If he could have, Harry would have slammed the door shut behind him. But the Fat Lady's portrait moved of its own accord and would not be rushed, and closed as silently as it had opened. Harry stormed through the dark and narrow corridor that led to the Common Room and forcefully threw his books onto one of the large chairs near the fireplace.
Oh look, if it isn't cupboard-boy.
It had been almost a week, but Pansy Parkinson's words still stung – not because she knew of his decade-long accommodations at the Dursleys, no that wasn't it, not really. No, it had been entirely the manner of her acquisition of such knowledge.
Only one person knew. Had known.
Of course, now it seemed as though half the school did as well.
Harry sat down heavily in the chair opposite his books and removed his glasses, wiping his eyes. Far from receding, the burning in his chest had only gotten worse.
He'd opened his heart to her. He'd told her his every dream, every fear, every anxiety – she'd always been so easy to talk to! Perhaps not the easiest to understand, to be sure, but there was something so welcoming about Luna's lack of preconceptions. He'd never had to worry about getting nagged or lectured; as a sounding board, Luna was as good as anyone he'd ever known, and more.
And as a friend.
That is, until last week.
The fire crackled.
Harry violently kicked at the table before him, toppling over the inkwell someone had left there. He ignored the ink dripping over the side onto the carpet, the pain in his toes a dull ache compared to the raging fire in his heart.
Betrayal. If anyone had told him Luna was capable of it he'd never have believed them. But now...
She was the only one he'd told about being virtually locked away in the Dursley's cupboard. He'd never revealed that particular detail to anyone else, not Hermione, not Ginny, not even Ron. And there'd been no one within earshot, He'd made sure of that.
And her denial only made the burning all that much more painful. Harry had really been willing to forgive, desperate even, if only she'd owned up to it. But...
He heard someone coming up behind him. He sank down low in his chair and tucked his arms in; the last thing he wanted was to have a conversation with someone.
It hadn't worked. "Harry? Are you all right?"
He slid down lower in the chair, to no avail. Hermione came to stand before him, her brown eyes full of concern. Harry gave a muffled grunt in place of a greeting.
"Now look, I'm not blind, Harry," said Hermione as she sat on the divan next to him. "The way you left dinner...Ron's still toweling up your soup, by the way...what's going on?"
Harry felt himself tense up. This was not a discussion he wanted to engage in. "I told you, nothing," he snapped. "Just drop it, all right?"
Hermione stared at him for several moments.
"This is about Luna, isn't it?" she asked gently.
Harry's jaw tightened. "What makes you say that?" he asked tensely.
Hermione sighed. "Well, just the way you left when she sat down," she said. "It was pretty obvious, even Ron noticed. I haven't seen you say so much as a word to her all week. Why?"
"Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters! How can you even say that?" exclaimed Hermione, aghast. "Why do you despise Luna all of a sudden?"
"It doesn't bother her," shot back Harry darkly, fuming and wishing he could sink further into the chair until he disappeared. "Nothing bothers her."
Hermione leaned forward, putting a hand on Harry's armrest. "Don't be so sure," she countered. "She's hurting, Harry. And she won't talk about it, not to me anyway."
Harry nodded curtly, taking grim satisfaction in causing Luna at least some small measure of the anguish she'd provoked within. It wasn't right, he knew, but reason had given way to raw emotion and would not be heard. Still, a part of him was disturbed about what Hermione had said...
He slowly drew himself up into a proper sitting position. "Look," he said with as much patience he could muster, "you have no idea what she did, Hermione, so..."
"Why don't you tell me, then?"
But Harry was in no mood for the lecture he knew would invariably follow. Hermione wasn't the one who'd had her trust shattered, her friendship hadn't been betrayed. She couldn't hope to understand.
Harry shot up from his chair and proceeded to gather his books. "Let's just drop it, all right? I'm going to work on McGonagall's assignment...I'll see you guys tomorrow."
Far from congratulating him on his sudden studiousness, Hermione instead looked up at him worryingly. "But – Harry, this isn't healthy," she protested. "What happ– "
Harry had enough. He whirled on her, his face flush with anger. "SHE STABBED ME IN THE BACK, ALRIGHT? HAPPY NOW?"
"No," winced Hermione, her tone carefully measured so as not to provoke Harry further. "This has to do with that cupboard thing, that went around a few days ago, doesn't it?" she asked gently. "But what does Luna have to do with it?"
"I told her, just between us!" snapped Harry. "And she went and told the whole school."
"Well now, I doubt that," said Hermione, unconsciously smoothing out her robes as she got up from her chair. "But Harry, if it's any consolation, it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's not like the Dursleys are exactly model – "
"You just don't get it, do you?" interrupted Harry forcefully. "You're missing the point completely! I asked her not to tell! She betrayed me, Hermione."
Hermione frowned in disbelief. "Well, Harry, obviously someone overheard – "
Harry felt like jumping into the fireplace to cool off. "We were the only ones there!" he shot back. "Don't you think I made sure? Stop trying to defend her!"
"I'm not, I'm just saying – "
"What's going on?"
Harry spun around. Ginny stood near the entrance to the common room. In his agitated state, Harry's ears hadn't picked up her arrival.
"Nothing," he blurted sharply. Ginny crossed her arms, clearly not believing a word of it.
"He's upset at Luna," explained Hermione as Harry turned away, gnashing his teeth. "He thinks she ratted on him about being cooped up in his uncle's cupboard."
"What?" exclaimed Ginny, moving closer. "Whatever in Godric's name gave you that idea?"
But Harry made for the staircase, in no mood to rehash the subject.
"Now Harry, don't go off in a huff!" admonished Hermione. But he would hear no more, climbing the spiralling steps two at a time.
"You told her outside the owlery didn't you?" called Ginny after him.
Harry froze a half dozen steps up. How could Ginny have possibly known where their conversation had taken place?
"What?" he asked tensely without turning around.
"I figured as much," answered Ginny. "You made the cardinal sin of speaking within earshot of Ignatia Wildsmith, Harry. Everybody knows she eavesdrops on anyone around the owlery. Is that why you've been in such a funk all week?"
Harry whirled around. The air suddenly seemed to take on a stifling quality. Hermione was looking at him apprehensively.
"Who...who's Ignatia Wildsmith?" asked Harry dully, finding himself experiencing the terribly conflicting emotions of hope and dread all at once.
"She invented Floo powder," said Hermione in a hollow voice. "In the thirteenth century, if I'm not mistaken."
"What?" blurted Harry, nearly dropping his books as he stepped back down from the staircase into the Common Room. He knew there was no ghost by that name at Hogwarts. "But how can that..."
"The walls have ears," declared Ginny.
It suddenly hit him.
"A painting betrayed you, Harry," explained Hermione earnestly. "Not Luna."
It had started off as a good day, certainly better than most. Gryffindor had won their hard fought match against Hufflepuff the day before, Hogsmeade weekend was just beginning, he'd finished his most pressing assignments and Snape was nowhere to be seen, electing to stay at Hogwarts. Yes, it had started off so very promisingly.
Then he started hearing the snide comments from some of the Slytherins, and all that changed.
"Why'd you do it, Luna?"
"Hello," she replied vaguely, gazing curiously about the dusty old loft."Best mind your head, Harry, the rafters are quite low in places...why'd I do what?"
Silver eyes met green ones – rage and serenity colliding in midair, neither one giving way to the other.
"Don't pretend. You know full well."
A slight tilt of the head. "I don't think I do."
"Sure you do – 'Cupboard Boy', remember?" snapped Harry. "Why'd you tell?"
"Well? What else have you been going around telling people?"
A slight shift of countenance. "You told me about that in confidence," she said resolutely, "and so it was kept."
"Is that so?' shot back Harry, his anger growing by the second. "How do you explain that the whole school knows?"
Luna gazed at him blankly. "I can't," she replied after a moment's reflection. "But then, there are always mysteries that defy expl– "
Harry had heard enough. "Just admit it already! I know it's you!"
She closed her mouth and stared at him in silence.
Harry had been willing to forgive her, desperate even. But her continued denial of the obvious only served to make the burning inside his heart even worse.
"What's the matter? Run out of words of wisdom all of a sudden?"
Harry almost winced at the animosity behind his own words – he almost regretted saying them, but the pain of betrayal roared so hotly that any second thoughts were burned to a crisp.
Luna was as still as Rowena Ravenclaw's statue.
"I trusted you! How can you just...I thought you were different," raged Harry, unable to keep the pain his voice. "I thought we were friends!"
A single, silvery blink.
"Has that changed?"
"You tell me, Luna! Friends don't betray each other! How'd they find out if you didn't tell them?"
There was a long pause before Luna spoke again.
"Well, you've only my word to go on, I suppose," she said calmly, as though that was the only explanation Harry needed.
"I don't believe you!"
Misty eyes widened –
"As you like," said Luna in a strange tone, a pale hand waving dismissively as she whirled around and walked off.
Harry instintively stepped forward to follow and stopped himself, disbelieving. Was she just going to leave without so much as an explanation, much less an apology?
"It doesn't matter," declared Luna loudly to the air as she danced around a battered and dusty old trunk on her way to the trapdoor in the attic floor. "Nothing matters – the whole world is a great big plastic ball, you know – "
"Is that how you look at promises, too?" snapped Harry.
"Fickle is as fickle does," said Luna melodically as she grasped the iron ring and yanked the creaky old trapdoor to its open position.
"So that's it," barked Harry angrily. "Just run away!"
"I'll prefer to walk, actually," pronounced Luna, sitting down at the trapdoor's edge and swinging her legs over the side.
Harry ran to the trapdoor and watched in growing despair as Luna made her way down the ladder. Was this how it was going to end? Didn't Luna realize what she was doing?
"If this is how it's going to be," he said in a choked voice, "if you can just walk away from all this...just...just...keep walking...and get out of my life..."
Luna came to a halt about halfway down, and for one brief moment Harry thought she might actually come clean and finally admit to her wrongdoing. She slowly looked up at him, her silvery gaze locked with his.
"If that's what you want, Harry..."
They stared at each other for a long while, the rift between souls widening to a deep, gaping chasm with every passing moment of silence. Tears streamed down Harry's cheeks as Luna sighed and descended the remaining rungs to the room below. She grasped her small haversack from the floor and looked back up to him one last time.
"It's not what I want," she said sadly.
With that, she was gone.
It was the day after Ginny's revelation by the time he found her. It was early evening; the sun had almost set behind the mountains in the distance. By now his friends would be sitting down to dinner, but Harry had little appetite these days; there were infinitely more important matters to attend to.
He'd finally found her at the lake's edge, about halfway or so to Hogsmeade village. She was sitting on a small, rocky outcrop, wrapped snugly in her patched butternut cloak as she gazed out over the lake. A long cattail clutched tightly in her hands swung lazily in the breeze as she hummed softly to herself.
Harry hesitated. It was a slow, almost melancholic melody, altogether different from 'Weasley is our King'. He listened for a while before finally working up his nerve. He stepped closer, for the first time in his life feeling distinctly nervous and awkward towards Luna.
The humming stopped.
No answer. Aside from the abrupt halt to her humming, she'd given no sign of being aware of Harry's presence.
He edged closer. He wished he could see her face, and those misty eyes which communicated so much, though seated as she was at the water's edge it was impossible.
"Luna?" he repeated in a hollow voice. "Er...how are things?"
Harry gnashed his teeth. It was a stupid question, especially coming from him. The only sounds to be heard were the gentle lapping of water against the shore mixed with a few scattered croaks and twitters of the local denizens. Luna, for her part, was as quiet and unmoving as the rocky outcrop she sat upon.
Harry was at a loss as to what to do. But he was desperate; the memory of his horrible blunder precluded his doing anything other than salvaging Luna's friendship, no matter how awkward he felt. He had to rebuild the bridge he'd so recklessly burned.
"Can I talk to you?"
"If you like," said Luna so softly that Harry could barely discern the words through the meandering breeze.
Harry's discomfort grew. Luna hadn't moved at all, and it was terribly disconcerting having to address her back. He took a deep breath to steady himself.
"It was a painting," he stated in a weak voice. "A bloody painting overheard me, Luna...it wasn't you."
"I know," echoed Luna in the same low voice as before.
Harry blinked. "You knew?"
"Yes," replied Luna sedately, slowly spinning her cattail around in her fingers though otherwise not moving. "Lady Isabelle told me."
Harry bit his lip. Isabelle was Luna's name for the Grey Lady, Harry knew, but how Luna managed to communicate with the strangely silent ghost of house Ravenclaw was a mystery. But there was no denying the accuracy of her information.
"But...Luna, why didn't you say anything?"
For several long moments Luna was silent, though when she finally spoke her voice was tinged with a trace of falsetto.
"Would you have believed me?"
Harry opened his mouth but couldn't bring himself to answer. That he ever could have doubted Luna seemed so unthinkable now -- but he'd convinced himself of just the opposite only a few days ago.
Luna's cattail drooped to her knees. She knew his unspoken answer.
"I should've believed you," said Harry finally.
"It's always easy to believe," said Luna solemnly, "once the truth is known."
Harry stared at the forlorn figure before him. Luna's voice was devoid of its typical dreaminess; indeed, Luna's words had been as close to a rebuke as she'd ever uttered.
"Luna, I'm really sorry," pleaded Harry earnestly. "I was a total prat."
"Will you...can you...ever forgive me?"
Luna was silent. Harry waited in desperation, hoping against hope to regain her trust, unlikely as it now seemed. It was strange, in a way; he'd never felt so desperate during his rifts with Ron and Hermione...
But Luna was different. This friendship was different.
He shifted uncomfortably and swallowed hard. "Luna?"
Luna lowered her head slightly. "I'd like that," she answered after an interminable pause.
"Really?" Harry hardly dared to hope.
"I...Luna, you have no idea how much of a relief that is," said Harry, intensely relieved. "I don't know why I said those things..."
"I think I do," stated Luna, tapping her cattail lightly against her nose. Still she did not stir from her tiny peninsula.
Harry stood rooted to the spot, the light breeze sweeping in from the lake to rummage gently through his mussed-up hair, but he hardly took notice. Whatever Luna was thinking, she wasn't elaborating, which was alarming in itself – she had never one to hold back her thoughts.
Something was wrong, he could feel it. Luna had forgiven him, but had he nonetheless damaged their friendship beyond repair? He'd no one but himself to blame if he had – oh what a fool he'd been!
Oh blast it.
He waded into the coolness of the lake, almost shuddering as the frigid water rushed into his shoes and up to his knees. The dropoff this close to the shore was surprisingly steep, and he found himself submerged to the waist within a few feet from the water's edge. Ignoring the cold he pressed on, slowly wading around to the point of rock where Luna sat.
And promptly disappeared underwater, his feet finding no lake bed upon which to set themselves. He trashed about, gurgling and sputtering, and quickly grabbed onto the rocky outcrop. He pulled himself up enough so that his head, at least, cleared the water.
"You're all wet," observed Luna.
"The – ptah – water's deep – " sputtered Harry.
"Yes," said Luna serenely. "It's a good spot for a swim when it's warmer. It's not exactly the best time of year for that now, though."
Harry coughed out a bit of water and looked up. Though his eyeglasses were speckled with water, he was nonetheless shocked by Luna's appearance: she looked unusually pale and exhausted, her hair was more disheveled than was typical, and there was a faint redness around her eyes – had she been...?
But despite her appearance, she was gazing down at him with a vague smile.
"I've never seen anyone go for a swim in their robes before," commented Luna, Harry suddenly snapping out of his shock as he realized he'd been staring open-mouthed in dismay.
Harry was profoundly dumfounded. Neither hardship nor adversity had ever seemed to affect Luna to any noticeable degree And yet...
Harry's heart sank. He didn't even notice that he was starting to shiver. "Luna, I'm so sorry..."
She tilted her head slightly to one side.
"Are we back to that again?"
Harry blinked, his legs floating helplessly. "But – what I did...what I said – "
Luna shook her head as though incredulous. "You're a funny one, Harry. And likely freezing by now, too. Here – "
She took hold of Harry's hands and helped him from the water. It wasn't easy -- below the water, the rocky outcrop offered a nearly vertical, slippery surface, and Harry had to struggle to gain a footing. Finally, though, he managed to scamper onto solid ground, drenched to the bone. It was only then that he suddenly noticed how cold he was.
Luna drew her wand and had to cast three successive drying charms on Harry in order to get rid of the last of the moisture. "There you are," she said at last, observing Harry with satisfaction and tucking her wand back behind her ear. "You would've caught a chill before long, most likely."
But Harry was still stupefied by Luna's serene acceptance of his apology. "Um, thanks...but...aren't you angry? Even a little?"
"I thought that was settled?" interjected Luna curiously. "You did apologize, after all. And I know you're sincere, Harry. But you do tend to dwell on things, you know."
Harry gaped at her. After what he'd done, he almost wished Luna would give him a rebuke, or...something!
"But what I did..."
"Was a mistake," acknowledged Luna. "We all make them, from time to time, don't we?"
"Well, would it make you feel any better if I said I was still upset?"
Harry gaped at her. "Are you?"
"No," said Luna airily, holding her cattail before her nose and staring at it in cross-eyed fashion. "But I can pretend, if you like."
"No, no, that's all right..."
Harry trailed off, finally resigned to Luna's simple acceptance of the situation. It seemed that she truly did consider the matter closed, although Harry was having a much more difficult time forgiving himself than she was.
Luna lowered her cattail and fixed her gaze on some distant point beyond the lake. Harry looked – there was nothing over the distant horizon worth noting, other than a thin remnant of the setting sun, a bright sliver of light burning fiercely against the fuchsia and lavender skies.
He looked back to Luna. The colourful display was reflected in her wide, silvery eyes. In fact, if he had to choose, he'd much rather watch the sunset this way...
"So...you're really sure you're okay?" inquired Harry hopefully.
"Hm-hmm," answered Luna in distinctly hazy fashion, her eyes never wavering from their distant focus. Harry hesitated. Though he'd seen Luna slip in and out of her dreamy reveries countless times before, she seemed almost contemplative at the moment.
"Well, I think I'll go collect some pumpkin vines," she announced suddenly, her silvery eyes regaining their usual energy as she turned to Harry. "Hagrid said I could help myself to his pumpkin patch."
"Oh," said Harry, a bit disappointed that Luna was leaving. Still, he couldn't complain – despite all his initial trepidations, he couldn't have imagined that his hopes would have been so readily realized. "All right, well, see you at breakfast then?"
Luna blinked. "You aren't coming?"
"Eh? Oh, did you need a hand?"
Luna smiled. "Not really," she answered. "But we haven't spoken in nearly a week."
Harry shifted slightly. Their silence had been entirely his doing, he knew.
"I missed that," said Luna earnestly.
"My fault," said Harry.
"And, you could also provide Fang an alternate target," continued Luna in a distinctly cheerful tone as they started down the worn pathway that rounded the lake. "I'm rather fond of him, but he does tend to slobber on me quite a lot."
Harry smiled. "Sounds terrific." Slobber or no, the prospect of spending some quality time with Luna had much appeal.
He and Luna strolled along the forest's edge, Harry feeling better than he had in days. Hagrid's hut came into view in the distance as they rounded the lake, a few wispy strands of smoke rising up from the stone chimney. They came across an old fallen tree that lay along the path, upon which Luna proceeded to hop aboard and tiptoe along its length, humming merrily. Harry wasn't exactly surprised, really – Luna was never one to trod the beaten path, after all.
A thought occurred to him.
"Luna, I was wondering about what you – "
Harry's query was interrupted as Luna slipped on a mossy patch halfway across, sending her cattail spinning through the air, carpet slippers being poor substitutes for proper outdoor footwear.
Harry reacted instantly. He lunged and managed to grab Luna's hand and kept her from falling, though it was a very near thing. Far from giving up her escapade, Luna steadied herself and proceeded down the last few feet of log before daintily stepping off her improvised path.
She looked to Harry and smiled slightly.
Harry suddenly realized their fingers were still intertwined. Her hand was warm and soft and pleasant to the touch, and he let go hastily.
"Sorry," he blurted in reflex.
"Are you?" asked Luna..
Harry gaped at her. She was looking at him curiously.
They resumed their stroll. Harry slowly chewed on what had just happened.
"You said you knew why I said those things," he cited just as they came within a bludger's throw of Hagrid's hut, the huge pumpkins looming large in the cluttered patch.
"That's right," answered Luna conversationally.
Harry waited for Luna to elaborate, chewing his lip as they walked on, the silence broken only by the brisk crunch of dried leaves underfoot.
"Um, can you clue me in?" pleaded Harry at last when Luna had resumed her humming. "I'm just...you know, wondering."
Luna said nothing for several long moments, and Harry began to think that maybe he was dwelling on things a little too much.
"But...if you'd rather not say..."
Luna came to a stop. Harry, after an awkward half-step, did likewise. A subtle smile drew over Luna's features.
Luna intertwined her hand with his once more. "Come on," she said lightly as she pulled Harry from his statue-like pose. "I think we both have something we've been meaning to tell each other..."