- My Friend, My Sister -
"Eet's all right," said Fleur, waving off her helpers with a tired smile as she threw her towel onto the counter next to the sink. "The charms will take care of zee rest. Aller vous couchez, vous deux."
Hermione acquiesced gladly: she was exhausted. She put the last of the bowls into the cupboard and turned to see if Luna was following.
But the Ravenclaw was already slipping into her boots. "I'll be along in a bit," she said dreamily. "I just want to check on a few things first."
Fleur shook her head. "Ma belle Luna, you have checked zee garden just yesterday," she laughed. "Eet ees to early for anything to be growing yetཀ"
"That's the most magical time of all," breathed Luna, her eyes widening excitedly. "When the buds start to bloom and when the first petals start to unfurl...it's like watching a birth, Mum used to sayཀ"
She smiled brightly, and with that, she opened the door and disappeared into the darkness beyond.
For a moment, both Fleur and Hermione stood at the tiny window over the sink in silence, watching Luna drift off towards the garden, the kitchen's dim glow giving her figure an almost ghostly quality.
"Elle est mignonne, cette Luna," said Fleur softly, a sad smile on her face.
"Oui, elle l'est," agreed Hermione. "Un peu perdue dans les nuages, parfois, mais...elle a tellement bon coeur."
Fleur turned to her and smiled.
"Passe une belle nuit, 'Ermione."
Hermione smiled weakly at Fleur before leaving the quaint confines of the kitchen. She stepped gingerly over the squeaky floorboard at the threshold to the living room: the boys were all sound asleep. Ron was sprawled awkwardly on the sofa, his left leg covered by a remnant of his blanket, most of it having slipped onto the floor. Hermione stood there for a moment, chewing her lip and regarding Ron pensively. She finally sighed before gently pulling the blanket up to his chest. She then quietly made her way past Harry and Dean, the narrow staircase leading upstairs beckoning to her...
She slowly made her way up to the tiny room she and Luna shared. She wasted no time in changing into the nightie Fleur had loaned her. Making her way lethargically to the bed, she was about to climb in when through the open window a faint light caught her eye.
Peering out into the darkness below, she could just see Luna's faint form wandering through the garden and humming softly, flickering lantern in hand.
Hermione crossed her arms on the windowsill and watched for a moment, mystified by Luna's penchant for late night excursions. Unlike herself, Luna seemed utterly at home outdoors, whether day or night, as comfortable in a musty castle library as exploring the untamed thickets of the countryside.
Hermione sighed as the fresh night air tickled her skin, closing her eyes briefly at the pleasant sensation. One day, when all this was over, she determined to accompany the Ravenclaw on one of her late night jaunts, if only to experience what all the fuss was about. Not that Luna ever fussed, really, but the girl embodied a love of life and a serene self-acceptance that Hermione found at once mystifying and covetous.
She drew back from the window and flopped onto the bed. As she drew the covers up to her chin, she glanced at the small mushroom-themed clock on the nightstand: it was well past eleven. Not that it mattered, really; she likely wouldn't have gotten much sleep even had she turned in hours earlier.
She had no excuse, she knew. The cottage had provided a most welcome sense of security she'd missed over the past months on the lam. Nor was it any fault of Luna's: indeed, despite a slightly disconcerting tendency to cuddle (though this, Hermione reasoned, couldn't very well be helped given the bed's rather cozy dimensions), rooming with the Ravenclaw had turned out to be a very happy experience. Though clearly curious, Luna never pried into what Hermione and the others were doing, seeming to instinctively understand and accept their need for secrecy. Moreover, her sleeping habits (snuggling aside) were almost conventional, especially since Hermione had pleaded with Luna to cease her nightly bouncing on the bed, ostensibly to shake loose any potential Nargle infestations.
No, quality slumber was proving to be frustratingly elusive for entirely different reasons.
She gazed in silence at the ceiling, the distant sound of crashing waves intermingling with the constant drone of crickets drifting in through the window. The cottage provided an almost idyllic setting, but Hermione's mind was deeply preoccupied with matters quite apart from their current predicament.
For the first time, she was contemplating serious questions about her future, or rather, her future with Ron. His angry departure during the darkest days of their quest had shaken her to the core; she'd told herself it had been the effects of the Horcrux, its evil influence poisoning Ron's mind beyond reasoning, the dark tendrils of Lord Voldemort's corrupted soul striking its hate-filled barbs into his heart. She'd repeated it to herself over and over again, and yet...she couldn't help but wonder if she was subconsciously trying to delude herself.
Doubts and second guesses clouded her mind. Was Voldemort's influence simply a convenient excuse, a reason for her to turn a blind eye to what had happened? Why was she finding it so hard to forgive? But then, having seen Ron walk out of her life so abruptly, how could she cope with that future potential constantly lurking in the back of her mind? Over and over she mulled the same questions...and she could find no answers.
She'd lost all track of time when in walked Luna, lit wand tucked behind her ear and carrying a small tray.
"Still waking, I see," commented Luna serenely as she set the tray onto the nightstand, setting the small clock aside. She carefully grasped a small wooden cup with both hands and proffered it to Hermione. "Here you are."
Hermione pushed herself up into a sitting position and inspected the concoction as Luna proceeded to rummage through the closet. She ran the cup slowly back and forth under her nose, a faintly familiar fragrance drifting hazily up from the cream-coloured liquid. "What's this?"
"It's warm milk, with a pinch of Nutmeg," replied Luna from the closet. "I thought it might help."
Hermione grimaced. "Is it that obvious?"
"I think so," said Luna, her voice partly muffled as she was in the midst of changing into one of Fleur's spare nighties. "You do toss and turn a lot, I've noticed."
"I – oh," said Hermione, chagrined. It had never occurred to her that she might be the difficult one to sleep with. "I'm not keeping you awake, I hope?"
"Oh, it's all right," said Luna, pulling her long hair out of her nightie (which, Hermione noted, was a good two sizes too large for her). "I listen to you sometimes, when you talk in your sleep. Mum once told me that when people dream it can reveal – "
Hermione choked in mid-swallow, nearly spilling her milk.
Luna crouched down and slipped her sneakers under the bed. "You talk in your sleep," she said simply.
Hermione stared at her, alarm bells ringing loudly in her mind. "I...what?" she repeated, mortified.
Luna was lying down flat on the floor, evidently inspecting under the bed. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, I might tell you," she said matter-of-factly. "Orla Quirke used to go on about being stranded on an island and having to build a raft to escape the vicious Manatees...it was quite odd, really..."
Luna's words barely registered. If she truly had talked in her sleep –
"Did...did I talk about Manatees?" she ventured hesitantly.
Luna's head popped up from the bedside. "No, not so much," she replied. "More about snakes, and tombstones, and strange old ladies, and being lost and such."
"Oh," said Hermione, slightly relieved. At least she hadn't accidentally spilled the beans on the Horcruxes. Not that she didn't trust Luna – on the contrary. But Harry had made Dumbledore's wishes on the matter of secrecy quite clear.
Having inspected under the bed, Luna got up and took a small canvas bag from the tray, emptying its contents of Sycamore seeds into her hand. She proceeded to arrange the tiny pods in a specific pattern along the windowsill.
"There," she said, stepping back and eyeing her handiwork with apparent satisfaction. "We'll be safe if another Bodach comes by tonight – "
"Luna, that was very likely just a squirrel last night! I told you that could happen with the window openཀ"
"Oh, but squirrels and I get along quite well," countered Luna, undeterred. "Never once have I known them to filch my socks. No, I'm quite certain it was a Bodach, it's what they do, you know...Nox."
Hermione sighed, forcing herself not to react. She took a grateful swig from her milk as Luna climbed into bed. She doubted the drink, soothing as it was, would have any real effect, though at this point she was willing to try anything.
"Any luck in the garden?" asked Hermione once Luna had slipped her wand between the mattresses and fluffed her pillow.
"Not yet," breathed Luna. "Soon, though."
Hermione smiled. "Yes, I'm sure. Well, good night, Luna...and thank you for the milk, by the way, that was really sweet of you."
With that, she put the cup onto the nightstand and extinguished the lamp, leaving the tiny bedroom bathed in a faint silver light – the half-moon was not yet at its apogee.
She rolled over onto her side, facing the wall, gazing at its dim whitewashed surface. For some minutes the two girls lay in silence, Hermione desperately trying to clear her mind, when Luna suddenly spoke.
Hermione stiffened instantly.
"You talk about Ronald," remarked Luna softly. "In your sleep, I mean."
Hermione's body tensed. The last thing she wanted to do was to reveal her inner turmoil to anyone, even Luna. But...just how much had she overheard?
"Do I?" she asked, trying to keep the stress out of her voice.
"Yes," answered Luna in a whisper.
Hermione waited tensely for something more.
Silence. The lace draperies fluttered slightly in the cool night breeze over their heads.
Hermione couldn't stand it: she was desperate to know how much Luna had overheard – and also to know what her subconscious might be saying.
She flipped over, surprised to see Luna lying on her side, gazing at her – she hadn't even felt the girl move.
"That's why you're having trouble sleeping, isn't it?" asked Luna.
Hermione swallowed nervously. There was no denying the inherent truth in Luna's question.
"Well...yes," she whispered. "Luna...just how much did you hear?"
Luna seemed to hesitate, and for a moment Hermione thought she might not answer. "It was rather disjointed, actually," she finally replied. "I could only pick up the odd word...you did sound quite distraught, though. I did get the impression you felt Ronald had abandoned you..."
At that, Hermione felt a wave of emotion rise within her. All the pain, the intense fiery burning of anguish and hurt came flooding back –
How could he?ཀ
Her vision of Luna became blurred. She blinked once, twice, to no effect – her eyes were welling with tears.
She felt the covers shift slightly as Luna's hand clasped delicately with hers. "I didn't mean to cause you grief," she whispered.
"It...it's all right," choked Hermione, wiping her eyes with the corner of her pillowcase using her other hand. "I'm just being silly, I know..."
Her vision cleared enough until she saw Luna's large, silvery eyes looking back at her, their pale, luminous depths reflecting a profound empathy – she was immediately transported back to a day when Luna had brought her a most unexpected comfort in a girls' washroom, of all places...
"I don't think it's silly to feel sad," said Luna.
An odd feeling rose up inside Hermione as she clumsily wiped her nose and face. Looking at Luna, she felt a renewed surge of appreciation for the Ravenclaw's friendship – they shared not many commonalities, but somehow Luna was the one person whom Hermione could open her heart and soul to, without fear of ridicule or rebuke. "I don't know what to think anymore, Luna," she whispered earnestly, her breathing shallow as she felt her emotions rising to the fore once again. "I never thought he'd – just leave like thatཀཀ I didn't – I told myself it was just t-the Hor – I just don't know anymore..."
She broke down and started crying anew, unable to prevent the flood of anguish from overwhelming her. In an instant Luna was holding her close and stroking her hair soothingly.
"It won't always be this way," whispered Luna.
"I hope you're right, Luna," sobbed Hermione into Luna's shoulder. "I so hope..."
"Some paths take odd turns, sometimes," said Luna comfortingly, her voice a bare whisper. "But they can still lead to the right place, in the end. I believe Ronald will come to realize the treasure he has in you...but of course you have to believe that of yourself, too..."
Luna's words struck a deeply-buried chord within Hermione. Though she might doubt some of Luna's odder beliefs, she paradoxically greatly valued her opinions on matters of the heart. She slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position, Luna following suit. Hermione took Luna's hands in hers and smiled, tears still flowing freely down her cheeks.
"If there's any treasure worth appreciating," said Hermione, her voice choked with emotion, "it's this one, right here, right now..."
Luna's mouth opened slightly.
"I so cherish you, Luna," said Hermione with every fibre of sincerity. "I can't explain it, it makes no sense logically...and yet...I have much more than just a friend in you," she raised a hand and gently brushed straying blonde locks from Luna's face, "...I have a sister."
Luna's expression was unfathomable. Her silvery eyes grew wide –
"I've never had a sister before," she whispered.
Hermione swallowed deeply. "Neither have I," she echoed. "But I've alwa – oofཀཀ"
She tumbled backwards off the bed following Luna's veritable tackle, both girls wrapping their arms tightly around each other as they landed hard on the floor, a mess of blankets and pillows following them down. Still locked in a heartfelt embrace, Hermione could feel Luna's thin body trembling with emotion.
They remained at the side of the bed, talking and sharing deep thoughts, until the Moon had drifted out of sight, its silver rays confined to a small rectangle below the window. Hermione had lost all track of time once they finally clambered back into bed. She cast a passing glance at the clock: it was nearing two in the morning.
She felt no apprehension about getting so little sleep – in fact, she felt reinvigorated, in better spirits than she'd been in weeks. Giving a last affectionate squeeze of Luna's hand, she was about to bid her goodnight when the Ravenclaw suddenly posed a most unexpected question.
"What's an ignoramus?"
Hermione looked at her. "Excuse me?"
"An ignoramus," repeated Luna. "I've never heard the term."
Hermione frowned. Had someone been insulting to Luna? "Where'd you hear that?"
"In the kitchen, this morning – or rather yesterday."
"Oh?" said Hermione curiously. It sounded as though she'd missed an early argument.
"That's right," said Luna. "Ronald said it was a species of dinosaur...an Ignoramus Rex, as he put it...but that didn't make much sense in context..."
"Oh he did, did he?"
"Mm-hmm," confirmed Luna. "William disagreed. He said it was an ancient Roman Emperor who defeated the invading Smurf hordes. But I'm quite familiar with Roman Emperors, and I've never heard of an Ignoramus...and I'm certain there were no people known as the Smurfs...neither explanation really made sense."
Hermione pressed her hand to her forehead and tried to keep laughter from her voice, not entirely successfully.
"It's a conundrum, isn't it?"
"It is," said Luna. "It's almost as though they were jesting with me."
Hermione slowly shook her head, smiling. She reached over and playfully tweaked Luna's nose.
"Bienvenue sur Terre, ma chère Luna."
Luna looked at her. "I'd very much like to learn that," she said softly.
"I'll trade you," said Hermione, "French for Manx."
Luna smiled. "Agreed."
Hermione gave another gentle squeeze of Luna's hand before rolling over onto her side, burying her cheek in her pillow.
"Good night, Luna," she whispered.
Silence. She could feel Luna's gaze on the back of her head. It suddenly occurred on her.
"It means an ignorant person," she said. "It's a slangish term."
"Oh I see," said Luna, apparently satisfied with Hermione's definition. She pulled up the covers and sighed softly. "Happy dreams, Hermione..."
Hermione smiled to herself as Luna snuggled up against her from behind. Reaching back, she pulled Luna's arm about her waist, entwining their fingers together.
"You too, Luna..."
For the first time in weeks, Hermione would sleep soundly.