AUTHOR'S NOTE: J.K.R. owns Harry Potter. Same applies for every chapter.
***As you read this, please keep in mind that this is cannon Severus we are dealing with- NOT my often mushy version of him. This is the incredibly insecure man who is terrified of rejection and is rather emotionally damaged with little social skills or knowledge of relationships. He does not intend to hurt Hermione; that isn't the point. The entire point here is (as the POVs change) that they are both completely in love with each other, but they don't really know how to deal with it. Especially because, when it comes to Severus, sex and love are not mutually exclusive. For him, they just naturally go together.***
"My love, he makes me feel like nobody else, nobody else
But my love, he doesn't love me, so I tell myself, I tell myself
One: Don't pick up the phone
You know he's only callin' 'cause he's drunk and alone
Two: Don't let him in
You'll have to kick him out again
Three: Don't be his friend
You know you're gonna wake up in his bed in the morning
And if you're under him, you ain't gettin' over him
I got new rules, I count 'em…"
-Dua Lipa, "New Rules"
"Hermione, seriously… you have to stop this."
She didn't answer, even though the words hit her like the Knight Bus. She knew all of this already; she didn't need her friend spouting it back at her and making her think about it some more. No, there would be plenty of time for hating herself later. Right now, she needed to find a good shade of lipstick. Hmm… yes- ruby red was always nice against her dark skin.
But Ginny would not be deterred by the silence so she tried another approach, "You deserve better than… whatever the hell this is."
Hermione simply shrugged as she dusted some shimmer on her eyelids and drew a sharp black line along her lash line, "Maybe. But I'm taking what I can get and not inclined to complain at the moment."
Ginny's brows knit together as she pushed herself to her elbows on the bed, eyeing her friend's reflection from the mirror, "Hermione Granger, you shouldn't just be a quick, convenient shag for anyone, let alone someone drunk. You're not some Knockturn Alley whore who can be bought for a few galleons."
She paused, the mascara brush halfway to her eye. Her voice was smaller this time, "It really isn't like that."
"Oh?" Ginny asked airily. "Then why don't you tell me what it is like?"
"He's…" Hermione felt the panic and the hurt clawing their way to the surface and she desperately tamped them down to keep them hidden deep where no one could see them. "I don't think he's ready for a relationship right now." Her voice was barely a whisper and she staunchly refused to meet the other girl's eyes.
"You don't think or you don't know?"
She gave another guilty shrug. Gods damn it all, she really didn't want to talk about this now.
"Because of Harry's mum?"
"I mean… I don't think that's the only reason but it's probably part of it."
"Christ, Hermione!" She huffed in frustration. "You've shagged the man six times and you haven't even attempted to ask him about any of this? What the hell?"
"Ginny," Hermione said softly, "you cannot even begin to imagine how skittish he is about anything approaching 'emotional'. I swear to Merlin it would only take one sudden movement to scare him off like a deer. Can you see why I might have been a little reticent to bring it up?"
"Hermione," Ginny sighed, "if you think he doesn't want a relationship and he might still be hung on someone else- someone he has practically been obsessed with for over 20 years I might add- then why do you insist on sleeping with him every single time he gives you the opportunity? All of this just isn't like you."
She didn't want to hear this. She didn't want to know that other people saw it too. She didn't want to look so pathetic.
Hermione slumped against the vanity, fists clenching around the mascara tube.
Ginny's lovely green eyes widened, "Oh Gods. Don't tell me that you're… you dont..."
Her voice cracked, "I'm so fucked, Gin."
It was quiet for a moment before the redheaded witch spoke again, this time with harsh conviction. "No. Absolutely not."
Hermione looked up at her friend through the mirror.
"I'm not going to let you do this to yourself over that greasy git. I refuse. Not a chance in hell. No fucking way."
"It's too late for that now."
"It's never too late," Ginny said, moving to come help Hermione with her hair. "You just need to set some rules for yourself an eventually it will go away. But you have to actually stick to them for it to work."
She frowned in confusion, "Rules? Like what?"
Her friend was thoughtful for a moment as she twirled her wand around Hermione's curls, "One: don't answer his Floo calls or patronus. You know he only calls when one of you is drunk or he just wants some."
"Gin, that's not necessarily—"
"Two," she continued as if Hermione hadn't spoken. "Don't let him into your quarters or your house. You'll only have to kick him out again anyway and you really don't need that."
"Gin, I've never kicked—"
"Three," Ginny raised her voice. "Don't be his friend outside of work. You'll only end up in his bed by morning, as we have repeatedly seen."
"But Gin, we are frien—"
"Hermione," she stopped, staring her dead in the eyes as she spoke, "you are never going to get over him if you're always under him. They're antithetical concepts."
"Did you learn such a big word just to convince me to stay away from him? I'm flattered."
Ginny yanked rather hard on a strand of her hair, causing her to yelp.
"Alright, alright. I hear you, Ginny. I do. I just… I can't seem to help myself when it comes to him. I'm… I'm absolutely, completely, madly in lo—"
Her friend flicked her wand at Hermione's throat to silence her, "I am going to pretend that you weren't going to just say something so insane. Now, we are going to finishing getting dressed, look hot as hell, and go out to some club I heard about in Diagon Alley where we can just let loose because the men in our lives are fucking ridiculous and seriously don't deserve us. Do I make myself clear?"
Hermione could only nod in resignation… though she had a pretty good idea of where she would inevitably end up before the night was through anyway.
"I'm surprised to see you here, Severus. I was under the impression that you had a… standing appointment each Saturday evening."
Severus rolled his eyes, tipping the half-full glass of ridiculously expensive brandy to his lips, "No idea what you're talking about, Lucius. I assure you, I have nowhere else to be."
"Not until Hermione is plastered, that is," Draco quipped, gliding into the room like he owned the place, rather than his father. He took a seat beside the austere man in all black, flicking his wand towards the open decanter to procure a glass for himself. "I'd say Uncle Severus will be leaving us somewhere in the vicinity of 2 to 3 a.m., through the Floo in the library so we can't overhear his destination. Which will, inevitably, be either her bedroom or his own."
"Watch your tongue, you insolent little shit," Severus growled into his drink, contemplating whether or not to hex the boy in his father's company. Mmm… better not. Azkaban had softened his friend but not nearly enough for that.
Lucius snickered, "No need to verbally eviscerate him for speaking the truth, Severus. It's a little late to start denying it now after all."
"You've all lost your minds. The house arrest has finally done you in."
"Maybe," his friend shrugged, unconvinced. "Or maybe your witch has been divulging details to my son, who in turn has divulged them to me."
Severus choked on his brandy. No way; she wouldn't! "I… but… that isn't… what has she told you?!"
Lucius had the grace to bite back his laughter but Draco did nothing to hide his as the younger boy waved an elegant hand dismissively, "She hasn't given me any graphic details, if that's what you're worried about. I promise, Uncle, anything she's told me has been… innocuous. Depending on your definition of the word, of course."
His eyes narrowed in warning, anger flaring in his chest at the thought of anyone knowing the things they did when they were alone. He wasn't a prude by any means but the things he did with her… they were almost sacred. He didn't want to share them with anyone. Ever. "Draco…"
The boy grinned, clearly enjoying himself so much it set Severus' teeth on edge. "She may have mentioned that you are a very passionate kisser, with a penchant for leaving love bites that she has to glamour before her classes on Monday lest the students see. There may have been some talk of, how did she put it? Ah, yes: 'fingers so talented it was almost a waste to use them for Potions'. And I may have heard her say that you're an exceptionally gifted orator."
Severus' typically pale skin was burning scarlet in mortification, "She… she would never…"
Draco shrugged, "I might have accidentally ordered her a Babbling Beverage during one of our weekly lunches with just a tiny dose of Veritaserum on the side. She was being annoyingly tight-lipped about the whole thing."
In half a second, his godfather was on his feet with his wand pointed squarely between those steely gray eyes, "You drugged her?!"
Lucius came to put his hand on Severus' wand, slowly pushing it down until it was hanging back at his side, "Miss Granger realized almost immediately. She did not let Draco off lightly, I assure you."
Severus relaxed a fraction, just a hint of smug amusement touching his sharp features, "Ah, so that's why she kneed you in the crotch. Good. You deserved it for that."
The younger boy smirked, "It was worth it for the information I got."
He scowled at him again as he retook his seat in the leather armchair, "Leave her alone about, Draco. You two may be friends, but everyone knows that she is a very private person."
"Oh, I know. That's why I had to wait until she was completely pissed to ask her any more about it."
His expression darkened again.
"I have to admit," Draco continued, "I was rather surprised to hear of the way you've been shamelessly stringing her along, Uncle. I never thought you the type."
Severus' hand was already inching towards his wand again as he hissed, "I would never."
"No?" Draco sat forward, elbows on his knees as he stared at his godfather with a very serious expression. "Then why was she crying when she told me that?"
Severus visibly recoiled, pain lancing through his heart at the mere thought of Hermione being that upset over anything, let alone him, "I honestly have no idea."
Lucius interjected softly, "Have you made a point to tell her how you feel about her, Severus?"
"No, he hasn't," Draco answered, all amusement gone from his demeanor now. "And trust me, she's noticed."
He frowned, thinking back over their various encounters, "I… we have never really had the opportunity to discuss it."
The boy snorted, "By my count, you've have six opportunities so far."
Lucius sighed, "Even I must agree that you've waited an abnormally long time to discuss such things, Severus. Women are often much more sensitive to things like that, especially the younger ones who are less secure. Has she ever even been with someone older before?"
Draco answered again, though the question wasn't directed at him, "She's never been with anyone at all."
Severus' dark eyes widened in surprise, "I thought that she and Weasley—"
"And there was that Bulgarian, something Krum—"
"And surely all those rumors about her and Potter—"
Lucius nearly choked as Draco scoffed, "No."
He slumped back in his chair in shock, hand sliding over his face as the seriousness of the situation really hit him, "Fuck. I thought—"
Draco's eyes were flinty with anger now, "You took her virginity and yet you've never even told her that you like her, let alone anything more. What is she supposed to think? The way you treat her is no better than if she were a common whore."
The room was uncomfortably silent at that.
"She doesn't deserve this, Uncle. If you don't intend to build something with her, then for the love of all that's holy- break it off. End it before it hurts her any more. Because believe me, it already has."
And with that, Draco stalked out of the room- all traces of his playful mood gone as he slammed the door behind him.
"I… I really had no idea," Severus managed eventually, still reeling and utterly dumbfounded. How had he missed this? Was he truly so blind? He'd been a spy, for fuck's sake! How the hell had he missed something so crucial? "I swear to you, she has never said anything about wanting something more."
Lucius poured his friend a little more brandy, "After your trial, the way you felt for Lily Evans became public knowledge. Are you so surprised that the girl was waiting for you to make the first move? That she might be worried about your capacity to actually feel anything for anyone else?"
His answering glare was sharp, "I did make the first move, as you well remember."
He shook his head, long white-blond hair gleaming in the firelight, "An offer of physical intimacy is not the same as that of an emotional one."
Lucius brow lifted, "Since always- you've just been an oddity all these years. Most other men have no problem finding them mutually exclusive and women know it. Do you think she knows you well enough to realize that you don't feel that way?"
His heart twisted in his chest, "Probably not."
"Then perhaps…" His oldest friend sat forward, plucking the glass from his slender hands and shoving a Sober-Up into them instead. "…you should tell her."
"I'm not drunk…" He looked down at the tiny glass vial, his voice soft. "We never were."