Prompter: Anonymous Five
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): None.
(Highlight to View) Prompt: Severus, tutor to a spoilt young lord taking the Grand Tour, falls in love with Hermione, paid companion of the demanding lady with whom Severus' master is currently amusing himself (SS/HG).
Note: This was difficult to write. Very difficult. I thought hours upon hours of reading Georgette Heyer had prepared me for the task, but boy, was I wrong. williamsnickers was an amazing beta and bears no responsibility for any social solipsisms committed by the characters.
Summary: For a well-bred British wizard, a Grand Tour is essential to complete one's education. Severus has been entrusted with the unenviable task of ensuring Draco Malfoy completes his travels unscathed. When they encounter the lovely Lady Heloïse and her unremarkable companion in Venice, the undertaking becomes almost impossible.
On Saturday afternoons, the most beautiful woman in Venice could be found inside Palazzo Sanguini receiving her admirers. Unlike its Muggle equivalents, the palace boasted a garden. A tiny balcony had been magically enhanced several centuries ago, and it was now filled with a profusion of flowers and shrubs that set off Heloïse Zabini's looks to a nicety. Severus had never seen a woman look lovelier than the thrice-widowed self-proclaimed lady did, surrounded by magnolia flowers almost as soft and smooth as her delicate skin, petting a kitten in her lap.
Then he noticed her companion, and received a nasty shock.
Lady Heloïse's dark skin and black hair, combined with her undeniable beauty, would put any other women in the shade, including the female discreetly bending down to whisper in the lady's ear. Nevertheless, Severus' head snapped back as she straightened up and unconsciously gave him a full view of her not-quite-pretty face and untidy hair.
Hermione Granger had no business lending Lady Heloïse a thin veneer of respectability in a Venetian palace. Severus made it his business to tell her so at the first available opportunity.
"What are you doing here?" he hissed when she approached him Levitating a tea cup, filled with reassuringly English tea.
"Serving tea, Professor Snape. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Do not call me professor, and stop taking refuge in semantics. Why are you in the company of — of that woman?" He jerked his head in the direction of Lady Heloïse graciously extending her fingertips to a French gentleman.
"I am her companion. I realise it is not a consideration for you, but unfortunately women, even if they are witches, are forced to consider the proprieties if they wish to cut a figure in the polite world." They both watched the Frenchman, stretching his language's capacity for flowery compliments to unknown heights, present an enchanted rose to Lady Heloïse, who looked very much like someone who would not be content with a life in seclusion.
Hermione Granger, however, was quite a different type of female.
"I am conversant with basic social mores, thank you. I fail to see how you became the person providing her with a somewhat threadbare cloak of respectability. Particularly as I would have expected you to pursue more scholarly interests."
"How, exactly?" Miss Granger landed his tea cup with a clatter. "Single ladies do not pursue careers in the Ministry. Nor do they set up their own research establishments, even if they have the means to do so. They can become teachers at Hogwarts, but only by acquiring experience first, which unfortunately, means decades of drudge work with no guarantee of a position at the end."
Severus found himself so much in agreement that he nodded, before remembering he was supposed to be lecturing her.
He had also dreamt of becoming a Hogwarts teacher, but more than a decade of teaching dunderheads basic wand work had yielded no better returns than short stints of supply teaching. That was how he had encountered Miss Granger. It had been impossible to miss her eagerly raised hand in any of the classrooms where he had been called in to cover illnesses or other staff absences.
Severus had no particular liking for the Know-It-All, but he had to admit she had brains.
She had penned a particularly impressive analysis of the way different parts of the Amortentia potion interacted to make the final product so powerful, and once he had let her answer questions occasionally she had shown her abilities were not restricted to Potions. It was a waste of potential for a mind like hers to be reduced to polite platitudes in the drawing rooms of the aristocracy.
It was waste of his own mind, but at least Severus had tried and failed to improve his lot.
"The conventional route is to get married," he pointed out.
"My marital state is none of your concern, thank you." She turned around, headed for the next table, when he stretched out to grab her wrist. "Kindly unhand me, or you will feel the pointy end of my wand." Her eyes were sparkling with anger, and Severus wondered if the Weasley who had dangled after her at Hogwarts had failed to come up to scratch.
"It's not fit for you," he hissed. "You're a — a woman of probity, and she..." He glanced at Lady Heloïse who was surrounded by a court of gentlemen, all vying for a sign they were the lady's favourite. "She is sailing very close to the wind. One more whiff of scandal, and then —"
"There will not be any more scandal," Miss Granger said, returning to her placid self. "That is what I'm here to prevent. What brings you here, seeing as you don't seem very eager to pay court to my mistress?"
Severus cast a jaundiced eye over the line of hopefuls, picking out his charge by the pale blond hair. "I'm bear-leading the Malfoy progeny through Europe. So far, I have not encountered any unsurmountable challenges." He watched Lady Heloïse inspect the trinket Draco had insisted on bestowing upon her, and hoped very much his luck hadn't turned.
"So you're in exactly the same boat as I, then: why put up with poor prospects in England and be miserable, when you can travel on the Continent instead?"
Severus did not bother agreeing — Miss Granger had obviously hit her head on the nail. It would have to be a sufficient reward in itself.
Crossing Piazza San Marco, Severus noticed a cluster of ladies gathering under the colonnades. He recognised Lady Heloïse, dipping her parasol in a coquettish way. The other party to the conversation was hidden behind a pillar. If it weren't Draco, he would eat his own dragonhide boots.
Severus sighed deeply, drawing closer so he could hear what was afoot without being noticed by his hapless charge.
The omnipresent Miss Granger soon sought him out. "You do not have much faith in me, do you?"
"I have no idea what you are talking about."
"I told you before it will not amount to anything." A smile was lurking in her unremarkable brown eyes, as if she were laughing at him.
Severus did not like when people laughed at him, especially not when he did not know the reason. "I was not aware you had specialised in Divination at Hogwarts."
"Have it your own way, then — waste your time worrying needlessly when you could be enjoying the view." She turned towards the opulent exterior of Basilica di San Marco, resting her eyes on it like an old friend.
Severus did not know why he kept talking to her, even when he had been offered an opportunity to eschew conversation and return to his attempts to overhear what Draco was saying to Lady Heloïse.
"Does it not bother you?" he asked Miss Granger.
His glare only made her smile. "Being the paid attendant of that woman. You're worth a dozen of her."
"That's either the nicest compliment you have ever paid me — it may also be the only one, in fact — or you really do not have a high opinion of my employer."
Severus did not — the only thing he despised more than witches who only had time for frivolities were those of a mercenary disposition, and Lady Heloïse neatly fell into both categories. "You seem quite satisfied, Miss Granger. Not all of us are blessed with the same happy disposition."
There was a sharp intake of breath. "You seem determined to make yourself unpleasant, Mr Snape. I wonder why that is."
Severus would be damned if he ever understood women. "I seem to have missed a crucial part of this conversation."
"Or else you have the imagination of a frog. That is a possibility, too. Has it occurred to you that I am making a determined effort to be content with my situation, rather than finding reasons to lament my lot?"
It had not. Severus had never seen the point of putting on a happy face to the world when a sullen one would do.
"I should have remembered you were in Gryffindor," he muttered. Miss Granger was spared from coming up with a witty rejoinder by Lady Heloïse finally abandoning her attempts at flirting in the colonnade. As she did so on the arm of Draco Malfoy, any relief Severus may have felt was short-lived.
Even worse — they seemed to have agreed a repeat assignation.
"Mr Malfoy tells me there is a Palladian villa in the vicinity. I simply could not leave Venice without seeing it — the frescoes are meant to be outstanding. What do you say, Miss Granger — shall we brave the rigours of the countryside?"
It seemed incredible even to Severus, intimately familiar with the Malfoy ability to ignore everything that did not pertain to themselves, but judging by Draco's impression of a fish gasping in the air this was the first time he registered the identity of Lady Heloïse's companion.
"Granger — I didn't expect to see you here!"
"How do you do, Mr Malfoy? I'm looking forward to renewing our acquaintance. Such as it was."
Severus had not been teaching them for long, but it had required dimness of epic proportions not to register that Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger were like oil and water. Pitted against each other by their respective houses from the day they entered Hogwarts, every other circumstance underlined their differences. Muggle-born wizards were generally absorbed by wizarding society, despite occasional sneering by pure-bloods; it was vastly more difficult for witches without beauty or wealth to grease their path.
At Hogwarts, unlike the real world, brains counted for more than either, and Granger had plenty of that. Even if Draco had possessed her work ethic, it would have been doubtful if he could have competed with her in earnest.
True to form, Miss Granger won the current battle of wits; her curtsy was fooling no one that she regarded Draco in any way superior, however elevated his social standing. He recovered himself enough to bow in return.
For once, Severus welcomed Lady Heloïse's tinkling laugh.
"How charming — two school friends reuniting! You never told me you went to Hogwarts with Mr Malfoy, Hermione."
"It must have slipped my mind," Miss Granger said smoothly. "I often think with fondness of our schooldays, of course."
Severus glanced at her sharply — there was a hint of wistfulness in her voice that had absolutely nothing to do with the stroppy Malfoy progeny next to him.
"So do I." Draco had finally recovered himself, remembering the object at hand. "Please join the expedition — it wouldn't be the same without you there, Miss Granger." As all four of them knew there could be no exploration of the Palladian villa unless she accompanied Lady Heloïse to ensure the proprieties were observed, he did not deceive anyone. "And you too, Severus," he added belatedly.
"I would be delighted to," Miss Granger answered promptly.
Draco wasted no time settling a time and a date for the excursion, and was very pleased with himself when they had bid the ladies goodbye.
"It's smaller than I thought." Lady Heloïse pouted slightly, and Draco rushed her inside to draw her attention to the remarkable frescoes, leaving Severus to observe the reactions of her companion.
"It's magnificent," Miss Granger breathed. "The proportions —"
"It is considered to be in quite a different style to his other villas, reflecting the status of the owners." The facade had the starkness of a roman temple, with the entrance one level up from where they were standing. "Shall we?" He offered his arm, and together they ascended the staircase to explore the main hall and the adjoining rooms, pausing occasionally to explore a particularly interesting fresco.
Unexpectedly, Miss Granger turned out to be well versed in Renaissance art.
"Imagine," she said, looking out over the small formal garden at the back, "the plots that were hatched here, back when Venice was still a republic."
"Oh, I can. I doubt if you're able to, though — Gryffindors often display a remarkable lack of ingenuity in these matters." Severus had found a small collection of Byzantine miniatures, which he was inspecting dubiously. The light was poor, but he doubted they had ever been east of Rome.
"I have a very healthy imagination, thank you very much. Unfortunately, women seem to have been sadly absent from most of the political life of old Venice. Perhaps I could have been a courtesan, brought here by her protector."
"Perhaps you could have been the kitchenmaid," Severus said crushingly. "I would rein in my flights of fancy if I were you — be careful what you wish for, foolish girl."
"Were you always such a prude, or is it a recent development?" Miss Granger asked with an air of great interest. "I cannot precisely remember from Hogwarts, but it seems rather unlike you to attach any extraordinary interest to other people's opinions."
By prior arrangement, the housekeeper had provided tea — Italian tea, but one must make sacrifices when travelling — and light refreshments in one of the salons. Severus was so incensed by this latest idiocy that he did not even look around to see if Draco and Lady Heloïse had arrived yet.
"I, Merlin be praised, am not a witch. Therefore, I am not obliged to safeguard my reputation, which, I assure you, is of the highest importance for your sex. The life of a courtesan may seem romantic to you, but I'm afraid the reality would have been vastly different."
Severus still felt the cloying taste of bad champagne in his mouth from Lucius' select Paris brothel. He remembered the empty eyes of the witches lining the walls, waiting to be picked by the next visitor. If he had wanted, he could probably have ticked off a dozen potions used to make the women more amenable and their charms more appealing to the patrons.
Instead, he had tried very hard not to vomit.
Miss Granger perused the array of pastries, gingerly selecting something covered in chocolate. "I do not doubt you — I merely think you have a highly exaggerated view of the rewards of virtue for poor females with no beauty to speak of. If I would have ended up in penury anyway, does it matter how I got there?"
"Fortunately, you have no idea of which you speak. To a delicately nurtured female, that is all I will say." Severus eschewed the tea for something stronger — the bitter taste of coffee suited his mood.
"If it makes any difference, I have no inclination to ruin myself — it would be rather unfair on my relations. It was purely a hypothetical consideration." Miss Granger turned her nose up at the tea, eyeing Severus' coffee with interest.
Severus selected something that looked like a scone. It would not taste like one, but at least he would have the pleasure of anticipation. "My sense of relief is overwhelming," he said, just as Malfoy the younger appeared.
"I say, Severus," Draco said over breakfast the following day, "I'm finding Venice sadly flat now that the carnival is over. You don't mind if we continue onwards to Florence, do you?"
Severus was surprised to find he did — speaking to Miss Granger had been unexpectedly pleasant. However, the immediate necessity of putting as many miles as he could contrive between Draco and the fatally attractive Lady Heloïse took precedence.
"I rather thought we could leave for Florence as soon as you can find us lodgings. There is not much left to see in Venice." Draco dismissed centuries of art with a wave of his arm.
"Very well, then." Severus summoned his quill and parchment — the city clerk in Venice could supply them with a Portkey, and his equivalent in Florence could no doubt provide them with the direction to a suitable hotel.
He did wonder how Draco had gone from flirting with Lady Heloïse one day to fleeing the city the next, but his long experience of teaching brats meant he knew better than to ask.
Severus was destined not to remain in the dark for long.
The piazza in front of the Duomo in Florence was a favoured haunt of the upper echelons of Florentine society, magical and Muggle. The miraculous appearance of a dark-skinned, elegant lady among the females taking their evening walk while admiring the architectural masterpiece towering above them told him all he needed to know.
He did not even bother looking for Miss Granger, who promptly appeared at his left elbow.
"Such a charming surprise, Mr Snape. I thought we had left all our friends behind when we departed from Venice."
"Spare me your flummery, woman — what is the meaning of this? Was cavorting in Venice not enough?"
"It does get boring after a while, don't you think — all that water," Miss Granger said. "In all seriousness, I'm sure you will realise the reason for the change of scenery momentarily."
If the chit wanted to play games, she would find Severus Snape was up to all tricks. He was just resolving not to give her an inch, as she continued immediately afterwards. Gryffindors had no patience.
"Exhibit B over by the Baptistery — blue coat, black boots — is Atticus Fawley, last seen at the Wizarding Assembly Rooms in Bath. He is speaking to Count von Schwarzingen, one of the leading lights at the Wizarding court in Vienna. Florence is bursting with Britons and Germans making their way to Rome, or who have taken up permanent residence here. One can be spoilt for choice."
"No reason to leave one's old admirers behind, however," Severus observed, and was rewarded with a smile that mostly was in her eyes.
"You can rest quite easy now — I am reliably informed the Count's fortune exceeds even the illustrious Mr Malfoy's."
"As long as von Schwarzingen cannot count thirty generations of pure-blooded ancestors preceding him, Mr Malfoy will remain unmoved."
"Being a plain mister must sting, though, don't you think?"
Having little regard for titles, Severus had not spent much time considering the vagaries of English wizardkind leaving the peerage a Muggle preserve. Once he considered it, however, it was obvious Lucius would rather be at least a baronet rather than being outranked by a foreigner.
"I must send an owl to Malfoy Manor to confirm our safe arrival in Florence." Severus was already hunting for a quill in his roomy pockets, enchanted to fit half a dozen potion vials without bulging. "It's so important to stay in touch with home, don't you think?"
Miss Granger gave him a searching look.
"Do I have something on my nose?" Having located his handkerchief instead of the missing quill, Severus made a show of wiping his admittedly rather large appendage.
"I thought you were one of Lucius Malfoy's bosom friends," Miss Granger said in the grand manner of someone who wouldn't know subtlety if it was dropped on them from a great height.
"Hardly. Lucius would rate me somewhere between the house-elves and his thoroughbred winged horses."
Miss Granger curtsied to an acquaintance, a vacuous smile on her face — unlike many Gryffindors, she had mastered doing several things at once. "Does it matter what he thinks?"
"It matters," Severus said, "when he holds the pursestrings. Lucius thinks I have ideas above my station."
"That is true, though, is it not? If you did not, you would happily have returned to your father's house after Hogwarts and shackled yourself to some miller's daughter."
Severus told himself the story of his life must be well-known in the Hogwarts dormitories — he had rid himself of his northern accent within his first year at school, but there was always some graceless sod who remembered his first appearance. Either that, or Miss Granger added Second Sight to her achievements.
"Is that what you think I ought to have done?" he asked.
"Clearly not — in that case, I would be tending to my aunt's numerous progeny as we speak, without a single spark of magic in my life." Miss Granger tilted her parasol a little, so she could see the full outline of the Duomo, all the precise rectangular tiles of marble forming a glorious testament to the power and abundance of Florence of the Renaissance.
She did not look like a woman pining for a life of domesticity.
"Did you not mention your mother?" Severus could not recall her precise circumstances at school, but Miss Granger was certainly the daughter of a gentleman, however Muggle, and there had been some wealth there.
"She is living with my aunt at present. My father's income was sufficient to support us in some comfort, but when he died —"
Severus had toasted to his own father's demise some years ago, but he acknowledged other people felt differently about their progenitors. "I am sorry," he offered.
"He would not have wanted me to give up magic either. I remember him being so excited when we found out about magic — how witches are just as powerful as wizards." She sniffed in defiance. "I'm glad he never found it wasn't quite true, that the same strictures apply to females whether they are Muggle or witches."
Severus was only too familiar with the difficulties of practicing magic surrounded by Muggles — one of the few advantages of his parents' marriage had been that his father had been co-opted into the Statute of Secrecy. No such provisions applied for aunts and cousins, and anyone living in a Muggle household would be taking great risks if they tried to employ magic.
"I think you will find the constrictions you speak of affect anyone without the means to support themselves independently," he told her. "I have spent more than a decade trying to establish myself as an independent brewer of potions, to no avail."
There had been a small laboratory, in a Muggle barn.
Severus had used most of his savings converting it for safe magical use, stocking up on basic Potion ingredients, and put an advertisement in the Daily Prophet:
Superior Potions, Brewed to Order, For The Discerning Witch Or Wizard. Bewitch The Mind And Ensnare The Senses Through The Subtle Art Of Potion-Making. For Catalogue And Sale Apply Through Owl Order. Reasonable Rates.
Some replies had trickled in — some of his customers had even paid him. Severus had rather enjoyed distributing retribution on those who failed to do so, but it had not changed the unpalatable fact that he eventually did not even have enough money left to eat.
He had crawled back to Lucius, the humiliation made worse by the brief taste of independence.
Severus did not indulge in false modesty — he knew he was no ordinary Potions Master. Given the chance, he could achieve great things, but without commanding his own time or access to a properly equipped laboratory he would be forever doomed to dabble in trumpery.
Some of the bitter disappointment must have shown on his face, because Miss Granger gently put her gloved hand on his arm. Mercifully, she didn't say anything — the warmth of her fingers simply rested there, until a young buck in moleskins bumped into Severus.
Amid his apologies, the moment was lost — Draco returned from his shopping exhibition, and Lady Heloïse reluctantly recalled a dinner engagement and summoned her companion to accompany her to their apartments on the other side of the Arno.
The wizards of Florence may reluctantly have withdrawn into the shadows when the International Statute of Secrecy was passed in 1692, but they had retained their mark on the city. Whole squares had been tucked away from the Muggles, unfolding at the tap of a wand for those in the know. All the great wizarding families — the Miniatis, the Orlandinis, the Guadagnis, the Battistas, and of course the Medicis — had retained their palazzos, although they occasionally masqueraded as a warehouse or leper hospital.
Their days proceeded at a leisurely pace — riding had to be done side by side with Muggles, but even Draco was willing to put up with their presence in order to exercise his own horse in the mornings.
The large community of Britons, settled and transient, provided plenty of company. Draco found several cronies, and Severus gratefully turned a blind eye to their revelries as Lady Heloïse's attractions diminished. They still saw plenty of the lady and her indefatigable companion — Draco still formed part of her court, but sometimes chose to sleep off the exigencies of the previous night rather than pay his addresses.
There seemed to be a never-ending stream of genteel amusements: picnics, al fresco concerts, balls and occasions, and the Malfoy heir was invited to most of them. His tutor was not equally sought after, but as Severus contrived to speak to Miss Granger whenever the occasion arose, he considered himself fortunate.
"Well played, Miss Granger," he had greeted her the first time they paid a morning visit to Lady Heloïse in her ornate apartments, decorated in the lavish style popular a century ago.
"Wasn't it?" she agreed. "I trust you can rest easy now?"
Severus gingerly sat down on a gilded monstrosity that would not have disgraced a throne room. "You clearly have an idealised view of the responsibilities of a bear-leader — I will not be able to 'rest easy', as you call it, before we are back on English shores."
"I see your sunny disposition remains the same." Miss Granger's neat appearance (apart from her hair, of course) and modest dress made her surroundings look unbearably gaudy. "How do you like Florence?"
"Exceedingly. It is — " Severus was at a loss to explain. "It feels like home," he admitted like it was a character flaw.
"You are obviously more refined that I am — I still can't quite believe I'm walking the same streets as Michelangelo and Botticelli. Not to mention Volpi — did you know he was the first to use cores in wands?"
A lively discussion about wands was only interrupted when another caller was ushered in. Draco bristled as soon as the name — Mr Viktor Krum — was announced, while it took Severus several minutes to get the intruder's true measure.
Mr Krum greeted his hostess as expected, but when offered a chance, he migrated to Miss Granger's side, leaving Lady Heloïse to be entertained by Atticus Fawley and an unknown Italian gentleman. It was fortunate the latter was there, because Severus did not think Lady Heloïse would take kindly to being eclipsed by her dame de compagnie.
"Miss Granger," Mr Krum announced, as if they had met in the middle of the desert rather than a Florentine drawing room. "I am charmed to renew our acquaintance." Severus may as well have been in the previously mentioned desert, as far as Krum was concerned — he only had eyes for Miss Granger.
It only went downhill from there.
Unable to get a word in edgewise, Severus had to console himself with the previously agreed visit to the Uffizi galleries on the morrow — apparently, there were several examples of fine medieval wands in the collection.
He waited until the maid accompanying Miss Granger had melted into the background in the courtyard outside the galleries before pouncing.
"I hear Mr Krum is quite the celebrity."
"Is he?" Seemingly unconcerned, Miss Granger was inspecting the statues adorning the facade. "Look, there is Pisano."
"His name would be familiar to any follower of Quidditch," Severus informed her sternly.
"Well, I am not, so I'm not surprised I had not heard of him."
"Furthermore, Mr Krum is the scion of a prominent Bulgarian family, famous for their connection to the Dark Arts," he continued with determination.
"Says Draco Malfoy's tutor. If you're so concerned with a whiff of Dark magic, I suggest you revise your choice of employer. Or is this another thing that only applies to females?" There was a dangerous glint in her eye.
"They also consider Muggle-borns inferior to pure-blood wizards and witches. Reportedly," Severus added quickly as he realised her raised chin was one step beneath a declaration of war.
"Lady Heloïse is a second-generation half-blood, so there is no need to be concerned. Besides, Mr Krum has been perfectly pleasant to me," Miss Granger declared, and Severus realised she had no idea what was o'clock.
"I believe the galleries lie this way," he said, offering his arm, consigning Mr Krum to oblivion for as long as possible.
Miss Granger stepped forward eagerly, and after showing their wands as credentials, they ascended the imposing staircase together and entered a world of pensive madonnas and colours brighter than real life.
Lost in contemplation in front of the dancing Graces, Severus had to be roused by the surprisingly deep voice of Venus:
"La signora sta parlando a Lei, signor- "
"Excuse me —" Severus made sure his eyes were averted from her naked limbs (Muggle art was sometimes easier, if less interesting), and was recalled to reality by Miss Granger's amused voice.
"I see you are an admirer of Botticelli."
"Yes." There seemed to be no point to elaborate further; either she would understand or she would not.
"I have never seen anything as —" she struggled for words, "graceful as this. Look at their hands —"
The Graces smiled and continued dancing, their slender hands intertwined with otherworldly charm. The exquisite flowers in the thick grass moved gently beneath their feet, each a harbinger of spring and a hidden message. For once, Severus did not need to decipher all the secrets of centuries ago — he was content to simply marvel at the beauty of the world Sandro Botticelli had committed to the canvas and given eternal life.
Afterwards, he never knew how long they spent in the galleries. Time had ceased to matter when they got to the Duecento, and his memory of the following hours were hazy and razor-sharp at the same time.
They parted with few words, as if speaking would end the spell even when the bustle of the Piazza della Signoria had not.
Draco and Severus attended Sunday mass at Santa Maria Novella — English protestants had to make do with what they could find in the way of worship, and there was usually a sprinkling of fellow foreigners at the back.
When the congregation rose at last, Lady Heloïse was escorted out on the arm of Viktor Krum. Draco had rushed to her side, but a dawdling dowager who insisted on wrapping her stole just so around her shoulders slowed him down at the crucial moment. He overtook the dowager as soon as humanly possible, leaving Severus in his wake.
The latter was insensibly cheered by finding himself shuffling out right next to Miss Granger, who had no discernible reason to fall so far behind her employer. Standing on the top of her toes looking around, a vainer man than Severus could have been forgiven for believing she was looking for him.
She restrained herself to an undignified squeak as Severus pinched her arm, but relented sufficiently to offer it to him. "Mr Snape — what a charming surprise. And what exquisite manners you have, too, sir."
"Believe me, where I was raised it was considered the pinnacle of sophistication. You should be slapping my cheek about now, and then we would practically be engaged." The problem with Miss Granger was that she was far too easy to talk to.
The relative darkness of the church gave way to the blinding glare of the piazza outside, and Severus offered an unusually devout prayer that the burning spots on his cheeks went unnoticed.
"Hermione, pray allow me —" Krum had somehow acquired a distinctly feminine parasol, which he offered to Miss Granger with unnerving panache. Somehow, in the short space of time since escorting Lady Heloïse through the green-tinged bronze doors of the basilica, Krum had managed to offhand the lady to Draco and two other admirers smoothly enough not to cause offence.
As a Slytherin, Severus was forced to admire his aptitude, although his suspicions reached new heights.
A wise man would have Lady Heloïse's measure and take very good care not to antagonise her, if he wanted to court her companion. In this shallow world, it would indeed require a wise man to recognise the simple fact that Hermione Granger was worth a dozen of her noble employer, so it was only logical that Krum would go about his business cautiously.
Severus did not have a parasol, nor the polished manners that currently were being flaunted beneath his nose in broken English.
Withdrawing in sullen silence (at least he could sulk with the best of them), he only paused to nod to Draco before turning the corner towards Via delle Belle Donne. The irony of the name failed to entice as much as a twitch of his eyebrow.
Once he had left the piazza and the chattering church-goers, Severus' pace slacked. He had nowhere in particular to go, so he was in no rush to get there. The city was far more enticing than their lodgings, but he had had as much art as he could swallow for the moment.
A dusty bookshop caught his eye — it wasn't until he was halfway through the door Severus realised it was magical, as the portly-looking man with glasses behind the counter used his wand to kill a fly.
"Mi dispiace, Signore! Sto chiudendo per il pranzo —"
Severus communicated his ignorance of Pranzo and whatever he was getting up to with a shrug, and the shopkeeper changed tack.
"Ah, Inglese —" How he was able to decipher Severus' nationality was unclear. "Here, I show you —" the man said in broken English, pulling out a dusty wooden box filled with ageing books.
Contrary to expectations, it wasn't complete rubbish. Severus passed over a well-worn copy of Marmion and picked out a volume that was reassuringly magical — Snarling Creatures And How To Tame Them. The moving dragon on the cover was a bit of a giveaway.
He ended up with a small pile of books: Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes tickled his interest; a Latin Potion encyclopedia he found at the bottom could prove useful, and a Muggle novel by an unnamed author with a surprisingly pithy opening line. He lingered over Bestiarium Magicum, even though he already owned it — Miss Granger had mentioned she would like to read it, and since Severus' copy was in storage in England awaiting his eventual return, it had been out of his power to lend it to her.
For once in his life, a generous impulse won out — aided by the shopkeeper informing him it only cost a florin, appealing to his Northern thriftiness.
It may be a paltry thing, but at least Hermione Granger was a woman who could appreciate the value of a book.
Severus had the book dispatched by messenger, preferring not to witness for himself whether Krum continued his courting apace.
If he were, Severus' presence would only hinder matters. If he were not, a prolonged absence would make no difference to Miss Granger, who no doubt would find other sources of intelligent conversation. As his absence coincided with Draco taking himself off to attend the Palio in Siena along with some of his cronies, Severus went an unusually long time without news from Lady Heloïse's establishment.
Draco returned from Siena a trifle worse for wear, but thankfully not too badly dipped, and Severus anxiously awaited his next visit to Lady Heloïse.
Severus was kept waiting, Draco having discovered a delightful bit of muslin who was only too keen to get her hands on some British Galleons. It took much dexterity and Slytherin guise to extract Draco from her claws without giving the former a hint Severus was meddling in his affairs, and there was little leisure to visit ladies of quality for some time.
Forced to keep his temper on short leash lest he took it out on Draco and spoiled all his handiwork, Severus took to his room turned several innocent chairs into splinters before he found the reason for his malaise.
It promptly sent him into a depression — Severus may not be the most perspicacious of men when it came to his own feelings, but he was only too well versed in the ways of the world. Continuing down the same road would only cause himself misery, if he were fortunate enough to escape public scorn.
Suddenly, the tall patrician buildings outside his window, bathed in golden afternoon light, did not seem so different to the low rows of tiny houses where he had been raised. Then as now, he had wanted the spectacular future that was just out of his reach so badly he almost could touch it. It was dangling in front of his outstretched fingers, and he was powerless to grab it.
Too good for the likes of him, rough voices whispered in an accent Severus had shed as soon as he had been able to modulate his vowels.
A gilded mirror hung above the fireplace (the house where he had been born had only had an open fire, and his first memories were tinged with smoke).
Severus stared at the pale man in his stern robes as if he were a stranger in his own life as well as in this country, before his exasperation got the better of him and he swirled around in a cloud of black wool.
For a moment, it looked like the stranger in the mirror remained, while Severus had gone.
Draco's face was transformed: the studied indifference he liked to cultivate in social settings had been replaced with unholy glee. He pushed his way through the crowd gathered for a select soiree to share his amusement with Severus.
"Krum's got his just deserts! Just look at him there." He nudged Severus gently towards a lone figure propping up one of the columns in the courtyard of Palazzo Miniati. Seeing as the building had weathered almost four centuries on its own, it did seem rather redundant. "That's a man who has been unlucky in love, if I ever saw one."
Severus' treacherous heart lifted, only to come crashing down again. Draco was still under the impression that Lady Heloïse was the object of Krum's affections, so he was hardly a reliable observer.
Still, Krum was decidedly downcast.
It was risky, but Severus decided it was worth it regardless. He shifted unobtrusively so he was directly in Krum's line of sight, and sent out a tendril of consciousness.
As usual, Draco did not know what he was talking about — the face in Krum's mind was clearly Hermione's. Severus almost took a step backwards when he was hit with the intensity of his depression — Krum may as well have been shouting from the rooftops that he had been turned down, and was miserable about it.
Severus did not know what to think or what to do — all he knew was that he had to speak to Miss Granger.
Searching the dazzling crowd for Lady Heloïse was easy — she was twirling her fan at a turbaned envoy from somewhere exotic near the main staircase, centre of attention as always. Her companion was more difficult to find — she favoured grey and dull green gowns in company, and was unlikely to be surrounded by a court of admirers.
Severus had not put his eyes on her for more than two weeks — suddenly he could not bear one more moment without Miss Granger. Fortunately, the occasion was restricted to wizards-only, so he could make use of a discrete Point-Me charm. His wand rose upwards in a surprisingly lewd manner, and Severus pocketed it quickly.
Up — he tilted his head and saw only the deepening sky at first. Then, the dark edges surrounding the courtyard opening to the elements took shape. He was able to make out servants bustling with trays and jugs, before spotting an unmoving figure leaning against the bannister two storeys above. Sweeping past Lady Heloïse, he commenced the climb towards Miss Granger.
If Krum was addressing her by her given name, Severus was damned if he were going to keep calling her Miss Granger inside his own head.
Unfortunately, once he reached her, he realised he had no idea what to say.
"You shouldn't seek me out like this, Mr Snape. It will give me quite the wrong impression." She still was not looking at him, and Severus realised his absence during the last weeks could be perceived as a deliberate snub.
"If I act as my usual charming self, it should soon set you right."
She snorted. Severus' eyes had adapted to the dim light, and he could see traces of tears on her face.
"Is it —" A new interpretation of events, only too likely, occurred to him. "Did Krum offer you a carte blanche?" he asked, aghast.
"Severus Snape!" Hermione sounded more like her usual self, and Severus tucked away the memory of her using his given name deep down, next to his memories of getting his Hogwarts letter and his first new wand. "How dare you suggest he did — and even it it were the case, how on earth would it be any of your business?"
"Otherwise I can't figure out how you would be foolish enough to turn him down!"
She drew a long heaving breath. "Of all the — Why do you even care if I marry Viktor Krum or not?"
"He can offer you a home of your own and a comfortable life, and all the opportunities to experiment in magic you could ever dream of. Everything, in short, that I cannot." Severus stared down at the dancing couples below. "You once told me no one had proposed marriage to you. Now the most eligible bachelor this side of the Alps has, and you refuse his most flattering offer. You have clearly taken leave of your senses."
"Not at all," she said. "I simply found my requirements have changed. Unfortunately, I am no longer satisfied with marrying the first man who asks me. I'm afraid it has to be a surly Potions Master or no one."
Severus' hand moved off its own accord until it clasped hers. They clutched the banister together, like they were grasping a future that never would happen.
Severus left the gathering at Palazzo Miniati as soon as he could contrive to slip out through the tradesman's entrance. There was nobody else there he wanted to speak to, and as far as Hermione was concerned, words were superfluous.
He had always known it was useless — he could barely manage to support himself, never mind adding a wife to the equation — but as long as Severus had believed his feelings were unreciprocated the whole thing had seemed like a pipe dream anyway. The wave of despair that stunned him at the precise moment he found out the woman he loved returned his affection was unexpected, but after some reflection he concluded it was logical.
Nothing in his life had turned out the way he wanted it to, so naturally the same would apply to love.
At some distant point in the future he may be able to rejoice in the fact that he had won the heart of a good woman (and a brilliant witch, at that), but at the moment Severus was too heartsick to do anything but wallow.
He did see the necessity of putting an end to their agony as soon as possible. It could not be, so it was of the utmost importance to arrange his removal from Florence as soon as possible. Fortunately, he was a Slytherin, and recognised the importance of planning for all contingencies — all he had to do was to deploy his plan for accelerating their removal to Rome.
Some strategically placed memoirs later, Draco was itching to discover the pleasures promised by the famed courtesans of Rome. All that remained was to fix on a date of departure and bid farewell to their friends in Florence.
As a single man, Draco did not entertain beyond offering his cronies dinner at their lodgings. The quality of the people he had befriended in Florence demanded a more dignified exit that his hurried exodus from Venice, however, so he set about procuring the use of the magnificent Villa Guidagni overlooking Florence from Arcetri, within spitting distance (for wizards, at least) of the city walls.
As usual, Malfoy Galleons were accepted currency everywhere. The owners had no aspirations of belonging to the higher echelons of society, so negotiations were refreshingly straightforward. It fell on Severus to organise the festivities, as Draco had more pressing engagements elsewhere trying to cram in as many of the pleasures Florence could offer before leaving.
He did it willingly — far better to compose an elegant menu designated to tempt the palate of the fussiest dandy and debate seating arrangements with the major domo who came with the villa than to think about Hermione.
He sent her a note with the invitation:
I hope you will come to bid me farewell.
It felt like writing his own order of execution, but there was no other way. Even wizards could not live on spells alone, and he wanted so much better for his Hermione. She might accept Krum's proposal, in time — the fact that he had looked at the companion rather than the lady and noticed her many qualities suggested he was not in the common way. If he persisted in his suit —
Severus threw himself back into the myriad of inconsequential things required to move their makeshift household to Rome, preferring not to dwell on what would happen once he had left Florence.
Musicians procured by the industrious major domo were playing on the upper terrace, and Severus idly wondered if the sleeping Muggles in the surrounding hamlets were dreaming about lords and ladies dancing in the dusty barn behind the church.
Lady Heloïse was announced, and his eyes moved of their own volition to the space two steps behind her, where Hermione should have been.
Perhaps Krum had been more persuasive than he had accounted for.
Severus was trying very hard not to be sick all over the exquisitely polished marble floor when a butterfly buffed against his hand and became a solid scrap of parchment.
Meet me by the fountain,
Severus had never felt less like a lover stealing a clandestine meeting as he descended the steps to the lower terrace. Near the steps, some guests had been tempted by the charmed jets jumping and dancing on surface of the long fountain, but for the most part the area was deserted.
Except at the very end, where a solitary figured revealed itself as Severus drew nearer. He should have known she would not risk her reputation by failing to use a simple charm, but it still brought a jolt to his heart to see her familiar shape suddenly outlined against the view of the city below.
"Splendid, isn't it?"
Severus considered — anything to take his mind off their impending goodbye. "For all its beauty, it still has the same vices as any other city. More perhaps, considering its prosperity."
Apparently, Hermione also preferred to discuss trivialities rather than their impending separation. "So you would rather look down on, say, Manchester, instead of this?"
"As usual, you are jumping to conclusions."
"Known in the Muggle world as making a logical inference, but logic never was a strong point of wizards." If she left herself open like that, it was only because she was building up to attacking from the side. Severus took the bait — he was not going to turn down what might be his last chance to parry with Hermione.
"Witches, of course, are an entirely different matter," he said loftily. Before Hermione could expand on the theme — virtually a gilt-edged invitation — she grabbed his arm and squeezed it, hard.
"Shh," she breathed into his ear, and Severus could not have moved even if he had wanted to. When he forced himself to pay attention to his surroundings again, rather than dwelling on the delicious sensation of Hermione's voice in his ear, he realised she slowly was extracting her wand from the embroidered reticule she was carrying.
Not daring to move lest he interrupted whatever in the world she was doing — had they been spotted by a Muggle? — Severus concentrated on what he could perceive in the golden light of the setting sun.
The warmth of Hermione's body, almost indecently close — better not dwell on that. The soft breeze, carrying a sweet scent of flowers unknown to England. The soft buzzing of bees and jittery flight of butterflies seeking the flowers surrounding the fountain, accompanied by faraway music and the chatter of the idle classes. Hermione changing her stance, her wand free at last.
"Can you see it?" she whispered, softer than the hum of a bumblebee. Severus moved his head a fraction to indicate no.
"On the laurel hedge, next to the yellow roses. A Four-Eyed Blue-Tailed Damselfly!" It clearly meant something to Hermione, but unless the Italians had bred flesh-eating dragonflies, Severus could not perceive why it would concern them.
Correctly interpreting his silence as ignorance — she really was very, very clever — Hermione chanced another whisper: "It's so rare nobody has seen it for fifty years! It would be worth — oh, several fortunes. Promise you will do exactly as I say, and we will carry this off."
Severus nodded this time, thankful for his self-imposed vow of silence as his mouth suddenly went dry. Even a modest competence would change everything —
His visions of idyllic cottages with a Potions laboratory at the back were interrupted by Hermione's elbow rudely poking him in the ribs.
"When I say 'go', Levitate me over the fountain."
Before Severus had time to tell her it was the worst plan since Evan Rosier decided the best way to exterminate his beard was with Fiendfyre, she said: "Go!"
Fervently hoping at least one of them knew what they were about, he did as instructed. Keeping as still as possible while scanning the laurel hedge for anything blue, Severus tried to ignore his wildly beating heart.
Hermione hovered above him, rotating slowly in the air, her wand stretched like she was hoping the dragonfly would perch on it.
"Down," she whispered, and Severus obediently lowered his wand. Hermione landed in the fountain with a splash even the sleeping Muggles could hear. Horrified, Severus watched something blue flutter away over the edge of the terrace.
"Don't just stand there, do something!" Hermione snapped.
"Accio dragonfly!" Severus may as well have tried to whistle down the wind — the glimpse of blue moved further into the distance.
"Haven't you read the book? Magic doesn't work directly on them, we have to try something else!" Hermione looked around frantically, far past noticing her soaked dress. "Ventus Aspira!"
The breeze changed direction and gained in strength, almost blowing them off the terrace.
"Idiotic woman, it is Aura Aspira!" Severus put all his strength into the spell, changing the course of the wind. While he was directing it with his wand, Hermione quickly transfigured her reticule into a net. She lowered it just as Severus started to waver, placing her foot on the handle as soon as it hit the ground.
"There!" She panted heavily, and Severus lowered his shaking arm.
He did not quite dare to believe it, peering suspiciously into the net. "Are you sure you caught it?"
Hermione did not even stop grinning. "See the pebble in the corner? It's just behind it. They can shrink themselves, but not too much."
There was a tiny speck of blue - she had indeed caught it. Hermione fashioned a shimmery bubble with her wand and transferred it there before she shrank it to fit into her re-transformed reticule. Severus felt dizzy with their good fortune, before he recalled that he was Severus Snape and things were bound to implode sooner rather than later.
Hermione had caught the Four-Eyed Snot-Tailed Wotsit, not him.
He had indeed helped her, but it had been Hermione who had spotted the critter and contrived to capture it. Severus may not be a gentleman, but he did have some honour: the dragonfly belonged to Hermione, not the two of them.
It was one thing to nurse a tendre for a surly Northerner two decades her senior when there was no possibility it would progress any further than wistful glances. It was quite another to stick to him when she suddenly became the mistress of her own destiny, assuming she was right about the value of the insect (of course she was — Hermione had never yet been wrong about anything you could learn from a book).
That Severus would be nursing a broken heart long after he had returned to England meant nothing — he had always known Hermione was far above him in every way that mattered.
"You're not going to faint, are you?" she asked suspiciously. "My smelling salts are in my reticule, and besides, I didn't think you would be so poor-spirited."
"I was merely contemplating your good fortune. How did you know what it was, by the way?" To his surprise, Severus found he would rather prolong the inevitable than find out his fate.
"I found it in the Bestiarium Magicum you gave me, of course. What did you think I was going to do with it, use it for lighting fires?"
"I thought you may perhaps read it to Lady Heloïse during the long evenings," he said, his voice surprisingly steady.
Hermione snorted. "I must do something for Lady Heloïse, I suppose — it would not be fair to just cast her loose."
It was Severus' turn to scoff. "I have never met a woman more likely to cast her anchor somewhere without the least provocation."
"It is hardly her fault her first husband was idiotic enough to ride his winged horse while inebriated." Hermione was surprisingly passionate in her defence of a lady who did not treat her with any particular consideration, other than what any well-bred woman showed to her dependents. "No one bats an eyelid when a man goes through several wives, but as soon as it is a woman who outlives them, you are all up in arms."
Severus was well aware that Lady Heloïse would face a dearth of options unless she was willing to relinquish her independence and live with her relatives, but he had not realised Hermione sympathised with her predicament. "Do you actually like her?"
"I like her inability to settle for doing what people think she should do, and instead ask herself what she would like to achieve."
"Bringing three husbands to a premature end?"
"Two, at most. I have yet to come across any conclusive evidence. Perhaps I should encourage her to marry Draco after all — that would solve the problem neatly."
Severus felt all the blood drain from his face. "If you have any regard for what becomes of me at all, please do not. The best I could hope for if that happens is that Lucius doesn't leave my remains too disfigured."
"I did not realise you intended to linger long enough to find out — would you not rather leave your post as soon as possible?"
Knowing Lucius Malfoy as he did, Severus felt obliged to warn her: "It would not matter if I went to the Antipodes — Lucius would obliterate me if I let his only son marry a half-blood of questionable reputation and provenance."
"I see. I will have to think of something else. Sooner rather than later, though, don't you agree?"
Severus noticed his wand arm was shaking. "Hermione," he began, not knowing how to continue. If there had been classes in love-making at Hogwarts, Severus would have received a T.
"Yes, Severus?" She was rather closer than he remembered.
He swallowed. "You do not have to go through with this, you know. Everything has changed now. As a wealthy woman, you will be able to have your mother live with you. You can have your own Potions laboratory, all the finest ingredients —"
"And so I shall. With you, although I confess I would be glad if you would agree to my mother coming to live with us, should she wish it."
"It is your fortune, to do with as you wish. Are you certain this is what you want?" There was no need to spell out what he meant — his less than agreeable appearance and misanthropic tendencies required no pointing out.
"Carrying out first-rate Potions research with you?" Hermione looked uncertain for the first time since catching the dragonfly. "I was rather hoping you wished to marry me, as well."
"I'm afraid the proprieties would demand we were married —"
"Sod the proprieties. Do you want to marry me or not?" Gryffindors certainly cut to the chase.
Severus found it strangely exhilarating to cast aside a lifetime of obfuscation, albeit it terrified him, too. "More than anything. Will you do me the honour of accepting my hand in marriage?"
"I think I proposed first, but yes. I cannot think of anything that would make me happier. Not even a Potions laboratory. Although I should make it clear that it is our fortune, not mine, if you should wish to set out on your own." Hermione did not seem to be able to stop talking, so Severus took matters in his own hands.
"I see you don't," she said as soon as their most improper embrace came to an end.
"If you are foolish enough to consent to be shackled to me, I would be an irredeemable dunderhead if I let you slip away."
Crunching gravel announced the arrival of other guests. Severus detached himself from Hermione with some difficulty, but as she let her hand slip into his the loss seemed less acute. Pretending to admire the view, they looked out over Florence in silence.
Severus held onto the banister with his other hand, just in case he lost control of his magic and drifted off towards the skies, propelled by sheer happiness.