CHAPTER FOUR

THE MINSTRELS MILL

When Harry got home from Luna's house, dodging suspicious questions about his actions from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, he found his owl Hedwig proudly waiting for him with letters from both Ron and Hermione. Harry gently retrieved the folded papers while Hedwig, duty done, began to eat. The first letter was from Ron.

Harry,

Man, you don't know how worried Dad's been. We all saw their house burning from the burrow, and nobody knew if they had been inside or anything, cause they don't tell people much. Mum's looking to wallop old Dung for not telling anyone, seeing as he's supposed to be in your area and all that. Lots of luck staying sane with Loony hanging around all the time, mate.

Mum and Ginny send their love, and Fred wanted me to send you some candy, but it bit me so you probably wouldn't like it.

Ron.

Harry looked at the letter. After Luna's calm acceptance of the state of their previous home, he had almost forgotten that it would be alarming to other people, particularly those who lived as close to her as the Weasleys did. He was glad that he had sorted out their disappearance, but was also kicking himself for not considering the possibility of its existence.

He lingered briefly over the mention of Ginny, Ron's firey-headed little sister. In her first year at Hogwarts, she had had an enormous crush on him, to the point of sending a dwarf with a singing valentine, while he had wanted nothing to do with it. She had grown since then, to the point of being among the six members of Dumbledore's Army who had gone to the Ministry, and was attractive, but he had decided that she must have lost interest in him if she was going out with Dean Thomas, and Michael Corner before that. Anyway, Luna had said that Ginny used to be in love with him, but not anymore, or something like that, so there was no point in thinking about that.

Of course, that was from the girl who had just told him to take her to a concert.

Of course, that was also Luna Lovegood

Harry shrugged… he would try to figure that out later. Putting aside Ron's hasty scrawlings, he turned to the familiar neat hand of his other best friend, Hermione Granger.

Dear Harry,

I don't know. I can imagine that Dumbledore might want to protect you a little more – Mundungus Fletcher isn't very reliable, is he? – but I can't see him choosing Luna Lovegood for the job. I don't know what her father's like, but his daughter is pretty strange – don't tell her I said that, Harry – and he edits that silly newspaper. I don't think he'd be a very good member of the Order, do you?

Yes, Luna used to live by Ron, I remember hearing about that at the Quidditch World Cup. I don't know what you might have told him, but I sent Ron a letter warning him to be careful if Voldemort is active in the area. He'll probably ignore it, though.

Yours,

Hermione.

To his surprise, Harry found himself almost angered with Hermione for her comments about the Lovegoods, although he couldn't rationally disagree with any of them. The snake inside of Harry from last year had gone, but he could still feel its rage sometimes boiling up inside of him, another mark Voldemort had left. It was just another reason he couldn't ever really be 'Just Harry', as Luna had so calmly titled him.

Although he had been getting along pretty well at that today, even if he had been asked about Parseltongue.

Harry discontentedly threw Hermione's letter into the air, where it fluttered around for several seconds before coming to rest on top of Ron's paper. He would answer them later, maybe, but right now they were just making him think of Luna more, although he needed to do that anyway so he could figure out how to politely not take her to the concert that she wanted to see as an educational experience. He spent the rest of the evening trying to work on his Aconite essay and being distracted by thoughts of his blonde-haired neighbor and her unusual way of life. He ate his normal, scanty dinner in silence, and went to sleep undecided.

When Harry awoke the next morning, hair filled with lint from the bed, something seemed different about the room. It was not until he had retrieved his glasses and put them on that he realized what it was.

Luna Lovegood was watching him, barely moving, enormous eyes open in apparent concentration. "Hello, Harry Potter," she said, once he could see her clearly.

"Luna!" he yelped, feeling like he had in the prefect's bathroom in fourth year when Moaning Myrtle had come to talk to him. "What are you doing here?"

"I was watching you sleep," she said complacently.

"No, I mean…" Harry's half-asleep brain beat against his head. "How did you get here?"

"I came in through the window," she answered simply, "I was bored. What is 'Canovision'?"

Harry followed Luna's pointing finger to its target. "That's an old video camera," he said, "Dudley got it for his eleventh birthday but didn't use it much."

Luna nodded. "What is a video camera?"

"It's like a normal camera, but the picture moves." Even as he said these words, Harry realized how strange they must sound to someone who had grown up in the wizarding world. Sighing, he began a brief lecture on the limitations of Muggle technology. This transitioned into other strange, random things, until Harry became somewhat self-conscious, and went to take a shower in the bathroom against the hall, leaving Luna playing happily with a rain stick Dudley had never cared for, having calmly promised not to come and watch him while he was undressed.

Harry frowned as he stepped into the shower stall. A few days ago, he would have found the idea ludicrous, but he was having trouble arriving at good reasons not to let Luna go to the concert. Granted she was a very strange girl, having apparently entered in through his window to watch him sleep, but her actions also seemed completely friendly and she never treated him like some sort of special Chosen One. Her explanation of him as "just Harry" returned to mind as he turned the knob for the water. He had always missed a friendly presence while growing up, and even Ron and Hermione tended to give him some space, particularly last year. On the other hand, he couldn't convince himself to honestly say that Luna's beliefs were even remotely sensical, and her uncaring bluntness often resulted in him feeling extremely awkward, although the fault for that might not necessarily be entirely on her end. He sighed and watched the water flying down around him.

It's not like it's a question of granting her life or death, he reminded himself. Nor was he necessarily promising anything to Luna by taking her to this concert. She was interested in learning about muggle culture, just as he was unfamiliar with countless aspects of the wizarding world, and she needed someone to help her get to Staines. Besides, they had gotten along fine so far, and it seemed rather unfair to refuse a favor to a friend because of some vague concerns he didn't entirely understand. She might shun him for the rest of the summer, although she did seem somewhat accustomed to ill treatment. No, it was safe enough to help her get to the concert, and things would just proceed from there as they had done, getting to know his neighbor and friend.

Struggle unresolved but temporarily put aside, he smiled reluctantly, and turned the shower knob up a few degrees. Warm water poured down onto Harry's head, wetting and flattening his unmanagable hair, and he was just reaching for the soap when he heard, very distinctly, sounds from outside the bathroom. Dudley – the weight of his movement was unmistakable – was coming up the stairs. The large boy began to knock on a door.

"Potter!" yelled Dudley, and Harry got a horrible sinking sensation inside. "Mum wants you!"

Harry relowered the water pressure so he could hear better. There was the sound of a door opening, and then he heard Luna say "Oh, hello!"

There was a moment of quiet. Then Dudley said, very slowly, confusion etched in every word: "You're not Harry."

"No, I don't think I am," said Luna. "I don't think you are either… your hair is the wrong color and you're much too fat. Do you live here?"

Harry hardly dared breathe, shower forgotten as Dudley said, "my parents own this house. Who…"

"Oh, I'm sorry," said Luna, cutting him off instantly, "where are my manners? Won't you sit down? Maybe you can tell me your name, too, it's much easier to talk to people that way, don't you think?"

A door closed. And then silence.

Harry rushed through the shower, drying himself as quickly as possible and practially throwing on his clothes. His t-shirt, an old gray one with moth-eaten sleeves, was on backwards, but he didn't bother taking the time to fix it, and ran across the upstairs hallway into his bedroom, where Luna sat on Harry's school trunk, and Dudley sat awkwardly on Harry's bed, looking dazed – which was a somewhat standard expression for both him and people talking to Luna.

"But what actually happened?" asked Luna.

Dudley screwed up his forehead. "Umm… it was cold. And I was really sad, like when they cancelled the Great Humberto."

Luna nodded sagely. "Hmm. Well, it could have been a Three-Toed Hubberdink, they don't like other things beginning with H. Or maybe a Jywislit, or a Dementor, although I can't imagine what they'd be doing here, can you?"

Dudley's head snapped up. "Yeah! Mum said it was a Dement-thing."

Harry, still standing awkwardly in the doorway, hair dripping, decided to interrupt at this point. "What's going on here?" he asked, as the two worlds of his life once again swam around and reformed themselves.

"Hello again, Harry," said Luna, turning around to face him. "I was just talking with your cousin. Did you know he was attacked by a Dementor last year? I don't think we have very good luck with Voldemort and our homes."

Harry was not entirely sure how well Luna knew – or believed – the story of how his parents had died, so he ignored this last comment. "Yeah, I know," he said instead. "I fought it off… both of them… and Dudley punched me in the face." He glared. "He's just a stupid muggle, Luna. There's no use in talking to him."

"You shouldn't say things like that," said Luna reproachfully, as Dudley's face did something unreadable. "I've been trying to convince him you're a very nice boy, and you're not helping."

"I… but… why?"

"Well, because you are a nice boy. Or I think you are."

"He's not," said Dudley unexpectedly from the bed, and they both turned. The bigger boy looked scared, but he kept looking at Luna, as if she was somehow protecting him. "He's not nice. Last year… the dementish was holding me down, and then…"- he shot another glance at Luna, who regarded him fixedly with her big gray eyes – "he attacked me."

"I didn't!" yelled Harry, startled. "What do you mean I attacked you? When I found you the dementor had you on the ground like a little baby. I saved your life!"

"No… I remember… you were wearing this big cloak, with a snake, and you were using…" Dudley gulped, "magic at me."

"What magic?"

"I… don't know," said Dudley, now talking almost exclusively to the imperturbable face of Luna Lovegood. "I can't do it, I don't know what you were doing…"

"Hang on," sad Harry, as his brain leapt into action, trying to understand what Dudley was saying through the obvious falsehoods. Muggles couldn't see Dementors, but they could be affected by them, and killed… Harry remembered his own reactions to Dementors, the voices of his parents as they died, and the hopeless fear, repeated over and over again when training with Lupin against the boggarts. But Dudley had seen, not just 'voices', as he had said a year ago, but Harry… attacking him with magic.

"You're afraid of me?" asked Harry. He had known this, but it never really made sense until now, he had never understood, felt almost guilty

"Yes," said Dudley, quietly.

"Using magic on you?"

"Yes," said Dudley, and Harry was not sure what else to say.

After several seconds, Luna turned back to Harry and broke the silence. "I don't know much about consoling people," she said matter-of-factly. "Do you think I should hug him or something?"

"…sure," managed Harry, still thinking of Dudley's visions of himself as a cloaked figure. "Couldn't hurt." Luna walked over to the bed and put her slender arms around the much larger boy's body, which collapsed thankfully into her. For a moment, Harry felt the same irrational anger he had felt when Hermione had criticized Luna in her letter, but he fought it down and watched as Luna Lovegood slowly patted the back of 'Big D' Dursley, Junior Inter-School Boxing Champion of the South East, faintly muttering something about Fandarus Crabs.


Eventually, Aunt Petunia came upstairs herself, and Luna was quickly convinced to hide in the closet while she yelled at Harry for not coming downstairs. Dudley's original mission for knocking on Harry's door had apparently been to say that Harry's aunt wanted him to mow the lawn before he could have breakfast. Harry dutifully started the well-polished lawnmower and walked it back and forth across the already-short grass for several minutes before being startled by Luna's voice behind him.

"You forgot to tell me to come out of the closet, Harry," she said, without particularly seeming to care.

"Oh," said Harry sheepishly, and turned around. Luna was sitting cross-legged on top of the hedge. "Sorry, Luna. Aunt Petunia wasn't leaving that room 'till I was downstairs, not after Dudley got so side-tracked by you."

"It's all right," said Luna. "Dudley let me know it was safe." She gracefully descended from the hedge and fiddled with an earring. "I think he might be somewhat taken with me."

The lawnmower left a hole in the otherwise perfectly flat turf. "I hope not."

"You care?" asked Luna curiously.

"I… you don't know what Dudley's like, Luna. He beats people up for fun. I don't know what he's playing at but it can't last."

Harry turned the lawnmower, and saw Luna walking away. "Where are you going?"

Luna turned around to face him again. "If that's all you have to say right now, I think it is my suppertime and father will wonder where I am. Are you taking me to the concert on Sunday?"

"If you'll tell me where it is, I'll figure something out."

Luna's face burst unexpectedly into a wide smile, and her gray eyes shone in the morning light. "All right, Harry. Good morning!"

And with that, she did go home. Harry once again gave up understanding girls, particularly Luna, and returned to the simple process of operating a lawnmower.


That was the last time for a while that he felt as if she was 'testing' him in some strange way, and Harry was relieved, as it meant that she stuck to her usual unusual behavior. There was nothing much else to do on Privet Drive, and so Harry spent much of the next two days before the concert in various strange activities with Luna. Friday, she emerged from her front door proudly carrying a lime green disk with the words "Genuine Fanged Frisbee" etched onto it, and in smaller letters, "proudly sponsored by the Monster Book of Monsters foundation". It played in a somewhat similar fashion to what Harry had seen of muggle frisbees, but it tried to bite, and it would sometimes alter its course to head for some exposed skin. Neither Harry nor Luna were injured, and they spent some enjoyable time tossing it back and forth. Passing pedestrians paid them no mind, as it looked like a normal frisbee from a distance, and most people around had been warned to stay clear of Harry Potter years ago.

After the frisbee began to sulk, sitting on the ground and snapping moodily at anyone who tried to pick it up, they were forced to find some other form of occupation. Luna's father had a Wizard Chess set, but this did not work out too well, as Luna was far more interested in playing with the pieces and trying to get them to speak to her. Harry recounted the story of the giant chess set that had blocked access to the Sorceror's Stone, and how Ron had let himself be captured by the enemy queen so Harry could win the game. When he had finished, Luna was nodding.

"That was very brave of Ronald," she said somberly. "I'm not sure I would have done that. I don't think I want to die anytime soon."

Harry avoided thinking of a dark-haired man who had probably not wanted to die either, and their conversaton turned to other people and things. He tried to engage Luna in speculation regarding what Dudley's motives might be, but unlike Ron and Hermione, who would actively speculate upon the identify of Nicolas Flamel or the origin of the Firebolt broom that Harry had received in his third schoolyear, Luna seemed not to find such discussion interesting. Nor did she find Dudley's behavior on Thursday morning unusual or worth explaining.

Friday evening, the Dursleys went to dinner at an expensive restaurant, and Harry called the number given in the newspaper and reserved two tickets for the concert. Saturday was further spent on random activities, although this time somewhat more muggle-based. Uncle Vernon was home instead of at work, so Harry fled the neighborhood, followed by a somewhat confused Luna. The girl was no good at skipping stones, but she did manage to deliver a long and very detailed lecture on the emotional impacts skipping could cause, listing several creatures and wizards Harry had never heard of in the process. They also visited old Mrs. Figg, who gave them tea and worried about Voldemort a great deal. Eventually they were forced to leave, with Luna doubled over in mad laughter, as Mrs. Figg, irritated, removed Mr. Paws from the lacy pink bonnet Luna had contrived to put him in.

"I used to try to dress up a cat that belonged to a girl in my dorm," she said, once she was able to speak without laughing. "It looked very much like Draco Malfoy, and I wondered how it would look in little school robes. But then the girl put a hex on me – this was before the D.A., you know, and I didn't know how to block it – and I couldn't talk for a day. Professor Snape was very angry because my potion was rainbow colored and I wouldn't say anything about it."

Around sunset, Luna went into her house and returned with a large number of Quibbler issues, which were read with varying interpretations in Harry's bedroom. Uncle Vernon was suspicious, but showed no interest in 'pawing through a bunch of ruddy magazines'. Halfway through a highly unlikely article on a hypothetical new transfer student plan allowing American witches to enter Hogwarts, Harry looked up and saw Dudley standing awkwardly in the doorway. Luna followed his gaze with her own big gray eyes and nodded, earrings bouncing.

"Hello, Dudley," she said. "Would you like to read some magazines about our world?"

Dudley shot a nervous glance behind him and approached cautiously. Luna gave him several Quibblers to start off on, including the one with Harry's interview in it. Harry remembered the previous year, when Dudley had taunted Harry by asking if Cedric had been his boyfriend.

"I didn't know you could read, Big D," he said unkindly.

Dudley's arms tensed and the larger boy looked like he was clinging to the magazines in his hands. "Shut up," he said finally. "I bet you've never had a pig's tail."

Sunday morning dawned bright and cheerful. Aunt Petunia grudgingly supplied Harry with a meager serving of leftover hash browns, which he ate detachedly, mind fixed on the upcoming concert to the point where he did not even notice Dudley's odd lack of smug response to Uncle Vernon's muttered comments about Harry's hair. After breakfast, he retreated back to his bedroom, where he spent several highly unproductive minutes struggling to apply a comb to his unruly curls before giving up and turning to his outfit. He had no idea what to wear, if indeed he was supposed to wear anything special at all. He ruefully recalled his fiasco of a date with Cho Chang at Madam Puddifoot's, which he had spent ten minutes agonizing over sweater colors for, much to the amusement of Seamus Finnigan. Not that he was yet entirely sure this was the same sort of situation – regardless of the blonde girl's recent strange behavior and cryptic sentences, the terms "concert" and "Luna Lovegood" did not seem the likeliest of logical companions.

If Hermione had been there, of course, she would have gone over him with a fine tooth comb, talking all the while, saying that this obviously meant a lot to Luna and he should do his very best to ensure she had as good a time as possible. That probably included dressing very nicely, no, of course not a suit, do you even have a suit, Harry, but something attractive. And he should be very careful not to hurt her feelings, of course, don't just stand there uselessly if she starts crying or something, not that I think she would, but I thought I'd tell you anyway…

Ron would have stared blankly at Hermione as if her hair had suddenly gone straight, but also turned black with honey-colored highlights. He would have demanded to know if Harry should put his thumb over Luna's, if they ended up holding hands or something – Ron would shiver a bit there – or if Luna should put hers over his.

Hermione would then look at him scathingly and say that she wasn't quite sure, of course, but she had read a fascinating book about the subject a couple weeks ago and she was pretty sure Harry's thumb was supposed to go on top, because he was taking her to the concert, and not the other way around.

Am I? Harry wondered.

Ron would probably then try to end the debate with his ever-practical "You're a girl, Hermione". Why do you need to know this stuff, it's us who'd be taking girls to concerts in the first place…

…and then Hermione would stand up very straight, and staring directly into Harry's hair the whole time, would say that he did not seem to be taking much of anyone to any concerts, Ron Weasley, and maybe someone ought to know about these things, even if he didn't. Then she would walk off, and Ron would shake his head and call her mental, and Harry would be left to figure out how to dress all by himself.

Finally Harry simply left his clothes the way they were—a plain brown shirt, jeans, and ratty sneakers with bright turquoise socks, the last of which somehow seemed important. He had no physical concert tickets, merely the unpaid reservations he had made on Friday night, so he stuffed some emergency muggle money in the wallet Dudley had thrown away seven years ago. After that, he could think of no other way to postpone the inevitable. "I'm going out," he said to the Dursleys on the way to the door. "I'll be back later." Uncle Vernon grunted in response.

Luna was lying tranquilly on her front doorstep, staring up at the sky. She wore an oversized white "Normal People are from Normandy" shirt, a headband of blue shamrocks, and a long dark blue skirt with embroidered dragons on it. Harry noticed that the creatures were all labeled – a Norwegian Ridgeback curled around her left knee, and two Antipodean Opaleyes chased each other around her waist, only the bottom halves visible underneath the point where the shirt left off. He considered asking if this wouldn't draw attention, but realized that anyone could name dragons, and nobody would know from Luna's skirt alone that these particular dragons – and the wizarding world – really existed. "Hi, Luna," he said instead.

Luna rolled partway onto her side to look up at him. "Hello, Harry Potter," she said. "Is it time to go now?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, the train to Staines shouldn't leave for about forty-five minutes, but it's good to get there early." Besides that, he wanted to allow plenty of time in case they got lost on the way to the station – Harry had decided not to mention the fact to Luna, but he had never traveled alone before, beside wandering through Little Whinging, and was not completely sure he knew how to find the station. Luna, however, took his statement at face value and rose to her feet, a pair of earrings in the shape of the number five bouncing merrily as she did so. "I'm glad you came," she said conversationally as they set off in the direction Harry devoutly hoped led to the train station. "I had been on the doorstep for a while and even the sky can get tiresome if you watch it for long enough."

"Couldn't you have just gone inside?" asked Harry.

"No, I don't have a house key yet. After all, I couldn't cast Houmora on the door without the Ministry of Magic finding out, and I didn't think I wanted to worry about any of their letters while enjoying myself in Staines."

"You wouldn't," said Harry, ruefully recalling events one and four summers ago. "I got into enough trouble when a house elf dumped a cake on my aunt."

Unexpectedly, Luna broke out into her loud laughter again, leaning briefly against the Privet Drive and Wisteria Walk street sign until she regained her composure. "That would be worth a Ministry letter," she said happily, and they began walking again. "I didn't know you had any house elves, though, I thought you were trying not to be noticed by muggles. What do you pay them?"

"They're – Dobby's not mine," answered Harry. "He belonged to Lucius Malfoy at the time, though." They continued for a few more paces before he frowned. "Hang on… pay them? House elves don't like to be paid."

"Oh, well, I imagine that's because they've never tried it before. It can be scary sometimes to try something new, even if what you're going to try is to not try anything. I'm sure they wouldn't object to money if they got it… it's nice to be able to buy things, you know, even if you don't have a house of your own."

Harry stared, surprised. "You should talk to Hermione Granger," he said finally, as they turned another corner in what Harry hoped was the right direction. "She started this thing called SPEW – no, not SPEW, the Society for something or other – demanding house elf rights and freedom and wages and stuff."

"Hermione Granger is very close minded and doesn't even believe in Heliopaths," said Luna calmly. "But I will consider it. Thank you."


Author's Note: This is my current progress on the story, and I thought I should at least show it to people, even if it obviously cuts off before the intended focus of the chapter. The story is stalled because I'm having trouble getting the characters to work properly together, and although I don't feel like writing out my whole analysis of the dialogue in this story and why it isn't working, hopefully some of you should be able to see what I'm talking about. It's too awkward. I hope to find some way they can properly connect with one another but I don't know how long it'll take. In the meantime, you get this. Sorry.

While I'm at it, thank you, everyone, for all the great reviews. I'm glad you like this, and I hope to be able to write more at some point if they allow themselves to be the friends they really ought to be, and then whatever happens from there. In the meantime, if you're just looking for something in-character, Jedi Rita's "Becoming Neville" looks pretty good from what I read of it, although obviously with a different focus. I'd recommend a Lunafic but I've lost the link to my favorite. You may know it – it's on the train, Harry finds Luna in a compartment, and they play with some sort of toy or game. Short and sweet and nice to see them being just friends, humans, kids, and not saving the world.