Part 1: Malfoy Manor
Draco did not know what had possessed him to speak. He stared at his mother's hand on his arm as she dragged him up the corridor and wondered if he had just made a deadly mistake. To be so bold, so crass, so cruel as to discuss the giving and receiving of a prisoner as if she were a Christmas gift? Yet Bellatrix had been amused, rather than enraged. She had not cursed him. She had laughed; and Draco's father has looked down the long table with a hint of his old authority - which only ever manifested when the Dark Lord was absent - and had given the girl to Draco. Given him Luna Lovegood, so long as Draco kept her "out of the way" of the adults.
Happy Christmas, Draco. Don't break her the way you did your other toys. It might even have been funny in another life, one in which Bellatrix's high-pitched cackle did not send shivers of terror down his spine.
His mother's face had been cold and still as stone, and her knuckles had been white where her wand hand gripped the arm of her chair. As soon as it was possible to leave the table, Narcissa had pleaded fatigue and demanded that Draco escort her upstairs.
Draco was not surprised to be pulled into the west wing of the Manor, past portraits of long-dead ancestors whose censure for the current scions had long since been Silenced. There was a painting here in the far stairwell that guarded a Malfoy secret: a room perfectly circular and perfectly empty, warded by blood and bone for silence and secrecy. Only Malfoy blood in the main line could open the door. Narcissa stopped their forward momentum on the landing, and shook Draco's arm.
"Open it," she demanded in a low, implacable voice. Draco had never heard his mother speak like that before the Dark Lord returned. Now she was a creature of steel and silk, building a shield of will, influence, and threats around her family. The Dark Lord alone was free of Narcissa's webs. Even Snape, the Dark Lord's right hand, had been unable to escape entanglement.
Draco placed his hand on the frame - it was an innocuous enough painting of Wiltshire in spring, with indistinct figures frolicking in the fields - and spoke the password his father had shared with him the day his Hogwarts letter had arrived. The wall swung inward just far enough for Narcissa and Draco to slip inside the room, then it swung closed and sealed itself. The room's single wall sconce blazed into white flame the moment the door closed. No one and nothing save Lucius could open the door now, and no one outside would hear any part of their conversation, even if they had planted an eavesdropping item on one of them.
Narcissa released Draco and took a step back, crossing her arms and regarding her only living offspring with narrowed eyes. "Explain yourself," she said, each syllable falling like cut ice from her lips.
Draco did not want to have this conversation, especially not with his mother. "I think I explained fairly well at the table."
Narcissa took Draco by the shoulders and shook him once. "What are you thinking, Draco? What will you do with this girl?"
Draco was struck suddenly by the fact that he was taller than his mother. He was not used to seeing her look up at him. It was disconcerting, and made him even more uncomfortable. "Does it matter? At least I won't Crucio her for dinner entertainment, or make her the main course for a pack of werewolves." Both had been the fates of Muggles and Muggle-borns to cross paths with Death Eaters in the past.
For a moment he saw a glimmer of relief in his mother's eyes. "No, I imagine you won't. But why, Draco? Why risk so much?"
Draco looked away, wondering how much he would have to tell her before she let him go. Bellatrix had taught him Occlumency, but Narcissa had a particular ability to cut through to the heart of his thoughts without benefit of Legilimency.
"Draco." He knew that she only wanted to understand, to be able to protect him. He resented her, both for her attempts at protection now and for her inability to protect him from the terrible task the Dark Lord had given him last year.
"She was kind to me."
Narcissa said nothing for a long time. Draco finally had to look at her, to see if he could glean some clue as to her thoughts. She was watching him, her neutral expression belied by the burning emotion in her eyes.
At last the silence became too much to bear. "She treated me as if I were just another student, all right? She's crazy, they call her Loony at school, she's ridiculous and quiet and calm and kind. She's not afraid of me. Now that her father is in Azkaban, there's no reason to keep her here, no reason to let her live, she could vanish into the dark and no one would ever know."
Narcissa let go of his shoulders. "She is a pureblood witch, and there is protection in that."
"Not for blood traitors," Draco snarled, turning away and taking the step away the room allowed. He pressed his palm to the wall and his forehead to the back of his hand. The claustrophobic room reminded him too vividly of the many constraints on his own actions, and the looming danger of all-out war. "I have no power anywhere else. This is as much as I can do."
He felt her hand on his back. "You have more power than you think," she said softly. "Let me help you where I can. Now, and when you go back to school."
Draco closed his eyes and tried not to think about the future. "Can she be safe here?"
"As safe as any of us. They will forget, once the novelty of your request fades. Everyone will forget her." Narcissa's words brought Draco little comfort. At least being forgotten did not come with torture and curses.
Why, why in Merlin's name did he have to care so damned much? Draco hated himself, was certain that Luna would hate him equally no matter how forgotten she became in his house. Why did he have to care so much but lack the courage for action? At least when Luna had come face to face with Death Eater wands she had managed to stand up and fight. Draco was so used to running away, to falling back on the influence of others, that he had no more idea how to go about this foolhardy attempt at rescue than he had had of how to assassinate one of the greatest living wizards in Britain.
"She told me once that nothing was impossible," Draco whispered, turning his head so that he could see the fine porcelain of his mother's profile. "I wonder if she still believes that."
Narcissa caressed the back of his neck and stepped away. "Go, Draco. Go save her. We will find a way to keep her safe, while you are back at Hogwarts. It will be enough."
Draco took a deep breath, and whispered the exit password on his exhale. The door clicked open, and instantly Narcissa was gone, her heels clicking on the marble floor of the gallery. Draco wished he knew what she was really thinking, how much she would share with his father, how much his father was actually still himself after Azkaban, how much he needed to fear that his parents would betray him, or he them, by accident or negligence.
He thought of the Headmaster, and second chances. Snape, upon giving Draco the Head Boy badge, had said that Draco must make important choices this year. Choices that would shape his life. Draco was not certain that anyone he knew would approve of the choice he had made today, but somehow Draco hoped that Snape, when he learned it, would get that glint in his eye, and turn up his mouth in that particular smirk he seemed to save for hearing about the latest way that Dumbledore's Army had thwarted the Carrows. To Draco, that smirk looked almost like pride, if grudging, in students proving their worth and skill. And when was the last time anyone had been proud of Draco?
He slipped through the painting and waited for the tingle in his fingers that meant the lock had engaged once more. Luna was still down in the cellar, and whether anyone would be proud of him or not, Draco meant to get her out.
Draco turned to the door for the cellar stairs. He was at the wrong end of the house, but if he walked its length downstairs he would be practically guaranteed not to meet any Death Eaters.
He suspected that Luna would not be so kind or so calm now that she had been alone in the cellar for several days. He wished that he could go back to those quiet moments last spring, when his despair had been eased for just a moment by her uncanny cheer. Or even this past fall, when her particular kind of lunacy had been a balm against the larger insanity of Hogwarts under Snape and the Carrows.
He hadn't seen her until he almost tripped over her in the dark: Luna Lovegood, alone on the half-collapsed balcony over the east courtyard, staring up at the stars with a look of quiet contentment on her face. He felt a terrible, irrational anger at her for being able to smile like that. How could she dare to be so happy when the world was falling apart around them?
Then she looked up, and he braced himself for the condescension, possibly even the brute dislike, that would take over her face. It would hurt to see it, after the confidences last year. But she was part of Potter's court, and must choose sides against Draco and the Slytherins now. Everything had changed with Dumbledore's death.
Her smile did not dim. "Malfoy," she said softly, a simple acknowledgement.
"Lovegood," he returned. "It's after curfew. I should take points."
"It is," she agreed pleasantly. "Do you think you're likely to do that?" She had returned her gaze to the stars overhead. Draco could have hexed her three ways by now, and she wasn't even watching his wand.
"I am Head Boy, you know."
Luna laughed. Her laughter was loud and bright and totally unself-conscious. There was no malice in it. "Does that make you more or less likely to take points, then?" Before Draco could answer, she pointed up. "Oh, look, a falling star!"
She closed her eyes, her hand still raised, and moved her lips in silence. Draco watched, bewildered. When she opened her eyes, she clasped her hands under her chin and sighed happily. "Did you make a wish?" she asked him.
"On the falling star. Quick, it's not too late." She reached up and closed her fingers around his left arm; Draco flinched. "Close your eyes, and wish. Go on."
Draco felt like an idiot, but at the same time she was the first person to touch him without fear since he'd left his parents at King's Cross. He closed his eyes and thought of a world in which he would not be called upon to torture or maim on behalf of a monster, in which he would not fear that his failures would kill the only people he loved. Just imagining such a thing felt like treason, and he automatically reinforced his Occlumency.
When he opened his eyes, Luna was sitting on the crumbled railing directly before him, her face level with his. Her hand was still on his arm. "Was it a good wish?" she asked.
Draco nodded, and started to speak, but Luna moved first. She held two fingers before his lips, but did not touch. "No," she whispered. "If you speak of it, it won't come true."
Draco stared at her. She dropped both her hands into her lap and stared back. Draco's eyes began to water. She really was a strange bird.
"Why did we do that?" he asked at last, blinking.
Luna leaned back over the open air, her hands gripping the stones of the broken wall. Draco wanted to reach out and pull her back before she tumbled into space, but he held himself still. "You've never wished on a falling star before?"
Draco shook his head.
"What about wishing on the last petal of a firelily?"
Draco had no idea what she was on about.
"Held the toes of a gnome for ten seconds to make a wish stick?"
"That's ridiculous," Draco declared.
Luna sat up again. "Haven't you ever made a wish on anything?"
"What for? Wishes don't ever come true."
Luna stared at him again, but this time the look was tinged with a gentle sorrow that Draco could not fathom being solely for him. "Do you really believe that?" she whispered.
Draco looked away, up at the sky, where the constellations glittered brightly in defiance of the darkness creeping over Wizarding Britain. "There is no point in wishing for the impossible, and anything possible I can get for myself."
Luna's hand closed gently on his left arm once more. He stilled his reflexive withdrawal, but not before she noticed the aborted movement. "What a sad way to live that must be," she said gently, moving her fingers in tiny caresses over his sleeve.
He wondered what she knew, or guessed.
She hopped down to her feet once more, never letting go of his arm. She was so close that her open school robes brushed his in every breeze. "Well, you've wished now. Perhaps we'll find out that impossible is not so hard to achieve."
Her easy confidence astounded him. Hadn't she said only last term, before the horror of June, that she did not really have friends? That her belongings were regularly stolen? That her housemates, who should rally around her to the benefit of the House, instead treated her badly, made her life difficult? The Ravenclaws themselves had begun calling her Loony. Perhaps after years of being ostracized, Luna simply recognized a kindred spirit in Draco, who now stood apart from everyone he knew.
"Come on," he said at last. "I'll walk you to the tower. You don't want to get caught out and given detention this term."
"No," she agreed pleasantly. "Probably not."
She had gotten detention eventually, of course. It was unavoidable, and while she never treated Draco with disdain, she did take sides. She and Longbottom and the Weasley girl made trouble, and they all ended up at the wrong end of Draco's wand during detentions overseen by the Carrows. By Halloween, Draco was sure that he had cursed every member of Dumbledore's Army at least once. He tried not to cringe when Alecto praised him for his spell-casting, and forced himself not to look away when Snape stared him down during meetings with the Head Boy and Girl.
By Halloween, he was convinced that if he wanted to survive this, he could not afford any attachments. He could not leave himself exposed to enemy attack, and at that point he had no allies, only potential enemies or potential weaknesses. He had not known, by Halloween, that lying to himself would hurt so terribly. He had not known, then, how much he was willing to risk - Merlin, how much he had to risk in the first place - for the sake of one attachment who could not possibly know how much of a difference she made.
The previous spring he had often come upon Luna in the halls before breakfast, or during free periods, sketchbook in hand. When the corridors had been empty save the two of them, Draco had even let himself sit with her. She never asked anything of him; he had stared at his hands, or at the wall, and let his thoughts run in more and more frantic circles. Poisons, curses, plans, plots. His life that term had begun the terrible nightmare from which he could not wake.
Most of the time in those corridors he and Luna had never spoken. He simply sat beside her, close enough that if he had stretched out his arm he could have touched her knee. She drew, looking at suits of armor, portraits, worn or broken stones, and sometimes at Draco himself. At times, she hummed softly as her hands moved. Draco was almost certain that she never realized she was doing it.
In early November, when Luna still wore the hex mark on her face from her last detention with Alecto and Crabbe, Draco had not thought to find her up before dawn with charcoal on her fingers and paper clipped to a board on her lap. He rounded the corner and stopped dead when he saw her sitting on a bench halfway down. She turned her head, and moved a few inches to the side. It was as clear an invitation as Draco could expect; there was no shortage of empty benches along that wall. She watched solemnly as he closed the distance between them, and when he sat down beside her she turned her eyes back to her paper.
She had drawn the Head Table, but the Head Table from a memory. Dumbledore was alive in Luna's sketch, McGonagall had fewer lines around her mouth, Slughorn smiled benevolently and even Snape managed to look softer somehow. Draco's breath hissed between his teeth as he watched Luna's pencil add detail to the candelabra on the table.
Luna did not look up, but her free hand moved between them, gracefully curling over Draco's. Her fingers slid easily between his, and then they were palm-to-palm, holding hands in an empty corridor as the first hints of dawn lit the windows. He did not even mind, for a moment, that she was holding his wand hand.
Draco stared at the image of Dumbledore on the paper, and finally whispered, "Can't you draw something else?"
Luna silently let the paper slide from her drawing board to the floor. Its edges curled up, obscuring McGonagall's hat and Slughorn's robes. Dumbledore still stared from the center of the page, right into Draco's head and heart, as the old man had done on the tower. "Like what?" Luna asked in a normal tone of voice.
"Anything else," Draco said.
She took up the charcoal from her lap, and her strokes were swift and dark on the new page, and at first Draco did not realize what she was doing. Then his eyes refocused, seeing the white spaces left by the thick strokes of black, and he realized she had depicted a blank, skull-like mask in shadow.
Draco pulled his hand free of hers to push the paper to the floor. The mask curled up on itself beside Luna's ankle. "Not that," he said, hearing with disgust the unsteadiness in his voice.
Her charcoal did not even stop moving, simply picked up the arc of her stroke on the next sheet of paper. She turned it into the curve of a thestral's wing. Draco was only slightly less disturbed by that subject.
"That's quite morbid, you know." He ran a fingertip around the outside of the thestral's head, smudging the lines.
"So is learning fourteen ways to kill a man with legal hexes," Luna murmured, taking hold of his wrist and moving his hand off the paper once more. "Why do you care what I draw?"
Draco looked away from the papers, staring hard at the ledge of the window across the hallway. "I don't."
Luna made a noise that may have been suppressed laughter. She must not believe him.
"I don't care," Draco said again. It sounded no more convincing this time. "Caring just gives you something to lose. Something that can be taken away."
Luna's fingers tightened on his wrist. "Some of us figured that out as First Years."
"But still have so much to lose."
Draco shook off her hand and stood up. "I don't care. Do what you want." His shadow fell across her face, across those pale, unnatural eyes. Those eyes understood more than she ever said out loud. They knew he was no longer talking about drawing.
He shook his head. "No. I don't care." He leaned forward, a pose that would be menacing to anyone but Luna, who stared up at him with undisturbed serenity. "I can't care."
She nodded, once, and picked up her charcoal once more. "Good morning, then, Malfoy."
Draco would never be used to the way she reacted. Peaceful, unflappable Luna. She never used tears the way Pansy did, never cried at all except in detentions. But everyone cried under Amycus's Cruciatus, no matter how strong they were in other things.
Draco watched Luna add a thestral calf to her paper in a few quick lines, and stopped himself from saying anything else. He could not be here, could not know what he knew and still sit in a corridor as if he were any other student. He could not let Luna do this to him.
He turned and walked away.
The rooms in the cellar had once been for cold storage, but a few charms had rendered them minimally habitable. The doors each had a sliding panel set at adult eye level now, and a lock that only a chosen few could open. Lucius had that much control over what went on in his home, that random Death Eaters, especially those without the Mark, could not run rampant and over-enthusiastic with his prisoners.
Draco opened the panel in the third door. Just enough illumination poured in from the hallway for him to make out the huddled figure in the corner. She lifted her head and blinked, staring at the door.
Oh, Merlin, her eyes. Huge in her face, bloodshot and pale, ringed with shadows like bruises on her skin. Her lips were split and swollen, her jaw dark with an actual bruise. Someone had hit her, or hexed her from the door. Draco's rage was as sudden as it was impotent. He could not prevent her from being hurt. All he offered was too little, too late, and she would be right to spit his help back in his face.
He pressed his palm to the wall beside the door handle, and the lock opened with an echoing thunk. Taking a deep breath, he let himself inside Luna's cell, and held both hands up, wandless, before her. "Luna," he said clearly.
She shrank from him, pressing herself into the wall, and shook her head. Her lips were moving, re-opening the cuts, but he could not hear her.
He moved closer, kneeling beside her, and carefully reached for her hand. "Luna."
She pulled back so quickly Draco heard her head crack against the wall. He immediately slid his fingers into her hair, buffering her and checking for bleeding. The moment he actually touched her she went completely still, staring.
The first time she had ever called him by his given name, and it was a terrified whisper in a prison cell. Draco eased her away from the wall and wrapped his other arm around her. "Let me help you," he whispered into her hair.
Her fingertips skimmed over the fabric on his chest and shoulders, touched his jaw, his nose, his hair. "You're real," she said, her voice full of wonder.
Draco did not want to imagine who or what she had been hallucinating while alone down here. The Cruciatus did that sometimes; disconnected people from their logical brain. Some would say Luna was already too far removed from hers for a Crucio to make a difference. Draco knew better.
"I'm taking you out of here," he said, smoothing her hair down the back of her neck. "All right? We're leaving."
She smiled at him, and for a moment it could have been any morning of the term, just the two of them in a Hogwarts corridor. "Of course."
Draco lifted her in his arms - trying not to think of how little she weighed in them, how small she was, how much he didn't want to let go ever again - and summoned a house elf to take them the back way to his suite.
Draco's rooms were on the fourth floor of the east wing, far from any guests the Manor may have been hosting. He had taken these rooms when he entered Hogwarts, leaving behind the nursery quarters above his parents' suite. Here he had his own small empire with access to the roof garden and the sky, and no one but house elves came this far upstairs with any frequency.
After the darkness of the back corridors, his parlor was bright with moonlight. Luna's face turned to the windows the moment he set her feet on the floor. She was not entirely steady, so Draco kept a grip on her as she walked right up to the glass. She flattened both hands against the window but made no move to open the casement. She just looked out.
A light dusting of snow covered the grounds, glowing wherever the moonlight touched it. All else was shadows upon shadows, trees and sculpted shrubs, winter rose bushes and fallow garden beds. Across the courtyard the windows of the west wing were dark, the stones and moss leached of color. Luna drank in the sight greedily, her eyes flicking from place to place too rapidly for Draco to follow. He realized abruptly that except for the one evening when she had been Bellatrix's after-dinner entertainment, Luna had been alone in that small cellar room for ten days.
Somehow it became the most important thing in the world to see Luna standing under the open sky again. Draco summoned his formal cloak and his school cloak from the wardrobe in the dressing room, and wrapped the thick warmth of his Hogwarts colors around Luna's shoulders. The formal cloak was more decorative than actually warm, but he was at least wearing shoes. He cast a warming charm on Luna's feet. "Come out," he said, tugging gently at her hand as he opened the door to the balcony.
She followed him onto the snow-dusted balcony and up the steps to the garden. She ignored the snow-covered flower beds and even the single shade tree now nude and skeletal above them. She stood with the edge of his cloak brushing the outer railing and tilted her head back, exposing the long pale curve of her throat to the cold air. It was a clear night, and facing away from the moon they could see a vast array of stars stretching to the horizon.
Luna pulled the cloak closer around her and sighed happily. "I missed them."
Draco stood apart from her and let her stare, let her feel the cold and the wind. He watched her until he realized that there were tears running down her temple into her tangled hair, along the delicate curves of her ear. Then he stepped close enough to encircle her with his arms, to pull his cloak around them both. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
She turned, dropping her face into the curve of his throat above his collar. "I'm so tired," she said, her breath warm against his skin.
He closed his eyes. "Time to go back in. Let's get you clean and warm and in a decent bed." He felt her nod against him, and led her back to the steps.
Once inside, Draco led Luna, cloak and all, into the hallway and then to this floor's elaborate bath. There was a new dressing gown on a hook next to Draco's, and a second cabinet next to the one that held Draco's towels and supplies. His mother had obviously had the house elves working fast. He pointed out the new things as he turned on three of the taps, letting hot water mix with oils for soothing aches and calming nerves. "Luna." He waited until she met his eyes. "Will you be all right on your own, or shall I send for a house elf?"
She looked at the tub - it was a small pool to rival the prefect's bath at Hogwarts - and nodded. "I'll be fine." The dreamy calm had returned to her voice.
Draco nodded once. "Very well. If you change your mind, call for Emmy." Then he left her alone.
The elves had made up the suite next door to Draco's, and opened the door linking their parlors. By the time the lights came on in Luna's suite, Draco was curled in bed trying to take his mind off the coming term by reading a Quidditch magazine. He still had no idea how to change anything without leaving himself or his parents open to torture and death. Best not to let the problem run in circles in his head.
Luna herself appeared at his door moments after her lights went on, her arms wrapped around herself as if she were cold despite the warmth of the room. Her hair, frizzy and damp, hung in a loose, pale braid down her back, and she wore a pair of Draco's old pyjamas with the cuffs rolled over her feet. She still looked battered. Draco pulled his wand from under his pillow.
"Can I -" she began, just as Draco said, "Come in." He patted the foot of the bed.
She sat facing him, curling up with her arms around her knees. Draco reached carefully toward her. She flinched away from him. "I'm no mediwizard, but I know the basics. May I?" Draco asked, and she held herself still as he ran his thumb lightly over her chin just beneath her split lip.
Luna looked at him for a long moment, and he sat still through her scrutiny. He knew he did not look his best, courtesy of a holiday full of sleepless nights, but he looked a sight better than Luna at the moment. And he did know plenty of first aid. At last she nodded.
Draco cast silently as Luna watched his face. The cuts on her face knitted slowly together, a process that Draco knew from experience itched like mad, and the bruises faded back into normal skin tone. His spells did nothing for the circles under her eyes or the thinness of her cheeks. Magic had its limits.
"Thank you," she said as he lowered his wand, in a subdued voice.
"Are you cold?" Draco asked. She was trembling.
She shook her head, but did not look at him. She ran her hand lightly over his bedspread; one broken nail caught on a loose thread. Draco took hold of her wrist before she could pull away and turned her hand over. Her fingertips were raw, her nails broken and their beds scabbed, as if she had been trying to claw her way through the wall. Perhaps she had.
"Why didn't you say something before?" He cast the healing spells on her right hand, and reached for her left.
"Draco -" Again his given name uttered in a pained whisper, and he stopped moving, his fingers around her left wrist. He waited for her to say something else, but she just looked down at his hand around her arm. She was so thin that his hand seemed gargantuan in comparison. He did not want to think of how fragile she would be in the hands of a man like Rudolphus LeStrange, who had been one of those that kidnapped her from the Hogwarts Express. When his uncle clapped Draco on the shoulder at dinner, it felt like a threat.
"Yes?" he prompted.
She shook her head and simply held her hand open for him to cast the spell. Once her hands were healed as much as he could manage - he did not know spells to make torn and broken fingernails grow back - he sat back against his pillows and looked at her.
She looked everywhere but at him; the open windows, the paintings on the walls, the mismatched but comfortable furniture, the heavy ties holding the bed curtains. He wondered if this was some kind of visual therapy on her part, absorbing as many colors and textures as she could in the moonlit room after the empty darkness of the cellar. Like the moment with the snow, he left her alone for a while.
The silence stretched between them until Draco took his magazine from the bed beside him and flipped it closed. The noise of the pages fluttering seemed absurdly loud. He set the magazine on the bedside table and made a great fuss of plumping up pillows and tugging the bedspread down so he could cover his feet. "It's late," he said quietly. "Will you be able to sleep?"
Luna squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "Please don't send me away," she whispered. "I can't bear it alone in the dark."
Draco wished he had even the slightest clue what she might be thinking. "You can stay, of course." He wanted very badly to offer her some kind of comfort, but she had flinched away from every attempt to touch her. Luna kept on not looking at him until he said the word that loosed the bed curtains.
The curtains were heavy and when they were fully closed no light filtered through to the bed. Draco let one foot hang off the edge of the bed so that it caught the heavy brocade before it could close. A thin triangle of moonlight bisected the mattress, and Luna's breathing became harsh sobs from her side of that divide. Draco cursed under his breath, jerked that one curtain back so that moonlight flooded the upper half of the bed, and pulled Luna bodily up into the light, cradling her against his chest. "Luna. You aren't alone anymore. Luna. I'm here." He lost track of exactly what he was saying, rocking her gently and whispering against the crown of her head.
He had no experience offering comfort to another person, not real comfort for real grief. He could only try to remember what his mother had done when he was a child, with a child's sense of vast loss over the smallest of things. He stroked her hair, from the back of her head to the small of her back, but did not wrap her tightly in his arms as he wished to do. He did not wish her to feel imprisoned. When he paused in his litany of reassurance, he realized that she was quiet, and though she still trembled against him she was no longer weeping. He stopped speaking and simply stroked her hair, curling deeper into the pillows at the head of the bed.
It was not Draco's habit to share his bed with another person. When he woke up curled around Luna Lovegood, his first, instinctive reaction was panic - what had he done? Then memory returned and he allowed himself to relax his guard slightly. Nothing untoward, nothing wrong had happened, except that everything was wrong with the entire situation. He tried to ignore the effect her closeness, and the sweet smell of her hair, had on his body. Bad enough to be seventeen, alone, ruled by hormones and balanced on a constant knife-edge with death; there were some lines he would not cross.
He eased himself away, just enough that he could lie on his side, curled against the headboard, and look down at her face on the pillow without their bodies' touching. Some of her hair had come loose from its braid and lay across her face. Draco reached down and tucked those strands behind her ear, letting his fingertips brush lightly over her skin. She still looked exhausted, but the battered, defeated Luna of the night before was gone. She was beautiful, and Merlin, he felt such longing. He wished he could truly save her, could spirit her somewhere out of harm's way, out of prison, out of the danger zone. Away from everything he knew he must be in order to survive.
Her eyes opened as he pulled his hand back from her face, and he realized that she must have been lying awake for the last few minutes, all too aware of his movements. Her fingers closed with unexpected swiftness around his wrist. The sleeve of his shirt was loose, the cuff gaping open, and she must have caught a glimpse of the inside of his forearm.
His left forearm.
She shifted beneath his arm, letting her shoulder lie flush against his chest, and with her other hand she pushed his sleeve up to his elbow.
"Luna," he said, trying to think of something to tell her.
She looked at the long white lines running down his forearm, like the mark of some wild beast's claws. "You haven't taken -"
"Not yet," he cut her off. "It is the Dark Lord's pleasure to give the Mark only to his trusted servants. I'm a tool in his collection, nothing more."
Luna's fingertips ghosted across the scars, raising goosepimples on his skin. "And these?" she asked.
"When my father went to Azkaban, I felt the Cruciatus for the first time, and I saw my mother suffer under it." He looked down, feeling his cheeks flush with shame. "I would have done anything to make the pain stop, and my wine glass had shattered there on the floor beside me..." He pulled his sleeve back down, but did not pull his hand free of hers. "When that did not work, and I was sober and free of the curse, I thought that I would do anything, could do anything, to be certain that my mother and I never felt such pain again." She said nothing, and he could not bear the compassion in her eyes. "I was wrong, of course. And I think I've been wrong for a long time."
She rolled up onto her side against him, pulling his hand down over her shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered against his chest.
He tensed as she curled once more around him, their legs tangling. Her hand was a distracting warmth against his ribs. She was so thin beneath the borrowed pyjamas that he felt the bumps of her spine as he ran his hand down her back.
"Why are you apologizing?" he said. It pained him that she might ever feel she had anything to be sorry for in this wretched war. If it could be called a war.
She wriggled, putting an excruciating pressure on Draco's restraint, until her head rested on his shoulder. "You didn't deserve that," she said.
She was tracing her fingertips around one of the buttons on his shirt. It was distracting, and arousing, and Draco felt ridiculous because he was sure she had no idea what she was doing. He covered her hand with his to stop the movement.
"After all those detentions, you still say that?" he asked, and was grateful his voice did not break halfway. She was maddening.
She shuddered in his arms, her hand fisting in the fabric of his shirt. "No one deserves that, but at least at school that was the worst they could do. The Headmaster was there to stop them going to far."
Draco felt a sudden chill at her words. She had been ten days in a small room with no one to stop anything from going too far. "Luna," he began, and then had no idea how to ask. In much the same way that his upbringing had not prepared him for waking up with a girl in his bed, it had never once addressed dealing with any sort of trauma. It had been assumed that any pureblooded girl Draco might eventually marry would be, as much as possible in their increasingly Muggle-influenced world, innocent. "Did anyone, in that cellar-?"
She shook her head. "Don't ask me. Not today." She pressed her face against his neck. "Please, please, just hold me, remind me what it's like to feel alive. Make me believe this isn't a dream."
He gave in to his longing then, and wrapped her tight in his arms, moving one leg over hers. She fit frighteningly well against him, her head tucked under his chin, and he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "It's not a dream," he said with a strength that surprised him. "I won't let them take you back there."
Her tears soaked through the fabric of his pyjamas. He let her cry herself out on his shoulder, his own discomfort forgotten in his need to sooth her distress. Her sobs had quieted and her breathing eased by the time Emmy appeared at the foot of his bed with a breakfast tray.
His mother cornered him after lunch, which was a tense and mostly silent 'family' meal with Bellatrix, Rabastan, and Rudolphus attending. Bellatrix delighted in finding flaws with the Malfoy hospitality, but on this occasion she was obviously - and ominously - distracted. Draco tried not to imagine what the afternoon would have in store for his aunt, as it would surely kill his appetite.
Lucius had been closer to his old self today, at least, and Draco took some comfort in seeing his father at the head of the table once more.
Narcissa pulled Draco into her parlor as they walked upstairs together from the dining room. "I want to talk to you," she said as she closed the door. "I thought you said you had no designs on the Lovegood girl."
Draco's jaw dropped as he turned. "What? I don't - what do you mean, designs?"
Narcissa set her hands on the back of the nearest chair. "Emmy tells me that the girl's bed wasn't slept in last night. She said you were both in your bed this morning. Is this just a game to you, as it is to Antonin? Will you break her and cast her aside?"
Draco sat down on the sofa with a thump, letting his legs splay to the side. "You think that I would hurt her - would claim her just to, just to rape her in the comfort of my own bed?" He felt sick.
"I won't allow it in this house, Draco. Not from any man, but most especially not you." The expression on her face was all the worse for being directed at Draco. He had seen her direct her contempt at Muggle-loving politicians, at the common crowds in Diagon Alley, even at followers of the Dark Lord with less rank. It hurt to be the sole focus of it now.
"Mother, I haven't - I could never -" Doubtless his uncles would believe it more cowardice on his part, but he was Narcissa's son, after all, and some pureblood traditions were worth upholding. "She was hurt, and she panicked at the thought of being alone. She wouldn't say what had happened to her. I healed her, as much as I could, and I just held her when she cried." He looked at his hands, feeling his cheeks burn, and shrugged. "I don't want to hurt her," he whispered.
The sofa cushion dipped as his mother sat beside him, and her hand entered his line of sight as she clasped his hand in hers. "I see." And something in her voice alerted Draco that perhaps she was assuming too much. He looked up, a denial ready on his lips, but she spoke first. "I do not want you to become like them, Draco," she whispered. "Not like Amycus, or Antonin, or Merlin forbid, Rudolphus. Take Severus as your example if you cannot look to your father. Do you understand me? There are monsters here, but we must not be they."
Draco pulled his hand free and crossed his arms. He hated that he was so pale he could never hide his blush. "Let them all think the worst, what difference will it make? As long as no one else comes near her. I won't let them hurt her again." He was not certain, he could not know yet, what they had done to Luna in the dark of the cellar for ten days. She was not entirely mad, but she was not the Luna he had known either.
Narcissa brushed his hair back from his face, letting her palm rest against his cheek. She had often done so when he was a boy, and then it had been comforting. "Very well then. Give her what ease you can, while you can. The Dark Lord may return at any moment, and there is no certainty. I will make sure that Antonin understands that she is not his to torment, now."
"Did he-" Draco could not even finish the question. The very thought that Dolohov may have abused Luna, even touched her once, was abhorrent. Such gentleness and innocence were not for Dolohov; they were not even for Draco. He felt his fingernails cut into his palms. The sting centered him, helped him keep his outward calm even as his mother's words cut him to the quick.
"He visited her room, and Ollivander's, several times, but what he did there I have not been able to discover. You will have to ask her, Draco." Narcissa sat back, letting her hand fall to her lap.
Draco looked at the mantel. "I tried. I can't ask, and why would she tell me?"
"You can only ask, and be willing to hear her answer. Do not get too attached, Draco, and try to wean her from you. You will be on the Express in January, and she must remain here."
Draco took a deep breath. This was the reality he faced. Luna's safety came only from the tolerance of the Dark Lord's favorites. Draco's own father would give Luna over to torture and slavery if it would gain their Lord's favor once more.
"If we're done?" he asked carefully. "I have some studying to finish in the Library."
Narcissa gave him one last searching look before she nodded sharply in dismissal. He practically ran for the door.
Later, Draco dozed over a book of obscure potions in a curtained window seat in the library. He became aware of voices just within his hearing, and withdrew his wand, silently casting an amplification spell.
His mother and father were in their reading nook three windows away. Draco still cringed slightly to hear the ruin that Azkaban had made of his father's once smooth and cultured voice.
"He is not being contrary, but he is being foolish."
"He has not endangered our place, my sister may even think better of him for it."
"Our Lord will not tolerate distractions, Cissy, and where will all this nonsense get us once the truth of it comes out? We cannot afford to risk His favor on such childish obsessions."
"Oh, you must remember being his age, everything is so much bigger, more important, more passionate. We fought hard, we needed so much, we loved recklessly at his age, too."
"It was different then. This child is not a good match, in any case. She is -"
"A pureblood, and powerful, and clever. You remember her mother?"
"Hmph. Rees was a right terror when the prefects looked the other way. Clever little bitch."
"And a better duelist than you expected."
"Mm, yes. I still have the scar."
"Her daughter is strong, too. In a war, is there ever a good time to fall in love? We did not time it so very well, did we? But what else gives anyone incentive to go on? Let him have this one thing to defend for himself."
"He will go back to Hogwarts and forget about her."
"Perhaps. But I do not think so."
Draco closed his book and eased out of the window seat, letting the spell end. His head spun as he made for the stairs and the quiet of his rooms.
Love? They thought he was in love with Luna Lovegood? Love was such a soft and gentle concept to encompass his need to possess and protect. His father was right, it was a terrible match. Draco couldn't marry Luna. They could never be together. She was a prisoner, she would never forget that. No matter how pleasant he made her new incarceration she was still a prisoner, the enemy, a blood traitor, her life worth nothing should the Dark Lord choose to interfere. No soft emotions could overcome that horror.
Yet if it were Pansy or Daphne in her place, would Draco feel such longing to see them free? Would the thought of their hurt fill him with guilt and rage? Would he need to make such dangerous reparation for their pain? He'd thought so once, but the truth was no one else besides his parents seemed important enough. Was that love or was it simply obligation? Did it matter? She was not even his friend, let alone his girlfriend, and he was fairly sure he did not love her, but nonetheless Luna was his.
"You'll be going back to school soon," Luna said sadly, tracing patterns in the frost on the glass of the deep window seat in Draco's parlor.
Draco looked up, placing a marker in his book and closing it. "Two more days."
The pictures in the frost began to run. "I'm afraid," she whispered. "Everything will change again." Luna was always more melancholy after she had been downstairs to visit Ollivander. She had been in the old man's cell every day since that first morning in Draco's suite. The house elves led her there, watched the corridor, and led her back up after an hour.
Draco set his book on the side table and stood up, waving his hand over the lamp to put it out. "My mother will take care of you. You will be safe."
Luna looked up at him as he walked up to the other side of the bay window and leaned on the frame. She was still too thin, her eyes huge in her face. She sighed, but said nothing.
He reached out to touch her cheek, a gentle brush of fingertips, and she did not flinch from him. "No one can touch you unless the Dark Lord himself counters my father's order. Stay out of their way, out of sight, and there will never be a need for him to do so." It was not as reassuring as he would like, but he could not offer her lies now. "Perhaps by Easter hols things will be settled, and you can go back to school." He did not say that by 'settled' he meant that Potter and his friends would be dead, and the Dark Lord openly in charge. It was not something he wanted to contemplate too deeply.
Luna smiled, but it was not the smile she had used at school, when she was free and could still believe that there was hope. This smile held so much pain that Draco ached with it. "Yes, I expect you're right," she said. "We'll wait to see if things settle." And Draco wondered if by 'settle' she meant that she would keep plotting to escape and get herself killed. Or worse. He had been easier in his mind when she was full of unseen beasts and bizarre customs.
"I'll be back in March. The time will fly, you'll see."
Luna looked back out the window, and did not reply.
The following day, when Draco began packing his school trunk, Luna's melancholy shifted into rage. He had never actually seen her angry. He had not expected it.
He looked at her over the open lid of his trunk; she sat on his bed, drawing supplies scattered across the blankets. At the moment she was using none of those, but watching him. "I'm surprised you do that yourself," she said.
"How else will I know what's in here? Besides, the elves are all spies for my parents." He picked up a stack of books and set them carefully inside. Although the trunk was larger inside than outside, careful packing was still required.
"Only for your parents?" She flipped a penknife through her fingers. The blade glinted as it moved, although the edge was dulled by a safety charm.
Draco balanced a stack of uniform shirts on the corner of the trunk and thought about his answer to that. He knew what she meant, of course. "They are bound to my family, but my father has ordered them to offer hospitality to his guests," he said at last. "They will know that you are here, but no one will look for you. As far as the others are concerned, you're mine, and off-limits."
Luna leaped off the bed and started toward him. "I'm not yours," she said, and shoved the lid of his trunk so that it pinned his shirts, narrowly missing his hands. "I'm not some bloody owl or broomstick you bought on Diagon Alley. I don't belong to you."
"I know!" Draco protested, reached for her hands. She pulled away. "I know that, Luna," he tried again. "But they don't." He dropped his voice to a whisper. "They don't care. They understand power, and control, and if it keeps you safe while I'm away then you will damned well accept it while I'm gone."
"Accept it?" she cried, throwing the penknife at him. "You bastard."
Draco ducked to the side and circled the trunk.
She backed away, grabbed a book from his dresser, and threw it at him as well. "I hate you! And this house! And these horrible rooms! And your awful cellar! This is all your fault!"
Draco kept walking as she screamed at him, and Luna kept moving back, until she hit the wall between his bookcase and his desk. She pitched a paperweight from his desk at him. "I hate your stupid excuses! I hate Death Eaters!" Her aim was actually spot on; she would have made an excellent Chaser with a little more strength in her arm. He had to twist out of the way fast, and the ball of heavy, enchanted glass still hit his arm before falling to dent the floor. A spider web of cracks spread across the surface, then it crumbled in a shower of blue sparks. "I liked that paperweight," he said quietly as he cornered her, one hand on the wall and one on the bookshelf.
She did not, as he half expected, try to duck under his arm, but kicked his shin. Being barefoot, she probably did herself more damage than she did his boots. He saw her wince, and tried to interject, "Luna, calm-" but she slapped him across the face mid-word. The blow knocked him off-balance, but he didn't let go of the bookcase to afford her an easy escape.
"You can't save me, you can't save my father, there's no point!" She wasn't shouting any longer, but sobbing, tears streaking her face. Every word struck Draco with more force than her hand could muster. "Why torment me like this? Just send me back down to the cellars."
Draco took hold of her arms just above the elbows. "Luna." She let her head fall back against the wall. He could see himself reflected in her eyes.
"I hate you for leaving me alone," she whispered.
"I am trying to keep you alive!"
Luna's fingers curled around his elbows. "Why do you care?"
Draco pulled her close, slipping one arm around her waist while his other hand cradled her head. She stood still, letting her hands fall to her sides. "I don't know," he said into her hair. "I just do. I'm sorry, Luna. I'm so sorry." He felt the moment the tension left her; she pressed her face into his neck just as she had done the first day out of the cellar, and her hands closed on the lapels of his robe.
After long moments listening to her breathing grow calm and even, he risked speaking again. "I have to go."
He leaned back so he could see her face, moving one hand to cradle her cheek. "You will be safe. My mother will take care of you. Do not give up."
She shook her head, saying nothing, and buried her face in his robes.
The next day, when the elves took his trunk and his owl and his broomstick downstairs, Draco stood beside his bed for long minutes looking down at Luna. Her fingers clutched his pillow close to her, and he found he could not bear to wake her just to say a quick and painful farewell. He brushed a tangle of hair gently from her face, feeling an odd sense of deja vu, then turned away and walked out.
Draco ignored the others in his compartment as the train wound through the dreary countryside. Pansy and Blaise had their heads together over the Daily Prophet as Crabbe and Goyle pestered Millicent to show them a new hex. Draco stared at the patterns the rain made on the window, chin in hand, wondering what waited for him at home. His mother's letters had been frustratingly vague.
It was extremely unlikely, given the Dark Lord's continued absence, that anything could have happened. Even so, he knew he had been distracted this term. Snape had caught him more than once loitering in quiet corridors before breakfast. Draco was uncomfortable thinking that the Headmaster might understand more than his words let on. He could not stand for that implacable stare to hold even a touch of pity.
It had been strange, this term, seeing the looks on Longbottom's and Weasley's faces as they realized that Luna was not coming back. They had no idea what had become of her, and feared the worst. Even more than the reports of muggleborns being run down in the countryside, Luna's kidnapping seemed to grind the remains of Dumbledore's Army into depression.
Draco understood how they felt.
The hallways were entirely too empty.
Now that he was on his way home, Draco could not get his last, whispered conversation with Luna out of his head. He traced the path of a single raindrop down the window and allowed himself to look forward to hearing her voice again.
"I am sorry about your arm," Luna whispered into the darkness.
So she couldn't sleep either. Draco rolled over to find her staring up at the canopy of his bed, winding a long curl of her hair onto her finger. "Doesn't matter," he muttered. "Will you be all right?"
"Yes," she said simply, with no hesitation.
"That's it? Just 'yes' after all that?"
She turned her head on the pillow to look at him. "I'm still afraid. But I'm alive. I won't go looking for trouble."
"Somehow that never stops trouble from looking for you. Lucky for me, I run fast and fly faster."
She laughed. Then after a moment she became very quiet again, and reached across to his half of the bed. He said nothing as she laced their fingers together. She liked to have a reminder that she wasn't alone in the dark, and Draco enjoyed feeling like he could protect her from something.
He was almost asleep when he heard her voice again. "You can choose to stop running. I hope you do."
His mother met him on the platform.
She said nothing as they walked through the station to the nearest Apparition point. Draco took some comfort in the lack of their family signals for trouble, but he wished they could be free enough to speak their minds in public. Was this the future hurtling toward them all? Unable to voice their true thoughts or desires for fear of some Higher Power?
Draco took a deep breath to settle his nerves and concentrated on getting through the Muggles and getting home.
Somehow, the last thing he expected when they entered his rooms was the sight of his father having a quiet tea with Luna. There was something eerie in the scene, the two of them staring at each other over their dainty china cups, and Draco wondered what he and his mother had interrupted.
Narcissa left Draco's things near the door and joined Luna on the chaise. Draco approached warily, not quite trusting the appearance of calm.
Lucius inclined his head briefly in acknowledgement. "Draco. I hear good things from your teachers this term." It was the same brand of greeting as all his previous years at Hogwarts, and Draco felt the dissonance in his bones. Of his teachers this term, half of them were monstrous, and the others were held to obedience with the students as hostages to their behavior. Of course his reports were good. He could have tortured and cursed his way through half the student body and never attended a class, and he would still get good reports for this term. He shrugged and took the chair at Lucius's left.
Narcissa filled the silence with innocuous conversation. Draco watched Luna nurse her tea, and wondered what his father could possibly have found to say to her.
Finally, Lucius stood to leave. "You've made your choice, then?" he asked, looking at Luna.
"Yes, sir," she said, raising her eyes from her cup to look him in the face.
Lucius nodded sharply, his frown thoughtful. "I expected as much. The offer will be open, should you change your mind."
Narcissa rose, taking her husband's hand. "Draco should unpack before dinner."
Lucius glanced at his wife in confusion for a moment, then smiled. Draco had not seen his father smile in a long time. "Yes, of course."
Draco wondered what Luna was thinking. Not many people had the distinction of both facing Lucius in battle and enjoying a private, peaceful tea with him. Now his father was smiling and clearly not punishing her for refusing whatever he had offered.
Narcissa tugged Lucius out the door, a gesture too intimate for public consumption. That was when Draco realized that sometime over the course of the last few weeks, Luna had become a member of the household, at least in the minds of his parents. He had never corrected his mother's assumption that he had saved Luna from the cellar out of love. Now to all appearances they had accepted Luna as his choice, and given her their approval. Draco wondered if Luna had become a new variable in Narcissa's web of influence, or if his mother was trying to prevent the girl from even entering the equation.
The door closed. Draco looked across the table at his prisoner.
Luna poured him a cup of tea.
She remembered how he took his tea.
"What did my father want?" Draco suppressed the desire to add extra sugars or milk to his tea just to be contrary. What was she doing, remembering how he took his tea?
Luna stirred milk into her second cup, and took her time about it. At last she said, "My parole."
"He wanted me to give him my parole, in exchange for freedom of the house and grounds."
Draco knew how much she wanted to be outside. The roof garden was barely enough, although it was more than she'd had in her cell. He knew she was grateful, and probably hated being grateful, too.
"And you said no."
"Why, for Merlin's sake?"
"I can't make the promises he wants, Draco," Luna sounded exasperated with him. "Do you think I've forgotten who has the true power here? Your father can make no guarantees, but he wanted my word not to try to escape again, to respect the wards of your estate."
Of course, Luna would not have forgotten the reasons for her imprisonment.
"And you won't ever stop trying to escape." That depressed Draco even as it made him feel an absurd sort of pride in her. She may be loony, but she was his loony.
"You know I won't." She sipped her tea as if they were having a boring discussion of the weather.
"As long as we're clear on that." Draco shrugged and drank his own tea.
Draco lay on the chaise facing the window, staring out into the dark. He would not sleep anytime soon, not with his hands still shaking with the aftershocks of Cruciatus, the cuts on his face throbbing and sticky with blood, and the cold hollow feeling that accompanied the loss of his wand. It was surely the loss of his wand that caused the deepest ache. He stared out the windows and wished he could forget this night.
Bellatrix's rage at Granger had been terrible enough; her rage at Draco and his parents upon the escape of their prisoners knew no bounds. His aunt's will was such that she could take the wand of one of the fallen Snatchers and turn it on her own blood with as much power as if the wand were her own. "Idiots! Fools! How could you let them escape?" she screamed, and leveled her stolen wand at Lucius as if it were a sword. Draco heard his father scream, then he was too busy screaming himself to pay attention.
It was the proverbial last twig that unbalanced the broom; Narcissa still had her wand, and had repressed her own pain for too long. Draco did not hear the incantation his mother used, but the Crucio on him ceased, and he curled up on the floor beside the prone figure of his father to avoid what was now a full-on duel between the sisters.
"You will not hurt my son, Bella," Narcissa said, as her wand shot a bolt of blue light across the wreckage of the room.
Bellatrix dodged the curse, which left a smoking hole in the fabric covering the wall behind her. Then she laughed, the crazed cackle that made Draco's blood run cold. "Cissy! Baby Cissy, how you've grown!" Bellatrix threw Narcissa backwards over a toppled chair with a well-placed spell, but the stunner did not take. Narcissa got to her feet and cast a net of silver wire across the room that pinned Bellatrix to the grand piano.
Draco gaped through his bloodied fingers at his mother as she stalked across the rug, her robes singed, her hair blown into a tangled halo. There would be no second chance with Bella, who struggled to break free of the net even as Narcissa stood over her. Then Draco's beautiful, graceful, delicate mother wrapped her free hand around Bellatrix's neck and squeezed. Her fingernails cut into her sister's skin.
"You will not hurt my son," Narcissa repeated. "Do you understand me, Bella?"
Bellatrix was obviously struggling now for breath. She was still glaring, her wand hand fumbling to catch hold of the length of wood caught in the net. Narcissa knocked the other wand out of the way and whispered some hex that left bright red welts on Bellatrix's fingers.
"The Malfoys will not be your scapegoats. You let them escape as much as we, and you will suffer with us. And if I ever discover that you have tortured my son for any reason other than a direct command from our Lord, this," Narcissa drew her wand down Bellatrix's cheek, opening a needle-thin incision from temple to chin, "will be just the beginning." Bright blood welled up from the cut, and ran down Bellatrix's face into her hair.
Bellatrix no longer struggled. She lay passive under Narcissa's hand.
"Do you understand me?" Narcissa asked again, in a voice that sent shivers up Draco's spine.
Bellatrix's lips moved, but Draco heard nothing. Whatever she said was the answer Narcissa required, because the silver net vanished. Narcissa left her hand around Bellatrix's neck a moment more before stepping away. Bella straightened carefully, then ran three fingers down her bloodied cheek. She looked at the red smear curiously for a moment, then licked it up with a long swipe of her tongue.
"And all this time I had given up on you, Sister," Bella said, her voice slightly hoarse. "You'll do." She gave Narcissa a look that Draco could not interpret, but it made his mother's spine straighten, and her fingers tighten on her wand. "Yes, Cissy, you'll do very well." Bellatrix smiled, picked up the stolen wand, and turned away.
Draco felt a hand on his back, and realized his father had regained consciousness. Lucius had not been in range of the flying glass when the chandelier fell, or had managed to shield himself. He was unbloodied, only ragged and pale. Draco pressed back against that hand, as Lucius propped himself into a sitting position against the wall.
"Magnificent woman," Lucius murmured as the two of them watched Narcissa direct house elves to repair the room while Bellatrix picked her way across the wreckage to the door. Lucius combed his fingers through his son's hair in a gesture of affection Draco had not felt since before he left for his first year at Hogwarts.
The minute Bellatrix was gone, Narcissa whirled and ran to the corner where Draco lay. His mother fell to her knees and gathered Draco into her arms. Draco liked the feeling. It was like being a child again, and his mother did not even mind this time that he was getting blood all over her nice robes.
It took only a few minutes for the three of them to support each other upstairs. Draco insisted, once he was upright, that he could handle his own first aid for now, and left his parents alone. Lucius's tremors had not been this bad since his first night home from Azkaban; he would not want Draco to witness his weakness.
So now Draco was here, in his own sitting room, staring out into the night, finally forced to face the facts he had hoped to deny. He had not really believed it at first, but the house elves were quick to tell the whole sordid story. Potter and his friends had survived and escaped, and with them all of the Manor's prisoners.
Luna was gone.
She was not the reason that a few bitter tears soaked the pillow of the chaise. Tears were inevitable under the Cruciatus. Draco wiped his face and looked with surprise at the sticky mess of his hands. He had forgotten to do anything about the cuts on his face.
"Draco." His mother stood at the foot of chaise, angelic in a new, clean white robe with her hair combed straight down her back.
He turned away, burying his face in the pillow. He could not bear her pity.
"Oh, my son. You're a mess." He felt her sit down beside him, then her hand was in his hair. "Let me take care of your face, at least."
With a sigh, Draco turned. She washed his face with a soft cloth, then let her wand hover close to his skin as she sang a familiar incantation. Her voice was soothing. When all the cuts had closed, she ran the cloth over his face once more. He closed his eyes. "Your hands are shaking," she noted quietly.
"It will pass," he whispered. "It usually does."
"I'm sorry, Draco. This is not the future we envisioned for you when we chose this path." Her words made him angry, but he could not muster the energy now for anything more than the sorrow and pain he already felt. The silence stretched as Narcissa took his hands in hers and held them. "She will be safe, at least."
"It doesn't matter anymore. Whatever happens to her is her own problem now."
Narcissa sighed. "As you say."
She squeezed his hands in hers and then let go of his left. Draco opened his eyes. "Take this," she said. She pressed her own wand into his hand. "It will serve you well."
"I can't take your wand!" Draco was appalled. "How will you defend yourself?"
Narcissa smiled. "I'll manage with another wand. You need this for school. Take it."
Draco resisted for a small moment longer, then allowed his mother to close his fingers around the wand. Sparks flew from the end.
"There, you see? It will obey your command as it would my own." Narcissa drew an unfamiliar wand, shorter and darker than the one now in Draco's hand, from her sleeve, and summoned a blanket to cover him. "Try it," she said, gesturing with her free hand to the candle on the side table.
Draco whispered, "Incendio," and was pleased to see the wick ignite immediately.
"Good." She looked satisfied.
Draco tucked the wand into his sleeve, and although it was not the familiar weight and shape of his own, it was comforting to once more have a wand against his arm. He would not be left to fend for himself, or depend on others.
He did not mean to ignore her, but he had nothing to say. He burrowed deeper into the pillow and thought longingly of sleep. He was not quite ready to face the gaping emptiness on Luna's half of his bed. His mother seemed to understand, and ran her hand once more through his hair.
"I'll be just downstairs, if you need me. Sleep, Draco. We will all need to think clearly in the morning." He heard in her voice her dread of the reckoning to come. Only the fact of the Dark Lord's absence from Britain gave them this brief respite from punishment. There would be horror in their home once more before long.
Draco wondered what it meant that his last thought before sleeping was relief that Luna was now far out of range of the Dark Lord's rage.
Part 2: The Battle of Hogwarts
The beating of the waves against the cliff behind Shell Cottage reminded Luna of home. She missed the familiar hills of Ottery St. Catchpole, but the sea was at least the same here as there. It was comforting beyond measure to be once more in its vicinity.
Luna traced patterns in the dirt with her fingertip. Old runes, they were, some of the same ones that had melted away from all of the windows in Draco's suite with every frost. Strength. Endurance. Family. Rebirth. Change. With a tilt of her head, she could turn them all upside-down, and read a new message in code. The hourglass in wheat wanders its death - was the last word really biscuits? She shrugged.
She could trace Change blind now, she had done it so often. Every night she spent in Draco's rooms at Malfoy Manor, in fact. When he was there, asleep beside her, she traced it lightly into the palm of his hand. When he was gone, she drew it on his pillow. Change. Change. Somehow, as soon as possible, Change. Perhaps all she'd done is give the poor man an inexplicable craving for chocolate biscuits.
"Luna? Where are you?" Fleur's voice calling from the house startled her. She was still not used to being here, to hearing an accent that was not British, not upper class.
"Here," Luna said, standing up and walking back into the house through the garden door.
"Ah, good. You can help with dinner, yes?" Fleur tilted her head toward the piles of fresh greens on the countertop. Tendrils of pale hair came loose from her braid to halo her face.
Luna understood that Fleur was part Veela, and so could not help the incandescence of her beauty, but Luna still sighed a little every time she looked at her hostess. She had all the grace and luminescence that Luna herself lacked. Still, she imagined that having a Veela's uncontrollable appeal would have been ghastly in that cellar - Luna cut off that thought. No, she would not think of the cellar. She must think of dinner, and of being among people again. They expected the same Loony Lovegood as before, one that had never known the malice of a Death Eater's singular attention. No, no, no. She would not think of it.
"Yes, I can help," Luna said, letting her voice fall into its old patterns. It was easier to be dreamy, distracted, even irritating, when it was expected. She found the repetitive movements of chopping and dicing soothing, comfortingly meditative tasks that kept her from thinking too hard about anything but the placement of fingers and blades.
After Luna had been cutting vegetables and washing leafy greens for a few minutes, Fleur looked over from her orchestration of knives, spices, and meat. "You are well, then?"
"Oh, yes." Luna paused, knife poised over an aubergine. "It's good to be busy."
Fleur's eyes developed tiny lines at the corners, a sign of anxiety that Luna had noticed early in her stay. "So you need not - mm," Fleur gestured with her wand as if summoning the proper words, "think so hard on things past?"
"I don't dwell on it," Luna said, and snapped the handle of the knife down, then up, then down, moving it with precision down the cutting board. Fleur's knives behaved the same way, but faster, with no human hands near them. Luna smiled with satisfaction as she lined up her even slices, alternating aubergine with yellow squash because she liked the contrast of their skins.
Fleur's spells stopped when the meat was cut. "Are you sure you do not wish to speak of it? Hermione was greatly helped, to talk to me and Bill." It was not the first time Fleur had tried to ask leading questions. Bill did the same thing. Luna knew they meant well.
Maybe one day she would answer them with more than comforting half-truths. Luna paused her blade over the last squash and thought that perhaps a crumb of information would hold off another interrogation for a few days. She was not like Hermione, who found in words and logic all the world's difficulties neatly explained. Luna would crawl off to a dark place to hide before she allowed the harsh, unforgiving lines of logic to destroy her.
So she used her best old-Luna voice, staring out the window, head tilted to the side, as if just noticing the apple blossoms on the tiny, twisted tree outside. "Mister Malfoy thinks Draco is in love with me."
The gasp beside her made her turn back. Fleur stared at her for a moment. Luna stared back. Luna usually won staring contests, and this one was no different. Fleur blinked first. "Is he?" she demanded, somehow blending outrage and sentiment. "In love with you?"
That question almost made Luna feel something real, but she ruthlessly cut herself off from thinking too hard about how Draco had held her hand, and nothing else, during the darkest part of the night. She made herself remember instead the arrogance in his voice as he made a claim of ownership. "I don't think so. I don't think he knows how to be in love."
"Well, this is not so surprising. Spoiled and rotten, that family." Then Fleur seemed to realize the whole of what Luna had said. "Un moment. You said, Lucius Malfoy thinks this. How do you know what he thinks, this Death Eater?"
"We had tea." Luna treasured the astonishment she created with that sentence. It would fuel speculation, yes, but it would also give the others something to chew on without asking her anything more. "He was quite a good host, but I suppose that is something Malfoys do well, even-" Luna cut herself off. She had almost said too much.
"Oui? Even?" Fleur pounced upon that opening.
"Nothing," Luna whispered, turning her head away. "They were not what I expected, is all."
Fleur obviously wanted to ask more questions, now that she thought Luna was willing to share. Luna felt a flutter of guilt beneath her breast at the way she was deceiving her allies, those who could be her friends. She closed her eyes against it. When she opened them again, a tiny bug with bright blue wings hovered near the windowsill. "Oh, an apple fairy!" Luna cried with real joy, happy to have something she could feel all the way through.
Fleur snapped a tea towel toward the door. "Go on, then, dinner will be ready soon. Merci, Luna."
Luna nodded as she left, then skipped down the garden path. A whole world of fantastic creatures waited to distract her.
Luna woke up without moving. She had learned the knack over the last few months; it helped to assess the situation with as many senses as possible before opening her eyes. There were voices at the door to the room she shared with Hermione. Hermione herself was gone, probably plotting with Harry and Ron. They had been conspiring to be together at every opportunity.
Luna did not open her eyes or betray by even a change in her breathing that she was now aware of the conversation taking place in whispers at the half-open door.
"She flinches from everyone but you. Even from Harry." That was Bill, voice still rough from sleep. It was probably before dawn.
"Something terrible happened to her, I know it," Fleur said. Even her voice was beautiful. Luna noticed things like that when her eyes were closed.
"The others don't seem to think she's changed much."
"Have you looked in her eyes?" Fleur paused, and her breath hitched as if on a sob. "Terrible secrets."
Their voices faded as they moved down the hall, Bill's heavier tread masking Fleur's steps. "We all have secrets. Let her be, for now."
Luna thought about Bill's scars, and the way Fleur looked at him across the breakfast table, or when they sat together in the parlor listening to the wireless. Something in that look defied all the Darkness of his curse scars. What courage they had, to love like that.
Luna burrowed under the covers and tried to pretend that she was in her own bed at home, and her father would call her down to breakfast any moment. It was no good. The sheets smelled wrong, and the bed was lumpier than her mattress at home. She peeked out from under the duvet at the blank white ceiling. No, it was all wrong, and she had to face it.
The long day of chores helped keep her head clear, although she had a bad moment by the stream when she and Dean were washing up from the gardening. She hadn't felt truly clean since before Christmas, and here there were no house elves to keep her from scrubbing herself raw. Dean caught on in time, and stopped her before she had time to become truly panicked. She could tell, though, that she had shaken Dean's belief in her peaceful facade.
She dropped a pot of multi-colored asphodels after lunch, shattering the ceramic and crushing half the blossoms. Fleur was quick to reassure her they were salvageable, but the loss still ran a crack through Luna's calm. By the time the evening star was visible, Luna's hands were shaking, and not from fatigue. Every other task she'd tried had been a disaster.
"Luna," Bill called as he came down the slope. "Walk with me a moment, will you?" He offered her his arm and gestured toward the path along the cliffside.
Luna took a deep breath, shedding her gloves and smoothing the front of her work robes. She cast a quick Scourgify with her new wand, but it did not help. She wanted to blame the wand, but she knew it worked perfectly for every other charm and spell.
Bill led her down a switchback trail to a tiny stripe of beach between the rocks, well out of view of the house. Her feet sank into the wet sand, and she slipped her shoes off to better enjoy the sensation. This was something else that reminded her of home.
"Bad day, huh?" Bill said, his tone of voice sympathetic. He sat on a smooth, flat patch of rock just at the edge of the water. His boots grazed the surf.
Luna nodded and sat beside him. Her toes dangled several inches above the water. The sea blushed with sunset reflections. She glanced sidelong at her host, wondering what he would ask, and when. He seemed to have infinite patience this evening, however, and asked nothing. Stars came out. Bill cast an unfamiliar spell and a lantern Luna had not noticed illuminated itself, offering just enough light for them to see one another.
Luna did not want to give in to the need to fill up the silence, but questions had piled up behind her teeth, and threatened to choke her if she did not give them voice. Here was Bill, who had been Cursed himself, who worked with Dark spells everyday, who knew how to keep secrets.
"May I ask a question? About - well, about your scars?" Luna kept her eyes on her toes, unwilling to see Bill's expression at her audacity.
"Go ahead," he said with quiet calm.
"How long did they take to heal even as much as they did?" Luna whispered. She had spent many long hours trying to keep her scrutiny of Bill's face hidden from him. Fleur was usually an excellent distraction to him, allowing Luna a certain freedom to observe over the top of her book in the evenings.
Luna knew the pattern of Bill's scars, the pink-tinging-to-purple ridges that skirted his eyes and interrupted the stubble that had usually begun to darken his jaw by nightfall. They were no longer the raw red they had been in the immediate aftermath of the battle almost a year ago, but they had never faded to pale silver like the lines on Draco's arm. She didn't need to be looking at Bill now to know just the way the scars bent around his mouth when he spoke.
"A few weeks, perhaps," he said. He did not sound angry or embarrassed to be having this discussion. He sounded just as he did when he asked Luna how her day had gone at dinner. "Fleur could tell you better, she had a better view. Mirrors and I didn't get along for a long time."
"Do they ever hurt? Like a sudden sharp burn, as if someone had cursed them open again? Do they ever stop hurting, so that you can completely relax and not feel like the back of your neck is one massive knot -" Luna cut off her sentence mid-syllable, but she knew she had given herself away. Her fingers curled tight into her palms.
Bill touched her shoulder. "Luna."
She shook her head.
Gentle fingers touched her chin. She made an effort not to flinch as Bill turned her face toward the light. She had been right about the way his smile bent his scars. "You don't need to keep secrets from us," he said, and Luna shrank back from him. She did not mean to, but she could not help it.
Bill let his hand hover in the air between them for a moment, then he dropped it to the rock and sighed. "How old are your scars, Luna?"
Luna hugged herself and looked away. After a moment, watching the play of the lantern light on the water, she whispered, "Three months. They're almost three months old."
The silence stretched so long that Luna had to look, and she found to her surprise no pity on Bill's face. Rather he was struggling to control a great rage, one that was palpable in the air around him. "What did they do to you?" he asked, his voice harsh and low.
She leaned over and covered his fist with her hand. "Don't," she cried, but she was not sure what she thought he would do. "Please. It's over now, and I just-"
He cut her off, snarling, "It's not over. It's never over."
Luna had never seen Bill's rage like this, and although she was frightened, she was also relieved. He still felt things, he had his life and it was close to normal. It gave her hope for herself.
"Bill," she whispered, letting her concern widen her eyes and fill her voice. If he mistook it for fear, well, that would give him incentive to calm down.
He subsided, taking a deep breath, as she had hoped he would. "I'm sorry, Luna. It got away from me, there." He ran a hand through his hair and stared out at the stars on the horizon. "Curse scars?" he asked at last, with resignation.
She could practically see him pushing his protective host self down and letting the pragmatic Cursebreaker out. "Have they been Healed at all? Do you know the spells used?"
"House elf magic, and basic first aid. More than I expected," Luna replied. "He -" she choked as that single pronoun evoked a horror as great as any she had actually felt in that cellar. "I saw the wand movements, but it was a silent casting. I thought at first it was just a cutting spell, but..."
Bill nodded. "Will you let a mediwitch take a look, if we can get one out here?"
She wanted to refuse, but if there was a chance she could see the scars truly gone, shouldn't she risk it? The shame would not kill her, but it was possible the untended scars would. She gazed up at the moon overhead and wished it were more comforting. At last, she looked at Bill and agreed. "Yes, I will."
Bill's relief at her willingness made her feel churlish for having thought about denial. Even so, she wished she could take it back. She wanted to forget, to ignore, to pretend. Looking at the scars would make those dark hours in the cellar real.
Living under the Fidelius with a group of outlaws made bringing in outside medical help difficult. Luna did not know what Bill planned to do for her, or how he was communicating with anyone, but it was obvious that meetings were occurring and information being shared. She never did find out, either, because one day in May Harry, Ron, and Hermione got up before dawn and left the house, taking their things and the goblin with them.
Bill, Fleur, Dean, and Luna sat at the breakfast table that morning and tried to pretend that nothing had changed. Bill laughed too loudly at a story Dean told about the Gryffindor boys' dormitory at night. Fleur offered opinions based on her year spent at Hogwarts, then trailed off into uncomfortable silence as the memory of the end of that year surfaced. Luna stared at her plate in silence until Dean took her hand. She smiled gratefully at him, squeezing his fingers.
They spent the day nervously waiting for the wireless to shriek the news of Harry's capture or death.
But when the wireless did shriek, it didn't talk about capture or death. Instead chaotic news broke of a break-in at Gringott's, a dragon over London, battles between goblins and wizards, and structural damage so severe that even the Muggles took notice. The Statute of Secrecy was threatened, and everyone blamed Undesirable Number One for trying to undermine the legitimate government. Luna listened with increasing disbelief, looking across the room at Dean as if to say, did you know about anything like this?
Dean shook his head.
"This is very bad," Bill said soberly. "Whatever they were trying to do, they can't have wanted this much chaos. Everything will only get worse."
"You-Know-Who has been so quiet," Fleur whispered. "But he cannot let this go."
"What in Merlin's name were they thinking?" Bill cried, punching his palm in frustration. "I told Harry to be careful of goblins. I hope they aren't in trouble."
Luna stayed quiet through the speculation, although Fleur's mention of You-Know-Who made her shudder. He had been away, Draco said. Out of the country, on his own mission. Surely something like this would have him rushing back to consolidate his power?
"Maybe it's not as bad as they're saying," Dean suggested. "There's no way for us to tell, is there? Maybe this is just more Ministry propaganda."
"Perhaps," Bill said. "Perhaps-"
Luna jumped up, and everyone looked at her. Her pocket was burning.
For just a moment, Luna had been certain that the Death Eater's curse stretched across the miles of Cornwall to find her here, then she realized that what was burning in her pocket was actually her old DA coin. She pulled it out and stared at it.
Dean leaned over to stare, too. "Blimey," he whispered.
Neville was sending the signal they had never thought to see.
"Harry's at Hogwarts!" Dean punched the air and cheered. "This is it! We have to go."
Bill and Fleur required very little persuasion once the purpose of the coin was made clear. Bill sent his Patronus to his family, while Fleur sent hers to alert more Order members. "Meet back here in five minutes to Apparate to those coordinates," Bill said, and the four of them scattered to make whatever preparations they could.
Luna did not know what one did to prepare for a revolution, so she put on a clean robe and made sure her shoe laces were not fraying. She freshened the sticking charm on her wand and tucked it behind her ear, then added a few of the charms she had made here at Shell Cottage to her pockets. She ran her fingers over her empty earlobes and wished fleetingly for her pair of dirigible plum earrings back. She could have used the clarity of mind.
Five minutes from Bill's mark, they left Shell Cottage. Fleur took Luna side-along, and they appeared with a tiny pop of displaced air in the middle of a large empty room with tables and chairs piled to one side. Luna recognized it at once.
"The Hog's Head?" Bill said in confusion.
"More like King's Cross these days," the old barkeep muttered, gesturing to them from the doorway. "Come on, then, more coming every minute. What is that boy thinking?"
Luna did not bother listening to the conversations that began as more people arrived and were introduced to the tunnel. She refused to wait for the others, but insisted on going ahead. Dean went with her. At the end of the tunnel Neville was waiting, and maybe Ginny if she could come.
Luna walked until she reached the end, and smiled at Harry as she stepped down into the Room of Requirement. Then there was Neville, so Luna found a place to sit. Everyone seemed to have a different idea of what was happening.
At last, Harry told them what was going on, and there came a moment when Luna was the one who could help. She could leave this room, the last place of safety they knew, and step directly into the line of fire. She could risk, could act, could be of use. The choice was easy in the end, and Luna wondered that she had even doubted it.
She let Harry drape his Invisibility Cloak over her and tucked herself close to his side, and together they went out into the night.
The corridors were different when one was invisible. Nothing moved in response to their passing, and no shadow stretched across the floor. Luna was able to move in a sort of shell created by the cloak and by Harry himself. He had lived this long, he was practically a talisman of good luck in and of himself. He created hope by simply being in the world, and Luna felt herself grow invulnerable by his proximity.
She led him where he needed to go, and she even cast a Stunning spell upon Alecto. For a moment she felt free, floating on a euphoria that filled her to the brim, overflowed from her and overpowered every bit of Darkness that clung to her body. She paid little attention to the argument between Amycus and Professor McGonagall, hearing the words but not truly processing their meaning.
And then suddenly, with a single word, the world cracked across its axis, skewing away so sharply and suddenly that she almost fell out from under the cloak.
"You shouldn't have done that," said Harry, his voice colder and more threatening than Luna had ever heard. And then Harry Potter, the hope of the Wizarding World, shouted, "Crucio!"
Invisible, Luna watched the Death Eater writhe in the grip of the curse she knew so intimately, a curse she knew Harry himself had felt as well. She watched and she wanted to weep, because if even Harry had cast Unforgivable Curses, how could this ever end well? What would the world become when there was no difference between those who fought in the name of power and those who fought in the name of good?
By the time McGonagall was spluttering over the spell, and complimenting Harry on it - Luna swallowed bile - there was no reason to stay hidden. She had to give up the invisibility, but to do so meant becoming once more the Luna Harry expected.
He was still their hope, if a hope tarnished in Luna's eyes. He did not need her tears or her judgment. She breathed and seized her moment.
"Oh," she said as she pulled the cloak away. "Are we allowed to say the name now?"
There was something wrong with Harry.
There was something wrong with the whole world, to be truthful, and Luna was not entirely certain that she could cope with that. But there was something seriously wrong with Harry.
His fingers were leaving bruises on Luna's shoulder as he held himself upright, and while Professor McGonagall seemed unperturbed by Harry's state of mind, Luna felt herself on the verge of panic. It was the eyes. She knew those eyes, green as the first uncurling leaves of spring, unmistakable to anyone who had met him, but at this moment they were terrible, dark with knowledge and shadowed by pain and utterly blind to the events in front of them. What did those eyes see, as Harry clutched at Luna to stay upright and present in the room?
He said nothing about it, just shook himself as if to rid his mind of a lingering dream. And then words of explanation, hurried and frantic, words that persuaded his Head of House that the time had come for action.
They were invisible again as they jogged beside Professor McGonagall through the corridors, but Luna felt eyes on her nonetheless. Now their invisibility felt false, a thin facade of protection where no true protection could ever be. Stray hexes would still strike them both, and they had enemies in the castle.
"Who's there?"* Professor McGonagall asked abruptly as she stopped short, wand raised.
"It is I,"* said a terrible, familiar voice. Luna cringed back even as Harry leaned forward, his wand ready to strike.
Luna bit her lip and clutched her own wand as she realized that any retreat on her part would expose Harry. In the darkness, the Headmaster's face floated like a ghost's above the swirling shadows of his cloak. One pale hand held his wand extended. He walked in his own invisible miasma of cold and hopelessness, a condition contagious to anyone within his vicinity. Luna could feel all of her courage falling into the vacuum created by Snape's despair. He was unnaturally still, and he spoke with a calm so perfect it could only be a carefully maintained mask. And he knew that Harry was there.
Professor McGonagall kept the man at bay until he actually spoke Harry's name aloud.
"Have you seen Harry Potter, Minerva?"* he asked, and before he could finish his next sentence Professor McGonagall had attacked. Attacked the Headmaster, the Death Eater, with Harry right here in the corridor!
A torch flew from the wall and Harry grabbed Luna's arm. He pulled her almost off her feet to avoid the sudden flames that came alive and flew toward Headmaster Snape. Luna could not see all of the duel; Harry foolishly stood in front of her, as if her own life were of greater importance in the scheme of things. Luna wanted to shake him for his ridiculous chivalry at a time like this, especially when he had a job to do that no one else could possibly complete.
A suit of armor came flying out of what was now a pitched battle in the corridor, Headmaster Snape versus Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout. Luna ducked and then dove sideways, trying to stick to Harry for as long as they could remain under the Cloak.
The Headmaster fled.
When Luna caught her breath after their run to the broken window, when she stood in the room with the Invisibility Cloak dangling from her fingers, listening to the Professors and Harry exclaim at one another, she found that strange. The Headmaster fled, leaving a hole in a window and a faculty fully intact and ready to mount a defense.
The Headmaster fled, having not once even tried to use an Unforgivable Curse.
The Headmaster fled, and no one else had died.
Luna let the conversation wash over her - Harry's urgent tones, Professor McGonagall's firm declarations, Professor Flitwick's high-pitched spellcasting - and thought about this. She thought about the Malfoys living imprisoned in their own house, facing a reality far more twisted and painful than their nightmares. She thought about Mr. Ollivander slaving over Death Eater wands, day after day, with nothing but hard knocks for his trouble. She thought about Dean and his stories of living on the run from the Muggle-born Registration Commission. She thought, and shuddered to think, about the cellar's darkness interrupted only by flickering candlelight and the laughter of sadistic men. Luna was not naive enough to believe that she would still be alive if Draco had not taken her out of the cellar.
Detentions with the Carrows had come all too close to serious injury until the Headmaster had taken them to task. The members of Dumbledore's Army had been singled out for that most ambiguous punishment of chores in the Forbidden Forest. Why, when the Death Eaters had so little regard for anyone in opposition to them, would such a man as Headmaster Snape show such leniency? Why would he take such risks for so little return, knowing that no one would see compassion as anything but weakness? Why give the students or his fellow Death Eaters a reason to challenge his authority? Why, when he faced a sudden inexplicable rebellion from his faculty, did he run?
Unless he was truly a coward, as Professor McGonagall and Harry believed.
Luna did not get a chance to follow that thought to any conclusion, because once again everyone was moving and Harry dragged her along through the castle and back down to the Room of Requirement.
"We're fighting,"* Harry announced, and Luna blinked in surprise. Is that what they had been discussing?
There were so many people crowding into the room and up the stairs that Luna had to take a step back. Where was Neville? She saw him coming, and with him Lavender and Padma and Seamus. Dumbledore's Army would not back down from this fight. They had been fighting it alone for the whole year, had they not? Now they would face their true enemies at last, and they would not falter. The Death Eaters would not find the school so easy to invade this time.
"Come on, Luna,"* Dean said as he paused on the stairs.
With a brief glance back at Harry, Luna took Dean's hand and joined the crowd headed toward the Great Hall.
They were fighting.
The Great Hall was in chaos, students mingling in confusion, some dressed but others obviously roused from bed. First-years were in tears in some places, and Prefects could be heard shouting for order. Luna's hand slipped from Dean's as they entered; Dean went toward the Gryffindor table.
Luna, though, stopped. She did not mean to, but there seemed to be some disconnect between her feet and her brain. She stopped walking as she reached the gap between the Hufflepuff and Slytherin tables, because sitting not four feet away from her was Draco Malfoy.
He and Blaise Zabini had their heads together, whispering and gesticulating fiercely. Pansy Parkinson sat opposite them and noticed Luna.
"What are you looking at, Lovegood?" Pansy demanded, her voice shrill. Luna heard the fear beneath it, and saw the way Pansy's hands shook even as she tried to keep them clasped and still.
Draco turned, and swung his leg over the bench. He stared at Luna, ignoring the words that Blaise continued to whisper.
Luna's fingers tightened around her new wand. She was not helpless here, and the entire school stood behind her. She felt warmth at her back, in fact, and a glance to her left revealed that Neville had come up beside her.
"Luna?" Neville asked quietly, eyeing the Slytherins warily.
"I'm fine, Neville," she said as she turned back to Draco.
Blaise had leaned back now, looking sullen, while Millicent Bulstrode and Daphne Greengrass stopped talking to watch. In fact, most of the Slytherins were now watching Draco. There were scars on his face. They were pale now, pink and white slivers against his skin, but once they must have been darker. They must have been the same ugly crusted purple-black of Luna's own scars, the day that they were etched into her skin. Harry had told them all about the chandelier, when Fleur was treating Hermione.
She stepped nearer the Slytherin table. Draco was close enough that if she lifted her hand, she could touch his face. Her hand did not seem connected to her brain at the moment, either, because there it was reaching for him. "Your face," she murmured, and her fingertips touched the soft stubble on the underside of his jaw.
Draco's hand caught hers, pulling her fingers from his face but holding tight to them. "It's fine," he said quickly, glancing away from Luna, behind her, to where Neville and who knows who else stood.
"What's going on?" Blaise demanded, leaning forward.
Luna did not look away from Draco, but she replied softly, "Harry's here. The Headmaster left." The Slytherins seemed shocked to hear of Headmaster Snape's departure, and fell quiet, whispering nervously to each other. The Hufflepuff table quieted, also, and behind them the Ravenclaws, as students realized that someone who knew something was speaking.
"We're fighting," Neville added, his voice loud and challenging in the sudden silence that followed Luna's words. Now more than just Slytherin were whispering and fidgeting.
Draco's grip became painfully tight for a moment, as Neville's declaration hit him.
Pansy leaned forward across the table. "Fighting? You're fighting? Are you mad?"
Blaise reached over and put his hand around Pansy's wrist. "Shut up, Pansy," he said, and Draco turned at last from Luna to look at his housemates.
Luna glanced down the table. Other students glared at her, but most of the faces she saw were frightened.
Pansy shook off Blaise's hand. "No, I won't shut up. This is suicide. There's no point! We're in no danger, and my father's out there somewhere!" She took several deep breaths. "The Dark Lord will kill you if you fight him now. He's already won, don't you get it? Don't make him kill everyone."
Luna could not bring herself to match Pansy's anger, but Neville obviously could.
"He hasn't won anything. We're fighting to live," Neville said with a frighteningly even tone of voice. "He'll kill me no matter what, now, pure blood or no. Pure blood didn't save Luna when they took her. For all you know your father's already dead."
Draco tugged very slightly on Luna's hand, and she stepped closer to him. Most of the room's attention was riveted to Neville at this point, so only Blaise noticed.
Millicent tugged at Pansy's robe until Pansy sat down at the table and buried her face in her hands. "We're all doomed," she moaned.
"We've been doomed," Blaise muttered. He gave Neville a long look, then rubbed his temple and looked back at Draco.
Draco laced his fingers through Luna's, and met Blaise's gaze. "My parents are probably dead," he said quietly. "I haven't heard from them since I came back. We're on our own."
Blaise nodded. "Mum's gone again. Nobody to look out for anymore." His eyes flicked from Draco to Neville and then back. He raised one eyebrow in an uncanny imitation of Professor Snape. "You think?"
Draco sneered, making a sweeping motion across the table with his free hand. "Nothing to stop an Unforgivable in the back no matter what we do."
"Better to face your enemies, then," Blaise countered.
"You know them all, do you?" Draco spat back.
"I'm pretty sure I know which ones are going to be pitching Crucios at me for sport!" Blaise's voice got quieter and quieter as they argued, and the Slytherins nearby became equally quiet to try to hear it all. Millicent and Daphne looked back and forth between the two young men with a gravity in their faces that frightened Luna. There was something here that she did not fully understand, but it was important. Luna leaned forward as if to speak, but Neville held her back with a hand on her arm.
Draco's fingers tightened painfully on Luna's as he scowled, first at Blaise and then at Neville. "That cannot happen again," he said.
Blaise huffed impatiently and leaned forward until he was nose to nose with Draco. "Grow a bloody spine and take a stand, then!"
Draco looked absolutely murderous for the split second it took for Blaise to lean back. Then all at once Draco's rage vanished, he took a deep breath, and he nodded to Blaise. Blaise tilted his head once in acknowledgement.
Pansy lifted her head as if she sensed what the pause in the conversation meant. "No!" She extended her hand toward Draco, and only then noticed that he was holding Luna's. Pansy pulled back as if burned. "You're not really going to do it! You can't!"
Millicent put her arm around Pansy's shoulders and scowled at Draco.
Draco dismissed Millicent and Pansy with a shrug and visibly steeled himself to meet Neville's eyes. "You say you're going to fight. Will you win?"
It seemed to Luna that the whole Hall held its breath. Neville never faltered. "Of course."
Draco nodded. "Good." He pulled Luna's hand up and kissed her knuckles. "We're with you."
Blaise and even Millicent nodded, although Pansy just put her head down on her arms, shoulders shaking. None of the other seventh years were jumping up to volunteer, but nobody hexed anybody, either. The sudden acquisition of Slytherin allies did give Neville pause, but Luna smilled.
"Good," Luna said, tucking her wand behind her ear. "Four is a good number for defense. Spinning Mingerbs come in fours, you know, and they're quite lucky."
And in that instant the tension broke on a wave of laughter. Luna grinned at Neville, and she felt Draco press another kiss to the back of her hand. It would be all right.
"Settle down in here!" Professor McGonagall shouted from the Head Table. She began explaining the evacuation that would start shortly. Draco tugged Luna down to sit beside him, and Neville sat beside her. Whispers started up again at the back of the room, and they became full-throated cries when Harry entered the Great Hall.
And then from nowhere and from everywhere at once, a new voice spoke, bringing in its wake sudden, absolute silence.
"I know that you are preparing to fight,"* it said, hard and cold, yet somehow alluring in its very chill. Like the sharp, glittering edge of the knife that is about to cut one's throat, Luna found the voice riveting and terrifying. "Your efforts are futile,"* the voice continued. "You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood."*
Luna felt Draco shudder beside her, and Pansy's sobs became quiet whimpering as Daphne stroked her classmate's hair. Neville's hand found Luna's, and she held tight to it as she did to Draco's.
"Give me Harry Potter, and they shall not be harmed. Give me Harry Potter and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter and you will be rewarded."* As Voldemort's voice boomed across the hall, people looked toward Harry. Luna watched their faces as they did so, angry, frightened, confused, despairing. Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Gryffindor, all looked at Harry in that moment, and in their anger and fear, their confusion and despair, most of them still had room for hope.
"You have until midnight."* When the voice made its last declaration, the silence that followed was like that of a tomb.
Luna barely dared breathe into it.
Then Neville stood up. He, like the majority of the students, looked to Harry. "We're fighting," he said. "We're standing with Harry."
Luna stood up, too, and across the Hall every seventh-year Gryffindor leaped up with a cheer. Others began to stand, from every House, and Luna saw that now there were more than just students in the room. Aurors and others had arrived. Bill and Fleur stood there with the rest of the Weasleys, and several people Luna had seen before but could not name. Remus Lupin and his wife were there, without their son. A tall black Auror Luna did not know began gathering the adults together at the front.
Professor McGonagall smiled from the Head Table, and Luna blinked to see such pride on the normally reserved witch's face. "Very well, Longbottom. Students who are of age may stay. Everyone else, follow Mr. Filch, please. Prefects, at your posts!"
Draco stood beside Luna, with Blaise beside him. Luna was surprised to see that Millicent and Daphne had also stayed. Two sixth-years took Pansy by the arms and led her out, still weeping. Luna felt an overwhelming pity for the other girl, although it was obvious from the expressions on their faces that most of her housemates dismissed her with contempt.
"What about Crabbe and Goyle?" Blaise asked, watching the procession of younger students out the main doors.
Draco shrugged. "What about them?"
"They aren't here. No one has seen them all day." Blaise's words were equally observation and warning.
Draco frowned, releasing Luna's hand at last to check his wand in its arm sheath. "They're dangerous. Keep a look out. Warn the others." He paused for a moment then looked up at Blaise, then Daphne, then Millicent. "Be very careful. Lose the House colors."
Luna and Neville watched, Luna with sorrow and Neville with confusion then horrified understanding, as the four Slytherins deliberately ripped House badges from robes and removed ties.
"Right," Draco said, turning back to Neville, his school uniform now neutral. "What now, Longbottom?"
That Draco would defer to Neville now was not surprising to Luna; Neville gaped for a moment.
Luna stepped into the ensuing silence. "We're being given assignments," she said, pointing toward the Auror who was obviously giving orders. "Let's make sure everybody knows who here is on our side."
Neville recovered himself and nodded. "Good. Right. Let's go."
The last of the younger students left the Hall, and the only ones left were fighters. If anyone was surprised to see Draco and the other Slytherins there, they hid it well. Professor Slughorn took them with him to protect one of the entrances, and Luna found herself assigned to Seamus Finnegan's group on the grounds.
As she turned to find someone on her team, Draco caught her hand, forcing her to turn back. She stared foolishly at him. "Be careful," was all he said, but Luna saw a world of emotion in his eyes. She took a deep, steadying breath and managed to say it back to him without faltering.
She stood there long after he had vanished into the corridors, until Dean found her again and reminded her that they needed her on patrol for Dementors. There was a battle to be won yet.
A battle was more difficult to navigate than Luna expected. A battle was terribly different from the stories one hears from Aurors or veterans of previous skirmishes, and even from her own meager experience of conflict. It was the noise, she thought. And the smoke.
The shrieks of Banshees mingled with the shouts and screams of combatants. Dust and smoke clogged the air as pieces of the castle fell, flew, or exploded onto the grounds. Luna had no idea which way she was running, only that she must keep moving and keep casting hexes at figures in black robes.
She tripped over a rock and sprawled across the grass. She smelled the ozone of spells zooming over her, and kept her head down for a moment. A voice screamed, anger and fear and terrible grief, and Luna was certain that she was about to be devoured by a Banshee. But no clawed fingers sank into her flesh.
When the air cleared slightly, Luna turned her head and opened her eyes. Professor Lupin lay beside her, his eyes also open, but sightless in the unmistakable manner of the dead. Her mother's eyes had looked like that.
Luna lifted her dirty hand to her face, surprised to find it was wet. Was she crying, in the middle of a battle? In the middle of a war? Over a man she did not even know except that he was her ally?
And then Professor Lupin's wife screamed again. This time Luna recognized rage, and rolled partially upright.
Tonks faced two Death Eaters alone now; Professor Lupin's body behind her, and Luna behind him. To Tonks's right, a student in Hufflepuff colors lay, dead or unconscious. One of the Death Eaters threw back her hood, and Luna's breath left her in a hiss at the sight of Bellatrix LeStrange.
Tonks threw a curse at Bellatrix, and soon the two women were entirely engrossed in a duel that took them across the grass away from the body.
The other Death Eater stood still, staring down at corpses on the lawn.
No, Luna realized suddenly. Staring down at her.
She scrambled to her feet, wand ready.
"Well, the little spitfire," the Death Eater drawled, lazily.
Luna felt a chill run down her spine. She knew that voice.
The scars on her chest suddenly blazed into exquisite agony, and Luna arched backward, struggling not to fall. She bit her lip to keep from screaming.
The Death Eater pushed back his hood. Dolohov's scarred cheek wrinkled as he smiled. His teeth had been terribly white in the dark, crooked and sharp; but it was not dark now. Luna forced herself to remain present, stumbling backward until she hit the castle wall. She concentrated on seeing Dolohov in the dim illumination of stars and moon and lanterns and flashing colored spells. Fireworks went off to the south. This was not the cellar, black as pitch and blinding except where the glint at the tip of his wand illuminated those teeth. This was not the cellar.
She had a wand this time.
She cast a Stinging hex, and he dodged.
"You'll have to do better," he said with a laugh, closing the distance between them. "What game shall we play now?"
Luna's shoulderblades pressed so hard into the wall she thought they would bruise. She cast another hex, this one darker, stronger, benefit of the Carrows' teaching.
Dolohov dodged again, and then she could feel his robes brushing against her. The fingers of his free hand closed around her neck.
"I think you will scream much sooner this time," he whispered, his breath warm against her cheek. He licked her temple, smacked his lips as if the flavor pleased him. "I think you will scream much longer, too," he murmured, the affectionate tone of his voice belying the threat in the words.
Then he bit down, hard and fast, on the shell of her ear. When he pulled back, there was blood on his lower lip. He licked it away and smiled down at her.
That was his mistake. Luna had been paralyzed, almost hypnotized, by the sound of his voice and the hand around her throat. She was frozen by her terror and by the steady stinging pain that shot through her scars like a twisted echo of her heartbeat. Thump-thump, thump-thump. Pain-pain, pain-pain.
The abrupt and concentrated agony of his bite to her ear shocked her out of her immobility. Luna's wand was trapped between her body and his, the aim skewed, as likely to hit her as him. She cast the hex anyway.
Alecto Carrow would have been proud. Dolohov bellowed, falling away from her as his robe smoldered and fell away from his shoulder. Blisters rose on the skin thus exposed. The edge of the flame caught her collarbone and the top of her shoulder, but she felt no new pain. Her whole body was one live nerve at this point, what was one more wound?
Before Dolohov could turn his shock into retaliation, Luna cast again. The skin of Dolohov's jaw bubbled and melted, and his bellow of rage became curses and invective soon enough. Another flick of her wand and the robe opened across his chest. Another and his wand arm reddened, blistered, and sloughed skin as if it were an ill-fitting glove. The curses became an incoherent shriek of agony.
Luna cast again.
Dolohov's voice hit an achingly high note and then broke as the spell fire ate through his leg and groin.
Luna cast again.
The screaming stopped.
Luna cast again.
All she could see was red now, a haze of blood and tattered robes and stinging gray smoke.
"Luna!" Arms came around her from behind, pinning her wand arm to her side. "Luna, Luna, easy. You can stop now. He's dead."
She knew that voice, too. "Draco."
Her hand twitched to cast the hex again, but Draco's embrace kept her from completing the motion. He eased them back against the wall, pulling her into his body, his forearms crossed over hers. "Luna," he said, right behind her bleeding ear. "It's over."
"It still hurts," she whispered, and as if the words had opened some secret door within her she began to sob. "It still hurts! Why does it still hurt?" It was supposed to be over when her torturer died. This was supposed to be the end.
Her back, her wand arm, her right leg and foot, her belly just below her navel - all these points now ached. The sharpness of the pain had been blunted, but it had not ceased.
Draco turned her around and took hold of her hands, keeping her wand pointed well away from him. "Breathe, Luna," he said with an infuriating level of calm.
Then Luna looked up and met his eyes. Oh, there were storms in those eyes.
"Have a breakdown later, love," he continued. There was no inflection at all in his voice. It was disturbing. "You need to be awake now."
Luna turned from him and saw the battered lawn, the besieged castle, the defenders still struggling. The two bodies on the grass had not been disturbed, but a new one had joined them. Tonks, her hair brown in death, lay with one arm reaching toward her husband. Luna looked away and saw, in the other direction, Seamus shouting for the DA to gather near him. Mist was rising over the grass and at the edges of the field loomed a dark mass of Dementors.
Breathe, Luna. Just breathe.
Draco must have seen the change in her face. He let go of her hands. "All right?" he asked.
But she did not get the chance to answer, affirmative or no. Draco moved with Seeker's reflexes, shoving Luna out of the way of a rogue Stunner, and when she looked back there were Acromantulas crawling over the debris.
"Go!" Draco shouted, as Blaise Zabini came running up already casting sheets of flame toward the giant spiders. Luna did not have time to consider alternatives. Draco was already sprinting to meet Blaise, working in concert to drive the Acromantulas over a different part of the castle wall. Neville appeared from behind the debris, firing curses at the spiders and then at a giant trying to take the roof off of one of the towers. Someone shouted Harry's name, and then another name that Luna could not make out in the sudden crushing explosion of stone. Part of the castle wall collapsed, and defenders began falling as the Dementors closed in.
Luna ran to catch up with Seamus, holding close in her mind the look on Draco's face when he asked if she was all right. She would need a Patronus.
It was disconcerting for Luna to realize how little she had thought about Harry until she saw him struggling with the Dementors. The sight of him reminded her why she was fighting, reminded her of the burdens others carried. She was never alone here.
Harry was faltering under the assault of the Dementors, and Ron and Hermione did not last long beside him. Luna snagged Seamus's sleeve as she ran past him, directing his attention to the other three. He spun on his heel, pulling Ernie up as the other boy stumbled, and the two almost overtook Luna as they pushed to reach their friends in time.
The three Patronuses, the hare, the boar, and the fox, ran ahead and gave the students some room to breathe. Harry looked over at Luna as she came to stand beside him.
"That's right," Luna said, trying to find words that would break through the chill and shock to inspire Harry's strength. "That's right, Harry. Come on, think of something happy."*
"Something happy?"* Harry repeated, sounding dazed.
Luna realized that he needed something more. She leaned closer and whispered the only thing she could think of. "We're all still here," she said, although her throat threatened to close at the thought of the bodies they left on the lawn. "We're still fighting. Come on, now..."*
Something in her words, or perhaps the presence of members of the DA, broke through to Harry, and his stag Patronus burst into existence. Dementors fled before it, and Ron said something, something Luna did not clearly make out before a giant burst from the Forest and she ran for cover.
When she looked up again, the others were all gone, and she was on her own.
She looked toward the castle, and resolved to make her way toward the Entrance Hall, in hopes of finding shelter or at least learning where the tides of battle had turned. That there were malevolent creatures and Death Eaters between her and her goal merely fed her determination.
She knew more hexes to make the Carrows proud, after all.
Luna was in the midst of defending herself from an arrow-hex when Voldemort's forces were withdrawn. An hour's respite, he said, for Harry to give himself up.
She fell to her knees in the grass and caught her breath.
A flash of color in the moonlight caught her eye, just beyond a boulder that had probably been part of the castle that morning. She crawled over to the rock and found on the other side of it a young man she did not recognize, wearing the much-hexed remains of Auror's robes. His hand clenched and unclenched convulsively, but she could see that his wand was on the ground, and broken.
He tried to speak to her, and began coughing. Luna reached out and helped him to sit up. "Come on," she said, bracing herself to pull him to his feet. "Let me help you."
She did not know if the Infirmary was even still there, but where else could they go? Holding his arm across her shoulders, they began to limp toward the castle. The Entrance Hall was partially gone. Luna went up the steps out of habit, even though there was a perfectly servicable hole in the wall through which others were clambering. Madam Pomfrey and three others in lime green robes - not standard St. Mungo's robes, but transfigured school robes - were directing the wounded to different parts of the Great Hall. Luna saw that one part had already been designated for the dead. Professor Lupin and his wife were there.
She left the wounded Auror in the care of someone who might help him, and followed Madam Pomfrey's directions to go out and find others to bring back.
"Luna!" someone called from behind her. She turned her head.
Dean came jogging up from the far side of the Entrance Hall, the side where the wall was still standing.
"Dean," she said, in relief. One of her friends was still alive. She had not dared to hope for much, and her heart seemed constrained by bands of steel until she knew for certain who had died.
"How are you with levitation charms?" he asked, sober and controlled. Luna could see the way one of his eyes twitched, just slightly, and he kept pushing his hair back with his free hand, even when it wasn't actually in his eyes.
"Show me where," Luna replied, lifting her wand. She wondered if the wand knew what kind of curses it had cast, if the wood would feel melted and scarred after this night's work. Levitation would be a relief to it.
Dean led her into the corridors, past fallen suits of armor and abandoned portraits, until the corridor ended in a pile of rubble. It looked like someone had overturned a dozen statues on the landing, then the staircase had collapsed. Fleur was there already, her magic glowing blue around a dozen rocks moving slowly from the pile to a cleared space in a nearby classroom. The bands around Luna's heart eased to see the other woman, battered but very much alive.
"Start over there," Fleur instructed without breaking her hold of the rocks. She tipped her head toward the gap in the rubble, just a sliver of shadow now but quickly growing as debris shifted. After a few minutes Seamus came up on Dean's other side and silently added his charms to the effort. The gap widened.
Fleur called out to the pile of rocks, "Everyone well? Hannah? Roger? Stay awake - talk to us."
From beyond the pile of rubble a small voice called, "We're okay - we're here. The - the Auror back here won't wake up."
Bill came jogging up out of the shadows and gestured to Fleur. Luna looked into his face and had to turn away; there was a pain there so raw that she knew someone must have died. She could not face it yet.
Fleur choked on a sob and turned to Dean. "I must go - there are three, here is the position - " Her wand sketched a complicated design in the air, and three human-shaped silhouettes lit up on the rocks, so that Dean, Luna, and Seamus would know where to keep digging. "I'll send help."
It took time, so much time that Luna had no idea how close it was to midnight by the time Roger and Hannah climbed out of the debris, the body of the injured Auror hovering ahead of them. Two more adults had come to help clear the corridor and move the wounded, so Luna leaned against the wall as the stretchers floated toward the Great Hall.
After a moment she followed them, and her hand tightened on the doorframe as she saw the Weasleys before her, gathered on the side of the room that held the dead. She dared not look.
Her eyes fell on other corpses, though, and she could not face any of them. When she turned away, she found Neville behind her, hollow-eyed and tired. She reached out as if to touch him, even as she thought to herself that there was nothing she could do.
She could no longer even remember why they were here. What were they waiting for?
And then the voice spoke from the sky, a thunderclap of doom that shook Luna to the core. Her heart, banded as it was by grief, turned over in her chest, perhaps it even stopped for a while. She was not aware of much after the first terrible words echoed over the ruins of Hogwarts.
"Harry Potter is dead."*
Harry couldn't be dead.
Luna wanted to deny the evidence of her eyes, and leaned heavily on a piece of the wall as Hagrid laid his burden on the ground. Harry's hand curled so beautifully on the grass, white and soft in contrast to the sharp green blades and the churned mud all around him.
She felt a hand slip into hers, and squeezed the fingers without looking to see who it was. Did it matter? They were all doomed, now. Ginny screamed. Professor McGonagall did, too, and somehow that made Luna's knees go weak. Professor McGonagall should never, ever sound so undone, so raw. It was not right.
Then Neville ran out, and how had he gotten away from Luna, he had been right beside her... She turned her head, and found that Dean was the person holding her hand. A fading hex mark scored his cheek. Seamus stood at Dean's side, holding his wand awkwardly, two fingers bent at the wrong angle. Just beyond them a tiny gap, so small perhaps only Luna noticed it, separated Draco, Blaise, Millicent, and Daphne from the others on the stairs. There were tear tracks on Daphne's face, and Millicent had a black eye. Draco's sleeve was ripped and stained with blood. Blaise alone looked whole and unharmed.
Ginny was still screaming, but Charlie on one side and Percy on the other held her arms to keep her from running after Neville. A lock of her hair had been singed, and swung forward over her eyes every time she tried to break away.
Luna's attention turned back to Neville as the Sorting Hat flew onto the field. She felt like she was watching events through a pool of water; she could not catch her breath. The flames around the hat's brim curled in a slow blur of light over Neville's head, and his arm shattered the binding spell over the course of hours, hours which Luna spent fruitlessly trying to inhale. The blade glittered in the weak illumination spilling out of the castle, and it was so beautiful that Luna thought she might be happy to die now that she had seen it, now that Neville's hand had pulled it from the Hat.
When the snake's head spun, another blur of color that Luna's eyes could not follow through the air, time began again. Luna gasped. Dean pulled her back into the Great Hall as everyone began shouting, running, casting spells once more. Luna leaned against the wall just inside the doors and tried to make her lungs work properly.
"Luna!" Dean shouted, shaking her by the shoulders. "Hey! Don't you give up now!"
She looked up at him and found her hand still held her wand. "No," she said, her resolve firming. "I'm not."
He looked relieved, and started to speak again, when Daphne came running toward them shouting for them to get down. Luna threw herself to the floor, and crawled for a moment in the shadows. Dean and Daphne vanished into the sea of moving, dueling bodies, and Luna kept low to the ground near an overturned table and looked out to get her bearings.
She saw Bill and Fleur fighting back-to-back against Death Eaters. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Professor McGonagall were fighting Voldemort himself. Against one wall a flash of blue caught her eye, and she saw Narcissa Malfoy running, looking like a ghost, shouting something into the din that Luna thought was shaped like Draco's name. Luna spotted Lucius, then, too, ducking to avoid a hex. He looked like someone had very recently used him for target practice. Neither of them wore Death Eater robes, nor masks, but had shed them if they had ever had them. She lost sight of the Malfoys when George Weasley crossed her line of vision, dueling so fast that his wand was a blur of light.
Luna was at the very point of leaping out to help him when she saw a pair of familiar boots just out of the corner of her eye. She dropped back to her knees and crawled closer along the wall. The boots were black leather, with pointed toes and buttons up the sides and narrow heels that looked like daggers. The stitching on the leather was red - red like the blood that had dried on those pointed toes, the blood that had dripped onto the rug in the dining room of Malfoy Manor where Luna had last seen them, just after their owner had kicked her in the mouth.
Luna ran out of hiding with a curse ready on her lips, aiming for Bellatrix's back. The woman was incredibly fast; she ducked a bolt of red light that Luna saw had been cast by Hermione, then turned in time to deflect Luna's curse toward a wall. Ginny was there, too, and Luna quickly aligned herself with her friends to present a united front against the Death Eater. Hermione's curses were stronger and deadlier than Ginny's, but they flew wildly, as if Hermione were trying to cast four or five at once and her wand could not aim them all. Luna thought she might understand how Hermione felt; perhaps they could kill Bellatrix together.
Kill Bellatrix. Luna tripped on her own feet as the thought circled back on itself in her mind, making her last hex fly far from its target. Kill Bellatrix. As Luna had killed once already today. As Luna had killed. Luna dropped to the floor, smelling the hot rush of ozone as a curse just missed her head.
She could not afford to break down, not now. Ginny ducked a Killing Curse and Luna scrambled up toward her, then suddenly their duel was usurped. Molly Weasley came down like a wrathful Fury, and the girls could only fall back. Luna did not clearly hear the words Bellatrix shrieked, but she knew that laughter, and the tone of demented glee, that the woman used.
Harry was dead, and they were all going to die, too.
Luna found a piece of unmarked wall and leaned on it for just a moment. She had some cover from a broken piece of the Head Table, but it was not enough to fully hide her from the combatants.
"Luna, down!" someone shouted, and she obeyed without thinking, ducking farther behind the dubious protection of the wood.
A red curse hit the wall over her head, and shrapnel flew from the hole. Thin, sharp bits of rock hit Luna before she could shield herself, hit her raised arm, her scalp, her right cheek. She felt them hit, but she was not seriously hurt.
She looked out at the room just at the moment that Bellatrix fell before a spell from Mrs. Weasley's wand. She watched Voldemort blast Auror Shacklebolt and Professor McGonagall into the wall.
And then suddenly there was a new voice booming through the room. "Protego!"*
Luna might have felt something - relief, fatigue, even anger - but she had no time for feeling. Not everyone in the room was riveted to the duel. Death Eaters still moved, Hogwarts defenders still shielded. Luna stood up and found herself facing the point of a familiar wand. She had not seen this one so often as she had seen Dolohov's, but she knew it, and the hand that held it, and the face half-hidden beneath the broken mask. Rabastan LeStrange.
Only half of his smile was visible as he twisted his wrist. Luna heard something pop and found herself on the ground again with no clear sense of what had happened to get her there. There was a shadow on her face, and she blinked. Rabastan laughed. She heard it clearly through the chaos, which was in itself amazing. Somewhere beyond her line of sight Harry must be fighting, but her whole world consisted of Rabastan LeStrange's advance. She tried to cast her own Protego but it sputtered sadly as she propped herself upright on the wall. Her fingers had difficulty keeping hold of her wand, and when Luna looked down she saw that her hand was swollen, purple with bruises, and the broken edges of bones pressed grotesquely against her skin.
"Can't run now," Rabastan said, leaning forward over the remains of a bench. "I saw what you did, little girl," he continued, twisting his wrist again. Luna heard the pop again. This time she actually saw the bones break in her foot. She had not even realized she had lost a shoe. "What you did to Anton." He sidestepped a spell that came shooting toward them from across the room.
Luna heard a great noise rising from the other side of the Hall, a strange sound that could have been screaming, or could have been cheering. She wondered if the duel was over yet. It did not seem to matter for her, but she would have liked knowing that Harry won.
She tried hexing Rabastan, and hit him, but her spell was so weak that it caused no more annoyance than the sting of a bee.
He aimed his wand again, and Luna closed her eyes. Then Rabastan made a strange cry, and Luna felt the spell stir her hair as it slammed past her head into the stone. This spell dissolved without damaging the stone.
She opened her eyes. Rabastan lay at her feet, struggling against the ropes of an Incarcerous. He was still casting ill-aimed hexes, but this time not at her. She tried to turn her head, feeling a sharp pain in her neck, and saw Draco standing at her feet. Then abruptly Draco was no longer standing. He collapsed very quietly, first to his knees, then full-length beside her.
Draco looked at her, saw her, mouthed her name, before he passed out. Bloody froth bubbled from his lips with each breath.
Luna thought she might have screamed. Her throat certainly felt like she had. She ignored the pain in her broken hand and raised her wand. Rabastan was not the only one who knew a bone-shattering curse. She twisted her wand once, twice, three times. Each time Rabastan shrieked and tried to roll away, but he was hampered by the ropes. He dropped his wand at last when Luna's third spell broke the bones in his wrist.
Luna summoned a chair that looked halfway sturdy and used it to push herself upright. She stood awkwardly, biting her lip against the pain in her broken limbs. She could still walk. She could still use her wand. That was the important thing.
She realized as she looked around that the battle was over. Everywhere she looked, she saw people she knew rejoicing. She saw a crowd of red heads that she thought might conceal Harry, and hoped that he had lived. She could not linger to find out.
"Mobilicorpus," she said.
Draco's body lifted a scant few inches from the floor. It would have to be enough. Luna gestured toward the back of the Hall and the corridor that led to the Infirmary, directing the spell. If the way was not clear, then she would have to find a different one. Luna paced beside Draco's body, clearing obstacles when she could. Her vision blurred as she walked, and she told herself it was fatigue, not tears.
Her hand kept straying to Draco's hair, just barely stirring it with her fingertips. She was afraid to touch him otherwise for fear of worsening the hurt. He breathed only very shallowly, and blood trickled from his nose. "Don't die," she whispered, bending close to his ear. "Don't you dare leave me alone again."
The walk to the Infirmary had never before seemed so long.
The Infirmary was still standing.
Luna only accepted the depth of her fear for it when she got there and almost collapsed from relief. A green-clad young woman got Draco to a bed and called over a more senior Healer to look at him. Then the woman sat Luna down next to Draco's bed and began working on her broken foot and hand.
"How did you manage to get here like this, Lovegood?" the Healer muttered, probably more to herself than anything. Luna lifted her head and peer past the tangled hair in her face. How did the Healer know her name?
Then she realized that it was not a Healer, but a trainee, who knit her bones back together without benefit of a pain potion. Luna bit her lip and tasted blood. The trainee Healer looked up at her, holding Luna's hand by the wrist as she drew her wand down the lines of metacarpals one by one, each one an agony.
"I'm sorry, we're so low on potions, and it's faster this way. It will be over soon." It was the voice that gave the Healer away, at last, a voice Luna remembered from earlier years at Hogwarts.
"Clearwater," Luna gasped, as the last bone in her hand snapped into place.
"Yes?" Penelope replied, releasing Luna's hand and standing up.
"Will he be all right?" Luna asked, looking at Draco's head on the pillow. He was still bleeding.
"He'll be fine," Penelope assured her, but the tone of the young Healer's voice betrayed doubt as well as fatigue. "Why don't you sit with him until he wakes up?"
Left alone, Luna stared at the fine line of blood across Draco's cheek without really processing it. He looked incredibly like his mother, when he slept. Luna blinked at the thought of Narcissa Malfoy, snapping herself out of her daze. She wiped Draco's face with her sleeve and lifted her wand.
Luna was not certain now that she would be able to do it. Helping Harry, the Patronus had come willingly, naturally, with only the barest sense of true memory. Part of it had been the energy of the battle, part the exhultation of her triumph over an enemy. Sitting here now she felt no triumph, only horror.
Her wand spit white smoke and sparks on her first three tries, and Luna fought back tears. "Something happy," she whispered. It was impossible to think of anything that had once brought her joy. All of it was now tainted with terror, or grief, or anger. She reached out with her free hand and laced her fingers through Draco's pale ones. If she could only find one small thing, one spark of hope to drive her spell through her exhaustion and pain, then she could rest. She had to do this.
She remembered the feeling of snow falling on her hair, and moonlight through the clouds. The hare that formed at the end of her wand looked back at her, as if uncertain. It was a thin, whispy thing, but it was fully corporeal, and Luna smiled at it. "Go on," she told it. "You can do it." The hare loped off through the doors, very likely through walls, intent now on its task.
Luna slipped her wand into the remains of her sleeve and leaned forward until her elbows rested on the mattress. She held Draco's hand in both of hers now, and wondered if it would be safe to just fall asleep, right here.
When next Luna was aware, a gentle hand was smoothing her hair back from her face. She realized that she had, in fact, dozed for a few minutes, her cheek pillowed on the mattress beside Draco's elbow. The Malfoys were in the middle of a quiet conversation over Draco's bed.
"And if he doesn't?" asked Narcissa, who must be sitting on the side opposite Luna.
"Potter is an honorable enemy; you heard what he said. And Shacklebolt will be Minister. That much is clear." That was Lucius. Luna realized quite suddenly, with a disconcerting blend of terror and tenderness, that it was his hand in her hair, moving in long, comforting strokes through the tangles.
She shuddered, and felt the hand withdraw.
"Awake, Miss Lovegood?" Lucius drawled, every bit as arrogant and superior as he had ever been.
Luna lifted her head and looked up at him, bracing herself to deal with his presence.
He looked terrible. He had a black eye and cuts across his face, and his beautiful nose was swollen and possibly broken. His bottom lip had split, and oozed a little when he spoke. His hair was lank and covered in a fine layer of dust, and he wore only thin summer under-robes. Pale skin was visible through a tear in the shoulder seam.
He looked vulnerable, and humiliated, and beaten. He raised an imperious eyebrow at her staring, and the motion made him wince. Some men might have been able to maintain more of their dignity in such a situation, but in Luna's eyes Lucius failed to do so. Here was no monster, no threat, no horror to hide from in the night.
He looked ridiculous.
Luna fell forward, burying her face in her hands, shoulders shaking with laughter that bordered on hysteria. She could not control it; she could barely breathe through it.
"Miss Lovegood? Luna?" Now Lucius had lost his attempts at arrogance and simply sounded bewildered.
"Sor-Sorry," Luna gasped, looking up through her fingers. "Sorry."
Luna watched Narcissa tilt her head, exchanging some kind of silent communication with Lucius in the way that married couples had. Luna was astonished when the result was Lucius's hand returned to her hair.
She had witnessed his affection for his family before; it was not a surprise to her that Lucius Malfoy could have such emotions. It was a surprise that he offered them to her.
"The battle is over now," Narcissa said softly. "The Dark Lord is dead."
So very much of Luna's tension and fear was still knotted up in her ignorance of the battle's outcome. Voldemort was dead. It was all over.
She laughed again, but this laughter had a wild edge, a painful edge. It was tilting quickly into keening grief. Quite suddenly she did not care that it was Lucius who offered her succor. Her own father was imprisoned far away - and best not to think of that, not yet, not yet. Here was comfort freely offered and Luna could not sit here another moment without the balm of human touch. She turned her face into Lucius's robes and allowed herself to cry.
She must have surprised him, because for a moment he stood rigid as she fisted her hands in the front of his robes to stop them from shaking.
"Lucius," Narcissa said, sharp and firm.
Then Lucius moved. He sat down at the foot of Draco's bed, and Luna curled into his arms, closing her eyes. She knew who held her, of course, but she could still pretend, for just a moment, that the fingers combing through her hair were her own father's.
She did not hear the door to the Infirmary open, but she heard the sound of voices as the newcomers came down the aisle between beds. Someone stopped nearby.
"Get your hands off her!" That was Bill. What was Bill doing here?
Luna let her eyelids lift just a tiny bit, just enough to make out the angry redhead holding his wand aimed at Lucius's heart. Since Luna was currently occupying space against Lucius's chest, that meant the wand was also aimed at her head. She tightened her fingers in Lucius's robes. No more killing.
"Bill, please." That was Fleur. "Be calm. She is not hurt."
Other voices entered the fray. "What in Merlin's name is going on here?" "Bill, what - oh. Oh, no." "Luna?! What - you let her go or I'll - !"
Luna ignored Professor McGonagall and Mrs Weasley, but when Harry called her name, and made his threat, she found she had to open her eyes.
Lucius lifted his hands away from her. Luna knew that he must be showing them to Bill and Harry, letting them see his open, empty palms. "I have let go, Mister Potter," Lucius said in a tired, empty voice. "I assure you she is under no spell." Luna turned her face back into his shoulder and sobbed, letting go of his robes and clutching a different handful.
"Luna?" Harry's voice was softer now, and he sounded less like he would fire a curse. Fleur was still talking very fast and low to Bill.
Bill's voice cut across Fleur's. "No. You don't know what they did to her."
"They didn't do it," Luna said, lifting her head enough to speak, but not enough to give anyone a clear shot.
"Luna?" questioned Harry.
"Don't hurt him," Luna whispered. "Any of them. Please."
Bill turned angrily, whipping his wand through the air.
"Luna, the Aurors are coming for them," Harry said quietly. "They must stand trial."
Luna nodded, but still made no move away from Lucius. "They didn't do it, Bill," she said again. "It wasn't them."
Bill scowled at the Malfoys. "They let it happen."
Mrs. Weasley clutched Bill's sleeve. "Bill, what's going on? What do you mean?"
Bill shook his head, glancing at Luna's face. She hoped that she did not look as sick and frightened as she felt. She did not want Bill to explain for her; she did not want to explain. She wondered if the Aurors would care who had killed Antonin Dolohov out on the lawn. She wondered if Rabastan would say anything.
Before Bill could speak, Kingsley Shacklebolt and three other robed Aurors entered the Infirmary. Lucius gently moved Luna back to her chair and stood up. Luna blindly reached for Draco's hand and laced their fingers together. She was startled to feel him squeeze her hand, and turned away from the confrontation between the adults.
Draco's eyes were open. Narcissa brushed his hair back and smiled at him, then he turned to Luna.
She could not make herself smile. She was not certain what she looked like, but she held tight to his hand. He would live. He would be fine. It was important to tell herself this, since no sooner had he met her eyes than she felt Professor McGonagall's hand on her shoulder and heard the woman's voice saying, "Let go now, Miss Lovegood."
Luna held on until an Auror repeated Professor McGonagall's instruction, and only then did she let her hand fall open.
They had a stretcher, and bindings for the Malfoys' hands, and Luna thought she heard someone saying that everything would be straightened out at the trial. She did not really pay attention once Draco had been levitated away.
She was really quite tired, and his pillow was warm and reminded her of times when she did not wake up alone.
She ignored the voices as she curled forward around Draco's pillow and closed her eyes. She knew those voices, and knew they would be back. If she could only rest for a little while, before facing the dead. She did not want to know yet.
Dawn lit the windows of the Infirmary when Luna felt her bed dip as someone sat on it. Two someones, she realized as she opened her eyes.
Neville and Ginny had somehow gotten themselves cleaned up, but they still looked rather hollow around the eyes. Luna stared at them. She had not really seen them, not been alone in the same room, since before the Christmas hols. Before the cellar, before the curses, before the sword, before the battle. She had feared that even if they lived they would be strangers to her now, or she to them.
Luna reached out both hands and Neville took them, pulling her up into his arms. Luna held tight to his shoulder with one hand, the other reaching blindly to the side. Ginny was there, and took Luna's hand, and pressed her cheek to Luna's back. No one spoke. It took Luna a long time to realize that the other two were weeping, and longer still to shed any tears herself.
They were alive.
They had a future.
Part 3: Seven Years Later
Draco dipped his quill in the gilded inkwell and considered the half-finished letter before him. He had re-arranged the Library while his father was in Azkaban, shifting shelves and furniture to create a sunlit studio and office in front of the widest windows. He had spent much of his time over the last seven years at the wide maple desk.
It was not as if he were lacking occupation during his house arrest. There were the Malfoy properties and investments to manage, and in the first few years there had been Severus's estate to settle. The Prince Foundation, which Draco had co-founded with Potter according to Severus's will, took up a good chunk of his time each quarter, especially in the summer when the final decisions must be made for scholarships in the coming school year. There were books of Transfigurations, Potions theory, Advanced Charms, and even household magic organized in neat piles across his work space. He had gone as far as he could alone in those subjects, which was farther, perhaps, than the average student. Professor McGonagall had praised his successful animagus transformation as proof of his new discipline and self-control. Draco was proud of himself for his success, but frustrated by the total lack of opportunity to use his skill.
He kept up a wide and varied correspondence throughout the Wizarding World. Pinned to the doors of one of the bookcases were sketches sent by tailors and broom designers, architects and security specialists. Photographs added to the chaos: himself and his mother, a beautiful shot clipped from a vile and venomous article in the Prophet; Pansy and Blaise atop the Eiffel Tower, in a gondola in Venice, and attending the opera in Vienna on their Grand Tour; his parents' wedding photo; Draco playing Quidditch in a charity match organized by Ginny Weasley for war orphans, one of the few times he had been allowed off the grounds; Wizarding postcards from dozens of cities across the globe; and seventeen Muggle-style still photos of exotic flowering plants or creatures more fantastic than any he had ever studied at Hogwarts.
Draco gazed past the photos, out the window at the cloudless blue sky, and sighed. He let the quill rest on the ledge beside the ink well without touching the paper. Running his finger lightly along the embossed Malfoy crest at the top of the page, he tried not to think of the four previous drafts whose ashes filled the bin.
The room's energy changed just slightly when his father crossed the threshold. Draco quietly pulled a shorter, finished letter over the unfinished draft. The Library was a large space; it was possible that Lucius would not venture into Draco's territory. Possible, but unlikely. Both of his parents knew where to find him, and this was the likeliest place after the roof garden.
Draco said nothing as his father came up beside his chair.
"Your usual letter to Miss Lovegood?" Lucius inquired, resting one hand on Draco's shoulder. Was it terrible that Draco's habits were so, well, habitual? Was it a sign of apathy or insanity that every Friday evening new letters to the same correspondents appeared on the hall table for the Saturday morning owl? He had many small rituals to pass the time of his sentence, and letter-writing was the least damaging of them.
Draco could feel the very slight tremors in his father's hand, although the grip was firm enough. It had taken Lucius four months of intensive therapy to use a wand again after his years in Azkaban. He would never be the duellist he had been, but the world was probably happier for that.
"Another invitation for Pansy," Draco corrected, leaning back. So long as his father did not pick up the note for Pansy and see the other, Draco could relax. He could handle his father's reading of his inept attempts to bring Pansy back into his life; he could not handle the same for the intimate details that cluttered his epic letters to Luna.
"She has not been by for tea in some time," his father remarked.
"She has a life," Draco said bitterly, "and can't keep interrupting it for me."
Lucius squeezed Draco's shoulder, hard. "You know better than that." When he released his grip, Lucius wandered to the other side of the desk, reading the spines of the books there. "You should be cultivating all of your contacts now, Draco. In a few weeks you will be free to go."
The end of his house arrest was something Draco both relished and dreaded. He imagined his father knew the feeling very well, the strange emptiness that follows years of proscribed activities. Now that Draco had a vast sea of options before him, he had no desire to pursue anything but the same familiar tasks.
"You should consider formalizing your Potions studies, or Transfigurations. Any Master would be happy to have an apprentice so advanced, and you would quickly be promoted." Lucius's words gave Draco no cheer, nor any hope.
When his mother had suggested that he study his favorite subjects on his own, he had viewed it as his ticket out into the world when his house arrest ended. It had been easy to imagine it then, when everyone was still in shock from the war and eager to make a fresh start.
Now he knew what waited for him outside these walls: ignorance and fear, random hexes and potential assassination attempts. People had thrown things at him the one time he had appeared in Diagon Alley with his Auror escorts three years ago. Draco did not imagine that public opinion had changed much since.
The opening of the Longbottom wing at St. Mungo's had done much to improve the Malfoys' reputation among certain groups, including the former members of Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix. If only those people had more influence on the general populace. There was no chance that they would ever be able to live a normal life in England.
"Have you thought about pursuing a degree abroad?" Lucius asked, interrupting Draco's morbid thoughts. Lucius never seemed to mind that he was the only person contributing to the conversation. Draco wondered if his father still mentally filled Draco's silences with the answers he wanted to hear.
Draco's eyes shifted to the postcards and Muggle photos on the bookcase doors. Lucius followed his gaze.
"Have you discussed the possibility with Miss Lovegood? I read her latest article in Wizarding Naturalist with great interest. She is obviously well-connected on the Continent."
Draco ran a hand through his hair, pulling at the roots. Of course his father had to mention her again. "I think Luna is happiest with several thousand miles and a few bodies of water between her and anyone named Malfoy, Father. Why would she help me find a place outside England?"
Lucius shook his head, one of his most annoying smirks playing on his lips. "Really, Draco. You are not her only correspondent in this house. Don't borrow trouble where there is none. Don't you want to see her again now that you can go to her?"
Draco thought of the years' worth of letters he had, bubbling over with discovery and excitement, but all with the underlying current of despair as Luna's attempts to cure her wartime curse wounds - wounds inflicted in this house - failed over and over again. He thought of the way her letters carefully never mentioned the consequences of those failures. He had to infer them from the way she simply stopped talking about some new, experimental charm or course of treatment.
He knew her better now than he knew anyone else, through their letters. He hoped that she knew him as well. Yet the letters alone would never make him happy. He though perhaps he had given away too much in his latest draft. He would burn it and start again, as soon as Lucius left.
"I don't think she wants to see me," Draco told his father. "But I will ask her about her contacts." And with that, a letter of introduction and time spent with another person who knew her, he would have to be content.
Lucius spent another fifteen minutes poking through the bookcases and trying to make neutral conversation. When he gave up at last and left the Library, Draco sealed the invitation to Pansy and set it to the side, then considered the unfinished letter to Luna.
"No," he sighed, and let his wand fall into his hand to incinerate it.
He set a clean sheet on the blotter, then opened the lap drawer. Just inside the right corner was another Muggle-style photograph. Luna had spent two years experimenting with Wizarding cameras and film before inventing the charm that let her combine Muggle techniques and Wizarding hardware to get motionless captures of the organisms she studied. The patent on the charm had paid off the last of her father's debts from rebuilding their house in Devon.
In this photo, Luna herself looked at him, caught laughing on a beach with sunlight on her hair. Draco ran a fingertip along the curve of her cheek, and since this was a still photo the figure did not run away from his touch, but continued to laugh, carefree.
Cheered by that illusory contact, Draco took up his quill and began to write.
A knock at the door woke Luna from her doze at the desk; her shoulders were sore from sleeping in the uncomfortable hotel chair, and her quill had dribbled ink over her letter, the blotter, and three of her fingers. A glance at the digital clock beside the bed told her no more than an hour had passed since she had cried herself into exhaustion over the post. She rubbed her eyes with her ink-free hand and snagged a flannel from the bath on her way to the door.
She peered through the peephole, then pulled back in surprise, pushing the chain lock open and swinging the door wide. "Rolf, what are you doing here?" she asked, glancing behind him for any other visitors out of long-ingrained paranoia.
Rolf Scamander, explorer, naturalist, teacher, and not so long ago Luna's lover, leaned on the door jamb and smiled. "Such a welcome. Can I come in? I have an idea - to help with your little, ah, problem?" He, too, glanced out at the empty hallway. "I can't discuss it out here."
Luna sighed. He wanted to talk about her curse again, and certainly he could not do so in the corridor of a muggle hotel. She braced herself and gestured for him inside.
"Thank you," he said as he squeezed past her in the tiny entryway. He sat on the corner of the room's one bed and watched her as she engaged the door locks then wiped ineffectually at the smear of ink she had left on the paint.
She really had no reason to be so concerned with the mess, but it gave her time to think.
The last time she had seen Rolf, on Boxing Day, he had left her standing on a country bridge in Ireland after accusing her of all manner of insanity and infidelity and - well, best not to get too bogged down in the past. The point was that they had not parted on good terms, yet here he was, barging back into her life, no doubt ready to instruct her in all the ways she had messed up since their parting.
She closed her eyes for a moment. She did not want to be reminded of all the ways she had messed up already. Rolf's accusations, after all, hurt the most when they cut closest to the truth. He was right, though, wasn't he, she thought, taking a steadying breath. I have become a danger to more than just myself.
She turned back to the room and reclaimed her seat at the messy desk.
"Do I smell something burning?" Rolf asked, sniffing the air.
Luna smoothed one of the letters on the blotter, flicking bits of char off the edges of the paper. "Not burning any longer," she assured him. "An accident with a candle is all." She would not tell him how angry she had been to get this letter, how she had broken down after she had read it. She would never tell him that she had started to burn it, then changed her mind and rescued what remained. She re-folded the unblemished bottom half of the letter, where Ginny's signature was a messy scrawl that almost hid Neville's smaller, neater hand.
They were having a baby, Ginny and Neville. A little girl, they said. Alice. They were so happy, and they knew that Luna would be happy for them, and wouldn't Luna please consent to be godmother?
For a few sweet seconds after reading the news, Luna had felt joy. It did not last. Her rage had almost destroyed the rest of her post along with this one letter. How dare they be happy? How dare they write as if the war had never happened? How dare they move on? In the end, although Luna felt like she hated them more than she loved them, she could not destroy the evidence of their love for her.
Rolf was too quiet. While she had been remembering, he had been watching her face, no doubt noting the tear tracks and reddened eyes. Merlin, she had hated that habit even when she thought she could love him.
She swiveled the chair away from the desk and glared at him. "What do you want, Rolf?"
He held both hands up, palms out, a gesture of surrender. "Just for you to listen to me. That's all. I want to help you, Luna."
She sniffed, and leaned back. "Fine. Talk."
He looked surprised, and she took some small satisfaction in that. His cruel words of the winter still hurt, and seeing him only opened the old wounds again.
Otto wound his way out of her braided hair and hooked his tiny body around the curve of her ear, his tail tickling the lobe. Rolf's eyes went immediately to the movement, but he said nothing. Rolf, after all, was intimately acquainted with her familiar's habits. Luna lifted her hand and ran one fingertip over and over down the tiny lizard's spine, the caress soothing and calming both the reptile and the witch.
"I think that we were looking in the wrong place, trying to break your curse with European magic," Rolf began.
"It was inflicted with European magic," Luna interrupted.
Rolf stood up. "Let me talk," he said, beginning to pace the tiny space between the bed and her chair. Luna had chosen a very cheap hotel, so he only had four steps to traverse before he would run into her.
She conceded with a small gesture of her hand, giving him the floor, as it were.
"As I said, European magic may be the wrong place to look for a cure. Curse-breakers and mediwitches can't see it, anyway. There is a kind of magic that works through the victim herself, that sustains itself not through the connection with the caster but through its connection with the cursed body. Why else are you still suffering side-effects so long after the caster's death?"
Rolf smacked his fist into his open hand and turned to face her. "I can't believe I missed it for so long, but it's so obvious once you know."
"What is?" Luna asked.
"You need a shaman," he answered.
"A shaman! What are you on about?"
"Look, you are part of the problem now -" Rolf held up his hands again, warding off her automatic denial, "No, I said that wrong. Just listen. Most spells require active direction from a caster to be effective. Lumos, Mobilicorpus, Rictusempra, even Crucio. They don't work once the caster's concentration has been broken. So the spell that made the cuts in your flesh only lasted as long as the wand was directing the action. So why have we been trying to break a cutting curse? There is something else living in your body now, and the only possible way it could still be affecting you is if you yourself are fueling it."
"Not this again. A mediwitch in Cairo told me it was psychosomatic and to meditate it away," Luna said angrily. She had spent too much time over the years being patronized by the medical profession to appreciate the novelty to Rolf's approach. She could not help but admire him for trying, though. He was the only one who ever had.
Rolf shook his head. "Not psychosomatic. Symbiotic."
Luna leaned back, staring at him. This she had not heard before.
"It's the only answer that makes sense. It explains everything - the nightmares, the pain, the magical disruption."
"Magical disruption?" Luna interrupted him again. "There's nothing wrong with my magic."
Rolf looked pointedly around the room - the very muggle room. "No? Light that candle, then."
Luna turned toward the poor stump of a candle on the corner of the desk. The wick was almost buried under hardened wax. She frowned. "Why?"
"Just light it," Rolf insisted. "With your wand."
Luna looked at the desk. There was a box of matches sitting in plain sight beside the candle holder.
"You can't, can you?" Rolf asked gently. "How bad has it gotten, Luna? Really?"
She waved one hand, dismissively. "It's nothing. Minor spells just go a bit awry. I can still Apparate."
"But for how much longer? Do you really want to splinch yourself into hospital before you accept that you need more help than traditional Wizarding medicine can provide?"
Luna covered her eyes with her hand. Otto licked at her cheek just beside her ear. It felt like the fluttering of tiny wings against her skin. "All right, Rolf. What do you propose?"
"I have a friend called Tymas. He is a powerful shaman who has worked with symbiotic body-magic before. His people infuse scars and tattoos with energy, so he may even be able to see more in your scars than anyone before has."
Luna let her hand drop. Rolf looked terribly earnest. He was a wonderful man. She had wronged him terribly. He was still talking about his friend's ability to see magical energy when she reached out to take his hand.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm so sorry, Rolf."
To his credit, Rolf did not pretend to misunderstand. He blinked several times and looked away. "So am I. But you cannot direct the heart." He squeezed her fingers. "Please let me do this much."
She nodded. "Where must I go?"
He told her. She laughed, but it was no different from any of her adventures now. She would see a new part of the world and be glad of it.
By the time he finished his description and had written out instructions, the sun had begun to set over the rooftops of Prague. "Thank you," Luna said, standing and tugging him to his feet. "Truly, Rolf. Even if this is unsuccessful, it is the most anyone has ever done to help me."
"That is because your truest friends do not even know you are in trouble," Rolf said, the familiar bitterness back in his voice. "I require something from you in return, Luna."
Luna was startled. "What?"
"I require something from you. I will send you to Tymas with my introduction, and in return you will do something for me."
Luna was wary of him now, for this was more the Rolf who had shouted on the bridge in Ireland. "What do you require, then?"
"I want you to go back to where this all started."
Luna took a step back already shaking her head, but Rolf was too quick and took hold of her arms, keeping her from running.
"Luna, go back to England. Go back to Malfoy Manor, and look at the place that haunts your nightmares." Rolf's voice was soft, even gentle, but it still cut Luna to the quick.
Rolf's fingers tightened. "Yes. Do you think I don't know how much it haunts you? How much the Malfoys tempt you to return? Do you think I don't understand how much you hate yourself for running away, or even more for wanting to go back to them?"
Luna had thought he did not known quite that much.
"Merlin, Luna," Rolf said, "you have written to him every week for years and you think I would not notice? Why do you think I left? I no longer wanted to compete with a memory and a dozen pieces of parchment every Saturday!"
Oh. He understood more than Luna ever credited.
"So now I am telling you - you must go back. Perhaps Tymas can fix the magic running wild in you, but he can't work miracles. You can keep running, without physical pain, and what will that solve? Go back. Promise me you will."
Shaken, literally and figuratively, Luna nodded. What else could she do? She had every intention of going back, after all. One day.
"Swear it, Luna. Swear that before this year is out you will go to Malfoy Manor and confront them."
So soon? She said nothing.
Rolf stared at her, and seemed willing to stare indefinitely. "Please, Luna." Perhaps if he had shouted, or demanded, she could have continued her refusal. This, though, was a whisper of defeat, of last hope, and she had only seen him this way once before. Then, someone had died.
The measure of her cruelty to him became terribly clear to her. He loved her so much he would send her into the arms of another - a man who would crush her spirit and discard her, for all he knew. For all rumor said. Yet he did this, for her.
"Very well. I swear it, Rolf. I will go back to Malfoy Manor... before the year is out." The oath tasted like ashes on her tongue, but once made she could not unmake it.
Rolf pulled her close, whispering "Thank you," into her hair, and then just as quickly he was gone, out the door and away. Luna stared at her empty room and felt suddenly quite alone.
Late May, 2005
Draco took his tea in the roof garden when weather permitted. The day was gray and dreary, but it was not raining, and that was permission enough to sit outside where he could feel a bit of breeze through his hair.
Pansy examined the orchids just beginning to bloom along the northern rail as Draco poured. The table and the orchids were partially shaded by a small ornamental birch that grew, to all appearances, directly out of the roof. There were no other trees, only shrubs and beds of flowers that bloomed in colorful rotation, like a clock, according to the season.
"Have you decided where to go first?" Pansy asked, running a delicate finger around the lip of an unfolding pink blossom.
Draco sighed as he replaced the tea pot on the table, heartily sick of the question. "Anywhere but here," he said after a pause to stir sugar into his cup.
Pansy laughed. "That covers a lot of ground, don't you think?" She sipped her tea and replaced the cup on its saucer with a delicate grace that reminded Draco of his mother. "Am I to believe," she continued," that Draco Malfoy has no plan?"
"I really don't, Pans," Draco said. "Nothing concrete, anyway. Maybe I'll just hop on my broom and fly at random, until I'm too tired to go on or run out of land or both."
She tilted her head to study him. "And you would, too." She reached quite suddenly across the table, catching his free hand in hers. "Draco, you know you can talk to me, don't you?"
He squeezed her fingers, then pulled his hand back. "I know. Thank you." He could not meet her eyes.
She was quiet for a few minutes, and he looked out over the railing toward the rolling hills beyond the Manor's wards. In his mind the Malfoy grounds were shrouded in a thick fog, like the presence of Dementors. The hills beyond taunted him with their vivid green and gold, always sunny when the Manor was shrouded in gloom. Perhaps it was only an illusion, but it held power over him nonetheless.
"Well," Pansy said at last, with a cheer that felt forced, "you can't rejoin society without knowing all the news. We'll get you in with all the right people."
"As you managed to do?" Draco asked with a grin.
Pansy had gone from pitiable wreck at the end of the war to powerful leader of a well-connected international network of witches, with the occasional wizard for variety. She smirked at his amusement. "Some of us still have ambitions in Britain, you know."
"Mm, and how is work, then?"
"You mean how is life as Granger's lackey?" Pansy actually smiled, then laughed out loud at the look on Draco's face.
He quickly schooled himself back to neutrality. "Well, you did loathe each other in school," Draco reminded her. He still had difficulty moving past old school rivalries, probably because he had so few other social experiences to counter them. One charity Quidditch match in seven years and the annual meeting of the Board of The Prince Trust did not a social life make.
Pansy waved away ancient history. "That was school. We were all a bit mad, then. She's not so bad, Granger. Bones is the real hellhound of the firm. Now that I've won a settlement for them perhaps they will pass the drudge work on to somebody else." Last spring Pansy had moved back to London as a partner with Granger and Susan Bones, solicitor advocates. They worked with several well-known barristers and had a satellite branch in Scotland to deal with Scots Wizarding law, for which Granger was also certified.
Draco did read the papers; he had followed the firm's expansion in the business section of three publications.
"And the rumors of a French extension?" he asked.
"False," Pansy said with finality. "Granger refuses to budge on her employment policies and the French Mugwump won't permit her to import non-human staff on a standard payroll. We're looking at Amsterdam instead."
Draco had visited Amsterdam only once before his house arrest. He wondered if he would still know his way around now. "Sounds lovely."
Pansy poured herself a second cup of tea and looked pensively across the table at him. "Do you get many visitors, these days?" she asked.
He had not expected that question, nor to be so shaken by it. "Not many, no," he said, keeping a tight rein on his temper. How he despised being at the mercy of others' whims. "How many people do you know willing to undergo a background check and Auror escort for a spot of tea with a Malfoy?"
There had not been many, not since that first year when everything had been chaos and legal maneuvering. In the first year, Draco had gotten out frequently to give testimony before the Wizengamot. Once the trials were over, there was nothing but the Trust to keep him from going mad, and he had been forced to work with Potter on everything. Draco had learned to tolerate Potter because Potter held the ultimate power over Draco's release from the house. Potter had gotten the wards extended to cover more of the grounds. Potter had secured the Minister's permission for Narcissa to have visitors from the local villages. Potter had ensured that every meeting of the Board of Directors of the Prince Trust was in London, and that Draco was always required. It was very hard for Draco not to hate Potter even as he cultivated the Auror's influence.
It was harder for Draco not to hate Pansy for escaping this punishment, for doing so well, for never coming to see him before this year.
But he needed Pansy, and she genuinely still cared.
"It wasn't easy," she conceded, "but it was worth it. It's not as if you've been solitary out here, either. Astoria -"
"Don't," Draco cut her off. "Just leave it, Pans. I really don't want to discuss her." Before Pansy could even open her mouth he added, "Or any of the others. All right?" The last thing he wanted was to undergo a Pansy-led dissection of the failures of his past relationships. His lovers had been nothing but distractions, most of the time, in any case. It had been unfair, and troubling, but somehow inevitable. After all, he was a captive audience to their charms, and any witch or wizard who had braved the dragons guarding Draco's tower deserved some reward, didn't they? Until their interest waned, or their expectations went unfulfilled. And then what could Draco do but accept being alone again, until the next brave or foolish adventurer washed up at his feet?
It was all rather sordid when he looked back on it, just a tiny step up from desperation.
"I didn't mean anything bad," Pansy said, reaching across the table for his hand again. "We're all friends, you know. There's something about being a survivor, it keeps pulling people together, even when we would rather not go."
"Even you and Blaise and Daphne?"
"Especially us. Blaise says its Gryffindor guilt at work." Pansy laughed. "But really, it's just sense. When you see someone who was there - it's like half the conversation is silent. You don't need to explain anything. They already know. You'll see, when you can come out with us. It's different now."
Draco wondered how different it could really be for him. "You haven't seen what happens when I walk down Diagon Alley," he muttered.
Pansy winced. "Even that will change. It will, Draco."
Draco did not hold out much hope for that, but he did not argue with her. Better to change the subject, ask about her surviving family, or for more gossip from work, than to let her try to convert him to optimism.
She had plenty of gossip and rumor to share, as it turned out, and the news proved satisfyingly distracting.
It was sunset by the time Pansy left, and the clouds had parted just enough to allow the light to stretch long shadows across the landscape. Draco heard his mother's familiar tread on the stairs.
He did not stand or even look around as she came up behind him. It was a familiar pose, one they had taken often during the long years without Lucius. Narcissa's fingers combed gently through his hair at the back of his neck.
"You have a letter," she said after a moment.
It was not his day for letters. "Is it important?" he asked.
"It's from Luna," she answered, and extended a heavy parchment envelope over his shoulder.
A letter from Luna in the middle of the week was a bit unusual. Draco opened it immediately.
His mother sat down in Pansy's empty chair as he read the short note attached to a smaller envelope sealed with wax and magic.
"What is it?" Narcissa asked when he came to the end. She must have read the surprise in his expression.
Draco reread the beginning of the letter. Sometimes Luna's perspective made her correspondence a challenge, but this note was clear and impossible to misinterpret. "She won't be writing for a while, and wanted to tell me not to worry when she doesn't answer." He felt cold, and wished he had not let Pansy talk him into pudding with tea. "She has something important she has to do, and she doesn't know how long she will be out of touch."
Turning away from his mother, he quickly channeled the emotion rising in him as anger. He refused to accept anything else; he refused to be at the mercy of another fickle adventuress. He set the sealed envelope on the table, holding back the impulse to shred it, knowing that no matter how much he raged now, he would want to know its contents later.
In a way, he had been waiting for this. The fragile connection between him and Luna had stretched and stretched over the years, but without more sustenance than letters it had finally snapped. It was kind of her to give him warning, instead of simply vanishing. Yes, he would tell himself it was kind.
"Draco?" Narcissa said, and he had a feeling she had been trying to get his attention for a while.
"I'm fine," he said. "I'll just go down, if you don't mind. Finish this -" he tapped the seal, "in private."
Narcissa put a hand on his arm as he stood up. "Draco. Are you-"
"Fine," Draco repeated, shaking off her hand. "I'm fine. It's not like it's the end of the world, after all. It's just a few letters."
He did not like the look that crossed her face as he left. He did not want her understanding, or her pity.
Early August, 2005
Somewhere in southern Mongolia
It had been a long time since Luna had been so quiet, or so still. After so many weeks of talking, first to Elder Tymas and then to the desert itself, it felt odd to say nothing for so long. Tymas had been quite insistent, however, that the silence must be kept.
"Sit here, child, and meditate on the change you wish to make. You must decide tonight whether or not to go through with the ritual. Sit. Keep silence until it is time to speak. Keep still until it is time to move."
"How will I know when that is?" Luna had asked, getting comfortable at the top of the pillar of red rock. She was winded after the climb to the top, but settled quickly into the breathing patterns she had been taught.
Tymas had smiled, just before Apparating himself back to the camp, his last words lingering in the air. "You will know." Sometimes the old shaman reminded her disconcertingly of Professor Dumbledore.
When she first arrived in June, after blowing all of the fuses in her muggle hotel when she tried to cast a simple shrinking charm on her trunk, she had known nothing but the blinding fury of her impotent magic. She could not remember any time in her life so full of chaos, so utterly beyond her capacity to cope. In the past, she had been able to see beyond the immediacy of things, into present and future, into distance, even into soul. She had known such wonder once.
The memories brought no nostalgia now, only deepening despair.
"Nasai Luna, we must take down the ger*," her hostess Aramte told her, brightly cheerful at dawn in that first week.
Luna turned away, curling into her own misery. "Go away."
"Nasai Luna, it is time to make the meal," Aramte said gently, in the evening, after they had all walked miles to a new place, one practically indistinguishable from the last place to Luna's clouded eyes.
"I'm not hungry," Luna replied, jerking herself out of the woman's grip and moving to the very edge of the fire's light.
"Nasai Luna, it is time to brush the horses," Aramte said softly, holding out a wooden comb.
"I don't care," Luna said, crossing her arms as she continued to sit, listless and useless, in the shadow of the woman's loom.
She spoke to no human but Aramte and Tymas, in that first week, and looking back upon it Luna knew that she had deserved no kindness.
Tymas sat in his tall ger, awash in the overlapping scents of incense, sour milk, and horse. There was a foal inside, in fact, whinnying every so often to interrupt the sorry tale Luna told him. Well, perhaps 'telling' was too gentle a word. She shouted much of the time. She cried, too. He gave her cloths to wipe her eyes and face, he gave her ayrag** in a bowl to moisten her throat, and perhaps to loosen her tongue, for her magic may be disrupted but it was not gone, and ayrag was a powerful potion.
When she paused to drink after a long rant about the battle, Tymas spoke very quietly into the silence. "Tell me about the marks on your skin."
Luna choked, sputtering ayrag onto the soft blankets at her feet. "I can't."
Tymas nodded, serene. She contemplated the merits of throwing the bowl of ayrag at him. "Very well. We will begin again tomorrow. Go out into the desert tonight, and speak of these things to the rocks if you can."
It went on like that, Tymas listening as Luna talked her way through her mother's death, years of hazing at school, fighting in a rebellion at Hogwarts, then being a prisoner, then fighting in the battle. She told him about her father and the Quibbler, about Harry and Neville and Ginny, about the baby coming, about Rolf and the bridge in Ireland. When July was just beginning, she told Tymas about the letters from Draco.
When she heard herself speak of it, the events changed. Her mind reshaped them with every repetition, and Tymas's desert exercises forced her to hear the reality of her own voice. It was better than a Pensieve in some ways.
By July, she woke with Aramte at dawn to take care of their horses, she cooked and wound balls of fine yarn and learned to mend leather. By July she was able to think about herself as someone other than a broken witch, useless in either magical or muggle worlds. By July she could think about the war and see more than horror. In mid-July, she told Tymas about the cellar, and showed him the runes carved into her skin. He examined them gravely, and touched, with her permission, the one between her shoulder blades. Then he leaned back and spoke no more that day.
It took her weeks to say Dolohov's name. Tymas was quite patient.
"He is the one who wrote the spell upon you," the shaman said, when at last she had uttered the name.
"Yes," Luna whispered. "It was a cutting curse, simple enough I suppose, but what he had behind it-"
"Malice," Tymas interrupted, "rage, lust, and envy. Despair, too, and shame. I can see them, in the scars."
"It is a subtle magic, and one forbidden by your Ministry, I believe. Like an Unforgivable Curse - unforgivable by whom? Did you never wonder?" Before Luna could process the tangent, Tymas waved his hand and returned to his subject. "It is like the disease of the Muggles, that eats away at flesh from within. The scars carried the curse, your magic fed it, and now it is tangled like a thread within you."
Luna pulled her knees up under her chin and wrapped her arms around them. "Can it be healed?" she asked.
"This Dolohov - he is dead, yes?"
Luna looked away. "I killed him."
Tymas grunted, perhaps in surprise. "Hm. Death unbinds some magics. It may be that will be of benefit. We cannot pull the thread free without killing you as well, but we can control it, do you understand? Bind it from your heart and from your aura. But you will not be quite the same as you were. You will never be that young self you seek to recover. You must find that part of yourself that you lost, accept the part of you that has died and will never return, and give up that part of you that harms yourself. Then you will be reborn."
Luna shook her head, unable to respond.
"I will leave you to think on that. Tomorrow, we will talk of ink magic, and the ritual to cleanse you from the killing you have done."
Cleansing. Rebirth. Luna said nothing, as Tymas left, but she felt hope.
Luna had once found the silence of the desert oppressive, but now it held a remarkable warmth. She was comfortable in her own skin for the first time since her sixth year at Hogwarts, and there was no need to distract herself with another body against hers, or with punishing exertion, or with unreasonable risk.
She still did not know what Tymas expected her to discover out here, but she trusted that there was something.
The air before her eyes shimmered. She blinked. Something fluttered gently as a moth's wing against her wrist where her hands lay open on her knees. Her fingers twitched, and the air above her arm rippled, as if it were underwater. Luna saw faint colors glowing in that distortion, and realized she was looking at the translucent carapace of a shaapthek. She had thought them mythical.
The long, many-legged creature looked rather like a giant centipede made of glass, and it wound itself around Luna's wrist and up the inside of her arm. She moved without thinking, lifting her hand, spreading her fingers as a second shaapthek appeared against the back of her hand.
In folk stories the shaaptheki appeared as guardians of some sort, usually for a youth on a hopeless quest. The descriptions made them out as monstrous, though, massive, insectoid creatures with no true understanding of human affairs, only a bond with their chosen human. Luna saw nothing monstrous in the delicate beings that now covered her arms. They were beautiful.
She had forgotten Tymas's promise that she would know when to break silence, until she laughed out loud. The sound of her voice startled her, and the shaaptheki shivered in the air around her.
"I know what he meant now," Luna said. "I can have both the pain and the wonder. All will be well." Even as she spoke, she knew that she had made her decision. She would accept the offered magic, forbidden though it was by most Western traditions. She would let Tymas and his magi create healing from ink and blood and flesh.
Tymas smiled when she told him about the shaaptheki. "They come to those in need," was all he said, as if he had expected her to encounter a creature so rare and strange.
Luna returned his smile with a lightness of spirit that made her giddy. "I will accept the ritual, Elder."
"Then we must begin at once." Tymas called his magi to him, called the spirits of tribe and place to witness, and gave Luna a bowl of ayrag laced with calming potion.
"There will be pain," he warned her, as he bound her wrists to a pole to hold her immobile. "Such is every birth."
He had been correct, of course. Luna did not know what a normal Wizarding tattoo felt like, but this was an exquisite agony accompanied by barely-controlled bursts of wild magic. Each time the mage's inked needles crossed one of the rune scars, the curse fought not to be contained. By dawn the following day, every rune Dolohov had carved into her body had been broken by a tattoo of flowering vines in ink the color of red wine. She slept almost the entire next day, and when she woke, Tymas was there beside her, with her wand in his hand.
She took it from him with trembling fingers, and stared at it for a long time.
"It will not cast a spell by itself," Tymas chided quietly.
Luna firmed her resolve and pointed the wand at a skein of Aramte's yarn. "Wingardium Leviosa." The yarn floated into the air, and nothing broke or tumbled. Her power felt anchored once more, flowing according to her will. She turned to Tymas with tears in her eyes. "Thank you."
Tymas laid his hand over hers. "You will have to fight this battle again, but I think it will be easier now, with the ink. Yes, it will be much better. You will see."
Luna took a deep breath, feeling the newness of it, and nodded. "Yes."
It took another week before Luna was quite ready to leave the wild country and the nomadic life. She found herself giving away much of the goods she had brought from her life in Prague, and collecting into her knapsack the evidence of her rebirth here in the red desert. Tymas held a bonfire the night before she left, and as her offering Luna had Aramte cut off the long blond braid she had worn since her girlhood. When she threw the loop of hair into the flames, she knew that something important had ended.
The next morning she tucked Otto behind her ear, pulled her knapsack over her shoulder, and started walking west. She would Apparate, eventually, to a city with an International Floo, but for now she wanted to walk and think alone. Something had ended, yes, but she believed, thinking of the letters Tymas had posted to England for her a week ago, that something bigger, and infinitely more terrifying, was about to begin.
late August, 2005
Diagon Alley, London
Luna stepped out of the International Floo station into the bustle of early morning in Diagon Alley, flicking her wand into place behind her ear as soon as she cleared the lines. Otto crawled up from his pocket in her open traveling robes to curl around her other ear as she adjusted the strap of the knapsack on her shoulder. She took deep breaths as she walked, cataloging the scents around her as she had done in so many new, foreign places. Yet this was familiar, the same distinctive mix of frying foods, pungent herbs, and owl that had always greeted her when she came to the Alley.
She ran her finger down Otto's back and smiled, feeling suddenly more confident of her steps. This was, no matter how long she had been gone, home, an unmistakable haven of British Wizardry. She did not hurry, but neither did she linger anywhere. There was one visit she must make that was long overdue.
Ollivander's had not yet opened for the eager First Years and their families; the hour was still early. Luna walked straight up to the door and knocked, ignoring the looks of passers-by who could plainly see the shop was closed. The lock opened with a click, and the door swung open to allow her entrance, then closed again behind her. She would not have been surprised to learn that a recognition spell had been on that door for the last seven years, waiting for the day she came back.
"Luna Lovegood," said Mr. Ollivander, emerging from a back room and striding down the aisle between shelves with a much stronger step than when she had last seen him. "Back from the wilds, are you?" He came all the way out from behind his counter and took Luna's hands in his, squeezing them lightly.
Luna felt one of the many weights she carried lift as he greeted her with such warmth. "I am. Someone finally hammered some sense into me." When he released her hands, she reach back into her knapsack and pulled out an envelope. "I've more photographs for you."
Mr. Ollivander's face creased as he smiled. "The elusive Snorcack at last?" he asked, riffling through the color prints.
Luna grinned, then laughed. "Not yet. But see - there, that one. I had to put in a Galleon for scale."
"Terrasen foils. I thought they were extinct."
"In Britain, but not in Madagascar. I saw them bloom this past spring."
Mr. Ollivander admired the photograph of the rare and prized flower for a moment, then he tucked it back into the envelope and left the envelope on the counter. "Come to the back, have a cup of tea, and tell me about your travels."
"Oh, but your customers-" began Luna.
Mr. Ollivander waved his hand at the door, where words wrote themselves onto the glass: Closed until 10:00. "They will wait," he said, and led her back through the forest of wand boxes to his cozy back parlor.
Luna left Mr. Ollivander's feeling much easier in mind. He had recognized the magic in her tattoos at once, but been only thoughtful. No condemnation would she find from that quarter, at least.
It was half ten by the time she made it through the crowds to the Leaky Cauldron, intending on Flooing home to the Tower before starting her list of calls. Her momentum through the room was arrested halfway, however, by a sudden shriek of "Luna!" from a table in the corner farthest from the bar. Almost before Luna could turn fully around, her wand already in her hand, she staggered under the fierce embrace of Ginny Longbottom.
Luna clutched at Ginny, mostly to keep them both from tumbling into a nearby table, and didn't realize until he folded the two of them into his arms that Neville had come up behind his wife.
"When did you get here?" Ginny asked, squeezing Luna as close as she could manage with seven months worth of pregnant belly in the way. "Why didn't you call?"
Luna finally managed to untangle herself, and Neville detached Ginny and gestured back toward their table.
She had hoped for some more time to pull herself together, and perhaps to plan who to approach first, but it was too late. As Luna followed, promising explanations as she walked, she saw that the corner table was occupied by Harry, Hermione, Ron, Susan, and - was that really Pansy?
"Oh," Luna said, standing while Neville fetched another chair. "Hello, everyone." She tucked her wand back behind her ear and let her knapsack fall to her feet.
Once they were settled, and Hannah had come by with a round of coffee and tea, Ginny asked her questions again. "How long have you been back? Are you staying? When did you cut your hair?"
The inquiry about her hair broke Luna's tension and she laughed. Harry smiled across the table at her, and Neville reached over to tug playfully at one of her curls. It bounced back like a spring. "I cut my hair two weeks ago in Mongolia. As for staying - well. I don't know yet. But I'll be back."
"Mongolia?" Hermione asked. "Your last letter came from Prague."
"Mm." Luna stalled by stirring sugar into her tea. "I've been in Mongolia since June."
"What's in Mongolia?" Pansy asked, eyes bright with curiosity. Of all the people at the table, Pansy was the only person with whom Luna had not corresponded at some point.
Luna sipped at her tea and shrugged at the other woman. "Rocks. Red sand. Nomads."
Ginny leaned forward, uninterested in the nomads for the moment. "When did you get back to England?" she asked again.
Luna glanced at her wristwatch. "Ah - half seven, or thereabouts. I came in to the Diagon Alley International Floo Station."
Ron gave a comical, exaggerated wince. "Good thing you took your time to get here, then. I wasn't even awake yet."
"Hermione gives him until eight before she dumps cold water on his head," Harry said in a stage whisper. From the grins around the table, this was an old joke.
"You weren't up yet, either," Ron shot back with a smirk.
"Just this morning?" Ginny asked. "Have you been shopping since?"
Luna shook her head. She was starting to feel crackles of energy down her back. "I went to Ollivander's."
And just like that the atmosphere at the table changed, from eager curiosity to nervous tension. Luna could see the changes in their faces as they remembered why she would have gone to see the old wandmaker. The rune over her sternum throbbed, and Luna pressed her hand to it as she willed the sorrow away.
Only Harry looked just the same, and his lips curled up into a half smile when Luna looked up, as if he recognized her dilemma.
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence, which Harry broke as he stood up. "I think Luna could use some air. Come on." He came around the table and held out his hand. "Leave your things, we'll be back shortly."
When it looked like Ginny or Neville might get up as well, Hermione quickly intervened and gestured them back into their seats.
Luna shook her head, but not to refuse Harry's offer. She was quickly realizing how very deeply she had underestimated her reaction to being among her old friends. She gathered her robes, but Harry took them from her and draped them back over her chair. "We'll go into Muggle London," he murmured in her ear as he led her to the door.
Once outside, Harry tucked her hand under his arm and led her leisurely down the pavement. He said nothing for the first few blocks, and Luna soon felt her equilibrium restored.
"Thank you," she said as she gave his arm a squeeze.
"You looked a bit shell-shocked there," Harry replied, covering her hands with his. He turned them into a tiny churchyard with paths through well-kept gardens.
Startled for a moment at the Muggle slang now that she was back among wizards, Luna sighed. "A bit. I hadn't exactly planned to be the central attraction for a Battle of Hogwarts reunion my first morning back."
Harry looked thoughtful. "They have those, you know. Up at the school, every May."
Luna shivered. "Being back there for my seventh year was bad enough."
They found a tiny stone bench in a nook in the churchyard wall, and sat. Harry held on to her hand, and she leaned against his shoulder. The conversation died for a few minutes.
"You look so much better than last time," he said at last.
Last time had been in Moscow that winter, after Rolf left her. She had never been able to hide from Harry anywhere in the world, and got used to having him show up at random wherever she was for a few days of sightseeing and wandering Muggle haunts in whatever city was closest. Last time she had been a walking disaster, her magic already beginning to fail her. "Whatever they have in Mongolia must work," he continued. "Did they give you the tattoos?"
Luna looked down at herself; her shirt and denims covered the relevant points. He must have sensed the magic. Of course Harry would notice. "Yes. They channel the pain away." She leaned back far enough to see his face. His eyes would give him away if he disapproved.
"Good." He was smiling, and had no doubt at all in his eyes. "Don't worry. No one will care." Luna wondered when Harry had become so good at reading her. "They'll be too happy to have you back. You are going to stay now?"
"I suppose a godmother should do more than send letters every few weeks," Luna conceded. "But I don't know yet, Harry." She looked away, into the garden. "It will depend on what he says when I see him." Even with the ink magic ciphoning away the bulk of her irrational fears, her voice still trembled with rational ones. She had no idea what to expect when she went to Wiltshire. For all she knew, Draco had already left the country, and her letter had arrived at an empty house.
Harry put his arm around her and tugged her close. "Don't panic. It'll be fine."
"If this is what I'm like when it's just friendly faces," Luna whispered into his shoulder, "how much worse will it be to go back there? I'm afraid."
"You'll be fine. You are one of the strongest people I know." When Luna did not respond other than to hold him more tightly, Harry combed his fingers through her hair and tried a different tack. "Is Malfoy really so frightening compared to a swarm of flesh-eating beetles boiling out of bat guano in Peru? I seem to recall you stood your ground then. Malfoy's probably just as messed up. I'll bet he's pulling his hair out over your visit, and he doesn't have much to be pulling these days."
Luna smacked Harry in the chest and laughed. "You're too awful."
"I speak only the truth," Harry said with mock solemnity. "We should have shaved his whole head when he lost that Quidditch bet, saved his vanity."
Luna caught the phrasing. "You shaved part of his head? Harry!"
Harry was giggling almost too hard to answer. "Hey, he made the bet. It would've been my head if we'd lost. Not like anybody saw it, really, anyway."
Well, that was true, and Luna kept grinning, although it was a reminder of the house arrest that must have so frustrated the Malfoys. "You boys."
"Ginny was there, too!" Harry immediately objected.
A Muggle couple stumbled onto Harry and Luna's niche just then, and Luna realized how much time had passed.
"We should go back," Harry said, just as Luna opened her mouth.
She stood up and pulled him to his feet.
"Think you can weather the old crowd now?" he asked as they threaded their way through busy lunch hour pedestrians.
Luna squeezed his hand. "I'll manage better now."
He smiled and held open the door when they reached the Leaky Cauldron. "Welcome home."
The first day free of his house arrest, really genuinely free, Draco got on his broom, spun his wand on his palm, and flew as far as he could in the direction it pointed. He ended up on the western coast of Ireland, shrank his broom, transfigured his robes, and joined a Muggle hiking party just to be around people who had no idea who he was.
His second day of freedom he spent in Snowdonia, practicing hunting in his animagus form. He had not been able to truly spread his wings because the roof of the prison wards had been so low, and it was quite a different feeling to fly in the mountains. For a few minutes as he enjoyed his lunch in a tent on a mountainside, Draco contemplated staying up here for a while, letting the world forget about him. In the end, while he enjoyed the solitude, he did not think he could go without other people for so long. He was very late getting home that day, but he did go home.
Days three, four, and five he spent flying in the four directions he had not covered that first day. He drank with locals in the Orkneys, biked the streets of Copenhagen, and took the tour of Great Magical Sites in Paris.
Every day he came back to the Manor and felt its walls close around him like a trap, but he made no other plans.
When Luna's letter came, he almost missed it, so eager was he to get out again.
He took the envelope, and the rest of his post, out to an island in the Irish Sea, empty save for the rocks and a colony of puffins. For the last three months, as the Aurors had come round day after day for final interviews and to inspect the Manor grounds, Draco had tried not to think about Luna. He did not know what she was doing, out in the world; he had never really known. He had begun, this summer, to accept the fact that he would never know. It had always been her choice, and she had never yet shown any inclination to choose him.
He steeled himself and opened the seal. It was almost as short as Pansy's daily notes encouraging him to come out to London to socialize. There was none of the usual description of exotic places, or even a line about what she had been doing for the last three months. There was an apology, and there was this: I miss you. I'm coming home.
It was a long time before Draco collected himself enough to open the next letter.
Little more than a week into his freedom, he received an invitation from Minerva McGonagall. A few years ago, Draco would have avoided Hogwarts at all costs. These days, though, the school seemed a welcome respite from the Manor. He Apparated to Edinburgh to pick up a suitable gift, then took the train to Hogsmeade.
He had not expected to feel such a rush of emotion upon seeing the castle again. It had changed during the rebuilding, of course, but the bulk of it was the same, and after all this time and all of his crimes against it, Draco still felt welcomed by the place.
Professor McGonagall was waiting just outside the main doors by the time Draco reached them.
"Welcome back, Draco," she said with a smile that held an astonishing measure of warmth. "I trust your parents are well?"
"Well enough, under the circumstances," Draco replied, offering the plain paper bag he had carried from Edinburgh. "It's good to see you in person again, Professor."
"Please, call me Minerva," she insisted, peeking into the bag. She laughed. "My, my, Balvenie 30-year firewhisky. Am I being bribed for something, Mister Malfoy?"
Draco grinned. "Not at all. Consider it a thank you for all your help in the last few years."
"Will you show me, before we go inside?" she asked as she set the bag down at her feet. "Have you had much chance to practice?"
Draco rolled his shoulders, remembering the aches and pains he suffered after his first day of unrestrained flight. "Not much, Prof- er, Minerva. I must be the clumsiest hunter for miles, yet." He would never trade that exquisite experience, though, no matter how much he hurt the day after.
"Well, go on, then." She was using her teacher's voice, possibly without realizing it, but Draco didn't mind.
He stepped back from her and concentrated. The world shifted, colors changed, perspective altered, and then he launched himself into the air. He circled once above the castle, then swooped back down and landed on the stair railing beside Minerva. He knew he was some kind of bird of prey, he had been able to figure out that much with a mirror and his own deductions, but his sight in this form was so different from that of a human that he could not yet make subtle distinctions.
"Charming, indeed. A kestrel, I think, but we should have Hagrid take a look at you, he'd know for sure." Minerva bent close, but not too close, to examine him. "Lovely plumage, dear, and you were quite graceful in the air. Must be all your time on a broom. A natural in all kinds of flight."
Draco preened at her flattery, then realized what he was doing and paused. This must be what the books meant when they talked about the animal instincts kicking in. He leaped from the stair railing to the ground and changed back. "Thank you, ma'am." He ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. "I'm learning as I go."
"As did we all," Minerva chuckled, and gestured him inside. "Come to my office, let's have tea. I want to hear your plans."
Tea was easier than Draco expected, all things considered. He had expected Minerva to sound more like his father, urging him to find some apprenticeship or other work.
"Don't be in a great rush to decide everything at once," she advised. "But when the time comes, I will be happy to refer you to very good training."
"I thought about applying to university," Draco said as he broke a biscuit into crumbs on his plate. "But I don't actually want to set anything in stone yet."
"Have you been getting out to London at all?"
"Pansy keeps inviting me, but," Draco shrugged. "Perhaps in September."
Minerva, unlike most of the people offering advice, did not press him to do anything, or say anything. Once it became clear that he did not fancy a heart-to-heart about his future, she kept their conversation to Tranfigurations, a subject they could both enjoy.
Only when the tea was nearly gone and the discussion winding down did Draco ask her for a favor. "As long as I'm here," he began, "do you think Headmaster Allan would let me see Severus's portrait?"
The lines around her mouth deepened for a moment. Seven years was not quite enough time, Draco thought, for any of them to find their equilibrium regarding Severus. "Headmaster Allan is away," she told him, "but I am sure we can arrange something. Severus does leave his portrait now and then. Doesn't he have another in London?"
Draco nodded. "At the offices of the Trust, yes ma'am. And I've talked to him there, but it's difficult." He sighed. "I was never really alone, all those trips to London. Couldn't be let out of an Auror's sight, you know."
Minerva nodded as if she understood. "Let me see what we can do." She stood up and went through a small door behind her desk.
It took only a few minutes for her to return. "All right, Draco, I'll just leave you here and come back in a half hour or so. Will that do?"
Draco did not understand what she meant at first, and she must have seen his confusion. She gestured to his right, to a painting that had a few minutes before held a dozing gardener among his roses. The gardener had gone, and Severus Snape sat stiffly in his place. Draco turned back to Minerva only to offer heartfelt thanks, then pulled his chair closer to the painting. The door closed quietly behind him. "Good afternoon, sir," he said when Severus said nothing.
Severus steepled his fingers under his chin and regarded Draco stonily. "Draco. Where are your handlers today?"
"Gone, sir. I was released on the tenth. The prison wards are down now."
That seemed to surprise the portrait. "Finally. And your parents?"
Draco was more honest with Severus than he had been with Minerva. Severus, after all, was practically family. "I worry about them, sir. Father was so changed by Azkaban," Draco paused and Severus shook his head regretfully at the reminder. "He wants to redeem the Malfoy name, regain some of his place in society. You know about the wing at St. Mungo's?"
Severus nodded. "Mister Longbottom told me of it."
Draco felt a quick stab of jealousy that Longbottom, of all people, had been free to visit either of Severus's portraits whenever he liked. "Well, that's a beginning, but Father does not understand what it's like to be a Malfoy in England today. He is still stuck in the past. And Mother, she's starting to fray a bit."
"And what is it like, then, to be a Malfoy in England today?"
Draco looked away. "There will always be someone willing to cast a curse at our backs."
"Which is true of everyone who was in the war, Draco. Do you think the Order is any less paranoid now? Ask Minerva how many of her former students complain of hexes in the back." Severus's voice was different as a painting, somehow not as cold no matter how harsh his words were. Draco wondered if dying had forever robbed Severus of that edge.
When Draco said nothing, Severus continued, "You should take Miss Parkinson up on her offers, Draco. Meet your yearmates on even ground. They may surprise you."
"You expect me to fit in to their group of heroes?" Draco asked bitterly.
Severus sighed, and Draco found it almost frightening to see such regret in his expression, painted though it was. "You must give someone a chance, someday. If you cannot find friends, at least learn to let them be your allies."
It was the Slytherin thing to do, Draco could not argue that. "You sound like my father, you know."
Sorrow touched Severus's face. "Lucius has always been a survivor."
"That's what some said of you."
"Perhaps that will tell you who to listen to," Severus said with a glint of humor in his eyes. "I am only a portrait, you know."
"I miss you," Draco whispered.
Severus nodded. "I am sorry."
After that, what could be said? Draco reached out to touch the canvas, but it only emphasized the loss. The silence lasted only a few minutes, and Severus was the one to break it. "Tell me what you wish to do now."
Draco took a deep breath, debating how much to say.
"I don't know, sir. I really don't. Part of me wants to go straight into university, get my certs, prove that I haven't wasted the last seven years, you know?" At Severus's nod, Draco continued. "And another part of me wants to run as far from England as I can get, and just lose myself in the crowd."
Draco thought Severus might say something, but the man just sat in the borrowed frame, watching and waiting.
"I want to see her again," Draco confessed at last. "Just once, at least. To see if the letters meant anything." His hands curled into fists over his knees. "I'm an idiot, I know, but I can't help wishing that things could be different."
"You are not an idiot," Severus said, with enough gentleness that Draco was startled into looking up. "But do not make the mistake I made, thinking that my entire life's happiness depended on a single person."
Draco shook his head. "No, sir."
"Now go. Minerva is waiting to get her office back. Tell your father to visit me in London." Severus waved a hand toward the door, where sure enough a knock sounded.
Draco stood up as Minerva returned. "Thank you, Prof - sorry, Minerva. I appreciate the time."
Minerva reached across and squeezed his shoulder in a grandmotherly fashion. "You're very welcome. You are welcome any time, you know that?"
Draco nodded, offering her a sincere smile. "I know. I should go home now, though. Give my best to the rest of the staff."
He could tell that she wanted to say something, but she reconsidered and simply shook her head as he walked to the door. The school had not changed so very much that he could not find his own way out.
late August, 2005
Luna watched Narcissa Malfoy over the top of her tea cup in rather the same way she would have watched a rare species of fairy appearing before her in a dark forest: with a sense of intense unreality and an acute awareness of her own lack of grace and beauty. Why had she agreed to this? Crossing the Manor wards had been one of the hardest things Luna had ever done, and now that it was done she had no idea what to do or say. Etiquette books rather skimped on the section about visiting reformed criminals whom you had helped imprison after a war.
The last time Luna had seen Narcissa Malfoy, the woman had been staring with empty eyes at the door through which the Aurors had dragged her husband and son after their trials. Narcissa's actions on Harry's behalf had saved her from Azkaban, and Harry's appeal to the Wizengamot had mitigated Draco's sentence, but Luna was under no illusions about her own role. Her Veritaserum and Pensieve testimony had almost certainly contributed to several convictions and to Lucius's lack of amnesty.
Narcissa spoke quietly, somehow managing the entire conversation on her own in the face of Luna's silence. When she brought her attention back to the words, Luna found that she had no idea what her hostess was talking about, or how to make the sort of light-hearted commentary that seemed called for by a formal afternoon tea between two pureblood witches.
She lost her grip on her cup as she set it on the saucer, splashing tea onto her fingers. It was not terribly hot, but Narcissa reached across the table and laid her hand on Luna's wrist, asking, "Are you all right?"
Luna looked up, and saw in Narcissa's eyes how fragile the veneer of civility was between them. She could break it down with a single concentrated application of truth.
"No," Luna said, refusing to look away for this. "I am not all right."
There was a long silence as all of their expectations for this meeting crashed into shards around them.
Narcissa stood up, abandoning the tea service to stand at the window overlooking the front drive. "Why did you come, then?"
"Did you know, when you kept me here, that I had been cursed?" Luna asked instead of answering.
"Yes," Narcissa said, turning back to her guest. "But not with what. Lucius told me Anton boasted of it."
Luna nodded, having expected that. "It didn't break when I killed him."
Narcissa's face betrayed her surprise. "You?"
"Me," Luna said, and got to her feet. Tiny shocks ran up her arms as she crossed the room. "This house makes it worse. I made an oath, I had to come back, but it's eating me alive." She could not help the accusation in her voice.
"Did you think it would welcome you?" Narcissa asked bitterly. "There's no welcome left, and barely any comfort. You cannot cure what was done to you - you think I don't know that? Neither can the house ever be what it once was."
Luna stopped her advance just out of Narcissa's reach. She put her hands on her hips, leaving her wand in its hidden sheath on her back. "I thought that seven years would be long enough. But I can't - I cannot be here." She did not step away, though. "Nothing has changed."
Narcissa took a step forward, her eyes flashing. "Everything has changed. You're not as simple as you'd like the world to think, Luna. Don't try to tell me you can't tell the difference. You want to run, fine, but don't pretend it's because you're still afraid of the house."
"I can't-" Luna began.
Narcissa interrupted, reaching out to take Luna by the shoulders. "Do not lie to me. If you have come only to bury old ghosts, do so and get out before Lucius and Draco return. I will not let you hurt them for vengeance against the dead."
That brought Luna up short. It had not been her intention to fight, or to accuse, and certainly not to hurt anyone. She wished she still had her long hair to hide behind as she spoke. "That is not why I came," she said slowly, forcing herself to breathe evenly, to think about more than just the weight of memory. "I didn't think it would be like this. I only wanted to see him again..." She met Narcissa's eyes again, willing the other woman to understand.
Narcissa's grip on her shoulders gentled. "Can you see him, here in this house? Will your ghosts let you see anything at all?"
Luna closed her eyes, and realized what she should have done the moment she arrived. "I need to go downstairs," she whispered. "Before I see anyone else."
When she opened her eyes, Narcissa's expression was thoughtful, but not without compassion. "You will find it greatly changed," she said. "It may not give you what you need."
"Please," Luna said.
Narcissa nodded, and let her go. "Follow me."
Luna remembered the stairs, she could have counted them still. She had followed a house elf down them every evening when Mr. Ollivander was in his cell. The door, too, was the same. Narcissa held it open for her, and whispered the command that illuminated the sconces in the walls.
Luna stopped short on the threshold, and Narcissa smiled sadly. The dank underground corridor was gone.
"What did you do?" Luna asked as she moved into the cellar. It was an open room now, with warehouse shelving and locked cabinets in long, dimly illuminated rows. There were no cells, no doors, no walls at all, only occasional stone pillars with arched capitals.
"Draco tore out the walls and part of the floor. We expanded the wine cellar and use charmed cabinets instead of cold rooms." Narcissa followed Luna a few paces behind, letting the younger woman find her way if she could.
Luna had to count her paces to even guess where the door to her cell had been, and when she walked between racks of wine bottles she felt nothing. She knelt and put her hand flat on the floor, thinking that the pain must have sunk into the foundations, at least, but there was nothing. Even her tattoos were strangely quiet here.
Standing, Luna spun back to where Narcissa waiting in the central aisle. "What happened to the stone? Surely something like that could not just be thrown away, or sold."
Narcissa shook her head, gesturely toward the back of the house. "There is a folly in the garden, at the south end of the pond. All that was here is now there, ground fine and repoured. Did you think we would preserve such horror for future generations? He did the same with the dining room and the ballroom. Everything replaced or reworked, purified or destroyed."
Luna felt dizzy. She had never once thought that the Manor would be different. It had loomed in her mind as a constant threat, an unchangeable, unforgiving reminder. In her mind, it still did. As she stared at the elegantly carved capital of the nearest pillar, she knew that Tymas had been right, all along, and Rolf, too. This place had never been her true enemy.
Still, she could not turn away from the last step. She took a deep breath and asked, "May I go into the garden?"
Narcissa nodded once. "This way."
Being in the sunlight again improved Luna's mood, and she allowed herself a small measure of hope.
"Narcissa," she said, reaching out to her hostess. "Do you think -" She paused, wondering what she truly wanted to ask. "Can he ever forgive me?"
Narcissa continued walking without answering, and Luna thought perhaps that was all the answer she deserved. The rose garden ended, and the lawn sloped down to the pond and the fine neo-classical dome of the folly. "There it is," Narcissa said. "I will leave you here." Before the woman turned away, she did take Luna's hand. "When you see Draco," she said, "do not ask that question. Just listen."
Luna opened her mouth to question that, but Narcissa shook her head, then turned back to the house. This was like being in the desert again, learning to be still. Just listen. She could do that. She hoped.
The folly was beautiful, a smooth white temple, perfectly round. The stones were so finely cut and mortared that the edges were barely visible; it could have been carved whole from a single block. Luna walked around it once entire before letting her hand brush the surface. If there was any echo left here, it was faint and far away. She could tell that the stone was different from that of the Manor proper; it was warm to the touch, and saturated with magic. After walking halfway around again, she stopped, and pressed both palms flat to the wall.
Surely there was something left, something that told her that it had not all been in her own mind. She rested her forehead between her hands, and closed her eyes. The stone was just stone. Instead of repulsing her, it embraced her.
"You won't find any reminders there," said a low, rough voice nearby.
Luna pushed herself away from the stone and opened her eyes. Lucius Malfoy leaned against the wall of the folly, a few steps away from her. She had not heard him approach, and narrowed her eyes.
"I thought you were in Cardiff," she said at last.
"I was," Lucius admitted, running his fingers down the white stone. "And I thought you were on the other side of the world. Does Draco know you are here?"
Luna bit her lip. "Here, in England? Yes, if he read my letter. Here in your back garden? No. Not - not unless Narcissa told him. She wanted to see me alone."
Lucius smiled, but his smile was not like his wife's. This was the smile of a man who had been a Death Eater, a smile she remembered from excruciatingly formal teas the spring she spent as his prisoner. She shivered.
"I imagine she did," he said easily. "You are rather an enigma, Miss Lovegood, are you not?"
Luna shook her head. "I don't mean to be."
"You cannot help it. Look at you, such a delicate creature, no one would believe what you have suffered - and they did not believe it, did they, Miss Lovegood? Could anyone look at you and believe you had killed?" Lucius paced along the outer edge of the pavement surrounding the folly, and Luna turned in place to keep him always in sight. "What mother would allow such a creature near, without first testing its purpose? You do so much less damage, Miss Lovegood, when you stick to letter-writing."
Luna clenched her fists at her sides, but made no other move. Otto tugged at the hair at her temple, keeping her focused with the short, sharp pain. The poor lizard had learned early in their relationship never to bite Luna's ear, and had found alternative methods of drawing her out when anger overwhelmed her. Oddly, this anger she felt now did not spark along the tattoos. This rage felt clean.
"Nothing to say?" Lucius asked. He stopped walking and glared at her. For once in her life, Luna looked away first.
For five short breaths she kept silent. "I'm not here to hurt him, or to betray him."
"It's too late for that," he snapped. "You've done all that and more already. The question, Miss Lovegood," - how had he gotten so close, that he loomed over her? - "is how much more you will destroy before you run."
"Run? I won't-"
"Won't you? What other plan did you have? Appear out of nowhere to devestate my son and then move on to your merry life in London?"
Luna stared in utter shock for the moment it took her to realize that both Narcissa and Lucius, in their own ways, meant to protect Draco. To protect Draco from her. The knowledge did not change her longing to hex Lucius, but it kept her from drawing her wand.
"Just shut up, you bastard," she said, too angry even to shout at him. "I don't know why you and Narcissa both think I'm out for some twisted revenge - maybe that's the way Death Eaters deal with problems, but I am not. Here. To . Hurt. Draco." She took a deep breath to steady her voice. It would not do to have it break mid-rage. "I am not running away anymore."
Lucius actually looked happy when she finished. Perhaps she should have tried hexing him after all. She leaned back against the wall of the folly and watched him. He grinned, and it was frightening, even though it was not evil. "I'm so very happy to hear it," he said, and then he turned to walk away.
"What? Wait -" Luna called, taking a few steps after him.
"Yes?" Lucius paused midstep and looked over his shoulder.
"What was that? Just now?" she demanded.
Lucius shook his head. "I had to be sure, Miss Lovegood. You understand." Then he continued on his way, and was soon lost in the hedges of the labyrinth.
"No, I bloody well don't," she muttered, hitting the wall of the folly with one fist. "Madness all around."
A house elf popped out of nowhere, scaring Luna half out of her skin. "Miss to be coming to the house, now," said the tiny creature, ears twitching.
Luna sighed and ran both hands through her shorn hair. "Yes, yes. Lead the way." Perhaps there would be brandy at the end of the journey to ease her nerves. These confrontations with Malfoys were not going at all according to script.
The elf left her in a cozy little parlor, where there was indeed brandy. A fluffy black cat made the intimate acquaintance of Luna's ankles as she poured herself three fingers from the Malfoy's supply. She downed half in one go, bracing one hand on the back of a chair. The cat butted its head into her calf, so Luna knelt to stroke its back. "We shall get along," Luna murmured, "so long as you don't eat Otto." The lizard in question licked Lunas' cheek, and she smiled.
The cat rolled onto its back to expose its belly. Luna sighed, scratching obediently, and downed the rest of her brandy. "Well, Moggy," she said as she reached blindly behind her to set her glass back on the cabinet, "do you think perhaps I've gone good and loony, or do I need one more Malfoy to tip the balance?" The cat merely purred, a most unsatisfactory response.
She did not hear the door open as she spoke to the cat, so the sound of her own name surprised her. "Luna?" She turned her head toward the voice, and there, standing rigid with shock on the threshold, was Draco.
That same evening in August, 2005
Draco gripped the door frame and stared, unable to move or even think for precious seconds. He had had this dream before, of coming home from some wild flight and finding her waiting for him. In the dreams, though, she was barely changed from the schoolgirl he had last seen in the courtroom of the Ministry, pale hair in a waist-length tangle, wand behind her ear, all her edges softened by nostalgia.
The woman now getting to her feet before him was a stranger. Her hair was still pale, yes, but cropped into short curls. No wand was in evidence, and her robes, rather than the dreamy confections she had favored when she was sixteen, were styled after dueling costume, with tight sleeves and open sides over trousers and boots.
He could kill his mother for giving him no warning when she told him he had a guest. He had known she was in the country, of course; no wizard with half a brain could miss the coverage in Witch Weekly of Luna and Potter out in Muggle London. Even if Draco had been hiding under a rock - or flying above them, as the case may be - Potter had made certain by sending a copy of the column with a note explaining that the magazine had got the wrong end of the broom yet again. Draco had considered framing that note. How often would Potter be apologizing to him, after all? In the end he'd simply tossed it in the bin, trying to forget the surge of relief he'd felt at Potter's denial of the magazine's story.
"Hello, Draco," she said.
Her voice recalled him to the room, to the present. He stepped inside and closed the door, setting a silent ward to warn him if anyone approached. For a moment, the mere five steps between them presented an impossible obstacle. He stared, hungrily rewriting his mental image of her to match the presumed reality before him. Still, he wouldn't know for certain, would he, until she did not dissolve into smoke at his touch.
Luna moved first, reaching for him, and Draco met her halfway; she was real, and her arms clung just as tightly to him as his to her. "Luna," he whispered into her hair. "Luna, Luna."
She was shaking, and he could feel wild magic sparking against his hands as she lifted her head from his shoulder. "I missed you," she said, cradling his jaw in one hand. "I missed you so much, Draco. I'm so sor-"
He cut her off with a kiss, smothering the rest of her apology. He did not need it, did not deserve it, and it was so much more important to hold her, to press her as close as he could, to forgo breath as long as possible. He worried he might crush her, but when he began to loosen his hold, her hands wound into his hair and pulled him back. His vision was just beginning to blur around the edges when she finally let go and allowed a tiny gap between them.
"Wow," she said when she caught her breath. "I didn't expect that, either."
"Either?" he asked.
"You Malfoys are just full of surprises." She ran one finger along his bottom lip. "Getting past your parents was rather like running a gauntlet of lethifolds."
"Merlin, you didn't have to face them both?" He wondered if he would experience this level of lightheadedness around her all the time.
She laughed. "I did. They drove me to drink."
That explained the taste of brandy on her tongue. "My hero," Draco murmured as he bent to press a kiss to her brow. Before his lips touched her, the magic that had been tingling along his fingers leaped like lightning from her skin to his.
She jumped at the shock, and he took hold of her shoulders, carefully moving her a few inches away. He ducked his head to meet her eyes. "Luna," he said, feeling their moment of pure joy unraveling. "What's happened to your magic?"
He saw the shock in her face, perhaps as she realized what he was feeling. He let one hand drift bare millimeters above her shoulder, and the energy crackled in the space between. She took a deep breath and, with an abruptness that made Draco hiss in shock, all of the wild energy that had been swirling around her vanished.
"It got away from me for a moment," she whispered. "Strong emotion, you know."
He tilted her head up, braced for another shock to his fingers but feeling nothing. "No," he said, "I don't know. Tell me."
She looked around, and gestured toward the chaise by the window. "Can we sit?"
"Of course." Draco led her over to the chaise, but no sooner had he made himself comfortable than she jumped to her feet and began pacing in front of him. "Luna?" he asked quietly.
"It was the scars," she said, rubbing her arms as she walked in a tiny circle on the carpet. "Traditional mediwizardry insisted that they were just physical marks, the same as those made by a knife. They weren't the same as curse scars, you know? But they were destroying my magical core."
Draco reached for her, but she stepped away from his hand.
"No," she shook her head and faced him. "I'm fine - or I will be fine. But when my spells started backfiring, I tried to live in the Muggle world, hide from it. Then Rolf came up with his mad idea to send me to Mongolia. That's where I've been, since June."
Draco listened with increasing horror and admiration as she explained just how erratic her magic had become, and the extremely unorthodox treatment she had found in the red desert. To think of undergoing such a ritual when her magic was already depleted, chaotic - and all alone! When she started unbuttoning the cuffs of her robe, he reached out again, to stop her. "You don't need to do this -" he began.
"No, you should see," she insisted, and once the cuffs were undone she started on the front.
She was wearing a thin camisole beneath the robes, at least. As she turned to lay the discarded garment over the back of a chair, Draco leaned forward despite himself. He could see, quite clearly even through the fabric, dark flowering vines tattooed the length of her back, curling around her right shoulder and arm, running up her spine almost to the nape of her neck. The ink wrapped around her torso in two places, and disappeared beneath the waistband of her trousers over her left hip. Draco could tell, as any educated wizard would be able to tell, that these were not the simple painted tattoos that echoed Muggle body art. These were infused with magic, likely blood magic, and they represented a wild departure from approved Ministry spells.
When Luna turned back to face him, he could see that the vines continued over her belly, and curled under her bra. He lifted his hand so that it hovered near her waist, and he could feel the ink's power in the palm. He let his hand drop, with a good inch of air between them still, and was certain that the tattoo wrapped around her left leg as well. "Who else knows about this?" he asked, then kicked himself for sounding so harsh.
"I showed some of them to Mr. Ollivander, of course," Luna said, and laced her fingers with his. She pressed their joined hands to the strip of bare skin exposed between camisole and trousers. He could feel the tattoo's warmth under his fingers. "And," she continued, "Harry knows about them."
"You showed -?"
Luna cut him off before he even finished the question. "No, he hasn't seen them. He could just tell that they were there."
"Figures," Draco muttered. "Bloody powerful prat." He tugged gently at her hip, and as she sat down beside him she released his hand. He kept hold of her, slipping his hand beneath her camisole to follow the vine up her back with his fingertips.
She closed her eyes and held very still as he traced the curliques of ink, pausing every few inches as the smooth skin of her back was broken by a ridge of scar tissue. When he found those, he traced the lines of the scar, as well. He recognized the patterns as bastardized runes used for some dark spellcasting.
He had just reached the rune set between her shoulder blades when he realized that there were tears on her cheeks. He lifted his hand away from her skin. "Am I hurting you?"
She shook her head, leaning back into his hand. "No. It doesn't hurt."
Draco pulled her close and put his other arm around her. She swung her feet up across his lap and laid her head on his shoulder. With so much more of the tattoo touching him, Draco felt its power touching his own. He was no spellcraftre, at least not yet, but he knew enough to make a few educated guesses about the shape of the spells he felt in the ink and her flesh.
"This binds more than just the curse, doesn't it?" he asked, running his hand over the vine on her shoulder.
He felt her nod, and she curled her body closer to his. He did not press for explanations, but he knew when she shivered against him that she could feel it when he traced the edges of the spell with his power. She spoke no warning or protest, and he encountered no magical resistance at all.
He traced the web of energy for a while longer, learning its shape and its purpose, and when he came to the end of it he sighed, "I'm so sorry," into Luna's hair and just held her. The tattoo was its own prison, binding back the malice in the runes, yes, but in the process catching Luna's living magic in its web. He could not tell for certain what she had lost, but that there was loss was undeniable.
"I knew it would happen," she said softly, to his surprise. "I knew, Draco, before I entered the ritual. It's all right." She lifted her head to look at him, and he knew he hadn't been able to hide the horror he felt when she tried to push herself away from him.
"No, don't." He held on more tightly. "It's just ... a shock."
She smiled and shrugged one shoulder. "I never wanted to be a Healer anyway."
"Will it get better?" he asked carefully.
"Perhaps some things." Luna relaxed against him again. "My fine control will get better with practice, but some things I won't ever do. Advanced Transfigurations and Healing spells will always be exhausting. Certain curses and jinxes hurt to use, and Tymas thinks that casting something at the level of an Unforgivable would probably kill me." She actually laughed. "Good thing I have such a sunny disposition, isn't it?"
Draco smiled, even though he ached for her. "A very good thing." He could see those restrictive patterns in her magic, now that she'd said it. She could do little more than magical first aid now without hurting herself; she would never be an animagus. She would never teach, either, not in any official capacity. He could not help imagining what she would have been if she had never come to this house seven years ago.
She must have heard the pain in his voice he could not disguise, because she reached up and turned his face toward her. "You have spent too much time brooding, Draco." She leaned up and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. "Let's not think, for a while. Come," she shifted back into the corner of the chaise and beckoned him to lie beside her. "I want you to hold me, and be still. Don't make plans, or assign blame, or worry about tomorrow. Just that - will you?"
Draco stretched out beside her, and found that despite all the years and changes somehow she still fit beside him. He was now fairly certain that this was not a dream, and that the shape of his future had changed once more.
Luna laced their fingers together over his ribs, and Draco felt a strange elation, something he had not felt in years. He kissed Luna's forehead and whispered, "For you, Luna, anything."
Diagon Alley was the last place Draco wanted to be today. He would rather have stayed in bed with Luna. He would rather sit through another excruciatingly embarrassing supper with his parents at the Manor. He would even have chosen another awkward and uncomfortable tea with Luna's batty yet intimidating father over walking the cobbles of this particular street.
"Don't look so dour, Draco, we're not going to a funeral," Luna said as she slipped her arm around his waist and pressed herself affectionately into his left side. He could feel the subtle tingle of the Protego she had been maintaining at their backs since they Apparated. The balance she maintained between pragmatism and optimism amazed him. She laughed and waved at passersby with every appearance of careless cheer, yet never once had that shield spell wavered.
"This is such a bad idea," he muttered.
"We'll get a few pints into you and change your mind. Besides, soon you'll have a couple of brawny Aurors to watch your back, too." Luna grinned up at him and turned them into the archway to the Leaky Cauldron.
"Just what I need."
"Speaking of Aurors, did I tell you the one about the Auror Trainee and the Hag of Mount Snowdon?" Luna leaned up to his ear to whisper the punchline in his ear, and Draco found himself torn between horror and hilarity at hearing such filth from Luna's lips. Hilarity won, as she doubtless had planned, so that when he took his first step into the pub as a free man, he was laughing. There was no room for awkwardness or arrogance as she pulled him through the room, and he found fewer hostile looks came his way than he expected.
Potter and Weasley were arguing amiably with Finnegan at what Draco guessed was their regular table. As they approached, Draco tightened his grip on Luna and bent to whisper, "This is going to be a disaster."
Luna shook her head, as she bumped a chair with her hip to reach the table. "Don't be silly. It'll be grand." She leaned up to kiss him - square on the lips, in full view of the entire pub - and added, "If you find yourself wanting to throw hexes, take a deep breath and think of me."
Draco did think of her, all the time. He could not escape the softness of her skin, the warmth of her laugh, the absolutely stunning command she had taken in the bedroom. He could feel himself blushing and looked away.
"Oi, Luna, come be a voice of reason here," Finnegan said as Luna slid into a chair beside him. "You were at the Spain-India Final, weren't you?" He went on speaking without waiting for Luna to say anything. Draco rested his hands on the back of her chair, realized that probably looked territorial of him, and removed them to his pockets instead. He felt defensive for no good reason; these people were Luna's friends.
Luna smiled up at Draco as if she knew just what he was thinking - and she probably did. "Why don't you get us some drinks?" she suggested, when he made no move to sit down.
Draco noted the empties littering the table and did what any man would do when forced to socialize with a group of old schoolmates upon whom he must make a good impression or lose face. "I'll get the next round," he said, and turned toward the bar.
Weasly stood up before Draco could take a step. "I'll come with," he said as he unfolded himself from the bench along the wall. "You'll need the extra hands, the girls are on their way."
Draco shrugged, and led the way. As they waited for Tom to pull their many pints, Weasly leaned back on the bar. "Didn't think you'd ever come out," Weasley said casually, eyes roving over the crowded room.
"Been saving me a place, have you?" Draco replied with no little sarcasm.
Weasley just grinned. "Maybe we have. Would've evened out the quiz teams, anyway."
"You must be joking."
v "I wish." Weasley laughed as full glasses began to appear along the edge of the bar. "Hermione's mad for it."
"And Granger is the ruler of your little group?"
"Hermione makes sure we show up at the local on the right night, anyway."
Draco laughed even as he absorbed the correction. They were Luna's friends first, true, but they were trying. And Pansy insisted they were sincere. Would it be so difficult, really, to use their names?
Weasley - no, Ron - if Draco was going to change, he'd damned well do it now. Ron turned back to the bar to gather four glasses in his massive hands. Draco took the other three, and offered a tentative, "Thank you, Ron," to test the waters.
Ron grinned and raised the cluster of glasses. "Ha, Harry owes me a beer. Told him you'd come around in one evening."
Draco almost dropped the drinks. "You made a bet on me?"
That prompted more laughter, but it was friendly enough. "Oh, it's not the only one, Draco." Ron wiggled his eyebrows suggestively then made a break for the table, dodging other patrons.
"You're all totally out of your minds," Draco called after him, not bothering to try keeping up. He would rather arrive with his glasses still full.
Draco let the drinks thump onto the tabletop, then looked around again. Pansy had joined them, sitting on Finnegan's - Seamus's- other side. This was going to be harder than Draco had thought.
"Seamus," he said deliberately, sliding one of the beers to the Irishman, who looked startled for only a moment before accepting the glass.
Luna beamed at Draco, whose thoughts immediately turned to acts inappropriate for a public house. He quickly sat down.
Ron had just settled back on the bench beside Harry when Hermione came stalking through the other diners, sporting a very unbecoming scowl. Without even looking at anyone else, she took hold of Harry's head, pinned it to the wall, and kissed him. In this as in other aspects of her life, Hermione was quite thorough. After a few minutes, when the snogging showed no signs of ending, the others at the table re-started their conversations.
Ron, one arm draped along the back of the bench behind Harry, tapped his other hand on the table. "Bad day at the office, then, Pansy?" he asked with a crooked smile.
Pansy rolled her eyes and drank a quarter of her pint in one go. "Bloody goblins," she declaimed when she caught her breath. "Too many bloody rules and ridiculous antiquated regulations."
Draco glanced back at Harry, and found that the frantic lip-lock had finally ceased. Hermione now sat across Harry's lap, her head on his shoulder as he rubbed tiny circles at the nape of her neck.
"Four hours negotiating with an animated piece of furniture. Four hours." Hermione sounded more exhausted than angry. "Why did we take this case again?"
"Weakening the blood purity legislation the Wizengamot still refuses to strike from the books," Pansy said.
"Oh, right." Hermione gave her junior partner a tired grin. Then she brightened. "Oh, hello, Draco. About time you made it."
Draco lifted his glass. "Hermione." She looked surprised to hear him use her name.
Luna slid her hand onto Draco's knee and squeezed. He covered her hand with his and intertwined their fingers. It was all a bit surreal, enjoying a pint with this particular group, with the noise of the rowdy pub around them, and no guards or time limits or restrictions on him at all. Despite his insistence to his parents that he was perfectly capable of living his own life, he sometimes wondered if he would ever be truly comfortable like this. Perhaps next time they could choose a more quiet pub.
Next time. Well, at least he was thinking of repeating the experience.
Draco had lost track of the conversation while he brooded, but his attention was caught when Seamus asked Luna, "And where to next for the wandering minstrel? I'll never believe you're staying past Alice's Name Day."
Luna smiled and shrugged. "No, not much past." She glanced inquiringly at Draco, and he nodded. She continued with more enthusiasm, "We're going to Berlin first."
Harry seemed surprised, but no one else at the table reacted.
"I've been on an extended leave of absence from the University, and Professor Septuelle was very understanding about it, but I should go back. Re-instate myself, finish my research." She frowned as she said that. "I'll have to change my proposal some, too, but that can all be decided later."
"Good for you," Hermione said. Of course she would be happy to see someone going back to school, Draco thought.
Luna's gaze had focused on some vision only she could see above their table; Draco nudged her gently with his knee to bring her attention back to the group. He knew what she was thinking about, but she could worry about the new limitations on her magic after she had met with her tutor.
"And you, Draco?" Harry asked.
Draco met the other man's eyes across the table. It was hard to think of Harry as a friend, not a rivel or an Auror. They had not spoken more than a few words of casual conversation outside of Harry's job in years. The bitterness Draco had felt toward the other boy in school had not eased measurably in all the time Harry had been sent to oversee Draco's punishment. The anger had gone, though, and at least that was progress. Severus would have been proud to see that much.
Harry knew it, knew that they were not, and perhaps would never be, true friends. That much Draco could read, or Harry let him read, in those famous eyes. The gesture of truce was appreciated, though.
"Luna wants me to meet one of the Transfiguration Masters at a different school, one near hers," Draco said. "She thinks we'll get on, and since I've done most of the work already I'll just have to take the exams."
Luna nodded enthusiastically. "She has three other apprentices, too, and they're all completely mad. You'll love them, you'll see," she told Draco, bumping his shoulder. "Just your sort."
Draco shook his head, but could not help smiling. It did not really matter, did it? He would get on with this master or he would not, so he would look up another nearby. If necessary, he could arrange to travel longer distances to study. The important thing was to get out of England, and to do so with Luna.
Ron had just opened his mouth to say something when a young woman Draco did not recognize pulled a chair up to the table, brandishing the Daily Prophet. "You guys! You will not believe - good grief, are you Draco Malfoy?" She stared at Draco in astonishment.
"Draco, this is Nadia Rhys. She's an MLE Forensics drone raised by wild thestrals," Pansy said, affecting her most aristocratic accents. "Nadia, this is Draco Malfoy, chairman of the Prince Foundation and general layabout." Ron snorted a laugh into his beer and Seamus guffawed.
"Wow, great to meet you," said Nadia to Draco, then she grinned and blew Pansy a kiss. "Hey, that was halfway civil, you'd almost think Pansy liked me." Pansy rolled her eyes. "Anyway, people, listen to this -"
Luna dropped her head onto Draco's shoulder as the younger Auror started reading aloud from the paper. Draco put his arm around her and let himself relax for the first time that day. Perhaps, just perhaps, the world was not, in fact, lying in wait to trip him up at its first decent opportunity. Not that he would be letting down his guard any time soon, but life suddenly looked a lot more beautiful.
Epilogue: The Hogwarts Express
September 1, 2023
Platform Nine and Three Quarters, King's Cross Station
Alice Longbottom loved her parents, she really did, but she found them positively smothering every September first. It was even worse this year. Her dad kept asking how she was holding up, as if it had been an injury of some sort, not being chosen Head Girl.
"I'm really excited about Quidditch," she reminded him as she checked the locks on her kneazle's carrier before they went through the barrier, "and who has time to do anything else when Ravenclaw might finally get the Cup?"
"There, see, somebody in this household has their priorities straight," said Mum, still a professional Chaser, before gulping the black coffee she had acquired from the Muggle stand on the corner.
"I'll play, too," shrieked her little brother Matthew, running alongside Alice's cart. "I'm gonna be a Beater!"
Dad just laughed then scooped Matt up and tossed the seven-year-old over his shoulder to step through the wall. "There are other things in life besides Quidditch, you know," he said, then vanished.
"Sacrilege!" Mum called at his back, too late. Alice waited with Mum as her sisters Meredith and Angela pushed Merrie's cart through to the platform. Alice started forward, but Mum held her back, waving another group through ahead of them. The Muggle-repelling charms had been enhanced years back to allow for the queues now that Hogwarts had so many more students. Alice pulled her cart to the side.
"All right, Alice. You're really okay?" Mum put her hands on Alice's shoulders and looked her square in the eye.
Alice smiled, trying to be reassuring. "I really am. Diana will enjoy Head Girl so much more than I will, and I am going to get us that Cup this time."
"You're going to have such a wonderful year," Mum said, her voice warm with nostalgia. "Write me all about it. I really want to know how your new Transfigurations professor works out." She was grinning as if something was funny.
Alice had been after this information for weeks. "You know who it is!" she accused.
Mum nodded, looking positively gleeful. "I sure do. Don't worry. You'll love it."
Alice crossed her arms and tried pouting. It always worked better on Dad, though. Mum just laughed and patted Alice's arm. "Come on, your dad will be wondering if we've accidentally gotten on the train to Bristol."
Platform Nine and Three Quarters sported the usual barely-controlled chaos, exacerbated by the presence of a few too many members of the press. Alice pushed her cart directly past the cluster of reporters without even trying to break through to the center of the crowd, where her aunt and uncles and Granger cousins tried to see Emma onto the train without hexing anyone. Uncle Harry had sent four photographers home with boils last year, when Emma had been a firstie.
Alice found an empty carriage near the front and started moving her things inside one of the compartments. She managed her familiar in the first trip, and when she stepped back onto the platform she found a tall blond man examining her trunk with his wand out.
"Need a hand?" he asked, then turned around.
"Uncle Draco!" Alice was too startled to move for a moment, then she threw herself at her honorary godfather. She had a picture postcard of Cyprus from him and Aunt Luna in her trunk, promising a wonderful surprise for her final year of school, but she had never in a million years suspected that the surprise would be delivered in person.
"Did you come to see me off?" she asked, her voice muffled slightly by his robes. When she stepped back, he flicked his wand at the baggage cart she had not noticed, sitting next to hers. There were three trunks stacked on it, all bearing the Malfoy family crest.
"Not exactly," he said, and began levitating the trunks into the carriage.
Alice watched this for a moment before the situation clicked in her mind. "Oh, my god!" she shrieked, causing Draco to turn to her, one eyebrow raised, doubtless at her uncouth Muggle swear. "You're our new Transfigurations professor, aren't you?"
"Good guess," said a quiet, familiar voice behind Alice. Her godmother stepped down from the adjacent carriage to the platform.
Both of them, together, in London, and apparently getting on the Express - Alice felt rather like her birthday had come early. She reminded herself that she was almost eighteen, and should not behave like a child in a toy store. It was hard, though, not to jump up and down with excitement.
"How? Why? You're going to be here the whole year?" Alice looked back at Uncle Draco as she hugged Aunt Luna with the gentleness and decorum befitting a seventh-year.
"Well, that is the plan. I doubt Minerva would have let me have the year if she thought I'd do a runner halfway," Uncle Draco said as the last Malfoy trunk flew into the carriage and onto the luggage shelf.
He was laughing, even though his face remained schooled and sober. Alice could always tell, from the time she was a very small child. It was the way his eyes changed when he was happy, or amused, or looking at Aunt Luna. "Are you back for good?" Alice asked.
Aunt Luna reached over and laced her fingers through Alice's. "Just for the school year, Sunshine. And maybe a little while after," she said, watching Uncle Draco levitate Alice's trunk into a different compartment.
"Oh, I see." Alice had not really expected to hear that her footloose godmother was returning to England forever. Then a tiny detail of Aunt Luna's hand came into sharp focus. Alice could feel a heavy band on the left ring finger, and she turned their clasped hands so that Aunt Luna's was on top.
There was a star-cut sapphire set in a heavy gold band on Aunt Luna's third finger, where she had never before worn any jewelry of any kind. Alice lifted her palm a little so that her skin touched the underside of the ring, and she felt the tingle of magic in it. It was an extremely traditional charmed wedding band.
"You got married?" Alice asked stupidly, when the answer was staring her in the face. "Without saying anything?"
Uncle Draco's larger hand entered Alice's line of vision, covering both of theirs. His ring was similar, but had a square emerald in the band. "It was not exactly planned," he explained with a touch of exasperation in his voice. "My father bribed the consulate to refuse us our return visas until we consented."
"You had a wandpoint wedding?" Alice had only ever read about them in the romance novels Diana kept hidden under her bed.
Aunt Luna laughed out loud, and Uncle Draco just looked sour. "Good grief, Alice, where do you get these phrases?" he grumbled. "It's not as if we would never have married - Father has just gotten a bit fanatical lately about preserving the Malfoy name."
Alice pulled her hand free of theirs, and watched Uncle Draco pull his wife into the circle of his arm. "We're having a party at Christmas, since only our parents were at the actual ceremony," Aunt Luna said with a smile. "There can be dramatic re-enactments if you'd like."
"But - why? Why now?" Alice let Uncle Draco pull her under his other arm, then he guided them both to the carriage door.
"Because my father is a bloody traditionalist down to his bones. In you go." Uncle Draco gave her a little push, then gave Aunt Luna a hand up.
The train sounded its warning chime, letting all of the crowds on the platform know that it would be departing shortly. Uncle Draco hurried them into a compartment as a flood of students seeking seats came stampeded down the corridor. Alice sat down under the shelf holding her trunk and stared across at her godparents.
"I can see the puzzle pieces clicking together in your head, Alice," Aunt Luna said as the train began moving.
"I just - " Alice started to explain what she was thinking, but then the compartment door slid open.
"Alice! Here you are! Oh- " A seventh-year boy in Slytherin robes practically fell into the compartment, then onto a seat. He looked from Alice to her godparents and back. It was obvious that Uncle Draco and Aunt Luna were not students. "Um - Hello."
"Hey, Ozzie, give me a second." Alice was thinking very hard now, remembering something Uncle Draco had said earlier. "You had to do it because you're having a baby," she declared at last, and was gratified to see that she had managed to surprise her godfather.
"Very good, Alice," Aunt Luna murmured. Then she looked between Alice and Ozzie, expectantly.
"This is Ozzie. He was my Potions partner last year." Alice looked at her godparents, suddenly unsure.
Uncle Draco came to the rescue. "Professor Malfoy," he said, holding out his hand to Ozzie. "And Mrs. Malfoy." For some reason this made Alice giggle.
"Ozymandias Waddleswort, sir, but everybody calls me Ozzie." Ozzie shook Uncle Draco's hand enthusiastically, then did the same for Aunt Luna's. "Are you the same Professor Malfoy who was in Potions Today in May? You look different in your photograph."
That made Alice giggle even harder.
Uncle Draco looked positively chuffed that someone knew who he was. "I'm surprised to find students keeping up with new research," he said, and that launched Ozzie into a flurry of fannish excitement, explaining his plans for this term's research project.
Aunt Luna leaned against the window and caught Alice's eye. "Are you all right with all this, Alice? We didn't think the surprise part through very well." She sent an affectionate look Uncle Draco's way.
Alice stared at her godmother in surprise. "I wish I could have been there, but it's wonderful. Do Mum and Dad know? And Uncle Harry?"
"Mm. Harry knows. I've never been able to keep anything from him." Aunt Luna looked out at the quickly thinning urban landscape. "We've got formal announcements ready to send, probably tomorrow morning. I expect it will be rather shocking, really."
Alice leaned forward until her forehead was almost touching the older woman's. "Are you all right, Aunt Luna?" she whispered.
There had been so much gossip, in and out of the papers, about her parents and their generation that Alice had never really known what stories to believe. Sometimes the things that her parents insisted were bare truth sounded too incredible to believe. And sometimes the lies that angered them the most were the things it seemed easiest to believe. Alice knew just enough to wonder about things that other students did not, like why the Malfoys had really turned against Voldemort, or why her parents had gotten together when the world thought her Mum was meant for Uncle Harry. Alice had never dared to ask Aunt Luna or Uncle Draco about the first question, nor her parents about the second. She wondered anyway. She wondered now if a baby was good news or not, if being married was good news or not. Aunt Luna and Uncle Draco had been together for seventeen years without either, although sometimes Alice overheard things that made her wonder if there had not been other hopes, other losses, over the years.
Aunt Luna put her hands up to frame Alice's face. "Oh, my darling, darling Alice," she said, her voice low and secret, just between them, like it had been in the old days when Alice was very small. Alice could hear her godmother's smile. "I am very, very well. And so happy. Everything is wonderful."
Alice grinned, and when Aunt Luna let her go she sat back, leaning against Ozzie as he continued to monopolize Uncle Draco. This was going to be the best school year ever.