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Chapter 1 : The Walk
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Ron liked nights in the shop best, for they were the only time he was able to rest for a spell and not have to hop about tending to customers. He had to hand it to George – to say business was booming would have been quite the drastic understatement. He was more than happy to help his brother run the shop, but it was rather tiring at times, and especially in the summer, when no one seemed to have any better place to be. His feet were sore just thinking about all the customers who’d come in and out of the shop just that day.
A large pile of violently blue boxes was stacked next to him from where he stood, in a row between two towering ebony shelves stuffed with a plethora of all sorts of joke products - Fainting Fancies crammed right up next to Edible Dark Marks, which in turn stood next to a crate of sleeping Pgymy Puffs. There was no real order in the shop - that was how it operated, and apparently this was no deterrent to its customers. A new shipment of Extra-Sensory Patented Daydream Charms had arrived that afternoon, but until now Ron hadn't had a chance to stock them on the shelves. He supposed a place near the Skiving Snackboxes was as good as any; they’d probably all be sold out by tomorrow, anyway.
From nearer the front of the shop, behind the long counter set with golden tills, he could hear his brother adding up the day's revenue. The clinking of coins echoed rather loudly in the silence, the noise bouncing off the polished floors and shelves. George always preferred to count the money himself, not letting either Ron or Verity, the blond witch who still assisted in the shop, so much as breathe heavy on it. Ron didn't question this; Fred had handled the tills before his death, and he knew George thought he was obliged to continue on in his twin's place.
The coins ceased clanking, and the rattling of a till drawer sliding shut took its place momentarily. The rather jaunty tune George had been whistling stopped as well, and Ron listened hard, alert for sign of movement. Sure enough, the elder Weasley appeared at the end of the long row where Ron stood, hands in his pockets, a rather unnatural expression on his face that the latter couldn't quite place. So instead he ignored him, continuing to stack the boxes, because he had a funny feeling he knew exactly what was coming.
“So,” George said, drawing the word out much longer than necessary. He removed his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms instead; it seemed that he couldn’t stand still for too long. The muscles under his heavily freckled forearms were taut, and George stared at them, as though he couldn’t look anywhere else.
Ron looked evenly at George for a few moments, and then went back to stocking boxes, although the weight in his stomach only grew heavier. “So what?” he said finally, not looking back at George.
“Why are you here, Ron?” said the older Weasley abruptly, and Ron nearly dropped the box he was holding in shock. George had started this conversation so often, it could be predicted like clockwork, but never before had such a direct approach been taken. The fumble didn’t skirt George’s notice, apparently.
“You know that you shouldn’t be here,” he continued, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “You should be out somewhere – the Three Broomsticks, or the Leaky Cauldron. Merlin, even the Hog’s Head would be better than-“
“George, if you’re trying to harass me into doing something, you’re wasting your time,” said Ron sourly. There was silence again, periodically disturbed by the thump of packages as Ron slung them less than carefully onto the shining shelves, enjoying the rough slams they made as they started piling up haphazardly. He didn’t want to steer his mind in the direction that George was trying so hard to push it in; those were dangerous waters that he treaded enough when he wasn’t at work. He didn’t need to be forced into them now.
“You break it, you bought it, you know,” said his brother, but Ron promptly ignored him; he could spare a few Galleons in his slowly simmering annoyance right now. He could feel George’s steady, unwavering gaze on him, but deliberately avoided it, although his neck flushed maroon in acknowledgement. He heard his brother’s footsteps crossing back to the till and breathed an inaudible sigh of relief, although the tension of the moment still hung thick in the air. Unfortunately, he was now out of boxes to stack, as well. There was nowhere to go but in the direction George had just disappeared in.
The long counter that ran nearly the entire length of the shop had been polished smooth, and gleamed in the soft light from the empty shop. George was behind one of the tills again, looking determinedly at something behind it. When he saw Ron approaching, he threw something onto it all too casually, looking nonchalant.
“We’ll close up in a minute, then. Just got to grab my cloak from the back room.” George’s voice held a sort of forced unconcern that didn’t fool Ron for a moment, and he lingered a second too long before disappearing into the back room. Ron glanced warily at whatever his brother had placed on the counter; it was a rolled up copy of that morning’s Daily Prophet.
He wasn’t going to read it - did George think he was stupid? He knew exactly what was going on, and wasn’t going to have any part of it. That paper would hold nothing for him but the exact thoughts he’d been suppressing for over a year now. And yet, inexplicably, he watched with a sort of detached curiosity as his hand seemed to move of its own accord, and he felt his fingers wrap around the edges and lift the paper so he could see it.
It wasn’t on the front page today, which meant he had to search for it. But he found it, of course – how could he not, when her name all but jumped out of the page at him without him even trying to find it? Ron would recognize those letters anywhere. A small column on affairs between the British and Bulgarian ministries, which had been undergoing some negotiations recently – Ron wasn’t certain for what, as he never really took in whatever the articles were really saying. He only read them at all to see Hermione’s name in black and white. It was a sort of odd thing to do – especially given the circumstances – but he couldn’t stop searching for her name.
It had been a year since their break-up. A tormented one for him, but obviously it hadn’t been so for her. And why should it have been? She had been the one to initiate it, after all – she had had time to think it over, and plan for it. Three months hadn’t even passed before her name was being linked to Viktor Krum’s in nearly every society column Rita Skeeter printed with her malicious pen. She had moved on, had all but forgotten about him – that much was clear. He just couldn’t seem to do the same.
Krum’s name was not mentioned in this particular article, but Ron knew that he factored into the dealings somewhere – perfect Viktor, with his perfect Quidditch skills and perfect teeth and perfect hair. And now that Hermione was acting as ambassador to the Bulgarian ministry, he was becoming a perfect politician, too.
It took a moment for Ron to realize how loudly he was grinding his own teeth. He threw the paper back down on the counter in disgust, wishing he’d had the willpower to just say no and leave it where it was. Now he was in a bad mood, and would more than likely need a strong sleeping potion to get to bed that night. Why did George insist on doing this to him at every turn? So he wasn’t happy with his life the way it was going at the moment. What business was that of his brother’s?
George reemerged from the back room, clasping the silver fastenings on his well-made navy cloak. His eyes darted to Ron’s slightly flushed face, and then to the newspaper, which had obviously been touched in his absence and moved from where it had originally been set down. A sort of grim satisfaction flickered across his features, but he pretended to have noticed nothing.
“Let’s head on out, then,” said George, the air of nonchalance making his voice rise half an octave higher than normal. He grabbed the newspaper and rolled it up, stuffing it into the pocket of his jeans. However, before either brother could take a step toward the door, on the other side of the towering shelves, the bell that stood over it tinkled cheerily. George frowned and disappeared around it.
“Hi, Luna.” His voice, which had returned back to its normal pitch, told Ron that George was genuinely pleased to see her – and, if he was honest, he was glad she’d stopped by, too. Maybe a quirky sentence or two from Loony Lovegood could serve to slice the tension that George had caused to descend on the shop. Luna, who had taken over her father’s magazine and set up an office for the Quibbler in Diagon Alley, always placed an advertisement for the joke shop in her magazine. Ron knew they owed a fair amount of business at the joke shop to her; ever since the war, the Quibbler circulation had grown substantially, which meant more exposure for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
George and Luna appeared around the corner of the shelves, Luna clutching a small parchment envelope in her hand. George crossed back to the till and slid it open, removing a few coins from it and counting them out to be sure he had the right amount. “Is this enough for the half-page advertisement?” he asked, as he always did, placing some gold in Luna’s hand.
“Oh, yes,” she said happily, as she always did, and placed the coins into the little envelope, which jingled pleasantly. She turned to Ron and beamed happily, and he noticed, without really thinking about it, the earrings that she wore tonight; they looked like small Remembralls, only the smoke inside was twirling and slowly changing in different neon colors. He had no idea what sort of function they served, but knowing Luna as he did, they were bound to be a sort of charm or protective ornament against some odd creature or another.
“How’ve you been, Luna?” Ron asked politely, slumping against the long counter.
She pocketed the envelope into an inside pocket of her coat and said, “Oh, I’m doing quite nicely, thank you. Business is going well, and the Daily Prophet is even getting interested in sort of collaborating with the magazine. Doing a joint effort for some articles and things, I think.”
“That’s great,” said Ron. It was great, and he was happy for Luna, but truthfully all he wanted to do at the moment was slink home to his flat, crawl under the covers, and put the day behind him, as he had been doing for over a year. At the end of the day, there was nothing that sounded good but his pillow and maybe a mug of tea.
“I’m sorry to come in so late, but I’ve been swamped lately – it being the end of the month, and trying to get an issue out, and all that,” Luna said, already moving back towards the door. “I’ll be back again next month for the advertisement. It was nice seeing you.” She turned and walked back to the door, humming slightly and almost seeming to walk on her tiptoes.
“Luna, wait!” Ron called suddenly. Half his brain had acted without thinking, and the other half was asking what the heck the first half was thinking, but his body seemed to act independently of late. Without meaning to, he caught up to Luna and took her by the elbow. She turned, pale eyebrows raised in slight surprise, and merely looked at him with her large, round eyes.
“Let me walk you home. It’s dark outside,” he said quickly, feeling George’s incredulous stare on the back of his head but not giving him the satisfaction of turning around. He didn’t know what had driven him to make that offer, but some part of him, however small, didn’t want to see Luna walk out into the dark all by herself. Why tonight, of all nights, this struck him, he couldn’t say.
“All right, then,” said Luna pleasantly. She threw George another good-bye and Ron held open the door for her to leave the shop before exiting behind her, still able to feel his older brother staring at him in disbelief.
Diagon Alley was certainly more peaceful at night, with no crowds to disturb anything, and no lights in shop windows to give evidence of life behind the shutters and doors. Ron and Luna walked side by side in a fairly amiable silence; this was much less awkward than the pessimistic side of Ron’s brain had been expecting, although he still didn’t know what had driven him to make such a rash and, truthfully, uncharacteristic offer. Luna was still humming slightly, her hands in her coat pockets and strange earrings swinging back and forth in rhythm with her step.
“Do you remember,” said Luna suddenly, her voice seemingly ten times louder in the quiet of the shut-down street, “all the kinds of things that we would play when we were little?”
Ron looked down at her, blinking rather stupidly for a moment as he tried to recall exactly what she was talking about. Growing up near each other, as he and Luna had, she had often come over to spend afternoons playing in the Weasley orchard and rather overgrown garden. Ginny had been glad to have another girl around to play with, and there was never any shortage of the people to cast in games of make-believe, a favorite pastime of all the children. He grinned in spite of himself at the memories and said, “Yeah, I do.”
“My favorite was always when we pretended to be the founders of Hogwarts,” said Luna, slightly dreamily, extending her arms slightly from her sides and looking rather content to wallow in the remembrances. “And you and Ginny would always let me be Rowena Ravenclaw, do you remember?”
“Rather fitting,” said Ron sardonically, and Luna gave a light giggle. He’d never really noticed how nice her laugh was until it was quiet enough to hear it clearly; it sounded very much like Luna herself looked, light and airy but rather memorable, as well.
“And you would always present me with flowers,” she said. A sudden, hot blush crept up Ron’s neck and into his face; he had forgotten that bit of the game. He glanced quickly at Luna, wanting to see what she made of that, but she wasn’t looking at him, instead continuing to look straight ahead as she had been doing the whole walk down to her small flat over the Quibbler offices. The comment didn’t appear to affect her, and so Ron didn’t let it affect him. Why was that such an embarrassing thing for him to remember, anyway? It’s not like it was such an odd thing, to give a girl flowers at such a young age - he couldn’t have been more than seven or eight during the times that they played these games.
Luna didn’t say anything more about the make-believe, but the thought was now burned into Ron’s mind as they walked down the narrow, cobbled lane. He didn’t really know why she’d brought it up, but he speculated that she was merely making conversation to fill the silent void. He glanced sideways at her again, wondering about the small smile that had crept onto her face – wondering what might have put it there.
“Oh, look!” The sudden exclamation from her made him start suddenly, and he turned to see her running to a small bush planted outside Flourish and Blotts. It was blooming with a kind of flower than Ron remembered as one that grew in his mother’s garden – a Muggle flower, he thought, although at the moment he couldn’t remember its name. Luna knelt gently by it and lifted the delicate blossom to her nose, inhaling deeply, the smile on her face growing wider.
“Purple lilacs,” she said, fingering their small purple petals. “You gave these to me quite a bit, I think, in those games – I remember them best of all.” She breathed them in again. And at that moment, something very odd happened to Ron – a sort of squeezing in his stomach, which traveled up his throat and constricted his windpipe, making it hard for him to breathe.
“Yep,” he choked out, willing his lungs to draw in air so he wouldn’t faint from lack of oxygen. How stupid would that look? In, out. In, out. Luna knelt by the flowers for what seemed like a veritable eternity, and Ron watched her, drawing deep breaths and feeling like a lunatic, although no one was watching. Not for the first time, he blessed Luna’s keen habit of overlooking what she felt to be trivial details, such as his breathing habits.
Finally, she got to her feet, brushing off the knees of her tights under her dress. “Sorry,” she said, flashing him an apologetic smile, and the squeezing feeling returned to Ron’s stomach, coupled with a sort of tingling all up and down his spine. He merely shook his head, not trusting himself with speech at the moment, and Luna continued on. It took everything in him to stumble numbly after her.
They reached her flat a few minutes from the bush outside the bookshop, Ron still fighting whatever sensation was running up and down his back – perhaps he was coming down with some sort of strange illness. A very sudden, spastic sort of illness. Thank goodness Luna hadn’t seemed to realize his rather odd behavior – she was standing on the office stoop, one hand on the door, one hand still in her coat pocket.
“Thanks for walking me home,” she said cheerily. Ron gave her what he hoped was some semblance of a smile, but was more likely closer to a grimace, as he was still not quite feeling like himself. “You’re welcome,” he choked out, thrusting his own hands in his pockets for lack of something better to do. With a small wave, she turned the little golden knob and disappeared into the dark reaches of the newsroom.
Ron stood in the middle of the dark, empty street, now lonely without Luna’s presence, and watched for a light to appear in the upper window, to signify she had gotten in all right. Now that she had left, his breathing seemed to be slowly returning to normal, and the electric sensations were tingling before. That had certainly been strange. Perhaps it was an effect of Luna’s funny earrings, or perhaps she’d decided tonight was the perfect night to try a perfume to attract Blibbering Humdingers.
Yes, Ron decided, that must be the explanation.
A light suddenly flickered on in the tiny window above the Quibbler’s front window, wavering behind thin curtains – Ron guessed it was a fire, or maybe only a candle. Probably the latter, judging from the small size of the source. He watched it for a few moments, and then slowly turned around and began heading back in the direction of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, walking much more slowly than when he’d come down in this direction. He passed the little purple lilac bush again, and smiled to himself, looking at it for a long moment before moving on back up the street.
He had almost reached the joke shop again before realizing that, for the first time in a long time, Hermione hadn’t crossed his thoughts once in the past fifteen minutes. And what was more, those funny tingles still lingered in his spine.
A/N: I don't quite know where the idea to write about this pairing came from, but for some reason, I've become really attached to the idea of Ron/Luna. This is a short story to be presented in three chapters. The flower symbolically used is (as you've probably guessed) the purple lilac, which symbolizes first love. So, what did you think? Please don't forget to leave a review!
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