A Matter of Decorum

by Kathryn Andersen

Recipient: harrietvane
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Summary: Hermione casts a hair charm. Lucius Malfoy makes a bet with Snape. But is Severus playing the role of Professor Higgins or of Mephistopheles? SS/HG, Post-DH, EWE.
Original Prompt: Cultural education for Muggleborns is severely lacking at Hogwarts and, given the secrecy and insularity of the magical world, not everything is written in a book. Ignorance may be bliss, but Hermione's social faux pas leads to unintended (and, if inclined, entertaining) consequences.
Words: 16749

Written for the 2010 SSHG exchange. This version has been revised since the story was posted at the exchange.

Thanks to Mistral and JB for brainstorming; to pinkdormouse, kaffyr, cheyinka, sallymn, feliciakw, jinxed_wood and watervole for alpha-reading and encouragement. Thanks to watervole for a spot of Britpicking. Thanks to poulpette for certain translations. Thanks to kittylefish for beta-reading. Any remaining mistakes are mine - mine, I tell you! Bwa-ha-ha! Ahem.


Chapter 1: In Which Hermione Commits A Faux Pas

Hermione stared nervously into the mirror. The spells in 1001 Household Charms had been challenging to figure out. She'd found the volume in a box of old books at the Hogsmeade Fair, a charity event for the benefit of war orphans. Now that Voldemort was dead, they called it a war, though compared to Muggle wars it was nothing much. No, not true, really. Because it had been a civil war, and they were the worst kind. Stop thinking about it. Think about the spell.

The incantations in the book were straightforward, but the wand movements had been described, often in terms of other spells, rather than shown with a diagram. If she got this one wrong, she'd be a laughingstock. She sighed. No time like the present.

"Capilli conlineo!" she said, making a long, swooping gesture with her wand. Her bushy, frizzy hair straightened out.

It looked awful. Limp, flat, lifeless.

"Finite Incantatem!"

Nothing happened. Then she remembered that this charm was supposed to be effective for a full day before it wore off. She sighed. Well, at least it worked. Sort of.

Perhaps something could be salvaged. She remembered another charm from the book. It depended heavily on visualisation, so she shut her eyes to help her concentrate. "Capilli plexum!" She opened her eyes and gave a sigh of relief. Her hair was pulled back into an elaborate French plait, hiding its deficiencies perfectly. She grinned. Not bad. Not bad at all.

###

It was strange to eat breakfast in the Great Hall; sometimes she felt as if the chatter of students and the clatter of cutlery would fade away like a dream, and she would wake up to the tent and the cold and the dreadful whispering of Horcruxes. Other times, with Harry sitting on one side of her and Ron on the other, it felt as if the search for the Horcruxes had been the nightmare and she had never left Hogwarts at all. Then she would notice, all over again, Neville's unnaturally short hair, Dean's limp, or the scar on Professor Snape's neck, and shiver with the reminder that none of it had been a dream. The Headmistress had declared that the previous year had been so disrupted, even for those who had been able to attend Hogwarts, that the whole year would have to be repeated, even if it meant the first year was twice the size. There would be some, like Colin Creevey, who would never return at all. Snape had nearly been among them, but trust a Potions master to have prepared an antidote for Nagini's venom beforehand. As it was, he had been deathly ill for a few weeks, though he seemed recovered now. Recovered enough to glare at all and sundry as he was doing to Hermione now.

She glanced away and took a sip of her pumpkin juice.

"What have you done to your hair?" Harry asked through a mouthful of toast.

"A charm," she answered. "I found it -"

"- in a book," Ron and Harry chorused.

Harry ran a hand over his hair, which was, as always, sticking out in every direction. "Have you got a charm to make my hair stay flat?"

Hermione grinned and pointed her wand at his head. "Capilli conlineo!"

Harry's hair flattened as if it had been ironed that way. Two gasps emerged from either side of Harry and Hermione.

"I was right," Ron snapped. "You and Harry do have a thing, don't you?"

Hermione whipped her head around. "What? What are you talking about, Ron?"

"You did a hair charm on Harry in public!" Ron said. "How much more obvious do you have to be?" His face screwed up with hurt. "Why? You could have let me down gently, but no, you had to tell the whole world what you think of me."

"What I think of you?" Hermione said. Then something wet and greasy plopped on her head, and she realized that Ginny was standing behind her, wand pointed.

"That's for trying to steal my boyfriend," Ginny hissed.

"But I'm not trying to-" Hermione began.

"You can't have him," Ginny continued. "He's mine."

"Of course he's yours," Hermione said. "Just because I love him like a brother-"

"You think of Harry like a brother?" Ginny said.

"Of course I do," Hermione said. "It's not like I have a brother of my own."

"Only child," Ron muttered. "How could I have forgotten? Sorry, Hermione. I was being stupid."

Ginny had the grace to blush as she vanished the glop on Hermione's head. "Me too," she said. "Sorry. Friends?"

Hermione smiled wanly, not wanting to antagonize the unpredictable Weasleys any further. "Friends, of course." She wondered if it was just the Weasleys, or whether the whole Wizarding world was insane and she just hadn't noticed until now.

###

As ever, when faced with a puzzle, Hermione hit the books. First, she reread the section on hair charms in 1001 Household Charms; then, she read the whole book again from cover to cover, but it contained no clues. Over the course of the next week, she spent every free moment in the library, gathering her research on a desk in her favourite secluded corner. She scoured the shelves for references to hair charms. She learned a lot of charms, but found no hint as to why Ron and Ginny would have been upset by her casting one on Harry.

So she expanded her search to books on Wizarding etiquette. There weren't any useful indexes saying "Why your boyfriend didn't like your casting a hair charm on your best friend", so she had to skim over a wide range of topics: the three forms of address for members of the Wizengamot; how to address those with a Mastery in their field; whether or not one should bow to the Minister of Magic (followed by an inconclusive debate about the difference in ranking between purebloods and Muggle aristocrats); that one should bow, rather than curtsey, to one of higher rank if one meets them in the street; the forms of precedence at weddings, and how they differed depending on whether the bride or groom was, or was not, a pureblood; twenty different form-letters for invitations, including wedding invitations; five different charms for protecting one's correspondence, which then turned into a treatise comparing the speed, intelligence and reliability of various different species of post-owl. But she didn't find an answer to her question.

Of course, she didn't want her homework to suffer from neglect, either, so she stayed up even later to work on it. Friday night, the late nights caught up with her, and she fell asleep in the library.

Which is where Professor Snape caught her.