Word Count: 3030
Summary: There are three reasons that Mrs Nott isn't a romantic option for Severus. They're all rubbish, of course.
Disclaimer: This piece is based on characters and situations created by J. K. Rowling, and owned by J. K. Rowling and various publishers, including but not limited to: Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made from and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended by the posting of this fic.
Author's Note: Written for a friend who loves Severus/Daphne as much as I do and prompted me with [M]inistry party, backstory, and manipulation. I hope this suits you, Em! (Yes, you are noticing some of my old RPG material, but I figured you wouldn't mind. *g*)
As far as Severus was concerned, Mrs Nott was not an option, not for him. Daphne Nott, née Greengrass, had been his student; that was strike one against her. Strike two was the fact that she'd trusted him, long ago, with a family secret; he'd been her Head of House at the time, so that had been appropriate, but he knew enough about pureblood customs to know that her trust in him implied a distinct lack of romantic regard. Strike three was that her current work at St Mungo's was overseen by Ministry committee; Severus did what he could to avoid the Ministry's notice at all times, no matter that he'd agreed, at Draco's urging, to make an appearance at the Heroes' Ball.
Fucking remembrance ceremonies, he thought, sipping his wine and wishing for Firewhisky. Fucking Draco and his need to be accepted. Never understood that.
Severus sighed. If he weren't so fond of Draco, he never would have attended. Draco was nervous to be in public so soon after his divorce, particularly on Potter's arm. He'd wanted the moral support of his godfather to meet Astoria and her unknown escort there—she'd had so many since the divorce, something for which Severus could hardly blame her—and Severus had felt that he couldn't refuse Draco's request.
It was due to Draco, after all, that he'd received the funding to found his own magiceutical firm.
Funding which it is almost now within my power to repay. Severus sent his empty glass back to a nearby hovering tray and scanned the room, pointedly allowing his eyes to slide past Mrs Nott as he did so.
He hadn't agreed to attend to see her, after all.
Considering the strikes, it was a wonder he'd looked for her at all. He had to admit to himself that he found her interesting, certainly more so than her younger sister, no matter that the young Mrs Malfoy had always been kind to him. A pleasant, undemanding girl who'd never enjoyed being intellectually stimulated, Astoria made a good mother to Draco's children and a decent cocktail.
But she's nothing to you, is she?
He was annoyed at himself for looking but couldn't help it; Daphne was radiant in the dark green strapless dress she wore, her long brown hair smoothed into an elegant chignon, her eyes sparkling—but not from the wine, he noted, as he hadn't seen her drink that evening. Severus found himself wishing that Theodore Nott hadn't died; if he'd survived his last expedition to parts unknown with the Lovegood girl—and Severus had never believed the rumours that Theo and Lovegood had been more than colleagues—he'd be ever by Daphne's side, lessening by necessity Severus' increasing fascination with her.
Daphne Nott, Mrs Nott, Healer Nott—she was widely published, and in all the journals that Severus read, too. Her mind had been designed for stimulation, it seemed, and that attracted Severus strongly; he'd never cared for stupid women.
"Merlin, Severus, if you don't stop staring at her, people will comment. Why not just go say hello to my sister?"
"Sister-in-law," Severus snapped at Draco, "and ex, at that."
"You know that isn't how pureblood families work," Draco replied, nudging Severus' hand with a glass.
Severus looked down at the Firewhiskey and smirked. "Accepting this," he said, taking the glass, "and drinking it won't make me fall in line with your ridiculous scheme."
"I haven't any idea what you mean."
"Right," Potter interjected, appearing and then disappearing just as quickly with Draco.
Severus smirked. Potter could never stand to be in his presence very long. Severus liked it that way.
His gaze moved back to the corner of the room where Daphne and a knot of Ministry academics stood in animated discussion and felt jealous. He wanted to be a part of the conversation, but joining in would be too much of a temptation.
Daphne laughed, then, and his breath caught. No, he told himself, as his feet began to move of their own accord. No, you will not join them.
"Ah, Snape!" Bertram Biggleston of the Department of Mysteries greeted him warmly, "we were just discussing your latest article. Healer Nott was wondering if your research might dovetail neatly with her own on her current project."
"Was she." Severus' lip curled; it was almost a smile. He turned his head towards Daphne but didn't look at her before looking at Biggleston again.
"Now Bertie," said Daphne, "I'm sure that unlike us, Severus has better ways to pass his time at a social affair than to discuss his researches."
"Now that you mention it, so do I," Biggleston replied, handing his glass to another man whom Severus didn't recognise and offering his arm to Daphne. "Shall we? I've always liked this song."
Severus felt anything but as Biggleston led Daphne to the dance floor. Pillock.
He wasn't jealous. Well, yes, he was, but only because it was the conversation that had drawn him, not Daphne's laugh.
He's not that funny, he thought of Biggleston, as he heard Daphne laugh once again. Downing his Firewhiskey in one long swallow, Severus nodded curtly to the others and took himself off to the terrace.
The strains of the music would be fainter there.
"You could have approached me," she'd told him, upon learning that he'd gone into business with Draco. "You're in a position to know that I could have kept you fully in funds, and it would have been my pleasure to do so."
"It would have been taking advantage, and you, unlike Draco, owe me nothing."
"He's told me about it, you know, not that he really needed to. Of course you protected him as best you could."
"How is Mr Nott?" Severus had said, unwilling to discuss himself, the war, or the Greengrass monies that he'd helped Daphne to secure when she'd inherited her father's estate.
Daphne's mother had not been pleased about her daughter's good fortune, and given Mr Greengrass' ill-written will, it had been a matter of some urgency that Severus help Daphne at the time; he would have done the same for almost any of his Slytherins.
"He's well, if a little overwhelmed by the wedding plans. I've left them to Mrs Nott. I don't care about the colours."
"Mmm," Severus had murmured.
Privately, he'd been thinking that Daphne looked as good in peach as she did in green and cursing himself for entertaining such thoughts about a woman about to be married. Of course, over the years, that was precisely the sort of witch he allowed himself to fancy; it was . . . easier that way when one felt committed to someone else.
But it's been a long time since I've thought of Lily, hasn't it been? Severus thought, leaning over the balustrade and inhaling a soothing stream of cigarette smoke. And almost three years to the day that Daphne discovered herself a widow.
Severus exhaled forcefully and tried to put Daphne out of his mind; there was no sense in hoping in her direction.
"How surprising to find you here."
Daphne's appearance on the terrace sent Severus into a coughing fit. When it ended, he said, without turning to face her, "I'm not good company tonight."
She came to stand next to him. "You're never good company, or so I've been told."
He smirked and tried to ignore the heat emanating from her body; her perfume, he couldn't ignore, so he contented himself with mentally listing its components.
"Draco seems to be doing well," Daphne murmured, mirroring Severus' position.
"He always lands on his feet."
"So I've observed."
Daphne didn't say anything else, and after a while, Severus, having completed his list of ingredients, permitted himself a sideways glance in her direction. Her mouth was curved upward, almost into a smile, and she was gazing out over the terrace at the couples wandering the garden. What little of her expression that he could discern appeared wistful.
"Romantic, isn't it?" she asked at last, tilting her head to look at him.
Severus turned away. "I wouldn't know. I'm not romantic."
"I should be going."
"No, Severus, you shouldn't be."
Flicking his cigarette into the roses, he left anyway.
It wasn't running away when one didn't enjoy social occasions, and in any case, Draco and Potter appeared to be doing remarkably well, taking the attention their appearance together had caused in stride, even encouraging it to some degree by dancing.
Severus hated dancing. He hated the crush of people at such gatherings, hated their insipid niceties, hated their insincere smiles.
You hate everything, don't you?
He sighed and scanned the room, trying to calculate the safest route of escape, and his eyes fixed upon Marjorie Morgan. She winked at him. He smiled. It was said that Marjorie Morgan had never met a judge of the Wizengamot whom she didn't like—her own husband excepted—and Severus knew from experience that former murderous Death Eaters were not beneath her notice.
Silently thanking Lucius for having introduced Morgan to him, he made his way towards her, thinking, She'll do.
After so much exposure to Daphne that evening, he knew that his right hand certainly wouldn't. Unfortunately, Astoria joined Morgan before he could.
"Mrs Morgan, how lovely to see you," she said, gracefully summoning a flute of champagne from a passing tray and offering it to Morgan while deftly removing the woman's empty glass from her grasp. "I believe your husband is looking for you. I passed him only a moment ago, just there." Astoria pointed towards a corner of the room far from any exits, continuing, "Amanda Carstairs was following him."
Severus narrowed his eyes as he reevaluated his opinion of Astoria's intelligence. It has to mean something that she Sorted Slytherin.
The thought wasn't of any comfort to him; Morgan and Carstairs had despised one another since Hogwarts, and no matter that Morgan cared little for her husband, she cared a great deal that Carstairs might enjoy him. Severus felt a tremendous sulk coming on.
"Oh, don't look so cross."
"Apologise for leaving me so abruptly? Good," she told him, threading an arm through his and leading him towards the main hall, "I accept."
When they achieved the hall, Severus asked, "Why is your sister interfering in my affairs?"
"Because she doesn't want you to have them. She wants you married. In fact, I'm fairly certain that our well-meaning friends and family are attempting to see us both married."
"I expect," Daphne continued, "that it would be expedient to allow them to believe that their matchmaking efforts were proving successful."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Well, if we don't want our every meeting in the near future to be plagued by these awkward "managing" moments, perhaps you might see me home? I did mean to warn you about all this on the terrace, but you stalked off before I could. As Draco and Astoria just saw us leave together, it would be a good idea to give Botty a bit of gossip-worthy material for her to feed my sister in the morning."
"Because . . . ?"
"Because if you visit, Botty will pass that along to Astoria, and Astoria will pass it along to any other interested parties, and then said parties will leave us to ourselves for a bit, not wishing to interfere."
Despite feeling disappointed in response to Daphne's apparent disinterest in him, Severus snorted. "It wouldn't do for them to attempt to 'manage' us with other people, I suppose."
"Agreed. Are you hungry?"
Severus was, actually; the food the Ministry had provided for the event was entirely too fancy for his liking, and he'd not eaten all day. "Yes."
"Then home with me it is. I put up two loaves of seed bread and made a pot of chicken stew before I dressed for the evening. Oh, and a pie."
Severus' stomach growled. "What kind of pie?"
Daphne beamed at him. "Apple-Ginger."
"Pie," Severus murmured, nodding his assent.
"That was delicious, I take it."
"You're a modest one," Severus replied, accepting the mug of coffee that Daphne offered him.
"I'm a good cook and baker."
"True," Severus acknowledged, "but why should you be?"
"You believe that just because I grew up with house-elves I should embrace the opportunity to be lazy and spoilt?"
"I didn't say that."
"I like using my hands," Daphne told him, one corner of her mouth twitching.
She's not flirting with you, Severus cautioned himself. "You were an excellent Potions student, so I suppose that I'm not surprised."
"And that's almost a compliment. I suppose that I should be shocked," Daphne said, leaning back in her chair with comfortable dignity. "I've missed seeing you. There's been precious little occasion for it since Draco and Astoria's marriage ended, but I expect that this will change now that the holidays are upon us."
"They seem to be getting on better."
"Perhaps it's because they have a common goal," Daphne replied, colouring a bit.
Severus took a slow breath and exhaled it even more slowly to tamp down his rising admiration for her. "I won't be managed by anyone, friend or not."
"What can we do to dissuade them?"
"I can remind Draco that you were my student. It would be unseemly to—"
"That won't do," Daphne interrupted, shaking her head. "It's a weak excuse. Try again."
"You try. I've offered something."
"Well, you are a bit old."
"'Old'? I'm in the prime of my life!"
Daphne's grin was slow to spread, but it was enough to tell Severus that he was being teased. He found that he didn't mind it . . . much.
"Your turn," she urged.
"That excuse was more than weak, and you know it," he protested.
"Then we're even. Your turn."
Severus thought of strike two, that Daphne didn't actually want him, but he didn't offer it up as a reason because he had no desire to have it confirmed. He'd always enjoyed Daphne's company, and prickly conversation notwithstanding, his own feelings notwithstanding, he wanted to continue to see her as a friend even if he was too much of a coward to court her.
Rejection was not something that Severus felt he could stand, not again.
"You work for the Ministry."
"Oh, really. I do not! A Ministry committee oversees the research sponsored by St Mungo's. That's hardly the same thing."
Severus scowled and crossed his arms. Daphne laughed, and somehow, he couldn't bring himself to mind it at all. It might have had something to do with the way that her breasts moved when she laughed, but he ignored that and attempted to keep his eyes on hers.
"In any case, the reason the Ministry overseas the research sponsored by St Mungo's is that it provides the financial support for all projects, at least, it did up until last week."
"What happened last week?"
"Someone bought the hospital."
"Someone persuaded Minnie Mungo that she could clear her husband's debts and leave him to live in incredible comfort if she sold the family institution."
Daphne's eyes were alive with mirth, and Severus was immediately suspicious. "You don't have the money for that. I should know. I helped you hide it from your mother."
"I didn't used to have the money for it, but I've learnt a great deal about Muggle finance since you helped me secure my inheritance, and I've done rather well for myself. It's been . . . irritating to have to deal with Ministry interference in my work, and by 'Ministry', I mean the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"Yes, your work with memory could have 'security' applications, couldn't it?"
"I wouldn't be much of a Healer if I allowed the DMLE to invade my patients' privacy, or use my Pensieving techniques in interrogation, now would I be?"
"I'm . . . impressed, Daphne. Congratulations."
"Thank you, but such praise won't help us keep the well-meaning from attempting to match us," Daphne said, beginning to fidget.
She's nervous, Severus thought. Daphne never fidgeted.
"I like being your friend," Daphne said, then, almost in a whisper. "Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to pretend we mean something more to each other—if you could stand it, of course. I have no desire to be managed, either, and I can think of far worse things than spending time with you."
Severus held Daphne's gaze and made a conscious effort not to invade the privacy of her thoughts. If she'd been anyone else, he would have thought that she was attempting to manage him. But it wasn't anyone else; it was Daphne. And she likes being my friend.
The elation he felt to know it was incredibly difficult to repress.
"Are you proposing that we attempt to fool our friends into believing we're an actual couple?"
"Why not? It'll keep them from pestering us with other people."
Severus made himself appear to be considering the idea, no matter the mantra of Yes! that was running through his mind. "If we did this, we'd have to spend considerable, public time together, you know."
"Oh, of course," she agreed, with a pleasant eagerness.
"And given our schedules, we'd need to . . . to set a calendar."
"That is an excellent idea," Daphne said, enthusiastically providing several social options that were available to them while cutting another piece of pie for herself.
Severus raised his eyebrows at the plate, and Daphne laughed and served him again, as well.
It was dawn before they'd completed their calendar of mutual engagements.
It was a year to the day of setting that calendar, while Severus was waltzing Daphne around the floor at the annual Heroes' Ball, that he realised just how thoroughly his fiancée had managed him. Not being a stupid man, he'd suspected it for months, but when Biggleston had sidled up to them and given his compliments to Daphne, he'd also said, "I'd ask you to dance, but I remember what you told me last year."
"What did you tell him last year, 'Mrs Nott'?" Severus asked, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
Daphne grinned, laughed her delightful laugh, and replied, "He was flirting with me, and I put him off by telling him that you were my only option."