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.