Chapter Five: The Wrackspurt Infestation
By the time Luna found her, Ginny was on her seventh solo game of Gobstones of the morning. Playing by herself meant that she got hit by the stones' foul-smelling liquid twice as often as she would have playing with someone else, but she didn't care. It seemed to be keeping the other students at bay, at least, which suited Ginny just fine. And anyway, after playing so many times in a row, she was hardly getting hit at all by the time Luna arrived.
Today, in addition to her dirigible plums, Luna was wearing a pair of glittery pink glasses with one pink and one blue lens each.
"I knew it," she said, by way of greeting. "You have a wrackspurt problem."
"A what?" Ginny asked.
"Wrackspurts," replied Luna. "They fly into your ears and make your brain go all fuzzy. I thought you might have some because you were so quiet yesterday. I've seen you with your friends before classes, you're normally much more talkative. At least, you were before."
Ginny blinked. Was she? She supposed it could be true—at home at the Burrow, there were often so many people talking, you almost had to shout to be heard, especially with Fred and George around. At Hogwarts, at first, she had learned to fill the void where their voices had been with her own. But as the months had passed, she'd grown quieter and quieter, too tired to pretend she was happy and not always just a little bit afraid. And since… well, aside from her conversation with Luna in the hospital wing and her morning tea with Madam Pomfrey, she had been relatively quiet over the past few days.
Luna pushed the glittery pink glasses onto the top of her head. "I've seen worse infestations, don't worry."
Ginny raised her eyebrows in alarm. "Infestations?"
"They tend to breed quickly if you don't drive them out. But don't worry," she said, at the look on Ginny's face. "We can take care of them today." She held out a hand and pulled Ginny up off of the cobblestones.
"What do we have to do?" Ginny said, brushing the dirt off her pants.
"I'll show you," said Luna, "but we should go somewhere else to do it. Somewhere where there's not quite so much noise." She turned on her heels and headed out of the courtyard, and Ginny saw no choice but to follow.
Luna headed away from the castle, in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. As they walked past Hagrid's hut, the groundskeeper himself walked out of his front door and waved.
"Hullo, Luna, Ginny," he called out. "Nice ter see ya."
"Hello, Hagrid," said Luna brightly. "Glad you're back!"
Ginny just pulled her mouth into a smile and waved, trying to ignore the Something clawing at her heart and stomach. She tried not to look at the empty rooster pens as they passed the back of Hagrid's hut, but her eyes would not obey her brain.
Luna stopped about mid-way between Hagrid's hut and the Whomping Willow, close but not too close to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She dropped her bag on the grass and then flopped onto the ground beside it, crossing her legs. Ginny quickly followed suit.
"Okay," said Luna. "Wrackspurts fly into our heads and feed on our thoughts, which can make us confused and distractable. To clear them out, you just have to clear your mind of all thoughts. Then the wrackspurts have nothing to eat, so they leave." She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, and fell silent.
Ginny blinked at her, nonplussed, though Luna didn't see.
"Er," Ginny began. "Luna?"
Luna opened her eyes. "Yes?"
"How exactly do you do that?"
Ginny rolled her eyes, exasperated. "How do you clear your mind of all thoughts? Do you mean just go to sleep? Though I still have thoughts when I'm asleep; I've been having nightmares for months—" She stopped suddenly, turning red.
"Oh," said Luna. "That's horrible."
Ginny shrugged one shoulder, but said quietly, "Yeah, it is."
"Maybe clearing out the wrackspurts will help. It helped get rid of my nightmares, once."
"Really?" asked Ginny doubtfully, but Luna nodded so earnestly she wanted to believe her. "So," Ginny continued, "how do you get rid of all your thoughts?
"I'm sorry," said Luna. "I thought everyone knew."
Ginny shook her head. "I've never even heard of such a thing."
Luna considered this. "Well, one way to do about it is to picture your thoughts like a river, but you're sitting on the bank just watching them go by. Does that make sense?"
Ginny wasn't sure, but she nodded and closed her eyes anyway.
Clear your mind, clear your mind, she thought. Sitting on a riverbank, watching the thoughts go by. But what were her thoughts? The moment she considered the question, it was like the river became polluted with a slimy black ooze and things she didn't really want to see began floating by. Snakeskins, and Hagrid's empty rooster pens, and long, sharp fangs, and black ink disappearing into parchment.
She gasped and opened her eyes. Her heart was pounding. "I'm sorry, Luna," she said. "I can't do it."
Luna opened her eyes and studied Ginny thoughtfully for a moment. "That's all right. It can be really hard to do sometimes," she acknowledged, nodding. "We can try again some other time, if you want."
Ginny just shrugged. She didn't want to be rude, but she also didn't think she'd ever want to try anything like that ever again. She wanted to distract herself from her thoughts, not watch them move past like some kind of grotesque parade. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the black ooze from her mind.
If Luna thought Ginny was rude, she didn't let on. She was already digging into her bag, pulling out the two notebooks she'd had at the lake the previous night. "Want to sketch instead?"
"Sure," said Ginny, accepting a notebook and pencil. Luna opened hers to a fresh page and stared at it for a few moments before placing pencil to page. Ginny hadn't even opened her notebook the night before, but she did so now. She had intended to follow Luna's lead and begin sketching, but before she reached an empty page, she again became distracted by Luna's previous work. Last night by the lake, she had seen glimpses of a few of Luna's sketches, and they'd all seemed to be beasts, both magical and mundane. This book, however, seemed to be mostly landscapes—a rocky seascape, a dense forest. There was a sketch that looked remarkably like the mountains surrounding Hogwarts castle, set as they were behind a still, glittering lake.
She turned the page and stared. This double-page sketch showed a small town, but it was no Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. This was a Muggle town. Ginny knew this town.
"Luna?" she asked. Luna didn't look up. "Luna?" she said again.
"Mmm?" came the vacant reply.
"Is this Ottery St. Catchpole?"
"What?" asked Luna, looking up at last from her work. She leaned over to look at the sketch Ginny proffered. "Oh, yes. Ottery St. Catchpole. It's a Muggle village near where Daddy and I live."
"You live near Ottery St. Catchpole?"
But Luna was already back at work. Ginny thought back to her early morning broomstick rides. For years, she'd flown close to the forests surrounding the Burrow, afraid of being caught by either Muggles or her mother. But last summer, as her first year at Hogwarts drew closer, she'd allowed herself to fly higher and higher over the surrounding countryside, reasoning that it was still dark enough that any Muggles who might see her would most likely mistake her for a large crow—or an early morning hangover.
"Do you live in that giant rook?"
The first time she'd seen it, she'd almost fallen off her broom. It had looked like the old towers she'd seen in the Muggle storybooks her dad had snuck her underneath her mum's nose, the ones where the pictures didn't even move. The novelty of the tower had delighted her—she had known Hogwarts was a castle, of course, but she hadn't yet been allowed to go. Once, when she'd been out before the sun had even considered rising, she'd dared herself to land on its roof. She'd allowed herself to touch down, dismount, and hold her broom over her head in triumph, and then she had taken off again straightaway.
"Luna?" Ginny said again.
"Hmm?" Luna had become distracted again during Ginny's silence.
"The giant tower outside Ottery St. Catchpole. Do you live in it?"
"What?" Luna looked up. "Oh, yes. That's me and dad. How did you know?"
"I've—er—I've seen it. I live near Ottery St. Catchpole, too. I've always liked that tower."
"Well, you'll have to come round this summer," said Luna. "I'll give you the tour." She brushed off the page she was working on and showed it to Ginny. The vague outline of a human head was filled with a small line of tiny floating insects that seemed to be coming in from the ears. "See? Wrackspurts."
"Oh," said Ginny. "That's what's in my head?" she asked, swatting at her ears.
"Well, sort of. They're quite tiny—the drawing is just to show you. And they're invisible unless you have these," she said, tapping the side of the glittery frames she was still wearing on the top of her head. "Want to try?"
"Sure," said Ginny. She took the specs from Luna and put them on. Luna looked much the same, except maybe a little purple thanks to the tint of the lenses. Ginny thought she might see something small and shiny floating near Luna's head, but she wasn't sure.
"I might not have any today. I often manage to clear them off when I draw," said Luna as she put the glasses back on and pushed them up her nose. "Looks like some of yours are gone, too."