Actions

Work Header

The Relative Truth

Work Text:

Luna’s first memory was of her mother. At least, she assumed it was a memory. Perhaps it was something she had exaggerated or invented over time. Maybe it was a story her father once told her that Luna had secretly cultivated until it blossomed into something with image and sound. In any case, Luna believed it to be a memory, and like so many things in her life, that belief was what really mattered.

She remembered that she didn’t want to go to sleep because of the nargle that was hiding under her bed. She couldn’t explain this to her mother, however, possibly because she knew her mother would get angry, and then her father wouldn’t be allowed to tell her about all those interesting creatures anymore.

In the end, the only way Luna would agree to go to bed was with her mother lying next to her on her small mattress. That was the part of the memory that remained the most tangible: the safety of falling asleep to the steady sound of her mother’s breathing, and the fading scent of mysterious potions combined with perfume.

***

Luna had been sleeping in the Room of Requirement for a week when Neville stumbled through the door late one night. He gave a startled jump when he saw her, but quickly recovered with a bemused smile.

“Er, hi Luna. Is everything all right?”

That was one of the things Luna liked best about Neville. He always thought of others first. “Yes, everything is well, thank you,” she replied.

Neville limped over to the second hammock that had appeared in the room, and sank down onto it. After a moment of staring at Luna, he finally said, “May I ask why you’re floating upside-down?”

“You may,” said Luna, then paused expectantly. Neville just rolled his eyes, and Luna grinned. “It helps me think,” she explained. “It’s always good to see things from a different perspective. You should try it sometime.”

“Maybe later,” said Neville in a tone that implied he'd not be trying it at all. “I reckon I’d rather be right side up just now.”

Luna shrugged, which was a surprisingly difficult gesture to coordinate from her position. “Suit yourself.” She flicked her wand, and dropped without ceremony into the hammock below her. She had become quite adept at self-levitation recently, even if the concentration involved combined with the blood rushing to her head did leave her rather dizzy. It took a moment to regain her bearings. Once she had, she sat up so she could coax her long hair back into place and regard Neville more closely.

That was when she finally noticed the new cut across Neville’s face, already in the process of magically healing although it would nonetheless leave a scar. The sight made her insides twist into a tight ball, but she was careful not to show any pity on her face. Neville couldn’t abide pity. He had always been that way, even when he was just an insecure boy trying to keep up in Dumbledore’s Army. Besides, injuries weren’t worth much mention these days, especially when it came to Neville.

“What did you say this time?” she asked out of curiosity, indicating the wound.

Neville smiled, but Luna found it to be a mournful expression. “I asked how many N.E.W.T.s one needed to become a Death Eater.”

Luna giggled. “I turned one of Alecto’s eyebrows blue this morning. I’m not sure if she’s noticed yet.” Neville laughed outright, and Luna was incredibly pleased that she could temporarily lift some of the weight from his shoulders. Rebellion was serious business, and no one took it as seriously as Neville. If Luna could still make him laugh on occasion, she found that more rewarding than turning both Carrows blue head to toe.

When the laughter subsided, Neville kicked off his shoes and made to get settled in his temporary bed. Luna watched him closely, forgetting that her staring tended to make people uncomfortable. Although the cut on his cheek wasn’t pleasant, and he still had that twisted ankle from a few days ago, she couldn’t detect any injury that would keep him from sleeping in his own room. “Are you locked out of your dorm as well?” she asked.

Neville turned to her in surprise. “You’re locked out of your dorm?”

Luna pressed her lips together. That was more than she had meant to say. “Well, not exactly. It’s more that my dorm has decided it doesn’t like me anymore.” Luna waited to see if Neville would ask her to elaborate, and was grateful when he didn’t.

Instead Neville just rubbed his eye and said, “I think I know the feeling. Sometimes I feel like we don’t even go to the same school anymore.” He paused before adding, “I just needed some time to myself, is all.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone then.” Luna immediately stood up to leave. She reckoned she could always sleep in the Ravenclaw common room, or perhaps with the elves in the kitchen. It might even be nice to wake up to the smell of breakfast.

Before she could gather her things, however, Neville was already gesturing for her to stop. “No, no, I didn’t mean that. I – I don’t mind that you’re here.”

Luna remained standing, determining whether or not Neville was simply trying to be polite. “Are you sure? Because I do love porridge first thing in the morning.”

Neville opened his mouth, paused, closed his mouth, furrowed his brow, and then slowly grinned. It was an amusing sequence of facial events to watch. “Yeah, I’m sure. Actually, I’m really glad you’re here. I could use someone cheerful about now.”

“I’m glad you’re here as well,” said Luna, flopping back onto her hammock and beaming because it was true. She missed having roommates and she’d never had a roommate who actually liked her before. Not for the first time that year, Luna was silently grateful for having Neville as a friend.

***

Luna didn’t have many friends growing up. Sometimes she would play with the other wizarding kids in the area, but more often than not they would eventually leave her behind to go play by themselves.

She did have a lot of books, however, and that was almost just as good. Her favourite were the fairy tales, not just Beedle the Bard but some of the muggle ones as well, especially if they came with drawings. She loved to draw almost as much as she loved books. She’d spend hours in her room drawing princes and princesses, dragons, hippogriffs, merpeople, centaurs, and all sorts of other things she’d never seen.

Her favourite story was one her father had written and self-published. It was about a little girl who grew up in a forest, raised by magical creatures both common and mysterious. The book was filled with interesting facts about life in the forest and what the different creatures were like. At the end of the story, the little girl was discovered by two wizards who insisted she return with them and learn how to become a proper witch. The little girl knew she’d never be a proper witch, nor did she care to be. So one night, when the moon was full, all the creatures of the forest came together and used their special magic to turn the little girl into a unicorn so she could live in the forest forever. It was a lovely story, and Luna could never understand why it didn’t achieve a wider circulation.

On special occasions, her mother would come to her room and read it to her before bed. That way, Luna could close her eyes and picture the story more vividly. Her mother’s soft voice would roll over her, and Luna would try her hardest to imagine how it felt to be that little girl in the forest.

When the story was finished, her mother would lean down and kiss Luna on the forehead, her long, soft hair tickling Luna’s cheeks. She would also recite a short poem, which marked the end of the bedtime ritual:

“Good night, sleep tight. Wake up bright with the morning light. Do what’s right with all your might. Good night – I love you, Lucas.”

***

When Luna, Neville, and Ginny sat together in the Gryffindor common room, everyone else knew to give them a wide berth. Some of them wanted to give them plenty of space to plan their next attack. The rest of them just didn’t want to be implicated. No one seemed to mind the lone Ravenclaw in their midst, and Luna was amused by how much had changed over the past five years. Back then, she had barely felt welcome in her own house let alone any of the others.

“I think we need to aim bigger,” Neville was saying. “The graffiti and pranks are fine, but they seem like too much risk for not enough result.”

“I’ve been thinking the same,” agreed Ginny. “I love making the Carrows miserable, but – what’s the point, really? They just clean up the evidence before anyone even sees it. We should do something more permanent.”

Luna had an amusing thought. “We could charm all the quills in the castle to start writing rude things about Death Eaters at once.”

Ginny looked at her for a moment. “That’s not – possible, is it?”

“No, I don’t think so,” said Luna. “But it would be brilliant, wouldn’t it?”

Neville sighed and tapped the table in front of him. “Anything that could reach all the students at once would be brilliant. I just want to give them some hope, or…I don’t know. Something. Even if it’s just symbolic.”

“Why does it have to be just symbolic?” asked Ginny, sounding frustrated. This was an argument they’d had before. “I want to do something, Neville. I want to hex the Carrows and hang them from the ceiling, bound and gagged. I want to feel safe in my own school again!” She leaned back in her seat with her arms crossed, and added quietly, “Harry would fight back, you know.”

“Harry wouldn’t do anything that put the other students at risk,” Neville countered.

Luna thought they were both wrong. If Harry were still at Hogwarts, he would probably internalize all the abuse, become moody and detached, and then lash out as soon as he saw someone he cared about being harmed, even if it put both of them in danger.

But that was beside the point.

Neville and Ginny’s different interpretations of Harry said more about themselves and their own responses to the crisis. Ginny was all action; Neville was all theory. It was good in a lot of ways, because they balanced each other well, even when they argued. As for Luna’s role, she had taken it upon herself to make sure no one became moody or detached.

“I think if Harry were here, he would probably tell us to stop talking about him in the third person.”

Neville laughed, and even Ginny couldn’t help but grin.

“Maybe we’re focusing too much on the Carrows,” said Neville after a moment. “We know they’re just pawns. Who we should really go after is Snape.”

The name was spoken with vicious loathing and had the same shuddering effect on all three of them.

“We could block the entrance to the headmaster’s office,” offered Ginny.

Neville thought about it, but then shook his head. “I don’t see how. At least, not permanently. And I don’t want to damage the office itself. Dumbledore’s portrait is still in there.”

“Okay,” said Ginny, “then what if we steal his portrait?”

“We couldn’t,” said Luna. “Professor Flitwick talked about it once – you would have to destroy the castle itself to get those paintings off the walls. Although I bet if we had some flobberworm mucus, that might help weaken the sticking charms.”

“Or some Bubotuber pus,” added Neville absently.

Ginny look back and forth at both of them and made a face. “Okay. Ew.”

Luna nodded in agreement. “Yes, that would be rather disgusting. I don’t think we should resort to that.”

“So let’s come up with something else,” said Neville. “I know we can think of something good.”

They all sat in silence for a few moments, settling into their thoughts. Luna had her chin resting on her hand, and she tried to think of a plan, but it wasn’t long before her mind started to wander. She found herself thinking about Neville instead. She’d been thinking about him a lot lately, in fact. She, Neville, and Ginny had designated themselves the unofficial leaders of the new Dumbledore’s Army, but it was Neville who was the driving force behind it. He was the natural leader, the one that everyone looked up to, even if he'd not realized it yet.

It reminded Luna of a moment they shared two years ago, back during the first incarnation of Dumbledore’s Army. Neville had stumbled upon a very embarrassing scene where Luna was being harassed by some of the older Ravenclaws. Luna was responding just as her father had taught her, and wasn’t showing any sign that their comments bothered her in the least. It was even mostly true.

They all scattered once they noticed Neville standing there, and Neville had asked Luna if she was all right.

“Oh yes,” said Luna. “Wands and stones can break my bones, but I’m used to the words by now. They don’t like me very much because they don’t think I belong in Ravenclaw.”

“That’s horrible,” said Neville, sounding somewhat unsure how to respond but sincere nonetheless. “Actually,” he added, “I sort of know what that’s like.”

“No one thinks you belong in Ravenclaw either?” Luna asked. Neville started to say something, then stopped and just looked at her in confusion. Luna found that she couldn’t hold back a grin, and a moment later Neville realized the joke and smiled back.

Luna was grateful for his empathy, but they really had the opposite problems. Luna knew perfectly well where she belonged; it was just that no one else agreed with her. By contrast, Neville was the one doubting the Sorting Hat’s decision, not his housemates. Luna could tell just by watching him at their DA meetings that he would become a powerful wizard once he gained a little confidence. “I think you’re very brave, Neville,” she assured him. “You just don’t know it yet.”

Neville blushed from embarrassment. “Yeah, well, I doubt it. I’ll see you at the next meeting, Luna.” He hurried off, looking more dejected than before.

But Luna had been right in the end, hadn’t she? Neville had shown nothing but bravery at the Department of Mysteries, and now he was one of the bravest boys in the entire school.

It was because Luna was thinking about Gryffindor and bravery that an idea suddenly popped into her head. “The Sword of Gryffindor,” she stated with certainty.

“What about it?” asked Ginny.

“We can steal that instead. We’ll display it in the Room of Requirement for all the students to see, and it can represent our bravery, and how we’re not afraid to fight back. I don’t think Snape would like it very much, either.”

Ginny turned to Neville, her eyes shining with excitement and anticipation, but Neville didn’t notice because he was still looking at Luna. He smiled slowly. The expression was equal parts pride and affection, and it made Luna’s heart swell.

***

Ginny probably didn’t remember this, but Luna used to come over to the Burrow to play when they were very little. They lived fairly close to each other, after all. Ginny could be quite bossy when she found herself free of her brothers’ shadows, but Luna was happy to play any game she had in mind.

On one of these occasions, Ginny decided they would play with her dolls. She handed Luna the one male in her collection. When Luna asked if she could have a female one instead, Ginny scoffed and said, “Don’t be silly. If you’re a girl, how are we supposed to get married?”

Luna had to admit she had a point. She took her doll with the hard, plastic hair and tried to think of what to do with it. Ginny was already picking out her favourite miniature dress robes for her doll to try on, and after a moment, Luna followed suit. They said nothing as they prepared their fiancés for the big day. A few minutes later, when Ginny was satisfied that the bride was dressed to perfection, she inspected Luna’s progress and let out a cry.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m doing the same as you,” Luna replied, feeling sad that she had already ruined Ginny’s game.

“But he can’t wear that! Those are girls’ clothes!”

Luna looked down at her doll and frowned. She had simply copied Ginny and dressed him in the most beautiful outfit she could find. But this was Ginny’s game, after all, and she wanted to do it correctly. “What should he wear then?”

“Forget it.” Ginny ripped the doll from her hand and threw it back in the box, dress robes and all. “Let’s play something else.”

About two weeks later, Mrs. Weasley flooed the house, asking Luna if she could speak with her mum. From the top of the stairs, Luna could hear their entire conversation, and it made her feel strangely empty inside.

“You know how it is,” Mrs. Weasley was saying in a light tone. “My sons all went through the same phase. Although with Ginny it might have to do with having so many brothers. In any case, she’s decided she’s just not interested in playing with boys anymore. I hope you understand.”

Luna’s mother assured her that, yes, of course she did, but Luna didn’t understand one bit. She snuck back into her bedroom and took refuge under her covers.

***

“What do you want to do when you leave school?” asked Luna from her hammock.

“You mean if the war suddenly ended, and I actually had a choice?” said Neville with a fair amount of bitterness. It was their second sleepover in two weeks, and Luna hoped it would become a regular occurrence.

“Harry will end the war,” she asserted. As the other students began to lose hope, Luna’s hope had only intensified. At this point she was absolutely certain that any day now, Harry would burst in and finish things once and for all.

Neville sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, if Harry suddenly decides to come out of hiding, kill You-Know-Who, and end the war all before the end of term. . . .” He trailed off and shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d do.”

“Yes, you do. Don’t be silly.” Luna would have accepted that response from another student, but not from Neville. Neville had plans; she could tell. He just needed a little coaxing to open up, like one of his plants.

Neville grinned slightly and continued. “I think I’d like to – well, it’s really stupid.” Luna glared at him until he finished, the words coming out in a rush. “I think it would be fun to travel the world and study plants.”

As soon as he made that statement, Neville began to turn bright red, even though he had nothing to be embarrassed about. Luna clapped her hands together and beamed. “Me too! Only, not with plants. I want to study different creatures, especially the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. I hear they’re more common in Africa, and I’ve never seen one for myself.”

“But, don’t you think it’s sort of – pointless?” Neville asked. “I mean, after all this. . . .” He gestured to the castle around them to explain what he meant by “this.” “I don’t know. Studying plants just doesn’t feel that important anymore.”

“Oh, but it is important. Understanding the world around us is what helps us grow as a society.”

Neville looked uncertain as he muttered, “I guess. . . .”

The defeat in his voice was heartbreaking. It was the hopelessness that had been spreading through the castle like a disease, infecting students and teachers alike. Up until now, Neville had proven himself resilient to despair, just like Luna strived to be, and she couldn’t stand this new creeping melancholy.

“Maybe you’re right, Neville. Maybe learning about plants really isn’t enough.”

Neville seemed crushed by her agreement. His shoulders sagged, and he said, “Yeah, I know. It’s selfish if you think about it.”

Luna nodded. “Yes, very selfish – if you keep it to yourself. That’s why no one knows about gnome magic anymore, or proper dental hygiene. But if you pass the knowledge along so it doesn’t get lost, that’s entirely different.” She considered him for a moment. “Have you ever thought about writing a book, or being a teacher?”

That finally had the effect that Luna was going for. Neville sat up a little straighter in his hammock, his eyes going wide with guarded excitement. “Er, no, not really. Well, except maybe a teacher. Do you think I’d be any good at it?” For a moment he sounded just like his fifth-year self, unsure and excited and completely adorable.

“Oh, yes. I think you’d be just brilliant.”

Luna smiled at him and Neville returned the expression. His eyes gradually lost their focus as he stared past Luna’s shoulder and into the future, hopefully one that would be free of Dark Lords and Death Eaters and his grandmother's expectations. Luna wondered when was the last time he’d given the future any consideration at all.

When he came out of his musings and his eyes were trained once again on Luna’s, she knew that his guarded brand of optimism had been restored. “Luna,” he said, “If I ever do travel the world for plants, would you want to come along with me?”

Luna couldn’t think of anything she would love more, and that’s exactly what she told him.

Before they went to sleep that night, Neville turned to her in the dark. “I’ve never met anyone like you before,” he murmured.

“Thank you,” Luna whispered back.

***

Luna had always known she was different, but she didn’t always know why. The answer never came to her in a sudden childhood epiphany, or a single moment of realization. It was more of a gradual awareness over time. When she was six, she knew that people had a lot of trouble seeing the person she actually was. By the time her eighth birthday rolled around, she finally gathered the courage to ask her parents about it.

Her birthday had been a small occasion marked by her favourite meal followed by a large cake. Everyone was in a good mood as they sat in the kitchen with bellies full, and so it had seemed like the opportune time to bring it up.

“Mum,” she said, one icing-tipped finger in her mouth, “what’s the difference between girls and boys?”

Her mother paled, and immediately looked to her father. Luna felt as though she had said something wrong, which she couldn’t understand since her parents always encouraged her to ask a lot of questions.

“What should we say?” her mother asked softly.

“I think we should tell him,” her father replied after only a slight hesitation.

Her mother considered it, glancing at Luna but continuing to talk as though she weren’t there. “But he’s barely eight. Isn’t this supposed to happen – later?”

Luna’s father shrugged. “He’s ready now. You said yourself how mature he was for his age.”

“Well, what should we tell him, then? Everything?”

“Absolutely.” In response to the shock on her mother’s face, he added, “You know I feel about withholding the truth.”

Her mother wrung her hands together, looked towards her father once again, and finally relented. Together, the two of them told Luna all sorts of things she'd not expected to hear. Things about boy bits, and girl bits. She told Luna that babies didn’t actually grow out of giant baby pods, which Luna already knew, even if she didn’t know the particulars. Her father told Luna about erections, semen, hair – all manner of disgusting things. And at the end of it, at the end of it all, she realized that neither of them had answered her actual question.

“But why are boys and girls different? Is it just because they have different bits?” This was all very uncomfortable to talk about with her parents, but Luna was trying hard to act just as mature as they were.

“No, dear,” her mother said with a tense smile. “There’s more to it than just that.”

“But I don’t get it,” Luna complained, quickly getting upset but trying not to show it. “Who gets to decide?”

Her mother’s smile faded, and she looked to Luna’s father to respond. “No one decides, Lucas,” he said with paternal authority. “It’s just the way you are.”

Luna said nothing. After a few more minutes of awkward conversation, she excused herself for bed early. Her parents let her go without question, although she could feel their concerned gazes on the back of her neck. Once she was in the safety of her own room, she lay in her bed and cried herself to sleep, even though she knew it wasn’t something that boys were allowed to do.

***

Luna hid in the shadows as Snape left his office to teach his N.E.W.T. level potions class, one of the few classes he still maintained. Neville nodded to them silently, and she and Ginny crept to the statue of the gargoyle that guarded the entrance.

“Fluxweed,” Ginny whispered.

The wall before them opened with a loud rumble that filled the empty hallway, making all three of them jump.

Neville gave one quick look behind them before muttering, “Come on, let’s go.”

They stepped onto a moving spiral staircase, and emerged somewhere Luna had never been before: the headmaster’s office. She never imagined one room could be so overwhelming, with portraits to the ceiling and curious items everywhere she looked. The Sword of Gryffindor gleamed from its case on the far side of the room, but Luna couldn’t help wandering to the wall on her left to inspect all the fascinating instruments and trinkets that lined the shelves.

She picked up a small metal tube that was making a low humming sound. “I think this might be the mind control device my father wrote about once. That’s how they were able to pass that legislation on–”

Luna!” Ginny hissed. “Get over here, will you?”

Luna reluctantly replaced it on the shelf, making mental note of all its details so she could later describe it to her father.

She joined Ginny and Neville where they stood, staring up at the case that held the sword. It looked even more impressive close up, the lights in the office glinting off the blade as well as the rubied hilt.

Ginny lifted a hand to the glass and hesitated before pressing her palm against it. Despite the danger and the thrill of the situation, a look of sadness crossed her face. “I wish Harry were here,” she said softly before dropping her hand back to her side.

There was a moment of silence as they stood before the sword. “Any ideas?” asked Neville. “I’m guessing the case won’t open on its own.”

“No it won’t,” said a familiar voice above them, scaring them all half to death. Once the initial shock had passed, Luna took a step back and couldn’t help but smile at what had been an empty picture frame only moments before. “Hello, Professor Dumbledore.”

He inclined his head politely. “Hello, Miss Lovegood. Miss Weasley. Mr. Longbottom. Am I to understand that you intend to remove that sword from this office?”

“Er, well . . . yeah,” said Neville. “If that’s all right with you, sir.”

Dumbledore’s portrait smiled knowingly in an unsettling imitation of the real thing. “Please, be my guest. I am flattered, of course, that you would ask my permission over the current headmaster’s, but I am afraid I have very little use for swords these days. An imitation, after all, is not the real thing, as much as it may resemble the original.”

The painted smile became even more smug, giving Luna the distinct impression that Dumbledore was telling them a riddle. Ginny interrupted her thoughts before Luna had a chance to figure it out. “Could you tell us how to open the case, then, sir?” she asked.

“Certainly,” said Dumbledore. He shared with them the incantation, and a moment later, the sword was freed from its cage.

While Neville and Ginny struggled with how best to transport the weapon, Luna continued to stare up at Dumbledore’s portrait, thinking about his choice of words. Dumbledore caught her gaze, and gave her the smile of a concerned parent. “And how have you been, Miss Lovegood? Have you procured a place to sleep yet?”

Luna’s eyes went wide. She didn’t look at Neville, although she knew he had heard that comment and was probably staring at her in confusion. “Yes sir, thank you,” she answered quietly.

“Come on guys,” interrupted Ginny. “We should really get out of here before–”

“Before what, might I ask?” came a low, dangerous voice from behind them.

The three of them spun around, the sword still in Neville’s hand. There, blocking the only exit to the office, stood Snape himself with fury written over his face. Luna’s heart was pounding so loudly in her ears she thought she might go deaf. None of them spoke, rooted to the spot as they were with fear and adrenaline.

Luna half expected Snape to pull out his wand and crucio them right there on the office floor. That was the sort of reaction they had come to expect from the Carrows, at least. Instead, Snape simply glared at them as he shook his head with a world-weary sigh. When he spoke, he seemed to be talking to himself more than anyone.

“Why do you insist on making things more difficult for yourselves?” He took a few long strides and snatched the sword away from Neville’s loose grip. “Now. What in Merlin’s name am I going to do with you?”

***

Luna’s shoes were wet, but she didn’t notice as she hurried behind Cedric Diggory, trying to keep up with him. They were walking alongside a stream during Cedric’s last summer before he left for Hogwarts. She could tell how excited he was to be going, as he talked of almost nothing else.

“And each house has its own Quidditch team,” he was saying. “I want to try for the team as soon as I get there, but Dad says first years aren’t allowed.”

Cedric was a few years older than Luna, and had no shortage of his own friends, but when he wandered around Ottery St. Catchpole by himself he didn’t seem to mind if Luna tagged along. Luna liked being around Cedric. He was kind, he seemed to know everything, and he was also quite fit. Even when he teased her, he was always nicer than any of the other boys. So she didn’t mind that he saw her as an occasionally amusing oddity.

“What position do you want to play?” she asked. She wasn’t very interested in Quidditch, but she liked to hear Cedric talk about it. It clearly made him happy, and the way he smiled as he talked made Luna happy in turn.

“Seeker,” was his immediate answer. “They have to be really fast, and that’s what I like about flying the most. Though I wouldn’t mind playing chaser, either. Or anything, really, if it means I’ll get to be on the team.”

“And what does the seeker do?”

Cedric stopped walking and turned to look at her. “You don’t know?”

Luna paused before she shook her head. The one time she had been to a game, it was the spectacle and energy in the air rather than the actual rules that had caught her interest. Cedric gave her a funny look before continuing on their path, reaching down to pick up a fallen branch and brandishing it like a wand as he talked.

“You should learn this stuff before you go to Hogwarts. You don’t want the other boys to think you’re a poofter or something.”

“What’s a poofter?” Luna asked, trotting to keep up. She didn’t like to look dumb in front of Cedric, but her parents had always taught her to ask questions, and Cedric always seemed willing to answer them.

This time he sounded uncomfortable as he responded. “Lucas, it’s okay to ask me these things, but you can’t go around talking about it at school. A poofter is – you know – a boy who likes other boys.”

Something about his tone bothered her. “Why? Is it bad to like boys? I like you.”

This stopped Cedric in his tracks for the second time. He looked straight at Luna and said, almost angrily, “You can’t say things like that. People are going to think you mean something else.” His expression softened, and his voice once again took on the patience of an older brother. “I’m talking about liking someone. More than friends. Do you understand the difference?”

Luna nodded to say that, yes, she understood perfectly. It wasn’t what Cedric said; it was how he said it. Liking boys was one of those things that she wasn’t supposed to do, like wearing girls’ clothes or talking too much about Nargles.

If anything, it was Cedric who hadn’t understood. Luna hadn’t been talking about friendship. She liked Cedric, in the more-than-friends way, but maybe it was better that he assumed otherwise. He clearly didn’t like her back and wasn’t even supposed to. If Cedric didn’t like “poofters” then Luna didn’t want to be one.

Sometimes it felt as though no matter what Luna tried, she was bound to say and do the wrong thing. Be the wrong person, even.

They walked a little further, and Cedric eventually discarded his branch into the water. Luna was deep in thought as she stepped over rocks and mud. “What about girls who like boys?” she suddenly asked as the thought struck her.

Cedric shrugged. “Well, that’s okay, then. That’s what girls are supposed to do.”

Luna inwardly smiled, content that the pieces had fallen back into place.

***

Stepping into the Forbidden Forest, Luna couldn’t help but feel that this was more of a holiday than a punishment. This was where Luna liked to go – willingly – when she wanted some time to herself. The fact that the Forbidden Forest could ever be considered detention for something as serious as stealing a priceless artefact was quite the mystery.

“Who cares,” said Ginny with a grin. “Maybe he thinks we really hate it here. I say we just count our blessings and enjoy it.”

“Now, don’t think yer gettin' off easy,” Hagrid warned. “Tryin’ to steal that sword was probably the dumbest thing you three have ever done. What were yeh goin’ to do with it, anyway?”

Ginny shrugged by way of answer, and practically skipped down the path ahead of them.

“What do you need us to do, Hagrid?” asked Neville, trying his best to sound contrite.

“You’re goin’ to spread dragon dung for me. Without magic.”

Ginny stopped in her tracks and spun around. “Aw, Hagrid, come on. Don’t you need help capturing some dangerous creature or something?”

“What, and risk you three gettin’ seriously injured? Yeh seem to be managin’ that just fine on yer own.” He gave a pointed stare in Neville’s direction. “Besides, I’ll not have yeh doin’ somethin’ for your detention yeh’ll actually enjoy. Snape might be a right bastard, and I know they’re torturin’ yeh up in that so-called school of yours, but stealin’ a sword? I thought yeh had more common sense than that! What would happen if the Carrows had caught yeh, huh? Yer no use to anyone dead!”

Hagrid’s deep voice shook the canopy above them. Luna had never seen him genuinely angry before, and it made his massive size actually intimidating.

“What, yeh think they wouldn’t kill yeh? ‘Cause yer a student?” He let out a bitter grunt of a laugh. “They don’t give a hippogriff’s beak whether yer a kid or not. Yer either for ‘em or against ‘em, and if yer against ‘em, yer the enemy. Just remember that.”

He paused to let his words sink in. Luna by this point was feeling properly remorseful, and she imagined that Neville and Ginny felt the same. When Hagrid was satisfied by their silence, he handed each of them a spade and a canvas bag of dragon dung, then he pointed to the ground next to him.

“This here plant is a food source for a lot of animals in the forest. It hasn’t been doin’ too well with the changes in climate, so you each need to spread out, and whenever yeh see one o’ these plants, you’re to fertilize it with the dung. Understood?”

They all nodded, and a moment later, Hagrid sent them off in different directions.

Although she knew it was supposed to be punishment, Luna didn’t actually mind the work. It was smelly, and involved a lot of physical labor, but it also gave her some opportunity to think about her decisions. The actual punishment had been the disappointment in Hagrid’s voice. Perhaps their actions lately had been a bit rash. On the other hand, Hagrid was acting as though they were still children, incapable of fighting in an adult’s war. That had ceased to be true a long time ago.

This is what she was thinking, her eyes trained to the ground, when she accidentally bumped into Neville. Neville fell over, and his bag of fertilizer landed upside down.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Neville! Here, let me help you with that.” Luna pulled out her wand and replaced as much of the dung as she could before helping Neville to his feet. His hand was warm despite the damp chill in the air, and permanently calloused from his time in the greenhouses. One look at his eyes told Luna exactly how he was feeling as he thanked her and brushed himself off.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, as they continued together through the trees. “I thought you’d enjoy working with plants.”

Neville didn’t act surprised by the question. They had reached a point where they could read each other quite well. “Yeah, I know. It’s not the work that’s bothering me.”

They stopped at a few dying plants set close to each other, and together got to work on their hands and knees.

Neville took a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing? I can’t even tell anymore. Maybe we’re just making everything worse by stirring up more trouble.”

As was often the case those days, Neville’s thoughts bore a strong resemblance to her own. Luna suspected thought-transmitting babelwigs in the air. “I think we’re doing the best we can,” she said. “We’re not giving up, and we’re not losing hope, and that’s what’s important.”

“I guess I just always thought things would be a little more . . . simple. When Gran told me stories about the first war, I don’t know – I imagined my parents just going out there and fighting as hard as they could. That’s what I wanted to be like, assuming I was brave enough, of course.” He paused and wiped some damp hair from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Now I’m thinking there’s so much more to it than that. Nothing’s black and white, you know?”

Neville continued talking and working, but Luna had stopped doing either. She sat back on her haunches and watched him as he expertly turned the soil. Working in the mud, covered in dung, talking about the legacy of his parents and his own insecurities – Luna thought he had never looked so beautiful as he did at that moment.

“I mean, Hagrid is right,” he continued. “I wouldn’t put it past Death Eaters to start murdering children, even purebloods. They’ve done it in the past. But you and me, we’re not exactly children anymore.”

“No, we’re not.”

He finished what he was doing, and looked up at Luna. If he was surprised to find her already staring, he didn’t show it, and he didn’t attempt to break eye contact. The short distance between them seemed charged. Luna decided it wasn’t the babelwigs at all; the connection she felt seemed to come from inside of them both.

After a few moments had passed, Neville asked very quietly, “Do you ever think about death?”

“Sometimes,” Luna answered honestly. “When I think about my mum.”

“Does it scare you?”

“A little. Only because there’s so much I've not done yet.”

Neville tilted his head to one side. “Like what?”

Luna smiled just a bit. Her list of things she wanted to do with her life was extensive and improbable. She wanted to hunt the world for the Snorkack, invent a cure for dragonpox, and travel into space like a muggle. She wanted to sing on the wireless and sell paintings in a gallery. She wanted to learn Gobbledegook.

But there was one thing she had always wanted to do for which she now had the perfect opportunity. Without thinking too hard in case she lost her nerve, Luna leaned forward, placing her hands in the earth to support herself, and planted a kiss on Neville’s lips.

Even though she’d seen plenty of students snogging over the years, it was hard to tell if she was doing it right herself. She held her mouth there for a few moments before she pulled back, reluctant as she was to see Neville’s reaction.

Neville looked shocked more than anything. He sat perfectly still, and stared at her with wide, unblinking eyes. “Why did you do that?” he asked.

The answer seemed obvious enough. “Because I wanted to. I hope that’s okay.”

Neville didn’t respond right away, leaving Luna to hover in anticipation. She didn’t expect Neville to return her feelings, didn’t expect that of anyone, really. What worried her the most was whether or not she had hurt their friendship. A broken heart she could survive, but a war without Neville would be a lot harder.

A few moments passed, and Luna had her answer. Looking unsure of himself, as he so often did, Neville scooted just a little bit closer so that he could hold her face in his dirt-stained hands and bring their mouths together again.

This kiss was very different than the one before. Neville’s hands were there, for one thing, cupping Luna’s cheeks and guiding her mouth into place. She realized that she, too, was allowed to touch Neville with more than her lips, and began running her fingers through his soft hair. There were also tongues involved this time around, and a lot more saliva. Eventually, Luna stopped trying to analyze the snogging process for future reference and simply let herself appreciate it.

Neville finally pulled back looking flushed and shy.

Luna smiled at him. “Thank you,” she said.

They stood up, collected their canvas bags, and cordially walked hand in hand deeper into the forest.

***

From what Luna could see through the crack in the door, her mother was bent over her desk, writing something on a piece of parchment. Luna tried not get caught as she secretly watched, but she had forgotten that her mother was nearly impossible to sneak up on. “You can come in, Lucas,” she called from her seat.

Luna stepped inside and shut the door behind her, making herself comfortable on a rocking chair as old as she was. This was her favourite room in the whole house, partly because it was the most off limits. They called it her mother’s office, but it didn’t much resemble an office at all; it was more of a tiny sitting room, with parchment strewn all about, and blast marks that scarred the walls. The carpet was stained with so many different coloured potions that it was difficult to tell what the original colour had been. “What are you working on?” Luna asked.

“I’m doing some calculations,” her mother replied without looking up from her papers. “But you know I usually don’t like you in here when I’m experimenting. Or spying on me through the door, lad. I’ve told you it’s dangerous.”

“I wasn’t spying,” Luna lied. She rocked back and forth a few times then asked, “What are the calculations for?”

Her mother finished what she was writing, then sat up and turned her chair around, smiling as she tucked a stray hair back into her ponytail. “If I tell you, it won’t come true.”

“Not fair! That’s just for wishes.”

“Well, right now that’s all it is. When my wish is granted and the spell works, you’ll be the first to know. Deal?”

Luna crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes before answering, “Fine. Deal.” She picked her feet off the ground and tucked them underneath her on the chair. “I told Eric today about your Chocolate Charm, and he didn’t believe me. He said it was impossible.”

Her mother snorted. “That’s just because Eric doesn’t have any imagination. No one in that family does.”

“That’s what I said. But Eric told me you were lying to me and that I was stupid enough to believe it.” Luna didn’t like Eric very much, so the comment hadn’t bothered her at the time. Seeing her mother’s reaction, however, made her wonder if maybe she shouldn’t have mentioned it.

Her mother sighed, and brought her seat closer to the rocking chair. “Listen to me, sweetheart. You are a very bright young boy; you know that right?”

Luna shrugged and nodded. Again, she'd not taken his words all that seriously. She heard much worse on a frequent basis. Even so, “Eric’s right, though. You and dad believe a lot of things that other people don’t.”

“Yes, that’s true,” her mother conceded. She clasped her hands together and brought them to her chin, meaning she was about to explain some sort of grown up concept. Luna loved these moments, and leaned forward in the chair with full attention. “Have you ever heard your father say that ‘truth is relative’?” her mother asked.

“Maybe once,” said Luna. She thought she remembered him saying that to one of the Quibbler’s reporters years ago, but she hadn’t understood what he meant at the time. All she could think of was her Aunt Janice living up north, and her cousin Scott in the States, and she couldn’t figure out what either of them had to do with the truth.

“Well, what he means is that what’s true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Luna nodded. She knew exactly what it was like to know one kind of truth, while everyone around her knew another. Perhaps this was the moment she’d finally find the answer she’d been looking for. She could feel excitement bubbling inside of her as she asked, “How do you know something’s true, then?”

Her mother smiled. “That’s something you have to decide for yourself. It all depends on what you believe in and how you see the world. But you have to be careful, because some people think their truth is the best truth, and they’ll try to force it on you.”

“Like Dad?”

Her mother threw her head back and laughed. “No, not like Dad, although I can see why you’d think that. Just remember, your father doesn’t force his views on anyone. His goal is to simply remind people that there are a lot of truths out there to choose from. And that, Lucas, is one of the reasons I love him.”

Luna smiled. She knew how fortunate she was to have the parents she did, a mum and dad who loved each other and believed that the world was full of different truths. That’s the way she wanted to be when she was older. She wanted to remind people that there was a lot of truth out there, and show people things they had never seen before.

She wanted to discuss the truth about her gender right then and there with her mother, but her mother stood from her chair and waved her off with a dismissive hand. “Now, shoo. I have a lot of work I want to get done. Go bother your father at the press.”

***

Luna could hardly believe her good fortune. She was officially going out with Neville Longbottom, and Neville didn’t even mind if the other students knew about it. He had been a little nervous when they told Ginny, but Ginny said that they were sweet together, and that there ought to be more happy couples like them.

So that was that: she and Neville were a couple. They walked to classes together, they studied together, they planned rebellion together. Despite the war, they rarely failed in their attempts to make each other laugh, which was always Luna’s favourite part. She tried her best to teach Neville not to doubt himself so much, while Neville in turn gave Luna a feeling of safety and acceptance that was entirely new to her. If she’d known what she was missing, she would have snogged Neville long ago.

Neville also spent most of his nights with her in the Room of Requirement, although they never did more than kiss. This was the only part of their relationship that gave Luna any anxiety. She could sense that Neville wouldn’t mind going further, but Luna was terrified that he would touch her uninvited only to immediately discover her magically stuffed bra, or that her body didn’t curve quite right. She certainly didn’t let him anywhere near her hips.

Fortunately, however, Neville was just as shy as she was cautious. It was a well-avoided issue until one night shortly before the winter holiday. They were lying together in an overlarge hammock that the Room had provided, when Neville turned to Luna out of the blue and asked, “Why can’t you sleep in your room anymore?”

Luna felt as though she had been dunked in the Black Lake. It wasn’t that she'd not planned to tell Neville eventually – she just wasn’t prepared for it to be at that very moment. She could hear her father’s voice in her head, telling her that “honesty is the basis of any relationship.”

“Why do you ask?”

Neville shrugged where he lay. “I was thinking about what Dumbledore’s portrait said to you. It had to have been something he knew about before he died, right?”

Sometimes Neville was brighter than Luna gave him credit for. “I told my roommates that my bed had a nargle infestation,” Luna offered by way of stalling.

“Yeah, but that’s not true, is it?”

Luna shook her head slowly, before lifting herself to a sitting position. Neville sat up as well so that they were facing each other with their legs crossed.

Luna’s heart was pounding very loudly. She was worried about upsetting Neville, but at the same time, she was thrilled at the prospect of finally telling her secret for the first time. She shared her father’s disdain for withholding the truth, especially her own. She just didn’t know how to say it. She'd not had any practice.

Neville was nothing if not patient, and he waited silently while she fiddled with the hem of her robe, sorting it out. Eventually he reached out to touch her arm, and said, “Hey, it’s all right. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

It was the look of growing concern on his face that helped Luna reach her decision. Neville cared about her, and she was sure that something as silly as gender wouldn’t stand in the way of that. “Have you ever been inside the girl’s dorm?” she eventually asked.

“Of course not,” said Neville. “Boys can’t get up there, can they?”

Luna held his gaze for a long while. “Exactly.” When Neville said nothing in response, she added, “That’s why I can’t get into my dorm.”

The confession should have been a load off of her shoulders, but Neville was still staring at her blankly as though he’d been attacked by a wrackspurt. Luna realized she would have to be fairly blunt to get through to him.

“Dumbledore used to place an Exception Charm on the girls’ dorms for me so I could sleep there,” she explained. “The most recent charm wore off about halfway through the term. So that’s why I can’t sleep there anymore. The castle still thinks I’m a boy.”

Neville snapped out of his stupor, and furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “Why would the castle think you’re a boy?”

At this point, Luna just wanted to the confession to be over with. She settled on the simplest explanation, even it wasn’t strictly true. “Well – I am a boy, Neville.”

Saying those words for the first time in her life had a strange effect on Luna. It was as though she had stepped out of her own skin, the skin she had worked so hard to feel comfortable in over the years. She saw herself as she imagined an outsider might see her – confused, fraudulent – and it frightened her, because she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so vulnerable.

Maybe it was because, of all the people in the school, it was Neville’s judgment that meant the most to her. She watched nervously as his expression turned stony. “That’s not funny, Luna.”

She couldn’t imagine ever joking about such a thing. “I’m not being funny.”

“So what are you being? Is this another one of those messed up ideas your dad put in your head?”

Now Neville was starting to sound angry, something that Luna had never heard from him before. His accusation stung, but she was determined to maintain her calm no matter what. “My father doesn’t put messed up ideas in my head,” she explained. “I was born as a boy. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

Neville scrambled off the bed and stepped a few paces away from her, as though afraid to catch some disease. Of all the reactions Luna had expected, she never anticipated such hurt, such anguish written all over his face.

“So what are you telling me?” he asked, crossing his arms protectively over his chest. “You’ve been a boy all this time?”

“I suppose, in some ways,” said Luna. “But I’m actually a girl in most ways. In the ways that count.”

“What – what does that even mean?” cried Neville, sounding more frantic by the minute. He searched Luna’s eyes for whatever truth he thought he’d find. “Just – be straight with me, Luna, will you? Do you – I mean –“ He took a deep breath and set his jaw, looking determined. “Down there. Are you a – a girl or a boy?”

Luna chewed on her lower lip. She couldn’t lie to Neville, but the truth was more complicated than he was allowing for. “Boy,” she said quietly. The word sounded like a death sentence. “But Daddy says he’ll help me pay for the change once I’m older.”

Neville’s face fell. Disgust and outrage were washed over with an overwhelming grief. Luna wanted nothing more than to hold him in her arms and make him feel better, but she knew instinctively he wouldn’t allow that. Not anymore.

Shaking his head slowly, looking as though he were on the verge of falling apart, Neville said, “All I ever wanted was a normal life. That’s all I want. Why does everything always have to turn to shit?”

It was the first time Luna had ever heard Neville swear. She watched as he gathered his things as fast as possible without sparing her a glance, as though she were no longer in the room. It was clear that Neville had made his decision. It wasn’t a decision Luna understood, but there was nothing she could do about that now. All she could do was hug her knees to her chest and remind herself that at least they had spent the last several wonderful weeks together. She planned to keep the memories of that short time close to her heart.

Before he stepped through the door, Neville paused without turning around. “I can’t believe you lied to me,” he said in a quiet voice that echoed through the room.

***

Luna’s mother died on a chilly afternoon in late October. Luna had been spying again through the slightly ajar door, and maybe if her mother hadn’t been concentrating so hard on her new spell, she would have sensed Luna’s presence and sent her away. As it was, Luna was there to witness the entire event. The small but lethal explosion, viewed as a sliver of an image framed between the door and the doorpost, would be forever burned into her mind.

Her memory of what happened immediately afterwards was patchy at best. From what she could piece together, she was the one who had located her father, and he in turn had flooed St. Mungo’s. After that, the house was overrun by Healers, shouting medical things and casting strange spells over her mother’s body. She remembered her mother being apparated to the hospital, leaving her office scarred and empty. She remembered the paralyzing, all-consuming fear most of all.

Her mother stayed in St. Mungo’s for two days before she finally passed away. The funeral took place the following week. Luna had no recollection of who was there, or what was said at the ceremony, but she distinctly recalled the exact colours and shapes of the floral arrangements, the scratchy black dress robes she was forced to wear, and the feel of her father’s hand crushing her own.

She also remembered the exact moment during the ceremony when she decided she couldn’t handle pretending to be a boy for one more day.

***

Luna wasn’t afraid when the Death Eaters came onto the Hogwarts Express to take her away. All she could think about was her poor father, and how he would manage without her. She wanted desperately to send him some sort of message, just to say that she would be fine and that she wasn’t afraid of dying and that he shouldn’t give in to the Death Eaters’ demands, but of course her wand was the first thing they took from her.

They apparated Luna to several locations, always handing her off to someone new, before finally arriving at Malfoy Manor. Between being blindfolded and the constant jumps in space, she was feeling too nauseous to resist by the time they threw her in her cell. She landed in a heap on the floor and waited for her captors to leave before picking herself up, brushing herself off, and adjusting her eyes to the dark.

“Who’s there?” asked a dusty, underused voice from the corner.

“Luna Lovegood,” she whispered.

“Ah yes. Nine inches, willow, unicorn hair,” came the mournful reply.

Luna smiled brightly in the dark. “Hello, Mr. Ollivander! I’m so glad you’re all right. We were all worried about you.”

She crawled in the direction of the voice, and stopped when she was nose to nose with the man and could suddenly see his face. He looked worse than she could have imagined. He had clearly been underfed, tortured by magical and non-magical means alike, and by his odor he'd not bathed in months. But the worst part was the look in his eyes. Mr. Ollivander might have been alive in the physical sense, but his eyes made it clear that he had given up long ago.

Luna didn’t know what she could possibly say that would make the situation any better, so instead she leaned forward and cradled him in a hug. When his bone-thin arms lifted to weakly hug her back, she knew they would be okay.

Life in that cell wasn’t nearly as terrible as it could have been. Luna was tortured a few times in the beginning, but when it became clear that her father had no idea of Harry Potter’s whereabouts, they threw her back in the cell and mostly forgot about her. Thanks to Mr. Ollivander’s company, she was also lucky enough to escape the torture of loneliness. Since he wasn’t much of a conversationalist, Luna took it upon herself to do most of the talking as they sat together in the dark. She mostly described the different creatures she wanted to study when they were both free and the war had ended. Sometimes, when there didn’t seem to be anyone around who might overhear, she also liked to sing.

If her voice began to wear thin, or if Mr. Ollivander was asleep, Luna’s time in captivity gave her plenty of opportunity to think. She often thought about Neville, which in turn made her think about her own body. For the first time in a long time she found herself examining her decisions, even doubting them. Neville’s parting words rang in her ears, his accusation of lies never told.

“What’s true for one person isn’t necessarily true for another,” her mother had once said.

Even so, Luna wondered. What if she had lost the ability to tell the difference between truth and lies? She had lived with her secret for so long that deception had become frighteningly natural. Was being true to herself the same thing as being true to others? At what point did privacy turn into secrecy?

Maybe it was because her cell seemed to consume optimism like a dementor, but Luna would sometimes catch herself fantasizing about being happy as a boy. It certainly would have made life simpler. No magical hair removal, no careful control over the sound of her voice, no changing behind closed curtains, no unwelcome erections, no future of expensive magical treatments and a lifetime of explanation. She tried imagining that sort of existence, but found the task impossible. It was like imagining a life without magic, or a world where You-Know-Who was a nice bloke.

She had always been the way she was, and she always would be. No one knew her better than herself. Once she and Mr. Ollivander escaped Malfoy Manner, as she knew they would, she was determined to find Neville, sit him down, and make sure he understood her own version of the truth.

One day, Luna was startled out of her thoughts when the door was opened and a many-headed creature was shoved into their cell. For a terrifying moment Luna thought the monster was there to finish them off once and for all, until one of the heads started crying out Hermione’s name over and over.

A second head said, “Be quiet! Shut up, Ron, we need to get these ropes off –“

“Harry?” she whispered. “Ron? Is that you?”

Luna?” the second head replied.

Warmth spread through Luna’s limbs. As terrible as it was for Harry to have been captured, she immediately sensed that together they would finally finish this war once and for all.

***

It took about a month after her mother’s death before Luna’s father snapped out of his mourning to discover that he no longer had a son, but a daughter.

He quietly knocked on Luna’s door one day before stepping inside.

“Hi Daddy,” she said.

Her father cleared his throat. “Lucas, don’t you think it’s about time you stopped wearing Mummy’s robes around the house?”

Luna looked away, her face set. She had been preparing for this conversation for a while now. “I don’t have any robes of my own.”

Her father looked over to her wardrobe, as though expecting it to have vanished overnight. “What are you talking about?” he asked when he saw that it hadn’t. “You have an entire set of robes. Do you – do you need more? Are they too small for you?”

“I don’t have any girls’ robes,” she clarified.

This brought her father up short. He looked at Luna with that absent stare she’d so often seen since her mother’s death, then moved to sit down next to her on the edge of the bed.

“I know this has been very difficult for you, Lucas. It’s been difficult for me as well. And I – I know I've not been the best father lately.” In fact, Luna had barely seen him at all over the past two weeks, obsessed as he had become with his work. The stories being printed in the Quibbler were becoming increasingly bizarre and unsettling, as though the entire world had been thrown out of balance along with her own life. “But I want you to know that I’m here for you now, and we’re going to get through this together, all right?”

Luna nodded solemnly, and her father continued, sounding a little more sure of himself.

“Right. Let’s start by getting you out of these robes and into something more appropriate.”

Luna nodded again. “Girls’ robes,” she insisted. Her father’s face crumpled into an expression of distress, and she felt a momentary pang of guilt for adding to his burden. She was determined, however, to see this through. “I’m not a boy.”

“What are you talking about? Why not?” said her father, seemingly at a loss for words.

“I don’t know. I’m just not.”

Her father continued to stare at her blankly, and she wondered what he saw. Surely if he loved her he would be able to tell who she really was, and that he had merely made a mistake for all these years. It was perfectly understandable – she was in the wrong body, after all.

“You – you want to be a girl?” he intoned.

“I am a girl,” she corrected.

He shook his head slowly. “Lucas, no. You’re not. Where did this idea come from?”

“It didn’t come from anywhere. It’s just the way I am.”

“No, you’re not. You’re my son. You’re my Lucas.” Suddenly, he grabbed both her arms in a painful grip, and turned her so that she was looking directly at him. There was desperation in his eyes now, the haunted look he had worn at the funeral. “You can’t change that. You can’t become someone else just because you want to be, do you understand? You’re all I have. . . .“ His voice choked, and he loosened his hold without letting go. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Lucas. Look, we’ll work through this together. I know things are difficult now, but we still have each other. Nothing’s going to change that.”

Luna had the beginnings of tears in her eyes, but she angrily blinked them away. “I’m not trying to change things. I just want to be a girl.”

“I know things are difficult—” he repeated.

“And it’s not because Mummy died, either – I’ve always been this way. You only think I’ve been a boy all this time.”

Her father searched her eyes for confirmation, or perhaps to discover where he went wrong. “Why are you doing this to me?” he asked softly. “Why now?”

Somehow Luna knew the answer immediately, even if she had never before put it into words. She removed his hands from her arms, and held them in her own. “Because you and Mummy taught me to be true to myself, even if the truth was something no one else could see.”

Finally, she could tell, her words had got through. The distress, the confusion, the anger – it was still there in his face, but what Luna saw on top of that was dawning comprehension. He took a deep breath and ran his fingers affectionately through her hair.

Neither of them said anything for a long while. Luna suffered through the silence with muscles tensed, waiting for her father to pronounce her fate. Part of her simply wanted to end the anticipation as soon as possible, while another part desperately held onto the moment for fear of what would follow. She came close to laughing and telling him it had all been a joke, that she would be whomever he wanted her to be as long as he continued to love her.

That was when he reached back down to take Luna’s hands in his own. “I don’t know what your mother would do if she were here,” he said. Luna was unused to hearing such uncertainty in his voice, but as he spoke he gradually began to sound more confident, more like the father she remembered. “But you’re right. You’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what we’ve taught you, and it – it would be an insult to your mother’s memory if I went back on that lesson now.”

With a tearful grin, Luna leaped forward and caught her father in a tight embrace. When he hugged her back, she could feel his own tears on her neck.

***

“Oooh, look, a Blibbering Humdinger!” Luna cried. She watched with a smile as Harry disappeared under his cloak, gathering Ron and Hermione on his way out the door.

Now that he was taken care of, there was one last thing Luna needed to do. She walked over to where Neville was sitting, the Sword of Gryffindor – the actual sword – gleaming on the table in front of him. Admirers swamped him just as they had Harry, but Neville didn’t seem to be aware of their presence. Luna kindly shooed them away before sitting next to him on the bench.

She cleared her throat and smiled. “I like a boy with a big sword.”

Neville looked over at her, completely startled. She could see him coming back to the present moment, slowly registering her face. He suddenly let out a peal of laughter that caused quite a few heads to turn, and when the laughter had subsided, a look of intense relief took its place. Without warning, he wrapped his arms tightly around Luna, surprising her with how much strength he had left.

He pulled back to arm’s length and studied her eyes, her face, her body. “I missed you so much,” he said, sounding almost apologetic.

“I missed you, too, Neville.”

Before she realized what was happening, Neville had leaned in and was kissing her passionately – without hesitation, without uncertainty. Luna let out a little squeal of surprise before placing her hands on the back of his head and reciprocating the kiss.

She didn’t mind that other people were watching. She didn’t mind that she'd not had a chance to explain herself properly, because she knew there would be time for that later. All that mattered was that Neville was here, and that he cared about her, and that the war was over and they were both safe. Everything was finally as it should be. And Luna knew that her mother, wherever she was, must have been very proud of her.