“When Ingredient-Testing Witches Get the Blues”
Disclaimer: Rowling owns it all. You don't really think I could come up with anything as original as what she did, do you? If I could, I wouldn't be writing fan fiction, I'd be off at my publisher counting my heaping piles of money from my latest best seller.
The knitting-needle-through-the-eyeball migraine returned in full force. Now that Hermione had only herself to test all the crates, boxes, jars, sacks and bags of Potions ingredients that came through her lab, she also had to participate in the interviewing of candidates for the position now left vacant with Marge's death.
The week had been a blur for Hermione Weasley. She had attended Marge's funeral with Ron by her side, lending her a steady shoulder to lean on, but once home the gaping chasm between them returned and they occupied opposite ends of the flat, avoiding each others company the rest of the day.
Ron reluctantly agreed to Hermione's demand for marriage counseling, but it was her job to find a counselor and make the appointment. Ron said he would speak to Rufus, the owner of the Listing Broom, about getting a regular weeknight off for sessions. It was decided that she would try to find a Monday or Tuesday night, as those were the slowest nights Ron worked at the Pub. So far, Hermione was so busy, she barely had time to go to the loo, much less swing by the Muggle Alliance Network to get the name of a recommended counselor. It struck her later to ask Ginny the name of the one she and Harry met with, but so far she had not gotten around to owling Mrs. Potter and kept forgetting to ask Harry each time she saw him when he brought her lunch most days that week.
Hermione was sitting in the cramped conference room that was located a few doors down from Madam Dushka's office. As she looked at the latest candidate's Curriculum Vitae, she wondered if using correct spelling had become optional since she had graduated Hogwarts. There were at least four misspelling on the wizard's CV. The candidate, Mr. Trevor Spawn, had recently graduated from Hogwarts, and barely passed his N.E.W.T. level Potions exam with an "Acceptable." Hermione now had the unpleasant task of interviewing him.
Of the eight candidates Hermione interviewed so far, only one was capable enough for Hermione to barely recommend coming back to interview with her superior. Madam Dushka, however, was not satisfied with that one suitable candidate. Hermione was forced to interview a ninth.
Glaring at the clock, Hermione noted that Mr. Spawn was late. Just as she was about to leave and tell Madam Dushka's secretary to cancel the appointment, the young wizard sauntered into the room with an air of easy calm.
"Hi, I'm Trevor Spawn," the young wizard casually introduced himself, extending his hand out in greeting.
Mr. Spawn had an arrogant air of superiority about him the rankled every frayed nerve in Hermione's body. He was tall, and handsome, with short honey golden hair, a dazzling smile and a set of very expensive robes that were smartly cut. If Gilderoy Lockhart and a younger and much more arrogant version of Draco Malfoy had mated, they would have produced Trevor Spawn.
Hermione took the young man’s hand and shook it perfunctorily. "Mr. Spawn, you're late," she said sternly, her lips set in a thin line.
The dashing wizard began explaining his situation with a careless demeanor. "I'm terribly sorry, but it couldn't be helped. You see, I was on my way here when–"
"I don’t care for your excuses, Mr. Spawn," Hermione snapped. "If you get the position to work here, you are expected to arrive at work on time."
"Sure, sweetcakes, whatever you say," he said with a lazy drawl, seating himself without being invited to do so.
Had Hermione been a Hippogriff, the young man would have been rendered into tiny unidentifiable pieces no larger than a matchbox. "You will address me as Madam Weasley," she clearly enunciated before sitting down herself. Her head was on the verge of splitting like a ripe melon; her migraine kicked up another notch.
Even though she was expected in put in the effort of interviewing each candidate, Hermione was tempted to excuse him that very moment and go on to interview a tenth candidate. However, as each interview took away precious time from her lab duties, which had doubled with Marge's death, she allowed the interview to continue.
"I see you only received an 'Acceptable' on your N.E.W.T.s for Potions. Why should the Ministry hire someone who appears to have only put in the minimal effort required to pass a subject?" she said with a sniff and clear dislike for the fellow.
"Well, this job is only a stepping stone onto bigger and better things," he replied nonchalantly, examining his nails as he spoke. "You see, my father has been able to arrange an apprenticeship for me with a Potions master and I need to get in some experience doing something low-level for a while till my apprenticeship begins in the spring."
Now Hermione was furious. She had received the highest N.E.W.T. grades in a generation and she couldn't get an apprenticeship with anyone. All the Potion masters and mistresses she had written to had sent her a form letter stating that they had no openings. Nor would they be taking any new apprentices for quite some time. And here sat some mediocre brat whose father had bought him a position that should have rightly gone to her.
"You may think this job is low-level, but it is an extremely important one, Mr. Spawn. Tell me, how many Potions did you use this morning when getting ready?" she asked carefully.
"Oh, I don’t know. About four or five?" he answered flippantly.
"And do you know what would happen if one of those Potions was manufactured using imitation or faulty ingredients, Mr. Spawn?" the vexed witch queried.
"No clue. Don’t care really, just so they work," the young wizard blurted out casually.
"It seems, Mr. Spawn, that you do not fully appreciate the responsibility we have to the public with this job. I suggest you find some other position to preoccupy your time until your apprenticeship begins. I wish you all the best, Mr. Spawn," Hermione said crisply with no sincerity. "Good day." Hermione rose and offered her hand in farewell out of obligation.
The overly charming young wizard rose from his seat and took Hermione's hand, holding it for far too long. While still grasping her hand, he leaned forward and whispered suggestively, "I'm sure there's some sort of arrangement we can come to, to make you reconsider? How does dinner tonight sound? I can get us a table at Le Masion Chaud, as I know the maître d'." His one raised brow said more than a thousand sexually explicit descriptions.
Hermione snatched her hand from his and stormed to the doorway of the conference room. Spinning on her heel, with a fierce glare, she said, "I don’t think my husband, a professional Quidditch player who could pound you into a pulp, would take kindly to some boy making advances on his wife. I said good day!"
Mr. Spawn smiled broadly and slowly sauntered out of the room with a tip of his head in her direction.
Hermione slowly let out the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. Just as she was about to walk back down to her lab, she saw Madam Dushka step out of her office.
"Oh Trevor, are you done with Madam Weasley?" Hermione's supervisor said with a friendly smile. "Good, you can come into my office now. I'd like to talk to you about your new job." The older witch slipped her arm into the crook of the young wizard's and guided him into her office while sashaying her hips.
Trevor shot Hermione a sly smile that said 'C'est la vie' before walking into Madam Dushka's office.
Thoroughly fed up, Hermione stormed back down to her lab and remained there until five o'clock, silently seething. It was Thursday and it would be the first day that week that she did not stay past nine o'clock at night. If Madam Dushka had a snit over her leaving at the end of the proper work day, she would tell the witch to go shove a broom up her arse, if Trevor's broomstick wasn't stuck up there already.
Why he had offered to make cassoulet was beyond his comprehension, but then he recalled how cassoulet wound up being a dish so large that he had a large amount of leftovers. And he would be damned before inviting Draco to eat his cassoulet in the foreseeable future. Perhaps he would even send some home with the witch, ensuring she would have two good meals for the week.
Since he had Monday and Wednesday nights free, and Katherine Bigelow was too busy moving her business to Spain to see him for one last visit, Severus had time to cook the beans and meats, and assemble it so that all he had to so was pop it in the oven when he came home from work on Thursday. Sunday and Monday were spent preparing the duck confit, which required him to render the fat from the duck and marinate the legs for twenty-four hours before slowly roasting in a low temperature oven for almost six hours.
Still, the Potions master did not mind having someone new to cook for. Draco was jaded, having grown up on extravagant dishes prepared by house-elves, and Ginny dined with him and Draco so infrequently that Severus rarely had a chance to flex his culinary skills for her. And as cooking was the only thing that was even remotely similar to Potions he could still legally do, he took great care and pride in his work. There was one added benefit cooking had that Potions did not give him. After using a Potion, no one ever complimented him with fervor or praised him, comparing it to the nectar of the gods, like a well-prepared dish did.
Severus checked on the cassoulet bubbling in the oven, making sure the crust was forming nicely. Once satisfied, he began making the raspberry-hazelnut vinaigrette for the salad. Whisking the ingredients together so they could marry over the next few hours, he frowned; he hoped Hermione would still come. She had not sent him or Miss Brown any owl that she would not come, but that didn’t stop the thread of doubt that slipped into his mind.
Now that the wizard had nothing to do but wait until shortly before Hermione arrived to do a few last minute preparations, he decided to have a nice, hot soak in the bath to help himself relax. For some reason Severus could not fathom, he felt a slight nervousness in his stomach. At first he attributed it to a bout of summer flu making the rounds, but a dose of Pepperup Potion and a touch of Quinine did nothing to relieve the tight feeling of anticipation in his stomach.
As he paced his bathroom wondering if he should wear the new cologne he had recently developed and pondering the decision of making a bath salts version of it, Albus materialized in his blue robes.
Sitting on the commode with his hands on his knees, Albus beamed brightly at him. 'Getting ready for your big date?'
Severus whirled on the man with a murderous glare. "IT'S NOT A DATE!" he bellowed, his voice echoing against the glossy tiles. "She's a client and a tool, nothing more. I don't know why you keep insisting otherwise."
Looking about, the living wizard asked snappishly, "Where's Minerva?"
'Oh, she thought you'd be undressed by now, so she'll be here after you've dressed. She wants to talk with you,' the vision replied with an impish smile that brightened his aged face.
"Talk with me?" Severus questioned with a circumspect look, his eyes narrowing.
'Well, you know after last week when Hermione almost… well, we know what happened, my boy.'
Severus shut his eyes closed tightly, his hands grabbing the edge of the tile corner tightly as he chanted, "It's all in my head, it's all in my head, I've gone mad and it's all in my head."
Albus sighed before peering at the younger wizard over the tops of his imaginary glasses. 'Yes, we are all just “in your head”, Severus, but that doesn’t stop you from conjuring up my image at a time when you wish you had my guidance or some soul in which to confide in. I'm just a familiar image–'
"Yes, yes, we've been over this before," Severus interrupted his imaginary mentor. "This is merely some very complicated way for me to argue with myself over some issue or dilemma I'm having a moral crisis about."
'The question,' Albus said, drawing out the words, 'is what are you having a moral crisis about?'
"I am not going to discuss this now… or ever!" Severus hissed, staring at his own reflection in the mirror instead of the blue ghostly blob with a long white beard occupying the corner of the bathroom.
"Fine, you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to," Severus' reflection said.
"Shut up, not you." Severus glowered at the mirror.
His own reflection met his stare. "Fine, you can slit your throat when shaving tonight. See if I care." Severus' bathroom reflection stormed off.
Propping his face in his hand, Severus growled with defeat, "Fine, Albus. What am I having a crisis about?"
'Come, come, Severus. You're the Slytherin. Doesn't your House pride itself on being so cunning?'
"Now you're taunting me." He slid to the floor and saw Albus looking down at him.
'If I was taunting you, I would have made a remark over the fact that you were pacing this bathroom like a nervous fifth year getting ready for Valentine's Day in Hogsmeade,' the apparition of the Headmaster teased him.
Severus shot him a withering look, which had no affect on his mind's projection of Albus.
"Fine. I'll admit that I'm a bit nervous about tonight," the raven-haired man reluctantly groaned.
'See, that wasn't so bad.' Albus beamed at him with a patronizing smile. Well, to Severus it looked patronizing.
"I'm afraid that she won't show up and then my chance to get out of England will be gone, and for the rest of my life I'll be stuck shagging insipid, empty-headed witches and listening to vapid, bitter ones ramble on about their lothario husbands," he began ranting. "Meantime, I’ll be creating Potions I am forbidden to make myself, much less stir. And when I die, the devil shall kick me out of hell, as there is no punishment he could devise that is worse than this. Oh wait, just one… teach Potions to children all day long. But I've already finished that circuit of torture and I even got kicked out of that level of hell. So I guess I'm stuck here until my angel arrives and delivers me from damnation. Now, if you don’t mind, I'd like to bathe in peace… alone."
The vision of Albus gave Severus a look that told him that he would be talking with the older man again on this matter and the subject was not closed. He just hoped the Albus now hidden and lurking in the back of his mind would keep Minerva away until another day.
After drawing his bath, Severus slipped into the water. Remembering the previous week, he closed his eyes and began sucking lightly on the same finger Hermione laved her attentions on while his other hand grasped his cock. Pictures of Hermione hot wet mouth wrapped around his finger, her eyes closed, her pink tongue swirling around and around, then stroking his digit filled his mind, fueling his self-pleasuring indulgence.
How was it that after all the women he had had over the past three years that he had not felt such a momentary loss of control as when Hermione was lost in the bliss of sucking his finger? Never had he been so incapacitated by temptation as that night. Was it the fact that this was the one woman whom he couldn't seduce? Was forbidden fruit such a delicacy that to taste a mere drop of its intoxicating juice could render most mortal men incapable of coherent thought and restraint? But he had shown restraint. He had done nothing to encourage her to go on, but then he had done nothing to stop her either.
Forbidden fruit or not, he latched on to the memory of Hermione succumbing to her own temptation and used it to bring himself to orgasm quickly. If he took care of his own physical needs before Hermione showed up, Severus would be less tempted to let his mind wander to thoughts of last week. He could push out thoughts of Hermione's body pressed against his, her hand clasping his while her lips wrapped around the tip of his finger before sucking it entirely into her mouth. It took only a few minutes until he was gasping harshly and white pearls of cum were splattering across his stomach.
Ron was eating the last morsel of his pork chop. He chewed it for a while before answering, remembering how often his wife nagged him about talking with his mouth full. "You'll get rid of me soon enough," the redhead said acridly.
Hermione sighed in exasperation. "That's not what I meant." 'That's exactly what you meant.' She paused while getting her mind cleared of any possible slips of the tongue. "What I meant to say was…" Trying desperately to think of how to finish a sentence she had no idea of how to complete while sounding convincing, she said, "I don't want you to be late to work. What time does your shift start tonight?"
"Usual time," Ron replied with slight contempt. "You know everything, I'm surprised you don’t know that. You happen to know how lousy I am in bed, I'm surprised you don’t the exact minute I'll be walking through the door at the pub." Now he was being snide.
The familiar hollow feeling inside of her numbed her to his barbs. This was the first time she had seen him awake since Sunday, as they had gone back to the more familiar and safe routine of passing ships in the night, where one would be awake while the other slept in the evening and the morning. During the evenings, Hermione had come home after Ron had left for the pub, eating, reading and going to sleep before he came home from work. Though they had lain in the same bed, they didn’t touch each other; both huddled on opposite sides as they slept.
"Fine, Ron. Whatever," she blandly replied.
Hermione left the kitchen to take her shower, not caring if Ron wondered why she was taking one now instead of in the morning as usual.
Ron shouted truculently to her retreating back, "Oy! Aren’t you going to eat your pork chop? I don't want Harry accusing me of starving you again! Don't make me shove this thing down your throat so you can't play the starving martyr! Poor Hermione! Stuck with a lousy husband who doesn’t feed her!"
Ignoring his shouts that she could hear all the way into the bathroom, she sighed as the noise from the spray drowned out her husband's ravings. Hermione just hoped he would be gone by the time she was done with her shower.
By the time she emerged, freshly scrubbed and no longer smelling like her lab, Ron was gone. A quick check in the kitchen and the clock confirmed that he was at the pub already.
Noticing her untouched pork chop, she wrapped it up and put it away, hoping she would remember to bring it as a snack with her to work the next day. One more check of the clock told her she had all of fifteen minutes to finish getting dressed and out the door if she was to make it to Calleo's on time. She did not want to make him wait. The anxious witch had been looking forward to this night all week long. Hermione did not want to waste one minute of her evening by being late.
A touch of Sleekeasy's in her hair, a little brushing, a hair clip and most of the work to get ready was done. It only took a few minutes to add some kohl around her eyes her eyes and a dab of lipstick. As Hermione had spent part of last night fretting over what to wear, she picked out her clothes quickly. Though she picked out a modest skirt and top set, she allowed herself the luxury of her nicest lingerie. It made her feel just a touch more feminine.
'Like he's ever going to see my knickers,' she mused while rushing to get dressed.
Just before she bolted for the door, Hermione suddenly remembered the one thing she promised to bring. Opening the bedside table drawer, she pulled out Calleo's copy of Eccentric Elixirs. Inside the front cover was Calleo's letter to her. She had received it Saturday afternoon via an owl from Lavender.
She read over it one last time.
I hope this letter finds you well. After I read article in the Daily Prophet, I remembered the mentioning of your job. I was sad to learn of your co-worker's death, you have my deepest sympathies. I am glad that you are safe, as I would hate to think of any harm coming to you. If you need to talk about what happened, as always, you have my ear and my shoulder.
I look forward to seeing you again next Thursday for dinner as I am anticipating the discussion we will have over the articles you will have read this week.
Hermione gave a long sigh as she ran her fingertips over the neat and spiky angular penmanship. It surprised her that Calleo had written to her, even remembering what she did for a living. Folding it back up, she placed it in a tiny chest she mentally called her "escape box" where she hid all her little secrets from Ron and her friends.