PG-13, 3500 words
Summary: The first time Padma noticed Luna Lovegood, really noticed her, she was standing outside in the pouring rain.
Notes: Written for acidpop25 at the '07 fem_exchange. Endless cookies to mindabbles for helping me out with this!
Anthony, who had been staring out of the window for the last five minutes, frowned.
"What is it?" Padma put her quill down, getting up to move over to Anthony's chair.
"Luna," he said, pointing down to the ground.
Rain was pelting against the windowpanes, so Padma had to press her nose right to the glass to see anything at all. A girl was standing outside in the grounds and she was moving very strangely, almost as if she were dancing - though it wasn't like anything Padma had seen before.
"What on earth is she doing?" she asked.
Anthony shrugged. "No idea. I swear she's got even more bizarre this year."
He turned back to his book, but Padma continued to watch Luna, and the storm that was getting ever worse all around her.
"She's going to catch her death, you know," she said after a minute.
"I highly doubt that," Anthony replied dismissively, but Padma was already grabbing her cloak.
"I won't be a minute," she said, before wrapping herself up and hurrying out of the Ravenclaw tower.
She could hear the wind whistling around the castle, and even thought she might have caught a distant clap of thunder. The last thing she wanted was to be out on a day like today - even Quidditch practice had been cancelled. Cursing the sense of prefect responsibility that was propelling her along, she pushed the entrance hall doors open and dove out into the gale.
"Luna?" she yelled, but her words were whisked out of her mouth instantly. She looked around in the semi-darkness until a flash of lighting illuminated a figure down by the lake.
Padma raced down through the grounds, cursing fervently under her breath. By the time she reached her, Luna was stood stock still, head upwards and slightly to one side, looking for all the world like the storm was a faintly interesting painting.
"Luna!" Padma shouted in her ear. "Are you completely mad?"
Luna calmly turned to look at her, unblinking. "Oh, hello." She started to say something else, but it was lost in a rumbling thunderclap. Padma shrugged off her cloak and draped it over both their shoulders, before hurrying them back inside.
When they stood shivering in the entrance hall, Padma rounded on her. "What on earth were you thinking?"
"The storm wasn't going to hurt me," Luna replied, clearly unconcerned by the whole affair. "I thought there might have been some Gyring Gimbles up in the clouds, it's just the right time in the lunar cycle."
Padma felt a headache coming on. "You… Ok, well, you're going to have to do that some other time, I'm not letting you drown in the middle of the school grounds."
Luna smiled brightly. "That's very thoughtful of you, thank you!"
Padma sighed. "Don't mention it. Come on, let's get back up to the tower."
They started walking back, Luna humming happily under her breath. Padma cast around for a topic of conversation, before curiosity got the better of her.
"What are Gyring Gimbles, then?"
Luna turned to her, frowning slightly. "You know, most people only ask me questions like that because they want to make fun of me." She shrugged. "They'll never learn much that way."
"Well, I don't want to make fun of you," Padma said hastily, feeling a sudden rush of empathy for this strange girl, so that before she'd even thought about it she was saying, "I can't promise I'll believe you, but why don't you give me a try? I've got a kettle up in my room, if you'd like to come up for tea, should warm you up a bit."
Luna looked delighted. "Ooh, that would be lovely! No one's ever asked me to tea before."
They'd reached the common room door. Padma knocked briskly.
"What is the source of wisdom?" came the sing-song voice of the knocker.
Padma looked over at Luna and smiled. "The understanding you don't know very much at all."
"Interesting response," said the knocker, and the door swung open.
Padma's dormitory was helpfully empty, as students started to trickle off to dinner. She started clattering around with mugs while Luna began to speak softly, stories about strange creatures made of cloud and lightning and sky. Padma sat down and listened, enraptured by the world the girl sitting in front of her was painting, while her untouched tea grew steadily colder next to her.
Something of a tradition was born out of that one afternoon. On quiet Sundays, when she spotted Luna alone by a window, or walking back from lunch by herself, Padma would walk over to her, and they'd ensconce themselves on the end of Padma's bed, drinking tea and arguing amicably about the weird and wonderful creatures Luna believed in so thoroughly.
This particular Sunday, Padma was howling with laughter. "I don't believe it!" she gasped, one hand clutching her side, which was threatening to develop a stitch.
Luna's eyes were as wide and innocent as ever, but her smile could only be described as wicked. "My mum found one once, we've got photographic evidence! Daddy says she wouldn't stop squawking for three weeks, and all the time the polka-dot toad was sitting in our kitchen, ballooning."
"You know, if they taught this kind of stuff in Care of Magical Creatures, I might actually have taken the subject," Padma said, still chuckling.
Luna nodded seriously. "It's a very backward area of education at Hogwarts. I've tried talking to Hagrid about it, but he just gave me these horrid rock cakes." She shook her head. "Poor Hagrid. He simply doesn't have the temperament to see what's really out there."
Padma nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I'm with you on that one."
She caught Luna's eye, who grinned for a moment before suddenly bursting into laughter.
"What? What's so funny?"
But Luna waved a hand helplessly and lay back on Padma's bed, still giggling to herself.
Padma smiled, feeling slightly confused but pleased by Luna's giggles, watching her big eyes crinkle in amusement, her open smile, the way a hand fell to her stomach; her stomach, where her shirt had ridden up a little, exposing a hint of pale skin beneath…
Padma gulped. But Luna was getting up now, hair messed, a pink flush in her cheeks which spread down to her collarbone. Padma quickly gave herself a shake to stop staring. That really wouldn't do at all. Luna gave her a quizzical look.
"Are you all right?"
"Oh yeah, just a bit warm in here, isn't it?"
Luna nodded. "Yes, it seems to me a Wrackspurt's got into the works." She looked around the room, as though expecting to see the thing before her.
Padma laughed a little shakily. "Maybe that's it. Hey, Luna, it's been really nice to see you, but I've got to get this essay done for Flitwick tomorrow, I should really go to the library."
She could feel her words rushing out of her, tripping over themselves, but Luna didn't seem to notice. Instead, she stared at the far corner of the dormitory, and pointed. "There, that's where your Wrackspurt will be. You should do something about that."
"Yes, right, ok," Padma answered, rummaging around for some books, a quill, anything.
They walked out of the dormitory together, and Padma felt like hexing whichever Founder it was who had made the staircases so bloody small, because Luna kept gently brushing against her shoulder and Padma was more than a little concerned she was going to do something ridiculous.
But she made it the common room in one piece, and was able to get out into the corridor alone unaccompanied by anybody. She carried on to the library on instinct, and it was only when she'd safely settled herself in an unobtrusive corner that she began to feel her heartbeat slowing.
She hauled her bag out onto the desk, determined to distract herself with some of the complicated Charm theory that Flitwick had set last lesson. To her horror, however, the grand total of her bag's contents consisted of a joke quill Anthony had bought her for her last birthday, a couple of scraps of parchment, two books on OWL Divination, and one of Parvati's tacky romance novels. Resisting the urge to scream, she settled for resting her head on the desk for a moment, contemplating her options.
This was clearly just a fleeting madness. It was Luna Lovegood, after all, and that was just absurd. She couldn't-- it would never… Padma's hands clenched in frustration, because wasn't this always what happened? Misplaced and inappropriate feelings, time and again, and she was tired of the whole thing. She sat upright in her chair, firmly dismissing all thoughts that weren't about schoolwork. Looking around her, she saw a selection of books on Ancient Runes, and picked one up, determined to focus.
An hour and a half later, and she's barely managed half a chapter. Giving up, and feeling extremely concerned, she went straight to dinner. She sat next to Anthony, laughing as he pantomimed the latest deathly dull History of Magic lesson, and tucking into whatever food was still left on the table.
She pretended not to notice Luna's hopeful gaze in her direction, almost turning side-on in her seat to face her fellow sixth years instead. Even as she talked about the upcoming Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, she couldn't shake the feeling of someone looking at her, unblinking.
As soon as she could make a getaway after dinner, she retreated to her blissfully empty dormitory. She started getting ready for bed and prayed that if only she could get to tomorrow morning, this would all go away. But as she lay staring at her curtained ceiling, not tired at all, she could do nothing but remember Luna sitting at the end of her bed earlier, how she had felt the warmth of her, and the image of her brightly smiling face seemed unshakeable in the darkened dormitory. Groaning, Padma rolled over, shoving her head beneath the pillow. Asphyxiation was probably the preferable alternative just at the moment, anyway.
"Miss Patil!" Professor McGonagall snapped. "Would you kindly at least give a good impression of attending to the text you are meant to be reading?"
Padma opened her eyes wide with some difficulty. "Sorry, Professor," she murmured, hastily looking down and turning a page. Running on only a couple of hours' sleep and the school's horribly weak coffee, she was struggling just to keep herself upright. In a few hours she had a bit of spare time to sleep, so she rubbed her eyes vigorously and focused on non-verbal spells. She managed to regain a sensible level of consciousness just long enough to answer one of McGonagall's questions at the end, before being forced to excuse herself at the beginning of Herbology and retreat back to bed, where she didn't move for the rest of the day.
By the time dinner rolled around, she declared herself entirely recovered, and managed to trounce Anthony in a round of Gobstones that evening. And if anybody asked, she hadn't noticed the way that Luna was watching her. Not in the slightest.
It wasn't until a week later that Anthony said anything.
"Luna get a bit weird for you, did she?" he asked casually, as he sealed up an essay.
Padma frowned. "What? No! No, Luna's really very nice, if you'd ever give her half a chance. It's just… well, you know. I'm busy with work and everything." It sounded woeful even to her own ears, and he gave her a curious look for a moment, then shrugged.
"If you say so," he said. "But if you like her so much, how come she's over there by herself?"
Padma quickly turned around. Luna was indeed sitting alone, and it was a familiar sight by now. The younger years would sometimes be rude enough to point or laugh, but most of the house had adopted a policy of leaving well enough alone, ignoring the fact she could often be seen reading upside down, or wearing mismatched clothes, or casting spells into mid air whilst humming under her breath. Today, she was writing, though it seemed as though the words weren't flowing neatly from left to right. Instead, she appeared to be choosing places on the parchment at random, words no doubt being scattered from her quill in whichever place she chose.
Padma wanted to go over to her, curious about just what it was she was writing. And she almost did, moving forward in her seat involuntarily. Then she stopped herself. She sat there, feeling torn, all too aware that Anthony was staring at her. Luna slowly began to raise her head and Padma hastily turned away.
A month went by and Padma almost felt secure that her moment of madness was done. She smiled at Luna in the corridors, they exchanged a few words at dinner. Luna could often be seen in the company of Ginny Weasley, anyway, and Padma managed to tell herself there was no need to feel guilty at all.
And then, one day, she was walking past an apparently empty classroom when she heard Luna's voice floating out of it, and it didn't sound as dreamy as usual.
"If you could please just give it back," she was saying, "I really do need to finish that essay."
There was sniggering in response, and it sounded like a couple of younger boys. Concerned, Padma poked her head around the door. Luna was sitting on a desk in the corner, three boys Padma thought were Gryffindors facing her, their backs to the door. Luna looked up, and Padma shook her head, winking, so Luna turned her attention back to the boys.
"Don't know what's she talking about," said the one in the middle who Padma identified as the leader. "We see all sorts of bags, all the time, could be any of them!"
Luna attempted a smile. "Ah, but I bet you've never seen one made out of Heliopath skin before." She leaned forward, lowering her voice. "One touch in the wrong place, and all of a sudden - BANG!" she shrieked.
The boys jumped back, crashing into the desk behind them and each other.
"Accio bag," Luna said calmly, and a few chairs at the back of the room clattered out of the way as a luminous school bag soared towards her. She caught it, and smiled blandly at her aggressors. "See? Perfectly safe, as long as you know what you're doing."
Padma could have sworn Luna winked in her direction, but the fleeting look was gone as Luna gently threw her bag back at the boys in front of her, who shrieked and ran out of the way.
"Told you she was mental," one of them hissed. "Can we just go already?"
The others seemed very much in agreement, turning to start their getaway. Padma, sensing this was her cue, walked full into the room.
"Attempted theft?" she intoned in her best prefect voice, folding her arms. "Physical intimidation of a student? What house are you in?"
"Um, Hufflepuff," the ringleader said unconvincingly.
"Oh no, that's not right!" Luna said brightly. "They're all in Gryffindor, Padma."
"And lying to a prefect," Padma added sternly. "Expect to hear from Professor McGonagall very soon, I'm going to have to report this."
They looked a little pale at that.
"Now, do you want to get into trouble for being late to your lessons as well?" she asked threateningly.
Padma walked over to Luna. "Are you all right?"
Luna smiled. "Oh yes, thank you. That was very kind of you to rescue me!"
"Looks like you were doing just fine by yourself," Padma answered, laughing. "Did they take any of your stuff?"
"Would have had to open the buckles first," Luna said. "I don't think they've quite got the knack for undoing Ever-Tying Knots by third year."
Luna stood up and suddenly was far too close for Padma's liking, yet somehow she had no desire to draw back. Something was squirming in her stomach, and a nervous energy was spreading up through her chest, a want, a desire to just do something.
She coughed. "Well, if you're sure you're ok, I must run to Charms."
Luna nodded. "It was very nice to talk to you, Padma."
She smiled, and Padma dashed out of the room before her hold on her sanity slipped any further. It was a slip, and it really couldn't be allowed to happen again.
The next time the Luna problem was brought to her attention was when she unexpectedly ran into Ginny.
"Hey, Padma," Ginny said, as she raced up to her after dinner, "have you got a second?"
"Err, sure, of course," Padma answered, a little confused. She wondered if this was about Michael, though the two of them had broken up some time ago now.
Ginny moved to the side of the corridor, glancing around her.
"Everything ok?" Padma asked.
The expression on Ginny's face made Padma shift a little, feeling uncomfortable. "It's Luna," Ginny said. "You two are friends, aren't you?"
Padma nodded. "Why, is there something wrong?"
"No, not as such." Ginny frowned for a moment, as though trying to work out what to say. "It's just that I think - well, she likes you a lot, I know, and I've started to wonder…" she fell silent, looking at Padma. "You really haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Padma's eyes widened--about how she had started doing internal gymnastics every time she caught the faintest glimpse of Luna, about how she kept thinking about her at the most inopportune moments, about how very, very badly she wanted to kiss her-- she blinked. "Really no idea, I'm afraid."
Ginny shook her head. "Right, ok, forget I said anything. Just-- be good to her, will you? She could use a few more friends around the place." She smiled then walked away, and Padma stared after her retreating back.
This was all proving to be most troublesome.
Anthony, who had been staring out of the window for the last five minutes, frowned.
Padma glanced up, and saw that it was pouring down with rain. Entirely forgetting to breathe, she got up and walked over to the window. A girl with sodden hair could just about be glimpsed standing below the tower, looking out towards the lake.
Some sort of explosion occurred in Padma's head, like a miscast cacophony of spells, all culminating in an insistent now now now. She didn't, she couldn't explain where she was going, just ran full pelt out of the common room, cloak lying forgotten on the side. She hurtled through the school, almost running bang into Professor Flitwick, who only managed to leap out of the way just in time.
"Padma!" she heard behind her, but she didn't stop. Consequences would be dealt with later.
The main door seemed impossibly heavy, and her breath came short and fast as she eventually hauled it open, before being blasted by an icy, wet wind. She hurtled outside, some force outside of her own volition pushing her onwards, and she couldn't possibly, possibly stop now.
Luna turned around as she got closer, and she skidded to a halt, dimly aware of the fact that she was freezing.
"I won't catch my death, you know," Luna said.
Padma laughed shakily. "No, I don't suppose you will. Luna, I--" she began.
"Would you like to kiss me?" Luna asked, interrupting her. The question wasn't provocative; she'd said it as straightforwardly as she might ask what Padma's favourite colour was.
"Uh-- what?" Padma felt her mouth gape a little bit, and quickly closed it again.
Luna leaned her head to one side. "It's the best explanation, I think. I've been talking to Ginny about it, about how you were very lovely to me and then kept running away whenever you saw me. I thought maybe you were embarrassed to be my friend, but then you rescued me from those horrible boys, and so we thought that maybe this was it instead." Luna laughed. "Very silly of you, really. You won't get very far in kissing someone if you keep running away from them."
"I… no, no I suppose you won't." Padma stared in amazement. "And you don't mind?"
"No one's ever kissed me before," Luna said. "And I think it sounds rather nice."
There were all sorts of little voices in Padma's head, cautioning her against this plan of action, reminding her about all sorts of silly things like what other people think. She calmly told them all to shut up, and smiled.
"It is," she agreed.
And then she reached out her hands to feel Luna's soft, warm, rain-soaked skin. She held her at the waist, one hand tracing the line of her mouth, the curve of her cheek.
Something was still bursting inside her, something alarming and wonderful at just the same moment, and there seemed to be only one possible solution. Bringing Luna's upturned face close to her own, Padma kissed her.