Anti-litigation charm; JK Rowling owns the Harry Potter Universe, to her we bow. Warner Brothers and Various Publishers also have their own rights. We are just playing in their backyard and we promise to clean up when we have finished.

This is in response to the REGENCY CHALLENGE on WIKTT.

Plagiarism is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery, Plot elements identifiable from fic's on Whispers, WIKTT, and are likely to be just that. To those who write them........ Wow.

Now on with the story:

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Chapter One: The Hunt Begins.

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With very little effort Severus 14th Earl of Snape could enter the ranks of London's most notorious rakes. He most definitely belonged to that elite group, the Corinthian. He was taller then average and whilst not broad of shoulder he moved with serpentine grace that suggested a strong musculature under his expensively tailored clothes. He had a dark and brooding countenance, eyes almost charcoal, topped with fine silky black locks. His nose might have been a trifle on the large side, and his temperament known to be a touch exacting, but his fortune was considerable, he was sufficiently titled, could ride, shoot and duel with any of his peers, and had a phenomenal tendency to luck with the cards.

He also found the female form to be generally enticing. A pleasant diversion for one's eyes when the play was a bit slow, or the company a little dull. The problem was that this generally enticing form was also generally wrapped around an empty vessel; it was this lack of 'substance' for want of a better word that exemplified the current problem facing the Earl. He felt in need of setting up his nursery, but to do so required a wife. A suitable wife.

The fact that the Earl of Snape was in the market for a bride had travelled quickly through out the Ton, a mamma's dream come true. So, Severus had been fĂȘted, courted, and introduced to almost every debutante of the current season. Many a mamma laying careful plans, all for naught it appeared as Severus had not been brought up to scratch by any. In point of fact Severus had begun to believe that society would be considered floating down the river tick if the 'intelligence' of its debutantes were taken as a measure.

Thus, thirteen Earls' of Snape all looked down on the current Earl with a variety of expressions ranging from disheartened to disgusted. His father, the thirteenth Earl had a look of dignified resignation, again. "Surely you don't mean to let the line die out?" He asked carefully as he watched his son pace up and down the portrait hall.

The sight of Severus pacing, or occasionally even stomping in a manner most undignified was fast becoming far to common a sight in the Portrait gallery. The problem for the preceding Earls was that Severus's pacing was hardly restful and the old men had in desperation begun suggesting the daughters of Barons' as possible matches for the headstrong man who was also the current Earl; they to despaired of over finding an intelligent wife for their Earthly bound representative.

What ever comment Severus had to made as a rejoinder to his father's question, most definitely, could not be what the thirteen Earls' thought they'd heard. Gentleman do not swear and therefore that muffled exclamation that sounded suspiciously like 'blast' could not in fact have been 'blast'. "You were saying, father?" Severus asked as he stopped in front of his father's portrait. He noted the Snape nose and wondered if that was the problem; after all it was not quite a fashionable accessory.

"Surely it couldn't have been all that bad? Lady Dursley's daughter should have been suitable; and she does have quite a considerable fortune coming with her even allowing for the marriage settlements." The portrait commented back. "If my memory serves she should only just have made her come-out bows this season. A suitable young wife, and trained at the best schools."

The daughter in question, one Miss Phyllidia Dursley, eldest daughter of the Lord Vernon Dursley 2nd Baron Privet and his wife Lady Petunia Dursley, had indeed just made her come-out bows. Her mother, the Lady Dursley had planned her daughter's come-out with exceptional care, Miss Phyllidia Dursley had been seen strolling in the park, she had attended the right parties and had carefully been brought to the attention of the hostesses of London. It had taken very little to secure her the needed vouchers to Almacks and by the time of her come out ball she had rather successfully assembled a 'court' of eligible parti all ready to be seen with the newest Incomparable of the Season.

Phyllidia was a very lovely girl to look at. She was blessed with all the attributes required to be amongst the beauties of the Ton. Long blonde tresses that obediently schooled themselves to whatever style, her abigail, demanded of it. Crystal blue eyes set above a pert little nose, red lips that required no cosmetic help, and all set in a lovely heart shaped face. Dainty hands, and dainty feet to judge by the glimpses of her slippers that she allowed in the ballroom, she had a fragile seeming build that added to the overall impression of a delicate young lady.

Her voice was sweet, she could play the piano, harpsichord and flute. She had indeed been to the best schools were she had carefully cultivated the young misses who had the ears of the more higher ranking mamma's of the Ton. She studied the social pages with great deliberation and had a list prepared of acceptable swains ready for when she made her bows. Thus, by the middle of the season Phyllidia had almost all of the eligible beau's of London, and some of the not-so-eligible ready to fight a duel over the slightest tear that might mar her otherwise perfect face.

In point of fact her carefully laid plans had moved along quite smoothly, even allowing for that disaster her father had foist upon her and Mamma at the start of the season. Still that disaster now loomed closer, and thus Miss Dursley had been seen of late to favour the eligible member of the deadly four, a group of Corinthians known for their rivalry, Severus, Earl of Snape, Remus Lupin Earl of Wolf, and Viscount Sirius Black. Viscount James Potter, whilst also a member of the deadly four was also firmly and happily leg-shackled to Lady Lily Potter and therefore not available as a beau. Potter, Lupin and Black tended to run together as the Marauders and for reasons lost to history often competed with the Earl of Snape; not always congenially.

"I'm not so sure that she has made her come-out yet," Severus said blandly, "at least it is obvious that her brain has not come out yet."

"What do want a girl with a brain for?" The first Earl bellowed at the man who held the fate of his line in the palm of his hand. "It is not like you are going to spend too much time with her after all. Beget an heir and you can be on your merry way."

The later Earls grimaced at blunt spoken founder of the title. The Snape's were no longer barbarian chieftains but cultured gentlemen. Unfortunately they were also very honourable gentlemen and they took their oaths seriously. Thus, the marriage oath of fidelity led to some problems if you were the kind to honour them completely. Severus needed to find himself a wife, but he needed one with whom he could share a modicum of intelligent conversation. She didn't have to be 'Lord Nelson' or a 'da Vinci' but he fervently hoped to find one that had some intelligence.

In fact looking back on the day Severus began to wonder if he should have risen at all. The day had begun badly, he had returned to the Snape's London House in Mount Street from Whites' the previous night somewhat foxed, though he had remained at an even keel in his play with Potter. Lupin and Black had taken advantage of the fact that Severus and Potter cold be lost to the world when they played to place a new wager in the book. "RL wagers SB 10 guineas that Lord S will end the season a bachelor." The fact that anyone would wager that an eligible parti would remain eligible said a great many things about the parti in question; knowing who had made it, Severus was disposed to ignore the whole thing, except for the nagging worry that RL might be right.

His morning coffee had been cold, an unheard of occurrence. His eggs had refused to coddle, and his paper had not been delivered. To say that Severus was unhappy with this state of affairs was something of an understatement, the cause unfortunately was a 'Poltergeist curse' and whilst he suspected Lords Black and Lupin there was naught to prove it. Dealing with the 'Poltergeist curse' had taken much of the morning, the staff having sensibly left the vicinity; he, as the House head however had to stay and deal with the pest.

Finding that the beast had been at his cravat's turning them a variety of glaringly bright and sunny colours did little to improve his demeanour. Unable to leave the house till his cravat's were returned to order and unwilling to see anyone at home either until he could appear in his habitual sartorial splendour, he had been forced to move a number of appointments. He also missed his morning ride, which meant that "Devil Heart', well named but suiting Severus down to the ground was a jet black stallion of incredible endurance and fight, was going to require gentle handling. The horse and he had an understanding, no-one else however could get near the beast.

Taking the acceptable route of letting Ton know that you were hunting a wife Severus attended Almacks weekly. Given the day he had had, Severus was almost tempted not to attend this week, but as tonight was the night of the weekly assembly and he was sure that nothing else of note could happen he decided that Almacks he must attend. His absence would be noted otherwise and he did not want any of the current debutante he had 'talked' to developing expectations.

Lady Dursley had noted the fact early in the season the Severus was 'hunting' and had secured his promise, on the strength of friendship to his deceased mother, that he would dance with Miss Dursley at the first opportunity after her bows were made. That had been today. The dance, followed by a brief talk over supper had been among the most tortuous minutes of Severus's life.

It seemed that Miss Dursley's entire conversation gambit revolved around the good works she and her mother did for the less fortunate. Not the poor of course, one could never associate with them, or Cits either, they were just not 'clean' enough for someone of her delicate nature. However, there were some individuals who were deserving of her kind regard, titled orphans and the like. In fact, did he realise at the moment that she and her mother were assisting a second cousin, twice removed, to make her come-out. It was a hopeless case, she was a dowdy, unfashionable thing, but one must do ones best.

In Severus's case, ones best was not to run screaming from the assembly.

That had been two hours ago. Most of the time since had been spent pacing. He hadn't gone to White's after the Assembly, mainly to avoid being questioned about his success with London's newest Incomparable. He would have had three duels lined up within minutes of entering White's sacred hall due to his somewhat cutting tongue. Miss Dursley, he felt, required a serious tongue lashing, but he suspected she wouldn't understand above one word in ten; effectively only those with one syllable or less. Instead he was left to consider the rest of this seasons crop, and the fact that tomorrow he would have to pay a morning call to the Dursley's given he had supped' with Miss Dursley this evening. An unpleasant task.


TBC Jeanette