arry was rushing to get to his morning Charms lesson, Ron and Hermione following close behind. As they scurried down the long, high-arched hallway, the door to Professor Flitwick's classroom opened up and the previous class of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs began to emerge. Through the flurry of students squeezing through the doorway Harry saw the familiar figure of Luna Lovegood, her waist-length dirty blonde hair a dead giveaway even at this distance.

As she waltzed into the hall, she noticed Harry's group approaching, smiling dreamily and giving them a wave of her hand before turning to go off in the opposite direction. Harry waved back, thoughts of their last encounter the previous year still fresh in his mind. Indeed, he'd thought about what she'd told him all summer long, and had hoped to catch her alone on the Hogwarts Express to find out more. The presence of Ginny and Neville, however, had precluded him discussing the subject.

She hadn't gotten more than a few feet down the hall when Malfoy, coming up the hall from the opposite end, ran up to her blocked her path. Crabbe and Goyle quickly caught up and flanked Malfoy. All three looked rather irate; but then, that was nothing new.

"Think you're pretty smart, don't you Loonybin?" said Malfoy hotly. Harry and the others quickly approached the scene, their tempers rising at the sight of the three Slytherins practically surrounding Luna. "Don't think I don't know what you did last year! And if you think you're gonna get away with helping Potter's gang put my father in Azkaban I have news for you," he sneered menacingly, "you're gonna get yours soon enough, just you wait, you freak!"

Harry was steaming; the other Ravenclaws weren't even looking back as they walked by the confrontation and down the hall. He slowly reached into his robes for his wand, glancing to his right to see Ron looking back at him, giving him a tiny nod to show he grasped Harry's intentions and would back him up. But then, Ron never needed much prodding to have a go at Malfoy, Harry knew. Hermione, on the other hand, scowled at them both. She drew herself up to her full height, straightened her prefect's badge and marched forward to intervene.

But before anyone else could say anything, Luna, who had been staring dreamily at a portrait of Almerick Sawbridge on the wall just behind Malfoy's shoulder, seemed to wake from her reverie. She focused her large silvery eyes on the Slytherin with a look of surprise.

"Oh, hello," she said vaguely.

"Hello?!?" Malfoy sputtered, his anger mixed with disbelief. "Didn't you hear a word I just said?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Luna serenely. "Sometimes my mind wanders, I really shouldn't do that when people are speaking to me." She drew herself straight, held her books across her chest with both arms and stared intently at him. "All right, I'm listening now."

"I - " Malfoy began, as Harry and his friends exchanged amused glances. "I was saying - "

Malfoy gaped at her, evidently incredulous that his threats had seemingly no effect whatsoever. He was now stammering, obviously feeling foolish at having to repeat himself.

As Malfoy stammered on, Luna suddenly tilted her head and gazed at him with a very serious look on her face. "Are you all right? You sound rather odd, you know."

"Me?!" exclaimed Malfoy, "You're the one - I can't believe this!"

"Did you know that there was a sighting of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack near Surrey just a few weeks ago?" said Luna conversationally. "Daddy said the man had a muggle camera with him. He's going to go see him this week; wouldn't it be wonderful if he came back with an exclusive picture?"

Malfoy gaped at her, mouth open. Hermione put her hand over her mouth to keep from giggling openly, while Ron was bent over double with an arm around his midsection, trying desperately to keep from laughing out loud.

Crabbe and Goyle were looking at each other with dull, uncomprehending gazes. They looked even more idiotic than usual, which, given their usual countenances, was significant. Malfoy put both hands on his head. "Didn't you hear what I said?!?" he asked loudly.

Luna carried on, her large silver eyes gazing unblinkingly at Malfoy. "I know muggle cameras don't show movement, of course, but still...I suppose any picture would be better than none at all, wouldn't it? Oh!" she said as a look of realization crossed her face. She pulled an old bag up to her chest. "I think I have an artists' rendering of it here...just a moment, I'll show you." She began to rummage through it.

"I don't care about your bloody Snorkdingers or whatever they are!" yelled Malfoy. At that moment he caught sight of Harry and the others standing nearby. Harry and Ron were laughing quietly, their shoulders shaking under the effort to keep silent.

"You can laugh, Potter!" Malfoy yelled at him, then turned back to Luna. "You're dead, Lovegood!"

With that, he turned to leave, his two large thugs in tow.

"Wait!" Luna called after him. "I know I've got it in here somewhere...oh, I really must put this stuff in order..."

Malfoy stopped for a moment and made a half turn back to her. "Aaaarrgghh!" he muttered between grinding teeth and sped away with his cronies down the hall.

Harry and his friends couldn't contain themselves any longer. All three burst out laughing. Professor Flitwick was leaning against the frame in the open doorway with his arms crossed; evidently he'd witnessed the entire event, judging by the grin Harry detected hiding behind his bushy white beard.

"Luna," Hermione said in between fits of laughter, her every word reverberating with mirth, "that was priceless!"

Luna looked up from her bag, "Oh hello," she said, smiling at Hermione. She rummaged a bit more for her 'artist's conception'.

"Oh this bag is impossible! I really have to get my satchel back..."

With that, she turned away from them and ran after her fellow Ravenclaws. Harry and his friends watched her disappear down the long hallway, still having fits of the giggles as their fellow students ogled them curiously as they entered the Charms classroom.

* * *

After their last class of the morning, Hermione left for the library to research her essay on the Salem witch trials, which Professor Binns had assigned to them on their first day, much to Ron's disgust.

Despite Hermione's admonition, Ron decided to spend lunch writing up a letter to send to his mother after noticing he'd neglected to pack any spare socks. Harry, with his first Quidditch practice of the year only scheduled for the following week, decided to likewise skip his homework and take advantage of the lovely September weather and go pay Hagrid a visit.

Harry exited the castle gates, recalling how upset he'd been the last time he'd walked out these same grounds only a few short months before. Though his anger had subsided somewhat since then, the pain of Sirius' death remained burning unabated within him. He'd put on a brave face for Ron and Hermione's benefit, though his anguish was only concealed from them.

He strolled down the path towards Hagrid's cabin, watching a pair of doves on the trail ahead fly off as he approached. Finding no one home, he circled around and made for the lake, following the trail as it led along the edge of the forest near the shore. He looked out on the water, seeing its unbroken surface glittering in the midday sun. The giant squid was nowhere to be seen, presumably content in its underwater habitat. A periodic light breeze caused only the slightest ripples to pass over the shimmering lake.

As he rounded the edge of the forest, he caught sight of a waif-like figure just a short distance ahead of him. The girl was engrossed in picking flowers from the bushes just off the trail. From the telltale waist length hair Harry knew immediately he was gazing at Luna Lovegood.

"Hi Luna," said Harry as he stepped off the path to join her. It was then he saw she hadn't been picking flowers after all, but rather some shrilly- green leaves that grew from lovat waist-high stalks.

She half turned to him and smiled. "Hello," she said dreamily. "How was your summer? You were rather quiet on the train."

"It was okay I guess, all things considered," Harry replied. "I think the Dursleys were terrified that Mad-Eye or Tonks would come checking up on me so they didn't give me too much of a hard time this summer. How 'bout you?"

"Oh, it was rather enjoyable, you know," said Luna. "I went on an expedition to Sweden with Daddy to look for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. We did find tracks of them outside our tent one morning actually, but Daddy says he might have a better lead with someone near Surrey, so I'm crossing my toes!"

"Your - " Harry began, then smiled when he realized he was talking to Luna Lovegood, after all. "Toes, of course."

He looked at the bundle of stringy leaves in her hands. "What are you picking all those weeds for?" he asked out of curiosity.

She glanced down at her stringy foliage clutched in her hand. "Well, I was curious about the Merpeople," she said, looking out at the lake, "I was thinking of giving Daddy a birthday present by sending him an essay about them, you know, but I'd need these to go see them," she raised up her handful of weeds and held it under his nose. Harry leaned back slightly.

Then it suddenly struck Harry. "Hey, isn't that...gillyweed?!" he asked.

"Well, yes," said Luna, smiling at him. "Didn't you pick some when before you went into the lake for the Triwizard tournament?"

"Um - ", Harry began, trying to think up an plausible reason as to how he might have obtained them without coming here, but had a feeling he didn't need to lie to Luna. "Well actually, Dobby gave them to me. I never knew they grew right here. How'd you find out about these?"

She nodded towards the path leading further along the lakeside. "I come by here quite often, actually," she said serenely. "Professor Sprout told us there was gillyweed growing on the school grounds when I was in my third year. Didn't she tell you?"

Harry thought back carefully, but Herbology wasn't exactly one of his best subjects. "Well, maybe she did, but to be honest I might not have been listening."

"No," said Luna, a pensive look on her face, "I suppose you did have rather a lot on your mind back then."

Harry looked at the bushes around them. The gillyweed seemed to be growing from only a few isolated clumps. "She told you where to find them too?"

"No," said Luna, "but when you walk along here often enough you get to remember where things are. She did say that some of the herbs we use in class grow in the wild around here."

"Do you come here a lot?" asked Harry. "This is the first time I've walked this far, I usually just go to Hagrid's cabin."

"Yes," she said, a faraway look in her eyes. "Sometimes the others don't like me lingering around the Common Room, so I come here, but I don't mind really. It makes for a nice stroll, actually."

Harry felt his stomach tighten. Sure Luna was a bit spacey, but that hardly warranted the ill-treatment she received from her fellow Ravenclaws. He wondered if she'd ever gotten her belongings back at the end of the previous term.

"You still think about your Godfather, don't you?" asked Luna out of the blue. Her head tilted a little to one side as she started at him, her expression very serious. "That's why you came here."

Harry found himself slightly taken aback. "Well...yeah," he said hesitantly. "Yeah, I still think about him a lot, and what you said about that veil. Luna, how do you know all this, can you read minds or something?"

Her face brightened as she evidently found the thought amusing. "No," she said quietly. "But I don't have to read minds, Harry." She stood there staring at him, smiling slightly.

Harry had the strangest feeling that she could somehow see everything that was going through his mind. Although Ron and Hermione were his best friends, he still found it uncomfortable talking to them about Sirius, yet he did not feel such reticence with Luna.

"I wasn't related to him by blood or anything," Harry said. "He was a friend of Dad's, they'd been chums since their school days. But...he was like family, really..."

Luna looked at him, her eyes losing some of their usual mistiness. "Yes," she said quietly, "and he still is."

Harry looked at her. He knew she was referring to the Veil, and part of him held out the hope that she was right...she seemed so sure of herself, though he knew not why. But her obvious faith in seeing her own mother again one day seemed to strengthen his own.

"And Harry," she continued, "You do realize you still have family here, you know." She was speaking very earnestly now, without a trace of the dreaminess that was her hallmark.

She was referring to Ron and Hermione, Harry realized. He looked at her as she smiled back at him.

"Well, I have to go see Professor Sprout," said Luna, her dreamy air returning. "She said she has the other ingredients for the water breathing potion. I'll see you later, Harry."

Harry watched her go, heading back towards the castle. Although she certainly had her quirks, he nevertheless had the distinct impression that Luna Lovegood was somehow wiser beyond her years. At least, he hoped so, given her beliefs about the Veil.

* * *

That evening found the trio attending the feast in the Great Hall. After the leftover food had been vanished away, Hermione unfolded her copy of the Daily Prophet and lay it on the table, turning it to face Ron.

Harry blinked as he read the upside-down headline. "Blimey," said Ron, astonished. "It's kind of about time, don't you think?"

Neville and Ginny, upon hearing this, leaned closer to get a better look:

Cornelius Fudge dismissed from Ministry of Magic

"Wow!" exclaimed Neville, looking over at Ron. "That'll take a load off your Dad won't it?" "Yeah," Ron said. "Sure will."

Harry could tell something else was on Ron's mind. It suddenly occurred to him.

"This could makes things complicated between him and Percy, though," he said.

Ron looked at the paper on the table and nodded, raising his eyebrows. "Oh yeah. Could it ever."

"Or," said Hermione, leaning forward to look Ron in the eye, "it could be just the thing that brings them back together too. I mean just think, Ron. Percy had so much confidence in Fudge and he's bound to realize now that his faith was misplaced, wouldn't you think?"

Ron looked back at her. "I don't know, Hermione," he said. "Percy kinda burned his bridges with Mum...I don't know how that's going to turn out."

They were all quiet for a moment when Hermione caught sight of Luna strolling into the Great Hall, heading towards the half deserted Ravenclaw table. Hermione stood up and called her over.

Harry was startled to see Hermione inviting Luna, though pleasantly so. Something had obviously effected a change of heart in her since last term, when they'd often been at odds over Luna's rather unconventional beliefs. He made a mental note to ask Hermione about it when they were alone.

"Hello," said Luna dreamily as Hermione made a space between her and Harry.

"You're a bit late for the feast, Luna," said Ginny, waving her hand at the now foodless tables. "Why didn't you come like an hour ago?"

Luna squeezed into the spot Hermione had made for her and sat down. Harry cast a glance at Ron, who was looking darkly at the paper on the table, an unreadable expression on his face. Well, Harry thought, at least it isn't a look of total disdain.

"I was rather busy, actually," Luna answered. "Hello Ronald," she said, causing Ron to look up at her. He gave an obviously forced smile.

"Um...hey, Luna," he replied without much conviction, before retreating quickly to his paper.

But Luna was by now staring at the Daily Prophet laid out on the table in front of him. "Oh look...Daddy told me they'd be running it today," she said as she tapped the headline article with one finger.

Neville gaped at her. "You knew??" he asked.

"Yes," she said simply. "He told me about it day before yesterday; he said it was too late to include in the latest Quibbler but he'd have an expanded article about it in next month's edition."

Ron gave a start and half jumped from his seat. Harry could swear he saw a hint of a smile play across Luna's face for just an instant.

"What is it, Ron?" asked Hermione.

"On, nutthin'," Ron said as he settled back into his seat, his ears turning beet red. Harry chuckled to himself, seeing the look on Hermione's face.

Seeing that Ron wasn't going to be forthcoming, Hermione turned to Luna and said in a conspirational tone, "By the way, I think it was brilliant the way you handled Malfoy this morning," she turned to the others.

"I think there are some people who would do well to follow that example," she said, looking straight at Ron.

"What?" he asked, looking shocked.

Hermione looked at him dryly. "You're a Prefect, Ron," she said. "I keep telling you, we have to set the example. You can't go around jinxing people you don't - "

"Hey, I didn't jinx him at all since last year!" Ron protested. "It was Dean and the others that nailed him in the train, remember?"

"Gosh, I would have paid real galleons to see that," Neville said as Harry grinned.

A shadow quickly passed over the table, causing them to glance up just in time to see Pigwidgeon land merrily in front of Ron. "Dang it," Ron muttered as he unrolled the note from the tiny owl's leg. "No socks!"

Luna was looking at Pigwidgeon with a dreamy smile. "Isn't he the cutest little owl?" she asked as Ron rolled his eyes, Ginny suppressing a giggle at his reaction. "I'll have enough galleons saved up next month to get myself one. Daddy said Percival is getting a bit old to be handling both the personal mail and Quibbler deliveries, you know."

Luna helped herself to one of the pages of the Daily Prophet, ignoring or oblivious to Ron's shocked glare, and proceeded to make what looked to be an origami representation of an owl.

Ginny looked up from the paper. "You have an owl named Percival?" she asked.

Luna nodded. "He was Mum's originally," she said vaguely, her origami owl becoming surprisingly intricate. "He's a Great Grey that she bought when she went on a trip to Denmark with Daddy years ago." She stopped what she was doing for a moment and looked at Ron with her large silvery eyes. "You have a brother named Percival. He worked for Cornelius Fudge."

Ron was unsure how to answer, as she'd made more of a statement than posed a question, but in any event Luna's concentration had returned to her origami creation. Folding the bottom out into four flanges she then put the finished figure on the table in front of her, and reached for another section of the Daily Prophet. This time Ron let her take a page without protest.

"Blimey," said Ron. Hermione looked stunned, as did Neville and Ginny. Harry could scarcely believe his eyes. Though it was made from ordinary newspaper, the paper owl was truly a work of art. The small origami figure was much more detailed than any they had ever seen, and they'd just witnessed its creation without any magical help.

"Luna, wow..." said Ginny, staring in awe at the paper owl as Pigwidgeon hopped alongside, inspecting it happily. "Could I have that?"

Luna nodded serenely as she started making a new figure, though at this early stage Harry couldn't tell what it was.

"Yes!" exclaimed Ron, "Mum said she thought Pig was too small to carry a bag of socks so she'll have Dad send them from the office tomorrow with a Ministry owl."

"Speaking of the Ministry," said Hermione, "Any idea on who is going to replace Fudge?"

"Well I know Dad wouldn't want the job," said Ron, folding his letter away. "He likes his Muggle Artifacts job way too much, that's for sure. And I know Mum wouldn't like it if he had to spend even more time at the office." "Yeah but think Ron," countered Ginny. "Now that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back, they could really use someone from the Order in that job, don't you think? Somebody they could really trust, not another Cornelius Fudge type."

"Oy, don't get me wrong, sis," said Ron, "I think it'd be awesome, maybe we'd even be able to find out what's been going on in the rest of those rooms at the Department of Mysteries. But you know Dad, the high-level stuff doesn't interest him, he likes to get his hands dirty. Heck look at all those bloody Muggle things he takes apart in the shed!"

Ginny shrugged, "I guess," she said. "But I mean who else could they put there that the Order could trust? There are seven department heads aren't there? I'd wager they're all in Fudge's back pocket too."

"He'd be running the place by proxy," said Hermione, nodding in agreement.

"What's proxy?" asked Neville.

"It means he'd still be running the place through the people he controls there," said Hermione as Neville nodded his understanding.

"Well, who then?" Harry asked, as everyone had fallen silent. Then he saw what they were all staring at. Luna had just laid out a new origami figure on the table before them.

They all gazed at it in awe. Just as intricate and detailed as her previous piece, it was the unmistakable origami representation of a wolf.

* * *

Harry was gazing out into the cloudless night sky, sitting next to the windowsill just next to his bed. The full moon was out, its reflection on the lake and the dark shadows cast by the forest made the grounds take on an almost fairy tale setting. He'd decided to wait for Hedwig's return from her nightly hunt, not feeling particularly sleepy despite the late hour.

He heard Ron turn over in his bed for the third time, wishing he could enjoy the slumber which came so easily to his friend. He could, of course, be working on his homework, but this being Friday (or was it Saturday by now?) he had the entire weekend ahead of him, more than enough time to work on his assignments, despite Hermione's earlier warnings.

He leaned his head against the open window frame and felt a rare sense of contentment; his scar hadn't acted up for quite a while. And, he had Quidditch to look forward to again this year, and there was no Umbridge waiting malevolently in the wings to make his life miserable. As an added bonus, there were no O.W.L. exams waiting for him at year end, and he actually felt cautiously optimistic that this year might be better than most.

His eyes glimpsed something in flight rise up from the forest a long way off. He followed its path, thinking it might be Hedwig returning, but as it slowly turned and flew away over the lake his eyes returned to the grounds below.

It was then that he caught sight of movement just at the forest entrance, just beyond Hagrid's cabin. Something was emerging from the woods, slowly making its way along the path towards the castle. It was a smallish figure at this distance, but once it emerged from the shadows of the trees and into the moonlight Harry at once realized who it was, the glint from that long pale blonde hair unmistakable.

Luna, Harry realized. What on Earth is she doing? He knew her propensity for taking long walks, but into the Forbidden Forest? In the middle of the night, no less? Didn't she realize the danger she was putting herself in? Even Hagrid never wandered through the forest at night without Fang and his huge crossbow.

He watched her approaching the castle entrance, when he suddenly came to the realization that it was well beyond curfew.

If she gets caught...

He jumped quietly down from the ledge, leaving the window open in case Hedwig should return in his absence. He opened his trunk and quickly fished out his Invisibility Cloak, donning it and slunk silently to the staircase. He could get in trouble himself if caught, but after all, Luna had stood by him without hesitation despite a considerably greater risk a year ago, putting her own life on the line even after Harry had been telling her not to involve herself. But she had, and she'd been surprisingly adept in the face of mortal danger. He resolved that he couldn't just sit by and let her get into trouble.

He descended the spiral stairs as quietly as he could. He ran through the deserted Common Room, through the Fat Lady's portrait, and came out into the main hall. He ran down to the far end, approaching the side corridor that gave access to the courtyard.

As he got closer Harry stopped in his tracks. He could see the shadows of the sconces on the walls veering slightly, a sure sign of a moving light source. He approached the corner cautiously.

He peeked around it, catching sight of the caretaker, Filch, slowly walking away from him, toward the courtyard entrance, lantern held aloft. Doesn't this guy ever sleep?? wondered Harry. He thought furiously. He had to get Filch turned around somehow, and quickly.

He reached into his back pocket and suddenly realized he'd left his wand on his bedside table in his haste. He had no choice now but to be reckless. Luna was bound to come in from the courtyard any moment. He moved into the middle of the adjoining passageway, jumped up as high as he could and landed loudly on his feet.

Filch spun around, his madman's eyes wide as he scanned the passage where Harry was standing.

"Who's there?!" he asked brusquely.

Harry back away, until he turned the corner out of sight of Filch. He made false running noises, stomping his feet hard at first and gradually lighter, trying to give the impression of someone running off in the distance.

He froze as Filch quickly turned the corner and stopped, staring suspiciously down the corridor in the direction of the would-be perpetrator. Harry slowly backed away. Filch was just a few feet from him; accidentally bumping into him now would be disastrous.

Filch slowly advanced down the corridor, forcing Harry backwards, his eyes darting into every nook and cranny of the hallway, looking for some hidden student. Harry kept creeping silently backwards. This isn't going fast enough, he thought. Filch was ambling forward very slowly, evidently listening carefully for any telltale sounds. But at this distance Harry didn't dare make any; Filch was bound to realize the noise was coming from right in front of him.

Filch quickly spun around as he heard footsteps coming from the adjoining corridor. Harry knew at once it was Luna. He looked desperately for a pebble, anything at all he could throw -

"Aha!" Filch exclaimed, his jowls quivering with glee as Luna turned the corner and nearly bumped into him in her reverie, her dazed expression a marked contrast to his.

She slowly looked up at him, as if just realizing someone was standing before her. "Oh, hello," she said vaguely.

"And just what," Filch was practically sputtering, "are you doin' wandering around the halls at this time o' night?"

Luna stared back at him. "Oh, I just went out for a walk," she said dreamily.

"Bah! A likely story!" Filch retorted. "You were up to no good, I reckon. I'd have figured someone from your house would have the brains to avoid breakin' rules. It'll be detention time for you, missy," he said, wagging a gnarled finger at her. "You're that Lovegood kid, ain't ye? The one they call 'Loony'?"

Harry's heart sank. There was nothing he could do now, she was caught. He started to back away when he suddenly realized her large silvery eyes were staring straight at him.

Harry froze. He looked down, finding that his feet were covered. Nothing seemed to be showing. He looked back up at her. She was still looking right at his face.

"Harry?" said Luna, to his horror.

Filch spun around, lantern held aloft. "What?!" He took a step forward and stopped, evidently seeing no one there. He turned quickly back to Luna. "Tryin' to pull a fast one on ol' Filch, eh?" he said angrily. "Thought you'd run away while me back was turned?"

"Are you all right? You look rather odd, what's wrong?" asked Luna, obviously addressing Harry. His anxiety increasing sharply, Harry desperately shook his head, waving his hands back and forth, trying to tell Luna to stop looking at him.

"What are you talkin' about?" asked Filch irately.

Harry was horror struck when he saw Luna walking straight towards him. He backed up quickly, nearly tripping over his cloak, forced as he was to keep it low to the ground to avoid exposing his feet.

"Ay! Just where in blazes do you think you're goin'?!?" bellowed Filch, as Luna stopped in her tracks. Harry froze again. She can see me! he realized, trying desperately to convey his desperate situation with facial gestures and frantic hand waving. Luna continued to stare right at him, when suddenly her large silver eyes widened precipitously.

She spun around and walked back to Filch, to Harry's immense relief. "I was going to finish my walk," she said simply. "It is a rather nice night for it, you know."

"Finish your walk?!" exclaimed Filch angrily. "You think you can jus' go and do what you like? You've just gotten yourself in detention, missy!"

"Oh," said Luna. "Well all right, I suppose we should go ask Professor Flitwick what he'll assign me then, shouldn't we?" She made to go off down the opposite end of the hall, in the direction of the teacher's chambers.

"Not now!" Filch said, "It's bloody past midnight! I'll go see Flitwick first thing in the mornin'. Now you, get back to your dormitory!"

Harry almost jumped as he glimpsed sudden movement at his feet. He looked down to see the grey shape of Filch's cat, Mrs. Norris amble by him. She had heading for Filch and had missed bumping into Harry by inches, but just as she passed by she suddenly stopped and turned around, sniffing the air suspiciously around her.

This isn't good, Harry thought, slowly backing up, careful not to make a sound with the cat being so close to him. Mrs. Norris, however was still advancing on him, her head up in the air, evidently trying to locate the source of Harry's scent.

"What is it, my sweet?" asked Filch, eyeing his cat with interest.

Harry was beginning to panic. He tried shuffling back faster, but she seemed to be cluing in on his movements. She was closing the gap much too quickly.

"She's an adorable little cat," said Luna merrily, scooping up a startled Mrs. Norris and proceeding to stroke her ears. She was turning back towards Filch but still managed a glance at Harry, who thought he detected a playful glint in her eye.

Filch was staring at her with his mouth open. "Wha - "

Harry wasted no time. He started back down the corridor towards the Gryffindor common room. Looking back over his shoulder he could see Filch gesturing to the floor. "Put 'er down!" he blustered. "She's liable to scratch ye eyes out!"

"Oh no," Luna said dreamily. "She wouldn't do that, would you, Mrs. Norris?"

Harry couldn't help but grin as Filch's bellowing receded in the distance. He ran back up the staircase, two steps at a time.