H0t H0rny Gir1s 4 U
Severus gave an inaudible sigh. There were probably h0t h0rny gir1s somewhere in the world, but they were never for him. He clicked the delete button.
Package deposited in your name here to receive
Another click of the delete button.
YOU'VE W0N M1LL1I0NS!
If only that were true. Delete. He could use the money. As soon as he'd been released from hospital, he'd opened a small potions business in Knockturn Alley with an eye toward developing new and more efficient potions.
Four years later, Severus remained in business, but he was hanging on by his fingernails. He'd finally developed a new potion certain to be a bestseller, but he couldn't get the required financing to produce it in quantity.
Lack of money forced Severus to remain at the crumbling house at Spinner's End, but he found benefits to living full-time amongst Muggles. He was never hexed when his back was turned, and the Muggles didn't gawp at him. The neighbourhood pub served a decent ale, and the telly over the bar played a continual stream of sport.
A small Internet café opened near the pub, and on a whim, he decided to indulge his curiosity about the computers that the Muggles constantly referenced. Once inside the café, a patient young man demonstrated how to use a computer and access the Internet.
Asked about his hobbies, Severus replied that he enjoyed reading, and the young man grinned and said, "Welcome to paradise, mate." He typed on the keyboard, clicked a button and stepped back with a flourish as the wonders of .uk unfolded on the screen.
Later that same day, Severus dipped into his dwindling savings, opened a Muggle bank account, obtained a credit card, and with the young clerk's assistance, set up an email address. Now Severus used the Internet café's computers to order books. Although, if business didn't pick up, he'd soon be forced to abandon that luxury.
Increase Your Penis Size
His forefinger touched the mouse, but he hesitated instead of pressing it. Muggles had made great strides in medical treatment, but increasing the size of a todger wasn't something they'd managed. He frowned thoughtfully and lightly stroked the mouse button with the tip of his finger. His own penis was a respectable size, and he didn't believe making it larger was necessary, especially as it received little use outside of the functional and the self-administered. Still, the thought of possessing a truly impressive cock appealed on a visceral male level.
A potion developed in the fifteenth century would accomplish just such a feat, but the Amplio Vir had long been relegated to the occasional mention in obscure journals. Far above the capabilities and patience of most brewers, it was a delicate, finicky potion requiring weeks of preparation and months of tending. Worse, the Amplio Vir had consequences that most invariably failed to take into account—
A sharp bark of laughter from a burly customer across the room interrupted his thoughts. Still chuckling, the man pulled a mobile from his pocket and dialled. After a moment, the man spoke into the phone. "Oi! It's Jackie. Tell Tony I've caught him out and he owes me five quid. Original limerick, my arse. I knew I'd heard it before. Listen to this."
Jackie read from the computer monitor, his voice ringing through the small café.
"There once was a harlot from Crewe,
who filled her vagina with glue.
She said with a grin,
'They may pay to get in,
But they'll pay to get out of it, too.'"
Jackie brayed out another laugh, garnering both irritated glares and amused glances from the other patrons, but Severus went completely still as a plan abruptly unfolded in his mind. There was a way to obtain the money needed to finance Blemish-Be-Gone. It would take time, but time was the one thing he had in abundance. All he had to do was stay in business long enough to bring it about.
Eight Months Later
In hindsight, Hermione should have known something was off when Lavender invited her to tea with "the girls". They'd made an effort to put aside their differences, but they would never be close friends. First because they had too little in common, and second, when Hermione and Ron broke up, Lavender had been right there to console Ron. Hermione had always viewed that timing with suspicion. Not that she suspected Ron of cheating, but she did believe Lavender had kept a gimlet eye on the situation, awaiting her opportunity.
Lavender and Ron were now married, and with Hermione constantly in the orbit of the Weasley family due to her friendship with Harry and Ginny — and yes, even Ron now that they'd had some time and distance — it behoved both women to get along.
Lavender ruled at the centre of a clique of female friends whom the Daily Prophet had labelled Fashionable Young Matrons (always capitalized, as if referencing a title bestowed on a dignitary). The Fashionable Young Matrons met often to gossip about the latest parties, exchange the newest in beauty and fashion charms, recommend or denounce restaurants, and to alternately complain and boast about their jobs, their husbands, and their children.
It galled Hermione to admit, even if only to herself, that she'd felt a childish thrill at being invited to join them. She didn't truly want to belong to that group — she had little in common with any of them — but the bushy-haired, buck-toothed 11-year old swot who still lived deep in her soul found it unbearably flattering to finally be accepted by the popular girls. She'd even taken the afternoon off from work and worn her second nicest set of robes.
Now, she wished she'd simply told Lavender to bugger off.
"I shouldn't ask, but does it increase in, erm, length or in girth?" she asked.
"Both," Lavender answered grimly.
"Ah." Hermione winced and crossed her legs. "I've never heard of that particular potion. How did your husbands even know it existed?"
"An advertisement in the Prophet," Lavender said. "Just a few lines in the back. Most people would have missed seeing it, but of course they all noticed."
"And they all used it?" Hermione asked, glancing around the room.
The women nodded as one.
"It's permanent," Parvati Finnigan burst out. "That's what Seamus said. As if I should be happy about it."
Hermione frowned. She found that claim suspect. Short of Avada Kedavra, very little about magic was permanent. Most things that could be done could be undone. Still, if anyone could manage it...
"Have any of you talked to Snape?" she asked.
From their appalled expressions, one would think she'd suggested resurrecting Voldemort and having him in for tea and a chat.
"Of course we haven't talked to him," Lisa Turpin-Wood said.
"But he's the one who brewed the—" Hermione began.
"It's Snape," Parvati interrupted, as if that explained everything, and perhaps it did, judging from the vehement nods that swept the room.
"Oh, bloody hell," Hermione muttered under her breath. Raising her voice, she said, "What about your husbands? Have any of them talked to Snape about the situation?"
The women just stared at her.
Susan Bones-Towler finally shook her head. "Our husbands don't really seem to appreciate the... the..." She floundered, waving her hands in mute frustration.
Hermione knew she shouldn't, but she couldn't resist.
"The depth of the problem?" she suggested dryly.
Susan shot her a filthy look but nodded.
"They're just so happy about it. Whenever Ron gets the chance, he..." Lavender faltered at the memory, then continued, "he waggles it at me with this silly grin on his face."
Hermione bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing aloud. That sounded exactly like something Ron would do.
She cleared her throat and said briskly, "Yes, well, if you don't want to talk to Snape directly, you can file a grievance with the Ministry's Potions Board. Snape's brewing professionally now, so the Board—"
"No," Parvati said firmly. "We can't go to the Ministry. You know as well as anyone that they can't keep a secret, and it would be all over the newspapers in a heartbeat."
That was rather hypocritical of them, Hermione decided. Until today, they'd given every impression of enjoying seeing their names in print.
"I take it you don't think being in the papers will be quite so much fun when the reports aren't complimentary?" Hermione murmured.
Parvati's eyes narrowed. "Our men did a vain, stupid thing, but we still love them, even if they are vain and stupid. We don't want them — or us — to be ridiculed. We just want everything to go back to the way it was. Since we obviously can't trust our husbands to take care of it, we have to do it."
The others murmured their agreement.
"They didn't even ask us first." Mandy Finch-Fletchley's teacup clattered in its saucer. "They just swanned into Snape's shop, bought that potion, and drank it. I've already told Justin he's not getting near me with that thing again." Tears crept into her voice. "We'd discussed starting a family, and now this has happened. You have to help us, Hermione."
At that, a faint alarm bell chimed in the back of Hermione's mind, and she went still.
"Me?" she asked. "What can I do?"
"You can talk to Snape for us," Lavender said. "You're neutral, so he'd be more inclined to take you seriously."
Hermione's brow furrowed. "If anything, he'd be less inclined to take me seriously since I haven't witnessed the effects in the flesh. So to speak."
"He never liked any of us," Parvati said, gesturing at herself and the other women. "He'll listen to you."
Hermione set aside her cup of tea. "Snape never liked anyone. At least, no one of our generation. What makes you think he'd listen to me?"
The women cast each other sidelong looks, and Hermione's mental alarm started clanging.
"Uh..." Susan's voice trailed away, and she shifted uneasily in her chair.
Parvati bit her lip and looked down. Lisa took a hasty sip of tea, and Mandy made a great show of studiously selecting another biscuit from the tea tray.
"Well, you see..." Lavender began, then like Susan, her voice trailed away.
Certain of their motives now, Hermione's eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms over her chest. She refused to make this easy on them.
Until now Padma Davies had remained silent, but she drew everyone's attention with a sharp, exasperated hiss.
"We may as well say it outright," Padma said, her voice flat. "Everyone knows Snape owes you a life debt, Hermione. He would have died in the Shrieking Shack if you hadn't gone back for him after the battle. He'd have to put things right if you told him to do it."
The words hung in the air, and other women grimaced at Padma's bald declaration, but no one contradicted her.
Hermione thought she'd been prepared, but she still had to squelch a surprisingly sharp flash of hurt. She should have known better. She would never receive an offer of real friendship from "the girls", only the expectation of Helpful Hermione pulling someone's arse out of the fire yet again.
At least the truth was out in the open so she needn't continue to waste her time here. Silently she stood and summoned her cloak with a swish of her wand.
Panic formed on the faces of the women around her, and Lavender set aside her tea so quickly that it sloshed over the rim of the cup. She jumped to her feet.
"Please, Hermione, we don't know what else to do," Lavender said.
"Take care of your own problems," Hermione snapped. "You fought a war. Talking to Snape shouldn't even cause you to blink."
She crossed the room and yanked open the door, then froze as Lavender spoke quietly behind her.
"He let them torture us, maybe not as often as they wanted, but the Carrows tortured all of us at least once while he was Headmaster. You weren't there; you don't know what it was really like. We all understand now that it was because Snape didn't have a choice, but it still hurt, even if he had to let it happen. That's why we don't want to talk to him."
Hermione felt the sharpest edge of her irritation slip away. Besides, Ron had taken that thrice-damned potion, and sooner or later, he was going to regret taking it. And unlike these women, Ron really was her friend.
She sighed and glanced over her shoulder at Lavender.
"I won't call in a life debt over this nonsense," Hermione said, "but I'll see what I can do."
Severus steadily chopped fluxweed in the back room of his apothecary when he heard the jingle of the bell over the door. He set aside his knife, wiped his hands on a towel and went out to find Hermione Granger standing at his counter.
"Miss Granger." Severus nodded to her. "How may I assist you?"
She didn't speak, she simply laid a folded copy of the Daily Prophet onto the counter. His small advertisement was so heavily circled in red ink that the nib had partially slashed through a paper.
Increase Your Penis Size
#2 Knockturn Alley
He resisted a smirk. He'd known someone would turn up eventually to complain, but he'd thought it would have been much sooner. Clearly he'd underestimated the vanity of the average — or at least now, not so average — wizard.
Although, of all the people to cross his doorway in regard to that advertisement, he hadn't been expecting her. He was scrupulously detailed in his screening process, and thus far none of the men who'd purchased the Amplio Vir had been involved in a physical relationship with Hermione Granger. At least, none had admitted it. Perhaps he should have resorted to Legilimency after all.
He mentally shrugged, then raised an eyebrow and deliberately looked her over. She'd gone a bit plump and probably thought she should lose weight. He would strongly disagree with her, but then he did appreciate a lush woman.
He allowed his gaze to slowly graze her breasts, slip over her waist to her rounded hips, then linger at the juncture of her thighs. When he met her eyes again, she'd flushed a pretty pink and was now glaring daggers at him.
"Unless you're hiding something extremely well, Miss Granger, that particular potion is useless to you. However, if your current partner has proven inadequate, I'll happily assist him for the price of ten galleons."
"I'm not here for me," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm here on behalf of the wives of some of your customers."
"How very generous of you, but the potion still only works for those with the necessary genitalia," he said dryly, "so it's as useless to those witches as it is to you."
She rolled her eyes. "They want to make a complaint."
"And they sent you instead of coming in themselves. I find that curious."
She hesitated for a fraction of a second before saying, "They thought I'd be a neutral party."
His gaze sharpened. "More likely, they expected you to call in the life debt I owe you."
Her mouth tightened in distaste, and she looked away from him. "Perhaps, but I've no intention of doing so."
It was a shame that Granger was so reluctant, he decided. It would have been convenient to discharge that life debt so easily.
"What complaint do they wish to make?" he asked. "Aren't they pleased with the enhancement?"
"Pleased?" Granger was glaring again. "One minute their husbands have perfectly normal penises, and the next minute they have battering rams between their legs. Pleased is scarcely the word for it. Especially as Slot B does not increase proportionally to Tab A."
He smirked. "My customers do tend to overlook that particular consequence in their zeal for personal improvement."
"And you didn't bother to point out the obvious?" she asked.
She looked perplexed, as if failing to correct someone's mistake was unthinkable. For Granger, it probably was.
"Why should I point it out? As you said, it was obvious." He shrugged. "At any rate, it's hardly my concern. They wanted larger penises, not marital advice."
"Not your concern? What if one of those men hurt someone with their— their—" She unconsciously made a measuring gesture, then froze and dropped her hands. Her glare took on volcanic proportions. "You'd be liable."
He slowly raised a single eyebrow. He knew how arrogant it appeared; that's why he did it.
"Liable for what, precisely?" he asked. "Producing and selling a perfectly legal potion? Is Ollivander liable if one of his wands is used to commit a crime?"
"He might if one of his ordinary wands suddenly turned into a bludger bat," she snapped.
She was entertaining, he had to admit that much. It had been a long time since anyone dared to argue with him, and he was surprised at the exhilaration he felt.
She was also far prettier than he remembered. Although, in her defence, he'd made it a practise never to examine any of his students closely enough to determine if they might be considered sexually attractive. As far as he was concerned, they were fortunate he'd conceded they were human. As an adult, however, Miss Granger had turned into a very appealing woman. Her eyes were a warm brown, and her hair held shades of dark honey and amber. In her outrage, her hair was actually writhing slowly, wisps forming a nimbus around her head, giving her the impression of a Renaissance angel.
What would she be like in the throes of passion, he wondered. Would all that lovely hair move so sinuously then?
He blinked and cleared his throat. "I don't sell the potion to any man not in a committed relationship, nor to any man I suspect of having questionable motives. All of which is above and beyond what I'm required to do. Did it occur to you that perhaps those men simply wanted to better please their women?"
"No," she said flatly. "You know as well as I do that this entire situation has nothing to do with pleasing women and everything to do with men and their egos."
"Yet so much of the male ego is bound up in sexually satisfying women," he pointed out, dropping his voice at its silkiest register.
"If men truly wanted to satisfy women, they wouldn't get a larger penis, they'd learn to locate a clitoris," she snarled. "Sell a potion that will do that and you'd be the richest wizard in the world."
He stifled the temptation to laugh aloud and leaned forward. "It might be possible to make it glow in the dark, but I'd require a test subject. Would you care to volunteer?"
To his surprise, Severus found he wasn't quite joking. Oh, he knew he could make a clitoris glow in the dark — and that was actually an excellent idea for a potion — but the mental image of himself bending over to examine Hermione Granger's naked body as she slowly spread her creamy thighs slammed into him like the Hogwarts Express.
She gaped at him, and he drew back, suddenly weary. He'd been teasing her — mostly — but of course she wouldn't enjoy being teased by him. Women like her never did. Abruptly, he lost his taste for discussing this with her. Better she was gone.
He flicked her copy of the Daily Prophet across the counter toward her. It teetered on the edge, then rustled to the floor at her feet.
"If my customers are unhappy with the results of the Amplio Vir, they can always buy the Reversal Potion," he said.
Her mouth snapped shut. "What Reversal Potion?"
He sneered. "The Reversal Potion I discussed with each man before he was allowed to purchase the Amplio Vir."
"But— But—" She flushed again, but this wasn't the pretty pink of earlier. This was the dull red of mortification. "One of them told his wife that the potion was permanent."
"Then he lied. Beyond the killing curse and the effects of long-term Cruciatus, nothing in magic is irrevocable. You were taught this in school." His voice was cold. "You were always annoying, Miss Granger, but until now, I never thought you dim-witted. However, I do have a message for you to take back to the wives who sent you here."
"What message?" she asked, her voice strangled.
Severus leaned forward, eyes glittering in satisfaction. "Tell them the Reversal Potion is now priced at one hundred galleons."
"What?" Hermione gasped. "The original potion only cost ten!"
"Yes," he agreed, "and originally, I'd priced the Reversal Potion at fifty galleons, but since your visit here, it's doubled in price. Expensive, yes, but if your friends don't want it, they certainly don't have to buy it."
"But why?" she cried.
He leaned even closer. "Those witches have long made it clear they think themselves too good to set foot in my shop, and now they've sent you here to coerce me into doing their bidding. Consider it compensation for their arrogance — and yours." His eyes narrowed. "Now go away before the potion doubles in price yet again."
"I didn't do any research, and I know better than to be so careless. Like an idiot, I just believed what Seamus told Parvati, and then to have Snape echo almost precisely what I'd thought when Parvati said it... Well, that just made it even more humiliating," Hermione said, pacing Harry and Ginny's kitchen.
Harry held a spoon to James Sirius's mouth. The baby frowned and turned his head. Both father and son were splattered with pureed carrots.
Harry sighed at that, then looked at Hermione. "I... You... You should talk to Ginny about this. Discussing other men's todgers isn't... You should really talk to Ginny about this."
"She's in Belgium with the Harpies, and you're home," Hermione pointed out. "Besides, I spent months in a tent with you and Ron, while you both farted and belched and told disgusting jokes. Discussing todgers isn't a patch on that."
Harry winced, then his shoulders slumped. Finally, he nodded, resigned. "If it makes any difference, Seamus probably did tell Parvati the potion was permanent. He probably thought she would make him shrink it back to normal size if she knew that was an option."
Hermione threw up her hands. "And that's another thing. Why are they doing this at all? What good is a penis if it's so large it makes it difficult to have sex?"
"It's not about sex. It's about how a man perceives himself as a man," a faint blush rose in Harry's face, and he shot her a wry glance, "but mostly it's about being confident when you go to the loo."
"Confident? Of what?" Hermione stopped pacing and her eyes widened. "But I thought the No Peeking in the Loo rule was ironclad."
"Well," Harry drew the word out reluctantly, "it's supposed to be an ironclad rule, but we always want to know where we stand in comparison to the competition. So we peek. We just say we don't."
Harry turned his attention back to James Sirius and lifted the spoon once more. "More?"
James Sirius screwed up his face and jerked back in his highchair, kicking his feet vigorously.
"That's a no, then," Harry murmured. He glanced back to Hermione. "What can I say? We have complex relationships with our todgers. We want—"
"The biggest dick in the world?" Hermione interrupted, rolling her eyes. "Most men qualify for that title without even using a potion."
Harry smiled. "I was going to say, we want to be regarded as manly and virile. Knowing you have a large penis bolsters your self-image." His smile slid into a sly grin. "But knowing you've impressed the guy standing next to you in the loo, and all without saying a word... Well, I understand why they bought the potion."
A horrible thought occurred to her, and her eyes narrowed as she studied Harry.
"That potion... You didn't..." Hermione allowed her voice to trail away in question.
"God, no." Harry looked faintly appalled. "Ginny would hex me if I did something so stupid."
He delicately flicked his wand and vanished the mess covering James Sirius. The baby squealed with delight and wildly waved his hands.
"So what are you going to do now?" Harry asked.
She shrugged. "Go to the office and do the research I should have done in the first place. Maybe the Reversal Potion is something the wives can brew themselves. If not, I suppose I'll tell them they can buy it from Snape and hope they're all as financially well-off as they claim to be."
"One hundred galleons is a lot of money," Harry agreed.
She leant forward, crossed her eyes and made a silly face at James Sirius. The baby laughed.
She settled back in her chair and turned to Harry. "Snape said something odd before I left. He said he believed Lavender and the girls thought they were too good to go to his shop themselves."
Harry levitated the baby's bowl and spoon into the nearby sink. With a twist of his wrist and a subtle flick of his wand, water and soapy suds covered the dishes. A sponge rose from the draining rack and began vigorously washing the dishes.
"It's possible they believe that," Harry said thoughtfully. "Snape's shop is in Knockturn Alley, even if it's only a few steps from Diagon Alley. Lavender's group has always taken snobbery to new heights."
"Yes, but Lavender didn't mention any of that to me. She said it was because they can't forget he allowed the Carrows to torture them."
"It's not as if Snape had any real choice in the matter." Harry sighed and then shrugged. "Maybe they're snobbish, and they're holding a grudge. People can have more than one reason for doing something."
Harry stood, and another flick of his wand had the dishes rinsed and stacked on the draining rack. He tilted his head and regarded Hermione with a speculative expression.
"Would you mind watching James Sirius while I grab a quick shower?" he asked. "I'll only be a few minutes, and he'll be no trouble. He's eaten, so he'll probably just doze for a bit. I'll be out of the shower before he catches his second wind and wants to play."
She smiled. "I don't mind watching him. Does he have a favourite story?"
Harry was already walking toward the bathroom. "Anything in the basket by the rocking chair," he called back.
Hermione extracted James Sirius from the high chair, hefted him onto her hip, and took him into the lounge.
Once settled into the rocking chair with the baby cradled on her lap, she blindly reached into the basket and groped for a book. "Let's just take our chances, shall we?"
She pulled out a book at random and made a soft, pleased exclamation. "I thought I knew every Dr. Seuss book in existence, but I missed this one."
She flipped open the book and began to read.
""Now the Star-bellied Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-bellied Sneetches had none upon thars."
James Sirius yawned and snuggled against her, his eyelids already beginning to droop. Hermione smiled, but as she read further into the story, her smile faltered.
""I've heard of your troubles; I've heard you're unhappy," she read in a low voice.
"But I can fix that; I'm the Fix-It-Up Chappie.""
She paused and traced her finger over the bright illustration.
"Sometimes it feels as if everyone expects me to be the Fix-It-Up-Chappie, Jamie," she whispered into the baby's wispy hair. "Most of the time I'm happy to help, but the occasional 'thank you' wouldn't go amiss. It would serve them right if I didn't fix everything for them."
James Sirius answered with a snuffling sigh, and Hermione turned her attention back to the book. But as the story progressed, her eyes narrowed.
"Well," she said, "perhaps it's not just me who's the Fix-It-Up-Chappie."
Hermione entered the lift and simultaneously pressed the Level 2 and Level 3 buttons. The lift dropped with an odd thunk, giving Hermione's stomach an unpleasant lurch, and shuddered to a halt. The automated voice called out, "Level 2 1/2, Ministry Archives," and the doors opened.
Piles of parchment and books formed ragged corridors stretching as far as the eye could see. Immediately before her was a scarred wooden table and single chair. Along the right-hand wall, stood a long line of card cabinets.
"Mr Titwiler?" she called out.
Moments later, a ghost swooped through the corridors, a Dicta-Quill and a long scroll following obediently behind him.
Seventy years prior, Augustus Titwiler had stayed late to finish a bit of paperwork, stoically ignoring the odd pains in his left arm. The next morning, a clerk intending to store a box of out-dated Floo applications had found Mr Titwiler's body, still at his desk. She also found Mr Titwiler's ghost busily continuing his work of cataloguing the contents of the archives. The Ministry, always looking for a way to save a knut, gave Mr Titwiler's body a decent burial and allowed his ghost to continue working.
"Note interruption of cataloguing and end dictation," Titwiler muttered, and the Dicta-Quill scribbled briefly, then stopped writing and restlessly hovered above the scroll.
"Miss Granger," Titwiler bowed stiffly from the waist. "How may I help you?"
"I would like all the information you have on the Amplio Vir potion and any antidote or reversal potion associated with it," she replied.
Titwiler pursed his lips. "Patented?"
"I'm not certain." She shrugged slightly. "If so, it's probably listed under the name of Severus Snape."
"Just a moment," Titwiler said.
He drifted to the card cabinets, the Dicta-Quill and scroll bobbing along in his wake. Cabinet doors began to open and cards floated into the air. Mr Titwiler examined several of them, and then returned to direct Hermione to the table and chair.
"I'll gather the information you require and return shortly," he said.
Before she could even nod, Mr Titwiler streaked back through the towering corridors of parchment. The Dicta-quill and parchment quivered uncertainly in front of her, then raced after him with an alarmed rustle.
After an interminable wait, Mr Titwiler returned with a large box filled to the rim with dusty scrolls of parchment, both pristine and ragged manila folders and yellowed copies of potions journals.
"I recently completed cataloguing all the documents acquired during the sixteenth century, so I was able to include the cross-referenced material, as well," he said, pointing to a sheaf of parchment.
"Codpieces?" Hermione lifted the parchment from the box and flipped through it. She blinked at some of the illustrations.
"The larger and more," Titwiler hesitated, then cleared his throat delicately, "ornate codpieces were the result of initial development of the potion. Such accessories became de rigueur for fashionable men during the sixteenth century. Even those who'd not actually consumed the potion wore them, as no man — wizard or Muggle — wished to appear at disadvantage."
"Men and their egos again," Hermione said wearily.
Titwiler continued, "There is, as you thought, a potion to reverse the effects of the Amplio Vir, and I've included that information. As you mentioned his name, I've also included the patents issued to Severus Snape."
Hermione smiled widely. "Thank you, Mr Titwiler."
Three hours later, Hermione's smile had become a grimace.
Brewing the Amplio Vir would be difficult enough on its own, but at least she'd found clear instructions for it. Not so with the reversal potion. It required the brewer first be proficient in several other obscure potions.
Stir until the mixture becomes the consistency that the Peregrine Perking Potion attains immediately after adding the chopped dragon liver, and then simmer until the mixture becomes the singular colour that the Pox Preventative takes on just as it comes to a boil during the third brewing cycle, she read aloud, frowning in disbelief. That sort of commentary went on throughout the entire set of instructions.
She slapped the folder closed and slumped in the chair. It would take months of practice and hundreds of galleons' worth of ingredients to become proficient in brewing the Reversal Potion. Her hopes that it could easily be brewed disappeared.
Idly, she flicked open the folder holding Snape's patents. The top piece of parchment caught her attention immediately.
"Blemish-Be-Gone," she murmured. She read the document, then rested her elbows on the table and stared down at it, puzzled.
This wasn't in production or she would have heard of it. Once they reached puberty, everyone had spots. Even though her teen years were well behind her, Hermione still had the occasional spot or three. Even Ron and Harry continued to intermittently suffer from them, and Agatha Applegate, a clerk in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes whinged loud and long to anyone who would listen about the irony of menopause bringing on outbreaks of spots again.
Blemish-Be-Gone would fly off the shelves and sell across all age brackets, so why was Snape wasting time with the Amplio Vir?
"Mr Titwiler," she called out. "May I borrow your Dicta-Quill and some clean parchment? I need to take notes."
Once she left the archives, she stopped by her office. As she opened the door and caught sight of her desk, she groaned softly under her breath. She'd left early today, true enough, but she'd cleared her desk before leaving. Now it was piled with scrolls and files. Several of the files had notes attached proclaiming top priority, and two of the scrolls had been charmed to hover in front of her face, bleating, "Urgent! Urgent!" in crackling little voices. At her first step into the office, they swarmed. Like giant moths, they jostled and slapped at each other in a frenzied attempt to claim her undivided attention.
"Oh, c'mon, I only left two hours early," she muttered as she cancelled the hovering and vocal charms. She levitated the mass of files to a long table behind her desk.
With her desk clear again, she sat and spread out her notes from the archive and flicked her wand to select various reference texts from her overfilled bookcases. Arithmancy and ancient runes texts arrayed themselves neatly at her left hand.
Removing a Muggle pad and a self-inking quill from her bottom desk drawer, she set to work.
Five and a half hours later, the squirming lines of the equation flashed once, gave a final shimmy and settled into place. Her eyebrows shot up when she saw the result.
"Well," she murmured, "so that's why he's doing all of this."
She tapped her quill against the pad thoughtfully. This result changed things considerably. Her gaze swept her cramped office, and Hermione smiled slowly. There was an opportunity here, and she intended to grab it with both hands.
Sunday was Severus's only free day, although free wasn't entirely accurate. His shop was closed to customers, but there was always additional brewing to be done. However, on Sunday mornings he usually indulged himself with a bit of a lie in. The rest of his free day was spent working.
He slept through the first few knocks on his door, only coming awake when the knocks became pounding. He never had visitors, and so the sound was so alien that it took him a moment to recognize it.
He glanced blearily at his bedside clock and registered that it was 5:07 a.m.
He leapt out of bed, threw on his bathrobe, and grabbed his wand. He yanked open his front door to find Hermione Granger standing on his front step. She gave his wand a disdainful glance and then pointed at him, her index finger so close that it brushed the tip of his nose.
"Sylvester McMonkey McBean," she said, with an oddly intent voice.
Startled, Severus jerked his head back and lowered his wand a few inches, parsing her strange choice of words. He could find no trace of a curse in her phrasing.
"What in the bloody hell are you doing here?" he snarled. "Do you know what time it is? Never mind, I don't care. Go away."
"Sylvester McMonkey McBean," she repeated, lowering her hand. "That's where you've taken your inspiration, right?" At his blank look, she frowned. "Okay, maybe not. You really don't know what I'm talking about, do you? It's a character from a Dr. Seuss story that repeatedly applies, removes, and reapplies stars from Sneetches' bellies until the Sneetches are out of money.
Sneetches? Severus looked her over carefully. "Are you drunk, Granger?"
She just rolled her eyes and pulled a sheaf of papers from her bag. She shoved them into his stomach. Instinct had him grabbing them.
"Read those," she demanded. "It's the business plan I've outlined. Then we'll talk about the Amplio Vir, the Reversal Potion, and Blemish-Be-Gone."
He froze at the mention of Blemish-Be-Gone, and in that instant, the infuriating woman pushed past him and entered his home.
He whirled around. "How did you learn about Blemish-Be-Gone?"
"I read your patent," she said over her shoulder. "It's public record."
She stopped in the middle of his lounge and dug in her bag, pulling out more papers. She shook them at him impatiently. "I've been up 45 hours straight, running equations and making plans, and I think we can have the money situation sorted out fairly quickly. That is the problem, right? Start up costs?"
"We?" he ground out.
"I wondered why you didn't just get a loan from Gringotts, but I think they must have tried to bury you in fine print. I ran a separate set of equations and the result suggested they'd try to take most of your profit, so you were smart to be wary."
She briefly juggled the papers in her hand, then stuffed them into her bag and drew out more.
"I want to buy in." She waved this new set of papers. "I don't know how much we'll need to get Blemish-Be-Gone into production, but I'll contribute what I can. I have my savings, and my grandparents gave me stock for my birthday presents. Apple, mostly — Grandpapa loved gadgets — so I can sell that. If it's not enough, I know how we can get the rest."
"We?" he repeated flatly.
He could see that frantic light in her eyes associated with too much caffeine and too little sleep, and she was pacing tight little circles in his lounge, alternately clutching her handbag to her chest and making fluttering gestures with the papers in her hands.
"I'm not an opportunist. Not like the goblins, anyway," she said, her words rushing out, tumbling one atop another. "Well, I suppose I am, if you look at it one way, but not really. I'm not asking for an equal share of the profits. As you've done most of the work, that would hardly be fair, would it? But we can figure something out. This is my chance to get away from the Ministry, and it's your chance to get Blemish-Be-Gone into production. That's what you want, isn't it? All that mucking about with the Amplio Vir was just to raise money for the Blemish-Be-Gone."
She suddenly stopped pacing and focused on him for a moment. "You're in your bathrobe."
"It's Sunday, and it's barely past 5:00." He folded his arms across his chest, but he knew he wasn't at all intimidating. A faded green bathrobe, hairy calves, and bare toes lacked authority.
"Ah, right. Well, I waited until dawn." She looked abashed for an instant and then shrugged, as if waiting until daylight was as much concession as he had any right to presume. "I've put off talking to Lavender as long as I can. She'll expect me to report back to her today, so we can't waste time. We have a lot of work to do so you'll probably want to get dressed."
Her gaze swept him from top to bottom, and her head tilted. Her mouth quirked into a tiny smile.
"You have pretty feet for a man," she said absently. She blinked and started pacing again. "If I'm right and the Reversal Potion tastes like soap, we'll have to correct that. It can't taste of anything at all, or at least, nothing disgusting."
Until that moment, he'd wanted nothing more than to toss her out on her plump little arse. She'd invaded his home and his privacy, and now she was insinuating herself into his business.
Still, to be scrupulously fair, for all that she was managing and controlling and had to be regularly dragged back from the rabbit hole of minutia, Hermione Granger usually Got Things Done. If she said she'd figured out a way to get Blemish-Be-Gone into production, then it could most probably benefit him to listen.
At least, that was the reason he allowed himself, but in his heart, he knew it was her comment about his feet. He'd never before been told that anything about him was pretty, and she'd tossed the remark off as casually as other people commented on the weather. As if it was simply a fact like any other.
It was a disturbingly gratifying feeling.
"Go into the kitchen, Granger," he said abruptly. He handed the sheaf of papers back to her and pointed to the kitchen doorway. "Arrange your papers on the table in the order you wish to present them to me. I'll be back in a moment."
He expected triumph, but it was relief that crossed her face, and she nodded eagerly.
"And stay away from the coffee pot," he said as he mounted the stairs. "The last thing you need is more caffeine."
By the time he'd returned — showered, shaved and dressed — Granger was sitting at his kitchen table, three piles of paper arranged before her. Her right heel tapped out a jittery rhythm, and she started to speak as he entered the kitchen. He simply held up his hand for silence. He'd already endured as much chattering as he could stomach without his own supply of caffeine.
He made coffee with his battered French press and filled his mug. He drank half the coffee standing at the sink and then sat across from her.
"Before we begin," he said, "I have questions."
"Okay." She nodded, and her heel kept tapping.
"Why do you want to leave the Ministry? Self-employment is hard work, and what's more, it's constant work. Brewing, cleaning, stocking shelves, attending customers, and all to do over again the next day. There's no paid holiday time, no old age pension. If you want those things, you'll pay for them yourself. Even if Blemish-Be-Gone is a wild success, there will always be work to do. It isn't a life of leisure."
"I don't expect a life of leisure nor do I want one," she snapped, clearly stung. Finally her heel stopped. "When I began working at the Ministry, I was told if I stayed a year in the Arithmancy Department, I'd be eligible for transfer to the Unspeakables. That was three years ago, and there's never been another mention of it. My inquiries about being transferred are ignored. I spend my days double-checking equations already run by other Arithmancers. None of my suggestions for original projects are acknowledged any longer. I don't accomplish anything at the Ministry, and now I see I never will."
She flicked a stack of parchment with her forefinger. "So when I saw the outcome of these equations, I realized you hadn't revived the Amplio Vir for money — or at least, not just for money. You're doing it to build your future. You don't want to simply brew potions, you want to create new potions, but you need the funding to do it. I understand wanting to do new things instead of repeatedly covering old ground, because that's what I want to do, too."
Severus was impressed, although he was careful not to show it. Not one Arithmancer out of a hundred could coax results of such accuracy out of the equations, and she'd done it in only a few hours.
"What are in your stacks of paper?" he continued.
"The first is my financial information," she said and handed him the top sheet, containing a summary.
He looked it over. So close. With her investment, he estimated he'd only need another thousand galleons or so to go into production for Blemish-Be-Gone.
"The second stack is the outline of my business plan, and the third contains my notes on modifying the Reversal Potion."
"You've mentioned that before. Why would I want to modify it?" He picked up the business plan and began reading through it. He glanced at her. "Changing a potion's taste is a waste of time and effort."
"Not in this case," she insisted. "If it tastes like soap, how are the wives to put it into tea or coffee and get their husbands to drink it all?"
"Why would they put it in tea or coffee? If they're unhappy, why haven't they simply demanded that their husbands take the Reversal Potion?"
"Because their husbands haven't told them there is a Reversal Potion," Hermione said, smiling. "The wives are under the impression that the, ahem, condition is permanent, and the wives will most certainly remain ignorant until we enlighten them."
Severus thought about that and smirked. "Some of the wives will confront their husbands outright, you know."
She nodded. "According to my calculations, we'll lose 10.3 percent of our repeat Amplio Vir customers in the first wave. We'll lose 45.6 percent on the second wave, and 34.8 on the third. However, 6.2 percent will go four or more rounds. The equations also indicate there are 3.1 percent who won't purchase the Reversal Potion at all."
Her tone was bland when she said that last bit, but Severus saw her give a faint shudder.
He gave her an admonishing look and shrugged. "Nature can be cruel. There are men for whom the Amplio Vir is a welcome improvement. If you wish to go into business, you'll have to stop being judgemental. What people do with our potions in the privacy of their own homes is none of our concern."
"Our potions," she whispered. "Our concern." She broke into a grin. "You agree, then? You'll let me buy in?"
"I'll agreed to consider it," he qualified. "It does strain credulity that the woman who single-handedly dragged Neville Longbottom through several years of my class, and herded Potter and Weasley through a war, is now — for all intents and purposes — plotting against her friends. You could have called in the life debt I owe you and forced me to stop brewing the Amplio Vir and give the Reversal Potion away for free."
She made a dismissive gesture. "Lavender and the girls aren't my friends, and they don't need my help. They should tell their husbands to stop behaving like egocentric children and give a thought to their wives' comfort. Instead, they sit on their arses and whinge, expecting me to take care of everything for them."
He arched an eyebrow. "So you've given up fixing things for others?"
"Oh, no, I haven't stopped." She blinked at him earnestly. "It's just that now I'm going to fix them for you."
Well. If that wasn't enough to send a cold shiver down a man's spine, nothing was. Still, better that she was fixing things for him than against him.
"Snape! That potion of yours has failed. My todger—" Seamus Finnegan spluttered for a moment and lowered his voice, "My todger's gone back to normal."
"The Amplio Vir doesn't fail, Mr Finnegan. However, as your wife purchased the Reversal Potion late yesterday afternoon, I expect that is the source of your displeasure."
Hermione peeked through the curtain dividing the back room of the apothecary from the front counter. Around Severus' back, she could see Seamus frowning.
"Parvati wouldn't do that without asking me first," Seamus said, his frown deepening to a scowl.
"You mean the way that you purchased the Amplio Vir without first asking her?" Severus asked, his voice at its silkiest.
Seamus flushed, but Severus continued before he could reply.
"Whether there's been a conversation with your wife or not, the Amplio Vir has been reversed. Perhaps the Reversal Potion was placed in your food or drink last night. It has negligible taste and odour, so you likely wouldn't have noticed." Severus shrugged. "At any rate, it's not my concern. It's an issue between you and your wife."
Seamus's eyes narrowed. "Parvati thought she could go behind my back? We'll just see about that. I want another phial of the Amplio Vir." He frowned at a sudden thought. "Erm, there's no danger in taking it again, is there?"
"None whatsoever," Severus said and smoothly placed a phial of the Amplio Vir on the counter. "As you've already signed the necessary paperwork, there's no need to do it again. That will be ten galleons."
As soon as Seamus left, Hermione came out from the back room. Severus smirked at her, and she smirked right back.
"And so it begins," she said.
"No guilt, Granger?"
"Not really. This was always between the men and their wives. They'll go back and forth for a while playing silly buggers, but at some point they'll have to talk to each other. After they finish arguing about it, anyway. If we make money in the process, so much the better. We still need another eight hundred galleons before we'll have all our start up money for Blemish-Be-Gone."
Six Weeks Later
"I continue to have reservations about that name, Granger." Severus stood scowling up at the S.M. McBean Potions sign being levitated into place over the manufacturing site's front door.
"It's too late. We've already signed the partnership paperwork. Besides, we agreed that your name would hinder us in some markets and my name would hinder us in others, so Snape and Granger Potions wasn't going to work. We needed something neutral." Standing beside him, Hermione shrugged.
"McBean," Severus muttered in disgust.
"I like it," Hermione said. "I think it's cheerful."
"That ridiculous children's story had nothing to do with my inspiration to revive the Amplio Vir. It was something else entirely."
"What was it then?" Hermione asked.
"A rude limerick," he said flatly.
She gave a breathy laugh, torn between amusement and exasperation. "Of course it was."
She slipped her arm through his and grinned when he didn't startle.
Severus Snape wasn't the most handsome man of her acquaintance nor the most easy-going, but he was smart and had an wonderfully sly sense of humour. And from what she remembered, he had surprisingly pretty feet, slender and pale with delicate, high arches. She didn't think she was developing a foot fetish, but a bare-footed Severus had recently taken the starring role in all of her erotic dreams.
The more she learned about Severus, the more certain she became that she'd found her partner in more ways than one. After debating with herself on how to bring him round to the idea, she'd decided touching was the first step.
She'd started touching him on nearly every occasion, and he was slowly becoming accustomed to her hand on his shoulder or her arm linked through his. Perhaps it was time for the next step...
"The building's ready, the equipment purchased, and our staff hired," she said. "We go into production tomorrow. I think we should go out for a drink to celebrate."
He looked down at her hand resting on his arm and raised an eyebrow. "Does this level of familiarity mean that you expect me to pay? I'll remind you that until we actually begin selling Blemish-Be-Gone, we're both exceedingly poor."
She laughed. "I think I have enough in my pocket to buy you a pint. In return, you can answer a question I've been dying to ask you."
"What?" he asked cautiously.
She met his eyes. "Did you test the Amplio Vir yourself?"
He blinked. "Are you asking about my cock, Granger?"
She took a deep breath. "I am."
Colour rose in his cheeks, and he blinked again. For a moment, she thought he was going to refuse to answer or deliver one of his blistering set-downs, but then something shifted in his eyes, and he smiled faintly.
"I did indeed test the Amplio Vir on myself," he said, "but I eventually asked Draco Malfoy to act as a secondary test subject."
"Why?" She looked up at him curiously.
Severus shrugged slightly. "When I initially tested the Amplio Vir on myself, nothing happened. I thought I'd made a mistake in the brewing process, but when it worked perfectly on Draco, I was reassured."
Her brow furrowed. "Why didn't it work on you?"
"I can only surmise that the potion doesn't improve upon perfection," he said silkily.
She gaped at him and then burst out laughing. "I walked right into that one, didn't I?"
His smile widened. "You did, indeed."
"So, partner," she tucked her arm more firmly into his and began to tow him down the street, "tell me this rude limerick."
"That might not be wise. Women can be sensitive about these things," he gave her an appraising glance, "but if you're certain you want to know..."
"I'm certain," she said firmly.
"All right, but remember that I warned you it was rude," he said.
Severus covered her hand on his arm with his own, and she shivered as he leaned over to whisper into her ear.
"There once was a harlot from Crewe..."