He was sitting, alone in the small café, silent, like a frozen statue of wax. Quietly, he was absentmindedly stirring a cup of coffee, the hue of caramel. His chartreuse eyes, hidden by a pair of glasses, fixed blindly on some point before him, staring blankly and seeing nothing. Dark, messy locks covered his forehead, falling just behind his ears, and at the right angle, one could see that his face was just as lifeless as his eyes, and the corners of his mouth were turned down into the tiniest frown imaginable. Dark eyebrows hung closely to the eyes, knitted together to make his minuscule frown complete. He had a cold, unfriendly exterior. Almost unapproachable, if you will. Haunted, perhaps, by the ghosts of his past, and the demons of the present.
In a sudden movement, he grabbed for a packet of sugar, tore it open, and emptied the contents into the brown depths of his drink. God only knew how many times he had already done that, or how many times he had added milk to the mixture. He was always "fixing" the coffee, never drinking it. He resumed his stirring, the spoon scraping the bottom of the mug harshly and rhythmically. He was an empty shell of a human being, dead on the inside, it seemed.
The gentle tinkle of the bell on the door brought him to life for an instant. It was a signal that someone else had entered his quiet domain, destroyed his dead solitude. His teeth found his bottom lip and began to slightly chew upon it, a sign of frustration, maybe even nerves. He had no peace these days. The tiny coffee shop had been today's refuge, but now... he had no hope of being left alone. He had only himself to blame, he supposed, although it never had really been his fault. He had never wanted the ridiculous attention that had chased him through all the nineteen years of his young life. In fact, he loathed it. So he kept his head down, with little hope that he would not be recognized.
But to his thankful surprise, the insane cries of identification, the doting praises, the groveling and worshiping did not come. Rather, the other person completely ignored him. His eyes shot up to see who the intruder was, adjusting his glasses. An image of a young woman, clipboard tucked under arm, wavy, dishwater blond locks falling in long waves down her back, met his eyes, striking him as strangely familiar. A long, thin, wooden wand was poking out from the back of her hair, obviously tucked behind an ear. Curious, really.
She went straight up to the counter of the little café with a purposeful stride, and set her clipboard down on the counter, allowing the counter top to support her beneath her elbows. A pair of ratty trainers poked out of the old, worn robes that she had on. She twisted one foot around and around on a pivot, like a three year old child. It was almost endearing in a way, he realized, before quickly looking back to his coffee, feeling slightly unnerved and embarrassed. She reminded him of someone he ha d known in what seemed like a previous life.
Could it be?
"Excuse me," the intruder said softly, setting her clipboard onto the wide counter. The clerk jumped to attention, all business at once.
"Can I help you, miss?" came the warm, gentle voice of the shopkeeper at the counter. "Here's a menu, dear. I'd love to recommend the watercress sandwich, it really is fabulous, if I do say so myself. All that lovely mayonnaise and wheat bread. Oh, and watercress, of course."
The intruder did not respond immediately, and from the tilt of her head, it appeared as though she was taking in the whole atmosphere of the café – the frosty windows, painted with ice from the chill outside, the plaid-covered menus, the various tables and chairs inside, the colors of the paint upon the walls. Then, she spoke, in a sort of misty, dreamy tone.
"Actually, I'm here for something else." She paused, perhaps debating on whether or not to ask what she was about to inquire of. Obviously decided to venture on, the intruder said clearly,
"I was wondering if you've ever heard of a Snorgle Glackflab."
The shopkeeper stared at her with a sort of blank, shocked look on her face. He found it almost amusing as he watched the conversation progress.
"A- a what?" she blurted, looking at the other woman as though horns were suddenly sprouting from her head.
"A Snorgle Glackflab," the intruder chirped cheerfully, still glancing around the shop curiously.
"What in the name of arse is that?" the shopkeeper ejaculated crudely.
"Well," the other responded brightly, "it's rather difficult to explain."
The shopkeeper goggled at her.
"At any rate," the intruder continued, blissfully unaware of the confounded shopkeeper. "I heard a little rumor that there might be one here."
The other woman seemed to regain her sense quickly, snapping, "Well, how can there be a-a-a whatever it is, if I've never heard of one in my life?"
"Oh, they're very rare, ma'am," the intruder clarified, though not very well.
The shopkeeper was spluttering, something about "nonsense" and "insanity" from what he could hear. A tiny grin stole across his features, equal to his earlier frown. But the shopkeeper soon retrieved her control once again after taking a calming breath. Then, jabbing her index finger in the direction of the door, she spat, her words slightly desperate and wild,
"I don't have time for this madness. Please leave."
He felt the need to speak; his interest in this strange person had grown. The evidence of who she was was overwhelming. He stood up abruptly, sending his chair screeching backwards. Predictably, his action gained both of their attention.
And he was very pleased when the intruder's face lit up with recognition.
"Mr. Potter!" the shopkeeper exclaimed, fretting, bounding over to his side in an instant. "I do hope we haven't disturbed you. I'll get rid of this nuisance, just a minute, sir!"
She made to push the intruder out of her little café, but he stayed her, grabbing her elbow as she tried to bustle past him. She stared up at him in slight shock.
"I'd prefer it if you allowed her to stay, please," he said coldly, a forced smile growing on his face.
This set the shopkeeper off again, muttering under her breath about the things she could not comprehend, which, he supposed, was a great deal of things. His gaze flickered to the intruder, who was now smiling at him, her clipboard tucked under arm once again. He returned the smile, but quickly turned back to the astounded shopkeeper.
"I trust that won't be a problem, ma'am," he sort of asked the shopkeeper, raising his eyebrows at her.
"Oh, no. No! Of course not! Why on earth would it be?" The shopkeeper sounded almost as though she were hyperventilating. Sad really, Harry though absentmindedly, before he returned his thoughts back to the current predicament.
"I didn't think so," he coolly replied, now taking the intruder's arm with his hand, and gently steering her over to his little refuge of a table. She extracted her arm from his grip kindly, sitting down in the seat across from him and setting her clipboard gently upon the table. He waited until the shopkeeper had disappeared into the back in a flurry of agitation before he spoke.
"Hello, Harry." She paused, examining him, before carefully adding, "Thank you for asking her to let me stay."
"It was nothing," he replied softly. A smile lit her features. He returned the smile, glad to see a familiar face that wasn't fogged over by utter melancholy or anger. Luna, he now recalled, had always had that sort of pure essence around her. It was actually refreshing, much more so than his far too sugary coffee.
They sat in silence for a moment, Harry simply enjoying the non-threatening company. He hardly expected Luna to go on and on about his little "achievements" for he could hardly consider defeating his enemy an achievement. It could have been him, instead, lying dead upon the ground, his black glasses broken beneath the boot of Lord Voldemort, blood trickling from one corner of his mouth, emerald eyes staring lifelessly, blankly.
He would be surprised, once again, by Luna Lovegood.
Finally, Luna spoke, her tone of voice strangely curious and accusing. "You don't look well, Harry."
"What?" He stared at her blankly, in a sort of shock.
"You haven't been sleeping well, have you?" she continued calmly, ignoring his flabbergasted state.
Now Harry remembered. This was Luna Lovegood, notoriously weird and, frankly, rather random. She was also prone to making situations awkward. He figured it was just best to agree with Luna. So he nodded.
She watched him closely. He felt almost naked. He felt like a science experiment. A butterfly in a jar. Something along those lines. Maybe it was the feeling of an ant beneath a magnifying glass. It was bizarre. It was unnerving. It was Luna.
"It will pass," she abruptly assured him, turning her glossy eyes away from him to stare interestedly at the painting on the wall.
Something had flooded Harry's insides - something that felt like surprise, anger, and incredulity. Roughly, he drew her attention back to him by grinding out, "How would you know?"
A smile was playing lightly on her lips, but her voice lost its mystical and dreamy tone when she spoke next.
"You aren't the only one who has seen horrors, Harry. You aren't the only one who has lost something."
Her words put him so sharply into place, that he was left goggling at her in a sort of shock. She returned her eyes to the watercolor gracing the drab wall of the shop, studying it like she had been studying Harry moments earlier. Neither of them spoke for a moment, Luna being preoccupied with the picture on the wall, and Harry busy groping for the right words to say. And he was at a loss to find them.
Silence drifted over them once more. Luna was still studying that painting, but Harry was busy studying her. Now that he was looking more closely, he noticed the unhealthy pallor of her skin, made almost unreal by the gracious smile she had allowed on her lips. Sort of purplish half moons darkened the luminescent eyes he had grown so accustomed to. This surely could not be the same Luna Lovegood from the days at Hogwarts. The Luna there had been distinctly abnormal and carefree. Harry couldn't fathom that Luna would actually worry about things other than one of her ridiculously fantastic creatures she came up with.
"Everyone appreciates you for what you did, you know," came her voice while she was still taking in the painting as though it were the most interesting piece of art in the world. True enough, the waves painted in it were rocking back in forth along the beach where colored umbrellas tilted ever so slightly at a light breeze. In the corner, a young child was building a sand castle, similar to the towers and turrets of Hogwarts, he noticed fondly.
"Well, I had to do it, didn't I?" he replied calmly, though coldly. "Its not as if I had much of a choice. Kill, or be killed. Stand aside, and let everyone else get killed. See everyone that means anything die – because of me. Lose my nerve... and completely fail," he finished quietly, picking at the chipping paint on the table where they sat.
"We both know you had the choice," she said clearly, almost severely. He was struck at how different she had become in the space of five minutes. Harry frowned, then changed the subject.
"So, what happened to you?"
This was not the Luna he had remembered. Sure, the girl who had wandered into the little café had distinctly struck him as the girl back at school. The similar love of the unlikely was obvious, as was her appearance. The dreamy tones. But this girl had realized the terrors of the world, perhaps. She was not as warm as once she had been. It bothered him. In his minds eye he had always seen Luna as the invincible one – pure and lively despite whatever the world was dealing with. Oblivious to all but her lighthearted concerns. She was the only one who could be that, he had thought. And now, not even she was.
"They killed my father," she replied without hesitation, tearing her eyes from the painting to focus on his.
He frowned, surprised, though he wasn't really sure what he had been expecting. Certainly not that. In an instant, he realized how alike they truly were now – both orphans in a cruel, cruel world. He itched to place his hand comfortingly on her arm but resisted the urge, looking away instead, searching for something to say.
"I'm sorry," he finally managed, well aware that his simple apology could in now way compensate for her loss. He himself knew that from all his years of people tip-toeing around him about the murders of his own parents, lame apologies never helped.
But instead of growing angry, as he likely would have, Luna just smiled at him mystically, all her seriousness evaporating on the spot. She was so bewildering, he thought to himself as she clearly stated,
"It's quite alright." It was almost as though she was forgiving him.
With a jolt, Harry realize it really was all his fault, in a sick, demented way. It was his fault for drawing people in, for making friends. People had gotten killed because of him. Who knew if Mr. Lovegood was murdered on his behalf as well. He suddenly choked on his saliva at the thought of the situation.
"Alright there?" Luna asked with a quiet, sparkling laugh.
"Not really." He paused. "I'm really, really sorry, Luna."
"It wasn't your fault, Harry," she returned kindly.
"How do you know?" he asked wildly, staring at her. Accuse me. BLAME ME, he begged it of her. Why? He had to know that he wasn't this person everyone exalted in the streets. He had to know that he didn't deserve the fan mail.
"Not everything is about you, Harry Potter," Luna told him, reading right though him. "Just because you are the – The Boy That Lived, doesn't mean everything happens because of you. The Death Eaters killed my father because he wouldn't join up, not because you and I are and were friends. They didn't even know that I knew you."
Harry let her words sink in.
"I'm sorry." But this time, Harry was apologizing for his arrogance.
"It's quite alright." Luna understood. She always had, Harry remembered. He paused, toying with the edge of the table now. Before he realized it, Luna had reached across the table and stayed his agitated hand. He glanced up into her silvery eyes, and smiled.
"Would you like to go out sometime? Like dinner on Friday?"
There was a deafening pause.
Then, a dreamy voice broke the silence. "Harry, I would love to."