Chapter Three: The Advocate
Blaise returned to the Novitiate in time to break up a fight between two novices and counsel some nervous Aurors Second Class before supper. He and Hermione, as the senior Aurors in residence, were responsible for the comportment and care of the others. Once he'd become an Auror Third Class, he'd been free to leave the Novitiate, but he hadn't. When asked why not, he'd always inform the questioner that he needed the stipend he received for undertaking his additional duties to the novices; it never failed to amuse him when he was believed.
Herding the trainees into the dining room sometime later, Blaise remarked, "It smells delicious, Auror Granger, but what is it?"
Everyone but Hermione laughed.
"It's beef. Roasted beef in an herb coating."
"Is that why it's green?" he asked, smiling equably and reaching for the serving pieces.
Hermione waved his hands away. "Not yet. Business first," she said, turning to look at the other Aurors and Aurors-in-Training. "Right, those of you who missed your final licensing examinations in August due to the scrofungulus outbreak will be taking them next Monday. Are you ready?"
A murmur of assurance—and a shared moment of disgust by those who had suffered through the outbreak—spread through the room.
"You're sure? You've no last-minute questions?"
"No, Auror Granger," Constance Dellwood, An Auror Second Class, replied. "We're all ready, aren't we?" she asked the others.
"You run a tight ship, Granger," Auror Terry Boot said, smiling at her.
Blaise tried to keep the annoyance he felt at the lack of formality between Hermione and Boot from showing in his face.
"Thank you, Auror Boot," she replied.
Smile any more at that idiot and he'll try something, Auror Granger, Blaise thought, asking, "Now, may I serve? I'm famished, and your green beef looks delicious."
"Hmph," Hermione replied, nodding.
Once everyone had been served, the group broke into smaller ones and conversation flowed as fast as the food onto people's plates. Blaise spent most of dinner discussing shielding charms with some of the trainees, all the while watching Boot trying to ingratiate himself with Hermione. It appeared that they had a great deal in common, and Blaise didn't care for it at all; Hermione was his . . . friend.
"Boot, that's ridiculous!" Hermione exclaimed suddenly. "You can't possibly believe that voting with respect to the Old Ways in Parliament would improve society!"
"I think it's worth considering some of the . . . traditional ways, Granger. Not all pure-bloods hate Muggle-borns, and—"
"The same people who honour the Old Ways tend to be the ones who want to exclude us on the basis of our lack of knowledge of them, and I don't see any of the pure-blood ministers lining up to share 'their' culture with us, or with any of the disenfranchised and under-represented groups in society."
"I agree with Auror Granger," Blaise said, before Boot could respond. "This return-to-wizarding-values business is just a smokescreen for the same old prejudices that helped Voldemort gain a foothold."
"You're a proponent of some of those values, though, aren't you?" Boot asked, his smile fixed and polite.
"I'm from a Registered Family, but that doesn't mean—"
"You're Severus Snape's Advocate in the Courtship Ritual," Boot interrupted, "and I expect that you won't be submitting any Muggle-born names to him."
"I'm afraid you're mistaken in that, but further than what is already public record, I'm not prepared to say."
"Professor Snape is planning to marry?" Hermione asked Blaise.
"He has to, you mean," Boot said.
Hermione wrinkled her brow. "But why?"
"There's something you don't know?" Dellwood asked playfully, to the amusement of some of the junior Aurors.
"Snape's the Head of his Family," Boot answered. "He can't remain so if he's not wed by the end of his forty-seventh year. Blaise is being a good pure-blood relative and helping him out."
"That's Auror Zabini to you," Hermione shot back.
Perhaps you don't have so much in common. "Not all of the old traditions are worth abandoning, as you indicated, Auror Boot, and my cousin wishes to go about things properly."
"Of course he does," Hermione interjected. "You say that he isn't insisting on pure-bloods?"
"Well, there's progress for you," Hermione replied, beaming at Blaise before abruptly changing the subject. "Auror Dellwood, it's your turn to cook tomorrow. Tell me you're not planning on making soup again?"
The meal continued calmly, and then everyone carried their dishes into the kitchen and went their own ways, except for Hermione, Boot, and Blaise.
"Look, I didn't mean to imply—"
"Enough, Terry. You did mean to make Auror Zabini look bad by implying that—"
"I suppose it really should be 'Auror Boot' to you, even in the kitchen, if we're to maintain a formal atmosphere," Blaise interrupted, not liking that Hermione and Boot seemed to have become better friends than he'd realised. "I've brought the platter. Would you like help with the washing up?"
"I can always use another pair of hands."
"Well, I suppose that's my cue to leave. Good night, Aurors Zabini and Granger," Boot said, visibly annoyed.
Hermione sighed. "You're right about decorum, of course, but it's tiresome."
"Master Moody says that if we slip in here, we'll slip out there," Blaise replied, taking a position next to Hermione in front of the sink.
"I think I may have had enough of communal living, to tell you the truth."
Blaise stiffened. "Oh?"
Hermione handed him a dish to rinse. "During the war, it was good to come home to a group of people and feel safe, and I felt needed here, but now I think it might be time to move on."
With whom? "Terry"? "Any particular reason?"
"I'm interested in someone, actually, and I can hardly bring a date back here, can I?"
Blaise dropped the platter he'd been rinsing onto the edge of the sink; it shattered. "H—how clumsy of me. I apologise."
"Reparo!" Hermione cast, and then said, "Don't worry about it."
I'll worry about it if I want to. "'Interested', you said?"
How is that possible? You're always here or on a mission. "Who is it, then?"
"That's a personal question, isn't it? In any case, I'm more interested in hearing about your duties as Professor Snape's Advocate."
"Are you." Answer my question, woman!
"I am. I don't know that much about the Courtship Ritual."
If it's not Boot, then— "I see." How can you stand there washing dishes and looking to enlarge your vast store of knowledge when I'm dying, here?
"What's the matter with you? It was just a dish, and I've fixed it—or is it that you're not allowed to talk about the Courtship Ritual?"
"Boot's an arse!"
Hermione's mouth twitched. "Do you think so?"
"I think he's just trying to flirt by making himself look less of an elitist than he is."
"You're surely not interested in him."
"Who? Boot? What if I am?"
I'll kill him. "Well, bringing him here would hardly be a problem, would it?"
Hermione sighed. "I'm not interested in Boot."
Good, Blaise thought, still wondering with whom Hermione had become involved but trying not to make more of an arse of himself than he already had by pressing her. "I don't see why you'd want to leave," he said abstractedly, adding as an afterthought, "you could always do what I do and book a room at the Hog's Head."
"That's what you do, is it? How kind of you to share, Auror Zabini," Hermione said frostily, shoving the last plate into his hands and looking around. "Well, I think we're done here. Good night."
What did I say? Blaise wondered, watching Hermione storm out of the kitchen and reviewing his words. Oh. Oh, I am an idiot. "Damn it!" I'm never going to be able to . . . if she leaves, he thought, turning the light out and heading for his room.
It had been a long day for Blaise, and he was exhausted, but he couldn't stop thinking about what he'd said to Hermione. How will she ever take me seriously, now? And just when things were beginning to go so well. Wonderful. That's quite a mouth you've got on you, Zabini.
Hermione had never taxed Blaise for his promiscuity after Voldemort's defeat, but she had also never responded to him romantically at all. In fact, she'd only begun to take an interest in him after he'd taken on his added responsibilities at the Novitiate.
"And now I've put her off again," he said to himself, as he pulled off his clothing until he was only wearing his pants and then took himself to bed.
Not ten minutes later, he heard the fire sputter; the sound was immediately followed by Severus' angry voice.
"Blaise, what is the meaning of this rubbish?"
Blaise rolled over and looked at the stiff sheet of parchment that Severus was waving. "Ah, Madam Malkin sent you the preliminary sketches, did she? Good. I quite liked them. They'll show off your best features to advantage."
"I won't wear them! They're preposterous! They're . . . obscene."
"They're fitted, and you will wear them. As your Advocate, it's my resp—"
"You're thinking more as an abbess than an Advocate. How could I even walk in these?"
"There are side slits, and Madam Malkin assures me that the robes will be quite comfortable. Now, if you'd be good enough to allow me to slee—"
"You're not going to sleep until you explain to me why it is necessary to tart me up. This set of robes," Severus continued, jabbing a finger at one sketch, "looks like something that buffoon Lockhart would wear!"
"In deep forest green? Hardly. The robes are quite tasteful, and they'll show off some of that hidden musculature of yours," Blaise replied, sitting up.
"My 'musculature' is to remain hidden!"
A burst of laughter erupted from the other side of Blaise's door.
"Just a minute," he said, rising.
When he opened his door, Hermione was rushing down the corridor.
"Auror Granger?" Blaise called, amused. "Were you spying on me?"
"Of course not. I was coming from the loo when I heard—you really should set an Imperturbable, you know. Professor Snape's voice is rather distinctive."
Blaise smirked as Hermione's gaze followed the line of his body from his feet to his head. You're lovely when you blush. "Since you're awake, would you mind offering a second opinion on something?"
Hermione took a step forward, and then stopped, averting her eyes. "You might want to dress yourself. It's not prop—"
"Just a moment," Blaise interrupted, ducking into his room and throwing on his dressing gown. "Severus, would the opinion of one of the most appropriate witches ever born soothe your concerns?"
"I knew it! You have been discussing me with Granger."
"I haven't been, but I'm sure we can agree that if she thinks the robes aren't . . . daring, it would be a good sign," Blaise replied. He then called to Hermione, "It's safe to come in, now!"
Hermione entered the room and looked into the fire rather than at Blaise. "Good evening, Professor Snape. Congratulations on undertaking the Courtship Ritual."
Severus' eyes glittered in a manner that Blaise didn't like as he responded, "Good evening and thank you, Auror Granger. Working late?"
"Oh, I was . . . just going to bed, sir, when Blai—Auror Zabini—stopped me in the corridor. Now then, what is it you wished my opinion of?" she asked, turning to Blaise.
Blaise had no idea what Severus was thinking as he glanced from him to Hermione, but he suspected, by virtue of the subtle, unwonted gleefulness of Severus' expression, that he was going to be teased for his own blushes in Hermione's presence. "My second cousin is . . . disturbed by the cut of his formal robes—the ones he'll be wearing throughout the Courtship Ritual—and I thought perhaps he needed a second opinion."
"Oh, I'd love to see them," Hermione said eagerly, approaching the hearth.
Severus obligingly held up the sketches. "They're too . . . modern."
"I disagree, sir. They're a bit . . . fitted, but I think you can carry off the look."
"You see?" asked Blaise. "I told you—"
"Auror Granger," Severus interrupted, "I wonder if your schedule would permit you to assist me in the Courtship Ritual?"
"Oh, of course. I'd be happy to help in any way that I could."
Blaise looked suspiciously at Severus.
"I'm not certain if you're aware of it, but I've already arranged a male escort to various functions. As my list of Eligibles also contains witches, I find it necessary to indicate my preference—or lack thereof—by engaging the services of a female escort. Would you be so kind as to accept my request that this escort be yourself?"
You bastard! Blaise raged. You sly, sneaking bastard! "What an excellent idea, Severus. As the Scroll will have both pure-blood and Muggle-borns on it, what better way to indicate your preferences." I hate you, I hate you, I hate—
"I'd love to, sir. I accept."
"Then you must call me Severus, for this will mean your name will also appear on the Scroll of Eligibles."
Blaise set his jaw against the overly silken tone of Severus' voice.
"Thank you, Severus, and you must call me Hermione."
"Of course. Well then, if you believe the robes are acceptable, I'll have them made. Good night, Hermione."
Severus ended the fire-call without even looking at Blaise.
Bastard. "How very helpful of you, but whatever will your 'someone' think?"
Hermione smirked. "I'm sure it won't be a problem. In fact, given the social functions I'll have to attend, this will give me an opportunity to see more of him. Tell me, who's Severus' male escort?"
"Harry," Blaise ground out, jealousy causing his stomach muscles to clench.
"What? Really? That's . . . interesting. I think I'd best fire-call him and tell him my news, then. I'm glad I could be of help. Good night, Auror Zabini. It pleases me immensely that you think highly enough of me to involve me in your affairs."
Hermione left the room, and Blaise closed the door after her with an abrupt hand gesture, wondering how he'd allowed things to get so out of hand. He'd often dreamt of inviting Hermione to his room, but in them, he'd been the one doing the flirting.
It didn't comfort him a whit, as Severus' Advocate, to discover that his second cousin could flirt.
"I'm going to kill him."