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For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble by Subversa [Reviews - 6]

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For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble

Chapter 19

Friday, August 9, 2002
Afternoon and Evening

Harry and Draco took a leaf from Severus’ book, galloping together through the fields until it was time to turn back. They rode in silence, but it was not an uncomfortable one. Harry watched Draco’s fine features, stealing glances, feeling the understanding between them like a deep, quiet pool. There were delights in the depths, he believed, but there was no need to plunge in over his head before he could properly swim.

It was not as if anything would disrupt their shared peace.

As they rode into the stable yard, Harry saw a handsome black wizard wearing a dark blue Regency coat leaning against the paddock fencing. He seemed perfectly at home, but as Harry and Draco rode up, the handsome face assumed a scowl.

‘What are you doing here?’ Draco demanded, and the tone in his voice set Harry on high alert.

The handsome wizard wasn’t a stranger—he was Blaise Zabini, and he and Harry had never liked each other.

‘I decided to come after all,’ Zabini replied. ‘I was going to ride with the hunt—surprise you—but when I went to collect my coat, Madam Malkin said you had already claimed it.’

The roiling tension between the two former Slytherins was thick enough to make the air unbreathable, but that was the least of Harry’s current problems. Now he stared down at his fancy, bespoke riding coat, and realised where it had come from.

‘You want your coat, Zabini?’ Harry asked, and he began to unbutton it.

‘It’s not his,’ Draco said icily. ‘It’s mine. I paid for it.’

Harry didn’t need Draco’s gold. He had a vault full of it and scarcely knew what to do with what he had. Yet he rather liked having Draco take his part over Zabini. It gave him a warm feeling.

He removed his fingers from the buttons and instead rested his hand on his wand, waiting to see what would happen next.

Ron Weasley was footsore by the time he and his horse returned to the paddock. After stepping in a rabbit hole, his old bay gelding was limping. Mr Black had said the horse should be led back to the stables, and Ron was perfectly willing to do that. His mind was so full of Romilda, these days, that a stroll through the countryside was no hardship.

The paddocks were in sight when he stepped on the small black book. He bent to retrieve it, turning it over in his hands. It was moleskin, with creamy parchment pages, covered in handwriting. He frowned over it as he pondered—whom had he seen with just such a book this week? It was Creevey! Little Dennis Creevey, whom Ron did not recall as the studious type, had been jotting in his notebook all over the castle and grounds this week. His book must’ve fallen out of his pocket while he was riding.

The half-formed notion of returning the book to its owner flitted through the back of Ron’s mind as he resumed his ambling trek to the stables with his lamed horse, puzzling over a page in the notebook—a page with Ron’s name on it. He flipped through the scribbled notations, his expression darkening with every step.

Ron Weasley challenged Headmaster Snape to a duel because of Hermione Granger!
Draco Malfoy fancies Harry Potter, but the Boy-Who-Lived doesn’t notice!
The Serpent Slayer is stalked by the part-Veela sister of Triwizard Champion Fleur Delacour, Gabrielle!
Romilda Vane throws herself at Ron Weasley!

Ron slapped the book closed and pushed it into the pocket of his coat. Snape needed to see this.

When the hunt had ended, riders returned to the stable yard and handed their horses over to the stable-elves before departing for Hogwarts.

Hermione and Severus were amongst the last to arrive. Their return had been slower, but no less fraught with tension, than the ride out had been. In the yard, Severus dismounted, and Hermione watched the graceful economy of his movements with a dry mouth, aching for she knew not what. He looked up into her face, his expression shuttered, and his hands closed about her waist. She leant toward him, gloved hands pressed to his shoulders, and slipped to the ground, making no effort to prevent the slow, maddening slide down his long, lean frame. She mourned the end of their outing, but it seemed that it was not yet over. Severus handed the horses’ reins off to a waiting groom and continued into the dimness of the stable, one hand wrapped firmly about Hermione’s wrist.

She allowed herself to be led, anticipation racing through her veins. Why were they entering the stables? Where was he taking her? The question was scarcely formed in her mind before he ducked into a musty room filled with huge burlap bags of feed on wooden pallets stacked along the walls—and then her back was to the wall, and he was staring down into her face with wildly glittering, neverending black eyes.

Hermione allowed her head to fall back against the wall, and Severus plucked the plumed riding hat from her head, flinging it from him, never looking away from her face. His gaze was hot enough to liquefy metal, and she felt her internal systems closing down one by one in anticipation of the plundering his manner promised. Of what use was breathing, for instance, in the face of vaporising heat? When their essence was melded into one, what need would she have of a beating heart?

‘It gets your blood up, riding with me,’ he informed her, in case it had escaped her notice.

She made no effort to form words—such coherence was entirely beyond her. She communicated her agreement, instead, by clutching one wide lapel of his coat in her fist and thrusting upward to wrap the other arm about his neck. The kiss was neither soft nor tender, consisting as it did of superheated lips, questing tongues, and devouring teeth. This promising beginning was followed by peremptory caresses and bodies straining to unite through layers of restrictive clothing. Had she not been hampered by trailing velvet skirts, Hermione might have climbed him like a tree, seeking to unite thrust and parry.

She did what she could, then, to internalise him, absorbing his taste, inhaling his breath, saturating her senses with the smell and feel and essential rightness of him. This … this … was why she had longed to be alone with him.

Alone … and this, sweet Circe.

She was insensible of every other reality save Severus Snape. It was, perhaps, fortuitous that he retained enough awareness to hear Ron when his voice called from elsewhere in the stable.

‘Headmaster! You need to see this!’

Severus straightened from her embrace, his mouth held in a grimace. For a mere second, his impassioned eyes closed, and when they opened again, a different man altogether looked out from them. Still, the broad pad of his thumb passed over her lips, and then he was through the feed room door, closing it behind him.

Hermione blinked, gasping and abandoned, feeling disoriented. Trust Ron to ruin things for her, just when she felt as if she were …

She bent and picked up her hat, settling it on her windblown, hand-mauled curls, and securing it with the faux pearl-tipped pin still nestled amongst the plumes. The voices, those of her former lover and the almost-lover she desperately wished to have, faded from hearing, and knowing herself to have been forsaken—good cause or no—she Disapparated to the gates of Hogwarts.

Lucius lay upon his back in the middle of his enormous bed, surveying the elaborately frescoed ceiling of his domed bedchamber. His witch dozed at his side, her Titian hair trailing upon his pillow, her soft, luscious curves pressed to his side. She stirred, stretched, and rolled away from him. He rolled with her, buying his face in her throat.

‘You are mine forever—and I am your wizard. I will protect and defend you with my life.’

She stroked his hair, and he almost purred.

‘Will it be sapphires to match your eyes, my darling? Or emeralds, perhaps, with a deep blue fire?’

‘I am not the sort of woman to leave such an important decision to chance,’ she said. ‘I shall assist you in choosing.’

He drew up on an elbow. ‘But I wanted to surprise you,’ he explained.

She smiled. ‘There are gifts that are appropriate for surprises, but not jewels. If I am to have them, I’ll choose the ones I want—you have no objection, my love?’

He shivered, hearing the endearment and remembering the touch of the riding crop. ‘Indeed I do not, my love,’ he responded. ‘We must go shopping soon, for we’ll marry quickly.’

Leticia sat up on the edge of the bed, the creamy expanse of her back to him. ‘We’ll marry at Christmas,’ she said, ‘when we’ve had full opportunity to inform our families and plan our wedding.’

He moved behind her, pressing his lips to her shoulder. ‘Draco may be … surprised,’ he murmured.

‘Draco is taken up with concerns of his own just now,’ she informed him. ‘But your happiness will be as important to him as is his mother’s … and you said he readily accepted Narcissa’s new partner, yes?’

Lucius nodded his answer against her back. He did not want to talk about Narcissa—did not want her memory to taint what had occurred between them just now.

Leticia turned to him, her expression serious. ‘She’s his mother—she was your wife and the mistress of this house for twenty years—she will always be a part of our lives. It is only sensible for us to agree now, at the beginning, that we will always speak our minds to one another about everything.’

Lucius did not know how to answer her; he had just shared lovemaking with this witch beyond anything he’d ever experienced before. Any failures in his past were just that: in the past.

‘I agree,’ he said. ‘But Draco might have more difficulty accepting a new mistress of the home he grew up in.’

Leticia took his face between her hands. ‘Draco will accept you if you accept him.’

He pulled away from her. ‘I don’t know what you—’

‘Draco is gay, Lucius. You must acknowledge it.’

He pushed past her, rising to his feet, finding and donning his dressing gown. He did not want to discuss this subject—not now! Not when the barque of his life was on this serenely calm sea. Not when things were settled between them—when he’d finally got what he wanted—no turbulence to disturb this bliss.

Leticia remained serenely on the bedside, gloriously naked and unashamed. ‘Come—you must know it’s true—must’ve known it for years! What can be the harm of telling him you know? It will set his mind at ease, Lucius.’

Lucius began to pace. ‘I don’t know anything of the sort! It’s just some phase! He’ll get past it and—’

‘And what? Marry some poor girl to make you happy and end by making his wife miserable?’

He stopped and turned his face to her. ‘He’s my heir—my only son! I have no brother—no family—I am the last of the Malfoy name!’

She rose gracefully and walked to him, taking his hands in her own. ‘Don’t fret, my darling. You are still a young, virile wizard. You may yet father another son.’

‘Leticia!’ He embraced her. ‘I never hoped—I know your views on—’

She pressed her cheek to his chest and soothed his back with firm, circular pressure of her hands. ‘In many ways, I was raised from my cradle for this role—the lady wife of some great wizard. Until now, I never knew a wizard to whom I would grant so much power in my life.’

He swept her back to the bed, his sudden need for her overwhelming. ‘It is because I gladly give it back to you, the moment the bedroom door closes,’ he said, his lips at her throat.

She rolled him onto his back and untied the dressing gown, running a hand down his chest, fingertips trailing his ribcage, over the blade of his hipbone, to the golden curls below.

‘You give it back to me,’ she replied, as his eyes closed and an audible moan passed his lips, ‘when I take it, my darling. You are the perfect wizard.’

Leticia watched the beautiful, finely chiselled face relax into the throes of abandon, thrilling to the power she wielded over so worthy a recipient of her love. Children had never been a great desire of hers, but she would do anything to satisfy the needs of the wizard she loved—up to and including providing an heir to carry on the Malfoy name.

But surely wizarding scholarship had arrived at a means for same sex partners to procreate by now. If so, Draco might yet do his duty, pleasing his father and taking Leticia off the hook.

She would look into it.

George was late to lunch, having spent a good bit of the time with Madam Malkin, looking over the costumes for that night’s performance of excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Today was the dress rehearsal, and for it to qualify as ‘dress’, all the costumes had to be complete. He believed his players were ready to put their hearts into a final, serious rehearsal before their performance. Why, just the previous afternoon, he had returned from his walk to find them all attentive and serious at their work. He did not know what had got into them to bestir them from their joking about, but whatever it was, he could only be thankful.

When at last he made it to the Great Hall, his mother was hovering about, as if she were waiting for someone.

‘Mum?’ he said. ‘Is anything wrong?’

And she drew him aside to tell him what was on her mind.

Hermione waited in vain for Severus to show up for lunch. She had no idea what Ron had wanted him for—Ron wasn’t at lunch either, and Romilda looked none too happy about it. Hermione was reduced to forming a pile of mash into fork tine sculptures, waiting impatiently for Severus to appear. How would he behave? Would he be attentive or withdrawn? Could she convince him to skive off the afternoon socialising for a continuation of their … ‘blood up’ discussion?

Small green peas adorned the artful pile of mash one by one as she considered the possibilities.

Luna was the first one to arrive in the antechamber after lunch. She had the scripts to organise and the costumes to check off against her clipboard. George hadn’t shown up at lunch, but she couldn’t worry about that, now. He probably had a good reason for not coming. She just needed to have everything prepared for him when he arrived to begin the dress rehearsal.

Running one finger down the cast of characters and their players, she saw that everyone was present, save for Professor Mortelle and Mr Malfoy. They hadn’t been at lunch, either. Perhaps they had been detained by some complication from the hunt.

The antechamber doors both burst open, and Luna looked up, expecting to see a group enter, but it was only George. She smiled in greeting—it always made her so happy to see his face, even when he was looking as serious as he did now—but he did not smile in return. He also did not seem to hear the cheerful greetings from Fin and Neville. No, he never looked away from Luna, and she began to be a bit worried. Had she done something wrong? Was he angry with her?

Then he was on her, scarcely slowing before he put his arms around her and kissed her on the mouth, right in front of God and everybody. Even his parents were in the room! But his lips were pressed firmly to hers, and he held her against him with arms as strong as …

He broke their kiss, his strangely serious blue eyes searching her face, and suddenly it made sense to Luna. He had found out about her little lecture to the players the day before. Of course, that was it!

‘You’re welcome,’ she whispered, wondering what all their audience were thinking about this interlude.

‘That wasn’t a thank you,’ he growled, and he kissed her again.

This kiss was fiercer, somehow, and in spite of her concern for their audience, Luna was moved to kiss him back. After all, he might come to his senses at any minute, and this might be her only opportunity to show him how deeply she cared for him—how completely he had stolen her heart.

She pressed herself against him, wrinkling the back of his fine Regency coat with her clutching hold upon it. At her response, his embrace became gentler, and when he broke the kiss again, he cupped her cheek with his hand.

‘Now do you understand?’ he asked her, and the room was suddenly full of foot-stomping and applause.

Luna’s face felt as if it were on fire when George motioned his father to the front of the room. ‘You lot find your costumes and get into them. Luna and I have things to discuss. We’ll be back later.’

And he marched her outdoors into the August sun, where they walked and talked, and then found a bench and sat and kissed and whispered until more than an hour had passed.

Severus sat at his desk, the deck of playing cards pushed to one side, the sad little black book open before him. Reading through the hastily scribbled notes—misspelled words, improper grammar, and all—had not taken him very long. This was, indeed, a problem, but not in the way Ronald Weasley believed.

There was a knock at his door, and then Dennis Creevey was standing in his office, looking not much older than he’d been when Severus had been his teacher.

‘You … you wanted to see me, Headmaster?’

The boy sounded frightened, though Severus didn’t remember him as craven. In fact, he remembered Dennis Creevey as a reckless Gryffindor, ready for any sport, as long as it was in the service of his idol, Harry Potter. The little fool had joined Dumbledore’s Army and had shown up with his brother to fight at the Battle of Hogwarts.

No, Creevey was no coward.

‘Have a seat, Mr Creevey,’ Severus said.

Creevey came forward and sat down nervously in a chair before the Headmaster’s desk. His eyes were riveted on the little black notebook.

‘I—I knew I’d dropped it somewhere,’ he muttered miserably.

Severus stared at the boy, and as he had hoped, Creevey looked back at him, trying desperately not to show fear. Severus slipped into his mind, and in a very short time, the matter was clear to him.

‘Who paid for you to attend this event?’ Severus asked.

Creevey’s eyes slid away from his. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘A man came to me—said he was employed by a newspaper group—offered to pay my way here and for pictures and stories, because no reporters were being allowed in.’

Severus rubbed one finger across his thin lips. ‘And it didn’t occur to you that if no reporters were allowed, then we didn’t want our guests’ activities to be reported in the newspapers?’

Creevey’s eyes flashed. ‘I needed the money,’ he snapped.

Severus sat forward. ‘You did not complete your education, did you, Mr Creevey?’

Creevey looked mutinous. ‘Colin and I couldn’t come that last year—we’re Muggle-born!—and then Colin died, and … it didn’t seem important.’

The boy referred to the first year of Severus’ headmastery—the horrible year when the Dark Lord dictated the school policy, when the Carrows taught and practiced the Dark Arts in these very halls of learning—the year when students of Muggle parentage had been driven into hiding to escape prison or some worse punishment at the hands of Death Eaters.

Creevey’s shoulders hunched in, as if to protect himself from something. Severus frowned, watching him.

‘Did you, perhaps, return to Muggle school? Or attend some sort of trade school for Muggles?’

Creevey gave a disgusted sigh. ‘Muggle school? How could I go there? I didn’t know anything more than I’d learnt in primary school, did I? And my mum and dad weren’t too keen on me coming back here, after the war, and Colin dying and all.’

No, he couldn’t have gone on to Muggle secondary school after spending four years at Hogwarts; he would not have been prepared for their subject matter. And who could blame the Creevey parents for loathing the very name of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

‘Mr Creevey,’ Severus asked diffidently, ‘are there other Muggle-borns from your year who didn’t come back to Hogwarts?’

Creevey nodded vigorously. ‘A fair few. Things were so unsettled after the war, with the rebuilding of the school, and loads of people had had to run, leave the country, because the Death Eaters were after them.’ He sighed. ‘It hasn’t been an easy thing to be a Muggle-born wizard lately, Professor Snape.’

Ideas were popping in the back of Severus’ mind, like bubbles in water coming to a slow boil. Severus stood, and nervously, Creevey stood as well.

‘Are you going to throw me out?’ Creevey asked.

‘I am not,’ Severus replied. ‘However, I would like to speak with you again. May I send for you later?’

Creevey seemed quite confused. ‘Yeah, of course, if you want to.’ He looked around Severus at the black book on the desktop, but he seemed to think better of mentioning it.

As Creevey went out the door, Severus took up the deck of cards and shuffled. ‘Herpie!’

The house-elf popped into the office.

‘Fetch me Mr Arthur Weasley,’ he said.

‘Right away, Headmaster, sir!’

Severus cut the cards.

The queen of hearts.

Arthur, dressed in his fairy costume, was happy to discuss his position as the Head of Muggle Reparations. ‘We’ve worked on repairing the structural damages caused during the war, to roads and bridges and buildings,’ Arthur explained. ‘And we’ve funnelled some gold into their Ministry for war orphans. But no, we haven’t made any special provisions for the Muggle-born students who were pushed out of school the year of the war.’ Arthur cocked his head to one side. ‘You’ll pardon me asking, Severus, but didn’t the school follow up on that?’

Minerva came in next, directing a pile of heavy ledgers before her with her wand. ‘No, Severus, I don’t have the numbers in my head!’ she snapped in irritation. ‘You weren’t well enough to come back to school until after Christmas, as you’ll recall, and we had all the rebuilding going on, moving classes around to accommodate the renovations—we never had a formal accounting of how many Muggle-borns failed to return to school after the war.’

She allowed the ledgers to fall to a work table with a loud thud, raising a mighty cloud of dust.

‘I’m sure, if you’re not too worried about dirtying your hands, we can create a list quickly enough.’

Severus had his list when Xeno Lovegood came into his office. The older wizard wore his dinner clothes already, having smartened himself up by charming his Regency coat to canary yellow with matching shoes. Severus resisted the urge to shade his eyes from this sartorial magnificence.

‘Xeno, who amongst the wizarding publishers would surreptitiously hire someone to come here and gather this sort of information for publication?’

He pushed Creevey’s notebook to Xeno and shuffled his cards.

Cut. Queen of hearts. Cut. Knave of spades.

‘The only one I can think of who would be sneaky about it is Probe! Magazine,’ Xeno said, carefully replacing the moleskin book on Severus’ desktop. ‘That Skeeter woman is not well-liked in the publishing community.’

Severus schooled himself not to respond to this pronouncement with the incredulity it might deserve. Lovegood of the Quibbler speaking of journalistic integrity? But that would be counter-productive to his purposes.

‘Headmaster,’ Xeno went on, ‘I have been wishing to speak with you about Professor Trelawney.’

Severus nodded attentively, desperately hoping the old fellow was not about to ask for the Divination teacher’s hand in marriage, as it was not Severus’ to give away.

‘Would you be willing to permit her to write a monthly column for the Quibbler?’ Xeno continued, blissfully unaware of the Headmaster’s inappropriately wandering mind.

Severus paused a moment. He could probably work this to his advantage. ‘Perhaps we can strike a bargain,’ he said.

Creevey returned to Severus’ office when requested, his mousy brown hair severely disarranged, as if it had been clutched at repeatedly. Nervously, he sat in the indicated chair.

‘Is this, by any chance, the man who offered you money to come here?’ Severus asked, passing a fuzzy newspaper photograph to Creevey.

Wonder dawned on Creevey’s face. ‘Yeah! How did you know, sir?’

‘It was not omniscience, Mr Creevey, I assure you,’ he said smoothly. ‘That man is called Bozo, and he works for Rita Skeeter of Probe! Magazine.’

Creevey placed the newspaper clipping on the desktop. ‘Will I … have to return the gold they gave me?’ he asked. ‘I already spent most of it.’

Severus sat back, watching the young wizard closely. ‘If you had the opportunity, Mr Creevey, would you return to school and complete your magical education?’

Creevey’s face scrunched up as if he were in pain. ‘I’m too old for that,’ he said. ‘I’m nineteen—older than the seventh years—and I still had three years to go when I left school.’

Severus ran a fingertip along his thin lips, giving the boy his whole attention. ‘Yes, I understand your misgivings—but if you were able to return, not to live in a dormitory with the younger students, but to be quartered with the other returning Muggle-borns—if you were to have your school books and supplies provided for you, would you do it? To become a fully qualified wizard?’

Creevey blinked. ‘Well yeah—who wouldn’t? But … that can’t happen, can it?’

Severus nodded solemnly. ‘I believe it can happen, Mr Creevey—in fact, I believe it must. There are some details yet to be organised, but I am quite determined on it. Make sure I have your contact information before you leave Hogwarts, won’t you?’

The young wizard bore a look of wonder, as if a cancelled Christmas had just been reinstated. ‘And the gold I took?’ he asked, as if that were the only fly in his personal ointment.

‘Don’t give it another thought. In fact, further payment will be coming your way, from the magazine that will actually publish your material.’

Creevey brightened even further. ‘Blimey!’ he breathed. ‘But what about that Bozo guy and Rita Skeeter?’

Severus smiled icily. ‘Leave that to me.’

By the time Severus walked into the Great Hall for dinner, Hermione had all but given him up. She had spent the entire afternoon waiting for him to appear, agonizing over why he would stay away from her after the kiss they had shared in the stable. Had she offended him? Had he decided she wasn’t worth the trouble?

He took his place, inquired civilly about her afternoon’s entertainment, and continued on as if nothing untoward had occurred—as if he had not come close to ravaging her and then abandoned her without a word. She was so upset she could scarcely eat. And it did nothing to improve her state of mind to watch Lucius and Leticia carrying on as if they were alone. She resisted the urge to tell them to get a room.

The ladies left the gentlemen to their port, and Hermione could not loiter in the drawing room, admiring needlework and listening to indifferent playing upon the pianoforte. She went out into the rose garden and sat upon a bench, staring at the ground and trying to sort out her thoughts. It seemed a very short time before she saw stationary black boots upon the pathway. She looked up into Severus face, and unwilling to have him standing over her, she stood.

‘Tell me what you’re unhappy about, Milady,’ he said.

She turned her face away. ‘Don’t call me that!’

He did not answer her, so after a moment, she collected herself and spoke again.

‘Where were you, this afternoon?’

‘I was in my office.’

She darted a glance at his face. ‘What could possibly have kept you all afternoon? Our guests were …’

He cut across her. ‘I was working. Why do you ask?’

This had seemed far more reasonable when it was simply rattling about in her mind. ‘Because I was worried about you … I didn’t know where you’d gone off to. And you said we’re partners! For Hogwarts, I mean.’

There was something in his eyes that bordered on mirth, but his tone was quite sober as he replied. "Miss Granger, you of all people should understand what it is to stay focused and do something properly, no matter what others may be expecting of you."

Hermione bit her lip, feeling mortified. Good heavens, she sounded like a neglected girlfriend! How many times had Ron whinged at her about her work—and how often had she replied to him in nearly the very same words Severus had just used?

He offered his arm. ‘The players will put on their performance next. Shall we take our places?’

A golden stage, built especially for the occasion, was situated at one end of the Great Hall. Playbills were set out upon the chairs, which had been arranged in rows, just like a real theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare

Cast of Characters

THESEUS, Duke of Athens – Lucius Malfoy
HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus – Leticia Mortelle
EGEUS, Father to Hermia – Fortescue Parkinson
LYSANDER –Finbar Quigley
PHILOSTRATE, Master of the Revels to Theseus – Horace Slughorn
HERMIA, Daughter to Egeus – Penelope Clearwater
HELENA – Gabrielle Delacour
QUINCE, a Carpenter – George Weasley
SNUG, a Joiner – Luna Lovegood
BOTTOM, a Weaver – Ronald Weasley
FLUTE, a Bellows-mender – Romilda Vane
SNOUT, a Tinker – Viktor Krum
STARVELING, a Tailor – Pansy Parkinson
OBERON, King of the Fairies – Arthur Weasley
TITANIA, Queen of the Fairies – Molly Weasley
PUCK, or Robin Goodfellow – Draco Malfoy
ATTENDANT FAIRIES – Lavender Brown, Parvati Patel, Padma Patel

Harry slipped into the chair beside Hermione, acutely aware of Blaise Zabini lounging on the front row, looking tall and rich and handsome. Harry and Draco had played at badminton that afternoon just as they’d done all week, but having Zabini sitting around making obnoxious remarks took some of the fun out of it for Harry. Draco seemed to want Harry around, just like always, but Harry had spotted Zabini with Draco a couple of times, too, once in the Entrance Hall, and another time in the rose garden. Both times, they were standing close together, and Zabini was talking while Draco glared at the ground.

Harry didn’t know what to do about it. Maybe Draco had just been joking around with him—maybe he hadn’t meant it when he and Harry had kissed—maybe Draco had just been waiting for Zabini to come back to him.

Thinking that made Harry want to hit something.

The thousands of candles floating above the makeshift stage were illuminated all at once, and at the same time, the candles above the audience were extinguished. Lucius Malfoy, resplendent in Elizabethan garb, walked onto the stage with Leticia Mortelle and Pansy Parkinson’s father. Harry tried to pay attention to the words they were saying, but it was … well, it was Shakespeare.

He glanced over at Hermione, to see if she was experiencing the same primary school flashback, but something else altogether was going on with her. She was looking at Severus in a soppy way, and even though Severus wasn’t looking back at her (Harry wasn’t sure he could stomach a soppy look on Severus’ sour face), he was holding her hand, and Harry thought that was almost as bad.

He sighed. This was going to be a long bloody play.

But in spite of himself, his ear began to pick up the cadence of the speech patterns, so he could follow the story. It was sort of funny to see people he knew, like Neville and Fin, dressed up in tights—and then the fairy, Puck, made his entrance, and Harry’s heart twisted in his chest. Draco shone like that constellation he’d been named for, and Harry couldn’t take his eyes away from him.

The players acquitted themselves well, overall, and Harry was absorbed with the story. When Draco stepped forward to deliver Puck’s last speech, Harry felt a mighty lump rising in his throat, not unlike he’d experienced at Dobby’s grave the night before. But this emotion owed nothing to grief and everything to …

The audience responded with thunderous applause, and when they had taken their curtain call, the players came into the audience to mingle and chat. Harry threaded through the throng, slipping with an athlete’s grace through the crowd without having to resort to more physical tactics. Draco posed against the forest backdrop as Dennis Creevey snapped a photograph, but Draco seemed fully aware of Harry’s advance, and by the time Harry leapt onto the stage, Draco had turned to face him.

‘Well, Potter?’ he said, uncertainty lurking behind the Malfoy arrogance.

‘You were brilliant, you stupid git,’ Harry said, but he didn’t stop walking. ‘You were brilliant, and I …’

Then the words died on his tongue, and he stopped, staring helplessly at the beautiful, unobtainable man he wanted for his own.

Draco seemed to be right there, in his head with him, for he covered the rest of the distance, and they were in each other’s arms.

‘Yeah,’ Draco said, one hand wrapped about the back of Harry’s neck. ‘Yeah, me too.’

Leticia, tricked out in her Queen of the Amazons costume, clung to Lucius’ arm and received the congratulations of their fellow guests. She saw what was happening with Harry and Draco, and watched it with a speculative eye. There would never be a better day to engineer a resolution between her beloved and his son. With a nod and a smile to the well-wishers before them, she directed Lucius’ attention to the embracing wizards on the stage.

Lucius seemed frozen in place. He murmured, ‘Are they …?’

‘Kissing? Yes,’ Leticia answered. ‘Come along, darling.’ She led him toward Draco, and he followed.

Blaise Zabini leapt onto the stage then and laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘I don’t care how many Dark Lords you killed, Potter. Get your hands off my man.’

Draco didn’t even look away from Harry’s face as he pushed Blaise’s hand away. ‘Go away, Blaise. I told you: we’re finished.’

Blaise gave Draco’s green leotard a yank and thrust himself between Draco and Harry. He found himself looking down the famous phoenix-feather wand, the target of a very confident pair of green eyes.

Leticia, who had been quite prepared to give aid, relaxed the hold on her own wand; obviously, Harry needed no assistance.

But Lucius seemed to feel differently, for he took Blaise by the arm. ‘I would very much dislike having to explain to your mother the reason for your demise,’ he said quietly. ‘I think you’d best spent the night at the Manor, and tomorrow you can Floo … elsewhere.’

Blaise looked mutinous, but Lucius simply tightened his grip on the younger wizard’s arm. Blaise looked to Draco for help, but Draco was paying him no mind, far too involved with stroking the hair out of Harry’s eyes.

‘You heard the man, Zabini,’ Harry said, his wand still at the ready. ‘Go away. It’s over here.’

Lucius gave Leticia an apologetic smile as he began to escort Zabini from the room, but he need not have worried. She was immensely pleased with his public show of support for his son.

She would be there to tuck him in, tonight.

Severus took Hermione upstairs directly after the play ended. It had been a bloody long day, and he was shattered. He could not bear another moment of anyone’s company, save hers.

Her pique at his neglect that afternoon had flattered him, and her objection to receiving the same treatment she had meted out to Weasley was little short of priceless. She had got the point when he explained it to her, though; he’d seen that clearly enough. Holding her hand when the lights went down had soothed her a bit—but it wasn’t enough to satisfy either of them, and he knew it.

They stood before her door, and she placed her palms against his chest.

‘Come in,’ she said.

Down the corridor, Weasley and Romilda Vane approached, giggling together, and were quickly through their door.

Severus lightly touched Hermione’s full lower lip, tracing it with the pad of his thumb, remembering its texture when he’d sucked it between his teeth and gently bitten down.

‘You tasted of gooseberries,’ he said, watching her pupils dilate, knowing she was aroused, and feeling an answering heat.

‘I … I ate them for breakfast, remember?’ she said, her voice strained.

A sound of voices, almost angry in tone, came from the end of the corridor, and then Draco and Potter were at his door, grappling for dominance, all elbows and nose-bumping and desperation. Potter got the door open and grabbed Draco by the fairy costume, shoving him into the room and slamming the door behind him. Draco would have to borrow clothes from Potter if he wanted to creep back to his room in something besides torn fairy tights in the morning.

Hermione gripped his lapels and gave them a shake. ‘Don’t make me be the only one on this row to sleep alone tonight,’ she whispered.

He pried her fingers from his coat and raised them to his face; she ran soft fingertips over his raspy cheek, in need of another shave. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to feel her touch. Then he opened his eyes again, looking down at her. She stroked his hair off his forehead.

‘You’ll not be the only one on this row to sleep alone,’ he said tenderly. ‘I sleep here too, remember?’

He kissed her hand, then her palm, and finally, the pulse at her wrist. ‘Good night, Hermione,’ he murmured. ‘Please go in.’

She expelled breath, and he saw the hurt in her eyes. ‘I don’t understand you,’ she said sadly.

‘That makes two of us, Milady.’

He reached behind her and twisted the knob. The door opened, and he stepped back from her. With a bow, he turned from her and walked the few feet to his darkened bedchamber door.

For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble by Subversa [Reviews - 6]

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