Chapter Fourteen: Parlor Games.
"Why nothing Sir," Snape commented mildly, "why would I want to do anything with that young lady?" Strangely, if Dursley had been listening closely he might have noted that Snape's tone on the word 'Lady' implied he thought that Miss Dursley was anything but a lady. In point of fact, the tone was enough that the Baron could have taken exception to it, if he had been so inclined, and feeling particularly suicidal.
Lord Snape, however, was amused no ends to observe the obnoxious and odious Dursley almost break his neck as he spun his head to stare the Earl. The shock of seeing Snape behind him, instead of in the parlour, compromising his daughter was clear enough on Dursley's face that even a blind man would have seen it. How had Snape escaped? Phyllidia would be brought to task later for having failed to ensure the family's fortunes, but for now there was little the Baron could do, other than stammer and start. "My, my, my Lord…"
Dursley had planned on continuing, saying a great many things, all of which would have been inadvisable. Luckily, for Dursley that is, the Baron he wasn't a complete fool. The set of Snape's mouth, the angle of his shoulders, and the very arch of his eyebrow suggested dire consequences for Dursley if he attempted to make anything of the situation. The Baron chose not to further comment. Also, the fact that the only way in which Snape could have escaped his daughter's clutches required that the Earl be possessed of magical talents that the dim-witted Baron refused to accept even existed closed off the last loophole the toadying man could have used to secure his daughter's fortune and thus his own.
With no safe avenue for retreat, Dursley merely suggested that they return to the parlour and await Miss Granger. As something of an afterthought, Dursley also suggested that they might like to determine the cause of alarm that had apparently overset his beloved child.
"Most certainly," Snape replied with equanimity, after appearing to pause in thought just long to ensure that his host began to sweat. Snape finally allowed that it might be prudent to see to the welfare of Miss Dursley, after all, a Lord of the first stare is never seen at a disadvantage. That being said, Snape was soon questioning his own judgment, for the scene that greeted them upon entering the parlour was more appropriate for one of the Bard's comedies than the sitting room of a genteel family.
Miss Dursley, thwarted in her attempt to snare the Earl, was engaging in a most unladylike fit of pique. The girl was kicking her feet, displaying far too much ankle, and banging her fists on a poor quality Aubusson carpet. Miss Dursley's dress, a rather unflattering cut to begin with, was in such disarray that she displayed more of her charms than even the most immodest of the barques of frailty would have been comfortable displaying; at least without sufficient financial inducement.
To top thing off, Miss Dursley had apparently fallen backwards, not only awkwardly but with more than a little force, so that the carpet-- with its oval medallion decorated with a motif of roses floating in a soft pink and cream background surrounded in celadon green -- was bunched up against a truly ugly zebrawood-veneered sideboard. Luckily, the force of her fall was insufficient to have knocked over the pair of George III gilt wood and gesso torcheres, most likely designed by Mister Robert Adam, which decorated the aforementioned sideboard. If they had fallen, then disaster, in the form of a conflagration, would have been the result given the dusty draperies that hung next to the sideboard. Although, considering the Dursley family, as displayed to date, the disaster would not have been the destruction of their home but rather the loss of the vellum invitation delivered by the Dowager Duchess earlier in the day.
Regretting the fact that he had followed the Baron into the room, and therefore had been witness to the sort of behaviour that had coined the phrase 'children should be seen but not heard', Snape unleashed his scorn on the inept father. "Dursley," Snape stared at the Baron, raising one eyebrow in disdain, "I suggest you call for Miss Dursley's maid. It seems she is in desperate need of her vinaigrette." If Snape had been truthful
Dursley, mortified beyond the pale at the Earl's censure, hastened to obey the command, for a command it was, no matter how politely it had been worded. However, a somewhat native cunning normally associated with the most grasping of the Ton's mothers with multiple daughters all in need of a husband, chose that instant to rear its ugly head. Dursley, quickly devising a plan that should, he was certain, ensure his family's future, scampered from the room instead of calling for a footman to fetch Miss Dursley's maid. The plan was that he would fetch his wife and send her, rather than the maid, into the parlour where Snape, trapped by manners and good breeding would be found alone with his daughter. If she was caught even remotely inflagrante delecto, and given the case of histrionics that Miss Dursley had been engaging in as he escaped the parlour, Dursley had high hopes for that blessed event, so much the better.
Unfortunately for Dursley, Miss Granger chose that instant to walk into the parlour by the far door, thereby ensuring that the Earl was at no point alone with and therefore in a position to compromise, Miss Dursley. Dursley, unable to about-face and find some pretext to order Miss Granger from the room, was consoled only by the thought that Miss Granger, with her atrocious looks and blue-stocking manner, would be shown in such poor light when compared with his daughter, and would be found wanting. Such devoted prayers, however, were not to be answered favourably.
The contrast between the cool collectedness of Dursley's guest, Miss Granger, and the abysmal behaviour of his daughter was of such a degree that Snape, who had seen such poor examples of humanity as demonstrated by the infamous Centaur baiting at MOMy's Summer Palace last year, an event that had set Human-Centaur relations back millennia, was horrified to see the Miss Dursley, on perceiving that any chance to be caught compromised, was capable of such fits and starts of behaviour that made the MOMy incident appear genteel in comparison. Thankfully, Miss Granger on entering the parlour, had immediately gone to the fallen girl's aid, exhibiting a caring heart and a degree of wisdom not normally associated with one so recently let from the school room. Apparently divining through some complex form of female logic, what was at the heart of Miss Dursley's behaviour, Miss Granger summarily applied a stinging swat to Miss Dursley's face thereby shocking the girl into silence.
"I pray you, Miss Dursley, cease this fit of the vapours," Miss Granger appealed in gentle tones somewhat belied by the look of mild disgust that graced her features. "Surely you do not which Lord Snape to think you a hoyden or worse yet a common strumpet?"
"A strumpet? A Strumpet!" Screeching like a fish-wife, Miss Dursley sought to strike at Miss Granger for having the impudence to interfere with her matrimonial plans. Unlettered as she was in the fine science of boxing, Miss Dursley failed in her attempt to overset Miss Granger for she telegraphed her intent much like the greenest of neck-or-nothing young blood of the Fancy at Gentleman Filch's establishment.
Snape, feeling very much the cause of the commotion for, after all, it was his fortune that Miss Dursley had set her sights, was forced to act, and act quickly if the aura of anger that was fast becoming palatable about Miss Granger, whispered "Petrificus Totalus," causing Miss Dursley to freeze, mid-strike, as the young woman attempted to rectify her previous failure to harm Miss Granger.
Miss Granger, still feeling more than a little queasy as a result of the use of the portation key and feeling more than a little put upon, was not in the best frame of mind. Thus, instead of being suitably impressed at being rescued, turned to face her rescuer and proceeded to demonstrate that she knew more than a little about the vulgar tongue. Snape was impressed, in spite of the fact that a woman of supposed gentle breeding was able to curse with the best of the arch-dell. He marvelled as she not only harangued him in the King's English, she also lapsed into Centaur, Gryphon and delivered a particularly pithy epithet in Giant to the amused Lord. It was quite some time before Miss Granger calmed enough to be able to participate in sensible conversation, by which time, unfortunately, much of the household, listening from the hallway or through the speaker tubes that led to down-below stairs, had heard enough to label Miss Granger the worst sort of doxy.
Finally running out of invective, and energy, Miss Granger collapsed gracefully onto the balloon-backed chaise. "My apologies, Lord Snape, but it has been a trifle trying day."
Snape, remembering the fiction of a megrim that was used to excuse Miss Granger from tooling about with him that morning, sought to reassure the young woman that he acquitted her of any ill temper explaining that, after seeing his Aunt the Dowager Duchess Gryffindor in a high dudgeon as a result of a megrim, her behaviour was positively genteel. Still, realizing the damage loose talk by servants, and members of the gentry that might have ulterior motives, such as the Dursley's, could blacken the name of any young woman on the cusp of her come out, Snape suggested that he be allowed to utilize the full portion of his abilities to deal with the current situation.
Miss Granger, competent in the double speak of those who belonged to Magicana Britannia, granted Snape full permission to act as he saw fit. The result was a grand symphony of spell casting as the Earl, enjoying the chance to display his considerable skill, obliviated from the minds of the servants and their masters the details of Miss Granger's tantrum, while meanly leaving the memories of Miss Dursley's behaviour untouched. The parlour room was set to rights though the extremes of bad taste that had mixed Coquelicot, Jonquil and Emerald Green furnishings with the Zebrawood, the gilt torches and the Aubusson in a room papered with Puce-accented wall papering could not be repaired by anything short of complete demolition of the room.
With newly installed memories, Baron Dursley and his wife returned to the parlour leading a maid who brought with her an ornate, and equally horrendous, tea serving; Mrs. Dursley smoothly ascertaining whether or not those present required refreshment before displaying a set of manners that were at odds with her previous behaviour.
Snape, now freed from the horror that was the matrimonial prospects of Miss Dursley, apologized for disturbing the family at such a late, and unfashionable, hour. These apologies were waved aside as being completely unnecessary; after all, those of Snape's rank could, and invariably did, write and re-write society's rules to suit themselves. After enquiring about Miss Granger's health, which he sincerely hoped had improved during the day; Snape directed the conversation to his reason for visiting.
"After this morning's turn about the park," Snape was saying, "I had the opportunity to meet a fine young…"
Miss Dursley, rather than hearing Snape out, immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion, in her mind at least, that being that Snape was now engaged, promptly fainted.
"Gentleman," Snape continued speaking, rudely ignoring the pile of muslin on the floor, "by the name of Harold T. Goodson. I believe that you know Mr. Goodson?" Snape directed his question at Miss Granger.
"He's one of my father's men of business," Miss Granger replied. "He is also somewhat skilled in the brewing of nostrums which my father is oft in need of." That said nostrums were usually calmative in nature to be taken after her father had finished dealing with some of the local gentry was not mentioned; nor was it mentioned that it was actually her own brewing to which she referred.
"Yes, a very pleasant young man. I find that I am tempted to introduce him about Town, that is, if you think your father would not object." Snape was entertained by the play of emotions that danced across Miss Granger's face. It was obvious that she was attempting to find some acceptable reason to deny the unspoken request, yet she would be seen as the meanest of Mistresses if she blocked the multitudinous advantage that would befall Mr. Goodson by being sponsored about town by one of Snape's rank and acumen.
Miss Dursley, having finally roused now that a young man rather than young woman was being discussed, asked after the manner and countenance of the un-met Mr. Goodson. Her reason was the hope that said young man might be a bookish sort that would suit Miss Granger, thereby removing Miss Granger from the competition, while at the same time creating even more reason for the Earl to visit at the Dursley's Conduit Street address; keeping Viscount Granger appraised of his daughter's well-being through the intermediately that Mr. Goodson could easily become.
Seizing on the excuse to sport with Miss Granger's sensibilities, Snape launched into a detailed description of the young man, paying particular note to Mr. Goodson fine taste in clothing and the neat set of the man's cravat. While admitting that this minor paragon still required a further coating of bronze, Snape had to admit that he was extremely fortunate to have met the young man before others, such as the members of the Marauders had discovered this potential diamond in the rough. "Actually, the reason for this late visit is directly tied to my having met Mr. Goodson," Snape, having noted that it was fast approaching the fifteen minute time limit for any socially acceptable visit. "I was entrusted with delivering this gift to Miss Granger, from her father." Snape rose from chair on which he sat and, with a flourish, presented Miss Granger with the copy of How the Wormwood turned and other tales of rare ingredient, By A Potion's Maker that he had 'acquired' from Mr. Goodson.