My beta readers for this project were Lariope and DeeMichelle; my beta picker was MagicAlly. Alpha readers were Mischievous_T, Annie Talbot, Machshefa, and Lady_Rhian. I am indebted to them all.
My dear husband, SubHub, was my co-conspirator every step of the way in this story, and if you see something terribly clever, most likely, it is his hand at work.
For Hogwarts: A Regency Gamble
September 2001 to June 2002
'Therefore, it can be seen that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is bankrupt. The extraordinary expense of renovations following the Battle of Hogwarts has depleted operating expenses so completely that, at the end of the summer term, the school must close its doors.' Beanie Counter-McPhail completed his report of the dismal state of the school's finances and resumed his seat, fussily straightening his multitude of parchment sheets into perfect alignment.
As if to underline the calamitous nature of the words still hanging in the air of the first floor conference room, the clock on the mantelpiece chimed the hour, and the Headmaster consulted his pocket watch to substantiate its veracity. It was six o'clock, and the Board of Governors' meeting dragged on still.
Lucius Malfoy, splendid as ever in silver robes that exactly matched his eyes, smoothly took charge of the meeting again.
'Our thanks to our Treasurer,' he said, and allowed the assembled Governors to murmur their appreciation to the Ministry accountant who served as their financial officer. 'As we covered at our last meeting, there is sufficient operating capital to provide for the remainder of this school year.' Lucius stood, lifting the serpent-tipped cane in his hand and gesturing with it towards the blackboard. Affixed there were tedious charts with madly squiggling multi-coloured lines of financial doom. 'The adjustments to the debt structure and diversification of the shares portfolio will more than correct for the temporary shortfall—in three years' time.'
Voices continued on in the same vein, and the Headmaster, who had heard it all before, shifted in his chair, permitting his restless gaze to take note of the lengthening September shadows visible upon the grounds. How had Dumbledore suffered through these dreary meetings for so long? The old man had been Headmaster for decades.
Movement below drew his attention as he became aware of a small group trodding along the path to the castle doors, two women and a man. His lip curled at the sight of the unmistakeably messy black hair of the male. Good God, a Board of Governor's meeting anda visit from Potter, all in one day? Whom had he offended so grievously as to deserve this fate?
He was at a stand to identify the females, though. One was a slender creature with long, golden, curly hair and fluttering, feminine robes; the other was a deliciously curved woman clad in tailored Muggle business attire … and much more to his taste. The close-fitting skirt stopped at her knees, permitting a satisfactory glimpse of stocking-clad legs and heels just high enough to emphasise the shapely calves. The neat white blouse tucked into the dark skirt served to accentuate the dip of her waist before the flare of her hips, which swayed slightly with each purposeful step she took. It was a shame he had failed to notice her before she had passed him—it would have been nice to see her front, always his favourite bit—and the cloche she wore in place of a witches' hat hid her hair from him completely.
Seeing such a vision was akin to a drowning man sighting a flotation device—though his ocean was one of endless figures and calculations—and the woman's figure was far superior to anything the accountants had to offer. Thus it was with an incongruous smirk that he allowed Lucius to reclaim his attention.
'That leaves us with the necessity of providing for school years beginning in 2003 and 2004. We would like to address the chief problems—that there are no funds to support the underprivileged students' tuition—and there has been no pay rise for the staff for the fourth year running.'
The Governors flicked their eyes uncomfortably towards the Headmaster, who sat with his deputy and a number of his teachers at one end of the massive conference table. The Hogwarts teachers returned these glances with stern, authoritarian stares, as only professional educators can do. The deadliest of these glares was from Professor Mortelle, his new Defence mistress. The woman would have unnerved the Dark Lord—no wonder Lucius was entranced.
The Governors looked quickly away again.
Griselda Marchbanks spoke up in her quivering voice. 'Lucius, hasn't the Ministry for Magic appointed a committee to research the problem?'
The door opened, and Harry Potter entered, stopping to hold the door for the two women who followed him into the room.
'I apologize for our tardiness, Mr Malfoy,' Hermione Granger said confidently, plucking the dark felted hat from her head and allowing her appalling hair to fall to her shoulders.
The Headmaster could only stare in tight-lipped annoyance. Hermione Granger?
'Miss Granger is Senior Assistant to the Minister for Special Projects, Madam Marchbanks. She heads the Ministry committee you were speaking of,' Lucius said smoothly, inviting the Granger girl forward with a gesture of one manicured hand. 'Would you introduce your companions to us?' he said to her.
'Penelope Clearwater,' Granger said, indicating the pretty blond, who nodded and smiled, 'and everyone knows this young man, I suppose.'
Potter grinned at the murmured greetings and ducked his chin in a way that made the Headmaster want to smack him on the back of the head.
Granger then took charge of the meeting as if she had been born to boss, which was, the Headmaster admitted, nothing but the truth. But who would have thought the buck-toothed, bushy-haired know-it-all would grow into such a toothsome morsel?
'Our recommendation is, frankly, nothing less than fundraising,' she was saying, and the Governors were focussing on her as if she were an authority—an adult! Some of the doddering old fools were even taking notes.
With an inward smirk, the Headmaster took up his quill, deciding that doodling whilst the girl assumed he was attending to her tiresome ramblings would be a satisfactory pastime. It would not do, of course, for his teachers—much less his deputy—to catch him at it, but he could prevent that easily enough. The Half-Blood Prince had created a number of eminently useful spells for students who were seldom thinking of class, even when they were inclass. He cast one of these as he sketched a caricature with protruding front teeth and meticulously rendered, wildly spiralling hair.
'… throughout term time, with a major fundraising project to take place during the summer hols … Harry, hold this where the Governors can see it.'
She thrust a chart into Potter's hands, and the twit stood obediently at her side, holding the drawing as if he were no more than an easel upon which Granger placed her exhibits. It was, in fact, a perfect use of The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Make-The-Headmaster's-Past-An-Open-Book-to-the-Public.
Nice one, Granger, he commended her silently.
His eyes moved to her again, noting that if one paid no mind to her teeth-grindingly earnest face, her front was quite as satisfactory as the back view had been. The womanly curve of her bottom was balanced by the bosom which filled her simple white office blouse as agreeably as her bum filled the skirt beneath it. It never failed to amaze him when one of his students—particularly a most irritatingone—grew to be a comely woman, for he never thought of them as sexual beings when they were under his care. No, not even when he was forcefully peeling one from the co-conspirator of her mad-brained choice on the Astronomy Tower, after curfew.
Of course, he had never been troubled to perform that particular agency for Granger. He had kept a particular eye on her during the horrific year of the Triwizard Tournament, for the Durmstrang champion had made the little Gryffindor the object of his attentions—and his affections—but those demonstrations, which had overwrought the adolescent wizard with predictable results, had scarcely moved the girl. She had emerged, slightly ruffled, from the Bulgarian's embraces and tripped off to her tower dormitory without a backward glance, leaving Krum quite dissatisfied.
'With the use of the Arithmantic equation I designed especially for this analysis, the cost-to-benefit projections have shown that a Hogwarts Regency Week, to be held the first week in August, would raise …'
'What?' The Headmaster would normally have cringed at the yelping quality of that particular expostulation, but he had no time to worry about it now. 'Have you lost what passes for your mind, Granger?'
Of course he hadn't meant to sound quite so denigrating, but the tight-lipped expression shot at him by Lucius, coupled with the pain of the sharp kick delivered to his calf by the pointy-toed boot upon Deputy Headmistress McGonagall's foot, informed him that he had crossed a line.
The girl's eyebrows arched, and she turned to face him, fearless in her self-assurance. 'Perhaps you could tell me what your objections are, Headmaster, and I would be happy to explain further.'
'What profit could possibly be gained from such a preposterous scheme?' he demanded. 'Surely the cost of staging it would far outweigh …'
Granger nodded, as if agreeing with him, but when she spoke again, she addressed the Governors. 'The castle is virtually unused during the summer hols,' she said. 'There would be no cost for the rooms to be prepared for use by paying guests, and the house-elves are already in place to provide food and resort-calibre service. Much of the food to be consumed will be provided by the castle gardens, chicken coops, and livestock herds. Madam Malkin has signed on as an event sponsor, and the advertising she will receive as a consequence has bought for us a substantial reduction in her prices for Regency costumes.'
'Costumes?' the Headmaster snapped. 'You expect people to pay for the misery of wearing period costumes?'
The girl marched over and laid a folder before him. He noted the slightly tarnished Celtic knot ring adorning her left hand. Wasn't she involved with the youngest Weasley boy?
'You'll find the material from my research in here,' she said with exaggerated patience. 'There are brochures from Muggle resorts that provide similar services, including their fee schedules, as well as information on the wizarding shopkeepers who are willing to sponsor our event and provide discounts.' She flipped the folder open and indicated a parchment sheet covered with her neat handwriting. 'I've provided a summary here and a conversion of all the Muggle prices into wizarding money equivalents.'
The Headmaster stiffened; she was standing too close to him, the scents of her cosmetics and other preparations inundating his finely-tuned olfactory senses. Going on the offensive, he stood, towering over her, but she held her ground.
Looking directly into his face with warm brown eyes, she reiterated, 'Let me know if you have any questions. I'll be happy to provide additional information.'
He did not speak, for he was too angry to do so, although he had no notion of why that was so. It was a stupid idea, to be sure, but why did it provoke such combativeness in him?
The blond woman—Penelope Clearwater, a former student—slipped between them and placed a delicate hand upon his sleeve. 'I will explain to you, sir,' she said breathlessly, looking up into his face with melting blue eyes. 'Would you like to discuss it over dinner? My treat, of course.'
Severus Snape snatched the folder from the table and strode from the room without a backward glance.
The Board of Governors met again three months later, in December, but the Headmaster sent his deputy to the meeting in his stead and remained in his office. No impertinent former students could get into his office without knowledge of the password, but old friends were undeterred by such considerations.
Lucius Malfoy strolled into his office with the insouciance Severus had always envied.
'Skiving off your duties, Headmaster?' Lucius asked, pausing before a table and prodding a delicate silver instrument with one meditative finger.
'Don't touch that,' Severus snapped waspishly. Lucius did not respond, so Severus addressed his back. 'I have far more important things to do than listen to you lot prattle on about nothing.'
Malfoy glanced over his shoulder, his grey eyes far too perspicacious for the Headmaster's comfort. 'But the lovely Miss Clearwater was present, and she asked after you. Might be a touch of hero worship going on there.'
The Headmaster did not dignify that barb with a response.
'Come, old chap, you promised me dinner at the High Table tonight,' Malfoy reminded him. 'Leave off pretending to be busy and keep your word—the intriguing Professor Mortelle awaits.'
'Very well,' the Headmaster said sourly, abandoning his completely clear desk to lead the way to the Great Hall.
They descended the spiral staircase and walked down the corridor, the long legs of each man matching the other, stride for stride. They did not converse as they moved down the staircases, for Severus was considering the Christmas holiday looming ahead of him, and his companion was rapt in contemplation of his own. They were in the Entrance Hall when a clamour of voices and pounding from down a side corridor attracted their attention.
Prepared to silence the offenders and send them about their business, the Headmaster entered the room, astounded to see that it was being remodelled in the fashion of a gentleman's club, such as those prevalent during the nineteenth century …
His thoughts were derailed at the scene which met his eyes. Two trained trolls, used most often for heavy labour, stood to one side, holding up crown moulding, as if they had been in the act of placing it when they were halted. Three ladders were set against the walls, and at the top of two of them stood house-elves with carpenter's belts draped across them like Mexican bandoleers. The elves were listening intently to the human standing on the centre ladder, wearing an old-fashioned carpenter's hat. It was a woman, as evidenced by the skin-tight jeans she wore, topped by a shirt that was no longer tucked in, because the woman's arms were up, gesturing as she explained what she wanted. Her lower back, bare and smooth, was exposed to the chilly air. The Headmaster permitted himself the veriest moment to appreciate the uncovered flesh before noticing the tall, ginger-haired man standing off to the side. It was Ronald Weasley, his arms crossed defensively over his chest as the woman belaboured her point.
The Headmaster stepped forward. 'Miss—' he began, and the woman twisted around to glare at him, moving so quickly that her cap flew from her head, allowing a mass of brown tangles to escape.
'I might have known it was you, considering the evidence,' the Headmaster shot at her, spurred to go on the offensive by an impulse he couldn't control.
Granger climbed down the ladder and marched up to him. 'Evidence of what?' she demanded.
His lip curled into a sneer. 'Bossing others about—and knowing it all, of course.'
She opened her mouth to reply, but Lucius stepped into the breach. 'I say, Miss Granger, this is the spit of the old Wizard's Club in London.'
Granger smiled, and the smile transformed her features, lighting her eyes and softening her mouth. Severus looked away from her.
'Thank you!' she said. 'I was able to find the original blueprints in the Ministry building archives, but we're only going to do the one room.'
'Gods be praised,' the Headmaster muttered.
The girl gave no indication that she even heard him. She turned aside to place a placating hand on the Weasley boy's arm, and though she spoke softly to him, the cretin jerked away from her and climbed the ladder she had vacated.
'Dinner,' Lucius prodded, taking Severus' elbow and compelling him into the corridor again.
Three months later, when the Governors met, the Headmaster contrived to be out of the castle. Returning from his annual visit with the Healers at St Mungo's, he was pleased to think they would have all cleared off by now. He entered the enormous front doors of the castle, unwinding the scarf from about his scarred throat, and was stunned to see a woman in a nineteenth century ball gown hurrying down the staircase from the first floor.
Her hair wasn't up in a cap this time, but he didn't need to see her hair to know her. It was Hermione Granger, and the high-waisted dress suited her somehow. Even so, the garment was not made for running down stairs, and Severus wasn't at all surprised when she tripped and went flying. With great presence of mind, he flew to meet her, so that when her body impacted his, he had no way to steady either of them, and he hit the marble floor with Granger atop him.
'I'm sorry!' she cried, scrambling off and peering down into his face. 'Are you hurt?'
True to the time period, the neckline of her gown scooped deeply, revealing a fair bit of cleavage. His head was going to ache like the devil before long, but the coming pain would be almost worth it … for the view.
'Hermione!' Weasley appeared at the top of the stairs, his expression unhappy.
Severus heaved himself to his feet, suppressing a groan. 'I am unhurt,' he lied to the girl.
She looked at him closely. 'I don't believe you,' she said, ignoring her swain, who called to her a second time.
'Getting into character?' Severus asked, wishing to take her focus from his possible hurts. 'Aren't you starting a bit early?'
She laughed, her expression lightening considerably, and Weasley began to stomp down the staircase. Still ignoring the boy, she said to Severus, 'I just wanted to show the Governors an example of the costuming Madam Malkin will be providing for us,' she explained. Weasley came up behind her, and she indicated the ridiculous tail coat and knee breaches he was wearing. 'This is the men's formal wear,' she explained.
Weasley wrapped a hand about her upper arm. 'I was just joking with you,' he said, sotto voce.
Granger pulled away from him. 'I didn't find it amusing,' she said angrily.
Weasley looked wounded. 'You used to think I was funny,' he said, and it sounded like an accusation.
Granger turned and swept away from them without answering. Unwilling to remain and become the possible repository of unwanted confidences, Severus said, 'Good evening, Weasley,' and began the long climb to his quarters to nurse his hurts.
When the Board of Governors met in June, it fell to Severus' lot to escort them about, showing them the preparations which had been made for the Hogwarts Regency Week event. They toured the gentleman's club, the gaming room, and the different saloons and reception rooms, each decorated in authentic Regency style—which was to say, apparently, in a hodgepodge of Chinoiserie, classic Grecian lines, hideous animal-leg sofas and sideboards, and bloody uncomfortable chairs, all upholstered in nauseating colours and garish materials.
'Where will you hold the hunt, Headmaster?' Madam Marchbanks inquired, leaning heavily upon her walking stick.
Lucius stepped close to the old woman. 'The hunt will be at Malfoy Manor,' he said, sounding rather offhand about it. 'We have a number of thoroughbreds in the stables now, and we've a line on borrowing more as needed. Will you be riding out with us, Griselda?'
Severus had to admire his friend's relentless charm. Madam Marchbanks, a terrific crony of Augusta Longbottom's, had been one of the holdouts on permitting Malfoy to resume his place on the Board of Governors. She had a long memory and little use for 'so-called reformed Death Eaters' as she termed them. Still, Lucius had persistently shown the old termagant nothing but a mixture of respect and gentle raillery, until he broke through her defences.
Now she laughed, a harsh bark followed by a coughing fit. 'Wouldn't you look foolish if I did, you shameless tease?' she said. 'The Prophetwould have a field day with that one. "Former Head of Examination Authority Dies Mysteriously at Malfoy Manor."'
Lucius offered his arm, and the old witch placed a claw-like hand upon his sleeve. He replied, 'More like, "Distinguished Horsewoman Marchbanks Leads the Field in Regency Hunt at Malfoy Manor,"' he replied, leading her on to the next room.
The cavernous area given over to Madam Malkin's wares and her cohort of tailors was much exclaimed over, and Severus was not surprised to see a true excitement for the project growing in the Governors themselves. After all, the Granger girl had been clever enough to give them all a discounted price to join in the event, and many of them would be present as participants. Granger had been very clever in many ways; there was no getting around it. She had goaded and hounded wizarding business owners into supporting the idea, had extorted discounts from them, had marketed her project in all the major wizarding newspapers and periodicals across the English-speaking world and the Continent, and had filled up every open spot available for participants. The expected revenues from this Hogwarts Regency Week far exceeded her original projections, and it appeared that by the time the Governors met again in September, the two years' of shortfall would be naught but a memory.
Single-handedly, the ferocious Brain of the Golden Trio had engineered the rescue of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from bankruptcy—barring, of course, utter disaster.