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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."

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.

---

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.