Chapter Nine - Deliverance

Luna immediately opened her mouth to scream for Harry, but Avery brusquely hissed, "One word and these mirrors move in to crush him. Your choice."

Luna shut her mouth. She looked at him helplessly, with a combination of fear and apology. Avery stared back at her for a long moment, his face twisted with rage… and hurt… before tightening his grip on her arm and tugging her along through the maze after him. Angry Averys were reflected all around her, each furious and shaking in their wrath.

Luna was too afraid of his threat to hurt Harry to make a sound. When he lifted his wand and pointed it at one of the mirrors, making it easily slid aside to reveal a long, empty hallway, she let him pull her through without so much as a whimper.

"What are you going to do?" Luna asked weakly when the mirror slid shut behind them and vanished, but Avery didn't answer. He proceeded to tug her down the hall, towards the twisting staircase at the end. When they reached the bottom step, he finally spoke.

"I thought you loved me. I thought you wanted to be with me." At these words, his grip tightened on her arm.

"Stop it! You're hurting me."

"Good. You deserve it. You're no better than her. Worse, because you actually made me believe you cared. That I had a chance to be loved. Once in my life, and you destroyed that. Congratulations."

Luna gaped at him, mouth open, disbelieving. "I did love you. I trusted you. But you betrayed me."

Avery didn't answer, and continued dragging her up the stairs. Luna tried to resist. She caught the edges of the steps with her feet and held onto the railing with her free arm, but her resistance was no more than a nuisance to Avery, who pulled her along as if she weighed no more than a pillow.

"Where are we going?" she gasped.

"To your room. Yes, your room," he repeated, turning to look at her fiercely, "where you are going to stay until you learn a little respect for the man who rescued you from the world."

"Let me go," Luna cried, and Avery complied, perhaps surprised by the force in her voice. He released her beside the little balcony overlooking the library, and she stepped away from him, breathing heavily, while he stared at her with furrowed brow.

"How dare you," she said, shaking with fury. "Rescued me? Who stole me away from Hogwarts? Who's keeping me here prisoner? I don't remember ever agreeing to come with you, least of all stay. Is that something one does to someone they claim to love?"

"I rescued you," Avery repeated firmly. "The world doesn't want us. It doesn't want you. Or have you forgotten all those times you wrote to me about how you never fit in at Hogwarts? How you often wished you could escape and go somewhere you belonged? What have I ever done but give you everything you wanted?"

Luna was silent for a minute. She could see by the look in his eyes that, in his mind, Avery didn't believe he'd done anything wrong. She had written those things to him. And at the time, she had meant every word.

"It's true. I did say those things," she whispered, wincing to see him fold his arms and smirk. But she wasn't finished.

"I spent most of my time at school in a dream," she continued slowly, "because I guess it was safer living in my head than in the outer world. And you weren't real. You were just someone on paper I could confess my feelings to, like a diary. I did write that I wanted to see you, but that was because I trusted you. I wanted to believe in you, as a friend. But I do have friends at school, real friends who care about me, and if you don't let me go back to them..."

"What, dear girl, what are your little friends going to do? I don't see any of them knocking down my door," Avery sneered, his eyes narrowed.

"Harry…"

"Potter is a fool," Avery said, waving an arm, dismissing him. "That's a different matter. I dare say he'd try to save his worst enemy if the chance came. Although he does have a school-boy crush on you…" Avery's chin quivered. "But he doesn't understand that you and I…"

"Are meant to be together? Just because you had a thing for my mother years ago?" Luna demanded. "And people accuse me of being loony!"

"That's enough." Avery's face darkened. "Don't speak of things you don't understand. You're coming with me now."

"No!" Luna fought back when he reached for her this time. "I won't. I'm not your possession. I hate you!" And with that, she pushed him as hard as she could away from her, not wanting him to touch her again.

Avery's eyes widened in surprise. He stumbled backwards and hit the balcony railing behind him. And with a sudden crack, unable to withstand his momentum or weight, it fell away. Avery started to fall.

Luna didn't think. She let out a cry and rushed forward, reaching for him. His hands groped wildly in the air. But just at the second he could have grabbed her hands and steadied himself, he looked up at her face and something flickered through his eyes. With a strange smile, Avery clenched his fists and pulled them away from her.

He fell.

Luna never knew afterwards how long she spent collapsed against the floor of the hallway, looking down into the library below at Avery's body sprawled on the carpet. His neck was twisted beneath him and yet his lips were curved, smiling up at her. His eyes were glassy, dead. Gone. She stared, unable to look away.

She only knew that sometime later Harry was beside her, tugging at her arms, insisting. "Come on," he urged quietly. "We have to get out of here."

"He fell," Luna explained, looking down at Avery.

"It's okay. It wasn't your fault."

"I pushed him." Luna's eyes stared to tear at that admission. Her shock was wearing away and she started to feel the horror of what had happened. Avery had fallen because of her. Dead… because of her.

"It was an accident," Harry repeated quietly, reassuringly. "We have to go. Luna, please."

But Luna didn't move. She couldn't tear her eyes away from Avery, lying so still below. Avery whom she had been talking to only moments ago. He had been so alive, his cheeks flushed with anger and emotion. Not now.

"Luna," Harry tried one more time, worried.

She didn't move.

0 0 0

"It was a very brave thing you did," Dumbledore said quietly. "Although I wouldn't expect anything less of you, you do know that the best action would have been to come see me immediately."

Harry was slumped in a chair before Dumbledore's desk, yet again in his office. He looked around, vaguely noticing that everything he had smashed the previous year after Sirius' death had been repaired. The pain he had felt then was still raw in his heart, but at the moment he was more worried about what Luna was feeling after the death of someone she truly had cared for - at, she believed, her own hands.

"Avery's death was an unfortunate accident," Dumbledore started carefully, sensing the direction of his thoughts. "Miss Lovegood will, in time, realize that."

"What's the difference? One less Death Eater to worry about!" Harry burst angrily. The mention of Avery's name still made his blood boil.

"Do you really believe that?" Dumbledore asked quietly, his blue eyes regarding Harry over his half-moon glasses. Harry squirmed in his chair under the heavy gaze. No, of course he didn't. He never would wish anyone dead (with the obvious exception of Voldemort). But he couldn't forgive the man for what he did to Luna just because he happened to no longer be alive.

"I partly blame myself, of course," Dumbledore continued gravely, and Harry looked at him in surprise, wondering how on earth the headmaster could take this upon himself. "You see, I remember young Mr. Avery when he was at school, and his…" He paused, searching for a way to put it delicately. "…interest in Miss Diana Forth, Luna's mother. When the letters and presents started, I should have taken more notice. I should have remembered…"

"How could you have known?" Harry asked, bewildered.

Dumbledore smiled, although his eyes were troubled. "The flowers. Miss Forth never knew who sent them to her week after week, but I have my own ways of finding out what goes on in this castle." Harry's eyes flickered over to the portraits of the former headmasters on the wall, who were watching eagerly and nodding. Noticing his gaze, they quickly turned away.

"He never had the courage to go further than send her secret messages. I never imagined that after all these years… And Miss Lovegood does look very much like Diana." Dumbledore broke off and shook his head.

"He was crazy," Harry said bluntly, feeling that explained everything.

"And yet I cannot help but feel extraordinarily sorry for him. Can you?" Harry shrugged, but felt very uncomfortable. He didn't want to feel anything for Avery - he wouldn't let himself. And anyway, it wasn't Avery he wanted to discuss.

"How is she? Luna?" Harry mumbled, feeling his cheeks redden slightly. Dumbledore looked him over carefully, looking surprised.

"I assume you have been to see her in the hospital wing?"

"She… she doesn't want to see me." Harry shut his mouth firmly. It hurt to say it out loud.

"Ah." There was not so much as a twinkle in those blue eyes. "She is doing as well as can be expected. But I believe that she has extraordinary healing powers, and she will recover. She just needs a few days to herself. I want to keep her safe from the questions of the other students until she is ready to face them." Dumbledore was silent for a minute, and then added, "I wouldn't take it personally. I doubt she feels much like seeing anyone."

Harry frowned, wrestling with his thoughts. "I think… I think maybe she blames me for it," he said carefully, looking up at Dumbledore guiltily. "If I hadn't gone and screwed things up… you're right, I should have come to you first…"

"No." Dumbledore looked for a moment like he wanted to reach across his desk and touch Harry's hand, but simply shook his head. "We cannot always see what the consequences of our actions will be, and there is little use trying. You did what you thought was right, and I somehow think that either way the night could not have ended well. You did nothing wrong."

Harry shrugged, feeling little comfort from this. For it mattered very little what Dumbledore thought… and everything what Luna did. And the truth was that she didn't want to see him, and maybe never would.

0 0 0

Luna stood on a hill, surrounded by all the richest wildflowers of spring. A rainbow of colors blanketed the hill and spread out into the distance as far as she could strain her eyes. All this color - it reminded her of something…

But it didn't matter, standing here under the sunshine, basking in the warmth of day. She was waiting, and content to wait forever if it came to that.

A hand slipped into hers. "You know, you can smell the sea from here if you close your eyes," he said, and Luna turned with a smile.

"What is it like?"

He paused. "Endless, deep. Dark."

She sighed contentedly, and hummed at the passing clouds. "I should like to see it with you."

Horrible laughter followed this and Luna frowned at him in confusion. His smile was no longer mild, but grim.

"I would have taken you anywhere. To the sea and beyond death. But you sent me there first."

And no longer was his face there smiling at her, but a grinning skull perched upon a bloated body. Luna dropped his hand and backed up a few steps, a scream choked in her throat. A long skeletal arm reached for her and then Luna was falling - falling, like Avery had - down the hill and into the abyss that waited below. All at once her throat cleared and Luna was able to scream and scream…

…And she sat up with a sharp cry. Luna trembled and covered her eyes, but couldn't blot out the horrible image of the grinning skull Avery watching her fall and laughing. She shivered uncontrollably, not knowing where she was, not caring. The dark gaping eyes of the skull followed her even when she was awake.

"Luna!"

At her name, Luna lowered her hands and looked around warily to see a white-faced Ginny. Of course - she was at Hogwarts, in the hospital wing, and Ginny had come to visit her, as she had nearly every day since the terrible accident. With full remembrance upon her, Luna's eyes started to fill and with a panicked look, Ginny dumped her books on the nearest empty bed and came to sit beside Luna. She took her shaking hands and squeezed them gently.

"Was it another dream?" she asked anxiously and Luna nodded.

"He'll never let me free. Even dead, he haunts me," she whispered and Ginny shook her head fiercely.

"It's only a dream," she said consolingly, "and no wonder! After what you've been through."

"What I've been through?" Luna echoed numbly. "I killed him."

"An accident," Ginny insisted firmly, much as Harry had done. Luna bit her lip. Thinking about Harry hurt as well. "No one blames you," Ginny continued slowly, but Luna shook her head.

"I know. But I do, and that's enough." She didn't want to talk about Avery.

Ginny seemed to sense the direction of her thoughts. "You know," she started carefully, "Harry misses you. We all do. It would mean everything to him if you let him come see you…"

Luna's blood rushed hot and cold. "How could I?" she cried and Ginny blinked her surprise.

"Then he's right," she said with slightly narrowed eyes. "You've somehow worked it in your mind that this is all his fault?"

"No. No, of course not. It's only… how can I face him after what happened? It's all my fault, everything. If I hadn't been so stupid, I never would have put him in danger. I can't see him knowing what I did. On one hand… Avery is dead. But if he lived, he would have kill Harry, or turned him over to You-Know-Who. I know that. And knowing what could have happened, why would Harry ever want to see me?"

Luna's eyes were filled with tears after this, and thus was doubly surprised when Ginny burst out laughing. Her tears turned to anger and then confusion as Ginny hiccupped and waved her hand.

"I'm sorry," she gasped. "It's just… the both of you! Each blaming the other for something neither of you could have prevented or helped. You're both being so stupid!"

Luna blinked. "He thinks… I blame him?"

"Yes! Haven't I told you before? Oh well." Ginny waved another hand, grinning impishly. "Now you know. The question is, what are you going to do about it? I think yours is the next move. Oops, I'm going to be late to Potions!" And with that, Ginny, smiled and hurried out of the room with Luna staring wide-eyed after her, wondering.

0 0 0

"You need to let her go, mate. There's nothing else you can do about it," Ron said, biting into a vibrantly red apple.

"He's right, Harry," Hermione piped in sympathetically. "You've done all you can."

"It's better, anyway, to drop it now," Ron said, his voice muffled among bits of chewed apple, "before everyone finds out you're in love with Loony Lovegood."

Harry stared at him, not comforted. "Thanks, Ron," he muttered emotionlessly, but inside felt little better than miserable. He didn't know how much more if this silence, this distance, he could take. And love was supposed to be about warm, fuzzy feelings!

Ron tossed the apple core away from him and stood to stretch. Autumn wind ruffled his hair as he yawned and looked around the courtyard. "It's getting late. We should go study for McGonagall's test," he announced.

Hermione stood and brushed herself off. "Coming from you? I'm amazed. Ready, Harry?"

"In a minute." Harry's voice was oddly strained, and both Ron and Hermione looked at him before following his gaze to a girl standing alone, halfway across the courtyard.

"Oh." Ron sounded confused for a moment before ginning and thumping Harry on the shoulder. "I see. Well, we're off, then. Take your time."

And smiling, both he and Hermione trotted off towards the Gryffindor Common Room.

Harry sat frozen in his place on the stone bench, watching Luna standing so silently away from him. His heart was running a race with his thoughts, each competing with the other. Luna was watching him, her face grim and hands clasped together. Nervously, feeling he was in a dream, Harry felt himself stand and somehow managed to walk over to her.

His feet halted several paces from her, unable to go on. Luna smiled, but her lips trembled. Silence spread between them, until each gathered the courage and simultaneously said, "I'm sorry."

They stared at each other in surprise. Then Luna smiled again and feeling started to return to Harry's chest. "We've both been little idiots, haven't we?" Luna said wryly.

Harry swallowed. "Are you…?"

"I'm fine. Really, I am." She paused, and then added, hesitantly, "Would you like to take a walk?" And under the warmth of her smile, Harry could only nod.

"I never thanked you, for coming after me," Luna continued as they turned. Gently, she reached out and took his hand in hers, giving it a little squeeze.

And Harry knew then without a doubt that everything was going to be alright. It truly would.

Together, Luna and Harry walked out onto the grounds into the fading daylight, and the wind whistling through the Forbidden Forest whispered no name but theirs.


Finally complete! Sorry about the inexcusibly long wait, and thanks to everyone who stuck with me through it all and read. I've never been very good at endings, and had an especially hard time with this one, searching for something that was believable and not too corny (hopefully I succeeded). Let me know what you think, and thanks again!

PoW