Author Notes: Thank you to aigooism for the beta! This is a less explicit version due to the rules of this site. The slightly more explicit version is, as always, on my LJ.

In a single second, Severus's world fell apart.

"I'm sorry," Hermione said softly. Her eyes were downcast and she was playing with the napkin in her lap. Despite the situation, Severus resisted the urge to reach over and brush a stray curl away. Instead, he folded his hands in his lap, ignoring the sharp corners of the box in his pocket.

"May I ask why?" he managed to get out. The words were stiff, but Severus was proud that he sounded calm.

Hermione bit her lip. "I... I don't think this is working." Her normally confident voice was unsure and she kept on toying with the paper napkin, twisting and pulling it until it shredded in her fingers and blew away in the wind.

"Oh?" Severus wanted to say more but the words seemed to be stuck. In the end, he simply settled for arching an eyebrow and tilting his head enquiringly. He knew she would explain. She always did. Before they had officially started dating, when Severus had told her that it was impossible that they could work, Hermione had turned up at his doorstep with a list of reasons why they should give it a try. It stood to reason that she would have come up with the same sort of list now that they were breaking up.

"You're always so busy," Hermione burst out as she looked up. The pain in her eyes twisted Severus's heart and made him narrow his eyes. How dare she have that expression? This was her choice. Not his.

"I recall you working late most of last month," Severus said acidly before he could help himself.

"Well, then, we were both busy," Hermione snapped. She seemed to visibly stop herself, and then she gave him a brief, strained smile. "I admit that we both made mistakes. I just don't feel like this... us... it's not working anymore." She gave a brief shrug, the little gesture she always made whenever she was trying to brush something off. Severus had seen her do it when her friendship with Ron and Harry had become slightly strained because of their relationship, when she lost cases, when she had difficult clients, and whenever they had fights. Of course, Ron and Harry had come around, and her problems at work were rare. Their fights, however, had grown more numerous as the months rolled on. Deep down, Severus knew that there were serious problems, but he hadn't wanted to see them.

"I see," Severus said evenly.

"I don't think you do," Hermione told him. "I've tried to talk to you but you don't seem to listen..." She trailed off and gave him a helpless look.

Severus toyed with the small box in his pocket with one hand, and with the other hand he lifted his coffee cup to his lips and sipped. His fingers were trembling slightly; with effort, he willed them to stop. "I have been listening."

"No, you've tried to listen," Hermione said with a small sigh. "It's not the same thing."

At the back of his mind, Severus was amused that even in a situation like this, Hermione was analysing and breaking apart the issues. "I listened, Hermione," he said evenly. "I just didn't agree with you."

There it was again, that small shrug. "That may be," Hermione said slowly. "Look, this isn't an argument. It isn't even a discussion." She bit her bottom lip. "I've made up my mind. I'm sorry. I've been trying to tell you for weeks, but we just kept on fighting and then you were working late or I was working late and ... look, do you know that this is the first time we've been out together in months?"

Severus knew that perfectly well. He'd bought the ring months ago and had been waiting for the right opportunity to ask her. "Very well," he said. The words felt dry, as though they were sawdust stuck at the back of his throat. "If you've made up your mind, then there is nothing I can do to stop you."

A brief, bitter smile crossed Hermione's lips, and Severus wondered if she had predicted his reaction as well. "I'll come over to get my things. Ron said he'd help me take them back over to my own apartment."

Severus quashed the small flare of anger and jealousy. He had always suspected that Weasley still liked Hermione, and that had been a large reason why it had taken him so long to come to terms with their relationship. But Hermione had always said that he was imagining things and that Weasley was only a friend. "I think I'll stay here," he said. "Owl me when you've finished packing up." He had no desire to watch Hermione pack away the few small mementos of their years together. Severus hadn't liked to take photographs, so they only had one hanging on their walls and he had never been one for gift-giving; he preferred to give more practical presents. Hermione, following his example, had ended up giving him a cauldron for his last birthday. It was currently being used at his work to brew some of his more delicate potions.

Hermione nodded. She looked down at her half-finished coffee and then rummaged in her purse for some change. "Here," she said awkwardly. "This should pay for mine."

Severus pursed his lips. "I'm not destitute, Hermione," he snapped. "I can pay for your coffee."

"I want to pay for mine," Hermione told him quietly. The implication in her words was obvious. They weren't together any more. There was no need for them to share resources any longer. With a clink, she dropped the coins on the table and then pushed her chair back with a scrape. "I shouldn't be long," she said.

Severus watched as she hurried away, her pale blue robes fluttering in the breeze. As she disappeared into the crowd, he realised that he didn't know whether she still even loved him. Savagely, Severus slammed the little box onto the table and stared at it. He'd been carrying it around for at least two weeks, waiting for the perfect opportunity to ask her. Now it looked like he'd never get the chance.

It seemed like only five minutes later – except when Severus checked his watch, he realised that it was more like several hours – when Hermione's owl fluttered over and hooted at Severus. It was clutching a small note in its claws and after Severus glared at it, it dropped the note down on the table. It flapped its wings and flew off in a small cloud of dander. Severus coughed and reached over and unfolded the note.

It was simple and to the point.


Severus stared at it for a few seconds before crumpling it in his fingers and dropping it onto the ground. He watched as it bounced away in the brisk breeze. Letting out a long breath, Severus stood up. He needed a drink and The Leaky Cauldron was right around the corner.

Severus was aware that he was drunk – drunk and talking to Luna Lovegood of all people. The room moved unsteadily around him as he waved the bartender over for another shot of Firewhiskey. Normally, he hated Firewhiskey, but it was his vehicle of choice when it came to getting drunk. It was the most efficient and cheapest method. He'd originally intended to get drunk alone, but halfway through his reverie, a person had sat down at the chair opposite him and given him a cheerful smile. Severus had focused blearily at her face and realised that it was none other than Luna Lovegood, looking as bizarre as always in bright orange fuzzy robes and a large peacock feather in her hair. It dangled precariously over her drink.

He'd tried to get rid of her, but she was persistent and the floor wobbled whenever he tried to stand up, so Severus didn't want to get up and find another table. Silence hadn't worked either because she had simply chattered on, her voice like a bubbling brook of water gushing over sharp rocks. "Lovegood, do you ever shut up?" he snapped finally, sick of her cheerful chatter.

She looked at him with widened eyes. "Call me Luna. And of course I do."

Almost as if to deliberately irritate him, Luna leaned back in her chair, crossed her legs and sipped her drink in silence. Severus stared at her. She simply stared at him right back and took another sip of her drink. Perhaps he had finally managed to shut her up? Severus relaxed slightly and toyed with his glass. A small frown creased his forehead as he suddenly wondered where Hermione was. Undoubtedly she was with Weasley, and they were probably talking about him. He scowled.

"You don't seem to be enjoying the silence much," Luna pointed out after a half-minute pause. She swirled her straw in her drink. "I love curly straws, don't you? It creates anticipation and makes the drink far more exciting."

"I was enjoying it," Severus pointed out, "until you started talking again."

"You were brooding," Luna told him. Her eyes seemed to scrutinise him until they dawned on the pocket where he was keeping his left hand. "There's something in that pocket."

Severus yanked his hand out of the pocket and narrowed his eyes. Luna was sounding remarkably sane at the moment and he didn't like it one bit. He could remember her odd antics from Hogwarts and how Hermione used to find her strange, but endearing. Hermione had mentioned nothing about Luna's perspicacity though. "There's absolutely nothing in my pocket," he said firmly.

"Lying is a terrible habit to get into," Luna said calmly. Then, to Severus's surprise, she began to pull all sorts of odd things out of her own pockets. She seemed to have bits of string, lollies, a couple of galleons as well as a little notebook all jammed into one pocket.

"What in Merlin's name are you doing?" he finally asked as she moved onto the pocket on the other side of her robes.

Luna gave him an earnest look. "I thought that if I showed you what was in my pockets, you would be more willing to show me what was in yours. Plus, I thought I left some food in there, and I can hear hungry Nargles."

Severus couldn't hear a thing except for the sound of the other people talking and the clinking of glasses. He also had never heard of a Nargle before, but he suspected it was a figment of Luna's imagination.

"Ah ha!" Luna exclaimed as she pulled out what seemed like a half-eaten chocolate bar. "The Nargles can smell this." She leaned in closer and in spite of himself, Severus found himself listening intently. It was one of the drawbacks of being a spy for so long, he tended to do odd things like listen closely when people leaned forward and feed ducks in ponds. Severus was glad that there weren't any duck ponds in Hogwarts. "Nargles love chocolate," she whispered with a knowledgeable little nod.

Severus slowly leaned back and downed the rest of his glass of Firewhiskey. It could just be the alcohol, but he suspected that she wouldn't make much more sense when he sobered up. "I suppose they love capsicum and potatoes as well," he said sarcastically.

Luna frowned. "Of course not," she told him. "They like sweet things like chocolate and lollies. They have a particular fondness for lemon drops."

Severus almost spat out his drink. These Nargles were beginning to sound like Albus, insane with a love of lemon drops and lollies. "I hope to never meet one," he muttered.

"They're very friendly," Luna reassured him.

Severus rolled his eyes and flagged down the bartender for another drink. The smell of Firewhiskey was strong as his drink filled itself. Almost as soon as the glass was full, he downed its contents and breathed deeply as he could feel the burn slide down his throat. The room wobbled again, and Severus realised that he was going to need a hangover potion the next morning.

"You seem upset," Luna observed.

"Whatever gave you that impression?" Severus said sarcastically.

Luna seemed unfazed. "Are you having problems with Hermione?"

Severus fought to keep his expression calm. "My life is none of your business," he said with a sneer. "Now leave me alone!"

"I'll take that as a yes," Luna said calmly.

"Are you deaf?" Severus said harshly. "Or just stupid? Leave me alone."

"I've been called worse before," Luna said softly. She leaned forward and placed her hand on his arm. Her thumb caressed his wrist lightly.

Severus flinched at her touch. He yanked his arm away. "Don't touch me," Severus hissed.

Luna tilted his head to one side. "I'm not poisonous," she said. "Least, I wasn't last time I checked. Unless a biting poisonous gnat has injected me recently, I don't think you're going to get anything just from my hand on your arm."

Severus let out a long breath and resisted the urge to put her in a full body bind. "That's just a rumour from Egypt. There's no such thing as a biting poisonous gnat."

"I'll have to give you my latest Quibbler article," Luna told him. "I have definitive proof of its existence. I even have pictures. Unfortunately, a Muggle took them so they're unmoving but you can see the gnat clearly."

Severus closed his eyes and slowly tilted his head backwards. If this was some sort of attrition method that Luna had developed, it certainly worked. "Yes, I had a fight with Hermione," he said, his voice low and angry. "We've broken up."

"There," Luna said. "That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Severus said flatly.

Luna's eyes widened. "Did I ask anything?"

Severus considered it. It was true. Even with the fuzziness that seemed to be surrounding him, he was sure that Luna hadn't actually asked anything like that. He toyed with the box in his pocket and impulsively, he took it out and slammed it down on the table.

Luna looked startled. "Are you angry with the box?"

Severus stared at her. Was he angry with the box? "No," he snapped. "I'm not angry with the box. I'm furious that I bought this for her." The box sprung open and the glittering ring shone inside. Quickly, Severus shut the box again and shoved it deep into his pocket again.

"Ah," Luna said, sounding understanding.

Severus considered waving the bartender to refill his glass again but decided against it. "She's just packed up everything and left," he said. He bit his tongue to stop himself from saying more. There was something to be said for alcohol causing loose tongues. He always tended to talk more when he was inebriated than when he was sober.

"I'm sorry," Luna said.

Severus analysed her tone of voice for signs of sarcasm, but it seemed to be clean. "I'm sure you are," he said acidly.

"I am, actually," Luna told him. "Hermione's my friend and I've always admired you."

Severus stared. She'd always admired him?

"I used one of your potions to attract Nargles," Luna said happily. "I couldn't find any other way to prove to people that they existed, but it turned out that your lycanthropy potion was also a sexual stimulant for them."

Severus resisted the urge to bang his head against the table.

"Plus, you're quite attractive," Luna said. Her tone was as a-matter-of-fact as if she was talking about the weather or the drinks they were having. "Are you sure you don't want a curly straw for your drink?"

"I'm positive," Severus said. He decided to pointedly ignore the first half of her statement. He knew he wasn't attractive, far from it, in fact. He might be able to pass for distinguished on a good day, but normally, he was about as attractive as Albus Dumbledore. That mightn't have been that bad, except Albus was over a hundred years older than he was.

"Too bad," Luna said. She slurped up the rest of her drink with her straw. "They make the drink taste pinker."

Severus wasn't sure that he wanted his drink to taste like pink to begin with, let alone pinker. "I'm drinking Firewhiskey."

Luna peered at his drink. "So you are," she said, sounding apologetic. "It's not very pink, is it?"

"No, it isn't." At the back of his mind, Severus realised how odd the conversation was. He ran the tip of his finger around the top of his glass. He lifted the glass up and sipped the last dregs.

"It's getting late," Luna said as she lifted the straw from her drink and put it into her bag. "This was quite entertaining, thank you."

"My pleasure," Severus said evenly. He couldn't help but feel a tiny twinge of disappointment over the fact she was leaving. If she left, then he would be left with his own thoughts. As irritating as Luna was, she was preferable to his own mind at this current juncture. He looked up from his drink and could see her shouldering her bag and downing the last of her drink. "You're leaving now," he said, but there was no malice in his voice. He was far too drunk for malice.

Luna gave him a long and measured look. "You could come with me."

Severus was so drunk and it took him a few seconds to understand her meaning. He looked up and down at her. Luna wasn't unattractive. In fact, she was quite attractive, or she would have been if she wasn't wearing that ridiculous orange outfit. The peacock feather had long fallen off and was lying on the table next to her elbow.

"It was just a thought," Luna said lightly.

"Your place," Severus said as he pushed his chair back. He wanted to – no, he needed to forget Hermione – and the last hour or so with Luna had helped with that. He reached over and curled his arm around her waist.

Luna grinned and winked.

Luna's breasts were small and pert, a little bit less than a handful. Severus couldn't help but remember that Hermione's were bigger and she had always gasped whenever he nipped slightly on her skin. Savagely, he pushed the thought away. As he leaned over to run his tongue over a nipple, he could hear Luna humming something. The tune was quite jaunty and the nipple hardened pleasantly in his mouth. Severus reached over and began to unbutton the rest of her robes. They were oddly fuzzy under his fingers and he realised that they seemed to be some sort of synthetic fur.

"Wait," Luna said as she struggled to sit up. "I'll help." She began to deftly undo the buttons.

Severus inhaled sharply as she pushed her robes down. Hermione had never gone for the traditional wizarding style of going without undergarments under robes; apparently, Luna did. She reclined backwards onto the bed and then reached up to drag him down. Severus gasped as she wriggled so that she was on top and then reached inside his robes. Her grip was firm but not too tight.

"I think you should take that off," Luna said, her voice breathy. "Here, let me help."

Before Severus could say anything, she had moved down and began, with excruciating slowness, unbuttoning his robes. He bent his neck and half propped himself up to look at her, naked with erect nipples and her fingers nimbly freeing him of his robes. Unable to help himself, he reached over and tweaked one of her nipples. He was rewarded with a gleam in Luna's eyes.

Unbidden, the thought came into his mind that it had been so long since Hermione had done this. In fact, their sex lately had been more perfunctory than anything else. He usually spent a few minutes licking her and then he would climb on top of her. He couldn't remember the last time she had teased him like Luna was doing right now. Severus reached down and ran his fingers through her hair with deliberate slowness and used the motion to slowly guide her mouth down. Luna looked up at him and winked. It was obvious that she knew exactly what he was doing and Severus closed his eyes and surrendered himself.

Afterwards, as they lay gasping, tangled together in a sweaty heap, Severus couldn't help but think that how different it was with Hermione and how it wasn't better or worse: just different.

"That was nice," Luna told him as she leaned over and licked the side of his neck. "Mmm, salty."

Severus nodded in agreement. He knew he ought to leave, ought to push her off him instead of watching Luna curl into his shoulder like a cat. Slowly, Severus wrapped an arm around her and used his other hand to summon a blanket, which settled slowly over them. The alcohol that was still buzzing in his veins was making him sleepy. As he looked down, he could see Luna's eyes were already closed, her long pale lashes settled peacefully on her cheeks. Severus could feel his own eyelids growing heavy, until he finally gave in and closed them.

When Severus woke up the next morning, it took him a few seconds to realise where he was. He'd spent most of the last four years waking up next to Hermione. He almost expected to turn his head and smell violets; she always used that kind of shampoo. Instead, he found that he could smell something sweeter. Opening his eyes, Severus realised that the strands of hair tickling his nose weren't dark brown and curly; instead they were light blonde and much longer than Hermione's.


"Excuse me?" Severus almost leapt out of bed, but he restrained himself and simply sat up, drawing the sheets up around him. His head throbbed as he moved; he was definitely going to need a hangover potion.

Luna sat up as well, the sheets falling away from her. She was still naked, her long hair barely covering her breasts, and Severus suddenly had the vivid image of him, last night, sucking those erect nipples while Luna gasped and moaned. "Honey," she explained. "My shampoo, it's made out of honey and primroses."

Severus raised an eyebrow.

"I could hear you sniffing earlier," Luna told him. "I make my own shampoo and conditioner. I find that it smells nicer."

Severus was surprised. He never took her for the kind to brew her own cosmetics. Then again, before yesterday, he hadn't really ever thought much about Luna. "It's interesting," he said as he stood up and took half the sheet with him. Severus tried not to look at Luna who was still lying sprawled on the bed, seemingly uncaring about her nudity.

"The bathroom's over there," Luna told him helpfully.

Severus nodded curtly. He could feel a blush creeping up his body and wanted to get away from Luna's penetrating gaze before it went past the sheet. He tore his gaze away from her as he spied the door to the bathroom. The door closed behind him and Severus slumped against it. Sobriety was a bitch.

Somehow, the next night, Severus found himself sitting at The Leaky Cauldron again. He had decided to go for a butterbeer instead and was regretting it. The sickly sweetness reminded him of Hermione; she'd always loved that drink.


Severus narrowed his eyes. "You," he said flatly as he looked up to see Luna standing there. She wasn't wearing anything terribly odd this time, except for the strange spectacles hanging around her neck. "Are you following me?"

"Hardly," Luna said cheerfully as she sat down. "I come here several times a week, whenever I'm not on assignment."

That's right. Severus frowned. She worked for that idiotic rag: The Quibbler. She was some sort of reporter and he'd had sex with her the previous night. That wasn't the best decision he had made, especially given the fact that he had only broken up with Hermione yesterday. The only thing that would make it worse would be if Luna ended up publishing an article about it. Severus had a moment of panic before he remembered that most of her articles tended to be about non-existent creatures. Hermione wouldn't find out. He still held out a hope that maybe, just maybe, he could still give her the ring.

"I didn't think I'd find you here," Luna said. "You looked terrible this morning." She gave him a concerned look. "Worse than a sick Nargle."

"Hangover potion," Severus muttered.

Luna looked interested.

"I presume, that you plan to stay here to annoy me," Severus said tiredly, stifling a yawn. The hangover potion might have worked wonders on his hangover, but he was still tired. He sipped his butterbeer.

"Of course not," Luna told him. Severus had just let out a sigh of relief, when she added, "I plan on staying and having an interesting conversation."

Severus rolled his eyes. "What makes you think that the conversation will be interesting?"

Luna's eyes widened. "If not, then you could always come back to my place." There was a suggestive impish grin on her face as she flagged down a passing bartender. "Another one of those pink drinks please." Severus watched as she drew the curly straw out of her bag again.

"I think not," he said sharply.

"And a Firewhiskey for my friend here," Luna added.

Severus narrowed his eyes. If he didn't know better, he would have thought that Luna was trying to get him drunk. He was about to cancel the order, but the bartender had already summoned glasses over and was humming as he waved his wand. "I didn't want that," he snapped.

"Didn't you?" Luna asked, sounding bemused. "I thought your potion worked wonders."

"It did," Severus ground out. "I just don't feel like drinking."

"Then why are you in a pub?" Luna asked practically. "Besides, you're already drinking butterbeer."

Severus ground his teeth and pushed his butterbeer away. He stared at the bubbling Firewhiskey in front of him. His veins still felt like they were humming with alcohol despite the fact that the hangover potion had cleared his mind. He could almost smell the alcohol content from where he was sitting. "I'm not drinking it."

"Suit yourself," Luna said with a shrug. She reached over and inserted her straw into the Firewhiskey and began sipping it.

Severus couldn't seem to stop himself watching the way the tip of her tongue swirled around the straw and the way she licked the tip of her finger once in a while as if to taste something. "Why do you do that?"

There was that small smile around her lips again. "To tease you," Luna told him with a wink. "Is it working?"

"No," Severus said shortly, ignoring the twitch underneath his robes. He most definitely wasn't reminded of their previous night together and the way her mouth enclosed around his cock. There was no way he wanted a repeat of that performance, to see Luna sliding wet fingers inside herself and to see her fingers delicately dance over her own nipples.

Luna made a disappointed face. "I guess I'll have to try harder," she said impishly.

"Please don't," Severus told her. He tried hard to keep the strain from his voice. Surreptitiously, he shifted in his chair and rearranged his robes. Hermione had never been so forward. In fact, it had taken them over six months to end up in bed together and when they had, it had been awkward and Hermione had blushed when he entered her. Sex with Luna though was messy and hot, and Luna seemed to be in her own world when he fucked her; Severus liked it that way.

"Do you need an antacid?" Luna asked suddenly.

Severus stared.

"You look like you have a stomach-ache," Luna elaborated.

"My stomach is fine," Severus snapped.

"But your face was all contorted," Luna protested.

"Perhaps that was a side-effect of the conversation," Severus said sharply. "Perhaps it's a delayed reaction from our mistake last night."

Luna tilted her head to one side and frowned. "I don't think so," she finally said. "You definitely enjoyed it last night. I really do think you'd enjoy it again, perhaps more so, given that you're not drunk tonight."

Severus fought to keep his breathing even. He wanted to reach over and drag her forward, kissing her hard until he forgot all about Hermione. He wanted to lift her up and place her on his lap and rock into her until he came.

"So," Luna said. "Would you like to come over?" She looked at him expectantly.

Severus closed his eyes and inclined his head fractionally. When he'd opened them again, Luna was beaming at him.

Somehow, Severus was unsurprised when Luna turned up at The Leaky Cauldron again a few nights later. "You again," he said flatly as she made her way around the tables and sat down opposite him.

Luna nodded. "Me again," she agreed.

"Won't you leave me alone?" he retorted. "There are other pubs out there."

Luna lifted an eyebrow. "You're here almost every night as well," she pointed out. "You could go elsewhere to drink."

Severus had to concede her point. Somehow, it was less awkward than it had been the last time. Perhaps it was because when he'd woken up after their last encounter, Luna had already left. She hadn't left a note and he hadn't expected her to. Her pillow smelled like honey though, so he suspected that she had only just got up. "I like it here."

"So do I," Luna said.

"Well then," Severus said. "I suppose we're at an impasse."

"Not really," Luna pointed out. "I don't mind the way this is going. Do you?"

Severus stared. Now that was just the million galleon question, wasn't it? He pressed his lips together. Did he mind the way this was going? "Of course I mind," he snapped.

"Obviously not enough," Luna told him. "Otherwise you would have gone to another pub." She grinned at him as he narrowed his eyes.

Severus looked away and resisted the urge to order a flask of Firewhiskey. This ridiculous, impulsive, impossible thing they had going couldn't last. He was still in love with Hermione. Wasn't he? Severus thought he loved Hermione during the day, when the pain ate away at his insides, but at night, with Luna, it seemed to dissipate under her cheeky smile and delicate fingers. When he looked back towards her, he was surprised that Luna had pushed her chair back.

"I'm going to go over to say hi to a few people," she told him. "And then I'm going home. If you want to come, then just find me in five minutes."

With that, Severus watched as she walked off, on tippy-toes, almost dancing as she walked across the room. With a grumpy noise, he turned back to his drink. He wasn't going to follow her. That was ridiculous. As he looked down at the table, he realised she'd left her straw behind. "Luna!" he called, but she didn't turn around.

Severus sighed and stood up. Striding across the room quickly, he tapped Luna on the shoulder. "Here..." He was about to give her the straw when she beamed at him.

"You ready to go already?" she asked and grabbed his hand.

"That's not ..." Severus spluttered but she'd already waved to the people she was with and dragged him away. Her hand was warm in his and he could feel her tracing her fingers over his palm. "That's not what I meant," he said stiffly once they were outside. "I wanted to give you your straw back."

"Thank you," Luna said brightly. "I'm not sure what I would have done without it." She still didn't let go of his hand though. "Now come along. I have something to show you." She winked.

It was like trying to argue with a summer breeze, Severus thought as she tugged him along. A few years ago, he would have just wrenched his hand away and sneered, but now, after those years with Hermione, he almost felt as though he ought to be polite.

"I bought this lovely lace bra," Luna said as she leaned over and blew in his ear. "I thought you'd want to see it."

Severus could feel all his thoughts skidding to a stop as his mind was suddenly overtaken by the image of Luna slipping a lace bra off her shoulders. He could brush his thumbs over her nipples through the bra and watch as they sprang up. And didn't these womanly things usually come in sets? Undoubtedly, she would have also bought lace knickers, which he could push to one side while he slid slowly into her.

"Well, coming?" Luna asked lightly.

Severus suddenly realised he'd stopped in the middle of the street. Several of the other pedestrians were giving him odd looks. "I'm coming," he said.

Severus was amazed when he realised that he'd fallen into something of a routine with Luna. They would meet up several times a week, as if by accident, at The Leaky Cauldron and most of the time, they would end up at her place. She would wrap her legs around him and dig her nails into his back. Then afterwards, he would fall asleep with his arms around her. The next morning, he would leave quietly, sometimes before Luna woke up, but sometimes, they would have breakfast together. When Severus thought about it, it almost seemed like a domestic routine, but he didn't like thinking about it.

A few weeks later, Severus heard a rumour around work that that Hermione had started dating Weasley again and that night, he pushed Luna up against the wall and fucked her for half the night. She ended up falling asleep with a sated smile on her face while he stayed awake and looked at the charmed stars on her ceiling, while imagining deadly poisons he could slip into Weasley's tea.

It wasn't as though he begrudged the fact that Hermione was obviously screwing that red-haired idiot. After all, he had Luna. But Hermione was dating Weasley and he most definitely was doing nothing like that with Luna. They met up once in a while and Severus always left feeling calmer. It was a release, nothing more.

Of course, sometimes, they didn't have sex, but that didn't mean anything either.

It didn't mean that they were in any kind of relationship. It wasn't like Severus enjoyed himself.

One Saturday, Luna took him to the zoo and they spent the morning looking at the Muggle animals who had accidentally been subjected to curses. One of the tigers could play the violin with its claws while a bear could dance on its hind legs. Severus was surprised when he found the day tolerable. He ended up buying a giant novelty curly straw for Luna and she bought him a ridiculous looking fedora.

It was sex and companionship, Severus told himself every time he left in the morning (and sometimes the afternoon). Nothing more.

When the news of Hermione's engagement broke two months later, Severus was surprised at his restraint. It wasn't simply that she was getting married to somebody else, but that somebody else had to be Ronald Weasley. That red-haired idiot who couldn't brew or hex his way out of a bottle. Hermione had chosen him. When a hapless young employee mentioned their upcoming nuptials to Severus, he almost immediately slammed his door in the young man's face. A few hexed cauldrons later – cheap ones that were easily replaceable – and his boss ended up ordering him to go home for the weekend. Severus has protested, but after the third botched potion, he realised that it was probably a good plan.

He wasn't sure what possessed him to end up at Luna's door. As Luna opened the door, he noticed that she had a flower stuck behind one ear and a quill behind the other. She gave him a bright smile and gave no indication that she was surprised by his visit. "Severus!" she exclaimed. "You're just in time."

Severus opened his mouth to ask her what he was just in time for but decided against it. There were suspicious splatters of what looked like paint on her rolled up sleeves and there was a plaintive sound coming from inside.

"Come in, come in," Luna said as she held open the door. "You can help me paint." She gestured towards a large can of paint sitting in her living room and swathes of white cloth covering all of her furniture.

Severus stared. "Is there something wrong with your wand?"

Luna looked puzzled. "No, should there be?"

Severus closed his eyes for a second before reopening them. "Then why don't you use magic to paint your house?"

Luna laughed. "Because this is more fun, of course." Her eyes sparkled as she grabbed a brush and waved it in the air.

"Even Muggles use bigger brushes than that," Severus pointed out. In fact, he had seen Hermione's father renovating their house and he hadn't used small paintbrushes like what Luna was holding. Severus had offered to use magic, but Hermione's father just shook his head.

Luna handed him a brush. Severus winced as paint dripped down on his robes. "You should try it," she said cheerfully.

Severus dropped the brush, which splattered more paint onto his robes as it hit the ground. "I think not," he snapped.

"Then why are you here?" Luna asked practically.

Severus opened his mouth and then hesitated. He didn't want to tell her about Hermione's upcoming nuptials. Although, knowing Luna, she probably knew about it already. Plus, he didn't really want to explain to her why he had ended up here. For one thing, he didn't know the answer himself. With a small sigh, he bent over and picked up the brush. "To help you paint," he said grudgingly.

Luna beamed. "I wanted to paint my living room green."

"How nice," Severus said dryly.

"I thought you'd think so," Luna said happily. "I have silver curtains. It'll be in your old house colours."

Severus was going to ask her why she wanted to have her living room in Slytherin colours, but then decided against it. For all he knew, she was doing it to match the colour of her pet Nargle or something like that. "Where would you like me to start?" he said grumpily.

On his birthday, Luna turned up at his house with a cake in one hand and what she said was a photo of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack in the other. The photo was blurry but Severus thought he could just make out a fuzzy horned creature running from one side to the other. "I baked this myself," she told him cheerfully. "It's blueberry with dark chocolate."

Severus stared. He couldn't remember if Hermione had ever made him cake in the whole four years that they had been dating. In fact, she had sheepishly admitted that she wasn't a particularly good cook, and hence for both their birthdays, they tended to go out. "Thank you," he said as Luna smiled and handed the box over. Carefully, Severus opened it and realised one of two things. Firstly, that Luna wasn't good at cooking either. The cake looked like it had both exploded and imploded at the same time. It was also somehow both burned and raw-looking. Secondly, though, Severus realised that she had been willing to try to bake him his favourite cake regardless.

Luna grinned impishly and pulled out her wand. She whispered something under her breath and waved it over the cake. "Better?"

The cake looked like a real cake now instead of a recipe for both heartburn and indigestion. "Much better," Severus said crisply. "It looks edible now."

Luna rolled her eyes. "So," she said, bouncing up onto the balls of her feet, "are you going to let me in? I did bring you cake, after all. And a photo."

"And, of course, I do appreciate the photo," Severus said dryly. "I've always wanted to see an out-of-focus picture of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack." He squinted at the photo, but it didn't seem to make it any clearer.

Luna beamed. "You have?" she asked. "I'm so glad. I was trying to think of the perfect present for you and then I hit upon this one. I thought we could study it together while we eat your cake."

With a sigh, Severus held the door open and watched as Luna wriggled her way past him. His cock gave a satisfying twitch as her bum brushed up against it, and Severus was surprised to realise that he was hoping for a different kind of present from her. He closed the front door and followed her into the living room where Luna had already made herself comfortable on the chair. Severus placed the cake on the coffee table and sat down as well.

Luna winked at him. "And if you're very good, I'll even let you eat the cake off me."

"So how long have you been going out with Luna?"

Severus almost knocked over his cauldron. "Excuse me?" he asked acidly.

His co-worker rolled her eyes, and Severus suddenly realised he'd been working with her for over two years and he couldn't even remember her name. "Look, I know you were upset with Granger dumping you and all, but that was almost a year ago."

Betsy, Severus thought. That could be her name. And then, what she said sank in. It had been almost a year since he had been sitting in Diagon Alley with the ring in his pocket. It had been almost a year since Hermione walked away from him. It had been almost half a year since he had heard of her engagement to Weasley. "I know that," he snapped.

Betsy snorted. "Sure you did, Snape. Anyway, Luna's lovely. You two make a good couple. An odd couple, but a good one."

Severus stared. "We're not a couple," he said flatly.

Betsy gave him a disbelieving look. "She turned up to our Christmas party. I've seen you around Hogsmeade together."

Severus rolled his eyes. "We're friends," he drawled. "I find her more tolerable than most of the idiots I associate with."

"No, Snape," Betsy told him. "We're friends."

Severus blinked rapidly and then tried to hide his surprise. They were friends? He barely knew her name.

"Well, we're colleagues anyway," Betsy amended much to Severus's relief. "But my point still stands. You're dating Luna. You just haven't realised it yet."

"I think," Severus snapped, "that I would know if I were dating somebody."

Betsy laughed. "Snape, you'd be the last to know."

Severus paced the length of Luna's porch until she opened the door. Betsy's words kept on echoing in his mind. Were they dating? That was ridiculous. He still loved Hermione, didn't he? With shock, Severus realised he hadn't really thought about Hermione for months, ever since he heard of her engagement, in fact. Stopping in front of the door, Severus rapped sharply again. "Luna?" he called. "Are you in?"

The door opened and Luna's head poked through. "Hello," she said calmly. "I wasn't expecting you until tonight. Aren't you supposed to be at work?"

Severus opened his mouth and then closed it again.

"You look like a goldfish," Luna pointed out. "Would you like to come in? I have a fish tank that you'd be very happy in."

Despite himself, Severus chuckled lightly. "I was having a conversation with a co-worker," he said slowly, "and she mentioned something."

Luna looked at him with wide eyes. "Was it about the Crumple-Horned Snorkack? Nargles?"

"No," Severus said abruptly. "I wanted to ask you something."

"Ask away," Luna said cheerfully. "But firstly, is this an inside type question or an outside type question? Do I need tea? Chocolate cake?"

Severus waved a hand. "None of those," he told her.

"Then ask away."

Severus took a deep breath. He steadied his hands by pressing them to his sides. He didn't think he'd felt this nervous since the first time he was on a date with Hermione. He had been mostly silent on that date, and Hermione had ended up asking him if anything was wrong. With Luna though, Severus realised that he never really had problems talking to her. This kind of awkwardness between them was strange. "Are we dating?"

He watched as Luna leaned against her doorframe. She licked her lips. "Do you want us to be?" she asked quietly.

"I don't know," Severus admitted.

The corner of Luna's mouth quirked up. "An honest answer."

Severus pursed his lips and looked away from her penetrating gaze. "Do you want to?" he asked. At the back of his mind, Severus realised how curt and abrupt his words were, but he couldn't take them back now.

Luna titled her head to one side and bit her bottom lip. She twirled a strand of hair in her fingers and seemed to be considering his words. "I think so, yes," she said.

Severus was surprised at the flood of warmth that swept through him at her words. When he looked back at her, he could see that her eyes were serious. "So," he said quickly, "do you still want to go out for dinner tonight?"

There was a flicker of something in Luna's eyes before she grinned. "Of course."

"I thought we could go out to the Forbidden Forest and look for Nargles," Severus said, careful to keep his tone even. "We could even bring some chocolate and lemon drops. I also have some toffee apples. Albus always seemed to love those."

Luna's eyes sparkled as she launched herself into his arms. Slowly, Severus wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the lips. "I'd love that," Luna said softly into his neck. "It sounds perfect, Severus."