a/n: Oh my holy cheese and toast, I'm DONE! Thank you all for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed this. I have.
Thank you for finally replying to my letters—though I'm not entirely sure I should thank you, seeing as it was rather rude of you to ignore them in the first place. What kind of person neglects letters from his own godson? So silly of me to think that I might be worth your time and attention. You're lucky that young doctor friend of yours is a quick correspondence, otherwise I might have assumed you were dead.
Since both you and Dr. Melrough have commented that you are settling in nicely at your new post, I cannot find reason to think you're lying. On the whole, I like the idea: it suits you perfectly. It's slightly solitary, unromantic, clinical, delicate, and highly sophisticated. You haven't mentioned what they are paying you for your contribution, but I imagine that it's a far cry more than what you were making here at Hogwarts. You could be living rather large by now, I'm certain, which is why I don't understand the flat. Why not buy an estate instead? A much more solid investment, I should think. I could be of great assistance in helping you find one. Take it into consideration.
Thank you for asking about Harry; he is doing very well. We're all still . . . recovering, I suppose. I can't imagine what it's like for him, trying to be normal after seventeen years of being "the Chosen One". It must be a somewhat similar situation to yours. As with you, he is burying himself in his work, focusing most of his energy on trying to graduate with our class. Considering all the school he missed, he's doing very well, although essay-writing is still his Achilles' heel. His handwriting is awful. Please refrain from comment.
Thought you haven't asked, I will tell you that Luna is doing extremely well. She enjoys her new shoes, by the way; they suit her perfectly. The whole color-changing feature is a bit revolting to me, but she seems to like it just fine; they usually stay yellow most days. Though I find the other spells more interesting; the one that forbids others from removing them is rather useful in her case, I imagine, since I know she had a problem with having shoes stolen. It's quite effective; Harry tried at them for at least half an hour before giving up (perseverance or infamous Gryffindor stupidity?). Are they custom-made? I'll bet they're expensive. Where was it? Velinia's? Xavier's? Why would Dr. Melrough ask me to tell you about Luna? Is there something going on that I don't know about?
I command you to write back. Or visit. I can't fault your reasons for staying away thus far, but surely it would be all right now? It's been over a month; surely they have better things to do than investigate a decorated war hero with a history of unruly conduct? I would enjoy seeing you, and so would Harry. We're spending the weekend at the Manor; I'm not entirely sure how comfortable we are with this, but Father won't be there (obviously) and Mother has been insisting on getting to know Harry better. You should stop by; maybe you can talk her out of trying to introduce him to all of our relatives.
Regardless, you should at least visit Hogwarts. Luna would be over the moon. Think about it.
Walking up to the large wooden double doors of the school, Severus folded up the letter and put it into the inside pocket of his robe, and used the large brass knocker to make his presence known. He stood back, shaking his head and marveling. Merlin, the boy had sass; no doubt a trait inherited from his father, but the recent pronouncement of it could be attributed to Potter, surely. It made Severus wonder what other effects (ill or otherwise) the Boy Who Lived was inspiring in his godson. He would find out Sunday, no doubt. That would certainly be a luncheon to remember.
There was a heavy creaking sound as one of the doors swung open to reveal a very grey but very glad looking Professor McGonagall.
"Severus," she greeted him with a genuine smile.
Severus inclined his head respectfully. Having decided not to let his hair grow out, he had long stopped expecting briefly obscure the sides of his face as it once did, having grown familiar with the way it swept the tops of his ears as it did now.
"You look well," she commented, appraising him as she opened the door wider for his entrance.
As he stepped over the threshold, Severus glanced down at his attire and smirked slightly. As in the past, he still sported black over-robes, though they were simpler and less billowing. And, instead of his severe, black academic garb, he now wore casual black pants and a dark blue turtle-neck shirt. "A fair few people have been telling me as much—although I suspect that is because I no longer dress like a 'great black bat' as it were."
Minerva chuckled slightly. "Yes, that might be it. But, really, you do look well. One might even say that you look good."
"Thank you. You look—"
"Tired," she interrupted. "I know."
"I was going to say 'radiant as ever'."
At that, Minerva nearly blanched; however, she recovered her shock quickly, and quipped back, "Don't try to beslaver me, Severus. Flattery was never your strong suit."
"Yes, well, you've so rarely been on the receiving end."
"Let's keep it that way—"
She stopped as she saw Severus focus move from her face to a point behind her shoulder. She turned slightly, twisting her head to look back.
About fifteen feet away, hovering on the second step of the grand staircase, stood a slight, blue-eyed, blonde-haired someone, grinning as if Christmas had just walked in.
Unable to stop herself, Minerva smiled. She straightened and turned to Severus.
"I believe you're here to see someone."
Looking as though she were trying her hardest not to skip or run, Luna sauntered up to them. He took in the sight of her, marveling at how strange it was to see her in her school uniform, having gotten so used to her in nothing but those ridiculously thin hospital gowns. The past month and a half had done her much good; her skin, while still pale, no longer had a ghostly pallor, but more a creamy tone. The large dark circles under her eyes had all but vanished, and the smile she greeted him with was full and uninhibited. The pearl, black and smoky-looking, hung innocuously from a thin chain around her neck.
McGonagall looked between them, a thin grin flickering over her worn facial features. Trying to hide it, she pursed her lips and nodded at Severus. "I shall leave you to it, then." She inclined her head. "Severus."
As her footsteps faded off and she rounded a corner, Luna's entire attention was concentrated on him, blue eyes studying and sweeping every inch of him. He couldn't help but notice with no small amount of satisfaction that her smile kept growing wider and wider at the sight of him.
When her eyes finally traveled back to his face, she was grinning from ear to ear. She didn't make any kind of comment, just continued to look at him, mirth dancing in her eyes, teasing almost
"Hello," she sang.
He saw his smile in her eyes.
They walked the grounds, settling themselves into a semi-quietude broken occasionally by the sound of birds, or Luna's own soft voice. Occasionally, they came across groups of students, heading back from or to Hogsmeade or wherever; they chattered amiably until they came across the former professor and his companion, whereupon they all instantly hushed, and passed by wide-eyed, like frightened children. As soon as they passed, furious whispering broke out amongst them.
Severus, having long dealt with this sort of reaction to him, took very little notice, even less so when he saw that it didn't concern Luna any. In fact, she seemed rather pleased, sneaking glances over her shoulder to look back at the gaggle of ogling students.
"This is fun, stromping around with you," she commented airily as another group passed them. "It feels scandalous."
At this, Severus gave into a small snicker that caused the students' horrified faces to become even more distorted. "Apparently it looks scandalous."
He sensed rather than saw the grin that spread over Luna's features as she traipsed on next to him. In near unison, they marched forward, coming now to the edge of the lake. Glancing down briefly, Severus saw that Luna's shoes, which had previously been a light blue, were now sporting a jovial yellow hue.
"It's a pity that you came so late in the afternoon," Luna lamented mildly. "Harry and Draco have already left for the weekend. They would have liked to see you."
"I will be meeting with them soon enough," he said evenly as they wandered around the lake's edges. They were approaching now a small cluster of trees; something warm stirred in Severus as he recognized one of them as the tree Luna had hidden herself in all those weeks ago. "Narcissa and Draco both have invited me to have lunch with them on Sunday. I imagine it should prove interesting."
Luna giggled. "I've never met Mrs. Malfoy. What does she smell like?"
Severus made a sound that was somewhere between a huff and a laugh. "What a question. I haven't got a bloody clue."
Luna stopped and tilted her head at him. "Why not? I know what you smell like."
A few paces ahead of her, he stopped as well, turning back to quirk a black eyebrow at her. "Do you?" he queried with some incredulity.
She looked at him very seriously, nodded. "Of course. You always smell like smoke and sandalwood. Except sometimes you smell like rain. But always you smell like you."
He didn't know what to say. He just looked at her while she rocked back and forth on her heels. Her blue eyes roved around, seeming to roll up and down every detail in the landscape, over his form, his face. For a brief moment, her eyes stilled, and it seemed that she was somewhere else. But then she blinked, and returned her gaze to his.
"Show you something?"
Having tread the path only at night, it was unrecognizable to him the golden afternoon glow, and he did not realize where they were heading until they were standing just before the little gothic archway.
He hesitated for a brief moment as Luna slipped through the small gap in the stone. Then followed her inside.
For a moment, he thought his eyes might be deceiving him. Spring had not yet truly set upon Hogwarts, the foliage and flowers not yet in full bloom, but here . . . here the ground was almost completely covered in small buds and blossoms. Their colors were soft, bright, almost as if the petals themselves were glowing; white and light blue predominated, though there were several smaller patches of green; flowers so deep indigo they were almost black winked out like dark stars from amidst the sea brighter pastels. They glittered atop silvery-translucent stems, swaying even though there was no breeze. There was a small pathway leading into the center of the courtyard, where a circular stone slab had been placed; Luna stood atop it, looking back at him, smiling.
Slowly, she raised both hands above her head and clapped once.
In a blinding flurry, the flowers lifted from their places in the ground, and began swirling around them, as if trapped in a whirl-wind. Blossoms flew past him, brushed his hair, his face, his hands. A high, sweet hum rose, so faint it only tickled his senses.
And, as he looked around himself, as the swirling flora eased into an easy, almost lazy circumvent of the courtyard, he began to see: names. Inscribed on the petals, almost too faint to see. Their names. All of their names.
From where she stood on the pedestal, the focal point of the centrifuge, Luna caught his eye. She hugged herself. Smiled.
He couldn't help it.
He smiled back.
As they walked back to the castle, she told him about her plans.
She was staying on for her seventh year. She would graduate next spring with a concentration in natural magics; she was hoping to get an apprenticeship with some prestigious naturalist Flitwick had introduced her to. Since she had no parents or relatives that could take her in, and no home to go back to, she was considered a ward of the ministry until she reached 17. The Weasley's had asked her to stay with them for the summer, and she had a standing invitation to visit Draco at Malfoy Manor, which she though odd, all things considered, but decided that she wouldn't mind as long as Draco were with her.
While he digested all of this, she looked to him and inquired: "And you? What are you going to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"With your life. Besides work, that is."
He pondered for a moment. "I don't rightly know. Truthfully, I have not actually thought about it." His mouth quirked. "Any suggestions?"
Luna's eyes widened to the size of saucers, mouth dropping open in excitement. "If I were you, I'd do everything," she replied seriously. "I'd travel. Go treasure hunting. Learn to waltz. Learn to fence. Tame a dragon. Join a circus. Become a reputable hurdy-gurdy player. Cure a disease. Play chess with a goblin. Write a book. Sleep all day." She smiled wonderingly at him.
"Right," he said. "I'll get to it then, shall I?"
She wrinkled her face at him. "You're making fun of me."
He didn't look at her, keeping his face forward as they trudged along, but all the while smirking. "I wouldn't dare."
She didn't have a reply to that, merely gave a small, tinkling laugh, and sidled up closer, looping her arm through his.
She did not pull away until they were back before the great wooden doors, and then only to plant herself directly in front of him. She looked up seriously into his face.
"Thank you, sir."
He shook his head. There was silence.
Luna carefully poked at a crack in the stone with her foot. "May I write to you, sir?"
He closed his eyes briefly. "I would like that."
For a moment, neither of them spoke. Nor did they look at each other. They simply stood, two unequal figures, heads downcast, eyeing each other's feet.
Then, Luna (because it was always Luna) brought her hands up from her sides; they disappeared behind her neck, and she carefully shifted her hair, removing the chain from where it nestled beneath. She laid the inky pearl in her palm, staring at it. Then, she raised her hand, offering it to him.
"I want you to have this. Hold onto it for me."
He watched her face, saw the determination, the sincerity, the warmth. Without thinking, he raised his own arm, and clasped his long slender hand around her smaller one.
Luna studied their joined hands carefully. Then, with all the grace of someone falling into a dream, she let the pearl fall into his hand, and moved forward until both her arms were around him in a tight hug.
Half stunned, half uncomprehending, Severus slowly brought his hands around her, one on her back, one atop her head. He felt her nose burrow itself into his chest, inhaling deeply; he bent his head, lightly stroking her hair.
And when she finally pulled away, she did not do so without first raising herself on tiptoe to brush a kiss against his cheek. And the only words he had for her were:
"Orange blossom. Earth and orange blossom."
He slept that night as he hadn't slept in years, the scent of her still lingering about him. He awoke the next morning just before dawn, still smelling her.
He rose from his bed, and stood in the dark of his little flat. He dressed quickly, quietly, and then gathered together his tools and a packed meal before apparating in the doorway.
When he landed, she was immediately replaced by the subtle, comforting smells of dew and long, green-gold grass. Which was not a terrible thing, for he knew that in the summer this is what she smelled like as well.
This had been, after all, her home.
The rook house had been nothing but a charred patch of earth and debris when he first found it. Now, a month into its reconstruction, its first story was beginning to take shape. He supposed it could be done faster if he thought to hire help. But he preferred it this way, working on his own. Magic made his task easier, and there was only a little manual labor required for constructing the house as it once had been. Besides all of which, this was for her, and he wouldn't trust anyone else to the task.
He looked at the house upon the hill, studying his progress. Another two months of weekends spent working on it, and it would be finished. Possibly just in time for summer.
She could still stay wtih the Weasley's if she wished. But here, there would also once again be a home, waiting for her.
Hitching his bag over his shoulder, he began to trudge up the hill, the efflorescent dawn on his heels.