Draco watched his cousin as she read the book that he had brought down with him. He didn't like speaking to her. He hadn't had anything to say to her since he had first seen her at Hogwarts and realised how much she had changed from the adorable little girl with curious, unguarded but seeing eyes that he had played with as a boy. It made him feel guilty, and Draco Malfoy didn't do guilt. Still, he wanted her to know that he was there for her. Strangely, it wasn't even Daphne's influence that made him visit her; neither girl had sent a message through him since that first, still unfathomable sentence. He wasn't used to wanting to be with someone and he didn't quite like the feeling of empathy that he had for his cousin, who was just as chained as him, if more obviously so.
Luna was getting used to his presence. It had surprised her at first and she hadn't quite known how to react to it. He never spoke to her so she supposed that she wasn't expected to say anything either, but at the same time it was strange to just sit there beside him. The mood had eased when he started bringing down a book or game for her to use. She was intensely grateful for the way of passing time and hoped that they would both make it through the war and be able to sit together in the sun sometime, perhaps even with him knowing her secret so that she didn't have to pretend with him anymore.
She was also adapting to the conversations with Narcissa as her aunt tried to gracefully handle the unsavoury topic of discussing men with a girl who barely qualified as family. Narcissa seemed to actually empathise with her situation, even if she was rather standoffish. Luna supposed that Narcissa probably hadn't had much choice in her pairing either and understood her fear of ending up with an overbearing and cruel man.
Her uncle still visited occasionally, but his visits were steadily decreasing in frequency. She didn't want to think about what that meant for her friends.
It took time but, one day, she had company.
Then, the cavalry arrived.
She loved Shell Cottage. It was beautiful and quaint and overlooked a sea that seemed to stretch out endlessly in every direction. The cottage itself was infused with the constant smell and sound of the sea, reminding her of the gorgeous views even when she found herself indoors. It was utterly isolated and perfect and such a refreshing change from the cold, stuffy dungeons of Malfoy Manor. And Bill and Fleur were both lovely. They treated her like family and were both more than willing to discuss magizoological theories with her. Fleur had even managed to convince her Squib cousin Lucie to approach Xenophilius Lovegood under the guise of discussing a rare creature only to smuggle him out of the country through the Channel Tunnel before disappearing into Belgium with him. They couldn't have any further contact than that, but it reassured them both to know that the other was relatively safe.
However, things were becoming even more dangerous in Britain. They had received word through Aberforth Dumbledore that an increasing number of students were hiding away in the Room and going through him to get supplies. Luna was desperate to be back helping her friends and it was only the knowledge that smuggling somebody else in only put everybody at more risk that kept her there. Instead, she spent her days wandering around within the wards and waiting for Ollivander to finish making her the wand that he was working on to replace the one that her uncle had taken.
Daphne frowned as the small coin burned against her skin as if it were branding her. It wasn't that strange an occurrence, but the students in the castle were much more likely to use it to communicate with those hiding in the Room than the other way around. She had a faint sense of foreboding as she pulled on the necklace chain until she could see the writing on the galleon. Cavalry here and mobilising. She paled and felt a sudden rush of nausea. She had been preparing herself for this moment all year, but now that it was here she realised exactly how far from ready she was. For all that she had spoken against the blind recklessness of Gryffindor House, that kind of fearlessness did have its uses. She headed out of her dormitory and almost collided with Tracey in the doorway.
"What did that mean?" her friend whispered, her fingers playing the leather bracelet that encased her coin.
Daphne pulled her to the far corner of their room. "It meant that Potter is back." The girls didn't move, neither of them quite sure what to do now that the moment they had been waiting for had finally arrived. "I'm going to talk to Astoria," she said eventually. "You get Blaise. Then we'll try to meet up with them." Daphne darted around Tracey and raced down to her younger sister's dormitory, barely waiting for a voice to answer her knock before barging in. She swept over to join her sister on her bed before casting concealment charms. "Tori. Tori, something is about to happen, something big is about to happen. I don't know what yet, but it will be big. You're to stay here, understand? Whatever you do, don't get involved in the fighting. You should be safe here. Only leave if somebody you absolutely trust comes for you. Not Malfoy or Nott, not Snape, you got me? A professor – not the Carrows, obviously – or me or Blaise or Tracey or one of the other people I told you I was working with. If it's anybody else, make up an excuse, feign sick, anything, but don't go with them. If you have to, cast any spell you can think of. Don't worry about being honourable, just be effective. Promise me you'll stay safe."
"Fighting? What fighting? Daphne, what's happening?"
"I promise! But what fighting?"
"He's here, Astoria, Potter's here. And if he's here, something is bound to happen. I don't know what, but if he's here, it's only a matter of time before… I need to go see what I can – "
"Daphne, promise me you'll stay safe too."
"I'll do my best. I love you, Tor." She pulled her baby sister into a tight hug.
"I love you too. And… and I'm proud of you. For everything."
Pulling back and slipping her hand around the younger girl's, Daphne committed her sister's face, her eyes shining with tears, to memory. "You're the best sister I could have asked for. If… if something does happen, if I'm… rendered mute, or something… let our parents know I love them, yeah?"
Astoria nodded. As Daphne left the room and closed the door behind her, the younger girl grabbed her wand and, holding it tightly between her shaking hands, wept.
As soon as she got her message, Luna started running, yelling to the newlyweds that the time had come as she left the cottage and raced over the sand dunes. When she felt the tingle of crossing the wards subside, she turned in a neat little circle and let herself be whipped away by the familiar squeezing sensation of Apparation.
Neville felt a peculiar urge to run to Luna when she entered the Room with Dean, but he had to settle with a shared smile as they were both immediately swept up with conversation and once again trying to convince Harry that they could help him. He didn't get the chance to speak with her until she reached the Great Hall, looking as unaffected by the world around her as always. As soon as he had the chance, he pulled her into a tight hug.
"Luna. It's so good to see you."
"It's always lovely to see you. I showed Harry the statue; I only hope he's able to find the diadem. People have been trying for centuries, you know, but if anyone can do it he can. You always do things in times of stress that you never thought you could in times of relaxation. The Carrows called for You-Know-Who before we got to them, but Professor McGonagall chased Snape out and everyone is gathering in the Great Hall. The professors and anyone who wants to are going to try to hold the Death Eaters off while the younger students escape and Harry finds the diadem."
He was surprised to note that she appeared to be genuinely unaffected by what was going on around her; he had gotten good at telling when she was merely feigning disinterest and had rather expected that to be the case now. While he was eager to finally purge the castle of Death Eaters and confront Voldemort, part of him was still terrified at the prospect. Yet Luna looked totally at peace with the moment.
"I'm so glad you're safe. I don't know what I'd do if you didn't make it."
"I love you too," she said with disarming simplicity.
Neville felt his face heat up. "I wasn't saying – I mean – er – I love you too, Luna." A brilliant smile spread across her face, simultaneously knowing and touched. Although he hadn't meant that at all, and then had meant it as a friend, and knew that it was something that Luna probably meant as a friend, he suddenly wanted to kiss her. He almost didn't, he was so used to viewing Luna as a lovely but somehow disconnected friend. But he knew that wasn't the case; she was lovely and self-confident and content and observational and clever and more aware than she seemed and he might not have meant it on a strictly platonic level and he would regret it forever if one of them died without her knowing that. He leant forward and gently, briefly, kissed her, snagging her hand as he pulled away.
Luna blushed. "That was nice."
"Yeah," he said, mirroring her smile with one of his own. "It really was."
Their attention was diverted as Ravenclaw House hurried through the wide doorway. Luna followed Neville to Gryffindor table, where they found seats beside Lavender and Seamus, as Professor McGonagall started to organise the evacuation.
Daphne, Blaise and Tracey accompanied the rest of their House as they marched out of the Great Hall. Daphne had her sister's hand firmly gripped in her own. She didn't trust anybody else to see Astoria safely out of the castle and had a few things to put in motion before she could return to fight. Meanwhile, her friends were with the first years, trying to keep them from succumbing to the panic that they could all sense lurking beneath the surface. She could still hear Pansy ranting about how they should have handed over Harry Potter and it was an affront not to do so. She wanted to argue with her classmate but couldn't find the energy to bother. Pansy had no reason to trust Harry Potter or to care about what happened to him. Daphne knew and understood Pansy's reasoning. All along her goal had been to survive and to stay away from the more unseemly parts of the war. In her utilitarian mind, the only way for any of the students to survive was to hand Harry over and it was better to sacrifice an already doomed person to save the castle than to let everybody fall with him. To get into why sometimes it was better to take a gamble in order to achieve something that mattered rather than taking the safe option was more effort than it was worth. If their side won, perhaps Daphne would have the chance to discuss it with her later.
"Oh, shut up," Theodore Nott finally exclaimed. "We're leaving the castle, alright? We won't have to fight our parents and we won't be in any danger. It's none of your business whether the people who are sticking around choose to give Potter up or fight with him."
Pansy glared at him before immediately starting to silently sulk. At least it was better than having her rile up the younger students.
"McGonagall's sent a message to everyone's parents. Mum or Dad will come to the Hog's Head to get you," Daphne told her sister as they approached the Room. "Don't leave unless it's with them or Bessie, okay? And let them know I love them – Bessie too."
"I want to stay too."
"You can't; you're underage."
"That's just a stupid rule!"
"Set for a reason. Tori, the people we're fighting are experienced. If they allow sixteen-year-olds to fight, what about fifteen-year-olds? Or fourteen-year-olds? They have to draw a line somewhere; it might as well be when you're old enough to legally make the decision."
"I know, but…"
"Astoria, I'm not going to let you stay. I'm older than you, it's my job to get you out safe. For me to be able to actually fight and not just be constantly looking over my shoulder, I need to know you're at home away from all of this."
Astoria nodded. "Don't die."
"It's not something that's high on my priority list, no." They shared a grin. "Go on, it's your turn." Daphne waited until Astoria was out of sight to find her friends, who had gotten away from the bustle as soon as the younger students were all gone. She was surprised to see Lily and Millicent with them.
"You'll see her again," Tracey reassured her.
Daphne nodded. "Let's go."
In the aftermath of the battle, they found one another. Neville and Luna, hands clasped together; Ginny, tears streaming down her face; Daphne, having just come from seeing her parents. They didn't have much to say. They just stood together in companionable silence as their fellow fighters cheered and celebrated. Eventually, Ginny went off to hug George and Ernie and Padma pulled Neville towards one of the tables to eat. Luna and Daphne smiled at one another before they too, famished, wandered over to the food. Luna created a distraction for Harry to slip away, then the two girls started eating. Although Luna still had to keep up her cover, they were able to blend into the jumbled assortment of house colours and affinities and, for the first time, display their friendship in the open.
A/N: A few people have mentioned that they would have liked this to have gone into more depth on Luna's backstory. Firstly, thanks for the feedback! Secondly, it didn't really fit here as anything more than allusions, but I explored the history between the Lovegoods and the Malfoys much more directly in Her Antic Disposition, which focuses on Luna and Draco's relationship over the years. To the guest reviewer, Luna technically has two secrets; the first is that she knows that her uncle was involved in her mother's 'accidental' death, and the second, which isn't really referenced here, is that she overheard some things that he doesn't want anybody knowing.