Crookshanks has been acting oddly all day. He’s been sneezing and crankier than usual, hiding under the bed instead of sitting in his favorite sunning spot. Hermione tries to tempt him into eating with fresh tuna, and he just ignores her. It isn’t until he tries scratching her that she realizes something is wrong. He never gets a temper with her, so she knows it’s time to take him to an animal healer. Healer Waters, his usual healer, retired a few months ago, so she’s been needing to find a new healer for him but thought she’d have enough time to analyze the different available healers to choose the right one.
Instead, she takes him to the place that she’s mentioned around her social circles. It’s been open for a couple of years now, but she’s used the same healer since purchasing Crookshanks, so she never bothered to investigate the new healer. With Crookshanks ill, she decides to go based on reputation instead of research, and she hopes it’s a good decision. After sending a quick owl to obtain an appointment, she receives notification that she can bring Crookshanks now.
Upon arriving at the healer’s office, she is surprised at how many people are already there. She goes to the desk to complete the necessary paperwork, smiling in recognition as she sees Orla Quirke working there. After a few moments of chit chat, she finishes the forms, and she is shown to a room in the back. Before she can inquire about jumping ahead in line when others are waiting, she is left alone in a welcoming exam room with Crookshanks.
“I’d let you out, but I know you’d just try to escape when the door opens,” she says, receiving a grumbling hiss in response to her words as Crookshanks sulks in his carrier.
The door opens, and she looks up to see Zacharias Smith entering the room. He’s reading the notes that Orla made about Crookshanks, and he glances at her when she moves in her chair. “Afternoon, Granger,” he says, tone just as curt as it used to be. His demeanor changes entirely as he kneels down to look at Crookshanks. “Why don’t we get you out of this cage and see what’s ailing you?”
Crookshanks doesn’t hiss at him or even scratch. Instead, he seems to judge Zacharias as worthy of his attention, which surprises her. Not as much as seeing Zacharias Smith working as an animal healer, but it’s close. “He’s been acting oddly since yesterday. I’ve been very worried,” she admits, watching Crookshanks let Zacharias remove him from the carrier with barely a tail swish.
“I’ll get him sorted out,” Zacharias tells her confidently. She gets the feeling that she’s been dismissed, so she just sits back and watches him work. It doesn’t take long before she realizes just how good Zacharias is with Crookshanks. Much better than he’s ever been with people. It should be uncomfortable sitting here not speaking, but she finds it fascinating to watch Zacharias perform various healing charms. His long fingers are almost graceful as he touches Crookshanks’ fur and waves his wand in particular motions. She never noticed his hands during DA meetings, but she notices them now in a way that isn’t entirely appropriate.
Zacharias gives Crookshanks a potion and then scratches behind his ears. “He’s going to be fine. Just a bit of a virus. I’ve given him a potion and done a charm to help settle his stomach. He’ll probably sleep through until tomorrow. Don’t fret about it if he does. However, if he doesn’t show signs of improvement upon waking, please notify me. Just send me an owl since the office is closed tomorrow.”
“Alright.” Hermione is relieved that Crookshanks is going to be fine. “I hope your other patients aren’t upset about me getting ahead of them.”
“I have a policy to take patients based on need, so they understand. The people in the lobby are just waiting for annual exams and shots. You don’t have to worry about being hexed by any of them. At least, not for jumping queue,” Zacharias informs her. He glances at her and smirks slightly before focusing his attention back on Crookshanks.
“There aren’t that many people who want to hex me,” she mutters. At his amused look, she rolls her eyes. “Well, there aren’t.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t compare to the amount who want to hex me, so I win.” Zacharias rubs Crookshanks’ belly, and, instead of hissing and scratching, Crookshanks just purrs and allows it.
“You’re very good with him. He usually dislikes most people.” She tilts her head slightly to watch him. “I have to confess that I was startled to see you open the door, but you’re quite adept at dealing with animals.”
“I prefer animals to people. They’re less judgmental, aren’t they?” Zacharias doesn’t mention that animals also don’t care about whether he lost his courage for a moment during the final battle at Hogwarts like some people do, but Hermione knows it’s probably a stray thought. All that matters to her is that he found the nerve to return and fight alongside the DA.
“Not all people are condemning and harsh,” she points out. Their gazes meet for a moment before he looks away to finish up with Crookshanks.
“Most of them are in my experience.” Zacharias puts his wand into the pocket of his healer robes before facing her. “I suppose there are always exceptions, though.”
“Yes, there are,” she agrees. She stands up and walks over to Crookshanks, rubbing his belly lightly as he yawns and rolls so she can have better access. He’s going to be alright, and she’s so glad. “Thank you for taking care of him. I’ll let you know if he isn’t better tomorrow.”
“It’s my job, Hermione. Of course I’m going to do what I can to help him. Besides, I’m extremely good at my job,” Zacharias says, giving her a slightly smug smile.
“Well, it might be part of your job, but I can still appreciate it.” Hermione picks Crookshanks up from the exam table and cuddles him. “He’s getting older, and I worry a little more as he ages.”
“He’s part kneazle, and you’ve only had him since second year, so he could have another decade left, at least,” Zacharias tells her gently. She appreciates his sincere concern, and she finds herself staring at him longer than necessary.
“Would you like to go for a coffee some time?” she asks spontaneously, surprised at herself but not withdrawing the invitation.
Zacharias is surprised, too. He blinks at her before recovering. “Seriously?” He studies her a moment. “Would we be going as former schoolmates sharing a coffee or as something else potentially?”
“Seriously.” She considers the question. “Why don’t we start with the former and see how things go?”
Zacharias reaches over to rub Crookshanks’ head. He nods and flashes a quick grin. “Alright then. If you’re sure.”
Hermione smiles and shifts Crookshanks’ weight in her arms. She’s curious to learn more about the man he’s become since their schooldays. There might still be some elements of the arrogant arse he’d once been, of course, but she thinks she might grow fond of the man who is so gentle and good with animals. “I’m sure.”
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