Chapter Eight: The Male Escort
Hermione arrived at Twelve, Grimmauld Place to find Harry in something of a state as he stared at himself in the mirror.
"I don't know what to do with my hair!"
"It's fine, but those robes are—"
Exactly like Severus'. "A bit more stylish than the ones you're used to wearing, I suppose," Hermione dissembled, "and they bring out the colour of your eyes."
"That's not all they bring out," Harry said uncertainly, turning to view his arse in the mirror. "These robes are too—"
"Fitted," Hermione supplied, suppressing a giggle.
Harry looked at her sceptically. "I don't suppose you could help me charm my hair?"
"Your hair is charming just the way it is."
"I doubt he'll think so. 'Potter, I told you that this was a formal affair'," Harry said, mimicking Severus.
Hermione did laugh then. "Really Harry, you shouldn't be so worried."
"Who says I'm worried?"
"Sit. I'll try to manage your hair."
"You look exactly the way a proper escort should."
Hermione smiled at the compliment. She was wearing crimson velvet dress robes that were cut to fit closely to her torso before cascading dramatically to her feet, and they made her feel pretty.
"Thank you. Madam Malkin seemed keen to see me in red."
Harry snorted. "She's quite sure of herself on the subject of robes."
"So she is, but I'm not certain that I can tame your hair," Hermione replied, trying yet another grooming spell. "You'll just have to look the dashing, unruly haired hero, I'm afraid."
"He won't like that."
"I'm not fretting."
"Yes, you are. It's kind of cute, actually."
"That's super—a cute, unruly haired hero—just the thing for Snape."
Exactly. "So, did Severus ever contact you again?"
Hermione wanted to laugh, but she didn't. "He must be fretting, as well. It can't be easy for him, being the subject of so much attention and speculation. Did you see this morning's Prophet?"
"If he hexes anyone, it'll be Skeeter for calling him 'that most notorious and ill-mannered wizard, Severus Sebastian Snape'."
"'Who is embarking on that most revered of all wizarding marital rituals as he undertakes to find a bride'."
"At least she got that wrong. I mean," Harry added quickly, "she doesn't seem to know he likes men, as well. But I don't suppose Snape will care about that."
"No, but he won't like the next edition of Witch Weekly, either. Ginny tells me that her editor is insisting that the staff dig up as much dirt as possible on Severus' old romances."
Harry snorted. "Poor Ginny. She won't find anything."
"I'm not so sure. Severus' . . . association with Lucius Malfoy was the talk of society just after he left Hogwarts, you know," Hermione said casually, bringing up the subject now so that Harry wouldn't hear it first at the gala.
"I didn't," he replied, looking disgusted. "How did you know that? That can't be true, can it?"
"Malfoy took an interest in him after he left Hogwarts, Harry. He was always sending Severus letters during his seventh year, and Severus spent his first summer after leaving Hogwarts at Malfoy Manor. I looked up old articles in the Prophet's social section, and Malfoy and Severus were often photographed together."
"I wonder if that's why . . . ."
"He became a Death Eater? It may have had something to do with it. In all the times you were on missions together, did you never talk about—"
"No, never. Se—Snape never told me anything remotely personal about himself. We fought most of the time, to tell you the truth."
Pent up sexual frustration, no doubt. "I suppose it's best not to speculate. I'm just concerned that the rehashing of the press coverage will upset Severus."
"Do you have to keep saying his name like that?"
"What? You'd prefer I use a funny accent? Really, Harry, he'll invite you to call him by his first name soon enough."
Harry didn't appear convinced.
"In any case, I think we'll need to keep Skeeter away from Se—him, or there'll be trouble," Hermione said. Harry didn't reply. "Harry?"
"Huh? Were you saying something?"
"We'll need to keep Skeeter away from Severus."
"I should leave that to you, since you know him so well."
"Don't be such git, Potter."
Harry sighed. "Sorry."
"You should be."
"Anyway, if Skeeter takes that Quick Quotes Quill of hers anywhere near him, I'll be ready."
"I'll keep an eye out for her, as well," Harry replied, frowning.
"What is it?"
"It's just . . . when did you become so protective of Snape?"
"You really are an idiot, sometimes, you know that? You're acting jealous of me, which is odd, given that you don't fancy Severus," Hermione said, raising a pointed eyebrow at Harry.
He blushed. "Y—you're right. Just nerves, I guess. I hate these sorts of parties."
"Well, Ginny and Colin will be there, so you can talk to them if you feel out of place. I think they've already come up with an idea to waylay Skeeter, too."
"Colin? I haven't seen him since Dennis' funeral. He's not dating Gin, is he?"
Hermione scoffed. "Of course not. He's a photographer for Witch Weekly, remember? Now he works exclusively with Ginny. He's really come into his own lately. I think he's finally put his brother's death behind him."
Dennis had died bravely during the war in an attempt to drag a wounded and dying Fred from a Hogsmeade street that was swarming with harpies. George had been lost on the same day as his brother when his despair over Fred's death had driven him back out into the fighting. He'd managed to take out the horror of harpies—and a great many Death Eaters—by exploding several enhanced Weasleys' Wild-Fire Whiz-Bangs in their midst. Unfortunately, well, purposefully, Hermione was certain, George had been caught in the explosion.
No one knew how Percy had died; his remains had been anonymously owled to the Burrow before the last battle. Hermione shuddered to remember how distraught Mrs Weasley had been after the authentication spell was performed.
So were Padma and Parvati, Hermione thought, frowning to remember all the death.
The Patil twins now ran Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, and they gave divinations on the side. They had seen too much of war to desire serious careers, and as both had been due to wed the Weasley twins—Parvati to Fred, Padma to George—it had seemed appropriate that Harry, as the majority shareholder of the joke shop, should give it to the girls.
Hermione blinked back tears and smiled slightly to think of Harry's generosity. No matter what happens to him, he's always so kind. I wish he'd feel more secure about—
"Hmm?" she asked, Harry's question breaking her reverie.
"Ginny and Colin have a plan, you said?"
"I don't want to spoil their surprise, of course, but let's just say that Skeeter had best be on good behaviour, or she'll regret it."
"Skeeter's never on her best behaviour."
A small pop! startled both of them as Dobby appeared. "Harry Potter! Hermione Granger! The Severus is here!"
"'The Severus'?" Hermione mouthed to Harry, who blushed furiously. Hermione was delighted. He has been thinking of Severus! I'll have to see if I can't get Dobby to tell me how much, later.
Dobby, who'd always insisted on looking after Harry when he was "home," would no doubt be able to tell her a great deal.
"Thank you, Dobby. Please tell Professor Snape we'll be right down."
"Yes, Harry Potter, Dobby will," he said, disappearing.
"Are you sure I loo—I'm appropriately dressed?"
Hermione smiled warmly at Harry's uncertainty. "You look very handsome. He'll approve, I promise."
"Er, thanks. Why don't you go ahead? I want to try to smooth down my hair."
"Good luck with that."
Hermione rushed down to Severus. "Forgive me, but these won't do," she said, drawing her wand and pointing it at his robes.
Severus grasped the wrist of her wand-hand. "What do you intend to do?"
"I think Madam Malkin's had a bit of a laugh at your expense."
"What?" Severus asked, paling somewhat.
"Oh, I don't mean that you look bad—it's just that she's given Harry the exact same set of robes, and I don't think he'd take it well to discover that. He's nervous enough as it is."
Severus removed his hand. "Very well."
Hermione murmured a haberdashery spell at once, and a network of fine embroidery in black silk thread began sliding over the cuffs, neckline, and hem of Severus' robes. "Oh, very nice."
"Thank you, but why should Potter be nervous? He's receiving yet another award, and he's not the one being forced to parade about like a peacock for the delectation of the peahens."
"Shouldn't that be 'peafowl', all things considered?" Harry asked from the doorway, sounding more confident than he had before, which told Hermione that he'd only caught the tail end of her conversation with Severus.
"Potter, you don't look that bad," Severus replied.
Hermione frowned as Harry's face fell, and she looked sharply at Severus.
"That is to say, you don't look bad at all. Your robes are more than appropriate."
"Th—thanks," Harry said, taking in Severus' appearance. "You look . . . ."
"Remarkably handsome, both of you," Hermione interjected, beaming at them. "This is very exciting! Lethifolds can be killed, and the two of you worked it out together. That's smashing."
"Miss Millblossom had rather more to do with it than I—and Potter, of course."
"Exactly. Without her—"
"I didn't mean to discount your contribution, Potter."
"Nor I yours, Professor Snape, but—"
"Why are you referring to me by a title that no longer means anything to you?"
"What?" Harry asked, obviously confused.
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek, marvelling at how abysmally stupid both men were being.
"I'm no longer your professor, and you're one of my escorts. Surely you realise how ridiculous it would sound if you called me 'Professor Snape' in public?"
Hermione watched Harry's expression sour, but only just, as Severus chastised him. You could have just asked him to call you by name, you know, you great dunderhead, she thought at Severus, crossing her arms in disapproval as she turned to stare at him.
Harry cleared his throat. "It's not as though you've ever asked me to call you anything else."
Severus looked as though he might insult Harry for a moment, and Hermione was relieved to hear him say, "You must call me Severus," instead.
"Must I?" Harry shot back.
Hermione held her breath. Oh, no.
"Call me Severus, please," Severus replied stiffly.
Oh, thank Merlin. "So, what's the plan for this evening? Whom will you escort?" Hermione asked quickly, hoping to avoid any further tension between Harry and Severus.
Severus smirked. "I rather thought to arrive with both of you."
"Did you?" Hermione asked. "Do you want to invite speculation?"
"As there will be speculation regardless, I feel it best to make—"
"No, Harry. A splash. Blaise is insisting upon it."
Hermione grinned as Harry straightened up a bit to hear Severus call him by name. Well, I suppose a little tension wouldn't hurt.
"Is there a problem, Mr—Harry?" Severus asked.
"No. I've . . . just not been to one of these things in awhile. . . . I was surprised to learn that Mary was coming."
Severus smiled, and Hermione was amused to hear Harry's gasp. Yes, he's human. Get used to it, she thought, having now developed an appreciation of Severus' humanity during their recent correspondence about the Courtship Ritual—among other things.
"Mary Millblossom," Severus said, "is quite the most brilliant Spellcraftre I've ever encountered. Her transmutation of the Lethifold repellent was inspired."
"Yes, brilliant witches everywhere," Harry remarked grumpily. "I mean, I'm sure she'd appreciate hearing your praise of her, Pro—Severus. She keeps up with your work in Potions Monthly, and she seemed rather impressed that I knew you, uh, well."
"Of course she was," Hermione said graciously. "But all the same, should we really be going together?"
"Hermione, I feel you'll have to divide your time amongst us, this evening," Severus replied.
"As my Advocate, Blaise will no doubt find himself besieged by people seeking to gain an advantage for themselves, or for whom they represent, and he'll need a respite. When it's appropriate, if you'd partner him in a dance or two, I'd appreciate it."
"Oh," she said, feeling her face grow hot. "I'd be happy to do that."
"Well, that's good," Harry said, "because I don't dance."
"No, if what I've seen of your dancing in the past is anything by which to judge."
"I can dance, but—"
"Good, then perhaps you'll demonstrate this hidden talent later this evening by dancing with me, as it will be expected."
Hermione watched Harry blush, as well, and tried not to laugh. He's no doubt wondering how he could possibly dance and be free to draw his wand should he need to.
It was something the two of them had discussed in the past.
"Um, sure," said Harry, after a moment's hesitation.
Severus grimaced. "It's only a dance. You needn't look so alarmed."
"Severus," Hermione interrupted quickly, to prevent any further bickering, "I don't mean to pry, but is there someone in particular to whom we should . . . sing your praises? I've read that Supplicants often begin the Courtship Ritual with an Eligible in mind."
"No. I believe that I'll respect Blaise's wishes in the matter of giving all my Eligibles a chance."
"You must hate this," Harry said.
Severus stared at Harry but said nothing, so Hermione asked, "Will there be anyone from your Family present this evening?"
"Evessa—Mrs Parkinson and my elder sister—was not certain she would be free to attend, but other than Blaise and Marazelle, no."
"Severus, Marazelle is a Spellcraftre, isn't that right?"
"Yes, Harry. Why do you ask?"
"Only that Blaise included a few of them on your Scroll, and I was wondering why."
"I've always been interested in the art, and Blaise knows this. He's taking his responsibilities towards me seriously."
"Well then, I expect we should go—by Apparation?" Hermione asked.
Harry started. "Um, good question?" he asked.
Hermione almost laughed. Lost in thought again, I see. He's adorable, all befuddled by Severus. I'm going to enjoy watching the two of them almost as much as I will torturing Blaise.
Severus looked at her and, with a smirk, said, "No. We'll Disapparate to a point near the Ministry and walk the rest of the way. Also . . . ."
"Yes?" prompted Hermione.
"Blaise believes that we should arrive . . . arm in arm," Severus replied, appearing somewhat abashed by the idea, and not, Hermione noted, looking at Harry.
"You did say that you wanted to make a splash," Hermione replied, reaching for Severus' arm.
As Severus offered his other arm to Harry, Hermione heard him take a breath. And Severus is just as adorable, all flummoxed by Harry, she thought, fighting to keep her expression impassive.
She could feel Severus' body relax against hers when, after an almost imperceptible pause, Harry accepted his offered arm.
Unable to help herself, she grinned.
This is going to be so much fun.