Neville had managed to lock himself out of the Gryffindor common room for the third time that term. He'd already been at the school two years but couldn't recall the ever-changing password. Not ever his Remembrall could help him with that. Unfortunately, it was the middle of the night. He'd been locked out since after dinner, when he'd just gone to collect a piece of homework on Cornish Pixie behavior that he'd left in Defense Against the Dark Arts. No one was around to save him, no prefects, no teachers, no Harry Potter and co. He'd been sat outside the Fat Lady's portrait for what seemed like hours before he finally heard someone approaching. Neville prayed in wasn't Filch and Mrs. Norris; getting caught by those two guaranteed you a detention sweeping the floor of the Grand Hall. Twice. With a toothbrush.
As the footsteps approached, he realised it wasn't Filch on night patrol. It was a girl. She looked like a first year, she was so small, but Neville knew not to judge people by their appearance. He barely looked his age, and was constantly teased back in the Muggle world for his baby face. The girl stopped when she neared Neville. There was a stream of light that gathered where she stood, fizzing around her long, wavy blonde hair, so if it was following her. She was wearing a pair of Converse trainers that looked slightly scuffed around the edges. Neville thought this was odd compared to his flannel slippers.
"Hello there," she said, though it sounded more like a whisper.
"Hello," Neville said uncertainly. The girl's black robe held the Ravenclaw crest so she was unlikely to know the Gryffindor password.
"How are you?" She asked the question as if she was used to skipping into boys wearing blue and white striped pajamas in the middle of the night.
"I'm locked out," he replied, "I can never remember the password." On second thought, Neville was thankful the girl was a Ravenclaw. If a Slytherin had found him they would probably have laughed and laughed, then ran to go get Filch. Always spies, the Slytherins. Not to be trusted.
The girl nodded. "I like to slip out of the common room sometimes. The paintings are so much easier to talk to without everyone crowding the corridors."
"Won't they all be asleep?" Neville furrowed his eyebrows. The Fat Lady was snoring loudly, along with the other painted figures, who had their heads bowed in the dark.
"Not all of them. The ghosts hardly ever sleep. They're fun to talk to." The girl smiled. It was a soft smile, one that encouraged bravery and friendship. Neville got up from the floor, afraid that his legs would cramp and he would fall over.
"I'm Neville Longbottom," he introduced himself. He held out his hand for her to shake.
"I'm Luna Lovegood," she continued to smile as she shook his hand. Her's were small and delicate, his were rough and clammy. "Would you like to walk with me?"
Neville looked left and right, to check that no one was around. "OK, sure." Luna let go of his hand and started to walk down the corridor, along to the first staircase she came across. Neville followed.
"How did you get here?" Neville asked, knowing full well that the Ravenclaw common room was up in the North Tower, pretty faraway from the Gryffindor dormitories.
"I sleepwalk. A lot of the time, I have no idea where my feet will take me. I'll just wake up and be in the middle of the Trophy Room or outside the entrance to Dumbledore's office."
"Is that why you're wearing shoes?"
"Yes, I always wear shoes to bed, ever since my sleepwalking took me to the Quidditch pitch in a rainstorm." Neville tried to imagine how heavy Luna's hair must be when wet. It came down to her waist in white blond strands. Pretty, he thought.
"You're lucky I woke up when I did. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have noticed you," Luna scaled the stairs, skipping down two at a time. Neville sighed. He was used to not being noticed. There were so many strong personalities in his year that it was easy to overlook the boy with an estranged grandmother.
"Lucky," Neville repeated. "Where are we going?"
"I'm not sure," Luna shrugged. "It's more of an adventure that way."
The two children descended three sets of staircases before Luna decided to turn onto the corridors, and down to the Transfiguration classrooms.
"Tell me about yourself, Neville. What's it like in the third year?"
"There's not much to tell really." Neville set his pace so that he was always a stride behind Luna. "I live with my grandmother…and I forget things."
"Like the Gryffindor password?"
"Stuff like that."
"What's your grandmother like?"
Neville flinched. He wasn't ashamed of his grandmother, but people tended to label her as 'strange', which was a word he didn't like to identify with. "Protective," he settled with, seeing that as the safe option. "What about you?"
"I live with my dad," she said. "He's the editor-in-chief of the Quibbler magazine," she looked over her shoulder at Neville. He'd heard of the Quibbler as a crackpot magazine, something that his grandmother always used to line the cat's litter tray. He decided not to mention this.
"That must be fun for your dad to have such a cool job," Neville smiled at her, deciding to close the gap between their walking paces.
"Yeah, it is. He goes away a lot to research things. Sometimes I go away with him and sometimes I just stay at home," she sighed a little, like it bothered her, but Neville didn't like to pry about people's family life, especially since his wasn't particularly normal.
"Do you often spend time alone?" He asked boldly.
"Yes," she replied without hesitation. "Sometime it's better to be alone; you notice a lot more things when people aren't around to capture your attention, like these sprites for instants," she gestured to her hair, that was bouncing around her sides as she walked. "They're attracted to pale things. I found them hanging around the Astronomy Tower."
"I spend a lot of time alone too."
"Maybe we could be alone together?" She stopped in the corridor causing Neville to draw up next to her. She took his hand. He didn't mind. "It's always the quiet ones that end up with the most fulfilling lives, don't you think?"
He squeezed her hand gratefully. "Absolutely."
They wondered the castle in silence for a few minutes, listening to the soft snores of the overhead paintings until Luna pushed Neville behind a statue of an old witch that time forgot.
"What are you doing?" He whispered.
"I thought I heard something. We don't want to get caught."
"Maybe we should go back to our dormitories now, you know, don't want to push our luck."
"Both our dormitories are that way anyway," Luna pointed along the supposed 'noisy' corridor. "It could just be Peeves."
"Or Filch." Neville shivered involuntarily. He hated the fact he was scared of breaking the rules, of not being brave enough to face consequences. In his first year, he'd been taken into the Forbidden Forest on punishment for being caught out of bed, and wasn't prepared for a second visit to the evil-infested wood. He crouched down so he was sat, leaning against the statue. Luna followed suit, not wanting to mention he'd partly trapped her hair when he sat.
"What's the matter?" Her soft, blue eyes met his. The moonlight from the window cast shadows on her heart-shaped face.
"I think I got put into the wrong house," he scratched his head. The issue had been nagging him for over a year, when he realised he was the butt of all the jokes and the always played the role of the unfortunate kid that got stuck in sticky situations. "I'm not brave enough for Gryffindor."
"I don't understand," she shook her head in confusion. "You're plenty brave."
"No I'm not."
"Yes, you are. You agreed to wonder the castle with me, didn't you?" Luna nodded encouragingly. "Just because you're worried about being caught doesn't make you any less brave for doing it in the first place."
"I haven't done anything great, anything worthy to prove myself a true Gryffindor." Neville cast his eyes to the floor.
"The Sorting Hat must think you will preform some great act of bravery, otherwise it wouldn't have put you in Gryffindor. It's never wrong when it comes to destiny."
"I'm no Harry Potter."
"You're comparing yourself to The Boy Who Lived?" Luna giggled. Neville liked the sound. "Neville, some people are born with greatness and others achieve greatness." She put her hand in his; a perfect fit. "I know you'll achieve greatness."
Neville felt some colour flush his cheeks. "I didn't know you were so wise," he laughed without reserve, feeling that the poltergeist (if that was indeed what had made a noise in the first place) had moved on.
When she looked up, her cheeks held the same pink glow that his did. "I wasn't put in Ravenclaw for nothing."