The Sugar Quill
Author: Mysterious Muggle (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Mind's Eye, Soul's Reflection: A Luna Lovegood story  Chapter: Catalyst
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Catalyst

A/N: Well, I certainly got a rousing reception for the first chapter of this. :) Big thanks to everyone who has reviewed so far. And thanks as always to my Grammar Nazi, who was annoyed at there not being enough to correct in this chapter.

 

 

Chapter 2:

Catalyst

 

 

Luna found a completely empty compartment right at the very back of the train. She dragged her trunk in and stowed it neatly under her seat, then sat down. As she straightened up, her wand fell from her pocket and dropped to the floor. Not really paying attention, she picked it back up and placed it back behind her ear. Then she reached into her bag and pulled out The Quibbler, opening it to the article on ancient runes and the hidden spells they revealed when inverted. She re-read the short article with interest, and then something occurred to her that she hadn’t thought of before. If turning the runes upside down yielded secret information, perhaps there were other passages in the magazine that would do the same? She flipped back to the first page, turned the magazine over in her hands, and began to read.

She had barely begun when there was a soft knock on the door. As Luna turned to look, it slid open and three people stepped in, two boys and a girl.

“Hi Luna,” the girl said brightly. It was Ginny Weasley.

Ginny was sitting on her own in the back row, her knees pulled up to her chest, staring into space, ignoring everything that Professor Lockhart was saying. Luna, who was sitting a few seats along, also on her own, looked over at her with mild interest. She turned to see what it was Ginny was staring at, but it just seemed to be one of the less interesting cracks in the front wall of the classroom. With her curiosity piqued somewhat, Luna turned back and examined Ginny more closely. She was pale and sweating, and her hands were shaking. Her lips were moving ever so slightly, non-stop, as though she was whispering very quietly to someone. Luna couldn’t see anyone else in the back row with them, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t someone else. Ginny could have been talking to anything or anyone.

“Is it OK if we take these seats?” Ginny asked. Luna nodded. “Thanks,” Ginny said with a smile.

After some time, Ginny seemed to realise Luna was watching her. She turned her head, very slowly, as though frightened of what she might see. Her eyes met Luna’s. They might have been very pretty if there hadn’t been a faceless terror reflected in their brown depths. They were red-rimmed and had huge, dark shadows underneath them. And there was something else, something Luna couldn’t put her finger on.

“What?” Ginny asked, her voice trembling.

“Why are you afraid?” Luna asked.

“We shouldn’t talk,” Ginny said very quickly, snapping her head back to the front of the class. Luna saw the shaky breath she took. “We’ll get in trouble.”

“We won’t,” Luna said matter-of-factly. “He is so lost in himself that he wouldn’t notice if Slytherin’s Monster knocked down the door and ate us all where we sit.”

Ginny’s head whipped back around. Her eyes were a swirling mix of horror, anger and the tiniest hint of what looked like…desire. It was very odd.

“Don’t talk about that!” she pleaded in a panicky whisper. It was as though she thought the monster would hear them and get ideas.

As they sat down, Luna turned her attention to the two boys. One of them was short and lost-looking. He averted his eyes shyly from Luna’s as he sat down, and he hunched up slightly, making Luna think of a hedgehog curling into a ball to protect itself. She didn’t know who he was.

“Why are you afraid?” Luna asked again.

The second boy wore scrappy clothes that went well with his disastrously messy hair. He looked uncomfortable as well, but in a different way to the shorter boy. He wore round glasses in front of his brilliantly green eyes and Luna recognised him immediately.

“Had a good summer, Luna?” Ginny asked.

“Yes. Yes, it was very enjoyable, you know,” Luna responded, not taking her eyes off the second boy. “You’re Harry Potter,” she informed him.

“I know I am,” he replied, sounding bemused.

“Because everyone’s in danger…” Ginny said, shaking more noticeably. “You can’t escape…none of us can…”

“From the monster, you mean?”

“There are lots of monsters…”

Luna nodded. That was good. It would have been most peculiar if he hadn’t known. But then, she mused, it was perfectly possible for someone to be something and to not know. She watched the other boy fighting back a laugh. “And I don’t know who you are,” she told him.

“I’m nobody,” he mumbled, looking away again.

“No you’re not,” Ginny said indignantly. “Neville Longbottom – Luna Lovegood.”

Luna nodded again. Of course he wasn’t nobody. That was simple logic. How could he exist if he didn’t exist? A conundrum.

“Luna’s in my year, but in Ravenclaw,” Ginny went on.

Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” Luna sang, the words of the Sorting Hat four years earlier echoing gently in her ears. Ginny stifled a giggle, and Harry and Neville exchanged odd looks. Luna raised her copy of The Quibbler again and waited to see if anything else was going to happen. It wasn’t very long before something did.

After a few minutes of silence, in which Luna began to become engrossed again in the search for hidden messages, she heard the second boy, Neville, proudly producing from his bag a birthday present from his uncle, a plant of some kind by the sound of it. Luna didn’t catch the long, strange name, and it would probably have meant little to her if she had. Herbology wasn’t her forte. It didn’t sound particularly exciting, but Neville was proclaiming that it had an amazing defensive mechanism. Vaguely interested, she peered over the magazine.

Neville was holding a tiny, stubby cactus-like plant that, while interesting in its own way, really was rather ugly. But Neville seemed to like it, and that was the important thing, Luna reminded herself. She watched curiously as Neville lifted it closer to his face, then poked it sharply with the tip of his quill.

The plant’s response was to practically explode, spraying dark, foul-smelling liquid all over the compartment. Gasping with surprise, Luna ducked quickly behind her magazine. From the other side came sounds of spluttering and spitting.

“S-sorry,” Neville gasped as Luna peered tentatively back over her magazine, the cover of which was now dripping with the disgusting liquid. Neville shook his head to try and clear his eyes. “I haven’t tried that before…didn’t realise it would be quite so…” He trailed off as Harry spat a mouthful onto the floor. “Don’t worry, though,” he said, making a futile effort to sound positive. “Stinksap’s not poisonous.”

Just then the door slid open. Luna, who had been trying to wipe the Stinksap off the magazine’s cover with the sleeve of her robes, looked up. Cho Chang was standing in the doorway.

She sat on her own at the far end of the Ravenclaw table, just like she had every night in the week since the third task. She had refused all company, all queries of whether she wanted to talk about it.

From her own seat a little further up, Luna watched a teardrop trickle down Cho’s cheek. It meandered its way right to her chin, where it hung for a second before falling, tumbling slowly through the air to land silently on her long-cold dinner. The older girl shivered despite the warmth of the night. She stood up slowly, and with a shaking hand, picked up her goblet.

“To Cedric Diggory,” murmured the hall. Luna saw Cho’s lips move, but she wasn’t sure if any sound had come out of them.

There was another subdued scraping of chairs as everyone sat down again. Cho stayed on her feet for a few seconds longer than anyone else, staring into space. Then, with a tiny sob, she fell back into her seat.

Luna looked away as more tears began to wind their way down Cho’s face.

Luna didn’t know Cho very well. The pretty, long-haired girl was in Ravenclaw as well, but two years older than Luna was. She seemed quite nice. From the way Harry was looking at her, Luna guessed that he knew Cho somewhat better than she did. Or at least that he saw her in a rather different way.

“Oh…hello, Harry,” Cho said. She sounded nervous. Luna watched her closely, trying to decipher the look in her eyes. “Um…bad time?”

“Oh…hi,” Harry said back, his voice flat. Luna glanced at him. He was still covered in sap, and looked less than happy to be seen like this. His eyes were fixed on Cho. Cho’s gaze, on the other hand, was spending most of its time on the floor of the compartment, shying quickly away every time she brought it up to meet Harry’s. Her face began to turn slightly pink.

“Um…Well…just thought I’d say hello…” Cho said, seeming to stumble slightly over the words. “Bye then.” She quickly turned and left, closing the door behind her. Luna watched her go, cocking her head to the side in thought. How interesting.

Harry groaned, slumping back in his seat. Luna raised her magazine again, taking in a last quick glance at him as Ginny bracingly tried to cheer him up, performing a scouring charm to remove the sap. Neville mumbled another apology.

The train continued along and more time went past. Luna kept the magazine in front of her face, but wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to it. She was more engrossed in the three people sharing the compartment with her. She had always enjoyed observing people, sitting quietly back in a corner and simply watching them, listening to the things they said. It fascinated her, the way that people interacted. Luna would have been the first to admit that when it came interacting with them herself, she wasn’t always very good at it. But that didn’t matter. When she felt like saying something, she would say it. The rest of the time she would just watch people.

Like Harry Potter and Cho Chang. The awkwardness and suppressed emotion of the meeting had surprised her slightly. Cho had always struck her as being a perfectly nice person, but slightly shallow in the way many attractive and popular people were. And thinking back, Luna realised that this was only the second time she had ever seen Cho on her own.

“Death,” one voice said. “It is not a force, yet it is more powerful than any force. It is not a place, but it is further than any place. It is not a thing, cannot be taken, but it can be given. Death is faceless, shapeless, intangible, and yet it is the most real thing that exists.”

“Then what is death?” a second voice asked.

“Death is a Mystery.”

Curious.

As for Harry Potter, Luna was even less familiar with him than she was with Cho. She knew of him, of course. How could she not? And she had seen him around the school, heard the incredible and outlandish stories of things he had allegedly done in his four years there.

He seemed angry. That was the impression Luna gained as she listened to the small talk between him, Ginny and Neville. Harry was gruff and short with both of them. Luna couldn’t tell whether he meant it or not. She knew the things people were saying about him, that he was spoilt and attention seeking, a liar, a danger, a fraud, a joke. She didn’t believe them. The Daily Prophet was only interested in The Daily Prophet. Not like The Quibbler, which was only interested in the truth.

True or not, though, Harry Potter was angry. As time wound on, Ginny and Neville turned more and more to talking between themselves, leaving Harry a silent, sullen third wheel. He didn’t seem to object, though.

Some time later the lunch trolley arrived, and shortly after that, two new people entered the compartment. Both, Luna noticed, were wearing prefect badges. The girl with the bushy hair was greeted by Ginny as Hermione. Luna vaguely recognised her, but most of her attention was focussed on the girl’s companion, the tall boy with the same vivid red hair that Ginny had.

There were five of them, boys of varying ages. All tall, all with flaming red hair, playing a game of improvised Quidditch in the orchard. Luna sat perched in the fork of a tree at the top of one of the little nearby hills, unseen, watching them play. She had run across them in her wanderings and decided to rest for a while.

The sounds of their laughter and banter drifted up towards her. Though they all looked almost the same from this distance, Luna inexplicably found her eyes drawn to the one guarding the goalposts at one end, who was gesturing angrily and complaining long and hard about some foul or other.

“I’m starving,” Ron Weasley said without preamble and snatched up one of the Chocolate Frogs Harry had bought. He took a large bite out of it and leaned back in the seat across from Luna. She quickly pulled the magazine up higher to hide her face.

“Well,” Hermione said, settling herself down, “there are two fifth year prefects from each house. Boy and girl from each.”

“And guess who’s a Slytherin prefect?” Ron said darkly.

“Malfoy,” Harry said, a statement rather than a question.

“Course,” Ron replied, as if it was stating the obvious. Luna vaguely recalled a Slytherin fifth-year by the name of Draco Malfoy, and she assumed that must have been who they were talking about.

“And that complete cow Pansy Parkinson,” Hermione said with surprising venom. “How she got to be a prefect when she’s thicker than a concussed troll…”

“Who are the Hufflepuffs?” Harry asked.

“Ernie Macmillan and Hannah Abbot,” Ron told him.

“And Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil for Ravenclaw,” Hermione added.

“You went to the Yule ball with Padma Patil,” Luna stated, peering over her magazine at Ron, surprising herself almost as much as she seemed to surprise him.

“Ron Weasley,” Padma announced testily to no one in particular as she stepped into the Ravenclaw common room. She sounded less than enthusiastic.

It was just after lunchtime and the common room was almost deserted except for Luna, who was sitting on the floor, doing the crossword in the latest issue of The Quibbler. “Ron Weasley?” she asked, looking up at Padma.

Padma kept walking, not even giving Luna a side-glance, let alone the odd look most people gave her whenever she said something to them. “Yes, Ron Weasley,” she confirmed to the room in general. “My date for the ball. This is what I get for waiting so long. Stupid…”

“He’s alright,” Luna said earnestly and thoughtfully. “You could have done worse.”

This time Padma did stop and give Luna the odd look. Luna gazed calmly back at her, interested in seeing if she would refute the statement. After a moment, Padma rolled her eyes and turned around again, continuing on her way to the girls’ dormitories. “Oh, alright, I suppose so,” she said. “He’d just better be a good dancer.”

Ron stared at her blankly. He looked like he hadn’t even realised she was there. “Yeah, I know I did,” he said bemusedly.

“She didn’t enjoy it very much,” Luna told him truthfully. “She doesn’t think you treated her very well, because you wouldn’t dance with her.” Luna paused. “I don’t think I’d have minded,” she added on reflection. “I don’t like dancing very much.”

Ron seemed utterly lost for a response. Everyone’s eyes were on Luna, but it was Ron’s that caused her to cheeks to begin to flush. She quickly lifted the magazine again to hide it.

After a long silence that was only broken by more hastily stifled giggling from Ginny, Ron began to speak again. Luna sat absolutely still, a small part of her embarrassed to be hanging on his words so completely.

“We’re supposed to patrol the corridors every so often, and we can give out punishments if people are misbehaving,” he told them. “I can’t wait to get Crabbe and Goyle for something-“

“You’re not supposed to abuse your position, Ron!” Hermione exclaimed, cutting him off and sounding deeply shocked.

“Yeah, right, because Malfoy won’t abuse it at all,” Ron replied, his voice casual but dripping with sarcasm.

“So you’re going to descend to his level?” Hermione asked. Luna’s brow creased slightly as she listened to her. She was certainly getting very high and mighty.

“No, I’m just going to make sure I get his mates before he gets mine,” Ron shot back with a hint of defiance.

“For heaven’s sake, Ron-“

“I’ll make Goyle do lines,” Ron said, talking right over Hermione. “It’ll kill him, he hates writing,” he said with obvious relish at the thought. From the corner of her eye, over the magazine, Luna saw Ron miming writing in mid-air. As he did, he droned in a slow, deep, stupid voice, “I… must … not… look… like… a… baboon’s… backside…”

It was, in all probability, the funniest thing Luna had ever heard in her entire life. All thought of dignity or embarrassment thrown aside, she howled with laughter, the magazine falling from her hands and sliding to the floor as she clutched at her sides. The others had laughed too, but they quickly trailed off. Luna was aware that they were staring open-mouthed at her, but she was laughing too hard to care, practically too hard to breathe. She hadn’t a clue who this Goyle person was, but the image conjured up by Ron’s joke was unbearably hilarious. “That was funny!” she cried, staring at Ron with tears of mirth in her eyes, rocking back and forth in her seat.

“Are you taking the mickey?” Ron asked her uncertainly, but Luna barely heard him.

“Baboon’s…backside!” she repeated, prompting another burst of hysterical laughter to come rushing out of her. Finally, she managed to regain some measure of composure, and was able to reduce her torrent of laughter to the occasional burst of giggles as she gasped for breath, gazing openly at Ron. He was sitting in utter disbelief, staring at her as though she was from another planet, but she barely noticed and didn’t mind in the slightest. He looked strangely handsome when he was bewildered, Luna thought, which killed the giggles completely and threatened to see another blush blossoming on her face. She swallowed and fought against it, but now that there was no magazine to hide behind, she had nowhere to run.

“Can I have a look at this?” Harry asked all of a sudden, sounding strangely excited about something. Sensing that he was addressing her, but with no idea what he was talking about, Luna nodded absently, unable to look away from Ron. Ron was beginning to look more and more uncomfortable with her stare. He looked away, trying to hide his face. From the corner of her eye, Luna could see that Ginny was stuffing her hand in her mouth yet again to try and keep from giggling, and Neville was looking a little unnerved. Hermione was giving her an odd, stern look of dislike. Luna turned to get a better look, but Hermione quickly looked away, pursing her lips very slightly.

Both Hermione and Ron were looking at Harry, who Luna now realised had been asking her about her copy of The Quibbler. He was staring at what looked like the Stubby Boardman article, the look of confusion on his face almost comical. Luna knew how he felt. It was nothing short of amazing to discover that the infamous Sirius Black was in fact innocent, and the ex-lead singer of the Hobgoblins to boot. Luna recalled the rumour that Sirius had escaped from Azkaban to hunt down Harry. Obviously that couldn’t be true, but it must have come as a shock to Harry to learn now that he had nothing to fear.

“The truth shall set you free, Luna,” her father said with a grin and a wink.

Luna smiled slightly as Harry began to flip randomly through the magazine, obviously waiting for the revelation to sink in.

“Anything good in there?” Ron asked offhand.

“Of course not,” Hermione said scathingly. “The Quibbler’s rubbish, everyone knows that.”

“Excuse me,” Luna said, a little angrily, rounding on her. “My father’s the editor.” She was beginning to like Hermione less and less.

“I – oh,” Hermione said. “Well…it’s got some interesting…I mean it’s quite…”

Luna’s eyes narrowed very slightly at the older girl’s efforts to brush aside her comments. And from the looks on the others’ faces, they held the same opinions, even if they weren’t rude enough to articulate them in such a blunt and unsolicited manner. “I’ll have it back, thank you,” Luna said, pulling the magazine from Harry’s hands. With one last quick glare at Hermione, she opened it, turned it upside down, and raised it in front of her face again.

There was another silence, but it was quickly broken by the compartment door sliding open yet again. Luna pointedly ignored it, not looking out from behind her magazine, but unable to help hearing the conversation.

“What?” Harry spat at the unseen newcomers.

“Manners, Potter, or I’ll have to give you a detention,” a lazy, drawling voice said. “You see I, unlike you, have been made a prefect,” the voice went on, sounding very pleased with itself, “which means I, unlike you, have the power to hand out punishments.”

“Yeah, but you, unlike me, are a git, so get out and leave us alone,” Harry replied. A small smile graced Luna’s face, but she resisted the urge to laugh like everyone else sitting in the compartment.

“Tell me, how does it feel to be second-best to Weasley, Potter?” the unseen visitor sneered.

“Shut up Malfoy,” Hermione said sharply. So, Luna thought, this was the Draco Malfoy they had been talking about earlier, the Slytherin prefect. Luna’s annoyance with Hermione softened slightly. Ron’s evident distaste for Malfoy seemed to be quite justified, and she agreed wholeheartedly with Hermione’s response to the less than subtle dig Malfoy had directed at him.

“I seem to have touched a nerve,” Malfoy drawled with obvious pleasure. “Well just watch yourself Potter, because I’ll be dogging your footsteps in case you step out of line.”

Hermione got to her feet and snapped, “Get out!”

Luna heard the sound of sniggering and footsteps withdrawing into the corridor, then the shutting of the door. She peered very quickly over the top of the magazine. Ron seemed to be taking the insult in stride, which was good. Luna also caught Hermione giving Harry a quick, significant look, but she had no idea what it meant, other than to assume it related to something Malfoy had said.

“Chuck us another frog,” Ron said, not appearing to notice. Luna ducked back behind the magazine before anyone saw her.

Her irritation mellowed as they continued along. She was still a trifle upset with Hermione’s comments about her father’s work, but she did her best to let it pass. She didn’t take kindly to comments of that nature. Her father had gone through a lot to set up The Quibbler.

“Well with respect, Mr Quidnunc, those are the kind of stories I would like to tell.”

“Oh, is that right? You’ve been spouting this garbage for months now. You used to be a decent journalist, Lovegood, what the hell’s brought this on?”

“That’s not important. These stories are different, but I think people ought to hear them and form their own judgements.”

“I see.” The corpulent man sitting behind the desk took his pipe out of his mouth and stared down the small figure of Luna’s father standing before him. “So what you mean by that is that you think that your daughter’s ludicrous flights of fancy are in some way news? Am I close on this one?” Luna’s father opened his mouth to say something, but the editor cut him off. “I can see her skulking around down there at the foot of your robes. You haven’t gone anywhere without her since the accident.”

Luna looked up and could see her father starting to get angry. But before he could say anything, he was cut off again.

“Now don’t get me wrong, Lovegood, I’m not being disrespectful here. What happened to Pandora was terrible, and I like to think that I have been exceedingly generous to you and little Luna. But it only goes so far. The Daily Prophet will not publish this rubbish you’ve been handing in. “The Crumple-Horned Snorkack: Hoax Or Missing Link In Evolution?” Give me a break. Now I know what’s happening here,” he said, leaning forward and putting his weight onto the desk, causing it to creak. He picked his pipe up again and levelled it at Luna’s father. Luna shrank back behind him, peeking out from around his legs. “Your daughter’s been feeding you all her little delusions, and you just can’t bring yourself to break her bubble and tell her they’re all figments of her warped imagination. That’s fair enough. Kids love their little fantasies. Hell, my kids are just the same.”

“And just what would you know? You haven’t seen either of your children in eight years, I know that for a fact. And just how are your ex-wives, Mr Quidnunc?”

“Don’t you tell me how to run my own family, Lovegood,” he snapped.

“Don’t you tell me what I can and cannot write.”

“I’m your editor, I’ll tell you exactly what to write! At this newspaper we deal with facts.”

There was a very uncomfortable pause. “Well I prefer dealing with truth to dealing with facts,” Luna’s father said quietly and calmly, standing up straight, the anger melting from his face.

Mr Quidnunc made a derogatory sound. “What’s the difference?”

“If you don’t know the answer to that question, then that’s the only reason I need not to work here anymore.” And with that, he turned and stepped out the door, Luna close behind him.

“You’re throwing away your entire career, Lovegood,” Quidnunc said, standing up and pointing a quivering finger at Mr Lovegood’s receding back. “You won’t be a journalist, you’ll be a joke!”

Luna’s father stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “Well if that’s the truth, then so be it,” he said.

For a long while, everyone was mostly silent. Harry brooded while the others made occasional idle chatter amongst themselves, but it never lasted for long. Luna kept her face behind The Quibbler. She’d read through the entire magazine upside-down by now, and hadn’t found any hidden messages, which disappointed her somewhat. Maybe there would be some in the next issue, she thought.

It continued to get darker, and by the time the lamps in the compartment had come to life, Luna had grown tired of flicking through the magazine. She carefully put it away in her bag and turned her full attention to the others.

She looked at each one of them in turn. Harry didn’t meet her eye, instead pressing his forehead against the window and staring out, probably trying to get a glimpse of the school. Ginny smiled back at her. Neville looked rather embarrassed by the attention. Ron looked uneasy, shifting between giving her disbelieving looks and trying to avoid her stare. Hermione just gave her occasional cool, vaguely disapproving looks. The majority of Ron and Hermione’s attention was focussed on Harry, at whom they kept flashing quick, concerned glances. There was definitely something going on, Luna decided. She thought back to Dumbledore’s speech at the end of the previous year. She hadn’t really known what to believe, which for her was quite unusual. It really wasn’t all that far-fetched, though, the thought that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. Grindlewald, after all, was still alive and well, living in secret in a retirement home in Bristol, The Quibbler had exclusively revealed a few months earlier. Luna was uneasy, though. She had told her father about the third Triwizard task, and about what Dumbledore had said to them. He hadn’t believed it, which had surprised her. She had suggested that The Quibbler investigate the allegation, but he had replied that they didn’t have the money. She had tried to press him, but it hadn’t worked. Not long after that, The Daily Prophet had started running its stories about Harry and Dumbledore. Her father didn’t like talking about the Prophet, so she hadn’t brought the topic up again, and it had gradually faded into the back of her mind. Now it was back, and she was no closer to deciding where she stood. She would wait and see. The truth didn’t always show itself straight away, she reminded herself.

“Well, we’d better change,” Hermione said, interrupting her musings. As Luna was already in her school robes, she remained seated as the others got changed. To her slight embarrassment, her eyes kept straying to Ron, who at one point she caught checking his reflection in the window and straightening his prefect badge. Again, she tried not to stare, lest anyone see her.

A minute later the train came to a halt and they began to unload their luggage. Ron and Hermione excused themselves, as they had to go and join the other prefects to supervise. Luna watched them go, then watched Harry pick up the cage which held Ron’s tiny little owl. “I’ll carry that owl if you like,” she said, reaching out and taking it from him.

“Oh – er – thanks,” Harry said.

Picking up her bag in her other hand, Luna drifted out into the corridor, smiling at the little owl, little more than an excitable ball of feathers whizzing around the cage, hooting at everyone who went past. There was the usual crush at the doors as too many students at once tried to squeeze out onto the platform. Luna hung back and slipped through just behind Harry and Ginny.

“First-years line up over here, please! All first years to me!”

Luna looked over at the source of the call. Rather than the usual immense form of Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, she instead saw Professor Grubbly-Plank, a witch with close-cropped hair and an unusually large chin who looked strangely small filling the role Hagrid usually performed. Luna recalled that Professor Grubbly-Plank had taken a few of her Care Of Magical Creatures classes the year before. Perhaps that was to be the case this year as well.

“Where’s Hagrid?” Luna heard Harry ask, sounding very surprised.

“I don’t know,” said Ginny, “but we’d better get out of the way, we’re blocking the door.”

“Oh yeah…” Harry said distractedly, still looking over at where the first-years were congregating.

He and Ginny set off into the crowd and Luna followed, but she was soon separated from them. Shrugging, she turned her attention back to Ron’s owl, not really looking where she was going, just letting the flood of students carry her along.

“Hello,” she said, lifting the cage up so she could see him better. “What’s your name?” The owl became even more excited at the attention he was being given, and began to rocket around the cage with even more energy. Luna giggled and smiled. “You’re very cute, aren’t you?” she said. “I’ll bet that Ron just loves you.”

“Hello Loony!” someone called, cutting through the babble of voices around her. Luna paused, then turned to look at the source. Michael Corner stood with his hands in his pockets, smiling slightly. “Have a good holiday?” he asked casually.

“Yes,” Luna said simply.

“Lovely. That owl’s making a bit of a racket, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. It’s not mine.”

“No, I recognise it. It’s Ginny’s brother’s owl. You make a nice pair, though. A mad owl that can’t fit in with other owls and, well, you.”

Luna didn’t say anything. She just looked back at him. Saying something wouldn’t help, and she had to admit that he did have a point, such as it was.

“Don’t look at me like that, Loony,” he said airily as he started walking again. “I’m only trying to help you, you know that.”

“I don’t need your help,” Luna replied calmly.

“If you say so,” he replied with a shrug. A moment later he had been swallowed up by the crowd.

“You want to learn how to act like a normal human being, Loony?” he asked.

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“No, that’s the point. You don’t want to be a reject all your life do you? A freak? Everyone laughs at you.”

“Yes, I know. You do as well.”

“Hey now, I’m only trying to help. It’s what all you outcasts want, isn’t it? To fit in and be like the rest of us?”

“No.”

Luna looked down at the owl again. He had stopped darting around the cage and was now sitting on the perch, looking up at her, uncharacteristically quiet. Luna smiled at him. “Well I like you, even if the other owls don’t,” she told him. If he had understood her, he made no sign, but Luna didn’t mind. She set off again.

She finally reached the coaches, and looked around for Ron. She quickly spotted his vivid hair and wandered over towards him. He was standing with Harry, who was staring dumbly at the winged horses harnessed to the nearest coach, with all the hallmarks of someone who had never seen them before. Luna watched him closely as she approached. He was saying something to Ron, his eyes fixed unwaveringly on the black, skeletal beasts. Luna knew how he felt. At first sight they could be quite terrifying. She was used to them, though. She found their presence almost comforting. She didn’t know what the creatures were called, where they had come from, or why only she and a handful of other students could see them. And, curiously, sometimes people who hadn’t able to see them before suddenly could. Luna didn’t know why this was either. Harry wasn’t the only one she had seen in this situation. Just a year earlier she had seen a sixth year Hufflepuff girl almost go into hysterics at the sudden, unexpected sight of them. Harry seemed to be taking it fairly well, all things considered.

Ron and Harry turned to look as she approached. She held up the cage for Ron to take. “Here you are,” she said, smiling. “He’s a sweet little owl, isn’t he?”

“Er…yeah…he’s all right,” Ron replied reluctantly, giving Luna a strange look “Well, come on then, let’s get in…What were you saying, Harry?” They set off towards another coach waiting just nearby. Luna trailed after them.

“I was saying, what are those horse things?” Harry said.

“What horse things?” Ron asked, confused.

“The horse things pulling the carriages!”

Ron gave him a perplexed look. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

“I’m talking about – look!” Harry grabbed Ron by the arm and wheeled him round to look at the horses pulling the carriage they were about to get into. Ron stared blankly at them for a moment.

“What am I supposed to be looking at?”

“At the – there, between the shafts!” Harry said, pointing. “Harnessed to the coach! It’s right there in front-“ He trailed off. Ron was giving him a very bemused look, something else Luna had seen before when people pointed the horses out. “Can’t…can’t you see them?” he asked.

“See what?”

“Can’t you see what’s pulling the carriages?” Harry asked, beginning to sound a little desperate.

Ron stared at him, alarmed. “Are you feeling alright, Harry?”

“I…yeah…”

There was a difficult pause, in which Harry turned back to look at the horses. “Shall we get in, then?” Ron asked slowly and uneasily.

“Yeah. Yeah, go on…” Harry replied. Ron gave him a last uncertain look and climbed into the coach.

“It’s alright,” Luna said to Harry as he pulled himself away and was about to get in. “You’re not going mad or anything. I can see them too.”

“Can you?” Harry said, spinning to face her.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “I’ve been able to see them ever since my first day here. They’ve always pulled the carriages. Don’t worry,” she said, giving him a small, reassuring smile, “you’re as sane as I am.”

//
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