After months in deep space, the starship Aella finally docked among the long steel-framed shuttleport of Hogsmeade Station. One by one, the half-dozen crewmembers clambered out of the narrow exit hatch, saying their goodbyes. It was sad to part, but after so long in cramped quarters, most of them couldn't wait to spent some time back in civilisation.
The captain was the last to leave, as always. She pulled herself free of the ship in one fluid motion and shut the hatch behind her, carefully checking the seal before turning to face her crew.
“Good job everyone,” she declared. “Now – get lost!”
The crew laughed as they dispersed, making their way across the clanging walkways and into the main station.
As the rest of the crew hurried off, the first mate, Dean, nudged his captain's arm, nodding in the direction of something that she had noticed as soon as she exited the ship.
“Looks like we're not the only ones in port,” he said, nodding to a slender unarmed transport parked on the row above with a distinctive paint job of ice-bright blues and sunflower yellows.
“No,” Ginny agreed, a smile creeping over her face. “We're not.”
The cafe in the corner of the main plaza was much the same as always – pleasantly warm and comfortably busy. The air in the shop was filled with the smells of herbal teas and the sounds of gentle conversation and spoons clinking on porcelain. Ginny had whiled away many afternoons here – and helped to supply some of the rarer drinks they had in store.
“Welcome back, captain!”
Cho smiled as Ginny walked in, and leaned across the counter to kiss her cheek.
“You really don't have to call me that,” Ginny said, for the thousandth time.
“But I like making you blush!” Cho laughed. “How was your trip?”
“Same old, same old...”
Cho frowned. “Let me guess – it's classified?”
“You'll be hearing all about it in the newsfeed soon, I promise.” Ginny smiled. “How are… things around here?”
Cho gave her a pointed look. She knew what Ginny was really asking.
“Things got back about a week ago,” she answered. “She's… well, you'd know better than I would. Your usual?”
“Does she need a refill too?” Ginny asked.
“Does she ever not?”
Ginny made her way to the alcove in the corner, a mostly-secluded table at which, when she was aboard the station, Doctor Luna Lovegood spent most of her time. Today, the table, chairs and easily-accessible parts of the floor were strewn with notes and photographs, most of them yellowed with age. Somewhere in the midst of all this, Luna sat, gesturing rapidly into the screen in front of her, a cold cup of tea untouched by her elbow.
Ginny let out a heavy breath, the leaden weight in her stomach lifting now that Luna was in front of her again. She looked her over, assessing – but, as was so often the case, it was hard to tell how Luna was feeling from the surface alone. What she did notice was that Luna wore some new jewellery – an intricately woven beaded headband and a bracelet decorated with small, brightly-coloured feathers which wafted back and forth even though there was no breeze.
Ginny carefully cleared a space for herself among the papers, and waited. She sank into the thick cushion on the chair and peeled off her leather jacket, enjoying the warm and comforting atmosphere, and the sight of Luna at work. For the first time in months, she felt able to fully relax – to stop being Captain Weasley, and finally let herself smile without wondering who might see.
After a few minutes, Cho arrived with their drinks. She replaced Luna's abandoned tea, and handed Ginny her favourite – a bright red, bitter tea from Mars, which she stirred gently after putting down. It started to fizz, producing a surface layer of thick, sweet foam.
As Cho was leaving, Luna finally looked up.
“It was only just cold,” she said.
Ginny's smile stretched so wide it almost hurt. “I don't mind buying you a fresh drink every once in a while.”
“I'm just writing this article...” Luna shrugged. She knew Ginny understood what she meant. “How was Ashwinder 6?”
“Lethifold 2,” Ginny corrected her.
Luna tilted her head. “I'm sure I remember -”
“I went to Ashwinder 6, and then for a negotiation with the centaurs – Hermione says hi, by the way – and then to Lethifold 2. I take it you found your Nargles?”
Luna smiled, a little sheepishly. “The trip took a little longer than I expected. But yes, I found them – I made positive contact with three different cultures, you should see...”
Luna continued to explain her latest findings, and when Ginny looked at the excitement on her face, her heart glowed with joy. She felt like the giddy schoolgirl she'd been when she first shared a lecture her new classmate at Hogwarts Academy, not one of the most feared and respected trade negotiators in the galaxy consulting with its most renowned xenoanthropologist on the culture of a planet that was thought mythical a decade ago. They'd both come so far – but even after so many years, sometimes Ginny wanted more than anything to hold Luna's hand.
She did so. Luna squeezed her hand gently, smiled, and continued.
“...and their healing technology is really incredibly advanced, you know. You should look into trading there. Although it might be hard to find something they want – I'm still trying to figure out their system of value.”
Ginny shook her head. “Someone should go, but not me. I'm afraid I already have a new mission lined up.”
Luna's face hardly changed – a twitch of an eyebrow, at most – but to Ginny, her shock and disappointment were obvious.
“Does it start soon?” she asked.
“Yes,” Ginny said. “I'm afraid it was something I just couldn't pass up. A very important diplomatic mission – top secret, minimum crew. Only me and the translator.”
“They're not on the universal system yet?” Luna sat up a little straighter. “You'll want someone with experience. Clearwater has some diplomatic training, or perhaps Astoria Greengrass, although it all depends on the grammar...”
“Don't worry, I've done my research, I know who the experts are,” Ginny reassured her. “I couldn't take just anyone to Wrackspurt 9.”
Luna's hand suddenly gripped Ginny's tight. Ginny grinned. Luna had written her doctoral thesis on the Wrackspurt system, back when Ginny had been flying her first missions.
“They're re-opening negotiations?” Luna asked, in a hushed voice. “You're sure? After fifty years?”
“We're re-opening negotiations,” Ginny said. “That is, if you want to go?”
They stared at each other for a moment.
“You said this was happening soon?”
“We leave tomorrow.”
Luna's eyes grew wide, and she started gathering up her papers. “I try to keep a bag packed for expeditions, but my notes, my research...”
Ginny could almost see the pictures whizzing through her mind, the thought of making contact with the most legendarily secretive species in the galaxy, visiting planets and moons that no human had seen before...
“Sit down, relax,” Ginny told her. “I can help you pack. I've already given my crew extended shore leave.”
Luna frowned. “What about my book on the Nargles? I was just starting to write -”
“It's a long journey,” Ginny reminded her. “No station gossip, no crew. Just you and me, the ship and the stars.”
Luna leant forward, pulling Ginny in for a kiss.
“You're amazing, you know,” she said.
“I've always thought so.” Ginny smiled. “So, I take it you're coming?”
Luna sighed like Wrackspurt 9 was already in sight. “I wouldn't miss it for all the stars in the sky.”
Ginny met her gaze, her eyes shining with all the fire of a new star being born.
“Then let's drink our tea, and go change the universe.”