I will, of course, be going back to sample everyone elses offerings (hooray! stockpiling fluff on a gray Sunday!)
Title: Research and Developments
Word Count: Just shy of 7,750
Rating: PG13? Yes indeed...
Warnings: Salty Language, Snark, Sham Marriages, Snape Rudeness, and Hannah and Neville *looking* at eachother. A lot...
There were few things in the world worse than a party...
The gloomy, moldering old manor house (purchased for its vast, two story library space and large main kitchen which acted now as a development lab) he shared with Lourdes, Aberforth, and a large number of goats, had received it’s fair share of invitations to all manner of events for the winter season. Two years after the wars end their lives had take on an unsettling quiet when they were used to constant tension and living in a state of perpetual heightened awareness. Real life now almost seemed like a trick, too good and too dull to be true. Severus could fill the void that the war left with absolute immersion in the research and development process - which was every bit as engrossing as he remembered.
Gruesome, though it had been, the war had given him greater sense of purpose, or perhaps that feeling was only nostalgia and it had not been that meaningful. Lourdes was not so absorbed by their new life, he could tell. She wanted to be back at a job that held just as much thrall for her, but the Ministry of Magic was in the midst of upheaval and restructuring. They weren’t ready to add a specialist whose talents were the result of nebulous instinct and dubious Muggle science, despite the fact that Fenrir Greyback was still at large and Lourdes already had a file a meter thick on him.
They’d only accepted a couple of invitations this year, and the one they were preparing for this evening was the Herbology Institute’s Winter Garden Party. It was less of a lark and more a familiar spy mission, penetrating the community of Herbologists to secure a new member for their staff.
It was Belby's fault, the twat had enticed away their research Herbologist, Tom Moon, to work on some bollocks money making project for the company Belby headed on the side - the god damned Gildery Lockhart Cosmetic's firm. Moon was now researching plants with anti-aging properties in Madagascar for a substantially higher salary than his last meager grant funded assignment in Borneo. Of course, that was the risk in hiring a Slytherin, anyone who could be bought the first time around could be bought for a little more the next.
Because Belby was a stupid twat (something Severus had told him in a few more words at the Potioneer's Society Gala) Severus got to spend the evening avoiding the horror of buffet food exposed to all manner of expectorant and poking finger tips, wearing shoes that pinched his feet. Reflecting on his appearance – scowling - in the mirror Severus thought he looked rather like a cat stuffed into doll's clothes, uncomfortable and prone to claw, bite, and hiss.
At last the bathroom door swung open, and Lourdes emerged at last in silver on deep blue brocade dress robes made up in the sleek Tibetan style, with heavy silver jewelry and an arc of blue poppies and pearls around her bun. He considered her appearance for a moment, nodding vaguely, and then headed straight for the coat closet to pass Lourdes her heavy fur lined cloak.
"I checked with some of the people on the registration board, Longbottom plus one has RSVP'd" Lourdes said as she arranged the hood carefully over the flowers.
"We'll figure that out when we get there..." Severus muttered. The idea of dealing with Longbottom again made him feel most uncharitable. Severus was acutely aware that there was about five years of mutual dislike between them, and students who imagined themselves especially abused were always terribly difficult or demanding to deal with later on.
"There was an engagement announcement in the paper a week ago..." she muttered.
"I saw, you posted it on the fridge."
"Don't you think that's a factor we ought to consider?"
"He can go without her, can't he?" Severus muttered. There wasn’t the budget to be sending off some extravagant little witchly wife alongside their Herbologist. She’d want special provisions, undue luxuries, she’d moan about the heat, and he’d take twice as long to get the work done.
Lourdes gave him a withering look. "Severus...did you even look over the file I did on the girl?"
"Abilities aside, wouldn't it be worth asking him to go alone at the very least? Do you think it wise to while so much grant money away on sending two instead of one?"
"I shouldn't think it would even be negotiable. But better off to have two people working the jungle, alternate watches, someone to hold down fort. Besides, if she is what Pomfrey says she is, she may be able to speed up the process.”
"We'll have to see..."
Compared to the Potioneer’s tackily extravagant gala (Potioneers events always smacked of Slughorn’s personal taste), the Herbology Institutes’ green house Winter Garden Party was a welcome treat. The fruit trees were heavy with late blossoms, all the border herbs were in full fragrant glory, and a little swarm of butterflies had been released to flit around and look attractive. Someone had even managed to get the greenhouse glass to stream sunshine down on the party goers even though it was a dark, early evening outside.
Blessedly there was no buffet, just young witches dressed as flowers passing trays of hors d'oeuvres and champagne. Lourdes almost felt as though they should have worn something a bit more cheerful because they looked icy and gloomy compared to the rest of the guests.
Severus looked mildly impressed and muttered something about telling the Potioneers to sod it once and for all and doing this party every year instead, as he swiped a pair of champagne glasses off a passing tray and they began the hunt for their seats.
“Severus, we’re over here,” she hissed, finding that they were seated in a suitably isolated niche, next to two names she didn’t know. “All we need to do is find Longbottom and his Plus One and do a bit of rearranging…”
The rearranging was not so easy, the Longbottom pair was supposed to be seated all the way across the room, but with a certain amount of stealth, and Lourdes standing guard, Severus managed the re-seat before they slipped back into the crowd to keep an eye out for their targets.
Keeping a low profile, they snatched canapés and vol au vents as they passed, scrutinizing the largely unfamiliar crowd. On the whole Herbologists tended to be a rather tatty, homey looking bunch but they cleaned up well enough. Various tweedy old wizards had come up to speak to Lourdes about her “lovely Meconopsis Grandis,” which wasn’t nearly as dirty as it sounded. They were simply curious as to whether or not she cultivated the Tibetan blue poppies she was wearing. Severus kept an eye on the crowd as Lourdes chatted awkwardly with a pair of gentlemen about the issues surrounding procuring a proper visa and entrance pass from the prohibitive Chinese Government.
One of the gentlemen had mistakenly brought up the topic of the “nasty, warlike” natives of the area, and Lourdes was just about to let fly a blistering diatribe about ethnocentrism when she heard a roar of drunken laughter and the crowd parted for a familiar figure in lavender velvet …
“Fuckall,” Lourdes hissed, leaning over towards Severus, “does Slughorn get invited to everything?”
“Connections m’dear. Connections,” Severus responded with sneer.
“Do you think we’ve been spotted?”
“Let’s not chance it…” The words had just barely left Severus’ lips when Slughorn’s beefy head turned their way and a bright gleam ran across his little beady black eyes.
“Well well! Severus m’boy, and your little wife!” Slughorn boomed at the top of his lungs, lumbering through the crowd towards them, looking more like a mustachioed couch than ever before. Lourdes swore under her breath and gripped her wineglass with all her strength. Severus’ left eye was twitching at top speed and his jaw was clenched so hard she could hear his teeth grinding.
“Horace,” Severus said nastily as he was scooped under Slughorn’s arm. “Ever the fattest hog in Epicurus’ herd…
Slughorn roared with good natured laughter again, apparently mistaking the thinly veiled insult for a compliment. “I’m disappointed with you Severus! No invitation to the wedding! The two of you eloped did you? Can’t say as I blame you what with all the press coverage your trials received… unfortunate that, but I had faith…”
A number of thoughts impressed themselves instantly on Lourdes’ brain, the most prominent one being the fantasy where she got to pull all the wobbly white stuffing out of that fat lavender sofa of a man. She still had a misericorde in an ankle holster…
“It was discreet,” Lourdes hissed, “because it’s a diplomatic issue. Pray tell, how did you find out?” Severus had signed the documents so that she wouldn’t risk deportation, and no matter now many times they explained that to Slughorn, he insisted referring to her as “the little witch” or “your wife.”
“Excellent connecshuns M’dear, I know a lot of people in the records office you know.” The drunken lout tapped one finger to his nose as he swayed on the spot. Severus extricated himself from the neck lock gracefully and sidled up next to her, looking rumpled and irritated while Lourdes reached over instinctively to smooth out the shoulders of his robe and tuck the escaped strands from his ponytail behind his ears.
“Yes, it was very kind of Severus to prevent my deportation … Although I’m sure we’ve mentioned that before,” she said acidly.
“Ahhh alas, not a love match.” Slughorn looked slightly deflated at that, but he was on a roll. “Well Severus…to tell you the truth I didn’t think you were the sort to ever get married a-tall. Brilliant mind of course, horrible disposition though you know what they say, good temperament and thin body rarely reside together. You should be feeding him up lass, even if it is a sham wedding,”
Slughorn teetered forward a little and shook an admonishing finger at her. She could feel his beady little eyes appraising her figure, and silently hoped that he’d have the audacity to say something to her, she’d rip the good temperament right out of him.
“But I do see your point. Loosing a research partner is verrah inconvenient. Why did I ever tell you about the time I worked with that French chap? Besht…best…Herbologist I ever worked with but every time…deported over and over! MOST unpleasant I tell you… You must never travel with a Herbologist though, damn fellows are always stopping to look at the weeds. OH HO! Speaking of Herbologists…”
From somewhere behind his bulky form, Slughorn plucked a slightly awkward young man of average height in elegant brown dress robes with rumpled dark brown hair. His face seemed to be just dropping out of adolescent roundness into something a bit more defined. He’d actually be good looking if it weren’t for and the expression that suggested he’d just been shoved into a free mouth of the three headed beast in the seventh level of hell along with Judas and Brutus.
“Neville Longbottom!” Slughorn said eagerly, “And his little girlfriend…Hannah…Monk?”
“Abbot.” The girl in question replied curtly. She was one of those English rose types, milky pale with a faint smattering of age-faded freckles over her slightly upturned nose. Her considerable quantity of blonde hair was neatly arranged on the back of her head with a cluster of creamy sunset colored tea roses that matched her chic backless crepe gown. She carried herself with a measure of promising confidence, but the overall effect was slightly spoiled by the glare she had trained on Slughorn.
“Yes, well it’ll be Longbottom soon at any rate won’t it? Neville, Hannah, you’ll know Severus here and his wife…Mrs…Severus?”
“Ms Mezarci,” Lourdes snapped.
“Wife?” Hannah looked incredulous and raised an eyebrow.
But before anyone could answer, Slughorn roared with laughter at nothing in particular and slapped Neville on the back so hard she was surprised his eyes didn’t pop out of his head. “Neville here’s the best Herbologist around, that’s the word. Never met one so natural since the days of Kingdon-Ward! Belby’s so pleased he wants to extend his contract, put him on staff permanently! S’afine venture for a young man such as yourself, good man Belby, one of mine! Invented the Wolfsbane potion you know…”
Blessedly Slughorn trailed off into the crowd looking for another victim, leaving Lourdes and Severus alone with Neville and Hannah, who were the two lone representatives of their age bracket.
“Mister Longbottom and Ms Abbot, seems we have the pleasure of dining with you this evening,” Lourdes felt her face arrange itself in one of those rusty, public smiles as she extended a hand in their direction. Neville remained perfectly composed as he reached out to shake it, and Hannah’s did little to disguise the look of suspicious concern that clouded her features when Lourdes moved to shake her hand as well.
There was a fraction of a second where Hannah looked slightly shocked, and pulled away smacking her lips and shaking her hand surreptitiously. But that made sense. Hannah was one of those “sensitive” types according to Pomfrey, and that could be a very useful skill if the subject was inclined to make the most of it. It was like hitting a double jackpot, someone with a knack for plants, and someone who’d be able to help find the right ones quickly. It was now a question of how to broach the subject gracefully…
Well, Lourdes thought grimly, bring on the small talk.
“That gown is very becoming Ms Abbot, as are the roses. Did you cultivate those yourself Mr. Longbottom?” Lourdes asked, uneasily.
“Ah, yes, the bushes are at my Gran’s, she likes to keep something cheerful in the house during winter,” Neville replied earnestly. Hannah’s arm snapped out quick as a whip to grab a glass off a passing tray and she took a small sip, though her pained expression suggested she’d rather down the whole thing in one go.
A few more minutes of uncomfortable silence passed as Neville looked around – presumably for anyone else he knew - and Hannah edged ever closer to him. Alright, Lourdes thought, I’ll give it another try - this couldn’t be as hard as interrogation...
“Forgive my ignorance Ms Abbot, but what is it that you do?” Damnit, that sounded bitchy didn’t it? Lourdes saw Severus wince slightly as if he’d noticed it too.
Hannah’s face flashed a micro-expression of determination and she took a step forward as if accepting a challenge. “I’m working with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office.”
“Oh!” Here was something Lourdes might be able to work with… “I worked in Antiquities Reclamation for the Turkish Ministry while I was at University. We’d call around and negotiate the return of charmed artifacts and things from museums, or private collections, peoples homes. Flying carpets, enchanted jewelry, the like. I remember we had a rather nasty fight with the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office not wanting to let go of a particularly valuable carpet as it was evidence in their case. Someone by the name of Perkins was in charge, is he still there?”
“Oh Perkins retired about a year ago, and it’s my department now,” she replied, inclining her head slightly and relaxing her posture at last. Hannah’s gaze didn’t dart around Lourdes’ face as if trying to figure out where to look – scars or tattoos – she looked her dead in the eye. “I’m very lucky though, the head of the Artifacts and Items Control takes good care of us, Arthur Weasley do you know him?”
“Met him once under some rather unfortunate circumstances,” Lourdes said evasively.
“Well, Misuse of Muggle Artifacts was a bit of a joke before, but Mr Weasley’s given us a proper office with a window and room to move around. We mostly deal with Muggle baiting incidents, and sorting out proposed amendments to laws and the like.” Though she seemed to be attempting to convey enthusiasm, Hannah looked bored just talking about it.
“Do you like your work?” Lourdes said, rather bluntly. Damnit she was 3 glasses of champagne deep with almost nothing in her stomach, and by all accounts she was about as tactful as a cricket bat when she'd had a few.
Hannah looked slightly stunned by the question, but recovered quickly. “Oh, well they take very good care of me and I work with some lovely people…”
“That’s not what I meant, Ms Abbot. Do you like what you do? Is this the sort of thing you wanted to do when you were little?” Lourdes felt a bit more in her element now that things had turned from small talk to weightier matters, but Hannah looked predictably uncomfortable and lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“Well, nobody imagines they’ll work in an office all their life. What, what about you, Ms…Mezarci is that right?” She hardly stumbled over Lourdes’ mess of a last name. “What do you do?”
“I don’t do much of anything these days, I confess I find myself a bit trapped by diplomacy. I was in law enforcement in Turkey, profiling techniques and field work for captures. It was all Muggle based technique, a bit progressive for your Ministry but they say they’re considering it. This research and development business is all Severus, I just happen to be good at paper work.”
Hannah looked tenuous for a moment as if she shouldn’t ask what she was about to. “How do you know…Severus?” His first name came out of her mouth as awkwardly as if she were vomiting up frogs.
“We went to Hogwarts together, both in Slytherin. And I served with him in the war as I’m sure anyone who read the trial reports knows. I presume you and Neville met at Hogwarts as well?”
“Yes, but I was in Hufflepuff so we spent time together in classes mostly,” Hannah paused and looked around for him, Neville had been spirited away by Professor Sprout and was engaged in an enthusiastic conversation with one of the old tweedy gentlemen, Severus had disappeared entirely as well, though gods only knew where, probably poisoning Slughorn’s wineglass.
“He’s in demand, your Neville.” Lourdes noted slyly. “I’m sure he hears it often, but when he’s smiling he looks remarkably like his father.”
“Yeah, he does hear that a bit more these days,” Hannah said, a very cozy smile stealing over her features when she looked in his direction.
“And his contract’s up with Belby?”
“Word gets around quickly doesn’t it?” Hannah replied sharply, raising an eyebrow.
“It must have been a profitable assignment, Belby owns the Gilderoy Lockhart Cosmetics Company, so he can afford to hire the best and pay them handsomely. Should certainly assure you have a lovely wedding,” Lourdes fought to control her tone and keep it light and friendly as though she was trying to have a properly girlish conversation and not a shameless fact finding expedition. “May I see your engagement ring?”
Hannah held her hand up and spread her fingers to display the ring instead of offering it out to be held and examined up close. Clearly, she didn’t want to touch Lourdes again. In any case the ring was quite pretty, a pearl with a slight gold cast to it set on a distinctly Renaissance band.
“Oh, that’s lovely. Family heirloom? The Longbottoms don't seem like a family that buys their own furniture...”
“Yes,” Hannah looked inexplicably defensive for a moment, but Lourdes decided to blow right past it, and dispense with this endless beating ‘round the bush.
“Do you fancy travel Ms Abbot?”
“That all depends,” she replied coolly, standing up straighter as though she refused to wilt under Lourdes’ slightly predatory ramblings.
“Now Ms Abbot I’d never ask you to sacrifice any ambitions of your own to go trotting after a boy and all that, no woman should ever have to do that. All I’m saying to you is the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts will always be there, and the world has a great deal more to offer a young lady like yourself. It’s not all paperwork and little outings to have a look at a set of shrinking keys.”
Hannah’s face seemed to darken like clouds passing over the sun, and she cocked her body away from Lourdes at an angle, one foot out the door. Lourdes pressed on regardless…
“You’re a bit unusual aren’t you? You withdrew immediately upon touching me and I suspect that I make you more than a bit uncomfortable, and not just in the social sense. Sensitive…is such a dull term for your condition but it is descriptive. Doubtless your ability has been ignored, or scarcely acknowledged, but I do pray you haven’t been encouraged to shut it off entirely. If you should wish to make use of your unusual quality, instead of squandering it, you might consider accompanying your young man out into the field. Someone like you would be quite helpful in sorting the wheat from the chaff as it were. There are innumerable magical plants in the Amazon, but only a few of them are the sort we’d like to look for…” Lourdes’ paused, lips pursed into a half smirk with one eyebrow raised as she drummed her fingers against her wine glass.
Hannah had the look of someone who’d had the air knocked out of her lungs, and she backed off slowly before muttering an excuse about needing to go to the ladies… Lourdes watched the little train on the back of her dress snaking across the floor as she disappeared into the crowd.
“How did that go?” Severus asked archly, sidling up to her.
“We’ll see then won’t we? I think she’d do well, but women tend to be so self deprecating these days. Did you get to speak with Mr Longbottom?” Lourdes asked, tilting her head to look at him.
“No, but there’s still dinner...”
The lights were dimmer now, the artificial sunshine giving way to an artificial sunset spilling the colors across the floor, the butterflies slowed their flights and began to settle in to the trees. The atmosphere at their table was one of tightly wound silence, Neville and Hannah sat close to one another on their side of the exquisitely set round table, their white knuckled, intertwined hands resting on the edge of the table as if presenting a solid front of unity towards the aggressors seated across from them.
Lourdes and Severus had arranged themselves an easy distance from one another, so that just a slight turn of the head would enable them to catch the other’s eye so a brief flicker of thought to transmit itself easily. With the benefit if age, and skill, they had the art of silent communication down. Their waitress, oblivious to the war-room air of the table, delivered an amuse-bouche of a single oyster served on a little bed of ice with a cucumber lemon granita that perfectly complimented the salty-sweet liquor and slick oyster flesh.
Lourdes and Severus pointedly ignored their tablemates for a moment, chattering breezily with about the virtues of Irish oysters and the amusing Chablis served in tiny glasses. Neville and Hannah spoke to one another in low tones, having adventurously demolished their oysters without so much as a grimace. After a while the salad appeared without much ceremony, the sky had darkened further and to compensate the clusters of glass orbs flared up to a soft glow and small lights appeared in all the trees. Little white ghost moths had been released and were drifting languidly from tree to tree sampling the last of the flowers.
Hannah stopped and smiled warmly at the display, before turning that smile on Neville who returned it, and squeezed her hand. Lourdes caught sight of Severus, who was scowling into his salad like a discontented old man, and groaned internally. Severus was being picky, sour, she knew he resented having to wheedle and negotiate to get someone to work with him. Deep down Lourdes knew he missed the “do as I say, or else” element of teaching, but that was the only thing he missed. Well, that was what she was here for wasn’t it? If she couldn’t be squeezing subjects in interrogation rooms, she may as well use the bargaining tactics to benefit the research.
“Let us dispense with the niceties Mr Longbottom, we’d like to make a proposition…” Lourdes said.
Neville looked taken aback, but not startled. Looking owlishly at Severus, and then Lourdes before raising his eyebrows slightly and uttering a very calm “ Alright then.”
Lourdes kicked Severus very hard in the ankle. “Severus?”
“Well Longbottom…” Severus began, with a mild sneer.
“MISTER Longbottom,” Lourdes interrupted ferociously, fuckall if he was going to blow this by being predictably nasty.
“MISTER Longbottom,” Severus muttered, “As you may have heard, Thomas Moon has been re-employed by the Gilderoy Lockhart Cosmetic’s Company, and has effectively withdrawn his services from our project. So we are in need of a Herbologist…”
Moon wouldn’t be talking though, Lourdes thought as a faintly wicked smile crept over her lips, not if he didn’t want a demonic entity on his doorstep within seconds of breaking his contract…
“I’d heard,” Neville replied politely before taking a final bite of his salad.
Not exactly the hoped for response…
“And we’d like to offer you the position,” Severus continued tersely.
Neville smiled politely, maddeningly politely, but Lourdes noticed the slight nervous shaking of his hand as he gripped his fork. The wrong one, in his haste or his nervousness he’d eaten his salad with the standard fork and was left with the little salad fork for the rest of the meal. She decided for now, not to point it out.
“Actually, we’d like to extend the offer to both of you,” Lourdes interjected smoothly, raising an eyebrow at Severus, inviting him to continue.
“The assignment would take you to Brazil,” Severus continued in a measured voice, ignoring the waitress who cleared away their salad plates and presented the entrée, a hearty portion of rack of lamb that smelled heavenly – garlic, lavender, juniper, and lemon – with some roasted potatoes and sautéed green beans. Her appetite back in full force, Lourdes blotted out the conversation for a moment as she tore in to the lamb shank with her knife and folded the first melty, tender bite into her mouth.
The food had brought the conversation to a halt. Hannah and Neville were tucking in enthusiastically, pausing occasionally to exchange a comment about the ‘interesting taste’ of this or that, and if “Gran” had any juniper bushes in the garden. Severus was eating the meal as though he were going to be grading it, and it seemed to be passing the muster, but you could never tell with him.
“So, Mister Longbottom,” Lourdes said, patting the corners of her mouth with her napkin for spots of stray sauce, “Brazil. South Eastern Brazil to be exact, there are still some pockets of relatively un-ravaged forest. Unfortunately “western culture” has had a negative effect on extracting useful medicinal knowledge from the forests, most of the natives have been killed off or…civilized,” her voice dipped contempt there and Lourdes wrinkled her long nose and looked away, “And thus a great chance is lost, and any expedition combing the forest for plants with certain qualities has been made that much more difficult.”
“We are, of course, not sending you in to grope around the jungle blindly,” Severus added dryly. “We’re in search of a very specific subspecies of plant, but naturally you would be free study the other plants of interest, which is perhaps where Ms Abbot may find herself useful.”
“Is that so?” Hannah said coolly.
“It may be,” Severus said, lip curling into a familiar derisive sneer at her terse tone. “If you are, as Madame Pomfrey insists, a slightly more unusual witch you will have no doubt noticed that you are able to detect magic where other wizards might not notice it, outside of appearances. An untrained eye may pass by a new species, and a Herbologist may spend weeks pacing the same little track of land, dissecting samples, analyzing compounds to find a plant you may be able to locate, or at least narrow down in a few days time. Mr. Longbottom is essential being skilled in the proper classification, and formal identification, as well as the necessary chemical compound studies, taking samples and the like. There are other things for you to do, Ms Abbot, if it pleases you. There are several groups that run animal rescue and care, remaining natives you might converse with if you’re inclined to learn the local dialect.”
Hannah did not look entirely unimpressed, and looked towards Neville who nodded slowly. “Mr. Snape,” he began, with just a bit of hesitation at eschewing Severus’ old academic title for the polite social address, “it does sound like a very promising assignment. Unfortunately, I can’t say if I can, or can’t at the moment, I’ve got quite a few offers to sort through and consider.”
“Whatever they’re offering you, we will keep the pay competitive of course, and consider that most other research expeditions wouldn’t send your new bride along either,” Severus huffed, fixing that familiar withering “you are beneath me” glare on Neville, who was starting to go red around the edges just a bit, but it was not from embarrassment.
Blessedly, someone saw fit to start the music then. A sparkling waltz invited couples to dance, but the floor was sparsely populated owing to the fact that most of the guests were still recovering from the meal and contemplating the desert carts.
“Ms Abbot, you’ll forgive me please if I borrow your young man for a dance? Severus always objects to dancing right after dinner, says it’s bad for the stomach how do you feel about it Mr. Longbottom?” It was, really less of a question than a command as she snapped her hand out towards him, gambling that Neville had been too well brought up to refuse an invitation to dance, even if it was so brusquely phrased.
“It’s no trouble,” he said tentatively. Hannah looked wickedly amused that Neville was being drug off by the ear for a dance. She waved at the pitiful looking creature playfully as Lourdes marched him over to a corner of the floor, assumed a starchy waltz posture and began dragging the poor boy around for the ride as he struggled to keep up and remain composed.
“I will speak frankly, Mr. Longbottom, now that I have a moment to do so. Severus is naturally unhappy about divulging information about the nature of our research to someone who is not contractually obligated to hold his tongue. So I am now trusting in your sense of honor, and that you have one because you were after all, a Gryffindor. Am I right to place my trust in you Mister Longbottom?” she said briskly, without loosing a beat.
“Umm…ah…yes,” Neville replied at last, cheeks gathering full blown red as he quickened his pace, looking down at his feet, up again, down, over at the other dancing couples…
“Eyes up Mr. Longbottom, the feet know what to do. In any case I’m glad I’ve not misjudged you, one does start to worry about getting rusty after all. I think you will find the focus of our research very interesting, very useful. You are after all intimately familiar with the effect of the Cruciatus curse…”
Neville’s face became instantly hard, eyes tightening up into a penetrating glare, and he was about to open his mouth and say something when she cut him off.
“I don’t speak of the circumstances of your parents lightly, believe me, I didn’t get these scars at tea parties you know. And I don’t wish to cheapen your family by making them coinage for the purchase of your sympathy and cooperation. I simply mention it because it is the nature of our work. We are taking a new approach to develop a potion that combats the effects of the Cruciatus curse on the brain. It may well improve the quality of life for a great number of people.”
His expression softened a bit and he looked attentive, attentive as anyone could look when their eyes were darting between their feet and her face.
“We’ve taken an unusual approach in the research, to understand how the potions ingredients affect the brain’s functioning and how the base magic of the curse, what chemicals and functions it triggers and impairs, what the behavioral result would be. Naturally, this approach based in Muggle science is meeting with a great deal of criticism an objection from those in the potions community, and there are several would be competitors eager to undermine our research and have the grant money for themselves. What we’ve done is unlike anything they’ve attempted before…” Lourdes said smoothly.
Severus had been tireless in his research efforts on the illustrative brain she’d wheedled from O.H.K. as “one last favor.” She loved the look on his face when he marveled at how he could see a spell flickering through the small, grey organ… They stopped spinning and Lourdes pinned Neville in a corner by a cluster of orange trees while she talked, her pace speeding up like an avalanche.
“Your parents are not insane Mr. Longbottom, that’s a legal term, and has nothing to do with the fact that their brains are protecting themselves, they are operating off the most primitive animal part. The rest of them is locked up, shut itself off to protect them in a moment of extreme stress that the brain was never prepared for or intended to endure. If we can create the right key we can get the rest of their brain open. They would be receptive to therapy, they would be able to relearn forgotten things, but it won’t give them back to you entirely, it’s not going to turn time back. Think on this very carefully Mr. Longbottom. There were many people damaged in the last war. Is a schoolboy grudge against a miserably man worth throwing away all that?”
“I’m not holding a grudge, Ms Mezarci,” Neville replied evenly. Lourdes felt her face twist into an expression of undisguised surprise, there was no trace of lie in his eyes, in his thoughts, in his gut reaction. Remarkable boy then, given the old platitude to err is human, to forgive divine. “That was a long time ago. I found a way to practice on the side.”
“A forgiving nature is a rare quality Mr. Longbottom. One I find myself lacking.”
“Why me? Ms Mezarci there are a lot of Herbologists here, with more field experience than I have.” Neville seemed very young then, very small in his lapse in confidence, and Lourdes felt an old pang of sympathy for it.
“Because you are the best. And in my experience, in Severus’ experience, you always hire the best to do the best. You’re young, you have a specialized skill, you’re adept in the analysis of the plant parts, you know how to accurately conduct a breakdown test. That’s two people’s jobs absorbed into one healthy, young, intuitive person. I can make this worth your while Mr. Longbottom. Beyond the salary. Anywhere you want to go, that’s where you’ll go afterward. Name it, and I can make it happen for you, if you want the Louisiana Bayou, the Panama mountain highlands for orchid research, the Tsangpo Gorge, anywhere. One unpleasant assignment, a year, maybe two in the jungle with Hannah, and then the rest of your life to do what you want…”
Hannah kept giving him surreptitious glares when she thought he was not looking. Though, that wasn’t unusual for someone who’d been a student of his.
Try as he might to remember her distinctly, the only thing he really recalled was that she was very good at the preparation phase, and that her tablemate, Ernie MacMillan had been the star of that class. Pity he wasted his skill going into politics.
Looking down into his glass of after dinner Scotch for a moment he looked up again just in time to catch her glaring at him again...
"Something wrong, Ms Abbot?" he asked in a rather smarmier tone than he would have liked.
"Yes...actually," Hannah responded, looking down her rather short nose at him as best she could.
"Allow me to guess the nature of the problem. You feel at some point during my teaching tenure that I snubbed you, mistreated you, or did not give you the grade you felt you deserved on some essay or assignment. You felt overlooked, or entitled to more than you received, and now you expect some sort of apology from me. You won't get it Ms Abbot. If you could not make my standard, it is no fault of mine." His voice dripped contempt and haughty irritation, and he did nothing to curtail it. He was sick to death of being sneered at by ex students who expected to have been fawned over and doted on in class as though he were their drippy parents.
Well he wasn't. He had been a professor, and however much he hated the job for taking him away from research and development, nobody ever learned anything from being coddled and cooed over. Cushy comfort never inspired invention or innovation.
"It has nothing to do with me. You're..." Hannah paused, face frozen in a sour, horrible look as she pondered the consequences of what she was obviously dying to say.
"You're a tacky, shameless opportunist," she said quickly, flinching a bit as though she were ripping off a sticky plaster. When Severus responded only by sneering and rolling his eyes, Hannah seemed emboldened, and leaned in to glare at him.
"Neville never talked about your classes but plenty of other people talked about the way you treated him. You were horrible, and now that it's convenient you want him to do you a favor?"
"A favor, Ms Abbot, implies that I am asking Mr Longbottom to do something out of goodwill, for no tangible return. I am not asking Mr Longbottom or yourself for a favor, I am offering gainful employment under fair circumstances. It is an unpleasant fact of life that we must often work with people we object to. But the work itself must be the subject of focus," he replied coolly, looking down into his glass to see the melting ice water swirling out into the golden scotch.
Lourdes certainly was taking her time with Longbottom wasn't she? They were over in a corner by the orange trees and she was stooped over in a conspiratorial pose, as if she were trying to sell him a used watch and not a perfectly good job, and Longbottom was standing tall, with a patient, thoughtful look on his face.
Humm...perhaps that was promising.
Of course there was still the matter of Hannah Abbot, right across from him who undoubtedly held some sway in the matter, witches had their methods for getting their way didn't they?
"Consider this Ms Abbot. You spend two years in the jungle with Mr Longbottom. You never have to see myself, or Ms Mezarci. I have no desire to engage the two of you in social niceties and ceremonies once the contracts have been arranged. If this resistance of yours is a matter of 'the principle of the matter' consider that principles have their place, but choosing them over perfectly good opportunities is beyond stupid."
Hannah stopped, and held up a finger as if to ask him to wait while she scrutinized the dessert cart, selecting a hefty slice of chocolate cherry cake, and mousse au chocolat. Taking a large forkful of the mousse, Hannah exhaled slowly, pursing her lips and frowning as she seemed to contemplate something in the distance, just behind his head.
"I can't make his decisions. But if the offer's fair, I'll consider for my part," she said at last, before relishing her forkful of mousse.
"That's all we ask, Ms Abbot," he responded with a smile that was also slightly oilier than he would have liked.
As if on cue, Lourdes reappeared with Neville, whose cheeks were still faintly pink from exertion. He dropped into his chair, smiling broadly at Hannah as he thanked her for saving him a slice of cake.
Lourdes surveyed the two of them and their desserts, and then the empty stretch of table in front of her and smirked. "Ta, Severus. I wasn't hungry or anything."
"I'll make you a torte when we get home then," he replied absent mindedly.
After a few minutes Neville and Hannah were slipping off to have a dance together. Hannah was teasing Neville about something, asking if he remembered this song for any particular reason before they drifted off among the other slow moving, elderly couples.
"That's why I stay with you, you know. The food. Sod the research," Lourdes said mischievously. "Otherwise you're a pain in my ass, you know that?"
"Oh, understandable. You should be feeding me up should you? You can't cook to save your life, I only keep you around because you frighten the neighbors," he replied with a smirk. Lourdes started to snicker, and couldn't keep it quiet for very long before they were both covering their mouths to hide their grins.
"So, how did that thing go with Longbottom?" Severus asked, when they'd regained some of their composure.
"He seemed receptive enough," she said evasively.
"You went and told him, didn't you? About the study subject?" he muttered, that would be the only reason Longbottom would be receptive...
"I am not at liberty to say..."
"If he opens his mouth to spite me," Severus began with a growl, fixing a harsh gaze at Longbottom and Hannah whispering into one another’s ears on the dance floor.
"He won't, not to spite you. I don't think Mr Longbottom thinks about you much. At all, anymore. You might take a few cues from him..." Lourdes replied breezily.
"Oh? And what cues are those?"
"I don't know...behaving like an adult when confronted with the presence of other people?"
"An over rated skill, to be sure."
"How about saving me desert then? And where's my family heirloom wedding ring..." she asked with a wry grin.
"Ah yes, I believe the Snape family once scraped enough money together to purchase a washer at the hardware store. It should fit you beautifully; brass is your color..."
“Ah yes, speaking of wedding rings I reckon when my citizenship comes I’ll get half of everything in the divorce, eh?” Lourdes looked as though she wanted to make light of it, but her smile was fraudulent. She kept stealing slightly envious glances at Longbottom and Hannah who were smiling broadly now while being doted on by Professor Sprout, who was gleefully examining Hannah’s engagement ring.
Damnit all, he’d never planned on her bringing that up. He’d just assumed that they’d stay married, just in case. It’d give her rights to arbitrate the legal matters if he should find himself in St Mungo’s, she wouldn’t have to testify him against him if they were brought to trial again. And she was his, on record, officially. Meaning Belby and the fat greasy old men at the Potioneers Society had to keep their hands to themselves, lest they find Severus taking advantage of some antiquated husband’s right to duel laws that were still on the books. There was certainly no giving her up, even if it meant a moment or two of uncomfortable discussion with strangers and aquaintences at parties in the future…
“Half of a mortgage on a money drain of a house, half the bank loan we took to cover pre-grant research, half the fees for the barrister and court cost… Yes Ms Mezarci I think you will be entitled to half of everything…” Severus said smoothly.
“Makes more sense to stay married, at least until you become ridiculously rich off this project. Then I’ll divorce you and run off with Belby,” Lourdes snickered. “He was giving me the eye you know, said my robes were very becoming… some men find well connected women very attractive.”
“Then we will have to find some way of making sure he leaves you be in the future won’t we?” Severus said, as nonchalantly as he could manage.
“Do you mean other than the threat of you challenging him to an impromptu cuckold’s duel for your honor? Don’t you think there’s a slightly more traditional, dare I say shiny, method of keeping the wolves at bay?”
“You could always consent to having your last name changed?” Severus said, barely suppressing the urge to laugh at that very notion.
“Ohh, no thanks. Mezarci is bad, Snape is even worse. Fancy getting it hyphenated?”
“Yes, I’m sure the Queen will be delighted to have tea with you and get right on that little matter…”
They had another brief fit of snickering, and Lourdes gave him that bright, rare, genuinely happy smile that crinkled up the corners of her eyes and creased her cheeks. That, he knew, was something only he, and perhaps occasionally Aberforth, ever saw. He knew her in an instant all over again, the little annoying habits, the bizarre quirks, the hard and lean years, how she camped out in the goats pen during kid season, and still insisted on sitting wrong ways in her library chair, legs slung over one arm just the way he remembered seeing her at Hogwarts in the common room, he felt an odd skip in his heartbeat for it.
There would be no divorce.
“I’ll come up with something, though right now it looks like our targets are about to flee the scene…” He scanned the crowd for Longbottom and Hannah, who were slowly, but steadily sneaking towards the door arm in arm, with flushed cheeks and an air of taut anticipation between them.
“Why don’t we go spoil their evening and invite them to dinner next week?” Lourdes offered, standing up and offering him her elbow, which he took with a smirk.