WARNING: Sexual content while human characters are in non-human form.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or anything recognizable to the HP-Universe, JK Rowling does. I'm not making any money off the writing of this fanfic.
Snape glanced up from the polished wooden sales counter as the bell jangled the presence of another customer. His brows furrowed for the moment, taking in the horrid sight of Hermione, her jumper torn and caked with mud. She hadn't bothered tidying up her appearance one jot, and he knew they'd have to have another one of those conversations again.
Cleanliness was akin to godliness in Potionry. A single contamination could ruin several thousands of Galleons worth of merchandise, or blow them all to kingdom come. She knew that, of course. But since she'd unanimously earned her Potions Mistress certification six months early and with honors, the bothersome girl gave him so few things to get on her about.
"Don't you start with me," she growled, dropping a burlap sack between them with a wet thunk. "I'm in no mood—the bloody thing bit me." She lifted the hem of her torn pants leg to reveal a sickening bite.
"Should I start stocking silver filings now?"
"Don't worry, I was protected. I won't turn Were on you, though I could develop a fondness for carrots."
"And you killed it out of spite?" he asked with a smirk, relishing in her uncomfortable wince.
Hermione hated killing creatures, even in self defense. He had assumed the battle-hardened hero who'd fallen Dark wizards twice her size under her wand would get over her reluctance, but that hadn't happened. She was disgustingly an animal lover—one of those sodding, bleeding hearts types, too. What she was doing in Potionry was beyond him. Where the devil did she think 'eye of newt' came from? Regardless, the witch fancied Potions and—astonishingly enough—almost seemed to fancy him. Or at least she put up with his regular bullshit, which was saying quite a lot. Even he was willing to admit that one.
"You could have Stunned it," he pointed out.
"Yes, well, the plan changed when thirty of them bolted from the cave and swarmed me," she grimly acknowledged.
"Tsk! Tsk! Hermione, I know I taught you better than that—never allow yourself to become overwhelmed and always assess the working conditions. Pity this couldn't have been avoided. Who knows, perhaps this Wererabbit was protecting a liter of little fluffy bunnies."
Her lower lip quivered as tears threatened to gather in the corners of her eyes. She sniffed and rubbed her filthy sleeve on her cheeks before bucking up and lifted her chin in defiance.
Atta girl, Severus mentally praised. She needed to stop looking at the creatures as cuddly widdle animals and start viewing them as merchandise. Her stomach would settle, and she'd forget easily enough once they were dried, preserved, or pickled. The success of their Apothecary depended upon it.
"Right," she affirmed in a falsely calm voice, casting a saddened glance at the burlap bag. "I'm going to go get cleaned up, then I'll work on inventory."
A solitary black eyebrow inched toward his hairline. "And you'll leave harvesting the rabbit to me?"
Hermione licked her lips nervously and cleared her throat. "No, I'll do it. Let me just get showered and changed."
The shop was empty, and it had been a slow Tuesday. New orders had come in, but they weren't urgent. Their financial ledger had consumed most of his attention that morning, but Severus conceded he could use a break. For those reasons alone, and not to spare Hermione of her responsibilities, he took to the task of harvesting the Wererabbit while Hermione put herself back together.
Reluctantly, Severus admitted the rabbit was rather… cute. If one could get past the great big gnashing teeth and bloodlust.
When Hermione returned, freshly scrubbed and changed, smelling of the shop's bestselling ginger wash, her mouth opened in a wide 'oh' when she laid eyes on Wererabbit bits and pieces sorted, cleaned, and canned. Severus said nothing, but handed her the clipboard containing her notes for inventory.
She nodded once, warm appreciation in her eyes, before setting to the onerous task that she didn't mind nearly as much as Severus did. In many ways, they complimented each other, which kept the small shop of selective clientele coming back to their door. Hermione was friendly and helpful when she played shop girl. Severus could negotiate and carried the weight of an established reputation above reproach. Hermione managed their stock. Severus managed their expenses. And they both tried to keep the bickering to a minimum—and never in front of customers—which was why the red-headed whelp was permanently banned.
The wizarding world did not lack for another Apothecary. Hogsmeade had three well-established Apothecaries. London held more than he could shake a Bowtruckle at. Teaching didn't pay. Nor did research. Just about any commonly used potion could be brewed by a competent Potioneer's Assistant or N.E.W.T. level student—which effectively meant that, for all its petty airs, being a Potions Master was hardly glamorous. The only way to make any money in the profession was to open an Apothecary.
Apothecaries came and went—mostly when get-rich-quick wizards realized they could buy supplies like mullein leaf from Muggles inexpensively and sell for triple the Galleons to wizarding customers. Those sorts never lasted more than a season or two. The shops with staying power only stayed around by finding a niche in the market that allowed them to cultivate loyal customers.
They were still trying to figure out the niche for their shop as it went through the growing pains of a new business. Thus far, the best marketing decision they had made was to drop Nackledirk. The Mystic Kettle might have been a bland name, but referencing the obscure Potions Master of the seventeenth century was too much of a mouthful, regardless of how much both Severus and Hermione esteemed his groundbreaking work. In all, they managed to keep the doors open by offering rare and unusual potions ingredients. It was a dandy business prospect, except for one problem:
They had to find rare and unusual potions ingredients.
Cornering the market on Basilisk bits was the easy part, but if their business were to thrive, they had to diversify beyond the venomous creature.
"We're low on Cockatrice quills," Hermione called out from across the small shop.
Severus grunted in response. He'd have to manage that one. Hermione could take on ankle-sized Wererabbits, but Cockatrices were actual beasts that required finesse and handling. Oh, Hermione had finesse, but if something were to go wrong, he'd have to hire a replacement, and interviewing candidates was such an unbearable chore. If Hermione hadn't been his Apprentice at the time, he doubted she'd have landed the job.
No, it was best he pinch feathers from the rooster/lizard beast himself. Preferably before it shredded him.
"And we're completely out of Pixie Dust."
Severus' head snapped up from the handwritten ledger. "There should be more in the back."
"Oh, honestly, Severus, do you think I haven't checked there? When I say we're out of Pixie Dust, I mean we're out of Pixie Dust."
"Damn," Severus swore under his breath.
They did have new orders—orders that specifically required Pixie Dust. If they couldn't deliver the goods, it was possible they'd lose the whole order and dash away all hopes of future business.
Hermione must have had bat-hearing because she rounded the shelves making a beeline for him.
"We need Pixie Dust," she said dryly.
Severus nodded the affirmative.
"Damn," she swore under her breath. They traded speculating glances.
"I did it last time," she preempted him with raised hands.
"I did it last time," he countered.
"You did not, I did. And those little buggers bit me then, too."
"When does some creature not bite you, Hermione?"
"That's not germane to the conversation, you git. I did it in June."
"And I clearly recall doing it in August."
Hermione dug her feet in, and they'd be there all afternoon arguing the point. Severus could tell, because she'd laced her arms beneath her breasts, which plumped them up nicely, very nicely, but it was the stance she took right before she attempted to lecture him like another one of those mouth-breathing, fuckwitted friends that clung to her.
He forestalled the lecture.
"We'll both collect it, then."
She was ready to argue, but gave in, her clipboard clattering to the sales counter. Massaging her temples in a familiar gesture, Hermione noted that she'd chosen the day to collect Wererabbit whiskers because it was the night of the new moon. Severus dutifully passed her a Headache Draught and measured a dose for himself. The new moon was the darkest night of the lunar cycle and the best time to spot Pixie lights.
This story was written as a gift for Mollyssister—I hope you love it!
Beta'd by the amazingly talented christev and alpha-read by the extraordinarily mischievous mischievous_t.
Random trivia: The Mystic Kettle of Nackledirk was the fake working-title of Deathly Hallows.