I'm crazy. I'm insane. If it wasn't so nice being insane, I'd jump back into sanity, but no, I have no diving board.
Draco folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes tiredly.
"Of course you're insane," Luna said tiredly, rolling over to lay her head on his shoulder. "You wouldn't be here if you weren't."
"True. Aren't you tired? You spent the whole day working at the bookstore and it was packed; I know, I went to pick you up." He lifted a pale eyebrow at her.
"Exhausted," she mumbled into his shoulder.
"Then why aren't you sleeping?"
Luna snuggled closer and finally sighed into a half-sleep mode. "You're thinking too loud."
"Terribly sorry, Your Highness. I'll be sure to quiet my thoughts next time." His voice was light and amused, but he may as well have been talking to air; Luna was already asleep.
Soon Draco was in that half-awake, half-dozing state that most people slip into when they're not truly tired, when a sound that didn't quite fit hit his ears. It was so out of place that it took a full minute for him to realize what he was hearing.
Crying—muffled, frightened crying.
A quick mental caress assured him that nothing was wrong with Luna, and he went up on his elbows at a small sound by the door. Irene stood illuminated in the moonlight, hiccupping and hugging her stuffed bear (a present from Ms. Bennett, who found the small blonde toddler absolutely adorable) tightly.
Hey, he prodded mentally. Luna mumbled and gave him the approximation of a mental 'Go away I'm sleeping' shove. Hey! he persisted. Irene needs us.
Well, that got her attention. She sat up so fast he had to dodge, her long hair whipping past his face.
"What's the matter, little owlet?" she questioned softly, locking eyes with the almost three year old and opening her arms. Irene dashed across the room like a rocket and flew into the hug, crying on Luna's comforting shoulder.
Draco scooted closer and reached over to rub her back comfortingly—if a bit awkwardly. "Was it a nightmare?" he asked softly.
Irene hiccupped and nodded into Luna's shirt.
Several seconds of silence followed, and then Luna administered a hard mental poke, her arms being currently full of toddler.
It took willpower to keep his yelp mental. Ow! What?
Ask her what happened, Draco! Men, honestly. "Okay". This was accompanied by a mental snort.
Shush, you. I'm new at this.
"What was it about?" he asked aloud, making sure to keep his voice low and soothing.
Irene hiccupped again and turned her head so she could look at him. "Dark," she lisped, just as quietly. "Scary." She lifted a small hand and wiped at her tears. "Sorry."
Draco felt a sudden rush of pity and anger—pity for Irene, anger at her life before this. And also a strange mixture of affection and tenderness—after all, how many times had he apologized for his nightmares as a child?
"You have nothing to apologize for," he said, softly but surely. A flash of inspiration made him go on without thinking. "Would you like to sleep with us tonight?"
Irene looked perplexed for a moment, as if this had never occurred to her, before nodding. Luna scooped her more firmly into her arms and placed her directly between herself and Draco, tucking her in firmly and being sure to kiss her on the forehead.
It wasn't until they were both asleep that Draco felt his eyelids drooping. With no one to see, he smiled at his girls with something he thought might be—maybe—possibly—love...
Hey, I don't have to admit it to anyone.
...before dropping off to sleep.
The fall was, Meghan decided, sort of like going into what she and Neville had dubbed the Hideaway, but also not. For instance, she had no idea what was at the bottom of this fall, or whether it would hurt her or not.
Then again, very little hurts me, she thought to herself with uncanny calm. It was true, after all. Even the normal scraped knees and cuts a child always acquired as they got into various mischief had healed up uncommonly quickly for her.
It was as she was musing on this that she hit the ground.
Ow. That hurt like hell.
She dragged herself to her feet and rubbed at her eyes for a moment. All she saw was green—lots and lots of green.
Great. I'm in the Slytherin common room. Then she got a better look around and changed that opinion. No, actually it's a jungle. Same difference, I guess.
Chuckling to herself, she grabbed a vine and pulled her body up. She was a little achy and a little unstable, but not much worse for wear.
All right, let's start from the beginning and work forward. I went with Neville to see his parents, then his grandmother talked to him, then I grabbed his dad's hand, and now I'm...here. Interesting transition.
An inexplicable force was pulling her through the mess of plants and vegetation towards—what?
No, something wasn't right here. She knew that, as sure as she knew her eyes were grey.
The foliage proved to be relatively easy to make her way through without any kind of blade, even if it was a bit tangled, and so Meghan found herself pushing her way towards...wherever it was she was being pulled to.
Neville landed with a smack and a groan on something that was either very hard sand or very soft rock.
Hard sand, he decided when he pushed himself up and surveyed the area. Rock is over there. He got to his feet and went over to sit down on it. But hard sand where, exactly?
Meghan's voice floated through his mind unexpectedly; it was a memory of his, from when he had picked her brain about catatonia. She was surprisingly knowledgeable about anything to do with Healing, and had already expressed her desire to be a Healer.
"When someone is put under the stress of extreme pain, Neville, they tend to draw into themselves. It's very complicated, but they form a barrier within their minds that protects them from the pain."
A barrier to protect them...he mused, his eyes following a glowing blue line that hazed in and out as he thought. Like a desert? Seems likely.
Or a jungle?
Neville jumped and looked around, only to realize a second later the voice had been inside his head. And very, very familiar.
He dropped back down quickly before he fell, immensely glad he managed to sit where the rock was and not where it wasn't.
How are you talking in my mind? he asked hesitantly, making sure to think 'loudly'.
The same way you're talking in mine, she replied. Her 'voice' was shaky, but otherwise none the worse for wear.
Har, har. Where are you? Are you in a desert too?
Desert? No, I'm in a jungle.
Neville raised an eyebrow mentally and physically. A jungle.
I meant what I said, and I said what I meant!
An elephant's faithful one hundred percent.
Meghan's giggle resounded in his mind. You know that? I thought it was a Muggle thing.
It is a Muggle thing, he agreed. A very amusing Muggle thing. So do you have a plan for this?
Keep walking forward until I fall off the edge.
Sounds like as good a plan as any.
Neville followed her plan, realizing he had been feeling the same 'lure' as she had. They chatted amiably as they both walked. Somehow being able to talk to Meghan soothed the fear Neville had felt, as well as calming the excitement. Well, okay, not all of the excitement.
I'm in my parents' minds, I'm in my parents' minds, I'm in my parents' minds...
You're thinking really loud, you're thinking really loud, you're thinking really loud...
Since he couldn't find a suitable retort, he settled for sticking his mental tongue out at her.
Then his brain stopped thinking at all as he spotted a figure just feet away, sprawled on the desert floor, tracing nothing into the hard surface. His voice caught in his throat—he couldn't think, he couldn't breath...
Yes you can, Meghan's voice murmured reassuringly. You'll be okay.
Then he felt a palpable amount of surprise at her end. What's the matter?
Nothing, she answered after a moment. Except I think I see your dad. Guess I shouldn't be surprised. I'm going to fade back for a bit, so let's not talk, okay? Good luck.
And then he was alone. Well, not alone,per se. He could still 'feel' her presence in the back of his mind, warm and reassuring, but less strong than it had been.
It was at that moment that he tripped on a rock and landed flat on his face, effectively catching his mother's attention. She looked, he saw while scrambling to his feet, a great deal like himself. He supposed you didn't age in your mind like you did in your body.
"Who are you?" she asked, in a voice hoarse from disuse.
The truth might shock her and push he back, so he settled for reassuring. "Someone who's here to help. My name is Neville."
Her eyes misted over for a moment. "I had a son named Neville," she told him. Then her face closed down. "But he's dead."
Oh, stop. I thought you weren't talking to me.
It's not every day you hear your boyfriend is dead.
Neville closed his eyes—to avoid his mother seeing him rolling them—and when he opened them Meghan had gone back to being 'distant'.
"What are you doing here?" his mother asked after a moment. "How did you get across the desert? Nothing comes across the desert."
"I did," he reminded her simply. "Maybe that means you should just trust me and let me help."
Neville desperately wanted Meghan here beside him as his mother shook her head forcefully and backed a step away from him. She always seemed to know what to do or what to say...
Not really. I'm having a hard time convincing your dad that I'm for real as well. And...brace yourself because this is weird.
Neville sent her a mental picture of him sitting in a chair and holding on to the arms. Okay, hit me.
She did, a small mental smack to the back of his head. I'm serious. I have the weirdest feeling that the jungle around me...wants to die. That it needs to die, and something is keeping it from letting go.
Her words had sparked the exact expression for the niggling feeling he had felt for the past few minutes. I have the same feeling about the desert! But it wants to live, and its like she's suppressing it.
Because they're afraid? Afraid of what might happen, or what they might wake up to if they let themselves come back?
I think so.
He heard Meghan take a deep mental breath, and then his heart stopped at her next words.
I think we can fix this, she said.
His hands shook and he quickly shoved them in his pockets. How?
My mom home-schooled me for a long time before we came to Hogwarts, and I had a really hard time getting the spells to work at first, mostly because I was a young kid and couldn't believe I could do it.
And my mom sat me down and told me that magic is just wanting something, and letting yourself have it.
I'm getting there! So maybe, just maybe, if we let loose our magic and really want the jungle to die and the desert to grow, it'll happen.
Worth a shot.
He ignored the questioning look his mother was giving him as he opened his eyes again and knelt down, placing both hands flat on the desert floor. Then he did something he'd never done before: he stopped thinking about controlling his magic.
He wished, with all his heart, mind, and soul, for the desert to come to life.
It was like riding out an earthquake, or a tsunami. He heard a few unsteady footfalls as the ground shifted, and a moment later felt his mother's arms around him and heard her ask "What's happening?" But he didn't think he dared break his concentration to answer her—certainly not while Meghan was still concentrating on her end.
It's working! she yelled.
With those last words there was a great shift,and his elbows gave out from under him. He landed on soft grass, and looked up to see they were in a glade. Together, his and Meghan's magic had let the old jungle die and the desert sprout new life.
Neville looked up to see his father standing just across the glade; both his parents were completely still as they looked at each other.
And then they were in each other's arms, completely oblivious to the world.
"Hey." He glanced up at the soft, familiar voice to see Meghan crouched next to him, her hand on his arm, looking as worn out as he felt.
"Hey," he said back. "I think I'm going to go to sleep now."
"Sounds like a plan," she answered, and laid down next to him.
Regardless of where they were, they both fell asleep before Meghan's head even finished settling onto his shoulder.
Aletha cried out. Both children, after twenty full minutes of lying stock still on the beds, had suddenly slumped bonelessly. Her cry was echoed by others, but she got there first, Healing spells she thought she had forgotten on the tip of her wand as she checked their vitals.
"They're fine!" she called, to the relief of many. "I don't know what they just did, because their magical reserves are almost gone, but aside from that they're fine."
Healer Young checked them himself anyway, but eventually agreed with her and decreed it was okay to move them. Aletha gathered Meghan into her arms, noticing uneasily that the two braids framing her daughter's face were now a startling white, and laid her in a bed across from Alice. Healer Young followed, carrying Neville to the bed next to Meghan's, with Augusta Longbottom behind him.
"Will they be all right?" Mrs. Longbottom asked, putting a shaking finger to the white hair at her grandson's temple.
Aletha nodded. "They'll sleep for a while, but they should be fine."
"Who should be fine?" a voice asked.
"What's going on?" added a second voice. "Where are we?"
Everyone in the room seemed to stop breathing at the same time. Certainly all of them looked at the beds in the same moment. Frank and Alice Longbottom hadn't been fully awake or sane for going on sixteen years, yet here were both of them, were sitting up in bed and very much sane.
The Healer and nurses were shocked out of their wits, but that didn't stop them from launching into diagnostic after diagnostic. Mrs. Longbottom tried to hold her son and daughter-in-law at the same time, crying and explaining what happened to them between tears.
"Dear Merlin," Aletha breathed, gazing down at the unconscious children. "You Healed them. You dear, sweet children, you Healed them!"
No one heard her but Healer Young, who had come to relay that Frank and Alice wanted to see her, and he made up his mind right then and there never to say anything about it.
Luna woke up to the worst thing she could possibly imagine: a frightened, pain-filled scream. Thinking immediately it had to be Irene, she scooped up her foster daughter before her eyes were even open.
Irene clung to her, whimpering and shaking, and she realized that it wasn't the child at all. It was Draco.
His back was arched and his left arm was curled into his body like it was broken. His mouth was wide in silent screams and—when he opened his eyes to stare helplessly at her—they were dilated to the point where they were nothing but black pupil, only a little of the gray of his eyes showing.
"Run!" he managed to shout, and she realized his Dark Mark was literally burning a hole through his shirt.
Luna sprinted down the hall and into Irene's room. She dropped the shaking child gently on the bed, but Irene clutched at her shirt. "Stay?"
"Owlet," Luna said anxiously, "you have to stay here, okay?" She reached over and grabbed the lion she had bought Irene as a gift, that had made Draco scowl and glare half-heartedly at her. "Here, take Aslan, and keep holding Calli. Be brave, and don't try to get out, okay?"
Irene nodded, clutching her lion and bear as if her life depended on them. Luna ran back outside the room and closed the door, locking it and sealing it with a spell. Whatever happened, Irene was going to be safe.
She could feel Draco fighting at his end of their connection...
Suddenly she knew what she had to do.
In what might be both the bravest and the stupidest move of her life, she ran back to their bedroom.
He knew he was dreaming. The Dark Lord had come and scolded him—almost like a father scolding a child—for leaving. He had touched the Dark Mark on Draco's arm and said that Draco was his and that he couldn't run forever.
And then he had thrown himself into Draco's mind.
This was nothing like Luna's warm, comforting presence. This felt contaminated and horrible and made Draco want to vomit. He screamed as his Dark Mark lit on fire.
Irene! Luna! They have to get out of here! he thought desperately, trying all the while to fight the Dark Lord's control, futile though he knew it was.
He opened his eyes to see Luna looking at him, horrified, with a trembling Irene in her arms.
"Run!" he managed to force out of his mouth.
And to his great relief, she did.
Think you can protect her, do you, boy? the Dark Lord hissed in his mind. Then perhaps it was wrong to have you torture her. Perhaps when I find you, I'll kill her slowly...
Draco struggled and cried out, to no avail. You won't have her! he screamed at the horrid-feeling presence. I won't let you!
The Dark Lord pulled back as if he'd been burned. Love! he screeched. You will die for this blasphemy, Draco!
Luna burst in at that moment, and horror shuddered through Draco's body. It spread as he felt the Dark Lord take control of his body and raise his hands.
Kill her, he ordered. Wrap your hands around her neck and strangle her.
Luna stepped towards him and he wanted to cry out again, tell her to run far and fast, that he didn't have control anymore, but the Dark Lord was in complete control now and even their connection was faded.
He stepped towards her and grabbed her, tossing her to the floor even as Draco screamed mentally in defiance. The Dark Lord picked up Draco's wand with Draco's hand and aimed it at Luna. "Avada—"
Luna lifted her head, tears in her eyes, and her right hand flicked. "Crucio!"
Pain broke over him like a wave. The Dark Lord flinched, then laughed cruelly, pulling back just enough to allow Draco some control of his body—or, more likely, to ensure that only Draco would feel the pain. Draco heard himself scream, felt himself hit the floor, for a moment felt nothing at all, then felt Luna's lips on his and threw himself into the kiss with desperation—it might be our last one...
Then he realized what it meant that he'd been able to pull her closer, and the kiss deepened a little more as he went limp with relief. She did it. It's over. Somehow, someway, she got him out...
"I'm sorry," she sobbed when they broke apart, wrapping her arms around him. "I had to. It was the only way to get him to pull back enough."
"I understand," he murmured, holding her close, checking to make sure she was all right even as his mind put the pieces together. Luna had cast the Cruciatus so that the Dark Lord would pull back, then kissed him to drive the Dark Lord off. It had worked perfectly, too—the Dark Lord had pulled out of Draco's mind so fast that it felt as if he'd taken the back of Draco's head with him.
"Thank you," he said softly, still not letting her go. "Thank you. Thank you."
"Irene's all right," she said into his shoulder. "She's in her room. Want me to go get her?"
"We'll go together." Draco didn't want to be more than two feet away from her right now. He pulled her to her feet and kept hold of her hand like he never wanted to let go. Together, they went to get Irene who, upon seeing Draco, immediately threw herself at him. He grabbed her in a hug before she fell and she clung to his neck.
"Daddy okay?" she asked softly.
Draco was speechless for a moment.
She called you Daddy, Luna said warmly in his mind, and he basked in the familiar, comforting presence of her, instead of the horrifying one of Voldemort.
I know, he answered, his mental voice hesitant.
Irene turned to look at Luna. "Mommy, Daddy okay now?"
It was Luna's turn to look like she had been hit with a club.
Draco, though still shaken, couldn't miss this opportunity to tease her. She called you Mommy.
I got that, thanks, Luna snapped back, but with no real sting.
"Yeah," Draco told the toddler. "I'm okay now." He looked up and locked eyes with Luna, feeling a rush of warmth that chased away the final vestiges of cold fear. "I'm okay now. Who wants ice cream?"
Irene grinned, the scary experience forgotten with the rapidity only a child could manage, and ordered vanilla imperiously enough to make Draco laugh as the strange family made their way to the kitchen.
What had just happened was scary, but right now his life was okay. What would happen later, would happen later.
Que sera sera. What will be, will be.
Little things the world will change, your lives and futures rearrange...
A/n: Had you going there for a minute, didn't I::evil cackle:: Anyway, thanks to Anne Walsh AND MercuryBlue for beta-ing this chapter. Hopefully the next Cursed chapter will be up sometime next week. And the last line is Anne Walsh's.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.