Disclaimer: The characters here and the world they inhabit are the creation and property of JK Rowling and her assigns.
The tall, dark-haired man stood with his arms folded as he watched the cooks manipulate his food on the grill. Most of the customers found the process of selecting meats and vegetables and then watching the cooks stir and toss it as it sizzled to be entertaining. Severus Snape didn't care about that. He wouldn't come to this restaurant at all, except that he liked the flavor and had never found a way to reproduce it at home.
A piece of tofu jumped and fell back down again. It was not uncommon, and no one else seemed to give it a thought, but it made him look up. It wasn't quite normal. The person who had just joined the line at the grill was a former student of his. She was waving at him in such a way that he could only assume her exuberance was the cause of the dancing tofu.
He nodded and said, “Miss Lovegood,” and then determinedly looked back at the grill. The cooks were holding up a plate that went unclaimed. They set it aside and moved on to the next meal. He watched the combination of chicken, shrimp, and tofu mixed with noodles that he had assembled as the line around him thinned out.
They put the food he had been watching onto a plate and held it up. Just as he reached for it, a female voice said, “Right here!” He turned to see that Miss Lovegood was reaching for his plate.
“I believe that's mine,” he said with annoyance.
“Oh, no,” she answered. “I always get the same thing here: chicken, tofu, and shrimp with noodles.”
The chef pointed to the plate that had been set aside. “Is it possible that that one is yours?”
Snape looked at the unclaimed plate and took it. “I'll have some white rice with it, please.”
He sat down with annoyance and started to eat his food. His stomach turned when another plate was placed on his table and his former student sat across from him. She sat as lightly as a sunbeam, all golden yellow and airy motes. “That's quite amazing!” she said. “I've seen people who've had the same mixture, before, but not with the same sauces.”
He decided that silence was the best policy and simply continued eating. His unwelcome companion used chopsticks. She was surprisingly adept. He read the paper as she continued chattering on.
“...and since I finished at Hogwarts, I've been working with disadvantaged children. It's amazing how many Wizarding children were born to Muggle women during and right after the war.”
She had him at a loss, but he wouldn't acknowledge it. He looked down at his plate to see that a piece of his shrimp was firmly between her chopsticks. “It's all-you-can-eat here you know.”
“Your shrimp looked lonely, and I wanted to see if we really have exactly the same sauce.”
It was an invitation, so he tasted her chicken. “It would appear that you have a heavy hand with the cumin while I prefer chili powder.” He looked at her. “Aren't you going to compare my lonely shrimp to one of your imaginary animals?”
It was her turn to look away and bite her lip. “I don't talk about rare creatures very much anymore.” She cleared her throat. “Actually, I think I will get another helping. Thanks for the chat, Professor Snape.” She stood up and left the table.
He watched after her, thinking that last comment was almost angry, coming from her. Then he shrugged it off. What did it matter if the girl was less strange and fanciful? Who really cared about imaginary creatures, anyhow?
The tall, dark-haired Man sat at a corner table in a bistro and waited for his dinner. A glass of undistinguished red sat in front of him and he sipped it from time to time, more for something to do than out of a liking for it.
“Sir, if you don't mind, the restaurant is full, and the young lady says she knows you.” The waiter left before he had a chance to object.
He looked up and saw that the dinner companion forced upon him was Miss Lovegood, again. “You may as well sit down,” he growled.
She sat like a moonbeam in the opposite seat, gleaming white and gentle lights. She said, “I've ordered the Chicken Marsala. They said they'll be able to bring it out with your Shrimp Scampi.”
He sighed but said nothing. She put a glass of white on the table, opposite his red, and proceeded to attack the bread basket. Suddenly, he was unable to stop looking at her mouth. She had soft pink lips and pearly teeth. He caught glimpses of her pink tongue and wondered if there was some pretext he could use for seeing more of it.
He found that he was talking to her this time. “I apologize if I was rude in my comment about the imaginary creatures at the other restaurant,” he said.
“I should apologize,” she answered. “It's that...” Her head tilted to the side and she drifted off. “My dad and I used to talk about the imaginary creatures,” she finally continued. “After mum died, it was a sort of code between us. We knew we were being ridiculous, but it was something that we did to keep ourselves company and feel a little less lonely.
“Then when I came to Hogwarts, I didn't have anything in common with the other kids. It was a way to fill the empty parts of the conversations. They called me 'Loony Lovegood.' They were going to call me that, anyway, but this filled the voids. It allowed me to control the impression they had. It didn't hurt so much to be an outcast because of my love of imaginary creatures as for my actual self.” She shrugged. “Anyhow, he had died just a few months before I saw you, and I still miss him.”
“I'm very sorry for your loss.”
He looked at her pensively. Now it seemed unfortunate that she had given up on the imaginary creatures. It was as if she had given up on life in a way. For some reason, it was simply wrong for her to lose the charm of her eccentricities. It was so long ago that he shouldn't remember—although he did—the day when he had given up on life. It had been nothing more than existence since then.
He needed a distraction. “Tell me more about—those kids.”
More of the bread was consumed, if twisting it into a pile of breadcrumbs counted as consumption, while she described her work with the half-blood children. “It's tiring at times,” she said. “They have so much magic and no idea where it came from or what to do with it.” She peered at him intently. “They look like quite a few of the Death Eaters, but not like you.”
He carefully twirled his fork to capture some angel hair pasta before spearing a piece of shrimp. “The Dark Lord kept me carefully away from anything that Dumbledore wouldn't want in a professor. The Headmaster was known for his skills at Legilimancy.”
“They do seem to have your general outlook on life,” she said, matter-of-factly. “They're pretty glum all the time, and they stand or sit with their arms folded when they're not doing anything. It's as though they've learned not to expect anything good from the world.”
She was too accurate in her assessment. He wondered how his life might have been different if a young half-blood from a dingy mill town could have had someone cheerful and a little batty to talk to. He didn't have an answer and found himself staring at his fork, which still held a mouthful of spaghetti and shrimp. “Here,” he said, “try the Scampi, it's delicious.”
He had been trying to distract her, but wasn't prepared for the sensation it gave him. The feel of her teeth and lips at the other end of the fork sent a tingle up his arm. The soft smile she gave him in return was his undoing. He could do nothing much besides watch the chicken disappear behind those lips for the rest of the evening.
They parted at the door of the bistro. “Why don't we do this again sometime?” he said. “We don't have to wait for chance, do we?”
She looked up, her blue eyes inviting. “What do you have in mind?”
“I'll find something,” he answered. “Would this time next week work for you?”
She nodded her consent and was gone.
He led her into the Ethiopian restaurant he picked, and she sat heavily, like a gray-beige mist. She was distracted and her eyes, rather than a dreamy gaze, contained hopelessness. Uncomfortable as her cloud-gathering could be, this was hard to watch.
“Is something the matter?” he asked as he fed her spiced chicken with his bare fingers. He felt it all: lips, teeth, and even some tongue. He wanted to purr with the bliss of it, and even explore with his fingertips. It was a public place, however, and she seemed sad. He asked the reason.
She sighed and explained. “There's a child I was hoping to help. She lives with a grandmother who's about to be declared non compos mentis. I was hoping to become a foster mother to her, but Wizarding law says that there must be two parents. She's going to end up in Muggle foster care and they won't have the first idea how to care for her.”
He couldn't bring back her imaginary creatures, but maybe he could help. He used his clean hand to brush her hair behind her ear. “The solution seems simple enough.”
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I just need to change Wizarding law within the next month and a half. Maybe Hermione Weasley can help me...”
He held more chicken in front of her lips and spoke more slowly and quite distinctly. “The solution seems simple enough.” This time, when she opened her mouth to eat, he did explore her lips with his fingertips. There was a look of surprise in her face and then a light in her eyes that said she understood.
A month, and many dinner dates later, they ate together in an apartment near St. Mungo's Hospital. It was rent controlled and the friend of a relative had helped Luna find it. She picked all the colors: Moonbeam, Sunshine, Hydrangea, Phlox, and Moss, among others. He helped her carry everything and painted the background colors as she drew sketches of places and things she would paint with color later.
That evening he paid the delivery boy and called her to the kitchen table. Her fingers were all dark with charcoal, so he fed her, using the chopsticks. They both laughed at how less adept he was than she in using them. As had happened before, he found that the feel of her mouth on the utensils made his arm tingle.
Neither got too many bites before he'd had all he could take. He put the chopsticks down and stood, lifting her into his arms. She didn't complain and instead wrapped her arms around his neck, being careful of her smudged fingers. He kissed her and started toward the bedroom until she waved at him to stop. “Look what just came in the window!” she said. “It's a Blibbering Humdinger! They're back!”
He smiled, knowing that she had been made sad by the lack of imaginary creatures in her life of late. It was good to see that she was happy enough to see such things again. As he carried his bride to the bedroom, he took a good look at the creature in question, which looked harmless enough by itself. All the same, he thought as he properly identified the creature, he would lay in a good supply of Doxycide.
A/N: Thanks go to Trickie Woo for beta reading.
The snuna_exchange on LJ is in full swing. If you like the pairing, it's worth a look!