Sticks and stones...

Why would a self-inflicted Slytherin loner like Theodore Nott go out of his way to look after an oddball like Luna Lovegood? Surely, there is more to this than meets the eye... Characters belong to Rowling.

It was a crisp clear autumn day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The sixth year Ravenclaws and Slytherins were emerging from Greenhouse Four and their herbology class, walking back towards the castle in ones or twos, in groups or by themselves. One group, however, strayed from the path leading towards the awaiting lunch. A solitary figure some distance away, in the forest edge, had caught their attention.

Luna Lovegood, fifth year Ravenclaw, sat on a stump, humming softly to herself, her eyes focused at a point of thin air about two feet in front of her, seemingly similar to any other point of thin air around her. She didn't look up as the group of older students approached her. She didn't react to their presence at all until Draco Malfoy spoke.

"Well, well, what have we here? All alone, little loon?" he asked. His two friends, Vincent and Gregory, chuckled at the joke. Luna looked up and smiled vaguely at them.

"Hello..." she said. Draco cocked a pale eyebrow.

"What's up? No little blood traitor brat to look after you? No precious Potter to keep his insane tag-along safe? That's a pity..." Pancy, who stood very close to Draco, smirked. Theodore Nott, who had been walking towards the castle on his own, had stopped to regard the scene. There was a gleam of interest in his eyes. Luna didn't answer. Nor did she blink or avert her eyes from Draco's. He sneered.

"It might be harmful, you know, to wander off all alone like that... I thought you would have learned that lesson after you ran away to the ministry last year. You know, there might be people who aren't much impressed of what you did there. There might be people who don't enjoy the stinking lies you print..."

"Harry saw it himself," Luna sincerely answered. "It wasn't lies."

"It was lies!" Draco drawled. "Wicked lies, and you're a filthy little liar. Haven't you learned yet that bad things happen to people like you? Do you really believe that pretty Potter will always be there for you when you need him, or do you perhaps think that your Crippled Blinger will protect you?" Luna shook her head slightly. Theodore, who had drawn closer, did, for some reason best known to himself, smile for himself at this, a cold, snarky little smile.

"There is no such thing as a Crippled, Blinger, you know," Luna calmly answered. "So, no, it would be a bit naive to rely on it for protection, don't you think?"

"You think you're so bloody smart, Loony," Draco snorted. "I wouldn't mind teaching you a lesson... teach you to pick you friends more carefully... not that you have much experience in that, of course..." He took a threatening step towards the girl. Vincent and Gregory followed, fists clenched. Luna didn't move, she only smiled dreamingly at the approaching bullies.

"Malfoy," Theodore suddenly interrupted. "Stop that." The other Slytherins turned and stared at their peer in disbelief.

"What did you say, Nott?" Draco slowly asked, eyeing the cringing boy with suspision and disbelief. Theodore smiled a bit apologising.

"Oh, nothing much, Malfoy," he casually replied. "Only, Sprout's prone to come out of the greenhouse any time now, or Hagrid might walk by. You'll get in trouble, and if you want my opinion - the loon's just not worth it." Draco's gang's full attention was now on Theodore. The loon in question, however, didn't seem very interested in this turn of events. She had resumed her focus on this or that anonymous molecule of air.

"Really..." Draco answered, drawing out on the word. "Good thing you look after me, isn't it, Nott? For a moment there I thought you cared about the smelly little liar." Theodore raised an eyebrow.

"We Slytherins look after each other, Malfoy, don't we?"

"That's good," Vincent butted into the conversation. "'case you haven't forgotten what her dad wrote 'bout our dads, have you?" His voice was low and threatening. Theodore shook his head.

"No Crabbe, I haven't forgotten," he silently answered. The bulky boy hesitated for the split of a second, then he nodded.

"That's good. Don't you forget it." He and Gregory unclenched their fists. Pancy looked disappointed.

"Are you just going to let her off?" she asked. "After all she did?" Draco shook his head.

"I have more important things to do than waste my time on a little lunatic," he sneered. "You're lucky this time, Loony. Don't trust to be that lucky again..."

"Goodbye," she answered absentmindedly. "Please stop by again..."

With a last, taunting look at the dotty girl, who was still absorbed in her own world, Draco and his gang departed, not sparing another glance for Luna or their fellow Slytherin. Theodore followed them with his eyes for a few moments, then he turned his attention back to the Ravenclaw. He regarded her in silence, waiting for his peers to come without earshot. She looked up and met his gaze.

"You know, that was almost Slytherin of you," he said matter-of-factly. She smiled at him.

"That's a really nice thing to say," she answered brightly, with no trace whatsoever of irony in her voice. "Thank you very much." Theodore shrugged.

"Seeing how you just sat there, letting it happen," he went on. "Not doing anything to prevent him from working himself up... I suppose they wouldn't like it very much if he was to attack you?"

"No, I don't think they would," she answered. He smirked at her.

"Well, given how much hell of trouble that Hippogriff fiasco made for your friends a few years ago, I really would have thought you more prone to prevent... accidents," he commented, "especially over a little teasing, but no, you just led him on." She made a dismissive gesture.

"But he didn't attack me, did he?" she asked, "so all is fine." He chuckled shortly.

"Lucky for you I came by to stop him, eh?" she nodded serenely.

"It was nice of you."

They stood in silence for a little while. Theodore looked over his shoulder to make sure that no fellow Slytherins were lurking close by. Luna hummed softly for herself.

"You fibbed," she said accusingly after a little while. Theodore gave her a surprised look.

"I did?"

"You told Draco things that aren't true. That's fibbing," Luna serenely answered. Theodore smirked.

"Now, did I, Lovegood? Sprout or Hagrid might walk by, so I was perfectly truthful."

"But you didn't mean to be truthful," Luna pointed out. "You meant something other than what you said, so it's still a fib."

"So what if it was? Lies don't hurt, do they? Not as much as insults anyway. You know, I really don't get it," he went on, and there was a hint of curiosity in his voice. "Why did you let Draco bully you like that? Why didn't you just... stop him when you could?" Luna shrugged.

"Oh, it's quite all right, really. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and whop and whack may break my back, but words will not hurt a bit..."

"Do you really think so?" he slowly asked. She nodded. Theodore crossed his arms over his chest.

"Do you really think that the words you wrote about my father didn't hurt? And that what you wrote about Draco's father, and Vincent's father, and Gregory's father, didn't hurt? Wouldn't it have hurt you?" he questioned, his voice acquiring a low, dangerous tone. He didn't look at her, but rather at a point about two feet away from her. Luna sighed sadly.

"I think those words hurt very much," she answered, and for once her voice was clear and present, without any dreamy qualities.

"But still you printed them?" he pressed, still not looking at her. There was not anger in his voice, however. Only bitterness.

"Did it hurt less before we printed Harry's interview?" Luna asked, and for a moment he didn't breath. Then he sighed and looked straight at her face.

"No it didn't, and after that affair at the ministry it's public knowledge anyway. And to be honest, my father can rot in Azkaban, or in hell, or wherever he wish, for all I care. I'm not him."

"No, you are not," Luna observed, and suddenly she started to giggle violently.

"What?" he asked, half annoyed, half curious to what had set the strange girl off. It took her a little while to recover enough to answer.

"You are Nott," she answered, still with tears of mirth in her eyes. "Theodore Nott."

"I know who I am," he replied, slightly offended. Suddenly she was all sincere and serious again.

"That's good," she answered, and with a little nod, as if the topic now was closed, she went back to her humming. She held her hands outstretched, palms upwards. Theodore stared at her, intrigued despite himself.

"How do you do that anyway?" he asked when the silence had gone on for long enough. She turned back to him, looking at him as if she had forgotten that he stood there.

"Hmmm? Oh, it's not that hard, you know," she answered. "You have to approach them carefully and let them know that they can trust you, but as soon as that is established, they'll eat from your hand. Have you ever tried it yourself?" He shook his head vigorously.

"Never," he said with a shudder, not really wishing to dwell on the images of exactly what Luna was feeding them with. "I have no desire to deal with those damned spectres more than I have to." She tilted her head to the side.

"You really should, Theodore. They are perfectly friendly, after all." He snorted to express his own feelings on the matter.

"Draco's right, by the way," he said seriously. "There are a lot of people out there who want to hurt you. If you care for a piece of advice, it's high time for you to drop that little miss innocent act and show that you can bite if you have to. Make an example of one or two bullies, and you'll see that the rest will leave you alone." She looked up at him with large, silvery eyes.

"That would be rather unfriendly, wouldn't it?" she asked with total honesty. He laughed then, a short, unused laugh.

"You know, Lovegood, that's the whole point. If you're really serious with sticking around saint Potter and his merry men, you'd do wise to learn to be unfriendly one of these days."

"I'd rather not, if that's all right with you," she answered earnestly. "I'll be fine, but thank you for the advice."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged, and with a last intrigued - and slightly untrusting - glance at the skeletal, dragon-winged horses with the unnervingly colourless eyes, that surrounded the lonely girl on the stump, he turned to follow his peers to the school. Luna followed him with her eyes for a little while. Then she turned her attention back to the thestrals and started her soft humming again.