A Matter of Decorum
by Kathryn Andersen
Scenes from the Ministry Ball; in which there is dancing, disagreement, diplomacy and discussion.
Dancing with Severus was easy because Hermione wasn't worrying about where to put her feet. Dancing with Severus was difficult because Hermione wasn't even thinking about where to put her feet. One of his hands was at her waist and the other at her shoulder, such a proper distance, and yet she felt as giddy as if it had been a kiss. She couldn't stop smiling. The expression on his face wouldn't be called a smile by those who didn't know him - just a slight up-turn of his lips - but the warmth in his eyes left Hermione no doubt that he was as glad to be in her arms as she was to be in his.
She didn't notice the stares, but Severus did.
"Am I intruding on someone's territory?" His almost-smile didn't fade.
"The youngest Mister Weasley is giving us a death-glare." He sounded amused rather than annoyed.
Hermione frowned. "The idiot! We broke up over Christmas; he should know better." She raised her eyebrows at Severus. "Why aren't you angry at him?"
Severus's lips quirked. "Because I am wearing your ribbon and he is not."
Hermione's smile returned. "Very good point."
The dance ended all too soon. Hermione reluctantly stepped away from Severus. "I am going to speak with Ron. If you hear a girly scream, it won't be mine."
"You and Snape? If that -" Ron began.
"If I hear the words 'greasy git' from your lips, you'll be belching spiders for the rest of the evening."
"You don't own me, Ronald Bilius Weasley! How dare you pitch a fit about who I dance with?"
"I am not pitching a fit. You're the one who's yelling at me."
"I don't appreciate being glared at," Hermione said.
"I wasn't glaring at you," Ron said.
"Or my dance partner," she said. "It's none of your business."
"I'm your friend," Ron said. "Aren't I allowed to be worried about you?"
"Worried? Don't be silly."
"It's not silly," Ron said. "Look, I could see you were happy dancing with him. The whole room could see it. That's why I'm worried."
Hermione frowned. "You're worried because I'm happy. Thanks a lot, Ron."
"The happier you are, the more it will hurt when he does something unforgivable," Ron said. "And he will. This is Snape; you know he will."
"He will not!"
"He blamed Harry for things Harry's father did to him. That's hardly reasonable. He's got a temper as short as the fuse on a five-second firecracker."
"So do you," Hermione pointed out. "So I already know how to deal with it."
Ron looked taken aback. "Good point." His lips twitched as he suppressed a smile.
Hermione suppressed her own smile at the image. "If need be."
"He'd probably vanish them or something," Ron said.
"But he still would have gotten the point."
"He is smarter than you are, Ron," she said.
Ron made a face. "You fell in love with his brains, didn't you? Figures."
She sighed. "I don't think he'd ever have admitted he cared if I hadn't acted first."
"You kissed him, didn't you?"
Hermione smiled. "There has been no kissing... yet."
Ron put his hands over his eyes. "Oh, I want to scrub out my brain."
"You're the one who brought up kissing."
Ron made a face. "Just don't do it in front of me, okay?"
"There will be no kissing until school is over."
"And no badmouthing him in my presence, or it will be spiders."
Ron shuddered. "You suit each other; you're just as scary as he is."
"Miss Granger," said a smooth, cultured voice, "would you honour me with this dance?"
She looked up at Lucius Malfoy. "Is it an honour?"
"You honoured my dead, I honour you," he said.
It's easier to forgive the dead than the living, she thought. Yet I must continue as I mean to go on. She accepted his hand.
"Besides," he added as he pulled her onto the dance floor, "Severus is a friend of mine. All the more reason to behave cordially towards his lady."
"I find I must thank you for that," Hermione said.
"If it had not been for your bet, we would not have reached an understanding," she said.
His eyes flicked to the ribbon in her hair. "I admit I am surprised," he said. "Not for Severus - he always had a penchant for Gryffindor Muggle-borns - but for you."
"And I thought you said he was your friend," she returned. "Surely you are aware of his better qualities?"
"But they are such Slytherin qualities I didn't think a Gryffindor would be capable of appreciating them."
"I would think that faithfulness, brilliance and wit would be universal qualities, would they not?"
"But I doubt you appreciate his Slytherin cunning."
"Of course I appreciate it," Hermione said. She gave a sweet, false smile. "Without that cunning, Voldemort might have won."
Severus spied Hermione across the room, easing herself into a chair. Too much dancing, my dear? He passed by the drinks table, snagging two glasses of punch along the way over to her. Severus handed her a glass and sat down next to her, sipping his own.
Hermione thanked him absently, a frown creasing her brow. "Why must he play these games?"
Severus looked in the direction of her gaze. Lucius Malfoy was dancing with Luna Lovegood. Severus wondered what Lucius had said to Hermione when they had danced. "Because he is a Slytherin, and always will be."
"No, he isn't," she countered. "He ceased being a Slytherin when he graduated." He could see the ideas connecting in her mind while she spoke, as if they had been awaiting just one more thread to make the pattern clear. "And yet he clings to it, everyone clings to it as if it defines their existence. But it doesn't define, it imprisons. The body has left, but the mind is still living between the four towers of Hogwarts. This is why the war started; not just pure-bloods versus Mudbloods, but Slytherin versus Gryffindor, generation after generation, ever since Godric quarrelled with Salazar."
Severus swallowed the familiar bitterness. She meant well. She always did. There was only a hint of a sneer in his voice when he said, "So you will start a campaign to abolish Slytherin like you wanted to free house-elves?"
"Of course not!" Hermione said. "I'd rather abolish the House system completely."
He rolled his eyes. Typical Gryffindor. "Neither the Board nor the parents would stand for it. Centuries of tradition are not overturned so easily. Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor will remain so long as Hogwarts stands and there is a Sorting Hat to sort." A speculative look crossed her face, and Severus spoke before she could suggest something even more ridiculous, such as destroying the Sorting Hat. "You will just have to put up with the existence of Slytherin, no matter how dark you think it."
"That's just it," Hermione said. "Dumbledore was wrong; he was blinded by the whole stupid system. He thought anyone who was a Gryffindor was automatically good, and anyone who was a Slytherin was automatically bad. No wonder the Order was mostly Gryffindors."
"And the Death Eaters were mostly Slytherin," Severus said with a sour twist to his mouth. "Surely that proves Albus to have been right?"
"You of all people can't believe that!" Hermione protested.
"Perhaps I am the exception that proves the rule." I am not a good man, my dear, no matter how much you would like to think so.
"No, you're the exception that proves the rule wrong," Hermione said. "You didn't embrace Gryffindor ideals like a compliant little follower, you fought Voldemort with all the cunning you possessed. Imagine how much sooner the war would have been won if the Order had been more diverse. Instead, most of them treated you like dirt because you weren't like them. It's so utterly stupid!"
"Don't tilt at windmills on my behalf," Severus said, moved despite himself. "You can't change it. It will always be us versus them."
"No, no, that's the heart of it," Hermione said. "There is no us-versus-them, there is only us. Hate builds on hate, over and over. Hate and ignorance and blindness. Salazar Slytherin was blinded by his prejudice, and perpetuated that blindness in his House, so it was full of pure-bloods and half-bloods who didn't know anything about Muggle-borns, and that made it easy for them to hate. That hate brought hate in return, especially among Gryffindors. Not much of a step from 'Slytherins are all pure-blood Muggle-haters' to 'All Slytherins are evil and can't be trusted', is it? It wasn't Slytherin cunning and ambition that made them enemies, it was the assumption that they were already enemies. If that cunning is in an ally, it becomes an asset. And why do people assume that ambition means selfishness? There can be ambition for good as well as ambition for evil."
"I assure you, my ambition is completely selfish." Right now, that ambition included kissing her senseless. But he could hardly do so in public. And in private, he wasn't sure he wanted to stop at kissing. The next two months were going to be the longest in his life.
Their eyes locked. There was nothing but her eyes and his heartbeat.
Someone cleared their throat. "Professor Snape. Miss Granger."
Severus looked up. A tall, thin figure in a pointed hat stood in front of them. "Headmistress."
Minerva's lips were pressed together in a straight line. "What is the meaning of this indecorous display? A teacher - and a student! How long has this been going on?"
Hermione flushed red, but Severus deliberately leaned back and looked at his watch. "Twenty-seven minutes."
"I beg your pardon?" Minerva said.
"And so you should," Severus replied. "Do you still not trust me?"
It was Minerva's turn to blush. "My pardon, Severus."
"We haven't done anything but talk," Hermione said earnestly. "Professor Snape hasn't done anything inappropriate."
Severus gestured to a seat beside them. "Do join us, Minerva. We've been discussing the House system. Miss Granger wishes to abolish it."
"So I have assured her," Severus said.
Minerva sat down next to Hermione. "Why on earth would you wish to abolish the Houses?"
"It's like the Sorting Hat said - Hogwarts has been divided ever since the Founders quarrelled, and all that does is lead to wars like this one," Hermione said. "Fine, we can't abolish the Houses, but for goodness' sake, the way Hogwarts is set up, it's practically impossible to even get to know people from other Houses, let alone make friends with them! Every single thing one does at Hogwarts is done by House: eating, sleeping, classes, studying, sport. The only ones that are really required are sleeping and sport."
"Indeed, the world would end if one abolished the Quidditch Cup," Severus drawled. He was intrigued despite himself. Was there actually a compromise that could be reached?
"But the timetables have always been done by House," Minerva said. "To tailor the teaching to their needs."
"That's nonsense and you know it," Severus said. "If that were the case, Slytherin and Gryffindor would never have Potions together."
"And wouldn't it be so much easier if you could figure out the First Years' timetables beforehand, instead of having to wait until they're Sorted?"
"Yes, I see, you do have a point," Minerva said.
Severus's mouth twitched. "One could sneak it in under the guise of timetable reform."
Minerva frowned at him. "It would be timetable reform, Severus. No need to sneak it in at all."
"You Gryffindors have no appreciation for subterfuge," Severus said.
"Oh, we do," Hermione said. "We'd just rather leave it to the experts."
Severus smirked. "Any more brilliant ideas for forcing the Houses to mingle?"
Hermione frowned in thought. "Well, you don't have to seat the students by House for meals, do you? Apart from the Sorting Feast and the Leaving Feast, I mean. What if there were smaller tables instead of just four big ones? It's not impossible - there were different tables for the Yule ball, remember?"
"The house-elves -" Minerva began.
"Would enjoy the challenge," Severus pointed out.
"True," Minerva said.
"Maybe students could be encouraged to use the Great Hall for study groups. Somewhere less quiet than the Library, but more quiet than the Common Rooms," Hermione said. "It's very hard to study when people are playing Exploding Snap!"
"It is also hard to study when you're being hexed," Severus said dryly.
"And it's hard to walk to classes when you're being hexed, too," Hermione returned. "Does that mean that walking to class should be forbidden?"
"Not at all," Severus said. "I merely point out that such use of the Great Hall would need to be supervised."
"Why, are you volunteering, Severus?" Minerva said with a twinkle in her eye.
Severus did not rise to the bait. "Prefects should be sufficient, as they are for intra-House discipline."
"Perhaps," Minerva said. She turned towards Hermione. "All your ideas have merit, Miss Granger, but I'm not sure that the Governors would agree."
"Oh, don't worry about the Governors, Minerva," Severus said smugly. "It so happens that Lucius owes me a favour."
~ the very end ~
This was the prompt: Cultural education for Muggle-borns 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.
Thanks to Project Gutenberg for The Laws of Etiquette (.org/ebooks/5681) (written in 1836) which I used to get a feel for the kind of old-fashioned etiquette which the Wizarding world might hold.
The idea that house-elves do their work out of love comes from the awesome Pet Project by Caeria. I first encountered the idea that the Advanced Potions textbook has deliberate mistakes in it, in order to prepare students for real grimoires, in the story Accountable, by Dyce.
Latin for spells was taken from the English-Latin dictionary at ., and then cross-referenced with the Latin-English dictionary on the same site, as a sanity check. Of course, I'm certain the grammar is completely wrong, but canon didn't seem to worry about that, so I won't either.
capilli: hair; hair of head
conlineo: align, direct, aim
plexus: interwoven; intricate (plait)
comptus: arrange/do (hair); adorn, make beautiful; embellish; arrange in order, set out
Thanks to poulpette for the French translations of Lucius Malfoy's speech in Hermione's dream, and RaeWhit for the corrections of same.
"Tu n'as pas de place ici, et n'en nauras jamais" - "You don't belong here, you'll never belong here."
"Pauvre fille, comment oses-tu pretendre a atteindre notre niveau?" - "Stupid girl, how dare you aspire to our level?"
"Tu n'es' meme pas digne de lecher la boue des semelles de mes chaussures." - "You're not even worth licking the mud under my soles."
The casualty list in the Memorial Wall scene is taken from .com/wiki/Category:Second_War_casualties and .com/wiki/List_of_deaths