31 July, 1906
Late one summer night, after everyone in the cottage had gone to sleep, ten year old Harry Potter dared to light a candle.
He had pulled it from the rubbish bin. It had gotten broken when his cousin Dudley had run carelessly through the kitchen, and if Harry was caught with it he’d surely be punished.
But tonight, his heart needed that extra bit of light. After dripping a bit of wax onto a pebble and standing the candle on it, he made shadow puppets against the walls, acting out otherworldly stories while he waited to become ten years old. After he’d run through his favorites and begun to grow tired, his focus returned to the normal world, his green eyes roaming around the kitchen. He sighed, and sank back down onto his little pallet by the stove.
“Happy Birthday to me…”
A sudden banging on the front door made him sit up in shock. He quickly blew out the pilfered candle and pulled his threadbare blanket over his head as Uncle Vernon burst out of his bedroom and stomped over to the door in bewildered fury.
“Who the blazes….” he grumbled as he made it to the front door. Harry heard the door open and his Uncle stammer into silence.
“You Dursley?” a deep voice rumbled.
“Who’s asking?” Uncle Vernon rasped out. “What’s the idea, waking us up at-“
“I’m here on important business,” the voice cut in, and Harry couldn’t resist: he crawled off his little pallet and into the hall, where he could see the stranger silhouetted against the light of the moon. It looked as if a giant were standing at their door.
“I was sent to fetch the new staff,” the strange man went on as Harry’s Uncle continued to gape. “The boys are ill, though, not fit to work in the house. And the party will be in a week…” he ran a hand through his shaggy hair and sighed. “I can’t go back without at least one house boy, and I’ve been askin’ all over the village about boys who might could be of service, and they said there was a lad here-“
“And if there is?” Uncle Vernon asked, finding his voice at last. “What would you give us for him? It would be a right loss for my wife and I, a helpful lad being carted off-“
“Ye’d be compensated, if that’s what yer askin’,” the man replied. “Although the men at the pub said you had yer own son here, as well, who should be pullin’ his weight,” he added with a touch of scorn.
Harry’s ears were ringing. Were they talking about him? Leaving to work at a new house where his Aunt didn’t frown and order him about and his cousin didn’t torment him for fun?
Having apparently negotiated Harry’s price, the man said, “He’ll be with us fer two weeks, then you can have him back. And mayhap at the next gathering-“
“You can keep him,” Uncle Vernon said firmly, and Harry’s heart stopped. “Save us the hassle and heartbreak of the back and forth.”
“Heartbreak, sure,” the stranger mumbled. Light suddenly flared in the doorway as the man held up a lantern. Noticing Harry in the hallway, the man smiled and said, “Looks like he’s ready to go.”
Uncle Vernon whirled around, scowling when he caught sight of Harry himself. “Quit yer snoopin’, boy!”
“Grab yer things, lad,” the man said kindly when Harry flinched. “Then we’ll be off. And you can get back to bed.” He sent Uncle Vernon a sharp look before smiling at Harry, who was already racing over to his pallet to grab his meager possessions. He hurriedly got dressed and laid his spare shirt down and set his spare trousers, his nightshirt, his old wooden spinning top, and his only picture of his parents on top before wrapping it into a bundle. After shoving his feet into a pair of his cousin’s battered old shoes, Harry rushed back, wondering if the stranger would even still be there, or if this was all a dream.
“I’m ready,” he said breathlessly, and his Uncle harrumphed and headed off to bed without a backward glance. The man’s smile faltered at that, but he still replied with a cheerful, “Good lad! I’m Hagrid, groundskeeper and stablemaster, and we’d best be off. It’s Harry, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Harry said with a nod, before adding, “Yes, Sir. Harry Potter, Sir.”
“Just ‘Hagrid’ is fine,” he said with a laugh, taking Harry’s little bundle and putting it in his own large satchel. “It’s great to meet you, Harry. I think you’re really going to like it here.” He beckoned Harry over to a horse that had been waiting patiently by the Dursley’s hedgerows for the entire encounter. After lifting Harry onto the saddle and jumping up to sit behind him, Hagrid nudged the horse into a trot.
Harry, who had never ridden a horse in his life, was too surprised by the night’s happenings to be afraid. “Where are we going?” he asked finally as they rode off into the night.
“It’s yer lucky day, Harry. Yer comin’ to stay at Downton Abbey.”
“You’ll be working in the stables,” Hagrid explained as they road on, “and fetching things and the like. It won’t be easy, what with all the guests comin’ Saturday for the big dinner, but we’ll help you get yer bearings. I’m sure you’ll grow to love it here, as we all do.” He gave Harry a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “One of the finest houses in all of England.”
His mind whirling, Harry clung to the horse’s mane and peered into the gloom, waiting for his first look at his new home. After a moment more, a light appeared in the distance, and Harry’s jaw dropped: the horse trotted on a gravel path that cut through a vast lawn leading up to a tremendous stone building, candlelight flickering in several windows in spite of the lateness of the hour.
In Harry’s eyes, it looked like a castle from an old story come to life. Hagrid slowed the horse to a walk around the side of the house to the stable, where he jumped down and helped Harry down after. Taking a final look at the house, Harry thought he saw a face in one of the windows, but he blinked and it had vanished. He walked into the stable, where Hagrid was unsaddling the horse and hanging up the tack. When he’d finished getting everything squared away, Hagrid turned to Harry with a smile.
“It’s this way to the kitchen,” Hagrid said, beckoning Harry over and heading to a door at the back of the house. “This is the way we go in and out, never through the front, that’s for family. Mrs. Weasley should still be waitin’ up.”
A short redheaded woman was indeed waiting for them in the kitchen, ready to take Hagrid’s coat and hand Harry a cup of warm milk.
“This is Mrs. Weasley, the cook,” Hagrid said, gesturing between them, “and this is Harry, our new stable boy. I know they were expectin’ the others, but-“
“Mr. Filch wanted two boys, Hagrid, two!” Mrs. Weasley said rather frantically, although when she looked at Harry her eyes were kind. “And this lad looks half-starved. Do you think he’s up for it?”
“There’s sickness in the village, the lads he sent me to find were both ill in bed!” Hagrid explained. “I asked around for hours before I could find a boy free on short notice! Would he rather I came back empty-handed?”
Mrs. Weasley sighed. “A few good meals and working out of doors should perk this one right up. And I suppose…” she shook her head. “I’d hoped to keep him in school a bit longer, but I suppose I could send for Ronald in the morning. He can help Harry while the guests are here; he knows more of what’s expected in the house.”
“Wonderful! Then we should all get some rest!” Hagrid said, clapping his hands together. “Did you find the spare blankets?”
Mrs. Weasley traded Harry some sturdy blankets for his now-empty cup, and after waving goodnight he followed Hagrid back to the stables. Hagrid showed him the little loft that would serve as his quarters, explaining, “It’s nice out here in the summer, and you’ll be close at hand if the horses need you. When winter comes ‘round, we’ll set you up with a room in the house.”
Harry nodded, clutching his blankets, as Hagrid dug the bundle of clothes back out of his satchel and set it on a mound of hay. “Thank you, Sir- I mean, Hagrid. I’ll… I’ll do my best.”
Hagrid smiled and ruffled Harry’s hair. “I’m sure you will. What more can we do, after all?” Climbing back down the ladder, he added, “Get some sleep. I’ll come wake you for breakfast.”
In the ensuing silence, Harry lay his blankets down on the clean pallet in the corner and unfolded his bundle of clothes. He changed back into his night shirt, his mind still whirling with all of the changes over the last few hours. After carefully propping the picture of his parents against the wall, Harry lay down, and in spite of his nerves, relief, and excitement, he quickly fell asleep.
Hagrid’s smiling face did indeed greet him the next morning, and they went down together for breakfast in the kitchen. Mrs. Weasley tutted over Harry’s scrawny frame and praised him for his appetite; the porridge was plain but delicious. As they handed their bowls to a passing maid, a small smiling face appeared in the doorway, and Mrs. Weasley darted over, her own smile growing.
“My boy!” she exclaimed, gathering the lad in a tremendous hug so that only the top of his red head was visible. “Have some porridge, I need you ready for the day ahead. And come meet Harry! He’s new to the house, too, you’ll be working together.”
Ronald, who had been grumbling through the hug, finally escaped and saw Harry, sending him a cheery wave. “I’m Ron, what’s your name?”
“Harry,” Harry said, almost giddy at the prospect of a friendly young face.
“My brother Charlie used to be a stable boy here, until he went off to be a farrier in Leeds. He told me all about the horses. This’ll be grand,” Ron said, clapping Harry on the back.
Before Harry could reply, a scowling face loomed over him and the cheerful words died in his throat.
“What’s this, then?” the man asked, addressing the question to Hagrid.
“The new stable boys, Mr. Filch,” Hagrid said, standing up a bit straighter.
“But not the boys I sent you to fetch,” Filch replied, eyeing them both critically. “Where are the Smiths?”
“In bed, sir, very ill. But these are the boys I did find, and they’ll be ready by the time Lord Grantham’s guests get here,” Hagrid said with confidence.
Filch gave them another once-over and sniffed. “See that you do. I’ll have Mrs. Pomfrey get them both a formal set of clothes,” and he swept from the room.
Mrs. Weasley gave Harry a gentle pat on the head. “Don’t you worry about Mr. Filch, dear. He’s the butler, it’s his job to worry over the house, but you won’t see him much. Finish your porridge, Ron, and Hagrid will take you out to see the horses!”
After hurrying through his last few bites, Ron and Harry followed Hagrid out to the stables, where they met and brushed down the most beautiful horses Harry had ever seen.
Hagrid taught them how to care for the horses with loads of enthusiasm, and Harry did his best to remember all of his lessons, because he knew that his first big test would come in just a few days’ time. Every horse in the stable had to be ready for the hunt the family was hosting, and a grand dinner would be held the following night to celebrate their eldest daughter’s betrothal.
Harry spent the first few days terrified of making a mistake, lest the others decide to send him back to the Dursleys, but Hagrid was a patient teacher, and he slowly let his guard down. It soon became clear that, much like the Dursleys, the denizens of Downton (besides Hagrid and Mrs. Weasley) only sought him out if they needed something. The rest of the time, they acted as if he were invisible. Harry could live with that.
He and Ron became fast friends, and his cheerful presence made even the dullest tasks bearable. On the night of the party, they stood together in the kitchen, squirming a bit in their new clothes as Mrs. Weasley looked them over one last time. With a final nod, she said, “Make us proud, boys!” and ushered them out the door.
Some of the older guests had chosen to travel by carriage, and there were many horses to be brushed down and cared for as people began to arrive. Younger, flashier guests roared up in their new motor cars, leaving Harry and Ron gaping as they screeched to a halt on the gravel drive.
After all of the horses were stabled and the guests had made their way inside, Hagrid sent Harry and Ron to bed, but Ron dragged Harry back inside for a final look. They snuck onto an upstairs landing to peer between the bannisters at the entrance hall, watching as the family greeted their guests.
“That’s Lord Grantham, the Earl, and his wife,” Ron whispered, kneeling next to Harry and pointing. They certainly wore the grandest clothes: Her Ladyship’s hat was topped with several dramatic feathers that made Harry smile. “And those are their girls, Lady Mary, Lady Edith, and Lady Louise,” he listed carefully, “but don’t worry about them, they won’t talk to us.”
The young ladies did indeed look very prim, standing next to their parents and smiling at their guests. But it was the youngest, Louise, who caught Harry’s eye. Her long blond hair curled over her shoulders and was topped with a cornflower blue bow that matched her dress. Now and then, she would begin to sway, gently, back and forth, until her mother placed a hand on her shoulder. She would stop for a minute or two, then slowly start back up again.
“They’re about to start dinner, let’s go back,” Ron said, tugging on Harry’s sleeve, but he watched the youngest lady sway a moment more.
“Lady Louise looks like she’s dancing,” he said absently, and Ron chuckled.
“They call her Lady Luna. Seems she’s always been a bit moonstruck,” Ron said, and this time Harry followed him away from the railing and back to the servant’s staircase. “But you didn’t hear that from me.”
The party was a success, as far as Harry could tell. He helped brush and saddle the horses in the morning and brushed them down after their riders returned, then washed dishes for Mrs. Weasley until it was time for bed. While the family and their guests were out riding, Harry and Ron were either sent to fetch things or poked around in the stables, attempting to learn as much as they could about their new domain. After the final guests departed, Ron went home for a few days to help his family around the farm, and Harry found himself with a bit of time on his hands.
After lunch, he liked to walk the grounds, enjoying the fresh air and solitude before he went back inside to continue his lessons about the family and the house. One afternoon, while he strolled through a meadow, the ground warm beneath his bare feet, he saw a flash of gold at the edge of the forest. It was Lady Louise, walking unaccompanied, her long hair loose and flowing over her shoulders. From up close, Harry saw that she looked a year or two younger than Ron and himself. After a moments’ hesitation, he continued walking, raising a hand in greeting when she spotted him, her gray eyes wide and curious.
“Who are you?” she asked, watching calmly as he stopped a short distance away, suddenly nervous.
“I’m Harry, milady,” he said. “Harry Potter. I help Hagrid with the horses.” He wondered if he should bow, then decided against it.
“I like Hagrid,” she replied. “You may walk with me, if you like.”
Harry blinked at her. “Is that… allowed?”
“I’m looking for butterflies,” she said. “There are no rules about butterflies. Have you seen any?”
Harry shook his head. “I wasn’t really looking.” He fell into step beside her as she looked this way and that, presumably for butterflies. Sometimes she would twirl her fingers through the air, as if conducting music only she could hear. Harry alternated between looking around and watching her walk.
“Your hair’s really long,” he said finally, watching it swirl around her as she crouched down and poked at a tuft of grass.
“Yes,” she replied.
A flicker of movement caught his eye. “There, milady!” he said, pointing, as a butterfly drifted lazily by.
“Oh, wonderful!” Lady Louise cried, clapping her hands. “You may call me Luna,” she added, “if I’m out walking. That’s what my friends would call me, if I had any.”
Harry watched her flap her arms at the butterfly, and his heart gave a painful twinge. “You must have lots of friends, being a lady,” he said. “Your sisters for a start.”
She shook her head, eyes on the butterfly. “I’m too small and boring for them,” she explained, “and I’m too young to go to school. But here in the magic meadow, we could be friends.” She turned to him suddenly, her eyes bright. “You mustn’t tell Nanny. But we could be.” The butterfly landed on her sleeve for a moment, then took off once again.
Harry nodded, and extended his hand, which she shook, her face lighting up.
“Hullo, Luna,” he said, “I’m Harry, and I’m happy to be your friend.”
She beamed at him, and tugged on his hand. “Let’s find some more butterflies!”
Being friends with Luna, however, was more difficult than Harry thought it would be. He quickly learned that they were never to address the family directly, and were to only respond to queries with “Yes, milady,” or “No, milord.” And unless one of them came looking for a horse, their paths never crossed. When he glimpsed them from afar, they reminded him of the dolls he’d seen once in a shop window: stiff and formal in their fancy clothes, their faces painted with serious frowns.
But now and then, when he walked through the meadow, Harry would follow the sound of her laughter, or the notes of the tune she liked to hum, and they would walk together. He told her about the stables, how soft and friendly the horses were, and how he’d play toy soldiers with Ron at the end of the day. She talked about her lessons with Nanny and her cherished book of fairy tales, and introduced him to every hopping and buzzing denizen of the estate.
When Luna asked about his home and his family, Harry was at first reluctant to talk about the Dursleys. “Downton is my home,” he’d say, and take the conversation in a different direction. But after their first few walks, he said, “I used to live in the village with my aunt and uncle and cousin.” He took a deep breath and added, “They never liked me. Said I was… a burden. And I slept on the kitchen floor.”
He watched her from the corner of his eye as they walked on, trying to gauge her reaction. She looked his way and murmured, “You must have been lonely.” He nodded, and she nodded back. She picked a wildflower and tucked it behind her ear. “But neither of us have to be lonely anymore.”
That summer, Harry had what he could only describe as a change of heart. He could almost feel it warm and grow within his chest as he settled into his new home. He had discovered what it was like to be useful, to be valued, to be… loved. And he was determined to do whatever it took to cement his place there. He continued to fetch things for Mrs. Weasley, learned his way around the house and grounds, and brushed the horses until their coats gleamed.
Hagrid burst into the kitchen one day as that first summer came to a close, grinning from ear to ear. “Mr. Filch says you can stay on!” he cried, and Harry beamed back from where he stood scrubbing potatoes. He was to be both stable boy and house boy, and if he showed promise, to train up to be a footman one day.
He couldn’t wait to tell Luna, but it would be several weeks before he got the chance. He was weeding the garden when he saw her, walking at a stately pace with Nanny and her mother. He quickly looked away, but grabbed his trowel and carefully drew a design in the dirt, hoping she would notice as the little party strolled past. The polite smile on her face became a little less fixed, and his own smile grew. It would do for now.
Earlier that month, on what would be their last walk together that summer, Luna had taken his hand and said, “We need some sort of code, to let each other know things are alright, even if we cannot speak.” She traced a triangle on his palm with her finger, then drew a circle inside it. “It will be our secret symbol.” Harry nodded, drawing the symbol himself on her proffered palm.
Their paths crossed less often as Harry focused on his work and his training, but she occasionally came to the stables with Nanny to pet a horse, drawing the symbol onto its flank, or slowed as she passed Harry scrubbing a floor, and he would draw it in the suds. Because even though they led very different lives, it was true what she’d said: they were no longer alone.
When winter yielded to spring and Harry was able to resume his occasional walks, he would return to ‘their’ meadow, hoping that Luna would be there, spinning and swaying in the spring mist, searching for butterflies and flowers for her hair. And on the lucky days that she could get outside, they would run and dance and laugh just as they always had, endless tasks and protocols forgotten, if only for a moment.
31 July, 1911
With each year that passed, it became more difficult for either of them to sneak away. Nanny was replaced with a governess, who was very serious about Luna’s lessons, and Harry had to prove to Mr. Filch that he was ready to take on the duties of a junior footman. The summer he turned fifteen, he set out on the morning of his birthday, having woken at dawn and deciding to take some time for himself.
Harry’s feet took him unbidden to the magic meadow, where the tall grass lay shrouded in mist. He smiled as he walked, thinking back to the last time he’d run across Luna at the end of spring. She’d eagerly described her dream from the night before, where she sprouted wings and flew to the top of her favorite old tree…
Harry blinked. There she stood by that old gnarled tree, as if he’d dreamed her into being. Luna didn’t move as he drew closer, not even to return his cheerful wave. When he reached her, she just stared a moment, the usual light gone from her eyes.
“It’s good to see you,” Harry said, trying to muster a smile. “The best birthday gift I could ask for.”
“I’m leaving,” Luna said. “They’re sending me away.”
Harry felt his heart stop then struggle to keep beating. “Where… where are you going?” he stammered, searching her face for some sign of a joke. He saw her with fresh eyes: pale skin, hair wavy and wild, eyes solemn. The thought of her leaving sent a sharp pain through his chest; he briefly considered seeing the village doctor about it before refocusing on the matter at hand.
“-finishing school,” Luna was saying, “in September. I’ll learn how to be a lady, and stay indoors and wear proper clothes and always do as I’m told.”
“There’s still time, then,” Harry said, “to walk, or see the horses?” but she was already shaking her head.
“I have to go to London, to be fitted for new clothes,” Luna said dully, “and pack my things and visit relatives before I leave. That’s why I came to our meadow, wishing that…” She turned away, but not before he saw tears shining in her eyes. “That I could see you one last time. And my wish came true.”
“But surely you’ll be back,” Harry said after a moment. “Downton’s your home-“
“I’ll come home for Christmas, and a short summer holiday,” she said, facing him once more. “But I know everyone will forget me. I’m always out of place and in the way-“
“It’s your home as well as mine, and you’ll always have a place here!” Harry cut in fiercely. “Downton will always be here waiting.”
She stood there watching him, stock still, and he felt his face heat up after such a bold declaration. After a moment she blinked, and nodded. “I’ll miss this the most,” she said finally, gesturing at the meadow all around them. “All of our adventures here.”
“Yeah,” Harry replied, unable to look away from her sad eyes. “Yeah, me too.”
They parted ways soon after that, the magic spell of the morning broken. Harry wandered dejectedly back to the stables, still shaken by their conversation, and almost bumped into Hagrid as he was hauling a sack of oats into the storeroom. “All right, Harry?” he asked, and as Harry struggled to respond, he saw sympathy in his friend’s eyes.
“Did you know she was leaving?” Harry asked softly.
Hagrid nodded. “Lady Louise will go off just as her sisters did, just like she’s supposed to. And we’ll take care of Downton while she’s away.” He clapped a tremendous hand against Harry’s shoulder, nearly sending him into the grain pile. “It’s how things are meant to be. I know you’ve become… friends since you got here, and no,” he continued, waving away Harry’s shocked stammering, “I won’t tell anyone. But it’s better this way. It may seem cruel, but she’ll always be going places you can’t follow. Let’s focus on your path, eh?” he added with a warm smile. “You have a bright future in the house.”
Harry tried to return Hagrid’s smile, but the words kept spinning through his mind as the day wore on. He struggled through the pudding Mrs. Weasley set before him after dinner, and tossed and turned half the night, before deciding that he was being silly and should focus on his future, like Hagrid said.
When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed he was back in the meadow. Luna stood with her back to him, off in the distance, and no matter how hard he tried, how fast he ran, Harry couldn’t catch up to her.
1st July, 1915
The day was a blur of excited preparation: Mrs. Weasley strode about the kitchen barking orders as she and her helpers crafted a feast fit for a king. Her daughter Ginny, who had come up from the family farm to help with the extravagant desserts, smiled shyly each time Harry ducked in for a bite to eat.
He and Ron rushed about, polishing boots and fine silver, setting the table and carrying flower arrangements, and finally lighting the candles as the time for dinner drew near. It was the grandest party Harry had ever served since becoming a footman, with acquaintances coming in from London (‘A Duke!’ Mrs. Weasley had exclaimed) for dinner and dancing and cards.
With a war on the horizon, a few imperceptible corners had to be cut, without scaring off any potential husbands for Lady Edith, but all Harry could think of as he donned his uniform was that she’d be there.
Luna was coming home.
The young ladies and their mother had spent two weeks in London getting new clothes, going to operas, and whatever else people did in the city. Having never been, Harry could only imagine. But she’d be back, for the first time since Christmas, and his heart pounded at the thought of seeing her again, just as it did each summer.
Ron gave him funny looks each time his head whipped toward to door, or his eyes darted to the nearest clock, but said nothing of it as they went about their duties. He had plenty to say about their guests, however.
“Sounds like they’ve got a lot of pull in London,” Ron said as they finished setting the table. “The Duke has friends in the War Office; they say he got his son a plum job there for the duration, to keep him away from the front.” He shook his head as he folded the last napkin. “I’m glad you’re serving drinks after and not me. The Malfoys make my skin crawl.”
Harry didn’t care if the Prime Minister himself would be in attendance. As foolish as it was, he both yearned for and dreaded Luna’s return each year, always wondering if she had grown tired of their fragile connection. Would she finally decide that it was too much effort to exchange pleasantries every other week, that he was too poor and uncouth to deserve her friendship? Every year he would trace a little triangle with his thumb against a serving tray or bottle of wine. Every year, his heart would nearly burst with joy when she did the same thing against her goblet, or trail her dessert spoon in seemingly lazy patterns across her dish.
Every year, he wondered when she would stop.
When everyone finally arrived, he and Ron stood at the door, stepping forward to open car doors, help the ladies step out gracefully, and take luggage into the entrance hall. The Malfoys exited a sleek black car when Harry opened the door, and the lord and lady of the house greeted them warmly. To Harry, the Malfoys seemed quite cold: father, mother, and son all had icy blond hair and wore subdued colors and matching frowns.
From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Ron help Luna step from the family’s car. Her dress was a deep blue draped with layers of sheer black, and there were flowers in her pinned back hair. Her face was politely blank, as it often was when the family entertained, and she approached the door with slow, measured steps. Harry had to remind his own feet to keep moving. The Malfoys had a lot of luggage.
“I’ll probably spend every day out riding,” the young Lord Malfoy was saying as he escorted Lady Edith to the dining room. “A summer in the country is so invigorating. Although by the end of it I’ll be missing our flat in London,” he added with a laugh, and Edith chuckled dutifully. There were several young men and women in attendance, all in search of appropriate matches, Harry assumed. Malfoy pulled out a chair for Edith as another young gentleman walked in with Luna on his arm, smiling nervously as he held out her chair. He sat on Luna’s left and Malfoy took the seat on her right.
When everyone had taken their seats, Harry and Ron began service. The assembled group seemed content to let the Malfoys dominate the conversation as the first course was served; Luna’s parents chimed in now and then, and the others responded politely when addressed. Harry tried drawing their symbol on the edge of his silver tray, but Luna was looking at Malfoy, nodding along to whatever he was saying. Harry stood straighter and moved on, finishing his slow lap of the table and going to stand next to Ron by the wall. He resisted the urge to rub his chest as his heart began to ache.
After the meal, Harry and Ron brought the last plates and platters downstairs for the kitchen girls to clean. Ron stayed to help Mr. Filch with the silver while Harry went up to the study to serve drinks. Harry straightened his uniform and his spine and walked in with his head held high, pouring drinks for the gentlemen and standing quietly in the corner once every glass was filled. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly as the ladies entered next, resisting the urge to tug on his collar. He could do this.
The younger Malfoy moved to stand beside Luna and everyone exchanged pleasantries; he looked perfectly at ease leaning against her elegant little chair, a crystal tumbler held loosely in his hand. As the evening wore on, the conversation shifted inevitably toward more serious topics. “We’ll have it sorted in no time at all,” the Duke said airily, beckoning Harry over to top off his glass. “Our old friend Sir Dabney, as I’ve said, has an excellent plan, which our son will help execute this winter. And we’ll send over a few more of England’s strong country lads to give them what for.”
“Although perhaps not this one,” his son chimed in, sending Harry a mocking smile as he returned to his place in the corner. “A stiff breeze may knock him over.”
Surprised laughter rippled across the room. Luna sat completely still, her dark beaded necklace glittering in the firelight. The Duchess rolled her eyes and smiled at her son’s antics; Harry, of course, said nothing.
“We may as well send them off to fight, since they’re practically useless otherwise,” the younger Malfoy continued, sipping his drink. “Bumbling oafs, the lot of them. Each new man we hire seems to take longer to train, tripping about the place, mouthing off… at least he hasn’t dumped any brandy in my lap,” he added, gesturing toward Harry’s corner.
“Harry’s alright,” Luna said softly, eyes intent on the untouched drink in her hand.
“Your household runs like clockwork, My Lady,” he replied in a sugary voice that made Harry nauseous. “Truly commendable, in these trying times.” Turning to Harry with laughter in his eyes, he said slowly, “You are a credit to your profession.”
Harry swallowed, then replied with great care, “Thank you, My Lord.”
The rest of the night began to blur. Harry focused on glasses that needed filling, hands that waved him over for this or that, and sighed inwardly when he was dismissed for the night. When the room was set to rights and his tray of used glasses had been returned to the kitchen, Harry changed out of his uniform and went to the stables. Hagrid had long since retired for the night, so there were only shadows and gentle sounds from the horses to greet him. Mercury and Mars stuck their heads out of their stalls and he stood with them a long moment, patting their noses in the dark.
The sharp pain of the evening slowly lost its edge. Just as he was wishing he’d brought his friends some apple cores to munch on, Harry heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he was surprised to see no pools of light approaching; only moonlight reflecting on bright eyes and fair hair revealed Luna, walking over with quick, quiet steps. Harry knew he should go inside, give her space, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
“I miss you,” Luna said softly, when she reached his side. “Every day. Almost as much as I miss myself.” She extended a shaking hand, and Harry’s heart skipped a beat, but she only stroked the white mark on Mercury’s nose. “I have to lock myself away so I can be who they want me to be. It’s hard, but it doesn’t hurt like it used to. I just hate that you have to see it.“
“It’s fine,” Harry said, desperate to end her apology. “It’s…how things are supposed to be. Glad to see you’re making friends,” he finished lamely.
“They’re not my friends.” They stared at each other, a thousand words spinning through Harry’s mind, but he had no idea what to say. He tangled his fingers in Mars’ mane, and Luna leaned toward Mercury, resting her face against the horse’s soft cheek.
“You always do well, Harry,” she said after a moment, her voice slightly muffled behind her curtain of hair. “No matter what was said in there, no one doubts that. You’ve truly found your place.”
Harry hesitated, flattered by her assessment, then said, “it’s always better when you’re here.”
Luna gave Mercury a final pat and turned to face him once more. “No matter where I go or what I do, I will always…” she broke off, clearly flustered. “You must know,” she said, watching him carefully, but he didn’t dare react, and risk scaring her away or waking from this impossible dream.
“You’re wonderful,” he said finally, “and when I close my eyes I can see you dancing in the meadow, hear you laugh. I…” He ran a hand through his hair and plunged ahead. “Every time I see you I know it may be the last time. You have your whole life, the whole world ahead of you…”
She gently took his hand in hers, and Harry nearly jumped back in shock. “I will always care for you, Harry Potter. In that locked up corner of my heart, where I still laugh and dance and dream, I will always love you.” And with that, she pressed a soft kiss to his lips, over in an instant, but echoing through his memory as she stepped back and vanished into the darkness.
1 September, 1916
On a clear summer day like any other, Harry walked into the servants’ hall, ignoring the proud and awestruck looks he got from the rest of the staff. Because today was not like any other: Harry had donned a different uniform, and would be leaving for France on the next train.
After months of planning and training, it hadn’t felt real until he’d gotten up that morning and looked around at his small comfortable room, where his suitcase lay packed at the foot of his bed and his old toy soldiers gathered dust on the windowsill. It felt real when he sat down to breakfast and the others fell silent, the weight of their stares heavy on his shoulders. It felt real as he walked out the back door for the last time, after receiving a firm handshake from Lord Grantham and a teary wave from his wife. Ron walked with him, having insisted on carrying Harry’s suitcase.
Harry stopped in the back garden, suddenly dreading stepping around that last corner. Ron paused beside him, frowning.
“I should be going with you,” Ron said for the hundredth time, his eyes downcast.
Harry turned and waited until Ron looked him in the eye. “Your father needs you,” he said firmly. “Without you and Bill, he’d never be able to handle the harvest and the sheep. And he’s already sending three sons to the front; that’s more than enough.”
“If you need a hand out there, stick with Charlie,” Ron said rather hoarsely, standing tall even as his eyes filled with worry. “The twins are good for a laugh, but not much else.” He shook his head and looked ready to say something else, then sighed. “The car will be around shortly,” he said finally, setting Harry’s suitcase at his feet.
“I just need a minute,” Harry said. “Take care of yourself, and tell your mum not to worry. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Ron looked like he believed Harry’s assurances as much as Harry did, but he only nodded. “She’ll worry because you’re like a son to her. Not that I needed another brother,” he added, trying and failing to smile. “We’ll all miss you, mate.”
Harry nodded. Ron clapped him on the shoulder and strode back toward the kitchen. Looking around Harry thought back to his first days there, meeting the horses, running around with Ron in the gardens, walking through the meadow and seeing-
Luna suddenly stood before him, as if he’d conjured her from his memories. She wore a simple green day dress, her hair pinned neatly back, and took in his uniform and suitcase with a look of profound sadness. Harry blinked, but she was still there when he opened his eyes.
“Good morning, My Lady,” he said, trying to smile. “Are you here to see me off?” She nodded without smiling back. He could hardly believe she had come, after so many months of polite distance.
“I have something to tell you,” she said, and his surprise melted into resignation.
“I already heard.”
She blinked but didn’t look away. “The engagement…” The words hurt more coming from her than from the kitchen gossips. “We’re to be married as soon as the war ends.”
Images of the various men the family had entertained appeared before him, with Malfoy’s smirking face floating to the forefront of his mind. His own face must have reflected his thoughts, because she added gently, “It’s no one you’ve met. I just… wanted you to hear the news from me.”
Harry nodded. He gathered his thoughts for a moment, and said finally, “That’s… thank you. For telling me. Congratulations.” The words felt strange in his mouth. She still watched him with worried eyes, so he added, “We were always meant to part ways. This is… how it’s supposed to be.” He squared his shoulders, even as he felt his heart crumble to dust. “Let your father know it’s been an honor to serve him. I’ve had a wonderful life here, far better than I ever hoped for.” He took a deep breath. “And if I come back-“
“When you get back,” Luna cut in, eyes flashing, “you’ll still have a place here. Downton will always be here waiting.”
But you won’t be, Harry thought. “Take care of yourself,” he said instead. “I wish you both all the happiness in the world.” And before he did anything brash, like take her by the hand and start running, he turned, grabbed his suitcase, and rounded the corner, where a car was waiting just as Ron had promised. It took all the strength he had not to look back.
War was… well.
War was shivering in the trenches, checking his gear with numb fingers and adjusting his uniform when the damp fabric chafed at his skin.
War was crouching in the mud, scratching at fleas and kicking at rats, and choking on the stench of death and decay.
War was the lost, frightened looks in the eyes of his comrades.
On some days it felt like they were ghosts already, haunting their filthy, scarred corner of France, and the lives they had known before were a long-ago dream. On the days when explosions made his ears ring and he’d nearly forgotten what is was like to live in a world that was warm and clean and rang with laughter, Harry would think of Downton.
The sweet smell of hay and a horse’s soft nose beneath his fingers, Hagrid singing to himself as he strode by, swinging a bucket of oats in each hand. The pride in Hagrid’s eyes when Harry successfully saddled his first horse by himself. His room with its narrow bed and threadbare quilt, the first place he could truly call his own. Washing dishes with Ron, laughing and flinging suds at one another in Mrs. Weasley’s warm, cheery kitchen. The glow of the candles in the dining room when the family sat down for dinner, and Luna, eyes and hair shining in the flickering light as he served their meal, a dreamy smile on her face…
Wandering through the meadows with Luna, hopping across streams, twirling and dancing between the trees, her eyes, her hands, her laugh…
On his last night at Downton, Hagrid had pulled him aside and wrapped him in a powerful hug. You’re all grown up, he sniffled as he held Harry tightly. I couldn’t be prouder. He’d given Harry a small leather pouch filled with pictures, of Ron and the Weasleys, of Hagrid himself, the house, the servants… and the family. As he shivered and ached, in his battered limbs and in his heart, Harry held the pouch close and clung to those images in his hands and in his mind, beautiful in their simplicity and joy, of his youthful happiness, the assumption that things would stay always as they were. Those memories of his home and his friends were the one thing the war couldn’t touch, and they sustained him through his many months in the trenches. He fanned out the pictures while he wrote to Ron and Hagrid, and while he lay on his cot at night, whispering the words of letters he could never send to a lady of the house, he cried, and remembered, and hoped.
One morning, as Harry stood watch, another soldier approached him. Longbottom, from a little village not far from Downton, Harry recalled. He stopped at Harry’s side and asked, “All right, Potter?”
Harry shrugged. “Not much to report.” Looking closely, Harry saw dark circles under his eyes. The man’s round, cheerful face had grown gaunt since they’d left England. When Longbottom continued to stand there, shuffling his feet, Harry asked, “Something on your mind?”
The man chewed on his lower lip a moment before asking, “How do you do it?’
Harry blinked. “Do what?”
“You just…” Longbottom looked down at his mud-caked boots. “You seem above it all, sometimes. No matter what happens, I’ve never seen you panic, or complain, and I just wondered…” He looked at Harry with haunted eyes. “How do you keep going?”
Harry noticed several soldiers standing nearby had fallen silent, as if waiting to hear what he would say. Choosing his words carefully, Harry replied, “We’re here, and that’s not going to change for some time, so… nothing we can do about that, I s’pose.” When Longbottom continued to watch him expectantly, Harry added, “It helps to think of better times. I used to tend horses, and a… friend and I would play in the meadow when we were children, and look for butterflies.” He cleared his throat. “Something happy, instead of… well.”
“Happy thoughts?” Longbottom repeated, a tentative smile forming on his face. “Like Peter Pan?”
Harry chuckled. “Something like that. What’s something you enjoyed when you were young?”
Longbottom scratched his chin, thinking hard. “Playing football after school. Or… or going fishing with my Dad.”
“It doesn’t fix things, of course,” Harry cautioned, “but it helps to remember that things weren’t always like this. And this won’t last forever.”
Longbottom nodded, looking like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and continued on his way. Turning, Harry resumed his watch, scanning the scarred landscape before him and remembering Ron’s twelfth birthday, when the Weasleys invited Harry to their home for the first time. Ron’s brothers had filled the house with noise and laughter, and he could still picture Percy chasing the twins around, hollering that they’d gotten mashed potatoes in his hair.
The twins in question were nearby when Harry ended his watch and went in search of some food. Fred elbowed George and called out, “Hey, Pan’s back!” and just like that, Harry had a new nickname. He pretended to be annoyed by it, but the names they gave the others were far worse, and they all needed something to smile about.
On quiet evenings, when Harry would usually sit in his bunk, lost in thought, he found that he suddenly had company. Longbottom (Long for short), the Weasleys, and others that Harry had barely spoken to would find him and ask how he was doing, what he was thinking. Or after a meal, George would say, “Let’s gather ‘round with Pan!” and a group would form, to chat and reminisce. Harry had never thought of himself as particularly interesting; they just needed a distraction, surely. So he talked about the horses with Charlie, asked Long about the biggest fish he’d ever caught, and laughed along with the twins as Fred and George told stories from their youth, half of which couldn’t possibly be true.
“So you really climbed out her window and ran for it?” Long asked in disbelief as the others howled with laughter.
Fred nodded seriously. “The fastest I’d ever run.”
“And her father didn’t recognize you?” Charlie asked, shaking his head. “I don’t remember Mr. Patterson coming to town and railing against redheaded bounders.”
“He never saw my hair,” Fred replied, his eyes glinting with mischief. “And Maggie never forgave me for taking her favorite hat!”
The laughter started up again in earnest; Harry rolled his eyes and took a careful bite from a biscuit Hagrid had sent him.
“Any of you hear from your sweethearts back home?” George asked, looking around the group. Most shook their heads.
“There was a girl, but I never had the courage to really talk to her,” Long said ruefully. “Doesn’t seem so scary now.”
When they looked at Fred, he shrugged and said, “I’m keeping my options open, but there’s a girl I have my eye on. What about you, Pan?” he asked, elbowing Harry in the ribs. “Is there a girl waiting for you back at Downton?”
Unbidden, wide gray eyes came to mind; he could almost smell the freshness of the meadow, feel the grass beneath his feet.
“No,” he said, keeping his face carefully blank. “No, there’s not.”
In the end, it wasn’t the Armistice that sent Harry home, or an unfortunate run in with the enemy lying in wait beyond his trench. Walking down the muddy path one morning on the way to his next watch, Harry saw Long struggling with some crates.
“Munitions shipment,” Long explained, “came in late, so there’s not room.” He prised the wooden lid off and began carefully unpacking its contents. “Someone’s coming over to take an inventory, and an officer- will be by to-“ he struggled with the last of the contents, “-to check off on it. Blimey, it’s stuck-“
George was passing by, and stepped closer, saying, “Here, let me take a look-“
Something in Harry’s mind lit up in alarm, and his feet were moving before he knew it, pushing his friends aside, and shoving the crate, saying, “No, Long, watch out-“
And something in the crate exploded.
Sometime later, after they’d patched him up, Harry was told that the munitions had been improperly assembled, something had malfunctioned… but he didn’t care about the how and why. He asked about the others, and was told that they only had superficial wounds from splinters and shrapnel. If Long had stayed in that crate, he could have lost an arm.
Harry got the brunt of it; he had spun to the right, and his left arm and shoulder were covered in cuts. A chunk of the crate hit his face and made a terrible gash in his forehead. He’d live, the medics assured him, but there would be scarring.
Harry and Long (Neville, now) were packed up and shipped back to London. George refused to go, unwilling to leave his brothers behind, but Harry got word from his hospital bed that all of the Weasleys were sent home a few weeks later, their service to the crown complete.
Harry opened his eyes one morning to find Neville smiling down at him, a rather common occurrence. Even after he’d been discharged from the hospital, Neville came back to visit Harry almost every day.
“Surely you have better things to do than watch me lay here,” Harry said in greeting, and Neville laughed. “Life in the city not exciting enough for you?”
“Too exciting,” Neville said, shuffling awkwardly as a nurse bustled past them. “I miss my boring old village. Brought you a book, have you read this one?”
“It’s not more Dickens, is it?” Harry asked, pretending to be skeptical as Neville passed him the book. “Those put me to sleep.” He looked over the cover and flipped it open. “Treasure Island, eh? Sounds promising.”
“It’s my Dad’s favorite book.” Neville glanced behind him. “He’s- well, he wanted you to have this, and before I left for home, he wanted to meet you in person,” he finished anxiously. “I hope that’s alright.”
A man and woman made their way over and stopped when they reached Neville’s side; the resemblance was uncanny. A younger woman was with them, her curly hair pinned neatly beneath a straw hat and a smile on her face.
“It’s fine, Neville,” Harry said, wishing he had combed his hair that morning. “Sorry we have to meet like this, Sir,” he added, shifting carefully to face his guests. “I know I look a fright.”
“Not at all,” Mr. Longbottom said, placing a gentle hand on Harry’s uninjured shoulder. “To think, it could have been worse…” his wife sniffled, her smile wavering, and he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “We can’t thank you enough, for what you did, for saving our son. If you ever need anything, just say the word.”
Harry’s eyes darted between them, taking in the joy and relief on their faces and the clear embarrassment on Neville’s. His instinct was to deny it, to say it was an accident, a fluke, but all he said was, “Thank you, Sir. It was an honor to serve alongside your son.”
Neville waved the girl forward, clearly ready to change the subject. “Harry, this is Hannah.” He beamed down at her and added, “We’re to be married next month. And if you’re feeling up to it, since you’ll be released soon and all… I’d like you to be there.”
Harry nodded. “Of course. Congrats, mate.” Looking between them, at the adoring looks on their faces, Harry swallowed the lump in his throat and said, “Just send the date and time to Downton Abbey. I‘ll bet the Weasleys would like to come, too.”
1 May, 1917
The return trip to Downton, his second time ever in an automobile, couldn’t have been more different from his arrival over ten years prior. The scenery flew past as they rumbled down the road, growing more familiar as they went. The sun broke through the clouds as the Abbey came into view, and instead of pulling around and dropping him off by the servant’s entrance, the driver rolled right up to the front door, where a crowd had gathered. Harry climbed awkwardly from the car and could only gape as the entire Weasley family surged forward, grabbing his bag, shaking his hand, and giving him a shoulder to lean on, even though he was mostly healed, thanks very much. Mrs. Weasley pulled him into a gentle hug and cried into his shoulder as the rest of the staff called out their greetings. Hagrid waved and cheered, and even Mr. Filch gave him a nod, his frown not quite as deep as Harry remembered.
“You’re the last to return,” a deep voice said as the crowd dispersed. “Welcome home.” Lord Grantham came forward last and gave Harry a firm handshake while Harry gaped at him. “We’re having a picnic to celebrate, for the entire staff.” He nodded to Mrs. Weasley, who nodded back and bustled off, calling out instructions to her children as she went. “We’ll give you some time to rest, and change clothes. But first I’d like to speak with you.”
Harry followed Lord Grantham across the lawn, his head spinning as the others dispersed. The path from the drive to the back garden was painfully familiar; strolling with the lord of the house was not.
“It’s a bit of a madhouse here,” Lord Grantham added, “Mary upstairs with her sons, officers convalescing in the ballroom. We tried to have you brought up, but the best we could do was pull a few strings for a bed in London.” As Harry stammered his thanks, he said, “Everyone was rather distraught to hear of your injuries.”
The way he said everyone seemed a bit strange, but few things in Harry’s life made sense anymore. Harry replied, “Tell them I’m quite alright, Sir. Just glad to be home.”
“And it’s your home for as long as you’d like,” said Lord Grantham. “We couldn’t be prouder. I’ve received letters from Arthur Weasley and a Mr. Longbottom of Batley,” he continued, “describing how honored their sons were to serve at your side, and how your actions spared them serious injury on the day of the accident.
“Any position is yours, just say the word: assisting Mr. Filch, managing a farm… Don’t answer right away,” he added as Harry’s mouth opened and closed but nothing came out. “Take some time to think it over.”
They walked on, moving farther and farther from the house. Lord Grantham seemed content to walk in silence. The thought of caring for the family’s horses with Hagrid again or watching over a flock of sheep, far away from the fear and filth of war, nearly brought tears to his eyes. Both from the idea of living in peace, and that he’d be doing so alone.
Just as Harry was ready to make his excuses and go join the picnic, Lord Grantham said suddenly, “a lot has changed, this last year.” He sighed. “The world may never be the same again. And sometimes, as the world changes, we have to change with it.” Harry nodded, unsure, and Lord Grantham shot him an indecipherable look.
“Time and again, you’ve proven yourself to be an honorable and hard-working young man,” he continued, stopping finally and looking Harry in the eye. “So I’m trusting you.”
With what? Harry wondered, unsettled by the sudden gravity in Lord Grantham’s voice. Taking in his surroundings, he realized that they had walked into the magic meadow of his childhood. Wildflowers swayed in the breeze, bees buzzed past, and there, under the gnarled old tree along the edge of the forest, stood-
Harry’s eyes widened, and he felt the blood drain from his face as he once again turned to the lord of the house. Lord Grantham’s own face didn’t change; he merely said, “I’m trusting you,” nodded once, and turned back toward the house, leaving Harry alone with his youngest daughter.
Harry’s feet carried him closer to the tree, even as his mind struggled to keep up with it all. Luna stood where he’d first met her, hair loose and flowing, watching in silence as he finally reached her side. Her dress was a cheerful blue, and her eyes were full of emotion as she said, “You’re alright.”
“Mostly,” Harry croaked, using all of his will power to keep his distance. Luna had no such reservations: she reached out and gently touched his face, tracing along the edge of his bandage.
“I was so worried,” she said softly, still studying his face, “every day you were gone, and then we heard that-“ she broke off, and let her hand drop, her gray eyes shining with unshed tears. “I’m so glad you’re alright.”
“Luna, it’s- it’s so good to see you,” Harry said slowly, taking a careful step back, “but shouldn’t you be with…” He struggled to form the words, then pressed on. “Where is your husband?”
She was already shaking her head before he’d finished. “He went off to fight, and never returned. We were never married.”
The earth tilted on its axis, and as Harry swayed she stepped closer and put a steadying hand on his good shoulder. “I had hoped, and my father consented… that we could marry upon your return.” He reached out a shaking hand to cradle her face as she continued, “There’s a cottage not far from here, where we could live, and sheep that need care, and Mary has started breeding horses for the war effort-“
“This can’t be real,” Harry whispered, still rubbing a gentle thumb across her cheek. “I must still be laid up in a hospital somewhere…”
She shook her head again, a hopeful smile spreading across her face as she stepped closer. “Please say you’ll stay with me.”
“I’ve nothing to offer you,” Harry protested, “nothing but a scarred face and empty pockets.”
“You have a heart full of kindness,” she replied, “and that’s all that’s ever mattered to me.”
Harry pulled her into a hug, a laugh escaping that was all too close to a sob, and held her tight. “Then yes, of course,” he whispered, “I couldn’t imagine anything better.”