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Chapter Seven: Just Desserts

“And would either of you care for dessert?”

Hermione looked across the table – strewn with the remnants of their hearty lunch – at Ron, who was giving her a hopeful sort of look. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “No Tom, that's quite all right,” she said, turning her head to face the gray barman of The Leaky Cauldron. “We really do need to be going.” Tom nodded curtly with only a hint of disappointment coloring his face. He withdrew a gnarled wand from a pocket in his once-white apron (Hermione realized with dawning revulsion that she recognized a blotch of pea soup that looked rather like a Hippogriff – a similarity she had first noticed months prior), and waved it with a flourish to produce a small bit of parchment.

“Very well, I'll just leave the bi-”

“Now hold on a moment,” interrupted Ron. Hermione, nonplussed, turned her attention back to her husband. In contrast to Tom the barman's, Ron's face looked as though it had been colored with disappointment by an overenthusiastic three-year-old.

“Ron, now is not the time,” she said warningly. Lunch had been lovely, but with Ron's abnormally gallant behavior of late, Hermione hadn't needed Arithmancy to predict that the law of averages would catch up quickly.

“Actually,” Ron began, a frown tugging downwards at the corners of his mouth, “I think this is the perfect time for dessert. You know, right after a meal?” Hermione scowled and narrowed her eyes as she glared at him.

“That's rich, coming from you,” she scoffed, “I've never known you to wait until after a meal to eat your dessert.” Hermione could start to feel the little hairs on her arms stand on end, and the peculiar tingling sensation in her stomach that she felt whenever she and Ron had a quarrel made itself known.

“I'll uh... I'll just uh... come back then?” stammered Tom. He looked as though he was torn between getting out of the line of fire and conjuring up a chair to watch the show. Ron didn't pay him any mind, however, and went right on making his own bed on the couch.

“Well if the rest of the meal was any good, then I'd -” Ron finally managed to stop himself, but too late. Hermione put a hand up to her cheek, and ran her fingers over it. Ron's comment had felt very much like a slap to the face. Moreover, the echo of his voice now rung eerily in the silence that had fallen over the pub's other patrons, most of whom had turned to stare. Each reverberation stung just a bit more than the last. His face ashen, Ron immediately began to apologize. “Wait... n-no, that's not how I meant it! I'm sorry!”

“Just how did you mean it then, Ronald?” asked Hermione, taking great pleasure in the way Ron squirmed uncomfortably at the use of his given name. He slumped down in his chair, looking far smaller than Hermione could remember him looking in some time, and put his head in his hands.

“I meant that you're -” But he stopped again in mid-sentence. Despite her annoyance, Hermione couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit sorry for him. He really knew how to talk himself into a corner. “Forgive me. Please, Hermione, I was just... I was being obtuse.” Let loose from the very depths of her soul, a single burst of air escaped from her pursed lips, and Hermione was forced to camouflage the odd sounding laugh in a fit of coughing.

“Are you all right?” Ron asked, lifting his head from his hands. Hermione nodded and took a drink of Butterbeer which immediately put an end to the mysterious bout of coughs.

“I think we'll take that bill now, Tom,” she said, after putting the glass down. She held out her hand to him to retrieve the bit of parchment, but it seemed that Tom had other ideas. He took the bill he had conjured only a minute before, and stuffed it into the front of Ron's robes.

“No ma'am, this one's on him.” Ron opened his mouth to protest, but then closed it again looking sheepish. Tom stalked off mumbling something incomprehensible (though Hermione though she could make out the word idiot), and the two found themselves alone at the table. Even the other customers started to return to their own conversations, though most of them still looked to have an ear out in case of further Whiz-bangs. Ron took the opportunity to try and apologize again.

“Hermione, I'm really very sorry,” he said softly, looking straight into her eyes. She felt a pang of guilt looking into those shining baby-blues – if she had just let him get dessert after all – wait, no. This was his fault, and his fault alone. Still, Hermione had to hand it to him, his apologies had gotten far better through the years.

“You should be sorry. What you said really hurt, and I'm not sure I'm quite ready to forgive you just yet,” she responded, averting her eyes from Ron's. The flash of pain that passed over her husband's face as she spoke was nearly unbearable to look at.

“Fair enough,” said Ron, now looking down at the table. “But you need to let me know what it is I have to do to make this up to you. I feel terrible about all this.” Hermione, feeling guiltier by the minute, did some quick thinking.

“Well... why don't you start by paying the bill.” Ron nodded and put a hand down the neck of his robes. Hermione could see the outline of his hand as it groped towards the wadded up bit of parchment. “And then, I think you owe me a walk in Diagon Alley, and maybe some ice cream at Dedalus Diggle's.”

“You know,” Ron began with a smirk, “I could go for some dessert.” And with that, the suffocating shroud of spite that had lain like a blanket over husband and wife was lifted. The two, laughing quietly, made their way up to the bar, where Ron paid the bill – and tipped Tom very handsomely indeed – and then out the back door and into the small alleyway that served as the entrance for Diagon Alley.

Hermione put her hand in her pocket to withdraw her wand so she could open the passageway through the brick wall, but she felt a hand on her arm. She stopped and looked up at Ron, who was grinning at her. “What, I can't even open doors for you anymore?” Hermione rolled her eyes playfully, and shook her head.

“Well go on then, I suppose there has to be a first time for everything.” Ron chuckled, withdrew his own wand, and tapped the appropriate brick. With a great grinding, the solid wall rearranged itself into an archway, through which the bustling and colorful Diagon Alley could be seen. Ron's hand, which had stayed on Hermione's wand arm throughout the process, now slipped downwards and took hold of her hand. Hermione smiled as she felt Ron's fingers intertwine with hers. As always, she was reminded of the night the two had fallen asleep on the floor of number twelve, Grimmauld Place – the night she had discovered how perfectly their hands fit together.

“And they say chivalry is dead,” she said, turning to Ron and standing on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek.

Ron said nothing, but grinned and nodded his head toward the open archway. Hermione returned the gesture, and the two set off. Diagon Alley was, as always, alive with the sights and sounds of the Wizarding world. A large contingent of owls swooped from pillar to post, most of them carrying parcels of varying size. Street vendors hawking their wares pushed carts overflowing with liquids of every imaginable color (or unimaginable in the case of one very interesting looking potion that caught Hermione's eye), all sorts of candy and snacks piled high in mountains of tooth-rotting goodness (Ron groaned audibly as they passed a cart containing the largest selection of Honeyduke's finest that Hermione had seen anywhere outside of Hogsmeade), and one rather intriguing cart that appeared to have nothing on it at all – though the wizard pushing it insisted that once he had told you the secret of what it contained (only ten Galleons!) the cart would hold the greatest riches known to mankind (Hermione rolled her eyes when she recognized that the wizard was Harold Dingle, and she wished she still had the authority to stop him from snookering his customers as he had tried to do with his powdered Dragon's Claw so many years before).

“Goodness, that's quite a crowd,” Ron remarked casually. Hermione followed his gaze and her eyes came to rest on a long line of harried looking parents with children just shy of Hogwarts age lined up outside of Flourish and Blotts. All the children were excitedly flipping through the pages of a short book that appeared to be colorfully illustrated, and the adults were gathered together in small groups lazily talking to one another while keeping an eye on their children.

“Oh look, there's Fleur!” Hermione cried, waving at the stunning fair-haired quarter-Veela excitedly. At Fleur's feet, Victoire Weasley was sitting cross-legged and was thoroughly engrossed in the same book as all the other children. Victoire's long blond hair was nearly to the ground as she sat in this position, and Hermione noticed that several of the boys in the line were surreptitiously staring at her under the guise of reading their copies of the unknown book. There could be no doubt that she had inherited her mother's charms.

“Let's go say hi!” Hermione tugged at Ron's hand, and she felt him follow after her reluctantly. To be fair though, she thought his hesitation probably had more to do with increasing the amount of time he'd have to wait for his ice cream. The two quickly crossed the narrow and crowded street, and Victoire sprang to her feet when she saw the two of them approaching.

“Aunt Hermione! Uncle Ron!” she cried, closing the book. “What a surprise!” She took several quick steps towards Ron and Hermione, closing the gap between them, and then proceeded to give them both very dainty hugs. Hermione couldn't help but observe that Ron was much less physical with his niece than he had been with James a few days ago.

“Hello Ron. Hello Hermione,” greeted Fleur, from her spot in the line. It had taken years for her accent to finally disappear, but now Hermione noted that she could have passed for a native Londoner. “How lovely to see the two of you.”

Victoire had placed herself in between Ron and Hermione, taken the hand of each, and was now pulling the two of them towards the line and Fleur. “So what's the line for?” asked Hermione, always interested in what was going on in the world of books. The question had been addressed at Victoire, but the girl just blushed and sat back down on the ground beside her mother. Fleur patted her gently on the head.

“Why don't you show Hermione your book?” she prodded. Victoire nodded, and Hermione bent over to look at the book that had all the children so engrossed. Above her, Hermione could hear Ron and Fleur strike up a conversation about how difficult it was on the family for Bill to be at Hogwarts all the time.

“Would you like to read it?” asked Victoire, when Hermione had finally reached ground level. Hermione nodded, and the girl passed the slender volume to her.

“Thank you Vicky,” she said kindly as she took the book. She turned it over several times in her hands feeling the weight and dimensions of it, a ritual she undertook whenever she was about to open a new book for the first time. That accomplished, she looked at the front cover and gasped.

Moon Frogs and You:
a Practical Guide to Caring for Lunar Leapers
by Luna Lovegood
Illustrated by Dean Thomas

The cover itself had a picture of a colorful frog-like creature hopping back and forth as a girl of about ten chased after it. Hermione, who had seen many of Dean's drawings in the past, immediately recognized his work. She opened the book carefully, and read the dedication.

For friends lost.
For friends found.
For friends to come.
For friends.

Hermione continued to flip through the pages of the book, and found that the vast majority of them contained brilliant drawings of moon frogs (Hermione had to forcefully remind herself that such things didn't exist), being looked after by the same girl from the cover. Accompanying the pictures was a wealth of text detailing the diet (moon flies and green cheese, Hermione noted with amusement), habits (they were, of course, nocturnal), and magical properties (it was believed that they could cure Lycanthropy) of the imaginary creatures.

Victoire sat across from Hermione and watched the pages turn the whole time Hermione was flipping through the book. The spell it had cast on the kids seemed to be a powerful one indeed, and even Hermione, who had no illusions about the reality of moon frogs, found herself having a hard time putting the book down. It was therefore quite surprising to be pulled up off of the ground by Ron.

“The line's moving dear,” he said softly, “and I really need to be getting back to work.” Hermione felt her face flush. Just how long had she been reading?

“But- But what about the ice cream?” she asked, dumbly. “You were so set on dessert.”

“We can have dessert later, all right?” The sparkle in Ron's eyes indicated that this particular idea of dessert included a rather sloppy serving method. Hermione swatted his arm a bit harder than she normally would have.

“I've still not forgiven you just yet, you still owe me a walk.” Ron looking slightly crestfallen simply nodded before leaning in to kiss her. “But after that,” she added after the kiss, her voice so low that no one else could hear, “it's order up.” Grinning in a decidedly mischievous manner, Ron took out his wand and twirled on the spot. He disappeared with a faint pop.

“He's so sweet,” sighed Fleur, from where she stood, a few paces ahead. The line was indeed moving, and there was now a space between Fleur and where Hermione and Victoire had sat reading. Hermione could hear annoyed murmurs from behind her. She took Victoire's hand and pulled her to her feet. She gave the book back, and the two hurried to catch up to Fleur.

“He's a giant prat,” Hermione corrected her. “But yes, he is terribly sweet, isn't he?” Fleur flashed her dazzlingly white teeth in a wide smile, and Hermione found herself reciprocating.

“Are you coming in with us Aunt Hermione?” asked Victoire, once more flipping through the pages of Luna's book.

“In?” It took Hermione a moment to realize that she still did not know why the people had queued outside the bookstore. A quick glance towards the front doors answered her question. There, a large banner hung over the entrance.

Meet world famous children's author Luna Lovegood and her illustrator Dean Thomas.
The creators of such titles as Help! a Wrackspurt is Feeding on my Brain! and
Dirigible Plums have Feelings too will be on hand to sign copies of their new book:
Moon Frogs and You!

“Well of course I'm coming in!” Hermione cried excitedly. It had been ages since she'd seen Luna, and it would be nice to get a chance to catch up with her and congratulate her on what apparently was massive success. Thankfully, the line was moving quite quickly, and it wasn't long before the group of three females found themselves inside.

Luna, her wide eyes shining brightly as she signed book after book, was sitting next to Dean, who was also signing many copies of Moon Frogs and You. It was Dean who noticed Hermione first, and he waved to her happily. He tapped Luna on the shoulder with his other hand, and when Luna looked up at him, he pointed to where Hermione was standing. Luna's abnormally wide eyes nearly popped out of her head. She stood up quickly, and beckoned Hermione forward.

“Go on,” said Fleur quickly, when Hermione turned to her. “We'll be fine,” she added with a smile, when Hermione opened her mouth to protest.

“You're sure?” she asked. She had come in with Fleur and Victoire, and it didn't feel quite right to abandon them just now.

“Certain, now go!” Fleur gave Hermione a little push on the shoulder, but Hermione didn't need the encouragement, she was already making her way up to the table at the head of the line.

“Hermione, it's a nice surprise to see you here,” Luna greeted her when she was within an arm's length of the table. “I didn't think you were a believer.” She beckoned Hermione over to her side of the table, and when she got there, the two embraced warmly.

“A believer?” Hermione asked, confused.

“Have a seat, have a seat!” insisted Luna, not paying any attention to Hermione's query. She picked up her quill, sat back down in her chair, and resumed signing books. Hermione cast her eyes about for a chair and found one sitting near the staircase up to the upper level of the shops. She made it weightless with a quick levitation charm, then summoned it to her, careful to not upset any of the great piles of books that littered the store. By the time she had settled in, Luna was deep in conversation with one of her fans.

“And which is your favorite?” she asked the boy of about eight who stood before her, quivering slightly with excitement. His mother had a hand on his shoulder, and she was rubbing it reassuringly.

“Go ahead dear, tell Ms. Lovegood what you told me earlier.” The kindly looking woman (who looked vaguely familiar to Hermione) looked up at Luna and smiled apologetically. “I'm really sorry Luna, normally he can't stop talking about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and Blibbering Humdingers. I've never seen him like this before.”

“It's all right Lisa,” said Luna in her sing-song voice, “It's clear to me he's just having a bit of an episode with Wrackspurts just at the moment.” She reached down below the table, and pulled a long thin horn from beneath her robes. “Remember what it says in the book about Wrackspurts?” The boy nodded, and he took the horn from Luna when she offered it to him. He held it up to his right ear, and his mother looked from her son to Luna in alarm.

“He's not going to put that in his ear, is he?” she asked hurriedly.

“Oh, but he must!” exclaimed Luna, “the Wrackspurt siphon is the only way to rid oneself of these nasty pests.”

“But these are just children's books!” the mother cried (Hermione had just remembered where she recognized her from – it was Lisa Turpin, a Ravenclaw who'd been sorted the same year she had). “Surely this is not hygienic!”

“Children's books?” Luna was looking at Lisa now with an odd mix of pity and amusement. The Butterbeer cap necklace she still wore around her neck jangled slightly as she tilted her head to one side. “I'm sorry you see them that way.”

“You can't mean you're still on about this stuff, then?” Lisa had grabbed the Wrackspurt siphon away from her son before he'd had an opportunity to fit it into his ear, and was pointing it accusingly at Luna. “I knew I was right to be hesitant when Terry brought home your first book for Mitchell, but I thought you'd gotten over your crazy phase, and decided to make something useful of it.” Luna smiled serenely back at Lisa, and held out her hand for the siphon.

“I'm sorry that you can't see the truth,” she said, and Hermione could tell from the inflection of Luna's voice that she was truly sorry. “I do not intend these books to be read by children alone. I write them for anyone who is willing to open their minds to the possibilities of the world. Thankfully, children seem to be able to keep an open mind, and I have great hope that one day soon we'll all see the truth about Wrackspurts and Nargles.” Luna used the hand she had held out for the siphon – Lisa was still brandishing it as a weapon – to motion Mitchell closer to her. She leaned over the table and whispered something into the ear of the wide-eyed boy. Mitchell turned around to look at his mother, then burst out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

“What did you say to him?” Lisa demanded, but Luna once again just smiled placidly. “Come on, out with it! I will not have you turning my son against me! What did you tell him?”

“I told him the truth.” Mitchell continued to laugh, and now he was starting to wheeze in between fits of giggles, apparently beginning to run out of breath. Lisa slammed the Wrackspurt siphon down on the table, and grabbed her son by the arm.

“Come on!” she fairly yelled at him, as she began to drag him back towards the entrance to the store. “Loony Lovegood, I knew you would never grow up!” she spat over her shoulder. Luna shrugged, and turned her attention to the next eager child in line.

“So really, what did you say to him?” asked Dean under his breath. He had leaned in close to Luna and put his arm around her. Luna looked over at him with an amused look on her face.

“Why, I thought it was obvious,” she said simply. “I just said 'your mother once snogged a Slytherin.'” Both Hermione and Dean burst out laughing. “What? It's true!”

The next several minutes passed in comfortable silence between the three friends as Hermione watched Luna and Dean interact with their adoring fans. Thankfully, none of them seemed as willing to suggest that the books were intended for children after seeing what had happened to Lisa. As the line began to shorten, Hermione found her opportunity to ask Luna a question that had just popped into her head a few minutes ago.

“Say, Luna, how would you feel about writing a book about werewolves?” Both Luna and Dean turned to face her, and Hermione could feel her face heating up slightly.

“Werewolves?” mused Luna, taking her wand out from behind her ear and tapping it on her chin.

“I don't think it would sell, Hermione,” Dean responded, almost apologetically. “I can't see parents buying a book for their children that glorifies werewolves. I mean, they'll buy the rest of our books because they're just flights of fantasy.” Luna turned from Hermione to face Dean, and he quickly backtracked. “I-I mean, they b-believe them to be flights of fantasy, of c-course,” he stammered. Luna nodded curtly, and returned her attention to Hermione.

“I'm afraid I don't know nearly enough about werewolves. I'd have to do a bit of research.”

“Oh!” Hermione exclaimed, “research isn't a problem at all. You can just stop by my office any time at all and I'll let you use any of my books that you need.”

“Your office?” asked Dean, looking at Hermione quizzically.

“Obscurus Books,” Hermione replied, unconsciously sitting up a little straighter. She was terribly proud of the book shop and publishing house that she had been left in a will years before. The previous owner had been a very large supporter of S.P.E.W.

“That little hole in the wall, with the posters all over it?” Dean was having trouble keeping the disdain out of his voice, and Hermione frowned at him.

“Well, I'll think about it Hermione,” Luna said with an air of finality. Hermione sighed. She supposed that it was the best she could hope for at the moment. She stood up, shook Dean's hand, and embraced Luna.

“I hope to see you soon,” she whispered to Luna as the two hugged. Luna winked at her, and then went back to signing books for the stragglers who had just shown up. Hermione positively beamed at the top of Luna's head, and for the first time all week she felt as though something was finally going her way.

A/N:  The amazing support of the many and varied readers of this fic continues to overwhelm me.  The very idea that there are such wonderful people out there in the world who are willing to take the time to spread a little love with just a few kind words really and truly warms my soul.  All of you who read and review have my heartfelt thanks, as your ideas, compliments, and suggestions have been instrumental in keeping the momentum for this story going.  Not once have I lost my motivation to write this, and that is quite an accomplishment.  Please give yourselves a pat on the back.

This chapter is one that I envisioned right from the very start of writing this story, and thus it is a fate that I had picked out for Luna and Dean well before JKR let us know about the mysterious Rolf Scamander and Luna's globe-hopping ways.  As I have said many times now, I appreciate the extra information from Ms. Rowling, but will not be using it in this fic.

I do hope that you enjoy reading this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it, as I really did have a blast.  I think this chapter may just be my favorite of the lot so far.  If, as ever, you have any comments or suggestions (or questions!) please feel free to bring them up either in a review or on my author page on the forums.

I am not entirely certain where the next chapter will see us... I half think we could still be with Hermione in Diagon Alley, but there's still Harry in St. Mungo's, Ron trying to get information out of Werewolves at Azkaban, and Ginny dealing with three sick children on her own, while also juggling her job.  I do hope, that no matter which I choose, you'll be joining me to discover the answer :)

Until then, I remain... your humble author.

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