Chapter Forty-Three: Good Love for Luna?

Love and change is in the air.

(i) The characters and world of Harry Potter are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no money from this.

(ii) Thank you to all the readers who have stayed with me through the writing of this tale. I apologise for the long delays. Your patience has been amazing and your continuing reviews are so appreciated.

The evening following the Winter Solstice saw the Malfoys having another intimate ball. Severus grumbled about Lucius' never-ending need to wine and dine the bloody world, but Hermione had grown used to the Malfoys' love of entertaining.

Besides which, now that their wedding had been announced – albeit with the assurance that the knowledge would not go public – no matter how many people were in on the secret, Hermione was looking forward to her first engagement as a married woman.

Hermione dressed with care, choosing a simple Duchess satin ivory sheath that grazed her body and hinted at the bounty beneath. With it she wore her diamond and pearl studs and her wedding and binding rings. She was looking forward to appearing openly on her wonderful husband's arm. The oath-keeping enchantments would now ensure that all Malfoy gatherings that saw Hermione and Severus appearing together were safe from idle gossip. Besides which, both she and Severus were not given to public displays of affection. If someone who was not at the pre-Yule ball was there tonight, they would not see anything to tip them off. All Hermione and Severus would do was dance together, something they had done on many, many occasions already.

As Tansy dressed her hair and carefully arranged the tiny pearl combs in amongst the artfully upswept curls, Hermione examined herself in the mirror. She couldn't believe how happy she was. She had never felt this peaceful or content. And since her soul-binding, she felt so much confidance in her appearance. Deep in her soul, she knew that her dearest love thought her beautiful. It was amazing and she kept waiting to wake up from the best dream of her life.

Severus savoured a glass of Madeira as he waited for his new wife to join him. He still found it hard to comprehend that their binding had been successful. The curse was gone.

He'd even received a scroll from his Veela family in Berlin that morning acknowledging his re-entry into their family registry as the last living descendant of Juliana the Golden. He sneered as he looked upon it once more. He knew Hermione would find it fascinating but he had no time for them. Bootlickers all. They'd discarded his supposed ancestress for her love marriage and now they wanted to know him because he'd beaten the curse? More like it they wanted to know him because of his supposed status of war hero and Order of Merlin, First Class medal.

What the rest of the world thought mattered little to the often reviled and hated man. What was important was their happiness and the wonder that came from being together in such quiet joy. It was a special kind of magic.

Severus swallowed the last of his drink and turned as he heard Hermione's step on the stairs. He was standing the the foot of the staircase as she reached the landing in a vision of elegance and beauty. He felt like a love-sick fool, ready to wax poetic at the sight of her. Thank goodness she couldn't read his thoughts. He sounded like a sappy bugger even to himself.

Hermione came to him with a smile and stroked her hands down the fine silver embroidery of his black silk robes. "You look so rakish," she murmured, pulling his head down for a kiss. A kiss Severus gladly dipped his head for. He still could not get over how openly demonstrative she was of her affection. The Dark Veela curse had blighted his whole life. After years of torture, loneliness and suffering Severus could not quite believe in his good fortune. He had an honoured position, wealth, a beautiful, secure home and a wonderful, intelligent, loyal and truly desirable wife. The curse he had inadvertently lived under was broken, and he genuinely felt like he was a part of a loving family. It all felt surreal.

The closeness that Hermione shared with the Malfoys spilled over, not just to Severus who has always been a close friend, but also to those dear to Hermione's heart. She was like the glue that bound her connections together.

Harry was now suddenly close to the Malfoy patriarch, and even, gasp, Severus.

Harry had always gravitated towards his father-figures and the two Slytherins had somehow come to occupy the space that had laid vacant since the demise of Remus Lupin. Following Hermione's adoption, and the revelations at the Grimmauld Place meeting, the hatred and mistrust had been quietly altered into a kind of understanding and shared purpose. They all wanted what was best for their Hermione. If having cordial, even close ties between former opponents meant that it would ease Hermione's worries and make her feel like all of her family were one, then they were prepared to bite their tongues on occasion and let things be.

Harry had actually grown up a great deal since the end of the war and Severus didn't have a real cause to complain any more. Sure, the young man was a Gryffindor, his tendencies were to rush headlong into things, wanting to save the world without first having any kind of workable plan, but he was not unable to ask for advice when the need arose. Harry had at last realised that he could rely on people and that asking for advice also meant that he had to then think about what he'd been told. He couldn't, like he had as a child, listen to what people had to say and then do the exact same opposite.

Lucius and Severus were not Dumbledore. They weren't afraid to be frank, to tell Harry unwanted and uncomfortable truths if it would make him see what was going on in the wider world.

This was both a blessing and a curse. Ron found it disconcerting at Auror training when Harry would casually mention what Lucius had to say about what was going on in the Ministry, or talk about the chat he'd had with Severus about something they'd heard in their training sessions.

But Ronald too had learnt to think. He knew they were all struggling with their inner Darkness, and for that reason, going to the former Death Eaters was sometimes the best course of action. Moreover, however closely connected the Weasleys were to the Ministry, they didn't have the inbuilt political suaveness that was necessary to decipher the underhand machinations going on. Even Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt now seemed to include Lucius and Severus in much of their discussions.

This was an incredible boon for Lucius. Before, the blond had had to bribe his way into the inner circle of decision making. Now, it was not a question of money, but a question of actually caring, of taking a personal interest and putting his home and family on the line.

The Dark Lord had never been able to understand how loyalty was won. Hermione loved Lucius and Narcissa, she and Draco were friends and Draco's wife-to-be was truly a sister to her. That honest affection had won the hearts of the cold and aloof Slytherins. Now they wanted to ensure the world they occupied was a good one for all of them. If it meant that Lucius also got to increase his power, influence and wealth, well that was only right. The Dark Lord hadn't cared about making sure the Malfoys made money, instead, he'd spent their generations of inheritance as if it were his own. The new regime was as different as it was possible to get, and Lucius was nothing if not a smart man. He could see the benefit in actually doing the right thing. So he did.

The so-called intimate post-Solstice ball was not really all that intimate. But then, Harry mused as he waved at Hermione, it would have been hard pressed to imagine a Malfoy throwing something quiet and reserved. They had money and they enjoyed spending it.

Harry tried not to wince as he spotted the Fudges trying to make their way towards him. He really hated the man and his ingratiating ways. Harry knew Fudge wanted Harry to support his efforts to re-take the seat as Minister for Magic. Kingsley had only taken the position in the interim, but the dark man was insistent that he didn't want to be a politician for life. He was much happier working behind the scenes. It was a pity. Harry thought Kingsley was just what the Ministry needed. But you either were a born politician or you were not. Kingsley wasn't. He couldn't lie or connive enough to get things done. If it weren't for the fact that the Order was riding high on the triumph of defeating Voldemort, many of the reforms that had been put into place would have fallen by the way side as politicians and bureaucrats debated legislation in endless tedium.

Lucius was for that reason ideal to turn to. He could do the arm twisting that Kingsley could not. Much had been achieved because Harry, Hermione and Severus had been able to bring the cold patrician on board.

"Damn it," cursed Harry. Fudge was really trying to get to him. Hiding behind the pillar wasn't going to win him respite. Harry looked around, looking for a way out. There.

Luna was dressed in a simple icy-aqua blue gown in soft, misty chiffon. It was long and modest, but looked like something that was chosen with discerning taste. Not something Luna normally wore. For a moment Harry wondered if Narcissa had taken the blonde under her wing too, but then Harry forgot that thought as he spotted Mr. Fudge wink slyly at his wife and the couple parted to try and corner him.

Harry quickly approached Luna. "Dance with me, please?" he asked.

Harry didn't know it, but Luna's crush for Harry suddenly came back to roaring life. Harry looked so dashing in his smart black robes that Hermione had helped him buy for her wedding ball just before Yule. The emerald green waistcoat that he wore with it brought out his eyes and he really looked like a man grown.

Luna smiled, trying not to look at Harry directly. She couldn't take the impact his dark crimson aura had on her.

The music swirled around them, and they danced to a simple Viennese waltz.

It was romantic, almost surreal for Luna. She loved dancing and to be in Harry's arms, something that happened so rarely, even though since the fall of Voldemort, balls were becoming almost common, was a delight.

But for once, Luna wasn't only taken in by the wonder of being in Harry's arms. Now that she was coming into her own as a witch, she suddenly realised that although she was infatuated with Harry that she didn't get lost in his eyes.

The conversation, when it started, was that of friends.

"How's school?" asked Harry, breaking the silence. He'd been told by Hermione, who'd obviously learned from Narcissa, that it was polite to make conversation with one's dance partner.

Luna smiled vaguely. "All right, Harry. I've been spending a lot of time by the lake this past term."

Harry grinned. "Romancing the giant squid?"

"No, silly," said Luna. 'I've been practising my Mermish. I've got a year in Crete organised to work with the Mer Colony there."

"Wow,"' said Harry. "That's amazing. I'll come visit. I've always wanted to see more of the world."

"Oh, Harry, that would be marvellous." Luna's face shone with joy. "The Malfoys have a villa there, so Narcissa says that I can live there while I do my apprenticeship. That way I don't have to live with strangers."

"Where do they not have a home?" asked Harry, grinning.

Luna laughed. "I seem to have been adopted somehow. I think Lucius and Narcissa are trying to apologise for the months I spent in their dungeons. I think if I'd said I was going to Timbuktu or even the Himalayas that they would have bought a house and ensured that I had a safe place to stay."

Harry laughed. Luna was right. That did sound like something the Malfoys would do.

"I'm still amazed by the changes," said Harry, somberly.

"You shouldn't be. The war changed us all. Them more than us, I sometimes think. We became more of who we were. They, they had to alter all of their previously held values."

Harry nodded. Talking to Luna always gave him something to think about.

"And how are you?" asked Luna gently. She could see that Harry had become more thoughtful as their conversation progressed.

"I'm fine," Harry said, smiling. "I'm enjoying Auror training, but I can't wait for the year to end. I've been thinking of finding a small farm or cottage in a quiet, non-Magical area and working in the gardens, making soup and just enjoying flying." Harry sighed. "Remember our conversation at the Fudge Ball? I tried talking to Ginny after that. But she couldn't understand my need for a slow and quiet existence."

Luna nodded in understanding and patted his hand. She didn't want to discuss Ginny. Even though Luna was coming to realise that she wasn't in love with Harry, she found it hard to talk about his failed relationship with the now truly difficult Weasley. "Have you talked to Neville about your plans? He'll be happy to help you find a suitable property. And he'll be happy to help you choose plants and things, too. I was talking to Hannah and she was saying how he'd applied to train with Professor Sprout at Hogwarts to start a four-year apprenticeship with her for a Herbology Master's."

Harry shook his head. "I've not really spoken of my plans to anyone other than for Ginny and Hermione. But I'll talk to Neville. It's never too early to start is it?"

"No," said Luna, looking away from Harry to gaze around the room. Her eyes glazed over and she got that vague look she was noted for as she murmured, "Perhaps you should talk to Draco, too. 'Tory was saying how he was starting to branch out and do his own investing with the help of Theo. They might know how to do the whole buying of properties thing."

Harry's eyes took on a keen gleam. As the music ended, he squeezed Luna's hands in affection. "Thanks, Luna. You've given me plenty to think about."

Luna smiled and softly disengaged her hands from his. "Just don't move too far away from all of us though. It's good to be able to see friends easily."

Harry laughed. "So says the girl who is about to go live in Crete."

Luna giggled. "Yes, well. I'm only a Floo call or journey away. You can't imagine that the Malfoys or Hermione will allow me to be cut off from home, do you?"

Harry chuckled. They both knew what Hermione was like with keeping in touch with people. She was a dedicated writer of letters. No, Luna being in Crete would not stop her from being part of the gang at all.

Once Harry went off towards Draco and Astoria who were standing by the sofas in the far end of the ballroom, chatting to a regally presiding Narcissa Malfoy and her court of admirers, Luna sighed. She had hoped for so long that she and Harry would have a future together. She had liked him since she was in fifth year and he had taken her to the Slug Club Christmas party. But since then, his aura of Gryffindor ruby with liberal lashings of gold and hers of sun-streaked gold had begun to clash more and more.

The end of the war and her return to Hogwarts had seen the blonde's aura grow and change. It has grown in contentment, in confidence, even in acceptance of her strengths and gifts. From then to now, it had moved more towards the goldy-blues of a sun-dappled ocean.

The war had distilled her, altered her essence.

Meanwhile, Harry's was altered in that it had darkened, his Gryffindor red closer to a deep garnet or blood-red now, the gold tones almost hidden, and mixed with night dark black so that he resembled the deepest sunset sky. They were not compatible and there was no denying the fact.

For a true connection, the auras needed to match, to blend, one into the other, just as Hermione's purple did with the Headmaster's silvery pewter to resemble the twilight sky, or 'Tory's antique gold did with Draco's blinding silver to become moonbeams raining down from heaven.

Upset with her own self-delusion for so long, Luna pushed herself to leave the ballroom and slowly walk towards the Japanese water garden. She had come, over the summer to realise that she had a special affinity to water and water based magic. It calmed her. She needed it because she realised then and there that her attraction to Harry was the yearning of a child, wanting to belong to the popular set, the acceptable. As Harry's girl she would have always had a place in the Wizarding world. No one could have pushed her aside as just Loony Lovegood. It didn't mean that she didn't like Harry for the boy he had been or the man he had become, but he was no longer the one she was romantically drawn to.

The Japanese water garden was a tranquil place, even with the gardens and grounds lit up for the ball. Narcissa had built a small replica of a Japanese pavilion at the side of the garden that Luna had come to love through her visits to the Manor and it was here that she finally settled down. Luna wanted to think, to think about who she was becoming, who she wanted to be.

As Luna relaxed in the place that was now familiar; she, Hermione and 'Tory had often used it as a place to sunbathe and picnic because it was so secluded and private; another joined her.

Julius Malfoy had watched the blonde beauty surreptitiously. He'd from the moment he'd been introduced to her, watched her avidly. She was closely connected to the royal houses of Sweden and Scandinavia and yet, she hadn't dressed like a princess or even an aristocrat. That the Malfoys and Hermione were friends with her was to be expected. But he'd learned that it was a new friendship, one that had solidified with the end of the war and the joint efforts of the Malfoys and Hermione to clear Severus' name.

Julius was always one to know everyone of import. Like Slughorn only better, he collected people, both for mutual benefit and amusement. Now he watched the ethereal beauty as she danced with the Saviour of the Wizarding World, a thoughtful expression in her eyes. How could Potter not notice how pensive she was? But the young man obviously failed to pick up on what the blonde was thinking.

As she left the ballroom, Julius felt compelled to follow her. No one should have such a haunted look in their eyes, especially not someone so young and beautiful.

He knew he was more than old enough to be her father, but if Severus could snag himself a young witch, why couldn't he? Besides, he was growing bored with all of the artifice and posturing. His on-again and off-again affair with Tisiphone was all well and good, but she had no interest in a serious commitment. Her first love was Healing. She had no time to play the society hostess that his witch would have to take on. But royalty, that would really be a coup to his business and social position. How could he as a Malfoy allow such a treasure to be left by the wayside?

Julius looked like a shark, an expression that normally resided on Lucius' face, as he quietly followed Luna out to the water gardens.

He found her, shoes kicked off, feet dangling in the magically heated water as she leaned back, looking at the stars.

She didn't move or start as he settled down not too far away from her.

"You looked like you needed a shoulder to cry on," he said blandly. He was noted for speaking frankly, no point in altering the habits of a lifetime.

His words made her sit up straight and turn towards him. "No one else notices," she said quietly.

Then she shrugged delicately, her slender shoulders moving elegantly. "No, that's not true. Both Hermione and 'Tory would, but they were wrapped around their wizards and they weren't paying attention. They would if they knew there was anything to pay attention to."

Julius grunted. Then, changing tact, he asked, "Do you mind if I smoke?"

She shook her head. "No, go ahead, but only if it is a cigar. I can't stand the smell of cigarettes."

"It is," he said with a chuckle. "I grabbed some of Lucius' finest on my way out. He'll do a number when he notices."

Julius' voice was filled with glee at the thought of annoying his dear cousin. There was only a two year gap between them, and Julius enjoyed playing the part of the younger, incorrigible relative.

Luna laughed. "Are you sure it's one of his good ones? He might have anticipated it and transfigured a horrid one into imitating it."

Julius looked aghast. "I bloody hope not."

Luna laughed. The silly, irrelevant conversation was just what she needed after her deep thoughts about the future and the end of her attraction to Harry. He was the only boy she'd ever had a crush on. She'd always assumed she was not good enough for him. But to realise that she herself didn't want him was a bit difficult to accept. Could she have changed so much and not realised it until this night?

She'd thought she'd have a chance with Harry when he and Ginny broke up, but now, she could see that their auras had changed even more. They didn't suit. Not really. All she had had were foolish dreams.

Luna forced herself to pay attention to the man trying to charm her. One should never ignore a Malfoy, even if he was not a former Death Eater. It was then, as she looked at him, her focus soft and not direct, that she clearly noticed his aura. It was a pale, warm antique gold, almost as muted as Astoria's, but warmer, more like sunlight than metal. Entranced, she allowed herself to take comfort in the warmth he exuded. His sunshine nature was just what she needed.

Eventually, once his cigar was smoked he put it out and held out his hand. "Dance?"

Luna smiled. "Yes."

Julius pushed himself up and then, gave her a hand to haul her to her feet. Then, with a rakish grin, he tucked her hand through his bent arm and led her regally to the dance floor.

Luna couldn't help but smile at the charming man. She knew he was a smooth operator, but she had never been flirted with in such an unabashed, obvious and practiced manner. It was silly, wonderful and exciting all at the same time. She knew she shouldn't take anything he said or did seriously, and yet, she couldn't help but be entranced. She was only seventeen and he was sweeping her off her feet.

As the music changed and another waltz began, Julius swept her into the throng. They danced like they had magic guiding their feet. He was a masterful dancer, light, elegant and oh, so, strong. She didn't have to do a thing, he led her so effortlessly.

Soon one dance lead to another and she realised he wasn't just flirting with her but actually courting her. The words weren't of a practiced rake and seducer, but that of a man who was truly interested in the woman he was with.

Luna had never talked to a near stranger so easily. For the first time a man was treating her like a woman and she bloomed in his presence. She realised that he was not interested in being just a friend however wonderful friendship might be, nor did he see a girl before him. Instead, he was treating her like she was a woman and in his arms, she felt like one for the very first time.

Eventually, as the final dance before supper was announced, Julius asked, "Would you like to fill a plate and sit out in the garden?"

For one moment, a shadow of doubt crossed her mind. She was so much younger than he was. But then, she looked directly at him and saw the warmth, the kindness in his aura. His rakish ways aside, this was not a man who would push her to do what she was not willing to do. "Yes," said Luna, slipping her hand boldly in his. "I think that would be wonderful."

Julius grinned at her and suddenly, despite his Malfoy looks, he looked like a teenager about to do something naughty.

Luna giggled and they fill their plates, feeling like urchins escaping a spanking.

Julius snagged a bottle of champagne and two flutes, and with their food and drink bobbing obediently behind them, they wandered back over to the Japanese water garden. This time they sat closer together. Their conversation was muted, quiet. Mostly Julius asked her about her plans for Crete, telling her about his own interest in scuba-diving and skiing.

It was romantic and perfect. Nothing that had happened to Luna before this had prepared her for the charmer that was Julius Malfoy.

Once the food was consumed, Julius deliberately took her plate and put it aside. "We can have pud, after," he said.

Luna blushed. Even though she was an innocent, there was no way she could misunderstand his intentions.

Smirking playfully, Julius lent forward, giving her plenty of time to flee, if she so desired.

Luna, who had never been kissed before, had no intention of running. She wanted to know what all the fuss was about, but more, she wanted this man, this charming, handsome and kind man to kiss her.

Luna pouted her lips and offered them to Julius.

That one innocent gesture brought home to him just how untouched she was.

Julius was a rake, a playboy, but he was also a gentleman. There was no denying the innocence before him. When he kissed her, he left all of his cleverness and his art behind, and touched her lips with his in the softest of tokens.

Luna's breath left her on a sigh. The kiss, her first kiss, was like fairy wings, brushing against the soft skin of her lips.

As Julius made to draw away, she followed him, wanting to prolong the contact, to feel more of his tender ministrations.

Luna's obvious desire settled into Julius' blood. She was like nothing he had ever experienced. She wasn't with him because he was a Malfoy, as almost every woman from his teens had been; she was with him because he had approached her. Usually it was the other way around, women throwing themselves at him because he was the unattached Malfoy, the playboy of legend with the fortune to match.

And so Julius Malfoy kissed as though for the very first time. Being with Luna, breathing in her air seemed to transform him and wash away his jaded patina, revealing his true colours. Forgetting everything he had ever learned about women, Julius kissed Luna again and again, drawing her slender form close to his chest in his need to have her as close to him as possible.

There was no denying it. What had started for the man as a simple flirtation had altered in the time he'd spent with the amazing Luna. Her kisses made him feel as though he were drinking from the fountain of heaven. Her lips tasted of nectar, pure and sweet.

A/N: Love it? Hate it? Tell me what you think. I really want to know what you feel about this story, and especially this chapter.