(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus accidentally gambles away his own apprentice, Miss Granger, in a high-stakes poker match. How will he get her back? I'd prefer a light-hearted story (SS/HG or SS & HG).
Summary: It’s better to have lost in cards, than never to have won in love.
There’s a point in any plan when a bloke realises that it’s all going tits up – whether it’s the sight of a large snake heading for your jugular, a curly haired witch sitting outside your door for four days till you agree to take them on as an apprentice , or the red strikings out an the apprenticeship contract removing all the elements designed to put a know it all off – whatever it is, there’s a tipping point when the situation takes a lurch to the left into the mire and there’s no hope of recovery.
Severus could now add seeing the smug expression on his opponent’s face when they turned over a royal flush to the list of lurches.
Severus was used to the feeling of churning stomach, the flash of adrenaline and the faint flicker of some swear words through a mind that was busy cataloguing all the reasons he was in the shit, and all the things he could have differently to prevent being in the shit.
Like not playing poker with Lucius Malfoy.
Like not believing him when he said that he’d never played before, and did a hand with three of those queens in it beat a hand with four aces.
Like not drinking the fine brandy he had been offered.
And for not stopping three hands ago when he had been several hundred galleons up, and not an apprentice down.
Hermione was going to kill him.
He accepted the glass of brandy that Lucius held out to him and downed it in one. If he was going to die, he was going to do it hungover so that death came as a mercy.
With the cold light of day drilling through his closed eyelids and battering its way into his brain killing all capacity for thought beyond the simple desire for blessed darkness and some aspirin, the hangover did not seem like such a good idea.
He levered himself gingerly out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom to inspect the damage and perform such restoration as his morning ablutions could achieve.
It was not, he had to admit, much of an improvement – he had eyes like dark pits, and his hair hanging in limp lifeless strands. He didn’t trust his hands to stop shaking long enough to shave by either wand or muggle methods, so he would have to ignore the day’s growth of whiskers that made him look like a disreputable tramp in favour of keeping his nose in its current position squatting in the centre of his face.
He looked every day of his fifty years, and only the faintest hope that his abject state would trigger any compassion in his apprentice.
He dressed himself carefully, threading the buttons through with stumbling fingers, took a deep breath and prepared to meet his doom.
His doom was already at the breakfast table, nibbling toast with a cup of hot tea by her hand, the steam rising lazily from the gaily patterned mug.
"You look awful," she said. "Bad night?"
"You could say that," he replied. "You know I went to Malfoy Manor last night."
She nodded. "Did it bring back awful memories?"
"Not as such, no. There was cards, and there was brandy…"
"Oh," said his doom. "You’ve had too much to drink."
"After what?" Her tone sharpened, going from concern about nightmares, to disapproval of drinking to the suspicion that some bad news was coming her way.
"I gambled away the remainder of your apprenticeship contract to Lucius."
There was an awful silence.
"Right," she said, eventually. "You sold me to Lucius Malfoy."
"Erm, well you could look at it like that, I suppose."
"No, you’re right, you didn’t sell me, you gave me away, because it’s not as if you got anything in return is it?" she said, her voice eerily calm. "When will my new owner be collecting me?"
"I don’t know," he said. "Later this morning."
"I’ll just have time to get your breakfast and pack," she said.
The plate of greasy bacon, fried eggs, and undercooked sausage she slapped down in front of him five minutes later communicated more eloquently than words just how pissed off with him Hermione Granger was.
He just hoped that runny eggs was the only penance she would extract from him.
He managed to force down the breakfast, two Hangover potions, and a cup of tea, and only then did he begin to feel human again.
He lurched to his feet and went in search of his apprentice. Hermione was sat at his desk in the study with her Indentures spread across one side, and a book entitled ‘Wizarding Law for non-Lawyers, How to Lie, Cheat and Double Cross as well as a fully trained Lawyer’ on the other.
"Have you found anything?" he said.
She shook her head.
He settled gingerly on the chair nearest the table. "You tied me up in knots with that thing. I’m surprised there isn’t something in there that would help."
"I tied myself up in the same knots when I negotiated this Apprenticeship." She frowned. "And I expect Malfoy has the finest lawyers that money can buy."
"Yes," Severus said. "They managed to get me off a murder charge, so they are really, really good."
Hermione sighed. "I put in all sorts of protections to stop you marking me unfairly, from working me too hard, for just about anything I could think of, but it never occurred to me that you’d try to sell me to someone else."
"I didn’t sell you," he muttered, aware that he wasn’t about to make the strongest point. "I wagered you."
"Oh, well, that makes all the difference," she snapped.
"It does actually," Severus said slowly. "Pass me those papers for a minute, and let’s see what it says about transfers."
Hermione pushed the papers to him, giving him the kind of long hard stare he had seen her level at Weasley when he was being irritating. Which was almost all of the time, as far as he could see.
He ran his finger down through the Articles of Indenture, skimming through the terms and conditions as to bed and board, training, holidays and pay.
"Right," he said. "As I wagered your contract, Lucius stands in my shoes, and has to meet all the terms of the Indenture. If I had sold you, he would have had the right to use your services for the rest of the Apprenticeship, but he wouldn’t have the duties set out here. He could have made you do anything…"
"….to do with making potions, but without the necessity of paying you or feeding you, or teaching you," Severus continued smoothly, not acknowledging her real and reasonable fears of being at the mercy of Lucius Malfoy.
"And that’s where we will get him," he said. "He has to teach you something about Potions, and he isn’t a trained Potions Master. He simply can’t teach you anything at all."
Hermione smiled at him, and he felt a sudden lurch of hope that he might not be as far in the mire as he had thought.
She might even forgive him. After a year or two.
Lucius arrived just after lunch, dressed in his finest, but looking a little seedy nevertheless. A little hungover, even.
"If you’re hoping for a Hangover Potion…" Severus said.
"I have no hopes that you’re going to be reasonable," Lucius replied. "You’ve not been reasonable in the thirty odd years I have known you and you aren’t going to start now."
Lucius didn’t wait to be invited to take a seat but helped himself to the most comfortable chair in the room, the one next to the fire, and the one that was commonly understood to be Severus’ own. "Now, I believe you owe me an Apprentice."
"Surely you’re not serious about taking on Miss Granger?" Severus said. "You’re not in any position to provide her with any tutelage."
Lucius smirked. "Oh, I am."
"What do you mean?" Severus’ heart lurched at the thought that Lucius was intent on luring his apprentice away from him, for Merlin knows what sort of double crossing. Perhaps a job offer? Perhaps tempting her with bigger alembics, twistier retorts, heavier crucibles, or even, more pay?
"Anticipating your argument that I was hardly qualified to teach Miss Granger anything…" Lucius paused meaningfully, "… about the art of potions, I have secured the services of Europe’s premier Potions’ Master to offer her additional training."
Severus sat down on the sofa with a thump, barely noticing the way that the loose spring that he kept deliberately sharp to ward off visitors impinged upon his person. "Enrico Manchetta? He’s a notorious defiler of innocents."
"Well, perhaps. Though, to be fair, La Granger would be safe from his depredations as he only wishes to defile innocents of the same gender as himself."
"There are potions," Severus said darkly.
"Are there? How very intriguing," Lucius replied. "You must tell me more about them at some later date. In the meantime, you will have to provide me with a copy of the Indentures to ensure that I treat the delightful Miss Granger fully in accordance with its terms, and that nothing will prevent her from attaining her Mastery at the end of the two weeks’ remaining of that term."
Lucius stretched his legs before the fire, giving every impression of a man settling in for a long stay. "Well, hurry along now. I don’t have all day."
Severus went with very bad grace, and a longing look at the Monster Book of Monstrous Poisons.
Upon his return, clutching the Indentures close in his hand, Hermione had taken a seat at the other side of the room and was glaring at Lucius.
"I won’t burst into flames," Lucius murmured.
"You hope," Hermione replied quietly.
Lucius grinned. "Once these Indentures are transferred and I stand in Severus’ place as your Master, you are bound to be civil and polite to me."
"I suppose I had better get my insults in now then," she replied.
"Not that I wish to short-circuit the process," Lucius replied. "But I should point out that my parents were married, that the epithet Slytherin, snake, slippery or anything else of that ilk is rather more of a compliment than an insult, and that I am very well aware that I am a moderately bad man. But do feel free to share any animadversions on my character you feel that I have missed."
Hermione’s jaw snapped shut.
Lucius turned back to Severus, and took the proffered papers. He read through them quickly, a finger trailing down the pages pausing at particularly interesting undertakings and knotty phrasing. "Technically, I am to provide a roof over your head…"
Hermione paled, but before she could say anything, Lucius added, "But it is acceptable for me to delegate that responsibility to someone else. Severus, do you think you could do an old friend a favour and take in my Apprentice?"
Severus’ eyes narrowed. "Yes."
"I am grateful to you for your help," Lucius replied. "As always."
"So I can stay here?" Hermione said, colour returning to her cheeks. "And not at the Manor?"
"I may be a heartless bastard," Lucius replied. "But I don’t think that you would be comfortable there, and I will not insist. The Library is, of course, entirely at your disposal."
"Hermione cannot be bought by a mere Library," Severus said.
Hermione gazed into the middle distance, mentally compiling a To Read list to end all To Read lists.
"The evidence appears against you there," Lucius replied. "Fortunately, I don’t mind sharing."
"Then you won’t mind if I use the Library," Severus replied. "Whilst Hermione is working for you."
"Not at all," Lucius replied, and smirked. "I look forward to seeing you both tomorrow morning, at nine, shall we say? It’s an early start, I know, but that will leave extra time for reading once Hermione’s duties are finished."
Severus had the feeling that he had stepped all unwarily into Lucius’ trap.
Severus didn’t think nine was an early start. A man who has had a full day’s teaching, after-hour’s tutoring and keeping an eye on little bastards out after curfew to occupy his time is a man given to rising by six and spending a couple of hours to himself pottering round in his lab stirring his cauldron and muttering to himself.
The addition of an Apprentice to his life and the subtraction of teaching duties had merely seen him continue the practice of rising early and using her labour to prepare ingredients in the place of giving detentions.
He was consequently peeved to find himself alone in his laboratory on Monday morning.
Instead of his Apprentice considering the backlog of work that would build up in her absence and seeing to her duties … She had slept in, had hogged the bathroom and taken a long, hot bath rather than a quick shower and even now was eating a full breakfast whilst he had to dice his own flobberworms.
He sliced through the oozing gastropods with calm efficiency, losing himself in the familiar rhythm of cut, flick, cut, flick, cut, twist, and flick.
He was, he supposed, going to miss her skills with a knife. After nearly two years she could slice a flobberworm as finely as himself, her elegant fingers confidently moving over the flaccid bodies coaxing them into position, stroking and caressing, teasing out their juices…
He looked down at the flobberworm and swallowed hard.
Knife. Skills. That was all.
He threw the last slice into the bowl, charmed it to keep cool, and went upstairs to wash up before Lucius arrived.
He supposed there would be no harm in having a shower, and perhaps putting on his second best robes. But only to impress Manchetta, who was a superficial prat with no sense, no taste and only the slightest ability at potions.
No one else.
The portkey was conveyed to their breakfast table by Lucius’ snotty owl, who tried to take a lump out of Severus’ hand by way of thanks for the delivery.
"Bastard," Severus said, and glared at the owl, who seemed to be laughing at him.
The portkey was in the form of a white peacock paperweight, tail spread, with a supercilious beak in the air.
Hermione snorted, but put her hand on his as they triggered the portkey together, swept up in the twisting magic that took them past the Malfoy wards and into a long room filled with alchemical equipment on stout tables.
It did nothing for his temper to see that Lucius had the same mocking look as the owl on his patrician features, features that he itched to spread all over Lucius’ soft, white face with his fists.
"So nice to see you again, Severus. So decent of you to make sure that Miss Granger is delivered promptly." Lucius smirked, his eyes tracking over Severus’ robes in a eloquent but silent commentary on the folly of middle aged men.
"I have to ensure that you keep to the terms of the Indenture, Lucius," Severus said repressively. "We wouldn’t want you to breach a condition and make the whole thing void now would we?"
Lucius nodded his head. "Indeed, no. To which end, let me introduce Master Enrico Manchetta. The finest Potion’s Master in Europe…"
Severus scowled at the popinjay, all puffed up with his own self-importance, and took the proffered, soft hand to shake in a firm grip.
"After yourself, of course," Lucius finished.
It was the popinjay’s turn to scowl, but he didn’t protest the correction. More enamoured of Lucius’ money than his praise, was Severus’ assessment.
"And this is Miss Granger, my Apprentice pro tem," Lucius added. "Miss Granger, Master Manchetta."
"I am delighted to meet such a famous young lady," Manchetta said, bending over Hermione’s hand to plant a wet, smacking kiss on its back. "Even in Italy we have heard of the marvellous Miss Granger. You do not mind if I call you Hermione, do you?"
"That would not be appropriate," Severus said. "Not between Master and Apprentice."
"Ah, Hermione doesn’t mind, does she? We don’t need to stick to such stuffy rules, not here."
Hermione cast a glance at Severus. "I have to defer to Master Snape in these matters. Until I have attained my mastery, and then I would be delighted if you were to call me by my first name."
By which time Manchetta would be back in Italy and unable to avail himself of the offer. Severus had to admire his Apprentice’s tact. Obviously, all the time she had spent with him in the last couple of years had finally rubbed off some of the Gryffindor brashness.
"As you wish," Manchetta said, smiling with patent falsity. "Now if Master Snape would leave us to it…? I don’t think we need any further distractions."
Severus, aware of the necessity of concentration at all times, had to allow himself to be ushered out of the room and away to be offered tea, a choice of books from the library, and a very smug smile.
Only years of practice at hiding his true thoughts allowed Severus to sit in the library taking notes from an admittedly fascinating grimoire from the Fourteenth century whilst his Apprentice was being led into bad habits by an inferior teacher.
Unlike Gryffindors, he did not twitch, he did not fidget, he did not shuffle in his seat, but concentrated on taking detailed notes about the use of moonstone powder in potions to create unsightly warts.
Manchetta released Hermione from her duties by mid-afternoon, and they returned to Spinner’s End together without stopping for more tea and more smirking from Lucius.
Hermione was very quiet, heading upstairs almost straightaway to wash up and change out of her Apprentice robes.
Severus started the preparation for dinner, making Hermione’s favourite dishes.
She stopped at the kitchen door. "Are you making chicken curry? It’s not Friday."
"I fancied a change," he said. "Don’t you want curry?"
"I’d love it," she said, and dropped down onto the chair, leaning her elbows on the table. "It’s been a hell of a day."
"Manchetta worked you hard did he?"
"Not really. He asked a lot of questions, really basic stuff to start with and then more complicated things. It was a bit like a test."
"Mmm? Did you like him?" Severus’ chopping stilled as he waited for her reply.
"Not really. He reminded me of Slughorn. He was more interested in me being one of the Golden Trio, and what I could do for him, than working out if I could tell the difference between a Wit Sharpening potion and the Draught of Living Death. It was peculiar. Any idea what Lucius is up to?"
Severus commenced slicing his onions. "I think he wants to offer you a job. Possibly."
"He’s been trying to get me to work for him for years." Severus tipped the onions into the pan, with the browning meat and poked at it with a spatula, coating them with his special spice mix. "I refuse, obviously."
"Because of your… erm history together?"
"Because we’re friends, of a sort, and I don’t want to lose one of my few friends by working for them."
"You’re that bad an employee?" Hermione asked, and yawned widely.
"Just ask Minerva how glad she was to see the back of me." Severus gave her a twisted smile over his shoulder. "It doesn’t work, mixing close friendships with work, and just leads to fallings out that are best avoided. He can contract me for complex brewing as he needs to, just like anyone else, but he can’t tell me what to do."
"And you really don’t like being told what to do," Hermione observed.
"Not anymore," he replied softly. "Not anymore."
Severus supposed he was on the way to being forgiven when Hermione joined him in the lab at seven, as usual. To show his appreciation for her good nature, he didn’t have her complete the slicing of the flobberworms but passed her the lavender for crushing.
They worked together in almost perfect amity until the time came for the portkey to be triggered.
Hermione washed her hands, tugged her robes more firmly into place, and said," Are you coming with me again?"
"I hadn’t finished all my notes from yesterday," he replied obliquely, and was rewarded with a broad smile.
"Good. I feel safer know you’re around."
"There’s a charm I know," he said. "One I could place on your hair clip, so that I could hear what was being said in your vicinity. If that would help."
"I think I’d like that," she said, and blushed when he moved closer, wand at the ready, to cast the charm.
"If you’re worried by anything, just say my name, and I will come and find you," he said, somehow unwilling to move away from her.
"Severus," she said softly.
He was prevented from doing anything foolish or inappropriate by the familiar twist and tug of the portkey being triggered.
A house elf was waiting for them, with very firm orders that Miss Granger was to be left in peace and Severus was to be escorted to the library again.
There was nothing subtle about Manchetta’s expression of triumph, and even less subtlety about the hard look he had in return as Severus allowed himself to be born off to the Library and more notes on wart making potions.
He assured the house elf that there was nothing that he needed, and nothing that he wanted other than some peace and quiet, and once it had disappeared to the kitchens to iron its ears for being unable to provide any additional services, Severus cast the listening charm he had woven into Hermione’s hair clip.
At first he thought that Manchetta was a nosy bastard, asking detailed questions about how her Apprenticeship had been, and wondered whether the Potions’ Guild was checking up on him. Then the questions turned more into general potions topics, ranging over the whole of the syllabus, seemingly at random.
Then he asked her to view several cauldrons and name the potions in them, and identify where they had gone wrong, and how they could be cured. He was pleased to hear that she had no difficulty in naming any of them, and that her answers were sound and right.
She was a credit to her studies.
It was late afternoon when a house elf popped into existence on the other side of the table. "Master Lucius is wanting you to join him in the conservatory for tea."
Severus discreetly cancelled the listening spell, and prepared to be civilised through clenched teeth. His gruntle was not increased by the sight of crumpets to go with his Earl grey. He wasn’t bought that easily.
Lucius prepared Severus’ tea just as he liked it, and handed him the cup.
Severus snorted with laughter. Just so had Narcissa handed him his tea over the years, with almost the same expression of polite concern, and the same duplicitous heart concealed beneath it.
"Have you satisfied yourself that my intentions are benign yet?" Lucius said, timing his question for the moment when Severus had a mouth full of tea.
Severus arched an eyebrow.
"One of the benefits of the Malfoy wards, comprehensive as they are, is that they can detect even the most subtle spying charm. It’s bad manners not to mention this, I admit, but then it’s bad manners to be spying on your host, so it all equals out in the end."
"I wasn’t spying on you," Severus replied, once he had swallowed his tea.
"No, indeed, which is why I am not that cross."
"So, if you are in expansive mood, perhaps you can tell me why Manchetta appears to be giving my Apprentice a thorough viva voce in potions?"
"Ah, Severus, are you that blind?"
Severus blinked. "You mean you want to hire her, I take it?"
"Not in the slightest." Lucius put up his hand to forestall any response from his friend. "Not that I don’t think she could do a good job, or that you have not trained her well. However, I doubt that she would ever feel comfortable working for me. Certainly not in the short term. It will take much greater exposure to the Malfoy charm to work that miracle."
Lucius took a sip of his tea.
"No, I was thinking chiefly of yourself."
Severus tilted his head to one side, wordlessly conveying his puzzlement, but too stubborn to admit he was entirely at sea.
"Severus, I see the way you look at her."
Severus put his tea cup down slowly and carefully. "You have?"
"And more to the point, I have seen the way that she looks at you."
"I fail to take your meaning."
"You’re head over heels for her and she’s head over heels for you and neither of you will do anything about it because you’re Master and Apprentice. But I know you, once you’re no longer her Master you will convince yourself that she is off limits because everyone will assume she earned her Mastery on her back, and you won’t be able to bring yourself to do that. Mostly because it’s easier than facing rejection, but also because you have this streak of honour a mile wide."
Severus didn’t reply for a moment, then sighed, effectively conceding the point.
"If Manchetta signs off on her Apprenticeship then there can be no obstacle to you asking the girl out, nothing other than your own … reticence," Lucius said. "I have therefore taken the matter out of your hands, and arranged for this to occur in the most expedient manner possible."
"Oh," said Severus. "Thank you, I suppose."
Lucius raised his cup in wordless salute.
"I suppose I could be tempted to a crumpet," Severus said, accepting the peace offering in the spirit it was offered. "Or two."
The afternoon passed more quickly, and Severus kept only half an ear on the progress of his protégé. She was doing well, and would pass with flying colours.
And then she would be free of her Indentures.
This would be something that would need celebrating, an opportunity to wine and dine Hermione, and test the waters, and he was sure that Lucius wouldn't mind lending him an owl to make the arrangements, and the use of his name to leverage a last minute booking out of an exclusive restaurant.
Particularly if Severus didn't exactly ask whether he minded or not.
By six, the catechism was winding down, and Severus headed down to the work room to pick up his Apprentice.
Apprentice no more, it seemed. She greeted him at the door with a huge grin, clutching a roll of parchment ornamented with three red seals to her chest. "You'll never guess what," she said.
"Master Granger," Severus said, and bowed his head to her, the traditional greeting of Master to Master.
"Oh my god," she said. "You knew all along. You knew, and just made up that stupid story about gambling me away."
Severus was saved from honesty by Lucius' interjection. "He thought that you would perform better if you weren't worried about your Viva, so we concocted this little story to distract you. You were so busy being cross and suspicious that you forgot to be worried about your exams."
"You dear man," Hermione said, and hugged Severus.
He couldn't quite work out where to put his hands, and settled for patting her on the back, a bit awkwardly.
"You must let me take you out for dinner to say thank you for all your help," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.
"Absolutely not. It is for me to take you out for dinner," he said. "I have already booked a table."
"Have you?" Hermione looked up at him with dancing eyes. "You were confident then!"
"I have confidence in the quality of my own teaching, yes," he replied. "And in your abilities as well."
"I'll have to get changed," she said. "I can't go out looking – and smelling – like this."
"You would be perfect as you are," said Severus. "But I do agree that it would be nice to make the effort to scrub up well for once, and I include me in that. I am sure Lucius and Manchetta will excuse us if we don't invite them along."
"Of course," Manchetta said.
"Indeed," Lucius said.
"Thank you, Enrico," Hermione said, shaking his hand. "You've been very kind."
"Don’t look on it as losing an Apprentice, Severus, but gaining a girlfriend," Lucius murmured in his ear. "And you can thank me later."
"I tell you what, I’ll send you the antidote by way of thanks," Severus replied out of the corner of his mouth, still smiling at Hermione.
"What, how and when?" Lucius asked. "Out of professional interest."
Severus smirked, and didn’t answer.
He may have lost an Apprentice, but he still knew how to bluff when he held no cards. There was no potion and no need for an antidote, but Lucius didn’t need to know that. Not until tomorrow.
It was, all things considered, going to be a good evening on so many fronts.