For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Friday, August 9, 2002
Midnight to the End of the Hunt
Severus went the long way around to his room, descending to the seventh floor and entering the Headmaster’s office. The portraits were snoring, for which he was thankful, but upon the desk, glaring like an accusation, were the thrice-damned playing cards. With lips pressed together in an uncompromising line, he pocketed the deck and retired to his chambers.
The ginger half-Kneazle was within, and upon his entry, the creature meowed a greeting and rubbed against his ankle, leaving cat fur in its wake. ‘You are mistaken,’ he informed the cat. ‘You’ve proven yourself wrong before, you know—you thought Sirius Black was benign, didn’t you?’ He took a cat treat from a tin he had placed on the highboy and dropped it on the floor. The cat sauntered over and began to crunch it into crumbs upon the rug.
Severus emptied his pockets, placing the deck of cards amongst the detritus of Hermione Granger memorabilia: a ladies’ handkerchief, a battered silver Celtic cross ring, the parchment schedule which now bore his name, and the pocketbook containing a dried yellow flower. The playing cards looked quite at home in the pathetic collection.
He was undoubtedly coming unhinged; before he knew what was happening, he would be packed off by the Ministry to some sort of rehabilitation destination for mad Headmasters, and McGonagall, rather than Severus, would greet the students on the first of September. Unthinkable!
Divested of his Regency garments, he felt slightly more himself. Was it possible that this emotional muddle was more the product of Regency Week madness than true confusion about a … possible attachment to a female? Could he hope that the week would end, the guests would leave, soon followed by Granger and her minions, and the memory of her would fade with the port, cigars, and endless repetitions of Mr Beveridge’s Maggot?
Wrapped in his dressing gown, he looked longingly at his favourite armchair, but it was much too close to the wall, through which it was ruinously easy to engage in inappropriately intimate conversation with Hermione. Instead, he took a seat across the room at his small writing desk, surprised to find that he held the playing cards. He didn’t remember picking them up, yet even as he thought it, his hands began to shuffle the cards.
Impossible to win a game of solitaire with that deck? Well, Severus had enjoyed considerable success over many years of playing the (not lonely! Self-sufficient!) game. He bloody well would win a game of solitaire playing with Dumbledore’s cards.
Shuffle. Deal. Lose. Shuffle. Deal. Lose. Shuffle. Deal. Lose.
‘Shit!’ he swore, and with grim determination, he began to cheat.
Cheat. Deal. Lose. Cheat. Deal. Lose. Cheat. Deal. Lose.
‘What have you done, Albus?’ he muttered, and taking up his wand, he began to cast Dark Detection Spells.
Hermione closed the door to Harry’s room behind her and moved down the corridor, feeling fairly confident that he would sleep now. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the idea of Harry and Draco as a couple, and clearly, Harry wasn’t sure about it, either. But he was simultaneously terrified and electrified—an amalgam of emotions with which she was not entirely unfamiliar—and she had let him talk it out, providing feedback when asked.
Crooks was not in her room when she entered—out doing his rounds of the castle, no doubt. She shed her evening gown and performed her night-time routine hurriedly, then climbed into bed and took up her wand. She had been so hopeful tonight that she would have a chance to … enjoy more time with Severus, alone. But Harry’s need had been extreme, and Hermione was not one to neglect a friend in need. Still, it had been more than an hour since Severus had left her with Harry—would he still be awake? Would he think it presumptuous of her to interrupt whatever he was doing?
She lowered the wand, biting her lip. She had been existing on impulse, joy-seeking, and sheer nerve, ever since Draco had challenged her to ‘unclench and enjoy’ Regency Week. She was following her heart—or was it her libido?—without giving much thought to consequences, much less to what would come when Regency Week was at an end. Could she, in all good conscience, continue to careen her way through her Regency holiday without a thought for the morrow?
Would she see Severus again—socially speaking—when the event was over? Did she want to? He seemed as affected by their mutual attraction as she was, but he had declined the invitation to her room, so what was she to understand from that? And what if she let her screaming senses have their way—let her desires carry her to their logical conclusion—what then would be Severus’ expectations of her? He was, after all, a product of the seventies, when such behaviour had been (according to what she’d read) not only acceptable but admirable. Would he be the sort of man to bed a woman and go on his merry way?
Did she care?
She lifted her wand again. She had come to no conclusions and made no definite decisions, but at least she could say she had given the consequences some thought. She didn’t want to be sensible—she wanted to be immersed in the emotions that proximity to Severus Snape roused in her, and be damned to the cost!
‘Murus Perlucidus!’ she said and laid back, listening for sounds from the other side of the wall. Did she hear rustling? Perhaps he was already in his bed. ‘Severus?’ she said, the hopeful anxiety making her heart beat faster.
He did not answer her. She knew from things he had said to her that his bed was not next to the wall, as hers was. The Headmaster’s chambers were undoubtedly larger than the guests’ rooms, so if he was already abed, he might be too far from the wall to hear her, even if he was awake.
‘Severus?’ she tried again.
She drew back a bit. That was definitely a cat, and it might be silly, but she felt quite sure it was Crookshanks’ voice.
There was a sound like a bump on the wall, and Hermione had the mental image of her cat trying to walk through the wall. But what would Crooks be doing in Severus’ room?
She waited several minutes, but she did not hear Severus’ voice, and at last, she spoke the counter spell. If he snored—or if she did!—she had no desire for them to learn such a thing about one another because of sloppy spell-casting. She put her wand aside and snuggled beneath her blanket, fondly stroking the wall and thinking of the man on the other side.
Severus glared at the playing cards. There were no Dark spells woven into their fibre, nor did he find that the deck had been jinxed in any Dark way. No, the enchantment knitted into the stuff of which the playing cards were formed was a variety of High Magick, of which little was known and none was practiced in this day and age. He recognised the imprint only because it was laced into the very mercury coating the back of the sixteenth-century Mirror of Erised, an Object that he had studied on and off for decades.
What the hell had he unleashed by dealing out these cards, as blithely as any fool who allowed himself to be entangled in one of Dumbledore’s coils?
Sighing heavily, he aligned the deck and cut the cards—the queen of hearts. What were the words of the old song? The queen of hearts is always your best bet. The queen of hearts had been the card which finished his hand the night he won the right to be Hermione’s escort—it was the card which had, in some recess of his brain, come to be forever linked with his bushy-haired tormentor.
Cutting the cards again, he drew the knave of spades. He smirked. Well, here was a character with whom he could identify—a cunning, untrustworthy man, with a soul as black as night. He laid the card beside the queen, the two figures facing one another, separated by the knave’s halberd. It was as it should be, was it not? The purity of the queen was protected from the corruption of the knave by a well-honed blade.
The symbolism was clear, even to such a dolt as Severus Snape.
Even if she should invite him to her bed, it did not mean she was interested in anything more prolonged than the remainder of Regency Week, a period of time that had begun by seeming interminable and was now slipping through his fingers far too fast. Could he let her in and then let her go? Already, she knew too much of him to be counted amongst his mere one-night-stands. Those women, who wanted only to take a war hero to bed, had no interest in knowing the concerns of his heart, much less the workings of his mind—yet Hermione had coaxed these things from between his lips as easily as she had insinuated herself into that same mind … that same heart.
Suddenly furious, he slapped the deck together, shuffled and cut the cards again.
Queen of hearts. Knave of spades.
Shuffle. Cut. Queen of hearts. Knave of spades.
Shuffle. Cut. Queen of hearts. Knave of spades.
He pushed the two offending cards to the far edge of the desk, where they hung like fate-crossed lovers upon a cliff, and he repeated the process.
Shuffle. Cut. Queen of hearts. Knave of spades.
The cat planted ginger paws upon his leg, stretching up with an interrogative, ‘Meow?’
Severus glared down at the animal. ‘You get in here on your own—why can you not leave the same way, without plaguing me?’
Nevertheless, he abandoned the cursed—no, uncursed! It would be so much easier to face if they were cursed!—cards and trod across the floor to open the door for the cat. He stood in the doorway, looking down the corridor, where Hermione, Weasley (and Miss Vane, no doubt), and Potter were sleeping in their separate rooms. With a weakening of will, he sagged against the doorjamb and stared at her door. Was she awake? If not, would she mind if he woke her? Would she welcome him into her bedchamber? For a riotous moment, he imagined crossing the threshold, taking her into his arms, devouring her mouth even as he coaxed her from her nightdress …
No, she probably wears pink jim-jams with kitties on them, he thought.
He slammed the door on that fantasy, even as he soundlessly eased the door to his room closed. Even if she wanted him—wanted him for more than a holiday fling—such a union would never prosper. He was twenty years too old for her, and confined by his career to this castle in remote Scotland.
What are Floos for? his lovelorn inner adolescent demanded.
Having her name linked with that of a Death Eater—even one known as Dumbledore’s spy, the recipient of the Order of Merlin, First Class—could do nothing to improve her likelihood of being selected for advancement in her career, which was of paramount important to Hermione Granger. And what would such a liaison do for Severus’ tenure as Headmaster of a secondary school? A Headmaster did not have a publicly-acknowledged sexual relationship with a woman who was not his wife. The Board of Governors would never stand for it, and frankly, neither would Severus, if it were one of his teachers. The Staff could sleep with anyone they wished, providing they kept it under wraps when they did so. Otherwise, what kind of example would be set for the students? And he would not ask Hermione to be his dirty little secret—not in this life.
Marry her, the babbling fool in his head suggested.
‘Bugger off!’ he snarled aloud and flung across to the drinks trolley, where he poured a measure of Firewhisky into a goblet. Thank Merlin he had long ago removed all sentient objects from his chambers to prevent portraits or mirrors from answering back or taking offence when he was moved to swear out loud.
He stared unseeing at the wall as he drank. He had seen first-hand what sort of abysmal girlfriend Hermione made—witness Weasley’s misery!
She would not treat me so, he thought, narrowing his eyes. I wouldn’t stand for it.
He slapped the goblet onto the tray again. There was no point in dwelling on things that would never happen. It was necessary instead to outline his plans for the rest of Regency Week and determine how to shore up his defences against Hermione’s artless appeal.
It was going to be a long night.
Severus eschewed the Floo that morning and stole out of the castle just after six o’clock. Dew glistened on the grass as he walked down from the castle to the gates with the great winged boars upon them. When he was outside the protective enchantments that prevented Apparition within the boundaries of Hogwarts, he Disapparated.
Arriving within the gates of the Manor, Severus looked about at the parading white peacocks. He was quite sure the birds said something about Lucius, but he didn’t like to think what it might be.
‘Isn’t it a glorious morning?’
Severus darted a glare at his host, who was already fully dressed for the hunt. ‘It will do.’
Lucius smiled. ‘Have you come to see Persephone’s foal? I think you’ll be pleased; the little filly is just like Apollyon.’
The two wizards began the walk to the stables. ‘I received Draco’s message, but I was … unable to leave the castle last night,’ Severus said.
Lucius gave him a knowing look. ‘I am sure Miss Granger appreciated your presence,’ he said.
Severus answered with a glare.
When they entered the box stall, the tiny foal moved behind her mother. Lucius took the mare’s halter and spoke to her soothingly as Severus moved past her to see the filly.
‘She is a beauty,’ he murmured. ‘You’re right. She’s the spit of her sire.’
They moved out of the stall and through the stable into the sunlight again, and as they did, Lucius favoured him with a long look. ‘I hope you won’t mind my saying so, Severus, but you look like hell this morning.’
Severus sneered at him. ‘I’m surprised you noticed. Your head has been so taken up with my Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher that little else has registered with you.’
Lucius broke into a broad smile, his attention swiftly swinging to the more palatable subject. ‘Well, Leticia’s defences are crumbling,’ he gloated, ‘though I swear I have used no Dark Arts, of course.’
Severus answered that sally with nothing but a raised brow. Lucius was in exceptionally high spirits this morning; he was very nearly giddy. How annoying.
Leaning his blond head close, Lucius said, ‘She implied to me last night that if I catch the Hunt Snitch today, she will consent to be my wife! I am one task away from victory!’
‘She sounds to me remarkably like a cat, toying with a mouse,’ Severus observed dryly.
‘Oh, she’s more like a tigress,’ Lucius said reverently. ‘But that’s not what I wanted to say to you, Severus.’ He looked soberly into Severus’ face. ‘This mouse would not be averse to any … helpful spells you might have up your sleeve.’
‘You want me to help you cheat?’ Severus said, beginning to be truly amused. ‘No, I’m afraid you’re on your own there, old man. Far be it for me to interfere in the course of true love and all that.’
Lucius made a noise between a laugh and a snort. ‘You are being corrupted by the company you’re keeping!’
Severus smiled. ‘You know, that’s precisely what she said about you.’
They walked in silence for a moment, and when Severus spoke again, it was in a sober tone. ‘How to you think Draco will respond to the news of his new mummy?’
Lucius frowned. ‘I’ll admit, that has been a worry to me. One can never know how one’s child will react.’
‘Draco is not such a big mystery,’ Severus disagreed. ‘I’ve found him to be quite rational for such a young man.’ Lucius had had his head in the sand over his son for years now, and Severus saw an opportunity to do a good turn. ‘You know, Lucius, Draco will be more likely to respond to your news in an accepting manner if he feels he has been … accepted by you.’
Lucius spread his hands in an expansive manner. ‘Draco knows how important he is to me,’ he exclaimed.
Severus chose not to respond to that remark.
Lucius looked uncomfortable. ‘Perhaps Draco and I could be … closer.’
‘It’s not too late,’ Severus said quietly. You might make a special effort now so that your lady will find him more … welcoming.’
They turned together and began to walk back to the house. Lucius said, ‘So, what will you name your filly?’
‘I haven’t decided yet,’ Severus told him.
‘Speaking of fillies … Have I been imagining things, or is there something developing between you and Miss Granger?’
Severus gave a terse shake of the head. He had no interest in going into that subject now.
‘I only ask because, if you are not developing feelings for her, your performance thus far should earn you a place on the stage with the players tonight.’
‘We have an understanding, Lucius. We will fulfil our roles in all of this for Hogwarts.’ He did not mean to say it, but the next words escaped him all the same. ‘Beyond that, I am … at a loss.’
Lucius chuckled delightedly. ‘Ah! You have flushed the fox from its cover and are in hot pursuit!’
But though Severus gave an abrupt shake of his head, he did not respond.
Harry sat up in bed with his heart hammering. He might just that moment have Disapparated from Draco at the seaside with a gasped, ‘See you tomorrow!’ But no, he’d come back to the castle—he’d talked to Hermione and told her all about it.
So what was the knocking? Was Hermione back? He put his glasses on and looked at the clock. Damn, it was nearly eight! He jumped up, grabbing the first breeches he saw and pulling them on before opening the door.
‘I know I’m late, Hermi—’ The words died in his throat because Draco was the culprit, not Hermione. Harry’s mouth dried up and no further words seemed forthcoming.
‘Lazy git,’ Draco drawled, his cool grey eyes starting with Harry’s rumpled bed-hair and travelling slowly down, pausing curiously on the lips he had bruised with his kisses, before having a nice leisurely stare at Harry’s bare top half.
Draco was dressed for the hunt, impeccably groomed, and lounging in the doorway as if he had all morning to lurk and smirk. Self-consciously, Harry crossed his arms over his chest. He felt half like dragging Draco in to take up where they’d left off the night before and half like slamming the door in his smirking face.
Draco thrust a garment into Harry’s hands.
‘What’s this?’ Harry asked.
‘It’s a proper coat for the hunt,’ Draco informed him. ‘An improvement over the one you wore Wednesday.’
Harry held it up, seeing it was a red coat, like the ones worn by Draco and Severus. Some of the other riders had ordered special-made garments like this one from Madam Malkin. ‘I didn’t order a bespoke coat just for the hunt,’ he said.
Draco rolled his eyes. ‘I know that, Potter.’ He straightened up from his indolent slouch. ‘I want you to have this coat—just put it on.’
Harry felt embarrassed and pleased. ‘Thanks, Draco.’ He didn’t know what else to say.
Draco briefly touched his hand, grey eyes seeking green. ‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘You’ll be late for the hunt breakfast! And you need a good breakfast for the hunt. You know, breakfast is the most important …’
Harry held up a hand to stop him. ‘All right, I’m there, already. Go away.’
Then Draco turned to go, and Harry leant a bit to the side to watch him walk away.
‘And no eyeing up my bum!’ Draco called, turning to give Harry a wicked grin over one shoulder.
Harry shut the door with an inward groan. Things were becoming more complicated with every passing hour; navigating his life had suddenly become quite similar to swimming through treacle. Still, he was determined to struggle through, because he didn’t know what came next, and he had to find out.
Hermione was a bit shocked when she saw the Headmaster at the hunt breakfast. He was pasty beneath his sallow complexion, his eyes were shadowed, and he seemed rather removed from the raillery going on at the table. Professor Mortelle and Mr Malfoy seemed almost incandescent with good spirits. It also seemed that there were some inside jokes between them of which Hermione was completely unaware, so a large part of their conversation went right over her head.
Draco and Harry had arrived for breakfast together, joking and insulting one another as they had done all week at their sports contests. Hermione couldn’t help but note Harry’s new coat. She knew he hadn’t ordered one from Madam Malkin, because he hadn’t thought he would care for horseback riding. Harry’s red coat was almost a match for Draco’s—she was fairly certain that when she saw Harry closer up, she would be able to distinguish on his brass buttons the imprint of a coiling snake. Harry probably hadn’t noticed that little detail.
She glanced again at her companion, and his glance met hers.
‘Are you … unwell, sir?’ she asked quietly.
He studied her face for a moment, then his expression softened. ‘You look very well this morning, Milady,’ he said.
Hermione wondered if there was another man on the planet whose voice, pitched just for her ears, could make her toes curl with pleasure.
‘I passed an … indifferent night,’ he continued, returning his attention to the eggs upon his plate. ‘No doubt a ride in the fresh air will do me a world of good.’
Would he ride with her, as he had hinted he might? She couldn’t jump the course obstacles, but she could ride with him across the fields, and she longed to do so.
Leticia Mortelle adjusted the skirts of her riding dress, settling her right leg securely on the jumping horn. She had enjoyed the week of Regency playacting, but in truth, she would look forward to riding astride again in breeches. Now that she had enjoyed the delights of Lucius Malfoy’s stables and his Wizard Hunt, she looked forward to continuing her participation in the future—for even if the man should shy away from the requirements she put in place for her paramours, she would make sure to retain his friendship.
One did one’s best in life, and experience had taught her that one’s highest expectations were seldom ever fulfilled—but then she had met Lucius, who was far more beautiful than she would ever be—and her heart had learnt to hope again.
They gathered in the stable yard, a few dozen on horseback, and house-elves moved into their midst, each carrying a wooden tray with six holes bored right through. In the holes reposed crystal cups with long stems and no pedestal to set it down upon a surface. The stems protruded through the bottom of the wooden tray, and each piece of crystal, etched in silver with scenes of the hunt, contained the tart stirrup cup mixture.
The riders took the glasses from the servants and at a sign from Lucius, they drank. Then they formed up to begin, and Leticia took her place at Lucius’ side, atop his rangy white hunter.
She darted a sidelong look at him. ‘Are you … quite ready for the chase?’ she inquired.
His white teeth gleamed in a rakish smile. ‘Never more so,’ he answered her.
Leticia smiled, her gaze directed between her horse’s ears, in high anticipation of the run to come.
Hermione and Firefly gathered with the riders under supervision for their parallel run with the riders of the hunt. She watched Harry’s interaction with Draco, watching for signs of what had happened between them, but beyond a certain warmth in Draco’s eyes when they rested on Harry, she saw little difference between them.
The beginners group was not riding today, and Horologium Black took charge of the intermediate riders. Then there was a voice beside her, and Hermione completely lost the thread of Mr Black’s instructions.
‘I think we can dispense with your instructor today,’ Severus said, riding up alongside her on his sleek black stallion. ‘Come—ride with me.’
She urged Firefly to follow Apollyon, and as they passed Mr Black, Severus said, ‘I’ll take charge of this one today.’
The head groom nodded his agreement, and Severus spoke over his shoulder to her. ‘Come alongside,’ he said. ‘Don’t be shy. Neither Apollyon nor I … bite.’
She drew up beside him, trying desperately to think of all her riding instructions instead of … biting. Some biting could be quite nice, really …
From a neighbouring field, they heard the baying of the hounds and the shout of the riders as they caught the scent. Severus turned his face to hers, his black eyes glittering. ‘Here we go,’ he said. ‘We’ll move into a canter, and if you do well enough, we may take it to a gallop.’
Hermione concentrated hard as Firefly transitioned from a walk to a trot, and at the touch of Hermione’s booted heel, she eased into a canter. Severus remained at her side, holding his horse back, though the animal clearly wished for a faster pace. His eyes were as frequently focussed on her as on the terrain, which was very familiar to him.
As had happened for her before when riding the smooth-gaited Firefly, Hermione relaxed into pure enjoyment of the ride, feeling the wind in her face and watching the ground fly by beneath the horses’ hooves. She gloried in the sight of her companion with his hair flying back behind him, his powerful thighs gripping the horse’s barrel, his commands communicated by the slightest pressure of those legs, giving the distinct impression of oneness with his mount. Hermione could not explain her visceral reaction to Severus Snape on horseback, his streaming hair a match for his horse’s rippling coat, but she suspected that if she sat astride her horse as he did, having the undulating muscles between her legs would be a distraction even more acute than what she suffered now.
‘Are you ready?’ he called to her, and she was not sure what he was asking about, but whatever he wanted of her, she was more than ready.
‘Yes!’ she answered, and the black stallion at her side moved forward faster, lengthening his stride until it seemed to her as if Apollyon were flying.
Firefly did not wish to be left behind, and Hermione felt the transition in her horse’s gait. Even now, Severus held his great stallion in check, and Hermione and Firefly easily drew alongside, the two horses galloping neck and neck. Hermione was intoxicated with the heady euphoria of such speed in such company, and allowing her gaze to rest for a moment on the savage satisfaction on Severus’ face, she wished they could ride on together forever.
The hunters had great sport that day, but Leticia Mortelle had her full attention on two things: the Hunt Snitch and the Hunt Master. She was delighted when they caught sight of the elusive Hunt Snitch, at which point Lucius directed the Field Master to take over his duties, as he had a task to complete. The field riders took this in good part, mostly, leaving Lucius to his odd pursuit, but Leticia kept close to him, watching carefully. She did, after all, have a terrific stake in the outcome of the day’s sport.
Two of the younger men realised that the Hunt Master was chasing not the fox scent, but the Hunt Snitch, and they good naturedly set out to assist. Leticia did not feel it was her place to tell them to mind their own business, however strongly she wanted to communicate that to them. She simply followed along, keeping one eye on the man on the white horse and the other on the field riders.
Forty minutes into the chase, Lucius’ horse sped up, and Leticia knew he had spotted the Hunt Snitch. His two followers seemed to realise it as well, and they laid their heels into their mounts to catch up to him. Leticia acted without hesitation. Bringing her best defence skills to bear, she sent a Confundus Charm streaking after the two young men, and in the next moment, Lucius’ horse gathered himself and took to the air to clear a broad stream. In mid-flight, Lucius hurled himself sideways from the saddle, his arms stretched out like a bird in flight, and seconds later, he splashed into the stream.
The two Confunded young men were milling about the meadow, trying to recall why they were there. Leticia called out, ‘Groats! Come to me!’
The stable-elf popped into place at her side.
‘Please take these two gentlemen back to the stables,’ she directed him. ‘They seem to have become … confused.’
Groats ran to take the trailing reins of the two young wizards, and Leticia hurried to the stream, dismounting and falling to her knees upon the bank. Lucius gained his feet, water streaming from his long blond hair, a fierce, victorious gleam in his grey eyes. In one hand, he held the fluttering Hunt Snitch.
Only the two horses witnessed the violence with which he laid hold of the red-haired lady, and they were indifferent to the devouring kiss the wet man imposed upon the wholly willing woman.
‘You’re mine now,’ he informed her as he mangled her hat and disarranged her hair.
Leticia leaned her head back to meet his eyes. ‘Or are you mine?’ she said meaningfully.
His arms tightened about her until she feared she could not breathe. ‘To my bedroom, I think,’ he told her, running a possessive hand down her side. ‘And bring the crop.’
She displayed the implement, stroking the leather loop down his cheek. ‘I wouldn’t dream of leaving it behind.’
A/N: You may view the Queen of Hearts and her Knave of Spades here: