The Sleeping Forest
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Harry Potter. This is an amateur, nonprofit work.
A/N: Thanks for reading! :)
"The birds brought seed & flowers & bits of brightly coloured string & placed them in her hair while she slept so that she would remember the wild joy of spring when she awoke." — Story People
Flickering candlelight mingled with the bluish glow of predawn, casting long, grotesque shadows in the narrow spaces between the trees. Hermione shoved her mist-dampened hair out of her face, tucking the disobedient curls behind her ears, where she knew they would stay for all of three seconds before springing back and going where they pleased.
If Luna was awake, she would say something about fictitious creatures that fed on dust motes and created frizz; smile dreamily at Hermione's knee-jerk, skeptical response; and produce a lucky scrap of ribbon from her gigantic handbag to restrain her friend's hair.
Sighing, Hermione attempted to focus her tired eyes on the book in her lap. She'd spent so much time spent hunched over charts and essays since it happened that she was starting to feel as though she was made of parchment — dry and brittle and feather light. Her left hand found its way to Luna's forehead, trembling and ghosting over her temple.
In spite of her unnatural pallor, Luna looked peaceful, as if she was part of the forest. In a way, Hermione supposed she was. Spidery roots extended from Luna's arms and legs, anchoring her to the soft earth. Her hair spread over the ground like moss, strewn with pine needles and young green leaves. Every now and then, a bird perched on her knee as though she was a log instead of a woman who had once been full of so full of laughter and light that it shone through her skin.
A twig snapped under a heavy boot, heralding the arrival of another visitor. Hermione could guess his identity before he spoke; he came to the woods behind Luna's house at the same time every morning to check on her before work.
"You can't keep doing this to yourself, Hermione," he said. "You need rest."
"I slept a bit," she lied. "I'm fine. I'll rest when I find a way to wake her up." Her voice shifted from stubborn and defiant to something hushed and sad. "She'd do the same for me."
With a reluctant noise of agreement, Harry flopped down next to her and patted Luna's motionless hand. "Yeah, I reckon she would."
"I wish I knew what she was doing when it happened," Hermione whispered. "Why wouldn't she tell me if she was experimenting with dangerous magic? For five years now we've been working together, keeping each other safe. Why would she keep this a secret?"
Hermione's stress-frazzled mind replayed the day she'd started work as an Unspeakable, remembered with perfect clarity the ecstatic smile that transformed Luna's face when she found out they were going to be partners.
A gust of wind whistled through the spindly trees, seeming to echo with murmurs of times past.
"Oh, how exciting! It will be nice to work with a friend."
Luna had been so excited about getting to spend every day with her that Hermione hadn't had the heart to voice her misgivings about the possibility of handing in reports that were riddled with statements about Crumple Horned Whatevers. Instead, she'd returned Luna's smile, accepted her outstretched hand, and reminded her panicked inner voice that some things were more important than work.
She'd never regretted that decision. Questioned her own sanity a few times, yes, but as Luna was surprisingly amenable to only including things they actually saw in their reports, they made a good team. They balanced one another's strengths and weaknesses.
"You don't have to believe what I believe, you know." The memory of Luna's voice swirled around Hermione, slicing through the morning hush. "I'm not your friend because I want to change you; I'm your friend because of who you already are."
Warmth curled in Hermione's chest, chasing away the chill of the forest and soothing her worried heart. Luna's kind words from five years ago had become her go-to memory for conjuring a Patronus, which perhaps meant things she'd never felt quite ready to examine in depth. There was something so pure about it — something deep and unconditional. Holding onto that memory felt like carrying around bottled sunlight.
"Everyone should experience a love like that, at least once," she whispered.
The only indication Harry gave that he'd heard her was to wrap a consoling arm around her shoulders. Leaning into his familiar embrace, she turned her attention back to her book.
It was raining. Fat drops of water trickled through the branches overhead, making the forest thick with their fresh, clean smell.
Lately, everything turned Hermione's thoughts towards Luna, but none more so than the rain. Once upon a time they'd been caught in a sudden summer shower during their lunch break. Instead of going inside or magicking up an umbrella, Luna had laced their fingers together and twirled, her tinkling laughter making a strange sort of music with the rapid plink-plink-plink of the raindrops.
After a few token protests, Hermione had given in, leaping into a nearby puddle and splashing muddy water over them both. And then Luna had been bedraggled and soaked and beautiful, and the world had turned soft and hazy and sweet.
Ron's voice drifted through the trees, yanking Hermione back to the present and away from the nostalgic thoughts that had overwhelmed her as she made her way to the centre of the forest, where Luna still lay.
"Can't say I think much of the Cannons' new Keeper," he said. "Now there's a bloke with Loser's Lurgy."
Everyone dealt with Luna's silent sleep in different ways when they visited her. Harry held her hand and told her what was happening in all of their lives. Neville and Ginny spoke to her in the tones of old war buddies, recounting tales from those shining, terrifying moments of rebellion when they led an army together. Mr. Lovegood read to her from his favourite issues of the Quibbler. Hermione searched for a cure to the enchanted slumber and occasionally whispered for her to wake up, please wake up. Ron talked about Quidditch.
The Auror who had been placed in charge of guarding Luna had already conjured a tent to keep the sleeping witch dry — plain, white, and uninspired. Whenever the task fell to Hermione, she made a shelter in interesting, swirling shapes, with bright splashes of colour and sequins.
She knew Luna couldn't see it, but Hermione thought such garish, outlandish tents were more suitable, considering who they were intended to protect.
Hermione turned back, leaving Ron to undoubtedly tell Luna that the Cannons were going to win a game any day now. She chose instead to scour Luna's tiny cottage for the hundredth time, overturning sofa cushions and getting well acquainted with each and every dust bunny in her desperate search for some sort of clue.
Luna's home was exactly as she'd left it. A cold pot of gurdyroot tea sat on the sideboard, next to a half-finished painting. Various gizmos and amulets were scattered about here and there — strings of butterbeer corks, sprigs of Ingleweed. Harmless, but useless. Stubby and Snorky, Luna's Pygmy Puffs, scuttled around their cage and made sad little squeaks.
The cottage consisted of only three rooms; from her position in the front doorway, Hermione could see the feathers that were suspended on golden threads from the ceiling above the four poster bed.
"Will you teach me about Muggle magic?" Luna had said, just one month ago. They'd huddled together over a bowl of buttery popcorn on that very bed and attempted to watch the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty through the squiggly lines on a portable television. It had reacted badly to the raw magic that permeated the walls of Luna's home.
It had been raining that afternoon, too. They'd been so cosy underneath the fluffy quilt that Luna had said she didn't even mind that she hadn't been able to find any evidence of Muggles being involved in the Rotfang Conspiracy from what they'd watched.
"I'm so happy right now, I'm bound to end up with a swarm of Flibberblops buzzing around my head," she'd said, smiling in a secret, almost hopeful kind of way before resting her head on Hermione's shoulder.
"Me too," Hermione had said. With Luna so warm and close, she hadn't even thought about denying the existence of Flibberblops. Not out loud, at least.
Wait. Sleeping Beauty...
It couldn't be that easy. Could it?
Luna would think it could. She walked where logic feared to tread. And Hermione loved her with a force that could probably defy the laws of nature and make all of her beloved mythical beasts actually pop into existence. She'd been such a fool, never completely acknowledging it until Luna was as silent and still as death.
Hermione broke into a run, racing out of the house and through the forest to Luna's resting place. Ron jumped up with a start.
"Blimey, what's wrong?" he asked. A cautious sort of hope dawned on his face. "Did you find something?"
"I don't know," she replied, gasping for breath. "I just had a thought, and..." swallowing, she knelt next to Luna, "...it, err, seemed worth a shot."
With that, she placed a gentle, lingering kiss on Luna's mouth. At first, the only response was a confused murmur from Ron, but then Luna made a contented little sigh. Hermione felt the frozen lips underneath her own move slowly, kissing her back. Soft hands with no roots binding them to the earth wrapped around her back, holding her close. Her heart soared with a giddy mixture of relief and affection.
"Luna?" Hermione whispered, beaming when Luna's pale lashes fluttered and she looked up at her with happy, silvery grey eyes.
"Hello, Hermione," she said, wiping away the few tears of joy that sneaked down Hermione's cheeks. With a glance to her left, she added, "Hello, Ron."
"Err, hi," Ron said, scratching the back of his neck. He looked as though he was trying to do complex arithmetic in his head as he looked back and forth between his friends. "It's good to have you back, Luna. I'll just, err, go spread the news that you're awake, shall I?"
With an awkward smile and a congratulatory pat on Hermione's shoulder, Ron took off in the direction of Luna's cottage, ostensibly to use her fireplace to floo-call all of her loved ones.
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
Luna frowned. "I don't think I want to tell you."
"What? Why not?"
"Because you might get angry, and I very much enjoyed kissing you, just now. I'd like to do it again, quite soon, and that seems less likely if you're upset."
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Hermione said with an exasperated burst of laughter. Bending down, she brushed her lips against Luna's for just a split-second. "I promise I'll kiss you again, very soon. But first, I need to know what happened. There could be side effects, or you could fall asleep again—"
"I won't," Luna replied with a confident nod. "I made certain of that. I tested it on my Pygmy Puffs. Did you know they mate for life? Teaching them to kiss was something of an ordeal, but—"
"Luna," Hermione interrupted, knitting her eyebrows together in consternation. "Are you saying...you did this to yourself?"
For the first time in Hermione's memory, Luna blushed.
"I knew you'd figure it out, so it was quite safe, really. And I knew you—"
"Why? Why would you do this?"
Luna sat up, her tangled, leaf-strewn hair creating a bizarre halo around her pink face. With aching tenderness, she cupped Hermione's face between her hands.
"True love's kiss," she whispered. "That's what the film said would break the curse, do you remember?"
Luna smiled. "Well, when I realised how I felt, my path was obvious, don't you think? How else was I supposed to convince a cynic who doesn't even believe in Flibberblops that something as far-fetched as true love exists?"