The reason Hermione loved attending University was because she felt, for the first time in her life, she was surrounded by like minds. Fellow witches and wizards who were interested in studying magic in its many forms, dedicating themselves to knowledge and discovery. She was just one person among many and as such she could be easily lost in a crowd. Something that appealed to her greatly after the celebrity that had been thrust upon her after the war ended. These days more interest was given to Luna on campus due to her propensity for oddity and status in the exclusive Student Healer program.
Needless to say, Hermione dating Luna brought her some attention on campus but it was nothing terribly invasive or annoying. It was simply people stopping to stare and sometime whisper when they saw the two girls together. This usually occurred during the more frequent displays of affection on Luna's part. Displays that did embarrass Hermione but hardly enough for her to strongly discourage them. Especially when she considered the hurt it would cause the blonde and the loss she would feel at the sudden absence of such delicious kisses, even if they took place in the middle of the campus quad.
In general the lack of reaction to her romance rather shocked Hermione. The biggest reaction had come from Professor Ipson who had taken to teasing them in their research sessions, saying they lived a far sadder life than he did if they considered this an atmosphere to inspire romance. Of course, almost as soon as such teasing began his wife reprimanded him for it in some form during her daily owls. Hermione wasn't sure how his wife knew the Professor had taken to teasing them but Ipson intoned gravely that he suspected legilimency. While Hermione suspected this was a bit of humor on his part, it could be possible considering Evelyn Ipson's position as a high ranking detective in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
She was certain it was the lack of reaction, the absence of recriminations and blame, that caused her to expect the worst when she saw Harry standing outside her lecture hall for Creative Spellcasting. It was then that the attention, the whispers, the looks, that Hermione feared finally took place but she wasn't the reason behind them and neither was Luna. Instead it was the perpetual celebrity of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, the vanquisher of Voldemort, who ignored them with a minor grimace and a tilt of his messy brown head.
"Come with me?" he asked in a soft request. One that Hermione couldn't possibly refuse. Not when it was her oldest friend asking.
Taking his hand in a sign of acquiesce, Hermione walked with Harry, far from the gathering crowd outside the lecture hall. They set an aimless pace until Harry abruptly stopped at a stone bench in a particularly empty portion of the University. Despite Hermione's fondness for it, not many held an interest in Ancient Runes. Thus leaving its department gloriously empty. It was the perfect spot, meant for privacy and serious discussions, which is what Hermione suspected was about to happen as she considered the slight furrowing of Harry's brow as he looked at her.
He sat on the bench and peered at her with solemn green eyes and Hermione swallowed convulsively, unsure what to expect. Then Harry reached for her hand again, lacing their fingers together and tugging her forward until she stood in front of him. "You've always been at my side, almost from the very start," he said this quietly, his tones introspective. "It was a constant for me, having your friendship. Yours and Ron's." Hermione opened her mouth to interject but Harry cut her off gently, "Please let me finish." When Hermione nodded almost imperceptibly he smiled and continued, "I know why you felt that you couldn't speak to me about what's gone on. It was perfectly logical, after all. Perfectly Hermione," Harry said this fondly, a small smile on his lips. "You didn't want me to have to choose, to take sides between my best friends because you knew this could have turned out so much worse than it has. Far worse than those simple rows that you and Ron have had throughout the years."
"I would hardly call them simple," Hermione huffed indignantly, thinking back to all of those arguments quite sourly.
Chuckling in agreement, Harry said, "All the same, that was your intention and I understand that. I understand why you felt you couldn't speak with me about what was going on between you and Ron. But Hermione," Harry said her name so quietly, so intensely, that she felt startled by it. "I hate that you did. Just like you've been there for me from almost the very start I want to do the same for you. I know you thought you would put me in a difficult situation and maybe that's true but it wouldn't have mattered, not in the least, not if it meant I was helping one of my best friends."
"Oh Harry," Hermione said his name in a choked sob.
Harry looked startled at her reaction, a guilty flush seizing his features as this was the last thing he had wanted to do, he hated it when Hermione cried, he simply hated it. He just wanted her to know how important she was to him, that he was there for her always, no matter the circumstance. Releasing a soothing murmur, Harry reached out to cup her cheek, brushing the some of the falling tears away with his thumb. He began to speak again, to apologize for making her cry in some vague attempt to stop the tears but Harry found himself silenced by the sound of footsteps and a light voice announcing another presence.
"You've made Hermione cry," Luna's tones were clear and held a distinct tinge of unhappy accusation.
The two friends turned to the blonde who wore a faint frown on her features, her blue eyes dark as she moved quickly forward, displacing Harry as she took his place in front of Hermione. The older girl shook her head and sighed at Luna's blissfully cool touch as she wiped the tears away before moving in to lightly kiss the streaking path of the few that remained. Luna's breath was sweet and warm on her skin as she pulled back to observe Hermione with concern. Her voice husky and rough from crying, Hermione said, "Harry hasn't done anything wrong, Luna. He was just…" She trailed off, unsure how to explain their conversation.
"I was just making sure she knows that I'm her friend no matter what should happen," offered Harry, seeming more bemused than irritated or upset at Luna's interruption and somewhat hostile response to his presence.
Luna's attention remaining solely fixed on Hermione, her expression serious and searching, as if looking for the truth of Harry's words in Hermione's features, the brunette found herself frozen by the intensity of the other girl, the depth of caring in those eyes, the importance of the silent question they held. Giving the smallest nod of her head, one so subtle that even the increasingly worried Harry didn't notice, Hermione watched Luna form a smile of relief and perhaps a bit of approval. With that Luna moved in for a light and loving kiss before she turned to Harry, lacing her fingers with Hermione's as her voice returned to its formerly dreamy and relaxed state, "Hermione is clever but not when it comes to knowing how very precious she is to others."
"Luna!" exclaimed Hermione, an embarrassed blush covering her features. When the blonde looked at her with a look of calm satisfaction, Hermione groaned and shook her head, not wanting to look at Harry whom she already heard laughing quietly.
"I've embarrassed Hermione again," Luna observed and she directed her words to Harry whose eyes twinkled with amusement. "It's quite easy to tell when it happens. Her blush is a shade lighter than when she's terribly upset which is rather like the color of a fresh autumn apple."
Deciding that it was useless to try and protest the blonde revealing more tease worthy information about her, Hermione simply released a soft groan and pinched her nose with her index finger and thumb, trying to prevent the headache she knew was already forming. Watching his friend with a fond chuckle, Harry remarked, "Ginny was right. It is a lark seeing you two together. Rather strange but a lark all the same."
"I do think that's apt," said Luna, sounding extraordinarily pleased at this description of their relationship.
"Hermione," Harry looked to his friend who opened her eyes but continued to pinch her nose in an effort to hold off the headache. "Have either of you made plans for tonight? Ginny has a match against Puddlemere United late this afternoon but she was wanting the four of us to share a late supper together."
Blinking dumbly as she realized that Ginny, and Harry essentially, were asking to her and Luna to go on a double date with them, Hermione took a few seconds to get over the slight amount of shock this caused before she agreed with a shy smile of happiness. One that didn't go unnoticed by Luna as she watched the hand that had been pinching the brunette's nose to prevent a headache suddenly fall as her features became entirely stress free.
"Grand," said Harry as he smiled widely, appearing greatly pleased that she agreed. Hermione vaguely wondered if Ginny had threatened him with anything should she happen to say no. Certainly she wouldn't put it put it past the redhead. Harry turned his focus to Luna and said, "Ginny was wanting you to pick the restaurant Luna, she's still raving about the last place you recommended, says she'd ruin her figure from eating there so often if it wasn't for playing Quidditch."
"I wouldn't want that," murmured Luna who now looked entirely worried. "Ginny has such a splendid figure, she's marvelously curved."
It was Harry's turn to blink dumbly as Hermione wondered if perhaps there wasn't a bit more to Luna's relationship with Ginny at Hogwarts, despite what the blonde did or didn't tell her. Though not enough to warrant paying it any attention at their supper tonight.
Though the match against Puddlemere United lasted five hours and the Harpies only won by a ten point margin, Ginny had a fantastic amount of energy as they arrived in the city of Buea in Cameroon. The air was thick and humid outside a seaside restaurant called Le Boj. It was one of the few establishments in the region that was hidden from the eyes of Muggles according to Luna. She heard about it from a fellow Student Healer, Saad Nwosu, who grew up in the more populated Littoral province of Cameroon. Apparently he referred to the quality of the food enough to necessitate a visit in Luna's opinion.
"Hot, isn't it?" Ginny remarked, bouncing on her heels to peer over Luna and Hermione's heads, looking to see if any of the restaurant staff had taken notice of their newest patrons waiting to be seated. When she felt Harry's hand at the small of her back she dropped back down to her feet and shot him a wry grin. "I'm still wound up over that last shot. It was marvelous, wasn't it?"
"The best example of the Woollongong Shimmy I've ever seen," said Harry with unmistakable pride. "When you make it to the World Cup you'll be able to show the Australians how it's meant to be done."
Following after Luna who had just finished a brief conversation with the restaurant host, Hermione looked over her shoulder at Ginny. "Frankly I'm surprised you were able to come out at all tonight, Ginny," she said. "I would have been exhausted should I have been in your place."
"Invigoration Draught does wonders when you combine it with the thrill of finally winning a match," replied Ginny, who even managed settle herself in a chair enthusiastically. Forming a playful smile, she leaned across the table and said, "Now if we had lost, I'd be in a heap somewhere on the floor. Especially after Coach got through with me. He can lecture with the best of them. I'd wager he'd give Mum a bit of competition."
"Wotcher think you are, Weasley? A Quidditch player or a Puffskein? You fly low and wobbly like you're onna Comet 140 not a Twigger 99," Luna grumbled, sounding nothing like herself and causing Hermione to look at her with a startled expression while an astounded look formed on Harry's features. Ginny in the meantime, burst out laughing. A pleased smile tugged at her lips and Luna was once again herself, her voice airy and amused as she said, "Is it accurate?"
"Frighteningly so," said Ginny, laughter still evident in her tones. "You do a bang on impression of Coach. Especially after only meeting him once."
Hermione wanted to ask how Luna had met Tavis Twickenham, the infamously cantankerous Coach of the Holyhead Harpies and, according to Ron, the only man who ever successfully coach six Quidditch World Cup winning teams. She wanted to ask until she recalled with sudden sharp intensity and something of a jealous streak as well, the relationship that Luna had with another member of the Harpies, fellow Hogwarts graduate Katie Bell. No doubt Luna had met Twickenham during her relationship with Katie who was also a Chaser on the team. Thinking back to another conversation, Hermione wondered if the other girl was still depressed over her break up with Luna. Though she was curious it wasn't anything she was willing to state aloud, at least right now.
Their waiter soon arrived and the group bowed to Luna's superior knowledge, allowing her to order for them. A few minutes later they were drinking the spicy sweet ginger juice drinks the blonde ordered and munching on some fried ripe plantain appetizers. Luna was particularly fond of the sticky carmalization of the dish and as she finished off her second plantain, a bit of the substance remaining on the left corner of her mouth, something Hermione found absurdly adorable. An affectionate look on her features, Hermione reached out to the younger girl, gently wiping the remaining plantain away and releasing a soft sound of surprise as Luna caught her wrist in a light hold, stilling its movement. Blue eyes, playful but filled desire, locked with Hermione's and then she found the fingers she had removed the plantain with were surrounded by the warmth of Luna's mouth. She allowed herself to get lost in the sensations and the warm glow in the younger girl's eyes before her always logical mind took note of the fact they were hardly alone at the table. Her gaze darted nervously to Ginny and Harry, the former looking greatly entertained and the latter embarrassed as if he had caught his parents doing some carnal act.
Flushing dark red, Hermione's fingers flew from Luna's mouth and she started to stammer an apology that was cut off by a good humored Ginny. "I won't hear a word of it," she drawled. "It would be criminal for you to apologize for something that fascinating to watch. I particularly enjoyed how flummoxed it made my normally unflappable Auror." Ginny grinned at Harry who was almost as red as Hermione at this point. Chuckling softly as she looked at the two friends, Ginny turned her attention to Luna and said, "Don't you ever wonder how it is we ended up with such very polite people? It's against our nature, wouldn't you say?"
"Perhaps because Harry and Hermione are ever so charming in their politeness?" responded Luna guilelessly.
"Perhaps," Ginny allowed, tasting the word with a jaunty grin, tilting her head to one side.
Observing the look of amusement the younger girls wore, Hermione's eyes narrowed and she looked to Harry, saying rather dryly, "They enjoy tormenting us together, Harry. I think I'm starting to miss Ron."
"Three against one," said Harry wisely, realizing it was Ron's support in Ginny's merciless teasing that Hermione missed, not the romantic aspect of her relationship with him. When Ron was around, such blatant teasing didn't take place, just the more subtle kind which was remarkably less irritating.
"In this matter, two against two is hardly fair," said Hermione in droll tones.
"I agree entirely," Harry said, nodding his head seriously and wearing a solemn expression though his green eyes held a soft glow to them that detracted from the grave appearance he was putting on.
Releasing an unladylike snort, Ginny looked to Luna and said, "If they're speaking of missing Ron than we have surely upset their polite sensibilities, Luna. Best we stop while we're ahead and can still manage a romantic evening."
"Romance is always preferred," said Luna lightly, turning to Hermione and pushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear, her hand lingering on the brunette's cheek, stroking it in a soft caress. "Especially when it concerns Hermione."
"Luna," Hermione sighed her name more than said it but all the same, there was a definite warning to her voice, one that the blonde couldn't mistake. Which is why she dropped her hand down, entwining her fingers with Hermione's underneath the table, looking satisfied when the older girl's posture relaxed noticeably. A shy smile on her features and a tinge of embarrassment still present, Hermione looked to Harry and asked, "How is your work progressing?"
An eagerness filling his gaze, Harry excitedly began speaking with Hermione about the challenges present in the Auror's Office. Soon the two friends were deep in conversation about the current state of the Ministry and the plans Kingsley Shacklebolt had for the future, debating the outcomes many of his decisions would have on the general wizarding populous. Ginny and Luna indulged their partners with respective fondness, occasionally adding their own opinions on the situation and there were a great many times when the airy though brutally honest remarks from Luna caused Hermione to beam in approval. Perhaps it was the blonde's effervescent and easy nature that caused her to lose sight of how very intelligent Luna was.
Though in moments like these, when they were entrenched in serious discussion, it was plainly evident, enough to make Hermione swell with pride. Why she felt that way baffled Hermione. After all, it wasn't as if she could take credit for Luna's intelligence, it came completely from the younger girl. Still, that pride was there and it was very much evident on her features as Luna explained to Harry why she felt there wasn't anything to be gained from searching for dark wizards so openly, that it was far more effective, if not more boring to use subterfuge to find them out.
In middle of their discussion, the food arrived and Ginny enthusiastically dug into her Brochettes a la Camerounaise, dish that featured large chunks of beef, onions, green peppers, and tomatoes grilled and sauced to delicate perfection on long skewers. The less hungry Hermione tasted her Kwepme soup with delicate sensibility. While she enjoyed most of the suggestions that Luna made in terms of the more exotic food choices they didn't always agree with her. It was fortunate this was not one of these times and she took another sip of the soup, enjoying the taste of the ginger root and garlic when combined with the side of manioc stick.
Feeling much like Hermione in his need for a light meal, Harry munched on his Avocado With Seafood salad, carefully eating from the hollowed out avocados the salad was placed in, enjoying the mix of crab and lobster with the mace and lemon juice. Luna looked immensely pleased with the Meduame-M-bong she ordered, eating with almost as much speed as Ginny, chewing happily on the cassava tubers and the fish with green leaves. The conversation slowed while they ate and when they finished, Ginny appeared tired for the first moment that night, and Hermione noticed Luna gazing at the small dance floor of the restaurant with a longing look on her features.
Feeling encouraged by the presence of a few other couples on the dance floor, Hermione rose to her feet and proffered her hand to Luna who looked up at her in confusion. A smile tugging at her lips and feeling irrationally pleased at the idea of surprising the blonde for once, Hermione murmured, "Have a dance?"
"Yes," Luna breathed, accepting Hermione's hand with a brilliant smile. The two made their way out onto the dance floor, Hermione pulling the younger girl close to her with an outward calm authority that was nothing close to a reflection to how she really felt. Inside her heart was in her throat and her stomach was filled with butterflies, it was slightly sickening but an oddly pleasant sensation at the same time. Vaguely she realized this was anticipation but of what Hermione wasn't at all sure. Her body pressed against the blonde's, her hands wrapping around a delicate waist as Luna moved closer, tucking her head into the crook of Hermione's neck, her breath warm on her skin as she spoke. "This is my favorite pastime."
"Dancing?" asked Hermione, feeling a good deal of curiosity. She guessed from their previous experience that the blonde enjoyed dancing but she hadn't thought she was that taken with it.
Shaking her head slightly and looking up into Hermione's eyes, Luna corrected kindly, "Being close to Hermione."
"Oh," Hermione replied, unable to say anything else. She blushed a bit then considered Luna's look of fond indulgence for a moment. "You're having fun with me again," she accused, her eyes narrowing, though she didn't feel as much annoyance as she usually did on discovering this.
"A little," admitted Luna, a wisp of a smile on her features, a look of infinitesimal happiness on her features as she moved in for a kiss. It was the merest pressing of lips, a reaffirmation of affection rather than a declaration of desire in a place all too public, and somehow it soothed Hermione to receive it. "But that doesn't make it any less true."
Looking into Luna's eyes and seeing the honesty there, something that couldn't be created, not with any spell, Hermione believed in these words absolutely and suddenly she discovered she felt much the same. That being with Luna had become her favorite pastime, being close with her like this, their bodies separated only by the thin layers of clothing, but their hearts and minds in precisely the same place. In that moment, it no longer mattered where they were nor the teasing she would surely endure from Ginny and perhaps even from Harry, all that mattered was that need to be close with Luna that had desperately overtaken her.
When Hermione lowered her head, capturing Luna's lips for another kiss, it was far more passionate than the last. It was more than just a press of lips, it was an expression of pure emotion, causing the blonde to rise eagerly in her arms as she opened her mouth, allowing Hermione's tongue to sweep inside and taste her deep. They were lost in the embrace, in the sight, the smell, the sensation of one another, Luna's hands tangling in Hermione's curly hair and it was because they were lost that the brunette almost didn't notice a bright flash out of the corner of her eye.
Pulling away from Luna, she searched the restaurant for the origin of that flash but found nothing but other patrons happily enjoying their meals and the massively entertained Ginny and nervously avoidant Harry. A slight frown marring her features, Hermione was distracted by Luna cupping her cheek and gently refocusing her attention. Blue eyes were filled with a knowing concern as Luna asked, "What is it?"
"Nothing," said Hermione automatically. When Luna continued to look at her in that enigmatic manner, telling Hermione without any words she knew that wasn't the truth of the matter, she sighed and continued, "I thought I saw a flash but I haven't the slightest clue of what it was." Looking at Luna who gazed at her steadily with such patience and caring, Hermione found herself stroking the back of the blonde's cheek with her fingers, delighting in the softness of her skin and the way the younger girl shivered at her touch. "It doesn't matter. I'm positive it was nothing of importance." Flashing a bright smile, Hermione asked, "Have another dance?"
The next day Hermione was strangely reminded of the days just after the war ended. How all the eyes in the wizarding world seemed to follow Harry Potter and his friends everywhere they went. Endless stories were told about their bravery as they battled Voldemort and Hermione herself had to deal with an article being written about her Muggle heritage and how she cast the memory modification charm to keep her parents safe from the Dark Lord's clutches. As she apparated onto the campus grounds and made her way to Theoretical Arithmancy she had that same feeling of being watched with unrestrained interest. Nothing hostile but intrusive all the same, much like gawkers standing on the side of the road of a horrible automobile accident.
Frowning but thinking she had to be mistaken, Hermione made her way to class, but the stares continued to follow her. Even once she entered the lecture hall and took her seat amongst a hundred or so fellow students. All of their eyes seemed to be on her and Hermione couldn't shake the persistent feeling of being watched and it put her on edge, enough that she was considering disapparating back to her flat and returning to campus later that evening for her work with Professor Ipson. She was preparing to do just that when she heard her name called and she turned to see Su Li winding her way through more staring eyes with a paper in her hand.
"Su," Hermione said her name in a weary greeting. "I was just thinking of leaving. I have this odd feeling--"
"You ought to read this," interrupted Su breathlessly, thrusting a copy of the Daily Prophet at Hermione who took it with a frown. "I've been trying to find you on campus ever since I first read it. Why do you suppose she's writing about you again? She's left you alone since the Triwizard Tournament."
No longer listening to her friend's words, Hermione focused on the parchment in front of her and the egotistical smirk of Rita Skeeter. It had been several years since her interaction with the reporter and since then she wormed her way back into publishing and Hermione had yet to find the heart to report her to the reformed Ministry for her activities as an unregistered Animagus. Gazing at the article before her and the picture of its author featured next to it Hermione had an intense desire to change that fact immediately.
It was complete and utter rubbish, as it always was, an epic tale of Hermione's infidelity towards Ron and her affair with Luna, caught by the astounded eyes of Harry and Ginny in a scandalous tavern in the darkest regions of Africa, where only such a forbidden love could exist.
She was certain anyone who knew her in the smallest degree would recognize it for the lies that it was but what truly bothered Hermione, more than anything else, was the photograph the article featured. One of her and Luna on the small dance floor of Le Boj, entrenched in a fervent embrace, utterly ignoring the outside world. Lost in their own love, their own lust, which had now been exposed for the entire wizarding world to see.
A definite tick forming in her jaw, Hermione crumpled the parchment in her hands, not saying a word to Su before she disapparated off campus.