I would be utterly alone in the world--abandoned!--were it not for you, my sweet boy... Draco read the words dutifully; even though they were the same sorts of words his mother had written nearly every day since the first day of school. Her writing was thin and weak on the page, yet each word was perfectly formed from a single unbroken line of ink.
It was very late one night in the start of January, and it was deathly cold. Everyone in the Slytherin common room was bored out of their skulls. Zabini, tossing a series of pebbles across the room, was trying to hit the house elf cleaning the fireplace.
"Think I can get his left arm from here?" Zabini asked Crabbe.
"With no magic? No way," Crabbe said.
"Shall we make a bet?" Zabini asked, flicking his pebble in the air and catching it. "A Galleon says I make it, and it bounces off his arm to hit his nose."
Crabbe grinned, that smug grin of the not-very-clever who think they've got something over on someone. "You're on," he said, nudging Goyle.
Draco looked up from his letter--I don't know what I would do without your strength, darling son--and rolled his eyes. Everyone knew Zabini was a crack shot. Indeed, two seconds later the house elf was rubbing his arm and nose, and apologizing profusely for getting in the way of Zabini's stone.
Crabbe paled and stuck his thick hands into his pockets, pulling them inside out.
"I've only got fourteen Sickles on me," he said, looking to Goyle and Draco for help. "Mum put me on an allowance after the last Hogsmeade outing." He had spent a record amount on Butterbeer. Even Madam Rosmerta had been impressed.
"Don't look to me," Draco said, sniffing. "You made the bet; you have to pay up."
"It's all right. I'm sure we can work something out," Zabini said. He wrinkled his forehead in thought. "Maybe you could..." he suddenly whipped around, a wicked expression on his face. "I know! I'll forget about the Galleon if you raise your hand in Potions tomorrow and ask Snape how to make a love potion."
Draco and Goyle laughed, and Crabbe flushed red.
"It seems fair to me," Draco said, snickering.
The next day, five minutes before the lesson was over, Crabbe raised his hand in Double Potions--with Gryffindor--finally giving in to Zabini and Goyle's relentless egging. Snape blinked in surprise. It was probably the first time Crabbe had ever done so. "Yes?" he said, expectantly.
"Uh, Professor..." Crabbe kept his head down, fixed on his feet. His face was almost purple.
"What is it, Crabbe?" Snape said, frowning. He looked liked he'd eaten something distasteful, and Draco wondered, not for the first time, how Crabbe and Goyle had even qualified for Snape's sixth-year potions class. Perhaps it was Snape's way of showing support for proper wizarding families. Draco knew Snape was indebted to his father, and he was probably sympathetic to his... cause.
"I was, uh, wondering-- uh, howdoyoumakealovepotion?" Crabbe choked out all at once. Zabini coughed and the rest of the class started to chuckle. Draco pinched his nose and tried to keep a straight face.
Snape pursed his lips. "I realize such methods might be your only hope for attracting a mate, Crabbe, but this is a serious classroom. You won't find frivolities like love potions in here."
The entire class--Gryffindors and Slytherins--burst into laughter. Some of the Gryffindors seemed positively delighted that a Slytherin was facing Snape's wrath.
Thus began a series of increasingly inane bets, paid out with increasingly embarrassing dares and pranks. Goyle had to send his underwear attached to a snitch into the Hufflepuff Quidditch practice after losing a game of Exploding Snap. Zabini had to sneak into Moaning Myrtle's toilet and ask if she had any paper to spare after a particularly dramatic naughts and crosses incident.
Finally, Draco was forfeit. He'd lost at wizard chess to Zabini and owed him.
"I think it needs to be really special," Zabini said at dinner. "Seeing as you haven't done anything yet. Let me think... we've got a Hogsmeade weekend in three weeks, right? I say you spend it with the girl of my choice."
Zabini grinned, showing that 'his choice' wasn't going to be Pansy Parkinson. Not that Pansy had said two words to Draco since his father's capture. "It's one thing to have beliefs," she'd said, "but right now I shouldn't be associating with... certain sorts." Draco had gawped at her in shock. She didn't want to be associated with him.
Crabbe and Goyle snorted, only to cut short when Draco glared at them.
"Who d'you mean?" Draco asked, wary. He shot a smirk at Potter's group, just for form's sake. Weasley squinted at him, and Draco's smile grew genuine at the thought of the Weasel worrying he was up to something. "No Gryffindors," he said offhandedly.
Zabini nodded. "It's got to be someone who might actually agree to spend time with you without the Imperius Curse," he said with a laugh. "And you have to make her believe it. You can't tell her it's for a bet."
"Millicent?" Crabbe offered, shrinking away from Draco's violent stare.
"She's in Slytherin! Besides, she'd pound us all if she found out," Zabini said. He tapped his lip with his index finger. "Someone who..." he muttered, glancing around the Hall, ticking off a list of Hogwarts girls. "Too pretty, too nice-- ah!"
"No," Draco said, following his gaze. "Absolutely not."
A lone Ravenclaw was making her way between the large tables. She had a smudge on her face and her wand tucked behind her ear. Her robes were rumpled and her hair hung in long dirty-blonde hanks down her back. Around her neck, she'd strung several butterbeer bottle caps in what appeared to be a parody of a necklace.
"Yes," Zabini said. "It's perfect. You've got a date for Hogsmeade, Malfoy." Crabbe and Goyle guffawed and punched each other on the shoulder.
"You're joking," Draco said, staring at the girl. He felt vaguely ill. "She's--"
"She's Loony Lovegood!" Goyle said, chortling. Draco narrowed his eyes.
"Remember Malfoy, she's got to believe it," Zabini said with a snicker.
The next day, Draco watched and waited. Fifth-year Ravenclaws had Herbology with Gryffindors at the same time sixth-year Slytherins had Care of Magical Creatures, so after the lesson Draco lingered behind, watching the greenhouse.
"You go on," he told Crabbe and Goyle. Zabini followed his gaze to where the Ravenclaws were filing out and grinned. Draco gritted his teeth. He wanted to hit something, preferably Zabini's face.
Luna emerged from the greenhouse clutching a rolled up paper. Her face was marked with several dirty streaks. She pulled what appeared to be a bundle of twigs out of her pocket and stuck it lopsidedly on her head before turning towards the lake.
Draco stared at her ridiculous appearance and swore he would have his vengeance on Zabini if it killed him in the process. Images of Zabini spending his remaining years at Hogwarts in servitude to Draco danced through his head. He smirked; he was going to let Goyle off shoe-polishing duty. Zabini would pay.
Luna was walking slowly, so Draco caught up with her in short time. She was humming tunelessly.
"Lovegood," Draco said behind her. Luna turned and fixed her bug-like eyes on him. She stared at him, open eyed, but said nothing.
"Er, Luna, right?" Draco said.
"You're in Slytherin," Luna said, keeping her eyes trained on Draco's.
"Uh, yes," Draco said, blinking away. "And you're a Ravenclaw. But that's not--"
"Your father's Lucius Malfoy."
Draco felt a cold tightening in his chest. "Yes."
"He was in Azkaban."
Lucius Malfoy, along with his fellow captives, had escaped from the wizard prison easily without the terror of the Dementors to stop them. Draco and his mother hadn't heard a word from him since, not even an owl to say he was still alive. Her regular letters to Draco were filled with speculation and worry.
"Would you like to point anything else out?" Draco snapped. "The sky is blue and the ground is cold, you know."
Luna stared. "Did you want something?"
"I--" Draco frowned. She had thrown him off, and that disturbed him. "There's a Hogsmeade outing in three weeks... are you going?" He groaned internally. Are you going, indeed.
"Yes." Luna said. Didn't her eyes dry out, never blinking?
"Well, uh, I would like to escort you," Draco said. When in doubt, fall back on the formal, as his mother always said.
Luna finally blinked, slowly and deliberately. "No," she said. "You hate Ronald and Harry, and they're my friends."
Draco's faced flushed. "Well I don't hate you," he said. Of course she was friends with Potter and Weasley. Was there anyone in the school who wasn't indoctrinated in the Cult of Potter?
Luna seemed to consider this. "All the same, I- I'm saying no."
"No. I've got to be going," she said, waving her hand vaguely and walking away.
Draco opened and closed his mouth twice, like a fish. She'd turned him down--what was he going to do now? Zabini would have a field day.
"Where are you going?" he said, jogging to catch up. She flinched and looked annoyed.
"Today is the last day to see the Night-glowing Bumbles. I'm going to look for one."
"Bum- the what?"
"Night-glowing Bumbles. Epiphytic Luminaria Levitatum. If you stand under one when it bursts and make a wish, it'll be granted within a year." Luna adjusted the bird's nest atop her head. Draco snorted.
"Where did you hear that load of rubbish? Trelawney's class?"
Luna straightened her back and faced Draco head on. "There was a special feature last week," she said, offering the wrinkled paper she held to him.
He laughed. "The Quibbler? Surely you don't--" he stopped short, noticing her hard expression. "But you're in Ravenclaw. You should know better...." He dropped his gaze to the paper, immediately noticing the name 'Lovegood' on the masthead. "Oh. Right." Inwardly, he berated himself: he knew who her father was; his father had made sure of it the first year she attended Hogwarts. How had it slipped his mind? Roughly opening the paper, he scanned for the special feature. "Three Days to your Heart's Desire," read the large headline.
Rural wizards have long considered the Night-glowing Bumble a yearly nuisance to be dealt with severely, as with gnomes and doxies. But are the bulbous berries barely bearable, as official Ministry dogma would have you believe, or are they something MORE?
Quibbler sources say the Bumbles (long noted for their metamorphosis from lowly berry-bearing vine, clinging to any tree or shrub that will sustain them, to airborne fairy-kite, winding whimsically with the winter winds, seeking the high nest of the stickle-beaked whistling sparrow) in fact can make your DEEPEST DESIRE come true.
"It's absolutely true," says Lysistrada Lyon, 34. "My husband and I were out walking when we got caught in a shower of Bumble seeds. I had just been thinking how I wished I could have a romantic holiday--you know, someplace warm and lovely? Well, within six months Archie'd run off with Delphinium Deagle from up the road and I'd met my Lorenzo. We're going to Greece next month."
"Of course you'll get something you wished for before a year's out," Draco said, snorting in disgust. There were at least seven more paragraphs of that drivel. "This is hardly proof. If these plants are so incredible, why aren't they used in any potions? Why hasn't Sprout mentioned them in any classes?"
"Well, they can't make everyone's wishes come true, can they?" Luna said. "What would happen if someone wanted you to get a huge spot on your nose, and the thing you most wanted was not to have a spot?" She smiled as if that settled things.
"That doesn't make any-- wait up," Draco said. Luna had turned back up the path, dismissing him. "How do you find them?"
Luna stopped and fingered her silly necklace. "You look for them."
Draco opened the Quibbler again and scanned the article. There was a small, crudely drawn illustration at the end, depicting what looked like a glowing gooseberry. Suddenly Luna veered off the path towards a small thicket. Draco followed, pulling his robe up and away from the icy mud. Luna hadn't looked back once.
"What are you going to wish for?" he asked, brushing a branch out of the way. Luna glanced at him.
"That's rather personal, isn't it?" she said, coming to a halt in a small clearing. "Why are you still here?"
"I told you." Draco couldn't even bring himself to say it out loud again. She was Ravenclaw; she would know what he meant. She didn't say anything in reply; instead she squatted down and focused her gaze on a muddy tangle of weeds at the base of a large evergreen.
"What are you looking at?" he said, squinting at the tree. There was a small vine winding around the trunk, with a few sparse berries. Luna stared at it as if expecting it to do something.
"Shh," she said.
Draco wrinkled his nose at the filth and remained standing. They waited in silence for what seemed like an eternity, the soft lapping of the lake the only sound. It was actually rather enjoyable, not having Crabbe and Goyle around looking to him for orders every other second. Eventually Draco yawned noisily and opened his mouth to speak. "Dinner should be--"
"Shh. Look!" Luna said, waving her hands to shush him. "I think that's one!" She adjusted the bundle of straw and sticks on her head. "It's supposed to resemble the nest of the--"
"Stickle-beaked whistling sparrow?" Draco said, raising an eyebrow. Luna looked surprised; she actually blinked twice. She opened her mouth to reply when they heard a soft crackling noise.
The berries on the vine were expanding like balloons. Their papery outer skins stretched tight, while the greenish flesh within glowed like fairy lights. After a moment, the wind picked one up and it released from the vine with a snap, tossing ungracefully to and fro.
"Here it comes," Luna said, smiling widely.
"It's not... dangerous, is it?" Draco said, adjusting his robe. The Bumble floated towards them, finally hovering briefly before exploding with a damp pop. Draco ducked, but it was too late; he and Luna were covered with a shower of tiny seeds.
"Ugh," Draco said, brushing his sleeves. The seeds were coated in some kind of slime and they stuck to his hands. Luna's hair was full of them. "This is what you were waiting for?"
Luna looked at him and smiled. Three Bumble seeds were stuck to her cheek below her right eye, and the nest on her head was filled with them. The seeds retained their greenish glow and the effect was ghostly, yet she looked remarkably happy; it stopped Draco short for a moment. People didn't often look happy--truly happy--in front of him. He shook his head and felt several seeds fly to the ground.
"What am I doing here?" he said under his breath. "Good luck with your wishes," he told Luna harshly before turning away. He walked straight away, not looking back once.
It didn't occur to him to make a wish.
"You!" Draco yelled, pointing at Zabini across the Slytherin common room. "You have to pick someone else. She- she's practically a Gryffindor, and her father publishes the Quibbler. The Quibbler. No bet is worth this." He could feel his face growing red and his hair flopped forward out of its usual slicked perfection. A faintly glowing Bumble seed fell down and stuck to the toe of his shoe.
"What's the problem, Malfoy? Can't charm a fifth-year?" Zabini was all smiles. "Do you want to give in?"
Draco frowned. It wouldn't do to have Zabini crowing that he had set a task Draco Malfoy couldn't fulfill. People would talk, and talk had a way of lingering long after the fact.
"No. I was simply pointing out that the girl you've chosen is close to Gryffindors, like Potter and Weasel," he said, "and we agreed on no Gryffindors."
"But she's not a Gryffindor. Surely you ought to be able to appeal to her logic." If Zabini didn't stop smirking, Draco thought, he was going to make him stop.
"That might make sense," he said, nodding, "if her nickname wasn't based in bloody fact! The girl ought to be in St. Mungo's. Do you know what she thinks--" he cut off, exhaling slowly. He had to keep his temper. With his father exposed and missing, Draco's power over his fellow students had been severely diminished. No one was openly contesting it, one could never tell when power might shift in his favor again, but it wasn't just simpering nitwits like Pansy who were drawing away from him now. It was disconcerting to say the least, and Draco wanted more than anything for the balance of power within Slytherin to return to its normal state, in which the name 'Malfoy' didn't incur pitying glances. Fear, hatred, anger--anything would be better than pity. He wanted things to be like they were, before.
Zabini motioned to Crabbe and Goyle, lurking by the fireplace. "What say we get a little side bet going?" he said, quirking his head at Draco. "You two want to back your boy? I'll wager she doesn't say two words to him come Hogsmeade weekend."
Goyle looked at Crabbe, worry showing plainly on his face.
"They'll take that bet," Draco said, determined to make Zabini swallow his smug confidence. A plan was beginning to form in his mind. He would appeal to her logic all right. Without another word, he left, walking faster with every step. He'd tell her he wished she would go with him--if she really believed her father's rag, she'd have to go. Grinning, he rubbed his hands on his robes. The Bumble seed slime had thickened to a sort of sticky glue. A long bath in the prefect's bathroom would take care of that. He'd feel like himself again.
It was almost a week before he could put his plan into action.
The day after talking to Luna at the lake, Draco had waited for her outside History of Magic, but she wasn't there. He'd accosted a skinny Ravenclaw boy and asked about her, but the boy had shrugged and said, "Maybe she skived off." He saw her the next day after Defense Against the Dark Arts, but she was talking to the Weasel's little sister so he turned the other way. The day after that, he had Quidditch practice and didn't think about looking for her.
Finally, he saw her on the seventh floor after dinner and followed her. "Luna," he said, stopping her in front of the hideous troll tapestry. She turned her unblinking eyes on him.
"Dra-co Mal-foy," she said, pronouncing each syllable distinctly.
"Yes, yes," he said hurriedly, "look, you've got to go to Hogsmeade with me--it's what I wished for."
She cocked her head to the side. "I don't believe you."
"What?" Draco clenched his fist. This girl was impossible. How she got sorted into Ravenclaw--
"Get away from her, Malfoy." Draco cringed inwardly--of all the things to happen--and turned. Potter and Weasley were standing behind him, holding their wands. Weasley's little sister was running up the hallway towards them.
"Is he bothering you?" Potter asked Luna.
Luna paused, as if she was pondering it. "Not really," she said. "He was asking me on a date to Hogsmeade."
"What?!" Potter and the two Weasleys said in unison. Draco suddenly realized he was alone with the Gryffindors.
"He said he wished on a shower of Night-glowing Bumble seeds that I would go with him," Luna said, smiling at Ron. "Hello, Ronald."
"What are you up to, Malfoy?" Harry asked, gripping his wand tightly.
Draco forced his face into his usual calm--some would say haughty--expression. He had a choice to make: deny Luna's ridiculous though lamentably true ascertainment, or confirm it either with a statement or with silence. If he denied it, he'd lose his chance and Zabini would hold it over him for the rest of the year.
"Do you think everything in this school revolves around you, Potter?" he said skirting the issue. Holding his head high, he said, "Lovegood," nodding to Luna and walked slowly away from their group.
"Luna, Malfoy's up to something," he heard Ginny say.
"Yes... because it'd be impossible for it to be anything else," Luna replied dryly. Draco turned the corner towards the stairs, a smile threatening to crack his lips. Maybe the situation wasn't hopeless after all--she liked impossible things.
The first hint that something was wrong came the next morning when Pansy approached Draco after breakfast. "I know you must be upset, what with your father getting caught and losing me, but really, try not to embarrass me by taking up with someone so obviously sub-par," she told him briskly.
Draco stared at her, unsure what she was talking about for a few seconds before he remembered. "That's odd, Parkinson," he said, emphasizing the name.
"What?" Pansy said.
"I never noticed what a stupid cow you are. I'll remember that when things change," he said, taking a cheap pleasure in watching her face go pale.
He didn't think about it again until he overheard three Ravenclaw fifth years huddled together outside Transfiguration. "I saw them--he followed her out to the lake after Herbology last week," one of them was telling the others. Draco halted his progress down the hall and listened from around the corner.
"I think it's a good match," said another, sniffing. "Slytherin and Ravenclaw, that is. Ambition and intelligence complement each other."
"You're only saying that because you've been snogging Miles Bletchley in the broom shed," said the first speaker. "Besides, Lovegood and Malfoy as intelligence and ambition? More like lunacy and family shame, if you ask me."
"Those go together as well," piped up the third girl. The other two laughed and Draco heard them walking away. This wasn't good. A private prank within his group was one thing; being the focus of public gossip was another. And who did that bitch think she was, saying that thing about 'family shame'? When his father came back, things were going to be different; they were going to be like they were. He just wanted things to be like they were, when 'Malfoy' was synonymous with 'power.'
He had to settle this and do it fast.
Unfortunately, word of his interest in Luna spread quickly. A gang of Slytherin third years cut their giggling short as soon as Draco entered the common room. A Ravenclaw sixth year, nudged out of his group by his laughing friends, asked him if he couldn't buy his girlfriend any nicer jewelry. It was after advanced Transfiguration, which Crabbe and Goyle hadn't had the OWLs to get into, so Draco settled for a snort and a cutting remark.
Every time Draco was about to catch Luna alone, one of her Gryffindor chums came along and blocked his efforts. Each day more students cast curious glances his way, as if he were an exotic animal in a cage. Finally, it was the Friday before Hogsmeade weekend. He still hadn't spoken to Luna, and he didn't seem likely to. After enduring Zabini's jabs through supper, Draco threw his broom over his shoulder and headed towards the Quidditch pitch. A bit of flying in the night air was exactly what he wanted.
The full moon illuminated the pitch and the air was cold, but not icy. Draco felt better the moment he left the ground. He practiced feints and dives, and a maneuver of his own invention, one that involved diving under the opposing Seeker and turning up at a 90-degree angle to capture the Snitch. It relied on speed and accuracy, and was highly dangerous--it could possibly throw both Seekers off their brooms. Draco scowled. He'd probably get blamed for trying to throw Potter, he thought, flying into a long dive. He almost didn't pull up in time as he noticed a figure on the pitch, directly in his path. It was Luna.
"Lovegood," Draco said, coming to a soft landing beside her.
"Why do you want me to spend the day with you tomorrow?" Luna said in a tone that was almost direct.
Draco wiped the sweat from his forehead and considered her question. It was too late anyway, he might as well tell her the truth. "It's for a bet," he said. "Sorry." He struggled to make the word sound sincere, rather than sarcastic or sharp.
"Did you really make a wish that day?" Luna said, looking up at the moon dreamily.
"No-- but I could have," Draco said.
Luna nodded. "You were covered with the Bumble seeds. They were all over." She tugged on her bottle cap necklace. Draco waited for her to continue.
"And?" he finally said.
"So, you were an eyewitness," Luna said as if it were obvious.
"An eyewitness to what? A weed attempting to reproduce?" Draco had a terrible feeling about where she was going.
"An epiphyte, actually," she said somewhat wistfully.
"The Bumbles. They're epiphytes. They grow on trees, but don't get nutrients from them. Like orchids." She paused and fingered her necklace dreamily. "I'm going to talk to one of Daddy's reporters tomorrow at the Three Broomsticks...."
"Oh," Draco said.
"You could come along if you like," Luna added, looking at him with curiosity, as if she thought he didn't understand what she was getting at.
The next day Luna vaguely made her way from the carriages at Hogsmeade and Draco vaguely followed her, shooting a smirk at Zabini as he passed. The Weasley brat looked at them in surprise, but her latest conquest distracted her by picking her up and twirling her around.
In the Three Broomsticks, Luna walked straight to a small table in the corner, where a thin and sickly looking witch was sitting. "I- I- I- I'm- uh, hello, Luna," she said, rising. "A- a- and your friend is?"
"This is Dra- a student from Hogwarts," Luna said, sitting down. "He's an eyewitness, not a friend."
"Oh!" the witch said, smiling. "How wonderful! I- I- I'm- er, Amaryllis Aethelwulf, from the Quibbler. Luna's father is doing such important work, you know, but he couldn't do it without people like you!" She pulled out a scroll and bedraggled quill and looked at them expectantly.
Draco bit his tongue and half-listened as Luna told her all about the Bumbles. Crabbe and Goyle were watching from the opposite corner with oafish delight. Of course they were happy; they'd won their bet. Zabini was nowhere to be seen. Neither were Potter and his gang. Draco's mind slipped to the letter he'd opened in the morning. I miss you with every passing second, his mother had written. Your father will come back to us. He must. If he does not, you will be all I have left.
"And does your friend have anything to add?" Amaryllis asked, pulling Draco out of his thoughts.
"That's about it," Draco said, taking a long gulp of butterbeer. If his father knew he was spending the afternoon talking to a Quibbler reporter.... The very thought made his stomach queasy.
"Wonderful," Amaryllis said, clapping her bony hands together. " Oh," she gasped, holding her clasped hands over her heart, "Luna, your father is so proud of you f- f- for er, y- y- y- you know--"
Yes," Luna said serenely. "I know."
Amaryllis nodded, her eyes shining. "Of course, your father has always known the Ministry has dirty fingers, but to think of Fudge actually consorting with Death Eaters: it boggles the mind!" Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "L- Lucius Malfoy's son attends Hogwarts, doesn't he?"
"Ah... tell me, has Daddy learnt anything new about Fudge's Heliopaths?" Luna said, interrupting Amaryllis and picking up her and Draco's butterbeer caps from the table.
Draco suppressed a smirk. Was she covering for him? For a moment, he imagined what would happen if he told this dunderheaded reporter who he was. Maybe he'd even tell her what he knew about his father: he could tell her everything, from overheard whispered meetings to stern lessons on appearance versus actuality. What a front-page story that would make, Draco thought with a secret jolt of glee. It would be almost as sensational as Potter's interview last year. Almost, but not quite. His father would come back and set things to right, and then things would be like they were. He wasn't going to do anything to keep that from happening.
He frowned and kept his mouth shut.
After, Draco followed Luna as she wandered aimlessly through the town. He wondered how long he had to spend in her company to satisfy the requirements of the bet. She didn't seem inclined towards conversation, but she didn't tell him to sod off, either. Finally, as they walked in the direction of the Shrieking Shack, Draco asked, "Why didn't you tell her who I was?"
"I did," Luna said patiently. "I said you were a student at Hogwarts and an eyewitness."
"Yes, but--" Draco stopped abruptly. Why did he care about this?
"I suppose I didn't think you'd want to talk about, er, family matters." Luna said, coming to a halt and leaning against a fence post.
Draco snorted and looked at her wide, strange eyes. He blinked twice and laughed, a short bark. As soon as it was out, he couldn't stop himself. He laughed until he bent over from the effort.
"You-- didn't think I'd-- family matters--" he choked out, brushing a laughter-induced tear from his eye. "As an understatement," he said, shaking his head, "that'll do."
Luna had watched his outburst with a detached curiosity and now let her mouth curl in a small smile.
"You don't have to be like him," she said quietly. Draco stilled and looked at her evenly.
"Don't I?" he said, leaning against the fence next to her and looking out at the large field it enclosed. "What about you? You're one to talk about family resemblances."
"That's different--" Luna started.
"Is it?" Draco snapped, cutting her off. "You're in bloody Ravenclaw. You're intelligent, but you go about spouting all that Quibbler nonsense. Tell me you'd give half that stuff a second thought if your father wasn't the editor." Luna's expression went from her usual dreamy gaze to sharp in an instant. She opened her mouth to speak, but Draco was on a roll. "Everything's set out on the first day," he continued, gripping the fence railing tightly. "Not clever enough for Ravenclaw, not brave enough for Gryffindor, sure disownment if you get Hufflepuff, so it'd better be Slytherin. Repeat, ad infinitum, from father to son." Draco exhaled. He'd never said anything like that out loud before.
He risked a glance at Luna, who had resumed her stance of quiet curiosity. In the winter air, her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright. She wouldn't be half bad, he thought, if she paid a little more attention to her hair and clothing. She observed him like he was a strange Herbology specimen. Finally she said, "Is that what your father thinks?"
Wrinkling his nose, Draco looked away. "It doesn't matter."
"Right," she said, climbing on the first railing of the fence next to Draco and leaning over, looking out at the field. "Do you think we'll see a Bright-nosed Slump hen? Supposedly this is peak mating dance season." She turned her head to look at Draco expectantly.
He laughed and noticed the curve of her mouth. A thought came to him that was so strange he had to chuckle again. Really, it wasn't so strange when he stacked it against everything that had happened in the past weeks. He tilted his head and she didn't move away, so he leaned closer and touched his lips to hers lightly in a soft peck. She pulled back and licked her lips experimentally.
"Have you done that before?" she asked.
"Of course," he said quickly. What did she think? He was sixteen, after all, and Pansy had never been a shy girl. Luna touched her mouth with her fingertips and it struck him: she hadn't done that before. "There's loads more," he said, bumping her shoulder with his and grinning.
She looked up at him with her curious, intelligent, utterly Ravenclaw eyes and licked her lips again. "Interesting," she said. "But I don't even think of you--"
Draco shrugged. "That's all right," he said, and leaned in for another kiss, a longer, firmer one this time. When he broke the kiss to get a better angle, he saw that she kept her eyes open. The next time he kissed her, she parted her mouth and let him touch her tongue with his. She gasped and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him close as she opened her mouth more and licked inside his. It was extraordinarily pleasant.
After a few moments, Draco drew back, brushing her hair out of the way. Luna's mouth was wet and red and she very nearly looked pretty. She had the same expression on her face that she'd had weeks before, when she was covered in sticky Bumble seeds but happy nonetheless. It was a special kind of happiness--a vindicated happiness. Before he could question her, she sprang off the fence. Someone was calling Draco's name.
"Damn," Draco said. "I've got to go help get the carriages loaded. Prefect, you know." Luna nodded and started walking back. "Meet me?" Draco asked impulsively. "After dinner, by the lake?"
Luna considered. "All right," she said. They ran back into town, splitting apart before anyone saw them, as if by silent agreement.
Draco felt good and pleasantly anticipated their meeting for almost an hour before doubt began to creep into his mind.
"Well, Malfoy?" Zabini asked for what seemed like the five thousandth time. Draco took a last bite of his potato, steadfastly ignoring Zabini's questions and Crabbe and Goyle's stares. It gave him a small feeling of power, like he knew something they didn't. He'd caught a glimpse of Luna at the Ravenclaw table, talking to that Weasley girl. Neither one looked very pleased.
"You and Loony disappeared on us today..." Zabini said, trailing off as Draco's large owl came swooping in to drop a small letter in Draco's lap.
Draco closed his eyes briefly. It was yet another letter from his mother--now she was writing him twice per day? He cracked the seal and read, holding it away from the others.
Today I walked in the gardens, Draco darling, and I imagined your father walking with me. I turned to him and said, "Lucius, I've had the oddest dream." He took my hand gently and said, "But it was only a dream, Narcissa. Only a dream." Oh, Draco... he will come back to us, won't he? He will come back and things will be as they were.
Draco crumpled the letter in his fist and stood to leave. As they were. The phrase rang in his mind. He felt like laughing or punching something with all his might. Or both at once.
Zabini stood to follow Draco out of the Great Hall, seemingly determined to be as annoying as possible. "You didn't have to compromise your virtue with the girl," he said, giving Goyle a nudge and smirking at Crabbe. "I know Pansy's gone off you, but surely you aren't reduced to scraping that low--"
"You might want to bite that tongue of yours," Draco said, whipping around to face Zabini, his wand drawn. "Before someone hexes it off."
Zabini scoffed. "What's got in to you? You haven't gone and decided you like her, have you?" Draco's wand hand wavered and he lowered it slowly, turning to walk away. "Could it be we've met the future Mrs. Malfoy?" Zabini called after him, a weak bit of humor that reduced Crabbe and Goyle to howls and guffaws.
Draco clenched his fist around his wand and aimed it before Zabini could tell what he planned.
"Expelliarmus!" he said, sending Zabini's wand across the hallway. Anger coursed through him. Things had gone on too long, he thought. If 'Lucius Malfoy' was no longer a name to strike fear by its very utterance, perhaps it was time to make 'Draco Malfoy' stand on its own. Things weren't ever going to be like they were; they were going to be better.
He advanced on Zabini, aiming his wand precisely. "Stupefy!" he said, knocking him to the floor.
"I'm done with stupid pranks," he said, waving his hands to include Crabbe and Goyle. "If you all want to act like children, go right ahead. I've got a letter to write."
With that, he stomped away. He felt energetic and incredibly powerful. He stopped in the Slytherin quarters to fetch his writing materials. He couldn't meet Luna, not now, not when he was feeling like this, finally strong again, finally sure. She wasn't stupid; she'd understand. Instead, he walked to the Library, where he would be able to collect his thoughts.
The Library was practically empty, but Draco wanted a quiet, out of the way table. Walking around a corner, he heard the scratching of a quill and the crinkle of pages turning. He stopped in shock, his eyes lighting on the figure at the table in the farthest corner: it was Luna. She wasn't out at the lake, in the dark. She-- she had stood him up.
Quickly, before she looked up, Draco ducked out of the way. He was miffed that she hadn't gone to meet him, but he knew it was for the best. 'Lovegood' didn't have nearly the same ring as 'Malfoy.' Creeping away, he wondered briefly what she had wished for that strange afternoon.
Eventually, he found an empty classroom and sat down at a desk. Dear Mother, he wrote, carefully forming each word with his quill, I am tired of the childish games here at school. I am strong--strong enough for whatever may come.