Three for a funeral

Hermione and Luna hold vigil in the company of magpies. Characters belong to Rowling

Luna stood by the window, staring out into the night. The green, flickering light was reflected in her unblinking, protuberant eyes. She hummed softly for herself. Hermione sat on a small chair beside the bed, keeping a nervous eye on the unconscious figure in it. She watched the pale girl by the window in silence.

Not for the first time did she wonder what moved in Luna's head - what those large, unblinking eyes were hiding. She felt herself shivering in the nightly breeze, and she was immensely glad that Luna was there. There was something very reassuring in her uncompromiseable faith, unbelievable as it was for Hermione. There was something in the determination with which Luna clung to her belief that everything would be all right in the end, that, somewhere deep inside, made Hermione believe it too. Even in a night like this.

Luna... There was something unfathomable with her, something hidden among her quirks and beliefs and strange manners that Hermione couldn't figure out. It was intriguing, it was annoying and sometimes - when the moon shone cold and distant and Luna's voice grew faint, and her eyes seemed to focus on something Hermione couldn't see - a bit spooky. But she had come to relish her friend's dotty manner - at least after she had gotten over her initial suspicion that all those wacky theories were an elaborated joke at her expense. Since they first met, Luna and Hermione had grown surprisingly close. Hermione had come to know Luna deeper than she had ever imagined, and Luna for her part was obviously treasuring Hermione's friendship. Maybe because friends were such a rare thing in her life. Hermione still thought that all those theories were wacky, but at least she had come to understand that Luna was sincere in her belief. And sometimes, despite herself, she couldn't help wondering exactly how impossible Luna's ideas really were. Heavens knew that Hermione's worldview had been profoundly shaken before, and things she had taken for granted had turned out to be horribly wrong.

She shivered.

Earlier, when they had waited together, she had asked Luna if she wasn't afraid. The younger girl had thought for a moment, and then, in her usual sincere and curious manner, she had asked why she should be, and for once, Hermione had been unable to find an answer. She was frightened to wits end herself, and she had good reasons to - but somehow, under Luna's open, childlike gaze, all those things that scared her so actually didn't seem so bad, after all. Luna had taken her hand then, and held it hard for a long time. Hermione had been glad beyond words for that small, slightly cold hand in her.

Suddenly, something bumped into the window, and Hermione screamed. She rushed up with her wand ready, but Luna bent her head.

"Hello, Mr Magpie," she politely whispered. Hermione carefully looked out through the glass, and she could see the large bird taking off from the window-sill, croaking. She breathed out and lowered her wand, the blood slowly returning to her face. The shock had been severe.

She could see more black and white bodies flying outside the hospital window, below the moon and... that other thing. Croaking and jabbering. There was the one that just flew off, the one flying towards the lake, the one that just appeared from below, somewhere, the one that...

"One for sorrow..." Luna softly said, startling Hermione.

"What?" she asked, turning to the eerie girl. Luna nodded towards the window.

"The magpies," she said for explanation, and then she went on, with a soft, slow sing-song voice that for some reason gave Hermione goosebumps.

One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral
Four for a birth
Five for rich
Six for poor
Seven for a witch...

She silenced, and Hermione realized that she had been holding her breath.

"Yes?" she anxiously asked. "Then what?" Luna glanced at her, and there was something apologizing in her expression

"I can tell you no more," she finished the rhyme, and then her gaze was drawn downwards, her eyes widening.

"Look!" she exclaimed, pointing with a slender finger.

Hermione shuddered as she quickly turned her eyes towards the ground. She didn't wish to look at the thing in the sky anymore. She followed Luna's gaze to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, well lit by the bright moon. At first she didn't see anything, just the grass and the bushes and the trees; but she glanced at her friend and saw that Luna's eyes were intensely focused. She looked again, and she saw a bush move. Not much, but enough to convince her that it hadn't been just a gust of wind. Then a fallen branch jerked, and a small sapling was suddenly torn from the ground and thrown several feet away. Hermione stared nonplussed at the strange sight. But when she saw the grass get trampled, several yards from the forest edge, suddenly, without any visible reason, her eyes grew big in realization.

"Is it the thestrals?" she gasped. Luna nodded.

"What are they doing?" Hermione asked, looking at the things she couldn't see, looking at the trampled ring in the grass that formed under their invisible hooves. Luna turned towards her, her eyes silver in the moonlight.

"When the critters walk in circle, the end of the world is here," she said, and her voice was hoarse and terrible. "At least, that's what daddy told me once," she added in her normal voice, and Hermione, who had involuntarily shrunk back, stared at her friend.

"Do you think it is?" she asked in small voice. Luna shrugged.

"One world might end tonight, perhaps. But there are plenty, you know." She looked out through the window again. "Sometimes I think it should have ended a long time ago," she added. Hermione waited, but Luna did not explain her words. She had started to hum under her breath again, but it wasn't any tune Hermione could recognize.

I'm afraid, Hermione thought. I'm afraid of what those eyes are seeing. I'm afraid that what they see is true.

But still, she was immensely glad to be with Luna this night.

Outside the window, the Dark Mark burnt against the night sky, illuminating the world with dancing green. Around the Astronomy tower, three magpies were flying in circle, croaking once for every turn they finished.

Authors note: There are many magpie-rhymes. None of these are - according to Terry Pratchett - the ones known by the magpies themselves.