Chapter Seven: The Formal Robes
Severus stood in front of his mirror staring at himself in disgust. "My hair is flowing like a Muggle fashion model's!"
"Oh, it is not," Blaise replied indolently.
"You're too drunk to know what I look like."
"Your arse looks high and tight from my position."
Severus spun on Blaise. "Don't tease me."
Blaise reached up to wipe the spittle from his face. "Outstanding lung capacity, too," he said, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
Severus spun back around at once. He hated it when Blaise was in one of his ironic moods. Smoothing down the front of his new robes, he asked, "Why are you being so careless with yourself?"
"Are you threatening me, cousin?"
No wonder Potter stared at me like that, Severus thought, looking again at his ridiculous hair. I look like a fop. "What was that?" he asked, suddenly realising that he'd been ignoring Blaise.
"Why do you plague me with questions if you're not going to listen to my answers?"
"Drunk and petulant—my evening is complete."
"She spent all evening flirting with Boot. With Boot, do you believe it?"
"And what did you say to offend Hermione?"
"Who says I offended her?"
Severus removed his new robes and hung them carefully in his closet before taking the other chair by Blaise and favouring him with an expectant look. When Blaise remained stubbornly silent, he said, "I don't like to think that one of my Eligibles is encouraging the attentions of another man."
Blaise's eyes narrowed. "You're not serious."
"Why shouldn't I be serious about her?"
Choke on it, cousin. "Indeed, I never thought her particularly attractive when she was my student, but she's developed into a most impressive young woman."
"How could you? You know that I—"
"Seem to be losing your characteristic calmness," Severus said, in a caressing way that completely discomfitted Blaise. Such a shame. He believes that he can flirt with impunity, but he has no idea what he should truly be doing with himself—or Hermione. "I suggest that you return to the novitiate and sober up. No, that is out of order," he corrected himself, casting a sobering charm on Blaise. "Better. Better?"
"No," Blaise replied grimly. "You're just teasing me. . . . You are teasing me about Hermione, aren't you?"
Severus allowed the shadow of a smirk to grace his mouth.
"Damn it! You've got twenty-three others to choose from!"
"Go home, Blaise. I'm certain she's waiting up for you."
Blaise stormed out the door muttering, "She's no doubt researching the Courtship Ritual for you, you . . . ."
"Serves you right. The object of your affections is amenable to receiving them."
Severus sighed. He'd often wished that he were more attractive. As it was—and his "new" hair notwithstanding—he found himself lacking in almost every physical respect: he was lean, but not imposing; his eyes shone with a dark light, rather than a pleasing gleam; his face was remarkable, but only to scorn.
"If not for my name and fortune, no one would give me a second glance." How can I hope to attract someone like Harry?
When Severus' elder sister, Evessa Parkinson, had written to him the unwelcome intelligence that her husband, John, intended to petition the Wizengamot to have his title of Head of Family Snape stripped from him should he not marry, Severus had despaired—for how could he possibly persuade anyone to marry him?
Evessa, very much the witch their mother could have been had she not been paired with a brutal, dominating husband, had told him, "Stuff! You're a Snape. You're an accomplished wizard. You're in the prime of your life. You've vaults full of Galleons. You need only the spine to woo, and then you'll have yourself a spouse in no time at all."
"Your confidence in our fortune is—"
"Severus," Evessa had admonished, "do stop being so dramatic. Your theatrical emotional displays have never served you well."
Severus laughed to think of her words, but it soothed him to know that his sister had given him her tacit approval of his potential choice of marital partner. "Spouse." Then she won't oppose my taking a male partner.
He wondered what Evessa would think about his bestowing the Snape name on someone who wasn't a pure-blood.
"As long as there are children, I don't expect she'll care. She has no desire to see her own son controlling the Family. She knows what he is too well."
Severus didn't understand, however, how Evessa could have so easily forgiven him for becoming a Death Eater. He expected it had a great deal to do with the prestige his war honours had conferred on the Family name.
The fire spat and crackled, interrupting his thoughts. Turning, Severus saw Albus' face floating in it.
"Good evening, Severus."
"I was unable to tell you earlier, but Griselda Marchbanks intends to present you, Harry, and Mary Millblossom with the Distinguished Service Medal at the gala this Friday—and I think it might behoove you to invite the lady to the affair yourself, as she isn't fond of travel."
"Does she? What class?"
"First, of course. And you will invite Miss Millblossom?"
"If you think I should, then I will."
"Good. Now then, I believe the gala will be an excellent way to mark the beginning of your courtship of Harry, don't you?"
"What are you—"
"Come now, dear boy, you can't think I don't know."
"He must not know," Severus replied, alarmed.
"Not right away, of course. The shock would kill him."
"Do you disapprove?"
"Certainly not! I think the two of you will make a fine match."
"You presume too much. Potter may not—"
"Don't allow your persistent self-doubt on the subject of Harry to poison your chances with him. You wouldn't want to find yourself in young Mr Zabini's shoes, would you?"
"I don't understand what you mean."
"Of course you do."
"You're forgetting about Susan, Albus—but Blaise hasn't."
A shadow of sorrow crossed Albus' face. "Ah, Auror Bones. Yes, you're quite right. Blaise loved her dearly, but it isn't his memory of Susan that prevents him from making progress with Hermione."
"It's his sense of inferiority to her. Yes, I know."
"Indeed. You don't feel as though Harry is too good for you, do you?"
Severus felt Albus' eyes searching his face and looked away, unable to answer him.
"Forgive me for pressing you, and accept my good wishes as you undertake the Courtship Ritual. I have every confidence that your marriage will be a most successful one."
"Thank you, Albus."
"You're welcome, dear boy," he replied, ending the fire-call.
Severus, annoyed to be feeling so . . . emotional after his conversation with Albus, retrieved his new robes and put them on again.
"They're entirely too tight, but perhaps they'll do after all," he said, his mind turning to Blaise and Susan.
The two of them had been an ill-matched pair, but that hadn't stopped them from falling in love. Susan, despite her retiring manner, had been determined. She'd steadfastly refused to have anything to do with Blaise from the moment he'd displayed an interest in her during their fifth year, but she'd always managed to hold that interest. Her behaviour had maddened Blaise, and he'd gone to great lengths to secure Susan's attention. But it wasn't until Giancarlo, Blaise's father, had arrived to remove him from the school in his seventh year that Susan had made her feelings known to Blaise.
Such a dramatic scene.
Zabini had stormed into the Great Hall, strode up to Blaise, and seized his shoulders, ordering, "Come with me, boy."
"Take your filthy hands off my intended!" Susan had exclaimed.
"How dare you speak to me like that? My son is nothing to you!"
Susan had leapt upon the Slytherin table and asked, "Does anyone here dispute the fact that Blaise Zabini proposed to me yesterday, last week, the month before that, and at the start of this term?"
"I believe," Albus had answered, "that you've forgotten the proposals he made to you in Greenhouse Three and the Room of Requirement, Miss Bones."
Susan had blushed and replied, "Quite right, Headmaster," before turning to glare down at Giancarlo. "Blaise is mine on my word. He declared it in full view of witnesses. As such," she'd continued, sounding very like her Aunt Amelia, who presided over the Wizengamot, "your claim over him as a father is null and void when I give my consent to marry him."
As of course it was, given that it was my permission Susan required, Severus thought.
"I give it now! I will marry Blaise Zabini, and no Death Eater will force him to bleed under the foul Mark of Voldemort!"
Aghast at being publicly accused, Giancarlo had fled from the Great Hall as his son had flung himself at Susan and embraced her. Severus had been both horrified and deeply proud.
Gryffindor-like stupidity marked her for death, and she was always too good for Blaise, he thought, grief making him angry. So badly Sorted. So incautious!
Giancarlo Zabini had taken almost as much pleasure in killing Susan as Blaise had taken in destroying his father, his mother, and the eight other Death Eaters with whom he had found his wife during the final battle over four years before, and it had been Hermione who'd curtailed Blaise's mindless bloodlust before it had got him killed, as well.
I'll never be able to thank her enough for that—but it's no wonder she's hesitant to accept Blaise's attentions. "She knows how much Susan meant to him."
Efforts had been mounted to hold Blaise accountable for the murders of his parents and the others as war crimes, but Amelia Bones had dismissed the charges out of hand. Although Severus despised favouritism, in this instance, he hadn't minded it. As well, he'd been certain, as Blaise had fallen into dissolute ways, that he'd destroy himself with drink and magiceuticals.
But Hermione and Ronald Weasley saved him again, didn't they?
They, with the help of Weasley's brothers—even while grieving Percy, Fred, and George Weasley—had conspired to lock Blaise into a bedroom at the Burrow and leave him there until his system was free of mind-altering substances and he'd been made to see sense.
Severus frowned at himself for his maudlin contemplations, thinking, Now there's an idea with merit—locking Blaise and Hermione in a room together until they see sense. Perhaps I'll discuss that with Harry at the gala.
For what else he might say to his Choice, he didn't know; he wasn't the sort of man who could stand on a table and shout his love to an audience.
And I have no right to expect a love like Susan and Blaise's, do I? Still . . . .
Albus sighed as he slipped into bed. It will take a very great deal for Severus to let go of his guilt and self-hatred and allow himself to be loved.
"What is it?" Minerva asked softly, lifting her head from their shared pillow.
"I want the children to be happy."
"Ah. You spoke to Severus?"
"I wouldn't worry too much about him."
"No. Let Harry realise that he might lose Severus as he's only beginning to realise that he has him, and the boy will fight for what he wants."
"My dear, you're more devious than ever I realised," Albus said, chuckling.
"I learnt it from you, dear."
"I had no idea that you were such a matchmaker."
Minerva smiled suggestively. "There's much about me you don't know."
"Then I present myself to you, your eager student," Albus told her, forgetting the guilt he felt with regard to Severus' appallingly low sense of self-worth.
He'd long ago concluded that guilt was an inappropriate impediment to the enjoyment of life and so never scrupled to indulge in it for very long.