The sensation of floating might have been a pleasant one, Ginny thought, if they weren't in the midst of fighting for their lives. The Death Eaters had pursued them into this most unusual circular room full of magically suspended models of various celestial bodies.
So disorienting was the experience that Ginny no longer had any notion of up or down, and to make matters worse she was now caught in a slow spin, quite unable to stop herself or even see what was going on around her. That is, until she felt a hand grab tight hold of her left foot.
The man was floating off in the opposite direction Ginny was spinning in, bending her ankle at an unnatural angle. There was a muffled crack - a searing pain shot through Ginny's foot as the Death Eater's tenacious grip refused to yield, and Ginny's slow rotation had continued unabated.
Ginny cried out in agony, twisting wildly through the air just as she vaguely heard Luna fling a hex somewhere nearby. There was a reverberating bang! Bits of planet material flew by just as the man's hold on Ginny's foot suddenly released.
Ginny gasped in pain as she continued to float uncontrollably towards a wall. From her angle she could see neither Ron nor Luna, nor any of the Death Eaters, for that matter. There was no mistaking the latter's enraged screams, however. Clearly, Ginny's group wasn't the only one experiencing difficulty navigating through this bizzarre chamber.
She touched the wall with her outstretched hand and immediately felt the gravity return, though to her horror she found herself falling up – or so it seemed, given her orientation. Try as she might, she couldn't avoid jarring her broken foot, a blinding stab of pain streaking through her leg being the inevitable result. She yelped and lost her grip on her wand, hearing it clatter along the floor.
Ginny sank bank against the wall and squeezed her eyes shut, trying vainly to block out the agony burning in her foot, her breathing shallow and ragged.
Her eyes snapped open as a flurry of hexes were shouted throughout the room. She caught sight of Luna high above spiralling out of control through the asteroid belt, knocking a good number of small meterorites out of their predetermined orbits and sending them flying. Ron, followed slowly along, giggling nonsensically. Luna was maintaining a deathgrip on his wrist.
"Accio wall!" shouted Luna, pointing her wand at a spot on the wall near. As the heavy wooden panelling gave no sign of moving, Luna and her charge hurled abruptly forward, until they reached the point where the force of gravity violently re-exerted itself. They fell hard, Luna letting go a squeak of pain as Ron landed on top of her, barely an arm's lenght from Ginny.
"Ronald – "
"Hee hee – "
The Ravenclaw gave a heave and rolled the red-headed Gryffindor off of her.
Ron giggled, immediately sitting up with a crazed grin on his face. "Hey, let's go do that floating stuff again – "
"Ronald, please," said Luna, pushing up from the floor and re-establishing her hold on his wrist just as a green bolt of magical energy struck a sconce on the wall above them. "We have to go."
"But we just got here!"
Luna looked to Ginny, her gaze quickly falling to her foot.
Ginny shook her head, holding her ankle protectivelly and breathing hard. The pain had eased ever so slightly, but there was no question of its inability to support any kind of weight.
A shower of sparks from a near miss rained down all round them – they were in a dangerously exposed position, even with the Death Eaters floating about uncontrollably. A lucky hit was a very real possibility in such confined environs.
Luna quickly pointed her wand at one of the massive curios that lined the walls and magically dragged it before them, using it as an improvised shield.
Ginny braced herself against the wall and gingerly applied a mediocrum of weight to her injured foot. The blinding pain which shot up her leg caused her to crumple back to the floor.
"Get Ron out," she gasped.
Her brother, oblivious to their danger, was gleefully trying to catch some of the glittering sparkles of light as they fell from above.
Luna tucked her wand behind her ear and moved for Ginny.
"I can't walk!" protested the redhead just as one of the Death Eaters crashed to the floor on the opposite side of the room. "Get Ron out of here! I'll hold them off as long as I can."
"No, you're coming too," said Luna firmly just before being pulled off balance. "Ronald, please stop squirming, you're making this very difficult."
Ginny heard a series of shouts and yells around the room. The Death Eater that had crashed to the floor at the other end of the chamber was clearly regaining his bearings. They had only moments.
Ginny grasped Luna's sleeve. "Luna, please," she pleaded in desperation, "get out – "
"NO!" exclaimed Luna in the most intense voice Ginny had ever heard her use. For the briefest instant, she glimpsed a fire in the Ravenclaw's silvery eyes, of such intensity that Ginny found herself truly unnerved by her friend's sudden change in demeanour.
It had lasted but a moment. So briefly in fact that Ginny blinked once or twice, wondering if she'd somehow imagined it.
"Here, be mindful of your foot," said Luna, the serene quality of her voice having returned as abruptly as it had vanished. She slung one arm around Ginny's waist, the three of them managing to get to their feet in rather awkward fashion. Ginny grimaced in pain; even the slightest movement sent shards of agony through her ankle.
"My wand – "
But Luna wasn't listening. The curio suddenly toppled forward with a loud crash, spilling its bizzare collection of devices and artifacts to the floor, many of which started to float about aimlessly.
"Ronald, he's going to – look out!"
"Eh?" said Ron, turning round to face Luna with a decidedly goofy grin plastered onto his face, just as a bolt of green energy shot by his ear, missing it (and Ginny's nose) by inches.
"Ron!" shrieked Ginny, momentarily unsure if he'd been hit.
"Oops," he giggled, "that was close..."
"Please come on," pleaded Luna, pulling hard on Ron's arm as she pulled them towards a nearby door, the three of them proceeding at little more than a brisk shuffle. Ginny sincerely hoped it wasn't the same door they'd just escaped through – if it was, they were trapped.
"Quit pullin'!" complained Ron gleefully, shaking his arm with vigour. "Hee hee..."
Luna stumbled slightly under the burden of her charge. Ginny gritted her teeth as her injured foot briefly touched the floor. By the time they reached the door, she no longer cared what might lie beyond. Their situation was so desperate that Ginny uttered no protest as Luna briefly released Ron's arm to turn the handle.
Luna and Ginny heaved forward, dragging Ron down on top of them as they tumbled through the doorway and came to land in a heap. A familiar voice greeted them in surprise.
"Ron!" croaked Harry, dashing towards them. "Ginny – are you all – ?"
Ginny tossed her valise to her startled brother and bolted off through the crowd.
"Gin, hold up!" called Ron behind her. "Where 'you going? The train's leaving in a few minutes!"
Ginny didn't answer, occupied as she was pushing her way through the crowd of students bustling around the platform. It was a difficult enough endeavour, trying to go against the prevailing flow of traffic, and with the din of countless voices all round she doubted very much if the Ravenclaw had even heard her. Her ankle, furthermore, still throbbed echoes of pain, Madame Pomfrey's expert ministrations notwithstanding.
She'd intended to talk to Luna the previous night, but the wide-eyed blonde had been mysteriously absent at dinner. Indeed it was well past curfew by the time she found out that Luna had showed at dinner after all, though well after Ginny had gone off in search of the elusive Ravenclaw. According to Neville, she'd sat by the fireplace with her back to the table and a bowl of pudding in her lap and had spent the evening gazing quietly into the flames, seemingly lost in thought. Ginny had found this particular detail a bit worrisome.
Ginny herself had come out of the Department of Mysteries both shaken and profoundly affected by Luna's determined efforts at extricating them from danger. It was one thing to share project research and schoolwork together; it was entirely another to face down their own mortality in a battle with the Dark Lord's minions. Much had changed, irrevocably.
"Sorry!" professed Ginny hastily to a tiny first year on whose foot she'd inadvertently trodden. She jumped up to try and see over the masses. "Luna, wait up!"
"Hey, watch it!" exclaimed a dour-looking Zacharias Smith who'd nearly been run over. "Where's the fire?"
Ginny silently cursed the fact everyone nearby seemed to be half a head taller than she was; she'd lost sight of Luna through the crowd. She made her way through the throngs until finally emerging from the bustle, she found herself tanding in the middle of the road that led to Hogsmeade village proper. Several students rushed past her, making for the train, suitcases and valises in hand.
Ginny caught sight of the Ravenclaw a bit further up the road, dragging along and old weatherbeaten trunk behind her. Ginny hurried to catch up as best she could with her still-aching foot.
The Ravenclaw finally stopped. Carefully lowering the front end of the trunk to the ground, she stretched her arms out over her head as one might after awakening from a long slumber.
"Hello," said Luna in typically dreamy fashion, though Ginny thought she detected a hint of congestion in the voice.
"Okay, what gives?" asked Ginny in exasperation. "Leaving without even saying goodbye?"
The wind picked up briefly and Luna brushed away windswept locks of sandy hued hair from her face. "I was going to go see you this morning, but Professor Flitwick's farewell speech carried on a bit", she explained serenely. "I would've preferred to bid goodbye to you and Horace, you know, but with the packing and speeches I couldn't manage it."
"Oh, well...Horace?" asked Ginny, frowning slightly. She'd didn't know anyone by that name, certainly not at Hogwarts. "Who's that? Is he in our year?"
Luna looked at her with mild incredulosity. "Oh, you remember, the Thestral I rode? During our first Thestral lesson Colin Creevy told Professor Hagrid he looked like a Horace, and it did seem like a fitting name." She raised her gaze skyward as if in the midst of a daydream. "Horace...it does have a dignified ring to it, don't you think?"
Ginny giggled. "Uh, Luna, I hate to break this to you, but Colin told Hagrid it looked like a horse, not a 'Horace'!"
The Ravenclaw emerged from her self-imposed reverie and gazed unblinkingly at Ginny.
"Are you sure?"
"Definitely," nodded Ginny. "He had that bad cold, remember? Speaking of which, you're sounding a bit under the weather too...are you feeling all right?"
"Oh, yes," intoned Luna as melodically as her slightly muffled voice allowed, "I just caught a bit of a chill last night. Anyway," she looked skyward as though the beast might be flying overhead at that very moment. "I think I'll still call him Horace. It does seem to suit him."
"Well, if you say so. Luna, listen, are you sure everything's all right?" asked Ginny with concern, drawing herself closer. "A little birdie told me you looked a bit...well, preoccupied last night."
Luna didn't react for several moments, and Ginny wondered if she had simply decided to ignore the question.
"Did this little birdie happen to be carrying a small amphibian in his pocket?" she finally asked, her gaze still fixed resolutely skyward as though posing her question to the clouds.
Ginny suddenly felt a bit awkward. She hadn't wished to reveal Neville's identity; he'd meant well, after all.
"Er...well, yeah, he did," she finally answered, her shoulders sagging slightly. Hopefully Luna wouldn't think ill of him.
Luna looked back down to Ginny. "I did notice him observing me for a time," she said matter-of-factly. "As I recall, he caused a bit of a ruckus when Trevor took a rather unfortunate hop and landed in Parvati Patil's pineapple juice. She didn't seem to like that very much."
Ginny stared at Luna, unsure what to think. The Ravenclaw hadn't addressed her concerns; whether by design or simple omission, she couldn't tell.
"Well, all right then," she said quietly, not wishing to press the issue if Luna wasn't forthcoming, "but listen, if you ever want to talk...I'm right here, all right?"
"Talk about what?" asked Luna innocently.
"About...whatever it is that's bothering you!"
Luna stared at her expectantly, as though Ginny was the one with something on her mind. Which, actually, was precisely the case.
"Oh fine," said Ginny in resignation. "Anyway, I wanted to talk to you before you left...I mean, after everything that happened, back there, at the Ministry...you know, with Ron and me...well..."
Luna cocked her head curiously. Ginny might normally have laughed at the sight but for the frustration of listening to her own words become annoyingly disjointed the moment they left her mouth. She looked to Luna pleadingly.
"C'mon, you know what I mean...don't you?"
Luna continued to stare at her blankly.
"Oh, fine," said Ginny in exasperation. "Leave it to you to force me to spell it out in black and white."
Luna smiled in her quintissential manner that seemed to speak a thousand words yet said nothing. Of all the people Ginny had known in her life, Luna was quite possibly the hardest of all to read. Not that she was particulary secretive, not at all – but convention was always maddeningly elusive where the Ravenclaw was concerned.
"I owe you," she said profoundly. "We both do."
"If I'd been injured," countered Luna seriously, "would you have left me behind?"
"Of course not!" blurted Ginny. "How can you even think that?"
Luna smiled, and Ginny suddenly understood.
"Point taken," she stated in a barely audible voice.
Ginny bit her lip as her frustration with her own inability to express herself threatened to well up inside her – a subtle shift in direction was needed.
"Okay, listen, I want you to owl me the second you get back, all right?" she said. "I've already spoken to Mum and Dad, and we'd really like to have you over for a few days this summer. That is, if you're willing..."
"That sounds nice," said Luna thoughtfully. "Daddy's quite fond of your family, so I'm sure he won't mind. You do still have your garden, don't you?"
Ginny smiled sadly. Though she had known Luna to an extent since well before Hogwarts, the moment she started school the fear of being publicly associated with someone of such an odd reputation and object of ridicule had caused her to distance herself from the girl. In this regard, of course, she was little different from everyone else. It was a failing she was determined to correct.
"Anyway, are you sure you're all right?" inquired Luna suddenly, breaking Ginny out of her inner doldrums.
"Eh? Oh...yeah," said Ginny, quickly stifling the old recollections. "It's just..."
She looked at Luna. How to explain...
"...just...regrets, that's all," she finished quietly, fidgeting with her sleeve cuff just as the first tentative wisps of sunlight broke through the gray clouds, sending their misty beams streaming down onto the mountainside in the distance.
"Yes, regrets can be quite unpleasant," agreed Luna. Her huge silver eyes widened; she leaned closer as though preparing to reveal some closely guarded secret.
"Best to ignore such things," she whispered furtively. "No good can ever come of them, you know."
She pulled back, nodding knowingly.
Ginny blinked. Was Luna trying to tell her something?
But the Ravenclaw had drifted back into her familiarly dreamy state, now staring off into the distance.
"He's calling for you, I think," she said serenely.
"Calling – what? Who is?" asked Ginny, Luna's sudden deviations in topic making her confusion grow twofold.
"Your brother," stated the Ravenclaw, pointing over Ginny's shoulder. "He's calling for you. See?"
Ginny spun around. Sure enough, Ron had clambered up atop the railling near the station and was yelling something at her, though at this distance the cacophony of voices conspired to make his words unintelligible.
Ginny cupped her hands on either side of her mouth. "JUST SAVE ME A SEAT!" she shouted back, drawing several curious glances from passers-by. "I'LL BE THERE IN A MINUTE!"
She turned back to Luna, rubbing the back of her head.
"Um...what was I saying?"
"Something about regrets," returned Luna sedately, twisting some long stray blonde locks around her fingers, just as the train whistle blew its five minute notice.
"Blast...I have to go," said Ginny taking a step back yet finding herself strangely hesitant to leave.
"All good things," whispered Luna as she gazed off towards the train. Long wisps of white steam rose lazily from the engine's stack, gradually dissipating in the cool morning air.
Ginny felt a bit awkward; goodbyes were never her forte. Furthermore, Luna was now gazing up at the clouds and humming softly to herself.
"Okay, well, I'll see you when you get back then...have fun in Sweden, Luna..."
She bit her lip and slowly drew off, feeling decidedly heavy-hearted, without knowing exactly why. Luna's melodic humming stopped. She could sense Luna's gaze on her as she slowly walked towards the platform.
She hadn't gone far when she heard the telltale crunch of carpet slippers flopping on gravel; someone was running up to her from behind.
"Ginny, a moment – "
Ginny turned just as Luna caught up to her; the Ravenclaw pressed a copy of the Quibbler into her hands.
"It's the new issue," announced Luna enthusiastically, her eyes widening as they often did whenever her father's magazine was the subject of discussion. "There wasn't time for Daddy to write about what happened at the Ministry, of course, but there's a very interesting article on the Asian Department's Yeti conspiracy. He said there's lots of new evidence that's come to light connecting the Ministry to the illegal importation of North American Sasquatches."
"Sasquatches..." repeated Ginny blankly.
Luna nodded. "To make the Yeti population appear stable, you know. Daddy's always suspected."
Ginny turned the paper over; gracing the cover was a most unflattering photograph of Cornelius Fudge, looking very harried and waving his umbrella threateningly at the photographer. The headline read 'Furry Flap at Ministry – Fudge denies wrongdoing'.
Ginny couldn't help but smile at that. She looked to Luna, who was staring at her curiously.
"Thanks, Luna," she said softly. "Really. For everything."
Ginny felt a weight lift from her shoulders. They stood there for a moment, Luna slowly shaking her head in apparent disbelief.
"Why do you burden yourself so..." she said solemnly.
Ginny gaped at her. How did she –
Luna smiled. She performed an elegant pirouette, her long hair whipping across Ginny's face and causing the latter to jerk her head back in surprise. Luna strolled back to her trunk, a noticeable spring in her step.
"You know, this was quite possibly one of the more interesting years I've had at Hogwarts," she called out as she closed the trunk lid.
"Well, better get used to it!" shot back Ginny, laughing. "You're in it up to your neck now, just like the rest of us!"
The image of Luna's face lighting up was still in her mind as she rejoined her brother on the platform.
"What're you smiling about?" he asked curiously as he handed back her valise.
"Me? Oh, nothing," replied Ginny airily as they clambered up the steel steps into the third car. "By the way, I've got to tell you something really interesting I heard about Sasquatches..."