Chapter 14: Matters and Manors
Driscoll J. Shepherd, our very own beloved proprietor, enthusiastically announces the engagement of his lovely daughter, Adelana L. Shepherd, to Severus T. Snape, esteemed Potions Master and tenured Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We at the DailyProphet wish our darling Adelana and her accomplished fiancé many cheers, and we unequivocally look forward to their exchange of vows next July.
"Well, that's that, I guess," Addie mumbled as she read the announcement that had appeared in the morning paper. Glancing down at the large dog sitting patiently beside her chair, she wrinkled her nose. "Esteemed, they called him. Esteemed and accomplished… while I get lovely and darling. Apparently he's someone to be respected and admired, and I'm… simply charming."
Rolfe let out a soft moan, and the girl nodded. "My thoughts exactly. Must they make it sound like I'm a pretty, little witch who can be patted on the head and dismissed? Oh, but he's esteemed. How fortunate I must be to have attracted such an accomplished husband."
As the dog panted in unmistakable amusement, she refolded the Prophet and laid it back upon the table. She knew it was unfair – and likely unbecoming, if one was to ask her godmother – to speak in such away regarding her betrothed when he had been nothing but supportive of her throughout the whole ordeal. Despite her initial impression of the man's character, he had been far more deferential to her than she supposed most other wizards would have been under similar circumstances.
That being said, she was still in a relatively terrible mood – one that she had not expected to find herself in only a number of hours after having experienced the best night of her life. She had awakened feeling perfectly fine, but her disposition had soured substantially after Latisha had continued to refer to her as 'Mrs. Greasy Git' or 'Madam Dungeon Bat'. Once was fine, but half a dozen or more instances had definitely made her feel quite relieved when Mr. Randle had Flooed before breakfast to request that his daughter return home earlier than initially planned. She had overheard something about an ill grandmother, and while she did not wish any misfortune upon the woman, she did selfishly hope that it was something severe enough to distract her friend from further commentary on her upcoming marriage.
"Mrs. Esteemed Potions Master," the witch muttered under her breath as she fed Rolfe a half-piece of toast.
"Adelana," her father stated sternly as he stepped into the room. "What have we previously discussed about feeding animals at the dining table?"
His daughter shrugged her shoulders and then patted the wolfhound's head as he laid it in her lap. After the grey wizard claimed the seat across from her, she gestured to the folded paper between them. "They put it on the front page."
"Ah," he nodded, tucking a napkin into his lap, "but below the fold."
Her eyes widened noticeably. "You knew?"
Driscoll eyed her speculatively as he picked up his fork. "As you reminded me only a few days ago: It is my paper."
"You couldn't have made it a bit less conspicuous, then?"
"Adelana," he sighed. "The point is that it becomes public knowledge."
"Yes, I know," Addie groaned. "But does absolutely everyone have to know?"
Her father chuckled lightly and shook his head. "Oh, little one – it won't be so bad."
"Care to wager how many owls we'll receive by day's end?"
"The majority of which shall be complimentary, I'm sure," he countered cheerfully before patting her hand. "The fervor shall die down soon enough. You must not forget that the Wizengamot ruling shall be announced in a fortnight's time."
The girl drew her hand out from beneath his and placed it with its pair upon the soft fur of her pet. "So I'll only be laughingstock for another fourteen days then."
"You needn't be so dramatic, darling," the man commented, clearing his throat. "Where has your little friend disappeared to?"
Adelana fought the urge to roll her eyes. "She went home early. Her grandmother's fallen ill."
"Oh, that is terrible," Shepherd murmured. "Mother's or father's side?"
His daughter shook her head and stared at the table. "I don't know. I didn't think it prudent to ask."
"Quite right, yes," he nodded. "Likely it isn't anything out of the ordinary anyway."
"Likely not," she agreed. "Nothing front page worthy at any rate."
Driscoll gave small sigh, but said nothing for a few minutes. Eventually, he set down his fork to reach for his teacup. "Did you find the party to be everything you had hoped?"
The witch could not help the smile that crept onto her lips as she picked at her food. "Yes, I enjoyed it very much. Thank you, Papa. I did not expect it to be so extravagant actually."
"You are quite welcome," he replied. "It is only once that a young witch reaches her majority, and it should be celebrated as such. I am glad you did enjoy it. You certainly did appear happy whenever I happened to catch sight of you. I daresay there will be a number of disappointed gentlemen reading this morning's paper."
Addie gave a half-hearted giggle and began scratching the back of Rolfe's head.
"On that note, did you happen to spend much time with Severus last night?"
Shrugging, she took in a deep breath. "I danced with him twice."
"And? Did the two of you converse?"
"A bit, yes."
"Well a bit is more than none, I grant you," her father chuckled. "I scarcely managed more than a few words with him myself last night, and what we did discuss I can hardly recall. I do suppose it was not the most opportune event for getting to know someone."
"Not really, no." The girl breathed deeply and leaned back in her chair. After another week, all she could really add to her mental list of information regarding her would-be husband was that he did not care for shopping or small talk and that he was a fairly decent dance partner.
"I spoke briefly with your godfather this morning."
She flicked her eyes to him in mild suspicion. "Oh?"
"He's just informed me that he shall be signing over the Prince estate to Severus rather shortly."
Adelana frowned and folded her hands in her lap as Rolfe stretched out upon the floor at her feet. "Signing over?"
"Yes, an interesting tidbit, I thought," Driscoll commented. "Severus is considered an heir to the estate through his mother's line. Marsden Prince, his grandfather, was quite careless with finances – a character trait which Lucius assures me is not hereditary – and eventually found himself in debt to your grandfather, Abraxas, who seized the entire Prince estate. After your grandfather's death, however, your uncle took control of the accounts, of course, and mentioned to Severus the original sum that had been outstanding. Apparently, Severus took it upon himself to settle his grandfather's debts, though they were not his own, and in return, your godfather agreed to return to him the estate – or the majority of it, at least."
The girl took in a slow breath. "I suppose that must be what he meant when he mentioned that his family fortune was quite meager when compared to ours."
"Oh, undoubtedly," he nodded before taking another bite of his breakfast. While he chewed, he considered her statement and then cleared his throat as soon as he had swallowed his food. "Severus has spoken with you, then, regarding finances?"
Addie pinched her lips into a thin line as she reflected upon how best to reply. She could vaguely recall her godmother commenting that while intelligent witches kept a general impression of their family finances in mind, proper ones did not make it an explicit topic of conversation.
"Very briefly," she finally replied.
"I see," Shepherd murmured. "Yes, his available funds are comparatively limited at present, though he could liquidate some of the Prince assets should it be needed. I would be damned to allow my daughter to reside in an improperly furnished manor, however, so I have ensured that your dowry is substantial enough to keep you content for some time. Should it ever dwindle, though, your godfather has offered to purchase the smaller properties for a reasonable sum. That being said, I would rather give you an advance on your inheritance than to see your estate downsized. I shall have to endeavor to remember to discuss as much with him."
"Papa," she gasped; her cheeks flushing in mortification. It was embarrassing enough to know that her father had unmistakably implied that Snape would be unable to provide for her on his own, but to suggest that such a great sum would not be enough to keep her satisfied was even more so.
"Do not look at me like that, Adelana," he cautioned with a shake of his head. "The money shall be yours in any regard, so what difference is it if I give it to you now or over time? What good does it do me to hold onto it all until the bitter end, hmm? I would much prefer to pay the man who has promised to protect you than to spend it on myself. If you are safe and happy, then I would have everything for which I could possibly wish."
He paused briefly and then steepled his fingers. "Unless you believe that the funds shall be ill spent?"
Her eyes widened as she leaned forward suddenly. "No, of course not! I don't think he would abuse it at all. I mean, Professor Snape –"
"Severus," her father corrected.
Addie blinked and let out a slow breath. Straightening her posture, she spoke calmly. "He assured me that his decision to accept the contract had nothing to do with the size of my dowry."
"And you felt him to be genuine?"
"Yes," she nodded. "He even…"
She trailed off at remembering her aunt's long-ago advice, but upon seeing her father's expectant face, she quietly finished her comment. "He even suggested that he could consult me whenever an expenditure was necessary."
"Did he now?" Driscoll exclaimed in amusement. "Well that does certainly renew my confidence in the man. Highly progressive of him, of course, but it does relieve me to know that he will not lose sight of just where his funding originates."
"Father!" the witch admonished loud enough to startle Rolfe from a light snooze.
The elder wizard held up a hand. "Don't fret, Adelana. I do not envision him taking too much offense."
The girl shook her head and crossed her arms to her chest. "Clearly, you don't know Professor Snape very well."
"I can only say the same to you, dear," her father returned, picking up the newspaper. "Should he respond as you fear, however, I can only argue that beyond securing the happiness of his daughter, it is a father's duty to offend his son-in-law. Your grandfather, for instance, took particular delight in criticizing the size of the rooms in this house, and no matter how much effort or money was spent upon the gardens, he always maintained that they were never quite suitable enough for your mother – or for you, for that matter."
Adelana dropped her gaze to her lap as she briefly thought of the time she had spent in the gardens with her mother and her grandfather, who had died only a few years prior. Her thoughts quickly returned to her current predicament, however. Her father's planned conversation with her fiancé did not concern her solely because of the slight he would be making against Snape's estate, but also because of the light in which it would paint her.
Already she could hear the man mentioning that his own income was not enough to support her in the manner in which she was accustomed to, and if her father was set on implying that the excessive dowry may be likewise insubstantial for keeping her satisfied, she could only imagine how the dour man would think of her. If he did not already consider her to be a spoiled, needy, little girl, he certainly would entertain the idea soon.
Giving a frustrated huff of air, the witch dropped her napkin to the table and stood from her chair. With a muffled word of parting to her father, she turned toward the exit.
"Addie, where are you off to?"
She pinched her lips together into a thin line before replying over her shoulder. "I'm still a bit tired from the party. I thought I might lie down for a while."
"Yes, of course," he nodded. "Perhaps when you are feeling a little more awake, you can start opening your gifts. It would not do to delay sending out your notes of gratitude for more than a day, you know."
"Of course," Addie murmured politely.
The image of the significant pile of gifts and cards standing at the west corner of the ballroom caused her to grimace. She was spoiled; there was no use in denying it. Since she could not truly hide her wealth, she would just have to continue to focus her attentions on not appearing immature or in constant need of reassurance. That was likely the best she could hope to manage.
Frowning, she made her way into the hallway and toward the staircase with her large dog trailing slowly behind her.
Severus, you sly fox!
Not even a single hint dropped to your old professor as to the existence of your engagement. Top of the class, indeed! Nevertheless, I must offer you my heartfelt Congratulations. Miss Shepherd is a fine witch and should suit you well. I scarcely believe I could have suggested a better match for you, my dear boy. I wish you well in your engagement and shall aspire to bestow my tidings for your marriage in person.
Horace E. F. Slughorn
Severus sighed deeply as he tossed the letter aside and then rubbed his temples. His lip curled in disgust as he eyed the dozen or so unopened envelopes haphazardly strewn across his dining table. Surprisingly, there had only been two Howlers from concerned parents, which had been immediately reduced to a pile of ash, but after having to open up the window repeatedly for an hour and a half, he had opted instead to escape to the laboratory in his basement for the remainder of the afternoon. A Floo call from Lucius had pulled him out of hiding, however, and after being informed that they would meet on Saturday to sign over the Prince estate, he had begrudgingly deigned to read his predecessor's note.
The sound of talons scraping on glass caused him to give a shuddering sigh and glance once more toward the window.
"Fucking Christ," Snape hissed upon seeing at least seven owls peering in at him. Though there were several of his personal charms cast upon his property to prevent any curious Muggle souls from noticing anything peculiar about his home, he was mildly concerned that they were not quite extensive enough to handle the sudden onslaught of attention from the Wizarding World.
Throwing open the sash with such force that the wooden crack echoed about the room, he glared at the handful of birds that immediately invaded his sitting room. The majority of them took flight as soon as they had been relieved of their burden, but two owls remained, expectantly clacking their beaks at him.
"What? You think I'm going to give you a treat?" the wizard scoffed. "Bugger off before I sic one of the neighbor's cats on you."
With an affronted flap of their wings, the pair disappeared through the window, though not before one of them nipped the man's finger.
"Fuck," Severus grunted, pressing the sore digit into his palm. Slamming the window shut once more, he kicked the pile of mail on the floor and slunk toward the bottle of firewhiskey stashed on one of the shelves of a bookcase.
"Bloody birds," he muttered under his breath before tossing back a drink and collapsing into the nearest chair. With a heavy sigh, he realized that he would be exceptionally fortunate if he made it until the morrow without setting his neighbors' tongues wagging and subsequently violating the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.
Perhaps a country estate away from any prying Muggle eyes would not be such a bad idea. If it was indeed as grand as Lucius claimed, at least he could set up a suitable brewing space that would not jeopardize the structural integrity of the entire residence were something to go pear-shaped. Undoubtedly, there would also be an adequate enough room in the yard for a sprawling garden in which he could personally guarantee the proper growth and maintenance of a plethora of ingredients. He would not be limited to the few plants hardy and determined enough to establish themselves in the piss poor soil of his barely-there back garden. There was a limit to the number of charms one could safely place upon a predominantly Muggle environment in which ingredients were grown and potions were brewed.
Wizarding homes were incredibly expensive, though, and purchasing one of decent size and location on his own would have usurped the entirety of his savings. It seemed there were benefits to marrying after all.
"Unbelievable," Severus murmured over the lip of the bottle. "Prostituting myself out for a sodding house."
Severus heard a splash accompanying his arrival via apparition, and it took a second for the realization that he was standing shin deep in water to fully register.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," he snarled under his breath while scowling at the two large stone owls perched in the center of the large fountain in which he currently found himself. The sound of a familiar chuckle upon the breeze caused him to snap his attention to the northeast where Lucius Malfoy stood smugly upon the gravel drive.
"I haven't even signed it over to you yet, and you're already messing about?" the blonde purred, striding forward. "Honestly, Severus… a certain level of decorum is expected of a man of means."
"I don't have any means yet, you twit," the professor growled while sloshing toward the edge of the fountain. "And you did that on purpose."
"Did I now?" his friend murmured.
Snape narrowed his eyes as he shook some of the water from his trousers before casting a drying charm over his clothing. "You know damn well I followed your apparition coordinates exactly."
"How naïve of you."
"A mistake that shall not be repeated," the younger wizard stated, rolling his shoulders as he eyed the large house before him. "I had assumed that since I'm doing you such a grand favor that you would behave accordingly."
"Ah, but my friend," Malfoy shrugged, "there is a particular part of my anatomy that does not forgive or forget so easily."
The spy smirked at the memory of the man dropping to the floor, clutching his privates, after the betrothal contract had been filed. "I suppose I should be grateful then that it was merely a fountain and not a tree or fence post."
"I assure you it was considered," the aristocrat replied, "Though I could not allow myself to deprive my goddaughter should she eventually find some use for them."
As his friend glared at him, Lucius laughed and gestured grandly toward the house. "Well, then… welcome to Riogan Court! Of course, I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to declare it worthy of the title 'Court' given its relative size, but then not all men are as modest as myself."
Severus snorted disdainfully under his breath while he fell into step behind the blonde. His eyes raked over the large, gleaming, multi-paneled windows and pale grey stone of the three-story home. "It appears rather large."
"Yes, to you it would. I would categorize it as a Manor or a small Hall, perhaps, but certainly not a Court. For Merlin's sake, there are only ten bedrooms!"
"Only ten," the younger man repeated with a roll of his eyes. "Oh, however shall we manage?"
"Well, given the narrow likelihood that Adelana will manage to convince you to entertain guests, I'm certain you'll manage perfectly fine."
As a stray thought entered his mind, the dark-haired wizard donned an impassive expression and cleared his throat. "And should we have more children than available bedrooms?"
Lucius froze mid-step and then turned to look at him in horrified disbelief. "Good gods, man – you're not a Weasley!"
"Well, apparently there remains some doubt as to my paternal heritage –"
"Oh, stuff it!" the blonde groaned. "You're half-barbarian, alright? Satisfied?"
"Ecstatic," Snape replied stiffly.
"And I swear on my sister's grave, if her daughter comes to bear more children than I have fingers on my right hand, I will personally see to it that you are sterilized… by whatever means necessary."
Dark eyes locked onto grey ones until finally the younger wizard cracked a smirk. "Promises, promises."
Shaking his head, Malfoy let out a sigh. "You're such a shit, Severus. Sometimes I wonder how I can even stand you."
"And yet, here you are, rewarding me with a large estate."
"Yes," the wealthy wizard breathed before climbing the wide, stone steps leading up to the pillared entrance. "We shall take care of that expediently."
With a wave of his hand, the thick, wooden double doors slowly swung open to reveal a stately front hall. Large stone tiles in front of the doorway and an expansive fireplace gave way to hardwood planks, covered partially with an ornate rug that was likely more sizeable than the kitchen at Spinner's End. A curved staircase swept up to a second floor balcony, leaving the space above the entrance hall open to the second story ceiling, from which a massive, glittering chandelier was suspended.
"If you've finished your gaping," Lucius drawled, "we are a bit pressed for time."
Realizing that his mouth had indeed parted as his eyes had been naturally drawn to the hanging crystals, Severus coughed lightly and took long strides to reach his friend's side.
"You'll do a bit of touring later, but I'll satisfy a bit of your curiosity now," the arrogant wizard stated, adopting a put-upon expression. "My knowledge of its history is limited, of course, but I do know that it was built in 1683 by Talmage Prince as a wedding gift for his second son Riogan – your fifth-great-grandfather, I do believe – whose portrait you'll find at the head of the staircase in the second floor portrait gallery. The third story, however, was not added until the early 1800s when Atticus Prince, your great-great grandfather, decided to remodel the second floor to allow a guest wing. Of course, the whisperings amongst the portraits seem to indicate that he only did so to put an entire floor between him and his mother-in-law, who had taken up residence in one of the family rooms and thought she knew best."
"A relation of yours, I would suppose," Severus murmured, enjoying the exasperated look that appeared on his friend's face. The absence of a denial seemed to suggest that the assumption was entirely accurate.
"This fireplace – and most of the others – was reconstructed sometime after the Floo Network was better established, and is the only Floo entrance into the house, which does make it relatively easy to manage with the wards. The ballroom – not as grand as what you've encountered at the Manor, mind you – and banquet area is through those French doors as you see, and attached to that, just beyond the staircase there, is the formal dining room. The kitchens lie behind the staircase, and are attached to the breakfast nook and family dining room. The front parlor overlooks the drive; the sunroom, the eastern patio; and the main drawing room is in here.
"Now, if you'll join me, we can conclude the transfer relatively quickly."
The professor nodded slowly and followed him into the drawing room to be greeted by the sight of pastel pink furniture and floral wallpaper. At his grimace, Lucius smiled and gracefully sank upon one of the chairs. "I had the damnedest time convincing Narcissa that we ought to leave this room as is, but I knew you would appreciate having it in the original condition."
"How considerate of you," Snape sneered as he dropped onto the camel-back sofa.
"Well, don't you look quite at home already."
The younger wizard glared and folded his arms. "I thought we were pressed for time."
"Quite right," Malfoy nodded before producing a stack of parchments, a quill, and a small inkwell. "The topmost item is the acknowledgement that the debt owed my father has been repaid. Beneath that is the agreement that I will release the estate into your possession."
Severus picked up the first two sheets of parchment and quickly skimmed through them. "Hold on… this indicates that Marsden Prince owed almost hundred and fifty thousand galleons. That's what you consider insubstantial? And I'm supposed to have scraped together that much in three and a half years?"
The blonde sighed and settled into the back of his chair. "If you would bother to read it, Severus, you would notice that the majority of that figure is interest accrued on the loan prior to the estate seizure. The original sum was just under twelve thousand."
"Good gods," he groaned shaking his head. "A hundred and thirty thousand galleons in interest? And you're just going to forget it existed?"
"Even I can admit it was excessive," Lucius murmured. "Father was punishing Prince, I'm certain, for always refusing to sell him a particular possession, so he undoubtedly manufactured the situation in which he could take all of it. You'll see in the agreement that I've retained the French chateau in lieu of payment on the interest. "
"Yes, I see," the dark-haired man replied, reaching for the quill. "Manufacturing situations does seem to run in the family."
"And you would do well to remember that seeing as you are marrying in," the aristocrat cautioned, leaning forward. "Alright, now that you've signed those, you just need to sign the deeds for what remains of the Prince estate: a small, country home in County Donegal, a seaside cottage on the Isle of Wight, a woodland retreat in Northumberland, a modest townhome in the Wandsworth Borough of London, and, of course, Riogan Court – the crown jewel here in North Yorkshire."
"And the wards?"
"Shall transfer into your control as soon as you sign."
With a soft grunt, Severus proceeded to do as suggested. Just after he finished his signature on the final sheet of parchment, he felt a telltale tug at the wards and heard a soft chime from the entrance hall.
"Ah," Lucius smiled, pushing up from his chair. "Your guests have arrived."
"Guests?" he asked, looking around in confusion.
"Of course. Your fiancée and her father are here to inspect the house."
"What? Now?" he gasped while quickly standing.
"Oh, didn't I tell you? Silly me – must have slipped my mind," Malfoy purred. "Anyway, do try to put on a smile and play the gracious host. It is your house now, after all."
Snape exhaled loudly as he followed his friend in the direction of the front door. "Bugger me."