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Crazy Little Things

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Hermione loved school. So it was hardly any surprise that after the defeat of Voldemort, as the wizarding world slowly but surely returned to a semblance of normality, she began attending it once again. Before his death she had spoken once with Dumbledore about her graduation from Hogwarts and what she would do after and Hermione found herself truly baffled by the question. She had no idea what was after, her mind was always concentrated on the here and now, her love of learning and of the school. And Dumbledore smiled kindly and suggested that perhaps that was the answer, that she continue with her studies and one day teach others.

Entrance into the University of Magical Studies and Theory in London was normally quite the difficult task as it was only able to take on so many students each year. Hermione herself had applied late because of the problems resulting from the battle with Voldemort but it seemed as if as soon as she owled in her application with the five galleon fee she received an owl promptly back informing her that she was accepted.

Ron thought her quite mad for wanting to attend school further but Hermione was ecstatic at the idea of being able to study at a higher level, to be able to research, read, and most importantly learn, about so many things that interested her in the wizarding world. To perhaps help find her place in that world through her studies.

And so, Hermione happily settled into the life of a student at University, making friends more easily and quickly there than she had anywhere else in her life. Perhaps because for the first time she was surrounded by people like her, those who loved the process of learning, the questioning and the final pursuit of answers. Or as Ron would say, she had finally found people more barmy than her for school.

It was her sophomore year at University and Hermione had been in the library studying Ancient Runes when Luna Lovegood first approached her. One moment she was reading page 1,007 of her textbook with the utmost interest and the next she heard a soft sigh and felt the warm exhale of breath on her neck and her name murmured softly. Whirling around, she was met with the sight of Luna wearing a dreamy expression, her eyes half closed, as she pulled her face away from Hermione's curly head of hair.

"Luna!" Hermione exclaimed, instinctively grabbing her hair and pulling it over one shoulder, far from the blonde and her nose. She heard a sharp shushing noise from a fellow student and noticed several interested stares and she blushed heavily, lowering her voice significantly as she said, "What are you doing here?"

"The nose knows," replied Luna, her voice airy. Her hand floated forward and her fingertips were able to lightly caress Hermione's hair before the older girl hurriedly scooted backwards and away from her touch.

"The nose knows what?" questioned Hermione irritably. Honestly, it was things like this that made her dislike dealing with Luna. Those odd moments of utter and frank honesty the blonde had never applied to Hermione. Instead she got nothing but mysterious phrasings and ridiculous theories. And now, apparently, hair sniffing.

"I’m here to study, of course," said Luna, deciding for whatever reason to answer Hermione’s first question.

For the first time since their odd conversation began, Hermione focused on the pile of books in front of Luna. They were various magical medical texts and Hermione frowned ever so slightly, looking at the girl with a bit of disbelief. "You’re a Student Healer?" Hermione did her best to keep the surprise out of her voice but it was difficult. Simply put, the Student Healer program was perhaps the most difficult to enter in the University, it had the smallest number of openings, and the heads of the program were a bit pompous in their need to keep it considered the best in the wizarding world. For some time they had tried to recruit Hermione but she refused, finding far more interest in the subject of Ancient Runes. Though, now that she thought about it, Luna had been in Ravenclaw at Hogwarts. And one didn’t exactly get into that house for having a pretty face. Intelligence mattered most there. "I never knew you wanted to be a healer."

"You never asked," said Luna simply. Before Hermione had the chance to frown at this statement, Luna continued kindly, "No one asked, now that I think of it. Not even Father." Her eyes drifted back to Hermione and she formed a gentle smile. "I think we could all do with a bit of healing after what we’ve gone through, don’t you?"

"Yes," Hermione found an unbidden smile tugging at her lips, unable to help the reaction on hearing Luna’s words. Just because the blonde was so very right in what she said. "I do think you’re correct in that."

"I’m correct in many things," murmured Luna, a playful tone in her voice. "At times." She moved her gaze from Hermione to her textbook and she questioned, "Are you studying Ancient Runes, then?"

Following Luna’s gaze, Hermione released a combination chuckle and exasperated sigh. "Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, Spells, Transfiguration, I could go on and on, I’m afraid," said Hermione rather wryly. "I’m not quite sure what I want to study and so I seem to be studying a bit of everything in the meanwhile. I’m not sure how productive it is, however. I really ought to just pick something and be done with it."

"Well," said Luna thoughtfully, tilting her head to one side. "What do you want to do when you’re done with University?" When Hermione flushed at these words, Luna continued, "Or do you want to be done with it?"

"I want to teach," said Hermione, muttering the words a bit, afraid to really speak them because she had gotten so used to all of the teasing she received from Ron whenever she mentioned her ultimate goal from all of this education. He thought her dream was a silly one and couldn’t understand why, with all of her intelligence, she would want to do something he considered relatively simple.

"At Hogwarts?" Luna offered with a knowing smile. Hermione looked to the other girl, her eyes wide as the blonde wore a dreamy expression and said softly, "I think that would be lovely. I’d like to go back there someday as well. I think Madam Pomfrey could do with an assistant." She looked to Hermione and continued, "Don’t you?"

"You don’t think it’s silly then?" Hermione found herself saying the words before she could really help herself. Perhaps because it was the first time someone she had known as a child, who had been at Hogwarts with her, didn’t think what she wanted was somehow beneath her. That they didn’t consider her simply lost in her direction for the future and saw her goal as moving backwards. "Me wanting to teach at Hogwarts?"

"Not at all," said Luna, shaking her head, a wisp of a smile on her features. She reached up to push a stray lock of white gold hair from her eyes and murmured, "Although I do think you’ll first have to pick a subject of study here before you can teach there. I’m not sure they would let you teach a bit of everything. But then again," Luna paused, a teasing light in her eyes. "Professor McGonagall did favor you. Perhaps you could be their all purpose substitute Professor when someone is ill?"

Scowling playfully at this, Hermione accused, "You’re having fun with me."

"A bit," admitted Luna, tilting her head to one side. "I do think it’s a fine goal though. Not silly in the least."

Once again, Hermione found herself speaking before she could think over her words and murmured, "Ron doesn’t agree."

"Ron?" Luna questioned, her voice lost and sounding faraway despite the fact she was sitting right next to Hermione. "He smells of the outdoors, dirt and green things, rough and rash," she quietly mused, her blue eyes fixed away from Hermione. When they settled back on the brunette, she studied the older girl intently. Very much like she was an interesting puzzle one needed to solve. "You smell of the indoors, parchment and quill, slow and steady, but," a tiny grin quirked on Luna’s lips, "also rash at times."

"What are you--?" Hermione began, utterly perplexed.

"I should be going," interrupted Luna gently, rising to her feet and gathering up her books. "Ron doesn’t agree because he doesn’t understand and perhaps he never will if he doesn’t try." Turning on her heel, she murmured, "But the nose knows."

"The nose knows what? That’s the second time you’ve said that," said Hermione, sounding utterly frustrated as she rose to her feet and prepared to walk after Luna simply to get the answer to that altogether annoying statement.

"Your smells are different," said Luna simply, looking over her shoulder at the brunette before walking away.

Staring after Luna for several moments, Hermione eventually let out a sigh and sunk back into her seat, staring at her book rather than return to reading it. Just because she couldn’t possibly concentrate after hearing such an odd and vague statement as that. Of course she and Ron smelled different, they were different people, a man and a woman, it was natural they had different smells! That was something anyone would know, even Luna Lovegood, so what in the world was the purpose of her saying that?

A half an hour passed in the library with her mulling over what Luna had said until Hermione decided there was no point in it. She would never be able to figure out what Luna meant on her own and if it really bothered her that much she’d simply ask her what she meant the next time she saw her, that was all.

Because Hermione, unlike Ron, very much wanted to try and understand.

---

Three days later Hermione saw Luna lying underneath a large oak tree on campus, a textbook on magical healing herbs of India covering her face, and her pale green Student Healer robes folded underneath her head like a pillow. Hermione stood next to where Luna rested, simply staring down at her, maybe waiting for her to wake up. When nothing immediately happened she found herself sitting down next to her, leaning back against the oak tree and reaching into her satchel to retrieve her Arithmancy textbook.

She had settled into the seventieth chapter when she heard a sleepy yawn and Luna’s hands moved from where they had been neatly folded over her stomach. Her right arm bumped into Hermione’s side as she stretched and remained still for a moment before her fingers gingerly pressed down onto the brunette’s thigh, testing if she was really there. Then Luna’s hand moved up to push her textbook from her eyes and her blue eyes peered sleepily up at Hermione though they had a shine of happy recognition.

"Hermione," said Luna, her voice muffled from the book still covering her mouth. Hermione wanted to be annoyed by the fact she could barely hear the other girl but instead she couldn’t help but find it oddly charming. Perhaps it was because of the way Luna’s blue eyes were sparkling at her.

"Luna," Hermione greeted, placing her book back in her satchel. When she turned back to the blonde, she questioned, "Do you always sleep in the outdoors? You realize it isn’t the safest thing."

"I lay down to do some reading," Luna explained, pushing the book down to rest on her chest, smiling up at Hermione. "But the sun was warm and nice that I began to feel tired and so I decided to take a nap. It’s all right," she said, speaking as if she was confiding something terribly important. "The nargles wouldn’t dare take anything from me on this campus. They rather hate advanced studies."

"Nargles," repeated Hermione, she debated a for a moment on whether or not to argue with the other girl about the validity of the existence of the creatures but in the end settled for heaving a sigh. She looked off in the distance, absently waving back to one of her friends as she passed by and trying her best to sound casual, she asked, "What did you mean when you said Ron and I smelled different?"

"Just that," said Luna matter of factly, peering up at Hermione.

"But what did you really mean?" Hermione persisted, refusing to believe it was that simple. "I mean, of course Ron and I smell different, anyone could tell that. He’s a man, I’m a woman, and we’re not the same person, of course we smell different. So you must have meant something other than just that when you said it."

"Some smells don’t always go well together," said Luna distantly. Before Hermione could question her further, she pushed herself into a sitting position and leaned closer to the brunette, putting their faces just centimeters apart. Her gaze so solemn that Hermione couldn't help the reflexive and rather nervous swallow she gave at this attention. Just because she couldn't recall the last time someone had looked at her that way. Focused and fierce and completely fixated on her. Looking at her like she was the most amazing spell ever cast. It made her feel special just as much as nervous. But as soon as she acknowledged these feelings, Hermione buried them under a mountain of irritation. She was about to scowl and request Luna put some distance between them when the blonde pulled away, rising to her feet and smiling softly as she offered her hand and said, "I’m hungry. Would you like to have lunch with me? I’ve heard the pudding is quite good."

Gazing up into warm blue eyes and losing herself the more she looked into them, Hermione’s hand seemed to move all on its own as it slipped into Luna’s and remained there as they walked into the University dining hall.

---

The one thing that Hermione truly loved about attending University is the fact that she rarely had the feeling her fellow students looked down on her for the knowledge she possessed and the amount she studied. That wasn’t to say she had a perfect University experience. There was a great deal of jealousy and even a good measure of back stabbing when one studied at the professional level. One always wants to out perform the other and to achieve that some students went to rather extreme measures. Hermione, however, simply studied. She studied long and hard and with devotion but nevertheless, she only studied. And yet, with only studying she placed top in her class time and time again, leading her to be the figure of both admiration and envy.

Those who envied her and her scores that had a spiteful side took great pleasure in pointing out the fact her University robes were black with green piping around the collar and sleeves. Green being the signifying color for someone who had an undecided major. This was entirely different than the light green robes Luna wore as a Student Healer. As the Student Healer program was so prestigious, coupled with the fact that Student Healers spent a good deal of their time on internships practicing their art, they had the distinct honor of having robes completely unique to their major in order to identify them easily. The rest of the University students separated themselves by the piping around the collars and sleeves of their black robes.

Being an undecided major at University was considered, in polite conversation mind you, to be quite sad with a good deal of the population on campus. Which is why those who felt rather spiteful at Hermione’s persistent good marks and favor with the Professors took pleasure in reminding her that was where she currently resided. It never bothered Hermione but after hearing a snide remark at the end of her Creative Spellcasting lecture from one of the other students about the amount of her participation, she found herself thinking back to Hogwarts. She had received far worse as a child than at University in terms of people resenting her academic performance but it never bothered her then either. Most certainly because she had Ron and Harry there with her and they deflected so much of that resentment that it never quite seemed to touch her. But it wasn’t the same for Luna, was it?

Of course, it wasn’t Luna’s intelligence that caused her torment as a child but instead her odd behavior. She recalled the story Harry told her about the students in Ravenclaw hiding all of Luna’s possessions and her calm search for them at the end of the year. It had shocked her at the time because somehow she had always thought Ravenclaw to be above that sort of bullying and she had wanted to go straightaway to yell at the first Ravenclaw who wasn’t Luna she could find to proclaim how wrong it was. Harry had stopped her though, a sad look on his face, saying he thought it was wrong too but what she planned on doing wasn’t what Luna would want.

Then he turned to look at the blonde across the Great Hall who was happily eating pudding and chatting with perhaps the very same students in her house that had helped to hide her things. Looking at her wide smile and the content air she had about her, Hermione knew he was right but at the same time, she still wanted to yell at someone for being so cruel to such a girl. Luna was definitely strange, and that was truly saying something, to be considered strange in the wizarding world, but that was hardly any reason to treat her poorly.

Sitting in the University dining hall, absently sipping at her pumpkin juice, Hermione wondered if Luna suffered the same troubles in her Student Healer program. They had a fine reputation as a major, known for having the best minds the magical medical profession could offer, but as cutthroat as other students could be to her, a mere undecided major, it surely had to be worse as a member of the most high pressure program in the school. The only thing Hermione could think worse would be studying to become a barrister.

For a time she had pursued the idea of attempting to study the law but she found it so perplexing to try and put away the knowledge she had of the Muggle legal system and replace it with Wizarding brand of logic. Something that Hermione often found faulty at times. Sighing quietly, she took another drink of her pumpkin juice, her eyes resting on the green piping around her sleeve as she set it back onto the table. She told herself it didn’t matter that she was undecided, that their insults were petty and foolish, but it did bother some small part of her that she simply couldn’t make up her mind. It shouldn’t be this hard to decide what you wanted, it really shouldn’t. She should have some sort of instinct about it, that she would be learning about it and it would leap out at her and she would know, finally, this is what she wanted to devote her life of learning, of studying, of teaching to. But after almost two years of study, nothing had leapt out.

"Bloody frustrating, that’s what it is," Hermione muttered, gazing out the long window of the dining hall, resting her chin in the palm of her hand and doing her best to not look as petulant as she felt.

"Nothing is as bad as it seems, looking on the outside," a light voice remarked, laced with humor and warmth, and Hermione drew her gaze away from the window to look at Luna who stood before her, holding a small tray topped with what appeared to be a large variety of desserts. Tilting her head to one side, her white blonde hair falling in graceful waves, Luna asked, "May I sit?"

"Of course," said Hermione immediately, blushing ever so slightly as she realized her rudeness. She gestured widely to the chair across from her. "Please do." When Luna took her place and began unwrapping her silverware from the napkin rolled around it, Hermione asked, "Are you done with classes for the day?"

"For now," Luna replied vaguely, releasing a triumphant cry as she freed the fork from its napkin casing. "I admit, I’m rather worn from my Pediatric Potions lecture. Though I do find the study quite fun."

"Really?" asked Hermione, unable to help the surprised tone. A person would be hard pressed to find a subject which Hermione wasn’t interested in studying one way or another but somehow she suspected Pediatric Potions might be one of them.

Luna gave a noise of humming agreement as she cut her fork into a piece of strawberry shortcake that, to Hermione, appeared to consist of nothing but piles of icing and an army of freakishly large strawberries. Licking a bit of icing from the side of her mouth, Luna said, "I find it fascinating, trying to alter potions meant for adults safely into something a child could consume. Also," Luna speared one of the large strawberries, chewing on it with a thoughtful look on her features. "It’s rather fun to add the flavors."

"Flavors?" Hermione echoed dimly.

"Professor Ipson made a game of it," Luna continued, moving her attention onto a towering piece of chocolate cake and bringing a piece of it to her mouth with a satisfied smile. "Whichever student could make the tastiest potion to the children won the highest marks. It makes terrible sense, don’t you think? Children do hate taking potions but they can hardly argue if it tastes good to them." It did make sense and Hermione couldn’t help but wonder why exactly Madam Pomfrey didn’t follow along with Professor Ipson’s logic. She could recall more than a few potions she took under her care at Hogwarts and they weren’t the least bit tasty. Before she could remark on this, Luna was chewing on a piece of multicolored licorice and commenting, "Of course, not all Healers agree with him. There is some proof that the addition of flavoring often takes away the strength and consistency of the potion, lessening the positive effects of its medicinal quality. The trick," Luna declared, waving the licorice wand at Hermione, "is to find the perfect balance."

"How did you do?" asked Hermione, genuinely curious about the blonde’s mark.

"I sat third," said Luna absently, poking her fork first into a bit of chocolate cake then strawberry shortcake and finally a bit of carrot cake. She studied the combination for a moment then stuck it into her mouth, murmuring, "I found that not all children are fond of fizzling potions that tickle their nose as they take them. Most of them had a good giggle though and did enjoy the cotton candy texture." Luna leaned in, speaking as if it was a great secret, "I was trying to make the potion version of a Fizzling Whizbee. Didn’t quite get it right though."

"But third is marvelous all the same," complimented Hermione with a smile, truly feeling that way. "How many students are in your class?" Releasing a thoughtful murmur, Luna’s eyes drifted away from Hermione to look across the dining hall and the brunette followed her gaze to a large table filled with a sea of students wearing light green robes. Her gaze immediately snapping back to Luna she noticed the way her mouth silently counted their numbers and she said, sounding startled, "That isn’t your entire class, surely?"

"Except for Yancy and Clarence in line," Luna remarked, still busy with her soundless counting. She beamed and looked to Hermione as she said rather proudly, "There are seventy nine of us. We sit all of our classes together as the University doesn’t require we take anything out of the Student Healer program. It can become dull though. Seeing the same people day after day." Luna cut into a piece of cake that was colored orange, purple, and an odd form of pink. "I do like meeting new people and it seems we spend all our time together. Even during meals," she nodded at the group eating together.

"Perhaps it will change as the term goes on," suggested Hermione and Luna shrugged, sighing softly as she took another bite of the strangely colored cake. The brunette paused a moment before gathering her courage and she asked, "If you’re always together then why are you here eating with me?" Luna didn’t reply immediately, she simply stared at Hermione with those large lidded blue eyes, seeming to see and understand far more than Hermione could ever begin to comprehend. Hermione swallowed nervously at this attention, at that kindness she saw in Luna’s gaze which was making her entirely nervous for some unknown reason, and she said, almost stammering, "Not that I don’t want you eating with me! It’s quite nice to have company. I was just wondering… I mean, I recall how things were when we were children and I just don’t want you to feel… well…"

"They think me strange," said Luna softly, her gaze drifting over to her fellow Student Healers, her expression unreadable. "It isn’t the same as at Hogwarts. The nargles aren’t here to hide my things and the red urfengobbler doesn’t release its chuckle cloud to make them laugh at everything I say but they still think me strange."

"Luna," Hermione whispered her name, wanting desperately to say something to comfort the other girl but failing spectacularly. Instead she reached out, lacing her fingers with the blonde’s and smiled encouragingly at her.

"I quite like it though," Luna pronounced happily after a moment of silence, looking to Hermione and giving a beatific smile, an air of utter peacefulness surrounding her. Hermione opened her mouth to question her on this, to inquire what she meant, and sensing what the brunette was about to ask, Luna continued, "Being strange. I think it far better than being normal because after all, don’t you think normal can be exhaustingly dreary?"

Feeling something akin to wonder at how Luna could turn what many would consider an awful situation into something terribly good, Hermione shook her head, smiling as she said, "Yes, it can."

"Besides," Luna remarked, looking entirely pleased with herself. "Even if I did sit third the children said I was the most fun of the Healers and I think that means no matter what my potion tasted like, I sat the best after all."

"I do think you’re correct," said Hermione, her smile growing wider. She looked at the tray of desserts in front of Luna, a sudden comprehension coming to her as she said, "Is that why you’ve bought this? Are you trying to find a way to fix the flavoring?"

Nodding her head, Luna speared a piece of cherry tart and said, "Next time I’ll make sure my potion is the tastiest to all of the children instead of just forty one of them."

"Just be careful you don’t get as large as a house in the meanwhile," cautioned Hermione playfully.

"I’m experimenting with a fat burning hex," Luna said casually, taking a large bite of a pumpkin pasty. "It’s going to be simply splendid once I work out the little bother about melting off peoples skin. Father didn’t take quite well to that, I’m afraid. Howled about it for hours on end."

Bursting into laughter, Hermione said, "You did not do that to your poor father."

"What?" Luna tilted her head to one side, a smile tugging at her lips. "I did need someone to experiment on." Hermione chuckled at this and Luna studied the brunette for a moment before she asked, "And how are your studies? Progressing well, I should expect."

"I had Creative Spellcasting today," said Hermione, giving into temptation and reaching for a pumpkin pasty with a nod of approval from Luna. Taking a bite and sighing happily at the sweet taste, she said, "I do enjoy the challenge of coming up with spells that are truly innovative rather than simply reworking the known staple. I’ve been thinking that perhaps that could be my focus of study."

"You’re in such a rush to choose?" questioned Luna.

"It’s my second year, hardly a rush," said Hermione dryly. "I’m far past the point where I should have decided. Particularly in the viewpoint of several of our fellow students."

"Is what they think really so important?" Luna pursued gently. Her gaze focused intently on the brunette, her blue eyes warm and comforting as she continued, "How could anyone consider it a poor thing to learn as much as you have? After all, the more you learn the more you know and knowledge is something you can keep with you forever. Unless, of course, you’re trapped by the shining emerald stare of the Green Grackenpuff." She lifted her hand, pointing seriously at the other girl. "You must be careful when walking through foggy corridors, Hermione. The Green Grackenpuff would love to steal your knowledge for itself and then your brain will be dry and empty, leaving it to go bump bump against itself. Just like some members of the Ministry."

Laughing despite herself, Hermione said, "Honestly, Luna, you really ought to write your stories down one day. I’m sure the children who are your patients would love them."

"I dislike writing," said Luna distinctly, forming a frown. "Scritch scratch of the quill on the parchment, it’s an unpleasant sound. And," a smile curved on her lips as she looked at Hermione knowingly, "you’re the one who smells of such things. Perhaps you should write them for me. I always thought you favored writing reports. When we were at Hogwarts you always were splendid at researching them and making the topics sound far more interesting than what they actually were."

"The lifespan of a flobberworm can be a fascinating thing!" Hermione protested, knowing exactly which paper the blonde meant. "I was entirely correct when I spoke of how they dueled to the death in order to win a mate."

"I have to disagree, Hermione," said Luna with a great deal of amusement. "It’s only how you wrote about them that made those creatures the slightest bit bearable. You do know that Professor Grubbly-Plank kept your essay as an example to show to other students? That’s how I came to read it." When the brunette blushed shyly on hearing this, Luna smiled and said, "You enjoy writing, don’t you?"

"You’re having fun with me again, aren’t you?" asked Hermione, almost cross at being asked such an obvious question. To her reading and writing went hand in hand. So of course if she enjoyed reading she enjoyed writing and everyone knew how she felt about reading. "I can’t be a writer anyway. Working for the Daily Prophet or such, bothering people and poking my nose into their lives, asking stupid questions. Like that horrid Rita Skeeter," Hermione shuddered.

"It is true that Rita Skeeter is a horrid woman but more appropriately, she is a horrid example of a writer," Luna remarked, looking out the window of the dining hall at several passing students. "Father doesn’t have the best reputation at the Quibbler but I’ve seen a good deal of writers because of his work there and I like to think I know when I read a good one." She turned her attention to Hermione, smiling soft and sweet as she murmured, "You smell of parchment and quill, Hermione. Just as a writer should and you realize, you could research and study whatever it is you wanted in order to write a book on it. And isn’t it something like being a teacher, to write a book which helps people learn?" Hermione sat in stunned silence for several moments and Luna rose to her feet, picking up her tray of mostly eaten sweets, saying as she left, "Perhaps you should think about it."

Hermione remained there, her mind racing a mile a minute, the idea of being a writer and doing what Luna suggested, researching whatever topic suited her interest and writing on it to help others learn, began to appeal to her more and more. She opened her mouth to reply, to thank the blonde for what she said and it was then she noticed that she was all alone. Luna’s words and her thoughts about them had gotten her so caught up she never noticed the other girl completely leave the dining hall.

Releasing a sigh of irritation as she stood up and gathered her things, Hermione muttered, "That’s the second time she’s done that to me now. I hope it doesn’t become a habit."

Chapter Text

She wasn’t sure what reaction she would receive from Ron when she told him of the new purpose she had for her education. But Hermione certainly didn’t think it would be one of subtle mockery and almost nonexistent interest. A dark look formed on her features that Ron didn’t take note of as his back was to her while he searched her cupboard for anything edible. "You aren’t taking me the slightest bit seriously, are you?" questioned Hermione, her voice a combination of anger and bitterness. "I tell you I think I’ve finally found a focus for my studies, a plan for my future, and you aren’t paying it any attention at all. You’re acting as if I’ve given you the latest score on a Chudley Cannons match. No," Hermione spoke with definite bitterness now, "that probably would have received more attention than what I’ve been given."

"Hermione," Ron spoke her name wearily, his expression reflecting a quiet type of exasperation. "We’ve had this conversation so many times. I visit you and you talk of nothing but your studies and ideas of what you could do with them and in the end nothing comes of it." Giving up on his search for food, he looked at her plaintively. "What do you want me to say?" he asked almost desperately. "It’s a grand idea if you go through with it but if you don’t… we’ll be right back where we started and you’ll be yelling at me again."

"I’m not yelling," said Hermione, her eyes narrowing. "I’m speaking quite calmly. Especially considering how you’ve been ignoring me."

Sighing heavily, Ron pushed back a lock of red hair from his eyes, avoiding her gaze as he spoke. "I’m not ignoring you. I told you, I’m just not sure what you would like me to say."

"Congratulations? Spot of good luck? Tell me more? Huzzah?" Hermione suggested one after another quickly, annoyance appearing more and more clearly on her face. "Something that shows you care the slightest bit about me would be nice, Ron!"

"You’re yelling now," Ron muttered under his breath, lifting his eyes up to watch as Hermione huffed and walked away from him. She sat at her desk and began scribbling a letter furiously and for some reason the action filled him with a strange sort of dread. "Who are you writing?"

"Luna," said Hermione primly, her writing slowing from scribbles to the naturally elegant action it usually was.

"Luna Lovegood?" repeated Ron, frowning. "Why are you writing her? Last time we saw her she was still as barmy as—"

"She suggested the idea of pursuing research and writing at the University to me," Hermione interrupted in supremely cool tones that told Ron not to even attempt to finish his earlier statement. "I thought I might thank her for it since it is such a very good one. Although you don’t seem to agree." She finished the letter with a few easy strokes of her quill then looked to Ron with lidded eyes. "Can I borrow Pigwidgeon to send it?"

"Of course," said Ron with some surprise, his voice tinged with hurt. "You needn’t even ask. Hermione," he said her name rather pleading, his hands opened out to her as he took a step forward. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be discouraging, I just wasn’t sure of what to say, is all. I’m glad you’ve found something to be this excited over."

Tying the letter around Pigwidgeon’s tiny leg, Hermione’s voice was hushed as she said, "Really?"

"Really and truly," Ron murmured gently, placing his hands on her shoulder, leaning down to kiss her tenderly on the top of her curly head of hair.

Instead of replying, Hermione smiled and released Pigwidgeon who flew out the window with a series of eager hoots. She turned to look up at Ron who was curling his fingers around her neck and she reached her lips up to his for a kiss but as they did, her lips meeting his again and again, she found her mind drifting away. Thoughts of white blonde hair and warm blue eyes that sparkled playfully invaded her and Hermione broke away from Ron with a gasp, turning away from him as she blushed darkly. Ron didn’t appear to notice her odd reaction and walked back towards the kitchen, listing off various things they might have for dinner, while Hermione remained where she was, blushing and trembling as she lifted her fingers up to her lips, touching them softly, knowing it was Ron who had kissed her but for whatever reason feeling as if had been someone entirely else.

They had just finished eating dinner when Pigwidgeon returned, full of bluster, wearing the same look of satisfaction he would get whenever anyone offered him a particularly tasty snack. Hermione hurried over to him, leaving Ron to complain about having to clean the dishes while she read Luna’s reply.

 Hermione,

Silly! There isn’t anything to thank me for. All I did was say what I was thinking. Usually that’s something which tends to make people cross with me so it’s a rather nice surprise it hasn’t done the same with you.

I hope you don’t mind but I’ve fed Ron’s owl some leftover mincemeat pie. He seemed to enjoy it and I’m afraid he had a most upset face when I was eating it while writing and not offering him any. About writing… your letter, the shape of your words was angry at the start but then it became happier. Is it because you were happy to be writing me? I wonder how red your cheeks are from blushing now.

Ha! I can imagine you scowling quite clearly because I’ve written that. It is adorable.

I’m afraid I must return to my studies and stop teasing you. Although I would far prefer to spend my time doing the latter. Oh yes, I hope you’ve not encountered the Green Grackenpuff because you’ll need your knowledge for an interview I’ve arranged this coming Monday. Oh don’t scowl again, it has to do with the research and writing I’ve suggested to you.

Professor Ipson, I believe I’ve mentioned him to you, is doing just such a study and I thought perhaps you would like the experience of working with him on his book before you begin a project of your own. He mentioned the idea that if your work with him was satisfactory, and I’m sure it will be all that and more, he would recommend you a place at the University in the Magical Research department. Wouldn’t that be lovely? You would have a place all your own.

Monday at 10 o’clock, Evernbach Hall, don’t be late! That’s the morning, not night in case you were wondering.

Yours,
Luna Lovegood

Smiling despite herself, Hermione traced her fingers over the signature and wondered exactly how the blonde had known when she was blushing and scowling. A place of her own, could she finally have such a thing? After so much confusion and feeling so very lost? Would it really be this easy to find it? Gently rolling up the parchment and tucking it safely into the pockets of her robe, Hermione wished it was true.

---

Monday at 10’clock, morning not night, Hermione was waiting outside Evernbach Hall for Professor Ipson’s lecture to end. She had just sighed and taken another look at her watch when she heard her name called out from a distance. Lifting her gaze, Hermione caught sight of Luna skipping her way, light green robes billowing behind her, a wide smile lighting her features.

It was odd, really it was, skipping would look utterly ridiculous if she did it but somehow it seemed completely natural for Luna. Terribly charming in a way. Shaking her head as if to rid herself of such thoughts, Hermione greeted the other girl on her arrival. "Luna," she said with a nod.

"Hermione," Luna returned, tilting her head and gazing thoughtfully at the brunette. "You aren’t still embarrassed at me knowing when you would blush and scowl, are you?"

Predictably doing a combination of both, Hermione averted her gaze, gritting her teeth as she exclaimed, "Of course not! Why would I be embarrassed over a trivial thing like that?"

"Oh?" Luna hummed and she held her hands behind her back as she skipped to the other side of Hermione, ducking her head down so their eyes could meet. Hermione scowled deeper on seeing twinkling blue eyes and Luna chuckled, reaching up to tap her nose lightly. "Don’t make that face," she murmured, a tender look in her eyes, her finger replaced with her hand as she cupped Hermione’s cheek gently, her thumb rubbing slowly and softly, making Hermione want to sigh. "I meant it when I said I thought it was adorable."

Before Hermione could formulate a reply, the doors to Evernbach Hall opened with a loud bang, the old oak wood striking the large stone walls with enough power to reverberate as a sea of students emptied the lecture hall. Luna pulled away from Hermione, standing on the tips of her toes to peer over the crowd and into the hall itself.

"Ah!" Luna gave a triumphant cry, shading her eyes with right hand and beaming brightly. "I can see the Professor and he doesn’t look to be busy with students." Turning to Hermione, her smile never wavering, she took the brunette’s hand and led her into the lecture hall. "Lets begin our interview, shall we?"

"Our interview?" echoed Hermione, frowning as she followed Luna who easily wound them through the throng of students. "What do you mean by saying our interview, Luna?"

"Just that," said Luna easily, continuing to walk forward as she spoke. "I’ll be interviewing with you today to become a research assistant." Luna paused before she said, more to herself than Hermione, "I did mention there were two positions open, didn’t I?"

Sighing deeply, Hermione was debating on whether or not to answer Luna’s not so silent question to herself when Professor Ipson cheerfully greeted them. The Professor was a short man and the best way to describe him would be to say he was very round. Everything about him, from his face, to his stomach, and even his glasses were round and while it might not be the most attractive way to look there was something about him that was altogether pleasant and comforting. He shook Hermione’s hand excitedly and began gathering up his satchel and tweed hat, leading them out of the lecture hall, through the University corridors and into his office.

"Forgive the mess," Ipson said, placing his tweed hat on a pile of books that was stacked precariously high, and setting his satchel at the side of his desk as he sank into a large and rather worn leather chair. "I’m afraid my office is something of a disaster area. My wife would have fits over it if she saw how bad its become but it’s to my luck that she hasn’t visited me in here in quite some time." Hermione and Luna remained standing, inspecting the tiny office which consisted of mostly books, a few pictures on the walls, a cluttered desk, chair, and small sofa. "Please," he smiled warmly and gestured to the equally worn leather sofa, "sit."

Moving in synchronization, Hermione and Luna sat down on the sofa, their legs brushing against one another as they did. Hermione felt her cheeks redden at the contact and tightening her jaw, she told herself not to pay it any attention. It only happened because it was such a tiny sofa and it wasn’t like Luna had noticed, now was it? But when she lifted her gaze she found luminous blue eyes fixed on her and Luna wore a soft reassuring look on her features. One that made Hermione wonder if perhaps the blonde had felt it too. When Professor Ipson ducked his head, muttering absently to himself as he searched for their application parchments, Luna suddenly darted forward, her hands grasping Hermione’s, squeezing them as her body pressed close enough that Hermione could detect the faint scent of raspberries and chocolate that clung to the other girl.

"This is my first interview," confessed Luna, whispering in Hermione’s ear, her breath hot and sweet against the brunette’s skin. "I’m rather nervous. It’s as if the nargles had stolen all my wits."

Choosing not to comment on the nargles, Hermione looked at Luna in something akin to disbelief and said, "But you don’t look the least bit nervous."

"Because Hermione is with me," Luna explained, displaying her talent for being exceedingly matter of fact.

It wasn’t until Hermione heard this that she realized just how nervous she herself had been and how that feeling had all but disappeared because of Luna. Part of her wondered if the blonde had really ever been nervous at all. If it had all been kindness on her part, saying that to make Hermione relax and feel not quite so alone.

"Ah! I’ve finally found it," Ipson declared proudly, waving several scrolls of parchment in the air. "I was afraid I’d thrown it out with the rubbish." He smoothed out the parchments and rested them on his desk next to a cup of cold tea and several family photographs. "I suppose the best way to begin is to tell you precisely what you would be helping me research. After all," his eyes crinkled around the edges as he smiled, "there’s no point in pursuing anything further if you find you don’t favor the research topic, is there?" When both girls nodded their heads in agreement, he chuckled and continued, "For the past twenty years my focus has been on Pediatric Potions which has also been my main point for lecturing at the University. I’m sorry to say that few have followed in my footsteps to make pediatrics a focus of their healing studies." Professor Ipson paused to adjust his round wire rim glasses. "We have always treated children with lower doses of the same spells and potions we use for adults. The difference in the anatomy of an adult versus a child should be reason enough to explore a new methodology for magical medical treatment in pediatrics. It’s my belief that the effectiveness of any healing session would increase at least by half if they consisted of treatments created with children in mind. That will be the lofty goal of my book, to create a simple but detailed text filled with new spells and potions meant to treat children specifically."

"How do you plan on testing out these new spells and potions?" asked Hermione. "Surely you don’t mean to experiment on animals?"

"Goodness, no!" exclaimed Ipson, appalled at the idea. "We have spells for that."

"Resumo Effingo, isn’t it?" Luna questioned, tilting her head to one side, wearing a thoughtful expression. "My mother was always using that spell in her studies. Terribly useful, it was. Allowed her to use a store dummy that could copy all the human reactions to disease but never feel any of the pain that came from it."

"Exactly!" Ipson beamed widely at Luna, clapping his hands together. "We use Resumo Effingo to mimic the effects of illness on an inanimate object then study the effect our treatment has on it. That way research can be done safely without harming any living creatures."

"Fascinating," Hermione breathed, her eyes shining. "It allows for limitless research with no after effects."

"We do need actual patients for the final taste tests," said Ipson with a happy chuckle. "Right, Luna?"

"Right!" agreed Luna brightly. "The best potion is a tasty potion that can still do its job."

"It seems both of you are still interested even after hearing my dull explanation of the project?" said Ipson playfully, smiling widely as both girls eagerly voiced their continued interest. "I must confess I consider myself entirely hopeless when it comes to interviews so I thought it far easier to simply give you a small test of your skills. A mini research project if you will." Leaning forward with a slight groan, he offered them each a piece of parchment which had a detailed ingredient list for the potion remedy for Vanishing Disease and an explanation why everything on the list was needed to treat the disease. "I would like you both to work together and see if you might come upon a more successful, pediatric oriented, version of this potion and then return it to me in the following format. Would one week from today be enough time?" When Luna and Hermione looked at him with wide and nervous eyes, Ipson laughed and waved his hands dismissively. "Don’t worry! I’m not expecting you to have a final potion at that time. Merely the research elements and suggestions for us to begin working on one. After all," he leaned back in his chair, the leather squeaking and his eyes twinkling. "That is what you will be doing for me."

They remained in the Professor’s office for several minutes longer, discussing the latest in campus politics and what appeared to be the endless construction on the north lawn before taking note of the time, all of them realizing they had three different places to be and in very little time at that. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem but apparating was frowned upon at the University. Not that it was made impossible by enchantments as at Hogwarts but it simply wasn’t the approved mode of transportation if you had to go somewhere on the campus grounds. It was encouraged by the University that people use their feet and they had to get theirs moving very quickly if they were to make it to their separate lectures on time.

Hermione and Luna said their goodbyes to Professor Ipson and hurried down the corridor, headed in the same general direction for their lectures. As they walked they turned to each other several times and each time they did their mouths also opened and it seemed as if one girl was going to speak and then, just as suddenly, their mouths would snap shut and they would look away.

Finally, their irrational shyness began to drive Hermione slightly mad and she released a noise of frustration, vowing to simply get over this feeling, whatever it was. Adjusting her satchel over her shoulder, she kept her eyes fixed ahead as she said, "Would you like to come over to my flat this evening to begin work on the project?"

When Hermione forced herself to look at Luna it almost felt as if her heart stopped beating. The blonde was wearing such a sincere expression of gratitude that it made her feel sick in a way. That a small gesture like that could effect Luna so greatly didn’t speak well of how the other girl had been treated in her dealings with people in the past. At least, not in Hermione’s opinion. And in that moment, that was something she vowed to change.

"I’d like that very much," Luna beamed. "What time should I arrive?"

"I’m not sure," murmured Hermione, considering it for a moment. "I’m in lectures until six. And you?"

"Healers Herbology is self study from four onwards. I have quite a bit to do, if you want I could stay on campus and finish my studies for the day, perhaps get an early start on our research as I wait for you," offered Luna.

"Shall I meet you in the library then?" asked Hermione, adjusting her satchel again as they paused at corridor intersection where they had to part ways in order to continue towards their lecture halls. "We can disapparate to my flat from there."

"I’ll be at the skinny rust colored table in the purple upholstered chair that’s perpendicular to the Magical Creatures section," Luna replied. Hermione assumed she formed a curious expression on hearing this very detailed location description because Luna smiled winsomely before informing her in sage tones, "It’s where the silencing charm is strongest. You can hardly hear a thing if you study there."

"Right," said Hermione with a chuckle, shaking her head. "I’ll see you there."

"Yes!" Luna answered cheerfully and unable to stop herself, Hermione looked back to the blonde, smiling and chuckling again as she watched her skip down the corridor. Then she recalled she had five minutes to get to her lecture and promptly turned on her heel and took off in a run.

Because, as she thought earlier, not everyone was naturally made to skip along like Luna.

Chapter Text

Towards the end of the lecture, Hermione felt her attention drifting and she found herself wondering how Luna was doing with her research in the library. Working on this project wouldn’t be the easiest thing while attending University and while Ipson hadn’t mentioned the length of it Hermione was fairly certain it would take more than a year at the very least. Although she was terribly excited about the idea of being involved with such an important study it was a bit daunting to think she would be devoting so much of her life to one thing for so long.

It was like getting married in a way.

Or at least that was how Hermione imagined it. There was a commitment needed and a resolution of feeling. You had to be sure you wouldn’t tire of the subject after a few weeks and want to move onto something else much like you had to be sure of such a thing if you were to get married to another person. Honestly, it worried Hermione a bit. She always felt that part of the reason she couldn’t pick a major was the fact that she couldn’t quite decide what was her favorite subject. There were so many things she loved learning about and the idea of choosing one that was the very best, the most interesting, the most important, was almost unfathomable to her. Still, worries or not, working on this project really was the best way to find out if research and writing was something that suited her and not just another educational whimsy as Ron liked to say.

Ron had taken to making jokes that she had a phobia of commitment when they spent time with Harry and Ginny. For months he had been first hinting then suggesting and finally outright asking if she would move in with him and every time she avoided the subject or put it off and it was becoming something of a sore point for them. One that often came up around Harry and Ginny, Harry and Ginny who had just gotten engaged and had been living together ever since Ginny graduated from Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny whom Ron held up as an ideal couple, feeling that he and Hermione should follow in their footsteps.

The idea of living with Ron was too daunting, it felt strangely suffocating and nerve wracking at the same time and Hermione felt that surely that wasn’t the normal reaction. When she asked Ginny how she felt when Harry asked her to move into his flat Ginny’s eyes had sparkled and shone and she had looked more like a girl in love than Hermione had ever seen her. She was irrationally jealous of the redhead when she had seen her reaction just because Hermione knew she had never looked that way.

Sometimes she thought she simply couldn’t look that way, that it wasn’t in her ability. That she was too logical, too precise, and controlled to be in love like Ginny was and that was the reason she couldn’t act with Ron the way Ginny did with Harry. The jokes Ron made about commitment, they stung her because of this, and she always snapped at him when he made them and she knew Ron thought it was just her being upset that he had said something stupid but it was more than that. It was the fact he was speaking the truth without realizing it.

Perhaps things would change with this project though. Hermione had secretly held onto the superstition that she wouldn’t be able to truly move on in her relationship with Ron while her plans for the future and her education were so uncertain. If her work with Professor Ipson finally led her on a clear path for her work perhaps her personal life would follow suit and she could broach the topic of moving in with Ron without a feeling of dread seizing her.

She was pulled from her ruminations by her classmate, Su Li, who gave her shoulder a small shake while saying her name. Hermione blinked and stared up at the other girl as she said, "I’m sorry. Did you say something?"

"Honestly, Hermione," said Su in wry tones, giving a hearty laugh. "I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I didn’t think you were even capable of daydreaming and here you do it in the middle of Professor Meedlemeier’s lecture on wizarding warlords." Hermione just stared blankly up at the other girl and Su shook her head. "I was just telling you class was over. Weren’t you saying you had to meet someone in the library? Or was that nothing more than a flimsy excuse to get out of spending time with your mates at the pub yet again?"

"You sound like Ron," Hermione accused in a playful huff, standing up and putting her satchel over her shoulder. "I really am meeting someone in the library. Another graduate of Hogwarts, in fact."

"Oh?" inquired Su with interest. "Anyone I know?"

"I’d hope so," replied Hermione, trying to hold back her impatience at the slow pace of the students in front of them. "She was in your house, after all." She turned to look at the pretty Asian who wore a look of definite impatience and chuckling, Hermione said, "It’s Luna Lovegood."

"Loony Lovegood got into the world renowned University of Magical Studies and Theory?" Su said in clear disbelief. Shaking her head, she drawled humorously, "What’s her major? Imaginary things and fabricated fairy tales?"

The other girl then began relating some story about Luna’s pursuit of the Blibbering Humdinger in the Ravenclaw dormitory which went on for most of Su’s fifth year at Hogwarts. As she spoke, the frown that first formed on Hermione’s face when Su referred to Luna as Loony grew until it became a quite powerful scowl. She thought of the discussion she had with Harry so long ago about how the blonde’s possessions were hidden from her and before she knew it, Hermione found herself saying, her voice soft and dangerous, "Did you ever help hide her things?"

"What?" Su paused in her story, her eyes going wide at the scowl on Hermione’s face. "You look so scary. Is anything the matter?"

"Did you ever help hide her things?" Hermione repeated stiffly. The two girls were now outside the lecture hall, standing in the emptying corridor as their classmates went their separate ways for the day. "I heard that it often happened to Luna in the Ravenclaw house. People stealing her things and hiding them from her as some sort of lark, thinking it was funny instead of plainly cruel. Were you one of the people who did that?"

Appearing afraid to answer but perhaps compelled by the grim expression on Hermione’s features, Su offered lamely, "It wasn’t just me. Everyone in the house did it. Hermione," Su gave a nervous laugh as she tried to explain. "We were only children and you know how children tease and Loony, well, she made an easy target. It was all in good fun, she must have known that, she never complained."

In that moment, Hermione wished that she was in her fifth year again because if she was she knew she would be able to slap Su and not feel the slightest bit guilty or immature about it. But now she was in her second year at University and almost twenty one years of age and she just couldn’t do it. So instead she said, her voice hushed but powerful in its solemnity, "Her name is Luna, not Loony, and the reason she never complained is she, for whatever reason, always thinks the best of people. Even the ones who hurt her for no apparent reason at all." Hearing this, Su looked remorseful and opened her mouth to speak, maybe to apologize, but Hermione didn’t want to hear it. Especially since she was not the one Su needed to apologize to and she interrupted quietly, "And just so you know, Luna is in the Student Healer program. One of their highest ranked pupils, as I understand it. She’s going to be working with me on a research project for Professor Ipson and I couldn’t be more pleased."

Before Su could reply, Hermione turned on her heel and started an angry walk towards the library, leaving her friend behind and hoping that the cool night air and the speed of her pace would help to calm her down. It had been some time since she had been this upset and the feeling was disconcerting. She wasn’t sure why, but it bothered her tremendously to hear that Su, someone that she liked quite a bit, had been one of the people in Ravenclaw who bullied Luna.

Was it because it spoke ill of her decisions in choosing friends? That she was able to feel close to someone who could be so heartless? Then again, Su was right in a way, they had been children and children, despite all the claims they were pureness and light, could also be cruel at times. Unrelenting and harsh in their teasing of things they found to be different and Luna was definitely different. Maybe she was upset at herself because what she had done today had been too little, too late, and it made no real difference in how Luna’s life at Hogwarts had been. It wasn’t like she was that much better than Su. She never teased Luna and stole her things but she hadn’t been terribly kind to her in their years together. Hermione couldn’t even count the amount of times she casually dismissed whatever the blonde said with a sneer and disdain in her voice. Certainly the things that had been said were ridiculous but still… that didn’t mean she had to be so mean about discounting Luna’s beliefs.

Though she did think that it was too little, too late, Hermione promised herself she would change on this. That how she acted towards Luna simply wasn’t right and she would use their time together working on this project to fix her behavior. To try and make it up to the younger girl whether she realized this or not.

But fulfilling this promise was rather difficult if she couldn’t manage to locate the other girl, thought Hermione as she stepped into the impressive University library. She estimated on her first visit it had to be at least fifteen times larger than the one at Hogwarts. While she had considered Luna’s earlier description of her location to be unnecessary and humorous in its extreme detail she now found herself grateful for the information as she walked through the enormous stacks, ducking under a whizzing line of books, some of which were dancing a jig, as they flew towards the check out desk. Because even as familiar as Hermione was with the library it was intimidating in its size and quite easy to get lost inside. To be honest, that was one of her favorite pastimes, to simply dawdle and explore the library to find new sections and the brunette had spent hours on end wandering through the shelves and Hermione still thought she hadn’t gone through even half of the stacks yet. And besides that, she was in something of a hurry. They only had so much time to work on the project and it was after six so they would presumably have to stop to eat dinner as well. Unless she could convince Luna to eat and work at the same time. Something that Ron rather hated and had been banned when he visited her flat for meals.

Making a sharp right at Muggle Studies, Hermione grinned as she caught sight of Luna sitting at what was indeed a very skinny rust colored table in the most atrocious looking purple upholstered chair. Studying the stacks of the Magical Creatures section as she walked over to the blonde, Hermione said in way of a greeting, "The table is perfectly perpendicular, isn’t it? I never noticed."

"The stacks form congruent adjacent angles," Luna smiled, shutting the large text on exotic herbs she had been reading. She rose to her feet and began organizing the pile of books on the table. "Those are the very best angles, you know. They’re the angles preferred by Wrackspurts."

"Really?" questioned Hermione warmly, fully aware as she said this of her promise to not immediately discount Luna’s beliefs just because they were a bit strange. She couldn’t, however, keep the fondness from her voice when she spoke. Maybe it was age having mellowed her or the conversation she just had with Su but Hermione was starting to find Luna’s oddities more charming than irritating. Although she was sure at some point she would get irritated with her again. Becoming annoyed with others because she was unable to understand their actions or point of view was a regrettable part of her personality she was uncomfortably aware of. One that she had tried to rid herself of in the past but had failed rather miserably in the attempt. "Why is that?"

Studying Hermione blankly for a moment, as if wondering why the other girl was bothering to ask her such a thing, Luna finally replied, "Their favorite Muggle subject is geometry."

"I always liked science over mathematics when I was in primary school," Hermione informed, picking up a stack of books and wincing under the weight before she gave up and simply decided to cast a floating spell and have them follow behind her. Luna, for whatever reason, felt it proper to place her books on the top of her head in a tremendously tall and wavering stack that made Hermione entirely nervous.

"That’s right," said Luna thoughtfully, her tower of books leaning to the left as she looked to Hermione while they walked through the Foreign Magic section. "Your parents are Muggles, aren’t they? Your first studies were at a Muggle school as a child." Hermione immediately tensed, whenever her bloodline was brought up it was usually anything but pleasant and though she didn’t expect the other girl to say anything derogatory she still lay in wait of it. But instead, Luna smiled gently and asked, "Which do you find more fun? Muggle or Wizarding education?"

Blinking at this, Hermione stopped to truly consider it then said, "For me, it would have to be Wizarding simply because I grew up as Muggle. I think anyone who has the experience of suddenly discovering magic is real when you’ve spent your entire life believing it to be merely a fanciful thing cannot help find the learning of it terribly fun. Also," Hermione paused, considering if she really wanted to continue, then she looked to Luna and saw the genuine interest and soft acceptance in her blue eyes and knew it was safe to do so. "I never managed to fit in when I was at the Muggle primary school. It was only after I began attending Hogwarts that I was able to make friends."

"It was the same for me," remarked Luna serenely, a wisp of a smile on her pale features. They exited the Transfiguration section and she noticed the brunette was headed towards the check out desk. "No, it’s all right," Luna murmured, reaching out for Hermione’s hand. When the other girl looked to her, she tilted her head, making the books stacked on top of it to shake and lean forward, causing several people nearby to stare and Hermione to feel quite nervous for fear of them falling onto her. "I’ve already checked out all of the books. We just need to disapparate to your flat with them and then we can start straight away on our research."

"Why didn’t you say this earlier?" asked Hermione, slightly annoyed at Luna but mostly irritated with herself for already feeling that way. But honestly, they had just wasted how much time strolling through the library when they could have just disapparated at the very beginning.

Luna stared at Hermione with wide luminous eyes that slowly moved away from the brunette as she said vaguely, "I found it relaxing. The walking and talking…"

"Is that all?" asked Hermione who was definitely fighting annoyance.

"It rather felt as if we were friends, I suppose I wanted it to continue," Luna revealed, her gaze focused off into the distance, looking at nothing in particular. Her eyes returned to Hermione once again, a sad smile tugging at her lips as she said, "You always seem so tense. It isn’t at all good for you. There have been cases where wizards have tied themselves up into actual knots because their magic has caused their stress to emerge physically. I would hate to see you become a pretzel, Hermione. I do not believe even you could make that a pretty look."

The annoyance, the irritation with herself, perhaps even the stress left Hermione on hearing Luna’s words and a guilty flush covering her features, Hermione reached out for the other girl, surprised when the blonde allowed her to take her hand. "I’m sorry," said Hermione, her voice low and filled with regret, thinking herself to be far worse than Su or anyone who had ever teased Luna at Hogwarts. "But please don’t say it felt like we were friends, Luna, because that’s a lie. We are friends, truly. Or at least, we are if you want us to be." Hermione formed a sardonic smile and gave a barking sort of laugh before she continued, "I can understand if you want to decline. I’ve been awful to you, I realize. A horribly awful person since I’ve only now just figured it out."

Silence except for the bustling of the other library patrons and Hermione felt a gentle tug of her hand as Luna slipped out of her hold. Then a feather light touch emerged at her chin, making her lift her gaze to look into lidded blue eyes which held a look of indefinable quiet knowing and a small smile played on Luna’s lips. "Yes," she breathed, tilting her head to one side and leaning the books forward on the stack although they had yet to succumb to the dangers of gravity. "You can be awful at times, Hermione. But I can be just as awful, I do suppose that everyone can. In any case," Luna’s small smile grew into one much larger and far more beautiful. "I still think us to be friends. Especially since you’re beginning to feel the same."

"The same?" Hermione echoed with confusion.

"Shall we disapparate now?" inquired Luna, ignoring the brunette’s question as she reluctantly pulled her hand from Hermione’s chin which she had been cupping gently and raised it up to help balance the stack of books on her head that was teetering dangerously to the right. "We seem to be gathering an audience, although for what reason, I’m not entirely sure."

Noticing the stares of several nearby students who were all fixated on the tower of books on top of Luna’s head, Hermione didn’t reply and instead took the blonde’s free hand. "We’ll side along disapparate," Hermione said. "Since you’ve never been to my flat before."

"Don’t forget your books," reminded Luna cheerfully. "I’m quite excited to see your flat, you know. I just hope you don’t have any Vesper Boggits hiding in your underpants drawer. That is their chosen breeding ground."

Blushing as she suddenly had the image of Luna searching through her underpants drawer for Vesper Boggits, whatever they might be, Hermione squeezed the blonde’s hand then with a flick of her wand and a small audible pop, they were standing in the tiny living room of her flat. As she observed Luna taking in her surroundings with that lidded and all knowing gaze Hermione suddenly became very aware that her flat wasn’t at its neatest. Stacking the pile of floating books down on her coffee table she tried to hide her wand behind her back as she cast some silent cleaning spells that would hopefully put things in better order without Luna noticing.

"It’s lovely, not messy in the least," said Luna her tones dreamy as she reached for the precarious pile of books on her head and placed them next to Hermione’s on the coffee table. Hermione sighed as she realized her attempts at covert cleaning had failed miserably and Luna walked over to the built in bookcase that took up the far right wall, her fingertips dancing across the spines of the books. "Not at all like my father’s. He becomes so caught up with his work that he can’t seem to keep the house tidy."

"I don’t know," offered Hermione kindly, "it wasn’t that bad when I visited."

"That’s right," Luna said, her attention still fixed on Hermione’s very crowded bookcase. "You were there during the war." She turned to Hermione, a veiled but sad look in her eyes as she murmured, "I don’t think I ever did apologize to you, Harry, and Ron for what my father did that day. It wasn’t very kind nor brave of him, was it?"

"You don’t have to apologize for that," said Hermione quickly, walking over to the blonde. "Things were bad for everyone at that time and your father… he was so frightened for you, Luna. We all were."

"You were frightened for me," said Luna slowly, mulling this over as her gaze drifted away from Hermione. If she was going to say anything more, her response was interrupted by the rumblings of her stomach. Luna touched her midsection and as she did so, the motion of her hand tugged up the material of her plaid t-shirt to reveal creamy white skin and a toned abdomen. The sight of which caused Hermione to blush and avert her eyes. "I’ve just been told I’m quite hungry. Would you mind terribly if we ate while we worked?"

"Not at all," Hermione replied, keeping her gaze well aware from Luna’s stomach and feeling very pleased the other girl didn’t share Ron’s opposition to eating and working at the same time. She started to head into the kitchen but paused as she recalled Ron’s food scavenging from the previous day and how it had not produced good results. Turning around and doing her best not to feel embarrassed, Hermione said, "I don’t have much by the way of food though. Is it all right if we ordered out?"

A mischievous twinkle emerged in Luna’s blue eyes and she drawled, "If I’m allowed to pick the meal."

"All right," said Hermione slowly, already wondering if this was a wise decision. "What are we having?"

"It’s a surprise," Luna informed playfully, hopping towards the brunette, her hands laced behind her back. "Though I do need to know what flavors you prefer. Spicy, sweet, sour, salty?"

"Sweet, I suppose," murmured Hermione, beginning to truly worry about what she had gotten herself into. "Although not too sweet. Does sweet but also sour make any sense at all?" she asked rather pathetically.

"Perfect sense," said Luna with a warm smile. She looked to Pigwidgeon who was eyeing Crookshanks cautiously from his perch above the window. Shortly after they began dating the tiny owl had taken a liking to Hermione and often preferred spending time with her over Ron. The brunette believed this wasn’t anything against Ron but more a testament to the fact she had a ready supply of owl snacks that she gave to the bird quite freely while Ron could be a bit stingy with handing out rewards to his pet. That didn’t mean the owl was entirely comfortable with the constant presence of one very large and predatory orange tabby cat in Hermione’s flat. "Can I ask you to send a message for me?" Luna questioned and it took Hermione a moment to realize that the blonde was speaking directly to Pigwidgeon whose wide yellow eyes regarded her speculatively. "I promise to share some of the food with you if you do and I especially promise the food will be tasty." The tiny owl twisted its neck for a moment then fluttered his wings as he hooted eagerly. Luna smiled widely at this, clapping her hands as she said, "Splendid!" Luna quickly scribbled a letter with what Hermione presumed was their food order on it but paused in her writing to look at Hermione with a sudden look of concern. "It should cost two galleons and nine sickles. That’s not too much, is it?"

"Not at all," Hermione assured, shaking her head. "We’ll simply split it even. You do need my address for the delivery, don’t you? It’s 13 Savile Row, Flat 4, Westminster, London."

Pigwidgeon hopped about on his perch, ready to eat the promised food, and the moment Luna tied the letter to his tiny leg he was waiting at the window for her to open it. Watching as he flew hurriedly out in the night sky, Luna said, a smile in her voice, "He is an impatient little thing, isn’t he? It’s quite adorable. Almost as much as your blush I’d wager." When she turned around, Hermione was demonstrating said adorable blush and Luna chuckled. "Ah, there it is. I was wondering how long I would have to wait before I could see it."

"We should get to work!" Hermione said briskly, doing her best to get rid of the blush and the confusing feelings that were stirring in her. She never acted this way around Ron, getting embarrassed when he said the smallest little thing about her looks, so why did she around Luna? It didn’t make any sense in the slightest.

A half an hour later, they were in the process of reviewing the benefits of using hopping root and cinder weed when a loud knock sounded along with several excited hoots. Hermione went to answer the door with Luna following close behind her and when she pulled it open, she was greeted by an enthusiastic Pigwidgeon who went whizzing past her head. Releasing a yelp, Hermione ducked down and scowled a bit, soon freezing in this position when she felt the warmth of Luna’s hand resting at the small of her back.

Still stuck in this pose, Hermione peered up and was met with the sight of a handsome Indian wizard dressed in a beautifully embroidered and sequined all black Sherwani holding four wooden boxes filled with food. The man raised an amused eyebrow at Hermione before looking to Luna and remarking, "We hadn’t heard from you in so long we were fearing you had forgotten us, Miss Lovegood. Travel cannot be the issue, for we are wizards, are we not?"

"I’ve been busy with my studies but I do want to visit you and the others in Bangalore again," Luna said, her hand easily sliding down Hermione’s back and her arm soon wrapped around her waist as she tenderly raised the brunette up to her height, causing Hermione to lean against her. Luna wore a dreamy smile as she took the food from the Indian wizard and said, "I nearly discovered the Krodha Swinging Lizard there." Balancing the boxes of food with her free hand, she looked to Hermione, her eyes going wide as she said, "I’ve been rude, haven’t I? Hermione this is my good friend, Bheru Jaspal, he’s a wonderful chef from Bangalore, India. He was also my guide in the search for the rare Krodha Swinging Lizard when I visited the region."

"Sadly it was never discovered," Bheru murmured, looking regretful as he said this. A buzzing sound filled the air and he frowned as he pulled out a silver pocket watch and flipped it open. Giving a soft sigh, he looked to Luna with dark eyes and said, "I must take my leave. I’ve another order and I must change before I return to the kitchen."

"Formal wear is best for deliveries but not for adding spices," agreed Luna wisely. "Two galleons and nine sickles is it?" When Bheru dipped his head as a sign of agreement, Luna smiled and handed him the payment.

Bowing low as he accepted the money, Bheru looked up with smiling dark eyes and said, "You must agree to visit us soon. The next time we shall find the Krodha Swinging Lizard. I swear it upon my ancestors." Rising up to his full height, he tilted his head at Hermione, observing her for a moment before he said, "It was a pleasure to have met you, Miss Hermione. I hope that I will also see you again soon." Hermione returned the sentiment a bit shyly and he smiled again then took his leave with another low bow and an audible pop from the disapparation.

Out of habit more than a sense of awareness, Hermione shut the front door, watching Luna hum and skip into the kitchen with their food. "Luna," said Hermione slowly as she tried to wrap her mind around the conversation that had just gone on and what it implied. "You ordered our food from a restaurant in Bangalore, India?"

"Yes," said Luna cheerfully, her expression faltering when she saw Hermione’s disbelieving expression. "I promise you that it’s quite tasty. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it."

"Pigwidgeon surely didn’t fly all that way in such a short amount of time," Hermione appeared to be saying this aloud for her own benefit. As if hearing it come from her own lips would reassure her that the reasoning was sound.

"Of course not!" Luna exclaimed with a laugh, removing the lid from the first box and filling the flat with a sweet scent that suddenly made Hermione very hungry. "I sent him to the international wizarding delivery post. They have a little man there, Williwog or Ogdoddler or something or other who is in charge of food deliveries. He apparates to whichever restaurant you want around the world and gets the food for you. Though it seems Bheru wanted to deliver our order in person when he noticed it was from me. I haven’t seen him in several months."

"When were you in Bangalore?" asked Hermione, drawn to Luna’s side, eyeing the sizable amount of food the blonde ordered. She blinked when Luna opened the last box which had a large bowl filled with what looked to be freshly sliced papayas and several other ingredients. "Is that really papayas in the salad?"

"Papayas, peanuts, long beans, tart tomatoes," Luna ignored Hermione’s first question in favor of the second and immediately reached into the bowl and retrieved a slice of papaya and tomato, offering them up to Hermione with a sweet smile. "They call it Som Tam. Have a taste?"

For some strange reason Hermione had the nagging feeling that Luna was trying to feed her by hand and the idea didn’t disturb her as much as she thought it should. Which is perhaps why she took the papaya and tomato from the blonde and put them into her own mouth, soon forming a smile at the delicious taste of the food. "It’s wonderful," she said.

"Bheru is a marvelous chef," said Luna, stacking up the now empty food boxes and with a flick of her wand they disappeared, most likely returned to their home restaurant. She picked up one of the perfectly round balls that was grilled a handsome brown and looked over her shoulder at Pigwidgeon who was back on his perch, his gaze torn between watching Crookshanks and eyeing the feast they had before them. "Little friend," she called out, beaming when his focus turned to her and he hooted eagerly. "Here’s your treat," Luna announced happily as she threw the ball in the air, causing Crookshanks to try and intercept the treat, but failing as Pigwidgeon risked certain danger to intercept the food. "Oh my," her eyes went wide. "Competitive, aren’t they?"

"Sometimes I wonder if Ron feeds him at all," said Hermione sardonically, retrieving the plates and silverware. She took a seat and looked expectantly at Luna. "Well? What did you order for me?"

"Tomato Perugu Pachadi," answered Luna serenely, picking up a bowl filled with something that, to Hermione, looked similar to soup but with a thicker consistency. It was cooked a lovely golden brown and was topped with red seasoning and smelled absolutely delectable. "Bheru served it to me the first time I had dinner with his family. It’s a classic chutney where red tomatoes are sautéed in seasonings and combined with beaten curd. I thought you might enjoy it since it has a bit of a sweet and sour taste to it."

Hermione was very much aware of Luna’s gaze being focused on her as she lowered her spoon into the bowl and took her first sip. A few moments passed as she let the texture wash over her tongue then a smile spread across her features, causing Luna to bounce happily in her seat and clap her hands on seeing it. Chuckling at this reaction, Hermione said, "You’re right, Bheru is a marvelous chef, and you’re equally marvelous for being able to get me to immediately like a new dish. That’s a rarity, I can promise you. I usually tend to be rather dull in what I eat. Ron complains of it sometimes, says I should try different things."

"Different is similar to those who have already experienced it," Luna murmured as her gaze drifted away from Hermione and towards Pigwidgeon as she threw another treat to him but only after handing one to the disgruntled Crookshanks who was now sitting by Hermione’s feet at the table. "It’s entirely relied on perspective."

"True," said Hermione thoughtfully, taking another sip of the pachadi before she spoke again. Shaking her head as Crookshanks purred and rubbed up to Luna in hopes of getting more food, she said, "What are you feeding them?"

"Chicken Masala Balls," said Luna, scrunching her nose up in a charming manner. "Horrid name but a yummy treat, nevertheless. I ordered vegetarian for our meals but I rather thought they would prefer meat."

"I think you chose well," replied Hermione humorously, watching as her cat gobbled up more of the food in record speed. "Honestly, Crookshanks," she sighed. "You’re going to be big as a house someday. I’ll have to invent a spell for you to lose weight at this rate."

"Perhaps that can be your first research study. There must be some wizards and witches who would find good use for a method of magical feline weight reduction," Luna said, sounding quite serious. "Fat cats are horribly common."

Shaking her head at the idea of such a study, Hermione said dryly, "I should just send him over to Ron’s. The poor thing would be sure to lose weight if he stayed there if the way Pigwidgeon begs for food is anything to judge."

"I’m sure Ron feeds him," said Luna gently as she threw another treat to the small owl. "But boys can’t really spoil as well as girls and that leaves our little friend wanting." Hermione opened her mouth to reply but Luna reached for a nearby textbook on exotic mushrooms of the magical marshlands and said, "Shall we continue our work? I do think your idea of using cinder weed was a fine one but perhaps it would work better with the incendiary reaction caused by galloping black mushrooms. Though they are a rare find so maybe we should discount that option."

Just like that their wandering conversation on food and overweight felines was over and they were once again at work on the project given to them by Professor Ipson. It was what they were there for, after all, so it was hardly surprising to Hermione but the feeling of disappointment she had was. She was sad to see their fun little chat come to an end and for once in her life she found herself wanting to do something other than study.

And it was all because of Luna Lovegood.

Chapter Text

The next day Hermione wasn’t surprised to see Su Li sitting in the back of the lecture hall, far from her usual seat next to the brunette. It didn’t surprise her but it did enforce the fact that she would have to talk to her friend and apologize, somewhat, for her behavior the day before. She didn’t particularly want to apologize because she felt what she had done was perfectly reasonable but nevertheless, she felt compelled to make some sort of gesture. Mostly because of Luna herself.

After the blonde left her flat yesterday night she began thinking yet again about that conversation she had with Harry and how he said Luna wasn’t the type to want retaliation on her behalf, no matter how justified it might be. That’s why Hermione found her mind once again drifting in class as she considered the various ways to apologize to Su without making it sound like she approved even the littlest bit of how the other girl had treated Luna in the past. She was still puzzling over this fairly complicated task when Professor Meedlemeier ended the lecture and the hall began to empty of students.

Gathering up her satchel quickly, Hermione hurried to meet her friend at the end of the aisle and gave a hesitant smile. "Su," she greeted, shifting her gaze momentarily to several of their mutual friends who were lurking about wearing curious and gossipy expressions. "Could I have a word with you? Just us two?"

Su studied Hermione for a long moment then dipped her head in agreement before giving their mutual friends a silent look which clearly told them to exit the premises. A few moments later, they were left alone in the empty lecture hall and Hermione was busy trying to work out the right wording when Su offered quietly, "I apologized to her today. Saw her in the commons with all the other Student Healers, laughing in that pretty way she always had and I felt awful when I thought about everything I did… we all did, to someone with such a pretty laugh. So I went right up to her and apologized."

"You did?" asked Hermione, dumbfounded.

"I did," Su nodded and a tiny smile crept onto her lips. "And do you know what she said to me?" Hermione shook her head, unable to imagine, and Su looked off to one side before turning back to the brunette, doing a near perfect imitation of Luna’s dreamy tones as she said, "You can take something but that doesn’t mean it will ever really belong to you so there isn’t anything to apologize for. Besides, it all came back in the end."

"That sounds like her," said Hermione with a chuckle.

"You like her, don’t you?" asked Su softly, a solemn look on her features.

"Of course I like her! Luna’s quite the likable girl once you get past her eccentricities," Hermione replied quickly, purposefully avoiding the deeper underlining question that was hidden in Su’s statement, not really wanting to think on what Su was trying to say.

"Hermione," Su began slowly and she looked more solemn if possible, her jaw setting her lips into a very fine line. "I mean that you…" The pretty Asian trailed off as her eyes fixed on something beyond the brunette and she formed an anxious smile that caused Hermione to turn and follow her gaze. Luna was standing at the entrance to the lecture hall, her eyes lidded and thoughtful as she observed them. After a moment of silence, Su exclaimed nervously, "Luna! What are you doing on this side of the campus? I thought Student Healers had all their lectures on the west end."

"The Professors sometimes like to release us from our cages and let us roam free," answered Luna serenely, walking towards the other girls. "I do think they discourage the other students from feeding us though. Yancy has a nasty bite, I’ve heard." Su kept eyeing Luna nervously on hearing this while Hermione released a most unladylike snort of laughter that caused the blonde to smile fondly at her. "I’ve made you laugh," murmured Luna, a soft happy look on her face. "I believe that’s the very first time I’ve done that when it was what I wanted."

"You just haven’t been telling nearly good enough jokes, Luna," informed Hermione, smiling at the other girl.

"Oh?" Luna inquired, tilting her head to one side, her blue eyes smiling. "I will work harder at improving then because I enjoy hearing you laugh. It is a lovely sound."

Suddenly thinking of what Su had said earlier, a mischievous light appeared in Hermione’s eyes as she drawled, "Su just told me she thinks you have a pretty laugh, Luna. Far prettier than mine."

"Really?" asked Luna, her eyes going wide as she looked to Su who blushed before averting her eyes and giving Hermione a dirty look. "I’m not sure you’re right, Hermione, she seems to be rather upset and people don’t tend to become upset by things they find pretty."

"That’s just because I’m here," Hermione explained with a grin, feeling an inexplicable desire to embarrass her friend. Perhaps it was some warped effort to warn her off from bringing up whatever it was she had with Luna because it simply wasn’t something Hermione wanted to think about. "Right, Su?"

"Right," Su replied, her eyes narrowing at Hermione. "I should be going, I’ve got an essay due for Famous Witches & Wizards of the Dark Ages." She started to walk away but paused and turned to Luna, offering a hesitant smile. "Hermione is telling the truth, you know. I do think you have a pretty laugh. Although," Su’s attention turned to Hermione and her eyes flashed with amusement, "I think Hermione likes it more than I do." Then with an impish grin, she disapparated with a pop and a cry of outrage from her friend.

"Honestly," huffed Hermione, putting her hands on her hips and doing her best to cover her embarrassment with bluster so Luna wouldn’t notice her blush and call it adorable yet again. She looked at the blonde out of the corner of her eyes and saw she was gazing off in the distance, her usual dreamy expression on her features. Sighing in relief, Hermione said, "Should we head to my flat? Or would you prefer--"

"I've asked our food to be delivered to my cottage," interrupted Luna, her voice pleasant, wearing a peaceful smile as she laced her hands behind her back. "Since you enjoyed what we had yesterday I thought I might surprise you again by finding another new food for you to like." She stepped forward, intently studying the look of surprise on Hermione's features. "Is it all right?" she questioned, a worried light emerging in her eyes as she looked at the other girl. "I didn't ask permission, after all."

On hearing this, Hermione snapped out of her state of slight shock and moved closer to Luna without realizing she was doing so. Reaching for the blonde's hands and squeezing them gently as she said, soft but strong in her resolution, "Friends needn't ask permission, Luna. And we're friends, remember?"

"I remember," murmured Luna, her fingers stretching out in Hermione's hold, the tips lightly caressing the brunette's palm in a soothing manner. "Shall we side along disapparate? The food should be arriving shortly." Hermione nodded, the soft touch of Luna's fingertips on her palm putting her into something of a daze, when it suddenly occurred to her they left half their study materials at her flat. She opened her mouth to say this when Luna looked at her and said with a gentle smile, "Don't fret over the books. I think my library at home should suffice. If not, we can always retrieve them from your flat."

Hermione nodded again and Luna gave another smile before they side along disapparated.

They were greeted by the smell of the sea and the rustle of the wind blowing through thick flowery vines when they apparated at Luna's cottage. Hermione assumed they would be apparating inside the home but that obviously wasn't the case. She started to ask the blonde about this but saw she was distracted, busy reading a small piece of parchment that was tacked to the door. This left Hermione with time to examine her surroundings. The cottage was brick and its roof and some of its walls were covered with winding vines that had beautiful pink flowers blooming on them. Leaning against one such wall was a bicycle that looked worse for wear with two flat tires and a large thatch basket that held yet more flowers inside it. There were pots of assorted sizes randomly placed about the yard and a rather tacky outdoor tableset with mismatched blue and white chairs. The doors were painted a light eggshell blue and on one of them hung a small wooden sign that was hand painted and simply read: Lovegood.

"I'm sorry," Luna's voice drifted on the air, immediately catching Hermione's attention and she turned to the blonde who wore a genuinely apologetic expression. "It's a bit chilly out here, isn't it? Lets go inside." With a flick of her wand a few hushed words, one of the blue doors swung open and they walked inside the warmly lit cottage. "Father likes to tack little notes to the front door every now and again," Luna explained as she removed her Student Healer robes and hung them on a nearby coat rack that had some sort of animal horns for its arms. She held out her hands and looked at Hermione expectantly who flushed and hurriedly removed her robes to give to the other girl. "That's why I apparate outside the cottage even though it gets cold during this time of year."

"But where are we? This can't be Ottery St. Catchpole," said Hermione, thinking of the seaside smell that she noticed when they apparated.

"We're in Ballyvaughan, Ireland," Luna explained with a soft smile, hanging Hermione's robe next to her own. "This was my mother's cottage some years ago. She was muggleborn and my grandfather was a fisherman in this area. We often came here for family vacations when I was small. But don't worry," the blonde walked through the living room and exited into a hallway that lit itself as she entered. This left Hermione to study the living room which had a large and absurdly comfortable looking yellow sofa, a round plaid rug, large oak coffee table, and several other nameless bibs and bobs about that made it look very homey. On the far wall there was an assortment of magical photographs and several of the people in them waved at Hermione to get her attention. She was walking over to the wall as Luna's voice floated out to her, "There's quite a powerful spell on the cottage to hide it from Muggles. They haven't the slightest clue we're here."

Hermione's gaze wandered over the wall that consisted of various photographs, some big and some terribly small, but each filled with happily smiling people who looked eager for Hermione's attention. However, it was one photograph in particular which held her interest. It was of two women, a brunette and a blonde, both wearing the patented happy smiles of all the pictures, but somehow their smiles seemed the happiest yet. Their heads were ducked close together, as if they were sharing a wonderful secret, and their hair obscured most of their features except for the glittering smiles which had first caught Hermione's eye. Then, quite suddenly, the brunette pulled back from the blonde, clearly ending a kiss, a playful grin dancing on her lips as she focused on Hermione, revealing her identity and her partner's in the process as she prodded at the blonde to also look Hermione's way.

"Katie Bell," Hermione whispered the name in clear disbelief, blinking her eyes and restraining herself from rubbing at them to make sure they weren't playing tricks on her. But they weren't because after a bout of blinking it was still the former Gryffindor chaser smiling prettily at her, an arm wrapped around Luna's waist who was occupied with waving at Hermione. "Luna's dating Katie Bell?"

"Dated, actually," came Luna's tranquil reply in Hermione's ear, causing the brunette to visibly jump. "You're so nervous," Luna noted with some concern. "It isn't at all good for you. First stress and now nerves. Perhaps I should make you a potion for it? I know of several and I could easily add a tasty flavoring for you. Which would you prefer, grape or merrywig?"

"No thank you, I don't need any potion," said Hermione, shaking her head and waving her hands. Unable to help it, her eyes drifted back to the photograph and she was greeted with the sight of Luna plaiting Katie's hair who put up with this wearing a look of good humored exasperation. "Luna," she found herself asking before she could help it, "when did you date Katie? At Hogwarts?"

"When I was there, yes," Luna offered, smiling as she watched her photographic self try and convince Katie to wear a bright orange bow in her hair. "But she had long since graduated. It was in my seventh year and I went with Ginny to a Holyhead Harpies match. They had been trying to recruit her quite strongly at the time. Kept sending her owls and free tickets…"

"I remember," said Hermione with a nod, thinking back to how Ron had been a bit jealous of his sibling's opportunity despite how much he enjoyed working with George at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. He soon got over it, as he always did, out of sheer happiness and pride for his little sister on getting a chance to play with such a respected Quidditch team. Thinking back to that time, she recalled what Ginny had said about the Holyhead Harpies players and how she was relieved there would be at least one familiar face for her on the team. "Katie plays for them as well, doesn't she?"

"She has the highest scoring average out of all their chasers," said Luna and Hermione's eyes were once again drawn to the photograph where Katie smirked and gave her a wink on hearing this. Scowling and purposefully averting her eyes from the picture, she focused back on Luna who smiled sweetly and continued, "But Ginny has been catching up as of late."

"So you met her at the match and began dating?" asked Hermione, hoping for a summary and not a detailed report of their relationship. She was curious, although she wasn't sure why since gossip about such things normally never interested her, but there was only so much she wanted to hear. For some reason, perhaps it was the image of the photographic Katie smirking and gloating, the idea of the other brunette being with Luna irritated her. "When did you break up?"

"That is what happened, more or less," said Luna who tilted her head and studied Hermione with lidded eyes. "It's been two months…" Luna trailed off, focusing on the picture that Hermione was avoiding and the photographic Katie held up three fingers, causing the blonde hum under her breath. "Three months, Katie says, since we stopped dating." She turned her attention back to Hermione, curiosity swimming in her blue eyes as she asked, "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know," Hermione almost stammered, her cheeks turning red as she looked away from the blonde to stare at a strangely lumpy statue of a creature that looked a cross between an elephant and a giraffe. "I suppose I was surprised to find you're a lesbian, that's all."

"Oh, I'm not a lesbian," said Luna, demonstrating the pretty laugh that Su had mentioned earlier. "I'm not in the least fond of drama and neither is Katie. She said that made us exempt. But her friends who are lesbians did get rather upset when she said that." Against her will, Hermione looked at photographic Katie who was grinning largely, seeming quite pleased on hearing this. Apparently even the photographic version of the chaser found humor in Luna unknowingly repeating her jokes to others. Not pleased with this attitude in the slightest, Hermione scowled at the photographic Katie who pouted at this reaction. Unaware of Hermione's silent interaction with her ex-girlfriend in picture form, Luna continued, "Katie supposed it was simply part of having women together romantically, there sometimes being drama. I told her it was more likely an invasion of Wrinkly Crinkypuffs who like to hide in ladies handbags and cause adverse personality reactions in the people they're around but for some reason she didn't seem to agree. She felt it was hormones but I told her it really didn't matter to me as women are far softer than men and the sex is ever so enjoyable..."

A strangled protest on hearing this much information was readying to leave Hermione's lips when a knock sounded on Luna's door and the blonde clapped her hands eagerly while announcing their food must have arrived. The door opened and Luna began conversing with a short wizard with bushy white hair and a funny hat that said 'IWDP' in sparkling letters. She began to walk over to the blonde but an excited coo and the feel of feet settling on her forearm stopped her. Looking down, Hermione was met with the sight of a medium sized bird that resembled a dove except it was taller and its feathers were a lovely combination of dark blue and turquoise. The bird fluffed up at Hermione's attention and she cautiously lifted her other hand to stroke the feathers on its neck. It cooed at her touch and she smiled softly before looking up at Luna who was approaching with their food in hand.

"That is my little friend, Bishamon," informed Luna happily and the bird cooed in response to her introduction. "He's a Japanese Wood Pigeon that father and I found on a trip to Honshu. We believe the vicious One Toothed Divit attacked his family as he was the only egg not broken in the nest."

"Do you use him to deliver messages instead of an owl?" asked Hermione, following Luna into the kitchen but looking over her shoulder as Bishamon flew off his temporary perch on her arm to settle on a handsome brass perch that held two large bowls filled with seed and water.

"I ask him to, from time to time," said Luna, opening up the first box of food and filling the air with a delicious aroma. "I was a bit worried at first, wondering how he would get on with the owls at the owlery but he doesn't seem the least bit scared of them, no matter how puffed up they can become. That's why I named him Bishamon. He's a fighting pigeon."

Looking back at the bird who fluffed his feathers and cooed, Hermione regarded the name choice and his fighting status with a good deal of skepticism. All the same, it was a cute and harmless pet. Hermione had half feared the blonde would imitate Hagrid's habit of adopting wayward dragons as she clearly shared his love for all types of magical creatures, particularly those yet to be discovered.

The food was ordered from a restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal said a smiling Luna, and Hermione found the Arroz de Marisco, a seafood rice, to be particularly delectable. As they ate, they discussed various ingredients to add to their developing idea for the potion to cure Vanishing Disease. When the meal ended and the dishes were cleared with magical efficiency, Hermione followed Luna through a small hallway into a room that was so large she felt certain magic had to be involved in order for it to be inside such a relatively tiny cottage. The ceiling was at least ten feet high and the height was made all that more noticeable by a ladder that resided on two small wheels. A ladder used to reach the books on the higher shelves as that was almost entirely what this room consisted of. Books upon books upon books and Hermione walked inside in something of a trance, her fingertips running over their spines as she read their titles. One after another they were dedicated or related in some form to medicinal magic. No wonder Luna hadn't been concerned about needing the books at her flat, they had more than enough options here to keep them busy for months on end.

"My mother was a quite extraordinary witch when she was alive," Luna said quietly, moving to stand at Hermione's side. "This was her personal library. She was a Healer, you see." Hermione looked to the blonde, not sure what she should say but Luna smiled softly, her voice distant as she said, "I suppose I wanted to become a Healer because of her, perhaps to feel closer to her. Among other things."

"What other things?" asked Hermione, not at all liking that distant tone Luna had and wanting to take it away by having the blonde concentrate on her and not whatever far off thing she was imagining.

For a long moment, Luna studied her, with blue eyes lidded and clouded, and it seemed to Hermione that the other girl might not answer her question and she began to protest this, to encourage her to speak, when Luna murmured, "I do love traveling and seeing new things. Marvelous new countries filled with marvelous new people and even better, I love to look for the creatures they have in them. The ones I know exist but I cannot seem to convince anyone else of it. But as much as I love doing those things it can become rather dangerous and I've been hurt several times. During the last trip I suppose it was bad because Daddy was quite upset over my injuries and he wished my mother had been there because she was a Healer and, really, any decent expedition ought to have a Healer just in case anything should go wrong. That's when I began thinking that perhaps I could become a Healer and then he wouldn't be nearly so worried when I went searching for the Crumple Horned Snorkack or any of the other creatures I want so badly to find."

"Could you really heal yourself if it was terribly bad?" asked Hermione, worry lacing her tones.

"Perhaps not, but I would have the potions with me that could and they would all be labeled," replied Luna. "I don't plan on taking these expeditions without having a guide like Bheru with me, Hermione," the blonde said this reassuringly as she reached out to push aside a stray lock of hair that had fallen into Hermione's eyes. "That would be foolish. Especially when you consider how grumpy some of the creatures can be. Aquaviruses are particularly grouchy."

"But," Hermione paused, stumbling with Luna's logic, trying to work her mind around it, "couldn't you simply find a Healer to accompany you instead of attending University for it? Wouldn't you rather study Magical Creatures since you want to go on all these expeditions looking for them?"

"I don't know of any Healers who would want to and I don't think it at all wise to bring someone on such an expedition unless they truly wish to be there," said Luna simply. A small frown played on her lips as she observed Hermione's worried expression and she took the brunette's hand, her fingertips running lightly over the palm, instantly soothing the other girl as it had earlier. "You needn't worry. Nothing is going to happen to me. I've gone on several expeditions and they've all been relatively successful. I even have a picture of a Heliopath from one of them. Would you like to see?"

"No," Hermione shook her head, sounding as distant as Luna had a few moments before. She sighed and looked to the blonde with a weak smile as she murmured, "I suppose I don't understand why you need to become a Healer, is all. Not that it's any of my business."

"Friends know each others business, that is what makes them friends," said Luna wisely. Her fingers stopped their light trace on Hermione's palm as they instead entwined with the brunette's and her other hand rose up to tuck a curly lock of hair behind Hermione's ear before settling on her cheek, cupping it tenderly. "I'm not terribly sure I understand it either. I do think it has to do with wanting to feel close to my mother. It's not as if I was a baby when she died but I wasn't all that old either and I still feel there's so much about her I don't know and as I learn more about becoming a Healer, I begin to see things as she did, and even her death makes a bit more sense."

"How did she die?" asked Hermione in a whisper, afraid at the blonde's reaction to this question, but unable to stop herself from asking it all the same. Maybe because she had this strange feeling it was the first time Luna was actually talking about her mother's death with someone she considered a friend. And surely, this was something that should have happened long before now. A parent's death wasn't something that should be kept inside to fester in its grief, she knew that all too well because of Harry.

"She was experimenting with a spell to cure Dragon Pox, it's quite deadly, you know," Luna said this absently and Hermione gave a murmur of agreement to let the blonde know she was aware of the disease and how serious it was. "It went horribly wrong." Blue eyes slowly traveled across the rows of books, looking at them as if hoping to see the deceased woman in them, and then they settled on Hermione as Luna said, "I saw it happen."

The emptiness in Luna's eyes was too much to bear and with an unhappy cry, Hermione gathered the other girl up in her arms, holding her close, her fingers tangling in white blonde hair. "I'm so sorry," she murmured, her voice husky and rough with emotion. "I can't imagine what that must have been like."

Luna remained where she was, her face comfortably hidden in the crook of Hermione's neck, and her reply was muffled but the brunette could have sworn it sounded like she said it was horribly wrong and something about the way Luna had said it, muffled or not, made Hermione laugh through her tears and the blonde soon followed. Eventually the two girls had to pull apart because of the laughter they were rocking to and fro with such a strong rhythm they bumped into the library wall at one point.

Several books went tumbling to the ground and it was then, when they had moved just slightly apart, that Luna cupped Hermione's face once again, her touch warm and tender. "Even your tears are adorable," she said and the brunette could tell she meant her tones to be light and happy but they were more sad and wistful. Her thumbs were gentle as they swept across Hermione's face, wiping the tears away and as she did this, Luna whispered, "Thank you for crying for me. I don’t think anyone ever has before."

Overwhelmed with emotion, Hermione could only nod her head and close her eyes as she allowed the blonde to wrap her up in another hug, trying her best not to think of how very right this all felt and what that meant in terms of her relationship with Ron.

Chapter Text

Hermione was having dinner with Ron at her flat on Sunday. She would have preferred to be working on the project with Luna at her cottage as it was their last day to work before it was due but Ron had complained of how little he had seen of her during the week and she knew he was right. Normally they would have lunch or dinner together at least five times in a week and while she worked on the project it had been reduced to none. That's why she was having dinner with Ron and doing her very best to appear especially interested in his stories from work and Ginny's latest practice with the Harpies instead of fixing her eyes on the clock and counting the minutes until she could disapparate to Luna's cottage and continue their work. Because, really, he was right that she had been ignoring him and it wasn't the least bit good. Ron, whatever one might say about him, was a genuinely sweet man and he did deserve better.

But that didn't mean she wasn't still sneaking looks at the clock.

"Say," Ron began, an enthusiastic tone in his voice that Hermione recognized. He only used it when he came up with what he considered to be a brilliant idea. "Why don't we go out tomorrow night? Have a grand celebration after you get yourself that job for the Professor?" When Hermione started to protest his words, to say nothing was certain, he picked up her plate, kissing her on the forehead and grinning. "Don't even say it, love. You're the smartest bloody witch of our generation. There isn't any chance he's not going to hire you on. So?" Ron tossed a look over his shoulder as he set about magically doing the dishes. "What do you say? Yes or no to a grand celebration? We could invite Harry and Ginny if you like. I reckon it's been awhile since the four of us went out and had a lark."

Looking at the eagerness in his brown eyes that told her how very badly he wanted to please her, to make her happy with his idea, Hermione couldn't even comprehend how she could possibly say no. "How grand a celebration?" she asked, a smile tugging at her lips that became full blown as Ron gave a triumphant cry and ran over to her, sweeping her up in his arms as he promised that it would be the grandest. Laughing as she met his lips for a kiss, she did her best to lose herself in his touch and not think about the time and exactly what Luna was doing. She halfway feared she voiced her thoughts when she heard Luna's name spoken but after a moment of confusion she realized it had been Ron talking. "I'm sorry, what?"

"I said you ought to invite Luna as well if we're going as a group," said Ron and he paused, mulling over his words before he spoke again and Hermione could tell he was choosing them carefully. "She's your partner on the project, isn't she? I'm sure if you get on with a job, she will too, and that means she has just as much reason to warrant a grand celebration. Why don't we invite her along? It's been ages since she's seen any of us. Ginny complained of it to me last week," Ron confessed, amusement in his eyes and a grin on his lips. Hermione sighed at this. He really did enjoy gossip as much as a girl at times. "You seeing more of Luna than her. Especially since they were so close at Hogwarts."

And she wasn't. That was the unspoken portion of Ginny and then Ron's statement. One which made Hermione scowl before she immediately hid the reaction, not wanting her companion to question her about it, and she herself not wanting to think about precisely why she was so upset by someone stating the honest truth. That she hadn't been close to Luna at Hogwarts, that while she was there she barely gave the blonde girl a second thought. For whatever reason, she found acknowledging this to be particularly annoying and somewhat painful. It made no sense. In fact, it was ridiculous.

"They were close weren't they," Hermione finally said, more to herself than Ron, speaking her thoughts aloud. Trying not to think of how close they really might have been when you considered Luna's history with Katie Bell. But that was preposterous to consider. Ginny loved Harry desperately and she had for years. There was no way she could have done anything with Luna. Yes, it was preposterous. Still…

"Awfully," agreed Ron, nodding his head, shaggy red hair flying about as he did so, not realizing the strange turn Hermione's thoughts about his sister and Luna had taken. "Ginny was a bit upset when she ended it with Katie. Since then Luna stopped coming by for their regular lunches after practice out of politeness. I guess Katie took it hard when they broke up," Ron said this with a quiet incredulity, as if he couldn't grasp how anyone could take breaking up with Luna Lovegood as a difficult thing.

Snapping her attention to Ron on hearing this, the disturbing imagery of Ginny with Luna thankfully leaving her mind, Hermione demanded, "You knew Katie dated Luna?"

"Yeah," said Ron, frowning and looking down at his shirt that Hermione was now clutching at. "I told you about it ages ago, when they first started dating. Don't you remember? It was the same week we had that row over me blowing up your loo when I was testing the talking toilet bowl cleaner."

She recalled the explosion and the horrific mess that had resulted and how she had angrily declared that Ron was never allowed to test any Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products in her flat again but that was all she recalled. Then again, was it surprising that she didn't remember? It wasn't as if she enjoyed gossip and she was certain that back then, before she had gotten to know Luna, she would have considered Ron talking about Luna's romantic interests to be gossip. Therefore she wouldn't have been interested in the slightest and would have promptly forgotten the information after Ron finished telling her about it.

After all, it was a common thing. Her not actually giving all her attention to Ron when he spoke to her. Logically Hermione knew it was a terrible thing to do. Particularly to such a kind person who did care for her so but she couldn't help it. As much as Ron found her studying and her discussion of academia horribly dull she found his fixation with Quidditch, practical jokes, and aimless gossip inane and useless. She had been trying to improve, to listen to him better, but it was something of a trial. But in his defense, the jokes were for his occupation. However annoying they might be.

Carefully removing Hermione's hands from his shirt, which was custom made to advertise the joke shop, Ron said, "Well? Should we invite Luna? I asked because I thought you'd fancy it if she came along."

"Yes, I'd fancy it," said Hermione faintly, speaking before she could really think about it. Shaking her head, she moved away from Ron and began gathering up her things. She did need to disapparate to the cottage to work on the project. They had a significant amount of proofreading and finishing analysis to do before they could possibly turn it over to Ipson. "I'll ask her tomorrow. If we're both chosen, that is."

"If!" Ron exclaimed, shaking his head again and pulling her into a hug from behind. "Bollocks to if. You'll be chosen and we'll have a grand celebration. Luna will come along and Ginny will be thrilled to see her. When should we meet up and where should we go?"

"Surprise me," said Hermione with a smile, thinking of how Luna had been doing just that throughout the week in her choices of delicious and exotic meals from foreign countries.

"Surprise you," echoed Ron, looking exactly that as he studied Hermione for a moment. A flustered expression formed on his face and he said almost helplessly, "But what type of food--"

"Surprise me," Hermione enforced again and she gave another smile, pressing a kiss to his cheek before disapparating to the outside of Luna's cottage in Ballyvaughan.

Staring at the empty space that Hermione had just occupied, Ron sighed deeply and muttered, "But I don't know what type of food you'd like."

He stood there and contemplated the various meals they shared in their years together, trying to remember any foods that Hermione expressed a fondness for but none coming to mind. Sighing again, Ron decided to simply search her cupboard to get some ideas and if that didn't work he could always ask Ginny. She usually knew better than he did about things concerning his girlfriend.

Sad as that might be to realize.

---

They sat on Professor Ipson's small leather sofa, a stack of books between them, with matching anxious expressions. When Hermione and Luna first entered the cluttered office, the worn leather sofa had been completely covered with books. The Professor explained somewhat sheepishly he had perhaps gone a bit overboard at Flourish and Botts annual used book sale. He also informed him that his purchases were all safely hidden in his already crowded office to keep them away from his wife's angry eyes. She didn't approve his literature addiction, particularly when it got expensive and immense such as this shopping expedition had. Hermione wasn't one to enjoy clutter but as she stared at the pile of books between them, she was envious of the Professor's collection. As a student she didn't have money for all the books she longed to buy and there was a limit to how many she was allowed to check out of the library.

Inspecting the fourth book from the bottom, Hermione noted it was about the Salem witch trials. She smelled the soft strands of Luna's hair before she felt them, the pleasing aroma of raspberries clung to her as she leaned close to Hermione to get a look at what was occupying her attention. "My Aunt Neasa was friends with the former Headmistress of the Salem Witches' Institute," Luna commented, moving her gaze from the book to Hermione. "As you'd expect, they have quite the large collection of books on the trials, along with artifacts. I was told the students even get to experience how the witches escaped the burnings from Muggles when they learn how to disapparate and apparate."

"Isn't that dangerous?" asked Hermione, raising an eyebrow.

"Not terribly, the flames only tickle," replied Luna with a smile. Her hair brushed up against Hermione's cheek as she turned her attention back to Professor Ipson who looked to be finishing their report. "I think he might be done. Cross your fingers, won't you?"

Following Luna's request without knowing why, Hermione crossed her fingers beneath the material of her robe, watching expectantly as Ipson set down their rather long parchment on his desk and studied them for a moment. "Well," he murmured, his voice low and serious as he took off his round glasses that served to remind Hermione so much of Harry. "Would tomorrow be too soon to begin our work?"

On hearing this, Luna immediately gave a happy cry, bouncing in her seat and clapping her hands. Then she calmed considerably and replied, "I think tomorrow would be splendid." She turned to Hermione, her face shining with contentment and asked, "Don't you agree?"

"Certainly," agreed Hermione with a smile, feeling terribly amused by the blonde's reaction.

Just as they had before, the three soon fell into easy conversation about not only the project but campus life in general. The Professor decided that they would meet no more than four times a week so the girls would have enough time for their own studies and also have a semblance of a social life. When it seemed as if Hermione was getting ready to object, he insisted they have the time off with a smile and a hearty laugh, saying that if he couldn't have a life then they should at least have one for him. Luna then gently offered that overworking doesn't help anyone and would simply cause them to burnout on the project before they even got a chance to begin. Looking from one kind face to another, knowing that both were speaking the truth and truly wanted the best for her, Hermione simply had to agree.

When they parted ways an hour later, after the Professor had received a howler from his wife demanding to know if he planned on eating dinner with his family or not, Hermione was trying to figure out the best way to invite Luna out to the grand celebration Ron had arranged. Eventually she decided it would be easiest to just ask. Which is why she turned to the blonde, a slightly anxious look on her features as she said Luna's name. The blonde turned to her with an easy smile and feeling encouraged by this, Hermione continued, "Ron got it in his head that I ought to have a celebration if I got this job with the Professor. It's nothing fancy, I'm sure, just a small get together with Harry and Ginny. But I was wondering, would you like to join us? After all, it's as much your celebration as mine."

"If that's true then I think I must," Luna replied, smiling peacefully, and Hermione sighed in relief. Tilting her head, a curious look in her blue eyes, she asked, "When and where is this celebration taking place?"

"Tonight, seven o'clock, I believe," said Hermione. She paused, wearing a wry expression as she said, "As for where, I haven't the slightest. I've left Ron in charge. Whatever good or ill may come of it. I think it best that when you disapparate to think of transporting yourself to my location."

"I always do that quite happily," murmured Luna, looking off into the distance.

"Do what?" asked Hermione with some confusion.

"Think of you," said Luna in a simple reply, her blue eyes fixed on Hermione, glowing with warmth and affection. "You're blushing again," Luna smiled, reaching out to touch one of the brunette's burning cheeks. "I still find it adorable." Hermione began to bluster and protest and Luna observed this with some fondness before she remarked, "Do you mind if I invite someone along to our celebration? Then we might have six people instead of five and I do prefer even to odd numbers. They divide so much easier. Not that I want to divide anyone on such a lovely night as this."

"That's fine," said Hermione, already wondering who Luna was thinking of inviting and hoping, for whatever reason, it wasn't Katie Bell. Perhaps it was the memory of her smirking photograph.

"Good," Luna beamed and her hand fell away from Hermione's cheek. "Then I'll see you at seven o'clock, after quite happily thinking of you and your adorable blush."

Before Hermione could respond, the blonde disapparated with a pop and she was left alone in the corridor, fighting her adorable blush and a sinking feeling about the upcoming celebration. Grand or not.

---

It hadn't been a lie when Hermione told Luna that she hadn't the slightest idea where they would be meeting for their grand celebration. But all the same, she would have been hard pressed to consider that they would end up at Peasegood's Pub in London. The pub was a popular meeting place for Ron and Harry, and Ginny as well, since it was the Wizarding equivalent of what Muggles call a sports bar.

The pub was named after the American wizard Abraham Peasegood who created the game of Quodpot in the early 1700's. Quodpot, as far as Hermione could tell, wasn't all that different from Quidditch but Ron and Harry often argued with her opinion, claiming it was the second best sport after Quidditch and differed from it in a good many ways. In their opinion, Quodpot far exceeded Quidditch in the fierce level of competition exhibited by the players. Hermione supposed that had something to do with the fact the main ball used in the game was made to explode in a most fabulous and gory fashion during the matches.

Hermione wanted to think it was merely a coincidence that they were at the pub on the first game of the Big Pot, a seven game series in the National Quodpot League which determined the league champion for the year. She wanted to think that but as she looked at Ron and Harry's guilty expressions she couldn't quite make herself believe it. "Honestly, Ron," she said with a good deal of exasperation as she tried to spot a seat that would be farthest away from the cauldron that was steaming and bubbling as it produced images of the actual game in America. "You owe me for this one."

Releasing an ecstatic cry, Ron sat himself next to Harry at their table, as they took the two places that would give them the clearest view of the game. Sighing at this, Hermione directed her attention to Ginny who appeared remorseful as she looked at the older girl. "I'm sorry, Hermione," she said, a sheepish look on her features. "When Ron rang me asking where we should go tonight I didn't think to ask why we were meeting and I brought up the Big Pot being tonight…"

"It's all right, Ginny," said Hermione. She eyed Ron and Harry who were happily chattering away about which team they felt best deserved to be the Big Pot Champion and said sardonically, "Having a grand celebration wasn't your idea, after all."

"Grand celebration?" echoed Ginny with a frown.

"It's nothing," Hermione dismissed, waving her hand and honestly feeling as if it truly was nothing. It wasn't like she particularly wanted to have this outing in the first place. The entire thing had been Ron's idea but once he suggested it she did think it was a good idea and she had been looking forward to him picking out a nice place for them to eat. Somewhere different and new that would make her feel a bit adventurous and fun. Just like she had been feeling all last week as she dined with Luna and the blonde produced exotic meal after meal, each one better than the last. But instead they were at a familiar location, one that she didn't hold much enjoyment for at that. If she had really allowed herself to become excited over the prospect of their get together she would have been more upset. She supposed it was lucky for Ron that she hadn't allowed herself to feel anything of the sort. It was something she had trained herself to do after a string of horrible disappointments when it came to her romantic outings with the redhead. Suddenly recalling what Ron had said about Ginny being upset at not seeing Luna much these days, she remarked, "I've invited Luna. Did Ron tell you?"

"Luna's coming?" exclaimed Ginny, grasping Hermione's arm and bouncing in her seat, reminding the older girl so much of the blonde in that moment as that was something she always did when she was excited. "No, Ron didn't tell me," Ginny formed a deep frown and pinched her brother hard on the arm, causing him to yelp and turn to her with accusing eyes. "Ron!" Ginny scowled. "Why didn't you tell me Luna was coming? I could've asked Katie to come as well and gotten this whole thing sorted out."

"I didn't tell you because I bloody well didn't want you to use Hermione's grand celebration to sort things out," Ron grumbled, rubbing his arm and looking at his sister with petulant eyes. "You ought to just leave things be. It isn't good to meddle. I doubt players on the Chudley Cannons fiddle about with each others romantic lives." With that he turned back to Big Pot pregame show, an obstinate look on his features.

"Ginny," Harry said her name softly, an understanding look in his green eyes as he reached out to clasp her hand gently. "I know how you feel but I think Ron might be right in some small way. And didn't Katie ask you to leave it alone?" Ginny opened her mouth to dispute this and Harry interrupted quietly, "She might not be happy now but I think she would be even less happy if we ambushed her with Luna."

"I'm not sure if I would be good at ambushing," Luna's serene voice floated out over them, remarkably clear in the boisterous atmosphere of the pub. "I failed miserably in stealth portion for the N.E.W.T.s in Defense Against The Dark Arts."

"Luna!" Ginny said her name much as she had moments before, except far more excited as she leapt out of her seat and gathered the other girl up in a hug that spun her around a bit. Despite how crowded and Quodpot focused the crowd at the pub was, several patrons turned their attention to the two girls. Some of them noting Ginny's status as a member of the Holyhead Harpies. "It's been ages! How have you been?"

"Quite well," said Luna, forming her usual beatific smile. "Although right now I feel dizzy."

The blonde's companion reached out to steady her with a hand placed on her back and it was then that they took notice of them. Observing their stares, Neville Longbottom smiled and said, "Hi guys."

"Hi Neville," everyone said together, united in their mutual affection for him.

Unable to help herself, Hermione felt a wave of relief to see it was Neville with Luna instead of a potential date such as Katie Bell. Although, who was she to say that Neville wasn't a date? It was true that he had once been as unpopular as Luna at Hogwarts but that all turned around after the war and now he was seen as something of a catch. Besides that, Neville was a genuinely nice person and with his fixation on Herbology he was suited to Luna who was equally fixated on Magical Creatures. A sinking feeling taking hold of her, Hermione turned to look at them and saw Neville pull out a chair for Luna who sat with a happy smile and a thank you to him and without knowing it, a scowl formed on her features. One that didn't go unnoticed by Luna who was soon inquiring why it was on Hermione's normally adorable face.

Fortunately for Hermione, the answer was given by Ron who claimed responsibility, saying he hadn't picked the best place for their grand celebration and she was upset with him for it. This comment was soon protested by Luna who thought it was a perfectly lovely pub despite the fact she hadn't the slightest idea what it was based around. That led to a thoroughly exhausting explanation of the game of Quodpot that went on until the waitress came to get their orders. When she left, Hermione found herself in something of a foul mood, boring holes into the back of Ron's head with her eyes as she thought of Luna defending him and his horrendous choice of meeting spots that had to do completely with his sports obsession and nothing at all with her.

Thankfully, Neville soon distracted her by asking about their project and her studies at the University. He was never interested in sports, particularly the kinds involving brooms as he was a bit of a wreck when it came to flying, and the group was soon divided into those interested in discussing and watching the Big Pot and those not with Ginny going in between the two as she was the type to understand all sorts of interests. No matter which turn their conversation took, Hermione continued to watch and wonder if Neville and Luna were on a date. Which is why the moment the blonde excused herself to take a trip to the loo, Hermione turned to Neville and asked him just that.

Immediately turning dark red, Neville began to sputter and stare at Hermione with wide eyes. Normally such a reaction would have caused her to feel a good deal of sympathy and to retract her question but in this case, Hermione simply felt irritated and said, "I suppose that means you aren't seeing Luna?"

"Hermione!" said Ginny, a little stunned at the brunette's behavior. "Of course Neville isn't dating Luna. She's only just ended things with Katie and if you ask me, they aren't really finished."

"Not again," Ron groaned, pulling his eyes away from the Big Pot. The game was apparently on break as the cauldron was currently producing images of the latest issue of Witches Weekly. "Ginny, how many times do people need to tell you to stop before you'll quit poking your nose into their love lives? I'm surprised Katie hasn't sent a bludger after you."

"Katie's too depressed to have anything to do with bludgers," said Ginny indignantly. "She got whacked in the head by one at our last practice. Now tell me that's not the action of a woman still in love."

"Getting whacked in the head by bludgers?" asked Ron with a laugh. He turned to Hermione and said, "I don't reckon you want to get hit in the head by a crazed ball and you're in love, aren't you?"

Hermione didn't reply, not particularly wanting to think about her love status involving Ron, and instead fixed her gaze on Neville, intent on getting a response from him, and he swallowed nervously and offered, "I'm seeing Hannah Abbott."

An enormous feeling of relief seized Hermione on hearing this and remained with her for the rest of the night. One that she didn't try to fight or understand. Simply because doing either would be just too hard and would cause her to think of things she didn't want to consider. Not now and perhaps not ever.

Chapter Text

Weeks passed since their grand celebration and in those weeks Hermione saw less and less of Ron and more and more of Luna because of their work with Professor Ipson. Though most of the time she spent with the blonde was doing work it never felt that way to Hermione. It seemed was impossible for her to consider it such because like most people she had a tendency to associate work with the boring and often mundane. And that was never how Hermione felt when she was with Luna. Whether they were discussing potion ingredients for a cure to Harrowing Hiccups or the existence of the Fearsome Triple Footed Pimplot it was somehow always interesting to her. More than that, it was fun.

She was having so much fun that she supposed it had to come to an end eventually. When that moment arrived, it did so spectacularly. With a barrage of fireworks and explosions instead of the quiet bang and a pop that Hermione would have preferred. They had gotten into a discussion with the Professor about the revolutionary aspect of the project. How the book would change the way people in the wizarding world looked at healing children. In this discussion, Hermione remarked if they were trying to be truly revolutionary then why were they relying on the standard form of curing diseases?

For hundreds of years wizards have used potions to cure diseases, poxes, and viruses and some in the magical medical community felt this practice was outdated. Several even proving that the use of potions had created retro-viruses, that using the same potions over and over has resulted in the diseases being able to mutate magically, becoming far more deadly in the process. The only viable solution to stop this from happening, they theorized, was to cure with spells rather than potions as it was far more difficult, nearly impossible in fact, for a virus to become immune to a spell rather than potion. Considering that, Hermione reasoned, shouldn't they be developing spells to cure these diseases rather than new potions since spells would be far more effective in the long term?

Whenever they had discussions about things like this in the past Luna usually agreed with her and when she didn't, she expressed her opinions a level manner that left Hermione wondering if her thoughts were really right on the matter. The perpetual serenity that the blonde seemed to carry with her never left her in their talks and Hermione could count on seeing that peaceful smile grace her lips during their discussion. But when Hermione brought up the studies that proved spells to be superior to potions in curing diseases and preventing retro-viruses from emerging she saw that calm leave the other girl for the first time. A serious line formed on her lips and her blue eyes darkened as she said that despite what any study said, it was too dangerous to develop spells as cures for diseases. There were too many chances for something to go wrong and when it went wrong…

It was at that point that Luna stopped talking.

Hermione, however, kept right on. Speaking passionately about how progress should never be slowed by the mere chance something could go wrong. After all, how could one live their life wondering about chances? You would never get anything done for all the time spent worrying over such things. There was always danger in the unknown and that was just something that went along with being part of things that were new and innovative. And the people who were involved accepted this and still continued on, knowing what they were doing was important enough that it was worth the risk.

The Professor tried to interject, to stop anything more from being said, but it was too late. Luna had her head lowered and her body was trembling, her hands clenched into fists as she said, her voice fierce and frightening in its whisper, that there was nothing innovative and worthy in death. Nothing at all. Then she swept a pile of books into her arms, mumbling that she would return them to the library before it got too late and they shut for the night. A long and horrible silence filled the room then Professor Ipson turned to Hermione, a good deal sadness and regret evident in his gaze.

"Oh dear," Ipson said with a deep sigh, wearing a worried frown as he removed his round glasses and wiped them on his checkered vest. "I knew I should have stopped you before it got too far but I do enjoy it when students have intellectual discussions. Though the last part of that was more of a row than anything else. I suppose it's to be expected, when you consider poor Fiona."

"Fiona?" asked Hermione, tearing her eyes away from the doorway that Luna had exited through and focusing on the Professor. Stopping herself, for the moment, from following after the blonde.

"Fiona Callaghan," murmured Ipson and he went around his desk, searching through the piles of parchments and books, before he produced a faded black and white photograph sitting inside a cracked wooden frame. Taking the photograph, Hermione followed his finger as it landed above the head of an extraordinarily pretty witch with flowing blonde hair and warm twinkling eyes. When she noticed Hermione's gaze, she tilted her head in a manner that the brunette couldn't help but recognize and waved happily at the younger girl. "One of my very first students at the University." Hermione's eyes were drawn to a much younger and far thinner Professor Ipson who beamed at her from the photograph. "Though you would know her better by the name of Lovegood."

"Luna's mother," Hermione breathed and she kept her gaze fixed on the woman in the photograph who continued to smile at her in a way that she found so familiar in her daughter. Lifting her head, looking at Ipson with concern, she said, "She told me about her. How she died. But I didn't think…"

"Fiona was one of the strongest proponents for spells being used instead of potions to cure disease," said Ipson, gently taking the photograph back from the brunette. "It was shortly after she graduated here that a more deadly strain of Dragon Pox developed. One that was immune to the standard potion cure created by Gunhilda of Gorsemoor and Fiona was part of a team at St. Mungo's assigned to study it in hopes of creating a possible cure. She became convinced potions were the cause of the new strains of viruses and that the only way to permanently rid ourselves of these new viruses would be with spells."

"She died experimenting with a spell," said Hermione in a hush. The entire conversation she just had came rushing back into her mind. How she said that spells were superior to potions as cures because of retro-viruses and how anyone working on something new and innovative, such as Luna's mother had in her work to create a spell to cure the new strain of Dragon Pox, would have known and accepted the risk involved with their work. In a way it was tantamount to her saying that Luna's mother was willing to die to create that spell. To die and leave Luna and her father without a second thought. All for her work, for the sake of medical advancement, for the sake of finding that cure. Lost as she looked to Professor Ipson who wore a solemn but understanding look on his features, she said, "I never meant…" Hermione trailed off, unable to say the words, swallowing hard as she continued quietly, "Honestly, I didn't."

"I know," said Ipson kindly. "And I'm sure that Luna knows as well. But all the same," Ipson walked around his desk, reaching down for Hermione's satchel and handing it to her with a soft smile. "Perhaps it would be best if you told her that." Hermione paused, hesitating, whether out of fear of what to say to Luna or feeling the obligation to stay and continue her work with Ipson and the Professor made a shooing motion with his hands as he said, "Go on. I doubt we would get much more done tonight as it is."

For the first time in a long while, Hermione wasn't thinking as she made her way to the library. Her mind was an absolute blank as she walked into the building and started searching. She hadn't the slightest idea where she was going, she hadn't stopped to think about which books the blonde had taken from the Professor's office, how many there were and how long it would take for her to put them away. Hermione didn't have even the smallest thought in her head as she wandered through the stacks, automatically winding her way on a strange path she didn't understand until it somehow led her directly to Luna.

Three books were balanced on the top of her head, slipping backwards ever so slightly as the blonde looked up while she performed a levitating spell to put the book that had been in her arms onto the highest shelf in the stacks. Moving forward before she could stop and consider what to say, Hermione lifted a hand to steady the books before they fell to the ground and it was in that movement that Luna noticed her presence. She studied Hermione for a long moment before she reached up and removed the books from her head, gathering them close to her chest, holding them tight to her body as if they were some sort of shield that could protect her from hurt. Swallowing hard on seeing this, on seeing the pain, however faint, in Luna's blue eyes, Hermione searched her mind desperately for the right words to say. It was then that she recalled what the Professor had told her and she decided that perhaps she should simply do as he advised and say to Luna what she had said to him. No matter how awkward and stumbling it had been.

"I didn't mean what I said before," Hermione began, watching helplessly as Luna turned from her to stare off into the distance, looking at what she had no idea. "I mean, I know that's not entirely true. I do think that spells are more effective long term than potions but what I said about it being worth the risk… I didn't mean that, not in the way it sounded. Not in the way that I think it's right for people to sacrifice their lives. That's not something I'd ever agree with, no matter what good might result out of it."

"There's very little good," Luna said vaguely, her gaze still far from Hermione. "She never did find a cure."

"Luna," Hermione breathed her name more than said it, moving forward and reaching out to the younger girl before she realized what she was doing. "I'm sorry for what I said."

"I know," said Luna distantly and the books she was holding fell from her chest and she turned methodically, her eyes searching the stacks as she put the next book in the pile back where it belonged. "I know when you said that you weren't speaking about my mother and what happened to her but all the same, that's the only thing that I could think of when you were speaking. And the more you kept on speaking it changed from her to my father, the Professor, Ginny, and then you. I kept seeing these horrible things happening to all of you as they'd happened to her and in the end I simply had to leave." The last book put away, Luna finally looked at Hermione. "We never did finish our discussion."

Releasing a disbelieving laugh, Hermione shook her head, trying to grasp if it really was this easy to be forgiven by Luna because it never was with Ron, and said, "I don't think I want to finish it. Do you?"

"Not especially," said Luna, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips. "But I will say that I don't see very much good in one person dying for another. Anyone can say it's a terribly noble thing and perhaps that's true but shouldn't Healers be more concerned with saving everyone? Even themselves?"

"You're right," said Hermione softly and seriously. A wave of guilt seizing her, Hermione stepped forward, taking Luna's hands in her own, looking at her with wide and plaintive eyes. "I'm so sorry, Luna, honestly I am. Sometimes I get so caught up in my ideas and theories that I don't stop to think about people and their feelings. I guess that's what happens when someone becomes more comfortable with books and studies than with people as I have. They begin to lose their skills in dealing with them." Hermione gave a wry laugh as she continued, "If I had any in the first place." She remained utterly still as the blonde gently pulled one of her hands free and it moved up to push a stray lock of hair from Hermione's eyes. "Luna," Hermione said her name again, this time with an anxious sort of emphasis, almost begging for a response.

"We should go out," Luna said after some consideration, her hand falling down to bury itself in Hermione's hair, idly curling several brown locks around her index finger in a playful manner. When Hermione blinked and looked at her with a thoroughly baffled expression, the blonde smiled sweetly and said, "I don't think you have anything in particular to apologize for but at the same time I do think you're quite like the Cagey Curdsnip, unable to let something go once you've taken hold of it. That being so, the perfect solution would be for you to go out with me. You could consider it your apology and I could consider it my blackmail."

"I'll go out with you but I refuse to let you call it blackmail," replied Hermione dryly.

"Oh?" asked Luna, a mischievous smile forming on her lips as she released Hermione's hair from around her finger, allowing it to bounce back into its proper place. "Should I have said extortion instead? Or bribery perhaps? Put the squeeze?"

"Put the squeeze?" Hermione repeated with a laugh.

"Isn't that something the Muggles say?" asked Luna, frowning in contemplation. "I thought I had heard them use it on one of their criminal programs on the vellytision."

"Television," corrected Hermione, a wide smile on her features. "And I'm not sure how often anyone uses that term, Luna. Even Muggle criminals on television."

Luna released a thoughtful murmur then looked to Hermione and said quite seriously, "I'd like to go out this Friday night. Will you be busy or does putting the Muggle squeeze flatten any plans with Ron?"

There wasn't anything for Hermione to really consider. As far as she was concerned she had already promised Luna she would go out with her, regardless of the night she chose. Then there was also the fact that lately she was starting to suspect if given the chance to spend time with Ron or Luna she would choose the latter. It wasn't something she was especially proud of but that was the answer all the same. Should she take the time to process the reasons behind it, she would probably come to the conclusion that whenever she was with Luna she always felt like she was on a strange sort of adventure. To Hermione it seemed as if the other girl could make the simplest things incredibly entertaining and she was discovering that feeling to be somewhat addictive. Hermione had never considered herself to be a very fun person but when she was with Luna she thought that maybe she could be and she rather liked that feeling.

And her addiction being what it was, it didn't matter in the least when Luna wanted to go out because Hermione would say yes. Just as she did now, wearing an easy smile and already looking forward to whatever the blonde had planned. Just because she had an unwavering belief, that normally would have bothered her in its utter lack of logic, that it would be something she would enjoy.

---

Worrying over what to wear was something most would consider an innately feminine trait and since Hermione was female she supposed it was a bit odd that she had never experienced this worry herself. At least, she had never experienced it before she agreed to go out with Luna on Friday night. Hermione tried to convince herself that the reason she never felt this way was quite logical. Whenever she would go out with Ron she always knew where they were going. There was never a sense of surprise to the matter and that being so, she always knew what clothing would be appropriate.

Dealing with Luna was quite the opposite. It seemed as if everything was a surprise with the blonde witch and Hermione was rushing after her just to keep up. At times it was exhausting but it was strangely thrilling all the same. Even if it did leave her confused and worried as she stared at herself in the mirror, trying to figure out if what she was wearing suited whatever it was they would be doing tonight. Apparently sick of all this worrying, Hermione's mirror self rolled her eyes and began studying her nails, refusing to cooperate with the brunette's obsession anymore by matching her poses.

"Some help you are," muttered Hermione crossly.

Rolling her eyes again, Mirror Hermione walked out of her line of vision, disappearing somewhere within her magical mirror world, leaving the real Hermione to scowl and stare at nothing. Heaving a sigh, she was walking into her living room just as a knock sounded on her door. Then several other knocks. Seven in fact. All quiet and in a precise tapping order as if they were trying to say something to the person on the other side of the door. A smile quirking on her lips, Hermione pulled the door open and saw Luna with her hand curled in a small fist, readying to knock yet again.

"Luna," Hermione greeted, her voice laced with humor. "Whatever were you doing?"

"Saying hello and asking how your day has gone," said Luna, acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world to express this through the communication of door knocks.

Hermione chuckled and shut the door quietly, already sensing the blonde's gaze on her and trying to control the sudden shyness she felt seizing her. Turning around, she beamed in attempt to hide her nerves and asked, "Ready to go?"

"You're anxious," Luna stated, looking at Hermione with lidded blue eyes filled with concern. Hermione started to protest this assessment but the blonde interrupted gently, "That won't do at all. No one ever has fun while they're anxious. Not really and I did intend putting the squeeze on you for fun."

"I'm fine, honestly," insisted Hermione. Another moment passed then Luna sighed and firmly took hold of Hermione's hand, leading her through her flat and into her bedroom. An action which did little to settle the anxiety that the other girl had spoken about earlier. "Luna," Hermione said her name, no longer bothering to try and hide her nervousness. "What are you doing?"

Turning round to face Hermione, she folded her arms across her chest and wore a no nonsense expression on her face. Luna studied the brunette long and hard before she said, "Take off your clothes."

"What?" Hermione squeaked and her eyes grew as wide as saucers.

"You need to take off your clothes," Luna said this like it was simply a matter of logic and stepped forward, reaching out to the other girl in what Hermione assumed was an effort to carry out her words.

"Why in the world should I do that?" demanded Hermione, taking a step back for each one that Luna took forward. A huffy tone emerged in her voice and she was beginning to wonder if she should get her wand.

"Because," Luna sighed heavily, stopping her constant approach and looking at Hermione with a good deal of concern. "They're obviously infested with the Agitated Threadmites. Nasty little creatures, they love to burrow themselves in your clothing and eat at them from the inside until your pants have little frays at the bottom and your shirts no longer button. One of the side effects from having a long term infestation is an increase in anxiety and I think we've just proven quite thoroughly that's something you're suffering from. Unfortunately they're very wily and hard to kill so there's really only one way to get rid of them."

"Take off my clothes," said Hermione dimly.

"Or change them at the very least," said Luna with a nod, appearing satisfied that Hermione understood. "Besides," Luna said as an afterthought, observing as the brunette sighed and opened her closet. "Those clothes don't suit you in the least."

"They don't?" asked Hermione, looking down at said clothes and wondering what was wrong with them other than a theoretical Agitated Threadmite infestation. They were a perfectly nice pair of brown slacks and a beige button up blouse. Ron had never complained when she wore them so she couldn't possibly imagine there was something the matter since he surely would have spoken up. Perhaps they were a bit dull but it wasn't as if she was a terribly exciting dresser. "Why do you say that?"

Absently searching through Hermione's closet, Luna explained, "Clothing for people can be used like shells for a crab. They can't talk you see, the crabs, and so they pick shells to say how they're feeling. Depending on the shell they pick out it's quite easy to tell what kind of mood a crab is in. I think people are the same way. That if you look at the clothes they're wearing closely enough you can see what they're feeling."

"What did my clothes say I was feeling?" asked Hermione curious but also apprehensive at the same time. Maybe it was because she suspected the blonde was going to say she felt boring in some form.

"Nervous," said Luna, smiling as she looked over her shoulder. "But that was the fault of the Agitated Threadmites. Other than that I'd say they told me you were feeling trusty and obligated. Which is lovely, in a way, because trusty is what you always are underneath it all but I don't think obligated rather fits what I have planned for tonight which is why I think it's best if you changed."

Watching Luna arrange a pile of clothes on her bed, apparently trying to decide which ones would inspire the right feeling in Hermione for the night, she thought on what the other girl just said. The outfit she was wearing was something she'd worn several times on dates with Ron. It was easy and simple because it suited any occasion really but it wasn't like it was anything that reflected any measure of excitement over her plans. For the first time since Luna arrived, Hermione took a good look at what her friend was wearing, perhaps trying to test out the blonde's theory and get some idea of what she was feeling.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to the form fitting peacoat that hugged Luna's hips. Depending on how the light hit the material of the coat, it appeared to change colors. Shifting from a deep purple to a shining blue and sometimes a brilliant yellow. Though a bit distracting it was beautiful and perfectly suited the blonde, accenting the black pants with silver pinstripes she had on. The pants were slightly baggy and hung low over a pair of sparkling silver boots that Hermione thought were made to glow in the dark. Finishing it all off was a spaghetti string tank top that perfectly matched the silver boots Luna wore and dipped in a way that it hinted at cleavage rather than showing any off. All in all, it was an unusual choice of clothing but everything fit wonderfully and if Hermione had to pick a feeling they inspired it would have been fanciful.

The clothing flawlessly expressed what kind of person Luna was. Showing that she was charming and carefree and not in the slightest concerned about what others might think of her. She was simply herself and Hermione found herself rather wistful in her admiration of it as she considered her own selection of brown pants and a beige shirt. Hermione was still contemplating her utter lack of fashion when the blonde announced she had finished her search and skipped out the room, leaving the brunette to change.

Looking at what Luna had picked out, Hermione knew she never would have put those items of clothing together but she also knew wearing them would make the blonde happy and this night was meant as an apology of sorts. So with a sigh and a shrug, she went about the task of changing. A few moments later, Hermione was standing in front of the mirror, staring at her reflection who clucked her tongue and smiled at the new clothes with clear approval. What had seemed like a random choice of clothing had turned out to be a unique and flattering outfit. Instead of her beige button up blouse, the brunette went sleeveless, wearing only a form fitting red vest that beautifully accented her curves. She had on pants that were a favorite of hers for years now, the black material slightly faded from how much she wore them. The cloth was soft against her skin, reminding her something of velvet and it was because of this that Hermione loved wearing them. A winding silver chain link belt wrapped through the belt loops and her sensible leather shoes had been traded in for a pair of red and black converse.

Staring at her mirror self who winked at her as she adjusted the red vest so it would be just right, Hermione wondered what Luna thought these clothes said about her. What feeling they would inspire and did it match the blonde's? Shaking her head, deciding it did no good to stand in her room and think about such things while Luna was waiting for her, she left her flirtatious mirror image alone and walked out of her bedroom and into the living room where the other girl sat on the couch, petting a purring Crookshanks.

"Ah," Luna murmured happily, rising to her feet and reaching out to adjust Hermione's vest in the exact manner her mirror self had done moments earlier. "Doesn't that feel better?"

"A bit," admitted Hermione, feeling a little embarrassed at how much she liked what Luna had chosen for her but that feeling immediately leaving her as the blonde looked at her affectionately. Taking her coat and shrugging it on, the brunette purposely kept her back to the other girl as she said hesitantly, "Luna?"

"Yes?" replied Luna and without looking, Hermione knew she was petting Crookshanks again because of the loud and entirely contended purring.

"What feeling do these clothes give?" Hermione asked, keeping her back to her friend. Because of this she was unaware of Luna's approach until there was a soft touch of the blonde's hands on her hips and the gentle press of her breasts against her back.

A tremble ran through Hermione as she felt the warmth of Luna's breath on her skin as she replied, a smile in her voice, and pulled the brunette closer, "Comfortably sexy."

Silence and then Hermione burst into laughter, craning her neck to look at the blonde who beamed at her and laughing still, she accused her companion playfully, "You're having fun with me, aren't you? That's not a proper feeling, you know that!"

"Perhaps it isn't proper but it's a feeling all the same," said Luna stubbornly, looking away from Hermione as she dug into the pocket of her peacoat to produce her wand. "And it's precisely the feeling I wanted you to have while I'm putting the squeeze on you tonight." If possible, Hermione began to laugh even more on hearing this and Luna wore a quietly pleased expression as she murmured, "I do love seeing that."

"What's that?" asked Hermione, her laughter dying down into chuckles, she peered back at the blonde.

"A happy Hermione," Luna answered with a tender expression on her face and before Hermione could reply they disapparated with a wave of her wand.

---

The sound of music playing and people talking was what greeted Hermione when they apparated. There was a chill in the air and she shivered on feeling it. As soon as she did, Luna's hands were rubbing at her arms and the chill soon left her. Although her curiosity about their location didn't. Looking around, she saw they were at the end of a line filled with twenty or so witches and wizards, all waiting to go inside what appeared to be a club of some sort. Standing at the front of the line, off to one side, was a wizard whose black robes bore the glowing words Danse Magie Danse just as the brightly lit sign above him did.

Before Hermione could question where they were, she felt Luna's warm breath once again on her skin as the blonde murmured in her ear, "This is the Incantation Secteur of Paris. It's a safe place for witches and wizards, rather like Diagon Alley. Muggles have no idea it's here."

"Why are we here?" asked Hermione, though she already had a sneaking suspicion.

Luna didn't reply because without the brunette noticing, they had reached the front of the line. The wizard who was standing off to one side, bearing the name of the club on his robes, gave Luna a glittering smile and murmured something in French that caused the blonde to giggle. They were soon in what appeared to be a coat check area where a lovely witch with spun gold hair done up in an elaborate bun released an ecstatic cry on seeing Luna and begin speaking rapidly in French. Removing her coat after observing the blonde doing the same, Hermione was surprised to see her friend also hand over her wand. Touching her wand that was safely tucked into the pocket of her vest, Hermione frowned at the French witch who she was sure was asking for it as she wore something of an impatient look on her features.

"They collect wands to prevent duels from popping up," Luna explained. "Don't fret," she wore a reassuring expression. "I've left my wand with Corinne countless times and she's always taken the utmost care of it."

While she was reluctant to hand over her wand, especially after everything that had happened to her in recent years, Hermione couldn't help but believe in Luna on seeing the look of complete trust she had on her features. She handed her coat and wand over to Corinne and restrained herself from scowling on seeing the witch give an enchanting but also smug smile. Watching Luna retrieve some galleons and sickles from the pockets of her pinstriped pants, she asked, "How much is it?"

"Nothing for you," said Luna serenely, smiling at Hermione before giving Corinne the money.

"Luna--" Hermione started to protest.

"Absinthe Apology," interrupted Luna, saying this as if it were a great announcement. Hermione blinked at her in confusion and she hooked their arms together, saying a quick goodbye to Corinne in French as they walked towards the sound of the music that the brunette had heard earlier. "If you must pay for something, do pay for the drinks. I shall order an Absinthe Apology to start."

"I didn't know you could speak French," said Hermione who was trying very hard not to feel out of place. It was true that when she was with Luna she felt life was fun and exciting, because it was, but sometimes she didn't always feel at ease with that. She didn't do well with situations she couldn't predict, preferring the comfort of books and study where anything unexpected came in the form of the written word. And she was sure that she wouldn't be able to predict what would happen once they reached the source of the music that was vibrating through the walls, floor, and into their bodies. "They don't teach it at Hogwarts, do they?"

"I don't," said Luna, looking to Hermione with some surprise and a bit of concern. "I used the translation spell you told me about in your seventh year. Interpretatio, don't you remember? I was ever so glad when you pointed it out to me. It's been terribly useful on my expeditions." Hermione was busy trying to recall when she had told the blonde about the spell and wondering how in the world she could have forgotten about its existence, however momentarily, when Luna paused in their walk. They were standing in front of a wooden door that had a picture of a coffee cup carved into it. The blonde unhooked her arm from Hermione's and moved to stand in front of the brunette. She tilted her head to one side and studied Hermione for a long moment then said a little sadly, "You're feeling anxious again."

Part of Hermione wanted to dispute this but she just couldn't do it. Perhaps because she knew Luna was right. She was feeling anxious and there wasn't much she could do about it other than admit it as the truth. "I'm sorry," Hermione found herself apologizing but for what she had no idea.

"These clothes don't have Agitated Threadmites so it must be something else," said Luna and she frowned, looking like she was concentrating very hard to figure out what it might be. Several patrons of the club were heading towards them and the blonde took Hermione's hand in her own and pulled her over to the corner of the room that was secluded. Wearing an expression of genuine concern, Luna questioned, "Do you not feel comfortable? Is it me? The club? Or perhaps France? I've always thought this country smells of crepes. It does take some time to get used to."

Forming a smile, unable to help finding humor in Luna's words, Hermione shook her head. "It isn't you, the club, or even France," said Hermione. She paused to try and find the right words to explain what it was but found herself at a loss and simply began talking before she could sort it all out. "Perhaps it's me? I'm not entirely sure to be honest. I just… it's a bit sad, really, but I don't think I do very well when I haven't an idea of what to expect and since I've never been to a place such as this I find myself in precisely that situation." Rubbing her forehead and feeling frustrated with herself, Hermione muttered, "I know it's ridiculous. Ron's said as much. That I fall to pieces without having a plan of any sort but I can't help it. I find myself freezing and it's the most horrid feeling. Knowing I ought to move, I need to move, but not being able."

Cool hands covered her own, gently drawing them away from her forehead and then they returned, soft fingertips touching her skin in a magnificently skilled caress, the movement perfect and relaxing in its press. Several moments passed before Luna felt she had rubbed enough of the worry away and she murmured, "What if you try to move by following after me? I promise to look after you and make sure you never become frozen. Maybe that way you wouldn't feel so anxious." Hermione sighed as the blonde's fingertips swept across her forehead and moved down to trace the line of her jaw. "There," Luna hooked her thumb under the brunette's chin, lifting it up so the other girl looked into her twinkling blue eyes. "Don't you feel comfortably sexy?"

Dropping her head down to rest on Luna's shoulder, Hermione chuckled softly. "You're daft," she accused with good humor. Lifting it up to look at the other girl, she reached for the blonde's hand and gave it a light squeeze. "Come on," she murmured. "I owe you a drink."

"Yes," Luna agreed, smiling sweetly, "you do."

Keeping her hand firmly placed in the blonde's and lacing their fingers together, Hermione released a shuddering sigh as Luna pushed open the wooden door and revealed the interior of the club. It was large and completely circular, reminding Hermione of Professor Ipson in a strange way. There were several levels, each one winding down into the next, and each of them consisting of severely different things to captivate the patrons attention. At the very bottom there was an enormous round dance floor that was filled to the brim with witches, wizards, elves, and even a few veela.

The level that they had walked into was a café of sorts, it had a warm and friendly atmosphere. Witches and wizards were gathered around a variety of tables, sipping at their coffee, pumpkin juice, and butterbeer, busy chatting about any number of things. Luna squeezed Hermione's hand and led her through the café, pushing open a door that had a music note carved into it and suddenly they were inside a small music club. The stage was long and dimly lit, a beautiful singer with deep purple hair whose voice was rich and full as she sang about the darkness before the fall and without hearing anymore, Hermione knew the song was about Voldemort and the world before his defeat.

"Do you want to stay and have a listen?" questioned Luna, her voice soft in Hermione's ear.

Turning to look at her friend, Hermione studied their surroundings, the odd assortment of tall tables, the long stage, and bar that was directly across from it, then looked back at the door that had a coffee cup carved into it. "How is it that we can't hear anything from the café we were just inside?" said Hermione, genuinely curious about the answer. Luna started to reply and Hermione said with wry humor, "And don't say magic. I figured as much."

"Silencing spells, quite powerful ones, I would imagine," said Luna and her eyes drifted to the stage where the singer was beginning her next set, joined by a wizard holding an instrument that looked a combination of a banjo and a guitar. "They have one for each level of the club and I believe the doors are the activators, acting as barriers when they close, keeping the sound from the next level out."

Considering this for a moment, Hermione looked to Luna as the wizard on stage started a strange series of plucking sounds and tugged on her hand. "Lets go," she murmured with a smile.

"Are you sure?" asked Luna, studying the other girl closely.

"Somehow I don't think this is where you meant to take me," said Hermione, her tone of voice faintly sardonic as she made her way through the tall tables and towards the wooden door on the other end of the room that had a chess rook carved into it.

She opened it to reveal a game room of sorts. There were a number of round tables filled to the brim with wizards and a few witches, all playing a variety of games from Wizard Chess to Exploding Snap and even a game or two of Gobstones. Taking a brief look at one of the chess games that were going on, Hermione contemplated telling Ron about this place because he would surely enjoy it. As soon as this thought came into her mind it soon exited and a small scowl formed on her face as she imagined what would happen if she did bring Ron here. He would spend the entire night playing Wizard Chess and she would be thoroughly forgotten in the process. Much like what had happened the night of her supposed grand celebration because of the Big Pot going on. Suddenly quite determined to exit this level, Hermione walked towards the door with a broom carved into it with increased speed.

What greeted her next only served to remind her of Ron yet again. Simply because they were now inside a bar much like Peasegood's Pub in London. Except this bar was dedicated to Quidditch rather than Quodpot. It was overflowing with an assortment of Quidditch fans, all wearing the colors of their chosen teams, gathered around a wide collection of cauldrons that bubbled and brewed images of matches being played all over the world. At the far end of the room she saw a wizard wearing a Chudley Cannons jersey as he cheered them on in a match against the Falmouth Falcons. Though she didn't think it possible, Hermione moved even faster through this bar, pulling Luna after her as she pushed open the last door which displayed a pair of shoes clicking the heels together.

They had finally arrived at the last level of the club and where Hermione suspected Luna meant to take her. Suddenly losing her sense of momentum, the brunette stopped in her tracks as that awful feeling of inaction that she had described earlier took control of her. But Luna was there, her hand warm and reassuring in Hermione's, fingertips lightly caressing her palm and she gently pulled the brunette forward. Her body moving on automatic, Hermione studied their surroundings. From the first level of the café she could tell, looking down, that there was a dance floor at the bottom but the view hadn't allowed her to truly grasp the sheer size of it. To Hermione it seemed as if the entire structure was based around the large round surface that glinted with lights and vibrated from the music and the movement of the wizards and witches covering it.

Winding their way through the crowd, they headed towards the long bar that curved around the dance floor, taking up half of the outside space. Luna stood on her tiptoes and waved at one of the bartenders who made his way over with a smile on his face. "Two Absinthe Apologies please," she ordered and the wizard gave a wink then with a flash light several bottles of alcohol appeared, each of them pouring liquid into the two shot glasses that mixed themselves once they were filled. Waiting for the fizzing and popping to dwindle to a stop, Luna reached for one of the glasses and handed it to Hermione who took it with an entirely reluctant look on her features. Moving close to whisper in her ear, perhaps to ensure the brunette heard her over the loud beat of the music, Luna's breath tickled her skin as she murmured, "Don't worry. It's wonderfully delicious."

Observing as the blonde finished the drink in one quick swallow, Hermione studied the green fizzing liquid for a moment before she followed suit. The taste was cool and sweet on her tongue and with a hint of fruity aftertaste that she found surprisingly pleasing. She started to tell Luna that she was right, the drink was wonderfully delicious, but noticed the blonde had been pulled aside by a tall wizard with oddly puffed black hair. Left to her own devices, Hermione's gaze traveled over the club, watching the dancing witches and wizards who, to her, seemed so much more free than herself. There was little doubt in her mind that Luna had brought her here to dance and that wasn't something Hermione normally did. In fact, if her memory was correct, the last time she had danced was at the Yule Ball with Viktor Krum in her fourth year. While she did have fun at the ball with Viktor, particularly dancing with him, it wasn't something that Ron tended to enjoy and since it was Ron she had been dating for the past three years she hadn't gone dancing since. Part of her wondered if she was really able, if she could be as carefree and happy as the people on the dance floor, and a sudden feeling of dread seized her. And she could only think of one way to rid herself of that feeling.

By the time Luna finished chatting with the puffy haired wizard, there were four empty shot glasses sitting in front of Hermione at the bar. The blonde failed to notice this as she stepped closer to her friend and leaned in, murmuring in her ear, "I think we should have a dance."

No reply came from Hermione, she simply dipped her head in agreement and Luna smiled, bright and utterly brilliant before taking the brunette's hand and leading her onto the dance floor. They easily slipped through the crowd and onto the round structure that glowed and hummed. Perhaps it was the alcohol but when she first stood on it, Hermione felt lighter, as if she was being lifted up. It was a dizzying feeling and she held onto Luna's hand that much tighter as they moved towards the center of the dance floor. A new song began playing, slow and dramatic at first, then an ethereal voice filled the air, French and haunting, and everyone on the dance floor began swaying in time with it. Hermione watched with a small degree of panic while they all paired up but then she felt the warmth of Luna's hand trailing down her side to rest on her hip. She looked to the blonde as her other hand followed the same path and for a moment it was as if she couldn't breath. Then the music swelled, becoming louder and more insistent and Luna pulled her closer, their bodies pressed together and slowly Hermione let the blonde guide her as they moved with the music.

The alcohol and music swimming in her brain, Hermione sighed, hiding her face in soft and silken white blonde hair, breathing in the scent of raspberries that Luna always seemed to carry with her. Why had this been so terribly scary to her? It wasn't scary at all, it was relaxing. Frighteningly so. Hermione didn't think she had ever felt as peaceful and content as she did right now, being held in Luna's arms, and that was a terrifying thought in a way. Because what did it say about her and her relationship with Ron? That she had never felt this at ease with him, this protected, and this cared for? She wanted to contemplate this further but she couldn't, not with the alcohol addling her thoughts and especially not with the warm press of Luna's body against hers. The feeling was too nice and too new to ruin with her constant need to analyze. Why couldn't she simply be and enjoy the moment?

And so, Hermione swayed to the music, safe in the circle of Luna's arms, vowing not to think about the how's or the why's of this situation. Allowing herself, for once in her life, the luxury of being able to just feel. Regardless of the ramifications.

Chapter Text

The hours slipped away without Hermione taking notice. For once she didn't track and note the passage of time, it simply sped by until suddenly it was quite late and Luna was murmuring that the club would be closing soon. Having to leave the club, stop dancing, and return to her usual life filled with constraints and doubt was a concept that barely registered in her muddled mind and she realized that she was quite tipsy. Or at least, that's what Luna was telling her.

"You're quite tipsy, aren't you?" Luna remarked, placing her hand at the small of Hermione's back, the touch comforting in its gentle press.

"I'm not!" Hermione declared, looking huffy and contemplating forming a scowl.

"Oh?" questioned Luna, a playful glint in her eyes. "How much did you have to drink then?"

A scowl forming now, Hermione tried to remember how many shot glasses were on the bar the last time she had seen it but it seemed such a long time ago and the numbers were lost to her. Hearing a laugh from her companion, Hermione's scowl increased and she narrowed her eyes. "Just because I can't recall doesn’t mean I'm tipsy," she said, looking at the blonde with great offense and the beginnings of a cute sulk. For outraged good measure, Hermione pointed her finger in Luna's face, failing to notice as it weaved back and forth, unable to stay still just as she had trouble keeping her balance even with the other girl's arm wound firmly around her waist. "So there!"

Laughing softly, Luna didn't reply, she simply reached for Hermione's hand, giving the finger that pointed at her a light kiss before releasing it from her hold. They slowly made their way through the club, winding through the levels until they were once again in the coat check area and Hermione was glaring at Corinne. She wasn't positive why, especially in her alcohol befuddled state, she disliked the French witch but she did, immensely, and decided to act on this dislike through glaring. She did this until Luna approached with her coat and wand in hand, carefully tucking the wand into the pocket of Hermione's red vest then walking behind her, holding the coat out for the brunette to shrug into. Slipping her arms into the sleeves and continuing to focus on Corinne, she felt strangely triumphant that Luna was doing this for her within the French witch's eyesight. It was as if she had won a great battle but a battle for what, Hermione hadn't a clue.

While Hermione was busy glaring, Luna flicked her wrist and in seconds they apparated into the living room of the brunette's flat. It took several moments for Hermione to realize where they were and she looked at the blonde in confusion. She knew, of course, they were leaving the club. Luna had told her as much. Somehow she hadn't thought they would come back here. This signaled an end to their evening together and that wasn't something she wanted to happen yet, so her mouth opened, fully ready to protest but soft fingertips covered her lips, preventing her from speaking.

"You need sleep," said Luna kindly, removing her fingertips from Hermione's lips and tracing them upwards, curling into the locks of hair at the brunette's brow, her touch gentle and soothing. "We can play some other time if you like. Once you've rested."

Hermione wanted to dispute her state of exhaustion but even as she started to do so, her eyes grew heavy and her mind wandered and suddenly her bed became a very appealing place to be. But if she was going to bed then she wanted to have her say on things.

"We'll do this again?" asked Hermione, looking painfully vulnerable as she held onto the sleeve of Luna's coat. In that moment, she felt it was terribly important to have Luna give her this promise. Just because part of her felt if she didn't then she might never have a night like this again. A night that was carefree and fun, making her feel as if she could be the same. "I liked dancing."

I liked dancing with you is what she meant to say but she couldn't force it past her lips and perhaps that's why Luna's blue eyes were lidded and her gaze melancholy. Uncurling her fingers from the older girl's hair, the blonde dropped her hand down, lacing their fingers together, a gentle smile on her lips as she tilted her head and said, "Perhaps you should mention it to Ron."

"Ron?" Hermione looked perplexed. "That’s not what I--"

"Do you have your cauldron and basic potion supplies from Hogwarts?" interrupted Luna as she slid behind Hermione and reached for the brunette's coat sleeves, carefully tugging the material off.

Watching as Luna hung her coat on the rack by the door, Hermione frowned, her alcohol dazed and sleep deprived mind trying to work out why the blonde would want to know about such a thing. "Yes," she said slowly. "They're in the broom closet in the hall. Why do you ask?"

"I want to make you something," replied Luna, digging through the broom closet and walking into the kitchen with the cauldron filled with various potion supplies and the fire kit. Hermione slowly approached, watching as the blonde methodically arranged the various ingredients and Luna turned to face her, a soft smile on her face. "You should get ready for bed."

Her scowl returning, Hermione was entirely petulant as she said, "I'm not tired."

Silence as the blonde lifted her eyebrow then she turned back to the potion supplies, opening a small bottle of bogwater and pouring half of its contents into the cauldron which was at low heat. "I'm sorry," Luna said after a moment, her voice careful and controlled in a way that Hermione had never heard before. "I suppose I'm treating you as if you're a child, aren't I?"

The immediate desire to agree struck Hermione but she held off from saying this because she didn't like the way Luna was sounding and she was sure her behavior was the reason behind it. That wasn't right at all, especially considering the blonde was responsible for her having fun for the first time in quite awhile. But she couldn't really help acting this way because they had such a lovely evening, had such a good time, and now here Luna was, trying to end it all with putting her to bed like she was some sort of cranky toddler. That wasn't what Hermione wanted.

"You are," Hermione said after several long moments, her balance wavering, and her eyes squinting as she tried to make Luna out clearly. "But perhaps I'm acting like one."

"No," said Luna and her voice was serene once again as she added a pinch of tree dust to the potion. "Children never admit they're acting as such." Looking at the brunette over her shoulder, her eyes warm and twinkling, she said, "Hermione is Hermione. Even if she's grumpy from being tipsy and tired."

"I'm not tipsy or tired!" declared Hermione, pointing hard at the blonde and losing her balance in the process. She began to lean to one side and appeared in real danger of falling over when Luna quickly moved forward, wrapping her arms around the brunette's waist. Hermione was once again in Luna's arms and it was just as disconcertingly warm and comfortable as it had been when they were dancing and she had to stop herself from sighing at the sensation. Her face hot with a blush, she hid it in the crook of the blonde's neck, and muttered sheepishly, "Maybe a little."

"The Ruffled Fliverhorn wilts away and dies if it doesn’t get precisely twenty hours of sleep a day," Luna's peaceful voice floated into the air and Hermione found it soothing, particularly when combined with the tender press of her hands rubbing the brunette's back. "It's a terrible thing to see, really it is. How its life empties rather like a popped balloon becomes deflated." Hermione felt one of Luna's hands trace up her back and tangle in her hair to gently massage her scalp. "I would hate to see you become the same. Especially because you are so very attractive when inflated."

"All right," said Hermione with a chuckle, pulling back to look into Luna's smiling blue eyes. "I'll get ready for bed." She couldn't help but scowl on seeing how pleased the blonde looked at this. "You bloody well guilted me into it. Happy?"

"Infinitesimally," replied Luna in sing song tones that caused Hermione to snort humorously before she turned and cautiously made her way down the hall to her bedroom, taking care to put her hands on the walls to maintain her balance. The blonde kept her eyes on fixed on the older girl until she disappeared into her bedroom and then returned back to her potion making.

Inside her bedroom, Hermione sat down on the soft mattress and was struck with the overwhelming urge to lay down and never get up. Maybe Luna was right. She was tired. But that didn't mean she was tipsy! Not at all. She stared absently at the pillows and a minute passed before she realized she was supposed to be changing. Heaving a sigh, Hermione moved her stare to her shoes, slowly lifting a leg up and pulling the shoe off her foot and tossing it to the corner of the room where it hit the wall with a satisfying smack. Normally she would've put it neatly away in her closet but she simply didn't feel like it and it wasn't like she couldn't do it in the morning. Following suit with the other shoe, Hermione stared at them in a pile and knew she should be standing up to remove her pants or her vest but she loathed the idea of moving. So she sat staring at her shoes until a quiet knock sounded on the door.

"Come in," Hermione called, keeping her gaze on her shoes, wondering if she would be scolded by Luna for not changing. Though she was hard pressed to imagine the blonde scolding anyone. Looking up at the younger girl as she approached with a small bottle of potion in hand, she decided to state the obvious, "I haven't changed."

"Do you need help?" asked Luna, her voice innocent and light but her expression mischievous.

"No," said Hermione immediately, forming a scowl and trying to fight a blush that she was sure Luna would be calling adorable at any moment. She moved her attention to the bottle that the blonde held which was bubbling and emitting white puffs of smoke. "What is that?"

"Hannover's Hangover Helper," said Luna with a smile, bending down and offering the potion to Hermione who squinted and frowned at it. "It's wonderfully effective but it does have a rather nasty taste. I've added merrywig flavoring to make it less wretched. Go on," Luna encouraged, covering Hermione's hands with her own and lifting the potion to her mouth. "Give it a try. I promise it will make you feel better in the morning."

Staring at the potion doubtfully, Hermione lifted her gaze to look into Luna's warm and expectant eyes then sighed before she swallowed it whole. The taste wasn't as bad as she expected, sweet but with an odd sticky aftertaste and she restrained herself from wiping off her tongue as she handed the bottle back to the blonde. Releasing a cough, she said, "It's not wretched."

"But still sticky?" asked Luna, appearing worried as she rose to her feet and walked out of the bedroom. "I thought as much." She returned a few moments later holding a glass of water, giving it to the brunette who accepted gratefully. "No matter what I try I can't quite rid it of that detestable stickiness. Perhaps it's the mixing temperature."

Finishing off the glass of water, Hermione placed it on her nightstand and as she did, she could feel her eyes become heavy and her movements slowing. Looking to her pillows, she was once again consumed by the intense desire to lay down. "I need to change," said Hermione absently, more to herself than her companion who was crouching in front of her, looking at her with concern.

"I'll be going then," said Luna, rising to her feet, she started to walk away when Hermione grabbed her hand and she stopped in place, turning to look at the brunette.

"I had fun tonight," Hermione said this soft and solemn, so there was no way to doubt her words. She opened her mouth to say more but shut it and looked away from the blonde, unable to say the words and look at her at the same time. Hermione wasn't sure why but she felt compelled to tell the other girl what she was thinking but at the same time it was all so very embarrassing. So she kept her gaze focused on her shoes in the corner as she said, "Lately it seems as if I only feel that way when I'm with you. I wish I could with Ron but…" Hermione trailed off, her face hot with shame.

There wasn't any response. Just a faint caress of Luna's fingertips on Hermione's palm and then a pair of lips softly pressing against her forehead. Her breath warm and comforting on the brunette's skin, Luna murmured, "The stars don't listen to us anymore. They've become dreadfully exhausted from dealing with our petty demands."

"Luna?" Hermione said her name in confusion, looking up as the blonde pulled away, smiling at her softly as her hand cupped the brunette's cheek, thumb tenderly caressing her skin.

"You shouldn't have to wish for such things," said Luna, her voice hushed. "It makes me sad to think of it."

At a loss for how to respond, Hermione simply stared up at Luna, taking in her blue eyes that were lidded and looking at her with such calm understanding that it unnerved her. It was as if the blonde could see everything she was and everything she could be and accepted it all. Feeling the light stroke of Luna's thumb caressing her cheek, she sighed, overwhelmed by the intimacy of the moment. She never felt this way with Ron, there was never this quiet intensity that threatened to consume her. Instead it was, well, she didn't want to say boring but there was a certain expectation that each time would be the same if not similar to the last and it wasn't exactly exciting. And it was entirely the opposite of how she felt now with Luna. Looking at the blonde, finding herself entranced by her eyes that were kind but so terribly sad, Hermione knew, horrible as it was to realize, if Luna tried to kiss her she would allow it. More than that, if Luna kissed her, she would kiss back and somehow she also knew it would be wonderful, better than countless kisses in the past.

"I should go," Luna said in a whisper and her hand slipped away from Hermione's cheek.

With her retreat, the image of that kiss began to die and Hermione found herself reaching out to the blonde, not wanting to lose that thought, that fantasy that had somehow consumed her, but the other girl was gone, disapparating with a wave of her wand. Leaving Hermione alone to remember what it could have been like and to wonder why it mattered so much that it had never been.

---

In the morning, Hermione woke with a distant pounding in her head and an ache behind her eyes. Rubbing her forehead wearily, she shut her eyes tight and futilely hoped it would stop. But the pounding and aching continued and keeping her eyes closed wasn't doing anything to help it go away. So with a groan she got out of bed, heading into the bathroom then making her way into the kitchen, intending on finding something to deal with the pain. There she discovered a small bottle of potion sitting on the table with a piece of parchment next to it. Picking the parchment up, she read it with a slight frown.

Hermione,

I've made a second batch of Hannover's Hangover Helper for you. It works best when you take it before bedtime and then as soon as you wake in the morning. I would've told you about it last night but I thought it best not to simply because you were terribly insistent that you weren't tipsy.

Perhaps you're already feeling differently? Oh, don't scowl. It does ruin your pretty features.

I'm ever so glad you enjoyed our night together. I do think that if you found dancing with me to be fun then you ought to give it the same chance with Ron. Even if he needs convincing of it.

The potion might leave your mouth rather sticky so do have a glass of water ready. I've never been able to remove that problem from the mixture. I wonder if I should ask the Professor for help? I find it a bit silly to say but I wanted to thank you for a perfectly lovely evening.

I don't think I shall have another quite as nice in some time.

Yours,
Luna Lovegood

Putting the parchment down after reading it twice, Hermione swallowed the potion whole, making a face and placing the empty bottle in her sink and immediately fixing herself a glass of water. Luna was right. The potion did leave your mouth sticky and it wasn't pleasant in the least. Though it wasn't the most appealing, the potion was effective, and in seconds Hermione could feel the pounding and aching disappear completely. Sighing happily, she rubbed her forehead and wandered back into the bathroom to brush her teeth and take a shower.

When she was done, she set about the task of cleaning her flat, putting away the items she had left out last night and cleaning the bottles of potion that Luna had provided. She opened her broom closet once they were washed and dried to place them back with the cauldron and other potion supplies but stopped at the sight that met her. The closet had been completely reorganized, not to say it was messy in the first place, but it wasn't the tidiest and Hermione hadn't been putting the task of rearranging it in high priority. The cauldron sat perfectly centered on the floor, sparkling and clean, and the shelves were filled with ingredients placed in alphabetical order, with the top shelf occupied with empty bottles of varying sizes meant to hold the potions that would be created.

"Luna must have done this," Hermione said in a whisper, speaking not to herself or to Crookshanks who wound himself around her legs with a purr, but simply voicing her thoughts aloud.

Without warning, she was struck by a strong desire to see the younger girl and shutting the broom closet door, she began moving about the flat on automatic. Gathering her wand and putting on her coat, Hermione apparated to Ballyvaughan before she could think better of it. She was greeted with the sight of the blonde standing on the roof of her cottage, dressed in a pair of baggy jeans and a yellow tank top with a bee on it, no shoes on her feet, her wand in hand and a thoughtful expression on her features.

"Hermione!" exclaimed Luna happily. "Have you come to help with Gnawing Flower Sprites?"

"The what?" Hermione blinked, already feeling thoroughly confused by her sudden need to see the other girl. "What are you doing on the roof, Luna? Come down, that can't be safe. What if you fall?"

"That's why I'm not wearing shoes," informed Luna absently, her gaze no longer fixed on Hermione but instead on the flower filled vines that grew on the cottage roof. "Bare feet are good for equilibrium." The brunette was baffled at this reply and was about to question the logic behind it when the younger girl released a triumphant cry and cast several stunning spells. She crouched down, sifting through the vines and pulling out several small objects Hermione couldn't make out. Rising to her feet, she walked over to a bucket and dropped them inside then she peered down at Hermione, almost seeming to truly realize for the first time she was there. "How is your head?"

"Better, thanks to you," said Hermione, trying desperately to fight the shy blush she knew was spreading across her features. She kept her gaze from the blonde, focusing instead on the winding vines filled with flowers as she said, "I wanted to thank you for making that potion for me and sorting out my broom closet. You didn't have to do any of that, you know."

"I know," Luna's voice was serene and utterly content. "It was a gift."

"A gift for what?" asked Hermione in confusion and she started to frown but the expression was halted by the blonde's sudden walk to the edge of the roof where she kept going until she walked right off of it. Hermione released a panicked cry and instinctively reached for her wand only to pause in the middle of casting a spell as she watched the younger girl float safely to the ground. "Luna," Hermione said her name crossly, resting her hand over her heart in an attempt to slow it down. "Don't do that."

"If I don't float, I'll fall," said Luna with a slight frown. "I thought that worried you."

Shaking her head, Hermione closed her eyes and fought the urge to rub her forehead as her headache threatened to return. When she opened them, she became aware of a high pitched squealing. Looking around for the source, she found it came from the bucket Luna had been holding that now sat on the ground, rocking back and forth. Walking over to the bucket, she looked inside and found it full of tiny creatures that were almost human in their features if you ignored their small size, pointed ears, green skin, and butterfly wings. The creatures were trying to escape but each time they flew up they were met with an invisible shield that sent them bouncing down.

"What in the world?" said Hermione, mystified at the sight.

"Gnawing Flower Sprites, they've been eating at the flowers Neville gave me," supplied Luna, her breath tickling the brunette's skin, causing Hermione to jump forward, bumping into the bucket and sending the sprites rocking about more, creating even louder squeals. Luna frowned, looking at Hermione in concern and as the brunette rose up to her full height, the blonde reached out, gently cupping her cheek as she tilted her head to one side, studying her closely. "You're anxious."

Not bothering to confirm or deny Luna's suspicions, Hermione said almost wearily, "I only wanted to thank you. I'm not sure why that feels like such a terribly difficult task but somehow it does."

"Perhaps because there isn't anything to thank me for?" Luna suggested and when the brunette lifted her gaze, she was rewarded with a sparkling smile from the younger girl. "Friends do favors, friends give gifts, and friends make sure their friends have a spot of fun when they need it most." The blonde dropped her hand to curl it in Hermione's hair, twisting a lock around her finger, her blue eyes wise and kind as she murmured, "And we're friends now, aren't we?"

"Yes," Hermione sighed, her body relaxing, losing the inexplicable tension that it had been holding onto as she returned the blonde's smile. "We are." Silence for a few moments and Hermione kept her gaze from Luna as she said, "I'd like to go again sometime. Dancing with you, that is." Luna started to reply but before she could say anything, Hermione continued, "And I know you said in your note I should give it a go with Ron but I already know how he'll act about it. Once he's decided there's something he doesn't enjoy you can't ever change his mind about it and that's how it is with dancing. If I tried to get him to go he'd only sulk or disappear into those blasted game rooms."

Pulling away from the brunette, Luna retrieved the bucket filled with sprites and cast a spell, creating a tiny vortex and one by one she began throwing the protesting sprites inside it. "Is there something that you both fancy?" she asked. "Something that would be fun for you both?"

Considering this, Hermione searched her memories for a common activity that they enjoyed but nothing came to mind and the more she thought on it the more frustrated she became. Eventually she settled for heaving an aggravated sigh and deciding to abandon the effort. "Can I help?" she questioned, wanting something to distract her from the intense feeling of annoyance.

"Be careful of their teeth, they're tiny but horribly sharp," said Luna, she reached in and grabbed a sprite by its wings, holding the struggling creature aloft for Hermione to see. "It's best to hold them by their wings. They thrash about like it hurts them but really it's all an act. The second your grip loosens just a little they'll escape and have at you." That said, Luna casually flung the squealing and cursing sprite into the vortex which sucked it up with a loud burp.

"Where are you sending them?" asked Hermione, peering into the bucket and trying to pick the least violent of the sprites. Though it was hard to decide as they were all worked up, squealing and cursing, crashing into the invisible shield that trapped them in the bucket.

"Namaqualand, South Africa," said Luna, reaching for a sprite that was punching at the invisible shield and wincing as it bit at her thumb. Shaking the sprite to dislodge its teeth from her thumb, she tossed it into the vortex. "They're making such a fuss but I'm positive they'll love it there. It's flowering season and they'll have oodles to eat."

"Are you hurt?" asked Hermione, moving forward to take the other girl's hand in her own, she examined the bite that was already turning Luna's index finger red. Retrieving her wand from the pocket of her coat, Hermione cast a quick healing spell. "There! All fixed."

Hermione was still holding onto Luna's hand as she looked up at the younger girl who wore a winsome smile as she said, "Thank you. That does feel better."

A blush forming on her cheeks, Hermione ducked her head and said, "It's nothing."

"I wouldn't say that," remarked Luna, choosing for whatever reason to not take the opportunity to call Hermione and her blush adorable. She reached into the bucket and pulled out another thrashing sprite, throwing it into the vortex before it could follow its brother's example and bite at her. "You're marvelously fast at healing. I would have loved to have you on my last expedition searching for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. Skills like that are most valuable."

"Aren't you going to look for it again?" asked Hermione and she tentatively grabbed one of the least struggling sprites, holding it by its wings which weren't at all light and feathery like she had thought but thick and almost rubbery. The tiny creature started to squirm in her hold and she quickly flung it into the vortex, wincing at the high pitched squeal.

"Someday," Luna agreed, her voice distant and wistful. Snapping out of this, she looked to Hermione and questioned, "Have you thought of any activities for yourself and Ron?"

"Nothing that we both enjoy," said Hermione, a grouchy tone to her voice. She turned to Luna and on seeing the compassion in her eyes, she felt absurdly guilty for being upset about her predicament. Looking away, she confessed, "Ron and I tend to make sacrifices on that sort of thing. I do something he likes, then he does something I like and so on and so on. Though I'm sure he wouldn't agree to dancing. That isn't something he enjoys in the slightest."

"I see," said Luna in a thoughtful murmur.

"Was it the same for you and Katie?" asked Hermione, her curiosity getting the best of her. The blonde's relationship with the chaser was exceedingly interesting to her. Perhaps because they were a pairing that she would've never put together and she couldn't grasp what they would have been like as a couple. Although she was fairly certain they were nothing like her and Ron.

Crouching down and studying the last of the sprites which was flying madly about in the bucket, squealing and cursing at her, Luna wore a contemplative expression. "I don't believe so," she said finally. With a swift motion of her hand, she grabbed the sprite, flinging it over her shoulder and into the vortex which released the loudest burp yet then closed with a gush of air. Standing up, Luna wiped her hands on her jeans, and faced the shore, watching the waves crash up against the rocks as she said, "Some smells simply don't go well together."

"Smells?" Hermione echoed, frantically searching her brain, recalling very distinctly the blonde had said this before, but in reference to her relationship with Ron. "What do you--?"

"Katie said I was able to get along with anyone and anything," Luna interrupted, her voice faraway, sounding as if she was lost in some distant dream. "That I was so difficult to bother that it was impossible to find something I'd dislike and that made me special. But I don't think I agree." Turning to Hermione, her blue eyes lidded and pensive, she murmured, "Because don't you think anyone could be that way if they tried? All it takes is caring enough about someone and surely you would be able to discover something to love in whatever makes them happiest."

Considering this, Hermione frowned and said, "I'm not sure that's true. I'd like to think I try awfully hard with Ron and still I can't find things in common to enjoy with him. I mean, of course, I like Ron himself but I could do without the jokes from the shop and going to nonstop Quidditch matches."

"Some make chores a game while others make it just a cleaning," Luna murmured. She turned to Hermione who was perplexed at her words and offered a cheerful smile. "I have more to do about the cottage, would you help? I'll fix you a tasty meal as thanks."

Without a second thought, Hermione nodded in agreement and Luna gave a happy cry, hooking their arms together, and talking away about the various tasks she had planned. As they walked inside, Hermione thought on what the blonde just said and she knew instinctively that Luna would make these chores a game. And it would be one that Hermione would enjoy playing.

Chapter Text

If there was one thing about Hermione’s personality that remained constant it was the fact that she was something of a workaholic. She wasn’t someone who could simply lay about and feel at ease with it. She far preferred to be doing something, anything, with herself than just spend the day sleeping or sitting on her sofa. This was often a point of good natured teasing when it came to Ron who quite enjoyed having a lazy day about the flat. Hermione naturally tried to accommodate him when this mood struck but sooner or later she began working in small subtle ways. Cleaning, organizing, reading… though she would be hard pressed to call reading any form of work no matter what Ron might say.

But it was because of this personality trait that Hermione was baffled and a little disappointed when the Professor announced they wouldn’t be continuing their research over the term break. She had been expecting to get further with Luna in their development of a new potion for Spattergroit.

Unlike the brunette, Luna met the news with a happy smile and an overjoyed cry, bouncing in her seat and clapping her hands excitedly. The Professor beamed at this reaction and said, "I wager you’ll be taking your trip then?"

"Oh yes," said Luna, still smiling and nodding her head in agreement. "Most assuredly."

Hermione wanted to ask what trip but somehow couldn’t say the words in front of the Professor. She felt strangely shy about doing so though she didn't have the least idea why this was. Instead she focused on him and said, "Would it be all right if I continued our research independently over the break?"

"Certainly," said Ipson slowly, looking at Hermione with some surprise. "Although I would suggest you spend a bit of the time for yourself. It’s never good to work yourself ragged, even if you love what you’re doing. At least that’s what my wife has been informing me," Ipson admitted with a wry smile. "She’s the one who insisted on this break from our research, truth be told. Claims she hasn’t been seeing enough of me. And there is the incentive of having my youngest is on break from Hogwarts as well."

The conversation then turned towards their former school with both Hermione and Luna inquiring on what changes had occurred under Professor McGonagall’s watchful eyes. A little over an hour later, they walked out of the Professor’s office and Hermione was once again battling with the urge to ask Luna about the trip she had planned over the term break. She was still struggling with this when the blonde turned to her with a happy smile and announced, "I’m going on another expedition to search for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. Bheru has already agreed to guide me again. It’s going to be marvelous!"

"Didn’t you say it was dangerous?" asked Hermione, her eyes wide and worried as she thought back to the injuries Luna had mentioned on her previous expedition. "What if you're hurt?"

Smiling sweetly, Luna clasped Hermione's hands in her own and said, "That's why I have Bheru and my satchel full of potions. Please don't fret. It is true that it would be far better to have a Healer with me but I've yet to have anything serious happen while there's been a guide to accompany me."

"What if you had one?" asked Hermione suddenly, a frantic idea seizing her and causing her body to move forward with her mind as she stepped closer to Luna who blinked at this gesture.

"Hermione?" asked Luna softly, sounding confused for the first time since the brunette had known her.

"I'm not a Healer but what if I accompanied you?" Hermione began quickly, each word coming out of her mouth faster than the last, her cheeks turning a rosy hue due to excitement. She was inexplicably drawn to the idea of traveling with the blonde. Such a thing would have never entered her mind before meeting Luna but now it seemed like a immensely wonderful adventure, going on a trip to a foreign country looking for magical creatures to discover. One that she couldn't bear to ignore, especially when her presence could help keep Luna even the slightest bit safer. "You said yourself that I'm fast at healing. Surely that would be of use to you?"

Silence as Luna looked away from Hermione, gazing off into the distance, an unreadable expression on her features. Her attention fixed on the horizon, she murmured, "I'm not sure you've thought this through properly. Aren't there things that should be keeping you in England?"

"Keeping me here?" echoed Hermione, mimicking the blonde's confusion from just moments ago.

"I'm lucky in a way," Luna said, looking to Hermione with a wistful smile on her lips. "Besides my father I don't have anyone that would worry themselves about where I am and what I'm doing, no matter how dangerous it might be. It does become a little sad here and there but all in all it does lend to a tremendous amount of freedom. After all, the less people worry about me, the less worrying I do myself."

"I would worry!" exclaimed Hermione forcefully, moving forward again, and almost shaking the blonde's hands which she held in her own, as if to somehow use them to convince Luna of the truth of her words. "Why do you think I want to come with you? If I'm there then perhaps I can help to keep you safe!"

"Hermione," Luna breathed her name more than anything, saying it like it was a prayer of sorts. She untangled her hand from the brunette's, lifting it up to cup the other girl's cheek, gently caressing it as she murmured, "I would love to have you join my expedition. But perhaps you should discuss it with those who might worry over you first. I don't think it would be fair otherwise."

To her shame, Hermione almost started to ask who the blonde was referring to when Ron's face flashed in her mind. Realizing Luna was right, that she should at least talk with him before gallivanting off to foreign countries with the other girl, Hermione nodded her head and was rewarded with a brilliant smile from Luna and a lingering kiss to her forehead. One that left her warm even after Luna's lips had long left her skin.

---

Often Hermione realized that she underestimated Ron. She wasn't positive why this was, particularly when you considered she had known him for so long and had seen him accomplish so many things but that was the simple truth of the matter. Perhaps it was because of the length of their relationship that she had trouble recognizing specific traits in him. Maybe she was simply too used to seeing him in a certain light and because of that she couldn't appreciate what was right in front of her.

"You want to go on an expedition with Luna," said Ron slowly, almost tasting the words to see if they sounded real. He wore an expression of genuine puzzlement and scratched at his head, frowning lightly.

"To keep her safe," Hermione insisted and she really was insistent about that fact. For some reason, she simply couldn't rid herself of the terrible images of the blonde injured and in peril and she just couldn't fathom letting the girl take this trip if she didn't go along to protect her. Though Hermione did know this wasn't exactly logical thinking. After all, Luna had gone on countless expeditions and one could argue that she escaped from each of them unscathed. "She's taking a journey in an extremely dangerous province, Ron, and I--"

"You want to help," interrupted Ron, wearing a smile that was warm and nostalgic. She immediately realized that he was recalling those dangerous adventures they had shared with Harry. All done to help their friend, to keep him and the rest of the wizarding world safe.

"Yes," Hermione exhaled, an invisible weight lifting off her shoulders when she saw that he truly understood her motives.

Shrugging his shoulders and giving a sigh, Ron reached out, pulling her into a hug and kissing the top of her head. "I won't say I'm not disappointed I won't be spending the holiday with you but I understand your reason why and it's a good one at that," he murmured. "Besides," Ron moved backwards and gave her a teasing grin, his eyebrow arching humorously. "It isn't like you would listen to me if I forbade you to go, is it? You're hardly the type to take orders, Hermione, so it's best if I get out of your way."

"Honestly, Ron," huffed Hermione, poking him in the chest and smiling softly when he yelped in exaggerated pain at her touch. "You make me sound like a steamroller or something else destructive."

"A wha-roller?" Ron blinked and he now looked more confused than ever.

"It's a Muggle machine that flattens things," explained Hermione, smiling in amusement. For whatever reason, it never failed to entertain her when people from the Wizarding world became baffled and amazed over things that she had grown up with as very simple realities.

"Oh," said Ron quite wisely, acting very much like he understood perfectly when Hermione knew he still didn't have the smallest idea of what the machine was. Normally she would have explained but she already found her thoughts occupied with contacting Luna and packing for their trip. "When are you leaving? If it's not too soon then maybe we can have a little vacation of our own. Or at least have a night out before you go. Something to appease the loneliness that'll engulf me when you're gone."

"Daft," accused Hermione playfully. She walked over to her table and began writing a short letter to Luna as she said, "I haven't the foggiest idea of when we're leaving. I'll send this with Pigwidgeon and ask."

The tiny owl returned several hours later when they were in the middle of a game of Wizard Chess, one which was firmly maintaining Hermione's losing streak against Ron. She knew part of the reason she had such dislike for the game was the fact that no matter how hard she studied and read books on the subject she just couldn't improve enough to beat him. Not that the redhead was arrogant about it, he had even tutored her once or twice and each time she had learned an enormous amount, but she still found it horribly frustrating to always lose. That's why she was all too happy to abandon the game to read the letter from Luna. Along with being terribly curious about the blonde's response.

Hermione,

I wouldn't say that Ron doesn't worry about you because I'm sure that can't be true. Instead I'd say he's willing to let himself worry quietly to himself in order to let you follow your path. Which just so happens to be with me on my expedition. Something I'm ever so happy to be hearing about!

Having you along will be a magnificent help and I'm sure you'll become my lucky charm in the search for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. I don't see how it could continue to hide when someone as pretty as you will be looking for it.

Ah, there is the blush I've been missing.

I had been planning on leaving this Sunday but if that's too soon for you I can easily rearrange my plans. I must confess, I'm looking forward to this trip even more because this will be the first time that I've brought a friend along with me. We're going to have such a wonderful time, I promise you!

Yours,
Luna Lovegood

Reading the letter, a wide smile formed on Hermione's features and she looked to Ron who had walked over to join her and said, "She wants to leave this Sunday."

"Sunday, eh?" Ron mused and he tipped his head back, a thoughtful expression on his features. When he dropped it back down and saw Hermione's look of concern, he smiled brightly and said, "I reckon that's plenty of time for me to see you off in style."

"Is it?" asked Hermione with a laugh. "What exactly are you planning?"

"That's a secret," said Ron, wagging his finger at her. "But I promise that it won't involve Peasegood's Pub nor any form of Quidditch but it will include a celebration. And I won't call it grand because I've learned from setting expectations too high. It always comes back and bites me in the end."

Shaking her head and feeling blessed for small favors, Hermione started writing her reply to Luna, already looking forward far more to the unknown expedition with the blonde than any celebration that Ron could plan.

---

Although it hadn't been called grand, Hermione found Ron's second attempt at celebrating was far superior to the first. Perhaps because this time he bothered to consider her likes and dislikes. They had spent all of Saturday together. Starting with the breakfast he made, burning the biscuits, but serving perfectly lovely eggs and then following a nice lunch in a quaint outdoor café that the brunette had discovered in her wanderings around the University. They spent most of the day inspecting shops about Muggle London, with Ron pointing out various contraptions in wonderment and Hermione explaining what they did with a laugh and a smile. Finally, they settled down for an evening of music at the Siren's Song, a well known Wizarding music club where they listened to the scheduled band and had a delicious meal.

Hermione didn't know quite why Ron had insisted on planning such an elaborate day for them but it was incredibly nice all the same and as she packed the last of her things up Sunday morning, she wondered if she would think of the time they spent together on the trip and miss him. Such a thing had never occurred to her before but after experiencing that lovely day with him it seemed like a very real possibility.

The thought made her quite sad.

She suddenly wondered if going on this expedition with Luna was the right decision and if she was even really welcome. It wasn't like the blonde had asked her to come. She had simply insisted on it upon hearing about the trip. And why had she insisted? Out of sheer terror that something would happen to Luna on the trip and she would be powerless to help her. Hermione always hated that feeling but it had grown so much worse since she discovered she was a witch. Because with that knowledge came the idea that now she had the ability to end it, to prevent herself from having to just stand by and watch as wrong and unfair things happened. Now she had the capability to stop them. Perhaps that was also why she studied with such devotion. The more she knew of magic then the more she could use and the more reliable she could become. Someone who could always help, no matter the situation, someone who would never be helpless again. That also would explain why she became so very frustrated when her books and her knowledge failed to help her fix a problem because that feeling of being powerless, of being helpless, would return. A cruel reminder that sometimes it didn't matter how much magic you knew, it still couldn't help with certain problems.

But did Luna want her along? Hermione never stopped to think of this. It did seem as if the blonde was happy about her joining the expedition but she was always like that in a way. Though she loathed to admit it, Katie was right in terms of the younger girl's personality. She was someone who could find the good in anything. Who could make any situation better, more enjoyable, with a wide smile and her effervescent presence. And knowing that, it was entirely possible that perhaps Luna didn't really want Hermione to join her and the brunette might never know. The feeling Hermione had on thinking this was nearly as bad as the one when she imagined Luna becoming injured when she first heard about the trip.

It was all encompassing and she lost the desire to move. She just stood there, staring at her luggage, frozen by a bizarre wave of sadness that left her overwhelmed. This was where she remained when a loud pop sounded and she felt the soft touch of a warm hand on the small of her back.

"Hermione?" Luna's voice was light and lyrical and hearing it made Hermione want to sigh. But she didn't. She slowly turned and offered a wan smile, a veiled look in her eyes. "Is something the matter?"

"I never asked," said Hermione faintly. Luna didn't question verbally, she merely titled her head in an inquisitive manner and reached out, the backs of her fingers lightly brushing against Hermione's cheek. Causing the brunette to release the sigh she held in earlier and close her eyes. "I never asked if you wanted me to come along or if I've really just been a bother, inviting myself without a second thought."

"You're mistaken," Luna replied, her voice affectionate and reassuring, causing the brunette to lift her gaze and look into lidded blue eyes. "You've always been invited. I've just been waiting for you to show an interest."

"In what?" asked Hermione, unable to contain her curiosity.

Luna's fingers traveled across Hermione's cheek in a light touch, ghosting a caress against her skin and the brunette fought the urge to sigh again, the feeling was so wonderful. She had never experienced anything like the feeling the blonde inspired with her touch. One that was comforting but exciting and intense but relaxing. There was so much emotion behind such a small gesture and it genuinely shocked the older girl that she could feel this way. Falling down to her neck, Luna's fingers gently circled her pulse point and the tips reached out to tangle in Hermione's curly brown hair as she murmured, "In me."

In that moment, Hermione could do nothing but stare. She simply had no response for the blonde's words. They were too important, too solemn, for her to fathom and she knew deep in her heart they had some deeper underlining meaning that perhaps she wasn't ready to understand.

"Besides my father, you're the only person to join me on an expedition," Luna said, her gaze fixed on Hermione's hair which she was gently curling around her fingers. "No one else has ever wanted to."

She longed to ask what they didn't want according to the younger girl. The expeditions or Luna herself. But the question seemed too nosy and cruel. Instead, Hermione gave into her long held back urges and ran her fingers through white blonde hair, relishing in its silky texture, pleased when this action drew Luna's attention back to her. When their eyes met, she smiled softly and said, "But I do."

"I know," said Luna quietly, "and that's why Hermione is precious." The brunette started to open her mouth, wanting to ask for the reassurance that the blonde meant she was precious to her because just the mere thought of this made her heart beat wildly in her chest. But before she could, Luna smiled brightly, adjusted the backpack she wore and said, "Shall we go?"

"Yes," said Hermione faintly, returning the smile out of sheer habit, and bending down to retrieve her luggage.

When she stood up, Luna was gazing at her with those endless blue eyes that saw and seemed to understand so much, and they twinkled playfully as she reached out to hold Hermione's hand. Then with a flick of her wrist and a wave of her wand, they were gone on another adventure. One that would have consequences far more significant than they could imagine.

Chapter Text

They apparated to a humid warmth and the sounds of birds chirping and the steady sound of waves hitting the shore. Hermione kept her hand firmly in Luna's as she studied their surroundings. Noticing a slight sinking feeling, she looked down at the sand beneath her feet, her eyes immediately drawn to the shore of a beautiful blue lake that was shadowed by large palm trees. The sun was shining brightly and she realized that it was in the afternoon where they were. But where exactly were they? She didn't know specifically, just that they were in India. Which is why she turned to Luna with a determined look on her features that she suspected caused that charming smile to form on the blonde's face.

"What region of India are we in?" asked Hermione, her eyes once again drawn to inspect their exotic environment, half expecting someone to jump out and yell about evil witches. Though she wasn't entirely sure why. Perhaps because it was too beautiful here and surely there had to be something wrong with the area.

"Southern India," said Luna and she released a sigh, closing her eyes and tilting her head back as a breeze swept over them, blowing back her hair and making Hermione want to reach out and push the stray locks from her face. But the younger girl did that herself as she opened her eyes and looked to Hermione, smiling sweetly as she said, "The Kerala backwaters more specifically." Luna's blue eyes focused on the large expanse of water in front of them and continued, "This is Vembanad Kayal, one of India's largest lakes and occasional bathing ground for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. But we'll be searching in there." The blonde turned and pointed into the lush green forest, thick with palm trees and the sounds of countless animals, too many for Hermione to possibly identify, though she was sure Luna could attempt it if pressed. "Lovely, isn't it?"

"You neglected to mention hot," a rich and playful voice greeted them and the two girls turned to see Bheru approaching. He was dressed in lightweight white pants and a pale blue kurta. When he reached them, he gave a low bow and gazed up at them with kind brown eyes as he said, "Or are you merely attempting to keep Miss Hermione from noticing such things?"

"Please, call me Hermione," insisted Hermione, smiling at Bheru as he rose to his full height.

"Very well," Bheru replied, acknowledging her request with an affirming dip of his head.

At this gesture, Luna seemed to bounce in place, waving a hand at him and exclaiming, "Then you have to call me Luna as well, Bheru! No more Miss Lovegood this and Miss Lovegood that."

"I'm afraid I cannot do that," said Bheru, a playful twinkle in his eyes although he wore an utterly solemn expression. "I am your guide and you are my employer. There must be a sign of respect between us and so you shall remain Miss Lovegood."

"And Hermione? She's my guest, why is she exempt?" asked Luna.

Considering this for a long moment, Bheru finally answered, "I am not sure why but I have decided she is."

It seemed as if Luna might protest this response but she merely shook her head, sending white blonde hair flying as she looked off into the distance. Bheru smiled at this reaction and stepped closer to Hermione and said in low tones, that only she could hear, "It is wrong of me, perhaps, but this is the only thing which flusters her. I find it somewhat amusing."

"It is wrong," Hermione whispered back and unable to help giving a chuckle. "But I do think I understand."

"The water is calm and our little friends the Shimmering Southern Butterflies are out," Luna's voice floated towards them on the wind, wistful and dreamy as her expression as she looked to them with a smile. "I think it means we should head east, Bheru."

"I agree," said Bheru, nodding his head and immediately wearing a serious expression. "They led us to the nest on our last expedition. Almost as if they wanted to help us in our search."

Hermione started to ask what they were talking about when her eyes caught sight of a small shining light amongst the grass up ahead. Walking forward and squinting her eyes, she was able to make out a pair of fast fluttering wings that shimmered with every flap. Unlike butterflies she was used to seeing about the Burrow these stayed extremely close to the ground, as if unable to fly higher. They headed into the depths of the forest, following after the butterflies, where the trees were full with leaves, blocking the sunlight and making the butterflies glowing light more pronounced.

"They eat the blades of grass as they go along. That's why they fly low," Luna informed, suddenly appearing at Hermione's side. "The tops of the grass seems to be the most delicious."

"I've never seen them before," said Hermione, still marveling at their beauty. "Are they only found here?"

Ducking under a hanging branch, Luna looked over her shoulder at Hermione with a smile. "Wherever the weather is warm and the grass is delicious, you can find them," she replied.

"I would suppose they don't favor Britain," said Hermione wryly.

"No," Luna chuckled, shaking her head and watching the brunette adjust the strap of her luggage over her shoulder. "It isn't too heavy, is it?"

"Don't be silly," said Hermione, sounding entirely resolved. "I've already sorted it out with some spells."

"Of course," murmured Luna winsomely, a pleasant smile on her lips and an affectionate look on her features as she regarded the older girl. "I should have expected as much. Hermione is always prepared, isn't she?"

Feeling altogether flustered by the fond expression Luna wore, Hermione drew her gaze away from the blonde and immediately noticed they were approaching a clearing inside of the forest. The shining light of the butterflies guided them forward and as they neared it Hermione could see that it was far more than the five or ten butterflies they had been following that were meeting here. Instead it was upwards of a hundred, creating a spectacular shining light with every flutter of their wings. It was truly one of the most mesmerizing and magnificent things that she had ever seen. She heard a quiet rustle of fabric and the sound of something unzipping and she turned to see Bheru remove a camera from Luna's backpack and hand it to her. Taking several careful steps ahead, Luna crouched down and began to take pictures as the butterflies flew about the clearing, gathering together in a large mass. Bheru moved to stand at Hermione's side and leaned down as he said in a soft murmur, "It is their mating dance."

"Is it rare?" asked Hermione, unable to draw her eyes away from the glowing creatures.

"Well," Bheru drew the word out slowly and a chuckle escaped him as he considered how to reply.

This wasn't a problem that Luna had and she continued to take pictures as she said, her voice kind but laced with the smallest hint of teasing, "The Shimmering Southern Butterflies have their flights of love at least once a day." Done taking pictures, Luna rose to her feet and hung the camera around her neck as she walked towards Hermione with a smile. "Some legends say they would wilt away and die without it."

"Without mating?" asked Hermione skeptically, she never heard of such a thing.

"Without love," Luna corrected kindly and she reached out to push a stray lock of hair from Hermione's eyes. "It doesn't always come to us in ways that we can see and properly understand but it is always there. Even when we would dismiss the ability for it to exist. Though," a playful smile tugged at her lips and Luna tilted her head to one side, wearing a look of consideration. "I have heard people say it's less a flight of love than a tremendous winged orgy. Which is valid, I imagine, when you realize they are having sex, after all."

"You're having fun with me," said Hermione despite the fact she suspected this wasn't at all the case.

"Not at all," Luna shook her head and she took the brunette's hand in her own. Gently pulling Hermione forward until they reached the edge of the clearing where the butterflies continued their shining flight, undisturbed by their observers. Slipping behind the older girl, Luna rested one hand on Hermione's hip and the other she extended in front of the brunette, drawing a line downward to point out two of the butterflies in front of them. Her breath warm and sweet on Hermione's skin, the blonde murmured in her ear, "You see how close they are? How their abdomens leave no space between them? That's how you can tell."

Observing that Luna was correct, there wasn't any space between their abdomens, Hermione's eyes drew across the clearing. Taking in hundreds of similar scenes, she said a bit dimly, "But there are so many of them."

"I think they enjoy having an audience," said Luna with a playful lilt to her voice. Hermione looked over her shoulder at the blonde, once again wearing a skeptical expression. Causing Luna to smile soft but mischievous as she said, "Why else would they do it this way?"

Unable to help blushing, Hermione replied, "Protection from predators? To have strength in numbers?"

Releasing a thoughtful murmur, Luna lightly rested her chin on Hermione's shoulder and said, "I do imagine that's correct. If you prefer not to think of things romantically."

"And how is a butterfly orgy romantic?" asked Hermione sardonically.

"They're surrounded by friends?" Luna suggested, forming an impish smile.

"Daft," Hermione accused fondly.

"A bit, here and there," agreed Luna easily as she pulled away from Hermione, removing her hands from the brunette's waist and putting space between their bodies. The moment she did this, Hermione found herself missing the blonde's presence and wishing she would return. "Everyone is at one time or another, don't you think?" Before the older girl could reply, Luna turned to Bheru who was kneeling down and inspecting some of the local fauna. "Have you found something, Bheru?"

"Imprints, I believe," said Bheru, scooting to one side to allow room for Luna. "It is the same as before, is it not?"

Leaning in closer and taking the thin leaf in hand, a thrilled look on her features, Luna said, "Exactly the same." Looking over her shoulder, a wide smile forming, Luna waved at Hermione, wanting her closer. "Hermione, come see."

Walking over to the other girl and crouching down next to her, Hermione ducked her head to look at a delicate green leaf that had a strange blue imprint of a pair of tiny feet where the stem began and the leaf ended. "That isn't--?"

"The prints of the Krodha Swinging Lizard," interrupted Luna with a gleeful cry, clapping her hands together and doing a little wiggle despite her crouched position. "Their feet always leave a distinctive blue mark because of the natural adhesive they produce that helps them take hold of their targets as they swing through the forest." Turning towards Hermione and taking her hand, she lightly pressed the top of her index finger to one of the blue footprints, allowing the older girl to touch the sticky texture. "You do feel it don't you?"

"Yes," said Hermione faintly, looking at her index finger that now had a slight blue film covering it. "I do."

Luna rose to her feet with Bheru and the two began discussing which direction to continue while Hermione remained where she was, marveling over what appeared to be proof that the Krodha Swinging Lizard might actually exist. Though she was nowhere near a Zoologist or a Magical Creatures expert such as Hagrid or Charlie Weasley, she did know a fair amount, and none of her knowledge led her to a known animal that left behind blue footprints in its travels. Was it possible that all of the creatures that Luna spoke about were real? Just the thought of this made Hermione experience a large surge of guilt as she thought of all the times she expressed disdain both out loud and to herself at the various creatures Luna mentioned. Confident in her belief that they were all completely and utterly fictional and the blonde was doing little more than telling fairy tales with her stories of them. But seeing that blue footprint, having evidence for the first time that Luna's tales weren't just fanciful, Hermione felt a strong desire to help the younger girl prove to everyone that was the case. That the Krodha Swinging Lizard wasn't a made up creature and Luna wasn't someone to be mocked but was instead a true naturalist, someone who persevered despite the odds and opinion being against her.

With this thought firmly in her mind, Hermione stood up and made her way over to Luna who, sensing her approach, turned to her with a soft smile on her features, her hand held out to the brunette in an offering that Hermione couldn't possibly refuse. Their fingers laced together, they returned their attention to Bheru as he mapped out their path and plan for tracking the movements of the Krodha Swinging Lizard. All with Hermione listening carefully to his every word because she now found herself invested in this expedition. No longer there just to ease her fears and to keep Luna safe but slowly believing in the reason it was being taken.

And the person responsible for their journey.

---

The only light Hermione could see was from their wands when they decided to stop for the night. Luna removed her backpack, unzipping the front pouch and pulled out a miniature brown tent that fit snugly in the palm of her hand. Walking cautiously through the growth, taking special care not to step on any of the exotic plants, Luna stopped in a clearing that was half the size of the one they had left the Shimmering Southern Butterflies in. Placing the tent in the center of the clearing, Luna gave a flick of her wand and murmured, "Engorgio." Instantly, the tent grew ten times its previous size, revealing that it was made of handsome but worn brown leather that gave it a very homey feeling. Stepping to one side and giving a little bow as she looked at them with smiling eyes, Luna gestured to the tent door and said, "Gentleman and lady first."

Bheru returned the bow before entering with a smile while Hermione shook her head in amusement as she followed him inside. The tent the Weasley family often used for outings such as trips to the Quidditch World Cup had an Arabian feel to it and Hermione half expected that Luna's would be the same. That simply wasn't the case. It was the furthest thing from Arabian with a large fur rug, massive stone fireplace, complete with a roaring fire, and sturdy wooden furniture. In fact, it rather looked like a hunting lodge.

"My great grandfather used this for his own expeditions," Luna revealed, standing at Hermione's side and wearing something close to an embarrassed expression. "Unfortunately he didn't have the same views on Magical Creature conservation as myself and my father."

"He was a hunter?" asked Hermione, wanting to confirm her suspicions.

"A very impressive one according to the texts," replied Luna, nodding her head. "Telamon Lovegood was well known for being able to track the most elusive of Magical Creatures." She paused and seemed to cringe as she added, her voice low and laced with shame, "And then kill them."

"You shouldn't feel guilty," said Hermione, altogether certain of this fact. After all, it wasn't Luna who went around killing those Magical Creatures. It was her great grandfather. But perhaps it was out of guilt that she became so interested in preserving the natural state of wildlife. Her interest also being an attempt to somehow make up for the harm he had done in his hunting of the creatures. "You're not responsible for his actions."

"The great Wizard in the sky is the only one who knows and understands everything we do," said Luna in a faraway voice, her eyes drifting across the room, sadly observing the animal hides. "And even he cannot control them." Her gaze focused on Hermione, a small and almost wicked smile forming on her features, she leaned closer to the older girl and said, "It's going to make Great Grandmother horribly upset but I plan on redecorating the tent over the summer holiday. She's sure to throw fits but this place does depress everyone in the family except her with all of Great Grandfather's macabre decorating choices."

Eyeing the stuffed head of a creature that looked to be a cross between an elk and an alligator, Hermione said, "Let me know if you'd like help. It would be an enormously good deed to change some of these decorations and it seems as if it would be quite the task to go about alone."

"Hermione says the loveliest things," Luna remarked, smiling so sweet and sincere that the brunette swore her heart stopped at the sight. Especially because she didn't think she had said anything at all out of the ordinary. But the fact that Luna thought that? And that she smiled at her in such a way? It made Hermione feel so very special indeed. Luna then laced her hands behind her back and skipped into an old fashioned kitchen that included a wood burning stove. Bending over, she began to search through the cupboards, removing various ingredients and placing them on the counter. "I imagine that Bheru has gone to unpack some of this things in his usual room." Luna pulled her head out of the cupboard, her hands full of spices and she continued, "I'm going to begin cooking our dinner, if you wanted you could decide which of the other two rooms suits you best. You can find them just to the right of the kitchen down the narrow hallway filled with magical portraits."

"Is there one that you prefer?" asked Hermione, not wanting to accidentally choose the blonde's favorite room in the tent. She recalled how adamant Ron had been on their trip to the Quidditch World Cup about which room was his. Although she was never the sort to have favorites about such things, he apparently was, and she supposed other people could be the same. Even Luna. Though somehow she didn't think that was true.

"I quite like hammocks," said Luna absently, standing on her tip toes and pulling out a large pot.

"Hammocks?" Hermione echoed in confusion.

She would have questioned further but the blonde was busy preparing dinner and Hermione got the distinct feeling that while Luna would never admit it she would be bothering her. So she turned and headed down the narrow hallway filled with magical portraits. Several of them featuring people who shared Luna's distinctive white blonde hair but most occupied by a stout man with a handlebar mustache pictured with various deceased or captured Magical Creatures. Hermione frowned at his portraits, assuming he was Telamon Lovegood, the great grandfather that Luna still held some guilt over from his treatment of animals throughout his life. Near the end of the hallway she saw three rooms, one directly ahead and one to the left and the right. The room facing forward was a sizeable loo complete with a separate bath and shower. Like the rest of the tent it was decorated in the style of a hunting lodge and had a masculine feel to it. Luna really was right, this tent could do with redecorating.

Looking to the room to the left, she pushed aside the heavy leather barrier and walked inside. It had a large brown hammock in the center of the room that was covered with a comfortable looking red and orange afghan. On the far wall was a large oak dresser filled that had several framed pictures resting on it. Instead of featuring Telamon Lovegood, they were pictures of Luna as a small girl with her parents, happily romping about with a Hippogriff. Drawn to the sight, Hermione walked over and picked up the middle photograph and was rewarded with the Lovegood family beaming happily at her and Luna excitedly waving her hands as she hugged the Hippogriff's neck. Returning the smile, the brunette carefully put the picture back in its place and examined the small stone fireplace in the corner. While the room was cozy and comfortable looking, Hermione hadn't ever spent the night sleeping in a hammock and she wasn't sure she was eager to change that as of yet. Which is why she pushed back the leather barrier and headed towards the room directly across the hall.

A bed was the first thing that greeted Hermione on entering this room and she gave a sigh of relief. It was held in a sturdy oak frame and like the previous room, there was a small stone fireplace in the corner and a large oak dresser directly across from the bed. Instead of featuring charming family pictures like the room Luna preferred, the dresser had an odd looking head of a creature that was clearly some type of lizard and an intimidating one at that with glowing red eyes and sharp fangs. Shuddering at the sight, Hermione took a step backwards and contemplated just how comfortable a hammock might be. That was when the leather curtain to the room was pushed aside and Bheru walked inside.

"Ah," he said wisely, his eyes moving from Hermione to the lizard head she was fixated on. "Now I understand why she was so concerned. That isn't pleasant looking in the least." With that said, Bheru walked over to the dresser and for the first time Hermione noticed that he had a small box and his wand in hand. Murmuring under his breath and giving a wave of his wand, the lizard head shrunk to the size of a galleon. He then picked the head up and placed it inside the box, putting it in the bottom drawer of the dresser where it was safely out of sight. Looking up at Hermione, he smiled and said, "Far better to have it in there, don't you think?"

"Yes," agreed Hermione, lifting the strap of her luggage over her head and placing it on the floor. With the lizard head hidden away in the drawer, the brunette felt much more comfortable about the prospect of sleeping in this room. "What was that creature?"

"One of her great grandfather's prizes," Bheru said in tones that didn't attempt to disguise his disgust. "The head of a rare Asian Snapping Dragon. They're currently on the edge of extinction."

Walking over to the dresser and slowly unpacking her things, Hermione decided to give into temptation and curiosity then said, "Luna asked you to remove it, didn't she?"

"She thought it would disturb you," said Bheru as he gave an affirming nod. Making a face, he continued, "I thoroughly understand why. Particularly when you do not share our experience in some of the more unpleasant aspects of Magical Creature naturalism." Seeing the question in Hermione's brown eyes, he explained, "Illegal hunting and poaching. Though I find what her great grandfather did reprehensible, it was legal in his era. That isn't the case in modern times with many of the creatures he hunted on the endangered species list or approaching it. However, that doesn't stop some wizards from desiring their trophies."

"That's horrid," said Hermione fiercely, frowning as she shut the dresser drawer and turned to Bheru. "Is there nothing that can be done to stop them? Perhaps with the Ministry's help?"

"The Department of Magical Creatures does have an investigation team but there are so many problems in terms of both abuse, hunting, and then the additional need to hide the presence of magical creatures from Muggles, they are quite overworked," said Bheru, he leaned against the leather wall which was surprisingly sturdy thanks to the spells cast and formed a sad smile as Hermione sat on the bed. "During our last expedition, we discussed the need for a large scale magical creature rights organization. A group dedicated to freeing magical creatures who have been abused and captured by wizards then once again acclimating them to the wild so they could live the rest of their lives in their natural environments. I believe if anyone could make such a thing a reality, it would be Miss Lovegood. She cares so much for these creatures that even in her search for them capture is never an option. The only evidence she wants of their existence is photographs. She said anything else would be far too invasive and damaging to their continued health. Unless, of course, the animal was facing extinction and capture was necessary for breeding and repopulation of the species." Bheru paused, wearing a thoughtful expression as he murmured, "I believe she was involved with such a mission last summer for the Green Grackenpuff."

"Known for its shining emerald stare?" asked Hermione slowly, doing her best to hide her disbelief.

"Exactly," said Bheru, looking pleased that Hermione had heard of the creature. "Though sadly, they were only successful in capturing a male. It's currently being studied at the Sao Paulo Zoo for Magical Creatures in Brazil."

They were silent for a moment, studying one another, then Hermione said rather hesitantly, "If you don't mind my asking, how did you come to meet Luna?"

"Naturalists in the wizarding world aren't terribly common," revealed Bheru kindly. "We all tend to know of one another. However, I believe we first met when we attended a lecture for Newt Scamander. Yes," he said excitedly, chuckling softly as he remembered. "We sat next to one another and began a discussion on the multitude of undiscovered magical creatures that we knew to be in existence that others thought to be figments of our imagination. That was the first time I mentioned the Krodha Swinging Lizard to her. After the lecture we side along apparated to my restaurant where I fixed her my famous Prawn Curry." Focusing back onto Hermione, an easy smile on his face, he said, "We have been friends ever since."

This response was more than detailed but somehow it didn't seem enough for Hermione because hearing it simply made her want to ask further about the naturalist community Luna was a part of and who else she knew through it. The more she knew of the blonde the more curious she became and Hermione wondered if she could ever know enough when it came to the younger girl, she found herself so consistently curious and intrigued by her. Though it did embarrass her at times to feel this way. She had never experienced anything like this, wanting to know so much about another person and feeling jealous of others when they were closer to that person than her. Certainly she had heard of such behavior, everyone had. Typically it was attributed to teenagers in love and since that was hardly her position, Hermione found herself irritated by these tendencies she was having towards Luna. It wasn't how she was meant to act and because of this she wanted to bury the feelings away. Only they just weren't cooperating and when she forced herself to, she was miserable as a result.

While she was fighting her desire to ask Bheru more questions on his relationship with Luna, the blonde called to them from the kitchen, her voice humorous and playful in its attempt to be stern as she announced it was time for dinner. With those words, Hermione pushed the questions down, trying to forget they were there but knowing she simply wouldn't be able. Not when the persistent and inexplicably strong need to know everything she could about Luna existed within her, not when she wanted to be the person who knew the most about the blonde instead of the one asking the questions, not until all of that happened could she ever forget.

---

Dinner was long over and they were gathered in the living room. Hermione and Luna sitting on a comfortable leather sofa in front of the large stone fireplace, warming themselves with the heat of the fire. Bheru had just excused himself to take a bath before going to bed and they were left in momentary silence from his absence.

Resting her head on the back of the sofa, Luna looked at Hermione with lidded blue eyes and said, "When does Hermione prefer to have her baths? In the morning or night?"

"Hermione prefers showers in the morning," replied Hermione smartly, lifting her arm from where it had been resting on the back of the sofa and pointing a finger at the other girl. Luna smiled softly at this gesture, grabbing the brunette's index finger that was aimed at her and squeezing it gently. "And what does Luna prefer?"

"Luna prefers the morning showers as well," said Luna, doing a fair impression of Hermione's tone from just moments before, causing the older girl to scowl slightly. Forming something of a pout, the blonde shook her companion's finger which she still held in her grasp and said, "You shouldn't make such a face. It doesn't at all suit your pretty features. You do know that if you look that way long enough your face will forget how to make other expressions and you'll become stuck that way. It happened once to a cousin on my mother's side. He resembled a nasty looking toad and I think he had a name to match. Something that reminded me of ribbits."

Unable to help herself from laughing, Hermione shook her head and said, "You're making up stories."

"No! It's the truth," Luna declared adamantly, shaking Hermione's finger again for good measure. "Once we're back home I'll ask my father what his name was. I'm sure we have a picture of him somewhere about the house also, what with him having such an interesting toad like appearance."

"And you don't want me to have an interesting appearance?" asked Hermione in teasing tones.

"Only if that's what you want," said Luna, her gaze was focused on the brunette's hand which she had flipped over in her hold and was busy drawing a feather light path on its palm. "Though I think Hermione is wonderful and needn't change a thing."

Her breath stilling in her chest at these words, Hermione wanted so very badly to see Luna's eyes as she heard this and so she reached out, tenderly pushing aside a lock of blonde hair and tracing her hand downward to cup the younger girl's cheek. Luna gave the happiest and softest of sighs, leaning into the brunette's palm and finally lifting her gaze upwards to look into Hermione's eyes. The expression she wore was one of utter peace and contentment and on seeing it, Hermione wondered if she was responsible for it being there. Such a thing never would have seemed real to her a few months ago, that she could make another person look that way, but when she was with Luna a whole new world of possibilities emerged.

"Thank you for letting me take this trip with you," said Hermione, her voice quiet and sincere.

"There's nothing to thank me for," Luna murmured, lifting her hand to cover the brunette's, pulling it down into her lap and lacing their fingers together. "I consider it a happy coincidence that we both wanted you here."

A reply was right on Hermione's lips but found itself stalled by a yawn escaping instead. On hearing this, Luna clucked her tongue and rose to her feet, offering both of her hands to the brunette who instinctively slipped them into the younger girl's grasp, allowing herself to be pulled upwards. They stood in front of the couch, barely a breath between them, Hermione all too aware of the nearness of the blonde as Luna rested her right hand on the older girl's hip, absently rubbing at the small bit of bare skin that was peeking out from under her shirt.

"You're tired," said Luna solemnly, as if realizing this was the most troubling thing in the world. Hermione wanted to protest out of stubbornness and the fact she was having a perfectly lovely time talking with Luna and she didn't want to stop simply because she was a little bit sleepy. She wanted to but once again her words were cut off by a traitorous yawn. She scowled, upset at her body for betraying her, while the younger girl smiled sweetly at this response. "You never told me if you like hammocks," Luna mused, tilting her head to one side, a slight frown forming on her features, no doubt contemplating the idea of losing her favorite room.

"I like beds," said Hermione quickly, not wanting to take the chance of having to try and sleep in a hammock for the very first time. "Though hammocks are nice as well."

"They're horribly comfortable," remarked Luna, turning on her heel and pulling Hermione after her as she made her way down the narrow hall and towards their rooms. Pausing in her walk once she reached them, she studied Hermione for a long moment, a look of concern on her features, one that made the brunette want to question why it was there but before she could, Luna leaned in close, her breath tickling Hermione's skin as she murmured, "I've been on countless expeditions since I was a little girl and have stayed in the most desolate and wild places but sometimes I still become frightened of the noises I hear and sometimes can't hear because of the silencing charms."

Hermione wore a faint frown as the younger girl pulled away, suspecting that she was the reason behind this confession. It was because of this that she said with a confident insistence, "I promise I'll be fine, Luna. Besides," she formed a reassuring smile, "this is hardly the first time I've been isolated and away from others. You do recall my seventh year spent away from Hogwarts, don't you?"

"How could I forget?" asked Luna distantly, her gaze almost melancholy. "It's remembered always." Focusing back on Hermione, she tilted her head to one side and blue eyes gained a mischievous twinkle as she said, "But you must remember that my hammock is quite comfortable for two and I'm a light sleeper who never minds being woken up. Particularly when it means there's a chance of cuddling."

"Cuddling?" repeated Hermione, giving a sputtering laugh. When Luna nodded eagerly, Hermione shook her head and said with a broad smile, "I'm sure you're having fun with me but thank you kindly for the invitation." Still shaking her head, Hermione turned and pushed back the leather barrier and entered her room as she said, "Goodnight, Luna. I'll see you in the morning."

"I'm not having fun!" Luna declared emphatically as the barrier fell into place. "I take cuddling very seriously."

For this, Hermione made no reply.

Chapter Text

 

They had been traveling for three days and with each passing day they witnessed more and more signs of the Krodha Swinging Lizard's existence. Blue footprints, shining skin that had been shed, and even the occasional droppings that made Hermione turn her nose up while Luna bounced about excitedly. They had found all of this but not the actual lizard itself. For Hermione it was a little frustrating but every time she'd become annoyed by the search, thinking it almost hopeless and tedious in a way, she would look to Luna happy and smiling about their expedition and the feeling would magically disappear.

She wondered why it wasn't the same with Ron.

Why she couldn't look at him when he was happy and smiling while watching a Quidditch match and her feelings of being ignored and irritated wouldn't simply vanish as they did when she looked at Luna talking about that lizard with Bheru. It made her think of what the blonde had said about her relationship with Katie. That all it takes is caring enough about someone and surely you would be able to discover something to love in whatever makes them happiest. Was it possible that despite all of the years of friendship she and Ron had she just didn't care enough to find pleasure in whatever made him happy? And if that was true then why was it so very easy to do the complete opposite with Luna? In all her years dating Ron there had been many occasions where he took trips that some might consider dangerous. Family outings to distant lands and odd research trips with George for their joke shop but never once had she been compelled to chase after him in order to keep him safe.

Not like she had when Luna mentioned her expedition. At first, Hermione was eager to dismiss it as worry for a friend who was going into a perilous situation but honestly, that didn't hold up when you bothered to think on it for more than a minute. Luna had gone on an endless amount expeditions throughout her life and she was traveling with an expert guide who had far more experience in this sort of thing than Hermione. When she thought logically on the situation her presence here really wasn't keeping the blonde that much safer. But if this was true then what was the real reason behind her desire to be here?

Certainly it had to do with those images, logic about the danger or otherwise, of Luna being hurt and Hermione not being able to help her. Without a doubt that played a large part in why the brunette had been determined to come along. But why didn't that same terror seize her when she thought about Ron and the trips he made? Was it because she had known him so long and knew what he was capable of while Luna remained something of a mystery? That could be part of it.

There was something else though and as much as Hermione wanted to deny it she just couldn't. And that was the fact that she knew she would miss Luna when she was gone. Miss her horribly and probably the most she had ever missed a person if you removed the time during the war with Voldemort when Ron abandoned them. But Ron came back and she knew deep in her heart that he would, he just wasn't the type of person to leave his friends and never return. Especially in a time of need. But when she thought of Luna taking this trip, she didn't have that same confidence. What if Luna was hurt? What if Luna was hurt and never came back? What if all that happened and Hermione never got to tell her…

Tell her what?

It was all so confusing. What in the world would she tell Luna anyway? That she had worried about her getting hurt? Or that as soon as she heard she was going on this trip she wanted to come along just to be with her? Hermione couldn't see the value in saying any of those things to the other girl but something in her wanted to if only to witness the blonde's reaction.

And how would Luna react? Would she be flattered or would she dismiss it kindly with a kiss to her cheek and a smile? Somehow Hermione didn't think it would be either of these things but she couldn't imagine what the reaction would be. Other than something that would make her heart race and face blush. Of that she was positive.

"Hermione, don't brood, it's lunchtime!" Luna's voice, cheerful and sing song rang out in the forest and Hermione immediately focused her attention on the younger girl who was holding a wicker picnic basket in hand.

"I'm not brooding," said Hermione a bit huffily as she wound her way through the thick foliage and towards the blonde. "And where have you been hiding that basket? Everyday at noon it magically appears and I've yet to figure out how you hide it away. I know it's not a shrinking spell because I would've noticed when it increased in size."

Airing out a large blanket and resting it in a small empty clearing, Luna mused, "I never understood the purpose in trying to analyze magic. Isn't it better to simply leave it as it is? After all," the blonde looked over her shoulder and smiled winsomely at Hermione, "where's the fun in knowing everything? There would be no mystery left in the world. I think that would make me quite sad."

"The fun is in understanding the world around you," said Hermione, moving to the other side of the blanket to help Luna arrange it perfectly on the ground. "I've always thought the more you understand things the better off you are to help others."

"Hermione is perfectly lovely that way," Luna informed Bheru in secretive tones that were laced with affection. "She's forever helping people at the University. Sometimes I wonder how it is she finishes her own work with all the helping she does."

"I can imagine," said Bheru, giving a warm chuckle.

Settling down on the blanket and wearing an embarrassed scowl, Hermione studied their surroundings, the lush green trees with low overhanging branches filled with large leaves, the colorful plants and flowers that wrapped around the trees in a wonderful winding fashion, and contemplated the absurdity of having a daily picnic in such an area. "Don't either of you find it odd, having picnics in a rainforest?" Hermione asked this in a rather off hand manner. "I have a difficult time wrapping my head around this situation."

"Is it the blanket?" asked Luna, studying the red and white checkered material they sat on. "It isn't very rainforesty, is it?"

"No, it's not the blanket," said Hermione with a laugh. "More of the fact we're doing such an ordinary thing in a very extraordinary place."

"Clearly you haven't been going to the right picnics," said Luna, very matter of fact.

"I suppose not," said Hermione wryly, taking the offered sandwich from Luna. Taking a bite, she chewed slowly, savoring the wonderful taste as she observed their forest surroundings. She found it entirely strange how it could seem so very alive yet peaceful at the same time. Focusing her attention back on Luna who was pouring Bheru a cup of tea, she said, "Do you think we've gained any ground?"

"The Shimmering Southern Butterflies are still with us and the signs are getting stronger," Luna said, her voice airy and wistful. "I believe all of these things mean we are getting closer to finding the Krodha Swinging Lizard."

"We did spot those droppings early in the morning," Bheru reminded, taking a sip of his tea. "They're the right size and consistency."

Smiling at the face Hermione made at this comment which she hid behind her own cup of tea, Luna replied, "Perhaps our remarks on dropping sizes and consistency could resume after the meal is finished, Bheru."

"Of course!" exclaimed Bheru, looking from Luna to Hermione with an apologetic expression. "I am sorry, Hermione. Sometimes I forget myself during expeditions. Particularly when we are so very close to finding the creature we are searching for."

"It's fine, Bheru," said Hermione quickly, waving off any apologies and forming an easy smile. "But Luna is right, maybe droppings isn't the best choice in mealtime conversation."

"We should discuss Garden Gnomes. They've become more hostile as of late," Luna informed in grave tones as she took a bite of her sandwich. "Father thinks they might be planning to overthrow the Ministry."

"You must be joking," said Hermione before she could think better of it, instantly regretting saying the words because when it came to Luna and her father it was entirely possible they felt this to be the absolute truth.

Staring at Hermione for a long moment, Luna tilted her head, and though her expression was utterly serious there was a playful twinkle in her blue eyes as she said, "Yes, I am. Though I did hope to keep that a secret for a little while longer."

"You do know I'm not at all fond of secrets, Luna," replied Hermione smartly, giving a smile.

"I've made a note of it," said Luna, lightly tapping her forehead and returning the brunette's smile. "And once I've made a note, I never forget. Especially when it involves someone as pretty as Hermione."

Instead of responding, Hermione blushed and tried her best to ignore Luna's pleased chuckle.

---

Several hours later, when the sun was low in the sky, they were still making their way through the forest, in search of a good clearing to set their tent up for the night when Luna suddenly stopped in her walk. Hermione paid little attention to this until the blonde reached out, grabbing the back of her shirt to keep her from going any further.

"Luna? What is it?" But Hermione's questions were hushed as the younger girl came to stand at her side.

Raising her arm, extending it in a wide arc, Luna held her wand aloft and murmured a spell under her breath. Instantly a long string appeared before them, silver and shining, leading up to an silver cage that hung underneath the lowest branch on the tree. "A poacher's trap," she said, her voice quiet and solemn. "I've been noticing signs of them throughout our travels today."

"Are they trying to capture the Krodha Swinging Lizard?" asked Hermione, watching as Luna began searching a nearby bush.

"Or the Blibbering Humdinger or perhaps even the Fearsome Polimear," Luna said, emerging from the bush with a large branch. Throwing it into the air, she gave a wave of her wand and said, "Praesul!"

The branch sprang to life and began to dance a jig, heading right into the silver string, causing the cage above it to shake and quiver, coming to life in a frightening manner as it gained jaws of a sort, the front of the cage opening up like the mouth of a great tiger, the bars becoming teeth as the cage dropped down and snapped the branch up in a matter of seconds. No longer lively, the branch fell over with a loud clunk and staring up at it, Hermione was frozen as she contemplated just how an actual animal would fare in a trap like this.

"Dissimulo," murmured Luna and with a flick of her wand, the cage was once again invisible. "It won't try to capture anything else now that it thinks its belly is full." Looking at Bheru who was wearing a severe frown as he stared at where cage was, she said, "Bheru, have you noticed any other traps floating about?"

"None other than this one," said Bheru, still frowning, obviously upset by this clear proof of poachers in the forest.

"We should keep looking for them, to ensure they can't harm our little friends," said Luna and she gave him a kind smile that appeared to shake him out of his anger as he returned it with a small more subdued smile of his own. Turning her attention to Hermione, she hopped forward, her hands laced behind her back and she beamed at the older girl. "Hermione wants to know how I found the trap, doesn't she?"

"Hermione does," said Hermione in extremely droll tones, doing her best to keep amusement out of her voice and failing slightly.

Hopping forward again, Luna tapped Hermione on the nose and said, "Focus on my finger."

"Luna," Hermione sighed, sounding thoroughly exasperated.

"Trust me," said Luna, wearing a charming smile. "Focus on my finger." Releasing an aggravated sigh, Hermione did as Luna instructed and stared at the finger resting on the tip of her nose. After a few moments of staring, Hermione felt her eyes become cross eyed and a headache start to form. She opened her mouth to complain about this when Luna said soft and serious, "Now look ahead, lifting your eyes just above my head. Do you see a small outline of silver? A tiny flash?" The brunette followed Luna's instructions and after a few moments, her eyes righted themselves and she saw that flash of silver but as soon as she did, it was gone, disappearing back into the green of the forest. "The spell hides it well but as it's trap that lies in wait you can see a bit of it here and there if you look with eyes that aren't quite usual."

"I didn't notice you crossing your eyes," said Hermione suspiciously, wondering if Luna was also having a bit of fun with her. "Why is that?"

"Because nothing about me is usual," replied Luna with a wide smile and a lilting laugh, skipping ahead through the forest, her head tilted back and her gaze alert, obviously looking for more signs of possible poacher's traps.

Shaking her head and chuckling softly, Hermione said, "That's true."

---

It was strange to realize that they had settled into a sort of routine out in the depths of the wild. There wasn't a speck of civilization to be seen in the forest but you wouldn’t know that from their surroundings inside the tent. Though Hermione did think the decorating of Luna's grandfather did leave something up for debate in that area.

Each day they rotated who was in charge of cooking the meals and whoever wasn't the designated chef helped with the clean up process. After breakfast they'd ready their backpacks and begin their search for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. Around noon they would stop for their picnic lunch which Hermione continued to find whimsical and romantic in an odd way. Then they would rest for the night when the sun was low in the sky, having dinner, and settling in the living room sometimes playing games or simply chatting. Bheru always heading to bed far before Hermione and Luna who remained awake often into the wee hours of the night, absorbed in each others company.

Today was no different, Bheru having slipped away, leaving Hermione and Luna in front of a roaring fire. Hermione lying on the leather sofa and Luna sitting on the floor in front the sofa, leaning back against it, a fluffy blue and purple afghan resting over her legs. Luna was holding Hermione's left hand, tracing her fingertips lightly over the brunette's palm while Hermione idly played with Luna's blonde hair, curling it around her finger and releasing it, sifting it through her fingers, enjoying its silky texture.

"I never do this, you know," Hermione murmured, stretching her fingers out, gently scratching the back of Luna's head.

"Scratch my head? But you've been doing it for the past ten minutes for different increments of time," said Luna, tipping her head back and peering at Hermione with a small frown on her face. "You last did it two minutes ago for thirty five seconds."

"Not that," chuckled Hermione, continuing her scratching, smiling as Luna pressed her head back into her touch.

Staring at Hermione for a long moment, Luna released her hold on the brunette's hand and reached up to gently push a lock of curly hair from her eyes. "You don't let yourself rest very often, do you?" she said this more as a statement than a question, seeming to already know her answer as she looked at Hermione with sympathetic blue eyes.

"Who has the time?" Hermione replied, doing her best to play it off as a joke but ultimately failing as Luna continued to look at her with a solemn expression on her features. Luna's hand fell down to cup her cheek, her thumb gently caressing Hermione's skin and the older girl sighed at the sensation, closing her eyes and leaning into the blonde's touch. "I feel rested now," she confessed in a hushed murmur, unable to open her eyes and look at Luna as she let the words slip past her lips. "And I'm not sure it's the trip that's the cause. I…" Hermione swallowed hard, wondering what would be best, to finally tell the other girl what she had been feeling over the past few weeks or to keep her feelings to herself. Opening her eyes and looking into Luna's gaze that was warm and kind, Hermione immediately had her answer. No matter what she told Luna she knew instinctively that it would be accepted, that there wasn't anything she could probably tell the other girl that would alter their relationship in such a way that the blonde would reject her. That's why she took a deep breath, trying to still the wild beating of her heart as she said in husky tones, filed with emotion, "I've never felt so comfortable with another person. Usually I find I'm forever wanting to do something with myself. Even when I'm with friends, I just hate the feeling of being idle. I have to be busy with some activity or the other, maybe to prove my existence, or worth, I'm not terribly sure and I'm positive this sounds like inane therapeutic babble but the point is I'm never like that with you." Mimicking Luna's actions from before, Hermione let her hand fall, gently pushing blonde hair aside and sifting it through her fingers as she said, "With you I'm content as I am. I don't think I've ever felt this way before."

"It's strange," said Luna in contemplative tones, looking at Hermione with a veiled and faraway gaze. "I didn't realize until this moment it was possible to be happy and sad all at the same time."

"I made you sad?" asked Hermione, sounding worried and forming a small frown. "I never intended--"

"Not you," interrupted Luna gently and she paused, lifting her hand up to trail her finger down the bridge of Hermione's nose. "Hermione could never make me sad. It's the idea that you've never felt truly content that makes me sad but the fact that I can make you feel that way?"

"Makes you happy," supplied Hermione, smiling slowly.

"Exceptionally," Luna said with a sweet and tender smile, taking Hermione's hand and kissing its palm.

"Perhaps next time I'll simply make you happy," suggested Hermione playfully, curling a lock of Luna's blonde hair around her finger.

"I'm quite sure that you will," said Luna affectionately and as she leaned into Hermione's touch they fell into an easy silence, one that they both felt comfortable to continue because in that moment all they needed or wanted was each other's presence.

---

Though she felt thoroughly ridiculous doing it, Hermione found herself crossing and uncrossing her eyes during their travels through the forest the following day. As her eyes focused back on their surroundings, she looked for that tiny flash of silver that she knew would signal a poacher's trap was lying in wait. It was the twelfth time in doing this that she finally saw something.

"Luna, up ahead," Hermione began, stepping closer to the blonde who paused in her walk and was staring at the very same place that Hermione had seen the flash of silver.

"Another nasty trap," said Luna with a sigh, her voice tinged with sorrow. "I did hope we wouldn't see more." Retrieving her wand, she gave a flick of her wrist and said, "Fateor Ostendo."

A long silver string instantly revealed itself, leading up to a gleaming silver cage but unlike the one they had seen before, this cage was occupied. It held a red, orange, and yellow spotted lizard little over seventeen centimeters in length that sported a large yellow crest on its head that was reminiscent of helmets Spartans wore into battle. The lizard's tail curled under it like a spring and it appeared to be sitting on it, bouncing lightly up and down, wearing an obstinate look on its features, almost like it felt more irritated than scared by being in the trap.

"That isn't--" said Hermione in a bare whisper, her eyes wide with disbelief.

"The Krodha Swinging Lizard," Bheru interrupted, his voice reverent and full of awe. Seconds later he snapped out of this state and a severe frown on his features, he turned to Luna and said, "Miss Lovegood, we must do something. We cannot leave the creature we've searched for in such a terrible position. Who knows what vile things the poachers have in mind for it."

"Don't be silly, Bheru," Luna chided as she removed her backpack, fishing for her camera which she handed to Bheru who watched her with a frown remaining on his features. "We couldn't possibly leave our little friend in such a predicament. It's unheard of just as it's unheard of for an expedition to have found what it is searching for and not do its very best to document its findings. That's your task at hand." Looking up at Bheru with a beatific smile, she said, "Do take good pictures, won't you?" A silent communication seemed to pass between the two and giving a low nod of his head, Bheru took the camera and backed away from the blonde, focusing his attention on the trap and the lizard it contained, taking a series of pictures. Hermione, in the meanwhile, was wearing a matching frown as she walked over to the younger girl and she started to ask what was going on when Luna's hand shot up, holding a large brown bottle. "Two drops should do the trick."

"What are you planning?" asked Hermione, beginning to feel extremely worried about the situation. Luna looked resolved in a way that Hermione had never seen her before. It was quiet and controlled and very much focused in carrying out whatever she was thinking.

"To free our friend," said Luna simply and she paused, taking in Hermione with a tilt of her head then she stepped closer, reaching out to cup her cheek, her thumb gently caressing the older girl's skin. "Do remember, only two drops. Despite how it might look." Before Hermione could say anything in response, she pulled away, and moved directly underneath the trap. Raising her wand high in the air, she gave it a magnificent sweep and shouted, "Effringo!"

Straight away, the cage started to warp and shake, its silver melting away and falling in great steady drips towards Luna all while the Krodha Swinging Lizard took this opportunity to spring forward through one of the large openings, using his tail to propel him. Bheru busily taking pictures as the creature hung onto a nearby branch then swung itself backwards to create a more powerful momentum to send him flying further and deeper into the forest, and hopefully far from any other poacher traps. While this went on the cage was steadily regaining its previous form and function, becoming hard and shining and fierce, once again showing the same jaws of its brother and those jaws, sharp and biting were descending on Luna. She stood her ground and kept her arm high as the silver teeth clamped around her arm, holding her tight and just as Hermione was about to drop the bottle of potion she held and scream out a spell to make it release her, the blonde cast one of her own. Her voice strong and unwavering, Luna cried out, "Relashio!"

Fiery sparks flew out of the younger girl's wand, filling the cage and the silver structure started to melt and warp as it did before then with a strangely animalistic squeal, it released Luna's arms and flew upwards, returning to its original more harmless form of a simple cage. Once this occurred, the blonde stood very still and then she seemed to fall in on herself, losing her balance, but she couldn't fall far because Hermione was at her side, catching her and lowering her to the ground as she desperately fumbled with the potion that Luna had given to her just moments before all while cursing herself for not guessing what the blonde had planned when she had been handed it. She should have known the other girl was going to do something that would cause her injury, why else would she pull it out of her box of healing supplies? Why hadn't she been thinking? Paying closer attention? Why when that was the main reason for her being here? To prevent this from happening and here she was, with Luna and she had stood by and watched it happen, allowed it to happen! What good was she?

"That was really very dim witted, you know," Hermione remarked, her voice and hands shaking as she removed the top from the potion and allowed two drops of the thick and greasy looking purple substance to fall onto Luna's pale skin that was raw, bleeding, and covered with what looked to be burning welts although she wasn't sure if that was caused by the poacher's trap or the spell the blonde had cast. "If you'd asked me I'm sure I could have found a far safer way for you to free the lizard. One that wouldn't have…" Hermione trailed off, unable to say the words, trying to reassure herself by listening to Luna's breathing even though it was becoming slower and more heavy. Lifting her head, she looked up to see veiled blue eyes looking at her with a wisp of a smile. "This isn't funny!" Hermione said fiercely, scowling as she produced her wand and created a wrap for Luna's arm. "You could have been seriously injured."

"And so could our little friend if I did it any differently," Luna murmured, her voice rough and her smile dying just a little as her eyes fluttered shut. "I'm sorry, Hermione," she said, her voice drifting off. "I think I must sleep."

"Luna?" said Hermione, looking down at the girl in her arms who suddenly became deathly still and lost in slumber. Growing panicked at this sudden turn of events, Hermione shook the blonde, her voice rising in slight hysteria, "Luna!"

She started to repeat this action when a gentle hand gripped her shoulder and she looked up into Bheru's kind brown eyes. "It is fine," he said, his tones soothing and calm. "This potion, it causes the patient to go into a deep sleep to aid in their recovery."

"Then she'll be well?" asked Hermione as she immediately turned her attention back to the blonde she held in her arms, extending a trembling hand to push a lock of hair from her eyes. "There isn't anything to worry over?"

"She'll be as well as she ever was," reassured Bheru and he smiled softly, attempting to lighten the mood but watching as Hermione kept her attention on Luna, unwavering and fierce in its strength, he realized there was no hope of that. Reaching for the blonde's backpack, he retrieved the tent from the front pouch, rising to his feet as he said, "I don't think it wise for us to remain in this area for fear of the poacher's return. I know of a clearing but it's a kilometer from where we are. We could try a side along disapparation but I'm afraid there's change of splenching and though her condition is not serious it would not be the most pleasant thing for her to experience at this time."

"We'll walk," said Hermione in sudden determination, lifting her gaze from Luna to look at Bheru.

"Of course," Bheru agreed, dipping his head and slinging Luna's backpack over his shoulder. "Should I carry her or--"

"I'll carry her," interrupted Hermione with steely resolve. She stood up, cradling Luna in her arms and murmuring a soft spell under her breath to no doubt aid her in the carrying process as they traveled through the forest. "I know spells, it won't be a bother."

Watching Hermione make her way through the forest, carefully moving through the thick green underbrush, cradling Luna close to her chest to protect her from the elements and perhaps any perceived threats, Bheru murmured, "For you, I do not believe it could be."

---

There wasn't a clock anywhere readily at hand but if Hermione had to guess it was well past midnight when Luna woke. When they reached the clearing that Bheru had spoke of, far from the site of the poacher's trap, Hermione insisted the blonde rest in her room, saying that no matter how horribly comfortable Luna found her hammock it wasn't the place for an injured person to sleep. Bheru accepted this logic with a smile and a dip of his head, saying he would prepare dinner and bring it to her when it was ready, knowing from her actions and tone that Hermione wasn't likely to be leaving Luna's side for the rest of the night.

So that's where Hermione was. Sleeping in her bed, on the top of the covers, next to Luna who was buried underneath a pile of fluffy blankets and pillows that the brunette somehow must have thought would help the younger girl to heal quicker or maybe sleep better. She woke to the feeling of chilly fingertips running over her cheek and opening her eyes, Hermione saw Luna hovering over her with lidded and sleepy blue eyes that held the faintest twinkle of amusement that was nearly drowned out by the overwhelming affection that was present.

"You used two drops, my arm isn't purple," said Luna, sounding entirely pleased with this development.

"What?" Hermione blinked, still in a haze of sleep, trying to comprehend what the blonde meant.

"Father always panics whenever I take it upon myself to destroy those horrid traps and he uses far too much of the healing potion I've prepared and it turns my arm purple for a week or so, which is quite hard to explain, particularly to Muggles," Luna explained and she cupped Hermione's cheek now, her thumb moving tenderly up and down in a soft stroke. "You listened and only used two drops."

"Of course, I listened," said Hermione with a frown, pausing in her speech when she realized what Luna had just said. Her frown growing deeper, Hermione pushed herself up in the bed, sitting over the blonde and looking at her with narrowed and almost angry eyes. "You've done this before? Deliberately injured yourself instead of trying to find a better way to free an animal?"

"There isn't a better way," said Luna simply and almost stubbornly, looking away from Hermione, staring off into the distance, as if she was seeing the trapped Krodha Swinging Lizard right before her eyes. "Those traps are designed in such a way that if you free what they've captured, they immediately try to capture them again, sometimes doing horrible damage. I can trick the ones that haven't managed to capture anything with a dancing twig or a happy little leaf, but once they've captured an animal, they know it’s a living thing and only another living thing can replace it. My arm seems a small offering in exchange for an innocent creature's freedom. Besides," Luna turned back to Hermione, her gaze comforting and she lifted her hand, cupping the brunette's cheek, causing the older girl to instinctively lean into her touch. "I wasn't badly hurt. I never am, Hermione."

"But you could have been," Hermione insisted with strength and a desperate worry reflected in her wide brown eyes. "Next time let me know what you're planning to do and at least allow me to attempt to find a better way. Something that won't injure you." As she said this her words faded into silence and she released a shuddering sigh and a great weight seemed to fall from her shoulders. Her head hanging low, pressed into the soft material of the blanket, avoiding Luna's eyes, she said in a bare whisper, "I was so afraid you were hurt and there wouldn't be anything I could do to help you. I'm not sure I could have lived with myself if that had been true."

No words, just the rustling of fabric and Hermione found herself wrapped in a pair of unusually capable and loving arms, pulled into their embrace, and part of her wanted to struggle but after seeing Luna injured, after fearing the worst, she was grateful for this comfort, to touch, to see, and to hear that she was fine. To know that nothing truly horrible had happened to the younger girl in her presence. That perhaps her being there had helped, even just a little to keep Luna safe. Although certainly not as safe as Hermione preferred. Sighing again, Hermione buried her face in the curve of Luna's neck, taking in the scent of raspberries and chocolate that perpetually clung to the blonde.

"I'm sorry," said Luna soft and sincere, pressing a kiss to Hermione's head and pulling the brunette even closer. "I promise to ask for your help if we should come upon another trap."

"Not just a trap, Luna," Hermione insisted, lifting her head and looking at her with determined eyes. "If you're planning on doing anything like this again, something foolish and dangerous, that would put yourself at harm then you must let me know. I'm sure if I was allowed I could find a better way and I won't be able to rest if I think you'll forever go round like this, hurting yourself over and over because you're positive there's no other options for you to take."

A sweet smile tugging at her lips, Luna reached for Hermione, who refused her embrace until she said, "Then I promise to ask for your help should I plan something dangerous for myself again. Though I am afraid it means I will be asking things of you often." When the brunette's eyes went wide, she chuckled and added, "These expeditions could be considered foolish and dangerous, don't you agree? And I do tend to go on a rather significant amount of them throughout the year."

"Then I'll simply have to accompany you," said Hermione, speaking as if that was the end of the discussion, allowing herself to sink back into Luna's arms.

"On all of them?" asked Luna playfully, clearly doubting that this could ever occur.

"On all of them," repeated Hermione in stubborn tones, moving further into Luna's embrace, as if to emphasize she was staying with her. Then she lifted her head, looking at the other girl with a gaze that was caring, warm, worried, and sincere all at the same time. Filled with so many emotions that Luna wasn't sure she could identify them all even if she was given all the time in the world. "I want to be with you, Luna. I want to keep you safe, so something like that can't ever happen again."

Cupping Hermione's cheek and dipping her head down, causing their foreheads to gently meet, Luna murmured, "And I want to be kept safe by you. I think it would be a delightful change of pace." Hermione laughed at this, sweet and happy and incredibly relieved to hear these words, and the blonde observed this with a soft smile then added, almost sly in her humor, "But you must know if you mean to keep me safe by cuddling on my bed, it would far more effective if we were both under the covers."

"Is that so?" Hermione inquired, laughter evident in her voice, looking at Luna with teasing indulgence.

"Unquestionably," said Luna quite solemnly, nodding her head.

"If it's to keep you safe, I suppose I must," said Hermione, doing her best to sound reluctant while she ducked underneath the covers that Luna held aloft. Laughing as Luna's fingers tickled her sides before pulling her close, resting into the younger girl's body that she could now feel was warm and full of life, further reassuring her that Luna truly was well and she hadn't failed her.

"Cuddling always keeps you safe," said Luna wisely, looking to Hermione with a tender smile. "Because it keeps the ones you love close."

Chuckling quietly and full of affection, Hermione moved further into Luna's embrace, her face tucked into the crook of her neck, lost in a feeling of warmth and comfort she had never experienced before, she murmured, "I do agree."

And there was nothing more that needed to be said.

Chapter Text

 

When Hermione woke it took her several moments to realize something was different. She wasn't alone as she often was and she wasn't with Ron, whose body she knew well and always recognized from the hard line of his muscles, something that helped him form quite the image of a handsome man as he aged but wasn't the most comfortable thing to sleep on. But when she woke, instead of lying on fluffy pillows or hard muscle she was pressed into a wonderful softness that smelled lightly of raspberries and chocolate and held in a light embrace. Hermione slowly opened her eyes and was met with the sight of Luna sleeping soundly.

Strangely, Hermione had the urge to stay exactly where she was, she felt so very comfortable but the idea that she felt that way didn't seem right to her and so she carefully moved away, trying her best not to wake Luna. Scooting down to the edge of the bed, Hermione sat cross legged, her eyes fixed on the sleeping blonde who was blissfully unaware of her gaze. Only a short while ago, she was wrapped up in the other girl's arms and feeling more at ease than she had felt in years. Warm and safe and utterly happy.

Though she tried desperately, she couldn't recall ever feeling this way with Ron. Certainly she felt comfortable with him, how couldn't she? She had been friends with him for years before they began dating and he was one of the people who knew her best in the world. But it wasn't the same. How she felt with Ron was warm and safe and he did make her happy but more and more she suspected he did these things much in the way that Harry and Ginny did. In the same way that any of her close friends did.

It wasn't the same feeling she got when she was around Luna, it wasn't the same feeling she had when waking up in her arms today. The very fact that she felt comfortable with the blonde even after waking up as she did, proved there was a difference. She had been friends with Ginny far longer than Luna and Hermione couldn't imagine feeling even the littlest bit at ease if she had woken up in Ginny's arms. In fact, she probably would have grumbled and shook the redhead awake telling her in unhappy tones that she wasn't Harry and to not hold her as if she was. Quite the opposite of her reaction when she opened her eyes and saw Luna.

Then there was that night not long ago when they had gone out dancing. Although she now could admit she was tipsy, Hermione still recalled most of the evening and while she tried her best to push it out of her mind, especially out of loyalty and love for Ron, she couldn't forget the memory of sitting on her bed, leaning into Luna's touch and wanting so very badly for the other girl to kiss her. That wasn't the way someone should feel about a friend and until that night Hermione had considered Luna to be a just friend but she was rapidly becoming aware that for her, Luna was so much more than that.

It wasn't right though. No matter how much her instincts and feelings told her otherwise. Though she hadn't acted on her impulses, mostly because of the restraint of the other girl and her own previous state of denial, Hermione knew that just having these emotions for Luna was a form of cheating. She was giving the blonde attention and emotions that were should have been meant for the person she was romantically involved with and though she knew logically the right thing to do would be to simply stay away from Luna and devote her spare time and energy to Ron she dreaded the thought of no longer seeing the younger girl. Her life had become so much more fulfilling and exciting by spending time with Luna and Hermione almost felt a bit addicted to it. The very thought of having it taken away, having those feelings that Luna inspired in her suppressed and bottled down as she knew she should made her want to cry. And so she didn't.

But she knew it wasn't right. It wasn't right at all. Especially not to Ron.

"No one should begin their day looking so gloomy," Luna said, her voice thick with sleep and concern. Hermione turned at the feel of the blonde's hand on the small of her back and saw the other girl sitting behind her, blanket pooled around her waist and a worried look on her face. Luna lifted her other hand and cupped Hermione's cheek as she murmured, "Is anything the matter?"

"No," said Hermione, covering the other girl's hand with her own and forming a soft smile. "Not while I'm with you."

Returning the smile, Luna said, "Hermione says the loveliest things."

They remained in silence until Ron's face flashed in Hermione's mind and a wave of guilt seized her. Pulling away from Luna, she rose to her feet and headed towards the leather barrier as she said, "I'll get breakfast started."

She was out of the room before Luna could reply and she stayed on the bed, looking at the barrier that Hermione just disappeared through. "I do believe she was fibbing when she said nothing was the matter," Luna said to herself, heaving a quiet sigh.

---

After breakfast, they gathered in the living room looking at the photographs that Bheru had taken. The magical prints perfectly revealed the movement of the Krodha Swinging Lizard as it escaped from the poacher's trap. Much to Luna's delight, Bheru even managed to capture the magical creature's personality and you could see the shift in its facial expression from petulant to delighted as it moved from being held behind bars to swinging through the forest in its natural element.

"As you've seen my photographs perhaps I could see your notes?" asked Bheru with a smile.

"Only if you promise to make spare prints for me," said Luna playfully, though she was already leaning down to retrieve the notes from her backpack and handing them to Bheru as she looked up.

"Since it is your camera and your film and we're on your expedition I suppose I could find the time to make you some prints, Miss Lovegood," Bheru remarked in equally playful tones, taking the notes from Luna and flipping through their pages with a look of utmost interest.

"Bheru, I hope you realize if I ever get around to publishing, horrid as I am at writing, I'll give you full credit for taking those photographs," said Luna, appearing concerned that the guide might think she wouldn't give him the proper acknowledgment.

"I know," said Bheru, glancing up from Luna's notes and forming a reassuring smile. "Though I wish I could be of some assistance to you with the task of transforming your notes into an article or even a textbook like you spoke of."

"Don't worry," said Luna winsomely, turning to Hermione who looked rather perplexed at this attention. "I've someone in mind who writes simply splendid. It's just a matter of finding out if she would be willing to help me with such a project."

"Luna," Hermione said her name with some surprise, her eyes going wide. "I'm flattered but we're already working with the Professor as it is and while I do find magical creatures fascinating, ever more so because of the time I've spent with you and Bheru, I'm hardly qualified to write anything worthy of publishing for that field of study."

"But I am," replied Luna as she scooted closer to Hermione who was sitting on the comfortable leather sofa with her. A gleam of excitement was very visible in her blue eyes and Luna reached out to hold the brunette's hands as she said, "I have the knowledge and the notes and the oh so pretty pictures to prove to the rest of the wizarding world that all of the creatures I've always known are real truly do exist. I have all of that but not the littlest bit of talent when it comes to writing things so they appear to be interesting. But Hermione has that talent and I can't think of anyone I would enjoy to work with more." Luna paused and her the excitement in her eyes seemed to dull and her face wore an unnaturally sad and almost solemn expression as she said, "Unless Hermione doesn't care to work with me?"

Hermione wanted to say the problem was more that she did care to work with Luna. In fact, if allowed she would probably spend all of her time with Luna but just as she had decided this morning, it wasn't right to feel that way. Not when she was involved with Ron and she should be devoting more of herself to him. Still, she couldn't control the immediate need she felt to remove that sad look from the blonde's face. That's why Hermione found herself saying, "Don't be silly! I love working with you. I quite enjoy the time we spend helping Professor Ipson with his research and while I didn't think it was really possible at first, I've had a grand time on this expedition."

"Then Hermione will work with me on this project?" asked Luna almost hesitantly, looking at Hermione with what was close to doe eyes and though the brunette didn't notice it, Bheru gave a humorous snort on seeing Luna's expression.

"Certainly," said Hermione quickly, giving a sigh of relief when Luna formed a brilliant smile. She turned to see Bheru wearing a scolding look on his features and wagging his finger at the two of them. Frowning at this, she asked, "Have we done something wrong?"

"Only one of you and she doesn't have curly brown hair," said Bheru, shaking his head at Luna though there was a teasing twinkle in his eyes. "I do try to be loyal to my friends and colleagues but that was a masterful manipulation, Miss Lovegood. I'm not sure I approve."

"I didn't cast a spell," protested Luna, forming something of a pout. "And Hermione wants to work with me! She just needed a tiny push to realize it, that's all."

"Luna!" Hermione exclaimed, frowning and giving the other girl a light slap on the knee. "You tricked me?"

"Manipulated you," corrected Bheru in tones that were a little too gleeful for Luna's taste. "Rather cleverly, I must say."

Her frown growing deeper, Hermione stared Luna down who wilted under her gaze and offered hesitantly, "It seemed as if you might refuse and so I tried to discover a way to ensure that you would say yes. Acting despondent was the only thing I could think of." The blonde looked just as sad as she had before but now Hermione wasn't sure if it was genuine or another attempt at deception. Though something in her heart told her that the younger girl was genuinely sorry. And there was the fact that she looked so absolutely remorseful that Hermione was sure if she kept gazing at her wearing that expression her heart might begin to bleed from it. "I am sorry. Please believe me."

"I'm not sure I should but I do believe you," said Hermione slowly, her expression was somewhat stern but also understanding. "But don't do something like that again, Luna. I don't appreciate it, not in the least. It makes me feel as if you don't respect me."

"I'm sorry," Luna repeated, moving closer to Hermione on the couch and neither girl noticed when Bheru quietly exited the room, leaving them alone. The younger girl reached out to rest her palm against the brunette's cheek and Hermione sighed, leaning into her touch as Luna's fingertips caressed her skin. "I knew it was wrong but I just wanted to make sure you would agree to work with me. I've had the funniest feeling ever since we've begun working together with Professor Ipson that you're the one who could help me realize my dream. I think it's similar to the precognitive visions caused by the venom of the Hissing Water Basilisk. I've never felt more certain about anything in my life, Hermione. We were meant to help one another and my dream was meant to become yours as well."

"What dream?" asked Hermione gently but truly perplexed.

"To travel the world searching for the magical creatures, documenting their existence and habits then taking everything that I've learned and put it into a book that everyone could read then see for themselves what make these creatures so very marvelous," said Luna with an eager expression, full of hope and joy at the idea of this dream. "And during this expedition I kept thinking more and more you were the person meant to travel with me, to change what I document into beautiful words for the entire wizarding world to read."

"Luna," said Hermione slowly, her voice rough with emotion and her eyes watering despite her best attempt to keep her head level and her thoughts clear. Only it was so very hard when the younger girl was saying such things to her. In a way it was nearly a confession of love or at least that's how the brunette's infatuated eyes saw it. At the very least it told Hermione that Luna cared for her very much and saw some sort of future involving her. And though she knew it was wrong Hermione wanted so very badly to share that vision of the future.

"Couldn't we give it a try, using this as a small test?" asked Luna, her hand dropping down to curl in Hermione's hair, her fingertips reaching out to run lightly against the other girl's skin, causing a shiver to run down the brunette's skin. "You've already traveled with me and helped to discover the Krodha Swinging Lizard. We shouldn't remain in the forest, not with the evidence of poachers present. If you like, we could go elsewhere, anywhere you wanted, and we could rest and recover then perhaps, if you felt like it, you could try writing a little, whatever you wanted, anything you could imagine, after looking through my notes and pictures." Luna paused, wearing a plaintive look on her features and she moved closer yet, her other hand reaching for Hermione's and squeezing it softly. "If you dislike it terribly all you would need do is say the word and we could leave and I promise to never speak about it to you again. But couldn't we at least give it a try?"

It wouldn't be smart to agree, not with the feelings she was increasingly having for the younger girl, but it sounded so very appealing and Hermione wasn't sure she could refuse, not with Luna looking at her with such pleading eyes. "Three days," said Hermione after a very long pause. "That's how long we'll give it a try and soon as it's over we're returning straightaway to London." Before the brunette could say anything more she was wrapped up in an enthusiastic hug from Luna and Hermione allowed herself just a moment to relish the feeling of being in the blonde's embrace before she pulled away and emphasized again, "Three days, Luna. No more, no less."

"Three days," Luna agreed, nodding her head rapidly. Holding Hermione's face tenderly in her grasp, her thumbs tracing a gentle path on the older girl's skin, she said, "That's more than enough." Hermione sighed and closed her eyes, battling with the urge to stay exactly where she was but making herself slowly pull away from the blonde as she heard Luna ask, "Where should we go? Is there anywhere you fancy?"

"It doesn't matter," said Hermione as she scooted further down the sofa, eventually standing up for good measure. Looking down at Luna, who peered up at her wearing an expression that echoed of soft concern, Hermione tried to hold back the swell of emotion this caused in her. More and more she thinking this was a monumental mistake on her part. "I'm sure you would know far better than myself of a location that would be suitable for writing. Though I would prefer somewhere peaceful."

"Peaceful," murmured Luna, a far off look emerging in her eyes. A wisp of a smile emerged on her features and she said, "I know of a perfect place. It's just a matter of discovering if we might use it."

With that Luna rose to her feet, calling out to Bheru, asking if he knew of a way to send an express message. Leaving Hermione alone to ponder what she had just agreed to and whether it was perhaps the most foolish decision she could have made on her part if she was truly trying to remain loyal to Ron.

 

----

 

A few hours later, they said their goodbyes to Bheru and gathered up their things, Luna taking Hermione's hand softly and giving it a squeeze of reassurance as they disapparated. The sound of the sea and the fresh smell of salt greeted them upon apparation. Her eyes wide, Hermione released Luna's hand and took several steps forward, peering around the handsome white villa that stood out in stark distinction to the great green rolling hills and the deep blue of the sea as it crested on the sandy beaches below.

"Where are we?" asked Hermione, whipping around to look at Luna who had stepped closer and wore a soft smile.

"This is Corfu, one of the seven Ionian Islands in Greece," replied Luna, standing at Hermione's side, enjoying the view of the sea. Looking to the other girl, she had an air of hesitation as she asked, "Do you find it peaceful enough? I always found it the most relaxing of getaways. I think it has a bit to do with the age of the island and its wizarding roots, it's old enough to feel at peace with the world, no matter whatever might happen in it. I do think such acceptance comes more easily as you grow older, don't you?"

"Yes," said Hermione, feeling strangely dazed by the beauty of the location. She asked Luna to take them somewhere peaceful but she hadn't expected them to end up at such a beautiful location. Especially one that had a naturally romantic atmosphere because of its beauty. Focusing her attention back on the villa in front of them, she asked, "Does it belong to your family?"

"A friend," said Luna, reaching for Hermione's hand and pulling her forward, walking over to the villa as she spoke. "She's currently away on business for the Ministry in Montserrat. Helping with interpretation on a bit of difficult negotiations with the merpeople of that region. I'm afraid they're still rather distrustful of wizards after the return and consequent death of You-Know-Who."

Luna had opened the door and they were about to walk inside the villa when Hermione tugged on her hand, stopping her from going further and when the blonde looked back at her, Hermione wore a frown as she said, "Are you certain she's comfortable with a stranger staying in her home? I don't think I would feel right, intruding in her space without her knowing."

"I've a message right here that proves she doesn't find you strange at all," said Luna warmly and she tried moving forward again but Hermione wasn't budging. Releasing a quiet sigh, Luna looked to the older girl and said, "I promise it's fine, Hermione. We're very old friends, Ophelia and I, we've known each other since our fourth year when our parents sent us to Camp Charybdis on this very island."

"Camp Charybdis?" asked Hermione curiously, allowing Luna to finally pull her inside the villa and she closed the front door with a soft click, looking around the villa which had beautiful marble floors and an open architecture, instantly lending it a soothing atmosphere.

"A Magical Creature camp," supplied Luna with a wide smile. "Educational and adventurous. Though I was most upset to have spent the entire summer on Corfu without spotting once instance of the Charybdis. It was good of Ophelia to help me search. I only wish we had gotten a small hint of it. Perhaps I'll go searching again someday. I'm sure it must emerge at some time or another."

Choosing not to comment on the mythological nature of the Charybdis, especially after spending time searching for and discovering the mysterious Krodha Swinging Lizard, Hermione studied their surroundings and found herself drawn to a far wall that was decorated with a variety of magical photographs. Moving forward and having something of a flashback to those many weeks ago at Luna's cottage in Ballyvaughan, Hermione looked at the photographs that all almost featured a stunning witch with long black hair, olive skin, and sparkling brown eyes. A much younger version of the witch was in a small photograph to the far right accompanied by Luna, the two girls were smiling brightly, their arms wrapped around each other's waists, wearing identical red shirts that said Camp Charybdis.

"Is that…?" Hermione began, trailing around as she turned and saw Luna standing right behind her.

"Ophelia Diakos," said Luna, smiling fondly and looking at the photograph of their fourth year selves. She looked to Hermione with something of a self deprecating expression on her features and a twinkle in her eyes as she said, "My very first crush."

"Really?" asked Hermione, returning her focus to the picture and a slight scowl forming before she could help it. She shouldn't feel jealous, she knew that she shouldn't, particularly over a fourth year romance but there you had it.

"Nothing ever came of it except a few awkward kisses," Luna remarked and she moved closer yet, her hand resting gently on Hermione's hip, pulling the brunette backwards and into her body. "We didn't even realize it was possible to kiss with tongues, I'm afraid." Luna chuckled and remarked, "It's been quite some time since I was that innocent."

Shutting her eyes tight, Hermione forced herself to move forward and out of Luna's touch, and said in rough tones, "Won't you show me where I'll be sleeping? I think I could do with a bit of rest."

"Of course," said Luna with concern. She led Hermione up large white stone steps to the upper level of the villa, pushing back a deep blue door and revealing a large airy bedroom with a balcony that overlooked the sea. "Does it suit you?"

"It's fine," Hermione replied in short tones, closing the door and avoiding looking at Luna as she did so.

Staring at the door that had just shut in front of her, Luna released another sigh. She rested her hand lightly against the door, forcing herself not to follow after the other girl and ask what was wrong, instead remaining where she was and murmuring sadly, "I've done something wrong again but this time I haven't any idea what."

Chapter Text

Hermione woke to the smell of expertly cooked food and opened her eyes to the sight of Luna placing said food, that sat on a lovely silver tray, onto the table next to her bedside. Her brain not completely awake, Hermione said sleepily, "What is this, Luna?"

Not appearing startled in the least, Luna turned to face the older girl and said with a smile, "An apology should always come with breakfast in bed. Unless, of course, you must apologize in the afternoon or evening hours. Then it would be a bit out of place."

"Apology?" repeated Hermione, still not entirely comprehending the situation she watched as Luna placed the silver tray neatly on her lap. Looking at the wide variety of breakfast foods that included sausages, fried bread, fried eggs, and a deliciously seasoned tomato sliced in half, she wondered exactly what Luna thought she did to warrant such a meal. "An apology for what?"

"When you went to bed last night you seemed rather cross," said Luna in matter of fact tones that were also strangely delicate. As if she was afraid of treading in some area that would cause Hermione to become angry with her. Her movements were just as careful as she sat down on the edge of Hermione's bed. "I do dislike to assume but I thought that perhaps it had to do with my earlier actions. You did tell me that I had tricked you and I know being tricked isn't at all enjoyable and I do want Hermione to enjoy her time with me. That's why I've made this breakfast, so you will enjoy it. Hopefully I've cooked some of your favorites."

"All of my them actually," said Hermione softly, amazed that the blonde had managed to pick out the same foods that her mother would cook for her every morning when she visited them during the holidays.

"I'm glad," Luna replied, smiling wide but it faltered and faded in such a way that the brunette couldn't help but notice. After all, Luna so often wore a smiling face that it was very odd to see it otherwise. Particularly sad and solemn as it looked right now. "I meant what I told you, that I have only seen myself working on this book with Hermione. That I've known since we began speaking again and have become friends that you were the one who would change my research into wonderfully written words. But simply because I feel this way so very strongly doesn't mean that Hermione shares in those same feelings and because I consider Hermione a friend I don't want her to be anywhere that she doesn't want to be." Pausing to look at the older girl with a gentle smile that was reassuring and loving and caused Hermione's heart to break just a little bit on seeing it, Luna said, "I won't lie and say I won't be sad if you were to leave but I would far prefer to be sad than for you to be unhappy being with me."

Unable to move, to process these words and Luna's desperately sad expression, Hermione remained in place until the blonde stood up and began to walk out of the room. That was when Hermione's body seemed to move of its own accord and she nearly tipped the tray of breakfast food over, cursing under her breath as she set it up right and tried to untangle her legs from the blankets. Finally she went halfway stumbling out bed and stood in front of Luna who looked at her with wide eyed concern.

"I don't want to leave," said Hermione quickly, looking at Luna with eyes that seemed to plead for understanding. "Really I don't."

Mulling over this for a moment, Luna turned her head away from Hermione, looking off into the distance at something the older girl simply couldn't see and murmured, "Then why are you unhappy being here?"

"It's not that at all, Luna!" Hermione insisted, reaching for the blonde's hands and holding them tightly. She opened her mouth to continue but thought better of her words. Only just moments later, she witnessed Luna's reaction to this reluctance, how she withdrew further into herself and it made Hermione think that if she kept her feelings completely to herself her friendship with the younger girl might not survive. Though she knew it was dangerous to be close to the other girl when she was having these feelings for her that threatened her relationship with Ron the mere idea of not even remaining friends with Luna pained her too much. Which is why she said, shy and vulnerable as she averted her eyes from the blonde, "I'm incredibly happy when I'm with you, Luna. And I'm not entirely sure that I should be."

Tugging her hand out of Hermione's hold, Luna gently moved to tip the brunette's head up so the older girl would look into her eyes. "I don't think I understand," she murmured, her fingers stretching out to softly stroke Hermione's skin. "You would prefer I make you sad?"

"No, of course not," said Hermione with a strangled laugh, shaking her head and ducking her head again. When she lifted her gaze, she swallowed hard and said in rough tones, "Please don't ask me to explain, Luna, because I don't understand myself. Just know that being with you does make me happy and I am so very glad to be here."

A moment of silence then Luna smiled, sweet and supportive, and said, "It's enough to know that Hermione wants to be here and that I haven't made her sad with my selfishness." Tilting her head to one side, she dropped her hand down to reach for Hermione's and pulled her forward as she said, "Now would you let me feed you some yummy breakfast?" Laughing again, only this time far more joyful than before, Hermione allowed Luna to lead her over to the bed where they sat down. Luna took the tray of food and carefully sat it down on the bed in front of the brunette then cutting into the tomato with a fork, she speared it and offered it to Hermione. "Have a taste?"

Blushing deeply, Hermione accepted the bite of tomato and chewed it slowly, savoring the taste before swallowing it and offering Luna a smile. "It is good," she complimented and she started to say that the blonde didn't need to feed her anymore but Luna was already offering her a piece of sausage with a bright smile. Unable to say anything that she thought might take that smile away, Hermione found herself finishing off the entire breakfast, all of being fed to her by a content Luna.

---

"The Krodha Swinging Lizard is a member of the Ingenuus family of lizards which has one hundred and seven members. Out of those members, the closest relative to the Krodha Swinging Lizard is the Laughing Lizard of Southern India. The Laughing Lizard of Southern India is found in the same region as the Krodha Swinging Lizard, the Kerala backwaters, and has relatively the same coloring and leaves the same sticky residue from its footprints on the forest floor. Both the Krodha Swinging Lizard and the Laughing Lizard of Southern India are known to possess distinct personality characteristics that suggest a higher thought process. No attempts at communication, magical or conventional, have been successful thus far. Unlike dragons whom wizards have discovered various means of communication with from ancient dances to casting complicated spells that allow them to speak telepathically with the dragons. There are but a rare two dragons who can be found throughout India, the Silver Long Tooth and the Ancient Armor Dragon. Returning to the subject of the Krodha Swinging Lizard, there have been rumors that its sticky secretions could be a cure for the Catastrophic Coughing disease. The Catastrophic Coughing disease is known for the awful effects it has on the body through a constant stream of never ending coughing. Sometimes the disease can be slowed by applying a large variety of potions but the disease never completely leaves the body. Many healers want the chance to test the potency Krodha Swinging Lizard's secretion but none have been able to conduct a professional study to view the medicinal results. This doesn't stop countless poachers from searching for the Krodha Swinging Lizard. On the wizarding black market it is said to be priceless and because of this the profit that can be made by a catching a live specimen is quite massive. Poachers are a consistent problem in the world of magical creature study, particularly for those which are rare enough to be thought more as a legend than an actual animal in existence."

It was a simple enough request, Hermione had thought, when she looked at the piles upon piles of notes that Luna had taken during her two expeditions searching for the Krodha Swinging Lizard, to ask Luna to summarize the most important characteristics of the creature and why it was sought after by poachers and explorers alike. But when the blonde did exactly as she asked, she began to understand why Luna insisted that she shouldn't be the one to transform her expedition notes into a book for the wizarding world to read. Certainly she knew far more than Hermione about the subject of magical creatures and the Krodha Swinging Lizard but her knowledge, at least the written version of it, tended to be disorganized due to simply how much she did know. Writing such as this couldn't hold the attention of anyone except those totally enamored with the realm of magical creatures and those were few and far between.

Mulling over it for a moment, Hermione tried to think about how to politely tell Luna what she thought of her writing when the blonde did it for her with a charming little laugh and a sheepish tone in her voice. "Morbidly dull, wasn't it?" she questioned and Hermione jerked her head up with an alarmed look in her eyes. "I think Hermione finally understands why I want her help so very much."

"It wasn't--" Hermione protested.

"It's quite all right," assured Luna, putting her notes down on the small table in front of them. They had settled out on the balcony that overlooked the sea after breakfast to begin their work, the younger girl insisting that the sea air would be good for their concentration. "I think it best to be honest about myself, even the parts that create things that are monstrously boring. The question is, do you think you could transform my dull writing into something terribly interesting? And please," she held up her hand, effectively silencing Hermione who opened her mouth again to protest, "don't insist that it isn't dull because it is, tremendously so."

Sighing and giving her head a slight shake, Hermione bit the tip of her quill and stared at the blank piece of parchment. After a few seconds, she began writing rapidly. In what seemed barely a minute, she lifted her quill off of the parchment and read over her words with a slight frown on her features. Then she looked almost nervously to Luna and held out the parchment for the blonde to take.

"Won't you read it for me?" asked Luna gently, an encouraging smile on her features.

Hesitating for a moment, Hermione eventually returned the smile and ducked her head, a blush covering her features as she read, "The backwaters of Kerala are where the freshwater of the rivers and the saltwater of the Arabian Sea meet. It is in the lush forests thick with exotic plant life that the Krodha Swinging Lizard makes its home. Though it was long thought by many to be nothing more than a legend the lizard has been sought after by countless poachers for the sticky secretions it creates to swing freely throughout its forest home. Secretions which are rumored to be a possible cure for the horrible effects of the Catastrophic Coughing disease. But these poachers think nothing of the Krodha Swinging Lizard's rarity and role in the world nor of the good that a cure for this disease would do, instead they think only of trophies and profit, something not even the most eager of researchers would endorse." Before Hermione could look up to see Luna's reaction, she found herself propelled backwards and swept up in an enthusiastic hug. Trying to ignore the far too pleasant feeling of the younger girl's weight on her lap and her arms around her body, Hermione mumbled against Luna's shoulder, "I take it you liked it?"

"I loved it," said Luna happily, beaming at the brunette and cupping Hermione's cheek. She adjusted herself on the older girl's lap, appearing quite content to stay where she was. "I knew Hermione would be able to make my dull writing into something simply spectacular."

"Thank you," said Hermione, trying her level best not to blush again and failing as she looked into Luna's features which were regarding her with a deep affection. "But as I keep trying to tell you, your writing isn't as boring as you insist. It's a bit scattered because you tend to ramble then jump onto random subjects which have little to do with the actual focus of your writing but it isn't all that dull. If it was then I wouldn't have been able to do a job as spectacular as you claim. Honestly, all you need is a good list and a thorough outline. I find those always help me to keep my focus when writing. Anytime you feel yourself begin to wander, you just give them a look and you find yourself back on track."

"Does that mean you won't be helping me?" asked Luna, a disappointed lilt in her voice.

"Of course not," said Hermione quickly and when the younger girl smiled brightly at this, she found herself blushing again. Coughing and looking away from Luna, she did her best to ignore the feel of the blonde on her lap and how she found the feel of the other girl's weight on her lap comforting and oddly right. As if that was where the blonde was meant to be. Then she suddenly found herself filled with thoughts of Ron and the loyalty she owed him and Hermione bucked her knees slightly up, trying to encourage her companion to stand.

Instead, Luna rode the motion out and looked at Hermione with a look that was soft and understanding, reaching out to cup the brunette's face in her hands. "It's ever so frightening, isn't it?" she said in a quiet murmur.

"What is?" asked Hermione, unable to move, struck by the kindness in Luna's blue eyes.

"The feeling that everything is perfect," Luna said, smiling sweet and a little bit sad as she rose to her feet, removing her weight from Hermione's lap and as soon as she stood the older girl found herself missing the blonde's presence, wanting her to return. But it was too late, Luna was already making her way off of the balcony and back inside the villa, leaving Hermione to consider her words.

---

They worked throughout the day, sifting through the seemingly endless stack of notes and trying to organize them into a general outline that would help to transform the expedition into a cohesive story. Luna explaining the odds and ends that Hermione didn't understand, bringing a tray of snacks and serving tea, insisting that the brunette take breaks to rest her brain. At sunset, she pulled a protesting Hermione away from their work and down to the beach below, saying something as beautiful as this couldn't be enjoyed in front of paperwork.

Hermione watched the sunset, the sky changing brilliant shades of purple, orange, and red as it did, and almost failed to notice Luna bend down and begin to remove her shoes. "Luna!" she cried with a surprised laugh, balancing precariously on one leg as the blonde removed her shoe and sock. "What in the world are you doing?"

"Walking on the beach while wearing shoes is quite possibly the least fun thing a person can do," remarked Luna, looking up at Hermione, gently lifting up her other leg then ducking her head as she proceeded to remove her other shoe and sock. "After all, how can you even hope to feel the delightful squish squish of the sand between your toes with them on? It simply can't be done."

"What if I don't want to feel the squish squish of the sand between my toes?" asked Hermione in tones that she meant to be lofty and a tad on the warning side, to keep Luna from feeling so close to her, but came out rather affectionate and teasing.

"Hermione," said Luna very seriously, looking up at the other girl as she sat in the sand and removed her own shoes and socks. "Everyone wants to feel the squish squish of the sand."

"Everyone?" asked Hermione, a skeptical expression on her features.

"Everyone," Luna enforced as she rose to her feet and offered the brunette a charming smile. Reaching her hands up towards the sky, she whirled around, laughing and skipping along, looking over her shoulder and calling out, "But you can't feel it if you keep absolutely still!"

"Luna," Hermione called out, unable to keep from laughing as she followed after the younger girl. "Where are you going?"

"To chase the water," said Luna, turning to face Hermione with a wide smile. Holding out her hands to the brunette she said, "Won't you come with me? But do be careful of the Beach Blighters, they love to disguise themselves as the sand and nibble upon the toes of those who dare to invade their sandy territories."

"What?" asked Hermione, looking alarmed as she lifted her feet, one after the other, off of the sand. "Then why in the world did you have me remove my shoes?"

"The squish squish of the sand, I told you," Luna said guilelessly, skipping forward to take Hermione's hands. "If we walk along the edge of the water we should be perfectly safe. The Beach Blighters have tremendously large teeth but they can't swim in the slightest." Before the older girl could respond, Luna was running happily ahead, pulling Hermione after her until they reached the portion of the beach where water met sand and the sea swelled towards them in small waves, soaking their feet. Beaming at Hermione and giving her hands a gentle squeeze, Luna murmured, "I hope that Hermione doesn't find it to be tricks or manipulation but I would like to say I had a lovely time working today."

Turning to the other girl, Hermione found herself struck by her beauty, how the sun hit her hair in just the right angle to perfectly accentuate its white gold color, her blue eyes sparkling and full of warmth, and her smile, how it was endlessly sincere and genuine, enough that Hermione knew it could make her trust Luna about almost anything. She was lost in these thoughts and would have remained that way for quite a long while if it hadn't been for that setting sun turning Luna's hair slightly red and in that moment, Ron's face flashed in her mind and Hermione swallowed hard and stepped backwards, away from the younger girl. A guilty flush to her skin, Hermione focused her attention on the sea, trying her best to forget the feelings she just had as she said, "I enjoyed it as well and I don't think it tricky in the least to say that."

"Or manipulative?" prodded Luna, stepping closer, a look of concern on her features.

"Or manipulative," Hermione agreed quietly, still keeping her gaze away from the other girl, not trusting herself to look and keep her senses.

Releasing a humming and thoughtful sound on hearing this, Luna started her walk again, tenderly pulling Hermione along as they made their way down the beach, taking in the setting sun and breathtaking scenery. When the sky was filled with shades of purple and orange, signaling it would be dark soon, Luna looked to Hermione and said, "I'm rather hungry, aren't you?"

"A bit," said Hermione and she cautiously turned her attention to the other girl, relieved to see the blonde looking off into the distance. She wasn't sure what her reaction to looking at the other girl would be and it entirely solved matters if Luna wasn't paying her any attention.

"Would you mind terribly if we extended our work break so we might eat at a local restaurant? I know the most splendid bistro that isn't far from here, Ophelia introduced it to me on my last visit," said Luna, focusing back on Hermione.

"I wouldn't mind at all," said Hermione, offering a small smile. Though her brain was telling her to think better of it she still couldn't stop herself from agreeing to Luna's plans. After all, it was just dinner, wasn't it? Surely there was no harm in that.

A slow smile formed on Luna's features and her thumb lightly caressed the palm of Hermione's hand as she murmured, her voice soft and tender, "Wonderful. As thanks I promise I'll make certain that everything is simply heavenly."

Staring at the back of the younger girl as they walked, her pace lagging because of the conflicting responses between her heart and her head, Hermione did her best to ignore the repeating thought that anytime she spent with Luna was that.

---

After casting the Interpretatio spell they made their way to a small bistro that looked to be in existence for quite some time. At least if the hanging wooden sign with letters so worn that you couldn't properly make out its name was any indication of its age. The inside of the restaurant was just as charming as the outside, white stone carrying throughout the entire structure, it was filled with a small collection of small round tables as worn as the sign outside, clear evidence of the amount of appreciating customers who had sat at them.

Following the hostess to a table in the far corner that gave them ample privacy and was romantically lit with candles, much to Hermione's chagrin, they made use of the interpretation spell by going through the menu. Although the spell did its job well in allowing them to easily understand the Greek language when they spoke, heard, and read it that didn't allow Hermione to completely understand all of the many food options offered by the restaurant. That's why she found herself focusing on Luna with an awkward expression.

"Luna?" asked Hermione rather hesitantly. When the blonde looked up, she found herself instinctively ducking her head as a blush covered her features and she said, "Since you've done such a magnificent job with our previous meals together could you… I mean, would you…"

"If Hermione wants I would like very much to choose her food for her," Luna interrupted gently. She smiled sweetly and leaned forward, her voice was low and inviting and it caused Hermione's heart to beat faster and suddenly she had quite the strong urge to kiss the younger girl. "But that's only if Hermione wants it."

"I wouldn't have asked otherwise," asked Hermione a little on edge, embarrassed by her emotions and her inability to control them, turning her attention away from Luna and her lips which she had just wanted to kiss. She immediately felt an immense wave of guilt at her words and she lifted her head, wanting to apologize but the words were never voiced as she looked at Luna's compassionate expression. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude. I do want you to choose for me. That is, if you still want to. Although I can understand if you've changed your mind after how I just acted."

"I still would like that very much but I would also like to know exactly why Hermione was upset just now," said Luna, clearly concerned.

Turning from the other girl, her cheeks burning with an embarrassment that was far more significant than before, Hermione mumbled, "I'm not sure why it was I became so upset. But please believe me," she faced Luna and wore an imploring look, "I am sorry for how I behaved."

There was a moment of silence and Luna had a faraway expression look on her face and just as Hermione began to speak again, to apologize further and to try to come up with some explanation for the blonde other than her confusing feelings towards her, Luna spoke in clear and confident tones, "Tyropita would be a good start." Luna tilted her head up and Hermione immediately smiled, wanting to ask precisely what the food was when she noticed the younger girl hadn't been speaking to her but the waitress standing at their table.

"I agree," the waitress replied with a charming smile. "Do you need more time to think?"

"Not in the least," said Luna, taking Hermione's menu and neatly stacking it on top of her own. "I would like the Briam and I want to order the Kapama Roast Lamb for my friend," Luna paused to look at Hermione, "with her permission, of course."

"Of course," Hermione repeated, a soft smile on her features.

"A wise choice," the waitress drawled and her smile seemed to change from charming to alluring in Hermione's opinion. A frown formed on her face as she observed the Greek woman's flirtatious behavior. It really wasn't proper at all of her, was it? How was she to know that Luna wasn't dating her. She could very well be flirting with another woman's girlfriend right in front of her face.

Her annoyance level rising as she watched Luna return the waitress' smile, Hermione reached out to take Luna's hand and offered the waitress a very large and somewhat insincere smile as she said, "Thank you so much for your time."

Taking the all too effective hint to leave, the waitress exited with a raised eyebrow and slight chuckle. Hermione frowned again then turned to face Luna who wore a curious expression. Before the brunette could say anything in hopes of explaining herself, Luna said, a thoughtful look on her features, "I wonder if she thinks me strange again."

"Who? The waitress?" asked Hermione in confusion.

"Astrid, yes," said Luna, gazing after the departing woman. She focused back on Hermione and played with the older girl's hand until she laced their fingers together. "Ophelia informed me after our last visit I said things considered strange by Muggle standards."

"Such as?" inquired Hermione.

"I asked on seeing a picture of the calamari they serve if it was perhaps related to the Siren Squid of Guppiepull," Luna said matter of factly. When a slow smile spread on Hermione's features and her eyes twinkled with amusement, she made a clucking noise and wagged her finger playfully at the brunette. "I recognize that look. I do think that Hermione finds me strange as well. Or at the least, extremely silly."

"Not at all," said Hermione, shaking her head, the smile still firmly on her face. "I just understand a little what she meant. It isn't as if Muggles have heard of the Siren Squid of Guppiepull, Luna. I doubt that many in the wizarding world have."

"I suppose that does make a bit of sense," murmured Luna. "And it does explain why Astrid's eyes became so very wide. Do you think it's the same reason why she looked confused when I mentioned the similarity between a Chizpurfle and a crab?"

"Probably," said Hermione with a warm laugh. "How did her face look when you said that to her?"

"Incredibly confused though she did do her best to disguise it," Luna confessed and she wore a concerned look on her features. "Do you think that I might have frightened her with what I said?"

Hermione looked to the waitress and Luna followed suit, noticing their attention, Astrid formed the same alluring smile she had earlier, causing the brunette to frown deeply. "Somehow I don't believe that's the case," said Hermione, her voice a tad cross. A moment passed then she felt a soft touch on her chin and her head was gently turned so she was facing Luna. She started to ask the younger girl what was wrong but found herself trailing off into silence when she saw the tender expression on her features.

"There's no reason to be jealous," said Luna softly and Hermione opened her mouth, perhaps to protest, as her cheeks flushed a dark red hue. The blonde stretched her fingers outward to lightly caress Hermione's cheek, holding it gently. "I like Hermione best."

The restaurant was a flurry of activity, dishes clanging, and people ordering food but despite all the noise, it seemed absolutely silent to Hermione in that moment. She found herself lost as she looked into Luna's eyes, so kind and understanding, filled with such caring that the brunette could barely comprehend it. Perhaps that's why she found herself leaning across their small round table. She knew it was wrong, a betrayal to Ron, that she shouldn't be doing it but ever since she realized she had romantic feelings for Luna they had become nearly impossible for her to ignore and even harder for her to control and to make it worse, it hurt so very much to do so. As if it was the most unnatural thing in the world for her to suppress these feelings.

For all of those reasons she understood and the ones she hadn't the slightest clue about, Hermione kissed Luna. She fought the urge before, hiding her feelings away, burying them deep down, but it was too difficult now, hearing Luna's words and looking into her lovely features. Hermione couldn't fight it any longer, she wanted to kiss the younger girl. No, it was more than that. She needed it, like air.

And so she did.

It was nothing once you saw it in a certain perspective. Just a light brush of lips. There was no tongue involved and it was in a public place. All in all it was entirely chaste but the reality of the kiss wasn't so much important as the very fact that Hermione had done it. That she felt compelled to do it, that she just couldn't control her need to capture Luna's lips with her own.

And when she did, no matter how brief it was, the experience was still utterly amazing. The feeling of Luna's lips on her own, soft and silky and wonderfully full. The kiss itself was gentle and delicate, there was a cautious care in it, like it was something very precious that could be ruined and shattered when it ended and when they parted, it was slow and reluctant and Hermione found herself wishing that it had been deeper and she started to lean in again, for another kiss to rectify this problem when Astrid suddenly appeared at their table.

"My apologies for interrupting," Astrid said with a playful smile. She lifted up the bottle of wine that she held and said, "I simply thought that such a beautiful couple would enjoy an equally beautiful wine selection for their romantic evening."

With that she leaned over and proceeded to fill their glasses with wine and Hermione watched, her mind suddenly numb as she realized that the entire restaurant had seen her kiss Luna. She looked around them with a nervous expression and saw that most of the population was busy with their own food and conversation and those who weren't greeted her with happy smiles and looks as teasing in their acceptance as Astrid herself. She felt a soft squeeze of her hand and Hermione turned her attention back to Luna, realizing that they were once again alone. The blonde lifted up Hermione's glass of wine in offering and the brunette took it, drinking it in slowly, trying to calm her nerves as she did. When she was done, she was rewarded with Luna giving her a glittering smile.

"I do agree with Astrid," Luna murmured, reaching across the table to tenderly cup Hermione's cheek, her fingers trailing across her skin to push some hairs from her eyes. "We do make a beautiful couple."

She wanted to protest but looking at the blonde's features and feeling herself overwhelmed by an immense feeling of contentment and sheer happiness, Hermione couldn't seem to find the words. Not when, in her heart, she knew it was right.

Chapter Text

Hermione had always thought of herself as a responsible person and this belief had been sustained throughout all of her years at Hogwarts and her various adventures with Harry and Ron. She was always the one to think of the little things, the seemingly insignificant details that the boys scoffed at until it was the attention to those very details that wound up saving them. Of course, as she got older Hermione found herself taking more risks and becoming slightly less sensible but in the end her logic tended to triumph over her emotions far more often.

It was no different when they returned to the villa from the restaurant. When Hermione was with Luna in those romantic surroundings it was her emotions that controlled her, overtaking her logic, and making her dizzy with her attraction to the other girl. But once they were back in a normal setting, apparating onto the balcony of the villa, the cool night breeze blowing against their skin, Hermione's logic was again dominant. No matter what her emotions for Luna might be, what she did was wrong, kissing her, having these feelings for her. She was dating Ron, had been dating him for years, and he trusted her completely. What she felt for Luna, the kiss that she gave her, they were a betrayal to the person who had been closest to her for years, the one who knew her the best in all the world.

At the same time, she couldn't ignore these feelings she had for Luna, they were stronger than anything she had ever experienced before. Even stronger than her feelings for Ron but she knew that she owed him the truth. She needed to speak to him about how they had somehow become close friends instead of lovers over the past year and she needed to do that before things could go any further with Luna. It was the right thing, the responsible thing to do, and Hermione remained ever aware of that deeply ingrained part of her personality.

All of this in her mind, Hermione opened her mouth to tell the blonde just as much when soft fingertips pressed against her lips, effectively silencing her. Luna wore a slightly melancholy expression on her features and her blue eyes held a knowing light. "You feel guilty," she murmured. "I do hope you know I never wanted that."

"I know," said Hermione in a bare whisper as Luna's fingertips fell from her lips. "But I can't help it all the same. I've been with Ron for so very long and it seems so terribly unfair to him that I should feel this way for another person. Especially when I've given him no sign that I've found any problems with our relationship." Looking at the blonde with an almost pleading gaze, Hermione continued, "Luna, please understand…"

"I see," said Luna quietly and she lightly touched Hermione's cheek. "Then it was a kiss between friends."

"What do you mean?" asked Hermione, a confused expression on her features.

"A kiss between friends is nothing that Hermione should feel guilty over," said Luna, forming a ghost of a smile. "But a kiss between friends isn't something that happens very often and most likely won't take place again." Luna's hand slowly slipped away from Hermione's cheek and she continued, "Does Hermione think that is what it was? A kiss between friends?" Stunned into silence, Hermione didn't know how to properly reply and it was in that moment that Luna released a sigh and she pushed the door to the balcony open. Pausing at its entrance, she murmured, "I'm not sure it's right for me to say this but I still find myself agreeing with Astrid. We do make a beautiful couple but that does little good if it makes Hermione feel so terribly guilty to realize this."

Then Hermione was left alone on the balcony, lost and left to wonder exactly what had just happened.

---

The next day attempted to be very much like the one before. With Luna making breakfast and happily chatting away about their project in writing the search and discovery of the Krodha Swinging Lizard. Only it wasn't at all the same, at least not for Hermione. She spent the entire time brooding about the events of last night, mulling over them again and again and trying to figure out precisely why Luna had reacted the way that she did. Hermione knew quite well why she had become frozen, it was simply from shock. She had believed, perhaps mistakenly, that the blonde shared her emerging feelings and that she felt as excited and bewildered by them as she did.

Only she couldn't see how that was at all possible when Luna dismissed their kiss so easily as something that could occur between friends. Hermione knew it wasn't a kiss between friends, she knew she cared far more for the younger girl than just that and she wanted to say as much but by then Luna had already gone and the doubts had begun to rise in her mind. That Luna simply didn't share her feelings, at least at the same depth and level. Certainly she knew the blonde found her attractive, if she could believe the myriad of compliments she often got on her looks from her but finding her attractive was hardly the same thing as falling in love, was it now?

Not that Hermione really knew in the slightest what the other girl was thinking. Part of Luna's appeal was the rather mysterious way her mind worked and because of that she hadn't the tiniest clue what the blonde truly felt for her. Of course, if she wanted to be completely reasonable and logical she could simply ask Luna but somehow Hermione couldn't make herself form the words. Maybe because the more she thought about the situation and Luna's attitude towards her the less confident she became that the younger girl felt the same way she did.

Luna was a carefree spirit, someone not as tied down by rules and conventions as Hermione herself was and it was entirely possible that Hermione had simply saw an attraction to her that wasn't there. It was entirely likely that Luna was just acting with her the way she acted with any other person. After all, the more Hermione watched her interact with other people the more she saw that flirtatious and friendly side of the blonde. She had become jealous of it enough, wanting Luna's attention to be on only her.

But she said they made a beautiful couple. Surely that meant something?

Hermione clung to that belief, that hope, but more her logical mind examined it she found it didn't mean anything more than perhaps Luna thought they looked pretty next to one another. Never once had she mentioned having emotions for Hermione past the belief that the brunette was the one meant to write about her magical creature expeditions. And that was more a professional love than anything else.

A respect for Hermione's skills in magic and the written word. It didn't leave the smallest hint that Luna might have deeper emotions for her. The kind that Hermione found herself having, the kind that she knew she would have to talk to Ron about, regardless of how the blonde felt. She owed him that much and he deserved the truth.

They seemingly spent the afternoon working but with Hermione secretly brooding as she studied Luna down to the tiniest detail, trying desperately to find some scrap of evidence the younger girl might feel just a bit the same as she did. Cursing her cowardice that she just couldn't ask and have it all be done with. But Hermione was so very sure that if she asked Luna would reply in that cheerful and light manner she often had, dismissing the idea of caring for the brunette with a kind and sympathetic smile and Hermione knew it would crush her.

She shouldn't feel this way, she had never been like this. Someone scared of her emotions, shying away from them like a shivering rabbit hiding itself from a predator. Her parents had taught her it best to always confront your fears head on, to face them because once you did they lost their power over you and you found there wasn't anything to be frightened of in the first place. And this strategy had served her well throughout the years, particularly in the hard times in the fight against Voldemort. But now it seemed to be failing her.

Just because Hermione couldn't find the courage to face neither Ron nor Luna. To speak to Ron about how she felt they had been drifting slowly apart for years now and they were more close friends than lovers. And to tell Luna that since the first day they met on campus she had been feeling something towards her that she hadn't felt in years, if ever. That she was more attracted to her than any other person in her life and that at times she felt lost and out of control because of it, pulled in by the sheer force of her attraction and that it scared her more than anything else to think that Luna could make her feel this way and somehow not share those same feelings.

Her solution, or lack thereof, was to not say anything. Keeping all these worries to herself, hoping that she if watched Luna long enough she could somehow interpret her body language and facial expression and discover through them exactly what the younger girl was feeling. Only she wasn't having much luck and that ever present lurking fear of rejection kept Hermione from asking.

Instead, she did her best to work though her attention continued to drift because of Luna's presence. But despite the fact that her focus was waning Hermione wanted the blonde to remain at her side.

Even if it was just as friends.

---

Lunch was a picnic on the beach, something far more romantic than Hermione would have preferred. Especially considering how their last romantic encounter ended. The blonde set the basket full of food and drinks down, pulling a blanket out of the basket, and airing it out before settling it gently onto the ground. Hermione hesitantly sat next to Luna and watched as the younger girl produced a small wheel of cheese and a platter of various fruits, offering Hermione a small bottle of cider to drink with an affectionate smile on her features.

"I think it's going quite well, don't you?" said Luna.

Taking the bottle from the younger girl, Hermione averted her eyes from her, not trusting herself to look at Luna and be able to maintain the veneer of calm control she had maintained throughout the day. "What is?" Hermione asked rather reluctantly.

"The writing, of course," said Luna, a playful lilt to her voice, holding out a round grape, looking as if Hermione didn't take it then she would push it past her lips. Something that the brunette was sure wouldn't help her keep her wits about her.

"I suppose," Hermione replied, plucking the grape from Luna's fingers, not wanting to reveal how much she loved working with the younger girl under the current circumstances but unable to lie at the same time.

"Perhaps when we return to the University you won't be as confused," offered Luna, slicing into the cheese and offering a piece to Hermione who accepted it with wide eyes. Seeing the question and perhaps a hint of worry in the brunette's eyes, she continued, "As to what should be your focus of study. After all, if you find the expedition, research, and writing enjoyable then surely it would make sense."

"I did… I do," said Hermione quietly, breaking off a bit of the cheese and eating it slowly. Turning her eyes away from the blonde, she focused on the waves and said, "But whether or not it's something I have the talent to make a profession out of is yet to be seen."

"You shouldn't doubt yourself," said Luna gently, reaching out to cup Hermione's chin so the older girl would look at her. "I've said time and time again that Hermione is the only one I could imagine writing my expeditions and you've been doing a marvelous job of it."

"Thank you, Luna," Hermione trailed off as she tried to think of how to explain her sudden doubts. She did believe that writing suited her though she did have to wonder if it was something she could truly become successful at.

It was true that the idea of working with Luna on this project, and making a living from it, appealed to her immensely but she could barely keep hold of her senses and logic during this short period of time that they worked together on the island. How could she possibly deal with endless amounts of time alone with Luna? Especially when she hadn't any idea if the blonde returned her feelings? There were hints here and there but ever since Luna suggested their kiss was just between friends she found herself wondering if all those hints were of her own creation.

"I'll say it over and over until you truly believe it," murmured Luna, stretching her fingers out to caress Hermione's cheek. "I wouldn't have anyone else write the story of my work. Hermione is the person meant to do it. I think that, I really do."

"I know," said Hermione softly, looking away from Luna, causing the blonde's hand to slip from her cheek. "I know that you do."

And perhaps that was the trouble behind it. The fact that she knew Luna wanted so very badly to work with her, to have her write the expeditions, chronicle them so the entire wizarding world could read but was that all it was? Maybe the attraction that Hermione felt so strongly was just a figment of her imagination. Feelings that Luna didn't really return but reciprocated a little in her actions simply to keep the older girl working with her. She didn't want to believe it, she wanted to think the blonde was just as attracted to her but she couldn't. Not after what happened, not after hearing Luna tell her the kiss that had come sincerely from her heart could be something between friends.

The situation was driving her a bit mad and she didn't like it in the least.

---

Time had escaped Hermione, she knew it was late at night, maybe even in the early morning because of her lack of sleep. She had tried for what seemed like endless hours to drift into unconsciousness but her mind wouldn't rest. It buzzed and rattled with a million different thoughts and worries that she couldn't escape no matter how desperately she tried. The same thoughts that had occupied her throughout the day, ones of Luna, Ron, and her feelings for both of them. Feelings that were contrary in nature and complex enough to leave her in a state that was more lost and frightened than she had been in years.

Hermione wasn't used to being this way. Her parents raised her to have confidence in herself and her abilities. In her logic and her intelligence and those brilliant instincts of hers that seemed to appear at the most needed times to let her know what would be the best decision to make. Now those instincts were failing her, she knew what was right and she knew what she wanted and they were in direct opposition.

Everything in her wanted to try and discover exactly where this attraction to Luna could possibly lead. At the same time she knew it wasn't right to feel this way, not when she still had a commitment to Ron. They had been together for so long and it pained her to know how she felt for Luna was going to end up hurting him. She needed, at the very least, to speak to him about their relationship and how she felt they had been drifting slowly apart, turning more into friends than lovers, before she attempted to pursue anything with Luna.

Then there was the idea of pursuing a relationship with Luna. If you asked her a few weeks ago, she would have said that the younger girl was definitely interested in her in some way or another. The kiss they shared had been wonderful and utterly sweet and though it was light, a delicate expression of emotion, the blonde accepted it eagerly and Hermione was sure if she had moved in for a second kiss, one that was deeper and longer and more intense, the younger girl would have returned it fully.

Certainly she was aware that Luna was attracted to her physically, that was clear from their kiss, but an emotional attraction was what Hermione really longed for because that was what she ultimately felt for the other girl. There was little doubt that she found Luna beautiful and her touch always incited some physical reaction, a slow simmering desire, and it did scare her at times but it excited her just as much.

It would all come to nothing if Luna didn't share her feelings. Physical attraction with no emotion involved wasn't something that Hermione had ever wanted for herself. She wanted there to be a deeper meaning behind those gentle touches Luna gave her and the idea that it was all just friendly or perhaps something even less, that it meant nothing at all, haunted the brunette.

The solution to her worries was simple, ask the blonde how she felt, if she truly meant they should just be friends or she was saying what she thought Hermione wanted to hear. If the second was the case it couldn't have been further from the truth and Hermione would rejoice in both her head and her heart to receive this knowledge.

Though she couldn't really blame Luna, it wasn't as if Hermione had been incredibly clear with her feelings. In the beginning she hadn't realized what they meant then she was too confused by them and now… well, now she was scared of rejection and feared hurting Ron, the person who had always cared for her the best, who had placed her above others when no one else would. What if she talked to him and their relationship ended and she lost him completely? Unable to have him even as a friend? She wasn't sure she could take that.

Strange as it was, despite all of the confusion and her many worries, Hermione didn't find herself concerned with the fact that Luna was another girl. Though she had never been romantically involved with another woman the idea of it wasn't one she ever dismissed. There had been times that she admired other girls looks in more than a purely aesthetic sense. That had been a slight factor in her initial dislike of Fleur, finding her utterly beautiful but rather annoying in personality at their first meeting. It was a dichotomy that irritated her horribly.

Of course, having spent countless hours of family time with the French woman thanks to her marriage to Bill, she had since revised her opinion of her personality but she still found her enormously good looking. And Fleur was hardly alone, there were plenty of other girls at Hogwarts and the University whom she found attractive and sometimes in the dead of night, when Ron couldn't be with her and was experiencing the need, she would picture those women in her mind when she touched herself.

More than once Ron had caught her and made her confess who she was thinking of and like a typical male, he found the idea of Hermione imagining herself with another woman incredibly erotic. Those were among the times the had the most passionate sex and the brunette knew that when she spoke to Ron about Luna it wouldn't be the fact that she was another girl that bothered him, it would be that Hermione was having romantic feelings for someone other than himself and she frankly wouldn't blame him.

These thoughts possessing her as she sat in the darkness of the villa, on the balcony where she had spent most of her day working with Luna, she almost didn’t hear the quiet pop that announced an apparation taking place. Jerking in her chair, Hermione rose to her feet, her wand already summoned and partially raised as she made her way inside. She lifted it higher, about to cast a spell to determine precisely who was there with her when she heard an accented voice release a quiet murmur.

A warm light filled the villa and Hermione found herself face to face with a tall woman with long black hair and an olive complexion whose brown eyes widened when she saw the other woman standing in front of her with her wand raised. "Geia sas," she said tentatively. "I am Ophelia Diakos, the owner of this villa. You are Luna's friend, perhaps? Miss Granger?"

"Please call me Hermione," the brunette insisted, taking a step forward. Noticing her raised wand for the first time, she flushed in embarrassment, lowering it quickly as she said, "I'm sorry about that. It's just when I heard someone apparate and I had no idea who…"

"It is fine," Ophelia soothed, holding up a hand to stop Hermione's apology. "We all still feel the effects of the war from time to time. More some than others depending on how much we experienced and Luna has told me you experienced much."

"She did?" asked Hermione, a stunned feeling seizing her. Just moments later she shook this off and her natural curiosity took over, wanting to know desperately what else the blonde might have said about her. "Then she's spoken to you about me?"

"Quite often," said Ophelia amiably. Then she titled her head to one side, studying the brunette carefully before forming a small understanding smile as she murmured, "You care for her, yes? I can see it in your eyes."

Her first instinct was to protest this, to not give so much away, but seeing that understanding in Ophelia's eyes, the kindness in them reminding her so much of Luna, she was unable. "I do," Hermione admitted in a hush. "Though I don't know how she feels for me."

Ophelia started to reply but stopped herself, turning to look at the long winding stairs that led to the second floor of the villa, a breathtaking smile forming on her beautiful features as Luna emerged. "I was wondering when you would appear," she murmured fondly.

Releasing a happy cry on seeing the Greek woman, Luna flew down the stairs and into Ophelia's arms for a fierce hug. "I didn't know you would be returning this soon!" she exclaimed, pulling away to hold the other woman's face in her hands. It was a gesture painfully familiar to Hermione, enough that she had to avert her eyes, her heart sinking at the sight of Luna touching someone else that way.

"The negotiations went far easier than we could have predicted," revealed Ophelia with a charming smile. "It's a bit unprofessional of me to say this but I wish it had lasted longer. I found it a rare chance to practice my Mermish, one that doesn't come often."

"You must tell me all about it, every last detail," Luna said, hooking their arms together and pressing into the taller woman. "I insist on it."

"Oh? You insist do you?" questioned Ophelia, a tender smile tugging at her lips. She focused her attention on Hermione who had been strategically avoiding looking at them while this had been going on and said, "What of you? What might you insist on, Hermione?"

Looking up and into Ophelia's warm brown eyes that held an unmistakable sympathetic insight then turning to see Luna's arm that was still hooked with other woman's, a woman she had been romantically involved with, no matter how long ago, she was instantly filled with jealousy. An emotion that was not entirely warranted but was strong and threatened to overpower her good senses. Which is why Hermione murmured a quick excuse, saying she was tired and she needed her sleep, moving past the two women and heading back upstairs.

Where she would lie in her bed, still unable to sleep, haunted by the knowledge that there was only one other bedroom in the house and it belonged to Ophelia. The room where Luna had been staying and where, most likely, she was right now. In that room, on that bed, being held in the Greek woman's arms.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Hermione once again woke to the smell of delicious food being cooked but when she wandered downstairs Luna wasn't responsible, instead it was Ophelia. Sensing the brunette's approach, Ophelia turned to observe Hermione, flashing a bright smile before she held up her index finger to her lips in a gesture to keep quiet as she nodded to the far side of the room. Hermione followed her gaze and instantly locked onto the sleeping figure of Luna, gently swinging to and fro in her hammock.

A sinking feeling, one caused by shame and guilt, seized Hermione on seeing this. Luna hadn't slept in Ophelia's bed after all.

Slowly approaching the kitchen counter, Hermione looked at Ophelia, and she supposed the guilt was evident in her eyes or her stance because the Greek woman graced her with a tender smile as she leaned forward. "She carries it with her always on trips, that hammock. How she finds it comfortable, I do not know. It looks something like a torture device to me."

"She slept down here all night," Hermione said this more as a statement then a question but Ophelia still replied.

"Yes," said Ophelia with a nod, returning to making breakfast, carefully moving the chopped vegetables about in the frying pan, ensuring they were all evenly cooked. "We spoke for over an hour then she insisted on gathering her things from my room and set up her hammock." She paused for a moment then said, very carefully, "She was concerned you might think something that wasn't true as to the nature of our relationship by staying in the same room as I did."

That sinking feeling returned and Hermione ducked her head, lifting it moments later to look into Ophelia's understanding brown eyes. She formed a weak smile and said, "I don't suppose you that you think very much of me."

"Luna does and I find that is more than enough for me," murmured Ophelia kindly. Pausing for a moment, she appeared to be considering her words carefully, debating whether they should be voiced. Finally, she said, "She cares for you a great deal."

"I care for her as well," Hermione said, her eyes instinctively drifting over the sleeping blonde. "More than I probably should."

"Because you're involved with another?" asked Ophelia, her tones gentle and prodding.

Jerking her head towards the Greek woman in surprise, Hermione saw the understanding but accepting expression she wore and found herself wanting to explain. "I've been with him for quite some time, years in fact," said Hermione quietly. She found her attention and gaze drifting back towards Luna as she murmured, "I never thought I would care for someone else. I didn't think it was even possible but before I knew it I found myself having these feelings for her… and I couldn't control them, I couldn't stop them, no matter how hard I tried."

"Perhaps you weren't meant to," said Ophelia wisely as she turned off the stove and began placing the vegetables onto three plates before turning her attention to the eggs. "Some things cannot be controlled or stopped. I do think love is among them."

She wanted to protest this assumption, to say she didn't love Luna but Hermione couldn't make herself say the words, not when she knew in her heart they would be a lie. So she remained silent, watching the blonde as she continued to sleep, her hammock swinging ever so slightly from side to side. Then she said in a bare whisper, "I wish I knew how she felt for me."

A soft touch on her arm caused Hermione to shift her focus to Ophelia who looked at her with a sympathetic gaze. "You shouldn't blame yourself. This is a common problem when it comes to those Luna loves." When Hermione gave her a confused but quietly curious look, she sighed softly then continued, "There is little that Luna despises more than to feel she is forcing herself onto another person. Therefore she has a bad habit of letting those she has feelings for come to her rather than she go to them. I think, perhaps, it helps ease her mind to know they've chosen to approach her and it takes the fear of rejection away to leave the responsibility solely on another."

"I didn't know Luna could become afraid," said Hermione wryly.

"Everyone has fears," said Ophelia, sprinkling the eggs with a bit of seasoning. "Hers involve those she cares for not returning her feelings. I think that because she was laughed at for many years when she revealed what she believed truest in her heart she became more reluctant to do this as she grew older. Everyone wants to protect themselves from pain, especially when it is one they have experienced before."

Silence as Hermione contemplated this and then she asked rather hesitantly, "Was it the same for you?" When Ophelia lifted a sculptured eyebrow in a gesture of mild curiosity and confusion, Hermione blushed and said, "I mean… did you have to tell Luna how you felt first."

"Yes, after I tried my best to attempt mind reading," remarked Ophelia with light humor. She scooped the eggs out of the pan and placed them on the plates as she continued, "Even in her fourth year I think that perhaps Luna had some skill at occlumency. Like you, I spent just a terrible amount of time attempting to understand what she was thinking and feeling towards me."

"How was it once you told her?" asked Hermione, unable to stop herself from asking, finding some solidarity in their situations involving Luna. Instinctively thinking that perhaps if it ended well for Ophelia she might be lucky enough to be granted the same result.

A slow smile curving on her lips, Ophelia leaned across the counter and said in a low murmur, "We kissed. Quite innocently, due to our ages, but we kissed all the same and did so several more times before the summer ended. After which we happily became close friends." Hermione couldn't help but return the Greek woman's smile and once again, her attention turned to the sleeping Luna and it was then that Ophelia continued, her voice gentle and kind, "She might be too scared to say the words and she might guard her feelings beneath a mysterious air but every mystery can be solved if you pay close enough attention. It is the same for Luna."

Considering this, Hermione watched as Luna rocked to and fro in her hammock, her breathing steady and even, looking so very content with the world and everything in it, Hermione included. And as she watched, Hermione promised herself that she would solve the mystery that was Luna Lovegood and her feelings.

---

Half an hour later, Luna woke to the sound of Hermione's soft laughter and Ophelia's playful tone of voice. Slowly sitting up in her hammock, causing it to swing gently from side to side, she observed the two women silently. They were sitting across from each other at the small round table in the kitchen, having what looked to be a delicious breakfast. There was an ease to their interaction, a comfort that Luna found herself smiling at and immediately enjoying. She wanted very much for it to continue and to find herself a part of it. A part of Hermione's happiness.

Which is why she called out, "I've missed the sound of Hermione's laughter. It is among the most beautiful of sounds."

They turned to Luna and immediately on looking at the blonde haired girl, Hermione started searching for that sign that Ophelia spoke of earlier. A clue that the younger girl cared for her in the same manner. Drawn forward because of this pursuit, Hermione rose to her feet and approached Luna, holding out her hands to help her out of the hammock and onto the slightly chilly hardwood floors. Grasping Luna's hands in a tender hold, she kept a close watch on the other girl's reaction and sure enough there it was.

Subtle but the signs were there, a hint of a blush, a duck of the head, the way Luna's lips immediately curved into a wide smile at Hermione offering her hands and how her blue eyes sparkled with affection. Mostly it was the feeling she got when coming closer to the other girl. There was a sense of contentment, a pleasure at being close to Hermione and it was then that she wondered how she never noticed it.

Letting go of Luna's hands so the younger girl could head upstairs to the bathroom, Hermione's eyes never left the blonde while she was in sight. Ophelia quirked an eyebrow and questioned, "Were you able to see it for yourself?"

"Yes," said Hermione in a whisper, her eyes still on the stairs where Luna had disappeared. Slowly, she looked to Ophelia and murmured, "How is it I never noticed before?"

"This the first time you truly looked," said Ophelia, gentle but astute. "But what will you do now that you have seen it? That is the real question. You cannot ignore it and it wouldn't be fair to Luna to allow things to continue as they are. Nor would it be fair to you."

Hermione was considering Ophelia's words and what her response would be when Luna appeared at the top of the stairs, smiling still. Looking at the blonde girl's features that glowed with happiness, Hermione knew what her answer was and from the approving expression that Ophelia wore, it was a popular one indeed.

As they sat down to breakfast with Luna, the significant portion of Hermione's writing was given to a curious Ophelia to sift through. She read through the pages with great interest, remarking on the quality of the writing and revealing a similar objection to Luna's method of freeing the Krodha Swinging Lizard from the poacher's trap.

"It is amazing," said Ophelia, her tones full of awe and wonder as she looked at Luna with shining eyes. "You spoke of wanting to do this all those many years ago, when we were just children, and now it is finally becoming true."

"With Hermione's help," Luna added, smiling before she took a bite of eggs. "I couldn't have done it without her. My writing is rather atrocious. I don't imagine many people would be interested to read my descriptions of things, no matter how fascinating the subject."

"Luna," Hermione said her name in scolding tones. "I've told you, your writing isn't bad, it simply lacks focus."

"Hermione has the kindest way of saying something is horrible," said Luna teasingly, a fond smile on her features. Hermione shook her head in frustration at this and Luna laughed, light and carefree. Turning her attention to Ophelia, she remarked, "It's such a shame we couldn't find the Charybdis, even after so much searching. I was hoping to look for it again someday. Perhaps to put in the book."

"Between our searching for the Charybdis and Niko's mad hunt for the Minotaur, I'm not sure how the Counselor Agatha could deal with all our madness," said Ophelia with an amused chuckle. "I would not have wanted her job."

"She did have a great deal of patience," agreed Luna. "Do you recall the explosion Duncan caused?"

"Which one?" asked Ophelia, laughing as she recalled the gangly black haired boy who was fond of mixing potions to track his favorite magical creatures, even if more than half of the time said potions had a nasty habit of blowing up.

"There was the explosion that destroyed half a hillside and nearly announced our presence to the local Muggles," said Luna thoughtfully. "It was highly impressive and Counselor Agatha appeared the most irritated when it was incited."

Finding herself charmed by the reminiscing about the camp, Hermione couldn't stop herself from asking, "Is it still open?"

"Camp Charybdis?" asked Ophelia and when Hermione nodded, she formed a thoughtful expression. "I’m unsure. You could always find out for yourselves though. I don't believe the location on Corfu would have changed."

"Do you want to see it?" questioned Luna, looking quite excited at the idea of going to see her old camp with Hermione.

It was their last day to work before they had to return to Britain and Hermione knew what they should be doing. They should work, concentrate on the book, writing the search and discovery of the Krodha Swinging Lizard. That was what she should do but was it what she wanted? Looking into Luna's pleasant features, eager and affectionate, Hermione decided what she should do wasn't nearly as important as what she wanted to do and yes, she did want very much to see the camp where Luna had spent a happy summer, to see for herself where all of those stories she told with Ophelia took place, hoping somehow it would also help her to understand the blonde a little bit better.

"Yes," said Hermione quietly, forming a soft smile. "I'd like that very much."

---

They side along apparated to the site of Camp Charybdis, which announced its presence with a large boulder that had the name of the camp carved into it with the words reflecting beautifully in the sunlight. The camp consisted on several large sloping hills and what looked to be several buildings that appeared to be restored ruins. Hermione turned to Luna, her features full of questions and curiosity and the blonde beamed happily then hooked their arms together.

"The entire site was once a village, apparently the Muggles who lived here had some sort of nasty falling out, a war of sorts, and it became quite deserted for many years," Luna informed as they walked inside the empty camp. "Counselor Agatha and her family discovered it and thought it would be a most lovely spot for a camp because of the nature that surrounded it and this area's notoriety for magical creatures."

"How old are these buildings?" Hermione asked, her hand extending to touch the white stone of one of the columns, marveling at how good it looked despite the period it appeared to be constructed from. "Surely they aren't from the Athenian Era?"

"Counselor Agatha and her family restored them with a great many spells," said Luna. She wore a thoughtful expression and said, "I do believe she said they were originally created in 458 BC. It did take a significant amount of time for them to fix everything." Luna leaned into Hermione and gestured to a building in the distance that looked to be crumbling a bit. "As you can see, they're still working."

Several minutes passed as they strolled about the grounds, Luna finally leading them down a gently sloping hill to a small beach scattered with several large boulders. Releasing Hermione's hand, she jumped onto the largest one that was partially in the sea, the waves quietly hitting the edges of it. Once she landed, Luna turned to Hermione with a wide and welcoming smile on her features, holding her hands out to the brunette in offering. Hermione hesitated just a moment before taking a deep breath and jumping after Luna, finding herself wrapped up in the other girl's arms when she nearly lost her balance on landing and began to fall backwards.

"I've got you," murmured Luna in comforting tones and though she didn't know it, she had never spoken truer words.

But Hermione did know and that's why she pulled back from Luna's embrace, slow and sure, searching the blonde's features and finding the same reassurance she had earlier. The same affection and care and genuine love hiding just under the surface, waiting for her to notice and notice it Hermione did. "Our kiss wasn't between friends," she said, soft but strong, reaching up with trembling hands to caress Luna's cheek. The younger girl's eyes became large and for the first time Hermione witnessed Luna in a truly stunned state. "And I never wanted it to be, I wanted to tell you that but I became scared that you didn't feel the same as I did when you suggested that."

"But I never intended…" Luna trailed off, sounding quite anxious on hearing this. "Hermione simply looked so very distressed and guilty and if it was a kiss between friends there would be no need for you to feel that way. That was why I said that."

"I know," said Hermione with a laugh, tenderly stroking Luna's cheek, smiling weakly. "I haven't been thinking correctly in what seems like a very long time now. I do believe my feelings for you have something to do with it. Luna," Hermione breathed her name more than said it. "I must speak to Ron about this… about us…" Suddenly Hermione felt herself becoming just as anxious as Luna had been earlier. "That is if there is an us to tell him about? I really shouldn't presume, we haven't properly discussed--"

Her fingers pressing gently onto Hermione's lips, a sweet smile curling upwards, Luna said, "There has always been an us to tell about."

"I'm not sure of that," said Hermione when Luna's fingers fell away, laughter bubbling up in her throat and an immense feeling of relief filling her. As her thoughts returned to Ron, she became serious as her hand moved to hold Luna's. "I do need to speak with him before we can progress any further. It's the right thing to do… the fair thing to do. I couldn't bear doing anything less, not when it comes to Ron."

"I understand," whispered Luna in soothing tones, releasing Hermione's hand and reaching up to tuck some stray strands of hair behind her ears, tenderly caressing her features as she did so. "Hermione wouldn't be Hermione if she wanted to do it any other way."

Releasing a shuddering sigh, Hermione leaned forward, resting her forehead against Luna's, her eyes closed tight, she murmured, her voice wry and self deprecating, "You do realize that made me want very much to kiss you?"

"I realize," Luna replied, mischief in her words and on her features as she wrapped her arms around the brunette and pulled her forward and into her embrace. "I would encourage that feeling enormously if I didn't know it would make Hermione feel terribly guilty again."

"That's nice," muttered Hermione sourly.

A moment of silence passed then Luna moved closer yet, her breath warm and sweet on Hermione's skin, tickling the hairs of her neck as she murmured in her ear, soft and sincere, "I would like very much to kiss you back."

On hearing these words, the first admission of any sort that Luna had made aloud that she wanted Hermione like Hermione wanted her, the brunette allowed herself to finally relax, to lose those ever present worries of what the blonde might be feeling and to simply be. There was just the sound of their breathing and the gentle crash of the waves against the boulder on which they stood.

"You'll speak to him when we return?" Luna's voice came in a strangely uncertain whisper and Hermione pulled back to observe the blonde who immediately averted her eyes but still, though she tried to hide it, Hermione saw the worry there, the fear, and it tore at her heart.

Reaching out to hold Luna's chin in her hand, holding it tender but firm and turning her head so their eyes would meet, Hermione did her best to reveal in her expression and her tone how very serious she was. "I will," she promised. "I'll tell him straightaway. Soon as possible." Luna seemed to nod at this, her head bobbing, coming to some sort of internal resolution. Then she lifted her head and a rather naughty smile formed on her features, one that thoroughly intrigued Hermione. "What is it?"

"And then we can kiss again," said Luna, looking altogether pleased about the idea.

"Yes," replied Hermione with a laugh, shaking her head. "I suppose that's true."

Looking much like a great philosopher as she regarded Hermione with an utterly solemn expression, Luna said, "It would be so much more convenient if we had telepathy like the Frinklefrump Deetle. Then we would be kissing already."

Hermione couldn't manage to disagree.

Chapter Text

There were a great many things that Hermione enjoyed. Among the many things included the pursuit of knowledge, to receive a good mark for a job well done, settling down on a rainy night to read a book, and seeing her friends happy and safe. But what she didn't enjoy were emotionally uncomfortable situations. When feelings became too intense, too loud, to be reasoned with and talked out logically. Such things made her feel entirely out of control and out of place and she didn't enjoy it in the least. Which is perhaps why when they returned to Britain she found it difficult to fulfill her promise to Luna. No, it was more than difficult… it was almost impossible at times.

Ron was so very sweet when she returned. He had been waiting in her flat, newly cleaned and looking tidier than it had in months, with a homemade and surprisingly wonderful meal, insisting on feeding her much of the food as he grinned wide and eager, asking for details of her trip with Luna. Details which made her burn with guilt and shame when she thought of how she was going to hurt him. Then when the meal was over, he produced a copy the latest book from her favorite Arithmancy scholar which had been released while she was on the trip.

It never seemed the right time to tell him and so Hermione kept quiet, drowning over the guilt she felt involving both Ron and Luna. She had promised Luna she would tell him but each time she started Ron would say or do something that would make Hermione experience such a wave of affection for him that she couldn't bear the thought of hurting him. At the same time, she knew how very wrong it was to continue this farce, to let him think all was perfectly well and how it had always been. If only she didn't have to hurt him. That was what tormented her, the idea she would be causing him pain, when for so many years she had done everything to keep such a thing from him.

They had been each others shelter in the storm during the dark years with Voldemort and she was afraid once she told him that would suddenly change. The closeness, the camaraderie, that had been there since their childhood, something she had secretly relied on to keep her strong in the most difficult of times, would be gone and she would be left standing alone.

Not really alone, of course, as she would have Luna and her other friends but they weren't Ron. He had been with her for so long and then there was Harry, who loved Ron like a brother, how would he react? She wasn't sure if she could take losing Ron completely but what would happen if he were to take Harry with him? Of course, he had always tried to stay neutral in their squabbles as a couple but this was hardly the same. This was Hermione breaking up with Ron, leaving him for Luna, surely if Ron was upset Harry would have to take a side, wouldn't he? After all, the most logical side to take would be that of the person hurt the most and in this situation that was Ron.

Then there was Ron's family, the Weasley's had been like a security blanket in the wizarding world for Harry and Hermione both. Caring for them and helping them the best they could along the way, but all the same, they were Ron's family and if Ron took things badly and never wanted to speak to her again she could easily imagine most of his family following a similar route. Hermione knew with little doubt that Molly would be furious and would probably refuse to speak to her for months if not years. And who knows how she would treat Luna. Though Hermione did suspect it would be something like the scandalous treatment one would give the woman who seduced a husband away from his wife or something of that nature. Which was as far from Luna as Hermione could possibly imagine.

Besides Ron and Harry, she found herself most concerned with Ginny's reaction. For so many years Ginny had been her only real female friend, the one she could trust to tell those horribly confusing emotions to without being laughed at or judged. She had been so very helpful and kind in the early years with Ron, when they first began dating, and she desperately wanted to talk to her now. To ask her advice about what to say to Ron that would explain best how she felt and why she wanted to end their romantic relationship but she couldn't ask. Because no matter how close of a friend Ginny was to her, she was also Ron's sister and though she teased him unmercifully and often called him names, Hermione knew how much she did love her goofy and often stubborn older brother.

The more time that passed the harder it became to tell him, the first day back from the trip quickly became the second, the third, until more than a week had passed and Hermione still hadn't told Ron. Whenever she was with Luna and saw that look of veiled disappointment and hurt when she discovered Hermione hadn't spoken to him as she promised she would the guilt she felt over this became just as strong as the fear of hurting Ron and losing him completely. No matter what she did someone was going to end up hurt so shouldn't she simply do what was best for her and follow her heart that was leading her directly to Luna?

All of these thoughts occupied Hermione during Professor Meedlemeier's lecture, enough that she found herself unaware that the class had ended until she felt the soft press of Su Li's hand on her shoulder. Jumping slightly in her seat, Hermione looked up at the Asian girl who lifted an eyebrow in humorous observation and drawled, "You've got something on your mind, haven't you?" Though Hermione desperately wanted someone to talk to about her problems involving Ron and Luna, and she was once again on quite good terms with Su whom she considered one of her closest friends at the University, she wasn't someone who had ever been completely at ease talking about her feelings. And so, Hermione hesitated, but in that moment of hesitation, Su moved forward, leaning down to pick up Hermione's satchel. "Come on," Su said with a smile, taking a step towards the doors of the lecture hall, an encouraging look on her features. "Lets have a talk over lunch."

Minutes later, they were sitting down in the University dining hall at a small table with a view of the campus grounds. Su took a bite of her salad, wearing the same encouraging but expectant expression on her face as she looked at Hermione. Unable to look at the other girl and explain what was bothering her, the brunette stared out the window and found herself thinking back to the time that Luna met her at the lecture hell. Recalling that moment, Hermione turned her focus to Su and said, "That day after I was cross with you… it seemed as if you wanted to tell me something about Luna. What was it?"

"Hermione," Su said her name reluctantly, looking like she preferred not to reply. "I don't think I should answer that. It's likely that you might become cross with me again and I'm certain that's an experience I rather not repeat."

"Please tell me," murmured Hermione in plaintive tones. "It sounds a bit mad but I really must know."

Still looking reluctant, Su sighed quietly, then said, "Just realize I never meant any harm." When Hermione gave an affirming nod, Su focused her gaze out the window and murmured, "When you spoke about Luna, it rather reminded me of how a person acts when they're quite fond of someone." She paused for a moment then returned her focus to Hermione, meeting their eyes, as she continued, speaking carefully, and it was clear that she was being gentle but honest with her opinions. "I was going to ask how you felt for her."

"It was that obvious?" asked Hermione, her eyes wide in surprise.

"To those who know you well," replied Su with a small and relieved smile, looking quietly pleased that the other girl hadn't reacted badly to what she said. "Wait," Su murmured slowly, a knowing light emerging in her eyes. "You've realized how you felt for her, haven't you? That's why you appeared troubled during Professor Meedlemeier's lecture. I should have known it didn't have anything to do with the latest round of research papers he's assigned all of us."

"Research papers?" Hermione echoed, suddenly regretting the utter lack of attention she had given to the professor's lecture. Shaking her head and making a mental note to go visit him tomorrow during his office hours, she said, "No it wasn't that at all. I was thinking of Luna and Ron. Over the break, I went on a trip with Luna to search for the Krodha Swinging Lizard in the Kerala Backwaters of India."

"The Cord Hah what?" asked Su and she made such a face that Hermione wondered what she was imagining.

"Krodha Swinging Lizard, it's a rare species of magical creature," said Hermione in her best informative teacher tones. "After we found the lizard, we had to leave the area rather quickly because of poachers lurking about. That's when Luna asked me to accompany her to Corfu and help with her project of writing a research book dedicated to the rare and newly discovered magical creatures she had found."

"Corfu? Hermione, do you mean to say that you spent most of your break in Greece with Luna?" asked Su a tad incredulously.

"A good deal of it, yes," admitted Hermione, a bit shy.

Studying Hermione for a long moment, Su formed a playful smile then drawled, "I think I finally understand. After all, Greece is a terribly romantic place. Much more so than our stuffy old University, I would suppose. I take it something happened there?"

"I kissed her," Hermione confessed. Watching Su's eyes become large, she blushed lightly and said, "I've shocked you, haven't I?"

"Just a little," said Su, giving a laugh. She paused then formed a small frown, a concerned look emerging on her features. "How did she react?"

"Things became rather strained briefly but more due to myself than Luna," murmured Hermione, turning to gaze out at the campus, wondering what the blonde was doing right now. She was in her Pediatrics Potions class and was no doubt enjoying herself, no matter what their assignment was. "Despite what anyone might think, she knows her mind quite well. I was by far the responsible party for any unpleasantness. My thoughts became less occupied by what I wanted, and how I felt for Luna, and more absorbed by my feelings of guilt."

Su formed a look of realization on her features and she said, "You haven't spoken to Ron."

"I've tried," said Hermione, almost frantic and immediately her friend could see how bothered she was by the fact that she hadn't spoken to him yet. "I promised Luna that I would tell him before we went any further but each time I start Ron does something that's so very sweet or he speaks about all of the time we have spent together and I find myself unable."

"I can see that," Su murmured slowly. She paused for a moment then said in very kind tones and seeming to choose her words carefully, "But how is Luna taking it? I can't imagine she's pleased you haven't spoken to him if you made her a promise."

"Luna," Hermione sighed, thinking of the blonde girl and the perpetually sad but understanding expression she wore on her face since they returned from Greece. "She's disappointed with me to say the least. I've yet to be scolded by her but I can tell she isn't happy and it bothers me terribly that I am the reason behind that. At the same time, I hate the idea of hurting Ron." Shaking her head and releasing a deep sigh, Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose as she recognized the start of a headache forming. "It's a horrid situation, Su. I feel as if I'm lying to Ron and I'm leading Luna on. I never thought I would be the type of person to be in a situation such as this."

"I'm not sure you can help Ron becoming hurt, not if you've chosen to be with Luna," murmured Su, she tilted her head to one side and studied Hermione for a moment. "That is what you decided, isn't it?" Blushing darkly, Hermione gave an assenting nod. "Then I think that perhaps it will cause greater pain in the long run if you postpone telling him. Also, there's the worry that the longer you take to tell him, the more you take the chance that Luna will lose faith in you and your decision to be with her. Certainly it doesn't inspire confidence."

"You're right," said Hermione quietly. "I know you're right. I need to tell him, soon as possible. I just wish it wasn't so difficult."

"What is right is often what is hardest," offered Su wisely and Hermione recognized the truth in her words. But it didn't make it any easier.

---

The time was just barely past ten o'clock when Professor Ipson received an owl from home, when he unrolled the parchment and a bemused smile formed on his features Luna and Hermione instantly knew that it was from his wife. In a strange way, Hermione almost felt envious of their relationship. They had been together for so long that they felt utterly and completely comfortable with one another. Although his wife did respect his career and the time he had to spend away from her and their family because of it she didn't allow him to overwork himself.

Whenever they found themselves working particularly late at night and they were nearing the point of exhaustion, his wife would faithfully owl, somehow knowing this, and gently ask the Professor if he would return home. Hermione found herself wishing that someday she would have a relationship like that with Luna. Of course, in order for that to happen she would have to break up with Ron first.

"I'm afraid I've been summoned home," said Professor Ipson wryly. "Shall we continue our work on Wednesday?"

"Sounds lovely," said Luna, her tones bright and happy, bouncing down to pick up her satchel, putting it over her shoulder. She turned and held out her hand to Hermione, silently asking the brunette to join her. Forming a smile, Hermione took Luna's hand and the two walked out of Professor Ipson's office, the sound of him disapparating meeting their ears. They were walking through the campus hand in hand when Luna turned to Hermione. "I'm not sleepy in the least but how is Hermione feeling?"

"I'm awake," said Hermione in droll tones, chuckling when Luna poked her in the side, a slight pout on her features.

"I was going to ask if you'd like to spend time with me at my cottage but now you've upset me," Luna declared, playfully exaggerating her annoyance. But before she could exaggerate further, Hermione was in front of her, reaching for both of the blonde's hands.

"You're having fun with me," said Hermione in teasing tones. "You know very well that I'll say yes. Have I ever said no when asked to spend time with you?"

"Not as of yet but you do realize there are first times for everything," Luna replied, pulling one of her hands free and sliding her index finger down Hermione's nose and tapping the tip of it lightly. "Hermione might eventually say no to me."

Releasing a humorous snort, Hermione drawled, "Not likely. You're practically impossible to refuse."

"Hermione does say the sweetest things," said Luna warmly, squeezing the brunette's hand before she gave a wave of her wand and they side along disapparated to her cottage in Ballyvaughan. She removed a small note tacked to her door by her father, remarking that he was telling her a family friend would be coming to town shortly and would she please join them for dinner. Hermione started to ask about this when Luna moved behind her, gently removing her cloak, her hands trailing down the brunette's sides and her touch gentle on her waist as she pulled her into a hug from behind. Her breath warm and sweet on Hermione's skin, she murmured, "I would much prefer to taste you."

"Luna," Hermione said her name breathlessly, a shiver running through her as she turned to face the other girl who flashed a brilliant smile while she reached up to cup the brunette's cheek.

"I'm allowed, aren't I?" questioned Luna with a hint of definite eagerness, her fingertips lightly caressing Hermione's skin.

Recalling her words to the younger girl from the day before, how she told Luna that she would try and speak with Ron in the morning, Hermione ducked her head and the moment she did, Luna's hand fell from her cheek and she heard the blonde make a quiet but obvious sound of disappointment. "I'm sorry," said Hermione brokenly. "I know I'm hurting the both of you by not saying anything and I never imagined I would be this type of person but all the same, I find myself in this situation."

Silence and then Luna said, "I never meant to force my feelings onto you but all the same, maybe I have, and this is the result."

"No!" cried out Hermione, sounding distraught, lifting her head and looking into Luna's eyes that were wide with surprise. Reaching out with trembling hands, she touched Luna's face softly, moving forward to rest her forehead against the blonde's. "I want to be with you, I do. I don't know why I can't simply tell Ron. No," Hermione shook her head, looking disgusted with herself. "I know why. I'm scared of being hated by him. He's been the closest person to me for so very long and I'm afraid once I end our romance he might never want to see me again, much less be friends. But the longer I take to tell him, the more chance I have that you will end up hating me as well."

Gathering Hermione up in her arms for a hug, Luna murmured, "I could never hate Hermione. But I do wish you would speak with him." Pulling away to look into Hermione's eyes which were slightly teary she formed a reassuring and faintly mischievous smile. "I'm looking ever so forward to kissing you again. I plan on doing a thorough job of it."

Releasing a short laugh, Hermione buried herself in Luna's embrace, tucking her face into the crook of the younger girl's neck. Her voice quiet and emotionally exhausted, she replied, "So do I."

---

The next morning, Hermione was half asleep, puttering about her flat and preparing Crookshanks breakfast as the large cat was hovering around her feet, rubbing his head against her legs in his usual overly affectionate sign of wanting to be fed. Opening his can of food, she reached for his food bowl, smiling gently as he bumped her hand with his head, and she paused in preparing his breakfast to give his head a nice pet and rub, chuckling as he purred loudly and curled further around her legs.

She had just put the food in the bowl and placed it on the floor where a very hungry Crookshanks got a hold of it, quickly gobbling it down, when the loud pop of someone apparating sounded and Ron suddenly appeared in front of her. He stood before her in seconds with a large bouquet of flowers in his hands and an apologetic, almost frantic, expression on his features.

"Ron?" asked Hermione, altogether surprised. "What's all this?"

"You've got to forgive me, Hermione," Ron said, his words coming fast, one stumbling after another as he moved closer and Hermione automatically took the flowers he was presenting to her. "I lost track of the time, I was working at the shop, and then Harry came for a visit, I had a bit of business I wanted to speak to him about, but I swear to you, I didn't mean to forget…" Ron trailed off and for the first time he seemed to really notice how perplexed Hermione appeared. "You haven't a clue what I'm talking about, do you?"

Staring blankly at him, Hermione replied, "Not in the slightest." On hearing this, Ron released the flowers into her grasp and wandered into the living room, seeming drained of all his energy as he dropped down to sit on the sofa. Hermione placed the flowers gently down on the kitchen table then followed after him, standing before him, looking extremely worried. "What is it?" she questioned softly.

"Yesterday was our anniversary," said Ron in wry tones, finding some sort of perverse humor in the fact that they both had forgotten it. "I woke up in a panic, positive you'd be furious at me because I'd forgotten and here I find you did the same."

"Ron," Hermione said this helplessly. He looked so utterly lost and it broke her heart but at the same time, this was the perfect opportunity to tell him what she had been needing to for weeks. Tell him that the reason she forgot was because she had been with Luna and that was where she wanted to be from now on. "I need to speak with you."

"It isn't good, is it?" murmured Ron, looking up at her with sad brown eyes. "Both of us forgetting." He rubbed his hands on his pants in a anxious gesture. "Hermione," he said her name in a quiet plea. "Please, don't be angry but don't you think things between us haven't been right for some time? Surely if they were then something like this wouldn't have happened."

"I think you're right," said Hermione in a bare whisper as she moved to sit next to him on the sofa.

"You know I've never been good with words, saying the proper things at the proper times, and I reckon I never will," Ron said, sounding bemused, looking very much like he was struggling with what he wanted to tell Hermione. Meeting her eyes, he looked at her a silent plea in his gaze as he said, "I love you, Hermione. I always will. You're the most important person to me but lately…"

"We've grown apart," Hermione offered gently and immediately she saw the understanding in his eyes, the sad but relieved realization that Hermione knew precisely what he was speaking about. "We love each other, certainly, but it feels as if we aren't in love anymore."

"It's like at Hogwarts, almost," said Ron a bit sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head and releasing a sigh. "Before I got to wanting to kiss you all of the time. Back when we were just friends and there was nothing else to it."

They were silent for a long while, absorbing the reality that they both were aware of the unspoken problem in their relationship that had been going on for countless months. Hermione was trying to work up her courage to explain how she felt for Luna when Ron looked to her with a small smile on his face that was sad and sweet all at the same time.

Tenderly pushing a lock of curly brown hair from her eyes, Ron murmured, "I don't understand it, not the littlest bit. You're still the prettiest witch in the world to me and everyone bloody well knows you're the smartest. I was positive that you were the girl I would marry because I couldn't imagine loving anymore more than I loved you." Pausing to give an embarrassed laugh, he moved his hand down, stretching his fingers out lightly to caress Hermione's cheek. "I even thought of the kids we would have together, imagined what they'd look like and how they'd act. First a girl and then a boy, I had their names picked out."

"What were they?" asked Hermione, her voice thick with emotion.

"Rose and Hugo," said Ron and his eyes fixed on his fingers curling around the brunette's hair. "Rose would have been as pretty as her mother and just as smart and Hugo… rather shy, also like his mother, but full of adventure."

"I like those names very much," Hermione confessed and she gave a half laugh and sob, suddenly overwhelmed with the need to embrace the man in front of her. She fell into his arms, crying in remorse for the future they could have had together that had been somehow lost but also feeling so very free because for the first time they were finally talking about it, about this problem of theirs.

Smiling sadly, Ron rubbed her back in comforting circles as he said quietly, "I think maybe we wanted to feel how we once did and it's been the wanting that's kept us together and not the actual feelings. Don't you think that it isn't right for us to carry on this way?"

"Ron," Hermione whispered his name, releasing a shuddering sigh, the last of her tears leaving her as she moved out of his embrace to look him in the eyes. "I've something I need to tell you. It's something I've been needing to tell you for the past few weeks, longer than that even." The redhead looked deeply concerned and suddenly needing him to not seem quite so worried, Hermione released an anxious laugh, waving her hands at him as she continued, "Please don't look that way. I'm not sure I can tell you if you wear that face, I'll simply feel too guilty and then we'll find ourselves right back where we began. Well, not entirely the same but perhaps close to it."

"Hermione," Ron said her name with a good deal of surprise, "I've never seen you this nervous before." He took one of her waving hands in his own and squeezed it softly, wearing a reassuring expression on his features. "It's all right," he soothed. "Surely you know after all we've said you can tell me anything. No matter what might happen between us I always wanted us to be friends because that's where we started and it does sound grim but I'd like for it to be where things end."

"It's not grim at all," said Hermione, giving a soft sob, shaking her head. "I agree completely. That's why I've been so scared to speak to you, I was afraid once I did that you wouldn't want that any longer. That you would hate me and we couldn't be friends any longer."

"Tell me," said Ron in a gentle command, holding her chin in his hand and meeting their eyes. "I promise not to get mad and even if I do, you know me," he raised an eyebrow and gave a self deprecating chuckle. "I'll get over it once I have a nice pout."

"You do enjoy to pout, don't you?" remarked Hermione with a laugh that caused Ron to scowl just slightly. Moving to her hand to tug his down and away from her face, she lightly traced her fingertips on his palm and murmured, "The reason that I realized things between us weren't truly right was that I found myself caring for another person much in the same way I cared for you."

"Who?" asked Ron, his eyes going wide and his mind racing a mile a minute. He supposed that they really had returned to being just friends because while he felt jealous it was only a twinge and he was more occupied by sheer enormous curiosity. A tiny indiscernible frown formed on his face as he thought about one possible candidate. "Not Krum?"

"No, it isn't Viktor," said Hermione, rolling her eyes a bit, almost amused at the animosity that Ron still felt towards the Quidditch player for being the one to take her to the Yule Ball. She felt her heart begin to race as she looked into his earnest features and suddenly she felt seized by the sudden need to make sure he knew that she never betrayed him, not truly, when they were together. "We kissed once but I swore it wouldn't happen again, not until I spoke to you, and we…" Hermione trailed off, unable to say the words.

"Ended things," supplied Ron solemnly. They were quiet for a long moment, a feeling of depression falling over them until he returned his attention to her and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, smiling gently as he did so. "Well?" he questioned. "Who is it?"

Avoiding his eyes, Hermione opened her mouth but nothing came out, swallowing hard, she finally managed to say Luna's name in the barest of whispers, seeming more like it was pulled out of her than truly said. Ron blinked for a moment then said in disbelief, "Luna?"

Hermione watched him, feeling enormously worried and incredibly nervous, so much so that she practically felt as if she was going to crawl out of her own skin. He mouthed Luna's name again, looking as if he was processing the fact that Hermione cared for Luna Lovegood with a great deal of difficulty when he suddenly turned his attention to her. Staring at her with a serious gaze that was piercing and Hermione almost felt as if Ron was trying to read her mind when he stated, "You care for her." The brunette hesitated, unsure of how to reply and not upset him and seeing this, he continued, his voice insistent but understanding, "I need to know the truth, Hermione."

"It's like how it was in the beginning with us," Hermione murmured, looking down at his hand that she held in her own, holding it tighter because she was sure any moment he would become angry with her and yank it away and despite what he said earlier she would lose him completely. "I didn't mean for it to happen but it did and before I knew it, I was falling in love with her, just the same as I did with you."

"How does Luna feel?" asked Ron, his tones impassive, enough that Hermione didn't have the courage to look up at him.

"She isn't the easiest person to understand," said Hermione wryly, thinking of the blonde who continued to confound her in the most irritating but delightful of ways. "But I do know she cares for me very much."

"I'm glad," Ron said softly and when he did Hermione couldn't help looking at him, the surprise she felt was so great. Seeing this on her features, he formed a crooked smile and squeezed her hand gently in reassurance. "You deserve to have someone who cares for you, Hermione. Even if we're not together, I want you to be happy and I hope you'd want the same for me."

"Have you met someone?" asked Hermione, her eyes going wide.

"No," said Ron with a laugh, shaking his head. "I've just been talking to Harry… well, actually, Kingsley Shacklebolt. You know how they've had a good deal of openings at the Ministry because of the battle with You-Know-Who?" When Hermione nodded and looked at him with intense curiosity, he rubbed the back of his head, and looked rather shy as he continued, "Seems that Kingsley's needing some people to take the place of the Aurors he's appointed to various positions in the Ministry and he's asked if I'd consider training up to be one of them. If I got through the training it there's a good chance I'd be working with Harry. It would be like old times in a way."

"Ron!" Hermione said his name with great excitement, releasing something of a happy squeal and wrapping him up in a hug which he instinctively returned as he gave a deep laugh. They rocked to and fro then Hermione pulled back and she grinned widely. "I’m so proud of you. The Minister of Magic himself asked if you would join their training, that's an enormous honor."

"I didn't think of it that way," said Ron rather sheepishly, the tips of his ears turning red in an embarrassed blush. "He's been Kingsley for so long that sometimes I find myself forgetting what an important man he is. I really want to do this, Hermione," he said this soft and serious as he looked into her eyes. "It's been a lark, helping George with the shop, but I've always wanted to do something important with my life and I don't reckon that will happen working at Weasley's Wheezes." He formed a bemused expression and said, "Mum will slaughter me when she finds out. It's bad enough we've split but me going into Auror training? She'll surely lose it."

"Perhaps you can put off telling her?" suggested Hermione, only saying this because she knew Ron wasn't exaggerating in the least when it came to Molly's reaction. If anything, it was probably a little bit of an understatement.

"Are you volunteering to accompany me to the next few family functions?" asked Ron, a teasing smile tugging at his lips.

"Hardly," scoffed Hermione, giving Ron's stomach a light whap. "I doubt very much Luna would be pleased with that situation."

"Luna's a nice girl, she could have sympathy on me," Ron said, forming a playfully wounded expression. His eyes drifted to the clock on the wall and murmured, "I should go, George's wanting me to open the shop today."

He slowly rose to his feet and Hermione followed suit and as they looked at one another there was a moment of hesitation before moving in for a hug. As she felt Ron's arms go around her, Hermione was overwhelmed by a great wave of affection for him as she considered this was probably going to be the last time he held her this way. She didn't regret their time together and in the same measure she didn't regret forming these new feelings for Luna but she regretted very much how painful it was to lose something she had for so long. Even if what they had was nowhere as real and true as it was when they had first fallen in love with each other. They were still friends, yes, and that was what Hermione wanted all along, to keep Ron in her life however she could have him, but somehow it still hurt so badly.

Feeling Hermione shake in his arms, crying quietly, Ron murmured in her ear, his voice thick with affection and reassurance, "I love you. That isn't going to change. I don't think it ever could so please don't cry, things between us are different now but that'll always stay the same."

They parted with matching bittersweet smiles, Ron reaching out run his fingertips in a bare path across Hermione's cheek, brushing a stray lock of hair away before he disapparated with a quiet pop, leaving Hermione alone and feeling drained but strangely free at the same time.

---

She spent most of the day attempting to find Luna only to have little success and Hermione finally gave up on her search by the end of the day when she hadn't seen the blonde anywhere on campus. This left Hermione feeling altogether nervous and a tad worried about not seeing the younger girl who had a very pleasant habit of appearing around the brunette no matter where she went at the University.

When she was finished with her last lecture of the day Hermione immediately disapparated to Luna's cottage in Ballyvaughan, eager to tell the blonde that she had finally ended her relationship with Ron. But when she knocked on the door it wasn't Luna who answered. Instead it was Ophelia who wore a definite frown on her features upon seeing Hermione.

"Ophelia," said Hermione with some surprise. "Where is Luna?" Her mind immediately went to what Luna cared for the most in the world, magical creatures, and the fact she often placed herself in dangerous situations in order to help them. Which is why she found herself moving towards the Greek woman in a rush and saying in a slight panic, "Has she hurt herself?"

Closing the front door behind her, Ophelia said rather stiffly, "Luna hasn't been injured physically."

"What does that mean?" asked Hermione, blinking and looking baffled. Her attention kept drifting to the door that Ophelia was standing in front of and it was only the reassurance that Luna wasn't hurt and her ingrained sense of politeness that kept her from apparating inside of the cottage to see the blonde. "What are you talking about?"

"When I saw you last I told you how she hides her heart away to keep it from being hurt by those she cares for most," Ophelia said this in tones that were faintly accusing. "I trusted when I told you that it would keep you from following in the mistakes of others."

"And you think I have?" questioned Hermione defensively, her stance adjusting instantly to match her attitude.

"I think that Luna has been hurt by your inability to keep your promises," said Ophelia, meeting Hermione's gaze steadily and refusing to back down. "You say that you want to be with her but your actions tell the opposite story."

"Not that it is any of your business," Hermione bristled. "But the reason I want to speak to Luna so very badly is to tell her that I ended my relationship with Ron last night." Uncaring about Ophelia's reaction to hearing this news and feeling thoroughly impatient to see the blonde, Hermione moved past the Greek woman and opened the front door to Luna's cottage. "And I told him how I feel for Luna."

Finding herself suddenly alone in the beautiful scenery of Ballyvaughan, Ophelia gazed at the now closed door, an unreadable look on her features as she disapparated back to her villa in Corfu.

Inside the cottage, Hermione removed her cloak and was immediately greeted by the friendly cooing of Bishamon who flew from his perch to settle himself comfortably on her forearm. Smiling at the wood pigeon, Hermione stroked his back gently and was rewarded with more of his affectionate cooing before he flew back to settle on his handsome brass perch. She moved through the living room, following the smell of delicious tea brewing, thinking that Luna must be in the kitchen preparing it. Quickly arriving at the doorway to the kitchen, Hermione found herself frozen in place, stilled by the sight of the blonde who was humming a nameless song to herself and doing a funny little dance that consisted of spinning in circles as she moved about the kitchen in her preparations for what looked like a light dinner. The younger girl must have sensed someone watching her because without turning to face Hermione, she declared in a playful warning, "Nothing is properly cooked. You can't eat unless you want a tummy ache."

"We I wouldn't want that," Hermione responded with a chuckle and before she realized it she was moving forward until she was standing behind Luna and wrapping her up in a hug from behind. "Tummy aches aren't enjoyable in the least."

"Hermione?" Luna said her name in surprise, her eyes going wide. "But where is Ophelia?"

An almost dark look passing over her features when she thought of her encounter with the Greek woman, Hermione replied, "I believe she left. Luna," the brunette released the younger girl, moving so they were face to face, "I looked for you all day on campus. Where were you?" Silence as Luna looked off to one side, seeming unable to face Hermione anymore. There was a emotionless aspect to her expression that almost frightened Hermione. "You were avoiding me," she said this more as a statement than a question as she already knew the answer.

"Hope is a wonderful thing until one becomes exhausted as reality causes it to fade," Luna said this distantly, focusing on some far off place that Hermione couldn't ever imagine on her own. "I suppose that today I was feeling much the same."

"Luna," Hermione said her name urgently and it was only then that the blonde returned her attention to older girl. With trembling hands she reached out to the blonde, one hand going down to her waist, pulling Luna gently forward until their bodies lightly touched while the other traced a bare path up her neck and to her cheek, where she rubbed the delicate skin softly, smiling at the quiet and involuntary sigh that Luna released at her touch. "I ended things with Ron. I told him how I felt for you. He knows, Luna," Hermione more breathed this than said it, a small smile tugging at her lips. "He knows everything." Hearing this, Luna's blue eyes became wide, far wider than Hermione had ever seen them but there was also a clear look of disbelief, a sort of fearful skepticism, as if she was unable to truly believe this had happened after so many days and nights of asking and always receiving a negative reply. "I know what this must have seemed like," she said this in low tones, her voice shaky, and thick with emotion. Her hand moved upwards to push a lock of hair from Luna's eyes, falling downward to rub tenderly at the blonde's neck, her fingers curling into her hair in a gentle caress. "How I delayed telling him for so very long, it appeared as if I no longer wanted to be with you, that I was regretting my decision but that wasn't the truth. It never was. I was simply a coward, I was so incredibly scared of losing the person I'd been closest to since I was a child. Afraid I would hurt him enough to hate me."

"Did you?" Luna asked this with a strangely soft and caring curiosity.

"No," said Hermione, shaking her head and releasing a strangled laugh, tears forming in her eyes. "He understood… he understood it all because he had been feeling the same way." Looking up at Luna through her blurry vision, the blonde still looking so very beautiful to her, she formed a shaky smile. "Do you know that Monday was our anniversary? We both forgot. Pathetic, isn't it?"

"It's sad," murmured Luna in gentle disagreement, her fingers tracing a bare path on Hermione's skin, wiping the tears away. "And not pathetic in the least. Caring for another person should never be called that, no matter what the circumstances."

"I think I've been sad for so long," confessed Hermione, looking at Luna with eyes that begged for understanding. "Until I met you. The more time we began to spend together the happier I became until one day I suddenly couldn't think of my life without you and all I wanted was to be with you." Hermione paused and her gaze moved away, staring at the boiling tea kettle, wondering vaguely if Luna had a cast a spell to keep it from going over. "Though I would understand if you no longer wanted me."

Tilting her head to one side and studying Hermione much like one would study a great work of art or a fascinating spell experiment, a slight smile pulled at her lips as Luna murmured, "Let me see."

Before Hermione could form a proper response, Luna's lips were on her own and she was keening low and sweet as the younger girl kissed her long, hard, and deep. Mouths soft and warm and open, one kiss leading to another and another, each kiss hungrier and fiercer than the last, as if they were making up for all of the time they had lost. Luna's hands were hot on her hips, pulling Hermione closer until there wasn't any space between them, and she moaned into the blonde's mouth as her tongue slipped in for a taste, her kisses becoming more lush and extravagant, licking and tugging and sucking hard then tender then hard again. Pale hands slipped under the material of Hermione's shirt, Luna's palm flat on her stomach, moving upwards in a firm but knowing caress to cup Hermione's breast, her thumb stroking the outside of the brunette's bra, a smile forming as her nipple hardened. Hermione had thought that despite everything her relationship with Ron sexually had been rather good, better than that in fact, she thought it fantastic, superb at times, but it was nothing compared to this. She didn't want to discount what she felt for the redhead but it had never been like this with him. The intense hunger, how she felt herself become wet almost the instant that Luna's lips met hers, how each touch of the blonde's hands, each stroke of her tongue, each low moan into her mouth, made her want Luna more and more and the wanting was all she was aware of in these moments. Her mind wouldn't allow for anything else, and for the first time in her life, Hermione found herself truly consumed by desire.

The need for air finally forced them to part and when they did, Hermione's breathing was heavy and her cheeks were flushed. Luna, however, looked entirely composed and quite pleased with herself. Her hand remaining firmly in place, cupping Hermione's breast as a smile formed on her features. "What does Hermione think?" Luna murmured, a playful lilt in her voice.

"I think you had better want me after kissing me way," said Hermione roughly, her throat dry and her heart hammering in her chest, biting back a moan as Luna's thumb moved across her breast in a tantalizing touch.

"Hermione is ever so clever," Luna said this in something of a purr, moving in for another kiss, this one soft and teasing. When they parted Luna moved forward, her hand falling from Hermione's breast to wrap around her waist, pulling their bodies even closer together. Her face hidden in the crook of Hermione's neck, her breath was warm and sweet on the brunette's skin, her voice the happiest and most content that the older girl could ever remember hearing as she murmured, "I knew we would smell right together."

Her mind a jumble of thoughts, many of which were absorbed by how incredibly wonderful it felt to finally be holding, kissing, Luna again, Hermione couldn't help but fixate on these words, sure that she had heard them before. She began to think back on it, trying to recall when she heard the blonde say them but her mind suddenly went blank as she felt the gloriously wet and rough sensation of Luna's tongue on her neck and then she was throwing her head back, giving Luna free reign as she tangled her fingers in white blonde hair.

After that, Hermione didn't do much thinking at all.

Chapter Text

 

Luna's couch wasn't terribly attractive. In fact, it rather reminded Hermione of a large dead animal due to its shape and size. Despite its lumpy and less than beautiful appearance it was infinitely comfortable, enough that they found themselves settled on it this late Sunday morning. They were taking a rest after finishing the large breakfast that Luna had prepared.

The blonde had her head resting on Hermione's lap, arms extended, concentrating on the upside down copy of The Quibbler that she held aloft. Every few minutes she would remove the quill she kept under her nose, causing it to look something like a funny feathery mustache, and fill in a newly discovered word in the Sunday crossword puzzle. A puzzle she declared to be the most difficult because the puzzles that were published on the other days of the week didn't occur at a time people were at their naturally laziest in both body and mind. While Hermione herself considered the puzzle to be a challenge simply because she couldn't understand any of the word hints unless Luna explained them to her in often fairly complex and migraine inducing detail.

Threading her fingers though Luna's hair, Hermione gently scratched the younger girl's scalp in an absent gesture of affection as she read the Sunday edition of the Daily Prophet. "The Ministry is considering lifting the ban on the import of flying carpets," Hermione remarked with great interest. Her loathing of flying on brooms was known by even casual acquaintances and she often wished she had the legal access to purchase a flying carpet which seemed a far safer and more stable mode of transportation.

"Persian carpets are the most reliable, particularly those woven on vertical looms," said Luna, peering up at Hermione. "They do become ever so dusty after a long flight though. I always thought it cruel," she murmured, a look of genuine concern on her features as she met the older girl's gaze. "How often they are beaten just to be kept clean."

"Then I'll simply cast a cleaning spell," replied Hermione, thoroughly charmed by Luna's revelation. She tenderly pushed a lock of hair out of Luna's eyes before settling her hand once again in the blonde's hair, softly caressing her scalp. "That would be considerably kinder, wouldn't you agree?"

"I'm sure the rug would appreciate it," said Luna solemnly, causing Hermione to chuckle. The blonde returned her attention to the most difficult of crossword puzzles then said, "What is a nine letter word ending with a d that relates to adventuresome bells in New Guinea?" Hermione's face contracted in an adorable look of concentration as she wracked her brain for the answer. Luna in the meantime lightly stroked her forehead with the feather of her quill, as if to tickle her brain into submission. After a few moments, her face lit up in a wide smile and she cried out, "Of course! Lethifold!"

Searching her memories of the creature and frowning at the obscure nature of the hint and its strange phrasing, Hermione questioned, "You're positive that clue refers to the creature that Flavius Belby discovered in Papua New Guinea in 1782?"

"Oh yes," Luna nodded emphatically, beaming happily. "Erwin likes to write little riddles, he finds it entertaining."

Releasing a thoughtful but somewhat skeptical murmur at this, Hermione commented, "Hagrid spoke of Lethifolds once. He was friends with one of their keepers at the Center for Magizoology in London and was considering taking our class on a trip to see them. This was before that awful business with Buckbeak. Afterwards we were rather stuck on Flobberworms for the rest of the term."

"I know, I read your report," said Luna teasingly, causing Hermione to scowl in false irritation. An expression that instantly disappeared when Luna gently tugged her down for a kiss. When they parted she wore a longing expression as she cupped the brunette's cheek, her thumb moving in small caressing circles. "Even then you were so serious. I found it immensely charming though I wonder if you ever realized."

Her cheeks hot, Hermione lowered her eyes, avoiding Luna's gaze as she murmured with a hint of embarrassment, "I hadn't the slightest idea." Drawing her gaze back to Luna, struck with the need to look the younger girl in the eyes as she said this, Hermione continued, "I wish I had been closer to you then. I wasn't terribly patient in those days. Not with you, not with anything, in fact."

"Ginny was very patient with me," said Luna wistfully, a fond expression forming on her features as she thought of her friend. "Even when she was distressed over Harry in those dark times during the war she was patient."

Studying the look of pure affection Luna wore as she thought of the youngest Weasley and possessed more by curiosity than a sense of jealousy, Hermione said, "Did you and Ginny ever…" She trailed off, a deep blush covering her cheeks when Luna looked at her expectantly. Swallowing hard, Hermione nervously met Luna's eyes but averted them as she said, "Never mind. You needn't answer."

"Ginny is dear to me, she was my first real friend at Hogwarts," said Luna softly, her hand lifting slowly to entwine her fingers in Hermione's curly hair, pulling the brunette down for a kiss. It was sweet and light and loving, Luna's lips were soft as pillows as they touched Hermione's but they moved with a firm knowing, taking what they wanted and giving exactly Hermione what she needed. "But Hermione has my heart." A mischievous looks emerged in blue eyes as she added, "And perhaps a bit of my brains as well. Which is why you should help me finish this puzzle. It's your responsibility."

"Obligated am I?" asked Hermione with dry humor, lifting an eyebrow. Luna gave a small and playful nod and Hermione feigned annoyance, rolling her eyes and heaving a sigh as she said, "I suppose I'll have to help. What impossible hint do you have for me?"

"Five letter word for a big biting bug brings boo hoo blues begins with a b," said Luna with a good deal of consternation. She nibbled on her quill and looked at Hermione with wide hopeful eyes, obviously wanting the older girl to supply her with the answer.

"You must be having fun with me," insisted Hermione, leaning down to peer at the upside down Quibbler so she could read the hint for herself. She sighed heavily when she saw the exact same words that Luna had just spoken. Arching an eyebrow, she said sardonically, "I'm starting to think that Erwin finds creating migraines entertaining, Luna. His puzzle hints surely accomplish that."

"Brula!" exclaimed Luna suddenly, scribbling the word down while Hermione blinked. Looking up at her perplexed companion after she finished filling in the latest piece of the puzzle, she said, "It's a fantastically rare disease only found in Hungary. Rather like Scrofungulus except it tends to turn those who contract it a most brilliant shade of blue."

"My half of your brain doesn't seem to be working properly," Hermione complained, becoming irritated with her inability to solve any of the clues that Luna presented. "Or perhaps this puzzle is simply impossible because it contains information not yet available in textbooks." She noticed blue eyes studying her with a careful gaze and she raised an eyebrow in speculation. "What is it?"

"Hermione dislikes not having the correct responses," murmured Luna in a calm observation.

Blinking at this, Hermione wasn't sure if this was meant to be something negative and she said, "I suppose that's true." Unable to help herself, she bristled slightly and continued, "I think it's perfectly reasonable for me to feel that way."

"No one can have all the answers," said Luna quietly, her tones wise as she wrapped a lock of Hermione's hair around her finger.

"That doesn't mean I shouldn't try to learn as much as I can," Hermione replied stubbornly, her jaw setting at a determined angle.

"Of course," Luna agreed as she sat up, gently taking hold of the Daily Prophet in Hermione's hands and setting it on the coffee table along with her copy of The Quibbler and her quill. "To do otherwise wouldn't be like Hermione in the least." She turned back to Hermione, a warm smile on her features. "It is just one reason why I care for Hermione so very much."

"Oh?" said Hermione, whatever anger or irritation she felt left her immediately. A smile quirked on her lips and her eyes sparkled with amusement. She reached for Luna and in an easy movement she pulled the blonde onto her lap. Luna laughed in pleasure, enjoying her new perch stupendously as she returned Hermione's smile, resting her forehead against the brunette's. "What are the other reasons?"

"Showing is preferable to telling," Luna whispered before she lowered her head to meet their lips in a kiss.

Kissing could become quite addictive, Hermione knew that well from her youthful days with Ron but she didn't know it could come in so many forms. Ron's kisses were much like the redhead himself, passionate and eager, sweeping Hermione up in his desire and carrying her along. Luna's kisses could be just as passionate but they were also sweet and tender, opening her up in a gentle exploration. They were also playful and light, a teasing reveal of emotion, pulling Hermione out of any serious mood and causing a smile to form on her lips. Then there were the lazy kisses, coming slow like honey, Luna drinking from her like she was a fine wine to be appreciated. Kisses like the one she was currently receiving, lush and loving, an unfettered expression on Luna's part, telling Hermione with every nibble, suck, and tug how much the blonde cared for her. Those kisses always served to overwhelm Hermione, leaving her dazed and breathing heavy but feeling incredibly loved.

This was no different and when they parted, Hermione was flushed, her breath coming slow and deep, her hands shaky as they went around Luna to pull the blonde into a close embrace. She shuddered on feeling the soft press of Luna's lips on the top of her head. They soon moved lower, kissing her cheek tenderly then Luna whispered in her ear, "That was another reason."

In the back of her mind Hermione realized Luna hadn't really answered her question but she found it didn't bother her terribly. At least not as much as the question she was soon voicing in nothing more than a whisper as she hid her face in the curve of Luna's neck. Breathing in the scent of raspberries and chocolate the blonde carried with her, Hermione murmured, "When did you know?" When gentle blue eyes moved their attention to her, she added in something of a mumble, "How you felt for me, that is."

A whisper soft touch graced Hermione's chin lifting it until Hermione met Luna's gaze. "The library," she replied, a dreamy look on her features, looking very much like she was lost in the memory of that time. A moment passed and Luna focused her attention back on Hermione, her fingertips soft and cool on Hermione's skin as she lightly traced her fingers down the brunette's cheek. As if she meant to memorize the contours of the older girl's face with her touch. "That was when I knew our smells were right." A combined look of confusion and intrigue crossed Hermione's features. She started to question Luna on this statement when the younger girl smiled sweetly and asked, "And Hermione, when did she realize?"

"In Corfu," said Hermione, a wisp of a smile forming as she recalled their time on the island. "After we kissed."

"I quite fancy the idea of being involved in a life altering kiss," Luna remarked with a playful smile as she curled a lock of Hermione's hair around her index finger. She chuckled at the slight scowl Hermione wore and she leaned down to nuzzle their noses together. "Hermione is simply adorable when she pouts."

"I'm not pouting," Hermione insisted, her scowl deepening. "In fact, I would say I am quite justified in my--"

Before the brunette could continue, Luna moved forward swiftly capturing Hermione's lips in a kiss. Moaning low and sweet as Luna's tongue slipped into her mouth, tasting deep, sucking on her tongue luxuriously. They continued kissing as Hermione slid her hands beneath Luna's worn blue t-shirt that sported the logo of a dragon sanctuary for Swedish Short-Snouts located in Harjedalen, Sweden. The younger girl's skin was blissfully cool and smooth to her touch. Hermione thought the sensation of touching it to be entirely similar to the feel of expensive silk. Except Luna wasn't cloth on display at a sewing shop, she was a person. Real, live, and breathing, no, gasping as Hermione's hands moved upwards, past her flat stomach to cup her breasts.

Things were progressing too quick, the logical part of Hermione knew that. It had only been two days since she broke up with Ron but it seemed much longer. The distance between them, the change from lovers to friends had been occurring for so long it felt like their romance ended years ago. Not that this explained the sudden and almost frightening rush of emotions Hermione experienced towards Luna. In a way it felt like her adolescence again. When everything happened in such a confusing rush, far too fast for her to properly process or understand. Although she had to wonder if she really wanted to place her usual staid methodology to her feelings for Luna. Right now they were a wonderful mystery, much like the blonde herself, bringing a much needed joy and effervescence to her life. Understanding them seemed like a betrayal, ruining the first real unexplained magic Hermione had experienced since she was a small child.

Despite all these worries, Hermione's touch was firm but gentle. Her hands knowing what her body wanted and her heart desired even if her mind did not. Luna surged into her embrace, pulling away from Hermione's kiss with a gasp, straddling the brunette's lap rather than sitting on it. The younger girl tangled her left hand in Hermione's hair while her right traveled downwards, beneath the waistband of her pants, slipping under her panties as her fingers teased the sensitive skin, tracing a delicate pattern, their movements coy, as if to give Hermione the tiniest taste of what was to come, causing her to shiver as a shot of pure desire went through her.

"I want to feel you," Luna said, her light and dreamy voice suddenly gaining a dangerously sensual focus. Hermione wondered desperately how Luna could sound so very calm in a moment like this. Before she could give an undoubtedly strangled response, Luna buried her face in the crook of Hermione's neck, nuzzling her skin in a gesture of affection. "But what does Hermione want?"

Hermione knew what she wanted but whether or not it was what she ought to do she hadn't determined. She was still trying to work this out in her mind all while doing her level best to control her breathing as Luna's right hand remained firmly in place, lightly caressing her, causing a painful throb to emerge in her groin. That was when a loud hoot sounded and their attention turned to the figure of a large Great Horned Owl flying through the open windows of the cottage. It was a warm day and Luna left them open so Bishamon could take a trip if he felt the need. Something the Japanese Wood Pigeon had neglected to do all day and now appeared to regret as he observed the much larger bird that had invaded his territory.

The owl settled itself on the couch, perching next to Hermione and offering its right leg to Luna who, in turn, reluctantly removed her right hand from where it had been comfortably nestled beneath the brunette's panties. Luna carefully untied the piece of parchment that was tied to the owl's leg. "Thank you, Ms. Owl," she said politely, meeting the owl's eyes, smiling when it fluffed up in appreciation.

"Wigburg is her name," Hermione corrected in a bare whisper. When Luna turned to her with a look of confusion she offered a weak smile. "It's Harry's owl. Ginny got her as a present for him last Christmas."

"Is that so?" asked Luna, keeping her attention on the owl and carefully stroking her forehead. "Ginny has wonderful taste then. She's very handsome." Wigburg, as if sensing this complement, rubbed her head into Luna's touch in a friendly gesture before flying away. Luna turned her attention to the piece of parchment that made Hermione so nervous. She unrolled it, glancing over the words before she lifted her gaze to meet the brunette's anxious expression. "It's from Ginny. Shall I read it to you?"

"Yes," said Hermione, her voice thick with worry.

Setting the parchment down on her lap, Luna looked concerned as she held Hermione's face in her hands. Her fingers moved in a feathery caress, trying to soothe her as she said gently, "Please don't be anxious. Ginny is our friend, not something we should be afraid of. Nothing at all like the Snarling Snarvle. They have terrible tempers and consider wizard eyeballs to be a most scrumptious delicacy."

"What if she's angry?" asked Hermione. She had seen Ginny angry only twice in her life but they were not experiences she wished to have again. Though Ginny was normally a carefree spirit she seemed to have inherited her mother's unique and frightening wrath.

"Everyone becomes angry, it's whether or not they choose to remain that way which matters," Luna replied. When Hermione looked at her doubtfully but with a glimmer of hope all the same, she continued, "I don't believe Ginny is someone who would spend her time focused on such things. Not when she could be playing with Harry or Quidditch."

Blushing despite herself, Hermione nodded and her head fell forward to rest against Luna's collarbone. Breathing in the younger girl's scent and feeling herself beginning to calm, she said, "Read it."

Luna and Hermione,

You've been in hiding bloody well long enough. Meet me for lunch at Beelzebub's Bistro at noon tomorrow, we have some things to talk about. Don't be late and don't make excuses that you simply cannot make it. I do know magic and happen to live with a most accomplished Auror, I think that gives me something of an advantage in getting people in the places I want them to be.

Ginny

They sat in silence for a moment as a dumbfounded Hermione tried to interpret the letter's tone. It sounded like the same Ginny she had always known, sardonic but playful and funny at the same time. Maybe Luna was right and this wasn't something to worry over. She turned to Luna to voice this opinion when she found herself caught by caring blue eyes, warm and shining with affection.

"Do you see?" said Luna in fond tones as she pushed a lock of hair from Hermione's eyes. "There's no need to worry." A twinkle emerged in her eyes as she added rather mischievously, "I promise to protect you from Ginny, even she brings a Beater's bat with her."

A droll look on her features, Hermione tried to contain her amusement on hearing this but simply couldn't. It came bubbling out in the form of a chuckle as she moved upwards to kiss the blonde tenderly as she murmured, "My hero."

---

Hermione had faced the Dark Lord himself, though with Harry and Ron at her side, and yet she had never felt more anxious then she did right this instant, waiting for Ginny's arrival with Luna at Beelzebub's Bistro. She bounced her legs for the 1,293rd consecutive time when Luna gently pressed her hands down on them, effectively stilling the movement. When Hermione turned to the blonde, her eyes wide, nervousness reflected in them as well as a bit of confusion as she hadn't even noticed her own leg bouncing.

"You needn't worry," Luna soothed, her voice light and lyrical. "It's only Ginny and I did promise to protect you." Giving a weak smile as she recalled the younger girl's words, the anxiety didn't lessen one bit for Hermione. Seeing this, Luna sighed softly, lifting her right hand up to slide behind Hermione's neck, her fingertips playing on the brunette's skin before tangling in curly hair. Luna's left hand remained firmly in place on Hermione's thigh as she leaned forward, her lips a breath way from Hermione's as she murmured, a teasing lilt in her tones, "Perhaps I should help Hermione relax?"

Gazing into Luna's eyes that twinkled playfully but held an unmistakable shine of desire, Hermione suddenly found herself without the ability to speak. This wasn't a problem that Ginny was experiencing as she chose right that moment to make her appearance at the booth they sat in.

"You're revoltingly cute, the both of you," Ginny remarked, announcing her presence with these words and the loud sigh of relief she released as she settled herself across from the couple in their booth. "Now I know why George was always badgering Harry and I."

"Ginny," Hermione said her name nervously, with something of a squeak. She tried, with little success, to subtly remove Luna's hand from her hair. Eventually she resigned herself to shooting the blonde a look of irritation which caused Luna give in, dropping her hand down to hold Hermione's. "I didn't see you arrive."

"I wager you were too preoccupied with Luna to notice," said Ginny drolly. Before Hermione could reply, she raised her arm, waving her hand about as she called out to a passing waiter who froze in excited recognition when he saw her. "Bring us a pitcher of Merlin's Best, would you?" When he quickly scurried off Ginny wore a look of great satisfaction then turned her attention back to her companions. "I'm not supposed to drink," she confessed, leaning across the table slightly. "Coach has become something strict after Mildred was caught on a bender by the Daily Prophet after she failed to catch the snitch three matches in a row. Harry's mad about Coach's training methods, he says my playing has improved under him, which of course it has, but that means he's stuck in Coach's pocket and I can't have the smallest sip of beer at home. It's been rather miserable." Ginny suddenly formed a look of slight panic and asked them, her words entirely rushed, "You won't tell him I've had a drink, will you?"

"Of course not," Luna assured serenely while Hermione blinked, looking rather dumbfounded by the redhead. "Ginny," the younger girl continued, saying her name gently to draw the other girl's attention away from the bar and their beer and back onto them. "I believe Hermione might have a question for you."

Shooting Luna a look of gratitude, Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat and said, "You aren't angry?"

"Angry?" repeated Ginny, a small frown forming on her brow. "About what?"

"About Luna and I having a romantic relationship, my breaking up with Ron, about the situation as a whole," Hermione rambled on nervously.

Staring at Hermione for a long moment, Ginny began to reply but was distracted by their pitcher of beer arriving and the waiter asking for her autograph as well as her predictions on the Harpies chances for the rest of the season. When he had left and she had taken a long and pleasurable drink of her beer, Ginny looked at Hermione steadily and said, "It isn't my place to get angry. If anyone has that right it's Ron and yes, he was depressed for a bit, as anyone would be, but he wasn't angry, not in the least. If he isn't angry then I don't think I should be. Not that I really would be angry if he was but I'd go along out of family loyalty or some such nonsense, it's an illogical trait we Weasley's have inherited I'm afraid, being angry for the sake of our relatives."

"I think it's lovely," said Luna warmly.

"Why thank you, Luna," Ginny chuckled, taking another sip of her beer. She set it down with an audible clunk, waking Hermione from the daze she found herself in after hearing the Quidditch player's words. "Honestly, Hermione," Ginny said, her voice laced with humor. "What must I say to convince you I'm not angry? I suppose I should admit to be being altogether baffled when Ron told me of you two, that's why I asked you to come out of hiding, I wanted to see it for myself. Seeing is believing and all that. I did mean what I said, you're revoltingly cute together. Unexpected, but revoltingly cute."

"Thank you," said Hermione faintly, the dazed feeling staying with her.

"I ought to warn you though," said Ginny, a touch of worry and a tad of wry humor in her voice. "Watch out for Mum. She had you pegged for the perfect daughter-in-law and now you've gone and shattered all her carefully placed plans. I was hoping she'd force her old wedding dress onto you but I reckon I'm the one getting stuck these days. We haven't even set a date yet and she's already pestering me about grandchildren." A peevish expression on her face, Ginny finished off her beer before lifting the pitcher and pouring herself another glass. "I had been counting on you and Ron to occupy her grandchildren fixation but you've split and you know Fleur has been batty, claiming she still doesn't have her figure back from Victoire, which means she's a dead end for grandchildren currently and Mum is smart enough to realize you can't count on George and Angelina for anything. With you and Ron out of the running that means she's going to be locked onto me and Harry." Ginny released a withering sigh. "I want to win the League cup at least twice before Harry and I have our first."

Her daze finally ending, Hermione couldn't help but smile as she murmured, "Ron told me much the same. In terms of your mother, I mean."

"That's smart of him," said Ginny. "Though anyone who knows Mum realizes how much she covets the idea of more grandkids to spoil rotten." Taking another drink of her beer, Ginny wore an impish grin as she focused on Luna. "You're going be quite the temporary enemy in her eyes, Luna, whisking poor Hermione away from her little Ronnie. She was our last hope for producing a smart Weasley, after all. You've crushed all our family hopes and dreams."

"Nonsense," dismissed Luna strongly. "You have Charlie."

"Rotter," Ginny laughed in playful accusation. Looking to Hermione, she questioned, "How did you ever get yourself involved with this one, Hermione?"

There was a teasing tone to her inquiry but a genuine curiosity as well and feeling that she did owe something of an explanation to Ginny, if only for being such a very understanding friend and former potential sister-in-law, Hermione replied, "I'm not quite sure. We began spending more and more time together on campus then through our work with Professor Ipson and I'm positive it happened very slowly but it seemed so fast," Hermione trailed off, lost to explain how her feelings for Luna had developed. Turning her attention to the blonde, she was met with a soft and sweet smile, and seeing it, she found herself saying quite without realizing it, "It wasn't something I could control. The first thing, I think."

"And you?" asked Ginny, focusing on Luna.

"I've always known we've smelled right," revealed Luna sounding entirely dreamy, her words causing Hermione to look at her with a good deal of surprise. Something that Ginny took note of as the blonde then quietly excused herself to visit the lavatory.

They were silent for several moments then Ginny became serious in both her expression and voice as she murmured, "I thought it was a lark at first, when Ron told me about you two. I couldn't see how it could possibly be true and if it was I didn't know why Luna wouldn't tell me as I knew so much about her and Katie. Seeing you with her though… it makes me think I only knew about Katie because perhaps she didn't take it quite as seriously. Hermione," Ginny said her name soft and solemn, ensuring she had the older girl's complete attention. "The things that really matter to her, she keeps them close. Don't let yourself be fooled into thinking things are exactly as they seem with Luna because that's nothing close to how it actually is. She hides to keep herself safe."

"I'll treat her well, Ginny," said Hermione in a quiet promise, instincts telling her what the redhead was really saying. "I swear it."

"Good," replied Ginny who looked relieved and pleased to hear this. "Because something tells me that she's been waiting for this chance with you for some time and I would hate to see you ruin it." These last words were said with wry humor but Hermione could still hear the warning behind them and she nodded her head before looking to the figure of Luna who was walking towards them.

"So would I," Hermione whispered, more to herself than Ginny, moving to accept Luna's hand and pull her into the booth as she arrived. Gazing into kind blue eyes, shining with affection, she realized what a gross understatement those words really were.

Unfortunately there was nothing else she could say.

Chapter Text

 

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.

Almost.

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.

Chapter Text

 The silence of Hermione's flat was broken by a series of familiar knocks. Though the amount and pressure applied was different than the last time Hermione heard them. No doubt because Luna was saying something different this time. She opened the door with a sense of resignation, an expectant look on her features. As surely as she recognized Luna's knock she knew the blonde would realize the reason behind her mood and while she also knew that whatever the other girl said would ultimately be logical despite its whimsical delivery she didn't want to hear it.

Hermione was finding greater satisfaction in being irrationally angry at the moment.

Nevertheless, she opened the door and was met with Luna, tilting her head to one side, wearing what seemed to be that ever present look of concern floating in her clear blue eyes. "Rita Skeeter is a vicious Varnackle who makes a living from writing rumors and lies," Luna said, her voice steady and strong as she closed the door to Hermione's flat and focused her attention on the brunette. Moving forward until she stood in front of the other girl, she cupped Hermione's cheek and moved closer yet, ducking her head to whisper in her ear, "Hermione shouldn't give her a second thought."

"Even if I don't there are others who will," said Hermione wearily, not having the energy to justify her emotions. Letting her head fall, she rested it on Luna's shoulder, breathing in the younger girl's scent as she continued, "Some people believe her, they always do."

"The ones who love us won't," Luna offered in a soothing murmur, rubbing Hermione's back in slow circles.

"Mrs. Weasley did once," said Hermione in supremely tired tones, knowing the older woman was a regular reader of The Daily Prophet and of Rita Skeeter although she had been considerably less fond of her after she wrote an inflammatory biography on Dumbledore. A burst of sudden anger going through her, Hermione pulled out of Luna's arms, pacing the length of her living room, waving her hands agitatedly in the air as she burst out, "I don't understand it! She's left me well alone since the Triwizard Tournament. I thought having knowledge that she's an unregistered Animagus was reason enough for her to let me be but now I wonder if saying that caused her to form some sort of vendetta against me, ridiculous as that sounds."

"Vendettas are hardly advantageous for increasing readership," said Luna quietly and when Hermione looked to her she formed a faint smile. "My father knows her quite well from her early days as a reporter. She once did a spot of freelancing for The Quibbler but I'm afraid she didn't find it nearly prestigious enough."

"Not enough readers," said Hermione with sudden knowing.

"Truth is all a matter of perception," Luna said distantly, focusing on a far off place. "That is what she used to tell him." Hermione released a scoff at this and turning her attention back to the brunette, Luna asked, "What animal can she change into?"

"A beetle," said Hermione, walking over to her couch she sat down with a sigh, reaching out to Luna and smiling when the younger girl stepped forward to accept Hermione's hands. She pulled the blonde closer until she stood, nestled in between Hermione's legs as the brunette moved forward, resting her face against her flat stomach, arms wrapping around her waist. Sighing as Luna gently sifted her fingers through curly brown hair, Hermione said with a good deal of self deprecation, "I trapped her underneath a glass when she was in that form and I should have left her there. That or given her a good squash."

Releasing a soft chuckle, Luna leaned down, pressing a kiss onto Hermione's head as she replied, "That wouldn't have been like Hermione in the least. She's too kind to do such a thing. Even to a horrid reporter disguising herself as an innocent insect."

They were silent for several moments, content to simply be with one another and then Hermione felt compelled to look at the younger girl. A slight frown graced her features when she saw the look of restrained worry that Luna was attempting to hide as she looked to the far side of the flat, out the large bay windows to gaze at the busy streets of London. Suddenly the words of Ophelia and Ginny flashed in her mind and Hermione knew precisely what was causing that expression, the one that Luna had never meant for her to see because that was what she always did. Kept her own fears, her own worries, safely hidden away where they couldn't be discovered… where they wouldn't bother Hermione but that wasn't what the brunette wanted. She wanted to be as much a source of strength to Luna as the blonde was to her. Which is why she tugged on the younger girl's hand, drawing Luna's attention back to her, smiling softly at the look of mild surprise Luna wore at her serious expression.

"I'm not the least ashamed of that photograph," said Hermione, her voice level and filled with a quiet intensity, one that wouldn't allow Luna to doubt the truth behind her words. "I realize it might seem as if I don't want others to know of us, that I'm attempting to hide away what I have with you but that's not the truth of it. Luna," Hermione said her name low and loving, pulling her closer yet and smiling as bright blue eyes became impossibly wide. "I've never felt anything close to how I feel when I'm with you. It frightens me at times, how strong it's becoming, but I love it all the same." She paused, appearing as if she wanted to say something else but she shook her head, thinking better of it. "What we have is so very precious and I think perhaps I've simply been wanting to keep it all to myself. I've discovered I'm not the best at sharing," she confessed wryly. "At least, not when it comes to you. But that doesn't mean I'm ashamed of what we have, not in the slightest."

"Hermione," Luna said her name with a catch in her voice, her fingers trembling as she pushed a lock of brown hair behind the older girl's ear, her hand falling to caress Hermione's cheek.

Reaching up to cover Luna's hand with her own, Hermione continued, "I wanted it to stay between us, what we feel, not for it to be bandied about like some tasty morsel of gossip for the wizarding world to consume. It ruins it in a way, makes it less than what it is and I despise that. Most of all I despise how it's made you doubt how I feel for you. Though I understand that has more to do with me than that awful Rita Skeeter. Certainly I haven't been doing well in reassuring you, have I?" Luna started to protest and Hermione shook her head, smiling softly as she reached up with both her hands to wind them behind the blonde's neck, pulling the younger girl gently down. When Luna's face was just millimeters from her own, Hermione murmured, "I promise to do a better job of letting you know precisely how much you mean to me. Starting this very second."

Satisfied that she had made herself abundantly clear with words, Hermione decided the rest was best left to the unspoken language of feeling and touch. She scooted to the edge of the couch, lifting herself up to slide a kiss across the pulse point in Luna's neck, tasting the gasp that arose from the younger girl's throat before absorbing it as she pressed her lips to Luna's. When they parted a shy happy smile curved on Luna's lips, lighting her features brilliantly, a smile that Hermione automatically returned as Luna gently traced the line of Hermione's jaw with her fingers. They stayed like that, wearing silly smiles, content to look at one another, sharing in the sheer happiness of the moment. Then Luna held Hermione's face in her hands, her grasp tender but eager as she lowered her head to meet their lips for another kiss, this one deeper, more passionate as their tongues entwined and Hermione rose urgently into the kiss as Luna leaned down, trying to bring them closer yet. In her desire to bring Luna closer, Hermione tugged at the plaid pants she wore, sending the younger girl tumbling forward. The blonde landed sideways onto the couch, laughing and pulling on the sleeve of Hermione's shirt, encouraging the older girl to follow.

In the back of her mind, Hermione realized this was the first time they had done this, laid together, their bodies pressed so close together there was nothing between them but their clothes. They were close when they danced but it wasn't anything like this. For one thing they were standing up when they danced and somehow it wasn't nearly so intimate. While she was nervous, desperately so, Hermione found herself crawling forward, gently lowering herself onto Luna, a soft groan escaping her at how very good it felt to be this close to the other girl, to feel the warmth of Luna's body touching her own. Luna looked at her with pale blue eyes, gentle and kind in their understanding, and Hermione suddenly couldn't stand it any longer, she was possessed with the need to be even closer. Her hand flat against Luna's cheek, her fingers buried in white blonde hair, Hermione kissed the younger girl hard and fast, her lips seeking and demanding, causing Luna to gasp once again at the sensation.

One after another, the kisses slowed until they parted with lazy smiles and Hermione, feeling entirely embarrassed by the behavior she just exhibited, hid her face in the crook of Luna's neck. Appearing to understand this, Luna allowed Hermione all the time she needed to adjust, wrapping her arms around the brunette and rubbing absent circles on her back. It didn't seem very long at all when Hermione moved her head slightly to peer at Luna who met her gaze with a playful twinkle in her blue eyes. Releasing a soft snort at this, Hermione ducked her head, kissing the elegant line of Luna's neck and murmuring against her skin, "You must realize I've never behaved in such a way before." Hermione chuckled and said wryly, "I suppose you cause it in me."

"What's that?" asked Luna curiously, her voice trembling as Hermione's kisses moved upwards, pressing one on her jaw and another on her cheek, coming closer to her lips with each one.

"A loss of control," Hermione breathed and nothing more was said as she claimed Luna's lips with her own. Her kisses became harder, fiercer, and more passionate than anything Luna that had ever known and the younger girl couldn't help but think Hermione losing control was an entirely good thing. Especially when it came to her.

---

The rest of the week passed without much incident. Gradually the interest in the couple died down on campus and Hermione discovered once she worked at ignoring the attention it soon became something of a habit. By the time she met Luna after her last class of the day on Friday she even found herself reluctantly agreeing with the blonde that the photograph of them in The Daily Prophet was in fact a rather good one. Perhaps that's why she didn't find herself at all bothered by seeing it featured in a shiny gold frame and hanging on the wall of Luna's cottage when she arrived for Saturday morning breakfast. Unlike the other magical photographs that had a place on the wall, she didn't receive a wave from the photographic Hermione and Luna. They were too involved with their kissing to notice anyone watching them, something Hermione couldn't help but sigh at. Perhaps if they hadn't been so involved the photograph would've never been published but that was no longer a worry for her.

Walking into the kitchen, she found Luna standing at the stove, using magic to control the various cooking instruments as she prepared some manner of potato dish in the skillet. Approaching carefully, Hermione slid her arms around Luna's waist, smiling as the younger girl immediately leaned back into her embrace. Nuzzling the curve of Luna's neck, she pushed the white blonde hair aside and deposited a light kiss behind her ear.

"What are you making?" Hermione questioned, her hands sliding underneath Luna's soft cotton shirt with lazy ease, spreading her fingers across her flat abdomen and relishing the heat of the other girl's skin. "It smells wonderful."

"German Potato Pancakes and Raspberry Lemon Muffins," revealed Luna, dropping her hands down to cover Hermione's. "If you behave and have a seat at the table I'll bring them to you in a moment."

"If I behave?" repeated Hermione with some humorous offense, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. She gave Luna a poke in the side, her fingers tickling lightly at her stomach as she drawled, "I don't believe between us I'm the one who has trouble behaving. In fact, I would say I'm practically the very model of good behavior."

"Must I list all of your exploits at Hogwarts?" asked Luna, tilting her head to look at the older girl who frowned at this, her nose scrunching up in a manner that the blonde found altogether charming. "I could begin with your use of the Polyjuice Potion in the second year if you would like..." Luna trailed off as Hermione's frown turned into a soft scowl. Chuckling quietly, she gave the older girl a brief kiss before pulling out of her embrace and making a shooing motion with her hands. "Go on, have a seat and let me cook our breakfast in peace."

"I'm going," Hermione grumbled, not at all happy with this unusual form of blackmail, wandering away from the delicious smelling kitchen and heading into the small dining room.

She had just sat down when Luna called out, "I've put out a bit of interesting reading material for you to inspect. Do let me know if you find it enjoyable. I told Daddy it's amongst his finest pieces of writing."

Eyeing the latest edition of The Quibbler rather skeptically, Hermione flatted the parchment and immediately she focused on the large headline that read: Insectual Infatuation, A Tale Of An Illegal Animagus' Tragic Love. Her eyebrows shot upwards and Hermione couldn't help the burst of laughter that escaped her the moment she finished reading the large and flashing headline that featured a picture of a disgruntled Rita Skeeter beneath it. The article was written by Xenophilius Lovegood whose name was proudly displayed in all capitals with bold print.

It detailed how Skeeter, an unregistered Animagus, had fallen in love with another Bombardier Beetle while in her transformed state and ended up having several hundred insect offspring that she was now being forced to raise alone after her mate was brutally squashed underneath the shoe of a passing Muggle. At the end, there was a heartfelt request for donations to the beetle children health fund be sent to Rita Skeeter at The Daily Prophet.

Hermione just finished reading the article when Luna walked into the dining room, her eyes lidded and a knowing smile on her lips as floated their plates filled with breakfast food and two glasses of orange juice onto the table. "I think it's an example of journalism at its finest, don't you?" she questioned, her voice airy and supremely pleased as she sat down next to Hermione at the table and offered the brunette a fork with a quirky smile playing on her lips.

Accepting the fork, her eyebrow lifting and that skeptical look returning to her features, Hermione drawled, "I'm unsure. When did writing for revenge become an edict of journalism?"

"It isn't revenge, at least not on Daddy's part," said Luna quite firmly.

"Oh?" asked Hermione, the skeptical expression still clinging to her features.

Taking a sip of her orange juice, looking very satisfied with herself, Luna murmured, "I might have told him that she was an unregistered Animagus and what form she took but what Daddy chose to make of that information was wholeheartedly his own decision."

"Luna," Hermione said her name much in the same way a disappointed teacher would with a naughty child. This caused Luna to frown as she set her glass down, tilting her head expectantly at the brunette. "What if Skeeter has it in her head to find a barrister and file a lawsuit against your father and The Quibbler for libel?" She couldn't help that a large part of her found the actions the younger girl had taken to be completely flattering and altogether pleasing but there was the ever present logic that reigned in her mind. Hermione simply couldn't ignore what the consequences of those actions might be. Particularly when they involved Luna's father who, while very odd, was also terribly sweet man. "What then?"

"For it to be libel it must be proven it's a false statement," replied Luna, her voice a bit sharp, telling Hermione she hadn't appreciated her previous tones in the least. "I hardly think Ms. Skeeter wishes the matter of her status as an Animagus to be investigated as it surely would during the length of a trial."

Considering this for a long moment, Hermione watched Luna push her food absently about her plate and she realized that her concern hadn't been stated in the best way, upsetting the younger girl in the process. Which was the last thing she wanted to do, especially when deep down she had been so very happy to discover what Luna had done for her. It was hardly the first time someone had protected her but all the same, there was a strange sort of fierceness in the fact that Luna had gone after Rita Skeeter as publicly as the reporter had done to them. It flattered her tremendously and caused a thrill to go through her, that Luna had taken the time to find such a fitting way to put Skeeter in her place. Had it been Ron it would have been nothing more than a few absent complaints and perhaps a confrontation at the offices of The Daily Prophet if whatever she published had been outrageous enough. For Luna, the fact that it upset Hermione was enough to take action and that made her happy. Deliriously so. This hadn't been made clear to the blonde though and now she had upset her.

That wouldn't do. It simply wouldn't do at all.

Pushing her chair back and rising to her feet, Hermione made her way over to Luna, standing behind her chair. She ducked her head down, pushing blonde hair to one side before her arms wrapped around Luna's chest, whispering in her ear, "I'm sorry. I never meant to sound as if I don't appreciate what you did. I just don't want you to get into any trouble because of me, is all. You or your father. But that doesn't mean I don't love what you did for me."

"Really?" Luna's voice was quiet, a mere hush of sound, and if Hermione hadn't been so close she would have missed it utterly. Only she was close, so close that she could move her head and look into uncertain blue eyes.

"Really and truly," Hermione assured, an affectionate smile gracing her features as she laid her palm flat against Luna's skin, taking pleasure in its silken texture. Resting her forehead lightly against Luna's, she murmured, "In its own way, it's dreadfully romantic, having that article published."

"More than challenging her to a duel?" asked Luna, a slight smile tugging at her lips, one that Hermione couldn't help but return as she watched the welcome light of amused knowing return to pale blue eyes.

"Well," Hermione said this with thoughtful consideration. "In that case, I suppose it's more practical than romantic." When Luna formed a tremendous pout on hearing this, Hermione laughed fondly, her fingers smoothing over the lines around her mouth until they disappeared from sight. Once they had, she moved in closer, her breath ghosting over the blonde's skin as she murmured, "I still find it far preferable to a duel and impossibly romantic."

"Practically romantic," added Luna, her tones mischievous and her gaze twinkling.

"Enormously so," Hermione agreed as they remained like that, looking at each other and smiling, a second away from kissing but holding off on it just to enjoy the moment for what it was.

Then Hermione released an exasperated growl that only grew stronger when Luna chuckled at this reaction and she moved swiftly forward to seize the younger girl's lips in a kiss. Luna welcomed the kiss with a happy sigh, opening her mouth immediately, leaving a clear invitation for the brunette as her own tongue swept into Hermione's mouth, sucking and tasting deep, moving in a sweeping exploration that left Hermione quivering and breathless.

It would be some time before they parted and when they did their breakfast was completely cold but it wasn't anything either of them would have changed. Especially not when that was a one of the rarer things in life which could easily fixed with a spell. Quite the opposite of most issues involving romance.

---

Professor Ipson had a serious look on his face and Hermione found it made her nervous. It wasn't to say that the man was incapable of being professional, that was anything but the truth, though it wasn't in this manner. He always had this sort of softness to him, a kindness which clung to his round frame and while it was still there, it was faint, held back by the solemnity that surrounded him and she didn't like that in the least.

"As you know, I've submitted the first portion of our work to the review board," Ipson said this slowly, his expression remaining serious and Hermione noted Luna was following suit, something which worried her more.

"What did they say?" Hermione blurted this out, unable to help herself, wanting desperately to disrupt the mood that had taken over his tiny office, making the clutter and mess of it unbearable.

"In a moment," said Ipson rather absently and he ducked his head, searching through his messy drawer before he released a happy murmur and seconds later his hand shot out, holding two wrapped Sugar Quills, presumably for Luna and Hermione to take. Hermione remained where she was, staring at the candy but Luna moved forward, taking them both and unwrapping them, presenting the brunette with hers just as Ipson rose back up, a Sugar Quill in his mouth, a grin playing on his lips as he sucked away. "Go on," he encouraged, waving his hands at her. "Have one. This is meant to be a celebration, after all. What kind of celebration takes place without sweets?"

"It went well then?" asked Hermione, absently holding her Sugar Quill instead of enjoying it like Ipson and Luna.

"Stupendously," Ipson replied warmly, taking a bite of his Sugar Quill and waving it at her. "They've approved the completion of the project and I've been guaranteed publication when its finished. Though," he sighed heavily and a frown pulled at his features as he lowered the candy from his lips, "there is a bit of sad news."

"What's that?" Luna voiced the question this time, her voice airy and strangely reassuring.

"I've only been given the funds to hire on a single assistant for the project," said Ipson and he had a genuine look of despair in his eyes. Seeing this, Hermione realized that he didn't have any idea how to choose between them. While the idea of working for Ipson full time and getting paid for it appealed to her greatly, she wasn't a Student Healer like Luna. In fact, she was still floating in the murky waters of being an undecided major at the University. That being so, it made much more sense for Luna to remain working with Ipson. She was about to say this when Luna started speaking.

"Hermione is more suitable, you ought to offer her the position," offered Luna, removing the Sugar Quill from her mouth, smiling when the brunette looked at her with wide eyes. Laughing quietly at this, she reached out to gently touch her cheek and she continued, "You mustn't look so surprised. I might be perfectly capable of doing research but I haven't the same love of it as you do and between the two of us, you are the only one with the ability to make learning tremendously interesting with your writing skills."

"But Luna--" Hermione started to protest.

"Come now," soothed Luna as she pressed her fingers tenderly against Hermione's lips. When the brunette quieted, she smiled and her fingers fell away to gently caress the line of her jaw. "This goes well with our plans, doesn't it?"

Blinking and searching her mind frantically for what the younger girl could possibly be talking about, Hermione relaxed as she recalled that conversation from what seemed like so long ago. Inside the tent in the depths of the Kerala Backwaters, Luna speaking on how she wanted to spend her life searching for creatures like the Krodha Swinging Lizard, proving their existence to the doubting public and how she imagined Hermione with her, writing it all down in a book. Taking this position, working with Ipson, learning what it took to have an educational text published was certainly a logical step in that direction. Especially when you considered that Luna had another year to complete in her studies as a Student Healer. Turning her attention to Ipson who met her gaze with amused and understanding eyes, Hermione wondered if his wife acted with him much the same way Luna did with her. In a strangely loving but subtly scheming way that caused one to give into almost any demands. If so, she would surely have to commiserate with him over it and ask him for a bit of advice when it came to dealing with a partner who had such tendencies.

"Well then," said Ipson kindly, spreading his hands out in a welcoming gesture. "It appears I have myself an assistant. That is, if you're agreeable to taking the position, Miss Granger. It would be a full time commitment and I'm afraid that at sometime it would require you to concentrate on the research completely, leaving your studies by the wayside."

"That's fine," said Hermione in almost rushed tones, afraid of him changing his mind perhaps. "I want this chance very much, Professor. I think that Luna is right… I might be suited to this kind of work and I want to discover for myself what it entails to get an educational text published as it's something I have interest in doing in the future."

"Wonderful," Ipson said happily and he paused to look at his messy drawer before looking at Hermione with a certain playful gleam in his eyes. "Would you like another Sugar Quill to celebrate or something different? Perhaps a Jelly Slug? Or maybe a Sherbet Ball?"

Shaking her head in gentle refusal, Hermione found herself laughing from sheer happiness. Looking to Luna and seeing the soft approval in her blue eyes, for the first time in a very long while, Hermione felt as if everything was right in the world and she liked that feeling very much.

---

They left Ipson's office holding hands and smiling, Hermione chuckling as Luna moved in front of her, swinging their hands to and fro while walking backwards. "We must go out and celebrate," Luna declared. "It's required."

"Required, is it?" questioned Hermione, quirking an eyebrow.

"It is," said Luna, nodding her head for added emphasis. "It's legally enforced."

Laughing at this and pulling Luna close to her, ceasing their walk in a deserted corridor, pressing the blonde against the cool stones of the archway. "Might I ask precisely who is the fearsome enforcer?" she teased.

"I am," Luna breathed, slipping her hands down to hook her fingers in the belt loops of Hermione's pants, pulling her forward until their bodies were pressed firmly together. The brunette kept her hands on either side of Luna's head as the blonde trailed her hands up her sides in an intimate caress. "Though fearsome isn't quite how I'd like you to describe me."

"How then?" asked Hermione, lowering her head and shivering as Luna's arms wrapped around her in a firm hold, the younger girl shifting in just the right way so their hips came in contact.

"Irresistably charming is fancied," admitted Luna and before Hermione could respond, she kissed the brunette hard and fast, causing the older girl to moan low and sweet, especially when Luna's left leg worked its way in between her thighs, bringing them in even closer contact.

When they parted, Hermione's head was low, resting on Luna's shoulder and her breath was hot on the neck of her skin as she muttered, "That's precisely what you are and it's also what makes you so very fearsome."

Chuckling happily, Luna had no response but to give Hermione another kiss. One which enforced the belief that the brunette had just stated and made her impossibly grateful to be proven right in the process.

---

Danse Magie Danse was the same as Hermione had remembered it but somehow Corinne wasn't nearly as bothersome upon meeting her a second time. Perhaps it was the distinct lack of flirting that occurred with Luna and the look of silent respect she held in her eyes when Hermione wrapped an arm around Luna's waist. Winding their way through the levels of the club, they finally found themselves at the edges of the large dance floor.

Luna turned to the older girl, starting to ask if she wanted to have a drink before they danced but the question never came because the instant they faced each other, Hermione pulled her into an kiss. One that continued as she led them onto the dance floor, Luna moaning into Hermione's mouth, tangling her fingers in curly brown hair as the brunette placed her hands on her hips in a steadfast hold. They continued kissing as they swayed to the music, lost in the pulse and beat of sound, aware of nothing but one another and the glorious sound surrounding them. And as it went on, Hermione realized she couldn't care in the slightest if Rita Skeeter and her horrible photographer was there this very moment, taking an endless slew of pictures of them.

The only thing that mattered was her feelings for Luna and Luna's feelings for her. As far as Hermione was concerned, the rest of the world and their approvals and disapprovals could go rot. She knew what she wanted and she knew what she felt. Though it did frighten her immensely, making her shake and tremble in Luna's arms simply because it was so much, more than she had ever experienced with another and Hermione thought it was possible to lose herself in it.

It never appealed to her, those women who suddenly became absorbed by the men they loved until there was nothing left of who they used to be as a person. Hermione couldn't understand how it was possible to love someone that much but she knew now where it came from because of Luna. She could feel herself slowly changing and while she thought they were good changes she wondered if she was becoming like those women and the thought frightened her.

All the same, Hermione wasn't sure she could stop it, she wanted, needed, Luna so much.

How did Luna feel? Sometimes it was clear as a crystal ball but there was so much about Luna that Hermione didn't understand, that she felt perhaps she would never understand, short of being inside the blonde's mind and legilimency didn't hold any sort of appeal to her. Their kisses were slowing into a lazy halt and Hermione trembled at the feel of Luna's hand resting against her cheek, her fingers softly stroking her skin.

"Something is the matter," Luna said this as a statement of fact, knowing it to be the truth.

Ducking her head, hiding it in the crook of the blonde's neck, Hermione didn't reply because she didn't quite know how. She wasn't sure what she could tell the other girl to reassure her, she wasn't even sure what had caused this mood in the first place. This was meant to be a happy night, a celebration, and there was so much to celebrate. Her new position with Ipson, her acceptance of Luna's feelings, the realization of her own feelings…

Only the fear remained and Hermione wondered if it would stay there until she said the words. Again, she found her mind drifting, this time to a conversation with Ophelia and how infuriatingly patient Luna could be. How she would wait endlessly for others to come to her just to be certain she wasn't forcing her unwanted affections onto another. There was no doubt that Luna knew her physical affections were wanted but perhaps emotional affection was in dispute because Hermione had never begun to hear those words being spoken.

As Luna's hands spread across her back, stroking it soothingly, Hermione knew it had to be said, that it was only possible way to rid herself of this last bit of fear involving their relationship. So she lifted her head, her lips a breath away from Luna's ear, arms tight around her waist, moving them closer yet as she whispered, "I love you."

She was still, terribly, horribly, still.

There was a total lack of motion the moment Luna heard these words. It was as if Hermione had broken something very essential inside of her and the brunette began to worry that she had misread Luna's affection for her and she started to pull away and it was in that instant that Luna came alive again. Her hands cupping Hermione's face, holding her in place, her blue eyes solemn and searching her deep, looking for the truth behind the words.

"I love you," Hermione said again, knowing somehow that Luna needed to hear it, though it was more seen than heard thanks to the strength of the music playing. Hermione wondered if perhaps this was the most ridiculous thing she had ever done, declaring her love for this girl on the middle of a crowded dance floor in France.

Watching Luna with lidded, concerned eyes, Hermione saw her release a cry at this and before she could respond, Luna was kissing her and Hermione felt her say the words in return. She felt them murmured against her lips in kiss after kiss, each one hungrier, more passionate than the last, she felt the words formed and she heard them murmured in a low and throaty moan. Suddenly the words no longer mattered as much as the feeling behind them, one that Hermione couldn't possibly misinterpret, not with Luna sucking long and hard on her tongue, her arms wrapping around her in a possessive hold all while they instinctively swayed to the music still playing.

Leaving Hermione to think this was the best celebration she ever had.

 

---

 

They barely managed to separate from one another to retrieve their wands from Corinne. The French witch had a knowing look in her eyes and a playful smile tugged at her lips as she handed the wands over. With her arm firmly wrapped around Luna's waist, Hermione gave a flick of her wrist, disapparating to the cottage in Ballyvaughan.

Moments later, they stood in Luna's bedroom and Hermione immediately flushed red, not quite sure how they wound up in that exact location. She meant to transport them to the cottage but she hadn't thought of that specific room. Or at least she wasn't aware of it if she had. In response to Hermione's embarrassed blush, Luna chuckled in soft and gentle amusement, reaching up to cup the brunette's cheek, tenderly stroking it with the tips of her fingers.

"It's fine," Luna soothed, "I was thinking the very same thing."

"But I wasn't!" Hermione protested and when Luna raised an eyebrow at this, Hermione turned redder yet, looking away from the blonde as she vaguely muttered about not wanting to seem like she was rushing Luna.

Hermione felt her chin grasped in a light touch, turning her head until she looked into Luna's blue eyes that shined with affection and the brunette felt her heart swell with emotion. "What's right can never be rushed," Luna murmured. There was a slight pause then she tilted her head to one side and questioned, "But how does this feel to Hermione?"

Instead of replying verbally, Hermione pulled Luna closer and captured her lips in a kiss. One that was slow and sensual, learning everything the blonde wanted and giving it to her. Splaying her hands on the small of Luna's back, her breath hot on the younger girl's skin, she murmured, "It feels perfect." Meeting Luna's lips for another kiss, Hermione sucked lightly on her tongue and slipped her hands down to move underneath her shirt. "You feel perfect."

"We feel perfect," Luna added, a smile in her voice as she covered Hermione's hands with her own, encouraging them upwards until they were cupping the blonde's breasts. Leaning forward, pressing the entire length of her body into the brunette, blue eyes were dark with desire and she questioned, soft and serious, "I want this. Does Hermione?"

"So much," said Hermione breathlessly, her thumbs absently caressing Luna's breasts, delighting in the sensation of the nipples becoming hard through the thin material of her bra. The blonde released a gasp, moving into Hermione's touch, one of her hands falling from the brunette's and sliding up to tangle in curly brown hair, pulling her in for a fierce kiss.

The kisses continued as they moved backwards towards the large bed covered with a checkered rainbow quilt that would have seemed quite out of place in a normal person's bedroom but this was Luna and as she had once said herself, she was anything but normal. Something that Hermione found herself incredibly grateful for because she was certain that no normal person could make her feel the way Luna did in this moment. She had never considered herself a wilting flower in bed, lying back and asking Ron to be gentle with her or any other such foolish things she had read in countless bad romance novels, but at the same time she never thought she was particularly aggressive either. Ron tended to take the lead in such things and she never found herself frustrated nor upset over the situation. It was perfectly naturally to let his desires set the pace of their sexual encounters.

For the first time in her life, Hermione was taking the lead in bed. She was certain that Luna wanted this too, she knew it with every kiss and caress the blonde returned but she also knew she was the one taking charge. That it was her escalating desire that had put them on this bed, Luna in half sitting half laying, resting back on her elbows as Hermione sucked at her neck and her hands moved eagerly down to the edge of Luna's shirt, pulling it up and over the blonde's head.

It was her desire for Luna that caused the other girl to release a low moan and push Hermione's hands down towards her pants, motioning them to follow her shirt for another quick removal. They were tugged sharply downwards, pooling at Luna's feet where Hermione hastily tossed aside her shoes and socks before following suit with her pants.

There was a moment where she was immobile. Hands resting softly against the pale skin of Luna's calves as she gazed up at the blonde. Hermione never noticed the large window on the far side of the bedroom but now it was impossible to ignore as the light from the full moon streamed through, illuminating Luna in such a way that the brunette felt her breath still in her chest. She slowly slid her hands upwards, luxuriating in the silken feel of the younger girl's skin, taking in the way she trembled beneath her touch.

Coming to a stop at Luna's inner thighs, a slight smile curving on her lips as the trembles continued, accentuated by a gasp as Hermione leaned forward, kissing her long and hard and deep, making her every intention known. One hand lay resting against Luna's flat stomach, tips of her fingers just barely playing under the blonde's panties while the other moved up her back, unhooking the bra with an ease and skill that Hermione was slightly surprised at but glad for nonetheless.

Luna was finally naked and it was the most beautiful thing Hermione had ever seen.

She kept looking at every inch of the other girl, fixed and frozen by the sight of endlessly long legs, pale skin that glowed in the light of the moon, and the soft swell of breasts, perfectly round and curved, meant to be held in her hands. Hermione was frozen but Luna was not and she smiled, sweet and playful, it pulled at her lips as she reached out to Hermione plaintively, a small pout forming on her features as she took hold of the collar of the brunette's shirt.

"Hermione is wearing entirely too many clothes," Luna murmured, her voice musical in its teasing, her chuckle reaching an ideal note as she unbuttoned Hermione's shirt while the brunette remained in place, simply watching. Pushing the shirt off, not caring where it fell on the floor, already intent on unbuckling Hermione's belt, Luna peered up at the older girl who met her gaze and arched an eyebrow at the amused expression on the blonde's face. "It isn't the least fair."

"Oh?" Hermione drawled, her eyebrow remaining arched, a smirk forming on her features. Covering Luna's hands with her own, she deftly unbuckled her belt, quickly followed by her pants as she continued, "Allow me to correct the situation?"

Wearing a smile which was oddly coquettish despite the fact she was naked, Luna laid down on her stomach, observing Hermione as she removed the last of her clothes. "If you must," she sighed, looking disappointed. "I wanted to do it myself."

"Ah," said Hermione wisely, unsnapping her bra and drawing it down her arms, a mischievous smile quirking on her lips, she dropped it on Luna's heads, laughing when the cups fell slightly over the blonde's eyes. Luna tilted her head back, her pout back in full force, making Hermione's laughter increase, though she formed a sympathetic expression as she lowered her head and kissed Luna by way of an apology, removing the bra from her head as she did so. "I'm faster."

"Speed is optimal," Luna breathed, moving into a sitting position and tugging Hermione onto the bed.

"Only in removing clothes, I should think," teased Hermione, pushing Luna back, her curly hair falling like a veil as she hovered over the younger girl. When Luna rolled her eyes at this, Hermione laughed again, kissing her soft and sweet and slow, wanting to take the time to remember every little thing about this moment. How Luna still smelled of raspberries, how her skin was smooth and strangely cool though the more of Hermione that pressed against her the hotter she became, how the blonde released the tiniest whimper when Hermione sucked on her tongue and cupped her breast, drawing them even closer together. There was always the logical part of her mind at work and Hermione knew she probably ought to be nervous somehow. After all, this was the first time she had been with another girl but that hesitation, that fear, never came. Though this was technically unfamiliar it was so very natural, as if this was meant to be and somehow she just knew, whatever happened, whatever she did, it would be right. Not only for herself but for Luna as well. That's why she surged forward, her kisses becoming more urgent as her hands started an exploration they had been desperate to begin for quite some time. While the desperation was there it was also accompanied by a need to be as perfect as she could for Luna. She knew whatever she did, they did, would be right but there was a chance it wouldn't be perfect and perfection was a standard that the brunette did like to live up to. She pulled her lips from Luna's, smiling at the groan of protest the younger girl released. Her breath falling heavy and hard, Hermione pushed a wild lock of hair from the blonde's eyes, cupping her cheek as she said, her voice low and thick with desire, "Tell me what you want?"

Again there was that silence, that stillness, then a smile lovelier than any Hermione had seen before lighted Luna's features and she rose up, kissing the brunette expertly, leaving her panting slightly when they parted. "Hermione," she whispered.

For several seconds Hermione waited for the rest but when she saw a hint of a smile and the dark glow of desire and unwavering love in Luna's blue eyes, she realized that was it. All Luna really wanted in this was to be with Hermione. That was she needed, all she wanted, and in that moment, Hermione realized something startlingly important about her relationship with Luna. From the start there had never been any expectations placed on her. Luna never held any sort of preconceived notions about Hermione and her personality and her wants and her preferences, she let Hermione simply be, never saying anything was right or wrong in her actions or her thoughts and why should that suddenly change in this moment? There was no great plan to this, it was about them being together and expressing their love and their want and oh god, Hermione moaned as Luna moved her kisses down her neck, sucking on her pulse point as her hands explored every inch of the brunette, it was about their desires.

Moving her way down Luna's body, leaving a trail of kisses as she went, Hermione's hands splayed across the blonde's pale skin, stroking and memorizing the arches and curves until it was all she knew in her mind. Stopping her journey only when she was nestled between Luna's thighs, gently nudging them further apart, her breath hot, vaguely tickling the light dusting of blonde hair and Hermione was drawn to look up, away from her intense study, and into Luna's eyes. Instantly she was struck by the look of pure and absolute lust and a sort of frantic pleading in blue eyes as they met her gaze.

"Please," was all that Luna said.

A distant part of Hermione realized she never thought about what Luna would taste like but as she parted her folds, Hermione's tongue flattened against Luna's clit for the first lick, the texture thick and salty but slightly sweet, she somehow knew it would be like this, it would be perfect and she would be intoxicated, wanting to taste more. Moving in deeper and sucking harder, taking Luna's clit in her lips, delighting in the jump of the blonde's hips and the way her fingers dug into her hair, encouraging her further. Time had escaped Hermione and nothing mattered in this moment but continuing to taste and study and read the signs of pleasure Luna was experiencing in every quiver of her body and every gasp that escaped her mouth.

When Luna came her body lifted off the bed, her toes curling into the checkered rainbow quilt, her back arching and her fingers curling into Hermione's hair, and when she was finished, she gently fell and her fingers relaxed, faintly stroking Hermione's scalp and the brunette grinned, quite pleased with herself as she rested her cheek against Luna's thigh and looked up at the blonde.

"Hermione enjoys getting good marks," observed Luna, her voice a bit shaky but entirely amused. When Hermione appeared as if she might scoff in response, the blonde reached out to her, tugging her forward until the brunette rested the length of her body against Luna. She caught Hermione's lips in a slow kiss, filled with nips and tugs, taking total control of the situation as she gently rolled the older girl onto her back, her hands resuming their exploration from earlier. Once they parted, Luna kissed Hermione's cheek, a faint nibble on her earlobe as she murmured, "But so do I."

And as pale hands, cool but growing warmer by the moment as they caressed Hermione's breasts, tweaking and teasing her nipples, making Hermione moan into Luna's mouth as the blonde kissed her lush and luxurious and long, wanting the kiss to last, stretching it out as she sucked on her tongue, tasting over and over again what the brunette had to offer, Hermione recalled with a grim sort of humor that Luna was in Ravenclaw and they were a House known not only for their knowledge but their pleasure in getting things right. Usually in the best sort of way. This definitely could be included as one of them.

Pulling back just the barest breath, Luna looked into Hermione's eyes, seeing the confusion and the want there, feeling the brunette tangling her fingers in white blonde hair, tugging her back in for another kiss. A smile curling on her lips, Luna's voice that was normally so light and airy and carefree was low and throaty and thick as she murmured, "I want to be inside Hermione." Eyes widened but no response came from Hermione and Luna lowered her head, their lips almost touching as she continued, "I want to feel Hermione clutch, throb, and pulse around my fingers. I want Hermione to squeeze me tight and scream my name when she comes. I want Hermione to know with each touch and kiss how very much I love her. But," Luna paused and that smile was back again, mischievous and infuriating in the wake of Hermione's increased lust, "what does Hermione want?"

"All of that," Hermione groaned and she pulled Luna in for a kiss, desperate for some sort of contact. When they separated and Luna slid down, capturing a nipple in her mouth, she groaned, threading her fingers through blonde hair as she said, "Everything you can give me and anything more. Whatever you want."

It was the right answer in Hermione's opinion because suddenly Luna was kissing her again. Kissing her sweetly and with such strength of conviction that the brunette was certain she could melt from the heat of it. As they kissed, the blonde shifted on top of her, hands sliding down to cup the inside of Hermione's thighs, spreading her legs apart and encouraging them upwards, and Luna pulled away from their kiss to whisper in sweet instruction, "Wrap them around me."

Moving on instinct and instruction, Hermione did as she was told, wrapping her legs around Luna's waist and she was rewarded with another kiss, her tongue captured and sucked, her body heated and ready, hips twitching at the whisper soft caress moving across her skin as Luna's right hand slipped between her legs. She gasped into Luna's mouth, moaning her name as long fingers slipped inside her, legs wrapping tight around the blonde as she felt herself lifted by the younger girl's left hand, clutching at her hip, keeping her slightly elevated as Luna moved deeper inside of her, touching a place somehow Ron had never reached.

The need to thrust down, to have Luna deeper inside of her took hold of Hermione and it was then that she realized why the blonde was clutching her hip with her left hand as she felt Luna help her. They moved together, Luna's right hand, her fingers thrusting up as Hermione and Luna's left hand thrust down. Laughing in a joyful sort of disbelief, Hermione felt her legs squeezing the blonde tighter in encouragement and it was then that Luna's thumb circled her clit. Light then hard then light again, a constant teasing and tormenting motion that accompanied the thrust of her fingers, and it drove Hermione mad.

Just as Luna had wanted, Hermione cried out her name as she came and when she came she came long and hard and what seemed endlessly by her point of view. When it was over and Luna's fingers slipped out of her, Hermione felt much like a melted piece of chocolate, hot and sticky and utterly delicious. Her legs unhooked from Luna's waist, lowered gently to the bed by the blonde who caressed them softly before looking at Hermione who watched her with a lidded gaze.

There was a shy sort of smile on Luna's lips, only a ghost of it to be seen as she moved towards Hermione, her hand reaching out to push a lock of brown hair from Hermione's eyes before cupping her cheek. Sighing and trembling as the brunette wrapped her up in an embrace, pulling her close, Luna nuzzled into the crook of Hermione's neck, burying her face there as if she was searching for something, a type of confirmation as she breathed Hermione in. After several moments of this, Luna relaxed into Hermione's arms, her voice light and airy and so very happy as she murmured, "I knew we would smell right together."

For once, Hermione understood precisely what Luna meant by this and she agreed completely with the sentiment. They did smell right together. But in her opinion, one which she intended to tell Luna after she was done kissing her, they also felt right together.

And tasted, and sounded, and looked, and pretty much all of the senses and anything else magical and more they were right together and if anyone ever said differently Hermione was sure to correct them. Because she had finally found something to love more than school and study and the pursuit of knowledge and dusty texts.

Luna Lovegood. Who smelled just right.

 

End