Hermione closed her book History of the House Elves and set it on her bedside table. She crossed her hands on her woolen blanket and for long while stared at the ceiling, keeping her mind blank while she heard the distant sounds of the school nurse making the rounds of the hospital wing. Ron had Neville had been discharged the previous day, but Hermione had to endure the seemingly endless supply of potions Madam Pomfrey was concocting for another week at least.

Harry and Ron had come to visit her at breakfast and lunch that day, but she had insisted on them taking some time for themselves that evening, after giving them a list of books she would like to read, which they fetched from the library. But as she lay in bed, staring at the various ornate engravings on the arches and columns on the walls and ceiling above her, she was already beginning to regret that decision. Although she enjoyed a good book more than most, she'd found it difficult to drift off to sleep. There were so many things on her mind...she was still waiting for an appropriate time to talk to Harry about Sirius, but every time she'd tried to broach the topic Harry had dropped his gaze from hers and muttered some muffled excuse to change the subject. Hermione had gotten the definite impression that he was not willing, or yet ready, to discuss it. She knew it would do no good for him to keep his pain locked away...but also realized she had to let him come to that assertion at his own pace, much as it chagrined her.

She was considering wether or not to start another book or to try and get to sleep. She was still wide awake, though she'd had her fill of books this day, and was debating the merits of one over the other when the familiar creaking Hospital Wing's door caught her ear. She eagerly glanced over to see who might be calling at this late hour, hopeful for some company.

Luna Lovegood closed the door behind her, a small box tucked under one arm, a rolled up copy of what Hermione assumed must be The Quibbler in hand. As the Ravenclaw turned and searched the room with her large, silvery eyes, Hermione's conscience was disturbed by a slight twinge of guilt. Ginny had told her about the endless ridicule and derision Luna was enduring, not only from the Slytherins but from members of her own house, to the point where her personal belongings were routinely being taken from her. Hermione had suddenly felt quite badly about having given Luna a rough time of it over the last several weeks, disputing most of her claims, totally ludicrous though they were. Granted, some of her beliefs were rather laughable, but that didn't excuse the kind of treatment she was getting.

Hermione recalled how Ginny had told her how Luna had saved both her own and Ron from the Death Eaters in the planet room, this while trying to carry a hobbling Ginny and dragging along an incoherent Ron behind her.

As Hermione's was one of the few occupied beds in the wing, it didn't take long for Luna to locate her. She stood at the door for a moment before making a beeline straight for her. A few days ago Hermione would have groaned inwardly, though so much had happened to make her look at the young Ravenclaw in a different light since then...she quickly swept aside the fact that it was well past curfew at the thought of some welcome company.

Luna sat down at the foot of Hermione's bed, her wand still tucked in its customary place behind her ear and her ridiculous butterbeer cap necklace hanging about her neck.

"Hello," said Luna dreamily. "How are you getting on?"

"Hi Luna," said Hermione. "I'm doing better, Madam Pomfrey says I should be out of here by next week...and you?"

"I've been rather busy," she said vaguely, setting the box on the bed between them. "I sent an owl to Daddy to send me one of Mum's old recipes yesterday; I actually made some for all of you, but Ronald and Neville ate my whole batch in the hall earlier, so I had to go back and make some more. Sorry for the wait."

Hermione's apprehension about the contents of the box evaporated, figuring that if Ron eagerly ate something made by Luna it couldn't be that bad. Opening the lid, she saw what appeared to be miniature rabbit-like creatures with strange elongated, upturned snouts, made from chocolate.

"Um...well, thanks Luna," said Hermione, taking one and eyeing it closely as Luna stared at her. "I'm curious though...what exactly are these supposed to be?"

"Well, Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, of course," said Luna matter-of-factly. "Daddy's got a much better idea now about their appearance after interviewing all those eyewitnesses for The Quibbler article."

Hermione's stomach tightened. She was sorely tempted to point out such creatures didn't exist, but after a moment's reflection thought better of it. "Well, thank you Luna, that was sweet of you," she said, taking a tentative bite.

She chewed on it for a few moments, Luna's silvery eyes staring at her expectantly. Hermione realized with some surprise that Luna's account of Ron and Neville's conspicuous consumption of these treats was no exaggeration...they were delicious!

"Goodness, Luna," Hermione said, swallowing the remainder of her 'Snorkack', "these are really good! How did you manage to make these things here?"

"Oh," said Luna dreamily, "I asked the house-elves if I could borrow a small part of their kitchen, they really are quite sweet, you know."

Hermione snatched up another treat from the open box. "You know how to get to the kitchen?"

"Oh yes," said Luna, seemingly entranced by how the candlelight played across the back of her hand. "The elves tell me a lot of things about the castle when they visit late at night....although that Dobby fellow is rather an odd one, with all those little hats he wears."

"You mean you talk to the elves when they come to clean?" asked Hermione. "Don't they come at the wee hours of the morning?"

"Yes," said Luna simply, now losing interest in the back of her hand and taking a chocolate treat herself. "I don't sleep much, so it passes the time," she continued, nibbling on the chocolate's elongated 'horn'. For a while both were quiet, nibbling on their own chocolates, Hermione thinking furiously for any subject she could bring up without involving some nonsensical discussion of mythical creatures or theories.

Luna finished her chocolate, rose from the bed and made to leave. "Well, goodnight," she said airily as she turned to go.

"Luna wait," said Hermione, wincing a little as she sat up straighter in bed. Luna turned back to her, eyes fixed in that oddly penetrating stare of hers.

"I...um....listen," Hermione began, then indicated with her hand the chair between the two beds. "Please have a seat, I'd like to talk to you about something."

Luna seemed to consider her for a moment, her head tilted slightly to one side. Hermione laughed inwardly, as it made the young Ravenclaw look for all the world like a bemused pixie.

Luna drifted over to the chair and slowly sat in it, in a ramrod-straight posture that conveyed unease, which stunned Hermione.

"I know what you're going to say," said Luna in an unusually subdued and serious voice.

"You do?" asked Hermione, curious as to what the other girl was thinking.

"I should have done more to protect Ronald and Ginny from those Death Eaters," said Luna. For the first time since Hermione had known her, Luna averted her eyes and was gazing down at her hands on her lap. "I wanted to..." her voice broke off.

Hermione could hardly believe what she was seeing. Luna Lovegood, normally never one to be flustered or at a loss for words, had suddenly grown silent.

"Hey listen," said Hermione said, her heart growing heavy seeing Luna in such a state. "I'll tell you, you had the subject right, but certainly not the message."

Luna's gaze returned slowly to Hermione's, her head still tilted to one side, her usual expression of surprise replaced now by one of uncertainty. "I wasn't able to...both of them go hurt," she whispered, and Hermione's heart sank further upon seeing those enormous grey eyes glittering with tears.

"That's NOT what Ginny told me," Hermione said, gritting her teeth slightly from the pain as she rolled her legs over the side of her bed and sat up, facing Luna. Luckily Madam Pomfrey was still tending to one of the students at the other end of the hall and hadn't noticed. "Luna, you got them both out alive. Ginny told me everything you did, fending off those Death Eaters while helping them out of there. I think what you did was truly incredible, and what I wanted to tell you was," Hermione looked straight into Luna's silver eyes, "Thank you. From all of us."

Once again Luna's gaze dropped. Hermione felt much sadness now. "And also...sorry....I never really made it easy for you, did I?"

Luna looked back at her with an air of seriousness about her, contrasting strikingly with her usual dreamy countenance. "It's okay," she said. "I'm quite used to it, you know. Most people seem to think I'm rather odd. Some even call me 'Loony Lovegood', actually."

"Well," said Hermione, "I wasn't very nice about it. I just, well, have a bit of a temper sometimes, as I'm sure Ron would tell you. And I'll tell you something else," she added in a conversational whisper, "Ron is starting to recall what happened back in that room, and he's really impressed how well you handled it..."

Luna stared back at her. "Well, that's good, I suppose," she said vaguely. "I...rather like the company of your little group actually."

Hermione felt a growing empathy for the girl in front of her. "Luna...I know you're not as immune to abuse as some might think. I just want you to know, if ever you need someone to talk to about that, I'm here for you...we all are."

Luna continued to stare at her for several moments, her large protuberant eyes unblinkingly fixed on Hermione's.

"Well, thank you," said Luna in her typical dreamy voice, "That's...rather nice of you, actually."

They were both silent for a moment, Luna seeming to be lost in thought. When she opened her mouth again Hermione thought that Luna might just take her up on her offer then and there.

"I suppose I'd best be going," said Luna, rising from her chair. "It's past curfew already, and I'd rather not get caught wandering the halls at this hour by Mr. Filch...although that cat of his is quite adorable, don't you think?"

She smiled dreamily at Hermione as she turned and walked towards the hall entrance and then quietly slipped out the door.

Hermione smiled after her. It would take Luna to call Mrs. Norris 'adorable'. She wondered...had she just gained a friend in the odd little Ravenclaw?