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creaturefestmod ([personal profile] creaturefestmod) wrote2012-10-16 06:08 am
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FIC: The Samhain Tiend [Neville/Luna - PG]

Title: The Samhain Tiend
Author: ???
Prompt: #110
Creature: Faerie
Pairing: Neville/Luna
Word Count: 11,300
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: This piece of fiction is based on characters and situations created and owned by J. K. Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made, no copyright or trademark infringement, or offense is intended. All characters depicted in sexual situations are above the age of consent.
Author's Notes: Thanks to the prompter for this idea, and the mods for running the fest!
Beta: nnozomi
Summary: Neville has an army to co-lead and classes to survive. But somewhere along the way, he finds himself wanting to learn Luna's secrets--or if nothing else, grow closer to her.


Staring down, looking at his magical Galleon, with one ear listening to Luna Lovegood, Neville almost heard music. A high, hummed, almost whistled melody. Not a song he recognized, but a pleasant one nonetheless. But when he turned to look at her, both ears attentive, it just sounded like noise. A nasal buzzing that would have been tolerable, maybe, if the world was tolerable. If the school wasn't being run by a gang of Death Eaters.

Neville turned away again, and the noise died down, blurring into the melody. Again. Entrancing, almost, so entrancing that he turned and— “Luna? Er. Hullo. Luna?”

“Yes?” Luna said.

“Er—I was just—have you figured out how to generalize the Protean Charm yet? Make it work on letters, too?”

“Oh, yes. Of course, it's a bit slower than changing the numbers for the dates. But it should work.”

“Er. Can I see?”

“Of course.” She reached for a coin in her robes. He stared down into her hand, surprised at how small it looked with the coin in her palm. But, gently, she touched the letters, which began to shift.

“That's brilliant. Thank you so much!”

“You're welcome. We're meeting next Thursday, right?”

“I think so. But Ginny has to see about Quidditch practice.”

She nodded, replacing the coin. “All right.”

“We could—you know. If you wanted to practice spells, we could always meet between now and then if you'd rather.”

“That would be nice,” she smiled vaguely. “But I have my classwork to do, of course.”

“Right, yeah. Just—just let me know.”

Though Neville didn't want to admit it, there was work piling up for him too. Some days it felt difficult to be sure he'd even have a future after Hogwarts, but most days the demands of N.E.W.T. classes were almost overwhelming. By unspoken agreement, he and Seamus rarely studied in their dorm, either joining Ginny and the younger students in the Gryffindor common room or making their way down to the library.

“I always say it's a brilliant idea to work in common areas,” Seamus winked. “Promotes the spirit of interhouse unity we all need to be striving for in times like these.”

“Shut up, Seamus,” said Neville.

“Ohoho, have our eyes on a comrade, do we? Hannah Abbott's been remarkably...what's the word...stoic about coming back and all.”

“I do not fancy Hannah Abbott!”

“Good, then I can ask her to Hosgmeade.”

“Seamus!”

It was a marvel, Neville thought, that anything organized could carry on at all. Ginny kept whispering about Lee Jordan and his plans, but so far the best news they got from the outside world came through The Quibbler, which they read in the secret meeting room at any opportunity. It was fortunate, really, that Xenophilius Lovegood's reputation was unable to sink any lower. Calling attention to crimes against half-bloods in between columns about Nargle decontamination and Blibbering Humdingers was one way to ensure he wouldn't be shot down.

Though he wasn't convinced of everything Xenophilius wrote, Neville could appreciate journalistic integrity when he saw it. For a “madman,” he organized a newspaper surprisingly well, and kept printing it on a regular basis in spite of the corrupt Ministry.

“Don't you think—he can't be that mad,” he finally ventured to Ginny once they were done reading a new edition, “if he keeps writing the paper. Luna would just get distracted halfway through and it'd never come out on time.”

Ginny shrugged. “My dad's mad about Muggle gadgets. Doesn't mean I can't focus when I have to.”

“Yeah, but—did she get it from her mum, do you think?”

“I don't know. I...I knew Luna when she was younger, we live nearby.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah. Her mum—I'm trying to think. I don't remember seeing much of her, really, I think she was traveling a lot while her dad wrote the paper.”

“Do you know what she did for a living?”

“I'm not sure. I sort of remember her as being someone who—wouldn't give in, once she set her mind to something, but that could just be what I heard. It was years and years ago.”

“Okay.”

Even when Ginny did have Quidditch practice, she didn't see the need to reschedule the D.A. meetings. “We meet often enough. Besides, I can get on a roll sometimes. You and Luna should take the chance to...”

“Yeah?”

“You know. Take leadership. Speak up.”

It was nerve-wracking. Not least having Luna watch, her large eyes staring ahead as he spoke. He tried to tell himself she didn't really seem to be focused on him. Still...

“All right. Let's work on Impedimenta again, yeah?” he muttered. “Break up into pairs, and then, start moving around—not just one on one, you know. Try intercepting different people.”

That proved to be an extra challenge. Anthony and Parvati were dueling pretty rapidly, but as soon as Michael snuck up from behind people lost focus and even the simple jinxes started toppling the chairs that the room had called into being. On the plus side, he thought as he replaced one of the chairs and dodged a hex from Padma, it did take his mind off Luna's bright hair...

They left in pairs or three at a time, never all swarming out at once just in case someone saw. Neville held back, replacing the chairs one by one and waiting to make sure all the others were safely out.

“Don't you think it's a bit silly to arrange them all? They won't be here once we leave.”

He took a step backwards, almost knocking over the chair he had just set up. “Blimey, Luna! You startled me.”

“Oh. I'm sorry.”

“No, no. You—you're fine.” He turned and reached for another chair.

“Do you need any help?”

“I—” He didn't want to lie, but...“It would be nice if you stayed. I—I don't get to talk to you that much. Without Ginny.”

She nodded. “I hope her Quidditch is going well. I'll be supporting Gryffindor against Slytherin, you know.”

He grinned, remembering her lion hat. “Are you going to be the announcer again?”

“No. I don't think Professor McGonagall liked my commentary very much. She takes Quidditch very seriously.”

“Aw. That's too bad.”

“Well, it's nice to have some hobbies that mean a lot to you.”

“Yeah, I guess. I—just find it hard to understand any hobby that involves leaving the ground on purpose.”

“Oh, broomsticks can be very uncomfortable, can't they? But that shouldn't mean you don't like flying.

Neville laughed. “I didn't really like Thestrals either.”

“Oh. Well—I suppose—it's not the smoothest ride, you're right.”

“Do you—are you going to go out for Ravenclaw?” They weren't missing quite as many players as Gryffindor, but maybe she was interested? There was still so much he didn't know about her.

“Oh no,” she giggled. “No, I just like watching.”

“All right.” The chairs were all in order. “Well—next meeting, yeah?”

“Yes!”

He showed one face to Professor Sprout—eager to learn, to patiently nudge the leaves here or there an inch at a time, to focus on something that could grow into something much greater even if it took years. He showed another to the Carrows—jaw snapping open, mouth open wide with less skin for them to aim at and more room for the truth to leap free. Another to the younger students—a vague smile and his conviction that everything would be okay, even if he couldn't say when exactly. Another to the DA veterans—full of quick glances to and from Ginny to confirm ideas because he wasn't just one person leading on his own, they were a group doing it together, and more quick glances to and from Luna mostly to confirm ideas but also because he sort of wanted to know how she kept that same, cool, distracted face despite anything.

Another when it was just the three of them, meeting early.

“Even if we steal the sword,” he said nervously, “what do we do with it?”

“Well, we get it to Harry and Ron and Hermione,” said Ginny.

“How?”

“You're of age, aren't you? Are you registered to Apparate?”

“Yeah, but...we don't know where they are.”

“I wish they'd taken their coins,” Ginny said for about the seventh time.

“We didn't know we could improve them—”

“I know! I just—ugh, I think we should try. We don't have to tell the others beforehand if you don't want to get them in trouble, but—it'll be something to do, to get people excited afterwards. Once we get it.”

He nodded. “What do you think, Luna? Luna?”

Luna sat up. “Yes?”

“About stealing the sword,” Ginny repeated impatiently.

“Oh, I don't know, it's not my house.”

“That doesn't help!”

“Leave her be,” said Neville. “If you don't think it's a good idea, we'll call it off.”

“It's not like we have much else to do, is it?”

“I'm not asking you, I know you're for it. Luna?”

“Yes?” said Luna.

“Do—do you—er—” You have an army to lead, Neville, he told himself, co-lead, you can't afford to...

Ginny cut in. “Put it this way, do you think this is a bad idea?”

“Not particularly,” said Luna. “I mean, it's a little dangerous. But so is living at Hogwarts anyway.”

“Can't say fairer than that,” said Ginny. “Neville, you all right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, okay, let's...let's talk this through.”

It was not the most elaborate of schemes ever devised. Ginny had volunteered herself for the leadership role—“no offense, I can probably come up with more cover stories faster if we have to”— and Neville was only too glad to step aside and let her, while Luna took it all in stride.

To his surprise, she had volunteered one of her own skills for the day of the heist. “I'll cast the Disillusionment Charms, I'm good at those.”

“Oh?” said Neville. “Sure, go for it.”

He crouched down as she tapped her wand on his head, tensing up—anyone would have done the same, he thought, it felt disgusting as a cold, almost wet sensation trickled down his back.

“Why's it even called a Disillusionment Charm anyway?” said Ginny. “I mean, you're hiding.”

“I used to wonder that too.” Luna repeated the spell on herself. “But my mum said it was mostly for Muggles. Some of them really believe in all sorts of magical creatures, after all. And so hiding them, pretending they don't exist, makes them jaded. So. Disillusionment.”

“Your mum taught you about charm theory?” Neville blurted. He meant it as a compliment—that's O.W.L. level material, you could only have been eight or nine—but got tongue-tied. Again. She had that effect on him. What if he said something insulting about her mum being dead?

“Not very much—that was just a nice spell to learn.”

“Still.”

“C'mon, you two,” said Ginny. “Let's go steal a sword.”

They climbed up to the gargoyle's door, Neville and Luna invisible and Ginny a few steps in front. “Oy,” she said, “let me in.”

“Password?” drawled the gargoyle.

“Like I know it!”

“Then I can't let you in.”

“But McGonagall sent me here for detention.”

“She should have issued you the password.”

“Look, I'll leave. I'd be happy to leave, I don't want another stupid detention.” Ginny's voice slowly got louder with each sentence, trying to draw attention to herself. “But I don't want to get in even more trouble so can you just get Snape to come down here?”

“Do you expect me to be mobile? I'm a gargoyle.”

“I don't know...look, whatever, I'll leave, but—”

There, finally. Neville let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding as the door opened and Snape stepped forward, eyebrows raised.

“There you are, Professor!” Ginny rushed up and grabbed the door. “I’m here for detention!”

“Detention?” said Snape.

“Professor McGonagall sent me--didn't she tell you?”

“No.”

“I don't know, then,” Ginny shrugged. “Unless you want to check with her.”

“I suppose,” he said, slowly walking off.

One breath. A second, third. Snape didn't look back, but he was going so slowly...

Ten long seconds later, Ginny bent down to the gargoyle and whispered a threat Neville couldn't hear, then stepped inside the door, still holding it open. He followed quickly. “Luna? Are you here?”

“Right behind you,” she said.

Ginny shut the door and they hurried up the staircase. The office was full of bookcases and the portraits of former headmasters and headmistresses hung on the back wall. To the sides, between the bookcases, were the pictures of people writhing in pain he remembered from the previous year's Defense class.

The sword was not hard to find; it was in a glass case near the window. “Reductor Curse?” Ginny suggested.

“Don't want to call attention to ourselves if we can help it,” Luna suggested. “Evanesco!”

The glass vanished before them, and there sat the sword.

“You should take it,” Luna told him.

“Me?” said Neville.

“We'll have to Disillusion it either way. Might as well not give it to Ginny if she's staying visible.”

“I can hide, it doesn't matter—” Ginny began.

But Neville had already picked up the sword.

It felt solid. Not particularly magical, though then again, a sword was a sword. Still, there was something nice about the heft of it. It was hard to imagine the ten-year-old dodging Bowtruckles in his grandmother's garden ever growing into the sort of person who could wield it.

He glanced up; Luna was standing right in front of him, her wand stretched out to tap the sword. It faded from view in front of him and he gripped it ever more tightly.

“Okay, let's go,” said Ginny. They walked down the staircase, around another flight—

—and there was Snape.

“Miss Weasley,” he said curtly. “Professor McGonagall seems unaware of any such detention.”

Neville gulped. None of them had wanted to involve her; there was no need to tell anyone else what they were doing—

“I only just remembered myself,” said Ginny, “she'd said it wrong, it was Carrow who wanted to give me detention, not you, I'll just be going now—”

Finite Incantatem.”

Luna squealed and pressed against the wall—out of the corner of his eye, Neville thought he saw her reach for her own wand. He turned as if to hide her, but there was no escaping the fact that they had certainly been caught.

Snape looked him up and down as if not quite able to believe what he was seeing. Finally, he said, “Do please hand over school property.”

You're a murderer, he wanted to say, I'm not giving Godric Gryffindor's sword to—

Accio.

The sword sailed a few short feet to Snape's hand. “I do believe,” said Snape as he caught it, “that several more detentions are in order.”

In the end all they told the D.A. was that they'd had an idea—it was “them” in the plural, never giving people a reason to blame whoever was responsible, they had to lead together. They'd had an idea and it hadn't worked and they were going to detention and they shouldn't try again, there were better things to do. Like the increasingly-bold graffiti attempts. Neville hadn't been sure at first that people would know what to do when they saw the signs, but sure enough, he and Ginny had been approached one by one and two by two from curious, hopeful little Gryffindors, and there were soon enough newcomers to replace the departed Muggleborns and graduates, and then some. Even a few new Hufflepuffs tagged along with Hannah (and Seamus).

“Er, Luna,” he asked one day, “do...do Ravenclaws ever ask you about Dumbledore's Army?”

She paused. “No, not very often. I think a lot of them are busy studying for their tests but don't really want to fight the professors.”

“That...does sound like some Ravenclaws I know,” he admitted. “What about the seventh-years? Do you see them talking to younger kids?”

“No. But they might be! It's just, there are so many things to look at sometimes, that I don't always see all the students.”

Neville nodded. That sounded likely. He didn't want to think that Ravenclaws found Luna too strange to approach, but then again, he didn't want to imagine her changing for their sake either. Just to be sure, he checked in with Michael and Anthony, who assured him that they kept their ears open but heard little discussion of the graffiti.

There was, of course, the small matter of the detention to complete. Ginny seemed unfazed by the thought of venturing into the forest, though Luna still seemed a little distrustful of Hagrid.

“Hagrid's brilliant!” said Neville. “I...I got detention with him my first year, but he's not that bad. You'll see—he likes making you do useful stuff.”

“Wizards do think they know what's best,” said Luna, “but let's not forget who almost drove the Dillylumps to extinction.”

On the non-existence of Dillylumps Neville was reluctantly tempted to agree with her. Even so, he pressed on. “Hagrid—you know—isn't exactly a normal wizard.”

“I suppose not,” Luna sighed, and they left it at that.

“Right, you three,” said Hagrid once they'd reached his hut. “Dunno what yer doin' up there, but keep it—quiet, if you can. Dunno if I can keep lookin' out for yeh.”

They looked at each other and silently agreed there was no chance of them giving up. “We'll see,” Ginny said. “That was—a bit silly, what we did. So what do you need us to do?”

“Right. One of our Hippogriffs, Lightclaw, looks like she's been in heat. There should be an egg in the forest, but...there's lots of strange beasts in the forest, these days, and eggs are fragile.”

“So what?”

“So I want ter know where it is. Might've hatched already, but otherwise I—er—someone can cast protective charms, if it comes to that. So we'll spread out, if you find it, send up bright sparks and I'll c'mon over.”

“How big are the eggs?” asked Neville.

“Oh, not too big. They're built in nests on the ground, right, so—so yeh just look for one. If it's hatched, same thing, just send sparks, but quietly. Don't want ter startle it, poor little thing.”

“And if we don't find it?”

“Well, then yeh'll just be goin' back inside. Don't worry, yeh'll be all right, just—er—never mind.”

Luna looked rather disconcerted by this vagueness. “You want to look with me?” said Neville.

“All right, then,” she smiled.

They walked through the forest, Luna glowering at the whole affair and Neville trying not to jump at every crack. He kept his eyes peeled to the ground, looking for anything egg-like, and held his wand out at the ready, Lumos giving them just enough light to see where they were going but hardly enough to make out any kind of nest.

He didn't want to mention that he thought they were going in circles, but there was no path to stay on—the forest, after all, was supposed to be forbidden. And was that some kind of a dog, whining? Sure, Hagrid had his loyal Fang with him, but...that didn't sound right at all.

“None of this sounds right,” said Luna. “There should be Stavving Sliggles here. The Selvarot must be very bad this year.”

Had he spoken aloud? “Yeah.”

“And there aren't any sleeping thestrals.”

“Or unicorns,” he said.

“Do you...”

“Do I what?”

“Nothing important.”

“Do you...know where we are? How to get back?”

She looked around slowly, turning in every direction. “Well,” she said appraisingly, “I think we're in the forest.”

“Luna!”

“Yes?”

He breathed. After everything else in those last few months, he was not going to get her mad at him too. “Sorry. Never mind.”

“We'll be all right,” she said.

“We should keep moving. The only way we'll get back is if we find it and send up sparks. How late do you think it is?”

She tilted her head up and squinted. “I don't know.”

“Great. Do—do you have any idea how to get back?”

“Well, if we were really lost—”

“I think this qualifies—”

“We should ask for directions.”

Neville breathed slowly. “Okay. Luna. Who, exactly, should I ask for directions?”

“Oh, I won't make you do it.”

“Okay, what are you planning—”

He was interrupted by the high buzzing noise he had heard weeks before. A spew of gibberish from Luna—well, more gibberish than usual—and then, faintly, what seemed like the echo.

“Let's go this way,” she said, reaching for his hand.

“What? Are you sure—”

“Oh, yes. Come along.”

A minute's more walking, and then she stopped, blinked, and started buzzing again. Then a faint light began to shine from in front of them. It whirled around in midair, then slowly wandered towards the left.

“This way,” said Luna, following it.

“What are you—is that a spell?”

“Not...exactly. It's all right, come on.”

A few more minutes. He kept his eyes peeled on the ground for any sign of an egg. There were strange herbs growing and he wished he could have seen the place by day to come in and study them, but Luna would have none of that. A new clearing, more buzzing, another faint echo, and another light. This one took off at an angle. “Are you sure we're not backtracking?” he said nervously, but he followed her without question.

“No,” she said plainly, “but we're getting closer.”

“Closer to what?”

“Voices.”

They followed each light—sometimes it seemed like there were more than one, other times just the one drifting in front of them. They made strange turns and once in a while Neville was very confident they were doubling back on themselves, but Luna seemed sure of herself or whatever she was following, and it was a lot more than he could manage.

Then, through the leaves, “Luna?”

“Hello, Ginny!” Luna called back. “Any luck so far?”

“Oh yes,” said Hagrid, “she's hatched already, bless her little heart!”

“That's...nice,” said Neville, out of the feeling some sort of congratulations were in order. “Does—does it have a name?”

“Give her a while yet, she needs her mum right now,” said Hagrid. “Well done, you lot.”

“I didn't do anything,” Neville blushed.

“C'mon, you covered half the woods and let us have the other,” smiled Ginny, “just luck.”

Neville nodded. “How late is it?”

“Not sure. Lost track of time myself. You two okay?”

“I am. Luna?”

She glanced at Hagrid with narrowed eyes, but quickly turned back to them. “I'm fine.”

Though they kept the sword incident quiet, the rest of Dumbledore's Army was itching to do something new, something big. Seamus was all for disrupting the Halloween feast somehow, and Ginny, Ernie, and Hannah seemed to agree. Anthony thought that would be unproductive and they should stick to what they were doing, trying to protect the younger kids but keeping their heads down; most of the Ravenclaws took his side. Luna, as usual, didn't so much refrain from comment as not realize that commentary was sought.

“It won't be a good feast anyway,” Ginny pointed out, “with everyone missing, it'll just be ghosts flying around and moaning, and pretending it's like before when it's not.”

“Then let's not go,” said Neville.

“What?”

“Let's not go. We—we'll have a party in here, whoever wants to come. No spell practicing, just whatever we get from Honeydukes and...we'll play games, I dunno what you can find for this many people, but...”

Ginny paused. “That's brilliant. Yeah, I think Seamus will go for that. Well, it depends on what kind of games...”

Neville rolled his eyes. “He'll come around.”

He didn't let Ginny know that he practiced with the room, several times. No, I don't need any magical pumpkins—something simple like Muggles would have, we're fighting for them. Yes, a big bowl to bob for apples in. Did Luna like bobbing for apples? Why can't you make any food, come on? In the end he just asked people to bring whatever they had; Parvati didn't really want to share, but she turned out to have a pleasantly sweet tooth, and some of the little kids were only too happy to bring their own stashes in exchange for getting to party with the “leaders.”

Neville didn't really feel much like a leader as he stood by the barrel of water, half-listening to his roommate improvise. None of them had been able to make the room give them apples, so Seamus was spontaneously adapting the rules of the game to something that would no doubt produce enough splashing and chuckling for the night. They were an army, he told himself once again, they were in it together. There was Ginny, eagerly discussing Quidditch with Michael—Neville had wondered once or twice whether they were ever going to start things up again in Harry's absence, but both seemed to agree they were better as friends.

And Luna? He looked around the room once, then, nervously, twice, before seeing her sitting in a corner as if hiding. He paced over, trying to remember if she'd ever said anything about disliking parties.

“Hullo?” he said. “Can—can I get you some food?”

“No,” she sniffed.

“Oh. I—I'm sorry...” She hadn't immediately vouched for the idea, but he was sure she hadn't wanted to go to the original feast either.

“It's not your fault.”

“Is there something I can do?”

She shook her head.

“Neville?” said Ginny from behind them. “Er—Luna?”

“What is it?” said Neville, quickly turning around and giving Luna time to pull herself together, if she could be bothered.

“Did—you do this?”

“Do what?” he said defensively. The party? Luna?

“This,” she said again, nodding towards what seemed to be a small door in the back of the room.

“I—no, I don't think so.”

“Everyone else seems...” Ginny looked around at the room, where Terry was singing a Weird Sisters song while Anthony goaded Michael and Padma into dancing; Seamus and Hannah had needed no such encouragement. “...busy.”

“Yeah. Is it open?”

Ginny tested it. “Mmhmm.”

“Do you—do you think we should see what it is?”

“The room's never been wrong before.”

“I want to come,” said Luna. “I want to go home.”

“Are you feeling well?” asked Ginny.

“Passable. But—I want to see Daddy.”

Neville looked at her. “Hold on a minute.”

“Don't go by yourself,” said Ginny.

“I' m not, we all three can. Just need to tell someone else—Seamus. Hey, Seamus!”

“Yeah?” said Seamus, none too pleased about being interrupted.

“Ginny and Luna and I have seen...something weird...we want to check out.” Seamus' eyes followed his to the door. “No, you keep things under control. If we're not back in an hour—tell McGonagall.”

“Are you sure?”

“Room's never been wrong before,” he said, trying to borrow Ginny's confidence, “and I don't want to pull you away from your dancing.”

Hannah blushed.

“Right, then,” Seamus shrugged, “just be careful.”

“We will.”

The door led to a tunnel, and the tunnel led downwards. Lumos cast for all of them, they continued going down, following the turns, until Neville saw a girl at the other end. He squinted. They'd gone down so far...were they in the Hufflepuff dungeons? Or Slytherin?

“Hello?” he said gently. She had blond hair and a vacant expression—at once, he thought of Luna, and at once pushed the thought aside. There was something in Luna's face, something bright and lively. Not something he quite understood or thought he'd ever seen before, but not that blankness.

“Where are we?” said Ginny, when the girl did not answer.

The girl reached for what seemed to be a dark veil—Neville flinched—but pulled it aside as if it was a curtain. Or canvas, something said in the back of his mind, just as a hint of light emerged from beyond.

He crept forward. “It looks—it looks like a restaurant.”

“Can you get out?” said Ginny.

“Yeah, it's a little bit of a jump.” Casting a spell as he went to slow his fall, he landed and looked around. “I think—I think we're in the Hog's Head.”

“Why?”

“Maybe they have a Halloween special on firewhiskey?”

Ginny glared, but Luna laughed from above them and Neville blushed. “Hey, is that girl still there?”

“I can't see her,” said Ginny, “but hold on.”

She jumped down as well, and Luna followed much more slowly, almost seeming to hover before landing. Neville turned to see that they had apparently snuck through the back of a portrait, somehow.

“You're right,” said Ginny, “this is the Hog's Head. But I don't know how we'd get here, that's really strange magic.”

“It makes sense to have hollow space behind portraits, doesn't it?” said Luna. “You could hide anything there, no one would think to look.”

“There's a difference between hiding something and hiding a castle,” Neville pointed out.

“Wow, remember the first time we came here?” said Ginny, walking through the tables. “The D.A. We've grown so much since then.”

“Well, we had to,” said Neville, “with everyone being gone...”

Ginny nodded. “Harry...hey. It's Halloween.”

“Well spotted,” Neville teased.

“October 31st,” she urged, as Luna seemed to flinch. Before Neville could ask what was wrong, Ginny's eyes lit up. “Hey. Neville. You say you know how to Apparate?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you ever been to Godric's Hollow?”

He squinted. “Yeah. A couple times, with family...my grandmother thought it was important. Oh, you mean tonight's the anniversary?”

“Yeah,” said Ginny, as Luna shrank back even more. “You know that sign with all the graffiti on it?”

Neville grinned. “Now this sounds like a good way to spend Halloween night.”

He had never Side-Along Apparated anyone before, and the sixth-years weren't quite old enough for lessons, but Ginny had remembered Neville and his classmates complaining about “destination, determination, and deliberation” often enough, and she certainly had determination to spare. Gripping her hand tightly, he tried to remember the house he had seen before. It had seemed so big, there as a kid—

—and they found themselves facing an obelisk.

“Brilliant!” said Ginny. “Can you go back for Luna?”

“In a minute, I'm winded.” That had seemed more than twice as hard as a normal Apparition, even with Ginny's help. He paced around the statue, slowly, as it flickered between being a featureless monument and a sculpture of the Potters. He gulped—Harry without his scar was in turn featureless. It could easily have been Neville before his parents were tortured, been any number of children.

Twice around, and then a concerned look from Ginny. “I'm fine,” he said, raising one hand and returning to the Hog's Head.

Luna still looked upset. “Look, if you don't want to be here, you can go back.”

“I...do you think you could take me home when we're done?”

“I don't know where you live.”

She sighed. “Do you know Ginny's house?”

“I think so. She might be able to help me.”

“It's not far.”

“I'll try.”

“That's enough,” she said, and placed her small hand in his. They Apparated again, that time seeming slightly less grueling, and Ginny waved them over, grabbing some quills from her book bag.

After the large-scale graffiti they were used to, there was nothing to it. Good luck, Harry, wrote Ginny, wherever you are. Neville gave her space to step back—they all had something to mourn. If you read this, Harry, Luna followed, we're all behind you. Neville stuck with Long live Harry Potter.

They stepped back and smiled, admiring their contributions to the old sign. “Listen,” said Neville, “do—do you think you'd be able to help me Apparate to your house? Luna really wants to go home.”

“I...think so.”

“Please?” said Luna.

“We can try,” Neville declared. Ginny looked at him askance, but gripped both their hands tightly.

“Neville, are you sure you can do this?” Ginny asked.

He wasn't sure. Apparating with Luna was difficult, with Ginny even more so. Both of them at once, and him barely knowing the destination?

But Luna, for all her dreaminess, seemed insistent on that one detour. “Yeah,” he lied, and the darkness closed around them.

It felt like far too long, pressed in the tube that wasn't. He could only imagine the feeling of Ginny's hand in his, and for all he could sense Luna might as well have been across the world. But then they were there, panting for breath in the living room of the Burrow.

“Ginny?” Mrs. Weasley dropped her knitting project. “Luna! Neville! Are you all right? You poor things—”

“I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley,” said Luna politely. “Thank you both.” And she promptly made her way to the door.

“What—Ginny—no, sit down, Luna, what's going on?”

“I really would like to visit my father.”

“Well, for goodness' sakes, use the Floo!” Luna immediately walked over to the fireplace. “Are you all right?”

“We're fine, Mum,” said Ginny. “We—I mean—”

“We were visiting Hogsmeade,” Neville interrupted. It was a Saturday night, after all. “And we thought that, since I can Apparate and all, we'd go to visit family—it's a holiday, we can celebrate together.”

“Yes. Well,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Do—do you need anything?”

As Ginny answered, Neville turned to look at Luna. That had to be her father in the fire, his hair long and his face pale.

“You're going to Cornwall,” she said plainly. “I want to come.”

“You shouldn't be out of school,” he replied, but his voice was wavering.

“Just tonight. I want to be with you.”

“Oh, Luna,” he sighed. “You're at the Burrow?”

“Yes.”

“I'll be right over.”

A smile briefly grew across her face, followed by the crack of an incoming Apparition. “My goodness,” said Mrs. Weasley, “if I had known we were having this many visitors I'd have bought some sweets.”

Luna immediately turned and hugged her father tightly. “How did you get here?” he asked.

“Neville Apparated me,” she said brightly, nodding at him without letting go.

Mr. Lovegood gave a wistful smile. “That was very kind of you. Thank you.”

Neville blushed.

“I...apologize for the interruption,” said Mr. Lovegood to Mrs. Weasley. “This is a somber night for all of us.”

“What's going on?” said Ginny.

Mr. Lovegood sighed. “I...well. I suppose. Luna and I have some business in Cornwall to be about.”

“Business?” said Mrs. Weasley. “At this hour?”

“Yes. At this hour,” he repeated with a voice that suggested he would not be crossed.

“I...how are you getting back?” said Ginny.

“I'll stay,” said Neville, “I can take her.”

“You told Seamus an hour—do you want to bring me back now, I can tell them you're all right?”

“Yeah. Probably.”

“Seamus?” said Mrs. Weasley.

“In Hogsmeade,” Neville rushed.

“If you're up for it,” Ginny said.

“Yeah. Yeah, I am.” He looked at Luna and her father, both of whom held their wands out. “Let's go.”

Another crack, and they were back in the Hog's Head. “That was easier,” Ginny smiled, “I'm getting used to it now.”

“Good. Me too. Now how do you get back in that passageway?”

Ginny pulled herself onto the hearth—Neville gaped, but her arms were strong from Quidditch. She reached for the back of the portrait, and it quickly gave way. “Whoa. This is brilliant...okay, yeah, I can see how to get back from here. Can you find the Burrow okay?”

“I think so, yeah.”

“Good. Otherwise, you have your coin, let me know if you need any help.”

Neville smiled. “I'll be fine.”

She disappeared into the tunnel, or what Neville hoped was the tunnel, and he Apparated back.

“Trick or treat,” he called, as he collapsed onto the couch. Despite his protestations that he'd be no trouble, Mrs. Weasley brought him a cup of cocoa, and after the many Apparitions he appreciated it.

“Do you know how long they'll be?” he said after a while.

“No,” she said quietly. “It could be the whole night. Do you want to sleep? We have some empty rooms, I can wake you when they get back—”

“I'll stay up.”

“All right.” She paused. “How is school? Ginny doesn't write much.”

“Well...there...might be other people reading the mail.”

Mrs. Weasley raised her eyebrows.

“I mean—we—we do what we can. There's—the teachers—some of the little kids—will get in trouble if they don't think before they speak. So we have to look out for them, you know. We...we practice spells. Harry and Ron and Hermione formed a, a study group a few years ago, because the teachers weren't very good.”

“For practicing schoolwork.”

How much did she know? “Yeah. That's right. So—so we've—started that up again.”

She nodded slowly. “Are you sure you don't need anything?”

“Oh, yeah. Positive. I—I'll just wait for Luna to get back.”

“All right. Be careful.”

“We are!” he said, and thought of trying to sneak along the headmaster's stairway. “...Honest.”

He took another sip of the cocoa, then another, stretching it out. By the time he'd finished it, Mrs. Weasley had gone upstairs, and he didn't want to wake her. Yawning, Neville tried to imagine where the Lovegoods had gone. Probably searching for some beast they could only see at new moon...

He was falling, slowly falling towards a hole in a stone, and he knew that there was only terror on the other side. Ginny passed him, whirling on her broomstick. “C'mon, Neville,” she called, “grab on!”

“I don't know how to fly!” he called.

Luna floated past them, rising up, out of the stone. “Haven't you got any wings?”

“Are you mad?”

“Neville,” she chided him, “that's not very—”

Crack!


Neville blinked awake. He was on the couch in the Burrow, under a blanket someone must have brought down for him during the night. Luna and her father had just Apparated in, and they were still hugging each other tightly.

“I love you, Moonbeam,” Mr. Lovegood was saying, his eyes bright with tears, “and so does your mum.” She was still part of the present tense.

“I love you too,” Luna whispered.

Neville, feeling like he was intruding, pulled the blanket over his face. It must have been about sunrise. What had happened?

A few minutes later, Mrs. Weasley came down the stairs in a spotted bathrobe. “Are you all right? Let me make you breakfast.”

“That's all right,” said Mr. Lovegood hoarsely.

“I should get back to Hogwarts,” Luna added.

“I can take you,” said Mrs. Weasley, “if Neville's still—”

“'mwake,” he muttered, rolling over, “lessgo.”

“Thank you again,” said Mr. Lovegood. He seemed tired, almost sad, but also relieved for some reason. “It was very—good of you to bring Luna here.”

“Anything,” said Neville quickly.

Luna finally pulled herself away from her father and walked over to Neville. He stood up and took her hand, and they quickly whirled into the Hog's Head. It was still empty, he noticed as they arrived—Sunday mornings were low on traffic, but they had been lucky to find it empty the night before.

Luna leapt up onto the mantel, again seeming to rise slowly through the air. Neville blinked. That had to be a dream. She reached out her hand to help him up, and he quickly pulled himself up.

The blank-eyed girl was still there in the portrait, blinking as Neville pulled it aside. He ducked and climbed in; Luna followed behind, pulling the door shut behind her.

“So...er...you and your dad,” he finally ventured as they climbed the steep tunnel. “Were you looking for magical beasts?”

“Yes,” she said quietly.

“Find anything?”

“No.”

“Oh. Well. I'm sorry.”

“No—it—we—it's good we didn't.”

She, too, had seemed on the verge of tears just moments before, and yet there was that same soberness in her voice. “All right, then.”

The Room of Requirement stood empty by then. “Thank you,” she finally said. “That—that meant a lot to me.”

He nodded, opening the far door a crack and poking his head out. “Hall's clear, we can go.”

They quickly went to their separate towers. Seamus was still asleep, for which Neville was silently thankful. Not that it mattered either way. It was just, he really didn't want to deal with any teasing.

He didn't bring up the night again, and at first, neither did Luna or Ginny. After the holiday, the school went back to what had become normal, and the D.A. redoubled their efforts. The coursework piled on even in the decent classes, and every once in a while the seventh-years would meet by themselves, just to practice N.E.W.T. level materials. (Neville was by then able to cast a very impressive Protean Charm, which had earned him ten points from Gryffindor from an admiring Professor Flitwick.) It was easier that way, if once a week or so they had the chance to believe that things would be okay, that the day would come when their exams would be the most important thing to worry about.

There was a pleasant surprise for most of Hogwarts early in November: Gryffindor defeated Slytherin on opening day of the Quidditch season. Most of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had sided with the underdogs, and while Neville didn't understand most of it, it was a great feeling to sit in the stands alongside his classmates and watch Ginny lead the house to victory. And to hear, across the stadium, the roar of Luna's hat.

He easily picked her out after the match, and they walked back up to the castle together. No one interrupted them. To be sure, there were some mean-spirited students who might have teased her about the hat—but they didn't, if only because they had other, more urgent things to tease her about. Like the fact that her father kept publishing the truth in The Quibbler. Everyone else either was too numb to do anything but let her be, strange as she looked, or they were on her side and meant it when they praised the hat.

Neville cleared his throat. Maybe he would never be brave enough to ask just what had happened in Cornwall, but maybe he didn't have to be. “Er. Luna?”

“Yes?” she smiled.

“Next weekend is Hogsmeade weekend.”

“Oh.”

She didn't seem excited, but maybe she just had never had a reason to be excited about that. He could change things. “I...was wondering if you maybe wanted to go with me?”

“That would be nice,” she said. “Is Ginny coming too? Or Padma or Seamus?”

“Well, maybe they're going, but I was thinking, the two of us could just be together. Like, a date.”

“You...you want to go on a date with me to Hogsmeade?”

“Y...yeah,” he gulped.

“Neville, that's brilliant!” And before he could react she had pulled him into a hug.

“Took you two long enough,” called Ginny, once they'd broken apart.

Neville blushed. “Don't you have a victory to celebrate?”

“Yeah, yeah. C'mon up to the common room, there's gonna be food.”

“Okay. Well—see you, Luna.”

“Oh, yes,” Luna said brightly. “I can't wait!”

Neville got cold feet a couple of times during the week ahead—what if he said something dumb? What if she didn't like Hogsmeade? What if people gave him flak about dating Loony Lovegood? He tried to shut them out and focus on the memory of her in the hat, and began smiling in spite of himself.

Sure enough, she was more than happy to see him Saturday morning, radish earrings and butterbeer necklace jangling as she walked. “Where are we going?” she asked. “In Hogsmeade, I mean.”

“I dunno. Do you care?”

“Let's try Gladrags!” she volunteered, and quickly began skipping down the path to Hogsmeade. Neville blushed and hurried to keep pace.

It was strange, seeing Luna of all girls lead the way to a clothing shop. But she quickly seemed in her element when sorting through a bright array of socks. “Special discount today,” said the clerk, “three socks for the price of two.”

“Three socks?” Neville set down a hat he'd been looking at. “Who'd want to buy three socks?”

“For mixing and matching, obviously,” said Luna. “Or, if you knew someone who'd had one leg cursed off, you could give them one as a gift.”

Neville blinked.

“There's a lot of violence these days, it does no good to ignore it. Do you like the red ones?”

“Er—” He turned to see Luna holding up a sock that appeared to have many small sequins sewn in. “I'm not sure if I could see myself wearing them.”

“I suppose you're right. With the school uniforms and all it's rather hard for socks to stand out. It's really a pity.”

“I'm sure,” Neville said slowly, “that you could do it if you put your mind to it.”

“That's very kind of you.”

“Thanks. Er. Do you maybe want to go to Madam Puddifoot's or somewhere?”

“Ooh, yes, let's!”

The tea shop was crowded with couples, and not just Hogwarts students—no one, young or old, seemed to want to look at anything farther away than their lover's eyes. Neville quickly ordered a warm cup of tea—Prince of Wales. He had discovered the flavor with Dean once and quite enjoyed it, only to be surprised when his grandmother told him that had been his father's favorite too.

“And what'll you be having?” the waitress asked Luna.

“Er, jasmine with lots of cream please.”

She blinked. “I'm sorry, we don't have jasmine.”

“Oh, that's quite all right. Chaverm with cream, then?”

“No. Have you, er, looked at the menu?”

Luna glanced at it as though seeing it for the first time. “Oh. Well.” She flipped it over. “Never mind, I'll just have the same as him.”

“Prince of Wales?”

“Yes.”

The waitress walked off, while Neville tried not to look flustered. He was not quite upset—they still had a nice meal to enjoy together—but he almost felt embarrassed on her account.

“It's all right,” said Luna. “I can pay for my own tea. It's the progressive thing to do.”

“Oh, that's all right,” he muttered.

Fortunately, the tea came quickly, and once he was drinking it things felt calmer. Neville thought he recognized several other students, some of whom were kissing quite thoroughly. Luna's gaze, too, flitted about the room, but she didn't look too closely at anyone else.

When it came time to pay, he rummaged through his coins (grasping the D.A. galleon between his fingers, just because it felt good to hold onto—over two months and he still had not forgotten and spent it by mistake), and came up with the total just as Luna was producing the same amount. “Come off it, I'll buy your tea.”

“Of course you will,” she smiled. “And I'll buy yours.”

He wasn't going to argue. It was Luna Lovegood, after all. Of course she'd have her own way of doing things, and he didn't mind if it earned him a free cup of tea.

Outside, they walked past the Hog's Head. Neville opened his mouth, wondering whether to bring up Halloween, but closed it again. As much as he wanted to understand Luna, her secrets were her own business. Besides, she was going on about the Rotfang Conspiracy again, and it wouldn't do to interrupt.

“That was a lovely date,” she said, as they returned to the castle. “Thank you so much!”

“Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for the tea! But, you know, we could—we could keep going on those, next Hogsmeade weekend, if you'd like.”

She paused as if weighing that over. “Are you offering to be my boyfriend?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “If you'd like.”

“Well, I've never had a boyfriend before; I don't want to make a shambles of it.”

“You couldn't possibly—all right, what I mean is—if you'd like to, I think we'd be fine.”

“All right, then,” she giggled, giving him another hug, and he hugged back.

At first, being “together” didn't mean they saw more of each other than usual. But that had more to do with how often the D.A. met as a whole. Lee Jordan's Potterwatch was running in full force, and so far the Carrows had not caught on that the wireless in the dank fifth-floor classroom was accessible to anyone. While Neville kept practicing with the meeting room, and was able to produce a wireless when he wanted one, the magic only stretched so far. He could not rely on it consistently broadcasting what he wanted to hear. But once anyone heard “River” begin, they would send a message by their Galleons and their fellow students would quickly join them.

For Neville and Ginny this was nothing difficult. Even most of the Gryffindors who hadn't joined more or less realized that something was up and that Neville and Ginny were relatively in charge. If a bunch of the older students were going to all leave at once, well, that was nothing to tell the professors about. Luna had a more difficult challenge, with much of Ravenclaw preferring to keep their head down. Terry, Michael, and Anthony were usually inseparable (unless Michael had gotten another girlfriend), and Padma had been spending more time with them in recent years. But Luna didn't otherwise hang out with them very often, and so Michael had suggested that she spend more time outside the common room just in case they all needed to go somewhere at once without other students seeing them.

While Neville saw the logic of the suggestion, fellow Ravenclaws telling Luna to get out seemed a bit regressive. Luna, however, didn't mind. “I've been meaning to spend some more time in the library anyway. I think the Restricted Section has some arcane books about Sasquatches I should check out. Besides, that way I hang out with you more.”

It felt good to see her there, even if he was revising while she was reading. They held hands. They hugged. He even tickled her once. Not in the library, Madam Pince would have none of that, it was after a long D.A. meeting when they were all still a bit bleary from quickly switching between Stunning Charms and Ennervate—Seamus didn't like to speak of his detentions out loud, but more than one younger student had come to Neville privately to suggest they learn more healing spells. Hannah had very quickly grasped the basics and was leading the way on more powerful charms.

He tickled her knee, and she giggled wildly, unafraid. So he tickled her stomach, her hip.

“Please—Neville. Neville? Neville?”

“Yeah?” he said, immediately pulling away. He knew her serious voice from Halloween, and part of him was pleased to have found some side of Luna Lovegood that few others saw.

“Please...don't touch...my back.”

“Your back? Okay. Is there—” She was too calm to have landed herself detentions so far as he knew, but...“Do you need to go to Madam Pomfrey?”

“Oh no!” she said. “You can keep tickling my legs if you want. That was very silly.”

“It was?” he grinned. “How about this?” He reached for her other knee.

“Heeheeeheeheehee...aha...”

Pretty soon they were both laughing, then sitting on the floor trying to catch their breaths.

“Luna?” he finally asked.

“Yes?”

“Do—do you think...”

“Yes?”

“Er—would you ever want to kiss? Or is that something that, you know. Sounds interesting?”

She blinked. “If it meant a lot to you, I suppose. But I don't mind not doing it, either. The research suggests it promotes the spreading of Hitherbeeds, although some of the statistics are unclear.”

“Okay. That—that's really fine.” For all that Seamus teased him once word of their relationship had spread, he was more than happy with things as they stood. They were close, even if they didn't need to show it in the same ways as everyone else.

“All right then. Next meeting Tuesday?”

“Yeah,” he said. “That sounds great.”

“Neville?”

“Yeah?”

“There's something I want to tell you. But don't tell Ginny, okay? I don't think she'd understand.”

“What is it?” he said nervously. The D.A. always made decisions together.

“I love you. And not just the way I love Ginny, and Harry and Ron wherever they are, and Hermione I suppose in spite of herself. Although I love them all too, very much.”

“Er...”

“Ginny says we oughtn't talk like that until we do more nice things with each other, or even after we kiss or something a lot. But I don't see the need for any of that. Ginny also says that because of the Death Eaters and everything we ought to seize the days and things, and be sure and tell people that we love them just in case of things. Although she blushes when I tell her how much I do love her. I think she has a sadly narrow view of love, which is probably due to Nargles. But, anyway, I'm sorry if I've made this into an occasion because I didn't mean to.”

“Don't be silly,” he said, “I love you too. And—come to think of it, I love the others, I suppose that makes this easier to say. But I love you in—in the narrow sense, too.” Why had no one ever told him things could be that easy?

“Brilliant,” she said. “Now, one other question.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you ticklish?”

“No...I'm not...Luna—hey! Hey!” And he laughed as she dove for his ankles, tapping them finger by finger like some excitable pianist.

Neville couldn't help himself. Two days later, after Ginny came in exhausted from Quidditch practice, he came over and smiled. “It's all going to be okay,” he said. “I love you.”

Ginny took a step back. “Does Luna know about this?”

“Well, yes, actually. She's the one who inspired me to tell you.”

Ginny rolled her eyes.

“A wise witch once said we should tell all our loved ones that we care about them, just in case we need to seize the day.”

“Look, if we're sharing our feelings, I love Luna too, the same way you love me. I just don't want her to take you for granted. Or vice versa.”

“This is Luna! I can't take her for granted.”

“All right, but—”

“But nothing, we need love if we're going to see this through. All of us D.A. people—love for each other, for our families, for the Muggleborns they're going after. Call it something else if you're picky, doesn't change what it is.”

Ginny paused. “You know, you really are good for each other.”

Neville blushed.

Their second Hogsmeade date saw them join Seamus and Hannah at the Three Broomsticks, splitting a few orders of fish and chips. The seventh-years were busy with N.E.W.T. talk, although Luna was hardly left behind—she volunteered some advice about Undetectable Extension Charms that seemed to make sense. Seamus had to go back because he needed to use the bathroom, and Neville and Luna waited with Hannah outside the door.

He was just explaining some properties of Mimbulus mimbletonia when he got pelted with a snowball from behind. “Oi!” he said, whirling around. “Seamus! What about the bathroom?”

He shrugged. “I was quick about it.”

Neville quickly returned fire, and pretty soon many other students were joining in the fray. He recognized a couple of students, but there were several more he didn't know—it wasn't like he'd been introduced to every third-year Slytherin. They had formed no teams, and so, they were in some sense all on the same side. For Neville, who'd been so busy with the D.A., it seemed like the first time all year it felt like Hogwarts was standing together. Even if they weren't at Hogwarts. Even if some of them had fallen in the snow.

He had a clear shot at Luna's back, but hesitated—did her touchiness extend to snowball fights? He decided to play it safe with Luna, and take a riskier shot across the street.

Boom! Zacharias Smith dropped the snowball he was forming as his other shoulder got nailed. Neville grinned as Zacharias turned to see who had thrown it. “You should go out for Chaser, whoever you are.”

“I'm in Gryffindor,” he smiled, “don't think you want us improving.”

“Neville?” he stared. Zacharias had stopped coming to meetings a while ago.

“As a fellow captain, I have to agree,” Ginny called. Zacharias whirled to face her only to be pelted with another one from her.

“That felt good,” Ginny mouthed as she passed by Neville, who laughed.

He wasn't sure how he kept up in his classes from time to time, unless it was because everyone else was as bleary as he was. Herbology still held promise, and Charms went well from time to time. The rest felt like the opposite of seizing the day; letting the day slowly creep up on you from behind. And that wasn't even counting Muggle Studies and Defense Against the Dark Arts, which hardly counted as proper classes anyway. It was just a matter of weighing the risks of speaking out against the benefits of putting life into his classmates. With Seamus, Parvati, and Lavender alongside him he could at least wait for them to contribute once in a while, but he didn't want them hurt on his account. He wasn't sure how Ginny coped with her classes. Luna, he knew, stared into space most of the lecture and then turned in essays that were well-structured and at the required length, although some of the sources she cited fell outside the Ministry-approved curriculum.

“It's independent study,” she explained. “I'm furthering my own education.” And compared to what Ginny was turning in (or not turning in), it wasn't like they could fail her.

Most of them were going home for Christmas—they could spend more time with loved ones, tell them they loved them, and enjoy various day-seizing festivities. Still, it was nice to see the school arrayed in holiday decorations. When Neville helped Sprout set up poinsettias on the staircases, when Slughorn offered extra credit for whoever could magically improve their egg nog, when McGonagall declaimed on the virtues of auld acquaintance, it seemed like nothing could go wrong.

Of course, it could. Professor Flitwick didn't seem to have ever been in trouble with the new administration, but looking at him hopelessly trying to set up the fairy lights high above him, Neville wondered what the Death Eaters made of a “half-breed.” He'd heard all the rumors in his first two years, and didn't honestly care whether his professor's height was inherited or the result of an experiment gone awry. But if Filius Flitwick was floundering with fairy lights, the Carrows might as well try to steal Christmas.

“Do you need help, Professor?” said Luna, as they passed by on their way to a study date.

“Oh, there's no need,” he said.

“That's all right. Neville, I'll meet you in the library, okay? It'll just be a minute.”

Neville nodded, but turned back at the next corner to see how exactly Luna was going to try and outdo Flitwick on setting up Christmas decorations.

But then he heard it again, that strange, almost musical noise from the Forbidden Forest. He took a step closer; Luna was staring at the row of Christmas trees with a firm gaze, and the fairies were neatly lining up in rows. A few moments later, and their lights were on.

“There we go,” she said coolly. “Let me know if they give you any more trouble.”

Flitwick blinked. “Twenty-five points to Ravenclaw, my dear!”

She smiled. “There's no need, you don't have to look biased...”

“Nonsense. And Miss Lovegood?”

“Yes, Professor?”

“Happy Christmas.”

“Happy Christmas to you, too!” Smiling, she kept going, only to encounter Neville where he was still gaping. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Are—are you?”

“Yes.”

“Do—what was all that about?”

“Oh, I was just telling the fairies to line up properly. They're skittish, this group, but they do love to show off. Nothing to it.”

“You...speak the fae tongue?”

She shrugged. “Well enough.”

“How long have you done that?”

“Since birth. More or less.”

“Did your parents teach you?” This seemed a skill at once so practical and bizarre that he would not have put it past Mr. Lovegood.

“Not Mum and Dad,” she said quietly. “My—my birth parents.”

“You...” There were stories. There were always stories. But it didn't make sense.

“Let's not talk about this in the library,” she said.

He nodded. “We don't have to talk at all, if you don't want...” but I'm more curious than ever now. Still, you come first.

“Oh, it's fine. Meeting room, maybe?”

They quickly ascended the stairs to find the Room of Requirement was very cozy on the day, hardly more than a fireplace with a Yule log, couch, and an Advent wreath, with three of its four candles lit. “Daddy always said the last one's for love, but sometimes we need to wait to find it,” Luna nodded.

“Uh-huh.”

“Yes. So. I—I'm a changeling.”

“Go on. I mean—I don't know how that works.”

Luna closed her eyes and thought back, piecing her way between memory and story. “I—I hatched among many other fairy children. Four dozen or so, and at the time, I was no bigger than they. But my birth parents were fearful. They—they loved all of us, and they wanted to keep us safe. From the tiend.”

“What?”

She ignored him. “So, when I was quite small, they went in search of a human child to trade for. And they found my mum and dad's infant...Luna, the human. I've seen pictures of her, she had yellow hair like mine. I think they find that attractive.”

So did Neville, although he did not speak.

“So, they switched us one day while Mum was experimenting and Dad was on an expedition. As soon as I drank Mum's milk, I became something else—not quite human and not quite faerie. I still know the language, but I can't shine like them, and my wings are too small—I can't really lift myself off the ground, although I can hover a bit once I'm there.”

“Your wings?”

“On my back. I've had to Disillusion myself to keep hiding them, that's why I'm so good at that.”

“But your parents, they must have seen—” If she thought of the humans as her real family, so would Neville.

“They did, eventually, and they tried to find out what had happened to their daughter. But they cared for me all the while, they couldn't just get rid of me—I was just a baby!” she smiled. “And then, when I was two years old, there came the tiend.”

“You said that before...”

“Oh yes. The fairies believe that every seven years, on Samhain night—Halloween to you—”

“I know what Samhain is,” he interrupted.

“—they ought to give a tithe to hell. One of their children—in the Southwest, anyway, they would have to send them through Mên-an-Tol, to the other world.”

“Hell?”

“Well, we humans—my parents, anyway, taught me that all the sacrificing to hell had long since been done, death has no more dominion over us. So they were a bit displeased that someone wanted to send their daughter there. Seemed a bit redundant, you see.”

“A bit redundant,” Neville echoed.

“Well, they set out to find her, once you know the magic sites it's not too far. But it was too late. They—the faeries—made her the tiend instead of me.”

She said it so matter-of-factly it was hard for Neville to offer condolences. “So...then what?”

“They decided if the faeries wanted me to be their daughter, so it would be. I grew up with them and learned Charms from Mum and magizoology from Dad, lots of human magic.”

But not quite enough to pass for human, even by the standards of the Lovegood family. The family...her mum...“Wait. You said this happened every seven years?”

“Yes,” said Luna quietly. “Seven years later, my mum realized they would try to do it again. By that time of course we were family—she was my mum, I was her daughter, and that was all there was to it. But all the same, she didn't want any other family to lose their birth children, the same way. So, we went to Mên-an-Tol and she tried to show the faeries they oughtn't muddle with magic there, there was no point. They got angry, there was a fight—she didn't want to hurt them, really, they didn't know any better. She tried to close the hole—she did close the hole, the magic of it—but the charms were too powerful, and she...she was gone.”

Then he did offer condolences. “I'm sorry.”

“Me too,” said Luna.

“And this—this was the seventh year?”

“Yes. Daddy and I had to go, you see, to make sure they didn't come back, that her magic worked. And it did,” she smiled. “The tiend is broken, there's no more need for changelings.”

“Have you met any—others—before?”

“A few. They're mostly older now, of course. And a lot of them don't like to talk about it, even to others.”

“I didn't mean to—you know—ask if you didn't want to tell...”

“It's fine. But please don't spread it around—I trust you, of course, but there's no telling who might hear and...” she shrugged. “I don't want people to have something else to tease me about.”

“Oh, Luna—of course I promise.”

“That's good,” she smiled. “Besides, if people think I'm human, well—then my father looks much more sane in comparison. I don't want people to tease him either.”

Neville put his arm around her shoulder. “Your dad's brilliant. I'm so glad we have The Quibbler to tell the truth.”

“Me too.”

“All right, well. Do you still want to go to the library?”

“I don't want to, particularly. But I suppose it would be good to study.”

“I guess you're right,” Neville laughed. “Let's go.”

Soon enough they were both ensconced in Charms notes. “Did you ever consider taking Care of Magical Creatures at N.E.W.T. level?” he felt compelled to ask when memorizing the Cheering Charm incantation became too laborious. “You know, easy O?”

“Well, I do think Hagrid's a bit of a joke,” she said. “Sending humans into the forest, I mean, really! Besides, there's no point in taking a class because I know all of one unit already—I want to learn.”

Neville rolled his eyes. “Typical Ravenclaw.”

“I think you're the first one that's ever called me that.”

“What—er—I didn't mean it as an insult.”

“I know.”

They gave it half an hour more, then mutually agreed that was enough for the last week of term. Neville made sure to walk past the Christmas trees on their way back, to smile at Luna's handiwork—the fairies were all in their proper place.

“It's nice to tell the truth, for a change,” she smiled. “It makes me feel brave, like my dad.”

“Yeah,” Neville nodded. “Happy Christmas, Luna.”

“Happy Christmas to you too, Neville.”

He glanced at her face and squeezed her hand. “I think you were wrong.”

“Wrong? About what?”

“About not being able to light up by magic. You clearly can.”

She gave him a hug, and from behind her bright hair there came a buzz.

“What was that?” Neville asked.

“Oh, one of the fairies on the...second tree from the left, I think, made an enthusiastic remark about our display of affection.”

Neville grinned. “Brilliant.”


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