a better player than Ron had thought he’d be; he had a good grasp of tactics, and his strategy was quite sound. But it was a bit difficult for Ron to keep his mind on decimating Snape’s forces to capture his king when visions of Romilda’s cleavage kept creeping into his mind. She’d invited him to look down the front of her dress the very first night—how many women would make an offer like that? It was obvious that she’d like nothing better than to get Ron between the sheets, but she wasn’t just gagging for it—she wasn’t after everything in drop-front trousers, now, was she?—no, she concentrated all of her efforts and attentions on Ron Weasley and no one else.
And as much as it pained him to admit it, if he were being truly objective, Ron would have to say that Romilda was prettier than Hermione. Her eyes were darker, her hair more lustrous—and less bushy—and her figure was a bit slimmer. Romilda was just the sort of girl—
‘Weasley! Could we get on with this?’
Ron dragged his attention back to the game with a terrific exertion of will. When he did, the formation on the board burst upon him with a mixed rush of familiarity and dread.
‘Check,’ Snape snarled.
Severus felt the first flash of jubilation when he saw Weasley’s surprise—swiftly followed by a narrowing of focus. Ah, the boy was back from his wool-gathering now, but unless Severus was mistaken, Weasley’s swift assessment—looking about for a way to lock the stable door, as it were—was too late: the horse was too far gone to be corralled again.
Severus schooled his features to impassivity and remained perfectly still, waiting to see what the boy would do. It was entirely possible that there was some way out of the trap of which Severus knew nothing. But his hopes were high, for if Lady Luck had favoured him twice in one week, he was a fortunate bastard, indeed.
After a moment, Weasley looked at him with a certain degree of respect. ‘You’re a sly one, Snape.’
Severus felt the joy rise a notch in his breast, even as he inclined his head to accept this high praise, as any Slytherin would do. ‘It is kind of you to say so,’ he drawled.
‘Ah, well.’ Weasley made the only move left to him, taking Severus’ bishop and watching as his queen smashed the bishop with her sceptre.
With a wild fluttering of euphoria, Severus took Weasley’s queen, his countenance revealing nothing of his feelings. ‘I believe that is checkmate,’ he said politely.
Weasley raked the board with analytical blue eyes and looked up with a rueful twist of his lips. Good God, was the boy going to be gracious in defeat? Severus would have preferred a tantrum, for he could have despised Weasley for bad sportsmanship. Such good form as this was deserving of, at a minimum, respect.
‘I concede, Headmaster. It is checkmate.’
Triumph exploded in Severus, a rush of exhilaration so powerful that he was helpless to contain it. He knew that betrayal of emotion was no longer a death sentence for him, but such displays still left him shaken. He grasped Weasley’s offered hand.
‘Be good to her, sir,’ Weasley said, like a Muggle relay runner handing off responsibility for the baton.
Severus grabbed up the parchment and restored it fastidiously to its place in his pocketbook—nestled betwixt two pages already housing a pressed yellow flower.
‘Be good to yourself, Mr Weasley,’ he said noncommittally—and a sound in the stacks drew his attention. A lady was scurrying madly away through the library—a lady wearing Hermione’s silk shawl.
‘She’s going to be as angry as a wet hen,’ Weasley said, his tone oddly … supportive.
‘Damnation!’ Severus swore, and he strode after her.
She heard Severus speak—heard the word ‘checkmate’—but still, she did not trust her ears. She had never heard it said that the Headmaster was particularly adept at chess—was it possible that he should defeat Ron?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he did?
No, it is shameful that they would even think of having a rematch over you! her rational self insisted, but Hermione wasn’t much interested in rationality now. The whole surreal situation seemed very much like something from a romance novel, and all her knowledge of the politically correct attitudes could not save her from glorying in it. She remembered a silly song her mother had played on an old-fashioned record player when she was a little girl, where the queen-to-be sang,
Shall two knights never tilt for me
and let their blood be spilt for me?
Oh where are the simple joys of maidenhood?
Shall I not be on a pedestal,
Worshipped and competed for?
Not be carried off, or better still,
Cause a little war?
The strangely apropos lyrics were meant to be ridiculous, but even so …
Ron spoke then. ‘I concede Headmaster …’
But it wasn’t Ron whom Hermione watched—it was Severus—and the savage, primal expression that crossed his face hit her with a wave of longing so potent that she swayed on her feet. Reaching to steady herself, her hand met a shelf of books, which shifted under her weight, and she was forced to grasp the edge of a shelf until she regained her equilibrium.
When she felt stable on her own two feet again, Severus and Ron were shaking hands. What would he do now, but come looking for her? She had to go—hide!—no, but to calm herself. To prepare herself for the discussion she must have with Severus about …
She turned and fled through the stacks and threaded her way through the crowd clustered near the door, who now had no interest in her—they were all complaining loudly about losing their wagers.
Ron watched Snape go off in Hermione’s train with a curious lack of jealousy. The end of his relationship with her seemed suddenly final to him in a way it had not done when she had thrown his ring and proclaimed herself ‘finished’ with him. Perhaps that was nothing but a trick of perception, for nothing had truly changed betwixt him and Hermione tonight. The only change was that he now accepted their break-up.
He was a free agent—a single man—and he knew just to whom he wished to convey this information.
She wasn’t among the dissatisfied gamblers who had wagered on him to win the chess match—silly gits obviously knew nothing about chess if they thought any game was a sure thing. So he went down to the ground floor, and he found her chatting with a group of girls in the big drawing room. Everyone was drinking tea now, for the musical performers were finished. Ron, however, had no interest in drinking tea.
Slipping up behind her, he murmured into her glossy dark ringlets. ‘Come for a walk in the rose garden.’
Romilda turned to him, her dark eyes dancing. She did not speak, but abandoned her teacup on a table and walked into the fragrant summer darkness, pulling her shawl close against the cool night air.
‘Well?’ she asked, and looking down into her face, Ron thought she looked hopeful—as if she wanted to hear what he had to tell her. ‘Did you win your chess game?’
He delivered his most engaging grin. ‘Nah—I had to play the rematch for appearances, you know—but I lost on purpose.’
She looked shocked. ‘Why would you do such a thing?’
Words weren’t always very obedient to Ron’s intentions for them, so he decided to communicate through actions instead—and Romilda was very receptive to his explanations.
She heard him coming after her, his progress audible to her, even over the thunderous beating of her heart. She didn’t know why she fled, wasn’t sure why he pursued, but the impulse to continue her headlong flight was irresistible. Gaining the eighth floor—staying here this week must surely have whittled five pounds from her on exercise alone!—she hurried down the corridor to her room.
She had nearly reached her door when he spoke to her—in all the long way from the library to this point he had not once called her name or asked her to stop—and Hermione froze, the handle of her door almost within reach.
‘Why are you running from me?’
His tone was almost plaintive, like the puzzled query of a friend confused by her actions, and she responded to it instinctively, her former fear forgotten.
‘I’m not running from you,’ she protested, turning to face him.
He was beside her in an instant, and Hermione saw that she had been misled by the mild tone of his voice, for his black eyes still blazed with the crazy, exultant light she’d seen in the library. She took a step away from him, reaching behind her for her door, and he moved with her, a strange, dangerous look about his thin lips.
‘You’re running still, Milady—I wonder why?’ he said, his voice low-pitched now, somehow insinuating itself into her mind, reawakening the weak-kneed craving she had experienced in the library.
Her mouth felt unaccountably dry, her voice unresponsive to her directive to speak. She had—oh God, look at his eyes, he’s staring at my lips—she had words … important ones—no one has ever looked at me as if they wanted to devour me—important things to say …
‘You … you objectified me!’ she managed, her voice somehow not above a hoarse whisper.
She felt the door against her shoulder blades and realised he had backed her as far as she could go … unless she turned the handle, but then he’d be in her bedroom …
He placed his right hand on the doorjamb beside her head, as if blocking an avenue of escape, still pursuing. ‘I owed the boy a debt of honour to give him a second chance,’ he said, his long-lashed, perilous eyes roaming her face, as if getting it by heart—but returning always to her lips.
The weakness which had begun in her treacherous knees in the library was migrating to other parts of her body, for she felt as if she trembled in every fibre of her being—must have him … can’t think of anything else— and even her voice betrayed her senseless state.
‘I’m not a thing to be wagered—won and lost,’ she whispered, forcing the nearly incoherent words through lips which longed for other occupation.
Again, his eyes travelled from her mouth to her eyes. ‘Most women would be flattered to be so … coveted,’ he informed her, his voice pitched for her ears alone. ‘Look at me and say you’re not a bit … flattered.’
Hermione moistened her lips to facilitate speech, and his heightened attention at the appearance of the tip of tongue was like another rent to the shreds of her sanity. ‘I can’t,’ she admitted. ‘I can’t say that.’
Something like vindication twisted his mouth, and with his left hand, he yanked the parchment bearing Ron’s name from an inner coat pocket. ‘Change it!’ he hissed. ‘Put my name on it!’
Hermione withdrew her wand, wishing her hand did not shake so noticeably. ‘Of course,’ she murmured, and with a less than perfect wave, Severus Snape appeared at the top of the parchment in large, bold, calligraphic script, accompanied by one stray blot of ink vaguely shaped like a heart.
Before she could make an attempt to remove the embarrassing blotch of ink, he looked at the parchment with undisguised satisfaction.
‘Mine,’ he growled, and then his eyes were on her face again, the possessive word hanging between them like a declaration.
Hermione, whose interior had been in a tumult for such a long stretch of time that she had begun to adapt to it as the norm, was jolted into fresh panic when his heavy eyelids fell to half-mast. She raised a hand to his chest, thinking to ward him off, but the firestorm of instinct overcame her remaining particle of reason, and instead, the hand was sliding up as she rose on tiptoes, her face lifting, her whole being ascending to meet the onslaught of his crushing kiss.
She was jerked against the lean hardness of his body and enveloped in the intoxicating scents of Severus Snape—his spicy shaving lotion, male perspiration, the faint, second-hand cigar smoke clinging to his hair. The experience, played out a score of times in her mind over the last days, was such a culmination of anticipation and release of emotion that Hermione could hold nothing back. Coiling arms about his neck, fingers of one hand curled in his hair, the other still clutching her wand, she returned the kiss with fervour. Wishing for the full sensory experience, she went for taste, drawing his lower lip between her teeth for an instant before invading his mouth with a questing tongue. Oh! Port wine and gooseberry trifle and something elemental, metallic…testosterone, her brain whispered.
She absorbed it like oxygen.
Her escalation of hostilities brought his tongue for a retaliatory attack, and these extensions of themselves weaved and danced, inciting heart-racing, mind-numbing desire—the loss of any memory of a reason why it might not be a good idea to take this gasping, clinging encounter to her bed for its logical conclusion.
It was the excitement of her decision to do so that brought about an end to the most moving sexual experience of her life—one, moreover, which took place betwixt two fully-clothed participants. She felt the expressive flurry of sparks that flew from the tip of her wand, but it wasn’t until the odour of burning fabric filled their nostrils that Severus put her from him.
He ripped his coat from his back and threw it to the stone floor, stomping out the ember of flame there. Hermione applied a small spurt of water to cool the overheated spot on the underlying waistcoat, and all was well again—save for the acrid, ruined evening coat underfoot and the newly rational, slightly horrified participants of the impassioned clinch.
Hermione sagged against her door, suddenly confused and very, very tired. She stared at the Headmaster’s back, wondering how the muscles there would feel beneath her hands on his bare flesh. Then she gave her head a little shake—things were going a bit too quickly.
Severus retrieved the coat from the floor, and Hermione watched him straightening to his full height and squaring his shoulders before he turned to face her again. Then he bent and retrieved the parchment schedule, newly emblazoned with his name, from its spot by Hermione’s feet.
‘I … I smeared the ink,’ she said, knowing it was an inane thing to say, but wishing very much to fill the silence. ‘Give it to me, and I’ll correct it.’
One side of his mouth quirked up. ‘I like it the way it is,’ he said firmly. Then he swallowed and looked slightly discomfited. ‘I won’t apologise, Milady—but I will wish you a good night, now. Will you go in?’
Hermione approached him, and he watched her come with wary eyes, as if afraid she would attempt to pick up where they had left off. Stretching up, she kissed his cheek; he remained motionless. Then she stepped quickly away from him, and it seemed to her as if he breathed a sigh of relief.
‘May I know the incantation for the spell if I wish to talk to you through the wall?’ she asked.
‘It is Murus Perlucidus,’ he said.
Hermione bobbed a small curtsy. ‘Good night, Severus,’ she said. He answered with only a very proper bow, and she went into her room.
A/N: The Author offers apologies to any chess aficionados reading this story. The Author is not knowledgeable about the game of chess and has made up a scenario completely out of her imagination. No wizarding chess pieces were injured in the writing of this chapter.
The lyrics Hermione remembers are from the song, The Simple Joys of Maidenhood by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, from the musical Camelot. You may hear it here: