Disclaimer: Wallace Stevens didn't write Harry Potter; Lord Macaulay didn't write "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"; J. K. Rowling didn't write The History of England from the Accession of James II; and I didn't write any of them. (Nor did I take the cover picture; that's by Laura Erickson.)


I.

Dolores Umbridge gazed with satisfaction at her class of fourth-year Ravenclaws. She had been afraid, at first, that zeal for learning might translate into resistance to non-teaching, but it had proven quite otherwise. Ten centuries of being teachers' pets had evidently taken their toll; the little myopic eagles were looming docilely over their books, as still and silent as Arctic mountains – a sight to gladden any thought-policeman's heart.

There was only one disturbing note in the picture. Xenophilius Lovegood's daughter was sitting in the second row, and, though she was as still as any of her classmates, Umbridge could see that her mind was very much in motion. Her wide, blue eyes told the story: as they scanned the pages of Defensive Magical Theory, they sparkled every now and then with disconcerting amusement, as though their owner had an idea that she could teach Wilbert Slinkhard a thing or two herself.

Most likely, of course, the girl was just a harmless crackpot like her father, and there was no need to be alarmed. But, all the same, Umbridge thought, it might be wise to keep an eye on Miss Luna.


II.

There was a triplicate ghost in Xenophilius Lovegood's home. Not literally, of course; Luna had been far too clear-sighted a witch to ever project a spectral form. But she nonetheless haunted the place from three different stages of her brief life: when Xeno was sure of himself and his purpose, he would see her as a loyal and admiring child; when morbid doubts assailed him, she would appear in the heroism of her adolescence and silently rebuke his fears; and when, every now and then, he considered the world and his place in it with honesty and dispassion, he would find at his side the golden bride-to-be, brimming with sublime and unfathomable vitality, that she had been when last he saw her, on the very morning of the day the meteor struck.

But it was only as his own death approached, and he found himself confronted bodily with the ultimate enigma, that he discovered the possibility of being in all three moods at once. And it was on that cold and dripping April morning, as he lay in his ancient bed and felt time and space slip away, that he raised his eyes to see the whole of his daughter – child, heroine, and woman – standing over him, serenity and welcome in her smile.

"Oh, Luna," were his last words, "how long it took me to meet you!"


III.

It had never occurred to Dumbledore that Luna would figure in the ultimate crisis. He knew of her, of course, and what he knew broadly pleased him, but she struck him as far too intellectually flighty to be relied upon. Her mind, as it seemed to him, blew this way and that with every wind that struck it; anything done with her would have to be improvised wholly on the spot – and there was no room for that in the classical drama that the Headmaster saw unfolding.

He ought to have known better, of course. He and Voldemort weren't in Hellas, or even France; theirs was a land of clowns and columbines, of nonsense triumphant where sober reason feared to tread. And so, when he found that the little Ravenclaw's intuition had filled in a piece of the puzzle that all his researches had left dark, how else could he respond? The architraves of Paradise rang with his laughter.


IV.

For the first year or so after the wedding, Tabitha's life had exactly corresponded to her ideal of what marriage should be. She and Xeno had formed a natural, effortless unity, like two figures in a single Muggle painting – and it seemed only right to her that they should remain so indefinitely, fellow explorers and comrade-lovers, as inviolable and changeless as the nuptials of Arnolfini.

The revelation of her pregnancy, therefore, had come as a nasty shock to her, and she had spent nearly the whole of Luna's gestation quietly resenting the little interloper inside her. What right did it have, she thought, to intrude itself on the sufficiency of the Lovegood union? Not that she bore it any ill will in itself – she wasn't unnatural, after all – but she didn't see how it could help but spoil the intimate two-soul harmony that she had come to treasure so deeply.

In a sense, perhaps she did. But Tabitha found, as her daughter grew, that a new, less simple, but no less real unity had arisen in place of the old – that she and Xeno and Luna made just as irreducible a portrait as she and Xeno had done alone. To be sure, there were still moments when she sorely missed the earlier arrangement – but they were moments only, for she was too wise a woman to cling to an old good at the expense of the good that came.

"There's a design in all that we are," as she said one day, looking out across the Nazca Plateau. "Even when we feel most lost, it's still there: obscured, maybe – even damaged in places – but always there. Remember that, darling."

"I will, Mum," Luna replied.


V.

It was Ginny Weasley's considered opinion that there were few things better for one's soul than a few minutes' conversation with Luna Lovegood. There had been a moment, during the end of first year, when the sense of horror and defilement that You-Know-Who's possession had left her with had been almost more than she could bear, and she had seriously contemplated ending it all with a single potion – but then Luna had gravely informed her that suicide was the second leading cause of Fanphasm proliferation in Europe, and she had decided that a world with someone like that in it was worth remaining in a little longer. (She had never felt reckless enough, somehow, to ask what the first leading cause was.)

But few isn't the same as none, and there was one thing that Ginny, in her own mind, could never decide. Every so often, when the two of them had been deep in talk about everything in the world (and, on Luna's end, out of it), there would fall a sudden stillness upon the two of them, which neither, for a moment or two, would dare to break – and, in the midst of that stillness, a quiet smile would play about Luna's lips, as though she were listening to something that nobody, not even she, could ever express in words.

Which was the greater delight: listening to her friend's inimitable chatter, or beholding that occasional glimpse of something beyond? Ginny had no idea, and she supposed she never would. All she knew was that she would fight tooth and nail to keep either from being harmed.


VI.

It was the bitterest December in decades, and the windows of Malfoy Manor showed it. They had been encrusted with ice ever since the storm three nights before; even the one sturdy peacock that could be heard screaming just outside Draco's bedroom was, from within that bedroom, utterly invisible.

But that didn't mean Draco could see nothing through his window – oh, not at all. How he wished he could. Nothing would have been a reassuring, heartening sight, compared to the image that haunted the Manor at this time every year – the shade that flitted merrily back and forth across every surface he laid his eyes on – the demure yet harrowing memory that neither time nor will-power seemed able to exorcise.

"Why?" he cried aloud. "Why do you have to keep appearing this way? Haven't I paid enough for what they did to you here? Why can't you let me be?"

But the language in which Lovegood's image replied was one that Draco Malfoy had never learnt.


VII.

"You know, old man," said Asclepius Wilson, glancing at the far end of the Ravenclaw common room with an expression of judicious concern, "one of these days, you're going to get yourself in real trouble over that Slytherin bleeder-princess of yours."

James-Helvidius Greggson shrugged with the magnificent indifference reserved for the holy and the clueless (of which he was a queer mixture of both). "Arachne needs my friendship more than Tony Zeno needs my sycophancy," he said simply.

Asclepius snorted. "Call it friendship all you like," he said, "but I know a few people in this Tower who'll never be persuaded that there's not something else going on there."

"You mean romance?" said James-Helvidius mildly, and chuckled. "No, not for Arachne – and not for me, either, I'm inclined to think. Not unless a girl comes along who manages to combine wit, virtue, spirit, and voluptuousness, all in one package; I can't see myself yielding to the Eternal Folly for anything less."

"Whatever you say, Sparrowhawk," said Asclepius. "Just remember that I warned you."

James-Helvidius nodded, and the two of them leaned back and resumed their books, oblivious to the wistful sigh from the pale-eyed blonde reclining on the rug behind them.


VIII.

Firenze gazed up at the jewel-strewn night sky, and his centaur's heart sang with rapture. Always, always they endured; however hazardous and chaotic the lower world might be, always the stars kept their places, and the planets their ordained paths. How could the humans live beneath such noble clarity, and yet preoccupy themselves with their own petty wills and passions?

But then he caught himself, and recalled once again what the human Sinistra had told him: that the division between the heavens and the earth, which seemed so clear to his people, was in fact a mere illusion of distance and of the centaurine longing for lucidity. In reality, all corporeal things, whether in heaven on or earth or under it, influenced all others, and the magnificent regularities of the skies were but the gross reflection of a far more subtle and intricate order. Had one the eyes of the All-Seer, one might perceive how the Sun himself had been drawn minutely aside in his path by the Lovegood girl's toying with her wand in Divination that morning – and might discern, moreover, that the free act of the latter was a greater thing than any necessary motion the former could perform.

And Firenze bowed his head in humility and awe.


IX.

On 26 May 1997, Harry Potter was just coming out of Transfiguration when he ran into Luna unexpectedly.

"Oh, um… hi," he said awkwardly.

"Hi," said Luna pleasantly. "Ginny's waiting for you outside greenhouse two."

"Oh," said Harry. "Thanks."

"She's very happy, you know," said Luna. "It isn't always easy to tell, but if you look at the tip of her nose, it's there. You must be just what she wants."

"Well, that's good," said Harry, wondering what "it" was that Luna could see on Ginny's nose. "So… I'll see you around, then."

Luna nodded, and proceeded on down the corridor. Harry turned and headed for the stairwell; then, for some reason, he paused and turned back, and gazed for a second or two at Luna's retreating form.

As she turned a corner and vanished from sight, the thought came to Harry that a possible future to his life had just been described – its outlines traced, its limits defined, as clear as a figure in Euclid. And he became aware that he would never know this future – that he had, indeed, chosen an utterly different outline for his life, without even suspecting that this one existed.

That, he supposed, was the way of things.


X.

Blaise Zabini was not an easy young man to shock. He was, after all, the son of Lucrezia Champion, and had inherited the sophisticated and elegant wantonness that had made his mother so notorious a beguiler of men. One might have thought that the salacity didn't exist that could rob him of his poise.

There was one time, though…

It had been around nine o'clock one Saturday evening. He had been hurrying to get to the common room before lights-out; then he had turned a corner, and had seen Luna Lovegood in an adjacent corridor, robed in a modest blue dressing gown. It was only a moment before she vanished behind the intervening wall; he doubted that she had seen him at all, and he never learned what she had been doing in the dungeons at that hour.

But there was something about her mild silhouette, as he saw it there in the torchlight against the backdrop of those damp, stone walls, that drove him to spend the rest of the night in wakefulness, lest he dream of unclean things.


XI.

"…but he tried to throw the blame on others, particularly a nargle who…"

Neville Longbottom froze, in the very act of turning down the second-floor corridor, and felt a harrowing sense of existential vertigo sweep over him. He knew that it was 2023, that Luna had been dead for twenty years, and that, in any event, her voice wouldn't sound like that anymore – but, still… anything could happen at Hogwarts…

"'…would rather have put his legs in the boots than have saved his own life by such baseness,'" said Professor Echo Brewer of Muggle Studies, in her girlish treble. "'By the ties of…' – yes, Miss Weasley?"

"Just to clarify," said Rose. "Macaulay isn't saying that Monmouth said that about Argyle's integrity, is he? That's part of his own commentary."

"Correct," said Echo, and resumed her reading. "'By the ties of kindred, by the…'"

Neville let out his breath with a rush, and continued on down the corridor.


XII.

Leontes Kinnock never missed the spring thaw on the Clyde. No matter where in the world he happened to be, when the news came that the Scotch Lowlands were about to put off their winter stillness, he packed up and headed home, to the little cabin in which he and Luna had once planned to share their life.

It wasn't a matter of spring cleaning (there was a house-elf who did that), nor did the outdoor sports of the region have any great magic for him. It was simply that the sight of those vast tracts of ice, all being broken up and swept away on the newly re-quickened current, was what kept his hope alive in him – the hope that somehow, despite all appearance, his heart's dear had been right after all.

"What will I do when you're dead?" he had asked her, all those years ago.

"That's a silly question," she had replied. "If what I am is dead, it won't be me, will it? It's part of the meaning of me to be alive, just as it's part of the meaning of a river to flow."

"What's a frozen river, then?" he'd said.

She had smiled at that. "The same thing I'll be," she said. "Just something waiting till the time's right for it to become itself again. And it does, you know, Leon," she had said, stroking his cheek. "It always does."

Leontes Kinnock never missed the spring thaw on the Clyde.


XIII.

Luna knelt on her bed in the girls' dormitory, and gazed out the window at the falling snow. It was only three in the afternoon, but already she could no longer make out the footprints that had been visible on the grounds that morning; the leaden clouds that had rolled in at lunchtime, casting a pall of premature dusk over the school, had been working away steadily and efficiently ever since. Nor did they show any signs of letting up in the near future; indeed, it seemed quite possible to her that, by the following morning, Hogwarts's whole ground storey would be buried under the accumulated snow.

But perhaps she was exaggerating. It was always easy for her to exaggerate the strength of winter – it was so very like that other power, which had relentlessly shaped so much of her own life. Loneliness, loss, the contemptuous hostility of one's peers: they were very like cold and darkness and the weakness of the sun, and it was easy to think that the one could be to the world what the other had been to her.

It was funny how things did seem to work out that way for her. It wasn't true of others; her friend Ginny, for instance, seemed to live as sun-kissed a life as anyone could imagine. Perhaps that old onocentaur in Lebanon had been right about her: perhaps her solstice birth had let the winter into her soul, and her life was always going to be one of grey skies and snowdrifts and too-early nightfalls.

But that was all right, too, really. Winter had its privileges – anyone who'd ever looked up at a January night sky knew that. And, anyway, just because her circumstances were wintry, that didn't mean that she herself had to be. That was something that a great many people, especially in the two wizards' Houses, could never understand; to them, happiness was an external thing, bound up with material pleasures or social honour, and the casual defiance of externals that had always come naturally to her – that knack of resting purely in the solidity of her being, and in the unfathomable all-sufficiency on which it rested in its turn – was simply an illegible enigma to them. It was rather sad, really – but she supposed that it would all be resolved in the end.

She smiled softly, remembering one of the old songs her mother used to sing while she was mixing potions. She hadn't much of a singing voice, herself – but, as there was no-one else around to mind, she leaned into the frost-laced pane and whispered softly:

"The man replied, 'When things are seen,
It is quite right that they be green.
But things that are not seen, yet are;
For them I play the blue guitar.

"'And, once again, when things are said,
It is quite right that they be red.
But things that are not said, yet are;
For them I play the blue guitar.'"

And, with that, she rose, brushed the dust off her robes, and headed down to the Great Hall to see if Ginny felt like a game of droughts.