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.
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.
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.