Paul E. Graves (ta_paulgraves) wrote in two_alleys_rpg,
Paul E. Graves

Virtuous Venoms (Paul, Herdman) - July 1999

The Helpful Herbs and Practical Plants Symposium for 1999 was being held on the grounds of Kelmscott Manor, a Gloucestershire estate situated on the River Thames. The setting was lush, with thick lawn surrounding an old manor built of local limestone. Normally, the site was open to Muggle visitors, but on this date it had been reserved for the Symposium, and the collection of wizards and witches animatedly discussing all manner of plants and potions would surely have raised more than a few Muggle eyebrows.

In addition to lectures being given elsewhere inside the house, an herb market of sorts had been organised in the Great Hall, while the potions demonstrations were being held outside, to prevent any noxious fumes from remaining inside the manor..

Paul had arrived earlier than many, as he lived somewhat close by. For him, the symposium was a chance to learn new things and to enjoy himself. He registered, then wandered through various room looking at displays. It was still morning, and the lectures had not yet begun.

At the far end of the hall, a familiar figure was busy setting up a stall, almost obsessively layiing the herbs out in a specific order, paying very careful attention to what went where. The figure was familiar to Paul: it was Herdman, the apothecary he had purchased some goods from not so long ago.

Paul had to admire Herdman's attention to detail. He seemed to be arranging his herbs by classes--soporifics here, astringents there--as well as organising some by country of origin and by toxicity--those last, he kept under lock and key.

He said nothing to Herdman as the apothecary looked busy; his earlier impression of the man was that he didn't like to be unnecessarily disturbed, and Paul thought a greeting could wait. So he simply examined the display next to Herdman's and only greeted him when he heard the clicking shut of the last display case. He waited a few more moments and then moved over to Herdman's tables. "Good morning," Paul said and looked at Herdman's merchandise.

Herdman looked up from his work and the faintest flicker of a smile crossed his face. "Indeed," he replied. "Good morning yourself."

The merchandise was all top quality. Not for Herdman the easy way to relieve himself of surplus stock. Every item on his stall had obviously been carefully stored and packed and the way he had chosen to display the goods served only to make them even more visually attractive and appealling.

"I predict you're going to do a lot of business today," Paul said as he glanced at the wide variety of herb samples. "These people will not be able to resist what you have here."

"Indeed," said Herdman again, nodding. "I am counting upon the opportunity to do a lot of business. The more money I make today, the more I can invest in my business. This is a marvellous opportunity for me." A sly look came into his eyes. "And what might I interest you in?"

Paul chuckled. "My work lately has more involved the animal kingdom than the plant, but...if you have any visnaga or Indian belladonna, those would be most helpful."

Herdman hesitated only briefly before passing a slender hand across the packets on the table before him and picking two up. "You ask such easy things," he said, sounding almost disappointed.

"And what would offer you a decent challenge?" Paul asked as he opened the packages and examined their contents.

"Well, that I wouldn't know. Not until it was asked of me," said Herdman. His tone was light-hearted.

"All right, then," Paul said. "I'm looking to devlop an orphan drug. However, I can't use an herb for it; I need a certain type of insect venom--Israeli golden scorpion venom, to be exact. Do you think you might be able to procure some for me?"

"Now THAT," said Herdman, with a glint in his sloe-dark eyes, "is exactly the kind of thing that I need to hear." He took a notepad out of his robe and a small, stubby pencil. "Tell me. Male or female?"

"Either," Paul said.

The male is easier to acquire, but comes at quite a cost. We are talking maybe sixteen Galleons a vial." He nodded and made a few notes. "I have many contacts. I could get that for you within three months."

Paul thought about it. "At that price...I'll order five vials, and if the results from those are successful, I'll order more."

Herdman nodded. "As you wish." He made a note in his notebook in neat, cramped handwriting and snapped it shut. "Might I enquire as to the nature of your...experiment?"

"If it works, it will be a treatment for primary-site brain cancer," Paul said. "From what I have read, it essentially paralyses glioma tumours."

"That is a most...honourable experiment," said Herdman. "You will require a lot of alchemical oil and cream as base stablisers. Please, allow me the honour of supplying you with some at a discounted rate." Businessman through and through.

"I would be interested in working a deal with you," Paul said. "I'll need oils, primarily; this has to be injected directly into the brain. I'm not even sure I'll be able to market it to the wizarding population. St. Mungo's can be dreadfully resistant to the idea of invasive procedures."

"St. Mungo's are dreadfully resistant to any sort of change," said Herdman, a faint sneer lifting his lip slightly upwards. "I have approached them on a number of issues and nearly every time they do not wish to discuss advances in herbology that could help people. It...angers me." Indeed, he looked darkly annoyed.

"What sort of issues?" Paul asked.

"I have developed a number of anti-inflammatory potions based on a traditional Chinese recipe," said Herdman. "They are cheap to produce, cheaper than many of the potions they already use, but they will have their foolish pride."

"Do they insist on using home-grown herbs?" Paul asked. "I sometimes that that, if they cannot pronounce it, they refuse to use it."

An expression crossed Herman's face that may have been a smile. "They are indeed, that shallow, sir."

Paul could only shake his head. Then he frowned. "I'm afraid it might also be an issue with your location," he said. "Working out of Knockturn Alley is likely to prejudice many against you, despite the excellent quality of your work. That is unfortunate, and I hope those coming here today will allow what they observe to be of more importance than Knockturn's reputation."

Herdman lowered his head in acknowledgement of Paul's words. "Property costs in Diagon Alley are, sadly, out of the range for a humble apothecary's purse. Knockturn Alley is, regrettably for me, the only option at this time."

Paul nodded. "That's true. If there were more room for the alleys to expeand into, it would help, but there's only so much spqce-squeezing that magic can do." Then an amused look came to his eyes. "As for you being in any way humble--I doubt it."

One eyebrow quirked. "May I enquire as to what you mean?"

"You take exacting care in your work. From what I've seen, both at your shop and in here, you are a more skillful apothecary and herbalist than just about any of your colleagues I've ever doone business with--and well you know it. Humble men do not thirst for challenges."

"Ah, you have the measure of me, sir." Herdman bowed low, then stood up. "I am ambitious. It is a curse, believe me."

"Frustrating--yes, that I can understand," Paul replied. "But I don't think you will need to be frustrated for very long, Mr. Herdman. I suspect you'll find a way to accomplish the things you seek."

Again, that slow, almost insidious smile. "Perhaps I will, sir, perhaps I will."

By Chantal and Sarah

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