Warnings: Very Adult Situations in the final chapter. If you don't like to read about nookie, do not read this.
Author's Notes: Written for first round (summer 2009) of the lm_hgficxchange at LiveJournal for dreamy_dragon73, who prompted me thus:
A Comedy of Manners in which Hermione or Lucius wants to play matchmaker (who for is up to the author), but somehow it all goes awry. What happens next? Who do they turn to for help?
Disclaimer: © 2009 Mundungus42. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur non-profit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by JKR or any other lawful holder. Permission may be obtained by e-mailing the author at mundungus42 at yahoo dot com
Lucius Malfoy, handsome, clever, and rich, with an opulent estate and an ex-wife who had remarried quickly and well enough to preclude any claim on his assets, was the epitome of the gay bachelor. Parties with enough champagne to bathe entire principalities were his particular forte, as was the brisk manner with which indiscretions were dealt the following morning, to the relief of many an elected official. The only real evil in Lucius now was that there were no Dark Lords catering to his baser instincts, his reputation was better than it had ever been, and his heir had produced three sons, so there was really nothing left for him to accomplish, and he knew it. So did his best and oldest friend, who was justifiably concerned that Lucius's ennui could have grave consequences for him.
Severus Snape was a sensible man several years Lucius's junior, and he was not only an intimate friend, but also a war hero whose steadfast friendship had been instrumental in restoring, or rather, creating Lucius's good name following the Second Unpleasantness from many years before. Severus had taken a modest but attractive home that had once been the estate's vicarage, and, having no House-Elves of his own, was frequently at Malfoy Manor for meals. He recently been to London to see to his business affairs but now joined Lucius for tea, which had been laid in a manner exceeding his satisfaction.
"Ginger biscuits," observed Severus. "As it's neither my birthday nor yours, one can only conclude that there is something to celebrate."
Lucius waved his hand, and a steaming cup appeared before his friend. "Astute as always, my dear Severus. Today we shall drink to the health and happiness of my grandson Arcturus, who, as of this morning, is engaged to be married."
Severus blinked in surprise. "Arcturus engaged? I hadn't any idea he was seeing someone."
"He wasn't, but the marriage broker that Draco retained circumvented the whole tedious process of getting to know one another. I must say, I had my objections when Draco first mentioned her name, but her results speak for themselves."
The corners of Severus's mouth turned downward in disapproval. "Not the widow again."
"I'm afraid so," said Lucius with a sigh. "Since her success with Scorpius, Draco won't hear a word against her. I fear he shall insist on her when Ganymede reaches his majority."
"The nerve of the woman!" exclaimed Severus. "How she can claim to know anything about marriage when she drove her own husband to an early grave?"
"That's not very generous of you, Severus," admonished Lucius. "She married above her, albeit slightly, and produced healthy, magically powerful children. That's more than enough for a desperate family with a history of producing squibs."
"She's a fraud, said Severus, munching grumpily on a bit of Victoria sponge cake. "I knew her when she was in school, you know. She hasn't a jot of common sense."
"She was responsible for the Parkinson-DeWinter match," said Lucius. "Nine children, and not a squib among them. She even managed to find a deposed Russian prince for Bulstrode, of whom we all despaired. Two children, both making top marks at Durmstrang."
"Yes, yes," said Severus testily. "And she introduced dozens of other pureblood couples who nearly overbred themselves into extinction. There's nothing impressive about what she's doing. Anybody who bothered reading the family registers could do the same."
Lucius regarded his friend with a calculating look. "You have rather frank opinions on the subject of Mrs. Weasley for someone who hasn't seen her in over twenty years. Not that I can disagree with your assessment, given how blessedly little I know of her."
"I taught her. I don't need to make small talk with her to know her myriad deficiencies."
While Severus rattled off a comprehensive list of everything that irritated him about the widow Weasley, a diverting thought occurred to Lucius. Severus was a dear friend, but he hadn't been with a woman for a very long time, and it showed, particularly when Lucius was embroiled in one of his occasional three-month romances. Not only was his temper dreadful, he was more destructive than a teething Weimaraner. The Manor's front gates had never fully recovered from Severus's irritation at having been refused entry during what had promised to be an enjoyable evening with a Swedish Metamorphmage.
Given that Severus's tongue was nearly as sharp as the widow Weasley's was reputed to be, getting the two into the same room would be well worth the expense of retaining her, if only for entertainment value. Severus would fall for her, of course. He had no resistance when it came to strong-willed females, and it was a truth universally acknowledged that any single woman possessed of a sharp tongue must be in want of a good shagging. With Severus thus engaged, Lucius anticipated having enough time to pursue a dozen Swedish Metamorphmages, if a dozen of them existed. Fortunately, Severus was running out of synonyms for "swot."
"Very well, my friend," said Lucius, leaning forward in a conspiratorial manner, "I have a proposition for you."
"Don't be an idiot," said Lucius, "At least hear what I have to say."
"The last time I took you up on a proposition, I ended up spending the night in the Ministry lockup with an amorous lady goblin and her intoxicated husband. It took months to straighten out my accounts after he'd had his revenge, and I hadn't even had the benefit of the intriguing experience I was accused of. No, Lucius, I will not be cajoled, bullied, or convinced to participate in another one of your schemes."
"Even if it involves exposing the Weasley woman for what she really is?"
Severus was halfway through shaking his head decisively when he paused.
"Something wrong with your neck, old thing?" asked Lucius indolently. "I shall send one of the elves for a hot compress."
"You want to ruin Granger? Or Weasley -whatever she goes by these days? Why?"
"My dear Severus, must I truly explain to you the ignominy of depending on a woman like that to secure my family's success?"
"If the matches are successful, why does it matter to you how they came about?"
"Because with every successful match that woman makes, her reputation grows, and the more helpful acquaintances she gains in a circle to which she'd never be allowed access otherwise," said Lucius, not needing to feign the distaste in his voice. "She is only a businesswoman, after all, but I heard that the Crabbe-Goyles are inviting her to little Griselda's naming ceremony. Such an audacious invasion of our social circle will not be tolerated."
"I can't imagine she'd have much interest in your circle," said Severus with a smirk. "She'd probably consider it a large step down."
"And that is precisely why her presence must be nipped in the bud," said Lucius.
Severus's smirk widened. "So you plan to shun her before she can shun us?"
Lucius gave his friend a withering look. "If humiliating an obnoxious former student holds no charm for you anymore, Severus, then I hardly know you."
"Oh, I'll do it," he retorted, taking a biscuit. "I simply wanted to assure myself that my motives are purer than yours. Now, tell me how you plan to go about it. My expertise in all things bookworm is at your disposal."
"Terribly good of you, Severus. I am in your debt. Now, do you have plans for Tuesday morning?"
Tuesday morning saw Lucius and Severus, each dressed in his most opulent and intimidating robes, sitting in a rather plain, distressingly modern reception area whose only redeeming feature was a wall of large windows overlooking a nearby park. Their wands had been confiscated by a cheery but insistent receptionist upon entering the large offices from which Mrs. Weasley oversaw her matchmaking enterprise.
At bang on nine-thirty, the doors behind them swung open.
"Mrs. Weasley will see you now," announced the receptionist, somewhat unnecessarily, and the two men filed into the office beyond.
The woman seated at the desk stood at their entrance and, to Lucius's surprise, gave Severus a warm smile. Perhaps his own little matchmaking venture would be easier than he thought. He found her to be far more tame-looking than Draco's description led him to imagine. She was of average build, average looks, and dressed in a thoroughly average way: aubergine business robes with a tolerably flattering scarf about her neck. She was standing at the wrong side of the desk to see what kind of shoes she was wearing, but he doubted they were anything special. Probably something dull and sensible.
"Professor Snape," she said, extending a hand in welcome. "It's good to see you." Lucius was pleased to see that Severus took her hand without flinching or scowling. In fact, if the lack of hostility was any indication, the man was favourably impressed.
"Likewise, Mrs. Weasley," he returned.
"Won't you have a seat?" she asked, gesturing at two black leather monstrosities that Lucius supposed were to be sat upon. He refused to be miffed at not having the opportunity to pause disdainfully before shaking her hand. In fact, the woman seemed determined not to acknowledge his presence. She wasn't still miffed over her unannounced visit to the manor during the war, was she? He'd had nothing to do with the beastly business. He hadn't been allowed.
Severus nodded and sat, and Lucius followed suit.
"Now," she said, opening a slim silver case that lay on her desk, "I must confess to some bewilderment."
"Surely there can be no question of why we are here, Mrs. Weasley," said Lucius in his silkiest tones. "Not after your triumphs with Scorpius and Arcturus."
The infuriating woman didn't even look at him. "I would understand if you were here with Draco, Professor, but I can't think of any good reason why the elder Mr. Malfoy would retain my services on your behalf. He made his views on my character quite plain at his grandson's wedding."
Lucius didn't particularly like the way she said the word "elder," but he certainly didn't want her to know that. And given the amount of champagne he'd consumed at Scorpius's wedding, he hadn't any recollection of what he'd said. "A misunderstanding, I'm sure," he demurred.
"Really?" she asked. "I hadn't realized the phrase 'puffed-up social-climbing guttersnipe' could mean anything else."
"I was speaking ironically," said Lucius. "Surely, no-one could think of you as puffed-up, Mrs. Weasley."
The woman's eyes fairly sparkled with animosity, but fortunately, Severus managed to cut in. "Lucius is one of my oldest friends, Mrs. Weasley," he said, with just the right amount of steel in his voice, "and he is doing for me what I consider to be a great favour. If his presence offend you, we will be happy to go elsewhere."
"I couldn't care less about him," she replied, recovering her composure with startling rapidity. "It's a matter of trade secrets, and I don't trust him with mine." She raised her hands to the open the silver case on her desk and made some odd tapping noises. Another contraption behind her began humming and buzzing, and a moment later, two pieces of parchment slid out of the front. "I'd be obliged if you would both sign these non-disclosure forms before we go any further."
Severus took his without a word and handed the other to Lucius with a scowl. "Is this really necessary?" asked Lucius with distaste. "After all, I'm not the one who will be on the receiving end of your proprietary service."
She turned to look at him at last, her brown eyes cool and dispassionate. "You will either sign the form or leave the room, Mr. Malfoy. It's your choice."
Lucius gave a pained sigh and produced a handsome quill from his robes. "Very well," he said, scrawling his signature on the line at the bottom. He handed the quill to Severus and he did the same, albeit haltingly and with a blank look on his face.
She examined the forms, then nodded and slid them into a drawer on her desk. "All right, Professor," she said, sitting back at her desk and giving him an appraising look. "Why do you wish to take a wife?"
Only someone who had been a close acquaintance of Severus's for nearly forty years would see the disquiet Severus felt at the question. To the Weasley woman, it would look like an insouciant lift of the eyebrows.
"It's the done thing, isn't it?" said Severus.
"Marriage is a fine institution," she replied, "but not everybody is suited to institutional life. What makes you think it's a state that you would find agreeable?"
Severus seemed to consider her question. "I've reached a point in my life where I have everything a man could want, short of someone to share it with."
"You have friends," said Hermione. "One would think that you would do some searching among your acquaintances before you would entrust your future to someone you don't even like."
Severus wisely chose to avoid protesting her last statement. "I have acquaintances, it's true," he said with dignity, "but I didn't think I would have to explain to you, of all people, that my humble origins are an insurmountable barrier to forming an advantageous union with many of my circle."
Bravo, Severus, thought Lucius. As if she had heard his mental exultation, her narrowed eyes turned upon him. "And you, Mr. Malfoy? Do you really think your own friend such an unsuitable prospect?"
"I'm afraid that Severus is not at all my type, Mrs. Weasley," said Lucius. "I would that it were otherwise. It would simplify a great many things."
The corner of her mouth rose infinitesimally and she turned back to Severus. "Professor Snape, you are what people in my trade call a 'hot commodity.' You are still in middle age, have no unfortunate encumbrances, are distinguished-looking, enjoy a sterling reputation, and command a steady, respectable income. The only thing standing between you and marital felicity, as far as I see it, is your unfortunate choice of acquaintances. Were you to spend time in less old-fashioned company, you would never be in want of companionship."
"I'm rather old-fashioned myself, Mrs. Weasley," replied Severus humbly, though he was clearly deriving entirely too much amusement at Lucius's expense. "And I am far too old and set in my ways to consider starting afresh, and too impatient to go through the bother of dating."
Hermione's mouth thinned in a way that made Lucius wonder if she hadn't caught on to his game. "Mr. Malfoy, would you excuse us, please? If Professor Snape and I are unable to hammer out something in your absence, I will waive my consultation fee." She pressed a button on her desk, and the door opened to reveal the receptionist.
"Milton, would you please see Mr. Malfoy to the reception area? And fetch him some tea, would you?"
Lucius was unhappy with this turn of events, but he could think of no plausible objection and he allowed himself to be escorted to the lobby.
"Millk and sugar?" asked Milton.
Malfoy gave him an arch look. "Don't you have an elf for this sort of thing?"
"Mrs. Weasley does not approve of forcing elves to do menial tasks," said Milton with studied blandness.
Lucius sighed. "Very well. A blend of Keemun and Ceylon if you have it, Assam or Darjeeling if you haven't, brewed in spring water for no more than four minutes and fifteen seconds. And be sure to warm the pot. Ceramic; I cannot abide the taste of metal. And if you add the milk – fresh, of course - to the tea rather than the tea to the milk, I shall know. Now hop to it!"
To his surprise, Milton didn't bat an eye. "Mrs. Weasley does not care for Keemun. Since I can't provide your preferred blend, would you prefer Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling?"
"Ceylon," said Lucius impatiently, as if Milton ought to have known that.
"If I may suggest it," said Milton, "Mrs. Weasley takes Ceylon with a mild infusion of lavender. Would that be to your taste?"
Lucius was about to express scorn at adulterating such fine tea with herbs, but his mouth began to water at the thought of the distinctive, bright Ceylon with its delicate nose entwined intimately with the piquant, floral bouquet of lavender. It wasn't traditional, nor anything he'd ever heard of, but he instinctively knew that it would suit him. "That would be agreeable," he said at last.
Milton nodded. "I'll be back with your tea momentarily."
Once the officious fellow was gone, Lucius wasted no time in attempting to locate his wand, but the blasted receptionist had taken them with him. Scowling at the lengths to which the widow had goaded him, he drew his hair back and pressed his ear to the office door. The Weasley woman was speaking.
"-really couldn't care less," she said dismissively. "All purebloods that care enough about their bloodlines to enlist the help of a marriage broker look down on me. But they daren't sneer to my face because they desperately need my services in order to sustain themselves. That they fret over my alleged social aspirations is merely the icing on an already fine cake, especially considering that their fears are groundless."
Lucius wondered which families were so ill-mannered as to let the woman sense their disdain.
"Surely there are other marriage brokers," replied Severus amiably.
"All purebloods," scoffed Hermione. "I'm better than they are for two reasons. First, mine is an international service, so my pool of prospective matches is much larger. Secondly, none of them can match interests as accurately as I can, because they shun Muggle science, which modern Magical Theory has long since shown to be compatible, and computers, which I utilise on a variety of suitability and compatibility matrices. If purebloods would rather pay me a thousand times what it would cost them to subscribe to an internet dating service, who am I to say no?"
Lucius could nearly hear Severus's frown. "You mean to say that the method by which you find spouses isn't proprietary?"
"Heavens no!" exclaimed Hermione with a laugh. "It would be like trying to patent aloe burn salve. The only things I use to determine compatibility that you couldn't find with ten quid and a computer are my own instincts. And speaking of those, I hope you will be willing to answer a few questions frankly for me."
"I am at your disposal," he replied. Lucius feared that Severus was being unconvincingly obsequious, but the woman began her questions in an amused voice.
"Do you have any preference about your future wife's family?"
"Given the instability of my own childhood home, I should prefer her to have grown up in a stable one, but the blood status of that home is immaterial."
"Really? Given the company you keep, I thought you'd be most interested in a Pureblooded witch."
"I am perfectly content in my current circle, Hermione." Lucius blinked at the informal address. "I simply want someone with whom I am equally comfortable reading in bed or taking tea at Lucius's."
"Well, that both broadens and narrows your prospects," said Hermione. There was an odd tapping noise in the silence that followed. "What about education? I know a number of highly educated single ladies. There's a Russian Potions Mistress by the name of Kuznetzova who's quite lovely."
Severus must have pulled a particularly sour expression, because the woman laughed. "Right, nobody whose publications have prompted you to despair of peer review," she said, the smile clearly audible in her voice. "Do you have any preferences as far as race and nationality are concerned?"
"Provided she is fluent in English or German, I am open to all options."
Lucius frowned. He didn't know Severus spoke German. Why had he never seen fit to mention that detail? There was more of the infernal tapping.
"Do you prefer women who have never been married?"
"I have no preference - provided she hasn't had had multiple husbands die under mysterious circumstances, of course."
"Understandable," she replied airily. "That would show a weakness for men who go to extraordinary lengths to get out of doing the washing up. How do you feel about children?"
"They are tolerable, I suppose," said Severus. "I don't harbour any illusions that I will be any woman's first lover, so evidence of the fact wouldn't be anathema."
"Do you desire children of your own?"
Lucius stilled. He'd broached the subject with Severus once, and the man had nearly bitten his head off. The moments stretched longer as he waited for the inevitable explosion, but it never came.
"I hadn't really entertained the possibility that I might meet someone with whom I would be interested in having children," he said thoughtfully. "Now that the possibility is looking more within my reach, I would not rule it out."
That was laying it on a bit thick, in Lucius's opinion.
"I appreciate your confidence," she replied, clearly moved. "I will do everything within my power to ensure that it is not misplaced. Do you have an ideal age range in mind?"
"I can't imagine having much in common with anybody younger than fifty."
Lucius was glad that there was a door to muffle his snort of disbelief.
"May we lower the threshold to thirty-five or forty? In my experience, that's an age when many career-minded women begin to reap the rewards of their success and wish to start looking for a mate."
"Very well, but I will not tolerate mindless gigglers," grumbled Severus.
"Perish the thought," she replied briskly. "Now, would it matter to you if your wife worked outside the home?"
Lucius did not hear Severus's response because he heard the sound of approaching footsteps and sprang into a nearby chair and made a show of reading a glossy magazine.
"Your tea," said Milton, bearing a tray set with the most charming tea things that Lucius had ever had the pleasure of seeing. The porcelain was a delicate blue and adorned with a gold band at the rim, which Lucius found to be delightfully appropriate for a marriage broker. Milton made a show of pouring milk into a cup before topping it gently with steaming, fragrant, perfectly brewed tea and handing the cup and saucer to Lucius with great ceremony.
Lucius accepted the saucer with a nod and lifted the cup, which was beautifully shaped, and not so wide as to cool the tea too quickly. The protrusion on the handle that usually made the cup harder to hold rested precisely on his middle finger, which kept his other fingers from being pressed against the overwarm side of the cup. It was a lovely thing. It must have been a wedding gift from someone with more taste than the Muggleborn possessed. The tea, which was even more richly fragrant than Lucius had imagined, was probably a present from a grateful client. He had to admit that Hermione Weasley had something of a gift for making a good impression on those inclined to dislike her, and while his elves could brew an excellent cup, they'd never offered him anything like this.
Milton returned to his desk, where he began sorting the morning post.
Lucius took a spoon from the tray and stirred his tea rather unnecessarily whilst mulling over what he'd heard. Clearly, Severus and the Weasley woman -iHermione/i, he thought scornfully- were getting on well. He wished he had been able to hear the first part of their conversation. Clearly, they'd been talking about him, and while Lucius generally enjoyed being talked about, not knowing what had been said was most provoking. Whatever it had been, Severus had clearly allayed the woman's fears about his intentions. This was good, but difficult, since even Lucius couldn't tell how serious Severus was being when Severus didn't wish anybody to know. He hoped it would not be too difficult to convince Severus to meet with the woman again.
He set down his cup and saucer and flipped idly through the pages of the magazine, pretending not to notice the receptionist's occasional glances. He toyed briefly with the idea of subduing Milton, retrieving his wand, and casting an eavesdropping spell, which was far more dignified than pressing one's ear to the door. A judiciously applied Memory Charm would ensure that Milton forgot about Lucius altogether. However, he lacked the opportunity to formulate a plan, much less execute it before the door to the woman's office opened and she stepped out, speaking quietly with Severus.
Lucius watched them surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye. The woman was laughing at something Severus had said to her, and he was looking pleased with himself. He made a polite little bow, which made her smile, and she offered him her hand. He gave a sardonic little smirk at her insistence on modern customs but shook her hand warmly.
"It's been a pleasure, Severus," she said. "Expect my owl no later than the day after tomorrow. Please be frank in your appraisal, otherwise, I won't be able to narrow the list further."
"The pleasure has been all mine, Hermione," said Severus. He turned to the waiting area where Lucius was sitting. "Lucius, thank you for waiting."
"Not at all," said Lucius, finishing the last drops of the delectable tea and replacing his magazine on the table. "Good day, Mrs. Weasley."
"Good day, Mr. Malfoy, Severus." She went to collect the post from Milton's desk, and a small flash of light made Lucius freeze in his tracks. Mrs. Weasley had walked through the morning sunlight, and a beam had fallen across her foot.
Lucius found himself staring at the most striking bit of footwear he'd ever seen. At first, it appeared to be a trim, heeled boot in dove-grey silk with shiny calfskin trim, but when she turned to walk back to her office, he swallowed hard when he realized that the front of the boot was completely open, from the top of her ankle to a delicate point low on her foot, which displayed an expanse of creamy skin and a tantalising hint of shadow from the crease between her toes.
However, the arresting sight was gone from his view in a flutter of aubergine robes, and the office door closed quietly behind her. Lucius stood staring at where she had been, feeling equal parts stunned, bereft, and furious. How idare/i she! How dare that shameless hoyden parade about in such provocative shoes, in front of potential clients, no less! What slight impression the elegance of her tea had made evaporated in a proper huff, and he left the office following Severus, who had completely missed the sartorial spectacle and seemed completely unaware of Lucius's annoyance. Lucius adopted his most condescending expression. It wouldn't do for anybody to see the effect that Mrs. Weasley's slender foot had had on him. Though perhaps a discreet inquiry from Severus might reveal where she'd found them.