The Hogwarts Express wound its way through a country unmade by snow. Beyond its tracks, the familiar landmarks ticking off the miles from the school back to King’s Cross were lost in a flurry of white. But even if the sun had been present in full strength and the earth green until the horizon, Harry would have taken no notice of it. All he saw as he stared out the window was the scene he’d witnessed during Slughorn’s party. Snape. Malfoy. Shapes through a keyhole, voices rising. Proof of—well, something , he was sure.
He would have plenty of time to puzzle it out on his way to the Burrow. Hermione was sitting in the prefects’ carriage, and Harry had fled from Ron with a mumbled excuse the moment he and Lavender began cuddling. Thankfully, enough people had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays that Harry managed to snag an empty compartment. He leaned back, replaying the conversation in his mind, trying to clear all other thoughts away as if practicing Occlumency.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
Harry sat up with a jolt to see Luna beaming down at him. He was surprised to find that he didn’t mind at all, despite his preoccupation, and grinned back. “‘Course not. Take a seat.”
“You didn’t come back to the party,” she said, after finagling her luggage into the compartment.
It took him a moment to figure out what she was talking about. “Oh, hell, I’m sorry. I didn’t think—I wasn’t trying to leave you there.”
“That’s alright.” She looked over at him keenly, and he wondered for a moment if she saw something he didn’t. “It was nice. I’m glad we went together, even if we left separately.”
“Yeah, me too.”
They sat there for a moment in silence, but it was a companionable sort of quiet. Then Luna pressed on, in the unwavering tone she always used for difficult questions. “Why did you ask me, instead of someone you like? As—not friends, I mean.”
His thoughts flickered to Ginny. “The number of people I’ve liked as not friends is pretty minimal. Honestly, the number of people I like as friends isn’t too high these days either.”
“They’re still fighting?” Luna asked.
He didn’t have to wonder who she meant. “Yeah. They’re still fighting. Seems like that’s all that comes of...liking people as not friends.”
“Oh, it works out for well enough in the end for some. But I know what you mean. Most days, I’m quite glad that I don’t go in for romance.” Her tone was matter-of-fact as she fiddled with the buttons on her robe, which seemed to change color each time they were pressed.
“What, you don’t believe in it?” He’d have thought that love would be her sort of thing—invisible, omnipresent, indiscriminately wreaking havoc.
“I believe in it well enough, just not in my own life.” The buttons flickered from purple to green. “I’m aroace—that is, aromantic and asexual.”
She seemed to be expecting some sort of response, and Harry hurried to find one. “Err...right. What does that mean?”
“I’m not attracted to anyone, really, not in any of the usual ways,” Luna said, hands drifting from her robe to the seat beside her, where they tapped out an uneven rhythm.
“Not at all?” Harry was surprised, but it made sense, when he stopped to consider it. Luna had never been among the crowds who followed after one tournament champion or another two years back, and her enthusiastic celebration of any and all holidays didn’t seem to extend to February 14th. He certainly couldn’t picture her laying in wait for anyone under the mistletoe the way that his would-be admirers had for the last few weeks, unless it was to warn them about Nargles.
“No,” she answered, with a definitive shake of her head. “Although both asexuality and aromanticism are spectrums—some people still experience those sorts of attraction, but only on rare occasions, or in certain circumstances.”
“Like what?” Despite himself, Harry felt his concerns about Draco’s plans slipping from the forefront of his mind for the first time in months. Luna’s esoteric collection of knowledge was always distracting, but this seemed...different. More important, maybe, than most of her facts, not to mention more rooted in reality.
For her part, Luna seemed delighted to have an attentive audience. “Well, it varies, really. Grey-aromantic and grey-asexual are some of the most common terms used in those cases; I guess you could say they're a bit of a catch-all to describe other orientations on the two spectrums.”
Nodding slowly, Harry did his best to commit the words to memory. He was reminded, suddenly and sharply, of when Hermione had given him a crash course on bisexuality during his minor post-Yule Ball 'hang on, Cho and Cedric both looked stunning' crisis.
Pulling himself back to the present before his thoughts strayed towards darker memories of his fourth year, he realized that Luna had rattled off several more terms, and that if he didn’t jump back into the discussion now he would soon be utterly lost. “How did you know? I mean—sorry, not trying to be rude, it’s just—how can you tell when you don’t feel something if you don’t know what it feels like in the first place?”
She smiled, although it was a little fainter than usual, and Harry got the sense that this question had been posed to her before. “How does anyone know anything? I started to figure it out last year, although looking back there have been signs for a while now. I’ve never been particularly interested in songs or stories about romance or sex, not when there were hushed conspiracies or fantastic beasts to learn about. I remember when most of the D.A., all of my friends, started to be swept up by the people around them. You, too. And I...wasn’t. I thought I’d had crushes before—on Neville, on Ginny. But when I really considered it, all I wanted was to be friends with them. Now I am, and that’s wonderful, but it isn’t the sort of ideal relationship most people are searching for.”
“I don’t understand that,” she added, almost as an afterthought. “I spent most of my life dreaming of having friends like them. People say romantic love is something more, but the way I feel around all of you—it’s everything. There’s no more .”
At ‘all of you’, something seemed to settle in Harry’s heart, a note of pride or happiness. He thought for the first time about Luna’s childhood, and the loneliness it shared with his own. “I think I get it,” he said slowly. “I mean, I’ve had a couple crushes, but when I was actually seeing Cho—well, it wasn’t what I expected. I think I liked the idea of dating her more than I liked actually going out together. She’s beautiful, and she’s talented, but I’m pretty sure we’re both a lot happier now that it’s over and we’re back to just being Quidditch rivals.” He tried and failed not to recall his first disastrous kiss, or the discomfort he’d felt during their Hogsmeade date, or how quickly his ‘love’ seemed to fade. “And even before we broke things off, Ron and Hermione were still more important to me. I don’t see how they could—well, how they could let their friendship fall to the wayside just because of who the other one is or isn’t snogging.”
“I promise I’ll never abandon you for a romantic partner, Harry.”
He laughed, but it felt hollow, and he stopped when he saw the serious expression on her face. “Thanks, Luna. I promise the same. Maybe—maybe we could talk about this more after classes start up again? We could grab lunch. And if you have any, I don’t know, Quibbler articles or pamphlets on the subject, I think that I’d like to learn more about these ‘aroace spectrums’ of yours.”
Luna’s eyes lit up. “I’d be delighted.”
As the topic shifted to holiday plans, Luna’s never-still fingers traced a heart in the condensation on the window. Harry didn’t roll his eyes at the symbol the way he would have if it was drawn by anyone else. And when first Ron and Lavender, and later Hermione, stopped by the carriage to talk and check up on him, he knew that Luna was on to something. Whatever romantic love was, it wasn’t more important than this. Nothing was.
Not even finding out what the hell Malfoy was up to.