Luna sat tentatively at the table with Hermione. She felt much more out of the world than usual in the past few months. Ever since she caught dragon pox, resulting in her developing a limp, and even there on afterward, Luna had become much quieter and was often very withdrawn into some world no one else knew of. But the most significant change was that Luna had become unusually shy and anxious.
The girl eyed her supper as she took tiny spoonfuls. Sitting beside her was Hermione, chatting up a storm about some fellow wizards and witches that she had come across recently.
"You know, Luna, I had the most peculiar day down in Diagon Alley. I was at Flourish and Blotts looking for a book when I came across the one I needed in another witch's basket. So I went up to her and, in the nicest way possible, I asked her 'Excuse me. Do you mind if I use a spell to duplicate this book?' 'Yes,' she spat. 'I do mind. This book is magic-proof.' Do you know that is the first time that I ever knew that the shopkeepers magic-proofed books."
Hermione sighed and shook her head while Luna nodded politely.
"These Knockturn Alley wizards and witches! I can understand the Diagon Alley wizards and witches, but these Knockturn Alley ones, no."
Harry burst into the small cottage with his hands in his coat pockets. Luna jumped slightly as the door hit the wall and then proceeded to tremble silently as Harry sat down to his food and shoveled it into his mouth.
"Harry," Hermione gasped as she saw how he flung soup into his mouth so quickly, especially without a spoon or bread.
"Don't push your food with your fingers. If you have to push your food with something, the thing to use is a crust of bread or a spoon. And do chew your food.
"Animals have secretions which enable them to digest their food without mastication, but wizards, witches, and muggles must chew their food before they swallow it down, and chew, chew."
Harry ignored her as he continued to shovel his food inside of him. He wanted to leave this cottage again as soon as possible. There were very few reasons Harry came back to the cottage; food was one of them. Luna was another.
"Slow down, Harry, and eat leisurely," Hermione told him.
"A well-cooked meal has many delicate flavours that have to be held in the mouth for appreciation, not just gulped down. And for God's sakes, Harry, chew. Chew. Chew! Honestly, don't you want to give your salivary glands even a chance to function?"
Finally Harry had had enough. He shook his head and sloppily grabbed a napkin, wiping his hands of broth and bread crumbs violently and carelessly.
"Hermione, I haven't enjoyed one bite of my supper because of your constant directions on how to eat it," he snapped.
"It's you that makes me hurry through my meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take. It's disgusting too-all this discussion of animals' secretions-salivary glands-mastication!"
With the last word, he rose suddenly and went downward into the parlour. There were almost no doors in the cottage, so the parlour was an open one.
"Temperament like a Ministry official! You are not excused from this table!" Hermione snapped back.
"I'm getting a cigarette."
"You smoke too much."
Luna sensed the tension between the two of them from the very beginning, but now it was becoming too much for her to bare. Hesitantly, trembling, she rose from the table.
"Hermione, I'll bring in the tea," she said softly.
"No, no, no, no," Hermione assured her.
"You sit down. I'm going to be the servant today, and you're going to be the lady."
"I'm already up," Luna reminded her.
"Resume your seat, resume your seat. You keep yourself fresh and pretty for the gentlemen callers."
"I'm...not expecting any gentlemen callers," Luna told Hermione timidly as she sat back down.
Hermione began loading the dishes onto a tray.
"Well, the nice thing about them is that they come when they least expect it. Why, I remember one Sunday afternoon back at Hogwarts when I was roughly your age..."
"I know what's coming now," Harry groaned as he flopped down into a chair.
"Yes, but let her tell it, Harry," Luna told him, rising from her seat.
"She loves to tell it," Luna smiled as Hermione continued on.
"Why, I remember one Sunday afternoon back at Hogwarts when I was roughly your age, I had seventeen gentleman callers! Sometimes there weren't enough chairs to accommodate them and I had to ask the other students to get more chairs."
"How'd you entertain all of those gentleman callers?" Harry asked, playing along.
"I happened to understand the art of conversation."
"I bet you could talk."
"Well, I could. Most of the girls back at Hogwarts could, I tell you."
"Yeah? What did you talk about?"
Luna sat down on the couch and leaned forward in interest, her face giving off a slight smile. It was always better when Harry and Hermione weren't fighting. She'd become much more sensitive, physically and emotionally, and her skin often gave off a certain malaise that left her feeling weak. Listening to Hermione tell stories didn't take much energy.
"Why, we'd talk about things of importance going on in the world! Never anything common or coarse or vulgar. They were gentlemen after all. Some of the most prominent wizards in the U.K. There was young Draco Malfoy. He later became head of the Department of Mysteries. And Seamus Finnegan; he was burnt in a forest fire, but certainly left his widow well-provided for, a hundred and fifty thousand galleons.
"And then there were the Weasley brothers-George and Fred," she continued as she sat down on the chair in the parlor.
"Fred was one of my own bright particularly beaus! But he got into a quarrel with that wild Parkinson girl and they shot it out on the floor of the Hogshead Tavern. Fred was shot with the Killing Curse through his heart, died apparating to St. Mungo's. He left his widow well provided for, too-eight or ten thousand acres, no less. He never loved that woman; she just caught him on the rebound. My picture was found on him the night he died.
"Oh and that boy, that boy that most every girl at Hogwarts was setting her cap for! That beautiful brilliant young Diggory boy."
"What did he leave his widow?" Harry asked in a mostly-apathetic tone.
"He never married," Hermione continued.
"What ever is the matter with you, Harry? You talk as though all my old admirers had turned up their toes to the daisies."
"Isn't this the first you've mentioned that still survives?"
"He made a lot of money. He went North to Ireland and made a fortune. He had the Midas touch-everything that boy touched turned to galleons."
Hermione stood up from her seat.
"And I could have been Mrs. Cedric Diggory, mind you. But what did I do? I just went out of my way and picked Ron."
Hermione glanced over sadly at the picture of their friend who had abandoned them a while ago. Attempting to shake it off, she shook her head and headed over to a tea tray on the table by the couch Luna was sitting on. Feeling an urge to make herself useful, Luna anxiously stood up and subtly limped towards the tray.
"Hermione, let me clear the table," she pleaded softly.
"No, my dear," Hermione insisted as she cleared Luna and Harry's cups away.
"You go in front and study your spell chart. Or practice your shorthand a little. Stay fresh and pretty! It's about time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving. How many do you suppose we're going to entertain this afternoon?"
Luna sighed in sadness and frustration. Hermione was too lost in her world back at Hogwarts. In Luna's mind, she knew there wouldn't be any gentlemen callers.
"I don't believe we're going to receive any, Hermione," she called gently as Hermione went into the other room.
"Not any?" Hermione called back in disbelief.
"Not one? Why, you must be joking! Not one gentlemen caller? What's the matter? Has there been a flood or a tornado?"
Luna shook her head.
"It isn't a flood," she tried to explain as she limped over to her desk where her spell chart was lying on top.
"It's not a tornado, Hermione. I'm just not popular like you were back at Hogwarts."
There was no response. Luna shook her head softly and fell into the desk chair. Sadly she looked over at Harry.
"Hermione's afraid I'm going to be an old maid," she laughed gently with a sad smile.
Harry felt his heart ache a bit for Luna. It wasn't her fault she had caught dragon pox, nor that she limped. He was glad that she didn't have to wear the leg brace anymore, but it still pained him to see her so sad and resigned to a life of being a widow. Standing up Harry walked over and gently kissed her on the head before rubbing her back softly and walking away, leaving Luna to puzzle over her spell chart.