A/N - I've BEEN to this bar.
We enter through a side door, and it is clear that this is, for lack of a better word, the quiet end of the place. There is a bank of sparsely populated slot machines located near a sleepy looking bar. There is an air conditioning vent directly above an empty seat and I make a bee line for it. Severus sits next to me and unties his ponytail only to retie it again neatly.
"While you were gone, I found out what they meant by magic convention," he says.
"Oh! Excellent, do we have to pull a Lockhart on them, or...?"
"Nothing. What did they mean?"
"Apparently there is something called the Men's Apparel Guild in California. And while they are, by definition, located in California, they have their gathering here in Nevada."
"Ohhh... Well. Aren't we lucky? I was imaging the Ministry snapping our wands in half after we finally found them."
He scoffs sarcastically at this. "Really, Miss Granger. We're war heroes."
"I wonder what we were arguing over," I say.
"Us? Pick a topic; I'm sure we've covered it."
"Yes, but we weren't ourselves last night. It could have been anything." I look up, but Snape is staring at a woman who's pumping quarters into a slot machine. "What?"
"Nothing," he says absentmindedly.
"Well, maybe whatever we were arguing about will give us a clue to..." I look up, but again Snape is staring at a young couple who have just won something at a slot machine of their own. "What?"
"Tell me something. How do these things work?" he asks, laying a hand on top of a vacant machine which is entitled "Happy Lucky Hamster Ball!"
"Er... Well... It's got to do with computers. Do you still want to hear about it, then?" I ask, knowing how little patience Severus has for Muggle electronics.
"Yes, the short version, thank you."
"Ah, well, you put in a coin or a bill or a ticket here, see?" I say, pointing to the slot with little green flashing arrows pointing to it. "And the computer counts what you've put in, and then credits you here on the screen. Then you bet with one of these buttons, and then it spins, and then you either win or lose based on what is SUPPOSED to be a random program running inside."
"And these are all, what is is called? Plugged in?"
"Yeesss..." I confirm, trying to follow his train of thought.
He looks back at the young couple who just won a fair amount at their machine. They are overjoyed. Lucky for them they will probably remember this moment tomorrow.
"They were sitting there when we came in. Looked rather frustrated. And now they're winning large sums of money."
"All right," I concur. "But isn't that how gambling works? You can go for ages without winning, especially on these things."
"Magic..." he says softly.
"It's how we won all that money."
"I don't understand. How could we have possibly been in the right enough mind to use magic so flawlessly that we would win so very much without the dealers becoming suspicious?"
"We didn't have to do anything," he replies. "What did I tell you about the door locks?"
"That magic would disrupt them and we'd have to use wards if we - "
"Yes, yes," he continues impatiently. "And what did you tell me about these games?"
"Oh... That they're all... Oh! They're all controlled by computers! Not mechanics! But... Then why didn't we just BREAK THEM? How did we get them to work in our favor?"
"I don't think we were trying, honestly." He takes a step back behind my chair and says, "Here." He pulls out a bill from my bag and hands it to me. "Go on."
With a look of interested dread, I feed the fiver into the blinking slot. The machine eats it, then I push the "SPIN!" button. Within five seconds, all three reels spin around and stop on a different colored number 7. Bells and lights go off, and I look up at Severus for an explanation.
"Think about it. These machines are made to LOSE, to NOT win. So when they're working properly, one doesn't win anything."
"But if they're broken..."
"I think we've figured out how we managed enough credit to get ourselves into a roaring craps game... And into the high rollers' rooms."
"And then it was just a matter of time before your ... inebriated hubris," he says as he clears his throat, "continued the streak at the poker tables and - "
"And the black jack tables," I finish for him.
I lean back in the chair and press into my eyes with my fingertips. "All right. All right. We've figured out most of the 'wheres' and the 'hows.' But we are still very wandless. Not to mention whatever damage we've done to our reputations. How do we solve that one?" I ask, looking up at him now.
"I'm working on it," he says with the most compassion I've heard in his voice since this mess started. Suddenly his hand is in mine, and this time, I don't jump. "Come. I'm tired of this noise," he says wearily. He leads me back outside into the relative quiet of the parking lot, and back into the oppressive heat. It doesn't occur to me until much, much later that I left that machine sitting there with a three-thousand dollar unclaimed win on it. But I'm sick of seeing money. I hope whoever found it has better luck than we have.