A/N: I apologize for the delay! I had a number of things trip me up... some good, some bad. Hurricane Sandy and catching the plague? Of the bad. In very good news, an original fiction piece I wrote came back for edits from the publisher, so I spent a week polishing that one up, and it's due to come out at the end of November. I'm very excited, because the magazine is a Hugo award winner, and it's been nominated for multiple World Fantasy Awards. Party! If you're interested in picking up a copy, PM me, and I'll give you the deets.

Thanks, as always, to the inestimable Aurette, a very good friend and a very good writer. I heart you, grrl. Thank you for the Ninnies!

I don't own anything you recognize. The "Ninnies" are Aurettes invention, and the world and characters belong to JK Rowling, the lucky lady.

Chapter Seven

Snape lay in bed and thought about Ms. Borden's blush. He thought about that flush of pink that slipped up her long neck, and he thought about the feel of Hermione's breaths panting across his lips as they stood chest to chest in her kitchen.

He thought about Ms. Borden's guileless green eyes and the flare of Hermione's hips.

He rolled over onto his stomach and then reached down to adjust his erection, grimacing.

Ms. Borden's friendly chirpiness versus Hermione's sterling honor. It wasn't a fair comparison. He didn't know the librarian like he knew the Gryffindor.

His heart was engaged. It would be futile to deny it. But would he spend another decade pining for someone who couldn't or wouldn't be with him? He'd spent the last four years trying to move away from his masochistic tendencies, and being alone was painful to him.

He could ask Ms. Borden to have tea with him. It was a small thing. If it went well, he'd have a bit of companionship. If not, well, the job at the library was only a temporary thing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Of course, nothing ventured, nothing lost either.

Despite the pit in his stomach at the thought of possibly losing Hermione's friendship, he forced himself to relax and coasted toward sleep. He'd just broken the surface of it, when a shout pulled him out of the darkness.

"HERMIONE!" Anguish colored the voice. As did a Bulgarian accent. "HERMY!" Snape winced at the dreadful nickname. There was a massive racket as Krum pounded on the door across the yard. "PLEASE OPEN UP."

A dog started barking across the street, and Snape resigned himself to getting out of his warm bed. She wasn't home tonight, and Gods only knew how long Krum would cry into his cornflakes, waking up neighbors left and right. Hermione was having a 'girls' night' with Millicent Bullstrode and Luna Lovegood. After the Final Battle, the three became fast friends after volunteering to help tend the wounded. Since then, they'd had a standing date every Wednesday night at the Three Broomsticks. He shuddered to think about the destruction the three could wreak if they put their minds to it.

"Niiiinny!" the drunken-sounding bugger howled. The neighbor's dog howled back.

Snape threw his feet over the side of the bed and scrubbed his face. He grabbed the cotton tee from the bed post where he'd thrown it earlier and pulled it over his bare chest. He left his pajama shorts alone. He figured Krum could deal with seeing a skinny, middle-aged wizard in his sleep bottoms, unappetizing as his hairy, pale legs were.

He tromped down the narrow staircase in his slippers and scuffed over to the door, slipping on his jumper and jacket after picking them up off his hook. He opened the door just in time to watch the Quidditch player start crying and slide down to sit on Hermione's welcome mat.

"Krum, she's not home. Go away!" he hissed.

"I cannot. I vill not go until I haff told my Ninny I am sorry for vhat I did." Gravity seemed too much for the Quidditch player, and he slumped sideways onto an elbow. Surprise crossed his face. "I think the door moved. Maybe she is home?"

"No, you're just sotted," he said, attempting to be kind.

Krum nodded slowly as if afraid his head would topple off. "I am. I became sotted vhen I became sad."

"Which was when exactly?"

"Several veeks ago."

Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "I don't suppose you're capable of Apparition, Mr. Krum?"

He nodded his head yes and slouched further toward the ground, before finally shaking his head no. "I do not think so."

Severus considered leaving the arse out in the cold. However, he worried about the legal repercussions for Hermione should such a well-known personage should expire from hypothermia on her doorstep so soon after their recent breakup. He sighed. There was nothing for it, then. "I'm not capable of carrying you, Mr. Krum, and you know I have no magic. You'll have to move under your own power, although I'll try to help." He saw the younger man blink up at him. His eyes blinked separately. "Mr. Krum, are you capable of walking back to my cottage?"

"Yesh, Professor." Gamely, Hermione's ex-boyfriend grasped at low-hanging branches on a nearby bush outside of her front door. Denuding the plant vigorously, he scrabbled to his knees before tangling himself in higher branches and pulling himself to his feet.

He was a swaying, scraggly mess, his clothes untucked and bits of leaves in his hair.

Snape picked up the man's left arm and tucked his right shoulder into Krum's armpit. "Now, walk."

It started relatively well, actually. The younger man could support his own weight and just needed a bit of guidance as to direction. However, the closer they got to the door, the more of the athlete's fifteen stone slumped onto Snape. His elephantine feet (Showily large, Snape fumed) began to drag until Krum's attempts to walk became more hindrance than help.

Snape started to pant. When that was insufficient, he started to sweat. When his heart began pounding, he considered dropping Krum, but the other man had his hands fisted in Snape's jacket. If only the fucking idiot with his enormous fucking feet were lighter, maybe he'd have actually made it to the door. They wouldn't be on the verge of sprawling on the ground. He wouldn't feel as if his heart were about to burst. If he were just lighter...

And then it happened again. Something popped beneath his sternum, and the leaden idiot was lighter. Much lighter. And Snape felt better. Much better. He could breathe again, and his sweat cooled and dried on his skin. He hiked Krum higher against his hip and dragged him the rest of the way into his house.

Snape stood on his doorstep breathing in the cold night air and admiring the stars when Hermione finally Apparated back to her house.

"I've got a package for you in my house," he called to her.

She turned to face him, hand still on her door handle. "Severus? What on earth are you still doing up at one o'clock in the morning?" Her eyes widened. "And wearing shorts in this cold?"

He crooked a finger at her. "Come get your package."

She looked at his bare legs and blushed. "Are you having me on? I thought we talked about this."

"Your ex-boyfriend is snoring on my divan, and I want him gone. I'd like it if you came to collect him." He turned and went into his house, trusting that she'd follow him. He hadn't missed Hermione's blush or the way she'd misinterpreted his request, but they could talk about that when he had one less drunken prat on his hands.

"Oh, Viktor," she sighed behind him. Krum was sprawled on his belly on Snape's divan, an arm and a leg dangling off, drool puddling on the cushion beneath his head. At the sound of her voice, the Quidditch player's eyes fluttered, and he smacked his lips.

"Ninny? Is that you?" He turned over and pushed himself up. "Vhere haff you been? Have you another man?"

Hermione's eyes flashed to Snape for a split second before she looked back at Krum. Snape's heart grew three sizes. She snapped, "Not that it's any of your business, but I was out with the girls."

"Ninny," he began earnestly and reached out to grab her hand. "Ninny, I am sorry for cheating on you with that other voman. I vas angry."

Hermione pulled her hand away. "Viktor, I won't talk about this with you when you're drunk. I deserve better, and I'm done accepting less."

"But you vill talk vit me? Please? Give me a chance to make this right."

"Viktor, you can't make this right. Everything about this was wrong. However, I will hear what you have to say," she held up a finger when he took a breath to interrupt, "but not now. Not when you're drunk, and not when it's the middle of the night, and we're standing in my… in my friend's house."

Snape's heart stuttered, and he wondered what she'd wanted to say.

"C'mon, you big idiot." She reached out and hauled him up, stumbling when he was far lighter than she expected. "What on earth?"

Snape reached out to steady her and said, "Yes, I'll need to talk to you about that when you have the time."

Hermione looked at him, her brown eyes enormous. "Did you do that?"

His eyes coasted over her slightly parted lips. He wanted to kiss that hopeful look off her face. "I did, but I couldn't cast a Finite to end it."

"Would it be ridiculous if I asked if I could come back tonight after I drop Viktor off?"

He smiled. "I'll make a pot of tea."

He was sitting at his table when Hermione blew into his kitchen like a hurricane, shedding her scarf and jacket on the worktop. "Unbelievable," she said. "Do you know, he had a different blonde tucked up naked in his bed while he was out disturbing my neighbors in the middle of the night?"

Snape shrugged, disinterested. "Did you expect different? He's already proven to be an arse. Also, you've been broken up for several weeks now."

"It's the principle of the thing," she sniffed.

Her heart wasn't really in the protest, he could tell. Indeed, her eyes were glowing with barely suppressed joy as she pulled out the chair next to his. He pushed the teapot and an empty cup over to her. "Now, tell me everything. What happened, Severus?"

"Krum was too heavy, and he wouldn't let go. I was trying to get him inside, but my heart was beating so hard. I kept saying to myself, 'If only he were lighter…,' and then suddenly, he was." He folded his hands carefully on the table. "Hermione, I think I've been casting accidental magic for several weeks now."

She sat back and examined his face in silence as she sipped her tea. Suddenly, she sat up. "The kitchen. The fire on the cooker."

Snape thanked his years as a spy which kept his face impassive. Otherwise, he knew he would be blushing. "Among others."

She nodded, and he watched her lick her lips. She had on a rosy lip gloss that made her mouth look wet and inviting.

"There's more, I think. I think that I've become healthier, as well. I can work longer and harder without resting. I didn't fall under Krum's weight. I can walk up and down my steps without panting." He ran a hand through his hair. "I just feel so much better."

She stared at him, glowing. "Gods, I don't know how I didn't notice how much healthier you've been looking. You've lost the yellow tint to your skin. I… I suppose I've been trying so hard not to look at you, I missed it."

He looked away. "It's all supposition right now, though. I'll have to get in to St. Mungo's and have Lofgren run some tests on me before we know anything for sure."

Hermione stood up and rubbed her face. "Good lord, I'm tired. I'll send an owl to Lofgren after I wake up in the morning. I'm to bed." She slid into her jacket and reached behind her neck to untuck her hair from her collar. She didn't bother wrapping the scarf; she just threw it over her shoulder.

Snape walked her to the door. When she stepped out onto his front step, she turned to face him, and he couldn't help but to reach out and pull her collar up, tucking it around her cheeks. He dragged a finger down her jaw and touched the corner of her mouth. Her lips parted, and she leaned toward him. "We can't. It's not good for us right now," Hermione whispered, but she kept leaning toward him, closer and closer and closer.

When their mouths were a few inches apart, he panicked, feeling they were about to lose their resolve, that he was about to lose his plan to stand up on his own two feet. It could ruin everything. So he mumbled, "I'm going to ask a female co-worker to have tea. Like a date."

Hermione reared back, the slumberous look in her eyes gone. "Oh. Oh. Well, that's…" She nodded. "Yes, that's wonderful, Snape. Good on you." She pulled back and stumbled off the step before collecting her dignity and straightening herself. "I am sad for me, but happy for you, Severus." The smile she gave him was not a steady thing at all. "It's enough for now. I promise."

He watched her walk away from him.

A/N: Sorry, guys. They have to hurt and get better before they can get together! I know it sucks, but for a healthy relationship, they have to grow into their own, or they'll have a twisted, co-dependent shadow of what they COULD have had. And (spoiler alert) I don't write non-HEAs. Soooo...

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