Perception (Worth the Risk #40)

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It’s been a long day, and it’s not even noon yet. The Warrington case has taken such a priority over everything else on her desk that Hermione finds herself behind on other cases. She has spent the morning catching up on her files, having meetings, and interviewing witnesses. The rest of her week looks like it will be the same, since she can’t neglect other cases just because she wants to ensure a firm verdict for Warrington. They’re at an impasse in that case right now, at least, since there seem to be a half dozen avenues being explored and nothing has been found yet.

That’s the most frustrating part of her job. When she had warned Teddy about needing patience and things taking too long, she hadn’t been lying. The worst part of the job is when someone manages to escape justice, especially the cases that she knows are guilty, which is probably one reason that she has dealt with her impatience as well as she can so that she doesn’t rush or make mistakes. She watches others lose trials that they might not have if they’d been more thorough or taken more time before moving forward, so she has learned from that. She hates to lose.

The toast that she had this morning wasn’t enough to get her through the day if the rumbling of her tummy is any indication. It’s fortunate that she wasn’t in a meeting with a client or witness when it started to growl. It was embarrassing enough to hear it when she was giving Caroline additions to her calendar for next week. It is lunch time, but she still has so much to get done that she’s tempted to get something from the canteen and eat at her desk. Rose comes home on Saturday and the monthly brunch with Harry and Ron is at her house this month, so she doesn’t want to take any work home with her.

While she’s been looking forward to Rose coming home since she first put her on the Hogwarts Express in September, she’s now also slightly anxious. Ron started to date Mel a few months ago, while Rose was away at school, and she’s dating Teddy, which Rose and Hugo both need to be told about. Ron had written a letter to tell her about Mel, but Hermione couldn’t tell Rose about Teddy in that way. She understood that Ron wanted Rose to know before she possibly heard from someone else, of course. A letter just seemed impersonal to her, especially when she wanted to know Rose’s true reaction instead of simply a reading a reply that likely wouldn’t show much emotion at all.

Well, she wasn’t entirely certain that she wanted to know Rose’s true reaction, since it hadn’t been at all positive regarding Mel and that situation is infinitely better than her own. Rose has always liked Teddy and considers him as much a cousin as Al or James. Hugo does, too, but Hugo isn’t as unpredictable as Rose. She isn’t sure how Hugo will feel about it, but she doesn’t foresee a terribly negative reaction, though she could be wrong. Rose is an unknown, and that worries her.

A knock on her door disturbs her thoughts. She frowns at her file when she realizes that she’s been reading the same page for longer than necessary. While at work, she needs to focus because she doesn’t want a relationship to interfere with her performance. There’s a second knock, a little louder this time, and she realizes that she’s not yet greeted her visitor. Bollocks.

She looks up and blinks in surprise when she sees Luna Lovegood leaning against the door. Luna knocks again while studying the wood before she looks at over at Hermione and smiles widely. It‘s disconcerting, to say the least. When she realizes that Luna is still standing there waiting for her to speak, she says, “I thought that you were doing research in Machu Picchu until July.”

“Hello to you, too, Hermione. It’s nice to see you. Why, yes, I’d love to come in!” Luna enters the office and closes the door behind her before she walks over to Hermione’s desk. “I can hug you while you’re sitting, but it’s usually better if you stand.”

“Funny. It’s nice to see you, too, Luna.” Even if she has no idea why Luna’s in her office instead of exploring South American ruins. She stands up and returns Luna’s hug. “Is your father okay?”

“Daddy is lovely, though Parvati tells me that he still doesn’t understand what retirement means even after ten years.” She looks around Hermione’s office and immediately goes to the bookshelves to start poking around. She holds up a piece of carved wood and studies it. “This is new. It wasn’t here last time I visited.”

“You sent it to me for Christmas,” she reminds Luna. “You visited last summer, before I received it.”

Luna tilts her head as she obviously considers Hermione’s reply before she nods. “That’s right. I sent it from Ciudad Perdida. I thought it looked familiar. Has it brought you luck?”

“Perhaps. Did your excursion end early?” She knows that Luna said July in her last letter, though it’s never possible to plan anything around Luna’s schedule since it often changes, usually on a whim.

“Hmm?” Luna looks at her and lowers her voice as she leans towards Hermione. “The skoring gorlox are in mating season. It was rude to stay and invade their privacy.” She straightens up. “I also finished my research early, so here I am. You need lunch. Shall we?”

She has no idea what skoring gorlox are or if they even exist, but a visit from Luna is rare and appreciated. “Lunch would be nice. Let me finish with this file and then we can go. How long are you in town?”

“I’m not sure. A few days or a few weeks. It depends on what interests me next,” Luna says. “I’m thinking about going to Alaska to look for the crintson flower, but I was also invited to join an expedition into areas of magical China by Rolf Scamander, so that’s tempting, too.”

When she hears the name Rolf, she arches a brow and looks up from her file to notice Luna staring thoughtfully at the ceiling. “The same Rolf Scamander from New Zealand? And Kenya? And---”

“Is there another?” Luna interrupts curiously. “It’s such an unique name that I never imagined there would be two.”

“Funny.” Hermione stores the information away to discuss over lunch because she hasn’t missed the faint blush on Luna’s pale cheeks or the avoidance of her question, which is not Luna’s usual style. Blunt and pointed outweighs vague and avoiding most often.

Luna smiles dreamily before she opens Hermione’s door. “I’ll wait outside so you can finish your work. I want to ask Caroline if she’s having a girl or a boy.”

Before Hermione can reply, Luna is gone, and she’s left wondering when her assistant found out she was pregnant because that’s news to her. She frowns at the file and quickly finishes her notes as she listens to voices outside her office. She’s glad that Luna didn’t shut the door behind her or she’d not have heard anything. Caroline is denying Luna’s belief that she’s pregnant and sounds surprised at the suggestion. When she hears Teddy greet Luna, she feels a twisting in her tummy that has nothing to do with hunger. Well, not that kind of hunger.

Once she’s finished, she puts the file in its place and grabs her handbag. Teddy is laughing at some story Luna is telling, and she hurries just a little bit more, not that she’s jealous or anything. When she leaves her office, she closes the door behind her and joins them around Caroline’s desk. Caroline looks shell-shocked and Teddy is smiling, which seems appropriate for a visit from Luna. Most people tend to be one or the other after conversing with her.

“Afternoon, Boss,” Teddy says casually even as he looks at her in a way that makes her feel foolish for being minutely jealous. He ducks his head and runs his fingers through his hair, possibly realizing that he’s staring in a way inappropriate for the office.

“Hello, Ted.” She pushes away memories of last night as she turns towards Caroline. “I’ll be out of the office for lunch. If anyone needs me, I’ll be back at one. I’m expecting an owl from Lawson regarding the Fortellini case, so just put it in my box when it arrives. It was supposed to be here this morning, so it’s already late, but I‘d think it will at least arrive by one.”

Caroline nods before she excuses herself to go to the ladies. Hermione looks at Luna and shakes her head. “What?” Luna asks.

“She and her husband have been trying to have a baby for the last three years. Nothing has worked, so hearing you asking what sex her baby is going to be has to be difficult,” she says quietly.

“Oh, well, they should be happy then. She’s pregnant,” Luna says simply. “I can tell.”

“Boss, why don’t you go on to lunch. I’ll hang around the office to make sure the Lawson owl gets taken care of,” Teddy says before she can snap at Luna for being insensitive. Even if she is somehow right in that uncanny and annoying way of hers, it’s still rude. “I’ll let Caroline go to lunch now and I’ll go after.”

She looks at him and nods. “Thank you, Ted. I’ll be back soon.” She turns to Luna and asks, “Finnigan’s?”

“Of course. Seamus would be insulted if I went anywhere else,” Luna says matter-of-factly. She takes Hermione’s arm and pulls her along out of the office. “You work too hard.”

“I hear that a lot.” She pushes the button for the lift and is relieved when it arrives promptly. It’s almost noon, so she’s glad to beat the crowd. With Luna, it’s better to have an empty lift than a crowded one since she never knows what might be said next.

“You hear it but do you listen? There’s a difference, you know. If you actually listened, you might evaluate your life and decide that you do work too much and then you’d stop.”

“It’s not that easy, Luna. Besides, you work hard, too. It’s been nearly a year since you were back for a visit, and I know you’re not just traveling for fun.”

Luna shrugs. “My work is fun, and it’s not the same. You have a job that’s draining and makes circles under your eyes. You look better than you did when I was here last time, but good sex doesn’t cure everything.” The doors to the lift open, and Luna steps into the Atrium before Hermione can say anything. Which is probably good because she’s only able to squeak at the moment.

When they get outside, she glances at Luna. “Who told you?” There’s now too many people who know for her to even think about threatening anyone, but she’s still annoyed that her private life is seemingly a source of gossip amongst friends.

“Ginny sent me a letter. She’s very upset, which is understandable, and she says that she can’t talk to Harry about it because he always takes your side.” Luna looks at her. “I don’t understand why there have to be sides, since it’s not a war, but Ginny is odd.”

“Ginny sent you a letter and you somehow managed to finish your project at the same time?” She arches a brow and purses her lips. “If you came back because of this-”

“I didn’t. I would have, though. Mating season of the skoring gorlox is very uncomfortable,” Luna confides. “Ginny doesn’t understand. I don’t know if she ever will. It is unusual, after all. He’s much younger and practically family. Does it bother you?”

When Luna says that she doesn’t think Ginny will ever understand, she feels defeated. There are so many things to worry about in regards to having a relationship with Teddy, but losing a close friend hurts. It’s funny, in a way, since she’s been scared of exactly that all along yet the people who know have been surprisingly accepting and more concerned about her happiness than anything else. Well, Harry and Andromeda are worried about Teddy more than her, but it’s similar.

“I don‘t disapprove,” Luna says suddenly. “But it’s also not my place to give approval. You’re my friend, and it’s your life regardless of what I think or how I feel. If you enter into this needing approval from everyone before you’ll be happy, you’ll never be happy, Hermione. I know that you like to say you don’t care what people think, but you always have, at least a little.”

Luna’s analysis is unnerving. It’s too close to the truth for comfort, and Hermione’s suddenly glad that she’s here. “I’m trying,” she says honestly. “I haven’t told the children yet, and I’m scared about their reactions. I enjoy being with him, Luna. He makes me happy in a way that I’ve not been in years.”

“He looks at you like you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” Luna smiles. “That’s a wonderful feeling, when you find it. It’s hard to let it go, even if you’re scared. How long has it been going on?“

“About a month. We went out for dinner and, well, things continued from there.” She reaches up and tucks her hair behind her ear. “I lost him a week ago, and it hurt so much. Not like when Ron and I finally ended things, but maybe like when I first realized we had drifted apart.”

“That isn’t a long time.” Luna looks surprised as she stops walking and stares at her. “It was years before you even started to date Ron.”

“I remember.”

“This isn’t like you at all. No wonder you’re confused and scared. I’m proud of you.” Luna smiles and gives her a big hug before stepping back. “I never thought I’d see the day when you did something daring and, well, selfish.”

“It is selfish,” she murmurs. “Harry and Ron don’t really approve, even if they’re accepting it as well as they can, and Ginny has shut me out completely. The children risk losing a favorite cousin if Teddy and I don’t work out, and I still couldn’t let him go.”

“Are you ready to lose people who don’t understand or can’t accept it? People won’t be kind, Hermione. They rarely are when things aren’t predictable and normal. The people who really love you, though, will accept it. Like Harry and Ron. And others won’t care at all, but there will be those who can’t ever understand and won’t even try,” Luna says bluntly.

“No, I’m not ready, but there’s not much other choice. I can’t sacrifice my happiness to make people feel more comfortable and to keep friends who obviously aren’t really good ones if they can’t at least tolerate my relationship.”

Luna studies her then smiles. “You said ‘if’ and not ‘when’. You care about him, more than you want to believe right now. Ginny does love you, Hermione. It’s hard for her, and I hope you’re willing to give her time before cutting her out of your life completely.”

“Honestly? Rose and Hugo are my only concern right now. Rose comes home from school this weekend, and I’m planning to tell them after that, so all my anxiety is focused there for the moment. After I get through that, whatever happens, then I’ll worry about friends and family who don’t know yet.”

“What if they won’t accept him?”

Hermione looks at Luna, somehow not surprised that she’s asked the question that she’s not even wanted to think about. “I-” She hesitates and sighs. “I don’t know.”

Luna hooks her arm around Hermione’s before she starts walking again. “We don’t always have the answers,” she says simply. “You’ll owl me after, when they don’t take it well. I’ve brought them gifts and have stories to tell.”

“You said ‘when’, not ‘if’,” she points out softly.

“So I did.” Luna glances at her and squeezes her arm. “You’re working too hard, but I’m glad that you’re starting to live again, outside of work and family. I was worried for a while after Ron. Do you think that Seamus will give me ice cream before my meal? I’m craving something sweet, but he’s so silly about pudding being afters.”

The subject has been changed, and Hermione’s relieved. She has enough on her mind to think about without adding even more. She needs to see Teddy, needs at least a hug to help her get through the rest of the day, but she’ll have to wait for that. Right now, they’ve just arrived at Finnigan’s, and she does really want to catch up with Luna beyond talking about her current relationship drama. Speaking of relationships. She smiles as she looks at Luna. “So, China with the dashing and sexy Rolf, hmm?”