Luna wasn't afraid when the Death Eaters took her from the train. She worried about her father – he'd never been much good without her – but she wasn't afraid for herself.
“I'll die to protect Harry Potter,” she had said flatly. She wanted the others to hear her resisting.
“Silencio!” the Death Eater had shouted, and then, even though her mouth was still moving, no words came out. Futile rage engulfed her; she had wanted to say that the mask made him look like a coward, but now she was defeated, and he laughed in her face. The students around her looked terrified, but she tried to keep her back straight as she stepped off the train. It was the best she could do.
Weeks passed before she understood why they'd taken her. At first, listening to the screams above her, she had prepared herself for interrogation and torture. She knew nothing of value, but resistance was important, and she was determined to give nothing away. Days passed, or at least, she thought they did – in the dungeon, it was difficult to tell – but no one acknowledged her existence outside of meal times. At first, she had refused the scraps they brought her, but hunger eroded her resistance. Better to keep her strength up, she thought, for whatever lay ahead.
But it seemed that nothing lay ahead, other than endless days in the dungeon. Then one day, Draco Malfoy appeared with another bowl of scraps, cursing all the way down the stairs that he shouldn't be treated like a glorified house elf.
Luna wrapped her fingers around his wrist, and he tried to shake her off, but she refused to let go.
“Why am I here?” she asked.
“You mean you don't know?” he asked, smirking. “To keep your old man in line, of course. Did you seriously think you were important enough for the Dark Lord to notice?”
“My father is,” she said, and felt a small surge of pride. Their resistance, which had seemed so small in comparison to Lord Voldemort, had mattered; if it hadn't, she wouldn't be here. “It won't work anyway. My father knows I would die to protect Harry Potter.”
“You sure about that, Looney?”
Draco held up an old newspaper and illuminated it with the tip of his wand.
Harry Potter: Undesirable No. 1, it said. Luna peered at it for a moment. She could tell it had been printed on their press; the B's were all slightly askance, and the letter Q turned mauve if you looked at it for long. It was unfortunate that Voldemort had seized their printing press; her father must be quite bored without it.
“He gets you back if he turns over Harry Potter, you know.”
“Oh, he won't do that,” Luna said. “He always said, 'we must stand besides Harry Potter, whatever the risks to ourselves. He Who Must Not Be Named will only triumph if we abandon our convictions.' ” She could still see him, standing over their printing press with his hat askew and his robes speckled with ink, articles praising Harry Potter cluttering the floor around him.
Draco's lips twisted into a crooked smile. His eyes were ugly and hard.
“Funny. He told Yaxley he'd do anything to get you back, anything at all. Not sure I'd bother if I were your old man. But he did. Harry Potter came to your house last night, and your father turned him in. Of course, he escaped and blew up half your house. No telling what the Dark Lord's doing to your father now.”
Luna blinked slowly. It was awful to think of her father betraying Harry and suffering under a Death Eater's wand – if it had actually happened.
“It's unfortunate you have to manipulate people with lies, Draco,” she said. “I hope you find a way to be happier soon.”
But Draco had not been lying, though it took her awhile to realize it at first.
When she returned home, the house and her father seemed wrong somehow, but she thought the difference was in herself. Maybe her mind had played tricks on her in the dungeon and the Room of Requirement; maybe she had been altered by the war in ways that she did not yet understand. She bought a meditation book at Flourish and Blott's and spent many hours sitting in her bedroom in the lotus position, waiting for serenity to return. Instead she found a strange crack in the floor, and she followed it down the stairs and into the darkened sitting room.
Her father sat on their old, overstuffed couch, watching her with a fond smile.
“Searching for nargles?” he asked.
Luna shook her head.
“Specialis revelio,” she murmured, and glowing green light illuminated the jagged lines where the walls had been repaired.
“What happened here?” she asked, suppressing a small quiver of fear. It was as Draco had said: half the house had been blown up and hastily put back together. But surely her father would never have...
“Nothing, darling,” he said, shifting on his feet. “Nothing at all for you to worry about.”
“Was Harry here?” she asked.
“Yes, now that you mention it, he was.” He swallowed. “Can't think why I didn't mention it to you before. So many things to catch up on, after the war.”
He was standing in front of the fireplace, and Luna noticed that it was filled with ashes even though it was much too warm for a fire. At the bottom of the grate, Luna could see a large piece of newsprint poking out, and she summoned it with her wand. Undesirable Number One, the headline read. A picture of Harry, half-destroyed by flame, was underneath it.
“Why did you do it?” she asked, holding the scrap of newspaper aloft. She supposed she should feel angry, or disappointed, but instead she just felt curious. It was like the day after her mother had died, when everyone had expected her to be heartbroken, and she had been full of questions instead.
“They said they would kill you if I didn't.”
It was kind of him to protect her, she thought, though it was rather selfish of them both to keep her alive at the expense of collaborating with the greatest evil the wizarding world had ever known.
“Did you try to give them Harry?” she asked. She could feel sadness and disappointment pricking at the edges of her brain now, but she knew better than to leap to conclusions. She would wait for his answer before she decided how to feel.
“Yes. Please understand me, Luna.” His eyes were pleading. “You are precious, much too precious, to lose.”
“More precious than the defeat of Voldemort?”
“Yes. More precious than even that. I hope, with time, you will forgive me.”
In her bedroom, Luna stared at the blank pages of her diary, cold fear churning in her belly. If her father had succeeded, Voldemort would be alive and Harry would be dead, Ron and Hermione with them. Hogwarts would still be a torture chamber; Muggles and Muggle-borns might have been exterminated. All to save her own small life.
The wireless was playing in the background; Rita Skeeter was interviewing Narcissa Malfoy.
“Tell us, Mrs. Malfoy, do you regret supporting He Who Must Not Be Named?”
“I regret the suffering it caused, but I acted to protect my son. I do not believe anyone can blame a parent for protecting their child.”
How could my father believe the same thing as the people who imprisoned me? Luna thought. She snapped her diary shut and burrowed into her bed, but sleep did not come.
She began to go on long foraging excursions in the woods outside her house, carrying her mother's hand-illustrated potions journals. Sometimes she lay on her stomach for hours, waiting for the light to strike flowers and leaves in exactly the right way so that she could harvest them at the height of their power. Once or twice, she stayed out so late that she slept inside the trunk of an old tree and did not feel guilty about worrying her father. Most days, her journeys led to her mother's grave.
She leaned her head against the cool tombstone, absently braiding a wreath of flowers.
“I miss you,” she said, flipping absently through the pages of her mother's journal. The notations grew more and more esoteric as she went on, and though the terms were familiar from her potions books, she could not understand them well. Her mother had taught her a bit about potions before her death, but only in small measures. “I want you to become who you want to be,” she had always said. Luna had always wanted to be like her mother, at least until she died.
After her mother's death, Luna had hung back in potions class, letting her partners and classmates do as much of the work as possible. She was good at hiding without even trying; people's eyes seemed to skim over her unless they were looking for someone to make fun of. Even Professor Snape overlooked her when she stood at the ingredients table, bargaining her carefully slivered newts' toes to excitable boys who liked stirring combustible potions.
She flipped resolutely to the simplest potions at the front of the journal; she would simply have to start there. Luna had never failed at anything she truly wanted to learn, and she would not fail to understand this last bit of her mother left in the world. Rising from the ground, she wiped the dust from her hands. She hung the flower garland over the edge of the tombstone and set a small rock on top of it.
“I'll see you later, alright?”
She resolved to find ingredients in the morning.
The apothecary was small, dark building of gray stone with an even smaller apartment on top. It had been abandoned for as long as Luna could remember, and the village children claimed that it was haunted. Luna had always tried to tell them that wrackspurts and snorkacks were much more interesting than ghosts, but none of them had cared to listen. Now, though the building was still dark and grim, a plain wooden sign hung above the door and greenish smoke belched from the chimney every Tuesday.
Luna had to tug hard before the door creaked open. It was as if the new proprietor did not want customers to come inside. The interior of the shop was dilapidated but immaculate: the old wooden shelves were warped with rain and age, but gleaming jars of ingredients were arranged neatly along their lengths. The window, though recently cleaned, emitted only a dull greenish light and a large hole in the corner was plugged with an ancient-looking rag. Behind the counter, strange, skeletal creatures hung suspended in glass jars beneath a few faded posters instructional posters. It reminded her rather of the potions classroom at Hogwarts, which wasn't surprising since Professor Snape glared at her from behind the till.
Luna said the first thing that came to mind.
“I'm glad you're not dead.”
Snape merely scowled at her, which wasn't surprising. She was glad he was alive, though maybe she wasn't supposed to be. Certainly many of her fellow students had wished him dead. She never could muster the desire for someone's life to end though; Snape might have been repulsive, but she supposed someone somewhere loved him, and she didn't want them to have to grieve.
“How did you survive?” she asked. It was a personal question, she supposed, but she never could restrain herself in the face of a mystery.
“It is much more difficult to kill a potions master than you might imagine.” His voice dripped with condescension, but Luna found that she did not really mind it. Once it might have hurt her, but now that she had fought in battles and been held prisoner, Snape's disapproval seemed trivial.
“Yes,” she said, “My mother always said that too. Of course, now she's dead.”
Snape had no reply to that, but then, no one ever did. She was glad he didn't say he was sorry though. It would have been a lie, and Luna didn't like lies very much.
“Did you require something?” Snape asked at length. “Ingredients for a potion, perhaps?”
“Yes,” Luna said. “I would like a job.”
Snape's eyes flew open at that. Luna understood his surprise – she hadn't known she would ask for a job either – but it was quite logical now that she thought of it. She had wished that she'd taken better advantage of her potions classes, and now she had found her old potions master. He wasn't a very nice man, but he was a good teacher; she would be stupid to throw that opportunity away, especially now that she knew his words couldn't really hurt her.
“And why,” he sneered, “would I hire you?”
Luna considered. It was a fair question.
“You don't seem very good with customers,” she said. “I'm not very good with people either, but I'm nicer than you.”
“Miss Lovegood, if you do not intend to make a purchase, I would advise you to leave.”
Luna supposed he meant to sound threatening, and if she had only listened to his voice, she might have been afraid. But he was pale – even paler than she remembered – and she thought she could see beads of perspiration on his forehead.
“I'd like angelica root please. Six knuts' worth.” She wasn't ready to give up on the job, but she thought it would be unkind to press him when he so obviously felt ill.
He summoned a jar of pre-cut roots, but Luna shook her head.
“I'll cut them myself, thank you.”
He wrapped them for her in brown paper, and she made sure to pay with exact change so he wouldn't have to trouble himself with the till.
“I hope you feel better soon,” she called as she stepped out the door.
The light in her father's study was on when she came home, and a pot of lamb stew was resting on the stovetop. The aroma of cumin and preserved lemons drifted out. Luna served herself a generous bowl, which she almost carried to her room before she saw that her father had left his study door open a crack, inviting her inside. She pushed it open hesitantly and stood at the threshold, soup spoon dangling awkwardly from her hand.
“Thank you for the stew,” she said. “It's my favorite.”
Her father smiled.
“Is it still?” he asked. “I thought you might have lost the taste for it, eating all that bland food at Hogwarts.”
“No,” Luna said, “It reminds me off Mum.”
“Me too.” He cleared his throat. “It's good to have you home, Luna.”
Luna nodded. So good you would have sold my friends to get me back sooner? she wanted to ask, but for once, she held a question in.
“Did you have a good day?” he asked.
“Yes. I'm going to see about a job at an apothecary tomorrow,” she said because it hurt not to tell him about her life, even if she wasn't sure who he was anymore. But she wasn't ready to pretend things were normal, not just yet. “Thank you again for the stew,” she said. “I'll be going upstairs to prepare now.”
In her room, she cut the angelica root in even triangular wedges, just as her mother's journal instructed. Pre-sliced, it sold for twice as much as it did whole, and Snape was running low. If she came back tomorrow with a perfectly sliced jar, she thought he might give her a job.
The next morning, Luna stood in front of the counter for fifteen minutes, but Snape did not appear.
“Good morning?” she called finally, her voice quavering a bit at the end. Usually, when people did not want her somewhere, she left. Seeking out the empty nooks and crannies that no one would drive her away from was how she'd gotten to know Hogwarts so well.
“Shop's closed!” Snape shouted from the back room.
“Oh. You shouldn't have left the door open then, should you?”
The door of the back room was ajar, and Luna poked her head around it. Snape was standing at a long, scarred table, a silver knife and small piles of roots arranged neatly around him. She was absolutely certain he didn't want her here, but she pushed the door open anyway and stepped inside.
“I won't be long,” she said. “I just wanted to give you these.”
She placed the jar of the sliced angelica roots on the table in front of Snape. He did not even bother to look at it, though she shouldn't have been surprised.
“I really think you should give me the job,” she said. She didn't often defy people -- she had never even bothered to correct the students who called her Loony Lovegood – but it wasn't as hard as she thought it would be, even though Snape sneered at her.
“In what potion is monkshood the principal ingredient?” he snapped, and Luna shook her head. “Then perhaps you could tell me another name for aconite?” he asked, but again, Luna was silent.
“You desire a more elementary question perhaps? Then I will repeat my question from yesterday: why would I hire you?”
Not as scary as Voldemort, not as scary as Voldemort, Luna chanted in her head. She thought of her mother's indecipherable journals and the sacrifice it would be for her father to pay for potions lessons somewhere else. She found her voice.
“Because I doubt anyone else will come near you, and you need help.”
His fingertips lay lightly against the table, giving the illusion that he leaned against it casually. But beneath the table top, she could see that his leg was pressed hard against one of the thick mahogany table legs. She did not think he could operate the shop alone.
“You don't look well,” she added.
“And you, Miss Lovegood, are the picture of health.”
Luna shrugged her shoulders. He was right; she'd lost weight in the Malfoys' dungeon, but she'd gotten used to being hungry there. When they ran short of food in the Room of Requirement, she'd let the others have it. Her father was trying to feed her, but she did not care to stay long at the dinner table.
When she didn't flinch under his stare, he snapped, “The newt eyes need washing.”
Luna pretended not to notice that he fell heavily into his chair as soon as her back was turned.
On her second day of employment, Luna crushed slugs into pulp.
On the third day, she harvested rat eyes directly from bodies stiff with rigor mortis.
“Quickly, please, before the corpses begin to putrefy,” Snape said each time she slowed her pace.
On the fourth day, she separated writhing larvae into five-packs and hung a sign in the window: FRESH MAGGOTS, FIVE FOR A KNUT. No one bought them.
When she arrived the next morning, Snape looked vaguely impressed and ushered her into the back room.
“Do you know what this is, Miss Lovegood?” he asked, gesturing at a row of puffy purple flowers arrayed on the worktable.
“Wolfsbane,” she said. “Also known as monkshood or aconite.”
“I see you have been researching,” he said.
She thought she saw a gleam of triumph in his eyes. He was pleased with her then.
“Good. These are the terms of your probation. The Ministry of Magic has chosen to dispense wolfsbane potion to werewolves free of charge, and I have been contracted to manufacture it. You will assist me with this month's consignment, and if you do so to my satisfaction, you will have a permanent job here so long as you desire it.” He leaned in close to her face. “But I warn you, even one mistake, and you will not return here again. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Luna made sure to drop neither her voice nor her gaze; she thought he quite admired bravery, even if he was a Slytherin.
“Did you perchance read how to gather wolfsbane?”
Snape made a small, dissatisfied sound. “How fortunate then that I am able to instruct you. It must be gathered by the light of the gibbous moon with neither dawn nor dusk in the sky. Fully intact, deeply purple blossoms only. Younger blooms are volatile, the older poisonous.”
He tossed a pair of dragon hide gloves at her and smirked when she failed to catch them in mid-air.
“Don't touch them with your bare hands,” he drawled. “Can't risk contamination.”
“It's not dark outside yet, sir,” she said, bending to retrieve the gloves from the floor.
“A most astute observation. It is, however, night time in Siberia.”
He tossed a dented can of beans at her, and this time Luna caught it. A familiar, hook-like sensation gripped her belly, and when Luna opened her eyes she was standing in a field flecked with deep purple flowers. In the distance, something howled, and Luna wondered where she would find her portkey home.
Luna returned to Snape's office six hours later, having finally found a broken tea pot at the edge of the field. She walked gingerly toward the work table, legs and back aching from the hours of ripping flowers from the earth, and deposited her overflowing basket of wolfsbane on the table in front of Snape. He was asleep in his chair, his pale face flushed abnormally pink. Cautiously, she extended her hand toward him, intending to feel his forehead for a fever, but she jerked it back before she got too close. Her fingers were still shaking, she realized. There had been an encounter with a wolf at the edge of the field, and she had only just escaped. She would have to thank Harry later for teaching her to stupefy things.
Her mother's journal was still in her bag, and she flipped through it until she found a simple restorative draught. The ingredients were all in the shop, and she left her change next to the till so that Snape would see she'd paid for what she'd taken. Brewing the draught took only half an hour, and when she was done, she bolted a glass and felt warmth spread to the tips of her fingers. Then she filled a small kettle for Snape, whose eyes flickered open when she placed it on the table in front of him.
“I made you my mother's restorative draught,” she said. “I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
She left the shop before he could answer.
The days settled into a routine.
“Each morning, you will chop roots and grind them into powders. You are not to take breaks until you have finished your tasks. Touch only the ingredients I leave for you,” Snape said.
He allowed her to learn for herself which ingredients caused burns and pustules when she touched them with her bare hands, and she grew adept at brewing her mother's ointments and salves at home. Sometimes she made extras and placed them on the counter next to the till, and their small trickle of customers purchased them enthusiastically. Snape did not comment, but at the end of the day, she often found small piles of coins in her purse.
“In the afternoon, you will brew your mother's restorative draught,” Snape commanded. “I regret the necessity, but we must attract customers.” He sneered at the door of the shop, which had not opened once that day.
“I'll take care of them,” Luna said.
“I believe that would be prudent,” Snape answered, his voice unusually devoid of sarcasm. The Daily Prophet was folded on the table; the headline asked, Severus Snape, Friend or Foe? Harry had testified on his behalf, Luna knew, but not even the opinion of the Boy Who Lived could overcome the killing of Albus Dumbledore. Snape couldn't run the shop without her, Luna realized with a start. She had tagged along often with Harry and his friends, and she had been useful, but this was different: Snape needed her. She liked the feeling.
Still, it would be better if he were healthy. Snape's face was so pale it seemed almost bloodless, and Luna still caught him leaning against tables and sagging into chairs when he thought she was not looking. He worked constantly, but at the end of the day, he could not stop his hands trembling. Luna made certain to brew more of the restorative draught than they could sell, and she put the leftovers in a kettle by his favorite chair before she left. If he was not watching, she left behind a sandwich or a bowl of stew from her lunch. Snape never acknowledged these offerings, but the next day, she always found the plates and bowls in her bag, impeccably clean.
On the days when no one visited their shop, which were frequent, Luna brought the restorative draught to her father. He still felt like a stranger to her, but she didn't like how tired he looked, and he had no one to care for him but her.
“I miss you, Luna,” he said one night.
She was on her way upstairs, and he stood in the sitting room, half his face in shadow.
“I know,” Luna said instead of I miss you too. “Give me time. Please.”
“All the time in the world, darling, all the time in the world.”
His face looked so sad and hopeful that Luna knew he meant it.
“I promise I won't take that long,” she whispered, too quietly for him to hear.
They began brewing the wolfsbane potion. It was slow, delicate work, and Snape sent her away when the potion was the most volatile. Her eyes ached and her fingers cramped with the effort of shaving roots into millimeter-thick curls, but however much she longed for sunlight, she forced herself to lean against the door of the back room, listening for the slightest sign that Snape was in distress. The more difficult the potion became, the more alive he looked, but Luna still feared for his safety. The aromas spreading from the cauldron were strangely familiar, and she realized she had never asked what her mother was experimenting with the day she died. Now she knew.
The door opened with a soft click, and Luna tumbled forward into Snape, who fell backward onto the floor.
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Luna said automatically. “I wasn't expecting you to open the door just yet.”
Snape lay on the floor, his hands trembling and a muscle near his eye twitching. Of course, he would be quite weak after his work today, Luna thought. She extended a hand to help him up, and he took it without meeting her eyes. His skin was clammy and cold in hers, and Luna wondered if he was quite well. But when he stood, he loomed over her, even though he leaning heavily against the back of a chair. His eyes glinted dangerously in the dim light.
“Spying, are we? Indulging in delusions of heroic grandeur? Did you think that you, Luna Lovegood, the tag-along outcast who hides from her potions, would save me?”
“No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply...” Her voice faded under his stare. It had been difficult to stand at the door, listening for the same explosion that killed her mother. She hadn't even imagined that she would be more use now than she was on the day of her mother's own accident, which she had watched helplessly from a corner of the kitchen. Only, it was wrong to leave someone alone if they might hurt themselves, even if she had begun to suspect that no one alive would miss Snape if he died.
“Get out!” he roared. He pointed his wand at the door of the shop, and it flew open, admitting a burst of howling wind and cold air. “I am not a weakling to be nursed and cared for!”
Luna went to collect her bag, legs trembling and tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. How could he hate her so much for trying to do the right thing? She had expected ridicule, even derision, from her fellow students; it wasn't their fault that they were too young to know better. She thought of Draco taunting her in the dungeon. It hadn't hurt her because she had known how alone he was, how desperately he needed to feel power over someone to keep his own fear at bay. Luna hadn't been afraid of him; she had told him he was wrong.
She stopped halfway to the door.
“I'm sorry that you're hurting,” she said, “but that doesn't mean you can speak to me that way.”
“And what would you know of pain?” he spat.
“Enough,” she said, and Snape had no answer to that.
She walked to the bubbling cauldron. The most complicated parts of the spell were finished; now it only needed regular stirring, clockwise or anti-clockwise, in the precise number of revolutions prescribed by the book. It would be an easy place to make a mistake like her mother's. “If you can make this yourself, I'll go home. But I think you might die if you tried.”
“Ah yes. I believe that is how your mother died, isn't it? Experimenting with potions beyond her abilities.”
“That is one perspective,” Luna said. “It was over very quickly, and I don't think she was in pain. So I don't think it will hurt if you kill yourself tonight, assuming that you make the same mistake she did. Of course, it would be a lot of wasted effort, keeping yourself alive this long just to die in an easily preventable potions accident because you sent your apprentice home.”
Snape stared at her, his face impenetrable. Luna didn't try to guess what he was thinking.
“Well, since you haven't got anything else to say, I think I'll stay the night. Tell me if I'm about to kill myself, please.”
The next morning, Snape gritted his teeth when he saw her, but he did not command her to leave. Day after day, they followed their routine: Luna chopped and ground the less delicate ingredients, and in the afternoon, they brewed draughts and salves. Snape taught her to tend the garden outside, which was claustrophobic and filled with brambles but somehow supported a myriad of fascinating plants. Every third day, they stood side-by-side in the dark closet where the wolfsbane potion was curing and stirred it seven times anti-clockwise and five times clockwise. Occasionally Snape sprinkled in powders and herbs, which hissed and boiled and released foul-smelling smoke.
They did not speak of the night Snape had dismissed her, but Luna noticed small changes. The till was enchanted so that it did not accept her money, and when she brought Snape sandwiches, he muttered, “thank you” through gritted teeth. Occasionally, when she asked questions, he did not yell at her for being poorly educated but explained the answers at length. His eyes lit with passion when he spoke about potions and brews, and Luna thought it was worth risking his wrath to ask questions often.
On the first evening of the full moon, Snape greeted her with the cauldron of wolfsbane and a small flagon for dispensing it. A dirty old boot lay under his desk, and Luna guessed it was a portkey.
“The Ministry has placed an official dispensing station at a clearing not far from here. You will serve the potion and return” -- Snape consulted a lunar chart -- “no later than nine p.m.”
“You aren't coming with me?” Luna asked. Snape had been looking healthier lately, and Luna was certain that if she carried the cauldron, he could manage an evening dispensing potions.
Snape quirked an eyebrow.
“Afraid? Pity. I rather thought you were the sort of open-minded imbecile to eschew popular prejudice against werewolves.”
“It's not that,” Luna stammered, even though the hairs on the back of her neck prickled at the thought of being so close to so many werewolves hours before the full moon.
“Not ready to have your own adventures, then? You prefer to tag along with someone more powerful?”
“No,” she said. She was no longer the girl who tagged along at the periphery of other people's lives. “I can do it.”
Snape tossed her a small gold disc, and she caught in the air; her reflexes had improved since he began throwing things at her for sport one her first day here. Turning it over in her hands, she saw that it was one of the DA's old coins. Another lay on the work table next to Snape's chair.
“You kept these?” she asked. The Carrows had confiscated many of them last year, and she supposed they might have ended up in Snape's office. “I understand why. I miss him too,” she added in response to Snape's glower.
“Summon me if you require assistance,” Snape drawled, but he looked into her eyes just long enough for her to know that he meant it.
Luna materialized in a grass-covered clearing in a forest she could not identify. A table had been placed in the center of it, and a white awning fluttered overhead. Birds sang in the fading light, and Luna could hear a stream babbling not too far away. Yet, no matter where she stood, her back faced the woods, and she could not suppress her unease.
The first werewolf – no, wizard, Luna reminded herself forcefully – drifted out of the woods half an hour later. He wore shabby pinstriped business robes, and his face was haggard, but he looked no different from other men she passed on the street each day. Professor Lupin, she thought, not Fenrir Greyback. He accepted the potion wordlessly and drank it in one gulp, his face twisting into a grimace.
“Safe!” he called, setting the cup down on the table, and more shabby-looking men and women melted from the woods.
“Were you expecting a trap?” Luna asked, but the man only snorted.
“Would you trust the Ministry if you were me?”
“No,” Luna said quietly. “I suppose not.”
She wondered if they would come to trust her with time, though it seemed unlikely; she couldn't shake her own unease. Without meaning to, she kept looking over her shoulder at the words behind her, and she fidgeted even though she was usually quite still.
“Is there anyone else waiting in the woods?” she asked when the cauldron was nearly empty and the last witch had taken her dose.
“She's afraid of us,” muttered a wizard in patched brown robes.
“I'm not,” Luna began to explain, and then a strange howl pierced the woods.
“That's a person,” Luna whispered, and Fenrir Greyback stepped out of the trees. More witches and wizards drifted out after him, clad in furs and clutching wands and knives.
“Werewolves pacified by the ministry, denying your true nature,” he spat, glaring at the small knot of witches and wizards knotted around Luna's table.
Luna didn't see who threw the first curse, but a witch behind her stumbled backward, clutching her side and howling in pain. With soft pops, the witches and wizards around her disapparated, leaving Luna to face the advancing mob alone. She wondered if they would have left her if they had known she failed her apparition test.
“Stupefy!” she shouted. “Expelliarmus!”
One werewolf fell, but the others surged toward her, laughing. There were too many for her to fight alone. Her fingers scrabbled in her pocket and closed around the coin, but Greyback leaped from the pack and knocked her to the ground. The coin flew from her hand. Greyback lay on top of her, his knees digging into her thighs and his hands pressing hard on her shoulders.
“Five minutes till moonrise,” he whispered close to her ear. His breath was rank.
Luna swept her hand over the ground around her, keeping her eyes locked on his. Her fingers brushed something cool and metal; she pressed it and hoped. There was a loud crack and a jet of light. With a sound halfway between a yelp and a cry, Greyback fell over. Snape dragged her to her feet, never taking his eyes off the mob surrounding them.
“Stay behind me!” he shouted. “Protego!”
Bolts of red and purple light flew toward them but bounced harmlessly away. Snape's fingers closed tightly around her elbow, and together they disapparated. They both lost their balance as soon as they landed in the shop's workroom. Luna's still-trembling legs collapsed beneath her, and the old, unhealthy pallor had returned to Snape's face. This time he did not glower when Luna extended her hand to him, and he even allowed her to help him into a chair. She slumped on a stool across from him, and heavy silence fell between them as they regained their breath.
“What do you want here, Miss Lovegood?” Snape asked at length. He was not looking at her, though he was not looking away. His head was bowed, he was pinching the bridge of his nose, and he looked very, very tired. “The pittance I pay you is hardly enough to buy bread, so you are not motivated by financial need. Two weeks of tracking spells uncovered no contacts at the Ministry, so you are not spying on me. Certainly you do not desire companionship. You could no doubt find better than mine.” At that, his mouth quirked into a wry grin. “So what is it you want, Miss Lovegood?”
“I only wanted to learn potions,” she said, but the answer sounded hollow even to her. She thought of the shabby-looking werewolves in the clearing, some of whom would enjoy a night's peace for the first time tonight. “Now I want to do something good.”
“If that is your only desire, you can fulfill it elsewhere.” He flicked his wand, and a scroll of parchment flew across the room and into her hand. “Hogwarts is seeking volunteers to assist with the reconstruction of the school. No doubt a witch of your skill would be welcome.”
She searched his eyes for some hint of irony, but found none. The praise was unexpectedly satisfying.
“Headmistress McGonagall has informed me that qualified applicants can be employed immediately. I expect I will not see you tomorrow.”
“I believe you will,” she replied, holding his gaze.
His eyes narrowed.
“Then you have some other desire, beyond simply doing good.” Something in his face was oddly triumphant, as though he had caught her in a lie.
Luna tilted her head.
“Does it bother you? That you only have a seventeen-year-old to play mind games with now?”
Snape snorted softly.
“It is rather a relief. I do not find you unstimulating. But you have not answered my question.”
“I suppose,” she said slowly, “that I want to do the work my mother did. Better than she did.”
“Reasonable,” Snape said softly. He was still looking at her shrewdly, clearly aware he did not possess the full truth. “What else?”
“My father tried to sell Harry Potter to Voldemort.”
Snape narrowed his eyes, but he didn't look angry; he looked as if he was trying to understand. Luna licked her lips.
“You served Voldemort willingly. I know that. But you're good. I know that too.”
“Do you, Miss Lovegood?” Snape's voice was soft, and he looked at her appraisingly.
“Yes,” she said. “I do.”
She believed Harry Potter, even if an interview in the Daily Prophet was all she had to go on. More than that, she believed herself. Snape was unkind, but he wasn't evil; she had known that even when she was at Hogwarts.
“And you believe I can tell you why someone 'good' can collaborate with something evil?”
Luna nodded, transfixed by Snape's stare.
“Your own beliefs are far more interesting than mine, Miss Lovegood. Consider your behavior here. You have done far more than your job. You have – however much it pains me to admit it – looked after my wellbeing when I was unable to do so. You have administered medication, worked long hours. Yet, I have been a willing servant of the Dark Lord. Evidently, in spite of what I have done, you believe me worthy of compassion. Why?”
“Because you were in pain.”
“Ah, yes, pain. The great equalizer. And do you not believe your father is suffering now?”
Luna nodded slowly, suddenly feeling ashamed.
“You find me easy to forgive because you had no expectations for me. But there is something else, Miss Lovegood, something you fail to acknowledge. You faced no difficult decisions during the war. You were not offered the opportunity to collaborate with the Dark Lord; the lives of those you loved were not forfeit if you failed to comply. If your father had been taken, what would you have chosen?”
“I don't know,” Luna whispered.
“Then there is your answer, Miss Lovegood.”
Luna reached for her bag, her eyes blurred with sudden tears. She needed to go home, now, and talk to her father.
“Did your parents try to save you?” she asked. “When you joined Voldemort, I mean?”
Luna nodded. “I'm going to go home now. I'll be back in the morning,” She pretended not to notice that Snape looked relieved.
“I'm glad you're alive,” she added as she pushed open the heavy wooden door. She knew better than to stay and wait for a response.
Her father sat on the sofa in front of the fire, an old picture album in his lap. She couldn't see the photo he was looking at, but she knew what it was all the same: her mother, holding a tiny frog in her hand, and Luna staring at it in wonder. Her father looked very old and very alone, and suddenly Luna could not stand to be so far from him.
She settled on the sofa beside him and rested her head on his shoulder the way she had when she was a little girl. The questions she had intended to ask him flooded from her mind.
“I'd rather be alive than dead,” she said. “Thank you for trying to save me.”
His arm tightened around her shoulders, and she fell asleep at her father's side.