Disclaimer:- I do not own, nor earn anything from this story, simply the joy of placing characters in situations and using my imagination.
A/N:- Thank you to the delightful FalconLux, my beta, who pulled my wayward punctuation and grammar into line for this story. Also thank you to the amazing Worrywart who added her beta skills to look over the chapter before I posted in its lovely new home
Orange Can Be Such An Unbecoming Colour
This tenth anniversary celebration of the glorious victory of light over darkness was even eclipsing the previous year's prestigious Hogwarts Yule ball.
Tonight's gala event saw two spectators observing the festivities who had only recently returned to English shores after a long absence.
To the casual bystander everything appeared to be as it should. During the preceding decade, Harry Potter had married his childhood sweetheart, as everybody had expected. The couple now had three and a half potential students to run riot through the hallowed halls of their old alma mater.
However, to the eyes of the two recently returned wizards, one set piercing grey, and the other fathomless obsidian, it was unconvincing. Both men wore the ghost of a sneer on their lips, watching the lauded saviour of the Wizarding world whirling his pregnant wife around the grand Ministry ball room. They were seeing things from a very different perspective, looking at what time and apathy had made most people blind to.
The two well dressed gentlemen, sitting at their almost hidden table, also noticed Ronald Weasley appeared to be living the high life. However, further enquiry told them he was merely the goal keeper for the Chudley Cannons and had never even managed to finish his schooling, let alone bother to grow up. "He is an immature twerp who touts himself as an irresistible stud," Draco Malfoy said sniffing distastefully.
"Of course that comes as no great surprise," confirmed the raven-haired wizard, watching the redhead groping his leggy companion.
After surveying the general throng of couples, the two men glanced at their informer, puzzled. "And Miss Granger?" They'd been unable to spot her in the main hall. Draco pointed to an equally secluded corner across the room as he rose to invite his wife to dance.
The two shadowy faces took in the figure that had been pointed out to them. They were shocked to see her standing in the hidden recesses, alone, merely observing the proceedings.
While the Potters twirled, appearing free of care, and Weasley groped his way around the floor with the giggling airhead he was currently entertaining, the female third of the golden trio was grave. Her chin was held high with quiet dignity, but it was apparent she was now an outsider.
The elegant blond aristocrat and his raven-haired companion cast a curious glance at one another, before Lucius Malfoy murmured. "She was such a vivacious girl. This woman appears so quiet and reserved. Is that merely maturity?"
"Something tells me not," Severus Snape intoned cautiously. He was still recovering from the lurch he'd felt in his stomach as he'd seen her; he hadn't expected it to be so acute. "This is not how I envisaged her in maturity," he continued adjusting his public facade to calm once more.
It was true that neither man had seen the object of their interest for ten years. How could they? They may not have intended to stay away so long, but had decided a long absence from England would be in their best interest. At the time, their witch in shining armour, the lovely Miss Granger had agreed.
The two spies were now acutely aware that a significant change in dynamic had taken place, and they were sorry they had lost touch with the then young woman. She was obviously in a very different situation now.
Snape found his mind hurtling back to recall the post battle scene. Hermione Granger had saved both their lives in the course of the battle. First, as their duplicity was discovered by their fellow Death Eaters. Then secondly, and probably more importantly, when they were summarily arrested by the other side. The Aurors showed no mercy despite protests, and they were detained along with the other surviving Death Eaters after the battle, obviously they were now personae non gratae on both sides.
With her usual single-minded determination Miss Granger had led the campaign to have their freedom restored to them. Theirlegal team had been able to produce highly detailed evidence that both of them were well aware Hermione must have been painstakingly compiling on their behalf well before it was needed. It documented their loyalty and services to the side of light in incredible detail.
Even when the only thing left to incriminate Snape was Dumbledore's murder, she had quietly stood and handed a letter from one Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore to Kingsley Shacklebolt, absolving the Potions master of the former's murder.
Severus now considered. This may have been also her downfall, because it would have revealed to her idiot friends the fact that she had known of Albus' plan and had kept it secret. Could this be why they're no longer friends?
Pulling himself out of his reflections and nodding, Severus added, "Such a keen and astute intellect, she would have been capable of doing anything." He glanced back at her. "I wonder what she does?"
Draco rejoined them after seating his very pregnant wife and instructing an elf to return with refreshments. "She is Hogwarts' Arithmancy Mistress, godfather," he stated, handing each man a tumbler of Firewhisky. Both Wizards saluted the younger man with their glasses in thanks.
The younger wizard's eyes followed his father's and godfather's to the before mentioned woman, but he shook his head sadly, sighing enigmatically. "She's still living in limbo, tied down by their narrow-minded idiocy."
Then sitting a little straighter Draco continued. "We of Slytherin house and many in Ravenclaw do what we can for her, but I'm afraid to say our assistance sometimes merely exacerbates the problem." His eyes were watching Potter with menace while he spoke. "This is what happens when idiots have too much power," he stated, hearing his wife yawn again. "I am sorry but Astoria is tired; we are going to take our leave. We shall expect you both on Sunday night for Astoria's birthday." Bowing his head to them, he wished them a good night.
Lucius and Severus almost bodily prevented the younger wizard from leaving, before Lucius arrested his son's progress completely with a hand on his shoulder. "Just a moment, son, what exactly are you saying?"
Almost in answer to their query, both men watched as Harry Potter deliberately walked over, and snarled something they couldn't quite lip read at the object of their discussion.
To their shock then immediate pride they saw Blaise and Pansy Zabini move closer and flank the verbally accosted woman. Hermione stood dignified, yet stock still obviously absorbing with practiced ease the insult that had just been hurled at her. The Potter coward backed off on seeing the two Slytherins approach.
Draco explained their unasked question. "We can't come out and support her openly. It's ironic, but none of us are well connected or powerful enough to protect her, and for her sake we've learnt that it's not wise to even try."
Allowing Severus and Lucius to absorb this before he went on, Draco paused. "However you will see many Slytherins and Ravenclaws provide... err," he pursed his lips, "interference when needed against the cowards. All they need is a rallying point." His casual comment hit home immediately, seeing this he continued. "It is a sad fact that most Gryffindors who would offer her solace died in the final battle. She does have her prominent supporters, however her tormentors are very sneaky." He drew a long almost plaintive breath. "It is my belief also that both Shacklebolt and McGonagall believe she is immune now."
Severus was almost breathing fire. "Why didn't you tell us about this?" His seething breath should have melted the tumbler as he downed the last of his whiskey.
Draco shrugged. "At the time it was out of your control as well," he raised a pale eyebrow, "may be now though..." glancing at his wife politely trying to stifle another yawn. "We really must be going."
Both men rose as Draco offered his arm to Astoria. Lucius Malfoy watched his son escorting the petite witch away. He hoped that Draco had been lucky enough to marry for love, although since his return he hadn't seen any evidence of the passion he would have hoped for his only child.
Perhaps he is just as much a victim of the responsibility that blighted me. The blond aristocrat pondered this a moment. His mother, bitch that she is would have seen him only marry the correct witch. Lucius felt his stomach churn. If that is the case, then he's mastered the art of diplomacy just as well as I had to.
Although there was a difference here, Lucius saw in Draco a burning desire to do the right thing, which was something he himself had never suffered from. He'd found himself straying from his marriage bed almost immediately. His father had curtly informed him that a suitable marriage and the production of an heir was his immediate duty, but what he did with his spare time and out of public scrutiny was his own business.
As much as he hated his father and his views, this was the best piece of advice he had ever been given. Of course it had been merely a strategic move on Abraxas' part, nothing to do with care. It had simply provided the old man with what he'd wanted. To him, the fulfilment of responsibility was more important than anything. The old Death Eater hadn't cared if it did consign his only son to a loveless existence, after all he'd told Lucius many times, "Love makes you weak son, plunder their charms and move on."
Lucius' eyes strayed to his ex wife and her latest toy boy. She's still very beautiful, but a cold conniving bitch that always seems to manage to come up smelling like roses.
While in his self imposed exile the year following Voldemort's demise, his perfect pureblood wife had taken him to the cleaners, pleading irreconcilable differences. He watched her a moment, however as soon as he felt the start of the inevitable sneer forming on his lips, his eyes strayed back to Hermione Granger. Why couldn't that have happened for the delightful Miss Granger? Perhaps they had underestimated the reaction of Potter and Weasley after all.
Surely the idiots who had made themselves so scarce during the Death Eater trials didn't have that sort of power. Hermione should have been lauded for what she did, not this. He shook his head. Even from this distance he could see quite resignation to her fate in her stance and demeanour, something inside him shifted, it was an unfamiliar sensation. Could it be his conscience?
Glancing at the red-headed Mrs Potter, Lucius noticed she gave the impression of happiness, but his keen eyes saw more. She was extremely tense and there was a certain tightness evident in her face as she watched her husband and brother slowly descend into drunkenness. Was that apprehension or perhaps even loathing? Severus' voice brought his eyes and thoughts back to the table before he'd had the chance to question it further.
The Potions master was obviously past logical dissection of the situation, he was furious. "I must know the truth," he declared. Lucius heard him sigh and saw his eyes narrow. The blond aristocrat knew what he was doing. Severus Snape didn't even need eye contact any more to skim thoughts from idiots.
However, suddenly the raven-haired wizard swallowed hard and coughed like all the air had just left his lungs. The images swimming freely in their feeble minds had all just coalesced into a nightmarish picture, and he'd seen what had happened to the vivacious young woman who had been their saviour.
Lucius heard him croak almost painfully. "Oh Merlin Lu, they've made her suffer for helping us. We've robbed her of what she could have been," he shut his eyes, swallowing convulsively. "That's just not bloody fair. Life was supposed to be better for all of us," suddenly Snape was slapping his empty glass down on the table and leaving their sheltered position.
This caused his friend to enquire with some concern. "Where are you going?"
"To start righting a wrong, watch our backs," he replied heatedly.
"As always my friend, as always," Lucius patted his arm as he passed, then watched him cut a dashing figure in his stylish black dress robes. The corner of Lucius' mouth turned up, as he watched his friend skirting the dance floor to reach the other side and approach the subject of their observations. Bowing his head most politely and being as pointed as possible in showing the lady had his open support, Snape set about carefully starting to correct the problem.
Hermione had been watching Ronald make an idiot of himself yet again. This time complete with what could only be described as robes imbibed with a garish type of offensive neon, they were so bright and hideous. Maybe he'd slipped from goal keeper to team mascot, she considered.
The dress robes were a revolting orange that clashed terribly with his hair, and the only thing they lacked was the team name emblazoned across the back. Her eyes scanned across to the hot pink number the bimbo in his arms was almost wearing, and her lip curled minutely in disgust. Well there is something that clashes worse.
Shifting her eyes to Saint Harry and his wife, her mind went over a familiar conundrum for maybe the millionth time. I just can't understand how she could marry such a twat. Surely she knows what he's done to me over the years.
If Hermione was honest with herself she still missed Ginny's friendship terribly, and couldn't fathom why she'd turned so resolutely against her.
Her mind continued to ponder. He's got a bloody cheek insulting what I'm wearing. There's absolutely no difference in my dress and Ginny's, except hers is crimson. Then realisation hit her, but of course mine's green. Hermione shook her head and snorted under her breath. Stupid idiot. Well at least that's all he's said this year, no petulant scene of total nastiness. Looks like Ginny's expecting again, he must be aiming for the Quidditch team he's always wanted.
The solitary woman, whose stylish ball gown of forest green silk with darker sequined highlights, complimented the copious chestnut curls cascading down her back perfectly, sighed and silently continued her contemplations. Why have I fallen for this once more? Every time I swear to myself I'm never doing it again. Why haven't I learnt yet that these balls are no place for me? Every year I live in hope he'll be here. She huffed, why can't I just admit it isn't going to happen?
In her heart of hearts she knew it was getting more and more difficult to cope, but brushing the front of her dress to stroke out imaginary creases she repeated her trusted mantra under her breath. "Never let them see you're upset Hermes." I wonder how long I'll have to stay so they won't think I'm leaving early.
Sighing she straightened her shoulders resolutely, but was drawn out of her thoughts as someone arrived at her elbow. She shivered involuntarily as the longed for voice smoothed. "Good evening Miss Granger," and held out a pale long fingered hand. "Would you allow me the honour of this dance?"
Hermione blinked several times willing herself to make certain she was not dreaming, before a smile spontaneously erupted for just a moment on her serious countenance. "Professor," she infused that one word with such happiness. Then turning instantly nervous, her head shouting instructions to her. Don't hug him, but I want to hug him, dear God he's lovely. Hermione cast a discrete glance at her former friends. I hope this isn't another trick, it couldn't be. They wouldn't be able to get this man's hair for Polyjuice. I'll just be careful never the less, breathe damn it, breathe.
Severus was astounded by her smile, and how it lit her face making her already pretty features positively glow, his own calm threatened to shatter completely when his heart lurched once more. Hermione studied him for what seemed an eternity. "Err yes," she finally stuttered.
Gingerly she extended a shaking hand like she expected him to retract his offer. Or could she think this is a set up, the little shits have done it to her before.
She smiled again when she saw he wasn't going to, and gently accepted the offered pale fingers. "I've missed you." There are so many things you could have said, and this is the best you can blurt out. She cringed internally and cursed her flustered mouth.
Good she's decided to accept me, although interesting choice of opening line. However, Severus nodded and chuckling replied. "Yes Miss Granger, I have also missed you," and holding her in a very precise grip, cautiously swung her out onto the dance floor. "You look very lovely tonight."
Her only reply was a hesitant expression and an innocent little smile. Her happy brain was busy chanting, he's missed me, he's missed me.
Severus suddenly felt tightness in his trousers from that little smile, but her expression made him wonder if she was still ascertaining whether he was genuine.
Then she managed a quiet. "Thank you," and he was caught by her doe like eyes gazing longingly up at his face. By Merlin she's beautiful, he caught himself thinking, and this did nothing for his dancing skills as suddenly he felt like he had a third leg. Think of... oh shit... think of what? Trelawney naked, horrid scrawny bag of bones lying with her legs open, oh Merlin I'm blinded... Ah that's better, Severus gathered his thoughts having resolved his problem.
Severus understood Hermione's hesitance from what he'd seen in Potter's head and his own past experiences. After all one of James Potter's favourite tricks for the amusement of his peers had been to set up someone lonely and isolated for a spectacular fall. So really it would come as no great surprise to find that his son had inherited his Father's nasty little habit.
The raven-haired wizard wondered what he should say to the woman who fitted so snugly into his arms as they glided around the floor. His instincts told him he should say nothing. This was not the place to discuss this anyway. I want her, was the only thought flittering through his head at the moment anyway, as he gazed down into her lovely amber flecked eyes. This was followed by. Down boy... you'll have to wait.
They were attracting many stares and whispers, as well as two very pointed glares. Focus, you moron, he chided himself. You have to fix this, stop thinking with your cock. His eyes strayed from hers a moment to the openly hostile glares from the Potter Weasley camp. Gracing them with a predatory sneer, he span Hermione out of their line of vision. Arse holes. This contemplation was instantly followed by. I wonder how much longer I'll have her to myself?
Severus almost chuckled three dances later, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. "I do believe it's my turn now old chap," the Potions master turned to see the smirking visage of his blond friend. He wanted to scowl, but bowed and reluctantly released the woman in his arms, to his oldest friend.
"Hello my dear, may I?" Lucius inquired offering his hand.
Hermione's mind was spinning as fast as the dancers. "Thank you Professor," she managed to remember, as Snape bowed his head to her.
"My pleasure," Severus nodded tight lipped, and politely skimmed her knuckles with his lips before placing her hand in Lucius' and stationing himself to watch, as his friend had. Hermione noticed that Lucius was holding her in a little less proper grip than Severus had. "It's good to see you both," Hermione admitted quietly to her very able partner.
Lucius leaned forward a little. "I shall be very pleased to be back if it means that I get to dance more than once with you my dear," his lilting tenor tickled her ear making her giggle. It was then that Lucius followed his friend's example and paid his compliments to her tormentors. The two powerful and experienced Slytherin Wizards left no doubt in even the dullest mind that the harassment stopped tonight or heads, Gryffindor heads to be precise, would roll.
The head of Slytherin house since the war had been Aurora Sinistra, and she had never been a rallying point for the past members of the Hogwarts Slytherin alumni. As soon as those present sensed the lead of the two most powerful Slytherin Wizards in Britain, things immediately began to change.
For the rest of the evening, the two expatriates enjoyed dancing with Hermione almost in tag team, with both Blaise Zabini and Greg Goyle stepping up behind their leaders immediately and taking a turn around the dance floor with her. Even Anthony Goldstein joined their ranks.
Eventually the lady at the centre of their attentions looked ready to collapse. It had been Lucius dancing with her at the time, and he simply escorted her to their table and sat her between them, not really knowing or caring where she'd been before.
Hermione had never had such a pleasant time at one of these functions or for that matter any function. However, just as the evening was drawing to a close. Hermione suddenly froze, "What's the matter my dear?" Lucius asked patting her hand and noticing it was trembling.
Severus snorted, a mew of distaste evident on his face. "If I didn't know better, I'd say the 'matter' is bearing down on us like a big orange beacon as we speak." Lucius turned from Hermione to look, and a sneer cracked his aristocratic facade.
Each man instinctively put fingers to his wand just in case, and they turned to face a very drunk and pompous looking fool. The red-head addressed Hermione curtly. "I see you've shown your true colours the first chance you got," he slurred swaying dangerously as his arm swept around in an all encompassing hand gesture. "Sitting with these slimy bastards."
Hermione looked mortified, but didn't shy away. Her eyes narrowing angrily. "You're drunk Ronald, and it's obviously made you even more incredibly stupid than usual," she asserted calmly.
Ron snorted, obviously unaware of the warning in her statement, and continued on his dangerous path. "Well I guess what we suspected all along is right. You are just a Death Eater's whore," he state of inebriation obviously having short circuited what little sense he possessed.
Rearing up Severus drew his wand before stating coldly. "You Weasley, have never fathomed exactly how stupid you are, have you?"
Ron laughed. "You can't talk..." he started before suddenly going silent. His brain seeming to catch up with his mouth and remembering this man's reputation. They heard his tiny squeak of terror, just before he blanched. Hermione watched the exchange from this under her lashes. She found it intriguing that his freckles didn't pale in any way as his face drained of colour, like someone had pulled his plug.
This gave Severus his distraction, and he moved fluidly towards his quarry. Before Ron even knew what had happened, he found the Potion Master's wand at his throat. "You should have listened to the Lady's warning you pathetic little rat. After what I've witnessed tonight, I can see you're obviously still functioning on the level of a five year old," he hissed in his ear. "Now for your own good you will apologise to Miss Granger," the wand point dug in a little deeper, "Do I make myself clear?"
Ron attempted to take a step back, now vainly hoping Snape wouldn't be able to do anything here, but he was mistaken as the raven-haired Wizard took a corresponding step towards him. "I'm waiting, Weasley."
People were starting to gather round. Lucius had also stood and was surveying the area, quietly taking in who was doing what. He counted at least eight hands going for wands and he knew who they were supporting.
In his drunken haze, Weasley misinterpreting the crowd as an audience and gained confidence once more. Thinking he had support, he backed off to what he felt was a safe distance. Taking a deep breath, he swayed before thrusting his chest out and continuing his gross act of stupidity. "I'll never apologise to her, she's a disgrace to Gryffindor, helping Slytherins," he proclaimed for all to hear.
Unfortunately all this did was upset all the Slytherins present further and alert more people to his foolhardiness. The stupid man continued, his eyes narrowing nastily. "Well be warned. If you think she'll be a good fuck you're wasting your time. I'd say her cunt is all iced up and useless." He then stood grinning spitefully in his stomach churning display of orange. It wasn't until he heard the ripple of gasps and whispers at his disgusting remark that he started to look unsure.
Knowing that Lucius would have him covered, in a calculated move Severus sheathed his wand, aware from the crowd that the stupid red-head had just cut his own throat. However, he couldn't allow Hermione's honour to be abused like that and the Potions master lunged forward grabbing the suitably horrified drunk by the robe collar, Muggle style. "You're a foul mouthed revolting little piece of filth. How dare you insinuate something so disgusting," Severus seethed, scowling as Ron tried to take a step back.
Following him to stay in his face, Severus warned. "You and Potter will leave Miss Granger alone," his coal black eyes burning into Ron's. "If you don't, you will be dealing with an extremely unhappy wizard who will curse first and ask questions later." Pulling the now sickly green fool closer, and deliberately placing his mouth near the red-head's ear, he continued in his trademark Professor's menacing whisper. "Twenty something years as a Death Eater gives me an incredible arsenal of interesting curses, Weasley. So watch it." To finish Severus pushed him away like he was flicking filth off his robes, which in his inebriated state landed Ronald hard on his arse on the floor.
Hermione had been attempting to sit in quiet poise through the whole scene. The more it played out, however, the harder it had been, and now she had her head bowed and tears were quietly spilling down her face, believing Ron had ruined yet another hope for her.
Severus returned to her side standing behind her, hands placed possessively on her upper arms to show where he stood. He deliberately leaned down to speak to her, watching Weasley out of the corner of his eye.
Lucius saw what Severus was doing and merely watched, although his hand was still on his wand. As the blond wizard suspected the little coward went for his wand as soon as he thought the Potions master's attention appeared diverted.
Lucius heard a spell come from across the room at the same moment as a hex formed on his own lips. However, Snape's nonverbal Furnunculus beat both spells.
A deep voice boomed, "Expelliarmus," and Weasley's wand clattered to the floor. Both men turned in the direction of the voice and saw Kingsley Shacklebolt, a scowl firmly fixed on his face, striding towards them, admonishing as he walked. "You and Mr. Potter assured me last time I caught you harassing Professor Granger that you wouldn't do it again. Now I catch you about to curse a man who has already sheathed his wand to assist the woman you have just insulted," reaching down the huge man pulled Ron to his feet by the scruff of his robes like a rag doll. "No more chances Mr. Weasley. You will now pay the consequences."
Another set of astute eyes had seen everything as well. Pleased to be finally seeing evidence of a changing dynamic, she swept towards them to add her support. Instantly the voice of Minerva McGonagall cut across the scene. She glared at Ron. "Mr. Weasley, you are in a public place, how dare you make such a disgusting statement about one of my Professors, or anyone for that matter." The Headmistress of Hogwarts had no patience left for him. Glaring at her former student she stated. "If I ever hear something that disgusting coming out your mouth again, I'll take great pleasure not only allowing, but encouraging both Professor Snape and Lord Malfoy to wipe the floor with you. Now go find your hot pink piece of fluff, and leave."
Her glare cut him down where he hung in Shacklebolt's sturdy grip, his face a festering mess and his hair falling out in clumps. Ron found himself mumbling. "Yes Ma'am," like the errant twenty eight year old school boy he was, his expression was truly ugly now. It only became worse as he belatedly noticed the Daily Prophet reporter and photographer.
"Actually Minerva," his captor cut in, "I have other plans for Mr Weasley tonight," the ex Auror Minister for Magic stated.
Shacklebolt turned to the two Slytherins and their weeping companion; Ron still dangling in his iron grip, now looking very sober. "Welcome home gentlemen. I had heard of your arrival but my secretary has apparently been unable to arrange a suitable time for me to greet you officially."
Lucius drew himself up to his full six feet three, "Very interesting Minister. I for one have not been approached by your secretary."
"Ah, that is indeed interesting, Lord Malfoy. Professor Snape, please accept my apologies," Shacklebolt bowed his head. "My door is open to both of you any time it is convenient," then to Hermione. "I am sorry this unpleasantness has marred your evening yet again, Professor Granger." Giving Ron a little shake he continued. "If you will all excuse me, I have a pressing matter to deal with. Good evening all."
As Kingsley cut a swath through the assembled crowd with Ron still hanging helplessly in his grasp, Minerva turned and also greeted the two men properly. "It's good to see you after so long Severus, Lucius," she bowed her head. "I'm happy to see someone finally able to stand up to those bullies. I hate to say it about one from my own house, but I am at my wits end with both of them. They really have proven themselves to be pitiful cowards," Minerva stated quietly, glancing at Hermione. "Saying something that stupid and disgusting in front of two powerful wizards..." She shook her head and her eyes turned sad, "I am also sorry. As protective as I am of Hermione, I also thought the campaign against her had ended."
Lucius and Severus took a quick look at one another then back to the still weeping obviously once more humiliated woman, an understanding passed silently between them. "Come my dear, I'll see you to supper, or wherever you wish to go. Severus will be along in a moment," Lucius said, pushing a conjured handkerchief discretely into one of her trembling hands.
Taking her other hand, he placed it in the crook of his arm, "Let's find your cloak, shall we?" Lucius felt Severus press a vial into his hand as Hermione rose on shaky legs. Knowing it would be calming draught; he pocketed it and quietly escorted her away.