Chapter 17 : Chapter 17: The Legend of the Yongheng Tree
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Credit to Ailthir at DeviantArt for this great piece! More wonderful work from him coming in later chapters.
The group spent the next five days in a complete state of relaxation. Well, almost. Michael had been understandably on edge since his and Harry’s vision, but had remained his usual laid back self, for the most part. Publicly. Privately, he was a wreck. He was trashed. He was horrified. But to his friends, he was happy, whole, young.
On the fifth night since the destruction of the Ring of Four, Harry and Ron returned from the shopping trip Hermione had dragged them to, to find Michael and Jeff up in the boy’s hotel room, counting Muggle money.
“What’re you two doing?” Harry asked, throwing the single shirt he had bought onto his bed without a thought.
“Counting,” Jeff said simply, setting up a stack of bills in one pile. This pile was much larger than the other, and Michael added a few bills to it too. “Where’s Hermione?”
“She, Sarah, and Luna went to eat,” Ron responded, sitting down on the bed and opening his bag, putting his new belt inside.
“And you didn’t go?” Michael asked incredulously. “You?”
“Hey, I think about more than food!” Ron said defensively.
“Yeah, and the other thing you think about just left with Luna and Sarah, so what's the deal, huh?”
“Well, Hermione said she wasn’t done shopping yet…” Ron admitted.
“Enough said,” Michael said seriously. “I don’t think any of those three get much ‘girl time.’ I’m sure they're enjoying their time out doing…whatever that involves.”
“Why are you counting so much Muggle money?” Harry asked. “I always like to carry some with me, but aren’t you going a bit overboard?”
“Apparently you’ve never tried to tip a stripper with Galleons…horrible mess,” Jeff said, adding yet more money to the large stack. “That’s what this one is, the other one’s for the rest of the night’s festivities.”
“Well have fun,” Ron said resentfully. “Harry, Hermione, and me are going to spend the night out by the pool. Fully clothed.”
“You know,” Michael said, rolling his eyes, “if you really want to see naked girls, there are ways to do it without paying.”
“What?” Ron snapped, turning red.
“Not true,” Jeff corrected Michael. “You may not actually hand them the money, but you always pay somehow.”
“That’s not right man,” Michael shook his head, grinning away from Jeff.
“No, but it’s true. Sorry boys, maybe next year.” Michael and Jeff swept out of the room, laughing.
That night, Harry, Ron, and Hermione hung back at the hotel, deciding to spend the night lounging about together while their older friends went out on their own for a night of over-age excitement. They ran all around the little island, switching taxis every time one grew tired waiting for them. It was a great night, despite a small concern on Michael’s part. As much as he enjoyed Luna's company, he had been a little worried she would not enjoy the kind of fun he, Jeff, and Sarah often partook in. But while Luna did not drink, or yell, or stagger as much as her friends, she sang even louder and did not seem to mind Michael’s frequent laughing kisses in the slightest. Around one in the morning, Jeff turned to Michael, slurring his speech a little as he spoke.
“Hey, Michael… I fink – err, I think…I think it’s time we had our own little party,” he laughed loudly, “you know what I mean!”
Michael’s brains swirled in his head. He didn’t feel very well, and frankly, he was much less excited about visiting the club than he had previously claimed. If he had been honest, he would have simply admitted to preferring to go back and either find Harry and the others and relax or have a lie down in his bed, alone or otherwise. But he was still drunk and still eighteen, so…
“Yeah man! Let’s do it!”
Sarah sighed sadly, turning to Luna, who like her, was a bit tipsy, but nowhere near the level achieved by the boys. “Off they go then,” she said, as Michael and Jeff took off down the street, completely forgetting the cab that was waiting for them. “Back to the hotel?”
Luna nodded and they climbed into the waiting cab. “What about your boyfriends?” the driver asked gruffly.
“Oh, don’t worry about them, they’ll be all right,” Luna said, before Sarah could answer. “Can you take us back to the Sixth Star, please?”
The cabbie grunted and put the car in drive. Sarah turned to Luna. “Hey,” she said slowly, freed by the alcohol but also slightly impaired by it, “listen, Luna…I hope…I mean, Michael’s a great guy, he’s one of my best friends, but I hope he's not taking advantage of you.”
“Take advantage of me?” Luna repeated, cocking her head.
“Yeah,” Sarah nodded, a little uncomfortable, worried she might be betraying her friend. “I mean, you didn’t have to let him go to that stupid club. He loves you Luna, and honestly, I think he always will.”
“I’m not a doormat,” Luna said easily, smiling at Sarah. “I don’t accommodate him because I’m afraid he’ll leave otherwise. I do it because I love him too. And…because I think he deserves a little silly fun. He’ll have to grow up eventually, we all will…but I’m happy to let him be a boy for a bit longer.”
“He just turned eighteen Luna,” Sarah chuckled. “Doesn’t that make him a man?”
“No,” Luna replied. “His actions do.”
Sarah shut her eyes and leaned back, glad to hear what she was hearing. “He tells me things, you know. Stuff he’d never tell Jeff. I guess he feels like he can let his guard down a little around me, because I’m a girl.” She smirked, eyes still closed. “Fool.”
“What does he say about me?” Luna asked with interest.
“That you’re exactly what he hoped you were,” Sarah replied. “He was worried you might've changed over the years – you haven’t, according to him. He spent seven years looking for Luna, but he was afraid you might have been gone. Other than that, standard stuff. He loves you in a way he didn’t think he’d ever love a girl, he already has a hard time imaging a life without you, and his main reason for fighting Voldemort know is to make sure you two have a chance at a happy life together. All that business. And yet after that, we find your boyfriend at a strip club tonight. Typically indecisive of him, huh Luna? Luna?”
Sarah opened her eyes and looked over at Luna, who returned her gaze with tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Sarah.”
“Hell yeah!” Jeff shouted into the night, leaning on Michael to keep himself standing. They were staggering around the exit of the Veela, both far drunker than they had been going in. “Did you see that one girl? The blonde one?”
“How could I not?” Michael mumbled. “She was all over me the entire time,” he said proudly, attempting to stand up straight and failing.
“And you still kept your prom dress!” Jeff yelled at him, punching him in the arm.
“I kept my what?” Michael asked, confused and landing a blow on Jeff for good measure.
“Oh,” he belched. “Your promise. Your promise to Luna, you didn’t get with that girl!” he yelled, punching him again.
“Yeah, she’s great,” Michael said, a distant look in his eye.
“Totally, did you see her when she was upside down?” Jeff asked excitedly.
“I meant Luna,” Michael said quietly, but then he smirked. “But yes, I did actually.”
“You should marry that girl,” Jeff told him seriously. “You two are perfect. Perfect like…perfect like the pair on that blonde girl!” He laughed, apparently he had impressed himself with the analogy. But it did get Michael’s alcohol slowed mind working again.
“We should go back to the hotel,” he said suddenly. “Taxi! Hello, taxi? Come on!”
“What?” Jeff asked, alarmed by his sudden desire to end the night of fun. “Why?”
“I've got stuff to do,” Michael said, looking at him, communicating what he was hoping was waiting for him back at the hotel., “So, I'm calling this…over!” Jeff sighed and clambered into the cab waiting for them. “Sixth Star Hotel, and step on it!” Michael said to the driver who groaned and pulled away.
They arrived at the hotel minutes later, and Michael shoved a couple Sickles into the man’s hand, who looked at them suspiciously. “What the hell’s this, boy? You trying to trick me?” he asked loudly. Michael quickly realized his mistake and replaced the silver coins with Muggle money and hurried out of the taxi, the driver watching him closely.
“Where do we do…where do we go now?” Jeff asked dazedly, looking around for anyone they knew, standing in the lobby.
“I don’t give a damn what you do,” Michael told him, walking over to the elevator, “but I know exactly where I'm headed.” With that he stepped into the lift, pressed a button, and watched Jeff’s annoyed, drunken face vanish as the doors slid shut.
He strode purposely down the dark hallway, pausing at rooms 354 and 355. Which was more likely? He picked 355, and pressed his ear against the door. He heard nothing, but something pulled him to it anyway.
He fumbled around for his card key. He found it deep in his pocket, and slid it through the slot, changing the light from red to green and allowing him inside. He opened the door and was met by a hauntingly serene sight. The lights were turned off, instead the room was illuminated by a trail of floating candles, a line on each side, leading to the bed, which was covered with a quantity of golden leaves. The candles flickered but provided little light – atmosphere was obviously their main function.
“Do you like them?”
Luna had spoken from the darkness, hidden somewhere beyond the bed, near the attached bathroom. She stepped into the light, wearing nothing but her bra and underwear, holding her wand loosely at her side. Everything she had on was a pale white, silky and sensual. Michael wondered if his heartbeat would ever return to its normal speed.
“This?” Luna asked, gesturing with her wand. Then she smiled in a silly sort of way. “Oh, that’s not what you're staring at, is it? Well, if you are wondering, it’s because I didn’t feel safe keeping the candles up without it. I don’t want to have to rebuild the hotel, but I did want to make everything special for our first time.”
“Our first time?” Michael asked, still frozen in place.
“Yes,” Luna answered simply. She sat down carefully on the edge of the bed nearest Michael and patted the spot next to her.
“This is amazing,” Michael said, looking around with awe as he moved to join her.
Luna’s smile became wider and less controlled. “You haven't even seen the best part yet.”
So it turned out Michael’s heart could beat faster. “The best part?”
Luna said nothing, but instead glanced over at the rest of the bed. No longer able to hold back, Michael made to lay back but Luna stopped him with a desperate shake of her head.
“These are from China,” Luna said, obviously speaking of the slightly luminescent leaves. “It took a lot of searching to find a service to sell them, but I finally got in contact with a Wizard from Beijing who trades in them. There's a legend about them, do you want to hear it?”
Michael hesitated a fraction of a second before answering.
“I know you're excited,” Luna said patiently, “but this is very special to me –”
“It’s special to me too,” Michael assured her quickly.
“I'm glad. Well, the story goes that in ancient China, there was a young couple who were deeply in love. They had married and begun to build a life together, but just as they had settled into a home, word came that war had been declared. The young man, known as a skilled swordsman, was expected to join his comrades and march off to war against a group of invaders. Because their love was so new, the young man worried his lover would forget him while he was gone. You know wars lasted a long time back then. So he took her out to a field near their home and picked out a special tree, the Yǒnghéng tree. He and his wife stood under that tree and he drew his blade and carved their names into that tree. Then, he sliced off the segment of bark with her name on it, put it in his shirt, and told her that he would always carry it with her so she was close to his heart. He told her whenever she missed him, to look out at that tree and remember this moment.
“Now just as he said this, a great wind blew across the countryside, so strong that it shook the tree, causing almost all of those golden leaves to fall down on the couple. They took it as a bad omen, but the young man knew his duty and so they parted, frightened they might never see each other again. After six months, the girl began to worry for her husband. What if he had been killed fighting? How would she move on? She would be forced to stare at that sad tree the rest of her life. Finally, eight months after the man had left, he came home. His wife was so happy to see him and he held her so tight she thought she might burst. But she realized immediately something was different about him.
“She wondered if he had been forced to do horrible things, as one does in war. She knew she would always love him, but was fearful he no longer loved himself. Despite this, eight months apart had left them both eager to reunite passionately and after they slept together that night, the woman happened to notice a scar on her lover’s chest. When she asked him about it, he avoided her question, assuring her it was nothing. But she knew from its placement it was very close to being a deadly wound, very near his heart.
“Finally, he admitted to having been struck by an arrow from a horseman during a battle. He then got up and from his things he retrieved the thick piece of bark he had carved her name into so long ago. It had a similar scar on it. He had been keeping it within his clothing, next to his heart, always, as he had promised it. It had stopped the arrow from injuring him fatally, taking part of the damage for him. The warrior broke down, apologizing again and again to his wife for coming so close to death, for her knew exactly how painful his death would be for her. He swore to never enter battle again, telling her they would raise animals or crops or make pottery the rest of their lives.
“His wife knew this was impossible, for they would be shamed by not only their neighbors, but by themselves. The young woman reminded her husband she had protected him once and promised him she would do so forever. So rather than learn to sew clothing, she learned to hunt with the bow. For years, they did live happily, working pleasant jobs and enjoying life in their community. But years after the man had carved their names into the tree, the invaders returned and another call to fight was sent out across the land. The couple once again met under their tree, but this time, the woman used her own knife to whittle off her husband’s name, tucking that piece into her own clothing. No divine wind blew that day, but the young woman was not worried. This time, she told him, we need no other protection – we have each other.
“The man resisted the idea at first, but his loving wife would not be denied what she truly wanted. So this time when the army marched, she marched with it, silencing the jeers of the other soldiers with her quick and accurate shots. Even with this skill, the army’s leaders worried the couple’s bond might make them risk the mission or others for each other, but when they presented this idea to the couple, the young man had an answer ready. It was true, he told them, he would indeed throw aside anything else for his lover. But this could be an advantage. He asked they be given special assignments, be allowed to work on their own, scouting and hunting and dispatching important targets. The generals agreed and soon, the couple became what could be considered the first special forces team in history. They fought side by side through many campaigns, and when they reached old age, they had become known as a legendary warrior couple, surely the earthly incarnations of a god and goddess.
“The couple was uninterested in this. For when they had done their duty, protected their land, and each other, they returned home, put down their weapons, and picked up their hoe and needle and lived happily ever after. But until the end of their lives, any time one of them was forced to leave for an extended time, they made sure to meet under the Yǒnghéng tree to guarantee they would one day meet again. And that’s the story.”
Michael took a breath and rubbed the back of his neck. He tried very hard to focus on Luna’s story, he really did, but he was still a little drunk and – even more distracting – Luna was still in a state of very little dress. “So…it’s not a story about never forgetting people,” he said slowly.
“No,” Luna agreed, “it’s about always seeing them again.” She lifted her wand. “The legend is that if two people find themselves in the center of a fall of these leaves, they're destined to always find each other, no matter what.”
“What if I don’t believe in destiny?” Michael asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Then we make our own.”
And she raised her wand above her head, giving a tight twirl. The mass of leaves flew up above them, spinning like a miniature whirlwind before slowly falling back down on them, a few at a time. Michael reached out his hand and a single leaf fell into it; he slid it into his pocket, careful not to damage the fragile thing. Luna, meanwhile, was simply staring at him, smiling. A few leaves stuck in her hair, giving her a sort of glowing halo.
Without really thinking, and without any devious intent, Michael leaned forward, placed his hand on the back of her head, and pulled her into a deep kiss. Luna shut her eyes and responded with her own effort, reaching down to tug at his belt.
Michael was ecstatic, but couldn’t help noticing how her hands fumbled about. His guess had been right…she had never done this before. She finally pulled his belt free and he made to fall down on the bed with her, but she resisted.
“They're lovely,” she said, slightly breathless, nodding at the leaves. “But very itchy.” She waved her wand again, sending the leaves flying about the room, clearing their bed. Unfortunately, her careless spell had also blown a few threw the still hovering candles.
“Luna, you’re hot enough!” Michael muttered offhandedly, rapidly drawing his own wand and sending a blast of cold air around the room, snuffing out every light. He turned to apologize for the hasty spell, which had no doubt left her freezing, but was only met by her howling laughter. “Luna?”
Her only response was to pull him down onto her, the bed creaking slightly in the pitch dark room. Michael very much hoped his eyes would adjust soon – he didn’t want to miss anything. “I think I need some body warmth,” Luna giggled into his ear.
“Oh?” Michael asked playfully. “That the only reason you're doing this?”
“No, it’s because I think I love you.”
He kissed her on the neck and shut his eyes, only needing to feel her presence. “What a strange coincidence. I think I love you too.”
“WHAT THE FUCK?”
“I think you just missed that, Jeff.”
Michael sat straight up, Luna beside him doing the same. They pulled the blankets up to cover themselves, as Harry, Ron, and Jeff had just barged into the room.
“We wondered when we didn’t see you all night, but come on!” Jeff yelled, looking extremely tired. “A tie on the door, or something….”
“Sorry,” Michael said awkwardly. “But if you didn’t come here last night, where were you?”
“That’s what I’d like to know…” he muttered, massaging his temple.
“We slept with the girls,” Harry told him, and Michael and Luna looked at each other in shock. “Not like that!” Harry quickly corrected them. “I mean we knew you might be in here, so we slept on the floor of the other room.”
“Well, thanks,” Michael said gratefully, “But would you guys mind leaving for a minute, so we can…?” he trailed of, gesturing to Luna, clutching the sheet to her thin outline.
“Again?” Jeff asked, sounding annoyed and impressed at the same time.
“No, idiot, get dressed!” Michael said, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, yeah, sure.” They retreated out the door, shutting it carefully behind them.
“So…” Michael said, turning to Luna. “You first or me?”
She shrugged, smiled, and stood up, allowing the sheet fall back onto him, leaving her completely exposed. Michael started, wide eyed, both at her boldness and her beauty. “Wow,” he said as she pulled on her underwear.
“Nothing you haven't seen before, I take it?” she said, wandering off to pick up a discarded shirt.
“Not of that caliber,” he said softly, getting to his feet and attempting to locate his pants, which he found halfway across the rather large, luxurious room. “So that was really your first…?”
“Yes, and it was rather good. Wasn’t it?” she added, looking slightly nervous.
“The best,” Michael said, taking a drink out of the mini-fridge. “Water,” he added at the look on her face, “I had enough for all seven of us last night…Too bad I don’t know how to make coffee, that’s what they should teach us in Potions…”
“I can make coffee,” Luna piped up. She was standing in front of the large mirror hanging above the bed, running her fingers through her hair. It was rather pointless though, as the “straightened” version of her hair was simply less messy. “I make it for Dad at home. He’s a great dad, but he’s not very good in the kitchen…Mum was a great cook though.”
“Yeah, I remember she made the best sandwiches,” Michael said, smiling reminiscently. “Lunch at your house, almost every day when we were kids. It was great.”
“I wish I did,” Luna said, tears threatening her blue eyes. Michael suddenly felt terrible. He had been so caught up in the afterglow he had forgotten to mind his words.
“That’s part of the reason I'm going to London,” Michael told her, wiping away the tear that ran down to her nose. “That’s where the Nation Magical Library is, I’ll do a bit of reading before I go back to Hogwarts. We’re going to do it, Luna. We’ll get your memories back. You’ve given me the tools to figure this out.”
She cheered a little. “Thank you, for doing so much to try to put my pieces back together…it means a lot to me. But you still can't tell us why else you can't come back to school with us?”
“No, Luna, I can't,” Michael said, shaking his head. It tore him up not to, but if his suspicions were right, then this was his battle, and he would be the one to fight it. Not his friends, not Luna. “It’s personal.”
“Personal?” Luna repeated, suddenly cold. Michael almost took a step back; her tone and demeanor were suddenly so different than the Luna he knew. He hadn't seen her so warped since they were children, when he took one of her toys or – disastrously – stubbornly told her Snorkacks did not exist. He had been worried she would never forgive him for that one. “I think what we just did was pretty personal.”
“You're right, but Luna, if I'm wrong, I don’t want you to –”
“You don’t want!” she said, loud and livid. Michael was slightly afraid. They always got along so well, and really, Luna showing such anger to anyone was rare. “Why don’t you try thinking about anyone other than yourself? You still don’t trust any of us!”
“Luna…it’s not about trust –”
“No! This trip, for example! You didn’t want us to come, because you were too concerned about us! Did you ever think how concerned we would have been about you? No, you didn’t!” She was crying openly now, and Michael was at a loss for what to say. He had been worried other his friends would be angry about the secrecy, but not Luna… “All this, and you still don’t trust me! Harry was right, you think you're better than all of us! Goodbye!” She stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
Ron, Harry, and Jeff walked in through the door she had just ran through, looking baffled and bewildered.
“Umm…we just saw Luna,” Harry began.
“And she didn’t look too happy,” Ron continued.
“So we were wondering…” Jeff said.
“What did you do?” they finished as one.
“Were you…really bad at it?” Ron asked him in a voice usually reserved for the sick and dying.
“No, that can't be it,” Jeff said, shaking his head. “She looked happy when we were in here a minute ago, it had to have happened recently.”
“You didn’t say she was ugly or anything, did you?” Harry asked, sounding concerned.
“No, nothing like that,” Michael muttered, trying to keep from unleashing his anger on them. Luna had reason to be mad, but he had never expected her to be…he was in no mood to entertain his friends’ desire for post-sex gossip.
“Well than what?” Jeff asked impatiently. “Wait,” he said in a hushed voice, “you didn’t say she was bad at it, did you? She wasn’t, right?”
“Shut up,” Michael snapped at him. “Just shut up for two seconds while I think.”
“You say that a lot lately,” Jeff said, irritated at his friend’s behavior. “You used to be the last person to shut up and think about anything.”
“Well everything’s changed hasn’t it?” Michael growled, finally losing his temper. “People are counting on me now! Luna’s counting on me!”
“And yet she doesn’t know it, does she?” Jeff snapped back, also goaded too far.
“What does that mean?” Michael asked dangerously, taking a step closer to Jeff, who remained where he was. ”What are you trying to say?”
“You’re doing to her what her dad and STRIKE did all those years! You won't tell her the truth, about that assassin, because you think you know what's best for her! You think you know more than her!”
“Don’t you dare,” Michael whispered, as Harry and Ron watched in horror as the two friends, fellow STRIKE members, drew wands on each other. “Don’t you dare compare me to them. And don’t ever,” his fists were shaking now, “talk to me about looking after her! You think I haven’t noticed what you’ve been trying?”
“What are you talking about?” Jeff asked, though he looked as if he knew exactly what Michael meant.
“Trying to sneak a peek at her! I ignored it, because I thought you were messing around, being funny! ‘Accidently’ falling into the bathroom while she was in the shower, really? Then you come in here this morning, knowing perfectly well what we were doing!”
“I was just playing with you…” Jeff said, turning red. “We always do that stuff. We mess with each other’s girlfriends all the time!”
“Not her!” Michael shouted in his face. “Not Luna!”
“Just because you two had sex doesn’t mean that –” Jeff began.
But no one ever found out what that meant, for at that minute Michael drew back his wandless left hand and punched Jeff square in the mouth.
He stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, holding his bleeding face. He looked stunned and angry, but before he could say anything, Michael shoved past him, throwing Harry and Ron out of the way, and followed Luna out the door, calling her name loudly.
He met Sarah and Hermione in the lobby. Both looked tired, and Sarah had that definite air of excessive alcohol. They seemed surprised to see him, at least this early.
“Hey,” Sarah said, stretching and smiling, though something in her face voided her attempt at casualness. “How was last night?”
“Have you seen Luna?” Michael asked quickly, ignoring her first question.
“Yeah, we have,” Sarah told him, the smile falling from her face as she said it. “She said she was going to the beach…” she trailed off, glancing at Hermione to complete the sentence, as though she was afraid to.
“And she said not to let you follow her,” Hermione said, frowning at him. “Why is she so angry with you?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said impatiently, making to pass between the two girls, to leave the hotel and head straight for the beach, but found his way blocked.
“We’ll let you go,” Hermione said firmly, “after you tell us what happened.” Both girls looked upset by their task, but determined.
“I wouldn’t tell her why I'm going to London,” Michael admitted, deciding it would be best, and quicker, to simply tell the truth. Most of it. “She got angry and said that I don’t trust any of you, and that I never think of anybody but myself.”
“But what makes her think that?” Hermione asked, looking confused for once in her life. “You almost wouldn’t let us come because you were worried about us, about her!”
Good, now they were on his side. That would speed things up. “She told me that I wasn’t considering how worried she’d have been if I went alone…and that I look down on you all for not being real soldiers.”
“But if you only told her what you had seen, she would know how much you care about her!” Sarah told him pleadingly.
“You thought the painful truth was better than a comfortable lie once,” Hermione said softly, echoing Jeff. “Perhaps it’s the same now.”
Michael considered her words. He had intended to simply say the things they wanted to hear and be on his way, to apologize and tell her how sorry he was that she couldn’t know. But his friends’ words struck a chord with him and he decided on a different course of action.
“That’s what I'm doing then,” Michael said suddenly, causing the two girls to glare at him suspiciously. However, something in his eyes, his tone, must’ve told them he was being honest. They moved aside without a word, allowing him access to the beach, to a second chance with the girl he’d never stop loving.
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