For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
Sunday, August 11, 2002
Breakfast to Dinner
She slept for two hours before a firm knock at her door woke her. She rose, bleary-eyed, to find Ron, looking wary but determined. Hermione opened the door to him and turned away to rummage in a drawer.
‘Hello,’ he said softly.
She shook out the jeans she’d found and stepped into them. When they were fastened beneath her tee-shirt, she turned to face him.
‘Good morning,’ she said.
He shuffled his feet, staring at the floor. His obvious discomfort might have been funny if she’d had the heart for amusement—but she didn’t. She felt deeply sad, as if she’d never laugh again. Was it just the end-of-project let-down? She’d experienced that before—but she couldn’t fool herself that this had anything to do with work.
This was about Severus.
She forced herself to focus on Ron, standing there in his rumpled jeans and Chudley Cannons tee-shirt. ‘Where’s Romilda?” she asked.
He answered cautiously. ‘She went down to breakfast already, but I wanted to talk to you before I leave.’
Hermione nodded and sat on the edge of her bed, motioning to the desk chair.
‘Thanks,’ Ron muttered, and he sat down.
Hermione studied him curiously. It was strange to think that ten days ago they had considered themselves a couple. How long had it been since she had felt as if she were in love with him? Since she had felt butterflies in her stomach when he was near? Since the touch of his hand had set her blood afire? Had it ever?
‘’Mione,’ he began.
‘I’m sorry, Ron,’ she said before he could continue. ‘I’m sorry that I’ve been such a rotten girlfriend for so long. I ignored you and wasn’t interested in what was important to you.’
His dear, open face relaxed as his lips parted in a smile. ‘That’s what I was going to say,’ he told her, sitting forward. ‘Like maybe we grew up and … sort of grew out of love.’
She nodded, sitting forward as well. ‘I think that explains things,’ she agreed.
Ron ran his palms along the legs of his jeans as if wiping off sweat. ‘Still, I shouldn’t have wagered the schedule like I did. That was wrong of me.’
Hermione smiled, the first time she could remember smiling at him in recent memory. ‘I appreciate you saying so.’
‘I want to make sure we’re all right,’ he said earnestly. ‘I may not be the man for you, but you’ve been my best friend for half my life—I can’t lose that, ’Mione.’
As they stood and hugged one another, Hermione fancied she heard the closing of a door while another, older door creaked fully open for the first time in a long while.
‘I hope you’ll be happy,’ he murmured into her hair. ‘And if ever some bloke needs a hexing for mistreating you …’
Hermione emitted a watery chuckle. ‘Yeah, you’ll be at the top of that list.’ She pulled away and looked into his face. ‘I hope you’ll be happy, too,’ she declared.
‘I am!’ he enthused. ‘Romilda is the—’
Hermione laughed and began to push him towards the door again. ‘Yes, yes, but you have to go away now so I can get ready for breakfast!’
Throwing up his hands in comical surrender, Ron went into the corridor and closed the door behind him.
Hermione walked into the Great Hall thirty minutes later, and the sight of the milling guests in their casual, everyday clothing hit her like a blow.
Regency Week really was at an end.
The conversation was subdued, and there was a nostalgic mood overall. Hermione was happy to see some of the ladies who had bonded over needlework, and the gentlemen who had become friendly over glasses of port and games of cards, making plans to meet again away from Hogwarts and continue those friendships.
She took her place—the one she had occupied all throughout the week, beside the Headmaster’s chair—but he was not there. She put food on her plate at random and glanced down the table at her friends and helpers. Penny Clearwater caught her eye, and Hermione smiled tentatively, mindful of her interactions with a jealous Penny. She was quite surprised when Penny rose and came down to her.
‘I can’t believe it’s over,’ Penny said, and the silly discord between them seemed to melt away.
‘I know,’ Hermione agreed. ‘I feel …’
‘Rather empty inside?’ Penny suggested. ‘Well, something very special came of this week for a lot of people.’ She allowed herself to look down the table to Fin Quigley. ‘Pansy and I are going to watch the Ballycastle Bats play the Falmouth Falcons next Saturday.’
‘But how will you bear to be apart from them for almost a week?’ Hermione asked, gently teasing.
‘Oh, we won’t!’ Penny assured her. ‘Fin is going to come home with me for a couple of days, and Viktor is going home with the Parkinsons for a short visit, but both of them have to be at Quidditch practice in Ireland on Tuesday.’ She tilted her head towards the empty chair at the head of the table. ‘Do you and … well, do you have any special plans?’
Hermione began to spread jam on her toast. ‘Not really,’ she said. ‘I’m back at work tomorrow, you know, so I’ll sort out some things here—taking apart the Regency Week changes and putting things back the way they were—and then I’ll Floo home.’
Even speaking the words made her feel dreadfully sad. Where was Severus? How could it all have meant so little to him, when she felt as if she were leaving some vital part of herself behind at Hogwarts? She imagined her beating heart in a potion-filled jar on the shelf behind the erstwhile Potions master’s desk.
Penny laid her hand briefly upon Hermione’s shoulder. ‘Hermione, I might have been a bit … well, less than kind to you this week …’
Hermione looked up quickly. ‘Don’t waste another thought on it,’ she said. ‘We were all a bit stressed this week.’
She knew very well that Penny’s behaviour had had nothing to do with Regency Week duties and everything to do with fancying the Headmaster, but for the sake of their future friendship, it was better to pretend.
Fin came up to Penny and took her hand. ‘I’m ready to go when you are,’ he told her. Then he smiled at Hermione. ‘Terrific notion, this Regency thing,’ he said. ‘You did a bang-up job of it.’
‘Bye, Hermione!’ Penny said. ‘I’ll see you at work!’
The Headmaster entered the Great Hall as Fin and Penny were leaving; Hermione watched as he shook hands and exchanged farewells with them. Then he strode to his chair, his black robes billowing in his wake. His face was a bit pale, his eyes shadowed from lack of sleep, but he was freshly shaved; his long hair, combed back from his forehead, was still wet from the shower; and he wore the Regency Headmaster’s robes. Of all the people Hermione had seen this morning, he was the only one in Regency garb.
The wave of gratitude she felt was a bittersweet surge of the emotion which had been brewing in her for the last ten days. She felt like weeping.
‘Good morning,’ he said as he sat down, his piercing black eyes surveying her closely. ‘Did you … rest well?’
Hermione shrugged. ‘I slept a couple of hours. Did you?’
‘No,’ he replied, pouring tea into his cup. ‘I have been in my office, working on the remedial curriculum for the returning Muggle-born students.’ A house-elf appeared with a bowl of plain porridge and set it before the Headmaster. ‘Later on today, Minerva and I will collaborate on a letter to send out to each of them as a first communication about our plans.’
He began to eat his spare, abstemious meal.
This is the last time I will sit at this table with him, sharing a meal, Hermione thought sadly. Then she gave herself a hard mental shake. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t have.
‘I was thinking this morning in the shower,’ she began, and his attention was instantly fixated on her, as if he were imagining her there. She hurried on, ‘The program should have a slogan. Something catchy, that will capture the attention of your contributors—something that will make the students want to be part of it.’
His breakfast apparently forgotten, he stared at her. ‘And have you thought of something … catchy?’
He spat the word, and his lip curled disdainfully—he hadn’t been snide with her in days.
She drew breath, glad for the indignation which flooded her. ‘I think it’s catchy, but I don’t need your sneers.’
She pushed her chair back from the table, but his hand shot out, closing around her wrist. ‘I’m not sneering now,’ he said flatly. ‘Tell me.’
She jerked her hand away from him. ‘If they don’t return and finish their educations, their magical ability will just go to waste,’ she muttered. ‘The slogan is “Save the Magic”.’
He withdrew his hand from her personal space. ‘Save the magic?’ he repeated.
She flushed. ‘Don’t use it if you don’t like it!’ she said, wishing she hadn’t mentioned it to him.
His gaze shifted to someone behind her. ‘Minerva,’ he said, and Hermione turned to see McGonagall standing at her shoulder. ‘We should have a banner behind the collection table in the Entrance Hall that says “Save the Magic”.’
The old Scotswoman nodded. ‘That will do very nicely,’ she said. ‘Yes, we ought to put it up immediately, before all the guests are gone—and we can add it to the letterhead for the communications we’ll send out today.’ A rare expression of pleasure touched her face. ‘The donations have been most generous! But I was coming to see if Hermione could take my place at the collections table whilst I eat breakfast.’
Hermione rose immediately. Being away from Severus was going to be miserable, but she might as well begin to accustom herself to it. Obviously, the truce between them for the sake of presenting a harmonious front—for Hogwarts, she reminded herself—was at an end. Being with him when he was showing such disregard for her was far too difficult.
‘At once, Professor,’ she said. ‘Please, take my seat. I know you have pressing business to discuss with the Headmaster.’
And without bidding him farewell, Hermione hurried out to the Entrance Hall, not permitting herself to think about anything but her immediate task. Pulling her wand, she conjured an enormous strip of parchment and magicked it onto the wall. With broad, sweeping slashes, she emblazoned Save the MAGIC in dramatic, bold black letters. A final flick of her wrist added random splotches of glitter—because she knew it would annoy him.
‘What’s this, Hermione?’ Fortescue Parkinson inquired as he strolled into the Entrance Hall, followed by two house-elves laden with the Parkinsons’ baggage.
Taking a deep breath, Hermione squared her shoulders and put on her S.P.E.W. face before beginning to explain. This was even more important than house-elf rights, and she would give it her all.
By noon, her collection box was filled with gold and cheques from wizarding banks all over the world. She had provided the information about the special project several times. Dennis Creevey had joined her soon after she hung the Save the MAGIC! banner. He was as enthusiastic about the scheme as Hermione was, and he had the added cachet of being the first displaced student to be enrolled in the new program.
‘I wonder,’ he mused, ‘if people would like to have their pictures taken in front of the banner?’
And photograph after photograph had been snapped of proud donors before the banner. The developed photographs would be owled to the recipients as soon as they were ready.
George Weasley, coming down the stairs hand-in-hand with Luna Lovegood, broke into a broad grin when he saw the banner. ‘This is brilliant,’ he said. ‘Your idea, I reckon,’ he added with a smirk at Hermione.
‘I only thought of the slogan,’ she said. ‘The idea belongs entirely to the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress.’ She took a step closer to the proprietor of the busiest business in Diagon Alley. ‘George, would you like to contribute?’
Luna removed a cheque from her handbag and passed it to Hermione. It was slightly crumpled and smelled of Gurdyroots.
‘George wrote it out last night before bed,’ Luna said, ‘after we cleared all the Gulping Plimpies from the toilet. He asked me to keep up with it until we saw you.’
Hermione bit her lip to hide her grin. ‘I didn’t know the castle was ... infested with, erm, Plimpies.’
George ran a hand down Luna’s long, straggly blond hair. ‘It’s not, any more,’ he said. ‘Luna was prepared—she tries to be prepared for everything, don’t you, love? It’s how she survived in the dungeon, you know.’
Luna turned adoring eyes up to his face, and George gave her a swift kiss. Then the lovers said their farewells and departed, hands clasped. It wasn’t until they went out the door that Hermione looked at the amount on the cheque.
The paper was snatched from her fingers as Draco reached over her shoulder. ‘Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes,’ he read. ‘Good God, he does all right for himself, doesn’t he?’
Hermione reached for the cheque, which Draco lifted higher.
‘Where’s your donation, Malfoy?’ she demanded.
Draco laughed. ‘I’m not the rich one in this relationship,’ he informed her, warm eyes resting on Harry. ‘Tap Potter, here.’
Harry took the cheque from Draco with a severe look and returned it to Hermione. ‘I can’t believe I never thought about the Muggle-born students before now,’ he said, his green eyes serious behind the round frames of his glasses. ‘Four years it’s been, and it never occurred to me to …’
Hermione pressed his hand. ‘None of us thought of it,’ she said. ‘Don’t blame yourself—but support the effort, if you can afford it.’
‘I don’t carry my chequebook with me, but I’ll give you a cheque at work tomorrow,’ he promised her.
Hermione turned away from him to place George’s check in the collection box. ‘You can just owl it to the Headmaster,’ she said dully.
Harry turned her until she faced him again. ‘Won’t you be seeing Severus?’ he asked, concerned.
Draco watched them with narrowed eyes. ‘Of course she will,’ he said.
Hermione looked away from them. She didn’t need kindness and caring, because those things would make her cry. She needed to be irritated and angry. ‘I have no plans to see him after today,’ she said, pulling away from them. ‘Don’t you have someone else you can annoy?’
‘But you’re right here and available,’ Draco pointed out reasonably. Then he put an arm about Harry’s shoulders. ‘I’m going to my dead Great-Aunt Walburga’s house with him,’ Draco informed her. ‘That ghoulish elf, Kreacher, still lives there. It will be like a family reunion—only without the family, of course. Those are the best sort.’
Harry still looked concerned. ‘You should come and stay at Grimmauld Place with us,’ he urged her. ‘Don’t be alone at that tiny flat of yours.’
Hermione managed a laugh then. ‘Stay at Grimmauld Place with you, Ron, and your new significant others? Wouldn’t that cheer me up?’
Harry enfolded her in a hug. ‘Okay, maybe it’s a shit idea—but you know my home is always your home.’
Hermione returned his hug before giving him a shove. ‘Would you please go home?’ she said.
Draco bent forward to drop a kiss on her cheek, then he frog-marched Harry out of the castle. Hermione smiled mistily at the backs of their heads, silky blond and messy black. Then she was distracted from them by a noisy group that came down the marble staircase carrying their own bags. Lavender, Parvati, and Padma had Dennis in tow.
‘You’re taking him with you?’ she blurted.
Dennis grinned, looking quite pleased to be in the midst of a group of older women. ‘I’m going to interview them for the Quibbler piece,’ he enthused. ‘And I’m going to sleep on their sofa until school starts!’
Hermione followed them into the noonday sun to see them off, reflecting that only Dennis Creevey could make kipping on a sofa sound like such an exciting prospect.
She remained in place for a time, breathing deeply of the fresh air. She felt, rather than heard, Severus come up behind her.
‘That’s the lot,’ he said quietly. ‘All your guests have departed, Milady.’
Tears pricked her eyes at this use of his pet name for her. ‘Don’t,’ she said thickly, moving past him to the doors.
‘Where are you going?’ he asked.
‘I have rooms to put right,’ she said without looking back at him. ‘That’s what I’m going to do today, Severus.’
She heard his sharp intake of breath, as if the reminder of his words from the night before had pricked him. She hoped they had.
She entered the castle and marched to the men’s clubroom. There were so many pieces of furniture to be moved back to their proper places, and two walls to put in place again … house-elves could do the work under her direction, but for now, she wanted to do it herself.
Work was the very best remedy for an aching heart.
Severus frowned at the spidery handwriting covering the parchment, then added a final line. On the desktop were four crumpled parchment sheets attesting to his previous attempts.
‘All right, how’s this?’ he said and began to read aloud.
Portrait Dumbledore listened gravely, and at the end, nodded his head decisively. ‘That’s the ticket, Headmaster!’
Severus took up his quill again and signed his name, printing beneath it, Severus Snape, Headmaster.
The house-elf popped into the Headmaster’s office and immediately bowed deeply. ‘Yes, Headmaster Snape, sir?’
‘Deliver this to Professor McGonagall.’
Minerva would perform the duplication spells, with the assistance of the other Heads of House, and before nightfall, the letters would be owled to every Muggle-born student who had failed to return to Hogwarts, after the war had made the school a lethal place for them to be. Severus had been Headmaster then, that year of his shame—of his worst, walking nightmare, when Death Eaters freely roamed the halls of Hogwarts, preying on students. He, personally, owed the missing Muggle-born students these amends, and if necessary, he would make a private appeal to each of them, face to face.
For now, the letter might be the best, quickest way to get the word out to them and to receive their replies. We await your answer by return of the delivering owl, at the earliest possible opportunity, his letter read.
His restless gaze moved to the other two sheets upon his desk; one was a to-do list, the other was a … personal missive. The first must be completed before the second could be contemplated.
Don’t dawdle! he cautioned himself. She might depart at any moment. She is none too happy.
He dragged the list of necessary tasks before him. The curriculum had been cobbled together, the list of course books compiled (students in need of financial assistance would be provided their schoolbooks and other supplies by the school), and housing arrangements had been made. Last on the list was the letter he had just finished. He put a tick mark beside it. The to-do list was complete.
He rubbed a hand over his face. The morning shower had served to wake him up a bit, but that had been hours ago, and he was feeling his lack of sleep now.
He pushed himself to his feet and went to the window, looking out toward the Quidditch pitch. Longbottom had Vanished the maze and its interior garden before he had left with his besotted Gabrielle. Potter was enamoured of Draco, and Weasley was all taken up with the Vane woman—even Krum had found a love interest in Pansy Parkinson. All of Hermione’s closest friends were accounted for—all of the possible rivals for her attention of which he was aware—but was there some detail had he forgotten? Was there aught he had failed to take into account in all his plans?
The castle was strangely quiet now, minus the guests—much as it usually was when the students were gone. But Hermione still remained, somewhere below; he could feel her spark inside of himself, a warm, pulsating presence. Involuntarily, he pressed a hand to his chest, as if to hold her in place.
That’s your heart, you fool! he thought. But it wasn’t his, not any longer. She had slipped through the walls he had built to keep others out and taken his heart from him, and she had done it with such ease …
But she was prickly now. At breakfast, she had been quick to take offence, and later, she had flounced away from him as if she was somehow upset with him—but he had given her no reason for it.
No, she is unhappy only because Regency Week is over. It has nothing to do with me, he thought.
He looked over at the incomplete missive upon his desk, but did not leave the window. She had been unafraid from the start, going where her heart led her, thinking he would follow her. How many times had she invited him to her room? What did that invitation mean, coming from a woman such as she was? And he had declined each time. There were a thousand reasons why he ought to continue saying ‘no’ to her—to himself—and only one reason not to.
Because he wanted her.
Love her! his adolescent self insisted, but he pushed that notion firmly aside. Love was for schoolchildren, but desire, admiration, respect, true liking—these were the blocks upon which adults built relationships, and he felt them all for Hermione Granger.
The cards say she’s your soul mate—of course you love her! the inner voice whispered.
‘I need to sleep,’ he said aloud, to drown out the bleating of his inner adolescent.
‘Then have a nap, Severus,’ Dumbledore’s portrait suggested.
He stalked over to glare at the portrait. ‘I’ll be having a meeting here later. I expect you and all of your confederates to keep your traps shut and sleep all the way through it. Not a peep out of the lot of you!’
Dumbledore twinkled at him, looking dotty in the stupid, garish poker hat. ‘Of course, Headmaster. I shall spread the word.’ And he disappeared, hurrying into the frame of his nearest neighbour.
Severus seated himself at the desk and pulled the incomplete letter to him. It was time to give up his pointless dithering and write the damn thing. Nothing he could do would alter her response, providing his phrasing was adequate. She would say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
He dipped his quill in the ink and wrote.
Hermione found her unfinished sampler, stretched upon its tambour frame, abandoned on a round occasional table in the ladies’ drawing room. It was very badly done; she had never bothered to learn needlepoint, and it seemed to require more attention to detail than she’d been willing to devote to it. She traced the uneven line of French knots meant to denote the petals of a bluebell. She’d sewn these with her mind full of schemes to lure Severus into her room—into your bed, her mind insisted—but no appeal of hers had been sufficient to tempt him into acceptance. He wanted her, of that she was sure—his kisses told her that quite clearly. Something else was holding him back from her, and she had no clue what to do about it.
Suddenly, words came back to her—words that had been spoken in this very room.
‘The dark man is full of conflict … The conflict is not definitive, but it must be overcome for the lovers to reach their destiny.’
Trelawney in her gypsy costume, with her ridiculous shawls and bangles—with her curious intensity as she performed Hermione’s card reading. Could the words have been true, one of the rare occasions when the Seer actually Saw?
Conflict … if the conflict was within him, there was nothing Hermione could do to resolve it; she could only make her feelings and desires as clear as possible.
The distinctive pop! of Apparition heralded the arrival of Herpie, who bore a folded parchment upon a silver salver.
‘For you, Miss!’ Herpie proclaimed, bowing low.
Hermione’s heart lurched. Dear God—was it from Severus? She had dallied about, hoping he would …
She snatched the parchment and with trembling hands, broke the plain wax seal to get at the contents.
Perhaps you can appreciate my reluctance to allow our Regency idyll to come to end. I beg the indulgence of your company for one last evening of Regency-style revels. I wish to share with you a celebratory meal to mark the great success of your plan, which exceeded every expectation. I pray you will accept and allow me to attempt to convey my deepest gratitude to you.
Dinner will be served at seven o’clock in the Headmaster’s Office. I await your response.
Your most obedient Servant,
P.S. If you would be so kind as to wear the gown you wore at the ball, I would be in your debt.
She read it three times, jubilation singing within her. She had taken the battle to him time and again with her invitations, and here, finally, was a move on his part. Sweet Circe, she had hoped he would give her some sign of his interest before she left the castle, and here it was.
‘Is the Headmaster in his office now, Herpie?’
The elf looked slightly alarmed. ‘The Headmaster is sleeping in his bed, Miss—Herpie is only to wake him if Miss declines his invitation.’
Severus was sleeping? Then, so should she. Neither of them had enjoyed a very restful night.
‘Miss accepts the invitation, Herpie. I’ll be in his office at seven.’
The elf bowed and disappeared, and Hermione hurried to her room, clutching the unfinished embroidery in one hand, her billet-doux in the other.
After a four hour nap, she dressed her hair in twists and ringlets, leaving off the bandeau and the sparkling pins. The silk gown, which a silent house-elf had cleaned and returned while she slept, slipped over her shift with a whisper. She added slippers and gloves, and she was ready to go.
She rode the revolving stone staircase up until she stood before the polished oak door, but before she could take the brass knocker in hand, the door was opened, and Severus was there.
She didn’t know why she was filled with a wash of euphoria at the sight of him, for it felt as if a box of freshly caught Cornish Pixies had been released in her chest. Her lips parted as she drew in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, and instantly, his gaze was upon her mouth, an unhurried, sultry expression in his impossibly dark eyes.
He wore the Regency Headmaster’s robes, all suede-like softness and buttons galore. She dragged her gaze from his torso, trying to force wild ideas about stroking the coat or unfastening all those buttons from her mind, but when she looked into his enigmatic face, she feared he knew exactly what she had been thinking.
The shadows were gone from his eyes, so he had slept, she thought. He had apparently showered and shaved again as well, because his hair was damp, and she caught a whiff of his aftershave as she slipped past him into the office.
‘Thank you for coming, Milady,’ he murmured, raising her gloved hand to his lips.
‘Thank you for inviting me,’ she replied.
There were yet two hours until the August sunset, so there was sunlight in the room, but in an alcove to one side of the great, circular room, a small dining table was set with candles—perhaps for atmosphere. She glanced about at the previous Headmasters’ portraits, but they all appeared to be sleeping. Had he given them all sweeties laced with Dreamless Sleep?
‘Would you care for an aperitif?’ Severus inquired. ‘There will be wine with dinner.’
‘I didn’t eat lunch, so I’m rather hungry now,’ she confessed.
Keeping the hand he had kissed, he led her to the table. ‘When we’re ready to eat, simply say “dinner” and your plate will fill,’ he told her, with a quirk of his lips. ‘I thought it would be best to … dispense with the house-elves tonight.’
No house-elves? With all the portraits sleeping, then they were quite alone.
‘But before we eat, let us have a toast.’
Severus took a bottle from a wine bucket and poured sparkling champagne into the waiting fluted crystal goblets. He lifted his glass, and she lifted hers in response.
‘For Hogwarts?’ she asked, wondering why her voice sounded so small and quavering.
‘No, Milady,’ he replied gravely, and there was something in his tone which sent a shiver of anticipation rippling along her spine. ‘Not for Hogwarts—not tonight.’ He touched his goblet to hers, and the crystal sang a high, sweet note. ‘To us.’
Hermione felt as if she’d been struck mute with the import and significance packed into the two words he had spoken. Her gaze rose from the goblets to his face, and instantly, she was captured by the intensity of his gaze. After a moment, she found her voice.
‘To us,’ she responded, and they drank, never looking away from one another.
As suddenly as he had introduced breathless seriousness to the moment, he took it away, gesturing for her to sit and seating himself across from her.
‘Speak to the plate,’ he prompted her.
Hermione drew off her gloves and set them aside. ‘Dinner,’ she said, and her plate filled with roast chicken, potatoes, and crispy runner beans. After a week of fancy—and sometimes very odd—Regency foods, it was lovely to see a plate of plain, homey fare. ‘Oh—this is wonderful!’
‘Yes, I thought you might enjoy a simpler meal, tonight,’ he said, taking up his fork. ‘I know I wanted one.’
They spoke of many things over their meal, and Hermione was pleased by the comfortable way they conversed together. She saw many instances of Severus’ dry humour, but he was free of derision and mockery.
‘Yes, Professor McGonagall reported that all owls were sent to the missing Muggle-born students,’ he said, when she asked about the project. ‘I hope to receive some responses by owl post in the morning.’
She watched him as he spoke, free to indulge herself in this, with no one else to distract them from one another. The champagne warmed her responses, she thought, and possibly loosened her tongue a bit, making the interaction easier for her.
‘No, I haven’t thought of a name for the little filly,’ she admitted when he inquired about it. ‘You know, I never thought I would enjoy horseback riding as much as I do! The horses are intelligent creatures and seem as if they enjoy the rides—as if it’s a joint venture.’
He nodded. ‘You took to it quickly, for a novice. You’ll find many things much easier to do, when you ride astride in breeches, as a twenty-first century rider does—even when she’s a lady.’
She frowned then, remembering. She had no horses available for riding. Oh, you could rent a horse to ride in the park for an hour, but job horses probably were not of the same quality and temperament as those in a private stable. ‘I don’t suppose I’ll be doing much riding,’ she murmured, devoting her attention to the tricky task of cutting her very tender chicken into tiny bites.
‘You needn’t resign yourself to that,’ he replied.
Severus leant forward to pour more champagne into her glass. She was lovely in the relaxed glow of the wine, the food, and—dare he hope?—the company. Her honey brown eyes shone when they rested upon him, a reaction he had noticed in her before but had made excuses about. It was not him exciting that warm look, he had reasoned then; it was someone else, or some topic of conversation. Women did not look thus at Severus Snape—not in his experience of life. But he was alone with her now, with no other people to take her attention from him, and still, her eyes gleamed.
She had done her hair in the fussy Regency style again—how might he convince her he liked it hanging down her back, wild and untamed? Would she care about his preferences? The gown, though, gave him a fine display of her impressive charms—that favourite part of a woman’s body that provided endless fascination for a man—and he well remembered the feel of her breasts pressed to his chest, her hands clutching at him, her mouth open to him, warm, wet, and inviting.
He shifted in his chair. He was getting ahead of himself. She had been eager to lure him into her bed in the rush of Regency atmosphere—when all around them, others were giving in to those impulses—but he did not want her for a holiday fling. He wanted her, wanted to see her often, wanted her in his life … had to be sure she wanted it, too, before he turned that particular table upon her.
She took up her serviette and touched it to her lips; her plate was still half-full, but she had slowed in her eating.
‘Would you care for more?’ he inquired, the solicitous host.
‘Thank you, no,’ she said. ‘Though it is quite delicious, I am very full.’
He stood and offered a hand to her. ‘Then perhaps you’ll grant me a dance.’
She laughed softly, disbelieving. ‘And where is this orchestra hidden?’ she asked playfully, looking about expectantly.
He quirked an eyebrow at her. ‘It is the Wizarding Wireless Network, and by my watch, we are in the middle of the Witching Hour.’
He had set the dial earlier and was relieved to turn the radio on and find it still tuned properly. Some vocalist was singing a song from his parents’ generation, but he didn’t care—as long as there was music, he could dance with her.
As he drew her to him, she raised her face to his, her eyes wide and wondering—but clearly trusting. He gathered her closer, until her cheek rested upon his chest.
How could she trust him? Had she forgotten who he was—what he’d done?
He moved with her, and it was as if the previous night were upon them again, and they were dancing the night away—only this time, they were quite alone, with his bed but a door away.
‘We dance well together,’ he murmured into the shell of her ear, and he saw her eyes close very slowly, as if in response to his breath upon her cheek.
She stroked the softness of his coat. ‘We ride well together, too.’
She flushed then, as if remembering the physical response she had experienced when riding with him, and he tightened his arm about her waist. ‘It appears that we are a good … team.’
Match! A good match! his inner voice insisted, but he was too caught up in her, in the natural magic she wove about him when they were together. Ensnared by the bewitching Hermione Granger, his mind was helpless to repress the lovesick adolescent lurking in his subconscious.
One old-fashioned love song blended into the next, and the one after, as the sun set outside the windows and the shadows in the Headmaster’s office deepened, until it was full dark. It was the time when lovers might murmur sweet nothings to one another, but nothing was decided between them. All was possibility—the air was fraught with it—and the silence they shared was too perfect a bubble to be burst. They clung and danced and breathed as one, until the last strains of the music ended, and Severus twirled her to a halt before the candlelit arch framing his bedroom door.
When she realised they had stopped, she stepped away from him, as if she were caught up still in the circling dance, and it would take a moment for her to learn again to be still. She was very beautiful to him in the flickering candlelight, and the emotion thrumming through him was such as he had never experienced before.
‘Milady,’ he began, and the hoarseness of his voice sounded strange to his ears. Even so, the hazy look in her eyes disappeared as she fastened her gaze upon his face. He continued then, his voice low-pitched, for her ears alone.
‘I realised today that my distress was not the product of the end of Regency Week. I felt unsettled because I have grown accustomed to the part I assumed this week, as your daily partner and companion, and I am loath to relinquish that role.’
Her response was in the complete stillness of her entire being—as if she dared not draw breath, for fear of missing one word of what he was communicating to her. Then her lips parted, and she moved forward as if to embrace him, but he forestalled her by clasping her hands in his and continuing.
‘I do not want this night to be the end, Milady, but the beginning. I know I have no reason, but dare I hope you feel the same way?’
Her eyes were more brilliant yet, filled with unshed tears as she nodded. When she spoke, her voice was small and husky. ‘Yes,’ she breathed. ‘Yes, you dare—and yes, I do.’
He kissed her hand. ‘Then may I suggest that we adjourn our discussion elsewhere? The portraits may wake up at any time, and I would not care to share your company with anyone else tonight.’
She shocked him by behaving as a Regency lady would never have done and retaliated. Taking his hand, she pressed an open-mouthed kiss to his wrist. ‘That’s an excellent suggestion,’ she murmured, her lips moving against his flesh.
They were now at the sticking point. Severus had always been a courageous wizard and a practised fighter, but as a lover, he felt both craven and inexperienced. Forcefully hurling himself into the unknown, he opened the door, placing a hand at the small of her back to urge her inside.
When she took the step over the threshold, his flush of triumph was heady stuff, indeed.