The usual disclaimers apply.

...

Naturally, they were both afraid of seeing the other at the apothecary the next day. Naturally, both took great care to look their best.

Naturally, they both pretended absolutely nothing had happened and that they hadn't exchanged any messages at all.

Hermione frowned. This couldn't be right. She chewed on her quill, careful not to puncture it and have any ink leak on her lips. She pulled another clean piece of parchment from the fat stack next to her and added the figures up again. Even though it couldn't possibly be right, it definitely was. Either he had forgotten to put any income in the books, or there simply hadn't been all that much. Well – next to nothing, to be honest. If this was right, the time of her absence had brought him close to bankruptcy. The lines across her forehead deepened when she saw what he had spent.

"Er...Snape?" she called out to where he was doing whatever in the backroom. Brewing something useful, hopefully.

"What?" he called back.

"Did you order Malaclaw tails?"

"Yes, I did," he answered after a moment.

"And Fwooper's feathers?"

"That as well," his voice sounded nearer this time and when she looked up, she saw him standing in the doorframe, looking at her as she sat hunched over his books. "What of it?" he asked with his eyebrows arched (and if they hadn't been directed at her, she would have found them immensely, well, sexy).

"You're...I mean...this...well...er..." she stuttered and felt a flush cross her face and hoped to all deities that deigned to listen that said flush didn't show as brightly red as she imagined it would.

"Yes?" he asked slowly.

"You're...ah...er...why?"

"Why what?"

She took a deep, fortifying breath, knowing full well that she would possibly, most likely get a dressing down for this. "Why did you spent all of that money?"

"Because I needed the ingredients," he answered and the calm in his voice made it perfectly plain that she didn't have long before he exploded.

"But..." she stopped herself. It was none of her business. It was his money. It was his to spent and if the apothecary went bankrupt, well, she couldn't even finish that thought.

Oh yes, she could, she thought suddenly, if the apothecary went bankrupt, she was out of her job.

"Yes?" he asked again and he sounded bored now.

"You can't pay me," she blurted and pointed with her finger at the column of numbers on the parchment she had just added up. "You've had absolutely no business that made you any money in the last three weeks. You sold potions for seven galleons. You spent 6974 galleons on various ingredients. Some ridiculously expensive and others just plain overpriced. I mean, who spends 22 galleons on seven handfuls of scruvy-grass? Or..."

"I do," he interrupted her coldly. "Now if you've quite finished?"

"No," she knew now that it was impossibly to stop her face from being a flaming red. "You can't pay me."

He gave something that sounded very much like a hollow laugh and with a billow of his robes, disappeared back into his little laboratory.

"Well done, Granger," she muttered to herself but instead of closing the books, she continued to try and find some kind of error he might have made.

Impertinent, impudent, stupid, sweet little wench. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to think. Yes, she had done his accounts in the past. Yes, she was good at adding up numbers. What she wasn't good at was knowing how much money he really owned. How much he could afford to lose and whether he could afford to keep her on. He had no intention of telling her that there was absolutely no need to fear for job because he had enough galleons stored away, parts of it in Gringott's, parts in his flat, part as investments in the Muggle world. She wasn't to know and it was none of her business either.

But at the same time, a feeling both warm and cold, idiotic and sensible started in his stomach. She wanted to stay there, wanted to work there. But that was part of the problem, wasn't it? She wanted to work for him. She didn't want to stay there because she enjoyed his company. She didn't want to stay for his sake but for the good money she made. That had been why she had returned. That had been why she had taken back her resignation and that was, maybe, why she tried to be nice to him now as well, writing her messages and things.

Why else could he explain that she had, unasked, taken a looked over the figures? Why else would she wonder about his finances?

He sat down heavily on the only stool available in his little laboratory, staring gloomily into his almost finished Draught of Peace.

He had always known there was absolutely no chance she was interested in him in that way. He sighed and then his glance fell on the little vial full of the potion he had made for her little owl. Well, he could still give that to her, even if he had hoped that it would spark something else in her. He shook his head slowly. It didn't matter. It had all been a dream anyway. A stupid, immature, childish, juvenile dream and he was neither of those things. He was a grown man of 46 (and to think that he had managed to get so old when everything had looked like he would die aged 38...). He could get over a little crush easily.

Now all he had to do was convince himself that Hermione Granger was nothing more than a little crush. Surviving the snakebite looked quite easy from that side of things.

He grimaced at his Draught of Peace and took the cauldron from the fire. He had no reason to stay in now. He could just easily go out and she could handle the shop. Not that anyone would come in. He had scared them all away. Well – no. He hadn't really scared them away. He just hadn't sold them what they wanted and after about a week of either ignoring the customers or sending them all away, they had stayed away. It was as simple as that.

"Snape?" she called angrily from the front room.

He rolled his eyes. Maybe she had found another little things in his books and now decided that they had to … whatever she could think up.

"What?" he snapped back.

"I'm taking an early lunch. I'll be back in an hour," she called and before he could even answer (that this was most unlikely of her – that she clearly could leave whenever she wanted – that he had wanted to eat with her – all of that) he heard the chiming of the little bell she had put on his door and was possibly out of it.

Well, so much for that. She was possibly running to her little friends, or worse still, going to the owl post office or even the muggle post office to send applications for new jobs.

He sighed and got up with the air of a man thirty years his senior to fetch another cauldron and do something more or less useful.

He would most definitely hate her for this but if it got him back onto his feet it didn't matter that he hated her. Well yes, it would but that was a small part compared to saving his livelihood.

She only knew bit and pieces of his history after the his recovery of the snake bite. His apothecary had already been more or less well established (well, she knew of it) by the time she had asked him for a job after her ill-fated and short-lived history with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. She knew he had opened it and that Minerva McGonagall swore on his Decongestant Draught. Apart from that, she didn't know much and so far, she hadn't dared to ask much. He had told her things, yes, but definitely not the whole story.

Still, she knew how he reacted to certain things quite well these days and she knew that he would possibly have her head for what she had just done.

Hermione smirked.

Better this way than to have to go back to stupid MLE and stop stupid witches and wizards from doing stupid things, or better yet, take them away after they had done something stupid. As silly as it sounded, her work for Snape was much more satisfying even if she could not explain why. Maybe it was just the fact that she was seeing him. And, when the time was right, he would see that she had done the right thing. Even if there was hell to pay the next morning when she got back to work.

Sorry, short. Sorry, slight cliffhanger.

A bit of a personal note here: I lost a baby in my 16th week of pregnancy last May. It was a devastating blow and one I didn't think I could easily deal with. I'm now pregnant again (18th week) and even though the doctors sewed my cervix up (erm, yep. Sounds worse than it it) I'm still very afraid of losing this one again. If you have a spare second, please send good thoughts my and Voldemort-Django's way (don't ask – but this one's given me hell at the beginning...though I doubt I would really name the kid that.)

Thank you!