For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Wednesday, August 7, 2002
Severus stood on the back veranda of Malfoy Manor, holding a crystal goblet filled with Bucksfizz—a mixture of orange juice and champagne. The hunt was to be held today, and the guests would Floo to the Manor for the hunt breakfast. He wore the Regency riding dress for the hunt, a garish red coat over white pantaloons, finished with unadorned black boots. The sky was overcast, the air oppressive—much like his spirits.
He was early to the Manor, and if truth be told, it was the coward’s way out, fleeing the castle before Hermione was up and dressed. In the cold light of day, strong of heart and clear of mind, he could only view his behaviour of the last thirty-six hours with horror. He could not account for it, because in general, he was a supremely rational being. His life experience stood him in good stead, and he prided himself on his careful planning of every facet of his existence, always including alternate schemes for every foreseeable contingency.
Losing his mind over a pair of honey-brown eyes and an open, confiding heart appeared nowhere on his Life Plan.
In the flush of triumph, he had been within a hairsbreadth of bedding a twenty-two year old girl the night before. If she hadn’t set his coat afire—a mishap the irony of which was not lost on him—he would have allowed himself to be carried away by her inexplicable response to his advances. It would have spelled disaster for the success of Regency Week for him to have done such a foolish thing. He had behaved with no more sense than the idiotic schoolchildren it was his lot to guard and educate.
A Malfoy house-elf appeared at his side, bowing. ‘Does the Headmaster have need of more to drink?’ it squeaked.
Severus thrust the untouched concoction into the house-elf’s hands. ‘Take this mishmash away and bring me black coffee,’ he said, adding as an afterthought, ‘please.’
Leaning his weight on the railing that edged the elevated terrace, he stared out into the well-tended Malfoy gardens. He had slept hardly at all after his near-disaster with Miss Granger, preferring to sit up in a chair—albeit one he had dragged across the room, away from the wall his room shared in common with hers. The last thing either of them needed was to attempt communication before their superheated passions cooled. Instead of sleeping, he had Summoned a quill and parchment and written a list of his priorities for the remainder of the week—for Hogwarts.
At the very top was the success of Regency Week. A close second was to … manage Miss Granger. She had, for some unaccountable reason, developed a predilection for his company—perhaps even a desire to sleep with him—but he could not give in to such an absurd whim. Regardless of how desirable the act might seem in a moment of high passion, the consequences of it came at far too high a price. He had no place in his life for a needful, demanding female. He had determined at the beginning of their Regency Week association that Granger was not the type of woman to engage in no-strings sex, and that was only sort in which he was interested. The artless appeal of her ready acceptance of him could not be permitted to sway him—the puling adolescent within him who still burned to be chosen. No, this life he had built for himself stood on the foundation of his rational acknowledgement of what he could and could not reasonably expect to have.
A beautiful, unspoiled, achingly intelligent woman desiring (loving the whinging child insisted) Severus Snape was unequivocally on the ‘not have’ list.
‘You’re out and about at an indecent hour this morning,’ Lucius said, strolling forward to join Severus at the rail.
The question was not posed, but Severus answered it anyway. ‘I didn’t sleep … well.’
Lucius gave him a measuring sidelong look. ‘After the obscenely large amount of gold you won for me last night, I expected you to be … celebrating.’
Severus did not respond.
‘In fact, old man, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to have received your regrets for breakfast this morning—perhaps even for the hunt.’
If he received no encouragement, Lucius would surely intuit how distasteful Severus found this line of banter.
‘ … and by separate owl, regrets from Miss Granger, as well.’
‘Leave it alone!’ Severus barked.
Lucius laughed softly, and Severus turned to see his old friend lowering himself gracefully onto a chaise lounge. Lucius wore a dressing gown of shiny grey fabric, inscribed all over by the shimmering outlines of white peacocks. In his hand, he bore a goblet of the champagne mixture. He drank, his mouth relaxing into the smile that did nothing to soften his chiselled Nordic beauty. After a moment of silence, he spoke again.
‘I’ve been dying to know, Severus—how did you win?’
Severus leant a hip against the balustrade and crossed his arms over his chest. ‘What are you implying?’
Lucius’ silvery grey eyes crinkled at the corners, his version of Dumbledore’s blasted twinkle. ‘Come—we’ve been friends since you were the stringiest first-year ever Sorted into Slytherin! Tell me how you cheated to defeat the chess champion!’ He lifted the goblet as if in a toast. ‘After all, it is the Slytherin Way!’
Severus sneered. ‘I employed no stratagems. I outplayed the boy. Why cheat when you don’t have to?’
Lucius actually looked disappointed. ‘How very virtuous of you!’ he mocked. ‘Rather plebeian though, you must admit.’
The serving elf approached through the open doors to the Manor morning room, bearing a tray with a steaming mug of coffee. Severus accepted it with thanks before saluting his host with it.
‘Here’s to a successful hunt!’ he said with as much cheer as he could muster in his present state of mind.
Lucius waved a languid hand toward the leaden skies. ‘I shall be wholly astonished if we’re not rained off before the first fence,’ he said sulkily.
Hermione settled her riding hat upon her head and turned away from her mirror, scarcely caring if she looked well. Her sleep had been fitful at best, and she had woken at last with a feeling of dread. She had to be frank with herself: she had behaved with so little restraint the night before—and Severus had been so cold when he bid her goodnight—that she didn’t know what she could expect from him today. Just when she had begun to really depend on his friendship—on feeling as if he were someone on whom she could rely, no matter what—she had lost her mind and thrown herself at him. The assault had discomposed him so badly that, when they had parted, he had seemed as distant as ever.
She would rectify what had been damaged the night before by treating him today with courtesy and respect. She wouldn’t again allow herself to betray her baser urges where he was concerned. She knew fully well that a man of his calibre and experience could never be seriously interested in a woman of her lack of worldly experience, regardless of the other qualities she brought to the table. Nevertheless, she had to maintain friendly terms with him for the rest of the week, no matter what it cost her—for Hogwarts.
With a determined lift of her chin, she marched off to join the guests for the hunt breakfast at Malfoy Manor.
The guests began to arrive, and Lucius signalled the house-elves to load the sideboards. Severus planted himself near the head of the table, where he would sit on the host’s left hand. He saw her the moment she entered and was struck by her pallor—no roses bloomed in her cheeks this morning. Then she was looking at him, and there was none of yesterday’s joyful welcome—no impetuous smile—instead, she averted her eyes and made her way slowly through the crowd toward him. Good God, had he offended her so grievously that she could not even spare a nod in greeting?
Ronald Weasley, on the other hand, appeared to be faring quite well. The Vane girl was clinging to his arm, and the two were so absorbed with one another that they seemed to be alone in the middle of the throng. At the very least, he felt reasonably confident that Weasley would not be challenging him for Hermione’s attention again anytime soon—not that Severus currently was in possession of that commodity.
Longbottom, looking as lost and clueless as usual, had the Veela-girl in train. Half the wizards in the room, including those with wives and girlfriends, were stealing covert glances at Gabrielle Delacour, but she had interest only in the Serpent Slayer.
George Weasley was standing at the window, looking out at the grey day. He looked a bit glum, but then rumour was that he had wagered quite heavily on his brother to win the chess game. Severus thought he looked odd in solitary state—he had been, after all, one-half of the most notorious set of identical twins Severus had ever been cursed to teach. Yet it was not Fred Weasley whom Severus was now accustomed to seeing at George’s side, but the Lovegood girl. The realisation amused him.
George was soon joined by Krum and Quigley, who had a pair of females corralled between them—one of whom was Penelope Clearwater. Could one of the athletes have engaged Clearwater’s interest? If so, Severus would thank Merlin for deliverance! He had never given her the least encouragement to pursue him, but Clearwater had a tenacious personality: academic success had taught her that perseverance paid off, and she had wished to apply that principal to the project of making herself indispensable to Severus Snape. The blond curls, china blue eyes, and sweet disposition had interested him not at all. He had no interest in Clearwater’s brand of ornamentation to decorate his existence. Oddly enough, the second female with the Quidditch fellows was Pansy Parkinson, the girl Lucius had always hoped to have for a daughter-in-law. He and Fortescue Parkinson had planned the match when the children were babes in their cradles, but Pansy, at least, was not blind to the fact that Lucius could not seem to grasp: Draco was unlikely ever to marry a woman.
Draco was in good spirits, examining the hunt paintings hung above the sideboard with Potter, pointing out the most gruesome details. That had been one gratifying thing about this week for Severus: to see Potter learning to show tolerance to Draco. The duo were, in their way, one of the hits of the event, for gentlemen and ladies loved to gather to see the companionable combatants battling over whatever outdoor game they had chosen to play at on any given afternoon.
Then Miss Granger reached him, and he bowed to her. Although she reciprocated with the correct curtsey, she did so with her eyes upon the floor. Clearly, she was not happy with him. How amusing that he had been looking for some way to fend off her insatiable desire for him! He could only wish that it appeared to him in a more humorous light now than it did, rather than stinging his pride.
Lucius led Leticia to their end of the table, where she was to sit at his right hand. Professor Mortelle, smart in her mannish black riding dress, was one of the guests who’d been an accomplished rider coming into Regency Week, and she would ride at Lucius’ side today, a full participant in the hunt. Severus envied his friend that—a lady whose passion for the horses and the hunt equalled his own. Miss Granger, whose progress in her lessons this week still did not provide the skills necessary to ride to the hounds, would be following the secondary ride, set for the less experienced riders, which would be led by Horologium Black. Severus had toyed with the idea of abandoning the true hunters to ride at her side, but now he was not convinced that she would welcome him—in fact, it seemed unlikely in the extreme.
The girl was virtually monosyllabic at breakfast until Lucius began to have her on, and her response then was so delicious that Severus couldn’t resist joining in.
‘I have read up on how the hunt is done in Great Britain these days, Mr Malfoy,’ she began. ‘Tell me, is the wizarding hunt conducted along the same lines?’ she continued, sounding more animated than she had done all morning.
Lucius turned to her with great courtesy. ‘Why, what do you mean, Miss Granger?’
She laid down her fork and sat forward. Severus, recognising the posture, wondered if she had a quill and parchment about her—if she would pull them out and begin to take notes to record Lucius’ response. He hid his smirk with a sip of coffee.
‘There is great controversy amongst the Muggle community now about the hunt’s inherent cruelty to the fox,’ Granger explained earnestly. ‘Laws have been proposed in Muggle government to ban the hunting of a fox with hounds. What is the custom of your hunt?’
Lucius listened to Miss Granger with faultless courtesy, but Severus knew from the way the grey eyes began to dance that the Slytherin was going to tease her. Lucius had discovered early on in the Regency Week planning that it was easy to rouse Miss Granger to fervent defence of her pet projects, and he had often enjoyed the sport of Granger-baiting. Why the girl continued to take the bait, Severus could not fathom.
‘Oh, we would never be cruel to a fox!’ Lucius exclaimed, and Severus could see how relieved the girl was by this proclamation. ‘No, we wouldn’t dream of it.’ Lucius sat forward, addressing Hermione with great solemnity. ‘You see, we put a fox pelt on a house-elf and chase him, instead.’
Miss Granger was so dumbfounded that she could only sit with her mouth agape. Severus bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing and glanced at Leticia, who had brilliant sapphire eyes fastened admiringly upon her man.
‘Oh!’ Miss Granger cried, when she had recovered her wits enough to speak. ‘How could you?’
‘Oh, they don’t mind,’ Lucius assured her. ‘Foxy here has been brought up for it from birth.’ He indicated the house-elf removing the nearly empty platter of broiled kidneys to make room for a fresh ham.
Tears started to Miss Granger’s impassioned brown eyes, and emotion caused her voice to rise. ‘When all they want to do is serve—to make you happy!—how could you use them so horribly?’
Seeing Granger in full strop, Severus could only be relieved not to be the object of her indignation. In addition, some of the guests at mid-table were beginning to take notice of the fracas, and Severus knew that if the disturbance filtered down to Potter, there might be an unpleasant scene. The boy would not brook any hint of Granger being upset by a Malfoy.
Lucius was deep in his off-the-cuff explanations, and Severus could not catch his eye, so he raised a warning brow to Leticia. It was clear to him that she was enjoying the joke, but she stepped in immediately to bring the teasing to an end.
Placing a hand over Lucius’ she said, ‘Yes, my dear, you have had your fun—now tell her the truth of it!’
Lucius, the besotted fool, was entirely distracted by Leticia’s interruption, and Severus was left to soothe the agitated Miss Granger and provide her with the proper information.
‘He was having you on again,’ he said quietly. ‘The wizarding hunt has always used a modified Snitch to lay the scent—it is the method the Muggles are being offered as an alternative to an actual fox, though naturally their drag method will be non-magical. The Hunt Snitch lays the scent, then skips along for a space and lays again, forcing the dogs to have to sniff out the trail, rather than having it set in a straight line from point to point.’
He watched her face, glad to see that she had more colour in her cheeks now, though her eyes were still a bit stormy. ‘How could you allow him to tease me like that?’ she demanded.
Damnation! How had he come under fire so suddenly?
He bent his head close to her ear. ‘You didn’t seem very pleased with me this morning, Milady,’ he said softly. ‘I did not think you would welcome my interference.’
For a fleeting moment, she turned her face towards him, and her eyes met his. The ridiculous urge to kiss her crossed his mind, but people began to rise from the table, and the moment was past.
With Leticia at his side, Lucius came to the girl and bowed, his hand over his heart. ‘I apologise for my terrible sense of humour, Miss Granger. It was reprehensible. Can you forgive me?’
Severus could read the thought processes in the girl’s expressive face. She resolved not to make a fuss, but rolled her eyes and made a tsking noise. ‘I don’t know why I should expect you to behave,’ she said, her playfully admonitory glance taking in Severus as well. ‘Either of you!’
Her mouth quirked up, and Severus was flooded with admiration. Ah, this was a female whose closest friends had been boys, rather than other girls—she was a superbly good sport.
Lucius raised his voice to invite the guests out to the stable yard to mount their horses and partake of the stirrup cup. The group flowed onto the terrace and along the path to the stables. Severus walked at Miss Granger’s side, hopeful that he might regain his place in her good graces. After a bit, she tucked her hand in his arm.
Neville and Gabrielle were not amongst the riders; they had attended the hunt breakfast for a different reason.
‘The Malfoy Manor gardens are famous in this part of England,’ Neville had told Gabby. ‘Would you … would you like to see them?’
Neville and Gabrielle had been thrown together quite a bit. Not only because Gabby sought him out, but because they were both participants in the play. The lovely French girl had been cast as Helena, and by some stroke of luck—Neville hadn’t decided yet if the luck was good or bad—George had coerced Neville into accepting the part of Demetrius. Now he strolled with her along the flagstone paths, pointing out the more unusual varieties of plant life and answering the questions she posed him about horticulture.
‘Ah, Neville—you are so clever!’ she breathed admiringly.
Neville squirmed inwardly. Half the time when Gabby said something to him, he couldn’t work out whom she was talking about. ‘You must be thinking of somebody else,’ he muttered, half under his breath.
She stopped then and stepped in front on him, hands on her hips, pulling the narrow skirt of her long dress tight, showing her slender form. ‘I have been very patient with you, but it is very upsetting that you do not accept the things I say to you!’ she cried. ‘Do you not want me to think you are a good, kind man?’
Neville darted a glance from side to side, hoping no one else was nearby to hear Gabby telling him off. She stomped her foot, and her voice rose another notch.
‘Will you add rudeness to your list of ways to upset me?’ she said. ‘Can you not even look at me?’
She stepped closer and grasped the lapels of his blue Regency coat, her face lifted, her azure eyes glistening with unshed tears. Her little bow-shaped lips were parted as she gazed imploringly at him. Neville wanted to comfort her, so he put his arms around her, and she answered that by raising her arms to clasp about his neck. Neville had no idea what to do next. Higher brain function seemed to have ceased, so he was left to instinctive response: He kissed her.
Hermione was happy to be riding Firefly again, and the little mare seemed excited about the activity of all the riders mounting for the hunt—as if she knew what was coming, Hermione thought. One group moved off after Mr Black, who was in charge of the riders still not comfortable with riding at faster than a walk, whilst Draco had charge of the riders who were comfortable at a faster pace. Hermione, whose private tutoring with Severus had prepared her for a canter through the fields, was in Draco’s group.
Preoccupied with arranging her skirts, holding her reins properly, and sitting as she had been instructed, it was some minutes before she had attention to spare for anything else. But at the cry of, ‘Tally ho!’ the hunt riders were off, and Hermione was riveted, just as before, by the sight of Severus Snape astride Apollyon. All thoughts of the morning’s doubts fell away, and the familiar tug of visceral attraction was upon her again, overlain now by first-hand, intimate knowledge: the hard feel of his frame against hers, the strength of his arms, the smell of his sweat, the feel of his hair as it brushed her face, and most important, the press of his lips and the taste of his mouth.
She was, without warning, undone, naught but a pool of yearning. She could then think of nothing but when next she would see him and how she could engage his interest again.
The rain did not come at the first fence, but it did begin to fall less than an hour after they began. Draco directed his pupils back to the stables at once.
Harry didn’t want to go back. ‘I can cast a spell to keep dry!’ he protested to Malfoy.
Malfoy laughed, the warm, knowing sound that Harry had come to … like very well.
‘You may be able to keep yourself dry,’ he agreed, ‘and you may even be able to keep Duds somewhat dry, but you can’t do a thing about the ground getting wet. And slick conditions are more difficult for a horse—and therefore his rider—to manage.’ Malfoy gave Harry a crooked grin. ‘Don’t make me have to tie you up and carry you in over my saddle!’
Harry, momentarily assailed by the notion of having Malfoy lay hands on him to perform such a feat, had a reaction that was entirely inconvenient and virtually impossible to conceal. The last thing he needed was for Malfoy to notice it. Urging Duds to a trot, he moved up to ride beside Hermione, instead.
Contingency plans had been made for an afternoon that would keep everyone indoors, and Hermione did all she could to make sure that all of the guests were occupied with something they found enjoyable.
Directly after lunch was dancing class, which had been postponed that morning due to the hunt. The country dance would be held the next night, so they practiced two of these. The couples had become accustomed to one another, the group as a whole had become very friendly, and it was a pleasant hour. Hermione was pleased to be dancing with Severus, who seemed to be going out of his way to amuse her. Memories of the night before, of his impassioned aggression, seemed like a distant dream when she was confronted with the urbane, pleasant, socially correct Headmaster. Even the constraint of the morning at breakfast was gone; it was as if it had never happened.
After dancing class, many alternatives were offered. Ghost stories—told by the resident ghosts—were being told in the small blue saloon. Some of the play participants were having an impromptu rehearsal in the antechamber. The gentlemen were invited to play at whist, piquet, vingt-et-un, or other games of chance in their clubroom. But oddly enough, it was the last offering to which most of the ladies and many of the gentlemen flocked: a game of Jane Austen trivia in the drawing room.
Miss Granger and Professor Mortelle were the presenters of the questions, and the participants were in good spirits as they vied for points. One point was awarded for each correct answer, and the winner would become the possessor of an authentic hand-painted fan, a trifle which had been donated by Professor Mortelle.
Severus sat on the very back row of chairs beside Lucius, both of them somewhat bored to be confined indoors.
‘Ah, the things we endure for the happiness of our ladies,’ Lucius said, his appreciative gaze fixed on Leticia Mortelle. The lady stood before them all in a Grecian-style robe of emerald green, a matching fan in one hand, as she read out the questions.
‘Only the courting men—those in the wooing stage—administer so to their ladies’ interests,’ Severus commented sardonically. ‘Do you see any married men here?’ He made another survey of the room. ‘The men whose hunt was successful—whose beds are already warmed—have availed themselves of the card room.’
Lucius nodded thoughtfully and said, ‘The hunt may be postponed by rain, but the quarry’s still in sight … and there will be another day.’
Severus’ bark of laughter was quickly quelled, and they only received a reproving glare from Professor Mortelle.
Leticia completed her set of questions and resumed her seat, whereupon she began to communicate with Lucius through the use of her fan.
‘Do you know what she’s saying?’ Severus inquired curiously.
Lucius smiled slyly. ‘If I didn’t, would I admit it?’
Now Miss Granger stood and began to read her questions off from a parchment.
‘Which two Jane Austen books are set partially in Bath?’ she said.
‘Persuasion and Northanger Abbey,’ Severus murmured.
Some incorrect answers were given, answered by jests and laughter, and then Miss Clearwater said, ‘Persuasion and Northanger Abbey!’
‘Correct!’ Miss Granger cried, and Leticia marked down a point for Penelope.
‘In Mansfield Park, what is Fanny's chief form of exercise?’
‘Horseback riding,’ Severus muttered.
‘Horseback riding!’ one of the Misses Patil called out, and Leticia marked down her point.
Lucius stared at him. ‘How do you know those answers?’
Severus smirked. ‘Reading, Lucius. It’s where a fellow sits down with a book and …’
‘Oh, don’t be so superior,’ his friend huffed. ‘I am not illiterate.’
‘I beg your pardon,’ Severus replied mildly.
‘What was Northanger Abbey originally called?’ Miss Granger called out.
‘Susan,’ Severus muttered.
Several incorrect answers were supplied, some of them meant to be funny rather than serious, and there was much laughter.
At last, Lucius hissed at him, ‘Give the answer, if you know it!’
Severus wondered if Miss Granger would be pleased that he knew the answer. Would it contribute favourably to the mending of fences he had begun with in dancing class?
‘The answer is Susan,’ he said in his carrying, classroom voice.
Miss Granger’s face was wreathed in smiles. ‘The Headmaster is correct!’ she cried, and Leticia marked down his point.
Lucius turned a glare on him. ‘Tell me the next answer,’ he demanded.
‘I saw how the girl beamed at you for knowing the right answer,’ he muttered. ‘I could use with a bit of that from Leticia.’
Severus covered a yawn. ‘What’s in it for me? Shouldn’t I profit … in the Slytherin way?’
But the game ended with a round of applause for the participants, and Penelope Clearwater received the prize. As the room’s inhabitants began to move around, Miss Granger came directly to Severus, still smiling for him.
‘How did you know the answer to that question?’ she asked.
He thrilled to the laughter he heard in her voice. Was he forgiven, then? Were they back to where they had been the day before—minus the five minutes of insane grappling outside her door?
He took her hand and pulled it through his arm. He did not know where he was going to walk with her, but he wanted to be away from all these people.
‘I know the answer because I cheated,’ he confided.
Miss Granger cried out. ‘What?’
He gave her a sidelong glance. ‘You see, I bother to read the forewords and historical notes included with the novel,’ he said.
‘I begin to think that Mr Malfoy is an unwholesome influence on you, Headmaster,’ she said.
He chuckled. ‘Undoubtedly, Miss Granger.’
She went with him willingly, but her next comment was quite business-like. ‘We have to put our heads together and work out what to do for entertainment tonight,’ she said quietly. ‘The rain is not letting up, and we cannot do the moonlight al fresco picnic on the grounds if it’s raining—or even if it’s still wet everywhere. We need another scheme.’
And assistance came from a strange—an exceedingly strange—source.
‘Headmaster?’ Xenophilius Lovegood said. ‘May I have a word with you, please? I have a suggestion …’
Hermione was not happy about the notion—not even when Luna came to speak with her about it.
‘It is very authentic entertainment, for the time,’ Luna said.
Hermione threw up her hands. ‘Who in their right mind would want Trelawney to tell their fortune?’
Luna’s big grey eyes never moved from her face. ‘Lots of people,’ she replied simply. ‘Daddy has been talking about it, and the guests are excited—well, the ladies are. I don’t think gentlemen are as interested in their futures.’
Hermione closed her eyes and shook her head. ‘The woman is a fraud,’ she said.
Penny interceded then. ‘How can you say so?’ she cried. ‘Why, she made the prediction about the Chosen One!’
But it was Lavender Brown who clinched the matter. ‘What if the “gypsy fortune teller” charged for a reading?’ she said, her shrewd eyes fixed on Hermione’s face. ‘What if the guests had to make a donation to the Hogwarts Scholarship Fund to have their fortune told?’
And when Hermione opened her eyes again, a smile accompanied the gleam. ‘We’ll suggest a minimum amount!’ she crowed.
Severus endured Trelawney’s visit to his office with the fortitude he had observed in Dumbledore’s dealings with the woman. She had, apparently, made a correct prophecy or two in her career—the truth could not be gainsaid—but there was still that in her manner which got right up his nose.
‘I am entirely at your disposal, Headmaster,’ she said, reaching to straighten one of her scarves, the movement setting off a series of rattling clanks from her profusion of chains and bangles.
Severus forced an expression of patience. ‘Xeno Lovegood gave me to understand that you had volunteered for this, Professor.’
Her fingers trembled as she pulled her shawl tighter. ‘I would do anything for Hogwarts,’ she declared tremulously, as if on the brink of tears. ‘Mr Lovegood is so kind … such a gentleman … such superior understanding … feels just as he ought …’
‘I am gratified to hear it,’ he said solemnly, wondering if the woman had been at the sherry bottles already, so early in the day. Usually she was morose, full of gloom, doom, and despair. This timorous effusiveness was quite unlike her.
‘When Mr Lovegood suggested that I should donate my skills in this way …’ Glistening, insect-like eyes stared at Severus from behind her enormous spectacles. ‘One feels the necessity of sharing ones talents with others in such circumstances, Headmaster. I am most happy to do it!’
Severus eyed Trelawney with a new suspicion in his mind. Was the old fraud falling for the charms of Xeno Lovegood? Lovegood was a world-class conspiracy theorist, and he believed in outrageous, made-up creatures no one else had ever heard of. Was his latest discovery of greatness Sybill Trelawney, who claimed descent from a Trojan prophetess? Did Xeno now believe all of Trelawney’s stories about herself, with the same unquestioning fervour he brought to his belief in the Rotfang Conspiracy?
Severus stood from his desk and rounded it, courteously assisting his Divination teacher to stand. ‘Hogwarts will benefit from your generosity, Professor,’ he said, walking her towards the door.
‘Do you have any instructions for me, Headmaster?’ she inquired.
‘None at all,’ Severus said as she began her descent. ‘Simply read the cards as they are dealt.’
Harry skived off the trivia game—he’d never read a book by Jane Austen—and he grew quickly bored with playing cards with Ron. His best friend could now talk of nothing but Romilda Vane. It was as if he’d swallowed another dose of love potion! Blimey, what was the world coming to when Harry preferred the company of Draco Malfoy to Ron Weasley?
He excused himself from another game of piquet after the third time Ron said, ‘Isn’t she the prettiest girl you ever saw, Harry?’ With a vague excuse about having to do an errand for Hermione, he escaped the clubroom. The Ferret had returned to the Manor after lunch; the animal Healer was coming by to check on Perse, the pregnant mare, and Malfoy wanted to be there. Harry would have gone with him—he really liked being at the stables, now—but Malfoy hadn’t invited him, and Harry didn’t want to ask. It would be just too strange, asking to hang out with Malfoy. It was one thing when it just happened, but something else entirely if he were to openly ask.
It might be interpreted as liking … as interest … and Harry was unwilling to admit that, even to himself.
He looked into the antechamber to see if perhaps the Ferret had returned and joined the theatrical players for rehearsal. Malfoy was going to portray Puck in the play, which Harry remembered only vaguely from a performance he’d seen in Muggle primary school. But the antechamber was empty, so he wandered down the ground floor corridor and came across an empty classroom with a rather sloppy Notice-Me-Not Spell hovering in a corner. Beneath it was Neville, and he huddled there, reading.
‘Who are you hiding from?’ Harry asked, startling Neville into dropping his herbology book.
‘Harry!’ he cried, and looked nervously about the room, as if afraid Harry had brought an army with him.
Harry frowned down at his friend. ‘Really, Neville—are you hiding?’
Neville looked ashamed of himself for a moment, and then he began to talk.
Severus was glad for the opportunity to stretch his legs after an uncomfortable hour with Trelawney. He descended to the Entrance Hall and hesitated. Where might he find Miss Granger at this time of the afternoon? It was too early to dress for dinner, but would she be sitting with the ladies, or off on some project of her own?
He paused at the head of the corridor and was surprised to hear voices coming from an empty classroom. Had Miss Granger commandeered the room for meeting with her helpers to plan the evening? But as he neared the room, he identified one of the voices as Potter’s, and the other’s was male, as well—but whose?
‘Neville, why would you be afraid of Gabby?’ Potter said, sounding a bit exasperated. ‘You learned to duel in the DA—she couldn’t take you in a fight.’
This bit of encouragement startled a snort from Severus, who stifled his laughter so as not to miss Longbottom’s response to this.
‘I would never pull my wand on Gabby!’ Longbottom gasped, truly shocked. ‘She’s the sweetest … the gentlest …’
Longbottom seemed to founder into silence, for Potter chuckled and began to speak again.
‘Oh, it’s like that, huh?’ Potter said. ‘Look, Neville, everyone knows that Gabby fancies you—if you fancy her, what’s the problem? You’re both single and of age—go for it!’
Longbottom’s voice was a bit muffled, and Severus had to strain to hear him. ‘But she fancies the Serpent Slayer, Harry—some bloke she made up in her head after she read all that stuff about me in the newspapers. She doesn’t know me.’
Severus shook his head. Would Longbottom never grow up? Would he always hear his grandmother’s voice, telling him he’d never be the equal of his father, the Auror?
‘Then let her get to know you, mate,’ Potter said. ‘Now’s the perfect time, right? You’re both in the play, she never wants to sit with anyone else at meals, and she always wants to dance with you.’
There was a rustling sound, as if someone had sat down, and Potter continued, sounding more serious than the playful tone he’d used before.
‘Look, Neville. You’ve always done everything for other people. You tried to do well at school to please your gran. You tried to learn to duel so you could get revenge for your parents. You fought to protect the school and the people you cared about. But it’s all right to do things for yourself, too. You’ve earned it.’ His tone lightened up again. ‘I hate to be the one to tell you, but you are the Serpent Slayer, just like I’m The Boy Who Lived. We know we’re just blokes, nothing special, but that doesn’t change the fact that those labels belong to us. So do this favour for yourself—let Gabby decide if she wants to be with you or not; don’t make up her mind for her.’
Severus stood at the door, lost in thought as he mulled over Potter’s words. He did not hear Longbottom’s response, but when the young wizards’ voices became louder, he realised they were leaving the room. He whisked out of sight, finding the next classroom to be empty as well. There he sat at the teacher’s desk and continued his cogitations until it was time to dress for dinner.
The ‘gypsy fortune teller’ was a huge success, raking in a large additional donation for the school. A ‘gypsy tent’ of bright pink silk was erected in one corner of the drawing room, and Xeno Lovegood, dressed as a gypsy barker with bright silk scarves and a false golden tooth (though Hermione thought he looked more like a rather dissolute pirate), stood before the tent hawking the fortune teller’s services. A few of the men sought out a visit with Trelawney, but mostly it was the women who flocked into the enclosure to sit with the Seer at her table and hear her pronouncements. Hermione, who remained close to keep an eye on things—to make sure Trelawney didn’t start some sort of riot with predictions of death and destruction—was the recipient of many confidences from the ladies as they emerged.
‘I should set up my own beauty consultancy!’ Lavender Brown exclaimed. ‘I will be a success!’
‘The Cannons are going to be top of their division this season!’ Ron said smugly, collapsing bonelessly onto a sofa with a complacent grin. He’d wanted his favourite team to win for years.
Romilda was next in line, and she floated from the tent looking ecstatic before snuggling up beside Ron.
‘What did you ask her, Mil?’ he inquired.
Romilda kissed his cheek. ‘Oh, just one thing,’ she said with a knowing smile.
Hermione watched this interplay with a strange lack of reaction. She knew that Harry was hovering nearby, ready to intervene if she should object to the Ron and Romilda Show, but there was no need. She hoped Ron would be happy, with Romilda or someone else—anyone but her.
And Romilda wasn’t the only witch to emerge with murmurs about finding happiness in love. Parkinson came out from her encounter looking almost pleasant at the news she received, and Penny was just behind her, with a rather stunned look on her face. The two girls, who had been thick as thieves all day, passed just behind Hermione’s chair, and she heard Penny whisper, ‘…not the Headmaster … never my destiny … a flying man!’
Draco bent over the back of Hermione’s armchair and spoke softly. ‘Isn’t that odd … the batty old girl told me the same thing. A flying man.’
Hermione darted a playful glance at him. ‘Well, doesn’t Blaise play Quidditch?’ she teased.
Draco straightened abruptly, and Hermione twisted around to look up at him.
‘No,’ he replied shortly. ‘No, Blaise doesn’t particularly care for flying.’ He glared ahead, his mouth set in a grim line, and Hermione turned back to see what he was looking at—but it was only Harry.
‘Well, never mind,’ she said soothingly. ‘Trelawney is very seldom ever right about anything.’
Draco gave her a challenging look. ‘Oh, is that right, Miss Know-It-All?’
Hermione frowned. ‘Don’t you call me that!’
Draco did not say sorry. ‘If you’re so smart, why don’t you go have a chat with her, and see what she says—then come tell me how wrong she is.’
Go to Trelawney to have her fortune told? Not bloody likely!
At length, Severus found her and took up his place beside her chair. ‘I’m hearing favourable reports of the fortune teller,’ he said.
‘Yes, the guests are enjoying themselves hugely,’ Hermione replied. ‘For some reason, Trelawney is playing completely against type—she hasn’t predicted one death or calamity yet that I’ve heard of!’
He gave her an enigmatic look. ‘Perhaps we have judged her too harshly,’ he said. ‘It’s probable that Sybill’s predictions have, heretofore, been coloured by her … unfortunate personal circumstances. I would encourage you to experience her turnabout for yourself. It’s remarkable.’
Hermione looked at him askance. ‘I walked out of her classroom when I was fourteen years old, and I’ve never voluntarily subjected myself to her since then,’ she informed him. ‘I have no intention of beginning now.’
‘Ah, well—I would be the last person to urge you to do something which frightens you, Miss Granger,’ he replied silkily.
Hermione bristled. ‘I’m not afraid of her!’ she hissed.
His impossibly black eyes glittered a challenge, though his lips told another story. ‘Of course not,’ he murmured before walking away to speak to someone else.
Hermione held out until the tea tray was brought in. When the guests were occupied with selecting teacakes and sipping the soothing brew, Hermione slipped unseen into the tent.
Xenophilius Lovegood and Sybill Trelawney sprang apart like guilty students caught out on the Astronomy Tower.
‘I was just bringing in a bit of refreshment for the Seer,’ Mr Lovegood said, assisting Trelawney to her seat behind the crystal ball. ‘But she’d be pleased to give you a reading, miss, for a donation to the school fund.’ He smiled, revealing his fake gold tooth.
Hermione felt about in her reticule and dropped several Galleons into the pewter cauldron the Headmaster had donated for the occasion. Mr Lovegood bowed his way out of the enclosure, and Hermione was alone with Trelawney, whose ‘gypsy’ costume was not much different from her usual apparel; she was draped with a spangled shawl, and her thin fingers were crusted with large, ugly rings.
‘Shall I gaze into the orb for you, my lady, or will you have a card reading?’
Hermione startled. ‘What did you call me?’ she demanded, thinking of Severus’ pet name for her.
Pet name. She’d not considered it that way before, and the idea sent gooseflesh up her arms.
‘I call all the fine ladies “my lady”,’ Trelawney informed her, sticking to her Regency script. ‘Will it be the crystal ball, miss?’ She raised her gem-studded fingers and waved them over the crystal ball, which promptly filled with crimson smoke.
‘No!’ Hermione said. She didn’t really care how Trelawney told her fortune; it would all be a pack of lies. But she hated the crystal balls.
‘A reading then,’ Trelawney said agreeably, and she took up her cards. ‘What questions shall we attempt to answer, my lady?’
Hermione wondered if she could walk out now. Would Severus know she hadn’t been inside long enough to receive a proper reading?
‘We’ll answer the most important questions for a young lady then, shall we?’ Trelawney continued. Obviously, she’d perfected her patter over the course of the evening.
‘Fine,’ Hermione said, feeling that a response was probably expected.
And without further ado, Trelawney began to lay the cards out upon the table, speaking quietly as she did so.
‘Every young lady wishes to know what her luck in love will be,’ Trelawney intoned mistily. ‘I am here to answer that question as thoroughly as may be.’
Hermione rolled her eyes. How much longer was this going to take?
‘Ah, the youthful suitor is sent away!’ Trelawney said, almost in a whisper.
Oh, for heaven’s sake! Everyone at the castle knew Hermione and Ron had broken up! There was no mystery there!
‘Comes a dark man,’ Trelawney continued, her focus all on the cards.
Hermione snorted. ‘What, not a flying man?’
But Trelawney seemed not to hear her—seemed not to even know Hermione was still sitting across from her. The Seer was entirely absorbed in the cards she turned and the story they told to her.
‘I see turmoil—conflict,’ Trelawney murmured, and she sounded sad. ‘The lovers will have obstacles to overcome, whether internal or external.’
Hermione frowned. This didn’t sound like pie-in-the-sky cartomancy. Where was the promise of happiness? Of finding her destiny?
Trelawney turned another card, and for the first time since she had begun, she looked at Hermione. ‘The dark man is full of conflict,’ she said, her voice seeming to echo in Hermione’s mind. ‘The conflict is not definitive, but it must be overcome for lovers to reach their destiny.’
She replaced the remaining cards on the table top, and her unfocused gaze seemed to settle on Hermione again.
‘Have you another question?’ she inquired.
Hermione swallowed. She didn’t like to admit it, but the Seer’s words disturbed her. Everyone else had been given happy news, but she had received this ambiguous amalgam of indefinite aphorisms.
‘How will it end?’ she whispered, unable to prevent herself.
‘The cards do not say,’ the Seer answered. ‘The ending will depend upon the actions of the lovers.’
Hermione was still unsatisfied. ‘But surely you have a … a feeling for how it might end?’
Trelawney’s fingers closed over Hermione’s hands, and for the first time ever, Hermione looked into the Seer’s eyes and felt she was seeing and speaking with another woman.
‘I am sorrier than I can say,’ the Seer whispered, as if her throat was tight, and she was speaking through tears, ‘but I fear that it will end in heartbreak.’
The moment he saw her flit into the fortune teller’s tent, he moved forward. He hadn’t truly thought she would take up his gauntlet; he knew how she despised Divination.
He was waiting for her when she emerged; he was prepared to gently tease her about her visit with Trelawney. He expected her to receive the same sort of fortune as had the other young ladies, and he meant to needle her about it for the rest of the evening.
But she looked ghastly when she emerged, rather ashen and possibly ill. He took her arm and steered her to the nearest armchair, summoning a house-elf with a word. She was obedient to his wishes, subsiding into the chair, and she even took the teacup he placed in her hands and drank from it.
‘You need brandy,’ he said decisively. ‘I’ll procure it. Don’t move.’
She smiled at him wanly, and he strode from the room.
Draco had not missed her visit to the tent either. When Severus stepped away from her, Draco knelt at her side.
‘Well?’ he demanded. ‘Are you to have a flying man, too?’
Hermione turned a look of reproach on him. ‘Don’t,’ she said.
He looked grim, his grey eyes darkening like smoke. ‘Did she … say it would end badly?’ he murmured.
She nodded, and he took her hand. ‘She’s an old fraud,’ Draco said stoutly, as if wanting her to accept something he could not quite bring himself to believe.
Hermione knew her reaction was ridiculous, but the Seer’s words had made her feel all hollow inside. ‘It wasn’t like talking to Trelawney,’ she said softly. ‘Not when she got into the reading. She was like someone else entirely.’
Draco nodded soberly. ‘She was the same with me,’ he said.
Severus arrived with a goblet of brandy, and Draco stood. Severus looked from Draco to Hermione and back again. ‘Well?’ he demanded.
Draco held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. ‘I was just going.’
Severus crouched beside her. ‘Drink,’ he commanded, offering the goblet. ‘Something Trelawney said shocked you. This is purely medicinal.’
Hermione shook her head. ‘I don’t want it,’ she said. ‘I just want to go to bed. It’s been a long day.’
Severus sat in his favourite armchair, a tot of Firewhisky in his glass, untouched. She had been quiet all the way to her room, and as she had done the night before, she stretched to her tiptoes to kiss his cheek before she said goodnight.
True to his resolve, he had not embraced her; to do so would have been fatal.
Now he sat beside their wall, a hollow ache in the vicinity of his breastbone. He felt none of the various emotions of the last several nights—not the irritation, the pity, the annoyance, the passion—he felt only incomplete.
He closed his eyes and his forehead pressed against the wall. Perhaps if he sat here long enough, he could sort out the jumble of his thoughts.
He did not know how long he had sat thus when he heard her voice.
His heart leapt. She had used Murus Perlucidus!
There was a sniffle, and he wondered if she’d been crying. If so, she must have done so quietly, because he had not heard her at all. What had that dratted woman told her? Something bad about her cat? Her parents? What would make her so sad?
‘I … I couldn’t sleep,’ she admitted softly.
He smiled and nodded, his forehead sliding along the wall, feeling the immense relief of the void within filling in bits and dribbles.
‘That’s all right,’ he said. ‘Neither could I.’
A/N: This story is set in 2002. The ban on hunting foxes with hounds became law in Scotland in 2002 and in England and Wales in 2005. In addition, one does not ride to the hunt in the month of August, when this story is set; it is a sport for autumn and winter. This was a special hunt, set up specifically for the Regency Week event.
The Author apologises for the mangled Tarot card reading.