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."