Chapter One: Sleeping Draughts and Snorkacks
It was morning, and Ginny knew it.
She could feel the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hospital wing, and she could hear her parents and Madam Pomfrey whispering. They didn't seem to be trying very hard to stay quiet.
"Do you think she'll wake soon, Poppy? I'd like to say goodbye before heading to the ministry."
"There's really no telling, Arthur. Some patients sleep for a full twenty-four hours before waking up."
Actually, Ginny had been awake for some time. She had slowly awoken to her mother's familiar touch, her hand gently stroking Ginny's hair. Ginny had kept her eyes closed.
"I want to take her home, so she can rest and recover in her own bed," whispered her mother. "Albus said exams were canceled, didn't he?"
"She shouldn't be moved just yet, Molly. She needs to wake up naturally. You and Arthur go on home—you need rest too, you know. Don't think I don't know neither one of you slept a wink last night. You should go on home and take a Sleeping Draught yourself, you know. I know you think you have to work today, Arthur, but you need to take care of yourself, too. Ginny will be in good hands here."
Ginny could hear her mother begin to protest, but Arthur cut in. "She's in the best of hands, Poppy; we know that. Just… just send an owl the moment she wakes, day or night."
"Of course, of course."
Ginny felt her mother pull the covers up to her chin and tuck he blankets tightly around her where they'd come loose in the night. She felt the soft pressure of one kiss on her forehead, then another. There was a long, writhing Something wrapped around her heart, and as the sound of her parents' footsteps receded, it somehow both loosened and clenched tighter. She laid very still, trying not to disturb the Something, trying to ignore the tears dripping down the end of her nose, thankful they had waited until her parents had gone to fall.
After ushering out the Weasleys, Madam Pomfrey stopped near the foot of her bed.
"I'm going down to lunch, dear, can I bring you anything back up?" she said.
Was Madam Pomfrey talking to her? Could she see through Ginny's charade?
"Maybe just a sandwich," said a soft, musical voice a few beds away. "Grilled veg, if you don't mind."
And with that, Ginny could hear Madam Pomfrey's footsteps receding once again. They echoed around the high ceilings of the hospital wing, just like her steps had echoed in….
"You can open your eyes now," said the girl with the lilting voice.
Ginny started, but did not, as the speaker had suggested, open her eyes. Her heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty underneath the blankets, but she didn't move them. In fact, she wished she had more blankets so she could bury herself in a hot pile of darkness from which she could never leave. She didn't deserve cool air, light, a friendly voice.
The voice spoke again. "Madam Pomfrey usually takes about an hour for lunch."
Ginny didn't know how the girl knew she was awake, and she didn't care. She rolled over and thought about pretending to snore.
She'd pretended to snore many a night that past year in the dorms, while the other girls in her year chatted happily about the wonders of Hogwarts, about wands and lessons and cute boys and girls, before falling asleep. She had pretended to snore until her classmates had fallen silent, and then she had continued to pretend to snore, hoping it would help her eventually fall asleep.
It never did.
"I can keep a lookout, if you want, for Madam Pomfrey. In case you have to go to the bathroom or something. I won't tell her you're awake." The girl paused. "We don't have to talk if you don't want. It's just a bit empty in here now that all of the Petrified students have been revived."
Ginny's eyes flew open. Hermione. Forgetting her charade, she sat up and looked around.
The wing was empty, save for herself and a small girl with wide, blue eyes and long blonde hair and…horns peeking out from just above her ears. They looked a bit like the antlers she used to see on deer grazing around the edges of the backyard at the Burrow. They never stayed long once she had liberated out one or other of her brothers' brooms from the backyard shed and taken flight, but she'd always found their early morning company pleasant.
The girl attached to the antlers smiled at Ginny over a magazine she'd been reading, but by then Ginny had taken in the rest of the hospital wing. Empty beds all around, save herself and the antlered girl two beds over.
When she'd been brought to the hospital wing, several of the beds had been full. They'd made her walk all the way to the bed furthest from the ward door, past the beds of the petrified students, past her own terrible handiwork. Hermione, of course, but also Colin, who'd sat by her in Charms class. That second-year Hufflepuff, Justin. She didn't really know him, but he had helped her find her way to the Potions dungeon once, smiling at her in that way Hufflepuffs did, like they'd all just swallowed a Cheering Concoction right before talking to you. Nearly Headless Nick had floated above one of the beds, his head hanging limply from that awful neck. They'd even lain Mrs. Norris in a hospital bed, Mrs. Norris, who Ron had insisted probably deserved to be petrified, but who was just a cat, no matter how terrible her human companion was.
None of them had said anything, as she walked past, of course, but it had felt like every pair of petrified eyes had followed her as she was ushered into the wing. Dumbledore had said they'd all been given the restoration draft, but no one had been moving just yet. She had downed her potion as quickly as possible and lain on her side with her back to their still-unmoving bodies and counted backward from fifty until she fell asleep.
But now, their beds were empty. Only herself and the antlered girl remained, though Ginny didn't remember seeing her the night before. She was sure she'd seen the girl about the castle, only without the antlers. She had always worn long earrings made from dirigible plums, which had prompted some of the other girls in Ginny's year to call the girl—what was it again? Looney. Looney Lovegood.
"What happened to you?" Ginny blurted out, before she could remember she shouldn't really be talking to anyone.
The girl just laughed and put down her magazine—a brightly colored issue of The Quibbler with an illustration of Hogwarts Castle on the front. A blood red headline proclaimed, "Horror at Hogwarts? The Top Ten Monsters that may be at the Heart of the School's Rumored Closing."
Ginny shrank away from the magazine and pulled the blanket around her shoulders, in case things started to go dark. But the girl's voice brought her back to the present.
"Do you like them?" she asked, patting both antlers with her hands. "I conjured them myself."
"You… conjured them?" asked Ginny. "Aren't you a first year?"
"I suppose," said the girl people called Looney.
"But that's a really advanced hex."
"Is it?" asked the girl. "That's what Professor McGonagall called it, too—a hex. She said people don't normally cast it on themselves and took me up here for observation. I missed almost the whole feast, but I don't mind."
Oh, yeah, Ginny remembered. There had been a feast. She was glad she had missed it. She didn't know how she was going to manage going back to her dormitory, much less how she might face the entire great hall. How long would Madam Pomfrey let her stay here in the hospital wing? Maybe if she could find the potions cabinet and sneak herself some extra sleeping draughts, she could sleep away the rest of the term and not have to see anyone else until it was time to go home.
Going home, though. Did she want to go home? She didn't want to go back to the dorm, she didn't want to go to the Great Hall, but maybe she didn't want to go home, either. She loved her mother, but she knew she would make such a fuss. Maybe she should steal an extra sleeping draught or two to take back to the burrow with her, too.
She climbed out of bed and looked around. Just her luck (for once), the potions cabinet was only a few steps away, beside the door to Madam Pomfrey's office. The cabinet's door was made of glass, and she could see bottles in many shapes and sizes—vials of green and brown and purple, some even tinted an opaque black. On the very top shelf sat several green bottles clearly labeled "Sleeping Draught."
A simple alohamora unlocked the cabinet, but Ginny was too short to reach the top shelf.
"Do you need some help?" asked a voice right behind her left ear.
She jumped and turned, and an antler scraped across her cheek.
"I'm terribly sorry," said the antlered girl. "My sense of space isn't been quite the same with these. Did I hurt you? Let me see." The girl moved to touch Ginny's face, but Ginny ducked out of her way.
"It's fine," said Ginny, though it did hurt a little.
"We can probably find some tonic for it."
"No, really, it's fine," Ginny snapped. It hurt, but that was what was fine about it.
"Well, what are you trying to find? Maybe I can help."
"I want some more sleeping draught," said Ginny. She didn't want to talk to anyone, but if this girl was going to insist on helping her, she didn't see a reason to turn her away. "I want to go back to sleep."
"Oh, that's easy then. Wingardium leviosa." The girl twirled a wand Ginny hadn't seen her produce, and a green bottle floated down to her from the top shelf. "How many do you need?'
All of them, Ginny wanted to say, but she thought Madam Pomfrey would notice. "Five, for now, I guess." The matron probably wouldn't notice five.
The girl repeated the spell four more times, and Ginny grabbed the bottles from the air. Then the girl said the spell again, moving bottles from the middle of the shelf up to the front. "That way, Madam Pomfrey won't know they're missing," she explained.
Ginny eyed the girl with interest. She hadn't ever struck Ginny as the Fred-and-George type, but then, she didn't really know this Looney girl at all. She didn't even know her real name—surely it wasn't Looney.
"What's your name?" she asked as they walked back to Ginny's bed. Ginny shoved her contraband beneath her pillow and climbed back under the covers.
"I'm Luna," said the girl. She must have taken the question as an invitation to chat, because she onto the end of Ginny's bed and sat cross-legged atop the covers. "What's your name?"
"Ginny, like Ginny Pescanoe, the first witch to ever photograph the elusive crumple-horned snorkack?"
"What?" said Ginny. "No, I think it's a family name. What's a crumple-horned snorkack?"
"You've never heard of it?" asked Luna. She jumped off of Ginny's bed and rushed over to hers, grabbed the magazine with that horrid front cover, and tossed it onto Ginny's bed before jumping back on herself. She flipped through the pages rapidly, until she came to a double-page spread featuring two photos: one, sepia-toned, featuring a dour-faced woman pacing back and forth in the wilderness, occasionally fiddling with a very old-looking camera, and a second photo, black and white and extremely difficult to make out, of some kind of animal that looked like it might have a large horn somewhere on its body. The accompanying headline read: "100 Years of Snorkacks: Celebrating the Anniversary of Genevra Pescanoe's First Photo of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack."
"No one's managed to get a photo since Ginny Pescanoe. She was the first and the last. She made sketches, too, because she knew the photo wasn't very good. Look," she said, and flipped to another page in the article. There were several sketches of a large, horned animal. It looked sort of like a cross between a hippo, a unicorn, a hippogriff, and a crocodile.
"Neat," Ginny said, because Luna was looking up at her expectantly.
"Daddy's going to take me on an expedition to find one someday. It'll be very dangerous, though, so he says I have to study hard, but I would study hard even if we weren't planning an expedition. Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure," she recited, as if that explained everything perfectly.
After a few moments of studying the sketches in the magazine, she looked back up at Ginny. "Do you think they need flowers?"
"What?" said Ginny. "The… the snorkacks, or whatever?"
"No, my antlers," said Luna, patting them once more. "I think they need flowers. Orchideous!" And a burst of pale pink flowers erupted from her wand tip. She laid the bouquet on the bed, gingerly lifted a single blossom from the rest, and wound the stem around one of the horns. "What do you think?" she asked Ginny.
Ginny thought it looked completely outlandish, but she didn't want to be rude. "Very festive," was all she said.
"Exactly!" chirped Luna. She flicked her wand and again said, "Orchideous!" This time, the flowers were a deep yellow with black centers. Once again, she wove a flower into an antler.
"How did you do that?" Ginny asked.
"Hmm?" asked Luna. Her eyes were dreamy as she picked another pink flower and tied it to the same stem as the yellow daisy.
"How did you conjure different flowers with the same spell?" asked Ginny. "I've never seen that before."
"Oh, it's easy," said Luna. "It's all in the intent—what kind of flower you bring to mind. I've tried making up new flowers, but I haven't managed to conjure any yet. Orchideous!" she said again, but this time, her wand just shot a mixture of pink and yellow flower petals, as if in protest. Ginny laughed, Luna just shrugged.
"Want to give it a try?" Luna asked.
Ginny began to reach for her wand, which lay on the bedside table next to her, but then thought better of it. "Maybe not."
"Oh, go on, then," said Luna.
Ginny closed her eyes and tried to picture the same pink flowers that Luna had conjured the first time. They grew in the garden at the burrow; what were they? Carnations? Zinnias? She was sure her mother had told her their name, but she couldn't remember. She couldn't seem to bring them to mind, either, though a bouquet of them sat barely a meter away from her on the hospital bed. Instead, when she closed her eyes, she saw a damp, cavernous hall with serpent heads carved into the pillars. She shuddered and cast the spell before Luna could notice. "Orchideous!"
Flowers burst from the tip of her wand, but they were wilted and colorless, almost dead.
"Oh," was all Luna said. "That's all right. It's not an easy spell when you've got other things on your mind. Here, have some of these," she said, and she began showing Ginny how to weave the stems together into a flowery circlet.
They stayed that way for the rest of the hour, until Luna suddenly jumped and warned Ginny of Madam Pomfrey's approach. Luna gathered the flowers and her magazine and scrambled back over to her bed, and Ginny placed her new flower crown gently onto her bedside table next to her wand. She burrowed down into the covers and closed her eyes tightly and began to feign a snore just as Madam Pomfrey's heels clicked into the hall.
The sleeping draughts lay undisturbed under her pillow, forgotten.