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Beetle Dreams

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There have been several strange summers in Luna Lovegood’s life, and she remembers all of them.

The summer after her mother died, for instance, was windy and wet. Luna and her father were stuck inside in spaces that weren’t large enough for their grief. The summer after the war ended, everything was bright and hot. She buried her classmates while the sun beat down and breezes blew butterflies and outside was at odds with everything she felt within.

This summer, though, is the strangest yet.

All Luna’s past summers had a structure. There were some that were wonderful and some that were sad. A couple felt surreal and out-of-time, like the one Luna and her father spent in the south of France at a Muggle campsite, where Luna met a woman with huge false eyelashes and an angry husband and they searched for shells together and then kissed on the beach as the sun set. But those summers always ended. As the weather started to cool and the days grew shorter, there was a sense of something inevitably coming to a close. And then, of course, came the return to school.

Only this time there isn’t one. Luna falls from her seventh year into the strangest summer of her life, and it isn’t because someone has died, or because the weather is oppressive. It’s because there is no end in sight. It’s the last summer of her childhood, or the first summer of the rest of her life, and she has no idea what to do with it.

She tries getting a job while she figures out what to do with herself, but it doesn’t really work out. Madam Malkin hires her because of her ‘interesting personal style,’ but when she tells a customer that yes, actually, your bum does look big in that, Madam isn’t pleased. The same thing happens with the archiving job she takes at St. Mungo’s, which is a pity, really, because star signs say a lot about people, so filing patients by Zodiac makes sense to Luna.

She finds herself, then, spending a lot of time by the creek, away from her father who watches her with expectant eyes because he loves her and wants to see her find her place in the world. She reads in the sun or the rain—she quite likes summer rain, so long as there are charms to protect the books—or just lies in the grass watching the clouds and the birds. She doesn’t think about the Future, just Now.

One afternoon she finds a beetle unlike any she’s ever seen before, so she catches it in her hands and carries it home with her. She doesn’t lock it in a jar like some people would, but she does cast charms to keep it from leaving her bedroom. She creates a little habitat in an open glass tank—leaves and sticks and water—but lets it flit about above her head whenever it likes. She wakes up in the morning and watches it climb her curtains, or makes little balls of light with her wand and smiles as it darts about over her head, chasing them.

She likes this, this watching animals—or insects, as it were. As the days pass, she catalogues the beetle’s eating and sleeping habits, stretches out on her bed with her sketchpad in front of her and her toes pointing at the ceiling and draws the little creature.

At night, she dreams. There is a woman sitting in the chair by her bed, silent and swathed in shadow. Luna can hear her breathe. Her dream-self thinks Mum? but the woman doesn’t do any of the things Mum used to do, just sits and watches. When Luna wakes in the morning, she thinks she remembers the suggestion of fishnet stockings and beetle-green satin, but it’s all a blur.

The beetle is a playful thing, bold and unafraid. Luna likes the tickle of its legs when it crawls over her hand, and the way it sometimes settles on the pages of the book she is reading and flutters its wings. Sometimes, Luna reads aloud. It seems to like the sound of her voice. When she’s finished reading, she rolls onto her back and stares at her friends on the ceiling and talks. To the paintings, to the beetle, to her mother; she doesn’t know really, but it’s comforting to think that someone might be hearing her.

The dream woman visits again and again. She sits in the chair and watches watches watches, and Luna knows it definitely isn’t Mum because the woman’s gaze makes her twist and turn under the sheets and slip her hand beneath the waistband of her knickers. The scenario might be a dream but the orgasms are real enough; Luna wakes up in the morning with her wrist clamped between her thighs and she can smell herself on her fingers.

The beetle becomes restless. Luna feels silly writing that down, because beetles aren’t smart enough to be restless, but her father has taught her to never ignore things just because they shouldn’t be, so she records it. And it definitely is. Spinning in circles, beating its wings against the window, hardly eating. She hopes the habitat she’s keeping it in isn’t killing it.

One night the dream woman is leaning over her, staring down and breathing heavy. Luna speaks to her.

“Who are you?” she asks in her whispery dream voice, and the woman answers.

“I am your captive.” Moonlight catches on the dream woman’s glasses and makes her look like an insect.

Luna meditates on stupidity. She decides that there are two kinds of stupid, the kind of stupid that doesn’t know what’s happening or what will, and the kind that does but chooses to ignore it. Luna has never been the first kind of stupid, but she suspects she might be the latter.

She doesn’t know if the beetle is really a woman or if the woman is really a beetle, but she continues to pretend that she’s dreaming.

The following night, the dream woman kisses her. It’s gentle, soft, closed-mouthed, but it is not like a mother’s kiss. It lingers, and so does the scent of her—musk and something green and leafy—and the next morning Luna can still smell it on her sheets.

With the beetle sitting on its leaf readjusting its wings, it’s easy for Luna to believe that she is creating imaginary mothers, lovers, friends in her dreams. It’s easy to look at the beetle in the light of morning and shake her head and smile.

She carries the scent of musk in her nostrils all the way to the creek.

The second time the dream woman kisses her, Luna catches her. Her hand slips up and tangles in blonde curls and pulls the woman back for more. Her mouth tastes fresh, like mint, like leaves, and sweet, and Luna pulls her down so their bodies press together. She maps with her fingers the very corporeal contours of her back and feels the solid press of thigh against thigh.

Luna paints. She mixes green on the back cover of a three-years-old Quibbler and turns her bedroom into a jungle because she doesn’t want the beetle to be sad. She doesn’t want the beetle to die, doesn’t want it to leave. Her paintbrush curves over the banister and she paints vines that grow all round the top of the staircase. It takes her days.

The air is thick with the smell of paint and when she sleeps it makes her hallucinate. The dream woman sucks at her throat, slips a knee between her thighs and Luna arches off the bed, grinding against it until the sheets stick to her body and her hair sticks to her face. Each morning she touches green fingers to her throat and pretends not to see the hickey-bruises before they are covered with paint. When she finishes the painting, the forest breathes, the vines vibrate. Her friends stare down at her from the ceiling and the forest grows all around them, one vine curled in Neville’s hair and another wrapped around the chain of words.

That night the trees shimmer as the dream woman strips off her beetle-green satin until there’s nothing but pale human flesh. The moon comes in through the window and paints her skin blue with light.

Luna knows she isn’t dreaming.

The woman comes under the covers and Luna welcomes her. They shift and curl and Luna’s nightgown slips over her head and is tossed to the floor. Beneath the covers the moonlight barely penetrates and all Luna can see are suggestions. She can make out the outline of breast, hip and face, but only by the intensity and curve of shadow. She feels warm breath, though, and skin touching skin, and when the woman turns her head just so Luna thinks she can see her eyes, and without glasses they are dark and human.

The woman touches her. It’s tame, at first—fingers ghosting along her sides in a way that makes Luna ticklish and breathless at the same time—and then higher, palms cupping her breasts and thumbs over nipples. Luna closes her eyes, and breathes, and almost wishes she could be dreaming still, because this feels so, so good and it’s never happened before and when you’re dreaming you know what to do, what to think, what not to think, like whether this is an a gift, or an ending.

Luna shifts closer and breathes in the smell of the woman’s hair, burrows, kisses her neck, and then her hands are moving of their own accord. She slides her arm around the woman’s back and pulls herself closer. Legs tangle together and her hands are tracing, moulding, feeling the softness around the middle and the slight irregularities of skin that mark a body older than hers, and her desire is deep and painful. Is it wrong that the shape and feel of this body reminds her of the mother she lost, even though there is nothing mother-and-daughter about what they’re doing?

She wants to cling. She wants to hold the woman tight and never let her go, but at the same time she wants lips on her breasts, fingers in her cunt, wants to writhe and burn up in the sheets. She squeezes her eyes shut because she feels tears in them.

The woman stills. “Are you scared?” she asks. Their knees are rubbing together.

Luna shakes her head. “No. Yes. No. I just don’t know if I’m imagining you, and if I am, who I’m imagining you as, and I don’t know if it’s wrong or not.” Luna finds the woman’s hand and their fingers thread together and Luna grips hard. She’s been telling herself this woman was imaginary for so long, and now she desperately needs her to be real so this doesn’t feel wrong.

Shift and tumble, and the woman is on top of her, looming above and watching, and Luna wishes she could see what was happening in those eyes. She leans in close and whispers in Luna's ear. “I’m not imaginary.”

And that's that. If she's not imaginary then it doesn't matter if parts of her remind Luna of her mother, because Luna didn't make them up. She still doesn't know the woman's name, though, so she decides to think of her as Beetle, with a proper capital letter.

Luna pulls her down and kisses her. When they part, Beetle asks, “Do you want me to prove it?” And Luna doesn’t trust herself to speak so she nods.

A kiss against her collarbone and Luna watches Beetle’s human shape this time as it moves backwards and down. Kisses on her breasts, her stomach, and hands slipping underneath and around her thighs and pulling them open. The scrape of fingernails against skin and the hot wet touch of tongue on her thigh, and then the tongue is licking the cleft of her cunt and Luna’s fingers are tangling in Beetle’s hair.

Real. Real. Real. Luna could imagine kisses or fingers but she couldn’t imagine this. This is unlike anything she’s ever felt before, unlike anything she’s ever dreamed. There are noises: sticky, wet noises, the noises of suck and plop, and the pillow feels like rock under Luna’s head because she’s pressing back against it so hard, because her back is arching and her hips are squirming but Beetle is holding her fast and not letting up, and it is blinding, blinding, blinding.

Luna is heaving when Beetle comes back to her mouth and kisses her, and they are both panting and out of breath. They pull each other close again and Luna can hear the different sounds of their breathing: her own deep and full and Beetle’s ragged and sharp, and Luna wants to repay the favour done for her but she doesn’t know how or if she is ready for something like that.

Recovering her bones, Luna rolls onto her side, pulling Beetle close and touching again; trailing fingers over throat and through hair, down over the curve of shoulder, cupping breast and feather-light over that soft belly. Gripping Beetle’s thigh and pulling it over hers, and kissing, kissing, fingers ghosting the inside of a thigh and up into wet heat.

This, she knows how to do. This she could imagine twenty times a day, and even if it’s a bit different doing it to someone else it’s basically the same, and Beetle makes noises like the ones Luna’s heard herself make over and over again. Fingers slip into cunt and thumb is grinding, and then Beetle is touching her and doing the same and they’re fucking, they’re fucking, giving and taking pleasure from each other at the same time and kissing and gripping each other tight with their free hands.

It’s hot under the sheet and they’re soaking it with sweat. Soaking each other and holding fast, close, mouths opening into each other and fingers thrusting, and then Beetle is shaking and her rhythm is beginning to falter but then Luna is shaking too and they’re gasping against each other’s mouths.

Silent afterwards, while Beetle’s head rests on Luna’s outstretched arm and their legs are tangled together. She feels soft, and Luna wraps an arm around her middle and holds her like she used to hold her mother when she was a little girl. And Beetle is real, so it’s not wrong.

Into the darkness, into Luna’s hair, Beetle whispers. “You have to let me go. I have a life to live. I’ll die here if I stay too long, or I’ll start to lose my mind to the insect’s, which is almost the same thing. Please. Please.”

“Will you come back?” Luna asks.

“Yes.”

The next morning Luna takes down the charms and throws open the window and watches the beetle fly away.

The forest feels empty without the beetle so she goes to visit friends, has saffron-flavoured ice cream at Fortescue’s and pretends not to care, but all the while she wonders what Beetle is doing now. She has dinner with her father, pushing dirigible plums around her plate and talking about jobs, and then a long walk through Ottery, stopping to pick flowers by the creek. Beetle’s presence and its oddity made the rest of the summer feel normal, but now that she’s gone the weight of the future settles down onto Luna’s shoulders again and she doesn’t know what to do. She throws stones into the water and can’t think of anything but losing her virginity to a woman who crawled into her life on six legs.

It’s very quiet in her bed that night, and Luna can’t sleep because every noise sounds like the flicker of wings.

Three days go by and Beetle doesn’t return. Luna starts to think that maybe she did imagine the whole thing, but she hasn’t changed the sheets since that night and they still smell faintly of musk and sweat and she will never, never forget the feeling of someone else's tongue in her cunt.

The jungle is dim and dark and Luna curls up in her bed and wraps her arms around her legs and cries. The moon shines in through the window and paints the vines silver and she feels like an explorer who is thoroughly lost.

Daddy notices her moping and thinks it’s because of the job thing. He offers her a post writing for the Quibbler and Luna shrugs and climbs the stairs to her room. She paints animals in the jungle—crumple-horned snorcacks and niffler mounds and a nundu poking its head out from behind a tree. She’s always wanted to study nundus, even if they are the deadliest creatures alive. They’re misunderstood, Luna thinks. She can’t imagine how sad it would be to carry disease and death on your breath and kill every friend you ever made.

She paints thirty-seven identical beetles hiding on leaves or clinging to vines.

It takes Luna five days to accept that Beetle isn’t coming back. That’s a long time, for her, considering how many times people have pretended to like her only to run away as fast as they can, but she thought Beetle was different. She doesn’t feel regret, but she is a bit sad, a bit angry.

On the sixth day, a haughty owl that Luna recognises as a fish eater drops a letter on her windowsill. She opens it with trembling fingers. The note is written in green ink.

I’ll be where we met at 3pm.

Where she met the beetle or where she met the woman, Luna wonders. But then, she supposes, they are one and the same. The sun is bright as she wanders down to the creek.

It’s strange to see Beetle sitting on a rock in the daylight with bright blonde hair shining in ringlets, suddenly very real. It surprises Luna that it’s not strange to recognise this woman as Rita Skeeter, the reporter from the Prophet that she met in her fourth year with Hermione. Luna wonders about stupidity again, wonders if she noticed all along but pretended not to, or if the moonlight really was dim enough to not have recognised her before.

Luna sits down beside her on the grass and they listen to the creek and say nothing for a while but they’re both there, human in the daylight and summer. Luna feels her hair being lifted away from her shoulders and then there are warm fingers against the back of her neck. She closes her eyes and feels the touch, feels the sun and remembers that Mum used to touch her like that, but then she opens her eyes again and looks at Rita’s feet beside hers because it’s not fair to think like that. Rita’s shoes are shiny and purple and that’s nothing like Mum.

“I didn’t think you were coming back,” Luna says, eventually.

Fingernails brush her skin. “I had some things to sort out. I was away longer than I’d planned to be.”

Luna swallows. “Sorry.”

Rita laughs but doesn’t answer.

The light is warm but strange. Now that she knows she’s not dreaming, Luna comes up against the barrier that keeps her away from most people. She doesn’t know what to say or how to make casual conversation. Give her an animal and she’ll watch it and nurture it, but put her in a room with other people and everything she says makes them look at her sideways.

“Daddy wants me to work for him,” she says, eventually. The brush of Rita’s fingers against the back of her neck is comforting.

“Do you want to write?” Rita asks.

“No. Yes. No. I don’t know.”

“Journalism is something you have to want, push towards, sacrifice for.”

“Sacrifice what?”

“Time, relationships, youthful idealism. People being pleased to see you.”

Luna looks up over her shoulder at Rita. “Daddy has never had to sacrifice those things, except maybe time.”

“Yes, well...” says Rita, and her face is a bit tight.

“Yes,” says Luna, and looks away again. Rita doesn’t need to say it aloud. People think Daddy is crazy and the Quibbler isn’t very well respected in the publishing world. Luna knows this, but she’s proud of her father anyway. But she thinks maybe she does want to be respected and she’s not sure if she should feel bad about that.

She fiddles with her shoelaces. “I suppose I wouldn’t want to work for Daddy forever.”

Rita murmurs a reply; they fall silent again. The stream bubbles and churns. The fingers on the back of Luna’s neck slip around and come to rest curled against her throat. Luna leans in and lets her head fall against Rita’s knee. She thinks it's strange that Rita is capable of being so gentle. Hermione always said she was horrible, and the time that Luna had met her at the Three Broomsticks she hadn't been very nice, but somehow now she is, and Luna wonders why. A question nags at her.

"Why were you here? By the creek as a beetle, I mean."

Rita's leg tightens. Luna feels it through her ear. But then she relaxes again. "I was going to write an article," she says. "One of my contacts said you had an unhealthy relationship with your father, and I wanted to see for myself."

"And do I? Are you going to write it?"

"No. Your family might look odd from the outside, but what's normal? There's nothing unhealthy about a daughter who understands her father. Maybe if you hadn't caught me I wouldn't have seen that or wouldn't have cared, but you did, and I do. You would be a very hard girl to write a nasty article about."

"Good." Luna doesn't think she would have liked seeing her relationship with her father examined in the paper, and she certainly wouldn't have liked it if it said things that weren't true, but she and her father both think honesty is important, even if people don't want to hear it. If Rita had honestly thought there was something wrong with them and written about it, Luna wouldn't have hated her for printing it. Probably wouldn't have wanted to kiss her again, but wouldn't have hated her.

“Why did you want me to come back?” Rita asks.

Luna isn’t sure. Or maybe she is, but she doesn’t want to say that she doesn’t want what began to end.

“I wanted to see you in the daylight.”

“Is that all?”

“No.”

The fingers become insistent; Luna lifts her head and turns to look at Rita. Nothing like Mum, but maybe what she needs anyway. Rita leans down and kisses Luna softly on the mouth.

“This too?” she asks.

“Mmm,” Luna murmurs, and twists and shifts to face the right way, then kisses Rita again, this time with tongue and a hand tangling in her hair. When they break apart, she whispers, “Come home with me,” and Rita nods.

Luna carries Rita up the stairs in her pocket.

“It looks different,” Rita says, looking around at the jungle. “In the daylight, I mean, and with these eyes. And you’ve put animals in.” There are sketches of the beetle on Luna’s desk, and Rita laughs. “Isn’t it obvious what you want to do? Look at all the work you've put into these.”

And when she says it, it is. Luna can’t believe she’s never thought of her future in such terms before. She thinks of lying on her bed and talking to the ceiling and not really thinking anyone was listening, but it seems like Rita was. Seems like she heard and now she understands Luna even better than her father does, and Luna feels the ache again and then a fierce sort of joy because this time it feels so right.

Luna's knees give out on her and she drops onto the bed. Rita's hand caresses the banister as she moves around the room, counting the small painted versions of herself on the walls. When she gets to thirty-six, she turns to look at Luna.

"You missed one." Luna says.

"Did I?" Rita asks, but she's not looking at the walls any more. She's looking at Luna, and her eyes are deep and intense, full of a glint that makes something swirl and drop right through Luna's stomach and down, spreading warmth right out to her thighs. Luna fists her hands in the duvet and just breathes.

This.

This is what she wants, what she needs. A woman with the wisdom of a mother and the touch of a lover. Someone who will listen to her, talk to her and strip her down to her own human skin. And then, naked and bare, they'll become animals together.